Saturday, February 16, 2013

Love is in the Air

Love is in the Air from Wriggles & Robins on Vimeo.

Drought Still Grips West

As spring approaches, the drought hangs on:
U.S. farmers will plant crops this spring under the shadow of a persistent drought that grips prime farmland from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, with grain supplies already tight from drought losses in 2012.
In all, 56 percent of the contiguous United States is under moderate to exceptional drought, twice the usual amount, the Senate Agriculture Committee was told on Thursday.
Arid weather was expected to run until May in the wheat-growing Plains and in the western Corn Belt, where corn and soybeans are the major crops.
"In fact, we are forecasting drier conditions," said Roger Pulwarty, director of the National Integrated Drought Information System, a federal agency. Above-normal rainfall benefited the southern Plains at the start of this year....Some 59 percent of winter wheat was under drought conditions, said Joe Glauber, Agriculture Department chief economist. "While that also implies that spring planting may be affected by drought conditions as well, there have been improvements in the eastern Corn Belt, where many areas are no longer experiencing drought."
We're sitting ok around here.  With our soil types, if we get much precipitation in the winter, it is still going to be fairly wet as the cold recedes.  

Why So Many Meteor Videos?

Because Russia is so corrupt that nearly everyone has a dash cam:
The sheer size of the country, combined with lax — and often corrupt — law enforcement, and a legal system that rarely favors first-hand accounts of traffic collisions has made dash cams all but a requirement for motorists.
“You can get into your car without your pants on, but never get into a car without a dash cam,” Aleksei Dozorov, a motorists’ rights activist in Russia told Radio Free Europe last year.  Do a search for “Russia dash cam crash” in YouTube — or even better,, the county’s equivalent of Google — and you’ll find thousands of videos showing massive crashes, close calls and attempts at insurance fraud by both other drivers and pedestrians. And Russian drivers are accident prone. With 35,972 road deaths in 2007 (the latest stats available from the World Health Organization), Russia averages 25.2 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people. The U.S., by comparison, had 13.9 road deaths per 100,000 people in the same year, despite having six times more cars.
Wow.  With all the various failings of this country, at least things haven't gotten that corrupt.  It costs quite a bit to buy public officials around here.

The Dutch Model

With New Yorkers after Sandy looking toward the Netherlands for lessons, the Dutch are planning for sea level rise:
It has been to the Netherlands, not surprisingly, that some American officials, planners, engineers, architects and others have been looking lately. New York is not Rotterdam (or Venice or New Orleans, for that matter); it’s not mostly below or barely above sea level. But it’s not adapted to what seems likely to be increasingly frequent extreme storm surges, either, and the Netherlands has successfully held back the sea for centuries and thrived. After the North Sea flooded in 1953, devastating the southwest of this country and killing 1,835 people in a single night, Dutch officials devised an ingenious network of dams, sluices and barriers called the Deltaworks.
Water management here depends on hard science and meticulous study. Americans throw around phrases like once-in-a-century storm. The Dutch, with a knowledge of water, tides and floods honed by painful experience, can calculate to the centimeter — and the Dutch government legislates accordingly — exactly how high or low to position hundreds of dikes along rivers and other waterways to anticipate storms they estimate will occur once every 25 years, or every 1,000 years, or every 10,000.
And now the evidence is leading them to undertake what may seem, at first blush, a counterintuitive approach, a kind of about-face: The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle.
Why? The reality of rising seas and rivers leaves no choice. Sea barriers sufficed half a century ago; but they’re disruptive to the ecology and are built only so high, while the waters keep rising. American officials who now tout sea gates as the one-stop-shopping solution to protect Lower Manhattan should take notice. In lieu of flood control the new philosophy in the Netherlands is controlled flooding.
I knew the Netherlands were low, but I didn't realize they were this low:
 They are, by temperament, almost as allergic as Americans to top-down programs that impinge on personal and property rights; but water safety trumps pretty much every other priority in a country where 60 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product is produced below sea level.
This also rang true, when talking to a farmer forced to move by the government:
 Mr. Hooijmaijers organized the farmers. Negotiations were grueling and took years. “Every farmer thinks he has the best farm in the world,” is how he put it to me.
That's true, even for us crappy farmers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Is This The Future Of Boxing?

Jay Caspian Kang features rising star Adrien Broner:
Adrien Broner grew up in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati, one of 12 kids born to Thomas Knight. All of Broner's siblings learned how to fight with gloves on, but none quite took to it like Adrien and his twin brother, Andre. At the age of 6, Broner had impressed his father enough that Knight brought him to Mike Stafford's gym and claimed that he had twin boys who could whip anyone Stafford put in front of them. The boast held true until Stafford had Broner fight Rau'shee Warren, a future three-time Olympian who also made the trip to Broner's camp in Colorado Springs. Warren beat up Broner and made him cry. After that, Stafford wondered if the twins and their father would return. "We showed up the next day," Thomas said.
Mike Stafford has trained fighters in Cincinnati for about 30 years. He has coached amateur champions, Olympians, and now Broner. But his connection with Broner runs deeper, and not only because of Broner's seemingly unlimited potential within the sport. As a boxing coach who works with kids of all ages, Stafford has had a firsthand look into the urban decay that has crippled the city. "When Adrien was 8 years old," Stafford explained, "I'd drive the van out to his neighborhood and there'd be 20, 30 kids trying to get to the gym. I'd make some of them run down to the gym cause they couldn't all fit. Out of all those kids, there's only about four or five left. The rest are dead or in jail or running the streets. Adrien's one of the only ones left."
As a kid, Broner's boxing career oftentimes took a backseat to his activities on the streets of Cincinnati. "I did everything you can name," Broner says, "but when I got in trouble the last time, my mom told me, 'You can't be king of the streets and king of the ring, you gotta pick one.' I had to make a choice. I chose the ring." Before Broner came to prominence, Stafford helped produce another promising young prospect named Ricardo Williams. Like Broner, Williams started fighting before the age of 10. But unlike Broner, whose success has come as a professional, Williams turned in one of the most storied amateur careers in recent Amerian history, capped off by a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics. But after he turned pro, Williams's career was derailed by trouble with the law. In 2005, he was convicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced to three years in prison.
I've been out of the boxing loop for a while, and hadn't come across Broner, or realized that he's from Cincinnati.  I remember Williams as an amateur and early in his pro career, but didn't realize he went to prison.  Cincinnati has managed to turn out a number of top amateur and professional boxers over the years, and we'll see if Broner can hit the boxing highlights of Aaron Pryor without all the low points Pryor found outside of the ring.

Advice From The Mediocre

A little advice from someone who has tried and often failed.  My favorite piece:
Be unoriginal. I’ve never come up with an original idea in my life. My first successful business was making web software, strategies, and websites for Fortune 500 companies. Not an original idea, but at the time, in the ’90s, people were paying exorbitant multiples for such businesses. My successful investments all involved situations in which I made sure the CEOs and other investors were smarter than me. I wrote a TechCrunch article on this titled ”My Angel Investor Checklist.” One hundred percent of my zeros as an angel investor were situations where I thought I was smart. I wasn’t. I’m mediocre.
The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the ugly bastard child that results. The child that was so ugly nobody else wanted to touch it. Look at Facebook: combine the internet with stalking. Amazing! Twitter: combine internet with antiquated SMS protocols. Ugly! But it works. eBay: combine e-commerce with auctions. The song “I’ll Be There”: combine Mariah Carey with Michael Jackson. If Justin Bieber sang John Lennon’s “Imagine,” it would be a huge hit. I might even listen to it.
Combine the internet with stalking.  It is just a little too true.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Square Dancing

Sarah Kogod highlights a facet of Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen that isn't understood too well outside of West Central Ohio:
Craig Stammen was on the radio with Holden and Danny yesterday, and was asked which of his Nats teammates’ weddings was most impressive.
“Ross Detwiler’s was pretty fancy,” the right hander replied. “It was a little different style, but he had it going on. It was pretty cool; I had a good time there.”
Michael Morse will be so disappointed.
“It’s nicer than the ones I’m accustomed to,” he continued. “Coming from the middle-of-nowhere Ohio, we’re used to square dancing and having a buffet.”
Square dancing?
“Where I’m from, it’s like a big tradition,” Stammen said. “That they have some square-dancing music going on, and everybody knows how to do it, too.”
Stammen went on to say that his moves are “a little rusty,” but scored himself an 8 out of 10. And there’s no need to worry about his lady friend.
“Oh yeah,” he said, when pressed on his skills. “I can do-si-do my partner just fine.”
The pitcher learned his promenades and swings like most of us. In gym glass.
“When you’re in, like, fifth grade in grade school, I remember for PE class, one of the days was learn how to square dance,” Stammen explained. “And I remember being so mad because I wanted to play, like, dodgeball or basketball or something, you know? And we had to do square dancing. I guess they were just getting us ready for all the weddings we were going to have to go to in the next 10 years.”
I've been to a few weddings in Stammen's neck of the woods, and I can vouch that a couple of square dances are pretty standard fare.  I've participated as the clueless last person added to fill a square a couple of times.  But I did cause a kind of funny scene (it wasn't too funny for one guy) on one of those occasions.  We were at a co-worker's wedding, and I got recruited into a square.  They were doing the "Farmer's Daughter," where each of the guys goes around to the other guys in the group, knocks on his forehead, does something like mess up his hair, pull our his shirt or pick him up and turn him upside down, then he dances with that guy's partner.  So after one guy was knocking on a co-worker's husband's forehead and as the caller was giving the instructions, I yelled out, "kick him in the nuts."  To everyone's surprise, the guy did it.  Nobody else could figure out why he did it, and I couldn't stop laughing.  Luckily, the victim wasn't badly injured, and I later fessed up to being the cause of the incident, but that is pretty much the highlight of my square dancing experience.

Big East History As the End Looms

Charles Pierce:
As the game was a perfect fractal view of the season, the season, of course, is a perfect fractal view of what's going on in college basketball, generally. The sport has lost its logic. It has lapsed into incoherence, and nowhere more obviously than in the Big East, once the premier conference in the country, and now a listing hulk that everyone expects to be demolished and sold for parts in the very near future. As usual, football is the culprit. Once the league determined that it would have a football conference, it doomed its internal politics because the investment it takes to run a football program always will become the great gravitational center of a sports enterprise. So, now, the big football schools, both the original members like Syracuse and arriviste members like West Virginia, are peeling off to conferences with more money to sling around. The remaining schools are trying to put together what is jokingly called a "Catholic conference" for basketball, but which is still likely to be called the Big East, and the idea is a pretty sound one, especially if they can sign up those heathen bastards from Butler. (There's also some loose talk about Gonzaga, but the idea of mid-February three-time-zones-east road trips should put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, particularly after the weekend we just had.) If you were to take the Catholic schools presently in the Big East — Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul, and St. John's — and add, say, Xavier, Dayton, Butler, and, what the hell, Saint Joseph's, you would have a serious league, and one that would be united in its history the way that the original Big East was, back in the days right after Kevin Stacom and Ernie D and Marvin ran people off the court, when things all made sense.
The coach of that Providence team was the late Dave Gavitt, and if you want to know why the Big East succeeded, it's because it was the brainchild of the only coach ever to get Marvin Barnes to play for him. After that, wrangling various administrators into a new conference was an easy job. First of all, history always was the foundation of the Big East's original appeal. The schools invited to participate by Gavitt back in 1979 had been playing each other for years, within the semi-formal structure of the old ECAC sectional groupings or as independents. They were a league in all but name and administrative detail. (This was why little Holy Cross also got an invite, which the school turned down, radically changing forever the nature of its intercollegiate athletics, and for the better.) Georgetown played Syracuse for the first time in 1929, Villanova for the first time in 1921, Pittsburgh for the first time in 1911, and Seton Hall and St. John's for the first time in 1909. All the Big East did was to place ancient basketball rivalries into a formal league structure and turn the accumulated enthusiasm the teams all had for beating each other loose on a grander stage. When the league planted its conference tournament permanently in Madison Square Garden, the historical continuum was complete. One Madison Square Garden or another had been vitally important to basketball in the East, for good and ill, for almost a century, and the league tournament became one of the hottest tickets in town.
The high point of the Big East in my opinion was 1985, when they put three of the four teams into the final four, and featured Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin as the nation's top players.  It only made it better having Villanova, who tied for third in the conference, win the tournament.

The Spectacle of Carnival

The Atlantic features Brazil's Carnival in pictures:

 A performer from the Beija Flor samba school, at the Sambadrome, on February 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) #

Wow.  It looks like Las Vegas on steroids.

Evolution In Milk Drinkers

For Darwin's birthday, Wired looks at recent evolutions in humans:
For nearly all of human history -- heck, for nearly all the history of a lineage that started 85 million years ago with this shrew-like furball and ended with us -- milk was consumed in infancy. The genetic processes involved in breaking down lactose, milk's main sugar, shut down when babies finished weaning.
Then, about 9,000 years ago, cattle were domesticated for the first time, offering great advantage to anyone who could take sustenance from their milk. Lactose-processing mutations spread fast and wide, first in north-central Europe and later in Africa. The majority of humankind is now lactose-tolerant, making these mutations among the fastest-spreading in known human history.
Take that, all you lactose-intolerant folks.  God bless the dairy farmers.  That's more work than I can handle.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rural Politics

I attended a county Cattlemen's Dinner, and got to hear the local state representative speak.  When I have a little more time, I'm going to post about his speech.  It was a doozy. 

Other Papal Resignations In History

Morning Edition:
WERTHEIMER: Could you tell me, who was the first ever pope to resign?
BELLITTO: Sure. We think it's a fellow named Pontian in the year 235. Now you have to remember that we're not entirely sure because those first couple of centuries are pretty murky. Christianity is an illegal religion in the Roman Empire and so we don't always have all of the sources that we'd like. But we're pretty sure that Pontian was the first one. He was martyred - or in this case he knew he was going to be martyred because he was going to be deported to a prison on the island of Sardinia, which was known to be so brutal he was clear that he wasn't going to come back. And he didn't want to have a vacuum of leadership so he resigned so that a successor could be chosen.
WERTHEIMER: There are also much more sort of evil sounding stories of cardinals and nobility that the cardinals were working for trying to depose various popes.
BELLITTO: Well, sure. These are really horrible period from about 850 till about 1050. And one of the big papal historians, Eamon Duffy, has calculated that in that period of time one out of three popes died a violent death.
WERTHEIMER: Wasn't there a resignation of a pope whose name was Celestine, Celestine V? What happened with him?
BELLITTO: Celestine V is a really interesting character because he was a very holy man, and sometimes a very holy man doesn't make a very successful pope in a period of time where the papacy is controlled by political families and rival factions.
WERTHEIMER: What are we talking about? What time are we talking about?
BELLITTO: Just at the end of the 13th century, and particularly, I'm talking about the year 1294. There hasn't been a pope for a few years. Nobody can decide. It's a deadlock. And so the cardinals decide to go outside the conclave and elect a hermit, totally unsuited for the politics of the papal court. But the notion was, well, if we elected a holy man, then maybe he'll come into Rome, he'll clean up and we can move forward in a spiritual manner. And he just gets eaten by that court, and within four months, he decides to resign.
WERTHEIMER: Now, the most frequently reason though, for resignation has been an abundance of popes, isn't that right? I mean, where you have more than one pope and somebody has to go.
BELLITTO: That's right. So the worse period in church history is the Great Western Schism from 1378 to 1417, when you have first two and then three popes. I tell my students that this is the here a pope, there a pope, everywhere a pope, pope chapter of church history.
BELLITTO: And it's in that period of time that we have the most recent resignation, Gregory XII, and he was the Roman pope. And, in fact, he probably had the best claim to be the legitimate pope, but he decides to metaphorically fall on his sword.
One of the things that did the most damage to my faith was reading A Concise History of the Catholic Church.  The time from about 800 to 1700 was just so ugly, it is hard to see much anything of God in the Christian Church.  Everything looks so human.  

The Worst Contracts In Baseball

Jonah Keri highlights his picks.  My favorite:

12. Adam Dunn, designated hitter, Chicago White Sox

It's been talked about in board room strategy sessions and huddles with managers, written on by stat mavens and beat writers. Now the notion that teams are emphasizing defense at the expense of offense has turned from intriguing theory to an actual, verifiable trend. Witness the modest contracts doled out to solid-offense, lousy-defense/minimal-positional-value players like Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, and others. If you're going to pay an offense-only player $15 million a year in that climate, he'd better be Babe Ruth crossed with Rickey Henderson crossed with a St. Bernard puppy who brings you neck-barrels of Cristal.
Adam Dunn is not that guy. He's not quite a full-time DH yet but he might as well be, costing his team two to three wins a year when he was a full-time outfielder and remaining a net negative when shifted to first base. And while the 33-year-old slugger regained his power in smashing 41 homers last year, he still hit just .204/.333/.468. Of course that's a marked improvement over Year 1 of Dunn's four-year deal, when he "hit" .159/.292/.277 and offered his usual negative baserunning and defensive value; FanGraphs calculated that Dunn made his team lose three more games than your typical replacement-level player that year, making his 2011 season one of the worst recorded by any player in the game's history. At least we're down to the final two years of Dunn's anachronistic deal.
Thank God Dunn is in the AL with the designated hitter.  He was a disaster on defense.  He's also a disaster at hitting for contact and base running.  But if you like a guy who hits a lot of home runs and strikes out an incredible amount, then he's your guy.  He's also ranked fifth all-time in career strikeouts (soon to be fourth, as he's one behind ARod).  He's only 3 average (for him) seasons from the top, as long as Jim Thome doesn't go too far past Reggie.  The guy is just a very ugly baseball player.

More About Debt

Washington Post:
Yet debt is simply a new form of currency that is issued, bought, priced and sold like any other currency, and the fear that it will fatally undermine the nation is much like the belief in the 19th century that paper dollars would destroy value and rob the middle class, or the fear that silver would do the same, or the concern in the 20th century (and now) that unless all value is tethered to gold, economies will collapse. The debt freakout is the latest installment, the only difference being that those who believe debt will destroy us have more political power. Debt may not undo us, but actions flowing from the fear of it could come close.
It’s not just the tea party movement, of course. The dangers of debt are preached widely. The establishment consensus is that there is too little growth and too much government spending everywhere in the developed world. Germany still hasn’t psychologically recovered from the debt and currency traumas of the 1920s. Brazil and much of the rest of Latin America are scarred by the memories of the 1970s and East Asia by the 1990s, when debt debacles nearly sank those economies.
Yet an amen chorus is not the truth, and consensus is not fact. Debt can be a fatal liability if used unwisely, but used well it can be a powerful tool. It allows governments, businesses and individuals to expand what they can do in the present in the belief that future gains will ensue. It can fund education, underwrite infrastructure and fuel research and innovation. The fact that debt is so often used poorly, to paper over problems or fund ephemeral spending, represents a serious and potentially crippling problem. But that is not an indictment of debt; it is an indictment of what is done with it.
The current assumption is that debt is out of control and has been for many years. Consumer debt in the early 2000s gave way to sovereign debt today, and Greece and its Mediterranean brethren are held up as Exhibit A in the prosecution’s case. Yet this animus harkens back to moments when shifts in the financial system have triggered anger and panic. Our debt fixation, then, may be less a product of debt itself than one of adjusting to a new currency.
Without debt, savers can't save.  I'm on the saver side, so I need other peoples' debt.  However, I kind of need good debts.  In other words, when other people can't afford to spend, I really need to.  That is what is hard for me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chart of the Day

From Ritholtz:

I guess 3.24% isn't extremely high, but I am surprised there are so many purple spots out in the sticks.  I wonder if this is partially driven by the agriculture boom times.  Farmers and landowners would have to be making some serious cash from 2007-2011.  It looks like the Bakken and the Eagle Ford are doing well, at least for now.

Will USDA Report On Climate Convince Farmers of Danger?

Grist, via nc links:
As Grist reported earlier this week, the USDA released a massive report on climate change and U.S. agriculture. The report may represent the agency’s most decisive move to force farmers to face reality. The short version: Climate change is real, it’s here to stay, and farmers need to start adapting before the biggest effects hit.
And while this may not come as news to Grist readers, it’s worth highlighting the significance of this report. Big farm lobbying groups have been some of the most vocal critics of government action to address climate change, as well as of the very idea of anthropogenic (i.e. human-caused) climate change. A 2011 survey of Iowa farmers [PDF] found that while 68 percent believed the climate was changing, only 10 percent agree that it’s caused primarily by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Many an article on the extreme weather in farm country contain quotes like this one from American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman:
“We are used to dealing with extreme weather variation,” he says, pointing out that his Texas farm has seen 20 inches of rain in a single day, in the middle of a drought. “We’ve learned to roll with those extremes. If it gets a little more extreme down the road, we can deal with it.”
The USDA would like you to look at a picture, Mr. Stallman.*

That’s what will happen to summer temperatures by the end of the century if we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions. Note that farm country will get hit particularly hard — average temps will rise by about 10 degrees F. When you combine that with the increase in extreme weather events that the USDA assures farmers are baked in to the climate cake at this point, it becomes harder and harder to assume you can just “roll with it.” So sayeth the USDA:
Given the projected effects of climate change, some U.S. agricultural systems will have to undergo more transformative changes to remain productive and profitable.
That is a very scary map.  I would think that the extremely warm nights we've had the last couple of summers should scare any farmer, along with the extremely spotty rain and long dry spells.  Corn does not like hot nights, and we've had some that barely got under 80 degrees all night.  I don't know what kind of long-term effects we'll have in the Corn Belt, but the possibly disastrous situations are extremely scary. 

But as the article points out, in spite of the potential threat to our way of life, farmers will be amongst the very last people to be convinced of the reality of human caused climate change.  History is rife with the desertification of formerly arable land, mainly caused by human activity, such as deforestation and massive soil erosion.  But farmers, more than almost anybody, really, really hate environmentalists, so they will not believe anything about global warming.  As far as I can tell, it is that simple.

Winter Winds Down

Reds pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training today:
Reds pitchers and catchers have their first workout at training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., Tuesday.
The rest of the roster will arrive on Friday.
The Reds will play the Cleveland Indians in their first spring training game on Feb. 22.
Spring training starts about a week earlier this year because of the World Series Classic
That is the truest sign that winter is almost over.   The days are getting longer, and soon Marty and the Cowboy will be on the radio.  Thank God.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope No More

Pope Benedict resigned, citing an inability to meet the demands of the office:
Pope Benedict XVI said today that he would resign, surprising most everyone in the world: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said. He is eighty-five and has been the Pope for seven and a half years. He made his statement in Latin at a ceremony to canonize three saints—trappings that only underscore what a break with tradition this move is for his Church. We are two years short of the six-hundredth anniversary of the last time that a Pope quit. “The Pope took us by surprise,” the Vatican’s spokesman said. The Prime Minister of Italy was in shock. No one, for once, pretended to fully understand what the man who was born Joseph Ratzinger had in mind. One thing is clear: Benedict has made a conscious choice not to be John Paul II, who turned his own wrenching, illness-filled last days into something like a parable. It could be hard to watch John Paul wave at a crowd with a hand that trembled, and he knew it, and sought consciously to use that time to emphasize his community with anyone who hurt, and with his God. Say what one will about John Paul II, but one couldn’t honestly read his biography without being moved—he worked in a limestone quarry during the German occupation of Poland, studying at a secret seminary—and one can’t quite blame Benedict for not matching that, or for lacking John Paul’s Popemobile charisma or the manner that made his faith seem so manifest. But then it was John Paul II’s conservatism, particularly in the selection of cardinals, that assured Ratzinger’s succession. And which way is really better? Should pain—not only of the ill, but of the poor—simply be borne? One can argue that Benedict is far more honest—and by providing a valuable example of his own about knowing when one is done, perhaps he is doing the Church a six-century-overdue favor. But it is inescapable that Joseph Ratzinger has not lived, and will not die, as Karol Wojtyla did.
While it was noble for Pope John Paul II to set the example of how he thought people should meet their end, I thought he overstepped in insisting that even extraordinary means for continuing life must be taken to extend life.  While Benedict agrees with John Paul's position, he apparently doesn't want to be in that situation while trying to lead over a billion Catholics.  I never saw this bit of news coming.  In the end, I think he made the right move.  Eighty-five is pretty old to be in such an active and demanding position.  It will be very interesting to see who comes next.  Is Dolan a real possibility?  I doubt it, but you never know.

Patents On Slave Inventions

Bloomberg (h/t Ritholtz):
In the years before the outbreak of the Civil War -- the historical record is not clear exactly when -- the future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, filed a patent claim on an improved riverboat propeller with the U.S. Patent Office. The novel design promised both increased efficiency and improved maneuverability compared with the paddlewheels then favored by most river steamships. His claim, however, was summarily denied.
Davis is remembered for many things, though not for being an accomplished inventor, and for good reason: The improved propeller wasn’t his to patent. Instead, it was the work of Benjamin Montgomery, a slave on the plantation of Davis’s brother Joseph.
After the patent office turned down Jefferson Davis’s claim, Joseph tried his luck, applying for a patent on the propeller and making clear, as Jefferson had, that it was Montgomery’s design. Since Montgomery was Joseph Davis’s human property, Joseph had every reason to expect that the Patent Office would accept his claim. Naturally, as one slave owner phrased it, “no one could rationally doubt, that in legal contemplation, the master has the same right to the fruits of the labor of the intilect [sic] of his slave, that he has to those of his hand.”
No one, that is, except U.S. Commissioner of Patents Joseph Holt.
Unfortunately for the Davis brothers, Holt ruled in 1857 that slave inventions couldn’t be patented under existing law. As a slave, Montgomery wasn’t a citizen and was therefore “legally incompetent,” in Holt’s words, to file a claim on his own. At the same time, because neither Jefferson nor Joseph Davis was the “true and original inventor” of Montgomery’s propeller, neither could file a claim on the slave’s behalf and thus legally protect the invention.
In effect, slaves’ intellectual property simply didn’t exist. This posed a significant problem, not only for the Davis brothers, but for any slave owner who sought to protect and profit from slaves’ inventions. On the eve of the Civil War, several slaveholders met with similarly negative responses from the Patent Office. For these Southerners, their prerogatives as slave owners (-to maintain a legal system that inscribed the inferiority of slaves),- and as capitalists (-to profit from the judicious employment of their capital),- were thrown into conflict by Holt’s patent ruling.
Still, the Davis brothers could have simply claimed Montgomery’s inventions as their own. Evidence suggests that Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper, both landmark antebellum inventions, were at least partially the products of slave intellectual labor. The Davis brothers took a different approach, asserting the intellectual capabilities of slaves such as Montgomery, while trying to claim the profits of that ingenuity as their own.
I didn't know that.  I really thought the part about the cotton gin and the reaper was pretty interesting.  I had never heard that before.

Beanpot Finals Tonight

Boston College meets Northeastern in the Beanpot finals tonight.  Harvard and BU play in the consolation game.  I'll pull for Northeastern versus the good Jesuits of BC just because Northeastern hasn't managed to win the Beanpot since 1988.  Harvard hasn't won since 1993, so BC and BU have won plenty.

The History of Chef Boyardee

From Kitchen Daily:
When the young Ettore Boiardi immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in 1914, he had no idea what was in store for him. A natural in the kitchen, Ettore passed through Ellis Island, changed his name from Ettore to Hector and immediately landed work in the restaurant industry. Following his brother, Lorenzo, to the kitchens of the New York City Plaza Hotel, Chef Boiardi eventually worked his way to head chef at the Plaza. Before the age of 20, Chef Boiardi supervised catering for President Woodrow Wilson's wedding reception.
Chef Boiardi eventually made his way to Ohio, where he opened a restaurant with his wife Helen. The Il Giardino d'Italia opened in 1924 and created a buzz in the city of Cleveland. Patrons would wait outside for hours at a time to simply get a taste of his signature specialty spaghetti and meatballs. His Italian creations caused such a stir, customers began asking for his recipes. Boiardi started packing up and selling his product in old milk bottles. Little did he know that this idea would soon take off and become the start of a food empire.
In 1928, in order to keep up with customer demands, Boiardi started a factory with his brothers and eventually began to can his food. To make his product more consumer-friendly, he changed the spelling of his name to Boyardee. With a passion for using only the freshest ingredients, it's said that Boiardi grew and used his own mushrooms in his packaged goods. He is also credited with creating a meatball-making machine, which is still used to this day.
Booming business led to a shift in factory plans, and the Boyardee Bros. eventually changed their location to Milton, Pennsylvania, which gave them better access to farmland and juicy, supple tomatoes.
In 1946, Chef Boyardee sold his company for $6 million, staying on as a consultant until 1978, when he eventually retired.
One of my memories of childhood is of my parents using the pizza kit to make homemade pizzas on Saturday nights.  They would cook up a bunch of hamburger and put it and I think pepperoni on the pizza and bake it up.  This was usually during or after that night's episode of Hee Haw.  Then we might watch the Ohio Lottery Cash Explosion before such classic shows as Love Boat, Fantasy IslandThe Golden Girls, 227, Mama's Family, and Empty Nest.  We lived large back in the day.

Maker's Mark Gets Watered Down

Maker’s Mark just got a little less stiff. The bourbon brand, known for its bottles sealed with red wax, told customers today that it’s reducing the amount of alcohol in the beverage in order to meet rising global demand.
Bourbon, which is a form of American whiskey distilled from corn and other grains, has surged in popularity over the past few years. In its largest market, the United States, bourbon now accounts for 35% of all spirit sales as more Americans have developed a taste for high-end whiskey, which is typically aged in charred white oak barrels for six years or longer. In the 1960s and 1970s, Maker’s Mark was famously sold with the slogan, “It tastes expensive…and is.”
But international growth is what’s driving demand for bourbon makers like Beam Inc., which produces Maker’s Mark as well as Jim Beam, a cheaper and more popular bourbon. Beam executives earlier this month said Australia, Germany, and Japan were strong markets. Last year, the company warned it didn’t have enough supply to keep up with bourbon demand.
In an email today to loyal customers, Beam executives said the company had decided that the only way to keep up with demand was to make its bourbon less strong, stretching the current supply. ”We’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%,” the email said.
I’ve reached out to Beam to clarify whether the alcohol is being reduced by 3%, as the email says, or three percentage points, which would be more dramatic. The footer of today’s email suggests it’s the latter, describing Maker’s Mark as a 42% ABV beverage, which is also known as 84 proof; it was previously distilled to 45% ABV, or 90 proof. That would be a 6.7% reduction in the amount of alcohol.
One thing to remember is that most bourbon is watered down after aging to get to the final bottling proof.  Maker's Mark is watering their bourbon down because they didn't know three or four years ago that demand would be so high today, so they are trying to get the supply they have to last longer.  I wouldn't think this would hurt Maker's Mark much, but people are funny, so I wouldn't rule out some folks switching to some other brand.  Note to drinkers who don't drink Maker's Mark straight, add a little less ice.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One of the Few Good Things From The South Will Kill You

I'll give the south credit for a couple of things, and good homemade food is one of them.  However, it isn't good for you:
Fried chicken, ham, bacon, "sweet tea" and huge store-bought cakes are the five major food groups of the Southern United States, and there are apparently some health consequences to eating nothing but fat, lard, corn syrup and factory slaughtered antibiotic-filled pigs and chickens.
People who ate Southern food six times a week had a 41% higher risk of stroke, compared with people who ate such food once a month. And, the study found, a traditional Southern diet accounted for 63% of the higher risk of stroke among African Americans, compared with white Americans.
The study followed 20,000 white and black Americans who enjoy the "traditional Southern diet" of "fried chicken and fish, bacon, ham and sweet teas." They were already expected to die from diabetes and heart attacks, but this is the first research to show they can also expect to die from strokes, obviously.
I know one thing, if I was forced to live in the south, I'd eat that food every day to try to finish myself off as soon as I could.

The Blizzard In Pictures

The Atlantic features pictures from the great Blizzard of 2013.  My favorite:

John Silver shovels snow between buried cars and trucks in front of his home on Third Street in South Boston, on February 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) #

NASA Photo of the Day

February 6:

The Arms of M106
Credit: Image Data - Hubble Legacy Archive, Robert Gendler, Jay Gabany, Processing - Robert Gendler
Explanation: The spiral arms of bright galaxy M106 sprawl through this remarkable multiframe portrait, composed of data from ground- and space-based telescopes. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 can be found toward the northern constellation Canes Venatici. The well-measured distance to M106 is 23.5 million light-years, making this cosmic scene about 80,000 light-years across. Typical in grand spiral galaxies, dark dust lanes, youthful blue star clusters, and pinkish star forming regions trace spiral arms that converge on the bright nucleus of older yellowish stars. But this detailed composite reveals hints of two anomalous arms that don't align with the more familiar tracers. Seen here in red hues, sweeping filaments of glowing hydrogen gas seem to rise from the central region of M106, evidence of energetic jets of material blasting into the galaxy's disk. The jets are likely powered by matter falling into a massive central black hole.

Farmer Roundup Soybean Suit Reaches Supreme Court

Guardian, via nc links:
The legal saga revolves around Monsanto's aggressive protection of its soybean known as Roundup Ready, which have been genetically engineered to be resistant to its Roundup herbicide or its generic equivalents. When Bowman – or thousands of other farmers just like him – plant Monsanto's seeds in the ground they are obliged to only harvest the resulting crop, not keep any of it back for planting the next year. So each season, the farmer has to buy new Monsanto seeds to plant.
However, farmers are able to buy excess soybeans from local grain elevators, many of which are likely to be Roundup Ready due to the huge dominance Monsanto has in the market. Indeed in Indiana it is believed more than 90% of soybeans for sale as "commodity seeds" could be such beans, each containing the genes Monsanto developed.
Bowman, who has farmed the same stretch of land for most of the past four decades and grew up on a farm, ended up on Monsanto's radar for using such seeds – bought from a local grain elevator, rather than Monsanto – for year after year and replanting part of each crop. He did not do so for his main crop of soybeans, but rather for a smaller "second late season planting" usually planted on a field that had just been harvested for wheat. "We have always had the right to go to an elevator, buy some 'junk grain' and use it for seed if you desire," Bowman said.
To put it mildly, Monsanto disagrees. The firm insists that it maintains patent rights on its genetically modified seeds even if sold by a third party with no restrictions put on its use – even if the seeds are actually only descendants of the original Monsanto seeds. To that end it sued Bowman, eventually winning a legal settlement of some $84,456 (£53,500) against him for infringing the firm's patent rights. Monsanto says that if it allowed Bowman to keep replanting his seeds it would undermine its business model, endangering the expensive research that it uses to produce advanced agricultural products.
So he just figured the double crop beans could be treated with Roundup because all the local farmers were growing Roundup Ready beans.  Briefs were filed in the case in January.  It will be interesting to see where the extremely business-friendly (some would say ridiculously business-friendly) Roberts court will come down on this case.  A ruling in favor of the farmer may be a move toward much needed patent reform.

Amtrak Service Versus Population Density

The Atlantic Cities:
For Amtrak, the route map can be particularly unhelpful. Not only are the longest lines the least popular, their train frequency can be one-sixtieth that of the system's busiest lines.
With that in mind, Mike Hicks, a transit blogger in Minneapolis, plotted boardings and alightings on a simple state map. Using numbers from Amtrak's State Fact Sheets and a list of GPS coordinates for Amtrak stations published by Bill Ensinger, Hicks funneled ridership data into circular, geographic containers.
 Now a map of population density:
Where is the the population highest, but the service weakest?  Texas and Ohio:
Texas, for example, has three of America's ten largest cities: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. But the inexplicable lack of a direct rail connection between Houston and Dallas makes the state look, on Hicks' map, emptier than Missouri. In fact, the nation's second-largest state had only 465,000 riders in 2012. Missouri, meanwhile, had 739,000.
Other states suffer from a similar routing problem. Ohio, though crossed by regional routes on its northern and southern borders, has no train at all connecting the state's major cities. It has one-fifth [PDF] the passenger train traffic of neighboring Michigan [PDF]. (see story on Michigan rail improvements here)
Looking at this positively, the juxtaposition indicates some areas (Ohio, Texas) ripe for additional rail travel. It also makes it clear why the Obama administration has tried to garner support for a high-speed rail proposal in Florida, whose population density ought to make it the East Coast mirror of the Seattle-Portland line. In the future, the Atlanta-Raleigh corridor could be another potential target.
President Obama and Governor Strickland tried to establish the rail link between Cincinnati and Cleveland, but Governor Kasich and Republicans killed it, because it might cost a little less than $2 a year per Ohioan to operate each year.  We will regret their stubborn love of automobiles in the not-too-distant future.  As the article notes, the Atlanta-Raleigh corridor, even extended down to New Orleans could be a very strong regional transportation network in the future.  Too bad we gave up the chance for passenger rail across the heart of Ohio.

Jack and Diet Gets You Drunker

Allison Aubrey:
Looking to cut back on the calories in your cocktail by mixing, say, diet soda and rum? Well, get ready for the buzz.
According to the results of a new study, this combination will leave you drunker than if you'd mixed the liquor with a sugary, caloric mixer.
"Alcohol, consumed with a diet mixer, results in higher (BrAC) Breath Alcohol Concentrations as compared to the same amount of alcohol consumed with a sugar-sweetened mixer," says Cecile Marczinski, a cognitive psychologist who authored the new study.
Why? Turns out that sugar slows down the absorption of alcohol from the stomach to the bloodstream.
"In other words, it is not that diet soda accelerates intoxication. Rather, the sugar in regular soda slows down the rate of alcohol absorption," explains Dennis Thombs, a professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. He published a paper with similar findings.
I've most often heard girls ordering mixed drinks with diet pop.  A study like this may cause some guys looking to get drunk fast to switch their mixer.  I'll stick to beer.

Wind Energy In Australia Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

Bloomberg (via Ritholtz):
This new ranking of Australia’s energy resources is the product of BNEF’s Sydney analysis team, which comprehensively modelled the cost of generating electricity in Australia from different sources. The study shows that electricity can be supplied from a new wind farm at a cost of AUD 80/MWh (USD 83), compared to AUD 143/MWh from a new coal plant or AUD 116/MWh from a new baseload gas plant, including the cost of emissions under the Gillard government’s carbon pricing scheme. However even without a carbon price (the most efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions) wind energy is 14% cheaper than new coal and 18% cheaper than new gas.
“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date”, said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head,” he said.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s research on Australia shows that since 2011, the cost of wind generation has fallen by 10% and the cost of solar photovoltaics by 29%. In contrast, the cost of energy from new fossil-fuelled plants is high and rising. New coal is made expensive by high financing costs. The study surveyed Australia’s four largest banks and found that lenders are unlikely to finance new coal without a substantial risk premium due to the reputational damage of emissions-intensive investments – if they are to finance coal at all. New gas-fired generation is expensive as the massive expansion of Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export market forces local prices upwards. The carbon price adds further costs to new coal- and gas-fired plant and is forecast to increase substantially over the lifetime of a new facility.
BNEF’s analysts conclude that by 2020, large-scale solar PV will also be cheaper than coal and gas, when carbon prices are factored in. By 2030, dispatchable renewable generating technologies such as biomass and solar thermal could also be cost-competitive.
The results suggest that the Australian economy is likely to be powered extensively by renewable energy in future and that investment in new fossil-fuel power generation may be limited, unless there is a sharp, and sustained, fall in Asia-Pacific natural gas prices.
Being close to China has brought Australia a ton of money by selling them coal, iron ore and other basic materials.  Is it also making renewable energy cheaper?  It looks that way.  I'm sure that if the externalities of using fossil fuels were priced in, renewables would be a much cheaper source of energy here in the states, also.  It definitely helps renewable energy in Australia because they have a carbon pricing scheme.