Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wild Rover

Another Clancy Brothers classic here. Dropkick Murphys Wild Rover here.

The Story of St. Patrick - In Legos

The Voter Fraud Lie

Andrew Cohen:
Jonathan Chait, in a smart recent New York magazine piece titled "2012 or Never," offered some numbers supporting the theory. "Every year," Chait wrote, "the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point -- meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country." This explains, for example, why Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona are turning purple instead of staying red. "By 2020," Chait writes, "nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, "nonwhites will outnumber whites."
Which is why "whites," and especially white men, seem so determined this election cycle to make it harder for nonwhites to exercise their right to vote. The news from the front this week is telling. On Wednesday, in Pennsylvania, GOP Governor Tom Corbett raced to sign a bill that requires photo identification of voters. The day before, in Texas, GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott amended the Lone Star State's complaint against the federal government to seek to strike down the pre-clearance section of the Voting Rights Act, which had in turn been used by the Justice Department to block Texas' recent efforts at a stringent new voter-ID law.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, a state court judge on Monday blocked the state's new voter ID law, ruling that it unconstitutionally created a new (and lower) class of citizen-voter. Even the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has been dragged into the controversy, by the NAACP, to the great consternation of conservative bloggers and conspiracy theorists. It's all happening because lawmakers are dissatisfied with less onerous identification requirements -- like those just enacted in Virginia -- which allow registered voters to produce a wide range of documentation to establish that they are who they say they are.
What really doesn't make sense to me is that Republicans push for tougher rules for people showing up to vote, but they make it easier to vote absentee.  Talk about an opportunity for fraud.  People who take care of their elderly parents could vote their absentee ballots.  Landlords can register their tenants and vote their ballots, if they expect that the people won't vote on their own.  Of course, much like the idea that people will go to multiple precincts and vote, the idea that somebody would risk felony charges to cast 2 or 3 more absentee votes seems pretty unlikely to me.  There are two reasons for Republicans to push this line, suppression of minority votes and the ability to cast doubt on the validity of elections they are more and more likely to lose.  Unless the party changes its direction soon, they will be explaining away their election losses with imaginary vote fraud, and the true believers will think the election was stolen.

NCAA Bracket Update

Duke really blew a hole in my bracket, but oh how sweet was their loss.  My South bracket and Midwest bracket are wreckage.  I guess taking Belmont to the Elite Eight was not the best strategy.  So it goes.

Bottom Shelf Liquor

Mike Dang and friends sample the cheap liquor (well, at least their idea of cheap):
Mike: How about vodka?
Lawrence: Vodka is different from whiskey in that whiskey is supposed to have different characters, while vodka, ideally, is supposed to be neutral. It's not supposed to taste like anything but distilled alcohol and water, which is what it is. Smirnoff is as good as about anything for $13, and it actually won in a pretty exhaustive New York Times blind tasting some years ago.
Mike: If that's the case, let's try something cheaper.
I judge cheap liquor by three tests:

Do crappy bars use it as well liquor, do college students buy it, and does my grandpa buy it?

For vodkas, Kamchatka, Popov and McCormicks are on the low end, and are well down the drinkability scale.  Popov and McCormicks are so low, I haven't even seen a bar using them, I've only seen them at grandpa's and in college dorm rooms.  I used to get grandpa some Grey Goose or Absolut, but now I just get him Smirnoff, because he was using the Absolut to make his Popov more drinkable. 

Anyway, I.'ll just leave the hard stuff to others and stick to my beer.

Do We Grow Too Much Cotton?

Pamela Ravasio:
More land was converted to crop land in the 30 years after 1950 than in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850. The trend increased even further between 1995 and 2005, and the portion of farmed land grew from 5% to 25%. Intensive agricultural systems now covers one quarter of the planet's land surface, a fifth of what used to be wild a decade ago. A further 25% of surface area is covered by cities, railways, factories or mines.
Of a world crop production of 2748.2 million tonnes (2011), only 4% was cotton, the most popular of fibre crops. However the picture manifests itself very differently if land usage is the measure to go by: the plantations of the three largest cotton growers - the US, China and India - alone account for 50 million acres, 42% of all agricultural land. In contrast, food crops amount to some 40 million acres and fuel crops to 32 million acres.
In other words: It is the 'white gold', cotton, not fuel, that is in direct competition with food.
In the recent past, floods in Pakistan, India and Australia caused significant loss of cotton as well as food crops, triggering the 2011 spike in both commodity's prices. This development was exacerbated by the global demand for biofuel crops. While the loss of cotton harvests manifested itself through peaks in prices, the concurrent peak in food commodity prices triggered severe food supply scarcity, and malnourishment, in net importing countries.
I guess corn isn't counted as a food crop in this story, since the U.S. is expected to plant 95 million acres of corn this year.  I'll take a different angle on this.  In our country, we waste too much land growing lawns and paving parking lots.  If every suburban family had a quarter of the yard they have, and they lived in walkable communities, we'd probably not have as much obesity as we do, and people could spend more time tending a garden, and less time mowing the grass.

Biplane Design Stops Sonic Booms

LiveScience (via nc links):
Biplanes once ruled the skies in the pioneering days of aviation and World War I. Now the old aircraft design could make a comeback in the silent supersonic jets of tomorrow.
A newer version of the biplane could reach supersonic cruising speeds without causing ear-splitting sonic booms, according to computer simulations by MIT and Stanford University researchers. They built upon the design of German engineer Adolf Busemann, who originally envisioned triangular wings connected at their tips.
"The sonic boom is really the shock waves created by the supersonic airplanes, propagated to the ground," Wang says. "It's like hearing gunfire. It's so annoying that supersonic jets were not allowed to fly over land."

Making the Poop Green

That river is so full of fecal coliform after rainstorms that the green dye probably HELPS the river.

Not Getting The Point

Santorum notices the trend, but doesn't get the significance:
Then this jibe about the geography of Romney's appeal:
“If you look at where my Republican opponent has won, it’s always in and around the cities. It almost looks like a Republican versus a Democrat,” Santorum said, referring to some states that he did not explicitly name. “He’s winning the areas the Democrats win and I win the areas Republicans win.” Santorum paused for a moment. “Does that tell you something maybe?”
It tells me that if the Republicans are foolish enough to make Santorum the nominee, they'll get destroyed.  He thinks this proves the unelectability of Romney, while I think it proves the unelectability of Santorum.  Who wants to bet on this disagreement?

Copyight Math

Via Ritholtz:

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Also, Happy Evacuation Day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

More Fish Fry Music

Since we're going to be selling beer for the first time in several years at our fish fry, I'll go with this:

Bad News For Commodity Markets?

Bloomberg (h/t nc links):
China's economy is already in a so- called “hard landing,” according to Adrian Mowat, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief Asian and emerging-market strategist. “If you look at the Chinese data, you should stop debating about a hard landing,” Mowat, who is based in Hong Kong, said at a conference in Singapore yesterday. “China is in a hard landing. Car sales are down, cement production is down, steel production is down, construction stocks are down. It’s not a debate anymore, it’s a fact.” His team was a runner-up for best Asian equity strategists in a 2011 Institutional Investor magazine poll.
The Shanghai Composite Index fell 2.6 percent yesterday, the most since Nov. 30, after Premier Wen Jiabao said home prices are still “far from a reasonable level.” His comments fueled concern the government will maintain restrictions on the property market for an extended period even as the curbs threaten to slow economic growth.
If the wheels come off in China, watch out below for commodity prices, and those high prices for farmland might not be so buoyant.  I don't think it would be good for the nascent U.S. economic expansion, either.

An $800,000 Game of Blackjack

The Atlantic:
As Johnson remembers it, the $800,000 hand started with him betting $100,000 and being dealt two eights. If a player is dealt two of a kind, he can choose to “split” the hand, which means he can play each of the cards as a separate hand and ask for two more cards, in effect doubling his bet. That’s what Johnson did. His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. Getting four cards of the same number in a row doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He was now playing four hands, each consisting of a single eight-card, with $400,000 in the balance.
He was neither nervous nor excited. Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don’t matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn’t get rattled. With him, it’s all about the math, and he knows it cold. Whenever the racily clad cocktail waitress wandered in with a fresh whiskey and Diet Coke, he took it from the tray.
The house’s hand showed an upturned five. Arrayed on the table before him were the four eights. He was allowed to double down—to double his bet—on any hand, so when he was dealt a three on the first of his hands, he doubled his bet on that one, to $200,000. When his second hand was dealt a two, he doubled down on that, too. When he was dealt a three and a two on the next two hands, he says, he doubled down on those, for a total wager of $800,000.
It was the dealer’s turn. He drew a 10, so the two cards he was showing totaled 15. Johnson called the game—in essence, betting that the dealer’s down card was a seven or higher, which would push his hand over 21. This was a good bet: since all face cards are worth 10, the deck holds more high cards than low. When the dealer turned over the house’s down card, it was a 10, busting him. Johnson won all four hands.
I love a good gambling story, but if any fool thinks he or she is going to do the same as this guy, they've got another thing coming.  This guy knows his numbers.  The whole story is fascinating, and as a side note, probably indicates the gambling industry has hit the saturation point in America.

Army Corps Of Engineers Is Founded

March 16, 1802:
The Army Corps of Engineers is established to found and operate the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Corps of Engineers as it is known today came into being on 16 March 1802, when President Thomas Jefferson was authorized to "organize and establish a Corps of Engineers ... that the said Corps ... shall be stationed at West Point in the State of New York and shall constitute a Military Academy." Until 1866, the superintendent of the United States Military Academy was always an engineer officer. During the first half of the 19th century, West Point was the major and, for a while, the only engineering school in the country. The Corps's authority over river works in the United States began with its fortification of New Orleans after the War of 1812.
Also, Happy Birthday Craig.

Farmland Prices Still Rising

Des Moines Register:
The skyrocketing value of Iowa farmland has slowed a little in the past six months but continues to grow at an average annual rate of more than 20 percent, Iowa farm real estate agents were told during a meeting Friday in Ankeny.
The average statewide increase for the six months ending March 1 was 10.8 percent, according to the semi-annual survey by the Iowa Farm & Land Chapter 2 Realtors Land Institute.
The average increase for 12 months was 23.7 percent, the group said. That’s down from an annual rate of 32.6 percent last September.
“The short-term outlook is for land prices to remain steady to a little higher,” said Kyle Hansen, president of the group and an official with Hertz Farm Management in Nevada.
“Farmland values have a high correlation with commodity prices,” Hansen said.
As long as corn remains well above $5 a bushel, as it currently is at $6 to $6.50 a bushel, current land values should hold, Hansen said. But if corn drops to $4.50 or $4 farmland will begin losing value, he said.
There is some discussion in the article that a top may be forming.  I wouldn't be surprised if that is the case.  The numbers are getting so big, I don't think they can be justified even with record prices.

Bad Neighbors

Des Moines Register:
Settlement talks among lawyers representing all the parties began this morning as Huscher was scheduled to consider the disbursement of about $7.5 million from the sale of 745 acres of farm land that had been owned by Heemstra in Hancock and Wright counties. Another court hearing had been set for Friday involving the sale of 465 acres off farm land near Milo in Warren County for about $3.5 million. That hearing has been postponed.
Heemstra, now 52, killed the unarmed Lyon with a single shot to the head on Jan. 13, 2003, in rural Warren County using a .22-caliber rifle he had kept in his pickup truck. The incident occurred after the two men had engaged in a running argument over Heemstra’s purchase of a rural Milo farm that Lyon had used for feeding his cattle. Both men were well-known and established farmers and the slaying shocked people in the tightly knit Milo area. More than 1,000 people attended Lyon’s funeral at First Assembly of God in Indianola.
Heemstra confessed to authorities, telling investigators the friction between the two men had escalated to the point that Lyon had blocked the roadway in front of him that ill-fated morning as he drove behind him. Heemstra claimed Lyon got out of his vehicle to confront him and his first reaction was to take the rifle out of his truck. He contended Lyon taunted him, daring him to use the rifle. Heemstra later claimed Lyon had lunged at him and his actions were in self-defense.
After the slaying, Heemstra chained Lyon’s body to his pickup truck and dragged it to a field, where he hid it in a 12-foot deep cistern under hay bales. Hundreds of people joined search parties before the body was found.
Heemstra was originally convicted of first-degree murder and was given a life sentence, but his conviction was overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court. He was tried again and convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was freed in 2008 after serving four years in Iowa’s prison system.
I'm not surprised there have been a spate of civil suits in this case.  Four years in jail for murder?  A murder over land ownership and cattle watering equipment?  I may get mad at the neighbors once in a while, but I'll try not to get that mad.

Chart of the Day

From a story about nuclear power at The Economist (h/t Ritholtz):

The rise and fall of coal is pretty amazing.  In a similar vein, I would like to see a chart of transportation fuel by percentage from, say 1800 on.  I bet oats and hay have really fallen off the map, along with wood and coal. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Texas and Iowa Droughts Easing

From Early Warning:

The news isn't as good in the southeast and southwest.

David vs. Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell breaks out a little bit of common sense when looking at how underdogs prevail:

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”
Uh, no shit.  If you are the ragtag Continental Army fighting the redcoats, it is suicide to neatly line up and let the redcoats mow you down.  Likewise with insurgents in Iraq, or even with less athletic teams playing more athletic teams.  That isn't exactly brain surgery.  It is also why I found it so tiring when people complained that Iraqis were cowards for not fighting the US army straight up.  It's not hard to figure out why we were bound to do poorly in Iraq, at least compared to expectations, if people are dumb enough to expect our opposition to be stupid enough to try to fight our fight.

As for basketball, Gladwell points to the full court press as advantageous for underdogs.  While it may help, less athletic teams may easily get schooled by their more athletic opponents while pressing.  I'd go with 3 point shooting and ball-control offense if I'm the underdog.

Here's to the underdogs today.

New Frog Species Found In NYC

We tend to think of the discovery of a new species as requiring a trip to a remote and exotic location. But our ability to use DNA to determine how closely populations are related has revealed an unexpected fact: Lots of plants and animals that look indistinguishable to the human eye are actually quite distant from each other genetically, often far enough to merit a new species designation. In the latest example, researchers have found that a population of leopard frogs that make their home in the New York City area are probably a newly discovered species.According to the press release accompanying the new paper, the leopard frogs in the region were noted as having a croak that was quite distinct from those of the two species that inhabit the northern and southern parts of the East Coast. (A researcher involved in the finding described the other species as having a “long snore” or a “rapid chuckle.”) Speculation had focused on the possibility that the New York frogs were a hybrid of the two species, but molecular evidence shows that they are distant from both.
I don't think I would go to New York City in search of new species, unless I was going to search for a new species of person.

No Surprise

Omar Little wins the Grantland bracket for characters of The Wire:
With a vocal fan base extending from Facebook to the First Family, Omar Little was always the favorite to win our highly subjective Smacketology tournament. The incomparably gracious Michael K. Williams — the man behind the shotgun — took some time away from filming the third season of Boardwalk Empire to bask in his victory, and hopefully enjoy a well-earned bowl of celebratory Cheerios. (They’d best be Honey Nut.) Funny and humble, Williams’s only request was that we shout out his Twitter followers so they could take part in the virtual championship parade. Follow Michael here — but remember one thing: If you tweet @ the King, you’d best not miss.
One of the most poignant plot lines of The Wire was little Kennard blowing Omar away.  The man was unstoppable, until he wasn't.  And some scrawny little kid did it.  It's no surprise Omar won the bracket, because that character was fascinating.

Demographics And The GOP

David Frum (h/t The Dish):
And it raises this question for Republican party conservatives: Is Rick Santorum really the place where they want to place their hopes?
The Santorum candidacy pushes Republicans toward an election in which the issues are religious, cultural, and sexual, not economic. It's a candidacy that pushes the party away from metropolitan areas, away from areas of growing population, and rebases the party everywhere that is not dynamic, not growing. The concerns of hard-pressed America are deeply worthy of attention and respect. They call for responses and solutions. That's not what a Santorum candidacy offers. (As we've seen with the Santorum proposals to spur manufacturing with one single change in tax law, this is not a policy-serious campaign.) Instead, a Santorum candidacy offers an airing of resentments and grievances. Is that really where party conservatives want to go?

Unfortunately for the Republicans, I think this is exactly where the conservatives want to go.  They are in the words of Buckley, standing athwart history and yelling, "Stop!"  That may be their dream, but it will never become reality.  And the way they are going, they are paring their electoral support down to the elderly, the religious, and white men.  Meanwhile, older folks are dying off, the country is slightly over half female, minority population is growing, and religiosity is shrinking.  That doesn't seem like a winning strategy to me.

Yelling "Stop!" isn't going to win elections, especially when also yelling at the majority of the people in the country that you hate them.

Is There A Connection?

Huffington Post:
Arizona legislators have advanced an unprecedented bill that would require women who wish to have their contraception covered by their health insurance plans to prove to their employers that they are taking it to treat medical conditions. The bill also makes it easier for Arizona employers to fire a woman for using birth control to prevent pregnancy despite the employer's moral objection.
Under current law, health plans in Arizona that cover other prescription medications must also cover contraception. House Bill 2625, which the state House of Representatives passed earlier this month and the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed on Monday, repeals that law and allows any employer to refuse to cover contraception that will be used "for contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes." If a woman wants the cost of her contraception covered, she has to "submit a claim" to her employer providing evidence of a medical condition, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome, that can be treated with birth control.
Pew Research:
But both GOP frontrunners are running well behind Barack Obama in general election matchups. Among all voters, Obama leads Romney by 12 points (54% to 42%) and Santorum by 18 points (57% to 39%). Obama’s advantage among women voters, while largely unchanged from a month ago, remains substantial – 20 points over Romney and 26 points over Santorum.
Now, I'm really skeptical that even Arizona Republicans are dumb enough to allow employers to fire employees because they use birth control.  That said, I am just shocked that Republicans haven't caught on enough to STFU about birth control.  They are getting murdered with women.  Even as a person who despises today's Republican party, I feel discomfort watching these guys just absolutely killing themselves.  I don't understand how people dumb enough to do that to themselves manage to regulate their breathing.

Now That's A Lot of Rain

March 15, 1952:
In Cilaos, Réunion, 1870 mm (73 inches) of rain falls in a 24 hour period, setting a new world record (March 15 through March 16).
73 inches!  That's two years of rain here.  If we got that, somebody had better have built an ark.

Where Did The Money Go?

The Atlantic:

Across the 20th century, the labor force has shifted from farmers and foresters to manufacturers and then to professional and service workers. In 1900, we spent much of our manpower growing food and feeding ourselves. By 1950, the major economic industries were manufacturing and construction. But today's labor economy revolves around services, not products. Service industries grew from 31 percent of all workers in 1900 to 78 percent in 1999, the BLS reports.
Here's a snapshot of the employment story since 1939. It's all interesting, but let's focus on the time between 1975 and today. In the time that our education/medical sector has quadrupled, and our business service sector has increased by the same four-fold rate, total manufacturing jobs have fallen. As multinational companies have made better use of global supply chains, manufacturing and other so-called tradable occupations have been in decline. But retail jobs have increased because selling cars and food and furniture is still a face-to-face business that's hard to do anywhere except at the point of sale.
So health care and education employment have shot up along with costs?  That makes plenty of sense.  The whole piece is interesting.  All I can say about the chart above is that I spend much more on reading and alcoholic beverages and much less on apparel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Automotive Propaganda

GM lobbying from 1954:

The rush to the automobile culture has now left us in a pinch. So it goes.

Chart of the Day

Ohio Country Journal:

Well, I guess we weren't the only folks in the area who had a rough year last year.  Hopefully this year will be better.  Spring makes one so optimistic.

Cotton Gin Patented

March 14, 1794:
 Eli Whitney is granted a patent for the cotton gin. A cotton gin (short for cotton engine) is a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibers from their seeds, a job that otherwise must be performed painstakingly by hand. The fibers are processed into cotton goods, and the seeds may be used to grow more cotton or to produce cottonseed oil; if they are badly damaged, they are disposed of.
The first modern mechanical cotton gin was created by American inventor Eli Whitney in 1793 and patented in 1794. It used a combination of a wire screen and small wire hooks to pull the cotton through, while brushes continuously removed the loose cotton lint to prevent jams. Larger, more complex, automated cotton gins remain a crucial part of the cotton industry today.
It might have been beneficial to the south, but it led directly to the Civil War:
Prior to the introduction of the mechanical cotton gin, cotton had required considerable labor to clean and separate the fibers from the seeds. With Eli Whitney’s introduction of “teeth” in his cotton gin to comb out the cotton and separate the seeds, cotton became a tremendously profitable business, creating many fortunes in the Antebellum South. New Orleans and Galveston were shipping points that derived substantial economic benefit from cotton raised throughout the South. Additionally, the greatly expanded supply of cotton created strong demand for textile machinery and improved machine designs that replaced wooden parts with metal. This led to the invention of many machine tools in the early 19th century.
The invention of the cotton gin caused massive growth in the production of cotton in the United States, concentrated mostly in the South. Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850. As a result, the South became even more dependent on plantations and slavery, with plantation agriculture becoming the largest sector of the Southern economy.  The number of slaves rose in concert with the increase in cotton production, increasing from around 700,000 in 1790 to around 3.2 million in 1850.  By 1860, the southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, and up to eighty percent of the crucial British market.
Have I mentioned that I really don't like the South?

In Cinderella's Locker Room

Jordan Conn reports from South Dakota State's NCAA qualifying trip through the Summit League conference tournament:
Madness doesn't officially begin until mid-March, but in the early days of the month, at gyms in Hartford and Missoula, Macon and Hot Springs, scenes like this one unfold. Freshmen twitch; seniors sit silent, aware that in 40 minutes their careers could end. This year, 308 of the 345 teams in Division I entered postseason play with a theoretical chance at the national championship. Still, the late-season reality for mid-major conference powers can be cruel. Even after a season of league dominance, their tournament hopes hinge on winning a single-elimination event. But for South Dakota State, which fell just short of a regular-season title, the conference tournament is a chance to erase past failures.
As tipoff approaches, head coach Scott Nagy sits in the team meeting room, head buried in his iPad, reading and playing Sudoku. Nagy is nervous in these moments, but he avoids thinking about the game. He trusts his players and his preparation. To ease the sickness in his stomach, he seeks distraction, not focus.
Nagy accepted the SDSU coaching job when he was 28 years old. It was an unthinkable opportunity for a coach so young, a chance to lead a perennial power. Well, a Division II power, at least. Despite playing at a low level, the Jackrabbits have always enjoyed wide fan support. "We're a little state," says longtime fan Jeff Svennes. "We don't have much, as far as this stuff goes. In South Dakota, Jacks basketball is it." After winning at least 20 games in nine of Nagy's first 10 years, the Jackrabbits transitioned to Division I in 2004-05. They flopped. While the women's team won 21 games in its first D-I season, Nagy's men won 10. The next year, they won nine. In 2006-07, the program hit rock bottom. Two players were charged with rape (both were acquitted). The team won six games, its lowest total since 1944-45. After one particularly ugly loss, Nagy lambasted his squad in the press conference, calling players out and saying he believed he'd lost his team. Afterward, fans called for his head, and Nagy thought he might be fired. But the administration stuck with him, and the next year, the Jackrabbits improved. Season after season, they kept improving, until they wound up here, with Nagy sitting in the locker room, confident that after three more games they'd be bound for the NCAAs.
This is what makes the NCAA tournament fun.  It isn't the Dukes and Syracuses, it's the South Dakota States, Ionas and Detroits.  It may only last through Friday, but the first round sure is fun.  Remember Morehead State upsetting Louisville last year?  I do too.  Go Jackrabbits.

Bad Signs In China?

chart via Ritholtz.

Satyajit Das:
China also emerged as a large purchaser of commodities. It is now the largest purchaser of iron ore and other nonferrous metals. It is also one of the biggest purchasers of cotton and soybeans.
Between 1990 and 2010, China’s share of world coal consumption increased from 24% to 50%, in part driving a doubling of coal prices. In the same period, China’s share of world oil consumption increased from 3% to 10%, contributing to a 233% increase in oil prices.
Chinese savings and foreign exchange reserves (totalling over $3.2 trillion) were a major source of capital for financing developed countries, especially governments. China exported savings of around $400 billion each year, helping reduce interest rates in the US by as much as 1.00% per annum. Its role as an exporter of capital flows is surprising given China’s average income per capita is around $4,000, well below that of the US and Europe.
Following the GFC, China’s role became even more important. China, together with some of the other BRIC countries such as India and Brazil, contributed a large portion of global growth in 2010 and 2011.
As Western governments ran up large budget deficits in an effort to maintain economic growth, the ability to borrow from China, especially its large foreign exchange reserves, became important. Most recently, the European Union (“EU”) and the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) sought the financial support of China to resolve the European debt crisis.
The country’s increasing importance and foreign praise has led to Chinese hubris. The 30 July 2009 editorial in the English language People’s Daily, an official publication, boasted that China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”), had coped successfully with the financial crisis, earning worldwide attention: “High-level figures from the western political and economic spheres … envy China’s superb performance … as well as “China’s spirit”– the kind of solid, unbreakable “Great Wall” at heart to ward off the financial crisis.”
I would be damn surprised if a bunch of Chinese Communists managed to not blow their own economy up after catching capitalist fever.  The bad part is, if this happens, it's really going to kick farmers in the ass.

When A Depression Makes Capitalists Into Keynesians

Bloomberg (h/t Ritholtz):
But Roosevelt and his New Dealers would eventually give up conventional thinking on government spending. Business confidence gave way to demand management as the policy of the Democratic Party. That story is well-known. More surprising is that liberal politicians and economists were supported by a range of business leaders. Within five years of the 1937 recession, part of the business community had formed a "growth coalition" centered on the proposition that only government spending could end the Depression -- and thus save capitalism.
One of the more unexpected business voices for growth and spending was a Republican Mormon banker named Marriner Eccles. From a wealthy Utah family, Eccles had taken charge of his father's construction business and diversified into finance and other areas. His company survived the Depression, but he learned that austerity and savings were self-defeating. "In seeking individual salvation," he wrote, "we are contributing to collective ruin." The grim ironies of Depression economics had led him "face to face with the proposition that the only way we could get out of the depression was through government action."
Appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve by Roosevelt, Eccles was unable to get his fellow Fed governors to embrace a more liberal monetary policy. But he was an early supporter of Keynesian fiscal stimulus.
Gradually other business leaders came to conclusions similar to Eccles. Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric, called for spending to restore full employment. Progressive manufacturer Henry Dennison dismissed businesspeople who clung to laissez-faire ideology as the "lazy fairies."
Dennison joined forces with Paul Hoffman of Studebaker, advertising executive William Benton, and top managers from Eastman Kodak, General Foods, Sears and General Motors in the Committee for Economic Development in 1942. Fearful that the economy would slip back into a depression once World War II ended, they advocated an activist state that spent money to promote consumption and high employment. Their position was hardly radical, and they aimed their appeal at "all who are interested in keeping the system of private enterprise and larger personal freedom." But they understood that capitalism could survive only if there was a way to "counter the tendencies toward boom and depression." Capitalism required growth, by whatever means necessary.
Yeah, when corporate earnings go down, the capitalists all want stimulus spending.  It's just the dumbass Republicans who don't.

An Old Job-Killing Technology

Derek Thompson:
Technology can kill jobs. Or, to put things more softly, it can replace certain jobs. Robot arms replace human arms in our factories. TurboTax does the work of tax preparers. We mourn the disappearance of these position even as we enjoy the most important consequence of the technologies, themselves: more useful goods and services at a lower price.
This is an article about an old job-killing technology. But the job that it made most obsolete wasn't the worker -- at least, not the kind of worker you're probably thinking of, nor the kind that the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts. This is an article about how the mighty tractor killed the farm horse. But it's also a story about how innovation replaces us, and how the economy can get bigger, faster, and stronger, while also making us feel obsolete.
In 1910, 25 million horses and mules -- one for every four U.S. citizens -- could roam the nation's farmland mostly free from technological competition. The tractor had been invented decades earlier, but the contemporary models were either ridiculously big or ridiculously expensive. The first commercial gas-powered units, sold in 1902, weighed more than a male elephant ... and they weren't much more affordable, either.
But this is how innovation works. First, we make new things, and then we make those things cheaper. The price and size of tractors fell rapidly over the next decade. Introduced in 1917, Henry Ford's smaller, cheaper "Fordson" was the iPad of tractors: the definitive, consumer-friendly genre-busting technology that immediately dominated a formerly desolate market. Round after round of new technologies -- power lifts, rubber tires, diesel engines -- eventually established a dominant model that made the 1940s the decade of the tractor.
That decade spelled the end of the farm horse.

 I remember my old neighbor telling me about when his family traded in their team of horses on an Allis-Chalmers tractor. He was still pretty emotional about it.  For a second there, I was puzzled, why would a dealer take horses on trade for a tractor.  Then I remembered that farmers always have to trade in equipment, because then they think they are getting a deal.  Plus, the dealers didn't want to break it to the folks that the horses were worthless.  Better to take $20 off the price of the tractor than to break the farmer's heart.

That reminds me, I still need to write a post or two about that old neighbor.  In the next couple of weeks, I will.

Happy Pi Day

Pi Day is a holiday commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (or 3/14 in month/day date format), since 3, 1 and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day.
Pi Approximation Day is held on July 22 (or 22/7 in day/month date format), since the fraction 227 is a common approximation of π.
While I am a geek, I don't celebrate Pi Day.  However, look at the post time.  3-14 1:59, anyone?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Not Keen On Nike Black And Tan Shoes

From All Things Considered:
One of Nike's latest sneaker creations — dubbed by retailers "The Black and Tan" — is rolling out just in time for St. Patrick's Day. To many Americans the "Black and Tan" is the half stout, half pale ale drink. But to the Irish, it was a brutal paramilitary group employed by the British in the early twentieth century to put down Irish revolutionary fighters.
More on the Black and Tans:
The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh) was one of two ad hoc paramilitary units, composed largely of British World War I veterans, employed by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as Temporary Constables from 1920 to 1921 to suppress revolution in Ireland (the other body being the Auxiliaries). The unit's nickname arose from the colour of the improvised khaki uniforms initially worn by its members. Although established to target the Irish Republican Army, the Black and Tans became notorious through their numerous attacks on the Irish civilian population.
The Black and Tans were not subject to strict discipline in their early months in Ireland and as a result, their deaths at the hands of the IRA in 1920 were often repaid with arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population. In the summer of 1920, the Black and Tans burned and sacked many small towns and villages in Ireland, beginning with Tuam in County Galway in July 1920 and also including Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Templemore amongst many others. In November 1920, the Tans "besieged" Tralee in revenge for the IRA abduction and killing of two local RIC men. They closed all the businesses in the town and let no food in for a week. In addition they shot dead three local people. On 14 November, the Tans abducted and murdered a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Michael Griffin, in Galway. His body was found in a bog in Barna a week later. Finally, the Black and Tans sacked Cork city, on the night of 11 December 1920, destroying a large portion of the city centre.
If you listen to the story, the Irish also aren't too keen on Americans drunkenly celebrating St. Patrick's Day. 

Even A Scotsman Gets It

Via the Dish, Alex Massie on Republican opposition to gay marriage:
Perhaps the Republican Party has no need to make any kind of comparable gesture. But there is a sense, surely, that this primary season -- choked with fools and charlatans and extremists as it has been -- has tarnished the Republican brand to the point that it will soon need serious polishing. ... I fancy that the American conservative movement's hostility to same-sex marriage (and even birth control!) is severely damaging its standing with younger voters, especially those with college degrees. I suggest, too, that this damage hurts the Republican Party even with younger voters who might otherwise be sympathetic to conservative views. When the electorate moves, wise political parties think about moving too.
Yeah, even people who don't live here understand just how stupid the Republican party is, what's wrong with people in Alabama?

A Risk I'm Willing To Take

Katherine Harmon:
Over the years, eating too many burgers, steaks pork chops or other red meat products has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. In particular, processed red meat, such as bacon, hot dogs or bologna, has especially strong links to chronic diseases.
But the latest research brings even more dire news for hardcore carnivores. In addition to increasing the odds people will get sick, red meat—whether it is processed or not—can actually increase the risk of premature death overall, according to a study that was published online March 12 in Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers, led by An Pan of the Harvard School of Public Health, analyzed health and diet information from more than 121,000 U.S. men and women participating in two long-term health studies. Everyone in the group the researchers assessed had been free of both heart disease and cancer at the outset of the studies.
Over long-term follow-up, as long as 28 years in some cases, more than 13,900 people died—about 9,460 from cancer and almost 6,000 from cardiovascular disease. After adjusting for other factors, the researchers found each daily serving of red meat (beef, pork, lamb or a processed meat, such as bacon, bologna, hot dog, salami or sausage), increased the risk of a premature death by about 12 percent. Processed meat consumption in particular increased these odds even more than did unprocessed meats. And hot dogs and bacon seemed to be the most likely to lead to an early death.
I think I'll take my chances with early death and continue to enjoy my bacon cheeseburgers.  With a side of fries.  And a beer.

Not For The Faint Of Heart

Jeff Winkler tells the story of the time he temporarily broke his penis.  My neighbor's bull broke his penis, but he got sent to market, there wasn't a recovery for him.  Either story is a man's nightmare.

More On The Business of College Sports

Charles Pierce looks at the massive changes taking place in college basketball:
Pitino saw the future of the whole game as a player at the University of Massachusetts when a gangly freshman named Julius Erving showed up at practice. He wasn't one of the legends who was already there. He wasn't Dean Smith or Lute Olson, or Denny Crum at Louisville. He was the next generation. In fact, he was part of the first Next Generation.
Pitino was there, coaching, in the late 1970s, when college basketball was first taking off, largely because ESPN was launched, and because CBS lost the NBA and needed some sort of basketball to fill in the time between the NFL and the PGA. The game peaked dramatically over the following two decades, helped in no small part by the advances in technology that made following the college ball, and concocting wagering pools on the NCAA tournament, easier for a mass audience. What used to be a vague cult on the fringes of the sports consciousness — I went to my first Final Four in 1973, and paid nine bucks for my ticket — exploded into a destination event.
Then, over the past several years, as the economy tumbled, and as the structure of college sports became as stable and reliable as an Italian government, the game lost some of its glow. Syracuse is leaving the Big East for the ACC and two big paydays a year with Duke and North Carolina. West Virginia's moving to the Big 12, and its fans surely must already be saving the egg money for those trips to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. Nothing makes sense anymore.
I love the comment about the $9 Final Four ticket.  Television has warped college sports into a giant business in no way tied to higher education.  The massive amounts of money involved in the sport just make no sense.  The changes to the conferences and scheduling of games at all hours of the day, nearly every day of the week just bring that point home.

Scientists Urge Farmers To Back Off GMO Corn

They hope it will lessen Western Corn Rootworm resistance to Bt (h/t Big Picture Agriculture):
Now, in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released this week, 22 of the nation's top experts on corn pests lay out some of the implications of this discovery, and they are potentially profound.
In order to slow down or prevent the spread of resistance, the scientists are calling for big changes in the way that biotech companies, seed dealers and farmers fight this insect. The scientists urge the agency to act "with a sense of some urgency."
  The rethinking that's laid out in this letter, in fact, goes beyond what the EPA is able to do under current law. For instance, the researchers want seed companies to stop routinely inserting anti-rootworm genes into their most productive hybrid seed lines. According to the letter, this practice means that farmers "often have few options" apart from rootworm-protected seeds — even in some areas where rootworms don't pose a serious problem.
When farmers plant hybrids that contain the same gene, year after year, it dramatically increases the chances that this gene quickly will become useless, because insects will become resistant to it.
The researchers are calling on farmers in some parts of the country to stop planting corn with anti-rootworm genes altogether, or to plant such corn only intermittently.
Here in the eastern corn belt, we could probably skip using the technology, but the seed companies have added the stacks to their hybrids, so it makes it more difficult to do.  Of course, rootworm isn't as much of an issue here since we typically don't plant corn after corn, so we haven't seen the rootworm resistance the guys out west have.

The Winter That Wasn't

This winter was the fourth warmest on record (h/t nc links):
We've been remarking over and over about how mild and snowless this winter has been. Now we have the official word on just where the winter of 2011-2012 will rank in history. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that this was fourth warmest meteorological winter on record across the contiguous United States and the warmest since 1999-2000. (Note: The meteorological winter is December, January and February combined)

Only the winters of 1991-1992, 1998-1999, 1999-2000 were warmer. All of this is based on records dating back to 1890s.

New Mexico was the only state that had winter temperatures below the 20th century average.
I don't ever remember so little snow in a winter.  It sure has been a weird year.  Maybe it doesn't have any meaning, but I find it troubling that all four warmest winters have occurred since 1990.

NASA Takes On Mayan Calendar Myth

Wow, NASA has to waste time on this crap? People who buy into the Mayan crap need to get a clue.

Monday, March 12, 2012

NCAA Tournament Bracket

Well, with the bracket out, I'll have to make my picks.  I know I won't match up to last year, when I managed to put in my best performance ever (11 out of the Sweet 16, and picking the champ).  This year I expect to hack up the bracket like normal.  One notable thing about this year's tournament, 11 12 of the 68 teams are from Catholic schools, and for the second straight year, Xavier opens up against another Catholic school (last year Marquette, this year Notre Dame).  Iona appeared to be the only major surprise pick, slipping past Drexel and into the tournament.  Also, Michigan gets a first round matchup against a school Brady Hoke should actually call Ohio.

Ok, to my fearless (and foolish) predictions:

First Four games:  Obama will get a chance to watch Western Kentucky, Iona, Lamar and South Florida win in Dayton.

East bracket-First round: Syracuse, Kansas State, Harvard, Montana, Cincinnati, Florida State, Gonzaga and Ohio State. 
Second Round:  Syracuse, Harvard, Florida State and Ohio State.
Semifinals Syracuse and Ohio State. 
Finals: Syracuse

Midwest Bracket-First round: UNC, Creighton, Temple, OU, SDSU, Belmont, St. Mary's and Kansas.
Second Round:  UNC, Temple, Belmont and St. Mary's
Semifinals UNC and Belmont
Finals: UNC

South Bracket-First Round: UK, UConn, Wichita State, Indiana, UNLV, South Dakota State, Notre Dame and Duke
Second Round: UK, Indiana, UNLV and Duke
Semifinals: Indiana and Duke
Finals: Duke

West Bracket-First Round: Michigan State, St. Louis, New Mexico, Louisville, Murray State, Marquette, Florida and Missouri.
Second Round: Michigan State, Louisville, Murray State and Missouri
Semifinals: Louisville and Missouri
Finals: Louisville

Final Four winners: Duke and Syracuse, with the Orangemen prevailing in the Championship game.

Khan Academy

60 Minutes:

This program is exactly what I expected education to evolve to. It only makes sense to set up computer programs which train and evaluate students, allowing them to learn at their own pace. The program can flag teachers to provide additional help. When the lessons are crafted by the best teachers, vast numbers of people will have access to, as Khan states, "world-class education." I'm surprised more people haven't already developed such programs.

The Start of the Williamite War In Ireland

March 12, 1689:
On 12 March 1689 James landed in Kinsale, Ireland, with 6,000 French soldiers. He first marched on Dublin, where he was well received and, with a Jacobite army of Catholics, Protestant Royalists and French, then marched north, joining the Siege of Derry on 18 April. James found himself leading a predominantly Irish Catholic movement, and on 7 May he presided over an Irish Parliament composed almost entirely of Catholic gentry. He reluctantly agreed to the Parliament's demand for an Act declaring that the Parliament of England had no right to pass laws for Ireland. He also agreed, again reluctantly, to restore to Irish Catholics the lands confiscated from their families after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, by confiscating the lands of those (predominantly Protestants) who opposed him and supported William. This parliament was later named the Patriot Parliament by Irish nationalists.
The Williamite War in Ireland—also called the Jacobite War in Ireland, the Williamite-Jacobite War in Ireland and in Irish as Cogadh an Dá (meaning "War of the Two Kings")—was a conflict between Catholic King James II and Protestant King William of Orange over who would be King of England, Scotland and Ireland. The cause of the war was the deposition of James II as King of the Three Kingdoms by William (who was married to James' daughter Mary II) in 1688.
James was supported by the mostly-Catholic "Jacobites" in Ireland and hoped to use the country as a base to regain his Three Kingdoms. He was given military support by France to this end. For this reason, the War became part of a wider European conflict known as the Nine Years War. Some Protestants of the established Church in Ireland also fought on the side of King James.
James was opposed in Ireland by the mostly Protestant, "Williamites", concentrated in the north of the country. William landed a multi-national force in Ireland, composed of English, Scottish, Dutch, Danish and other troops, to put down Jacobite resistance. James left Ireland after a reverse at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and the Irish Jacobites were finally defeated after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.
William defeated Jacobitism in Ireland and subsequent Jacobite Risings were confined to Scotland and England. However, the War was to have a lasting effect on Ireland, confirming British and Protestant rule over the country for over a century. The iconic Williamite victories of the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne are still celebrated by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland today.
This gives rise to the sectarian tensions of "marching season" to this day.

New Anti-Rocket Technology

Counter-rocket technologies have vexed the military in recent years, despite myriad efforts at developing an effective system. But the Pentagon’s giving yet another rocket-destroying system a try. This one’s called the Accelerated Improved Intercept System, or AI3. Earlier this week, the Army awarded manufacturer Raytheon a $79.2 million contract to develop the apparatus. And the Pentagon wants the job done fast: They’re hoping to test the device in a mere 18 months.
To hasten the process, Raytheon will rely mostly on preexisting technology, including a launcher and a control system being provided by the military. There’s no indication it’s doing anything super-ambitious, like incorporating rival Artis’ white-knuckle Iron Curtain system, which waits until the last moment before a rocket hits a truck to fire a missile downward at a 90-degree angle. Raytheon will basically develop a new interceptor missile for AI3.

Using an interceptor missile is a bit of a surprising choice, as missiles have often been dismissed as too expensive for the job. At least one company, Saab, has already developed a rocket-stopping system that relies on a Mongoose missile interceptor. But because each missile runs $50,000, the systems are outrageously expensive. That might render the finished product, expected in 2014, prohibitively pricy for a cash-squeezed military.
Maybe Raytheon can come up with a cheaper alternative — though the company has yet to offer any specifics on its development plan. It’s closer to Saab’s approach than some other counter-rocket technologies the U.S. has recently used. The Phalanx Centurion, used in Iraq, uses bullets to shoot down rockets and mortars — specifically, a 20mm Gatling gun. But the Centurion, a modified Navy gun, is hampered by a limited range and magazine capacity.
Military technology is definitely cool, but also crazily expensive.  The Pentagon is the first place to look for wasteful government spending.  If you want to protect American soldiers from rockets, don't use the soldiers to pointlessly invade foreign countries.

Chart of the Day

From The Dish:

A Near Era In The Big East?

The last time that Louisville and Cincinnati met in a league tournament title game, the Cardinals beat the Bearcats in the Metro Conference final in 1981. The three-decade gap, the defunct conference and the far-flung location of the two teams in relation to Madison Square Garden provided a fitting parallel as the Big East peeked into its future Saturday night.
Billing the game, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino proclaimed, “Conference USA has come to the Big Apple.” That notion will be even more true as stalwarts programs like Syracuse and Pittsburgh exit the Big East and ones like Houston and Central Florida enter......
In the first meeting in the Big East tournament final of a pair of teams that were not original Big East members, the most notable items may have been the unsightly uniforms or the bizarre feel in Madison Square Garden.
While the game had been long sold out and the seats eventually filled in, the atmosphere lacked the partisanship created by more traditional and local Big East teams like Connecticut, St. John’s and Villanova.
“My thing was it felt so different when the game ended,” the ESPN commentator Jay Bilas said. “It’s not going to be the same again.” He added about the league’s future, “It will be really good, but it won’t be as great.”
With West Virginia gone after this season and Pitt and Syracuse expected to leave after the 2012-13 season, the Big East will lose more than hallmark programs. While the Big East will likely remain a top-echelon league with programs like Memphis and Temple, it will lose the geography and intimacy that defined the league of Dave Gavitt, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca. The double round-robin conference schedule has long been gone, as the league bloated itself with teams in order to stay alive and satisfy the monetary pull of football.
Times change, and business trumps tradition in sports, as in the rest of life.  I'll make a guess that of all the changes which bother traditionalist conservatives these days, the end of the old Big East doesn't make the list.  This is a loss to those on the Northeast Corridor, and the changes started when Boston College went to the ACC.  Yet, it's good to see somebody complain about a loss of a tradition, even if it is only a 30 year-old tradition.  Cincinnati and Louisville, on the other hand, have seen a raft of conference changes, from the Metro to the Great Midwest to Conference USA to the Big East.  Change is pretty common for those guys.

Templeton Rye

From the Des Moines Register:
Templeton’s modern bootleggers remain jittery considering that the town of 362 is dominated by multigenerational families. If you’re not related to your neighbor, you probably know him well enough to guess where he hides his hooch.
Day delved into Templeton bootleg legacy in a new documentary he directed, “Capone’s Whiskey: The Story of Templeton Rye” (so named for notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone’s reputed fondness for Iowa’s rural booze).
So there I stood in front of a soldered-together copper kettle that sat atop a modest gas stove. Tubing snaked from the kettle down through an oil drum that gets filled with water — cooling the alcohol vapor to convert it back into liquid by the time the booze trickles out the bottom, into a crock situated atop concrete blocks.
Hydrometers to measure alcohol content being scarce in the Prohibition era, the clear liquor trickling into the crock often would be tested with a match; when it quit lighting, it was ready to drink at about 85 or 90 proof.
If you’re imagining giant 53-gallon charred-oak barrels for the aging process, 15-gallon barrels are more manageable when lugging them out to be hidden in a cornfield.
It is amazing how many people still are distilling on the sly.  One of my neighbors recently got into the act.  More on the new legal Templeton Rye here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

March 7:

Conjunction Over Reunion Island
Image Credit & Copyright: Luc Perrot
Explanation: You don't have to be on Reunion Island to see this week's planetary conjunction. Only if you want to see this picturesque seascape as well. To see the conjunction from just about anywhere in the world, look to the west after sunset. The first planet you may notice is Venus, the brightest object in the western sky. Above Venus, the second brightest object is Jupiter. The hardest planet to spot is Mercury, which is visible only briefly after sunset as a faint dot just above the horizon. Picturesque rocks leading out from Reunion Island to the Indian Ocean populate the foreground of the above picture. Taken last week, the distant planets Venus and Jupiter were joined by a bright crescent Moon, which has now moved away.

Budweiser Tries Reprocessing Spent Grain

Fast Company:
Anheuser-Busch doesn’t just produce cheap beer for football games and frat parties--it also produces mountains and mountains of biological waste. The beer industry goes through more than 400 million tons of grain every year. These grains are used in the early stages of the brewing process and then discarded.
Most breweries give these spent grains away as livestock feed to avoid landfill fees. But Anheuser-Busch is exploring a new option: using those spent grains to create commercial products like clothes and cosmetics.
The beer behemoth has partnered with a company called Blue Marble Bio, which plans to set up large-scale biorefineries at Anheuser-Busch breweries that will use naturally occurring bacteria to break down spent grains using proprietary “polyculture fermentation technology.” That process will create both biogas, which can be used to generate electricity, and chemical compounds called carboxylic acids that are used to make everything from nylon to soap to food additives to floor polish.
Blue Marble has been experimenting with spent grain from Anheuser-Busch for about a year. Now it’s setting up a small facility in Montana to test the idea at a larger scale. Blue Marble’s challenge is to demonstrate that its process can be energy-efficient and cost-effective at high volumes. If it does, it will begin operation at one of Anheuser-Busch’s big breweries.
I don't know that I would consider using brewer's grain as livestock feed as a waste.  The cows are going to eat regardless.  Anyway, maybe they'll have some luck with the technology.

Dead Of Duffy's Cut Given Overdue Funeral

Philadelphia Daily News:
The investigation began in 2002 when the Watson brothers, 49, read a secret file that mentioned the workers and a mass grave. The papers were left to them by their grandfather, who worked as a secretary to the president of what was then the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, and is now part of SEPTA.
The brothers began research that would eventually involve geophysicist Timothy Bechtel; the Chester County Coroner's Office; Earl Schandelmeier, an adjunct professor at Immaculata; Janet Monge, the keeper of skeletal collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and others. Project researcher John Ahtes died of a heart attack in the midst of the investigation.
Researchers excavated the area and found bones, buttons, a knife, smoking pipes with an Irish flag, and coffin nails. A story of U.S. industry and the immigrants who contributed to it was pieced together.
The men from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry Counties sailed to the United States and were promptly hired by railroad man Philip Duffy of Willistown. The mass of workers lived in a shanty near the tracks. The washerwoman served them. Within eight weeks, they were dead - of cholera and other causes.
Four skulls unearthed at the shanty site show signs of blunt trauma, investigators said. One has a hole that might be from a bullet.
The men probably were the victims of anti-Irish sentiment, the fear of cholera, and prejudice against immigrants, researchers say.
"Their sacrifice has been our motivation," Frank Watson said.
Before the funeral service, attendees waited in line to enter the Bringhurst Funeral Home chapel at the cemetery. Inside was a display of nails, buttons, pieces of china, and other artifacts unearthed in the excavation.
Life in the United States was tremendously difficult for the newly arrived.  Maybe we descendents of those immigrants ought to remember their struggles with prejudice when debating immigration policy today.

The Most Astonding Fact About The Universe

Via the Dish, Neil DeGrasse Tyson answers the question, "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?"  Max Schlickenmeyer remixed his answer into this:

Jesuit Reductions

March 11, 1641:
 Guaraní forces living in the Jesuit Reductions defeat bandeirantes loyal to the Portuguese Empire at the Battle of Mbororé in present-day Panambí, Argentina. A Jesuit Reduction was a type of settlement for indigenous people in Latin America created by the Jesuit Order during the 17th and 18th centuries. In general, the strategy of the Spanish Empire was to gather native populations into centers called Indian Reductions (reducciones de indios), in order to Christianize, tax, and govern them more efficiently. The Jesuit interpretation of this strategy was implemented primarily in an area that corresponds to modern day Paraguay amongst the Tupi-Guarani peoples. Later reductions were extended into areas now part of Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia.
Jesuit reductions were different from the reductions in other regions because the indigenous people (Indians) were expected to convert to Christianity but not necessarily to European culture. Under the leadership of both the Jesuits and native caciques, the reductions achieved a high degree of autonomy within the Spanish colonial empire. With the use of Indian labour, the reductions became economically successful. When their existence was threatened by the incursions of Bandeirante slave traders, Indian militia were created that fought effectively against the colonists. The resistance by the Jesuit reductions to slave raids, as well as their high degree of autonomy and economic success, have been cited as contributing factors to the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767. The Jesuit reductions present a controversial chapter of the evangelisational history of the Americas, and are variously described as jungle utopias or as theocratic regimes of terror.
Just another case of the Society of Jesus butting heads with civil authorities.  A Swiss example here.