Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Fight Within The Church

Chicago Tribune:
The nuns have drawn strong public support in the United States since the Vatican moved to rein them in. In the past few weeks Catholics have organized vigils outside churches from Anchorage, Alaska, to Lady Lake, Florida, and in major cities including Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as outside the offices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Knots of demonstrators - sometimes a handful, sometimes several dozen - come to pray, sing and give thanks for nuns. More than 50,000 have signed an online petition asking the Vatican to withdraw its order.

The Leadership Conference cited that support in its tough response to the Vatican, saying the board "believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world."

The Leadership Conference president, Pat Farrell, and the group's executive director, Janet Mock, said they would fly to Rome in little over a week to meet with Sartain and Cardinal William Levada.

That meeting is scheduled to take place one day before U.S. bishops gather in Atlanta for wide-ranging discussions on issues from clergy sex abuse to the federal mandate that all health insurance plans cover contraception.

Following their discussions in Rome, the nuns will convene a national convention in St. Louis in August to further shape their response to the Vatican.

"This response shows Catholic sisters are not backing down from their social justice mission and are handling a troubling situation with great dignity," said John Gehring, the Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group.
I don't get why the bishops and the Vatican are picking the fights they are.  They seem bound and determined to piss off a lot of people.  I would expect the reduction of regular attendees at Mass to continue.  

Classifying Pluto

Via the Dish:

Talking about Pluto makes me think of this:

The Cultural Significance of The Chicken

Smithsonian (via Ritholtz):
How did the chicken achieve such cultural and culinary dominance? It is all the more surprising in light of the belief by many archaeologists that chickens were first domesticated not for eating but for cockfighting. Until the advent of large-scale industrial production in the 20th century, the economic and nutritional contribution of chickens was modest. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond listed chickens among the “small domestic mammals and domestic birds and insects” that have been useful to humanity but unlike the horse or the ox did little—outside of legends—to change the course of history. Nonetheless, the chicken has inspired contributions to culture, art, cuisine, science and religion over the millennia. Chickens were, and still are, a sacred animal in some cultures. The prodigious and ever-watchful hen was a worldwide symbol of nurturance and fertility. Eggs hung in Egyptian temples to ensure a bountiful river flood. The lusty rooster (a.k.a. cock) was a universal signifier of virility—but also, in the ancient Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, a benign spirit that crowed at dawn to herald a turning point in the cosmic struggle between darkness and light. For the Romans, the chicken’s killer app was fortunetelling, especially during wartime. Chickens accompanied Roman armies, and their behavior was carefully observed before battle; a good appetite meant victory was likely. According to the writings of Cicero, when one contingent of birds refused to eat before a sea battle in 249 B.C., an angry consul threw them overboard. History records that he was defeated.
But one major religious tradition—ironically, the one that gave rise to matzo-ball soup and the Sunday chicken dinner—failed to imbue chickens with much religious significance. The Old Testament passages concerning ritual sacrifice reveal a distinct preference on the part of Yahweh for red meat over poultry. In Leviticus 5:7, a guilt offering of two turtledoves or pigeons is acceptable if the sinner in question is unable to afford a lamb, but in no instance does the Lord request a chicken. Matthew 23:37 contains a passage in which Jesus likens his care for the people of Jerusalem to a hen caring for her brood. This image, had it caught on, could have completely changed the course of Christian iconography, which has been dominated instead by depictions of the Good Shepherd.
I love the part about first domesticating chickens for cockfighting.  Sure, they may provide a pretty regular source of protein on limited input, but, damn, we really need something to bet on.  Hey, look, those birds are fighting.  Let's strap some razors on them and bet on which one kills the other one.

At my old job, we used to tease the lady from the neighboring "hillbilly" county because some of her neighbors had fighting birds.  At my current job, I've talked to two people who either raised cockfighting birds, or go to fights.  I didn't realize cockfighting was so prevalent in the area.

Just A Cup of Coffee

Rick Paulas writes about some of the 974 players who only appeared in one major league game:
 The most famous Cup of Coffee player of all time, due exclusively to his appearance in W.P. Kinsella's 1982 novel Shoeless Joe and its subsequent film adaptation Field of Dreams, has to be Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. His story is now well known: He entered a 1905 game for the New York Giants as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. Three outs later, he trotted in from right field and picked up a bat. He was due up fourth, meaning the team would just have to muster up one base-runner for him to see a Major League pitch. But, alas, his teammates failed him and he was left in the on-deck circle when the umpire called the final out. He never got to take a single hack at the ball.
Like Graham, fellow Cup of Coffee player Ralph Gagliano never got a chance to swing a bat either. But unlike "Moonlight," he didn't get a chance to wear a mitt either.
“Digging up old bones, eh?” he said, when I reached him after a short game of phone tag.
During his time as a Major Leaguer, the only part of the field that Gagliano's spikes treaded upon was the 90 feet of dirt between first and second base in the Bronx, where old Yankee Stadium used to reside. "I could've had the shortest career in history," Gagliano told me with a laugh.
Drafted by the Indians in 1964, Gagliano was a “bonus baby,” a top prospect to whom the team signed to a Major League contract in order to keep other teams from stealing him away. “A number-one pick these days,” he said with pride. Gagliano tore knee ligaments during his first spring training, sending him to the DL until he was finally activated and placed on the big league roster on the first day of September. The shy 18-year-old kept a low profile for his first few weeks in the majors, never even speaking to manager Birdie Tebbetts. “He probably thought I was just some guy hanging around the locker room.” But Tebbetts must have just been playing dumb. In the 9th inning of a 9-4 game, he decided to give shortstop Larry Brown a break and called out Gagliano's name to punch run.
I recently reread Shoeless Joe.  The Moonlight Graham story line was a good idea on Kinsella's part. Also effective was the use of J.D. Salinger as the writer Kinsella went to meet. That became the fictional James Earl Jones character Terrence Mann in the movie.  Less effective was the Eddie Scissons character, who lied about being the oldest living former Chicago Cub.  Anyway, the tales of the Cup of Coffee players is pretty interesting.  Of all the disappointments one may face in life, only playing in one major league game in your life seems relatively minor, as Burt Lancaster points out in "Field of Dreams."

Update:  The Cup of Coffee Club player I remember is Stephen Larkin.  The Reds brought him up for the last game of the season in 1998 as a favor to his brother, Hall of Famer Barry.  I happened to listen to the game that day as we combined beans over at my grandpa's farm.

The Heart Of A Neighborhood

Michael Hickey thinks bars are overlooked in the creation of liveable neighborhoods:
The vaunted “third space” isn’t home, and isn’t work—it’s more like the living room of society at large.  It’s a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect.  It’s a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection.  It’s a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle.
And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar.
I have to say that of all the things a big city has to offer, the only ones I'm really interested in are neighborhood bars and public transportation.  That was one of the best things about my sister's neighborhood in Chicago, there were bars all over the place.  And each had its own personality.  One I went to a couple of times was owned by an old Macedonian immigrant lady who had lived through World War II in the old country.  The other customers were all regulars, and the one had been coming there for fifteen years or so.  Everybody was friendly, and the owner even offered to find be a nice Macedonian wife.   Bars can foster the community feeling of small town life, even in a giant, ever changing city.

Dragging Ass

Calculated Risk fills in the latest data points on the chart from yesterday's jobs report:

That may be bad news for Obama, but it's worse news for the country.  I'm afraid that line is going to go back down before it gets back to the starting elevation.  Luckily, I've been wrong about my prior predictions of a double dip recession, but I think the odds are increasing.  And I don't even want to think of what will happen if the economy brings Romney and a loony tunes right-wing Congress into power.

Portland Rum Riot

June 2, 1855:
The Portland Rum Riot occurs in Portland, Maine.
The Portland Rum Riot, also called the Maine Law Riot, was a brief but violent period of civil unrest that occurred in Portland, Maine on June 2, 1855 in response to the Maine law which prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcohol in the state the year before.
The Maine law of 1851 outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the state of Maine, except for medicinal and mechanical purposes. Rumors began to spread that Portland Mayor Neal S. Dow, (1804–1897), an outspoken prohibitionist also known as the "Napoleon of Temperance", was keeping a large supply of alcohol in the city. As mayor, Dow had authorized a shipment of $1,600 worth of "medicinal and mechanical alcohol" that was being stored in the city vaults for distribution to pharmacists and doctors (as was authorized under the Maine law) but this detail was not widely reported. To further complicate matters, Dow and the city alderman began a vocal battle over the shipment because they had not authorized the expenditure.
Portland’s large Irish immigrant population were particularly vocal critics of the Maine Law, seeing it as thinly veiled racist attack on their culture. They already disliked and distrusted Dow and this incident made him appear to be a hypocrite. The Maine law that Dow had sponsored had a mechanism whereby any three voters could apply for a search warrant if they suspected someone was selling liquor illegally. Three men did appear before a judge, who was compelled to issue a search warrant.
On the afternoon of June 2, a crowd began to gather outside the building where the spirits were being held. The crowd numbered about 200 by 5:00 p.m. and grew larger and more agitated as the day progressed as it became evident that the police had no immediate plans to seize or destroy the liquor. Separate contemporary accounts place the crowd's size between 1,000 and 3,000 by evening (out of a city population of about 21,000). As the crowd became larger, rock throwing and shoving began.
Police were unable to deal with the growing mob and Dow called out the militia. The exact details of the climax of the riot have been hotly debated. What is known is that after ordering the protesters to disperse, the militia detachment fired into the crowd on Dow's orders. One man, John Robbins, an immigrant and mate of a Maine sailing vessel from Deer Isle, was killed and seven others were wounded.
The crowd was dispersed but Dow was widely criticized for his heavy handed tactics during the incident.
In a twist of irony, Dow was later prosecuted for violation of the Maine Law for improperly acquiring the alcohol. The prosecutor was former U.S. Attorney General Nathan Clifford and the defense attorney was later U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury William P. Fessenden. Dow was acquitted, but the event was a major contributing factor to the repeal of the Maine law in 1856.
The Maine Law galvanized the Prohibitionists to fight harder for the worst Constitutional amendment ever.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

RIP Jack Twyman

A great player, but a better friend:
In the last game of the regular season, Stokes went skyward and fell backward over another player. The back of his head slammed the court, knocking him cold.These days, Stokes would have been immobilized and rushed to the hospital. In 1958, he was given smelling salts and sent back in.
Stokes did his duty that night. He played the first game of playoffs three days later. On the flight back from Detroit, the big man started shaking and sweating. He had a seizure and went into a coma.
An ambulance was waiting at the Cincinnati airport. Stokes had suffered post-traumatic encephalopathy. The blow had damaged the part of his brain that controls motor function.
He would never walk again. At first, all he could do was blink.
“How would you like to be one of the premiere athletes in the world on a Saturday,” Twyman recalled. “Then on Sunday, you go into a coma and wake up totally paralyzed, except for the use of (your) eyes and brain? I mean, can you imagine anything worse?”
No, unless you throw in a red-tape nightmare and no idea how to pay for a lifetime of medical bills.
Again, this was 1958. NBA stars didn’t have comprehensive medical coverage, much less entourages and Bentleys.
Stokes had $9,000 in his bank account. He was single, and what family he had was in Pennsylvania and in no financial shape to help.
Twyman applied to become Stokes’ legal guardian. A judge granted the request. That allowed Twyman to handle the bills, apply for workman’s compensation and chop through the paperwork.
Twyman was far more than Stokes’ bookkeeper, however. He eventually had four children, and Stokes was almost as much a part of his life as any of them.Again, this was 1958. That didn’t matter.
The story is amazing.  Stokes died in 1970.  If there's a Heaven, Twyman and Stoles are going to playing some ball together there.

McDonalds To Require Phaseout of Gestation Crates

Progressive Farmer:
McDonald's Corp. said Thursday that by 2022 it will no longer buy any pork from suppliers that use small, controversial pens known as gestation stalls to confine pregnant sows.
The fast-food heavyweight, in an effort to address concerns of animal welfare groups, announced in February that it would begin demanding that suppliers phase out the use of the narrow two-feet-wide stalls that groups like the Humane Society of the United States have called inhumane.
The tide is turning the Humane Society's way, and farmers making livestock investments better take note.

Big Brother Wants No Limit On Surveillance Power

This is one of the ways Obama is at least as bad as Bush, and maybe worse:
The Obama administration is set to argue to a federal appeals court Friday that the government may breach, with impunity, domestic spying laws adopted in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
The case tests whether Americans may seek recourse or monetary damages when a sitting U.S. president bypasses Congress’s ban on warrantless spying on Americans — in this instance when President George W. Bush authorized his secret, warrantless domestic spying program in the aftermath of the September 2001 terror attacks.
A federal judge found in 2010 that two American lawyers’ telephone conversations with their clients in Saudi Arabia in 2004 were siphoned to the National Security Agency without warrants. The allegations were initially based on a classified document the government accidentally mailed to the former al-Haramain Islamic Foundation lawyers.
The document was later declared a state secret, removed from the long-running lawsuit and has never been made public. With that document ruled out as evidence, the lawyers instead cited a bevy of circumstantial evidence that a judge found showed the government illegally wiretapped the lawyers as they spoke on U.S. soil to Saudi Arabia.
Against the government’s objections, San Francisco U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker awarded the two lawyers — Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor — $20,400 each in damages and their legal counsel $2.5 million in costs. It marked the first time anyone had prevailed in a lawsuit challenging Bush’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.
The government appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and arguments before a three-judge panel are set to be heard in Pasadena, California, this Friday.
Unfortunately, I don't think either party will give up any of this unconstitutional power.

Chart of the Day

A chart to ponder as we wait for the monthly jobs report:

The above represents the latest available data for unemployment rates in the PIIGS countries (data through March, except only through Feb for Greece).  Spain and Greece in particular continue to spin wildly out of control.

As far as I can tell, there is still no coherent approach to managing the situation, which will therefore continue to get worse.  The latest twist is that Spain is signaling that it cannot afford to rescue Bankia (a hastily assembled consortium of regional banks that is now insolvent due to bad real estate loans made during Spain's property boom).
Europe is rapidly approaching the point where deflation is the concern, instead of inflation.  If the Germans are not ready to print money to replace that which is getting destroyed by default, they will soon find out that inflation isn't their biggest concern.  Sometimes you have to print money.

The First Mention of Scotch

June 1, 1495:
Friar John Cor records the first known batch of scotch whisky.
John Cor is the name of the friar referred to in the first known written reference to a batch of Scotch Whisky on June 1, 1495. The first mention is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1495. John Cor was the distiller at Lindores Abbey in the Kingdom of Fife.
“To Friar John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae VIII bolls of malt.” — Exchequer Rolls 1494–95, Vol x, p. 487
To Scotland!

A Better Biofuel Economy?

Scientific American:
A farmer in Mozambique grows peas, beans and cassava in rotation—enough to feed the family with a little to spare. The farmer then sells that excess to CleanStar Mozambique, which dries and packages the produce for sale in the capital, Maputo. But the company also takes the surplus cassava, a starch-filled root and local food staple, and sends it to an ethanol fermentation plant built by ICM, a U.S. ethanol company, that employs enzymes produced by Denmark-based Novozymes. The ethanol produced is then sold in reusable plastic bottles to people in Maputo who own one of the 3,000 or so ethanol-burning clean cookstoves sold by CleanStar. When the fuel runs out, more can be purchased at an incipient network of CleanStar shops....
"Ethanol burns very clean," Nagy notes. The CleanStar venture opened its first ethanol production plant on May 17 in Dondo, capable of brewing two million liters of fuel per year. "Charcoal might be cheaper but it has less energy content per kilo[gram]."
The problem in this case is: replacing cheap charcoal, which farmers make by cutting down and burning trees, requires dependence on a much more complex, new and unproved system. "People use charcoal because it is cheap and easy," notes a prominent development expert who declined to be identified because of relationships with various clean cookstove donors and providers. "Ethanol is neither."  The first step in this new process will be convincing farmers to halt charcoal production and slash-and-burn agriculture in favor of a new rotation system. Mozambican farmers currently grow corn and cassava, among other crops. But under the new system, they would grow nitrogen-fixing beans and peas along with staple or cash crops such as cassava, ground nuts, sorghum and soybeans in rotation in fields ringed by trees newly-planted to prevent erosion. "We have enrolled between 500 and 600 farmers today," Nagy says, and the project aims for at least 3,000 by next year. The CleanStar venture also provides each farmer with fertilizer and pesticides as well as technical assistance. As a result of the new rotation system and improved soil fertility, farm family nutrition improves (44 percent of Mozambican children are stunted due to malnutrition and disease) and income can more than quadruple, according to Nagy.
On the face of it, this sounds like it could be a better system, but it is still involves a middleman buying and selling food and taking food out of the market to turn into fuel.  I'll withhold judgement for now.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Fenian Invasion of Canada

May 31, 1866:
In the Fenian Invasion of Canada, John O'Neill leads 850 Fenian raiders across the Niagara River at Buffalo, New York/Fort Erie, Ontario, as part of an effort to free Ireland from the United Kingdom. Canadian militia and British regulars repulse the invaders in over the next three days, at a cost of 9 dead and 38 wounded to the Fenian's 19 dead and about 17 wounded.
Between 1866 and 1871, the Fenian raids of the Fenian Brotherhood, who were based in the United States, on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada, were fought to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. They divided many Catholic Irish-Canadians, many of whom were torn between loyalty to their new home and sympathy for the aims of the Fenians. The Protestant Irish were generally loyal to Britain and fought with the Orange Order against the Fenians. While the U.S. authorities arrested the men and confiscated their arms afterwards, there is speculation that many in the U.S. government had turned a blind eye to the preparations for the invasion, angered at actions that could be construed as British assistance to the Confederacy during the American Civil War. There were five Fenian raids of note.
In 1866, the Fenians had split into two factions, with the original faction, led by Fenian founders James Stephens and John O'Mahony focused more on fundraising for rebels in Ireland. The leaders of the more militant "senate faction" led by William R. Roberts believed that even a marginally successful invasion of the Province of Canada or other parts of British North America would provide them with leverage in their efforts. After an April attempt to raid New Brunswick (see "Campobello Island Raid", above) that had been blessed by O'Mahony failed, the senate faction Fenians implemented their own plan for an invasion of Canada. The plan drafted by the senate "Secretary for War" General T. W. Sweeny, a distinguished former Union Army officer, called for multiple Fenian invasions at points in Canada West (now southern Ontario) and Canada East (now southern Quebec) intended to cut Canada West off from Canada East and possible British reinforcements arriving from there. Key to the plan was a diversionary attack at Fort Erie from Buffalo, New York, meant to draw troops away from Toronto in a feigned strike at the nearby Welland Canal system. This would be the only Fenian attack, other than the Quebec raid several days later, that would be actually launched in June 1866.
Approximately 1000 to 1,300 Fenians crossed the Niagara River in the first 14 hours of June 1 under Colonel John O'Neill. Sabotaged by Fenians on its crew, the U.S. Navy's side-wheeler gunboat USS Michigan did not begin intercepting Fenian reinforcements until 2:15 p.m.—fourteen hours after Owen Starr's advance party had first crossed the river in advance of O'Neill's main force. Once the USS Michigan was deployed, O'Neill's force in the Niagara Region was cut off from further supplies and reinforcements.
After assembling with other units from the province and travelling all night, the Canadians advanced into a well-laid ambush (Battle of Ridgeway) by approximately 600-700 Fenians the next morning north of Ridgeway, a small hamlet west of Fort Erie. (The Fenian strength at Ridgeway had been reduced by desertions and deployments of Fenians in other locations in the area overnight.)
It is one of the stranger attempts to get the English out of Ireland.

Vodka Name Offends State of Idaho

 All Things Considered:

They're "five wives who just like to get together and have a cocktail."
They're not meant to be a direct reference to polygamy and those kittens they're holding in their laps are ... just part of a photograph that's reflective of the 1890s to early 1900s.
For all anyone knows, they might be lesbians.
Those are some of the things that Five Wives Vodka director of marketing Steve Conlin had to say this afternoon to All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel about the news that the company's product has been banned in Idaho because its label and its name might offend Mormons and women.
Ironically, Five Wives Vodka is made — and sold — in Utah, home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  As The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week, "Idaho regulators have decided not to carry an Ogden distillery's Five Wives Vodka because of its label, while Utah booze cops have deemed acceptable the bottle's depiction of 19th century women in petticoats holding kittens near their lady parts."
"Products that we feel are marketed toward children, or are in poor taste with respect to out citizens will not be authorized for distribution," Idaho State Liquor Division Deputy Director Howard Wasserstein wrote in a letter to the Ogden distillery.
It amazes me that the vodka is sold in Utah, but not Idaho.  Of course, Idaho also has a pretty large Mormon population, so maybe they just aren't as saavy about avoiding making fools of themselves as their brethren in Utah.   Way to make the national news, morons.

Are Humans More Like Ants Than Chimps?

The new study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, points out that both humans and ants (termites, too) live in societies that may consist of up to a million plus members.
"As a result, modern humans have more in common with some ants than we do with our closest relatives the chimpanzees," Mark Moffett, author of the study, told Discovery News. "With a maximum size of about 100, no chimpanzee group has to deal with issues of public health, infrastructure, distribution of goods and services, market economies, mass transit problems, assembly lines and complex teamwork, agriculture and animal domestication, warfare and slavery."
"Ants have developed behaviors addressing all of these problems," added Moffett, a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. He pointed out that only humans and ants have developed full-blown warfare.
Moffett analyzed ant societies, and specifically those of the Argentine ant. This ant has colonies that expand hundreds of miles. One colony, with a total population probably in the trillions, spans over 621 miles from San Francisco to the Mexican border in California. An even larger colony exists in Europe, with supercolonies of Argentine ants also in Australia, New Zealand, and ever-widening regions of Hawaii and Japan.
What makes such size and growth possible for a society is that membership can be anonymous, Moffett determined. Members are not required to distinguish each other as individuals for a group to remain unified. Societies are instead bonded by shared identity cues. For ants, those are largely tied to pheromones.
That is an interesting way of looking at society.  

Groundwater Mining

That describes agriculture in the High Plains and the Central Valley (h/t nc links):

Three results of the new study are particularly striking: First, during the most recent drought in California's Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation's largest human-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas -- a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates.
Second, a third of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just 4% of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades.
California's Central Valley is sometimes called the nation's "fruit and vegetable basket." The High Plains, which run from northwest Texas to southern Wyoming and South Dakota, are sometimes called the country's "grain basket." Combined, these two regions produced agricultural products worth $56 billion in 2007, accounting for much of the nation's food production. They also account for half of all groundwater depletion in the U.S., mainly as a result of irrigating crops.
In the early 20th century, farmers in California's Central Valley began pumping groundwater to irrigate their crops. Over time, groundwater levels dropped as much as 400 feet in some places. From the 1930s to '70s, state and federal agencies built a system of dams, reservoirs and canals to transfer water from the relatively water-rich north to the very dry south. Since then, groundwater levels in some areas have risen as much as 300 feet. In the High Plains, farmers first began large-scale pumping of groundwater for crop irrigation in the 1930s and '40s; but irrigation greatly expanded in response to the 1950s drought. Since then, groundwater levels there have steadily declined, in some places more than 150 feet.
That will not end well.  If you think southwestern Kansas is deserted now, wait until they deplete the Ogallala Aquifer.  Here in the midwest, we mine the soil of nutrients, then use mined potash and phosphorus to replenish the soil.  Mining the groundwater in an area beyond the 98th meridian is even worse.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Golden Gate Way

Stanley Cup Final Prediction

I'll take the Kings in six.  They've been on fire.

Critics Target Crop Insurance

Chicago Tribune (h/t Big Picture Agriculture):
Unlike practically every other sector of the economy, farming is awash in profits. The embarrassment of riches has made it difficult to justify any of the usual farm subsidies, especially in light of runaway budget deficits. Big agriculture and its supporters have settled on crop insurance as the means to keep federal dollars flowing.

It's not too late to stop it.

You might assume that crop insurance is designed to insure farmers against a poor crop. Not so.

More than 80 percent of crop insurance protects farm revenues, regardless of crop yields. No drought or flood or plague of locusts is required for the policies to pay off. A farm might have a bumper crop, but if commodity prices fall short of its projections, it still could be eligible to collect on its crop insurance. The coverage can be used to guarantee that these private businesses lock in a profit.

Any business would love insurance like that, but it would be unaffordable. It would be too expensive for farmers too, were it not for Uncle Sam. The federal government heavily subsidizes crop insurance. So farmers sign up for top-of-the-line policies that cost much more than they would spend if they had to pay for it themselves.

Over the past decade, taxpayers have committed $60 billion to crop insurance, according to an Iowa State University analysis. Of that money, about $30 billion was paid back to farmers who collected on their policies. The rest went to private insurance companies and their richly compensated agents. So $1 is being siphoned off for every $1 in net benefits delivered. That amounts to a $30 billion windfall for the crop-insurance middleman.
As the budget fights rage, ag programs will catch a lot of flak.  I'll wager though, that Big Ag will generally get its way.

Chart of the Day

The decline of Memorial Day doubleheaders:

Doubleheaders in general are unheard of.  I don't think too many people are excited about spending 7 hours at the baseball game these days.  I've been to parts of two doubleheaders.  One was at New Comiskey Park, and we caught the last three innings or so of the first game, and all of the second.  The other was in Cincinnati, and we caught the last two innings of the first game, and left in the fifth inning of the second, because they cut off beer sales in the third inning of the second game.  Some traditions just don't last.

Keynesians When They're In Charge

Bruce Bartlett on Republican Keynesians:

In 2001, George W. Bush responded to the recession that began in March by proposing another tax rebate of $300 to $600, even though extensive research by the economists Alan Blinder and Franco Modigliani and Charles Steindel showed that the 1975 rebate had very little impact on growth. According to the journalist Ron Suskind, when Mr. Bush’s economic advisers tried to tell him that the rebate was bad policy, he told them, “If I decide to do it, by definition it’s good policy.”
Although research by the economists Joel Slemrod and Matthew Shapiro in 2003 found that the 2001 rebate had minimal stimulative effect, Mr. Bush supported yet another rebate in 2008 of $300 to $1,200, depending on one’s income and filing status, to counteract the recession that began in December 2007.
Subsequent research by the C.B.O. and the Bureau of Labor Statistics once again found that it had a minimal impact.
My view is that sometimes Keynesian policies are right and sometimes they are wrong; it all depends on the economic circumstances. Historically, many Republicans have apparently agreed.
First off, tax rebates just don't work as well dollar for dollar as government purchases to stimulate the economy.  Tax cuts were 1/3 of the Obama stimulus.  However, I haven't heard Republicans say tax cuts don't work.  Also, Keynes pushed spending during downturns and running surpluses during good times, unlike the irresponsible Republicans, who cut taxes in either case. 

Bad Advice

Belfast Telegraph, via nc links:
The Italian Bishop’s Conference (CIE) has issued guidelines on child protection that inform its bishops that they are ‘not obliged to report illicit facts’ of child abuse to the police.
The new guidelines were released recently after the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith advised every Bishop Conference to create a document covering Child Protection if they did not already have one.
One of the conferences that was void of such documentation was the CEI which works under Pope Benedict XVI.
In their new five page document which advised Italian Bishops on how to deal with paedophilia they failed to focus on one of the most important and obvious means of combating the crime – informing police authorities.
Instead the document read: “Under Italian law, the bishop, given that he holds no public office nor is he a public servant, is not obliged to report illicit facts of the type covered by this document to the relevant state judicial authorities."
I don't understand how so many "moral leaders" can be so out of touch with reality.  They make Penn State look well run.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Contractor Accused of $750 Million Food Overcharge

Wired, via nc links:
In 2008, the Pentagon began investigating whether the main supplier of food to troops in Afghanistan overcharged taxpayers. Since then, there have been audits, recriminations and the discovery that the supplier may have overbilled the military as much as $756.9 million. Now lawmakers are squeezing both the Pentagon and the contractor in an attempt to find out what happened.
That’s according to a statement released today from the two heads of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations. The congressmen want documents and information within 10 days from both the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Switzerland-based company, Supreme Foodservice GmbH. This might be difficult, because the Pentagon has alleged Supreme Foodservice — which has been paid $5.5 billion since 2005 to supply food to more than 250 bases and outposts – did not maintain invoices and truck manifests (.pdf) while transporting food, water and other materiel; nor did the company provide data to investigators on fuel costs, price estimates and even correct flight plans.
“It is outrageous that DLA could ever be in the position of possibly overpaying any vendor by three quarters of a billion dollars — especially at a time when troop levels are being scaled back because funding is tight,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz in a statement. “The Subcommittee will work with the Department of Defense to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding this apparent lack of oversight.”
Wow.  That's pretty classy.  Contracting everything out really sucks.

How The Climate Could Rapidly Change

Scientific American excerpts The Fate of the Species:
Each year, the sun shines down on the dark surface of the Indian Ocean, and moist, warm air rises and forms clouds. This rising heat and the moisture form a powerful weather system, a natural pump that pulls up water and moves it in vast quantities hundreds of miles to the mainland. This is the Indian monsoon, which deposits rainfall on thousands of square miles of farmland. About a billion people, most of them poor, depend for their daily bread on crops that depend in turn on the reliability and regularity of the Indian monsoons.
India is a rapidly developing country with hundreds of millions of citizens who want to move into the middle class, drive cars and cool their homes with air-conditioning. It is also a country of poor people, many who still rely on burning agricultural waste to heat their homes and cook their suppers. Smoke from household fires has been a big source of pollution in the subcontinent, and it could disrupt the monsoons, too. The soot from these fires and from automobiles and buses in the ever more crowded cities rises into the atmosphere and drifts out over the Indian Ocean, changing the atmospheric dynamics upon which the monsoons depend. Aerosols (soot) keep much of the sun's energy from reaching the surface, which means the monsoon doesn't get going with the same force and takes longer to gather up a head of steam. Less rain makes it to crops.
At the same time, the buildup of greenhouse gases, coming mainly from developed countries in the northern hemisphere, has a very different effect on the Indian summer monsoons: it acts to make them stronger.
These two opposite influences make the fate of the monsoon difficult to predict and subject to instability. A small influence—a bit more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and a bit more brown haze—could have an out- size effect. Lenton believes that the monsoons could flip from one state to another as quickly as one year. What happens then is not a question that Lenton can answer with certainty, but he foresees two possibilities.
Neither potential outcome is good.  I'm afraid we are starting to see a similar possibility for the Corn Belt, but hopefully I am wrong.

Two Tales of Farm Safety

Morning Edition:
The Obama administration initially agreed. Last year, the Labor Department began developing new regulations that would keep kids under the age of 16 away from heavy livestock, chemicals and pesticides, and big machinery.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis defended the effort before a congressional panel this spring in Washington.
SECRETARY HILDA SOLIS: But I do know that we have to protect and prevent any further injuries from young people that are working in settings that are not protected. We haven't upgraded the rule for 40 years.
MANN: But the effort infuriated farmers and their supporters in Congress, Democrats and Republicans. They argued that it made no sense to compare farms with fast food restaurants and retail outlets - the kind of places most teens work.
At that hearing, Senator Jerry Moran from Kansas blasted Solis, describing the regulations as an attack on farming and a traditional way of life.
SENATOR JERRY MORAN: 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-limit in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.
MANN: The Labor Department tried to address those concerns by promising to exempt children who work on farms owned by their own families. The new rules would only have affected the teenagers who work as paid employees, including children of migrant workers. That didn't satisfy farmers and late last month the Obama administration abruptly withdrew the regulations.
Progressive Farmer:
The deaths of three children and two teenagers in the past two weeks because of farm accidents serves as a brutal reminder of the importance of farm safety as summer approaches.
Nebraska's Emily Guerra, age 2, died when she fell off a spooked horse while her father was helping to brand calves. Austin Reuter, a 7-year-old from Iowa, died after an ATV rolled over him during evening chores, and Travis Flory, a 3-year-old in Wisconsin, was killed when he was accidentally run over by a skid steer his brother was driving.
All of these deaths are tragic accidents, but note, all of these deaths were children on their own family's farm, which wouln't have even been regulated.  I really can't believe farmers had a cow about regulations involving nonfamily children working on the farm, and I am stunned the Obama administration folded up over it.  Pathetic all around.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Building The Golden Gate Bridge

The Atlantic digs out an old Bethlehem Steel video of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was officially opened to vehicular traffic 75 years ago today:

The Real Joe Biden

I love to joke around about Joe Biden, but he is a good guy.  Here he talks to families of lost servicemembers about grief.  It is powerful, and it is real (h/t mistermix):

Dickey Has Second Straight Strong Outing

Dickey struck out 10 to reach double digits for strikeouts in consecutive games for the first time in his career, and the Mets held the Padres scoreless for the second straight day with a 2-0 win Sunday.
"For it to play out like it has in the last few games it's been nice but we're not delusional," Dickey said. "We know there's a lot of baseball to be played."Dickey (7-1) struck out 11 Pirates on Tuesday. He is the first Mets pitcher to have back-to-back games with at least 10 Ks since Pedro Martinez did it in May 2006.Santana pitched a four-hitter Saturday. He and Dickey combined in August 2010 for New York's last set of complete-game shutouts. Dickey needed a bit of help to finish this one.
Back-to-back double-digit strikeout games.  The guy is on fire.  You have to love a knuckleball when it is working

A Memorial Day Story

Scott Simon:
Leslie Sabo was killed in May 1970. He was 21. The Pentagon said only that Leslie Sabo had been killed by enemy fire. He received a Bronze Star.
But 32 years later, a researcher found scores of pages about Leslie Sabo that had somehow been overlooked. They were written by fellow soldiers in the 101st Airborne to recommend Les Sabo for a Medal of Honor.
They said they had been surrounded by a much larger North Vietnamese force on a reconnaissance mission in Cambodia. Leslie Sabo, already wounded, crawled forward to hurl a grenade back at their attackers and shield his men with his own body. Then he set off his own grenade to blow up the enemy and took the full force of that blast, too.
It took 10 years for the accounts of that day to be investigated and verified. Rose Mary Sabo says she read the papers line by line and wondered, "My Leslie? He was such a clown, but the Les I knew would give his life to anybody."
"Sometimes I ask, 'Why did you have to be a hero?' But I know who Les was. He put everybody before himself."
She says some of the men who survived have told her they feel guilty because Les gave his life to give them a chance to live. They've gotten married, had children, careers, grandchildren — hopes, joys and sorrows. Life.
"I tell them, 'Don't,' " she says. " 'You would have done the same thing.' "
President Obama called Rose Mary Sabo a couple of weeks ago to say he was giving the Medal of Honor to the man she loved, 42 years after he gave his life.
Rose Mary Sabo said she told the president, "Sir, it is an honor to talk to you." And the president of the United States told her, "No, ma'am. The honor is mine."
Today, please remember all those who have given their lives for this country.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Yosemite-Range of Light

The Butler Did It

Washington Post:
An already sordid scandal over leaked Vatican documents took a Hollywood-like turn Saturday with confirmation that the pope’s own butler had been arrested after documents he had no business having were found in his Vatican City apartment.
The detention of butler Paolo Gabriele, one of the few members of the papal household, capped one of the most convulsive weeks in recent Vatican history and threw the Holy See into chaos as it enters a critical phase in its efforts to show the world it’s serious about complying with international norms on financial transparency.
The tumult began with the publication last weekend of a book of leaked Vatican documents detailing power struggles, political intrigue and corruption in the highest levels of Catholic Church governance. It peaked with the inglorious ouster on Thursday of the president of the Vatican bank. And it concluded with confirmation Saturday that Pope Benedict XVI’s own butler was the alleged mole feeding documents to Italian journalists in an apparent bid to discredit the pontiff’s No. 2.
“If you wrote this in fiction you wouldn’t believe it,” said Carl Anderson, a member of the board of the Vatican bank which contributed to the tumult with its no-confidence vote in its president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. “No editor would let you put it in a novel.”
Carl Anderson.  Nobody is an unaccountable insider more than Carl Anderson.  As the Church declines in the developed world, issues like this won't attract adherents among the young.  It is hard to notice a connection between the Vatican and the itinerant carpenter from two thousand years ago.  This will end up being swept under the rug.  There's a lot of stuff under that rug.

NASA Photo of the Day

May 19:

Annular Solar Eclipse
Image Credit & Copyright: Mikael Svalgaard
Explanation: Tomorrow, May 20, the Moon's shadow will race across planet Earth. Observers within the 240-300 kilometer wide shadow track will be able to witness an annular solar eclipse as the Moon's apparent size is presently too small to completely cover the Sun. Heading east over a period of 3.5 hours, the shadow path will begin in southern China, cross the northern Pacific, and reach well into North America, crossing the US west coast in southern Oregon and northern California. Along the route, Tokyo residents will be just 10 kilometers north of the path's center line. Of course a partial eclipse will be visible from a much larger area within North America, the Pacific, and eastern Asia. This safely filtered telescopic picture was taken during the annular eclipse of January 15, 2010 from the city of Kanyakumari at the southern tip of India.

Sports Team Owner Welfare In Minnesota

Steve Marsh covers the legislative wrangling and politics of the Vikings owner blackmailing the public for a new stadium.  I enjoyed this description of politics in Minnesota:
We still think we're pretty special up here: a well-educated, progressive, super passive-aggressive population, with a populist streak that goes beyond even our own customized Democratic Party — the Democratic Farmers and Laborers, or DFL — actually two left-wing parties unified by Hubert Humphrey himself in 1944. We're talking real Garrison Keillor/Lake Wobegon/ELCA white Scandihoovian mafia shit. We romanticize our working-class roots and traditionally embrace you betcha social values like education and social welfare and not partying, and even more important, we kind of hate rich people. Even our rich people kind of hate rich people: We were a solid blue state for years, and now as our Republicans gain steady success at the polls and we start to bleed a new shade of purple, from a stadium perspective at least, Minnesota Republicans are just as populist, just as against tax money for a billionaire, as our Democrats. And with the tea party? Probably more populist than ever.
And you know who we hate even more than rich people? Rich people from out of town.
Which is basically why Minnesota Golden Gopher football, a perennial laughingstock — at least since our long lost glory days in the '50s — was able to move out of the Metrodome in 2009 and into their own $300 million football stadium back on campus, while the Vikings, a usually successful franchise in the most wildly successful sports league in the world, were stuck in a place with a Teflon roof that collapsed during a blizzard last season.
The stadium building cycle is pretty much over, although the A's are still threatening to move out of Oakland if they don't get a new stadium.  Maybe by the time the cities get done paying off the bonds, they'll be ready to call the owners' bluffs and quit providing massive amounts of welfare for people who have no business asking for it.  But I doubt it.

Who Landed The London Whale?

NYT, via Ritholtz:
From offices on the 58th floor of the Chrysler Building in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Weinstein runs a $5.5 billion hedge fund firm called Saba Capital Management. (“Saba” is Hebrew for “grandfatherly wisdom,” a nod to his Israeli roots.) It was there, last autumn, that he noticed an aberration in the market for credit derivatives. He knew from experience what it was like to lose a lot of money at a big bank. Before starting Saba, he was responsible for a team that lost nearly $2 billion, in the depths of the financial crisis, at Deutsche Bank. Others lost even more. Last November, however, he saw that a certain index seemed to be trading out of line with the market it was supposed to track. He and his team pored through reams of data, trying to make sense of it.
Finally, as Mr. Iksil, the London Whale, kept selling, Mr. Weinstein began buying.
At the time, traders in London had no real idea that JPMorgan was behind the trades that were skewing the market in credit derivatives. In fact, they weren’t even sure that it was a single bank or trader. But soon the City of London, Europe’s financial hub, was buzzing. Whoever the mysterious trader was, he or she kept selling derivatives intended to rise in value in the event that certain corporate bonds became riskier. The volume of trades was off the charts. Who could possibly sell so much? And, what if the trade reversed, as it inevitably would?
And so the battle lines were drawn. On one side was JPMorgan, the American banking giant that had weathered the financial crisis far better than so many of its peers. On the other were hedge fund managers, including Mr. Weinstein at Saba.
Such standoffs are not uncommon on Wall Street. An aggressive trader makes a wrongheaded bet, then doubles down to scare off competitors on the other side of the trade. Market rivals often get slapped down, unwilling to keep buying as the other side is selling, or vice versa. For traders with the backing of a major bank, like JPMorgan, the task is much easier.
But not always. Sometimes, the other side sits tight, then hits back in force. And it does so in numbers.  
It is indicative of the financial world that one of the guys who gouged JP Morgan also managed to lose a couple of billion dollars at Duetsche Bank.  The idea that these are hedging losses at JP Morgan is laughable.  It was a gambling loss, pure and simple.  As the article notes, Mitt Romney is right that while JP Morgan lost, somebody else won.  The thing is, deposits at hedge funds aren't publicly insured.  If JP Morgan wants to operate as an investment bank, that's fine.  But do it in an operation that isn't also a commercial bank.  What was that Glass-Steagall thing we got rid of a while back? 

Chrysler Building Opens

May 27, 1930:
The 1,046 feet (319 m) Chrysler Building in New York City, the tallest man-made structure at the time, opens to the public.
The Chrysler Building is an Art Deco style skyscraper in New York City, located on the east side of Manhattan in the Turtle Bay area at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. At 1,046 feet (319 m), the structure was the world's tallest building for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931. After the destruction of the World Trade Center, it was again the second-tallest building in New York City until December 2007, when the spire was raised on the 1,200-foot (365.8 m) Bank of America Tower, pushing the Chrysler Building into third position. In addition, The New York Times Building, which opened in 2007, is exactly level with the Chrysler Building in height. Both buildings were then pushed into 4th position, when the under construction One World Trade Center surpassed their height.
The Chrysler Building is a classic example of Art Deco architecture and considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in New York City. In 2007, it was ranked ninth on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects. It was the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation from 1930 until the mid-1950s, but, although the building was built and designed specifically for the car manufacturer, the corporation did not pay for the construction of it and never owned it, as Walter P. Chrysler decided to pay for it himself, so that his children could inherit it.
It is definitely more beautiful, if less iconic, than the stout Empire State Building.  It is my favorite New York building, one of the few times I'll agree with a bunch of architects.

Is Fracking Environmentally Friendly?

Walter Russell Mead makes that case:
A new report discussed in the FT claims that American shale gas production has actually reduced carbon emissions by 450 million tons over the past five years, during which fracking came into widespread use. As the report mentions, gas—mostly obtained via fracking—has grown in usage by 38 percent over the past year alone, while much dirtier coal has fallen by nearly 20 percent over the same time period. The correlation between the rise of fracking and a fall in carbon output is not a coincidence. While greens have spent years chasing a global green unicorn, America has been moving towards reducing its carbon footprint on its own, and fracking has been the centerpiece of this change.
In fact, America’s drop in carbon emissions is greater than that of any other country in the survey. Greens have often praised Europe and Australia for their foresight in adopting forward-thinking carbon-trading schemes, while chastising America for its reluctance to do the same. Yet the numbers are out, and America has actually performed better than its carbon-trading peers. From an empirical standpoint, fracking has a much better track record at reducing emissions than the current green dream.
He conveniently leaves out this:
Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer, reported that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional natural gas wells. When water with its chemical load is forced down a well to break the shale, it flows back up and is stored in large ponds or tanks. But volumes of methane also flow back up the well at the same time and are released into the atmosphere before they can be captured for use. This giant belch of "fugitive methane" can be seen in infrared videos taken at well sites.
Molecule for molecule, methane traps 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide. The effect dissipates faster, however: airborne methane remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years before being scrubbed out by ongoing chemical reactions, whereas CO2 lasts 30 to 95 years. Nevertheless, recent data from the two Cornell scientists and others indicate that within the next 20 years, methane will contribute 44 percent of the greenhouse gas load produced by the U.S. Of that portion, 17 percent will come from all natural gas operations.
Currently, pipeline leaks are the main culprit, but fracking is a quickly growing contributor. Ingraffea pointed out that although 25,000 high-volume shale-gas wells are already operating in the U.S., hundreds of thousands are scheduled to go into operation within 20 years, and millions will be operating worldwide, significantly expanding emissions and keeping atmospheric methane levels high despite the 12-year dissipation time.
He also doesn't touch potential water pollution or other issues.  As far as cleaning up carbon goes, the methane impact will be pretty significant.  But that doesn't fit with the point he was looking to make.

Churches Dying Out

Park Rapids Enterprise:
A new survey by the Association of Religion Data Archives finds that fewer people, even in highly churched North Dakota and Minnesota, are attending religious services, mostly in the traditional denominations.
In 2010, “religious adherents” made up 67 percent of North Dakota’s population compared to 73 percent only a decade earlier, according to the survey released earlier this month.
Adherents include members of religious groups, whether they attended services regularly or not, and close family of members; some groups do not consider children full members, some do, and the study sought to standardize its count.
The main denominations in North Dakota – two Catholic dioceses and two corresponding synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – each have around 165,000 adherents, representing together half the state population but 73 percent of the religious adherents.
And each body lost nearly 7 percent of its people in the decade ended in 2010.
In Minnesota, adherents made up 56 percent of the population compared to 62 percent a decade earlier.
The same two denominations dominate in Minnesota, but the Catholic Church had 1.2 million adherents and the ELCA 738,000, together making up about a third of the population and 60 percent of adherents. Catholic membership fell nearly 9 percent and ELCA membership fell nearly 14 percent.
Nationwide, adherents made up 49 percent of the population compared to 50 percent a decade earlier. The Catholic Church lost 5 percent of its membership and the ELCA 18 percent.
If churches are getting hit hard in the highly churched areas, they are getting crushed in the less churched areas.  Demographically, if churches can't attract younger people, they will literally slowly die out.  At least on the Catholic side, there hasn't been much effort made to try to attract younger people.