Saturday, March 16, 2013

A History of Jeans

Jenni Avins:
After the Civil War, companies like Carhartt, Eloesser-Heynemann, and OshKosh slung cotton coveralls to miners, railroad men, and factory workers. A Bavarian immigrant named Levi Strauss set up shop in San Francisco selling fabric and work-wear. Jacob Davis, an entrepreneurial Reno tailor, bought Strauss’s denim to make workingman’s pants, and added metal rivets to prevent the seams from ripping open. Davis sent two samples of his riveted pants to Strauss, and they patented the innovation together. Soon after, Davis joined Strauss in San Francisco to oversee production in a new factory. In 1890, Strauss assigned the ID number of 501 to their riveted denim “waist overalls.” The Levi’s 501 blue jean—which would become the best-selling garment in human history—was born.
Initially, jeans were proletarian western work-wear, but wealthy easterners inevitably ventured out in search of rugged cowboy authenticity. In 1928, a Vogue writer returned East from a Wyoming dude ranch with a snapshot of herself, “impossibly attired in blue jeans… and a smile that couldn’t be found on all Manhattan Island.” In June 1935, the magazine ran an article titled “Dude Dressing,” possibly one of the first fashion pieces to instruct readers in the art of DIY denim distressing: “What she does is to hurry down to the ranch store and ask for a pair of blue jeans, which she secretly floats the ensuing night in a bathtub of water—the oftener a pair of jeans is laundered, the higher its value, especially if it shrinks to the ‘high-water’ mark. Another innovation—and a most recent one, if I may judge—also goes on in the dead of night, and undoubtedly behind locked doors—an intentional rip here and there in the back of the jeans.”
Around this time, jeans were a nostalgic souvenir from an increasingly closed and diminished western frontier. By the 1930s, the buffalo was all but extinct, the vast majority of Native Americans had been put on reservations, and western farmers had divided up and fenced off the once vast, wide-open land. Levi’s were unavailable east of the Mississippi, making them the quintessential California brand. To the rest of the country, it barely mattered whether the real cowboys wore blue jeans, when movie stars like John Wayne, Will Rogers, Gene Autry, and William S. Hart did. 
There's a good bit of history in the story.  

A Crime Against Nature


Those are fucking horrible uniforms.  I pray that they won't be wearing them in the NCAA tournament.

Also, the socks and shoes are worse than the jerseys:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Final Fish Fry

If you substitute "deep fry" for "burn" and "oreos" and " brownies" for "little girl" and "old ladies," Donald Sutherland does a fair impersonation of me at our fish fries.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We Got A Pope

Francis I:
Those who hoped for a progressive pope might be disappointed that Bergoglio once said that homosexual adoption discriminates against children, and he's also opposed to contraception and abortion. But while he's not necessarily a reformer, Bergoglio has passionately taken up the Jesuit call to reach out to common people and to treat the poor with compassion. He once called extreme poverty a violation of human rights and said it was the duty of nations to address its causes.
"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage," Bergoglio once told his priests. "These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation."
Perhaps his largest flaw is that he's somewhat frail for a new pope. Bergoglio is a low-key, slow-moving 76-year-old with one lung at a time when the church needs a vibrant leader.
But in a recent profile, the National Catholic Reporter referred to him as "someone who personally straddles the divide between the Jesuits and the ciellini, and more broadly, between liberals and conservatives in the church." And as the son of Italian immigrants, he may succeed in bridging the divide between European and Latin American Catholics. What's more, as a Jesuit priest, he even chose the previously-unused name Francis -- a nod to the Franciscans, who are traditional rivals of the Jesuits.
I don't think anybody could have thought we'd get some kind of secularly progressive pope.  We'll see how it works out for the Church.  As for the name, Francis can also refer to Jesuit #2-Francis Xavier, so he's got multiple angles covered. 

By the way, seeing idiot Erick Erickson tweets got me to sign up for twitter.  @afarmerinohio.

Bacon Flavored Water?

Another extremely disturbing story from China:
The dead pigs started appearing on the riverbanks of Shanghai’s iconic Huangpu River on March 4, and by the weekend, state media were reporting that 900 had been found floating in the river, the source of much of the city’s water supply. The reports didn’t offer an explanation for where the dead pigs had come from or how they had died. Still, one thing was absolutely certain in the articles and the social- media chatter: Nothing good comes from a dead-pig tide.
Early today, Shanghai Daily reported that the number of dead pigs floating in the river had increased to 1,200. Later in the morning, the Global Times, a national paper, reported that the number had crossed “at least 2,200” and was expected to rise. By early evening, the government had retrieved 3,323 carcasses from the river, with more still floating toward downtown.
Most disturbing of all was news -- first reported by local suburban papers and spread through microblogs -- that upstream pig farms had been struck by an epidemic that had killed 20,000 pigs in January and February. According to these reports, as far back as January, dead pigs were appearing on the sides of roads in suburban Shanghai. News of the epidemic was partly confirmed by state media today.
The virus at work isn’t transmittable to humans, but that’s little reassurance to the 20 million Shanghai residents left to wonder what effect virus-laden pigs have had on the water supply. It’s a question intensified by the efforts of farmers, if not officials, to cover up the epidemic that appears to have caused the dead-pig tide.
That is freaking nasty.  What the hell goes on in the Middle Kingdom?

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

A bunch of North Carolinians got busted for ripping off the crop insurance program:
Federal investigators have unraveled a massive scheme among dozens of insurance agents, claims adjusters, brokers and farmers in eastern North Carolina to steal at least $100 million from the government-backed program that insures crops.
Authorities say the ongoing investigation is already the largest such ring uncovered in the country.
Forty-one defendants have either pleaded guilty or reached plea agreements after profiting from false insurance claims for losses of tobacco, soybeans, wheat and corn. Often, the crops weren’t damaged at all, with farmers using aliases to sell their written-off harvests for cash.
Prosecutors compared the case to busting a drug cartel, where federal investigators used a confidential informant to ensnare a key participant in the sophisticated fraud, who then agreed to implicate others. That first wave of prosecutions led to still more names to investigate.
“These defendants make it harder on the honest farmer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan said. “The more they lie and steal the more premiums and costs go up for the farmers who play by the rules.”
The federal crop insurance program was created during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s as a way to keep farmers from going bankrupt because of a bad growing season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays about 15 private insurers to sell and manage the policies, but taxpayers are on the hook for most of the losses. Payouts for 2012 have topped $15.6 billion — a figure that is still growing as new claims are filed.
We had a few guys up in God's Country in Darke and Mercer County get busted about 10 years ago for turning in ridiculously high yields for several years, then turning in their actual yields to collect on.  I just don't understand how guys can justify ripping off a program that is already heavily stacked in their favor. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Life Well Remembered

Harry Stamps appears to have lived a very memorable life.  From the obituary his daughter wrote for him:
He was fond of saying a phrase he coined “I am not running for political office or trying to get married” when he was “speaking the truth.” He also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal--just like Napolean, as he would say.
Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.
Harry traveled extensively. He only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina. He always spent the extra money to upgrade to a creek view for his tent. Many years later he purchased a used pop-up camper for his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life.
He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.
There is a lot more good stuff there.  Hopefully, somebody will be around to write such a memorial message for me.  Hopefully, it won't be anytime soon.

The Development of Radar and Chaos Theory

Mathematician Mary Cartwright and her colleague JE Littlewood made an important discovery while trying to work out problems engineers were having in getting radar to work:
"The whole development of radar in World War Two depended on high power amplifiers, and it was a matter of life and death to have amplifiers that did what they were supposed to do. The soldiers were plagued with amplifiers that misbehaved, and blamed the manufacturers for their erratic behaviour. Cartwright and Littlewood discovered that the manufacturers were not to blame. The equation itself was to blame."
In other words, odd things happened when some sorts of values were fed into the standard equation they were using to predict the amplifiers' performance. Cartwright and Littlewood were able to show that as the wavelength of radio waves shortens, their performance ceases to be regular and periodic, and becomes unstable and unpredictable. This work helped explain some perplexing phenomena engineers were encountering.
Cartwright herself was always somewhat diffident when asked to assess the lasting importance of her war work. She and Littlewood had provided a scientific explanation for some peculiar features of the behaviour of radio waves, but they did not in the end supply the answer in time. They simply succeeded in directing the engineers' attention away from faulty equipment towards practical ways of compensating for the electrical "noise" - or erratic fluctuations - being produced.
So while Cartwright and Littlewood were producing significant results on the stability of solutions to the equation describing the oscillation of radio waves, the engineers working on radar systems decided they could not wait for precise mathematical results. Instead, once it had been identified, they worked around the problem, by keeping the equipment within predictable ranges.
The whole story is pretty interesting.

The Most Hated College Basketball Players

Grantland features a fantasy bracket of the most hated mens' college basketball players of the past 30 years.  I wondered if the guys from Duke that I hate would make it, and heck, they got their own bracket:

That cracks me up.  I think Laettner is a lock for the Final Four.  After that, I'd pick Iverson, Joakim Noah and Danny Ainge.

The Slow Crawl Back

From Calculated Risk:

If that trend continues, we are still about 16 months from hitting the peak in employment prior to the Great Recession.  That isn't even including population growth.  That would put us almost six-and-a-half years from the start of this mess.  Unbelievable.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Will Happen At The Conclave?

The 115 cardinals participating in the conclave will gather inside the Sistine Chapel to cast their ballots for the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
Alessandra Tarantino/AP
All Things Considered:
Most of the 115 "cardinal electors" will be housed in two-room suites in a guesthouse run by nuns. The accommodation is, by all accounts, modest — three- rather than five-star.
On hand is a team of cooks, doctors (the average age of this group of cardinals is 72), priests (to take confession) and technicians to enforce a communications blackout, both in the guesthouse and the Sistine Chapel, where the balloting takes place. The Vatican is determined to prevent any outside interference — or news leaking out from a tweeting cleric.
"The phone doesn't work, the TV doesn't work. They have no e-mail, they have no Internet, they have no cellphones," says Father Thomas J. Reese of the National Catholic Reporter, who is an authority on the workings of the conclave.
On Tuesday morning, the "cardinal electors" will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Then, mid-afternoon, they walk into the Sistine Chapel in procession while singing prayers, and take their places.
After the cardinals have sworn oaths — to observe the rules and maintain secrecy — everyone who is not part of the conclave is ordered out with the announcement "Extra omnes!" or "Everybody out!"
The cardinals likely will vote once Tuesday, writing their choice on a small ballot paper. They walk up, one by one, and deposit this in an urn on an altar. Papers are counted by three cardinals, one of whom reads out the names. A two-thirds majority is required.
After the first day, there are two ballots each morning and two each afternoon until a pope is elected.
Ballot papers are burned in a stove inside the Sistine Chapel that's connected to a chimney on the roof.
If there is no victor, the smoke — with the help of some chemicals — comes out black. White smoke signals a new man has been chosen.
That, at any rate, is what's supposed to happen.
How many days will it last?  I'd put the over-under at 3.

Gaudi's Amazing Vision


Chart of the Day

From Big Picture Agriculture:

The amount of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), at 27.1 million acres, is down by 26 percent, or 9.7 million acres in the past five years, to a 25 year low. During this same time period, corn acreage has increased by 13 million acres. Farmers are once again planting crops on marginal lands “fencerow to fencerow” to cash in on today’s high commodity prices. CRP payments haven’t risen to compete with crop returns, and the program itself is being whittled away by Congress.
I was especially caught by her use of the "fencerow to fencerow" phrase. That immediately reminds me of the last big ag land bubble in the late 70s.  The loss of the CRP acreage is just one more part of the ethanol boondoggle, and one more bit of damage inflicted on us as we wait for the bubble to burst.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Producing Miracles

Conor P. Williams writes a message to his newborn:
And many of these roles reveal us to be cruel and selfish. We are entropy’s agents—we undermine stability in pursuit of shallow, myopic things. Perhaps worse still, we hide our ugliness from each other (and ourselves) behind shabby delusions. For example: we tell ourselves that our selfishness is magically, even invisibly, conducive to the good of others. Or alternatively, we tell ourselves that our best intentions are sufficient to justify any number of ill-considered plans. Or alternatively once more, we assume that we know those close to us better than they know themselves. And so on and so forth. We are ingenious justifiers of our basest instincts. We are destructive dissemblers, though we rarely recognize it.
But—and now I’m finally getting back to you—we are best when we are creators. We have strange, unpredictable capacities for transcending our own petty selves and their concerns. From time to time, we astonish ourselves by making something that is unquestionably good. From time to time, we produce beauty that is almost wholly illuminated by the wild possibilities therein contained. From time to time we produce such shining potential that the daily grind of human life becomes not just tolerable, but comprehensible. From time to time, we produce miracles.
The whole thing is very good.  Of course, I am also a sucker for sappy.

NASA Photo of the Day

March 7:

Thor's Helmet
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Rusterholz (CXIELO Observatory)
Explanation: This helmet-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages is popularly called Thor's Helmet. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor's Helmet is about 30 light-years across. In fact, the helmet is actually more like an interstellar bubble, blown as a fast wind from the bright, massive star near the bubble's center sweeps through a surrounding molecular cloud. Known as a Wolf-Rayet star, the central star is an extremely hot giant thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. Cataloged as NGC 2359, the nebula is located about 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Canis Major. The sharp image, made using broadband and narrowband filters, captures striking details of the nebula's filamentary structures. It shows off a blue-green color from strong emission due to oxygen atoms in the glowing gas.

Government Dysfunction And Crumbling Infrastructure

It's not just for the U.S.:
It's the world's most heavily trafficked man-made shipping lane, but since Wednesday few ships have been seen on the 100-kilometer (62-mile) long Kiel Canal, which cuts through the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein to form a roughly 450-kilometer shortcut between the North and Baltic Seas.
Although the canal is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, it has been the subject of financial disputes for years between Berlin and the state. Last year, the German government even reduced the money available for maintaining the canal from €60 million ($78 million) to just €11 million, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported Friday. Years of neglect have led some of the locks on the canal to fall into such disrepair that it had to be closed on Wednesday to most ship traffic.
As the Süddeutsche noted, the shipping lane was planned during the 19th century under Kaiser Wilhelm in order to ensure that ships "could get from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to pass by Danish canons." The canal first opened in 1895, and, with relations far friendlier today, it forms a vital link for trade within the European Union and to Russia.
We're going to see a lot of stuff like this in the near future.

The Pessimist Problem

Ian Welsh:
There are a lot of organizations you want run by pessimists (for example, nuclear reactors.)  The sort of people who have posters proclaiming “Murphy was an optimist” on their walls.  The sort of people who told the Japanese how to fix their reactors in the 80s, who had they been listened to, would have avoided an meltdown.
But the problem with such people is that they run themselves out of jobs.  They make prophecies, scare people, get the problems fixed, and so their prophecies don’t happen.  Absent major disasters for long enough, people become complacent and decide they don’t need to spend money, time and trouble on the warnings of fools whose prophecies never come true.  They look at all the money they can save, or make, by getting rid of regulations, gutting inspections and running without precautions, and they realize that that even if something bad happens, the odds of them being held accountable are infinitesimal.  After all, when the Japanese financial bubble burst, senior people committed suicide.....And so, in the US, you have the Iraq war, Katrina, the great financial collapse, weather disaster after weather disaster without anything being done to protect against the next one. You have the near-absolute certainty of a billion or more incremental deaths from climate change, the near-certainty of drought in large parts of the world, the near-certainty of dust-bowls, and on and on.
I think the folks running things are a lot better off if people have so many problems in their daily lives that they are too distracted to pay attention to all the big issues those guys are fucking up on.  Unfortunately, that leaves them free to loot until We the People get stuck with the bill.  A very pedestrian example of this phenomenon, which he mentions somewhat, is Glass-Steagle.  The rules prevented too-big-to-fail for 60 years, but banksters could get much richer by getting rid of the rule.  So they did, and we got a disaster in less than 10 years.  Unfortunately, we no longer seem to get anybody who will actually fix things, so we are looking at an unending cycle of disasters.

Derby Prep News

Hear the Ghost wins the San Felipe Stakes in an upset, Verrazano won the Tampa Bay Derby, and Ive Struck a Nerve will miss the Derby:
Ive Struck a Nerve, the 135-1 upset winner of the Feb. 23 $400,000 Risen Star Stakes, sustained an ankle injury during a workout the morning of March 9 and will miss both the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands?  I like me some Kentucky Fried Chicken, but The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands is one of the clunkiest things I've ever heard.  And the exclamation point just reminds me of when Hamilton, Ohio changed its' name to Hamilton!.  That was a rousing success:
 On May 28, 1986, as part of a plan to increase publicity about Hamilton, the city council voted 5-1 in favor of adding an exclamation point to the city's name. Thus, Hamilton officially became Hamilton![11] While used extensively in the city's documents, letterheads, business cards and on local signage, "Hamilton!" was not successful in getting Rand McNally to use the new moniker on state maps and failed to be recognized by the Federal Board on Geographical Names. The city's website does not use the exclamation point.
Anyway, enough about that.  I will no longer include anything after Derby.

Misleading Information On Entitlements

The LA Times features the 5 biggest lies about entitlements.  This was the most interesting one for me:
Lie No. 3: Social Security and Medicare are $60 trillion in the hole.
As efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare gather steam in the budget wrangling in Washington, you'll hear these mega-trillions being thrown around more and more. Beware. They're numbers designed to terrify, not edify.
The assertion comes from something called the "infinite horizon" projection. It's a calculation of funding gaps projected out to the limitless future and then converted to present value — meaning what the cost would be if we had to pay it all today. For Social Security, the figure was $20.5 trillion, as reported in the program trustees' latest report. For Medicare, the number comes to about $42.7 trillion.
Even professional actuaries say this calculation is bogus. In 2003, when it was first inserted into Social Security's annual report, the American Academy of Actuaries warned the trustees that the infinite projection provides "little if any useful information" and is "likely to mislead anyone lacking technical expertise ... into believing that the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated."
A big part of the lie is that these projections aren't applied to the other side of the ledger — the programs' revenues and growth in the U.S. economy projected out to infinity. The latter, the trustees calculate, would be about $1.5 quadrillion. (How's that for a big number?) For Social Security, the infinite gap accounts for only 1.3% of infinite GDP, which would bring it about to the level we spend today on defense and veterans affairs.
In the end, we're really talking about the distribution of the economic pie.  Most people understand not having enough money to pay for things they need, so throwing out big sounding numbers is a good way to scare the bejeezus out of folks and convince them to give up part of the social insurance safety net.  With the Postal Service, Congress actually goes even farther to make things look bad.  They are actually requiring them to pay their long-term obligations on a vastly shorter timetable than necessary.  In other words, they are requiring the $60 trillion number up front.

However, I don't have much confidence in projected growth in the U.S. economy.  I doubt that there is anybody, in or out of government that isn't a little overly optimistic.  And any projections which show growth in medical costs continuing to rise faster than inflation over that time span don't reflect what is really possible.  Like housing prices rising much faster than wages, compounding growth of medical costs will blow things up much sooner than 75 years from now.  We aren't too far away from a total rethinking of our healthcare system and how we pay for it.