Feline “First Citizen” Passes, Leaving Townfolk Appawled


Stubbs poses on a car in a 2006 photo. (Jenni Konrad / Flickr)

Legend has it that Stubbs, the ginger-haired, long-time feline “mayor” of tiny Talkeetna, Alaska, rose to stardom fairly early in his 20-year, three-month lifespan, shortly after he was found in a box by employees of the Nagley’s General Store.

Talkeetna, a historic district without an annual mayor, long ago accepted Stubbs as honorary “first citizen” who, thanks to Nagley General Manager Lauri Stec and others, had run of the store and a good deal of the town, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal profile. (Paywall.)

Stubbs died earlier in July, quietly, in his sleep, according to a statement from the family that has owned Nagley’s and the West Rib Cafe Pub for two and a half years.

Unlike many modern-day politicians, he was universally beloved by the town he led for more than 18 years. And the people of Talkeetna, population 900, deeply mourned the death of the four-legged fellow they called mayor.

“He was a trooper until the very last day of his life,” Stubb’s human family’s statement said.”Thank you, Stubbs, for coming into our lives for the past 31 months; you are a remarkable cat and we will dearly miss you.”

The cat was embraced by residents of the area as a tourist attraction – Talkeetna is a Smithsonian.com “Best Small Towns of 2017” pick – and beloved figure of local pride. “We don’t know what we’d do without him, really,” local resident Leah Vanden Busch told Jim Carlton in the Wall Street Journal profile. Politically too, he was widely approved of. “He hasn’t voted for anything I wouldn’t have voted for,” resident Peg Vos told Carlton.

That year, however, a mauling by a local dog left Stubbs in need of surgery. He soon resumed his mayoral duties, which mainly consisted of wandering around the town, drinking catnip-laced water from margarita glasses, and of course, sleeping a lot.

Stubbs was even drafted for a last-minute campaign as a write-in candidate in 2014 for Alaska’s U.S. Senator race, though he was unsuccessful in his bid.

In the last few years, however, reports Charles Levin for CNN, Stubbs began to come to the general store (his “mayoral office”) less and less, preferring to hang around the home of his owners.

“Stubbs did a couple TV shows and more than a handful of interviews, but was not fond of the camera and all the people; it had gotten to be too much for him,” his owners said in a statement.

The end came peacefully last week, reports Chris Klint for KTVA News, with Stubbs dying in his sleep.

The mayoral post is vacant for the first time in a long time, but it likely won’t be for long, reports Levin. The fittingly named Denali, one of two kittens taken in a couple of years ago by Stubbs’ family, may soon step into the power vacuum.


NC Legislature Likely to Repeal HB 2 – ‘The Bathroom Law’ – In Special Session on Tuesday


North Carolina license plates say that their state was  “first in flight” because the Wright Brothers made the first manned flight there in 1903 — 113 years ago —  on December 17.

North Carolina last month elected a new governor to replace Pat McCrory. As the latter leaves the stage, he is asking the state legislature to “consider” repealing his legend-making “bathroom law”, which insists people use the public relief facility intended for people of the sex they were born as.

Odds are they will do so, at a special session tomorrow (Tuesday), for at least a couple of very good reasons: [1] The state has lost untold millions in income and many thousands of jobs as several major sports organizations pulled their national tournaments out of the state and at least a few companies intending to move there decided not to, and [2] HB2, widely seen as an anti-LGBT bill, made North Carolina a national laughing stock because of its blatantly biased, discriminatory nature.

The special session was announced Monday by Governor-elect Roy Cooper, shortly after the Charlotte City Council voted 10-0 vote to rescind the LGBT ordinance that prompted HB 2. The council vote came after late night lobbying by Cooper himself, the Greensboro News & Record reported. Council member Julie Eiselt said the Governor-elect called her at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night.

Clearly the about-to-be governor wants to work at bringing some of those tournaments – including the NCAA’s women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, men’s basketball, baseball, and men’s and women’s soccer and tennis – back to the state. Currently the state’s attorney general, Cooper on Monday released a statement saying, “Enough is enough; We need to repeal this law and get our state back on track.”

China Adds New HSR Line – 308 Km long at 300 Km/hr


China’s latest-generation of HSR (High Speed Rail) trains.

High speed rail (HSR) lines first zoomed onto the scene in Japan in 1964. It took a while for other countries to join the HSR club, but there now are no fewer than 18 countries offering passenger service at speeds in excess of 160 kilometers per hour (km/h) (99 mph), and some, including the latest addition to China’s range of offerings, have the potential for speeds as high as 300 km/h (186 mph).

China, with 16,308 km (10,133 miles) of HSR service, presently accounts for 60% of the world’s total super-fast train offerings. The latest – the 308 km (191 miles) cited in its total – was added last week. The new line began service on Saturday, Dec. 26. It connects Chengdu (home of pandas and capital of Sichaun Province) and Chongqing, both in southwest China, the Xinhau News agency has reported.

The news service said in September, when announcing the start of testing on the new line, that it will initially cut the travel time between the two cities from two hours to one-and-a-half hours. (The implication was that the potential full speed won’t be employed just yet, so the travel time between the cities could eventually be trimmed even more. Further evidence of that is the fact that the travel time cut is, at the start, only ½ hour, on a line where speeds of 300 km/h are possible over most if not all of a distance of 312.6 km [194 miles]. The air km/miles distance, at 268.6 km / 166.9 miles, is considerably less, indicating the rail route is hardly a straight line.)

An article on the blog-web site chengduliving.com, says the Chengdu-Chongqing trip took as long as 12 hours as recently as 2005 – before the initial (2-hour) bullet train was introduced. The article’s author, identified only as Charlie, after noting “the entirety of the trip is as fast and smooth as you’d expect a bullet train to be,” adds that, “seats are large and comfortable and in each there’s a readout which displays current speed and indoor/outdoor temperature.”

The Chengdu-Chongqing line “is part of a major east-west high-speed rail corridor project included in China’s national high-speed railway development plan,” the September report noted.

Given that China’s population is substantially larger than that of other countries with bullet train, or HSR, services, it may be no exaggeration that when attempting to buy bullet train tickets at Chengdu’s North Train Station, where these trains depart and arrtive, on busy weekends “you can see a queue of hundreds or even thousands playing games on their cell phones (or just yelling into them),” as Charlie put it.

Fortunately, China – Chengdu, at any rate – offers a convenient alternative, in the form of “dozens” of train ticket offices scattered around the city. Each offers “a computer readout of all the tickets available, making [your] choice easy,” Charlie said.

Other countries offering HSR/bullet train service include Austria, Belgium France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, the U.K., the U.S. and Uzbekistan, according to Wikipedia. (The latter’s Tashkent-Samarkand HSR line is 344 km [214] miles long, connecting the two largest Uzbek cities, the Wiki web site says.)

A separate Wikipedia entry notes that China has a total of 16,755 km (10,424 mi) of HSR lines planned or under construction. The same article declares that the world’s longest HSR line is the 2,298 km (1,428 mi) link for the Chinese cities of  Beijing and Guangzhou. A 36 km (22) mi) cross-border extension, will take the line into Hong Kong’s new West Kowloon Terminus (now under construction) by way of a dedicated tunnel connecting Hong Kong with mainland China. That extension is scheduled to open in 2017.

(Personal note: I’ve enjoyed one amazing HSR trip, from London’s Victoria Station to Paris’s Gare du Nord. [London departures now are from a sparkling new St. Pancras station (pictured below),

st_pancras_stationbuild to mimic Victorian-era station styles – which were large and very high-ceilinged because smoke from the coming-and-going coal-fueled engines would have been, in a lower-ceilinged structure, suffocating.]

(Now part of the Eurostar-branded system, which connects London with a spectrum of destinations on the European continent, the HSR train I rode through the then-new ‘chunnel’ – tunnel beneath the English Channel – was completed in 1994, at a cost of more than $21 billion.

(Having crossed from England to France [and vice versa] via relatively fast and somewhat slower air routes and a significantly slower rail-to-ship-to-rail that consumes half a day or more – even the by-air trips were long, because of journey times to and from airports at both ends – being able to travel from central London to the center of Paris in 2.5 hours was nothing short of a miracle. It would have been more so if, when we arrived in Paris, street sweeper types hadn’t been on strike, resulting in a Gare du Nord littered almost ankle-deep, it seemed, with trash that ordinarily would be regularly swept up in any of Paris’s six major train stations.)

HSR lines are incredibly costly, because curves must be ‘softened’, and continuously-welded rail is a must. And the trains that run on those lines need to be engineered (no pun intended) for air-pressure sensitivity (because of the high speed), a way-better-than-‘traditional’ concern  than designers of earlier trains seldom considered.

But their economic worth is huge: Halving the time of a trip is immensely important to businesses and for tourism, which tends to rise sharply as ‘getting there’ gets faster. Resulting efficiencies, and resulting higher profits, in the long run, pay off for government sponsors of HSR in the form of increased tax revenue.

And at the end of the day – public service be damned – that, the revenue factor, is the driving force in many municipal, state and national actions in support of infrastructure. (The latter is Rachel Maddow’s favorite word – with good reason: When it’s supported, good things happen. When it isn’t, a raft of problems are right around the corner.)

Seeking a Selfie With A Bison? Settle for One With a Moo-Cow!

bison_storyIt’s easy, when pursuing a selfie, to overlook personal safety issues. An extreme example of doing so has resulted, so far this year, in five people being injured by bison — often erroneously referred to as buffalo — in Yellowstone National Park. That’s more of that type injury than have occurred in the past 15 years, according to The Idaho Statesman.

If you’re planning a visit to Yellowstone, home to the largest American Bison population on public land in the US (some 4,900 in 2014), and if you’re a fan of selfies, here’s a pair of facts worth remembering: [1] The fastest-recorded human footspeed — the fastest a human has ever been known to move, unassisted — is 27.78 miles per hour (44.7 km/h/12.4 m/s). [2] American Bison can move at speeds of up to 35 mph.

This year’s higher-than-usual injury count is despite the National Park Service’s service efforts, in handing out yellow warning signs, to discourage Yellowstone visitors from getting too close to an example of the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Even at their approximate top weight of two thousand pounds, male bison have no difficulty outrunning — often at double the speed of — the average human (male or female),  Female bison, which usually top out at around 900 pounds, may be even more likely than males to be aggressive during the better part of a year they stay with their young. (The calves are weaned at around six months of age, but like many Millennial humans, they tend to stick around ‘home’ for some time thereafter.)

Contrary to what some people obviously believe, park rules — at Yellowstone and other national parks — are not meant to be broken. One at Yellowstone advises people to stay at least 25 feet from bison. One of those injured earlier this year was within six feet of one. A Taiwanese girl, aged 16, approached one in May to have her photo taken with it as it grazed near the Old Faithful geyser. She was gored.

Not far away, near the Old Faithful Lodge, an Australian man, 62, was thrown in May as he attempted to take the beast’s photo with a tablet PC. He was reportedly within five feet of the animal that, in all likelihood, was minding its own business at the time.

Also in May, a concession worker, 19, who’d been enjoying a night swim in the Firehole River, finished off his evening by getting sent airborne by a bison.

June was injury-free, but July saw two incidents — one on the first of the month, when a bison charged and gored a Georgia woman, 68, as she hiked on the Storm Point trail. Then, on the 21st, A Mississippi woman, Brandi Burgess, 43, and her daughter had just snapped a selfie (see photo) about 18 feet from a bison when it charged and struck the mother, sending her air borne!

Bison mate in late July and August, so, as well as being more visible then, they also are more likely to be aggressive then.

Note, too, that in order to encourage the growth of the bison population, the National Park service works with area residents and other agencies to enable grazing territory beyond park boundaries during the winter months. There’s no one in those areas handing out warnings about the risks of too-closely approaching bison. But you have been warned!