Tuesday, September 20, 2016

This Explains A Lot

FiveThirtyEight:

“And that’s a home run” — the Cubs’ third of the night.
Brennaman could be forgiven for his lack of enthusiasm. The Reds are 63-87, 32 games out of first place in the NL Central, and he’s had to make the same call 242 times so far this season. With two weeks left to play, the Reds’ pitchers have allowed the most home runs of any team in major league history. It’s a staggering total: Cincy hurlers allow an average of 1.6 homers every 9 innings, or one every 21.2 at-bats (meaning they effectively turned average NL hitters into Larry Doby or Joe Carter).
But it’s also symptomatic of a pitching staff that is, by another measure, the worst ever — and the only one in history that would have been better off being stocked with replacement-level players instead.
The Reds have struggled to build an effective staff for a looooong time, having broken league-average in fielding independent pitching only twice in the past 21 seasons. (And this is even after accounting for Cincinnati’s home parks, which have tended to inflate scoring.) But this season’s version has taken bad pitching and elevated it into some kind of twisted art form....
Somehow the Reds have been the only staff in MLB history to post a cumulative WAR below the replacement level. Not every Cincinnati hurler has been historically bad — Anthony DeSclafani has done admirable work, leading the team with 1.9 WAR, and Raisel Iglesias has 1.3 WAR with a superb 3.30 FIP. But by the logic of the theory that underpins WAR, the Reds’ sub-replacement tally means they could have stocked their entire pitching staff with nothing but freely available fringe players and AAA callups, and they’d have won an additional game. To find another team that could say that, you’d need to hark back 127 years (!!) to the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, whose 23-113 record still stands as second-worst in the long annals of major-league failure.
It has been a tremendously long season, but it has improved markedly after the all-star break.  And the Reds offense has managed to pull the Reds above several other teams.  Mercifully, the Reds' miserable season is almost over, and all I have to hope for to keep this from being an entirely miserable season is to have the evil Cubs be eliminated from the playoffs, hopefully short of the pennant.  God help us if they manage to win.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The New Cold War

60 Minutes:



This is scary:
At the end of the Cold War both sides pledged to point their missiles at the open ocean. But it would take just minutes to change back to real targets.
That provides a small hedge against an accidental war triggered by a false alarm of the kind Perry experienced in 1979 when a watch officer mistakenly inserted a training tape into a computer.
William Perry: It looked like 200 ICBMs were on the way from the Soviet Union to the United States. Happily we got that situation figured out before we had to go to the president. But had we not he would have received a call at 3 o’clock in the morning and said, “Sir you have seven or eight minutes to decide whether to launch those before these missiles land on our ICBM silos.
David Martin: And what was the fail-safe there?  What stopped it from going to the president?
William Perry: What stopped it was an astute general who sensed something was wrong.
How many times have we almost nuked somebody accidentally?  It seems like a lot.  We were very lucky in the Cold War.

NASA Photo of the Day

September 11:


All the Water on Planet Earth
Illustration Credit & Copyright: Jack Cook, Adam Nieman, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Howard Perlman, USGS
Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth's surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth's radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth's Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn's moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. How even this much water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth's surface remain topics of research.
And, what, 3% of that is freshwater?  If my maths are working, that would be a sphere with a radius slightly under 218 km.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Big Get Bigger

Bayer finally reached a deal with Monsanto, wrapping up a massive consolidation of the seed and pesticide market:


This isn't in the best interest of farmers, but is in the best interest of monopolists.  On the lighter side, for my money, Bloomberg wins the headline championship:

Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year

Monday, September 12, 2016

NASA Photo of the Day

September 6:

The Whirlpool Galaxy and Beyond
Image Credit & Copyright: Álvaro Ibáñez Pérez
Explanation: Follow the handle of the Big Dipper away from the dipper's bowl, until you get to the handle's last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you might find this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier's famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (left), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the angular boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the human eye, the above long-exposure, deep-field image taken earlier this year shows much of the faint complexity that actually surrounds the smaller galaxy. Thousands of the faint dots in background of the featured image are actually galaxies far across the universe.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Not Your Average Price-Fixing Scheme

Bloomberg:
The “herd retirement program,” as it was called, was led by Cooperatives Working Together, run by the lobbying group National Milk Producers Federation, and supported by farms producing almost 70 percent of America’s milk. Individual cooperatives sued included Dairy Farmers of America Inc., Land O’Lakes, Dairylea Cooperative Inc., and Agri-Mark Inc.
The consumers claimed that between 2003 and 2010 the cooperatives paid above-market prices for dairy cows owned by member farmers, and sent them to be slaughtered before they would have otherwise. Cut the supply, the price will rise, right? But things get weird when you look at the industry’s performance. Since 1975, the U.S. government says overall American dairy consumption has gone from 539 pounds per person per year in 1975, to 627 pounds in 2015 (though fluid milk sales have dropped precipitously). So why does anyone need to boost prices when people can’t seem to get enough non-fat Greek yogurt?
Those defendant cooperatives, as we mentioned, are made up of dairy farmers both large and small. The farmers sell their milk through the cooperatives to huge dairy processors (the folks who make your favorite yogurt), who then sell to retailers (your local supermarket). Gary Genske, treasurer of the National Dairy Producers Organization, says the processors often demand more milk from the cooperatives than is actually needed, creating a glut and driving the overall price of dairy down (which of course benefits the processors and hurts the farmers). “We have far too much product for what the market wants,” Genske said.
So—according to the complaint filed five years ago in San Francisco federal court—the cooperatives came up with a way to fight the glut and boost prices. Kill hundreds of thousands of cows.
I'm not sure I buy into this claim, but I also don't buy into the claims of the class-action lawyers in the Syngenta case, either, and God knows thousands of lawyers are looking to get rich on that bullshit.  As it is, it is pretty clear that there are way too many cows producing way too much milk right now.  The world is drowning in milk and cheese.