Saturday, March 10, 2012

Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer

Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer from David Friedman on Vimeo.

Major Derby Preps This Weekend

There's the Tampa Bay Derby, the San Felipe Stakes and the Swale Stakes today.  Gary West makes the case that the Tampa Bay Derby is one of the most significant Derby prep races:
Based on results over the last 10 years, three races stand out: the Arkansas Derby, the Florida Derby and the Tampa Bay Derby. Together, they've produced 61 Kentucky Derby starters who have six wins, four seconds and four thirds in this most famous of races.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Derby has become one of the most productive and meaningful races on the road to Kentucky. And that, as much as anything, indicates how the sinuous path can veer in unexpected directions. In terms of its preparatory significance, the Tampa Bay Derby has assumed the position once occupied by the Fountain of Youth.
From 1953 through 2004, the Fountain of Youth was run at 1 1/16 miles. And during that period, such horses as Tim Tam, Kauai King, Forward Pass, Pleasant Colony, Spectacular Bid, Swale, Unbridled, Go For Gin, and Thunder Gulch used the race to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, which they all won.
For six of the last seven years, however, or since Gulfstream Park expanded its oval, the Fountain of Youth has been run at 1 1/8 miles (one mile in 2009). And during those seven years, the race produced 16 Kentucky Derby starters whose success was limited to a runner-up finish by Ice Box in 2010.
Over those same seven years, Tampa Bay's showcase race produced 13 Kentucky Derby starters. Two of them, Street Sense and Super Saver, won the roseate Derby, and two more, Bluegrass Cat and Musket Man, finished "in the money," or top three.
Take Charge Indy is one of the horses to watch in today's Tampa Bay Derby. 

The Bombing of Tokyo

March 10, 1945:
The U.S. Army Air Force firebombs Tokyo, and the resulting firestorm kills more than 100,000 people, mostly civilians.
This is somewhat of a follow-up on the Vonnegut post.  The book review delves into Slaughterhouse-Five and the questioning of the value of World War II.  This is another example of the horrific costs of that war.  While the Axis Powers created massive amounts of human suffering, the Allies weren't wrapped in tremendous glory either.  We tend to overlook the stupendous costs the war inflicted on humanity, just because the Nazis took evil to a new level.

And So It Goes

Thomas Meaney reviews a couple of Vonnegut books, and a two volume release of his works (h/t Ritholtz):
In the spring of 1945, three weeks after VE Day, Private First Class Kurt Vonnegut, Jr wrote a letter home to inform his family that he was alive. His infantry unit had been smashed by Panzer divisions in the Ardennes; his unmarked POW train attacked by the RAF; miraculously, he and a handful of fellow prisoners escaped incineration by American and British bombers. “Their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden – possibly the world’s most beautiful city”, Vonnegut wrote. “But not me.” Already we are privy to the early stirrings of Vonnegut’s prose – the cool sarcasm (“combined labors”), the ostentatious airing of factoids, and the signature smirk of the absurd (“But not me”). How that last phrase, which recurs throughout the letter, got reprised as the faux-stoic refrain of Slaughterhouse-Five (“So it goes”) is the story of Vonnegut’s style. As Charles Shields tells us in his wonderfully shaggy biography, the demands of Slaughterhouse-Five consumed Vonnegut for twenty-five years, and nearly broke him. With justice, it was the book that made him into more than a cult figure.
For Vonnegut has a strangely central place in American fiction despite his occasional insistence on his own marginality. He owes his position to two extraordinary, and related, achievements. First, as a novelist forged by the war, he adopted an ironic approach to his great subject that was a strong counterpoint to the mawkishness of the Vietnam novels that appeared in the wake of Slaughterhouse-Five. Second, Vonnegut continues to be a writer embraced by teenagers; his novels somehow perform successful reconnaissance missions behind the lines of each new generation. Far from symptomatic, this teen appeal gets at the very essence of Vonnegut: the way his gallows humour and sentimentality depend on each other. His heartfelt adages (“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be”) and earnest declarations (“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind”) come encased in a hard, sardonic shell. Consume enough of it and you can simulate hard-boiledness that you haven’t earned but Vonnegut certainly did. A story that never failed to draw a wheeze of laughter from the author in later years was of breaking the news of Pearl Harbor to his college fraternity brother in the shower, who promptly slipped and died.
Vonnegut is fascinating to read, but the challenge he leaves us with is to find the humor and joy in a life in which he points us to the saddest, most cruel aspects of our time here.  I get the feeling he looked at life and said, "Aw fuck it, I shouldn't find this humorous, but I'm bound for madness if I don't."  But yet, he still managed to see beauty in life.  It seems to have been wrapped up in our species brave ability to overlook all of the terrible things we can do to one another and find love for others.  His work was a gift to us.

Plaintiff In Obamacare Suit Files Bankrupcy With Hospital As Creditor

LA Times (h/t John Cole):
In August, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta agreed. Florida and 25 other states were suing, but they needed an individual to contest the mandate. "Mary Brown has standing to challenge the individual mandate," the judges said, and "as long as at least one plaintiff has standing to raise" the claim, the court can rule. The Obama administration appealed, and the Supreme Court said in November it would decide the constitutional challenge.

But by then, Brown's small auto repair shop near Panama City, Fla., had closed, and she and her husband had filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Brown said in the petition that her only income was $275 a month in unemployment benefits.

Her bankruptcy came to light in December, when a Wall Street Journal reporter interviewed her about her role in the historic case. In a video interview, Brown said freedom from government was the issue. "I'm not fighting just for me," she said. "It's my choice to have healthcare, not theirs."

Shortly afterward, lawyers for the National Federation of Independent Business informed the court of Brown's troubles, and sent along a copy of her bankruptcy filing.

The couple owed $2,140 to Bay Medical Center in Panama City, $610 to Bay Medical Physicians, $835 to an eye doctor in Alabama and $900 to a specialist in Mississippi.

"This is a very common problem. We cover $30 million in charity and uncompensated care every year," said Christa Hild, a spokeswoman for the hospital center. "If it's a bad debt, we have to absorb it."
Well, society has to absorb it.  It is sad that this happened to the woman, but unfortunately, it is extremely likely for people the age of her and her husband.  I really didn't like the idea of the mandate when Romneycare was introduced, and I wasn't a fan of Clinton and Edwards pushed for it.  It wasn't until the health care debate that I began to pay close enough attention to understand the mechanics of the necessity of the mandate if insurance companies had to give up preexisting condition exclusions.  Maybe it was the increased news coverage, or maybe I'm an Obot.  I think in the end, my opposition to punishing people for not buying coverage was outweighed by the realization that large numbers of people didn't have anything to lose by not buying health insurance.  I could lose large amounts of money by taking a risk that I wouldn't get sick or have a serious accident.  Most people don't have a lot to lose, and if they can't afford the insurance, it makes sense to take that risk.  We as a society need everybody to participate in the system, because everybody will use it.  Now, my main opposition to the program is that it keeps the insurance companies in the game, with their hands in our pockets.

Back When Harvard Wasn't A Basketball School

As Harvard waits to find out who they'll play in the NCAA tournament, Jeffrey Toobin reflects on his time covering the Crimson as a student:
For two seasons, I covered the very much N.C.A.A.-less varsity for the Harvard Crimson. (I wrote a column called Inner Toobin, wherein I would throw around phrases like annus mirabilis on the sports page. It was insufferable.) Of course, the year started with the apparition that is Jeremy Lin ’10 single-handedly (more or less) reviving a Knicks franchise that has been down since almost the John F. Kennedy ’40 Administration, as we used to call it. Now the team is going to the Big Dance. Who knew?

In my day (the customary phrase to introduce gasbag alumni reminiscences), the hoopsters played in a not-so-glorified gym with the poetic name of the Indoor Athletic Building. (What would an Outdoor Athletic Building look like? We mused undergraduately.) At halftime of every game, a local travel agency sponsored what was known as the Bermuda Shoot. After a drawing, a spectator would take a shot from half-court to win a trip to Bermuda if he (or she) made it. Once, a guy did. It was the loudest cheer I heard in those two years.

I did get to cover a game from courtside at the old Boston Garden, which was a big thrill for me. On that day, Harvard lost to Boston College, 86-83, which was a closer game than most of us had expected, since B.C. was favored by about a dozen points. Much later, it emerged that gangsters had paid off four Eagle players to shave points. The scandal earned a mention in Goodfellas.
Hopefully the Crimson can represent well in the tournament.  A first round win would be pretty cool.

The Bipartisan 'War On Terror'

Get this, a link to Fox News (h/t nc links):
Fox News reports:

FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday said he would have to go back and check with the Department of Justice whether Attorney General Eric Holder’s “[criteria] for the targeted killing of Americans also applied to Americans inside the U.S.
“I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not,” Mueller said when asked by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., about a distinction between domestic and foreign targeting
Graves followed up asking whether “from a historical perspective,” the federal government has “the ability to kill a U.S. citizen on United States soil or just overseas.”
“I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice,” Mueller replied.
Indeed, Holder’s Monday speech at Northwestern University seemed to leave the door open.
This is one issue in which I will agree with Republican charges against Obama.  Unfortunately, I expect Republicans to be just as bad about due process if a Republican becomes President.  Both sides have ginned up a fear of terrorism which gives ridiculous power to secret government agencies.  The assasinations of minor players who could be threats to the United States is very bad for the rule of law.  This is an issue which Congressional Republicans should bring up and put the heat on Democrats. 

We need to end the "War on Terror."

Chart of the Day

From Calculated Risk:

We're going in the right direction, but we've got a long, long way to go.  For Obama and the Republicans, the main issue will be where are we at as compared to January 2009, and who do the voters blame more for the job losses between then and the bottom.  Unfortunately for the Republicans, I think if things keep improving, the blame will be heaped on Bush, and the Republicans will have to try to win on social issues.  They've done a terrible job so far on that front, and I would expect more fail if social issues become their biggest campaign issue.

The Economics Of Small Dairies

Not very good compared to the labor required:
This, despite the fact that dairy farming has become shockingly more productive. When Bob was a kid, during the Depression, he and his 10 siblings milked the family’s 15 cows by hand and produced 350 pounds’ worth of milk per day. By the time Robert was a teenager, in the 1970s, the farm had grown to 90 cows — all of which were milked automatically through vacuum technology — and sold around 4,000 pounds of milk per day. Now the Fulpers own 135 cows, which produce more than 8,000 pounds of milk.
So the farm should be more lucrative, right? Robert showed me exactly how much money he and his brother made last year, an unusually profitable one for the dairy industry. He asked me not to reveal the number, but let’s put it this way: Robert and Fred start work at 4:30 a.m., finish at 7 p.m. and trade Sundays off. If you divide their 2011 profit by their weekly hours, they earn considerably less than minimum wage. Unlike in their father’s day, they have little money left over to invest in new equipment. One of their computers runs on MS-DOS.
How could Robert and Fred — who produce so much more milk than their dad — end up making less money? There are a number of reasons, some obvious, others less so. Milk went from a local industry to a national one, and then it became international. The technological advances that made the Fulpers more productive also helped every other dairy farm too, which led to ever more intense competition. But perhaps most of all, in the last decade, dairy products and cow feed became globally traded commodities. Consequently, modern farmers have effectively been forced to become fast-paced financial derivatives traders.
This has prompted a significant and drastic change. For most of the 20th century, dairy farming was a pretty stable business. Cows provide milk throughout the year, so farmers didn’t worry too much about big seasonal swings. Also, at base, dairy-farming economics are simple: when the cost of corn and soybeans (which feed the cows) are low and milk prices are high, dairy farmers can make a comfortable living. And for decades, the U.S. government enforced stable prices for feed and for milk, which meant steady, predictable income, shaken only by disease or bad weather. “You could project your income within 5 to 10 percent without trying too hard,” says Alan Zepp, a dairy-farm risk manager in Pennsylvania.
But by the early aughts, to accommodate global trade rules and diminishing political support for agricultural subsidies, the government allowed milk prices to follow market demand. People in other parts of the world — notably China and India — also became richer and began demanding more meat and dairy products. Animal feed, especially corn and soybeans, became globally traded commodities with all the impossible-to-predict price swings of oil or copper. Today Robert can predict his profit or loss next month with all the certainty that you or I can predict the stock market or gas prices. During my visit, Robert said that his success this year will be determined by, among other things, China’s unpredictable economic growth, the price of gas (influenced, of course, by events in Iran and Syria) and the weather in New Zealand (a major milk exporter), where a drought can send prices skyrocketing.
The whole article is interesting.  I've always had a freakish interest in dairy farming, but never was foolish enough to jump into it.  Based on my inertia on projects involving my beef cows, I'm sure that is a good thing.  As for the impact of the world economy on agriculture, the speculation in commodities has made so many things unpredictable.  Grain farming has been very lucrative, but as income increases, so do input costs, so the chances for a really bad year keep increasing.  It makes it much more discomfiting.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Only The Good Die Young

It's almost fish fry time for the day, so let's have some music.  The legend was that Billy Joel was banned from Notre Dame for playing this song.  That is, until he came to campus on tour and played it.

The Westmoreland County Coal Strike

March 9, 2012:
The Westmoreland County Coal Strike, involving 15,000 coal miners represented by the United Mine Workers, begins. The Westmoreland County Coal Strike of 1910–1911 was a strike by coal miners represented by the United Mine Workers of America. The strike is also known as the "Slovak strike" because about 70 percent of the miners were Slovak immigrants.
It began in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, on March 9, 1910, and ended on July 1, 1911. At its height, the strike encompassed 65 mines and 15,000 coal miners. Sixteen people were killed during the strike, nearly all of them striking miners or members of their families. The strike ended in a defeat for the union.
The Irwin Gas Coal Basin is an area in Westmoreland and Venango Counties, Pennsylvania. It encompasses the townships of North Huntingdon, Penn, Sewickley, Salem, South Huntingdon, Hempfield and Irwin, and the boroughs of Murrysville, Export and Delmont. The coal mined in the district was unsuitable for use as coke. However, it was ideal for gasification and conversion into coal gas.
Seven companies dominated coal mining in the Irwin Basin in 1910. In 1854, the Westmoreland Coal Company was formed to begin mining coal in the region. In 1905, it bought a controlling interest in Penn Gas Coal, a company established in 1861 to gasify coal. Penn Gas Coal, in turn, had obtained a one-third ownership in the Manor Gas Coal Company. Through these purchases, Westmoreland Coal had a near-monopoly on the gas coal market, and was the largest bituminous coal company in the Pennsylvania. In 1892, Robert Jamison and his sons founded the Jamison Coal and Coke Company (originally the Jamison Coal Company). In 1886, the Berwind family and Judge Allison White founded the Berwind-White Coal Mining Co. In 1902, a number of smaller coal gas companies in and around Greensburg, Pennsylvania, merged to form the Keystone Coal and Coke Company. In 1905, Latrobe-Connellsville Coal and Coke Company was formed when Marcus W. Saxman merged three of his wholly owned or controlled coal companies.
These companies were very paternalistic. Company towns (colloquially referred to as "coal patches") were established, company stores founded and workers often paid in company scrip.
I hadn't heard about that before.  Sixteen dead.  That would make news today. 

Outdated Laws

Congressman Jim Cooper on outdated government programs:
This is why there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of overlapping and duplicative programs for favored constituencies, as opposed to one or two programs that really deliver. This also explains why our laws are so complex that they are becoming almost impossible to understand.
A small but classic example from my jurisdiction on the House Armed Services Committee is the mohair subsidy, which originated post WWII out of concern about the future availability of wool for military uniforms. Today, more than a half century later -- when military uniforms are largely composed of synthetic material -- the program still benefits goat herders in Texas, now under the friendly jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee. The subsidy was seemingly killed in the mid-90s and again in 2001, but it was resuscitated each time by the loving care of special interests. And while it was defunded again last year, the underlying authorizing legislation remains on the books, ready to revive the subsidy at any moment.
The mohair subsidy is one of the most popular programs to bring up.  It can be cut with no major impact on our country, unlike many other government programs.  Cooper goes on to bash on the mandatory spending programs without calling them out by name, such as Medicare, Social Security and veterans benefits.  Sure, wouldn't it be great to whack all those terrible programs.  Call me when you decide to, congressman, I want to watch the calls pour into your office.

Vatican Orders 13 Closed Cleveland Parishes Reopened

All Things Considered:
HAGERTY: Turns out she was right. St. Patrick, along with a dozen other Cleveland churches, appealed to the Vatican. Now the Vatican is ordering Bishop Lennon to reopen those 13 churches closed by the diocese.
SINGLETON: I keep on pinching myself, like wow, this is really real. It really is true.
HAGERTY: The ruling from the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy was something of a smack down, says Peter Borre. He's an lawyer who advises congregations whose churches have been closed on how to appeal to the Vatican. Borre says it's the first time that Rome has ordered parishes to be fully reopened.
PETER BORRE: If you destroy the spiritual infrastructure of the Catholic Church in the United States, that's irreversible damage. You will never get those churches and those faith communities back. I think that's the driver.
HAGERTY: A spokesman for the Cleveland Diocese had no immediate comment. He says they need to study the document.
Over the past decade, Borre says, more than 1,500 parishes have been closed. Many have been sold off, 26 in Cleveland alone. But there are at least a dozen parishes around the country that are appealing to the Vatican, including several in Boston. Borre says the order should give them hope.
I think one of the real shames of the Catholic Church in the U.S. has been the abandonment of so many beautiful urban parishes built by poor immigrants prior to 1950.  Even worse, they have been replaced by massive, soulless fan-shaped travesties in the suburbs.  But that is just a part of the story of urban flight after the Great Migration took hold.  We still haven't stopped the rot at the heart of our center cities.  This decision may make a few folks happy, but as the elderly parishioners die off, it will continue to be extremely difficult to sustain these parishes, barring a massive migration back from the suburbs.

At Fukushima When The Earth Shook

A year after the quake, Marketplace reports the story of an American survivor:
When the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and the Daiichi nuclear plant last March, an American technical crew with 40 workers was on site.
Among the crew was Carl Pillitteri, a maintenance supervisor who was on the floor of one of the four turbine buildings -- enormous structures that house the gigantic turbines that produce energy. Carl was in charge of a detail that was packing away the specialized tools and equipment the technicians use to service the plant.  Over the next half-hour, he and they endured a terrifying ordeal -- sometimes in total darkness when the lighting failed.
The full force of the quake lasted several minutes. Several aftershocks followed, but the lights returned, and Carl was able to get everyone out, after first rescuing a crane operator who was stranded 30 feet overhead. Separated from the others, Carl retreated to a nearby hillside within the Daiichi plant complex, where he watched the tsunami approach to within a hundred feet or so from where he stood.
The story is worth listening to, it is chilling.  It is hard to imagine actually being there and surviving all that.

Does The Individual Mandate Make People Dependent On Government?

Andrew Sullivan:
I think Daniel Henninger is onto something here:
Santorum's 35-minute speech in Cuyahoga Falls touched an array of subjects that drew applause. But at the halfway point, when he tore into ObamaCare, his mostly working-class audience exploded into applause and cries of "Rick! Rick! Rick!"
Mr. Santorum didn't get this response by discussing health-insurance exchanges and guaranteed issue. He told these people that ObamaCare "is usurping your rights. It is creating a culture of dependency. Every single American will be dependent on government, thanks to ObamaCare. There is no more important issue in this race. It magnifies all that is wrong with what this president is trying to do." (emphasis mine) His call for repeal produced the explosion.
He followed with an tight description of how he understands the terms of the election: "This race is coming down to the economy, the deficit and control of your life, which is ObamaCare." (There was no mention of contraception, gays or the role of women.)
He won't be able to avoid the contraception issue on healthcare which, as I've argued from the get-go, is a win-win for the Democrats (thanks to Rush and the Cardinals). But on the issue of the individual mandate, Santorum has, I think, a potential winner. Maybe this will be resolved by the Supreme Court and render the politics of this moot. But until then, Santorum's opposition to an individual mandate is a clear red line between him and Romney, resonates with the Tea Party, and obscures Santorum's own contempt for freedom when it leads to activities he regards as sins. If framed within an argument about government's more general over-reach because of the Great Recession, it's powerful way to rally the base. And God knows Romney has got nothing to counter it with.
Wait a second, in what way does the individual mandate make people dependent on government?  The law says people have to have health insurance, and if they can't afford it, or their employer doesn't provide it, the government will help them out.  Where does that make people dependent on the government?  Is it because it will expand Medicaid?  If a person already buys their own health insurance (like I do) or has it provided by their employer, like about 70% of folks, then the individual mandate doesn't affect anybody. 

Last time I checked, participation in Medicare is subsidized and mandated by the government, and yet it is extremely popular with most Americans.  Participants in Medicare have over their lifetimes in no way paid for all the benefits they receive under the program.  And yet, I hear of lots of people who are very relieved that they turned 65 and are eligible for a system that makes them dependent on government.

Santorum's argument may resonate with the base, but that is because the base rarely thinks rationally.

Nueroscience and Free Will

More Intelligent Life:
In 2011, Sam Harris, an American writer on neuroscience and religion, wrote that free will “could not be squared with an understanding of the physical world”, and that all our behaviour “can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge”. Really? There are now hopeful signs of what might be called a backlash against the brain. Hardly anybody doubts that the grey matter in our skulls underpins our thoughts and feelings, in the sense that a working brain is required for our mental life. This is not a new, or even a modern, idea: Hippocrates proclaimed as much in the fifth century BC. But there is a growing realisation among some neuroscientists that looking at flickers of activity inside our heads can be a misleading way to see how our minds work. This is because many of the distinctively human things that people do take place over time and outside their craniums. Perhaps the brain is the wrong place to look if you want to find free will. This is a theme of recent books by Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Raymond Tallis, a retired British doctor and neuroscientist. As Dr Tallis puts it in his “Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity”, trying to find human life in the brain is like trying to hear the rustle of a forest by listening to a seed.
In part, this backlash against the brain results from the conviction that today’s technologies for investigating it have been hyped. The existence of diagnostic hardware such as fMRI and PET scanners, which let you peek inside brains while they are still alive and thinking, has encouraged some neuroscientists to think they can find the locus of moral responsibility, the seat of love and all manner of things in the gaudy images produced by brain scans. But although our mental lives depend on the brain, it doesn’t necessarily follow that our behaviour is best understood by looking inside it. It’s like the old joke about a drunk who drops his car keys at night and walks down the road to look for them under a distant streetlight—not because that’s where they’re likely to be, but because it’s where he can see.
It is a fascinating subject.  While we have the ability to make decisions, some of our brain and body functions are prewired.  It is notable to point out that we often don't use our brains when making decisions, as can be seen from some of my doozies.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Northern Lights May Be Visible In Upper U.S. Tonight

The most powerful solar storm in five years hit Earth on March 8, and could create northern lights far south of their usual range.
On March 6, the sun produced two enormous X-class flares – the most powerful types of blasts to erupt from the sun’s surface – that flung waves of charged particles into space. The particle bursts are called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, and as they hit Earth’s atmosphere they can disrupt communication satellites and power grids. But the interaction of CMEs with Earth’s magnetic field also produces the incredible displays known as the northern lights.
When the storm reached Earth, it was slightly weaker than expected, and the alignment of Earth’s magnetic field with the CME’s magnetism further weakened the storm. On the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center’s Facebook page, the effect was likened to two bar magnets placed side-by-side with their poles misaligned. But NOAA goes on to note that the storm may take 24 hours to completely pass and could intensify further. Officials predict a “strong” geomagnetic storm before the CME is done.
If the storm reaches predicted intensities, it could cause northern lights as far south as geomagnetic latitude 50 (this is not identical to geographic latitude). This includes most of the northeastern U.S., the upper Great Plains region, and Washington state. You can check your geomagnetic latitude at the SWPC website.
We're around the lower border of the viewing region.  With the light pollution, I probably won't be able to see it.

Ohio Veteran's ID Questioned

Think Progress, via Balloon Juice:
Paul Carroll, an 86-year-old World War II veteran who has lived in the same Ohio town for four decades, was denied a chance to vote in the state’s primary contests today after a poll worker denied his form of identification, a recently-acquired photo ID from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The poll worker rejected the ID because it did not contain an address, as required by Ohio law. Carroll told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he got the ID from the VA after his driver’s license expired because he doesn’t drive anymore:
“My beef is that I had to pay a driver to take me up there because I don’t walk so well and have to use this cane and now I can’t even vote,” said Paul Carroll, 86, who has lived in Aurora nearly 40 years, running his own business, Carroll Tire, until 1975.
“I had to stop driving, but I got the photo ID from the Veterans Affairs instead, just a month or so ago. You would think that would count for something. I went to war for this country, but now I can’t vote in this country.”
A local Veterans Affairs employee told the Plain Dealer that the decision not to include the address was likely made at the federal level, and because VA IDs are accepted at any location, “the actual address of a veteran isn’t as critical to us.” Carroll was offered a provisional ballot, but the type was too small for him to read and “I was kind of perturbed by then,” he said.
Seriously, how many people go and vote more than once?  Because all a person has to do to vote is to live somewhere, register to vote and then show up and vote.  If a person shows up to vote, and they are registered, they are almost certainly actually that person.  Especially considering it is a felony to commit voter fraud.  So why in the hell do Republicans keep passing laws to require photo IDs?  To punish poor old people and minorities who don't already have drivers' licenses, that's why.  Well, amongst those they have at least hassled is an 86-year-old veteran who's lived in the same town for 40 years.

Stay classy, assholes.

Gnadenhutten Massacre

March 8, 1782:
 Gnadenhütten massacre: Ninety-six Native Americans in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, who had converted to Christianity are killed by Pennsylvania militiamen in retaliation for raids carried out by other Indians. The Gnadenhutten massacre, also known as the Moravian massacre, was the killing on March 8, 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, of 96 Christian Lenape (Delaware) by colonial American militia from Pennsylvania. The militia attacked Lenape at the Moravian missionary village of Gnadenhütten, Ohio.
The site of the village has been preserved. A reconstructed cabin and cooper's house were built there, and a monument to the dead was erected. The village site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In an unrelated event in 1755 during the French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years War), Native Americans allied with the French massacred 11 missionaries and converted Munsee Lenape at a Moravian mission village in Pennsylvania that bore the same name. The term Gnadenhutten massacre usually applies only to the 1782 event in Ohio.
Not exactly a bright spot in the history of the nation.

Shale Gas In Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer, h/t Ritholtz:
More than 3 million acres have been leased for drilling, with gas and oil companies paying an average of $2,500 per acre, meaning $7.5 billion has already been poured into bank accounts for the right to drill.
The study assumes that only about 70 percent of that money went to Ohio residents and that Ohioans spent only a fraction of that, as little as 4 percent. Despite all that leasing, only 33 wells were actually drilled in 2011, and just four are producing oil and gas.
Still, the study assumes that by 2014, gas producers like Chesapeake Energy, ExxonMobile and others will together drill more than 1,000 wells a year - and spend $6 billion doing it. Other analysts have predicted much lower levels of drilling in the short run: 50 additional wells this year, 100 or so in 2013 and up to 200 in 2014.
I'm a bit skeptical.  We'll see what happens.  I just find it crazy to imagine all that crappy ground in southeastern Ohio is worth, on average, $2,500 an acre for just that gas under it.  And that isn't even including royalties.  If a few producers go bankrupt in the not-too-distant future, I wouldn't be shocked.

Why Are Rural Voters So Crazy?

After looking at the county-by-county results for the Ohio primary, I just don't understand why rural areas vote for such jackasses.  If rural areas are as religious as rural folks claim, why the hell to they need to elect a loony theocrat to force people to follow religious doctrines?  Wouldn't rural areas stand as an example for all the hellbound cities, and urban folks would realize their mistakes and repent without Rick Santorum allowing states to ban birth control?  My guess is that religious teachings don't translate into actual practice in rural areas, and folks would like to nudge things along.

I also don't understand the anti-government attitude which is so prevalent.  Seriously, don't rural folks realize that without the tax revenues in cities supporting them, rural life would continue to erode away?  Take Ohio's school funding.  Rural schools are subsidized by the suburban folks paying state taxes.  CAUV makes taxes from farmland minuscule.  And where do they think the money comes from to maintain the state highways?  It isn't from the small number of people living in rural areas.  Besides, why are they so pissed off about taxes?  The rich people live in the cities, and they are they ones who carry the burden of income taxes.

In the current election, we are getting a very clear lesson of how few people actually live outside of metropolitan areas.  Mitt Romney wins the cities and the suburbs, while Rick Santorum wins the rural areas, and yet Romney still wins.  In Ohio, Santorum won 69 counties, while Romney won 19.  Most significantly, Romney won both Warren County and Delaware County, the two fastest growing, and two of the wealthiest counties in the state.  I hate to break it to my neighbors, but we're going to see the same thing in the fall, with Romney winning the rural areas and Obama winning the cities and many of the suburbs.  Those county-by-county maps may be neat to look at, but they ought to be shown by population density instead of area.  While rural folks vote for crazy candidates, they support policies which will hurt them much more than they will help them.

Manny Many Prizes

Rafe Bartholomew on Manny Pacquaio's crazy TV show:
You might be flipping through channels and stumble into the Filipino champ crooning a semi-competent version of "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You" on Jimmy Kimmel Live; or someone might forward you a clip of Pacquiao holding a grip of celery, urging you to taste "pound-for-pound the best produce in the world"; or maybe you've glanced at a newspaper to see that he was elected to the Philippine House of Representatives. Pacquiao's adventures in politics and entertainment tend to be equal parts goofy, charming, and inspiring. Even his political career is treated mostly as a novelty by the Western media, while many in the Philippines view Pacquiao the statesman as basically (hopefully) harmless. But over the past few months, I've become obsessed with following the fighting congressman for Sarangani Province's latest side project, a weekly variety show on Philippine network television called Manny Many Prizes. It's so monstrous that I haven't missed an episode since September.
Manny Many Prizes is founded on a profoundly cynical premise: The show's producers and hosts provide generous cash prizes and some spectacle for the studio and television audiences, who, in turn, reward Manny, his co-hosts, and the network with fame, ratings, and (for Pacquiao, at least) electoral loyalty. As the show's host, Pacquiao presides over this two-hour cyclone of flashing lights, sound effects, and confetti along with a phalanx of co-hosts and a bevy of female backup dancers whose outfits would make some of the working girls in Manila's red light district look conservative.
This sounds like it would fit right in to American daytime television.  Maury anyone?

Why Is There A Middle Eastern Double Standard?

Robert Wright makes a good point:
The genius of using religious scripture for political purposes is its resistance to criticism. After all, in the week when the book of Esther figures in a sacred Jewish ritual, who would be foolish enough to challenge Netanyahu's invocation of it?
Me, apparently. And no doubt some commenters will illustrate my foolishness in the space below, accusing me of insensitivity, making dark insinuations about my motives, etc. So let me try to be clear about what I'm saying. I'm basically just asking two questions:
Why is it routine to talk about Iranian religious fanatics who are leading us toward war and so rare to acknowledge the role that religious tribalism in America--among both conservative Jews and conservative Christians--is playing in leading us to war? And why is it that when Muslim radicals use religious scripture in a way that foments belligerence we consider it primitive and vile, whereas when Bibi Netanyahu does the same thing (more subtly, I grant you) we nod politely and smile?
Seriously, why are paranoid people the first ones we listen to when talking about "existential threats."  Iran is not an existential threat to Israel because Israel is a much more realistic existential threat to Iran.  Nobody is an existential threat to the United States but the United States itself.  So, please, shut the hell up about a war with Iran.

Jean Schmidt Loses

Why?  Here's the Cincinnati Enquirer:
George Abraham, an 81-year-old retiree and tea party supporter, said he voted for Wenstrup, in part because he was annoyed by Schmidt’s schmoozing with President Barack Obama at the State of the Union speech.
“Anyone that goes up there and gives Mr. Obama a hug can’t get my vote, I’m sorry,” Abraham said Tuesday, after casting his ballot at St. Rose Church on Eastern Ave.
Joelle Ragland, a 39-year-old homemaker who also cast her ballot at St. Rose Church, said she too went with Wenstrup. “He has a good combination of military experience, business experience and common sense,” she said. As for Schmidt, she said, “I don’t appreciate how she goes about things.”
Holy Shit.  This woman was a clown as a congresswoman.  She called John Murtha a coward for wanting to leave Iraq,  she claimed false endorsements, and she suggested Obama's birth certificate was fake, but, damn, she needs ousted because she hugged Obama.  People are damn crazy.  Tea partiers make other people look sane.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Violin Maker

The Violin Maker from Dustin Cohen on Vimeo.

The RV Industry And Elkhart, Indiana

Didn't know this:
The RV industry has learned some lessons from the deep recession, Fore says. Companies now offer more lower-cost models, as well as lightweight, fuel-efficient and "green" RVs.
But one thing that hasn't changed, he says, is that the fortunes of Elkhart and its 51,000 residents still live or die with the fortunes of the RV industry.
Just how reliant is this area on the RV industry? Consider this: Nearly half of all the jobs in Elkhart County are in manufacturing. In fact, no county in the country has a greater share of its jobs in manufacturing. And fully half of Elkhart County's manufacturing jobs are in making RVs and their parts. (Emphasis mine)
Wow, 50% of the jobs are manufacturing, and 50% of those are in the RV industry?  That is amazing.

Will Tornadoes Get Stronger?

Scientists aren't sure:
Purdue's Trapp and colleagues got a similar result in their 2007 study, which they confirmed in research published in 2009 and 2011. "The number of days when conditions exist to form tornadoes is expected to increase" as the world warms, he said.
In addition, they found, regions near the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts not normally associated with tornadoes will experience tornado-making weather more frequently. They projected a doubling in the number of days with such conditions in Atlanta and New York City, for instance.
More powerful thunderstorms would be expected to produce more tornadoes, but wind shear could prove a mitigating factor.
Because climate change is not uniform, Del Genio wrote in the 2011 paper, "in the lower troposphere, the temperature difference between low and high latitudes decreases as the planet warms, creating less wind shear."
Some of these storms have been very ugly, and I'm afraid things will get worse in the future.

House Passes St. Croix River Bridge Bill

The project’s estimated cost is $633.4 million, including $410.8 million for construction and $55 million for engineering, according to the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation. MnDOT says the project’s potential cost ranges from $574 million to $690 million.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who opposed the bill, said that, if enacted, it would call for the first-ever waiver of the 1968 rivers statute, which bars federal agencies from funding water-resources projects that would have "a direct and adverse effect" on the "values" of rivers designated as wild or scenic.
The project would include a 4,950-ft-long, four-lane bridge, measured from the Minnesota-side abutment to the Wisconsin abutment. It would be an extradosed bridge, with several towers, each rising about 70 ft from the bridge deck.
It would replace the two-lane Stillwater Lift Bridge, which was built in 1931 and is about a mile north of the proposed site for the planned new structure.
An interesting, pricy and controversial bridge up north.  I don't understand why it needs a waiver from the scenic rivers law, but I guess that is for other folks to fight over.

Dingoes Do Sometimes Eat Babies

NYT (via nc links):
Much of the change, Dr. Peace says, comes from public encounters with dingoes on Fraser Island, a nature reserve visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly. Starting in the ’90s, minor human-dingo incidents started worrying managers of the reserve, and in 2001 two dingoes killed a 9-year-old boy, Clinton Gage, and injured his brother. “That was really the game-changer,” Dr. Peace said. There were calls for the extermination of dingoes on the island, which did not happen, but rangers kill any dingoes believed to pose a danger.
Dingoes are generally classified as a subspecies of wolf, Canis lupus dingo, although in the past they have been classified as a subspecies of dog and as a separate species. Physically, they resemble a generic, medium-size dog, about 40 pounds, usually tan-colored, with pricked ears and a bushy tail.
They do not have some of the physical signs of domestication found in many dog breeds, like barking as adults. They breed once a year, like wolves, and when undisturbed they have a stable pack structure topped by one male-female pair, the only ones in the pack that reproduce.
There are tons of coyotes around here, but I haven't heard of any attacking kids, even though they weigh about 40 pounds too.  Hopefully, it will stay that way.

Dropkick Murphys Tell Papelbon To Ship Off

For the longest time (or at least since The Departed made it famous), Jonathan Papelbon has been entering to the bagpipes-and-guitars opening riff of the Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up To Boston." It made sense. The song is instantly recognizable, catchy, and it's about Boston. But Paps is no longer about Boston. He's a Philly guy now, and Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey would like to let Papelbon know that he's no longer welcome to the song.
"He can't use 'Shipping Up To Boston,'" Casey said. "That's a Boston song. One of the Philadelphia radio guys suggested 'Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya.'"
"And I have to get with the new Sox closer [Andrew Bailey] to let him know he can use 'Shipping Up To Boston,'" Casey adds. "That's not Pap's song. That's the closer's song."
That's funny, because it's actually Woody Guthrie's song...
Regardless, I enjoy how Ken Casey plays the pissed off fan so well.  I guess it also explains how this song came to be.  They're just giant fans.

The Andersons Expands Ethanol Holdings

Des Moines Register:
The Andersons, Inc. Maumee, Ohio, which has three ethanol plants in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, said it has agreed to buy the 55 million gallon ethanol production plant at Denison owned by Amaizing Energy Holding Company, LLC. The transaction, which remains subject to several contingencies, is anticipated to close in the second quarter.
Financial details were not revealed.
Sam Cogdill, Chairman and CEO of Amaizing Energy, stated that the proposed sale will address the liquidity concerns of Amaizing Energy’s membership, while retaining the economic benefits the Denison facility has in the local area.
“Our investors committed to Amaizing Energy to earn a good return on their investment and to further local economic development and we feel great about having met both of those goals,” said Cogdill. “Placing Amaizing Energy on the market while it was a profitable operation has allowed it to reach a fair deal with a great company who we know will operate our plant properly.”
Interesting.  I don't know how strong the ethanol industry will be going forward, but the Andersons has a bunch of cash.

Republicans And Class Warfare

As Bruce Bartlett points out, Republicans participate in class warfare, they're just on the side of the rich:
I’m still waiting for the growth Republicans promised under George W. Bush after they cut the top federal income tax rate to 35 percent from 39.6 percent, the top rate on qualified dividends to 15 percent from 35 percent and the top rate on capital gains to 15 percent from 20 percent. All of these actions significantly lowered taxes for the rich without raising economic growth at all. Why will more tax cuts for these same people do any good now?
A January poll from the Pew Research Center shows that two-thirds of Americans see strong conflict between the rich and the poor, up from 47 percent in 2009. People are also more inclined to see the wealthy as having gotten that way through family fortune, rather than through their own hard work and education. And a number of polls show that Americans support higher tax rates on millionaires by a ratio of 2-to-1 or more.
I think the Republican nominee, especially if it is the ultrarich Mitt Romney, is going to have a hard time switching gears once he is no longer seeking the votes of just the G.O.P.’s hard-right base, which constitutes the bulk of primary and caucus voters. He is going to have to contend with some difficult facts, like those in a new paper by the economist Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley.
That just isn't going to help them having a guy with $20 million whose wife doesn't see them as rich.  What do I care, I want them to lose anyway.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Temporal Distortion

Conservatives' Government Benefits

James Kwak on hidden government handouts (h/t Mark Thoma):
One of the key themes we discuss in White House Burning is the rise to power of the conservative anti-tax, anti-government movement over the past half century. Government tax and spending policy is largely about distributional issues. When the poor are (indirectly) in power, they take their winnings in the form of benefit programs, since they don’t have a lot of taxes to cut. When the rich are in power, they take their winnings in the form of tax breaks. (For the most part: there are also sweetheart no-bid contracts, subsidies for non-commercial airports, and so on.)
What’s great about this for the rich is that those tax breaks only strengthen their political position. Tax breaks—say, preferred rates on dividends—mean either higher taxes on everyone else or larger deficits, both of which are unpopular. Since no one can see what the government is doing, it becomes less popular. Higher taxes make people think they’re not getting their money’s worth; larger deficits make them think the government is incompetent. Either way, they get mad at the parts of government they can see, not the tax breaks that the rich benefit from. Increasing anti-government sentiment leads to what you saw in 2010 and today: the Tea Party, demonization of the federal government, and a mad race among Republicans to see who can cut rich people’s taxes by the most.
I guess that would explain all the old people at tea party rallies on their Medicare paid-for Rascal scooters.  I think it definitely applies to the reddest of red state voters in rural areas.  We may not like the government, but if they are mailing out a check, we'll take it.

Voting Today

Well, the farce known as the Ohio Primary is under way.  I cast my presidential vote for Mr. Crazy Ron Paul, over robot Mitt Romney, jerk Rick Santorum and scumbag Newt Gingrich.  I almost voted for John Huntsman even though he dropped out a couple of months ago.  For Senate, I knew I didn't want to vote for Josh Mandel, and I was pretty sure all the other candidates were just as crazy.  Luckily, there was a write in spot, so I just voted for myself.  I'm sure it won't count, but I know I'm just as qualified as all the other candidates.  I skipped a bunch of uncontested positions and only cast a few more votes.  Overall, it was pretty much a waste of time.

The Woman Who Exposed Standard Oil

Ida Tarbell invented investigative journalism (h/t Ritholtz):
Nobody -- and certainly not a journalist -- had ever tried piercing the corporate veil like Tarbell did. Calculating that, roughly speaking, Time Equals Truth, Tarbell spent month after month, year after year, digging into the origins, operations and accumulation of power by Standard Oil. That necessarily led her into the remarkable life of Rockefeller, the most powerful person within the world’s most powerful enterprise.
Rather than relying on gossip and innuendo, Tarbell gathered Evidence, with a capital E. She located corporate filings in state capitals and in Washington. She tracked down lawsuits in remote courthouses. She studied congressional hearings. She interviewed hundreds of current and former employees, Standard Oil competitors, government bureaucrats, academic experts, friends and enemies of Rockefeller. She attended Rockefeller’s church to observe him directly, given that he had refused to cooperate with her. She immersed herself in the culture of Cleveland, where Rockefeller had obtained his business acumen and begun building a corporate empire. She cultivated one of Rockefeller’s renegade brothers, and discovered that Rockefeller’s father had been a con man and philanderer.
Why do corporations have it easier in 2012 than in 1912?  Some people might say that businesses are overregulated today, but I still think they are underregulated.

Is Josh Mandel The Next Big Thing?

I wouldn't think so, but Molly Ball writes up his bid for the Senate:
Republicans believe Mandel could be the next big thing -- the next member of a new generation of fresh-faced conservatives that includes Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah, two staunch conservatives elected to the Senate in 2010 at the age of 39. Next week, in fact, Rubio is coming to Ohio to campaign with Mandel. "This guy is the real story coming out of Ohio," one longtime GOP consultant in the state tells me. "He's the rock star of the party."
A former Marine who was elected to the city council of Lyndhurst, a Cleveland suburb, at the age of 25, Mandel served two terms in the state legislature, representing a strongly Democratic district, before winning the treasurer's post in 2010. Now he is taking on Brown, the progressive stalwart Mandel describes as too far left for this perennial swing state. Elected in 2006 after a decade and a half in the House, Brown is viewed by the GOP as an accidental senator, swept in by a national Democratic wave. The race is likely to be one of the most intense Senate contests of the year.
Though he turned 34 a few months ago, with his big ears, boyish face and skinny neck, Mandel seems far younger. It's not just his looks. His tone of voice tends to rise at the ends of sentences; he often tilts his chin up and squints while he speaks. He talks slowly and deliberately, his sentences punctuated with "um" and "you know." At one point, he bounces up and down in his seat on the red and black striped Steak n' Shake banquette.
Soon after this, she makes him sound pretty clueless.  The guy worked about 10 days as Ohio Treasurer before he decided to run for Senate against Sherrod Brown.  He also seems like a dick, at least as a campaigner.

Irish Saint's Heart Stolen

The preserved heart of Laurence O'Toole (Lorcán Ua Tuathail) in Christ Church, Dublin (prior to theft)

From the AP (h/t nc links):
Officials at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin said Sunday they're distraught and perplexed over the theft of the church's most precious relic: the preserved heart of St. Laurence O'Toole, patron saint of Dublin.
O'Toole's heart had been displayed in the cathedral since the 13th century. It was stored in a heart-shaped wooden box and secured in a small, square iron cage on the wall of a chapel dedicated to his memory. On Saturday someone cut through two bars, pried the cage loose, and made off with the relic.
"I am devastated that one of the treasured artifacts of the cathedral is stolen," said the Most Rev. Dermot Dunne, the cathedral's dean. "It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father."
Ireland's national police force, the Garda Siochana, said detectives were studying hours of closed-circuit TV footage to try to identify the approximately 40 people who walked out the cathedral's front doors Saturday morning.
I have no idea why people would be out stealing saint relics in Ireland.

Canadian Disembodied Feet Mystery Solved

They were suicides:
Since 2007, nine disembodied feet, most still inside sneakers, have washed up off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington state, sparking an international guessing game over their ghoulish origins.

Among the most popular theories: that the feet belonged to victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, or illegal stowaways, or were the final remains of the victims of a serial killer who had come up with a highly original calling card.

Finally, the mystery has been cracked, and the cause is as pedestrian as it is tragic: These feet, according the coroner’s office of British Columbia, almost all belong to suicides, and almost all of them jumped from bridges spanning the powerful Fraser River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver.

Once the bodies sank — a dead body will expel the gases that keep it afloat within hours — the body begins to decompose, limbs begin to separate and marine life begins to feed.

Feet shod in polymer-based sneakers, however, survived — fish can’t chew through them.
That's pretty gross. At least there wasn't a serial killer loose.

Iran's Concrete Innovation

Civil engineers in Iran have two major problems that their building materials need to be able to deal with. The first is earthquakes. The other is bombs.
As a result, the country has developed a particular expertise in making some of the toughest concrete in the world. The pinnacle of its development is known as Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC), which contains powdered quartz, but the country's researchers are also working on integrating other types of fibres and nanoparticles to toughen the substance yet further.
Concrete is traditionally made from cement, sand, gravel and water. When the water reacts with the cement, the other ingredients are bonded together in a structure that -- once set -- has high compressive strength, but relatively low tensile strength. As a result, concrete is often reinforced with other materials like steel.
Iran's concrete chefs have experimented widely with adding extra ingredients (known as admixtures) to that mix to improve the substance's load-bearing abilities. UHPC includes pure powered quartz and a selection of reinforcing metals and fibres to create a material that can withstand pressure many times higher than normal concrete, while also being more flexible and durable. That means that structures built with it can be thinner and lighter, while still being able to cope with the same stresses.
I didn't realize Iran was a world leader in high strength concrete.  I guess if you are figuring you might get bombed, development of better concrete helps out a bunch.

Are The Republicans Stupid?

Joe Scarborough says, yeah, pretty much:

"They had the advantage when all the Catholics were on their side but they couldn't leave it alone and it just continues with one statement after another that makes them look like they're hostile, not just to Democratic women," Scarborough lamented, referring to other controversial comments that Limbaugh and other Republicans have made about the issue.
He said that his wife had even directed him to tell the Republican party to focus on the economy and leave women's health alone. "This has been going on for a month," he continued. "I swear, what is wrong with these people?"
He watched an old clip of himself warning that Republicans had to frame the debate in terms of religious freedom. "It was so obvious what they were gonna do!" Scarborough exclaimed. "They just weren't smart enough to pull back when they should've pulled back, and now the president is killing them in the polls."

No kidding.  I haven't seen the Republicans quit while they were ahead in a long time.  I also have been wondering what is wrong with these people.  Even now, they could probably drop the subject and undo much of the damage, but they just won't.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Chart of the Day

The Best Character from The Wire bracket:

Brother Mouzone would have been my sleeper pick if he wasn't going up against Bunk in the first round.  As it is, McNulty and Maurice Levy look like the upset picks in the Hampsterdam region.  I'd never bet against Lester in East Baltimore.  I think Prop Joe will make it out of the Ports and Omar will get by Cheese in the West Baltimore bracket.

Operation Chaos: Ohio Farmer Edition?

Probably not.  I am a registered Republican because all the local election decisions are made in the Republican primary.  In 2008, I switched over to vote in the Democratic primary for Obama against Clinton (to no avail).  Tuesday I could cast a vote for Santorum or Romney based on who I would consider to be the weaker opponent in the fall, but instead I'll probably cast a vote for Ron Paul.  Why?  As a protest vote.  I think Romney and Santorum are each deeply flawed, and I don't want to support either one, even though I think Romney has a better chance of actually winning the Presidency in the fall.  I'll vote for Paul in spite of his crazy gold bug tendencies.  At least he isn't stampeding toward war with Iran like the three stooges also on the ballot with him.  I have no concern that Paul has any chance to win the nomination, so I don't have any concern that I will regret that vote in the fall.

Is Living Alone Narcissistic?

Andrew Sullivan:
Mark Mitchell worries about the dramatic trend toward "solo living":

[M]ost obviously, living alone can lead to a disposition that I am center of the universe. When I eat, sleep, brush my teeth, and exercise I must ask leave of no one and can to exactly as I please. I never have to make a meal out of something I despise because it is the favorite of someone else. I don’t have to get up in the night to help a sick roommate or spouse, to rub a sore back, fetch a glass of water, or get an extra blanket to stave of the chills of fever. If I do any of these things, it is solely for myself and no other.
Maybe that explains who I live alone.  For some reason, I doubt it. 

I guess I would think the benefits of living with somebody else might actually outweigh the detractions.  The ability to split chores, bills and other requirements of living, for instance.  Or, for instance, having somebody else get up in the night to help me when I'm sick.  I'm going to appreciate that more when I am the helpee than I am going to resent it when I'm the helper, because I feel a lot better physically in the latter case.

Also, the argument of "freedom" to do as you please would seem to run up against the requirements of fulfilling employment.  For instance, when I eat, sleep, brush my teeth and, well, never mind about exercising, generally revolves around my work schedule.  Actually, everything revolves around that.  I doubt that I am alone in this situation.  I can't consider myself the center of the world when my employer is the center of my world.

I think this seems like a case of blaming people for not managing to find the person who would make their life better living together.  At least that would be the case for me.

Smithsonian's Photo Contest

Via The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine features its 50 finalists for its ninth annual photo contest.  My favorite:

Moonrise over Northern Lights

Ben Hattenbach (Los Angeles, California)
Photographed March 2011, northern Alaska

The Westinghouse Air Brake

March 5, 1872:
An air brake is a conveyance braking system actuated by compressed air. Modern trains rely upon a fail-safe air brake system that is based upon a design patented by George Westinghouse on March 5, 1872. The Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO) was subsequently organized to manufacture and sell Westinghouse's invention. In various forms, it has been nearly universally adopted.
The Westinghouse system uses air pressure to charge air reservoirs (tanks) on each car. Full air pressure signals each car to release the brakes. A reduction or loss of air pressure signals each car to apply its brakes, using the compressed air in its reservoirs.
Prior to the introduction of air brakes, stopping a train was a difficult business. In the early days when trains consisted of one or two cars and speeds were low, the engine driver could stop the train by reversing the steam flow to the cylinders, causing the locomotive to act as a brake. However, as trains got longer, heavier and faster, and started to operate in mountainous regions, it became necessary to fit each car with brakes, as the locomotive was no longer capable of bringing the train to a halt in a reasonable distance.
The introduction of brakes to railcars necessitated the employment of additional crew members called brakemen, whose job it was to move from car to car and apply or release the brakes when signaled to do so by the engineer with a series of whistle blasts. Occasionally, whistle signals were not heard, incorrectly given or incorrectly interpreted, and derailments or collisions would occur because trains were not stopped in time.
Brakes were manually applied and released by turning a large brake wheel located at one end of each car. The brake wheel pulled on the car's brake rigging and clamped the brake shoes against the wheels. As considerable force was required to overcome the friction in the brake rigging, the brakeman used a stout piece of wood called a "club" to assist him in turning the brake wheel.
The job of a passenger train brakeman wasn't too difficult, as he was not exposed to the weather and could conveniently move from car to car through the vestibules, which is where the brake wheel was (and still is, in many cases) located. Also, passenger trains were not as heavy or lengthy as their freight counterparts, which eased the task of operating the brakes.
A brakeman's job on a freight train was far more difficult, as he was exposed to the elements and was responsible for many more cars. To set the brakes on a boxcar (UIC: covered wagon) the brakeman had to climb to the roof ("coon the buggy" in railroad slang) and walk a narrow catwalk to reach the brake wheel while the car was swaying and pitching beneath his feet.

Some Advice From Forrest Lucas

The founder of Lucas Oil Products shares some advice in Fortune magazine:
Be honest to a fault. We get lots of deals when a sponsor falls out for a race at the last minute, and people come to us. We don't need to draw up a contract because they know if we give them our word, it's a done deal.
Put your employees first. Before you open a business somewhere, see whether it's a nice environment where people will want to live. See what it will cost your employees to live there because that's going to determine what you have to pay.
Use products made in the U.S. If we can get it made here, we use it. Everything in our oil, additives, and bottles is made in America. We can buy things cheaper elsewhere, but we need to buy things from each other to get out of this economic mess.
Be fair. We treat our vendors like family because we're also a vendor. Ask for a good deal, but don't grind anyone into the ground. Let others make a living too.
You can tell he wasn't a product of Business School.  He wouldn't earn an MBA with common sense and decency like that.

Some Farmers Fear Fracking Hurts Livestock

Businessweek (via Big Picture Agriculture):
Something awful is happening over the Marcellus Shale, the vast geological formation in eastern North America where energy companies are looking for natural gas.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process for extracting gas by injecting high volumes of water and chemicals into deep wells, has sparked complaints about ruined landscapes and fouled groundwater. Increasingly there is evidence, mostly anecdotal, that animals are suffering.
A new study by veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, a professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University, chronicles case studies of dozens of farmers and pet owners in six states over the Marcellus Shale.
Their findings, published in “New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy,” are a harrowing account of sudden deaths of cattle, as well as reproductive and neurological problems in horses, cats, dogs and other animals.
The Pennsylvania farmers I spoke with have lost cows, calves, a horse, a couple dozen chickens. Many of the animals succumb in the same way: seizure-like symptoms, gasping for breath and a quick wasting away. A Rottweiler and a Dalmatian also fell ill and died.
These farmers are getting out of the beef business, in part over concern that their animals will become delivery systems for contaminants.
An organic farmer from southeast Ohio told me he has abandoned his cash crop, ginseng, for now, concerned that contaminants would enter his product. He began noticing changes around his 20-acre property in 2007, when a fracking operation began dumping wastewater nearby. He lost quite a few deer that were drawn to the brine and antifreeze in the fluid.
Energy representatives dismiss the veterinarians’ study. They say that health indicators have actually improved in areas with shale development.
“The paper is little more than a collection of personal testimonials that cannot be independently assessed or verified,” says Steve Everley, a spokesman for industry group Energy in Depth. “The paper is full of bold assertions about oil and gas development, but empty of any facts or scientific evidence to support those opinions.”
This is all anecdotal, but I'm guessing there will be more bad stories in the future.  I believe oil and gas deposits are a mixed blessing.  Fracking money has been a boon to Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, but I am glad western Ohio isn't caught up in the rush.  I don't think all the results will be positive from fracking, but I have no idea what the balance will be between the good and the bad.  I feel better not having to deal with the issue.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Love Is Making It's Way Back Home

Via The Atlantic:

The new music video for Josh Ritter's "Love Is Making Its Way Back Home" is a gorgeous, handmade collage painstakingly assembled from thousands of paper silhouettes and brought to life through stop-motion animation. A minimalist black and white universe blossoms into a psychedelic experience, saturated with the classic Crayola colors of kindergarten construction paper. With no special effects or digital enhancement, the video achieves an "oh wow!" effect with its amazing, labor-intensive intricacy.

The video was produced by Prominent Figures, a collaboration between Erez Horovitz, the director, and Sam Cohen, an animator. Horovitz describes the making of the video in an interview below, and some behind-the-scenes photos reveal the process of layering the silhouettes (as well as crew members taking naps on the floor during the grueling shoot). "Love Is Making Its Way Back Home" and Ritter's new album, Bringing in the Darlings, are available on iTunes
Stop-motion animation would drive me insane.  I know it is a very short drive, but still, wow.

The Emerald Isle

Wired features amazing satellite photos of Earth:

Resembling the brush strokes of French Impressionist Claude Monet, electric blue-colored plankton blooms swirl in the North Atlantic Ocean off Ireland in this Envisat image. Plankton, the most abundant type of life found in the ocean, are microscopic marine plants that drift on or near the surface of the sea.
While individually microscopic, the chlorophyll they use for photosynthesis collectively tints the surrounding ocean waters, providing a means of detecting these tiny organisms from space with dedicated "ocean color" sensors, like Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS), which acquired this image on May 23, 2010 at a resolution of 300 m.
More here.

Spring Is Here

The first Reds spring training game was on the radio yesterday.  It is clear that summer is around the corner.

Weyauwega, Wisconsin Train Derailment

March 4, 1996:
The Weyauwega derailment was a railroad accident that occurred in Weyauwega, Wisconsin, USA, in the early morning hours of March 4, 1996. The derailed train was carrying a large quantity of hazardous material, which immediately caught fire. The fire, which involved the train cars and an adjacent feed mill, burned for more than two weeks after the actual derailment, resulting in the emergency evacuation of 2,300 people for 16 days, including the entire city of Weyauwega, with about 1,700 evacuees.
At approximately 5:49 am, an 81-car Wisconsin Central train traveling from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, to Neenah, Wisconsin, approached the city of Weyauwega at 48.3 miles (77.7 km) per hour, traveling on a downward grade. The first 16 cars of the train passed a switch without incident, after which 37 cars behind them derailed at the location of the switch, at 5:49:32 AM. A subsequent NTSB investigation found the cause of the derailment to be a broken rail within the switch that was the result of an undetected bolt hole fracture.[1] The derailed cars included seven tank cars of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), seven tank cars of propane and two tank cars of sodium hydroxide. The derailment ruptured three of the tank cars, spilling both LPG and propane, which immediately ignited. The conductor of the train cut the train after the first nine cars, and proceeded onward 1.5 miles (2.4 km). He informed local law enforcement of the hazardous material the train was carrying, and was instructed to tell the fire chief.