Saturday, September 14, 2013

WRECKALLECTIONS

WRECKALLECTIONS: The Mike Hornbeck Mini Movie from ARMADA SKIS INC. on Vimeo.

Mayweather-Canelo and the Future of Boxing

Eric Raskin postulates that a Mayweather loss may be the best thing for the sport:
And in that sense, maybe Mayweather–De La Hoya really was the fight to save boxing — and maybe Mayweather-Canelo is the fight to save it again. Because maybe the question shouldn’t be “What becomes of boxing if its last superstar, Mayweather, loses?” Maybe it’s “What could possibly be better for boxing than Mayweather losing to this particular opponent?”
As a teenager reading the August 1990 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, a phrase in a caption referring to the Ultimate Warrior’s victory over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI has always stuck in my head: “the smoothest transfer of world title power the sport has ever seen.” Never mind that pro wrestling isn’t a sport — Hogan lost directly and cleanly to Warrior, giving his successor an aura of authenticity.
The same happened in boxing in 2007 and 2008. De La Hoya, by far the most bankable star of his era, suffered two defeats in 19 months, at the hands of Mayweather and Pacquiao. Both pound-for-pounders were attracting in the neighborhood of 400,000 PPV buys before taking on Oscar. Since beating De La Hoya, Mayweather’s six fights have averaged 1.17 million buys, while Pacquiao’s eight have averaged 1.06 million. Beating The Man doesn’t always make you The Man, but in these cases it did because the requisite charisma (in one form or another) and elite talent were in place.
De La Hoya lost, twice, but the story wasn’t the death of boxing’s last great star. It was the birth of boxing’s next great stars. And if Mayweather loses on Saturday night, same deal. The 23-year-old Alvarez is the most popular young fighter in North America by a wide margin, even if there’s some debate over just how popular he is. The bigger questions about him concern not his marketability but his ability. Is he actually a special fighter? If it turns out Canelo is special enough to topple Mayweather, he instantly becomes boxing’s newest million-buy superstar, with the erasure of Floyd’s self-ballyhooed undefeated record giving him that final push to the top.
Not to fuel the boxing-is-dying lobby, but there is cause for some concern if Alvarez doesn’t win and isn’t the next big thing. Who are the other candidates right now? Maybe Adrien Broner, but there’s a lot of work to be done there. Almost certainly not Andre Ward, magnificent as he is from a skill perspective. Possibly Gennady Golovkin, but he’s already in his 30s and still rather unproven. Perhaps it's somebody just hitting the pro ranks who we've barely even heard of.
For the moment, Canelo is by far the top candidate.
My main problem with boxing is the reliance on pay-per-view and subscription cable.  The secondary problem probably should be the main problem, but isn't, and that is head trauma.  I'll be sure to watch the ESPN ticker tonight to see who won, but because of the pay-per-view, I won't be watching it, and I just haven't seen any of the main candidates for future stardom.  The sport is passing me by.

Bee Porn

From Smithsonian:




Drone bees live with one purpose in mind: mating with a queen. When they’re lucky enough to achieve it, it only lasts a few seconds, and they die immediately afterward, because their penis and abdominal tissues are violently ripped from the body as part of the process.
Thus, for a drone bee, those few seconds of mating are the peak of existence. And here are those blissful seconds, captured in slow-motion.
The clip is from the new documentary More Than Honeyreleased last week, which explores the wondrous world of honeybees and Colony Collapse Disorder, the mysterious affliction that’s causing U.S. bee populations to plummet.
To get shots like this, the filmmakers used mini-helicopters equipped with ultra-high speed cameras (the clip above has 300 frames-per-second) and a so-called “bee-whisperer,” who carefully tracked the activity of 15 different hives so the crew could move them to a filming studio when a particular event was imminent.
I can't decide if the drone bee is worse off or better off than me.  The zoom camera work looks like CGI.  I'd love to see how they were able to center a bee in the frame with that mini-helicopter. 

Home Prices And High School Championships

Pacific Standard:
When the hometown high school football team wins big, so do homeowners. A study of more than half a million single-family home sales in upstate New York between 2000 and 2009 finds that in places where the local Friday Night Lights squad won its first state football championship, property values increased by 1.65 percent over the following year.
Writing in the Journal of Housing Economics, Andrew Friedson of the University of Colorado-Denver speculates the spike may be due to a “local pride effect,” most pronounced when the team plays in the highly competitive AA division, which is limited to schools with 1,000 students or more. The impact was strongest in the first three months following a championship victory, after which it gradually dissipated. Think of it as sweat equity—with someone else doing the sweating.
That doesn't make much any sense to me, but whatever.

A Financial Crisis Timeline

Via Ritholtz, the Treasury Department has this:

 

Worst move I made was to sell a bunch of stocks in April 2009 after the market rallied off of the March lows.  Those moves cost me a ton of money.  Oh well, easy come, easy go.

Friday, September 13, 2013

American Value : Herb Dishman : China, TX

This is pretty damn good, and also features the first farmer I've ever seen with ear lobe stretchers (I guess that's what they are called):


American Value: Herb Dishman: China, TX from Nomadique on Vimeo.

From Commodities to Hedge Funds

Commodity firms have moved into bank-style activities, and without that pesky regulatory scrutiny:
Over the last decade, some of the world’s biggest traditional traders in grains, oil, and metals have quietly taken on many attributes of banks—running billion-dollar hedge funds, launching private equity arms, and selling derivatives to clients. These businesses enable trading firms to tie up large sums of money in bets and profit off insider information. Unlike the banks, these companies have escaped regulatory scrutiny—even though experts say they present similar hazards.
Take the grain titan Cargill. The largest private company in the U.S., Cargill has gathered and shipped a bulk of the world’s supply of wheat and corn for more than 100 years. Nowadays, however, Cargill also sells billions in derivatives to food companies, and runs two massive hedge funds, managing more than $14 billion for investors. Or take Louis Dreyfus, another major grain trader. In 2008, Dreyfus launched its own fund enabling investors to bet on food prices. By 2011, the fund had grown so fast it stopped accepting new money.
Trafigura, the third largest global trader of energy and metals, runs nine funds that together manage approximately $2.5 billion. Last year Glencore, a metals and mining giant, and Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader, financed a $10 billion loan for a Russian oil company. As businesses struggle to secure large sums from traditional banks, analysts say these companies could continue filling in for banks as a source of capital. Recently, some experts have also noted that extensive interlinkages between commodity markets and the financial system could pose systemic risks to the global economy.
"To the extent these companies [are] trading commodity contracts and selling investment products, they seem virtually identical in their scope of activities to the banks," said Marcus Stanley, policy director at Americans for Financial Reform.
Unlike the banks, though, most trading companies are privately owned, release scant information, and escape most regulation. Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan might obscure their commodity activities to the public, but they are still obliged to privately disclose them to the Federal Reserve. Firms like Vitol and Cargill, meanwhile, operate in near secrecy. They must register their hedge funds with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but no regulator sees the full stable of their businesses. The lack of rules around “insider trading” in commodity markets also opens a backdoor to manipulation.
Great.  Nothing bad can come of that.  As we've seen before, holding physical commodities and speculating on the futures of said product surely wouldn't screw producers, manufacturers and consumers.  On the slightly positive side, I figured a while back that considering how damn profitable they were, I'd go and invest in FC Stone.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.   Unfortunately, they'll screw me way, way more than I'll profit from them screwing everybody else.

Molasses Spill Causes Hawaii Fish Kill

The Atlantic:
Thousands of fish — gasping desperately, then floating lifelessly — surfaced in Honolulu Harbor this week, suffering from oxygen deprivation caused by a massive molasses spill. This strange case of sugary suffocation was brought on by the Matson Shipping Company, which was loading one of its vessels with 1,600 tons of molasses through a pipeline in the harbor early Monday morning when a leak sprung. Matson reported that up to 1,400 tons of the sludgy syrup may have escaped into the harbor and nearby Ke’ehi Lagoon.
There is no way to clean up a molasses spill. “It’s sunk to the bottom of the harbor,” Matson spokesman Jeff Hull told the L.A. Times on Wednesday. There, the molasses has displaced the oxygen-containing seawater that thousands of marine organisms rely on to breathe.
Hawaii News Now reported the devastating ecological impact of the spill with an underwater video recording this afternoon. In the words of Roger White, the scuba diver who shot the video, “It was shocking because the entire bottom is covered with dead fish.”
The Hawaii Department of Health, rather than the U.S. Coast Guard or Environmental Protection Agency, is responding to the accident because it is not an oil or “hazardous material” spill, according to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. It doesn’t really matter who gets involved, because there isn’t much mitigating to be done. Officials are currently monitoring water quality in the harbor, collecting dead fish (lest they attract hungry sharks and eels), and urging residents to stay out of the water.
When an oil spill occurs, a large oil slick forms on the water’s surface, and emergency response efforts often focus on dispersing that oil away from the surface and down through the water column, where the oil becomes less concentrated and, consequently, less threatening to marine life. This only works if the water is sufficiently deep, though; the NOAA OR&R website says, “To avoid contaminating the sea floor, most dispersant use to date has been restricted to waters deeper than 10 meters (about 30 feet).” The waters of Honolulu Harbor are just about that deep, but no matter, because molasses behaves very differently from oil. Unlike oil, molasses sinks, and now 1,400 tons of it, highly concentrated, are bearing down on the sea floor off the coast of Oahu.
More on the somewhat unique fluid properties of molasses, and an even bigger molasses disaster here.  Hey, what other personal blog features two different molasses-related stories in a little over a month?

Insourcing Trend Appears Oversold

Bloomberg:
Randy Webb sees scant evidence of a U.S. manufacturing rebound in the Ohio plant where he’s fixed aircraft electronics for 25 years. Honeywell International Inc. (HON) is closing the shop in 2014 as it expands such work overseas.
Webb is among 80 employees poised to lose their jobs in Strongsville, Ohio, outside Cleveland, near where General Electric Co. (GE) will shut a lighting factory in favor of production in Hungary. Delphi Automotive Plc (DLPH) is sending parts assembly to Mexico from Flint, Michigan, and Eaton Corp. (ETN) will make extra-large hydraulic cylinders in the Netherlands, not Alabama...
The U.S. industrial comeback, an idea embraced by President Barack Obama and some economists as 12 years of factory-job losses gave way to three annual gains, is now sputtering. Even with nonfarm payrolls up 1.1 percent in 2013 to 136.1 million, manufacturing has stagnated at less than 12 million. Factories added more than 500,000 positions after falling in February 2010 to the lowest since 1941.
That left the factory workforce through August about 13 percent smaller than the 13.7 million when the U.S. fell into recession in December 2007. In 2000, the tally was 17 million... One discouraging sign that manufacturing employment is recovering: the 13 percent gap between factory payrolls now and before the recession occurred amid a rebound in output, said Tim Quinlan, a Wells Fargo & Co. economist in Charlotte, North Carolina. Industrial production trails a 2007 pre-recession high by only 1.9 percentage points.
The story earlier in the year about GE's Appliance Park made me a little hopeful, but alas, it may have been a bit oversold.  The other thing hurting manufacturing job creation is investment in labor saving technology.  It will be interesting to see if the supposed shale gas manufacturing bonanza occurs.  I'd bet it is decently oversold.

Vatican Says It's OK to Discuss Priestly Celibacy

NPR:
The Vatican's new secretary of state made some comments in an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper earlier this week that have surprised many.
Archbishop Pietro Parolin, whom Pope Francis appointed on Aug. 31, said the issue of priest celibacy is open to discussion.
"It is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition," , adding that changing a tradition does take a lot of thought.
"We cannot simply say that it is part of the past," he said. "It is a great challenge for the pope, because he is the one with the ministry of unity and all of those decisions must be made thinking about the unity of the church and not about its division. Therefore we can talk, reflect on these subjects that are not definite, and we can think about some modifications, but always with the consideration of unity, and all according to the will of God. It is not about what I would like but what God wants for His church."
Even though nothing will probably come of that, it sounds more moderate than the last couple popes have been.  Even a basic statement like that has to get the conservative side of the hierarchy a bit flustered.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Broad-Based Support Against A Tax Cut

Morning Edition:
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon used some fancy footwork to ensure his veto of a tax cut stayed in place — even though it faced a supermajority of Republicans in the Missouri House and Senate
Nixon said he vetoed the tax cut because the $700 million price tag was "unaffordable." But he knew in doing so, he was up against a lion of a legislature, with a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
Lawmakers on Wednesday failed to override Nixon's veto.
Dan Ponder, a political scientist at Drury University, says the governor had a decidedly uphill battle.
"He was able to put together a coalition of educators and chambers of commerce, businesses, to be able to make the case that, Ok, if this tax cut were to go into effect, it could potentially devastate education, and therefore, the workforce," Ponder says.
That "coalition" included about 150 groups, ranging from teachers to first responders.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry ran ads in Missouri criticizing Missouri's governor, and urging businesses to relocate to the Lone Star State.
Maybe the Governor of Texas ought to worry about things in his own state, and maybe consider a little more government.  See previous post.

A Little Too Business Friendly?

The Texas Observer:
In late 2010, Dr. Christopher Duntsch came to Dallas to start a neurosurgery practice. By the time the Texas Medical Board revoked his license in June 2013, Duntsch had left two patients dead and four paralyzed in a series of botched surgeries.
Physicians who complained about Duntsch to the Texas Medical Board and to the hospitals he worked at described his practice in superlative terms. They used phrases like “the worst surgeon I’ve ever seen.” One doctor I spoke with, brought in to repair one of Duntsch’s spinal fusion cases, remarked that it seemed Duntsch had learned everything perfectly just so he could do the opposite. Another doctor compared Duntsch to Hannibal Lecter three times in eight minutes.
When the Medical Board suspended Duntsch’s license, the agency’s spokespeople too seemed shocked.
“It’s a completely egregious case,’’ Leigh Hopper, then head of communications for the Texas Medical Board, told The Dallas Morning News in June. “We’ve seen neurosurgeons get in trouble but not one such as this, in terms of the number of medical errors in such a short time.”
But the real tragedy of the Christopher Duntsch story is how preventable it was. Over the course of 2012 and 2013, even as the Texas Medical Board and the hospitals he worked with received repeated complaints from a half-dozen doctors and lawyers begging them to take action, Duntsch continued to practice medicine. Doctors brought in to clean up his surgeries decried his “surgical misadventures,” according to hospital records. His mistakes were obvious and well-documented. And still it took the Texas Medical Board more than a year to stop Duntsch—a year in which he kept bringing into the operating room patients who ended up seriously injured or dead.
Read the whole thing.  It may not be good for his patients, but it is definitely good for him, and especially, his malpractice insurance company, that Texas limited medical malpractice pain and suffering awards to $250,000.  Consider that next time you hear Republican solutions to make health care more affordable.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CHUTZPAH

CHUTZPAH from STATELESS MEDIA on Vimeo.

Never Forget

I saw a bunch of folks at work and on Facebook reminding everybody about the terrorist attacks 12 years ago.  I don't think I'm ever going to forget what happened, at least until I get old(er) and (more) senile.  There are a few details of that day, and our reaction to it, that I definitely don't want to forget.  Here's a few stats from David Wong (h/t Kaye):
Al-Qaida spent about $500,000 executing the 9/11 terror attacks. The U.S. government has spent up to $5 trillion fighting back. One expert estimated we're spending about $400 million per life saved.
In other words, for every dollar the bad guys spent, we lost 10 million. And that's not even counting the money lost due to the economic slump that followed. That, friends, is one hell of a return on an investment. Also: The 9/11 attacks killed 2,996 people. The response has killed 224,475 and displaced another 7.8 million refugees....
Keep in mind, a tsunami killed a quarter-million people in 2004, and another one killed 16,000 people in 2011, but neither caused us to refer to a "post-tsunami world." Only terrorism can utterly dominate our thinking that way.
And as a result, a bad guy can now make the whole world stop dead in its goddamned tracks with nothing more than a device built with about a hundred bucks' worth of shit he got at Walmart. If you pick up a gun and shoot six people at your office over a change in dress code, you'll be gone from the front page of CNN by the next day. But build a crude bomb and kill three people in the name of jihad while cameras are rolling? You'll cause an entire city to go on lockdown, utterly dominate the consciousness of a nation for months, and create scenes like this:

Moreover, I never want to forget how absolutely untrue rumors spread like wildfire 12 years ago. I remember hearing about a car bomb going off outside of the State Department (didn't happen). I remember hearing about a bomb going off at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (didn't happen). I remember hearing that gas prices would spike over $5 and stations would run out of gas (A few stations did run out of gas, but only because some fools took all of their vehicles and sat in line for hours to make sure they got some gas before it was gone, a self-fulfilling prophecy [I'm looking at you, Barney]).  I was kind of looking forward to calling into work and telling them that I wouldn't be in because I wasn't smart enough to go sit in line all night so I could get a few gallons of gas.  Unfortunately, I didn't miss a day.

I also don't want to forget how some Sikhs have been targeted for violence because Americans can't tell them from Muslims.

I don't want to forget that we sent more than 4,400 soldiers off to their deaths in Iraq because, well, just because.  I don't want to forget that 4,400 is nearly 50% larger than the 2996 people who died on September 11.  And that is only the number of U.S. soldiers who died.  More than 100,000 Iraqis died in the clusterfuck we made there.

I don't want to forget how we expected attacks to continue almost daily after September 11.  And yet, fewer than 50 people have died since then in the United States. 

September 11, 2001 was a tragic day, and my heart goes out to all the folks who lost loved ones.  But I also don't want people to forget all of the terrible decisions we've made since then, the damage we've done to ourselves and others, and the lives and treasure we've blown since then.  May God bless America and may God keep us safe - from our enemies, and from ourselves.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A River's Life

 Bonnet CarrĂ© Spillway, Mississippi River, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, 2012

Wired features photos of the French Broad River, the Tennessee and now the Mississippi River by Jeff Rich:
Back in the 1950s, the French Broad was one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Heavy industry nears its shores, erosion due to deforestation and nearby urban areas had not been kind. Things got better in the 1970s thanks to the passage of the Clean Water Act, but Rich says the river is still under threat.
Carson pointed him to the most polluted sites along the French Broad and its tributaries. Rich made photos of buildings along the shores like paper mills and cement plants. From there, he started to think more locally and tried to meet people who depended on the river or the tributaries for their livelihood and people who used the rivers for recreation. Over time the project became an ethnographic study of both the French Broad and the people around it.
After four years of documenting the French Broad, Rush thought he was done photographing water. But then the dike at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County ruptured and spilled 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash slurry into the surrounding area, including several rivers that flow into the Tennessee. Rich photographed the event and he eventually decided to expand and start documenting the Tennessee river.
“It was the logical next step to keep going down the river,” Rich says. “And the Tennessee is a completely different body of water so it would create a different body of work.”
For more on the Bonnet Carre Spillway, go here and here.  For more on the TVA, go here.

RIO

RIO from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

Don't Give Up The Ship

Jeff St. Clair visits a bicentennial re-enactment of the Battle of Lake Erie at Put-in-Bay, and remembers Oliver Hazard Perry:
Two hundred years ago today, a young U.S. naval captain named Oliver Hazard Perry penned the words, "We have met the enemy and they are ours ..."
Perry's remarkable victory over the British changed the course of the War of 1812, and a full-scale re-enactment — the largest sailing re-enactment ever attempted in the U.S. — recently commemorated the anniversary of the win in the Battle of Lake Erie.

America had brashly declared war in 1812 to stop the British from kidnapping U.S. sailors to man the Royal Navy and to settle trade issues. A year later, the war against the world's leading superpower wasn't going well.
It was from Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie's South Bass Island that Perry sailed out to meet the British on Sept. 10, 1813.
Historian Walter Rybka — one of the planners of the re-enactment — says the 28-year-old Perry threw himself into battle. "Perry was, first off, phenomenally brave and determined, but he was damn lucky," Rybka says.
Somehow Perry survived two hours of hellacious fire that killed or maimed 75 percent of the crew on his ship, the Lawrence.
"His last gun had been knocked out of action on the starboard side, his rigging was cut to pieces, he could not maneuver, he could no longer fight. There was no point in maintaining an action because his men were just going to get slaughtered the rest of the way," Rybka says. "Right at the moment the wind fills in ..."
And that's when Perry hopped into his longboat and under heavy fire, rowed to the Niagara, a Great Lakes warship. Rybka says Perry brought along his battle flag, emblazoned with the words, "Don't Give Up The Ship."
"But the only way to do that was to give up the ship and go to the next one," Rybka says. "The real motto was, 'Don't Give Up.' "
The battle was a turning point in the War of 1812. America had lost Detroit and much of the Northwest Territory. Rybka says if Perry had given up the ship, the Canadian border would have been much farther south.
"I think Michigan probably would have been lost to us and maybe Wisconsin as well," Rybka says.
More on the battle here.

The DJIA Through History


Derek Thompson:
When the Dow Jones Industrial Average launched in 1896, it smelled like a turn-of-the-century factory farm -- nothing but oil, iron, cows, and cotton. You know. America. (Or as some folks prefer, 'Merica!)
Today, practically all of these companies -- Tennessee Coal & Iron, American Cotton Oil, Distilling & Cattle Feeding -- have been gobbled up by conglomerates that you have and haven't heard of. Only GE remains. Only the U.S. Leather trust is essentially defunct.
But I like that. We had an industrial-dominated economy, and now we don't. New time, new index. DJIA II for the auto and aerospace economy. DJIA III for the computer/financial economy. And so on.
 I really find the list fascinating.  And I think it deserves a little more attention than Thompson gave it.  The reason is that to kind of paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, "The history of the United States is the history of United States business (and probably religion)."  Almost all of the companies above are monopoly trusts (the Sugar trust, the Tobacco trust, the Whiskey trust (Distilling & Cattle Feeding), the Leather trust, the Rubber trust, etc.).  This was a very distinct period of time in the nation's history, and led to the modern state we now have.  There is a lot of interesting history in there.

For instance, Tennessee Coal & Iron:
The Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (1852–1952), also known as TCI and the Tennessee Company, was a major American steel manufacturer with interests in coal and iron ore mining and railroad operations. Originally based entirely within Tennessee, it relocated most of its business to Alabama in the late nineteenth century. With a sizable real estate portfolio, the company owned several Birmingham satellite towns, including Ensley, Fairfield, Docena, Edgewater and Bayview.
At one time the second largest steel producer in the USA, TCI was listed on the first Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896. However, in 1907, the company was merged with its principal rival, the United States Steel Corporation. The Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company was subsequently operated as a subsidiary of U. S. Steel for 45 years until it became a division of its parent company in 1952.....
The Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company was one of the largest users of convict leasing for coal mining labor in Alabama following Reconstruction. The number of convicts employed increased after U.S. Steel acquired TCI in 1907, as did the brutality of the conditions in which they labored. In 1908, the first full year of U. S. Steel's ownership of TCI, almost 60 convict workers died from workplace-related accidents.
In the 1910s, TCI undertook a comprehensive program to stabilize its labor force by developing rigorously-planned "model villages", thereby improving worker health, welfare and loyalty. This paternalistic approach carried with it obvious benefits for workers and their families, but also drew criticism for limiting the free movement and organization of labor....The last relic of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, the Fairfield Plant, continues to be operated by U. S. Steel as one of its five integrated steel mills in the USA. It is the largest steel-making plant in Alabama, employing 2000 workers as of September 2006, down from a peak of 45,000 during World War II. With a single blast furnace and three basic oxygen process furnaces, amongst other various mills and production facilities, the plant produces 2.4 million tons of raw steel per annum and 640,000 tons of seamless tubular and sheet products, mainly for purchase by the booming oil industry in the region.
So one of the steel mills from a company that disappeared from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1907 is still in operation, even though it employs 43,000 fewer people than at its peak.  There is a lot of interesting shit in there.  Company towns, forced convict labor, largest corporation in the country at the time, etc.  In the next week or two, I'll try to pull up a few more interesting tidbits I found when I got bored at work today.

Update: A full listing of changes to the Dow.

Monday, September 9, 2013

ODOT Backs Off On Giveaway To Republican Cronies

Dayton Daily News:
The Kasich administration canceled plans to award a $1.87 million public relations consulting contract to Strategic Public Partners Group, a firm filled with a who’s who of Ohio Republican operatives.
The Ohio Department of Transportation pulled back on a request for Controlling Board approval, saying it needs to answer lawmaker questions before deciding whether to proceed with the deal. The board was scheduled to consider the deal on Monday.
The proposal called for Strategic Public Partners Group to handle public relations for highway construction projects managed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, according to state records.
Nine PR firms bid for the work and six were interviewed.
Strategic Public Partners Group’s political action committee gave a maximum contribution — $12,156 — to Gov. John Kasich’s campaign committee in May. Leaders in the company have worked to elect Republicans including George W. Bush, Herman Cain, John McCain, Rob Portman, Josh Mandel, Kasich, J. Kenneth Blackwell and Florida politicians Rick Scott, Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, according to the SPPG website.
The firm had planned on subcontracting the majority of the work with five other firms.
I love how the bidder wasn't even going to do most of the work.  Quid pro quo.  It ain't what you know, it's who you pay.  ODOT claims road contractors have to do PR for their projects, and this was going to consolidate the work.  I call shenanigans.  I've never heard of contractors doing much any PR work.  That is part of ODOT''s work.

Grand Theft: Tax Liens In D.C.

Washington Post:
For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid.
But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.
As the housing market soared, the investors scooped up liens in every corner of the city, then started charging homeowners thousands in legal fees and other costs that far exceeded their original tax bills, with rates for attorneys reaching $450 an hour....Coleman, struggling with dementia, was among those who lost a home. His debt had snowballed to $4,999 — 37 times the original tax bill [which was $134]. Not only did he lose his $197,000 house, but he also was stripped of the equity because tax lien purchasers are entitled to everything, trumping even mortgage companies....
One 65-year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes — $1,025 — and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer. A 95-year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.
Other cities and states took steps to curb abuses, such as capping the fees, safeguarding houses owned by the elderly or scrapping tax sales altogether and instead collecting the money themselves.
How on earth can they not change the regulations to cap fees and leave the equity to the homeowners.  These investors are just stealing from poor folks and selling into a hot real estate market for returns of up to 100,000% ($134 into $197,000 is even higher than that).  Jeff Bezos may be running a vanity project in buying the Washington Post, but this is what newspaper journalism is all about.  I pray this story will lead to much needed reform of a criminal practice.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

Spetember 7:

Night in the Andes Ice Forest
Image Credit & Copyright: Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)
Explanation: This forest of snow and ice penitentes reflects moonlight shining across the Chajnantor plateau. The region lies in the Chilean Andes at an altitude of 5,000 meters, not far from one of planet Earth's major astronomical observatories, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Up to several meters high, the flattened, sharp-edged shapes, and orientation of the penitentes tend to minimize their shadows at local noon. In the dry, cold, thin atmosphere, sublimation driven by sunlight is important for their formation. A direct transition from a solid to a gaseous state, sublimation shapes other solar system terrains too, like icy surfaces of comets and the polar caps of Mars. Above the dreamlike landscape stretches the southern night sky. Their own forms rooted in myth, look for the constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, and Perseus near the panorama's left edge. Bright and colorful stars of Orion the Hunter are near center, with the Large Magellanic Cloud and the South Celestial Pole on the far right.

310 mph on Japan Maglev Train

Wired:
It’s currently the world’s longest and fastest stretch of maglev train, reaching speeds as high as 310 mph in a demonstration last week. But Japan’s L-Zero only lives on 26 miles1 of test track, and we’re still more than a decade away from completion.
After five years of trials, plus some starts and stops, Central Japan Railway Co. is finally starting construction on a maglev line between Nagoya and Tokyo, a 177-mile trip that will be cut from 95 minutes on today’s high-speed trains to just 40 minutes with maglev by 2027. To put that kind of speed in perspective, Amtrak’s Acela takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes to go about 210 miles. A trip from Boston to New York on maglev would take under an hour.
By 2045, JR Central hopes to extend the line to Osaka, which will cut the number of passengers on the frequent flights between the two cities. When built, the maglev will join an airport line in Shanghai and a low-speed train in Nagoya, among other rail systems that use magnets to float rail cars above a track to reduce friction and increase stability.
While Japan’s maglev promises to be an impressive technical feat, there’s some worry that Japan’s population won’t be big enough to sustain it. The Nagoya extension alone is expected to cost anywhere from $52 billion to as much as $90 billion, 2 thanks to the difficulty of tunneling through cities and mountains to make a straight track.
Problem number one of transportation improvements: how to fit the needs of the design into the built landscape.  It killed many an urban interstate highway route over the years, and any new high speed transport solution is going to run into those issues.

Can Republicans Win Without Minorities?

Ronald Brownstein makes the case that considering how poorly Obama did with traditionally Democratic leaning subcategories of white voters, Republicans will be hard pressed to win without making inroads amongst minorities:
Obama, for instance, lost noncollege white men -- once the brawny backbone of the New Deal-era Democratic coalition -- by a crushing 31 percentage points, the widest deficit since 1984. He lost married white men and married white women by the largest margins for his party since 1984. He lost whites nearing retirement by the widest margin since 1988, and white seniors by the most since 1984. Among older working-class whites (those without college degrees age 45 or older), he faced even larger deficits than Mondale did against Reagan. Likewise, the analysis shows, Obama lost white Catholics, once considered perhaps the single most decisive swing group, by a larger margin (19 points) than Mondale did. Obama didn't sink to record deficits among two other GOP-leaning groups -- college-educated white men and noncollege white women -- but he lost each by around 20 percentage points.
Even among the portions of the white community generally open to Democrats, Obama's performance flagged. After running essentially even among single white men in 2008, he lost them by 8 points in 2012 -- the party's weakest showing since 2000. His margin among white single women (ordinarily one of the Democrats' best groups) fell from 19 percentage points in 2008 to just 6 in 2012, the party's smallest advantage since 1988. Likewise, after carrying college-educated white women his first time, Obama lost them in 2012 by 6 percentage points, the party's biggest deficit since 1988. His overall deficit among white women spiked to 14 percentage points, double the level in 2008 and the biggest shortfall the party has faced since Mondale. Among whites younger than 30, Obama fell from a 10-point advantage in 2008 to a 7-point loss in 2012. Among whites in households with a union member, the exit poll found, Obama edged Romney by just 2 percentage points.
I think it is interesting how weakly Obama did with white Catholics, when he came out almost breakeven amongst all Catholics.  His support from Hispanic Catholics, and Hispanic Catholics' increasing percentage of total Catholics made up a significant difference in a traditional swing demographic.

I think the ways Republicans have targeted issues of interest for minority voters, like immigration and voting rights, are inherently self-defeating.  They push positions that motivate a small percentage of their base, but are seriously important to affected minorities.  The minority groups hear the disdain that Republicans and their base hold for the minorities and their key issues.  This gets these groups out to the polls.  Considering that Voter ID laws appeared to motivate more blacks to participate in the 2012 election, Republican efforts to further restrict access to the ballot box seem foolhardy at best. 

My great fear is that Republicans will succeed in convincing more and more white voters to support them, and our already polarized political atmosphere will become more toxic still by further injecting the bile of American history, race.  Nothing will be worse for our civil society than having our politics devolve into a headcount among races, with little or no attention to society as a whole.  I am hopeful that as more young people gravitate to our center cities, they will be able to find ways to interact in mutually economically beneficial ways with the urban poor, and maybe make beneficial changes to these cities.  It is a long shot, but it would be a very good thing.

The Day A Fan Got Put In A Soocer Game

The Guardian  (h/t Ritholtz):
Harry Redknapp delights in telling this particular yarn. Last time he told the story it was on TV show A League of Their Own, at Christmas last year. "There's a guy next to the dug-out," Harry told the host, "and he's got West Ham tattooed all over his arms and neck, he's got the earrings … After two minutes, he started on me." Today, speaking to me in his third one-on-one interview since taking over as QPR boss, he slips into storytelling mode.
"'We ain't got that Lee Chapman up front do we – I ain't coming every week if he's playing,'" says Harry, doing his impression of Steve. "Half-time I made five substitutions, and we only had the bare 11 out – I was running out of players. Then we got another injury, so I said to this guy in the crowd, 'Oi, can you play as good as you talk?'"
The rest of the tale is hallowed football folklore. "I slung a leg over the barrier and Harry walked me down the tunnel," says Steve. "What's your name, son?" Harry asked, sizing up this apparent hooligan. "I couldn't believe it. Inside the dressing room, the players were sat down resting at half-time." West Ham were two-nil up, but the team was carrying injuries. "Then Harry and says, 'Lee you're off; Steve you're on.'"
Even more amazing:
Half an hour previously, he had been sucking on a cigarette in the away supporters' end, swigging from a bottle, and considering a third beer. Now he's taken the pass in stride and is in front of goal; City's veteran keeper Colin Fleet is bearing down on him, palms out, head down. The summer sun has dropped low beneath the bare trees on the horizon, painting the entire scene gold and casting long shadows.
"I just hit it," he says with a shrug. "I hit it like nothing else. Know what I mean? I belted it." The ball whistled low, past the outstretched hand of the Oxford goalkeeper, and ran into the bottom corner of the goal. Steve says he wheeled away in celebration, arms extended, head bent with disbelief. On the side of the field, Redknapp turned around and looked briefly to the heavens.
"It was like time stopped still – it was the greatest moment of my life," says Steve. Somewhere in the crowd, Bazza and Chunk were losing their minds. Steve Davies had scored on his West Ham debut.
"After that, I was exhausted. I was on 30 cigarettes a day back then," Steve admits. "I wouldn't condone it. I had a couple of cigs and a couple of beers in the first half, didn't I?" He admits his goal was not spectacular: "I'm not gonna butter myself up, but they all count." And when the full-time whistle blew, West Ham had won 4–0. Steve walked down the tunnel with the rest of his team-mates, jubilant.
I don't think there is a fan alive who at some point in their life didn't dream about something like that happening to them.  That it actually did happen to somebody is incredible.