Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years Later


10 years.  A lot has happened in ten years.  I remember being at the Kenton, Ohio water treatment plant that morning.  When my co-worker and I got there, several of the workers were in the break room watching TV.  We went out and made some measurements on the flocculation and sedimentation tanks outside.  When we came in, we talked to the plant supervisor, then one of the workers came up and told us two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers, and one had just collapsed.  We then went in, and watched the TV as they showed replays, then we watched the other tower collapse.  What I remember most was how the day was rife with rumors.  A car bomb went off outside the State Department building.  A bomb went off at Wright-Patterson AFB.  Gas prices were going up to $5.00 a gallon.  Stations were running out of gas.


After the rumors settled down, it was moving to see all the genuine warmth people showed for one another.  The heroic stories of firemen and policemen  and civilians on Filght 93 and in the towers were extremely moving.  While there was a lot of shock and grief, these stories were truly uplifting.  When I reflect on those days, the thing I remember the most was the photo of the firemen running up the stairs while people were flowing down.  That demonstration of heroism will always be with me.

But there were bad things too.  The Sikh cab driver who was beaten to death.  The Muslim-Americans who were snatched up and held incommunicado for weeks.  The suspicion of the Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, Christian and Muslim alike. 

Events after September 11 have snowballed.  We live in a changed nation, generally for the worse.  We are involved in two mishandled wars, which have wasted over a trillion dollars so far, and thousands of American lives, but also tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani lives.  We are spied upon and frisked.  We were made accessories in torture.  We are blackmailed by politicians to give up our rights, because we could be victims again.  Everything has changed.

And yet, it hasn't.  This country still has the goodness, which was on display then, within it.  I would like to see us get back to the civility and compassion we showed in the weeks after that awful day.  We can, and we must. 


I remember Congress gathering on the steps of the Capitol to sing "God Bless America" after the attack.  Why did it take such a tragic event for them to gather and do that?  Now, our representatives act as if the people across the aisle are members of Al-Queda.  It would be nice if, at this time of giant economic troubles, these representatives could come together and plan for all of us to make painful sacrifices for the greater good.  Too often in the past 10 years, we've hidden behind the folks in uniform, and left them as the only Americans making sacrifices for the so-called good of this nation.  Everyone else has seemed to be out for his or her own best interest.  In this economic crisis, we need everyone to step up, get over their pride and self-righteousness, and do good.  We owe that to the people who died ten years ago, and those who died in the wars we started after that. 

(I intended to post this tomorrow, but I accidentally sent it today.)

The Battle of Lake Erie

September 10, 1813:
The United States defeats the British Fleet at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes called the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on 10 September 1813, in Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio during the War of 1812. Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of Great Britain's Royal Navy. This ensured American control of the lake for the rest of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit and win the Battle of the Thames to break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh. It was one of the biggest naval battles of the War of 1812.
The British lost 41 killed and 94 wounded. The surviving crews, including the wounded, numbered 306. The Americans lost 27 killed and 96 wounded, of whom 2 later died.
The vessels were anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister Island when Perry composed his now famous message to Harrison. Scrawled in pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote:


Dear General:
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
O.H. Perry

Perry next sent the following message to the Secretary of the Navy, William Jones:

Brig Niagara, off the Western Sister,
Head of Lake Erie 10, 4 September P. M.
Sir:- It has pleased the Almighty to give to the arms of the United States a signal victory over their enemies on this lake. The British squadron, consisting of two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop, have this moment surrendered to the force under my command after a sharp conflict.
I have the honor to be, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
O. H. Perry

I give credit to those who make brevity a goal.

Fundamentalism Versus Pragmatism-Economic and Political Edition

Jared Bernstein, via Ritholtz:
We are like travelers who have followed a road map to a destination that promised bliss but instead delivered stagnation and joblessness to many and political dysfunction to all. The economic geography behind that roadmap is a misreading of the original mapmakers--the founders of free markets--which eventually morphed into the deeply damaging belief that markets never fail and always self-correct; and therefore, government actions can only distort otherwise self-correcting markets.
Adam Smith and J.S. Mill never held this view. Of course it's true that Smith's brilliant insight was that unfettered price signals coordinate individuals' actions in markets in ways that deliver optimal outcomes. But he and later thinkers never let that distract them from the fact that, left to their own devices, markets would underinvest in public goods, pollute the environment, and generate unacceptably high levels of inequality and poverty. While there are contemporary macroeconomists that still teach their students that market bubbles are impossible, these early thinkers were intimately familiar with credit bubbles and did not for a second believe financial markets could self-regulate. (John Cassidy's book, When Markets Fail, is essential reading on these points.)
Hyper-rational economics promoted by hyper-partisan lobbyists is squeezing the middle class
Yet some of our top university professors, winners of Nobel prizes, and central bankers who are the subjects of adoring books, still preach the hyper-efficiency of self-correcting markets. They demonize the actions of policy makers who try to intervene to help offset demand contractions (as in the Recovery Act), impose regulatory structure on key markets (financial regulatory reform), strengthen social insurance (health care reform), invest in public goods (infrastructure spending), or pursue industrial policies to better position our national economy (President Obama's clean energy agenda).
The intellectual actions of these extreme free marketeers do not take place in a vacuum. They interact with a political structure comprised of lobbies and pseudo think-tanks to promote policies that, while wrapped in the cloak of promoting free markets, ultimately serve to redistribute growth to the top of the wealth scale. "Efficient market hypotheses" and "rational expectations"--the idea that absent government interference, market participants will make optimally efficient decisions--leads directly to supply-side tax cuts, deregulation of financial markets, the formation of financial bubbles, the acceptance of income stagnation, and disinvestment in public goods. And these measures, in turn, have delivered levels of income and wealth inequality not seen since the late 1920s, along with policy handcuffs that today have us arguing about how to reduce, rather than strengthen, regulations.
I like the part about some macroeconomists still not believing that a bubble is possible.  Are they saying, "Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?"  The free markets can never fail crowd is just nuts.  I don't think the government can run the economy, but they need to tamp down some of the abuses of the markets.  The denial of this fact is no more than sectarian religious belief moved into politics and economics.  These people have no business in power, but too many people like being told that today's problems are all somebody else's fault.  The government is the biggest and easiest target.  I get tired of hearing how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the entire cause of the housing collapse (well, along with the dark-skinned people), but that is all you hear on the talk radio.  Stupidity is damn powerful.

Employment Change By Sector

Karl Smith, via Mark Thoma:


Not much to say about this, except continuing government austerity will hurt the overall employment picture, and I don't anticipate that manufacturing will continue to hire very much.  I'm surprised leisure and hospitality hasn't lost jobs overall.

German Moves Worry The Markets

Kash Mansori:
The other news today was that the German government may be preparing to recapitalize their banks in the event of a Greek debt default. I've argued before that there are numerous signs that people are losing confidence in the European banking system, and this news strikes right at the heart of that concern.

For months and months European governments have been working hard to reassure people that the European banking system is sound. And then comes this news that Germany is already working on figuring out how to strengthen their banks. Once again, you can read that two completely different ways.

You could take heart from this news, and take it as a sign that the German government has a plan, and will step in if things go wrong to make sure that their banks are safe. It was only two weeks ago that Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, was urging Europe to take concrete action to strengthen the European banking sytem. Maybe this simply means that the Germans were listening, and are being prudent. If so, it's entirely reasonable to read this as good news.

But on the other hand, you could hear this news and think that maybe it means that the German government knows something we don’t know. Maybe it suggests that the German government thinks that Greece really is about to default. Or worse: maybe it suggests that the German government believes that the European banking system really is weak and vulnerable. In that case, this could be a very, very bad sign.
It is time for the Europeans to decide what they are going to do.  Are they going to give up state sovereignty and form a stronger European Union, or are they going to give up on the Euro project?  My guess is that in the end, they will give up on the Euro and look for a different way to start over.  Otherwise, the Germans are going to have to make very large monetary contributions to bail out Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.  I would guess that the Greeks will default, followed by Italy, then later Spain and Portugal, while the Irish will give up on propping up their banks.  The Germans will be forced to spend their money bailing out their own banks, the Eurozone will split up, and the world economy will fall off the cliff.  I don't know how badly those events will hurt the Chinese economy, and the Canadians and Australians who depend on China's ravenous demand for commodities, but I'm sure it'll be a body blow to the U.S. economy, which still has way too much public and private debt, and no real demand in their economy.  It's going to be rough sailing, but it should be pretty familiar territory-1931 all over again.

Update: Barry Eichengreen has more on the European political crisis.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Rust Belt Portrait

Peter Richmond, writing a profile on Ryan Fitzpatrick, gives Buffalo a supporting role in the story:
Things are no less depressing to the south of the city, along the waterfront, where gap-toothed warehouses and factories haunt the shore — a view that has hooked Fitzpatrick, a Sunbelt child, with its poignancy. "It's the exact opposite of where I grew up: a farming community that started booming with every chain restaurant you can imagine. The schools are all brand-new, nice schools, there's this great grid system; it's like Sim City, like you're sitting there on a computer: 'Now there are this many people, so you need a hospital and two more elementary schools.' The exact opposite of here. I love Arizona … but there's something about Buffalo. It's a community. I don't know if it's just how nice people here are, or the pride they take in being the City of Good Neighbors … but we love living here. We love it. It's by far our favorite place we've ever been."
That would include St. Louis and Cincinnati, two other past-their-prime cities that share a remarkable number of dismal historical similarities with Buffalo. It kind of makes you wonder if, in a graphic-novel alternate universe, Fitzpatrick has been predestined to visit failing American post-industrial towns until one of them recognizes his mission as Savior and anoints him.5
But it's been a particularly rough century-plus in Buffalo (a.k.a. "City of Light"), ever since the Pan American Exposition of 1901 tried to strut the beauty of electricity to the world by tapping into the Falls 25 miles north and draping all the lakeside pavilions in glittering bulbs, but William McKinley's on-site assassination put a damper on the festival.6 Then the steel left for China, then St. Lawrence marginalized the port, and the stolid, huge, red-brick, smack-downtown Statler Tower closed its doors.
Today, reinvigorated by some wise political luring of the health industry (the Bills' practice facility, sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, is called "The Bills Healthy Zone"), Buffalo is in the top 10 U.S. cities you want to raise a family in, according to Forbes magazine. And a local investor just bought the Statler and says he's going to spend $100 million bringing it back to life (that would be four times what it cost to build the Bills' stadium).
The next line gets me:
But American cities are generally judged by the success of their sports teams, and if the City of Light is going to recapture some voltage, it's going to need the Bills to win a few games in a very tough division.
Really?  I would guess that isn't completely accurate.  Is Seattle defined by the Mariners and Seahawks?  Is San Diego a lousy place to live?  Is Houston the definition of mediocrity?  I would guess that Buffalo would still be Buffalo if the Bills started winning, but it might make 42" of snow in 24 hours in January a bit more bearable if the Bills had a playoff game on Sunday.

Twins

Speaking of Angus cattle, my first fall-calving cow gave birth this morning, and she had twins.  It looked like two heifer calves, but the one kept running away from me.  Here's a couple pictures:


Anybody want to invest in these prize Angus cattle?

An Angus Cattle Ponzi Scheme

All Things Considered:
What do you get if you combine the Ponzi-scheme of Bernie Madoff with a wily Midwestern rancher?
While Madoff's mastermind plan was becoming clear in New York, out in tiny Howard County, Mo., there was another crook who was swindling dozens of farmers across the country.
For two years, mustachioed and smooth-talking Kevin Ray Asbury ran a racket that went a little something like this: He lured customers with top-shelf Angus cattle. They would buy into the herd, or sell their own for breeding.
The only problem was Asbury kept using the same cows, telling multiple investors they were theirs. With their money, he moved on up — built a million-dollar home and drove around in a Mercedes. Everyone in town just thought he was doing really well — until the scheme cracked.
What a mess.  Con men fascinate me.  I'm just not sure how they put these giant swindles together and sell them to people, knowing that they will eventually unravel, and dozens of people will want them dead.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  And why build a million-dollar home?  Stuff the money in an offhore bank, then disappear before the sceme unwinds.  Geez, why hang around.

Why Are We Exporting Ethanol?

Why are we exporting ethanol to Brazil, of all places?  I don't get this:
Ethanol demand is up as much as 6 percent this year over 2010, largely due to exports to Brazil and Europe that are expected to top 1 billion gallons.
Most ethanol plants are operating in the black despite corn prices that reached above $7.40 per bushel last week. High gasoline prices this year have made it economical for refiners, pipelines and other wholesalers to blend cheaper ethanol with gasoline.
“The whole commodity complex has gone up in sync during the last year, and as long as there is a favorable spread between ethanol and unleaded gasoline, we will be able to make our margins,” said Jim Gillingham, senior vice president for alternative energy of Texas-based Valero Energy as he toured Valero’s 110-million-gallon ethanol plant at Albert City.
Brazil grows sugar cane and makes ethanol out of it.  Why are we using corn to make ethanol, then exporting it to Brazil?  I don't understand that at all.  Even more so, why are we subsidizing production of ethanol if we are going to export it?  Food prices are going up because we need to make fuel for Brazil?

Japanese Bomb Oregon

September 9, 1942:
A Japanese floatplane drops incendiary bombs on Oregon.
It was peaceful in Brookings. Fishermen were slowly sailing out of port, and the citizens were sitting down for breakfast. The sound of a small plane flying overhead didn't alarm anyone. Little did the people of Brookings realize that they were in the midst of an air attack -- the first-ever manned aerial bombing of the American mainland.

Fujita and Okuda proceeded east past Brookings and prepared to drop their load -- two 160-pound incendiary bombs. An hour after leaving the sub, they were nearly in position.

Back in Japan, military leaders anxiously awaited word on the mission. Would the bombs explode and ignite the forest into flames as planned? Would the fire spread to the cities -- burning homes and factories and sending the American people into panic and depression? They could only hope -- and wait.

While they pondered from afar, Fujita was at 8,200 feet over a heavily wooded forest. He ordered Okuda to drop the bombs. Then they watched as they fell to earth.

But they didn't wait around to see what happened. Instead they set a course to the ocean and the sanctuary of their sub. They landed the pontoon-equipped plane and it was soon disassembled and stored away on ship. Everything was going perfectly -- that is, until the Americans appeared.

They had spotted the enemy sub from their airplane, and minutes later they were directly above and attacking with bombs! But, sadly for the Yanks, they were too late. The Japanese sub slipped below the ocean surface, and even though it was slightly damaged, it successfully hid on the bottom and eventually escaped.

Obama's Jobs Plan

Calculated Risk:
Here is the fact sheet for The American Jobs Act

Some of the major proposals (total is around $450 billion):

1) Payroll tax cuts (approx $240 billion):

• Cutting payroll taxes in half for 160 million workers next year: The President’s plan will expand the payroll tax cut passed last year to cut workers payroll taxes in half in 2012 ...

• Cutting the payroll tax in half for 98 percent of businesses: The President’s plan will cut in half the taxes paid by businesses on their first $5 million in payroll ...

2) Schools and teachers / aid to states (approx $60 billion):

• Preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs, while keeping cops and firefighters on the job.

• Modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country,supporting new science labs, Internet-ready classrooms and renovations at schools across the country, in rural and urban areas.

3) Other infrastructure ($75 billion)

4) Extend unemployment insurance benefits ($49 billion).

5) Helping More Americans Refinance Mortgages (there are no details yet). "The President has instructed his economic team to work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, their regulator the FHFA, major lenders and industry leaders to remove the barriers that exist in the current refinancing program (HARP) to help more borrowers benefit from today’s historically low interest rates."

I see this as another very temporary patch, which won't do much good.  The tax cuts didn't do much of anything before, and they won't now either.  I have no idea why businesses will get the payroll tax cut.  What are they going to do with the extra money?  I don't see any reason to expand production.  This is just one more "temporary" tax cut that will never go away.  It also will undermine Social Security and Medicare, probably leading to massive cuts.  The political optics on this plan are clear, but the economic optics are not.  While Obama's plan may not be any good, it is still better than the "cut taxes and job-killing regulations bullshit from the Republicans.  The President is unimpressive historically, but for the time frame he's Abe Lincoln.

More On A Double Dip

David Leonhardt:
Over the last 50 years, every time that job growth has been as meager as it has been over the last four months, the economy has been headed toward recession, in a recession or in the immediate aftermath of one. From early 2010 through this spring, by contrast, employment was growing fast enough to make the economy look as if it were in a recovery, albeit a modest one.
“The chances that we are in something that is going to feel like a recession are close to 100 percent,” said Joshua Shapiro of MFR Inc. in New York, who has diagnosed the economy more accurately than many other forecasters lately. “Whether we reach the technical definition” — which is determined by a committee of academic economists and based on gross domestic product, employment and other factors — “I think is probably close to 50-50.”
A double dip would present obvious political problems for President Obama, whose approval ratings have already fallen below 50 percent and who is scheduled to give a speech to Congress on Thursday outlining a new jobs plan. A weak economy also could threaten incumbents of both parties in Congress, whose approval rating has hovered around 15 percent in recent polls.
I think it is likely we will actually reach the technical definition of a recession.  Obama's jobs plan may be able to hold us just above that definition, but we are looking toward a long grind.  Maybe things will gradually get better, but I'm anticipating things will get worse first.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nativity of the Virgin Mary

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  September 8 just happens to be 9 months exactly from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when the Church teaches that Mary was conceived.  In the same way, the Feast of the Annunciation, honoring when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was going to conceive and give birth to Jesus, is celebrated on March 25, clearly nine months exactly from Christmas.  I guess if you are going to make up a few dates, may as well make them exact.  Something about that makes me smile.  I guess when the Godhead (ed. note: not intended as a double entendre) is involved, puctuality is key.

Last Night's Republican Debate

Luckily, I skipped yesterday's debate.  From the news clips Ive heard, and this debate reaction, I have no idea how I will manage to get through the 2012 election without my head blowing up.  The Republican party is beyond the craziest parody in The Onion.  All the factually incorrect Reagan worship merged with attempts to out-crazy one another blows me away.  When did phony tough guy shit become so cool with so many people?  I can see at least half of the Republican field shelling out a couple of thousand dollars to some get-rich quick schemer in a church basement in some small town in the Heartland.  None of those guys should be running the country.  I wouldn't even let them be in charge of the neighborhood watch program.  If Rick Perry lived in my town, I'd tell him to f--k off in person, but luckily for me, he doesn't live here.  Please people, let Texas keep this tool.

Prospect Park Zoo Resident Cow Dies

NYT, via nc links:
Aggie, the Dexter cow who spent her days beside the alpacas, sheep and miniature horses in the stable and barnyard at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, has died of old age, zoo officials said. She was 18.
Whether mooing at startled visitors or accepting treats with her slimy tongue, Aggie was a crowd favorite at the zoo, often receiving notes of admiration and praise in her “moo box.”
“You are beautiful,” one read, according to a zoo official, “and I would never want to eat you.”
Tim Taranto, 26, a science teacher at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, said his students would be devastated to hear the news; on a trip to the zoo last spring with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, he said, members of his class had grown fond of the animal.
“These are city kids — they have an interesting relationship to agrarian lifestyle,” Mr. Taranto said. “Every cow is a beast to behold.”
For me, it is hard to imagine a cow as a zoo animal, but I'm not a resident of New York.  No wonder those ag vacations are popular with some folks.  This part of the article made me smile:
Mr. Taranto said the school was making preparations to honor Aggie.
“We’ll have a memorial,” he said. “We’re anticipating some kind of service.”
Is it just me, or does this remind you of the Memorial Service for Li'l Sebastian on Parks and Recreation.

More On Marx's Criticism of Capitalism

Umair Haque takes up the argument made by George Magnus (via Mark Thoma):
Let's take Marx's big critiques of industrial age capitalism, one by one (and with a grain of salt: since I'm far from a Marxist economist, it's entirely possible my quick, partial descriptions leave much to be desired).

Immiseration. Marx claimed that capitalism would immiserate workers: he meant that labor would be "exploited" — not just in a purely ethical sense, but in a narrower economic one: that real wages would fall, and working conditions would deteriorate. How was Marx doing on this score? I'd say middlingly: wages in many advanced economies — notably, the most purely capitalist in a financialized sense — have failed to keep pace with productivity; not for years, but for decades. (America's median wage has been stagnant for roughly 40 years.) In macro terms, labor's share of income has plummeted, while the lion's share of growth has accrued to those at the very top.
Crisis. As workers were paid less and less, capitalism would be prone to chronic, perpetual crises of overproduction — for they wouldn't have the means to purchase or invest in enough goods to keep the economy humming. As Marx put it, there was likely to be "poverty in the midst of plenty." How's Marx doing on this score? Not bad, I'd say: the last three decades have in fact been characterized by global crises of what you might crudely call overproduction (think: too little demand chasing too many disposable widgets, resulting in a massive global debt crisis, as vanishing middle classes took on more and more debt to compensate for stagnant real wages).
Stagnation. Here's Marx's most controversial — and most curious — prediction. That as economies stagnated, real rates of profit would fall. How does this one hold up? On first glance, it seems to have been totally discredited: corporate profits have broken through the roof and into the stratosphere. But think about it again, in economic terms: Marx's prediction concerned "real profit," not just the mystery-meat numbers served up by beancounters, and chewed over with gusto by "analysts." When seen in those terms, Marx might be said to have been onto something: though corporations book nominal profits, I'd suggest a significant component of that "profit" is artificial, earned by transferring value, rather than creating it (just ask mega-banks, Big Energy, or Big Food). I've termed this "thin value" and Michael Porter has described it as a failure to create "shared value." Replace "declining real profit" with "shrinking real value" and it's analogous to what Tyler Cowen and I have called a Great Stagnation (though our casus belli for it differs significantly from Marx's).
He has a couple more points.  The question is, if Marx didn't have the right solution to the problems, what is the right solution?  I don't think I have too many ideas on that score.  Several things figure into the problems, globalization, income inequality, insufficient return to labor, resource limitations, complex societies, rent-seeking, etc.  The long-range world view is pretty complex, and in my opinion, doesn't look good for the Western middle class.  Hopefully, some folks smarter than I can come up with some solutions.

Productivity and the Great Recession

Derek Thompson:
Here's what we thought we knew. In the last three decades, gross domestic product doubled but the typical worker's real wages barely increased. For those with only a high school degree, salaries fell slightly. Some economists called this period of lazy wage growth the "Great Stagnation."
It turns out that "stagnation" was too optimistic.
In fact, real wages for middle class men have declined by 28 percent since 1969, according to a report from the Hamilton Project. For men without a high school degree, they've fallen by a whopping 66 percent. "Stagnation is too weak a word," said Michael Greenstone, author of the report. "This is decline."
"The decline in earnings shakes the core of the American Dream."
Economists got it wrong, Greenstone said, because they compared wages among all working men rather than among all "working-age" men. That distinction is key, because fewer and fewer working-age men are actually working. Since 2009, one in five has been idle. When you factor in millions of men without weekly salaries, male wages sink to their lowest level since the 1950s.
"This decline in the earnings opportunities for men has had profound influences on American society," Greenstone said. "It upends families. It increases our demands from government, even as it increases our aversion to taxes and our distrust of government. It shakes the very core of the American Dream."
This finding has deep implications. It means that wages have been falling since before the credit crisis, the housing bubble, the Bush tax cuts, the Clinton boom, the wave of deregulation, the Reagan recovery, and the Nixon years. Something older and bigger than all of these things is at work. Before the Great Recession, there was a greater recession for the American worker. And its origin might surprise you.
ALL ABOUT PRODUCTIVITY
(or: If We're Working Less, Who's Working More?)
I think this is a very big part of our problem.  We have to completely rethink employment and work, and determine how we can fully employ workers.  Computers have revolutionized the workplace, and we are just now dealing with a lot of the consequences.  Take my field of civil engineering.  In the early 90s, companies were just moving to CAD programs.  The amount and quality of design work rapidly improved.  No longer were street layouts done by hand.  A software application could lay out the street and allow an engineer to review and revise it in minutes, not days.  Hand drafting was a thing of the past.  But there was no major decrease in employment, that I know of.  The design work continued to cost the client a similar percentage of the cost of construction.  So the difference went toward software and company profits.  When things got tough, jobs were shed.  They aren't coming back very soon.  The productivity gain was already built in, and now there just aren't the number of projects there were then.  How do we adjust to that?  The same thing happened to machinists, welders, assembly workers and a number of other fields. 

As the article notes later on, we are the world's third largest agricultural nation, even though only 2 percent of us farm.  What is everybody going to do for a living?  I don't know, but that is a real business uncertainty.

More Baseball

The Reds can only win 89 games.  I guess I haven't technically lost my bet until they lose again, as 89 would be a push.  Tim Wakefield was in line to get his 200th win, before the bullpen blew the lead:
This is supposed to be a feel-good story? Numbing is more like it.
It's almost become too much to bear, watching Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox bullpen mangle efforts to collect his 200th win, which started out as a nice number for him to hang his career on but has become the hardball version of "Saw," I through VII.
The quest, now seven failed starts and counting after Wednesday night's 11-10 debacle in Toronto, is claiming more victims than simply the 45-year-old knuckleballer, who coughed up a 3-0 first-inning lead but still was in position to claim the W when the Sox staked him to an 8-5 advantage after five, which is when he departed.
The pressure of preserving what had been trimmed to a two-run lead for Wakefield on Wednesday night proved too much for Daniel Bard, or so it seemed, as the Sox setup man mislocated home plate as badly as he has in two seasons and walked home a pair of runs to tie it.
Also, R.A. Dickey had another excellent outing, giving up no runs, 4 hits and 3 walks in 7 innings of the Mets 1-0 win over the Marlins:
R.A. Dickey flummoxed the Florida Marlins once again.
Dickey made an early run stand up, blanking Florida for seven innings and pitching the New York Mets to a 1-0 victory Wednesday.
Dickey is 3-0 against the Marlins this season. The knuckleballer allowed only one run -- it was unearned -- in 20 innings over that span."I think it's coincidence," Dickey said. "Sometimes you match up better against certain type of hitters and maybe this team has those kinds of hitters for me."
Also, Charlie Haeger got roughed up in his final start of the season at Portland, Maine, giving up 6 runs in 6 innings.  He finished his time there with a 4-1 record.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fed: Economy Expands At A Modest Pace

Here:
The sluggish recovery failed to gain any speed in recent weeks and softened in some areas with factory activity sputtering and retail sales under pressure, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.
"Economic activity continued to expand at a modest pace, though some Districts noted mixed or weakening activity," the Fed said in its Beige Book collection of anecdotal reports of economic conditions in the 12 Fed districts.
Growth was modest or slight in five districts through late August, while the remaining seven described activity in terms such as "very subdued" or "more slowly." In the Fed's last Beige Book covering the period into early July, eight regions characterized growth as having slowed.
Everytime I hear the Fed say the economy is expanding at a modest or moderate pace, I think of this very disturbing Adam Sandler song (very definitely NSFW or sensitive ears).

What Are They Waiting On?

LA Times:
The 2008 acquisition of Anheuser-Busch Cos. by Belgium's InBev, a deal worth $52 billion, created the largest beer company in the world.

It also created a potential boon for cash-strapped local governments in California — allowing them a rare chance to reassess the 1,022 acres owned by Anheuser-Busch in California and tax its 14 parcels at current market value.

It was a botched opportunity, records and interviews show. County governments took three years to reassess most of the parcels and still haven't finished the job, according to Times research and an analysis by the California Tax Reform Assn., a nonprofit based in Sacramento.

The landmark Budweiser brewery in Van Nuys, for instance, sits on land still being taxed at yesteryear's rates. The company pays about $18,000 in annual taxes for the 3 million square feet of land, or less than a penny a square foot.

If the property were assessed at current market value — 44 cents a square foot for the land — the tax bill for the land alone would top $1.3 million, said Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Assn., basing that estimate on values of comparable properties. (He could not estimate the tax for the brewery itself.)

When asked why the property had not been reassessed, Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez at first blamed the company for not notifying officials of the change in ownership.
For one, Proposition 13, the first of the anti-tax measures inacted in the country, is one of the reasons California is so screwed up.  How on earth can land for a giant operating brewery be taxed at $18,000 a year?  But even more important, why haven't the assessors finished their damn job?  With budgets completely strapped, I would think these guys would be watching very closely to see when they could reassess properties.  Getting back to the original point, the conservative loons sure put in a doozy of a system when they came up with that proposition.  Way to forever screw the government out of revenue.  And now the same type of process has come to the whole country.  So-called conservatives are really good at destroying what we have.  I always though that made them revolutionaries, not conservatives.  I guess an Orwellian language lives on.

Keystone Pipeline Makes Strange Bedfellows

Des Moine Register:
A second prominent Nebraska Republican, U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, came out against the Keystone Pipeline that would extend from Alberta, Canada, through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas Gulf refineries.
Johanns’ opposition comes a week after Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heinemann came out against the Keystone, which is touted as a new route to energy independence for the U.S. but opposed vehemently by environmentalists angry about the oil sands extraction technology.
Nebraskans are particularly worried about what impact the Keystone might have on the Ogallala Aquifer, Nebraska’s huge underground lake in the irrigation-needy state.
President Obama will make a decision by the end of the year. The White House involved because the pipeline would cross an international border.
Said Johanns: I support Governor Heineman’s request that President Obama and Secretary Clinton deny the current application from TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline along a route crossing Nebraska’s Sand Hills and the center of the Ogallala Aquifer,” said Johanns.
“The proposed route is the wrong route. It’s clear to me, after traveling throughout the state, that most Nebraskans agree a better route is needed.
When did you ever think you'd see Great Plains Republicans on the same side of an energy project as a bunch of environmentalists.  It seems odd that these guys aren't opposed to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but are opposed to a pipeline running across their state.  NIMBYism isn't just for the suburbs.  I don't really have a strong opinion either way on the project.  I think it is a long-term waste of resources to build up the Tar Sands, but I can guarantee that nobody in the U.S. is going to wean themselves off of the Big Oil teat anytime soon.

Baseball Roundup

Well, the Reds only have to finish 21-0 for me to win my over-under bet.  Hey, only 20 more to go.  Also, the Pirates are 5 losses away from their 19th straight losing season.  Not surprisingly, the Phillies, the Yankees and the Red Sox are virtual locks for the playoffs.  Also, not surprisingly, the Indians have collapsed, making the Tigers virtual shoo-ins.  Cliff Lee is on fire again.  Verlander is an amazing 22-5.  Tim Wakefield is starting for the Red Sox tonight, taking another shot at securing his 200th win.  The pennant race looks like a snooze, with the only questions being whether the Rangers blow it and who between the Bosox and the Yankees wins the division.  My money is still on the Phillies to win it all.

Nitrogen-rich Bedrock and Carbon Sequestration

Scientific American:
Nitrogen-rich forest bedrock -- the geologic rock formation located under forest soil -- may aid trees in better sequestering carbon, according to a recent study that offers a new understanding on why some forests store greenhouse gases more efficiently than others.
While geologic rock isn't a carbon sink itself, it plays an important role in helping the soil and trees above absorb CO2, say the study's authors, who published their findings last week in Nature. But a lack of research on nitrogen has left it largely ignored by climate scientists and policymakers scrambling to identify carbon sinks that mitigate carbon dioxide pollution from large emitters.
A group of University of California, Davis, biogeologists observed two very similar, adjacent forests in Northern California -- South Fork Mountain and the Bear Wallow Diorite Complex.
Both forests had similar soils, vegetation, rainfall and temperature. But the rock below the South Fork Mountain forest was made of nitrogen-rich mica schist, derived from marine sediments from the early Cretaceous Period.
The results were significant: South Fork Mountain held 42 percent more carbon in its trees, as observed in analysis of carbon in leaves and soil, than Bear Wallow.
Without locking the CO2 in a more stable location, I don't see how this information helps much.  We may be able to find places where trees grow better and suck up more carbon, but if it isn't transferred into the soil, won't it be released back into the atmosphere when the trees die? Or is some of the carbon transferred to the soil if the trees decay?  I guess if it is trapped in the soil as organic matter when the trees decay, that might make some sense.

The Blitz

September 7, 1940:
 World War II: The BlitzNazi Germany begins to rain bombs on London. This will be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing.
I can't imagine how people in any place in today's United States would react to such a situation.

Deep-Sea Fishing's Damage

The Washington Post reports on a newly released study calling for a ban on deep-sea fishing:
Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Institute and the paper’s lead author, said the world has turned to deep-sea fishing “out of desperation” without realizing fish stocks there take much longer to recover.
“We’re now fishing in the worst places to fish,” Norse said in an interview. “These things don’t come back.”
As vessels use Global Positioning System devices and trawlers, which scrape massive metal plates across the sea bottom, the catch of deep-water species has increased sevenfold between 1960 and 2004, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
“What they’re doing out there is more like mining than fishing,” said Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
The estimated mean depth of fishing has more than tripled since the 1950s, from 492 feet to 1,706 feet in 2004, according to Telmo Morato, a marine biologist with the department of oceanography and fisheries at the University of the Azores in Portugal and one of the paper’s authors.
I can guarantee one thing, U.S. multinational corporations aren't involved in the industry if a person from the American Enterprise Institute is critical of it.  It is pretty obvious why so many nations subsidize the industry.  It is mining protein.  Why waste the effort of growing food when you can go take it.  Unfortunately, the lack of controls is destroying the world's fisheries.  We'll be lucky if there is any wild catch in 20 years.  The story of the Atlantic Cod fishery is a tragedy of immense proportions, expect it to be worldwide in our lifetimes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eye-catching Advertisement

I'm not a big fan of advertising, but this promotion highlighted by Scott Beale is pretty cool (via the Dish):
HBO is doing a very unique promotion in New York City for the second season of their Prohibition era series Boardwalk Empire which premiers on September 25th. They are running a vintage 1920s subway train on the 2/3 line on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6pm during the month of September, making stops at 42nd Street/Times Square, 72nd Street and 96th Street. This is one of the orginal trains that used to run on the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT).
Here is his video, the pictures are also cool:



I just want to know what this cost them. Apparently, the MTA runs the old train some years during the holiday season, so probably not as much as I'd think. Unfortunately, this is one more promotion which doesn't work on me, at least until the series comes out on DVD, since I don't have HBO. Even then, my buying habits say I probably will never see it.

World Trade Center Tenants: Before And After

This is a thought-provoking graphic from Fortune Magazine.  It shows the tenants at the WTC, where they were located, how many employees they had there, and how many died in the terrorist attack.  The other piece shows where the companies are located now, which it turns out is mainly in other buildings in the financial district or in midtown.

There are two things about the graphic which I thought were notable.  One is exactly how few of the deaths of the employees in the buildings were below the impact zone.  That is a testament to the workers orderly evacuation, they bravery of some civilians and fire and police personnel, and somewhat overlooked, the conservative nature of the buildings' structural design, and the numerous redundancies in structural members.  The buildings were able to withstand the impact of a large jet crashing into each, and were able to last until the jet fuel-fed fire caused the steel to fail.  The time gave most people who were below the flames the time to escape.  There are a lot of people who owe their lives to that.

Secondarily, I didn't remember that Cantor Fitzgerald itself lost nearly double the number of people that the FDNY did.  I remembered that they were nearly wiped out, but I didn't realize that one single company lost 25% of all of the victims in New York.

10 years later, most of the shock and despair I felt has faded away, but for the people in those buildings, and their loved ones, the shock and despair is eternal.

What Is Wrong With The GOP?

Mike Lofgren pretty much sums it up, while also blaming the Democrats for being spineless sellouts:
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
That is only one of the informative parts.  He also highlights the logical incongruity of religious conservatives accepting Ayn Rand's economic theories:
The GOP cult of Ayn Rand is both revealing and mystifying. On the one hand, Rand's tough guy, every-man-for-himself posturing is a natural fit because it puts a philosophical gloss on the latent sociopathy so prevalent among the hard right. On the other, Rand exclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity. Apparently, the ignorance of most fundamentalist "values voters" means that GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction. And I imagine a Democratic officeholder would have a harder time explaining why he named his offspring "Marx" than a GOP incumbent would in rationalizing naming his kid "Rand."
We are at a crossroads, and supporting the nihilists in the GOP only brings us closer to failure as a society.  I don't know if people will wake up to this fact and be able to force the Democrats and what sane Republicans or ex-Republicans there are to manage to marginalize the loons who have taken over the Republican Party.  If that doesn't happen, we are going to be in serious trouble. 

Do We Need More Alaskan Oil Production?

According to Jim Brown, the answer is yes, but not for the reasons I would guess (via James Hamilton):
If new drilling in Alaska is not approved soon the Alaska pipeline will have to shutdown and the remaining oil in the National Petroleum Reserve will be lost. I have written about this several times but new information just appeared in a new article on ASPOUSA.ORG. First some background. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was built between 1974-1977 to deliver oil from the North Slope to the closest ice free port of Valdez in southern Alaska. The pipeline is just over 800 miles long and it has delivered more than 16 billion barrels of oil since it was completed. At any given time there are nine million barrels of oil in the pipeline and it takes an average of 14 days for a barrel of oil to flow from start to finish.
The peak flow rate was 2.145 mbpd in January 1988. Since then the decline has been steady and dramatic as the production from the North Slope fields declines. The average flow in July was 459,376 bpd. That compares to the average over the past year of 572,835 bpd.
As I have reported before the problem facing the pipeline system is the declining flows. Below a certain flow rate the pipeline will become inoperable due to a number of factors. Those factors include ice buildup, wax buildup and clogging of valves and systems.
Oil comes out of the ground hot and enters the pipeline at roughly 145 degrees when it was flowing at full capacity because the transit time was shorter. The volume of hot oil moving through the pipe kept the pipe warm for a longer distance. The oil would exit the pipe in Valdez at 56 degrees. The pipes are insulated to protect the oil from the sub zero temperatures and to protect the permafrost from the heat of the oil.
That is interesting to me.  It demonstrates how big of a pain in the ass it is to extract oil from Alaska.  It also gives a good indication of the effects of peak oil production on an existing oil field.  2.1 million barrels per day down to 460,000 bpd is pretty significant decline.  I guess maybe they ought to tap ANWR, then when that field declines, we can ignore the state forever, and quit spending so much federal money there.

A Housing Update In Chicago

NYT, via Mark Thoma:
THIS Labor Day should be an uncomfortable day for our political leaders, and for comfortable readers of this newspaper, too. Working people are enduring hard times, maybe the hardest in decades. Meanwhile, our national political debate seems utterly out of touch with the economic pain now being endured by millions of precariously employed, under-employed and jobless people across America.
Consider where I live and work: greater Chicago. Forty-five percent of mortgaged single-family homes are underwater, meaning people owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Foreclosure epicenters like the Austin and West Englewood communities are checkerboarded with abandoned and decaying properties, many stripped bare by vandals for scrap. Joblessness among African-Americans exceeds 20 percent — almost 50 percent among black youths.
Numbers don’t fully capture the impact of the downturn. Some of the toughest challenges arise in small suburban localities like Hazel Crest, a short bicycle ride from my house. A destination for Chicagoans hoping to move up the economic ladder, the village of Hazel Crest has been hard hit by unemployment, white flight and the housing crisis.
45% of mortgages underwater?  Wow, that's ugly.  It is also one explanation for why fewer people are moving to other areas for jobs.  It is an interesting article.  It leaves me curious about how many homes in my vicinity are underwater.  Since we didn't have large increases in value like in booming areas, I would anticipate it isn't nearly that high.

A Day At The Track

I took in the closing day of the racing season at River Downs yesterday.  It was a lot of fun.  I picked a couple of winners, including a $13.00, an $8.40 and a $7.50 payout.  Those paid for the majority of my losing bets.  It was fun betting on the simulcast races in between the races at River Downs.  I laid down bets on races at Thistledown, Saratoga, Del Mar, Prairie Meadows, Ellis Park, Arlington Park and Woodbine.  They had a pretty good-sized crowd.  With no parking fee and no admission charge, it is a pretty good deal. 

Here are a couple of pictures:

Ferris winningRace 4, where I won $13.
(had to bet on a horse named Ferris)

The start of race 10, the final race of the season.

The horses entering the first turn on lap 1 of the 10th race.
Update:  My time at the track coincided with the always entertaining Joe Biden's visit to the Cincinnati AFL-CIO picnic next door at Coney Island.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Times Have Changed

NYT, via the Big Picture:


So what are the good old days that Republicans refer to?  Oh, that's right, before the New Deal.  Jackasses.

Trickle-Down Economics

30 years of tax cuts lead to budget disasters, whodathunkit (via nc links).  Haven't seen that capital trickle-down yet.

First Continental Congress Convenes

September 5, 1774:
The First Continental Congress, which met briefly in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from September 5, to October 26, in 1774 and consisted of fifty-six delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies that would become the United States of America. The delegates which included George Washington, then a Colonel of the Virginia volunteers, Patrick Henry, and John Adams, were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other notable delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts Bay, and Joseph Galloway and John Dickinson from Pennsylvania.
Benjamin Franklin had put forth the idea of such a meeting the year before but was unable to convince the colonies of its necessity until the British placed a blockade at the Port of Boston in response to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. All of the colonies sent their delegates except Georgia, who had its own troubles and needed the protection of British soldiers. Most of the delegates were not yet ready to break away from Great Britain, but they wanted the British King and Parliament to act more fairly. Convened in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament in 1774, the delegates organized an economic boycott of Great Britain in protest and petitioned the King for a redress of grievances. The colonies were united in their effort to demonstrate their authority to Great Britain by virtue of their common causes and through their unity, but their ultimate objectives were not consistent. Pennsylvania and New York had sent delegates with firm instructions to pursue a resolution with England. While the other colonies all held the idea of colonial rights as paramount they were split between those who sought legislative equality with Britain and those who instead favored independence and a break from the Crown and its excesses. On October 26, 1774 the First Continental Congress adjourned but agreed to reconvene in May 1775 if Parliament still did not address their grievances. In London, Parliament debated the merits of meeting the demands made by the colonies; however, it took no official notice of Congress's petitions and addresses. On November 30, 1774, King George III opens Parliament with a speech condemning Massachusetts and the Suffolk Resolves. At that point it became clear that the Continental Congress would have to convene once again.
One step on the journey.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Agriculture And Climate Change

Matthew Yglesias on the Texas drought:
For the town this is not, per se, a giant problem. People just wish their lawns were greener. But in the countryside all around, it really is a huge problem for farmers and ranchers and shows no signs of letting up. It’s a reminder, again, that while human beings can live under all sorts of different climactic conditions we have in practice made large fixed investments in particular places anticipating particular conditions. As climate change renders these previous decisions no longer workable, the costs of adjusting are ubiquitous and large.
The other day at a seed dealer's customer appreciation day, the agronomist made a comment that corn pollen doesn't handle temperatures over 90 degrees F.  He mentioned that much of July, when the corn was trying to pollenate, saw 90+ degree temperatures.  I asked Dad whether $11,000 an acre seemed like a good investment if the summer temperatures in the current Corn Belt would regularly be in the 90s.  I don't think it would be.  What do you think?

An Up-and-comer

Dayton Daily News:
Hamilton, whose goal at the start of his first full minor-league season had been to double the 48 steals he amassed at short-season Billings in 2010, scored moments later on a groundout, pointing the Dragons toward a 4-2 victory. It was their 82nd, equaling the franchise record set in 2001 with two games to go.
“I was pressing a little, thinking about 100 bags,” Hamilton said afterward. “Now that I got it, I can relax a little. It’s a relief.”
In a clubhouse where celebration practically has a locker, teammates rushed to congratulate Hamilton.
“He’s awesome,” relief pitcher Chad Rogers said. “It’s great that he could accomplish what he set out to do from the beginning.”
Hamilton is the 12th player in recorded minor-league history to steal 100 bases in a season. On his way, the 20-year-old Taylorsville, Miss., native broke the Cincinnati Reds’ organizational record of 98 held since 1988 by Ramon Sambo, who stole 385 bases in 10 minor-league seasons but never made the majors. The Reds see a dramatically different outcome for Hamilton, identified by Baseball America at the start of the season as their top minor-league prospect.
He kind of reminds me of Willie Mays Hays.  I love guys who hit for average, guys who steal bases and guys who hit doubles and triples.  Hamilton is most likely going to be in the majors in a year or two.  I look forward to seeing him stealing some bases.  His speed was noted in spring training, and next spring he'll probably make more of an impression.  Plus, he has a classic baseball name.  Sliding Billy Hamilton is one of the greatest outfielders of the 19th century.

Knuckleball Pitcher Update

Tim Wakefield, still in search of his 200th career win, is now pitching out of the bullpen.  He pitched four scoreless innings of mop-up work on Friday night, giving up three hits as the Rangers blasted the Red Sox, 10-0. 

Meanwhile, R.A. Dickey secured his seventh win of the season Friday night with 6 innings of work, in which he gave up 3 runs on 9 hits.

Charlie Haeger is starting today for the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox AA team in the Eastern League.  He is 4-0 since the Red Sox signed him on July 23.  This Seattle Times piece featured Haeger and the difficulty of being a knuckleball pitcher:
 Life in the minor leagues often provides a fickle future, especially when success hinges on one pitch -- the knuckleball. Charlie Haeger has learned this throughout his nomadic professional baseball career. The realization of just how quickly things can change hit me this week, when I noticed Haeger had been released by the Mariners, signed by the Red Sox and sent to Class AA Portland, Maine.
That roster move made a feature I had written on Haeger moot before it was published. It shows just how quickly things can change with a player trying to find a long-term home on a major-league roster.
The 2011 season has been rough on the 27-year-old. He had back surgery in the spring and was tentative through his early season starts for Class AAA Tacoma. During a start in late June he made a decision “You’ve got to go out there and do it.” With his ERA moving in the wrong direction, he took the mound for a game against Colorado determined to take a step forward.
“Either your back is going to hurt or it’s not,” Haeger said. “Just start throwing the way you know how to throw, the way that feels natural to you.”
He went out that night and threw seven solid innings. He gave up four runs and struck out six. He wasn’t perfect, but he felt better. For the first time in the 2011 season, the right-hander found the flutter that a good knuckleball needs to frustrate hitters.
The whole piece is worth reading.

NASA Photo of the Day

From August 31:

Roll Cloud Over Wisconsin
Image Credit: Pierre cb, Wikipedia
Explanation: What kind of cloud is this? A type of arcus cloud called a roll cloud. These rare long clouds may form near advancing cold fronts. In particular, a downdraft from an advancing storm front can cause moist warm air to rise, cool below its dew point, and so form a cloud. When this happens uniformly along an extended front, a roll cloud may form. Roll clouds may actually have air circulating along the long horizontal axis of the cloud. A roll cloud is not thought to be able to morph into a tornado. Unlike a similar shelf cloud, a roll cloud is completely detached from their parent cumulonimbus cloud. Pictured above, a roll cloud extends far into the distance as a storm approached in 2007 in Racine, Wisconsin, USA.

The Discovery Of Buckyballs

For Pete.
September 4, 1985- The discovery of Buckminsterfullerene, the first fullerene molecule of carbon
Buckminsterfullerene, also known as Bucklerballs is a spherical fullerene molecule with the formula C60. It was first prepared in 1985 by Harold Kroto, James Heath, Sean O'Brien, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley at Rice University. Kroto, Curl, and Smalley were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their roles in the discovery of buckminsterfullerene and the related class of molecules, the fullerenes. The name is an homage to Richard Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic domes it resembles. Buckminsterfullerene was the first fullerene molecule discovered and it is also the most common in terms of natural occurrence, as it can be found in small quantities in soot.
Buckminsterfullerene is the largest matter to have been shown to exhibit wave–particle duality.

This refers to an old bar argument, which I believe, based on the above section in bold, that I won, even though each of us was wrong in a number of ways in our argumentation.

Vermont Flood Damage Photos



Here, via nc links. These pictures are just brutal.  The road damage is immense.

Another Demonstration That Rick Perry Is A Clown

Andrew Exum, via the Dish:
On the way here, though, I read a transcript of Gov. Rick Perry's recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I respect the fact that Gov. Perry has little foreign policy experience on account of his long political career in Texas, and I do not expect him to yet be as savvy or as wise an observer of international affairs as his fellow Aggies Ryan Crocker or Bob Gates. My head dropped in anguish, though, when I read this:
We respect our allies, and must always seek to engage them in military missions. At the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multi-lateral debating societies. And when our interests are threatened, American soldiers should be led by American commanders.
To the best of my knowledge, U.S. soldiers and Marines have served under the command of Dutch, Italian, Canadian, German and British commanders in Afghanistan. (I'm sure I could add more countries to the list.) Several countries have sacrificed mightily in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and I myself fought under a Canadian battalion commander in 2002 in Afghanistan and under a British special operations commander in 2003 in Iraq. Most of our allies -- and especially our friends in the ANZUS Pact, the 60th anniversary of which we just celebrated -- are as blunt-speaking as any Texan and would have rather preferred Gov. Perry come right out and insult them to their faces rather than obliquely insult them while professing to respect them.
I'm actually shocked that Gov. Perry's foreign policy advisors allowed this text to make it into his speech, but I can see how this jingoistic populism might prove politically effective in the battle for the Republican nomination. What might make for short-term political gains, though, also amounts to bad long-term foreign policy.
Gov. Perry's defenders will argue most Americans do not care about foreign affairs, and I somehow doubt Gov. Perry cares whether or not members of the Council on Foreign Relations will vote for him anyway. But this isn't about politics: as important as getting elected president is displaying the temperament and intelligence to be a good president once elected. And Gov. Perry may dismiss the United Nations, but our allies do not. (Don't believe me? Go ask any Israeli what "September" means to them and why their prime minister has been asking our president to scurry around asking for votes from our European allies of late.)
I hate to throw around history, but is Perry dismissing the Allied Armies in World War II.  I realize that Eisenhower was in charge of the military operations in Europe, but Montgomery (for better or worse) was in charge of American soldiers in combat.  Likewise, much of the Allies strategy was made by Churchill, who while conservatives worship him, was using American soldiers to die to try to save the British Empire.  Maybe we would have been better off with Americans in charge of all planning and command of all U.S. soldiers, but putting together successful coalitions requires some give-and-take.  The United States needs other nations to help us out.  Conservatives are damn fools to deny this fact.  But what do you expect, conservatives are damn fools.

Less-noticed College Football

Up in Division I, the season started out disappointingly for me.  Ohio State breezed to a blowout win, while Notre Dame stunk up the joint.  The prospects for the Irish aren't good, with games against Michigan and Michigan State coming up.  The potential for an 0-3 start is real.  I'll turn my attention to Division III, where the play is slower, but the fundamentals are better.  A few of yesterday's results:

#1 UW-Whitewater 26, UW-LaCrosse 7
#5 St. Thomas 20, St. Norbert 7
#14 Ohio Northern 38, N.C. Wesleyan 20
#20 Wittenberg 24, Capital 14-delayed by weather-to finish Sunday
#25 St. John's 34, Northwestern (MN) 0
Case Western Reserve 24, John Carroll 17
Mount St. Joseph 26, Wilmington 16

Mount Union had the week off.

The entire wrapup is here.

A Preview Of Obama's Jobs Plan?

Barron's (via Ritholtz):
The fix is nearly in. There's a ballooning consensus in the nation's capital that America must begin serious spending on infrastructure. There's no need to draw on our maxed-out national credit card to pay for it all, proponents argue. User fees and the creation of an infrastructure bank to leverage private investment will provide an estimated $1 trillion in required upgrades.
Led by the Obama White House, the push for infrastructure spending has produced unlikely bedfellows. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO -- intractable foes on most other issues -- are one such pair. Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the Chamber, is agitating for fully funded highway, aviation and water-system bills, as well as an adequately capitalized infrastructure bank.
"We need action now…not after the next election," says Donahue. He estimates that 25 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed or in such deep despair that they've stopped seeking work. Infrastructure spending over the next six years would create 1.5 million to 2.0 million jobs, he estimates.
An infrastructure bank would sell construction bonds to pensions, endowments, hedge funds and other holders of big pools of cash. Taxpayers would capitalize the bank -- one early proposal called for an infusion of $10 billion. But the institution would attract private investment many times this.
The infrastructure bank idea makes sense, helping to lessen the blow to the deficit by in effect, creating a capital budget for the U.S., while also providing safe investments for pension funds.  One of my questions recently has been why pension funds don't take over some underwriting of state and local bond isuuances.  They definitely have the money, they will invest in the issuances anyway, why not set up their own operation to cut out the middleman investment banks?  In effect, why couldn't CALPERS (or a coalition of pension funds) set up an underwriting arm, which would find subscribers to bond issuances amongst the public pension funds?  The savings could be passed back to the purchasers, as opposed to investment bank shareholders.  This infrastructure bank proposal would in effect set up the federal government in the role of underwriter, although I am sure the investement bank lobbyists have guaranteed their clients a cut of this operation.  It is a step in the right direction, but I don't think it will be a big enough step.

More On Income Inequality

Robert Reich addresses the causes and effects of income inequality, and how to reverse it.  This part echoes what I was trying to get at here:
Look back over the last hundred years and you’ll see the pattern. During periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total income — as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 — the nation as a whole grew faster and median wages surged. We created a virtuous cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats.
During periods when the very rich took home a larger proportion — as between 1918 and 1933, and in the Great Regression from 1981 to the present day — growth slowed, median wages stagnated and we suffered giant downturns. It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007 — the two years just preceding the biggest downturns.
Starting in the late 1970s, the middle class began to weaken. Although productivity continued to grow and the economy continued to expand, wages began flattening in the 1970s because new technologies — container ships, satellite communications, eventually computers and the Internet — started to undermine any American job that could be automated or done more cheaply abroad. The same technologies bestowed ever larger rewards on people who could use them to innovate and solve problems. Some were product entrepreneurs; a growing number were financial entrepreneurs. The pay of graduates of prestigious colleges and M.B.A. programs — the “talent” who reached the pinnacles of power in executive suites and on Wall Street — soared.
The whole piece is worth a read this Labor Day weekend.  I think we need a new kind of supply-side economics, one not government-provided, in the form of tax cuts, but one that is business-provided, in the form of wage increases.  Corporate profits are at record levels, but those profits need to be better distributed to the providers of labor.  It won't happen, but it needs to.  In a deflationary environment, we need some wage inflation.