Saturday, November 3, 2012

More on the Day of the Dead

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes describes Mexico's celebration of the Day of the Dead and does a better job of describing what I was trying to say a couple of days ago:

I talked to my neighbor Zenaida(ph). She's an indigenous Zapotec from Oaxaca, Mexico, and can't imagine life without honoring the dead on this day. Will you help me make an altar for them in the Oaxacan tradition?
ZENAIDA: (Foreign language spoken)
DIAZ-CORTES: When I asked, Zenaida looks at me funny and tells me she can't. And then it hits me. Zenaida can't build my altar for me, just like I can't tell Andrea Espinosa what her altar should look like. I have to build my own altar for my grandmother. I'm starting to understand that this ritual goes beyond tradition. It's about faith, the faith that when we go, those we leave behind will carry us inside of them.
Well said.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Helvetia's Dream

Helvetia's Dream from Alessandro Della Bella on Vimeo.

A Century Of Games Up North

Grey Cup Central features a timeline of the history of the Grey Cup in honor of the Championship's 100th game.  There are features for the Snow Bowl, the Ice Bowl, the Fog Bowl and the Mud Bowl.  It reminds me why the Super Bowl is only played indoors in the north half of the country.

The Burns Endorsement

Race Day

Today is the first day of the Breeder's Cup, and the Ladies' Classic is next up. Tomorrow, if you have the time, tune in to the Turf Sprint. Post time is 1:57, and it is run on the downhill turf course. That is an interesting course to race.  Check it out.

Something's Gotta Give

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

The policy never had any chance of working for Greece. The IMF under Strauss-Kahn went along with the EMU agenda, pretending all was well, sacrificing the Greeks to gain time for the European financial system to build up safety buffers.
Thomas Wieser, the head of the European Working Group handling Greece, said today that press reports of further debt restructuring and official "haircuts" in the current Troika talks are pure fantasy.
If that is so – and what he means is that Germany, Holland, Finland, and Austria will not tolerate a haircut on their holdings of Greek debt – then the creditor countries are trying to maintain a ridiculous illusion for their own internal political reasons.
Greece cannot claw its way out of a 190pc of GDP debt load. The official haircut is coming sooner or later, and it will be an explosive political moment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to account for direct losses to the Bundestag. A line will have to be written into the German budget covering the X billions of euros. Other line items may have to be cut. Welfare support for Germans, perhaps.
Having insisted for over two years that German taxpayers face no risk of loss on the Club Med rescue packages – and having indeed told them it generated a profit – she will have to explain why this has gone horribly wrong.
The Germans are going to have to realize they can't forever run up trade surpluses and not end up with bad debt.  The time is coming when they have to decide if they are invested in the common currency or not.  Their prosperity in recent years has come because the Greeks, Spanish and Italians were spending.  Now that the debts are coming due, something has to give.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy On Bikes In NYC

Hurricane Sandy on Bikes in NYC from Casey Neistat on Vimeo.

All Saints' Day

I've been wondering a lot whether the Church has lost its meaning to me.  But I was glad tonight when I was sitting at All Saints' mass that memories of my grandmother and her family came back to me.  I'm not sure if it was her or somebody in school, but I remember learning that prayers for the souls in Purgatory would come in handy for them on All Souls' Day.  I'll say a prayer for her and the rest of her extended family tomorrow.  It might disappear into the vast empty universe, but it will bring back a lot of great memories.

Nobody Could Have Predicted It

Well, actually:
Last fall, as part of a massive report on climate change in New York, a research team led by Klaus Jacob of Columbia University drafted a case study that estimated the effects of a 100-year storm on the city's transportation infrastructure. Considering MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota’s comments today that Hurricane Sandy's impact on the subway was "worse than the worst case scenario," it seems pretty safe to put Sandy in the 100-year category. In that case, assuming the rest of the report holds true, the subway system could be looking at a recovery time of several weeks, with residual effects lasting for months and years.
The researchers modeled a potential 100-year storm that consisted of either a category 1 or 2 hurricane hitting nearby, or a severe nor’easter that coincided with high tide. (As we know now, Sandy was a hybrid of all three events.) The models predicted complete flooding of several tunnels after such an event, including all the tunnels in the East River:

Based on their models, Jacob and colleagues wrote that a 100-year storm could leave roughly 1 billion gallons of water to be pumped from the city’s network of subway tunnels. (To give you an idea of scale, that’s equal to the average daily consumption of drinking water in the city.) If all 14 tunnels flooded, it would take about five days to pump each one clear, according to the report. However that’s the best-case scenario; a week per tunnel is more likely.
Immediate flood-clearing isn’t the only concern. As Ted Mann writes for the Wall Street Journal, salt water is likely to have considerable residual effects on the aging subway system. Jacob and colleagues write that equipment damaged by brackish water will at least require time to clean and could also require time for replacement.
Good job, guys.  You called that one.  We need more of this, and less whistling past the graveyard.  I'm looking at you, GOP.  Science and common sense are our friends, not our enemies.

Having A Good Time

Katie Baker takes in the scene for the Giants victory parade:
As I walked up Market Street to find a place to stand before the parade began, two people somehow scrambled up on top of a storefront gate, and a lady watching from inside the building above opened the window and began yelling at them to get down or else. Not only did they completely ignore her, the one in the marijuana-leaf socks immediately and defiantly sparked up a joint then and there. "I'm calling the cops in five minutes!" the woman warned, to the great amusement of a man down on the sidewalk who had been watching the whole thing. He couldn't resist. "Hey lady!" he yelled up to her. "The cops don't give a fuck!"
Those are the kind of scenes I enjoy about big crowds.  That's about the only thing I enjoy about big crowds.

2008 Precinct Results Map

Here is a really neat map showing which candidate won each precinct across the country.  I still think that population density is one of the better predictors of election results.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Rich and Taxes

Robert Reich calls shenanigans on the taxes hurt job creators line:
Since 1980 the top 1 percent has doubled its share of the nation’s total income—from 10 percent to 20 percent. The share of the top one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled. The share of the top-most one-one hundredth of 1 percent—16,000 families—has quadrupled. The richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.
Meanwhile, the tax rates paid by the wealthy have dropped precipitously. Before 1981 the top marginal tax rate was never lower than 70 percent. Under President Dwight Eisenhower it was 93 percent. Even after taking all the deductions and tax credits available to them, the rich paid around 54 percent.
The top tax rate is now only 35 percent and the tax on capital gains (increases in the value of investments) is only 15 percent. Since so much of what they earn is from capital gains, many of the super-rich, like Mitt Romney himself, pay 14 percent or less. That’s a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans pay.
In fact, if you add up all the taxes paid—not just on income and capital gains but also payroll taxes (which don’t apply to income above incomes of $110,100), and sales taxes—most of us are paying a higher percent of our income in taxes than are those at the top.
So how can anyone argue against raising taxes on the rich? Easy. They say it will slow the economy because the rich are “job creators.”
In the immortal words of Joe Biden, that’s malarky.
Preach it, Bob.  If the rich can't pay more in taxes, nobody can.  The claim that having wealthy folks  pay as high of a percentage of their income in taxes as commoners will hurt the economy is stupid on its face.  How the entire Republican party can pretend it is true just boggles my mind.

More Iowa Land Price Craziness

KCAU TV, via Big Picture Agriculture:
Iowa has always been known for its rich soil, but when a parcel of land near Boyden sold for a record 21,900 an acre this week...people started taking notice.
The un-named group of farmers bought the 80-acres in Sioux County for almost two-million dollars. But what's behind the heavy price tag?
Jason Woods, a farm manager with Coffman Farm Agency, said there are many factors.
"Increases of grain prices have been the primary driving force behind it," he said.
Another factor is the increase in corn prices, which is now a little over seven-dollars a bushel.
But sales like these still aren't typical, said Stephanie Dykshorn, a Sioux County farmer.
"Prices don't necessarily reflect the average, your average farmer isn't going to be able to go out and spend millions of dollars on ground and land," she said.
And Stephanie's husband, Paul, said there are downfalls to the prices being so high, and those could affect consumers.
"Your meat, your poultry, your pork, your beef-is all going to go up in price," he said.
Thursday's record sale wasn't the first in Sioux County. Earlier this week a 137-acreage of land sold for over 19-thousand. That's more than double its original purchase price.
WTF?  Almost $2 million for 80 acres?  That is totally insane.


The NYT has an interesting graphic on the subway tunnels subject to flooding:

And that doesn't even show the tunnels on the New Jersey side.  I don't envy the folks the task of pumping all that out and getting it back in shape to run.

A Tale Of Two Cities

First, we have Mitt Romney claiming that Chrysler is shipping Toledo Jeep jobs to China:
Romney commented while campaigning last week that he had read news reports saying Chrysler would be cutting American jobs in favor of manufacturing Jeeps overseas.
Marchionne said it is true that the company is ramping up overseas manufacturing, but as additional capacity to feed growing demand in Chinese markets, not to replace American jobs.
"Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand," he said. "It is inaccurate to suggest anything different."
The back-and-forth, held just one week before Election Day, may prove a pivotal moment.
So, that wasn't quite true.  But, then again, Romney probably knows how profitable that can be for a business, since the company he formerly ran, and still has investments with, is shipping jobs from Freeport, Illinois to China:
At the age of 86 retired plumber Paul Holz has just been arrested for the first time in his long life.
Clutching an American flag, the elderly resident of Freeport, Illinois, was handcuffed by police outside a Sensata car parts plant which is shipping jobs to China and has become a national symbol for the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs abroad.
"I am totally against outsourcing work from America. Jobs need to stay here, so I decided to go down and join the protests," he explained.
That decision ended in a trip to the local police station and a mugshot for the lifelong union supporter.
But Holz is far from alone. Workers, ex-workers and local residents have set up an encampment outside the gate. They have held protests, tried to deliver petitions and sought to prevent vehicles shipping out plant parts destined for China from leaving the site.
Because Sensata is majority owned by Bain Capital – the controversial former company run by Republican challenger Mitt Romney – the camp has been dubbed Bainport.
The article goes on to say that Romney still owns stock in Sensata.   When it comes down to it, most of the charges Republicans make about Obama are just projection.  They are already doing whatever it is they are concerned about Obama doing.  In the case of Romney claiming to stand up against outsourcing, I don't think we can trust him.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What Makes Dickey's Knuckler So Good?

A variety of speeds and an ability to throw it for strikes:
After years of work, Dickey mastered the virtually untamable pitch by coming up with two innovations in the way he throws it. First, he pitches it faster than any other successful knuckler has ever done before. Tim Wakefield, the only other knuckleball pitcher in the league when Dickey started learning the pitch, threw it at a typically snail-like speed of 67 miles per hour. Dickey throws it on average at 77 mph, changing speeds with a slow version between 73 and 75 mph and a fast version between 75 and 80 mph. This “angry” knuckleball is like no pitch big league hitters have ever seen before.
Dickey also came up with a clever way for perfecting the mechanics of the pitch. Charlie Hough, a legendary knuckleballer and Dickey’s mentor, initially taught him how to conceptualize the knuckleball throwing motion. He keeps his body compact by imagining that he is projecting himself through an open door frame with each pitch, and that his goal is to avoid touching the sides of the frame. Dickey took this concept one step further and began to visually project the door frame toward the plate, shrinking it to the size of a vertical shoebox. By aiming to throw the ball somewhere inside this imaginary vertical shoebox, he is able to make sure that the unpredictable pitch lands at least somewhere for a strike the vast majority of the time. 
I'd say he's almost a lock for the Cy Young.  Gio Gonzales ended up with one more win than he did, but Dickey had a better ERA and led the league in strikeouts.

Wide Open Spaces

In anticipation of the election, I did a little research on county populations, and came across this map of the 100 highest population counties in the U.S.:

Amazingly, at least to me, these counties represented 42% of U.S. population in the 2010 census.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

October 23:

Mammatus Clouds Over Saskatchewan
Image Credit & Licence: Craig Lindsay, Wikipedia
Explanation: Normal cloud bottoms are flat. This is because moist warm air that rises and cools will condense into water droplets at a specific temperature, which usually corresponds to a very specific height. As water droplets grow, an opaque cloud forms. Under some conditions, however, cloud pockets can develop that contain large droplets of water or ice that fall into clear air as they evaporate. Such pockets may occur in turbulent air near a thunderstorm. Resulting mammatus clouds can appear especially dramatic if sunlit from the side. These mammatus clouds were photographed over Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada during the past summer.

Canadian Cheese Smuggling?

Danielle Goldfarb:
Police recently arrested three men, including one current and one former police officer, as part of a massive cheese-smuggling ring. The perpetrators allegedly smuggled cheese across the Canada-U.S. border and sold it to Canadian restaurants at a six-figure profit.
This sounds like the plot of a bad movie. It’s not. It’s the result of Canada’s long-standing dairy policy.
In contrast to other food products in which the market sets prices, Canada has an almost forty-year government policy of “dairy supply management”. In essence, the system limits milk production and keeps dairy imports out, in order to provide producers with higher milk prices. (A 2009 Conference Board report Making Milk: The Practices, Players, and Pressures Behind Dairy Supply Management examines how the policy works in practice in more detail.)
The system is riddled with complexities and idiosyncracies. To top their pizzas, restaurants buy “white gold” (mozzarella cheese) that is made from milk that costs cheese processors at least two times more than the same raw milk used to make other dairy products.
What about cheaper imports that undercut domestic production and prices? Ottawa has rules to keep them out. For example, only one-twentieth of Canadians’ cheese consumption is allowed in; the rest is subject to a 246% tariff (see chart). We allow in even less yogurt and other dairy products.
This is a good example of bad government policy.  In some instances, Canada has maintained better government policies than the United States.  This is not one of those cases.

The World's Toughest Athlete?

Matt Tullis spotlights three-time world horseshoes champion Brian Simmons:
To understand the truly remarkable nature of Simmons’ victories at this tournament, and to understand why so many in the audience at this tournament worry about him and his performance, you have to go back to a time long before Simmons was ever a world champion.
In the late 1980s, his mother Bertha was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died at the age of 52 in 1989. A short time later, Simmons learned he had colon cancer. He was 29 years old. Surgeons removed his large colon, which means Simmons has a colostomy bag. That is why Simmons wears big, loose-fitting t-shirts. When he releases the horseshoe and his shirt is pulled tight against his abdomen, you can see the outline of the bag.
Having his colon removed was one of the best things that ever happened to him, Simmons says. It stopped his Crohn’s symptoms, which allowed him pitch horseshoes competitively again. So having his colon removed was easy and nothing compared to the long list of troubles he would face in the 2000s, after he had become a world champion.

Revenuers Leave South

Weekend Edition Sunday:
Moonshine used to be big business in the South, an illegal business that also kept the federal courthouses busy. Now one of those facilities, once on the front lines of the war on homemade booze, is shutting down.
It's in Wilkesboro, N.C., where distilling corn whiskey in backwoods breweries was once the town's main trade. The Johnson J. Hayes Federal Building sticks out in the town; it's a modern white structure with sleek columns on an otherwise old-school brick Main Street.
The courtroom on the second floor is locked up with the lights off all but one or two days a month now. But this building saw a lot of action in the 1970s, even though just 2,000 people lived in town.
"In its heyday, it was a hub of activity," Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore says. "It had vitality that brought people to the downtown. Sometimes for the right reasons, other times for the wrong reason."
The Johnson J. Hayes Federal Building is just one of six federal courthouses closing in the South. The other five are also well past their glory years, and are all scheduled to shut down within a year or two.
I didn't know they built federal courthouses around the south for handling moonshiners.  I learn something new every day.

Pay The Ransom

The Des Moines Register endorses Mitt Romney:
American voters are deeply divided about this race. The Register’s editorial board, as it should, had a vigorous debate over this endorsement. Our discussion repeatedly circled back to the nation’s single most important challenge: pulling the economy out of the doldrums, getting more Americans back in the workforce in meaningful jobs with promising futures, and getting the federal government on a track to balance the budget in a bipartisan manner that the country demands.

Which candidate could forge the compromises in Congress to achieve these goals? When the question is framed in those terms, Mitt Romney emerges the stronger candidate.
As far as I can see, this may as well say,  "hey, Republicans won't do anything to help this country if their guy isn't in charge, so vote for Romney since the House of Representatives will still be full of right-wing loons.  Don't worry about them fucking things up, because, hey, bipartisanship. Oh, and what's that plan for fixing the economy, the same tax cuts and deregulation that got us in this mess."

News of the Obvious - Just Friends Edition

Scientific American reports on a study that finds guys are much more likely than girls to be interested in being more than just friends with their opposite sex friends:

The results suggest large gender differences in how men and women experience opposite-sex friendships. Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief. In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.
Men were also more willing to act on this mistakenly perceived mutual attraction. Both men and women were equally attracted to romantically involved opposite-sex friends and those who were single; “hot” friends were hot and “not” friends were not, regardless of their relationship status.  However, men and women differed in the extent to which they saw attached friends as potential romantic partners.  Although men were equally as likely to desire “romantic dates” with “taken” friends as with single ones, women were sensitive to their male friends’ relationship status and uninterested in pursuing those who were already involved with someone else.
These results suggest that men, relative to women, have a particularly hard time being “just friends.” What makes these results particularly interesting is that they were found within particular friendships (remember, each participant was only asked about the specific, platonic, friend with whom they entered the lab). This is not just a bit of confirmation for stereotypes about sex-hungry males and na├»ve females; it is direct proof that two people can experience the exact same relationship in radically different ways. Men seem to see myriad opportunities for romance in their supposedly platonic opposite-sex friendships. The women in these friendships, however, seem to have a completely different orientation—one that is actually platonic.
I don't think this news comes as a shock to almost anybody, at least among guys.