Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rockin' with Dirt Farmer

Never heard of them, but I like the name, and this ain't bad:

Dirt Farmer - She Shakes from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.

JP Morgan Looks To Divest Commodity Manipulation Business

A little bit of news coverage and Congressional questioning gets JP Morgan to at least go through the motions of getting out of their most recent scam:
JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM -0.80% announced today that it has concluded an internal review and is pursuing strategic alternatives for its physical commodities business, including its remaining holdings of commodities assets and its physical trading operations.
To maximize value, the firm will explore a full range of options over time including, but not limited to: a sale, spin off or strategic partnership of its physical commodities business. During the process, the firm will continue to run its physical commodities business as a going concern and fully support ongoing client activities.
J.P. Morgan has built a leading commodities franchise in recent years, achieving a top-ranked revenue position. The business has been consistently named as a top client business in Greenwich Associates' annual client surveys and was recently named Derivatives House of the Year by Energy Risk magazine.
Seriously, though, what's to keep Glencore or one of the other major commodity players from doing the same thing?  Do they really expect regulations to be written to stop them from hoarding metals?  I'm guessing this is just show.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Best of Hans Moleman

Drinking has ruined my life. I'm only 31.

In Which I Agree With Jim Jordan

Slash the NSA.

Powered By Oats

The University of Iowa is, at least partially:
One afternoon about 10 years ago, the Quaker Oats processing facility in Cedar Rapids contacted administrators at the University of Iowa. The oatmeal, granola, and cereal manufacturer generates thousands of tons of oat hulls each year, and it wanted to know if the university was interested in purchasing the waste product—significantly cheaper than coal—to use as a fuel in its campus power plant.
After spending $1 million on two years of testing and other preliminary work, U of I started processing oat hulls in 2003, combining them with coal and burning the mix as fuel. The deal with Quaker Oats has saved the school up to a half-million dollars each year, depending on the market price of coal. The institution plans to quadruple the amount of biomass it uses as a fuel by 2020, with a goal of making it 40 percent of the fuel mix.
"One of the big themes is, let's get our energy local," says Ferman Milster, principal engineer for renewables at the university's Office of Sustainability. He estimates that the university's goal of upping its local biomass purchases could return about $6 million annually to the local economy.
This change in U of I's energy infrastructure was made easier by the school's district energy system—a centralized boiler that delivers heating and cooling services to the campus. Now common on college campuses, these utilities are still found in some municipalities, often dating to the early 20th century, when towns were built around a dense urban core. It's far less common today to see towns installing the same infrastructure. Recently, however, the small town of West Union, Iowa, decided to give it a try, investing in a district energy system that will tap geothermal energy to lower heating and cooling costs for downtown businesses. The $2.5 million project is a collaborative effort, funded by grants from EPA, state government, and the U.S. Energy Department.
I've been by that Quaker Oats factory in Cedar Rapids.  It is massive.

Dust Bowl Redux

Via Big Picture Agriculture, this is depressing:
“We had eighteen months of no rainfall,” says Ogden, whose curly gray hair, ready smile and blue eyes make him look startlingly like the actor Gene Wilder. “We sold a lot of equipment last year. When you’ve had people who have worked for you, it’s hard to let them go.” As he considers what will happen to his family if his farm fails, he starts to cry. “I’ve got college degrees, but with my age it’s going to be hard to find something in this job market.”
Ogden’s friend Matt Rush is also struggling to make ends meet. He recently took a job with the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau in Albuquerque, four hours from home. He, too, cries as he considers his prospects. “This is who we are,” he says. “When your livelihood becomes your identity, you can’t just stop.” He pauses, tries to talk himself into optimism. “It’ll take a while to get her Sunday clothes on,” he says, referring to the land. “But she’ll look good. It’s so wide open. You can see the sun coming up and the sun going down. You can see every star in the heavens at night. When it’s green, it just feels so alive to me. When it rains, you can see it in everybody’s faces—how relieved they are. Contributions go up in church on a Sunday after it rains.”  Eddie Speer homesteads a small farm outside Lubbock. His wells have almost run dry; his wife, Laura, worries that she might not have enough water for cooking, washing the dishes and bathing. “We wake up every morning, and if we didn’t know God was taking care of us, we couldn’t get through the day,” he says. “We pray for rain—in church and privately. We ask God to bring rain and bless our farms.” .....I want Speer’s prayers to be answered. But I fear that Ed Moore might be more realistic. Moore looks over the land on which he rides his 15-year-old Appaloosa, Lady, at the end of each workday. You can almost see the sigh forming in his chest. “I don’t think we’ll ever run out of water [entirely]. But it’ll get so expensive we’ll have to quit,” he says. He stops to gather his thoughts. “You ask about this land. I don’t have a clue why I love it. It’s flat. Very hard to make a living. If I were really smart, I’d go somewhere where the average rainfall is forty inches. But this is home. And I don’t like to fail.”
That is so sad.  I think Ed Moore is right.  The rain-fed Midwest is where it's at.  Hopefully it stays rain-fed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This Year's Ohio State Fair Butter Sculpture Is...

the State Fair youth choir?  Yep:

Didn't know there was a State Fair Youth Choir.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Most Important Driver of History

Via Ritholtz:

The big ball could say luck, also.

The Farm Life Versus the Urban Life

Anne Buchanan compares her sister's life on the farm to her's:
I had to take a sick baby goat to bed with me last night,’ my sister said. ‘I found her lying in a corner of the greenhouse barn getting ready to die.’ ’Did she make it?’ I asked. ‘Yep,’ said Jennifer. ‘I tubed her and gave her some electrolytes when I brought her in, fed her and wrapped her up in a towel, and took her up to bed. She peed all over me around 5am, so I brought her downstairs and put her in the barrel with the two boys. It’s a bit crowded, but they’re all going out to the barn today anyway.’
Jennifer and her husband Melvin work Polymeadows Farm, a small goat dairy farm and dairy plant in Vermont. They are currently milking about 120 goats. During kidding season, twice a year, the newborns spend their first night in a barrel of hay in the kitchen. This is important during Vermont winters, but also in summer, so that Jennifer knows the kids are healthy before they go out and join the rest.
My sister and I live very different lives. She’s a dairy goat farmer and I do genetics research at Penn State University in the middle of Pennsylvania. I spend much of my day at a computer in my small office, or sometimes in the genetics lab that I manage, and she spends her days outdoors, haying, watering and graining her goats, bottle-feeding the babies, milking the dams, or in the dairy plant making cheese or yogurt and bottling milk.
The first line of the third paragraph works for my sister and I, also.  She's got her life in the big city, and I've got the life on the farm.  I haven't brought any calves into the house (although somebody did guess that I did when I asked what she figured I'd done that night with the newborn calf [I'd dragged it across the pasture on a tarp]), but I have hauled them to the barn at my house in my Ford Focus.  Buchanan's whole story is pretty good, especially the description of the seasonality of farming.  That is what I like the best about farming.

Is American Exceptionalism A Historical Quirk?

New York Magazine:
If you buy Gordon’s story, then the effect of the second industrial revolution was to replace the specific entitlement of the Gilded Age (of family, of place of birth) with a powerful general entitlement, earned simply through citizenship. “Just the fact of being an American male and graduating from high school meant you could have a good-paying job and expect that you could have children who would double your own standard of living,” Gordon says. This certainty, that the future would be so much better than the past that it could be detected in the space of a generation, is what we call the American Dream. The phrase itself was coined only in 1931, once the gains of the second industrial revolution had dispersed and inequality had begun to dissipate. There is a whole set of manners, which we have come to think of as part of our national identity, that depends upon this expectation that things will always get better: Our laissez-faire-ism; our can-do-ism; the optimistic cast of our religiosity, which persisted even when other Western nations turned toward atheism; our cult of the individual. We think of the darkening social turn that happened around 1972 as having something to do with the energies of the sixties collapsing in on themselves, but in Gordon’s description something more mechanistic was happening. “The second industrial revolution had run its course,” he says, and so, in many ways, had its social implications.
What happened around 1972 (actually 1971)?   U.S. oil production peaked.  The days of easy energy are over, and we'll pay an economic cost for that going forward.  For all our productivity gains with technology, the drag of lowered return on investment for energy production will be a drain on our economy.  A lot of other things also figure into our stagnation, including a reversion to mean for our standard of living.  Right now the folks at the top are improving their standard of living at the expense of everyone else, while the rest of us slowly start to slide toward the rest of the world population.  I don't think that arrangement can continue for long.  Like Gordon, I do believe that our post-war prosperity was a fluke event.  How we handle the implications of that will be very interesting.

Monday, July 22, 2013

1940 vs. 2010

Via Ritholtz, the Census Bureau has a fascinating graphic with their release of 1940 census records (click on infographic to enlarge):

Definitely check out the employment, housing and marital status part.  Almost 42% of the population worked in manufacturing or agriculture in 1940.  Only 17.7% of farms had running water, and only 31.3% had electricity.  And 11.6% of females age 15-19 were married.

This map is also pretty wild:

The impact of the Dust Bowl is amazing.

Craft Distilleries Return To New York

Morning Edition:
A century ago, New York could claim that much of its liquor was local, thanks to distilleries large and small that supplied a lot of the whiskey, gin and rum that kept New York City (and the rest of North America) lubricated. Then Prohibition arrived and the industry largely dried up, before trickling back to life in the 21st century.
Now, distillers in New York state are toasting a revival 80 years in the making. Tuthilltown Spirits is one of the first boutique distilleries to open in New York since Prohibition. It's been 12 years since co-founder Ralph Erenzo bought the property in Gardiner, N.Y., a rustic corner of the Hudson Valley about 75 miles north of Manhattan....Now there are dozens of distilleries operating in New York State, from the Adirondacks to Brooklyn.....
At Tuthilltown Spirits back in the Hudson Valley, Erenzo has already scaled up to employ 26 people. He says craft distilleries are starting to have a real economic impact in New York, and beyond.
"People are getting hired. Old buildings are being reused," says Erenzo. "A craft is being reestablished in this country that hasn't existed for 70 or 80 years cause of Prohibition. People are building cooperages and malt houses. This is a rebirth of a whole industry."
I'll stick to my beer, but I'm glad to see the microdistillery industry grow.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

July 17:

A Waterspout in Florida
Image Credit & Copyright: Joey Mole
Explanation: What's happening over the water? Pictured above is one of the better images yet recorded of a waterspout, a type of tornado that occurs over water. Waterspouts are spinning columns of rising moist air that typically form over warm water. Waterspouts can be as dangerous as tornadoes and can feature wind speeds over 200 kilometers per hour. Some waterspouts form away from thunderstorms and even during relatively fair weather. Waterspouts may be relatively transparent and initially visible only by an unusual pattern they create on the water. The above image was taken earlier this month near Tampa Bay, Florida. The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida is arguably the most active area in the world for waterspouts, with hundreds forming each year. Some people speculate that waterspouts are responsible for some of the losses recorded in the Bermuda Triangle.

Banks Manipulate Commodity Markets

The maneuvering in markets for oil, wheat, cotton, coffee and more have brought billions in profits to investment banks like Goldman, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, while forcing consumers to pay more every time they fill up a gas tank, flick on a light switch, open a beer or buy a cellphone. In the last year, federal authorities have accused three banks, including JPMorgan, of rigging electricity prices, and last week JPMorgan was trying to reach a settlement that could cost it $500 million.
Using special exemptions granted by the Federal Reserve Bank and relaxed regulations approved by Congress, the banks have bought huge swaths of infrastructure used to store commodities and deliver them to consumers — from pipelines and refineries in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas; to fleets of more than 100 double-hulled oil tankers at sea around the globe; to companies that control operations at major ports like Oakland, Calif., and Seattle.
In the case of aluminum, Goldman bought Metro International Trade Services, one of the country’s biggest storers of the metal. More than a quarter of the supply of aluminum available on the market is  kept in the company’s Detroit-area warehouses.
Before Goldman bought Metro International three years ago, warehouse customers used to wait an average of six weeks for their purchases to be located, retrieved by forklift and delivered to factories. But now that Goldman owns the company, the wait has grown more than 20-fold — to more than 16 months, according to industry records.
Longer waits might be written off as an aggravation, but they also make aluminum more expensive nearly everywhere in the country because of the arcane formula used to determine the cost of the metal on the spot market.
What a bunch of crooks and thieves. JP Morgan, Goldman and BlackRock are playing the same game in the copper market.

NSA's Data Issue

Moon of Alabama:
The NSA's says it needs all teh data it collects to find "terrorists". If one believes that the NSA genuinely wants to find terrorists one should be worried that it has chosen the wrong method for the false problem:
General Alexander spoke in defense of the N.S.A.'s surveillance programs, including its collection of a vast database of information about all phone calls made and received in the United States. “You need a haystack to find a needle,” he said
The assertion that one needs a haystack to find a needle is incredibly stupid. It assumes that there is a needle (or "terrorist"). Something neither given nor provable. Even if there were a needle how will making the haystack bigger it easier to find it? And why is the needle the danger that must be found? Edwald Snowden set the NSA's haystack on fire. Alexander now has his house burning because of the much too large haystack he accumulated.
I just listened to John Boehner claim he wants to cut government waste, but there was no mention of the ridiculously stupid NSA spying program.  I would think Republicans, if they have brains in their heads, would try to cut this program and attempt to pin it on Obama, even though it started under Bush.  However, since they claim it will help find evil brown people who hate our freedoms, and since tons of the money goes to contractors, Republicans seem A-Ok with the idiocy of the NSA.  As for Democrats, they should be pummeling the administration over this.  It is an unconstitutional travesty.

New At The Ohio State Fair

The Ohio State Fair opens on Wednesday.  The Columbus Dispatch highlights some of the new food this year:
• Apple uglies: A twist on the classic deep-fried apple pie, lightly glazed and as ugly as can be!

• Banana puddin’ funnel cake: A French vanilla funnel cake loaded with homemade banana pudding, crushed Nilla wafers, whipped cream and marshmallows.

• Giant deep-fried gummy bears: A five inch cherry gummy bear on a stick, deep-fried in vanilla or chocolate batter.

• Make your own pixie sticks: Mix your own flavors to create your own unique flavor of this classic candy.

• Maple bacon ice cream: A new flavor from Velvet ice cream.
Can't find what you're looking for from the food vendors?  There's an app for that (of course):
 With 188 food vendors, you are sure to find a meal you’ll love at the Fair - from classics such as lemon shake-ups and corn dogs to unique items like chocolate covered bacon and deep-fried candy bars.
Now there is an even easier way to find the just the right snack at the Fair!
  1. Visit the Food Finder online
  2. Text “ FoodFind” to 88588 for a link to the Fair's mobile Food Finder
  3. Download the free Mobile Food Finder App for Android or iPhone Operating Systems
Maple bacon ice cream?  Sounds good.

President Biden?

Jeanne Marie Laskas profiles the Vice-President:
The job of vice president is important, really it is, way more important than it used to be, but not in that fucked-up way Cheney made it important. I got the feeling Biden would have loved to say "fucked-up way Cheney made it important." But he didn't say that, not with all the tape recorders going, and the staffers there, and him in his breakfast-with-the-king-of-Jordan blue suit. Still, the uneasy expectation that he might say something like that is the thing, always the thing with Biden, the guy who trips and falls, gets back up, gets taken out, keeps getting back in.
He will say foolish things he doesn't quite mean, and he will say bluntly brilliant things that others long to say. "This is a big fucking deal," he whispered to Obama, as the president was about to sign the health-insurance-reform bill into law. Of course it was. Thank you, Joe. "Who do you love?" he said on Meet the Press. "Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love?... Whether they're marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals." Of course. Thank you, Joe. He sparked the debate so many Americans wished Obama would have with that unscripted bit.
It's his charm. It's his gift. It's his political liability, and it's part of an American conundrum. We beg for authenticity, and then when we get it, oh man, it's hilarious. Biden can be fantastic when he's on his game. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, his speech got higher Nielsen ratings than either Bill Clinton's or Obama's. He killed the debate against Ryan, pumped air back into a campaign deflated after Obama's miserable first performance against Romney.
I love the guy.  Should he be running the free world?  I'm not sure. However, I see no Republican candidate I'd rather have than him.  If it is Biden versus any of the candidates I've heard mentioned for the GOP, I'm voting for Biden.  At least it would be entertaining.   Yet, I doubt the third time will be the charm for Joe.

Boehner's Republican Problem

Molly Ball:
Of 234 Republicans, just 20 percent are reliably loyal to the speaker, a Washington Post analysis recently demonstrated. More than half have gone against him on two or more of this year's biggest votes. Boehner has also suffered a series of humiliating failed floor votes, from his "Plan B" on the fiscal cliff to the recent debacle of the farm bill. Of nine bills that have passed the current Congress and been enacted, four of them did not have the support of a majority of House Republicans, and made it through the House with mostly Democratic votes instead.
Those votes violated the "Hastert rule," an informal guideline formulated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House. Hastert pledged in 2003 not to allow votes on bills that didn't have the support of "the majority of the majority," meaning more than half of the Republican members of Congress. Democrats -- led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- decried the move at the time as an overly partisan attempt to marginalize their influence.
Today, Boehner's violations of the Hastert rule have angered conservatives who see themselves as the ones marginalized by his ability to get around their demands. Under pressure, Boehner has repeatedly reassured them that he won't break the rule again when it comes to immigration reform. Something resembling the bill that has passed the Senate would likely pass the House if it came to a floor vote, with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans in support. But Boehner has made clear he won't allow that to happen.
I'm not feeling too badly for my Congressman.  He worked hard over the last twenty years to get all the idiot conservatives elected who now give him fits.  He's been so busy taking corporate cash and throwing out bullshit talking point that he hasn't had time to do anything constructive in DC.  Boehner has brought on all his own headaches.  Note, the issue isn't that bills can't get passed, they only can't get passed if you listen to the morons in the majority.  I think this is appropriate:
 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.
The article indicates there is a rumor that Boehner may retire.  I say that it is about time for the man who 20 years ago claimed he wouldn't be a career politician and campaigned for term limits.