Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Toutiere

All Things Considered:
If you happen to spend Christmas Eve in Canada — especially Quebec — you might be lucky enough to be invited to a festive dinner after midnight Mass. The feast is an old tradition from France called reveillon, and it's something to look forward to after a long day of fasting.
"They'll have a huge feast, with sweets and lobster and oysters, everything," says Thomas Naylor, executive chef to the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. "But in Quebec, at least, you'll always have tourtiere. It will be the center of the reveillon."
NPR's All Things Considered visited Naylor this week in the kitchen of the ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C., to learn how to make tourtiere.
Naylor knows about this Christmas Eve custom because many years ago, it traveled with French emigres across the Atlantic to Canada (and to New Orleans). The tourtiere is a savory, spiced meat pie, which both French- and English-speaking Canadians love to serve around the holidays.
I hadn't heard of this.  It doesn't sound too bad, but so far, my favorite food from Quebec is poutine.  I hope folks in Canada enjoy their Toutiere after Mass.

Chart of the Day

From the Big Picture:

George's Revenge

SNL's alternate ending for "It's a Wonderful Life" is one of my all-time favorite SNL Christmas sketches:



'Tis the season for mob violence (Not really).

15 Years

TNT TBS is playing "A Christmas Story" in their 24-hour marathon for the 15th straight year.  Also, NBC will play "It's A Wonderful Life" at 9 o'clock tonight.  I'm sure I'll catch the entire Relphie Christmas classic in a number of bits and pieces.  My favorite line, "Wow, whoopee, a zeppelin!"

A Bank Like The Bailey Bros. Building and Loan

NYT (h/t naked capitalism):
With obvious exceptions, business at the Bank of Cattaraugus hasn’t changed much since 1882, when 20 prominent residents — among them a Civil War surgeon and a cousin of Davy Crockett — established the bank to safeguard townsfolk’s money and to finance local commerce.
In its 130-year history, the bank has rarely booked a profit for itself in excess of $50,000. Last year, Mr. Cullen said, it made $5,000. He and his officers are industry anomalies: bankers who avoid high-risk and high-growth tactics in order to reinvest in their community’s economy.
“My examiners always ask me, ‘When are you going to grow?’ ” said Mr. Cullen, a Cattaraugus native who is 64 and has the prosperous stoutness of a storybook banker. “But where is it written I have to grow? We take care of our customers. The truth is we probably couldn’t grow too much in a town like this.”
While it faces many of the same regulations that govern larger banks, it operates according to an antiquated theory of the business: that a bank should be a utility, like the power company, and serve as a broker between savers and borrowers in its community.
Cattaraugus, nestled in the woods of the misleadingly named Rich Valley, is a town of limited prospects. (“We’re not on the way to anywhere,” Mr. Cullen said.) Manufacturing, which once thrived here, has more or less died — except for the Setterstix factory on South Main Street, which produces paper lollipop handles. The largest employer in the village is the school district, and many village residents survive, like Ms. Bonner, on pensions or government subsidies, in homes that have an average mortgage of $30,000.
It's nice to hear that some of those institutions still exist.

Pigeons Can Learn Math Skills

Smart birds creep me out.  The NYT reports on pigeon math skills:
By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame.
Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest.
They learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six.
Damian Scarf, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, tried the same experiment with pigeons, and he and two colleagues report in the current issue of the journal Science that the pigeons did just as well as the monkeys.
I'm not too keen on flying animals being able to learn skills we thought only primates learned.  Damn those smart birds.  Hopefully they'll never figure out how to keep from flying into windows.

It's A Wonderful Life, For The Superrich



Last night I was watching George Bailey consistently stand up for the working class and immigrants and interfere with Old Man Potter's attempts to take over Bedford Falls, and it made me wonder, can anybody imagine such a movie being made today?

 Consider, in 1946, the top marginal tax rate was 86.45%, and Old Man Potter was a rich, greedy miser who wants to keep the poor in slums so he can charge them rapacious rents.  Dividends were taxed as regular income.  Today, the top marginal rate is 35%, and that equally hits people who make $300,000 a year and those who make $30,000,000 a year, while dividends are taxed at 15%.  Today, rich people are whining that they aren't getting enough respect for how much harder the supposedly work than all the little people, and they aren't appreciated enough as job-creating geniuses.  How did we get from 1946 to today?  I would suppose that after the Great Depression, people didn't feel like rich people were so impressive, and also that near universal service in World War II taught rich and poor alike that money didn't make people better, character counted for more. 

If a movie like "It's a Wonderful Life " came out today, how many hours of Fox News coverage would be poured into coverage of "the divisive class warfare and socialism promoted by Godless liberals in Hollywood?"  I would guess several hundred.  Rush Limbaugh would get in a huff about how jealous liberals hated good conservatives who worked hard, and wanted to steal from hard-working heartland conservatives.   It would be laughable.  Luckily, "It's a Wonderful Life" was made at a time when rich people didn't use the media to propagandize people about how they deserve all their "hard-earned" wealth.  I'm not one to claim that things were better back in "the good ol' days," but in this case, I think things were better for the working class back in the good 'ol days.  As for the rich, you have to go back to the 1890s to find good ol' days as good as today.

Have A Holly Jolly Chrsitmas

Along with "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," this is my favorite secular Christmas tune:

Good Beer Rises

Slate (h/t the Dish):
The drink he led me to was a perfect choice in that it was not only delicious, but also previously unknown to me. In one recommendation, he delivered the basic services I want from a sommelier: excellent advice and teaching without pedantry. And in my glass? Not wine, but rather an Arcobraeu Zwicklbier, an unfiltered lager from southern Germany.
Engert knows wine, but he specializes in beer. He’s a leading light of a new generation of beer professionals that are working to raise the art and science of selecting and serving beer to the level of wine service. Engert and his peers are rapidly gaining notice from the fine dining establishment. Last year, he was the first ever beer professional to make Food & Wine’s list of top sommeliers. For craft beer to continue growing and improving, there will need to be many more like him.
I don't think beer needs to be as snobby as wine, thank you very much.  But I do appreciate the large number of styles of beer available.  If it tastes good, I'll drink it.  I don't really need the sommelier.

Regulators Are Cowed

Wired:
With no notice other than a holiday-eve posting in the Federal Register, the US Food and Drug Administration has reneged on its long-stated intention to compel large-scale agriculture to curb over-use of agricultural antibiotics, which it had planned to do by reversing its approval for putting penicillin and tetracyclines in feed.
How long-stated? The FDA first announced its intention to withdraw those approvals in 1977.
From the official posting:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or the Agency) is withdrawing two 1977 notices of opportunity for a hearing (NOOH), which proposed to withdraw certain approved uses of penicillin and tetracyclines intended for use in feeds for food-producing animals based in part on microbial food safety concerns.1 … (1FDA’s approval to withdraw the approved uses of the drugs was based on three statutory grounds: (1) The drugs are not shown to be safe (21 U.S.C. 360b(e)(1)(B)); (2) lack of substantial evidence of effectiveness (21 U.S.C. 360b(e)(1)(C)); and (3) failure to submit required reports (21 U.S.C. 360b(e)(2)(A)).)
There is a lot of background to this, but here is the takeaway: For 34 years, the FDA has been contending that administering small doses of antibiotics to healthy animals is an inappropriate use of increasingly scarce drugs — a position in which it is supported by organizations as mainstream as the American Medical Association. With this withdrawal, it backs away from the actions it took to support that assertion — which may indicate there will be no further government action on the issue until after the 2012 election.

In the Federal Register, the FDA says that it plans instead to “focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health.” That’s a reference to a draft guidance that the FDA put forward in the summer of 2010, which proposes that large-scale agriculture voluntarily stop using those “subtherapeutic” small doses, and also stop giving any antibiotic doses to animals unless veterinarians prescribe them.
I'm not sure how folks can cry about the regulatory burden, regulators are routinely cowed from acting in the public interest.  Voluntary reform means no change.  I am surprised that EPA finally issued rules on mercury control, those have only been in the works since the '90s at a minimum.  Human health is taking a backseat to the creature comforts of business, and in the end, it won't work out well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Icelandic Winter

Winter in Hell from Enrique Pacheco on Vimeo.


In honor of the passing of the solstice this week. The heart of winter may be ahead of us, but the darkest days have passed.

Home Alone

This was our family movie the year it came out. Wow, that was 1990 (which is better remembered as the year the Reds last won the World Series):

A Small Project

A neighbor called this afternoon and said that another neighbor's cows were out and were grazing in the wheat field.  The neighbor with the cows is in Florida, so I went up to try to get them in.  That was pretty easy, as the cows were pretty spooky, and they ran back over and got back into the pasture in two different spots as soon as I walked into the wheat field.  There was one spot where the bottom of the fence was disconnected from the posts, and another spot where there wasn't a top line of barbed wire, and the woven wire was pushed down enough that they could jump the fence.

So I got some wire clips and reconnected the first spot, then got some barbed wire and strung about 75 feet somewhat roughly where there wasn't any.  Hopefully that will be enough to keep them in until he gets back from Florida.  I was glad I was able to do that, because he does a lot of things for me, and doesn't let me pay him for the work, so it was nice to be able to do something for him in return.  I just hope it works.

Who Hasn't Seen Hoosiers?


My sister bought me the Grantland Quarterly, a collection of the best of the stories at Grantland.com, for Christmas.  One of the stories was an updated version of Bill Simmons' review of the movie Hoosiers (one of the movies which we watched as a family) on the occasion of his "250th viewing".  For anybody who enjoys the movie, it is well worth the read.

It immediately reminded me that a couple of folks I know actually claim to have never watched the movie.  Even worse, they went to a school which is nearly as small as Hickory High, but more deeply inbred.  How such people could proudly declare their ignorance of an American cultural touchstone, I'll never understand. 

A Challenge For Theoretical Physics

Alan Lightman discusses the challenges theoretical physicists face in explaining cosmology (h/t nc links) :
The scientists most distressed by Weinberg’s “fork in the road” are theoretical physicists. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion. Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the “laws of nature,” which govern the behavior of all matter and energy. An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special relativity. An example of a fundamental parameter is the mass of an electron, considered one of the two dozen or so “elementary” particles of nature. As far as physicists are concerned, the fewer the fundamental principles and parameters, the better. The underlying hope and belief of this enterprise has always been that these basic principles are so restrictive that only one, self-consistent universe is possible, like a crossword puzzle with only one solution. That one universe would be, of course, the universe we live in. Theoretical physicists are Platonists. Until the past few years, they agreed that the entire universe, the one universe, is generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron. It seemed that we were closing in on a vision of our universe in which everything could be calculated, predicted, and understood.
However, two theories in physics, eternal inflation and string theory, now suggest that the same fundamental principles from which the laws of nature derive may lead to many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties. It is as if you walked into a shoe store, had your feet measured, and found that a size 5 would fit you, a size 8 would also fit, and a size 12 would fit equally well. Such wishy-washy results make theoretical physicists extremely unhappy. Evidently, the fundamental laws of nature do not pin down a single and unique universe. According to the current thinking of many physicists, we are living in one of a vast number of universes. We are living in an accidental universe. We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.
String theory is one of those topics which is over my head, but this article is a nice primer on the concept of the multiverse.

Social Media And The Protestant Reformation

Also via Ritholtz, The Economist examines how Luther's ideas spread in the 16th Century:
The start of the Reformation is usually dated to Luther’s nailing of his “95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31st 1517. The “95 Theses” were propositions written in Latin that he wished to discuss, in the academic custom of the day, in an open debate at the university. Luther, then an obscure theologian and minister, was outraged by the behaviour of Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar who was selling indulgences to raise money to fund the pet project of his boss, Pope Leo X: the reconstruction of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Hand over your money, went Tetzel’s sales pitch, and you can ensure that your dead relatives are not stuck in purgatory. This crude commercialisation of the doctrine of indulgences, encapsulated in Tetzel’s slogan—“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, so the soul from purgatory springs”—was, to Luther, “the pious defrauding of the faithful” and a glaring symptom of the need for broad reform. Pinning a list of propositions to the church door, which doubled as the university notice board, was a standard way to announce a public debate.
Although they were written in Latin, the “95 Theses” caused an immediate stir, first within academic circles in Wittenberg and then farther afield. In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”
The unintentional but rapid spread of the “95 Theses” alerted Luther to the way in which media passed from one person to another could quickly reach a wide audience. “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation,” he wrote in March 1518 to a publisher in Nuremberg who had published a German translation of the theses. But writing in scholarly Latin and then translating it into German was not the best way to address the wider public. Luther wrote that he “should have spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.” For the publication later that month of his “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, he switched to German, avoiding regional vocabulary to ensure that his words were intelligible from the Rhineland to Saxony. The pamphlet, an instant hit, is regarded by many as the true starting point of the Reformation.

Chart of the Day

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland looks at population density in urban cores of large cities, with Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta as the focus.  There are very nice population density maps of each city in the report, along with this chart (h/t Ritholtz):


Suburbanization has been detrimental to the economic health of the country, but it is strange how some inner cores have thrived while others have nearly collapsed.  Even in Detroit and Cleveland, the downtowns are showing some signs of rebounding.  Unfortunately, the movement of people and business into the suburbs has wasted money on new infrastructure in widely spread out areas, while neglecting existing infrastructure in areas where density could have been an advantage.  Damn cars.

Gift Wrapping Is Overrated

Marketplace:
Novemsky: So we were very interested in this question of how gift wrapping influences peoples reactions to gifts -- how much they like them. And also their willingness to reciprocate to the gift giver. I've had this experience some time ago -- giving my wife gifts -- where I would try to go the extra mile -- get the fancy bow and the nice wrapping -- every time I gave her something. And I'd notice a little ting in her eye when she would open the gift that almost suggested she was a little disappointed sometimes. So that encouraged us to run a few studies to give people gifts and see how they reacted to the same gift -- depending on how it was wrapped. And one of the interesting findings was that if you wrap a gift, you raised peoples expectations and the liking of the same gift goes down. If you wrap a gift that, you know, is really just meant to be a little something, it might behoove you not to wrap it -- or if you are going to wrap it, to not wrap it so nicely.
Moon: Now we're not just talking about the kind of wrapping paper, we're talking about not wrapping a gift at all to keep expectations lower.
Novemsky: That's right. Because you can imagine that -- especially as a gift that's wrapped sits under the Christmas tree for, you know, days or weeks, for example -- you start to imagine what's in there and you get pretty expectations. And when Christmas finally comes or the time comes to finally open that wrapping, you're imagining something great. Where as if I just say, "Here is something for you" and hand you something that you can immediately see, there's no chance for those expectations to creep up.
A case where science indicates that positive outcomes correspond with laziness.  I like that.

The show also featured a bit of News of the Obvious: Ron Paul invests heavily in gold.  Whodathunkit?  Well at least that has paid off well for him the last few years.  If he were wise, he'd probably cash out.  He won't.

Happy Festivus

Happy Festivus to all.  I've got a lot of problems with you people.



May all be blessed with Festivus miracles.  If you happen to be in The District of Rock Island, Illinois, you can participate in the celebration.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Price Of A Best Seller

Inflation-adjusted edition.  From The Awl:
1961
Half a century ago was 1961. John F. Kennedy was newly in the White House, the Cold War was in full effect and the Freedom Rides were taking place down south. But hey, everyone, “Mad Men,” right? And speaking of cultural artifacts destined to become curriculum, here we find J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey as the Fiction bestseller, which was yours for only $4, or $30.26 in 2011 dollars. That would be the Salinger that has fewer “goddamn phonies” per page.
And the phenomenon of John F. Kennedy as failsafe publishing topic was taking root, as Making of the President, 1960 by Theodore H. White was the Nonfiction bestseller, the first in a series of five books to examine American elections, (no doubt catching the eye of a young Richard Ben Cramer). This was the one book of which I could not pin down the precise historical retail price. The older prices I dug up with the help of book collectors’ websites, which sometimes list the initial price along with info concerning spine condition, dog-ears and foxing. But even though Making won the Pulitzer in 1962, it does not make a splash with current collectors. So instead we will substitute the price of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1960 book, The Enemy Within, which was $3.95 (or $30.19) at the time, and which I hope to God is as ominously sci-fi as its title.
Yeah, I mainly ran that because I have a bit of a fascination about Salinger.  Mainly, why did the guy just up and quit writing?  Anyway, as far as inflation goes, it looks like best-sellers have gotten slightly cheaper over the years, but less so than more technology-laden stuff.

Economic Good News May Be Transitory

NYT (via nc links):
“Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see a slowdown over the course of next year,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told reporters last week. “Not only do we have the European crisis spilling over and hurting U.S. trade and confidence,” he said, but the United States economy also faces “homegrown shocks.”
There are two reasons for the renewed pessimism. First, economists say that temporary trends increased growth in the fourth quarter and may not continue into next year. Second, the economy faces significant headwinds in 2012: some from Europe’s long-lingering sovereign debt crisis, and some from domestic cutbacks beyond the control of President Obama, whose campaign would like to point to a brightening economic picture, not a darkening one. Even the Federal Reserve is predicting that the unemployment rate will remain around 8.6 percent by the time voters go to the polls in November.
The article doesn't even mention the potential of bad news out of China.  I sure hope the economy is recovering, but as is usually the case, I remain skeptical.  I just get the feeling that a Communist Party might not be fully prepared for dealing with a Capitalist eff-up.  Kind of like Homer Simpson saying, "Who knows more about electricity than the Amish?"

Top 25 For Student-Athletes

Yglesias:



College football players don't get paid, in part on the theory that they're really mere students participating in a little recreational athletics and not at all the main labor force for a multi-million dollar industry. But how do the universities participating in the bowl games this holiday season actually stack up in terms of educating football players? Our partners at the New America Foundation devised this interactive infographic that helps you see how all the top 25 BCS teams stack up academically. Player often graduate at far lower rates than regular students at their schools, and black players' graduation rates lag behind those of their white teammates. TCU, for example, climbs to third in the Academic BCS rankings, while Alambama and LSU drop to fifth and 13th, respectively. (No. 1 in the Academic BCS? Penn State.)

At first I thought it was a ranking of all the bowl teams, but then I saw it was the Top 25.  No wonder Ohio State and Notre Dame weren't in there.  Joe Pa may have grossly mishandled the Jerry Sandusky case, but his academic BCS was number 1.  I guess that might reflect a low overall graduation rate at a school that is consistently in the Top 10 party school rankings.

James Madison, Agricultural Conservationist

D.W. Sabin reviews Andrea Wulf's “ Founding Gardeners, The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation" (h/t the Dish):
The book follows the garden-centered lives of primarily Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison but also touches upon such early American scientific innovators as the Plantsman family Bartram from outside Philadelphia along with that other classic polymath, Benjamin Franklin. We see the different personalities of the Framers–an august Washington, the diffident and cantankerous Adams, an omnivorous yet evasive Jefferson and the retiring Madison yet they all converge simpatico while standing in the rich earth of their gardens and farms. All of their correspondence was liberally filled with shared agricultural insight, requests for new seeds and the arts of manure management. Would that our current leaders might manage their manure.
The America of the Framers was an America firmly grounded within both the productivity and the beauty of our natural world. A couple of tidbits of note from the book are the facts that Washington, in the depths of the war, sent extensive directions by dispatch to his farm manager every Sunday and that one of the more important compromises of the early government came about principally as a result of a visit to Bartram’s nursery when the Philadelphia Convention was deadlocked. Seeing the grandeur of the plants from across the colonies, side by side was an effective reminder to the early legislators that we have more in common than we might like to think and that our differences, when composed harmoniously create a remarkable tableau of formidable distinction.
The most important produce for me however, was the news that Madison was our first Conservationist. Fifty years before the acclaim of Thoreau or Emerson, James Madison delivered one of the most groundbreaking speeches in American farming and conservation history. In May of 1818, engaged in farming pursuits like the rest of his Cincinnatus former Presidents, Madison delivered an address to the Agricultural society of Albemarle. In it, Madison covered here-to-for generally unknown notions of ecology, plant physiology, nutrient recycling, soil erosion control, soil chemistry and in a word, Conservation. The speech was enthusiastically received at the time and pamphlets detailing it were published both here and in Britain as well as France. This co-author of the Federalist Papers knew that American Liberty was deeply indebted to the long-term health of the land we live upon.
That's pretty heady stuff for back in the olden days.  Likewise, Washington did a good bit of agricultural research at Mount Vernon.

Chart of the Day

From David Cay Johnson:

So that's the return-on-investment that businessfolks talk about.

Nuts!


December 22, 1944:
German troops demand the surrender of United States troops at Bastogne, Belgium, prompting the famous one word reply by General Anthony McAuliffe: "Nuts!"
A lot of good people died in Hitler's last major gamble of the war.  It was pointless, but it was the last major counterattack on the Western Front.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

World's Tallest Buildings In 2020

The Atlantic Cities:

By 2020, according to the council's accompanying report, nine buildings will eclipse (or nearly break) the "megatall" barrier of roughly 2,000 feet (or 600 meters) — twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. As a point of comparison with today's skyscrapers, consider that the Petronas Towers, which were the tallest in the world when completed in 1998, will rank just 27th when 2020 arrives. In the words of the council's report, "600 m seems to be the new 300 m." Likewise, 300 meters (or 984 feet) seems to be the new snowman: by 2020 an estimated 198 towers will reach that height, compared to just 15 in 1995. All but one of the towers on the top 20 list will be built in the Middle East or Asia. The lone representative from the Western hemisphere will be One World Trade Center, which will scrape sky at a patriotic 1,776 feet (or a less patriotic 541 meters) with its radio antenna. (Which, by the way, why are skyscrapers allowed to include antennas in their height? If reaching my hand upward counted in my height I'd be playing center for the Knicks.) China leads the list with ten of the towers in seven different cities — the tallest being the Ping An Finance Center, in Shenzhen, at 2,165 feet (660 meters).
The tallest tower in the works is the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, a city on the western coast of Saudi Arabia. The tower will soar to 3,280 feet (over 1,000 meters), making it more than 500 feet taller than the world's current champion, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Built at a cost of $1.2 billion, the completed Kingdom Tower will be a mixed-use facility that includes a luxury hotel, luxury condominiums, and office space, in addition to the world's highest observatory. It will also boast "one of the world's most sophisticated elevator systems," according Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, the project's lead architect [PDF] — with observatory elevators reaching speeds of 10 meters per second, or over 22 miles per hour.
Wow.  So the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere will be 12th overall?  I've stood beside the Sears Tower (ok, Willis Tower) and just can't imagine buildings more than twice as tall.  I'm not sure why Bin Laden was so hellbent on knocking down tall buildings in the U.S. when the tallest building in the world is in Dubai.  I guess it doesn't matter now.

Spaceship? No, A Drone

Wired:



Note to the Navy: When trucking a giant flying robot with a rounded fuselage across the country, people are going to think they’re looking at an artifact from Area 51.
As the local news coverage above shows, residents of Cowley County, Kansas, were freaked out to see a truck rumbling down U.S. 77 towing what looks a whole lot like a 32-foot spaceship. “People were calling in saying, ‘Oh they think they found a flying saucer,’” Donetta Godsey of the Winfield Daily Courier told the ABC News affiliate.
Alas, the cargo wasn’t anything otherworldly. Just a trussed-up, wingless version of the Navy’s futuristic killer drone, the X-47B, which the Navy hopes will one day be the world’s first robot capable of landing on an aircraft carrier. For the past few days, it’s hitched a rather terrestrial ride from California’s Edwards Air Force Base to Patuxent River, Maryland.
“Oh, you mean the UFO?” Brooks McKinney, a spokesman for X-47B manufacturer Northrop Grumman, told Danger Room.

McKinney’s both embarrassed and amused by the UFO confusion. “They effectively shrink-wrapped the rest of the fuselage after taking the wings off the drone for the cross-country trek,” he said. “Because it was 32 feet wide, it could only travel certain hours of the day because we blocked off the road. That led to lots of weird stories, like we had abandoned [the X-47B] on the side of the road.”
It seems like almost every day there's a drone story of some kind.

Chart of the Day

Via Yglesias:


My understanding is that Japan doesn't face the same problems as Greece for two reasons: mainly it is internal debt and the debt is issued in yen.  But it is still a massive debt, and most likely one of the leading causes of the lost 2 decades, along with demographics.

MF Global Told CME It Used Customer Funds

Bloomberg (h/t Ritholtz):
CME Group detailed its dealings with MF Global in documents released yesterday by the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee. Christine Serwinski, chief financial officer for North America at MF Global, and Edith O’Brien, a treasurer, told Mike Procajlo, an exchange auditor, at around 1 a.m. on Oct. 31 in Serwinski’s Chicago office that the customer money was transferred on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 and possibly Oct. 26, according to a CME Group timeline.
“About $700 million was moved to the broker-dealer side of the business to meet liquidity issues in a series of transactions on Thursday, Friday and possibly Wednesday,” Serwinski and O’Brien told Procajlo hours before the firm filed for the eighth-largest bankruptcy following record quarterly losses and $6.3 billion in trades on European sovereign debt.
The timeline, the most detailed account yet of what may have happened to as much as $1.2 billion of missing customer money, was released as Jon Corzine, the firm’s former chairman, chief executive officer and architect of the European trades, faced his third congressional panel in the past week. The former senator and governor of New Jersey said he doesn’t know what happened to the money.
Crooks.  I'm still leaning toward failing broker loots customer cash to try to stave off failure.  I just can't believe Corzine didn't know what was going on.  I don't know who the whistleblower will be, but I think somebody will confess that he told them to do the looting.

A Triumph Of The Private Sector?

Washington Post (h/t Ritholtz):
The breakthroughs that revolutionized the natural gas industry — massive hydraulic fracturing, new mapping tools and horizontal drilling — were made possible by the government agencies that critics insist are incapable of investing wisely in new technology.
This will surprise those steeped in the hagiography of George Mitchell, the tenacious Texas oil man who proved that gas could be drawn from shale rock at a profit. The popular telling has Mitchell spending 20 lonely years pursuing the breakthroughs to tap the Barnett Shale, an underground expanse.
While Mitchell did face skepticism from industry, and from many of his employees, he overcame the myriad obstacles to cheap shale gas extraction with help from technologies developed with taxpayer money.
Slick-water fracking, the technology that Mitchell used to crack the shale gas code, was adapted from massive hydraulic fracturing, a technology first demonstrated by the Energy Department in 1977. Over the next two decades, Mitchell and others, with government support, tinkered with the technology, exploring ways to use fewer chemicals and more water, which substantially reduced the cost of extraction.
Mitchell learned of shale’s potential from the Eastern Gas Shales Project, a partnership begun in 1976 between the Energy Department’s Morgantown Energy Research Center and dozens of companies and universities that sought to demonstrate natural gas recovery in shale formations and to map and test core samples from unconventional natural gas deposits. Starting in 1981, Mitchell’s geologists drew heavily on that research to guide their explorations.
Mitchell’s success depended on a revolution in monitoring and mapping technologies driven largely by government labs. The new technologies allowed geologists to more precisely map and understand shale formations. In 1991, Mitchell asked the publicly funded Gas Research Institute, then funded by a tax on gas production, and the Energy Department for help. Sandia National Labs provided Mitchell with many critical microseismic tools. Mitchell also benefited from 3-D imaging, which the Energy Department had long supported.
The third critical technology was horizontal drilling and well installation, a breakthrough that captured much more shale gas than conventional vertical wells had. The government had supported innovative drilling methods since the ’70s; in 1976, two government engineers, Joseph Pasini III and William K. Overby Jr., patented an early-stage directional drilling technology that became the precursor to horizontal drilling. A decade later, a joint venture between the Energy Department and industry drilled the first horizontal Devonian shale well, which allowed gas to be extracted from multiple fractures and wells.
Wasteful government financing and research often comes in handy.  Look at that GPS thingy.  Or Tang.  Yet, my right-wing friend who works at Sandia National Lab thinks the government is useless.  Oh well.

Terrible Timing

"The Landing of the Pilgrims" (1877) by Henry A. Bacon
December 21, 1620:
 William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims land on what is now known as Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
What a terrible time to try to make camp:
On December 21, 1620, the first landing party arrived at the site of what would later become the settlement of Plymouth. Plans to immediately begin building houses, however, were delayed by inclement weather until December 23. As the building progressed, twenty men always remained ashore for security purposes, while the rest of the work crews returned each night to the Mayflower. Women, children, and the infirm remained on board the Mayflower; many had not left the ship for six months. The first structure, a "common house" of wattle and daub, took two weeks to complete in the harsh New England winter. In the following weeks, the rest of the settlement slowly took shape. The living and working structures were built on the relatively flat top of Cole's Hill, and a wooden platform was constructed to support the cannon that would defend the settlement from nearby Fort Hill.
Many of the able-bodied men were too infirm to work, and some died of their illnesses. Thus, only seven residences (of a planned nineteen) and four common houses were constructed during the first winter.
During the first winter in the New World, the Mayflower colonists suffered greatly from diseases like scurvy, lack of shelter and general conditions onboard ship. 45 of the 102 emigrants died the first winter and were buried on Cole's Hill. By the end of January, enough of the settlement had been built to begin unloading provisions from the Mayflower. In mid-February, after several tense encounters with local Native Americans, the male residents of the settlement organized themselves into military orders; Myles Standish was designated as the commanding officer. By the end of the month, five cannons had been defensively positioned on Fort Hill.  John Carver was elected governor to replace Governor Martin.

Chart of the Day

It's the time of year when Christmas searches outnumber porn searches, although Alex Madrigal notices that it might not make it this year:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Infrastructure On Our Inland Waterways

Fortune profiles barge transportation on the Mississippi River system.  Amongst the details is a story of a construction project gone horribly awry, the Olmstead Lock and Dam project:
The Olmsted Locks and Dam will replace two ancient and deteriorating locks and dams, known simply as 52 and 53, that sit just below Paducah near the end of the Ohio River. This is a chokepoint -- about 13% of all river cargo passes through here. The construction site at Olmsted swarms with workers tending to an enormous gantry crane that can lift 5,000-ton concrete forms. In the river is a $30 million catamaran that floats the forms into place to create the new dam. Most such projects involve diverting the water before building the dam. That was the original idea for Olmsted in 1988. Then engineers convinced the Corps that it might be better and cheaper to build in the wet, with the river still flowing. That had never been done on such a large scale. Twenty-three years later there are locks but no dam, and the cost has jumped from $775 million to $2.1 billion and is still rising. Two-thirds of the increase is due to design changes. The other third is from inefficiencies, most notably the restrictions on multiyear commitments to funding, which drive up contractor uncertainty and costs for materials. "People want to know, 'Do you have a handle on this?' " says David Dale, a deputy district engineer in the Corps' Louisville District, whose portfolio includes Olmsted. "We believe we do, because we've expended a lot of time on management control and on doing the assessments on how much it's going to cost, and we're getting closer to the point of releasing that number."
Since the mid-1980s, the industry has paid half the cost of construction into a trust fund through a fuel tax, now at 20¢ a gallon. For years the arrangement helped build new locks and refurbish old ones. Olmsted changed that. The balance in the fund, once more than $400 million, has been nearly wiped out. The money coming in -- about $80 million annually -- can pay for this one project and almost nothing else, pushing back some other needed projects for decades. Last year river haulers proposed what they thought to be a grand bargain. They would pay more in fuel taxes in exchange for improvements in the management of these big projects and for limiting the trust fund to building locks but not dams (the idea being that lots of people benefit from the lakes created by the dams). They have gotten nowhere. The administration's most recent proposal supports getting more revenue from lock fees but doesn't want significant changes in construction methods or funding responsibilities. And the Republicans don't want anybody's taxes going up.
Big federal river projects are easy targets on either side of the political aisle. Fiscal hawks hate the spending. Environmentalists hate the effects on ecosystems and all that burning coal. "This time, with the overwhelming debt that the country is accruing, they've decided to attack on both levels," says Mike Toohey, the president of the Waterways Council, an industry lobbying group. His first goal: to persuade the Republican leadership that his members helped elect that the higher gas tax the industry wants is less a tax and more a user fee.
"How can you continue to rely on a system that was built in the '20s and '30s and expect it to continue to perform way after its design life to keep the economy moving?" Toohey asks. "It just isn't going to happen without investment."
Wow, that is a bad performance for an engineering consultant.  When I say bad, I mean total clusterf&^$.  So when Democrats proposed taxes on corporations, Republicans reply that those taxes will get passed on to consumers, so it just isn't worth doing.  Well doesn't the same thing happen here.  If the government doesn't spend the money to improve the transportation system, won't consumers just end up paying more for their stuff?  Why not spend money to make the system more efficient, with an actual return on investment?  I really get the feeling that most Republican politicians were actually fairly dumb businessmen. 

Happy Hanukkah

I'll let Adam Sandler kick off the Festival of Lights:

Ohio State Receives Sanctions

LA Times:
The NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Tuesday handed down sanctions against Ohio State's football program, penalizing the Buckeyes with a one-year bowl ban and the loss of nine scholarships over the next three years.
Former Coach Jim Tressel, who resigned before last season, was found to have engaged in unethical conduct and was issued a five-year, show-cause order.
The NCAA found that eight players received more than $14,000 in cash payments or preferential treatment from the owner of a Columbus, Ohio, tattoo parlor. In addition to free or discounted tatoos and cash for memorabilia, one player also received a loan and a discount on a car, the committee said.
The NCAA also found that Tressel concealed the violations when he was notified of the situation.
Slightly more than a slap on the wrist.  I think more corruption was left uncovered.

John Deere Expands Des Moines Works Production

Des Moines Register:
With $9.8 million in newly-approved tax incentives from the state in hand, Deere & Company confirmed plans to expand the manufacturing capacity at the John Deere Des Moines Works, where about 500 new jobs have been added in the last year to bring the workforce there to about 1,900.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) approved the tax incentives Friday. Deere said that 400 jobs would be retained as a result of the $85 million in capital improvements, including supplier tooling, to add a new 300,000-square-foot building for product assembly.
Deere will add production capacity for self-propelled sprayers – a product already manufactured at the factory. Construction of the new building is set to begin in the spring of 2012 and Deere expects that manufacturing of products could begin by spring of 2013.
The Ankeny works makes products primarily for cotton production.
Back in 2010, I toured that facility and the Hagie Sprayer production facility in Clarion.  The John Deere facility was a World War II ammunition facility, so there were a number of huge buildings which were well-separated.  Both of the tours featured an amazing number of people welding.  I'd never seen so many Lincoln Electric welders in a couple of days.  I was surprised they didn't have robotic welders at the plants.

Tidal Wave Clouds

Live Science:
For a morning, the sky looked like a surfer's dream: A series of huge breaking waves lined the horizon in Birmingham, Ala., on Friday (Dec. 16), their crests surging forward in slow motion. Amazed Alabamans took photos of the clouds and sent them to their local weather station, wondering, "What are these tsunamis in the sky?"
Experts say the clouds were pristine examples of "Kelvin-Helmholtz waves." Whether seen in the sky or in the ocean, this type of turbulence always forms when a fast-moving layer of fluid slides on top of a slower, thicker layer, dragging its surface.
Water waves, for example, form when the layer of fluid above them (i.e., the air) is moving faster than the layer of fluid below (i.e., the water). When the difference between the wind and water speed increases to a certain point, the waves "break" — their crests lurch forward — and they take on the telltale Kelvin-Helmholtz shape. [ Astonishing Video Shows a Face in the Clouds ]
According to Chris Walcek , a meteorologist at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York, Albany , fast-moving air high in the sky can drag the top of slow-moving, thick clouds underneath it in much the same way.
Never seen those before.  They look like something out of a cartoon.

Theft From The State

Via the Big Picture:
Pretty sweet deal if you can get it.  Banks pocket profits, taxpayers cover losses.

Every Time A Bell Rings

December 20, 1946:
The popular Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life is first released in New York City.



Hee Haw, and Merry Christmas.

Saving Lost Souls

Charlie Pierce:
Let us be quite clear — Tim Tebow adheres to a particular form of American Protestantism. He belongs to — and proselytizes for — a splinter of a splinter, no more or less than Mitt Romney once did. This particular splinter has a long record in America of fostering anti-Enlightenment thought, retrograde social policies, and, more discreetly, religious bigotry. To call Tim Tebow a "Christian," and to leave it at that — as though there were one definition of what a "Christian" is — is to say nothing and everything at once. Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Melkites, Maronites, and members of the Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths. You can see how insidious this is when discussion turns to the missionary work that Tebow's family has done in the Philippines. This is from the Five Priorities of the Bob Tebow ministries, regarding its work overseas:
It is the goal of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association to preach the gospel to every person who has never had an opportunity to hear the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most of the world's population has never once had the opportunity to hear the only true message of forgiveness of sins by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation. (To devout Catholics, for example, sins are not forgiven "by faith alone," but through the sacrament of reconciliation as administered by a priest.) Bob Tebow's goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity. So who's the actual Christian here? This is not an idle point to be made. Down through history, millions of people have died in conflicts over what a "Christian" really is, which is what so exercised Madison, and also what brought down a lot of Hitchens' wrath upon religion in general. History says that as soon as you start talking about "the only true message" in this regard, you guarantee that, eventually, people will get slaughtered in the town square.
I thought maybe Mr. Pierce was exaggerating, and that Tebows' do work in several Asian countries, but it doesn't sound like it (but the CIA World Factbook puts the Catholic population at 82.9%):
In 1998, BTEA began to implement a plan to preach the gospel in every barangay (village) in the Philippines. There are approximately 42,000 barangays in the Philippines and it is estimated that over 64% of them do not have a single evangelical church. In a country of over 92 million, the number of people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ is staggering. These statistics do not even take into account the dozens of ethnic tribal groups that have been living on obscure islands and in remote mountain villages for centuries. It is our goal to go to each and every barangay and give the people the opportunity to hear the gospel at least one time. In addition to preaching the gospel, we are endeavoring to plant indigenous churches with the new converts and train national pastors. It is a tremendous task that must be completed.
Nothing like good old sectarianism.  It didn't hurt Northern Ireland much.  What's that? Oh, nevermind.  Honestly, Tim Tebow the football player should probably be judged by his performance on the field, while Tim Tebow the man should primarily be judged by his performance off of it.  He seems to do a pretty good job off the field, but I'll take Andy Dalton over Tebow any day on the football field.

News Flash: Dictators Are Often Insane

Scientific American:

Combining the results from both studies (ed. note: Hitler and Saddam Hussein), Coolidge and Segal hypothesized a “big six” constellation of personality disorders that may commonly reflect the personalities of dictators more generally: sadistic, antisocial, paranoid, narcissistic, schizoid, and schizotypal.
Then, in 2009, Coolidge and Segal extended their research to include the recently deceased dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-il. Through professional colleagues, Coolidge and Segal were introduced to a South Korean academic psychologist who had “advanced psychological training and intimate and established knowledge of Kim Jong-il.” The anonymous psychologist agreed to provide an informant report on the psychological profile of Kim Jong-il.
The personality profile of Kim Jong-il showed the same “big six” constellation of personality disorders: sadistic, antisocial, paranoid, narcissistic, schizoid, and schizotypal.
I'm stunned.  Where are all of the benevolent dictators to call these guys out for painting with such a broad brush?

Marine Robot Supply Helicopter

Wired:
On Saturday, the Marine Corps flew history’s very first combat resupply mission using a robot helicopter. The unmanned Kaman K-MAX successfully hauled a sling-load of cargo out to an unspecified base, presumably somewhere in southern Afghanistan. The successful first flight, plus a couple test runs earlier last week, “were in preparation for sustained operations,” Jeffrey Brown from Lockheed Martin told Paul McLeary of Aviation Week. Lockheed has partnered with Kaman and the Marine Corps to demonstrate two of the unmanned supply choppers in combat.
The Marines’ K-MAX is a pilotless version of a popular twin-rotor helicopter. The GPS-guided robo-K-MAX weighs in at just 2.5 tons, but can carry 3.5 tons of cargo some 250 miles. The K-MAX beat out Boeing’s smaller A160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter for the Marine Corps demonstration contract. And the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force are all considering buying robot supply aircraft in large quantities.
The need is clear. The war in Afghanistan is highly dependent on flexible, reliable and secure logistics — even more than the just-ended Iraq war was. NATO troops are widely spread across rough terrain, interrupted by steep mountains, with few paved roads. Helicopters have to handle most of the final delivery for front-line supplies.
I get the feeling that the less risk there is for U.S. soldiers, the more likely our government will be to try to kill people in other countries.  I don't think that is a very good trend for humanity overall.

Monday, December 19, 2011

More On The Texas "Miracle"

Alex Madrigal at The Atlantic:
But even before these cuts take place, Texas' strongest cities are showing signs of weakness. Despite leading the nation in employment resilience for the last two years, they're among the worst performing cities in the country right now, according to the Brookings report, which focused on data from the third quarter of 2011.
What's happening? Once again, it comes back to government spending, which is tightening at every level. In order to understand why shrinking total government would hurt some Texas cities' growth, you have to understand what was behind their resilience in the first place.
One out of every five jobs were created in Texas in 2011. Some of this was, no doubt, the result of the state's business climate. Regulations are lax. Unions are non-existent. Land is plentiful, and office space is relatively cheap. But when you drill down into the jobs-added figures by sector, you see something surprising. Most of the jobs added aren't in the private/services sector. They're in government and government-supported industries like education and health services.
Population increase leads to government (and health care) employment increase, but austerity leads to government employment decrease.  Really, I think the Texas growth is similar to the post-war growth in California, and the turn-of-the-century Industrial Midwest.  Hopefully, the economy will recover, and employment will pick up, but things aren't looking so rosy for Texas right now.

The Battle Of The Mitten States

With Ohio thrown in. Definitely not safe for work:



More works of staggering genius, along with an interview, at The Awl.

The Cost of For-Profit Water Utilities

Austin American-Statesman (h/t nc links):
Across the state, a growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn't keep numbers, but "their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent," said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency's water utilities division.
For years, small private companies have played a crucial role in Texas, providing water and sewer service in new developments outside of cities. Analysts say private companies will continue to fill an essential need in the future, when public money is projected to be insufficient to make the billions of dollars in costly upgrades needed in water and sewer systems.
Increasingly, however, the companies are neither small nor local. Over the past decade, multistate water utilities have expanded aggressively in Texas, drawn by the state's booming population and welcoming regulatory environment. A September report prepared by utility analysts for Robert W. Baird & Co., a financial management company, identified Texas water regulators as the most generous in the country for private water companies. Today, three out-of-state corporations own about 500 Texas water systems that serve more than 250,000 residents.
For residents living outside cities served by private utility companies, the state environmental commission is charged with setting "just and reasonable" water rates based on a company's cost of doing business plus a guaranteed profit. In exchange, the companies enjoy a monopoly on their service area.
Private for-profit water and sewer utilities, with monoploy service, and who don't have to answer to their customers, are gouging those customers?  I'm shocked and horrified.  And the "business-friendly" state of Texas allows it?  Make that doubly shocked.  I would be triple-shocked if I found out those state regulators were operating under serious conflicts-of-interest. 

Death Comes In Threes

Via the Dish:

Map of the Day

From Econbrowser, a map of major U.S. pipelines:

It is included in a review of the costs and benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Buffalo, Then And Now

The Atlantic Cities:
There were few better cities in America than Buffalo in 1902. The city installed America's first electric street lights, one of the world's first skyscrapers (Guaranty Building, 1894) and the world's largest office building (Ellicott Square, 1896). Fresh off of hosting the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition, the City of Light was cutting edge.
Time has not served Buffalo well since. Fighting rapid population loss and economic stagnation, the city's attempts to revitalize itself have resulted in swaths of surface parking and clusters of vapid office towers that impede on its radial street grid. We pulled sections from this 1902 map via the Library of Congress and compared it to current satellite imagery to see just how much has changed.

This section of downtown is dominated by elevated roadways and surface lots but was once a vibrant cluster of rail and canal-based transit.
The whole series is pretty cool.

A Bull, Simplified

Via the Dish:

I thought it was cool.  The piece was referenced in a moral philosophy discussion here.

College Football Trophies- Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Edition

Here:


Apparently, the potatos are an add-on, as Frank Solich celebrates in an empty stadium:



Way to bring the Potato Bowl home, Bobcats.  During the game, I saw a couple of Idaho Potato ads.  While the ads featuring the landscape were entertaining, everybody knows sex sells:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa's Coming To Town

Will Ferrell makes me laugh:

First NFL Championship Game

December 18, 1932:
The Chicago Bears defeat the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 in the first ever NFL Championship Game. Because of a blizzard, the game is moved from Wrigley Field to the Chicago Stadium, the field measuring 80 yards (73 m) long.
In the 1932 season, the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans tied with the best regular-season winning percentages (although the Green Bay Packers had four more wins). To determine the champion, the league voted to hold the first official playoff game in Chicago at Wrigley Field. Because of severe winter conditions before the game, and fear of low turnout, the game was held indoors at Chicago Stadium which forced some temporary rule changes. The game was played on a modified 80-yard dirt field, and Chicago won 9–0, winning the league championship. A number of new rule changes were instituted, many inspired by the 1932 indoor championship game: the goal posts were moved forward to the goal line, every play started from between the hash marks, and forward passes could originate from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (instead of five yards behind). The playoff game proved so popular that the league reorganized into two divisions for the 1933 season, with the winners advancing to a scheduled championship game.
More on the game here.  More on Portsmouth's NFL history here.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 18:

Hints of Higgs from the Large Hadron Collider
Credit & Copyright: Maximilien Brice, CERN
Explanation: Why do objects have mass? To help find out, Europe's CERN has built the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator yet created by humans. Since 2008, the LHC smashed protons into each other with unprecedented impact speeds. The LHC is exploring the leading explanation that mass arises from ordinary particles slogging through an otherwise invisible but pervasive field of virtual Higgs particles. Were high energy colliding particles to create real Higgs bosons, the Higgs mechanism for mass creation will be bolstered. Last week, two LHC groups reported on preliminary indications that the Higgs boson might exist around 120 GeV in mass. Data from the LHC collisions is also being scanned for micro black holes, magnetic monopoles, and explore the possibility that every type of fundamental particle we know about has a nearly invisible supersymmetric counterpart. You can help -- the LHC@Home project will allow anyone with a home computer to help LHC scientists search archived LHC data for these strange beasts. Pictured above, a person stands in front of the huge ATLAS detector, one of six detectors attached to the LHC.

More on the search for the Higgs Boson here.

Des Moines Register Endorses Romney

Today's endorsement:
Sobriety, wisdom and judgment.
Those are qualities Mitt Romney said he looks for in a leader. Those are qualities Romney himself has demonstrated in his career in business, public service and government. Those qualities help the former Massachusetts governor stand out as the most qualified Republican candidate competing in the Iowa caucuses.
Sobriety: While other candidates have pandered to extremes with attacks on the courts and sermons on Christian values, Romney has pointedly refrained from reckless rhetoric and moralizing. He may be accused of being too cautious, but choosing words carefully is a skill essential for anyone who could be sitting in the White House and reacting to world events.
Wisdom: Romney obviously is very smart. He graduated as valedictorian at Brigham Young University and finished in the top 5 percent in his MBA class at Harvard, where he also earned a law degree. Romney also exhibits the wisdom of a man who listened and learned from his father and his mother, from his church and from his own trials and errors in life. He does not lack self confidence, but he is not afraid to admit when he has been wrong.
Judgment: Romney disagrees with Democrats on most issues, but he offers smart and well-reasoned alternatives rather than simply proposing to swing a wrecking ball in Washington. He is a serious student of public policy who examines the data before making a decision. His detailed policy paper on the economy contains 87 pages of carefully crafted positions on taxes, energy, trade and regulatory policy, complete with 127 footnotes.
I doubt that carries much weight with today's Republican base.  The question for me is, will the endorsement weaken his support amongst the base.

Why Does Health Care Cost So Much?

Dayton Daily News:
Health care not only has surpassed manufacturing as a job provider but it also is changing the makeup of the state’s most dominant companies.
Five of the 12 largest employers in Ohio are now health care systems, including Dayton-based Premier Health Partners, which ranked 12th with more than 14,000 workers.
Part of this is because of mergers making the health care companies bigger, but part of it is in the inherent labor inefficiency of the hospital system and competing hospitals within the metropolitan areas.  Health care doesn't strike me as a place where competition improves efficiency.  Only so many people are sick at any one time, and they will only go to one hospital at a time. Yet all the hospital groups build new facilities to serve the profitable clients in the suburbs, creating additional overhead and overcapacity.

Humans Vs. the Earth

Scientific American features a slideshow of photographs capturing human impact on the environment.  Here is a photo of  Nickel tailings, waste from mining, found floating in a river in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, from 1996:

Chart of the Day

Credit Writedowns (also via nc links):
Also, this:
The Federal Reserve issued a memo to farm bankers in late October warning that the market for cropland “may reflect overly optimistic long-term expectations” and that land values would fall if interest rates increase abruptly and farm profits shrink.
Watch out if commodity prices crater.

In-Field Portable Drones

Bloomberg Businessweek (h/t nc links):
Even as the U.S. military budget declines in the face of ballooning deficits and the wind-down of two wars, spending on unmanned systems has grown from near nothing two decades ago to a projected $6.2 billion in 2012. Not surprisingly, defense contractors have refocused their efforts. They’re preparing for warfare waged by unmanned vehicles—robots controlled by a combination of artificial intelligence and remote human input.
An unlikely industry leader of this explosion of flying robots, and maker of the Raven-B, is a small Los Angeles-area company called (AVAV)AeroVironment. It produces 85 percent of the unmanned aerial systems used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Defense Dept. Measured by number of units deployed, AeroVironment is America’s top maker of surveillance drones. The Army is also funding production of AeroVironment’s newest UAV, called Switchblade. Like the Raven-B and AeroVironment’s other systems, Switchblade, which is still in development, will fit in a soldier’s backpack. But rather than merely spy, this toy-size drone can kill: When its operator spots an enemy, Switchblade locks on, turns into a missile, and blows up the target. “I think Switchblade, like our other small UAVs, is going to plug a hole in [the military’s] arsenal,” says Tim Conver, chief executive of AeroVironment.
In the 12 months ended in April, AeroVironment had revenue of $292 million, and 85 percent of it came from UAV sales and services. Despite being dwarfed by (BA)Boeing or (LMT)Lockheed Martin, the company has become an important military supplier—although its executives prefer not to put it in those terms. “We think of ourselves as a technology solutions provider, not a defense contractor,” says Steve Gitlin, AeroVironment’s chief spokesman. Considering where the company came from, that reticence is understandable. AeroVironment got its start in the 1970s developing, of all things, earth-friendly pedal- and solar-powered aircraft. Its 40-year journey from free-spirited eco startup to maker of weaponized UAVs is one of the more radical transformations in corporate history.

AeroVironment was founded in 1971 by Paul MacCready, a legend in aerospace engineering and meteorology. MacCready, who died four years ago, was obsessed with unconventional planes that flew without conventional fuel. In 1977 he created the Gossamer Condor, a pedal-powered craft made of piano wire, Mylar, and old bike parts. An amateur cyclist piloted the contraption through a mile-long figure-8 course and won the $100,000 Kremer prize, awarded by the Royal Aeronautical Society for achievements in human-powered flight. (A 1978 documentary about the project, Flight of the Gossamer Condor, snagged an Oscar.) MacCready’s 1979 follow-up, the Gossamer Albatross, made it across the English Channel. Both planes hang in the Smithsonian.
While building MacCready’s human-powered aircraft on the side, AeroVironment’s engineers conducted wind-profile investigations that helped cities and states build the most efficient freeway systems and wind farms. In the ’80s, MacCready devoted himself to creating unmanned, sun-powered airplanes such as Solar Challenger, which weighed only 205 lb. and repeatedly set altitude and distance records. In 1986 he teamed up with Imax to build the first successful wing-flapping airplane—a contraption made to resemble a pterodactyl. “He certainly was a save-the-world type,” says his son, Tyler MacCready, who worked at AeroVironment and is now a consultant to the company, helping it identify new technologies to pursue. “His real concern was not wasting resources, especially with something like aerodynamic drag on a vehicle. All you needed to do was change the design of a car, and it could run on less power.”
Very interesting.