Friday, December 19, 2014

You don't know Jack (#5)

Like all toddlers, Jackson provides the occasional nuggets of observation or wisdom or humor. These are generally unprompted, often silly or nonsensical, and usually come out of the blue with no context. Here are some recent ones:

While Danny MacAskill conquers the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye, Jackson conquers this tree stump.

•   "Don't move! I like hitting you with hedgehogs."

•   "Once upon a time, not so very many years ago, there was a little mommy who lived in a forest. She said, 'Pah! I don't see anything but boring trees.' The end."

•   "Queen Elizabeth is our queen. Queen Elizabeth is old. She knows things."

•   "If I keep my mouth open, I can catch a bug. Yum!"

Trying out new noses at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.

•   Upon receiving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: "I have never been happier in my WHOLE LIFE."    ***

•   "I want to have a cake with Mommy. One, I don't want it to be yucky! And two, I don't want it to be too warm!"

•   "Old people can't do some things. Old people can't run up hills. Nana and Grampa Bill are old. Nana and Grampa Bill can't run up hills!"

•    "This is the biggest blueberry I have ever seen in the whole universe!"

•   "Daddy, when I am a grown up, can I wear your underwear?"

At home after watching The Cat in the Hat production in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

*** I make a mean PB&J, but I'm not sure it's that good.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our first trip back to America

It's been 18 months since we arrived in Scotland, and we're headed back home for the first time.

I still call the U.S. of A. "home." Not that I don't feel at home in Scotland. We just haven't been here long enough for it to feel officially "home" yet.

LEGO safari plane and pilot

In total we'll be back in the States for 23 full days and two part/half days. It's the first trip we'll have taken in a loooooonnnggg time that I'm not busily preparing with guide books and Internet research. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself.

We're not traveling lightly. At all. We've got clothes for the relative warmth of the south, and clothes for snow and skiing in Colorado. Various bags are stuffed with toddler activities and books and toys to keep the wee one quiet occupied. And even after ordering most of our Christmas gifts via Amazon to cut down on our baggage, we have numerous presents stashed in our gigantic bags for friends and family. Oh, and the kid's car seat. Damn kid.

United States of America passport book
My new U.S.A. passport book.
What's more, we'll probably return with more baggage than we're bringing. My suitcase is stuffed inside another suitcase — an REI Wheely Beast duffel bag — which we'll likely fill with the kid's Christmas loot presents. We've even planned ahead enough that we have bought some items (e.g., toy trains and accessories) that are much cheaper in the States, which we're lugging back to the U.K. for the kid's birthday next June. It's a good thing our international flights allow us two checked bags each, plus carry-on bags.

I'm a little worried we'll exceed the limits. Eeek.

In the States, our dance card is filling up quickly. We've got bunches of people to see friends, colleagues, family, even a favorite coffee shop barista. Trivia night at the pub. Continuing legal education (sigh). Dinners out. Professional consultations. Food trucks to visit. Parties. Not one but two Christmases to celebrate with family(ies). Skiing and sledding and Jackson's first real chance to play in the snow.

Blogging in these parts is going to continue during our trip, but likely in a reduced manner. Still, I know how much you depend on these posts. Wait for them anxiously. Feel bereft without them.

{Ed.'s note: Well, maybe your mother. The rest of us will enjoy a respite.}

In the new year, I'll be sprucing up the blog. I aim to lay some of the groundwork during these next few weeks, but it'll be behind the scenes. Nothing dramatic, just a few touches.

For now, it's time to head across the pond. First stop, the city.

New York City.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday Exposure: Railway time

Railways are said to "annihilate both time and space"; this they can only do safely and satisfactorily by keeping time.
          — William Baddeley, The Mechanics' Magazine, Vol. 33, Nov. 27, 1840

Well into the 1800s, the time of day often differed in neighboring villages and towns. Partly, it was because time was a matter of guesswork. Sundials were in common use. At best, ordinary people might rely on a church bell or a town clock for guidance. Appointments and meeting times were vague and flexible. Schedules were advisory, not prescriptive. Most people had no watch or clock in their home until the 20th century. In the 19th century, clocks were rare; accurate clocks rarer still.

Moreover, there was no standard time across a region, country, or continent. Heading east to west across Britain, a traveler gained fifteen minutes or more over the course of 24 hours, and likewise lost fifteenish minutes if traveling east. Norwich time was several minutes ahead of London time. Oxford was officially 5 minutes and 2 seconds behind London's time; Leeds was 6 minutes and 20 seconds behind; Exeter was 14 minutes behind.

This led to mayhem and disaster for the emerging rail industry.

1850 clock used on the Great Western Railway for more than 100 years
In the 1840s, clocks — and time became standard across British train stations. This clock, from the Great Western Railway, was built around 1850 and used for more than 100 years.
Rail transport was developing at a lightning speed. Steam locomotives first appeared in 1811. The first steam trains for passengers came in 1825. By 1830, the first inter-city route opened. Mail was first sent by rail in 1838. In 1839, the first timetable was published. By the 1850s, Britain had more than 7,000 miles of track.

As more and more trains crisscrossed the country — carrying goods and, increasingly, passengers — the need for standardization became readily apparent. Neither stationmasters, nor train conductors, nor passengers were certain when a train would depart its station. Trains frequently delayed departure to allow for stragglers. Travelers often missed connections because of the vagaries of timekeeping in different towns.

Even worse, the running of trains across the network of tracks had become a nightmare of accidents and near-misses. The railway system was an integrated whole, even if it was operated by numerous privately-owned railway companies. Timetables had just been invented, but given the non-uniformity of time across the land they were more ideal targets than actual planning tools. Even if the train personnel could figure out the complexities of local times, no one could rely on trains traveling at regular and reliable intervals. Trains which should have clear track in front of them might find themselves delayed by trains which had dithered before leaving a station or, perilously, find trains heading toward them from the opposite direction.

It was a mess. A dangerous mess. And even more significantly for these new titans of industry, a costly mess.

Railway station clock at the National Railway Museum in YorkThe railway bosses demanded that time be standardized. At first, they met with resistance from many municipalities, which had no desire to reset their clocks at the fiat of nouveau riche railway owners. So the rail bosses took matters into their own hands. By 1841, the Great Western Railway ordered that all of its stations would use London time, regardless of the local time around the stations. Passengers who wished to ride the trains found themselves forced to use the railway's timekeeping instead of the local timekeeping.

Other railways followed suit. In 1845, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway petitioned Parliament to require a single uniform time for the entire rail network. The petition failed.

But the railway bosses pushed on. In 1847, the major railway operators agreed they should all adopt London time — generally called Greenwich time due to the location of the Royal Observatory — as soon as the Post Office supported the shift. Carrying of the mail was a major source of income, of course, and the Post Office was a valuable client. But more significantly, although the Post Office had no official role in setting the standardization of time for the railways, it gave the railway operators a veneer of government authority. When the Post Office granted its consent later in 1847, most British railways adopted London time on 1 December 1847.

Still, some municipalities held out. Instead of changing the time on their clocks, they decided . . . to add another minute hand. Essentially, they stuck their tongues out and said ppfffttt! One minute hand showed the local time while the other, sometimes smaller, minute hand showed the new railway standard time. Watches on sale showed local and London time. Eventually, the silliness of their behavior outweighed their protest, and the local time went away. Bristol held out until 1852. By 1855, approximately 98% of the public clocks in the U.K. were on London time, though some cities, like Bath, dragged on until 1860.

Finally, in 1880, Parliament passed its Definition of Time Act to confirm the fait accompli on the ground, a standard time across the United Kingdom.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Scotland's new drunk driving law

UPDATE: The new drunk driving law is dampening economic growth. See here:

Not a pint.

Nor a single glass of wine.

Fuhgeddaboud a dram of whisky.

Scotland's blood alcohol concentration limit:

Starting this morning at midnight, it is illegal in Scotland to operate a vehicle if your blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.05 (i.e., 50mg of alcohol per 50ml of blood). The rest of the U.K. will retain a 0.08 BAC.

A man who consumes only one pint of beer or glass of wine may or may not reach the 0.05 limit. His BAC will depend on several factors, including weight, age, metabolism, type of alcohol, amount of food consumed, and so on. Most men, however, will exceed the 0.05 limit with one pint of beer or glass of wine. If he drinks a craft beer with an above-average alcohol content, he'll almost certainly be over the limit.

For an average woman, the limit will be reached from half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.

Pint of Westvleteren XII, the best beer in the world
My pint last week of Westvleteren XII, consistently voted the "best beer in the world." At 10.2% alcohol by volume, it'll push you well over Scotland's 0.05 BAC limit.
The average body will clear alcohol out of its blood at a rate of 15mg to 18mg per hour. So, in theory, if you consume one pint of beer or glass of wine and then wait an hour, you should fall below the legal limit. However, lots of variation remains: the alcohol content of the drink; metabolism rates; food consumed; age (older people clear alcohol faster than younger people); etc.

The lightning-fast implementation:

Scotland's Parliament voted to lower the drunk driving limit — called the "drink-drive" limit here — on November 18. Of this year. Its implementation was today, December 5.

No yearlong preparation. No extended public notification. Simply boom!, a new limit three weeks later.

Incidentally, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favor of the new law. How often do you see a unanimous vote on domestic legislation? Not very often.

Penalties for drunk driving in Scotland:

Glass of Prosecco
Is a glass of bubbly Prosecco worth a yearlong ban?
If you are caught driving while over the 0.05 limit, you will be banned from driving for a minimum of 12 months. No discretion in sentencing for the ban. You also will pay a fine of up to £5,000. Furthermore, you may face as much as 6 months imprisonment. And, of course, you'll get some points on your license and your car insurance will skyrocket.

Some offenders may be allowed to complete a rehabilitation course, at their own expense. Successfully completing the course can reduce the driving ban by up to one quarter.

Also, employers will see your conviction if you must produce your license for work. And, travel to some countries, including the United States, can be denied in some instances for criminal convictions.

Blood alcohol concentration limits in the rest of Europe:

The United Kingdom, with its BAC limit of 0.08, is the highest in Europe. Only Malta has a similar leniency.

Scotland has broken with the rest of the U.K. and adopted a 0.05 BAC limit, in line with most European countries. Its limit now matches Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, among others.

Lithuania has a 0.04 limit. Slovenia has a 0.024 limit. Several countries have set a 0.020 BAC limit, including Estonia, Poland, and Sweden. At that level it's almost a total ban, but allows for the possibility of alcohol from mouthwash or medication. The 0.020 limit seeks to avoid accidentally penalizing a driver with trace amounts of alcohol in his system.

Several nations, including Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, have a zero tolerance ban.

A number of countries have slightly varied limits, depending upon a few circumstances. Germany, for example, has a total ban for drivers under the age of 21 or those with less than two years of driving experience; a 0.030 limit for those involved in an accident; and a 0.050 limit for those not involved in an accident.

Checkpoints and vehicle stops:

While the U.S. Constitution's fourth amendment, regarding unreasonable searches and seizures, provides some (minor) restrictions on checkpoints and vehicle stops, no such limitations exist in Scotland or the rest of the U.K. Checkpoints can be erected at any time. Any moving violation can give rise to a roadside breathalyser test, as can essentially any suspicion on the part of a police officer. In fact, the police can stop any vehicle at any time with unfettered discretion.

Gone are the days that you can drive to a restaurant, have a glass of wine with your spouse during dinner, and come home. Without question, the only legal choice is to walk, ride public transportation, or take a taxi. Or have your spouse be a designated driver, which is certainly doable but not quite as convivial.

With a population of 5.3 million, Scotland has recently averaged about 20 deaths per year from drunk driving, as well as another 90 serious injuries and 300+ minor injuries. Presumably those numbers will go down, though most offenders who caused injury were well above the previous BAC limit. Will the Scots — a populace that romanticizes its drinking — happily acquiesce to a BAC limit that functions as an almost total ban? Time will tell.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday Exposure: Stirling Bridge

The battle of Stirling Bridge, in 1297, demonstrated for the first time in European history that a force of common infantrymen could defeat a mounted cavalry force of armored knights.

The Scots had a small army, perhaps around 2,000 infantry and a few hundred cavalry. The English, by contrast, brought 8,000 to 10,000 battle-hardened infantry and several thousand cavalry. It should have been a mismatch. The English were so sure of victory they delayed crossing the bridge for several days, waiting to see if the Scots would simply surrender without a fight.

Old Stirling Bridge in Scotland
The old Stirling Bridge, built in the late 1400s or early 1500s.
Led by Andrew de Moray and fanatical William Wallace — who was bearded and had no fanciful blue facepaint like the Mel Gibson portrayal — the Scots employed an ingenious tactical plan. To cross the River Forth, the English needed to cross Stirling Bridge, which at the time was wooden and so narrow that only two horsemen could cross abreast. It would take hours for the English to get their forces across.

The Scots waited patiently until half of the English forces squeezed over the bridge. Then, at a run, they descended from their craig. One flank of Scottish infantry pressed along the banks of the river until it reached the bridge, cutting off the advancing English forces and isolating those English soldiers already across. Since the bridge was so narrow, a relatively small force could hold off attackers, who could attack only two at a time due to the width of the bridge. The English forces panicked, with soldiers seeking to both advance and retreat. Men and horses were forced over the sides of the bridge to drown in the river below.

Stirling Bridge aerial view
Aerial view of the Stirling battlefield.
Meanwhile, the knightly cavalry of the English forces found themselves unable to maneuver. The bridge had emptied them into a naturally-formed noose, with the river hemming them in on three sides, while on the fourth the Scottish infantry tightened the pressure as it inexorably advanced. Moreover, the land was boggy and their horses struggled to gain footing. They could neither advance nor retreat. And most especially, the cavalry could not perform as cavalry, i.e., mount a charge into the ranks of the infantry. The Scots' tactics had rendered the cavalry wholly ineffective. Instead, the knights were stymied to a standstill, then isolated, and eventually hacked to pieces.

Many of the knights fled into the river. While some made it safely across to their English brethren, others were mired into the mud. Even if they knew how, the knights could not swim under the burden of their heavy armor. Nor could their horses swim, weighed down not only by the armored knight atop them, but also by their own heavy barding. Those knights who made it across generally did so by discarding their armor and swimming. The others were easy pickings.

The English infantry who had crossed the bridge were slaughtered, with no chance of escape. Fully half of the total English forces perished in the battle. Abandoning their comrades to their fate, the retreating English army burned the bridge as they fled, seeking to deter the Scots from following.

At the time, the battle seemed decisive. With de Moray either perishing during the battle or soon afterwards from injuries, Wallace emerged as the Scottish resistance leader. A few months after the battle, Wallace led significant raids into northern England, burning hundreds of towns and villages. By the spring of 1298, he was named Guardian of Scotland. By the summer of 1298, however, Wallace led the Scots to defeat in the Battle of Falkirk. He soon thereafter either resigned or was stripped of his title, and he spent several years in quasi-exile before being captured and killed by the English.

Many visitors to Stirling Bridge gaze upon the stone structure and believe it to be the bridge involved in the battle. But the stone bridge now in place, called the "old Stirling Bridge," was built in the late 1400s or early 1500s. A "new Stirling Bridge," built in the early 1830s, is nearing two hundred years of age. Every so often, a confused visitor gazes on the old stone structure thinking it's the eponymous bridge, but the battle took place a couple hundred yards upstream. No signs of the 13th century battle remain.