Saturday, February 8, 2014

Your Curling Primer

Members of the Columbus Curling Club explain the basics of curling:

More basics:

Curling is definitely my favorite Winter Olympics event.  I know it is ridiculously hard to play at the level the folks do at the Olympics, but I can definitely see my friends and I playing a much crappier version of the game while drinking cold beer.

Dayton At Vanguard of Domestic Drone Use

Washington Post:
DAYTON, Ohio — Shooter and victim were just a pair of pixels, dark specks on a gray streetscape. Hair color, bullet wounds, even the weapon were not visible in the series of pictures taken from an airplane flying two miles above.
But what the images revealed — to a degree impossible just a few years ago — was location, mapped over time. Second by second, they showed a gang assembling, blocking off access points, sending the shooter to meet his target and taking flight after the body hit the pavement. When the report reached police, it included a picture of the blue stucco building into which the killer ultimately retreated, at last beyond the view of the powerful camera overhead....
As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.
Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Ju├írez.
Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints.....
To that end, the mayor has another idea: She’s encouraging the businesses that own Dayton’s tallest buildings to mount rooftop surveillance cameras capable of continuously monitoring the downtown and nearby neighborhoods. Whaley hopes the businesses would provide the video feeds to the police.
McNutt, it turns out, has cameras for those situations, too, capable of spotting individual people from seven miles away.
It is a little extreme to consider putting drones in the air just to collect video in case crimes are committed.  Of course, companies will probably try to use them to figure out better ways to make us buy their shit.  Unfortunately, this technology will get put to more and more uses that will curtail our privacy.

Weekend Reads

Here's a few interesting stories:

Baltimore's Forgotten Champions - An Oral History of the Baltimore Stallions - CNS Maryland

In Meat We Trust by Maureen Ogle: review - The Star

Ethanol Evangelist Shrugs off Volatility to Build Powerhouse - Bloomberg

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Demand by the Numbers - Ceres  also see Fracking's Thirst for Water: Investors Warned of the Hidden Financial Risks -  Bloomberg

Is This Indicator a Warning on Energy's Most-Loved Firms? -  also see Production of Natural Gas from Shale in Local Economies: A Resource Blessing or Curse? - The Big Picture

California's severe drought reveals exposes civilization's thin veneer - LA Times

Lake Superior nearing rare ice-over -St. Paul Pioneer-Press

Rock-Star Pope at War with GOP's Ayn Rand Capitalism - MarketWatch

A database of hydraulically fractured wells is overlaid on a map of baseline water stress in the United States. Colors represent water stress, black dots represent hydraulically-fractured wells. Source: WRI Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas (Bloomberg)

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Epic Land Part 1 - New Zealand Landscapes

The Epic Land Part 1 - New Zealand Landscapes Timelapse from Bevan Percival on Vimeo.

Bachelor Farmer Leaves $10 Million to Churches


A Whole Lot of Awesome

From the Boston Globe:

File this under things we want to eat, like right now: Take a classic Philly cheesesteak and stuff it inside —not just any calzone—but a pretzel calzone. Bake it. Serve with sauce. Dip. Bite. Repeat.
So, this is just one of many examples of your fave foods being stuffed into something even more delicious than itself in Fenway food blogger Dan Whalen’s new book, “Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook.” Call it cannibalistic comfort food, if you must, but we’ve been calling it multi-layered deliciousness.
That sounds kickass, but how about nacho cheese sauce or hot Cheese Whiz for dipping?

Korean War Drinking Game

A Marine photographer from the Korean War reflects on his experiences, including a game of beer baseball:
In the spring of 1953 his outfit was sent to the rear to get some rest. Their company commander came up with the idea of putting two teams together for a baseball game – with a sudsy twist.
“They brought these cases of beer and stacked them at every base, including home plate,” Forbes recalled. “If you got a hit and got to first base, you had to chug a can of beer before you could go to second, and another from second to third, and third to home.”
After a few hits from the bats and cans, “it was pretty wild. Guys were running around, bumping into one another, falling down and laughing like mad,” he added. “To this day I don’t know which team finally won that game, and I don’t really care.
“I guess the idea behind the whole thing was psychological. It got us relaxed so we could forget for a while the war going on around us,” he said. “For many of us, it worked.
“I know that for a short peaceful time that day, playing a wild and carefree game from more normal times . . . I lost the mingled feelings of fear and horror we had to live with daily.”
As he said in the article, the Korean War really was a forgotten war.  But war is war, and the escape from it in an organized drinking game stuck with the man for over 60 years.

Mmmm.....Textured Beef

Or pink slime, if that's what you know it as:

 Cargill, one of the nation’s largest meatpackers, has added wording to its labels on ground beef packages that indicates whether the meat inside includes a product that’s been called “pink slime.”
Since Jan. 20, all of Cargill’s U.S.-produced, fresh, 100 percent ground beef products that contain what it calls “finely textured beef” will say so on a label, whether sold in bulk or in chubs directly to consumers, the company announced this week. Cargill had said in November that it would add the labeling, the Lincoln Journal Star said.
Cargill also said it has developed a website to answer questions about finely textured beef.
Another company that makes the textured beef product, Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based Beef Products Inc., sued ABC News in September 2012 after the organization aired a story that used the phrase “pink slime.” The company said the story mentioned only Beef Products Inc. and its product and misled consumers into believing the product is unhealthy and unsafe.
The company said it lost business and had to close plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa. It kept open a Nebraska plant that is still running at reduced capacity, but Beef Products spokesman Jeremy Jacobsen told The Associated Press on Friday that the other plants remained closed.
As I said before, I'm not bothered by pink slime.  I don't think I could tell the difference between hamburger with or without the additive.  I'm mainly impressed that Cargill was able to put the euphemism "textured beef" to use on their labels.  They weren't quite as successful with corn sugar.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mars Rover Curiosity Gazes in Martian Sky at Earth

From JPL:

The two bodies in this portion of an evening-sky view by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are Earth and Earth's moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
The rover's view of its original home planet even includes our moon, just below Earth.
The images, taken about 80 minutes after sunset during the rover's 529th Martian day (Jan. 31, 2014) are available at for a broad scene of the evening sky, and at for a zoomed-in view of Earth and the moon.
The distance between Earth and Mars when Curiosity took the photo was about 99 million miles (160 million kilometers).
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
I like the mountains in the background.

Dow Designs High Tech Luge Runners

Detroit News:

With the help of Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., the U.S. luge team may have found an edge in its quest for gold at the winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia.
Dow has developed new runners that are “proving to be lighter and easier to maneuver” than the ones they’re replacing on some sleds, said Sandy Caligiore, a spokesman for the United States Luge Association in Lake Placid, N.Y. “Generally speaking, that allows us to get down the track with less steering, which means less friction. Less friction means more speed. Friction is a four-letter word in luge.”
For Dow, which had some experience in auto racing, the luge project was the first time it took on such an effort for a sporting event, said Scott Burr, Dow Chemical’s lead research and development manager, who worked on the project.....
Scientists and engineers at the company’s Research and Development Division in Midland began work to update the luge sled runners two years ago. The group included manufacturing specialists and experts in machining, rapid prototyping and industrial design, Burr said.
Dow researchers tailored materials and composites used in the automotive and construction industries for the sled runners.
Through testing, “one of the key things we learned is that if a rider tenses up, the sled is slow, no matter how good of a sled you put on the track,” Burr said.
Team USA began using Dow’s runners, and the steel blades made by U.S. Steel and honed by Norton Abrasives — the team’s primary sponsor — in October, the start of the world luge competition season, Burr said.
The advancements have already helped. The U.S. team has won four World Cup silver medals this season, the group’s best season in three years, Caligiore said.
For competitive reasons, Dow or USA Luge won’t disclose the materials being used in the new runners.
Burr said the runners are made from a composite system, not a single material. Caligiore said the runners are still fiberglass, but a “little bit funkier” fiberglass.
I still have no idea how lugers drive those things.  While I think the sport is pretty cool, doubles luge is so gay.  If it was co-ed, I'd be in for it, but as it is, no thanks.

Another Chase Bank Story

 Alex Schaefer's painting of a Chase Bank branch on fire. The work measures 22 by 28 inches. (Photo courtesy the artist)

Last time I talked about my dealings with Chase Bank was nearly 6 months ago.  At that time, I was opening up a checking account there to take advantage of their offer of $200 for starting an account.  I told them when I went in that I didn't intend to do anything but deposit the minimum amount in the account to ensure I wouldn't be charged any fees, collect the $200, keep the account open the required 6 months, then withdraw my deposit and their $200. 

More than a month ago I was surprised to look at my statement and see that a deposit of $23.75 had been made in the account.  The statement didn't give any details beyond that $23.75 had been deposited on November 29.  I knew I hadn't put that there, and I couldn't think of any way that something I was supposed to get just ended up there, but I didn't worry about it because I figured they would find whatever mistake they'd made and they would pull the money out of the account and send it wherever it was supposed to go. 

So I was even more surprised this month when I got my statement and saw that the money was still there.  That prompted me to log into the account online to see if I could get any more information about the deposit.  Luckily, the scanned image of the deposited check was available, and I could see that it was from an energy company to some guy named Fidel who resides in New York City.  I figured Fidel probably was wondering where in the hell his $23.75 was, so this morning I called the customer service line to report that somebody else had deposited a check which mistakenly ended up in my account.  The customer service technician had to put me on hold three times while he tried to get the mistake corrected.  After nearly 12 minutes on the line, he told me it was taken care of, and that the money would leave my account in two or three business days. 

Now twelve minutes isn't an extremely large amount of time, but it still seemed like a lot just for them to be able to take care of a very obvious mistake.  I can only imagine how much work Fidel had to go through to try to get the bank to credit him the $23.75 he had coming, and I really would like to know if the bank eventually gave him the money even if they hadn't figured out where it actually had gone.  I'd also like to know that if they hadn't already credited his account, whether they actually will do it in the next couple of days.  That's my latest Chase Bank story, but I'll be going in the next week or so to close my account, so I'll have another interaction with them soon.

The Car Grinder

Via the Dish:

Science and Engineering Visualization Winners for 2013


"Invisible Coral Flows," 1st Place, Photography Vicente Fernandez, Orr Shapiro, Melissa Garren, Assaf Vardi, Roman Stocker (MIT) 
Science and art don’t intersect nearly as often as they should, despite their many similarities. Chief among those shared qualities is creativity — whether of thought, experimentation, or presentation.
When science and art do meet one other, the results can be an astonishing blend of expression and fact. Each year, we report on the winners of the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, a competition run by the journal Science and the U.S. National Science Foundation. This year, teams submitted more than 200 entries. The winners include a swirling, animated planetary video, a citizen science neuron-mapping interactive, and a most ingenious way of visualizing the ways in which water swirls around coral polyps.
There are several other cool ones over there.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Bonnaroo Experience

The Bonnaroo Experience from Already Alive on Vimeo.

That's cool, but is it Troy Rock City?

Backpack Nukes?

 H-912 transport container for Mk-54 SADM

The U.S. had them in its arsenal:
The Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) was a family of man-portable nuclear weapons fielded by the US military in the 1960s, but never used in actual combat. The US Army planned to use the weapons in Europe in the event of a Soviet invasion. US Army Engineers would use the weapon to irradiate, destroy, and deny key routes of communication through limited terrain such as the Fulda Gap. Troops were trained to parachute into Soviet-occupied western Europe with the SADM and destroy power plants, bridges, and dams.
The project, which involved a small nuclear weapon, was designed to allow one person to parachute from any type of aircraft carrying the weapon package and place it in a harbor or other strategic location that could be accessed from the sea. Another parachutist without a weapon package would follow the first to provide support as needed.
The two-person team would place the weapon package in the target location, set the timer, and swim out into the ocean, where they would be retrieved by a submarine or a high-speed surface water craft.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States developed several different types of lightweight nuclear device. The smallest of these was the W54 warhead, which had a 10.75 inch diameter (270 mm), was about 15.7 inches long (400 mm), and weighed approximately 23 kg (50 lbs). It was fired by a mechanical timer and had a variable yield equivalent to between 10 tons and 1 kiloton of TNT. The W54 nuclear device was used in the Davy Crockett Weapon System.
The Atomic Demolitions Munitions school was located at the U.S. Army Engineer Center on Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, until it was closed in 1985.
I'm still amazed we didn't destroy the entire world during the Cold War.  Not that we didn't come close a bunch of times.

Mr. Obvious Headline of the Day - Where the Uninsured Are

Half the nation’s uninsured live in just 116 counties

A new study conducted for The Associated Press shows the administration is best off focusing on a relatively narrow geographic area: Half of those under 65 without insurance live in just 116 of the nation’s 3,143 counties. And half of all 19-39 year olds without insurance — the most coveted demographic as health-care providers look to expand their risk pools — live in 108 counties.
No shit, half the uninsured live in the counties which contain almost half the population:

Using Census data, we've figured out that half of the United States population is clustered in just the 146 biggest counties out of over 3000.
Sure, 146 is more than 118, but should we really be surprised that there are a lot of uninsured people where there are a lot of people?  I'd say no.  I bet you'll be surprised to learn that the counties with the most uninsured happen to be the largest counties in the country.  No, really.  I know, that's fucking amazing.

How Does the Power Grid Work?

I was hoping for a little more detail, but this is ok:

The Brewery Renaissance

The chart below shows the number of breweries in the US, which fell to zero in the prohibition years, but ended 2013 at the highest level since at least 1887. This is mainly due to the well documented explosion in popularity of craft beers and breweries. 

According to the Colorado based Brewer’s Association, beers made by craft brewers (which it defines as small, independently owned, and traditional) accounted for 6.5% of volumes sold in the US beer market in 2012. That is up from 2.7% in 2003. By contrast, non-craft beer sales accounted for 79.6% of total beer volumes in 2012, down from 85.7% in 2003.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Syngenta Versus Science?

Rachel Aviv profiles a scientist whose research indicates atrazine may cause birth defects in frogs (and  humans), and Syngenta's efforts to discredit his, and others' work:
Hayes has devoted the past fifteen years to studying atrazine, and during that time scientists around the world have expanded on his findings, suggesting that the herbicide is associated with birth defects in humans as well as in animals. The company documents show that, while Hayes was studying atrazine, Syngenta was studying him, as he had long suspected. Syngenta’s public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was “discredit Hayes.” In a spiral-bound notebook, Syngenta’s communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could “prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible.” He was a frequent topic of conversation at company meetings. Syngenta looked for ways to “exploit Hayes’ faults/problems.” “If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him,” Ford wrote. She observed that Hayes “grew up in world (S.C.) that wouldn’t accept him,” “needs adulation,” “doesn’t sleep,” was “scarred for life.” She wrote, “What’s motivating Hayes?—basic question.”
Syngenta, which is based in Basel, sells more than fourteen billion dollars’ worth of seeds and pesticides a year and funds research at some four hundred academic institutions around the world. When Hayes agreed to do experiments for the company (which at that time was part of a larger corporation, Novartis), the students in his lab expressed concern that biotech companies were “buying up universities” and that industry funding would compromise the objectivity of their research. Hayes assured them that his fee, a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, would make their lab more rigorous. He could employ more students, buy new equipment, and raise more frogs. Though his lab was well funded, federal support for research was growing increasingly unstable, and, like many academics and administrators, he felt that he should find new sources of revenue. “I went into it as if I were a painter, performing a service,” Hayes told me. “You commissioned it, and I come up with the results, and you do what you want with them. It’s your responsibility, not mine.”
Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S., where sales are estimated at about three hundred million dollars a year. Introduced in 1958, it is cheap to produce and controls a broad range of weeds. (Glyphosate, which is produced by Monsanto, is the most popular herbicide.) A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that without atrazine the national corn yield would fall by six per cent, creating an annual loss of nearly two billion dollars. But the herbicide degrades slowly in soil and often washes into streams and lakes, where it doesn’t readily dissolve. Atrazine is one of the most common contaminants of drinking water; an estimated thirty million Americans are exposed to trace amounts of the chemical.
The whole story is worth reading.  This study is scary sounding for residents in the Midwest:
 That year, a paper in Acta Paediatrica, reviewing national records for thirty million births, found that children conceived between April and July, when the concentration of atrazine (mixed with other pesticides) in water is highest, were more likely to have genital birth defects. The author of the paper, Paul Winchester, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, received a subpoena from Syngenta, which requested that he turn over every e-mail he had written about atrazine in the past decade. The company’s media talking points described his study as “so-called science” that didn’t meet the “guffaw test.” Winchester said, “We don’t have to argue that I haven’t proved the point. Of course I haven’t proved the point! Epidemiologists don’t try to prove points—they look for problems.”
Also, this:
 Syngenta denied repeated requests for interviews, but Ann Bryan, its senior manager for external communications, told me in an e-mail that some of the studies I was citing were unreliable or unsound. When I mentioned a recent paper in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, which showed associations between a mother’s exposure to atrazine and the likelihood that her son will have an abnormally small penis, undescended testes, or a deformity of the urethra—defects that have increased in the past several decades—she said that the study had been “reviewed by independent scientists, who found numerous flaws.” She recommended that I speak with the author of the review, David Schwartz, a neuroscientist, who works for Innovative Science Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in “product defense” and strategies that “give you the power to put your best data forward.” Schwartz told me that epidemiological studies can’t eliminate confounding variables or make claims about causation. “We’ve been incredibly misled by this type of study,” he said.
The article definitely hits on the inherent limitations of scientific research making the step from correlation to causation, especially when extremely well-funded opponents' profitability is threatened.  It is hard to look at Syngenta's efforts and not see similarities to the 50 year battle of cigarette companies against research linking smoking with cancer, as well as the energy industry and Republican party's war on climate science.  It is notable that one of the communities featured in a New York Times article about public water systems which have found large concentrations of atrazine in their drinking water is Piqua, the city closest to my home, and the one in which I work.  This is definitely a potential problem with the greatest likelihood of significance in the Midwest.

California Mulls Another Giant Water Project

California’s worsening drought is raising the stakes for a $15 billion plan endorsed by Governor Jerry Brown to build two 30-mile (48-kilometer) water tunnels under an ecologically sensitive river delta east of San Francisco Bay.
The tunnels, each as wide as a two-lane interstate highway, would ship water more reliably from northern California to thirsty farms and cities in the south. They would also bolster the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is on the verge of collapse from feeding water to 25 million people and 750,000 acres (304,000 hectares) of farmland.
The drought, which officials say could be one of the worst in California’s history, is forcing farmers in the fertile central valley region to fallow thousands of acres of fields and has left 17 rural towns so low on drinking water that the state may need to start trucking in supplies. The tunnels are the biggest part of a $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan.... The tunnels would permit the state to begin pumping water directly from the Sacramento River at the northern end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect endangered smelt, salmon and other fish being killed by the existing water pumping system in the southern delta. The tunnels would move as much as 9,000 cubic feet (255 cubic meters) of water per second. The state now is forced to curtail flows to a fraction of that because of the fish kills... Proponents say the tunnels would also better protect the state’s water supply from earthquakes, which could collapse levees along the delta and flood the area with saltwater...The tunnels would funnel water to existing canals of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, which deliver water to southern and central parts of the state.
The sheer scale of the water infrastructure in California boggles my mind.  Sure, I worked as a civil engineer, but to me, a 24" water main was pretty damn big, and I thought a five mile-long water line from our county seat to an outlying municipality was a major project.  Building two 30-mile long tunnels, to tie into a water system that is nearly a thousand miles long seems crazy.

Some Corn Belt Farmers Look to Fruits and Veggies For Profits

John D. Jackson lives in the heart of the Corn Belt, where most of the corn has nothing to do with sweet kernels on the cob. His farm in Southern Illinois typically grows field corn, the high-starch variety that is turned into ethanol and cattle feed....
But on 10 of his 700 acres, Mr. Jackson broke from this culture of corn last fall by planting something people can sink their teeth into. With a tractor and an auger, he drilled four-foot holes in his soil, added fertilizer and put in 48 apple trees bearing Gold Rush, Jonagold, Enterprise and the sweet-tart blushing globe called the Crimson Crisp. This year he plans to add more apple trees, blackberry bushes and possibly some vegetables.
Mr. Jackson is part of a small but eager cadre of corn farmers who are starting to switch sides, as it were, lured by a little-appreciated fact of farm economics: There is vastly more money to be made in growing other vegetables and fruits. While an acre of corn is projected to net average farmers $284 this year after expenses, and just $34 if they rent the land, as is common, an apple orchard on that same acre will make $2,000 or more, according to crop analysts. A sophisticated vegetable operation using the popular plastic covers called high tunnels, which increase yields and extend the growing season, can push that figure as high as $100,000.
What makes it easier to do than in the past?  The popularity of locally-raised food and farmers' markets.  What prevents me from doing something like this?  Laziness and an unwillingness to deal with other people.  But it is going to be really challenging this year with corn and soybean prices looking to continue declining.  The easy profits of the last seven years will likely be a distant memory this growing season.  Well, it's been a much better run than I ever would've thought we'd get.  Maybe I will need to consider working harder and getting over my resistance to engaging in commerce with city folks.

How Are Chicken McNuggets Made?

Like this:

Will they show us how the McRib is made next?

Things Are Better Than They Sometimes Seem

The Motley Fool gives 50 reasons why this is the best time in human history.  One that stood out to me was this one:
6. In his 1770s book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: "It is not uncommon in the highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne 20 children not to have 2 alive." Infant mortality in America has dropped from 58 per 1,000 births in 1933 to less than six per 1,000 births in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. There are about 11,000 births in America each day, so this improvement means more than 200,000 infants now survive each year who wouldn't have 80 years ago. That's like adding a city the size of Boise, Idaho, every year.
That is a pretty crazy change.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

California Communities May Run Out of Water

San Jose Mercury-News:

As California's drought deepens, 17 communities across the state are in danger of running out of water within 60 to 120 days, state officials said Tuesday.
In some communities, wells are running dry. In others, reservoirs are nearly empty. Some have long-running problems that predate the drought.
The water systems, all in rural areas, serve from 39 to 11,000 residents. They range from the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to districts that serve the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County.
And it could get a lot worse.
"As the drought goes on, there will be more that probably show up on the list," said Dave Mazzera, acting drinking-water division chief for the state Department of Public Health.
I'm not surprised that several of these are on the upstream end of the Central Valley, but I am surprised that so many could be that close to running out of water.  I would be praying for rain if I were out there.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Now that they are fully-owned by Fiat, are these Chrysler "America" ads a little over-the-top?

Also, "what's more American than America?" Seriously?

Super Bowl Prediction

I'll go with the Seahawks winning 31-27.  Richard Sherman has one pick to set up a Seahawks touchdown.  Most of the commercials will be a waste of $4 million.  I'll post the commercials I like.  At least the ones other than this Chevy ad.

NASA Photo of the Day

January 27:

From the Northern to the Southern Cross
Image Credit & Copyright: Nicholas Buer
Explanation: There is a road that connects the Northern to the Southern Cross but you have to be at the right place and time to see it. The road, as pictured above, is actually the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy; the right place, in this case, is dark Laguna Cejar in Salar de Atacama of Northern Chile; and the right time was in early October, just after sunset. Many sky wonders were captured then, including the bright Moon, inside the Milky Way arch; Venus, just above the Moon; Saturn and Mercury, just below the Moon; the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds satellite galaxies, on the far left; red airglow near the horizon on the image left; and the lights of small towns at several locations across the horizon. One might guess that composing this 30-image panorama would have been a serene experience, but for that one would have required earplugs to ignore the continued brays of wild donkeys.

A Life Lived In One Place

Garrison Keillor reflects on a life lived in the Twin Cities, and a life lived in which a man and his surroundings are entwined in a single existence:
When a man has lived in one place so long, he takes comfort in landmarks. The State Theater, the Basilica of St. Mary, the Grain Belt beer sign on Hennepin. I will go out of my way to cruise by the white tower of the horticulture building at the state fairgrounds and the grandstand and the remains of the racetrack where auto thrill-show drivers raced late-model Fords off ramps and through flaming hoops and a woman in a spangly suit dived from a high tower into a water tank. When Northwestern National Bank was sold to a giant chain, whose brass decided to do away with the beloved Weatherball (“When the Weatherball is white, colder weather is in sight”), it was like a death in the family.....
When a man has lived in one place for most of his life, he walks around hip-deep in history. He sees that life is not so brief; it is vast and contains multitudes. I drive down Seventh Street to a Twins game and pass the old Dayton’s department store (Macy’s now but still Dayton’s to me), where in my poverty days I shoplifted an unabridged dictionary the size of a suitcase, and 50 years later I still feel the terror of walking out the door with it under my jacket, and I imagine the cops arresting my 20-year-old self and what 30 days in the slammer might’ve done for me. From my seat above first base, I see the meatpacking plant where those men wrestled beef carcasses into trucks and the old Munsingwear factory with the low rumble and whine of machines, and I remember an intense dread of spending one’s days at a power loom making men’s underwear. The building is today an enormous emporium of interior design showrooms, the place to go if you feel the urge to spend a hundred grand on a new bathroom, but to me it’s still the coal mine I was afraid I’d spend my life in. I think about this along about the eighth inning if the Twins are down by a few runs.
When we graduated from Anoka High, my classmate Corinne Guntzel drove her dad’s white Cadillac Eldorado convertible with rocket tail fins at high speed down the West River Road and into the city on a street just beyond right center field, and I stood in the front seat and sang, “That’ll be the day, when you say goodbye / oh, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry,” and now she and her parents, Hilmar and Helen, lie in Crystal Lake Cemetery on the north side beyond left field, my stalwart friends and supporters, in the ground; thoughts of them click into place whenever I pass the Dowling Avenue exit on 94. She was a suicide 28 years ago, drowned with rocks in her pockets, and I still love her and am not over her death, nor do I expect ever to be. If I drove by the cemetery with a visitor, I wouldn’t say a word about this. Too much. Too painful. Her at the wheel, the summer wind in my face, the lights of Minneapolis passing, sweet love in the air. I would give the world to go back to that night and hold her in my arms.
When I got out of college, I made an effort to move away from home and to head to a more rural place, one in which change seemed less likely.  One of the things that quickly brought be back home was my knowledge of the place.  I didn't want to give up all the history, the landmarks, the understanding of the communities, what they were, how they worked, and why they worked that way.  I didn't want to be a stranger in a strange land, where I wasn't educated in the culture of the place.  It is probably a strange reason to head back home, but it is one of the determining factors in me ending up where I am.  We're going to have a couple of local landmarks demolished this year, and I'm going to feel like a little piece of the place I know is gone.  However, they will live on, as long as the stories about them do.  Much like the stockyards and packing plants of South St. Paul, which I'm sure Keillor remembers well, even though they are gone, the people they affected live on, and a bit of that history will continue to be passed down.  I can appreciate that many people aren't attached to a single place, but to Garrison Keillor, and to myself, place is a part of self.

Who Ran Freedom Industries?

Good question:

From left, photographs courtesy West Virginia MetroNews; Tribune-Review; courtesy AATIP
Before the lawsuits and the retreat into federal bankruptcy court, before the change in ownership in a veiled roll-up by an out-of-state coal baron, before the Justice Department’s environmental-crimes investigation, the presidentially declared emergency, and the National Guard’s arrival—nine years before all of that—the co-founder of Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the Jan. 9 chemical spill that cut off tap water for 300,000 West Virginians, was convicted of siphoning payroll tax withholdings to splurge on sports cars, a private plane, and real estate in the Bahamas. And 18 years before that, in 1987, before he started Freedom Industries, Carl Kennedy II was convicted of conspiring to sell cocaine in a scandal that brought down the mayor of Charleston.
Little known, even locally, Freedom was born and operated in a felonious milieu populated by old friends who seemed better suited to bartending at the Charleston-area saloons they also owned. “These people who were running Freedom Industries weren’t the sort you’d put in charge of something like chemical storage that could affect the whole community,” Danny Jones, Charleston’s current mayor, says. “Who are these guys, anyway?”
Good question. Kennedy kept the books for bars and restaurants, including a rib house Mayor Jones used to own, although he hadn’t gotten to know him well. “He was pleasant enough,” Jones says. Until the spill, the mayor had no idea his former accountant had been enmeshed with Freedom. That really seems troubling, Jones says, “especially with the cocaine stuff in his history.”
The whole thing is a fascinating look at shell companies and legal paper shuffling that looks a lot like a way to cover up criminal activity.  I can think of a couple of folks I've run into in business dealings over the years who just didn't seem like they were on the up-and-up, and I doubt that any of them had the checkered past that these guys did.  The name, Freedom Industries, itself is so creepily libertarian that there is built in schadenfreude in the fact that this incident highlights why libertarianism is a ridiculous fringe ideology which deserves to be ignored by anyone with a functioning brain.  Trusting businessmen to ignore their self interest and act in ways which will benefit society as a whole is at least as foolish as thinking that no one will try to rip off the social safety net.  Unfortunately, folks on the right are oblivious to the misdeeds of the wealthy, while folks on the left look away from bad behavior on the part of the less well-off.  Here's an idea, let's do a little bit of figuring to determine where we are getting screwed over by crooks, and put plans in place to deal with those frauds based on how costly they are to society.  Polluting the water supply of 300,000 people seems like a pretty big deal to me.

GOP 2016 Race Shaping Up To Be Disaster

Washington Post:
As Republicans look ahead to the 2016 presidential race, they are hoping to avoid the kind of chaotic and protracted nominating battle that dismayed party elders and damaged the eventual candidacy of Mitt Romney.
That, however, could be a hard thing to prevent.
The party is divided and in turmoil, with a civil war raging between its establishment and insurgent factions. For the first time in memory, there is no obvious early favorite — no candidate with wide appeal who has run before, no incumbent president or vice president, no clear establishment pick.
Meanwhile, an enormous number of potential contenders are looking at the race, including, perhaps, a return of virtually everyone who ran in 2012. Come this time next year, 15 or more of them could be traveling the early primary states, jockeying for attention and money.
A large number of candidates wouldn't be too bad if a few of them were relatively sane, but...
The next presidential election is expected to be a testing ground for a new generation of Republican leaders — senators who might include the charismatic Marco Rubio (Fla.), libertarian Rand Paul (Ky.) and tea party gladiator Ted Cruz (Tex.), and much-mentioned governors such as Chris Christie (N.J.), Bobby Jindal (La.), John Kasich (Ohio), Rick Snyder (Mich.), Scott Walker (Wis.) and Mike Pence (Ind.).
Then there is the potential for a parade of formers and also-rans. Former Texas governor Rick Perry is preparing for another race, a do-over after his 2012 debacle. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who took the Iowa caucuses in 2008, has said he is thinking about it, too, as is former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), who won Iowa in 2012.
Asked whether he has ruled out another run, former House speaker Newt Gingrich — busy these days with a CNN show and selling a new book — was hardly Shermanesque. “Probably,” he replied by e-mail.
Even former pizza magnate Herman Cain, who briefly led the GOP primary polls in late 2011, is keeping the door open.....
Rounding out the field may be a battalion of backbench congressmen, tea party darlings and conservative media stars, including Maryland neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose fiery speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last year made him a conservative celebrity, and John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador, who has raised more than $700,000 for his political action committee. Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), another hawk on foreign policy, is eyeing a run as well.
Of all those being talked about — or talking themselves up — there is only one who could enter the race and immediately be declared the man to beat.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has a stature that gives him the luxury of waiting, knowing that he could upend the contest the moment he took the plunge.
I'm sorry, but when Jeb Bush might be the candidate to rescue the party from itself, you are in big, big trouble.  Actually, the problem isn't the candidates so much as the party.  I can guarantee that the party will push once again for tax cuts, which are needed like a hole in the head.  They will push for fewer financial regulations when we need more and better ones.  They will push for war with Iran and U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war.  Looking at the list of the "next generation" of national Republicans, I shudder.  What a collection of tools, jerks and assholes.  Mike Pence?  He's a dim-bulb empty suit that makes Mitch Daniels look like a brilliant leader (he's not).   Ted Cruz? Holy fuck, what a jackass.  When John Kasich looks like the best guy on the list, you need a new list.  I've seen that guy speak without notes.  He's clueless.  And Herman Cain might run again? Kick me in the head, please.

The good news is that we don't have to worry about these clowns for about two years, and that leaves the party time to come to its senses.  The bad news is that they won't.

Groundhog Predictions Spilt

 Punxsutawney Phil is held by Ron Ploucha after emerging from his burrow on Sunday.
Famed groundhog weather prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Sunday morning at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, foretelling six more weeks of winter.
The good news is that, according to analysis by the National Climatic Data Center, Phil is wrong most of the time.
This is the 101st time he has seen his shadow since 1887. There was no record of his first prediction in 1886, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club says on its website.
Columbus Dispatch:
 Pennsylvania's famed groundhog emerged from his lair in front of thousands of fans around daybreak Sunday. Buckeye Chuck, his compatriot in Marion, did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring for Ohioans.
I'd go with Phil on this one.