Saturday, February 4, 2012

Yosemite HD

Yosemite HD from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

A Swarm Of Drones

From Wired:

The Costs of Inequality

Andrew Hacker has an interesting article in the New York Review of Books (h/t nc links).  I found this bit resonating with me:
The authors don’t go so far as to say that people with above-average incomes would end up better off were they to take home less money, and if greater numbers of their poor compatriots had more. But they do contend that “the benefits of greater equality seem to be shared across the vast majority of the population.” Thus one of their tables shows that those in the middle class in more egalitarian England have lower rates of cancer and diabetes than their counterparts in the United States. American children don’t perform as well academically as their peers in Finland and Belgium, where incomes are not as widely spread.
The broader argument was made by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who reputedly told one of his clerks that taxation is how we “buy civilization.” Lower Gini scores generally tell us that the business and professional classes of such countries as Norway and Denmark consent to higher tax rates because publicly provided higher education and health care and cultural amenities make for a more congenial society, in which everyone shares.
Wilkinson and Pickett teach at Britain’s University of York, and they aim for an international audience. Yet they seem to have America mainly in mind when they remark that “instead of a better society, the only thing almost everyone strives for is to better their own position.” Here too we’re into hyperbole. The United States has a large stratum of professionals who choose public service careers; indeed much, even most, of the middle class doesn’t set its sights on more than routine personal advancement. Still, it’s appropriate to ask how many of the rich care about creating a “better society.” Wealth brings higher-quality health care, private schooling, and personal pension plans, along with shielding from lines, crowds, and captious service.
While I'm sure many people find the Holmes line of thought to be patronizing, to me it seems like common sense.  In a megasociety, where small expenditures by a sizable percentage of the population will make somebody fabulously wealthy, taxation is what levels the playing field.  I also thought this chart is interesting:

Since my sister's first job was at Latham & Watkins, I know how much the people there work.  While I think that even taking this into consideration they are ridiculously overpaid, the main difference between them and myself is that I don't even know what I would do with that kind of money.  I just don't see the tradeoff between the workload and personal time as worth the money, because the money isn't going to be used in my case.  I'd rather work my 40 hours (or preferably less), farm and enjoy myself with the rest of the time.  I can understand why the folks in the above chart would be opposed to more tax burden falling on them to help out slackers like me, but if they desire to live in a decent society, it is probably necessary.  If they think they can fence themselves off from the unwashed masses, and continue to bank their massive paychecks, I think they will find out they are wrong.  Either that, or they'll lose their souls in the process.

Anyway, read the whole article.  The Gilligan part is very thought provoking.

Vision In The Fog Of War

Rod Dreher relates a story about the Chartres Cathedral during WWII:
I’m planning to study the Chartres cathedral before going there in April, so I will have some real insight into what I’ll be seeing this time. Tonight I was googling around a bit, and came across an amazing piece of information, via Jay Nordlinger:
My wife’s maternal grandfather was a colonel in the U.S. Army in WWII. They were closing in on Chartres from the southwest, and they came under heavy artillery fire from the Germans in the town. An order was issued to shell the cathedral on the assumption that the Germans were using the tower to locate the Allied forces. My wife’s grandfather questioned the strategy of taking out the cathedral on a hunch and volunteered to go behind enemy lines to find out whether the Germans really were occupying the cathedral. His offer was accepted, and he found himself climbing the cathedral tower alone, not knowing whether an enemy unit was a step or turn away. After finding the tower unoccupied, he rejoined his forces, reporting that the cathedral was clear. The order to shell the cathedral was withdrawn, and the Allies took the town. During the gunfight, my wife’s grandfather was killed. He is buried in St. James Cemetery in Brittany.
The American who saved the Chartres cathedral by risking his own life was Col. Welborn Griffith of Quanah, Texas, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (for extreme gallantry and risk of life in armed combat) for what he did in Chartres.
Pretty fascinating stuff.  That took a hell of a lot of balls.

Why Reaganomics Isn't Appropriate Today

Bruce Bartlett explains the theory behind the Reagan tax cuts, via Mark Thoma:
Judging from the candidates’ tax proposals, they seem to believe that the most Reagan-like candidate is the one with the biggest tax cut. But as the person who drafted the 1981 Reagan tax cut, I think Republicans misunderstand the premises upon which Reagan’s economic policies were based and why those policies can’t — and shouldn’t — be replicated today.
I was the staff economist for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) in 1977, and it was my job to draft what came to be the Kemp-Roth tax bill, which Reagan endorsed in 1980 and enacted the following year. Kemp and Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.) proposed cutting tax rates across the board by about a third, lowering the top rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and reducing the bottom rate from 20 percent to 8 percent. (Though when the Reagan tax cut was enacted in 1981, the bottom rate was reduced to 11 percent.)
While our aim was to increase growth and employment, we were intent on doing so in a way that did not exacerbate inflation, which was the nation’s top problem.
The rest of the article is informative.  Don't expect Republican politicians or voters to take heed.  Facts don't count when somebody has a comfortable belief in something that makes them feel good.

Chart of the Day

From Yglesias:

 Going back to the post about working on the Miami and Erie Canal, here is the opening of Yglesias' post:
One reason I found it a little difficult to get up in arms about recent news reporting on working conditions in Foxconn factories in China is that I've seen working conditions on Chinese farms and it counts as the second-saddest thing I've ever seen. It's relentless, back-breaking labor with no machines for no money. The reason people line up for terrible sweatshop manufacturing jobs is that the idiocy of rural life as practiced in pre-industrial societies is even more horrible.

He does have a point.   So I guess that puts China right about at the 1890s in terms of U.S. history.  I have my doubts about China's 21st century being like the U.S.'s 20th century, but one never knows.

Steel Wheels As A Religious Belief

Des Moines Register:
A Mitchell County ordinance banning steel cleats on highway-traveling tractors is constitutionally invalid because it unnecessarily prohibits members of a Mennonite group from properly practicing their faith, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled this morning.

Justices struck down the 2009 ordinance in a 29-page decision involving Matthew Zimmerman, who was given a $50 ticket for driving a steel-cleated Massey Ferguson tractor in February 2010.

Mitchell County first imposed the ordinance in September 2009 after county officials noticed significant damage to roads paved with a new process as part of a $9 million resurfacing project.

Zimmerman, a member of the Old Order Groffdale Conference Mennonite Church, argued on appeal that the ordinance impinged on the free exercise of his religion. A fellow church member testified in court that members could be barred from the church if they failed to follow rules requiring use of the steel cleats – a requirement intended to ban the use of tractors for pleasure purposes.
Wow, going cruising on your steel wheeled tractor? That sounds like an activity I would have to be drinking beforehand to participate in. Amish and Mennonite rules make Catholic rules seem reasonably based.

Ohio Legislature Authorizes Canals

February 4, 1825:
The Ohio Legislature authorizes the construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal
What a project.  Here's a bit of history about the construction of Grand Lake St. Mary's, which served as a reservoir for the Miami and Erie Canal:
Grand Lake St. Marys came into being as a reservoir to supply water for the Miami & Erie Canal. It was begun in 1837, long before the days of mechanized equipment. The lake was constructed by men wielding shovels and axes - they cut down trees in the great swamp, which was to be a natural storage place for the water needed to supply the canal and operate its locks. Seventeen hundred men, mostly Irish and German immigrants, were employed in building the east and west banks of the reservoir. They worked from sunrise to sunset. Their wages amounted to 30 cents a day plus one jigger of whiskey (much relied on to combat malaria).
The lake was completed in 1845 at a cost of $600,000 and, for many years, the 17,500-acre reservoir was the largest artificial body of water in the world. The lake has 52 miles of shoreline and is approximately nine miles long and three miles wide. It is still the largest artificial body of water in the world built without the use of machinery.
Wow, thirty cents and a jigger of whiskey a day.  If you've ever wondered why that lake is so shallow and why there are so many stumps, think how deep you'd dig it and how many stumps you would remove if you were using axes, shovels and horses to do the work.

That wasn't very deep water drilling right there.

Friday, February 3, 2012

La Nina Strikes Again

Raw Story, via nc links:
Major flooding hit parts of Australia’s east on Friday, stranding thousands of residents, prompting a military airlift and leaving some communities only accessible by helicopter. The deluge, which has sparked dozens of rescues and left about 7,275 people isolated in various parts of New South Wales state has also impacted Queensland to the north where homes have reportedly been inundated.
“From the air it looks like an inland sea,” New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell said after visiting the region.
That sucks.  Last year Queensland got crushed by La Nina driven flooding.  I guess this doesn't lessen my fears of another extremely wet spring.

A Local Disappointment

Dayton Daily News:
Penn National Gaming Inc.’s plan to request relocation of a thoroughbred horse racing track to Dayton has switched to a harness racing facility.
Raceway Park, a harness-racing facility in Toledo, would be relocated to Dayton, while Columbus’s Beulah Park, a thoroughbred track, would be moved to a suburb of Youngstown, Peter M. Carlino, Penn’s chairman and chief executive officer, announced Thursday in a financial statement.
“The state of Ohio has approved the placement of VLTS (video lottery terminals) at the state’s seven racetracks, and while we await the final regulatory framework, we are actively pursuing the relocation of our existing racetracks in Toledo and Grove City to Dayton and Youngstown, respectively, subject to the satisfaction of regulatory and other approvals,” Carlino said.
Penn wants to relocate the racetracks to avoid competing with its two new casinos under construction in Columbus and Toledo.
That is a disappointment to me.  Harness racing is ok, but thoroughbred racing is extremely cool.  That would leave two harness tracks within 50 miles of one another (and maybe even 30 miles).

Learning From Nature - Spider Web Edition

MIT News, via Mark Thoma:
The silk that spiders use to build their webs, trap their prey and dangle from your ceiling is one of the strongest materials known. But it turns out it’s not simply the material’s exceptional strength that makes spider webs so resilient; it’s the material’s unusual combination of strength and stretchiness — silk’s characteristic way of first softening and then stiffening when pulled. These properties, scientists have found, vary depending on the forces applied, as well as on the overall design of the web.

Markus Buehler, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT, has previously analyzed the complex, hierarchical structure of spider silk and its amazing strength — on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s stronger than steel. Now, Buehler and his colleagues have applied their analysis to the structure of the webs themselves, finding evidence of the key properties that make webs so resilient and relating those properties back to the molecular structure of silk fibers.

The lessons learned from this work, Buehler says, could not only help develop more damage-resistant synthetic materials, but could also provide design principles that might apply to networked systems such as the Internet or the electric grid.
Pound-for-pound stronger than steel.  Nature is always a good  place to look for design dos and don'ts.

From the Department of Corny Marketing

OK, that is a terrible pun, but I got this in the mail today:

That is actually a cardboard box with a 4" long piece of styrofoam decorated to look like an ear of corn.  I don't get that at all.  This might be nice if somebody is marketing to women, but farmers?  Just give us something free or provide us with some food.  I'm not sure whether a woman or a gay guy (not that there's anything wrong with that) spearheaded this campaign, but I would bet heavily that it wasn't a straight guy.

Setting A Good Example

Maria Konnikova looks at To Kill A Mockingbird, and some famous studies of people being immoral, cruel or indifferent to the suffering of others, and comes away with a little bit of positivity:
In Milgram’s experiments of obedience, there were the few who refused to follow orders. Flat-out refused. They would not shock. They would not punish. They would not participate. They looked Milgram in the face, and said, not for me (and things that were not quite as nice as well). In Zimbardo’s prison study, not every guard became a sadistic torturer. In fact, there were three different types of guards: those who followed the rules, those who broke the rules to give the prisoners small breaks and favors and never punished them—and then, the brutal, hostile ones that tend to get all of the press.
In Kitty Genovese’s case, true, no one called the police. But one thing that is not often mentioned when discussing the bystander effect is that a single dissenting individual can be all it takes to tip a group to an entirely different reaction. One strong person is enough to break group conformity. It can happen on the smallest of levels, as with Solomon Asch’s famous study of social conformity, where a participant would go against his own eyes to conform with a group’s judgment of the length of a line—unless there existed a single other individual who would back him up, in which case, the conformity effect evaporated.
And it happens all the time on the most real levels, where people put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of perfect strangers. In fact, if you were to talk to Philip Zimbardo these days, you would hear that he is studying just that: the hero effect. Far from toppling his faith in humanity, the Stanford prison study made him understand that people are capable of being tipped toward good just as they are of heading in the opposite direction—and that the right training (here, I think of Atticus’s many words of advice to Scout) can play an important part in tipping that balance.
A good example goes a long way.  Sure, we can be terrible people, but oftentimes, people are amazingly good.  If somebody does the right thing or the wrong thing, others will follow.  That's an important idea to keep in mind.

Ohio Is Pennsylvania Dumping Ground

Businessweek, via nc links:
Of the almost 22 million gallons of wastewater that Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale operators sent to disposal wells in the first six months of 2011, nearly 99 percent went to Ohio, according to production reports from the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Department.
Pennsylvania has six active Class II wells compared with 177 in Ohio in part because the geological formations in the state’s east aren’t permeable, and because until recent years, the state allowed drillers to discharge brine into streams or take it to treatment plants, Steve Platt, an EPA hydrologist in Philadelphia, said in a telephone interview.
Fluid recycled or sent to disposal wells increased after the state started limiting wastewater sent to treatment plants in 2010, Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania department, said in a telephone interview from Harrisburg.
Woo hoo.  You know things are bad when Kasich is talking about tightening regs on fracking.

More Entertaining Super Bowl Wagers

From Cousin Sal:
What shade of red will Tom Coughlin's Rosacea-cursed face be at the end of the game?
Scarlet and crimson are sucker bets. I'm going with vermillion at 11/1.
65/1 odds Kelly Clarkson gets a last minute Chili's endorsement deal and during the national anthem replaces the phrase "home of the brave" with "home of the awesome blossom"?
I know. That was a long way to go for a blooming onion joke. Bear with me — this is almost over.
Who will NBC show first in the owner's box: The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (Rooney Mara, daughter of Giants VP Chris Mara) or an actual girl with an actual dragon tattoo — Rob Gronkowski's porn star girlfriend?
If the peacock network has any kind of sense of humor they'll shoot for the latter.
Even odds that for the ninth year in a row Danica Patrick will get cut-off unzipping a leather jumpsuit in a ad.
I joke but the truth is to this day she's still one of the sexiest female dwarf drivers NASCAR has to offer.
I'm not sure why I love the vermillion line.  It probably has something to do with my 64 count box of Crayolas.  Sal has other good ones there.

Speaking of Bubbles

Our Chart of the Day (via Ritholtz):

I think anybody who buys the Facebook IPO, besides the rich insiders who get a sweet deal, are going to get ripped off.  But, I've been wrong before.  I just figure the growth is over for Facebook.  The question will be whether they can turn all that information into money once people quit using it.

The Tulip Bubble Pops

February 3, 1637:
Tulip mania collapses in the United Provinces (now the Netherlands) as sellers could no longer find buyers for their bulb contracts. Tulip mania or tulipomania (Dutch names include: tulpenmanie, tulpomanie, tulpenwoede, tulpengekte and bollengekte) was a period in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed. At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It is generally considered the first recorded speculative bubble (or economic bubble), although some researchers have noted that the Kipper- und Wipperzeit episode in 1619–22, a Europe-wide chain of debasement of the metal content of coins to fund warfare, featured mania-like similarities to a bubble. The term "tulip mania" is now often used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble (when asset prices deviate from intrinsic values).
The event was popularized in 1841 by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by British journalist Charles Mackay. According to Mackay, at one point 12 acres (5 ha) of land were offered for a Semper Augustus bulb. Mackay claims that many such investors were ruined by the fall in prices, and Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock. Although Mackay's book is a classic that is widely reprinted today, his account is contested. Many modern scholars believe that the mania was not as extraordinary as Mackay described, with some arguing that the price changes may not have constituted a bubble.
Research on the tulip mania is difficult because of the limited data from the 1630s—much of which comes from biased and anti-speculative sources.  Although these explanations are not generally accepted, some modern economists have proposed rational explanations, rather than a speculative mania, for the rise and fall in prices. For example, other flowers, such as the hyacinth, also had high prices on the flower's introduction, which then fell dramatically. The high prices may also have been driven by expectations of a parliamentary decree that contracts could be voided for a small cost—thus lowering the risk to buyers.
It's hard to believe, but this is something even dumber than our tech bubble and the housing bubble.  Today was pretty notable in history.  It was the date of the ratification of the 16th amendment, legalizing the federal income tax.  It was also The Day the Music Died.  Obligatory Don McLean song here:

Finally, it is the feast of St. Blaise (who was beaten with iron wool combing cards and beheaded). That's the feast where Catholics get their throats blessed, especially to avoid choking on fish bones. Yeah, I know, that sounds crazy. I remember going up and having the priest push the crossed candles against my throat and recite a prayer. Even weirder, one of my college roommates was in Europe last year, and when he received the blessing, the candles were lit. I've never seen that before.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don't Mess With Our Cheese

All Things Considered:
In fact, we eat about 31 pounds of it per person each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimates. That's nearly triple the amount Americans were eating in 1970.
But is cheese the true culprit behind flabby thighs and paunchy bellies?
One group thinks so, and hung unsavory images with that very message as billboards in Albany, N.Y. "Cheese and other dairy products are the leading source of saturated fat that our kids are swallowing," says Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "And I think most Americans are totally oblivious to it."
When you consider all the artery-clogging saturated fat linked to heart disease, the cholesterol ("as high as any steak you'll find"), how often should we be eating cheese? "I'd say never," Barnard tells us.
What a bunch of lame asses.  Cheese washed down with beer sounds really good right now.  Screw you, doc.

The King Gold Bug Speaks

Jim Grant, who Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul always bring up, on returning to the gold standard (via Ritholtz):
Grant calls the gold standard “the least imperfect monetary system.” He notes that our present regime of purely paper currency is new: It only dates back to Richard Nixon.
I asked him, whimsically, what he’d do if he actually were to be named chairman of the Fed. He said he’d begin by communicating to the public why the present system was so wrong, and needed to be changed. He’d make the case for the gold standard.
“I would then lay out a timeline for the conversion to a constitutional dollar, a dollar as envisaged by the Founding Fathers. “ A dollar, he says, is supposed to be a fixed measure, “like a foot, or a pound,” not something that can be redefined every few weeks by the Fed.
In his ideal world, says Grant, he would lay out a three-year program to convert back to the gold standard, probably at around $2,500 per ounce of gold. He adds that he would take great care to avoid the notorious blunder made by Winston Churchill and the British back in 1925, when they went back on the gold standard at too high a price, and imposed brutal deflation on the economy. Alas, he admits, this would need an act of Congress.
He added that he would also wind down the Fed’s bloated balance sheet, selling assets for gold, and he would shut down the Fed’s open market activities completely, relying instead on the discount window alone. The Fed, he said, shouldn’t be going out into the market to provide liquidity. It should simply be there to provide temporary liquidity to solvent banks when they ask, and on the basis of good collateral.
For good measure, he’d also push for a repeal of a 1935 New Deal law that protected bank investors from runs on their financial institutions. Before the law, he notes, if a bank got into trouble, the investors were on the hook to bail it out: After all, it was their bank. The same was true of the partners in a Wall Street brokerage. The system of taxpayer bailouts, like that of paper money, is a modern innovation.
Wow.  Talk about a disaster.  How does one get rid of all the excess paper money in the world with gold fixed around $2500 an ounce?  Wouldn't it be smart then to demand gold for all your dollars?  What a deflationary mess.  Oh well, this would be the plan of today's Republican party.

More Groundhog Day Information

A Puzzling Forecast

Well, Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, while Buckeye Chuck forecast that spring is here.  The Dayton groundhog broke the tie predicting more winter.  But, it's about 50 degrees and sunny outside.  Oh well, I'll take today's weather and not worry about the future. 

By the way, I can't believe that guy in back is wearing a top hat cam.

Trying To Handle A PR Nightmare

CME Group today announced that it will establish a $100 million fund designed to provide further protection of customer segregated funds for U.S. family farmers and ranchers who hedge their business in CME Group futures markets.  In light of the recent MF Global failure, in which a clearing firm violated CFTC regulations and misused customer monies that should have been kept segregated, CME Group is adding this extra security measure to protect the country's food producers who are using CME Group futures markets to hedge their crops and livestock that feed the world. 
Under the Family Farmer and Rancher Protection Fund, expected to be in effect by March 1, 2012, farmers and ranchers using CME Group products will be eligible for up to $25,000 per account in the case of losses resulting from the future insolvency of a clearing member or other market participant.  Farming and ranching cooperatives also will be eligible for up to $100,000 per cooperative. If losses in a future failure total more than $100 million, participants will be eligible for a pro-rata share of the fund, up to $100 million.  This new fund is expected to be backed by an insurance policy and will not be available retroactively. 
"Many have been hurt by MF Global's bankruptcy," said CME Group Executive Chairman Terry Duffy.  "Though all the facts are not yet in, we do know our industry needs to focus on enhancing protections for customer segregated monies held at the firm level. 
Wow.  Somebody finally realized they have to do a better job of public relations.  What about stealing from client accounts didn't these guys understand until now?  Idiots.

The Founding of the National League

February 2, 1876:
 The National League of Professional Baseball Clubs of Major League Baseball is formed. By 1875, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was dangerously weak. The N.A. suffered from a lack of strong authority over clubs, unsupervised scheduling, unstable membership, dominance by one team (the Boston Red Stockings), and an extremely low entry fee ($10; $172 in 2007 dollars, adjusted for inflation) that gave clubs no incentive to abide by league rules when it was not convenient.
William Hulbert, a Chicago businessman and an officer of the Chicago White Stockings, approached several N.A. clubs with the plans for a league with stronger central authority and exclusive territories in larger cities only. Additionally, Hulbert had a problem — five of his star players were threatened with expulsion from the NAPBBP because Hulbert had signed them to his club using what were considered questionable means. Hulbert had a great vested interest in creating his own league. After recruiting St. Louis privately, four western clubs met in Louisville, Kentucky, in January 1876. With Hulbert speaking for the four in New York City on February 2, 1876, the National League was established with eight charter members, as follows:
The National League's formation meant the end of the N.A., as its remaining clubs shut down or reverted to amateur or minor status. The only strong club from 1875 excluded in 1876 was a second one in Philadelphia, often called the White Stockings or Phillies.
Only the Cubs and the Braves have had a continuous existence in the league.  I'll elaborate on the Reds getting the boot some other time.

Chart of the Day

From a post on growth and peak oil at Macrobusiness:

It is a little blurry, but pretty cool.

Happy Groundhog Day

I'll go with 6 more weeks of winter, especially since we haven't had much winter.  Plus, last year Phil picked early spring, and was majorly wrong.  The first Groundhog Day celebration in Punxhutawney, Pennsylvania took place in 1887.  Some more Groundhog Day history here.

Also, this obligatory polka clip just has to be included for Cubs Dad:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Most MF Global Money Has Been Located

In November, investigators said they began to worry that money may have vanished into a web of counterparties and creditors who are entitled to MF Global’s money. The concern implies that the money may not be missing, but is gone for good.
But at least some of the customer money MF Global misused was transferred to JP Morgan Chase, MF Global’s main bank. Investigators also suspect that MF Global made improper transfers of customer money to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, a clearinghouse that did business with MF Global. The clearinghouse may have passed on the money to MF Global’s trading partners, who would have rightful claims to money from MF Global. A major part of futures customer money also went to securities customers who were closing accounts in October.
Ultimately the task of recovering money falls to Mr. Giddens, who collected the final claims on Tuesday, the last day customers were permitted to file forms outlining what they are still owed.
He has not said how far his investigation has come. He has deployed a team of 60 lawyers and hired 100 consultants from Deloitte and 60 forensic accountants from Ernst & Young to help sift through some $327 billion in wire transfers in and out of MF Global the month before its collapse.
Surprise, surprise, JP Morgan ended up with customer money, whodaguessedit?  Also, there's this:
While a number of the 38,000 customers have been paid nearly three quarters of their money, others have yet to receive a dime. Paul Jordan, a retired business executive, has not received any of the money from accounts trading on foreign exchanges, an amount that totals about $500,000, he said. His patience is wearing thin.
“The thing that really irritates me is that I’m not a super wealthy individual,” said Mr. Jordan, 65. “I’m thankful that some funds have been paid out, because bankruptcies can last for years, but I would have hoped by this time that it would be pretty clear where the funds are and exactly what happened to them.”
In contrast, when customer cash was missing from Sentinel Management Group, a Chicago brokerage firm that collapsed in 2007, the trustee overseeing that case found the money within a week. Within a month, the trustee, Fred Grede, announced that the money had turned up at the Bank of New York Mellon.
At least we see where retail customers rank.  Damn well last.  Asses better be seated in defendants' chairs soon.

On Market Power and Chickens

Digitopoly, via Mark Thoma:
And today, there was this post on the Authors Guild blog that compared the plight of publishers/authors to that of chicken growers. Here is the analogy drawn:
To a chicken grower, for example, the relevant market isn’t restaurants or household consumers of chicken, it’s the market of chicken processors. Through a variety of machinations, including long-term contracts and the physical placement of processing plants (think baseball, before free agency), chicken growers now routinely have a market of only one processor to sell to.
Substitute ‘chicken grower’ for author and ‘chicken processor’ for Amazon and you have the basic story.
Now, it may surprise some readers to know that I happen to know quite a bit about market power and the chicken processing industry. Back in 2005, I was an expert witness employed by the Victorian Chicken Meat Processors. Now you may think that was putting me on the side of market power but not quite. It was actually to defend against a process that would allow chicken growers to collectively boycott processors if they were unhappy with negotiations. Now as it turned out the growers could actually negotiate collectively over prices (something not usually afforded sellers in industries) but they wanted more teeth. They wanted to be able to go on strike. Now everyone agreed that that would be a very damaging thing but the threat would bring some more negotiating clout; precisely the negotiating clout that a monopoly chicken grower would have. As it turned out, the Australian Competition Tribunal decided that that would be going too far as the chicken processors competed with one another and so even if there was only one in a region, it is not like there was deterred chicken grower investment harming Victorian consumers. To be sure, there was not a lot to like about being a chicken grower but despite having to make big investments to be one they were still choosing to do it. After all, if a processor pushed out the growers in their area, they wouldn’t have any chickens to process. It’s literally a chicken and egg problem.
I don't know that I've heard of producers being able to bargain collectively for prices.  It is hard to picture too many farmers here going together to do this.  They all figure they can beat the market, then outbid the other guys for cash rents.  Not much in the way of cooperating there. 

The Rise Of The Clippers

Morning Edition features LA Clippers superfan "Clipper Darrell":
To be an L.A. basketball fan and choose to root for the Clippers had been an exercise in losing, futility and frustration. They've only made it to the playoffs four times in the 27 years they've been in the city. The year Bailey became a fan, the Clippers won 17 games and lost 65.
"I got fired from a job and a guy told me I'd never amount to anything in life," Bailey remembers. "So I went home, plopped on the couch, turned the TV on. Clipper game comes on. They said the same thing about them — how horrible they was, how ownership was horrible. And I said, 'This is going to be my team; we're going to ride and die together.' "
Bailey's fortunes have improved with the team's. He now has a thriving business customizing cars, and he rents himself out to be fan-in-chief at parties, events and college games. Here at the Lakers game — ever the celebrity haven — he attracts attention wherever he goes.
"Clipper Darrell!" exclaims a fan, recognizing Bailey. "You mind if I take a picture of you?"
Bailey has prime seats for the game — five rows up from famous Lakers fan Jack Nicholson, sitting courtside. Not that Bailey needs to be so close; you can easily hear him yelling from the nosebleed section.
I'm disposed to think such superfans have their priorities screwed up, but I really like his story about how he became a Clippers fan.  That made me smile.

The Sensible Republican's Dilemma

George Packer:
This year is the Republicans’ 1972—or it could be, if they get lucky. Not because they’ll lose the Presidency by the same huge margin as those Democrats—they might well win—but because they’ve reached the same stage of petrified theology, capture by their extremes, and self-isolation from their old majority. After 2008, the Republicans changed their rules to create more competition, with fewer winner-take-all primaries, and now they’re facing the prospect of an ugly dogfight lasting weeks or months more. Mitt Romney, the party establishment’s last, best hope, is even less loved by the activists at the base than Humphrey, Muskie, and Jackson were. Newt Gingrich is the party’s unlikely insurgent—as unlikable as McGovern was decent, but, as the last remaining surrogate for what they really want, the object of a willed passion on the part of true believers, and just as erratic in the chaos of his campaign.

To be a sane Republican today is to hope that Romney can hang on in Florida and beyond. Not simply because he’s the most “electable” candidate—parties make a mistake when they choose based on assumptions about what other people think (remember the Democrats in 2004). A sane Republican has to want Romney as nominee in order to rule out any possibility of having Gingrich as President.

But what if Romney wins the nomination and loses the election?

It is a scary conundrum for somebody who isn't a Kool-Aid drinker.  I don't think the base will be swayed either way.  They truly believe the crap that is being sold to them on Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.  The only hope for the reasonable person is for the crazy folks to go off on their own, but then the moderate Republicans have to count on luring moderate Democrats into their camp to have any chance at winning election.  The recent gerrymandering is going to leave the crazies in charge in Ohio and other states.  The only hope is for the Republican party to destroy itself and for the moderates to fill in the gaping void.  I wouldn't hold my breath.  Instead, I expect a lot of gridlock as the crazies slowly lose support, and try to drag the rest of the country into their make-believe world.

To My Old Master

Thanks to my sister for sending me to Letters of Note for an awesome letter from a freed slave to his former owner who had written the man saying he should come back to the owner's farm and work for him.  The whole thing is tremendous, and just has to be read, but I'd have loved to have been standing watching the guy when he read this part:
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
Closing with this line is also awesome:
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
This is so great, I will just assume it isn't true.  That way if it was a hoax, I wouldn't feel too bad.  It sounds like it was put together by the mid nineteenth-century predecessor of The Onion.  But, I'll give the freed slave his due.  It must have been damn hard writing that with your tongue pushing clear through your cheek.

The Founding of the RCMP

February 1, 1920:
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police begins operations. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) (French: Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC), literally ‘Royal Gendarmerie of Canada'; colloquially known as The Mounties, and internally as ‘The Force') is the national police force of Canada, and one of the most recognized of its kind in the world. It is unique in the world as a national, federal, provincial and municipal policing body. The RCMP provides policing services to all of Canada at a federal level, and also on a contract basis to the three territories, eight of Canada's provinces (the RCMP does not provide provincial or municipal policing in either Ontario or Quebec), more than 190 municipalities, 184 aboriginal communities, and three international airports. The RCMP was formed in 1920 by the merger of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP, founded 1873) with the Dominion Police (founded 1868). The former was originally named the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), and was given the Royal prefix by King Edward VII in 1904. Much of the present-day organization's symbolism has been inherited from its days as the NWMP, including the distinctive Red Serge uniform, paramilitary heritage, and mythos as a frontier force. The RCMP/GRC wording is specifically protected under the Trade-marks Act.
As the national police force of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is primarily responsible for enforcing federal laws throughout Canada, while general law and order including the enforcement of the Criminal Code and applicable provincial legislation is constitutionally the responsibility of the provinces and territories. This responsibility is sometimes further delegated to municipalities which can form their own municipal police departments. This is common in the largest cities.
The two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, maintain their own provincial forces; the Ontario Provincial Police and Sûreté du Québec. The other eight provinces, however, have chosen to contract most or all of their provincial policing responsibilities to the RCMP. Under these contracts the RCMP provides front-line policing in those provinces under the direction of the provincial governments in regard to provincial and municipal law enforcement. When Newfoundland joined the confederation in 1949, the RCMP entered the province and absorbed the then Newfoundland Ranger Force and took over responsibilities in that area. Today the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has reclaimed some of that province to their jurisdiction. In the three territories, the RCMP serves as the sole territorial police force. Additionally, many municipalities throughout Canada contract the RCMP to serve as their police force. The RCMP consequently provides policing services at the federal, provincial and municipal level.
This caught me off guard at first.  I thought, gee weren't the Mounties frontier police, like U.S. Marshals.  Then I went to the full story, and found out the Royal Northwest Mounted Police were their forebears.  It's pretty easy for me to learn something new each day, when I start out knowing squat.

Also, I didn't realize there were girls' sexy Mountie Halloween costumes

A Surprisingly Hot Commodity

Van Nostran's spring lamb is very much in demand these days as an alternative to beef, chicken and pork, even though the cost is generally higher. Many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, especially Muslims, favor lamb or goat over beef.
But even though the popularity of lamb is up, American sheep farmers like Van Nostran are worried. They say they need more farmers to raise sheep. And they want existing sheep farmers to increase the size of their flocks to meet growing demand.
  That's surprising, because lamb farmers are making good money, with prices at an all-time high. Van Nostran says chops can go for about $15 a pound. Compare that to some chicken cuts in the $2 range and beef at about $5 a pound.
Crazy.  Sheep are so dumb, they make cattle look smart.  I'd have never guessed that lamb would be in demand.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Was The Little Ice Age Caused By Volcanic Activity?

Christian Science Monitor, via nc links:
Sequences of explosive volcanic eruptions in the tropics were the likely trigger for the Little Ice Age, according to a new study.
The research attempts to answer two longstanding questions swirling around the roughly 400-year span of slightly cooler-than normal temperatures: Exactly when did it begin? And what was its initial trigger?
Previous estimates for the onset of the Little Ice Age range from as early as the late 1200s to as late as the 1500s, the research team notes. Globally, temperatures averaged a modest 0.6 degrees Celsius, or about 1 degree Fahrenheit cooler than usual.
But regionally, cooling could be profound. Glaciers in the Alps grew, bulldozing mountain villages. In Europe, the growing season became shorter, with spring and summers often cold and wet, triggering famines. In China, provinces that for centuries had produced bountiful citrus harvests no longer could provide them. With an additional climate-cooling blast from Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, North America and Europe experienced the year without summer in 1816.
Interesting.  I guess the question is whether large amounts of volcanic activity could offset some of the human impact?  Maybe the volcanos can save us.  We definitely won't do it ourselves.

Photo of the Day

From the Dish:

MF Global Money Gone?

Not so fast.  From Jesse, via Ritholtz:
Much of the financial press picked up this story from the Wall Street Journal, Money From MF Global Feared Gone. Much of the mainstream media in the US and the UK these days is just a conduit for sound bites from the monied interests.

"Nearly three months after MF Global Holdings Ltd. collapsed, officials hunting for an estimated $1.2 billion in missing customer money increasingly believe that much of it might never be recovered, according to people familiar with the investigation.

As the sprawling probe that includes regulators, criminal and congressional investigators, and court-appointed trustees grinds on, the findings so far suggest that a "significant amount" of the money could have "vaporized" as a result of chaotic trading at MF Global during the week before the company's Oct. 31 bankruptcy filing, said a person close to the investigation."

And as we have heard, quite a bit of that money was also diverted in the last few days into the pockets of MF Global's bank, JP Morgan, which still reportedly holds much of it. Now whether they are legally entitled to keep that money is another matter. But this entire charade has been cloaked with a public relations campaign using terms like 'missing,' 'vaporized,' and 'mystery' to describe the customer assets as if no one really knows where the funds had gone, which the CFTC has explicity stated months ago is not the case. And that the handling of the bankruptcy and the method of ordering customers with creditors is in violation of the CFTC's rule 190, as is evident from the precedents and intentions which established it.

What the press apparently has not yet heard or is not reporting is that vulture funds are now contacting the MF Global customers, however they may have obtained their names, and are offering them 85 cents on the dollar for their claims.   Most of the claim holders are reported to expect or to have been payed 72 cents on the dollar as things now stand.   The Wall Street Journal certainly casts gloom on their prospects for a full recovery and hopes of justice, based on the report from an unnamed source.
So wait a minute, these guys think they can do a good job paying 85 cents on the dollar for claims on customer money at MF Global?  So these guys think they can get the money back?  What a crock of shit.  There is something very strange going on here.  It is well past time for charges to be brought on Jon Corzine.  If the vultures think they can find the money, it's time to bring pressure to bear on the big cheeses to make that money surface.

Small But Strong

Joshua Lars Weill points out four tough mid-majors, including two of my favorites, Creighton and St. Mary's:
The emergence of Doug McDermott as a force to be reckoned with has, unsurprisingly, also been a boon to the Bluejays, who sit at 20-2 and 10-1 in the very viable Missouri Valley. But it’s not just McDermott’s play that has Creighton ranked in the nation’s top 15. Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique, a burly 6’9” forward from Venezuela, has anchored the low post for Creighton, hauling in almost eight boards a contest. With two players of that caliber on his team, coach McDermott's decision is looking smarter all the time.
The St. Mary’s Gaels
Each year, a few Australian high-school basketball stars come to the United States, and ach year, it seems at least a few of them decide to matriculate at tiny St. Mary’s College of California. Maybe it’s the sunny locale or just the chance to assimilate alongside fellow countrymen, but whatever the reason, the Gaels’ Down Under connection has been hugely helpful on the basketball court.
weak on power conference teams—the Gaels...
This season, St. Mary’s is 21-2 with a win over West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga, and they're currently ranked 16th in the country. Certainly, their schedule's been weak weak on power conference teams—the Gaels lost to Baylor in their only real test—but on balance St. Mary’s looks like a solid team.
Both teams should make the tournament, even if they get upset in their conference tournaments.  I caught the end of the Gaels' game against BYU.  It was a battle, but they managed to hold on.  Personally, I thought they were getting homered.

All Thoroughbreds Have One Ancester

From ABC News, via nc links:
All the great names in thoroughbred horse racing - from Secretariat to Man O'War, from Seabiscuit to Seattle Slew - they're all related, and a team of geneticists has now traced their talent for speed back to a single ancestor. The "speed gene" that made them all so fast was apparently a genetic aberration, and it probably started with one British mare who lived in the mid-17th century.
Emmeline Hill of University College Dublin led a team that analyzed DNA in 593 horses from 22 modern breeds, as well as museum specimens from 12 historically famous stallions. Modern genetics have become sophisticated enough that they could tell, with considerable precision, what the horses had in common.
"The results show that the 'speed gene' entered the thoroughbred from a single founder, which was most likely a British mare about 300 years ago when local British horse types were the pre-eminent racing horses, prior to the formal foundation of the thoroughbred racehorse," said Hill in a prepared statement.

The Creation of Milwaukee

January 31, 1846:
After the Milwaukee Bridge War, Juneautown and Kilbourntown unify as the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Bridge War, sometimes simply the Bridge War, was an 1845 conflict between different regions of what is now Milwaukee, Wisconsin over the construction of a bridge crossing the Milwaukee River.
By the 1840's, there had grown a great rivalry between Juneautown—east-side Milwaukee—and Kilbourntown—west-side Milwaukee—mostly due to the actions of Byron Kilbourn, Kilbourntown's founder, who had been trying to isolate Juneautown to make it more dependent on Kilbourntown.
In 1840, the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, finding the ferry system on the Milwaukee River to be "inadequate", ordered the construction of a bridge. Kilbourn and his supporters viewed the bridge as a threat to their plans. Furthermore, the two towns disputed over the funding for the bridge; ultimately, this led to Kilbourn destroying part of the bridge in 1845. Mobs formed on the east side of the river, but further violence was prevented for two more weeks when two smaller bridges were destroyed by men from Juneautown in an attempt to cut Kilbourntown off from the east side.
Eventually, skirmishes broke out between the inhabitants of the two towns; no one was killed, although several people were injured, some seriously.
It was in the aftermath of the Bridge War that Juneautown and Kilbourntown began making greater attempts at cooperation, ultimately resulting in, on January 31, 1846, their unification as the City of Milwaukee.

Chart of the Day

From Emily Badger at The Atlantic:

I definitely wouldn't want to try to move snow in New York City.  Looks like the Snow Belt knows what to do with the stuff.

Super Bowl Prop Bets

Bill Barnwell highlights a number of gambling options for the Super Bowl.  One interesting tidbit:
Will there be a safety?
Yes: +900
No: -1300
There are about seven or eight safeties each year in the NFL. My unofficial count this year is eight, but for some reason, six of them involved these two teams in one way or another. Is that meaningful when it comes to predicting the likelihood of a safety in the Super Bowl? Absolutely not. You're looking at about a 3 percent chance of a safety happening, which means that the odds for "Yes" should be something like +3233. Betting "No" here, even at -1300, is one of the best prop bets you can make this year. Of course, you will have to risk $100 to win $7.69 in the process.
Six of maybe eight safeties this season involved these two teams?  That is statistically unlikely.  I know of a few folks (possibly with gambling problems) who often make this bet.  Anyway, he has a whole slew of potential bets.  I'm place my bets on whether Punxsutawney Phil or Buckeye Chuck see their shadows on Thursday.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Deleveraging Around The World

Matthew Yglesias features this chart:

That is total public and private debt, but how the hell is Great Britain so high?  That can't bode well for them.  As all the "freemarketeers" laugh about Europe, if this chart is right, hard times are coming to the UK.  I won't feel sorry for them.

Chart of the Day

At the Dish:

Of course, there is a ton of research spending in the defense budget, but it takes a while for it to get to the civilian world.  I've just never understood why conservatives always target the NSF.  Two of my roommates from college got NSF grants for research, and I figure since they were the smartest folks I knew, it was pretty well targeted.

The Faults In Our Stars

This book sounds fascinating, but also heart-breaking:
You wouldn't necessarily think of a cancer support group as a place where teens meet and fall in love — but that's exactly what happens to Hazel and Augustus, the young protagonists in The Fault in Our Stars, the latest from author John Green.
Hazel is 16 — she has thyroid cancer with a "satellite" in the lungs that makes her feel like she's drowning. Augustus, or Gus, is a little older, lithe and handsome. He's lost a quarter of a leg to cancer but tells people, "I'm on a roller coaster that only goes up."
They meet in a support group for young cancer patients that's held in a church basement: two smart, funny, doomed young people in Indianapolis who find support groups a pompous bore, but sure are glad to find each other.
"The characters came to me first," Green tells NPR's Scott Simon. "I worked as a student chaplain at a children's hospital about 12 years ago for five months. During that time I started wanting to write about these kinds of young people — it just took awhile."
Wow.  I know I wouldn't make it through this one without a number of tears.  This really hits any person with a pulse:
  On the idea that there's only one thing worse than being a kid with cancer: having a kid with cancer
"That's something that a kid said to me when I worked at the hospital all those years ago that really stuck with me. It stuck with me partly because it's unusual that children are able to imagine their parents complexly enough to understand how difficult it is, and also because I knew how much neither the parent nor the child wanted that to be true, even though it was true."
That is too sad.

Ford's Cincinnati Assembly Plant

Until Saturday, I'd never heard of this:
By 1915, the growing demand for Model Ts prompted Ford to begin setting up a string of assembly plants throughout the country, including one in a new six-story building at 660 Lincoln Ave. in Walnut Hills.
The 202,000 square-foot building, which later became a Sears, Roebuck warehouse, also still stands alongside Interstate 71. A.J. Kresman, a Cincinnati Realtor working with investors trying to redevelop the vacant structure as a combination office-warehouse site, said the building has concrete floors up to 24 inches thick, which allowed Ford to park assembled cars on the roof.
The Nevins book said Ford was the first Detroit automaker with enough sales to support assembly operations outside of Detroit.
"By shipping parts in a knocked-down state, (Ford) was able to load the components of 26 Model Ts into an ordinary freight car, instead of the three or four complete cars that could otherwise be sent," according to Nevins.
That also allowed Ford to get a lower freight rate from the railroads. According to Ford Motor archives, the Lincoln Avenue plant employed an average of 334 between 1919 and 1940, when it was sold. During that period, it assembled 616,153 cars and generated total sales of $168.6 million, according to the archives.
Ford also operated a parts plant on Fifth Street in Hamilton from about 1921 until 1950, recalls Al Morris, 83, who went to work at the plant in 1940 in one of its tool cribs.
You learn something new every day.  Apparently, this building is currently a part of the Cincinnati Childrens' Hospital campus.

Bloody Sunday

Father Edward Daly, waving a blood-stained white handkerchief as he escorts a mortally-wounded protester to safety during the events of Bloody Sunday (1972) in Derry, Northern Ireland.
January 30, 1972:
Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola)—sometimes called the Bogside Massacre—was an incident on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, in which 26 unarmed civil-rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British Army. Thirteen males, seven of whom were teenagers, died immediately or soon after, while the death of another man four-and-a-half months later was attributed to the injuries he received on that day. Two protesters were also injured when they were run down by army vehicles. Five of those wounded were shot in the back. The incident occurred during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march; the soldiers involved were members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (1 Para).
Two investigations have been held by the British government. The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath of the event, largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame—Widgery described the soldiers' shooting as "bordering on the reckless"—but was criticised as a "whitewash", including by Jonathan Powell. The Saville Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was established in 1998 to reinvestigate the events. Following a 12-year inquiry, Saville's report was made public on 15 June 2010, and contained findings of fault that could re-open the controversy, and potentially lead to criminal investigations for some soldiers involved in the killings. The report found that all of those shot were unarmed, and that the killings were both "unjustified and unjustifiable." On the publication of the Saville report the British prime minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army's (IRA) campaign against the partition of Ireland had begun in the two years prior to Bloody Sunday, but public perceptions of the day boosted the status of, and recruitment into, the organisation enormously. Bloody Sunday remains among the most significant events in the Troubles of Northern Ireland, chiefly because it was carried out by the army and not paramilitaries, in full view of the public and the press.
The Troubles had already been going on for a couple of years, but this British Army clusterfuck caused all hell to break loose.

The Party of Personal Resposibility?

All Things Considered:
During a more than 10-minute back-and-forth on health care largely between Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney ended up delivering a lengthy justification for his state's decision to pass a 2006 law that included requiring nearly every resident to either have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
"If you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care," said Romney. "So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care."
  "Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?" asked Santorum?
"Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care," Romney shot back. "Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea."
You mean free riders might be a problem?  You mean people who will get treated regardless of whether they can pay have some responsibility to help support the system?  Wow, the Republicans are completely screwed this election cycle.  Either they nominate somebody like Gingrich who will get destroyed in the election barring a Depression, or they nominate the guy who gives the most eloquent defense for Obamacare.  Serves the idiots right.  Until the Republican Party can begin to rationally discuss economic and social issues in this country, they deserve to be thrashed in every election.  As long as the base is delusional, they are going to struggle in national elections.

Bad News In Western Iowa

Des Moines Register:
Severe drought now grips parts of western Iowa left awash last summer by historic Missouri River flooding, a potential disaster in the making that could test municipal water supplies, threaten crops and leave kayakers high and dry.
“We are beginning to see very low river levels,” said state geologist Robert Libra. “We have reports of a few private wells going dry, and some public and rural water systems are looking at options in case dry conditions persist.”
Hardest hit by a months-long dry spell that began late last summer and continued into the winter is a 12-county area northwest of Pocahontas, which has received just 2 inches of rain and snow since Dec. 1, about half the normal precipitation.
And those conditions are likely to hold or even worsen through at least April, according to National Weather Service forecasts.
Signs of trouble are already appearing:
Soil moisture is below normal across more than half the state. Agronomists give only 1-in-20 odds that there will be enough rain to support normal crop planting in the spring.
Another headline on the website mentions the 1988 drought.  Anytime 1988 gets mentioned, things are really bad.  We're definitely extremely wet here in western Ohio, but we were wet last spring and things still dried out a lot in July and August.  Grain markets may be in for a wild ride if the drought conditions remain out there for a while.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

January 26:

NGC 4449: Star Stream for a Dwarf Galaxy
Image Credit & Copyright: R Jay Gabany (Blackbird Obs.),
Insert: Subaru/Suprime-Cam (NAOJ), Collaboration: David Martinez-Delgado (MPIA, IAC), et al.
Explanation: A mere 12.5 million light-years from Earth, irregular dwarf galaxy NGC 4449 lies within the confines of Canes Venatici, the constellation of the Hunting Dogs. About the size of our Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud, NGC 4449 is undergoing an intense episode of star formation, evidenced by its wealth of young blue star clusters, pinkish star forming regions, and obscuring dust clouds in this deep color portrait. It also holds the distinction of being the first dwarf galaxy with an identified tidal star stream, faintly seen at the lower right. Placing your cursor over the image reveals an inset of the stream resolved into red giant stars. The star stream represents the remains of a still smaller infalling satellite galaxy, disrupted by gravitational forces and destined to merge with NGC 4449. With relatively few stars, small galaxies are thought to possess extensive dark matter halos. But since dark matter interacts gravitationally, these observations offer a chance to examine the significant role of dark matter in galactic merger events. The interaction is likely responsible for NGC 4449's burst of star formation and offers a tantalizing insight into how even small galaxies are assembled over time.


Have We Hit Peak Oil?

David Biello at Scientific American:
Despite major oil finds off Brazil's coast, new fields in North Dakota and ongoing increases in the conversion of tar sands to oil in Canada, fresh supplies of petroleum are only just enough to offset the production decline from older fields. At best, the world is now living off an oil plateau—roughly 75 million barrels of oil produced each and every day—since at least 2005, according to a new comment published in Nature on January 26. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) That is a year earlier than estimated by the International Energy Agency—an energy cartel for oil consuming nations.
To support our modern lifestyles—from cars to plastics—the world has used more than one trillion barrels of oil to date. Another trillion lie underground, waiting to be tapped. But given the locations of the remaining oil, getting the next trillion is likely to cost a lot more than the previous trillion. The "supply of cheap oil has plateaued," argues chemist David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford and former chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government. "The global economy is severely knocked by oil prices of $100 per barrel or more, creating economic downturn and preventing economic recovery."
 We've at least hit peak production of easily reached oil.  The overall petroleum liquids production continues to rise, but a lot of that is natrual gas liquids production.  I think as the mega field production declines, we'll start to see the overall production decrease somewhat.  The big story is going to be Saudi Arabia.  Do they have the available capacity they claim, or are they bluffing?  I get the gut feeling they are bluffing.  I believe they have invested a ton in fancier secondary recovery technology to boost production to 10 million barrels a day to try to cast doubt on skeptics.  I bet they can't sustain such numbers.