Friday, August 31, 2012

Too Much Awesome


Wow. There is so much crazy there.

My favorite summary:
Jamelle Bouie @jbouie
This is a perfect representation of the campaign: an old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama.

More Fourth Cutting Fun

The haybine made it through fourth cutting, but the baler has been struggling.  Yesterday, my help didn't make it out, so I was driving the tractor, then stopping, and stacking the bales when one was about to fall off of the wagon.  About halfway through the field, the wagon bounced up and got hung up on the chute.  When I turned, the chute got broken.  So I welded that up last night (very ugly weld), and tried again today, so I could beat the rain.  About 25 bales in, the yoke holding the U-joint on the drive shaft let loose.  Meanwhile, all the bouncing across the field made the bale stack unsteady.  First, I ran the baler home, and took off the broken parts.  While I was there, one of the neighbors whose house butts up to my field came down and told me that if I ever needed somebody to drive the tractor, her husband would be happy to do it.  Then when I hauled the wagon down the road to the other farm, I saw a baleI lost the day before about a mile and a half from home, and about 300 yards later, I lost a bale off of my wagon.  So I stopped, and started walking up the road to retrieve the two bales.  A neighbor from about a mile away, whom I'd never met before, stopped and asked if I needed any help.  I told them no, that I just had to pick up a couple of bales.  They went on, and I kept walking.  Then I heard a door behind me, and saw that they had stopped at the second bale and thrown it on the trunk of their car.  Then I heard the whine of the transmission as they drove in reverse to get back to me.  They got there, the guy had me load the second bale on top of the first one, then he drove me back to the wagon and helped me carry the bales around to load up.  There are a lot of good people out there, even if you aren't looking for help.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More Gold Standard Debunking

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
As Paul Krugman says, Europe has replicated the worst features of interwar Gold with monetary union. EMU is a D-mark peg instead of a dollar peg. No matter. The mechanism of debt-deflation torture for entire societies is much the same.
You could say that human folly and wickedness debauched the beautiful Gold Standard in the interwar years, but to concede that is to concede the argument. It is to admit that gold does not in fact prevent politicians running amok. It is just another monetary Maginot Line.
Ah yes, but what about 19th century gold, the heyday of the global trade boom that ended in 1914?
It certainly worked better. Governments were smaller. The welfare expectations of democracy were lower, and a number of key countries were not democratic at all. It is was easier for the Bank of England to run a pure global system in concert with a handful of like-minded central banks.
But it did not lead to better growth or even to stable prices. The peak to trough oscillations in prices (inflation to deflation) were arguably greater.
Just like supply-side economics, the gold standard doesn't work.  History proves the case in each, but the true believers continue to believe.  At times, it would be nice if there was a rapture to remove the true believers from this flying rock.

The Repugnant Rich

Mike Lofgren:
The conjoining of wealth, Christian morality, and the American way of life reached an apotheosis in Bruce Barton’s 1925 book The Man Nobody Knows. The son of a Congregationalist minister, Barton, who was an advertising executive, depicted Jesus as a successful salesman, publicist, and the very role model of the modern businessman.
But this peculiarly American creed took a severe hit after the crash of 1929, and wealth ceased to be equated with godliness. While the number of Wall Street suicides has been exaggerated in national memory, Jesse Livermore, perhaps the most famous of the Wall Street speculators, shot himself, and so did several others of his profession. There was then still a lingering old-fashioned sense of shame now generally absent from the ├╝ber-rich. While many of the elites hated Franklin Roosevelt—consider the famous New Yorker cartoon wherein the rich socialite tells her companions, “Come along. We’re going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Roosevelt”—most had the wit to make a calculated bet that they would have to give a little of their wealth, power, and prestige to retain the rest, particularly with the collapsing parliamentary systems of contemporary Europe in mind. Even a bootlegging brigand like Joe Kennedy Sr. reconciled himself to the New Deal.
And so it lasted for a generation: the wealthy could get more wealth—fabulous fortunes were made in World War II; think of Henry J. Kaiser—but they were subject to a windfall-profits tax. And tycoons like Kaiser constructed the Hoover Dam and liberty ships rather than the synthetic CDOs that precipitated the latest economic collapse. In the 1950s, many Republicans pressed Eisenhower to lower the prevailing 91 percent top marginal income tax rate, but citing his concerns about the deficit, he refused. In view of our present $15 trillion gross national debt, Ike was right.
Characteristic of the era was the widely misquoted and misunderstood statement of General Motors CEO and Secretary of Defense Charles E. “Engine Charlie” Wilson, who said he believed “what was good for the country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” He expressed, however clumsily, the view that the fates of corporations and the citizenry were conjoined. It is a view a world away from the present regime of downsizing, offshoring, profits without production, and financialization. The now-prevailing Milton Friedmanite economic dogma holds that a corporation that acts responsibly to the community is irresponsible. Yet somehow in the 1950s the country eked out higher average GDP growth rates than those we have experienced in the last dozen years.
It amazes me that average people support these assholes.  Sometime, that tide will turn, and then things will get ugly.  I don't think the rich will have any qualms about their security goons firing randomly into the angry mobs.  These people are pretty ballsy and completely detached from the real world of normal people.  The whole article is worth reading, but the difference between the rich of the 1933-1980 world from the rich of the 1980-present world is striking.

The Morrill Act And College Football

Charles Pierce:
In the 1850s, a representative from Vermont latched onto an idea that had been floating around Congress for a while. The country was expanding westward and he believed education should expand with it, especially in the fields of agriculture and manufacturing. He grabbed onto the idea of "granting" each state a certain portion of federal land in return for which the state would establish a university that would provide its citizens with an education "related to agriculture and the mechanical arts." Unfortunately, the country was falling apart and, in one of his very few decisive moments in office, President James Buchanan vetoed the bill in 1859. Undaunted, the representative filed it again three years later. By this time, Abraham Lincoln was president and secession had removed the states most opposed to the idea. So, in 1862, 150 years ago, in the middle of the Civil War, which was not going at all well for the Union, Congress passed a law making the idea a reality. Seven years later, with the country patched back together again, another law was passed that presented the same deal to the states that had seceded. (It also provided for similar colleges to be set up for the descendants of the recently freed slaves.) So, on the 150th anniversary of his great achievement, we rise to pay tribute to Justin Smith Morrill, whose name was forever attached to the laws that created America's land-grant colleges.
Justin Smith Morrill, the unsung father of American college football.
I am absolutely serious about this. Without land-grant colleges either founded with the help of Morrill Act or energized through the legislation, we would lose 13 of the teams listed in this year's preseason AP Top 25, including LSU. There would only be four teams left among the 12 members of the Big 10. The Big 12 would basically be cut in half, and the SEC would be contesting its football championship among Alabama, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. Michigan is not a land-grant university, but Michigan State is. Iowa is not, but Iowa State is. Oklahoma is not, but Oklahoma State is. Auburn is a land-grant school in Alabama, and Texas A&M, as should be obvious from its name, is a land-grant university in Texas. West Virginia would not have been there to join the Big 12, and Missouri would not have been there to get whacked around by its new rivals in the SEC. We would lose not only the huge football factories, but also a great many historically black colleges and universities, including Southern, Alcorn State, and Tennessee State. Without Justin Morrill and his really good idea, college football might still be the province of the Ivy League, various private schools around the country, an odd lot of traditional powers, and Northwestern. Without Justin Morrill and his really good idea, the NFL draft would be about one day long.
The man makes a good point, and honors one of the unsung heroes of the middle class in the United States.  It is definitely notable in a year where the party which supposedly was the home of Justin Smith Morrill is busy pointing out that "We Built That," supposedly without the help of the U.S. Government, even though the vast majority of college graduates in this country graduated from a state college.  

The Idiocy of the Ryan-Rand World

Leon Wieseltier:

WHAT, THEN, is so terrible about self-reliance? Nothing, unless it is promoted into an absolutism, into a cult of sacred egotism, into an “Invictus”-like illusion. (That is another classic of ego-swelling adolescent literature.) The more people do for themselves, the better. The more they assume responsibility for the course of their lives, the better. Who denies these noble banalities? Our agency is the clearest expression of our freedom. We possess extraordinary powers. It is miraculous what the works of human hands have accomplished, except that it is the opposite of miracle, because we are not supernatural beings.
But Ryan’s concept of self-reliance, the gospel of John Galt (“you are your own highest value ... as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul ...”), is devoid of all humility—it is the very vainglory against which the Bible, Ryan’s ultimate book, warned. My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth! Ryan may have disavowed Rand’s atheism, but he has not quite escaped her revolt against human finitude, her deification of the individual. This radical individualism is a delusion of impotence made over into a delusion of omnipotence.
It is also, analytically, a colossal mistake. The splendid isolation of the trader, the builder, the innovator, the entrepreneur, the superman, does not exist. It is one of the many flattering legends that successful people in this country devise about themselves. (Like the legend that success is a proof of personal virtue.) The individual—even the individualist individual—is always situated densely in the customs and the conventions of society. Where is Burke when you need him? And where are the otherwise ubiquitous metaphors of the network and the web? If, for conservatives, the market can serve as a model for society, surely it is because the market is web-like, society-wide, a social entity, a thicket of bonds and connections and influences in which creativity flourishes not least because it is enabled and implemented by others who, gratefully or opportunistically, recognize it. Competition is itself a kind of social compact, and in this sense a kind of cooperation.
Yes, even the markets are a society of people who have to cooperate.  But maybe that is one of the major reasons our financial and economic systems are in a shambles.  Too many people are acting in an unenlightened self-interest, instead of the enlightened self-interest that Henry Ford showed when he bid up his workers' wages.  Are people too unwilling to help somebody else out, knowing those same people might help them out too?  When we can close ourselves off in a hermetically sealed world where we only interact with people like ourselves, I can see that we might fall into that trap.  But that is what it is, a trap.  The Ryan philosophy is a really weak justification for pure selfishness, nothing more.  Trying to combine that selfishness with any form of Christianity seriously damages both capitalism and Christianity.  But that doesn't stop Ryan or the GOP.

Assholes

Politico:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is asking President Barack Obama for more federal help as Tropical Storm Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast, urging him to reimburse Louisiana for the full cost of its preparations.
“Given the extraordinary developments of this storm and its approaching impact on the State of Louisiana, I ask that you exercise your discretion to approve the State’s pending request for all emergency protective measures,” Jindal, a Republican, wrote in a letter to Obama. “Further, I ask that you consider a cost-share adjustment to eliminate the State’s non-federal share of the costs for this event.”
Obama’s original disaster declaration, issued Monday, doesn’t cover the expenses Louisiana is racking up as it prepares for Isaac, according to Jindal’s letter. Louisiana has already spent $8 million, Jindal wrote. The declaration provides for direct federal assistance, for which the state will bear 25 percent of the cost.
“A core responsibility of the federal government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens when threatened,” Jindal wrote. “This disaster declaration will help ensure that we best protect life and property in our state.”
What happened to self-reliance you sack of shit?  Seriously, how can this guy say a fucking word.  I agree that the federal government s hould help the state of Louisiana out, but it takes a whole lot of self-unawareness to be spouting, "We Built This" (which in the case of levees around New Orleans they didn't) and then pivot on a dime and say give me what's mine (or maybe more).  It kind of reminds me of some story in the Bible about a Prodigal Son or something, except the Prodigal Son story ends before the son tells the Old Man to fuck off after the party ends.  Now I realize I might sound like the Prodigal Son's brother, and I appreciate that fact.  But how in the fuck can this clown make the case that the federal government ought to pay for all of Louisiana's storm preparations?  This party has been making the case that the federal government does everything wrong, but a storm comes and one of the kingpins has his fucking hand out.  I think that takes some serious nerve.  Why can't Republicans face the fact that the federal government, and government in general, does a lot of valuable things for our society, and that we have to pay more than we may like in taxes to keep making those valuable things happen.  It isn't that hard to understand, is it?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NightFall

NightFall from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

The Racial Battle

Via the Dish, James Bennet discusses the role of race in this campaign:
The math is inexorable, and it points, as Brownstein wrote, "to the depth of racial polarization shadowing this election." This unsettling reality about our politics is often, strangely, left unexplored (with some notable exceptions) even as its effects are constantly discussed, and even celebrated, at least by political professionals. On Monday, in an interesting conversation with Politico's Mike Allen, Karl Rove observed that "Obama has no chance of carrying Indiana." Rove then recounted a conversation that he said he had had over dinner last spring with Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels:
And I said, 'Mitch, is there a white Democrat south of Indianapolis who's supporting Obama who's not a college professor in Bloomington?' [Laughter] And he stopped for a minute over his green beans and says, 'Not that I can think of.' You know, Indiana's gone.
Well thank God I'm not in Indiana, but I guess I'm not a Democrat anyway.  I'll pull the lever for Obama as opposed to the retread morons of the Republican party.  I don't understand how somebody's solution to our economic problems after a decade of tax cuts and deregulation is more of each.  It didn't work before, it made things worse, and yet more is better.  Shut the fuck up, that is stupid.  I think I'll avoid watching the Republican National Convention this week, I don't need to have a stroke.  But as for the race card, Republicans are going to play it to the hilt (although a reasonable case can be made that Biden was also playing it).  If you thought 2008 was ugly, this year is really going to be ugly. 

Fracking Pollution?

Don't worry, the industry says it doesn't happen:
Mike and Nancy Leighton's problems began on May 19, just as Mike was settling in to watch the Preakness Stakes. A neighbor in Leroy Township, Pa., called Mike and told him to check the water well located just outside his front door.
"I said, 'I'll be down in 15 minutes.' I wanted to see the race," Leighton said. But as the horses were racing, Leighton's well was overflowing. Typically, there's between 80 to 100 feet of head space between the top of the well and its water supply. But when Leighton went outside, the water was bubbling over the top.
Down the road, Ted and Gale Franklin's water well had gone dry. When water started coming out later that week, the liquid was "black as coal," according to Gale.
Since then, both families have been dealing with methane-contaminated water supplies, as well as dozens of mysterious, flammable gas puddles bubbling up on their properties.
Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection blames a nearby hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operation. It says methane gas has leaked out of the well, which is operated by Chesapeake Energy, and into the Leightons' and Franklins' water supplies.
The danger goes beyond contaminated water. In a letter to both families detailing test results and preliminary findings, state regulators wrote that "there is a physical danger of fire or explosion due to the migration of natural gas water wells." Chesapeake has installed ventilation systems at the two water wells, but the letter warns, "it is not possible to completely eliminate the hazards of having natural gas in your water supply by simply venting your well."
Considering that methane is 20 times stronger as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the reduced carbon dioxide from burning natural gas instead of coal doesn't matter as much when you've got lots of fugitive methane emissions from fracking.  But hey, at least we don't have to go without air conditioning or anything.  Despite the temptation of riches, I'm glad this area isn't a fracking hot spot.  Let them screw over the folks in Appalachia, I'm ok here.

Who Is A Stakeholder In Environmental Regulation?

Bleeding Heartland makes an interesting point:
Branstad's Executive Order 80 (pdf), also signed on August 20, will give business interests new influence in administrative rule-making. The "whereas" clauses speak of increasing "public participation" in rule-making to "reform burdensome rules and prevent overregulation or red tape."
Iowa already provides for public input during administrative rule-making, but Branstad considers "stakeholder groups" an "effective way for government to interact with those who are affected by regulations." To that end,
1. Each agency shall create a stakeholder rulemaking group for a specific rulemaking if requested to do so by the head of the agency or the Administrative Rules Coordinator in the office of the Governor ("Administrative Rules Coordinator"). 2. Creation of Stakeholder Group: The Stakeholder rulemaking group shall be appointed by the agency, in consultation with the Administrative Rules Coordinator. [...] Membership in the group is in the sole discretion of the agency. The group shall consist of stakeholders that can adequately represent the varying interests that will be significantly affected by any contemplated draft rule proposal [...] The stakeholder rules group is an advisory group only and is not an agency for rulemaking purposes. [...]
5. Public Input: A stakeholder rulemaking group shall receive public comment and input and deliberate on the desirability and content of any rule it may recommend to the agency for adoption.
6. Results: After the stakeholder rulemaking group has completed its work, its recommendations, if any, shall be forwarded to the agency with rulemaking authority. The agency shall consider any recommendation of the rulemaking group and if the agency decides to initiate rulemaking on the basis of such a recommendation it must do so pursuant to the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act (Iowa Code Chapter 17A).
"Stakeholder" can be understood broadly to mean "one who is involved in or affected by a course of action." By way of example, if the Department of Natural Resources considers a new air quality rule, I would define the stakeholder group to include members of the public at risk of respiratory illnesses and those living downwind of the emitting enterprises, along with the potentially regulated business owners.
If the DNR considers a new rule regarding runoff from agricultural facilities, I would define water utilities and citizens who rely on public drinking water as stakeholders, along with the potentially regulated farm owners. It is "burdensome" for hundreds of thousands of Des Moines Water Works customers to cover the cost of the world's largest nitrate removal system.
Don't expect a lot of input from the 99% on that stakeholder group.  I'd never heard of the Des Moines Water Works nitrate removal system.  But hey, water that can kill infants isn't that big of a deal anyway.  All I can say is that business owners must be the most successful crybabies in the history of mankind. You would think they could barely make a living, what with our terrible regulations and taxes, and yet, they seem to be doing pretty good.  I just don't understand.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fourth Cutting

I got my hay mowed for the fourth time this year.  I didn't know if I would get it done before my haybine gave out, but I made it.  A newer haybine, or dare I dream, discbine, is on the wish list this fall.  Hopefully the crop insurance check makes it.

More On Gold Standard Nonsense

Washington Post, via Ritholtz:
So, to recap, in 1981, amidst a serious inflation problem, Reagan created a commission to study a gold standard. You couldn’t have picked a more sympathetic president, or a more sympathetic moment, to the gold standard. And they still rejected it.
Now fast forward 30 years. There’s no inflation problem. The head of the Federal Reserve was originally appointed by George W. Bush and is credited by most observers as having headed off a potential Great Depression through creative monetary policy. And so what does the Republican Party want to do? Well, according to a draft of the party’s platform, they want another Gold Commission.
You might dismiss this as a meaningless capitulation to Ron Paul’s delegates. But that’s not what Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chair of the GOP’s platform committee, says. “These were adopted because they are things that Republicans agree on,” Blackburn told the Financial Times. “The House recently passed a bill on this, and this is something that we think needs to be done.”
One of those House Republicans is Paul Ryan. To my knowledge, Ryan has not, in fact, endorsed a gold standard. He’s too smart for that. Instead, he endorsed something that sounds better than a gold standard but is functionally identical. “The best way to guarantee sound money is to use an explicit, market-based price guide, such as a basket of commodities, in setting monetary policy,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
And no, I don't think Paul Ryan is too smart to endorse a gold standard.  I don't think he's all that smart at all.  If we see a deflation of commodity prices, we get deflationary tight money.  That makes a hell of a lot of sense.  Seriously, stable money should benefit people with lots of money already, not all the people with tons of debt.  It isn't too hard to figure out.  Republicans are looking out for the folks with the most money already, everybody else be damned.  God help us if they get in charge of things.

Semen Power

The Big Think, via nc links:
Gregg Adams, lead author of the paper, discovered that a protein called the ovulation-inducing factor (OIF) sends a signal to the female brain to release hormones.  Those hormones then set up the body to ovulate, no matter where in her cycle that female might be.  He first saw it 10 years ago in camels.  And since this protein is also one that's been shown to play an important role in normal neuron function, he was intrigued.
Adams and colleagues have now shown that this protein helps to stimulate ovulation in other mammals including llamas, koalas, rabbits and cats, elegantly documenting how OIF signals the brain to cue up ovulation.
I find this study very interesting (and, as a woman, admittedly, vaguely frightening).  This work, of course, has potential implications for our understanding of fertility and infertility--and may also identify new targets for contraception.  It might also explain a lot of so-called "Ooops" babies.
Interesting.  That could put a hurting on the rhythm method.  Not much protection if the body can be made to ovulate.  Of course, much of the evidence was that it didn't work anyway.  But how would a bunch of celibate males know anyway?

Arctic Sea Ice At Record Low

Scientific American:

 The cap of ice that sits atop the North Pole has shrunk to a record extent—and there is likely still more melting to come before the end of the summer of 2012. As of August 26, Arctic sea ice extent had shrunk to 4.1 million square kilometers, below the previous record minimum of 4.17 million square kilometers set on September 18, 2007.
A burst of melting in early August appears to have been the cause, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. At present, the sea ice seems to be losing an area  the size of South Carolina each day—roughly 75,000 square kilometers—nearly double the usual rate observed in satellite images since 1979.
A record warm winter followed by the hottest summer on record, yeah, that probably figures into record melting.

The Paranoia of the Right

Conor Friedersdorf says they are worried about the wrong things:
Maybe there's just no use in applying reason to the ramblings of a nut, but I find it so fascinating that the object of fear for this guy is the dread United Nations. He's a paranoid conspiracy theorist, and the fact that the executive branch is literally spying on American citizens, putting them on secret kill lists, and invoking the state secrets privilege to hide their actions doesn't even merit a mention. (Obviously I don't think the Obama Administration is not going to order U.N. troops into Texas, or that it's going to use existing legal authority to kill Judge Head. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if his private emails or phone calls have been spied upon).

The far right is ideologically opposed to the United Nations, to various federal agencies, and to executive branch czars. And until you get to the extreme fringe, the right is enthusiastic about the military, the CIA, sweeping executive power in foreign affairs, and leeway for the president any time he invokes terrorism. In today's world, the latter mechanisms are clearly the ones that most empower the president and afford any president the most worrisome opportunity for horrific abuses.

Being ideologues, they worry more about their longtime bogeymen anyway. And so a demographic that should be invested in protecting civil liberties often wastes its time on nonsense.
I've got to agree with him.  I don't understand where people come up with their bogeymen, but seriously, does anybody think the United Nations could do anything without the help of the US?  And seriously, the Social Security Administration is buying bullets?  Really?  For who, their army? People say the craziest things.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Fastest Electric Motorcycle

Wired reviews the Brammo Empulse R electric motorcycle:
Riding the two motorcycles head-to-head on Ashland’s twisty, technical Green Springs Highway, it was the Triumph that had to work hard, using its extra power to keep up. That’s because the Brammo steers faster, holds a line with more stability and inspires considerably more confidence in its rider.
It achieves that through higher quality, fully adjustable suspension and lightweight forged-aluminum wheels, of course, but also the inherent benefits of an electric drivetrain.
On a traditional bike, heavy components like the gas tank, gearbox and cylinders are spread out over a larger area as defined by their necessary mechanical relationship. But electrics can keep their heavy batteries virtually anywhere and mount their engine and gearbox in the optimal location.
Brammo has maximized this advantage, squashing the drivetrain’s area into as centralized a position as possible, limiting the effect its weight has on handling. That’s a trick ICE race bikes and their road-going replicas are increasingly employing as well, but what the Empulse does that no ICE bike ever could is remove the impact reciprocating inertia and vibration have on handling and feel.
There are a lot of options for efficiency improvements in both motorcycles and cars.  Hopefully, the research will pay off.

Why Is The Gold Standard Such A Bad Idea

One word, deflation:
It's hard to understand why conservatives have been so up in arms about quantitative easing when you look at the reality. Yes, the Fed has expanded its balance sheet to unprecedented levels, but if it hadn't done that prices would probably be falling a bit now. But how will the Fed eventually mop up all this liquidity it's created -- hasn't it lit the fuse of an inflation time-bomb? No. The Fed can increase the interest it pays on reserves, do reverse repos, or use term deposit facilities to prevent banks from lending out too much money, if it comes to that.

The gold standard is a solution in search of a problem. Actually, it's worse than that. It's a problem in search of a problem. Prices would have to fall a great deal if we adopted the gold standard today. In other words, it would turn the imagined problem of price stability into a real problem of price stability. And, of course, this ensuing deflation would send the economy into a death spiral due to still high levels of household debt.

Whether it's 1896 or 2012, it doesn't make sense to crucify our economy on a cross of gold.
Why conservatives are pushing this poppycock, I just don't understand.

Things Government Does Better Than You

The American Prospect lists five things (h/t Ritholtz).  Considering the drought and likely aid to farmers, this one stood out to me:

Disaster Relief

Conservative arguments against funding FEMA hold that local communities are better at cleaning up after widespread destruction than the government. After tornadoes tore through southeastern Missouri last May, FEMA was facing a funding shortfall and deficit-obsessed House Republicans, led by Ryan’s physical and ideological twin Eric Cantor, argued that lawmakers would have to cut money elsewhere before raising FEMA’s budget. Russ Carnahan, a Democratic representative from Missouri, responded in a way that nicely summed up the sentiment after Cantor’s comments when he said, “[T]o have that debate in the face of the suffering we’ve seen in Joplin is just plain wrong.”
The problems with disaster insurance are similar to the problems with health insurance: Only people who think their house might be flooded bother to buy flood insurance, so the insurance companies risk going broke paying out all of their customers every time it floods. In general, the federal government has many more resources at its disposal than states and communities do. Damage from catastrophic events runs in the billions of dollars and devastates local economies, so states not only have to step up their spending to help hurting communities, but take a hit in tax revenues as well. Keeping the federal government in charge of disaster relief spreads risk out over the entire country, and ensures that victims in poor states—basically every state in Tornado Alley—get as much help as residents of wealthier states would.
Spreading costs over the entire population makes sense, whether it is disaster relief or health care.  But it is clear that coastal areas with tremendous hurricane risk and towns in Tornado Alley benefit from this more than some other places.

Sad Stories From The Drought

CNN talks with Missouri dairymen forced to sell their herds:
It took only 30 minutes for an auctioneer to sell Mark Argall's 33 cows.
As rain pattered on the metal roof of the auction barn, they were showcased one by one behind a metal fence and in front of a 100-person crowd. Bright lights hung over the scene. An announcer offered motorboat-speed commentary, jabbering about weight and price and quality of their coats. Two men with long metal sticks smacked a wall of the cage and poked the cattle to try to keep them spinning like ballerinas for the buyers, who selected cattle by making almost imperceptible motions -- a wink, the tap of a finger.
All of it was, of course, difficult for Argall to watch. He chewed on the tip of a pen and sighed as Bionce, Cupcake, Maggie Mae ("You ever hear of Rod Stewart?" he said) and the rest earned less than half what they would have before this drought.
"They're not just numbers on a computer," he said. "They're members of the family."
His wife, Jeanette Argall, took it harder. She fled to her sister's house in Arizona that week so she wouldn't have to be around for the sale.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

August 25:

Perseid over Albrechtsberg Castle
Image Credit & Copyright: Sebastian Voltmer
Explanation: Medieval Albrechtsberg castle is nestled in trees near the northern bank of the river Pielach and the town of Melk, Austria. In clearing night skies on August 12 it stood under constellations of the northern summer, including Aquarius, Aquila, and faint, compact Delphinus (above and right of center) in this west-looking skyview. The scene also captures a bright meteor above the castle walls. Part of the annual perseid meteor shower, its trail points back toward the heroic constellation Perseus high above the horizon in the early morning hours. Entering the atmosphere at about 60 kilometers per second, perseid meteors are swept up dust grains from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle.

First Practical Maser Built

Scientific American:
Using spare chemicals, a laser bought on eBay and angst from a late-night argument, physicists have got the world's first room-temperature microwave laser working.
The achievement comes nearly 60 years after the first clunky versions of such devices were built, and could revolutionize communication and space exploration. The work is published this week in Nature.
Before there were lasers, there were microwave lasers, or masers. First conceived in the Soviet Union and the United States during the 1950s, early maser machines were the size of a chest of drawers. They produced only a few nanowatts of power, severely limiting their usefulness.
Because of this impediment, most in the field gave up on masers and moved on to lasers, which use the same principles of physics, but work with optical light instead of microwaves. Lasers are now used in applications ranging from eye surgery to CD players.
The story is pretty interesting.  Guy comes up with idea, goes out and buys a laser, and bang, it works when he fires it up.

American Condom History

The Comstock Act made the burgeoning condom market illegal in 1873:
Condom production ballooned after 1839, when Charles Goodyear’s method of rubber vulcanization kick-started modern latex technologies in the United States. By 1870, condoms were available through almost any outlet you can imagine–drug suppliers, doctors, pharmacies, dry-goods retailers and mail-order houses. It may seem suprising today, but sexual products were openly sold and distributed during much of the 19th century. Then, suddenly, in 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Act, which paralyzed the growing industry; Comstock made it illegal to send any “article of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever for the prevention of conception” through the mail.
Jim Edmonson, chief curator at the Dittrick Medical History Center, explains that the law was passed primarily because of a vicious campaign by its namesake, Anthony Comstock. “He was a do-gooder, a reformer, and a religious-minded person,” says Edmonson. “Comstock had been to the Civil War, and was outraged by the sexual excess of soldiers–large numbers of men away from home and church–and the women who made their trade with these soldiers. Comstock felt that condoms and any other forms of contraception were just a license to sexual excess.”
Ostensibly designed to prevent the sale of obscene literature and pornography, the Comstock Act effectively made any form of contraception illegal in the United States, punishable as a misdemeanor with a six-month minimum prison sentence. “So we had a national law criminalizing contraception,” says Edmonson. “It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.”
Comstock’s crusade was aimed at commercialized vice, visible in the red-light districts, erotic paraphernalia, and birth-control products easily accessed in cities like New York during the 1860s. Fearing the widespread corruption of young uneducated minds, Comstock particularly sought to reform salacious newspaper advertising and the illicit mail-order marketplace it supported.
I didn't realize all that.

Desalinization Booms

Bloomberg (h/t nc links):
Investment in installations that make drinking water from the sea will jump to a record in 2016 from $5 billion last year and $8.9 billion in 2012, according to forecasts by Global Water Intelligence, an industry consultant. While that’s a fraction of spending on carbon-free energy generation, it’s gaining traction among managers of environmental services funds.
“Water right now is a strain on this planet more than carbon,” Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said in an interview this month in London. “We mismanage water terribly. It’s going to be a big issue.”
Prompting the boom is technology that uses less energy to create potable water as well as a crush of companies entering an industry and driving down costs. From France’s Veolia Environnement SA (VIE) to IDE Technologies Ltd. of Israel and Hyflux Ltd. (HYF) of Singapore, competition to make money from duplicating the Earth’s water cycle is pushing shares of the companies in the water industry near their 2007 highs....
Reverse osmosis has about 45 percent of the market, with traditional distillation being the main technology used in most of the remainder, New Energy Finance estimates.
A new process called forward osmosis works at lower pressures using less heat and power than so-called RO facilities and may take market share within 10 years, said Robert McGinnis, founder of Oasys Water Inc., a Boston company whose equipment is being used by American oil and gas producers.
Modern Water Plc (MWG), a British purveyor of forward osmosis equipment, estimates the technology could cut the cost of desalinating by as much as 30 percent.
“This is the next big step forward,” said Neil McDougall, chairman of the company, which has built small plants from Gibraltar to Oman. McGinnis of Oasys says the technology will be “hugely transformative.”
 Water will be one of the big issues of the 21st century, which will put the Midwest in an enviable position.

A Good Way To Remember

Neil Armstrong's family makes a suggestion for how to remember him:
The family issued a statement on Saturday, including this suggestion:
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."
I didn't realize he was a professor at UC.

The Red Sox As The Soviet Union

Nicholas Thompson:
Leaving moral and political issues aside—this isn’t about right or wrong, but about models of disintegration—and admitting that the stakes of the great Pedro versus Clemens battles were lower than those between Khrushchev and Kennedy, the Red Sox of 2012 are, in fact, quite a bit like the U.S.S.R. in 1989. They tried to keep up financially, and intellectually, with their rival for many years. Glasnost has passed; the end is here. Ben Cherrington, the new general manager of the Red Sox, to stretch the analogy, is Gorbachev. He started in the job this year, and tried to clean up the mess. But he was stymied by the old guard—including owners who foisted the current, and awful, manager, Bobby Valentine—on him, and now he has to move drastically. Crawford is like Kazakhstan, expensive but troubled; Beckett is Georgia, valuable but liable to start a war; Nick Punto, the throw-in utility infielder is Moldova; Gonzalez, the valuable breadbasket, is the Ukraine. And John Lackey, the grumpy pitcher who stays behind, is now Chechnya. Historians will debate who ruined the wonderful Red Sox of the past decade: was it the general manager, Theo Epstein, who fled last fall? Was it Beckett, the main perpetrator of the beer-and-chicken shenanigans? Did Johnny Damon, the charismatic center fielder, who departed for the Yankees, leave a curse? Some people would pick Bobby Valentine—but to me, he’s just Yeltsin, the disruptive, late arrival. The man who really did it is Brian Cashman, the canny general manager of the Yankees (and the most aptly named man in sports, besides Lance Armstrong). He is Ronald Reagan: the man who kept spending and spending, driving the Red Sox into delirium and then oblivion.
That is a funny and apt comparison, but I will always see the Yankees as the evil empire.  To me, the Red Sox and the Yankees are more like Iran and Iraq, two combatants who I feel each should lose.  But honestly, what were the Red Sox thinking bringing Bobby Valentine in to manage?  I don't get that at all.