Half of Something is Better Than Nothing

On June 21, 2015 · 1 Comments

Would Twelve Mile Circle stoop so low as to devote an entire article to a bad pun? Well yes, that’s been known to happen.

For the benefit of the non-native English speakers in the audience, when something is said to be half-assed it implies that the effort used to produce it was insufficient, ineffectual, incompetent, lazy, low quality or other words and phrases to that effect. An example might be, "he did such a half-assed job on the roof and that it leaks every time it rains." I wouldn’t consider the term vulgar necessarily although it might qualify as mildly crass. I probably wouldn’t use it in a casual conversation with my mother so maybe that could serve as a guidepost. Those in the 12MC audience with delicate sensibilities might want to skip today’s article.

My trip to Ireland was decidedly NOT half-assed
although I took a photo of half an ass

Nobody really knew where the term originated although linguists proposed various theories, some more half-assed than others:

  • A tawdry version of half-hearted, except using a different body part.
  • An intentional mispronunciation of haphazard
  • A tool called an adz used in woodworking; i.e., using an adz on only the front part of a piece would leave it half completed, or half-adzed
  • Half asked, as in you only did half of what I asked
  • Donkeys are often used in pairs; being half-assed would denote a deficiency

The earliest documented usage of half-assed in print seemed to date to 1863 according to several sources, found in the record of a general court marshal held in the United States.

Specification 1st — In this that he, the said Captain John H Behan, Company F, 16th Regiment Virginia Volunteers, while on duty in camp on or about the 12th day of December 1862 did use abusive and grossly insulting language to Joseph B Hamilton, 2d Lieutenant… in words as follows to wit: "There goes our half-assed Adjutant…"

I went ahead and created my own fake etymology as it applied to geography. A one-horse town would be one that’s considered small and unimportant. With that in mind I examined another member of the genus Equus, specifically Equus africanus asinus, the donkey (or ass). Thus, wouldn’t it make sense that a half-assed town would be only half as significant as a one-horse town? I don’t have any evidence to corroborate this usage because I made it up. It’s false. Also the theory wouldn’t work in the United Kingdom and various other places where it’s half-arsed instead.

Half Assini, Ghana

Half Assini Senior High School

The proceeding several paragraphs were an extremely long and tedious lead-in designed simply to provide an excuse to talk about a town I discovered on a map of Ghana named Half Assini (map). It was located on the Gulf of Guinea on a little jut of land at the far southwestern side of the nation, only five kilometres from Côte d’Ivoire.

According to the Half Assini Development Association,

Half Assini is the district capital for the Jomoro district, a district in the Western Region of Ghana (Jomoro means "fresh fish" in the local dialect). Half Assini’s real name is "Ewianeh" and is supposed to mean "the end of Nzema". It has a population between 5000 and 10,000. The main occupation of the people is farming and fishing.

The Nzema people inhabit southwestern Ghana and southeastern Côte d’Ivoire. I didn’t know what "the end of Nzema" represented although I speculated that perhaps it marked the end of a territorial border. In other words, maybe Ewianeh / Half Assini was the last town before leaving the Nzema area?

Half Assini was noted for two minor historical events. First, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana received part of his education there. It was a British colony at the time — the Gold Coast — and his father was working there as a goldsmith and he was Nzema. Kwame Nkrumah became a student-teacher in Half Assini as a teenager. Educators noticed his talents and arranged for him to continue his education, which eventually led him to the United States and the United Kingdom. Later he fought for Ghanaian independence, served time in prison for leading the struggle and ultimately prevailed in 1960. He was overthrown by a military coup d’etat while on an overseas trip in 1966 and lived the remainder of his life in exile.

The second historical footnote happened in 1913 when the Welsh ship S.S Bakana sailed from Liverpool and wrecked off the coast of Half Assini. Captain Richard Williams drowned during the shipwreck and his body washed ashore several days later. As was custom, those who found Captain Williams buried him in the bush nearby. However the town grew as the years passed and the formerly tranquil gravesite stood in the way of street construction. Developers built around Captain Williams’ tomb, now protected by a wrought-iron fence in the middle of the street. In death he’s become somewhat of a local celebrity of sorts (that page also shows a photo of the sunken ship and the tomb). There’s even a Captain Williams Hotel although authorities aren’t sure why they found four people there recently with two human heads. They were arrested.

The name Half Assini would imply the existence of a full Assini nearby. Alas, that didn’t seem to be the case. We may never know how Half Assini got its curious name.

On June 21, 2015 · 1 Comments

Easiest New England

On June 17, 2015 · 12 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has received a steady drip of visitors who seem to want to know the shortest automobile route that could be taken to touch all of the New England states. I don’t see these queries every day although they comprise a consistent two or three every month-or-so and they have been landing on 12MC for years. I don’t know if they traced back to some long-forgotten Internet trivia contest or where they originated. It’s been on my list of potential topics for a very long time and I kept telling myself that I’d have to get around to it eventually. I wasn’t feeling particularly intellectual today so I passed the time fiddling around with Google Maps instead. This became the day to answer the query.

Location of New England (red) in the United States
New England USA” by MissMJ – Own work by uploader, Image:Blank US Map.svg, Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Many 12MC readers hail from international destinations so I’ll begin with a definition of New England for their benefit. The rest of you can skip to the next paragraph. In the United States, New England consists of six states: Connecticut; Maine; Massachusetts; New Hampshire; Rhode Island and Vermont. It’s the red area marked on the map, above. New England was settled by English colonists in large numbers — thus the name — beginning with the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth in 1620 (my recent visit). Let’s move on to the real question now that everyone understands the challenge.

Shortest Distance

Oak Bluffs

I manipulated Google Maps several ways and the shortest distance that touched all six New England states came to 227 miles (365 kilometres). I’d embed the map directly within this page except that it differed from the one I created for some odd reason. That’s just one more limitation of the current version of Google Maps. Instead, I embedded a photo that I took during my recent trip to Cape Cod that looked quintessentially New England-ish and I invite the audience to open the map in a different tab to follow along.

Notice how I straightened the lines to minimize distances. I’m sure readers could find slightly shorter routes using my map as a starting point and then selecting even more obscure local roads, or perhaps by attempting something completely different. Be sure to post any solution in the comments with a link to the resulting Google Map. My solution should take about 5 hours and 6 minutes without traffic, which means that someone would have to time this journey carefully since it would involve a jaunt directly through the middle of Boston. That would work out to an anemic 45 miles per hour-or-so (72 km/hr) even under the absolute best of conditions. Could the same objective be completed faster? Of course it could.

Shortest Time

I threw the back roads out the window and focused on Interstate Highways as much as I could instead to find the quickest solution. Google Maps liked that solution better and embedded it correctly. It was longer, 253 miles (407 km), although highway speeds more than made up the difference. The route began farther north in White River Junction, Vermont (I rode a scenic train there once), followed I-89 to Manchester, New Hampshire, cut east to barely touch Maine, swung around Boston rather than drilling through it and then ran downward to Rhode Island and due west to Connecticut. This solution should clock-in at 4 hours and 1 minute during optimal conditions with a much hire average speed, about 63 mph (101 km/hr). I tried repeatedly to get it below 4 hours even though I knew it was a meaningless psychological barrier. Maybe someone else can find a quicker solution. Your challenge is to find one that’s 3 hours and 59 minutes or less. That would make me happy.

Hopefully this post will satisfy the multitude of anonymous visitors who want to know the shortest/quickest route through all six New England states, even though none of them will ever return to 12MC again. I enjoyed the mapping challenge. Maybe someday someone will attempt these solutions in the real world. It might make a nice Sunday drive.

On June 17, 2015 · 12 Comments

It’s Not Always About Abe

On June 14, 2015 · 1 Comments

In the United States, twenty-three states have a Lincoln County (or Parish in the case of Louisiana). That’s nearly half. That’s also to be expected. Certainly a man who led the nation through a traumatic civil war and who died tragically at the hand of an assassin deserved to be honored with numerous place named for him. Geographic features called Lincoln spread far-and-wide. It even took root in the Wild West in places like Lincoln County, New Mexico (map) and by extension to the name of a war — the "Lincoln County War" (more of a feud actually) — involving unlikely characters such as Billy the Kid. However some counties of Lincoln weren’t what they seemed on the surface. Some of them weren’t named for Abraham Lincoln at all.

Several southern states had Lincoln Counties. One might be tempted to conclude that each of them established a county named for their former foe as a sign of reconciliation during the Reconstruction Era. That wasn’t the case. Those Lincoln Counties predated the term of President Lincoln by decades: North Carolina (1779); Kentucky (1780); Georgia (1796); and Tennessee (1809). That was also true for one border state, Missouri (1818).

General Benjamin Lincoln-restored.jpg
General Benjamin Lincoln-restored” by Charles Willson PealeFile:Benjamin lincoln by charles wilson peale.jpg.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

They were all named for Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810). One would be excused for not being familiar with Benjamin Lincoln, so completely overshadowed by Abraham Lincoln. It was unfortunate that someone who contributed to the birth of a nation languished in obscurity at least in part because of the unlikely chance that someone else with the same surname became an icon of history. The reflex action in the United States was to think of Abraham automatically upon hearing the single word Lincoln. Sorry Benjamin. He and Abe weren’t even related.

181 North Street
181 North Street by Timothy Valentine, on Flickr (cc)

Benjamin Lincoln already had a promising career in the years leading up to the American Revolution. He lived in Hingham, Massachusetts where he held various minor political offices and participated in local militias. He found himself overseeing supplies and operations for Massachusetts militias as the Revolution broke out and then helped to supply the new Continental Army. Later he became a Major General and led troops in several battles. As George Washington’s second in command at the Battle of Yorktown, he formally accepted the British surrender. He became the first Secretary of War under the new U.S. government formed by the Articles of Confederation and then later served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Clearly he earned a level of credibility significant enough to get a few counties in growing states named in his honor.

Abraham Lincoln’s home became a national historic site. In fact, numerous places associated with Abe became parks and monuments, drawing visitors from around the world. That wasn’t the case with Benjamin although his old home still stands in Hingham (map). It didn’t become a park, it remained a private residence. Amazingly, it continues to be owned by the same family, having been passed down through successive generations since Thomas Lincoln settled there in the 1630’s. Its nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places noted (1972) that "The house is furnished with the original Lincoln furniture and contains many of the General’s personal items."

Another Lincoln

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral by Brian, on Flickr (cc)

This might be about the time that 12MC readers in the United Kingdom start wondering about the Lincoln in England’s East Midlands, the county town of Lincolnshire. That city had an impact on a couple of U.S. counties too, one directly and another indirectly. Lincoln County, Maine originated in 1760. It commemorated the birthplace of Thomas Pownall, governor of Massachusetts — Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time. Lincoln County, South Dakota was established in 1867. That would seem to make it a perfect candidate for a connection to Abraham Lincoln who died only a couple of years earlier. However it was actually named for Lincoln County, Maine, which is where W.W. Brookings, a member of the territorial legislature was born. How odd that both counties were named for birthplaces.

I’d still venture to guess that the then-recent death of Abraham Lincoln had at least a subtle influence on the name of Lincoln County, South Dakota.

On June 14, 2015 · 1 Comments
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