THE glad tidings have been sent forth that our University of Maine is offering a workshop on how to gamble, which should prompt many a letter from the true believers in our educational system. The news made me think of Aaron Burr and Princess Jacataqua, which I can explain, but before I do let us admire the cultural merit of this workshop. It is designed for folks planning to visit Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, and suchlike centers of fiscal venture and will show them how to minimize their losses and maximize their profits, with emphasis on craps and blackjack. And you heard me - our University of Maine. Professors Robert Strong and Horace Givens of the Department of Business Administration will conduct the seminar, or s'eance, or whatever such necromantic antics should be called, and we are assured the two have studied statistical techniques, game theory, and decisionmaking and have investigated casino gambling in the United States and abroad. The importance of statistics is what made me think of Aaron Burr and his romance with the lovely Jacataqua, princess of the Kennebecs.
But first I had to think about Steve Powell and how he went to the University of Maine one time and studied statistics. That was well back. Steve is easy to recall, since he was structured physically much like a double hogshead of Barbados molasses and weighed about the same. Had you seen Steve in a canoe, as I did many times, you would never forget, as I haven't, how he would hang out over the gunn'ls. But Steve was agile and fleet, and I saw him lope into the woods and run down a young deer, bringing it back in his arms to show it to nature lovers on a walk (Steve called all nature lovers ``bird watchers'') and give his little lecture on never-never-never touch a wild animal.
When our Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game set up a game management area on Swan Island in the Kennebec River, Steve was the logical warden to run the place. He did until he retired, and today the refuge is named for him.
Shortly after this appointment, Steve was sent ``back to school'' for some refresher courses, along with some dozen other wardens. One morning he found himself in a classroom about to be instructed in the use of ``statistics'' for wildlife management. The professor introduced himself and said the first thing for each man to do was to select 1,000 random numbers.
Steve, who had trouble crowding himself into the seat-desk, raised his hand and asked the professor what would be random about selected numbers. Steve said the professor made an answer, but it was in esoteric professor talk and he didn't understand a word of it. After that, every little while, the professor would shudder, look up at Steve in alarm, and wag his head.
For the second session, now that each warden had his 1,000 selected random numbers, the professor had them flip a coin 1,000 times and jot down the heads and tails. Steve said he never saw anything funnier than a class of uniformed game wardens sitting in utter seriousness flipping coins. Not a smile on a face; every man captivated by the magic of statistics. I asked Steve what that was supposed to prove, and he said it proved conclusively that flipping coins produces varying results within a range of wide limits.
After basic statistics was mastered, the class was shown how to apply statistics to game management. Steve excelled at this, and after ``sampling'' 300,000 Canada geese in the sanctuary at Merrymeeting Bay, he interpolated the wetlands ratio, divided by the forage availability, and proved that every playground in the city of Portland had 14 geese.
This same Swan Island where Steve had his game refuge was winter quarters in the long ago for Kennebec Indians, and in 1775 when Benedict Arnold led his troops up the river on the way to attack Quebec City, the tribe was in residence. Aaron Burr was a soldier in the expedition, and he was smitten en passant by the comely Indian Princess Jacataqua, who in turn was much taken by the dashing young man. There are many tales of this romance; in one of them Jacataqua and Burr kilt a b'ar and she roasted it for a gala feast at which soldiers and Indians mingled.
After he took over the island, Steve added these tales to his repertoire for regaling visitors, and he was able to prove by statistics that a bear sufficient to feed 1,100 hungry soldiers and 300 Indians would stand 85 feet tall.