Saturday, April 7, 2012

Making An Abandoned Packard Factory Home

Lent Is Over

According to my grandma (which reminds me of WLW's Sports or Consequences, where saying your grandpa told you the answer in a bar counted as verification), Lent ends at noon on Holy Saturday.  I see no reason to argue with that claim.  Sure, I could wait until tomorrow to celebrate, but why argue with tradition?  Pass me some snacks, I'm tired of starving myself.

How I Love Arby's

John Hudson reports Arby's pissed some folks off:
On Wednesday, Arby's inflamed the conservative blogosphere with the announcement on Twitter that it will no longer advertise on Rush Limbaugh's show. Big mistake. The statement probably would've blown over, like all the rest of them, but Arby's moves following the announcement have awakened a sleeping giant. Shortly after its statement, the Arby's Twitter account went on a rampage blocking users who disagreed with the franchise, as Twitchy reported:
I'm in love with the Arby's French Dip sub.  Arby's telling Rush Limbaugh and his idiot listeners to fuck off is just icing on the cake.  Blocking retarded conservatives on their Twitter feed may be a little much, but those fools don't add anything to the conversation, so we're really not out anything.   As Lent ends, I'll be wholeheartedly supporting Arby's ability to advertise or not advertise on any show they want.

Frozen Four Update

Tonight BC faces Ferris State for the NCAA Championship.  If BC wins, I'll have done one thing right in my bracket.  Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly won this year's Hobey Baker Award.  More about Hobey Baker here.

Have A Cold Frosty One

Today is the anniversary of beer becoming legal after Prohibition.  Enjoy a beer today.  I will.

The Money Screws You Up

Thinking out of the box is harder with a monetary reward:
 How could this be? The financial incentive made people slower? It gets worse -- the slowness increases with the incentive. The higher the monetary reward, the worse the performance! This result has been repeated many times since the original experiment.

Glucksberg and others have shown this result to be highly robust. Daniel Pink calls it a legally provable "fact." How should we interpret the above results?

When your employees have to do something straightforward, like pressing a button or manning one stage in an assembly line, financial incentives work. It's a small effect, but they do work. Simple jobs are like the simple candle problem.

However, if your people must do something that requires any creative or critical thinking, financial incentives hurt. The In-Box Candle Problem is the stereotypical problem that requires you to think "Out of the Box," (you knew that was coming, didn't you?). Whenever people must think out of the box, offering them a monetary carrot will keep them in that box.

A monetary reward will help your employees focus. That's the point. When you're focused you are less able to think laterally. You become dumber. This is not the kind of thing we want if we expect to solve the problems that face us in the 21st century.

What's At Stake At The Supreme Court?

A lot (h/t Balloon Juice):
May the justices please meet my sister-in-law. On Feb. 8, she was a healthy 32-year-old, who was seven and a half months pregnant with her first baby. On Feb. 9, she was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down by a car accident that damaged her spine. Miraculously, the baby, born by emergency C-section, is healthy.
Were the Obama health care reforms already in place, my brother and sister-in-law’s situation — insurance-wise and financially — would be far less dire. My brother’s small employer — he is the manager of a metal-fabrication shop — does not offer health insurance, which was too expensive for them to buy on their own. Fortunately, my sister-in-law had enrolled in the Access for Infants and Mothers program, California’s insurance plan for middle-income pregnant women. AIM coverage extends 60 days postpartum and paid for her stay in intensive care and early rehabilitation.
But when the 60 days is up next week, the family will fall through the welfare medicine rabbit hole. As a scholar of social policy at M.I.T., I teach students how the system works. Now I am learning, in real time.
For health coverage, the baby fares best. He is insured through Healthy Families, California’s version of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the federal-state plan for lower-income children ineligible for Medicaid whose families cannot afford private insurance. California is relatively generous, with eligibility extending up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level of $19,090 for a family of three; 27 states have lower limits.
When the AIM coverage expires, my sister-in-law will be covered by Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, because she is disabled and has limited income. But because my brother works, they are subject to cost-sharing: they pay the first $1,100 of her health costs each month. Paying $1,100 leaves them with a monthly income of just 133 percent of the federal poverty level. If my brother makes more money, their share of the cost increases.
I've been damn lucky throughout my life, but that may not continue.  That is why I can't imagine refusing to buy health insurance if I can afford it.  Don't get me wrong, I don't trust an insurance company any further than I can detonate it from.  But I would never refuse to buy coverage, because I never know what might happen.  Our health care system is a crazy travesty, and I don't want to take any more chances than I have to.  May God bless the folks who don't have the luck I do.

What Makes You Honest?

Time for consideration?  The Economist:
To carry out their experiment, Dr Shalvi, Dr Eldar and Dr Bereby-Meyer gave each of 76 volunteers a six-sided die and a cup. Participants were told that a number of them, chosen at random, would earn ten shekels (about $2.50) for each pip of the numeral they rolled on the die. They were then instructed to shake their cups, check the outcome of the rolled die and remember this roll. Next, they were asked to roll the die two more times, to satisfy themselves that it was not loaded, and, that done, to enter the result of the first roll on a computer terminal. Half of the participants were told to complete this procedure within 20 seconds while the others were given no time limit.
The researchers had no way of knowing what numbers participants actually rolled, of course. But they knew, statistically, that the average roll, if people reported honestly, should have been 3.5. This gave them a baseline from which to calculate participants’ honesty. Those forced to enter their results within 20 seconds, the researchers found, reported a mean roll of 4.6. Those who were not under any time pressure reported a mean roll of 3.9. Both groups lied, then. But those who had had more time for reflection lied less.
A second experiment confirmed this result. A different bunch of volunteers were asked to roll the die just once. Again, half were put under time pressure and, since there were no additional rolls to make, the restriction was changed from 20 seconds to eight. The others were allowed to consider the matter for as long as they wished.
In this case the first half reported an average roll of 4.4. Those given no time limit reported an average of 3.4. The second lot, in other words, actually told the truth.
The conclusion, therefore, at least in the matter of cheating at dice, is that sin is indeed original. Without time for reflection, people will default to the mode labelled “cheat”. Given such time, however, they will often do the right thing. If you want someone to be honest, then, do not press him too hard for an immediate decision.
Generally, I try to be as honest as possible.  I have generally gotten beyond where I worry about being embarrassed by the truth, but I do worry about somebody disproving what I claim to be true.  Maybe I'm strange like that, or maybe I'm normal.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I'd Kill You If I Had My Gun

Ogallala Suffers In Western Kansas in 2011

Kansas City Star (via Big Picture Agriculture):
The lack of rainfall in Kansas in 2011 led to intense declines in ground water levels around the state, according to the Kansas Geological Survey.
The Ogallala Aquifer in southwest Kansas usually sees annual declines, but its drop in 2011 was one of the worst in decades. The Kansas Geological Survey said the aquifer in that region dropped an average of 3.78 feet in 2011. That’s compared to a drop of about 3 feet in 2010 and 1.39 feet in 2009.
The drought that plagued the state last year was the worst in generations. Much of Kansas received 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation last year, with rain shutting off in the fall of 2010.
“The growing season was probably the worst since the 1930s,” said Brownie Wilson, water data manager for the geological survey. “It was just awful.”
In central and south-central Kansas, where ground water levels usually show gains or only modest declines, the water table in the Equus Beds aquifer decreased an average of 3.17 feet. The Equus Beds stretch northwest from Wichita to include McPherson and Hutchinson.
That may not seem like much to folks in Kansas, but that is a big deal.  The Ogallala isn't sustainable at withdrawal rates like that.

Have You Flogged Yourself Today?

Filipinos participate in their traditional Holy Week penitential rites:
 Hundreds of barefoot Filipinos marched on roads, carrying heavy wooden crosses and whipping their backs until they bled on Thursday in an annual gory religious ritual as the mainly Catholic Philippines observed near the end of the Lenten season.
Many Filipino devotees perform religious penance during the week leading up to Easter Sunday as a form of worship and supplication, a practice discouraged by Catholic bishops, but widely believed by devotees to cleanse sins, cure illness and even grant wishes.
“I do this penance out of my free will because I believe that God will help relieve my sickness,” Corazon Cabigting, a domestic helper and the only woman in a group of about 50 men carrying wooden crosses on their backs.
Like the men, Cabigting wore a maroon robe and covered her face with a veil, held on her head by a crown of stainless wire, dragging a 30-kg (66-lb) wooden cross and stopping every 500 metres (546 yards) in makeshift roadside chapels.
Elderly women chant the passion of Jesus Christ at some of the chapels, while the penitents, with their hands tied to the cross, are beaten by sticks and hemp.
Filipino Catholics might participate in these rites, but this American Catholic won't be. I won't be getting crucified this afternoon.  Hopefully.

Chart of the Day

A little more:
A reality check:
When it comes to income taxes, a family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum will pay 5.6 percent of its 2011 income in federal income taxes, according to new estimates from the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.  Federal income taxes on middle-income families have fallen significantly in recent decades, and they have been lower under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama than at any time since the 1950s.
And yet Republican still say taxes are too high.  Put it this way, I was in eastern Indiana yesterday.  Indiana's taxes may be a little lower than Ohio's.  But Indiana's roads are a lot shittier than Ohio's.  We bounced down a terrible road in Hoosierland, jogged on State Line Road, then turned onto a much better Ohio road.  Government may squander money at times, but it is our job as citizens to push for better government.  Don't burn down the house because the door sticks once in a while.

The Shareholder Return Lie

“It is literally – literally – malfeasance for a corporation not to do everything it legally can to maximize its profits. That’s a corporation’s duty to its shareholders.”
Since this sentiment is so familiar, it may come as a surprise that it is factually incorrect: In reality, there is nothing in any U.S. statute, federal or state, that requires corporations to maximize their profits. More surprising still is that, in this instance, the untruth was not uttered as propaganda by a corporate lobbyist but presented as a fact of life by one of the leading lights of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, Sen. Al Franken. Considering its source, Franken’s statement says less about the nature of a U.S. business corporation’s legal obligations – about which it simply misses the boat – than it does about the point to which laissez-faire ideology has wormed its way into the American mind.
The notion that the law imposes a duty to “maximize shareholder value” – a phrase capturing the notion that profits are mandatory and it is the shareholders who are entitled to them – is so readily accepted these days because it jibes perfectly with assumptions about economic life that constantly come down to us from business and political leaders, from academia, and from the preponderance of the media. It is unlikely to occur to anyone under the age of 40 to question this idea – or the idea that the highest, or even sole, purpose of a corporation is to make a profit – because they have rarely if ever been exposed to an alternative view. Those in middle age or beyond may have trouble remembering a time when the corporation’s focus on shareholders’ interests to the exclusion of all other constituencies –customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, the communities in which it operates, and the nation – did not seem second nature.
This narrow conception of corporate purpose has become predominant only in recent decades, however, and it flies in the face of a longer tradition in modern America that regards the responsibilities of a corporation as extending far beyond its shareholders. Owen D. Young, twice chairman of General Electric (1922-’40, 1942-’45) and 1930 Time magazine Man of the Year, told an audience at Harvard Business School in 1927 that the purpose of a corporation was to provide a good life in both material and cultural terms not only to its owners but also to its employees, and thereby to serve the larger goals of the nation:

The Downfall of America

April 6, 1974:
 The American League of Major League Baseball begins using the designated hitter.
On April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball history, facing Boston Red Sox right-handed pitcher Luis Tiant in his first plate appearance. "Boomer" Blomberg was walked.[54]
Naturally, the result of the first season of the DH was that the American League posted a higher batting average than the National League, something which has remained consistent to this day.
The designated hitter offers American League managers two options in setting their teams' lineups: they can either rotate the role among players (for example, using a left-handed hitting DH against a right-handed pitcher and vice-versa) or they can employ a full-time designated hitter. It also allows them to give a player a partial day off. The adoption of the designated hitter rule has virtually eliminated the use of the double switch in the American League.
There should be a Constitutional Amendment banning the designated hitter from baseball.

JP Morgan Allowed Lehman To Use Customer Money As Collateral

Washington Post:
Last fall, the big brokerage firm MF Global collapsed with as much as $1.6 billion of customer funds missing and unaccounted for. There, too, it appears that clients’ money was treated as if it belonged to the firm.
The customer deposits at issue in the Lehman matter, which totaled from about $250 million to more than $1 billion at any one time, were supposed to have been held for customers who were using Lehman as a broker for futures and options trades.
Federal law declares that such funds should not be commingled with those of the firm, the commission said.
“The laws . . . impose critical restrictions on how financial institutions can treat customer funds,” CFTC enforcement director David Meister said in a statement. “As should be crystal clear, these laws must be strictly observed at all times, whether the markets are calm or in crisis.”
JPMorgan refused to release the funds in September 2008, partly because they were tied to Lehman’s borrowing from JPMorgan, the CFTC said. JPMorgan also cited “its inability to verify” that the funds belonged to customers, the commission said.
Let's see.  Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, MF Global.  What do they have in common?  Oh yeah, they were banking heavily with JPMorgan before they failed.  In at least two cases, JP Morgan looks to have accepted customer money as collateral.  I won't say they were thieving, but where there's smoke, there's often fire.

Do Aussies Do Things Better?

James Fallows looks at a few small differences between here and Oz:

1) Switch-off power sockets. As shown on the right, all electric sockets come with little rocker switches to turn the power on and off. You can find similar things in New Zealand, a variant in the UK, etc. These are safer -- parents don't have to worry about kids sticking a knife into a socket, and I don't have to worry when I stick a knife into the toaster to fish out the bread. They also are conveniently energy-saving. I don't usually go to the bother of unplugging the chargers and power cords for all my various appliances when they're not actually in use, even though I know that they're a significant power drain. I realize that you can use power strips for the same purpose, but they can be cumbersome. It seems more convenient and precise to snap individual sockets on and off. More from Grist.
2) Cab cards. Lots of Aussie businesses give their people these "Cabcharge" cards, which most cabs are set up to accept. Little boxes in the taxis transmit the sum to HQ by wireless network and print you out a receipt. They're the parallel of the magnetic subway cards that I could use to pay for taxis in Shanghai and Beijing. Here's the point: the "can you break a twenty?" and "please give me two dollars back from that, and a receipt" petty-cash exchanges that are part of US taxicab life are primitive by international standards.
3) Related: No tipping. Yes, some people expect and offer tips in Australia, but that's the exception rather than the degrading-to-all-parties rule. I realize that there is no chance that we'll actually switch to a similar system with a much higher minimum wage (> $15/hour in Australia) and consequently higher service-sector prices, but no expectation of the ongoing bazaar-and-bribery ritual that is the tipping culture. That's too bad, because the no-tip system is better.
He also mentions the prevalence of beer sampling paddles, which I'll agree we need more of in this country. How is it that the Aussies can have a $15 minimum wage, but we have to fight like crazy to move it from $5.15? What makes Americans greedier than everybody else? Our (Calvinist) religiosity?

Supreme Court Considers Roundup Ready Patent

Can a farmer commit patent infringement just by planting soybeans he bought on the open market? This week, the Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to weigh in on the question. The Court is pondering an appeals court decision saying that such planting can, in fact, infringe patents.In 1994, the agricultural giant Monsanto obtained a patent covering a line of “Roundup Ready” crops that had been genetically modified to resist Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides. This genetic modification is hereditary, so future generations of seeds are also “Roundup Ready.” Farmers had only to save a portion of their crop for re-planting the next season, and they wouldn’t need to purchase new seed from Monsanto every year. The company didn’t want to be in the business of making a one-time sale, so when Monsanto sold “Roundup Ready” soybeans to farmers, it required them to sign a licensing agreement promising not to re-plant future generations of seeds.

However, farmers remain free to sell the soybeans they grow in the commodity market, where most are used to feed people or livestock. Roundup Ready soybeans have become extremely popular; they now account for 94 percent of all acres planted in Indiana, for instance. Vernon Bowman, an Indiana farmer, was a customer of Monsanto who realized that Roundup Ready soybeans had become so common in his area that if he simply purchased commodity soybeans from a local grain elevator, the overwhelming majority of those soybeans would be Roundup Ready. Commodity soybeans are significantly cheaper than Monsanto’s soybeans, and they came without the contractual restriction on re-planting.
So Bowman planted (and re-planted) commodity soybeans instead of using Monsanto’s seeds. When Monsanto discovered what Bowman was doing, it sued him for patent infringement.
This is an interesting case.  While Monsanto required farmers to agree not to keep seed, the case highlights some real questions about the patent system.  What can companies patent, for how long and is the system as it operates today detrimental to society?  There are a number of other questions, but those are pretty significant.  Just a guess with today's Supreme Court, they would probably rule for Monsanto.

Brazil's Second Crop Corn

Progressive Farmer:
Brazilian farmers have planted record amounts of second-crop corn this season and early indications point to a bumper crop.
With planting all but complete across the country's vast grain belt, crops are generally developing well as they enter the reproductive stages. The exception is Parana, the No. 2 winter corn state, but heavy rains are forecast to resolve the moisture deficit there during the next week.
"We could be looking at a massive crop this year as planted area has increased dramatically. But it's too early to affirm it will be a bumper season with any conviction as it's a very unpredictable crop," said Paulo Molinari, corn analyst at Safras e Mercado, a local farm consultancy.
Brazil's government and a number of international forecasters peg the winter crop at around 26 million metric tons (mmt), up 20% on the year before. But these forecasts underestimate the intensity of planting this season. A better number is around 28 mmt, according to respected local consultants Agroconsult and Safras e Mercado.
With summer-crop corn output pegged at 36 mmt to 36.5 mmt, there is a real possibility that Brazil's corn output will be greater than its drought-ravaged soybean crop this season. This is the first time that has happened since 1989.
It's hard to compete with folks planting second crop corn. With nearly 96 million acres of corn expected to be planted in the U.S., I don't thing we need large parts of Brazil seeding second crop corn.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Life Is A Ballgame

That's a catchy tune. I can't really picture Jesus as a pitcher, but hey, maybe that's just me.

Wind In A Picture

Following up on the ocean currents, here is a current wind visualization (in motion), via Stuart Staniford:

That is just weird.

Inside The Soviet Sub Base


In 1953, Joseph Stalin signed the plans for a top-secret nuclear submarine base that would become the operational home for the fearsome Soviet Black Sea Fleet.
Hidden inside the base of a mountain in the port town of Balaklava on Ukraine’s Crimean coast, the 153,000 square-foot facility took nine years to build and its entrance camouflaged from spy planes. It could survive a direct nuclear hit and at maximum capacity could hold 3,000 people with supplies to sustain them for a month. Best of all, the vast subs that slunk in and out of here between tours of duty could enter and leave underwater, keeping them from prying eyes at all times.
Once the most sensitive and secretive of Soviet Cold War hotspots, today it is preserved as a museum. I manage to get special permission to drive into the base during the 8,000-mile Land Rover Journey of Discovery expedition to Beijing. We were the first to do so since the Soviet trucks and trailers that ferried in missiles, supplies and essentials over its 40 years of operation.
Pretty cool.  

States Are Partners With Big Business

Here's an obvious news note for the day (h/t Ritholtz):
In five states, for instance, so-called Ag Gag laws are now on the books. Iowa just passed legislation that “criminalizes investigative journalists and animal protection advocates who take entry-level jobs at factory farms in order to document the rampant food safety and animal welfare abuses within,” according to the Atlantic’s Cody Carlson.
The impetus for such laws is obvious: After a series of damning videos of factory farms abusing animals, Big Ag faced a consumer backlash. But rather than make its facilities more humane, it has opted to spend its cash on lobbyists and court cases aimed at preventing the public from ever seeing the atrocities in the first place. Accomplishing that means pioneering new legal theories that threaten to set dangerous new precedents curtailing some of the most basic First Amendment freedoms we take for granted.
Over in the world of energy, it’s much the same thing. Last month in Pennsylvania, the oil and gas industry successfully lobbied state legislators to ban physicians from telling patients what toxic fracking chemicals they may have been exposed to. As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports, “While companies must disclose the identity and amount of any chemicals used in fracking fluids to any health professional that requests that information … the new bill requires those health professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not disclose that information to anyone else — not even the person they’re trying to treat.”
At least doctors in Pennsylvania get to see some basic information about the industry’s toxic brew, which is more than health professionals in other states have been able to say in recent years. Indeed, in 2008, an emergency room nurse nearly died after being exposed to a company’s fracking chemicals and, according to High Country News, the company cited a trade secrets law in “refus(ing) to provide more specific information (about the chemicals) to the hospital once she fell ill.” That left her “intensive-care doctor to guess what to do as he tried to keep her alive.” This possibility still exists in states that still do not fully mandate disclosure of fracking chemicals.
The business lobbies own government.  I'm glad people are noticing, but crap, how much shit do these guys think the general public can eat?  I really don't get the ag gag rules.  Is the state going to press charges and say, "yes, all that is shown in that video is real, but you lied to get the job so you could film it?"  Isn't that the same thing undercover cops do when they work?  Should that be punishable by law too?  Honestly, if I believe in a cause enough, I'm willing to face trial on bullshit charges, because that gives me a public soap box.  Get an activist group to hire a good lawyer, and we could make the nightly news for a hell of a long time.  Do they realize that you could call the farm owner as a witness?  Or that you could call all kinds of activists as witnesses?  That would be the greatest public relations coup in the world.  I don't understand what businesspeople are thinking sometimes.

So That's Where It All Started

April 5, 1922:
The American Birth Control League, forerunner of Planned Parenthood, is incorporated.
The way Republicans are going this year, you'd think birth control was something new and scary.

Is This About Efficiency?

What does it mean when your Lean Manufacturing consultant thinks it is a crock that the government is trying to make people switch from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs?  What if he told me he could increase our plant's efficiency, and I told him that I didn't want to cut waste by 2/3 to 3/4?  Would he think I was a jackass too?

Hell Yes, It's Opening Day

God bless America, baseball season is starting.

What the Reds Need To Do To Win

Hal McCoy looks at what the Reds have to do to win:
So what needs to happen for the Cincinnati Reds to win the 2012 National League Central championship (or wild card) and advance to the playoffs for only the second time in 17 years?

1 Third baseman Scott Rolen is one player who needs to help hoist the team on his back and carry it. His back hasn’t been too good lately, nor his shoulder. When healthy, Rolen can do that and did it in 2010. He needs to stay healthy and do it again.

2 Ryan Madson is gone and needs to be forgotten. The closer role falls on the talented left arm of Sean Marshall, still in training to be a closer but with some limited success in Chicago. Is Marshall up to it? He better be. And how do you think Coco Cordero feels these days when he looks at his situation in Toronto and what he could have been doing in Cincinnati?

3 Either Ryan Ludwick or Chris Heisey (or both) need to fill a gaping hole in left field. Neither have been eye-poppers during spring training, but one or both need to step in and step up.
As he also said, they'll need a lot of luck.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MF Global Missing Money and Saddam's Missing WMDs

Jesse, via nc links:
 Like the WMD's in Iraq, the financial people at MF Global spent three days looking for an accounting error to explain how $1.6 billion in customer money went missing. And like the WMD's in Iraq, the chimerical accounting error never existed. The reason for the missing money was a deception with a purpose.

Edith O'Brien has the answers, certainly to at least the first phase of the fraud, which involved taking customer money from segregated accounts to meet margin calls.

The second phase of this scandal is external, involving the parties who hid the stolen customer money, most likely manipulated the post-collapse bankruptcy process to favor themselves over the victims, and may possibly have been involved in the takedown of MF Global in the first place.

 I wonder if there were CDS and stock options that paid off with their bankruptcy. Who benefited from the failure of one of the larger clearing brokers serving the retail customer? Who held the other side of MF Global's trades?

Besides Edith O'Brien and Jon Corzine, the parties with the greatest insight into MF Global's positions and financial structure were JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs based on the reports that I have read. As Francine McKenna has said, JPM knew MF Global 'all too well.'

This analysis by helps to highlight the key issues in the first phase.

The spin that these were just simple 'accounting errors' and that the money 'simply vaporized' is pure fantasy, repeated by a servile and unambitious mainstream media, and the Wall Street demimonde of enablers and attendants.
When will the crooks get charged?

Why Is Andrew Sullivan Innumerate?

Maybe because he's comfortable being innumerate?  How about this:
Jonathan Wai notices a double standard:
I'll be the first to admit that my math skills are worse than when I was in the seventh grade.  That's probably why I ended up as a psychologist rather than a mathematician.  However, I don't think being willing to admit you are bad at math is limited to lawyers and psychologists, it's pretty much everyone.  In fact, I've noticed that it's quite socially acceptable to say that I'm not good at math.  On the other hand, I would never admit that I was bad at reading because, well, that would just make me look really stupid.
Which clearly raises the question: Why is it socially acceptable to say that you're bad at math but not socially acceptable to say you're bad at reading?
Maybe because math is useless to the vast majority of us.
No, math is very useful for all of us.  It doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out that most of the bad mortgages were bound to default, because the math of compounding interest said they weren't going to work out.  Likewise, interest-only loans, or negative amortization loans were obviously a bad idea, because assuming house prices would continue to rise when they had been rising at 3 or 4 times wage increases is stupid.  And why does Sullivan not realize that the Ryan budget plan is complete horseshit?  Probably because math is useless in his erroneous opinion.  Fucking English majors.

Ad Execs Stealing From SNL- Bad Idea

I'm glad others have commented on the ad.  I hadn't been able to find the old skit:

Geez, did those Madison Avenue clowns get paid for that shit?

Man: A Firebug For A Million Years

CSMonitor, (h/t Mark Thoma):
Ash and charred bone, the earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors may have used fire a million years ago, a discovery that researchers say will shed light on this major turning point in human evolution.
Scientists analyzed material from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, a massive cavern located near the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Previous excavations there had uncovered an extensive record of human occupation.
Microscopic analysis revealed clear evidence of burning, such as plant ash and charred bone fragments. These materials were apparently burned in the cave, as opposed to being carried in there by wind or water, and were found alongside stone tools in a layer dating back about 1 million years. Surface fracturing of ironstone, the kind expected from fires, was also seen.
Although modern humans are the only human species alive today, originating about 200,000 years ago, other human species once roamed the Earth, such as Homo erectus, which arose about 1.9 million years ago. [10 Things That Make Humans Special]
"The analysis pushes the timing for the human use of fire back by 300,000 years, suggesting that human ancestors as early as Homo erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life," said researcher Michael Chazan, a paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Toronto and director of the university's archaeology center.
This is one thing I have in common with previous human species (along with back hair).  We've got a couple of giant brush piles from removing a fence row, and I am so tempted to light them up.  Dad is trying to restrain me, which is a good idea, because they could easily get out of control and burn down the neighbor's house.  But gosh, it would be so cool to see those piles ablaze.

The First Internet Browser

April 4, 1994:
Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark found Netscape Communications Corporation under the name "Mosaic Communications Corporation".  Netscape was the second company to attempt to capitalize on the (then) nascent World Wide Web. It was originally founded under the name, Mosaic Communications Corporation, on April 4, 1994, the brainchild of Jim Clark who had recruited Marc Andreessen as co-founder and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as investors. Clark recruited other early Netscape team members from SGI and NCSA Mosaic, including Rosanne Siino who became Vice President of Communications. The company's first product was the web browser, called Mosaic Netscape 0.9, released on October 13, 1994. This browser was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator, and the company took the 'Netscape' name on November 14, 1994[11] to avoid trademark ownership problems with NCSA, where the initial Netscape employees had previously created the NCSA Mosaic web browser. The Mosaic Netscape web browser used some NCSA Mosaic code with NCSA's permission, as noted in the application's "About" dialog box.
I'm old. I remember sort of using Mosaic, although I'm not sure if it was the Netscape Mosaic or the NCSA version.  How I remember it, you had to know a website address to get to it on Mosaic, and onces the Netscape Navigator came out, you could actually search for things.  I might have that wrong, at my age your memory starts to go.

What Did JP Morgan Know About MF Global?

Francine McKenna thinks they knew a hell of a lot.  I would guess she's right (h/t Jesse and Yves Smith):
I suspect that JPMorgan Chase (JPM) knows a lot more about MF Global than the bank's in-house lawyer let on in her Congressional testimony last week.
Diane Genova, deputy general counsel for JPM's investment bank, mostly answered lawmakers' questions about a much-discussed $200 million overdraft on a London account that MF Global allegedly used customer funds to cover. But JPM had an extensive relationship with Jon Corzine's brokerage, giving the megabank a bird's-eye view of the firm’s finances before and after it failed.
As such, JPM must have at least a clue about the other $1.4 billion of MF Global customer funds that have gone missing.
As MF Global's largest unsecured creditor, for example, JPM was first to the courthouse to protect its rights after the Oct. 31 bankruptcy filing. And as Genova told the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Committee on March 28, MF Global maintained a large number of cash demand deposit accounts at JPM. Four of these accounts in the U.S. were designated as customer segregated accounts.
MF Global also cleared agency securities through JPM, Genova said. The brokerage had two revolving credit facilities in which JPM was the administrative agent for a syndicate of other banks. And MF Global had securities lending and repurchase arrangements with JPM, the largest of which involved MF Global borrowing U.S. Treasuries from JPM's securities lending clients and posting agency securities as collateral.
JPMorgan even considered acquiring MF Global. But before anyone else outside of MF Global knew that there was a $1.6 billion hole in customer segregated funds, JPM passed on a deal. Rep. Francisco Canseco (R-Tex.) asked Genova why.
She testified: "After an extensive review, we determined that it was not a good business fit." Why am I not surprised?
I have to agree.  I think they knew exactly whose money they were getting, but they were smart enough not to put anything in writing.  Funny how JPM got a bunch of money, but the MF Global clients got screwed.  That's how things work these days.

Macau: The World's Largest Gaming Center

Evan Osnos on gambling in Macau, (h/t Ritholtz):
The City of Dreams smells of perfume, cigarettes, and rug shampoo. Chinese gamblers rarely drink when money is on the line, and the low, festive hum is broken now and then by the sound of someone pounding the table in delight or anguish, or exhorting the cards to obey. One night, I settled into the scrum around a baccarat game in which a slim man with heavy eyebrows and a red face shining with sweat was performing “the squeeze”—slowly peeling up the edge of his card, while the man beside him shouted “Blow! Blow!” to wish away a high number. When the slim man had peeled enough to see the digit, his face twisted in disgust and he tossed the card across the table.

“Americans tend to see themselves in control of their fate, while Chinese see fate as something external,” Lam said. “To alter fate, the Chinese feel they need to do things to acquire more luck.” In surveys, Chinese casino gamblers tend to view bets as investments and investments as bets. The stock market and real estate, in the Chinese view, are scarcely different from a casino. The behavioral scientists Elke Weber and Christopher Hsee have compared Chinese and American approaches to financial risk. In a series of experiments, they found that Chinese investors overwhelmingly described themselves as more cautious than Americans. But when they were tested the stereotype proved to be a fallacy, and the Chinese took consistently larger risks than Westerners of comparable wealth. (The gap applies only to investing; asked about decisions in health care and education, the groups were indistinguishable.)

Living in China, I’ve come to expect that Chinese friends make financial decisions that I find uncomfortably risky: launching businesses with their savings, moving across the country without the assurance of a job. One explanation, which Weber and Hsee call “the cushion hypothesis,” is that traditionally large Chinese family networks afford people confidence that they can turn to others for help if a risk does not succeed. Another theory is more specific to the boom years. “The economic reforms undertaken by Deng Xiaoping were a gamble in themselves,” Ricardo Siu, a business professor at the University of Macau, told me. “So people got the idea that taking a risk is not just O.K., it has utility.” For those who have come from poverty to the middle class, he added, “the thinking may be, If I lose half my money, well, I’ve lived through that. I won’t be poor again. And in several years I can earn it back. But if I win? I’m a millionaire!”
I like that comparison of Chinese and Americans is interesting.  But I think that point that getting rich quick allows somebody to play down the risks of losing makes sense, because they know they've been poor before and they might be able to get rich again.  One thing is for certain, those casinos help pay for the Gingrich campaign.

Living In The Past

Micheline Maynard thinks Rust Belt cities are making a mistake in pinning hopes on recovering manufacturing:
In northern Minnesota, iron ore has made a comeback. In Youngstown, Ohio, a new $650 million steel plant is under construction.
The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce has launched a new effort called MICHauto, devoted to “promoting, retaining and growing” Michigan’s auto industry.
But I'm concerned that this “renaissance” may ultimately do more harm than good to the future of our industrial cities and states.
Let me explain. Although I grew up in Michigan, I do not come from an automotive family. My father’s family hailed from Massachusetts, and he worked on the finance staff at American Airlines, which brought him to Detroit in 1947. So, I’ve spent a lifetime as an outsider, watching what the car business has meant, and done, to Michigan.
What I’ve observed is more than just an economic impact. The automobile industry has had a psychic and a cultural impact as well, as have steel and mining on the places where they’ve dominated. That is why my alarm bells are going off at the absolute joy at these industries’ nascent revival, and the emphasis that’s being put on rebuilding them.
“They’re chasing after what once was,” says Kevin Boyle, historian at Ohio State University. “It’s understandable.”
For the better part of a century, Boyle explains, industrial production was woven into the moral fiber of states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan and cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit. Says Boyle: “People worked with their hands; they put in a hard day’s work; they made things.  People drew enormous pride from that fact. It defined who they were and how they felt about their place in the world.”
She points out that there are many fewer new jobs than those that were lost, and the starting pay is much lower.  The thing is, so many people didn't go to college, because you could get a very good paying job with a high school education.  Once those jobs disappeared, folks had a really hard time finding a new job.  These folks can benefit from the new manufacturing jobs, while other folks can train to be CNC operators who will supply those factories with parts.  You can't expect to get enough manufacturing jobs to replace the old ones, but the new incomes will provide work for other people in non-manufacturing fields.  I think it makes sense to not put all your eggs in one basket, but I'm not concerned that manufacturing jobs are returning.  I welcome the trend.

Corn Is Up In Illinois

Progressive Farmer:

"We've spent the last few years mudding in the crop late in the season," Jay Ryan of Pana, Ill., said, looking overfields that already march up and down the row at the V3 growth stage. "We weren't about to miss perfect planting conditions."
Ryan and his brother, Keith, planted their first acreage on March 13 and planted again on March 15. Ryan said they then waited for a frustrating number of days wondering whether to continue. But with heat units accumulating and a good long-range weather forecast, all signs pointed to go.
The crop insurance earliest planting date (April 6 in this region) didn't slow the brothers down either. Ryan said he figured the risk of incurring the cost of replant was worth getting a good start in "the best planting conditions I can remember."
Seed supply is tight in the area and the chance of obtaining replant hybrids also a question, but that was a chance Ryan said he was willing to take. "There will be good genetics available, they just may not be our first choice," Ryan said. In addition to farming, Ryan works full time for Stone Seed Company.
Their mid-March planted fields emerged fast and Ryan said his immediate concerns are now not so much about frost, but rather, keeping up with scouting for possible pests such as black cutworm.
Wow,  they started planting on March 13.  Pretty impressive.  Those guys are braver than I.  Maybe we'll get started in a few days.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Catholics vs. Baptists

Clearly, the Baylor Bears women's basketball team is a heavy favorite versus Notre Dame.  However, it would be a lot more fun to party with the Irish.  Let's Go Irish.

Another Growing Demographic For Republicans To Lose

From the Dish:

President Obama could lose both the Catholic and Protestant vote to the Republican nominee and still win re-election, thanks to the "None/Other vote." A definition:
"Nones" are people without a religious affiliation (this does not mean they are an atheist or agnostic... they may even consider themselves to be religious or spiritual—just not connected to any religious group). "Others" are a survey research catch-all category of people who have non-Christian religious affiliations.
Their voting power:
Twenty years ago the combined None/Other vote amounted to less than 10 percent of the population and the voting electorate. Today, the None/Other population percentage has risen to 22 percent (… and is expected to continue to grow in the future).
The Catholic Hispanic vote will help balance out support on the Catholic side.  Really, Republicans, pissing off all of the growing demographics isn't a long-term strategy for electoral success.  Oh well, if somebody is very determined to commit suicide, you'll have a hard time stopping them.  Hopefully they won't murder everyone else first.

The Mandate And Commerce

Jeffrey Toobin on last week's hearings:
Kennedy’s last point, about the “heavy burden” on the government to defend the law, was correct—in 1935. That was when the Supreme Court, in deciding Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States—a case involving the regulation of the sale of sick chickens—struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act, a principal domestic priority of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the ground that it violated the Commerce Clause. Two years later, however, the Court executed its famous “switch in time that saved the Nine” and began upholding the reforms of the New Deal. The Justices came to recognize that national economic problems require national solutions, and they deferred to Congress, usually unanimously, to provide those solutions, under the Commerce Clause.

For example, the Justices had no trouble upholding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which used the clause to mandate the integration of hotels and restaurants. “It may be argued that Congress could have pursued other methods to eliminate the obstructions it found in interstate commerce caused by racial discrimination,” Justice Tom C. Clark wrote, for his unanimous brethren. “But this is a matter of policy that rests entirely with the Congress, not with the courts. How obstructions in commerce may be removed—what means are to be employed—is within the sound and exclusive discretion of the Congress.” In other words, Justice Kennedy had it backward. The “heavy burden” is not on the defenders of the law but on its challengers. Acts of Congress, like the health-care law, are presumed to be constitutional, and it is—or should be—a grave and unusual step for unelected, unaccountable, life-tenured judges to overrule the work of the democratically elected branches of government.Last week, however, the conservative Justices were showing no deference to Congress, especially on economic matters. The questions from the quartet of Kennedy, John G. Roberts, Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., amounted to a catalogue of complaints about the Affordable Care Act. (Clarence Thomas, their silent ally, presumably was with them in spirit.) In particular, they appeared to regard the law as scandalously cruel to one party in the debate—and it wasn’t the uninsured. The Justices’ own words revealed where their sympathies lie. Roberts: “If you’re an insurance company and you don’t believe that you can give the coverage in the way Congress mandated it without the individual mandate, what type of action do you bring in a court?” Scalia: “That’s going to bankrupt the insurance companies if not the states.” Alito: “What is the difference between guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions on the one hand and other provisions that increase costs substantially for insurance companies?” Kennedy: “We would be exercising the judicial power if one provision was stricken and the others remained to impose a risk on insurance companies that Congress had never intended.”
This Court is extremely radical.  Expect Citizens United on steroids if they strike this law down.  The fallout would be immense.  Republicans have been extremely effective at helping the strong screw the weak.  This Supreme Court may be the greatest advocate for corporate and police power against the people in history.

The Most Expensive Real Estate In The World

WSJ, via Ritholtz:
If you think real-estate in Manhattan or San Francisco is expensive, consider Monaco.
The price of real-estate in Monaco — the world’s most expensive locale — is now an average of $5,408 a square foot, according to a report from Citi Private Bank and Knight Frank, the London real-estate firm. Spending $1 million will get you a 200 square-foot closet – presumably without a water view.
The second most expensive locale is Cap Ferrat in the south of France, at more than $4,800 a square foot. That’s followed by London, at $4,534 a square foot, and then by Hong Kong, at $4,406 a square foot.
New York is a relative bargain, coming in at number 17, at more  than $2,161 a square foot (this seems to be a little  high, even for Manhattan). The only other U.S. locations on the top 50 are Aspen, at number 39, with $974 a square foot, followed by Telluride ($760 a square foot) and Miami, at about $580 a square foot.
And I thought farmland was getting pricy.  For $1 million, you can buy 50 acres at $20,000 an acre, which is the highest price I've seen referenced, and that is a relative bargain, at 46 cents a square foot.  Stupid rich people.

First Hand-Held Mobile Phone Call

Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola, made the first US analog mobile phone call on a larger prototype model in 1973. This is a reenactment in 2007

April 3, 1973:
Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first handheld mobile phone call to Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs, though it took ten years for the DynaTAC 8000X to become the first such phone to be commercially released.On 3 April 1973, Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher and executive, made the first analog mobile phone call using a heavy prototype model. He called Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs. The phone was 2.5 pounds, and 9x5x1.75 inches in size. Although Cooper couldn't show off his new prototype for long because the talk time was only 30 minutes,and it took 10 hours to charge, but that was still amazing back then.
There was a long race between Motorola and Bell Labs to produce the first portable mobile phone. Cooper is the first inventor named on "Radio telephone system" filed on 17 October 1973 with the US Patent Office and later issued as US Patent 3,906,166. John F. Mitchell, Motorola's chief of portable communication products (and Cooper's boss) was also named on the patent. He successfully pushed Motorola to develop wireless communication products that would be small enough to use anywhere and participated in the design of the cellular phone.
Wow, that looks like fun to lug around.

Perpetual Ocean

A team of data visualisers at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre has put together an incredible animation of sea surface currents around the world.
The visualisation was put together using data from Nasa's ECCO2 model. The model maps ocean and sea ice data across the world, at impressive resolutions that can resolve ocean eddies and narrow-current systems that don't show up in coarser models. These currents tend to be the main drivers of heat, salinity and carbon transport in the oceans.
The patterns under the ocean represent the bathymetry of the depths below the surface, exaggerated 40x. The topography of the land has been exaggerated 20x. The model simulates flow at all depths, though the visualisation only shows surface flows.
That is really, really cool.  I'd love to see how much computing power is required for that simulation.

Is Big Sugar Killing You?

60 Minutes:

High fructose corn syrup always pops up in these stories, so maybe I ought to make that Big Corn Sugar.  I think it is so prevalent because it is so damn cheap.

Make The Little People Pay

Dayton Daily News:
Austin Landing workers who do not work in offices within the $150 million development may soon have to pay a 2.25 percent income tax.
Recently designated boundaries for a joint economic development exclude – at least for now – office buildings housing the Teradata headquarters and a growing list of tenants, including the developer, RG Properties. Also excluded from income taxation will be upper floors of buildings around the development’s town center, set aside as offices.
“The developer has agreed he will include hospitality, entertainment and retail (in the taxing district),” Assistant Administrator Greg Rogers said after the Miami Twp. trustees voted unanimously earlier this week to approve the boundaries.
So for now, workers at a recently opened Kohl’s department store, a Kroger supermarket expected to open before Christmas as well as employees of a hotel, cinema, restaurants and stores expected to open by August 2013 would pay the income tax. Construction workers in the district also would be subject to the tax, said Steve Stanley, executive director of the Montgomery County Transportation Improvement District.
“It’s obviously attractive to have office uses that are not subject to the tax,” Miami Twp. Administrator Greg Hanahan said, while referring subsequent questions about the buildings left outside the boundaries to RG President Randy Gunlock, who did not respond to requests for his perspective.
What a screwjob!  So the developer and all the white-collar people don't have to pay 2.25% income tax, but the lowly retail workers do?  And all they are doing is stealing jobs from other localities.  What a fucking crock of shit.  Don't forget that RG Properties managed to get the state and local government to spend an assload of money ($75 million) to build them an interchange on I-75 right at their property.   This is how they pay us back.  Fuckers.  This may not be illegal, but it is clearly immoral.  I hope Kohl's stocks torches and pitchforks.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kansas Or Kentucky?

My heart says Kansas, but my head says Kentucky.  I'll predict Wildcats by 7.

A Writer I Can Appreciate

Ian Parker describes the new HBO show Veep:
Armando Iannucci, the British comedy writer and director, is short and slight, and, at forty-eight, he is going bald in the old-fashioned, uncropped way, with tufts of hair here and there. He has a soft Scottish accent and a demure, bookish manner. A scholar of John Milton, he is a former classical-music columnist for Gramophone. In recent years, he has become best known in Britain for creating characters who, when they hear a knock at the door, are likely to say, “Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off,” instead of “Hello.”

Early one morning last fall, Iannucci was on location in Washington, D.C., directing a scene for “Veep,” an HBO comedy about American politics written wholly by British men, including one whom Iannucci has described as his “swearing consultant.” A motorcade of five limousines and two motorcycle outriders was parked by the side entrance of a neoclassical building not far from the White House, and beside it stood Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the former “Seinfeld” star. She was wearing a wig that looked much like her real hair—a strategy that eliminates delays for styling. Louis-Dreyfus plays Vice-President Selina Meyer, who is neither corrupt nor politically extreme but harried, maddened by her job’s taunting combination of power and powerlessness, and forever at risk of public embarrassment. Meyer’s dominant mood—panic blunted by exhaustion, as she attempts, cursing, to outrun a political shit storm—will be familiar to viewers of “The Thick of It,” Iannucci’s fine BBC sitcom about British ministerial life, or “In the Loop,” a companion film that used some of the same actors to tell a darker story of Anglo-American ineptness and bad faith in the prelude to an Iraq-style war. “Veep” is the second attempt to bring Iannucci’s political satire to American television. The first, an ABC pilot made in 2007, transposed the action to the office of a goofily innocent U.S. congressman; Iannucci, who was not in charge of that production, says that the experience left him feeling “slightly soiled.”

Then there's this:
That morning, Louis-Dreyfus was about to shoot a scene in which she refers to a senator as a “real hog-fucker,” in a conversation with her chief of staff, her head of communications, and a devoted personal aide—a group that, in a later episode, she refers to as her “Keystone Cunts.” Although “Veep” doesn’t have the swearing intensity of Iannucci’s British work, the show’s scripts still use “fuck,” and its variants, nearly two hundred and fifty times in the first eight episodes.
Curse words make me laugh. Yes, I'm a simple man.  It's also why Rahm Emmanuel is so entertaining to read about.

China's Yellow Dust Storms Hit Korea

The Korea Times, via nc links:
According to the National Institute of Meteorological Research (NIMR), Friday, a total of 93 yellow sand storms blowing from China affected the Korean Peninsula from 2002 to 2011. Of them, 49 storms developed in either the Gobi Desert or Inner Mongolia. About 18 storms originated in Manchuria.

Between 2002 and 2006, only 6 sand storms reached Korea from Manchuria. But from 2007 to 2011 there were 12, indicating more yellow dust generated in northeast China in recent years.

For instance, on May 14, 2011, the sand storm created in Manchuria covered the peninsula only within 12 hours by shifting southeast on a fast-moving wind. It caught meteorologists off guard, leaving many vulnerable to a severe sand dust storm.

“Manchuria and other northeastern part of China have been grappling with severe droughts for years due to low precipitation. At the same time, people there have cleared wooded areas to grow crops and raise livestock,” an NIMR researcher said.

“Chronic drought as a result of global warming and increasing agricultural activities by humans has contributed to making the land more barren, creating perfect conditions for sand storms to develop.”

The researcher warned that yellow dust blowing from Manchuria may contain more salt and other harmful particles of disease-causing metals, advising residents to take precautionary measures.
Wow. Pollution-another Chinese export. China has so many environmental issues, it's just breathtaking.  Literally.

Lexis Nexis Launched

April 2, 1973:
Launch of the LexisNexis computerized legal research service.  At its inception in 1970, the database was named LEXIS by Mead Data Central (MDC), a subsidiary of the Mead Corporation. It was a continuation of an experiment organized by the Ohio State Bar in 1967. On April 2, 1973, LEXIS launched publicly, offering full-text searching of all Ohio and New York cases. In 1980, LEXIS completed its hand-keyed electronic archive of all U.S. federal and state cases. The NEXIS service, added that same year, gave journalists a searchable database of news articles.
LexisNexis is headquarted in Dayton (Miamisburg), and employs 3,400 people in the area.

Did Jesus Exist?

Historian Bart Ehrman says yes:
In his book, Ehrman marshals all of the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, including the writings of the apostle Paul.
"Paul knew Jesus' brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did," Ehrman says. "If Jesus didn't exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed," he says.
In Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman builds a technical argument and shows that one of the reasons for knowing that Jesus existed is that if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome.
"The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the enemies – and so if you're going to make up a messiah, you'd make up a powerful messiah," he says. "You wouldn't make up somebody who was humiliated, tortured and the killed by the enemies."
So Jesus did exist, but who was he? Ehrman says when historians focus on the life of Jesus, they discover a Jesus who is completely different from the one portrayed by popular culture or by religious texts.
"The mythicists have some right things to say," Ehrman says. "The Gospels do portray Jesus in ways that are non-historical."
I guess the Catholic Church would argue that brother James deal.  It kind of messes with that Marian tradition.  I also found this portion to be very interesting:

The Passing of a Crappy Casino

Bill Barnwell:
I went to O'Shea's on Monday to see if it lived down to my memories, and it was every bit as crummy as I remembered. The beer pong games were still going: For $23.50, you got cups, Ping-Pong balls, and two pitchers of beer. The lines of teams waiting to play that I remembered from five years ago were replaced, though, by empty tables short one group of mid-forties men who were calling it Beirut. (That's the Great American Argument.) The LCD boards at the roulette tables that trick passersby into thinking that their number is due had been turned off, even at the two active tables taking bets. One had a girl screaming "SEVEN!" at the board in the hopes that her number would come up, horrifying the superstitious bettors at the craps table 10 feet away. The casino was already using the $1 chips from its sister casino, the Flamingo, in lieu of its own currency. The poker "room" did have a one-table tournament going, but the satellite tables sitting at the front of the casino remained mostly empty. I sat there once in a chair that was literally outside of the casino, with its hind legs sitting on the Las Vegas Strip; anybody with even the slightest bit of gall could have grabbed my chips and run into the crowd without any fear of repercussions, but that was just the sort of place O'Shea's was. When I read a month before my move in August that a man was killed in a fistfight at a Strip casino, my initial reaction was "O'Shea's." I wasn't wrong.
I've never been to Vegas (I haven't been west of I-35 since I was four years old), but if I went out, O'Shea's sounds like my kind of place.  Barnwell's post was somewhat entertaining, but I loved the comments.  Cheap and crappy equals a place I want to go.

The Most Significant Scientist You've Never Heard Of

The New York Times profiles Emmy Noether, maybe the most prolific female theoretician in history:
In 1915 Einstein published his general theory of relativity. The Göttingen math department fell “head over ear” with it, in the words of one observer, and Noether began applying her invariance work to some of the complexities of the theory. That exercise eventually inspired her to formulate what is now called Noether’s theorem, an expression of the deep tie between the underlying geometry of the universe and the behavior of the mass and energy that call the universe home.
What the revolutionary theorem says, in cartoon essence, is the following: Wherever you find some sort of symmetry in nature, some predictability or homogeneity of parts, you’ll find lurking in the background a corresponding conservation — of momentum, electric charge, energy or the like. If a bicycle wheel is radially symmetric, if you can spin it on its axis and it still looks the same in all directions, well, then, that symmetric translation must yield a corresponding conservation. By applying the principles and calculations embodied in Noether’s theorem, you’ll see that it is angular momentum, the Newtonian impulse that keeps bicyclists upright and on the move.
Some of the relationships to pop out of the theorem are startling, the most profound one linking time and energy. Noether’s theorem shows that a symmetry of time — like the fact that whether you throw a ball in the air tomorrow or make the same toss next week will have no effect on the ball’s trajectory — is directly related to the conservation of energy, our old homily that energy can be neither created nor destroyed but merely changes form.
The connections that Noether forged are “critical” to modern physics, said Lisa Randall, a professor of theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard. “Energy, momentum and other quantities we take for granted gain meaning and even greater value when we understand how these quantities follow from symmetry in time and space.”
Wow, way over my pay grade.  Again, understanding the features of nature are significant for engineering and design.  Simplicity, conservation and symmetry all should play into design work.

Replenishing The Flock, Ctd.

The birds still in the box (I got a bonus chicken):

Somebody is showing too much interest in holding something in his mouth:

Luckily, he discovered some deer parts which keep him distracted:

Also, I saw a planter sitting out in a field.  I didn't see anyone around, so I don't know if any seed was put in the ground.  Maybe it was an April Fools' Joke.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

March 30:

The Grand Canyon in Moonlight
Image Credit & Copyright: Malcolm Park (North York Astronomical Association)
Explanation: In this alluring night skyscape recorded on March 26, a young Moon stands over the distant western horizon in conjunction with brilliant planet Venus. In the foreground, the Colorado River glistens in moonlight as it winds through the Grand Canyon, seen from the canyon's southern rim at Lipan Point. Of course, the Grand Canyon is known as one of the wonders of planet Earth. Carved by the river, the enormous fissure is about 270 miles (440 kilometers) long, up to 18 miles (30 kilometers) wide and approaches 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) deep. On this date, wonders of the night sky included the compact Pleiades and V-shaped Hyades star clusters poised just above the Moon. Bright planet Jupiter is below the closer Moon/Venus pairing, near the western horizon.

Pink Slime Producer Big Republican Donor

Des Moines Register:
Beef Products Inc. claims to be the largest producer of beef trimmings in the world. A social media campaign in recent weeks has derided the company’s lean, finely textured beef as “pink slime,” and some fast-food chains, supermarkets and school cafeterias are dropping its use.
The company’s top executives and employees have contributed at least $546,500 to candidates for state office in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas, where it has plants or other operations.
Republican governors or lieutenant governors from the five states traveled last week to South Sioux City, Neb., to tour the company’s plant there. Branstad organized the event, which was followed on Thursday by a news conference where he and others touted the health and nutritional benefits of the hamburger filler marketed as lean, finely textured beef.
BPI owners Eldon and Regina Roth and their employees also contributed an additional $274,250 since 2008 to presidential and congressional candidates, according federal campaign finance data reviewed by the Register.
I've pointed out before that I don't really have a problem with "pink slime" (I love Arby's roast beef, and I sure as hell don't want to know how that's made), but the fact that the company is a huge Republican donor really makes me laugh.  It is almost like the Republicans are trying to live up to the Simpsons' Springfield Republican Party.

MLB Individual Prop Bets

Jonah Keri discusses a number of available bets on individual player performance.  My favorite:
Baltimore Orioles
Mark Reynolds: Total Strikeouts in the 2012 Regular Season
Over/Under: 200½

Did you know that of the 11 highest single-season strikeout totals in the long history of Major League Baseball, all 11 have happened in the past eight years? Did you know that Reynolds doesn't merely hold the all-time record for strikeouts in a season (223), he's also number-two (211)? It's an interesting cause-and-effect question: Did the huge spike in home runs that started in the early 90s and persisted into the mid-aughts happen in part because the old stigma against hitters striking out disappeared? Or did that stigma vanish because working deep counts and taking big swings helped lead to an explosion in home runs? Let's say a little of both. Then let's honor Reynolds, who might be the most anonymous record-holder since Earl Webb.
More on Earl Webb here.  This is also a good place to note that Jim Thome is now only 111 strikeouts away from breaking Reggie Jackson's career record of 2597.  Adam Dunn has the potential to move into the top 5 for career strikeouts, but Reynolds is setting a blistering pace, with 963 strikeouts in 2905 at-bats.

There's No Speed Limit

Derek Sivers has a great post on a teacher who changed his life (h/t Ritholtz):
Whether you're a student, teacher, or parent, I think you'll appreciate this story of how one teacher can completely and permanently change someone's life in only a few lessons.
I met Kimo Williams when I was 17 - the summer after I graduated high school in Chicago, a few months before I was starting Berklee College of Music.
I called an ad in the paper by a recording studio, with a random question about music typesetting.
When the studio owner heard I was going to Berklee, he said, “I graduated from Berklee, and taught there for a few years, too. I'll bet I can teach you two years' of theory and arranging in only a few lessons. I suspect you can graduate in two years if you understand there's no speed limit. Come by my studio at 9:00 tomorrow for your first lesson, if you're interested. No charge.”
Graduate college in two years? Awesome! I liked his style. That was Kimo Williams.
The rest of the post is engrossing.  Once in a while, I think back to all the opportunities I had to learn in my life, whether in high school, college or life after college, and I realize  I've been tremendously lazy.  I think online projects like the Khan Academy will make it much easier for people to educate themselves.  They (I) might not be as dedicated as Williams or Sivers, but the type of lessons Khan provides will make such accelerated education more available to those who want to learn.


April 1, 1999:
Nunavut is established as a Canadian territory carved out of the eastern part of the Northwest Territories.
Nunavut /ˈnnəˌvʊt/ (from Inuktitut: ᓄᓇᕗᑦ [ˈnunavut]) is the largest and newest federal territory of Canada; it was separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, though the actual boundaries had been established in 1993. The creation of Nunavut – meaning "our land" in Inuktitut – resulted in the first major change to Canada's map since the incorporation of the new province of Newfoundland in 1949.
Nunavut comprises a major portion of Northern Canada, and most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, making it the fifth-largest country subdivision in the world. The capital Iqaluit (formerly "Frobisher Bay") on Baffin Island, in the east, was chosen by the 1995 capital plebiscite. Other major communities include the regional centres of Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. Nunavut also includes Ellesmere Island to the north, as well as the eastern and southern portions of Victoria Island in the west and Akimiski Island in James Bay to the far south.
Nunavut is both the least populous and the largest in geography of the provinces and territories of Canada. One of the most remote, sparsely settled regions in the world, it has a population of 31,906, mostly Inuit, spread over an area the size of Western Europe. Nunavut is also home to the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, Alert.  Not to be confused with Nunavik, a region in northern Quebec, or Nunatsiavut, an autonomous Inuit region in northern Newfoundland and Labrador.
 I'm sure those pranksters up north have filmed man on the street interviews asking Americans to name a province or territory in Canada and gotten tons of laughs.  As bad as we are in this country when it comes to geographic knowledge of the United States, I can only imagine we'd be terrible when it comes to Canada.  Maybe we'd do better if they weren't sneaking new territories in on us, especially on April Fools' Day.