Saturday, April 14, 2012


In a somewhat related note, apparently Newark mayor Cory Booker saved his neighbor from a fire.  Corey Rubin makes an interesting comparison based on that news:
The whole story speaks to a quintessentially American love of amateurism and cowboy theatrics, but it also speaks to our neoliberal age: like the superhero of comic-book lore, Booker is a stand-in, a compensation in this case for a public sector that doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work—the reason we put more stock in the antics of a Batman Mayor than a well paid and well trained city employee—is that we’ve made it not work: through tax cuts, privatization, and outsourcing, policies that Booker himself often supports.
Despite all that, Booker’s antics—and the starstruck response it has elicited from otherwise sane journalists and commentators—are actually more reminiscent of a very different kind of politician from a very different kind of time. As Slavoj Žižek wrote about the cult of personality around Stalin in Did Someone Say Totalitarianism?
This implicit acknowledgment of impotence is also the hidden truth of the divinization of the Stalinist Leader into a  Supreme Genius who can give advice on almost any topic, from how to repair a tractor to how to cultivate flowers: what this Leader’s intervention in everyday life means is that things do not function on the most everyday level—what kind of country is this, in which the supreme Leader himself has to dispense advice about how to repair tractors?
Indeed: what kind of country is this?
I'll take the guys from the Detroit Fire Department over most politicians any day.

Woodie On Planting Corn

As long as I knew him, Woodie didn't get in a big hurry to get the crops in.  Of course, since I first met him when he was 72, this might not be extremely surprising.  Woodie followed a four crop rotation on his farm, which consisted of four fields, so every year he had one corn field, one soybean field, one wheat field and one hay field, with the rotation of each field following that order.  Each field was about 30 acres, so when he made hay, he cut a third of the field at a time, usually about a week apart.  At that time, he was usually making first cutting hay in late June or early July.  It wasn't very pretty.  One year, I spent four weekends in a row at Woodie's, the first weekend baling hay, the second weekend was straw, followed by two more weekends of hay.  One or two years in his early 80s, he actually made a couple of cuttings of hay.  It was kind of like he got a second wind or something.

Anyway, when it came to planting corn, Woodie had two sayings.  The first one was that the best time for planting corn was when the honeysuckle was blooming, the time frame of which seems to vary, but generally seems to be around mid-May.  His other saying was that the best time was when the Catalpa trees flowered, which is usually around Memorial Day or early June  (I can remember the Catalpa blooms because our parochial school would walk to the park for field day during the last week of school, and I remember picking up one of the Catalpa flowers and trying to take it home to give to my mom because I thought it was so beautiful.  Yeah, I was a sappy kid).  I wasn't sure if somebody would have to choose between the two for which to follow, or if it had transferred from Catalpas to honeysuckle as later maturity corn hybrids came along and farmers started planting earlier and earlier.  Anyway, there are years like last spring where we might end up planting in those time frames due to the weather, but our family's current target starting time is the week of tax day.  Some of the bigger farmers are moving in late March if the weather is right.  Woodie would scoff at those guys (and us).

Also, I saw this on facebook, and immediately thought of Woodie, even though it was posted because another local farmer used to drink Goebel so nobody, especially his kids, would steal his beer:

Monkey Dirt

Big Picture Agriculture has a number of charts of land rent prices.  Here's my favorite:

Wow.  $260 an acre.  It looks to me like central Illinois farmers have to be better at crunching numbers than growing crops with those kinds of prices.  Looks like the crops must just about grown themselves.  And I thought ground west of the Great Miami River was monkey dirt (soil so productive monkeys could grow great crops on it).

Black Sunday

April 14, 1935:
"Black Sunday Storm", the worst dust storm of the U.S. Dust Bowl.
The storm began in the mid afternoon, presaged by thousands of birds fleeing before the rolling clouds of dirt. A long drought during the first half of the 1930s, combined with a lack of knowledge of conservation techniques, caused excessive topsoil erosion on farmlands in the Midwest. Disastrous dust storms like these forced many farmers to leave their homes to start a new life elsewhere, they went to many places especially California. The storm itself was created by a combination of dry topsoil and high (60 mph (97 km/h)) winds.
The Black Sunday storm was the worst dust storm in the Great Plains during the 1930s. It is estimated to have removed 300,000 tons of topsoil from the area known afterwards as the Dust Bowl. The storm of black dust resulted from prolonged drought and overplowing in the Great Plains, which destroyed the sod and left topsoil exposed.
Anybody looking for an interesting history book can pick up Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time.

Happy Birthday Pete Rose

The Hit King is 71 today.  If he wasn't so dumb, he'd be in the Hall of Fame.  I don't mean about gambling on baseball, I mean writing a book admitting he bet on baseball while negotiating with the commissioner to let him back into baseball.  Anyway, happy birthday Pete.

Local Energy Independence

Folks around Medalia, Minnesota are taking a unique approach to biofuels (h/t Ritholtz):
Meschke thought she’d found the key to saving America’s prairie farmland: Third Crops. That was her term for, basically, anything that isn’t corn or soybeans. There was extra credit if it’s native and perennial. Her idea wasn’t unique. Some farmers already use a Third Crop system by rotating fields through corn first, soybeans second, and alfalfa or hay third, which helps keep the soil healthy and reduces the need for fertilizer. Yet Meschke wanted to take this further. First, she promoted planting a wider variety of Third Crops. When a lot of different plants are grown in one region, it becomes less of a Club Med for species-specific pests, which means a decreased need for farmers to buy expensive pesticides. Meschke also wanted farmers to put Third Crops on some land full time, not only in rotation schedules. Land that’s severely nutrient-deficient, land that’s sloped or has a lot of loose topsoil, and land that sits alongside creeks and drainage ditches could all benefit from the dense, water- and soil-retaining root systems of perennial plants.
The trouble for Meschke was how to make Third Crops profitable enough that farmers actually wanted to grow them. The perennials native to Minnesota’s prairie—mostly, various species of tall grasses—are fairly cheap to grow and are ecologically friendly, because they don’t need much fertilizer or irrigation, but they also aren’t worth very much. This was where Meschke’s interest in water quality and soil health dovetailed into her interest in local energy. There’s not really any money to be made in growing Third Crops for topsoil protection or to clean up a polluted stream. Meanwhile, large-scale biofuel production—which currently means corn ethanol—only adds to those ecological problems. You could grow native grasses and turn them into fuel. The technology already exists. In fact, there are many different ways to do the job. The problem is that so far, nobody’s been able to make any of those methods financially viable on a large scale—the kind of system that would allow big companies in the Midwest to produce barrels and barrels of fuel for use all across the country. To most people, that means corn-less biofuel simply isn’t ready for the real world yet. Linda Meschke, on the other hand, looked at that same problem and asked, “Why should people at Madelia worry about whether Florida has enough energy?”
A small refinery that could pay farmers for Third Crops, create some jobs for non-farmers, and produce enough fuel to sell within this one little region of Minnesota would do the trick, Meschke thought. Especially if gasoline prices continued to rise. If that wasn’t viable, she said, you could go smaller still. Even the opportunity to make fuel for their own use—a chance to save money, rather than earn it—could be enough to get at least a few more farmers growing Third Crops. Meschke supports local energy because it’s on the scale that prairie grass biofuel seems to work at, and because right now it offers the best opportunities to set the Madelia Model into motion.
It is an interesting concept, but current commodity prices and additional work will probably cause large farmers to resist.

Microdistilleries Test Market

Local microdistilleries try to cash in on tourism opportunities under a new state law.  One has a historic past:
The Duers have no immediate plans to try to match those numbers with their rye whiskeys. The couple — who named their venture Indian Creek Distillery after the creek that flows through their property, and because that’s the business name Elias Staley used in the early 1800s — will produce two types of rye whiskey, one of which will carry the same Staley Rye Whiskey name that the family produced in the 19th century. The other spirit will be un-aged and will be called Revolution Rye whiskey. The first bottles of Revolution Rye should be available for sale this summer, with the aged Staley Rye unveiled later this year after spending some seven to eight weeks in 15-gallon oak barrels.
The distillery’s two small, antique copper stills will limit production to small batches, and each batch will be bottled uncut at varying alcoholic proof levels with the intent of “capturing the frontier spirit in a bottle,” Melissa Duer said.
The couple hasn’t set a price yet for the two rye whiskeys. “It’s not going to be inexpensive, but it’s going to be worth the price,” Melissa Duer said.
Although the distillery and tasting room are newly constructed, Amish builders designed the new building to fit in with the older structures on the Duers’ property, including a grist mill built in 1818.
Melissa Duer is the sixth generation of her family to live in the farmhouse on the property.
Among the documents in the Duers’ possession are doctor prescriptions from the 1800s prescribing “one quart of your finest whiskey” for various ailments, and letters from a Civil War soldier requesting that a bottle of Staley’s Rye Whiskey be sent to him.
That farm also has an old grist mill which local teens flock to because of a legend that the place was haunted.  When I was a kid, we called it the "Bloody Barn."

And The Rains Came

Well, I'm back.  We managed to get 130 acres of corn planted before the rain, which is approximately 1/3 of our total corn acreage.  Hopefully the delay won't be too long, as we've planted half of the field we were in when the rain came, and have planted all of the end rows. 

One thing to note, while Beck's may package their seed in water-resistant sacks, the paper tape used to close the bag isn't water resistant, and at the other end of the bag, where it is sown closed, water gets into the thread holes and softens the bag there, also.  That is your public service announcement for the day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Finite Physicist Versus An Exponential Economist

Via nc links, this is a great discussion:
Physicist: True enough. So we would likely agree that energy growth will not continue indefinitely. But two points before we continue: First, I’ll just mention that energy growth has far outstripped population growth, so that per-capita energy use has surged dramatically over time—our energy lives today are far richer than those of our great-great-grandparents a century ago [economist nods]. So even if population stabilizes, we are accustomed to per-capita energy growth: total energy would have to continue growing to maintain such a trend [another nod].
Second, thermodynamic limits impose a cap to energy growth lest we cook ourselves. I’m not talking about global warming, CO2 build-up, etc. I’m talking about radiating the spent energy into space. I assume you’re happy to confine our conversation to Earth, foregoing the spectre of an exodus to space, colonizing planets, living the Star Trek life, etc.
Economist: More than happy to keep our discussion grounded to Earth.
Physicist: [sigh of relief: not a space cadet] Alright, the Earth has only one mechanism for releasing heat to space, and that’s via (infrared) radiation. We understand the phenomenon perfectly well, and can predict the surface temperature of the planet as a function of how much energy the human race produces. The upshot is that at a 2.3% growth rate (conveniently chosen to represent a 10× increase every century), we would reach boiling temperature in about 400 years. [Pained expression from economist.] And this statement is independent of technology. Even if we don’t have a name for the energy source yet, as long as it obeys thermodynamics, we cook ourselves with perpetual energy increase.
While I can't put the numbers to it like the physicist, I'm on his side in this argument.  The days of cheap energy are gone, and we better start getting used to it.

The Planter Should Be Rolling

Posting may be light to nonexistent from now until it rains.  We finally got the planter ready to go, and hopefully, by now we've got corn in the ground.  Take it easy.

The First J.C. Penney's

April 13, 1902:
 James C. Penney opens his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
A little more about Kemmerer:
Kemmerer is both the largest city and the county seat of Lincoln County, Wyoming, United States. The population was 2,651 at the 2000 census. It dubs itself the "The Fossil Fish Capital of the World" and the "Gateway to the West." As the county seat of Lincoln County, Kemmerer is the location of the Lincoln County Courthouse
Explorer John C. Frémont discovered coal in the area during his second expedition in 1843. The Union Pacific Coal Company opened the first underground mine in 1881 after construction of the Oregon Short Line Railroad from Granger to Oregon.
Patrick J. Quealy (1857–1930) founded Kemmerer as an "independent town" in 1897 when he was vice-president of the Kemmerer Coal Company, located 6 miles (9.7 km) south of the original townsite. He named the company and town after his financial backer, Pennsylvania coal magnate Mahlon S. Kemmerer (1843–1925). In 1950, the operation converted to strip mining and became the world's largest open pit coal mine. In 1980 the Kemmerer Coal Co. was sold to the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Company, now a subsidiary of the Chevron Corporation. The pit remains in operation today with an annual output of about 5 million tons.
Quealy sold lots in the townsite rather than lease them, which permitted the establishment of independent businesses. The company's subsidiary, Frontier Supply Company, provided electricity by utilizing a used $1,150.00 generator acquired in Utah.
Quealy was originally from Ireland. In Wyoming, he and his wife became active in Democratic Party politics and in St. Patrick's Church, for which the company donated land.
Quealy was the founding president of the First National Bank, established in 1900. Kemmerer Savings Bank was founded in 1909. It's president Asbury D. Hoskins was manager of the Blyth-Fargo-Hoskins Company, and was later elected Wyoming state treasurer in 1919.  Kemmerer is the location of the J. C. Penney mother store. The Fossil Butte National Monument is located 15 miles west of Kemmerer, Wyoming on U.S. Highway 30.
Amazingly, there's still a store there.

Farmland Price Growth May Slow

Reuters, via nc links:

A combination of low interest rates and high commodity prices sent levels sky-rocketing. Nebraska cropland values soared by 38 percent during 2010, while Iowa was up 28 percent and Indiana up 27 percent, say Federal Reserve regional banks.
A 160-acre farm near York in eastern Nebraska sold for $12,000 an acre in February, a record for land in the state.
Soaring prices have prompted fears of a price bubble that could ruin farmers' finances in an economic downturn. So far, farmers and lenders have been cautious and land prices are justified by likely returns.
"Our expectation would be slower growth in farmland values," said Jason Henderson of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank and who monitors agricultural credit. Farmers have avoided dangerous debt loads, he said, and the question for the future is "how much stamina is there" for restraint in a competitive market.
Brent Gloy, agricultural economist at Purdue University, said a string of profitable years gave farmers the money to chase land when it came on the market. Prices are reaching the level that buyers need corn prices to average $5 a bushel, a historically high level, to earn enough from the land to pay for it. "The potential to get ahead of ourselves is high," he said.
"My sense is the farmland market is, hopefully, ready to slow down," Gloy said of the one-year outlook. "I don't think it's going to soften at all."
I would expect it to peak sometime soon, but the experts say otherwise.

Why Is Cuba Such A Big Deal?

Charlie Pierce on Ozzie Guillen and Castrogate:
Damn it, I'm tired of this. In 1962, I hid under my desk at school for 10 straight days in October while the United States and the Soviet Union decided whether or not to lob nuclear missiles at my young ass. And why? Because a year or so earlier, a bunch of expatriate Cubans and some CIA cowboys launched an invasion of the island. Which prompted Nikita Khrushchev to take the genuinely insane step of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba to forestall any future enterprises of that sort. Which led to my being under my desk, mumbling Hail Mary's at 78 r.p.m.
For going on 60 years now, the foreign policy of my country — and a good bit of its domestic politics as well — has been held hostage by a band of noisy irreconcilables in South Florida. The embargo is a joke to the rest of the world, the Helms-Burton Act a modern farce, ignored by such radical Marxist nations as Canada, Mexico, and Germany. The success of the exile community in Florida is a remarkable story, but, Lord knows, it's not without its darker side. With the inexcusable aid of several U.S. presidents, and according to documents gathered by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, that community has harbored outright terrorists, including the men allegedly behind the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 78 passengers (including the Cuban national fencing team). By way of comparison, many Irish-Americans who conspired to arm the IRA during the Troubles wound up in prison. Here, though, President George H.W. Bush went out of his way to pardon one of the men alleged to have helped arrange the bombing of the airliner. The rules always have been different, because of the investment — covert and otherwise — that the U.S. has made in destabilizing Castro, and the centrality of Florida to just about every presidential election of the past 40 years.
The whole thing is entertaining. Luckily, when it comes to Communists, Allen West is on the job.  Seriously, Florida is an embarrassment.

Did Sharron Angle Get Elected In Uzbekistan?

Joshua Foust:
The government of Uzbekistan -- no stranger to the bizarre and upsetting -- recently made a truly head-scratching decision. A new voluntary service, according to a report in RFE/RL, now allows teachers and even some doctors to receive part of their salary in Serbian chickens.
Of course, like most "voluntary" programs in Uzbekistan, it is nothing of the sort -- and RFE/RL quotes plenty of people saying they were given the live animals against their will. The Uzbek government has distributed tens of thousands of chickens: 10 chicks per public sector employee. These civil servants are then expected to fulfill a February decree by cabinet ministers to increase the domestic production of milk, eggs, dairy, poultry, and vegetables. 
How teachers and doctors, who are most certainly not farmers, will succeed in raising these animals remains unclear. It's not even a cost-saving measure: the Serbian chicks appear to cost a bit more than their domestic Uzbek counterparts. So what on earth is happening?
Chickens are a surprising bellwether for international economic and political issues. Sounding for all the world like some modern-day Khrushchevian Red Plenty economic master plan, the Uzbek government has demanded that not only agriculture do more, but that industry reduce costs and increase production -- just like that. More more more for less less less. So why the chicken handouts?
See, the Tea Party candidate for U.S. Senate in Nevada was on to something.  Or was on something.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Who Needs That Science Stuff?

For more than 80 years, not people in Tennessee:
Tennessee soon will have a law granting public school teachers the right to challenge climate science in their classrooms.
Gov. Bill Haslam (R) of Tennessee declined to act on a measure yesterday that would formally allow teachers to challenge "the teaching of some scientific subjects," including global warming, evolution and human cloning. Without the governor's signature, the bill becomes law by default later this month.
"The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one margin, but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion," Haslam said in a statement. "My concern is that this bill has not met this objective."
Haslam said he thought that the bill would not change the already-established curriculum in the state's public schools.
The legislation created a stir among civil liberty advocates in a state famous for the "Scopes Monkey Trial," where a teacher was found guilty in the 1920s for teaching evolution in schools. Tennessee now becomes the second state after Louisiana to formally enact a rule protecting teachers who challenge science.
Damn, these people are jackasses.

People More Optimistic Than I

Corn is up in Ohio:
After planting his corn on March 21st and 22nd, Fayette County farmer Greg Bentley’s corn is up!
“I knew that the extended forecast was for above normal temperatures,” said Bentley. “I was just taking a chance and then they changed the forecast on me.”
That they did, as forecasters are now calling for cooler temperatures in April than what we had in March. Bentley knew planting so early was a gamble, but he still thinks it will pay off.
“I’m not sure if I have a perfect stand everywhere or not,” said Bentley. “I know corn can have a frost on it and as long as it doesn’t kill the growing points in the ground it should be okay.  I am not afraid of it being frosted a time or two.”
In order for Bentley to think about planting in mid-March, he also had to think about a “plan B”.
“If I have to replant, I have to replant,” said Bentley. “It was early enough to where if I do need to get back out there I’d have plenty of time.”
Considering we could get a frost well into May, I'd be pretty worried.  I guess if it keeps getting knocked back, it wouldn't get tall enough to get the growing point above ground. 

Woodie's Coal Furnace

One day when I was at Woodie's house, he went down to the basement to tend to his furnace.  I followed along.  The furnace was an old coal furnace.  It was a big old forced air furnace, much like the ones I saw at UD ghetto houses, those having been converted from coal to natural gas.  Woodie had a small stoker hopper, which was a little bigger than a telephone pedestal.  Between that and the main furnace was an auger which fed the coal to the burner grate.  He took a shovel and scooped a couple loads into the hopper from the coal pile in the corner.  After that, he opened a door on the furnace and took a poker and poked around the clinkers ans ash, then scooped them out and threw them in a bucket.  He let that sit outside for a while, then he took the bucket out to the barn bank and dumped the cinders in the wheel tracks. 

Back in the '30s and '40s, he had run a route driving a truck down to southern Ohio to a mine to pick up loads of coal, then bring it back to sell to people locally.  He mentioned once in a while how terrible those company towns were, and how badly the workers got ripped off by the company.  That never caused him to support a union, though, at least not that I can remember.  He always swore that Ohio would always be bad off until it became a right-to-work state.  I still doubt that that would have any impact.  Anyway, the year before I saw the furnace, he had gone down south with his grain truck and picked up a load of coal.  If I remember correctly, it cost him $750 for the coal, and he thought it would last about 3 years.  I believe that once he burned that coal up, he decided that it was a good time to get a propane furnace.  I think it was too much work for an 87-year-old to be going up and down stairs every day to shovel in coal.  I was glad I got to see it before he got rid of it.

North Korea Doesn't Lie Well

North Korea claims that its impending satellite launch, scheduled for this week, is merely a mission to study the country’s “distribution of forests” and weather patterns. But after analyzing the satellite’s potential flight paths, a network of amateur and professional spaceflight specialists have concluded that Pyongyang’s claim is all but impossible. In order for the North Koreans to get a weather or observation satellite into the proper orbit, these experts say, Pyongyang would have to risk the early stages of its rockets dropping on its neighbors’ and allies’ heads.
“I believe that the most reasonable interpretation is that they are lying about this being a satellite launch, which has been betrayed by the incompetence of their propagandists in over-reaching in their cover story,” longtime satellite watcher Ted Molczan noted on the SeeSat listserv.
The Pyongyang regime has a long history of malarkey, of course. After its last satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-2 (Bright Star 2), plopped into the Pacific Ocean minutes after liftoff, North Korea swore that the thing was in orbit and transmitting “immortal revolutionary paeans” back to Earth. But this time, the debunking appears to be underway even before the rocket takes off from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
You know what other propagandists don't lie very well?  Republicans:
Apparently the ridiculous political attack line we're supposed to talk about today is Mitt Romney's claim that 92.3 percent of jobs lost since Barack Obama took office belonged to women. This turns out to be true if you decide to assume that Obama is fully responsible for labor market events in January, even though two-thirds of January occurred before his inauguration.

The story within the story is that recessions hit male-dominated highly cyclical sectors like construction and manufacturing first. Women tend to disproportionately work in sectors like health care and education that show slow and steady job growth. But those male-dominated cyclical sectors also bounce back relatively quickly. So since the recession started more than a year before Obama's inauguration, male job losses were close to bottoming out by the time Obama took office and he's presided over a lot of rebound growth in male employment. Women, by contrast, have been devastated by cascading waves of teacher layoffs:not only have these layoffs primarily been implemented at the behest of Republican Party governors and state legislators, but the Obama administration twice—once in the Spring of 2010 and a second time in the fall of 2012—pushed hard for legislation to prevent layoffs of teachers. These efforts were roundly denounced by conservatives as wasteful and costly "bailouts" and so they didn't happen.
All it really takes for baldly lying propagandists to succeed is to have a woefully uninformed public.  What I don't understand is why Fox News doesn't have a North Korean network.

Broughton Suspension Bridge Collapses

April 12, 1831:
Broughton Suspension Bridge was a suspended-deck suspension bridge built in 1826 to span the River Irwell between Broughton and Pendleton, now in Salford, Greater Manchester, England. It was one of the first suspension bridges constructed in Europe. On 12 April 1831 the bridge collapsed, reportedly owing to a mechanical resonance induced by troops marching over the bridge in step. A bolt in one of the stay-chains snapped, causing the bridge to collapse at one end, throwing about forty of the men into the river. As a result of the incident the British Military issued an order that troops should "break step" when crossing a bridge.
The bridge's construction has been attributed to Samuel Brown, but this has been questioned some sources have suggested that it may have been built by Thomas Cheek Hewes, a Manchester millwright and textile machinery manufacturer.
The bridge was rebuilt, but was replaced in 1924 by a Pratt truss pedestrian bridge, which is still in use.
On 12 April 1831 the 60th Rifle Corps carried out an exercise on Kersal Moor under the command of Lieutenant P. S. Fitzgerald, the son of John Fitzgerald. As a detachment of 74 men returned to barracks in Salford by way of the bridge the soldiers, who were marching four abreast, felt it begin to vibrate in time with their footsteps. Finding the vibration a pleasant sensation some of them started to whistle a marching tune, and they began to "humour it by the manner in which they stepped", causing the bridge to vibrate even more.  The head of the column had almost reached the Pendleton side when they heard "a sound resembling an irregular discharge of fireams". Immediately, one of the iron columns supporting the suspension chains on the Broughton side of the river fell towards the bridge, carrying with it a large stone from the pier to which it had been bolted. The corner of the bridge, no longer supported, then fell sixteen or eighteen feet into the river, throwing about forty of the soldiers into the water or against the chains. As the water was only about two feet deep at that point none of the men were killed, but twenty were injured, including six who suffered severe injuries including: broken arms and legs, severe bruising, and contusions to the head.
An investigation found that a bolt in one of the stay-chains had snapped at the point where it was attached to the masonry of the ground anchor. There was criticism of the construction method used, as the attachment to the ground-anchor relied on one bolt rather than two, and the bolt itself was found to have been badly forged. A number of other bolts were also bent but had not broken. It emerged that three years previously the distinguished Manchester engineer, Eaton Hodgkinson, had expressed some doubt about the strength of the stay-chains, as compared with that of the suspension chains. He had said that they should be rigorously tested, but they were not. It also came to light that some time before the accident one of the cross bolts had started to bend and crack, although it was believed to have been replaced by the time of the accident. The conclusion was that, although the vibration caused by the marching had precipitated the bolt's failure, it would have happened sooner or later anyway.
Well, resonance and poor design and construction caused the collapse.  It is an interesting story, though.

FDA Plans Voluntary Campaign To Limit Animal Antibiotic Use

All Things Considered:
Today, the FDA unveiled a plan aimed at ending the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. It's the formal and more detailed version of draft guidelines issued in 2010, which lays out a roadmap for making it happen.
Rather than banning that use, the agency aims to collaborate with drug companies, veterinarians, and livestock producers.
  Update at 5:32 PM ET: That collaboration will be voluntary. Michael Taylor, the FDA's Deputy Commissioner for Food, says this will be a more effective approach, because any attempt to ban specific uses of more than a hundred separate drugs — and then defend each one in court — would be a hugely cumbersome undertaking: "Decades of effort, and millions and millions of dollars of resources."
Scott Hurd, a veterinary scientist at Iowa State University, says that the voluntary approach will have a real effect on farmers' practices. "Even though it's called guidance, people take it as the gospel and the law, so growth promotion usages will go away," he says.
I'll believe that when I see it.  I haven't run into too many farmers who took voluntary suggestions that go against labor-saving or bottom line enhancing practices.  Time will tell, but if the farmers don't, the voluntary will end up going away.

Russian City May Collapse Into Potash Mine

NYT, via nc links:
And so Berezniki is afflicted by sinkholes, yawning chasms hundreds of feet deep that can open at a moment’s notice. So grave is the danger that the entire city is under 24-hour video surveillance. On a screen in the command center late last year, one such hole appeared as a small dark spot in a snowy field in the predawn hours, immediately threatening to suck in a building, a road and a gas station.
“I looked and said, ‘Wow, a hole is forming,’ ” recalled Olga V. Chekhova, an emergency services worker who monitors the video. This was a small one by the standards of Berezniki, which has had three in the past four years. In fact, it has since been called “The Tiny One.”
While scientists have so far successfully predicted each sinkhole, the chasms can open with astonishing speed. On Dec. 4, as Ms. Chekhova watched the dark spot on her screen expand, witnesses began calling an emergency number for reporting sinkholes. They had heard a loud swooshing noise.
As the police cordoned off the area that day, dirt and snow tumbled in. Before noon, the sinkhole was 25 yards across.
Berezniki’s problems have been traced to October 2006, when a freshwater spring began flowing into the mine, where potash fertilizer is extracted from salt lying 720 to 1,500 feet below the surface. The problem is that the walls and pillars of salt that miners had left to support the ceilings of huge underground caverns began to dissolve.
Wow,  I'll take U.S. regulation any day over this clusterfuck.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gretzky's Tough Lesson

Colin Fleming reviews the star-studded 1981-82 Edmonton Oilers' upset at the hands of the L.A. Kings in the first round of the playoffs:
Natural order, at least, seemed to be restored when the series, tied up at 1-1, transitioned to The Forum, in LA, on Manchester Boulevard, on April 10. The Oilers held a 5-0 lead at the start of the third period, having flummoxed the Kings with their puck artistry. In the video, you can see Oilers coach/mastermind Glen Sather cracking up on the bench, and Gretzky's men are talking trash after every whistle. Teams, of course, do not blow 5-0 third period leads. The worst team does not blow a single 5-0 lead in an entire season. Many franchises have never blown a 5-0 lead in their history. You almost have to try to blow a 5-0 lead, if you're going to do it. So when the Kings get on the board, three minutes into the final frame—which produces little excitement in the Forum—you think, well, at least they weren't shut out. Moral victory. But less than three minutes later, they get another one, and Sather stops smiling. A fluke goal brings the Kings within two, and it is at this point that the crowd starts going crazy, and I start to think, around three in the morning, that there is no way this comeback can possibly be completed, despite what the official record says. It's too damn unlikely.
With less than five minutes to go, the Kings pull within one score, but it appears they will come no closer. The trees have halted their march upon the castle. Only ten seconds remain. But then it's miracle time. A mad scramble ensues in front of Oilers' goalie Grant Fuhr. The puck ricochets this way and that and somehow squirts through Fuhr, and there it is, flashing on the scoreboard: 5-5. We head to overtime, where Kings' rookie Daryl Evans ends it, and initiates what has to be the coolest celebration in NHL history, as he slides towards the Kings' end, his teammates piled atop him.
The '81-'82 Oilers would not recover. Not fully, anyway. They won game four to force a game five back in Edmonton. Both teams flew out on the same plane, adding another bizarre element to this oddity of a series. But the cocky Oilers were leaden on home ice, apparently terrified of whatever mojo the purple-clad Kings had going, and LA prevailed. It's an ignominious end to the greatest season a North American athlete had ever had. The next year, the Oilers would go further, advancing to the Cup finals, where they'd lose to the Islanders, before breaking through in '83'-84 and commencing their dynasty proper, one which would see them win five championships in seven years. Gretzky, in particular, played like he had a hellhound on his trail for the rest of the decade, and you get the sense that the ghost of that lowly Kings team was hovering just off-stage, the most unlikely of motivators, though the Oilers probably weren't especially keen to thank them.
I loved the Oilers back in those days, even though we didn't have cable, so I never got to watch a hockey game.  I was so excited they finally won in '83-'84.  I remember whey they lost to Calgary when, was it Steve Smith accidentally scored an own goal to lose.

1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes

  Image of the "double tornado" destroying the Midway Trailer Park, on U.S. Route 33, in Dunlap, Indiana.

April 11, 1965:
The second Palm Sunday tornado outbreak occurred on April 11, 1965 and involved 47 tornadoes (15 significant, 17 violent, 21 killers) hitting the Midwest. It was the second biggest outbreak on record. In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 137 people killed. The outbreak also made that week the second most active week in history with 51 significant and 21 violent tornadoes.
These tornadoes killed 3 people and did a lot of property damage in Shelby County, Ohio.  I've heard a number of people from that area talk about their or their neighbors' barns getting wiped out.

First Class Versus Steerage

George Packer:
If that sounds too harsh, consider what Jason DeParle of the Times reported two days ago. Even as the recession drove millions of Americans deeper into poverty, many of them, mainly single mothers, continue to be dropped from the welfare rolls under the welfare reform laws of the nineteen-nineties. DeParle, the leading journalistic expert on the subject, did not try to hide his indignation: “They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners—all with children in tow.”

That’s a picture only a social Darwinist could describe as “an unprecedented success”—which is the phrase Congressman Paul Ryan, who authored the Republican budget plan, uses to describe welfare reform. That program was bipartisan, and widely popular. But today only leaders of the Republican Party, like Ryan and Mitt Romney, believe it’s working so well that the model should be extended to other government programs, including food stamps and Medicaid.

In a less widely quoted passage from his speech, Obama called the Republican budget “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who’s willing to work for it.” This was less solid than “social Darwinism.” For in truth, there was a time in American history—it lasted roughly from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Great Depression—when opportunity and upward mobility were choked off by the concentration of wealth and power in a few hands. Ryan, Romney, and the Republican Party want to return to the age of the Titanic, before child-labor laws and laws protecting the right to join unions and the graduated income tax and social insurance, when those in first class survived at much higher rates than the unfortunate souls down in steerage.
Republicans are kind of like banks. If you have enough money you don't need a loan, banks are willing to bend over backwards for your business. But if you really need that loan, banks want nothing to do with you.  Fees are the same way.  If you're late on a credit card payment but have a large savings account balance, don't worry about that late fee, we'll take that right off.  Try getting rid of that fee if you have less than a thousand bucks in your savings.   So it goes with Republicans and welfare. Corporate welfare, fine and dandy. Welfare for the poor, fuggedaboutit.

Where Do State Tax Dollars Go?

Via Mark Thoma:

The All Other category ought to be broken down further, and they could do some clarifications of whether this is percentage of state-only spending, or total state spending counting federal transfer payments, but the concept is the same.  Primary and secondary education, healthcare, prisons and general government make up almost everything.

Fantasy Baseball's Neanderthal Man

This guy might not have invented fantasy baseball as we know it, but his invention is a distant forebear:
he common narrative holds that the journalist Dan Okrent invented fantasy baseball in 1980 — and cleaving to the widely accepted definition of "fantasy baseball," it's true. In Okrent's vision, any fan could be the owner of a team in a fantasy league. Fantasy gamers would draft active MLB players based on whatever instincts and intangibles a real GM would take into consideration and they'd follow each player's performance throughout the season to compete against other fantasy teams in the league. The concept was infectiously straightforward. By the end of the decade, a half million people throughout the country were deep into roto. Okrent's version became a craze, and his game, not John's, is why the modern incarnation of all fantasy sports exists.
While Okrent is indisputably the game's father, John is its genetically distant forebear, and for the sake of historical correctness he recently decided to claim great-grand-paternity. In January 2009, just shy of his 80th birthday, John Burgeson logged on to Wikipedia and edited the entry for fantasy baseball to include this: "An early form of fantasy baseball was coded for an IBM 1620 computer in 1960 by John Burgeson, IBM Akron." He appended some scanned documents confirming the game's existence, and with them, he wrote himself into history. Of course, neither Burgeson nor Okrent profited from their inventions, but on that day, John earned a bit of credit for an idea lost in a filing cabinet for 50 years.
In 1960, nobody cared about a computer wonk in Akron tinkering at his desk for his own amusement, and John's game never caught on. It didn't have Okrent's breakneck season-pegged time frame, it was played on a prohibitively expensive machine — about $120,000 for the 1961 model, or just over $900,000 in 2012 dollars — and it wasn't social. John's version was a simulation game — you're still the owner of a fake team made up of real players, but instead of gaining or losing points based on those players' actual future performances, a computer generates its own outcomes based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of those players' preexisting stats. It's less about creating a dynamic competition grounded in real-life outcomes and more a hypothetical scenario run through a computer's mainframe, which essentially makes it a digital version of Strat-O-Matic. So although John's game certainly relied on elements of fantasy ("What if DiMaggio, Grove, and Dicky all played for the same team?"), it isn't fantasy baseball as it exists now.
 Pretty cool stuff.

Ozzie Goes Marge Schott

The Atlantic:
Just how bad of an offense was Ozzie Guillen's interview with Time magazine in which he said he "loved" Fidel Castro?  Well, the Miami Marlins have slapped Guillen with a five-game suspension, the same type of punishment the MLB would dole out for a pitcher intentionally throwing at someone. "The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship," the Marlins organization said in a statement picked up by ESPN before announcing Guillen was suspended for five games.
Guillen had told Time's Sean Gregory, "I love Fidel Castro," in an interview that was posted on Monday (it was the lead sentence in the profile). Time chalks some of Guillen's non sequitur  to the bizarre coach/team/manager-speak and dynamic, but professing your love for the Cuban dictator in a city that's home to many Cuban immigrants probably isn't the best thing. Guillen went on to say,  "I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still there."
It's sort of like Marge Schott saying Hitler did some good things, but then he went too far.   It's aCarl good thing Ozzie doesn't own a team, or MLB would eventually force him to sell it at rock bottom prices to some rich old coot like Carl Lindner.  At least Ozzie was able to drop some profanity into his rant.  Obviously, the Marlins are doing this because of local politics, but Major League Baseball would have done something because of national politics.  Something like this.

Knuckleballs Come To The Big Screen

Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey are featured in an upcoming documentary:
Tribeca: Tell us a little about Knuckleball! How do you describe the movie in your own words?
Ricki Stern: Our society today is obsessed with youth, speed, and power, and the knuckleball is a pitch that doesn’t require strength or power. It requires craftsmanship and patience, and it gets better over time, and it gets better with age, so it allows players to age into baseball.
Knuckleball! looks at how this pitch is a symbol for where we are today in our lives. By focusing on Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey—the only knuckleballers playing in Major League Baseball—through the 2011 season, and the small fraternity of men who have thrown the pitch over the years, we appreciate how the knuckleball embodies this somewhat nostalgic sense of hard work and patience and perseverance. And these guys’ personal stories are really about doing what it takes to stay in the major leagues. They are survivor stories.
Annie Sundberg: Knuckleball! is a love letter to baseball, seen through this particularly quirky, magical pitch that doesn’t do what anyone ever expects it to do. It’s also a film that really looks at this fraternity of men, some of whom have embraced this pitch because it was their only chance, or their second chance, or their last hope to stay in the game, because they weren’t quite good enough as a position player or a power hitter or a fastball pitcher. They had one last chance to pick something up that would keep them viable. Each pitcher talks in certain ways about coming to peace with the pitch—making a full commitment to something that is incredibly fickle and very difficult to master.
As we cut the film, we realized there are so many themes that are relevant to today’s economy, and what people are feeling as they are reinventing their own lives, trying to take a sense of pride in doing things a little bit differently, not necessarily always getting the expected outcomes, and finding some peace with that.
Dickey was also interviewed on Fresh Air:
"A knuckleball is like trying to hit a butterfly in a typhoon," he explains to Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "It shakes side to side; it may go straight left on one pitch. It might go straight down to a right-hander on another pitch. It may stay on the very same plane on one pitch. The thing that makes a knuckleball effective is that you cannot predict which way the ball is going to move, which makes it an extremely hard pitch to hit."
Dickey starts by positioning his knuckleball slightly above the catcher's helmet, gripping the ball with his pointer and middle fingers. He digs his nails into the horseshoe and his fingers into the leather underneath. After stabilizing the ball with his thumb, he releases the pitch and hopes for the best.
"If you throw a good one, you make them look foolish," he says. "It certainly didn't start that way. I was all over the place early on in my career as a knuckleballer, and would have games where I'd walk five or six guys and have four or five wild pitches. ... It's a very unique, interesting pitch. It can be really ugly when it's ugly, but when it's on, it's fantastic."
 I used a similar grip, but my ring finger was closer to the other two.  I also aimed for the batter's rib cage and let it fly.

Anybody who can't appreciate the knuckleball has no soul.  I'm looking at you CubsDad.

Illinois Crop Yields By County

Stuart Staniford makes an interesting graph:

I can't really do justice to the things he points out, so I'm going to post much of his analysis:
I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but it took a long time to make so I'm inflicting it on readers regardless!

The above shows, for a sample of thirty counties in Illinois, the departure of the corn yield from its eleven year moving average in that county. (Data: NASS) Obviously corn yields, in Illinois as elsewhere, have been increasing as a result of technology - but we can use the departure from the moving average to measure the degree to which the circumstances of a particular year were markedly better or worse than the average.  I picked Illinois for no better reason than being a fairly representative midwestern state that I happened to visit recently.

You can see that there is substantial covariance - a bad year tends to be bad for most counties, while vice versa in a good year.  However, there is not complete covariance - for example 1954 was a very bad year, but if we look at the cumulative fraction of all 102 counties with a particular yield fraction (relative to the moving average) we get the following (blue line):
 It was pretty bad in about half the state - some counties had less than a quarter of the normal yield - but the other half was within 10% either way of the moving average.  1934 and 1983 were more consistently bad - but even in 1983 the fraction of the moving average crop yield ranged from in the 25% range in the worst hit counties to over 80% in the least hit counties.  In short, the scale of even the most consistent crop failure in recorded history is not so much larger than the state of Illinois that it pretty much hits the whole state equally.  And most crop failures left some portion of Illinois untouched.
He's interested (and so am I) in how climate change and droughts may affect various regions in the future, and whether those crop failures may be more widespread.  What this reminds me of are the graphs in this story.  Here's last year's yields in Ohio by county:

Now, here's the five-year average:

See much correlation?  Me neither.

What's Newt Doing?

Boston Herald:
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum abruptly dropped out of the race this afternoon, citing the health of his infant daughter, Bella, in a move that allows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to clinch the GOP nomination and target President Obama.
“We made the decision over the weekend ... this presidential race is over for me. We will suspend our campaign today,” said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, appearing with his wife and family in a hastily called press conference in Gettysburg, Pa. His 3-year-old daughter Bella, who has a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18, was hospitalized this weekend after she had come down with pneumonia.
“We were very concerned about our role being the best parents we possibly could to our children,” said Santorum.
Bella was released from the hospital yesterday and her condition is improving, but the incident played a part in Santorum’s decision, he said.
“Good Friday was a bit of a passion play for us, with Bella,” he said.
Well, it is unfortunate Santorum's daughter has been sick, but overall, her dad had no path to winning the nomination, and he was trending toward a situation where he would lose the next 5 primary votes, including his home state.  Newt Gingrich has even less of a chance than Santorum did, but he doesn't have the decency or the sense to drop out.  And if a member of his family, like his wife became ill, Newt's first instinct would be to get started on an affair and divorce her.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mother Nature's A Cock Tease

10 Day Forecast -  °F | °C
tue wed thu fri sat sun mon tue wed thu
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
M Cloudy
M Cloudy
Sct T-Storms
Sct T-Storms
Sct T-Storms
Sct T-Storms
Seriously, where is that 80 degree weather from March?

What Animals Do At Night

Get drunk and go clubbing?  Looks that way:

Woodie On The Depression

About eight years ago, the Dayton Daily News had a Christmas short story about a farm family on Christmas Eve during the Great Depression.  The father heard a noise or a dog bark, grabbed a shotgun and went out to investigate.  He found a neighbor trying to steal a chicken from the hen house.  The man broke down and told the farmer how his family was starving and he was trying to find some food for his children.  Even though the family was not well off, they shared what they had with the neighboring family and a valuable Christmas lesson was learned by all. 

I had gone over to Woodie's to drop off a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream as a Christmas gift.  He liked to drink that straight out of the bottle sometimes, or mix it in his coffee at other times.  He pointed out the story in the paper, and told me to read it.  After I did, he told me about how his brothers worked on a bridge crew for the WPA.  One day, one of the other guys on the crew didn't show up for work.  Later on, they found out the guy had been shot and killed when he attempted to steal a chicken from a neighbor's farm.  Woodie still couldn't get over the fact that a man was killed over a single chicken.  He said those were terribly hard times, and he hoped we'd never see days like them again.  I hope we never do either.

The Value Of Elevation In NYC

Via Ritholtz, New York Magazine looks at the difference in price of different floors of a high rise:

Ok, so maybe farmland doesn't look so frothy.

Stanley Cup Playoffs To Kick Off

Boston tries to become the first team to repeat as champions since the 1998 Red Wings.  Vancouver and Ottawa are the only chances for the Great White North to bring the Cup home for the first time since 1993.  Ottawa has pretty long odds as the #8 seed in the East, but Vancouver won the President's Cup for the second straight year, and hope to improve on their runner up finish last year.  Here are some first round previews.

Ohio Land And Equipment Bring Top Dollar

Ohio Country Journal:
The Donald and Janet Hockman Auction, just outside of Bremen in Fairfield County in late March, attracted 1,200 people. The beautiful 71-acre farm with nice buildings, grain bins and a ranch home sold for $470,000 at a Leith Auctions sale. In terms of equipment, an original, un-restored 1972 JD4020 with 3,600 hours brought record price of $28,000 with bidders from 4 states. A 1992 JD9400 combine with 1679/2658 hours in excellent condition with bidders from 3 states brought $49,500. Other highlights from the auction include:
  • An outstanding 1930 Ford Model A two door coupe with rumble seat and overdrive in award winning condition for $18,500
  • ’99 JD3400 tractor with 4×4, deck, front blade & 685 hours for $15,000
  • ’04 JD Gator HPX with 4×4 & 284 hours for $7800
  • JD1560 NT drill (10-foot) for $18,750
  • Ford 555A backhoe for $14,000.
On the same day, there was Stanley & Son, Inc. Burton Trust Auction for a 157-acre Pickaway County farm with a final bid and selling price of $7,200 per acre. Earlier in the season, CK Clemans LLC had Stanley & Son sell 91.9 acres of farmland in Licking County for $6,900 per acre with an additional $16,000 for 11.6 acres of timber rights.
Jeez, this can't last forever.  I really get the feeling I should be selling out instead of trying to expand.

Is Sexual Assault An ND Football Tradition?

There definitely appears to be a trend of accusations and intimidation of accusers:
Seeberg's treatment certainly woke up the echoes. There was the 2002 case in which three football players and a former player were expelled after they were accused of gang-raping a woman (only one none of the four men was charged with a crime convicted, and none served time in jail). "No one's going to believe you," the accuser says she was told. When she went to the cops anyway, Notre Dame officials "treated me horribly at every opportunity." They wouldn't let her park her car on campus, despite her fears that the players would come after her. The counseling center turned her away because of "pending legal matters," the accuser says, "though the legal matter they were talking about was the state versus these four rapists." There was a woman who in 1974 accused six Notre Dame football players of gang-raping her. She was hospitalized and spent a month in psychiatric care, but that didn't stop a university administrator from calling her "a queen of the slums with a mattress tied to her back." There was the 17-year-old St. Mary's student who in 1976 was raped by three men, two of whom had been accused in the 1974 case. The men were caught in the act. The woman says her resident assistant brought her to a top St. Mary's official, who informed her one of the men had raped another St. Mary's student. After that, she tells Henneberger, "I was told to shut up and mind my own business."
In February 2011, another woman said she was raped by an ND football player at an off-campus party. A resident assistant—who herself had been raped and subsequently shunned by campus officials—took her to the hospital, then to her (the resident assistant's) parents' home.
There, her mother made breakfast and her father watched in horror as the young woman received text after text from the player's friends. "My wife and I looked at them, and they were trying to silence this girl." After the father informed Notre Dame officials about the texts, he said, they promised to get the guys to "knock it off."
Big time college sports have completely corrupted our university system.  Notre Dame's record appears abysmal and more should be expected of it than many other schools, but most major colleges allow players to get away with lots of things.  Anything to keep the money spigot flowing.

The More We Learn, The Less We Understand

Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss ponders lessons from the study of the universe:
This has changed our vision of the future, which is now far bleaker. The longer we wait, the less of the universe we will be able to see. In hundreds of billions of years astronomers on some distant planet circling a distant star (Earth and our sun will be long gone) will observe the cosmos and find it much like our flawed vision at the turn of the last century: a single galaxy immersed in a seemingly endless dark, empty, static universe.
Out of this radically new image of the universe at large scale have also come new ideas about physics at a small scale. The Large Hadron Collider has given tantalizing hints that the origin of mass, and therefore of all that we can see, is a kind of cosmic accident. Experiments in the collider bolster evidence of the existence of the "Higgs field," which apparently just happened to form throughout space in our universe; it is only because all elementary particles interact with this field that they have the mass we observe today.
Most surprising of all, combining the ideas of general relativity and quantum mechanics, we can understand how it is possible that the entire universe, matter, radiation and even space itself could arise spontaneously out of nothing, without explicit divine intervention. Quantum mechanics' Heisenberg uncertainty principle expands what can possibly occur undetected in otherwise empty space. If gravity too is governed by quantum mechanics, then even whole new universes can spontaneously appear and disappear, which means our own universe may not be unique but instead part of a "multiverse."
As particle physics revolutionizes the concepts of "something" (elementary particles and the forces that bind them) and "nothing" (the dynamics of empty space or even the absence of space), the famous question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is also revolutionized. Even the very laws of physics we depend on may be a cosmic accident, with different laws in different universes, which further alters how we might connect something with nothing. Asking why we live in a universe of something rather than nothing may be no more meaningful than asking why some flowers are red and others blue.
The fringes of science are beyond my comprehension.  It's a lot simpler to imagine an old guy with a beard making everything himself.  Now why He would do it, and why He would do it the way we find it, those are questions that are fun to consider.  That line about God making man in His image really is a head scratcher when you have a day composed of dealing with assholes.  Theodicy is a rational line of questioning on some days.  Of course, the Universe forming out of nothing and having no purpose explains away the problem of evil.  With no Big Guy directing things, it's easy to see why there's cancer and childhood disease and dementia and tornadoes and on and on.  Pass me a beer.

Did Bubba Watson's ADD Contribute to 20th Hole Heroics?

Golf World editor-in-chief Jaime Diaz thinks so:
Hours and hours of hitting little plastic golf balls and learning to make them twist and turn and bend and bounce in almost any direction.
That's one reason why golfer Bubba Watson was able to hit a shot Sunday that most duffers could never make — and do it to win this year's Masters Tournament.
But there's another reason why Watson was able to hit his ball so that it flew between two rows of spectators, under some trees, up into air, turned right and hooked toward a green about 155 yards away — all while under the intense pressure of a second sudden death playoff hole with opponent Louis Oosthuizen:
  Watson, according to Golf World editor-in-chief Jaime Diaz, "sees connections where other people don't see connections. ... He solves problems in a more unique and complex way." The 33-year-old golfer from Florida, as Diaz has previously reported and as Watson himself believes, almost surely has attention-deficit disorder.
"Those really creative, different, unique shots are the product of ADD," Diaz told All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel earlier this afternoon.
That is an interesting theory.  All I can say is it was a hell of a shot.

Chart of the Day

Austerity might not be the solution:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Eight Minutes Of General Lee Jumps

Via Grantland:

Chart of the Day

From Calculated Risk:

We've come up a good bit from the bottom, but we're still not even halfway there.

Book Recommendations From Nassim Taleb

Farnam Street features a number of book suggestions from the author of The Black SwanOne of the interesting ones:
Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs (5 stars)
The Birth Stochastic Science: Rewriting the History of Medicine
Controlled experiment can easily show absence of design in medical research: you compare the results of top-down directed research to randomly generated discoveries. Well, the U.S. government provides us with the perfect experiment for that: the National Cancer Institute that came out of the Nixon “war on cancer” in the early 1970s.
“Despite the Herculean effort and enormous expense, only a few drugs for the treatment of cancer were found through NCI’s centrally directed, targeted program. Over a twenty-year period of screening more than 144,000 plant extracts, representing about 15,000 species, not a single plant-based anticancer drug reached approved status. This failure stands in stark contrast to the discovery in the late 1950s of a major group of plant-derived cancer drugs, the Vinca Alcaloids -a discovery that came about by chance, not through directed research.”
From Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs, by Morton Meyers, a book that just came out. It is a MUST read. Please go buy it. Read it twice, not once. Although the author does not take my drastic “stochastic tinkering” approach, he provides all kind of empirical evidence for the role of design. He does not directly discuss the narrative fallacy(q.v.) and the retrospective distortion (q.v.) but he certainly allows us to rewrite the history of medicine.
We did not realize that cures for cancer had been coming from other brands of research. You search for noncancer drugs and find something you were not looking for (and vice versa). But the interesting constant:
a- The discoverer is almost always treated like an idiot by his colleagues. Meyers describes the vicious side effect of “peer reviewing”.
How things are discovered is usually as interesting as what is discovered.

Is The Jet Stream Causing More Extreme Weather?

Stuart Staniford:
If you click on my screenshot above you'll get the Wiki video in a separate window and I highly recommend going through it a couple of times.  You'll notice that the jet streams have big chaotic-looking meanders in - the one in the screenshot above is about the size of North America, and that the meanders progress in a generally westward direction.  These are called Rossby waves (also known as planetary waves).

These things have a massive effect on the weather.  If you think of the jet stream as being at the boundary of the polar cell and the Ferrel cell, it should be clear that when a big loop is south over your location, it's likely to be cold, whereas when you are in a northward tongue with the jet stream well north of you, it's going to be warmer.  Similarly, since it's the mid latitudes where the regular pattern of cyclonic storms dominate the weather, the Rossby waves have a lot to do with where the storm tracks go and thus where it's wet and where it's dry.

As the Rossby waves are slow - often taking a week to cross the US - they have a lot to do with the persistence of the weather - the fact that things are often nice for a few days or a week, and then wet and miserable for a few days at a time.  Indeed, anomalies in the jet streams can cause much longer patterns - sometimes a meander will become detached from the main course of the jet stream and just kind of hang around (one kind of what is referred to as atmospheric blocking) leading to weather that may not change for weeks or longer.
Above my pay grade, but it definitely would have a big impact on agriculture.

Woodie, An Introduction

It has been two years since my old neighbor died.  He was one of those rare characters you meet who makes life interesting.  I first met him when I was 16, and he wanted me to help out baling hay.  When I got over there, there were several guys I went to high school with also there to help.  Woodie happened to have a wire baler, and wanted all of the help to use hay hooks to handle the bales.  This was a skill which took me a while to learn.  Not only was I flinging the hook, missing the bale and hitting my leg, but I was nearly throwing out my back trying to lug the 60 or so pound bales.  I wasn't worth a cup of spit that day as baling help, as I needed to grow some more to be very worthwhile.  I also wasn't up for one of the major perks of baling for Woodie, which was the free beer provided during the day.  Mom would have seriously frowned on me drinking at that time, so I passed.  But after we finished each load, or sometimes if a bale broke and we had to feed the broken bale back through the baler, Woodie would get off of the tractor, offer us a drink of water or a can of beer, and start telling us a story about the olden days.  The guys I worked with hated the stories, because they just drug out the work day.  They had things to do after we got done, and wanted to get out of there.  I, on the other hand, didn't.  I found the stories to be fascinating, and the break from the labor helped me catch my breath.  Over the next 15 years or so, I heard a very large number of stories, some of them a number of times, while drinking Goebel (Joe-Bell, the fine French lager) beer from the 1942 refrigerator out in the barn, which he and his wife had gotten when they got married.  In the future, I'll try to relate some of the stories and the things I learned about farming when farming was honest-to-God work.

MLB Releases Negro League Stats

Baseball Nation:
And wouldn't you like to know how strong the Negro American League in 1938 really was? I sure would. And something like the comprehensive statistics from that league will, in a roundabout (and imprecise) way, help us answer that question.
Anyway, the numbers just sat around for a year, and then another and another. I like to think they were wiped from all computer machines in Cooperstown and New York City, leaving only a pile of thick, leather-bound ledgers kept inside a vault deep within Bud Selig's secret underground lair in Milwaukee.
Of course the truth wasn't nearly so prosaic. A selected group of lucky souls have been able to look at the numbers, but they were kept from the public in the vain hope that a book might be published. Or something.
The book never came, though. And seven years after the project's completion, Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame have finally done the right thing: Today, announced the publication of the 1920-1948 statistics in the MLB-commissioned study. But wait! It gets even better! On another track, researchers Gary Ashwill and Scott Simkus have spearheaded an effort to collect statistics from 1903 through 1919, and has those data, too.
So suddenly we've got this incredible resource. It shouldn't have taken so long, but that doesn't mean I'm not grateful to Major League Baseball, to the Hall of Fame, and to the many dozens of researchers who spent so many years slaving away over microfilm machines.
Baseball-Reference is an awesome site to behold.  NPR interviewed Rob Neyer about this data.  The difficulty of the research in sorting through information in old black newspapers is pretty interesting.