Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Idiot Caucus

The Atlantic features the dumbest part of Congress, the heart of the Tea Party caucus.  Jim Jordan, Tim Huelskamp, Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Paul Broun, Steve Stockman and assorted other jackasses.  These guys talk about bankrupting our country while always trying to cut taxes.  You know what will bankrupt our country?  How about slashing revenues? Or invading random shithole countries.  Or spending nearly half of all world military spending. These folks are clueless fools who get spoon fed bullshit about trickle down economics and other idiocy, then repeat it as fact.

Health care is a basic need of humans to live, and is 1/6 of our economy. I think we'll be able to  provide access to more people without bankrupting our country.  Maybe these morons have a better idea on improving our health care system, but all I hear is tort reform and selling insurance across state lines.  I don't see that as making things better.  Let's give the PPACA a spin and actually adapt the law as we go along to make improvements.  In the end, I think we will end up with some form of single payer, and I think we will be better off.  But for now, we just have to keep the above morons from defaulting on our debt, and keep them in the backbenches where they can't do any damage.  They are really too dumb to do anything productive, and I also think they are too lazy.  While they complain about people getting help from the government, they are tilting at windmills while collecting checks from the taxpayers.  I wish there were ways to convince the folks in their districts to vote them out, but most of them represent rural areas where voters love being told how self-sufficient they are and such, and they've come to believe it.  Just make sure the Social Security checks keep coming and that Medicare pays for the hip replacements.

The Potato: A Magical Vegetable

Smithsonian adapts part of Charles Mann's book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and lays out the significance of the glorious tuber:
Today the potato is the fifth most important crop worldwide, after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane. But in the 18th century the tuber was a startling novelty, frightening to some, bewildering to others—part of a global ecological convulsion set off by Christopher Columbus.
Compared with grains, tubers are inherently more productive. If the head of a wheat or rice plant grows too big, the plant will fall over, with fatal results. Growing underground, tubers are not limited by the rest of the plant. In 2008 a Lebanese farmer dug up a potato that weighed nearly 25 pounds. It was bigger than his head.
Many researchers believe that the potato’s arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there. (Corn, another American crop, played a similar but smaller role in southern Europe.) More than that, as the historian William H. McNeill has argued, the potato led to empire: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.” The potato, in other words, fueled the rise of the West.
Equally important, the European and North American adoption of the potato set the template for modern agriculture—the so-called agro-industrial complex. Not only did the Columbian Exchange carry the potato across the Atlantic, it also brought the world’s first intensive fertilizer: Peruvian guano. And when potatoes fell to the attack of another import, the Colorado potato beetle, panicked farmers turned to the first artificial pesticide: a form of arsenic. Competition to produce ever-more-potent arsenic blends launched the modern pesticide industry. In the 1940s and 1950s, improved crops, high-intensity fertilizers and chemical pesticides created the Green Revolution, the explosion of agricultural productivity that transformed farms from Illinois to Indonesia—and set off a political argument about the food supply that grows more intense by the day.
In 1853 an Alsatian sculptor named Andreas Friederich erected a statue of Sir Francis Drake in Offenburg, in southwest Germany. It portrayed the English explorer staring into the horizon in familiar visionary fashion. His right hand rested on the hilt of his sword. His left gripped a potato plant. “Sir Francis Drake,” the base proclaimed, disseminator of the potato in Europe
in the Year of Our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
who cultivate the earth
bless his immortal memory.
Drake almost certainly did not introduce the potato to Europe. And even if he had, most  of the credit for the potato surely belongs to the Andean peoples who domesticated it.
Corn and potatos, what a magnificent place the New World was.  All (both) of the vegetables I eat were domesticated here.  Mmmm.  Anyway, the article is full of fascinating agricultural history.


Last year when DARPA released video of its new robot designed to replicate the movements (and, eventually, speed) of a cheetah, some of us were creeped out by the machine’s ability to “chase and evade” at the rate of nearly 30 mph.
The only thing reassuring was that the Cheetah was tethered by an electronic leash of cables. Now MIT spinoff Boston Dynamics has released WildCat, the sequel to Cheetah, which can only move at 16 mph at the moment, but can do so while untethered.
Funded by DARPA, WildCat uses a combination of galloping and bounding to move and gain speed, as the video below shows, and can already recover from from stumbles and falls with ease.

Where the Uninsured Are

Mainly in the inner cities and the old Confederacy:

Also, guess where states opted out of Medicaid expansion.  Yeah, mainly the areas in red.  I'm sure some wingnut can explain to me that this doesn't have anything to do with race, but I'm not going to believe them.


AWAKEN from Cameron Michael on Vimeo.

Is Silicon Valley A Meritocracy?

Marketplace looks at how it is and isn't:
Michael Arrington, angel investor and founder of the website Tech Crunch told CNN a few years ago that in Silicon Valley “generally speaking, it doesn't matter what your education is. It doesn't matter who your parents are here.  You can become very successful based purely on your brain size and how you use it.”
A favorite example of the anyone-can-make-it-here narrative is the story of Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal. Lacy knows his origin story by heart.
“Moved from the Soviet Union when he was 16,” she’ll tell you.  “His family had $300 in their pocket and he had to learn English by watching an old television set that he pulled out of a dumpster and repaired. Ten years later or so, he sold a company for $1.5 billion. Ask someone like Max Levchin ‘do you consider this place a meritocracy?’”
So I did.
But first, I wanted to make sure the story that gets told about him was right.
“Yeah, that's remarkably accurate,” Levchin said after I repeated the biography Lacy had told me. “The only thing I'm not sure is precise is the amount of dollars we had in our pocket. It might have been $200 or $400, I can't quite remember,” he laughed.  “But everything else is pretty much correct, including the TV story.”
Then I cut to the chase. Does he think Silicon Valley is a meritocracy?
First, he cautioned that it was hard for him to compare it to anything else, since it’s the only place he’s ever really worked. That said, “on the absolute scale, it seems quite meritocratic,” he told me.  “I've met lots of people that have succeeded independent of their humble or otherwise origins.”
But Levchin also cautioned there are certain details of his story that often get left out. “I was very lucky,” he said.
Luck came in many forms. Even though his parents couldn't afford a TV, they did scrape up enough money to buy him a computer.
“My family was very supportive of the idea that having access to a personal computer would do something good for me, and within a few weeks of landing in the U.S., they gave me a PC to work on, to play with and to explore,” he told me.
And the importance Levchin’s family gave to computer access was no accident.  His mother had been a computer programmer in the Ukraine. His father, grandfather and grandmother were physicists -- prominent ones.
In fact, if you go down the often-cited list of big tech companies with immigrant founder success stories -- PayPal, Intel, eBay, YouTube -- you'll find many of those immigrant founders had a parent who was a scientist or academic.
Just like in the rest of the country, a lot of your access to opportunity in Silicon Valley comes down to who you parents were and what they did.  I think Silicon Valley gets that rep partly because it is a place where nerds succeed, and they don't see as many not-so-smart but better looking people moving up ahead of them.  Plus, the Internet revolution has made them fantastically rich, and they have to find some way to justify it as more than just luck and mass markets at work. 

There's a lot of fascinating technology out there, but look at the list above.  Of those, only Intel actually makes anything.  PayPal is a site which allows people to make credit card transactions securely.  eBay is an online flea market/junk auction.  YouTube found a way to compress a gazillion videos that might have been recorded on VHS and sent in to America's (not really) Funniest Home Videos.  Other than the chipmaker, how much richer are our lives thanks to these inventions.  How about Twitter or this blog?  Is it really a good idea for me to text out whatever I'm thinking to the world?  And a lot of the web guys have gotten rich by being able to mine data and sell it to the barbarian marketers.  While it is good entertainment, a lot of Silicon Valley is just Hollywood run by geeks.

Friday, October 4, 2013

More on Farmers and Government Data

Bloomberg (via Ritholtz):
For Brian Duncan, a 49-year-old hog farmer in Polo, Illinois, the government shutdown is converting the economic fundamentals of his business into a guessing game.
Duncan relies on U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity data to price his hogs. That information flow has been cut off with the partial shutdown of the federal government, which entered a fourth day today. The lapse has had a dramatic effect on his operation in north-central Illinois, he said.
“Everyone in the food chain relies on the government to be an unbiased source of prices,” said Duncan, who sells 50,000 pigs a year to meat packers, including Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN), Smithfield Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. “We have no clue what the price of hogs is or the price of the pork.”
From farms to factories, businesses are getting an unwelcome lesson on how central Washington’s digital feed has become in the information age. Wall Street traders, home builders, economists and cattle ranchers are all learning to do without as the shutdown shows no sign of ending.
The article goes on to highlight the National Weather Service, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Energy Information Administration and the Census Bureau.  These are all government operations that I think are extremely valuable, and which Republicans absolutely hate.  Knowledge is power, and in these instances, the government is the most transparent, unbiased and equitable source of information out there. There are other places with as much or more knowledge than the government in these fields, but those places are hoarding the information so they can profit from the information gap between them and everybody else.  And that is why the Republicans hate these services.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dow Original 12: American Tobacco

Yeah, this is how Duke University got founded:
The American Tobacco Company was a tobacco company founded in 1890 by J. B. Duke through a merger between a number of U.S. tobacco manufacturers including Allen and Ginter and Goodwin & Company. The company was one of the original 12 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896.
The American Tobacco Company dominated the industry by acquiring the Lucky Strike Company and over 200 other rival firms. Antitrust action begun in 1907 broke the company into several major companies in 1911.
The American Tobacco Company restructured itself in 1969, forming a holding company called American Brands, Inc. which operated American Tobacco as a subsidiary. American Brands acquired a variety of non-tobacco businesses during the 1970s and 1980s, and sold its tobacco operations to Brown & Williamson in 1994. American Brands subsequently renamed itself Fortune Brands.
James Buchanan Duke’s entrance into the cigarette industry came about in 1879 when he elected to enter a new business rather than face competition in the smoking tobacco business against the Bull Durham brand, also from Durham, North Carolina.
In 1881, two years after W. Duke Sons & Company entered into the cigarette business, James Bonsack invented a cigarette-rolling machine. It produced over 200 cigarettes per minute, the equivalent of what a skilled hand roller could produce in one hour, and reduced the cost of rolling cigarettes by fifty percent. It cut each cigarette with precision, creating uniformity among the cigarettes it rolled. There was public stigma attached to this machine-rolled uniformity, and Allen & Ginter rejected the machine almost immediately.
Duke set a deal with the Bonsack Machine Company in 1884. Duke agreed to produce all cigarettes with his two rented Bonsack machines and in return Bonsack reduced Duke’s royalties from $0.30 per thousand to $0.20 per thousand. Duke also hired one of Bonsack’s mechanics, resulting in fewer breakdowns of his machines than his competitors’. This secret contract resulted in a competitive advantage over Duke’s competitors; he was able to lower his prices further than others could.
In the 1880s, while Duke was beginning to machine-roll all his cigarettes, he saw that growth rates in the cigarette industry were declining. His solution was to combine companies and found “one of the first great holding companies in American history.” Duke spent $800,000 on advertising in 1889 and lowered his prices, accepting net profits of less than $400,000, forcing his major competitors to lower their prices and, in 1890, join his consortium by the name of the American Tobacco Company. The five constituent companies of American Tobacco: W. Duke & Sons, Allen & Ginter, W.S. Kimball & Company, Kinney Tobacco and Goodwin & Company – produced 90% of the cigarettes made in 1890, the first year the American Tobacco Company was listed on the NYSE. Within two decades of its founding, the American Tobacco company absorbed about 250 companies and produced 80% of the cigarettes, plug tobacco, smoking tobacco, and snuff produced in the United States. With Duke’s innovation, American Tobacco grew its equity from $25,000,000 to $316,000,000.
How did the Tobacco Trust break up? Like this:
 Four firms were created from the American Tobacco Company’s assets: American Tobacco Company, R. J. Reynolds, Liggett & Myers, and Lorillard. The monopoly became an oligopoly. The main result of the dissolution of American Tobacco Trust and the creation of these companies was an increase in advertising and promotion in the industry as a form of competition.
The original Dow was pretty much all trusts.

Businessmen Start to Notice GOP Insanity

T.J. Gentle, chief executive officer of Smart Furniture, an online custom furniture maker in Chattanooga, employs 250 people, has seen sales grow 25 percent this year, and was planning another round of hiring—until Republican hard-liners forced the federal government to close on Oct. 1. Gentle is the embodiment of moderate, business-minded pragmatism: He voted for President Obama and Tennessee’s Republican Senator Bob Corker, splits his donations between the parties, and prefers divided government as a check on partisan excess. Like his pla;postID=5098107952404124889n to hire more workers, this too may change as a result of the shutdown. “It’s as if House Republicans are playing suicide bomber with the U.S. economy,” he says. “As a businessman, it defies all reason and logic.”...If Republican lawmakers were as responsive to business concerns as they once were, the chance of a prolonged shutdown would be slim. But that’s no longer the case. “Republicans are not the party of business anymore,” says Robert Shapiro, chairman of the economic advisory firm Sonecon. “They’re the party of antigovernment.”....The GOP also risks losing the political support of businessmen such as Gentle, who have traditionally been a pillar of the party establishment. “When talk of a shutdown first began, the perception among businesspeople I know was that this was just Washington being Washington again,” Gentle says. “Now they’re saying, ‘This is really getting in the way of operating my business.’ The business world is hard enough without Republicans making it even more difficult. It’s just ridiculous.”
It is about time some of these folks realize that the Jim Jordans of the world are insane, and very, very dumb.  Unfortunately, I know quite a few very successful businessmen who are just as dumb and crazy as Jordan.  How they hold the beliefs they do, I don't know.  But to the businessmen who are coming around, welcome to the sane side of America.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Usual Suspects

Via Digby:
Incoherent and absurd:

“We’re very excited,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). “It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.”[...] 
“It’s wonderful,” said Rep. John Abney Culberson (R-Tex.), clapping his hands to emphasize the point. “We’re 100 percent united! Ulysses S. Grant said, ‘Quit worrying about what Bobby Lee’s doing and let’s focus on what we are doing. We are focusing on what we need to do and not worrying about what the other guy is going to do. . . . That’s how Ulysses S. Grant won the war.”[...] 
During their own public events, Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) said he and his colleagues “saw the pain and the hurt and the fear, the concern about what would happen as a result of this law. And that created a renewed resolve not only in myself but in others after we got back from the August recess.”[...] 
“I just think you saw members who said, ‘Look, let’s just do what we all know needs to be done and frankly what the American people want to see done,’ ” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who worked closely with Graves on the plan and helped persuade House leaders to accept it.

“Sometimes I go back to basic civics: We’re the House of Representatives. We’re the body that’s supposed to be closer to the people,” Jordan added. “That’s why the Founders gave a chance for the people to throw us out every two years. That’s why when you go home for five weeks and you hear from people that this law is not ready, that has an impact.”[...] On Saturday, Huelskamp said the latest spending fight “is a culmination of doing what we said we were going to do.”

“Mark Twain once said, do the right thing and it will gratify some people and astonish the rest,” he said. “America’s been a little astonished by us doing the right thing in the last few days here in the House.”

On Saturday, Huelskamp said the latest spending fight “is a culmination of doing what we said we were going to do.”
If they got Steve King, Steve Stockman and a couple more of the major morons in this thing, they could have created the intellectual equivalent of a black hole, with a density of stupidity so massive that no sensible idea could ever escape.  God damn, I can't believe there are areas in this country where out of over 700,000 people, these Goddamned morons are the ones who get elected.

Take That, Dad

Dad and I have been having a running argument for several years.  Every time a planting intentions or crop production report comes out and riles the markets, Dad claims the government ought to quit making forecasts and leave things up to the private operators to handle.  I point out to him that if the markets are so smart, they ought to know what the actual conditions are and would ignore the supposedly way out of line government reports.  I also mention that the Cargills and ADMs of the world might actually talk their book to move the market the way they want and really fuck us over.  But with the government shutdown, we get this from, of all places, The Wall Street Journal (a news source Dad reads):
Under a shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to furlough employees responsible for some daily and weekly statistical reports on agriculture that are closely watched by traders and investors. Any delays of such reports–which include everything from daily wholesale pork prices to weekly figures on chicken-egg supplies–could affect commodity and equity investors who rely on the information.
A shutdown “certainly would make things more difficult for investors,” said Brett Hundley, an agribusiness analyst with BB&T Capital Markets in Richmond, Va. “The USDA presents some of the best data in the world for any industry (emphasis mine), and it can lead to good decision-making by investors.”
Mr. Hundley said big agriculture companies such as Tyson Foods Inc.TSN +0.78% and Monsanto Co.MON +1.06% likely would face little impact from a shutdown, however, in part because they have considerable data of their own at their fingertips. He also said he doesn’t expect any shift in strategies at the companies due to a shutdown in Washington. “For operations of companies in the industry, it would be business as usual,” he said.
Yeah, Dad, I'm sure all us little guys would be much better off if the government just stayed out of our way.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The World's First Commercial Hydroelectric Generating Plant

The Vulcan Street Plant in Appleton, Wisconsin began operation on September 30, 1882:
The Vulcan Street Plant was the world's first Edison hydroelectric central station. The plant was built on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin and put into operation on September 30, 1882. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Vulcan Street plant is considered to be "the first hydro-electric central station to serve a system of private and commercial customers in North America." It is a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
The Vulcan Street Plant was housed in the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company building, which burned to the ground in 1891. A replica of the Vulcan Street Plant was later built on South Oneida Street.
The Vulcan Street Plant was conceptualized by H.J. Rogers – who was the president of the Appleton Paper and Pulp Co. and of the Appleton Gas Light Co. during this time. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, H. J. Rogers first came up with the idea for a hydro-electric central station after talking with a friend of his, H.E. Jacobs, while they were on a fishing trip.
H. E. Jacobs, who was working for Western Edison Light Company of Chicago as a licensing agent, informed H. J. Rogers about Thomas Edison’s plan for a steam-driven electric power plant in New York City called the Pearl Street Plant. Upon learning about Edison’s advances in electric light technology and electric generators, Rogers worked to bring together a group of investors in an effort to create one of the first hydro-electric central stations in the world. For this reason, the Appleton Edison Electric Light Company was formed and incorporated on May 25, 1882.
While Edison’s Pearl Street Plant was still under construction, the founders of the Appleton Edison Electric Light Company – H.E. Jacobs, A.L. Smith, H.D. Smith, and Charles Beveridge – began planning the Vulcan Street Plant.
In July 1882, an engineer named P.D. Johnston, who worked for Western Edison Light Company of Chicago during this time, visited Appleton to explain the details of Edison’s lighting system to the founders of the Appleton Edison Electric Light Company. After this meeting, the founders decided to test the viability of hydro-electric lighting by first installing it in their homes and mills.
As a result, two Edison “K” type generators were ordered. The first generator was installed in H.J. Roger’s paper mill, the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company, and is the generator that began operation on September 30, 1882. The second generator was installed in its own building on Vulcan Street and began operation on November 25, 1882.On September 27, 1882, the first generator began operation, but without success. For this reason, the man who installed the generator, Edward T. Ames, returned to Appleton in an effort to correct the problem.
After a few days of trial and error troubleshooting, the generator was fixed and successfully put it into operation on September 30, 1882. This was only twenty-six days after Thomas Edison began to successfully operate his steam-driven Pearl Street Plant in New York, which began operation on September 4, 1882. The output of the original generator was about 12.5 kilowatts.
The first buildings to be lit by the Vulcan Street Plant were H.J. Roger’s home, the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company building, and the Vulcan Paper Mill, which were all connected directly to the generator.
Initially, the buildings' direct connection to the generator caused many problems because the generator was directly connected to the waterwheel. The water from the Fox River did not flow at a constant rate, so the lights did not keep a constant brightness and often burnt out.
This problem was resolved by moving the generator to a lean-to off the main building, where it was attached to a separate water wheel that allowed for a more even load distribution.
During the time of the Vulcan Street Plant, voltage regulators did not exist yet. Operators had to look at the light itself to determine if it was at the proper brightness, and they adjusted the voltage according to their observations.
Electricity meters did not exist at this time, so customers were charged a flat monthly fee based on the number of electric lamps installed in their building. For this reason, many people left their lights on all night.
The original electric distribution lines in Appleton were made of bare copper. This posed many challenges in the early development of commercial electricity, because just about everything was made out of wood or other flammable materials. The wiring used in buildings was insulated by a thin layer of cotton and was fastened to walls using wood cleats. Likewise, wood was used for fuse boxes, light sockets, and switch handles.
I really like the details at the end of the article about the bare wires and lack of voltage regulators and such.  God, those had to be interesting days.

Accidental Child Gun Deaths

The NYT did some research and came up with this data:
Compiling a complete census of accidental gun deaths of children is difficult, because most states do not consider death certificate data a matter of public record. In a handful of states, however, the information is publicly available. Using these death records as a guide, along with hundreds of medical examiner and coroner reports and police investigative files, The Times sought to identify every accidental firearm death of a child age 14 and under in Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio dating to 1999, and in California to 2007. Records were also obtained from several county medical examiners’ offices in Florida, Illinois and Texas.
The goal, in the end, was an in-depth portrait of accidental firearm deaths of children, one that would shed light on how such killings occur and might be prevented. In all, The Times cataloged 259 gun accidents that killed children ages 14 and younger. The youngest was just 9 months old, shot in his crib.
In four of the five states — California, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio — The Times identified roughly twice as many accidental killings as were tallied in the corresponding federal data. In the fifth, Minnesota, there were 50 percent more accidental gun deaths. (The Times excluded some fatal shootings, like pellet gun accidents, that are normally included in the federal statistics.)
The undercount stems from the peculiarities by which medical examiners and coroners make their “manner of death” rulings. These pronouncements, along with other information entered on death certificates, are the basis for the nation’s mortality statistics, which are assembled by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Choosing among five options — homicide, accidental, suicide, natural or undetermined — most medical examiners and coroners simply call any death in which one person shoots another a homicide.
“A homicide just means they died at the hands of another,” said Dr. Randy L. Hanzlick, the chief medical examiner for Fulton County, Ga. “It doesn’t really connote there’s an intent to kill.”
There are several really sad stories in the article.  No matter what the NRA says, someone you love is much more likely to die from a gunshot in your home if you have guns than if you don't.  For most families in suburban and rural areas, this is something to keep in mind, even though the total number of deaths is pretty low overall.  I've got several guns sitting around, but I'd have to get a gun safe if there were kids at the house.

Lost To History

I was trying to clean up my house and came across a back issue of The Atlantic and happened to read an article about the farm boom by Chrystia Freeland, who grew up on a farm in Alberta.  At the end of the article, she compares the shrinking of the manufacturing sector and other jobs that can be outsourced to the massive migration from the farms to the cities in the early 20th century.  I had never heard this before:
Of course, that still leaves open the question of what to do about all those jobs being lost. One of the great, and largely forgotten, triumphs of American society and government has been how smoothly U.S. farmers and their communities negotiated the creative destruction of the early 20th century and emerged triumphant when it was over. Lawrence Katz, a Harvard professor who is probably America’s most esteemed labor economist, has, together with his partner and fellow Harvard professor, Claudia Goldin, studied how they did it. The answer, Katz told me, was heavy investment in education: “Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, California—these were the leaders in the high-school movement.”
Katz said this big investment in education was a deliberate response to the rapid technological advances and productivity gains in both agriculture and manufacturing. Farmers could see that machines meant fewer hands would be needed on the land, while new jobs were being created in the cities. So they built schools to educate their children for those new roles. The strategy worked: high school made the children who stayed home better farmers and gave the rest the tools to leave. In fact, the Farm Belt’s high-school movement was so successful that farm children who moved to the big cities soon became the bosses of the native-born urbanites. “They tended to be more educated than the city slickers and move to better jobs in the city than the locals,” Katz said.
The challenge those Midwestern farm communities faced same 100 years ago was remarkably similar to the challenge much of America faces today—an economic transformation that is making the country richer and more productive, but that also means most of our children won’t be able to do the same jobs we do. A high-school education was enough for the children of farmers in the early 20th century. Children today will need college, with an emphasis on quantitative and analytical skills, if they are to thrive.
But while today’s problem would seem familiar to those early-20th-century farmers, today’s response would not. “We did a better job in that period of preparing the next generation for their new context than we are doing today,” Katz said. “These areas made the right level of investment in education. We have not even approached the equivalent today.”
The farming towns of the past saw themselves as true communities, with a collective responsibility to ready their children for the future. That sensibility has broken down. “Areas that had a larger share of older citizens actually were more supportive of education, which is the opposite of today,” Katz told me.
While I know the schools of the Upper Midwest generally kick ass, but I never thought that rural areas would have been the leaders of the high school education movement.  Anyway, I agree with the position that towns back then saw themselves more as communities, although I would suspect that farm towns today see themselves as communities much more than most suburbs do.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Instants from Mustafa Boga on Vimeo.

What a Contraption!

Modern Farmer highlights 20 photos of horses from the Library of Congress.  This one fascinates me:

Stacking alfalfa on a farm. Buffalo County, Nebraska, ca. 1903.

NASA Photo of the Day

September 25:

M81 versus M82
Image Credit & Copyright: Ivan Eder
Explanation: Here in the Milky Way galaxy we have astronomical front row seats as M81 and M82 face-off, a mere 12 million light-years away. Locked in a gravitational struggle for the past billion years or so, the two bright galaxies are captured in this deep telescopic snapshot, constructed from 25 hours of image data. Their most recent close encounter likely resulted in the enhanced spiral arms of M81 (left) and violent star forming regions in M82 so energetic the galaxy glows in X-rays. After repeated passes, in a few billion years only one galaxy will remain. From our perspective, this cosmic moment is seen through a foreground veil of the Milky Way's stars and clouds of dust. Faintly reflecting the foreground starlight, the pervasive dust clouds are relatively unexplored galactic cirrus, or integrated flux nebulae, only a few hundred light-years above the plane of the Milky Way.

What Combat Feels Like

How Smart is Ted Cruz?

 Map of districts of so-called "suicide caucus"
From GQ's recent profile of the Texas Senator:
That may be a problem for Republicans, but not necessarily for Cruz. "We're in a moment when the combination of being hard-core and intelligent is really at a premium," says National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru, who's been friends with Cruz since they went to Princeton together. "Because the two things that conservatives are tired of are politicians who sell out and politicians who embarrass them by not being able to make an account of themselves." In this arithmetic, Mitt Romney is the sellout and Sarah Palin is the embarrassment—and Cruz is the great new hope who brings the virtues of both without the liabilities of either.
And yet when it comes to policy, the man hailed as the "Tea Party intellectual" has deployed that powerful intellect only sparingly since arriving in Washington. Cruz's most ambitious proposal to date has been his call to abolish the IRS—something that, as one Cruz admirer lamented to me, "he's smart enough to know is an entirely cynical thing to do." Meanwhile, his effort to shut down the federal government (remember how well that worked out for the GOP the last time they tried it?) unless Obamacare is defunded prompted North Carolina Republican senator Richard Burr to call it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." In multiple conversations with people who know Cruz well, I kept hearing the same refrain: "He's smart enough to know better."
Then again, maybe Cruz does know better. For a party in the midst of some serious soul-searching, Cruz offers a simple, reassuring solution: Forget the blather about demographic tidal waves and pleas for modernization; all Republicans need to do is return to their small-government, anti-tax fundamentals.
This is what really bothers me about these intelligent, but crazily ideological conservatives.  They seem to have such simplistic views about an extremely complex society of over 300 million people when their ideas wouldn't hold up in a society of 100 people.  How can so many extremely smart people buy into utterly idiotic ideas?  How can somebody like John Roberts believe that it is good for giant corporations to be allowed unlimited spending to influence elections?  How can somebody like Ted Cruz attack pollution control laws?  How can Paul Ryan propose getting rid of all taxes on unearned income?  I'd like to believe they are acting in good faith, but I just can't understand how they could be.

Then there are what I would call the "true believers," like Jim Jordan and Tim Huelskamp.  I keep wondering if they are really that dumb, or if they are pretty intelligent and acting in bad faith.  I tend to fall on the side that they are really that dumb.

In other words, I see the Republican party as a combination of really smart folks acting in bad faith, and really dumb folks who just don't know any better.  At this point, most of the real bomb throwers are the really dumb folks (most of the suicide caucus), and Ted Cruz is one of the few intelligent bomb throwers.  I really, really don't trust that fucker.