Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the Year Summary

Well, 2012 has managed to slide by, and we survived the end of the Mayan Long Calendar.  We somehow made it through a very depressing Presidential campaign, and as far as I'm concerned, the best man (men) won.  The drought of 2012 nicked the crops here at home, but we got out better than a lot of folks out west.  My job kept me busy enough that the original writing on posts decreased from last year.  The best I could come up with was an Onionesque April Fools' story on Obama getting fed up and leaving Joe Biden in charge while he went on a bender.  There were a few surprises, like where I agreed with Ben Stein and the Koch Brothers, and with Republicans investigating MF Global.  Land prices continued their epic climb, in the monkey dirt out west, and even across the road from our farm.  My year wasn't hateful.  It was better than Big Tex's (or Mitt Romney's, which went like Big Tex's on election day), but not as good as R.A. Dickey's (or Lebron. I guess he proved my former employer and Dan Gilbert wrong).  Hopefully, all of you had a fine year, hopefully the next will be even better for you.  I'm glad you've stopped in to visit (this month has had the most pageviews since I started the blog) and I hope you come back next year. 


P.S.  I was trying to think of what my favorite song of 2012 was, and I think I'll go with Tim McMorris' "Overwhelmed."

It may carry some meaning that I discovered that song in a commercial for a product which has to fill in for the absence of such a presence in my life:

To 2013 being the year to find that person. (lifts bottle of Sam Adams)  Hell, I may as well start the year on an optimistic note.

The Republican Negotiating Strategy

This classic movie clip reminds me of the Republicans' fiscal cliff negotiating strategy, except for two things.  First, in this scene, the sheriff is black and is smarter than everybody else in town (which is more Obama's position), and second, Republicans are holding the gun to their own heads, but think they can pull the trigger, too.  Anyway, here it is:

Chart of the Day

Via the Dish:

There has to be something to cut in that big blue dot, even though Mitt Romney thought it was too small.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Local Contractor Receives No-Bid Contracts

Dayton Daily News:
When Lord asked Harrah about whether there was a relationship between David Waibel’s status as a Republican political fundraiser and Waibel Energy Systems receiving multi-million dollar contracts, Harrah said he had no proof, but had his suspicions.
“You got this guy who lives in Miami County. He’s hosted statewide people, federal candidates. And you know, he contributes a lot of money,” Harrah said, according to a recording of an interview that took place after he had negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors.
As part of their investigation, detectives examined how Waibel Energy came to receive the $2.4 million county HVAC contract without local competitive bidding. They found that company officials walked commissioners through a process that allowed the county to award Waibel Energy Systems the contract outright.
The process involved enrolling Miami County in a purchasing cooperative that solicits bids for goods and services nationally, then allows local governments to hire the winning bidders.
Other governments use the same cooperative. For example, Montgomery County has used it three times in recent years, twice for contracts with Waibel.
Some construction industry professionals and critics allege governments use purchasing cooperatives to hand-pick preferred contractors while cutting out potential lower bidders. The cooperatives themselves say they provide the best — though not always the cheapest — contractors, and that it’s the responsibility of local governments to make sure they are following local laws.
County administrator/clerk Leigh Williams told Lord in July she didn’t understand the process very well, and that commissioners were awaiting more detailed legal guidance on the issue from the state.
The Daily News contacted the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office, which said it was unfamiliar with legal issues involving these organizations. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has not issued a public legal opinion on the issue, a spokesman said.
The Miami County Republican Mafia has always watched out for itself as opposed to taxpayers.  This might be a bigger deal than their run for reelection, then resign and appoint the chosen replacement so they can run for reelection in three-and-a-half years as an incumbent scam.  One party rule is unhealthy for any level of government.  Miami County has been run by the Republican party for eternity.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 28:

NGC 6188 and NGC 6164
Image Credit & Copyright: Kfir Simon
Explanation: Fantastic shapes lurk in clouds of glowing hydrogen gas in NGC 6188, about 4,000 light-years away. The emission nebula is found near the edge of a large molecular cloud unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara. Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. Joining NGC 6188 on this cosmic canvas is rare emission nebula NGC 6164, also created by one of the region's massive O-type stars. Similar in appearance to many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164's striking, symmetric gaseous shroud and faint halo surround its bright central star at the lower right. The field of view spans about two full Moons, corresponding to 70 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188.

Spontaneous Combustion From Alcoholism?

Colin Dickey covers the history at Lapham's Quarterly (h/t The Dish):
The evils of alcohol abuse have long been known and preached against by the more sober-minded, but for a period of about two hundred years imbibers had a particularly dire consequence to fear: that too much drinking would cause them to catch fire and be reduced to a small pile of greasy ash. A few decades after the Millet trial, on the evening of June 20, 1745, Countess Cornelia Zangari de Bandi of Cesena, of Verona, also burned to death. She was sixty-two years old; she went to bed at a normal hour, but when the maid came in the following morning, she found the Countess’s “corpse on the floor in the most dreadful condition. At the distance of four feet from the bed there was a heap of ashes. Her legs with the stockings on remained untouched and the head half-burned lay between them. Nearly all the rest of the body was reduced to ashes.” The scene was noteworthy in that it many details defied conventional understandings of pyrotechnics: “A small oil lamp on the floor was covered with ashes, but had no oil in it, and, in two candlesticks which stood upright upon a table, the cotton wick of both the candles was left, and the tallow of both had disappeared.” The bed was disturbed as if she had just risen from bed, but neither it, nor any other item in the room, showed any trace of fire. As with Millet’s wife, the Countess was a known drinker.
By 1799, there were enough cases on record for one physician, Pierre Lair, to identify some patterns and recurring characteristics of victims of spontaneous human combustion:
1. Victims were older, usually over 60.
2. Victims were overweight.
3. Victims led inactive lives.
4. Victims were alcoholics.
5. Women were more prone to spontaneously combust than men.
6. At the scene there was often an external flame, such as a candle or fireplace.
7. Combustion was extremely rapid.
8. The flames were difficult to extinguish.
9. The flames produced a strong empyreumatic odor.
10. The surrounding room was coated with a thick, yellow, greasy film.
11. The first usually consumed the trunk of the body, but left the head and extremities intact.
12. Accidents occurred during fair weather, and more often in winter than in summer.
Lair also ranked various spirits in terms of their likely contribution to Spontaneous Combustion: gin, followed by brandy, whiskey, and finally, rum.
I don't know about you, but the potential for spontaneous combustion is the last reason I need to avoid drinking gin.  As a side note, Morning Edition featured the history of gin the other day while interviewing Richard Barnett, the author of The Book of Gin.

Iowa DNR Gets Last Chance To Avoid EPA Takeover

Des Moines Register:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Iowa Department of Natural Resources five years to inspect nearly 8,000 livestock facilities under a preliminary plan aimed at preventing a federal takeover of the program.
That is one of the details in an elaborate “work plan” the EPA has negotiated with the DNR, which enforces the Clean Water Act in Iowa on behalf of the federal agency.
But the three environmental groups that prompted the action still have concerns over whether the DNR will have enough workers to get the job done. And the organizations want to make sure that new permits the state agency grants those facilities aren’t full of loopholes, said David Goodner, a staffer at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
CCI, Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project in 2007 petitioned the EPA, asking the federal agency to consider taking over enforcement of the 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act. At the same time, it blasted the DNR for failing to adequately control pollution, including spills, from large livestock confinements.
In the past, the DNR has maintained that the facilities don’t need federal permits that control discharges because state law prohibits any releases into waterways. And the major livestock organizations here have agreed with that analysis.
But after a series of court decisions and environmental group petitions kept the issue hot, the EPA now is ordering the DNR to make sure those permits are issued. And the resources department has said it will ask the Legislature for money to hire more inspectors, perhaps 13.
Critics, including the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council, have noted that would only restore staff previously cut, not add firepower.
Goodner said the EPA will have to keep the heat on the DNR, which he claims is too friendly toward agricultural interests. He said CCI and its petition partners want the DNR to write tough permits that can be revoked for repeated environmental violations.
An industry-friendly state regulatory agency?  I'm shocked.  Too much ag industry influence in Iowa?  Nah.  Regulatory capture is one of the major weaknesses of the federalist argument.  It is much easier to buy off the state folks than the feds.  The state folks can see the economic benefits of ignoring pesky regulations that make businesses do things right.  What are the odds that DNR will get the job done right in the next 3 years?

The Heart of Scotch Whisky

CBS Sunday Morning visits the Isle of Islay:
Islay has just over 3,000 year-round residents, but in their midst nine whisky distilleries are thriving.
"I don't think there's many countries now in the world that wouldn't know about some of the whiskys that we have on Islay," said Mike Heads, manager at one of the older distilleries, called Ardbeg.
The Ardbeg mill dates back to 1921.
While some of his equipment may have seen a few updates over the years, he says the distillation process for a decent Islay malt has hardly changed a drop.
"The only thing you're allowed to use here is water, malted barley, and yeast," Heads said. "That's the only things we're allowed to put in the whisky."
The yeast and water are mixed with the barley, then fermented for a couple of days in enormous casks, known as "mash tuns," before it's distilled in giant copper stills and finally aged in wooden barrels.
But ultimately it's the malted barley they use here that really separates the wheat from the chaff.
Heads told Marx the peat smoke flavoring - measured at 55 parts per million in the malt is what gives it the flavor.
"It's the most heavily-peated malt of any whisky in Scotland if you look at that level," he said.
What's peat? A boggy kind of soil that is traditionally dried and burned as a fuel in Scotland's western isles.
Islay has peat in abundance, and peat smoke has long been used to malt (or flavor) the barley, creating its unique taste.
If I'm going to drink a Scotch (which almost never happens), it would probably be Laphroaig.  I enjoy the peat-smoked taste.

Some MF Global Customers May End Up Whole

Some customers of the failed brokerage MF Global could get back all the money they lost, according to the trustee who is working to recover those funds.
The Securities Investor Protection Corporation said there would “likely” be full restoration for securities customers who made “accepted” claims to get their money back. There should also be “significant additional distributions” to return some money to commodities customers, the organization said.
The outlook for repayments follows an agreement reached recently. James Giddens, the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global’s main brokerage unit, and Richard Heis, who is overseeing the liquidation of the company’s United Kingdom operations, agreed to resolve all claims between the two corporate entities.
That agreement could result in an extra $500 million to $600 million eventually being freed up for the main brokerage unit to return to customers. The agreement still has to be approved by U.S. bankruptcy court.
I'm not sure what "accepted" claims means, but it would be nice if the small guys come out ok on the deal.  I still don't know how nobody (especially Corzine) has been charged with a crime in that collapse.

Fracking vs. Farming?

A water battle erupts over water use for Mississippi shipping and fracking (h/t nc links):
Fogarty says the Coast Guard has deployed four additional cutters to St. Louis running almost 24/7 to help set and reset navigation markers to designate the ever-shrinking shipping channel.
But even though the Coast Guard will make the call on whether the shipping channel in St. Louis will remain open, its ultimately the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who controls the fate of river commerce.
The Corps' decision to hold back water in reservoirs on the Missouri River is part of a set plan to conserve water for the spring shipping season and recreational use.
But people downstream on the Mississippi need that water right now.
“We estimate that $7 billion in cargo will stop moving on the Mississippi River if a nine-foot channel cannot be maintained through the winter months,” says Craig Philip, CEO of Ingram Barge Company. Ingram Barge is based in Tennessee.
Cutting the flow from dams in South Dakota will reduce water levels in St. Louis by 3 to 4 feet. Realizing that this might effectively kill shipping on the Mississippi over the near term, a group of Midwest politicians including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin are asking President Obama to declare an economic emergency and authorize the Army Corps to reopen the dams.
“This could be an economic catastrophe,” Durbin says.  “Let me be specific, by early this spring we need to be moving chemicals up the Mississippi River from Louisiana, so farmers have them for their spring planting.  Remember, they just went through a tough tough year in Illinois, so many of them are anxious for a comeback.”
But upstream states are saying, “not so fast.”  South Dakota, for example, is calling dibs on millions of gallons of water for use in the states oil-fracking boom.
Even Senator Durbin admits that asking the President to settle what amounts to a water-war between states is a dicey prospect.
“Clearly we’re in, maybe a zero-sum situation,” Durbin says. “We may be able to help our commerce downstream, but if we do it at the expense of those communities and states upstream, you can understand, they’re not going to stand by for this and I’m not sure I would either.”
Water requirements will end up limiting the scale of fracking, especially in the West.   This will be interesting, as it pits conservative interests against one another.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A New Deal Community

NPR reports on the restoration of Johnny Cash's boyhood home:
Dyess, Ark., was a planned community, created during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Dr. Ruth Hawkins is the director of the Arkansas Heritage Sites program at Arkansas State University; she's overseeing efforts to restore the Cash home, along with the town's administration building and an old movie theater.
"This was an agricultural resettlement colony," Hawkins says. "The Cash family was among the 500 colonists that were recruited to come here to get a new start in life."
The Sims family moved to Dyess in the 1960s, and Larry Sims grew up just down the street from the Cash house. Now the mayor of Dyess, he wants visitors to get the town's full history.
" 'Course we know Johnny Cash is gonna bring them here, but we want to tell them about the people that struggled, and how the government gave them a hand to get them back on their feet and give them some pride," Sims says. "A lot of these people had never owned any land before — they always sharecropped and just scraped by working for the other guy. This was a new start. ... They could come in and start fresh with everything they needed."
The Cash family sold the house in 1954. It passed from family to family for more than half a century, until the university bought it and began the restoration last February. The biggest problem was the foundation: It was built on sticky, heavy gumbo soil, which would constantly shift, causing the house to become unlevel. After lifting the entire structure up and building a new foundation, restorers peeled back layers of wall coverings and linoleum. Ruth Hawkins says they found the original wooden walls and tongue-and-groove flooring still intact.
There are so many aspects of the New Deal I just didn't realize existed.  Not all of the programs Roosevelt tried worked out, but he was tremendously bold in trying just about anything.  The other interesting part of the program was its nearly unstinting focus on helping the average man.  We don't see much of that today.

Not Just The Bakken

You can also see the Eagle Ford play from space:

This image is originally from NASA’s Earth at Night series that I’ve been following. The Eagle Ford Shale shows up as bands of lights below San Antonio, stretching from where the “Tex meets the Mex” to Interstate 10. What we’re seeing on the shale is not city or town lights that have sprung up because of the fracking activity. More than likely, we’re seeing well flares that are picked up by the imaging sensors aboard the Soumi NPP satellite, which detects both city lights and gas flares using a “day-night band”. You can also see flaring from offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, spreading out like silt from the Mississippi River, and some more flaring out in West Texas.
For perspective, here is a map (PDF) of the Eagle Ford Shale from the Energy Information Administration. The banding and well sites seem to match what we see from space.
What a tremendous waste of resources.  That doesn't even include fugitive emissions of natural gas from frack wells, which are estimated to leak much more than conventional wells.

Our Country's GOP Problem

Amy Davidson:
Here is what passes for logic and optimism in Washington: the current theory is that Republicans will be more willing to strike a deal after we go off the cliff, because one of the big elements of the plummet is an increase in taxes for everyone. At that point, the thinking goes, they wouldn’t technically be agreeing to a tax increase on the top two per cent of earners—Obama’s offer—but rather lowering them for the rest. Never mind that all sorts of other things happen at midnight on December 31st—tax-related things, like reductions in the earned-income tax credit, as well as the automatic spending cuts that come with sequestration and miscellaneous items like an end to many unemployment benefits, disorder in the financial markets, and maybe, as a special bonus, a credit downgrade. We’re all expected to go over the cliff so that the Republicans can play a mind game. But that is the Republican Party that we are dealing with—one more taken up by its internal divisions than by the business of the country. Nate Silver, in the Times, has a depressing look at the disappearance of the swing district, and the rise of ones that are steadily Republican or Democratic. What is crucial, as Silver points out, is that this doesn’t translate into safe seats for incumbents; it just turns the primaries into death matches. On the Republican side, in particular, these are increasingly governed by ideological tests.
Rural and, to the extent they are necessary to comprise enough people to make a difference, suburban folks are driving the idiotic ideological agenda of this terrible excuse for a governing alternative to the Democrats. When will enough sane people leave the nuts behind and actually work to improve our society?

The Secret To A New Green Revolution?

Big Picture Agriculture:
Is the fungus Micorrhiza a panacea?
It seems to make possible what might seem impossible, like growing vegetables in the inhospitable saline soils of Qatar. Calling it cheap with huge potential, scientists in Qatar used this naturally occurring soil fungus by mass producing it in labs and then adding it to soil to grow healthy, nutrient rich vegetables like corn, radishes, tomatoes, and also wheat. The crops grown were nutrient rich, like those grown on much better arable land. These plants were grown where salinity was greater than the sea one meter beneath the soil surface.
Micorrhiza, or root-fungus, increases the fruit and flowering of plants while improving soil quality and reducing the need for water and fertilizer. It is organic, natural, and chemical free.
When the right type of Micorrhiza is added to soils, it is capable of reducing water needs by 25 percent. It reduces the need for fertilizer, enables plants to be grown in salty or contaminated soils, and increases the temperature stress tolerance of plants. It does so by working symbiotically with plants. It attaches to the roots and forms root exudates or arbuscules, with finely branched hyphae which allow for an amplified exchange of nutrients between the soil and the plant. It greatly enhances the uptake of phosphorus and it protects the plant roots from disease pathogens. It is possible for a plant with the fungus present on its roots to uptake 100 times as many nutrients as a plant without the fungus. Certain types of Mycorrhiza are also key to storing carbon in the soil.
That is fascinating.  The skeptic in me says this is too good to be true, because it makes the same kind of claims as the witch doctor soil additives that guys pitch at all the farm show, but maybe there is some real potential there.  I'll withhold judgement for now.

Tip To Republicans: Don't Be Overtly Racist

Blacks appear to have turned out to vote at a higher rate than whites in the 2012 election.  I like this nugget:
No wonder Republicans were waging a “war on voting,” though they seem to have lost at least the latest battle.
Some hearing this news may attribute the numbers strictly to Barack Obama’s presence on the ballot, and suggest they won’t repeat themselves in future elections without an African-American contestant. But I dunno about that. Elections where African-Americans voted at higher rates than whites may be a brand new possibility at the presidential level, but not so much at the state and local level. I distinctly recall this happening in my home state of Georgia in 1998, producing a big pro-Democratic upset in a governor’s race with no African-American candidate present (significant increases in black turnout also helped Democrats win gubernatorial upsets in Alabama and South Carolina the same year—an entirely unexpected “Dixie Trifecta.”). What did happen in Georgia, however, was a late series of heavy-handed racially-tinged ads by a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, run by his consultant, a guy named Ralph Reed, that helped mobilize African-American voters. You know, sorta like the poorly disguised 2012 ads attacking “welfare” and “voter fraud.”
So Republicans hoping for a lower or less lop-sided African-American voter turnout in the future might want to eschew race-baiting, overt or covert
Ralph Reed, what a Christian exemplar.  As for the covert racism, I don't think we'll ever squeeze that out of the Republican party, or the nation in general.

Awesome Map

The Atlantic Cities features the Census Dot Map, which maps a dot for every person in the United States:
Brandon Martin-Anderson, a graduate student at MIT's Changing Places lab, was tired of seeing maps of U.S. population density cluttered by roads, bridges, county borders and other impediments.
Fortunately for us, he has the technological expertise to transform block data from the 2010 Census into points on a map. One point per person, and nothing else. (Martin-Anderson explains the process in more depth here.)
At times, the result is clean and beautiful to the point of abstraction, but when you know what you're looking at, it's a remarkably legible map. And while it resembles, broadly, Chris Howard's political map of density that appeared after the presidential election, Martin-Anderon's map can be magnified at any point. Users can watch each of the country's metro areas dissolve from black to white. Even stripped of the features (roads, rivers) that shape human settlement, density has its own logic.
The area that has struck me on photos of the earth at night, besides the Bakken gas flares, is the corridor from Atlanta to Charlotte to Winston-Salem to Research Triangle.  I hadn't realized hos much that area has grown. It looks to have the potential to grow into a southern extension of the northeast corridor.  And yes, there is a reason for the coasts to ignore flyover country.  Past the 98th meridian, there ain't much out there until you hit the Central Valley.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

We Will Forget

A video following one of the true believers in the May 21, 2011 apocalypse, who spent $100,000 on subway ads warning people:

We Will Forget from Garret Harkawik on Vimeo.

I kind of feel sorry for the guy, but the video would have been a lot cooler if he disappeared at the appointed time.

The History of the Times Square Ball Drop

 The Atlantic Cities:
 Until that time, the area where 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42 Street met was called Longacre Square. The Detroit Publishing Company sells a print showing what it looked like back in those days:

That narrow building rising all by itself, then the second tallest in New York City, is the just-finished headquarters of The New York Times newspaper. Its publisher, Alfred Ochs, had successfully lobbied city leaders to change Longacre Square's name to Times Square earlier that year. He then resolved to throw a New Year's Eve celebration that would be the talk of the town. "An all-day street festival culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower," according to an official history published by the Times Square District Management Association, "and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the over 200,000 attendees could be heard, it was said, from as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, thirty miles north."
An annual event was born -- but two years later, the city prohibited the fireworks display. "Ochs was undaunted," the official history continues. "He arranged to have a large, illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908." Thus the origin of today's celebration.

One Times Square has been home to a ball drop ever since, save in 1942 and 1943, when wartime light restrictions caused it to be canceled. The ball itself has changed with technology. The original ball of iron and wood was replaced in 1920 with a 400 pound orb of all iron. In 1955, an aluminum replacement weighed in at a considerably lighter 150 pounds, and was adorned with 180 light bulbs. The New York Times ran a photograph of that ball in 1978, (six years after Dick Clark starting broadcasting in Times Square).
I didn't know all that.  It will be different not having Dick Clark around this year, but the last few have been pretty depressing seeing him after his stroke.

The Giant Comet of 2013?

The Independent, via Ritholtz:
Ison's surface is very dark – darker than asphalt – pockmarked and dusty with ice beneath the surface. It's a small body, a few tens of miles across, with a tiny pull of gravity. If you stood upon it you could leap 20 miles into space taking over a week to come down again, watching as the comet rotated beneath you. You could walk to the equator, kneel down and gather up handfuls of comet material to make snowballs, throw them in a direction against the comet's spin and watch them hang motionless in front of you. But it will not remain quiet on Comet Ison for the Sun's heat will bring it to life.
By the end of summer it will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.
Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun. Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.
By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun. Its tail could stretch like a searchlight into the sky above the horizon. Then it will swing rapidly around the Sun, passing within two million miles of it, far closer than any planet ever does, to emerge visible in the evening sky heading northward towards the pole star. It could be an "unaided eye" object for months. When it is close in its approach to the Sun it could become intensely brilliant but at that stage it would be difficult and dangerous to see without special instrumentation as it would be only a degree from the sun.
Remarkably Ison might not be the only spectacular comet visible next year. Another comet, called 2014 L4 (PanSTARRS), was discovered last year and in March and April it could also be a magnificent object in the evening sky. 2013 could be the year of the great comets.
Hopefully, no cults commit suicide when these comets get close.  That mass suicide (with castrations) was pretty weird.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

John Boehner's Christmas Letter

The Borowitz Report releases John Boehner's Christmas Letter to the American People:
Dear American People: It’s Speaker Boehner here, writing my first and last ever holiday letter to you. Why am I doing this after all of these years, you might ask? Well, I won’t mince words. I’ve started drinking a little early this Christmas. Yes, I’m sitting here in my man-cave, panelled in mahogany the color of me, doing a rack of Canadian Club shooters and smoking my way through a carton of Lucky Strikes as if they were the last Twinkies in creation. If my chief of staff knew that I was writing to you while I was this polluted, he’d shit a phone book. But guess what? I don’t fucking care anymore. You see, this will be my last Christmas as Speaker of the House, all because a cabal of Tea Party miscreants in the House of Representatives doesn’t think I’m a ginormous enough asshole for their taste. Who’s more to their liking? Virginia’s own Eric Cantor. As a waiter might say at an all-you-can-eat shit buffet, “Excellent choice.” How odious is Eric Cantor? Let me put it this way: when we have to speak to the press, I actually prefer to stand next to Mitch McConnell.
That is pure gold.  Eric Cantor is an absolute weasel.  I don't understand how that man manages to not get punched in the face on a daily basis.

The Rye Whiskey Comeback

Morning Edition:
It used to be said that only old men drink rye, sitting alone down at the end of the bar, but that's no longer the case as bartenders and patrons set aside the gins and the vodkas and rediscover the pleasures of one of America's old-fashioned favorites.
Whiskey from rye grain was what most distilleries made before Prohibition. Then, after repeal in 1933, bourbon, made from corn, became more popular. Corn was easier to grow, and the taste was sweeter.
To be sure, rye whiskey production is only a drop compared with the rivers of bourbon produced now, although rye whiskey sales have tripled in the past five years.
You can even find rye in the tiny farm town of Templeton, Iowa. It's said to be the same taste as the bootleg brew that Templeton was known for during Prohibition. They called it "The Good Stuff." It was popular in Chicago, a favorite of Al Capone. Templeton Rye, legal these days, and sold in Iowa and 11 other states, is made from a grandfather's secret recipe. The actual production, though, takes place at a distillery in Shelbyville, Ind., with the aged whiskey shipped to Templeton for bottling.
I've never developed a taste for rye, but I like seeing it making a comeback.  I've bought a couple of bottles for my home supply, but I think that will last me for a couple of decades.  More on Templeton Rye here.

Costly To Get Rid Of

Talk about paying somebody to go away:
Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.
The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.
Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.
$400,000 a year for 20 years to just go away?  I need to get involved with the wingnut welfare circuit.  That is pretty damn good pay for doing nothing.  It even beats Jim Jordan's Congressional salary.   And even better, this is funded by some fool super rich guy, instead of taxpayers.  The whole story about FreedomWorks is interesting.  It just sounds like that Stephenson fool's plaything.

Happy Boxing Day

For my former boss and all the Britainers, Canucks and Aussies out there, enjoy your Boxing Day and have fun watching all the rugby, soccer or cricket matches or whatever it is you do on your day off.  I'm headed to work in what was predicted to be a blizzard.  At least I can expect this 3 day week to be pretty damn slow, and we get to wear jeans all week.  Woo hoo, it's the little things in life that get us through.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Family Fun On Christmas

I hung out most of the day at the folks' house.  We turned on the A Christmas Story marathon just before 10 o'clock this morning.  It was just in time to see the Bumpuses hounds burst through the house and eat the Christmas turkey, setting up the dinner at the Chinese restaurant:

Two hours later, when the dogs burst into the house in the next showing of the movie, Mom looked up and said something along the lines of, "The dogs got a second turkey?" After we explained that it was the same scene being replayed, we had a good laugh.

However, it wasn't as much fun when Grandpa decided it was a good time to talk about the ineffectiveness of gun control laws. First, he said that after Australia put in gun control, it didn't stop shootings. Apparently, that doesn't seem to hold up:
 Australia Gun Homicide Rate
Then he followed up by claiming that when he was visiting Honduras, every man and woman carried a gun, and there were very few shootings.  My sister told him she didn't want to live anywhere where everybody carried a gun, while I said I thought they had a large number of shootings.  He told me I didn't know anything because he'd been there and I hadn't.  I googled crime in Honduras and got this:
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras has the highest rate of intentional homicide in the world, with 6,239 intentional homicides, or 82.1 per 100,000 of population in 2010. This is significantly higher than the rate in El Salvador, which at 66.0 per 100,000 in 2010, has the second highest rate of intentional homicide in the world.
After I told him that, he wanted to know how that compared with Detroit.  Honduras was pretty much twice as high. That also occurs when Honduras has many fewer guns than the United States.  When it comes to arguing with Grandpa, facts seem to be liberal things.

Still In A Bubble

Joe Hagan reports from the downcast post-election National Review cruise: 
That night, Cal Thomas, a USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor, was the host of my table of eight. At an earlier panel, he’d suggested that his audience “starve the beast” of government by refusing to pay income taxes; but now his stage fire had waned, and he looked bored, peering around our table with half-lids, his hound-dog face propped in his hand. I sat next to a retired surgeon from California named Duane, who heralded the Dinesh D’Souza film 2016: Obama’s America as the definitive truth regarding Obama’s anti-Colonialist background, which now portended America’s inevitable slide into socialism. Thomas liked the movie but dismissed its impact on the election, saying it had preached to the converted and had “sourcing problems” besides. But Duane, who has thick glasses and a closely shorn flat-top, was undeterred, insisting it was relevant. “I disagree!” he spat.
This was a phenomenon that was common on the cruise—the conservative pundits and columnists from the National Review attempting to gently disinter their followers from unhelpful conservative propaganda. For people who believe in the truth of works like Dreams From My Real Father, a conspiracy-­theory documentary that argues that Obama’s real father was a communist propagandist who turned Obama into a socialist Manchurian Candidate, this could be difficult work.
As Thomas downed the rest of his drink, Duane said the only way out of the current quagmire is a “revolution,” citing the famous Thomas Jefferson line about watering the tree of liberty with blood from “time to time.”
What kind of revolution did he have in mind?
Duane’s eyes crinkled into a big smile. “You ever heard of guns?”
His wife sat up: “How do you like the veal?”
“It’s awful,” Duane growled, poking at it. “I can’t hardly chew it.”
The whole story is full of anecdotes of out-of-touch old folks grousing about the direction of the country.  Sounds like supper with Grandpa, although I think these people make Grandpa seem pretty fair-minded.  I think it is notable that even the conservative pundits seem to realize that they need to reengage with the rest of society, and quit pretending that Fox News represents reality.

Worst Christmas Song Ever?

Via the Dish, Patton Oswalt nominates "Christmas Shoes" (warning, not safe for people with souls, but hilarious nonetheless):

Sullivan also highlights Jonathan Coulton trashing Jingle Bell Rock. I don't care how tacky that song is, I like it.

Army Corps Blowing Up Mississippi River Bottom

 Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is blasting rock pinnacles in the drought-depleted Mississippi River in an effort to keep the waterway open for barge traffic. Bloomberg's Megan Hughes reports on the drought and its impact on shipping. She speaks with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television's "Bottom Line."
The Army Corps gets to do some cool stuff. I know Bloomberg News might not be familiar with flyover country, but I've never seen a city in Illinois on the (north)west side of the Mississippi River. They appear to have rotated their map 90 degrees.

A Class Act Says Goodbye to Mets

RA Dickey wrote a letter in the New York Daily News thanking the Mets and their fans for giving him a shot and cheering him on:
There were so many special relationships I formed that made my time with the Mets so much richer. Not just in the clubhouse, either. I enjoyed talking with Bill Deacon, the head groundskeeper, about his craft, and all that went into it. The security people who helped my wife and kids get in and out of the family lounge, the policemen who helped me get out of the parking lot, the folks at the Hodges Gate — so many people went out of their way to be kind to me, and they should know how much it was, and is, appreciated.

I was going to take out an advertisement to express these thank yous, but decided in the end that there was too much I wanted to say. So I am writing this instead.

As I move beyond the sadness over leaving here, I know I have a tremendous amount to look forward to. The Blue Jays may need name tags on the first day of spring training, but once we get acquainted, well, this team could be something. I appreciate the welcome I’ve already gotten from them, and what they’re trying to build. We’ll see how it all unfolds.

God has blessed me in so many ways. His grace and mercy are at the center of my life. I may not pitch for the home team anymore (a friend told me I now have to start calling myself a Canuckleball pitcher ) but wherever I go from here — wherever I might wind up in the future — I hope you know that I will never forget my three years in New York, and never be able to adequately thank you for everything you’ve given me.
If only more athletes showed that kind of class.  I do like the Canuckleball joke, as well.  I received the RA Dickey autobiography from my Goddaughter for Christmas, and the Knuckleball! movie from my sister, so I had a very knuckleball Christmas.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jim Jordan in the News

John Cassidy highlights Jim Jordan doing what he does best, making the Republican party look like a bunch of morons who want to destroy our economy:
The bigger issue is what the Republican obstructionism means for the next four years and beyond. There is no reason to suppose that the newly-elected House of Representatives will be any more moderate than the current one. President Obama pointed out in his press conference the other day that most G.O.P. congressman now hail from districts where he lost heavily. Such Republicans have little incentive to coƶperate with the White House. The only potential challenge they face is from the Tea Party right—in the form of a potential primary battle in 2014. To say that this doesn’t augur well for the prospects of bipartisan agreements on issues such as gun control, immigration, and tax reform is to lapse into understatement. Many of the congressmen involved in the effort to embarrass Boehner—such as Jim Jordan, the current head of the Republican Study Group, which represents over half of the G.O.P., and Steve Scalise, his successor in the new Congress—see themselves as on a mission. To heck with President Obama’s victory in November. In their minds, their reĆ«lection to Congress gave them a mandate to uphold ultra-conservative positions, especially on those issues that bind together the conservative movement: guns, God, and taxes. Refusing to vote for a tax-raising bill, even one that would have come with many, many goodies attached for the rich, was the first step in carrying out this mission.
Guns, God and taxes.  What a platform for national greatness.  Who the fuck needs infrastructure?  One thing you can count on will be that Jordan will vote against any bill that is possibly workable. What a useless lump of a public servant. Keep building that pension, Jim. Compared to you, I am an extremely productive member of society.

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...

It probably is.  Fortune features an affinity ponzi scheme which hit Mormons in Utah (not NuSkin):
Koerber held expensive seminars to teach his system, which he called the "equity mill." The seminars disseminated Koerber's free-market philosophy, and also provided a way to troll for new participants in the program. After spending what could amount to thousands of dollars on the training, seminar attendees could be solicited for investments, used to help identify more undervalued properties, and become finders to bring in yet more capital, Moore says.
To avoid regulatory problems, the investments were structured as open-ended loans with promissory notes, rather than securities or partnership interests. Since they weren't securities, the Franklin Squires partners believed they didn't have to be registered with regulators, with all the disclosure that required -- a view regulators have since rejected. There were no registration statements, no audited financial records, no disclosures of risks. Some investors put up tens of thousands of dollars based on little more than brief conversations with Franklin Squires participants.
Few seemed to mind at the time. As noted, the promissory notes typically generated 5% in interest per month for initial investors (and 3% to 4% for those who bought in later). If investors attracted capital from new participants, they received a fee or a monthly commission, as would those newer investors if they in turn brought in their own recruits.
For Moore the program was a revelation. He was working with guys he trusted as good Mormons who shared his views on self-reliance and limited government. He took the $150,000 he had made selling his condominium in Virginia and invested it in a Franklin Squires fund. He wheedled his reluctant wife into putting up part of her own nest egg, which she had inherited when her first husband, a state trooper, had died in the line of duty.
Later on, Moore says this:
Moore says he still believes that the Franklin Squires partners were good men and that they would have managed to pull through had the government not shut the operation down. "The way a government regulator thinks," he says, "is if something is out of the ordinary, then there must be something wrong with it."
When pressed about the evidence that prosecutors have presented that Franklin Squires was a con, Moore wavers. "I didn't think it was a Ponzi scheme, and I still don't," he says. "But I have to say I guess it could be. They put so much stress on getting those high appraisals for the homes, but I never really talked to anyone about it. Everyone knew there were risks."
He was working on some other get-rich-quick schemes prior to being sentenced for theft.  I don't understand how people get sucked into these things.  A few lessons I've picked up from reading these type stories in the past:

1. If somebody is promising you a better interest return than a life insurance company is, run away fast.

2.  If you have to shell out a couple thousand dollars to learn about this "investment system," it is a con.

3.  If people are playing up the religious or political beliefs you each share, or are claiming to donate a percentage of their profits to some church or charity you support, they are most likely scheming. 

4.  If you get a percentage of the return of investors you bring in (multi-level marketing, aka pyramid scheme [or Mormons Losing Money]), there is a good chance a number of people in the upper portions of the pyramid are going to be interviewed by the FBI, and not in a good way (if there is such a thing).

Really, 5% in interest a month?  Back in 2006, I think I was getting something like 1% a year from the bank.  How would somebody consistently pay 60 times what a bank pays?  What do life insurance companies pay?  7 percent a year, maybe?  The affinity angle is what really pisses me off.  People who wrap themselves in faith and rip off their supposed co-religionists are the lowest of the low.  But it is interesting how they found two friends who had opposite reactions to the same pitch.  I don''t know what it is that makes some folks vulnerable to such enterprises when others aren't, but it is interesting.  The fact that Moore went into a couple of other ripoff ventures tells me that he probably thinks everybody who gets ahead does it at the expense of the people around him.  Friends as marks, is how it seems.

Are We Living In Pottersville?

Robert Reich places Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life in today's world:
But we are still in danger of the “Pottersville” Capra saw as the consequence of what happens when Americans fail to join together and forget the meaning of the public good.
If Lionel Barrymore’s “Mr. Potter” were alive today he’d call himself a “job creator” and condemn George Bailey as a socialist. He’d be financing a fleet of lobbyists to get lower taxes on multi-millionaires like himself, overturn environmental laws, trample on workers’ rights, and shred social safety nets. He’d fight any form of gun control. He’d want the citizens of Pottersville to be economically insecure – living paycheck to paycheck and worried about losing their jobs – so they’d be dependent on his good graces.
The Mr. Potters are still alive and well in America, threatening our democracy with their money and our common morality with their greed.
Call me naive or sentimental but I still believe the George Baileys will continue to win this contest. They know we’re all in it together, and that if we succumb to the bullying selfishness of the Potters we lose America and relinquish the future.
I really like the "job creator" line.  My take on the movie which I posted last year is here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Dropkick Murphy Christmas

via Anne Laurie:

Separation of Church and State

NYT, via nc links:
The idea of Protestant civil religion sounds strange in a country that prides itself on secularism and religious tolerance. However, America’s religious free market has never been entirely free. The founding fathers prized freedom of conscience, but they did not intend to purge society of Protestant influence (they had deep suspicions of Catholicism). Most believed that churches helped to restrain the excesses of mob democracy. Since then, theology has shaped American laws regarding marriage, public oaths and the bounds of free speech. For most of our history, the loudest defenders of the separation of church and state were not rogue atheists, but Protestants worried about Catholics seeking financing for parochial schools or scheming their way into public office to take orders only from mitered masters in Rome.
Activists on both the left and the right tend to forget this irony of the First Amendment: it has been as much a weapon of religious oppression as a safeguard for liberty. In the 19th and early 20th century, when public school teachers read from a Protestant translation of the Bible in class, many Americans saw benign reinforcement of American values. If Catholic parents complained, officials told them that their Roman dogma was their own private concern. The underlying logic here was not religious neutrality.
The Protestant bias of the American public sphere has mellowed over time, but it still depends on “Christian secularism,” said Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, a political scientist at Northwestern University. This is a “political stance” premised on a “chiefly Protestant notion of religion understood as private assent to a set of propositional beliefs,” she told me. Other traditions, such as Judaism and Islam and to some degree Catholicism, do not frame faith in such rationalist terms, or accept the same distinction between internal conviction and public argument. The very idea that it is possible to cordon off personal religious beliefs from a secular town square depends on Protestant assumptions about what counts as “religion,” even if we now mask these sectarian foundations with labels like “Judeo-Christian.”
I always like to remind Catholics how welcoming Protestants have been to us over the years.  "Judeo-Christian" is a nice way to try to change the culturally significant Jewish and Catholic populations from "them" to "us".  Personally, I don't enjoy such manipulations.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 22:

Saturn at Night
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute, Cassini Imaging Team
Explanation: Splendors seldom seen are revealed in this glorious picture from Saturn's shadow. Imaged by Cassini on October 17, 2012 during its 174th orbit, the ringed planet's night side is viewed from a perspective 19 degrees below the ring plane at a distance of about 800,000 kilometers with the Sun almost directly behind the planet. A 60 frame mosaic, images made with infrared, red, and violet filters were combined to create an enhanced, false-color view. Strongly backlit, the rings look bright away from the planet but dark in silhouette against the gas giant. Above center, they reflect a faint, eerie light on the cloud tops while Saturn casts its own dark shadow on the rings. A similar Cassini image from 2006 also featured planet Earth as a pale blue dot in the distance. Instead, this scene includes icy moons Enceladus (closer to the rings) and Tethys below the rings on the left.

Immaculate Reception

40 years ago today:

Damn Steelers. Here's to the Bengals ruining this anniversary celebration this afternoon. Who Dey!

Government At Its Worst

Lost in the political standoff between the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans over the budget is a virtually forgotten impasse over a farm bill that covers billions of dollars in agriculture programs. Without last-minute Congressional action, the government would have to follow an antiquated 1949 farm law that would force Washington to buy milk at wildly inflated prices, creating higher prices in the dairy case. Milk now costs an average of $3.65 a gallon.
Higher prices would be based on what dairy farm production costs were in 1949, when milk production was almost all done by hand. Because of adjustments for inflation and other technical formulas, the government would be forced by law to buy milk at roughly twice the current market prices to maintain a stable milk market.
But the market would be anything but stable. Farmers, at first, would experience a financial windfall as they rushed to sell dairy products to the government at higher prices than those they would get on the commercial market. Then the prices customers pay at the supermarket would surge as shortages developed and fewer gallons of milk were available for consumers and for manufacturers of products like cheese and butter.
Why is so much legislation just add-ons to old law?  These guys take so long to put the laws together, you'd think they could scrap out the old stuff that doesn't apply.  Apparently not.  Also, there's this:
“This is a totally antiquated law that has nothing to do with farming conditions today,” Professor Smith said. “It was put as a poison pill to get Congress to pass a farm bill by scaring lawmakers with the prospect of higher support prices for milk and other agriculture products. Letting it go into effect for even a few months would be particularly disastrous for consumers and food processors. “
It appears that these guys are dysfunctional enough that they need to avoid the poison pills, unless they are taking actual pills.

Scott Adams on the Fiscal Cliff

Congress is a bunch of useless pieces of shit:
I'm impressed by the trigger that Congress included in the Budget Control Act in 2011. The idea is that if Congress can't agree on a better way to balance the budget by year end, automatic and painful spending cuts and tax increases will go into effect. The hope was that members of Congress would act responsibly if there was a gun to the head of total strangers that they don't give a shit about.

I've never wanted to run for Congress until now. The job looks boring, but I'm attracted to a system that punishes total strangers for my bad performance. I assume this is some sort of "best practice" that our government is borrowing from a successful system elsewhere. So starting today, if you tell me you don't like my blog, I will pay a stranger to kick another stranger in the nads. If Congress is right about the trigger concept, you should see a big improvement in my blogging performance. I'm all about incentives.

There's a Wally-esque genius to this budget trigger concept. It actually solves Congress' biggest problem, namely that doing anything that is balanced and appropriate for the country renders a politician unelectable. Republicans can't vote for tax increases and get reelected while Democrats can't cut social services and keep their jobs. But don't cry for Congress because this isn't the sort of problem that can thwart a building full of lawyers. They put their snouts together and cleverly invented a concept - called a trigger - to take the blame for them. This way, both sides can screw their supporters while still blaming the other side. No one has to take responsibility for anything.
I couldn't agree more.  Republicans won't admit our economy will tank worse without the social programs they hate, and don't seem to realize that the "capitalist" system would be an even more complete disaster right now without what crappy government redistribution programs we have.  Democrats are too of cowards to come up with a functional system to pay for those programs, or ones which were actually even more effective.  Both parties are hung up on killing people on the other side of the world for no apparent reason and spying on us, apparently "for our own good."  Something will end up being done, but I'm pretty sure who will get hurt and who won't be affected. 

A Different World Five Miles Away

Dina Rasor:
We would spend time with coaches Fred, Khalid and Waleed and began to hear how they were saving these kids, starting from age 6 to age 14 from the violent streets, teaching them with very strict discipline and insisting that they were tutored. But they only had them for part of the year and in the early to mid-2000s, the cuts in money for opportunity, the loosening of gun restrictions and the rise of drugs were taking their toll. Khalid and Waleed had played for the Steelers during the 1980s where the same poverty and lack of opportunity due to cuts in state and federal budgets drove both of them into drugs and prison sentences; but they turned themselves around and decided to coach to keep another generation from making their same mistakes.
But while Nick was playing for the Steelers in 2004, these coaches were losing the battle. One of their stars, Terrance Kelly had made it through high school and had been recruited by the University of Oregon for a full scholarship to play football. Coach Fred, who had been coaching the Steelers for three decades, was so excited for him and for the example it set for the younger kids, even the 6-year-olds. Several days before Kelly left for college, he was waiting for a friend in the car in Richmond when another kid came up and shot him dead. Although it was just one of the gun murders in Richmond that week, it made the news for a few days. But it devastated the Steelers from Coach Fred down to the 6-year-olds since Kelly had been seen as a role model. All three of the coaches seemed to have physically shrunk from the shock. Unknown to me at the time, several other players a few years earlier had been killed during the off season and two teammates, while playing well together during the season, had one of them shoot the other when they went back to their separate neighborhoods. The coaches felt they were losing the war in bringing these kids out of the escalating and endless violence.
At the end-of-the-season awards ceremony that year, we were the only white couple and enjoyed watching each group of kids getting awards and advancing up to the next team. Since the Steelers won almost all their games and were champions year after year, the mayor of Richmond and many of the clergy of Richmond were in the packed auditorium of parents. The room grew somber as the father of Terrance Kelly spoke and encouraged the kids to stay in school and study.
As my son Nick went up with his teammates to receive his awards, they had a special ceremony for the 14-year-olds who were graduating out of the Steelers to their high school teams. But then they lined up the boys and one of the clergy and the coaches went and put their hands on the shoulders of each boy to pray that he would live to adulthood. My husband and I were stunned. The fact that at age 14 these boys had to get blessings to make it to manhood shook us to the core.
The whole thing is worth reading, at least for folks like me who don't interact with such places.  While I would like to support the kind of work Khalid does, I just don't think I could handle the almost guaranteed exposure to tragedy actually doing the work involves.  I think it would further damage my already faltering faith in God and humanity.

It's Festivus

Airing of grievances will begin shortly:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ohio State-Kansas Preview

From Club Trillion:
Ohio State's narrow victory over Winthrop on Tuesday night — a game in which the Buckeyes were favored by 28 points — probably raised a lot of questions. What the heck happened to Ohio State? How can they be the seventh-best team in the country if they barely beat Winthrop? As a former Ohio State benchwarmer, perhaps I can shed some light on why they played so poorly.
You see, the thing that sets Ohio State's basketball program apart from every other program in the country is that we strive for greatness in the classroom. Academics have always and will always be a top priority for Thad Matta, which is why we never practiced for more than 30 minutes on any given day during finals week.
"I want you guys going home and hitting the books hard," Coach would always say. "I don't want you thinking about our next game. I want you thinking about how you're going to ace your finals. In fact, I don't even want you to know who we're playing until the game tips off."
"But, Coach," I'd cut in. "Do we have to get all A-pluses on our finals? What if I get an A-minus in my advanced molecular biomechanical physics engineering calculus science final? Even though I tutor everyone in the class because I'm obviously the smartest, I'm afraid I might miss a question or two. That class is pretty tough."
"I think you've mistaken me for someone who gives a damn," he'd snap back. "For every A-plus you don't get, you're running 10 miles. That goes for everyone on this team."
I trust you now understand why Ohio State played poorly against Winthrop. Clearly, the Buckeyes were hitting the books hard all week and Winthrop was an afterthought. I've always tried to tell Coach Matta to lighten up and let the players focus more on basketball, but he never listened. Oh well. I guess it's comforting to know that there's at least one program in the country that cares about its players graduating.
Oh, and by the way, everything in this section is complete bullshit. It's just my way of trying to explain how Ohio State could look like complete ass four days before the biggest game of the season thus far (against Kansas on Saturday). Is it too late to postpone the game? I heard it might get humid in Columbus this weekend, and I'd hate for there to be condensation on the court. Safety first.
I'm sure he's right about the academics first, even if he covers up by calling bullshit on himself.  Nothing says academic excellence like Ohio State athletics.

Police State Watch

The Guardian:
In February of this year, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, with its provision to deploy fleets of drones domestically. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that this followed a major lobbying effort, "a huge push by […] the defense sector" to promote the use of drones in American skies: 30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won't necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
Others will be as big as passenger planes. Business-friendly media stress their planned abundant use by corporations: police in Seattle have already deployed them.
An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS (pdf) news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step – one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy. (The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)
The air force document explains that the air force will be overseeing the deployment of its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the US; that it may keep video and other data it collects with these drones for 90 days without a warrant – and will then, retroactively, determine if the material can be retained – which does away for good with the fourth amendment in these cases. While the drones are not supposed to specifically "conduct non-consensual surveillance on on specifically identified US persons", according to the document, the wording allows for domestic military surveillance of non-"specifically identified" people (that is, a group of activists or protesters) and it comes with the important caveat, also seemingly wholly unconstitutional, that it may not target individuals "unless expressly approved by the secretary of Defense".
In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way, say, to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not "specifically identified", a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.
What was that about the military-industrial complex, again?  I wonder how often Chuck Hagel or whoever else will use that approval authority.  I wonder if former CIA chief Leon Panetta already has.  It is a number of years late for us to end the "War on Terrorism", aka the war on civil liberties.  As the Romney voters said, "I want my country back."

Welcoming Newcomers

Weekend Edition Saturday:
That kind of response is exactly why the city launched Welcome Dayton last year — a strategy to help immigrants ease into American life. City Manager Tim Riordan credits two reasons for the adopted framework: It was the right thing to do, he says, and immigrants were needed to help restore the battered city's economy.
"I saw immigrants doing things in the neighborhoods," Riordan says. "They were buying really inexpensive houses and fixing them up. I heard stories from hardware owners where the immigrants would come and buy one window at a time to fix up their house as they got money."

Riordan says changing Dayton's culture is an investment in the city. One section of the city, for example, is now entirely designated as an immigrant business zone, and police can check immigration statuses only when suspicious of a serious crime.
Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, says the relationship between cities and immigrants is certainly evolving.
"What's good about the Dayton program is the way that leaders in those communities talk about immigrants and talk about them as a positive force and contributing," she says.
In fact, a Brookings study finds that immigrants are 30 percent more likely to form new businesses than U.S.-born citizens, which is good news for a city like Dayton, which has been bleeding jobs and population for decades.
One of the most worrisome signs for me that the Ohio economy was struggling mightily back in the middle of the last decade was that we weren't drawing immigrant labor like many other, more vital places.  Being more friendly to immigrants has to help our economy.  As the city manager says, immigrants invest in the community and start businesses.  They are extremely beneficial. I'll take Dayton's approach over Alabama's any day.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I Think We're Going To Make It

What Will The Fiscal Cliff Cost?

WaPo, via Ritholtz:

Has the Republican Party Finally Jumped the Shark?

Ok, after the train wreck that was the 2012 election (especially the GOP primary), I really thought the "deep thinkers" in the Republican Party might finally prove me wrong and send the nut jobs to the back of the short bus and drag the circus of conservative politics back to the real world.  Based on the last 36 hours, I guess they won't yet.  First we had the loony tunes castrate Boehner and destroy their negotiating position just to prove their purity, then we had Wayne LaPierre say we need to pay good guys with guns to fight bad guys with guns.  I don't really think that's what people outside of the conservative bubble were looking for.  It is way past time for conservatives to turn off Fox News and actually talk to people they disagree with.  They are so far away from the mainstream of society that something has to give.  Otherwise, they risk becoming a total object of ridicule.

What Holds Up The Robot Takeover?

Mechanical limitations:
The two biggest challenges to making general-purposes robots are, as they always have been, hardware and software. Neither challenge is insuperable, but both are harder than one might think. On the hardware side, there are now lots of robots that can do incredibly cool things. One robot runs faster than the fastest human, another dances Gangnam style. Still another, PR2, folds towels and fetches beer. The catch is that, at the moment, each new robot is like a proof of concept. The ones that are fast and physically powerful, like AlphaDog, a quadruped robot, and the headless but amazing PETMAN, are, for now, still dependent on hydraulic actuators powered by industrial-strength pumps and gasoline engines; they work fine in a laboratory-test environment, but you wouldn’t want one roaming around your home. Others, like Baxter and PR2, are capable of fairly sophisticated movements, but at speeds that are still too slow to be practical around the home. It might take five minutes just for PR2 to grab you a beer. Computer processors keep getting faster and faster—roughly doubling every eighteen months, the rate predicted by the so-called Moore’s Law—and memory gets cheaper and cheaper. But the motors and actuators that move robots aren’t improving nearly as fast. (Battery technology, too, is key, moving quickly, but not quite keeping pace with Moore). In the words of Erico Guizzo, the robotics editor at the IEEE Spectrum, “Lots of people have been working on humanoid robots for decades, but the electric motors needed to drive a robot’s legs and arms are too big, heavy, and slow. Today’s most advanced humanoid robots are still big hulking pieces of metal that are unsafe to operate around people.”
That lets me breathe a little easier.  However, I'm disappointed it will take 5 minutes for the robot to fetch my beer.

Limits To The Shale Oil/Gas Boom

 Graph at Econbrowser.

Chris Martenson: You mentioned earlier that you thought the shale boom was being oversold. What are your thoughts on America’s oil and gas boom?
Chris Martenson: Well, this is really important. The current story is something along these lines: “Hey, look at how clever we’ve been. Because of the magic of technology, we have discovered how to unlock these incredible oil and gas resources that we just didn’t even know about before.”
When I talk to people who are in the oil business, they say, “Oh, no, no, we’ve known about those shale deposits, we’ve been drilling into and through them for decades. We’ve had horizontal drilling for decades; we’ve had fracking for decades. What we haven’t had is $80-a-barrel oil reliably enough to support us going into those with those technologies.”
So what really unlocked those reserves was price. Not technology, not cleverness, not ingenuity. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of very clever, ingenious stuff going on in those drilling actions, but price was the primary driver here.
Here’s the thing, though: When more expensive energy comes out of the ground, it means that everything that you use to go get that energy, after a lag, becomes more expensive too. This is doubly compounded by this idea that there’s less net energy coming from these finds.
They use more energy to get that energy, but that more energy is more expensive. So that feedback loop is already in play here. It simply means that there’s less to be used as we like elsewhere in the economy.
When I look at America’s apparent energy abundance, I’m a little worried that it’s been oversold. In particular, the dynamics of depletion that exist in both the tight shale oil and shale gas plays are very different from conventional reservoir depletion dynamics. I’m concerned that people are accustomed to the old and relatively slow reservoir depletion dynamics and are lulled by the sharp increases in output that these new reservoirs offer without really understanding just how rapidly they fall off as well.
Here’s an example, in the Barnett shale gas play, in one region where they drilled 9,000 wells, there was just this exponential increase in gas output. But then there was no more room for any more wells in that section, and within one single year the gas output from that region with all of those beautiful, technologically marvelous 9,000wells had fallen by 44%. One year!
Talk about punching a lot of wells:

  I'll go out on a limb and say this shale boom is way overhyped.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Unseriousness of the GOP

This may make sense in Bizarro World, but I don't think it does anywhere else:
But a closer look at the tax impacts of Plan B shows that while it raises taxes on most million-plus earners, it also raises takes for many low-income earners.
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that the average taxpayer earning $1 million or more in cash income would see their taxes go up by an average of $72,000. A small number of those million-plus earners will see a tax cut, due to an anomaly in the Alternative Minimum Tax.
But lower income earners will also see a tax hike. People making between $10,000 to $20,000 will see their taxes go up by an average of $262. People making $20,000 to $30,000 will see their taxes go up by $219. (Read more: How Much Would Taxing the Rich Raise?)
Granted, those are minor increases. But drilling down deeper, you find that some of those low-income earners could see a sizable increase. One in five of Americans who earn less than $20,000 a year will see an increase of $1,070 -- a sizeable amount for low-income earners.
In fact, the only taxpayers who will get an overall tax cut under Plan B are those who earn between $200,000 and $1 million. People making between $200,000 and $500,000 will see an average tax cut of $301. Those making between $500,000 and $1 million will see their taxes go down by $164.
The reason is that Plan B has two parts - raising taxes on high earners and eliminating deductions for low earners. The plan raises the tax rate for those making $1 million or more to 39.6 percent from its current rate of 35 percent. It would also raise the capital gains and dividend tax rates for those earners to 20 percent from 15 percent.  Yet Plan B also eliminates many of the Obama-led tax credits that largely benefit low-income earners, including the 2009 enhancements to the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and others. Repealing these credits hurts families with children the hardest, according the Tax Policy Center.
What a bunch of mendacious assholes.  What the fuck is with the $200,000 to $1,000,000 per year bracket getting a fucking tax cut?  The crazy thing is that this still isn't good enough for the morons like Jim Jordan.  I guarantee he will vote against any plan put forward, because he is the most useless public servant in history.