Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Execution of James Connolly

May 12, 1916:
James Connolly was sat on a chair and shot dead in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, after his role in the Easter Uprising.
James Connolly (Irish: Séamas Ó Conghaile, 5 June 1868 – 12 May 1916) was an Irish republican and socialist leader. He was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, to Irish immigrant parents and spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but became one of the leading Marxist theorists of his day. He also took a role in Scottish and American politics. He was executed by a British firing squad because of his leadership role in the Easter Rising of 1916.
When the Easter Rising occurred on 24 April 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was de facto commander-in-chief. Following the surrender, he said to other prisoners: "Don't worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free." Connolly was not actually held in gaol, but in a room (now called the "Connolly Room") at the State Apartments in Dublin Castle, which had been converted to a first-aid station for troops recovering from the war. He was taken to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from the gaol and then taken to the gaol to be executed. Visited by his wife, and asking about public opinion, he commented, "They will all forget that I am an Irishman." He confessed his sins, said to be his first religious act since marriage.
He was so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad. His absolution and last rites were administered by a Capuchin, Father Aloysius. Asked to pray for the soldiers about to shoot him, he said: "I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights."
Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot. The executions were not well received, even throughout Britain, and drew unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government was trying to lure into the war in Europe. Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, ordered that no more executions were to take place; an exception being that of Roger Casement as he had not yet been tried.
Connolly was sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On 12 May 1916 he was transported by military ambulance to Kilmainham Gaol, carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher, tied to a chair and shot. His body (along with those of the other rebels) was put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebels deeply angered the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It was Connolly's execution, however, that caused the most controversy. Historians have pointed to the manner of execution of Connolly and similar rebels, along with their actions, as being factors that caused public awareness of their desires and goals and gathered support for the movements that they had died fighting for.

The War On Dodd-Frank

While Dodd-Frank is a pretty shitty, business friendly law, you'd never know it by the hysterics coming from the business lobby.  Now they are beating the crap out of it so that it is completely pointless:
For all the right's supposed hatred of "activist judges," conservatives immediately flocked to the courts in search of magistrates willing to casually overturn the work of elected officials. In the case of the proxy access rule, Wall Street convinced its two favorite lobbying arms, the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce, to sue the Securities Exchange Commission over a technicality, claiming that the agency had not done a proper cost-benefit analysis before it instituted the new rule. In an appropriately loathsome touch, the Chamber's legal team was led by one Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The younger Scalia, who looks like the product of a twisted test-tube experiment that crossed his father with Ari Fleischer, pitched a federal appeals court on the idea that the proxy access rule was "arbitrary and capricious," and that the SEC hadn't spent enough time studying the rule's effects on "efficiency, competition and capital formation."
In fact, the agency had produced 60 pages of cost-benefit analysis and had spent, according to SEC chief Mary Schapiro, some 21,000 man-hours working on the bill and studying its effects. Still, the court wasn't impressed. In his opinion, presiding judge and Reagan appointee Douglas Ginsburg peed all over Dodd-Frank, vacating the rule, which he dismissed as "unutterably mindless." With striking chutzpah, considering that he was ruling in a case brought by the mother of all special­interest lobbies, Ginsburg also denounced the shareholder rule as a gift to special interests, particularly "unions and government pension funds."
Almost immediately after the win, the gloating Scalia issued a thinly veiled threat to regulators, letting them know that any attempt to implement more limits on Wall Street would likely result in the same kind of lawsuit. "I would hope the agencies are taking to heart the potential consequences for Dodd-Frank rules," he chirped.
Having worked for 9 months handling environmental compliance, I am amazed how easy businesses have it.  Whatever they are complaining about doesn't mesh with reality.   In the end, regulations are at worst job neutral, because people have to be hired to comply with them.  The fact is, most businesses probably have too many people handling those matters since most businesspeople don't understand the regulations.

The Poor Rich Folks

Ezra Klein posts the following graph:


He also has a chart showing the increasing share of national income taken by the wealthy.  There is a direct connection between tax rates and inequality.  The more rich folks can keep, the more they'll (I'll) take.  Let's help motivate them (me) to share.

Friday, May 11, 2012

El Nino And La Nina

Scientific American explains the impact, and the outlook of the Pacific Ocean oscillation:
In Argentina and the U.S. Plains, La Nina can trigger drought, hurting the Argentine corn and soy crops and the main U.S. hard red winter wheat crop.
La Nina tends to lead to wind patterns that favor the formation of more hurricanes in the Atlantic and fewer in the eastern Pacific, potentially meaning a greater threat to U.S. Gulf oil and gas assets and cities in Florida, the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard.
Major recent La Nina events occurred in 1973-76, 1988-89 and 2010-12.
Heat from the tropics drives the global climate by fuelling ocean and atmospheric patterns that shift the warmth around the globe. Warm tropical waters fuel evaporation and add moisture to the atmosphere needed for clouds to form.
The rising air also drives atmospheric circulation patterns that help shift the moisture and warmth around to other parts of the globe. So disrupting this pattern can alter the climate elsewhere.
Scientists say climate change might also be adding an extra kick to La Nina and El Nino because warmer oceans add more fuel to storms and weather patterns.
That was another one of my global warming fears, that climate change would make La Nina and El Nino stronger.

Tricky Monkey

Wired discusses a zoo chimpanzee's apparent planning for a sneak attack on visitors:
As a zoo guide led visitors toward Santino’s island compound, the chimpanzee began to engage in a typical dominance display: screeching, standing on two feet, and carrying a stone in his hand. The guide and the visitors retreated before Santino began hurling the stones, and then advanced again for a total of three approaches. When the people returned about 3 hours later, Santino advanced toward them, holding two stones, but he did not act aggressively, even picking up an apple from the water surrounding the island and nonchalantly munching on it. But when Santino got within close range, he suddenly threw one of the stones. (It didn’t hit anyone.)
The next day, Santino again threatened visitors with stones, but the group again backed away to avoid being hit. Santino was then observed pulling a heap of hay from inside his enclosure and placing it on the island close to where the visitors approached. He put several stones under the hay and waited until the group returned about an hour later. Then, without performing a dominance display, Santino pulled a stone from under the hay and threw it. Later, he pulled a stone that he had apparently hidden behind a log and tried to hit the visitors with that, as well.
Over the course of the summer, Osvath and Karvonen observed repeated episodes of this behavior, and also recovered stones that Santino had hidden under hay or logs, racking up 114 days of observation. They recovered a total of 35 projectiles that Santino had apparently concealed: 15 under hay heaps, 18 behind logs, and two behind a rock structure on the island. The researchers conclude that Santino deliberately engaged in deceptive concealment of the stones, and that this was a new, innovative behavior on his part: Before 2010, Santino had never put stones under hay piles or behind logs.
This innovation, the team argues, is further evidence that Santino plans ahead for how he will react to the visitors’ approach to his compound, and that this is inconsistent with interpretations that he cached the stones for some other reason and then just happened to have them at hand when he got mad. By hiding the stones and then trying to deceive zoo visitors into thinking that his intentions were peaceful, Osvath and Karvonen argue, Santino was actually anticipating and planning for a future situation rather than simply responding repetitively to a past one.
That is pretty cool, but aren't chipmunks planning ahead when they store nuts, and dogs planning ahead when they bury bones?  I've seen dogs do lots of sneaky things.  Sometimes, I think we spend too much time patting ourselves on the back for being so much smarter than animals.  It tends to make us underestimate them.

Chemical Makers Run Massive Phony Safety Campaign

Chicago Tribune (h/t nc links):
In the last quarter-century, worldwide demand for flame retardants has skyrocketed to 3.4 billion pounds in 2009 from 526 million pounds in 1983, according to market research from The Freedonia Group, which projects demand will reach 4.4 billion pounds by 2014.

As evidence of the health risks associated with these chemicals piled up, the industry mounted a misleading campaign to fuel demand.

There is no better example of these deceptive tactics than the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, the industry front group that sponsored Heimbach and his vivid testimony about burned babies.In the website photo, five grinning children stand in front of a red brick fire station that could be on any corner in America. They hold a hand-drawn banner that says "fire safety" with a heart dotting the letter "i."

Citizens for Fire Safety describes itself as a group of people with altruistic intentions: "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety."

Heimbach summoned that image when he told lawmakers that the organization was "made up of many people like me who have no particular interest in the chemical companies: numerous fire departments, numerous firefighters and many, many burn docs."

But public records demonstrate that Citizens for Fire Safety actually is a trade association for chemical companies. Its executive director, Grant Gillham, honed his political skills advising tobacco executives. And the group's efforts to influence fire-safety policies are guided by a mission to "promote common business interests of members involved with the chemical manufacturing industry," tax records show.

Its only sources of funding — about $17 million between 2008 and 2010 — are "membership dues and assessments" and the interest that money earns.

The group has only three members: Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura, according to records the organization filed with California lobbying regulators. Those three companies are the largest manufacturers of flame retardants and together control 40 percent of the world market for these chemicals, according to The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based research firm.
The whole investigation is worth reading.  It blows me away that companies are so bald-faced about lying and manipulating the public.  But what is it but the opposite side of the coin from advertising?

Deep Blue

May 11, 1997:
  Deep Blue, a chess-playing supercomputer, defeats Garry Kasparov in the last game of the rematch, becoming the first computer to beat a world-champion chess player in a classic match format.
The project was started as ChipTest at Carnegie Mellon University by Feng-hsiung Hsu, followed by its successor, Deep Thought. After their graduation from Carnegie Mellon, Hsu, Thomas Anantharaman, and Murray Campbell from the Deep Thought team were hired by IBM Research to continue their quest to build a chess machine that could defeat the world champion. Hsu and Campbell joined IBM in autumn 1989, with Anantharaman following later. Anantharaman subsequently left IBM for Wall Street and Arthur Joseph Hoane joined the team to perform programming tasks.Jerry Brody, a long-time employee of IBM Research, was recruited for the team in 1990. The team was managed first by Randy Moulic, followed by Chung-Jen (C J) Tan.
After Deep Thought's 1989 match against Kasparov, IBM held a contest to rename the chess machine and it became "Deep Blue", a play on IBM's nickname, Big Blue. After a scaled down version of Deep Blue, Deep Blue Jr., played Grandmaster Joel Benjamin, Hsu and Campbell decided that Benjamin was the expert they were looking for to develop Deep Blue's opening book, and Benjamin was signed by IBM Research to assist with the preparations for Deep Blue's matches against Garry Kasparov.

Thomas Jefferson- Experimental Gardener

All Things Considered:
After Jefferson retired from public life to his beloved Virginia hilltop plantation, the garden "served as a sort of this experimental testing lab where he'd try new vegetables he sought out from around the globe," says Peter Hatch, the estate's head gardener. Hatch recently wrote a book about Jefferson's garden and its history called A Rich Spot of Earth.
  Somehow, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation's third president found spare time to meticulously document his many trials and errors, growing over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants. These included exotics like sesame, chickpeas, sea kale and salsify. They're more commonly available now, but were rare for the region at the time. So were tomatoes and eggplant.
In the nearby South Orchard, he grew 130 varieties of fruit trees like peach, apple, fig and cherry.
All the time, he carefully documented planting procedures, spacings of rows, when blossoms appeared, and when the food should come to the table. Behind Jefferson's "zeal to categorize the world around him" was a patriotic mission, Hatch says.
Jefferson wrote, "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture."
Jefferson was definitely a fascinating guy.  Like Washington, he did a lot of agricultural and horticultural experiments.  Of course, I bet it is a lot easier to keep a nice garden with a bunch of slaves around to do all the hard work.  My garden fell victim to a couple of dry summers and then a few summers where I was thirsty.

Global Warming And Food Production

James Hansen warns that food production may suffer dramatically as global warming impacts grow (h/t Big Picture Agriculture):
But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.
If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically. President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.
The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.
We have known since the 1800s that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere. The right amount keeps the climate conducive to human life. But add too much, as we are doing now, and temperatures will inevitably rise too high.
My main fear is how climate change will impact crop production in the Midwest.  Hansen also seems pretty concerned about that.

Bachmann Flip Flops On Swiss Citizenship

The Swiss Miss changes her mind:
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has requested withdrawal of her Swiss citizenship after news that she and her children had recently applied for Swiss papers caused a stir.

Referring to the Swiss citizenship as an “automatic” designation conferred upon her when she married her husband, Marcus Bachmann, the son of Swiss immigrants, Bachmann said she was withdrawing the citizenship to make clear her allegiance to the U.S.

“Today I sent a letter to the Swiss Consulate requesting withdrawal of my dual Swiss citizenship, which was conferred upon me by operation of Swiss law when I married my husband in 1978,” Bachmann said in a statement. “I took this action because I want to make it perfectly clear: I was born in America and I am a proud American citizen.”

"I am, and always have been, 100% committed to our United States Constitution and the United States of America," the statement continued. "As the daughter of an Air Force veteran, stepdaughter of an Army veteran and sister of a Navy veteran, I am proud of my allegiance to the greatest nation the world has ever known."
Well, that didn't take long.  She must have realized that move was going to cost her a seat on the wingnut gravy train.  I didn't quite understand when it was announced she took dual citizenship, but now I am really confused.  Could she have stuffed any more rah rah America garbage in one short press release?  Maybe she didn't realize that Switzerland had four official languages, and none of them was English.  As much as I would have missed the cheap laughs, this country would have been better off if she moved to the Alps.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chart of the Day

at the Dish:


Republicans know all about creating destroying jobs.

5158.3 miles

America. Fuck Yea.

More Government Redefinition

ALEC, the business lobbying and legislative writing organization has been exempted from lobbying regulations in three states:

It could take several years for the IRS to decide whether ALEC is indeed a lobbyist required to register with that label and disclose how much it spends on influencing legislation. But in three states -- South Carolina, Indiana and Colorado -- it turns out that ALEC has quietly, and by name, been specifically exempted from lobbyist status.
The laws in those states allow ALEC to spend millions annually hosting corporate lobbyists and legislators at three yearly conferences, send "issue alerts" to legislators recommending votes on pending legislation, and draft press releases for legislators to use when pushing ALEC model bills -- all without registering as a lobbyist or reporting these expenditures.
Legislators can receive scholarships from ALEC's corporate donors to attend conference events, or they can legally go on the taxpayer dime.
These exemptions are just now coming to light. In South Carolina, for instance, Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield) recently discovered a 2003 state law that exempts ALEC from registering or disclosing its lobbying expenditures. One of the South Carolina House bill's sponsors was ALEC member James Harrison (R-Richland).
As reported in the Columbia Free Times, Brown introduced a bill in late April that would remove ALEC's designation as the only organization in the state's legal code that is exempted by name from lobbying rules.
"I can't get in a car with a lobbyist and drive up the street," said Brown in an interview. "But ALEC can give me a scholarship to fly across the country."
What a crock of shit.  If anybody wonders why all the Republican controlled legislatures rush to pass nearly identical piece of shit bills, ALEC is why.   And I thought that Nix v. Heddon was a stupid redefinition of language.

Nix v. Hedden



May 10,  1893:
The Supreme Court of the United States rules in Nix v. Hedden that a tomato is a vegetable, not a fruit, under the Tariff Act of 1883.
Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that affirmed the lower court ruling that the tomato should be classified under customs regulations as a vegetable rather than a fruit. The Court's unanimous opinion held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words "fruit" and "vegetable," under which a tomato is classified as a vegetable, instead of the technical botanical meaning.
The Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 required a tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. The case was filed as an action by John Nix, John W. Nix, George W. Nix, and Frank W. Nix against Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York, to recover back duties paid under protest. Botanically, a tomato is a fruit because it is a seed-bearing structure growing from the flowering part of a plant.
At the trial the plaintiffs' counsel, after reading in evidence definitions of the words 'fruit' and 'vegetables' from Webster's Dictionary, Worcester's Dictionary, and the Imperial Dictionary, called two witnesses, who had been for 30 years in the business of selling fruit and vegetables, and asked them, after hearing these definitions, to say whether these words had "any special meaning in trade or commerce, different from those read."
During testimony, one witness testified that in regard to the dictionary definition:
"[the dictionary] does not classify all things there, but they are correct as far as they go. It does not take all kinds of fruit or vegetables; it takes a portion of them. I think the words 'fruit' and 'vegetable' have the same meaning in trade today that they had on March 1, 1883. I understand that the term 'fruit' is applied in trade only to such plants or parts of plants as contain the seeds. There are more vegetables than those in the enumeration given in Webster's Dictionary under the term 'vegetable,' as 'cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,' probably covered by the words 'and the like.'"
Another witness testified that "I don't think the term 'fruit' or the term 'vegetables' had, in March 1883, and prior thereto, any special meaning in trade and commerce in this country different from that which I have read here from the dictionaries."
Both the plaintiffs' counsel and the defendant's counsel made use of the dictionaries. The plaintiffs' counsel read in evidence from the same dictionaries the definitions of the word tomato, while the defendant's counsel then read in evidence from Webster's Dictionary the definitions of the words pea, egg plant, cucumber, squash, and pepper. Countering this, the plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster's and Worcester's dictionaries the definitions of potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and bean.
Reminds me of the famous Cincinnati Reds hot dog or smoked sausage debate (Its a Kahn's Big Red Smokey) .

Portugal Cancels Four Holidays In Cost-Cutting

BBC:
Portugal has taken austerity measures to a new level with the decision to scrap four of its 14 public holidays.
Two religious festivals and two other public holidays will be suspended for five years from 2013.
The decision over which Catholic festivals to cut was negotiated with the Vatican....
It is hoped the suspension of the public holidays will improve competitiveness and boost economic activity.
The four days affected are All Saints Day on 1 November; Corpus Christi, which falls 60 days after Easter; 5 October, which commemorates the formation of the Portuguese Republic in 1910; and 1 December, which marks Portuguese independence from Spanish rule in 1640.
 If the government took away my holidays, I'd consider striking.

Bob Horner In The News Again

I didn't expect to see Bob Horner mentioned twice in a week.  Josh Hamilton's achievement gives Jeff Passan a chance to discuss why he would be hesitant to sign Hamilton to a long term deal:
He is indubitably both men: the American League's representative in the most-talented-player-in-baseball contest opposite the National League's Matt Kemp and the recovering addict who twice has suffered embarrassing public relapses that, coupled with a deep injury history, muddy any prognosis of long-term viability. The dichotomy defines Hamilton. For every moment to savor – from his kicking a crack habit to his historic Home Run Derby showing to his AL MVP award to his becoming the 16th member of the four-homer club against the Baltimore Orioles – just as many draw concern from the teams tasked with properly valuing him as he is primed to hit free agency for the first time this offseason.
Whereas questions about how they would age accompanied Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder's forays into the open market last offseason, Hamilton's case is more complicated, his past hovering over his present. And it's what makes the time between now and when he signs his next contract so fascinating.
Now, all of this may be moot. After tabling extension talks following the February incident in which Hamilton drank, the Rangers and the player's representatives have started discussing a long-term contract. Just how much Hamilton's incredible start – he leads the major leagues in batting average (.406), home runs (14), RBIs (36) and slugging percentage (.840) – has emboldened him will in large part determine whether the sides can hammer out a deal to keep the 30-year-old outfielder in Texas. The Rangers understand he's among a handful of players capable of nights like Tuesday: a quartet of two-run homers, off three different pitchers, plus a double for an AL record 18 total bases.
Hamilton is a fascinating, if scary dude.  I just get the feeling that disaster is always right around the corner.  Hopefully he can secure that long-term deal, without making the challenges in the rest of his life any more difficult.

Freezing Liquids May Help Predict Prime Numbers

R&D, via nc links:
At a low enough temperature, water freezes into ice by arranging its molecules into a very regular pattern called crystal. However many other liquids freeze not into crystals, but in much less regular structures called glasses—window glass being the most familiar example. Physicists have developed theories explaining the freezing phenomena, and built models for understanding the properties of glasses.
Now, a researcher from Queen Mary's School of Mathematical Sciences, together with his colleagues from Bristol have found that frozen glasses may have something common with prime numbers and the patterns behind them.
Dr Fyodorov explained: "The prime numbers are the elements, or building blocks, of arithmetic. Our work provides evidence for a surprising connection between the primes and freezing in certain complex materials in physics."
A prime number is a whole number greater than 1 which can only be divided by one or itself. Primes play fundamentally important role in pure mathematics and its applications; and many mathematicians have tried to predict the patterns observed in prime numbers. One theory, called the Riemann Zeta Function is believed to be the most successful in revealing and explaining properties of primes.
The Riemann Zeta Function detects patterns in prime numbers in the same way that you might spot harmonies in music. It can be thought of as a series of peaks and troughs—which may be legitimately called a 'landscape'—encoding the properties of primes.
Dr Fyodorov continues: "One of important questions about the Riemann Zeta function relates to determining how large the highest of the peaks in the landscape are. In our paper we have argued that, unexpectedly, answering that question is related to the problem of characterizing the nature of the freezing transition in certain complex materials in physics, such as glasses."
The teams hope is that understanding freezing could help mathematicians make progress in attacking some of the grand challenges of number theory.
I wouldn't have guessed that.  
From Wired, photos of Earth from NASA's Aqua satellite:

This massive phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Argentinian Patagonia was captured by Aqua on Dec. 21, 2010. 

Looks like Grand Lake St. Mary's algae.

Lincoln Hoax Suckers Blogosphere

Megan Garber:
It started with a headline I saw pinging around Twitter yesterday afternoon. Abraham Lincoln, my friends' tweets informed me, had invented a 19th-century version of Facebook.
Yes! This previously unknown tidbit, it turns out, was the discovery of a guy in Milwaukee who had happened to take a day off work -- and then happened (serendipity!) to visit a circus graveyard in Delavan, Wisconsin -- and then happened (serendipity again!) to visit the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois -- and then happend (serendipity some more!) to discover that Mr. Lincoln had once filed a patent application for a newspaper that would, via profiles and updates, "keep People aware of Others in the Town."
Such a great find. So it was fitting and entirely unsurprising that the post announcing the big discovery, as it sped around the Internet yesterday afternoon, got more than 4,000 likes on Facebook and 30,000 views overall -- this despite spending over an hour offline as it crashed its host servers. How could it not get attention? Abe Lincoln, pretty much inventing Facebook!
But also, wait a second: Abe Lincoln, pretty much inventing Facebook?
I called David Blanchette at the Lincoln Library. Was there any way this story could really be true? In short: no. "This is a complete hoax," Blanchette told me. The existence of the Springfield Gazette, Lincoln's proto-profile page? "Spurious." The "profile" picture of Lincoln on the page of the Gazette? "They didn't run pictures in newspapers back then." The library's help in making the serendipitous discovery? "We had nothing to do with it."
That's pretty funny.  Sometimes, when I link to something that seems too good to be true, I'll qualify it with a little "this might not be true" statement so I don't look so dumb if it turns out to be a hoax.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Note For North Carolina (And Ohio)

Charles Pierce:
However, after some 40 years of vigorous advocacy, there is something like an equal power to push back against faith-based bigotry. As a resident of Massachusetts, where we've had legalized gay marriage since 2004, I can say with certainty that the resistance to that idea is pretty much doomed demographically. In 50 years, our grandchildren are going to wonder what all the fuss was about. Equality for our fellow citizens who happen to be gay has a cultural and social momentum behind it that can now, in certain specific instances like this one, be more than a match for people who believe the way Brown does, as he has learned to his own disadvantage over the past month.
In the past 10 years, we have seen the barriers to marriage equality fall. In the past year, we have seen the bar to gay people serving openly in the United States Armed Forces fall. (Pretty soon, at one of our bizarrely militarized major sporting events, we may have four gay pilots doing the flyby.) Sports were supposed to be the last real redoubt, and you can feel the ground shaking there, too. I do not believe that any action should be taken against Ron Brown based on what he says and what he believes. That's not what we should be doing to people in this country. But somebody should take him aside and explain to him that the world is changing around him and that, for everyone's sake, it's time for him to adjust or get out of the way. Nobody is asking him to abandon his faith. They're just asking him to grow within it, to take the essential message of love that is the heart of the Gospels and to apply it generally, as all Christians are called to do, and without any legalistic nonsense about "loving the sinner but hating the sin." If he's going to loosely toss around the name of Pontius Pilate, he should go back to his Bible and remember that Pilate was forced to provide a secular execution to appease the local religious authorities. "I find no basis for a charge against him," Pilate said, and then sent Jesus to Calvary anyway. There are lessons that Ron Brown needs to learn.
The times, they are a changing.  They won't wait for folks who are uncomfortable with change.

State Constitutions: Where Bigotry's A Right

North Carolina amends the state Constitution to limit marriage, again:

Like the amendment pictured above, this amendment will be looked upon as a disgrace and will eventually be overturned.  Supporters of gay marriage are working to get a repeal of the gay marriage ban in the Ohio Constitution overturned next year.  Unfortunately, I think it is too early.  For one, they need to put it on the ballot in a presidential election when people other than old folks are voting.  For another, I don't think public opinion has shifted enough in Ohio.  It could possibly pass in 2016, but will likely pass in 2020.

Florida Panhandle Conservatives Slowly Warm To Romney

All Things Considered:
"We have a responsibility if we want to keep God as Lord in America to go to the polls and do that dirty word: vote," said speaker Frank Lay, a retired principal.
Lay says he will be voting for Romney, if not enthusiastically. "There was some stronger candidates, if you will," Lay says. "He wasn't mine. But he is now."
It's a common sentiment.
"Well, he was not my first choice," says Chrys Holley, 82. She voted for Santorum in the primary, but she says she will support Romney now and hope for the best. "He professes to be a Christian, and Christians are supposed to put God first no matter what."
Romney's Mormon faith has been a sticking point for some evangelical voters, but Holley says not for her.
Not for Lonnie Hawkins, either. He's an accountant in the Pensacola public defenders' office. Hawkins still prefers Gingrich, but he says he has no choice but to vote for Romney. He believes, incorrectly, that President Obama is Muslim.
"Would you prefer a Mormon or a Muslim?" he says. "You've got two M's to choose from."
You have to be kidding me.  Muslim?  Even if it were remotely near the truth, what would be the big deal?  It just floors me how crazy people are.  There's plenty more lunacy expressed in that link.  So we've got six more months of this stuff to hear?  I don't know that I'm going to make it.

America's Chickenhawks

Glenn Greenwald commenting on Fareed Zakaria's column:
As we learned from the bloodthirsty need for war over the last decade among America’s chickenhawks (or, similarly, from the violent homophobic attacks of closeted, self-hating gay men), sensations of weakness and impotence — the defining attributes of what Zakaria calls “scared, fearful losers” — are typically compensated with the vicarious feelings of power, nobility and bravery that come from celebrations of state violence and other forms of risk-free aggression. Adam Smith lamented this mental affliction back in 1776:
In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. . . .They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.
Hence, the political faction that has long been derided for wimpy weakness (progressives) will spend the remainder of the year flexing self-admiringly in front of a mirror and basking in the war glory draped on them by all the deaths their leader has caused, while the country that is so petrified of its own shadow that it begs the government to monitor and surveil every last one of its communications will seize on these same deaths to feel purposeful, strong and proud. There is a direct correlation between the fear and impotence Zakaria bemoans and the fact that America’s greatest and proudest achievement over the past four years is its “success” in blowing people up from the sky or summarily executing them.
I especially appreciate the Adam Smith quote.  It perfectly describes the Republicans and former Trotskyite neoconservatives.  I don't understand why so many Americans are so happy to be blowing up other parts of the world, it seems like a very worthless waste of tax dollars.  At least the Bridge to Nowhere would have been an actual bridge.  The war on terror is just a giant rat hole.

The Strange Farm Bill

Alan Guebert blasts the Senate's proposed Farm Bill (h/t Big Picture Agriculture):
Certainly, the legislation contained big changes: $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, a Rural Development title that cut over $1 billion in the coming decade and, touted ranking member Pat Roberts of Kansas, "over SIXTY (his emphasis) authorizations eliminated from the Research Title," cutting "at least $770 million over 5 years."
Cutting agricultural research programs and chopping Rural Development is neither wise nor brave. It is easy, however, like taking lunch money from the weakest kid on the school bus and declaring "Look what I found!"
The centerpiece of the Senate farm plan is an expansion of crop insurance, the fastest-growing hottie chased by everyone in Congress because it looks both great and cheap. Two recent examinations of it, however, say it is neither.
The first, authored by Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock for the Environmental Working Group, claims a crop insurance program that "covers crop losses of more than 30 percent" -- yield shortfalls, not today's heavily subsidized revenue guarantees -- could be given free to all farmers and save taxpayers "$26 billion in premium subsidies over 10 years," $3 billion more than the entire Senate bill saves.
(Links to the 25-page Babcock report and other documents are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.)
The reason, explains the report: "Over 80 percent of ‘crop' insurance policies now insure business income even if there is no yield loss... This has doubled the cost to taxpayers..."
In practical terms, writes Babcock, that means "the average unsubsidized premium" for a 15 percent deductible "revenue" protection policy on a Champaign County, Ill., corn farm is $52 per acre. After the federal subsidy, however, the price plummets to $26.
Cutting research spending is absolutely stupid, and the crop insurance program is a giant byzantine subsidy to farmers.  The government might not have gotten burned badly by the crop insurance program, but they are going to eventually.  There is just too much money at stake with far too little coming out of farmers' pockets.  But if the shit hits the fan, farmers will be receiving disaster payments also.

Hoosiers And Basketball

Club Trillion on the state of Indiana and the Pacers:
With respect to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and every other place in America that considers itself a “basketball city,” nowhere does the game matter as much as it does in Indiana. Spend a single January day in the state and it won’t take long to realize that watching or playing basketball is the pastime of choice for a majority of Hoosiers, even more so than auto racing, drinking heavily, complaining about the weather, or wondering why they still live in Indiana. This is why 13 of the 14 largest high school gyms in the country are in Indiana. This is why some of the state’s biggest heroes are Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Bob Knight, and Josh McRoberts’s knee-high socks. This is why the best sports movie ever made is entitled Hoosiers and not New Yorkers or Whatever the Hell People From Illinois Call Themselves. Simply put, Hoosiers spend so much time obsessing over basketball because the only entertainment alternatives in a state full of corn are to tip over cows or run a meth lab.

But even though Indiana is the biggest basketball hotbed in America, professional basketball in Indianapolis seems to be dying a slow, sad death. The Pacers are fresh off their best regular season since 2004 and, frankly, one of their best seasons in franchise history, yet they had the second-worst attendance in the NBA this year. This after last year, when the Pacers had the worst attendance in the league despite making the playoffs for the first time in six years. In fact, the unfortunate truth is that the Pacers haven’t been in the top half of the NBA in attendance in each of the past 11 seasons, even though seven of those seasons produced playoff teams and one (2003-04) was the best season of basketball ever played by a Pacers team. Clearly the people of Indiana, while having immense local pride and an innate love for the game, aren’t interested in supporting the Indiana Pacers. Which begs the question: Why not?
For a lot of Hoosiers, the obvious answer can be found in two words: Ron Artest.
I love the line about drinking heavily, complaining about the weather or wondering why they still live in Indiana.  One thing going for the Pacers, they have a beautiful arena.  One thing not going for the Pacers, they are stuck in Indiana. 

Morons Can Become Fabulously Wealthy

Alex Pareene:
Here’s a brief list of insane things that are apparently common knowledge among the billionaire class:
  • That President Obama and the Democratic Party have treated wealthy finance industry titans maliciously and unfairly.
  • That the fact that they are perversely wealthy and growing richer during a period of mass unemployment and staggering debt is a sign that the economy is functioning correctly.
  • That poor people, and not the finance industry, are responsible for the financial crisis and subsequent recession.
  • That the ultra-wealthy are wealthy because they are smarter and work harder than everybody else, and that they are resented for their success.
  • That the ultra-wealthy in general, and finance industry executives in particular, are the victims of widespread prejudice akin to that faced by ethnic minorities.
There can be no reasoning with people this irrational. Any attempt to do so will fail, as Barack Obama, whose main goal is to maintain, not upend, the system that made these people so disgustingly wealthy, is learning. It’s growing harder and harder to pretend that the fantastically wealthy have a sophisticated understanding of politics — or math, or economics, or cause-and-effect.
I'm not one for mobs, but it would seem like the fabulously wealthy would be smart enough to keep their mouths shut and let folks from red states say all the stupid things in defense of their ridiculous capture of an unhealthy percentage of economic growth.  Apparently I'm wrong.

You Can Keep That Hail

Baseball-sized hail in St. Louis:


Wow:

 
Baseball-sized hail could have an impact energy of over 100 Joules. It isn’t really, the same thing but I can still compare this to other objects. What about a bullet? It seems that this large hail would just be around the kinetic energy of a .22LR pistol bullet. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I am fairly certain that is a pretty small-caliber bullet. A .45-caliber bullet has an energy around 500 to 800 Joules. What about a 90 mph baseball? This seems to be pretty close in energy to baseball-sized hail (around 120 Joules).
Does this mean that baseball-sized hail is like getting shot by a .22 bullet? No. More on this later.
Once again, I will do a bullet comparison. A .45-caliber bullet would have a momentum from 3.5 kg*m/s to 4.5 kg*m/s. The .22LR has a momentum less than 1 kg*m/s. What about a baseball? Thrown at 90 mph, it would have a momentum of 5.8 kg*m/s. So, the hail would be more like a baseball.
I just know I don't want that stuff falling on me.

Maybe We Should Trap Cow Farts

After posting this yesterday, maybe I spoke too soon (h/t nc links):
The hulking sauropods, distinctive for their enormous size and unusually long necks, were widespread about 150 million years ago. As in , methane-producing aided the sauropods' digestion by fermenting their .
"A simple suggests that the microbes living in may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate," said Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University. "Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources—both natural and man-made—put together."
Wilkinson and study coauthor Graeme Ruxton from the University of St Andrews were studying sauropod ecology when a question dawned on them: If modern cows produce enough methane gas to be of interest to climate scientists, what about sauropods? They teamed up with methane expert Euan Nisbet at the University of London to work out the numbers.
"Clearly, trying to estimate this for animals that are unlike anything living has to be a bit of an educated guess," Wilkinson said.
Animal physiologists have studied methane production from a range of modern animals to derive equations that predict methane production from animals of different sizes. It turns out that those calculations depend only on the total mass of the animals in question. A medium-sized sauropod weighed something like 20,000 kilograms, and sauropods lived in densities ranging from a few large adults to a few tens of individuals per square kilometer.
Anyway, government bureaucrats won't be requiring farmers to equip their cows with fart collectors, so farmers can rest easy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Who Are America's PIIGS?

Red States?  If Europe were run like America, federal spending would appear to mirror the U.S.:

The difference between the U.S. and Europe is that when the Greek economy "pulls a Mississippi" (or perhaps I should say, when Mississippi "pulls a Greece"), the EU and the U.S. have 180-degree opposite reactions. Over here, we calmly write checks to Mississippi in the form of Medicaid and unemployment insurance, no questions asked. Europe has no comparable "Peripheraid" for its weak peripheral states. Instead, it has chaos.

Michael Cembalest, the JP Morgan analyst and author of the my favorite new chart about monetary unions -- it's not a crowded field, admittedly -- passes along another clever graph which shows fiscal transfers (don't worry, that's just another word for money) between the rich California-Connecticut-Illinois-New Jersey-New York quintuple and poorer states like Tennessee. If similar, seamless transfers existed in the EU, the rich north would have to send to Portugal and Greece at least an additional 30 cents for every dollar they paid in taxes, year after year after year.
So that north-south divide works on each side of the Atlantic.  Maybe the GOP has a future in Southern Europe.  The deal here is that the federal government meets the minimal needs of the population in states that can't be bothered to take care of their own people.

Jay Bruce And Bob Horner

When the Dayton Daily News is comparing Jay Bruce to the Reds all-time greats, Dusty Baker breaks out Bob Horner:
Tony Perez ranks third on the Reds career home run list with 287, but a mere 63 came in his first 2,000 at-bats.
Only Adam Dunn (140) and Frank Robinson (115) hit more homers in their first 2,000 at-bats than Bruce’s 108.
And Bruce is still 56 at-bats shy of the mark, so there is an outside shot he could still catch Robinson.
Regardless of whether he does, his early returns compare favorably with the power numbers Hall of Famers Bench, Robinson and Perez put up in their first 2,000 at-bats:
RBIs: Bench 354; Perez 308; Robinson 304; Bruce 295.
Total bases: Robinson 1,305; Bench 1,196; Bruce 1,143; Perez 1,061.
Slugging percentage: Robinson .653; Bench .598; Bruce .588; Perez .531.
On-base percentage: Robinson .371; Bruce .332; Perez .330; Bench .325.
When asked about Bruce’s future given his early production, Reds manager Dusty Baker was cautious.
“You don’t know,” he said. “They thought Bob Horner was going to break Hank Aaron’s record, too, you know what I mean? You just have to live and play. Nobody can predict anything. The fact that he has 2,000 at-bats already just means he got here quick.”
 I'm not sure if that was the best comparison, especially for one of your own players.  But Dusty has a point.  You never know what might happen in the game of baseball.  And comparisons between today and earlier days when it comes to home run stats are specious.  But between Jay Bruce and Frank Robinson, I'd take Robinson.

Child Labor And Family Farm Propaganda

Marjorie Elizabeth Wood in the NYT:
LAST month, a proposal by the United States Department of Labor to prevent children under age 16 from working in dangerous farm jobs ignited a firestorm in conservative media outlets. The new rules would have restricted having young workers handle pesticide, operate heavy machinery, cut timber and perform other agricultural tasks identified as hazardous to children by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Conservatives quickly went on the attack. Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, argued that “if the federal government can regulate the kind of relationship between parents and their children on their own family’s farm, there is almost nothing off-limits in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.” Fox News posted a story entitled, “Team Obama Wants Children Banned from Doing Farm Chores.” Sarah Palin chimed in on Facebook: “The Obama administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms.”
So the Obama administration quickly reversed course, acknowledging “thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms.”
The writer goes on to highlight how Southern textile manufacturers used the same scare tactics to oppose a child labor law that would have ended their use of children in their mills back in the 1920s.  It really amazes me what scary stories that farmers will believe when somebody tells them big government is coming to get them (even though we are never shy about taking checks from big government).  I mean, bovine fart collectors?  Really?  But it is amazing that Sarah Palin can claim that the regulations would prevent children from working on our own family farms, and leave out the part about them being other peoples' children.

Geoengineering: Likely or Loony?

Probably both:
The heavy industrial activity of the previous hundred years had caused the earth’s climate to warm by roughly three-quarters of a degree Celsius, helping to make the twentieth century the hottest in at least a thousand years. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, however, reduced global temperatures by nearly that much in a single year. It also disrupted patterns of precipitation throughout the planet. It is believed to have influenced events as varied as floods along the Mississippi River in 1993 and, later that year, the drought that devastated the African Sahel. Most people considered the eruption a calamity. For geophysical scientists, though, Mt. Pinatubo provided the best model in at least a century to help us understand what might happen if humans attempted to ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth. For years, even to entertain the possibility of human intervention on such a scale—geoengineering, as the practice is known—has been denounced as hubris. Predicting long-term climatic behavior by using computer models has proved difficult, and the notion of fiddling with the planet’s climate based on the results generated by those models worries even scientists who are fully engaged in the research. “There will be no easy victories, but at some point we are going to have to take the facts seriously,’’ David Keith, a professor of engineering and public policy at Harvard and one of geoengineering’s most thoughtful supporters, told me. “Nonetheless,’’ he added, “it is hyperbolic to say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on earth.” There is only one reason to consider deploying a scheme with even a tiny chance of causing such a catastrophe: if the risks of not deploying it were clearly higher. No one is yet prepared to make such a calculation, but researchers are moving in that direction.
We aren't going to kick our energy habit, and God forbid some fat Republican is ever forced to conserve energy, so we'll probably toy with the climate and try to unfuck it.  I get the feeling it would be a disaster to try it on a large scale.

Merkel Increasingly Isolated On Austerity Train

All Things Considered:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel made all the right gestures Monday: the obligatory phone call congratulating French president-elect Francois Hollande. She vowed that the two will "work together well and intensively." And she invited Hollande to Berlin after his inauguration and said she'd welcome him "with open arms."
But clearly the French election results mark a setback for Merkel and her goal of solving Europe's economic crisis with financial austerity.
She openly supported incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. She insisted again on Monday in Berlin that an E.U. pact signed earlier this year limiting debt and imposing budget cuts across the 17 nation eurozone was not up for amendment or change, as president-elect Hollande would like.
"We in Germany are of the view, and so am I personally, that this fiscal pact is not negotiable. It has been negotiated and has been signed by 25 countries," she said. Then she added, "We are talking about two sides of the same coin — progress is only to be achieved by solid finances plus growth."
In Greece, parties that backed the two big E.U. bailouts lost their majority in parliament.
Merkel cautioned Greece to stick to its strict cost-cutting program. And there was bad news for Merkel at home as well: over the weekend voters in a northern state ousted a coalition led by Merkel's conservative CDU party in local elections. It's a setback that may hurt her party as it heads into national elections next year.
The German obsession with inflation is going to burn them, but the rest of Europe will be toast before that happens.  Amazingly, the failures in Europe don't prevent Republicans from embracing the same bad ideas.  Hopefully, they will suffer the same electoral setbacks as their right-leaning peers (well, not as crazy) in Europe.

Coca-Cola Appears On The Market


 May 8, 1886:
Pharmacist John Styth Pemberton first sells a carbonated beverage named "Coca-Cola" as a patent medicine.
The prototype Coca-Cola recipe was formulated at the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company, a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia, by John Pemberton, originally as a coca wine called Pemberton's French Wine Coca. He may have been inspired by the formidable success of Vin Mariani, a European coca wine.
In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola, essentially a non-alcoholic version of French Wine Coca. The first sales were at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains, which were popular in the United States at the time due to the belief that carbonated water was good for the health. Pemberton claimed Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence. Pemberton ran the first advertisement for the beverage on May 29 of the same year in the Atlanta Journal.
By 1888, three versions of Coca-Cola – sold by three separate businesses – were on the market. Asa Griggs Candler acquired a stake in Pemberton's company in 1887 and incorporated it as the Coca Cola Company in 1888. The same year, Pemberton sold the rights a second time to four more businessmen: J.C. Mayfield, A.O. Murphey, C.O. Mullahy and E.H. Bloodworth. Meanwhile, Pemberton's son Charley Pemberton began selling his own version of the product.
On a related note, the family of the formulator of Pepsi is suing the company:
The lawsuit asks the court for undisclosed damages for what it called Pepsi's "improper interference with their rights in the Ritchie invention and the Ritchie documents."
It said the documents had been "physically and legally" controlled by a member of the Ritchie family for more than 50 years. The estate of Ritchie's late son, Richard, was also identified as a plaintiff.
Richard Ritchie was a chemist with the Loft Candy Company when he developed the Pepsi-Cola formula for Loft in 1931. He stayed with Pepsi-Cola after it became independent, but joined Cantrell & in 1962. Ritchie retired in 1982 and died in January 1985.
According to the lawsuit "the heirs are the rightful owners of the Ritchie invention because, inter alia, Pepsi failed to require that Mr Ritchie transfer ownership to the Ritchie invention to Pepsi despite knowing that he had developed the Pepsi-Cola formula while working as an employee of another company."
Damn, you would think in the era of gas chromatographs that secret recipes would mean nothing.

Australian Housing Bubble?

From the Big Picture:

Five of the 15 priciest cities are in Australia?  Really?  That China commodity boom better never slow down.

A Nation of Chickenshits

Fareed Zakaria, via the Dish:
Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for the intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet – the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. The largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs is now the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.
The rise of this national security state has entailed a vast expansion in the government's powers that now touch every aspect of American life, even when seemingly unrelated to terrorism. Some 30,000 people, for example, are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications within the United States.
In the past, the U.S. government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is, of course, a war without end.
He goes on to say we look like scared, fearful losers.  I must agree.  But what do you expect from a bunch of people who are so scared of being victims of crime that they feel they must be able to carry their guns into church?  Relax, you damn freaks.  If somebody wanted to get the jump on you, you're never going to get that gun out in time, you'd be dead.  Terrorism is the least of my worries when it comes to death.  Farm accident ranks much higher.

Rail Traffic Snarled In Chicago

 NYT:
ix of the nation’s seven biggest railroads pass through the city, a testament to Chicago’s economic might when the rail lines were laid from the 1800s on. Today, a quarter of all rail traffic in the nation touches Chicago. Nearly half of what is known as intermodal rail traffic, the big steel boxes that can be carried aboard ships, trains or trucks, roll by or through this city.
The slowdown involves more than freight. The other day, William C. Thompson, a project manager for the Association of American Railroads, stood next to a crossroads of steel in the Englewood neighborhood pointing to a web of tracks used by freight trains and Amtrak passenger trains that intersected tracks for Metra, Chicago’s commuter rail. The commuter trains get to go first, he said, and so “Amtrak tells me they have more delays here than anywhere else in the system.”
More delays than anywhere else in the Chicago area? No, he said. “In the entire United States.”
Now, federal, state, local and industry officials are completing the early stages of a $3.2 billion project to untangle Chicago’s rail system — not just for its residents, who suffer commuter train delays and long waits in their cars at grade crossings, but for the rest of the nation as well.
The program, called Create (an acronym for Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program), is intended to replace 25 rail intersections with overpasses and underpasses that will smooth the flow of traffic for the 1,300 freight and passenger trains that muscle through the city each day, and to separate tracks now shared by freight and passenger trains at critical spots. Fifty miles of new track will link yards and create a second east-west route across the city, building redundancy into the overburdened system.
One thing I don't understand about the nation's rail system is that there are 2 major eastern railroads (CSX and Norfolk Southern) and 2 major western railroads (Union Pacific and Burlington Northern).  They have to work out shipping traffic from one system to the other.  I would have thought the western railroads would have merged with the eastern railroads, and they could have found ways around Chicago and eliminated exchanges on traffic across the country.  Maybe there aren't consistent route pairings which would be linked by mergers, but I've been waiting for those deals to be made for quite a few years.  At least there is work being done to clear up the bottleneck in Chicago.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Planting Ahead of Schedule, Way Ahead of Last Year

 What a difference a year makes.  Progressive Farmer:

Corn planting continues to rocket along with 71% of the crop reported in the ground. That compares to 53% last week, 32% last year and a 47% average rate. Corn emergence is reported at 32%, compared to 15% last week, 6% last year and a 13% average.
"Corn planting was 4 percentage points above the average pre-report guesstimate," said Sanow. "The big five -- Illinois (89% vs. 27%), Indiana (84% vs. 3%), Iowa (64% vs. 52%), Minnesota (73% vs. 20%) and Nebraska (74% vs. 45%) -- are all running well ahead of last year.
"Given that recent precipitation has been mostly favorable, the drum could start beating much louder that USDA will raise its 164 bushels per acre estimate at some point. This report should be considered bearish."
Spring wheat planting is 84% complete, compared to 74% last week, 19% last year and a 49% average. Emergence is reported at 47%, compared to 30% last week, 5% last year and a 17% average. "North Dakota is reportedly 77 percentage points ahead of last year's planting pace," Sanow said. "This report could be considered bearish."
With this week's forecast clearing up, we may finish planting before we started last year.

Amish Children Less Susceptible To Allergies

The Daily Mail, via nc links:
The researchers surveyed 157 Amish families, about 3,000 Swiss farming families, and close to 11,000 Swiss families who did not live on a farm -- all with children between the ages of six and 12.

They found that just five percent of Amish kids had been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 6.8 percent of Swiss farm kids and 11.2 percent of the other Swiss children.

Similarly, among 138 Amish kids given a skin-prick test to determine whether they were predisposed to having allergies, only 10 kids -- or seven percent -- had a positive response.

In comparison, 25 percent of the farm-raised Swiss kids and 44 percent of the other Swiss children had a positive test, the researchers report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The study did not determine why the kids who grew up on farms were less likely to develop asthma and allergies, but other research has pointed to exposure to microbes and contact with cows, in particular, to partially explain the farm effect.

Drinking raw cow's milk also seems to be involved, Holbreich said.

The going theory is this early exposure to the diverse potential allergens and pathogens on a farm trains the immune system to recognize them, but not overreact to the harmless ones.
 Maybe it is exposure to microbes, or maybe it is inbreeding.  Anyway, I believe I've been exposed to all kinds of microbes with no ill effects.  Others disagree with the assessment of the ill effects.

Baseball In Washington

With the Nationals on top in the NL East, there has been a lot of focus on the history of baseball futility in Washington:
By the dawn of what would be known, for other reasons, as the American Century, the Senators were so bad that they had become a popular vaudeville gag: “The folks in the theater, the man in the street and the children in school knew that Washington was first in peace, first in war, and last in the American League,” Povich wrote. A Renaissance began when Walter Johnson came to town—several pennants were captured, in addition to the ’24 Series. The political exploitation of D.C. baseball by incumbent Presidents also flourished. William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower all successively mugged for photographers and tossed out first pitches to the Senators on Opening Day, even if, after 1933, the home team usually stank. In 1960, an era of betrayal, open racism, and disillusionment arrived. Clark Griffith, the son of a successful Nats owner and manager, Calvin Griffith, became concerned that his Washington audience was “getting to be all colored,” as he put it, so he moved the Senators to Minnesota to create the Twins. “You only have fifteen thousand blacks here,” he explained later to Minnesota businessmen. Griffith said he appreciated his new fan base of “good hardworking white people.” (bold mine) President Eisenhower strong-armed baseball into creating an expansion team, also named the Senators, to compensate for Griffith’s departure. Those Senators floundered, and were bought by a debt-burdened failed Minnesota politician named Bob Short. Short schemed to move his team to a more lucrative market and sell them at profit. He eyed Dallas, Texas. On Short’s last night in town, in 1971, drunken fans carrying signs calling for the owner’s demise tore up stadium seats and the field. “This isn’t exactly a pleasure,” the team’s slugger, Frank Howard, remarked after the last game. “Nobody’s going to buy a horseshit product, and that’s what we’ve been.”
That is a great quote from Frank Howard, and a couple terrible ones from Clark Griffith. I didn't realize he moved the team to the Twin Cities because there weren't as many black people there.  That is shameful.

Not only are the Nationals doing well, but the Orioles are 18-9 out of the gate, and only 0.5 game behind Tampa Bay in the AL East.  So far it's been the best year the 21st century for baseball at the south end of the Acela corridor.  We'll see if it can last.

Guitars, Sears and the Blues

From Reason, via the Big Picture:
The new breed of Delta musicians needed an instrument that was affordable, portable, and capable of producing a wide variety of musical timbres. The guitar could provide harmonic support, rhythmic propulsion, and enough sustain to draw out the long melismatic lines of African-American field hollers. A guitar played with a slide could reproduce the characteristic whine of the single-string didley-bow—a homemade instrument, cobbled together from boards, wire, and nails, that served as the first instrument for many Delta musicians. Creative use of tuning allowed bluesmen like Charlie Patton and Booker White to produce raucous rhythmic accompaniments.
The six strings and fixed frets of the guitar enabled the guitarist to play a much richer variety of harmonies than even the most skilled banjo player. The guitar had a wider range than other string instruments and was especially effective underneath the human voice. A true Delta master like Robert Johnson could juggle all of these elements simultaneously, while singing. One or two musicians could take the place of four or five without sacrificing sound or versatility, thereby lowering costs and expanding opportunities.
The first Sears, Roebuck catalog was published in 1888. It would go on to transform America. Farmers were no longer subject to the variable quality and arbitrary pricing of local general stores. The catalog brought things like washing machines and the latest fashions to the most far-flung outposts. Guitars first appeared in the catalog in 1894 for $4.50 (around $112 in today’s money). By 1908 Sears was offering a guitar, outfitted for steel strings, for $1.89 ($45 today), making it the cheapest harmony-generating instrument available.
Throughout the 1910s Delta blacks routinely ordered a wide assortment of goods from Sears, Roebuck, including the instrument that would define them. In an interview with Alan Lomax, Gospel songwriter Charles Haffner recalled the switch from the reels of the past to the new blues sound: “Back around that time the guitar came into style, and the first blues I remember originated.…Yessir, we were entering into a jazz age, and the old world was being transformed.”
The Mississippi Delta is a fascinating place.  Some of the richest farmland in the world and some of the poorest people in the U.S.