Saturday, January 7, 2012

Who Dey!

Go Bengals, get that first playoff win in 21 years. Hopefully, multiple Bengals scores will justify playing this classic a number of times.

Midnight Sun

Iceland has a strange beauty (and I understand there are a number of beautiful ladies there), but weeks without a sunset in the summer, and weeks without a sunrise in the winter would drive me insane.

Chart of the Day

From Stuart Staniford:

Poor Texas.  He also has a neat link to NOAA's site where you can create time lapse movies of the maps over a period of time.  His link shows the Dirty Thirties in the Dust Bowl era.  I looked at the 1988 and 1991 droughts.  What is interesting for this year is that the map only showed us getting to normal range in July and August.

Canada For President

Very funny (h/t the Dish):

College Hockey Nonconference Battle

Tonight, #5 Notre Dame takes on #3 Minnesota, at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

The Approval of the Anglo-Irish Treaty

January 7, 1922:
 Dáil Éireann ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty by a 64-57 vote.
Next step, Irish Civil War.

The "Genius" of Private Equity

Reuters (h/t John Cole):
The young men in business suits, gingerly picking their way among the millwrights, machinists and pipefitters at Kansas City's Worldwide Grinding Systems steel mill. Gaping up at the cranes that swung 10-foot cast iron buckets through the air. Jumping at the thunder from the melt shop's electric-arc furnace as it turned scrap metal into lava.
"They looked like a bunch of high school kids to me. A bunch of Wall Street preppies," says Jim Linson, an electronics repairman who worked at the plant for 40 years. "They came in, they were in awe."
Apparently they liked what they saw. Soon after, in October 1993, Bain Capital, co-founded by Mitt Romney, became majority shareholder in a steel mill that had been operating since 1888.
It was a gamble. The old mill, renamed GS Technologies, needed expensive updating, and demand for its products was susceptible to cycles in the mining industry and commodities markets.
Less than a decade later, the mill was padlocked and some 750 people lost their jobs. Workers were denied the severance pay and health insurance they'd been promised, and their pension benefits were cut by as much as $400 a month.
What's more, a federal government insurance agency had to pony up $44 million to bail out the company's underfunded pension plan. Nevertheless, Bain profited on the deal, receiving $12 million on its $8 million initial investment and at least $4.5 million in consulting fees.
The "management" fees burn me up.  Often, PE firms buy a company for peanuts, run it through bankrupcy to wipe out creditors and shed pension liabilities, cut costs, borrow a bunch of money, pretty up the cash flow statement a little, pay themselves tons in fees, then dump the company back on the market in an IPO.  They know how to cook books and steal cash, but they no almost nothing about production.  If there is a hell for predatory capitalists, it will probably assign them to jobs on the shop floor in a steel mill run by folks like them.

A German Political Primer

Matthew Yglesias gives his summary of German politics:
Modern-day Germany, to review, has what amounts to a five party system. There's the Christian Democrats (CDU), as the traditional big center-right party. Then you have the Social Democrats (SPD), the traditional big center-left party. The Christian Democrats are generally aligned with the Free Democrats (FDP), who are a more strictly pro-business party. The Social Democrats are generally aligned with the Greens, who are Green. And then there's The Left, an amalgamation of East German ex-communists and rebels from the Social Democrats who objected to Gerhard Schröder's neoliberal turn. In the 2005 election, the ruling SPD-Green coalition basically ran against an implicit CDU-FDP coalition. But the Left got enough votes that neither coalition had a majority. So the CDU formed a coaltion with the SPD. Then came the 2009 elections in which the CDU and SPD, who'd been governing together, ended up running against each other. But everyone knew that the CDU would win. The big question was whether the FDP would gain enough votes to allow for a CDU-FDP properly right-wing coalition, and there was even some talk that perhaps Angela Merkel would prefer to "lose" and continue with a centrist grand coalition. Be that as it may, the FDP did great, surging to 14.6 percent of the vote and putting a CDU-FDP coalition in office. But ever since then, it's been a series of debacles for the FDP and the way they're polling now if the election were held tomorrow they wouldn't get any seats in parliament at all. That means that even though Angela Merkel is fairly popular, she's arguably in a very tenuous political position. That, in turn, forms part of the backdrop to her government's entire approach to the crisis.
Didn't know all that.  All I knew was that the CDU has a branch party in Bavaria which is the CSU

The Urban Upper-Middle Class "Poor"

From Gawker (h/t nc links):
For your judgmental pleasure: UrbanBaby's most harrowing tales of economic hardship and financial woe:
  • $700,000 poor. NYC
  • $350K, so, so, so poor. Not being dramatic or anything, really poor. We totally struggle every day. UES.... Obviously we are totally over extended. If we could get out of this mess, we would, but we can't.
  • 500,000. DH spends to much so I feel poor
  • 2012 will be about 400k. Fell mc. HHI is down since 2009. Live on the UWS.
  • $275K, on the poor side of middle class, NYC.
  • 180K Greenwich Village. I feel wealthy compared to most of the world. I feel like I am doing my child a disservice when she cried at age 4 because I told her we will NEVER buy a country house.
  • Last year $650k. This year $375-450k depending on bonus. I know rationally we are doing well, but we still feel pinched. We try to save our bonus and spend our base ($275k) and with 2 DCs in private pre-school, modest place on far UWS, and pretty modest life, we rip through that $275k incredibly fast. But for those haters, here is the math: $275k = $137k after tax. That is a bit more than $11k per month. After rent, it's $6200. Annualize preschool and subtract, we are down to $3500. And between all of our other expenses, somehow we burn through that.
  • 200k, poor, DC suburbs.
  • 140k, no dcs, 2 adults and we feel POOR. san francisco.
I would think it would be hard for people in rural parts of the country to feel sorry for these folks who make so much more than they do.  I guess it isn't, since rural areas support the politicians who want to give the super wealthy massive tax breaks.  The evidence seems to indicate it is easier to feel sorry for those who are wealthier than you than it is for those who are poorer than you.  I don't get it.

Is New Hampshire Rugged and Individualist?

Not so much.  The Atlantic:
But here's a surprise: The "Live Free or Die" State, having lost much of its manufacturing base, seems to be thriving mostly on a steady diet of government spending and public jobs. For one, government employment in New Hampshire is up 14% since 2000, compared to 6% for the country as a whole.
What's more, real personal income growth in New Hampshire over the past decade has been driven almost entirely by government spending. Here's how it breaks down: From 2000 to 2010, real personal income in the state rose by $4.6 billion, in 2005 dollars. Out of that, $3 billion, or 66%, came from the growth of government transfer payments such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Another $1.4 trillion, or 31%, came from increased wages and benefits to government employees (numbers are rounded and in 2005 dollars).
In other words, 97% of real personal income growth in New Hampshire from 2000 to 2010 came from government transfer payments and government jobs. Part of the problem is that New Hampshire has historically been a manufacturing-intensive state. As late as 2000, 22% of employee compensation in New Hampshire was generated by manufacturing. That put it in nearly the same league as Michigan(26%) and Ohio (24%), and far above the national average of 16%.
As a result, the 35% decline in manufacturing employment since 2000 has competely transformed the economic landscape of New Hampshire.
That must be why New Hampshire voted for Obama in 2008.  Only rugged independent states like South Carolina and Kansas and Mississippi can manage to vote Republican.  Blah blah blah.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Upside-Down World

Fishing under ice from Juuso Mettälä on Vimeo.

All About Gold

From Ritholtz, gold facts and figures:

$8.7 trillion of gold above ground in the whole world at $1600 an ounce?  No wonder the gold bugs salivate at the idea of returning to the gold standard.  I hate to break it to them, converting to a monetary system that ridiculously increases the value of some damn not very useful metal at the expense of everybody who doesn't hoard it-not going to happen.

La Nina Watch

From LiveScience:
A majority of climate models now predict a weak or moderate-strength La Niña to peak between December and February. La Niña should then continue into early spring before dissipating between March and May, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.
During January to March 2012, there is an increased chance of above-average temperatures across the south-central and southeastern United States, and below-average temperatures over the western and the northwest-central United States. Also, above-average precipitation is favored across most of the northern states and in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, and drier-than-average conditions are more likely across the southern United States.
Hopefully it won't be as bad as last spring.

Santorum's Foreign Policy

Worse than Bush.  Here's Larison:
Peggy Noonan is the only mainstream conservative columnist I have read to state the obvious about Santorum:
But his weakest spot is foreign policy, where he is not thoughtful but reflexively hard-line. It is one thing to say, as all candidates do and must, that America must be strong, well defended, ready for any challenge. It is another to be aggressive, to be too burly, to be all George W. Bush and no George H.W. Bush.
In fact, Santorum goes far beyond Bush in aggressiveness, so this description doesn’t quite capture how bad his foreign policy is. One of the themes of his failed re-election bid was that the Bush administration was being too soft and was refusing to call the enemy by its true name. For Santorum, of course, the enemy was “Islamic fascism,” and Iran was at the heart of it. After the 2006 midterms, Rumsfeld resigned and Gates took his place, and virtually everyone saw as a good and necessary change. Not Santorum. After Gates was confirmed, this is what he had to say:
The president’s nomination of Gates, and the Senate’s passive and overwhelming support of him, shows that our leaders have not understood the peril we are in and are not prepared to win the war that is being waged against us.
Santorum was one of two Senators to vote against Gates’ confirmation.
Considering that the Gates appointment was probably Bush's best move other than ignoring Cheney the last few years in office, it is pretty poor that the soon-to-be also ran actually was one of two votes against confirmation.  Santorum was deservedly voted out of office in 2006, and only the religious loon-base would want to resurrect him.

Republicans And Their Tax Cuts

Yglesias highlights this chart:

Just plain dumb.  Giant deficits and bigger tax cuts.  Not only that, but ridiculous-sized tax cuts for the extremely wealthy.  I'd love to ask these goons, at what point do we finally see the vaunted trickle-down benefits they've been promising for 30 years?  I'd guess half-past-never.

Expanding The First Family

Abe Sauer gives the President a suggestion for a bold campaign move, getting the first lady preggers:
Only a Yale-educated statusquocrat's idea of "bold" would be to add another Clinton. I have a far more truly bold political strategy for 2012 (one based on absolutely no inside information): Get Michelle Obama pregnant. In other words, put a pregnant First Lady on the Democratic ticket for 2012.
Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of not just a Democratic base that’s lost the "hope" and passion of 2008, but also of the only large group of undecided voters left: Grandmas. A Michelle heavy into her third term in October can give the reelection campaign that kind of (baby) bump. Here's why:
A lack of perceived sex appeal has never been Obama's problem. But what sitting president's image, hobbled with a flaccid economy and a impotent Congress, couldn't use a shot of virility?
A First Lady with child is an unlimited well for campaign stump speech jokes about a pregnant wife that speechwriters can punctuate with crushing moments of gravity about "securing the future for my unborn child." Just imagine the President speaking with trademark Obama gravitas while placing a hand on the swollen belly. At any given time, about least 3.3 million American women are pregnant. Assuming 2.8 million of them are of voting age, a pregnant Michelle Obama could be counted on for at least a 2.6 million "pregnant vote" landslide. Imagine the "Meet the Press" episode of December 2012 that mentions the "womb vote."
That's pretty funny.  Maybe the President's speechwriters will pick up on Sauer's suggestion, and make it into a stump speech joke.  It would also take away some of Rick Santorum's 5 child advantage.

What's Coming Down The Tracks?

January 6, 2005:
A train collision in Graniteville, South Carolina, releases about 60 tons of chlorine gas. On January 6, 2005, a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train struck a parked train on the spur leading to Avondale's Stevens Steam Plant. One of two train cars that were carrying liquid chlorine ruptured, releasing a poisonous chlorine cloud. Nine people were killed, more than 250 injured, and more than five thousand were displaced from their homes for more than a week. On May 20, 2006 the town dedicated a memorial to those who perished. The memorial is located in a small park at the intersection of Canal St and Aiken Rd.
Until 1996, Graniteville was the home office and central location of a collection of textile plants in South Carolina and Georgia known as The Graniteville Company. In 1996, the company was bought out by Avondale Mills, a company which was one of the largest denim manufacturers in the United States. Avondale closed or sold off all of its plants in the area in 2006, unable to recover financially from the train accident in 2005. Graniteville is also home to a Bridgestone/Firestone Tire and Rubber Company plant.
Have you ever read the contents on the side of rail tank cars?  It can be pretty spooky, especially when one lives next to the tracks.  I remember a similar accident in Superior, Wisconsin, where folks were evacuated in a fog of toxic gas from I believe a derailment.  Oh well, I figure the odds are against a particularly bad accident by my place.  The former tenant mentioned that a derailment occurred once and involved a bunch of Ford tractors in transport, and he ended up with a hydraulic cylinder that was lost when they cleaned up the wreckage.  Jackpot!

The Benefits of Multipolarity

Daniel Larison:
Christopher Layne reviewed John Lewis Gaddis’ George F. Kennan: An American Life for the new issue of The National Interest. The entire review is excellent, but I wanted to draw attention to Layne’s discussion of Kennan and multipolarity:
Here, Kennan understood that what international-relations scholars call polarity—the number of great powers in the international system—is a crucial factor for grand strategy. He realized that in the post–World War II bipolar system of two superpowers, there were no other independent poles of power to which the United States could devolve the responsibility for containing the Soviet Union, which meant that it would have to bear the lion’s share of the burden. Nor, in fact, did most policy makers in Washington wish it to be otherwise because they preferred a subordinate Western Europe to one that was a geopolitical equal of the United States. Simply put, most of them abhorred and opposed multipolarity. This, of course, is still U.S. policy even in today’s—rapidly waning—unipolar world.
Kennan was a rarity among U.S. policy makers and grand strategists during the last seventy years. He appreciated that multipolarity favored the United States because, in a world of several great powers, others could assume many of the strategic burdens that otherwise would weigh on the dominant power [bold mine-DL]. Although Kennan was unusual in seeing the advantages of restoring multipolarity, he was not alone. John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s secretary of state, also championed a united Europe that no longer would need to rely on U.S. forces for its security. As Dulles said, “We want Europe to stand on its own two feet.” He added the United States provided Western Europe with perverse incentives to avoid the necessary steps to achieve political unity. The Marshall Plan and NATO, said Dulles, “were the two things which prevented a unity in Europe which in the long run may be more valuable” than continuing subservience to the United States.
In the absence of a threat that justifies bearing the lion’s share of the burden, Americans are often told that the U.S. must remain a global hegemon for the sake of the “global commons” and to facilitate international trade, but these are more excuses than reasons for why so many politicians and policymakers recoil from the idea of real multipolarity in the world. The emergence of multiple centers of power in the world can reduce the burdens that the U.S. bears mostly on its own right now, which will allow the U.S. to focus more of its attention and resources on specifically American interests. The maintenance of global hegemony is detrimental to the interests of the United States.
This seems blatantly obvious to me.  Why should the U.S. bear the burden of protecting shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean when Europe and India and China and Australia all are free riding?  Why should the U.S. bear the expense of defending western Europe?  Why should we spend so much money, blood and toil the Middle East when China and Europe use most of that oil?  Well actually, we are still too dependent on foreign (read Canadian, Mexican and Venezuelan oil), so oil price spikes still hurt us.  The fact of the matter is, with our continental isolation and our ICBMs, we could easily defend the United States while letting other developed nations defend themselves.  We can always come to the aid of our allies who are threatened by invasion, but we don't need to spend ourselves to oblivion trying to run the world.  It obviously doesn't benefit our manufacturing base by protecting trade routes around the world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Suing Your Way Onto The Ballot

New American:
Five Republican candidates are angry that their names will not be appearing on the ballot in Virginia because of their failure to acquire enough petition signatures in a timely fashion. Now, they are suing the Virginia Board of Elections over the primary dispute, prompting Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to intervene. Texas Governor Rick Perry (left) was the first to launch the lawsuit against the Board of Elections, but his suit has now been joined by four other GOP candidates: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman. The suit seeks to have the Board allow the candidates back on the ballot or refrain from taking any action until a January 13 court hearing, when a district court judge will hear Perry’s challenge.
Virginia is set to print out its ballots by January 9; however, the district judge asserts that if necessary, the state will have to print ballots twice.
Perry’s office slammed the state of Virginia for what he calls its “onerous” requirements.
“We believe that the Virginia provisions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of candidates and voters by severely restricting access to the ballot, and we hope to have those provisions overturned or modified to provide greater ballot access to Virginia voters and the candidates seeking to earn their support," Perry's communications director Ray Sullivan said in a statement last week.
Now the state’s Attorney General has weighed in on the action. Fox News reports, “Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is intervening in his state’s presidential primary dispute and plans to file emergency legislation to address the inability of most Republican presidential candidates to get their name on the ballot.”
Couldn't a bunch of regular people who wouldn't have gotten the required signatures also join this lawsuit, making the ballot into a California Governor recall type of election?  This is just begging for Stephen Colbert to join the lawsuit.  He already flirted with running for President, he already has a SuperPAC and it's comedy gold. (That's gold, Jerry! Gold!)  How many thousand votes would he get, and he wouldn't even have to go to the trouble of getting the signatures (just like Newt, Rick and the boys).  Just an idea.

This Ain't Socialism

Hale Stewart points out that the "S" word has been robbed of all meaning in our political discourse (via Ritholtz):

The above chart gives us more detail of government contributions to overall GDP growth.  First, notice the blue line, which is defense spending.  This number has been a powerful contributor to economic growth over the last three years; it has only contracted in four quarters.  Secondly, notice federal non-defense spending -- the red line.  Its contribution at the beginning of the chart was actually far weaker than defense spending.  In other words, it was the war efforts that really added to overall growth.  More importantly, in the 4Q09-2Q10 period we see non-defense spending at higher levels than defense spending -- a situation we also see in 1Q09 and 2Q10.  Put another way, out of the last 15 quarters, federal non-defense spending has contributed more economic growth than defense spending in 5 quarters -- or 33% of the time.  Finally, notice the green line, which shows the percentage contribution of state and local spending to GDP growth.  This number has subtracted from growth 11 of the last 15 quarters -- or 73% of the time.  For the quarters it did contribute, it did so at very low rates.

What to these two charts tell us?

1.) Defense spending is actually far more important to overall GDP growth over the last 15 quarters than federal non-defense spending.

2.) State and local governments fiscal issues are hurting overall economic growth.

3.) An economic policy that is contractionary, in fact, leads to slower growth.

Put another way: this ain't socialism.  
I'm sure some Tea Partier will bring up Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.  I don't really know why folks like to put health care in the "fend for yourself" category.  We don't have total control over our health, and in our system, we face economic ruin without health insurance or government health care assistance (and we still often face ruin even with insurance).  My favorite example of this was to make the point against the insurance mandate, I heard a radio talk show host citing as an example one (1!) person who has managed to reach old age by paying cash for all health expenses and never buying insurance.  This really gets to the point of what insurance is.  It is socialization of expenses.  Customers pay in, and mitigate the risk of major economic loss.  Mutual insurance is then just socialism.  What a terrible system.  Yes, I know that government mandates take away the liberty of voluntary participation in the system, but why would somebody take greater economic risk for greater cost?  For the freedom to go bankrupt or get their blood sucked by major corporations?

Parasitic Fly May Be Killing Bees

Scientific American (h/t nc links):
A heap of dead bees was supposed to become food for a newly captured praying mantis. Instead, the pile ended up revealing a previously unrecognized suspect in colony collapse disorder a mysterious condition that for several years has been causing declines in U.S. honeybee populations, which are needed to pollinate many important crops. This new potential culprit is a bizarre and potentially devastating parasitic fly that has been taking over the bodies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in Northern California.
John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, had collected some belly-up bees from the ground underneath lights around the University’s biology building. “But being an absent-minded professor,” he noted in a prepared statement, “I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them.” He soon got a shock. “The next time I looked at the vial, there were all these fly pupae surrounding the bees,” he said. A fly (Apocephalus borealis) had inserted its eggs into the bees, using their bodies as a home for its developing larvae. And the invaders had somehow led the bees from their hives to their deaths. A detailed description of the newly documented relationship was published online Tuesday in PLoS ONE.

Hope For A First Round Victory?

Bill Barnwell predicts a Bengals victory on Saturday:
If we could be sure that Andre Johnson was going to show up and play like the real Andre Johnson, it would probably be enough to swing this game toward the Texans. After their bye week, though, the Texans faced a group of six teams that finished with a record of 41-55 and went 3-3 while being outscored by four points. Too much is often made about the idea that teams need to be "hot" and have momentum heading into the playoffs, but there's little indication that this Texans team much resembles the unit that beat up on the Steelers in Week 4. Cincinnati 13, Houston 10.
Gotta like that.  It's been a long time since the Bengals have won a playoff game.  Well, actually, it will have been 21 years ago tomorrow.  Glad to know that a child born the day of that victory will be able to legally drink for the game Saturday.

You Can't Keep Doing The Same Thing

At least that's my take on Harold James' column.  Another way of saying it is that things go in cycles.  Here's his summary of how the American, European and Chinese economic systems have failed to beat the economic cycle:
So, is there any absolutely sure way of organizing economic life? If the quest is for a way of securing perpetual security or dominance, then the answer is “no.”
Underpinning comparisons of different models is the wish to find an absolutely secure way of generating wealth and prosperity. In a market economy, however, competition rapidly leads to emulation, and high profits associated with an original innovation turn out to be transitory. From a longer-term perspective, there are only temporary surges of relative wealth, just as there are only temporary surges of apparent success in a particular way of doing business.
During the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the pioneers and innovators in textiles, steel, and railroads were not, on the whole, rewarded with immense riches: their profits were competed away. The late nineteenth and the twentieth century produced a different sort of growth, because public policies and resources could be used to protect accumulated wealth from the otherwise inevitable erosion stemming from competitive pressure.
Behind the idea of a particular model of growth was the belief that a sensibly ordered state could somehow capture and eternalize the fruits of economic success. Like it or not, states cannot organize themselves in that way any more than individuals can.
In the world economy, we in the West will not be able to maintain the much higher standard of living relative to the rest of the world.  The main question is how well we'll be able to share the pain.  So far, it hasn't been too impressive.  One positive, though, we've managed to decrease both oil consumption and miles driven.  That helps to move a little closer to balancing our current accounts.

The Cahokia Settlement

The Atlantic Cities:
Archaeologists believe people began to gather at Cahokia around the year 1000 A.D. Inspired perhaps by the sighting of Halley's Comet in the year 989, settlers erected ceremonial mounds at the site, some of which line up with the sun's position during the winter solstice. Around the year 1100 they began to build Monks Mound — the largest mound, reaching some 100 feet off the ground, created from millions of baskets of dirt. A vast palisade that enclosed Monks Mound and other parts of the settlement was constructed around the year 1200. For reasons still debated, the whole city failed around the start of the following century.
The latest excavations have uncovered evidence of more than five hundred thatched houses and signs of workshops where residents created various goods. The homes surrounded the ceremonial sites, and at its peak the settlement may have expanded out into a primitive metropolitan area that served as residence to tens of thousands of Native Americans. But as a city Cahokia lacked the density of Mayan or European settlements; instead it appears to have organized itself more along the lines of "modern American urban sprawl," Lawler writes.
While settlement at Cahokia was short-lived, its cultural impact appears to have been widespread. Researchers working as far away as Wisconsin have found evidence of Cahokia-style pottery and housing. Why exactly the city disappeared it still a matter of conjecture. The leading assumptions point to political problems, a changing climate, or a combination of both. In a paper published in a 2009 issue of the journal American Antiquity, a research team led by Larry Benson of the U.S. Geological Survey presented climate-related evidence that "a series of persistent droughts occurred in the Cahokian area" which may have contributed to the city's abandonment:
By A.D. 1150, in the latter part of a severe 15-year drought, the Richland farming complex was mostly abandoned, eliminating an integral part of Cahokia's agricultural base. At about the same time, a 20,000-log palisade was erected around Monks Mound and the Grand Plaza, indicating increased social unrest. During this time, people began exiting Cahokia and, by the end of the Stirling phase (A.D. 1200), Cahokia's population had decreased by about 50 percent and by A.D. 1350, Cahokia and much of the central Mississippi valley had been abandoned.
Makes me think of the Dust Bowl.

Free Derry

Free Derry Corner In the Bogside."You are now entering Free Derry" The slogan was first painted in January 1969 by John Casey

January 5, 1969:
Members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary damage property and assault occupants in the Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. In response, residents erect barricades and establish Free Derry. Free Derry (Irish: SaorDhoire) was a self-declared autonomous nationalist area of Derry, Northern Ireland, between 1969 and 1972. Its name was taken from a sign painted on a gable wall in the Bogside in January 1969 which read, “You are now entering Free Derry". The area, which included the Bogside and Creggan neighbourhoods, was secured by community activists for the first time on 5 January 1969 following an incursion into the Bogside by members of the police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Residents built barricades and carried clubs and similar arms to prevent the RUC from entering. After six days the residents took down the barricades and police patrols resumed, but tensions remained high over the following months.
Violence reached a peak on 12 August 1969, culminating in the Battle of the Bogside—a three day pitched battle between residents and police. On 14 August units of the British Army were deployed at the edge of the Bogside and the police were withdrawn. The Derry Citizens Defence Association (DCDA) declared their intention to hold the area against both the police and the army until their demands were met. The army made no attempt to enter the area. The situation continued until October 1969 when, following publication of the Hunt Report, military police were allowed in.
There was still more than thirty years of bloodshed ahead.

The Fractal Nature Of Zip Codes

In a similar spirit, I decided to explore the dimension of the ZIP Code system and see if it has a similar type of fractal dimension. I did this using the wonderful images created by Robert Kosara called ZIPScribbles, which connect the coordinates of sequential ZIP codes (02445 is connected to 02446, 02446 is connected to 02447, and so forth). As you can see below, there is a geographically hierarchical nature to it. ZIP codes divide the population first into states, and then divide into little scribble regions even further, in a self-similar fashion.
That's a cool map.  I'd like to zoom in close, since ZIP Codes are given to cities alphabetically in a region, those lines must slide all over the place.  This is what you get when math geeks have time on their hands.  I guess it's better than developing algorithms that blow up the economy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Muskrat Gold Mine

The big economic lesson of 2009-2010 was that it's good to make things that a rapidly growing China wants to buy, which apparently includes muskrat pelts from such upper midwest hotspots as the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Part of the genius of the muskrat trade is that unlike with many other animals there are few limits to how many you're allowed to trap and kill and "At $10 per pelt—five times what muskrats fetched in the 1990s—pelts were trading at new highs when bidding for last season's furs ended in June."
Interestingly, fur trapping was the main motive for early (largely French) white exploration in this area. Along a variety of dimensions, Asian industrialization seems to be pushing America back to its roots as a natural resource extraction hub.
Well, natural resource extraction is what's driving growth in Canada and Australia, so it isn't too surprising it would spill over here.  Clearly, our mining the soil to produce corn and soybeans for export to China have been helping the economy in the Midwest.  Luckily, we can mine Florida and Saskatchewan to get potash and phosphorus to add back to the soil, and we can use fracked natural gas in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio to produce nitrogen fertilizer.  Oh, how easy things are when God just leaves stuff for us to plunder.

Why Would Right-To-Work Create Jobs?

chart by Calculated Risk 

As Indiana begins debating right-to-work, I've got to ask, what's the point?  South Carolina is a right-to-work state, and how's their unemployment rate?  How well are all those textile mills they brought in from the north doing right now?  Face it, the South was the first third-world country that employers moved to to get lower wages.  Now they've moved on.  We're going to have to get wages pretty damn low (or bribe companies with tons of tax credits, most likely) to bring lots of jobs back to the North, and it's pretty unlikely that many new employers would be under the threat of unionization anyway.  I don't understand why politicians would go to the effort of pissing off what union workers there are by pushing this.

Iowa Vote By County

From the Dish:

Voting for the religious conservative seems very negatively correlated with population density.  If you don't have any close neighbors, why would you care what kind of sex they are having?  I don't get the connection.

Small Business By The Numbers

From the Big Picture:

Call me skeptical, but I doubt too many small businesses are voluntarily closed, and not sold, if they are mildly profitable.  I would guess that most of them aren't profitable, and the business owner is getting out before they do become bankrupt.  As for the job numbers, I think those are somewhat skewed also.  The number I've heard was any business with less than 500 employees is considered small, whereas that seems pretty big to me.

Romney Holds Off Santorum By Eight Votes

Last night the Iowa caucuses kicked off the first contest of the 2012 election season. In the end, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney beat late front-runner Rick Santorum by just eight votes in a contest that carried into the early hours of the morning.
I woke up at 12:30 last night and couldn't get back to sleep until 3:30.  Eventually I remembered that the Caucus was last night, so I turned on the TV.  Mistake.  The talking heads are morons.  Some of the stuff I heard was just ridiculous.  One Republican flak said Democrats would begin to turn Rick Santorum into a caricature.  I'm sorry, but Rick beat them to it:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, whose strong base of evangelical Christian supporters has thrust him into contention in Iowa, said on Monday that he believes states should have the right to outlaw birth control and sodomy without the interference of the Supreme Court.
In an interview with Jake Tapper on ABC News, Santorum reiterated his opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling that prevented Connecticut from banning contraception.
“The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that," he said. "It is not a constitutional right. The state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have. That's the thing I have said about the activism of the Supreme Court--they are creating rights, and it should be left up to the people to decide."
Santorum said he also opposes the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down a ban on sodomy in Texas and 13 other states. Even though he would not personally vote for a ban on sodomy, he said, he thinks states should legally be able to pass them, because sodomy is not a constitutionally protected right.
WTF?  Does the Constitution guarantee the right to vaginal sex or is it just a government-allowed privilege?  How about those rights being claimed under the Ninth Amendment?  Did the Founders discuss the potential development of birth control in Philadelphis in the summer of 1787?  How do we know where they'd stand on that?  And seriously Rick, only the US Council of Catholic Bishops would consider a ban on birth control today, and the majority of Catholics would be opposed to the ban.  How is the Republican Party comprised of people who think the government should pass laws on what occurs in your bedroom, but that it shouldn't regulate what toxic pollutants industry pumps into the air that all of us breathe?  Is there a Constitutional right to mercury emissions?   I give up.

Not Much Economic Impact From Iowa Caucuses

Ezra Klein:
For decades, Iowa has fiercely defended its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential election cycle. That distinction earns the Midwestern state no shortage of media attention every four years, as candidates aggressively court its voters. But what about the economic impact? Does the state get an economic boost from all the attention from politicians and journalists? Nope. All the political focus on Iowa comes with surprisingly little pay-off. After the 2008 presidential caucus, Iowa State University’s David Swenson crunched the numbers on all the campaign spending for the final two quarters of 2007, presumably the point when candidates start gearing up for Iowa’s early January ballot. During those six months, candidates spent just $15.5 million in the Hawkeye State. Combined spending in Iowa and New Hampshire — which follows Iowa with a first-in-the-nation primary -- amounted to a paltry 7.7 percent of campaign spending by both political parties, totaling just over $352 million.
It has to help the TV stations though.

A Lowlight In The War of Currents

January 4, 1903:
 Topsy, an elephant, is electrocuted by Thomas Edison during the War of Currents campaign. Topsy belonged to the Forepaugh Circus and spent the last years of her life at Coney Island's Luna Park. Because she had killed three men in as many years (including a severely abusive trainer who attempted to feed her a lit cigarette), Topsy was deemed a threat to people by her owners and killed by electrocution on January 4, 1903, at the age of 28.   Inventor Thomas Edison captured the event on film. He would release it later that year under the title Electrocuting an Elephant.
A means of killing initially discussed was hanging. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals protested and other ways were considered. Edison then suggested electrocution with alternating current, which had been used for the execution of humans since 1890.
Topsy was fed carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide before the deadly current from a 6,600-volt AC source was sent coursing through her body. She was dead in seconds. The event was witnessed by an estimated 1,500 people and Edison's film of the event was seen by audiences throughout the United States.
When Luna Park burned down in 1944, the fire was referred to as "Topsy's Revenge".
It cracks me up that Edison invented the electric chair in a effort to undermine alternating current.  I can't imagine a movie of an elephant being executed would be very popular today.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

North Dakotans Using Oil Money To Buy Arizona Homes

USA Today:
Flush with cash from an oil boom and plentiful jobs, North Dakotans are snapping up homes 1,500 miles away in balmy Arizona, where prices have plunged since the real estate bubble burst.
"It boils down to the weather and taking advantage of the market," says real estate agent Rocky Parra of HomeSmart Realty in Gilbert, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb.
He and wife Beverly, a native of Minot, N.D., have sold eight homes to North Dakotans in recent months. Parra is heading to North Dakota this month to meet with possible buyers.
"A lot of people have struck it rich," he says. "Oil companies are coming in and buying businesses and land. They're selling up there at the peak and buying down here at the bottom."
Some want second homes. Others move outright.
I personally wouldn't move to Arizona, but I also probably wouldn't live in North Dakota.  Wind drives me nuts.

Good News In Germany

Germany's unemployment rate just hit its lowest level since reunification. Americans keep warning that the destruction of spending power in southern Europe is going to crush the German export engine, but apparently Germany's been able to make it up with exports to fast-growing developing countries. Brazil, India, and China are just as good a market for new cars as Italy and Spain.
I don't think we should wholly discount the possibility that Germany can keep this trend together even if huges swathes of the continent fall into a depression. Among other things, the current situation strongly encourages the most talented Italian, Portugese, Irish, Greek, and Spanish workers to move to Germany which would further boost the German economy.
Hopefully, things will work out for the Germans, but I would think a deep recession in Europe will still be pretty damaging to Germany.

Conference Bowl Records

From NBC Sports:
How each has fared during the postseason games (through games on 1/2)
ConferenceSchoolsRecordWin %
Big 12 (8)Bay, ISU, KState, Mizzou, OU, OklSt, TA&M, Texas6-1.857
C-USA (5)Houston, Marshall, SMU, SoMiss, Tulsa3-1.750
MAC (5)NIU, Ohio, Temple, Toledo, WMich3-1.750
SEC (9)Ala,Ark,Aub,Fla,Geor,LSU,MissSt,SCar,Vandy4-2.667
Big East (5)Cincy, Lou, Pitt, Rutgers, WVU2-1.667
Sun Belt (3)ArkSt, FIU, La.-Laf.1-1.500
Ind. (2)BYU, ND1-1.500
MWC (5)AF, Boise, SDSU, TCU, Wym2-3.400
Big Ten(10)Ill,Iowa,Mich,MSU,Neb,N'Wstrn,OSU,PSU,Pur,Wis3-6.333
ACC (8)Clem, FSU, GT, NC, NCS, Vir, VT, WF2-4.333
Pac-12 (7)ASU, Cal, Ore, Stan, UCLA, Utah, Wash2-5.286
WAC (3)LaTech, Nev, UtahSt0-3.000

The Big Ten won't look as bad if Michigan can win, but something tells me there are too many teams from the Big Ten, the ACC and the Pac-12 playing in bowl games.

Geologic Time

From the Dish:

A Yucky Start To The New Year

The Guardian (via nc links):
Norwegians have been left puzzled at the sight of thousands of dead herring carpeting a beach in the northerly district of Nordreisa with some wondering if a predator had driven them to their death or a storm had washed them ashore.
Scientists were hoping to test the fish to see if they could ascertain the cause of death. Locals had more pressing concerns: how to clean up the 20 tonnes of dead creatures before they decay.
The picture is pretty gross.  The article also mentions a bunch of dead blackbirds in Arkansas, but I think that story might have been from last year.

Update:  My sister let me know that a bunch of blackbirds did die for the second straight year.

Quake Shuts Ohio Injection Wells

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer had announced on Friday that one such well -- which injects "fluid deep underground into porous rock formations, such as sandstone or limestone, or into or below the shallow soil layer," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains -- was closed after a series of small earthquakes in and around Youngstown.
Then on Saturday, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck that released at least 40 times more energy than any of the previous 10 or more tremors that had rattled the region in 2011.
Andy Ware, deputy director of Ohio's natural resources department, told CNN on Sunday that Zehringer and Gov. John Kasich subsequently ordered that four nearby injection well projects will not open in the coming weeks, as had previously been planned. They 'll be inoperational until a determination is made in an investigation of a possible link between the earthquakes and the fluid-injection wells, he added.
"They will (not open) until we are satisfied that the process can be safely resumed," said Ware.
These earthquakes around injection wells are curious.  If there isn't any property damage, they might not be a big deal, but if quakes start damaging houses, there's going to be some serious trouble.

A Real Banana Republic

January 3, 1932:
 Martial law is declared in Honduras to stop revolt by banana workers fired by United Fruit.

The United Fruit Company was an American corporation that traded in tropical fruit (primarily bananas) grown on Third World plantations and sold in the United States and Europe. The company was formed in 1899 from the merger of Minor C. Keith's banana-trading concerns with Andrew W. Preston's Boston Fruit Company. It flourished in the early and mid-20th century and came to control vast territories and transportation networks in Central America, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Ecuador, and the West Indies. Though it competed with the Standard Fruit Company for dominance in the international banana trade, it maintained a virtual monopoly in certain regions, some of which came to be called banana republics.

It had a deep and long-lasting impact on the economic and political development of several Latin American countries. Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the banana republics (a term coined by O. Henry). After a period of financial decline, United Fruit was merged with Eli M. Black's AMK in 1970 to become the United Brands Company. In 1984, Carl Lindner, Jr. transformed United Brands into the present-day Chiquita Brands International.
Central American misgovernance which benefitted the fruit companies was a major issue throughout the 20th Century.

What A Way To Pick The Leader of the Free World

An Iowa caucus primer, for tonight's event:
The caucuses begin at 7 p.m. Central Time, but Iowa GOP officials and the campaigns themselves encourage voters to show up early, since the process typically starts on time. Michele Bachmann’s website, for instance, directs supporters to be at their caucus precincts by 6:30 p.m. and does not mention that the event actually begins a half-hour later.
After a few minutes of procedural business, the captains will move on to the main event: the Presidential Preference Poll.
Each campaign will then be allowed to have one surrogate speak on its behalf. These speeches, which typically last two to three minutes, are among the most important elements of the entire process and figure to be even more critical this year, given the especially high percentage of undecided voters.
“I hope to make a decision before I go in there, but a lot of people will actually go in there, visit with their neighbors not knowing what they’re going to do, and say, ‘Who do you support?’ ” said longtime Iowa Republican activist Becky Beach. “And what happens a lot is people who they are friends with or that they respect, they’ll vote with those people because they know them and like them.”
In the past, well-organized campaigns have placed volunteer speech-givers at almost all of Iowa’s precincts, providing them with talking points for closing the deal.
It seems like a pretty poor way to spend a winter evening, especially given the Republican field.  I'd have a hard time getting through the various campaigns' speeches.  Now if they served beer...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mystery, Alaska

In honor of the Winter Classic:

Time To Go Bowling

Off to watch some football and hockey, and to finish reading The Art of Fielding.  I've got to check on my final calf of the season, who was born yesterday.  It seems like anytime I get a new calf in winter, it is almost immediately before a cold snap.  Do coming weather changes induce labor?

The EPIC Campaign of 1934

A Greg Mitchell post covers the failed campaign of Upton Sinclair for governor of California in 1934 (h/t naked capitalism).  The introduction is interesting:
Nearly two years after a Democrat promising hope and change entered the White House, amid an economic crisis left behind by an unpopular Republican, unemployment remained at century-high levels. Despite new stimulus programs, recovery seemed far off. Opponents in the GOP (and even some in the president's own party) called for cutting spending to reduce the budget deficit. Democrats were split:  Was the president acting as boldly as possible—or was he not nearly bold enough?  Pundits on the left accused him of dithering and caving in to "big business." Yet as a midterm election approached—one that might decide whether the president and his programs had much of a future—right-wing demagogues on the stump and in the media accused the White House of imposing socialism on America.
The year was 1934; the president was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The economic crisis FDR faced was far worse than what President Obama confronted after he took office -- and which sparked the Occupy movement later -- but many similarities exist.
Of all the left-wing mass movements that year, Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California (EPIC) crusade proved most influential, and not just in helping to push the New Deal to the left. The Sinclair threat—after he easily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary—so profoundly alarmed conservatives that it sparked the creation of the modern political campaign,  with its reliance on hired guns, advertising and media tricks, national fundraising, attack ads on the screen and more.
The aftermath is also intriguing:
The legacy of the EPIC campaign? Merriam did embrace much of the New Deal, providing at least some fresh help for suffering Californians. Responding to the Hollywood moguls' outrages during the campaign, actors and writers turned left and feverishly bolstered their fledgling guilds.
On the national scene, Sinclair's strong showing encouraged Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson to predict an agrarian revolt that would bring down "the profit system," and five left-wing Congressmen called a conference to explore a third-party bid. Lewis Schwellenbach won a Senate contest in the Northwest on the End Poverty in Washington platform. The La Follettes and their Progressive Party pretty much took over Wisconsin, where a modern maverick, Senator Russ Feingold, faces a tough re-election fight this year.
Emboldened by the results of the midterm elections and Sinclair's strong showing, Harry Hopkins near the end of 1934 proposed a comprehensive program, dubbed End Poverty in America, which the New York Times said "differs from Mr. Sinclair's in detail, but not in principle." Along with other popular movements—from the Townsend Plan pension crusaders to Huey Long in Louisiana—EPIC exerted a leftward pressure on the New Deal, strongly influencing FDR's groundbreaking legislation on Social Security and public works. The "Second New Deal," which also included the Works Progress Administration and National Labor Relations Act, would be more prolabor and antibusiness than the first.
The reactionary right should probably take a look at actual history once in a while.  Their overreaction to necessary changes make them look scary and ridiculous, which is not the best way to get what they want.  Address real problems, and don't make shit up, or you may get more radical policies than you originally had a cow about.

Second Ibrox Disaster

January 2, 1971:
The second major incident occurred on Saturday, 2 January 1971, when 66 people were killed in a crush, as supporters tried to leave the stadium. The match was an Old Firm game and was attended by over 80,000 fans. In the last regulation minute, Celtic took a 1-0 lead and some Rangers supporters started to leave the stadium. However, in the final moments of the match, Colin Stein scored an equaliser for Rangers.
As thousands of spectators were leaving the ground by stairway 13, it appears that someone, possibly a child being carried on his father's shoulders, fell, causing a massive chain-reaction pile-up of people.
The tragic loss included many children – five of them schoolmates from the town of Markinch in Fife. Most of the deaths were caused by compressive asphyxia, with bodies being stacked up to six feet deep in the area. Over 200 other fans were injured.
Initially there was speculation that some fans left the ground slightly early when Celtic scored, but then turned back when they heard the crowd cheering when Stein scored the equaliser, colliding with fans leaving the ground when the match ended. The official inquiry into the disaster indicated that there was no truth in this hypothesis, however, as all the spectators were going in the same direction at the time of the collapse.
The 1971 disaster led to a huge redevelopment of the Ibrox ground, spearheaded by the then manager Willie Waddell, who visited Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion for inspiration. Ibrox was converted to an all seater stadium, and was subsequently awarded UEFA five star status, now category four.
I'm somewhat familiar with the Celtic-Ranger rivalry, but I'd never heard of this incident.  It makes the Who concert disaster in Cincinnati seem minor in comparison. 

I gained a respect for the force manifested in crowds in 1992 when fans stormed the field at Notre Dame when ND came back to beat Penn State in the last minute of the football game.  The student section was pushing downward toward the field while walking down the bleachers, and the crowd would literally move me three foot or so in any direction.  I would be surged forward, only to have the compressed crowd ahead of me surge backward in reaction.  A girl near me tripped on the bleachers and fell to the ground, and we had to yank her up before she got trampled.  It was a pretty scary situation, but the crush of the crowd was tremendous.    I don't feel too bad about skipping very crowded venues these days.

Where Did The Mayan Calendar Crap Come From?

According to this video, hippies (h/t the Dish):

I'm glad he mentioned my question, if the Mayans were so brilliant, why didn't they predict the Spanish coming over to kick their asses?  I'm not sure why people are so gullible, but given the popularity of these posts, many folks are.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Even A Bullet Can't Stop Him

Erik Martz on Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party run for President, and his near-assassination:
In October of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was about to give a speech in Milwaukee in support of his reelection campaign under the newly created Progressive “Bull Moose” Party when a bartender named John Flammang Schrank walked up and shot him in the chest. Roosevelt of course was not killed, but neither his survival nor Schrank’s claim that he was instructed by the ghost of William McKinley to prevent a third term for the two-term former president were the most extraordinary parts of the whole affair. It was the fact that Roosevelt decided to deliver his speech in the Milwaukee Auditorium anyway, for an hour and a half, with blood seeping through his clothes. “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible,” he began, “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Reading a transcript of the speech is probably more comical than it should be, or than it would have been at the time. Having concluded from the fact that he wasn’t dead that the bullet had not penetrated any vital organs, Roosevelt spent the better part of the first half of his prepared remarks assuring the alarmed crowd and the various dignitaries and medical personnel pleading with him to leave the stage that he was not dying and in fact not much affected by the bullet wound. “Don’t pity me,” he said, “I am all right. I am all right, and you cannot escape listening to the speech either.”
The character named Teddy Roosevelt—the blustering, mustachioed bull moose caricature that posterity has given us—tends to shine through here. Only Teddy Bear the Rough Rider, the red-blooded man’s man, would have endured a gunshot wound to deliver a speech in which he somehow tied the attempt on his life to the Taft/Wilson Republican regime’s attempt to disavow worker’s rights and assassinate the former president’s character. Only the notoriously long-winded Teddy Bear would have been saved from death partially by the thickness of his speech manuscript, which was folded into his jacket pocket over his right breast where the bullet struck him. Only Teddy Bear, fiery activist and intimidating orator, would never let a bullet’s progress inhibit the chance for real social progress.
The image is a dream, of course, but it’s always been a compelling one, more so now because one can hardly imagine such a person existing, or such a thing occurring, in modern politics.
That is a nearly too-good-to-be-true story.  I would guess that a major figure attacking both political parties will be marginalized in today's more partisan media environment.  Too much of the political establishment is invested in his or her "team" winning, and somebody pointing out that both parties are corrupt damages that "team."

The Brent Spence Bridge And John Kasich

Middletown Journal:
Typically, the federal government foots 80 percent of the bill and the state takes care of the rest, according to Policisnki. And with the federal transportation bill scheduled to expire this month, funding remains uncertain.
Locally, about $500 million must be raised for construction of the project, which begins just south of Dixie Highway in Northern Kentucky and stretches just north of the Western Hills Viaduct interchange — about five miles of work in Kentucky and about three miles in Ohio.
The need for a new bridge is critical as it was originally designed for 80,000 vehicles per day, said Stefan Spinosa, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s project manager. Usage today tops 165,000 on the almost 50-year-old bridge and traffic volume is projected to reach 233,000 by 2035.
Construction for the Brent Spence Bridge is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2015 lasting through 2022 or 2023.
Politics, as much as the development and research of the project, weighs heavily on it will be paid for, too.
Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich’s office has said it’s studying whether the project is economically viable to back while Democrats, such as Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune and President Barack Obama himself have previously supported the need for a new bridge for economic recovery and jobs.
“It’s much more than just a transportation project. It’s essential to the nation’s economy because it services one of the significant traffic arterials connecting North America,” Portune told the JournalNews recently. “You can imagine how much it means to the region — this is the kind of project we need to get behind which will make a meaningful difference in our local economy.”
Kasich's office has said it's studying whether the project is economically viable to back?  WTF does that mean?  The bridge is almost 50 years old and grossly underdesigned for the current traffic, and the governor's office isn't sure if the project is economically viable?  You know, it is kind of hard to attract jobs if a business can't get products in and out of the state.  I have no clue what the governor's office is talking about.  This bridge will need replaced, and it will need to be replaced with a bigger bridge, you don't figure out if the project is economically viable, you figure out how to pay for it.  It is that simple.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 31:

Comet Lovejoy and the ISS
Image Credit: Left - Carlos Caccia, (Intendente Alvear, Argentina) / Right - Dan Burbank (ISS Expedition 30, NASA)
Explanation: On December 24, Comet Lovejoy rose in dawn's twilight, arcing above the eastern horizon, its tails swept back by the solar wind and sunlight. Seen on the left is the comet's early morning appearance alongside the southern Milky Way from the town of Intendente Alvear, La Pampa province, Argentina. The short star trails include bright southern sky stars Alpha and Beta Centauri near the center of the frame, but the long bright streak that crosses the comet tails is a little closer to home. Waiting for the proper moment to start his exposure, the photographer has also caught the International Space Station still glinting in the sunlight as it orbits (top to bottom) above the local horizon. The right panel is the near horizon view of Comet Lovejoy from the space station itself, captured only two days earlier. In fact, Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, recorded Comet Lovejoy rising just before the Sun in a spectacular video (linked here). Even considering the other vistas available from low Earth orbit, Burbank describes the comet as "the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space."

Why Green Bay Is Titletown

The Atlantic Cities does the math:
The next map charts championships per 100,000 residents. Green Bay is far and away the leader (not just in football but across all four major sports) with 5.3 championships per hundred thousand. Boston is next with .725, followed by Montreal (.66), Pittsburgh (.64), Detroit (.51) and Edmonton (.43). New York is now 11th (.33), Chicago 12th (.32), and LA 20 (.18).
Green Bay's exceptional nature becomes even clearer when we gauge its "championship location quotient." We base this on a modified location quotient which allows us to compare a metro’s relative share of the major league home population with its relative share of championships.
A ratio of 1.0 means a metro’s share is exactly in line with the pattern for all major league cities. It’s worth pointing out that our championship location quotient measure will be more skewed than a traditional location quotient since it considers only 47 of some 350 plus metro areas. Still, Green Bay’s CLQ is a staggering 22, meaning the metro has won 22 times the number of championships that its size would predict – and not just in football, but across all four professional sports (never mind the fact that Green Bay only has football). The next highest CLQ is Boston’s 3; Montreal’s is 2.75 and Pittsburgh’s 2.65. Detroit (2.1) and Edmonton (2.0) are the only other metros with a CLQ of more than 2. Greater New York’s is 1.34, Chicago’s 1.28, and LA’s .75, while other larger metros like Dallas (.46), greater Washington DC (.45), Miami (.37) and Houston (.28) have even lower CLQs.

Insight Bowl Highlight

The Insight Bowl trophy is especially odd looking:

So far as I know, the main highlight of that bowl game is when the ESPN Skycam crashed onto the field:

It was extremely lucky that that didn't hurt somebody.

Bengals Vie For Playoff Spot

If the Bengals manage to defeat the Ravens today in the final weekend of the NFL season, they will clinch a wild-card playoff spot.  Regardless of whether they win or lose, they have magnificently outperformed my expectations.  I was anticipating a 1-win season.  Who Dey!

Romney Leads In Iowa

Des Moines Register:
The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll shows a surprise three-way match-up in contention to win the Iowa Republican caucuses: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
Santorum, who has been largely invisible in the polls throughout the campaign season, is now beating the other evangelical choices and has a clear shot at victory Tuesday night.
But political analysts note there’s little time for Santorum to cash in and regroup before New Hampshire, where voters weigh in nine days from now, while Romney is positioned to replicate what he’s done in Iowa in all the early states.
In four days of polling, Romney leads at 24 percent, Paul has 22 percent and Rick Santorum, 15 percent.
But if the final two days of polling stand alone, the order reshuffles: Santorum elbows out Paul for second.
My prediction is that Romney will slowly gain momentum as the primary season goes on, and the Anybody but Mitt folks realize that he is their best bet to beat Obama.  Paul is just too far from the party mainstream, Huntsman has pissed off too much of the base, Gingrich has too many skeletons in the closet, Bachmann and Perry are just too dumb and lazy and Santorum has the personality of a rock.  The resistance of the base toward Romney will fade as his inevitability as nominee becomes clearer.  Winning Iowa will start that process.