Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ohio State-Kansas Preview

From Club Trillion:
Ohio State's narrow victory over Winthrop on Tuesday night — a game in which the Buckeyes were favored by 28 points — probably raised a lot of questions. What the heck happened to Ohio State? How can they be the seventh-best team in the country if they barely beat Winthrop? As a former Ohio State benchwarmer, perhaps I can shed some light on why they played so poorly.
You see, the thing that sets Ohio State's basketball program apart from every other program in the country is that we strive for greatness in the classroom. Academics have always and will always be a top priority for Thad Matta, which is why we never practiced for more than 30 minutes on any given day during finals week.
"I want you guys going home and hitting the books hard," Coach would always say. "I don't want you thinking about our next game. I want you thinking about how you're going to ace your finals. In fact, I don't even want you to know who we're playing until the game tips off."
"But, Coach," I'd cut in. "Do we have to get all A-pluses on our finals? What if I get an A-minus in my advanced molecular biomechanical physics engineering calculus science final? Even though I tutor everyone in the class because I'm obviously the smartest, I'm afraid I might miss a question or two. That class is pretty tough."
"I think you've mistaken me for someone who gives a damn," he'd snap back. "For every A-plus you don't get, you're running 10 miles. That goes for everyone on this team."
I trust you now understand why Ohio State played poorly against Winthrop. Clearly, the Buckeyes were hitting the books hard all week and Winthrop was an afterthought. I've always tried to tell Coach Matta to lighten up and let the players focus more on basketball, but he never listened. Oh well. I guess it's comforting to know that there's at least one program in the country that cares about its players graduating.
Oh, and by the way, everything in this section is complete bullshit. It's just my way of trying to explain how Ohio State could look like complete ass four days before the biggest game of the season thus far (against Kansas on Saturday). Is it too late to postpone the game? I heard it might get humid in Columbus this weekend, and I'd hate for there to be condensation on the court. Safety first.
I'm sure he's right about the academics first, even if he covers up by calling bullshit on himself.  Nothing says academic excellence like Ohio State athletics.

Police State Watch

The Guardian:
In February of this year, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, with its provision to deploy fleets of drones domestically. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that this followed a major lobbying effort, "a huge push by […] the defense sector" to promote the use of drones in American skies: 30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won't necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
Others will be as big as passenger planes. Business-friendly media stress their planned abundant use by corporations: police in Seattle have already deployed them.
An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS (pdf) news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step – one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy. (The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)
The air force document explains that the air force will be overseeing the deployment of its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the US; that it may keep video and other data it collects with these drones for 90 days without a warrant – and will then, retroactively, determine if the material can be retained – which does away for good with the fourth amendment in these cases. While the drones are not supposed to specifically "conduct non-consensual surveillance on on specifically identified US persons", according to the document, the wording allows for domestic military surveillance of non-"specifically identified" people (that is, a group of activists or protesters) and it comes with the important caveat, also seemingly wholly unconstitutional, that it may not target individuals "unless expressly approved by the secretary of Defense".
In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way, say, to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not "specifically identified", a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.
What was that about the military-industrial complex, again?  I wonder how often Chuck Hagel or whoever else will use that approval authority.  I wonder if former CIA chief Leon Panetta already has.  It is a number of years late for us to end the "War on Terrorism", aka the war on civil liberties.  As the Romney voters said, "I want my country back."

Welcoming Newcomers

Weekend Edition Saturday:
That kind of response is exactly why the city launched Welcome Dayton last year — a strategy to help immigrants ease into American life. City Manager Tim Riordan credits two reasons for the adopted framework: It was the right thing to do, he says, and immigrants were needed to help restore the battered city's economy.
"I saw immigrants doing things in the neighborhoods," Riordan says. "They were buying really inexpensive houses and fixing them up. I heard stories from hardware owners where the immigrants would come and buy one window at a time to fix up their house as they got money."

Riordan says changing Dayton's culture is an investment in the city. One section of the city, for example, is now entirely designated as an immigrant business zone, and police can check immigration statuses only when suspicious of a serious crime.
Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, says the relationship between cities and immigrants is certainly evolving.
"What's good about the Dayton program is the way that leaders in those communities talk about immigrants and talk about them as a positive force and contributing," she says.
In fact, a Brookings study finds that immigrants are 30 percent more likely to form new businesses than U.S.-born citizens, which is good news for a city like Dayton, which has been bleeding jobs and population for decades.
One of the most worrisome signs for me that the Ohio economy was struggling mightily back in the middle of the last decade was that we weren't drawing immigrant labor like many other, more vital places.  Being more friendly to immigrants has to help our economy.  As the city manager says, immigrants invest in the community and start businesses.  They are extremely beneficial. I'll take Dayton's approach over Alabama's any day.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I Think We're Going To Make It

What Will The Fiscal Cliff Cost?

WaPo, via Ritholtz:

Has the Republican Party Finally Jumped the Shark?

Ok, after the train wreck that was the 2012 election (especially the GOP primary), I really thought the "deep thinkers" in the Republican Party might finally prove me wrong and send the nut jobs to the back of the short bus and drag the circus of conservative politics back to the real world.  Based on the last 36 hours, I guess they won't yet.  First we had the loony tunes castrate Boehner and destroy their negotiating position just to prove their purity, then we had Wayne LaPierre say we need to pay good guys with guns to fight bad guys with guns.  I don't really think that's what people outside of the conservative bubble were looking for.  It is way past time for conservatives to turn off Fox News and actually talk to people they disagree with.  They are so far away from the mainstream of society that something has to give.  Otherwise, they risk becoming a total object of ridicule.

What Holds Up The Robot Takeover?

Mechanical limitations:
The two biggest challenges to making general-purposes robots are, as they always have been, hardware and software. Neither challenge is insuperable, but both are harder than one might think. On the hardware side, there are now lots of robots that can do incredibly cool things. One robot runs faster than the fastest human, another dances Gangnam style. Still another, PR2, folds towels and fetches beer. The catch is that, at the moment, each new robot is like a proof of concept. The ones that are fast and physically powerful, like AlphaDog, a quadruped robot, and the headless but amazing PETMAN, are, for now, still dependent on hydraulic actuators powered by industrial-strength pumps and gasoline engines; they work fine in a laboratory-test environment, but you wouldn’t want one roaming around your home. Others, like Baxter and PR2, are capable of fairly sophisticated movements, but at speeds that are still too slow to be practical around the home. It might take five minutes just for PR2 to grab you a beer. Computer processors keep getting faster and faster—roughly doubling every eighteen months, the rate predicted by the so-called Moore’s Law—and memory gets cheaper and cheaper. But the motors and actuators that move robots aren’t improving nearly as fast. (Battery technology, too, is key, moving quickly, but not quite keeping pace with Moore). In the words of Erico Guizzo, the robotics editor at the IEEE Spectrum, “Lots of people have been working on humanoid robots for decades, but the electric motors needed to drive a robot’s legs and arms are too big, heavy, and slow. Today’s most advanced humanoid robots are still big hulking pieces of metal that are unsafe to operate around people.”
That lets me breathe a little easier.  However, I'm disappointed it will take 5 minutes for the robot to fetch my beer.

Limits To The Shale Oil/Gas Boom

 Graph at Econbrowser.

Chris Martenson: You mentioned earlier that you thought the shale boom was being oversold. What are your thoughts on America’s oil and gas boom?
Chris Martenson: Well, this is really important. The current story is something along these lines: “Hey, look at how clever we’ve been. Because of the magic of technology, we have discovered how to unlock these incredible oil and gas resources that we just didn’t even know about before.”
When I talk to people who are in the oil business, they say, “Oh, no, no, we’ve known about those shale deposits, we’ve been drilling into and through them for decades. We’ve had horizontal drilling for decades; we’ve had fracking for decades. What we haven’t had is $80-a-barrel oil reliably enough to support us going into those with those technologies.”
So what really unlocked those reserves was price. Not technology, not cleverness, not ingenuity. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of very clever, ingenious stuff going on in those drilling actions, but price was the primary driver here.
Here’s the thing, though: When more expensive energy comes out of the ground, it means that everything that you use to go get that energy, after a lag, becomes more expensive too. This is doubly compounded by this idea that there’s less net energy coming from these finds.
They use more energy to get that energy, but that more energy is more expensive. So that feedback loop is already in play here. It simply means that there’s less to be used as we like elsewhere in the economy.
When I look at America’s apparent energy abundance, I’m a little worried that it’s been oversold. In particular, the dynamics of depletion that exist in both the tight shale oil and shale gas plays are very different from conventional reservoir depletion dynamics. I’m concerned that people are accustomed to the old and relatively slow reservoir depletion dynamics and are lulled by the sharp increases in output that these new reservoirs offer without really understanding just how rapidly they fall off as well.
Here’s an example, in the Barnett shale gas play, in one region where they drilled 9,000 wells, there was just this exponential increase in gas output. But then there was no more room for any more wells in that section, and within one single year the gas output from that region with all of those beautiful, technologically marvelous 9,000wells had fallen by 44%. One year!
Talk about punching a lot of wells:

  I'll go out on a limb and say this shale boom is way overhyped.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Unseriousness of the GOP

This may make sense in Bizarro World, but I don't think it does anywhere else:
But a closer look at the tax impacts of Plan B shows that while it raises taxes on most million-plus earners, it also raises takes for many low-income earners.
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that the average taxpayer earning $1 million or more in cash income would see their taxes go up by an average of $72,000. A small number of those million-plus earners will see a tax cut, due to an anomaly in the Alternative Minimum Tax.
But lower income earners will also see a tax hike. People making between $10,000 to $20,000 will see their taxes go up by an average of $262. People making $20,000 to $30,000 will see their taxes go up by $219. (Read more: How Much Would Taxing the Rich Raise?)
Granted, those are minor increases. But drilling down deeper, you find that some of those low-income earners could see a sizable increase. One in five of Americans who earn less than $20,000 a year will see an increase of $1,070 -- a sizeable amount for low-income earners.
In fact, the only taxpayers who will get an overall tax cut under Plan B are those who earn between $200,000 and $1 million. People making between $200,000 and $500,000 will see an average tax cut of $301. Those making between $500,000 and $1 million will see their taxes go down by $164.
The reason is that Plan B has two parts - raising taxes on high earners and eliminating deductions for low earners. The plan raises the tax rate for those making $1 million or more to 39.6 percent from its current rate of 35 percent. It would also raise the capital gains and dividend tax rates for those earners to 20 percent from 15 percent.  Yet Plan B also eliminates many of the Obama-led tax credits that largely benefit low-income earners, including the 2009 enhancements to the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and others. Repealing these credits hurts families with children the hardest, according the Tax Policy Center.
What a bunch of mendacious assholes.  What the fuck is with the $200,000 to $1,000,000 per year bracket getting a fucking tax cut?  The crazy thing is that this still isn't good enough for the morons like Jim Jordan.  I guarantee he will vote against any plan put forward, because he is the most useless public servant in history.

Is The End Near?

Hopefully the world doesn't look like this tomorrow:

Barely Getting By

Reuters features stories of income inequality:
The number of Americans below the federal poverty level - $22,350 a year for a family of four - hit 48 million in 2011, 17 million more than in 1989. Indiana has seen the second-largest increase in poverty of any state in that time, according to a Reuters analysis of Census data. Sixteen percent of the Hoosier State was poor in 2011, up from 11 percent.
The prime reason for the latest surge in the number of poor people has been the weak economy, not a stingy government. Antipoverty spending has actually increased overall.
Nationally, the federal government put a record $506 billion last year into its five major means-tested programs for low-income, able-bodied Americans. Outlays on these programs - food stamps, Medicaid, cash welfare, housing assistance and tax credits - were up more than triple since 1989, adjusted for inflation. The 50 states spend tens of billions more.
For able-bodied adults, there is limited help in lean times.
If it weren’t for such assistance, the poverty rate would be much worse. Some economists say the rate is somewhat overstated, too, because it doesn’t count non-cash aid such as food vouchers.
The whole series is worth checking out.  The story about how much of the federal spending ends up going to those at the top is pretty interesting.

Mystery Animal On The Loose In Kentucky

From last week on WAVE (h/t the Awl):
A community of farmers in Shelby County have been terrorized over the past few weeks by a mystery animal.
The creature has been attacking, but not eating, livestock such as goats and calves.
Kevin Cox, a farmer in the area, had already had one animal fall victim to an attack and he said his dogs alerted him of a second, "I heard the goat the dogs going off and I ran out there and I looked and saw the goat laying on the ground."
His goat, Polka-dot, is now missing all of one ear and almost lost both of them.
Cox explained, "I noticed my whole steer bull looking a little different. It was covered in blood. Then my other two bulls come up and they had their ears all chewed up."
Cox is one of a handful of farmers along Ditto Road in Waddy whose animals have been mysteriously attacked. Another farmer had to put down five goats because the injuries were so severe.
Most of the attacks have come at night.
One woman told County officials she and her daughter were briefly followed by an animal that made a sound she called "indescribable."
County officials are investigating and they have recruited the help of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department. Thursday, crews searched the woods and set traps in hopes of finding  the cause of the attacks.
Meanwhile, Cox said he's doing all he can to protect his animals, "We're trying to find out what it is. I don't know if we ever will."
Maybe some kind of big cat?

Auditor's Report on Bailey Bros. Building and Loan

Let us be blunt. “Uncle Billy,” as Mr. Bailey is known, exhibits clear symptoms of early stage dementia. And while we are sympathetic, his involvement in key operational activities amounts to a threat to survival of this institution. Indeed, it came to our attention that on Dec. 24 of last year Mr. Bailey failed to make a crucial deposit of $8,000 after misplacing the funds. The shortfall nearly resulted in the collapse of the Building & Loan, which was only averted after the wife of Building & Loan President George Bailey, Mary Bailey, undertook an unauthorized, inappropriate and potentially unlawful effort to raise additional capital from shareholders and others, via a frantic Christmas Eve solicitation that apparently consisted of going door-to-door with a large basket.
The missing $8,000 was never accounted for.
During our investigations, we also determined that the episode on Dec. 24 was not the first time the Building & Loan tottered on the brink. Soon after George Bailey assumed control, a run nearly brought down the firm, as the financial panic engulfed the country during the early 1930s.
Mr. Bailey (George) was able to keep the firm afloat but only thanks to the irresponsible and unsound financial practices that have unfortunately became a hallmark of the Building & Loan during his tenure. Our audit unearthed widespread examples of such practices including, but not limited to, co-mingling of personal and institution funds, lax financial record management, sexual harassment, more consumption of alcohol — incredibly — in the course of investment decision making, and the forced involvement of subordinates in spontaneous, silly, mini-parades.
Mr. Bailey’s personal life also raises significant questions about his fitness to continue on as president of the firm. He has been known to consort not only with town floozies but, perhaps even more troublingly, Italians.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chart of the Day

WSJ, via Ritholtz:

Bush and the Great Recession.  No surprise there.

More On Kansas City Meatpacking

 FILE: Cattle from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas were processed through the then-massive stockyards, 1938.

Read more here:

Kansas City Star:
By century’s end, the then-Big Five meatpackers — Armour, Swift, Schwarzchild & Sulzberger, Cudahy and, soon, Wilson — were the biggest employers in the biggest U.S. city between St. Louis and San Francisco.
Travel writer Emma Gage from Maryland marveled at the technology while touring the local Armour plant, then the tallest packinghouse in the world, in 1899.
On the seventh and top floor, the killing commenced. “One man takes the head off quicker than you can wink,” Gage wrote, and carcasses descended on hooks to lower floors — “the disassembly line.” (Henry Ford would incorporate some of these design concepts into mass-producing Model Ts.)
Gage: “We saw hogs cleaned, dressed and going into the refrigerating room 10 minutes after we had seen those same hogs alive. Everything is done with neatness and dispatch.”
From there Gage rode the streetcars to downtown, where she recognized the sloppier aspects of Cowtown: A white dress will be ruined after a day’s wear in Kansas City, she wrote, because “specks of greasy smut float about in the air, and lodge everywhere.”
Many across the spreading metro held dim regard for the packers: Boston-bred interlopers, mostly, investing in smelly and lethal workplaces. (Labor records for just one plant, Swift, cited 13 men killed between 1907 and 1910.)......
Joe Wolf, a second-generation meatpacker, detoured around high school to get an early run at work in the slaughterhouses. His Croatian parents immigrated to Kansas City, Kan., in 1906 after the industry, spurred by labor demands, sent agents to Eastern Europe on orders to recruit workers.
In time more than one-third of the employees at the Kansas City plants would be of Eastern European descent.
They formed tight-knit neighborhoods, churches and charity networks on the steep bluffs overlooking the Kaw. On Strawberry Hill, where the sidewalks remain brick, they built homes practically rubbing against one another. Croatians, Serbs, Slovenians and Poles who filled St. John the Baptist Church witnessed an average 100 baptisms every year from 1910 to 1960.
A 9 p.m. work-shift whistle blasting from the West Bottoms signaled to parents that their children ought to be home.
“If you were still out after that whistle sounded,” Don Wolf said, “there’d be hell to pay with your father. And come the weekend, with your uncles and aunts.”
I don't know how many folks today would work those jobs.  I'm guessing not many that weren't recent immigrants.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Get It From ACME


Artist and designer Rob Loukotka has drawn every product the ACME Corporation ever sold to Wile E. Coyote.
In the field of (fictional) DIY mayhem, the leading brand is clearly the company where Wile E. Coyote shops for gear to catch the Road Runner. What the ACME product line lacks in reliability, it makes up for in breadth. ACME will sell you just about anything, from jet-propelled tennis shoes to cheese. Over 43 episodes, Wile E. Coyote ordered and received 126 different items from the corporation and Loukotka has made a poster that includes them all.
“The ACME Corporation is essentially a dream factory,” Loukotka says, “They make anything and everything you can imagine, and ship it to you instantly. Invisible paint? Got it. Rocket-powered pogo stick? Got it. Super hero outfit? Got it. Massive quantities of faulty explosives? Definitely got it.”
To document ACME’s offerings, Loukotka watched only the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. “Those plots absolutely depended on the ACME Corporation, and I’d argue that’s where we all remember most ACME products from,” he says. He also limited himself to the original episodes, which ran from 1949 to 1994, with the last episode directed by creator Chuck Jones.
He also chose not to include any of ACME’s offerings from the 2000-2012 episodes. “The plots and products are a bit too weird and modern,” he says. “Plus they weren’t around when we were growing up.”

Boom Times, or I Don't Understand Oil Economics

Morning Edition:
Shawn Wenko, assistant director of economic development in Williston, says rents have been a "huge" challenge.
"If you look back several years ago, you probably could have found a two-bedroom apartment for $300 to $500 a month. We've seen huge increases over the years to anywhere from $2,000 to $2,500 a month for a single bedroom apartment here," Wenko says. "So we're seeing Manhattan rates, if not above Manhattan rates."
The city is now racing to meet the demand for housing. This year, 1,000 apartments were built, and another 2,000 should be finished next spring.
There's also an acute day care shortage. Mothers who might want to work at a store or restaurant feel they have no choice but to stay home with their kids.
"Parents are desperate for any kind of child care," says Liz Fox, the director of Little Lambs Childcare, which was started last summer to help meet the demand. "Before we even opened, as of Jan. 1, we had a waiting list that almost was seven pages long."
Yet the center is less than half full because Fox can't find workers. Her competition isn't in the oil fields; it's in retail and in local restaurants.
"It's hard to compete with wages in Williston when Wal-Mart offers $17 an hour, and our starting salary is $12 or $10 an hour," Fox says.
$17 an hour to work at Wal-Mart in BFE, North Dakota?  The economics of oil are absolutely ridiculous.

A Solar Car-Bike Hybrid?

Scientific American:
You want to see my next vehicle? I’m going to get a TruckIt, a tiny little recumbent-bicycle deal with an electric motor — it’s called a velomobile, if you want to know. It costs $5,500, recharges its battery with its own rooftop solar panels, can legally take you on the road, on the sidewalk,* and on greenway trails, and has a 30-mile-per-charge range. Then you can either rely on those solar panels or you can take the little battery out and plug it in. And though it’s designed to carry me and up to 800 pounds of payload (guitar, amp, and groupie?), I can retrofit a little jumpseat so I can just haul around the groupie if I need to. You can read all about it in this story by the News & Observer of Raleigh.
And hokey smokes, it’s made right here in the U.S.A., by Organic Transit, in a renovated furniture warehouse in downtown Durham, NC.
The thing — and the Elf, its more carlike little sister — is limited to 20 mph on pure electricity (to remain classified as a bicycle), but it can take you up and down hills with or without your pedaling. Every New Urbanist, transit focused downtown renovation should all but give these things away for free. If you live and work in a walkable downtown that lacks — as so many do — a grocery store, instead of needing a second car, all you’ve done is given purpose to your workout. “Going out for a ride, dear — got that grocery list?”
I had daydreamed about a similar idea for a one person car, but this is pretty cool.  It would be nice if it went a little faster than 20 mph, and I'm curious how hard it would be to pedal into the wind, but it is a cool starting point for alternative transportation, getting around some of the bad parts of just biking.  You still defintely don't want to get in an accident, but it has to be more visible than just being on the bike.


A cartoon remembering the first animal in space:

Monday, December 17, 2012

How Cerberus Became the King of Guns

Cerberus quietly dominates the American gun industry, selling more firearms and ammunition in the US than anyone else. In 2008, by its own account, Cerberus’s Freedom Group sold half of the nation’s semiautomatic rifles along with 37% of traditional rifles, 31% of shotguns, and 33% of ammunition. All told, Freedom Group says it sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion bullets in the 12 months between April 2009 and March 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, generating $846 million in revenue.
How Cerberus, which is perhaps best known for being little-known, came to be the main player in the world’s biggest gun market speaks to dicey business of manufacturing firearms and the darker aspects of private equity. Cerberus didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Bushmaster Firearms—the company whose AR-15 style rifle has been used in mass shootings from Newtown to Aurora, Colorado—began as a producer of pistols for Air Force pilots shot down over enemy territory. Richard Dyke purchased the company in 1978 and turned its focus to more powerful weapons with larger magazines, including the AR-15, a version of which is pictured above, and its equivalent for military and police, the M-16. By 2005, the company was doing $65 million in sales but didn’t see a way to grow further.
Cerberus had never owned a gun company, but it thought it could provide Bushmaster with a classic private-equity solution: tighter management and a tie-up with similar companies. Cerberus bought Bushmaster in 2006 for an undisclosed sum, formed Freedom Group as a holding company for its firearms business, and then went shopping. Here is the spree of acquisitions as detailed in a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission: (see above)
That filing came in 2010 as Cerberus, then hobbled by poor investments in carmaker Chrysler and mortgage lender GMAC, attempted to cash out of the gun business by taking Freedom Group public. “After bad bets on cars and home loans, Cerberus Capital Management is turning to guns and bullets,” began a Wall Street Journal story about the offering. And this is how Freedom Group made the case for its future growth to potential investors:
We believe that a meaningful percentage of current firearm sales are being made to first time gun purchasers, particularly women. We further believe that the introduction of first time shooters, as well as the renewed interest of many existing shooters, will translate to increased participation across the ever-widening array of shooting sports. In addition, the continued adoption of the modern sporting rifle has led to increased growth in the long gun market, especially with a younger demographic of users and those who like to customize or upgrade their firearms.
Modern sporting rifles include the kind used in the Newtown attack. They’ve been a source of growth, particularly among young men, in an industry that has otherwise struggled to find new customers.
It is scary to think of Cerberus in charge of tons of guns, considering how badly they shot themselves in the foot (almost in the head) on the Chrysler and GMAC deals.   At least in the auto industry, they were the gang that couldn't shoot straight.  Luckily for them, in this business they have a built-in lobby in the NRA.

Taxes In Fiscal Cliff Options

Washington Post, via Ritholtz:

I'm confused by the story that Boehner is considering giving in on increasing taxes on millionaires (who are now defined as people who make $1 million per year in income, as opposed to those who have a total net worth of $1 million).  One of the Republicans' favorite talking points is that you could take all the income of the people making over $250,000, and it wouldn't close the deficit, but instead, they are offering a much smaller tax increase on an even smaller pool of money.  There are two competing points there, but the logic of either is pretty strange.  First you say that doing way more than what the President proposes won't do much good, but then you say you are willing to do way less than the President, so your plans will have even less effect.  Damn, these Republicans are strange. 

Dickey Gets Pay Boost, New Team

Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey has reached an agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays on a two-year, $25 million extension that allowed Toronto and the New York Mets to complete their trade.
Said Dickey on Twitter: "Now that its official, I want to say that I don't have the words to express how grateful I am to you for the steadfast support and... Encouragement I received from all of you.Ive always felt that there was a connection beyond the uniform.Thank you for making me feel wanted."
Dickey will be getting the dollar value that he had requested in failed extension talks with the Mets. Some of the money will be paid out immediately this year, along with his $5 million salary, in the form of a signing bonus to offset the difference in taxes between the United States and Canada. The sides are still haggling over how much money will be front-loaded, sources said.
Dickey will get a team option for $12 million for 2016.
News of an agreement was reported earlier by the Toronto Sun and
The Mets will receive highly regarded catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, Class A right-hander Noah Syndergaard, and 18-year-old outfielder Wuilmer Becerra from Toronto. The teams also will exchange catchers, with Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas headed to Toronto and John Buck to the Mets.
Before talks broke down with New York, Dickey sought a two-year extension worth at least $26 million on top of the existing amount owed.
That is one knuckleball pitcher who won't have to worry about a career after baseball.  I thought this was interesting:
For one, Dickey is hardly a one-year wonder. While he has never pitched quite as well as he did in 2012 — few pitchers have — he was one of the 15 best pitchers in the NL in both 2010 and 2011. Consider this:
R.A. Dickey, 2010–2012: 91 starts, 617 IP, 2.95 ERA, 468 Ks, 150 walks
Zack Greinke, 2010–2012: 95 starts, 604 IP, 3.83 ERA, 582 Ks, 154 walks
In Greinke's defense, he was the better pitcher in 2009. In Dickey's defense, Greinke signed for three times as long and nearly six times as much money as Dickey requested from the Mets. To repay Dickey's Cy Young performance this season, not only did the Mets turn down his request, they embarked on a misguided character assassination campaign against Dickey in the media. Dickey addressed his contract situation at the Mets' holiday party? HE HAD THE AUDACITY TO ANSWER QUESTIONS FROM REPORTERS?! The nerve of that guy.
Even the Cy Young winning knuckleball pitcher has a hard time getting respect.  At least from the Mets.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

NASA Photo of the Day

December 12:

Milky Way Over Quiver Tree Forest
Image Credit & Copyright: Florian Breuer
Explanation: In front of a famous background of stars and galaxies lies some of Earth's more unusual trees. Known as quiver trees, they are actually succulent aloe plants that can grow to tree-like proportions. The quiver tree name is derived from the historical usefulness of their hollowed branches as dart holders. Occurring primarily in southern Africa, the trees pictured in the above 16-exposure composite are in Quiver Tree Forest located in southern Namibia. Some of the tallest quiver trees in the park are estimated to be about 300 years old. Behind the trees is light from the small town of Keetmanshoop, Namibia. Far in the distance, arching across the background, is the majestic central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Even further in the distance, visible on the image left, are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, smaller satellite galaxies of the Milky Way that are prominent in the skies of Earth's southern hemisphere.

Reasons To Drink

Lewis Lapham looks at the history of intoxication  (via the Dish):
Thus introduced to intoxicating liquors under auspices both secular and sacred, the offering of alms for oblivion I took to be the custom of the country in which I had been born. In the 1940s as it was in the 1840s, as it had been ever since the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth laden with emboldening casks of wine and beer. The spirit of liberty is never far from the hope of metamorphosis or transformation, and the Americans from the beginning were drawn to the possibilities in the having of one more for the road. They formed their character in the settling of a fearful wilderness, and the history of the country could be written as a prolonged mocking and harassing of the devil by the drinking, “and right freely,” from whatever wise and wisdom-loving grain or grape came conveniently to hand.
The oceangoing Pilgrims in colonial Massachusetts and Rhode Island delighted in both the taste and trade in rum. The founders of the republic in Philadelphia in 1787 were in the habit of consuming prodigious quantities of liquor as an expression of their faith in their fellow men—pots of ale or cider at midday, two or more bottles of claret at dinner followed by an amiable passing around the table of the Madeira.
Among the tobacco planters in Virginia, the moneychangers in New York, the stalwart yeomen in western Pennsylvania busy at the task of making whiskey, the maintaining of a high blood-alcohol level was the mark of civilized behavior. The lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner were fitted to the melody of an eighteenth-century British tavern song. The excise taxes collected from the sale of liquor paid for the War of 1812, and by 1830 the tolling of the town bell (at 11 a.m., and again at 4 p.m.) announced the daily pauses for spirited refreshment.
Frederick Marryat, an English traveler to America in 1839, noted in his diary that the way the natives drank was “quite a caution... If you meet, you drink; if you part, you drink; if you make acquaintance, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink. They drink, because it is hot; they drink, because it is cold.”
They drink because it is hot; they drink because it is cold.  Makes sense to me. Cheers.

Access to Power and Inequality

Stumbling and mumbling, via nc links:
One might try and rescue the marginal productivity story by arguing that the return to primary education is low and that to university education has risen because of skill-biased technical change, so that a rise in human capital equality because of higher basic skills is compatible with rising inequalities of marginal productivity. However, other research suggests this story isn't true; the returns to basic skills are quite high, and changes in inequality are loosely linked to changes in education.
Instead, the more obvious possible reason for the lack of link between human capital and income equality is simply that inequality reflects not differences in productivity but differences in power which themselves arise from institutional differences.Inequality is higher in south America than in Japan or South Korea simply because south America has extractive institutions which enable a small minority to exploit the masses, whereas Japan and South Korea do not.
Institutional differences in power also help explain another fact: why does the return to university education differ so much (pdf) across European nations of similar income? It is higher in the UK than in Germany or Nordic countries, for example. It's hard to explain this by technical change or globalization, as these factors should have affected countries reasonably similarly. A more plausible possibility, surely, is that institutional factors - the power of capital over labour - allow (some) graduates greater access to the economic surplus in the UK than it allows them in the Nordic countries.
This makes a good deal of sense.  It also points to how legacy students at elite universities end up better off than smarter students at less elite colleges.  

John Cole on Guns and Security

At Balloon Juice:
When we were in Camp Doha in Kuwait, we would have rotations. Alpha troop (my unit), would go run border missions in Iraq while Bravo troop would do maintenance on their vehicles (the sand just killed tanks and wore down our equipment), while Charlie troop be in what we called Z-phase, which was running the security for our base. We had towers and gates and 12 foot walls, and armed troopers at every gate with mirrors to look underneath cars and plenty of folks to investigate people coming in as civilians to run base operations (cook, give haircuts, etc.).
So why am I telling you this? Because in the middle of one of the most dangerous regions in the world, even with clear Rules of Engagement, every time I went on gate duty, there was a piece of tape over my ammo clip on my M-16 and M1911 .45. Why? Because the most heavily armed military in the world did not want accidental shootings. If a situation arose, I would have to eject my ammo clip, remove the tape, and reinsert and work the action before I could fire.
This was in a combat zone. Yet I have spent the last two fucking days dealing with armchair commandos telling me they need unlimited firepower to be safe in… Connecticut.
If there are bigger pussies in the world than gun nuts, I don’t know who the fuck they are.
I haven't quite grasped the whole arm teachers thing.  If somebody with a gun comes into a school and walks into a classroom, is the teacher going to draw on him and shoot him before the assailant shoots the teacher.  So far, the gun nuts haven't advocated for arming students, so I would guess the school shooter is going to immediately shoot the teacher.  A teacher handling grade schoolers isn't going to be ready to stop the intruder.  All the other teachers in the school are going to have to lock their doors to protect their students.  They aren't going to be able to go confront the intruder.  That is the job of the police. 

The truth with the guns for self defense crowd is that they just can't handle the potential for random crime in their lives.  But do they really think that they will be able to stop these things from happening?  If they are going to be the random victim of crime, are they really going to beat somebody to the draw?  I highly doubt it.  But they feel safer carrying their gun.  I don't feel safer with them carrying their gun.