Saturday, August 13, 2011

No Rain-Again

An all-too-common sight this summer:

50% chance tonight.  We'll see.

Rick Perry Is In

God help us.  If the American people are dumb enough to elect a George W. Bush on steroids, we deserve to go down the tubes.  As George W. said:

Well, he said a lot of dumb things. Anyway, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. No more dumb Texas governors for President.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Last Night's Republican Debate

Well, there are more debates to come, but this sounds about right to me:

Liquor Expenditure Versus Educational Attainment

Via Yglesias:

I wondered why my friend the Professor drank the fancy whiskey.

Don't Let Common Sense Get In The Way Of Ideology

I just read this article from Bloomberg about how crazy the Republicans no-tax increases ever stance is (via nc links).  It makes the factual case that Reagan raised taxes in 1982, prior to the economy rallying in 1983-84, and Clinton raised taxes in 1993, and yet the economy grew after that.  It also makes the case that taxes as a percentage of GDP are at 50 year lows.  Further, it makes the case that the Bush tax cuts haven't grown the economy.  I agree with all of those points.

The comments were enlightening, in that they revealed a right-wing meme I hadn't quite taken note of.  This is the statement that the Bush tax cuts led to 8 million jobs created from 2003-2007.  Since it is actual data, I won't argue that there weren't 8 million jobs created during this time.  However, I might attribute those jobs to the enormous housing bubble which also raged during that time.  Much of that job growth was in residential construction and the mortgage industry.  I have to ask those commenters, why stop at 2007, are tax cuts only good for 5 years of growth?  No, I would posit that many of the jobs created were based on the giant bubble, and when it burst, those jobs disappeared, weakening the case for the Bush tax cut supporters.  Actually, I know that is the case, because I lived through the damn thing.  I don't understand why anyone would make such an asinine defense of the Bush tax cuts, considering it doesn't hold water.

What Is The Purpose Of Progressive Taxation?

Paul Rosenberg makes the case that its purpose is to incentivize reinvestment of wealth as opposed to consumption (via nc links):
One root cause of this, econoblogger Bruce Webb argues, is that people misunderstand the purpose of progressive taxation, because they misunderstand the motivations of capitalists. Traditional economics "explicitly assumed that the goal of capitalism is accumulation," he wrote, and thus, "taxation on gains from capital serve to displace investment".
However, this "doesn't hold up well against the historical record.... Instead in most of those cultures and most definitely in Georgian and then Victorian England the evidence is strong that capitalists saw investment as the means to different ends, those of consumption and display that in turn would lead to societal status.... Let us put it this way: Scrooge was not then or now considered the hero, and throughout history the miser has been a despised and mocked figure."
Thus if the goal of upper-class investment is ostentatious consumption, then "The goal of progressive taxation... was to penalize consumption and favor re-investment," which is why Reaganomics - repealing progressive taxation - did precisely the opposite: it favored consumption at the expense of reinvestment.  "[A]ll Supply Side did was to lower the cost of consumption in pre-tax dollars, purchases that were inconceivable in the days of 90 and then 70 per cent top rates have become routine in the days of 15 per cent," Webb concludes.  Now, individual capitalists might like this just fine, but it wrecks havoc with the economy as a whole - including the capitalist class, which loses interest in creating new future value, and falls into decline.
That's a connection made by sociology blogger Peter Frase in his post, "The Decay of the Capitalist Class", which related Webb's argument to observations by economist Doug Henwood, publisher of the Left Business Observer. "[O]ne of the problems of the United States is that there is a great deal of incoherence at the upper level, that unlike the WASP ruling class, there is no social formation that can think in the truly long-term, that can think beyond the short-term concerns about the accumulation of money."
This is a rather precise replay of what happened in the run-up to the Great Depression, a period of time in which top tax rates were similarly slashed, while lavish spending and reckless speculation were the order of the day. Among other things, Roosevelt raised top rates to 90 per cent. It certainly pinched individual capitalists, but business a whole did just fine, and so did the American people as a whole, who experienced four decades of strong, broadly shared growth in prosperity - a glorious past that most Americans outside of Washington yearn to see come once again.
This is an explanation which could plausibly change peoples' outlook on taxation and tax rates.  There should be a lot of numbers which could lend credence to the case, such as R & D research investment by corporations, dividends paid, real estate prices in Manhattan and the Hamptons, yacht sales, etc.  I would like to see a more thorough case put together in this line of argument, and see how well it holds up.  I think there are some real similarities between the Roaring Twenties and the last thirty years, I'd like to see someone pull the threads of excessive debt, excessive consumption and large tax cuts together, and put together a thorough case against said tax cuts.

Will We Have A Double Dip?

This leads me to say yes.
From Richard's Real Estate and Urban Economics Blog, via Mark Thoma:
The Government Component of the  National Income and Product Accounts for the past 6 quarters (QI 2010 through Q2 2011):

21Government consumption expenditures
    and gross investment
22   Federal2.88.83.2-3.0-9.42.2
23      National defense0.56.05.7-5.9-12.67.3
24      Nondefense7.814.7-1.83.1-2.7-7.3
25   State and local-3.90.4-0.5-2.7-3.4-3.4
Anyone see a problem here? It's not like we have seen a rip-roaring "crowding-in" of the private sector.
As he says, with the deficit reduction plans in Washington, and state and local budget cuts, these negative numbers will continue, dragging the rest of the economy down.  It will get worse before it gets better.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Seed Company Looks To 60,000 Corn Population

Des Moines Register:
Since the commercial advent of hybrid corn in the 1930s, Iowa farmers have increased populations of corn plants from about 8,000 an acre to 25,000 by the 1980s and to an average of 34,000 to 36,000 today.

What is corn's equivalent of Mach 4 jet speed: 60,000 plants per acre? Maybe 75,000 plants per acre?

Therein lies the key to greater yields, which is the main thrust of what is projected to be a doubling of world food demand by 2050. In fields north of Adel, Stine Seed Co. is testing those unheard-of concepts in quiet fields that are the agricultural equivalent of testing grounds for new jet aircraft or hot auto racing engines.
That would definitely move a lot of seed corn.  So far, we've run into a cost-benefit limitation between 34,000 and 36,000. 

Pessimism Which Sounds Plausible

Marketwatch outlines a decade of U.S. economic hell, via Ritholtz:

2012: Super-rich solidify absolute power over our political system
That bizarre Supreme Court decision legalized political bribery. Now, billions pass through lobbyists to politicians with one goal: a promise that every politician vote in line with their ideology. Wealth rules. America is no longer a democracy, not even a plutocracy. Today our middle class is in a rapid trickle down into Third World status, while the rich get richer and the “gap” between the super-rich and the rest steadily widens. It is now irrelevant who wins the 2012 race, because money corrupts and Obama is already a puppet of this system favoring lobbyists and wealthy donors.
2013: Pentagon’s global commodity wars accelerate
During the Bush presidency, Fortune analyzed a classified Pentagon report predicting “climate could change radically and fast. That would be the mother of all national-security issues.” Billions of new people spread unrest worldwide as “massive droughts turn farmland into dust bowls and forests to ashes.” Also, “by 2020 there is little doubt that something drastic is happening ... an old pattern could emerge; warfare defining human life.” Trapped in denial, political leaders will chose war over cooperation.
2014: Global population exploding, rapidly wasting resources
America’s “conspiracy of the super-rich” drains trillions from middle-class taxpayers. They see global population growth exploding by 100 million annually not as a drain on scarce commodities, but as tool to get richer through free-market globalization, ignoring the tragedies triggered as the population climbs to 10 billion, all demanding more of the world’s limited, nonrenewable resources, demanding payback for our failures to heed warnings of environmentalists like Bill McKibben: “It might be too late. The science is settled, the damage has already begun.” We can’t save the planet.
This sounds like me on a disagreeable day.  Hopefully, things don't get this bad, but I wouldn't give much in odds.

Why Is The Tappan Zee Bridge Where It Is?

Planet Money looks at why the Tappan Zee Bridge is located at one of the widest points of the Hudson River.  Turns out, it was to avoid Port Authority territory. (h/t the sister)

1899 Cleveland Spiders

The worst team in baseball history:
The numbers tell the sordid story best. The Spiders scored 205 fewer runs and allowed 269 more runs than any team in the league. Their No. 1 pitcher, Jim Hughey, won a team-high four games and lost a league-high 30. No. 2 pitcher Charlie Knepper, in his only major league season, went 4-22. A third pitcher, Crazy Schmit, won two of 19 decisions. Teammate Frank Bates produced a 1-18 record and a 7.24 ERA, which might qualify as the most dismal performance ever, except that fifth starter Harry Colliflower had an 8.17 ERA to go with his 1-11 mark.
In the Spiders' season finale, which proved to be the last game ever for a National League franchise in Cleveland, the team called on a cigar-store clerk and amateur player named Eddie Kolb to pitch against the Cincinnati Reds. He lost 19-3. It was the Spiders' 134th loss of the year, the most in league history. Their 20 wins are the fewest. Their .130 winning percentage is far and away the worst. Cleveland finished in 12th place, 35 games out of 11th and 65½ games out of first.
The Spiders were the first team to call League Park home.  The Indians played there until 1946:
From July 1932 through the 1933 season, the Indians played at the new and far larger Municipal Stadium. However, the players and fans complained about the huge outfield, which reduced the number of home runs. Moreover, as the Great Depression worsened, attendance at the much larger facility plummented.[3] In 1934 the Indians moved most of their games back to League Park.
In 1936, the Indians began splitting their schedule between the two parks, playing Sunday and holiday games at Cleveland Stadium during the summer and the remainder at League Park. Beginning in 1938, they also played selected important games downtown at Cleveland Stadium. Lights were never installed at League Park, and thus no major league night games were played there. However, at least one professional night game was played on July 27, 1931, between the Homestead Grays and the House of David, who borrowed the portable lighting system used by the Kansas City Monarchs.
By 1940, the Indians played most of their home schedule at Municipal Stadium, abandoning League Park entirely after the 1946 season. League Park became the last stadium used in Major League Baseball never to install permanent lights.

League Park viewed from the air.  There was a 60 foot fence in right field, which was 290 feet down the line.  The center field fence was 420 feet, and the scoreboard was 460 feet from home plate.   It was 375 feet down the left field line.

Michael Lewis Does Germany

His tour of the financial collapse goes to the creditor nation:
He then offers me the same survey of German banking that I will hear from half a dozen others. German banks are not, like American banks, mainly private enterprises. Most are either explicitly state-backed “lands banks” or small savings co-ops. Commerzbank, Dresdner Bank, and Deutsche Bank, all founded in the 1870s, were the only three big private German banks. In 2008, Commerzbank bought Dresdner; as both turned out to be loaded with toxic assets, the merged bank needed to be rescued by the German government. “We are not a prop-trading nation,” he says, getting to the nub of where German banks went so wildly wrong. “Why should you pay $20 million to a 32-year-old trader? He uses the office space, the I.T., the business card with a first-class name on it. If I take the business card away from that guy he would probably sell hot dogs.” He is the German equivalent of the head of Bank of America, or Citigroup, and he is actively hostile to the idea that bankers should make huge sums of money........
The global financial system may exist to bring borrowers and lenders together, but it has become over the past few decades something else too: a tool for maximizing the number of encounters between the strong and the weak, so that one might exploit the other. Extremely smart traders inside Wall Street investment banks devise deeply unfair, diabolically complicated bets, and then send their sales forces out to scour the world for some idiot who will take the other side of those bets. During the boom years a wildly disproportionate number of those idiots were in Germany. As a reporter for Bloomberg News in Frankfurt, named Aaron Kirchfeld, put it to me, “You’d talk to a New York investment banker, and they’d say, ‘No one is going to buy this crap. Oh. Wait. The Landesbanks will!’ ” When Morgan Stanley designed extremely complicated credit-default swaps all but certain to fail so that their own proprietary traders could bet against them, the main buyers were German. When Goldman Sachs helped the New York hedge-fund manager John Paulson design a bond to bet against—a bond that Paulson hoped would fail—the buyer on the other side was a German bank called IKB. IKB, along with another famous fool at the Wall Street poker table called WestLB, is based in Düsseldorf—which is why, when you asked a smart Wall Street bond trader who was buying all this crap during the boom, he might well say, simply, “Stupid Germans in Düsseldorf.”
Previous posts on his Ireland article here and here.  There is something to be said for the German fear of inflation and general thriftiness playing a big part in the financial collapse.  It will be interesting to see how they handle things from here on out.  I am reminded of the saying that if you owe the bank a thousand dollars, the bank owns you, but if you owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.  The Germans have the means of production, and stacks of bonds, but to whom will they sell those products and what value are those bonds if the debtors can't pay up?

Some Ag Links

From All Things Considered: Is U.S. Farm Policy Feeding The Obesity Epidemic? I'd go with no.

Via naked capitalism links: How Wealthy Nations Drive Food Insecurity, at policymic.  I think it is obvious that ethanol production is a greater problem for the world than any so-called solution to our energy addiction.

and Book Review:Why the "Green Revolution" Was Not So Green After All, at Mother Jones.  This is interesting perspective on the work of Norman Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In The Jailhouse Now

Dollar Bill Symbols

From The Big Picture:

God's Blog

Better than this one. (via Ritholtz)

Iowa Farmland Prices Increase 24%

Des Moines Register:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Iowa’s cropland value has increased by nearly 24 percent in 2011 over the previous year. The Gazette in Cedar Rapids reports the rise in cropland value in Iowa was the highest in the nation. Nationally, cropland values increased by a little over 9 percent.
The average cropland value in Iowa was $5,700 an acre.
That's pretty high.  Deflationary forces in the economy make me worried about commodity prices, but dollar weakness may lead investors to keep money flowing into commodities.  Personally, I lean toward the deflationary side.

The True History of Gun Control

Adam Winkler, at The Atlantic:
In the 1920s and ’30s, the NRA was at the forefront of legislative efforts to enact gun control. The organization’s president at the time was Karl T. Frederick, a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer known as “the best shot in America”—a title he earned by winning three gold medals in pistol-shooting at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games. As a special consultant to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Frederick helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a model of state-level gun-control legislation. (Since the turn of the century, lawyers and public officials had increasingly sought to standardize the patchwork of state laws. The new measure imposed more order—and, in most cases, far more restrictions.)
Frederick’s model law had three basic elements. The first required that no one carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit from the local police. A permit would be granted only to a “suitable” person with a “proper reason for carrying” a firearm. Second, the law required gun dealers to report to law enforcement every sale of a handgun, in essence creating a registry of small arms. Finally, the law imposed a two-day waiting period on handgun sales.
The NRA today condemns every one of these provisions as a burdensome and ineffective infringement on the right to bear arms. Frederick, however, said in 1934 that he did “not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The NRA’s executive vice president at the time, Milton A. Reckord, told a congressional committee that his organization was “absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation.” According to Frederick, the NRA “sponsored” the Uniform Firearms Act and promoted it nationwide. Highlighting the political strength of the NRA even back then, a 1932 Virginia Law Review article reported that laws requiring a license to carry a concealed weapon were already “in effect in practically every jurisdiction.”
Also, gun control in California was supported by Ronald Reagan and conservatives because Bobby Seale and the Balck Panthers exercised their right to bear arms:
The Panthers’ methods provoked an immediate backlash. The day of their statehouse protest, lawmakers said the incident would speed enactment of Mulford’s gun-control proposal. Mulford himself pledged to make his bill even tougher, and he added a provision barring anyone but law enforcement from bringing a loaded firearm into the state capitol.
Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”
It's kind of funny to see how the reaction is different based on what color the bearer of arms is.  If the purpose of the second amendment was actually to allow citizens to defend themselves against the government, it would seem that anti-tank missiles, for instance, would be legal for citizens to purchase.  In today's day and age, I don't think it is possible for such a defense to be mustered.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wisconsin Recall

No matter how today's vote turns out, from now on, we can count on recall elections soon after any major electoral shift.  We are entering the neverending election cycle.  I am all for letting the GOP run wild and burn all their bridges in the process.  Let them show how crazy they are, then destroy them.  Instead, after a large Democratic victory in, say 2012 or 2014, there will be a series of recall elections to try to overturn the results.  Overall, it is a bad sign for our electoral system.

George Bush on Steroids

Joshua Green quotes Richard Land backstage at Rick Perry's "Response" rally on Saturday:
 I thought the day's shrewdest political insight came from Dr. Richard Land, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a sixth-generation Texan, who I bumped into in the hallway after Perry spoke. "If he runs, he'll be a strong candidate," Land told me. "He's a charismatic figure. I think about him on stage with the other candidates and he'll stand out. He's not a wallflower. But the most interesting question for me is whether the country is ready for somebody who looks and sounds like George W. Bush on steroids."
I can't speak for the rest of the country, but for me, no, I am not ready, and never will be ready for someone who looks and sounds like George W. Bush on steroids.  How about we avoid another Bush-style presidency?

Thanking Soldiers For Their Service

Elizabeth Samet on civilians thanking soldiers for their service (via the Dish):
“Thank you for your service” has become a mantra of atonement. But, as is all too often the case with gestures of atonement, substance has been eclipsed by mechanical ritual. After the engagement, both parties retreat to separate camps, without a significant exchange of ideas or perspectives having passed between them. When I broached the subject with a major with whom I had experienced the phenomenon, he wrote a nuanced response. Although he’s convinced that “the sentiments most people express appear to be genuinely FELT,” he nonetheless distrusts such spectacles. “Does the act of thanking a soldier unconsciously hold some degree of absolution from the collective responsibility?” he asked.
No reasonable person would argue that thanking soldiers for their service isn’t preferable to spitting on them. Yet at least in the perfunctory, formulaic way many such meetings take place, it is an equally unnatural exchange. The ease with which “thank you for your service” has circumvented a more enduring human connection doesn’t bode well for mutual understanding between soldiers and civilians. The inner lives of soldiers remain opaque to most of us.
I am very uncomfortable with this trend.  I think people are trying to make up for not actually serving by thanking those who do.  Then they can claim that they support the troops, and all is well.  I feel like we are sending these guys to suffer pointlessly.  Afghanistan, while it made some sense as a target, seemed very unlikely to be fixed by our presence.  Iraq made no sense whatsoever.  There was never an existential risk to our country from either place, and sending thousands of troops to die or be wounded seems like a waste.  I feel more like apologizing to the soldiers for not standing up to the forces for war.  Usually, if I get into a conversation with a vet, I'll only ask where they served, and let them talk about what they want to.

Wakefield Misses Out On 200th Win

Alfredo Aceves (8-1) gave up one run in an inning in relief of Tim Wakefield for the victory. Wakefield gave up five runs -- three earned -- and eight hits with five strikeouts. But he missed out on victory No. 200 for the third straight start when Aceves gave up the game-tying single to Kubel in the eighth.
"The last three starts, we've won two out of three of them," Wakefield said. "So that's the most important thing is keeping our lead in the American League East right now."
Wakefield stayed in long enough for the Red Sox to take the lead, but they couldn't hold on to it.  Maybe he'll get the win on Saturday.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Wright Brothers' First Public Flight

August 8, 1908:
 Wilbur Wright makes his first flight at a racecourse at Le Mans, France. It is the Wright Brothers' first public flight. Facing a lot of skepticism in the French aeronautical community and outright scorn by some newspapers that called him a "bluffeur," Wilbur began official public demonstrations on August 8, 1908 at the Hunaudières horse racing track near the town of Le Mans, France. His first flight lasted only one minute 45 seconds, but his ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, including several pioneer French aviators, among them Louis Bleriot. In the following days, Wilbur made a series of technically challenging flights, including figure-eights, demonstrating his skills as a pilot and the capability of his flying machine, which far surpassed those of all other pilot pioneers.
The French public was thrilled by Wilbur's feats and flocked to the field by the thousands. The Wright brothers catapulted to world fame overnight. Former doubters issued apologies and effusive praise. L'Aérophile editor Georges Besançon wrote that the flights "have completely dissipated all doubts. Not one of the former detractors of the Wrights dare question, today, the previous experiments of the men who were truly the first to fly...." Leading French aviation promoter Ernest Archdeacon wrote, "For a long time, the Wright brothers have been accused in Europe of bluff... They are today hallowed in France, and I feel an intense make amends."
Dayton's most famous residents proved the doubters wrong.

50 Best Sports Movies

Sports Illustrated ranks their top 50 sports movies, and Field of Dreams comes in at 38.  Come on, Jerry Maguire is ahead of it.  That is absolutely terrible.  Field of Dreams is one of my all-time favorite top 5 movies, so I would slide it in front of Bull DurhamOlympia and Dogtown and Z-Boys would be further down as far as I'm concerned.

Traffic Engineering Goes Mainstream

Slate discusses the diverging diamond interchange (via The Dish):
The "DDI" is the brainchild of Gilbert Chlewicki, who first theorized what he called the "criss-cross interchange" as an engineering student at the University of Maryland in 2000. (He eventually changed the name for fear of potential confusion with the singer of "Sailing.") Inspired by a similar (and at the time, exceedingly unusual) design in Versailles, France, at the intersection of the Autoroute de Normandie and Boulevard de Jardy*, Chlewicki introduced his concept in a soberly titled paper, "New Interchange and Intersection Designs: The Synchronized Split-Phasing Intersection and the Diverging Diamond Interchange" (PDF) at an engineering conference in 2003.
The DDI is the sort of thing that is easier to visualize than describe (this simulation may help), but here, roughly, is how a DDI built under a highway overpass works: As the eastbound driver approaches the highway interchange (whose lanes run north-south), traffic lanes "criss cross" at a traffic signal. The driver will now find himself on the "left" side of the road, where he can either make an unimpeded left turn onto the highway ramp, or cross over again to the right once he has gone under the highway overpass.Perhaps counter-intuitively, this complicated approach is actually safer—and more efficient. What makes the DDI work is that it reduces the number of "conflict points" where traffic streams cross each other. There would usually be 26 such points in an intersection like this, but the DDI has only 14 (because, for example, drivers turning onto ramps no longer have to turn across oncoming traffic). But, as Chlewicki explained to me, not having those left-turn movements adds another advantage. In a standard "diamond" interchange, where traffic entering the highway has to turn across traffic, the two sets of traffic signals, because they have to account for the left-turn phase, are difficult to synchronize—which means cars wait in longer queues. But with the DDI, Chlewicki told me, "each signal in the interchange is only two phases, not three. And each of these two phases have some unique characteristics. The left turn from either ramp gets the same green phase as the arterial thru movement that does not conflict with that turn. It's as if the design doesn't need a separate ramp phase since it is built into the design."
Once somebody goes through some of these new interchange designs, they like them, but the first time in is a little intimidating.  If you want to start an entertaining discussion, just say, "We need more roundabouts."

What's Up With Belgium?

I had previously heard mention of Belgium's difficulty in forming a government, but the story dropped off of my radar.  I didn't realize that after more than a year, they still didn't have one in place.  As Bloomberg points out (h/t Yves Smith's nc links), a government might come in handy:
Expansion in Belgium's gross domestic product slowed in the second quarter. The benchmark Bel20 stock-market index is down nearly 20 percent since May 2. Yields on Belgian 10-year bonds rose to 4.54 percent Thursday, the highest in two and a half years, and the premium investors demanded to hold those bonds over German bunds reached a euro-era record of 218 basis points, according to Bloomberg data. Business confidence has been declining for months.
This might sound like garden-variety dysfunction in the euro-zone. But in Belgium's case, economic woes are complicated by a surpassingly strange political stalemate. Since elections held on June 13, 2010, Belgium's political parties have been unable to form a coalition, reflecting deepening divisions between Dutch-speaking northerners and French-speaking southerners that may be pushing the country toward a breakup. The Economist Intelligence Unit reckoned July 1 that Belgium is the "least stable country in the EU" and saw no resolution to the impasse in sight.
This would remain a mere curiosity for the rest of the world, except that it'll be awfully hard for Belgium to grapple with its worrisome debt levels without a strong federal government -- or any federal government. Belgium's budget deficit is a modest 3.3 percent of GDP, but its debt-to-GDP ratio is the third highest in the EU. Standard & Poor's estimates a one-in-three chance of a downgrade on its credit rating.
I would guess that a breakup of Belgium would be used as evidence for the claim by anti-immigration forces in the United States that no nation has ever been successful as a bilingual state.  While the folks of Quebec have threatened a breakup of Canada, I generally consider that nation to be a successful and stable country.  I generally point to Switzerland as a successful state, but it, in fact, is trilingual (quadlingual if you count Romansh), so maybe two languages make a country less stable than one, three or four.  Anyway, I doubt that it matters, as facts have little to do with right-wing mass emails.

A Second Recession Would Be Worse

The NYT points out that a second recession would probably be more painful than the first (via Ritholtz):
If the economy falls back into recession, as many economists are now warning, the bloodletting could be a lot more painful than the last time around.
Given the tumult of the Great Recession, this may be hard to believe. But the economy is much weaker than it was at the outset of the last recession in December 2007, with most major measures of economic health — including jobs, incomes, output and industrial production — worse today than they were back then. And growth has been so weak that almost no ground has been recouped, even though a recovery technically started in June 2009.
“It would be disastrous if we entered into a recession at this stage, given that we haven’t yet made up for the last recession,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics.
When the last downturn hit, the credit bubble left Americans with lots of fat to cut, but a new one would force families to cut from the bone. Making things worse, policy makers used most of the economic tools at their disposal to combat the last recession, and have few options available.
Later, the article points out that companies are sitting on a pile of cash, so maybe they won't slice payrolls as much as the last recession.  I still maintain that companies are sitting on that money to be able to pay off debt as it comes due, in case the credit markets seize up again like they did in the fall of 2008 and early 2009.  I don't think they'll use that to make payroll until they know the credit markets are safe.  Even then, if demand is down, workers will be laid off.  It is a buyer's market in employment, so they don't have to fear too much on the labor side.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another Reason

...I won't live in the South, via the Dish, but I do like the boogedy, boogedy, boogedy:

The Home Front, In Color

The Atlantic features Kodacrome pictures of war production in the United States, as part of their World War II in Photos series:

Casting a billet from an electric furnace, at Chase Brass and Copper Co., Euclid, Ohio. Modern electric furnaces have helped considerably in speeding the production of brass and other copper alloys for national defense. Here the molten metal is poured or cast from the tilted furnace into a mold to form a billet. The billet later is worked into rods, tubes, wires or special shapes for a variety of uses. Photographed in February, 1942. (Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC) #

'Stand By Me' Turns 25

All Things Considered interviews Wil Wheaton about one of my all-time favorite movies, which came out on screen 25 years ago:
Even though Stand by Me deals with the adult themes of abuse, dysfunctional families and death, Wheaton sees the film as a love letter to childhood innocence.
"Stand by Me, it sort of talks about this time in your life that feels incredibly complicated, but as you get older you realize it's actually incredibly simple," Wheaton says. "And we get the tremendous gift of not knowing that it's never going to be like that again for the rest of our lives, so it's just pure and it's uncomplicated. And it's a time that stays with us even as we become adults."
So in the last three days, they've featured two of my favorite movies, which also happen to be two of the best movies ever made from Stephen King stories, and they both came out of the same book, Different Seasons.

Indiana Makes History

August 7, 1930:
The last confirmed lynching of blacks in the Northern United States occurs in Marion, Indiana. Two men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, are killed.
Indiana is almost as bad as the South, considering the Ku Klux Klan ran the Republican Party, and thus the state, throughout the 1920s.  A few years ago, the Dayton Daily News featured the recorded lynchings in Ohio.  Several occurred along the route of U.S. 68, from Xenia up to Kenton.  Not exactly a respectable part of Ohio history.

NASA Photo of the Day

MyCn18: An Hourglass Planetary Nebula
Image Credit: R. Sahai and J. Trauger (JPL), WFPC2, HST, NASA
Explanation: The sands of time are running out for the central star of this hourglass-shaped planetary nebula. With its nuclear fuel exhausted, this brief, spectacular, closing phase of a Sun-like star's life occurs as its outer layers are ejected - its core becoming a cooling, fading white dwarf. In 1995, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to make a series of images of planetary nebulae, including the one above. Here, delicate rings of colorful glowing gas (nitrogen-red, hydrogen-green, and oxygen-blue) outline the tenuous walls of the hourglass. The unprecedented sharpness of the HST images has revealed surprising details of the nebula ejection process that are helping to resolve the outstanding mysteries of the complex shapes and symmetries of planetary nebulas.

Link here.

Tizway Wins The Whitney Handicap

Tizway breezed to a win in the Whitney Handicap, and punched his ticket to the Breeder's Cup Classic.  Also, Coil won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth and Broad Bahn won the Hambletonian.  Today, Versus will broadcast the Vanderbilt Handicap from Saratoga.

Notre Dame Football BS

Or maybe Masters of Arts.
ND coach Brian Kelly accidentally let reality slip into his conversation:
-- In the most amusing part of the news conference, Kelly caught himself when he talked about offensive linemen Christian Lombard getting a redshirt year last season.

"Not a redshirt year; we don't redshirt at Notre Dame," he said. "God, I can't wait for this email I'm going to get."
I always enjoyed the statement that Notre Dame didn't redshirt.  They might not intentionally keep a kid from playing his freshman year so he'll have an extra year of eligibility down the road, but they would always enroll a guy in grad school if he had a year of eligibility remaining.  For some reason, Oliver Gibson didn't strike me as a guy who really intended to get a graduate degree in English.

The Hidden Shamrock

Morning Edition features author Michael Harvey:
His protagonist, Michael Kelly, is a fictional private investigator who frequents a neighborhood watering hole on Chicago's North Side. That fictional bar, the Hidden Shamrock, bears the same name as the bar Michael Harvey actually co-owns in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Dim lights and a back room give the Hidden Shamrock a hint of noir, something any good detective hangout should have. But this neighborhood joint is a bit more upscale. At around 4 p.m., just a few people sit at the polished wooden bar. The bartender fills a few glasses with ice and booze then draws a pint of Guinness from the draft. A large framed poster of a boxer hangs on the wall.
"That is Charlie Kelly, who is my great-great-uncle. He was a boxer in New England," Harvey says. Harvey has pale blue eyes, tousled hair and a hint of a gruff beard. "I'm originally from Boston. His father was Michael Kelly and that's who the character is named after. So there's a little bit of Kelly on the walls and a lot of Kelly in the nooks and crannies of the Hidden Shamrock."
The Hidden Shamrock is a pretty nice bar, just down the way from my sister's residence.  I was there in the mid-90s and asked the bartender if they had Stroh's.  He told me, "Buddy, this is the nineteen-nineties, not the nineteen-fifties."  When I went back in, in about 2006, they had PBR on draft, which I consider the same as Stroh's, so I think I was ahead of my time.  What can I say, I'm a trendsetter.