Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Have To Kill All Of You

Rudy Settles With SEC

LA Times:
Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, the 5-foot-6 walk-on Notre Dame football player whose underdog story became the 1993 movie "Rudy," has seen his sports drink venture turn out less happily — with allegations of securities fraud.

In a lawsuit Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Ruettiger, 63, and 12 others of swindling investors in Rudy Nutrition, a Gatorade challenger he started with a college friend in South Bend, Ind.

Ruettiger got in trouble when he moved the company to Las Vegas in 2007 and joined a fast crowd that pumped out promotions to penny-stock investors. The SEC said the participants dumped $11 million worth of stock in a company that had few customers and no profits.

Lancashire Textiles

Lancashire Textiles: Last Mill Standing from Etsy on Vimeo.

Hard Times In Milwaukee

The Atlantic:
As Washington and Madison fiddle, this city's middle class is slowly deteriorating.
First, the numbers. From 1970 to 2007, the percentage of families in the Milwaukee metropolitan area that were middle class declined from 37 to 24 percent, according to a new analysis by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. During the same period, the proportion of affluent families grew from 22 to 27 percent-while the percentage of poor households swelled from 23 to 31 percent. In short, Milwaukee's middle class families went from a plurality to its smallest minority. 
The biggest culprit is the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs. Despite a promising recent uptick in high-end manufacturing, Milwaukee has suffered a 40 percent decline in manufacturing jobs since 1970, when Schlitz, Pabst and American Motors reigned. Instead of shrinking, the city's urban poverty is creeping outward toward suburbs.
Late Wednesday afternoon, that was evident in the Jefferson Elementary school of West Allis, a once solidly middle class suburb bordering Milwaukee. In a crowded school gymnasium, principal Shelly Strasser said that fifty percent of students now qualify for free or reduced price school lunch programs. In other local schools, the number is ninety percent.
"It breaks your heart," said Strasser, a West Allis native who said she now has homeless students. "That's something we've never seen as a district."
The change also emerges in Cudahy, a once middle class suburb just south of the city. As a child, Debby Pizur watched traffic jams form on local streets during factory shifts changes. Today, many of those factories are shuttered, Pizur works three jobs at the age of 59, and runs a non-profit that provides food, clothing and household items to the community's poor.
The decline in manufacturing has been brutal for the Northeast and the Midwest.  The question is, how do we start to rebuild the middle class?  I would start by raising taxes on the high end and investing in education and infrastructure.  But we need to make some serious structural changes in our economy, and we don't have the political will to make them.  Milwaukee is a great town, and I hope the decline will end soon, with recovery bringing a better future.  But to keep from passing out, I won't hold my breath.

Yay, Dayton

December 17, 1903:
The Wright Brothers make their first powered and heavier-than-air flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Dayton's main claim to fame, right there.  Considering what impact the more than 20,000 jobs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have on the area, the connection to the Wrights is a big deal still today.

Chart of the Day

At the Dish:

How about getting back to those golden days in the early Reagan administration?  Actually, that was when people could deduct credit card debt and stuff, but I think we could still live with 50% as the top marginal rate.

Detaining U.S. Citizens

David Swanson highlights some of the terrible provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (h/t nc links):
As Obama’s Justice Department has broken new ground in the construction of state secrecy and immunity, the Bush era advancers of imperial presidential power have gone on book tours bragging about their misdeeds. One can expect the next step to involve serious abuse of those who question and resist the current bipartisan trajectory.
So what does the latest bill do, other than dumping another $660 billion into wars and war preparation? Well, it says this:
“Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
In other words, Congress is giving its stamp of approval to the unconstitutional outrages already claimed by the president. But then, why create a new law at all? Well, because some outrages are more equal than others, and Congress has chosen to specify some of those and in fact to expand some of them. For example:
“Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.”
And this:
“The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following: (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
Jon Stewart explained when those detained without trial under the law might be released: “So when the war on terror ends, and terror surrenders and is no longer available as a human emotion, you are free to go.”
It is terrible that Obama has expanded on the civil liberties violations of the Bush administration.  Surely if he is reelected, he will continue these abuses.  Unfortunately, outside of Ron Paul, all of the Republicans will likely be worse.  We need a Congress made up of people who will fight for civil liberties, but we have as much likelihood of getting that as we do of getting to walk on Mars next year.

Division III Season Wrapup

UW-Whitewater beat Mount Union 13-10 to finish with their third straight 15-0 record.  Maybe next year, somebody new will make the championship game.  Right now, Wayne State (MI) is leading Pittsburg St. 14-13 in the Division II championship game, and the vaunted Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (formerly the Humanitarian Bowl) features Ohio University battling Utah St. on the blue turf in Boise at 5:30.  Don't want to miss that.

New Ohio Redistricting Map

From the Dayton Daily News:

New map, dumb as the old map.
They still have that terrible district running from Toledo to Cleveland, and now they have Jim Jordan's district running clear to Lorain.  They quit splitting Toledo into three districts, but look at the mess in Summit County.  Also, Springfield goes from the pork barrel goldmine when they were represented by Dave Hobson into John Boehner's district, where they won't see a penny.

The Simpsons First Episode

December 17, 1989:
The first episode of television series The Simpsons, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", airs in the United States.
I remember that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Modern Classic

Stagg Bowl Tonight

Tonight's matchup is the seventh straight Stagg Bowl battle between UW-Whitewater and Mount Union.  It is also a tie-breaker.  Mount Union won 3 of the first 4 and UW-Wisconsin won the last 2.  In other words, this is Game 7 of an extended seven-game series.

Luck, Intelligence and Copying

Mark Pagel suggests that innovation might be no more than random evolution of ideas (h/t nc links):
What's happening is that we might, in fact, be at a time in our history where we're being domesticated by these great big societal things, such as Facebook and the Internet. We're being domesticated by them, because fewer and fewer and fewer of us have to be innovators to get by. And so, in the cold calculus of evolution by natural selection, at no greater time in history than ever before, copiers are probably doing better than innovators. Because innovation is extraordinarily hard. My worry is that we could be moving in that direction, towards becoming more and more sort of docile copiers. But, these ideas, I think, are received with incredulity, because humans like to think of themselves as highly shrewd and intelligent and innovative people. But I think what we have to realize is that it's even possible that, as I say, the generative mechanisms we have for coming up with new ideas are no better than random.
And a really fascinating idea itself is to consider that even the great people in history whom we associate with great ideas might be no more than we expect by chance. I'll explain that. Einstein was once asked about his intelligence and he said, "I'm no more intelligent than the next guy. I'm just more curious." Now, we can grant Einstein that little indulgence, because we think he was a pretty clever guy.
But let's take him at his word and say, what does curiosity mean? Well, maybe curiosity means trying out all sorts of ideas in your mind. Maybe curiosity is a passion for trying out ideas. Maybe Einstein's ideas were just as random as everybody else's, but he kept persisting at them.
And if we say that everybody has some tiny probability of being the next Einstein, and we look at a billion people, there will be somebody who just by chance is the next Einstein. And so, we might even wonder if the people in our history and in our lives that we say are the great innovators really are more innovative, or are just lucky.
Now, the evolutionary argument is that our populations have always supported a small number of truly innovative people, and they're somehow different from the rest of us. But it might even be the case that that small number of innovators just got lucky. And this is something that I think very few people will accept. They'll receive it with incredulity. But I like to think of it as what I call social learning and, maybe, the possibility that we are infinitely stupid.
It is an interesting idea, and one which gains some credence in considering how innovations occur.  The Einsteins of the world are clearly specialists, who understand one complex field very uniquely.  How do they understand it, but not a number of other complex fields?  In other words, if a person is a brilliant physicist, could he or she have been just as brilliant of a biologist or chemist?  Or is the person uniquely lucky to be able to understand just that one field?  Is there some mutation which allows their brain to clearly understand highly complex systems in a single field?  It is an interesting thought experiment.

More Boston Tea Party History

Boston Review (h/t Ritholtz):
Do we have any way of knowing Bostonians’ underlying values in 1773? One way might be to thumb the pages of the official Boston Town Records in the decades before the Revolution to see the numerous ways the town-meeting government assumed responsibility for the “many.” So-called “overseers of the poor,” who were for the most part men of some wealth, distributed direct relief ward-by-ward to a huge number of poor widows in their homes. For the destitute, the overseers maintained an almshouse and a workhouse, both admittedly grim places. The selectmen also authorized a town granary to provide grain at set prices in times of dearth. To put the numerous unemployed to work, the town sponsored a “Manufactory House” of spinners and weavers managed in the 1760s by William Molineux, a leading Tea Party organizer. And in 1774, when Britain closed the port and massive unemployment loomed, the town meeting voted at “this Time of general Calamity” to put people to work: to erect a wharf, build ships, pave the streets, or undertake “any other public Work.” To meet such social responsibilities, Bostonians supported taxation—as long as it came from either their own participatory town meeting or the Massachusetts Assembly they voted for. Samuel Adams was no less popular because he made his living for eight years as one of the town’s four tax collectors. (His father, not he, was a brewer.)
The town records also suggest Bostonians took for granted that their government should regulate the quality of manufactured goods. The town appointed Ebenezer Macintosh—the shoemaker at the Tea Party—one of several “sealers of leather” and selected a score of other artisans as “inspectors” or “surveyors” of lumber, shingles, hemp, etc. From time immemorial the town set the “assize” of bread, establishing the size, weight, and price bakers might charge. Arguably, citizens registered their assent to regulating the market every time they bought a loaf.
In 1780 Bostonians spelled out the philosophy underlying such actions when, after much debate, they voted in the town meeting 847-0 to ratify a new constitution for the aptly named Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafted principally by Samuel and John Adams. “Government,” Article VII explained, “is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” Earlier Cato had asked, “is it a crime to be rich?” and answered, “Yes, certainly at the publick Expence, or to the Danger of the Publick.” Cato argued, “Power was needed when men tried to put a whole Country in Two or Three people’s Pockets.” In 1773 the body of the people in Old South, founders all, would have cheered his answer.
Bostonian big government in action, 18th Century Edition.

Robonaut 2

The Atlantic features the year in photos.  I highlighted this one as part of my robot collection, but there are a number of awesome photos, including a Mississippi flood photo, a couple of great space photos and an awesome picture of lightning around a volcano ash plume.  And that's only from one of their three posts.

Robonaut 2 (R2) waits inside the electromagnetic interference chamber at Johnson Space Center following tests that ensure the robot's electronic systems won't cause problems for other important systems at the International Space Station. Humanoid robot R2 journeyed to the space station onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-133 mission, conducting tests. NASA hopes to eventually build a robot helper suitable to assist humans in complex tasks in space or on Earth. (NASA) #

The Real Scoop On The NCAA

Mark Titus on the fallout from the UC-Xavier brawl:

  • After both schools handed out suspensions, my brother asked me if I thought the NCAA would step in and lengthen any of them (especially Gates' six-game suspension, since Gates was the one who should be charged with assault for making Frease's head bleed). My response was, "Of course not — as long as the NCAA can make billions off of you, and as long as you don't think you're entitled to a cut of any of that money, they don't care what you do." When I originally said that to him it was meant to be a joke. Now I'm convinced it's the truth.

  • Amen.  Also, he hits the nail on the head when it comes to Duke hating:
    Like a homeless guy whipping out his dong and doing cartwheels in Times Square, the Buckeyes grabbed a lot of people's attention when they beat the mess out of Duke last month. Many observers were quick to anoint my alma mater the best team in the land, probably because everyone hates Duke and watching Duke get blasted made people feel like they were Oompa Loompas watching Dorothy's house land on the Wicked Witch of the East.
    That is total win.

    The Real Tea Party

    December 16, 1773:

    This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier was entitled "The Destruction of
    Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party" had not yet become
    standard. Contrary to Currier's depiction, few of the men dumping
    the tea were actually disguised as Indians.
    The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.
    The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act for a variety of reasons, especially because they believed that it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. He apparently did not expect that the protestors would choose to destroy the tea rather than concede the authority of a legislature in which they were not directly represented.
    The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which, among other provisions, closed Boston's commerce until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.
    Imagine how pissed off everybody would  be if the Occupy crowd destroyed a bunch of corporate property.  People get angry because these guys want to camp in parks and they use the human microphone practice to amplify their speeches.  You'd think they were killing people in the street from how mad folks seem to get about them.  If they went into bank offices and started trashing furniture, people would be apoplectic. 

    Supposedly, today's Tea Party is emulating Samuel Adams crowd.  Other than the dopey guys in the colonial dress and tri-corner hats, all I see are a bunch of Republicans bitching about the government.  Oh well.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    How Is The Irish Economy Doing?

    Contrary to what the Austerians are claiming, Ireland's economy doesn't look too good (h/t Krugman):

    There was an annual decrease in employment of 2.5% or 46,000 in the year to the
    third quarter of 2011, bringing total employment to 1,805,500. This compares with
    an annual decrease in employment of 2.0% in the previous quarter and a decrease
    of 3.7% in the year to Q3 2010.
    Doesn't look like growth to me.  While U.S. economic numbers are looking better, the rest of the world is getting pretty scary.  What's looking scary to me is the possibility of another crisis next year leading to the election of one of the GOP's clowns running for President.  We can get by with a horrible economy, but Newt Gingrich in charge of running the country is terrifying.

    A Few Interesting Notes

    A couple interesting things from All Things Considered.  First, this about the star of the new The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie:
    Rooney Mara, 26, stars as the fierce, tiny punk investigator Lisbeth Salander. Mara's a relative unknown, despite the deep football bloodlines on both sides of her family. Her great-grandfathers Art Rooney and Tim Mara founded the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants.
    Then, Butter Shortage!:
    Norwegians are suffering from a butter shortage. The Nordic country has to go without, supposedly because of trade barriers imposed by the country's dairy cooperative Tine. And of course, this comes right as the holiday baking season is heating up. Lynn Neary talks with Lovisa Morling, of the Apent Bakeri in Oslo, about how the bakery is getting by.
    Finally, a rancher talks about losing $30,000 with MF Global.

    More Bad News From China

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (h/t nc links):
    The question is whether the People's Bank can do any better than the US Federal Reserve or Bank of Japan at deflating a credit bubble.
    Chinese stocks are flashing warning signs. The Shanghai index has fallen 30pc since May. It is off 60pc from its peak in 2008, almost as much in real terms as Wall Street from 1929 to 1933.
    "Investors are massively underestimating the risk of a hard-landing in China, and indeed other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China)... a 'Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept' in my view," said Albert Edwards at Societe Generale.
    "The BRICs are falling like bricks and the crises are home-blown, caused by their own boom-bust credit cycles. Industrial production is already falling in India, and Brazil will soon follow."
    "There is so much spare capacity that they will start dumping goods, risking a deflation shock for the rest of the world. It no surpise that China has just imposed tariffs on imports of GM cars. I think it is highly likely that China will devalue the yuan next year, risking a trade war," he said.
    China's $3.2 trillion foreign reserves have been falling for three months despite the trade surplus. Hot money is flowing out of the country. "One-way capital inflow or one-way bets on a yuan rise have become history. Our foreign reserves are basically falling every day," said Li Yang, a former central bank rate-setter.
    This could be disastrous for commodities.  Supposedly, Chinese industrial companies were using commodities as collateral for loans.  If the loans get called, we may see a massive commodity dump on the market.  That would not be good.

    We Can't All Save

    Matthew Yglesias, on the monetary system and emulating Germany:
    I think it's possible that the excessive popularity of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games is confusing people about this. It is possible, in many gaming environments, for each player to simply accumulate gold. The actual financial system doesn't work like this. Your debt is my loan. I save money by depositing it in my account at PNC, which is to say I lend the money to PNC who, in turn, lends it out to their clients. Germany is a net exporter because it's a net saver, but that in turn requires someone else to be a net debtor and net importer. It's quite possible that the overall scale of the imbalance between lenders and borrowers, importers and exporters, etc. has gotten out of whack. But it's a push and a pull. It doesn't make sense to think that everyone can simultaneously borrow less, unless your plan is for incomes to fall across the board.

    The world needs Germany, China and very wealthy Americans to spend more and import more stuff, as much as it needs Greeks, Italians Spaniards, Portuguese and not very wealthy Americans to save more. 

    A Farmland Bubble?

    The Wall Street Journal notices that real estate prices in flyover country have spiked significantly (h/t Ritholtz):
    Farmers like Terry Pratt are a big reason Midwest farmland prices seem to be defying gravity—for now. Inside the tidy red-brick community center here, a hushed crowd of town merchants and growers watched as two of their own bid against each other at an auction for 50 acres of corn and soybean land.
    Unfortunately, the rest of the story is behind their paywall.  To me, the ag real estate market has a real bubble feel to it.  But we won't know what the story is until we see whether Chinese middle-class creation is for real.  Unfortunately, I think most of the farmers have bought into the Chinese demand growth story, and don't anticipate prices going down much ever.  I think we're being set up for a really bad year soon.  Input costs are crazy high, and if crop prices collapse, we're going to be in a world of hurt.  Hopefully it won't come to that, but I'm trying to prepare for the possibility.

    Depression and Self-Loathing

    John Cole on being a Democrat:
    It appears Obama will not veto the Defense bill with the hideous detention policies, and I just heard that the Democrats have dropped the millionaire surtax for the payroll tax cuts.
    I never knew the amount of depression and self-loathing that was involved in becoming a Democrat. I honestly think I hate Democrats more now that I am one than I did when I was a Republican.
    His post on changing his voter registration got me started reading his blog.

    Co-ops and Credit Unions

    Coincidentally, the NYT highlighted cooperatives and credit unions yesterday (h/t Mark Thoma):
    But at another level, something different has been quietly brewing in recent decades: more and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing.
    Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.
    And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year.
    Well farmers are ahead of the game on this one, although I have to note that the agricultural co-ops have been merging a lot lately and are now very large operations.  I have gotten good service from the cooperative electric company and the cooperative fertilizer company.  I like being an owner of the enterprise instead of just a customer.  No sense in corporate shareholders collecting the vig on my business when it can go back to me.

    One Small Step

    Well, I finally got around to closing my JP Morgan Chase accounts and moving the money to a local credit union.  The branch manager tried to give me the sales pitch to stay, and while it did sound appealing, I said no, thanks.  When she asked me why I was moving, I told her it was because Chase was just too big of a bank.  Finally, after she got me a check, I told her that if she saw Jamie Dimon at a company Christmas Party, to tell him not to complain about his taxes and bank regulations.  She responded that Mr. Dimon is very outspoken, and looking at his record, he has a right to be, but that she agreed that he was a little too outspoken in her opinion.

    Pioneer Sued Over Pesticide-Laden Dust

    Des Moines Register:
    A group of Kauai (Hawaii) residents has sued a major seed company over the farming of genetically modified crops they claim has led to pesticide-laden dust being blown onto their homes for more than a decade. Attorneys for 150 Waimea residents filed the lawsuit Tuesday in 5th Circuit Court against Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.
    Pioneer is a subsidiary of Delaware-based chemical maker DuPont Co. Gay & Robinson Inc., which leases fields east of Waimea to Pioneer. Both were named in the lawsuit.
    Pioneer uses dangerous pesticides during open air testing of genetically modified crops without controlling airborne pollutants as required by state and county law, the residents alleged. Trade winds blow across the test fields into Waimea, on the southwest coast of the island.
    The lawsuit claimed that “pesticides and fugitive dust from Pioneer’s GMO Test Fields are recognized pollutants that present known and unknown risks to human health and the environment associated with acute, sub-chronic, and chronic exposure.”
    So if Republicans had their way in passing a law preventing EPA from regulating dust, would it throw a monkey wrench into this case.  I wouldn't think so, but I'm curious.  I'm not supporting or denigrating the veracity of their claims, I was just wondering out loud.

    Silver Bridge Collapses

    December 15, 1967:

    The Silver Bridge was an eyebar-chain suspension bridge built in 1928 and named for the color of its aluminum paint. The bridge connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Kanauga, Ohio, over the Ohio River.
    On December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge collapsed while it was full of rush-hour traffic, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. Two of the victims were never found. Investigation of the wreckage pointed to the cause of the collapse being the failure of a single eyebar in a suspension chain, due to a small defect 0.1 inch (2.5 mm) deep. Analysis showed that the bridge was carrying much heavier loads than it had originally been designed for and was poorly maintained.
    The collapsed bridge was replaced by the Silver Memorial Bridge, which was completed in 1969.
    At the time of the Silver Bridge construction, eyebar bridges had been built for about 100 years. Such bridges had usually been constructed from redundant bar links, using rows of four to six bars, sometimes using several such chains in parallel. An example can be seen in the Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The chain eyebars are redundant in two dimensions. This is an early suspension bridge still in service. Other bridges of similar design include the earlier road bridge over the Menai Strait built by Thomas Telford in 1826; the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest, built in 1839-1849, destroyed in the closing days of World War II by retreating Germans in 1945, and rebuilt identically by 1949, with redundant chains and hangers; and the Three Sisters, suspension bridges of similar design in Pittsburgh.
    The eyebars in the Silver Bridge were not redundant, as links were composed of only two bars each, of high-strength steel (more than twice the tensile strength as common mild steel), rather than a thick stack of thinner bars of modest material strength "combed" together, as is usual for redundancy. With only two bars, the failure of one could impose excessive loading on the second, causing total failure — which would be unlikely if more bars were used. While a low-redundancy chain can be engineered to the design requirements, the safety is completely dependent upon correct, high-quality manufacturing and assembly.
    In comparison, the Brooklyn Bridge, with wire-cable suspension, was designed with an excess strength factor of six, which proved fortunate, owing to a contractor's substitution of wire weaker than that specified. This was discovered before completion and additional strands were placed in the bundles. Wire-cables have extremely high levels of redundancy, with the failure of a single wire almost unnoticeable.
    The towers were "rocker" towers, which allow the bridge to respond to various live loads by a slight tipping of the supporting towers, which were parted at the deck level, rather than passing the suspension chain over a lubricated or tipping saddle, or by stressing the towers in bending. The towers required the chain on both sides for their support; failure of any one link on either side, in any of the three chain spans, would result in the complete failure of the entire bridge.
    The bridge failure was due to a defect in a single link, eyebar 330, on the north of the Ohio subsidiary chain, the first link below the top of the Ohio tower. A small crack was formed through fretting wear at the bearing, and grew through internal corrosion, a problem known as stress corrosion cracking. The crack was only about 0.1 inch deep when it went critical, and it broke in a brittle fashion. Growth of the crack was probably exacerbated by residual stress in the eyebar created during manufacture.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    A 30 Year Eruption

    From Reuters:

    I love molten things.

    Planning, or the Lack Thereof

    The Atlantic features some satellite photos of post-bust Vegas.  My favorite:

    What a chopped up mess.  Development patterns frustrate me.  There is often no rhyme or reason, other than a specific developer's desire to build.  It doesn't do much for regional planning.

    Building A Black Hawk

    Wired goes inside the Sikorsky factory:

    Bare S-70 airframes enter the factory at the far left of the picture above. Components are added to the airframes -- including engines, transmissions, wiring, avionics and interiors -- by the time the helicopters work their way down to the other end of the assembly line.
    More than 3,000 S-70 variants have rolled off the assembly line since the first helicopter entered service back in 1979. Since 9/11, the Connecticut factory has been very busy: Today, it's producing helicopters at a rate averaging five per week.
    This factory has a long history producing military aircraft. During World War II, F-4U Corsair aircraft were built here by the thousands. Today the different variants of the S-70 helicopter are built in Stratford side by side. In the picture above an MH-60R Sea Hawk destined for the Navy is in the foreground, while UH-60M and HH-60M Black Hawks are being assembled in the background.
    Pretty cool.

    Powerful Words

    Stuart Staniford reviews Saudi oil production, which looks to have reached a new high in November:

    Notwithstanding that, it is of considerable interest that Saudi production increased substantially in November despite the fact that Brent has been falling overall.  I take this as a (minor) point of evidence in favor of the idea that the fall in September/October was something Saudi Aramco could not easily avoid, because they are producing at or near capacity and thus the level of production is subject to minor technical glitches in the individual oil fields, as opposed to the idea that Saudi Arabia was intentionally reducing production because prices were falling.
    If that is the case, we don't have any spare capacity out there.  I'll give them credit though, I didn't think they'd even be able to increase production.  I figured they would have in 2008 if they could have.  Of course, they may have invested a lot of money to increase secondary recovery since then.

    Best Protest Signs of the Year

    BuzzFeed features the 40 best of the year.  One of my favorites from the time of "the Rapture" in May:

    Video of the Day

    via Naked Capitalism:

    Trust me, it was hard for me to figure out how to get the embed code when everything is in Japanese.

    Who's Rich?

    Bruce Bartlett:
    Last week, Catherine Rampell posted a commentary on a new Gallup poll on the question of who is “rich” in America. The median threshold in the poll’s responses was that rich is $150,000 a year of income or a net worth of $1 million. Because I have asserted that the rich need to pay more taxes if we are to get out of our fiscal mess, and even Republicans say that government benefits for the rich should be cut off, the question of who is rich is politically important.
    The first thing to know is that there is no formal definition of who is rich, middle class or poor. Of course, there is an official definition for the poverty rate, but that figure is just a back of the envelope calculation that has simply been increased by the inflation rate since the 1960s. There are many other ways of calculating the poverty rate that could either raise the poverty threshold or reduce it.
    Another problem is that one’s social class is a function of both income and wealth. There are many among the elderly who have little income but may have fairly substantial wealth by, for example, owning a home free and clear. At the other end, there are those with high incomes who are, nevertheless, deeply in debt, perhaps even having a negative net worth.

    Social class also involves self-identification. According to the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago, which has been asking people what social class they belong to since 1972, more than 90 percent of Americans put themselves squarely in the middle – belonging either to the working class or the middle class.
    He is right, that is a loaded question.  At the same time, it is pretty indicative of the difference between flyover country and the coasts (and big cities like Chicago) that $150,000 a year income or $1 million net worth is the median response as to what is rich.  Democrats in Washington are talking about raising taxes on those making $1 million a year, and Republicans are opposed to that, even though 75% of Americans think that the wealthy should be taxed more (and their definition of millionaire is having a million dollars in assets, not having $1 million a year income).  But cost of living is so different between flyover country and the coasts that these numbers don't resonate in DC.  I am surprised that so many folks who make less than I do think that taxes shouldn't go up on wealthy folks, but I also don't drink the tea.

    Adjusting To A Productivity Revolution

    Joseph Stiglitz lays out a theory that the Great Depression and the Great Recession are linked by a structural shift in the economy, driven by productivity, permanently changing the economy (h/t Mark Thoma):
    For the past several years, Bruce Greenwald and I have been engaged in research on an alternative theory of the Depression—and an alternative analysis of what is ailing the economy today. This explanation sees the financial crisis of the 1930s as a consequence not so much of a financial implosion but of the economy’s underlying weakness. The breakdown of the banking system didn’t culminate until 1933, long after the Depression began and long after unemployment had started to soar. By 1931 unemployment was already around 16 percent, and it reached 23 percent in 1932. Shantytown “Hoovervilles” were springing up everywhere. The underlying cause was a structural change in the real economy: the widespread decline in agricultural prices and incomes, caused by what is ordinarily a “good thing”—greater productivity.
    At the beginning of the Depression, more than a fifth of all Americans worked on farms. Between 1929 and 1932, these people saw their incomes cut by somewhere between one-third and two-thirds, compounding problems that farmers had faced for years. Agriculture had been a victim of its own success. In 1900, it took a large portion of the U.S. population to produce enough food for the country as a whole. Then came a revolution in agriculture that would gain pace throughout the century—better seeds, better fertilizer, better farming practices, along with widespread mechanization. Today, 2 percent of Americans produce more food than we can consume.
    What this transition meant, however, is that jobs and livelihoods on the farm were being destroyed. Because of accelerating productivity, output was increasing faster than demand, and prices fell sharply. It was this, more than anything else, that led to rapidly declining incomes. Farmers then (like workers now) borrowed heavily to sustain living standards and production. Because neither the farmers nor their bankers anticipated the steepness of the price declines, a credit crunch quickly ensued. Farmers simply couldn’t pay back what they owed. The financial sector was swept into the vortex of declining farm incomes.
    The cities weren’t spared—far from it. As rural incomes fell, farmers had less and less money to buy goods produced in factories. Manufacturers had to lay off workers, which further diminished demand for agricultural produce, driving down prices even more. Before long, this vicious circle affected the entire national economy.
    I've been arguing along these lines for a long time.  The productivity increases brought about by computers brought companies profits, and allowed them to carry extra workers, until demand slowed down and companies had to cut costs.  As long as people were spending, even if it was debt-financed, they didn't have to cut employment.  Once that debt bubble popped though, then companies dumped workers they didn't have to have, both because of the productivity gains, and because of decreased demand.  Economists have been arguing between the structural unemployment and the cyclical unemployment positions, and I think it is a combination of the two.  Stiglitz sums up well my feelings on the roots of the crisis.  His solutions make sense also, but they won't get much play with the Austerians in the saddle.

    The Toledo War

    December 14, 1836:

    The Toledo War unofficially ends when Michigan agrees to cede Toledo to Ohio in exchange for the Upper Peninsula:
    The Toledo War (1835–1836), also known as the Michigan-Ohio War, was the almost entirely bloodless boundary dispute between the U.S. state of Ohio and the adjoining territory of Michigan.
    Originating from conflicting state and federal legislation passed between 1787 and 1805, the dispute resulted from poor understanding of geographical features of the Great Lakes at the time. Varying interpretations of the law caused the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim sovereignty over a 468 square miles (1,210 km2) region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip. When Michigan sought statehood in the early 1830s, it sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries; Ohio's Congressional delegation was in turn able to halt Michigan's admission to the Union.
    Beginning in 1835, both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side's capitulation. Ohio's governor Robert Lucas and Michigan's 24-year-old "Boy Governor" Stevens T. Mason were both unwilling to cede jurisdiction of the Strip, so they raised militias and helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other's authority. The militias were mobilized and sent to positions on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo, but besides mutual taunting there was little interaction between the two forces. The single military confrontation of the "war" ended with a report of shots being fired into the air, incurring no casualties.
    During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and approximately three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan at the time, nearly all of it was still Indian territory, and voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected it.
    In December 1836, the Michigan territorial government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention (called the "Frost-bitten Convention") which accepted the compromise which resolved the Toledo War.
    The later discovery of copper and iron deposits and the plentiful timber in the Upper Peninsula more than offset Michigan's economic loss in surrendering Toledo.
    The "war" unofficially ended on December 14, 1836, at a second convention in Ann Arbor. Delegates passed a resolution to accept the terms set forth by the Congress. However, the calling of the convention was itself not without controversy. It had only come about because of an upswelling of private summonses, petitions, and public meetings. Since the legislature did not approve a call to convention, some said the convention was illegal. Whigs boycotted the convention. As a consequence, the resolution was rejected and ridiculed by many Michigan residents. Congress questioned the legality of the convention, but accepted the results of the convention regardless of its concerns. Because of these factors, as well as because of the notable cold spell at the time, the event later became known as the "Frostbitten Convention."
    So Ohio won the booby prize of Toledo.  Yippee.

    A Dystopian Iowa?

    Stephen Bloom lays out his view of Iowa in The Atlantic.  Apparently, he's caught a lot of flak for calling Keokuk, "a depressed, crime infested slum town."  I've never been to Keokuk, but Clinton and Burlington aren't the greatest.  I've got to say that, unlike him, I've never heard the corn growing.  But this section definitely rings true:
    Four states -- California, Texas, New York, and Florida -- get two-thirds of the nation's immigrants. But for many immigrants, these states serve only as ports of entry; once inside the U.S., these newcomers converge in rural America in waves of secondary migration. And some immigrants head directly inland, altogether bypassing American coastal cities. In Iowa, they almost all come for slaughterhouse jobs, where entry-level positions are plentiful and workers don't need to know a word of English. The only requirements are a strong stomach and a strong back, and a willingness to accept that the work and the pay don't match. It's no wonder Iowa locals spurn such jobs as knockers, stickers, bleeders, tail rippers, flankers, gutters, sawers, or plate boners, all of whom work on what amounts to a disassembly line. Turnover at these grueling jobs is higher than 100 percent a year; health benefits at most plants don't kick in for several months; but the first months in a slaughterhouse are the most dangerous, when accidents are most likely to occur.
    How'd so many slaughterhouses get from the cities to the country? For more than a century, slaughterhouses were located in brawling cities like Chicago, Fort Worth, and Omaha. Chicago rose to prominence, in part, because of its famed cattle-processing industry. The city's Union Stock Yards opened in 1865 and eventually grew to 475 acres of slaughterhouses. Today, only one slaughterhouse remains in Chicago, a tiny boutique lamb and veal processor. All the rest have closed shop or moved to rural America.
    In a fundamental shift in how meat was processed, industry leaders decades ago realized it made more sense to bring meatpacking plants to the corn-fed livestock than to truck livestock to far-off slaughterhouses in expensive cities with strong unions and government regulators poking their noses into the meatpackers' business. Mobile refrigeration allowed processed meat to be trucked without spoilage. At the same time, the industry became highly mechanized. Innovations such as air- and electric-powered knives made expensive, skilled butchers superfluous. Mega plants in rural outposts became the norm. Hourly wages for union meat-production workers in 1980 peaked at $19 per hour (1980 dollars), not including benefits. Today, starting pay is often barely minimum wage at rural slaughterhouses. Because packinghouses are located in such isolated pockets of America, employers don't have to pay wages competitive with jobs in more urban venues. It's take it or leave it, and most locals would rather leave it. For undocumented workers, though, these jobs are a bonanza.
    There is no doubt that we wouldn't get much meat if native residents had to work the line at meatpacking plants.  At least at the current wages.  As my former employer said, the only white folks in those plants are the supervisors.  Everyone else is from Central America or is a refugee from Asia or Africa.  I think Professor Bloom could stand for some criticism in being a little too negative about Iowa, and exaggerating and stereotyping too much.  The state is still nicer than many other parts of the country.  That said, it is crazy for him to receive threats for calling it like he sees it.  Can't people just ignore the snooty college professor and go about their business without threatening to use him for target practice?  But really, what's worse, a condescending liberal professor who wants to see better paying jobs for middle-class Americans while increasing taxes on the wealthy, or a condescending conservative politician who wants to give rich folks even larger tax cuts while slashing the social safety net?  I would hold my nose and go with the liberal.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Chinese Real Estate Bubble Losing Air?

    LA Times (h/t Ritholtz):
    Falling home values. Debt-strapped borrowers. Real estate woes dogging the economy. It's old news in the United States, but now the air has started to leak from another great housing bubble — in China.

    Home prices nationwide declined in November for the third straight month, according to an index of values in 100 major cities compiled by the China Index Academy, an independent real estate firm. Average prices in the Shanghai area are down about 40% from their peak in mid-2009, to about $176,000 for a 1,000-square-foot home.

    Sales have plummeted. In Beijing, nearly two years' worth of inventory is clogging the market, and more than 1,000 real estate agencies have closed this year. Developers who once pre-sold housing projects within hours are growing desperate. A real estate company in the eastern city of Wenzhou is offering to throw in a new BMW with a home purchase.

    The swift turnaround has stunned buyers such as Shanghai resident Mark Li, who thought prices had nowhere to go but up. The software engineer closed on a $250,000,  three-bedroom apartment in August, only to watch weeks later as the developer slashed prices 25% on identical units to attract buyers in a slowing market.
    Zoinks, 25% price cut?  That stings.  Just when it looks like the U.S. might be crawling toward a recovery, Europe is falling apart and the Chinese Communist "expertise" in capitalism is starting to show weakness.  We sure don't need both of these economies to go in the crapper.

    Is This A Joke?

    Do Republicans seriously expect to lose to President Obama in next year's election?  They can't possibly be trying to put forward any serious proposals to govern this country.  That is all I can guess based on their proposed tax plans, which are beyond stupid.  Here's Newt Gingrich's:
    GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is proposing a massive tax cut aimed at the highest earning American households. Gingrich’s plan would add about $1 trillion to the federal deficit in a single year. And while most of the nation’s lowest income families would get no benefit from these tax cuts, the top 0.1 percent (who make an average of more than $8 million) would get about a quarter of the windfall, according to new estimates by my colleagues at the Tax Policy Center.
    The Gingrich plan, which has gotten relatively little attention, gives taxpayers a choice. It is similar to the proposal offered by Texas Governor Rick Perry, only even more generous. Taxpayers could stick with today’s revenue code– Gingrich would permanently extend the Bush/Obama tax cuts. Or they could pay under an alternative system based on a flat 15 percent tax rate regardless of income. Capital gains, dividends, and interest income would be tax-free. The Alternative Minimum Tax would be abolished. Nearly all deductions and credits would be eliminated, except for the earned income, child, and foreign tax credits and the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable gifts. All taxpayers would get a $12,000 per-person exemption.
    What a dumbfuck!  Capital gains, dividends and interest income would be tax free?  So let me get this straight.  Republicans believe that rich people are better off than everybody else because they work harder and are smarter (I disagree).  They also believe that the current tax code discourages said hard-working individuals from doing work (I disagree with that, also).  But their tax plans often don't tax unearned income from investments.  So if a person has, say, $2 million dollars in the bank, he or she can sit at home and probably have more income than the median household in the nation, but pay nothing in taxes.  If the same, supposedly hard working and intelligent person gets a job, he or she is going to have to pay 15% of that EARNED income in taxes.  Would that encourage or discourage somebody from working?

    But what is truly puzzling is that Gingrich doesn't even try to make the numbers add up.  An increase in the deficit of over $1 trillion a year?  WTF?  So the only way to balance the budget is to what, close the whole damn government?  Either this man is completely innumerate, or he thinks the average citizen is dumber than a post.  I can't decide, but I'm leaning toward him thinking we are all stupid.  The Republican Party is one giant clown show.  Anyone who would vote for these clowns needs his or her noggin examined.

    Moerlein Lager House

    The Moerlein Lager House is scheduled to open February 27 down on the riverfront.  Cincinnati Business Courier (h/t Cubs dad):
    A pre-opening gala benefiting Cincinnati Park’s Explore Nature program is scheduled on Saturday, Feb. 25.
    Moerlein Lager House will include a working microbrewery producing a full line of Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. craft beers, plus a restaurant serving spent-grain breads, hand-carved sandwiches and smoked rotisserie meats, foods similar to those served in Cincinnati’s beer gardens in the 19th century. It will have seats inside for 500 and an outdoor beer garden for 600.
    The lager house is in the new Smale Riverfront Park, located near the banks of the Ohio River.
    Moerlein Lager House will be open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
    That sounds sweet.  I'll definitely stop there before a Reds game next season.  For more on 19th century Cincinnati saloon culture, check this out.

    Chart of the Day

    Via the Big Picture:

    Happy St. Lucia Day

    For all the Scandinavians out there, have a happy St. Lucia Day.  For those on the Island of St. Lucia, have a happy National Day:
    Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Saint Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr who is venerated as a saint by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December; with a name derived from lux, lucis "light", she is the patron saint of those who are blind. Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church among the Scandinavian peoples, who take part in Saint Lucy's Day celebrations that retain many elements of Germanic paganism. Saint Lucy is one of seven women, aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Hagiography tells us that Lucy was a Christian during the Diocletian persecution. She consecrated her virginity to God, refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily. Miraculously unable to move her or burn her, the guards took out her eyes with a fork. In another version, Lucy's would-be husband admired her eyes, so she tore them out and gave them to him, saying, "Now let me live to God"
    The oldest record of her story comes from the fifth-century accounts of saints' lives. By the 6th century, her story was widespread, so that she appears in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I. At the opening of the 8th century Aldhelm included a brief account of her life among the virgins praised in De laude virginitatis, and in the following century the Venerable Bede included her in his Martyrology. In medieval accounts, Saint Lucy's eyes are gouged out prior to her execution. In art, her eyes sometimes appear on a tray that she is holding.
    Traditional celebrations:
    Saint Lucia's Day sometimes Lucia for short) is the Church feast day dedicated to St. Lucy and is observed on the 13th of December. Its modern day celebration is generally associated with Sweden and Norway but is also observed in Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Malta, Bosnia, Bavaria, Croatia, Slovakia and St. Lucia, West Indies. In the United States it is celebrated with cookies on the mantel in states for a large number of people of Scandinavian ancestry, often centered around church events.
    In traditional celebrations, Saint Lucy comes as a young woman with lights and sweets. It is one of the few saint days observed in Scandinavia. In some forms, a procession is headed by one girl wearing a crown of candles (or lights), while others in the procession hold only a single candle each.
    The day was thought to be the shortest of the year, thus the pagan roots and the obsession with candles, although that gross eyeball thing may also figure in with the lights.  I only noticed the day because it is annually noted on the calendar in the Old Farmer's Almanac.

    Crop Input Prices To Increase

    Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier:
    Producers got some good and bad news Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the AG Expo in Osage. Agriculture experts forecast another financial windfall next year raising corn and soybeans, but profitability beyond 2012 is in serious doubt as input costs eventually overtake grain prices.

    Chad Hart, Iowa State University Extension grain economist, told more than 100 producers and ag business officials at the Cedar River Complex Events Center that the cyclical nature of grain profitability will most likely catch up to producers in 2013. Landowners renting or selling ground and companies selling fertilizer, equipment, seed and other crop inputs have watched farmers rake in excellent profits in recent years and they want a bigger share of the pie.

    Hart warned farmers that tough economic times lie ahead. Representatives of businesses at the expo didn't necessarily disagree.

    "In 2013 you will be happy that you have money socked away," Hart told a producer at the expo. "Farming is competitive. I expect costs to catch up with prices."

    Corn and soybean values have about doubled since 2006. Production expenses haven't escalated as much, but that's about to change.
    Ouch. After seeing next year's fertilizer bill, I can't imagine it getting even higher.  We're protected on the cash rent side, but the other inputs bite us on the ass.  I'm definitely not looking forward to 2013.

    Internet Gaming And The Fall Of Full Tilt Poker

    James McManus at Grantland:
    On September 20, Bharara raised the stakes even higher. He amended his original complaint to allege that Tilt's board of directors defrauded players by misrepresenting that their funds were available for withdrawal at any time. Then came the kicker: They'd used those funds to pay themselves $443,860,529.89. "Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme," he said. "Insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company." He alleged that between April 2007 and April 2011, Bitar received about $41 million, Lederer $42.8 million, Furst $11.7 million. Ferguson was allocated $87,486,182.87 in distributions, of which he'd received about $25 million. The other $260 million had been dispersed among owners with fewer shares. Most of the money had allegedly been transferred to accounts in Switzerland and other overseas banks, and Bharara released the account numbers. He said the company had faced a growing shortfall in 2010 because it was unable to collect funds from U.S. players. To maintain its "safe and secure" image, it credited players with about $130 million it had never actually received. When players put the phantom funds into action and inevitably lost part of them to opponents in other countries, a massive shortfall developed. Bharara claimed the practice continued even after April 15, and that in June, Lederer and Bitar reported to fellow owners that there was only $6 million on hand, with global liabilities of more than $300 million.
    That'll make me pay attention.

    Monday, December 12, 2011


    TimeScapes 4K from Tom Lowe on Vimeo.

    A Story You Have To Read

    Here's The Awl's description of Bloomberg Businessweek's "The King of All Vegas Real Estate Scams":
    Oh yes: this is the story that has it all, baby: Four Loko, insurance scams, foreclosures, a retired ladies detective club, RICO complaints, fake absentee ballots, the FBI, Las Vegas, offshore bank accounts and actual broken kneecaps. Stick with it, it gets crazier and crazier.
    Here is one of the interesting characters in the story, which involves a scam involving Homeowner Association lawsuirs:
    The change at the Vistana came fast that winter. In January 2005 the three new board members on the five-person board canceled a mediation session with Rhodes Homes, fired their attorneys from Angius & Terry, and replaced them with a firm called Spilotro & Kulla. John Spilotro was well known in Vegas not only because of his success as a criminal lawyer but also because of his famous uncle, Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro. During the ’70s, Anthony Spilotro moved from Chicago to Vegas allegedly to help run various mob-related businesses, including the Stardust Resort & Casino. In the years to come he ran roughshod over the city, forming a notorious burglary outfit called The Hole in the Wall Gang and touching off a spasm of street violence that drew national attention, and ultimately, a federal crackdown on organized crime in Vegas. In 1986 police found Anthony Spilotro’s body several feet under an Indiana cornfield. They suspected he’d been buried alive. In the 1995 Martin Scorsese-directed movie Casino, Joe Pesci plays a character based on Spilotro. A quarter-century later, the surname Spilotro still gives some people in Vegas the heebie-jeebies. “When I heard that name,” recalls Murray, “I went, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.’ ” (Spilotro did not respond to a request for comment. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.)
    It's a long story, but it never gets boring.

    Eyes Like A Hawk

    Dr. Ivan Schwab on how animals see, via the Dish:
    Birds, on the other hand, possess rich color vision, in many cases better than our own. Most birds have four cone visual pigments, although this varies. In general, birds have an additional ultraviolet pigment in their cones and many more cones than we have. Furthermore the visual pigments that would be similar to ours span different wavelengths. Their visual experience is richer than our own in ways impossible to describe or understand. Not only do they see more colors, but the interpretation of colors would be different. Think of combining different colors of paint—if you combine more colors radiating from the same object, like a flower, you will see different colors. A hummingbird, then, would see a red flower as a different color because of the ultraviolet channel input.
    You may ask what good are these extra color channels in birds? Of course, it’s hard to know completely since we can’t even understand the perception of the color “ultraviolet,” but here is an example. When a mouse is being hunted by a hawk, it will often urinate out of fear and to make itself as light as possible for escape. Mouse urine radiates ultraviolet and that actually helps the hawk follow the mouse trail. Fresher urine radiates more ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet arrow will point to lunch for the hawk.

    Using Drones For Domestic Police Work

    LA Times (via Balloon Juice):
    Armed with a search warrant, Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke went looking for six missing cows on the Brossart family farm in the early evening of June 23. Three men brandishing rifles chased him off, he said.

    Janke knew the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.

    He also called in a Predator B drone.

    As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed. Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.

    But that was just the start. Local police say they have used two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly at least two dozen surveillance flights since June. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have used Predators for other domestic investigations, officials said.
    If they aren't already using drones for pre-arrest surveillance (stakeouts and intelligence gathering), I'd be damned surprised.  It appears to me that is exactly what the last line of the quote implies.  My guess is that technology is well on its way to trampling the Fourth Amendment.  Data mining and drone surveillance will likely be used to "find" criminal activity, turning up suspects without having any reasonable cause to investigate them.  You better watch what you say on the phone, text or email, since we know the government is sorting through all of our communications.

    Why Is Canada Thriving During The Recession?

    Morning Edition Sunday looks at Canada's stability during the Great Recession:
    MANN: Canada has some of the strictest banking rules in the world. While hundreds of banks failed in the U.S. during the recession, this country hasn't seen a single major bank failure - not one. In fact, banks here are posting record profits. There's also no mortgage crisis in Canada. And while U.S. politicians feud over government spending, Mendelson says political parties on this side of the border have done the hard work of balancing budgets.
    MENDELSON: The last decade has been one of Canada paying down debt, while it's been one of the United States ratcheting up debt. And so that creates much more flexibility for Canada to invest and make choices when a recession arises.
    MANN: It's a huge turnabout for a country that in the 1990s was an economic basket case. In those days, the Canadian dollar was so weak that it was known as the northern peso. Now, Canada's dollar trades on par with American greenbacks and economic growth here is a third higher than in the U.S. Unemployment remained relatively low during the recession and people who do lose their jobs in Canada can expect to be out of work for half as long, compared with jobless workers in the U.S. Economists credit Canada's prosperity to a wide range of factors, including the rapid expansion of the country's oil industry and a very different approach to immigration.
    I would attribute it mainly to resource extraction.  I've heard whispers of a housing bubble in Canada, but so far, the banking system has held up well.  If their loan quality is better than the U.S. because of better regulation, I would like to see this emphasized in the United States.  I guess I'm not ready to go out and say that Canada has everything right, because I think the Chinese basic material boom may be allowing some Canadian bankers to be swimming naked, as Warren Buffett says, and when the tide goes out, we might find out who they are.  Hopefully, I am wrong, and Canada would be an excellent model for reworking the U.S. regulatory system.