Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's With Chinese Steel Production?

China's steel industry has churned out more than two million metric tons a day so far this month. That is 749 million metric tons on an annualized basis, or almost 10% above the country's prior peak output, according to Steel Market Intelligence.
Yet China doesn't need it. With the economy slowing, there is excess supply and prices are dropping. SMI's Advance/Decliner Index for Chinese steel prices just recorded a zero reading for the third week in a row. If it goes to a fourth week, says SMI's Michelle Applebaum, it will be the first time that has ever happened.
Reports that some Chinese buyers are delaying purchases of iron ore add to the sense that there is a glut of steel in the country.
To alleviate this, Chinese steel exports have jumped—up 28% in the first four months of this year. But like China, the rest of the world is struggling to swallow all that steel. Output elsewhere, such as North America and Europe, is flat or down. In other words, cut-price Chinese exports are taking market share.
If the wild Chinese ride slows down, there will be trouble in Australia.

Too Smart For His Own Good

William Deresiewicz reviews the first two volumes of the Library of America's anthology of Vonnegut's work.  At the end of the essay, he sums up the life of the man:
Slaughterhouse-Five had made him not only a celebrity, but a spokesman. He was an idol of the young, a voice of the counterculture, a man whose views would henceforth be solicited for a never-ending stream of interviews, articles, profiles, addresses. He stood for peace, love, decency, humanity—became the Kurt Vonnegut we knew for the final four decades of his life, a figure about whom it was possible to say, in the words of a recent book, that “precious few authors have ever loved mankind so completely.” He became, in other words, exactly what he had always warned against, a prophet of gimcrack religions: in this case, a facile faith of niceness that neatly concealed his bottomless darkness.
And he did it with his eyes wide open. Billy Pilgrim, in the VA hospital, meets Eliot Rosewater, who turns him on to Kilgore Trout. Neither man likes life, or people, very much. Both use Trout’s work “to re-invent themselves and their universe”—in other words, for purposes of self-delusion. Rosewater goes a step further: “He was experimenting with being ardently sympathetic with everybody he met. He thought that might make the world a slightly more pleasant place to live in.” This describes precisely Vonnegut’s public persona. As for his fate, over the last many years of his life, that, too, he had described: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
 Vonnegut is the prophet of secular humanism.  He sees a life of apparent meaninglessness, and takes away from it that we ought to be nice to one another.  As Deresiewicz discusses The Sirens of Titan,
Salo and Constant are alone together on Titan, two souls at the end of the universe, clinging to what is nearest. A simple, creaturely humanity suffuses the scene. “My mate died today,” Constant tells his friend. Before she went, he adds, they had finally figured out that “a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” Later, Vonnegut would justly be accused of sentimentality. Here the emotion is earned.
There are ways to confront an often cruel and confusing world that often doesn't seem to have a point.  One way is faith that there is a purpose, and no matter what the world throws at you, you know things will work out for the best eventually.  This can take a number of forms, including in religion.  Another way is to try to go about the world making it as good as you can manage, while trying to block out the darkness you know is around you, and which will consume you.  That was Vonnegut's way.  Sometimes the darkness got to him, sometimes he made it as good as he could manage. He realized that life is, and requires, self-delusion.  As Deresiewicz titles the essay, when it comes to life, and his place in it, Vonnegut said, "I was there."

That is the strange thing about the secular humanist (faith? religion?) outlook that Christians (and probably other faiths) can't grasp ahold of.  Why be nice to people without the belief in a greater reward in Heaven?  It seems that the lack of a future motivates some faithless people to do right as much as eternal life motivates the Christian to do so.  I can't comment on what comes after death, but I agree with each of these strains of thought that we should do right by others.  If we are what we pretend to be, let's pretend to be decent people.  Like true Christians.  Like Vonnegut.

The Curse Of Resources

May 26, 1908:
At Masjed Soleyman (مسجد سليمان) in southwest Persia, the first major commercial oil strike in the Middle East is made. The rights to the resource are quickly acquired by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
For the uninitiated, Persia is Iran.  The Anglo-Persian Oil Company?  BP.  A little more history:
 The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was founded in 1908 following the discovery of a large oil field in Masjed Soleiman, Iran. It was the first company to extract petroleum from the South Asian country of Iran. In 1935 APOC was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and in 1954 it became the British Petroleum Company (BP), one of the antecedents of the modern BP plc.
A lot happened in the early '50s:
In March 1951, the Iranian parliament (the Majlis) voted to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and its holdings, and shortly thereafter elected a widely respected statesman and champion of nationalisation, Mohammed Mossadegh, Prime Minister. This led to the Abadan Crisis where foreign countries refused to take Iranian oil under British pressure and the Abadan refinery was closed. AIOC withdrew from Iran and increased output of its other reserves in the Persian Gulf.
Mossadeq broke off negotiations with AIOC in July 1951 when the AIOC threatened to pull its employees out of Iran and warned tanker owners that "the receipts from the Iranian government would not be accepted on the world market." The British ratcheted up the pressure on the Iranian government and explored the possibility of an invasion to occupy the oil area. US President Harry S. Truman and US ambassador to Iran Henry F. Grady opposed intervention in Iran but needed Britain's support for the Korean War. Efforts by the U.S. through the International Court of Justice were made to settle the dispute, but a 50/50 profit-sharing arrangement, with recognition of nationalization, was rejected by both the British government and Prime Minister Mossadegh.
As the months went on, the crisis became acute. By mid-1952, an attempt by the Shah to replace Mossadegh backfired and led to riots nationwide; Mossadegh returned with even greater power. At the same time however, his coalition was "fraying," as Britain’s boycott of Iranian oil eliminated a major source of government revenue, and made Iranians "poorer and unhappier by the day."By 1953 both the US and the UK had new, more anti-communist and interventionist administrations and the United States no longer opposed intervention in Iran. Britain was unable to subvert Mossadegh as its embassy and officials had been evicted from Iran in October 1952, but successfully appealed in the U.S. to anti-communist sentiments, depicting both Mossadegh and Iran as unstable and likely to fall to communism in their weakened state. If Iran fell, the "enormous assets" of "Iranian oil production and reserves" would fall into Communist control, as would "in short order the other areas of the Middle East". In August the American CIA with the help of bribes to politicians, soldiers, mobs, and newspapers, and contacts/information from the British embassy and secret service, organized a coup. The Shah issued an edict removing Mosaddeq from power and General Fazlollah Zahedi led tanks to Mosaddeq's residence forcing him from office. 
With the new pro-Western Prime Minister, Fazlollah Zahedi, Iranian oil began flowing again and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which later changed its name to British Petroleum, tried to return to its old position. However, "public opinion was so opposed that the new government could not permit it." Instead, an international consortium under the nationalised name (National Iranian Oil Company) was created, with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company holding 40% of the shares. The consortium agreed to share profits on a 50-50 basis with Iran, "but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors."
Sometimes, having the resource brings a lot of unwanted attention.

Commemorating The Great Patriotic War

I Should've Been A Farmer

I've been looking for years on Youtube to find somebody who also was a fan of Wilford Brimley's work in The Natural.  Finally, there is somebody else, but I have to say, the video is primitive:

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Worst Coaching Position In America

Michael Weinreb writes about the current state of Notre Dame football:
The bigger question, of course, is whether anyone can really get it anymore. This is now the most fallow period in Notre Dame history; the longer it goes on, the more pervasive the sense that Notre Dame football is gone for good, that the Irish may hang around Saturday afternoons on a third-place network desperate for a foothold in the sporting universe, but will never really be relevant to the 21st century. With every Champs Sports Bowl defeat, the notion that a small, independent Midwest Catholic institution with high academic standards can become a national power — and can recruit nationally — in a sport weighted toward the South (and toward superconferences) starts to feel less and less tenable.
"Davie and Willingham and Weis all led them to nine- or 10-win seasons," says Lou Somogyi, a senior editor at Blue & Gold Illustrated and a longtime chronicler of Notre Dame football. "But can they get to that 11- or 12- or 13-game thing? It's very hard. The world changes, and sometimes you have to be willing to change with it. Just because that's how you've always done it doesn't mean it's right."
This has always been the balancing act for the Fighting Irish — emphasizing tradition while maintaining modern relevance — and this is why the cult of personality at Notre Dame is more vital to its aura than at any other football program in America. Every college coach is a salesman at heart, but at Notre Dame, the pitch goes deeper: It must carry across every region of the country, it must echo through the hallways of Catholic schools from coast to coast, and it must sustain a myth 100 years in the making while also assuring 17-year-old recruits that the past is not all there is. The coach at Notre Dame must be a toastmaster with the alumni and a bullshit artist with the media and a dictatorial presence among his players, and he must be equally good at all three things.
When the Irish canned Charlie Weis, and this area was filled with talk about Kelly going up there, my sister's godfather, the biggest Notre Dame fan I've ever met, asked me after Mass who I thought would get the job.  I told him that I didn't know, but I wouldn't wish that job on my worst enemy.  He didn't find that humorous, but it was an accurate summation of my feelings.  What's interesting is that Weinreb makes the case that Kelly is a good coach who doesn't understand the politics, whereas, my friend the professor, who works on campus, says, Kelly thoroughly understands the politics, in a way that Charlie Weis never did.  And judging from some of the Saturday calls he makes, the coaching may be some of the issue.  Overall, though, I agree with Weinreb, it is probably unlikely the Irish will recapture the glory.

Curt Schilling's Gaming Company May Default

Boston Globe:
Curt Schilling’s troubled 38 Studios laid off its entire staff in Rhode Island and Maryland on Thursday in a stunning turn of events for the former Red Sox pitcher’s ambitious gambit to build a video game franchise off the back of a winning baseball career.
The decision comes less than two weeks after 38 Studios’ financial woes surfaced and deep cracks began appearing in the six-year-old company. It was lured from Maynard to Rhode Island on the promise of a $75 million loan guarantee from a state hoping Schilling’s vision could bring high-paying jobs.
“I’m stunned, and I’m heartbroken,’’ said R.A. Salvatore, a Leominster fantasy author who was a consultant to 38 Studios and whose son worked at the company. “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever seen assembled. They were doing amazing work.’’
The company, which employed more than 400 full-time workers and contractors, moved to Providence in April 2011 and by February of this year had released its first game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
But 38 Studios missed its May 1 payment of $1.1 million to Rhode Island and did not have enough cash to meet its payroll on May 15. To stay afloat, it asked Rhode Island for more money, applying for $8.4 million in film-tax credits, which it could then sell to other companies seeking to lower their tax bills.
WTF?  Why would a state guarantee loans for a former star baseball player who made something like $114 million during his career?  Didn't Lenny Dykstra have any ideas the state could fund?   The '93 Phillies don't look like a team to invest with off the field.  That is unless John Kruk comes up with an idea.

The Roberts Court And Humility

James Fallows has a great post comparing what Obama said about John Roberts during the confirmation process, with what Roberts himself said.  Here's Obama:
I talked to Judge Roberts about this. Judge Roberts...did say he doesn't like bullies and has always viewed the law as a way of evening out the playing field between the strong and the weak.

I was impressed with that statement because I view the law in much the same way. The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts' record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General's Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.

I want to take Judge Roberts at his word that he doesn't like bullies and he sees the law and the court as a means of evening the playing field between the strong and the weak. But given the gravity of the position to which he will undoubtedly ascend and the gravity of the decisions in which he will undoubtedly participate during his tenure on the court, I ultimately have to give more weight to his deeds and the overarching political philosophy that he appears to have shared with those in power than to the assuring words that he provided me in our meeting.
Roberts gave his famous pitch about judicial humility and umpires not writing the rules, but applying them.  Then in yesterday's ruling, in Blueford v. Arkansas, we get this:
 Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

The jurors were never told that once they had a reasonable doubt, they could not rethink the issue. The jury was free to reconsider a greater of­fense, even after considering a lesser one. A simple example illustrates the point. A jury enters the jury room, having just been given these instructions. The foreperson decides that it would make sense to deter­mine the extent of the jurors' agreement before discus­sions begin. Accordingly, she conducts a vote on capital murder, and everyone votes against guilt. She does the same for first-degree murder, and again, everyone votes against guilt. She then calls for a vote on manslaughter, and there is disagreement.

Only then do the jurors engage in a discussion about the circumstances of the crime. While considering the arguments of the other jurors on how the death was caused, one of the jurors starts rethink­ing his own stance on a greater offense. After reflecting on the evidence, he comes to believe that the defendant did knowingly cause the death--satisfying the definition of first-degree murder. At that point, nothing in the instruc­tions prohibits the jury from doing what juries often do: revisit a prior vote. "The very object of the jury system," after all, "is to secure unanimity by a comparison of views, and by arguments among the jurors themselves." Allen, 164 U. S., at 501.

A single juror's change of mind is all it takes to require the jury to reconsider a greater offense. It was therefore possible for Blueford's jury to revisit the offenses of capital and first-degree murder, notwithstand­ing its earlier votes. And because of that possibility, the foreperson's report prior to the end of deliberations lacked the finality necessary to amount to an acquittal on those offenses, quite apart from any requirement that a formal verdict be returned or judgment entered (citations omitted).
You follow? The majority simply made up a hypothetical, with no evidence to support it, to eliminate Blueford's double jeopardy protection. The fact that it was theoretically possible that the jury could have changed its mind on the Blueford acquittals (during those 31 minutes of additional deliberations) was enough for Roberts and company to reward prosecutors with a second chance to convict Blueford of capital murder. We've known for decades at the Supreme Court that ties rarely go to criminal defendants. But this was never a tie. The jury forewoman spoke for acquittal. She was clear. And yet her words counted for nothing.
That part about siding with the strong versus the weak is very prescient on the former Senator from Illinois' part.  That is the exact position of the Republican Party at this point in history, and John Roberts isn't currently the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, he's the Cheif Justice of the Republican Party's Supreme Court.  Humility, my ass.  This umpire is on the Yankees' payroll, and he's going to make sure that there is no way in Hell the Yankees ever lose to the Kansas City Royals.  Do you think Roberts would take the prosecution's position if the defendant was Exxon Mobil?  If you do, you've got more confidence in the man's integrity than I do.

The Largest Earthquake Ever

Scientific American:
This week marks the anniversary of the largest earthquake ever recorded — a magnitude-9.5 earthquake that ripped along the coast of southern Chile on May 22, 1960.
The colossal quake and the powerful tsunami that followed killed more than 1,400 people and left 2 million homeless in Chile. And its devastation reached far beyond South America.
The tsunami swept across the Pacific Ocean, wreaking havoc in Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan; a day after the earthquake, walls of water up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) high rushed ashore at Honshu, Japan's main island, destroying 1,600 homes and killing 138 people.
The colossal quake was what is known as a megathrust earthquake. These giant quakes, the most powerful quakes the planet is capable of unleashing, occur along subduction zones, where one tectonic plate dives beneath another.
That is ridiculous.  

A Good Day At The Track Meet

May 25, 1935:
Jesse Owens of Ohio State University breaks three world records and ties a fourth at the Big Ten Conference Track and Field Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Owens attended Ohio State University after employment was found for his father, ensuring the family could be supported. Affectionately known as the "Buckeye bullet," Owens won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936. (The record of four gold medals at the NCAA was equaled only by Xavier Carter in 2006, although his many titles also included relay medals.) Though Owens enjoyed athletic success, he had to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Owens was restricted to ordering carry-out or eating at "black-only" restaurants. Similarly, he had to stay at "blacks-only" hotels. Owens did not receive a scholarship for his efforts, so he continued to work part-time jobs to pay for school.
Owens's greatest achievement came in a span of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935, during the Big Ten meet at Ferry Field in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a fourth. He equaled the world record for the 100 yard dash (9.4 seconds); and set world records in the long jump (26 ft 8 14 in/8.13 m, a world record that would last 25 years); 220-yard (201.2 m) sprint (20.3 seconds); and 220-yard (201.2m) low hurdles (22.6 seconds, becoming the first to break 23 seconds). In 2005, NBC sports announcer Bob Costas and University of Central Florida professor of sports history Richard C. Crepeau both chose these wins on one day as the most impressive athletic achievement since 1850.
He didn't do bad when he showed up Hitler, either.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

WTF Story of the Day

Bloomberg (h/t nc links):

Iran Navy Helps U.S. Ship Attacked by Pirates in Middle East

Iran's navy helped a U.S.-flagged cargo ship that was attacked by pirates off the United Arab Emirates, according to the vessel’s owner, Maersk Line Ltd.
The Iranian navy was the first to respond to the initial distress call from the Maersk Texas, Kevin Speers, senior director of marketing at Maersk Line, said by phone today. The vessel was attacked by several skiffs and armed guards on board returned fire, the company said in an earlier statement.
The incident happened at about noon northeast of Fujairah, the biggest port in the Middle East for refueling oil tankers, Maersk said. Iran’s navy provided guidance to the crew of the Maersk Texas by radio, Speers said, declining to comment further pending a debriefing.
U.S., U.K., Chinese, French, German and Russian negotiators -- the so-called P5+1 group -- are meeting with Iranian officials in Baghdad today over the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear program. The West suspects Iran’s goal is to develop a weapon, while Iran contends it is for civilian purposes.
The European Union’s counter-piracy force said it had reviewed the incident and determined there was “no case of piracy and it’s a false alarm,” Timo Lange, a spokesman for Northwood, England-based EU Navfor, said by phone today. EU Navfor operates nine warships and five maritime patrol aircraft as part of an operation combating piracy in the region, according to data on its website.
Maersk got its information from the captain of the Maersk Texas and will investigate EU Navfor’s assertion, Speers said.
The Australian frigate HMAS Melbourne was dispatched to help the Maersk Texas, Lieutenant Commander Mark Hankey at Combined Maritime Forces in Bahrain said by phone. The command is headed by Vice Admiral Mark Fox, leader of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
If you can figure out what the story is, let me know. Personally,  I'm amazed that there are still U.S. flagged cargo ships.  This must have been part of the Seaboard fleet that Maersk bought from CSX about 15 years ago.  I thought all of the ships were flagged in Liberia or some other no regulation hellhole.

The United Irish Rebellion of 1798

May 24, 1798:
The Irish Rebellion of 1798 led by the United Irishmen against British rule begins.
The Irish Rebellion of 1798 (Irish: Éirí Amach 1798), also known as the United Irishmen Rebellion (Irish: Éirí Amach na nÉireannach Aontaithe), was an uprising against British rule in Ireland lasting from May to September 1798. The United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions, were the main organising force behind the rebellion.
The initial plan was to take Dublin, with the counties bordering Dublin to rise in support and prevent the arrival of reinforcements followed by the rest of the country who were to tie down other garrisons. The signal to rise was to be spread by the interception of the mail coaches from Dublin. However, last-minute intelligence from informants provided the Government with details of rebel assembly points in Dublin and a huge force of military occupied them barely one hour before rebels were to assemble. Deterred by the military, the gathering groups of rebels quickly dispersed, abandoning the intended rallying points, and dumping their weapons in the surrounding lanes. In addition, the plan to intercept the mail coaches miscarried, with only the Munster-bound coach halted at Johnstown, near Naas, on the first night.
Although the planned nucleus of the rebellion had imploded, the surrounding districts of Dublin rose as planned and were swiftly followed by most of the counties surrounding Dublin. The first clashes of the rebellion took place just after dawn on 24 May. Fighting quickly spread throughout Leinster, with the heaviest fighting taking place in County Kildare where, despite the Government's successfully beating off almost every rebel attack, the rebels gained control of much of the county as military forces in Kildare were ordered to withdraw to Naas for fear of their isolation and destruction as at Prosperous. However, rebel defeats at Carlow and the hill of Tara, County Meath, effectively ended the rebellion in those counties. In County Wicklow, news of the rising spread panic and fear among loyalists; they responded by massacring rebel suspects held in custody at Dunlavin Green and in Carnew. A baronet, Sir Edward Crosbie, was found guilty of leading the rebellion in Carlow and executed for treason.
The 1798 rebellion was possibly the most concentrated outbreak of violence in Irish history, and resulted in thousands of deaths over the course of three months. Contemporary estimates put the death toll from 20,000 (Dublin Castle) to as many as 50,000 of which 2,000 were military and 1,000 loyalist civilians.
However, some modern research argues that these figures may be too high. Firstly, a list of British soldiers killed, compiled for a fund to aid the families of dead soldiers, listed just 530 names. Secondly, professor Louis Cullen, through an examination of depletion of the population in County Wexford between 1798 and 1820, put the fatal casualties in that county at 6,000. Historian Thomas Bartlett therefore argues, "a death toll of 10,000 for the entire island would seem to be in order".
It didn't end well for Theobald Wolfe Tone, Edward Fitzgerald and the other rebel leaders.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Catalpas Are Blooming

Well, Woodie's later sign that it's corn planting time is now here.  I don't think I'd wait this long to get started, but the yield on some of the corn planted in June last year was good enough to convince me that this isn't too late to plant.  Some guys who didn't start planting last year until June, and harvested in February were able to out yield our May planted and October harvested corn.  Every year is different, and every section is different.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ireland May Need Another Bailout

The Telegraph (h/t nc links):
As households struggle to pay their mortgages, the country’s rescued banks may need €4bn (£3.2bn) more to cover losses on loans than was assumed in stress tests last year, said analysts at Deutsche Bank.
That would hit the finances of the Irish government, which has already pumped about €63bn into its banking sector in the last three years.
“A new, even modest, increase in [banks’] capital requirements could deter sovereign investor participation and tip the balance in favour of the sovereign requiring a second loan program,” said the Deutsche team.
Ireland has been viewed as an example of how a country can stick to an austerity programme of tax rises and spending cuts. Fears that it will none the less need another rescue reinforce the challenges around a resolution of the eurozone debt crisis.
Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Dublin broker Bloxham, said Ireland will want to return to the bond markets when its current bailout loans end next year, but can only do so if yields, or interest rates, come down from their current level of over 7pc on its 10-year government debt.
That's not very good news for the so far best case austerity project.  The Irish people got screwed when the government bailed out their oh so insolvent banks.

Hay Making Travesty

I've been getting killed the last couple of days trying to get my hay made.  First, I loaded three wagons on Sunday, and that just about killed me.  So I decided to try to get my neighbor to round bale the rest, but that hasn't worked out.  Plus, I ripped a hydraulic hose on the hay rake, so I ran around trying to find parts.  Eventually I had to get my neighbor to splice the hose.  Now I'm trying to get my wagons unloaded so I can get them loaded back up.  We really could have used some rain with the front that came through, but that should give me time to get all this stuff baled up.