Saturday, September 24, 2011

As The Missouri Recedes, Damage Is Revealed

Des Moines Register:
As the Missouri River slowly recedes, farmers seeing their fields for the first time since June are encountering sand dunes, strange debris and deep gouges the floodwaters carved into their once-fertile land.
The soil quality has also been diminished because the floodwaters killed off many of the microbes that help crops grow.
Officials don’t expect the Missouri to fully return to its banks until October, so farmers already busy with the fall harvest will have little time to rehab their fields before the onset of winter. Plus, farmers must wait for fields to dry out before doing any significant work with heavy equipment.
That means many of the hundreds of thousands of acres of flooded farmland along the Missouri River in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri may be out of production for at least a year — if not longer.
The damage has to be so depressing.  I can't imagine how bad these guys feel.

Today In Horse Racing

The Pennsylvania Derby:
Saturday, Rattlesnake Bridge looks to improve upon that second-place performance when he meets Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice, the multiple graded stakes winner To Honor and Serve, and six others in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
The Pennsylvania Derby tops a 12-race card that begins at 12:05 p.m. Eastern and includes the $250,000 Gallant Bob Stakes for 3-year-olds going six furlongs. Post time for the Derby is 5:45 p.m.
Parx Racing was formerly known as Philadelphia Park. 

I also failed to mention the Little Brown Jug, Thursday, at the Delaware County Fair, the second leg of the pacing triple crown:
The home team won the Little Brown Jug.
Trained by Ron Potter, who trains year-round at the tiny Delaware County (Ohio) Fair, Big Bad John won the Little Brown Jug Thursday in straight heats.
"To me, it's like Ohio State winning the national championship," said Potter, who was born in Ohio and now resides in Delaware, among other things, the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes.
Potter had just about everyone in the town of Delaware (34,753) rooting for him and spent the days leading up to the Jug answering phone calls from the many well-wishers. His barn was adorned with a sign from a local watering hole, wishing him and Big Bad John good luck.
Potter is not among the big names when it comes to harness trainers and the Ohio racing circuit, outside of the Jug, is considered small time. But in Big Bad John Potter had a horse with the type of talent and speed it takes to win the Jug, one of the most prestigious events in the sport. The horse was 14 for 19 lifetime and was regarded as one of the top horses in the wide-open 3-year-old male pacing division.
I apologize for dropping the ball on the Little Brown Jug.

Pig Thefts In Iowa And Minnesota

The New York Times takes notice of  Iowa-Minnesota pig theft incidents (h/t nc links):
This month, 150 pigs — each one weighing more than an average grown man — disappeared from a farm building in Lafayette despite deadbolts on its doors. Farther north near Lake Lillian, 594 snorting, squealing hogs disappeared last month, whisked away in the dark.
And in Iowa, with added cover from the vast stretches of tall cornfields, pigs have been snatched, 20 or 30 at a time, from as many as eight facilities in the last few weeks, said the sheriff of Mitchell County, adding that among other challenges, the missing are difficult to single out.
“They all look alike,” said Curt Younker, the sheriff, who said he had only rarely heard of pig thefts in his decades on the job. “Suddenly we’re plagued with them.”
Some livestock economists pointed to the thefts in this hog-rich region as one more sign of the grim economy, a reflection of record-high prices for hogs this year and the ease of stealing pigs from the large barns that are often far from the farmer’s house.
I thought I had already posted a story on this, but I can't find it.  I've wondered whether things would get bad enough that thieves would start rustling livestock on a regular basis.  Hopefully this is a very isolated series of incidents.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

John Steele Gordon cherry picks tax revenue data to build up the Bush tax cuts:
Taxes on the rich are taxes on people who create jobs. And jobs are an unalloyed good thing for an economy. Excessively taxing the capital that makes the economy go is poor public policy. And we have a recent example of how the opposite works well: Unemployment declined by a third in the four years after the Bush tax cuts were fully implemented in 2003, dropping to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent. Meanwhile, federal revenue increased 44 percent in those years. If these tax cuts put people to work and generated money for the government, shouldn’t Obama consider the possibility that tax increases should be avoided?
Shouldn't Gordon look a little more at the data.  He selects the year of lowest tax revenues (after the first Bush tax cuts went into effect and the tech bubble popped), and compares it to the peak year of revenue, at the height of the housing bubble.  In that time frame, Wall Street was making ridiculous profits by buying and packaging and reselling toxic mortgages.  Also, corporate income taxes increased 180%, while individual income tax was up 46.6% and social insurance revenues were up 21.9%.  That indicates to me that the wealthy did much better than anyone else.  If these tax cuts created jobs, where did they go after the housing bubble popped?

Two other things to note.  Individual income tax revenues from 2000-2007 increased a total of 15.8%.  Income tax revenues from 2007-2011 decreased 22.7%, and decreased 10.5% from 2000-2011.

Finally, if a person is to cherry pick data, how about looking at total tax revenues from the four years after 1996, when taxes were even higher, but the tech bubble was booming.  In those four years, total individual income tax revenues increased 53% while social insurance revenues were up 28.1%.  Corporate taxes, on the other hand, were only up 20.6%.  That was comparing revenues in the midst of a boom, not from economic bottom to economic top.  What the Great Recession has indicated is that we can't look to bubbles to grow our economy.  We will have to increase revenues somehow.  After the last 30 years of income inequality, there is only one place to find the money.  That is the President's math, and no twisting of statistics will get away from that.  Bush's tax cuts haven't created jobs, that much is obvious.  Taxes haven't increased, but now unemployment is 9.2%.  Please explain.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Black Friday

September 24, 1869:

  "Black Friday": Gold prices plummet after Ulysses S. Grant orders the Treasury to sell large quantities of gold after Jay Gould and James Fisk plot to control the market.

Ah, nothing makes a market more exciting than an attempt to corner it.  Jay Gould had quite the career and James Fisk was nothing if not attention-grabbing.  Grant's corrupt brother-in-law promised them that the government wouldn't intervene.  If I remember rightly, this pretty well ruined Fisk, while Gould lived on to torment markets even more.

PBR, Cooler Than SoHo?

An interesting project to redevelop the former Pabst brewery complex in Milwaukee:
Milwaukee’s newest trendy neighborhood is likely to become one of its best, and almost certainly its greenest. The Brewery, an environmentally sensitive restoration and adaptation of historic structures among the decaying wreckage of the former Pabst Brewing Company, is already home to striking residential lofts, a great beer hall, a range of offices, Cardinal Stritch University City Center, and a small urban park. Soon it will add a senior living facility and the School of Public Health of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for more residential and commercial presence, including a boutique hotel, retail and restaurants, over time.
I showed up there in 1997 to take a brewery tour, but the facility had recently closed.  I've been a Pabst fan for a long time, and I really like brownfield developments.  Best of luck to these guys.

Unfortunately, I would assume the site will be crawling with hipsters.  They always copy me, but in a grungier fashion

Land Prices Hurt Most Farmers

Morning Edition looks at how high land prices hurt young people trying to get into farming:
In farm country, business is still booming. Commodity prices remain high, and investors are funneling millions of dollars into buying farmland, making it quite enticing for the would-be farmer who wants to leave the rat race.
But surprisingly, these factors make it that much harder for the next generation of farmers to secure the financing they need to get on the tractor.
The article points out that unless a person is very wealthy, or inherits land, it is darn near impossible for farmers to buy enough land to farm.  There is the lottery option, but besides that, a farmer might be able to purchase maybe 10% of the land he or she farms.  With investors pouring into the market, and expecting market-topping returns, that becomes even harder.  If somebody times the market right, they can do ok.  But they have to buy land when nobody else wants it, and sell when everybody thinks the person is a fool for selling.

One interesting part of the story is that farmers talk about sharing equipment to lower costs.  In the old days, that was really common.  A threshing machine would be shared by a number of neighbors who would all provide labor for each other to bring in the harvest.  In the modern era, that hasn't been the case, but my dad pioneered that thinking.  He eventually worked out a sharing arrangement with one of our neighbors.  It was beneficial for each of us, but it did bring about some challenges.  In such a situation, patience is a virtue.  It worked pretty well for everybody until the neighbor retired.  Now we are on our own again.


If a person tries to be SuperBush, does he have to be an even worse public speaker?  I guess he might have to be:


Of Compound Interest And Immortality

A short history of trusts (via the Dish):
When the first century of Franklin’s rather more practical plan arrived in 1891, it bore $572,000 for Boston and Philadelphia. That was hardly one earth of solid gold, let alone 200 million of them, but Franklin had made his point—and in particular, he’d made it to a New York lawyer named Jonathan Holden.
Trained in law at Colgate and a multimillionaire through property investments, Holden was the sort of fellow who gave himself haircuts to save money, advocated the use of phonetic spelling in English, and lived on a diet of prunes and shredded wheat. By 1912, as the founder of what he christened “The Futurite Cult”—a few of its publications still survive in far-flung libraries—he’d concluded that the earth had achieved “a stage of civilization when vested property rights will be unmolested even in the case of conquest.” The time was right, he decided, to take Franklin’s grand economic experiment to its next logical step.
“One of the first American statesmen performed an act which is suggestive of possibilities,” Holden said of Franklin in a 1912 pamphlet, wondering whether “some citizen of the present day felt disposed to carry the ‘Franklin Plan’ still further.”
That citizen would be Holden himself. Beginning in 1936, he sluiced $2.8 million into a series of five-hundred- and thousand-year trusts—just one of which, allocated to the Unitarian Church, would be worth $2.5 quadrillion upon its maturation in the twenty-fifth century. A thousand-year fund dedicated to the state of Pennsylvania would yield $424 trillion; the money was to be applied to abolishing the state’s taxes. Holden didn’t even live in Pennsylvania—he’d picked the state as an homage to Franklin.
I have some familiarity of trusts.  Sometimes, you have to wonder what the benefactor's motivation actually is.  It clearly is tried as a tax dodge, and many times it just seems like the person didn't trust his or her family with the individual's wealth.  This statement definitely strikes me as true:
These days, perpetual trusts are old hat: American laws against them have been steadily rolled back in the last two decades, thanks to a banking lobby that rather likes the idea of keeping your money forever.
As the article says, trustee fees eat at the value of the account.  Guess who collects that.

Do Regulations Kill Jobs?

Not really (via the Big Picture):
“The effects on jobs are negligible. They’re not job-creating or job-destroying on average,” said Richard Morgenstern, who served in the EPA from the Reagan to Clinton years and is now at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan think tank.
Almost a decade ago, Morgenstern and some colleagues published research on the effects of regulation [7] [PDF] using 10 years’ worth of Census data on four different polluting industries. They found that when new environmental regulation was applied, higher production costs pushed up prices, resulting in lost sales for businesses and some lost jobs, but the job losses were also offset by new jobs created in pollution abatement.
“There are many instances of regulation causing a specific industry to lose jobs,” said Roger Noll, co-director of the Program on Regulatory Policy at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Noll cited outright bans of products—such as choloroflorocarbons or leaded gasoline—as the clearest examples.
No kidding.  Who'd have guessed that?  Probably the same folks who have realized that tax cuts don't create jobs.

Tommy Lasorda's Prime Cuts

because it's Friday (very definitely NSFW, except for messed up workplaces):

But, damn, that's funny.

Khrushchev Comes To Iowa

September 23, 1959:
 Iowa farmer and corn breeder Roswell Garst hosts Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.
A little bit about Garst, and the Soviet Premier's visit, from the Des Moines Register:
Roswell "Bob" Garst, perhaps Iowa's most famous farmer, was a colorful man and an unusual diplomat who helped bring warmth to the Cold War. Garst was a confidant of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who accepted the Iowan's invitation to tour his Coon Rapids farm on Sept. 23, 1959. On that day, an estimated 600 members of the international press descended on the quiet farm to witness the unprecedented visit between an Iowa man of the soil and a controversial head of state - who brought along his wife, Nina, and an entourage of at least 90 people.
Garst and Khrushchev enjoyed good rapport. Garst was the son of Coon Rapids merchant Edward Garst and his wife, Bertha. Garst attended Iowa State College, Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin but did not earn a degree. He began his farming career in 1917, then lived in Des Moines from 1926 to 1930 to try his hand at real estate. In the capital city, Garst met Henry A. Wallace and became enthusiastic about Wallace's ideas for hybrid seed corn. In 1930, Garst and Coon Rapids friend Charles Thomas established the Garst & Thomas Hybrid Corn Co. and became the Midwest marketers of Wallace's Pioneer Hi-Bred brand corn. Garst, a master salesman, became wealthy. In 1955, he made his first visit behind the Iron Curtain to market corn to the Russians.
I find it interesting that Garst started out by partnering with Henry A. Wallace selling Wallace's Pioneer Seed Corn.  More on Garst here.

News In Brazilian Agriculture

Less slash-and-burn:
Cassio Carvalho do Val is about to invest nearly $2 million to add 10,000 cattle to his ranch on the edge of the Amazon. But instead of burning down forest for his growing herd to graze freely he will break with tradition, reducing his pastureland and adding grain to their diet.
Val is one of a growing number of farmers betting on so-called integrated farming by diversifying production and revenue. His move epitomizes a quiet and fragile revolution that marks a departure from Brazil's slash-and-burn past.
It is a trend that may also help ease the felling of the world's largest rain forest.
Soy growers are rotating fields with more corn and cotton, planting forest and raising cattle. Ranchers are planting corn to supplement their herd's traditional diet of grasses.
That is good news for the rain forest, but will probably upset organic folks who like grass-fed beef.  The entire story of the interactions between the Brazilian government and the farmers is quite complex.

Notably, the guy says he loses 80 calves a year to jaguars.  I'm glad I don't have that problem.  His father bought title to 220 square miles of land back in 1959.  That's half the size of our county.  That would be a nice piece of land to own.

Archaeology By Google Earth

A "kite" in Jordan used thousands of years ago to funnel
animals into the "head" where they would be killed.
Photo: David Kennedy

Sydney Morning Herald, via nc links:
After announcing in February that he had unearthed almost 2000 potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia from his armchair, Professor David Kennedy, from the University of Western Australia, has now uncovered thousands more prehistoric man-made stone structures across the entire Arabian peninsula, stretching from northern Syria to Yemen.
Aerial archaeology transformed our understanding of north-western Europe two or three generations ago but Professor Kennedy said "that opportunity was lost in the Middle East". It's only now, thanks to Google Earth, that the areas that were previously off-limits to archaeologists are being fully understood.
The picture of the Nazca Lines is pretty cool.  I love aerial photographs.  Google Earth is an awesome resource.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Egg Sucking Dog

My dog doesn't kill my chickens, but he will steal the eggs:

Also, pig thieves are on the loose around the Iowa-Minnesota border.

Who Holds U.S. Government Debt?

From the Big Picture:

Is Verlander The AL MVP?

Jayson Stark thinks so:
So howwwwww different would the Tigers be? Here's a look at just some of Verlander's MVP credentials:
• He has stopped 16 losing streaks. Yeah, 16. He's 16-3 after a Tigers loss, and that's just about unheard of on a team this good. Who is the last pitcher to stop 16 losing streaks on a first-place team? The Elias Sports Bureau reports that it's Sandy Koufax, who went 16-4 after a loss for the 1966 Dodgers.
• Since the end of April, Justin Verlander has gone 22-2. Yeah, 22-2 (with a 2.00 ERA). And one of the losses came in a 1-0 game. He's 13-1 against the rest of his division in that span (14-1 overall). And, in his past 26 starts, since May 2, his team has gone 23-3 when he started. The Tigers were five games under .500 when that stretch began. They're 24 over now. So it has been those 4½ months that essentially have been their season. And when you're running a pitcher this unbeatable out there, it's like starting that season 20 games over .500. Think it's some fluky coincidence that their longest losing streak since Memorial Day is two games?
I'd go along with that also.  He's been dominating.  The last starting pitcher to win the MVP was Roger Clemens in 1986.  Verlander's numbers match up with Clemens' numbers that year. Sometimes a starting pitcher is so dominating, and no position player stands out.  I think this is one of those years.

Faster Than The Speed Of Light?

Scientists at CERN, the famous Geneva-based physics lab, have just called into question one of the most hallowed equations in physics: E = MC2. Scientists, the AP explains, have clocked subatomic particles called neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. The BBC summarizes the magnitude of the finding, if true: "The speed of light is the Universe's ultimate speed limit, and the entirety of modern physics--as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his theory of relativity--depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it."
Interesting.  All that stuff is way over my head, but it is still fascinating.

Guinness Black Lager

I tried a Guinness Black Lager last night.  It was pretty good, but I'm not sure who the beer is targeting.  It is lighter than Guinness Stout, but most likely, very few people who don't already drink the Stout will try this.  Most of the people who don't drink the Stout are likely to try Harp, and typically like it alright.  I guess they might be able to get some Amber Bock and other dark beer drinkers to try it, but many of them will also drink Guinness.  Oh well, those guys know the beer market better than I.

A Coming Commodity Price Crash?

Randy Wray says yes, and soon:
Now, to be sure, the whole thing is going to blow up, in what Frank Veneroso calls a commodities nuclear winter. As prices rise, consumption of the commodities falls (as we are already observing) both through substitution and through conservation. At the same time, additional supplies come on line. Real world suppliers feel the imperative to slash prices to have some actual real world sales. They cannot forever live in never-never land with rising prices and collapsing sales.
There are many shoes that will drop, bringing back the Global Financial Crisis with a vengeance. Commodities crash, default by a Euro periphery nation, failure of a Euro bank, or the closure of Bank of America or Citi. All of these are likely events, less than one standard deviation from the mean; probably all of them will happen within the next year.
I don't think I'll guess when, but I agree, a crash will happen, and not in the distant future.  There's just too much money flying around out there, and the funds have to put it somewhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Warren Buffett's Dad Was A Wingnut

At the crazy Washington Examiner, via Ritholtz:
Warren Buffett may be a committed liberal Democrat, but his father, Howard Buffett, was a four-term Republican member of Congress (1943-49 and 51-53), a John Bircher who fought FDR and warned that the expansion of government was eroding individual liberty.
“Today’s situation is the result of an alarming and devious governmental intervention in the economic affairs of the nation for objectives not contemplated by the men who wrote the Constitution,” Buffett lamented in a lecture excerpted in the December 1956 issue of the libertarian journal The Freeman. “Historically, in America the producer was protected by government in the enjoyment of the fruits of his labors. That protection of his property explains the glorious material progress already recounted.”
In the lecture, Buffett went on to observe that, “The last 40 years have seen a gigantic expansion of political power over economic affairs by the federal government. This change is linked by many scholars to the passage of the income tax law in 1913.”
The comments are priceless.  Warren Buffett is evil and Buffett got rich by being a parasite, is pretty much the gist of it (Left unsaid is that rich Republicans earned their money). One of the commenters said Buffett was a trust fund kid who didn't appreciate the work it took to earn wealth.  I'm assuming that since the Koch brothers inherited much of their wealth, at least they appreciate the work it took to get it. I think Warren Buffett and his father are both like the rest of us.  We all are some mixture of good and bad.  I tend to put a little more trust in those of us who recognize some bit of luck in success, along with the work put in.  Likewise, recognizing that some folks can't win no matter how hard they try seems beneficial in my eyes.  Where I come from, humility and empathy are both admirable traits, while greed is bad.  Some people seem to think otherwise.  That's the challenge of politics, and what makes it interesting, despite the depressing nature of most of it.

Hoist With His Own Petard

Fortune magazine, from the same story which this chart originated:
In 2008 the railroads tried, unsuccessfully, to dismiss Neuwirth's suit, which is now awaiting a decision on whether the court will certify its class. This June, Oxbow, a coal producer with $4 billion in sales, hired super-lawyer David Boies to bring its own suit. Oxbow claims Union Pacific overcharged it $30 million in fuel surcharges and collaborated with BNSF to allocate markets. Union Pacific blasted the suit in a statement, calling it "a grab bag of accusations that mischaracterizes Union Pacific's actions and efforts to compete fiercely for rail transportation business."
Oxbow is helmed by billionaire Bill Koch, whose brothers Charles and David Koch are CEO and executive vice president, respectively, of Koch Industries. Bill Koch is notoriously litigious; he sued his brothers repeatedly after he was ousted from the family business. Like his Tea Party-supporting siblings, Bill Koch isn't a fan of big government -- but he's advocating that railroads be tamed by regulation. "They're in a position of virtually absolute power," he tells Fortune. "They're a bully to us. And if we don't stand up to a bully, we're going to be pushed all over the playground."
Wait a second, who always says lawyers are bad, lawsuits are bad, regulations limiting the free markets are bad?  The railroads tell Koch, "Build your own damn railroad."  But he runs to the government for help.  How about that?  I have to agree, the rates charged by railroads should be investigated (even though I am a shareholder in several), but I'm one of those damn soshulists who thinks the government must occasionally regulate business.  If there is justice in this world, Bill Koch will be robbed blind by businesses which aren't limited by government regulation.

Once You Hit Bottom...

there's only one way to go:
The 21 metropolitan areas of the Great Lakes region are among the most resilient areas coming out of the recession, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. Twelve of the region’s metropolitan areas were ranked among the top 40 metros in the U.S., determined by measurements of employment, unemployment, gross metropolitan product and housing prices.
The report, a quarter-by-quarter analysis by Jennifer Bradley and Richard Shearer, also ranks metro areas by how those rates have changed since the onset of the recession, tracking which places are recovering the fastest. In a bit of a surprise, metros with strong ties to auto production have been among the quickest to rebound. Between the second quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2011, job growth in manufacturing was at more than 5 percent in Akron, Grand Rapids, Madison, and Toledo. Detroit and Youngstown, the two postertowns of Rust Belt decline, saw manufacturing job growth rates of 10 and 19 percent, respectively.
Seriously, how hard is it to grow manufacturing 19% in one year after a 30 year, say, 70% decline.  If you started 1981 with 30,000 manufacturing jobs, you lost 21,000 jobs, then you gain back 1,710, is that anything to write home about?  As the story mentions later, Youngstown has gained back 30% of the manufacturing jobs it has lost since the recession started in 2007.  In other words, the town would have lost 5,700 jobs since 2007, but has gained back 1,710 of them.  Still down 3,990.  Don't even think about the job losses prior to 2007.  Manufacturing jobs were getting murdered for three decades, but hey, we have a manufacturing renaissance in the past year and a half, as 30% of the jobs lost in the last 3 years or so have been brought back.  Excuse me while I go party.  So if the GM plant in Lordstown laid off 2,800 workers in 2007, but called back 840 of them, that means things are improving (they are, but from a tremendously low point)?  I think people are journalism majors because they just don't understand math.  This article in no way makes the point as to how far this region has been crushed.  It features one throwaway line about the preceding decades being an economic nightmare, but with zero numbers.  Thanks.  Just say, things are slightly better than they were at the worst point in nearly 80 years.

The Irrationality Of Gold Bugs

Bloomberg, via The Big Picture:
Deep in the 7.4-acre Singapore FreePort next to Changi International Airport’s runways is the bullion vault of Swiss Precious Metals, behind seven-metric-ton steel doors built to survive a plane crash or earthquake.
The rooms are almost full after demand rose fivefold in the year since the Geneva-based company opened the facility. The firm plans an extension, and relocated Chief Executive Officer Jean-Francois Pages to Singapore last month to cope with the surge of investors willing to pay as much as 1 percent of the value of their holdings each year to keep them secure.
“The European debt crisis and its impact on the solvency of European financial players are driving European customers to find refuge in tangible values like physical gold and other precious metals,” Pages said. Demand “is totally compatible with the current financial and political global turmoil.”
Barclays Capital is building a new vault, The Brink’s Co. (BCO) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) may add more space, and the Perth Mint may expand for the first time since 2003, a sign they expect demand to keep increasing after the 11-year rally during which prices increased sevenfold. Investors in exchange-traded products backed by gold bought 2,236 tons of bullion since 2003, exceeding all except four countries’ official stockpiles.
What in the hell is the point of owning physical gold if you pay someone halfway around the world 1% of the value of your holdings to actually keep your gold for you?  So if the world goes to hell in a hand basket, how exactly are you going to retrieve your gold so you have a way to buy eggs and beer?  It's kind of like buying guns and ammo to prepare for the collapse of government, then storing them in Russia (as in former USSR, not snooty little village barely accessible from state highways in Ohio).  If all you are doing in buying the gold is speculating on price increases to eventually cash back into some currency, why not buy a futures contract?  At least then you gain on the price increase, but don't have to have a pile of gold to hide somewhere.  What a waste of capital.

An Exercise Poll?

I saw this banner ad on a blog today:

Considering my own personal aversion to jogging, I don't think I have much room to talk here, but yes, I do think the governor of New Jersey could probably use some cardiovascular exercise. 

Oh, wait, you mean run for president?  Then hell no, I've already got a major asshole as governor of Ohio, I don't think I need a president asshole too.

Honestly, when was the last time that so many candidates were running for the presidential nomination, and people who intend to vote for the party's winner still don't have a candidate they like.  Maybe the Republicans can establish a President of the Month setup, so they can rotate through presidents like they have front runners.  Then we only have to deal with each of them for a very short time, rather than one of them for 4 years.  It is a good thing that they have to decide on one candidate a couple of months before the election.  Otherwise, the person who announces the week before the election would win.

God's Invisible Hand

USA Today:
About one in five Americans combine a view of God as actively engaged in daily workings of the world with an economic conservative view that opposes government regulation and champions the free market as a matter of faith.
"They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work," says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas.....
It finds nearly three in four Americans (73%) say "I know God has a plan for me." Within this group:
•49% say "the government in Washington is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private businesses."
•79% say "able-bodied people who are out of work shouldn't receive unemployment checks if they are passing up jobs they can do."
•92% say "anything is possible for those who work hard."
I wonder how many of the believers would take a job in a fast-food restaurant and not take unemployment benefits if they were laid off from a $20 an hour job?  Less than 79%?  It is pretty easy to believe God has a plan for you when things are going well, but it might be a little harder to believe when they aren't going well.  A little empathy might go a long way for people.

People Will Vote For This Clown?

Rick Perry is a clown and a nut.  Can anybody give me an explanation why Israel is so important to Evangelican Christians without making a religious reference?  I would think that if the French treated the United States and our President like Benjamin Netanyahu's government does, these same people would be hyperventilating about how if it weren't for the United States, these guys (the French) would be speaking German.  Please point out to me all the times Israel has put the interests of the United States over their own interests.  All I can come up with is that they didn't jump in against Saddam Hussein when he fired Scud missiles at Israel.  Anything else?  It is called statecraft, and the United States ought to assert its own interests above the interests of Israel once in a while.

Monks Quitting Cattle Operation

All Things Considered reports on the Benedictine monks of Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota preparing to sell their Angus herd at auction this fall:
KENT: That's some of the 300 head of cattle the Benedictine monks have cared for since the monastery was built at the end of the 19th century. Brother Placid Gross has been the main cowboy wrangler for the black angus herd almost since he arrived here at the abbey in 1957.
PLACID GROSS: The monks came here, started the monastery here in 1899 and they have had a farm right from the beginning. It was a way of raising our own food. In the early days, everybody had beef cattle and dairy cattle, but now, in recent years, we are selling most of the cows. We still butcher our own, but we don't butcher very many, so it's the source of income for the abbey.
KENT: A source of income that's about to disappear as the monks prepare to sell their herd at auction, probably around Thanksgiving. Abbott Brian Wangler, who's in charge here, says it's strictly because there just aren't enough monk cowboys to manage the herd. Most monks here are older than 40 and fewer young men are entering religious orders these days.
BRIAN WANGLER: Well, it's people willing to do the work, knowing how to do the work and so it almost requires somebody who was raised on a farm. I mean, you can learn the work, but you really got to have an interest in it and we just don't have enough young people who are really interested in that kind of work.
KENT: Interested in the hard life of both caring for cattle and being a monk, which requires group prayer sessions four times a day. At 76, Brother Placid is finding the task of handling the substantial herd with one assistant just too taxing.
Wait, so there aren't many people who want to be both cowboy AND monk?  I'm not exactly surprised at that.  Don't get me wrong, for whatever reason I want to keep cattle around.  Also, it's not like a vow of chastity is a huge difference from my life without one, but the combination of the two?  In North Dakota?  I just can't imagine that people aren't beating down the doors of the monastery (tongue firmly in cheek).  It's a shame they have to sell out, and the best of luck to them, but I can't profess to be surprised.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Can't Crows Be Dumber?

BBC, via nc links:
Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, tested wild-caught crows' reactions to mirrors.
The crows did not recognise themselves but found cached food items by studying their reflections.
The results put the birds in an elite group of species - which includes primates and elephants - known to be able to process mirror information.
New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) are known for their intelligent and innovative use of tools, such as twigs, which they use to fish nutritious insects out of holes and crevices.
Mirror experiments with other members of the same family of birds, the corvids, have found that magpies recognise their reflections but jungle crows do not.
It makes me mad when crows sit in the yard when I am outside and unarmed, but take off as soon as I bring a gun outside.

How To Game Banking Oversight

The story of Jerome Kerviel, the major rogue trader at Societe Generale (via Ritholtz).  Also, a story of poor oversight by executives.  That somebody could fake trades so easily is amazing. 

Aging Infrastructure-Transmission Grid Edition

Scientific American, via Mark Thoma:
Experts say the cascading blackout that put millions of Westerners in the dark last week was no surprise: Major power outages have more than doubled in the last decade.
"This is just evidence that we need a smarter, better, more secure system," said Massoud Amin, director of the Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, who has analyzed federal data on the reliability of the nation's electric grid.
Blackouts disrupt power to at least a third of U.S. homes each year, and studies show the number of outages is rising.
The grid's shortcomings have been well-documented, but efforts to modernize it haven't kept up with demand. Many electrical transmission lines are outdated, and parts of the grid date back to the time of Thomas Edison.
Name any infrastructure system, and we need to spend a lot of money improving or replacing it.  This is just one more example.  The last 30 years will go down in history for a lot of failures, but failing to reinvest in our infrastructure system will be one of the biggest. 

The First Gasoline-Powered Car

September 20, 1893:
On September 20, 1893, the Duryea Brothers road-tested the first-ever, working American gasoline-powered automobile in a portion of Springfield, Massachusetts that is now located in the City of Chicopee, Massachusetts. The Duryea's "motor wagon" was a used horse drawn buggy that the brothers had purchased for $70 and into which they had installed a 4 HP, single cylinder gasoline engine. The car (buggy) had a friction transmission, spray carburetor and low tension ignition.  Frank Duryea test drove it again on November 10 -- this time in a prominent location: past their garage at 47 Taylor Street in Springfield. The next day it was reported by The Republican newspaper with great fanfare.
This particular car was put into storage in 1894 and stayed there until 1920, when it was rescued by Inglis M. Uppercu and presented to the United States National Museum.
Well, maybe not so fast:
John William Lambert of Ohio City made America's first gasoline powered automobile in 1891, according to a five year extensive study by L. Scott Bailey, a well-known automobile historian, editor, and publisher. The study found substantial evidence to enter this claim on Lambert's behalf. In 1891 Ohio City became the scene of the first automobile accident in the United States, when Lambert's car struck a tree stump in the road and bounced into a hitching rack.
For those who don't know, Ohio City is a few miles south of Van Wert, Ohio.  I won't weigh in on that fight.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Heads Up

Washington Post, via Yglesias:
The sky is not falling. A 12,500-pound NASA satellite the size of a school bus is, however.
It’s the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS — YOU-arz — and it’s currently tumbling in orbit and succumbing to Earth’s gravity. It will crash to the surface Friday.
Or maybe Thursday. Or Saturday.
Out-of-control crashing satellites don’t lend themselves to exact estimates even for the precision-minded folks at NASA. The uncertainty about the “when” makes the “where” all the trickier, because a small change in the timing of the reentry translates into thousands of miles of difference in the crash site.
As of the moment, NASA says the 35-foot-long satellite will crash somewhere between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude — a projected crash zone that covers most of the planet, and particularly the inhabited parts. In this hemisphere, that includes everyone living between northern Newfoundland and the frigid ocean beyond the last point of land in South America.
That's nice to know.  I'll bet it doesn't hit any of our farms.  Any takers?

The Triple Option Lives

Chuck Klosterman:
Last October, Maine Maritime Academy defeated Westfield State University, 42-21. That score was probably mentioned in a few newspapers, but that doesn't make it news; this was a Division III game between two members of the New England Football Conference, hosted by a town with a population of 1,300 and a community aesthetic matching Cujo. But there's one detail about this contest that made it unlike almost every other college football game from 2010: Maritime won by three touchdowns while passing for exactly 0 yards. They rushed for 435, but they passed for none (they threw the ball just five times, and the only one that didn't hit the ground was an interception). Even weirder, the Mariners managed to win without controlling the clock — Westfield had a greater time of possession. Yet as unorthodox and lopsided as those numbers seem, they were only slightly crazier than most of Maritime's 2010 schedule: The Mariners went 6-1 in their conference, scored more than 46 points a contest, and somehow averaged 16 passing yards a game. The week after beating Westfield, Maritime defeated Framingham State 50-26, again throwing for 0 yards. The week after that, they knocked off Massachusetts Maritime by a single point — and here, again, they won without a single passing yard. They went 5-0 in October with 63 total passing yards (not 63 per game, but 63 for October). Half their team stats seem like misprints; last season, the Mariners' starting quarterback appeared in 11 games and completed a total of 17 passes. But this is how the Mariners want it. This is the design. This is the most reactionary offense in America.
These guys are running a variation of a wing-T style offense.  I love ground-based offenses, so long as they work.  It also sets up the big passing play every once in a while.  There are quite a few high school teams in the area who still barely pass, but several are wing-T offenses, so they aren't just straight up grind-it-out, there's a bunch of misdirection.  Option football is fun to watch, but if you run into a defense with a lot of speed, they can shut it down.

Squatters, Our Illegal Pioneers

Timothy Lee:
But with an undocumented population in the millions, mass evictions are no more realistic today than they were in 1811. So should we follow our ancestors’ example and offer a path to legalization? Critics charge that this would reward their lawbreaking and undermine America’s values. But this gets things precisely backwards. America has always attracted ambitious people who hate being told what to do. The Pilgrims preferred to risk their lives taming a new continent than obey the Church of England. Our founders illegally dumped other peoples’ tea in Boston Harbor. When Congress banned alcohol in 1919, millions of Americans ignored the law and kept drinking. Every year, many of us celebrate our nation’s independence by lighting illegal fireworks.
Obviously, immigrants who commit violent crimes should be prosecuted and deported. But those who used fake paperwork to get jobs picking our strawberries, caring for our children, or doing award-winning journalism are no more a threat to public order than our pioneer ancestors were.
Recognition of squatters’ property claims allowed them to become full, productive members of society. Formal property titles let them borrow money and improve their farms, accelerating economic growth in the young republic.
Providing today’s undocumented immigrants with a path to legitimacy would have similar benefits.
I think that people opposed to illegal immigration should explain why we can only allow a set number of legal immigrants into the country.  Give out more papers, and there will be fewer illegal immigrants.  From what I've seen, immigrants, legal and illegal, work harder and do more good things for our communities than most native citizens.

The European Beer Recession

Jack Ewing at Economix:
Declining beer consumption may be contributing to the European debt crisis — at least according to a study commissioned by those who brew it.
The conclusion is not as preposterous as it might sound. Europeans are saving money by drinking at home rather than in pubs, which is costing jobs in the hospitality industry and depressing tax revenue, according to the study by Ernst & Young, which was paid for by the Brewers of Europe, an industry group.
The shift to home consumption has a disproportionate effect on unemployment, because 73 percent of jobs associated with the European beer industry are outside breweries. They are found instead in bars, hotels and restaurants.
‘‘Obviously, the crisis has had an effect,’’ said Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, secretary general of the Brewers of Europe.
Beer consumption in Europe fell 8 percent from 2008 to 2010, the period covered by the study. But employment in the beer industry fell by 12 percent, or 260,000 jobs, the study said. That compares with a 2 percent decline in employment for Europe as a whole.
Come on Europeans, drink more beer.  I've been doing my part here, but with the deflation in prices at local bars, I just can't drink more on a dollar basis.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

West Coast Longshoremen Find An Ally

LA Times:
The union representing West Coast dockworkers has formed an alliance with pilots who guide ships through the Panama Canal, a link-up that could boost the bargaining power of both unions.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents workers in the U.S. and Canada, including 50,000 longshore and other workers on the West Coast. The union has been concerned about the potential loss of cargo, jobs and collective bargaining power that could occur when the Panama Canal expansion opens in 2014.

The affiliation between the two unions strengthens labor's hand because the two organizations would honor each other's job actions, the unions said.

Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor specializing in labor issues, described the alliance as "a 'wow' moment" that could greatly increase the collective bargaining power of both unions.
Interesting.  With the recent dispute at Longview, Washington, it looks like the ILWU is preparing for battle.

Egg Kingpins Locked In Court Battles

Des Moines Register:
In one lawsuit, former Iowan Glessner alleges that the DeCoster family has mismanaged its Iowa egg production facilities and deprived Glessner of more than $40 million. Glessner claims that since the egg recalls, DeCoster’s companies have defaulted on bank loans, been “blackballed” by food vendors and been barred from bidding on contracts with major retailers.
At the same time, DeCoster’s Ohio Fresh Egg company is suing Glessner, accusing him of looting the company before he was fired this summer. According to Ohio Fresh Eggs, Glessner collected $900,000 in “consulting fees” from the company, billed it for a luxury apartment and $272,000 in personal expenses, and funneled half a million dollars into an Arizona pizzeria in which he has an interest.
The two are also fighting over control of a Hardin County egg production facility that Glessner once managed before turning it over to DeCoster in 1999.
In court papers, both Glessner and DeCoster deny any wrongdoing.
Ohio Fresh Eggs is the former Buckeye Egg Farm, which had tremendous battles with the state over pollution.  I think each of these guys is finding out he can't trust somebody similar to himself.

NASA Photo of the Day

September 16:

September's Harvest Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: Stefano De Rosa
Explanation: A Full Moon rising can be a dramatic celestial sight, and Full Moons can have many names. For example, Monday's Full Moon was the one nearest this year's autumnal equinox for the northern hemisphere, traditionally called the Harvest Moon. According to lore the name is a fitting one because farmers could work late into the night at the end of the growing season harvesting crops by moonlight. This serene telephoto image captures this September's harvest moonrise from Turin, Italy. In silhouette against an orange lunar disk is Turin's hilltop Basilica of Superga.

Mayweather-Ortiz Follow-Up

Floyd Mayweather Jr. won easily, if controversially, with a knockout at the end of the fourth round.  Maybe more interestingly, Mayweather, in promoting his own fight, stands to make approximately $40 million on the fight.  Now boxing fans will wait to see if the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight will get lined up after Pacquiao's fight on November 12 versus Juan Manuel Marquez (their third fight).

Division III Football Roundup

The big school stage was better this week, with Notre Dame winning and Ohio State losing.  On the small school side:

No. 2 Mount Union blasted John Carroll, 58-7
No. 4 St. Thomas beat St. Olaf, 49-14
No. 5 Bethel beat Carleton, 27-9
No. 9 Thomas More won against Geneva, 41-6
No. 12 Ohio Northern won in overtime versus Otterbein 34-33
St. John's won at Concordia (Moorhead), 28-21 in OT
Mount St. Joseph won at Anderson, 35-12

and Augsburg beat Hamline 28-20 to win The Hammer.

Partial view of the Hammer in 2010

Ireland Church Sex Scandal Fallout

NYT, via nc links:
Even as it remains preoccupied with its struggling economy, Ireland is in the midst of a profound transformation, as rapid as it is revolutionary: it is recalibrating its relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that has permeated almost every aspect of life here for generations. This is still a country where abortion is against the law, where divorce became legal only in 1995, where the church runs more than 90 percent of the primary schools and where 87 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic. But the awe, respect and fear the Vatican once commanded have given way to something new — rage, disgust and defiance — after a long series of horrific revelations about decades of abuse of children entrusted to the church’s care by a reverential populace.
While similar disclosures have tarnished the Vatican’s image in other countries, perhaps nowhere have they shaken a whole society so thoroughly or so intensely as in Ireland. And so when the normally mild-mannered prime minister, Enda Kenny, unexpectedly took the floor in Parliament this summer to criticize the church, he was giving voice not just to his own pent-up feelings, but to those of a nation.
The Church's handling of sex abuse cases in the last 60 years has been horrific, but their handling of public relations as the evidence comes to light has been even worse.  They seem to believe that laws don't apply to them, and that people should grant them forgiveness.  It has been painful to watch, and as the bishops become more active in politics as well, they alienate more and more people.  There are a number of reasons that "lapsed Catholics" outnumber all other religious denominations other than Catholics, but the handling of child sex abuse cases is a big one.  Ireland is seeing the same impact.