Saturday, January 28, 2012

Behind The Scenes

Sweet video:

Being There - Happy New Year from Field Productions on Vimeo.

Those guys are badass.

Strong Northern Lights

Via the Huffington Post:

Awesome photos at Flickr (via nc links).

Chart of the Day

Aaron Carroll, via the Dish:

Overall, in 2009-2010, more than 80% of employed adults age 18-64 had health insurance. But only 48% of unemployed adults in the same age group had insurance. But it gets worse. Less than 30% of unemployed adults had private insurance (less than a third!), versus more than three-quarters of employed people
Many people like to think that being uninsured is a “choice”. And they’re correct, in the sense that you can “choose” not to buy insurance. I get that. But many people “choose” not to buy insurance for the sole reason that it’s crazy expensive. The average – not gold plated, but average – employer sponsored insurance plan for an individual plan in the United States last year was $5429. And that was just the premium. It didn’t include deductibles, co-pays, or co-insurance. The average family plan was $15,073. The median salary in the US, on the other hand, was less than $50,000 for households. For individuals, the median paycheck is $26,364.
When you’re making that amount, and you lose your job, paying for that insurance plan is no longer possible. Paying for COBRA is even harder, as it’s usually more expensive. So sometimes you get poor enough to go on Medicaid. Or, if you’re in the majority of states that offer no Medicaid benefits whatsoever to adults who aren’t parents of children, you go uninsured.
There is a lot of valuable information there.  But the reliance of the system on employer provided insurance is so puzzling.  I really thought that the strongest proponents of a public option would be small businessmen and their trade organizations.  It would have done wonders for their bottom line, and probably more than made up the costs of additional taxes.  Instead, they were some of the stiffest resistance to "ObamaCare," and now they have to deal with more regulations.  It sure seems like a case of ideology trumping self-interest.  But, so is their support of the current tax code, which punishes people with high earned incomes as compared to people with high unearned incomes.  The same small businesspeople, if looking out for their own interests, would push to consider at least dividends as regular income, and would push for more tax brackets with some higher marginal rates on stratospheric incomes to help separate the top 4.98% from the top 0.02%.  Apparently, their feeling of connection to the superrich, and their distrust of government overrules their self-interest.

Drought And Global Warming

Stuart Staniford has a couple of posts on studies looking at the potential drought effects of climate change.  The second deals with a 1999 study which gets into the potential physical links between rising CO2 and drought.  Here's Stuart:
The paper's discussion of the physical mechanisms at work is interesting. There are separate discussions of the more northern interior of the US ("CNA1") and the more southerly portions of North America (eg Mexico, Texas - which they call "CNA2").

For CNA1:
In general, the increase of both CO2 and water vapor in the model atmosphere increases the downward flux of longwave radiation absorbed by the continental surface. This results in an early disappearance of snow cover (with a large surface albedo), thereby increasing the solar energy absorbed by the continental surface. Because of the increase in the surface absorption of both longwave and solar radiation, evaporation is enhanced during spring and early summer (Figure 10a), reducing the soil moisture in the CNA1 region. By mid-summer, the soil moisture is reduced to the point where evaporation can no longer increase. Thus, evaporation is decreased and sensible heat increased, reducing the near-surface relative humidity and cloud cover, which increases insolation absorbed by the continental surface and makes more energy available for evaporation. On the other hand, the rate of precipitation hardly increases over the continents in summer because of the low relative humidity in the lower troposphere (Figure 10a). As a matter of fact, the rate of precipitation even decreases slightly after mid-summer when the soil becomes very dry. Therefore, the soil moisture anomaly remains negative throughout the rest of the summer and early fall in ‘CO2 + SUL’

The Largest Snowflakes Ever Reported

January 28, 1887:
In a snowstorm at Fort Keogh, Montana, the world's largest snowflakes are reported, 15 inches (38 cm) wide and 8 inches (20 cm) thick. Fort Keogh is located on the western edge of Miles City, Montana. Occasionally spelled Fort Keough. Originally a military post, today it is a United States Department of Agriculture livestock and range research station. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The development of Fort Keogh as a military installation soon stimulated traders to supply the liquor and other service businesses that were the beginning of Miles City.
I'm thinking the whiskey may explain the giant snowflakes.  Has anybody out there seen a snowflake a third that size?  More on the history of Miles City:
The arrival of the Army generated a demand for businesses among enterprising traders. Named after the fort's commander, Milestown developed first as an army town to meet the needs of young, isolated men.
The Miles City Chamber of Commerce web site noted:
According to the diaries kept by George Miles, the nephew of the Colonel who traveled with his uncle, a man named Mat Carrol set up some barrels under a tarp and started selling whiskey. When Colonel Miles got tired of having his guard house filled to overflowing--whiskey causing him, Miles said, more trouble than the Indians--he ordered Carrol and the other purveyors of liquor to leave the military reservation. An employee of Carrol's, one John Carter, rode east on his big bay horse until he was the required two miles (3 km) away, beyond the edge of the reservation. He found a flat spot along the Yellowstone, built a crude log hut out of driftwood and started selling whiskey. The soldiers soon found the place, other merchants followed, and Miles City was born.
Milestown was at first almost nothing but rowdy; many a drunken soldier emerged from its saloons. About a year after settling in the area, General Miles moved the fort to the present location just a couple of miles southwest of the original site. He hoped that the extra distance from the town would slow the unruliness. The town picked up and moved to its current location closer to the fort.

The Good Old Days-canteen at Ft. Keogh, Mont., 1890-94;

Social And Political Limits To Reform In The U.S.

Francis Fukuyama goes over 5 books on the financial crisis over at the Browser, and what they illuminate about the U.S. social experiment (also via Mark Thoma).  One of my favorite parts:
Also, as you’ve pointed out, the only real populist outrage has been coming from the right, which doesn’t make any sense at all.
That, for me, is the central puzzle of this whole crisis. You have a crisis that starts on Wall Street and implicates a lot of the deregulated free market institutions that were created since the Reagan revolution. The crisis also had roots in the increasing maldistribution of income in the US. Despite all that, there’s been no mobilisation of people on the left. I really don’t believe Occupy Wall Street represents a broad mobilisation. The particular demographic at issue are the white working or lower-middle class in the US, the so-called Reagan Democrats. In the 1930s, they voted for the New Deal coalition – if they were Europeans, they’d be voting for Social Democratic parties. But in the US, in most elections over the past 30 years, they have voted for Republicans who have pursued policies that largely hurt their interests. That’s the big sociological puzzle about the US, why that phenomenon exists.
It’s partly a lack of interest in politics isn’t it? People are losing jobs but they’ve got cable TV, two cars per family. Life is tough, but they can still go shopping and there are enough distractions never to have to think about politics at all.
That’s right. The economist Tyler Cowen has made the point that, in a sense, inequality matters less than it did 100 years ago. If you were at the bottom in terms of income distribution 100 years ago, it was literally a life-threatening situation, in terms of your life expectancy, your vulnerability to setbacks. It’s still the case in large parts of the developing world right now. But here in the US the level of people at the bottom is sufficient that they can still enjoy their smartphones and cheap clothing at Wal-Mart. The issue of inequality becomes much more abstract. They know there are people making billions of dollars, but it doesn’t bother them as directly.
The whole post is worth reading.  He finds people at fault on both sides of the aisle, and within the U.S. social fabric.  Overall, it is very well-explained by a man who's The End Of History is often seized on by both the Neoconservatives on military support of establishing democracy and the Neoliberals in favor of deregulation and unfettered markets.  I generally agree with almost all of his points.  One thing I didn't understand was why when he mentioned Charles Schumer, he called him a liberal, but didn't also mention that he was the senator from Wall Street, the investment bankers' biggest whore.

The English Speakers Vs. The Continent

While the free market bigots are pointing at the European economic model as a failure because of the Euro crisis, David Marsh and Robert Bischof at the Guardian say not so fast (h/t Mark Thoma):
There is a much more fundamental gulf, hinted at by Angela Merkel in her Davos speech yesterday: between countries with organised industrial training systems such as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland – all currently with jobless rates of between 3% and 7% – and those with much higher rates of unemployment, often in double digits, in peripheral Europe. The issue pits Anglo-Saxon precepts of free market regulation against the Germanic "Rhineland" system of managed capitalism, with modern apprenticeship systems built on a long-term compact between labour and employers. In the years before and immediately after the euro's birth in 1999, the peripheral countries of the European monetary union (Emu) often followed Anglo-Saxon principles by liberalising parts of notoriously inflexible labour markets. "Hire and fire" became the motto.
Initially this seemed to work. But as debt market conditions worsened and growth stalled after the 2007-08 financial crisis, Emu's periphery has been left seriously exposed by the failure to replace unproductive regulations with new mechanisms to generate jobs.
In the battle between rival systems, "Rhineland capitalism" appears to be winning hands down. In the two years since the global economic downturn in 2009, Germany has expanded employment by 1.8m, while the UK, US, France, Italy and Spain have shed 7m jobs. In 2007, when most other countries were nearing the end of a boom driven by excess credit, Germany had the highest unemployment rate (8.7% of the workforce on a harmonised basis) of the group of seven leading industrialised countries. Yet in late 2011, according to OECD figures, German unemployment, at 5.2%, was the lowest in the G7 apart from Japan.
I think this is one of the major points of the Great Recession which many of the free market types haven't quite figured out yet.  We can't have sustained rates of high unemployment, especially amongst the youth.  Somebody, whether it is government or private sector (obviously the government is more likely), has to make work for folks to do, or there will be serious trouble.  State stability is at risk.  Nobody in support of the "free market system" seems able to perceive this.  I don't understand why they are so blind.

The Pull Of Bigtime College Sports

The New York Times featured a story on the pull of big time college sports at universities last Sunday (h/t the Professor):
Ohio State boasts 17 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, three Nobel laureates, eight Pulitzer Prize winners, 35 Guggenheim Fellows and a MacArthur winner. But sports rule.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, yeah, Ohio State, that wonderful physics department.’ It’s football,” said Gordon Aubrecht, an Ohio State physics professor.
Last month, Ohio State hired Urban Meyer to coach football for $4 million a year plus bonuses (playing in the B.C.S. National Championship game nets him an extra $250,000; a graduation rate over 80 percent would be worth $150,000). He has personal use of a private jet.
Dr. Aubrecht says he doesn’t have enough money in his own budget to cover attendance at conferences. “From a business perspective,” he can see why Coach Meyer was hired, but he calls the package just more evidence that the “tail is wagging the dog.”
Dr. Aubrecht is not just another cranky tenured professor. Hand-wringing seems to be universal these days over big-time sports, specifically football and men’s basketball. Sounding much like his colleague, James J. Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan and author of “Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University,” said this: “Nine of 10 people don’t understand what you are saying when you talk about research universities. But you say ‘Michigan’ and they understand those striped helmets running under the banner.”
 As a domer, I got to see big-time athletics up fairly close.  It isn't too pretty.  I was one of those students to whom sports was a big part of the draw.  Nowadays, I'm reformed, and don't really care too much, but I'll still tune into games, so I'm still part of the problem. 

It is kind of funny that one of the reasons I decided to run for state representative was because a bunch of right-wing idiot legislators (including my representative) were pushing for capping the pay of employees of state universities at no more than the governor's salary (about $160,000 at the time, I think).  They had in mind a bunch of employees making $300,000 to $400,000 dollars (who happened to be doctors at the University Hospital and business professors hired out of the private sector).  When they found out that the highest paid state employee was Jim Tressel, they weren't smart enough to just drop the idea (I mentioned they were right-wing idiots), instead they decided to make a provision exempting football and basketball coaches from the proposed bill.  Luckily, the rest of the legislature wasn't idiotic enough to go along. 

Happy Birthday To The Blog

This crappy site started one year and 2,468 posts ago.

Thanks to those who take the time to look at it.  Hopefully, there isn't a plot afoot to send me to Bovine University:

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's The Weekend

Via nc links:

Our Little Rock

NASA releases a new Earth photo from their latest satellite:

New Plant Hardiness Maps

There's news today for all you backyard gardeners out there. That shrub in the backyard that died this past spring? The tomato plants that went nowhere last summer? Well, maybe it wasn't you after all. The Department of Agriculture has a new map out today showing appropriate seasonal planting times. They've changed because average winter temperatures have risen in a lot of places. And that could change what gardeners grow and what nurseries sell.
The new map is here.  I'm sure somebody will say this is one more thing the government did that's wrong.

Strange Bedfellows

All Things Considered on a deal between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States:
In early July, the two sides announced that they had reached an agreement to jointly lobby Congress for new federal rules that would phase out all traditional chicken cages within 15 years. The law was formally introduced this week.
As a minimum, the chickens would have to be held in so-called enriched cages — a style developed in Europe. These cages are a compromise between efficient, large-scale production and letting chickens do some things that they seem to really like.
At the JS West farm, south of Modesto, one chicken house already has these cages.
I notice right away that chickens in this building have almost twice as much space as the ones I saw next door.
Jill Benson, one of the company's owners, points out other features. There are metal bars for the birds to perch on, and enclosed spaces, called nest boxes. Those spaces seem really popular among the hens.
Wow, perches and nest boxes.  Sounds like egg production for ages.  Who'd have thought chickens like that stuff?  I honestly don't understand why farmers get so stubborn about these issues when the Walmarts and McDonalds are going along with demanding change.  If your biggest customers want you to change, you better plan on changing.  Actually, the Republican party ought to look toward the Humane Society of the U.S. on ways to compromise while still getting much of what you want.  Nah, forget it, the Republicans are much more radical than the H.S.U.S.

A Bad Day At Work

My day wasn't too good, but it wasn't this bad:

The Massive Undertaking of Henry Knox

January 27, 1776:
 American Revolutionary War: Henry Knox's "noble train of artillery" arrives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The noble train of artillery, also known as the Knox Expedition, was an expedition led by Continental Army Colonel Henry Knox to transport heavy weaponry that had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga to the Continental Army camps outside Boston, Massachusetts during the winter of 1775–1776.
Knox went to Ticonderoga in November 1775, and, over the course of 3 winter months, moved 60 tons of cannons and other armaments by boat, horse and ox-drawn sledges, and manpower, along poor-quality roads, across two semi-frozen rivers, and through the forests and swamps of the lightly inhabited Berkshires to the Boston area. Historian Victor Brooks has called Knox's feat "one of the most stupendous feats of logistics" of the entire American Revolutionary War.
The route by which Knox moved the weaponry is now known as the Henry Knox Trail, and the states of New York and Massachusetts have erected markers along the route.
That goes up there with George Rogers Clark's march to Vincennes in the annals of amazing feats of the Revolutionary War.

Newt and Schrute

Via the Dish:

Chart of the Day

NYT, via Ritholtz:

Oh yeah, remember when we made things.  Technically, we still make a lot of stuff, but the service industry is so dominant these days, and it just doesn't have the cool factor of manufacturing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Beginning of Sports As We Know Them?

Brian Phillips on freed slave and boxer Tom Molineaux:
On December 10, 1810, in a muddy field around 25 miles from London, a fight took place that was so dramatic, controversial, and ferocious that it continues to haunt the imagination of boxing more than 200 years later. One of the fighters was the greatest champion of his age, a bareknuckle boxer so tough he reportedly trained by punching the bark off trees. The other was a freed slave, an illiterate African-American who had made the voyage across the Atlantic to seek glory in the ring. Rumors about the match had circulated for weeks, transfixing England. Thousands of fans braved a pounding rain to watch the bout. Some of the first professional sportswriters were on hand to record it. It was the greatest fight of its era. But its significance went beyond that. Even at the time, it seemed to be about more than boxing, more than sport itself. More than anything, the contest between a white English champion and a black American upstart seemed to be about an urgent question of identity: whether character could be determined in the boxing ring, whether sport could confirm a set of virtues by which a nation defined itself.
The fight cemented a set of stock characters — the fast-talking, ultra-talented, self-destructive black athlete; the Great White Hope; the canny coach who's half devoted to his pupil and half exploiting him — that have echoed down the centuries. In fact, so much about the fight feels familiar today, from the role of race to the role of the media, that if you had to name a date, you could make a good case that December 10, 1810, was the moment sport as we know it began.
Fascinating.  Sports history is one of my favorite subjects.

Campaigning For Mayor of Pleasantville

Jack Shafer looks at the Republican primary candidates:
If the campaign were simply about marketing 1950s nostalgia, Santorum would be leading the polls. More than any other candidate, he yearns for the decade he was barely born into (b. 1958), when the Mass was in Latin, blue laws were the rule and not the exception, and abortion was back-alley or required a plane ride. Alone among the candidates, Santorum would self-deport into the Pleasantville mise-en-scène if the movie’s cinematic magic were real.
Any slots the Republican candidates decline to fill at Dementiaville can be reserved for those Democrats who have their own, separate delusions about the 1950s. Democrats look back fondly to the era, and not just because it marked the peak of union membership. It was also a time when a good Republican (Jacob Javits) was almost indistinguishable from a Democrat. The GOP was so rife with Huntsmen, the real partisan action pitted the South’s Democrats against the rest of the country’s Democrats.
The extraordinary economic growth of the 1950s came after both the Great Depression and the deprivations of World War II, so it’s probably the clang of cash that makes the decade so alluring for everybody. The decade sits in the middle of what some economists call the “Great Compression,” which ran from about 1934 to 1979 and during which economic inequality was historically low.
I've been guilty of wishing for the '50s myself.  It is pretty easy to do, if you are white.  Not so much if you aren't.  Anyway, the key point is that America can't be the America of the '50s, because, England, Germany, France, Russia, China, India and the rest of the world aren't those countries as they were in the '50s.  The quicker we come to that realization the better.  As for income inequality, we can address that without turning back the clock too far.

The Plastipak Economy

Via Mark Thoma, MIT reports on a research project on manufacturing in the U.S.:
Not long ago, MIT political scientist Suzanne Berger was visiting a factory in western Massachusetts, a place that produces the plastic jugs you find in grocery stores. As she saw on the factory floor, the company has developed an innovative automation system that has increased its business: Between 2004 and 2008, its revenues doubled, and its workforce did, too. Moreover, the firm has found a logical niche: Since plastic jugs are both bulky and inexpensive, it’s not economical to produce them overseas and ship them to the United States, simply to fill them with, say, milk or syrup.

“Is this just an odd little story?” Berger asks. “Actually, no.” While the decline of American manufacturing has been widely trumpeted — manufacturing jobs in the United States have dropped from 20 million in 1979 to about 12 million today — conglomerates such as Procter & Gamble and high-tech firms such as Dow Corning have kept significant amounts of manufacturing in the country. Moreover, 3,500 manufacturing companies across the United States — not just the jug-making firm in Massachusetts — doubled their revenues between 2004 and 2008. With that in mind, Berger asks, “How can we imagine enabling these firms to branch out into more innovative activities as well?”
The plastic jug business intrigues me.  Plastipak is a manufacturer in Jackson Center, Ohio.  They produce plastic jugs for the P&Gs and Pepsis out there.  I can't imagine how expensive the equipment must be to mold the jugs if these giant companies get a better deal outsourcing the production and then having truckloads of empty jugs delivered to their plants.  Considering how many jugs those companies use, it seems hard to believe they couldn't do it themselves.  But obviously, the numbers must work out.

A View From The Edge

A photographer takes photos of Detroit between his feet:

Kind of wild.  More here.

Amish Sect Fights SMV Signs

LA Times:
Reflective orange safety triangles are, by their nature, flashy. The Amish, as a general rule, don't do flashy.
Hence the dilemma in western Kentucky, where members of an ultraconservative Amish branch called Swartzentruber are rejecting the state-mandated use of the safety triangles on their horse-drawn buggies.
In recent months, as the Associated Press has chronicled, a number of Swartzentruber men in the state have been jailed for refusing to pay fines levied against them when they were stopped for driving without the triangles.
The members of the Swartzentruber group eschew most modern conveniences, including electricity and plumbing. The safety triangles, they say, lend a little too much worldly razzle-dazzle to their rides, and thus violate their vow to adhere to a radically simple life.
They also believe that the triangles are unnecessary because traffic safety and its attendant vicissitudes are ultimately managed by God.
I think in Ohio they are allowed gray reflective triangles instead of the usual red and orange.  Here it is:
(F) Every animal-drawn vehicle upon a street or highway shall at all times be equipped in one of the following ways:
(1) With a slow-moving vehicle emblem complying with division (B) of this section;
(2) With alternate reflective material complying with rules adopted under this division;
(3) With both a slow-moving vehicle emblem and alternate reflective material as specified in this division.
The director of public safety, subject to Chapter 119. of the Revised Code, shall adopt rules establishing standards and specifications for the position of mounting of the alternate reflective material authorized by this division. The rules shall permit, as a minimum, the alternate reflective material to be black, gray, or silver in color. The alternate reflective material shall be mounted on the animal-drawn vehicle so as to be visible, at all times specified in section 4513.03 of the Revised Code, from a distance of not less than five hundred feet to the rear when illuminated by the lawful lower beams of headlamps.
I thought so.

The Great Blizzard of 1978

January 26, 1978:
Late on January 24 the surface maps revealed a moisture laden Gulf Low developing over the southern United States while a separate, and unrelated low pressure system was present over the Upper Midwest. In about 24 hours, the merger of the subtropical (containing a wind max of 130 knots) and polar (containing a wind max of 110 knots) jet streams would lead to an unusual convergence of these two low pressures over the Ohio Valley, known as "phasing". Such a phenomenon usually leads to explosive development of the surface low and the Great Blizzard was no exception. The low over Gulf States underwent bombogenesis as it moved rapidly northward during the evening of January 25 (record low pressures were logged across parts of the South and Mid-Atlantic). Bombogenesis events require a storm's central pressure to drop more than 24 millibars in 24 hours; the Great Blizzard deepened by a remarkable 40 millibars in that span of time.
As the storm headed for Ohio, this resulted in a "storm of unprecedented magnitude", according to the National Weather Service, which categorized it as a rare severe blizzard, the most severe grade of winter storm. Particularly hard hit were the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and southeast Wisconsin where up to 40 inches (102 cm) of snow fell. Winds gusting up to 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) caused drifts that nearly buried some homes. Wind chill values reached −60 °F (−51 °C) across much of Ohio where 51 of the total 70 storm-related deaths occurred.  The second lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the United States, apart from a tropical system, occurred as the storm passed over Cleveland, Ohio. The barometer fell to 28.28 inches of mercury (958 mbar) on the morning of January 26. Nearby Detroit, Michigan fell to 28.34 inches of mercury (960 mbar).
The absolute low pressure with this storm was picked up at Sarnia, Ontario at around the same time, where the barometer bottomed out at 28.21 inches of mercury (955 mbar). Toronto fell to 28.40 inches, breaking the old record by 0.17. Canada did not escape the wrath of the storm as blizzard conditions were common across southwestern Ontario. London was paralyzed by 41 centimetres (16 in) of snow and winds gusting to 128 kilometres per hour (80 mph). The storm initially began out as rain but quickly changed over to heavy snow during the pre-dawn hours (as arctic air deepened ahead of the storm) leading to frequent whiteouts and zero visibility during the day on Thursday, January 26.
The Blizzard was the worst in Ohio history where 51 people died as a result of the storm. Over 50,000 members of the Ohio National Guard were called in to make numerous rescues. Police asked citizens who had four-wheel drive vehicles and snowmobiles to transport doctors to the hospital. From January 26 to 27, the entire Ohio Turnpike was shut down for the first time ever.[5] The total effect on transportation in Ohio was described by Major General James C. Clem of the Ohio National Guard as comparable to a nuclear attack
This is before my memory can reach, but it is the stuff of legend around here.  The photographs from that time might not be impressive in the Dakotas, but they are for Ohio.  I've been told it was almost 70 degrees and rained like crazy before the temperature plummeted.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chart of the Day

From fivethirtyeight, via the Dish:

Republicans are a strange group.  Of course, the Reagan they talk about is the Reagan of their imaginations.

From True Slaves To Wage Slaves

Bloomberg (h/t Ritholtz):
The U.S. won its independence from Britain just as it was becoming possible to imagine a liberal alternative to the mercantilist policies of the colonial era. Those best situated to take advantage of these new opportunities -- those who would soon be called "capitalists" -- rarely started from scratch, but instead drew on wealth generated earlier in the robust Atlantic economy of slaves, sugar and tobacco. Fathers who made their fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages begat sons who built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad enterprises, invested in government securities, and speculated in new financial instruments.
This recognizably modern capitalist economy was no less reliant on slavery than the mercantilist economy of the preceding century. Rather, it offered a wider range of opportunities to profit from the remote labor of slaves, especially as cotton emerged as the indispensable commodity of the age of industry.
In the North, where slavery had been abolished and cotton failed to grow, the enterprising might transform slave-grown cotton into clothing; market other manufactured goods, such as hoes and hats, to plantation owners; or invest in securities tied to next year's crop prices in places such as Liverpool and Le Havre. This network linked Mississippi planters and Massachusetts manufacturers to the era's great financial firms: the Barings, Browns and Rothschilds.
A major financial crisis in 1837 revealed the interdependence of cotton planters, manufacturers and investors, and their collective dependence on the labor of slaves. Leveraged cotton -- pledged but not yet picked -- led overseers to whip their slaves to pick more, and prodded auctioneers to liquidate slave families to cover the debts of the overextended.
The plantation didn't just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy, it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management. As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below.
The perverse reality of a capitalized labor force led to new accounting methods that incorporated (human) property depreciation in the bottom line as slaves aged, as well as new actuarial techniques to indemnify slaveholders from loss or damage to the men and women they owned. Property rights in human beings also created a lengthy set of judicial opinions that would influence the broader sanctity of private property in U.S. law.
Now workers are only owned most of the week.  Really, in the slave economy, labor was invested capital.  There wasn't the struggle between labor and capital.  It gives a different view of capital investment multiplying in value.

Multiligual Dolphins

The Daily Mail:
Dolphins are so intelligent they can learn to speak a second language- in their sleep.
Captive dolphins in in Port-Saint-Père, France have been recorded sleep talking, scientists have found.
But bizarrely, as they rest at night, the aquatic mammals are not making dolphin sounds but whale-like noises.
Péos, Mininos, Cécil, Teha, and Amtan, who were born in captivity, have only ever heard whale sounds as recordings, Science magazine reported.
If the sounds are confirmed to be ‘whale’, it would be the first known instance of dolphins remembering a particular noise and repeating it 'later', researchers say.
The dolphins have only ever heard a whale sing on the soundtrack to their daily shows at the French aquatic park Planète Sauvage.
I've been told that I talk a lot in my sleep, but I think I only speak dumbass in my dreams.

Did Psycopaths Blow Up The Economy?

Tim Iacono, via Ritholtz:
Wild-eyed buyers lined up for blocks to buy new condos and mortgage brokers with barely a high school education were raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in commissions by peddling all kinds of “exotic” mortgages to borrowers who, in many cases, didn’t really understand what they were signing.
As we’ve come to find out, there was a good deal of fraud involved here by both lenders and borrowers as few seemed to care about how their individual actions might affect others in the fullness of time.
You might say that a good asset bubble brings out the psychopath in many of us.
Everyone was swept up in a financial bubble of the largest magnitude and, with only a few exceptions, economists were content to look at their models – models that ignored the “shadow banking system” and failed to reflect how a rapidly inflating asset bubble was affecting behavior – while predicting clear sailing ahead and patting each other on the back for having done such a good job.
The worst of the psychopaths were on Wall Street and those tales of excess came to light in the years that followed.
A pattern of disregard for others was at the core of what Wall Street did with mortgage backed securities and related derivatives, a point that became clear as internal emails were released in the years that followed. Investment banks made boatloads of money – both in selling securities and then betting against them – and this behavior became standard operating procedure for some firms.
If a dumb farmer can figure out that it isn't a good thing that $500,000 interest-only loans are being advertised on the radio, and that real estate being the chief topic of investment stories might indicate a bubble, then most anybody on Wall Street should know there's a bubble brewing.  I don't quite subscribe to the psychopath diagnosis, but I do think many more people than let on knew that this was a giant scam.

Waveland Avenue Property To Sell For $4.8 Million

Chicago Tribune:
The owner of a Wrigley Field rooftop business acquired a neighboring property with a rooftop venue at a bankruptcy auction for $4.8 million.

A bankruptcy judge Tuesday approved the sale of the building that houses the Lakeview Baseball Club, 3633 N. Sheffield Ave., to a company affiliated with Mark Schlenker, who owns Brixen Ivy beyond the left-field wall on Waveland Avenue.

The deal is expected to close next week, said the trustee, Chicago lawyer Rick Fogel.

The owners of the Lakeview Baseball Club put the building in bankruptcy in August to prevent the sale of the property in a foreclosure auction. The owners are members of the Racky family.

The Rackys' bank, Orland Park-based First Personal Bank had originally filed a foreclosure suit in 2010, alleging that the owners had fallen behind on a $3 million mortgage on the three-story property. The bank received a foreclosure judgment last year.
I never have understood why people think sitting over there is better than being at the game.  You are 450 feet from home plate, may as well watch the game on TV.  $4.8 million?  Holy Cow!  And you're stuck watching the Cubs.  Just more evidence that Cubs fans are damaged in the head.

Why Legal Originalism Is Stupid

Garrett Epps:
But Scalia's opinion for the Court tried to deal with global satellite and massive computer technology with "originalist" methods: what would the Founding Fathers have thought if a colonial-era sheriff had tracked a bad guy by hiding a constable in his carriage. Seriously, grandpa? Alito retorted. "This would have required either a gigantic coach, a very tiny constable, or both -- not to mention a constable with incredible fortitude and patience." 
Alito pointed out that there are plenty of ways for law enforcement to use GPS technology to track us without touching a thing: 
For example, suppose that the officers in the present case had followed respondent by surreptitiously activating a stolen vehicle detection system that came with the car when it was purchased. Would the sending of a radio signal to activate this system constitute a trespass to chattels?... [C]ell phones and other wireless devices now permit wireless carriers to track and record the location of users -- and as of June 2011, it has been reported, there were more than 322 million wireless devices in use in the United States.
Why the hell would we look to a bunch of 18th century slave owners and wearers of powdered wigs to determine whether police could use satellite positioning technology to track suspects without a warrant?  And that was the majority opinion?  Holy shit!  In what world does trying to channel the thoughts of folks dead for 200 years for the latest legal opinion on cutting edge technology make sense?  I don't understand how this concept of constitutional law can be taken seriously by anyone.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chart of the Day, Part 2

From Stuart Staniford:


Incarceration Nation

Adam Gopnik on prison in our society:
The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.
The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.
It is crazy we spend so much on prisons. What does it cost a year to house somebody in prison, versus what we could provide them shelter and food on the outside? Why are we so opposed to welfare, when we turn around and provide criminals with food and shelter for much higher cost than what welfare would cost? So often, the folks who go in learn to be bigger criminals on the inside. I just don't think it is good for our society.

It's Burns Day

So get your haggis.  Happy birthday to Robert Burns, may all the guys who like to eat sheep innards and wear skirts have a good time.

Chart of the Day

From Yglesias:

Supreme Court Limits GPS Surveillance

The Supreme Court said Monday that law enforcement authorities might need a probable-cause warrant from a judge to affix a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor its every move — but the justices did not say that a warrant was needed in all cases.
The convoluted decision (.pdf) in what is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age, rejected the Obama administration’s position that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle was not a search. The government had told the high court that it could even affix GPS devices on the vehicles of all members of the Supreme Court, without a warrant.
“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the five-justice majority. The majority declined to say whether that search was unreasonable and required a warrant.
All nine justices, however, agreed to toss out the life sentence of a District of Columbia drug dealer who was the subject of a warrantless, 28-day surveillance via GPS.
Four justices in a minority opinion said that the prolonged GPS surveillance in this case amounted to a search needing a warrant. But the minority opinion was silent on whether GPS monitoring for shorter periods would require one.
Seriously, how damn hard is it to get a warrant?  Don't cops know who the easy judges are to get warrants from?  I find it very hard to believe that large numbers of judges are standing up for the civil liberties of suspected criminals.  I think cops are just very damn lazy when it comes to doing actual Constitutionally required work.  While this decision leaves a LOT of gray area, at least they didn't rule that cops could track people any time they wanted without a warrant.  Small victories, I guess.

Another H-Bomb Lost

January 24, 1961:
1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash: A bomber carrying two H-bombs breaks up in mid-air over North Carolina. The uranium core of one weapon remains lost. The aircraft, a B-52G, was on a 24-hour "Coverall" airborne alert mission on the Atlantic seaboard. Around midnight on January 23/24, 1961, it rendezvoused with a tanker for mid-air refuelling. During the hook-up, the tanker crew advised the B-52 captain, Major W.S. Tulloch, that his aircraft had a leak in its port wing fuel cell. The refuelling was broken off, and ground control notified of the problem. The aircraft was directed to assume a holding pattern off the coast until the majority of fuel was consumed. However when the B-52 reached its assigned position, the captain reported that leak had worsened and that 37,000 pounds (17,000 kg) of fuel had been lost in 3 minutes. The aircraft was immediately directed to land at Seymour Johnson Air Base. As it descended through 10,000 feet (3,000 m) on its approach to the airfield, the pilots were no longer able to keep the aircraft in trim and lost control. The captain ordered the crew to eject, which they did at 9,000 feet (2,700 m). The crew last saw the aircraft intact with its payload of two Mark 39 nuclear weapons onboard.
The two nuclear weapons separated from the gyrating aircraft as it broke up between 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and 2,000 feet (610 m). Five of the six arming mechanisms on one of the bombs activated, causing it to execute many of the steps needed to arm itself, such as charging the firing capacitors and, critically, deployment of a 100 feet (30 m) diameter retard parachute. The parachute allowed the bomb to hit the ground with little damage. The wreckage covered a 2-square-mile (5.2 km2) area of tobacco and cotton farmland at Faro, near Goldsboro.
According to former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, he saw highly classified documents indicating that the pilot’s safe/arm switch was the only one of the six arming devices on the bomb that prevented detonation. The Pentagon claims that there was no chance of an explosion and that two arming mechanisms had not activated. A United States Department of Defense spokesperson told United Press International reporter Donald May that the bomb was unarmed and could not explode.L ater, however, it was found that both bombs were fully functional. Of the Air Force statement that a) there were two bombs, b) they were unarmed, c) they were both recovered, and d) there was no danger: only the part about being two bombs was true.
Damn, we were lucky the U.S. didn't blow up the damn world back in the '60s.  And we're worried about Iran?

Continuously Evolving

Big Think lists some human genetic mutations indicating evolution continues (h/t nc links).  My favorite:
Tetrachromatic vision. Most mammals have poor color vision because they have only two kinds of cones, the retinal cells that discriminate different colors of light. Humans, like other primates, have three kinds, the legacy of a past where good color vision for finding ripe, brightly colored fruit was a survival advantage.
The gene for one kind of cone, which responds most strongly to blue, is found on chromosome 7. The two other kinds, which are sensitive to red and green, are both on the X chromosome. Since men have only one X, a mutation which disables either the red or the green gene will produce red-green colorblindness, while women have a backup copy. This explains why this is almost exclusively a male condition.
But here's a question: What happens if a mutation to the red or the green gene, rather than disabling it, shifts the range of colors to which it responds? (The red and green genes arose in just this way, from duplication and divergence of a single ancestral cone gene.)
To a man, this would make no real difference. He'd still have three color receptors, just a different set than the rest of us. But if this happened to one of a woman's cone genes, she'd have the blue, the red and the green on one X chromosome, and a mutated fourth one on the other... which means she'd have four different color receptors. She would be, like birds and turtles, a natural "tetrachromat", theoretically capable of discriminating shades of color the rest of us can't tell apart. (Does this mean she'd see brand-new colors the rest of us could never experience? That's an open question.)
I didn't realize that colorblindness is almost entirely a male problem.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bill Cosby's Revenge

Listen to it here.  Makes me want to throw a slushball at somebody.

The Gingrich Tax Plan

From Yglesias:

Arizona Farmers Buy Land From Developers

Morning Edition:
ROBBINS: But over the decades, Brimhall sold some of his farmland at a good profit. Developers turned fields of cotton into a sea of tiled roofs. At one point, Gilbert was one of the fastest-growing residential communities in America.
Back at his office, Brimhall shows me a map of the area. The parcel we visited is on it, slated for development itself until the housing bust hit land owner Fulton Homes.
BRIMHALL: You know, like all the home builders in Phoenix, or in Arizona, Fulton went through some hard times. They had to file bankruptcy.
ROBBINS: To cover its debts, the company had to sell the land. Stacy Brimhall saw another opportunity.
BRIMHALL: Everyone was grasping for cash. They had bought this at $80,000 an acre. We bought it from them at 17,500 an acre.
ROBBINS: Brimhall picked up the land for about a fifth of what it last sold for. Now it's a farm again. I spoke with three farmers who've expanded their operations recently in similar ways. Rick Gibson is with the University of Arizona Agricultural Extension Service. He says the trend is real, though there are no hard numbers yet. And Gibson says it's not just established farmers like Stacy Brimhall.
Wow, $80,000 an acre?  Now only $17,500?  Talk about a bubble.

Fire Destroys 3,500 Year-Old Tree

The Daily:
Mother Nature claimed one of her oldest living specimens yesterday in a freak fire that destroyed a 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree towering over central Florida.

Known as “The Senator,” or simply “The Big Tree,” the hollowed-out majestic timber, standing at 118 feet tall, ignited before dawn. Firefighters watched helplessly as the oldest tree east of the Mississippi — and the fifth oldest in the world — blazed and then collapsed in a heap of flaming embers.

Seminole County investigators first pronounced the Big Tree Park fire suspicious. But as the day wore on, state arson inspectors determined the inferno was not deliberately set but rather was caused by a curious confluence of natural events described as being either a weeks- old lightning strike that smoldered until combustion occured, or friction caused by buffeting winds that ignited a spark and erupted in flames.

“I’m flabbergasted myself,” Seminole County Fire Rescue spokesman Steve Wright told The Daily yesterday. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the freak circumstances.

The American Forestry Association bored a small hole in The Senator in 1946, determining the tree was approximately 3,500 years old. That means it sprouted about the same time that biblical history has Moses talking to God via a burning bush, and when Greece was in its pre-Homeric Bronze Age.
3,500 years old.  Wow.  Friction caused by buffeting winds that ignited a spark and erupted in flames?  That sounds somewhat far-fetched.

What Is Money?

Ritholtz features a quote from Jeremy Irons in the movie Margin Call:
“Its just money; its made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don’t have to kill each other just to get something to eat. It’s not wrong. And it’s certainly no different today than its ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, 37, 57, 84, 1901, 07, 29, 1937, 1974, 1987 — Jesus, didn’t that fuck up me up good — 92, 97, 2000 and whatever we want to call this [2008].
It’s all just the same thing over and over; we can’t help ourselves. And you and I can’t control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever-so-slightly alter it. We just react. And we make a lot money if we get it right. And we get left by the side of the side of the road if we get it wrong.
And there have always been and there always will be the same percentage of winners and losers. Happy foxes and sad sacks. Fat cats and starving dogs in this world. Yeah, there may be more of us today than there’s ever been. But the percentages-they stay exactly the same.”
In all the discussion about the gold standard and fiat money, the thing about money being made up is so often overlooked.  It is a medium of exchange, and worthless if other people don't believe it has value.  What is gold going to do for you that eggs can't?  What is all that paper in your wallet good for if people quit believing in its value?  The value of money is a fiction everyone has a stake in continuing to believe in.  That is the key job of the policy makers in trying to avoid crises.  Make sure people don't lose faith in money, and the system it supports.  If that goes, there will be chaos.  You don't need a gold standard to maintain that belief.  In fact, the gold standard makes the situation worse, because it prevents printing money to aleviate deflation.

The Hedge Fund Con

A couple weeks old, but a good one:
There is no doubt that hedge-fund managers have been good at making money for themselves. Many of America’s recently minted billionaires grew rich from hedge clippings. But as a new book by Simon Lack, who spent many years studying hedge funds at JPMorgan, points out, it is hard to think of any clients that have become rich by investing in hedge funds (whereas Warren Buffett has made millionaires of many of his original investors). Indeed, since 1998, the effective return to hedge-fund clients has only been 2.1% a year, half the return they could have achieved by investing in boring old Treasury bills.
Insofar as hedge fund managers are just running a scam where one class of rich people rips off another class of rich people, I'm not sure there's anything systematically problematic about this. But a large share of the money invested in hedge funds seems to come from foundation endowments and pension funds. That in turn makes me wonder to what extent some of the dysfunctional aspects of the financial system can be traced back to dysfunctional governance of those institutions.
He makes a couple of good points here.  One, hedge funds are a racket, with the manager getting a 2% annual fee plus 20% of all gains.  They are set up to fail, with large bets to increase price movement, and eventually the blow up.  But the manager gets rich.  Second, the giant pension funds are a big part of the dysfunctional financial system.  There is so much money in them, and they try to diversify so much, they've brought instability to all kinds of markets: mortgage-backed bonds, commodities, private equity.  No matter what the activity, pension funds are a player.  I don't know exactly what becomes of them, but they are an issue in the financial system.

Tractors Are Getting Even Bigger

Des Moines Register:
Farmer Dan Glandorf of Williamsburg looked over the new Deere 9R 4WD and could only marvel at the size and scope of the huge machine. The 560-horsepower tractor — with a retail price of $514,606 — is the largest tractor Deere has ever made.
“When I started farming in 1984 I had a 110-horsepower tractor, and it was good-sized for that time,” said Glandorf, who visited the Van Wall Equipment’s John Deere Expo at the Iowa State Fairgrounds last weekend.
The monster 9R tractor is so big it doesn’t have wheels, but tracks similar to those on military tanks or heavy construction equipment.
$514,606?  Our 200 hp tractor only gets about 150 hours a year on it, so it should last a hell of a long time.  That is a damn good thing with the current prices for new machines.


January 23, 1719:
The Principality of Liechtenstein is created within the Holy Roman Empire.
The Principality of Liechtenstein (Listeni/ˈlɪktənstn/ lik-tən-styn; German: Fürstentum Liechtenstein, German pronunciation: [ˈfʏʁstn̩tuːm ˈlɪçtn̩ʃtaɪn]) is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over 160 square kilometres (62 sq mi), and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan. Liechtenstein has the second highest gross domestic product per person in the world when adjusted by purchasing power parity, and has the world's lowest external debt. Liechtenstein also has the second lowest unemployment rate in the world at 1.5% (Monaco is first).
Liechtenstein is the smallest yet the richest (by measure of GDP per capita) German-speaking country in the world and the only country to lie entirely within the Alps. It is known as a principality as it is a constitutional monarchy headed by a prince. Liechtenstein is divided into 11 municipalities. Much of its terrain is mountainous, making it a winter sports destination. Many cultivated fields and small farms characterize its landscape both in the south (Oberland, upper land) and in the north (Unterland, lower land). The country has a strong financial sector located in the capital, Vaduz, and has been identified as a tax haven. It is a member of the European Free Trade Association and part of the European Economic Area, the Schengen Area but not of the European Union.
The nation has a third of the population of my county, and is half the size of our school district (61.96 square miles, or a little less than 40,000 acres).  It is hard to imagine it as a country which has been independent for over 200 years.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thorium Reactors

Kirk Sorensen on thorium molten salt reactors:

A Good Idea From Rick Perry?

Hendrik Hertzberg highlights a Perry suggestion for limiting the tenure of Supreme Court justices:
Yet there was more to Perry’s campaign than blunders. It was also a campaign of “ideas.” Few of them were good, alas. For example, reducing the salaries of members of Congress by half, to eighty-seven thousand dollars a year, is not a good idea. Neither is a tax cut that would net the richest one per cent more than five thousand dollars a week and the unrichest twenty per cent less than two dollars and fifty cents. Nor is there much to be said for reinvading Iraq, reinstituting torture, or unconditionally supporting new and bigger Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Yet at least one idea Perry embraced was, and is, very good indeed. It involves the Supreme Court. The Governor may be a little shaky about the Court’s names and numbers, but he knows what to do about it. Here’s the proposal, straight from his now moribund campaign Web site:
A Constitutional Amendment creating 18-year terms staggered every 2 years, so that each of the nine Justices would be replaced in order of seniority every other year. This would be a prospective proposal, and would be applied to future judges only. Doing this would move the court closer to the people by ensuring that every President would have the opportunity to replace two Justices per term, and that no court could stretch its ideology over multiple generations. Further, this reform would maintain judicial independence, but instill regularity to the nominations process, discourage Justices from choosing a retirement date based on politics, and will stop the ever-increasing tenure of Justices.
This ingenious idea has been kicking around in legal circles for decades.
Give credit where credit is due for a good idea. I didn't expect any from Perry, but I guess I was wrong. I don't think a lifetime appointment for a 50 year-old is the best idea for a part of our government with no real check on it's power and which is not answerable to the voters. I understand the value seen in lifetime appointments, but the current setup creates a strange system where the ideological bent of the court is based mainly on the timing of the judges deaths, and who gets to appoint their replacements. This would clear out the bench in a steady gradual manner and bring in new talent. 18 years is a nice long time, and you only have to fill 9 seats, so there should be plenty of people of ability to serve. That is something that term limits in state legislatures have brought to the forefront, a dearth of talent to fill open seats. I don't think this will go anywhere, but lifetime judicial appointments fits along with the electoral college as ideas from the founders which could probably use tweaked.

NASA Photo of the Day

January 17:

IC 2118: The Witch Head Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Gimmi Ratto & Davide Bardini (Collecting Photons)
Explanation: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble -- maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. This suggestively shaped reflection nebula is associated with the bright star Rigel in the constellation Orion. More formally known as IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula glows primarily by light reflected from bright star Rigel, located just below the lower edge of the above image. Fine dust in the nebula reflects the light. The blue color is caused not only by Rigel's blue color but because the dust grains reflect blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in Earth's atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. The nebula lies about 1000 light-years away.

RIP Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State coach who won more games than anyone in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity, died Sunday. He was 85.
His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death: "His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled."
"He died as he lived," the statement said. "He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."
I figured he wouldn't live very long after losing his coaching job, but I didn't think it would be that quick.  Cancer may be at fault, but the loss of football and the shame of the Sandusky scandal have to have played a part.  It is sad that his legacy will forever be marred.  50 years of good work overshadowed by one tremendous failure.

Making Steel

Here's a pretty cool U.S. Steel promotional video:

Not A Bad Sports Weekend In South Bend

The Irish mens basketball team upset #1 Syracuse, while the hockey team split with Michigan.  What was the stat, Notre Dame is 7-3 all-time at home against the #1 team?  Crazy.  As for the non-sports weekend in South Bend?  Probably not good, since it is winter.


Larison vents:
As a politician with connections in Georgia, Gingrich may have had some advantages in South Carolina that the other candidates didn’t have, but that isn’t much of an explanation. I suppose there was bound to be some backlash against Romney somewhere, but it’s a shame that it came in the form of elevating the government-expanding, warmongering lobbyist disgrace once again. What’s the message here? “We don’t like the rich moderate, so we’re voting for the disgraced hypocritical lobbyist instead”?
Romney can be a dishonest demagogue, but Gingrich is the one who thinks (or pretends to think) the “Kenyan anti-colonialist” theory about Obama makes sense. Many Republicans are unenthusiastic about Romney, but far more people nationwide can’t stand Gingrich. Romney has a record of trying to have things both ways on many issues, but as far as I know he has never been on both sides of a major issue within the same month. Gingrich has that unfortunate distinction. Gingrich isn’t going to be the nominee. The Republican primary electorate can’t be that stupid.
I'm not sure.  I think Gingrich's win will force the party bosses to renew their attacks on him, but I don't know how that will play with the base.  They seem to thrive on rebelling against anybody they perceive as their betters.  I still believe support for Gingrich will collapse again, and Romney will squeak out the victory.  I think Gingrich is unelectable nationwide.

But what is troubling to me is the renewal of the "Real America" bullshit which Sarah Palin was peddling at the end of the 2008 election.  I find it to be so brutally and baldly racist and anti-intellectual.  I don't comprehend how Newt Gingrich can simulateously run as the brilliant, intellectual professor and also as the demogogue.  Of course, I also don't understand how the Republicans can simultaneously claim the Democratic Party promotes a victimization narrative, and also claim to be victims of media bias and bigotry against Christians.  The rage and self-pity of the Republican base is puzzling and scary.  I sure hope the Gingrich campaign isn't a foretaste of the Republican general election campaign.

Wind Generator Stalks

Discovery, via nc links:
Noise from wind turbine blades, inadvertent bat and bird kills and even the way wind turbines look have made installing them anything but a breeze. New York design firm Atelier DNA has an alternative concept that ditches blades in favor of stalks. Resembling thin cattails, the Windstalks generate electricity when the wind sets them waving. The designers came up with the idea for the planned city Masdar, a 2.3-square-mile, automobile-free area being built outside of Abu Dhabi. Atelier DNA’s "Windstalk"project came in second in the Land Art Generator competition a contest sponsored by Madsar to identify the best work of art that generates renewable energy from a pool of international submissions.
The proposed design calls for 1,203 "“stalks," each 180-feet high with concrete bases that are between about 33- and 66-feet wide. The carbon-fiber stalks, reinforced with resin, are about a foot wide at the base tapering to about 2 inches at the top. Each stalk will contain alternating layers of electrodes and ceramic discs made from piezoelectric material, which generates a current when put under pressure. In the case of the stalks, the discs will compress as they sway in the wind, creating a charge.

“The idea came from trying to find kinetic models in nature that could be tapped to produce energy,” explained Atelier DNA founding partner Darío Núñez-Ameni.

In the proposal for Masdar, the Windstalk wind farm spans 280,000 square feet. Based on rough estimates, said Núñez-Ameni the output would be comparable to that of a conventional wind farm covering the same area.
It's an interesting concept.  Again, it seems like a good idea to look to nature for ideas.

Chart of the Day

From the CBPP:

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is in the news these days because of comments made by some Republican presidential candidates. Below are five things you probably don’t know about the program.
  1. A large and growing share of SNAP households are working households (see chart). In 2010, more than three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on welfare benefits for their income.

    The share of SNAP households with earnings has continued growing in the past few years — albeit at a slower pace — despite the large increase in unemployment.
    One reason why SNAP is serving more working families is that, for a growing share of the nation’s workers, having a job has not been enough to keep them out of poverty.
With Newt Gingrich surging on an anti-food stamp rant, this is noteworthy.