Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Mountain

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

New Apple Varieties Trademarked, Patented and Licensed

On All Things Considered, Melissa Block interviews John Seabrook about his latest article in The New Yorker:
BLOCK: Okay. Now, apart from the qualities that make this apple remarkable, your story is also a business story because Sweet Tango has a trademark. It's what's called a managed apple. Why don't you explain what that means?
SEABROOK: Well, as most people who shop for apples have probably observed, in the last 10 years or so, a lot of new varieties have come into the supermarkets with names like Pink Lady, Gala, Jazz.
Sweet Tango is kind of the next of those modern apples that are all trademarked. They also all are patented, of course. Growers have to pay the university, in this case, for a license to grow the tree and they're trademarked, so they also have to pay a royalty on the number of apples that they sell.
BLOCK: I'd never thought about the business of apples in quite this way. The university here is the University of Minnesota, which has a very active apple breeding program, and they have set up a consortium, right, to market and...
SEABROOK: Right. So the deal is that the Honey Crisp apple was released in an open release and that meant that anybody who wanted to could grow it, anywhere they wanted to grow it, in any way they wanted to grow it. And that meant that the quality of the Honey Crisp varied widely.
So with the new apple, with the Sweet Tango, the university decided they were going to manage the release and that meant that, in order to grow the apple, you have to be granted the right to grow it by this consortium. And if they don't like where you're growing it or who you are or what your track record is, they won't give you that license.
Also, it means that you can't sell your apples to a supermarket. You have to sell them to the consortium and they do the marketing. Overall, it's an attempt to control the quality of the apple and ensure the long term longevity of the brands.
What a strange new world we live in.  Animal and plant patents are going to be troublesome issues in the near future, I believe.

The Return Of DC Power Transmission

NYT:
Thomas Edison and his direct current, or DC, technology lost the so-called War of the Currents to alternating current, or AC, in the 1890s after it became clear that AC was far more efficient at transmitting electricity over long distances.
Today, AC is still the standard for the electricity that comes out of our wall sockets. But DC is staging a roaring comeback in pockets of the electrical grid.
Alstom, ABB, Siemens and other conglomerates are erecting high-voltage DC grids to carry gigawatts of electricity from wind farms in remote places like western China and the North Sea to faraway cities. Companies like SAP and Facebook that operate huge data centers are using more DC to reduce waste heat. Panasonic is even talking about building eco-friendly homes that use direct current.
It's interesting that DC transmission is making a comeback.  The reason, efficiency:
The revival of DC for long-distance power transmission began in 1954 when the Swedish company ASEA, a predecessor of ABB, the Swiss maker of power and automation equipment, linked the island of Gotland to mainland Sweden with high-voltage DC lines.
Now, more than 145 projects using high-voltage DC, known as HVDC, are under way worldwide.
While HVDC equipment remains expensive, it becomes economical for high-voltage, high-capacity runs over long distances, said Anders Sjoelin, president of power systems for North America at ABB.
Over a distance of a thousand miles, an HVDC line carrying thousands of megawatts might lose 6 to 8 percent of its power, ABB said. A similar AC line might lose 12 to 25 percent.
Direct-current transmission is also better suited to handle the electricity produced by solar and wind farms, which starts out as direct current.
Efficiency is going to be the main driver of innovation in power transmission in the next couple of decades.  People aren't going to use any less power, so we'll have to eliminate some of the waste.

DeCoster Sets Up Exit of Egg Business

Des Moines Register:
Austin “Jack” DeCoster is leasing out farms he owns in Maine as well as those in Iowa, the ones responsible for the outbreak and nationwide egg recall last year, said a lawyer for the family, Jan Kramer. DeCoster’s son, Peter, who managed the Iowa farms, is no longer involved in the businesses either, she said.
She cited the move as a family “business decision.” She denied that federal regulators had anything to do with the decision but acknowledged that the aftermath of the recall and outbreak had left the DeCosters with a limited market for their eggs. Some large retailers, including Walmart, refused to buy eggs from DeCoster-linked companies.
The DeCoster operations are now being run by Centrum Valley Farms, said Steve Boomsma, a part-owner of the business and its chief operating officer.
DeCoster remains invested in Ohio Fresh Eggs, the former Buckeye Egg Farms, but has apparently worked out a deal to exit those operations also:
Two Iowa farm families, the Deans and the Hennings, have entered into an agreement to lease and manage the Ohio Fresh Eggs facilities in Licking, Hardin and Wyandot counties.
The new operators have a nine-year lease with an option to buy the state's largest egg farm operation from 76-year-old Jack DeCoster, who is classified as a habitual violator by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for chronic environmental problems in the 1990s.
I doubt that he'll be missed.

Breeding Our Thanksgiving Meal

Almost certainly by artificial insemination:
Dubner: My family, the same. Now some people would say that's just because you want to increase the surface area for gravy. But whatever the case, Americans love their white meat. And this goes back to the 1950s, when traditional turkeys got pushed out by a breed called the broad-breasted white, which grows bigger and faster than the traditional bird. And that broad-breasted white has been selectively bred to have the largest breasts possible.
There's just one problem with this and I'm going to let Julie Long from the USDA explain it to you.
Julie Long: The modern turkey has quite large turkey breasts, and it actually physically gets in the way when the male and the female try to create offspring.
Ryssdal: Create offspring. Come on, really? Did she just say that? So it gets in the way, I guess.
Dubner: On your air.
Ryssdal: Yeah, I know right? And my mother's listening, too. So they can't, you know, do it?
Dubner: That's exactly right. It's tragic, isn't it, if you think about it? And as a result, the turkey industry is built around artificial insemination, which is a very labor-intensive and hands-on process. Here's the way it works: A team of workers has to pick up each male breeder, the tom, which might weigh as much as 70 pounds, secure his contribution -- as they call it in the trade -- and then bring that to the hen house to inseminate each hen. And then keep in mind -- with such an intense consumer demand for turkey -- this is not a once-a-year event. Here's Julie Long again from the USDA.
Long: So that means once a week, five to six months, you have to go work with the males and then go work with the females in order to produce the meat that goes out for the consumer.
As for collection, this video makes me think that working with cattle would be a worse job:

Gettysburg Address

November 19, 1863:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Buddy Roemer For President?

Like the rest of the nation, I hadn't really given Buddy Roemer much consideration for in his "run" for President.  But based on Rod Dreher's post, I took a look at Conor Friedersdorf's interview with Mr. Roemer.  Here's a sample:
In five years I've built a bank that is two-thirds or three-quarters of a billion dollars in size. Very profitable. Clean. Didn't foreclose on a single mortgage. Didn't put a single small business under, I'm really proud of that, of the way we honored a long tradition of banking. But I watched banking reform. And I guess that was the straw that broke my reluctant back. I watched banking reform where too big to fail did not disappear. Where Glass-Steagall was not reintroduced. I had gone to Washington in 1998 and 1999 to testify against the elimination of the Franklin Roosevelt Glass-Steagall bill that separated investment banks from banks. I thought they would become too big. Too greedy. Too risk-taking. And I said in 1999 that it will lead to an economic collapse.

I was laughed at.

Then I saw bank reform after the collapse didn't contain Glass-Steagall. It didn't eliminate too big to fail. It didn't increase capital ratios for banks. And then within a month of signing the bill President Obama went to Wall Street, had a fundraiser at $35,800 a ticket sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Well you know, I'm not a Rhodes Scholar. I'm not a rocket scientist. I'm a proud and practical man.

But I call it corruption.
What is most refreshing about Roemer's interview is that he doesn't make this an Obama is the worst person in the world case, like the other Republicans.  He points out that most of the corruption he personally knows about is in the Republican Party.  Buddy Roemer is making some very important points, and this conversation needs to be brought to the fore.  He may have no shot at winning the Presidency, but his view of bipartisan corruption, and his Republican standing, arguing in favor of Glass-Steagall, and financial regulation in general, is significant.  The other Republicans are arguing against Dodd-Frank, not because they want better regulations, which are necessary, but because they want little or no regulation, which would be even more disastrous than what we have been through already.  We need to eliminate the shadow banking system, and bring all financial transactions under some regulation.  Instead, we get a worse system than we had.  We need to have a national conversation about the financial system and governmental corruption, and we need to start it now.

The Brice-Cowell Musket

In another trophy game today, Maine will play New Hampshire for the Brice-Cowell Musket:

Photo: Univ. of Maine

Potential Eurozone Outcomes

From Macrobusiness, via nc links:

I think The Prince is right on his analysis that the probabilities are misfigured.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't Drink The Kool-Aid

November 18, 1978:

 In Jonestown, Guyana, Jim Jones led his Peoples Temple cult to a mass murder-suicide that claimed 918 lives in all, 909 of them in Jonestown itself, including over 270 children. Congressman Leo J. Ryan is murdered by members of the Peoples Temple hours earlier.

Correction: Flavor-Aid.

The Play

In honor of the Cal-Stanford game, the 5 lateral kickoff return allowing Cal to beat Stanford, in 1982:

Now Gingrich?

The Anti-Mitt crowd latches on to Newt Gingrich now:


Talk about fickle.  Whatever happened to that GOP loyalty?  Who's next, Santorum?

Division III Playoffs First Round

The Division III playoffs first round is Saturday, with matchups including St. Scholastica vs. #3 St. Thomas and Benedictine vs. #2 Mount Union.  The game featuring the highest ranked matchup is #5 Linfield vs. #8 Pacific Lutheran.  The entire Division III schedule is here.

College Football Rivalry Trophies-November 19 Edition

Notre Dame plays Boston College in the Vatican Bowl for the Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl and the Ireland Trophy:
Ireland Trophy
Photo:Subway Domer

Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl
photo: SportsFullCircle
  
Clemson and NC State play for the Textile Bowl Trophy:

photo:Dave From Carter-Finley
Arizona and Arizona State play for the Territorial Cup:



Cal and Stanford play in The Big Game for the Stanford Axe:


Hawaii and Fresno State play for the Golden Screwdriver:


Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State play for the largest rivalry trophy, Chief Caddo:




And finally, Indiana and Michigan State play for the Old Brass Spittoon:


There are other trophies in play tomorrow, but I'm worn out.

Diocese Of Orange Buys Crystal Cathedral

LA Times:
Among the questions is what will happen to the Crystal Cathedral ministry now led by Schuller's daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman. The church has been in a downward slide for years, culminating in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in October 2010, when it cited more than $50 million in debt.

The ensuing months saw a lot of on-again, off-again plans by which the church would sell to a real estate developer, the Catholic Church or Chapman, or dig itself out with a "miracle" fundraising campaign. The campaign raised only $173,000 by the end of September.

It didn't help that the Schullers appeared tone deaf at times to their own lives of apparent privilege, as when the church recently asked for food donations for Schuller's ailing wife — and said the items would be delivered to her in a limousine.
WTF?  Deliver food donations to Robert Schuller's wife in a limousine?  That takes some serious cluelessness.

Chart of the Day

Yglesias:

In engineering, I was one of the 58% in the top chart, but also one of the 25% in the bottom chart.  I was probably lucky to study 20 hours a month.  Hey, they need students in all parts of the Bell Curve.

Bach At Thanksgiving

After posting an ad featuring Bach played on a giant xylophone set up in the forest, I heard Miles Hoffman describe why he would invite J.S. to his Thanksgiving Dinner:
Bach would be No 1. There's only one authenticated portrait of Bach, and that's one where he's in a powdered wig and looks very dour. Yet he fathered 20 children; he got into a sword fight — a very temperamental guy. And we know from letters that he drank a lot of beer, so I think that probably he was pretty jolly, actually. So I'd just like to find out what he was really like.

Ideally, I would put Mendelssohn next to Bach. It would give Bach a chance to thank Mendelssohn, who was born almost 60 years after Bach died, because Mendelssohn was a big Bach fan and was almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of interest in Bach's music, especially Bach's great choral works. And I'm sure Bach would be interested to hear some of Mendelssohn's music too. Mendelssohn was, without question, the greatest child-prodigy composer ever. He was also generally brilliant, extremely well-read, and by all accounts just an incredibly nice guy. Plus, he spoke English

That sounds fun. 20 kids, a sword fight and lots of beer. Sounds even more entertaining than anybody at our family Thanksgiving.  And I won't even discuss some of the conversations at our dinner table.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chart of the Day

From Rolling Stone:


That 15% tax rate on dividends and capital gains really helps these 400 people out.  The Republican deficit strategy of "tax reform," cutting deductions and lowering rates, will also benefit these folks.  How about creating a couple of new brackets with higher marginal rates, and taxing dividends and capital gains as regular income?  They won't do it, but I would.

Update: Click through, the whole article is worth the read.

When They Wanted To Win

I went to a local museum to take in a display on professional football in Ohio.  One of the displays included a 1963 copy of Street & Smith's Football featuring a local star on the cover.  I loved the question above the picture:


The SEC decided to integrate when they got tired of being whipped.  Imagine how good the SEC would have been in the '60s if they decided to integrate at the end of World War II.  Michigan vs. Ohio State wouldn't have meant so much.  Now the Big Ten can't survive on the same field as the SEC.

Update:  I probably should amend that to wanted to get respect.  They often won, they just wouldn't play against teams that weren't lily-white.

Where's The Money?

NYT on MF Global, via nc links:
So far, the trustee has transferred the holdings of about 15,000 MF Global customers to new brokers, along with some of the collateral backing their trades. On Tuesday, Mr. Giddens said he was seeking approval to return 60 percent of the money sitting in separate cash accounts, a move the Commodity Futures Trading Commission supports. A New York bankruptcy court judge is to hear the request Thursday morning.
But many customers are still in the dark about their money. Since the firm’s collapse, customers like farmers and small-business owners are struggling to meet their financial obligations.
“The inability of MF Global customers as a whole to access their funds has affected trading in futures markets, and has shaken public confidence in our customer protection regime,” Scott D. O’Malia, a Republican member of the futures commission, said in a statement on Wednesday. “To assure the public that MF Global is an isolated incident, the commission should immediately take action.” He said the agency should enact new transparency measures and keep a closer eye on futures firms.
Did they really shovel it out the door to hold off creditors?  Jon Corzine is so screwed if when they don't find this money.

Why The 1% Need To Worry About The 99%

Bloomberg Businessweek (h/t Ritholtz):
As rich and poor drift apart, the constituency that favors redistributive tax and spending policies grows. “The guys who are falling behind don’t see much hope of getting ahead and therefore are more focused on redistribution,” says Rajan. Ultimately, unbridled inequality threatens social stability as rich and poor nurse their mirror-image resentments.
This is what the Republicans need to remember.  If they don't want confiscatory tax rates, they need to raise taxes on the wealthy some.  Otherwise, the call for steeper and steeper taxes will grow, while the Republicans' political support wanes, and taxes will skyrocket.  They need to think of it as relieving the tension on an earthquake fault, which is much better than if the stress builds up until the Big One.

Modern Robber Barons

Via Mark Thoma, Jeff Madrick:
One other major point requires some attention. This runaway at the top is different from other periods of great inequality, like the late 1800s. Back then, the Robber Barons may have kept money due to monopoly advantages and their power over workers. All the while they were adding to GDP by building oil and steel giants, railroads, and mass production companies from chewing gum to cars.
Today’s people at the top exploit workers in somewhat different ways. There is constant pressure to keep wages down by CEOs in order to push up stock prices. This is the modern-day Robber Baron equivalent. Corporate takeover and leveraged buyouts have had the same effect: they build up cash flow by cutting expenses in order to pay off the debt they took on for their huge acquisitions. This is how Wall Street helps creates a culture in which it is considered okay for a company to fire workers while giving its CEO a giant raise.
But much else of what happens on Wall Street has nothing to do with the real economy, except to waste hundreds of billions of misdirected savings that are plowed back into useless speculation and casino-like gambling by the very rich on trades among themselves. As we have seen, it was this kind of reckless trading that fueled the credit crisis and the collapse of investment houses like Lehman in 2008. The way to deal with this is more serious regulation, including restrictions on the amount of leverage buyout artists and privatizers are allowed to take on. And since we are talking about outrageously high incomes at the very top, higher taxes on the highest earners also make very good sense because much of that income was not reflecting real contributions to the economy—in fact, it was arguably doing just the opposite.
You can't overemphasize that the shell games on Wall Street are really hidden fees on other people's money and investments, and not anything beneficial for society, such as investments in plant and equipment.  These guys aren't job creators, they are leeches.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Sweet Ad

Hat tip Anne Laurie:

Harvey's Wallbangers

Chad Harbach reflects on baseball in Milwaukee:
The mustachioed, beer-bellied shadow of 1982 hangs over everything to do with Milwaukee baseball — not just this season, but especially this season. Those Brewers are fondly remembered by fans in many places, and might be the most famous post-expansion team not to win a title. This year, on the night of Game 5, I found myself committed to a dinner in Nashville, unable to watch the game. When I asked my Tennessean tablemates if anyone had a smartphone on which to check the score, they instantly, and for no other reason than the joy of reciting the names, rattled off the lineup of the '82 Brewers — Yount, Molitor, Cooper, Thomas, Oglivie, Gantner, Simmons, Vuckovich, Fingers. Throw in the handful of guys they forgot, like Moose Haas and Charlie Moore, and you have one of baseball's iconic teams, a supremely charismatic group that won back-to-back MVPs, back-to-back Cy Youngs, a home run title, and a pennant, but no World Series, and which faded to oblivion by the end of the following year. There are reasons for their popularity. Those Brewers were, or at least resembled, a perfect manifestation of their place and time — beer-drinking, bike-riding guys in the city of Miller and Harley-Davidson. At the dawn of Reaganomics, amid the rise of the bond trader and a new corporate ethos, they found themselves already, accidentally, a crazily coiffed throwback to the supposedly freewheeling '70s.
I only remember that team through the baseball cards.  It is at the early edge of my memory, with the baseball strike hanging over everything.  Also, it doesn't help that the 1982 Reds were absolutely terrible.

ACRE Program Boondoggle?

Michael Roberts wonders whether farmers will go into the ACRE program after price averages come up:
But I'm wondering whether the ACRE program could be a big issue going forward.  Its intent was to provide insurance against a broad decline in revenue per acre (price multiplied by yield).  It achieves this by giving farmers a payment based on state-level revenues falling below 90% of a five-year average.  This old Q&A by Bruce Babcock and Chad Hart explains some of the finer details.

The ACRE program, established in 2008, has had relatively modest participation so far.  The low participation rates likely follow from the fact that the five-year historical average price is really low relative to what farmers now expect going forward.  As time goes on, and recent higher prices get folded into the 5-year baseline guarantee, we should expect to see participation rates increase.

And then, if prices then start to decline, we could have a huge problem on our hands, with huge excess production and subsidy payments.  In an environment with declining prices, the ACRE program could be hugely distortionary, which could provoke action by the WTO.

I don't presently have a strong expectation that prices will decline much going forward.  But it's definitely possible.
That possibility wouldn't surprise me.  We haven't signed up for the ACRE program because it is so complicated sounding.  Maybe we'll have to, though.

Oil Boom Hurts Elderly In North Dakota

HuffPo (via nc links):
Thanks to new drilling techniques that make it possible to tap once-unreachable caches of crude, a region that used to have plenty of elbow room is now swarming with armies of workers. Nodding pumps dot the wide, mostly barren landscape.
But because it has limited housing, the area is ill-prepared to handle the influx of people. The result is that some rents have risen to the level of some of the nation's largest cities, with modest two-bedroom apartments commonly going for as much as $2,000.
The skyrocketing cost of living is all the talk at the senior center in downtown Williston.
"Grandma can't go to work in the oil fields and make a 150 grand a year," said A.J. Mock, director of the Williston Council for the Aging. Many of the seniors who are moving out "have lived here their entire lives and wanted to live here until they die."
The article says a mobile home is listed for sale at $149,500.  There is something insane about the oil economy.  The boom/bust cycle, combined with a rush to produce as much as possible, seems ridiculously inefficient to me.

The Rotten Swamp

Via Ritholtz, Brett Arends vents at insider trading corruption on Capitol Hill, which was highlighted on 60 Minutes Sunday:

Meanwhile, it turns out many of the people on Capitol Hill are just “oiling the wheel” without any compunction at all.
Sweetheart deals. Insider trading. Loading up in IPOs. It defies belief that Nancy Pelosi and her husband can own a ton of Visa stock while she is legislating on credit cards. I can’t own Visa stock while I am writing about credit cards. What is wrong with our country?
They used to joke that politics was “showbusiness for ugly people.” Turns out it’s also the hedge-fund business for stupid people. Corrupt, greedy and immoral to a degree it’s hard to imagine.
And here we are, you and I, just working for a living. What are we? A nation of suckers, that’s what.
As the story pointed out, most Congresspeople leave office with much more money than when they came to Capitol Hill.  Unfortunately, if you are shorting stocks after getting briefings on the financial crisis behind closed doors from the Federal Reserve Board, as Spencer Baucus apparently was, it's pretty easy to make a lot of money.

Chart of the Day

Via Ezra Klein, CBO shows various stimulus ideas' impacts:

Look at that, the worst idea on there is reducing taxes on repatriated foreign income.  Whodathunkit?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Robotic Farm Labor?

Wired says maybe (h/t Ritholtz):
Massachusetts startup Harvest Automation is beta testing a small mobile robot that it’s pitching to nurseries as the solution to their most pressing problem: a volatile labor market.
The multi-billion-dollar industry that supplies ornamental plants to building contractors, big-box retailers and landscaping firms — $11.7 billion according to the most recent USDA figures — has been eagerly awaiting automation for decades. The down economy and harsh state laws targeting undocumented workers have turned up the pressure.
The horticulture industry has caught the attention of several robotics industry veterans, including Joe Jones, a co-inventor of iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaning robot. What they see is an opportunity to develop a small, relatively inexpensive, mobile material handling robot. Their venture-backed company has been field testing the robots at 11 nurseries around the country, and plans to release its first product at the end of the first quarter or beginning of the second quarter next year.
Watch out, they're coming for you and me.

Farmland Is Getting Frothy

Chicago Fed (h/t Calculated Risk):
With a 25 percent increase from a year ago for the third quarter of 2011, District farmland values exhibited their largest rise since 1977. Iowa’s agricultural land values led the District with a year-over-year increase of 31 percent for the third quarter of 2011 (see map and table below).  The District’s farmland values surged 7 percent from the second quarter to the third quarter of 2011, matching the highest previous quarterly gain since 1977.

Revisions were performed recently that affect the changes in District and state agricultural land values back to the fourth quarter of 1993 (for details, contact the author).  Once these revisions have been taken into account, the gains in farmland values were larger than previously reported in the AgLetter. In 2007, the index of inflation-adjusted farmland values for the District passed the previous peak of 1979 (see chart 1). Since District farmland values hit bottom in 1986, the compound annual growth rate for farmland values has been 5 percent (adjusted for inflation). The revised path for District farmland values more closely matches one based on farm real estate values (each year as of January 1) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which uses an acre-weighted average for the five District states.
Once you start talking about the late seventies, there is a problem out there.  From 1979 to 1986 was pretty painful in the Midwest, and I don't want to see it repeated.  I can remember when Iowa came out with their America Needs Farmers stickers on their helmets.

Reds Move Opening Day

CBS:
A potential thorny issue in Cincinnati has been avoided, with baseball moving the Reds' Opening Day to Thursday, April 5.

The Reds and Marlins will officially open the season at Great American Ball Park at 4:10 p.m. on Thursday. Opening Day was originally scheduled for Friday April 6, but that conflicted with Good Friday which is a significant holiday in Cincinnati.

“We want to thank Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and the Reds and Marlins players for agreeing to move Opening Day to Thursday, April 5,” Reds president Bob Castellini said. “Opening Day is a long-standing tradition for this team, our fans and the city of Cincinnati and we are pleased that the parade and game will now be on Thursday.”

The Reds intend to hold their traditional parade prior to the game, and it will be a special one. This upcoming season is the first time that the Reds' Opening Day will be considered a ceremonial holiday in Cincinnati. However, this year's Opening Day is in name only, as it won't kick off the baseball season. The Mariners and Athletics will open the season earlier in the week in Tokyo, Japan.
It's good they moved it off of Good Friday, that way Reds fans can get drunk on Holy Thursday instead.

The Fallout From Pacquiao-Marquez

Rafe Bartholomew looks at what happened to Brand Pacquiao after Satruday night's fight:
Pacquiao, on the other hand, underwent a change I never thought I'd see. He began the fight as boxing's favorite son and ended it as the night's villain. Of course, he did nothing villainous over the course of the bout. He fought hard, didn't have a great night, and got the decision, as popular champions often do. But after the decision, after the lusty boos from thousands of disgusted fans muted his postfight interview with Max Kellerman, after MGM security personnel had to hustle him out of the arena while fans lined the aisles to scream, "You suck!" and shower him with popcorn, it was hard to see Pacquiao as the charming philanthropist congressman with thunder in his fists and Peter Cetera music in his heart.
He was no longer the people's champ, but rather Pacquiao, Inc., selling a stunning array of junk: from MP8 cologne and Pacquiao hand sanitizer to the endlessly ridiculed Pacquiao Produce vegetables and his personal line of bogus power-balance bracelets. By buying a bracelet, according to some casino signage, you could "Help Manny Knock Out Poverty!" Pacquiao, Inc. is big business, and after the decision, it was hard to banish the thought that he was simply too valuable to Top Rank and Bob Arum and Las Vegas and the sport of boxing to allow him to lose. Who cares if it felt and smelled a little dirty? We've got cologne and hand sanitizer for that!
It's unfair to blame Pacquiao for winning the decision. The judges chose to give him a close fight. Pacquiao can only do his job, which is to train hard, go into the ring, and try to win. But as the face of boxing, he's going get smudged when fans start feeling like the sport's powers are trying to pull a fast one.
Still, it's unlikely that the public can stay mad at Pacquiao for long. His public personality is too winning and too gracious and he's too talented and exciting of a boxer (even if he didn't look so hot against Marquez) to remain on people's bad sides. Besides, boxing will need him to play hero again if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather can strike a deal to fight next year. There's no bigger bad guy in sports than Mayweather, and Pacquiao will come into a potential fight with him as a heavy underdog thanks to his underwhelming performance against Marquez.
Maybe this will cause Pacquiao to make sure the Mayweather fight happens.  No more contract squabbles.  One thing is for certain, boxing needed nothing else to taint one of its big draws.

Around The World

Via the Dish:


Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Big Bets In Vegas

Fortune maps a number of stalled projects in Sin City:


1. Sahara $0.3 billion: What Sam Nazarian and Stockbridge Real Estate paid in 2007 for the Sahara, the last of the Rat Pack-era casinos. The building is still empty, but the company says it plans to renovate.
2. The Fontainebleau $2.9 billion: The original projected cost of the casino. Investor Carl Icahn snatched up the 70%-completed project -- the tallest structure in Vegas -- in 2010 for $150 million and is selling off its unused furnishings.
3. Echelon $4.8 billion: The price tag when Boyd Gaming (BYD) broke ground on this multipurpose hotel and casino in 2007. Construction has been suspended temporarily.
4. Las Vegas Plaza $5.0 billion: The projected cost of developing the Las Vegas Plaza. The Israeli El-Ad Group purchased the site for $1.2 billion in 2007. The project is still in the planning stages.
5. St. Regis Residences at the Venetian Palazzo $0.6 billion: The planned cost of this condo tower, meant to rest atop the Venetian casino complex. Owner Las Vegas Sands (LVS) has halted construction for now.
6. The Cosmopolitan $3.9 billion: Deutsche Bank (DB) foreclosed on a $760 million loan in 2010, which gave it ownership of the Cosmopolitan casino complex. In all, the bank has invested $3.9 billion in the project. The resort is losing money.
7. Harmon/CityCenter $8.5 billion: The amount invested in the CityCenter gaming and hotel complex by MGM Resorts International (MGM) and Dubai World. Contractor Perini Building is suing the owners for $313 million in cost overruns. Meanwhile, the Harmon hotel tower has not opened because it is not earthquake-proof.
What a mess.  I'm glad I'm not holding bonds in any of those projects.

Looking To China As A Model For The U.S.

As I brought up here, I didn't understand why folks are looking to China as a model to the U.S.  Here is Michele Bachmann:
“So what would I cut? I think, really, what I would wanna do is be able to go back and take a look at Lyndon Baines Johnson’s The Great Society.
“The Great Society has not worked, and it’s put us into the modern welfare state. If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps. If you look at China, they’re in a very different situ — they save for their own retirement security. They don’t have pay FDIC. They don’t have the modern welfare state. And China’s growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with The Great Society, and they’d be gone.”
So 2011 China is better than the United States from 1965-2011?  This woman is certifiable.  China is better than the United States because it doesn't have food stamps?  Don't nearly 800 million Chinese live off of subsistance agriculture?  Sounds like the American Dream to me.  Does she think the U.S. needs more bank runs?  This is a Congresswoman, WTF?  Does the "brilliant" Congresswoman realize that the Chinese savings rate is so high because they have absolutely no health safety net?  Does she consider that a good thing?  Chinese millionaires want to emigrate from their country for 3 main reasons: better education for their children, better health care and a cleaner environment.  And where do they want to go?  Overwhelmingly, the horrible United States and socialist Canada.  This woman needs to get a reliable supply of oxygen to her brain, because things just aren't working up there.

A Federal Union

Yglesias:

Is it reasonable to expect German taxpayers to make a potentially unlimited commitment to fiscal transfers to Spain and Italy? Maybe not. Certainly it sounds unappealing. Certainly Americans have no appetite for making that kind of commitment to the population of Mexico, even though the U.S. and Mexico share very close relationships across a variety of fronts. At the same time, the United States and Mexico don’t share a currency.
By contrast, Kentucky (population 4.3 million) and the San Francisco / Oakland / Fremont Metropolitan Statistical Area (population 4.3 million) do share a currency. They do this despite the fact that Kentucky has a longstanding lack of competitiveness relative to San Francisco. Eighty-seven percent of San Franciscans have high school degrees compared to just 80 percent in Kentucky. Forty-three percent of San Franciscans have bachelor’s degrees to just 20 percent of Kentuckians. Not surprisingly, San Francisco’s workers are much more productive, earning a median household income of $74,000 to Kentucky’s $40,000.
The way this is made to work is by long-term, sustained, open-ended financial transfers to Kentucky. Overall taxation in the United States is not very redistributive because state and local governments use regressive tax bases. But that means that federal taxes and transfers — i.e., the ones that matter for the SF/Kentucky relationship — are highly redistributive. Hard work, prudent investment, and human capital development in San Francisco are taxed to support indolence in Kentucky. And note that it’s not just poor people in Kentucky who are winning out in this arrangement. Kentucky is full of doctors and hospital administrators who think of themselves as hard working, highly educated professionals working in the private sector. But they’re living in a dreamland where their customers can afford their services thanks to taxes paid in San Francisco. Absent Medicare and Medicaid, health care professionals in Kentucky would see their incomes plummet with secondary consequences for the people who those professionals buy goods and services from. Nor does San Francisco demand any kind of conditionality for this assistance. Kentucky is not, to my knowledge, doing anything on the structural side to ameliorate its fundamental lack of competitiveness. What’s more, the structure of San Francisco to Kentucky transfers is perverse. If Kentucky implements new bad anti-growth policies, it will get more transfers from San Francisco. If it improves its policies and finds a way to grow, the transfers will diminish.
What I find so interesting about this comparison is that the people in Kentucky, not the people in San Francisco, are pushing to make the system less progressive and with less transfers!  Likewise, people in Alabama (a net receiver in federal funds) are more opposed to the federal income tax and federal social spending than the hedge-fund managers and other residents of Connecticut who pay the highest per capita federal income taxes in the country.  All I can figure is that people in Alabama and Kentucky don't understand that they receive more federal dollars than they pay in, but even if they did know this, they might be foolish enough to continue to back Republican ideas which would make them poorer.

Megagrowth In Shanghai

Smithsonian Magazine (h/t Ritholtz):

Over the past decade or more, Shanghai has grown like no other city on the planet. Home to 13.3 million residents in 1990, the city now has some 23 million residents (to New York City’s 8.1 million), with half a million newcomers each year. To handle the influx, developers are planning to build, among other developments, seven satellite cities on the fringes of Shanghai’s 2,400 square miles. Shanghai opened its first subway line in 1995; today it has 11; by 2025, there will be 22. In 2004, the city also opened the world’s first commercial high-speed magnetic levitation train line.

With more than 200 skyscrapers, Shanghai is a metroplex of terraced apartments separated by wide, tree-lined boulevards on which traffic zooms past in a cinematic blur. At the 1,381-foot-tall Jin Mao Tower, whose tiered, tapering segments recall a giant pagoda, there’s a hotel swimming pool on the 57th floor, and a deck on the 88th floor offers a view of scores of spires poking through the clouds. I had to look up from there to see the top of the 101-story World Financial Center, which tapers like the blade of a putty knife. The Bank of China’s glass-curtained tower seems to twist out of a metal sheath like a tube of lipstick.
Seven satellite cities? 22 subway lines by 2025?  It is nearly impossible for me to imagine.

A Different Kind Of Harvest

The Atlantic reports on the marijuana harvest out West:
Ask a local about the great State of Jefferson and he or she will likely designate America's unrecognized 51st state by these geographical contours: the fertile area that stretches up from Humboldt County in Northern California and east through Lake County in Southern Oregon. Lassen Volcano, Crater Lake, and Mount Shasta number among its natural treasures.
Official flag and Wikipedia page notwithstanding, the State of Jefferson is an imaginary idyll, an unborn neverland, more a statement than a state. Its territory is mostly rural and its population comprises an uneven, sparsely concentrated spread of gun-loving citizen-farmers. According to some Jeffersonians, their state is also a God-graced agricultural empyrean where the best marijuana in the country is grown. Much like their plants, growers flourish in Jefferson, a peculiar area where a streak of libertarianism resists the government regulation of crops.
Mid-November in the State of Jefferson marks the end of the marijuana harvest. At the culmination of the harvest--six weeks' effort of picking buds from their towering stalks and drying them--the process now yields to trimming, a task to last all winter. In the spring, amendments are added and the soil is prepared once again. Over the course of a decade, the harvest has come to resemble a new version of the California grape crush of years past, stimulating the local economy during autumn months and drawing workers in for seasonal jobs. Novices learn the craft. A community builds. A demand is satisfied.
Good luck to them.  They'll need it with the feds cracking down.

UMBC

While the story about insider trading on Capitol Hill got more attention, I thought this 60 Minutes profile on the President of UMBC was more impressive.  While I shouldn't have needed it, a good push toward some actual research work would have done me a lot of good:



Programs like this make college a much better deal than what I got out of it. Of course, you get out what you put in, which for me, wasn't much.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nuns Push Corporations To Change

NYT (h/t nc links):
Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.
The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.
”We want social returns, as well as financial ones,” Sister Nora said, strolling through the garden behind Our Lady of Angels, the convent here where she has worked for more than half a century. She paused in front of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. “When you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.”
The Sisters of St. Francis are an unusual example of the shareholder activism that has ripped through corporate America since the 1980s. Public pension funds led the way, flexing their financial muscles on issues from investment returns to workplace violence. Then, mutual fund managers charged in, followed by rabble-rousing hedge fund managers who tried to shame companies into replacing their C.E.O.’s, shaking up their boards — anything to bolster the value of their investments.
The nuns have something else in mind: using the investments in their retirement fund to become Wall Street’s moral minority.
I enjoyed reading through the Ford Motor Company proxy statement, because a couple of orders of nuns usually brought in shareholder initiatives for the annual meeting.  Of course the Board of Directors always recommended voting against whatever they brought, but it was fun to read what they were chiding the company for.  Keep up the fight.

NASA Photo of the Day

From today:



The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Explanation: Few butterflies have a wingspan this big. The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named for flowers or insects, and NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the central star of this particular planetary nebula is exceptionally hot though -- shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This dramatically detailed close-up of the dying star's nebula was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope soon after it was upgraded in 2009. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star's dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).

Division III Roundup

#1 Wisconsin-Whitewater beat Wisconsin-LaCrosse, 17-3
#2 Mount Union defeated Muskingum, 28-0
#9 Wabash crushed DePauw to win the Monon Bell, 45-7
#21 Thomas More got by Mt. St. Joseph to keep the Bridge Bowl trophy, 33-28
#24 Baldwin-Wallace outscored John Carroll, 45-37
and St. John's cruised by Hamline, 61-0


The rest of the scores are here.

Ray Mancini vs. Duk Koo Kim

November 13, 1982:
On November 13, 1982, a 21-year-old Mancini met 27-year-old South Korean challenger Duk Koo Kim. Kim had to go through the process of losing several pounds immediately before the fight to make the weight. The title bout, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, was televised live at 1pm PST on CBS Sports, and by fight time Kim was spent. It was, according to many observers, a fight filled with action, but Mancini had an easy time hitting Kim during the 14 rounds the fight lasted. Kim suffered brain injuries that led to his death five days later. The week after his death, the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine showed Mancini and Kim battling, under the title "Tragedy In The Ring". Mancini went to the funeral in South Korea, but he fell into a deep depression afterwards. He has said that the hardest moments came when people approached him and asked if he was the boxer who "killed" Duk Koo Kim. Mancini went through a period of reflection, as he blamed himself for Kim's death. In addition, Kim's mother committed suicide four months after the fight, and the bout's referee, Richard Green, killed himself in July 1983.
As a result of this bout, the WBC took steps to shorten its title bouts to a maximum of 12 rounds. The WBA and WBO followed in 1988, and the IBF in 1989.
The pride of Youngstown, "Boom Boom" was never the same after that fight.

Church Teachings Differ From Laity

The Dish:
The National Catholic Reporter recently conducted a large survey about the Catholic faith and culture in the US. Among the findings:
Large majorities say that a person can be a good Catholic without going to church every Sunday (78 percent), without obeying the church hierarchy’s teaching on birth control (78 percent), without their marriage being approved by the church (72 percent), and without obeying the church hierarchy’s teaching on divorce and remarriage (69 percent).
The trends don't bode well for an increasingly conservative hierarchy dealing with a much more moderate Church membership.  The rabid insistence of the bishops on banning gay marriage whenever states vote on it will wear thin with the "millenials" who are already least likely to attend Mass regularly.  Alienaing the future generation doesn't seem like a tremendously promising growth strategy.  I would predict the future includes fewer priests, fewer churches and fewer schools, along with fewer Catholics.

Pacquiao Squeaks By With Majority Decision

Chart of the Day

Via Yglesias:

No real surprises there.