Saturday, May 7, 2011

Democracy in Nevada

LA Times:
The problem: two women were tied for second — each with 328 votes — and state law said the victor would be decided "by lot."

Card draws have determined a winner in at least five Nevada races, said Christopher Driggs, a state archivist, all in rural counties whose electorates could probably fit into North Las Vegas City Hall.

At least one election has been settled by flipping a coin, and a tie in a district attorney primary was broken by tossing a die. (The winner rolled a six to trump his rival's five, but his good fortune petered out in the general election, which he lost.)
One of the candidates drew a 5, the other drew a king.

Animal Kingdom Wins the Derby

Animal Kingdom wins and pays out $43.80.  Nehro placed and Mucho Macho Man finished third.  Animal Kingdom also won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

Ohio State Investigates Car Sales

And the walls came tumbling down.  I'm definitely not going to lose any sleep if Tressel is sent packing.  OSU fans are remarkably quiet right now.  I remember a friend who was the editor of The Lantern, when talking about Lorenzo Styles, saying, "Lorenzo, Styling in his Benzo," back in the Cooper era. 

ESPN:
Ohio State's director of compliance is reviewing at least 50 car sales to Buckeyes athletes and relatives to see if they met NCAA rules, The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday.... The Dispatch reported that a car salesman who received game passes from Ohio State athletes handled many of the deals at two different dealerships. Ohio State has since taken the salesman, Aaron Kniffin, off the pass list.
Athletes are prevented from receiving special deals not available to other students. They are not permitted to trade autographs for discounts. Both dealerships display signed Ohio State memorabilia in their showrooms.

Flooding in the Red River Valley

For the third straight year, the Red River flooded, threatening the Fargo-Moorhead area.  This video is a nice tribute to the citizens of the valley.

Life in the Infield at Churchill Downs


From the SI archive, a story about the NFL's Will Wolford's love of horses and the Derby:
"My goal was to play football long enough so I could own horses comfortably," Wolford says. "Treat them as an outlet, as a way to relax. It's not, 'Oh, gee, this horse has to win today because I got to pay bills.' I played five years in the league before I bought a horse. It's strictly done for fun."
Since Wolford was a boy growing up in Louisville, where Moe was a saloonkeeper-cum-horse-player, the Kentucky Derby has been his life's immovable feast. When Will was seven, on the family's way to Churchill Downs for the 1972 Derby, his parents dropped him off at a party of 20 other kids set amid a grim posse of baby-sitters. "We sat in front of the TV and watched Riva Ridge run around the track," he says. His ensuing Derby experiences extended through his four years at St. Xavier High and through four more at Vanderbilt University. The Kentucky Derby is a River City rite of spring, and for years Wolford partook of its rituals from the Catholic encampment in the infield at the far turn.
"If you went to a Catholic high school in Louisville and you went to the Derby, that's where you hung out," Wolford says. "It's a gigantic party. Everything and anything you want to do is in the infield at the Derby. You never see a horse when you're out there. Every once in a while there would be a wave, like at a football game, and everybody would scream, but you had a hard time seeing the horses. It got pretty wild. Drink beer and jungle juice—all kinds of juices mixed with grain alcohol. We used to hide it in the bottom of the coolers. In gallon jugs. Line the bottom of the coolers with beer, and line that with towels and ice. I always had a pint or two in my underpants."
Of his various physical accomplishments while attending St. Xavier, none is remembered more fondly than his last notable feat as a high school student. Wolford used to attend the infield bacchanal with a passel of athletic teammates—guys nicknamed Squirmy and Jaybird, Pygmy and Skinny—and at 9 a.m. on Derby Day of 1982, in the spring of their senior year, the boys found to their dismay that the lock was jammed on the trunk of the Mustang that held the day's ambrosia. The infield was beckoning. Chris Kurtz, one of Wolford's best friends, recalls that everyone looked to Will, then a buff 230 pounds, and began exhorting him: "You can do it, Will. You can do it!" Reaching under a corner of the trunk, he performed one prodigious squat thrust. It popped like a cap on a bottle. "He ripped the trunk right off," Kurtz says. "Amazing." To a chorus of cheers, of course.
This story reminds me of a friend's story about attending the Derby.  He said they took in 3 or 4 bottles of water, of which 1 or 2 were actually vodka, 3 or 4 bottles of orange juice, and then they poured vodka into the ice of the cooler.  When they wanted some vodka, they'd open the drain of the cooler and hold the cooler over a glass.

NASA photo of the day

Here:

Sunset over South America

Plum Pretty Wins the Kentucky Oaks

Plum Pretty in the Winner's Circle.  Photo by Dan Dry

Plum Pretty holds off St. John's River to win by a neck.  Zazu finished third.  So I was 0 for 3.  Now for my Kentucky Derby trifecta call.  I'll go with Stay Thirsty to win, Mucho Macho Man to place and Nehro to show.  Smart money avoids all three.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Two things.  First, The Fateful Choice, at the Middle East Research and Information Project:
There is nothing new about torture in warfare, even as waged by democracies. What is new (at least in the modern era) is the brazenness with which torture’s proponents have asserted its compatibility with democracy and the rule of law. The Bush administration’s tangle of poor legal argumentation in support of its torture policy need not be rehearsed; the Obama administration was right to rubbish the lot. It has been disgusting, therefore, to see Bush officials emerge from the woodwork to suggest that finding bin Laden came about through torture. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, told FOX News that “anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques, let’s be blunt, waterboarding, did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence, just isn’t facing the truth.” His fellow Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, went one step further: “Osama bin Laden would not have been captured and killed if it were not for the initial information we got from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded.”
A former top military interrogator in Iraq, who goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, has corrected the record by insisting that torturing detainees produces “limited information, false information or no information.” As Alexander and others note, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational planner of the September 11 attacks (who, incidentally, was captured at home in a commando raid, not on a battlefield, with a nudge from another $25 million bounty), blurted out nothing of value despite being waterboarded 183 times. He was confronted with the nom de guerre of a courier -- the one whose trail eventually led to bin Laden -- and claimed he had “retired” from al-Qaeda. The nom de guerre and all subsequent actionable leads were obtained from other sources through old-fashioned detective work. These facts have led Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to contradict Rumsfeld and King, saying: “So far, I know of no information that was obtained, that would have been useful, by ‘advanced interrogation.’” And when the CIA tortured Abu Faraj al-Libbi, another al-Qaeda courier who would have known others, he proffered a fake name that sent the manhunt on a wild goose chase. Torture is thus likely to have delayed the apprehension of al-Qaeda’s master terrorist.
The utility of torture is beside the point, in any case; torture is repellent and degrading of those who practice it as well as those subjected to it. It is also manifestly illegal, under both US and international law. As anyone who pays attention knows, the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere swept away what remained of the post-September 11 wars’ moral credibility in the eyes of the world. Along with the Bush administration’s deceptions, arrogant doctrines of US dominance and disdainful asides to the effect that “we don’t do body counts,” torture poisoned all of the wars’ fruits, even turning bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, the ugliest caricatures of Arab anti-imperialism, into heroes to some.
This torture was disgraceful and produced misleading and detrimental information, and yet Republicans still defend it and would do it again if they are ever put back into power.  This paper utterly destroys our choices in the war against terror.  It is a must-read.

Second, Edward Harrison has this chart in his article about how much banks in Germany are owed by the periphery states of the Eurozone:



That is stunning and I don't see how they will get that all back.  It is more a matter of how much they lose how quickly.

Irish Economy Struggling With Austerity

NYT:
Benefiting from years of low interest rates that followed the creation of the euro zone in 1999, Ireland enjoyed one of the biggest growth spurts of any country in Europe, and spent lavishly as its wealth increased. The economy expanded an average of 7 percent in the decade leading up to 2007 before plunging into a deep recession. Per person, inflation-adjusted economic activity has fallen approximately 18 percent from the peak, when the average gross domestic product per person was a shade over 43,000 euros ($62,000). Now it is less than 35,000 euros ($50, 767).
As the country tries to recover from the bust, many of its people are paying a tremendous cost for the folly of the country’s banks and to bring its government finances back in order.
As part of Ireland’s effort to pay down its immense debts and bail out the banks, the Condras’ salaries from their state jobs as hospital workers have been cut 20 percent in two years. Higher taxes and further spending cuts are on the horizon.
It looks like years and years of pain for the Irish as they bail out their corrupt banks.  They should have let them fail.  Bondholders should have taken haircuts and stockholders should have been wiped out.  Now the taxpayers are going to be slowly bled out.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kentucky Oaks Post Positions

Oaks Day photo from Kentucky Derby facebook page

Here:
The 2011 Kentucky Oaks will run on Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs, as the three-year-old fillies race ahead of Saturday's running of the 137th Kentucky Derby. The post time for the Oaks is 5:24 ET, and the race will be aired on Versus. Here are the complete Kentucky Oaks 2011 post positions:
PostHorseJockeyML
1Joyful VictorySmith, Mike5/2
2Lilacs and LaceCastellano, Javier12/1
3Summer SoireeSaez, Gabriel5/1
4KathmanbluLeparoux, Julien4/1
5Suave Voir FaireMena, Miguel50/1
6ZazuRosario, Joel4/1
7Her SmileGomez, Garret20/1
8Bouquet BoothAlbarado, Robby20/1
9Daisy DevineGraham, James20/1
10Street StormBridgmohan, Shaun50/1
11Holy HeavensDesormeaux, Kent50/1
12Plum PrettyGarcia, Martin5/1
13St. Jonn's RiverNapravnik, Rosie30/1
The race is going to be broadcast on Versus.  My trifecta pick (remember, I know nothing) Summer Soiree to win, Daisy Devine to place and Kathmanblu to show.

How Does Privatization Work in Indiana?

Kay at Balloon Juice challenges the alleged competency of Mitch Daniels:
Specifically, I’d like to look at one instance of his alleged competence and responsible stewardship of taxpayer money.
Daniels is currently, right now, embroiled in a lawsuit related to his failed privatization of the administrative services end of food stamp and Medicaid programs. Daniels outsourced the work to IBM. It was abundantly clear the privatization plan was a disaster right from the start for the people who receive food stamps and Medicaid, but Daniels waited two years to stop the statewide roll-out, because the conservative ideology behind the plan was pure and infallible.
IBM sued on the contract Daniels had negotiated and signed on behalf of the people of Indiana, when Daniels (eventually) fired them. That all by itself is amusing, because Daniels stripped middle class public employees of their bargaining rights with a stroke of his mighty executive pen shortly after assuming office. Sadly, Mitch found out IBM doesn’t go down as easy as teachers or firefighters do. They hauled his ass right into court, rather than having their lawyers march on the statehouse and sing solidarity songs.
One of the big things I noted in the discussion of privatizing the Ohio Turnpike was that Ohio's people said Ohio wouldn't get screwed like Indiana.  That takes a little of the sheen off of the mystique of one of the Indiana governor's signal accomplishments.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Why ETF's give an uneasy sense of deja vu, at the Financial Times:
And even if investors are wise enough to understand the risks of individual ETFs, the bigger structural impact is not well understood. The FSB, for example, fears that liquidity mismatches and poor collateral practices could create unpleasant markets jolts in a crisis. It also notes there are potential conflicts of interest because of “the dual role of some banks as ETF provider and derivative counterparty.” And there is another, more basic concern: precisely because the market has exploded with such stunning speed, it may be changing flows in unpredictable ways.
The commodities sector is one case in point: though politicians like to blame hedge fund “speculators” for price swings, ETFs may be as important as hedge funds in recent price trends. But many other asset classes are affected too. As I noted in a recent column, recent swings in the Vix (volatility index) may reflect a recent boom in volatility-linked notes.
Some canny hedge funds, of course, understand these shifts, and are making profits by trading these flows. But less agile investors risk being stranded (including those invested in ETFs). And, more broadly, “the impact of such innovations on market liquidity and on financial institutions servicing the management of the fund is not yet fully understood by market participants, especially during episodes of acute market stress,” the FSB says. Just look at this week’s stunning swing in the silver market. Or, for that matter, last year’s “flash crash”.
I just read a story the other day saying that the triple-long or triple-short ETF's were being held by some investors long-term, even though these Funds' value goes to nothing over time, and they were only meant to be traded over short intra-day periods.  Similarly, the commodity ETFs were getting gouged by the regular market traders each time they had to roll their long positions.  Retail investors always are the patsies at the table.

The Case For Human Ingenuity

Niels Jensen says oil is not a good long-term investment:
There are essentially three reasons why I think oil prices will go through a rather dramatic correction over the next several years:
  1. Many investors who, in recent years, have added commodities to their portfolios as a hedge will ultimately be disappointed by the lack of diversification this asset class offers;
  2. Governments and regulatory authorities, both in Europe and the United States, have effectively declared war on commodity speculators, and the area will become subject to a lot more scrutiny and regulation in the years to come;
  3. A number of new alternative energy forms are in much more advanced development than many investors realise and will, over the next 3-5 years, become serious alternatives to oil, particularly as far as transportation is concerned.
He goes on to mention the Volkswagen XL1:
Earlier this year, at the Qatar Motor Show, Volkswagen unveiled a remarkable new car called the XL1 (see pictures here and more details about the car  here), which is expected to go into limited production as early as 2013. The car runs on a 0.8 litre hybrid engine (combined TDI engine and lithium battery) capable of carrying two people at a top speed of 160 km/h (100 mph).
The XL1 can drive an astonishing 110 km/l (313 mpg) and emits only 24 g/km of CO2 in the process. As an added bonus, the car can do up to 35 km (22 miles) in battery mode, i.e. with zero carbon emissions. A lightweight body of only 795 kg partly explains the impressive performance. The car has been 13 years in the making and is by far the most fuel efficient car the world has seen to date.
I think there are tremendous opportunities to improve fuel efficiency, but that way too many people believe that there isn't a limit to the amount of oil we can consume.  I would think that diesel-electric cars with electric motors replacing a mechanical transmission could improve efficiency, and that there should be smaller, essentially one-person vehicles to replace larger cars which generally only carry one person.  Unfortunately, not very many people realize how much we actually spend each year on vehicles, fuel, insurance and maintenance.  I estimated at least $3000 per vehicle per year, and probably more.  That is a lot of scratch. 

244,000 Jobs Added in April

From Calculated Risk:


We're starting to climb away from the bottom, but I get the feeling that we're working toward another leg down.  I wouldn't be surprised if we are losing more jobs in the fall, the weekly unemployment claims are growing again, and we're going to start feeling the drag from local, state and federal spending cuts.  I also wouldn't be surprised if a combination of commodity prices and Euro-zone issues bring on a double dip.  Even if we avoid the double dip, growth will be anemic.

A Billboard I Like

From a friend's facebook post:


Just resign Jimmy T.

The Republican Torture Meme

All the folks claiming that torture helped us locate Bin Laden have gotten Andrew Sullivan's blood up:
Not only do these war criminals and shoddy lawyers refuse to take accountability for their crimes, they tell clear untruths about how the capture of bin Laden was achieved and distort history.
So let us be very clear. The war criminal Dick Cheney presided over the worst lapse in national security since Pearl Harbor, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people. This rank incompetent failed to get bin Laden at Tora Bora, and then dragged the US on false pretenses into a war in Iraq, empowering Iran's dictatorship, and killing another 5,000 more Americans on a wild goose chase. He presided over the deaths of more than 8,000 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis during his criminally incompetent years in office.
On the other hand, the man who abolished torture as soon as he took office, Barack Obama, captured and killed Osama bin Laden, and captured a massive trove of intelligence, more than two years later. No Americans died in the operation.
Exactly, but it must be emphasized, KSM was waterboarded 183 times, and didn't give up the information about the couriers.  He finally gave that information up several months after the Bush administration quit using the waterboard.  Torture doesn't work, and even if it did, it is evil and immoral.  People who use torture are sadists, cowards or both.  The Bush administration was both.  Dick Cheney is the biggest coward and sadist.

Limited Resources

Ryan Avent looks at the commodity price boom and the rapid development in emerging markets, and comes away with this observation:
The ADB is saying that 3 billion Asians could reach European income levels by 2050, on top of the billion affluent Europeans and North Americans, not to mention the contemporary ranks of rich Latin Americans and Africans.
I don't think it's impossible to imagine a world in which four times as many people enjoy rich-world living standards as is currently the case. But for it to be possible, humanity must either start discovering and exploiting new earthlike planets, or come up with revolutionary new ways to increase terrestrial supplies of critical resources, or dramatically decrease the resource-intensity of wealth. The mechanism that will encourage one or some (or, I suppose, all) of these developments is high resource prices. And until those developments materialise, high prices will act, instead, to check growth. Or so it seems to me.
Dramatically decrease the resource-intensity of wealth.  In other words, the world must make improvements in standard-of-living without being as wasteful as America has.  Our first step has to be increasing efficiency in transportation and electrical distribution, as both are tremendously wasteful.  If we don't, our standard-of-living will decrease dramatically.

Why the Slowdown in Agricultural Productivity?

From Greed, Green and Grains, via Mark Thoma:
Two words:

Climate Change  Global Warming.

Well, there may be more to it.  Like reduced public research and pathogens like wheat stem rust.

But new research by my colleagues David Lobell and Wolfram Schlenker, along with Justin Costa-Roberts shows that warming has hurt corn and wheat yields on all continents except North America:
Farms across the planet produced 3.8 percent less corn and 5.5 percent less wheat than they could have between 1980 and 2008 thanks to rising temperatures, a new analysis estimates. These wilting yields may have contributed to the current sky-high price of food, a team of U.S. researchers reports online May 5 in Science. Climate-induced losses could have driven up prices of corn by 6.4 percent and wheat by 18.9 percent since 1980.
The article was embargoed until 2pm today, but it's already circulating.
Why not North America, or why not yet in North America?  I think any climatological change in the Corn Belt could be disastrous. Don't fear, if you say nothing is happening, nothing is happening, right Republicans?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sunk Costs-For Reds, It's Griffey

LA Times (via Ritholtz):
Standing at his locker shortly before the Angels' home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, outfielder Vernon Wells had mixed emotions about facing the team that traded him away last winter.

It would be good to see old friends, but he also wanted to defeat them. And there was an added twist.

Wells was playing against a Toronto ballclub that was still covering part of his salary.

"It's obviously strange," he said.

Not in baseball, it isn't.

Call it "sunk costs" or "dead money" — teams' still paying for athletes no longer on their rosters.

Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez remain on this season's payroll for the Dodgers, though Ramirez is retired, Pierre is with the Chicago White Sox and Jones is with the New York Yankees.

The Angels took Wells only after Toronto agreed to contribute $5 million toward the remainder of his hefty contract. At the same time, the Angels have Gary Matthews Jr., who is out of the game, on their books for more than $11 million this season.
I'm not sure how many years the Reds continue to pay Griffey, but it is a bunch.  Of course, they already set that money aside, so I guess it doesn't matter much.

Bush Did Not Find Bin Laden

ABL at Balloon Juice opens up a great post with a pretty good description of Republicans (maybe not safe for work):








Glory Days

It is damn fine outside, the Reds are on the radio and I'm getting some work done out there.  They probably won't read this, but I'd like to get out on the quad today and throw the ball around with McGillicuddy and Regan.  Guys, this song is for you.

Chessboxing

From PRI's The World:
Chessboxing has 11 rounds; six four-minute rounds of speed chess, alternating with five three-minute rounds of boxing. You win by either a knockout, checkmate or in the case of a draw, on points.
The loudspeaker announces Mark Hickey’s match. Hickey climbs into the ring, pumping the air with his fists. His opponent steps in soon after. Both men take their seats at the chess table. The gloves, necessarily, are off so they can grasp the pieces.
Four minutes later, the board is carefully lifted out of the ring and the gloves go on. Mark comes out swinging. But he’s swinging a bit too much, apparently. Before the first round is over, Mark is cradling his right arm. He is hurt, and the bout is all over.
Since most people here know boxing better than chess, Malcolm Peine has one of the toughest jobs of the night. Peine does a sort of play-by-play for the chess rounds, trying to make it all exciting and understandable.
“You tend to find that after they finish the boxing, the first move they play in the chess is usually awful,” Peine said. “Often, it’s a pretty bad move because the adrenaline is pumping from the chest and it’s hard to get yourself in chess mode.”
When I was in college, I participated in intramural boxing each winter.  I was terrible.  The first year, I fought one of the best boxers in the program and the fight was stopped in the second round.  That year a doctor was running a study checking mental acuity after the fights.  When we got our prefight physicals a week or two before the fight, the doctor gave us a couple of tests.  One asked us to write down as many words as we could think of in 2 or 3 minutes that began with the letter C.  The other was a sheet of random single-digit numbers, and we were to circle all of the 6's we could find in a minute.  Within 10 or 15 minutes of the end of the fight, we were tested again.  All I remember was that I was punchdrunk, and when I circled the 6's, I only got about 60% as far as at the physical, and when they told me to stop, I noticed that I had missed at least 2 or 3 of the 6's in the portion I completed.

I was concerned that they might cancel the boxing on account of my terrible performance.  Luckily, I never heard anything more about that test.  So I can understand how difficult it would be to play chess after receiving a number of blows to the head.  I have a hard enough time playing chess with a clear head.

Why 5, 8 and 24 Are The Most Interesting Numbers

Warning, this is beyond me, but interesting none the less (via Mark Thoma):
In the May 2011 issue of Scientific American mathematician John Baez co-authors "The Strangest Numbers in String Theory," an article about the octonions, an eight-dimensional number system that was discovered in the mid–19th century but that has been largely ignored until quite recently. As the name of the article implies, interest in the octonions has been rekindled by their surprising relationship to recent developments in theoretical physics, including supersymmetry, string theory and M-theory. Baez and his co-author John Huerta wrote, "If string theory is right, the octonions are not a useless curiosity; on the contrary, they provide the deep reason why the universe must have 10 dimensions: in 10 dimensions, matter and force particles are embodied in the same type of numbers—the octonions."
There's more there, including references to sphere stacking and the golden ratio.  I'm sure I can't understand much any of this, but when I get a spare hour, I'll try to watch the lecture.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: A peek into one of the deepest little cesspits in Europe, by David Malone:
Beyerishe LB was either the witless dupe who was left holding a huge shit schnitzel or just the last in a long line of greedy and corrupt bottom feeding institutions who wanted the chance to siphon some of that fetid  underground nourishment for themselves.  I personally feel the latter is the more likely explanation for the Europe wide enthusiasm for buying Austrian banks. Austria, with its anonymous accounts had made itself into a major portal for dirty money seeking onward transfer into European banks. And European banks were drawn to Austria like flies to a sewer.

The fact is Beyerische bought a bank for 1.6 billion euros into which it had to immediately pour another 2.1 billion euros just to keep it afloat.  Which although it sounds blunderingly stupid is, by Bavarian banking standards little worse than average. Compare Beyerische to the saga of inept incompetence which surrounded two other Bavarian banks Beyerische Hypotheken-und Wecshel Bank and Beyerische Vereins-bank, whose billions in losses forced the shot-gun wedding whose issue was HVB (see Dominoes Falling from the East) and you wonder how Germany has any banks at all?

Today there is still another 3.1 billion euros of bad debts to be paid at Beyerische. The open question vexing both sides of the German/Austrian border is who will pay? Since Beyerishe sold Alpe Adria back to Austria for a whopping 1 euro it might fall upon the Austrian people. But it might still land back on Beyerishe and therefore on the German taxpayers. Both sides would love to find a way of claiming they were just innocent victims of foreign fraud.
I guess you could call this the European bank mess-Austrian edition.  The article goes into great detail about various bank black holes in Austria which tie into Anglo-Irish Bank, among others.  What a mess, we definitely haven't seen the worst of this yet.

Navy SEAL Pay Versus Wall Street

Dean Baker notes that ABC News mentioned Navy SEALS get paid about the same amount as school teachers.  He compares their pay to pay on Wall Street:
That is one possible comparison. There are other possible reference points. For example, the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan both pocket around $20 million a year. This means that they make almost twice as much in a day as a Navy Seal earns in a year. Not many bank heads have to worry about getting shot in the line of duty.
Of course some Wall Street types do even better. Hedge fund manager John Paulson reportedly pocketed $5 billion last year. If we assume a 3000 hour work year (presumably he had to put in some overtime), Paulson had to work about 2 minutes to earn as much as a Navy Seal does in a year. 

Are the Chinese Hoarding Commodities For Financing?

Yves Smith highlights  that Michael Pettis claims China is importing excess copper because (somehow) it allows cash-strapped businesses to access financing.  He also speculates that they might be doing the same thing with soybeans:
As much as it may sound barmy to stockpile commodities to obtain better terms on financing, Michael Pettis claims that’s one of the factors behind what looks to be unduly aggressive purchases of copper by the Chinese. An excerpt from his latest newsletter, courtesy Michael Shedlock:
China had been importing for many months far more copper than was needed for real use…. Imports continued even when London prices exceeded Shanghai prices by more than the equivalent of China’s value-added tax.
Instead of being shipped to end users, it seems that copper was being stockpiled in warehouses.  Why?  One possibility of course was pure speculation…
It turns out, that the copper purchases were not entirely, or even mainly, speculative.  They were part of a financing scheme for companies that….were having trouble accessing bank credit. 
Credit-starved companies were importing copper because they could obtain trade finance or some other sort of foreign financing, and then used the physical copper (or warehouse receipts, I guess) as collateral for domestic borrowing.  The financing was continually rolled over.  Buying copper was just a way to borrow for companies that needed loans and were otherwise unable to get them.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, when I discussed this in February with a senior executive in a major commodities company, he responded by saying that he thought the same thing might also be happening in soya…
I don't understand this at all, but if they cut back purchases, we might get some really nasty price drops, especially if this wet weather continues and the market gets concerned about acres switching from corn to beans at the end of the month.

Kentucky Derby Field Set


ESPN:
Dialed In was listed as the 4-1 favorite by Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker after being assigned post 8 in a full field of 20 3-year-olds entered to run Saturday in the 137th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Dialed In, with Julien Leparoux to ride, has won three of four career starts and will try to become the third Derby winner for trainer Nick Zito, who won in 1991 with Strike the Gold and in 1994 with Go for Gin. Dialed In won the Florida Derby in his last start.
Uncle Mo, the reigning divisional champion, was pegged as the close 5-1 second choice after being assigned post 18 for the 1 1/4-mile race. John Velazquez has the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out the 2010 winner, Super Saver.
"I think he ought to be able to relax and track the main speed," Pletcher said before the draw. Asked whether Uncle Mo is healthy, he said: "He's doing well." Afterward, regarding post 18, Pletcher said, "I was okay with that."
Archarcharch (10-1) got the dreaded post 1.
"We're just going to make it work," said Jon Court, rider of Archarcharch.
Other choices on the morning line are Nehro (post 19, 6-1), Midnight Interlude (post 15, 12-1), Mucho Macho Man (post 13, 12-1), Shackleford (post 14, 20-1), and Soldat (post 17, 20-1).
Twice the Appeal (post 3), with Calvin Borel to ride, is listed at 30-1. Borel has ridden three of the last four winners of the Derby.
Watch Me Go (50-1) got post 20 on the far outside.
The entire lineup and morning line is posted at the link.  It looked like 30-1 was the field bet.  20 horses racing always makes things interesting.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Obama, Osama and America in Crisis

The death of Bin Laden reminded me of this article written by James Fallows in the summer of 2005 in The Atlantic.  The idea is that the writer is composing a memo in 2016 to the man who will win the 2016 presidential election in a landslide, writing about the economic, political and social catastrophes which had struck the U.S. since 2001, explaining how they find themselves in the moment they are in.  The man who will be president came to the public's attention by:
The chaos in public services spelled the end for the administration, and for the Democratic Party in the long run. The Democrats couldn't defend the unions. They couldn't defend pensioners. They couldn't even do much for their limousine liberals. The nation had never been more in the mood for firm leadership. When the "Desert Eagle" scored his astonishing coup in the Saudi Arabian desert just before Christmas of 2011, America knew who its next leader would be. For a four-star general to join his enlisted men in a nighttime HALO32 special-operations assault was against all established practice. The Eagle's determination to go ahead with the stunt revealed him to be essentially a MacArthuresque ham. But the element of surprise was total, and the unit surrounded, captured, and gagged Osama bin Laden before he was fully awake.
The general's news conference the next day had the largest live audience in history, breaking the record set a few months earlier by the coronation of England's King William V. The natural grace of this new American hero was like nothing the world had seen since Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris. His politics were indistinct, but if anything, that was a plus. He was strong on defense; urgent (without details) about "fighting smart against our economic enemies"; and broadly appealing on "values"—a devout Catholic who had brought the first openly gay commandos into a front-line combat unit. ("When we were under fire, I never asked who they loved, because I knew they loved our flag.") Political pros had always assumed that America's first black president would be a Republican and a soldier, and they were right. He just didn't turn out to be Colin Powell.
While the timeline doesn't quite play out the way he imagined it, Fallows touches on a large number of important issues which have come into play, or may soon, in the story.  It is well worth the read.

Is Semen An Antidepressant?

Popular Science:
Semen is a complex mixture of different compounds, and sperm actually only makes up a small amount of it. When you remove the sperm, what's left is seminal plasma, a fluid that contains an array of ingredients, some of which can pass through the vagina and be detected in the bloodstream after sex. Three compounds of interest in seminal plasma are estrogen, prostaglandins and oxytocin. Estrogen and prostaglandins have been linked to lower levels of depression, while oxytocin (which women release during birth, breastfeeding and orgasm) promotes social bonding. These and other compounds in semen could function to keep women coming back for more. "I think there's reason to believe based on some of the evidence we've collected that females that are in committed relationships that are having unprotected sex may use sex in part to self-medicate," Gallup says. "It's discovered after the fact that being inseminated has effects on mood, and they use sex to modulate their mood."

The Workings of A Civil Engineer's Mind

Andrew Sullivan has a View From Your Window contest where readers try to guess where a picture is taken from.  It is difficult for me to generally identify the right continent, let alone get very close.  I actually got the right state this time:


How?  The post said the photo was taken on April 17, and it looked like snow, but more important were the yellow mastarms.  I'd never seen them before and googled yellow mastarms, and the first item mentioned that North Dakota's DOT specified yellow mastarms.  Snow on April 17 and yellow mastarms, I assumed it was probably Bismarck or Fargo.  Apparently, I wasn't alone:

Another:
I won't be able to guess the exact location, being sidetracked by OBL's killing, but I'll give the general location. I spent some time in the transportation industry and one thing I learned is that states usually put their own unique details on traffic control devices, so I bypassed some other clues to hone in on the traffic signals.  The yellow poles and yellow mast arms are found in North Dakota, Fargo in particular. So I say Fargo.
Another:
The VFYW contest gets me through most Saturday nights when I pull the night shift with our newborn daughter. This week was a winner. As a civil engineer, I was most caught by the yellow mast arms for the traffic lights. North Dakota DOT mandates that all mast arms be yellow, which then only left a couple cities. Then I narrowed it down to Minot and the hospital from which the photo was taken.  I can't help but think that the snow on such a late day in 2011 hopefully brought a smile to the patient or family member of the patient in that room.
Our daughter's nursery is travel themed and stocked with books of all the places we hope she'll see. A VFYW book would be a great addition!
Engineers are a different breed.  Of course, all of the VFYW winners are a different breed.

More Levee Coverage

NPR had a segment this morning in which the farmers complained that the removal of a 2 mile section of levee was too big and caused too much damage.  They wanted a smaller section removed downstream.  Unfortunately for the farmers I think they are wrong here.  The wider opening would lessen the extent of the damage in whatever spot the levee was opened, while the smaller opening further downstream would not have had the intended effect, and would have caused a lot wider hole to open up at that location.  Anyway, here are before and after satellite photos via Jeff:

Before
                                                             

After


Also, the story mentioned how the Army Corps holds floodage easements on the 130,000 acres of farmland, and another story indicated farmers will be eligible for crop insurance payments.  It is really just the erosion and sedimentation damage that they'll have to deal with, which is plenty in itself. 

Grain Belt Brewery in Minneapolis May Become Housing

Grain Belt Brewery

MPR:
Minneapolis city officials are asking developers to propose a reuse for a portion of the historic Grain Belt Brewery complex in northeast Minneapolis. The city says it will sell two parcels of the site, including the Grain Belt office building, "as is." Minneapolis City Council Member Diane Hofstede, whose ward includes the area, said neighbors appear to favor housing on the site.
"We've just added one of our most recent parks along 13th Avenue along the riverfront so this parcel will be along a riverfront park," Hofstede said.
The Grain Belt brewery closed in the 1970s, and the property deteriorated. In 1989, the city of Minneapolis stepped in to save it from demolition.
Grain Belt is now brewed by the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm, MN (more German brewers).  Histories of Grain Belt Beer here and here.  I had a couple of Grain Belts at the Twins game last year.  Not too shabby, but it was a damn hot day.


Grain Belt Beer sign on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis

Very True

Scocca: Pakistan's Ambassador Might Want To Reconsider Comparing Osama Bin Laden to Whitey Bulger. (h/t Anne Laurie) That is very true.  When the other guy had people in law enforcement who conspired with him, probably not the example you want to use if you are the Pakistani government.  When I heard the FBI had removed Bin Laden from the 10 Most Wanted List, I did think that maybe someday they'll find Whitey Bulger.

Stimulus Spending Analysis

Via Ritholtz, Miller-McCune looks at the stimulus spending.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: McClatchy: How bin Laden died: PsyOps in Action?.  This is straight out of the Republican playbook:
White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan provided the gripping detail Monday, when he told reporters that bin Laden used his wife as a human shield during the raid. The account gave the perfect hook for story after story after story after story. Every story, of course, furthered the fatal final image of the coward Osama bin Laden, cowering in fear. As Slate's estimable David Weigle put it:
"So, the admirer of bin Laden has to reckon with the idea that he spent his last moments hiding behind his wife."
Perfect! One couldn't ask for a better image!
Now, it turns out this vivid detail is, well, false. So maybe Brennan erred in the heat  of battle, right?
Or, maybe he did his job: planting in the public's mind the notion of bin Laden dying a coward's death, like James Cagney in that movie about the gangster going to the electric chair. It's always the first impression that lasts, so the after-the-fact corrections really won't unsettle what the public already "knows" about the event.
Bin Laden=coward, for all time.
Undermining the manhood of one's enemy is standard practice in the psychological operations playbook; witness, e.g., rumors that Panama's Manuel Noriega was fleeing U.S. forces while dressed as a woman, way back in the day. Assignment: come up with other examples of how Iraqi and Al Qaeda leaders have been belittled at their moment of capture or death.
Or, maybe it's more complicated than manipulation. Maybe the error really a case of what they say about war -- the first reports are always wrong -- combined with the juiciness of the details that matched what Brrennan wanted to believe. 
The example of that in the Iraq War:  Saddam Hussein's massive underground complex and dozens of body doubles.  We got television graphics of the underground bunker he would supposedly be hiding in, but after the troops got to town, we saw a lot of palaces, but I never was able to find actual photos of this massive bunker.  Likewise with the body doubles.  Supposedly there were dozens, but I never heard of an instance where we ever found one or interviewed one.  I believed then and still believe it was all propaganda to convince the American peopel he was a coward.

Correction:  Saddam's bunker.  Not exactly the bunker built at the Greenbriar.

Also, Yves highlights this:
U.S. Regulators Face Budget Pinch as Mandates Widen New York Times. This is pathetic:
On a recent trip to New York to tour a trading floor, a group of employees from the commodities watchdog [CFTC] rode Mega Bus both ways, arriving late to their meeting despite a 5:30 a.m. departure. The bus, which cost $30 a person round trip, saved the agency roughly $1,000 over Amtrak.
No wonder businesses rob this country blind, Republicans want them to.

Inflation in Food

Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, via Mark Thoma:
Among the causes of the recent world food price surge are weather-related poor harvests of staple crops such as wheat and some coarse grains. Affected heavily by drought in Russia and excessive rains in Canada and Australia, world wheat production for the 2010–11 marketing period is on track for a decrease of 5 percent compared with the 2009–10 period. World production of coarse grains (corn, sorghum, barley, rye and oats) is on pace to fall 2.5 percent.[4] Export bans by some countries, increased stockpiling by others and higher input costs—especially for energy in the production of fertilizer—likely also contributed to diminished supplies of many agricultural commodities.[5]
A basic principle of economics is that decreased supply increases a good’s relative price—that is, its price in terms of the other enjoyable things one must sacrifice to acquire the good. The number of theater tickets or MP3 downloads or haircuts one must sacrifice in order to enjoy a steak dinner increase when the relative price of steak increases. So too, does the number of hours one must work—and forgo leisure—to obtain a given amount of steak.
This is true in a world where money is used to facilitate the exchange of goods and services and would be true in a world without money (and thus without monetary policy).
Over periods of a few years (and, of course, over longer horizons), central banks can exercise considerable control over the rate at which the prices of an economy’s goods and services rise or fall, in units of money. An important point, though, is that—with a few qualifications—monetary policy affects money prices for goods and services in general, not the terms at which goods and services exchange for one another.[6]
Monetary policy can slow the rate at which food prices (together with all other money prices) rise; it cannot make food—or any other particular good or service—more affordable in terms of other goods and services.
Also, it includes a chart with the food components of CPI, beer is one.

Crop Yields

Mark Thoma:
Why is food production slowing down? This is from Michael Roberts:
Yields-400Is this because of changes at the intensive or extensive margins? That is, is the slowdown due to declining productivity on existing land, e.g. from bad luck with the weather for several years in a row, or a more permanent change like global warming? Or is it because world growth is bringing marginal, less productive land into production? Whatever the cause, Michael Roberts thinks it's likely a permanent rather than a temporary problem:
There are many reasons for high commodity prices. But recent data from FAO shows a pretty rapid slowdown in productivity growth. The price spike in 2008 occurred in a particularly bad year in which yields declined on a worldwide basis for three of the four largest food commodities. In 2009 all four of the majors saw yield declines, something that hasn't happened since 1974. 2010 couldn't have been much better and was probably worse, given how bad things were in the U.S, the world's largest producer and exporter (worldwide data for 2010 isn't available yet).
The yield slowdown comes at a particularly unfortunate time, with accelerating demand from emerging economies like China and subsidy-driven expansion of ethanol. Keep in mind: we need productivity growth to accelerate considerably to keep up with projected demand growth. FAO says we need 70 percent higher yields by 2050. (Although I'd like to do my own projections, and will one of these days...)

Graffiti Artists Strike Back

Awesome, via Balloon Juice.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

More on Blowing Up Levees

The Army Corps does this more often than I thought:
Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh — the man ultimately responsible for the decision to go through with the plan- has indicated that he may not stop there if blasting open the levee doesn't do the trick. In recent days, Walsh has said he might also make use of other downstream "floodways" — basins surrounded by levees that can intentionally be blown open to divert floodwaters.

Among those that could be tapped are the 58-year-old Morganza floodway near Morgan City, La., and the Bonnet Carre floodway about 30 miles north of New Orleans. The Morganza has been pressed into service just once, in 1973. The Bonnet Carre, which was christened in 1932 has been opened up nine times since 1937, the most recent in 2008.

"Making this decision is not easy or hard," Walsh said. "It's simply grave — because the decision leads to loss of property and livelihood, either in a floodway or in an area that was not designed to flood."

Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi are warning that the river could bring a surge of water unseen since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

The corps has said about 241 miles of levees along the Mississippi River between Cape Girardeau, Mo., and the Gulf of Mexico need to be made taller or strengthened.


George Sills, a former Army Corps engineer and levee expert in Vicksburg, Miss., said the volume of water moving down the river would test the levee system south of Memphis into Louisiana.

"It's been a long time since we've seen a major flood down the Mississippi River," Sills said. "This is the highest river in Vicksburg, Miss., since 1927. There will be water coming by here that most people have never seen in their lifetime."
The 1927 flood is featured in the book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.  It features a lot of history of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, a lot about hydraulics and hydrology of the Mississippi River, a lot about the history of the Army Corps and levees, and a good bit about race relations in the Mississippi Delta.  Herbert Hoover makes an appearance, and a levee is blown up to save New Orleans.  It is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

Blowing the Levee, ctd.

So far, it's working.  From Minnesota Public Radio  (h/t KB):

Source, National Weather Service

Hopefully, the damage to the farms isn't as bad as it could be.  Also, hopefully the secondary levees hold.

Under the City of Cleveland

Salt mines:

Poker in the Old West

The History of Poker in the Old West:
 
Whether on a riverboat atop the Mighty Mississippi, or in the smoky dimness of a mining camp saloon, a lucky draw could turn a broken man into a winner. In the days of the frontier west, poker was king with the mustachioed likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday, "Canada” Bill Jones, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and hundreds of others.
In the old west towns of Deadwood, Dodge City, Tombstone, and Virginia City, gamblers played with their back to the wall and their guns at their sides, as dealers dealt games with names such as Chuck-A-Luck, Three Card Monte, High Dice, and Faro, by far the favorite in the wild west saloons.
The exact origin of poker is unknown but many have speculated that it originated from a 16th century Persian card game called As Nas. Played with a 25 card deck containing five suits, the rules were similar to today’s Five Card Stud. Others are of the opinion that it was invented by the Chinese in 900 A.D. In all likelihood, the game derived from elements of various gambling diversions that have been around from the beginning of time.
Poker in the United States was first widely played in New Orleans by French settlers playing a card game that involved bluffing and betting called Poque in the early 1800's. This old poker game was similar to the "draw poker” game we play today. New Orleans evolved as America’s first gambling city as riverboat men, plantation owners and farmers avidly pursued the betting sport.
There is a lot more there.  It is interesting what the roots of gambling are.  I find games of chance interesting, because they often are an entertainment which is similar to the game of life.  When the cards fall right, a guy looks like a genius, when they don't, people think he's a damn fool.  It is always fun to watch the poker tournaments on TV, because almost every show you see a guy just once get dealt the one card he needs when the odds are 92% to 8% against him.

I was thinking about Amarillo Slim and Billy Walters.  Both grew up in the south and started out as pool hustlers.  Listening to Slim, when he wasn't playing poker, he tried to trick guys to get the odds in his favor.  Billy Walters is trying to take as much knowledge as possible to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities.  Neither trusts Wall Street, which is just another casino where the house has the odds in their favor. 

And yet none of those guys, not Slim, not Walters, nor the guys on Wall Street (when they aren't leveraged 30 times) takes as big of a blind risk as farmers do.  Sometimes I don't think farmers can actually understand the risks they are taking, but yet they manage to make a living, and one they love, doing it.  I think it is often like other small businessmen.  They willing take huge risks they don't understand very well, just so they can answer to nobody, and sometimes it just works out.  A lot of the time, it works out because bigger companies don't want to take on those same risks.  Life is funny like that.

Socialist America

Barry Ritholtz:
To those of you who irrationally fear the US is turning into a Socialist state, I say unto thee: YOU ARE TOO LATE! We’ve already turned into a red nation of commies!
At least, that seems to be how some folks see it.  It is a quite a bit more accurate to describe the current circumstances: “The deep recession left the US with a highly elevated long-term unemployment rate;  There are lots of families who currently receive government aid so they can buy buy food for themselves and their children.”
Most Americans seem not to want to admit it, but we have fairly Socialist, rather Christian tendencies as a country. You know, things like charity, feeding the poor, broad government assistance to reduce senior and childhood poverty, etc.
I'm not sure why people don't want to admit this.  Lots of people want to claim that the U.S. is a Christian nation, but they don't want the government to provide any social services.  They often claim that churches also provide these services, and better than government.  I would point out that the churches provide additional services, but they never will be able to carry the load the government carries.  How may people do you know that would donate to their church or favorite charity, all the money they would take home if the government wasn't taxing them as much?  I'll go with none.  How many people would give any more money to charity if they weren't benefitting from the tax deduction?  I'd guess very few. 

And really, what is so bad about trying to help people out?  I know, some people take advantage of the system and some programs make it economically rational for people to not work more, but a larger percentage of people only grudgingly take government help.  And when you add it up, there is a heck of a lot of governmental largesse being extended to corporations.  These bastions of capitalism are doing a pretty fair job of taking advantage of socialist policies.

That is one reason why I think Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is so out of line with American tradition.  Many conservatives like the idea that America is a Christian nation.  One of the big tenets of Christianity is altruism.  Many atheists are also altruistic, even though they are not Christian.  Ayn Rand hated both Christianity and altruism.  To her, selfishness is a virtue.  Many of her fellow-travelers like the idea of being selfish, but they also like the idea of a vengeful God who will strike down all the sinners.  I don't think that Jesus guy would go along with their message.

Canadian Election Results vs. Projections

ThreeHundredEight:
Well, at least I got the order of the parties right.

Clearly, the final projection was wrong. It under-estimated both the Conservatives and the New Democrats and over-estimated the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. While I was not alone in making this error, I humbly recognize that of all the projections mine was among the worst.

Of the 308 ridings in the country, ThreeHundredEight.com correctly called 235 of them. That's an accuracy rate of 76.3%, which is absolutely unacceptable. (Note: I had incorrectly calculated the accuracy rating at 71.8% earlier this morning).

However, it was not the seat projection model that failed. The seat projection model actually performed very well - or would have had the popular vote projection model not missed the mark so completely.

That is a very tough gig.  Nate Silver looked really good in 2008, but trying to match polling and anticipate how much to weigh each poll by each pollster seems like a really thankless job.  Posting it for everyone to see makes it even tougher.

Levee Blown

NYT:
EAST PRAIRIE, Mo. — Ruben Bennett, his back bent and his fingers gnarled from a lifetime of labor, has lived all of his 88 years on an expanse of rich farmland here, just below where the Ohio River pours into the Mississippi. He survived his share of floods — including the record-setting one that swept away his boyhood home — but he has never run from one, until now.
For days he returned repeatedly, despite a mandatory evacuation, with the hope of riding out another major flood in his longtime home above his shuttered grocery store. But under threats from law enforcement officials, and the cajoling of his family, he finally agreed to retreat. As explosives tore open a protective levee Monday night, he waited for the news that his home has been destroyed.
“I can’t tell you how I feel, because there no feeling for that,” he said hours earlier, sitting in his daughter’s house — nearby, and safe from possible flooding — where he has been sleeping on the couch. “I hate it so bad.”
The Mississippi River, already at record levels here, keeps rising, fed by punishing rains. As the flood protection systems that safeguard countless communities groan under the pressure, federal officials executed a fiercely debated plan to destroy a part of the levee holding back the river in the area Mr. Bennett calls home for the greater good of the region.
With a flash of light and a massive rumbling that shook windows miles away, the Army Corps of Engineers set off explosives at 10 p.m. along the first of several sections of the earthen barrier, sending 550,000 cubic feet of water a second across the 130,000 acres of farmland known as the spillway. There were 90 homes in the spillway, but under the cover of darkness it was impossible to gauge the initial devastation. “This doesn’t end this historic flood,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, who commands the Mississippi Valley Division of the corps, explaining that the river may rise again in a few days. “This is not the end, this is just the beginning.”
Col. Vernie L. Reichling Jr., commander of the corps’ Memphis District, said the blast was successful, calling it “historic as well as tragic.”
The move was a desperate effort to lower the river, which had climbed to about 61 feet in nearby Cairo, Ill., to head off calamity up- and downriver. In Illinois, the pressure on the levee created a geyser, forcing the evacuation of Cairo. In Louisiana, there was concern about whether levees could survive a record flood.
And it raised a new risk in this part of Missouri, which had challenged the plan unsuccessfully in court, because any water filling the spillway would put pressure on an untested secondary levee that protects more populous communities.
Some of the 200 residents in the spillway have argued that the young shoots of corn and knee-high carpet of wheat offered evidence enough that the area was worth protecting. Their claims will be soon be forgotten as the attention shifts downriver. But for these people, some of whom watched the blast, the flooding represents the beginning of a long process they say will drastically change their lives.
That is just a brutal situation.  I remember reading about how the river bottom fields were covered in 3 feet of sand after the Mississippi River topped levees in the flood of 1993, and how it would take a couple of years for those fields to recover.  It would feel worse knowing those fields were intentionally flooded, but that is part of the Army Corps job in maintaining those levees, sometimes they just have to be removed.  When you have a record flood, those choices have to be made.  It will look like a pretty poor decision if those secondary levees fail, but I assume the Corps believes that is unlikely.

Derby Week Horse Story

From the SI archive, a reflection on Secretariat's life, by William Nack, who wrote the book from which the movie Secretariat was based:
Just before noon the horse was led haltingly into a van next to the stallion barn, and there a concentrated barbiturate was injected into his jugular. Forty-five seconds later there was a crash as the stallion collapsed. His body was trucked immediately to Lexington, Kentucky, where Dr. Thomas Swerczek, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky, performed the necropsy. All of the horse's vital organs were normal in size except for the heart.
"We were all shocked," Swerczek said. "I've seen and done thousands of autopsies on horses, and nothing I'd ever seen compared to it. The heart of the average horse weighs about nine pounds. This was almost twice the average size, and a third larger than any equine heart I'd ever seen. And it wasn't pathologically enlarged. All the chambers and the valves were normal. It was just larger. I think it told us why he was able to do what he did."
In the late afternoon of Monday, Oct. 2, 1989, as I headed my car from the driveway of Arthur Hancock's Stone Farm onto Winchester Road outside of Paris, Ky., I was seized by an impulse as beckoning as the wind that strums through the trees there, mingling the scents of new grass and old history.
For reasons as obscure to me then as now, I felt compelled to see Lawrence Robinson. For almost 30 years, until he suffered a stroke in March of 1983, Robinson was the head caretaker of stallions at Claiborne Farm. I had not seen him since his illness, but I knew he still lived on the farm, in a small white frame house set on a hill overlooking the lush stallion paddocks and the main stallion barn. In the first stall of that barn, in the same space that was once home to the great Bold Ruler, lived Secretariat, Bold Ruler's greatest son.
It was through Secretariat that I had met Robinson. On the bright, cold afternoon of Nov. 12, 1973, he was one of several hundred people gathered at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington to greet the horse on his flight from New York into retirement in Kentucky. I flew with the horse that day, and as the plane banked over the field, a voice from the tower crackled over the airplane radio: "There's more people out here to meet Secretariat than there was to greet the governor."
"Well, he's won more races than the governor," pilot Dan Neff replied.
The article is excellent.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: NightWatch20110502, at kforcegov:
Pakistan-US: Comment: Bin Laden and a son are dead, killed in a firefight by US Navy SEALS carried in two helicopters to Abbottabad, Pakistan, just 35 miles north of Islamabad. The US commandos took custody of his body to prove he is dead and got away safely.
News services quoted unidentified US officials that the body was prepared for burial according to the Muslim ritual. Readers might wonder who gave such an order and why.
The Abbottabad location is important for two reasons. Bin Laden could not have lived in a compound in Abbottabad without official Pakistani government sustenance. Abbottabad is an upscale area and a garrison town, but not so large as to be impersonal. Bin Laden was living in protected luxury. Many people had to know that and probably will come forward in a little time.
On 7 December 2001, Bin Laden escaped from the tunnels in Tora Bora, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, with the help of a local warlord named Hazrat Ali, who betrayed US forces who had hired him to help capture bin Laden and is now a member of the Afghan Parliament for Nangarhar. Bin Laden and his gang crossed the Tora Bora mountains to Parachinar, Pakistan, where a Pakistan Army brigade was deployed to ensure his capture if he crossed the border. They failed, of course. He headed east to Kohat, another Army garrison town and disappeared.
The distance from Kohat to Abbottabad is several hundred kilometers by road, but the two towns are part of the Pakistan Army network of garrison towns in the northwest. Bin laden reportedly moved around in the northwest,  but one inference is that bin Laden has been in the safe keeping of the Pakistan Army for a decade. The news reports suggest the compound was specially built for him and his enterprise, which had to have been subsidized by Pakistan and, through Pakistan, by US aid to Pakistan.
Secondly, his compound could not have been attacked from Afghanistan, him killed and his body taken by US Navy SEALs flying US helicopters so close to Islamabad without official Pakistani government cooperation. The US insisted Pakistan played no part in the operation and that the team flew from Afghanistan. That clearly is a cover story for Pakistani public consumption to try to avert overwhelming anti-Pakistan and anti-US demonstrations, which are probably inevitable in any event.
Abottabad is not some remote village on the border. It is a large town in eastern Pakistan, on the main road to Kargil and the north as well as to Muzaffarabad and Pakistani Kashmir to the east. It is northeast - towards India - of Islamabad and within the Pakistan air defense intercept zone for the national capital which is protected by the Pakistani integrated air defense system. Nothing can fly in that region without detection and without permission from the Pakistan Air Force, even from Afghanistan.
The conclusion is inescapable that the Pakistan Army protected bin Laden and recently decided to give him up, rather than sacrifice the Army's relationship with the US. The terms are not known as yet, but there certainly is a trade in which bin Laden was sacrificed. The trade might involve an end to US drone attacks across the border, which humiliate the Pakistan Army, or a new coordination regime for drone attacks into Pakistan.
Realpolitik sure is a dirty business.  The entire report, covering fighting in Afghanistan, with notes from Libya is very interesting.  I just found this discussion of the US-Pakistan-Bin Laden triangle interesting.  It does raise some very interesting questions about quid pro quos.  Maybe we are hearing the true story, but it doesn't sound very likely to me.  Either Pakistani defenses aren't much for Indian to worry about at all, or they knew we were coming, and they let us.