Gored by a steer

The news earlier this week that a cow had escaped from a slaughterhouse in New York City went viral. After all, it’s the 21st century. What are cattle doing in the middle of big cities?

Yet, the headlines and the obligatory humor that followed would have been familiar to urban dwellers in any North American city since the turn of the 19th century. As cities expanded and drove yards on their hinterlands were absorbed by expansion. Later on, after 1850, railroads carried large numbers of cattle, sheep, and hogs to urban abattoirs,

Inevitably, some animals escaped while being offloaded from train cars (and later trucks) or they broke free from pens in stockyards while awaiting auction or slaughter. In the 1880s, a generation after the nation’s first union stockyards opened in a farm field outside of Pittsburgh, the local East End News ran several articles recounting wayward food on the hoof:

GORED BY A STEER (Saturday, September 4, 1886)

On Wednesday a steer broke out of the East End Stock Yards and for a time had things his own way. Mrs. Andrews was on the pavement in front of her house on Station Street, but before she could get out of the way the animal had gored her seriously. On her head were several scalp wounds and her body was considerably bruised. Medical aid was summoned and it was found that none of the wounds were dangerous. The bull was recaptured and taken back to the yards.

NEWS ITEMS (August 25, 1888)

A wild steer created a panic Wednesday afternoon … Mr. O’Neal, a butcher in Lawrenceville, was taking a drove of cattle home from the stockyards when one broke away and started back.


Some things never change. Cities with lots of people still need to feed those people. As long as we have cities and we consume fresh meat, stories like the one out of New York will keep coming. How would Twitter have treated the East Liberty beast that gored Mrs. Anderson, I wonder?

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Snowzilla 2016

The forecasters did label it historic, after all.

On Wednesday January 20, 2016, weather forecasters issued a blizzard watch for the Washington, DC, area. The following day, the notice was upgraded to a blizzard warning. The National Weather Service has named the event ‘Winter Storm Jonas”; Washington Post meteorologists have named it “Snowzilla.” For me, Snowzilla it is. Seriously, does the name “Jonas” inspire fear and awe?

Anywhere from 1.5 to 2 feet of snow was predicted. Mass transit is shutting down for the weekend. There’s a run on grocery and hardware stores — even Washington City Paper reported that a local Trader Joes had sold out of all its veggie flaxseed tortilla chips. Pepco, the electric company, announced that we could be spending days in a pre-electric living history museum.

Clearly, this is the BIG ONE. Besides staging firewood and all the necessary supplies (except the flaxseed anythings) to cope with the storm, I’ll be documenting the event as it unfolds. So sit back, grab something to eat and drink, and watch the end of the world from the comfort of your browser window. Continue reading

How much does that Google search cost?

Last night we went to a talk on energy production and consumption sponsored by the Montgomery County Planning Board. One person in the audience asked the speaker about energy costs and telecommunications. I think the speaker missed the point of the question (which was tied to per capita energy consumption) but it did raise one interesting question for me: How much does a Google search cost?

Think about it. You know that you are paying for the electricity to power your computer, monitor, and modem (plus any other network infrastructure in your home or office), but what about the power necessary to run the Google server farms and the telecommunications infrastructure needed to carry your request and its responses round trip from your computer or handheld device to Google and back? How many Google (or other search provider) searches do you do in a day? For that answer, let’s just say several hundred million Google searches are done daily (ever try to Google Google data on the fly?) I know that I use Google several times a day. Even though I’m not paying Google for each search I conduct (or Google Cloud app I use), I know that somewhere down the line everyone is paying for my Google searches. I’m just curious what each one costs — maybe I’ll think twice about hitting that “Google Search” button the next time I absolutely can’t live without knowing how many Google searches are done daily.

Penn Envy

Dan Reed is off to grad school at Penn. Dan writes one of my favorite local blogs, Just Up the Pike and I will miss his work. I went to grad school at Penn and for the first two years I really hated Philadelphia.

My first Christmas there my car was stolen from in front of my apartment (it was found a few weeks later gutted in North Philadelphia) and I found myself working for an archaeology company that employed ex-cons as laborers. One of the ex-cons did PCP one morning and raped and killed two female coworkers before stabbing the two firm owners and stealing a truck. He escaped to New York City where he was captured after stabbing a couple of New York cops (but I digress).

Philadelphia eventually moved to the top of my list of places where I would like to live. I even ended up writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer covering folk music and popular culture for a few years. When I graduated my wife and I came up with a list of top three places to live and work: Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston. Dan will enjoy Penn and I wish him the best of luck and I will miss reading his blog. I hope he starts blogging from Philly ….