Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Loaded Central Division

Katie Baker on the NHL's Central Division:
This past week, the Detroit Red Wings set a new franchise record with their 15th-straight home win at Joe Louis Arena. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, perhaps the league's most complete player, has five points in the Blackhawks' past four games. The St. Louis Blues have fallen only once in 2012, an overtime loss to Vancouver. And the Nashville Predators are 8-2-0 in their past 10 games and over the past month have sold out their arena for just about every home tilt. Whether you look at total points (which excludes the effect of who's got more games in hand) or points percentage (which doesn't), these teams all stand among the top 10 — not just in the Western Conference, but in the whole league. This is a stacked Central Division that truly contains all the elements. And I do mean the elements.
I looked at the standings the other day, and these four teams were in the top six in the Western Conference.  Now they are in the top five.  That is brutal tough.  At least the Blue Jackets are there with the worst record in the league to soften things up.

The Truth About Taxes

Together, all federal taxes equaled 14.4 percent of the nation’s economic output last year, the lowest level since 1950. Add state and local taxes, and the share nearly doubles, to about 27 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center in Washington — still lower than at almost any other point in the last 40 years.
As the economy recovers and incomes rise, tax payments will increase somewhat. But they will not keep pace with projected spending, in the form of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And total taxes at current rates would still make up a smaller share of the economy than in virtually any other rich country — not just European nations but also Australia, Canada, Israel and New Zealand.
Obviously, tax increases are not the only way to solve the deficit. Spending cuts can, too. But so far, at least, many voters seem to prefer small, symbolic cuts, like those to foreign aid. Substantial cuts — be they the changes to Medicare that President Obama included in his health care bill or the Medicare overhaul that Republicans prefer — tend to be politically unpopular.
And yet, every Republican candidate has a tax cut plan that lowers tax rates even more, especially for the extremely wealthy.  If a candidate says his plan exempts investment income from taxes, don't vote for that candidate because he's either an asshole, an idiot or both.

Another '60s Nuke Accident

January 21, 1968:
A B-52 bomber crashes near Thule Air Base, contaminating the area after its nuclear payload ruptures. One of the four bombs remains unaccounted for after the cleanup operation is complete.The aircraft was carrying four hydrogen bombs on a Cold War "Chrome Dome" alert mission over Baffin Bay when a cabin fire forced the crew to abandon the aircraft before they could carry out an emergency landing at Thule Air Base. Six crew members ejected safely, but one who did not have an ejection seat was killed while trying to bail out. The bomber crashed onto sea ice in North Star Bay, Greenland, causing the nuclear payload to rupture and disperse, which resulted in widespread radioactive contamination. The United States and Denmark launched an intensive clean-up and recovery operation, but the secondary of one of the nuclear weapons could not be accounted for after the operation completed. USAF Strategic Air Command "Chrome Dome" operations were discontinued immediately after the incident, which highlighted the safety and political risks of the missions. Safety procedures were reviewed and more stable explosives were developed for use in nuclear weapons.
In 1995, a political scandal resulted in Denmark after a report revealed the government had given tacit permission for nuclear weapons to be located in Greenland, in contravention of Denmark's 1957 nuclear-free zone policy. Workers involved in the clean-up program have been campaigning for compensation for radiation-related illnesses they experienced in the years after the incident. In March 2009, Time identified the accident as one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.
Wow, two separate accidents just over 2 years apart.  It is amazing what occurred under Cold War secrecy.

San Francisco, 1955

From The Atlantic:

I Missed National Cheese Lover's Day

Yglesias covers it:
Today is National Cheese Lover's Day, so what better day to explore the economics of cheese. In broad aggregate terms, what you need to know is that America's per capita cheese consumption is steadily rising but that the trend has perhaps leveled off as a result of the recession at around 33 pounds per person per year. In a global context, France delivers on stereotype by being the world's largest consumer of cheese at over 52 pounds per person per year, followed by Germany. I think it's usually enlightening to compare the US to our fellow Anglophone settler societies, and we eat much more cheese than Canadians or Australians.
But to get down to grittier economic analysis, cheese is another example of the holiday pricing anomaly that exists around Thanksgiving. Cheese purchases spike in December as people buy it for Christmas and New Year's gatherings. But the demand explosion is associated with a fall in the average price of cheese, because people buy cheaper stuff. True cheese lovers make up a larger share of the market at non-peak times and thus push the price/quality up. This phenomenon is best studied regarding canned tuna and lent, but also exists for beer at the 4th of July and other things.
The most interesting element of cheese-onomics, however, probably relates to the regulatory issues. Those in the know, for example, are well-aware that the flavor of real parmigiano-reggiano cheese is not to be compared to mere parmesan. In a regulatory sense, one of the main differences is that parmigiano-reggiano cheese can only be made in Emilia-Romagna in Italy. The superior flavor, however, almost certainly derives not from the specific geography of the area but from the cheese-making process which involves, among other things, a lot of aging to develop that rich nutty flavor. Aging your cheese is, of course, expensive. It needs to be stored and your capital it tied up in a not-very-liquid manner. So to make it economically viable to produce a fine aged cheese outside of Emilio-Romagna you'd need to be able to charge a nice price premium.
Interesting.  There is more there about cheddar and such.  I love me some cheese, but am very low-brow.  I've consumed plenty of Velveeta (I know, not really cheese), and cheddar, swiss, colby jack and pepper jack are most of what I eat that's real cheese.  Never had any parmigiano-reggiano.

Another Environmental Impact Of Fracking

Scientific American, via nc links:
Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer, reported that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional natural gas wells. When water with its chemical load is forced down a well to break the shale, it flows back up and is stored in large ponds or tanks. But volumes of methane also flow back up the well at the same time and are released into the atmosphere before they can be captured for use. This giant belch of "fugitive methane" can be seen in infrared videos taken at well sites.
Molecule for molecule, methane traps 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide. The effect dissipates faster, however: airborne methane remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years before being scrubbed out by ongoing chemical reactions, whereas CO2 lasts 30 to 95 years. Nevertheless, recent data from the two Cornell scientists and others indicate that within the next 20 years, methane will contribute 44 percent of the greenhouse gas load produced by the U.S. Of that portion, 17 percent will come from all natural gas operations.
Currently, pipeline leaks are the main culprit, but fracking is a quickly growing contributor. Ingraffea pointed out that although 25,000 high-volume shale-gas wells are already operating in the U.S., hundreds of thousands are scheduled to go into operation within 20 years, and millions will be operating worldwide, significantly expanding emissions and keeping atmospheric methane levels high despite the 12-year dissipation time.
Flaring natural gas can't help either.

The Man Who Owns The Bakkan

Bloomberg Businessweek (via Ritholtz):
Finally, he pulls into a dusty yard surrounding a 140-foot-tall rig. Workers hustle around in hard hats and black fire-retardant coveralls. From this single location, Hamm explains, four drills will corkscrew down nearly two miles, then turn and pierce the rock horizontally, two wells to the north, two to the south. He pulls on his own hard hat and coveralls, jams his hands in his pockets, and beams at the rig. Shouting over the whine of a drill bit, he says, “Without a doubt, this is going to be like the one up the road. It came in close to 2,000 barrels a day.” That translates into about $150,000 in revenue per day to Continental Resources.
Hamm is the man who bought the Bakken, the shale formation that’s the biggest U.S. oil find since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay in 1968. The Bakken stretches from central North Dakota into the northeastern corner of Montana and up into southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. He leased his first acres and drilled his first wells in North Dakota nearly 20 years ago, and stayed with it when others gave up. Today, Continental, with a stock market value of $13.5 billion, vies with oil giants such as (HES)Hess for the most Bakken acres under lease (more than 900,000), the most drilling rigs (24), and the most wells (more than 350). Continental’s revenue has nearly tripled from two years ago to an expected $1.76 billion in 2011, while profits have grown sevenfold to an estimated $538 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Hamm and his family control 78 percent of the company’s shares, a stake valued at more than $10 billion.
Hamm, a stocky man of medium height with a leprechaun’s playful grin and a diamond-studded Continental ring on his right hand, has revived a character who had faded from the American oil patch. He’s a wildcatter, the sort of oil hunter unafraid to lease land and put a drill bit in the ground where there might or might not be crude. “I find oil,” he says as he drives to the company jet that will take him back to Continental headquarters in his native Oklahoma. “In America, people lost the will to drill for oil. But I’m a little more hardheaded than other people.”
I'm still fascinated by the booms and busts of the oil industry.  We'll see what happens in the Bakkan, the Marcellus and the Utica.  I doubt that it is a long term answer for U.S. energy demand, but time will tell.  Meanwhile, Mr. Hamm is making the bucks.

Poor Internet Service

Posting has been slow the last couple days.  The internet service has been spotty.  Ok, spotty is an extremely generous way of describing the service.  A call to the DSL provider received the response that when enough people complain they'll look into it.  Customer service is obviously job 1.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Founding of Australia

January 20, 1788:
The third and main part of First Fleet arrives at Botany Bay. Arthur Phillip decides that Botany Bay is unsuitable for the location of a penal colony, and decides to move to Port Jackson.   
Unsuitable for a penal colony. Enough said. 

More On McKeesport

From Wikipedia:
The National Tube Company opened in 1872 and became part of U.S. Steel. In the years directly following the opening of the National Tube Company, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, McKeesport was the fastest growing municipality in the nation. The city's population reached a peak of 55,355 in 1940. Families arrived from other parts of the eastern United States, Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, with most working at the National Tube Company. National Tube closed in the 1980s, along with other U.S. Steel plants in the Mon Valley.

And a depressing video:

An Economic Lesson For The U.S.?

Fareed Zakaria:
The great winner of this recession has been Germany. That country faced a crash just as dramatic as all others; in fact, Germany’s GDP declined more than that of the United States in 2008, yet its unemployment rate rebounded fast. There are many explanations for German success, but as Elisabeth Jacobs details in a new paper from the Brookings Institution, government policies that created incentives for business to think long-term, value their workers and invest in capacity all helped. The German system gives incentives to train workers and keep them employed; in contrast, the U.S. system emphasizes flexibility, the ability to hire and fire, and keeping wages low. Jacobs points out that, in a world filled with cheap labor, rich countries are better off with highly skilled workers, making premium products, with a focus on long-term growth and social stability. The German system, in other words, might be a better fit for the globalized world.
When asked how they will create jobs, Republicans simply talk about cutting taxes and regulations and getting government out of the way. Yes, it is important to have competitive tax and regulatory policies. But the lessons from East Asia to Northern Europe suggest that government policy and investment can play a vital role in providing incentives for the private sector. If Republicans want to get practical, they might learn from this.
Republicans learn economic lessons from the rest of the world?  Fat chance.  They won't even learn any lessons from U.S. history.  If it says government involvement and economy, they'll ignore it.  Note that the Republican Party of Lincoln supported the land grants for the transatlantic railroad, the land grant colleges and the Homestead Act.  Their predecessors in the Whig Party supported the building of canals.  Teddy Roosevelt pushed for dam construction in the American West.  Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate Highway System.  Today's Republican Party is the intellectual (or lack thereof) heir of the conservative Southern Democrats of the 19th and early to mid-20th century.  We get the same opposition to government investment in infrastructure, and we get the same racism.  Not a good deal.

The Binge Drinking Belt

The Atlantic:

Binge drinking varies from one in ten adults (10.9 percent) at the low end of the spectrum to more than one in four (25.6 percent) at the high end. There is something of a binge drinking belt across the north of the country, running westward from New England, Pennsylvania and Ohio to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Alaska ranks high too, suggesting that long, cold winters might play a role, though tropical Hawaii is in the top tier as well.
The article continues with this:
Binge drinking is also more prevalent in more affluent states (the correlation with economic output per capita is .3). This is in line with the CDC’s own finding that the income group with the most binge drinkers is those making more than $75,000. Binge drinking is also higher in more educated states, with a correlation of .36 to the share of adults who are college grads. Both are in line with national patterns I charted last year, which found even stronger associations between alcohol consumption and economic output and human capital. Although I should also note that the CDC found that the income group that binge drinks more often (as opposed to the sheer number of binge drinking participants) and drinks the most per binge is those making $25,000 a year or less.
Still it may come as some surprise that binge drinking is more prevalent in states whose socio-economic profiles would seem more in line with latte sipping than brewski chugging. 
I don't know, but I'd attribute the map more to long winters, Irish and German ancestry,and more Catholics and Lutherans than other parts of the country. This idea is strengthened by the fact that Indiana shows up with a lower rate than Ohio or Illinois.  Indiana is more of a southern style state, with the exception of Fort Wayne and South Bend.  I would guess that binge drinking isn't near as common in the Bible Belt, or at least it isn't admitted to.  Based on my familiarity with some pretty conservative rural areas and their drinking habits, I'm guessing this isn't a liberal thing.

A Tribute To A Tractor

On the retirement of a Ford tractor from ice resurfacing in a small town in Canada:

THE FLOOD from Juicy Studios on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Food Stamps Help Poor In Mon Valley

All Things Considered:
McKeesport has been in bad shape ever since the steel industry left in the late 1980s, taking with it thousands of good-paying jobs.
Today, the city — which Santorum once represented in Congress — is a shadow of its former self. Downtown offices are shuttered and abandoned, as are hundreds of homes. The population, once 55,000, is down to 19,000. Many of those who remain are unemployed or underemployed. The poverty rate is twice the national average.
Laurie MacDonald was born here and now runs Womansplace, a center for victims of domestic violence.
"It was a thriving town at one point," says MacDonald. "What's mostly left in town are human-services organizations and government organizations, like the Department of Welfare."
She says many here rely on government support, not because they want to but because, in many ways, they're stuck. They're either unemployed or don't earn enough to get by on their own. And they're too poor to move.
I can't understand the Republican war on the poor.  Do people really think that poor folks who get government assistance are better off than people with decent paying jobs who pay income tax?  Personally, I think the Gingrich-style attacks on food stamps work with a lot of Republican voters because they reflexively think of black people when they think of government poverty programs.  I don't understand why people seem to think that people poorer than them are living a much more comfortable life than they are.  If that is the case, why don't they try to get fired and make a go of it on public assistance?  Pride?  Do they think that poorer folks don't also have pride?  Do they think most of those folks love being on welfare?  I just don't know, but giving Gingrich a standing ovation for calling Obama "the food stamp President" seems pretty classless to me.

Seaweed To Ethanol

Scientific American:
Seaweed may well be an ideal plant to turn into biofuel. It grows in much of the two thirds of the planet that is underwater, so it wouldn't crowd out food crops the way corn for ethanol does. Because it draws its own nutrients and water from the sea, it requires no fertilizer or irrigation. Most importantly for would-be biofuel-makers, it contains no lignin—a strong strand of complex sugars that stiffens plant stalks and poses a big obstacle to turning land-based plants such as switchgrass into biofuel. Researchers at Bio Architecture Lab, Inc., (BAL) and the University of Washington in Seattle have now taken the first step to exploit the natural advantages of seaweed. They have built a microbe capable of digesting it and converting it into ethanol or other fuels or chemicals. Synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni, a co-founder of BAL, and his colleagues took Escherichia coli, a gut bacterium most famous as a food contaminant, and made some genetic modifications that give it the ability to turn the sugars in an edible kelp called kombu into fuel. They report their findings in the January 20 issue of the journal Science.
That's pretty cool.  Still, I don't foresee a seaweed harvest which would allow developing countries to move toward dependence on automobiles like the developed world. 

Chart of the Day, Part 2

From the Dish:

There have to be a few things that can be cut out of there.

Keynesian Quote of the Day

unsettling economics (via Mark Thoma):
“No man of spirit will consent to remain poor if he believes his superiors to have gained their goods by lucky gambling. To convert the business man into a profiteer is to strike a blow at capitalism, because it destroys the psychological equilibrium which permits the perpetuance of unequal rewards. The economic doctrine of normal profits, vaguely apprehended by everyone, is a necessary condition for the justification of capitalism. The business man is tolerable so long as his gains can be said to bear some relation to what, roughly and in some sense, his activities have contributed to society.”
Makes sense.  If people are going to acquiesce to the concept that wealthy folks earn their money, it ought to look like more than luck that they got fabulously rich.  One needs the appearance of hard work more than chance, especially when people who aren't making large sums of money are themselves working very hard.  Just saying.

If Fans Know Soccer Is Dull, Why Do They Watch?

Brian Phillips tries to explain:
But I think there's more to the relationship of fans and boredom than just magic moments. I want you to like soccer if you don't already, so I probably shouldn't admit this. But the game gets in your head. Following soccer is like being in love with someone who's (a) gorgeous, (b) fascinating, (c) possibly quite evil, and (d) only occasionally aware of your existence. There's a continuous low-grade suffering that becomes a sort of addiction in its own right. You spend all your time hoping they'll notice you, and they never do, and that unfulfilled hope feels like your only connection to them. And then one day they look your way, and it's just, pow. And probably they just want help moving, and maybe they call you Josie instead of Julie, but still. It keeps you going. And as irrational as it sounds, you wouldn't trade this state of being for a life of quiet contentment with someone else. All you could gain would be peace of mind, and you'd lose that moment when the object of your fixation looked at you and you couldn't feel your face. Soccer is, in other words, both romantic and tragic, and the soft agony of a bad game is an inescapable part of this. You spend all your time hoping something will happen, and it never does.
Boy, sounds like fun.  I don't quite understand what is intriguing about soccer.  I'll admit, I watched a little bit of the World Cup in 2010, when I would come into the house at lunchtime.  I'm not sure if I ever was watching when a goal was scored.  I think I might have been sitting there when somebody scored one and got to watch the replay, but I don't remember.  Honestly, I generally miss the goals in hockey, too, but the parts that I watch are much more entertaining than soccer.

Science And Men Have Something In Common

From LiveScience:
Many women swear they have one, but a new review of 60 years of sex research shows science still can't definitively find the G-spot.
Researchers have used surveys, imaging scans and biopsies of women, all trying to locate and define the presumably orgasmic area on the vaginal wall known as the G-spot. Based on a review of 96 published studies, an Israeli and American research team came to one conclusion.
"Without a doubt, a discreet anatomic entity called the G-spot does not exist," said Dr. Amichai Kilchevsky, a urology resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, and lead author of the review, published Jan. 12 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Kilchevsky conceded the work is not "1,000 percent conclusive," allowing that other scientists could one day find something his team missed. But they would need new technology to do it, he said.
Posted without comment.

Chart of the Day

Via Ritholtz:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

La Nina May Be Linked To Flu Pandemics

La Nina is the cold cousin of El Nino - the two collectively making up the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
"Certainly ENSO affects weather and precipitation and humidity around the world," said Jeffrey Shaman from Columbia University in New York.
"But the effects are very varied around the world - there's no coherent picture."
Nevertheless, the last four pandemics - the Spanish Flu that began in 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, the Hong Kong Flu of 1958 and the swine flu of 2009 - were all preceded by periods of La Nina conditions.
What pandemics have in common is that they all feature novel strains of the virus to which people have not developed immunity.
Typically these are created when two existing strains infecting an animal such as a bird or a pig exchange genetic material.
The link to La Nina events is not clear. But recent research has shown that some wild birds' patterns of flights and stopovers during migrations, or moulting times, differ between El Nino and La Nina years.
"Our best guess is this brings together birds [in La Nina conditions] that don't otherwise mix, and that allows the genetic reassortment to take place," Professor Shaman told BBC News.
Yet the fact that many other La Nina periods have not been followed by a pandemic indicate that other factors must also be involved.
It's bad enough that we get wet springs and dry summers out of La Nina, I'd hate to think we might get killer flu in the bargain.  Again, my main concern is that we might start seeing stronger or longer La Nina's due to climate change.  I have no idea if that might be the case, but that would definitely be problematic for grain farming in the Midwest.  We don't need to throw in the possibility of pandemic also.

Bed, Bath and Beyond Recalls Radioactive Tissue Boxes

The Daily Mail (via nc links):
After the discovery, the CHP notified the California Department of Health Services.
The department said as part of a voluntary nationwide recall, the boxes have been pulled from shelves in all of the 21 California stores where Bed, Bath & Beyond sold the product.
Cobalt-60 is a man-made product that is typically used to sterilize medical products or for cancer radiation therapy.
The material contained in the tissue boxes poses no immediate health threat, according to the CDPH and federal officials.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that scrap metal containing the cobalt-60 could have strayed into a metal load smelted in India and been incorporated into the tissue boxes.
Wow, that's some fine Indian quality control.  Maybe Wal-Mart and other chain stores can start carrying geiger counters along with their quality imported merchandise.

Chart of the Day, Part Two

Via Stuart Staniford, this chart from the Brookings Institute is pretty interesting:

Go to the interactive map here.  The pummelling of the Rust Belt is pretty obvious.  It is notable that the biggest blue dot on the map is McAllen, Texas.  Anybody think a lot of Texas' economic growth is attributable to immigration?  Of course, median household income in McAllen increased 4.6% from $32,500 to $34,000 (Metro Detroit showed the largest decrease, 25%, from $65,000 to $48,500).  The other two fair sized blue dots are Washington D.C. and Norfolk.  If you look at the 2006 to 2000 map, New Orleans has the highest growth in median income.  I would like to know how much of that growth was from rebuilding dollars, and how much was from the physical relocation of large numbers of poor people.

The FDA And Livestock Antibiotics

The Atlantic:
Roughly 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals to foster rapid growth and make up for unhygienic living conditions. Many bacteria that live on animals adapt and transfer to humans, spreading superbugs that are often resistant to treatment.
For more than 35 years, the FDA has recognized that giving antibiotics to farm animals poses a risk to human health, yet the agency has done almost nothing to stop it. Indeed, it has mastered the art of making inaction look like action. Last May, NRDC and our partners sued the FDA to prompt it to take action. Instead, the agency retrenched.
It started by claiming the livestock industry could police itself. In our lawsuit, we asked the FDA to finally rule on two citizen petitions -- one filed 12 years ago, the other six years ago -- urging the agency to stop the use of antibiotics in healthy animals. In November, the FDA announced that although it shares concerns that the use of antibiotics to make animals grow faster is dangerous for humans, it would deny the petition because it was pursuing an alternative strategy.
This "alternative strategy" turns out to be just another name for the status quo. Instead of banning the use of antibiotics in healthy animals, the FDA is allowing the livestock industry to follow a voluntary approach. But we already know voluntary doesn't work. The FDA has been operating under that model since 1977, yet the practice has expanded exponentially over the years. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.
In December, the FDA tried to further justify its inaction by erasing the historic record. Back in 1977, the agency proposed to withdraw approval for the use of several antibiotics in animal feed based on findings published in two notices posted in the Federal Register. The notices containing the findings have been listed in the Federal Register for more than three decades. But just before Christmas a few weeks ago, the FDA pulled the notices. Soon after it buried its 35-year-old proposal, the agency tried to have it both ways. On January 5, it proposed banning off-label uses of a class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins on healthy livestock. That sounds like a step in the right direction, and the agency got some favorable press, but keep in mind that cephalosporins account for less than 0.25 percent of all antibiotics used in agriculture.
This is an issue which isn't going away.  While the opponents of routine antibiotic use in livestock may be a little shrill, the big picture is that farmers will have to change their practices before we get too many resistant bacteria.  This issue is much like the manure problem in Mercer County, ignoring it until something bad happens isn't a good strategy.  I know farmers are too stubborn and hateful of the tree huggers and hippy types to do anything positive in curbing routine antibiotic use, but it would be for the best to voluntarily cut back.

Chart of the Day


I'm surprised how reasonable steady the U.S. share of manufacturing has been, despite the downward trend.

A Good Year For Yuengling

LA Times:
Both companies also lost market share in 2011, with Anheuser-Busch down 0.7 of a percentage point to 47% and MillerCoors down 0.4 of a percentage point to 28.4%.

Heineken USA's shipments declined 3.9% while Diageo/Guinness USA dropped 2.4%.

Some companies, however, were on the upswing. Pabst Brewing Co.'s shipments were up 0.4% in the company's first boost since it purchased Stroh Brewery Co. in 1999.

Small brewer D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. of Pottsville, Pa., was up 16.9%. Samuel Adams owner Boston Beer Co. scored an 8% increase.
I knew Yuengling was doing well in Ohio, but wow, 16.9% increase in sales.  I'm not one who feels comfortable doing the trendy thing, but I'll buy a Yuengling before I'll buy a Budweiser, and when they are almost identical in price, that's an easy choice.  It is also hard to feel sorry for Budweiser for only selling just under half of all the beer sold in the country.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Today In History

Wired has it, for January 17, 1966:
A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber collides with its refueling tanker jet in mid-air over the Spanish coast. Its four hydrogen bombs fall to earth near the fishing village of Palomares. The bomber collided with the KC-135 tanker at 31,000 feet. Exploding fuel completely destroyed the tanker, killing all four crew members. The B-52 broke apart, spilling its payload — four Type B28RI hydrogen bombs equipped with 1.45-megaton warheads. Three hit the ground near Palomares while the fourth fell into the Mediterranean Sea.
Three members of the bomber’s seven-man crew were killed in what became known as the Palomares hydrogen bombs incident.
Although the conventional explosives contained in two of the four bombs detonated, there was no nuclear holocaust. But there was radioactive contamination around the crash site, with plutonium scattered over 2 square kilometers. Around 1,750 tons of earth was excavated and shipped to the United States for disposal.
The bomb that landed in the sea went missing for 80 days and became the object of an intensive search by the United States, which was afraid the Soviets might try to recover it.
Zoinks, that's a little too close for comfort.

The Good Ol' Days

David Brooks, making sense for a short period of time:
I was also struck, as in New Hampshire and Iowa, by the mood of this year’s rallies. Republican audiences this year want a restoration. America once had strong values, they believe, but we have gone astray. We’ve got to go back and rediscover what we had. Heads nod enthusiastically every time a candidate touches this theme.
I agree with the sentiment, but it makes for an incredibly backward-looking campaign. I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return.
Not only are Republicans white folks pining for a way of life that will never return, they are pining for a time when minorities were in a worse situation than they are in today.  It was remarkable to me that a recent survey showed that blacks and Hispanics were much more optimistic about the future than whites.  Considering how many of the minorities have things a lot worse than folks in the Tea Party, that surprised me.  But, they have often seen more opportunities over the recent past, while the privilege of whiteness has been lost to economic struggles between high earners and the middle class. 

Anyway, it is clear to me that Republicans want to return to a day that didn't really exist, a time of postwar expansion with less regulation and lower taxes.  Taxes were higher back in "the good ol' days," and many industries, like airlines, phone companies, banks and trucking companies were highly regulated.  Republicans want to get back to the" good ol' days" of the '80s, when Ronald Reagan never raised taxes, even though those days didn't exist.  What they want is a fantasy.

The Future Of Nuclear Power And The Electrical Grid

Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at Frontline's documentary on Fukushima, and what effects trying to get away from nuclear power will have on the electric grid (h/t Ritholtz):
There's only so much space in a documentary (or in a review of a documentary) but I do wish that Nuclear Aftershocks had had a little more time to give a better explanation of why a shift to coal is inevitable*. The short version: Our electric grid is not as stable as it seems. At any given moment, we must be producing almost exactly as much electricity as we are using—and vice versa. For all practical purposes, there is no such thing as storage on the grid. Options exist, but they are all very expensive. Wether you deal with this problem with batteries, smarter transmission systems, or both, changing the grid is going to take a lot of money, and a lot more time than we currently give it credit for.
Wind and solar, unfortunately, do not work well with this fragile grid. We can add them in, to a point. In the United States, engineers estimate a maximum of between 20-30% of total generating capacity. To do more than that, we'll need a better grid that can store electricity for later or transport it far more efficiently than is currently possible. Until we get that, we'll need to rely on some source of power that is completely controllable, that can produce exactly as much electricity as we need. No more. No less. There are four options for that: Coal, natural gas, hydro, and nuclear power. Hydroelectric power can't operate everywhere. And the other three all come with serious risks, to local health and to the planet**.
Yet we will still need them for decades to come. So how do we decide which risks we're willing to live with? The only way to do that is to set aside reactionary fear and anger and start having conversations that account for all the risks in an honest way. We have to talk about mitigating risks as best we can—because, as Nuclear Aftershocks points out, we aren't currently doing that in relation to nuclear power, at least not consistently. We have to prioritize our fears. And we have to recognize that, for right now, there is no such thing as a right decision. No such thing as eliminating risk. No matter what we choose, someone will get hurt.
This points to the toughest issue with renewable power, how to balance generation and consumption.  It would seem like some of the strategies used to store power generated by nuclear power would work, like pumping water to reservoirs to store until the power is needed, then running it through a turbine when demand is up.  You might be able to store the energy chemically, such as electrolysis of water for hydrogen.  Another more reliable renewable resource would be capturing wave energy or extremely strong tidal power.  Anyway, there are some strategies which might be able to work.  As is usually the case, the folks in Europe will probably develop the technology first, since German renewable energy generation is already sometimes surpassing demand.

Chart of the Day

Goldbugs, from a story about the new gold rush in the Klondike:

Don't get me wrong, I bought some gold a few years ago because I think the coins are cool looking and I figured people would pour into gold.  I just don't understand the draw of hard money.

Frivolous Lawsuit Watch

Felix Salmon points out that Ben Stein is suing Kyocera because they decided not to hire him to do a commercial because they found out he was a climate change denier (h/t Doug J):
Ben Stein said he was by no means certain that global warming was man-made, a position held by many scientists and political conservatives. He also told Hurwitz to inform defendants that as a matter of religious belief, he believed that God, and not man, controlled the weather…
A host of federal laws protects Americans from being discriminated against on the basis of religious belief. Neither employees nor independent contractors already hired may be dismissed on the basis of their religious views.
Ben Stein’s questioning of whether man makes the weather or God makes the weather is a matter of his religious belief. For him to be fired because of his religious belief is a clear case of discrimination against him for religious belief in violation of state and federal law.
A word to the wise, Ben: you weren’t fired for your religious beliefs.
Why are so called conservatives always portraying themselves as victims?  Welcome to the cold world of modern business Mr. Stein.  I would guess that in the case of other people, Ben Stein is probably a proponent of the concept that businesses can hire and fire as they like for any reason.  My employee handbook explicitly tells me that my employer can get rid of me at will.  They aren't dumb enough that they would tell me that it was because of my race, religion or politics (although I believe they could fire me because of my politics), but they wouldn't have to.  All they have to say is that they don't see a role for me in the company going forward.  Unlike Mr. Stein, I wouldn't sue them because of it, because I don't want to blow money on an attorney in an unwinnable lawsuit.  But if you ever hear Ben Stein criticizing frivolous lawsuits, laugh very hard.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Huntsman Exits

Well the Republican candidate I was considering voting for in the primary has dropped out and endorsed Mittens.  Not sure what to make of that.  Just like all the other Republicans, I hated Huntsman's tax plans, which exempted all unearned income from taxation.  I don't understand why these guys come up with such ridiculous tax proposals, to me it makes them look like morons.  I would suggest proposing a tax plan which is feasible, but then again, I most likely won't vote for whichever clown wins the nomination anyway.

Was The Real Reagan Too Liberal For Today's GOP?

Most likely.  Here's All Things Considered on the subject:
Reporter Walter Shapiro is covering his ninth presidential campaign, now for Yahoo! News and The New Republic. He tells NPR's Raz that there were plenty of Reagan-era policies that wouldn't sit well with the GOP today — like raising taxes.
In the early '80s there was a deficit problem, and after massively lowering taxes there was an adjustment upward. Reagan's tax reform of 1986, which basically eliminated a number of deductions in order to lower rates, would be attacked today, Shapiro says.
"In an attack ad today," he adds, "you'd say, 'Whose side is he on?"
Also in 1986, Reagan's Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. prior to Jan. 1, 1982.
"This is the immigration bill that the Republicans are railing against when they say, 'No more amnesties' — and this was Ronald Reagan," he says.
Many of the GOP candidates running for president have repeatedly pointed out that many — mostly poor — Americans don't pay federal income taxes. But in his 1985 State of the Union address, Reagan said he'd propose the exemption of federal income taxes to those living at or below the poverty line.
"This is, again, the problem with this plaster-saint iconography," Shapiro says.
There are many ways in which Reagan was a genuine conservative, Shapiro says, but he wasn't consistent. If Reagan were running today, Shapiro can imagine superPAC ads referring to him as a "former liberal-Democrat" or "tax-raiser Ronald Reagan."
The Republican Party has created a caricature of Ronald Reagan, much as they've created a caricature of President Obama.  Neither person they think they know actually ever existed.  It is really odd that Eric Cantor's chief of staff interjected during Cantor's 60 Minutes interview that Reagan never raised taxes, even though one can easily look up the fact that he did raise taxes, a number of times.  How can an entire political party ignore reality as consistently as the Republicans do?

Math Whiz

60 Minutes had a fascinating story on a 13 year old math prodigy. I'm curious about the roots of autism, and whether it is genetically linked to high intelligence. Smart folks have a long history of being socially challenged, is autism just a magnification of that? And of the 90% of people with autism who aren't savants, are their minds similarly focused on things which aren't as useful as the talents of the savants, but show similar brain function?

Mitt Romney, Serial Killer

Colbert's SuperPAC strikes:

Gingrich will probably steal this.

Farmland Prices and Estate Planning

Des Moines Register:
“If an estate is not planned carefully, the death of the parent-owners sets up the classic dilemma where you have one child who has stayed on the farm and worked it while the other siblings went to the cities,” McCarthy said.
A supposedly “equal” distribution of the land and assets would divide three ways, but not recognize the sweat equity of the sibling who stayed and worked the land, McCarthy said.
“And then when the other two siblings want to sell, the other member of the family might have a very difficult time raising the money to buy out the brothers and sisters, and the farm would have to pass into other hands,” McCarthy said.
Out-of-town family members are also the bane of farmers who have cash rented from elderly landlords for years.  Once the parents die, the out-of-town owners often want to cash out ASAP.  The most interesting part of the article was this tidbit:
Iowa farmland has risen in value to an average of $6,708 per acre, according to the latest survey by ISU released in December. A decade ago, Iowa farmland still sold for about $1,900 per acre.
The average price figure represents all farmland. Some of the highest quality land has brought figures in excess of $15,000 per acre, with a record sale of $20,000 per acre reported in late November in Sioux County.
$20,000 per acre?  That is mindblowingly insane.  That would be $3.2 million for a quarter-section.  That ground better be growing 300 bushel corn.  Reuters has more on that sale:
As word spreads of each heady price tag from public sales in Sioux County, auctioneers and real estate agents said the boom is quick to ripple outward. The latest spike was set off in early December, when farmer Leland Kaster paid $20,000 an acre for fields next to his dairy near Hull, Iowa, a Sioux County hamlet located about 50 miles southeast of Sioux Falls, S.D.
If Kaster were to grow corn on his new 73.4 acres, he'd be able pull in about $1,250 per acre in gross revenues next year, given futures market prices and average corn yield. More simply put: It would take the Kaster family more than half a generation to recoup their money - and that's only if corn prices remain relatively high.
"We call it the Iowa Effect," said Nebraska auctioneer Randy Ruhter. Land prices in eastern Nebraska, a state which saw a more than 40 percent jump in the third quarter, edged up another 3 to 5 percent after the deal.
"When prices go up there," Ruhter said, "prices go up elsewhere."

Wow.  If the commodity boom turns to bust, we'll see who's swimming without trunks, as Mr. Buffett says.  The article gives some background to the farmers of Sioux County, they sound a lot like the farmers of Mercer County, Ohio, except for being Dutch Protestants instead of German Catholics.

America At Work

The Atlantic presents a photo collection of America at Work.  My favorite photo:

 A furnace technician pushes a ladle full of molten steel with a temperature of 2,900 degrees while working at Eagle Alloy in Egelston Township, Michigan, on May 23, 2011. Eagle Alloy Inc. is one of the survivors of the Great Recession. Along with other local, mid-sized industrial companies, the Egelston Township steel foundry took a beating in 2008 and 2009. But Eagle Alloy, its group of companies, and other surviving Muskegon-area manufacturers have come roaring back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. (AP Photo/The Muskegon Chronicle, Kendra Stanley-Mills) #
But my favorite caption is this one:
Steve Walthart, 64, brings hay to his cows at his farm just down the road from Independence in the bordering town of Winthrop, Iowa, on July 6, 2011. Walthart farms corn, soybeans and hay on 560 acres outside Independence, 460 of which he owns. With farmland prices in Iowa now fetching $8,000 or more an acre, he is sitting on a gold mine if ever he decided to sell out but Walthart dismisses the idea of cashing out and retiring. "Think of it, think of it," he said, "what would I do with the money? There's no better place to have it than where I've got it -- in the farmland." He says he expects he will die doing his daily chores. (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi) #
That is my kind of attitude.  What would I do with the money?  Why would I want to do anything else?  Good questions.  I know what my answers are.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Sports Variety

We've got a lot of sports options for the late afternoon.  Of course there's the Packers-Giants game on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field at 4:30.  There's the Ohio State-Indiana mens' basketball rematch, also at 4:30.  Then there's the outdoor hockey game between the #15 Michigan Wolverines and #2 Ohio State at Cleveland's Progressive Field at 5:
With helmets similar to the ones they wear in football, the Wolverines and Buckeyes will meet Sunday in Ohio's first outdoor college hockey game, which will take place on a rink built over the Cleveland Indians' dirt and grass infield. A crowd of 30,000 is expected at Progressive Field for the unique event, which will wrap up the baseball team's second annual Snow Days.
They're rivals in football, but Michigan and Ohio State can also skate. The Wolverines, who have won nine NCAA titles, beat the second-ranked Buckeyes 4-0 on Friday in Columbus.
When Ohio State practiced at the ballpark last week, strong wind made it difficult for the players to skate in one direction but pushed them toward the goal when they went the opposite way.
The hockey game will be broadcast on FoxSports Ohio.  It should be fun.

NASA Photo of the Day

January 15:

Infrared Portrait of the Large Magellanic Cloud
Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech / STScI
Explanation: Cosmic dust clouds ripple across this infrared portrait of our Milky Way's satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. In fact, the remarkable composite image from the Herschel Space Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope show that dust clouds fill this neighboring dwarf galaxy, much like dust along the plane of the Milky Way itself. The dust temperatures tend to trace star forming activity. Spitzer data in blue hues indicate warm dust heated by young stars. Herschel's instruments contributed the image data shown in red and green, revealing dust emission from cooler and intermediate regions where star formation is just beginning or has stopped. Dominated by dust emission, the Large Magellanic Cloud's infrared appearance is different from views in optical images. But this galaxy's well-known Tarantula Nebula still stands out, easily seen here as the brightest region to the left of center. A mere 160,000 light-years distant, the Large Cloud of Magellan is about 30,000 light-years across.

Repairing The Office

Andy Greenwald looks at what made The Office work before, and what can make it work again:
Steve Carell’s exit last May was well publicized and well reasoned — why tussle with Kathy Bates when Meryl Streep is available? — but within the carefully manicured landscape of The Office it was genuinely shocking, the first major upheaval in the show’s history. Of course, at the start, that very stasis was one of The Office’s main selling points. Early seasons nimbly skewered the oppressive repetition of our modern working world: the forced camaraderie, the inane traditions, the endless paper jams. But the small triumphs of these unambitious Scrantonites — over boredom, over heartbreak, over Dwight — only got smaller when considered over time. Seven years ago, Jim’s defiant smirk was a small spark of hope in the face of inevitable conformity. Now the sight of him still chained to the same overcrowded desk is downright depressing.
A comic show celebrating the impossibility of change has always been a tough sell, which is why it’s a marvel that The Office’s talented writing staff has managed to keep things humming ‘til now. It’s worth remembering that the original U.K. version lasted a grand total of seven and a half hours — the U.S. edition is already up to five hours this season alone — and that proved more than sufficient to spin a tale of no-hopers stuck in a dismal corporate cul-de-sac. The American Office, quite rightly, differentiated itself from the outset: In the New World, the workplace wasn’t a sad metaphor for the crushed dreams and dreary reality of adulthood. Rather, it was an allegory for family, the screwed-up group of misfits one gets stuck with and learns to, if not love, then tolerate. The cast ballooned accordingly, filling out the margins with a deep bench of That Guys and Girls.
I didn't realize that the British version was only the equivalent of about a network TV season.  The nice thing about the show was that it made most peoples' work places look more functional, while still being entertaining.  As far as I'm concerned, Dwight's character is most entertaining.  Who can't be entertained by the wacky goings-on at Schrute Farms.

Vermont Republic

Flag of the Vermont Republic
January 15, 1777:
 New Connecticut (present day Vermont) declares its independence. The term Vermont Republic has been used by later historians for the government of what became modern Vermont from 1777 to 1791. In July 1777 delegates from 28 towns met and declared independence from jurisdictions and land claims of British colonies in New Hampshire and New York. They also abolished slavery within their boundaries. The people of Vermont took part in the American Revolution and considered themselves Americans, even if Congress did not recognize the jurisdiction. Because of vehement objections from New York, which had conflicting property claims, the Continental Congress declined to recognize Vermont, then called the New Hampshire Grants. Overtures by Ethan Allen to the organizers to join the Province of Quebec failed. In 1791 Vermont was admitted to the United States as the 14th state.
The Vermont Republic was called the "reluctant republic" because many early citizens favored political union with the United States rather than independence. Both popular opinion and the legal construction of the government made clear that the independent State of Vermont would eventually join the original 13 states. While the Continental Congress did not allow a seat for Vermont, William Samuel Johnson, representing Connecticut, was engaged by Vermont to promote its interests. (In 1785 Johnson was granted title to the former King's College Tract by the Vermont General Assembly as a form of compensation for representing Vermont.) The members of the Convention of 1787 assumed that Vermont was not yet separate from New York; however, Madison's notes on the Federal Convention of 1787 make clear that there was an agreement by New York to allow for the admission of Vermont to the union; it was just a question of process, which was delayed by larger federal questions. Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution concerning new states and federal property, was designed with Vermont in mind.

What The WPA Did

John Henry, a professor at UMKC reviews the history of the WPA:
Originally, the WPA was an extension of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration—the first federally-funded welfare program in the U.S. One rationale for the WPA was that it was better to put people to work performing useful tasks rather than merely receiving assistance: off the dole and on the job.

A maximum work week was set at 30 hours, and pay was set at “the prevailing wage.” This latter standard raised some unintended humorous criticism. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia complained that: “In the State of Tennessee the man who is working with a pick and shovel at 18 cents an hour is limited to $26 a month, and he must work 144 hours to earn $26. Whereas the man who is working in Pennsylvania has to work only 30 hours to earn $94, out of funds which are being paid out of the common Treasury of the United States” (In Couch, 2008).

The WPA was not intended as a “full employment” program. Only one household member could be employed under the program (it was usually males), though one does find female heads of households so employed. It should also be noted that state and local governments were required to contribute 10-30% of the costs of the various projects undertaken. Over its life, total spending on WPA projects amounted to about $13.4 billion, roughly 2% of GDP over those years.

And what were those projects? Was this simply a “make work” program that made little difference in the long run? Or, was the WPA integral to the larger economy and its contributions socially useful? A truncated tally follows. (See below for a slideshow of projects under the WPA)
  • 560,000 miles of roads built or improved
  • 20,000 miles of water mains, sewers constructed
  • 417 dams built
  • 325 firehouses built; 2384 renovated
  • 5,000 schools constructed or renovated
  • 143 new hospitals, 1,700 improved
  • 2,000 stadiums, grandstands built
  • 500 landing fields; 1,800 runways (including participation in the construction of LaGuardia Airport, NYC)
  • State and municipal parks, including the foundation of the extensive California state park system.
  • 100 million trees planted
  • 6,000 miles of fire and forest trails created
  • Education: Through 1941, 1 million enrolled in adult education courses, 37,000 children in classes and nursery schools; 280,000 received music instruction, 67,000 art instruction.
  • Libraries were built. These were especially directed toward poor and rural communities.
  • Zoo buildings constructed
In addition to the above, one should note the WPA’s contribution to the cultural life of the country. Under the direction of Hallie Flanagan, the Federal Theatre Project mounted 1,200 productions including 300 new plays. Audiences were estimated at 25 million in forty states, many of whom had never before seen a play. As well, WPA programs included Federal Music, Federal Arts, and Federal Writers’ Projects. This latter program produced the most notable “Slave Narrative Collection,” consisting of 10,000 pages of interviews with former slaves, a continuing treasure-trove for researchers. Last, let us not forget the famous murals that were produced by artists hired by the WPA. These dot the country from post offices (though these were mainly funded by the Treasury Department through a grant from the government) to college buildings, to government buildings. Included in this array were those painted by Diego Rivera for the City College of San Francisco, Anton Refregier in the Rincon Annex Post Office, San Francisco, and Thomas Hart Benton in the Missouri State Capitol rotunda.
Again, this is a logical activity when there is significant unemployment.  The fact that it is politically unfeasible today says a lot about the state of politics.  I have been to at least one of the stadiums constructed by the WPA, the former Riverview Stadium, the home of the Clinton LumberKings in Clinton, Iowa.

A Christian Quarterback

If one is to choose a quarterback based on his religiosity, should he choose Tim Tebow or Jon Kitna?  I think Kitna would be the one.  What makes Tebow the popular choice?

Oh No, He Speaks French!

Just like John Kerry, he speaks French. Oh no, give me some Freedom Fries and a Freedom Dip sandwich. If there isn't a major recession in 2012, the Republicans are going to manage to lose this election.