Saturday, February 18, 2012

The American Beer Revival

The graphics are kind of messy, but it is an interesting story:

The American Beer Revival from visually on Vimeo.

Elm Farm Ollie

February 18, 1930:
Elm Farm Ollie becomes the first cow to fly in a fixed-wing aircraft and also the first cow to be milked in an aircraft. Elm Farm Ollie (known as "Nellie Jay" and post-flight as "Sky Queen") was the first cow to fly in an airplane, doing so on 18 February 1930, as part of the International Air Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. On the same trip, which covered 72 miles from Bismarck, Missouri, to St. Louis, she also became the first cow milked in flight. This was done ostensibly to allow scientists to observe midair effects on animals, as well as for publicity purposes. A St. Louis newspaper trumpeted her mission as being "to blaze a trail for the transportation of livestock by air."
Elm Farm Ollie was reported to have been an unusually productive Guernsey cow, requiring three milkings a day and producing 24 quarts of milk during the flight itself. Wisconsin native Elsworth W. Bunce milked her, becoming the first man to milk a cow mid-flight. Elm Farm Ollie's milk was sealed into paper cartons which were parachuted to spectators below. Charles Lindbergh reportedly received a glass of the milk.
Although Elm Farm Ollie was born and raised in Bismarck, Missouri, it is largely in the dairy state of Wisconsin where her fame has lived on.
WTF?  I long for the days when milking a cow in a plane was newsworthy.

David Graeber on Capitalism

At the Boston Review (h/t Ritholtz):
What we’ve seen over the last 30 years is a war on the human imagination. That’s the other starting point for this book—that in 2008 we had this crash, and all these assumptions we’ve been told we’ve had to accept for 30 years came crashing to the ground along with the market. One of them is the assumption that markets are actually self-sustaining. Obviously not true. Another one was that the people running them are competent. For years we were told that they aren’t very nice people—they’re greedy bastards, actually—but they know what they’re doing. All other systems just don’t work. These guys are incredibly bright, they’re incredibly competent. No, it turns out actually that they don’t even understand the working of their own financial instruments, or as far as they do, they’re engaged in scams. They trashed the entire system.
Assumption number three is that all debts ought to be repaid. Actually, no, debts don’t really need to be repaid, because AIG, who owes money, can wave a variety of different magic wands and debts can be made to disappear. Once you understand that the narrative we’ve been handed has been false, you’d think this would be the moment when you start thinking about larger questions: Why do we have an economy? What is debt? What is money? How could these things be organized differently? What do we need to keep and what do we change? You would think this would be the moment for international discussion about the basic assumptions that we’ve been making, and it seemed for about two weeks that it was going to happen.
We still need to have that conversation.  I don't understand why large corporations can stiff their creditors without a lot of controversy, but little guys can't.  I think people like capitalism because it seems like a scorecard for life, but the people that like it generally aren't losing at the game.

Tim Wakefield Retires

I'm majorly bummed out:
After 19 seasons in the majors -- 17 of them with the Boston Red Sox -- knuckleballer Tim Wakefield announced his retirement from baseball Friday afternoon. "This has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do, so it's with a heavy heart that I stand here today," Wakefield said, pausing to regain his composure. "And I'm saddened to say that I have decided to retire from this wonderful game of baseball."
Wakefield's announcement came at a 5 p.m. ET news conference at JetBlue Park, the team's new spring training facility.
"I'm very grateful I've been able to put this uniform on for such a long time and to win two World Series for this great city and I can finally say it's over," the 45-year-old said.
Wakefield walks away with 186 victories with the Red Sox, just six short of the team record shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. He recorded his 200th career victory late last season.
"It's a little surreal for me, still," Wakefield said of his achievements. "Once I get home and start to digest everything, it's pretty cool to have your name up there, but that doesn't change who I am as a person, or as a man and I'm grateful I've had the opportunity to achieve a lot of those goals and be high on the list of a lot of those records. Hopefully one day they can be broken because that's what records are for."
That just leaves R.A. Dickey as a knuckleball pitcher in the majors.  I've got to admit that I teared up at the video.

Chart of the Day

From the Dish:

If Americans could associate Kazakhstan with Borat, and locate it in the general vicinity of the actual country, I would be damn impressed.

The European Fire Sale

The Independent, via nc links:
#8: Austria
Alps (almost)
The Government caused a public outcry in June when it put two mountains up for sale for a combined price of €121,000. Local opposition to the plan to sell Rosskopf (2,600m) and its neighbour, Grosse Kinigat (2,700m) forced a climb-down. But a minister said the mountains could go on sale again in the future.
Selling 2 mountains?  If I had 121,000 euros to blow, I'd consider buying them.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Emancipator Doppelbock

I've had a couple of six packs of the Moerlein Emancipator Doppelbock.  It's pretty smooth and I've enjoyed it, although it doesn't score that high of marks at Beer Advocate.  Oh well, I like supporting the local companies.  Anyway, when bock beer is here, spring is just around the corner.

Rick Santorum Is A Liar Or An Idiot

I'm leaning toward idiot (map of Santorum's imagination should be centered over Williston and not Grand Forks).  Via the Dish, this:
Rick Santorum made an odd comment in North Dakota on Wednesday. Praising the state for its energy production, he warned his audience that its success in the field might lead to terrorist attacks. CNN reports:
Rick Santorum warned a quiet North Dakota audience Wednesday that their state’s booming oil industry positioned the region as a prime target for terrorism.
“Folks, you’ve got energy here. They’re going to bother you. They’ll bother you, because you are a very key and strategic resource for this country,” the Republican presidential candidate said. “No one is safe. No one is safe from asymmetric threats of terrorism.”
Santorum pointed to Iran as the source behind future terrorist attacks, ramping up his rhetoric on a country he frequently discusses on the campaign trail.
“That’s what Iran will be all about unless we stop them from getting that nuclear weapon,” Santorum said.
What is this dumbf*ck thinking?  If Iran is going to target North Dakota for terrorist attacks, they are even stupider than Rick Santorum.  I think it is entirely hilarious that Republicans look like they might nominate this absolutely foolish jackass to run against Obama, and to get summarily destroyed.  Is a very large minority of this country's population really that ignorant?  I'm afraid they might be.

Obamacare And An Ohio Farmer

Roscoe Filburn, a farmer in Montgomery County, Ohio, planted 23 acres of wheat in the fall of 1940 and harvested 462 bushels in July 1941. (Courtesy Mary Lou Filbrun Spurgeon)

I posted on this previously, but I thought there was some interesting information in this story from a couple of weeks ago:
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled against Filburn in the case, which is commonly referred to as "Wickard" for Claude R. Wickard, who was then serving as Secretary of Agriculture.
Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote that even though Filburn's activity was local, and "though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce."
Two conservative appellate court judges relied heavily on Wickard last year when they upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate.
Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote, "If, as Wickard shows, Congress could regulate the most self-sufficient of individuals -- the American farmer -- when he grew wheat destined for no location other than his family farm, the same is true for those who inevitably will seek health care and who must have a way to pay for it."
"Wickard comes very close to authorizing a mandate similar to ours," wrote Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, referring to the individual mandate at the core of the health care law that requires individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
"Filburn argued that the act was unconstitutional as applied to him because he was not using the excess wheat for any activity in the interstate market. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected this claim," Silberman wrote.
Without a crazily partisan Supreme Court ruling, I don't see how the individual mandate gets overturned.  I guess it would take some of that judicial activism which Republicans bitch about so much.

I'm just amazed that one of the most significant Supreme Court rulings of the 20th century involved a farmer from Madison Township in Montgomery County.

The Mystery Metaphysician

Slate reprints a 2001 article from Lingua Franca (h/t Ritholtz):
The next day Zimmerman received a letter from the A.M. Monius Institute. Printed on official-looking stationery and signed by the institute's director, Netzin Steklis, the letter offered Zimmerman a "generous" sum of money to review a sixty-page work of metaphysics titled "Coming to Understanding." As the letter explained, the institute "exists for the primary purpose of disseminating the work 'Coming to Understanding' and encouraging its critical review and improvement." For Zimmerman's philosophical services, the institute was prepared to pay him the astronomical fee of twelve thousand U.S. dollars.
Meanwhile, three thousand miles away in England, the University of Reading philosopher Jonathan Dancy returned from a short vacation to find his house in dire need of repairs. He also discovered a letter waiting for him. "I arrived home thinking that the roof has collapsed and I must do something about it," he remembers. "I wasn't sure how I was going to do it."
Dancy's letter from the A.M. Monius Institute made him the same remarkable offer that had been made to Zimmerman. "I thought, this is very weird," Dancy says. "At first, I thought they were offering me twelve hundred dollars." And the roof? "This was a godsend," he says, "as far as that goes."
Zimmerman and Dancy were not the only scholars who received lucrative offers—and ultimately payment—from the institute. Soon the roster had grown to include at least nine other philosophers: Ermanno Bencivenga of the University of California at Irvine; Jan Cover of Purdue University; John Hawthorne of Syracuse University; Trenton Merricks of the University of Virginia; Eugene Mills of Virginia Common-wealth University; Gideon Rosen of Princeton University; Michael Scriven of Claremont Graduate University; Theodore Sider of Syracuse University; and Ted Warfield of the University of Notre Dame.
The institute's letter claimed that a "very substantial sum" had been earmarked to help contribute to "the revival of traditional metaphysics."
The story is pretty interesting.  They mention Alvin Plantinga a senior philosopher at Notre Dame.  My very interesting Intro to Philo prof came to ND just to study under Plantinga.  Our professor graced us with his proof that a fetus wasn't a part of a woman's body because if it was a male fetus, it had a penis, and females couldn't have penises.  It was the same carrying the fetus around in her womb as if she was carrying a penis around in her pocket.  It wasn't a part of her body.  He called it the "Penis in the pocket" argument.  Philosophy was never something I was going to excel at.

I Agree With Jamie Dimon

Well, at least on something:
Which is why his statement on taxes last week was so publicly important. As part of a New York magazine story on Wall Street’s chastening, Dimon was asked at one point about taxes. “Have a higher tax rate,” Dimon said. “If you said there’d be a certain percent rate for people making over a million dollars, and a higher percent rate for people making over $10 million, no problem with me. I don’t think people should be able to pass unlimited amounts to their kids.”
Now, I’ve long argued that we should add a higher tax bracket for the super-rich. Not as some “punishment for success” — that’s always been a bogus argument — but by way of recognizing that’s today’s extreme inequality is corrosive for our society and asking the luckiest among us to kick in something more for the common good. But I’m not a bank CEO who’s made $20 million or $30 million a year. When Jamie Dimon says a higher bracket for the ultra-rich makes sense, Washington needs to take notice.
It’s always been absurd to lump together the dentist or real estate agent who makes $300,000 with the CEO who earns $30 million or the hedge fund king who earns $300 million. Yes, they’re all in the 1 percent, but what I call the “lower upper class” and the ultra-rich are obviously worlds apart.
Hey, that is the same suggestion I made that one of the people I went to high school with thought was the most anti-American thing he'd ever heard.  Now don't get me wrong, I still have issues with Jamie Dimon.  It is good to hear somebody from the tope end of the income spectrum suggest progressive taxation is a good idea, though.

Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival

The fastest growing festival in Iowa:
Every year the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival essentially doubles in size. Every year it sells out in less than half an hour. This year’s total was 4,000 tickets in just 25 minutes.
In four years the event has gone from a 200-person gathering of bacon fans at el Bait Shop and High Life Lounge to an event that needs a 165,000-square-foot building to house it.
And clearly demand has still not been met.
“After that first year our goal was to become the premiere bacon festival in the world,” said founder and Bacon Board member Brooks Reynolds. “We knew we couldn’t achieve that goal and keep it small. I think we’re on the right path to making this a pretty large signature food event for Iowa.”
Having reached the Iowa State Fairgrounds, there aren’t a lot of other venues the event can move to and still keep growing at this rate. Brooks likes the February timing, which cuts down on competition, but it also means an outdoor event isn’t a possibility. The Bacon Board is looking at other options to expand, such as possibly making it a two-day event. Reynolds said the group will start examining options not long after a short “bacon break” following Saturday’s event.
They've got bacon drinks.  Is that bacon grease martinis or something?

Central Government Paper Money And Counterfeiting

Uneasy Money (h/t Mark Thoma):
Another important point that I found extremely interesting comes toward the end of Wood’s piece.
The golden age of American counterfeiting came to an end during the Civil War. In 1862 the United States made paper money printed by the national government legal tender. This “bold expansion of federal sovereignty,” says Tarnoff, “represented nothing less than a revolution in American finance.” The National Currency Act of 1863 followed, and a tax on the notes of state banks put them out of business. The United States had become a new nation. “The war produced something unimaginable: a federal monopoly on paper currency. . . .Never before in American history,” says Tarnoff, “had the power to make paper money been held by a single authority.”
Counterfeiter felt the effects immediately. With a single national currency people no longer had to sift through thousands of different bills trying to distinguish the genuine from the fake. But an agency to detect and arrest counterfeiters was still needed, and in 1865 the Treasury Department created the US Secret Service, which soon severely cut down the number of counterfeiters and counterfeit notes. At the time of the Civil War one third or more of the paper money in circulation had been fraudulent; by the time the Federal Reserve System was established in 1913, counterfeit bills made up less than on thousandth of one percent of the paper money supply.
Obviously, centralizing the issue of bank notes greatly increases the incentive of the monopoly issuer to enforce its property rights and eliminate counterfeiting. With a decentralized supply of bank notes, individual banks have relatively little incentive to seek or undertake enforcement action against counterfeiters who are more likely to counterfeit someone else’s notes than their own.
I guess I'd never really thought about that.  I guess this is one of the major challenges of localism.  Trade issues become a much larger drag on economic growth.

Cheers To The Blaine Act

February 17, 1933:
The Blaine Act ends Prohibition in the United States. The Blaine Act was sponsored by Wisconsin Senator John J. Blaine and passed by the United States Senate on February 17, 1933. It initiated the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which established Prohibition in the United States. The repeal was formally adopted as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't Give Them Any Ideas

Via Balloon Juice, Frank Rich on the Republican primary:
The longer the GOP race continues, the more Romney mimics Santorum's positions on these issues. No matter who the candidate is, it looks like Obama has the gift of running against the anti-contraception party. The only thing that could be better is if the GOP decides to bring back Prohibition.
How on earth can these guys mount any type of successful campaign?  Is Beaver Cleaver going to be the VP candidate?  This sure seems like the perfect strategy to reelect Obama. 

Notably, I heard the parish priest talk about the birth control deal last night.  Not surprisingly, he was extremely dismissive of the President.  What surprised me though, was that he brought up Obamacare death panels, then he lauded Cardinal-elect Dolan for saying that as taxpayers, Catholics shouldn't be required to pay for something that went against their consciences.  I couldn't help but wonder how people opposed to the death penalty or war could opt out of paying for it.  I almost asked, but I didn't want the hassle.

Chart of the Day, Part Deux

From Ritholtz:

Have we hit peak oil consumption in the U.S.?  Maybe.  We'll see when the economy recovers, but with foreign demand, we may just be priced into a different lifestyle.

Unable To Reach The Sea

NYT, on the Colorado River:
MOST visitors to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon probably don’t realize that the mighty Colorado River, America’s most legendary white-water river, rarely reaches the sea.
Until 1998 the Colorado regularly flowed south along the Arizona-California border into a Mexican delta, irrigating farmlands and enriching a wealth of wildlife and flora before emptying into the Gulf of California.
But decades of population growth, climate change and damming in the American Southwest have now desiccated the river in its lowest reaches, turning a once-lush Mexican delta into a desert. The river’s demise began with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, a deal by seven western states to divide up its water. Eventually, Mexico was allotted just 10 percent of the flow.
Officials from Mexico and the United States are now talking about ways to increase the flow into the delta. With luck, someday it may reach the sea again.
It is paradoxical that the Colorado stopped running consistently through the delta at the end of the 20th century, which — according to tree-ring records — was one of the basin’s wettest centuries in 1,200 years. Now dozens of animal species are endangered; the culture of the native Cocopah (the People of the River) has been devastated; the fishing industry, once sustained by shrimp and other creatures that depend on a mixture of seawater and freshwater, has withered. In place of delta tourism, the economy of the upper Gulf of California hinges on drug smuggling operations that run opposite to the dying river.
I don't understand why people continue to move to the desert southwest.  In the not-too-distant future, water shortages will likely plague the region.  I can understand retirees moving out there, because they won't have to worry about anything but the immediate future.  But younger folks ought to reconsider.

Another Republican Plan I Don't Understand

Morning Edition:
"In 2010, the voters — particularly in New Hampshire — said, 'Government, get out of our lives,' " Mehlman says. " 'Live free or die,' to coin a phrase. So, I think the biggest concern I would have if I were a state official would be, 'I am ignoring the will of the people of New Hampshire.' "
Recent polls show New Hampshire voters oppose repealing gay marriage by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, but conservative Republicans see the repeal vote as a litmus test.
"I will do anything financially permissible and legally permissible to make socially liberal Republican legislators accountable," says Ted Maravelias, chairman of a New Hampshire political action committee that's raising money to oppose members of the GOP who vote to support same-sex marriage.
The story says Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both houses of the legislature.  If they railroad the repeal of gay marriage through, will they continue to have such majorities.  Anti-gay marriage folks love to point to the fact they've never lost a referendum.  My guess is that they will soon.  Republicans might want to take public opinion into consideration.  The bishops may be happy with them, but voters might not be.

Studebaker Brothers Wagon Company

Founded February 16, 1852:
Studebaker (English pronunciation: /ˈstjuːdəbeɪkər/ stew-də-bay-kər) Corporation was a United States wagon and automobile manufacturer based in South Bend, Indiana. Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, the company was originally a producer of wagons for farmers, miners, and the military.
Studebaker entered the automotive business in 1902 with electric vehicles and in 1904 with gasoline vehicles, all sold under the name "Studebaker Automobile Company". Until 1911, its automotive division operated in partnership with the E-M-F Company and the Garford Company of Elyria, Ohio. The first gasoline automobiles to be fully manufactured by Studebaker were marketed in August 1912. Over the next 50 years, the company established an enviable reputation for quality and reliability. The South Bend plant ceased production on December 20, 1963, and the last Studebaker automobile rolled off the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, assembly line on March 16, 1966.
Amazingly, much of the Studebaker complex in South Bend was still sitting mostly empty when I was in college in the '90s.  It haunted the south end of the city.

Also, on this date in history, my mother was born.

Cellulosic Ethanol Groups Push For Tax Credit

Des Moines Register:
In a letter to the ranking members of the U.S. Senate committee overseeing agriculture, the Advanced Ethanol Coalition has asked that producer tax credits and the special advanced depreciation allowance for cellulosic ethanol be continued in the next Farm Bill.
“Several billion dollars have been invested in advanced biofuels development with the expectation that Congress will stay the course with regard to its commitment to the industry,” Coalition executive director R. Brooke Coleman wrote in the letter addressed to U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Pat Roberts of Kansas.
Coleman continued; “A tax increase on advanced biofuels at this time would curtail investment and undercut an industry just starting to close deals and break ground on first commercial plants., be included in the new Farm Bill.”
Coleman also asked for extension of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s loan guarantee programs; support for USDA support for biofuels construction and, in Coleman’s words, “increase the cost-effectiveness” of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
Instead of ethanol, why don't we convert cellulose to methane.  I've already got an operational digester, it's called a cow.  We could put those gas masks and fart collectors on them that Republican politicians swear EPA is ready to mandate to prevent global warming.  It'd be perfect, and I'll gladly take a smaller tax credit than these guys are looking for.  Really, I think they are searching for the cold fusion of biofuels.

Chart of the Day

At the Dish:

Who on earth are the Republicans targeting with their war on contraception?  I just don't understand.

From Balloon Juice:
Because of this:

Today’s New York Times/CBS poll asks: “Do you support or oppose a recent federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control for their female patients?”
This is Obama’s new accommodation policy, which the Blunt amendment would roll back completely and go considerably further in the process. Sixty six percent support this federal requirement; only 26 percent oppose it.
CBS’s polling team sends over a partisan breakdown of the answers, and it’s even more striking:
  • Even Republicans support this policy, 50-44.
  • Independents support it by 64-26.
  • Moderates support it by 68-22.
  • Women support it by 72-20.
  • Catholics support it by 67-25.
  • And even Catholics who attend church every week or almost every week support it by 48-43.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Anecdotal Recession

I went to the dentist today, and at the end of the checkup, he gave me this statistic: 3 in 10 65 year-olds have no teeth, and another 3 in 10 only have half their teeth.  He informed me that my teeth put me in the elite, and that in the last couple of years they've been pulling out as many teeth in one day as they used to in two weeks.  He followed up by saying this was a recession of pain.  People only did something when it was painful not to.  I can't verify any of his statements, but my gut tells me he's reasonably accurate.

Chicken of the Future?

I'm guessing satire instead:
Each year, the United Kingdom raises and kills around 800 million broiler chickens for their meat. These creatures are grown in vast sheds with no natural light over the course of six to seven weeks. They are bred to grow particularly quickly and often die because their hearts and lungs cannot keep up with their body’s rapid growth.
Philosopher Paul Thompson from Purdue University has suggested “The Blind Chicken Solution.” He argues that chickens blinded by “accident” have been developed into a strain of laboratory chickens that don’t mind being crowded together as much as normal chickens do. As a result, he argues, we should consider using blind chickens in food production as a solution to the problem of overcrowding in the poultry industry. He argues that it would be more humane to have blind chickens than ones that can see.
But Ford goes a step further and proposes a “Headless Chicken Solution.” This would involve removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken to inhibit its sensory perceptions so that it could be produced in more densely packed conditions without the associated distress. The brain stem for the chicken would be kept intact so that the homeostatic functions continue to operate, allowing it to grow.

Ford proposes this solution for two reasons: To meet the rising demand for meat, particularly poultry, and to improve the welfare of the chickens by desensitizing them to the unpleasant reality of their existence.
After this “desensitization,” the chickens could then be stacked into huge urban farms with around 1,000 chickens hooked up to large vertical frames — a little like the network of pods the humans are connected to in The Matrix. The feet of the chickens would also be removed in order to pack more in. There could be dozens of these frames in the vertical farming system, which Ford refers to as the Centre for Unconscious Farming. Food, water and air would be delivered via a network of tubes and excrement would be removed in the same way. This technique could achieve a density of around 11.7 chickens per cubic meter instead of the current 3.2 chickens achieved in broiler houses.
A challenge for Ford’s system would be the lack of muscular stimulation. However, Ford proposes using electric shocks similar to that used in other lab meat experiments.
Sounds like a real treat.  If this was at The Onion instead of Wired, I'd at least be certain it was satirical, but the next line in the story, that this wouldn't be worse than the current method of raising chickens, makes me assume it is.

A Short History of Thomas Edison

Via the Atlantic, happy belated birthday to Thomas Edison:

Watching the first few seconds, I began to wonder, "Was Edison somewhere on the autism spectrum?" Didn't talk until he was four. Daydreamed in school. I don't know, but I would say there is some possibility.

After Losing

Charlie Pierce writes about the 24-1 Murray State Racers:
There are college basketball fans of a certain generation — OK, it's mine — who grew up watching the game when it was an immutable physical law that UCLA simply did not lose. They won the NCAA championship every year. They beat teams long before the ball went up for the first tip. There was the Alcindor Dynasty, and then the Wicks-Rowe Interregnum, and then the Walton Dynasty, when the Bruins won 88 games in a row. I still remember being in the Gym Bar in Milwaukee on a snowy afternoon in 1974, when Notre Dame finally beat them, and feeling that something in the great tectonic plates underlying the sport had shifted. (Maybe it was the schnapps.) Two months later, I watched them blow an 11-point lead in regulation and a seven-point lead in overtime to lose to North Carolina State, UCLA's first tournament loss in eight years. They'd dropped what was precious, and they played like just another really good basketball team that had David Thompson dancing on its head.
In 1976, Indiana won every game, defeating along the way the best team Al McGuire ever had at Marquette and the best Alabama team that ever took the floor. On their way to the title, the Hoosiers defeated nos. 2, 5, 7, and 9 — something that is unlikely ever to happen again, now that the tournament is seeded. Fifteen years later, UNLV almost got there, but the Rebels got fairly well rogered for most of the game against Duke in the Final Four and, at the end, when they had a chance to win, they'd forgotten how. Being undefeated is an illusion, more fragile than most.
"It was a great experience, especially for this school," Canaan recalled. "We rode it out as best we could, and we got a lead chip off our shoulders. Now we can go out and play the game we love without having to worry about how it'll feel if we lose."
I remember when UNLV made it to the Final Four undefeated before Duke knocked them off.  The only other team I remember getting through the regular season undefeated was the 2003-04 edition of the St. Joe's Hawks.  That was a team I loved to watch play ball.  Plus Phil Martelli is never dull.

Chart of the Day

From Timothy Taylor, via Mark Thoma:

So we have increasing productivity, but less of the share of compensation.  No wonder businesses are showing record profits.

Falling Down The Economic Scale

George Packer on Charles Murray's latest book:
Visit most towns or rural areas where factories are boarded up and all the economic life is confined to strip malls, and you have to acknowledge the force of Murray’s picture. Rampant drug use, high dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, epidemic obesity, every other working-age person on disability—it’s true even though Charles Murray says it’s true. And the predictable left-right argument over causes and solutions doesn’t help. Is it disappearing jobs, or disappearing values? This isn’t an analytical choice I find very useful. Jobs and values are intertwined: when one starts to go, the other is likely to go with it, and the circle becomes truly vicious. A textile factory moves south of the border, and a town loses its mainstay of employment. Former textile workers scurry to find fast-food and retail positions. The move from blue-collar to service work is brutal, and over time some employees lose the will to stick it out in a hateful job. Their children do even worse. Soon enough there are two or three generations of one family on government help, and kids grow up without a model of the work ethic. When a technology plant opens in the area (with a fifth the number of jobs as the textile factory), few locals are remotely qualified to work there. It’s a dismally familiar story—but is it a story of jobs or values? The obvious answer is both, which is why no one’s five-point solutions or three-word slogan is convincing.
A lot of things figure into the mess we're in.  Downward pressure on most wages, not only for low-skilled jobs.  Breakdown of families.  Drug use.  I disagree with Murray that one of the biggest problems is government anti-poverty programs.  There are some people who abuse the system, but they weren't avoiding lucrative jobs to do it.  Most people want to be self-reliant, but in the downward-pulling economic circumstances, they can't be.  The presence of government programs doesn't seem to be a large factor in that, unless a bare bones safety net makes corporate titans feel more comfortable about squeezing wages and outsourcing jobs.  Really, I don't think corporate executives really understand that they won't continue to be able to move their junk to American consumers if there aren't more jobs and higher wages here.  They'll just keep their optimism about the business climate until it becomes obvious they've driven the country into a ditch.  Then they'll ask for government assistance.

The Battle Of Thermostat Intellectual Property

No, really:
The thermostat business is getting ugly. I understand that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Late last year Tony Fadell, the guy who created the iPod at Apple, launched Nest, a new company that aims to reinvent household devices. Nest’s first product is a beautiful, easy-to-use, $249 “learning thermostat.” It launched to rave reviews, and sold out instantly. I installed one and tried it for a few weeks last year. In a piece in the New York Times, I called Nest my favorite thermostat out of several I’d tried, including Honeywell’s Prestige. In Slate, I called it one of my favorite technologies of 2011. In retrospect it’s clear why Honeywell put on a full-court press to show me all the ways its thermostat was superior to the Nest. For the first time in years, the thermostat industry was getting covered by the press—but in every story about the Nest, Honeywell was described as a sitting duck.
On Monday, the duck struck back. Honeywell filed a wide-ranging patent infringement suit against Nest, alleging that the startup used seven different Honeywell inventions. It seems likely that a well-funded startup like Nest would have thoroughly researched and prepared for this kind of lawsuit, but looking over the patents in question, some of Nest’s technology does look similar to Honeywell’s. One Honeywell patent is for a thermostat with a “rotatable selector,” meaning a dial that you turn to control the device—exactly what Nest is. Another covers a thermostat that tells you how long it will take for your house to get to the desired temperature, which is one of Nest’s best features. Another advantage of the Nest is that, unlike the Prestige, it doesn’t need professional installation. It can plug into most thermostat setups and automatically “trickle charge” power from the wires connected to your furnace or air conditioner. It’s a brilliant idea—and one that Honeywell apparently patented in 2009.
The Honeywell v. Nest lawsuit is being justifiably criticized as another black mark on our broken patent system. If Honeywell invented all these cool features, why didn’t it make something of them? Last year an executive told GigaOm that Honeywell long ago created a thermostat that learned user’s preferences the way Nest does, but it abandoned that project because it believed people wanted to program their thermostats. (It’s true—programming my thermostat is my favorite activity in the world, right after taking out the garbage, shaving, and researching nanny taxes!)
I can't comment too far on how broken the patent system is, but I can say that patent attorneys make too much money.  The point made later, that Honeywell patented a bunch of ideas just to sit on them, reminds me of Michigan and Ohio State back in the days before scholarship limits, when they would sign kids they didn't need, just so they wouldn't go play for somebody else.  I guess, looking at my old Honeywell thermostat, that seems to be an apt description.

The Birds

This creeps me out.  I hate crows with a passion:

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Almonds, Honeybees, North Dakota and High Corn Prices

Yeah, that's a lot of things tied together.  All Things Considered fills us in.  First, on the almonds, and the bees:
In fact, it's one of the great success stories of California agriculture. Twenty years ago, the state produced a modest half-billion pounds of almonds each year. "We hit a billion pounds and it just never stopped. This past year it's the better part of 2 billion pounds," says McFarlane. The Central Valley of California actually grows two-thirds of all the almonds in the world.
But here's where we get into all those not-so-obvious connections. These superproductive almond trees are needy creatures. They need lots of water and fertilizer. And they also need big, vigorous insects to carry pollen from one blossom to another.
  They need honeybees — billions of honeybees. And those bees have to come from somewhere else. That's why California's almond orchards have become "ground zero in commercial beekeeping," says Zac Browning, a beekeeper.
I met Browning in the middle of a huge almond orchard near the tiny town of Snelling, Calif. His beehives — 6,000 of them — were lined up as far as I could see along a dirt road down the middle of the ranch. The hives had just arrived from a storage building in Idaho where they'd spent the winter. They were carted in on a caravan of trailers with 480 white wooden boxes per load.
This was just a small part of a great national bee migration that connects California to the northern Plains. During the few weeks this month when the almond trees are in bloom, 1.6 million beehives flood the state's almond orchards, many of them trucked in from the Midwest.
The thing is, when the bees are done in California, they go other places to find food.  One very popular place for the bees is North Dakota, where lots of land in the CRP program means lots of clover, alfalfa and wildflowers growing.  With high corn prices, ground is going out of CRP and into corn.  Now scientists are wondering how that will affect the bees.  Interesting stuff, at least to me.

BC Wins Beanpot

For those who are interested, BC got by BU in OT to win the Beanpot tournament.  That gives BC three straight championships.

Soil Erosion And Global Warming

At Scientific American:
Global warming will get worse as agricultural methods accelerate the rate of soil erosion, which depletes the amount of carbon the soil is able to store, a United Nations' Environment Programme report said on Monday. Soil contains huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter. which provides nutrients for plant growth and improves soil fertility and water movement.
The top meter of soil alone stores around 2,200 billion tonnes of carbon, which is three times the level currently held in the atmosphere, said the UNEP Year Book 2012.
"Soil carbon is easily lost but difficult to rebuild," the report said.
"Soil carbon stocks are highly vulnerable to human activities. They decrease significantly (and often rapidly) in response to changes in land cover and land use such as deforestation, urban development and increased tillage, and as a result of unsustainable agricultural and forestry practices."
It may only be La Nina, but the massive amounts of rain we've gotten the last two winters has really torn up our fields.  I guess I would fear that heavier storms and more frequent rain brought on by global warming might increase erosion, not increased erosion might worsen global warming.  Unfortunately it might work both ways.

The Wall Street Putsch

This is pretty amazing:
Critics on the right worried that Roosevelt was a Communist, a socialist or the tool of a Jewish conspiracy. Critics on the left complained his policies didn't go far enough. Some of Roosevelt's opponents didn't stop at talk. Though it's barely remembered today, there was a genuine conspiracy to overthrow the president.
The Wall Street Putsch, as it's known today, was a plot by a group of right-wing financiers.
"They thought that they could convince Roosevelt, because he was of their, the patrician class, they thought that they could convince Roosevelt to relinquish power to basically a fascist, military-type government," Denton says.
"It was a cockamamie concept," she adds, "and the fact that it even got as far as it did is pretty shocking."
The conspirators had several million dollars, a stockpile of weapons and had even reached out to a retired Marine general, Smedley Darlington Butler, to lead their forces.
"Had he been a different kind of person, it might have gone a lot further," Denton says. "But he saw it as treason and he reported it to Congress."
Hopefully we don't see a right wing putsch attempt now, but I definitely fear that this election cycle will feature even more racism and lunacy than the 2008 campaign.  I would wager that Sarah Palin will be stoking the flames again this fall.

The Asbestos Strike

February 14, 1949:
At midnight on February 14, 1949, miners walked off the job at four asbestos mines in the Eastern Townships, near Asbestos, Quebec and Thetford Mines. Though these mines were owned by either American or English-Canadian companies, almost all the workers were francophones. The largest company was the American Johns-Manville firm. The union had several demands. These included elimination of asbestos dust inside and outside of the mill; a fifteen cent an hour general wage increase; a five cent an hour increase for night work; a social security fund to be administered by the union; the implementation of the Rand Formula; and "double time" payment for work on Sundays and holidays. These demands were radical in Quebec at the time, and they were rejected by the owners.
On February 13, 1949 the workers voted to strike. The workers were represented by the National Federation of Mining Industry Employees and the Canadian and Catholic Federation of Labour. Jean Marchand was the general-secretary of the latter, and is often seen as the de facto leader of the strike.
The strike was illegal. Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis sided strongly with the companies, largely due to his hostility to all forms of socialism. The provincial government sent squads of police to protect the mines. Duplessis' Union Nationale party had long been closely allied to the Catholic Church, but parts of the church would move to support the workers. The population and media of Quebec were sympathetic to the strikers. The lead reporter for Le Devoir was Gérard Pelletier, who was deeply sympathetic to the cause of the workers. Pierre Elliott Trudeau also covered the strike in a sympathetic manner.

Manufacturing in Sioux County

Des Moines Register:
Orange City is Sioux County’s charmer, with quaint shopfronts, tulips, windmills and bright orange water towers. Rock Valley is the workhorse, the town that wears work boots and blue-collar shirts smeared with grease.
U.S. Highway 18 cuts through town from east to west, and machine shops line the road. Roughly 1,200 machinists, welders, shop foremen, press breakmen and laser cutters clock in every day, throw on a pair of safety glasses and churn out parts for tractors, skid loaders and crane booms. The town’s entire population is 3,000.
“Rock Valley is a manufacturing town,” said Cal de Ruyter, co-founder of Siouxland Machine and Fabrication. “Our customer is the world.”
The more I read about Sioux County, the more it sounds like Mercer County, Ohio.  I don't expect the ag boom to last like a lot of folks do, so I wouldn't be surprised to see both places feel real pain if the commodity bubble bursts.

The Real Story In Afghanistan?

Rolling Stone, via nc links:
Earlier this week, the New York Times’ Scott Shane published a bombshell piece about Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a 17-year Army veteran recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan. According to the Times, the 48-year-old Davis had written an 84-page unclassified report, as well as a classified report, offering his assessment of the decade-long war. That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military's top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going. "How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Davis boldly asks in an article summarizing his views in The Armed Forces Journal.

Davis last month submitted the unclassified report –titled "Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leader’s Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort" – for an internal Army review. Such a report could then be released to the public. However, according to U.S. military officials familiar with the situation, the Pentagon is refusing to do so. Rolling Stone has now obtained a full copy of the 84-page unclassified version, which has been making the rounds within the U.S. government, including the White House. We've decided to publish it in full; it's well worth reading for yourself. It is, in my estimation, one of the most significant documents published by an active-duty officer in the past ten years.
I tried to save a copy of the report to read later, but that didn't work.  Regardless, I don't know about the veracity of the report, but based on previous examples of the military misleading the public, I wouldn't doubt that they are true.  I was hoping that Obama's surge would give us a face-saving way out of this clusterfuck relatively quickly, but that looks like wishful thinking.  Hopefully, we will follow the drawdown plans already outlined and bug out.  I agree with the Lt. Col. though, that we shouldn't be wasting American (and Afghani) lives in this wasted effort.

The Bishops And The GOP

Are the Catholic bishops and the Republican Party in some kind of mutual suicide pact?  The bishops have doubled down on birth control, and new polls are showing Rick Santorum pulling into the lead over Romney.  Here's Andrew Sullivan on Santorum:
He is easily the politician most hostile to individual liberty on the right. He believes states have every right to ban contraception, all abortion, and any legal protections for gay couples. He disavows any secular, Enlightenent view of America's founding. For him, freedom only counts if you adhere to the current fundamentalist rigidity of the Benedict XVI church. I've cited this before, but here he is on freedom:
This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.
Notice he explicitly cites the bedroom as the place where big government can intervene. If you are not reproducing as the Vatican demands, legal penalties are in principle possible. There is no public-private distinction. His mentor, Robbie George, takes the view that in principle, the state also has the right to penalize masturbation with criminal penalties, a position flushed out of him in the Prop 2 trial in Colorado. The only reason the two would not actively prosecute gay couples for having sex or straight couples for using condoms is for prudential reasons: it's not practical. But in theory, they'd have the Catholic church's most reactionary elements dictating your freedoms.
The bishops are not very popular amongst the Catholic laity.  The terrible handling of child sex abuse, along with a rigid theology which doesn't mesh with the majority of lay Catholics gives them little latitude for a tremendously unpopular policy fight.  What I have seen locally are smaller collections and fewer folks in the pews in recent years, which doesn't bode well for the long-term health of the Church given the tremendous ill will which will be created with less conservative Catholics in this battle.  The Church starts to look like a subsidiary of the Republican Party in this.

The idea that Republicans will join with the bishops to fight this unpopular fight makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for a political party in a two-party system.  Republicans would drive women and independents to Obama in droves.  There is no upside for Republicans.  All the folks who are going to side with the bishops were already going to vote for the GOP.  I'm just stunned that they would be this foolish.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Is The Bubble Still Growing?

Bloomberg, via Ritholtz:
Wealthy investors plan to increase their allocations to commodities and private companies while decreasing their cash holdings this year, according to a survey released today.
About 48 percent of respondents said they plan to add to commodities investments during 2012 and 55 percent said they intend to make more direct investments in private companies, according to a survey by the Institute for Private Investors. About 45 percent plan to increase real-estate holdings, said IPI’s survey of its members, who are families with at least $30 million in investable assets.
“It’s part of that whole movement toward actually owning real assets,” Mindy Rosenthal, executive director of IPI, said in a telephone interview. “They’re looking at going back to the old school way of making money.”
Looking at going back to the old school way of making money?  A rentier is a rentier, whether speculating in commodities or in mortgage-back securities.  We're getting closer to the top of the bubble when lots of people are moving in the same direction.  My dad's financial adviser was pointing him toward commodity index funds.  I told him they're a little too late to jump in that market, but I don't know what he decided to do.  Anyway, real assets will also lose a ton of money once the prices have been driven to unsustainable heights.  If we're not to that point already, we're damn close.

The Mormon Business Empire

Chris Lehmann at Harper's:
The vast majority of rank-and-file Mormons are not, of course, scions of wealth. Demographic research indicates that the Saints are no more affluent than the members of mainline Protestant denominations. However, the business outlook of the faith is deeply corporatist, reflecting a vision of central economic organization that is again unique among American Protestant sects. This, too, is largely a legacy of the church’s search for a stable outpost on the American frontier.
During the church’s initial forays in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, it was in fact a socialist enterprise. All property was held in common and managed by Smith and his senior lieutenants—one of whom, Sidney Rigdon, was an evangelical socialist.
However, the post-Smith church evolved into a virtual corporation, with elders assembling a number of joint-stock proposals, administered by the Perpetual Emigration Fund, to stake immigrant converts to land holdings in Utah. Under the authoritarian hand of Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, the trademark Mormon rage for order gathered decisive force. In Utah, Young oversaw the creation of a vast business cooperative, known as Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution, which was meant to prevent Eastern enterprises operated by gentiles (as Mormons called all non-Mormons) from gaining a foothold in the territory. The cooperative is said to have dispatched spies to report on Mormon settlers caught trading with outsiders. It also spawned successful livestock, textile, and banking concerns.
This top-down model of economic organization remains firmly in place. The church has its own welfare system, which distributes its own line of food and consumer products under the proprietary Deseret brand. It also holds extensive corporate investments, which are not fully disclosed—but in a 2007 study called Mormon America, Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling fix the church’s total assets at somewhere between $25 billion and $30 billion. (For the sake of comparison, the Ostlings note that a similarly sized U.S. denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, possesses $152 million in stock holdings, mainly to secure its employees’ pension plans.) The Mormon church owns a $16-billion insurance company, at least $6 billion in stocks, and a $172-million chain of radio stations, as well as more than 150 farms and ranches, which easily places the church among the largest landowners in the nation.
Their agribusiness empire is massive.  More at Time:
The top beef ranch in the world is not the King Ranch in Texas. It is the Deseret Cattle & Citrus Ranch outside Orlando, Fla. It covers 312,000 acres; its value as real estate alone is estimated at $858 million. It is owned entirely by the Mormons. The largest producer of nuts in America, AgReserves, Inc., in Salt Lake City, is Mormon-owned. So are the Bonneville International Corp., the country's 14th largest radio chain, and the Beneficial Life Insurance Co., with assets of $1.6 billion. There are richer churches than the one based in Salt Lake City: Roman Catholic holdings dwarf Mormon wealth. But the Catholic Church has 45 times as many members. There is no major church in the U.S. as active as the Latter-day Saints in economic life, nor, per capita, as successful at it.
312,000 acres outside Orlando?  Damn.

Beanpot Finals

Boston College plays Boston University tonight in the Beanpot tournament final, while Northeastern and Harvard meet in the consolation game.

News of the Obvious Chart of the Day

Via the Dish, an infographic on religious Americans:

An interesting chart would be Amish technology usage versus the rest of society.  This chart is just stupid.  When the majority of the country claims to be religious, survey results are going to closely match general society.  That doesn't take much figuring.  Another part of the infographic shows religious Americans are more likely to be heavily involved in civic groups than society in general.  That is at least more significant than the technology graph above.

The Bombing of Dresden

February 13-15:
The Bombing of Dresden was a strategic military bombing by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War. In four raids, 1,300 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city, the Baroque capital of the German state of Saxony. The resulting firestorm destroyed 15 square miles (39 square kilometres) of the city centre.
A 1953 United States Air Force report written by Joseph W. Angell defended the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target, which was a major rail transportation and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the Nazi war effort. However, several researchers have discovered that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were in fact targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre. It is argued that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, a "Florence on the Elbe" (Elbflorenz), as it was known, and the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains.
It not only destroyed the city and killed at least 25,000 Germans, it nearly finished off Kurt Vonnegut, too:
Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) was a satirical novel that used some elements from his experiences as a prisoner of war at Dresden during the bombing. His account relates that over 135,000 were killed during the firebombings. Vonnegut recalled "utter destruction" and "carnage unfathomable." The Germans put him and other POWs to work gathering bodies for mass burial. "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes."
In the special introduction to the 1976 Franklin Library edition of the novel, he wrote:
"The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in."
This experience was also used in several of his other books and is included in his posthumously published stories: Armageddon in Retrospect.
It definitely is one of the most hotly debated Allied decisions of the war.

Vikings Look Toward Suburbs

The Atlantic:
The state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis have been trying to find a way to keep the Vikings in town. The latest plan proposes a new stadium next to the old one and ready by 2016. That would leave the Vikings playing in the Metrodome through 2015. The city, though, recently announced that its funding plan was coming up roughly $55 million short. The team, already frustrated with the Metrodome, is keeping its options open.
The most serious competitor is a plan being pushed in Arden Hills, a city about five miles outside of Minneapolis. Ramsey County leaders there have been trying to convince the Vikings to move out of Minneapolis with the prospect of a brand new stadium. This project, expected to cost about $1.1 billion, is the stadium of choice for the Vikings.
Ramsey County says it can afford to help pay for the project by raising about $20 million a year through various taxes and user fees at the proposed stadium. Officials are hoping this revenue-generating plan will convince state and local officials and voters to back the plan with an expected contribution of about $650 million.
The idea of using pull-tab gambling to raise additional funding has also been on the table, but many are concerned about the reliability of such a mechanism.
Pull-tabs?  My grandpa would work Bingo at the local Catholic school, and his job was to walk around and sell pull-tabs.  He called them by the doubly accurate name ripoffs.  It is nice that the center cities can always count on their own suburbs trying to poach their attractions.  Especially considering that the suburbs wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for the presence of the center city.

Massive CSO Project In Portland

From Wired:

 Rosie the TBM prepares for tunneling. The East Side Big Pipe was completed in two nonstop drives, both originating from the Opera Street shaft.

 Havoc wasn't restricted to life underground. Drilling beneath the surface caused some settling in certain parts of town, up to an inch and a half at its worst. "We had some cracking in some of the building walls so we had to pay to repair them," said Gribbon.
Larger issues loomed. After Lewis and Clark retired from the west side pipe, their bigger TBM sister Rosie, a 10,000-ton behemoth, scoured the eastern riverfront. She was forced to carefully pick her way through freeway pillars driven deep into the bedrock. Safety regulations insist nothing can come within 30 feet of the anchors and Rosie's path led beneath the I-84/I-5 interchange.
But minor missteps and the daily grind couldn't match the danger facing Lewis as he dug beneath the Willamette. Lurking within 40 feet of the river's bottom meant that progress ground to a crawl.
Drilling requires enough slurry pressure to create traction but too much would cause a blowout, in which case debris would shoot into the river and threaten workers below. Slow and steady, the underwater drive was the only time work continued nonstop, seven days a week.
Cool stuff.  These projects were why I loved when we would get a subscription to Engineering News-Record at work.  The only downside was that I spent a good hour or so a week reading through the latest issue.

Inside An AI Facility

Des Moines Register:
But Trans Ova has been artificially inseminating cows and transferring embryos over the past 30 years, and the processes are fascinating.
In a plain metal building across a gravel parking lot from the company’s main office, veterinarian Paul Van Roekel watches an ultrasound monitor and reaches deep into a cow with a white plastic vacuum tube to suck out eggs for fertilization. The eggs are the result of a “super-ovulation” procedure and are sucked through a tube into a cup before being taken to a room where young women in white lab coats sort them under a microscope, selecting the highest quality eggs and discarding the dubious.
Meanwhile, in another lab, a machine sorts millions of sperm cells per minute. That’s after vets collect the sperm from bulls in what can only be described as a touchy last-second intervention moments before ejaculation. (video here, this is my definition of a bad job)
The machine can tell the difference in size between an X and Y chromosome and puts an electrical charge on the female X chromosome sperm cells. When the semen shoots out a tiny spigot, an electromagnet pulls the charged sperm sideways into a separate cup. The final product is marketed to dairy farmers who gladly pay for semen that promises a 93 percent chance of producing females.
The sex-selected semen is pretty pricey, and with my low rate of success for AI, just didn't seem worthwhile for my hobby operation.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

February 12:

Orion in Gas, Dust, and Stars
Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)
Explanation: The constellation of Orion holds much more than three stars in a row. A deep exposure shows everything from dark nebula to star clusters, all embedded in an extended patch of gaseous wisps in the greater Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The brightest three stars on the far left are indeed the famous three stars that make up the belt of Orion. Just below Alnitak, the lowest of the three belt stars, is the Flame Nebula, glowing with excited hydrogen gas and immersed in filaments of dark brown dust. Below the frame center and just to the right of Alnitak lies the Horsehead Nebula, a dark indentation of dense dust that has perhaps the most recognized nebular shapes on the sky. On the upper right lies M42, the Orion Nebula, an energetic caldron of tumultuous gas, visible to the unaided eye, that is giving birth to a new open cluster of stars. Immediately to the left of M42 is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man that houses many bright blue stars. The above image, a digitally stitched composite taken over several nights, covers an area with objects that are roughly 1,500 light years away and spans about 75 light years.

Could Football Go Away?

Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier look at a possible scenario:
By now we're all familiar with the growing phenomenon of head injuries and cognitive problems among football players, even at the high school level. In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell asked whether football might someday come to an end, a concern seconded recently by Jonah Lehrer.
Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist. The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits. No matter how well a business matches economic conditions at one point in time, it's not a lock to be a leader in the future, and that is true for the NFL too. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.
The most plausible route to the death of football starts with liability suits. Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year. If ex-players start winning judgments, insurance companies might cease to insure colleges and high schools against football-related lawsuits.
The line about the three big sports in the early 20th century hits home with me.  I love baseball, boxing and horse racing, and all have lost some luster.  As for the future of football, I think the likelihood of an NFL on-field death in the not-too-distant future will be one turning point, along with more publicity of former players with CTE.  This Notre Dame Magazine article was very powerful:
Peter Grant ’83 played interhall football for Notre Dame’s Grace Hall. Dave Duerson, a classmate and casual acquaintance of Grant’s from the dorm, was an All-American defensive back and an 11-year NFL veteran who won two Super Bowl rings. Their athletic careers could not have been more different.
But Grant and Duerson were alike in competitive passion. They played hard. And in the end, the game did not distinguish between them. It turned their intensity into an insidious, mysterious disease. Years removed from their last athletic collisions, they suffered a toll far worse than aching knees or arthritic hips, a loss impossible to repair or replace. They lost themselves and, within days of each other last February, their lives.
If parents start holding their kids out of football, the sport will have real trouble.  Of course, boxing also inflicts a tremendous toll on the brain and has seen participants die, and it is still around.

Mean-Spirited Economics

Simon Johnson:
How does it help any economic recovery when the people who lose jobs cannot even afford to buy basic goods and services – enough to keep their family afloat?
This was the profound insight – under tragic circumstances – learned from the Great Depression. Unemployment insurance and Social Security were introduced together in the 1930s and funded in the same way – through payroll taxes. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said at the time (quoted by David M. Kennedy in “Freedom From Fear,” on Page 267):
“We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security programs.”
That logic worked for nearly 80 years. In the face of our modern mean-spiritedness, it now seems likely to collapse.
All because of a war on taxation. And common sense.

The First Land Grant Colleges

February 12, 1855:
Michigan State University is established. Michigan State University (MSU) is a public research university in East Lansing, Michigan, USA. Founded in 1855, it was the pioneer land-grant institution and served as a model for future land-grant colleges in the United States under the 1862 Morrill Act.
The Michigan Constitution of 1850 called for the creation of an "agricultural school", though it was not until February 12, 1855, that Michigan Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed a bill establishing the United States' first agriculture college, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan.  Classes began on May 13, 1857, with three buildings, five faculty members, and 63 male students. The first president, Joseph R. Williams, designed a curriculum that required more scientific study than practically any undergraduate institution of the era. It balanced science, liberal arts, and practical training. The curriculum excluded Latin and Greek studies, since most applicants did not study any classical languages in their rural high schools. However, it did require three hours of daily manual labor, which kept costs down for both the students and the College.  Despite Williams' innovations and his defense of education for the masses, the State Board of Education saw Williams' curriculum as elitist. They forced him to resign in 1859 and reduced the curriculum to a two-year vocational program.
In 1860, Joseph R. Williams became acting lieutenant governor and helped pass the Reorganization Act of 1861. This gave the College a four-year curriculum and the power to grant master's degrees. Under the act, a newly created body, known as the State Board of Agriculture, took over from the State Board of Education in running the institution. The College changed its name to State Agricultural College, and its first class graduated in the same year. As the Civil War had just begun, there was no time for an elaborate graduation ceremony. The first alumni enlisted to the Union Army. Williams died, and the following year, Abraham Lincoln signed the First Morrill Act of 1862 to support similar colleges, making the Michigan school a national model.
The school (Penn State) was founded as a degree-granting institution on February 22, 1855, by act P.L. 46, No. 50 of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania. Centre County, Pennsylvania, became the home of the new school when James Irvin of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, donated 200 acres (0.8 km2) of land – the first of 10,101 acres (41 km2) the school would eventually acquire. In 1862, the school's name was changed to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, and with the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act, Pennsylvania selected the school in 1863 to be the state's sole land-grant college. In the following years, enrollment fell as the school tried to balance purely agricultural studies with a more classic education, falling to 64 undergraduates in 1875, a year after the school's name changed once again to the Pennsylvania State CollegeGeorge W. Atherton became president of the school in 1882, and broadened the school's curriculum. Shortly after he introduced engineering studies, Penn State became one of the ten-largest engineering schools in the nation. Atherton also expanded the liberal arts and agriculture programs, for which the school began receiving regular appropriations from the state in 1887.
Back before they became the anti-intellectual party of the south, the Republican party favored public education.  The schools history as the first land grant colleges caused them to create the Land Grant Trophy when Penn State joined the Big Ten.  The trophy is regularly mocked as one of the dumbest rivalry trophies ever, although it faces some pretty stiff competition out there.