Saturday, November 30, 2013

Didn't See That Coming

Alabama-Auburn.  Holy Shit.

A Stock Bubble?

While this rally is impressive (and scary), it is below average historically (Chart of the Day, via Ritholtz):

Note: historical performance does not predict future returns. 

An OSU-Michigan Tradition

Bob Wojnowski's OSU slamfest:
As thousands of scarlet-nosed Ohioans truck into town, clogging the White Castles, it’s important to remind our friends of a couple rules.
■No. 1, Tasers are not toys, not even after 16 beers.
■No. 2, we strictly enforce BYOPP (Bring Your Own Porta-Potty).
Thankfully, our state gets two shots at the unbeaten Buckeyes this year, and the Wolverines could use the help. I’m not saying they’ve been playing possum, because that sounds like a jab at the second-most popular Thanksgiving dish in Ohio. But maybe the 7-4 Wolverines cleverly saved all their good plays — you know, the ones that go forward — for The Game on Saturday.
The hope is, Michigan at least can soften up Ohio State with a series of glancing body blows, and then Michigan State can finish the job next week in the Big Ten championship game. The Spartans made a horrible miscalculation and clinched early, so they’ll warm up Saturday by whacking the Gophers in front of a tidy gathering of family and friends.
If you think Michigan, a two-touchdown underdog, is afraid of Ohio State, ha, you don’t understand this great rivalry. First of all, once you’ve rushed for minus-69 yards in back-to-back games, you’re not afraid of any embarrassment. And second — and I mean this in the most-respectful way — Ohio State is in the midst of the worst 23-game winning streak in college football history.
Am I being too harsh? Not really. I’ve done investigatory work with my assistant — the talented Ms. G. Oogle — and in this 23-game stretch, Ohio State has precisely one notable road victory — in overtime against Wisconsin last year. This season’s slate includes the standard Big Ten wrecks, as well as the likes of Buffalo, California, San Diego State and Florida A&M. Cripes, why not just complete the cupcake run and schedule Florida?
Considering how bad Michigan has been recently, this is a pretty impressive effort. Of course, he ends up picking OSUto win, 24-9.

Sharpeneing Pencils for a Living?

Apparently (not that I understand it):

HOW TO SHARPEN PENCILS from Pricefilms on Vimeo.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Voice of the NYC Subway

This makes me wonder who the lady was who said, "Welcome to Riverfront Stadium. Cans, bottles and alcoholic beverages are not permitted to be brought into the stadium. Welcome to Riverfront Stadium......."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Indiana Police Chief Gets Tasered For Fundraiser

Knightstown police Chief Danny Baker has used pig roasts and golf tournaments to augment his department's shrinking budget, but badly in need of $9,000 for a new squad car, he's reprising his most shocking fundraising approach to date: getting shot by a stun gun.
The jocular 63-year-old chief and another Knightstown official were planning to have a detective shoot them with a Taser at a free event Wednesday night in the middle school gym in their small eastern Indiana town. Spectators — who Baker hopes feel compelled to donate — will get a firsthand look at how 50,000 volts of low-amp electricity affects the human body.
"It's a shame we have to go to the extent of having fundraisers and getting electrified and so forth, but with small-town budgets you have to do something to get by," said Baker, a lifelong Knightstown resident who has been in law enforcement for 35 years.
Many rural communities like Knightstown, a mile-square town of 2,100 about 25 miles east of Indianapolis, are having to become inventive to fund needed services, said Brian Depew, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, an advocacy group based in Lyons, Neb.
Depew said federal farm bill funding for rural development has fallen by a third since 2003, leaving less money for police cars and other necessities in an era of shrinking rural populations and tax bases.
Some communities have taken to putting ads on cruisers, while others, like Knightstown, are relying on donations for help.
Why is their funding drying up?  For that, they can thank the Republicans they keep voting in office.  Anyway, here's what he raised:
 A police chief of a small eastern Indiana town who was shot by a stun gun at fundraising event to buy a new squad car says he raised about $800 in cash and received a $25,000 pledge from a Texas company.
Knightstown Police Chief Danny Baker says he's been receiving calls from all over the country and expects to collect more money. His goal was to raise $9,000 so the town of about 2,100 people about 25 miles east of Indianapolis could lease a new squad car. He says he might be able to get a second car.
This isn't the way to run a country.

Turkey Drop

Thanksgiving From the Outside

Slate tries to describe Thanksgiving in the way U.S. media would cover a similar event in another country:
WASHINGTON, D.C., United States—On Wednesday morning, this normally bustling capital city became a ghost town as most of its residents embarked on the long journey to their home villages for an annual festival of family, food, and questionable historical facts. Experts say the day is vital for understanding American society and economists are increasingly taking note of its impact on the world economy.
The annual holiday, known as Thanksgiving, celebrates a mythologized moment of peace between America’s early foreign settlers and its native groups—a day that by Americans' own admission preceded a near genocide of those groups. Despite its murky origins, the holiday remains a rare institution celebrated almost universally in this ethnically diverse society.
During the holiday, more than 38.4 million Americans will make the long pilgrimage home, traveling an average of 214 miles over congested highways, often in inclement weather. The more prosperous citizens will frequently opt for the nation's airways, suffering through a series of flight delays and missed airline connections thanks to the country’s decaying transportation infrastructure and residual fears of foreign terrorist attacks.
Yeah, that covers it pretty well.

Why Did the Detroit Lions Start Playing on Thanksgiving?

They needed a crowd:
In 1934, radio executive G.A. Richards bought the Portsmouth, Ohio Spartans NFL team, moved them to Detroit, and renamed them the Lions.  Unfortunately for him, nobody in Detroit cared much for watching the Lions.  Despite winning all their games but one before Thanksgiving, having several stars of the day, and one super star in Earl “Dutch” Clark, the average turn out for each game was only around 12,000 people.
At the time, it was fairly traditional for various football programs in high schools and colleges to hold particularly significant games on Thanksgiving.  So Richards decided to try to bring this same tradition to the NFL, convincing the NFL to allow the Lions and the defending World Champion Chicago Bears to play for the Western Division championship on Thanksgiving.
Richards then used his considerable influence in radio to convince NBC that they should broadcast this game on the radio all across the United States, something that had never been done before for an NFL game.  The game ended up being a huge success, being played at the University of Detroit Stadium in front of a sold out crowd of 26,000 fans and broadcast across the nation on over 94 different radio stations.  In the end, the Bears won 19-16, but the game was such a success, as far as ratings and fan turn-out went, that Richards fought to be allowed to continue having the Lions play on Thanksgiving going forward and to continue to have that games broadcast out on the radio nationwide.
An additional bit of Thanksgiving football information:
 Football was actually traditionally played on Thanksgiving long before the NFL ever existed.  As early as 1902 it was common for such leagues as the National Football League (not to be confused with our current National Football League) to use Thanksgiving as their championship game day.  Interestingly, this league was funded by Major League Baseball.  Another league, called the Ohio League, liked to match their best teams together for Thanksgiving games.  Many other such leagues also did the same thing.  As noted, it was also common among many colleges and high schools to hold annual Thanksgiving football games.
More on the Portsmouth Spartans here.  More Thanksgiving facts here (h/t Ritholtz).  Every year, the Lions game rouses grandpa to say that back in the day, the Lions played the Packers every year.  From 1951-1963, he's right.  But in other years, not so much.  Since they are playing this year, he might or might not say it.  I'm counting on him asking what kind of cheese we're eating (Havarti), then telling us he's never had it before, even though he has, each of the last ten years or so.  Finally, I predict he'll be asleep within 25 minutes of finishing supper.  God bless grandpa and the predictability of our holidays.

Update:  I went down to mom and dad's at lunchtime, and grandpa was already there.  We had something to eat, then at 12:47, grandpa said that every year Detroit played Chicago (oops, I had the wrong longtime rival).  That was before we even turned on the game.  At 1:15, grandpa was taking a nap.  When I left to feed the cows, mom hadn't put the cheese out yet.  I'll have to head back down and partake of that holiday tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving

Small Town

National Geographic Photo Contest, Part 2

Best one I saw:

The Messengers: Taken on May 26th, 2013, this was a dissipating low precipitation thunderstorm near Broken Bow, Nebraska, that produced one of the best lightning shows I have ever witnessed in my storm chasing career. Even more beautiful was when the lightning lit up these incredible mammatus clouds in the night sky. These type of clouds are often associated with severe thunderstorms, and their ominous and foreboding appearance is a message to all that severe weather may be on its way. (© Anne Goforth/National Geographic Photo Contest) #
More here.


Investment Bubble Chart of the Day

Here you go:

 You know, I don't know about much, but Bitcoin is a joke.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


After reading about the survey a while back, every time it rains when the sun shines, I say, "The devil's beating his wife."

And I pronounce wash "worsh."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Our Brains Screw Us Up

Here's a really nice summary of various ways our brains make us irrational.  And this story claims the smarter you are, the more likely you are to fall into these traps:
Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.” This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves. Although the bias blind spot itself isn’t a new concept, West’s latest paper demonstrates that it applies to every single bias under consideration, from anchoring to so-called “framing effects.” In each instance, we readily forgive our own minds but look harshly upon the minds of other people.
And here’s the upsetting punch line: intelligence seems to make things worse. The scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.” This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes. Education also isn’t a savior; as Kahneman and Shane Frederick first noted many years ago, more than fifty per cent of students at Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. gave the incorrect answer to the bat-and-ball question.
What explains this result? One provocative hypothesis is that the bias blind spot arises because of a mismatch between how we evaluate others and how we evaluate ourselves.
Good thing I'm pretty dumb.

Carbon Source Nations Chart

From Bloomberg Businessweek, via Ritholtz:

Nearly half of all the carbon emissions come from the world's three largest nations.  Guess that isn't too surprising.  It's just notable how much more per capita the U.S. emits versus the two nations with more than three times its population.

More Catholic Than I Think?

It looks like the Pope and I agree on a few things:
Pope Francis is once again shaking things up in the Catholic Church. On Tuesday, he issued his first “apostolic exhortation,” declaring a new enemy for the Catholic Church: modern capitalism. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” he wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
He couldn't be much clearer. The pope has taken a firm political stance against right-leaning, pro-free market economic policies, and his condemnation appears to be largely pointed at Europe and the United States. His explicit reference to “trickle-down” economic policies—the hallmark of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and their political successors—is just the beginning: Throughout 224 pages on the future of the Church, he condemns income inequality, “the culture of prosperity,” and “a financial system which rules rather than serves.”
Taken in the context of the last half-century of Roman Catholicism, this is a radical move. Fifty years ago, around the time of the Second Vatican Council, Church leaders quietly declared a very different economic enemy: communism. But Pope Francis’s communitarian, populist message shows just how far the Church has shifted in five decades—and how thoroughly capitalism has displaced communism as a monolithic political philosophy.
This will burn up the conservatives.  But shit, who can claim that "trickle down economics" works?  We've got over thirty years of it not working, and we keep being told that it will work with one more tax cut.  Bullshit.  Taxes should go up on the very high end of the income range.  You don't have to be the Vicar of Christ to figure that shit out, but I'm glad he's out there pointing out the shortcomings of our supposedly capitalist economy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hard Rock Huletts

Can Dr. Mann Save The Huletts? from Jerry Mann on Vimeo.

More on the Hulett unloaders here. Video from Major League featuring the Huletts here.

A Strange Saint Story

The tale of St. Thomas More's beard:
His beard is shrouded in mystery. What he did with it is simply amazing.
Henry VIII condemned St. Thomas More to death after he refused to deny papal supremacy. More had been confined in the Tower of London for over a year (hence the beard, and why it’s not pictured). As the executioner lifted his axe, More asked him to wait. The blindfolded saint-to-be carefully laid his beard on the outside of the block, out of the executioner’s path. "This hath not offended the king," he quipped, thus protecting his beard from the blade.
Then the axe fell.
You read that correctly. His last words before beholding the Beatific Vision were a beard joke. While that might not fit the modern notion of a saint, it completely matches his personality. One biographer wrote, “"that innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in his life, did not forsake him to the last . . .his death was of a piece with his life.”
Please remember this the next time someone tries to say holiness and humor do not mix.
And then spend some time contemplating St. Thomas More's glorified heavenly beard.
While there is some humor to be had there, I prefer the story of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence for saintly humor:
A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. St. Ambrose of Milan relates that when St. Lawrence was asked for the treasures of the Church he brought forward the poor, among whom he had divided the treasure as alms. "Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the church’s crown." The prefect was so angry that he had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it (hence St. Lawrence's association with the gridiron). After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “I'm well done. Turn me over!” From this derives his patronage of cooks and chefs.
 He is sometimes considered a patron saint of comedians, although being the patron saint of cooks and chefs is darkly humorous, too.

Balancing Wind and Gas Generation

National Journal:
Managing wind power makes flying a kite look easy.
Wind usually blows the most between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. when people need electricity the least. But every now and then, the weather gets surprisingly windy at other times. That's when a handful of people on the 10th floor of a downtown Denver office building suddenly get very busy.
"They're really scrambling during that time frame," said Mike Boughner, Xcel Energy's manager of generation control and dispatch, while giving a recent tour of the company's "trading floor," where traders buy and sell electricity and other employees manage the power of the company's entire electric-grid operations throughout the Western and Central U.S., 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "They're calling all the plants, both natural gas and coal, and telling them to back down as fast as they can."...
This is where natural gas comes in, which can be turned on and off more quickly than coal and nuclear. It's also cheaper than nuclear and cleaner than coal.
Pointing to one of many large screens in the room, Boughner said: "This shows the flexible gas-fired combustion turbines that the operator uses to fill in the gaps and respond to variabilities in the wind."
In addition to natural gas, Xcel also uses a hydroelectricity dam in the nearby Rocky Mountains as backup power to wind, which in a roundabout way is actually powered by wind. But natural gas is the primary source used by Xcel—and the country—to use when the wind dies down.
These two energy resources have long been considered a good match on the grid, and Xcel Energy is on the forefront of testing the boundaries of this relationship. Until technology offers a way to store renewable energy on a wide scale, wind needs natural gas.
"We'd have blackouts," Boughner said when asked what would happen if Xcel didn't have natural gas to back up wind. "We would definitely have events where we would have to shut off the lights."
But wind helps natural gas, too, in different ways. It has no carbon emissions, which helps utilities comply with stricter environmental rules and combat global warming. It also has a cost benefit. Even though the country is awash in shale gas and prices are at near-record lows, utilities remember that just a handful of years ago prices were five or six times what they are today. They don't want to depend too much on gas.
"We look at wind as a hedge for natural gas," said Eves. "So with some of these low-cost wind farms, that's the equivalent of locking in a $4.50 gas price for 25 years. It's an unbelievable hedge."
This highlights some of the things I was talking about yesterday. It would be interesting if the article went into a little more detail when it says the hydroelectric dam is powered by wind in a roundabout way.  I would assume that means they are using excess wind power to pump water into the reservoir, but they don't really say.  Anyway, in the Great Plains they are going to be generating a significant amount of electricity with wind turbines.

Purdue's Drum Ain't That Large

A Big Lie Written on a Drum

The Boilermakers exaggerate massively (besides when they claim to be the best engineering school in Indiana):
They parade it proudly through the campus on football Saturdays, roll it out during every halftime performance at Ross-Ade Stadium and thump it throughout each game — the giant percussion instrument that boldly proclaims, right on its face, that it is the "World's Largest Drum."
But is Purdue University's Big Bass Drum truly the biggest?
I scoured the Internet, figuring the drum's dimensions likely were buried on some obscure blog, as most pieces of trivia usually are, only to come up empty. There were lots of estimates for the diameter, but they were decidedly less than precise, ranging from 8 feet to 10 feet.
What I did discover right away was that there's a lot of competition for the title of "World's Largest Drum," which probably explains why Purdue keeps the actual dimensions under its hat, er, shiny steel helmet.
A few drums in Asia and Europe easily tower over the Boilermakers' drum, with the Guinness World Record holder in South Korea measuring in at a diameter of 18 feet 2 inches. Even the naked eye can see Purdue's drum doesn't come close.
What's less clear is whether Purdue's drum beats the competition closer to home.
The University of Texas has Big Bertha, which is 8 feet tall and 44 inches wide, and the University of Missouri boasts Big Mo, which measures in at 9 feet tall and 4 feet, 6 inches wide.....
Inside an aging metal cabinet on the first floor was a square paper boxed labeled "Lafayette Journal & Courier — No. 474." We gently placed the roll of microfilm in a nearby reader.
Smith quickly scrolled through the film, slowing down when he reached the 1921 newspapers — the year the drum was built by Leedy Manufacturing Co. We glanced through Journal & Courier issues from May, June and July before coming to Aug. 6, the day after the Big Bass Drum was unveiled.
And there were the drum's dimensions, right on the front page: "Seven feet three inches in diameter and three feet nine inches wide."
Never trust somebody from Indiana.  One of the things I was going to do if I won the lottery was commission the construction of a bigger drum than the one Purdue has, just to stick it to them.  But since the Universities of Texas and Missouri already have, I won't bother if I hit it big.  Seriously, who lies about the size of their drum?

Ron Burgundy + Curling = Awesome

The Atlantic Wire:
In what could be the best publicity stunt yet for Anchorman 2 so far (and there have been some great ones), Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy is going to Winnipeg to cover curling.
Yes, Burgundy will be the "newest member of the TSN team" (that's "The Sports Network," or Canada's version of ESPN) while the channel broadcasts the 2013 Roar of the Rings, which, from what I can tell, is a big deal in the world of Canadian curling. Whoever wins the event goes to the Olympics!
Could they simulcast this on NBC Sports Network?  I'd tune in.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Health Care Cost Vs. Life Expectancy

This is American Exceptionalism:

Ridiculous.  We have typically used about 20-25% of all the electricity and oil produced in the world, I wonder what percentage of developed world heath care expenditures we make?  About the same amount?

NASA Photo of the Day


Comet Hale-Bopp Over Indian Cove
Image Credit & Copyright: Wally Pacholka (Astropics, TWAN)
Explanation: Comet Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997, was quite a sight. In the above photograph taken on 1997 April 6, Comet Hale-Bopp was imaged from the Indian Cove Campground in the Joshua Tree National Park in California, USA. A flashlight was used to momentarily illuminate foreground rocks in this six minute exposure. An impressive blue ion tail was visible above a sunlight-reflecting white dust tail. Comet Hale-Bopp remained visible to the unaided eye for over a year before returning to the outer Solar System and fading. As Comet ISON approaches the Sun this week, sky enthusiasts around the Earth are waiting to see if its tails will become even more spectacular than those displayed by Comet Hale-Bopp.
Hopefully, Comet ISON won't lead to castrations and mass suicide.

Grey Cup Today

Well, since the Bengals are on their bye week, maybe I'll watch some of the Grey Cup game:
The Saskatchewan Roughriders will attempt to become the third consecutive Canadian Football League team to capture a championship on their home field when they face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the 101st Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
TSN's pre-game coverage gets underway at 1pm et/10am pt, with kickoff at 6pm et/3pm pt. You can also follow TSN's digital platforms throughout the game with in-game highlights and's GameTracker.
To follow in the footsteps of the 99th Grey Cup Champion B.C. Lions and 100th Grey Cup Champion Toronto Argonauts, the Roughriders are going to have to beat a team that took an almost identical route to the title game as them in the Tiger-Cats.
Both teams finished second in their respective division and after earning home semi-final victories, were forced to go on the road as underdogs to book their places in the final.
In the West title game, the Roughriders knocked off the Calgary Stampeders 35-13, leading from the mid-point of the opening quarter right to the final whistle.
After opening the regular season by winning eight of their first nine games, the Roughriders struggled through the second half of the campaign before getting things back on track heading into the playoffs.
The Tiger-Cats, meanwhile, overturned a halftime deficit in the East Final to knock off the defending champion Argonauts and get to the Grey Cup.
In the States, the game will be on NBC Sports Network at 6 o'clock.  I'll pull for the home team, playing at Mosaic Stadium.  How many NFL stadiums are named for potash mining companies? I think zero.

Georgia Southern Runs Over Florida

Kevin Ellison ran for two touchdowns, Jerick McKinnon had a huge score late and four-touchdown underdog Georgia Southern stunned Florida 26-20 Saturday without completing a pass.
No lower-division team had ever beaten the Gators, who won their previous seven games against Football Championship Subdivision teams by an average of 45 points.
So this was a shocker, even though Florida (4-7) lost its sixth consecutive game and secured its first losing season since 1979.
"Very disappointed for our program, an embarrassment (to be) in this situation," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "It's all disappointing. It's hard to measure it at this point."
Georgia Southern (7-4) ran for 429 yards -- all of the team's offense and the most against Florida since Nebraska rolled up 524 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. The Eagles also became the first team this season to beat an FBS team without completing a pass. They were 0 for 3.
McKinnon finished with 125 yards rushing, including a 14-yard touchdown with 2:57 remaining. Ellison added 118 yards on the ground, scoring on runs of 45 and 1. Fullback William Banks also gashed the Gators, getting 94 yards up the middle. His 53-yarder on a third-and-2 play set up the winning score.
Florida had a chance to win it, thanks partly to two missed extra points.
Skyler Mornhinweg, making his second consecutive start in place of Tyler Murphy (shoulder), got the Gators in scoring territory, but his final two throws fell incomplete. He had Quinton Dunbar open in the corner of the end zone on third down from the 17, but his pass floated high. He tried to force one to Solomon Patton on the final play, but two defenders broke it up.
Wow, a Division I-AA (soon to be I-A, I'm not going in for FCS and FBS) school comes into Gainesville and beats Florida without completing a pass.  That is amazing.  I knew Florida was bad this year, but I didn't realize they were that bad.

Big Ag's Losing Fight on Ethanol

Des Moines Register:
With billions of dollars of potential profit on the line, ethanol producers, corn growers and other groups know they have a tough road ahead and a limited window in which to change the thinking of the EPA and White House officials overseeing the mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard. The law requires refiners to buy alternative fuels made from corn, soybeans and other products. The EPA proposal will be open to a 60-day comment period; the agency is expected to finalize the rule in the spring of 2014.
Biofuel producers have wasted little time trying to get their message through to the Obama administration. On Wednesday, just five days after the measure was made public, representatives of Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol maker Poet, the National Corn Growers Association and others met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, White House staff and EPA officials. The industry representatives underscored the damaging impact the proposal would have on the future of biofuels.
Vilsack said administration officials told the biofuels industry they remain committed to the renewable fuels requirement and “understand the importance of it” for offering consumer choice, creating jobs, reducing the country’s dependence on foreign energy and saving motorists money at the pump. The former Iowa governor said more needs to be done to expand consumer access to higher-grade ethanol blends such as E85, which includes 85 percent of the corn-based fuel.
Critics of the EPA proposal contend they must act to prevent a permanent shift in the way blend levels are determined. In the past, the EPA largely followed the annual level requirements put in place by Congress, helping to drive new markets and spur demand for the renewable fuel. The proposed reduction — a move even some in the oil industry have called substantive — would shift the process to one that sets the requirements based on expected market demand.
The ethanol mandate was bad policy growing out of diminishing conventional oil production and high gasoline prices.  The skew it has made in commodity prices fueled a farm land price bubble and has wreaked havoc in livestock production.  With shale oil production spiking, fuel economy improving and miles driven per licensed driver falling, Big Ag has run into a more powerful foe, Big Oil.  If I'm a betting man (and I am), I'd wager on Big Oil.

Another Chicago Privatization Disaster?

This time, it is fare cards for CTA:
But while these privatization debacles have been hard to stomach, Ventra — the new, privatized fare collection system for transit in Chicago — has been nothing short of a complete disaster.
Unlike the old magnetic strip fare card system, Ventra requires riders to purchase a prepaid debit/credit card that doubles as a transit pass. Whereas fare collection has been under public control for the entire lifespan of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), officials recently signed a $454 million deal to turn over fare collection to Cubic Corporation, a multinational firm which, in addition to causing transit fare headaches all over the world, is also a major player in military equipment manufacturing.
Since Ventra went live this fall, nearly every aspect of the new system has been a fiasco. Transit riders are routinely double- and triple-charged for fares, only to find that the process of sorting things out — waiting more than 30 minutes (on average) in the hopes of speaking with an overworked out-of-state employee in a call center — is often worse than throwing in the towel and moving on. A few weeks back, news broke that bus riders were being charged not only for boarding buses, but for exiting them as well.
While some are lucky enough to avoid being overcharged, others can’t get charged even when they want to. In theory, all you need do to board a bus or move through the turnstiles is tap your Ventra card once against a card-reader. But, in practice, it’s never quite clear what’s in store for you—or for all those similarly anxious folks waiting in line ahead of you.
Will it take four or fives taps before have the green light to board? Will it say “processing” indefinitely, as you wait awkwardly at the front of the bus? Will it stubbornly bark “Stop!” when you tap it, even though you just loaded money onto it? Or, miraculously, will you be able to stroll through the turnstiles in seconds and go about your business? With Ventra in place, its a gamble every time Chicagoans try to board a train or bus—a gamble that, as a quick glance at tweets tagged with #VentraVents confirms, much of the city is losing.
Other than further enriching those who don't need it, I've never understood the push for privatization.  It is pretty obvious that ANY cost savings in privatization (which never seem to materialize) are made by cutting pay for workers, who are generally working-class or middle-class, and turned into profits for shareholders and massive pay packages for executives.  I generally don't have much trouble at the BMV, so I'm not sure why private companies assume they can be so inefficient in setting up privatized operations.  It is pretty clear that privatized services almost always end up with fee increases and greater costs to end users, but without benefiting workers who live in the neighborhoods that are served.  Hopefully, such privatization failures like this curb the trend, but that wouldn't benefit our corporate masters.

The Short, Tough Life of Turkeys

Business Insider goes through the steps of a turkey's life, from artificial insemination to slaughter.  Here's a step I'd never known of, preparation for debeaking:

Hatching is only the beginning of a turkey's journey through industrial processing.
The chicks in this picture are being exposed to high-intensity light and partially microwaved to prepare for a routine surgery.
What surgery?
Having their beaks and talons cut off.
The beaks aren't necessary for eating, and they might scratch other turkeys.  Same for talons. So off they go!
As they get softened up to have their beaks and talons chopped off, some chicks fall from a conveyor belt or slide and are literally crushed in the machine, according to a hatchery investigation by Compassion Over Killing.
Not sure what exactly the high-intensity light and microwaves do for preparing the birds for surgery, but that is a wild looking machine.  The whole feature draws heavily on PETA and HSUS information.  However, I'm not sure that Big Ag could really do anything to make the process sound much better.  They've had a long time to explain away gestation crates, but their arguments don't seem to convince many folks who don't live on farms.

A Conservative Solar Power War?

The New Republic:
Clean energy technology has always been an easy punching bag for conservatives. Propelled by growing strain of global warming denial within their party, Republicans in Congress have proposed to slash funding for renewable energy programs in half this year, and mocked the idea of a green economy as “groovy” liberal propaganda. Their argument, as laid out by House Republicans and libertarian organs like the Cato Institute and Reason magazine, is that the federal government shouldn’t “pick winners and losers” in the energy markets or gamble taxpayer dollars on renewable-energy loans to companies like Solyndra, the Silicon Valley solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees. The assumption has always been that, without heavy government subsidies, renewable energy sources like solar and wind power would never be able to compete with fossil fuels.
But something funny has happened to renewables that major power companies and their Republican allies didn’t see coming. Over the past two years, the solar industry has skyrocketed, with one new solar unit installed every four minutes in the US, according to the renewable energy research group Greentech Media. The price of photovoltaic panels has fallen 62 percent since January 2011. Once considered a boutique energy source, solar power has become a cost-competitive alternative for many consumers, costing an average $143 per megawatt-hour, down from $236 in the beginning of 2011. Backed by powerful conservative groups, public utilities in several states are now pushing to curb the solar industry, and asking regulators to raise fees and impose new restrictions on solar customers. And as more people turn to rooftop solar as a way to reduce energy costs—90,000 businesses and homeowners installed panels last year, up 46 percent from 2011—the issue is pitting pro-utilities Republicans against this fledgling movement of libertarian-minded activists who see independent power generation as an individual right. In other words, the fight over solar power is raging within the GOP itself.
One of the big breakthroughs in the next decade or so will be how to efficiently balance energy demand and renewable supply.  I would anticipate some upland reservoirs, and maybe hydrolysis of water, along with batteries, may be storage options.  This will be a nice mathematical challenge for grid operators.