Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fantasy football post draft anaylsis - Why I did what I did

I know I posted notes Sunday evening concerning who I drafted and when, and really, unless you are a fantasy football person this entry into the blog is going to be of little to no interest to you.  But for some who may be seeking pointers, or just to examine the cranium of one person who does this on a yearly basis, this will be an explanation of why I did what I did and when I did it.  Unlike last year when I was picking 11th out of 12 teams and managed to hit the ball out of the park on a few of my later grabs (Ryan Grant, Matt Schaub, Ray Rice), rest assured that those guys wouldn't be sitting on the draft board nearly as long this year (they were all gone by the third round), but then I lucked out and got to pick 2nd this year.  Truth be told, I like to either pick early or late, but never in the middle.  Early on you will get one of the best players guaranteed which certainly is never a bad thing to have, whereas late while you might not get your hands on one of the top two or three guys because the draft order "snakes" between rounds, that is it basically reverses, if you pick first in one round, you pick last in the next, picking late gives you almost back to back picks.  Last year by picking 11th I was able over the course of 4 picks (my pick, #12, #12 again and my pick) to lock down an entire position by getting Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, all but alleviating my wide receiver concerns for the rest of the draft two rounds in.  Middle to me just sucks, there are too many players disappearing between your picks and it is probably the hardest position to draft and field a competitive fantasy team in my opinion.    Anyway I didn't have that concern this year, I got the #2 overall and here is how it all played out with my thoughts thrown in for good measure.

1st rd  Adrian Peterson (2) RB Minnesota - Really if you have a pick in the top two and you don't come away with either Peterson or Chris Johnson you have done your team a disservice.  CJ went first making my decision for me in this particular case.

2nd rd Calvin Johnson (23) WR  Detroit - By this point in the draft 13 RBs had already been taken, as had 4 QBs, so I could either take a flyer on a QB (Schaub was still available at this point) or do like I did last year and try to lock down a position with almost back to back picks.  I opted for the later strategy, getting Johnson followed by

3rd rd  Greg Jennings (26) WR  Green Bay - If all goes according to plan and admittedly some times in fantasy it doesn't, there is as much luck avoiding injuries as anything else, I now have a running back good for 1200+ yards and two 1000+ receivers.

4th rd  Arian Foster (47) RB  Houston - By the end of the third round all of what I would consider the elite level of QBs were gone (Peyton Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Brees, Schaub, Romo, Rivers) so I knew I was going to be stuck with a second tier-ish kind of guy, which to me isn't 4th round value, so instead I looked on the board for a RB that would be a starter and this is what I came up with.

5th rd  CJ Spiller (50) RB  Buffalo - This was probably my first reach pick of the draft, there is no guarantee Spiller will even start in Buffalo, but with their other RBs nursing injuries (Lynch, Jackson) Spiller has seen the most work with the first team offense in the preseason and has played so well that there is talk he may keep the job even when the others come back.  Last year I threw a mid round pick at Ray Rice, even though it was uncertain if he could beat out Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain and that turned out okay for me, I will be happy if something similar happens here.

6th rd Justin Forsett (71) RB Seattle - He should be the starter in Seattle, but it isn't carved in stone.  If either my 5th or 6th rd pick hits, I am all but set at RB for the season.  If not, then I may have some issues with my flex position on my roster this season.  One spot on our roster on a weekly basis is dedicated to a flex player, that is the player can either be a WR or a RB, so on any given week you end up playing 2 RBs and 3 WRs or 3 RBs and 2 WRs so depth at one if not both of those positions is a good thing.

7th rd Matt Ryan (74) QB Atlanta - Okay, this was a need pick as much as anything.  That being said I wanted a guy who hopefully hadn't hit his ceiling yet, that is you know have already seen the best a player will offer.  This will be Ryan's third year in the league, in his first two he threw for over 20 TDs, and while I don't expect any record breaking performances from him there is a chance he could improve yet and even if he doesn't, as long as he doesn't regress I can get some serviceable if unspectacular games from him.

8th rd Donovan McNabb (95) QB Washington - More or less an insurance policy for Ryan.  Unlike Ryan, we probably have seen the best McNabb has to offer, but that isn't too shabby.  Considering that in most leagues on Sportsline.com McNabb's average draft position is 92.59 I would say I got him just about where everyone else is taking him.

9th rd Zach Miller (98) TE Oakland - This was a bit more of a reach on my part, but I hadn't drafted a tight end yet and he seems to have the surest hands of anyone on the Raiders.  With a new quarterback coming in (Jason Campbell) I wanted a tight end that I figured would be targeted alot until Campbell got more comfortable with the Oakland WRs.  And lets not iid anyone, this late in the draft the elite level TEs are all gone, so much like my QB I wanted a second tier guy with upside.

10th rd Eddie Royal (119) WR Denver - Probably my first pick I was a little uncomfortable with.  On one hand, Kyle Orton did throw for a decent amount of yardage last year in Denver, on the other a huge chunk of that went to Brandon Marshall, who has since left the team.  If Royal returns to the ways of his rookie season (91 catches) versus his second season (31 catches) this will be a decent grab, otherwise I am just pissing in the wind with this pick.

11th rd Chris Cooley (122) TE Washington - Thank you broken ankles.  Last year Cooley broke his ankle, limiting himself to just 7 games and his statistics fell off accordingly.  Prior to that he was among the top 5 or 6 tight ends in the NFL and very well could be again, provided he stays healthy.  Given how he has been drafted on average around 92-93 in Sportsline leagues, the fact I was able to scoop him up almost a full 30 picks later in our league is something I am rather happy about and he gives me a decent option of the Zach Miller experiment fails.

12th rd Ryan Longwell (143) K Minnesota - As I have said many time previously, don't draft a kicker or a defense too soon.  On a week to week basis the points you are going to get from them are marginally different from just about any other kicker.  Let someone else go waste a 5th or 6th round pick on a Steven Gostkowski, you should be drafting for far bigger fish in those rounds, guys that can do much more to help your team.  The thing you should concern yourself with is will my kicker be on a team that scores points and is he relatively accurate.  Last year the Vikings scored points a plenty and Longwell was 26 of 28 on FGs, including 8 of 9 from 40-49 yards.  I'll take that in the 12th round.

13th rd  Miami (146) DEF Miami - Simply a need pick here, I took two chances on defense, in this round and later (15th (170) San Diego), if either one of them plays average I can live with taking them this late.

14th rd Toby Gerhart (167) RB Minnesota - With Chester Taylor now in Chicago, Gerhart could well be the handcuff to Adrian Peterson.  For those not in the know, a handcuff is a guy you draft in case the starter gets hurt.  Not that I am banking on Peterson getting hurt, but should the situation arise I may very well have the guy next in line to take over.

16th rd Greg Camarillo (191) WR Minnesota - I know it looks like I am big on the Vikings (2 RBs, 1 WR, 1 K) and really I am not.  That being said, Brett Favre will have to throw to somebody and with Sidney Rice out at least 8 weeks after having hip surgery, Camarillo stands a chance to get plenty of looks in the passing game.  Camarillo has caught 50 passes in each of the last two years in Miami where the passing game is at best dreadful and now that he is in Minnesota that total could actually increase. 

17th rd Jabbar Gaffney (194) WR Denver - If Eddie Royal doesn't pan out in Denver, this is the next logical choice to take over as the team's primary receiver.  Given it was my last pick of the draft (and next to last overall) I really felt comfortable going ahead and taking a reach here. 

Those who play fantasy football will notice that I only drafted one kicker and will immediately wonder what I will do for a kicker on Ryan Longwell's bye week.  Actually my plan is pretty simple, I doubt I hit a bullseye on all 17 picks you see above, chances are one or two of them won't pan out, someone will get hurt or they will not play up to my expectations.  When that happens I will just dump them on the free agent wire and pick up a garden variety kicker to cover the one week Longwell is off.  I just don't see the logic in ever drafting two kickers, that is one roster spot to me that is just being wasted.  I would rather take a chance on someone who can help my team on a weekly basis than waste a spot on a guy who at best will help it one week out of the year.

With that, we have concluded my recap of my fantasy draft for 2010.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Lost and unfound (or unlost and found)

My "Neverending Thread" has been lacking recently, and while this is not a matter of me starting a new one, it is a little bit of an explanation.  First I went out and purchased from Amazon (and Swagbucks) the new Christopher Hitchens book, "Hitch 22", and while okay it was someone lacking, at lest thus far in the suspense department.  As per Hitch, there are plenty of literary references that leave the head spinning at his intellect, but because the book is a memoir, unless you know lots of the political players in the 70s, and not heads of state, but more along the lines of thinkers of that era, especially those along the socialist or communist lines of thinking, many of the names are either a first time acquaintance for the reader, or have little to no interest at all beyond being plot devices to get from point A to pojnt B.  That being said, because I am intrigued by the way the man thinks I can get through what I would call the slower parts (at least I hope I can, I still haven't finished it) in hopes of greater revelations later.

Then the book and I started playing tag, I would lose it for days at a time, then find it, then lose it again then find it again.  At one point I couldn't find it for better than a week, only for it to turn up at work. 

The problem arises when, left with the possibility of not having any reading material,  I was content to just borrow magazines at work and read them ( a nice job perk to have for a reader like myself).  But soon that became a little to simple for my tastes when my cousin Sarah's 16th birthday came into play.  My aunt was throwing her a Sweet 16 party, and while hanging out with teenage girls isn't normally my sort of thing, I knew there would be some family there and thought it would be a good chance to spend some time with them.  When I asked my aunt what present Sarah would like she mentioned "Toy Story 2" on DVD.  This seemed almost too easy for me, I had the cash in my Amazon account (again from Swagbucks) so getting the DVD wasn't going to be a problem.  Then I noticed that if I spent $25 or more they wave the shipping costs, so I threw my current book on there as well.  Now rather than give away my book and the link (some things are better left to the Neverending Thread after all) I thought instead I would steal some of the book from the Amazon page and post it here, just so you can see what type of geek I really am when it comes to my reading selections. 

Chapter 1


There is a charm of adventure about this new quest...
The New York Times


The letter, several pages in length and signed by Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson, was addressed to Commander Thomas O. Selfridge. It was an eminently clear, altogether formal document, as expected, and had a certain majesty of tone that Commander Selfridge thought quite fitting. That he and the Secretary were personally acquainted, that they had in fact become pleasantly drunk together on one past occasion and vowed eternal friendship as their carriage rolled through the dark capital, were in no way implied. Nor is it important, except that Selfridge, a serious and sober man on the whole, was to wonder for the rest of his days what influence the evening may have had on the way things turned out for him.

His own planning and preparations had already occupied several extremely busy months. The letter was but the final official directive:

Navy Department
Washington, January 10, 1870

Sir: You are appointed to the command of an expedition to make a survey of the Isthmus of Darien, to ascertain the point at which to cut a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The steam-sloop Nipsic and the store-ship Guard will be under your Command...

The Department has entrusted to you a duty connected with the greatest enterprise of the present age; and upon your enterprise and your zeal will depend whether your name is honorably identified with one of the facts of the future...

No matter how many surveys have been made, or how accurate they may have been, the people of this country will never be satisfied until every point of the Isthmus is surveyed by some responsible authority, and by properly equipped parties, such as will be under your command, working on properly matured plans...

So on January 22, 1870, a clear, bright abnormally mild Saturday, the Nipsic cast off at Brooklyn Navy Yard and commenced solemnly down the East River. The Guard, under Commander Edward P. Lull, followed four days later.

In all, the expedition comprised nearly a hundred regular officers and men, two Navy doctors, five civilians from the Coast Survey (surveyors and draftsmen), two civilian geologists, three telegraphers from the Signal Corps, and a photographer, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, who had been Mathew Brady's assistant during the war.

Stowed below on the Guard was the finest array of modern instruments yet assembled for such an undertaking -- engineers' transits, spirit levels, gradienters, surveyors' compasses and chains, delicate pocket aneroid barometers, mercurial mountain barometers, current meters -- all "for prosecuting the work vigorously and scientifically." (The Stackpole transits, made by the New York firm of Stackpole & Sons, had their telescope axis mounted in double cone bearings, for example, which gave the instrument greater rigidity than older models, and the introduction of a simplified horizontal graduation reading allowed for faster readings and less chance of error.) There were rubber blankets and breech-loading rifles for every man, whiskey, quinine, an extra 600 pairs of shoes, and 100 miles of telegraph wire. Stores "in such shape as to be little liable to injury by exposure to rains" were sufficient for four months: 7,000 pounds of bacon, 10,000 pounds of bread, 6,000 pounds of tomato soup, 30 gallons of beans, 2,500 pounds of coffee, 100 bottles of pepper, 600 pounds of canned butter.

The destination was the Darien wilderness on the Isthmus of Panama, more than two thousand miles from Brooklyn, within ten degrees of the equator, and, contrary to the mental picture most people had, east of the 80th meridian -- that is, east of Florida. They would land at Caledonia Bay, about 150 miles east of the Panama Railroad. It was the same point from which Balboa had begun his crossing in 1513, and where, at the end of the seventeenth century, William Paterson, founder of the Bank of England, had established the disastrous Scottish colony of New Edinburgh, because Caledonia Bay (as he named it) was to be the future "door of the seas." Harassed by the Spanish, decimated by disease, the little settlement had lasted scarcely more than a year. Every trace of it had long since vanished.

Darien was known to be the narrowest point anywhere on the Central American isthmus, by which was meant the entire land bridge from lower Mexico to the continent of South America and which included the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Guatemala, Honduras, British Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, the last of which was still a province -- indeed a most prized province -- of Colombia. From Tehuantepec to the Atrato River in Colombia, the natural, easternmost boundary of Central America, was a distance of 1,350 miles as the crow flies, as far as from New York to Dallas, and there were not simply a few, but many points along that zigzagging land mass where, on the map at least, it appeared a canal could be cut. A few years before, Admiral Charles H. Davis had informed Congress that there were no fewer than nineteen possible locations for a Central American ship canal. But at Darien the distance from tidewater to tidewater on a straight line was known to be less than forty miles.

Because of the particular configuration of the Isthmus of Panama -- with the land barrier running nearly horizontal between the oceans -- the expedition would be crossing down the map. The men would make their way from the Caribbean on the north to the Pacific on the south, just as Balboa had. (Hence Balboa's designation of the Pacific as the Sea of the South had been perfectly logical.) The Panama Railroad, the nearest sign of civilization on the map, also ran from north to south. Its faint, spidery red line looked like something added by a left-handed cartographer, with the starting point at Colón, on Limon Bay, actually somewhat farther west than the finish point at Panama City, on the Bay of Panama.

They were to measure the heights of mountains and the depths of rivers and harbors. They were to gather botanical and geological specimens. They were to take astronomical observations, report on the climate, and observe the character of the Indians encountered. And they were to lose as little time as possible, since the rainy season -- the sickly season, Secretary Robeson called it -- would soon be upon them.

Six other expeditions were to follow. A Presidential commission, the first Interoceanic Canal Commission, would be established to appraise all resulting surveys and reports and to declare which was the chosen path. The commission would include the chief of the Army Engineers, the head of the Coast Survey, and the chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Nothing even remotely so systematic, so elaborate or sensible, had ever been attempted before.

But the Darien Expedition was the first, and the fact that it was to Darien, one of the wildest, least-known corners of the entire world, was a matter of extreme concern at the Navy Department. Sixteen years earlier, in 1854, well within the memory of most Americans, an expedition to Caledonia Bay had ended in a disaster that had the whole country talking and left the Navy with a profound respect for the terrors of a tropical wilderness. What had happened was this.

In 1850, Dr. Edward Cullen, an Irish physician and member of the Royal Geographical Society, had announced the discovery of a way across Darien by which he had walked from the Atlantic to the Pacific several times and quite effortlessly. He had been careful to mark the trail, Cullen said, and at no place had he found the elevation more than 150 feet above sea level. It was the miracle route everyone had been searching for and the story caused a sensation. A joint expedition to Darien was organized by England, France, Colombia (then known as New Granada), and the United States. But when the American ship, Cyane, reached Caledonia Bay ahead of the others, Navy Lieutenant Isaac Strain and a party of twenty-seven men started into the jungle without waiting, taking provisions enough for only a few days and fully expecting to pick up Cullen's trail. Balboa, when he started into this same jungle, had gone with a force of 190 heavily armed Spaniards and several hundred Indians, some of whom knew the way.

Strain was not seen again for forty-nine days. His troubles had begun from the moment he set foot on shore. The Indians, impressed by the guns of the Cyane, agreed to let his party pass, but refused to serve as guides. Cullen's trail was nowhere to be found. Within days the expedition was hopelessly lost. Food ran out; rifles became so rusted as to be useless. Strain picked up a large river -- the Chucunaque -- which he thought would take him to the Pacific but which, in reality, was leading him on an endless looping course eastward, through the very center of the Isthmus. When a band of Indians warned him that it was the wrong way, he decided they were deliberately trying to mislead him.

Verging on starvation, his men devoured anything they could lay hands on, including live toads and a variety of palm nut that burned the enamel from their teeth and caused excruciating stomach cramps. The smothering heat, the rains, the forbidding jungle twilight day after day, were unlike anything any of them had ever experienced. Seven men died; one other went temporarily out of his mind. That any survived was due mainly to the discipline enforced by Strain and Strain's own extraordinary fortitude. Leaving the others behind, he and three of the strongest men had pushed on in search of help. When they at last staggered into an Indian village near the Pacific side, Strain, who was torn and bleeding and virtually naked, turned around and led a rescue mission back to the others. A British doctor who examined the survivors described them as the most "wretched set of human beings" he had ever seen. "In nearly all, the intellect was in a slight degree affected, as evinced by childish and silly remarks, although their memory, and the recollection of their sufferings, were unimpaired...They were literally living skeletons, covered with foul ulcers..." Strain's weight was seventy-five pounds. A few years later, at Colón, having never fully recovered, Strain died at age thirty-six.

Strain had found the mountains at Darien not less than one thousand feet. From what he had seen, Darien was "utterly impracticable" as the route for a canal. Just the same, others were not quite willing to abandon the idea. While Strain's ordeal was taken as a fearful object lesson at the Navy Department, there were some who were still willing to accept the possibility that Edward Cullen had been telling the truth after all.

Cullen, who had come out with one of the British ships but then made a hasty retreat to Colón (and from there to New York) the moment it appeared something was amiss, turned up later as a surgeon with the British Army in the Crimean War. He also kept persistently to his story. The expedition had been deplorably misled, he argued. Strain had had no business proceeding without him or without his map, which by itself would have made all the difference.

Admiral Davis, Commander Selfridge, and, most importantly, Admiral Daniel Ammen, chief of the Bureau of Navigation, were among those who considered the case still very much open. "It is to the isthmus of Darien that we are first to look for the solution to the great problem," Davis had informed Congress. "The statements of Dr. Cullen had been so severely criticized," Selfridge was to explain, "and so persistently advocated by him, that I was inclined to put some faith in his representations." To Admiral Ammen, who had pored over every recorded detail of the episode, the critical clue was in Strain's own report. Days after he had started inland, at a time when he should have been well beyond earshot of Caledonia Bay, Strain had written in his journal of hearing the evening gun on the Cyane, and this, Ammen believed, was evidence of a low-lying valley running inland from the bay; otherwise the sound would have been blocked by intervening hills.

Interest in the new expedition was considerable in numerous quarters. The very times themselves seemed so immensely, so historically favorable. If there was one word to characterize the spirit of the moment, it was Confidence. Age-old blank spaces and mysteries were being supplanted on all sides. The summer before, the one-armed John Wesley Powell, in the interests of science, had led an expedition down the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon. The great geological and geographical surveys of the West had begun under the brilliant Clarence King. Poking about in godforsaken corners of the western desert, Othniel C. Marsh, of Yale, who was not yet forty and the country's first and only professor of paleontology, had unearthed the fossils needed to present the full evolution of the horse, the most dramatic demonstration yet of Darwin's theory.

People were reading Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The Roeblings had begun their Brooklyn Bridge. Harvard had installed a chemist as its president. In Pittsburgh, experiments were being made with a new process developed by the English metallurgist Bessemer. And within the preceding nine months alone two of the most celebrated events of the century had occurred: the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad and the opening of the Suez Canal. All at once the planet had grown very much smaller. With the canal, the railroad, the new iron-screw ocean steamers, it was possible -- in theory anyway -- to travel around the world in a tenth of the time it would have taken a decade earlier, as Jules Verne would illustrate in his next voyage extraordinaire.

The feeling was that the revealed powers of science, "the vast strides made in engineering and mechanical knowledge," as Commander Selfridge would say, had brought mankind to a threshold. It was said that the power generated by one steamship during a single Atlantic crossing would be sufficient to raise from the Nile and set in place every stone of the Great Pyramid. Men talked confidently of future systems of transport that would bring all peoples into contact with one another, spread knowledge, break down national divisions, and make a unified whole of humanity. "The barrier is down!" a French prelate proclaimed on the beaches of Port Said when Suez was opened. "One of the most formidable enemies of mankind and of civilization, which is distance, loses in a moment two thousand leagues of his empire. The two sides of the world approach to greet one another...The history of the world has reached one of its most glorious stages."

There really seemed no limit to what man might do. While an official report of the kind Commander Selfridge was to submit might contain the expression "under Providence" (in conjunction with certain accomplishments), such terms seemed perfunctory. Man, modern man -- the scientist, the explorer, the builder of bridges and waterways and steam engines, the visionary entrepreneur -- had become the central creative force. In the summer of 1870, the summer Selfridge returned from Darien, thirty, perhaps forty, thousand people would fill London's Crystal Palace for a public reception that only a Nelson might have been accorded in an earlier day. Thousands of rockets would hurtle into the night and two hundred boys from the Lambeth Industrial Schools would wave four hundred colored flares in an "Egyptian Salute," all to honor the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal. This was jubilation of a kind not known before and, that future generations would have some trouble comprehending. De Lesseps' desert passage of 105 miles had brought Europe 5,800 miles closer to India. The Near East had been restored to its ancient position as a world crossroads. Africa had been made an island at a stroke. And the fact that the project had been denounced by men reputedly far wiser than de Lesseps -- most especially by Britain's own Robert Stephenson -- made the ultimate triumph all the more thrilling.

Victoria, who was to give a name to the era, its elegance, its sense of purpose, its heavy, varnished furniture, its small and large hypocrisies, was very much in her prime at age fifty-one. Samuel Smiles, that most eminent Victorian, had published his Lives of the Engineers, wherein good and useful giants -- Brindley of the English canals, Rennie of the Waterloo Bridge, the genius Telford -- did good and useful work for the betterment of all. Paris was newly transformed by the brilliant Georges Haussmann, prefect of the Seine, and the picture-book troops of Napoleon III, in their kepis and pantalons rouges, were thought to be the most formidable on earth, the Franco-Prussian War being still over the horizon.

Among the American tourists to be found strolling Baron Haussmann's magnificent boulevards as the Nipsic and the Guard sailed for Darien was an undersized eleven-year-old in the company of his parents, Theodore Roosevelt, whose ambition at the moment was to be a naturalist.

The President of the United States at this juncture was Ulysses S. Grant and it was he, the year before, who had instructed Admiral Ammen to organize the series of expeditions -- "practical investigations," he called them. Grant, despite his subsequent reputation as a President of little vision or initiative, was more keenly interested in an isthmian canal than any of his predecessors had been. He was indeed the first President to address himself seriously to the subject. If there was to be a water corridor, he wanted it in the proper place -- as determined by civil engineers and naval authorities -- and he wanted it under American control. "To Europeans the benefits of and advantages of the proposed canal are great," he was to write, "to Americans they are incalculable."

Grant's blind faith in old friends was to prove his greatest failing as time wore on, but in Admiral Ammen, a friend since boyhood, he had made an excellent choice. Ammen had been reassigned from sea duty and put at the head of the Bureau of Navigation almost the moment Grant became President. A picture of authority, Ammen was whiskered, grizzled, like Grant himself, but with a large, imposing nose and a permanent scowl. Once, while in command of a training cruise to Panama, he had settled a mutiny on the instant by calmly shooting the two leaders. He also had an agile and resourceful mind.

The Navy was to provide the ships and most of the personnel. Ammen selected the officers. Thomas Oliver Selfridge, irrespective of any impression he may have made on Secretary Robeson, had been first in his class at Annapolis and distinguished himself as a commander of gunboats at Vicksburg and on the Red River. En route to Darien he would celebrate his thirty-fourth birthday. Captain Robert Shufeldt, who would lead the Tehuantepec Expedition in the fall of 1870, had had thirty years at sea. He was a physical giant who appeared equal to any wilderness and he had, besides, considerable tact. (Though it had been more than twenty years since the Mexican War, there was much apprehension over the reception an American expedition might receive in Tehuantepec.) And the studious, likable Edward P. Lull, who was in charge of the Guard, and who was later to command both the Nicaragua and Panama expeditions, was as able a young officer as was to be found in the Navy.

These particular officers, moreover, had been imbued with a star-spangled sense of American destiny in the Pacific Ocean. As a young lieutenant, Daniel Ammen had sailed on Commodore James Biddle's voyage to China and Japan, the voyage that resulted in 1846 in the first treaty between China and the United States. Selfridge also had begun his career with a South Pacific cruise and Shufeldt had been in command of the Wachusett in the Orient only the year before the Tehuantepec Expedition.

"Sufficient is it to add that advantageous as an interoceanic canal would be to the commercial welfare of the whole world, it is doubly so for the necessities of American interests," Selfridge was to write. "The Pacific is naturally our domain."

"It may be the future of our country lies hidden in this problem," Shufeldt would address his crew when the Kansas sailed for Tehuantepec. And from the rail of a battered little river steamer laboring against the brown current of the San Juan, his eyes squinting against the hard glare of a Nicaragua morning, Edward Lull would envisage American ships of the line riding the same path to the Pacific.

These were professional sailors, not remarkable men, or so they undoubtedly would have said. They were experienced in command, meticulous about details, physically very tough; but without airs or pretense. In the field, with their sun hats and field glasses, their blue northern eyes, they would look much like other English-speaking harbingers of civilization in other so-called "dark" corners of the world. But there was no overflowing ego among them, no Burton or Speke or Stanley possessed by visions of personal destiny. Nor were they great men in the way a Powell or a King was, intellectually and in orginality of purpose. Had they been asked, they undoubtedly would have said they were doing their job.


The seven Grant expeditions to Central America between 1870 and 1875 can be seen as a sharp, clean line through the whole long history of canal plans and proposals reaching back to an obscure reference concerning an obscure Spaniard, Alvaro de Saavedra, a kinsman of Cortez', who supposedly "meant to have opened the land of Castilla del Oro...from sea to sea." There had never been any serious possibility of a canal during Spanish times. "There are mountains, but there are also hands" was the lovely declaration of a Spanish priest of the sixteenth century, "and for a king of Castile, few things are impossible." The priest, Francisco López de Gómara, was the first to raise the issue of location, naming Panama, Nicaragua, Darien, and Tehuantepec as the best choices, in a book published in 1552. But he was sadly deceiving himself. Not for another three hundred years, not until the nineteenth century, would a canal, even a very small canal, become a reasonable possibility. It required certain advances in hydraulic engineering, among other things; and it required the steam engine.

The place most nineteenth-century North Americans expected to see the canal built, including the President, was Nicaragua. If not Darien, it would be through Lake Nicaragua; if not there, then probably it would have to be Panama. Tehuantepec had the virtue of being so much closer to the United States, but that was about all that could be said for Tehuantepec. The great overriding problem, however, was the extremely low level of reliable geographical information on Central America, and this despite more than fifty years of debate over where a canal ought to go, despite volumes of so-called geographical research, engineering surveys, perhaps a hundred articles in popular magazines and learned journals, promotional pamphlets, travel books, and the fact that Panama, Nicaragua, and Tehuantepec had all been heavily traveled shortcuts to the Pacific since the time of the California gold craze. As Admiral Davis had quite accurately stated, there were not in the libraries of the world the means to determine even approximately the most practicable route.

The earliest authoritative study of the problem, or rather the first to be taken as authoritative, appeared in 1811 and designated Nicaragua as the route posing the fewest difficulties. The author of this rather tentative benediction was Alexander von Humboldt, the adventurous German-born naturalist and explorer, and Nicaragua thereafter had been "Humboldt's route." Humboldt, as it happens, had never set foot in Nicaragua, or in any of the four alternatives he named. He had built his theories wholly from hearsay, from old books and manuscripts, and the few pitiful maps then available, all of which he plainly acknowledged. The precise location of the City of Panama was not even known, he warned. Nor had anyone determined the elevation of the mountains at Panama, or at any other point along the spine of Central America.

Panama he judged to be the worst possible choice, primarily because of the mountains, which he took to be three times as high as they actually are. Tehuantepec appeared to be too broad, as well as mountainous, and he feared the "sinuosity" of the rivers. About the best that could be done at either Panama or Tehuantepec would be to build some good roads for camels.

Humboldt was still comparatively unknown when he wrote his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, the book containing his long canal essay; his renown was limited still to scientific circles. No Peruvian current or glacier or river had been named for him; Humboldt, Kansas, and Humboldt, Iowa, were still unbroken prairie grass. His views, nonetheless, were to have more influence on the canal issue than everything that had been written previously taken together, for by mid-century he was to tower above all others as the beloved high priest of modern science, a university unto himself, as Goethe would say.

Humboldt's Political Essay was the result of a five-year journey through Spanish America, the likes of which would never be equaled. He had been up the Orinoco and the Magdalena; he had been over the Andes on foot. In Ecuador he had climbed Chimborazo, then believed to be the highest mountain on earth, and though he failed to reach the top, he had gone to nineteen thousand feet, which was higher -- considerably higher -- than any human being had ever been before, even in a balloon. If he had not been in Nicaragua or Panama or Tehuantepec or anywhere along the drenched, green valley of the Atrato River, the location of his two other possible pathways to the Pacific, he had been almost everywhere else and no one was assumed to have more firsthand knowledge of the American jungle. The rather vital fact that his canal theories were almost wholly conjecture was generally ignored. Moreover, those who used his name to substantiate their own pet notions, those who would quote and misquote him endlessly, would find it convenient to forget that it was he who insisted that no canal should be considered until the comparative advantages and disadvantages of all possible routes were examined firsthand by experienced people and according to uniform standards.

The Nicaragua canal he visualized was much along the lines of Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal in Scotland, then the most ambitious thing of its kind. Lake Nicaragua, besides being navigable, would, like Telford's Scottish lakes, provide a natural and limitless source of water for the canal -- a vast "basin" -- at the very summit of the canal.

Should Nicaragua be found unsatisfactory, then perhaps one of the two routes on the Atrato would serve best. The Napipi-Cupica route, as he named it and as it is still known, would follow the Napipi River, a tributary of the sprawling Atrato, to its headwaters, then continue down to the Pacific at Cupica Bay.

The other Atrato scheme, the so-called "Lost Canal of the Raspadura," appealed mainly to his imagination. Years before, he had heard, a Spanish monk "of great activity" had induced some Indians to build a secret passage between the Atrato and the Pacific, a passage large enough only for small boats, but one that followed a near-perfect path for a canal of larger size, somewhere off the Raspadura River, another distant tributary. All one had to do was find it.

How much of all this he may have discussed with Thomas Jefferson in the spring of 1804, at the end of the Spanish-American odyssey, is not known. But probably his stay at the White House marks the start of Presidential interest in the canal. It is known that Jefferson had shown prior curiosity on the subject while he was minister to France. Furthermore, the visit coincided with the departure of Lewis and Clark from St. Louis to seek, on Jefferson's orders, a northwest water passage to the Pacific. And Humboldt, a lean, deeply tanned, explosively energetic young man, had so enthralled Jefferson with accounts of his travels that Jefferson kept him on as a guest for two weeks. So it is difficult to imagine them not discussing a Central American corridor as they strolled the White House grounds or sat conversing, hours on end, at the big table in Jefferson's first-floor office, maps and charts all over one wall and Jefferson's pet mockingbird swinging in a cage overhead.

Humboldt's Spanish-American travels had been the result of an unprecedented grant from the Spanish Crown to investigate wherever he wished in the cause of scientific progress. Until then explorations of any kind by foreigners within Spain's New World realm had been strenuously discouraged. But once Spanish rule began to dissolve in the 1820's the way was open to almost anyone. And almost anyone was what turned up. Engineers, naval officers, French, English, Dutch, Americans, promoters, journalists, many of whom expressed grand visions of a canal, in the event political permission could be obtained, in the event the necessary capital could be assembled. A few of these were able people, but very few had any technical competence. Many of them were also perfectly genuine in their aspirations and sincerely believed in their rainbow-hued promises, however inept or naive they may have been. Others, quite a good many others, were petty adventurers or outright crackpots.

The canals they had in mind, regardless of specified location, were invariably feasible technically, within range financially, and destined to be bonanzas for all investors and for whichever impoverished little Central American republic was to be involved. Emissaries from Bogotá and Managua and Mexico City were dispatched to the capitals of Europe and to Washington to enlist support. Even the Pope was approached. Special agreements and franchises were signed and sealed with appropriate formality. The future was rich with possibilities.

With the opening of Telford's canal and the Erie Canal, both in the 1820's, reasonable men also felt justified in projecting comparable works across the map of Central America. "Neptune's Staircase," the spectacular system of locks on the Caledonian Canal, could lift seagoing ships -- could lift a thirty-two-gun frigate, for example -- a hundred feet up from the level of the sea. The Erie Canal, though built for shallow-draft canal barges, was nonetheless the longest canal in the world, and its locks overcame an elevation en route of nearly seven hundred feet. So on paper a canal at Panama or Nicaragua or any other place in favor at the moment did not seem unrealistic. Telford in his last years was considering "a grand scheme" for Darien. DeWitt Clinton, "father" of the Erie Canal, had joined with Horatio Allen, builder of the Croton Aqueduct, to plan a water passage through Nicaragua.

A skeptical or cautionary voice was the rare exception. The view of someone such as Colonel Charles Biddle, sent by President Andrew Jackson to appraise Panama and Nicaragua, stands in solitary contrast to almost everything else being written or said. Having made his way up the Chagres River by canoe, then overland to Panama City, a trek of four days, Biddle concluded that any talk of a Panama canal was utter foolishness and that this ought to be clear to all men, "whether of common or uncommon sense." (He did not bother to go see Nicaragua.)

Far more representative were the views of John Lloyd Stephens, which appeared about the time John O'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, was writing that "our manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."

The task, declared Stephens, posed no major problems and ought not cost more than $25,000,000, a figure most people took to be absurdly high.

Stephens was "the American traveler," an engaging, romantic, red-bearded lawyer and author of popular travel books who passed through Nicaragua on his way to the Mexican provinces of Chiapas and Yucatán in 1840. He was looking for the "lost" cities of the Maya, which he found, and the book describing those discoveries, Incidents of Travel in Central America, went through edition after edition. It was a classic, thrilling piece of work and can be seen now as the beginning of American archaeology. But Stephens had no more business issuing pronouncements on the feasibility of a Nicaragua canal from the little he had seen than had the engineer Horatio Allen from the comforts of his Manhattan office.

A Nicaragua canal posed no major problems, Stephens declared. Here was an enchanting land of blue lakes and trade winds, towering volcanic mountains, rolling green savannas and grazing cattle. Nicaragua could become one of the finest resorts on earth were a canal to be built. Like Humboldt he had scaled a volcano -- Masaya -- then, to the horror of his guide, descended bravely into its silent crater. "At home, this volcano would be a fortune, with a good hotel on top, a railing to keep the children from falling in, a zigzagging staircase down the sides, and a glass of iced lemonade at the bottom." The mountain, he noted, could probably be purchased for ten dollars.

The truth is that all the canal projects proposed, every cost estimated, irrespective of the individual or individuals responsible, were hopelessly unrealistic if not preposterous. Every supposed canal survey made by mid-century was patently flawed by bad assumptions or absurdly inadequate data. Assertions that the task would be simple were written by fools or by men who either had no appropriate competence or who, if they did, had never laid eyes on a rain forest.

The one important step taken prior to the California gold rush was of another kind, but very little was made of it.

On December 12, 1846, at Bogotá, a new American chargé d'affaires, Benjamin Alden Bidlack, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, acting entirely on his own initiative, signed a treaty with the government of President Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera. The critical agreement was contained in Article XXXV. New Granada guaranteed to the United States the exclusive right of transhased for ten dollars.

The truth is that all the canal projects proposed, every cost estimated, irrespective of the individual or individuals responsible, were hopelessly unrealistic if not preposterous. Every supposed canal survey made by mid-century was patently flawed by bad assumptions or absurdly inadequate data. Assertions that the task would be simple were written by fools or by men who either had no appropriate competence or who, if they did, had never laid eyes on a rain forest.

The one important step taken prior to the California gold rush was of another kind, but very little was made of it.

On December 12, 1846, at Bogotá, a new American chargé d'affaires, Benjamin Alden Bidlack, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, acting entirely on his own initiative, signed a treaty with the government of President Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera. The critical agreement was contained in Article XXXV. New Granada guaranteed to the United States the exclusive right of transit across the Isthmus of Panama, "upon any modes of communication that now exist, or that may be, hereafter, constructed." In exchange the United States guaranteed "positively and efficaciously" both the "perfect neutrality" of the Isthmus and New Granada's rights of sovereignty there. (It was this agreement by which the Panama Railroad was to be made possible.)

In Washington the news was greeted with only moderate interest since Bidlack had acted without instruction and since there was much old, deep-seated distrust of "entangling" alliances. Not for another year and a half did the Senate act on confirmation and not until the government of New Granada had sent a special envoy to Washington, the very able Pedro Alcántara Herrán, to lobby for the agreement.

The Bidlack Treaty, as it was commonly called, was Bidlack's only diplomatic triumph. A small-town lawyer and newspaper editor, a congressman briefly before going to Bogotá, he died seven months after the treaty was ratified.

For three centuries the gold in the stream beds of the Sierra Nevada had gone undetected and for all the commotion over Central American canals in the first half of the new world-shaking nineteenth century, Central America remained a backwater. No canals, no railroads were built. There was not a single wagon road anywhere across the entire Isthmus. But in January of 1848 a carpenter from New Jersey saw something shining at the bottom of a millrace at Coloma, California, and within a year Central America re-emerged from the shadows. Again, as in Spanish times, gold was the catalyst.

There were three routes to the new El Dorado -- "the Plains across, the Horn around, or the Isthmus over" -- and for those thousands who chose "the Isthmus over," it was to be one of life's unforgettable experiences. The onslaught began first at Panama, early on the morning of January 7, 1849, when the little steamer Falcon anchored off the marshy lowlands at the mouth of the Chagres River and some two hundred North Americans -- mostly unshaven young men in red flannel shirts loaded down with rifles, pistols, bowie knives, bedrolls, pots and pans, picks, shovels -- came swarming ashore in one great noisy wave. To the scattering of native Panamanians who stood gaping, it must have seemed as if the buccaneer Morgan had returned after two hundred years to storm the Spanish bastion of San Lorenzo, the frowning brown walls of which still commanded the entire scene. The invaders shouted and gestured, trying to make themselves understood. Nobody seemed to have the least idea which way the Pacific lay and all were in an enormous hurry to get started.

Amazingly, all of this first group survived the crossing. They came dragging into Panama City, rain-soaked, caked with mud, hollow-eyed from lack of sleep, and ravenously hungry. They had gone up the Chagres by native canoe, then overland on mule and on foot, as Charles Biddle had and as thousands more like them would, year after year, until the Panama Railroad was in service. Old letters and little leather-bound journals mention the broiling heat and sudden blinding rains. They speak of heavy green slime on the Chagres, of nights spent in vermin-infested native huts, epidemics of dysentery, mules struggling up to their haunches in the impossible blue-black Panama muck. A man from Troy, New York, counted forty dead mules along the Cruces Trail, the twisting jungle path, barely three feet wide, over which they all came from the river to Panama City. Others wrote of human companions dropping in their tracks with cholera or the dreaded Chagres fever.

"I have no time to give reasons," a Massachusetts man wrote home after crossing Panama, "but in saying it I utter the united sentiment of every passenger whom I have heard speak, it is this, and I say it in fear of God and the lore of man, to one and all, for no consideration come this route. I have nothing to say for the other routes but do not take this one."

Yet the gain in time and distance was phenomenal. From New York to San Francisco around the Horn was a months-long voyage of thirteen thousand miles. From New York to San Francisco by way of Panama was five thousand miles, or a saving of eight thousand miles. From New Orleans to San Francisco by Panama, instead of around the Horn, the saving was more than nine thousand miles.

Besides, how one responded to Panama depended often on the season of the year and one's own particular make-up. Many were thrilled by the lush, primeval spectacle of the jungle -- "overwhelmed with the thought that all these wonders have been from the beginning," as one man wrote. For wives and parents left behind they described as best they could those moments when magnificent multicolored birds burst into the sky; the swarms of blue butterflies -- "like blossoms blown away"; the brilliant green mountains, mountains to put Vermont to shame said a young man from Bennington who was having a splendid time traveling up the Chagres. "The weather was warm but we had a roof to our boat...and what was of more consequence still we had on board a box of claret wine, a bacon, bread, and a piece of ICE!"

The little railroad was begun in 1850, with the idea that it could be finished in two years. It was finished five years later, and at a cost of $8,000,000, six times beyond anyone's estimate. For a generation of Americans there was something especially appealing about the picture of this line across Panama, of a steam locomotive highballing through the jungle, pulling a train of bright passenger cars, a steam whistle scattering monkeys to the treetops -- "ocean to ocean" in something over three hours. It was also the world's first transcontinental railroad-one track, five-foot (or broad) gauge, exactly forty-seven and one-half miles long -- and the most expensive line on earth on a dollar-per-mile basis, expensive to build and expensive to travel. A one-way ticket was $25 in gold.

To its owners the railroad was the tiny but critical land link in the first all-steam overseas system to span the new continental United States. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company, with offices in New York, had been established just before the news of California gold reached the East, or when such an idea had looked dangerously, if not insanely, speculative. The ships operated to and from Panama on both oceans, providing regular passenger service and mail delivery to California. (A generous subsidy from the federal government to carry the mail had made it considerably less speculative.) William Henry Aspinwall, a wealthy New York merchant, was the founder and guiding spirit of the steamship line, and in the railroad venture he was joined by a banker named Henry Chauncey and by John Lloyd Stephens, who, in the time since his Nicaragua travels, had concluded that Panama was where the future lay. Stephens was the first president of the Panama Railroad Company and its driving force until his death at age forty-six. He was the one member of the threesome to stay with the actual construction effort in the jungle, and the result was an attack of fever, a recurrence of which was fatal in the fall of 1852.

Having, as it did, a monopoly on the Panama transit, the railroad was a bonanza. Profits in the first six years after it was finished were in excess of $7,000,000. Dividends were 15 percent on the average and went as high as 44 percent. Once, standing at $295 a share, Panama Railroad was the highest-priced stock listed on the New York Exchange.

So dazzling a demonstration of the cash value of an ocean connection at Panama, even one so paltry as a little one-track railroad, was bound to draw attention. Matthew Fontaine Maury, the pioneer oceanographer, had told a Senate committee as early as 1849 that a Panama railroad would lead directly to a Panama canal "by showing to the world how immense this business is," but nobody had been prepared for success on such a scale. The volume of human traffic alone -- upward of 400,000 people between 1856 and 1866 -- gave Panama a kind of most-beaten-path status unmatched by any of the other canal routes talked of.

Surveys for the railroad had also produced two pertinent pieces of information. The engineers had discovered a gap in the mountains twelve miles from Panama City, at a point called Culebra, where the elevation above sea level was only 275 feet. This was 200 feet less than what had been considered the lowest gap. Then, toward the close of their work, they had determined once and for all that there was no difference between the levels of the two oceans. The level of the Pacific was not twenty feet higher than that of the Atlantic, as had been the accepted view for centuries. Sea level was sea level, the same on both sides. The difference was in the size of their tides.

(The tides on the Pacific are tremendous, eighteen to twenty feet, while on the Caribbean there is little or no tide, barely more than a foot. When Balboa stood at last on the Pacific shore, he had seen no rush of lordly breakers, but an ugly brown mud flat reaching away for a mile and more, because he had arrived when the tide was out.)

Yet, ironically, it was the experience of the railroad builders that argued most forcibly for some different path, almost any other location, for the canal. If humane considerations were to be entered in the balance, then Panama was the worst possible place to send men to build anything.

Panama had been known as a pesthole since the earliest Spanish settlement. But the horror stories to come out of Panama as the railroad was being pushed ahead mile by mile quite surpassed anything. The cost paid in human life for the minuscule bit of track was of the kind people associated with dark, barbaric times, before the age of steam and iron and the upward march of Progress. The common story, the one repeated up and down the California gold fields, the one carried home on the New York steamer, the claim that turns up time and again in the dim pages of old letters, is that there was a dead man for every railroad tie between Colón and Panama City. In some versions it was a dead Irishman; in others, a dead Chinese. The story was nonsense-there were some seventy-four thousand ties along the Panama line -- but that had not kept it from spreading, and from what many thousands of people had seen with their own eyes, it seemed believable enough.

How many did actually die is not known. The company kept no systematic records, no body count, except for its white workers, who represented only a fraction of the total force employed over the five years of construction. (In 1853, for example, of some 1,590 men on the payroll, 1,200 were black.) However, the company's repeated assertion that in fact fewer than a thousand had died was patently absurd. A more reasonable estimate is six thousand, but it could very well have been twice that. No one will ever know, and the statistic is not so important as the ways in which they died -- of cholera, dysentery, fever, smallpox, all the scourges against which there was no known protection or any known cure.

Laborers had been brought in by the boatload from every part of the world. White men, mostly Irish "navvies" who had built canals and railroads across England, "withered as cut plants in the sun." But of a thousand Chinese coolies, hundreds fell no less rapidly or died any less miserably of disease, and scores of Chinese workers were so stricken by "melancholia," an aftereffect of malaria, that they had committed suicide by hanging, drowning, or impaling themselves on sharpened bamboo poles.

Simply disposing of dead bodies had been a problem the first year, before the line reached beyond the swamps and a regular cemetery could be established on high ground. And so many of those who died were without identity, other than a first name, without known address or next of kin, that a rather ghoulish but thriving trade developed in the shipping of cadavers, pickled in large barrels, to medical schools and hospitals all over the world. For years the Panama Railroad Company was a steady supplier of such merchandise, and the proceeds were enough to pay for the company's own small hospital at Colón.

A reporter who visited this hospital in 1855, the year the railroad was finished, wrote of seeing "the melancholy rows" of sick and dying men, then of being escorted by the head physician to an adjoining piazza, "where, in conscious pride, he displayed to me his collection of well-picked skeletons and bones, bleaching and drying in the hot sun." It was the physician's intention, for the purposes of science, to assemble a complete "museum" representing all the racial types to be found among the railroad dead.

The worst year had been 1852, the year of Stephens' death, when cholera swept across the Isthmus, starting at Colón with the arrival of a steamer from New Orleans. Of the American technicians then employed -- some fifty engineers, surveyors, draftsmen -- all but two died. When a large military detachment, several hundred men of the American Fourth Infantry and their dependents, made the crossing in July en route to garrison duty in California, the tragic consequence was 150 dead -- men, women, and children. "The horrors of the road in the rainy season are beyond description," wrote the young officer in charge, Captain Ulysses S. Grant, whose memory of the experience was to be no less vivid years later when he sat in the White House.

Nicaragua was different.

The United States and Great Britain had come close to war over Nicaragua, in fact, at the beginning of the gold rush, so seriously was Nicaragua's importance as a canal site regarded on both sides of the Atlantic. The Caribbean entrance to a Nicaragua canal would be San Juan del Norte, at the mouth of the San Juan River, and a British gunboat had seized San Juan del Norte in 1848 and renamed it Greytown. A crisis was averted by a treaty specifically binding the United States and Great Britain to joint control of any canal at Nicaragua, or, by implication, any canal anywhere in Central America. This was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 -- after John Clayton, the American Secretary of State, and Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, the special British envoy involved -- and it seemed a very good thing in Washington, in that it blocked a foothold for the British Empire in Central America and precluded any chance of a wholly British-owned and -operated canal in the Western Hemisphere. So important a document signed by the two powers had also put the Nicaragua canal in a class by itself.

Nicaragua and Tehuantepec both competed with Panama for the California trade, and though the Tehuantepec transit never really amounted to much, the one at Nicaragua did and far more so than is generally appreciated. In 1853, for example, traffic in both directions across Panama was in the neighborhood of twenty-seven thousand people; that same year probably twenty thousand others took the Nicaragua route, going from ocean to ocean on an improvised hop-skip-and-jump system of shallow-draft steamers on the San Juan, large lake steamers, and sky-blue stagecoaches between the lake and the Pacific. The actual overland crossing at Panama was shorter and laster, but Nicaragua, being closer to the United States, was the shorter, laster route over all -- five hundred miles shorter and two days faster. A through ticket by way of Nicaragua also cost less and, perhaps as important as everything else, Nicaragua was not known as a deathtrap.

The Nicaragua system was the creation of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who became seriously enough interested in a Nicaragua canal to hire Orville Childs, a highly qualified engineer, to survey the narrow neck of land between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific. And in 1851 Orville Childs had the good fortune to hike into a pass that was only 153 feet above sea level. He had found a place, in other words, that was a full 122 feet lower than the summit of the Panama Railroad, and by 1870 no lower point had been discovered anywhere else.

The impetus to resolve the canal question grew steadily as the steam engine transformed ocean travel on a global scale. In 1854 Commodore Matthew Perry with his "black ships" had forced Japan to open her ports to Western commerce. Seven years later the first Japanese delegation to the United States, eighteen lords wearing the swords and robes of samurai, passed through Panama on its way to Washington.

A Wall Street man named Frederick Kelley calculated that a canal through Central America could mean an annual saving to American trade as a whole of no less than $36,000,000 -- in reduced insurance, interest on cargoes, wear and tear on ships, wages, provisions, crews -- and a total saving of all maritime nations of $48,000,000. This alone, he asserted, would be enough, irrespective of tolls, to pay for the entire canal in a few years, even if it were to cost as much as $100,000,000, a possibility almost no one foresaw.

Darien had been tried several times again since Lieutenant Strain's tragedy, as had the Atrato headwaters, all without luck. Small French exploring parties had begun turning up in both areas in the 1860's, and Frederick Kelley, who became the most ingenuous canal booster of the day, expended a fortune backing several disappointing expeditions, including one in search of Humboldt's "Lost Canal of the Raspadura." The leader of that particular Kelley venture was a hard-bitten old jungle hand, John C. Trautwine, who had worked on the Panama Railroad surveys. There was no lost canal, he reported, at the conclusion of a search across hundreds of miles of Atrato wilderness. Perhaps a Spanish priest had induced his flock to make a "canoe slide," but it was never anything more than that. "I have crossed it [the Isthmus] both at the site of the Panama Railroad and at three other points more to the south," Trautwine wrote in a prominent scientific journal. "From all I could see, combined with all I have read on the subject, I cannot entertain the slightest hope that a ship canal will ever be found practicable across any part of it."

But whose word was to be trusted? Which data were reliable?

The information available had been gathered in such extremely different fashions by such a disparate assortment of individuals, even the best of whom found it impossible to remain objective about his own piece of work. The more difficult it was to obtain the data, the higher their cost in physical hardship, time, or one's own cash, the harder it was to appraise them dispassionately. The conditions under which the field work had to be conducted were not only difficult in the extreme, but even the best-intentioned, most experienced men could be gravely misled if they allowed themselves to be influenced by the "feel" of the terrain, as nearly all of them had at one time or another.

The French explorers and engineers had little faith in American surveys; the Americans had still less regard for any data attributed to a French source. The only surveys of consequence were that of the Panama Railroad and the Nicaragua survey by Childs. Only one of these had been made with a canal in mind and it was really far from adequate. The organized approach Humboldt insisted on had never once been tried, for all the talk and energies expended. Nor, it must be added, had any serious body or institution -- American, European, scientific, military -- addressed itself to the critical question of the kind of canal to be built; whether in the interests of commerce and of future generations, it ought to be a canal cut through at sea level, such as the Suez Canal, or whether one that would lift ships up and over the land barrier with a system of locks.

See, I am a geek because the book has me hooked.  I may get back to Hitchens eventually, but for now I am engrossed in this instead.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stolen Content - Written better than me

Okay, part of this idea was fleshed out in the last "Things I think I think" blog, but this is just better, way better

Obama's mosque duty

By Michael Gerson
Monday, August 16, 2010; A13

President Obama has a peculiar talent for enraging his critics while deflating the enthusiasm of his friends, on full display in the Manhattan mosque controversy.

His first intervention, at a White House dinner for Ramadan on Friday, was an unqualified defense of both religious liberty and religious tolerance, implying that opposition to a mosque near Ground Zero violated both. In his second intervention, in an unplanned exchange with a reporter on Saturday, he insisted that he was not commenting "on the wisdom" of building the mosque, merely affirming the right to a construction permit. It was not a contradiction, but it was a marked change in tone. Obama managed to collect all the political damage for taking an unpopular stand without gaining credit for political courage.

But being hapless does not make the president wrong.

Though columnists are loath to admit it, there is a difference between being a commentator and being president. Pundits have every right to raise questions about the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero. Where is the funding coming from? What are the motives of its supporters? Is the symbolism insensitive?

But the view from the Oval Office differs from the view from a keyboard. A president does not merely have opinions; he has duties to the Constitution and to the citizens he serves -- including millions of Muslim citizens. His primary concern is not the sifting of sensitivities but the protection of the American people and the vindication of their rights.

By this standard, Obama had no choice but the general path he took. No president, of any party or ideology, could tell millions of Americans that their sacred building desecrates American holy ground. This would understandably be taken as a presidential assault on the deepest beliefs of his fellow citizens. It would be an unprecedented act of sectarianism, alienating an entire faith tradition from the American experiment. If a church or synagogue can be built on a commercial street in Lower Manhattan, declaring a mosque off-limits would officially equate Islam with violence and terrorism. No president would consider making such a statement. And those commentators who urge the president to do so fundamentally misunderstand the presidency itself.

An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between "us" and "them" in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.

How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own.

The federal government has a response to American mosques taken over by advocates of violence. It investigates them, freezes their assets and charges their leaders. It does not urge zoning decisions that express a general discomfort with Islam itself.

Here again, this debate illustrates a gap in perspective. A commentator can speak with obvious sincerity of preventing American hallowed ground from being overshadowed by a mosque. A president not only serves Muslim citizens, not only commands Muslims in the American military, but also leads a coalition that includes Iraqi and Afghan Muslims who risk death each day fighting Islamic radicalism at our side. How could he possibly tell them that their place of worship inherently symbolizes the triumph of terror?

There are many reasons to criticize Obama's late, vacillating response to the Manhattan mosque, and perhaps even to criticize this particular mosque. But those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Things I think I think #4

More much ado about nothing.  A mosque may be built near Ground Zero and of course there are some (quite a few actually) who are upset about the prospect.  So apparently freedom of religion for some only exists if it is their preferred religion and damn everyone else.  Far more embarrassing should be the fundamental question that it took less than 5 years to build the World Trade Center and yet here we are 9 years later with little to show for the rebuilding effort.  Newt Gingrich has been on TV saying that nobody would expect a synagogue or a church to be built in Mecca?  Really, is the religious intolerance of Saudi Arabia now the gold standard that America should follow? 

Don't say I didn't warn you, but when I suggested earlier this year that the numbers didn't back up the Pittsburgh Pirates record, which even then was under .500 but relatively respectable given 17 consecutive years of losing.  Well the numbers have since more than caught up with them, as they now sport the worst record in Major League Baseball (39-78) and have been outscored by 231 runs going into tonight's game.  The Baltimore Orioles, who sport the second worst record  (41-77) and the second worst run differential, have been outscored by 182.  And don't forget that as bad as the Orioles are, their division has 5 teams, and the 4th place team (Toronto) is 7 games over .500, by comparison the competition in Pittsburgh's division isn't nearly as difficult, with 3 of the remaining 5 teams sports losing records.

It was only a preseason game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions but something that may prove problematic, the offensive line looks questionable at best.  When the starters were in the game, the Detroit Lions defensive line spent a large portion of time in the Steelers backfield.  This wouldn't be as big a concern, save for the fact the team has allowed 195 sacks in the last 4 seasons and it looks like history has a chance of repeating itself for a 5th year.

So when did baby strollers get all tricked out?  I seem to remember them as basically being a cloth seat with four wheels attached and a sort of seat belt to keep the toddler from falling out.  Now they are all jacked up, with giant tires and chrome spinny things on the wheels, am/fm radio, side view mirrors, tinted windows.  No joke, I was at work today and I saw one that I swear would have occupied a regular lane of traffic. 

Many thanks to the people at Channel 59.  As some of you know, I have decided to be too cheap for cable TV, instead relying on regular TV and my computer for my TV watching pleasure.  With the advent of digital TV, even the local stations have added extra digital channels.  Usually the content on these channels is suspect at best, though I have mentioned previously that I like what Channel 11 (WPXI TV) has done with a secondary channel, carrying the Retro Television Network.  Time to add to that list with Channel 59, WBGN.  Things is even with one channel, 59 had less than stellar programming.  A few shows that are worth a peek, but mostly just infomercials.  That being said, they managed to get three additional digital channels.  I can't say that I know how digital channels are handed out by the FCC, and technically I don't know what goes into establishing them, but 59 with its weak signal and small coverage area seemed to be the last station that I would think would get 3 additional channels.  Yet they did, and for the longest time it was just three additional channels running infomercials, not all that different than the main channel.  Then a funny thing happened, they took the last one, 59-4, and dumped the infomercials in favor of the Universal Sports Channel.  Universal Sports is a small time outfit tied to NBC, but watching them they are a lot like a young ESPN.  Sure, there are lots of repeats of programs, but in is almost 24/7 programming of things like gymnastics, volleyball, track and field, swimming, sailing, ping pong, etc.  Just an eclectic mix of sports, like I said, not unlike the early days of ESPN, when they would run darts, Australian Rules Football, just anything they could get the broadcast rights to.  I am not saying that Universal is the next ESPN, but I am saying that I like that some sports that otherwise may not get on TV, save for weekends, are on all the time now.

There are times when I loathe being right.  The most recent was in my recent fantasy football draft, where I got stuck with quarterbacks that were so bad (Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell) that I went to the free agent wire to see what was available only to find the highest rated QB was Brett Favre.  On one hand he is better than anything I have, on the other we are now in season #4 of the worst sports drama on TV, the "Will Brett Retire?" show, where prognosticators delve into the Favre psyche to ascertain whether he will play this coming season.  Understanding that Favre is an attention whore and little more, I went ahead and scooped him up expecting him to show up at some point in Minnesota Vikings training camp.  Well yesterday was that day, and I suppose I am smarter for it, after all, nobody in my league actually drafted him, but by the same token I am so sick of his melodrama that if someone came crashing through the Vikings offensive line in Week #1 and snapped Favre's spine in half it may very well ruin any chances I have for a successful season yet I may still find glee in such a moment.

During GW Bush's term in office it was fascist, under Obama the term is socialist and if ever in doubt there is always constitution.  What these words have in common is that they are all what I would call "shut up" words, words that are thrown about by lazy debaters who think that as soon as they get to the requisite buzzword, all conversation should be ended and the point ceded.  Under Bush, anytime the opposition found a policy with which they disagreed, the policy was thereby described as fascist.  Under Obama I think we have all seen socialist bandied about, especially in the health care debate, nevermind that many of our allies have similar health care structures.  And of course when they thought the cause was just, they had no problem with our allies putting their blood and treasure in harms way, and the mocking term "socialist" was conveniently left out of the equation.  And the ultimate is constitution, or more appropriately, unconstitutional as in the minute I disagree with something I can just shout it is unconstitutional and like a magic fairy, then wave my wand and taadaa, it is so.  I saw one of these videos the other day where a person was questioning the health care legislation under the guise that it was unconstitutional, as it violated the 13th Amendment and after posing her question to her representative, Pete Stark of California (who made some noise about his response to the question) I had to laugh and ask just how fucking stupid was the question, as health care has nothing whatsoever to do with the 13th Amendment, which for those not in the know, abolished slavery.  But because the questioner used the buzzword "unconstitutional" even though completely out of context, all of the sheeple in the crowd applauded like this derelict had just discovered fire.  Sure there are issues with health care including whether it would fall under the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution or whether forcing the public to buy into private insurance would violate the Commerce Clause, but none of that really has to do with slavery.  The sooner we weed out the morons who bandy about words just for the sake of killing debate as opposed to enhancing it, the better off we will all be.

An Oprah Moment

What can I say, it's been a pretty good day.  Work didn't suck, though I had so much help I was almost tripping over people at times.  Luckily there were plenty of projects to go around, Pepsi screwed up their order last week, so I had to have a rep come in today and redo the order, & Up had a delivery so I could sent some people to catch that truck, a week's worth of cardboard had to go out since it didn't go out last Thursday and they only pick up twice a week so there was another project, we had a grocery order come in for project number three, the deli cooler arrived and had to be taken off the truck and brought into the store for #4, I had to finish the cigarette ordering list for Universal for #5, all in all, lots of work but with a little delegation and some people actually showing up for work it was all handled with relative ease.  God forbid I actually got to leave on time for a change.

We had a new hire, Josh and he seems a little off, like maybe he smoked too much pot in a pst life or something, but he seemed eager enough, at least today.  We will see how it works out long term, but for me he was just like a loaded gun, just point him at something and hope when he goes off there isn't too much damage.  He did most of the cardboard work and was helpful in getting the deli cooler installed, but with as many people as I had around today, there wasn't much else for him to do. 

I went over to the World Golf Tour website to see how I fared in the weekly tournament, turns out I finished in 40th place.  I think I will win like three tokens for new clubs, hardly a windfall but at least it is something.

Speaking of winning, we have a contest winner in the guess the change meter total.  Minfd you, I kind of smiled at the guesses, just because I know how hard it is to come up with cash to begin with, heck even my best year I didn't net $100 and for the first three years I only averaged around $13, yet people assumed that I was going to get some sort of cash winfall over the course of two weeks, when in actuality I ended up only getting .76 cents, which brought the total to $171.88.  But since there were only 4 guesses I decided to go all Oprah, with a minor change.  Instead of pointing to the audience and screaming "You got a car and you got a car and you got a car" everyone got Pogo instead.  Alicat got the year of Pogo, but everyone else got three free months, which is better than what everyone started with.  And I still have plenty of Coke caps to add to my account for the next giveaway.

Well I am going to call it a day and enjoy the fact that a day went well for once.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 13, ready for a break

Yeah today was my 13th day in a row where I had to poke my head into work.  Some of the days have been regular shifts, others have been days where I have stayed late and still others like today were days I wasn't originally scheduled, but had to show up because I had some ordering to get done for Monday.  Plus I told Ed that I would go down to our other store and try organizing their stock room a little bit.  The thing is that stockroom hasn't been used in ages.  Originally when I started with the company, back in Jan of 09, the room was used somewhat because the only stores we had downtown were the current stores, Smithfield and Universal.  When Weissmart opened the stockroom was all but forgotten, since Weissmart was just a few doors down the street from Universal and Weissmart had more space (plus no steps to climb to get to the stockroom) all of the backstock for Universal was just kept at Weissmart.  When Universal was shut down, albeit briefly, obviously there was no need to keep anything there so we cleaned out the entire store.  When the decision was made to instead close Weissmart, everything had to be brought back to Universal that could fit in the store and was likely to sell and the rest was either sent to Smithfield or in the case of most of the beverages, taken to the stockroom for Universal.  The problem arose when I happened to head down to Universal during one of my many trips down there recently in trying to get that store up to Ed's approval.  I went into the stockroom and the product that was brought in from the other store was basically just thrown in there with little rhyme or reason.  Of course this was a project that was supposed to have been done right the first time by Wayne, which just makes me even happier that he is gone.  So I spent about 4 hours on my day off sweating my ass off, rearranging the stockroom so there was some semblance of order to it.  As an added plus, because the entrance to the stockroom is actually a door down from the actual store and up a flight of steps, the entrance smelled like a giant vat of bum piss.  people have a bad habit around here of using just about anything as a toilet.  It is one of the reasons why I quit going to the South Side Spectacular, it was less a community event with games and booths to frequent and more just another reason for people to get liquored up and engage in that famous Pittsburgh pastime of public urination.  The first thing I did when I got there was dump about half a gallon of bleach just to help kill the smell.   As an added bonus, there are no windows in the stockroom, so it is a second floor room with little to no air circulation and on a day like today, 89 F and humid, it was pretty much a sweat factory, despite me having turned a fan on the day before.  It has been three hours since I left and my shirt is still soaked. 

Sorry I took a break while the Steelers game was on.  Just preseason action, nothing to glog about, though the Steelers did win 23-7 over the Detroit Lions.  The most interesting part of the game occurred with about a minute and a half left in the first half when a batch of thunderstorms moved through the area, forcing the field to be cleared and the game delayed for over an hour.  When the teams took the field they played the last minute and change than rather than break for halftime, just went ahead and started the third quarter.  The best part of the rain is it did provide a brief respite for all of the mugginess that has made being outside (or at work) rather painful to the uninitiated.  In Dungeons and Dragons terms, one is left with what I would call;  Sweat Armor (+1 AC for every three rounds, -1 Constitution for every three rounds, -1 Dexterity for every three rounds) - Sweat Armor is a moist like glean that covers the wearer and feels very much like perspiration.  For every three rounds the wearer has the Sweat Armor on they gain a +1 to their armor class, as weapons now have a chance of sliding right off of them, but the wearer also suffers a -1 to their Constitution and Dexterity as the constant perspiring makes them lose speed and stamina.  How fucking geek was that?

I should note that I had my first fantasy football draft of the year, though I really wasn't into it all that much.  Later on this month I have the draft for the bar league, where I am defending champion for the last two years now (can you say threepeat?) and that is the only league I will probably pay that much attention to,  Still I was cruising through the swagbucks offers the other day and they said if I signed up for a fantasy football team with Sports Illustrated I would receive 11 swagbucks.  Far be it from me to pass up free swagbucks, after all I just cashed in for $5 Amazon gift card #25 today, and $145 in free spending cash on Amazon is a very good thing.  It is nice to go on Amazon and just get shit for free, especially shit I like.  Anyway, so I sign up for this football league and it is the worst kind of league, an auto draft where you have to rank players ahead of time and then the computer just makes selections based on either your rankings or the pre draft rankings the site has.  Now in the first couple of rounds that isn't bad, by and large everyone knows who the good players will be or not be, but in a 12 team league, come the 7th round if you have the last pick, all of a sudden you better either trust the system or have accurately predicted how the draft would go and made wise rankings 84 players in.  I would rather just have a live draft where I can see all of the players and names in front of me, rather than rely on a computer to do my picking for me.  By and large I almost never pick a kicker or a defense until late in those leagues, the point values just aren't there, yet here I am getting stuck with the New England Patriots defense in round 8 of a 16 round draft.  The only thing you can do is go in after the fact and either start making trade offers with other teams in your league or be the first on the waiver wire and hope that some players fell through the cracks.  As for how my team turned out compliments of the computer, here you go.

Turns out I was selected to pick second overall in a snake type format, meaning every odd round I pick second, every even round 11th.

1)  Chris Johnson RB Tennessee

2)  Larry Fitzgerald WR Arizona

3)  Calvin Johnson WR  Detroit

4)  Jay Cutler QB Chicago - The first pick of the draft that truly upsets me, I wouldn't have picked this bum at all, let alone in the fourth freaking round.  The guy is a proven loser and led the league in interceptions last year. 

5)  Tim Hightower RB  Arizona - Another not so helpful pick, not terrible but I would never have went this high for him.

6)  Braylon Edwards WR NY Jets - This guy just sucks.  How he is in the league is beyond me, a wide receiver that drops as many passes as he catches, if not more.  I immediately saw this and dropped him for the best quarterback that remained available, which sadly was the drama queen known as Brett Favre, who once again may or may not retire for the millionth season in a row.

7)  Jermichael Finley TE Green Bay

8)  New England Patriots DEF - I will say it again, picking a defense or kicker too early is a wasted pick.  In most leagues the point differentials on a week to week basis just aren't great enough to merit wasting early picks in either category.

9)  David Akers K Philadelphia - See #8

10)  Carnell Williams RB Tampa Bay - On the plus side he is the Buccaneers starter at running back, on the minus side he spends to much time in the hot tub, and not of the time machine variety.

11)  Willis McGahee RB Baltimore

12)  Josh Morgan WR San Francisco - Not the #1 option in SF and certainly I could do better here if I am poking around #2 WRs so I released him in favor of Terrell Owens, the highest rated WR left in the free agent pool.

13)  Donnie Avery WR St Louis - Let's be honest the Rams suck, but if I have to have one of them then I at least want a #1 option at their position, which Avery is so I can live with this.

14)  John Carlson TE Seattle

15)  Dustin Keller TE NY Jets - I really don't need three tight ends, hell I probabl;y don't even need two, the waiver wire will have a one week grab on Finley's bye week that will be serviceable enough, so off to the scrap heap of history for Keller and in his place I picked up Kevin Smith RB Detroit for some depth in that position.

16)  Jason Campbell QB Oakland - Lets see, my QBs are Cutler, Favre and Campbell.  I think we have located the weakest position on my team and it is quarterback.

Okay, well I am going to scoot, thinking of an early morning breakfast of food, food and more food, but first I must don the Sweat Armor again.


Friday, August 13, 2010

A contest winner perhaps?

If you are wondering if I am posting the change meter total you will be sadly disappointed.  Rather I just finished playing a Facebook app that I have mentioned in some notes, World Golf Tour (though it is also available in a non Facebook version) and I think I may have won something.  The thing is the game progresses in stages based on how good a golfer you become, I still suck and am stuck at amateur status.  That being said, one of the tricks to the game is that you can earn credits that can be applied to buying newer and better equipment.  You start with a pretty crappy set of clubs but get your first new set after completing one of the early challenges.  Stupid me earned the clubs and forgot to equip them.  So I was losing things like distance and accuracy and what not.  So I managed to rectify that situation last night and set about shooting some familiar courses to see what I could do.  The results were mixed, courses I was familiar with took some new getting used to, courses I didn't know were very much works in progress for my limited skill set.

There are numerous ways to earn credits to improve your clubs, but it is a time consuming process unless you just spend money and buy the credits outright, something I refuse to do.  That leaves a couple of options, completing special offers or winning tournaments.  Since I am cheap, if there is an offer for a few credits that requires little involvement, say watching a couple of short videos, then I will do it, but actually dropping coin, unless there is some great offer out there I have been dying to get/do, then my money will again stay in my wallet.

Another way is to enter tournaments.  There are usually a list of tournaments one can join, based on their skill level and they pay out in credits based on how well you do..  The tournaments are of two varieties, stroke play and closest to the pin.  A stroke play tournament is almost self explanatory, shoot the lowest round score as it relates to par.  Closest to the pin is a little different.  Your ball is placed in a place on the course where you have one shot to get as close to the pin as is possible.  The shot ranges vary from anywhere between 75 and 220 yards, depending on the hole and the course the tournament is taking place on.  You get 1 point for every foot from the hole you end up, plus penalties if the ball ends up on the fringe (+5), fairway (+10), rough (+20), sand (+30 I think), water (+40) and lost ball (+50).  The tournaments pay out to the top 70 finishers, and while I had shot a few rounds on the current weekly challenge, the best I could do was around 66th place, good enough provided no one beat that score over the next couple of days so it was a tenuous place at best.  Until now, now I feel confident that I might have actually won something, with a score of 201.51, good enough for 28th place on a nine hole challenge, hitting 7 of 9 greens and fringing 2 others.  As for how the round went down

1.  20.75 ft
2.  17.79 ft
3.  9.10 ft
4.  14.03 ft + 5 ft fringe penalty
5.  22.74 ft + 5 ft fringe penalty
6.  31.20 ft
7.  9.64 ft
8.  49.75 ft
9.  16.51 ft

Hopefully this means a new set of clubs will be in my future.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vengenance is Mine, sayeth Matt Pritt

I guess there is lots to blog about, after all it has been a while since I have put cursor to blogpad and proceeded to chime off with anything.  Suffice it to say, The Summer of Suck is still very much in effect this week.  The difference being for some, now I am the provider of said suck.  More on that later, lets begin with some happier notes shall we.  First I have redeemed all of the Coke points I can for this week, the total stands at 1988, and we are mere days away from declaring a winner in the blog giveaway contest for a free year of Pogo.com.  For those unawares, or just needing a recap, here are the contest rules

All is not terrible in the land of Suck however.  For instance I happened to turn on America's Got Talent the other night.  I usually don't watch much of the show, but this was the last act before the news was coming on and I wanted to make sure that they weren't misusing the Storm Tracker radar, with it's gazillion watts of power that occasionally get things right from a meteorological perspective.  Anyway, it was the Youtube version of the show, contestants submit videos of there talent, and I use that term very loosely, and the judges then pick a handful of those they deem most talented to perform live, with the possibility of moving on to a million dollar cash prize and Las Vegas show, much like the regular version of the show.  The last contestant is the person of all of the video submissions that gets the most fan votes.  It turns out the fan vote winner was a local girl, Jackie Evancho, all of 10 years old.  Just when I think there is nothing around these parts that can amaze me, something like this happens.

Okay, let's not kid anyone, if the Summer of Suck is in effect, I am not going to be blowing smoke up your asses with all things happy and wonderful, so it is time to go about doing things that are less than positive.

Many moons ago, but not so many blogs ago (because I have been slacking in the blog department) I had mentioned about a new hire we had gotten, Joe, who was possibly going to be replacing my coworker Wayne, who had screwed us over during the US Women's Open.  Well as luck would have it, rather than firing Wayne, Ed instead just suspended him for a week.  Was it punishment enough for blowing off three of six shifts in a two week span?  Maybe, maybe not but considering the last one he blew off was the same day my grandmother had passed away and by him not being there it meant even had I wanted to leave early to spend time with my family I really couldn't without absolutely crippling the store, with two other people having already requested that day off and Wayne's non appearance making us three people down on a crew of 7.  Not that I could have done much with my family during those hours, my grandmother had just passed away that morning, but the notion that even if I wanted to I couldn't was enough to all but evaporate any remaining sympathy I might have for Wayne.  Then Joe doesn't work out, he starts coming close to having panic attacks while stocking the coolers and shelves.  Turns out he had recently been jumped or car jacked or something along those lines and had caught a tire iron to the back of the skull and is all jittery when people are behind him, a very common occurrence when stocking so he basically just doesn't work out, though the work he did do for us I was very happy with.  Wayne comes back after his week suspension and proceeds to be sent to our other store through the whole closing and reopening fiasco that was going on, with his job being to get all of the product out of one location and into the other in time for our opening in two weeks, and it took him all of the two weeks, with help.  Part of that was because anytime he was scheduled from 9-5, as soon as the 7-3 crew left our store and the bosses left, he would go home, usually by 4.  Sure an hour doesn't seem like much, but you do it 5 times a week for two weeks and all of a sudden you have lost better than an entire days worth of potential work.   Not that the bosses ever caught on to this little nugget of information, but I did and I just filed it away.

Wayne finally makes it back to our store starting last week.  All goes relatively smoothly, at least I assume so, I get sent to the reopened store for part of the day to help get them rolling with their ordering and what not, basically being handed the reigns of now trying to do ordering for two different locations as opposed to one.  Then week 2 starts this Monday and Wayne calls off sick.  That's okay, I only have two trucks coming into my store and I still have issues with the other store, such as locating their vendors, to worry about.  Tuesday, more of the same but better, Wayne doesn't show up and doesn't bother to call anyone and say he isn't coming in.  Worse still, Ed has a meeting with Brian and Amber, a married couple that I like that work for us.  Brian has been in charge of our stores, first Weissmart then Universal News, since his mom Patty was let go a while back.  Amber works with us at Smithfield News and I would say she probably does the most work there (others would claim it is me, but the amount of crap Amber has to put up with is something I hope I don't ever get on my plate).  Ed originally wanted to talk to Brian about some issues with the reopened store, isssues regarding our charge sheet policy and regarding the bank at the store, things with which he wasn't happy with how they were being handled.  Suffice it to say that the meeting didn't go well, to the tune of they decided that maybe they were better off parting ways.  With Amber being married to Brian and now having her husband leave the store she follows suit and now we are down two people, two I would argue very key people.  With Wayne not showing up we are shorthanded a third and we didn't find out he wasn't coming in until Ed had to actually call him.   Tuesday was a bloodletting of sorts, two people out and a third not where he was supposed to be.  Ed tells me the good news is Wayne will be back on Wednesday.  I lost it.  I looked Ed right in the eye and said I didn't fucking want him back.  Ed starts with the routine that we are shorthanded to which I replied and part of that problem is because Wayne didn't bother to show up, hell he didn't even bother to call and I was all but tired of his Jerry Springer-esque list of excuses on why he couldn't come into work; 1) it's my kid, 2) it's my girlfriend, 3) it's the bus, 4) it's my stomach.  I have had enough, he wants to work nights and fight with Curtis for hours, great, but I don't want him on my crew.  I would rather work alone knowing I am going to be alone than be expected someone to show up who may or may not grace us with his presence.  And I think my words, or maybe it was my attitude, has some impact, because he was pulled off of the schedule and I have my fingers crossed that it will be on a permanent basis.  Sure it means more work for me, but I would rather put in the extra hours than keep someone on staff who is patently unreliable.  Now with Brian and Amber also gone, I am now doing almost all of the ordering for our other store, as well as trying to reestablish accounts with Coke, Pepsi and 7 Up for them, plus doing all of my normal work at our current store.  Needless to say I am going to be rolling in the extra hours for the foreseeable future, at least until I can get someone trained to take over the ordering at Universal and get back to just doing my thing at Smithfield.

So if things were bad enough I made the mistake of calling home a few days ago.  Lots of "You wouldn't believe how much stuff so and so took out of Grandma's house" nonsense.  Of course I was asked if I would like anything to which I replied with a resounding no.  That's okay I was told, my aunt Carrie (the same one who asked me about my mother's inheritance) aparently took one of the cars my grandfather had collected so that I would have a keepsake.  Now my grandafther may have collected some model cars, I know as a former truck driver he has some scale radio rigs but I didn't consider him to be that much of a collector of them, nor did I ever buy him any of them to add to a collection that by and large I didn't know existed, but I said that it should be put back, I didn't want it.  People just don't get how loathe I am to have anything to do with this picking over the carcass, carrion like circus that is going on, and I have a bad feeling it is going to end up with me saying things that are really going to piss people off.  Please do poke the hornet's nest and see what happens. 

Right about now you are probably wondering if there is anything else "good" happening.  Well on the bright side I think I am just about done here, and hey, only a few days left until we announce a contest winner.  There, I leave you on a happy note, see?

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