Saturday, March 12, 2011

For What It's Worth


Jim Tressel gives an interview to the 700 Club:
 One summer, Jim went to a summer camp sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He got more than he bargained for when the speaker asked one simple question that shook his world.   
Jim:  It was the last day of the camp that Bobby Richardson, the great baseball player with the Yankees, was speaking. He asked all of us if the game of life ended tonight, would we be a winner. And I mean, wow, I’d been around sports a long time, my whole life; and when he put it into the perspective of life, I wasn’t sure I could answer that. But, I knew once the game’s over, it’s over. And so, as he asked that question, I didn’t have an answer.
On the way back to his dorm he walked to a baseball field and thought hard about Bobby Richardson’s words.
Jim:  He said, ‘Here’s the answer.’ He said, ‘Ask Jesus into your life. Ask God to direct your life, and you win.’ And it was like man, that sounds pretty simple.

Since then Coach Tressel has lived a life of purpose. After leading the Buckeyes to four Big Ten Conference Championships, he teaches what winning truly is. 

Jim:  My purpose is to be a servant in God’s kingdom and to serve Him and His - all of us - all shapes, sizes, and get to know Him. Grow to love Him, which is loving as well. I think what’s most important about our relationship with Jesus, to Him, is that we understand His way, the way He wants us to live, the way He wants us to serve.

Shawn:  When people look at you, what is it that you want people to see?
Jim:  I hope that they would see someone who is humbly serving God. That’s what I hope.

The City of Lights

Via the Dish:

Le Flâneur (music by The XX) from Luke Shepard on Vimeo.

Uncle Mo to race in Timely Writer

From ESPN:
As expected, reigning juvenile champion and current Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo will kick off his 3-year-old campaign going one mile Saturday in Gulfstream Park's $100,000 Timely Writer.
The Timely Writer was written last month by Gulfstream Park racing secretary Dan Bork with the hope of luring Uncle Mo away from what was originally his first choice for his 3-year-old bow, Saturday's Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole announced two weeks ago that they intended to use the Timely Writer as the first of two prep races that Uncle Mo will have prior to the Kentucky Derby on May 7, if the race filled.
The Timely Writer drew a field of six 3-year-olds, including four supplemental nominees. Along with Uncle Mo, who will break from post 1, the lineup includes Gallant Dreams, Madman Diaries, Rocking Out, Schoolyard Cat, and Rattlesnake Bridge.
The Tampa Bay Derby also was also drawn Wednesday and, like the Timely Writer, features a key Kentucky Derby contender from Pletcher's barn, the undefeated Brethren. A half-brother to 2010 Derby winner Super Saver, Brethren will return to Tampa off an easy and impressive victory last month in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis.

Not good for Nuclear Power

Not exactly the news the U.S. nuke power industry wants to see:
Edano said the radiation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had not risen after the blast, but had in fact decreased. He did not say why that was so.
The explosion was caused by hydrogen interacting with oxygen outside the reactor. The hydrogen was formed when the superheated — and increasingly brittle — metal container of the fuel rods came in contact with water being poured over it to prevent a meltdown.
Officials have not given specific radiation readings for the area, though they said they were elevated before the blast: At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.
Virtually any increase in ambient radiation can raise long-term cancer rates, and authorities were planning to distribute iodine to residents in the area, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iodine counteracts the effects of radiation.
The pressure in the reactor was also decreasing after the blast, according to Edano.
I don't know how well the "at least it didn't meltdown" argument will work for people.

Stay Classy, Buckeye Fans


Way to show your intelligence, Bucks fans:
Christopher Cicero, a walk-on player for the Buckeyes in the early 1980s, said in his first interview that it has been a stressful time since his name and e-mails to Tressel were revealed.
A fan of the Buckeyes' program, Cicero said he doesn't want to be considered the "Judas" in the controversy, and added he has received some death threats in the past few days.
I hate to break it to you guys, but this guy just tried to tip off Tressel that there was some bad stuff going down.  He didn't tip off the NCAA.  Just face facts, Jimmy T is dirty.  That's not something to make death threats over.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Awesome: Wisconsin Firefighters Shut Down Bank that Funded Walker, at Alternet:
Heeding a call by Firefighters Local 311 President Joe Conway to 'Move your money,' union members withdrew over $100,000 from the bank, with some reports stating that number is as high as $192,000. Either way, it was a hefty enough chunk of change that M&I shut its doors and closed for the day at 3PM.
An update puts the figure at $600,000.  I wouldn't mind seeing a little economic boycott of major political donor corporations.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lenten Question

So is it supposed to be a sacrifice for me to eat fried fish on Fridays in Lent?

Please Don't Call Them Twinkies

I heard this on the radio the other day, and wouldn't have guessed it was a baseball song until I caught some of the lyrics.  The Twins are a team I can respect from afar, since they are a successful small market team, but the Reds only play them every three years or so.  Well, here goes:

Taxes and Small Businesses

Donald Marron, via Ezra Klein.  I wouldn't have guessed this would be thought #1, but it makes sense:
America’s tax system is needlessly complex, economically harmful, and often unfair. Because of a plethora of temporary tax cuts, it’s increasingly unpredictable. And it fails at its most basic task, raising enough money to pay our government’s bills. For these reasons, the time has come for fundamental tax reform.
Such reform could have far-reaching effects on every participant in the economy, including small businesses. To provide a foundation for thinking about these effects, my testimony discusses basic facts about the relationship between tax policy and small business. I make six main points:
1. Today’s tax code generally favors small businesses over larger ones. Provisions such as Section 179 expensing, graduated corporate tax rates, and special, low capital gains taxes benefit businesses that are small in terms of investment, income, or assets.
In the end, much like Warren Buffett himself, Berkshire Hathaway has a significant tax bill, but it can easily afford it.  Whereas many small businesses need every dollar they can get, Berkshire has a pile of cash sitting around in case Goldman, Sachs happens to need some.  I thought this statement in the Berkshire annual report was interesting:
For good reason, I regularly extol the accomplishments of our operating managers. Equally important, however, are the 20 men and women who work with me at our corporate office (all on one floor, which is the way we intend to keep it!).
This group efficiently deals with a multitude of SEC and other regulatory requirements, files a 14,097-page Federal income tax return along with state and foreign returns (emphasis mine), responds to countless shareholder and media inquiries, gets out the annual report, prepares for the country’s largest annual meeting, coordinates the Board’s activities – and the list goes on and on.
But for a small business, I can see where someone might complain about how bad their taxes are or how tough regulations are, even if they are the same or even less rigorous than for larger businesses.  These are activities for which scale eases the burden.  I think most of the Republican talk about easing regulations and tax burden take advantage of this differential by getting the votes from the small businesses, who think they will benefit significantly, but hand back the most benefit to the large businesses who actually don't necessarily need it.  A small break for a big company can produce a lot of money, of which a portion can be donated back to the politician.  Meanwhile, the small businessperson may save a little bit, but their larger competitor will save even more, and be more competitive, and will have more of a say in how new rules will help them leverage advantages over the small guy.  It works either way, the more burdensome the regulation, the easier it is for the big business to comply with versus the small business; the less burdensome the regulation, the big business profits more dramatically.  In other words, the small businessman can vote his personal interest for less regulation and less taxes, but these rules also help out the big business, and the public in general pays the cost.

Dealing with Healthcare Costs

Krugman says that we need some serious conservatives, not idiots:
Yet there are still moments when I find myself saying, “They can’t really be that stupid,” or maybe, “They can’t really think the rest of us are that stupid.” And I had one of those moments reading about a recent conference on national health policy, which featured a bipartisan dialogue among Congressional staffers.
According to a column in Kaiser Health News, Republican staffers jeered at any and all proposals to use Medicare and Medicaid funds better. Spending money on prevention was no more than a “slush fund.” Research on innovation was “an oxymoron.” And there was no reason to pay for “so-called effectiveness research.”
To put this in context, you have to realize two things about the fiscal state of America. First, the nation is not, in fact, “broke.” The federal government is having no trouble raising money, and the price of that money — the interest rate on federal borrowing — is very low by historical standards. So there’s no need to scramble to slash spending now now now; we can and should be willing to spend now if it will produce savings in the long run.
Second, while the government does have a long-run fiscal problem, that problem is overwhelmingly driven by rising health care costs. The Congressional Budget Office expects Social Security outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. to rise 30 percent over the next quarter-century, as the population ages, but it expects a near doubling of the share of G.D.P. spent on Medicare and Medicaid.
They just aren't serious about governing.  We shouldn't put them in charge until they get some people who are serious.

Trouble in the Desert?

James Hamilton thinks so:
Subsequent to the 2008 peak in oil prices, the Saudis cut production, consistent with their historical role of moderating the extent of price declines. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi claims that the kingdom currently has 3.5 mb/d excess capacity, though many analysts have expressed doubts about those claims.
An increase of a million barrels per day in Saudi production relative to reported November levels, some of which may have in fact already been implemented, would put them back up to where they were in July of 2008. If all of Libyan production gets knocked out, we'd need 1.8 mb/d to replace it. If the Saudis weren't able or willing to go above those production levels in 2008 when oil was selling for over $140 a barrel, why would you expect them to do so now with West Texas only at $106?
My answer is, I don't.
The comments are pretty chilling too.  My position in 2008 was that the Saudis weren't raising production because they can't.  It seems that this might be the case.

Filming Practice

Notre Dame changes practice procedures:
The family of the Notre Dame student who died filming a Fighting Irish football practice when a hydraulic lift fell over last October is pleased the university is installing remote-controlled cameras to prevent a similar tragedy. "The family thinks that's a very wise course of action, very much a safer environment for their employees," said Mike Miley, the uncle of Declan Sullivan.
Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior from Long Grove, Ill., died Oct. 27 when the hydraulic lift he was on fell while he was filming practice. The National Weather Service reported gusts of up to 51 mph at the time and the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating why the lift fell over.
I just can't imagine what colleges get out of filming practice. 

A Sweet Shot

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Share the Sacrifice, by Heather Digby Parton:
This misguided assumption would be merely amusing if not for the fact that almost the entire political conversation in the U.S. takes place among this small group of people — and that these alleged champions of the middle class inevitably convey the impression that Americans across the land are obsessed with deficit reduction and low taxes, which require deep cuts to 
“entitlements.”  Yet out here in the real world, poll after poll shows that, in fact, Americans are far more concerned with unemployment and favor surtaxes on the wealthy to close the deficit. And so, from time to time, these gilded Regular Joes are forced to regretfully admit that sometimes the people are like dotty old relatives who “just don’t get it” or that they just want a “free lunch” — after which they promptly forget those findings and go back to pretending that the American people see things exactly the way they do. 
Even worse than that is the common assertion by these millionaire pundits that “we all” must sacrifice for the greater good and allow Social Security to be slashed. This is usually spoken with such a tone of lugubrious forbearance that one imagines they would like us to believe that while they might be forced to become Wal-Mart greeters in their elder years, patriotic duty demands we all pitch in. They seem to have no idea that the median wage in this country in 2009 was $26,261 — sadly, lower than it was in the year 2000. (Even when you average in the billionaires, it was only $39,269.) Clearly, the average political TV host takes home many times that wage, so this idea that “we” are all “sharing” in the proposed sacrifices is a bit much, particularly in light of the recent extension of the Bush tax cuts, hailed in the media as the greatest piece of legislation since the founding of the republic. 
Amen.  I'm tired of people saying that taxes are too high, when the Bush tax cuts lowered taxes to post-WWII lows.  No wonder the government isn't getting enough revenue.  In case people didn't notice, the CBO revised the federal deficit $400 billion dollars higher when the Bush tax cuts were extended.  Let those tax cuts expire, as they were scheduled to, and the deficit shrinks by 26%  The Republicans $61 billion in cuts doesn't look all that impressive then.

Contrary to the Governor's Notion, Maybe Ohio isn't So Bad

At least in Richard Florida's analysis (via Economist's View):
Unions continue to be a hot-button issue in American politics despite the fact that the level of unionization has fallen precipitously over the past half century.  While many continue to think of unions as the province of blue-collar working class economies, less than one in five workers in Rustbelt states - Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio--belongs to a union. Union states have more knowledge-intensive economies, boast more highly educated workforces, and have higher incomes as well.
The basic fact that unions are positively associated with so many key measures of prosperity suggests that their existence has little to do with state budget problems. (emphasis mine) Unions are not the cause of the serious economic and fiscal problems that are challenging so many American states, which are result of the economic crisis, collapsed housing market and massively reduced revenues. In fact, the economic influence of unions has been dramatically curtailed as a result of the ongoing transformation of the U.S. economy. At the same time, the existence of unions does not appear to be enough to forestall growing income inequality within the U.S, states.
It's time to get beyond the angry, ideologically motivated rhetoric about unions. We need to put our fiscal house in order and buckle down to the serious business of generating good jobs; more than that, we need to reinvent the U.S. economy for this new age.
Governor Kasich, please don't try to turn Ohio into a southern state with northern weather.  If I wanted that, I'd move to Indiana.

Where is that Ice Sheet going?

Stuart Staniford has a post on a new research paper tracking the mass balance of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.  This chart was included:
I'm just sure this is caused by solar flares or something.  Global warming deniers, please explain.  As he goes on to say, sea level rise probably isn't a bigger concern than potential drought, but we are already playing with fire.

Whodathunkit?

Kasich considers leasing the Turnpike:
The Ohio Department of Transportation is pitching the idea of leasing the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike to generate billions of dollars for infrastructure and other statewide priorities, according to information obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
On Thursday, Gov. John Kasich declined to answer questions about specifics in his upcoming budget, but in the past he has expressed interest in leasing the turnpike to generate money. The turnpike runs across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana.
Kasich spokesman Scott Milburn declined to confirm or deny the proposal. Kasich plans to unveil his two-year operating budget on Tuesday.
Hopefully they explained where the tolls go.  Also, Kasich might privatize lottery:
The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reports a plan to privatize the lottery management was submitted this week to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission.
Kasich has said he's considering some privatization of government services in the face of an $8 billion deficit.
Why don't you look at selling the state capital like the loons in Arizona did. 

Kasich also was touting Bob Evans decision to move the headquarters to New Albany.  He said they considered moving to Texas, and pointed out," the state of Texas has no income tax, from what I understand they don't have much regulation..."

Please governor, move.

However, the city of Columbus says that they offered Bob Evans more money than New Albany, and that Bob Evans had no intention of leaving the state.
"We felt like they misled us, the state and New Albany," said Dan Williamson, a spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman. Columbus is expected  to lose $600,000 annually in tax revenue because of the deal.
Columbus offered Bob Evans several options - sweetened by millions in incentives - to remain in the city. The company chose a different path.
"Everything they asked for, we delivered. We feel like they used us as leverage to gain a better deal from New Albany."
Kasich took the opportunity to again tell people how terrible Ohio is:
The news conference was attended by Gov. John Kasich, who said the state's ability to entice employers to remain in Ohio will combat another serious problem - population loss.
Holding a packet of newspaper clippings detailing huge populations losses in most of Ohio's major cities, Kasich said people left the state in the past 10 years because their jobs were going to other states.
"Do you see what's happening in this state?" Kasich said. "People are heading for the exits.
"We've got to convince people to stay in Ohio. If we can make it worth their while to stay with jobs and low costs and pay so much in taxes and all that, we'll be OK. But it doesn't happen in a day."
The state would be a lot better off if he just shut his damn mouth.  This isn't Fox News, governor, quit running your mouth and throwing out stupid right-wing talking points.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Everybody needs somebody

also, this

What do Americans Want (Social Justice Edition)

Social Justice and Democratic Stability, by Dan Little (also via Economist's View):
So what moral expectations do American citizens have about how society ought to work? Several things seem fairly clear. Americans care about equality of opportunity. We are deeply rankled by the idea that the good opportunities in society are somehow captured by an elite of any sort. Second is the idea of equal treatment of all citizens by the institutions of the state. Teenagers and persons of color rankle at being singled out for special attention by the police. Women rightly seethe at the persistence of institutions in the workplace that continue to treat them differently. Arab Americans rightly resent special scrutiny at airports.  We don't accept status inequality easily -- especially in our own cases.  And third, we are very sensitive about the inviolability of our rights -- our right to vote, right to go where we want, right to speak our minds and associate with whomever we want to.

What Americans don't yet seem to have is a specific moral sensitivity to extreme inequalities of income and wealth. The fact of the accelerating concentration of income at the top doesn't seem to produce the moral outrage in the US that perhaps it would in France or Germany. And maybe this comes from another element of our moral economy -- the idea that inequalities are all right as long as they are fairly earned. But more information about bonuses on Wall Street and the banking industry may begin to erode that tolerance.  

More Knuckleball Pitchers

The top 10 knuckleball pitchers of all-time.  Clearly #1:
1. Phil Niekro – 318-274, 3.35 ERA, 1.85 SO/BB

A Hall of Fame pitcher and by all accounts (even mine, as I got to spend time with him once) a Hall of Fame individual, Niekro is the most successful knuckleball pitcher of all time.  Ironically, on the day of his 300th win, Niekro spent almost the entire day not throwing his signature pitch.  According to legend, Niekro did not throw a knuckleball until the final batter of the game.  He spent 24 seasons in the majors and made the post-season just twice, and both of those times his teams were swept in the opening round.  A teammate of both Henry Aaron and Tom Glavine, Niekro had a career blessed with both longevity and individual success.  Better teams would have led to more success but perhaps a better team would not have given a knuckleball pitcher a chance to succeed.  After parts of three seasons in the bullpen, Niekro moved into the starting rotation as a 28-year old in 1967, a position he maintained until 1987.

Cincinnati's Underground Cellars

Last weekend was Bockfest in Over-the Rhine.  The website features a bunch of history of Over-the-Rhine, and the breweries in the area:
The Miami & Erie Canal followed a route through Cincinnati that is now marked by Central Parkway, traveling from beside the Mill Creek at Cumminsville down to a sharp bend at Plum St., then veering south on what is now Eggleston to reach the riverfront. The portion of the canal that ran east-west from Plum to Eggleston roughly cut the downtown basin in half. In 1828, when this portion of the canal was completed, virtually all of the developed city stopped south of the canal. The area north of it was largely gardens and farmland. The transformation of a small river town into the Queen City of the West corresponded with early waves of German and Irish immigration (more German than Irish.) While the Irish stuck relatively close to the waterfront, the Germans started settling in the area north of the canal. This farmland was transformed into a bustling neighborhood in a very short period of time, and the concentration of German immigrants gave it a very German feel. German was spoken in the streets. German church congregations and German-language newspapers arose. The area started to feel so distinctly European that many Cincinnatians referred to the people living south of the canal as “the Americans” and their fellow Cincinnatians north of the canal as “the Germans.”This gave the Miami & Erie Canal the nickname “Rhine” in reference to Germany's Rhine River. Crossing over the canal into the German section of town became known as “going over the Rhine.” Cincinnati's early brewers were predominately English, Scottish, and French. By the 1850s, German-Americans had changed this. German lager beer became the drink of choice for Cincinnati, and Cincinnatians consumed copious amounts of it in saloons and Over-the-Rhine's famous beer gardens. By the late 1800s, there were over a dozen breweries in or near the boarders of Over-the-Rhine that were producing hundreds of thousands of barrels of German-style lager beer; and Over-the-Rhine was home to almost 300 saloons. (By contrast, today there are currently 167 full liquor licenses issued in the entire City of Cincinnati.)
One of the activities at Bockfest, is a tour of the Brewery District.  This includes trips into a couple of the remaining lagering cellars of the old breweries:
This year's tour starts at Bockfest Hall, and travels to the Crown/Schmidt Brothers Brewery, one of the casualties of Prohibition. We'll travel down to the lagering cellars and through the tiny tunnel 30' below McMicken Avenue. Once above ground again, we'll walk past the original Hudepohl brewery and down Vine Street to the Kauffman Brewery. Here we'll see a presentation on Cincinnati's brewing history, and then go down to the massive lagering cellars still remaining. Traveling through the tunnels under Hamer Street will take us to the basement of the new Moerlein Brewery, where the tour will wrap up in Bockfest Hall.
Given my love of bock beer, I think I'll try to make it down there next year. Here is a link to some photos.  One of the pictures is below:

Will Next Time be Different?

Raghuram Rajah discusses bailouts, moral hazard and adjusting responses to financial crises (via Economist's View):
To avoid that fate, governments should start by recognizing that the system is programmed to respond to deep distress, and that they can do nothing about it. But they must try to ensure that they do not destroy incentives by doing too much. And they must offset the distortions created by intervention in other ways.
For example, the US Federal Reserve has essentially guaranteed the financial sector that if it gets into trouble, ultra-low interest rates will be maintained (at the expense of savers) until the sector recovers. In the early to mid-1990’s, rates were kept low because of banks’ real-estate problems. They were slashed again in 2001 and kept ultra-low after the dot-com bust. And they have been ultra-low since 2008. Senior Fed policymakers deny that their interest-rate policy bears any responsibility for risk taking, but there is much evidence to the contrary.
It would be difficult for the Fed to respond differently if the financial sector gets into trouble again. But it does not have to maintain ultra-low interest rates after the crisis has passed, especially if those rates have little impact on generating sustainable economic activity. Doing so merely rewards banks for their past excesses – and taxes savers.
More importantly, if the Fed wants to restore incentives for risk takers and savers, it should offset the effects of staying “low for long” in bad times by increasing interest rates more rapidly than is strictly necessary as the economy recovers. This will, of course, be politically difficult, because the public has been programmed to think that ultra-low rates are good, and higher rates bad, for growth, without any consideration for the long-term sustainability of growth.
Finally, the pressure on governments to intervene would be lower if individuals had access to a minimum safety net. Official US policy is so activist in downturns (regardless of its effectiveness) partly because unemployment is so costly to workers – who have little savings, unemployment benefits that run out quickly, and health care that is often tied to a job. A stronger safety net for individuals might allow politicians to accept more corporate or financial-sector distress, and help bolster their claim that next time really will be different.
Crisis after crisis, with ever lower rates bothers me.  Then again, I'm usually a saver, and the 5.5% interest I was getting on my savings account in 1999 was pretty nice.

Detroit

Ta-Nehisi Coates takes a look at Detroit, and its black middle-class.  One important thing to note about the history of Detroit, is that it really boomed in the early 20th century, and its growth was completely auto-centered.  Here's TNC:
In that endeavor, one of the first things I had to get was that the concept of owning your own home, in Detroit, is different in degree and scope than in other cities. Homeownership is a religion in America, but the fanatics of Detroit are without peer: 85 percent of Detroit housing consists of single-family homes. In that sense, Detroit is reflecting Michigan's traditional ardor for the single family dwelling. In 1900, Michigan's home-ownership rate was 16 percentage points higher above the national average. In 2000, it was 7 points above. The gap had shrunk, but, overall, Michigan still had the third highest home ownership rate in the country. 

The second thing to get was that the city was really built for the car. Woodward Avenue, which marks Palmer Woods' eastern border and was once the Sauk Indians' Saginaw Trail, is the country's oldest paved road. And the city's far-flung neighborhoods of detached homes, many of them with driveways, were built on the same suppositions as the surrounding suburbs. Space was dogma. Density, anathema.

Prewar Detroit spawned at an epic clip, its population doubling between 1910 and 1920, its assessed valuation quadrupling from $350 million to $1.4 billion. In 1914, Henry Ford announced the five dollar work day, summoning forth European immigrants and blacks from the South desperate for wages. In 1916, GM announced dividends of $50 a share, the largest in Wall Street history up to that point. "When Henry Ford did his five dollar a day, that was not by accident," said Dan Pitera, director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy. "At that time you could buy a home and own a car on five dollars a day... . He made it possible for everyone he employed to buy a Ford." 

During the boom years of the Big Three automakers, Detroit essentially functioned as a sprawling bedroom community for the auto plants in Highland Park, Hamtramck and Dearborn. "I like to call Detroit the largest middle class city ever built," Jason Booza, a demographer at Wayne State told me. "Everybody had to have a car. What you have is, essentially, a flat city. New York and Boston were vertical. You didn't have that in Detroit.

"It was part of that American Dream, what you saw in the Levittowns. We didn't want to live in overcrowded tenements like the vertical cities. We had the ability, wealth and land to spread out. You couldn't do that as much in New York. Our only constraint was the river. We were completely flat. Nothing hindered our horizontal expansion." 

Detroit, singular among America's older big cities, boomed in the first half of the 20th century, just as luxury items--specifically the car and the detached home--became available to the urban working classes. Thus the city was built on a kind neo-Jeffersonianism--detached single-lot homes with lawns, driveways for cars, and an undercurrent animus toward renters, many of whom happened to be black.
This automobile-based development, which spawned the suburbs and all the Sun Belt development, is probably the single biggest cause of our financial difficulties.  Why do I say it is the biggest cause?  First off would be our trade imbalance, with imported oil.  Secondly, the percentage of household budgets which go to transportation.  Finally, the abandonment of the central cities, and the booming prices in the exurbs, were major factors in the housing bubble, factors which are completely dependent on auto transportation.  This will be the cross we have to bear in the forseeable future.  Unfortunately, the scourge of race is also mixed in, making it even harder to handle.  Throw in crazy reactionary populist politics, and we have our work cut out for us.  His entire piece is very informative, and goes in a different direction than I am.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: US farmers fear the return of the Dust Bowl, from the Telegraph.  Another gloomy story about the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer:
'It was a booming town when I grew up,' Judy Shipman, who manages the bank, says. 'We had three restaurants, a grocery, a plumber, an electrician, a building contractor, a doctor. We had so much fun, growing up.' Like all the townsfolk, she knows why the fun has gone. 'It's the decline in the water level,' she says. 'In the 1950s a lot of wells were drilled, and the water went down. Now you can't farm the land.'
Those wells were drilled into a geological phenomenon called the Ogallala Aquifer. It is an underground lake of pristine water formed between two and six million years ago, in the Pliocene age, when the tectonic shifts that pushed the Rocky Mountains skywards were still active. The water was trapped below the new surface crust that would become the semi-arid soil of the Plains, dry and dusty. It stretches all the way down the eastern slope of the Rockies from the badlands of South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle. It does not replenish.
Happy is the canary in the coalmine because the Ogallala is deepest in the north, as much as 300ft in the more fertile country of Nebraska and Kansas. In the south, through the panhandle and over the border to New Mexico, it is 50-100ft. And around Happy, 75 miles south of Amarillo, it is now 0-50ft. The farms have been handed over to the government's Conservation Reserve Programme (CRP) to lie fallow in exchange for grants: farmers' welfare, although they hate to think of it like that.
The whole thing is worth a read. T. Boone Pickens shows up to buy water from farmers.  Timothy Egan, in his book The Worst Hard Time, addressed turning to irrigation, really water mining, after the Dust Bowl.  He pretty much described it as people not learning the right lessons from a disaster.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Ohio and the 2010 Census

The data was released, and it isn't pretty.  Most of West Central and Northwest Ohio lost population.  Meanwhile, in the urban areas, the suburban sprawl intesified.  Much of the discussion recently, especially by Edward Glaeser, has been about density.  The trend here is in the opposite direction, just when we might see peak oil, limiting the ability to continue commuting over long distances. Here are a couple of maps of population change, first the Cincinnati area:

Now a map of the Dayton area:
Both maps show population shifts which lower density.  This would be all well and good if there wasn't a struggling economy which limits the ability of the central cities to maintain existing infrastructure, and there wasn't a transportation problem looming on the horizon.  Here is a chart of Cincinnati's population over its history:
So not only is the population of the city decreasing dramatically, forcing a smaller number of people to pay to maintain an infrastructure which remains the same size, but that infrastructure was put in when the city was growing, meaning it is almost all at least 60 years old.

The rapid building in the outlying areas creates another infrastructure system in an area which may end up lacking the density necessary to function effectively if exclusive automobile transportation becomes untenable. 

I'll go out on a limb, and predict that we will regret the last 20 years of development in the next 20 years.  With that, have a beautiful day.

The End of QE2

Ritholtz sums up his expectations for the markets' reactions:
While many people are looking for an equity collapse post QE, I wabt to suggest we widen our focus, and consider the action in Bonds and Commodities post-QE:
Bonds: The Fed has already bought $400B of their $600B in Bonds. When that bid goes away — or if the Fed begins to reduce their balance sheet and unload these holdings, what will that do to bond prices? We should expect to see a gradual rise in interest rates, with the 30 year climbing over 5% and the 10 year breaking out over 4.25%.
Gold: Having little industrial value — its worth is what someone else is willing to pay for it — Gold may be the most vulnerable of commodities to the end of QE.Consider that the current secular bull market for gold began under Greenspan’s rate cutting regime back in 2001. His inflationary 1% Fed rates started the entire super cycle of commodities.
Agricultural Commodities: Its not just the weak dollar. AG has currently run up on poor crops due to drought/floods, burgeoning Asian demand, and some speculation as well.
Oil: The Middle East is the wild card, and it makes it difficult to assess what price action could occur if the Dollar strengthens.  One thing is certain: The easy speculative money has already been made. Things become much more challenging for Oil traders.
While I do not discount the probability of a significant market correction — I figure 25% peak to trough when this bull has run its course — once the Fed’s liquidity begins to drain, other asset classes will be juts as affected as equities — if not more.

The Urban/Rural Divide

David Leonhardt follows up on this Tom Vilsack interview:
And Edward Glaeser, the Harvard economist and Economix contributor, writing in The Financial Times:
Some 18 percent of America’s output comes from its three largest metropolitan areas…
Too many tax policies also discriminate against cities. In the U.S., for example, home mortgage interest deduction bribes people to borrow as much as possible to bet on the gyrations of the housing market. Yet subsidized home ownership also discriminates against renting – which discourages high-density living and slows the supply of new rented housing for rich and poor alike. Tax codes that penalize productive urban regions, and encourage quiet lives in less productive areas, do little for growth.
The entire Vilsack interview — which is unusually blunt for a Q. & A. with a politician — is worth reading.
Again, there are a number of issues which should be addressed about the difference in perceptions between urban and rural dwellers.  I'll have to get to it later.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two-year-old Bull

No, not a bovine.  Robert Reich highlights the birthday of the stock market rally:
What a difference two years makes. On March 9, 2009 the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit the bottom — closing at a 12-year low of 6,547. Today the Dow is soaring well over 12,000.
From its peak in October, 2007 until its trough two years ago, the stock market lost almost $8 trillion in value. That value hasn’t been completely restored but the Street is well on the way.
I guess this highlights the foolishness of my selling several stocks after the rally was a month old.  Oh well, I slept better back then.  Reich goes on to point out that while the market has gone gangbusters, it has left the average person behind:
The Street’s bull market over the last two years has seriously enriched only the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans who hold the lion’s share of stock. While their earned income starts at $210,000, their unearned income – dividends and capital gains — now puts them considerably above that.
Shouldn’t the shopping of the top 5 percent spur lots of new jobs? Not really. While the top 5 percent are spending more, they’re not spending all that much as a proportion of their earnings. The rich sock away a bigger share of their income than everyone else. After all, being rich means you already have most of what you want.
Moody’s Analytics estimates that the shopping of America’s richest 5 percent now accounts for 35.5 percent of all U.S. consumer spending. Just think how much more spending would be going on — and jobs thereby created — if more Americans shared in Wall Street’s gains.
The remaining 95 percent of Americans are still holding back from the malls because they’re worried about their jobs, their falling wages, their higher health-care deductibles, and their dropping home values. And as long as they continue to hold back, this recovery will be painfully slow.
Happy Birthday Wall Street. Party away. Just know that most Americans aren’t joining the celebration.
Wow, the richest 5% of the population accounts for 35.5% of all U.S. consumer spending?  Too bad they're making even a higher percentage of all the income in the country.

More About Loving County, Texas

From Absolute Astronomy (?):

An important thing to keep in mind during Lent

This:
Now, as solemn as the season of Lent might be, religious folks of the Middle Ages were not obliged to include beer in the list of off-limit foodstuffs during this time of fasting. With no solid food allowed past their lips, Bavarian monks relied on so-called "liquid bread" for sustenance, using their grain to brew beer instead of baking bread. The stronger the beer, the more the nutritional value and the resulting dark brew was and is still known as Starkbier (literally strong beer). Starkbier was first brewed in Munich by the Paulaner monks. The strongest of their beers was named Sankt-Vater-Bier (Holy Father Bier) which later became Salvator, the Latin word for "Savior" named perhaps in reference to their salvation from the castigation of fasting! Salvator beer is still brewed by the company Paulaner in Munich, but no longer by monks. While now a secular industry, the brewing of strong beer is still as popular now as it was in the Middle Ages. With its heavy malty taste and 6-9 percent alcohol content, it's a popular way to get through the long dark days of winter and the solemnity of Lent.
There is also some pretzel history there.

Gambling while sleep-deprived

From links at the Big Picture:
Upon examining the fMRIs, the researchers noticed that when making financial decisions in the gambling games, sleep-deprived individuals had greater activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with fear, risk and decision-making, compared with when they were well rested. The sleep-deprived group also showed a drop in activity in the anterior insula, a region implicated in emotion and addiction, relative to when they had slept.

These changes might be linked to the excess dopamine the sleep-deprived brain tends to fire off in an effort to help keep alert. This neurotransmitter, which is linked to pleasure and reward, might be at least partly to blame for sleep-deprived subjects' increasing sense that they have better odds of winning big—and their lessening fear of losing.

The findings suggest that an all-night stint at the blackjack table or logged into an online poker game can be an extra gamble. These sleep-deprived players "are facing more than just the unfavorable odds," Vinod Venkatraman, a graduate researcher in Duke's psychology and neuroscience departments and a co-author of the new study, said in a prepared statement. "They are fighting a sleep-deprived brain's tendency to implicitly seek gains while discounting the impact of potential losses."

These effects could also extend to areas where the stakes are even higher, such as the trading floor or the hospital, where workers often perform their duties when they are less than well rested. "I think it's critical that society as a whole grapple with the data generated about the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation," Michael Chee, a professor at Duke's Neurobehavioral Disorders Program in Singapore and a co-author of the new study, said in the statement.
No wonder I do worse the later I play poker.

The Circus Comes to Town

Josh Green reports from the Faith & Freedom Coalition's presidential forum in Waukee, Iowa.  5 candidates showed up, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Buddy Roemer, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum.  This surprises me:
For my money, Rick Santorum won the evening in a rout, which surprised me. The trick at these sorts of events is to pander to the audience, but not in a way that's flagrant and embarrassing, like Mitt Romney does. Santorum seemed relaxed, genuine, and sunny, even when talking about unpleasant issues like partial-birth abortion. He noted almost offhandedly that he had been "attached at the hip" with groups like the event sponsor during his time in the Senate, which is true. Then he spoke about the many battles that he lost in the Senate, often ones that involved abortion and marriage, the kind of fights that were hopeless from a numbers standpoint, but that were nonetheless worth waging. As a senator, this had made his life difficult. "My kids used to think my first name was 'ultra,'" he said, in reference to the media's (not-unjustified) habit of referring to him as "the ultra-conservative Rick Santorum." Santorum used this as a badge of honor, which was both clever and effective. Where I was sitting the crowd was hushed and rapt.

Afterward, I sought out Santorum and asked about the status of his prospective presidential bid. He'd just fended off a series of charged and provocative questions from fringe conservative-journalist types trying to get him to say outlandish things about Muslims. He looked tired. I got the pat answer about how he's going to "keep putting one foot in front of the other, see how things go, and see how fundraising goes--that's a big issue." I gathered it wasn't going especially well. Santorum hadn't taken a shot at Newt on stage, but couldn't resist now. "I think Newt's found one way to do it," he said, with a hint of a grin. "We're going to do it a different way." Then he winced. "I forgot to hawk my website." He looked disappointed. Even so, he helped himself tonight.
I just can't imagine Santorum as a viable candidate.

Census 2010

Data from the 2010 Census is being rolled out state-by-state.  Ohio information has been sent to the state, and should be released to the public in the next couple of days.  There is a lot of neat information there.  For instance, the population of Loving County, Texas is now 82. 

I realize that Republicans generally don't like the Census, and nosy Census-takers wanting to know whether they have indoor plumbing or are married to their sisters, but they probably ought to dig into the numbers a little bit.  It might tip them off that xenophobic race-baiting laws and policies aren't a good long-term strategy.  Currently, Texas is a stronghold of Republican politics, and the state is growing significantly.  They will pick up 4 congressional seats in 2012.  But the Hispanic population is now 37.6% of the state's population, and with blacks making up 11.8% of the population, that comes to a minority population of 49.4%.  The Hispanic population hasn't voted as consistently Democratically as blacks have, but Republican politicians pushing Arizona-style immigration enforcement laws may push them to.

Two other trends worth considering by Republicans are the continued decreases in population in rural areas, and the aging of the white populace.  When your base is dying off, it isn't good for your electoral chances.  Not only do Republicans alienate minority voters, but they tend to drive away the young.  Bashing on the gays isn't a successful recruiting strategy for young people.  If they intend to continue to exist as a viable party, they may want to ease up on the crazy, and broaden the tent a little bit.  Just a suggestion, but I realize Republicans tend to ignore uncomfortable facts in the pursuit of cult-like levels of ideological rigidity.  If they won't change, good riddance.

Global Warming and Agriculture

From Tuesday's House hearing on the proposed bill to strip EPA of the authority to regulate greenhouse gases (h/t Balloon Juice):
One witness, Christopher B. Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, piqued the interest of members on both sides of the aisle by detailing new research on the adverse effects of rising temperatures on agriculture. Dr. Field said crops had certain temperature thresholds above which yields dropped sharply. For corn, he said, that temperature is 84 degrees, and a single day of 104 degrees causes a 7 percent drop in yield. Dr. Field said that extreme warming could reduce crop yields by more than 60 percent. “This new information is quite striking,” he said. “Major food crops and cotton show little sensitivity to rising temperatures until you reach a threshold. That’s why people are generally not aware of these sensitivities."
Over at Balloon Juice, John discards what the skeptics say.

Reds Fantasy Camp

I missed this CBS video, but caught it on Redleg Nation. I thought I might see a guy I know who goes there each year, but I didn't.

Another Job I Can't Have

CEO of NPR.  I agree with the fund raiser, I think tea partiers are racist, xenophobic, Muslim-hating, mouthbreathing, religious-nut slack-jawed yokels.  Saying that probably prevents me from getting hired by many businesses in western Ohio, but the truth shall set you free.  Just as a crazy but successful businessman can fly his flag upside-down, I should be able to call him on it.  I just don't expect a job offer too.  Also, I'm not really interested in working for people who are disconnected from reality (sorry Fox News).


Jon Hoying, president of Fabcor Inc. in Minster, is flying his company’s American flag upside down as a protest of recent government actions (2009). (photo: Celina Daily Standard)

An Ode to Knuckleball Pitchers


Tim Wakefield throwing the knuckleball. [Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith]

To the best pitch in baseball, and the guys who throw it.  This says it better than I can:
There's just something about the knuckleball.
Something unique. Something workman-like. Something that makes us love and respect the pitcher who can make a career out of throwing that strange, fluttery pitch at the highest level. I suspect that it's the humanity of the pitch that draws us to it. Not only does it's slow-moving, take-it-as-it-is nature make us all feel like we could throw it ourselves, but the hit-or-miss success that even the best knuckleballer achieves really helps us identify with him. If anyone in the major leagues is the "everyman", it's the knuckler.
I've only met one guy who hates knuckleball pitchers, and he's a Cubs fan, so what can you expect.  He said he could hit a knuckleball, but he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat.

Here's a list attempting to include all knuckleball pitchers is baseball history.

One time when Jared Fernandez was scheduled to pitch for the Reds, I took the day off work to go watch him, but the night before, the Reds traded for Brian Mohler, and he started for them instead.  That sucked.  Anytime Wakefield is pitching on TV (anytime the Sox are playing the Yankees, since every NY-Boston game is televised), I have to watch him pitch.  When he's on, there's nothing better than watching the knuckler dance in slow motion.  Any discussion of knuckleball pitchers is incomplete without mentioning Phil Niekro, the pride of Belmont County, Ohio.  You just can't argue with 318 wins. 

Here are some quotes about the knuckleball:
  • "They say you don't want to have a knuckleballer pitching for you or against you" - Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, quoted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 4, 1987.
  • "I always thought the knuckleball was the easiest pitch to catch. Wait'll it stops rolling, then go to the backstop and pick it up." ― broadcaster and former catcher Bob Uecker
  • "You don't catch a knuckleball, you defend against it." ― Retired Dodgers manager and former catcher Joe Torre
  • "Trying to hit against Phil Niekro is like trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks". ― All-star outfielder Bobby Murcer
  • "I never worry about it. I just take my three swings and go sit on the bench. I'm afraid if I ever think about hitting it, I'll mess up my swing for life." ― All-star first baseman Dick Allen
  • "There are two theories on hitting a knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works." ― famed hitting coach Charlie Lau
  • "You know, catching the knuckleball, it's like trying to catch a fly with a chopstick." ― All-star and Gold Glove catcher Jason Varitek
  • "If it's high, let it fly. If it's low, let it go." ―Common saying describing how to approach hitting the knuckleball.
  • "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox." ― Hall of Famer Willie Stargell
  • "For a knuckleballer, a pitch count of 150 is not a problem. Unless it's the first inning." ― Dave Clark, author of The Knucklebook
  • "Like some cult religion that barely survives, there has always been at least one but rarely more than five or six devotees throwing the knuckleball in the big leagues... Not only can't pitchers control it, hitters can't hit it, catchers can't catch it, coaches can't coach it, and most pitchers can't learn it. The perfect pitch." ― Ron Luciano, former AL umpire
  • "Hitting Niekro's knuckleball is like eating soup with a fork." ― Richie Hebner
  • "You're not expected to hit it. [I am] expected to catch it." ― John Flaherty summing up his day catching Tim Wakefield in a spring training game against the Twins by relaying a comment made by fellow catcher Mike Redmond. Flaherty retired the next day.
  • "Knuckleballs suck." ― Geno Petralli after giving up four passed balls in one inning
  • "It's not a pitch to be mastered but only executed the best you can. Charlie Hough told me he learned the pitch in one day and spent a lifetime learning how to throw it for strikes." R.A. Dickey, knuckleball pitcher of the Mets, on the knuckleball.
Finally, The Ballad of Tim Wakefield:

Why the GOP is dysfunctional

Ezra Klein quoting from National Review and adding a little commentary:
“Whereas Obamacare requires states to open their Medicaid programs to families of four earning $31,000 (138 percent of the federal poverty level), Daniels expanded Indiana’s Medicaid program to families of four earning $44,000 (200 percent of poverty),” Cannon notes. “From 2008 to 2010, Indiana’s Medicaid enrollment spiked: Adult enrollments grew 21 percent, a rate nearly double the national average. By 2010, Daniels had enrolled another 62,000 Hoosiers in government-run health care.” And how’d he pay for this? A cigarette tax.
But it wasn’t just a straight expansion, as Cannon explains. Daniels “offers high-deductible coverage combined with a taxpayer-funded health savings account, whereas Obamacare simply expands traditional Medicaid with its notoriously lousy access to care.” And how do Hoosiers like it? The numbers speak for themselves: “94 percent of HIP enrollees are satisfied with the program....HIP enjoys a much higher retention rate than the regular Medicaid program...[and] HIP’s waiting list is now 50,000 Hoosiers long.”
There’s just one thing that’s a bit weird: Cannon’s piece is an attack on Daniels. It’s entitled “Mitch Daniels’s Obamacare problem” and concludes that in trying to make government health care work better for his constituents, Daniels has done too much to legitimize government health care in the eyes of conservatives and libertarians. It’s as telling a look on the way the right is currently approaching health-care reform as you’ll find, and I recommend reading it in full.
I don't understand this.  Improving health care access is a bad thing?  Why do so many people in the GOP go out of their way to be cruel to others?  Why have conservatives flocked to Chris Christie, even though he is pretty moderate?  My guess is because he sounds like a jerk, and treats people who Republicans don't like with disrespect. 

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Sexy Ruses to Stop Forgetting to Remember, by Maureen Dowd.  It is a review of Joshua Foer's new book, Moonwalking with Einstein:The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingFrom the column:
“When forming images, it helps to have a dirty mind,” Foer writes. “Evolution has programmed our brains to find two things particularly interesting, and therefore memorable: jokes and sex — and especially, it seems, jokes about sex.”
He notes that Peter of Ravenna, author of the most famous memory textbook of the 15th century, said “if you wish to remember quickly, dispose the images of the most beautiful virgins into memory places.”
Memory grand master Ed Cooke, a young Brit who claims to have an average recall, teaches Foer some strategies. If you have a list to remember, you put the items in a path throughout a familiar place, like your childhood home. Imagine a person performing an action on an object. And try to throw in something lewd or bizarre. If you need to remember to get cottage cheese, Ed tells Josh, picture a tub of cottage cheese at the front door and visualize Claudia Schiffer swimming in it.
Ed coaches him in a system of memorizing a deck of cards in under two minutes that uses both familiar old memories and thrilling new pictures. Foer said his images devolved into “a handful of titillating acts that are still illegal in a few Southern states, and a handful of others that probably ought to be.”
That explains a lot.

Seattle vs. Detroit

Edward Glaeser compares and contrasts the rise and fall and, (in Seattle's case) resurrection of Detroit and Seattle:
Seattle is one of the few large cities outside the Sun Belt that is growing more quickly than the country as a whole. The city’s growth reveals the benefits of concentrating smart people in dense cities.
The success of Seattle was hardly foreordained, as it shares much with America’s many declining cities. Like Detroit and St. Louis, Seattle grew as a node of the great transport network, which included canals from Erie to Panama and intercontinental railroads, which enabled Easterners to access the vast wealth of America’s hinterland.
Seattle’s growth spurt during 1880s coincided with its rail connection to the East. In its early years, the city specialized in providing access to timber and Klondike gold.
To succeed in the 20th century, American cities needed to do more than help move natural resources, and Seattle moved into manufacturing transportation equipment, natural enough given the vast distance that separated the city from the country’s population centers.
He emphasizes education and population density, not exactly strong points of the industrial Midwest.

Honest Businessmen Cheat?

From Balloon Juice:
The Affordable Care Act had a provision requiring small business to issue a 1099 to every vendor with whom they spent over $600. This caused an outcry and the House passed a screwed up repeal provision, which the Senate will probably also approve.
Now that this odious regulatory burden is about to be lifted from the shoulders of small business, perhaps it’s time to mention a little fact that’s not often discussed—small businesses cheat on their taxes, a lot.
In the past few years, I’ve seen the following: A technology company owner who had his kids’ nanny on the payroll as an employee. A landlord using his business account to pay for supplies for a major home remodel. Numerous service providers who offer a discount for cash. And many, many SUV “company cars” driven by moms running errands.
There are plenty of small businessmen who pay their full honest share of taxes (I’m one of them), but let’s not pretend that the real reason that we’re repealing the 1099 provision of the ACA is “paperwork”. The ability to cheat on their taxes is just taken as a given by a lot of small businessmen. It’s sort of like the small business version of a farm subsidy.
That was so well-said, I had to quote the whole thing.

A look at the 2012 race

From Business Insider (h/t the Dish). My favorite description:

Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty
Upside:  Unclear.
Downside:  Reputation as a lightweight.
President Position:  Second tier candidate, trying to get himself bumped up to first class.
What He Must Do:  Win Iowa or run "surprisingly well" there.  

The Vest is Soiled


From ESPN:
Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel received an e-mail last April telling him that two of his players were caught up in a federal drug-trafficking case and the sale of memorabilia, breaking NCAA rules. Tressel responded: "I will get on it ASAP."
But he never mentioned it to Ohio State's compliance department or his athletic director for more than nine months.
On Tuesday, Tressel was suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season and fined $250,000 for violating NCAA rules by failing to notify the school about the players' involvement. He also will receive a public reprimand and must make a public apology.
The NCAA is still investigating and could reject Ohio State's self-imposed penalties and add more sanctions.
More from Mark Schlabach:
"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel included that Japanese proverb on Page 193 of his book, "The Winners Manual For The Game of Life."
Eight pages later, there's this nugget from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "It takes less time to do the right thing than explain why you did it wrong."
In 10 years as the Buckeyes' coach, Tressel has often showed us his teams can't win big games.
On Tuesday night, Tressel showed us he can't win the big news conferences, either.
Tressel, who has guided the Buckeyes to seven Big Ten titles and the 2002 BCS national championship, wanted us to believe that he was different from other successful head coaches.
From his character-based books to his conservative sweater vests, Tressel wanted us to believe that he's a straight shooter who follows the rules.
On Tuesday night, we learned Tressel isn't any different from a lot of coaches in college football. He's apparently more concerned about winning games and championships than following rules and doing things the right way.
In fact, Tressel might be even worse than other coaches who are corrupting college athletics. He won't admit he's wrong even after he has been caught.
So this is what the Germans came up with the word schadenfreude for?

The Futures

Matthew Yglesias takes a look at a new book:
Emily Lambert’s The Futures: The Rise of the Speculator and the Origins of the World’s Biggest Markets should help convince you that financial innovation isn’t all useless. A producer of eggs, or oil, or wheat, or corn is, after all, sort of accidentally stuck in two different businesses. On the one hand, he’s running a wheat farm. On the other hand, he’s running a series of gambles on the future price of wheat. If a group of people emerge somewhere to become dedicated wheat speculators, then the wheat farmer can focus on the wheat farming and offload the speculation to the wheat speculators. The development of ideas about how to extend this idea to a larger and larger set of commodities had real benefits for people.
The book is more witty and entertaining than it is analytic, but the description of the Chicago futures markets and their development is admirably clear and informative. The story that emerges highlights the essential paradox of financial regulation. As long as the political authorities minding the store of the futures markets were skeptical, the markets worked well. They were organized as partnerships, the partners were small-c conservative about the franchise value of their ownership stake, the pace of innovation was measured and deliberate, and every new idea had to overcome resistance. But the longer the markets go on working fine the laxer the regulation becomes and the more participants are encourage to push the envelop. And we all know how that ended.


Sounds like something I'll look for when it comes out in paperback.

The Start of Lent

Ok, the party's over.  Time to start repenting.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Fight of the Century


Boxer Muhammad Ali, right, and Joe Frazier fought at Madison Square Garden 40 years ago today. (AP Photo)
From Sporting News:
Joe Frazier was at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, taking in a Knicks-Jazz game inside the building that calls itself The World’s Most Famous Arena. That affectation had drawn plenty of catcalls in the previous decade, when Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry were upholding the legacy. This time, however, since Frazier was half of the reason the building earned that nickname, it seemed appropriate.
It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed since Muhammad Ali and Frazier commanded the world’s attention inside the Garden, facing off on March 8, 1971, in the one and only Fight of the Century that lived up to the hype.
It’s just as hard to believe that, besides Smokin’ Joe getting a courtside seat for Knicks home game No. 31, not much else in and around the arena and the city was happening to commemorate that anniversary.....
Yes, that’s a lot of handlers doing business on behalf of two of the most significant sporting figures of all time, hardly unusual in boxing at any time in its history. They’ve done what they can do, though, to keep the memory of the Fight of the Century alive for those who need the refresher course, or the history lesson.
“Three hundred million watched on closed circuit around the world,’’ Wolff pointed out recently. “The Vietnam War took a break for a day because everybody in the military wanted to watch it. They stopped fighting in Northern Ireland. Literally, they stopped wars.’’

This is interesting

Ezra Klein:
Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a “usda.gov” address. “Secretary Vilsack read your blog post ‘Why we still need cities’ over the weekend, and he has some thoughts and reflections, particularly about the importance of rural America,” it said. A call was set for a little later in the day. I think it’s safe to say Vilsack didn’t like the post. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion about rural America, subsidies and values follows.
Ezra Klein: Let’s talk about the post.
Tom Vilsack: I took it as a slam on rural America. Rural America is a unique and interesting place that I don’t think a lot of folks fully appreciate and understand. They don’t understand that that while it represents 16 percent of America’s population, 44 percent of the military comes from rural America. It’s the source of our food, fiber and feed, and 88 percent of our renewable water resources. One of every 12 jobs in the American economy is connected in some way to what happens in rural America. It’s one of the few parts of our economy that still has a trade surplus. And sometimes people don’t realize that 90 percent of the persistent poverty counties are located in rural America.
EK: Let me stop you there for a moment. Are 90 percent of the people in persistent poverty in rural America? Or just 90 percent of the counties?
TV: Well, I’m sure that more people live in cities who are below the poverty level. In terms of abject poverty and significant poverty, there’s a lot of it in rural America.
The other thing is that people don’t understand is how difficult farming is. There are really three different kinds of farmers. Of the 2.1 million people who counted as farmers, about 1.3 million of them live in a farmstead in rural America. They don’t really make any money from their operation. Then there are 600,000 people who, if you ask them what they do for a living, they’re farmers. They produce more than $10,000 but less than $250,000 in sales. Those folks are good people, they populate rural communities and support good schools and serve important functions. And those are the folks for whom I’m trying to figure out how to diversify income opportunities, help them spread out into renewable fuel sources. And then the balance of farmers, roughly 200,000 to 300,000, are commercial operations, and they do pretty well, particularly when commodity prices are high. But they have a tremendous amount of capital at risk. And they’re aging at a rapid rate, with 37 percent over 65. Who’s going to replace those folks?
There's a lot more.  It is well worth the read.  It is funny that the Secretary of Agriculture is defending subsidies to rural areas and saying that people in rural areas aren't doing well and feel underappreciated.  Meanwhile, people in rural areas feel like they are subsidizing poor folks in the cities, and want to cut government spending.  What seems surprising to me is that this is the post that the Ag Secretary was responding to.  It seems pretty innocuous, the only mention of rural areas being the nearly throwaway line of:
The overarching theme of Glaeser's book is that cities make us smarter, more productive and more innovative. To put it plainly, they make us richer. And the evidence in favor of this point is very, very strong. But it would of course be political suicide for President Obama to say that part of winning the future is ending the raft of subsidies we devote to sustaining rural living. And the U.S. Senate is literally set up to ensure that such a policy never becomes politically plausible. (emphasis mine)

Also, maybe someday an important person will read this blog and proceed to call me to bitch about something I wrote.

Celebrity Baby

This is the Brangenlina baby story for Thoroughbred Racing:
Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, is in foal to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Stonestreet Stables, owner of both the mare and the stallion, announced the pregnancy Monday.
The mating of the two Horses of the Year was the first for 5-year-old Rachel Alexandra. The Medaglia d'Oro mare was bred on Feb. 21, 2011. The horse's gestation period is 11 months, and Rachel Alexandra's estimated foaling date is Feb. 1, 2012.
Curlin, 7, stands this year for $40,000 at Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky., where the breeding took place.
The reigning Horse of the Year, 7-year-old Zenyatta, also was bred for the first time last month. That mating with Darley Stud's champion 3-year-old Bernardini took place on Feb. 23 at Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Jonabell Farm facility in Lexington. Owners Ann and Jerry Moss board Zenyatta at Lane's End. Equine pregnancies usually are confirmed by ultrasound between 12 and 16 days post-breeding, and Zenyatta's pregnancy status could be confirmed as early as this week.
Rachel Alexandra
Horsephotos.com
2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra is set to deliver her first foal early next year