Saturday, March 9, 2013

Looks Like A Good Time

I feel like watching The Blues Brothers.

A Real Mess

The Manhattan Institute highlights the bad moves made by CalPERS which put California's finances in jeopardy.  The Manhattan Institute has a pretty big axe to grind, but the problems highlighted are easily recognizable in both the public and private sector.  Greed, self-dealing, misleading promises, ridiculous investment performance expections, stupid bubble investments.  It is a good example of all that is wrong in the FIRE sector.  The Manhattan Institute intends for the report to be an indictment of big government, public sector workers and unions, and public pensions, but I see it more as an indictment of our economy and our national fixation with getting something for nothing.  It is definitely worth reading, in spite of the slant.  But keep in mind that it is sponsored by one group of special interests who want more of the pie going to another group of special interests.  Nobody has clean hands in this mess except for the little people, and we can be faulted for not being more engaged in the functions of our society.

Logging Safety Public Service Announcement

Don't get lazy and sloppy with your back cut.  It is hard to tell from the photo I took on my not-so-smart phone, but the tree ended up 90 degrees from where it should have, and the butt of the log ended up behind the stump and about 4 feet from where it should have.    Luckily, I was able to stay the hell out of the way, but it definitely wasn't an example of fine woodsmanship.

A better example:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fish Fry #2

Hey, it talks about a fish fry:

The Manufacturing Recovery

Ain't all that:

Bruce Steinberg puts the past decade (or 5) of Employment data into a bigger context, detailing in particular the impact of Manufacturing Jobs:
“Manufacturing, which declined 16.6% or about 2,270,000 jobs, from January 2008 to January 2010, were up 4.3%, or about 500,000 jobs, from January 2010 from January 2013.
But, let’s put it into a little perspective and go back to 1945 when there were about 15.7 million manufacturing jobs, which represented about 37.4%  of all nonfarm jobs. In the 1950s, it was 30.4%; 27.4% in the 1960s, 23.0% in the 1970s, 18.5% in the 1980s, 14.8% in the 1990s, 10.9% in the 2000s, and 8.9% in the 2010s, which is the current level.
Interestingly, although the level had pretty much declined — there were a few exceptions when it rose — by a tenth of a percent every few months since 1945, it has remained unchanged at 8.9% since August 2009. (Incidentally, some research in the 1980s determined that some of the decline in manufacturing employment was due to manufacturers filling their jobs with workers from the services sector, such as temporary help services. However, the portion was relatively minor and did not materially affect the trend of declining manufacturing employment.)
I wish that manufacturing recovery matched the hype, but then again, I wish most things matched the hype.  While I doubt it, maybe shale oil and gas will be able to match the hype.  Maybe.

The Papal Favorites

Via The Dish, Micah Cohen looks at the oddsmakers' favorites for Bishop of Rome:

The odds may well change — and there is certainly no guarantee that any of the oddsmakers’ favorites will actually become the next pope — but currently, four of the top six contenders are from Italy, including Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, who leads the list with an average betting line implying a 23 percent chance of becoming pope. The high ranking of Italian cardinals should not be a surprise. While neither of the last two popes was Italian, before Poland’s John Paul II was elected in 1978 the last non-Italian pope was Adrian VI of the Netherlands, who was elected in 1552.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, at 22 percent, is right behind Cardinal Scola. Cardinal Turkson may have hurt hist chances, however, by giving a recent interview to The Daily Telegraph of London that was seen by some as presumptuous.
I have to say, I expect the Italians will fall prey to the same problem that plagues teammates in baseball MVP voting, splitting the vote.  That's why I favor Schonborn and Oullet.  I think Turkson will fall prey to the racism of elderly whites, who are overly represented amongst the College of Cardinals.  I would expect Scherer to be a dark horse, since he hails from a major emerging market, and isn't quite as dark-skinned as Turkson.  I don't mean to take anything away from Turkson, I'm just extrapolating from my experience with elderly people.

I also didn't realize this:
Betting on the papal succession goes back centuries. In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV forbade Catholics from betting on the election of a pope or the length of pope’s term in office. According to Dr. Edward N. Peters, canonist at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, however, Gregory’s edict was part of an older system of canon law that was abrogated in 1918 (which is not to say the Catholic Church would now recommend wagering on the next pope).
Thank God that edict was rescinded.

A Short Term Setback or a Sign of Global Warming

A Cargill beef packing house in Plainview, Texas closes because the region's cattle population has dropped so precipitously during the last few years' drought.  The fear of the Great Plains turning back into an empty wasteland should be on the top of all the regions' residents' fears of global warming. (Is it grammatically correct to use back to back possesives?)

Remember When Big Business Was For Higher Taxes?

Me neither, but Bloomberg does:
Throughout the recent debates in Washington over whether taxes should be increased, one group has consistently maintained its opposition: the leaders of American businesses.
Large U.S. corporations haven’t always been opposed to tax increases, however. In fact, as recently as 1989, and for decades before, big companies routinely called for tax increases, even on themselves, to balance the budget.
Groups such as the Committee for Economic Development, the Business Roundtable, and even the more conservative National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called for tax increases on a number of occasions, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
In 1950, shortly after the U.S. entered the Korean War, the CED, the Chamber of Commerce and the NAM all supported increasing taxes to raise funds for the war. In March 1951, the CED recommended a $10 billion tax increase to prevent inflation. “Taxes are already very high,” the group said. “Now we need still higher taxes -- higher than we have ever had before, even at their wartime peak.”
Three years later, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower sought an extension of the wartime excess-profits tax on corporations, the CED supported the idea, drawing praise from the editorial page of the New York Times.
Later in the decade, the group supported an increase in gasoline taxes to fund the interstate highway system. In 1966, it called for a temporary increase in the income tax to counter the deficit resulting from the Vietnam War, noting that it should be of a kind that can “yield the revenue needed, that can be quickly imposed, that will be accepted by the country, and that can be easily withdrawn when the emergency has passed.”
The Business Roundtable, a group of Fortune 500 executives that, after its formation in 1973, began to replace the CED as the leading representative for big businesses, supported tax increases for individuals even as it sought reductions in corporate taxes. In response to the deficits that resulted from President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, the Roundtable called for an increase in income-tax rates, even though its high-earning members would pay a disproportionate price.
As late as 1989, after George H.W. Bush was elected president on a promise of “Read my lips, no new taxes,” Fortune magazine printed a story with the headline, “CEOs to Bush: Raise Taxes Now.” Bush did in fact acquiesce to a tax increase, a decision that many believe cost him re-election in 1992.
It was only after President George W. Bush’s tax cuts created deficits even larger than those of the Reagan years that big businesses suddenly refused to call for tax increases.
When did greed get in the way of responsible citizenship (especially from corporate "citizens")?  Apparently, not that long ago.  It sure seems like that never was the case.  Reading Rick Perlstein, you realize the NAM was into some pretty radical politicking.  But at least they were sensible about taxation through much of this time.  Ah, the good ol' days...

Has Awareness of Inequality Gone Viral?

I'm a little late to this video, but my internet was down on Wednesday:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Which I Agree With Rand Paul

While I generally think his economic policies are idiotic and extremely detrimental, I have to agree with the gist of Rand Paul's filibuster last night (with some quibbles).  Here is Conor Friedersdorf breaking down some of Paul's major points:
On the purpose of his filibuster:

"I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the CIA I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination."

Why he worries about killing within the United States:

"When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It's an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, 'no.' The president's response? He hasn't killed anyone yet. We're supposed to be comforted by that. The president says, I haven't killed anyone yet. He goes on to say, 'and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might.'

"Is that enough?

"Are we satisfied by that?

"Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a president to say he might kill Americans?"
Amen.  However, I wouldn't limit the case to just American soil, and probably not even American citizens.  But the main thing that bothered me with Paul's performance was that he accepted Eric Holder's explanation without any caveats:
 Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) saying that a drone could not be used against a noncombatant American. In response, Paul has said he the Senate should move ahead with John Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA. The vote is being held this afternoon.
The letter followed a 13-hour filibuster of Brennan by Paul and several other senators, who objected to the possibility of domestic drone strikes on U.S. citizens.
“Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil?” Holder’s letter reads. “The answer to that is no.”
Paul said Thursday afternoon that he’s happy with the response and that he urges the Senate to proceed to a vote on Brennan’s nomination.
“I’m quite happy with the answer,” Paul said. “Through the advise and consent process, I’ve got an important answer.”
 Wait a second.  If I've learned anything in the past two administrations, I don't trust words like "not engaged in combat on U.S. soil."  Who actually determines whether that individual is engaged in combat?  The President?  A jury of his peers?  A judge?  I don't know about you, but after finding out that John Fucking Yoo advises the President that he has the right to have a child's testicles crushed to extract information from him, and that isn't torture, I don't trust that Eric Holder's  28 or so words rule out attacks on innocent American citizens on U.S. soil.  While it is nice Rand Paul highlighted this issue, and while it is deplorable that almost no Democrats joined in, I think we need much more discussion on what extrajudicial powers are granted to the President under his authority as commander-in-chief.  I believe they are much more limited than the Bush and Obama administrations have argued.

And American Cardinals Are Transparent?

You know the Church has a credibility problem when you've got this:
Under pressure from Vatican-based cardinals, their American counterparts canceled their daily briefings that drew hundreds of news-starved journalists.
The clampdown was part of what is shaping up as a major confrontation over the future of the church between Vatican insiders and cardinals from the rest of the world.
Just an hour before the scheduled American briefing, an email announced it had been canceled.
In a terse statement later, the spokeswoman for the American delegation, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said "the U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency," but due to leaks in the Italian media that breached the cardinals' oath of secrecy, she said, cardinals would not be giving interviews.
Father Thomas Reese of the National Catholic Reporter says this is a perfect example of a clash of cultures.
"The American cardinals are just more used to being open and talking to the press and answering questions in public," Reese says. "Rome just doesn't like to operate this way."
At the official briefing, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was asked if the Vatican had put pressure on the American cardinals.
His reply, in translation: "This is a journey that is going on. The cardinals, as they get more into it, realize the importance of keeping things among themselves, out of respect for one another, the seriousness of their discussions, and perhaps came to the decision in that way. That is all we can say."
Okay, even crazier than the U.S. cardinals being a model of transparency is the idea that even though they won't give women religious any other responsibilities in the Church, they will make one their official spokesperson.  She is probably also their maid while in Rome.

The Case Against Corn

Scientific American makes it:
Although U.S. corn is a highly productive crop, with typical yields between 140 and 160 bushels per acre, the resulting delivery of food by the corn system is far lower. Today’s corn crop is mainly used for biofuels (roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol) and as animal feed (roughly 36 percent of U.S. corn, plus distillers grains left over from ethanol production, is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens). Much of the rest is exported.  Only a tiny fraction of the national corn crop is directly used for food for Americans, much of that for high-fructose corn syrup.
Yes, the corn fed to animals does produce valuable food to people, mainly in the form of dairy and meat products, but only after suffering major losses of calories and protein along the way. For corn-fed animals, the efficiency of converting grain to meat and dairy calories ranges from roughly 3 percent to 40 percent, depending on the animal production system in question. What this all means is that little of the corn crop actually ends up feeding American people. It’s just math. The average Iowa cornfield has the potential to deliver more than 15 million calories per acre each year (enough to sustain 14 people per acre, with a 3,000 calorie-per-day diet, if we ate all of the corn ourselves), but with the current allocation of corn to ethanol and animal production, we end up with an estimated 3 million calories of food per acre per year, mainly as dairy and meat products, enough to sustain only three people per acre. That is lower than the average delivery of food calories from farms in Bangladesh, Egypt and Vietnam.
There's a lot of other interesting data in the article.  Read the whole thing.  One thing that caught my eye towards the end was this:
 It is important to note that these criticisms of the larger corn system—a behemoth largely created by lobbyists, trade associations, big businesses and the government—are not aimed at farmers. Farmers are the hardest working people in America, and are pillars of their communities. It would be simply wrong to blame them for any of these issues. In this economic and political landscape, they would be crazy not to grow corn; farmers are simply delivering what markets and policies are demanding. What needs to change here is the system, not the farmers.
A lot of livestock farmers really work hard.  But grain farmers who concentrate on corn and soybeans?  We'll put in a lot of hours in a compressed amount of time, but hardest working people in America?  I don't know.  I think most folks would sign up for corn, soybeans and Florida.  But, hey, I'll go along with hardest working people in America, it sounds good.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Les Habitants

Sunday's Boston-Montreal grudge match propts Charles Pierce to reflect on how he became a Canadiens fan:
The second place I learned to speak French was through a transistor radio, slipped under my pillow, from which I would listen to the broadcast of Montreal Canadiens games on the French-language station that bounced down through the atmosphere and into Massachusetts at night. Here, I learned "le but du Canadien" and a number of other phrases, but mostly, it was the names — that long litany of rolled R's and mellifluous L's. Lemaire. Laperrière. Richard. The gloriously diphthonged Yvan Cournoyer. And Béliveau. Toujours Béliveau, like the last syllable of a romantic poem.
It all started with my father, who coached high school hockey in Massachusetts. I wanted to follow an NHL team, and I didn't want it to be the Bruins because, frankly, at the beginning of the 1960s, the Bruins blew goats. They weren't just bad. They were hilariously bad. Over the first six years of the decade, they won an average of 17 games a year, and they were not as good as their record indicated. As your basic front-running little suburban weasel, I didn't want any part of that, not with the Celtics winning every year. So, one Saturday afternoon, while we were watching a hockey game from some darkened Gardens or another — in those days, the NBA played in Memorial Coliseums and the NHL played in Gardens; go figure — I asked him what team I should follow. The Canadiens were beating the hell out of someone. "Those guys," my father said, pointing to the guys in the dark jerseys on the black-and-white TV. "Watch them. They play the game right."
So I adopted the Canadiens, gobbling what news I could out of the Sporting News and listening to the games when the atmospheric conditions were proper. And I was grooving right along. Montreal won the Cup in 1965, and again in 1966, lost in 1967, but won the next two in a row.
And then transcendence fell right on my head.
Transcendence, as any hockey fan would realize, was Bobby Orr.  It is definitely a story that any fan who roots for somebody other than the hometown team could appreciate.

Chart of the Day

From OilPrice:

U.S. production remains well below the peak achieved in 1970 and below a secondary peak in 1985—a lower high, if you will—which resulted from the ramp-up of production in Alaska. But since then production has gone relentlessly downhill until just recently.
It is true that a new form of hydraulic fracturing—high-volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing—has made available sources of oil not previously accessible. But it is also true that the industry’s hyperbole doesn’t square with the evidence. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest estimate of technically recoverable oil from so-called tight oil deposits—the ones made accessible by this new type of hydraulic fracturing—is 33 billion barrels (see below). It sounds like a lot. But, in fact, it would only supply the United States for about 6½ years (assuming current net annual consumption of about 5.1 billion barrels). Not bad; but not a world-changing number, especially when you consider that all oil goes onto a world market where 33 billion barrels would last a little over a year. Beyond this, the estimate says little about how much of that oil will ever be economically recoverable. Wherever it isn’t, no one is going to extract it.......The EIA projects that U.S. oil production will peak later in this decade—a little below the previous secondary peak in 1985. That would result in a tertiary peak, or yet another lower high. In the meantime the extra supply promises to lower America’s bill for oil imports. But the modest turnaround in America’s oil fortunes won’t solve the larger problem of worldwide oil depletion which, despite American gains, has kept worldwide oil production on a bumpy plateau since 2005.
But opinions differ.  Somebody is going to be right, and somebody is going to be wrong.  Recent gains in production from the Bakken and the Eagle Ford have been impressive, but my natural inclination is to side with the pessimists versus the optimists.  I'll guess we'll have a clearer view of things in about 3 to 5 years. I will say that oil will probably be with us for a long time, but that consumption in developed economies have probably peaked, and I don't anticipate tight oil availability to change that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Worst Forecaster Ever?

Jonathan Chait calls out former Bush advisor Michael J. Boskin, who just penned an op-ed in the WSJ predicting Obama will torpedo the economy, after doing the same during the Clinton years:
As it happened, literally every Boskin prediction turned out to be the opposite of reality. The economy grew much faster than predicted, revenues surged by a much greater amount than forecast, and the deficit shrank by a much greater amount than Clinton forecast.
Following the utter repudiation of the Clinton years, Boskin decided to take his talents back to Washington. He had spotted a brilliant new economic mind in Texas governor George W. Bush.
"These people were immensely impressed with him, how quick he was to pick stuff up," Boskin said. "His instincts were all very good, very much market-oriented; that created a very, very favorable impression."
Boskin went to work as a Bush adviser, and thus, unfortunately for the historical record, had to limit his ability to make terrible predictions in public forums. He did return to public punditry to insist that George W. Bush’s tax cuts would reduce revenue by far less than the official forecasts predicted. (“I don't think it's going to cost anywhere near $674 billion.”) This was another natural outgrowth of Boskin’s worldview — just as it was necessarily true that Clinton’s tax hikes on the rich must reduce the work incentive and hamper economic growth, Bush’s tax cuts for the rich must do the opposite. Naturally, tax revenue declined by far more than the forecasts predicted.
Now, in defense of Boskin, he is probably suffering from a large dose of bad luck on top of a horrendously wrong ideology. He is probably not universally and inherently wrong. If you chained a thousand Boskins to a thousand keyboards for a thousand years, eventually one of them would make a correct prediction.
If the man is a worse pundit than Dick Morris, he is doing something tremendously wrong.  Or maybe he's trying to be wrong.  Anyway, the whole thing is worth reading as a guide to totally dismantling a public figure.

China's Ghost Cities

60 Minutes goes to visit some of the massive empty developments of the world's second largest economy:

That just blows me away. I can't image so many empty buildings. Is there any way that doesn't end badly? I just don't see how it couldn't.

A More Powerful Surveillance State?

Via nc links, MIT releases video enhancement technology to analyze invisible changes in recorded data:
Scientists at MIT have developed open-source software that can reveal details in videos that are otherwise invisible. This software — which works with videos on YouTube or DVD — can reveal the blood pumping beneath someone’s skin, with such detail that you can accurately measure their heart rate. The software could also be released for mobile devices, such as smartphones or Google Glass, so that you can see the heartbeat of those around you in real time — a boon for gamblers, FBI lie detection agents, and doctors alike.
The underlying technology used by the software is called Eulerian Video Magnification (EVM), which essentially tracks the variation of individual pixels over time — and then exaggerates those differences. As your heart pumps blood around your body your arteries swell with bright red blood, which changes the color of your skin slightly. To the human eye, no matter how long and hard you stare at your wrist or someone else’s face, you would struggle to detect a change in color (unless they blush, of course). For a computer, however, the tiniest per-pixel fluctuations (between white and slightly-redder-white, say) are easy to detect. In the case of detecting someone’s heartbeat, EVM picks up these slightly redder pixels and exaggerates them, turning them violet.
MIT originally developed the software to measure the vital signs of neonatal babies without physical contact, but as you can see in the video, there are other, far-ranging applications. Not only can EVM detect changes in color, but it can also exaggerate movements — such as a crane or building swaying in the wind, or the tiny movements made by your eyes as they scan an environment. The scientists at MIT say that their software might act as an early warning system, if the crane is swaying too much, or if a bolt is working its way loose from a machine.
In an interview with The New York Times, Michael Rubinstein, co-author of the EVM research paper presented at Siggraph last year, says he has been asked if it would be possible to run the software on Google Glass. “People wanted to be able to analyze their opponent during a poker game or blackjack and be able to know whether they’re cheating or not, just by the variation in their heart rate,” he says. The research was partly funded by Royal Dutch Shell, too, so presumably the EVM algorithm can help with oil exploration — though we’re not entirely sure how.
Wow.  The possibilities of this could be terrifying.  And it is open code.  Nothing bad can come of that.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Karst Country

Karst Country - infra-red timelapse from Glen Ryan on Vimeo.

From Black and White to Color

David J. Michael reviews the work of David Foster Wallace, and focuses on a little piece in The Pale King about boredom:
The new book was to be set at an IRS processing center in central Illinois and would follow around a group of low-level IRS examiners tasked with auditing tax returns. To prepare, he took several classes in accounting, and assembled hundreds of pages of research on boredom. One of the characters describes the boredom of this work as "boredom beyond any boredom he'd ever felt," another as "soul murdering." But Wallace wanted to show what lie on the other side of boredom:
Ability to pay attention. It turns out that bliss—a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you've never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.
If such bliss after boredom does exist, Wallace wasn't able to find it. The writing was dragging on without end. Unsurprisingly, a book dramatizing boredom was difficult to write, more difficult than he'd imagined.
I'm currently partway through my annual Lenten diet/fast.  It started out years ago as a spiritual sacrifice, limiting myself to one small meal a day with no snacks, 6 days a week, throughout Lent.  It got rid of most of my favorite bits of junk food, and made the meals much more, well, boring.  As it has gone along, and my faith has wavered, it has turned into a starvation-style diet to try to offset eating way too much bad food and drinking too many beers and not exercising all of the rest of the year.  But one of the little pleasures I have noticed is that even when I am eating what amounts to pretty bland food, it seems so damn good.  Kind of that water after days in the desert.  I think that would also be represented, even though I don't plan to experience it anytime soon, by the "runner's high."  Kind of a pleasure through pain sensation.  My conception doesn't make total sense, but I think that is kind of what Wallace is getting at with this bit about boredom.  To paraphrase Jim Morrison, it is about breaking through to the other side.

Art Humor Rains Down

The Atlantic Cities:
You got to give props to artist Richard Jackson for staging an exhibit where attendees could get peed on by a 28-foot-tall Labrador Retriever. In the gift shop, are museum umbrellas flying off the shelf?
Jackson's "Bad Dog" sculpture, tacked together from matte-black parts reminiscent of a disassembled stealth bomber, towers above the Orange County Museum of Art with one leg raised in the classic dog-urination stance. Every so often, a spray hose inside the massive canine unleashes a fountain of yellow paint onto the wall of the museum. The fake pee dribbles down the wall to pool on the ground, where curious museumgoers appreciate it with the classic but is it art? posture.
"Bad Dog" is the first thing people see when traveling to the Newport Beach museum's retrospective of Jackson's work, titled "Ain’t Painting a Pain." The meaning of the micturating puppy is cryptic. Exhibition materials don't shed much light on what inspired the artwork, and the media are throwing out all kinds of differing explanations. KCET calls it a "cheeky statement about Jackson's views on the art world." The OC Register goes with "not a joke. Nor is it an insult to the museum." The Daily Pilot doesn't take a critical stance, but notes that it is a "favorite of children who visit the museum."
I'm with the kids, that's cool.

Blue Jays Look To End Playoff Drought

Jonah Keri remembers the early 90s and looks at how the Blue Jays are trying to make their first playoff appearance since 1993:
Because for Jays fans, and Toronto sports fans in general, the past 20 years have been a nuclear wasteland.1
The year of the Jays' second straight World Series also marked the first season of a stretch that brought 10 playoff appearances and four conference finals in 12 years for the Maple Leafs, but those seasons usually ended in heartbreak … which is still better than seven years and counting without a return trip to the postseason for one of the NHL's biggest-banking franchises. The Raptors made their debut two years after "Touch 'em all, Joe!" … and have been awful most years since then, with a couple of brief, mild spurts of success mixed with 12 losing seasons. But the Jays have been the worst of the bunch … only the sad-sack Royals and Pirates have gone longer than the 20 years since the Jays' last playoff berth.
Now, thanks to a flurry of offseason moves, the Jays have inspired more confidence, more hope, more sheer giddiness in their fans than they have in two decades. The journey to this point — from repeat champion to perennial also-ran back to beacon of optimism — has featured so many mistakes and pitfalls that they deserve several distinct categories, many of them offering lessons for the AL East favorite 2013 Jays and their architect, GM Alex Anthopoulos.  
  1. Yes, the Toronto Argonauts have actually hoisted some hardware in the past 20 years, including the most recent Grey Cup. Even as a Canadian, I have to call "So what?" on that. Friends and colleagues in Toronto back me up on this.
Toronto fans have had a pretty rough 20 years, but as the story notes, Kansas City has been worse off, and at least on the baseball field, nobody has been worse off than Pittsburgh.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


When one is walking along with his hands in his pockets and he slips on the ice and his feet come out from under him, there isn't much of a way to break the fall.  Elbow, meet gravel drive, with a fat guy thrown on top.  That hurts.  Gravity and a lack of friction screwed me there.

NASA Photo of the Day

February 27:

Asperatus Clouds Over New Zealand
Image Credit & Copyright: Witta Priester
Explanation: What kind of clouds are these? Although their cause is presently unknown, such unusual atmospheric structures, as menacing as they might seem, do not appear to be harbingers of meteorological doom. Known informally as Undulatus asperatus clouds, they can be stunning in appearance, unusual in occurrence, are relatively unstudied, and have even been suggested as a new type of cloud. Whereas most low cloud decks are flat bottomed, asperatus clouds appear to have significant vertical structure underneath. Speculation therefore holds that asperatus clouds might be related to lenticular clouds that form near mountains, or mammatus clouds associated with thunderstorms, or perhaps a foehn wind -- a type of dry downward wind that flows off mountains. Such a wind called the Canterbury arch streams toward the east coast of New Zealand's South Island. The above image, taken above Hanmer Springs in Canterbury, New Zealand, in 2005, shows great detail partly because sunlight illuminates the undulating clouds from the side.

In Which I Agree, In Part, With Bobby Knight

Scott Simon interviews Bob Knight about his new book:
He has a new book in which he lays out the philosophy of his coaching and how it can apply to life: The Power of Negative Thinking. Knight tells NPR's Scott Simon that he wants to help people get rid of their rose-colored glasses. "I think that we as a people are always prone to think about, well, tomorrow will be a better day," he says. "Well, why will it be a better day?"
Knight says people should concentrate on doing well in the present rather than hoping for good things down the road. "Positive results don't happen simply because we believe they're going to happen," he says. Hope may spring eternal, he laughs, but it's a lot better to work and plan for something than just to hope for it.
Nor did he pray for good things — Knight eschewed pregame prayers during his coaching career. "I'll tell you what," he says. "I watched the guy that hits a home run, and he comes across the plate, and he points skyward, like thanking the Almighty for the help to hit the home run. And as he does that, I say to myself, 'God screwed the pitcher.' And I don't know how else you look at it. I've always felt that the Almighty has a lot of things to do other than help my basketball team."
And even if the Almighty helps you to a victory, Knight says, it can be harder to learn from victory than from defeat. "I think that we don't want defeat, we don't want defeat in sport, we don't want defeat in life," he says, but we need to examine what defeats us. "Let's address those things that are going to bring about a loss, rather than simply those things that are going to bring about a victory."
I like the part about saying, "God screwed the pitcher."  The idea that a Supreme Being has any rooting interest in sporting events (outside of Notre Dame football, j/k) seems ludicrous.  Bob makes a few good points right here.  

However, as Scott Simon questions Coach Knight's style of coaching, it is funny to listen to him fall back to the "look at the results" argument.  You know, coach, if Larry Bird would have hung around campus, what kind of team would you have had?  You know, coach, if you handled some situations in a different way, maybe you would have gotten even better results.  You know, coach, this probably isn't a good way to deal a stressful situation:

Pepto Bismuth

Chemistry as art:

Pepto Bismuth from Melanie Hoff on Vimeo.

A little more about bismuth
Bismuth is a chemical element with symbol Bi and atomic number 83. Bismuth, a pentavalent poor metal, chemically resembles arsenic and antimony. Elemental bismuth may occur naturally, although its sulfide and oxide form important commercial ores. The free element is 86% as dense as lead. It is a brittle metal with a silvery white color when freshly produced, but is often seen in air with a pink tinge owing to surface oxidation. Bismuth is the most naturally diamagnetic and has one of the lowest values of thermal conductivity among metals.
Bismuth metal has been known from ancient times, although until the 18th century it was often confused with lead and tin, which share some physical properties. The etymology is uncertain, but possibly comes from Arabic bi ismid, meaning having the properties of antimony or German words weisse masse or wismuth ("white mass"), translated in the mid sixteenth century to New Latin bisemutum.
Bismuth has long been considered as the highest-atomic-mass element that is stable. However, it was recently discovered to be slightly radioactive: its only primordial isotope bismuth-209 alpha decays with a half life more than a billion times the estimated age of the universe.
Bismuth compounds account for about half the production of bismuth. They are used in cosmetics, pigments, and a few pharmaceuticals, notably Pepto-Bismol. Bismuth has unusually low toxicity for a heavy metal. As the toxicity of lead has become more apparent in recent years, there is an increasing use of bismuth alloys (presently about a third of bismuth production) as a replacement for lead.

Am I a Big Farmer?

According to this chart from Big Picture Agriculture, our operation is in the top ten percent of farms by income:

There are 2.2 million farms in the U.S. The USDA’s definition of a farm is “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year”.
The total number of farms decreased by 11,630 last year and the average farm size increased by 1 acre, to 421 acres.
With the higher commodity prices in the past five years, we've slid into the top bracket there.  It would be interesting to see that top bracket broken down amongst the giant farmers, and the ones like us, who farm 900 acres of middling soils and barely crack $500,000 in gross sales.  Compared to the guys 5 times our size (or the ones 20 times our size) we just don't seem like a big deal.  Then again, my cattle and egg operations are on the very low end of that 55% slice of the pie.

Population Distribution Map

Via Ritholtz:

Tax Policy and Income Inequality

David Grusky interviews Emmanuel Saez about his work on income inequality:
DG: I think a lot of people would be worried that, by resorting to tax policy, you reduce not just the incentive for rent-seeking but also the incentive for undertaking the hard work that makes for real productivity. This may well be a big price to pay. How do you make sense of that dilemma?
ES: It is a central question and indeed economists have expended a lot of effort trying to understand the relationship between the rewards of working and behavior. Do taxes and transfers that reduce the reward for working discourage work? There are many situations where reducing the reward to work leads to less work. That’s true for the bottom of the distribution, especially for parents with kids who have very high opportunity costs for work. And that’s true for people near retirement as well: it’s been shown that if you reduce the reward to working through the retirement system you can easily have effects on the retirement margin.
For top earners, we need more research, but I have yet to see a study that shows me that when you increase top tax rates, top earners work less. An interesting study that was done by Robert Moffitt and Mark Wilhelm using the tax overhaul of 1986—Reagan’s big second tax reform. The study showed that when Reagan cut the top tax rate, pre-tax top income surged, but the authors looked at the hours of work of those high earners and couldn’t see any effect on their reported hours. Of course, it was a small sample, but I hope that in the future, researchers can look at margins like retirement—do highly paid executives retire earlier now that Obama has raised their tax rates? That’s exactly the type of study we need. And of course I would revise my views if you showed me convincingly that those top guys are indeed working a lot less.
DG: Let me turn to some of the evidence that I think informs your view on this issue. What you found is that, when top tax rates go down, the top 1 percent garners an increasing share of pre-tax income. My query is whether that’s a causal relationship or a spurious one. It may be spurious because those countries that reduced tax rates at the top often happen to be the very same countries that allowed for institutional changes, such as de-unionization, that restricted the capacity of those at the bottom of the distribution to secure higher wages. And so it’s possible that the decline in the income share going to the top is actually driven, in part, by what happens at the bottom.
ES: I am sympathetic to this argument. It’s true that the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions were not only about reducing top tax rates; there were a number of other policies, such as deregulation and restrictions on unions. My best answer to you is that we have to do more data analysis. That is what I’ve prepared for my preparation this afternoon. I really look only at top tax rates but in principle you can use other variables like unionization, strikes, financial deregulations, etc., and then try to tease out the role of each factor. My sense, at this stage, is that it’s work we should be doing. The tightness of the correlation between top tax rates and pre-tax top incomes is so strong that I doubt that it will go away entirely. Maybe it will be not as strong but my guess is that a lot will survive.
Another reverse causal relationship that people mention is that if top earners earn more, they have more resources to deploy to influence policy makers through lobbying and campaign contributions. Once you have a very high level of income concentration, it might indeed be harder for policy makers to advocate and enact policies that are unfavorable to top earners.
The whole piece is worth reading.  I tend to agree with the idea that a leading driver of income inequality is lowering the top marginal rates, and that a very good tool for reversing inequality would be to increase marginal rates, especially with extra tax brackets that target the very top incomes, and leave alone many folks who make, say, $500,000 a year (which is still a shitload of money).

One problem with the spiraling salaries at the top is that these folks end up bidding against each other for high-end properties in places like Manhattan, Greenwich, CN, the Hamptons, Newport Beach and the fancy ski resorts.  The competition pushes up property values in these areas so high that even with giant pay packages, these folks feel like they need even more money to buy their trophy homes.  Which leads to higher compensation, which leads to more inflation in these markets.  Wash.  Repeat.  Meanwhile, folks at the other end of the spectrum can barely afford food, clothing and shelter with a little money to save for a rainy day.  I don't know that higher taxes would solve these problems, but I don't see things getting better without higher marginal rates.