Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chart of the Day

From Ritholtz:

Can Government Create Jobs?

This bid to rewrite history has sometimes bordered on the comical - such as when Michael Steele, then the GOP chairman, stated in 2009 that not only did the New Deal fail to create jobs but that "not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job."
He might as well have said the Earth is flat. The truth is, FDR's stimulus programs created some 15 million jobs.
For instance: The Works Progress Administration put eight million people to work. (You have surely driven on roads and flown from airports built by WPA workers.) The Civilian Conservation Corps hired 2.7 million. The Civil Works Administration employed four million. The Public Works Administration created jobs for hundreds of thousands. (Perhaps you have enjoyed the PWA's handiwork, such as the Lincoln Tunnel and Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.) And not so coincidentally, the Dow Jones average rose roughly 400 percent between 1933 and 1937.
But the current obsession with red ink - with slashing spending at a time when 26 million idled and underemployed Americans badly need help - ensures that Obama's job-creation efforts will remain largely rhetorical. This is great for the Republicans, because persistent joblessness will make Obama an easier target in 2012. It's not so great for the jobless.
Back in 1936, when the New Deal was being assailed by conservatives, Roosevelt declared: "Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." Lamentably, we now seem poised to enter an ice age.
I can't believe a party that trots out job losses any time that cuts to defense spending are discussed can take the position that government can't create jobs.  But when has anybody accused Republicans of utilizing logic or being logically consistent

22 Years

It was 22 years ago tonight that I watched the Reds win the World Series.  I thought maybe this was the year they'd do it again.  I thought wrong.

Geology, Soil and Democratic Votes

Robert Krulwich:
It's an image of North America as it looked during the Cretaceous era, 129 million to 65 million years ago. As you can see, much of the continent was still covered by water. The Deep South had a shoreline that curled through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and there, in the shallow waters just offshore, were immense populations of floating, single-celled creatures who drifted about, trapped sunshine, captured carbon, then died and sank to the sea bottom. Those creatures became long stretches of nutritious chalk. (I love chalk.)
When sea levels dropped and North America took on its modern shape, those ancient beaches — so alkaline, porous and rich with organic material — became a "black belt" of rich soil, running right through the South. You can see the Cretaceous beaches in this map, colored green. McClain got these maps from geologist Steve Dutch's website, at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.

And because this stretch was so rich and fertile, when cotton farmers moved here in the 19th century, this stretch produced the most cotton per acre. Harvests of 4,000-plus bales were common here.
Rich soil and large cotton crops equaled slaves, and now their descendants create a Democratic archipelago in a sea of Republicans.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Natural Phenomena

Natural Phenomena - VideoSapien from Reid Gower on Vimeo.

Quite The Fall

Brian Phillips analyzes Felix Baumgartner's big jump:
I want to go back a hundred years, to the day in 1912 when Franz Reichelt jumped off the Eiffel Tower. Reichelt was an Austrian-born tailor who lived in Paris and became obsessed with the idea of designing a wearable parachute. There are black-and-white photos of him modeling his design — drooping antique mustache, mad inventor eyes, folds of fabric buckled to his chest and billowing out all around him. After conducting several failed experiments with dummies at low altitudes, Reichelt, who was convinced his design was perfect, decided to try the suit from a higher elevation and wear it himself. On February 4, he showed up at the Eiffel Tower, where he posed for some pictures and talked to the press. Then he jumped, trailing fabric like some sort of weighted ghost, and fell straight to his death. You can watch video of this moment online, too. The Eiffel Tower is the height of an 81-story building. The video includes footage of authoritative-looking men measuring the crater Reichelt made when he landed.
128,000 feet is: the height of 120 stacked Eiffel Towers.
Within the first 42 seconds of his fall, Baumgartner reached the speed of 834.4 miles per hour, making him the first human being to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. The typical commercial jet, for comparison's sake, flies at around 500 miles per hour. After screaming toward the Earth for another 218 seconds, Baumgartner deployed his parachute, drifted down for another several minutes, and landed safely on his feet. At which point he happily fell another two feet or so, onto his knees.
834 miles per hour is: 134 miles per hour faster than the flight on which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, 65 years to the day before Baumgartner's jump.
I love the part about the Eiffel Tower.  I really thought he might say the guy's parachute worked.  I guess not.

Holy Shit, I Agree With Ben Stein

Asked by Gretchen Carlson what needs to be done in order to fix the economy, Stein said unequivocally that taxes need to be increased for upper-echelon earners.
"I hate to say this on Fox, and I hope I'll be allowed to leave here alive, but I don't think there is anyway we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference," Stein said. "We going to have to raise taxes on very rich people, people with incomes of like say, 2, 3 million a year and up, and then slowly move it down."
Thinking he may have misheard the Ferris Bueller star, Steve Doocy asked Stein if he doesn't think "Washington just has a spending problem."
"I do not think they just have a spending problem," Stein replied. "I think they also have a too-low taxes problem. And while all due respect to Fox, whom I love like brothers and sisters, the taxes are too low."
I very infrequently agree with Mr. Stein, but this time, I do.

Big Tex Goes The Way Of Big Butter Jesus #1

LA Times:
Two scorched arms and a metal frame are all that remains of Big Tex, a 52-foot-tall cowboy statue that welcomed visitors to the State Fair of Texas, after the local icon burned like a towering torch Friday.
Big Tex erupted in flames around 10:15 a.m., officials said. In a video recorded by the Dallas Morning News, fair visitor Lynda Kingsley recalled smoke starting around Big Tex's collar before its whole body was engulfed in flames.
"You just saw the flames pretty much everywhere," Kingsley told the newspaper. "He just went up in a 'poof.'"
Here's a fond memory of Big Tex:

In the comments section of this blog, Lattie Harding told us an amazing story. He wrote:
"This is a sad day. I remember back in 1960 I was walking down the fair grounds with my girlfriend when Big Tex hollered out to my girlfriend and said 'Hey pretty girl, are you going to marry that guy?'
"I was shocked because I did not know they had a real cowboy with a microphone talking for Big Tex, sort of interacting with the fair going crowd as they walked by.
"Anyway, she told Big Tex that she always wanted to marry me since she was a little girl. Well, I looked at her and saw a tear in her deep blue eyes and I said, 'What the hell woman, let's do it.'
"She was only 16 and I was 18 and we have been married 52 years since that day in 1960. We have so many grandkids I don't know all their names, but who cares, life has been good to us and every year when we walk by Big Tex, I tell him 'God bless you cowboy and thanks for the wonderful wife.'
"I hope they put him back together, his steel frame is still there, just put on some new fiberglass and he will look as good as new."

Unfortunately, I didn't see any actual fire videos, so it wasn't quite as cool as this:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fools and Their Money

All Things Considered:
Dozens of anonymous billboards have popped up in urban areas in the crucial battleground states of Ohio and Wisconsin. The signs note that voter fraud is a felony, punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Civil rights groups and Democrats complain that the billboards are meant to intimidate voters.
The billboards began appearing two weeks ago — 85 of them in and around Milwaukee, and an additional 60 in Cleveland and Columbus. The signs say in large white letters "Voter Fraud is a Felony!" There's a big picture of a judge's gavel and small letters at the bottom that say the ads are funded simply by a "private family foundation."
A number of liberal groups and labor organizations are demanding that the billboards be taken down.
"I think that these billboards are designed to suppress the vote. That is their intention," says Scot Ross, executive director of one of those groups, the Institute for One Wisconsin.
Ross notes that many of the signs are located in predominantly black, Hispanic and university neighborhoods.
I believe that Republicans have passed voter ID laws to try to suppress the vote among poor and elderly minorities, but I don't really see this as a very effective campaign to intimidate voters.  I would think that instead of preventing nearly nonexistant in-person voter fraud, it will encourage people to go out to vote, just to stick it to the folks behind the billboards. I imagine that some crazy, old, rich white guy who believes that the only reason Obama won election was massive voter fraud (and not the total incompetence of the Bush administration) got the hare brained idea to buy up all these billboards to help "take back his country."  Well, it is a good thing he's rich, because I think he's just wasting good money.

However, I am currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I am amazed at all the crazy things her family believes/gives credence to about Johns Hopkins killing black folks and stuff.  I know there have been some terrible interactions between blacks and the medical establishment, and in the case of Lacks, she was treated fairly poorly by Hopkins.  But their ideas are really out there.  So maybe some folks would think that the law would come after them and throw them in jail if they voted, even when they legally can.  Maybe I'm just approaching this with the detachment available for a rural white guy.  The only obvious winner here is Clear Channel, the owner of the billboards.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hey, Socialism!

Ohio Barbarian:
The public library is funded by everyone in the community one way or the other. In Ohio, it’s a combination of local property, sales, or income taxes supplemented by the State’s general fund, which is why Ohio has the best public library system in the country, according to the American Library Association.
Anyone can use the public library for free. Anyone can go to the library, browse, use their computers, check out books, movies, CD’s, whatever, all for free so long as one turns them in by the due date. Even then, if one doesn’t, most library fines are modest because they just want their stuff back so someone else in the community can use it.
Use of the public library is not means-tested, like food stamps or Medicaid. Jamie Dimon his own self can go to his public library along with someone stuck in destitute poverty and check out the same things for free. Only if the poor person checks it out first, then Jamie Dimon will just have to wait until the poor person returns it–his wealth gets no privilege at the library. Everyone supports the library, and everyone can use its services. Even if one does not have a library card, one can still go to the library and browse and read to one’s heart’s content until closing; no questions asked.
The public library system is socialism at its best, which is probably why the devotees of the capitalist system love to attack it and try to defund it at every opportunity. “No one is making a profit! Heresy! Destroy it!,” they cry.
Even though I don't frequent the library, I do think it is a very important for the community.  It is also one of the main public services which people get fired up about when government cuts are planned.  I am generally amazed when I hear the talk show hosts talk about what a waste of money the library system is.  That would really piss off Benjamin Franklin.

Where Is The Xenon

I just can't resist a noble gas story:
The missing-xenon paradox is one of science’s great whodunits. Researchers have hypothesized that the element is lurking in glaciers, minerals or Earth’s core, among other places.
“Scientists always said the xenon is not really missing. It’s not in the atmosphere, but it’s hiding somewhere,” says inspector, sorry, professor Hans Keppler, a geophysicist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He and his colleague Svyatoslav Shcheka are the latest geoscientists to tackle the case, in a report published today in Nature.
They went looking for answers in minerals. Magnesium silicate perovskite is the major component of Earth’s lower mantle — the layer of molten rock between the crust and the core, which accounts for half the planet’s mass. The sleuthing scientists wondered whether the missing xenon could be squirreled away in pockets in this mineral. “I was quite sure that it must be possible to stuff noble gases into perovskite,” says Keppler. “I suspected xenon may be in there.”
The researchers tried dissolving xenon and argon in perovskite at temperatures exceeding 1,600 ÂșC and pressures about 250 times those at sea level. Under these extreme conditions — similar to those in the lower mantle — the mineral sopped up argon yet found little room for xenon.
Those results may sound disappointing, but they gave Keppler and Shcheka an idea. What if xenon isn’t hiding at all?
More than 4 billion years ago, Earth was molten. Meteorites bombarded the planet, causing it to lose much of its primordial atmosphere. Keppler and Shcheka suggest that argon and the other noble gases hid in perovskite, but most of the xenon could not dissolve in the mineral, and disappeared into space.
I didn't realize the Xenon was missing.  If neon wasn't such an attention hog, maybe I'd have noticed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Two Images

First, a chart via Ritholtz:

Then, last month's idiotic Fortune Magazine cover:

Seriously?  Boy, look how oppressive this country is for those poor, abused rich folks.  Assholes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

October 11:

Aurorae over Planet Earth
Image Credit : NASA, NOAA, GSFC, Suomi NPP, Earth Observatory,
processing by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon
Explanation: North America at night is easy to recognize in this view of our fair planet from orbit, acquired by the Suomi-NPP satellite on October 8. The spectacular waves of visible light emission rolling above the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario in the upper half of the frame are the Aurora Borealis or northern lights. Encircling the poles and extending to lower latitudes, impressive aurorae seen during the past few days are due to strong geomagnetic storms. The storms were triggered by a solar coronal mass ejection on October 4/5, impacting Earth's magnetosphere some three days later. The curtains of light, shining well over 100 kilometers above the surface, are formed as charged particles accelerated in the magnetosphere excite oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere.

When To End It

Gary Andrew Poole reflects on when to stop a brutal boxing match:
On Saturday night, referee Pat Russell stood in the middle of the ring after he had stopped the best boxing match in recent memory. His decision didn't win him much popularity in fight nation. The light welterweights Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios had been beating each other senseless, and everyone watching seemed to want it to continue, indefinitely if possible. "I will take 'em into deep water, but I won't drown 'em," Russell said.
As in most sports, it's not traditional for a boxing referee to be interviewed after a bout, but Russell wanted to explain himself to the television audience and the sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. He had stopped the fight in the seventh round after Rios had thrown a straight right and then delivered a series of unanswered combinations to Alvarado's head. Russell had seen enough, stepped in, and Rios was given the TKO win....
Until the stoppage, Russell had watched Alvarado and Brandon Rios land a lot of power punches (Rios 144 and Alvarado 132). Within the three minutes of each round, each man was absorbing about 24 well-delivered punches. This was, as they say in boxing, a war. Both men are accomplished fighters, but their style is to come forward and brawl. Among the sport's cognoscenti, Saturday night had long been pegged as a possible fight of the year, and it easily lived up to its billing. At ringside, bloody spittle sprayed off of both men almost constantly. The two men were so evenly matched that they inflicted an enormous amount of pain on each other. And they seemed to respect each other for it. So did the people watching. And there was a purity to the violence. Rios admitted that during the fight he had been "a little stunned," and Alvarado said the same thing.
Russell, who stood within inches of both men, called it "brutal." And it was. And as a person who writes about the sport, these are the moments that I wonder about myself, and that I find most compelling. Boxing is the most ineptly run sport in the world, but a championship fight has more drama than any major sport. It's the finality of it. I hadn't wanted last night's fight to end so early. I hoped the fight would unfold more naturally. But I was relieved when Russell stepped in and stopped it. It was an act of courage.
The most exciting boxing is also the most dangerous.  When both boxers are landing lots of hard punches, it is tremendously entertaining.  But the danger level increases exponentially when both boxers continue to absorb such punishment.  I love the sport, but even at its most beautiful, it can be extremely ugly, too.  Sometimes I wonder if the danger is worth the beauty.

The Dangers of Income Inequality

Chrystia Freeland looks at how the top of society works the government to stay there.  This part was interesting:
Even as the winner-take-all economy has enriched those at the very top, their tax burden has lightened. Tolerance for high executive compensation has increased, even as the legal powers of unions have been weakened and an intellectual case against them has been relentlessly advanced by plutocrat-financed think tanks. In the 1950s, the marginal income tax rate for those at the top of the distribution soared above 90 percent, a figure that today makes even Democrats flinch. Meanwhile, of the 400 richest taxpayers in 2009, 6 paid no federal income tax at all, and 27 paid 10 percent or less. None paid more than 35 percent.
Historically, the United States has enjoyed higher social mobility than Europe, and both left and right have identified this economic openness as an essential source of the nation’s economic vigor. But several recent studies have shown that in America today it is harder to escape the social class of your birth than it is in Europe. The Canadian economist Miles Corak has found that as income inequality increases, social mobility falls — a phenomenon Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has called the Great Gatsby Curve.
Educational attainment, which created the American middle class, is no longer rising. The super-elite lavishes unlimited resources on its children, while public schools are starved of funding. This is the new Serrata. An elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enrolled their daughters in an exclusive private school; I’ve done the same with mine.
The whole story is worth a read.  I really would like people to understand how people working for a living end up paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes than folks who live off of investment income.  That is the most perverse feature of the dividend tax cut Bush and the Republicans in Congress, along with Democrat enablers, put into place in 2003.