Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Week In Montana

A Week In Montana from Preston Kanak on Vimeo.

Our More Complex World

A notable tidbit in a story about brainstorming and other ways to promote creative innovation:
Ben Jones, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, at Northwestern University, has quantified this trend. By analyzing 19.9 million peer-reviewed academic papers and 2.1 million patents from the past fifty years, he has shown that levels of teamwork have increased in more than ninety-five per cent of scientific subfields; the size of the average team has increased by about twenty per cent each decade. The most frequently cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius, like Einstein or Darwin. Today, regardless of whether researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics, science papers by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to so-called “home-run papers”—publications with at least a hundred citations. These were more than six times as likely to come from a team of scientists.
Jones’s explanation is that scientific advances have led to a situation where all the remaining problems are incredibly hard. Researchers are forced to become increasingly specialized, because there’s only so much information one mind can handle. And they have to collaborate, because the most interesting mysteries lie at the intersections of disciplines. “A hundred years ago, the Wright brothers could build an airplane all by themselves,” Jones says. “Now Boeing needs hundreds of engineers just to design and produce the engines.” The larger lesson is that the increasing complexity of human knowledge, coupled with the escalating difficulty of those remaining questions, means that people must either work together or fail alone. But if brainstorming is useless, the question still remains: What’s the best template for group creativity?
The ever-greater complexity of the modern world is one of the main reasons I think the conservative push for smaller government is bound to fail. We can't have the 1789 or 1890 version of government, because we don't live in 1789 or 1890.

How Long Have Humans Been Changing The Climate?

A long time, researchers claim:
Sediment cores from the mouth of the Congo River—the deepest river in the world—suggest that humans may have played a significant role in changing the landscapes of Central Africa. That river curves through the world’s second-biggest lingering tropical forest, but it and its tributaries also flow through the savannas so prized by modern-day safaris.
Scientists had previously thought that a climate shift from warm and humid to seasonally cooler and drier had helped create those savannas, which covered even more of Central Africa in the past. But the 40,000-year-old record preserved in the sediment cores tells a different story. Roughly 3,500 years ago the Congo River suddenly began dumping a lot more muck without any appreciable increase in rainfall to explain such weathering. One plausible explanation is the simultaneous arrival of the so-called Bantu people, who brought farming into the region.

A Breeders' Cup At Del Mar?

Interesting:
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club outside of San Diego has sent an informational package to Breeders' Cup expressing interest in hosting a future edition of the organization's year-end event, the Breeders' Cup's chief executive said on Tuesday.

The packet did not specify when the track would like to host the event, said Breeders' Cup chief Craig Fravel, who is the former president and general manager of Del Mar. The track, which is typically open from late July through early September, would need to expand its turf course in order to host the early November event, a renovation that is included in a development plan currently being considered by the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the state agency that owns the property.

Del Mar has expressed an interest in hosting the Breeders' Cup several times in the past decade, but the width of its turf course has always prevented the track from launching a serious bid. The turf course is currently limited to 10 starters, whereas the Breeder's Cup's turf races allow for a maximum of 14 starters.
That would be a nice location to host the Cup.  You can't get better weather.

MF Global Fiasco Continues

NYT:
Still, an exact sum of the at-risk cash remains elusive.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the regulator leading the hunt for the money, has estimated the shortfall at $680 million. Mr. Giddens previously pegged the total at $1.2 billion.
His revised estimate, $1.6 billion, applies only to customers who traded commodities at MF Global. The figure does not include potentially hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the firm’s securities industry customers.
The trustee on Friday cautioned that the number could continue to fluctuate while customer claims are processed and missing money is recovered.
Mr. Giddens based the revised estimate in part on information gleaned from claims forms that commodity customers recently filed. The forms show that about 40 percent of commodities customers hail from five states, including Illinois and New York, where the firm had dual headquarters, the trustee said in a statement.
Nearly all of the customers have made claims for less than $100,000.
As the numbers ebb and flow, three months after MF Global filed for bankruptcy, the delay is weighing on the firm’s customers, as varied as farmers and hedge funds.
Customers who traded in the United States have received about 70 percent of their cash back. But customers who traded overseas have yet to see a penny.
This mess has undermined the concept of custodial accounts and highlighted the danger of multinational banking entities.  I don't understand how faith in the financial sector can be reestablished without massive regulatory changes.  People need to go to jail over this.

Some Broiler Production Statistics

Wired:
Here’s what I learned about Georgia on Thursday:
  • It raises more meat chickens than any other place in the United States, about 1.4 billion of them a year.
  • That’s 15 percent of all the animals raised in confinement agriculture in the United States. Not just 15 percent of the chickens; 15 percent of everything.
  • All those chickens produce 2 million tons of poultry manure and litter a year, one-fifth of what the entire U.S. poultry sector produces.
  • That waste is applied on land — including land where other food crops are grown — from which it can run off and contaminate water supplies.
  • 40 to 80 percent of gut bacteria recovered from confinement chicken-houses are multi-drug resistant.
  • Caring for foodborne illness from organisms carried on chicken, and making up for lost productivity when people are made sick, costs about $2.4 billion per year.
  • Chicken catchers, who cage the birds on their way to slaughter, may lift 5,000 pounds in an hour. Slaughterhouse line workers may perform the same repetitive cutting motions 20,000 to 30,000 times in a work shift.
  • Slaughterhouses in Georgia kill 1 million chickens per week.
  • Poultry is exempt from humane slaughter regulations.
I learned these things — some of which certainly snapped my head back — via a report from a new advocacy group that debuted Thursday, Georgians for Pastured Poultry, with the mission to remake poultry production in the most-poultry-producing state.
I'm not going to get into the pastured poultry versus confinement argument here.  I was just surprised that Georgia was the leading broiler producing state.  I actually did a quick search to make sure that was true before posting it.  Apparently, my pick for the leading state, Arkansas, is second.  One thing I can guarantee: most of the workers involved in the jobs mentioned above are not natives of the United States.  That work is just too hard.

Boom Times In Sioux County, Iowa

The Des Moines Register is doing a feature article series on the Northwestern Iowa's Sioux County, the site of at least one $20,000 an acre farmland sale.  Here are some quotes from the Dutch Reformed version of German Catholic southern Mercer County, Ohio:
Animal eugenics capital of the world. “We’re way more efficient with this process than Mother Nature,” said Dave Faber, founder of Trans Ova, as we watched a machine sort bull sperm by gender, 37,000 sperms per second.
Ain’t Dutch, ain’t much. “I don’t necessarily buy that ethnic, religious theory,” said Kent Pruismann, a hog and cattle farmer south of Rock Valley, in response to the idea that Sioux County might be prosperous in part because of the Dutch Reformed influence.
Smells like money. “Most often it’s pretty tolerable,” said Paul Klausing, the city manager of Sioux Center, on the smell of manure. “You realize that’s what’s going on here.”
Missing out. “I’ve never seen such rude people,” said Kent Pruismann, on when the Cattlemen’s Association tried unsuccessfully to site a packing plant in Central Iowa. He argues NW Iowa has an appreciation for the livestock industry that’s not shared in much of the rest of the state.
Bull market. “They told me that if I don’t make up my mind in January, I won’t be able to get any concrete,” said Phil Kooima, owner of $50 million-in-sales-a-year Kooima Company, on his plans for a new parking lot and the demand for Redi-Mix around Rock Valley.
Contact hitting. “We need base hits, not home runs, in rural Iowa,” said Wade Gort, president of Premier Bank in Rock Valley, on state gov’ts plans for thousands of acres of shovel-ready land for big companies to relocate on.
Cultural mandate. “We’re called not only to preserve Creation, but to develop Creation,” Dordt College President Carl Zylstra, on the Reformed Christian philosophy of business and entrepreneurialism. The chair of the board of supervisors, mayor of Sioux Center, city manager, Kooima, State Senator Randy Feenstra, founder of Ozone Solutions, president of First National Bank, and countless others are Dordt grads.
While such areas are interesting, the insularity is stupefying. Given my druthers, I'd pick the Catholics, because they are a lot more fun than the Dutch Reformed.

One thing I'll agree with from these quotes is the concept that shovel-ready sites are a waste of government money.  It just isn't that hard to build utilities and roads to accomodate businesses if they want to locate a warehouse or factory somewhere.  There is no need to build the infrastructure ahead of time.  In my previous life, we developed an industrial park for a municipality to try to lure businesses.  They managed to lure a large warehouse, but we had to tear out the street, abandon the utilities and build new because our conception of the potential layout didn't match their site needs.  It was an amazing waste of money.

Charts of the Day

From Mother Jones, via nc links.  First:

Second:


Is anybody else noticing a negative correlation there?

Is Obama That Lucky?

Nate Silver:
Meanwhile, Mr. Santorum closed strongly and outperformed his polls in several states so far, including Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and South Carolina (where he was projected to place fourth by the polls but finished in third). That could indicate that voters like Mr. Santorum the more they get to know him — indeed, his favorability ratings are strong among Republican voters — or that his supporters are more enthusiastic. Either quality would be an asset going forward, allowing him to win his share of close calls against Mr. Romney.
Thus, it seems at least possible that Mr. Santorum’s momentum will be more sustainable. To have a chance at winning in the delegate count, he will need to supplant Mr. Gingrich as Mr. Romney’s major rival in the South. The results in Missouri, a borderline Southern state where Mr. Santorum beat Mr. Romney by 30 points without Mr. Gingrich on the ballot, suggest that he could run strongly if Mr. Gingrich were to bow out.
It is certainly not a straightforward path, but nor is Mr. Romney’s at this point. And so far in this Republican race, betting on the underdog has yielded dividends.
Could Obama be lucky enough to see the Republicans coalesce around Santorum?  I doubt that Santorum will be able to maintain the momentum and Rickroll Mitt.  But if he does, we are in for quite the entertaining landslide in November.

Update:  That prediction is barring an economic collapse.  With a collapse, we'd be looking at President Santorum.  Maybe the Mayan calendar does indicate the end of the world.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Are Single-Family Homes Passe?

At Fast Company:
On the op-ed page of today’s New York Times, Gang and Fast Company’s own Greg Lindsay argue that if you want to revive the flagging residential real estate market, you have to offer alternatives to traditional single-family homes, which fail to accommodate the domestic needs of many Americans.
By “Americans” they mean predominantly immigrants, who’ve flocked to the suburbs in spades. They point to Cicero, Il., a Chicago suburb with a large Latino immigrant population and an astronomical foreclosure rate:
Most of Cicero’s housing is detached, single-family homes. But these are too expensive for many immigrants, so five or six families often squeeze into one of Cicero’s brick bungalows. This creates unstable financial situations, neighborhood tensions and falling real estate values.
Gang and Linsday suggest redesigning abandoned buildings, like Cicero’s old factories, to create flexible residential units so that “rather than force Cicero’s residents to contort themselves to fit the bungalows, their homes can expand or shrink to fit them.” They further suggest relaxing zoning laws--which often prohibit adaptive reuse--and embracing new financial mechanisms that ease the burden on homeowners.
I like the concept, but like changing our car-based way of life, this is going to be tough.  People love them some space, even if it is in a cookie-cutter subdivision in the middle of nowhere.  I do think greater urban density is a necessity in the future, but people will get dragged there kicking and screaming.

Can The U.S. Become Energy Independent?

Almost certainly not.  The Atlantic:
There are plenty of good reasons for the optimism. With the development of its massive shale deposits, the United States has become the world's single largest producer of natural gas. We're so awash in it that domestic prices have plummeted to historic lows. Advances in drilling technology have also made it possible to access hard-to-tap "tight" oil reserves in states such as North Dakota. Analysts believe those fresh crude sources could yield 2.9 million barrels of oil a day by 2020, up from 900,000 today. Meanwhile, cars are getting more efficient, and fuel use has dropped after soaring during the last decade, which frees up more energy production for export. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. is already getting 81% of its energy from domestic sources, the largest share since 1992, and up 10 percentage points since 2005.


Then, there's Canada, which now claims the world's third largest oil reserves thanks to Alberta's petroleum rich tar sands. That's important because Canada and the U.S. are family when it comes to global trade. They're currently our single largest oil supplier. We sell them 75% of their imports and buy 75% of their exports. The National Petroleum Council, which advises the White House on energy issues, believes that by 2035, the two countries combined could more than double their oil production to 22.5 million barrels a day, enough to satisfy their current total consumption.


If you're not too concerned about how much carbon gets pumped into the atmosphere over the next few decades, these are all great developments. (If you do care about global warming, these are all reasons to have a stiff drink, and perhaps consider moving far from the coasts). But even if we're approaching energy independence, the chances of ever actually getting there are rather slim, especially if our economy is still running on oil in 20 years.
Who wants to wager that we'll never come close to those production numbers?  Let me go out on a limb and say the National Petroleum Council is probably prone to being overly optimistic.  We just can't afford to continue our oil-dependent economy like it is.  That oil isn't easy to produce, and is just going to waste money pretending we can continue to drive like we have the past fifty years.  Times are changing, and we need to overhaul our lifestyles.  The idea we can drill our way to prosperity is just wrong.

Germany's Economic Weaknesses

NYT, via Mark Thoma:
But the fact is that, even without a German-led bailout, the German economy is poised for a slowdown. Many economists expect growth to be well below 3 percent this year; my own guess is that it will come in around 1 percent.
Such expectations are hardly secret, and they reinforce the German public’s fear of aggressive action right now. After all, the international community appears unaware of the sobering experiences that Germany’s taxpayers have gone through in the last two decades. By the middle of this decade, the equivalent of up to 100 percent of Germany’s annual G.D.P. will have been spent to finance German reunification alone. This will have amounted to an annual contribution of 4 percent of G.D.P. for nearly a quarter century.
Most of it is being financed through a slowdown in government investment in western Germany and limits on social spending, higher taxes and social contributions. A third of that investment, however, has been shifted onto the shoulders of the next generation as debt. In fact, the country’s debt-to-G.D.P. ratio has risen from just below 60 percent to almost 80 percent, a bearable number in a strong economy but dangerously high should things slow down.
Is now a time to rejoice? Is Germany the star performer, the role model to be emulated? Or is the start of 2012 just a snapshot, showing a series of lucky coincidences that should not be misread as structural strengths? With some qualifications, I believe it is the latter.
This situation is scary, but thought-provoking.  I don't know how it will play out, but the focus will remain on Germany, and it's reaction to the crisis.

Chart of the Day, Part 2

A chart at the Dish:

This trend is a good one.  Heating and cooling smaller spaces is a good thing.  I barely heat my house as it is, I can't imagine what it would be like if it was bigger.

Chart of the Day

Via Ritholtz:

If You Build It, Will They Come?


With tax incentives, no less:
A tax break of up to $16 million for owners of Dyersville’s “Field of Dreams” baseball diamond was approved in the Senate Economic Growth Committee today despite objections from two Republican lawmakers.
Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the famous field used in the “Field of Dreams” movie, has unveiled plans to transform the 193-acre site into a $38 million attraction with 24 youth baseball and softball fields that include professional-quality turf, an indoor “sportsdome” facility, dormitories, an amphitheater and a ropes course that would attract training, tourism and tournaments all year.
Officials from the company are asking lawmakers to approve a rebate on all sales tax generated at the site, payable to the developers for 10 years or up to $16 million. It’s similar to an incentive package the legislature put into place for the Iowa Speedway in Newton.
Advocates say the project will generate more than $47.2 million a year in annual spending on hotels, restaurants and other retail development and create more than 500 jobs, mostly in a rural area of the state.
To me, this defeats the tourist attraction of the site.  I'm not sure who's going to go to a baseball tournament in Dyersville, Iowa.  I don't understand why the developer would need a sales tax rebate to go forward with the project.  $16 million dollars in tax breaks for a $38 million development?  That seems pretty steep to me.

Students Versus Townies

February 10, 1355:
The St. Scholastica's Day riot breaks out in Oxford, England, leaving 63 scholars and perhaps 30 locals dead in two days. The St Scholastica Day riot of February 10, 1355, is one of the most notorious events in the history of Oxford.
The seed of the riot was an altercation in the Swindlestock Tavern (now the site of the Santander Bank on Carfax) between two students of the University of Oxford, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, and the taverner, John Croidon. They complained about the quality of drinks, which led to an exchange of rude words that ended with the students throwing their drinks at the taverner's face and beating him up. Retaliation for this incident led to armed clashes between locals and students. The mayor of Oxford, John de Bereford, asked the chancellor of the university, John Charlton, to arrest these two students, to no avail. Instead, two hundred students supported Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield, who allegedly assaulted the mayor and others. A riot broke out and lasted the following two days, which left 63 scholars and perhaps 30 locals dead. The scholars were eventually routed.
The dispute was eventually settled in favour of the university, when a special charter was created. Annually thereafter, on February 10th, the town mayor and councillors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay to the university a fine of one penny for every scholar killed, a total of 5 s. 3 d.. The penance ended 470 years later, in 1825 when the mayor of the time refused to take part.
It was not until six hundred years had passed that the hatchet was finally and formally buried when, on 10th February 1955, at a commemoration of the events of 1355, the Mayor was given an honorary degree and the Vice-Chancellor was made an Honorary Freeman.
That makes dumpster fires, excessive noise, property damage, public intoxication and public urination seem kind of minor.

Warren Buffett On Gold

An investment that doesn't make sense (h/t Yglesias):
Over the past 15 years, both Internet stocks and houses have demonstrated the extraordinary excesses that can be created by combining an initially sensible thesis with well-publicized rising prices. In these bubbles, an army of originally skeptical investors succumbed to the "proof " delivered by the market, and the pool of buyers -- for a time -- expanded sufficiently to keep the bandwagon rolling. But bubbles blown large enough inevitably pop. And then the old proverb is confirmed once again: "What the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end."
Today the world's gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce -- gold's price as I write this -- its value would be about $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.
Let's now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world's most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?Beyond the staggering valuation given the existing stock of gold, current prices make today's annual production of gold command about $160 billion. Buyers -- whether jewelry and industrial users, frightened individuals, or speculators -- must continually absorb this additional supply to merely maintain an equilibrium at present prices.
A century from now the 400 million acres of farmland will have produced staggering amounts of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops -- and will continue to produce that valuable bounty, whatever the currency may be. Exxon Mobil (XOM) will probably have delivered trillions of dollars in dividends to its owners and will also hold assets worth many more trillions (and, remember, you get 16 Exxons). The 170,000 tons of gold will be unchanged in size and still incapable of producing anything. You can fondle the cube, but it will not respond.
Seriously, farmland may be a bubble, but it's better than gold.  I don't completely get the gold fetish, but I did buy a few coins because they are cool looking.  It's probably about time to sell.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Right Field To Die On?

Chart via the Dish:

 John Cole at Balloon Juice:
Others here have talked about the issue in more detail, but I really just can’t believe that in the year 2012, with everything that is going on, Republicans want to pick a losing fight over condoms and the pill. I thought they were stupid, but I didn’t think they were that stupid. It’s like they’ve given up on taking us back to 1950 and have just decided to pretend it is 1950 all over again.
I can't agree more.  It's a little too late to put the genie back in the bottle.  Why do evangelicals care so much about birth control now?  Catholics sure as hell don't.  I would think this is an issue ready made to piss off women, considering there is a good chance Viagra is covered by most health insurance.  I guess the echo chamber convinces Republicans that everybody is on their side. 

American Migration Map

Via Mark Thoma, Forbes has an interactive map of internal migration in the United States.  My county had people moving in from surrounding counties and at least two other counties which have large public universities, while people moved out to Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Chicago, Las Vegas and L.A. 

Hate And Hard Times

The Atlantic:
Like Father Coughlin, Billie James Hargis, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and so many other right wing media crusaders before them, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham understand that for many religious Americans, "evil" is not just an adjective but also a noun. When the Puritans first arrived in New England, they believed they were reclaiming a wilderness from Satan. Many traditionalists on the right, whether Christian Millennialists or not, feel much the same way.
To them, Godless Communism or Secular Humanism isn't the absence of a religious orientation so much as they are Satanic religions in and of themselves, whose acolytes glorify evil, promote the slaughter of innocent, unborn babies, and persecute believing Christians. Blue State America is Rome in the time of Christ. Whether its depravity is manifested in the form of sexual libertinage, income redistribution, spiritual or economic incontinence, blasphemy, women's and gay rights, or the threat of "race mixing," anathema and even violence are completely appropriate responses to it.
As melodramatic and overwrought as Glenn Beck's and W. Cleon Skousen's forebodings for the Constitution might be, I suspect they are informed by a specific Mormon prophecy that resonated with both men's sense of self-importance. "When the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread," Brigham Young wrote in 1855, referring to Joseph Smith's still earlier "White Horse" prophecy of 1843, "They will have to call for the 'Mormon' elders to save it from utter destruction; and they will step forth and do it." Above and beyond that, I suspect that Beck's conspiracy theories serve an essential psychological purpose--they provide both him and his listeners with a sense of order and control (something that was clearly missing from Beck's life during his alcohol and cocaine-addled years in the radio wilderness). Conspiracy theory has been a goldmine for Beck as an entertainer too, both figuratively and literally--not only has it made him rich, it provides him with an inexhaustible source of material, no small thing for someone whose job requires him to extemporize for hours every day. If Beck has made himself more ridiculous than his rival Rush Limbaugh (who also failed on television) ever did, he can still indulge his megalomania with a radio audience that is larger than the populations of many countries.
Why do the right-wing and hate automatically go together?  Because to retain the status quo they have to hate the "other"?  I'm just not sure.

The Secretary of Agriculture Joins The Cabinet

February 9, 1889:
President Grover Cleveland signs a bill elevating the United States Department of Agriculture to a Cabinet-level agency. Early in its history, the economy of the United States was largely agrarian. Officials in the federal government had long sought new and improved varieties of seeds, plants and animals for importation to the United States. In 1836 Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, a Yale-educated attorney interested in improving agriculture, became Commissioner of Patents, a position within the Department of State. He soon began collecting and distributing new varieties of seeds and plants through members of the Congress and agricultural societies. In 1839, Congress established the Agricultural Division within the Patent Office and allotted $1,000 for "the collection of agricultural statistics and other agricultural purposes."
Ellsworth's interest in aiding agriculture was evident in his annual reports that called for a public depository to preserve and distribute the various new seeds and plants, a clerk to collect agricultural statistics, the preparation of statewide reports about crops in different regions, and the application of chemistry to agriculture. Ellsworth's agricultural focus earned him the sobriquet of "The Father of the Department of Agriculture."
In 1849, the Patent Office was transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior. In the ensuing years, agitation for a separate bureau of agriculture within the department or a separate department devoted to agriculture kept recurring. The USDA was created by Abraham Lincoln in order to help out the United States economy.On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established the independent Department of Agriculture to be headed by a Commissioner without Cabinet status. Lincoln called it the "people's department." In the 1880s, varied advocacy groups were lobbying for Cabinet representation. Business interests sought a Department of Commerce and Industry, and farmers tried to raise the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet rank. In 1887, the House of Representatives and Senate passed bills giving Cabinet status to the Department of Agriculture and Labor, but the bill was killed in conference committee after farm interests objected to the addition of labor. Finally, on February 9, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law elevating the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet level.
Just a little USDA history.

What Happened To The Spitball?

Jonah Keri:
Whatever happened to the spitball?
A gambling scandal from 93 years ago goes down as the biggest black mark in the game's history … then another one keeps baseball's all-time hit leader out of the Hall of Fame to this day. Performance-enhancing drugs get outlawed … only to get linked, years later, to one of the game's biggest names. Sign-stealing triggers one of baseball's most unforgettable moments … and continues to swat new hornet's nests 60 years later.
Meanwhile, doctoring pitches helped extend the careers of countless fading arms throughout baseball history. More than a simple performance enhancer, it was damn fun. Anytime a suspected scuffer or greaser came to town, local media fired off breathless "Does He or Doesn't He?," "Will He or Won't He?" columns. Students of the game watched the pitcher's every move, looking for a fishy hand movement or sleeve swipe. A batter's dirty look as he walked back to the dugout was itself worth the price of admission. The mere threat of a spitball drove hitters batty, to the point where they'd get pissed if it wasn't thrown, given all the waiting and anguish they went through over the course of a game.
How and why did all of that vanish from the game?
"Bruce Sutter," said Mike Maddux, the Texas Rangers pitching coach and 15-year major league veteran whose own pitching career briefly coincided with the Hall of Fame reliever's. "He mastered the splitter. All of a sudden you had a pitch that had the same action you could get with the greaseball."
I remember how entertaining it was to watch Gaylord Perry psych out batters with all his antics, then throw a crazy 80 mph drop ball past them.  Good times. It's illegal, and not nearly as entertaining as watching Tim Wakefield or R.A. Dickey throwing knuckleballs, but it's also cool.  It's doubtful anybody could bring it back in today's high tech world.

Setting Yourself Up For Utter Defeat

Via the Dish, Michael Brendan Dougherty makes the case that the economy isn't the only issue in this election:
But the last three weeks prove that what gets Americans really fired up is the culture war.
Yesterday we saw the 9th Circuit Court overrule the popular referendum in California that banned gay marriage. Rick Santorum, who defined his career in the Senate as the point man for conservatives in the culture war is suddenly surging in the GOP nomination contest. The nation and its media had a week-long freakout over a minuscule $700,000 grant from the Komen Foundation to Planned Parenthood. And now the Obama Administration and the Catholic Church are in open conflict over whether religious institutions should be dragged into the bedroom to pay for their employees' contraceptives of choice.
No one is saying that jobs are the only issue that matter anymore. 
If Republicans try to defeat Obama on culture issues and not the economy, they are going to be utterly crushed.  If Gingrich or Santorum is the candidate, it will be even worse.  Look, if a marketing director for a major brand decided to target the oldest, most rapidly shrinking demographic category while the competitor went for the growth sectors, that person would be looking not only for a new job, but also for a new career field.  Yet the Republicans are targeting elderly whites and white males at the expense of blacks, Hispanics and women.  And on the religious side, they are targeting conservative Catholics at the expense of moderate Catholics.  Maybe I'm wrong here, but I don't see regular mass attendees as a growing demographic.  Catholic women have already voted where they stand on birth control, and it isn't with the bishops.  If I were a politician, I wouldn't try to make hay on allowing employers to avoid covering birth control.  But hey, to each his own.  Likewise, gay marriage.  Fighting it may win the support of old people and the bishops, but it dramatically alienates young voters.  Again, what business would offend people with fifty or sixty years left on earth in favor of appealing to the soon to die and the celibate.  I'm guessing one that won't be successful in the future.

Game Theory And Markets

Bloomberg (h/t Ritholtz):
 We routinely have things like the crash of 1987, or the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010, shocking events that seem to strike out of nowhere. Yet the nature of this chaos might not be as mysterious as it seems. From the right perspective -- not that of mainstream economics -- it looks like a natural consequence of a market game that often deludes investors into thinking they know how it works.
The idea comes by way of a silly thought experiment invented in 1994 by Brian Arthur, an economist then at Stanford University. Imagine a college bar with music and cheap drinks every Thursday night. Naturally, lots of students want to go. Trouble is, it’s a tiny place, and they will enjoy it only if 60 percent or fewer of them go. Otherwise, they will suffer miserably in the cramped heat. Hence, each week, every student faces a tricky decision: How to do what most other people will not do. (No cheating -- everyone has to decide at the same time.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Romney IS Like Reagan

Rick Perlstein, putting his research for a Reagan book to good use:
Brazen stuff. For one thing, Gov. Reagan pulled his tax dodge during an election year, when he was running for a second term. For another, his big crusade after reelection was fighting the Democratic legislature’s attempts to institute tax withholding on salaries to make up for a budget shortfall. He wanted people should know exactly what they were paying; "taxes should hurt," was his slogan.
The following week, the story was the talk of the State Capitol. At Reagan's weekly press conference, after he announced the state was running so short of cash that by fall it would be forced, for the first time since the Great Depression, to rely on outside borrowing to pay the bills – because, of course, Democrats were "playing fast and loose with the fiscal integrity of this state for purely partisan advantage" – a newsman asked him if it was true that he himself had contributed nothing to state coffers the previous year. Obviously taken aback, he responded slowly: "You know something? I don't actually know whether I did or not. I'd have to check up .... I have a fellow making it our for me — a lawyer makes it out." He added, "I know in the federal the last couple of years I got a rebate back."
Five minutes after the press conference his office released a one-sentence statement: "Because of business reverses of Gov. Reagan's investments, he owed no state income tax for 1970."
Well. The UPI wire service did the accounting. It turned out that, in addition to his $41,100 salary as governor, for which a Californian would ordinarily owe $2,700 without deductions, Reagan had sold 236 acres of his Yearling Row Ranch in the Malibu Mountains in 1968 to 20th Century Fox studios for a reported $1.93 million. (To figure these sums in current dollars, multiply by a factor of about 5.5). He refused to say how this all added up to an absence of taxable income. He also refused to make his tax records public, or say what the "business reversals" were – refused with a vengeance. Arriving at the Capitol the next day, asked whether he would clarify his federal tax status, he answered, "Why should I have to clarify the status? Frankly, I think the Capitol press corps demeaned itself a little by engaging in invasion of privacy." (Turn the question around, playing the victim card against the wicked jackals of the press: Newt Gingrich would absorb the lesson well.)
That's pretty funny.  I have to say, I ended up paying very little in taxes last year, because I bought out grandpa's share of the farm partnership, and he got all 2010 income, and I got all the expenses for 2011.  Of course, that will only work for last year.  This year I'm going to be hammered.  So it goes.

The Congressional Bourbon Caucus

Ezra Klein interviews Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky) the head of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus:
EK: Why is bourbon taxed more heavily than other spirits?
JY: I’m not exactly sure why it is. There have been preferences on things like rum to help the economies of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. But I’m not sure why it’s so high on bourbon. It’s like 13 dollars per proof gallon while rum is a dollar or two dollars.
EK: Is the growth in the bourbon industry mostly domestic or international?
JY: Most of the growth has been because it’s a prized export. But you’re also seeing bourbon catching on among younger drinkers who are looking for a more adventurous experience.
EK: I was researching bourbon regulations to prepare for this interview, and I was actually surprised to see how many international protections American bourbon producers have. Canada mandates that all products sold under the name “bourbon” come from America. So does the European Union. But places like China don’t. So is there a trade issue here, or any problems with Chinese bourbon piracy, where they’re selling a lot of fake Jim Beam?
JY: That’s not one the distillers have actually raised with us. I don’t think China is one of the biggest markets, so I don’t think pirating has been much of an issue.
EK: How about domestically? I was surprised to see how strict the legal regulations around bourbon production are. Do many producers try to slip under the wire?
JY: They’ve been pretty easy to enforce. Of course, Kentucky is pretty vigilant about that. Bourbon has to be aged in charred white oak barrels. They need to be new not used. Other states are now getting into it, too. Iowa is one. But Kentucky has always said you can’t really make bourbon outside of Kentucky because it’s a combination of the barrels and the limestone-fed springs that give us the water. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
My guess about why bourbon is taxed higher than other spirits?  I would wager that distillers have to pay the taxes when they barrel the whiskey.  Bourbon is generally aged.  To be labeled straight bourbon, it must be aged at least 2 years, and most popular brands are aged 6 years.  Therefore, it would be hard for a startup distiller to invest the money to barrel bourbon, keeping down competition.  Maybe that isn't the case, but that is my gut feeling. 

Update:  Apparently, I'm wrong.  According to the comments, the tax is paid when sold, thus the LIFO adjustment.  But, the high taxes also make it less profitable and hurts return on capital, so it would still discourage startups.

Guinness And Statistical Analysis

Sarah Kliff:
Roosevelt University’s Stephen Ziliak has uncovered beer’s very important contribution to the world of statistics research. As he details in this month’s Journal of Wine Economics, Guinness brewmaster W.S. Gossett published in 1904 one of the first papers on statistical significance. It explored how many trial brews Guinness needed to ensure it produced pints consumers would swallow:
Guinness malt was produced in Gosset’s time primarily from Irish and English barley stock — Old Irish, Prentice, Plumage Archer, and Spratt Archer were effective varieties. Malt extract was measured by “degrees saccharine” per barrel. An extract in the neighborhood of 133 saccharine gave the targeted level of alcohol for Guinness’s beer. A much higher degree of saccharine would affect the stability and life of the beer, but it also increases alcohol content — which in turn increases the excise tax which Guinness owes to the British government, which — sad to say — ups the price of Dad’s pint.
If, on the other hand, the alcohol content comes in too low, if the degree of saccharine is insuf´Čücient, customers would riot, or switch to Beamish and Beck’s. In Gosset’s view, .5 degrees saccharine was a difference or error in malt extract which Guinness and its customers could swallow. “It might be maintained,” he said, “that malt extract “should be [estimated] within .5 of the true result with a probability of 10 to 1”. Using the mean differences of saccharine values of extracts, between the Main and Experimental breweries, Gosset calculated the odds of observing the stipulated accuracy for small and then large numbers of extracts. [He] concluded, “In order to get the accuracy we require [that is, 10 to 1odds with .5 accuracy], we must, therefore, take the mean of [at least] four determinations.”
That is pretty cool.  Great beer, the Book of World Records and a keystone of economic research.

Kasich "Speaks"

Cincinnati Enquirer:
Gov. John Kasich announced a plan to boost to broadband network speeds, introduced a new award honoring courageous Ohioans and said shale drilling shouldn’t come at the expense of the environment in an annual State of the State speech mostly devoid of big initiatives.
Kasich spoke for nearly 90 minutes in a rambling, unfocused address in the auditorium of an elementary school in Steubenville, the first time the speech has been given outside of Columbus.
I caught a portion of the speech, and my first thought, after "what a jackass," was, "wow, if these are the public speaking skills you need to be governor, I can be governor."  The part I heard was just dumb.  He did tell parents to quit discouraging their kids from pursuing factory jobs, because those jobs need important skills like the ability to use computers.  Anyway, I'm still majorly unimpressed with the current governor of our state.

A Precious Resource

Kaid Benfield:
In this illuminating TED talk, Don Carter of Carnegie Mellon University places the future of Pittsburgh and other post-industrial cities in the context of global environmental trends and concerns. He makes the point that, like many so-called “shrinking cities,” Pittsburgh hasn’t really been shrinking but, in fact, expanding in the wrong way while its population remains stable.
Nonetheless, the city hasn’t been growing. But Carter believes that the proper measure of a city’s future prospects is not population growth but, rather, growth in per capita income. On that measure, it turns out, Pittsburgh is doing just fine. The problem with Sun Belt cities, he argues, is that the Sun Belt is going to become the "Drought Belt," on its way to running out of water.
Pittsburgh and other post-industrial cities are much better positioned for a future where "water is going to become more important than oil." Twenty percent of the surface fresh water in the world, it turns out, is in the watersheds and water bodies of the Great Lakes and American Upper Midwest.
You better believe it.  We're sitting pretty good up here north of the Ohio River.  Availability of water will be an economic development issue in the future, and the Rust Belt will be much better off than the south and the southwest.  You can click through to watch the TED talk.

The Orangeburg Massacre

February 8, 1968:
 American civil rights movement: The Orangeburg massacre: An attack on black students from South Carolina State University who are protesting racial segregation at the town's only bowling alley, leaves three or four dead in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The Orangeburg massacre was an incident on February 8, 1968, in which nine South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, fired into an aggravated but unarmed mob protesting local segregation at a bowling alley, hitting most of them in their backs. Three men were killed and twenty-eight more injured.[1] After the shooting stopped, two others were injured by police in the aftermath and one, a pregnant woman, later had a miscarriage due to the beating. The incident pre-dated the Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings.
It is hard to imagine what things were like back then, but if you want to be amazed, read Nixonland.

For Sale: Robot Warriors

Wired:
iRobot’s 710 Warrior, which rides on caterpillar tracks that are able to navigate rough terrain or even climb stairs, has been in the making for several years now. Preliminary versions of the mega-bot were even sent to the ravaged Fukushima power plant last year, where they helped explore potentially compromised buildings after Japan’s natural disaster and subsequent nuclear accident.
And now, according to a report from Technology Review, the 710 Warrior is ready for mass production.

Next stop, natural disasters? Maybe, but the Warrior was also designed — with millions in Pentagon funding — to hit the warzone. Weighing in at a hefty 450 pounds and standing over half-a-meter tall, the robot is designed “for versatility,” according to Tim Trainer, iRobot’s vice-president of operations for government and defense robots. Like towing automobiles. Or using its giant arm to shatter a window. The ‘bot’s even proven adept at launching rockets.
So now stairs won't keep me safe from robots.  What will?

Americans Increase Energy Production

Bloomberg:, via Ritholtz:
Domestic oil output is the highest in eight years. The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that, where the government warned four years ago of a critical need to boost imports, it now may approve an export terminal. Methanex Corp., the world’s biggest methanol maker, said it will dismantle a factory in Chile and reassemble it in Louisiana to take advantage of low natural gas prices. And higher mileage standards and federally mandated ethanol use, along with slow economic growth, have curbed demand.
The result: The U.S. has reversed a two-decade-long decline in energy independence, increasing the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the last six years to an estimated 81 percent through the first 10 months of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the U.S. Department of Energy. That would be the highest level since 1992.
Yawn.  Call me when we're producing 80 percent of our oil consumption.  Most of our gain on the oil balance is from consumption falling.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rick Santorum and Catholic Teaching

From Regina Small:
 In fact, let's take a look at how most of Rick Santorum's stated political views are truly representative of the Catholic Church and Catholic voters! On man-made climate change:
"I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understood just from science, there are 100 factors that influence the climate, to suggest one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor.... And yet we have politicians running to the ramparts, unfortunately politicians that happen to be running for the Republican nomination of the president who buy into manmade global and bought into cap and trade. Congressman Gingrich and Gov. Romney both supported the idea of manmade global warming and in fact cap and trade; I never did. And unless the science is such that it is a heck of a lot better than what we see today, I won’t.” —Rick Santorum
"I hope that all members of the international community can agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations....In fact, it is by now evident that there is no good future for humanity or for the earth unless we educate everyone toward a style of life that is more responsible toward the created world." Pope Benedict XVI
On intelligent design:
"Well maybe the science points to the fact that maybe science doesn't explain all these things. And if it does point to that, then why don't you pursue that? But you can't, because it's not science, but if science is pointing you there how can you say it's not science? It's worth the debate." — -Rick Santorum
"If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science...Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation." — -L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
She gets to poverty and war with Iran, but doesn't even mention the intrinsic evil of torture, which Santorum is perfectly comfortable with, as long as the "good guys" are doing it.  Santorum is a useless idiot.

What The South Was Fighting For

From The Atlantic:

State's rights was the racist way of saying slavery.  Now it's the Republican way to get out the racist vote.

The Environmental Impart Of Utility-Scale Solar Power

LA Times:
Construction cranes rise like storks 40 stories above the Mojave Desert. In their midst, the "power tower" emerges, wrapped in scaffolding and looking like a multistage rocket.

Clustered nearby are hangar-sized assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 acres of public land. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors — each the size of a garage door — are spiked into the desert floor. Before the end of the year, they will become six square miles of gleaming reflectors, sweeping from Interstate 15 to the Clark Mountains along California's eastern border.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.
There are definitely trade-offs in developing large scale renewable power.  We could develop more hydroelectric power, but that is pretty well frowned upon.  Wind turbines kill birds.  First thing people ought to do is try to conserve more energy.  Second thing should probably be to develop more distributed power generation, so as to minimize transmission losses.  Anyway, the story is interesting.

Surprise, Surprise

NYT:
Pressure is mounting to recover the assets of farmers, hedge funds and other clients. Mr. Giddens’s statement, the most detailed correspondence yet from the trustee, sets up the next phase of the investigation: how to recover the money.
Mr. Giddens warned that it could be an uphill battle. The easy money has already been doled out. To claw back funds from banks and trading partners, some of which were owed money by MF Global, Mr. Giddens may need to take legal action.
I'm shocked that farmers might not be able to get back THEIR money which was unlawfully handed out by their commodity broker to the commodity broker's own creditors.  Who'd have ever guessed that?

Oakland May Lose Out To Neighbors

The Atlantic:
The city of Oakland is having a hard time convincing the hometown major league baseball team, the Oakland A’s, to keep the "Oakland." As we recently explained, the team is considering skipping town for greener sporting pastures in a new baseball stadium proposed to be built in nearby San Jose. Oakland is still trying to hold on, with offers to either revamp the team’s existing stadium, the O.co Coliseum, or to build a brand new stadium. But the city recently announced that plans for a new stadium are kaput, leaving only the renovation on the table – and the chances that the A's stick around dwindling.
As the Oakland Tribune reports, the change of heart on the proposed waterfront ballpark known as Victory Court boils down to the recent dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California. Without redevelopment funds, the city won’t be able to afford a new stadium.
What that means for Oakland is that if it’s going to hold onto the A’s – not to mention the Oakland Raiders, which shares the Coliseum – it’s going to have to act quickly to renovate the stadium. The proposed new baseball stadium in San Jose has already completed its environmental impact review, and nearby Santa Clara is almost ready to begin building a new football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers – a stadium the Raiders could feasibly share.
It sounds fairly unlikely that the A's will be in Oakland if San Jose really wants them.  It would be kind of odd having the 49ers and the Raiders share a stadium.  That seems like two totally different crowds.

A Sh*t-Powered Robot

No, not Mitt Romney.  Scientific American:
The vision of robots capable of plugging themselves into the natural world of living organisms has begun taking shape in several labs around the world, and even NASA has shown renewed interest in powering space robots with microbes. But one British lab has already been building on the work of robotics pioneers to create small "EcoBots" that extract energy from microbial fuel cells since 2002.
"Robots that eat biological fuels could find enough fuel almost anywhere," said John Greenman, a microbiologist at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a joint venture between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. "There is organic matter anywhere on Earth — leaves and soil in the forest, or even human waste such as urine and feces."
The first EcoBot (created in 2003) was powered by E. coli bacteria feeding on refined sugar. Then "EcoBot-II" (2005) harnessed sludge microbes to break down dead flies, prawn shells and rotten apples. Finally, "EcoBot-III" (2010) showed how a "digesting" robot could also dump its leftover waste, so that its microbes wouldn't be poisoned by their own filth and could keep powering the robot.
I'm pretty proud of that Romney joke.  Anyway, I could power a pretty big robot, and a large-scale dairy could power a freaking army.

Get Your Bacon Shake

Des Moines Register:
Last year Denny’s gave us the bacon sundae and now the Jack in the Box chain is rolling out the Bacon Shake.
The bacon shake turns out to be a regular vanilla shake with what JIB calls “Bacon flavored syrup.”
The bacon shake will be an Iowa export. Jack in the Box doesn’t have an outlet in the state that is number one in the nation for hog and pork production.
The closest Jacks in the Box to Iowa are in Alton, Ill., Arnold, Mo., (a southern suburb of St. Louis) and Kansas City, Kan.
Some reviews are coming in for the bacon shake, the latest food item to capitalize on the chicness of bacon.
The Phoenix New Times newspaper sent out a reporter Saturday to sample the new treat, only to learn that it had sold out!
Mmmm....bacon....

The New Madrid Earthquake

February 7, 1812:
 The strongest in a series of earthquakes strikes New Madrid, Missouri.
February 7, 1812, 0945 UTC (4:45 a.m.); (M ~7.4–8.0[2]) epicenter near New Madrid, Missouri. New Madrid was destroyed. At St. Louis, Missouri, many houses were severely damaged, and their chimneys were toppled. This shock was definitively attributed to the Reelfoot Fault by Johnston and Schweig. Uplift along a segment of this reverse fault created temporary waterfalls on the Mississippi at Kentucky Bend, created waves that propagated upstream, and caused the formation of Reelfoot Lake by obstructing streams in what is now Lake County, Tennessee.
Some sections of the Mississippi River appeared to run backward for a short time. Sand blows were common throughout the area, and can still be seen from the air in cultivated fields. The shockwaves propagated efficiently through the firm midwestern bedrock, with residents as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, Virginia, awakened by intense shaking. Church bells were reported to ring as far as Boston, Massachusetts and York, Ontario (now Toronto), and sidewalks were reported to have been cracked and broken in Washington, D.C.  There were also reports of toppled chimneys in Maine.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Whitey Bulger Co-opted The FBI

All Things Considered interviews a former FBI agent who has written a book about Bulger:
Fitzpatrick was a young FBI agent with a solid track record when the bureau sent him to Boston to sniff out corruption in the office. One of his first tasks was to evaluate Bulger, who was supposedly providing information on Mafia activities in New England.
"I put out my hand to shake his hand, and he kind of turns on his heel and walks away," Fitzpatrick says. "He's evasive, he's not answering the questions, he's going all over the place, and so I make a mental reservation that I'm going to end this thing, I'm going to cut it short."
Fitzpatrick decided to "close" Bulger, to end his informant status with the FBI. But he found himself stymied at every turn by Bulger's handler, John Connolly, and higher-ups in the bureau.
Several witnesses approached Fitzpatrick with information tying Bulger to a murder. When two of them were killed, Fitzpatrick says he began to suspect there were leakers in the FBI's Boston office. But what he never suspected was that the leaks were coming from Bulger's handler, Connolly, and Connolly's immediate supervisor, John Morris.
The whole Bulger story is amazing.  I recommend reading Black Mass, alsoIt is fascinating, with tons of Southie information.  The fact that Bulger's brother was the President of the Massachusetts Senate makes things even spicier.

The Complete Guide To Beer

At Fast Company:

Platinum Treasure Located?

Petoskey News, via Ritholtz:
A shipwreck hunter says he has found the wreck of a World War II merchant ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Cape Cod with a load of platinum now valued at $3 billion — perhaps the richest hoard ever discovered at the bottom of the sea. 
Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research, in Gorham, Maine, said a wreck in 700 feet of water 50 miles offshore is that of the Port Nicholson, a British vessel sunk in 1942. He said he and his crew positively identified the hull number using an underwater camera.
Salvage operations should begin this month or in early March aboard a 220-foot vessel called Sea Hunter with the assistance of a remotely operated underwater vessel, he said. 
That would be quite the find.

Super Bowl Wrapup

The game was exciting.  The first score was a safety, making Bill Barnwell's prediction look even worse than commenter anonymous said in this post, but which also made some intrepid gamblers extremely lucky.  My favorite commercials for the night:

the Budweiser Prohibition Ends Ad

the GE turbine ad, even though them latching onto Budweiser made no sense to me.  Mainly, I just think turbines are really, really cool.

and finally, Chrysler's Halftime ad, even though it was a little sappy and rah rah, it was still heavily industrial.

It's looking like pride in industry is making a comeback.  In some ways, it makes me nervous when the crowd starts taking interest in things I like.

Mouse Eye

From LiveScience:

Rainbow RetinaCredit: Bryan William Jones, The University of Utah, Moran Eye Center
The winners of the 2011 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, announced this week (Feb. 2) turn dry data into vivid imagery.

This rainbow retina took home first prize; the computational molecular phenotype image of a mouse's eye reveals the diversity of cell metabolism in the retina. The optic nerve is in the upper right of the image. The rectus muscles can be seen in red and gold, attached to the green sclera (the white part of the eye). Retinal layers appear in a rainbow of colors from light gold to pink and purple, while other cells show up in blue and green. [Read full story]

Beanpot Semis Today


Northeastern meets Boston College and Harvard faces Boston University in the annual Beanpot tournament this evening.

A Turning Point Of The Revolution

February 6, 1778:
 American Revolutionary War: In Paris the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce are signed by the United States and France signaling official recognition of the new republic.
The results of this alliance would come into play at Yorktown, and determine the outcome of the war.

Remembering Angelo Dundee

Dave Kindred at Grantland:
It was an 8x10 photograph of an impossibly beautiful young man, 18 years old. There was a sunrise in his smile. He flexed his arms overhead, a strongman's pose. He sat on a fighter's stool. His name ran in script letters across his white workout shirt: "Cassius Clay." All of life awaited him. Behind Clay, Dundee leaned on the ring ropes. Behind Dundee, light came through a pair of tall windows painted with block letters: GYM. The trainer and the kid were in the 5th Street Gym, Miami Beach, 1960. Two weeks ago, he and Ali were still together. God only knows how Dundee did it. Up from nothing, scrambling for survival through the Depression, street-smart, sly, and unfailingly optimistic, he came to Ali with a psychological gyroscope that kept him even-keeled in a quarter-century of unprecedented turbulence. Dundee's partner in Ali's corner, the fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco, told me, "Angelo did it by being an innocent. He was soft-hearted, kind, gentle. He was the exact same man Ali was — but no one knew that about Ali then. They clicked in ways nobody could ever have guessed, let alone explained."
The malevolent Fruit of Islam thugs — the thick-necked muscle of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam in the 1960s — wanted the little white guy gone. Dundee stayed. He stayed through Sonny Liston, Malcolm X, Vietnam. He knew the glory of Zaire and the hell of Manila. He outlasted three of Ali's wives and walked without harm through the fight game's snakes, who were licking at Ali's feet. Pacheco's take: "Angelo kept his nose clean. He went about his business, nobody else's, and he was good at staying in the shadows. He knew Ali was the star of stars. He was just along on the ride, and he was happy to be part of the circus."
The article discusses the sad fate of Ali today.  Boxing can be so cruel, and yet so beautiful.  Dundee's personality brought some beauty to the ring.

H.S.U.S. Wins Another One

LA Times, via nc links:
Do happier pigs make for better Spam?Hormel Foods Corp., which makes the gelatinous canned meat, is betting yes.
The Minnesota company said this week that it will stop using gestation crates by 2017. The crates, which are often so small that the pregnant hogs they house can’t move, will also be disavowed within five years by McRib pork provider Smithfield Foods Inc.
Seems like nowadays, with more consumers interested in the origin of what they eat, food purveyors and restaurant chains are taking care to highlight fresh, healthy – and presumably well-treated – fare.
Hormel keeps 54,000 breeding pigs at facilities in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, according to animal advocacy group the Humane Society. The group also used the opportunity to pressure other meat producers such as Tyson, Triumph and Seaboard to institute similar gestation crate phaseouts.
Gestation crates are already on the way out in Ohio because of Humane Society activism.  I expect the trend to continue as H.S.U.S. wins over the big businesses.  It is notable that the L.A. Times headline says Hormel to treat it's pigs better.  They might need to start treating their employees better, too.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Major Find

Here's a picture of my dog utilizing his recently found chew toy, the spine and rib cage of a deceased deer:


Even though there isn't much left out in the field, he continues to go back and see what he can find.

NASA Photo of the Day

February 2:

Red Aurora Over Australia
Credit & Copyright: Alex Cherney (Terrastro, TWAN)
Explanation: Why would the sky glow red? Aurora. Last week's solar storms, emanating mostly from active sunspot region 1402, showered particles on the Earth that excited oxygen atoms high in the Earth's atmosphere. As the excited element's electrons fell back to their ground state, they emitted a red glow. Were oxygen atoms lower in Earth's atmosphere excited, the glow would be predominantly green. Pictured above, this high red aurora is visible just above the horizon last week near Flinders, Victoria, Australia. The sky that night, however, also glowed with more familiar but more distant objects, including the central disk of our Milky Way Galaxy on the left, and the neighboring Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies on the right. A time-lapse video highlighting auroras visible that night puts the picturesque scene in context. Why the sky did not also glow green remains unknown.

Super Bowl Pregame

Boy, I just don't really care about today's game.  I don't like either team, but I don't really hate either one either.  I haven't previewed any of the Super Bowl ads, so I have that to look forward to.  Hopefully, it will be a decent game.  Have fun at your parties.

Does Reality Make The Onion Redundant?

Think Progress:
Reacting to a Democratic colleagues apparently incendiary request to celebrate a Latino American day, State Rep. Cecil Ash (R) declared that he’d support the idea as long as there’s a holiday for white people too. “I’m supportive of this proposition. I just want them to assure me that when we do become in the minority you’ll have a day for us,” he said. Ash was “trying to lighten things up,” but when CBS 5 asked if he was serious about a Caucasian holiday, he offered an unequivocal “yes”:
ASH: Yes, I think it was appropriate. It was appropriate for the mood that was in the House and I think that if and when the Caucasian population becomes a minority, they may want to celebrate the accomplishments and the contributions of the Caucasian population the same way.
You can watch the report here. As CBS 5 notes, some Arizonans were supportive of the idea. “Good idea,” said one woman. “Like they have Cinco de Mayo for Mexicans. We need something for whites.”
The Onion, March 5, 2003:
With Black History Month over, U.S. citizens are putting aside thoughts of Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver to resume the traditional observation of White History Year. White History Year, which runs annually from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, with a 28-day break for Black History Month in February, is dedicated to the recognition of European-Americans' contributions to American politics and culture.
"Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. are all well and good," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist at a banquet celebrating the arrival of White History Year, "but now is the time to reflect on the accomplishments of such whites as Babe Ruth, Alexander Graham Bell, and Presidents Washington through Bush. Let's use these next 11 months to remember the other American history."
"Whites have contributed so much to this country," Frist continued. "Did you, for example, know that a white man, Jonas Salk, discovered the cure for polio? It's true."
Wow, the line between Republican policies and satire is really getting blurred.

Newt's Admoonistration

Still Another Lost H-Bomb

February 5, 1958:
 A hydrogen bomb known as the Tybee Bomb is lost by the US Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, never to be recovered. The Tybee Island B-47 crash was an incident on February 5, 1958, in which the United States Air Force lost a 7,600-pound (3,400 kg) Mark 15 hydrogen bomb in the waters off Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia, USA. During a practice exercise the B-47 bomber carrying it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. To protect the aircrew from a possible detonation in the event of a crash, the bomb was jettisoned. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost somewhere in Wassaw Sound off the shores of Tybee Island.
So Iran would be a threat to the world if they had one nuclear bomb, but we were seemingly crashing a plane or dropping the damn things every couple of years back in "the good ol' days"?  Sure, I'd prefer a world where Iran doesn't have a nuke, but is it a good idea for us to have them?  Wow.