Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Plight of Unions

James Surowiecki:
The problem, of course, is that that destruction is going to upend the lives of thousands of workers. And to the extent, then, that Hostess’s demise shows us something important about the plight of organized labor today, it’s not that greedy workers have precipitated their own demise. It’s rather that one of organized labor’s biggest challenges over the past four decades has been that union strength was concentrated in industries and among companies that, though once dominant players in the postwar American economy, have often ended up in a slow slide to obsolescence, employing fewer and fewer workers and having less and less money to pay them with. In theory, unions could have made up for this by organizing those companies and industries that have become ascendant since the nineteen-seventies, but for a variety of reasons (including a tougher corporate approach to union-busting, a less friendly legal climate, the difficulty of organizing many small enterprises as opposed to a few big factories, and a tendency to protect existing members rather than put real money into organizing) they haven’t. And the paradox is that as unions have gotten smaller and less influential, they’ve also gotten less popular. That’s why it’s so easy for Hostess’s management to spin the anti-union narrative. The real issue here is that people’s image of unions, and their sense that doing something like going on strike is legitimate, seems to depend quite a bit, in the U.S., on how common unions are in the workforce. When organized labor represented more than a third of American workers, it was easy for unions to send the message that in agitating for their own interests, union members were also helping improve conditions for workers in general. But as unions have shrunk, and have become increasingly concentrated in the public sector, it’s become easier for people to dismiss them as just another special interest, looking to hold onto perks that no one else gets. Perhaps the most striking response to the Hostess news, in that sense, was the tweet from conservative John Nolte, who wrote “Hostess strikers had pension. PENSIONS! What is this 1962?” It was once taken for granted that an industrial worker who worked for a big company for many years would get a solid middle-class lifestyle, and would be taken care of in retirement. Today, that concept seems to many like a relic. Just as Wonder Bread does.
I was stunned at the unanimous blame of the situation on the union amongst facebook friends.  I can understand that some people would blame the bakery workers, since the Teamsters were willing to take the concessions to keep their jobs, but can anyone believe that management and the private equity owners don't also hold some blame.  It seems strange to me that folks who are struggling to get by are more than willing to get extremely angry at the people directly above them and below them on the wealth scale, but barely even notice the ones at the very top who are pushing this slow grind of the middle class, and who are getting even more wealthy while they do that.  Unions can be extremely problematic at times, but without them, I don't think we see a reversal of the shrinkage of the formerly large middle class.

Misheard Lyrics

Those Pesky Engineers

Participants in the 2009 seminar called on officials to seriously consider whether to install surge barriers or tide gates in New York Harbor to protect the city. Their views are contained in 300 pages of technical papers, historical studies and engineering designs from the seminar, copies of which the society provided to The New York Times.
Any effort to install such barriers would be extremely costly and take many years to carry out.
Even if the government had embraced such a proposal in 2009, it would not have been in place to prevent destruction from Tropical Storm Irene last year or Hurricane Sandy last week.
Some scientists have championed such barriers for years. But as the region struggles with the devastation after the storm, some of the engineers involved in the 2009 seminar see parallels to alarms that went unheeded before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.
“Scientists and engineers were saying years before Katrina happened, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen, folks. Stop putting your head in the sand,’ ” said Malcolm Bowman, a professor of oceanography at the State University at Stony Brook who spoke at the conference and is an editor of the proceedings.
“The same thing’s now happened here,” Professor Bowman said.
Not only have we failed to protect our infrastructure from massive storm damage potential when that potential is well known (another area to watch, the Sacramento River delta), we've failed to invest to replace the aging infrastructure itself.  While technology will bring improvements to our standard of living, I think we've hit a peak in the rate of change of that standard.  Computers will get faster and phones will get smarter, but access to clean water and reliable power and other things which we've taken for granted will not change in a positive way. Another area of change, in a bad way, will be energy costs.

Right now we are in the bubble-blowing media hype season for shale oil and gas.  What gets buried in the stories about supposed energy independence for the U.S. are the actual expense of the process, and the actual depletion rates of the producing wells.  We are setting up for a neverending cycle of more and more wells for less and less oil (and eventually, gas).  Already, we've seen that the gas price is too low for drillers to make money, so they have to cut back on drilling to get the price back up.  This boom will be good for us in the short term, as we'll be more competitive economically, but it will be a much shorter time frame than the backers suggest.  I'll fall back on my old point, we're living an unsustainable lifestyle.  Since we won't do anything about it until we have to, it's going to be a bad ending.  Party hard, because the hangover is going to hurt bad.

It Takes One To Know One

Via the Dish:

Are there people dumb enough to be watching Fox News and not realize that it is a media operation that exists solely to promote ideology?  My guess is yes, but it is hard to imagine people could be that dumb.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Canadian Corn Belt?

Climate change and relatively cheap land are bringing farmland investment money to the prairie provinces in Canada (h/t Big Picture Agriculture):
Canadian farmers in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, long one of the greatest wheat-growing regions on Earth, have started planting corn, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Nov. 12 issue. The corn zone for government crop-insurance coverage reaches to Dan Mazier’s farm near Justice, Manitoba -- about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of the U.S. border -- and ends right along a road that divides his property.
“I told them the sun shines on both sides of the road, but they haven’t caught up to the weather yet,” said Mazier, who sowed the grain for the first time this year. “So I only plant it south of the line.”
Corn’s new appeal to Canada’s prairie farmers is based on two things: climate change and price. Growing seasons in the prairie provinces -- which border Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana -- have lengthened about two weeks to as long as 120 days in the past half-century. The mean annual temperature is likely to climb by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) in the region by 2050, according to Canadian researchers.
A temperate climate and longer growing season are ideal for corn. An acre of farmland produces more corn than wheat, making corn the more profitable grain, while the higher yields also drive up land values. Corn has long grown in southern Ontario’s mild climate, but for Canadians to be big players in the crop at a new order of magnitude they must plant in the vast farmland of the prairie provinces. Farmers sowed a record 121,400 hectares (300,000 acres) of corn in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta this year. That compares with an estimated 96.9 million acres sown in the U.S.
Canada may be a good investment play for temperate weather if global warming gets too bad.  The idea of a migration of the Corn belt there has crossed my mind in the past.

Engineers And Autism

Scientific American:
In 1997 my colleague Sally Wheelwright and I conducted a study involving nearly 2,000 families in the U.K. We included about half these families because they had at least one child with autism, a developmental condition in which individuals have difficulty communicating and interacting with others and display obsessive behaviors. The other families had children with a diagnosis of Tourette's syndrome, Down syndrome or language delays but not autism. We asked parents in each family a simple question: What was their job? Many mothers had not worked outside the home, so we could not use their data, but the results from fathers were intriguing: 12.5 percent of fathers of children with autism were engineers, compared with only 5 percent of fathers of children without autism.
Likewise, 21.2 percent of grandfathers of children with autism had been engineers, compared with only 2.5 percent of grandfathers of children without autism. The pattern appeared on both sides of the family. Women who had a child with autism were more likely to have a father who had been an engineer—and they were more likely to have married someone whose father had been an engineer.
This doesn't really surprise me a whole lot.  I've pondered along similar lines previously.  Plus, I would guess a lot of folks with Asperger's are engineers or folks with other technical or scientific careers.

In Which I Agree With Some Republicans

  In a summary of a report due for release on Thursday morning, Rep. Randy Neugebauer of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations said Corzine "dramatically changed MF Global's business model without fully understanding the risks associated with such a radical transformation."
The Republican-led subcommittee didn't directly address whether laws were broken at MF Global, but provided sharp criticism of Corzine's management. Mike Capuano, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, said that while he agreed with a number of the report's observations, he was not signing onto it because of insufficient time for review. He and other Democrats will instead submit an addendum to the majority's findings.
Corzine, a former Democratic senator and New Jersey governor who made his fortune as the head of Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), was called before lawmakers several times in the aftermath of MF Global's collapse last year. His spokesman, Steven Goldberg, disputed a number of assertions in the subcommittee's report, saying Wednesday that Corzine "acted in good faith and did what he believed was necessary to turn around MF Global."
MF Global failed after its disclosure of billions of dollars worth of bets on risky European debt sparked a panic among investors. The firm was left scrambling for cash to make good on its obligations and ended up tapping customer funds, failing to replace them in violation of industry rules and leaving a shortfall of $1.6 billion.
Many of the roughly 38,000 customers left in the lurch were individual investors and farmers who used futures contracts to hedge against price fluctuations for their crops. Customers who traded on U.S. exchanges have since received roughly 80% of their money back, though customers trading on foreign exchanges have just 5%, according to the court-appointed trustee tasked with recovering the funds.
Some folks should be going to jail in this case, and Corzine should be the first one there.  Democrat or Republican aside, charges should be filed.

American Tintype

American Tintype from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.

That is pretty neat, but it reminds me of this guy:

King of the Hill

Belated congratulations to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on his Cy Young Award win:
Dickey, who went 20-6, received 27-of-32 first-place votes and 209 overall points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw finished second with two first-place votes and 96 points, followed by Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who received one first-place vote and 93 points.
"Clayton and Gio were both just supernatural in the way that they perform," Dickey told MLB Network. "I've had to hit against them both, and it is ridiculous trying to pick up the ball on those guys. They gave everybody fits. Just being mentioned in the same breath as those guys is an honor.
"But for me, this is an honor to be shared. It's a great honor, and I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination. There have been countless people who have poured into me in a way that has changed my life -- not only on the field, but off."
Dickey congratulated AL Cy Young winner David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays on Twitter: "What a great night. Congrats to David price. A good friend and fantastic competitor."
He's a class act and a fascinating guy.  

The Anticipation of Biden

I'm not the only person looking forward to the most entertaining VP in history's appearance on "Parks and Recreation."  Based on her answer to a mailbag question, Katie Baker is stoked, too:

As you continue to amass a tremendous amount of life experiences, which of the following would help you work toward "jumping the shark"?
1. A dinner/interview with Joe Biden at House of Nanking in SF Chinatown?
2. Being in the locker room an hour after the Rangers win their next Cup being drowned in Champagne by Hank and Torts?
3. Skiing with Matt Lauer during a "where in the world is Matt Lauer" segment from the Swiss Alps?
4. Being in studio for the first show of the inevitable Mike and the Mad Dog reunion within the next year?
5. Being named Editor of the NYTimes Wedding section.
— Tony Z.
I feel like I'm back in middle school, with no idea whether I'm being savagely mocked or in on the joke. This is either the cruelest e-mail I've ever gotten, or the nicest. No. 1 would be the ultimate (so excited for this, though also irrationally jealous); (2) would be most likely to permanently compromise my professional integrity; (3) I'd rather sub in Phil Mushnick or Larry David, but yes; (4) sounds great in theory but in practice I'd be happiest listening to that mythical reunion while stuck in traffic on 95; and (5) seems to me more like a punishment. Imagine all the torturous phone calls from wronged society mothers you'd have to endure.
I'd add (6): sitting between Hillary Clinton and Martha Stewart in Knicks celebrity row during Game 7 of a Knicks-D'Antoni NBA Finals. No matter how the score ended up, the big winner would be me.
She also highlighted her friend's imaginary Diamond Joe Biden Spotify playlist.

Manufacturing Failure

Building 4 is Ford’s Tough Testing Center, where the company evaluates nearly all of its nonengine parts, from seat belts to axle assemblies. The facility is a monument to a dark truth of manufacturing: Even the best-engineered products fail. Some percentage of all mechanical devices will break before they’re expected to. “Companies come to me and say they want to be 100 percent failure-free after three years,” says Fred Schenkelberg, whose firm, FMS Reliability, estimates the lifespan of products. “But that’s impossible. You can’t do it.”
Consider a few recent examples. In 2009, Mohawk Industries—one of the largest makers of carpeting in the country—was forced to discontinue an entire line of carpet tiles when the tiles failed unexpectedly, costing the company millions. In 2010, Johnson & Johnson had to recall 93,000 artificial hips after their metal joints started failing—inside patients. In 2011, Southwest Airlines grounded 79 planes after one of its Boeing 737s tore open in midflight. And just this past summer, GE issued a recall of 1.3 million dishwashers due to a defective heating element that could cause fires. Unexpected failure happens to everything, and so every manufacturer lives with some amount of risk: the risk of recalls, the risk of outsize warranty claims, the risk that a misbehaving product could hurt or kill a customer.
This is why the sprawling hangar-size rooms of Ford’s Building 4 are full of machines. Machines that open and close doors, robots that rub padded appendages on seats, treadmills that spin tires until they erupt in a cloud of white smoke. There’s even a giant bay where an entire Ford pickup is held up in the air by pistons that violently shake the vehicle by its suspension. Officially, Building 4 is about reliability, but it’s actually more about inevitability. Ford isn’t trying to ensure the gas-pedal hinge will never break. The company knows it will break; its engineers are trying to understand when—and how and why—this will happen.
I know one thing.  Ford was really cheapening up parts back in 1996.  My '96 Taurus oil pump went out and blew up the engine.  When my neighbor looked around salvage yards for a new engine, nobody had any, because most of them had oil pumps go out and destroy the engines.  Also, my '96 F-250 has a plastic slave cylinder in the transmission housing which has failed 3 different times, even though the truck has less than 60,000 miles on it.

The company I work for has a lot of over-engineered products from back in the days when they could afford to do such things.  Now it makes it very hard for us to be competitive and profitable. Value engineering is a challenging proposition.  How do you make things cheaper without bumping up the failure rate and losing customer faith in your product?  Going forward, we are going to have to strike that balance.

More Election Analysis

First, Jeff Greenfield puts the Republicans' plight in perspective by reminding us of the Democrats in 1988:
Consider where the Democrats found themselves that November. They had just lost their third straight presidential election, and not to the formidable Ronald Reagan, but to George Herbert Walker Bush, a WASP aristocrat prone to sitting down at a diner and asking for “a splash of coffee.” They’d lost by more than seven points in the popular vote, and by 416-111 in the Electoral College, winning only 10 states.

The most enduring element of their geographic base had vanished. The once-solid Democratic South was now solidly Republican and, for the second straight election, their candidate had not won a single state in the region.

But that was only the start of the wretched geographic picture. Four of the six New England states had gone Republican, and the Plains and the Mountain West were all in the GOP camp. Most daunting, three big states—New Jersey, Illinois and California, with 87 combined electoral votes—had gone Republican for the sixth consecutive election. The weakness of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis could not explain away a recent political fact: The Republican Party appeared to have “an electoral lock” on the White House.
It is hard to imagine New Jersey, Illinois and California going to the Republicans for six straight elections.  You just forget some things over time.

Also,  Emily Badger highlights why the cities go so heavily Democrat, featuring this map by Chris Howard:

It is an overlay of election results with census population density data.  As she points out, Republicans have a terrible time appealing to city residents:
As the Republican Party has moved further to the right, it has increasingly become the party of fierce individualism, of "I built that" and you take care of yourself. Cities, on the other hand, are fundamentally about the shared commons. If you live in a city and you think government – and other people – should stay out of your life, how will you get to work in the morning? Who will police your neighborhood? Where will you find a public park when your building has no back yard?
In a good piece on the GOP’s problem with geography earlier this week, The New Republic’s Lydia DePillis interviewed Princeton Historian Kevin Kruse, who made this point succinctly: "There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good," he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially."
The real urban challenge for conservatives going forward will be to pull back from an ideology that leaves little room for the concept of "public good," and that treats all public spending as if it were equally wasteful. Cities do demand, by definition, a greater role for government than a small rural town on the prairie. But the return on investment can also be much higher (in jobs created through transportation spending, in the number of citizens touched by public expenditures, in patents per capita, in the sheer share of economic growth driven by our metropolises).
Density makes all of these things possible, and it requires its own kind of politics. There’s no reason why the Democratic Party should have an exclusive lock on this idea. Investing government money efficiently – as Republicans want to do – is also about focusing on how it’s spent in cities. While Republicans are mulling this over in the next four years, it may help to look at Howard’s map. What is going on in those dark blue dots? What does it mean to live in those places – and to live there and hear from politicians that “government should get out of the way?”
That has generally been what I've been getting at when I say that population density sways voting patterns.  The Republican message is focused on rural areas to the detriment of cities, and it is no wonder why they are getting their asses kicked there.  They have purposely chosen groups that are shrinking and ignored groups that are growing.  That just isn't wise.

One other thing I thought was interesting from that article was her pointing out the 98th meridian on the map:
 Howard’s map underscores that the massive red block of the Great Plains actually has little political weight at all (curiously, electoral influence appears to dry up along with the rainfall abruptly west of the 98th meridian that commonly defines the Great Plains). Electoral power instead is concentrated in those blue-black patches, one of which strings all the way from southern Connecticut to Washington, D.C.
I used to hear about the 20 inch rainfall line, but it looks like the 98th meridian is a little closer to the population break.  People need the rain to live. (With the exception of California and Arizona, where they dry up the rivers).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Origin Of The Subway Alumni

Charles Pierce highlights the roots of the Notre Dame fan base everybody else loves to hate:
The old ones have mostly passed now, the immigrant fathers and mothers, and uncles and aunts, and grandparents who came over in the great waves from Europe, many of them fleeing failed revolutions of their own, except for the Irish, who were fleeing not only failed revolutions, but famine as well. They came here, Catholics many of them, and they built their own parishes in the images of the villages they'd all left behind. (My grandfather and grandmother grew up two miles from each other in North Kerry, but didn't meet until their villages reconstituted themselves as St. Peter Parish in south Worcester, Massachusetts.) And all of the parishes built schools, and then the demand grew so great that the great Catholic universities were built, and they became the dream palaces that the old ones built for their children and their children's children. That was how Holy Cross functioned in Worcester, and Boston College in Boston, and Fordham in New York, and Marquette in Milwaukee. But these were largely regional franchises. The home office was in northern Indiana.
That is why the Rockne movie is the real movie and why the dinner-table scene is the real scene. Because, for so many of the old ones, and their children and grandchildren, whether they went there or not, Notre Dame stood for the education they'd made central to their purchase on a place in their new country. And the football team represented the same kind of purchase on the life of their new country that DiMaggio did for the Italian immigrants in San Francisco and New York and, much later — and with much more blood and tragedy — what Jackie Robinson meant to those folks who came to the northern cities from the rural South, and found themselves in a land no less alien than that which confronted the European immigrants as they stepped onto the docks.
Don't talk Norwegian, talk American. We're all Americans now.
He's tired of the Fighting Irish.  I don't think he's alone.

The Southern Strategy

Never forget:

It worked for a while, but demographics screwed them in the end.

Wendell Berry's 50 Year Farm Bill

At The Atlantic:
I have described the need for a farm bill that makes sense of and for agriculture -- not the fiscal and political sense of agriculture, as in the customary five-year farm bills, but the ecological sense without which agricultural sense cannot be made, and without which agriculture cannot be made sustainable.
"A 50-Year Farm Bill," which has been in circulation now for more than three years, is a proposal by The Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, with the concurrence of numerous allied groups and individuals. This bill addresses the most urgent problems of our dominant way of agriculture: soil erosion, toxic pollution of soil and water, loss of biodiversity, the destruction of farming communities and cultures. It addresses these problems by invoking nature's primary law, in default of which her other laws are of no avail: Keep the ground covered, and keep it covered whenever possible with perennial plants.
At present, 80 percent of our farmable acreage is planted in annual crops, only 20 percent having the beneficent coverage of perennials. This, by the standard of any healthy ecosystem, is absurdly disproportionate. Annual plants are nature's emergency medical service, seeded in sounds and scars to hold the land until the perennial cover is re-established. By this rule, our present agriculture, which gives 80 percent of our farmland to annuals, is in a state of emergency.
You can't run a landscape, any more than you can run your life, indefinitely in a state of emergency. To live your life, to live in your place, you have got to bring about a settlement that does not involve you continuously in worry, loss, and grief. And so "A 50-Year Farm Bill" proposes a 50-year schedule by which the present ratio of 80 percent annual to 20 percent perennial would be exactly reversed. The ratio then would be 20 percent annual to 80 percent perennial. And perhaps I need to say plainly here that the perennial crops would be forages and grains. Nobody at present is talking about the possibility of breeding and raising perennial table vegetables, though they should.
By reversing this ratio, reducing annual plowing by four-fifths, and making it possible to plow in any year only the least vulnerable land, soil erosion would be radically reduced. So would chemical pollution, because perennials grown in mixtures such as grasses with legumes, as they are in most pastures and many hayfields, are more self-sustaining and less chemical-dependent than annual monocultures.
I'm sure he realizes he better not hold his breath for that to kick into place.  However, lots of folks are looking at winter cover crops and other "alternative" practices, so maybe things will start moving his direction faster than I think.  I doubt it, though.  Potential oil scarcity (despite the claims of shale oil enthusiasts) will probably be what pushes change in agriculture.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Polling With An Attitude

PPP asks some poll questions that generally don't get asked:
PPP poll
There are some other entertaining ones in there.

This Sounds Familiar

Bloomberg looks at the Panic of 1893:
Outgoing President Benjamin Harrison and his men had presided over what they dubbed a “businessman’s administration.” The nation’s industrial giants ran their corporations without the nuisance of foreign competition, thanks to a high tariff wall the Republicans had maintained since 1861. Safe behind this wall, men like Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller could carve up markets and charge whatever prices they wanted. When workers and farmers complained that high prices were ruining them, the Republican Congress responded in 1890 by raising rates even higher. The Harrison administration had been “beyond question the best businessman’s administration the country has ever seen,” the members of one Republican business association insisted.
Farmers and workers agreed, and they turned away from the Republican Party. In 1892, voters re-elected Democrat Grover Cleveland (who had already served a term as president from 1885 to 1889) to the White House on a promise to reform the tariff that protected big business. They also elected a Democratic Congress.
Republicans were outraged. The Democrats would destroy the economy, they predicted. Their policies would throw people out of work. The unemployed would starve in the streets. But, the staunchly Republican Chicago Tribune mused, “perhaps the working classes of the country need such a lesson.”
Businessmen set out to teach it to them. Although economic indicators remained steady, Republicans trumpeted that businessmen feared a coming catastrophe. The Democrats had only won with the votes of “socialists and anarchists,” Republican Senator Henry Teller of Colorado railed. Such men would deliberately create rampant inflation to wipe out their debts. Or they might slice away the tariffs altogether, throwing industry into a global market where foreign competition would instantly undercut it. Businesses would fail overnight. Newspapers warned investors to avoid stocks, which could only plummet under the new administration.
Have businessmen always been whiners? Businesses are raking in record profits, but you'd think Stalin was at the gates.  It really gets tiring.  However, just like in 2010, voters reward assholes who make things worse.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

November 8:

Arp 188 and the Tadpole's Tail
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing - Bill Snyder (Heavens Mirror Observatory)
Explanation: In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Draco. Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 - from right to left in this view - and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy's stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail's star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy.

Buffalo And The Bills

Both team and town have been through very hard times:
Consider the team's first Super Bowl defeat, against the Giants in January 1991. In the AFC championship game the week before, the Bills, with their explosive no-huddle offense, had overwhelmed the Raiders, 51-3, sparking a week of unrelenting partying in Western New York. As a city, Buffalo had pretty much hit bottom in the preceding years. Bethlehem Steel, Westinghouse Electric, and Trico, the world's largest maker of windshield wipers, were among many companies to shut down production in the area in the 1980s. One of the city's two daily papers, the Courier-Express, ceased operations. The population had fallen from a peak of 600,000 to about 300,000, and has since dropped to 260,000. The city could hardly even boast anymore of being a working-class, blue-collar town, since for the first time in its existence more people held low-wage trade and service-sector jobs than worked in manufacturing. Buffalo had once roamed among the world's industrial powerhouses, owning one of the nation's largest economies. In 1901 it hosted the Pan-American Exposition and a World's Fair, and, yeah, President William McKinley was assassinated there, but many of the monuments remained. Frederick Law Olmsted himself had traveled up to Buffalo to design the city's parks and interconnected parkways. Because Buffalo had fallen so far, it clung all the more to its football team — a last vestige of its former prominence as a "major league" town. At least for 16 games a year, the city remained part of a national conversation. And then there suddenly was a chance again to be on top. The Bills offered a possibility of redemption.
In the Super Bowl, the Bills were down 19-20 to the Giants with eight seconds left when the team's kicker, Scott Norwood, lined up a 47-yard field goal. He missed, of course, and the phrase "wide right" instantly turned into a mantra, a declaration of the city's decay. I heard natives refer to it as "our Cuyahoga moment," a reference to the burning river that came to symbolize the demise of Cleveland, another Rust Belt catastrophe. In Buffalo '66, Vincent Gallo's comically grim 1998 film about the grotesques of his hometown, the sallow-eyed Gallo plays Billy Brown, who bet $10,000 on the Bills to win the Super Bowl. After a prison stint he serves to pay off his debt, Billy returns home to kill "Scott Wood," the field goal kicker who ruined his life. First, though, he visits his parents, Bills zombies who have plastered every square foot of their bungalow with team paraphernalia. Asked to bring out pictures of little Billy, his mom returns with a photo album filled only with images of Jack Kemp, O. J. Simpson, and other players. At one point Mickey Rourke's gangster tells Billy, "If Buffalo ever makes it back to the Super Bowl, bet against them. Now get the fuck out of my sight." 
Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit all share a similar fate, except the Steelers have managed to win football games.  The article goes on to highlight the Bills fans' greatest fear, that the team will leave, like the jobs and the young people.

Harvest Is Complete

We got the double crop beans run, and my field made 19 bushel per acre.  I'm pretty satisfied with that.  It really beats what I expected when I planted them, since I figured buying extra seed to sow the whole field was one of my more foolish expenditures of money.  Overall, we ended up with corn yielding near 60 percent of average and beans yielding around 80 percent.  Not too bad for a season with such a long, dry, hot summer.  With the higher prices and a likely crop insurance claim on the corn, we'll end up not too bad.

Park Avenue

Alex Gibney has produced a documentary which looks at the residents of one of the most exclusive apartment buildings in Manhattan and desperately poor folks in the South Bronx.  One of the interesting tidbits he gives is this:
When you make that much money, somehow you believe that it’s due entirely to your mental acumen—that it’s got nothing to do with anything else. If anybody suggests that you should pay slightly more taxes, or help out in some fundamental way to make the country a better place, you’re so thin-skinned that you believe that you’re being attacked personally—that you’re a victim.

This guy Paul Pitts did this really interesting experiment with the game of Monopoly. He would have two people come in, and he’d flip a coin, and the person who lost would get a thousand bucks, a hundred dollars every time they passed Go, and one die. The person who won got $2,000, $200 every time they passed Go, and two dice. Inevitably, that person wins. But what the experiment shows is—despite the fact that both players know the game is rigged—the person who inevitably wins imagines that they’re winning due not to some kind of circumstance—not luck—but it’s due only to their skill and intelligence.

There are certain markers in the game. He puts a big bowl of pretzels on the table and puts it equidistant from both players. We discovered that as the winning player starts to win, they inevitably pull the bowl of pretzels toward them and they start to eat more and more of the pretzels. It’s crazy. So what you see is that wealth in and of itself has a kind of corrupting influence on the human psyche. The idea that Stephen Schwarzman could ever compare paying more taxes to Hitler’s invasion of Poland is such a staggering mismatch of circumstance, you can’t even begin to imagine! He later apologized for that, but where does that even come from?
That kind of stuff is very interesting to me.  We seem to be programmed to react to our circumstances in certain ways.  Besides how wealth affects people, I think scarcity leads people to destructive behaviors they can barely understand or control.

Is Lack of Innovation Our Impediment To Growth?

Jeff Reeves makes that case, via Ritholtz:
It’s cause and effect — a lack of business spending means a lack of jobs and a lack of consumer power. And most economists and politicians would assert that the cycle works both ways.
But theoretically, shouldn’t the reverse also be true — that consumers spending more will enrich businesses, who continue to grow and hire and spend? What happens when corporations break the deal; when consumers spend but businesses don’t?
That might be part of the problem we are seeing right now.
After all, businesses have some $1.9 trillion in the bank just sitting idle — or if you want to get creative with accounting, perhaps as much as $5 trillion in cashcounting other assets and overseas money.
After all, CEOs are darkly pessimistic while consumers are upbeat.
After all, America is stuck in seeking “efficiency” through cutting and not “empowerment” through big ideas, as a New York Times column puts it.
As to how we break this cycle and enrich both sides instead of just one … that’s anybody’s guess.
So if you’re a consumer wondering about the best investments right now, it might be worth looking inwardly instead. There’s a decided lack of innovation and opportunity in corporate America right now, so invest in yourself — start your own business, or noodle away on what could be the world’s next big idea.
Business has been extremely resistant to expanding payrolls, and that has caused a lot of our "uncertainty."  Somehow, employees need to get a greater share of the fruits of their labor in order to sustain growth.  Instead workers are working more hours for pretty much the same pay, leaving the gains in productivity in the hands of the businesses, where it isn't getting reinvested.  It's a painful setup, but a good partial explanation of our lack of growth.  Businesses haven't exactly been the risk takers they see themselves as.

Booze In The White House

Clay Risen gives a short history of Presidents and their drink of choice:
If anything, Obama cuts against the tradition of chief-executive drinking by choosing beer as his relaxant of choice. Most presidents have kept whiskey on hand. George Washington was one of the biggest rye producers on the East Coast. Andrew Johnson, who occupied the White House between Lincoln and Grant, was drunk on whiskey pretty much his entire time in the executive branch. He took the oath of office as Lincoln’s vice president after a morning curled up with a bottle—“medicinal” whiskey, he said, for a cold. Six weeks later, hours after his boss was assassinated, Johnson was found in the second half of an epic bender, and had to be sobered up to take the oath of office as president.
If you think about Warren G. Harding—and really, do you ever think about Warren G. Harding?—you probably think of the Teapot Dome scandal. What you don’t think of was his love of whiskey. Though hardly an Andrew Johnson, Harding, president at the dawn of Prohibition, was a well-known imbiber. He had a well-stocked wine cellar, which his wife made him sell off before he took office. Still, the man knew how to party. Harding “sometimes acted more like a frat boy than a president,” wrote Don Van Natta Jr. in the New York Times a few years ago. He loved to drink, especially when involved in important executive functions, like golf. “He placed a wager on every swing, and despite Prohibition, he sipped cocktails as he played. When his on-course drinking caused an uproar, he switched to a private club where black-jacketed butlers served Scotch-and-sodas from silver trays.” And let’s not forget Ike. While still in uniform, over in Europe, he had a constant supply of bourbon shipped to his staff quarters. Eisenhower was hardly a souse. But he embodied the moment—an after-work whiskey was part of the postwar DNA, and if DDE did nothing else for the country, he set the tone for what Americans could and should slide down their throats.
I prefer that we elected the beer drinker-in-chief as opposed to his teetotaling opponent.