Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Battle For The Megaphone Trophy

Notre Dame vs. Michigan State:
The Megaphone Trophy is awarded each year to the winner of the football game between the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University. It was introduced in 1949. The Notre Dame side of the trophy is blue, while the Michigan State side is green. The rivalry includes many great games, such as The Game of the Century, arguably the greatest college football game ever played. Notre Dame currently leads the trophy series 31–26–1.
More trophy games will be highlighted as the season goes on.

Mayweather vs. Ortiz

Floyd Mayweather Jr. faces a tough Victor Ortiz tonight. Ortiz is ten years his junior.  A win increases the demand for the long-awaited possible matchup with Manny Pacquiao:
Floyd Mayweather versus Victor Ortiz is a WBC welterweight title fight scheduled for Sept. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Ortiz won the belt by defeating Andre Berto in April, and will be defending it for the first time.
Mayweather, a former Ring Magazine welterweight world champion, will be fighting for the first time since May 1, 2010, when he defeated Shane Mosley. In the interim, Mayweather had attempted to set up a fight with pound-for-pound champion Manny Pacquiao, but took the fight with Ortiz when negotiations for that bout once again failed to result in a fight.
The fight is on pay-per-view, so I'll miss out on watching yet again.

The Signing of the U.S. Constitution

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,
by Howard Chandler Christy
 September 17, 1787:
The Constitutional Convention (also known as the Philadelphia Convention, the Federal Convention, or the Grand Convention at Philadelphia) took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from Great Britain. Although the Convention was purportedly intended only to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention. The result of the Convention was the United States Constitution, placing the Convention among the most significant events in the history of the United States.
The stronger central government favored by the wealthy founders of the nation was created 224 years ago, and the document which was signed is fetishized by Tea Partiers today, who hate said central government.  The document is tremendous, but some of its compromises are showing their limitations. 

Update: Steve Clemons highlights an interesting book about the fight for ratification.

Going Rogue

Matt Taibbi on "rogue traders" (via nc links):
They’re not "rogue" for the simple reason that making insanely irresponsible decisions with other peoples’ money is exactly the job description of a lot of people on Wall Street. Hell, they don’t call these guys "rogue traders" when they make a billion dollars gambling.
The only thing that differentiates a "rogue" trader like Barings villain Nick Leeson from a Lloyd Blankfein, Dick Fuld, John Thain, or someone like AIG’s Joe Cassano, is that those other guys are more senior and their lunatic, catastrophic decisions were authorized (and yes, I know that Cassano wasn’t an investment banker, technically – but he was in financial services).
In the financial press you're called a "rogue trader" if you're some overperspired 28 year-old newbie who bypasses internal audits and quality control to make a disastrous trade that could sink the company. But if you're a well-groomed 60 year-old CEO who uses his authority to ignore quality control and internal audits in order to make disastrous trades that could sink the company, you get a bailout, a bonus, and heroic treatment in an Andrew Ross Sorkin book.
The man makes a good point.  Rogue traders are the losers on trades.  If they win, it doesn't matter how or why they won.  Then it's just a matter of them and their bosses divvying up the bonuses.  Rogue traders, while technically true (they probably covered up smaller losses before going for an even riskier, larger score to make up the difference), are just working within the culture they were raised.  All of the high-roller gamblers in Vegas lose a decent percentage of the time, but by luck and exquisite timing, they don't wash out for a while.  Surprisingly on Wall Street, the banks rarely lose, because they generally play a rigged game.  Unfortunately, they continue to try new games, and sometimes either they aren't rigged enough, or somebody else is doing the rigging.  When that happens, some low man on the totem pole is probably going to get canned.  If he is able to hide his losses and tries to double down, he's likely going to end up being labelled a rogue trader. 

The banks, however, managed to lose a crooked game so badly in mortgage securitization that they wrecked the whole economy, got bailed out, and haven't been charged with any crimes.  Was fraud committed? Absolutely.  Some of the martgage securities were tied up in trusts which never actually had legal possession of the mortgages they claimed to own.  Now they can't foreclose on the houses which are in default.  I am not surprised that small fry employees in these companies ignore rules and regulations, they learned from the best.

Oktoberfest Ist Wonderbar

Munich Oktoberfest is underway.  Unlike my sister, I'm not there.  Closer to home, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati began yesterday and runs through Sunday, while the Minster Oktoberfest runs September 30-October 2.  Hopefully, celebrants in both places this weekend will hoist a stein of Marzenbier for me.  I'll drink some for them here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Soldiers Turn To Hurling For Peace

All Things Considered:
Hurling — not to be confused with the winter sport of curling — is a combination of football, ice hockey and lacrosse. Picture guys in helmets with sticks: They use the flat end to whack a fist-sized ball up the field, on the ground or in the air. There's checking, a lot of scrambling for the ball, and sprinting — and the pitch is even longer than a football field.
Celtic warriors brought this high-contact field sport to Ireland thousands of years ago. But its physical intensity and fast pace still attract soldiers today.
"I've said that stepping off the pitch is something like stepping off the field of battle or coming off a mission," says National Guard Capt. Rob Burnham, who is a member of the Barley House Wolves, a hurling club in Concord, N.H.
He says more than half of his teammates are combat veterans.
"It's something healthy, something physical that allows you to blow off some steam. And something to look forward to that's different than being member of, say, the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars]," he says.
That's pretty neat.  I've never actually watched hurling, but I understand it is absolutely a brutal sport.  Im glad they find something to do together to blow off steam, although it is worrying thinking about the guy saying he just feels nervous around civilians all the time.  What these guys have gone through might make some sense in a worthy cause, but I don't think the wars we've sent them to quite qualify.  The hardships these guys have suffered are much worse than the benefits we've extracted by sending them to fight.  We owe them greatly, and I wish them the best in the future.

The Amish Bernie Madoff

Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Members of the Amish community traditionally have settled their scores independent of secular society, but the federal legal system will decide the fate of Monroe Beachy, 77, of Sugarcreek, Holmes County. Beachy was charged (pdf) Wednesday with defrauding thousands of his fellow Amish farmers, carpenters and neighbors of tens of millions of dollars in an alleged Ponzi scheme that has earned Beachy a nickname: The Amish Bernie Madoff.

Beachy, who has a 10th-grade education, acquired much of his financial knowledge from classes at H&R Block. He declared bankruptcy in 2010. He faces one count of mail fraud, and was expected to surrender to federal authorities by Friday. Judge Benita Pearson, whose courtroom is in Youngstown, will preside over the case.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said Beachy's victims suffered an average loss of $13,000.
I just had to include this story after posting the story of the Amish guys being jailed for not posting SMV signs on their buggies.  Andrew Sullivan posted their mug shots today.  They may look like a lot of things, but criminals isn't one of them.  This story is a little more dark.  The guy apparently lost investors money, then falsified statements and paid back early investors with new investors' money.  Anyway, I probably won't cover the Amish crime wave much more in the near future.

A Bourbon Renaissance

All Things Considered:
Gregory says both big names, like Jim Beam and new micro distillers, are turning out those more expensive, high-quality brands to growing foreign markets, like China and India, all the while targeting new drinkers in the U.S. It's apparently working. There are now 4.7 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky, outnumbering the state's 4.3 million people. In fact, business has been so good that distilleries are investing $200 million on expansions and improvements. They're also selling the bourbon experience. Tourists can follow the Kentucky Bourbon Trail through six distilleries. It drew 400,000 visitors last year. One of the stops is Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, where 76-year-old master distiller Jimmy Russell presides over a brand-new $50 million operation.
I've considered taking a trip and following the Bourbon Trail, even though I'm not a big fan of whiskey.  It is definitely pretty country, and I like most tours where you can see how things are made.  Maybe I'll make it there in a few years.

This'll Fire Up Bachmann

NYT, via nc links:
By closing or nationalizing dozens of the producers of rare earth metals — which are used in energy-efficient bulbs and many other green-energy products — China is temporarily shutting down most of the industry and crimping the global supply of the vital resources.
China produces nearly 95 percent of the world’s rare earth materials, and it is taking the steps to improve pollution controls in a notoriously toxic mining and processing industry. But the moves also have potential international trade implications and have started yet another round of price increases for rare earths, which are vital for green-energy products including giant wind turbines, hybrid gasoline-electric cars and compact fluorescent bulbs.
General Electric, facing complaints in the United States about rising prices for its compact fluorescent bulbs, recently noted in a statement that if the rate of inflation over the last 12 months on the rare earth element europium oxide had been applied to a $2 cup of coffee, that coffee would now cost $24.55.
I think the hubbub about getting rid of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs is way overblown, but this'll add fuel to the fire over on the crazy people side.  I've got at least a dozen free CFL bulbs from the electric co-op, and I've only replaced one or two in the last four years, so I should be able to weather a temporary price increase.

Refiguring Biofuels

NYT, via Ritholtz:
The European Environment Agency Scientific Committee writes that the role of energy from crops like biofuels in curbing warming gases should be measured by how much additional carbon dioxide such crops absorb beyond what would have been absorbed anyway by existing fields, forests and grasslands.
Instead, the European Union has been “double counting” some of the savings, according to the draft opinion, which was prepared by the committee in May and viewed this week by The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.
The committee said that the error had crept into European Union regulations because of a “misapplication of the original guidance” under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“The potential consequences of this bioenergy accounting error are immense since it assumes that all burning of biomass does not add carbon to the air,” the committee wrote.
I don't think most biofuels are very earth-friendly replacements for fossil fuels, at least not as currently produced.  Anyway, this is mainly just inside baseball over in Europe, but I thought it was interesting.

The Pennsylvania Electoral College Concept

Nate Silver looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Pennsylvania GOP concept.  He discusses some possible other changes to the electoral college:
But what you’d probably wind up with instead is a patchwork of procedures for awarding electoral votes: some states would retain the current winner-take-all method, but some would use the congressional district split. Some might divide their votes proportionately, or use other hybrid approaches. And the method could change each time that the state government changed hands.
It’s perfectly Constitutional, for that matter, for states to award their electoral votes through the state legislature, as many states did in the early years of the Republic, without taking a popular vote at all. If Republicans want to all but guarantee that they win the presidency next year, there is nothing stopping them. They control the state governments in 21 states totaling 242 electoral votes. All they need to do is have their state legislatures pick Republican electors in those states, and then for their candidate to win by popular vote in Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia, which would get him to 270 electoral votes.
That, of course, is an extreme and unlikely example. But the Pennsylvania play would undermine the integrity the Electoral College, which is already fairly unpopular.
The electoral college is one of those ideas the founders had which just wasn't very well constructed.  It only took three elections to require a Constitutional amendment to fix one of the problems.  There are very few, and really, very weak reasons to keep the electoral college, but I don't see any of the small states voting to get rid of it.  But if Republicans start playing serious politics with it, I can see it getting eliminated. 

Tom Browning's Perfect Game

September 16, 1988:
On September 16, 1988, Browning pitched the twelfth perfect game in baseball history. In a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Riverfront Stadium, Browning threw 72 of 100 pitches for strikes and did not run the count to three balls on a single batter. Browning remains the only Red to pitch a perfect game. Browning had had a previous no-hitter broken up by a Tony Gwynn single with one out in the ninth in June of that year.
Browning just missed becoming the first pitcher to hurl two perfect games, taking another bid into the ninth on July 4, 1989, against the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium; a lead-off single by Dickie Thon broke up this attempt. After his 1988 perfect game, Reds owner Marge Schott put a clause in his contract that stated his wife, Debbie, would receive a $300,000 bonus if he pitched another perfect game in 1989. The National League Office eventually nixed the clause.
I remember it occurred on a Friday night, because I was at our high school football game, and one of my neighbors told me he had tickets to the Reds game, and he was glad he didn't go, because it was rain delayed for over an hour.  When I got home, I turned on the radio, and heard that Browning had a perfect game through 7 innings.  I woud have rather gone to the Reds game than the football game.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The End of Suburbia?

The Atlantic, via Ritholtz:
In the years following World War II, the United States experienced an unprecedented consumption boom. Anything you could measure was growing. A Rhode Island-sized chunk of land was bulldozed to make new suburbs every single year for decades. America rounded into its present-day shape.

Along the way, there were three inexorable trends at the base of the societal pyramid. First, we plowed more energy into our homes each and every year. We cooled and heated our houses more (sometimes wastefully, sometimes not), brought in more and more appliances, added televisions and computers and phones. Per capita electricity shot up from about 4,000 kilowatt-hours per US resident to over 13,000 kilowatt-hours by the 2000s. Second, we needed more electricity because our houses got huge. The median home size shot up from about 1,500 square feet in the early 1970s to more than 2,200 square feet in the mid-200s. Third, we drove more and more miles every year to get around and between our sprawled-out cities. Back in 1960, Americans drove 0.72 trillion miles. By 2000, that number had reached 2.75 trillion miles. In 2007, vehicle miles traveled hit 3.02 trillion.

Now, though, the relentless growth in those figures is coming to an end. The AP's Jonathan Fahey reported last week that the utility company research consortium, the Electric Power Research Institute, projected that residential electricity demand would drop over the next ten years.
I think we will soon realize that suburbanization has been a disaster for this country.  It is very hard to create a usable mass transit system in the sprawling auto-based environment we have constructed over the last 65 years, so with potential peak oil production, we are facing a built environment that is very hard to deal with sensibly.  The capital we have plowed into development in the past 30 years is completely wasted, because it will be almost unaffordable to use.  The market is not always right. 

Indoor Farming?

The Dutch are working on it:
You’ve heard of paint by numbers? Get ready for feed-the-world by numbers. Dutch agricultural company PlantLab wants to change almost everything you know about growing plants. Instead of outdoors, they want farms to be in skyscrapers, warehouses, or underground using hydroponics or other forms of controlled environments. Instead of sunlight they use red and blue LEDs. Water? They need just 10% of the traditional requirements. At every stage of their high tech process, PlantLab monitors thousands of details (163,830 reports per second!) with advanced sensors to create the perfect environment for each individual type of crop. In short, they create a high tech ‘plant paradise’.
That would ding land values.

$500 Cash Rent?

Not so fast:
Rumors that some Corn Belt farmers are paying $500 cash rents in 2012 sound like that imaginary rabbit friend named Harvey in the Jimmy Stewart movie to me. In other words, they may exist but nobody in the know can confirm it.
More reliable are surveys of average cash rents—and they remain at much more reasonable levels (see table below).
Once again, Illinois takes the prize for most extreme cash rent but Iowa isn’t far behind. According to data released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service last week, Illinois’s Macon County tops the list with an average cash rent of $260 an acre in 2011. Iowa’s top county—Hamilton—weighed in at seventh place with an average of $235.
In fact, Illinois claims 19 of the top 25 most expensive farmland rental counties in the U.S. , all topping $200 an acre. Most of them are located in northern and central Illinois. Iowa fielded the remaining six counties on the top hit list. In fact, no other state made the list until Faribault County, Minn. (No. 64).
Cash rent rumors are some of the biggest whoppers in the Heartland.  I usually assume about 75 to 80 percent of the number told.

Shiner Old-Time Alt

I picked up a Shiner variety pack which included Shiner Old-Time Alt.  It was pretty light and mild.  I've often wondered why more breweries didn't try a Dusseldorf style Altbier.  It is an interesting style which I'd like to see as opposed to all the English-style ales we are flooded with.  As an Anglophobe, I would appreciate the change.

Time Flies

September 15, 2008:
 Lehman Brothers files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.
I had a guy tell me the other night that things really went downhill after Obama got into office.  I mentioned that things were getting pretty bad before that, and that is why he got elected.  He went on to tell me that Obama just isn't business friendly, and that's why the economy isn't improving.  He said businesses were afraid to hire, because Obama was going to raise taxes on people making more tha $200,000 a year, which was small businessmen.  I suggested that large numbers of small businessmen would be happy to make $200,000, and most small businessmen would hire if their sales were increasing.  We finally quit discussing the topic.  I have to ask, would small businessmen be more optimistic if we had a Republican president, even in the current demand situation?  I think they might be, not that their confidence means a whole lot to me.  Even if they were optimistic, they wouldn't hire until sales increased.

Miscellaneous Baseball News

Rany Jazayerli looks at how the Astros became so bad, even though they were in the World Series in 2005:
Yet the team still has the same inherent advantages it has always had. With New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles served by two teams, the Astros have the fourth-largest U.S. city to themselves. (The Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies have larger metropolitan populations to draw on.) The Astros have a modern ballpark with all the amenities (read: revenue-generating luxury boxes) in place. Houston's economy has been less affected by the recession than most places in America.
But this time, the rebuilding process will take longer. Houston doesn't have anyone like Glenn Davis to trade, and the only GM foolish enough to trade premium talent for the next Larry Andersen is the one employed by the Astros. Unless they accept a realignment that lands them in the Pacific Coast League, it's going to be years before they're competitive again. Their old owner could never accept that fact. For the sake of Astros fans, here's hoping their new owner will.
Also, the Pittsburgh Pirates have locked in their 19th straight losing season (Update):
The loss in the seventh game of the 1992 National League Championship Series started the record-setting streak. The NHL's Vancouver Canucks and the NBA's Kansas City/Sacramento Kings each lost for 15 consecutive years, the Canucks from 1976-91 and the Kings from 1983-98. The NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished below .500 for 14 consecutive seasons from 1983-96.
The Philadelphia Phillies held the previous Major League Baseball record with 16 losing seasons in a row from 1933-48.
And WTF is Bud Selig thinking, opening the season on Good Friday?
Traditions will collide in Cincinnati on April 6, 2012.
That’s Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds, a longstanding unofficial holiday here when offices empty and Reds-clad baseball fans rejoice in parades, optimism and ballpark hot dogs.
It’s also Good Friday, a Holy Day of Obligation for the 470,000 Catholics in the 19-county Archdiocese of Greater Cincinnati. They mark the solemn day when Christ was crucified by praying on the steps of Holy Cross-Immaculata Church in Mount Adams, going to Mass and fasting.
“That cuts out ballpark food,” said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The Florida Marlins, to be renamed the Miami Marlins next year, will be the Reds’ Opening Day opponent.
Major League Baseball sets the schedule, which was released Wednesday. It’s still listed as tentative and is subject to change. Many Cincinnatians hope a compromise can be worked out.
“The biggest thing is it’s a conflict of moods,” Andriacco said. “Opening Day is a very festive occasion. Good Friday is a key date in our salvation. And although it’s called ‘Good’ it’s not a celebratory occasion.
Technically, Good Friday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, but it is part of the Triduum and Holy Week.  It is also a day of fasting and abstinence.  Not exactly a good time to go out and party for Opening Day.  What the hell is wrong with Major League Baseball?  This season, for the first time in my lifetime, they had opening day on Thursday.  Now they're looking at Friday?  What gives?  Whatever happened to all those baseball traditions which couldn't be changed?

The Tea Party vs. Me

I find it ironic that one issue in which I would say Rick Perry is reasonable on, immigration, is one in which he is unacceptable to the Tea Party.  Can't we just call these people for what they are, racist idiots.

More Amish Criminals

Reuters, via nc links:
Eight members of a traditional Amish sect were behind bars on Tuesday after refusing to pay fines for failure to display orange-red safety triangles on their horse-drawn buggies. The eight were being held in the Graves County Jail, serving sentences ranging between three and 10 days for failing to pay the fines on religious grounds.
Graves District Judge Deborah Hawkins ordered the men jailed Monday in Mayfield, about 200 miles from Louisville in western Kentucky. The defendants contend that paying the fines would amount to complying with a law that violates their religious restrictions against wearing or displaying bright colors or relying upon man-made symbols for their safety.
Graves County Jailer Randy Haley said Tuesday that the men brought Bibles with them when they reported to jail late Monday night and were given dark-colored jumpsuits and sandals to wear instead of the standard orange coveralls. All were placed together in a large holding cell, Haley said.
All of the defendants are members of a traditional Amish group known as the Old Order of Swartzentruber. Other Amish groups in Kentucky do comply with the requirements to display the safety signs on the rear of their buggies.
Our justice system at work.  The case is still in the appeals process.

The New Big 4

A history of railroad mergers at The Big Picture:

and their rail maps:

I am still surprised that Union Pacific and BNSF haven't paired off with CSX and Norfolk Southern.  It wouldn't seem like monopoly if there are two carriers throughout the country.  Maybe it has to do with connections between the systems at St. Louis and Chicago not meshing up well.

Update:  The title referred to this:
The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four Railroad and commonly abbreviated CCC&StL, was a railroad company in the Midwestern United States.
Its primary routes were located in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

1918 map with CCC&St. L routes in red. New York Central in orange.

A Political Haiku

What Obama likes
Republicans will despise
even common sense

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Flight of the Earls

September 14, 1607:
The Flight of the Earls (Irish: Imeacht na nIarlaí / Teitheadh na nIarlaí) took place on 14 September 1607, when Hugh Ó Neill of Tír Eóghain, Rory Ó Donnell of Tír Chonaill and about ninety followers left Ireland for mainland Europe.
The earls left from the town of Rathmullan on Lough Swilly on a French ship with some of the leading Gaelic families in Ulster. This town was said to have witnessed the end of the old Gaelic order, in the sense that the earls were descended from Gaelic clan dynasties that had ruled their parts of Ulster for centuries. The Flight of the Earls was a watershed in Irish history, as the ancient Gaelic aristocracy of Ulster went into permanent exile. Despite their attachment to and importance in the Gaelic system, the Earls' ancestors had also accepted their Earldoms from the English-run Kingdom of Ireland in the 1540s, under the policy of surrender and regrant. Some historians argue that their flight was forced upon them by the fallout from the Tudor conquest of Ireland, others that it was a strategic mistake that cleared the way for the Plantation of Ulster.
The late Tomas Cardinal O’Fiaich, Archbishop of Armagh, gave a lecture at Rathmullan in September 1988 and recounted that the Earl of Tyrone allegedly “had a gold cross which contained a relic of the True Cross, and this he trailed in the water behind the ship, and according to O’Ciainain, it gave some relief from the storm” during the crossing to Quillebeuf-sur-Seine in Normandy, France; they finally reached the Continent on 4 October 1607. The significance of this act is also underlined by the fact that the date of the exile from Rathmullan was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This supposed relic of the True Cross was probably a minor relic taken from that kept at Holy Cross Abbey which they had previously visited en route to Kinsale in 1601.

The Red Hand of Ulster, also
known as the Red Hand of O'Neill
From Wikipedia:
The Red Hand was later included in the Northern Ireland flag and on the shields of counties Cavan, Tyrone, Londonderry Derry, Antrim and Monaghan. It is also used by many other official and non-official organisations throughout the province of Ulster.
The Red Hand can be regarded as one of the very few cross-community symbols used in Northern Ireland. Due to its roots as a Gaelic Irish symbol, nationalist/republican groups have used (and continue to use) it often – for example the republican Irish Citizen Army, the republican National Graves Association, Belfast, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and numerous GAA clubs in Ulster. However, after the creation of Northern Ireland, loyalist groups began to use it widely – for example the Red Hand Commandos, Red Hand Defenders and Ulster Defence Association, among others.
Due to its usage by loyalist paramilitaries, those unfamiliar with Irish history have believed it to be a solely loyalist symbol. In 2005 former Miss Northern Ireland, Zöe Salmon, caused controversy when she selected the Red Hand as a symbol to represent Northern Ireland in a competition for Blue Peter. David Miller, a sociology professor from Strathclyde University in Scotland, complained to the BBC, saying that "like the swastika the Red Hand has been misappropriated ... it is the symbol of the unionists."] Michael Copeland, an Ulster Unionist party assembly member, described the row as “political correctness gone mad”.

Gerrymandering The Electoral College

Dave Weigel:
Laura Olson reports on the happenings in Harrisburg, where Republicans now control all of the branches of government:
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is trying to gather support to change the state's "winner-takes-all" approach for awarding electoral votes. Instead, he's suggesting that Pennsylvania dole them out based on which candidate wins each of the 18 congressional districts, with the final two going to the contender with the most votes statewide.
In other reports, Pileggi sounds awfully sanguine about the effect this would have on PA as a swing state. Why even bring that up? Pennsylvania is typically a closely-divided state, and while it's gone Democratic in every election since 1992, it's been heavily campaigned-in every year.
So, let's pretend this is a totally political neutral decision. If the next Republican candidate breaks the streak and wins the state, it would be horrible for him -- he'd shed electoral votes. But if the president wins, he's down at least nine, possibly ten electoral votes, because congressional districting is slanted towards the GOP.
This strategy would also work in Ohio, with the currently proposed map.  This strategy would cost Obama 12 of Ohio's 18 electoral votes while weakening the Democratic vote in the cities like Toledo.  It is generally stealing votes, but I expect nothing less of the Republicans, especially considering how similar the ruling Republicans' actions have been in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.  Before taking such an action under the dramatically gerrymandered districts currently proposed, we should get rid of the electoral college completely and just use a popular vote.

More On European Banking Crisis

Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Mohamed A. El-Erian said organizations such as the International Monetary Fund need to act with European banks at risk of being engulfed in the region’s sovereign-debt crisis.
“We’re getting close to a full-blown banking crisis in Europe,” El-Erian, Pimco’s chief executive officer and co-chief investment officer, said in a radio interview on “Bloomberg Surveillance” with Tom Keene and Ken Prewitt. “We are in a synchronized global slowdown. There’s very little confidence in economic policy making both in Europe and the U.S.”
The World Bank and the IMF meet Sept. 23-25 in Washington as European officials work to keep the currency union from unraveling while weighing whether to allow Greece to default. French banks have become a focal point because of their holdings of bonds issued by the euro region’s most-indebted nations, topping the list of Greek creditors with $56.7 billion in overall exposure, according to a June report by the Bank for International Settlements.
“The light should be flashing yellow, if not red, in Washington, D.C., and hopefully the IMF meeting can be the catalyst for getting to a common analysis and setting the stage for the G-20,” El-Erian said from Pimco’s Newport Beach, California-based headquarters. The firm oversees about $1.34 trillion of assets as the world’s largest manager of bond funds.
It's going to be a wild ride this fall.  I'm getting pretty nervous.

Credit-Anstalt 2.0?

MSN Money via Ritholtz:
Financial markets are behaving as if they expect a European banking crisis that would require the bailout or nationalization of some European banks. That would feel like a replay of the financial crisis that followed the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008. Only this time, the epicenter would be Europe instead of the United States, and the ripples would expand from the eurozone outward into global financial markets.
How realistic is that fear? Very, I'm afraid. European banks are facing a very real liquidity and capital crisis that could lead to the need for a government rescue of some globally significant banks.
But the crisis isn't an exact replay of the 2008 crisis. The effects of the crisis would not be limited to Europe, but the likelihood that a European crisis would take down a major U.S. bank -- in a mirror image of the 2008 crisis where problems originating in the United States did lead to the bailouts of banks in the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium -- is relatively small. On the other hand, the crisis is potentially worse this time around because the European Central Bank is much less able to intervene as a lender of last resort than the U.S. Federal Reserve was in 2008.
This sounds a lot like 1931 to me, but I guess we may find out soon enough.  It is definitely not good.  The financial crisis might get a lot uglier this time.  I bet the Fed will be the lender-of-last-resort again.

Iowa Farmland Prices Get Frothier

Des Moines Register:
Iowa farmland values shot up an average of 12.9 percent during the past six months and an average of 32.6 percent for the year ended Sept. 1, according to a new survey by the Iowa Farm & Land  Chapter No. 2 Realtors Land Institute.
The institute, which has been conducting twice-yearly surveys since 1978, placed the average value of medium quality crop land in Iowa at $6,477 an acre, up from $5,711 an acre in March.
Northeast Iowa had the largest average increase, 17 percent, during the six months, while Southeast Iowa had the lowest, 8.5 percent, the new survey showed.
The highest average value for high quality crop land was in Northwest Iowa, at $9,685, an increase of 14.9 percent since March.
The lowest average value for top quality crop land was in Southwest Iowa, at $7,555 an acre, an increase of 9.3 percent since March.
“Factors contributing to the increase in farmland values include: strong commodity prices, favorable long term interest rates and limited amounts of land for sale,” the Realtors institute said in a statement announcing the new values.
I don't see how this doesn't melt down sometime in the not-too-distant future.  12.9% in six months?  That is approaching Phoenix real estate circa 2005.  Back then the story was there wasn't enough housing stock.  Now it is that commodity prices will stay where they are or go up higher.  Count me as somebody who doesn't quite believe the hype.

I Never Would Have Guessed

Michael Froomkin (h/t Mark Thoma):
POGO Study: Contractors Costing Government Twice as Much as In-House Workforce. This looks like an important study. The results are sadly not incredible: if you look not at the wages employees receive in the contracted-out businesses, but rather the prices their employers charge the government for their services, contracting-out looks (sometimes very) expensive compared to using government workers.
The U.S. government’s increasing reliance on contractors to do work traditionally done by federal employees is fueled by the belief that private industry can deliver services at a lower cost than in-house staff.
But a first-of-its-kind study released today by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) busts that myth by showing that using contractors to perform services actually increases costs to taxpayers.
POGO’s new report is the first to compare the rate that contractors bill the federal government to the salaries and benefits of comparable federal employees. The study found that while federal government salaries are higher than private sector salaries, contractor billing rates average 83 percent more than what it would cost to do the work in-house.
The study comes with some caveats, but at first glance it looks like a serious attempt to measure things that — oddly — are not routinely measured by the government that pays for all this stuff.
I'm just shocked, shocked I tell you, that privatizing work done by government workers would end up costing taxpayers more.  Who would have thought that corporate profits or higher executive pay might end up making the private sector more expensive than the public sector.  I mean, besides you and I.  What such privatization ends up doing is getting rid of well-paid government jobs and replacing them with lower-paid private work.  The difference goes to the rich guys who own the companies who get the contracts.  More income inequality doesn't seem like something we need right now, especially when it costs more than the status quo. 

Toledo Redistricted

The Blade:
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) would take over all of western Lucas County and parts of West and South Toledo.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) would have to learn his way around downtown Toledo, which would become part of his sprawling district, along with the south end, north end, most of East Toledo, most of Oregon, and part of Jerusalem Township.
The bill was introduced Tuesday and discussed at a hearing of the House State Government and Elections Committee.
Miss Kaptur blasted the GOP-drawn lines as designed to protect GOP incumbents at the expense of Lucas County.
"Their map achieved one thing -- Republican incumbent protection statewide. For the first time since the Civil War, a Toledo-centered congressional district has been eliminated by the Republican Party. Since the Civil War, we [Toledo] have been at the center of a district. The most populous city in northwest Ohio has now been hacked up," Miss Kaptur said.
Noting how her district follows the Lake Erie shoreline through Lucas, Ottawa, Erie, Lorain, and Cuyahoga counties, split into two pieces by Sandusky Bay, she joked, "I'm looking at used boats right now."
She said other communities in the district, all the way to Cleveland, have been "hacked up" as well.
"What a tragedy for communities in northern Ohio hurting in this economy," Miss Kaptur said.

From The Blade

How do you have a city which is smaller than a single Congressional District split up into 3 districts?  If people who took an interest in the city were to be the Congressional representatives, that might no be a bad thing.  But Latta and Jordan couldn't give a damn about Toledo.  This will not bode well for the city.

The Definition of Gerrymandering

A proposed Ohio redistricting map.  This can't seriously be the actual map the Republicans plan to use.  It has to be the bad example which will make the real proposal seem less bad.  I'm not sure which is worse, the narrow green district which combines Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich in the same district, or the crazy shaped pink one which spans the southern half of the state.  Either way, the rural folks and the city folks interests will be ignored while the suburbs benefit.  It is one way for the Republicans to better work for the wealthy over the interests of everyone else.


Congratulations to Tim Wakefield on his 200th win.  It took a while and the game was kind of ugly, but it is a tremendous accomplishment for somebody whose career appeared it might be over just after it started.  The Boston Globe has a photo gallery of his long career here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Exploitative Colleges

Taylor Branch on big-time college athletics:
In 2010, despite the faltering economy, a single college athletic league, the football-crazed Southeastern Conference (SEC), became the first to crack the billion-dollar barrier in athletic receipts. The Big Ten pursued closely at $905 million. That money comes from a combination of ticket sales, concession sales, merchandise, licensing fees, and other sources—but the great bulk of it comes from television contracts.
Educators are in thrall to their athletic departments because of these television riches and because they respect the political furies that can burst from a locker room. “There’s fear,” Friday told me when I visited him on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill last fall. As we spoke, two giant construction cranes towered nearby over the university’s Kenan Stadium, working on the latest $77 million renovation. (The University of Michigan spent almost four times that much to expand its Big House.) Friday insisted that for the networks, paying huge sums to universities was a bargain. “We do every little thing for them,” he said. “We furnish the theater, the actors, the lights, the music, and the audience for a drama measured neatly in time slots. They bring the camera and turn it on.” Friday, a weathered idealist at 91, laments the control universities have ceded in pursuit of this money. If television wants to broadcast football from here on a Thursday night, he said, “we shut down the university at 3 o’clock to accommodate the crowds.” He longed for a campus identity more centered in an academic mission.
The United States is the only country in the world that hosts big-time sports at institutions of higher learning. This should not, in and of itself, be controversial. College athletics are rooted in the classical ideal of Mens sana in corpore sano—a sound mind in a sound body—and who would argue with that?
College football and basketball, with the assistance of NFL and NBA, have formed a cartel to make tons of money off of "student-athletes."  The massive revenues are inherently corrupting, and they tear at the legitimacy of the universities.  I don't see anything changing that in the near future.  The article breaks down the history of "amateur athletics" in the NCAA.  Not very amateur, ever.  It is beyond time when the athletes get a cut of the pie.

A Trip To The Minnesota State Fair

John Ore describes his gastronomical accomplishments when he visited the Minnesota State Fair:
For many, The Great Minnesota Get Together—the second-largest state fair in the country—revolves around food. Fairgoers are greeted with the Miracle of Birth Center upon entering the fairgrounds, where they can witness the live birth of our future food in the form of calves, chicks and ducklings. Other structures are dedicated to prize-winning pumpkins or hogs. Interspersed throughout are concessions that have turned the raw product you just viewed into stunt food like foot-long corn dogs. (Even the Midway is food focused as it encourages you to barf up what you just ate.)
The key to surviving the fair—and yes, “surviving” is a goal—is portion control. Most Fair fare should be shared, with few notable exceptions (three on a corn dog is bad luck). It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so splitting an order of cheese curds between four people will ensure that you are still in fighting form hours later at the Leinie Lodge.
This year, I partook of the following Fair staples, in order:
• Corn dog
• Mini donut
• Fried cheese curds
• Smoked beef stick
• Summit Extra Pale Ale
• Walleye cakes
• Chicken-fried bacon
• Walleye fries
• Leinenkugel Original
• Mini cinnies
• Pork chop on a stick
• Leinenkugel Oktoberfest
• Cheddar stick
• Strawberry shake
I’m not gonna lie. Somewhere around the chicken-fried bacon, things went a little south. One bite would have been enough—a whole strip of the stuff was too much.
Sounds like a damn good trip.  The fried food combined with the Leinies sounds like a perfect food experience.  God bless our fairs.  The story includes a picture of a butter bust of one of the finalists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way.  Check it out.

World's Biggest Employers

The Economist (h/t Yglesias):

So the Defense Department is the world's largest employer, it is a government agency, and yet it is still off-limits for spending cuts as far as Jon Kyl is concerned.  Government is wasteful and must be cut, according to Republicans, but don't cut the biggest part.  What a bunch of loons.

R.A. Dickey On Air

Jonah Keri interviews R.A. Dickey on a Grantland podcast.  He delivered another quality start in a 3-2 loss to the Nationals.  He has now gone 10 straight starts without giving up more than 3 runs.

TBTF Bank Origins

Mother Jones, via the Big Picture:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Leaving September 11 Behind

I agree with E.J. Dionne (via Ritholtz):
After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.
I understand that those who were personally involved with the attacks can never put it behind them, but I wasn't personally involved.  The wars we've fought since have been a tremendous disaster, and have distracted us, while those on top economically have had their way with us.  We've spent our way to disaster over a few complete loons who were never an existential threat to our country. 

Last night, ESPN stayed on air while the Mets had some girl from American Idol sing "God Bless America."  While I like that song on occasion, it is time for cities outside of New York to retire playing it on Sundays and holidays.  It was a baseball tradition started after 9/11, and it has lost its resonance.  This would be one way to begin to move on.

USDA Lowers Corn Forecast

Des Moines Register:
The August heat and dry weather took a toll on the corn crop, and that’s putting a squeeze on livestock and ethanol producers. The U.S. Agriculture Department today slashed its estimate of this year’s corn harvest to under 12.5 billion bushels. That’s a full 3 percent below what the department had forecast just a month ago.
Because of that smaller crop, which has pushed up market prices sharply, both livestock producers and ethanol plants are going to use less grain than previously expected, and exports are likely to be lower as well, the USDA said. This eyear’s harvest would still be the third largest on record, but that’s apparently not large enough to keep up with the growing demand for grain.
The USDA cut Iowa’s projected yield to 167 bushels a month, 10 bushels an acre off last month’s estimate. Nationally, the projected yield was cut by nearly five bushels to 148.1 bushels an acre.
Right now, 148 bpa looks pretty good to me.

The Most Dangerous Jobs

At Economix (h/t Yglesias):

No really big surprises there.  The report also says men die on the job much more than women:
Maybe it’s because men work in more hazardous jobs or maybe it’s because they’re daredevils or just plain stupid risk-takers, but the fatality rate from workplace injuries is more than nine times higher for men than for women: 5.5 per 100,000 for men, compared with 0.6 per 100,000 for women. The B.L.S. reported that 4,021 men died from workplace injuries in 2009, compared with 319 women.
I don't see too many female loggers or roofers, so I can believe to is a combination of men working dangerous jobs and taking stupid risks.

Girl Scout Cookie Sales

At Wired (h/t the Dish):

Republican Economics

Steven Pearlstein, via the Big Picture:
And how wonderfully precise they can be when it comes to job numbers. Romney is way out front when it comes to this kind of false precision. His new economic plan calculates that President Obama would “threaten” 7.3 million jobs with the ozone regulation that, in fact, the president had just canceled. By contrast, Romney claims his own plan will create 11 million jobs in his first term — not 10, not 12, but 11 million.
When you dig into such calculations, however, it turns out many are based on back-of-the-envelope extrapolations from industry data that totally ignore the dynamic quality of economic interactions.
One recent example comes from the cement industry, which now warns that new regulations limiting emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide could close as many as 18 of the 100 cement plants in the United States, resulting in the direct loss of 13,000 jobs.
Then again, where do you think all those customers of the 18 plants will get their cement? Do you think they might get some of it from the other 82 plants, which in turn might have to add a few workers to handle the additional volume? Or that a higher price for cement might induce somebody to build a modern plant to take advantage of the suddenly unmet demand? Or perhaps that higher prices for cement will lead some customers to use another building material produced by an industry that will have to add workers to increase its output? And what about the possibility that the regulation will encourage some innovative company to devise emissions-control equipment that will not only allow some of those plants to remain open but generate a few thousand extra jobs of its own as it exports to plants around the world.
Such possibilities are rarely, if ever, acknowledged in these “job-scare studies.” Also left out are any estimates of the benefits that might accrue in terms of longer, healthier lives. In the Republican alternative universe, it’s all costs, no benefits when it comes to government regulation. As they see it, government regulators wake up every morning with an uncontrollable urge to see how many jobs they can destroy.
The industry take on regulations is very entertaining.  From my brief involvement with environmental regulation, it is amazing how quickly changes are made which improve efficiency and cut waste once regulations come into effect.  Businesses have some characteristics like people.  They are slow to change things unless forced to.  If they can get by without making major capital investments, they won't make them.  The regulations have the effect of encouraging such investment, and forcing greater efficiencies.  Sure, you can complain about being forced to buy the CFL light bulbs, but you save money over time.  What a terrible government intrusion.  Let alone that it reduces power plant pollution, it saves you money.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Division III Roundup

After watching Ohio State squeak by Toledo and Notre Dame fall down against Michigan, I need a small school break.

#2 Mount Union defeated UW-Oshkosh 41-17.
#4 St. Thomas beat UW-River Falls 45-22.
#6 Bethel won at Concordia (WI) 48-0.
UW-Eau Claire beat #25 St. John's 47-19.
Wittenberg defeated Ohio Wesleyan 34-13.
Thomas More beat Hanover at home, 44-13.

The full roundup here.

Hit King

On a less somber note, today marks the 26th anniversary of Pete Rose's hit #4192.  Here is a video.  Pete's mom looks just like him.

Actually, two hits were taken away from Ty Cobb because of a scoring mixup in 1910, so Pete broke the record without knowing it in Chicago a couple of days before. Sports Illustrated featured an article on the batting race in 1910:
After his decision Johnson said, "The Cobb-Lajoie affair is a closed matter." Not quite. In the late 1970s baseball statisticians began computerizing their records, and as the researchers Pete Palmer and Leonard Gettelson were transposing the data of the 1910 season, they noticed an inconsistency. The doubleheader the Tigers had played on Sept. 24 that hadn't been recorded, the lost game in which Cobb went 2 for 3? In fact it had been recorded. It had simply been placed mistakenly in the Sept. 25 line on the ledger. In other words Cobb's original total had been correct and, because of a clerical error at the American League office, he had erroneously been credited with a duplicate 2-for-3 game.
The April 18, 1981, edition of The Sporting News publicized the error and republished the league office's original official log from the duplicate game. Someone in the office had clearly realized that an error had been made. The statistics for the Detroit players had been crossed out and nullified. Every Detroit player, that is, except one: Ty Cobb. It takes something less than a detective to arrive at the conclusion that at some point Johnson (or someone in the league office, anyway) realized the error and decided to conceal it.
Though it was more than 70 years after the fact, long after both principals had died, Palmer's finding had all sorts of implications. Without the phantom game, hadn't Cobb finished behind Lajoie in the misbegotten 1910 batting race after all? Therefore, didn't this deprive Cobb of another record he held, his streak of nine straight batting titles from 1907 to '15? Of more pressing concern: At the time, Pete Rose was in pursuit of Cobb's alltime hits record, which was thought to be 4,191. Didn't Rose now need fewer hits to eclipse the mark?
But when baseball executives were presented with this evidence—incontrovertible by any measure—they weren't moved. Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner, essentially said the statute of limitations had lapsed. Others were inclined to correct the error but were disinclined to rewrite the record book and coronate new winners in statistical categories. So it is that according to some references, Lajoie had the higher average that year, yet Cobb was the winner of the batting title.
Eventually, the stats guys corrected the books.