Saturday, April 5, 2014

Fire Tornado

That is cool:

The Geography of Beer

Pacific Standard:
The researchers completed side-by-side beer and wine tweet-keyword searches of the raw data. Unsurprisingly, the results indicate that people closer to areas of wine production, such as Napa Valley in Northern California, Willamette Valley in Oregon, and upstate New York, tweeted more about boozy grape juice. “In short, the bicoastal regions of the United States are more partial to wine, or more specifically, have a greater intensity of wine tweets, than beer,” the authors write. While the Midwest, a sea of lager hue in the map below, is a barley pop heartland:
In contrast, much of the Midwest—stretching from Eastern Pennsylvania to Minnesota—and the West South Central region—including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas—is much more likely to be the source of beer-related tweets. Parts of this region, particularly the upper Midwest states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, were settled by European immigrants from Northern and Central Europe and have a strong cultural tradition of beer brewing and consumption. [more on that history, and the German Triangle here]
Take a look:
 Another map here, with an explanation:

The final map expands its brand searches to include some smaller names, and it clusters them spatially based on a percentage comparison to their aggregate mentions. “The result is more difficult to interpret but that is intentional as it demonstrates the complexity of beer cyberscapes, particularly in regions such as the Midwest and Northeast in which multiple and competing local beers were included,” the researchers write.
According to the researchers, the maps prove that “cyberscapes” closely align with the “historical and material presence of beer production and consumption.” As they conclude: “In short, this exercise in mapping georeferenced social media about beer shows how tightly imbricated the material and digital worlds are in the twenty-first century.”
The only one of those regional beers I haven't partaken of is Natty Boh, but I'm sure I will the next time I hit the eastern seaboard for some baseball games.  I think I've only had Olympia once, but I've enjoyed Grain Belt several times, Schlitz got me through college and I think I kept Hudepohl going for a couple years there.  If you happen to be in Cincinnati, here is a nice rundown of local craft brews you can try and tweet about.  Here's a little more Cincinnati beer history for your enjoyment.

Weekend Reads - First Weekend of April

Looks like we are finally starting to put the long winter behind us.  Here are a few stories that caught my eye:

Chemical Valley - Evan Osnos at The New Yorker.   On the chemical spill in Charleston, WV. Government run by business and greased by relatively small amounts of bribe money lobbying.

Managing Without Brackets - The Economist.  On the Reverse Polish Notation of HP calculators [which I hated (I like using brackets, as can be inferred from my writing style)]

New York Racing Association Takes a Long Shot on the Horses - Wall Street Journal.  I've been remiss in coverage of the sport of kings in the Derby prep season.  Today is a big day with the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby.  Here is a review of the top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders.  In other news, Keeneland is scrapping it's Polytrack and returning to dirt for the fall meet.

LaFollette's Lessons in Empire - Andrew Bacevich reviews The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansionism, by Richard Drake for The American Conservative

Hero Complex - Texas Observer.  Does fireman culture lead to deaths?

Hobbes Was Right: Anarchy Sucks - Pieria.  Libertarians, be careful what you wish for.  You aren't smart enough nor tough enough to handle the consequences of the weaknesses of your ideology.

McCutcheon Meets Adelson: What a Donor Wants - Jonathan Alter at The New Yorker

Excerpt: ‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,’ by Michael Lewis - NY Times

Washington mudslide: Geologist proposed relocating houses a decade ago - Salon

Groundwater Mining Sinking San Joachin Valley

San Jose Mercury News:

So wet was the San Joaquin Valley of Steve Arthur's childhood that a single 240-foot-deep well could quench the thirst of an arid farm.
Now his massive rig, bucking and belching, must drill 1,200 feet deep in search of ever-more-elusive water to sustain this wheat farm north of Bakersfield. As he drills, his phone rings with three new appeals for help.
"Everybody is starting to panic," said Arthur, whose Fresno-based well-drilling company just bought its ninth rig, off the Wyoming oil fields. "Without water, this valley can't survive."
When water doesn't fall from the sky or flow from reservoirs, there's only one place to find it: underground. So, three years into a devastating drought, thirsty Californians are draining the precious aquifer beneath the nation's most productive farmland like never before, pitting neighbor against neighbor in a perverse race to the bottom.
The rush to drill is driven not just by historically dry conditions, but by a host of other factors that promote short-term consumption over long-term survival -- new, more moisture-demanding crops; improved drilling technologies; and a surge of corporate investors seeking profits for agricultural ventures.
Now those forces are renewing an age-old problem of environmental degradation: Decades ago, overpumping sunk half of the entire San Joaquin Valley, in one area as much as 28 feet. Today new areas are subsiding, some almost a foot each year, damaging bridges and vital canals.

Another interesting note:
"I've got some of the best land in the nation -- 50 feet of topsoil -- that is sitting vacant if I can't get water," said Thomas Kaljian, of Los Banos, who owns almond orchards on the San Joaquin Valley's west side. "This is the breadbasket of the nation, and we're strangling it."
The signs of the valley's relentless thirst are everywhere. An analysis by this newspaper shows a dramatic jump in well construction in seven San Joaquin Valley counties in 2013, with an even sharper increase this year as Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency:

Also, some history of agriculture in the Valley:
The Central Valley, home to the world's largest swath of ultra-fertile Class 1 soil, is the backbone of California's $36.9 billion a year, high-tech agricultural industry. Its 6.3 million acres of farmland produce more 350 crops, from fruits and vegetables to nuts and cotton, representing 25 percent of the food on the nation's table.
Generations ago, agriculture was at the mercy of Mother Nature.
"What you got out of the sky was what predicated what your crops would be," said Pat Hillman, 86, whose grandfather Jefferson Davis Heiskell moved to Tulare in 1886 to start a grain warehouse to store the area's wheat, barley and sorghum.
Eventually, farmers dug crude canals to channel water to their fields from Tulare Lake, once larger than Lake Tahoe, and from the abundant shallow artesian wells that flourished during wet seasons. But by 1898, the lake was drained dry, and the only sign left of the shallow wells is a slab of granite set by the Pixley Women's Club in an abandoned cattle trough to commemorate the area's long-gone natural fountains.
New technologies soon made it possible to tap into the deep underground water basin. Improvement of drilling techniques and gasoline-powered pumps, then the invention of the deep well turbine pump in 1930, drove wells down more than 300 feet.
More intensely irrigated row crops followed, with acreage made feasible by mechanical harvesting and refrigerated railroad transportation. The federal system of aqueducts, pumps, canals and dams -- the largest water development project in the United States, completed in 1949 -- spurred more agricultural growth.
Soon, every acre was valuable, and thirsty -- especially when it didn't rain, and the demand for groundwater grew.
"Now you don't see any piece of dirt that don't have something on it anymore," Arthur said. "Before, you used to just grow in the winter. Now, to make any money, you better have crops all year round."

Agriculture in the Valley is a race to the bottom.  To the bottom of the aquifer.  The story says that thousands of acres are still being converted to almonds, in spite of the constant irrigation they require.  This will not end well.  Eventually, some of the most productive farmland in the world will be reduced to seasonal, dry-land farming. It's a damn shame that topsoil was left in a desert.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Judge Announces He'll Strike Down Ohio Ban on Gay Marriage

Cincinnati Enquirer:
A federal judge says he will strike down Ohio's voter-approved ban on gay marriage, meaning the state must recognize marriages of gay couples who legally wed elsewhere.
Judge Timothy Black made the statement Friday following final arguments in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the marriage ban.
He says he'll issue the ruling April 14 prohibiting Ohio officials from enforcing the ban, which he says violates constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. Black's ruling will not mean Ohio has to allow couples to marry in the state.
Attorneys for the state had argued it's Ohio's sole province to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
By announcing his intention ahead of his ruling, Black gives time for the state to prepare an appeal that can be filed as soon as he rules.
Ian James, leader of the group trying to get a gay-marriage amendment on Ohio's ballot as early as 2014, called the ruling "a step in the right direction." But he said he expects the state to appeal the ruling and request a stay. So his group will continue to gather signatures for two ballot initiatives.
The writing is on the wall for gay marriage bans.  It would be a breath of fresh air for the Republicans who run the state of Ohio to step forward and move a resolution through the legislature to put a Constitutional Amendment on the Ohio ballot to remove the ridiculous ban that was voted in back in 2004, and to legalize gay marriage (outside of the state Constitution).  I know that won't happen, but it would be good for the state if they did. You know, in a situation like this, being proactive would, you know, look civil.

American Gothic At Iowa State Fair

A more life-size version of the same sculpture appeared locally

Actually, Seward Johnson's sculpture replicating the classic work will appear in Des Moines at the State Fair:
Visitors to the Iowa State Fair will be able to touch the attraction that's likely to be one of the biggest stops during the annual event.
No, you can't touch the butter cow or the big boar. But you will be able to touch and feel a 25-foot-tall replica of the figures from Grant Wood's "American Gothic."
The sculpture by Seward Johnson was completed in 2007 and has since traveled to several destinations. Its most recent stop was at Simpson College in Indianola.
Peter Cownie, executive director of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, has spearheaded efforts to bring the iconic pitchfork-bearing father and his daughter to the fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Cownie, who is also a state legislator from West Des Moines, said it was the prominent central Iowa businessman William (Bill) Knapp who was the impetus for lugging the work, which requires days of packing and assembly between stops, to the State Fairgrounds.
Cownie said Knapp had the idea "when this thing moves, this sculpture should come to the fairgrounds."
Knapp and Jim Cownie, a Des Moines entrepreneur and the father of Peter Cownie, paid the $30,000 to lease the replica for six months, Peter Cownie said.
"We had to kind of act fast to be able to get it to the fairgrounds because it was going to head out to the East Coast," Peter Cownie said.
Stacy Peterson, the collections and exhibitions manager at the Dubuque Museum of Art, which exhibited the Johnson statue from the fall of 2010 to summer of 2013, said the statue offers people a chance to better understand regionalist art works from the early 20th century.
25 feet tall?  Holy shit!  The version which came to Troy, pictured above, was only life-size.  It is a nice work, though.  But $30,000?  That's a pretty good chunk of change.  I'm sure folks will enjoy it, though, because that guy is mighty handsome, if I do say so myself.

Mississippi Passes "Religious Freedom" Law

This probably should say, "Gays allowed, but we reserve the right to discriminate"

Apparently, the state wants to retain its ranking as the leading state in the nation - in bigotry:
Mississippi, the state where it's not illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of his sexual identity and only ratified the Constitutional amendment banning slavery last year, just got a new "religious liberty" law.
The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law tonight by Gov. Phil Bryant after the state's Senate and House passed it by significant majorities on Tuesday. Its vague wording is similar to an Arizona bill that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed in February, which would have made it legal for businesses to refuse to serve people for religious reasons. The bill was prompted by lawsuits against wedding cake makers and photographers who refused to work at a same-sex ceremony.
Effective July 1 of this year, any person (and Mississippi defines businesses as persons) "whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government" may use this law as a defense.
The law also changes Mississippi's seal. Since the state was founded in 1817, its seal has been an eagle and the words "the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi." Now, the seal will also say "In God We Trust." The law didn't make any changes to Mississippi's flag, which is the only one in the country with the Confederate flag on it. Earlier this year, Bryant said he would not change his state's flag.
Didn't Mississippians claim a religious justification for businesses refusing to serve black people (amongst numerous apartheid policies) a few decades back?  Boy, wasn't that a shining beacon of freedom to the world?  It's also nice of the legislature to work on the important issues, like adding "In God We Trust" to the state motto, as opposed to fixing the nation's worst schools and highest poverty rate.  At least the state comes in below Texas for highest percentage of the population without health insurance.  It also still tops the list of states I'm least likely to ever move to.

Big Oil and Big Corn Continue to Battle

Last week, representatives of the American Coalition for Ethanol hit the pavement in Washington, DC, for the annual Biofuels Beltway in March, hoping to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ahead of a June decision on the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard for ethanol.
As market events spiral out of control for ethanol producers and bottlenecks slow shipments and create shortages, the Coalition wants to know how much ethanol oil refiners are going to be forced to buy this year.
In June, the EPA will have to set a floor for the amount of ethanol oil refiners will be required to blend into the mix for this year. In November last year, the EPA proposed reducing the 2014 corn ethanol requirement by 1.4 billion gallons to 15.2 billion gallons--a proposal that has had ethanol suppliersup in arms.
And the oil industry is fighting back with its own resources. This week, securities filings showed that ethanol blending credits cost refiners at least $1.35 billion last year—or three times the cost of 2012, according to a 31 March Reutersreport based on disclosures from only nine refiners. The costs are related to the necessity of purchasing Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are paper credits refiners have to use in order to meet quotes for ethanol blending.
Reuters notes that Valero Energy Corp, the largest US refiner, spent around $517 million RINs in 2013, while it estimates that it will spend another $250 million to $350 million on RINs in 2014.
 With the abundant crude in the North American market right now, and oil producers pushing for crude exports, I would wager on ethanol taking a hit. All of the arguments made in defense of the mandate (which weren't very strong to begin with) are being undermined by shale oil, and I can't see the farm lobby being able to overcome oil money.

Congress Works To Extend GE Loophole

From Testosterone Pit:
General Electric is famous for paying little or no income tax. Indeed, GE was one of 26 Fortune 500 companies that was consistently profitable for the five years 2008-2012, and yet paid no income tax across those years, according to this report from Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ). In fact, across those years GE received more than a $3 billion net refund. While GE and the rest use multiple techniques to extract your tax dollars while keeping all their profits, one has informally taken its name.
The GE loophole is available to any company with financial income that it can claim was generated offshore, such as by a foreign banking subsidiary. The loophole rewards the American parent company for investing overseas by sheltering its profits from U.S. tax until the American parent brings the money home.
So GE can avoid the tax bill as long as it likes by keeping its profits invested in other countries. Not only does the loophole shortchange taxpayers, it also creates an incentive toinvest overseas instead of here at home.
Worse, the nature of financial income makes it relatively easy for companies to use the loophole to assign profits to subsidiaries in tax haven countries while assigning losses here at home.
In 2010, Forbes dryly observed that “Over the last two years, GE Capital has displayed an uncanny ability to lose lots of money in the U.S. (posting a $6.5 billion loss in 2009), and make lots of money overseas (a $4.3 billion gain).”
Precisely because the nature of financial income is so easy to manipulate for tax advantage, the 1986 tax overhaul, achieved by President Reagan and a divided Congress, stopped it and required these profits be taxed immediately, regardless of where they were earned. In 1997, fierce lobbying culminated in persuading Congress to reinstate the loophole—known officially as the Active Financing Exception—for tax year 1998 only.
President Clinton tried to line-item veto it, but was blocked by the Supreme Court. After that, Congress has “extended” this loophole for a year or two at a time. The bill the Senate committee is working on today is the current effort to “extend”—really, re-enact, this and other loopholes.
Come on Republicans, follow in the Gipper's footsteps on this one. I'm pretty sure how this one will turn out, though.  It appears that bonus depreciation is also in the EXPIRE Act, so farmers will get a big tax break if we make money the next few years (so we'll get a tax break).

The Soft Glow of Corn Sex

Or maybe the soft glow of the preparation for corn sex:

The glow represents satellite measurements of fluorescence of land plants in early July, over a period from 2007 to 2011. Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in healthy plants absorbs light to be converted into energy, but it also emits a little bit of light that’s not visible to the human eye. Scientists have now figured out how to use that fluorescent glow to measure the productivity of plants in a given region.
Using existing data from satellites designed for entirely different purposes, such as ozone monitoring, NASA scientists were able to show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the midwestern U.S. has more photosynthetic activity than anywhere else on the planet, including the Amazon (the tropics are more productive on a yearly basis, however). Nearly all of this can be attributed to agriculture in what is sometimes called America’s Corn Belt — where, unlike the rainforest, crops are bred, engineered, and managed to be as productive as possible.
The image above is a compilation of data collected each early July from 2007 to 2011. The scientists think that fluorescence is a better measure of agricultural activity than anything currently used. And when they compared their results against ground measurements of carbon flux and yield statistics, they checked out.

Nothing signifies summer to me more than the smell of corn pollen in the air. I would guess that the peak in photosynthesis occurs prior the the peak of pollination, but would be curious to know when it actually takes place.

The proper title of the post should probably be hot glow or something along those lines, but I wanted to make a connection to A Christmas Story:
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Only one thing in the world could've dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Home Ground

The Exploitation of Minor League Baseball Players

Ashford University Field, home of the Clinton LumberKings

Lucas Mann, at Slate:
In February, three former minor leaguers sued Major League Baseball for violation of wage and overtime laws, alleging that they’re “powerless” in the face of the “collusive power of the MLB cartel.” A month later, the suit was amended to include more former players from 17 different organizations, as well as one current minor leaguer. These men had the courage to put into writing what anybody who has spent time around a minor league team already knows: Players are wildly underpaid for the obscene amount of hours they work.

More specifically, the suit argues that minor league compensation violates the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that any employee’s pay not fall below minimum wage and that all employees receive time-and-a-half for work done beyond a standard 40-hour week. Michael McCann has a great legal analysis at Sports Illustrated, which notes that baseball franchises are not exempt from this federal law, and it “may therefore be difficult for baseball to convince a judge to swiftly dismiss the case.” He continues by suggesting that the “longer the case goes, the more willing baseball may be to settle and perhaps change the way minor leaguers are paid.”...
Minor league base salaries are even public information, right there on the official website: a $1,100 monthly maximum for first-year players, with a $25 per diem, all of that paid only during the five- to six-month season. Salaries are “open to negotiation” after the first season, but what leverage do the players have? (There is no minor league players union.) At the highest rung of the minors, AAA, a player can expect to earn more than $2,000 monthly, some a good deal more. Those players, though, have already put a lot of years into the game, and the pay remains a pittance at the lower levels, where most major league hopefuls remain.

I spent the 2010 season writing about the single-A Clinton LumberKings. I came to the project because I was enamored by this vague idea of the minors—coltish, gifted young men on borrowed furniture, surrounded by pizza boxes, buoyed by limitless ambition. I got what I went looking for. The only surprise was how quickly the romance of the image began to comingle with the sense that this was all entirely indefensible.
The LumberKings players lived in a small, struggling Iowa town, where many of them (those who didn’t receive big signing bonuses) were among the poorest residents. And they knew it. Every day, they were reminded of it. They lived in the town’s worst apartment complexes. They crammed four or five players into one- and two-bedroom apartments, sometimes studios. On biweekly paydays, they would climb into my hatchback and I’d drive to the Super Walmart at the edge of town, where some would cash their checks, buy groceries in bulk, and try to work out how much extra money they’d need for the next 14 days. They returned home exhausted, some sleeping side-by-side on air mattresses on the floor, got up the next day, and went to work as professional athletes.
You would think that with the money made on major league baseball that minor leaguers could be better paid.  Considering how the Dayton Dragons do, I'd say the minors could afford to pay the players more, but I've been to Clinton, and the difference between the Dragons and the LumberKings (even though they are both in the Midwest League) is massive.  The LumberKings play in an old stadium built by the WPA with capacity of 4,000, generally seeing a third of that, while the Dragons play in a stadium built in 2000, with a capacity of 8,200, which has been sold out since it opened.  When I went to the LumberKings game, I was able to walk up to the ticket window and buy a seat in the first row behind home plate, and only had a few people in the section around me.  Until the last couple of years in Dayton, I could barely find tickets.

Anyway, my point is that paying a few thousand players something above minimim wage would seem doable in the world of professional sports.  With this, the NLRB ruling that Northwestern University football players could form a union, and Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA working its way through the courts, maybe we'll see a little bit of the big money of sports shared with its most underpaid performers.  We've gone too long thinking athletes who make little to nothing are just lucky to be chasing a dream.  They should be able to afford food.

Ethanol Brings Dakota CRP Ground Back In Production

Grassland in the prairie pothole region

American Prospect:
While few seem to be aware of it, a massive shift is under way in the northern plains, with ramifications for the quality of our water and food, and, more fundamentally, the long-term viability of our farms. A study published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that between 2006 and 2011, farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa—the Western Corn Belt—had plowed up 1.3 million acres of native grassland in order to plant corn and soybeans. “People had been talking about the land conversion,” says Chris Wright, an assistant research professor at South Dakota State University and a co-author of the report, “but there weren’t any recent numbers.”
Relying on satellite data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Wright and his co-author, Michael Wimberly, found that the rates of land-use change in the region—up to 5.4 percent annually—parallel the deforestations taking place in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The shift represents the most rapid loss of grasslands since tractors began breaking sod on the Great Plains in the 1920s. Most of the conversion is happening on lands that are at risk from erosion or drought, and, in some cases, both....
To a large extent, the U.S. government has been telling its farmers what to do since the 1930s, when a combination of severe drought and careless agricultural practices led to widespread soil erosion, dust storms that darkened skies as far away as New York City, and the devastation of the nation’s heartland. Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced a shelterbelt initiative on the plains that involved the planting of hundreds of millions of trees, and 1956 saw the implementation of the Soil Bank Program, under which farmers signed multiyear contracts obliging them to adopt measures aimed at improving soil and water quality. When, in the 1980s, the policy of planting commodity crops “from fencerow to fencerow,” as had been advocated by longtime Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, began to undermine those environmental gains, a Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, was added to the 1985 farm bill. The initiative, which pays farmers to retire marginal croplands from production for 10 to 15 years, has been credited with helping to reduce erosion and damage caused by flooding and to increase wildlife habitat.
These days, though, in a trend that epitomizes the ongoing push-pull dynamic between the government’s desire for land stewardship and farmers’ inclination to increase their profits, CRP acreage is becoming harder and harder to find. Since 2008, some five million acres have been taken out of the program—more than all of Yellowstone, Everglades, and Yosemite national parks. In the Prairie Pothole Region alone, some 30 percent of CRP lands have expired in the past five years.
High commodity prices are an obvious catalyst for the shift. Between 2007 and 2012, corn and soy prices nearly doubled. At the same time, farmers have become more efficient at optimizing yields from the land. Lindstrom and others pointed to advances in technology—to giant, $400,000 combines equipped with precision GPS but ill-qualified to maneuver around pesky rocks and prairie potholes—and to genetically modified crops, which, by requiring less labor, enable farmers to plant more ground.
More than anything, though, federal policies are to blame for the changing face of the Western Corn Belt. In 2007, the government expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard, requiring oil companies to blend ethanol—made by fermenting and distilling corn—into the gasoline supply. The mandate started at 9 billion gallons and has risen each year since; it is now close to 14 billion gallons. The landscape alterations documented by Wright and the Environmental Working Group closely track the timing of the program’s introduction, although not everyone agrees the two are related. Commodity and ethanol groups like the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, for instance, dispute the connection.
I wouldn't believe a single word from the RFA, and the Corn Growers Association has little more credibility.  While ethanol might not be all to blame for the higher commodity prices and the loss of CRP ground, it plays a very large part.  China also contributes, but as you can see from livestock and meat prices, biofuels production has played a large part in livestock inventories becoming smaller.

It is interesting how short-sighted land use in the Dakotas is.  15 years ago, hunting the CRP ground was the main topic of conversation, as pheasant hunting and duck hunting drew in tourists from all around the country.  Now that is almost gone, and if crop prices fall, which they will, folks will be pining for the grasslands plowed under.  Thanks, ethanol mandate.  As has been highlighted at Big Picture Agriculture, the prairie pothole region is very sensitive to erosion, and crop insurance makes a profit guaranteed when farming old grasslands.  Nothing good will come of that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Slow Life


Slow Life from Daniel Stoupin on Vimeo.

Taking Care of the Formalities

From AP:
The Supreme Court's conservative majority voted Wednesday to free wealthy donors to give to as many political candidates and campaigns as they want, further loosening the reins on giving by big contributors as the 2014 campaign moves into high gear.
It was a fresh declaration by the 5-4 majority that many limits on big-money contributions violate the givers' constitutional free-speech rights, continuing a steady erosion of the restrictions under Chief Justice John Roberts. The biggest of those rulings was the 2010 decision in the Citizens United case that lifted restrictions on independent spending by corporations and labor unions.
Wednesday's ruling voided the overall federal limit on individuals' contributions — $123,200 in 2013 and 2014 — and may have more symbolic than substantive importance in a world in which millions in unlimited donations from liberal and conservative spenders already are playing a major role in campaigns.
The ruling will allow the wealthiest contributors to pour millions of dollars into candidate and party coffers, although those contributions will be subject to disclosure under federal law, unlike much of the big money that independent groups spend on attack ads.
The early beneficiaries could be the political parties, which have lost influence amid the rise of independent spending, and challengers who may have been cut off from getting money from wealthy contributors who previously hit the cap that the court invalidated Wednesday.
Roberts said the aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption, the rationales the court has upheld as justifying contribution limits.
The overall limits "intrude without justification on a citizen's ability to exercise 'the most fundamental First Amendment activities'," Roberts said, quoting from the court's seminal 1976 campaign finance ruling in Buckley v. Valeo. By contrast, Roberts said the individual or "base limits remain the primary means of regulating campaign contributions."
Because, you know, without being able to buy a large number of politicians, you end up with a dangerous system where caveat emptor is the rule:
according to close associates of the conservative Las Vegas casino magnate who told WaPo's Matea Gold and Phil Rucker that “the bar for support is going to be much higher" in terms of who Adelson decides to back in the 2016 Republican field in 2016. That's a decidedly consequential decision given that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated $93 million to super PACs in the 2012 election -- making them the biggest givers in the political world. (That $93 million only counts donations Adelson made to groups that must disclose their donors; it does not include contributions to groups that are not required to disclose the identity of their donors; that means his actual donations during 2012 was likely far higher than $93 million.)All told, the Adelsons spread that $93 million around to 17 different groups -- with their donations ranging from $30 million down to $250,000. Thanks to the good people at the Center for Responsive Politics, we can break down what went where.
But the best part is that his goal was to defeat Obama, and guess who won. However, next time is another chance to close the deal, and Adelson wasn't even waiting for the Supreme Court to rewrite the rules to improve the efficacy of his "political activism":
On Friday night in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson pulled up to his private airplane hangar in twin powder-blue Maybach limousines. (The second was for his bodyguards.) Inside, the rich and right-wing were gathered to hear from Jeb Bush, a private audience whose exclusivity seemed to signal the former Florida governor's privileged position in the suck-up contest.
Three other Republican leaders—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Ohio Governor John Kasich—were consigned to the public program of the event, which was ostensibly a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But everybody knew what it was really about: impressing Adelson. Like the daughters of King Lear, or the cast of Mean Girls, each sought to outdo the others in his fawning. Christie told of his recent trip to Israel, which, he noted, is "about the same size as New Jersey." Walker mentioned he owns a menorah. Kasich dispensed with the pretense of speaking to the roomful of Republican Jews and addressed his remarks to Adelson directly, as in, “Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.”
There was also a Scotch tasting, a poker tournament, and a gala dinner featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney, who defended the National Security Agency and railed against isolationism.
You know what's amazing about this, besides the fact that so-called "real 'Mericans" put the interests of a foreign nation ahead of the interests of their native land, is that John Kasich, who is a giant douche, is a compassionate human being next to all the other dirtbag motherfuckers clamoring for the leadership of the mental and moral midgets who make up the Republican party.  God help this country that nearly hlaf the population supports these total shitheads.  I guess the moral of the story is that even though Sheldon Adelson doesn't get what he pays for, we all pay the price for having almost half the population detached from reality.

Obamacare's Health Insurance Cooperatives

Morning Edition:
Many of us know the names of some of the big U.S. health insurance companies — like Blue Cross, Aetna, and Wellpoint. But what about CoOportunity Health, or Health Republic Insurance of New York? These are among 23 new companies started under The Affordable Care Act. They're all non-profit, member-owned insurance cooperatives that were begun, in part, to create more competition and drive prices down.
The co-ops' rollout was funded almost entirely by federal government loans. Initial enrollment numbers for many look pretty good — but that may not be enough to make co-ops successful.
Karl Sutton, for one, says he's stoked about being able to buy health insurance through a co-op. Sutton lives in a scenic region of Montana just south of Glacier National Park, where tall, dark forests and taller mountains are blanketed white in early March....
Sutton understands co-ops because he works in one: a 10-year-old growers co-op, with revenue of more than a million dollars a year. It's run by and for its members.
Sutton says he wants that model for his health insurance company, too.
"When you buy into a co-op, that entitles you to one vote in the decision making, and I think it's the one business model that actually aligns with our democracy," he says. Sutton was eager to join the new Montana Health CO-OP. He thinks if members own the company, they're less likely to overuse health care – and that saves everyone money.
He knows the insurance startup is new, and still unproven.
"There's a degree of concern," he says, "but ... we might as well try, because if we don't have the membership, then the health care co-op isn't going to succeed. So we have to start somewhere, and I'm willing to take that risk."
A couple hundred miles and several mountain ranges away, John Morrison has a comfortable law office in Last Chance Gulch, the downtown historic district of Montana's capital, Helena. Morrison was the first president of the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs.
"In some states co-ops are dominating the marketplace," Morrison says, "with 80 percent of the enrollees going to the co-op."
That's in Maine. Morrison says most co-ops are very happy with their enrollment numbers. Their rates are often the lowest that are available through an exchange.
"The co-op states have 8.4 percent lower premiums, on average, than [other states] across the marketplace," says Morrison. "So co-ops are creating that competition. They're keeping rates down in the states they're operating in."
But Montana's co-op still has managed to win about 40 percent of the new exchange market. Co-ops now have 50 percent of the new market in Nebraska and Iowa, and 60 percent in Kentucky. Dworak attributes Montana's early success, in part, to tirelessly beating the bushes for customers.
"It's grassroots," he says. "One thing about Montana: What really plays is what one Montanan says to another one in a coffee shop."
The article goes on to point out that some co-ops might not work out that well because it is hard in health insurance to be able to set the premium rates ahead of time when you don't know what mix of pre-existing conditions (which Obamacare prevents companies and co-ops from discriminating against) and health issues you'll have in your pool.  So rates may jump next year or the year after.  One significant thing that will provide a cushion is that like with the Rural Electrification Act, the health insurance cooperatives have federal startup loans to help them get a foothold for sustainability.

The interesting thing to me is how cooperatives flourish so strongly in rural areas.  I like my electric cooperative, my fertilizer cooperative and my credit union.  I like the fact that I know that profits generated in those operations will come back to me in patronage dividends.  They aren't getting paid out to the "malefactors of great wealth" on Wall Street.  Apparently, lots of other rural folks like the same attribute of co-ops.  However, co-ops are a sort of hybrid operation between a capitalist joint-stock corporation and a more socialist model of organization.  The "economic democracy" of cooperatives strikes at the main tenet of capitalism, that capital is more important than humanity (from Wikipedia):
Cooperatives often share their earnings with the membership as dividends, which are divided among the members according to their participation in the enterprise, such as patronage, instead of according to the value of their capital shareholdings (as is done by a joint stock company).
Cooperatives are typically based on the cooperative values of "self-help, self-responsibility, democracy and equality, equity and solidarity" and the seven cooperative principles:[18]
  1. Voluntary and open membership
  2. Democratic member control
  3. Economic participation by members
  4. Autonomy and independence
  5. Education, training and information
  6. Cooperation among cooperatives
  7. Concern for community
Cooperatives are dedicated to the values of openness, social responsibility and caring for others. Such legal entities have a range of social characteristics. Membership is open, meaning that anyone who satisfies certain non-discriminatory conditions may join. Economic benefits are distributed proportionally to each member's level of participation in the cooperative, for instance, by a dividend on sales or purchases, rather than according to capital invested.
As one might quickly notice, these are not attributes for which the Republican party frequently strives for.  The GOP is much more interested in the well-being of capital and those malefactors Teddy Roosevelt (GOP stalwart back in the day) railed against.  While they often speak of self-responsibility (except in the case of Obamacare, where they maintain that people shouldn't be required to purchase health insurance), they less frequently get to democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.  So it strikes me as odd that so many rural residents, who are so fond of cooperatives, are so quick to support Republicans, who work very hard for their paymasters to undermine cooperatives and credit unions.  To me, this is the mystery of modern political life.  I have my suspicions why this is, but I won't speculate on that here.

Streetcar Delay Cost Cincinnati $1 Million

Cincinnati Enquirer:
Cincinnati City Council's decision to temporarily shut down work on the streetcar project in December cost almost $1 million – and some delay costs remain unknown.
However, it appears the three-week work stoppage will cost less than originally projected by an independent auditor's report and will not delay the launch of when people can ride the streetcar.
It cost $987,108 for a 20-day work stoppage while City Council debated whether to fully cancel or move forward with the streetcar, project leaders announced Tuesday.
In December, global auditing firm KPMG projected a one-month delay to cost between $1.7 million and $2.8 million.
"It's lower than we anticipated, and I'm pleased with that," said City Councilwoman Amy Murray, who originally favored permanent cancellation.
The delay cost is not added onto the project's overall $133 million price tag, but will be deducted from a $9.4 million contingency fund already in place. So far, $1.96 million of that has been spent – with a majority of construction still to come before the streetcar is operational in September 2016......
The delay cost includes $637,108 for lead contractor Messer/Prus/Delta; $250,000 for the KPMG report; and $100,000 to barricade and secure construction zones during the shutdown. The delay cost also considered two missed days of construction because of sub-zero temperatures, said John Deatrick, the city's streetcar project leader.
The delay cost for passenger rail car manufacturer CAF USA remains unknown – although the KPMG report projects the pause will cost the rail car company between $25,000 and $150,000. Streetcar project manager Chris Eilerman said CAF's delay costs are not expected to be significant.
If KPMG's projections are correct about CAF, the final delay cost would be lower than originally expected. CAF's delay costs are not yet known because project leaders and engineers are reviewing the design of the five, 154-passenger streetcars this week. Results of the review could impact the manufacturer's completion schedule, project leaders said.
So it cost $250,000 (25% of the costs of the delay) for KPMG to overestimate by 70-180% the cost of a delay?  That was a worthwhile investment (according to Amy Murray, for whatever reason).  And even when the report came in, the majority of council was planning on killing the project, until private money was promised for operation costs?  While the streetcar isn't the best expenditure of taxpayer dollars, I'm pretty sure it will help spur the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and the central business district, which is a benefit to the whole region.  It appears that businesses and foundations realize that, why don't the mayor and council?

Paul Ryan's Wet Dream Budget

It is only a dream, and it gets bros like him off:
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., released a fiscal road map for the next decade that would raise no taxes, repeal President Obama's health care law, and fundamentally alter Medicare benefits for future retirees. Ryan claims the result would be a balanced budget by 2024.
"This is a plan to balance the budget and create jobs, and it builds off a simple fact: We can't keep spending money we don't have," Ryan said Tuesday.
The budget plan is not expected or really even intended to become law; it is designed to outline Republican priorities and goals for taxes and spending over the long term. But the GOP-led House of Representatives will spend the next two weeks debating it anyway.
The Ryan budget would cut spending by $5.1 trillion over the next decade to achieve balance by what the government spends to what it collects in revenue by 2024.
Those cuts come in the form of steep cuts to domestic programs ranging from food stamps to college loan programs, among others, while protecting defense spending. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., criticized the plan as a budget that "once again asks those with less to give more and those with more to give less."
Ryan's plan also calculates savings that Democrats decry as gimmicks, such as counting savings projected to come from the Affordable Care Act while simultaneously calling for its repeal. In order to achieve balance, Ryan also uses a new method to account for savings by counting the "macroeconomic effect" of deficit reduction as a hard spending cut, which could chafe some of the GOP's fiscal conservatives who do not like to equate potential reductions with actual cuts.
This is a budget proposed by the Republicans' "serious policy wonk?"  You've got to be kidding me.  Our economy is grinding along because consumers don't have enough money to spend, and he's proposing gutting programs that funnel money to the poor?  Does he have any clue where all those federal dollars that aid the poor go?  You know, to Wal-Mart and landlords and auto mechanics and banks and car dealers everywhere else poor people spend every dollar they get?  Does he think that slashing that aid will stimulate the economy?  Apparently, because he forecasts extra revenue from the booming growth due to his spending cuts.  What a Goddamned liar or fucking moron.  There is no other explanation for how he could propose this bullshit.  And to think Miami University, "the public Ivy," gave this jackass a degree.  Fuck me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Water from Morgan Maassen on Vimeo.

Williston Deals With Growth From Oil Boom

Wall Street Journal:

"It's a boomtown—that's a fact of life," said Mayor Ward Koeser, "but I believe this will become a premier town in North Dakota."
His optimism rests within the vast Bakken shale formation that has put North Dakota on the nation's energy map. Since 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that just 450 million of an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken and related Three Forks formations have been extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other techniques.
Other numbers justify his optimism. The Williston area's resident population stood at 29,595 in July 2013, up 10.7% from the previous year, making it the U.S.'s fastest-growing micropolitan area, defined as those with 10,000 to 49,999 people, according to U.S. Census estimates released last week. The city's operating budget hit nearly $81 million in 2013, up from about $48 million in 2010. And the city issued 1,665 building permits in 2013, compared to 610 in 2010, according to the city's office of economic development.
Beneath the frenzy, there are signs of a new normal.
The city put a moratorium on permits for the trailer-park-like man camps last year as officials push for workers to move into permanent housing and as new apartment buildings opened. Officials also have banned the camper vans that once lined the streets and jammed the lot of the local Wal-Mart,  saying they no longer can serve as de facto homes in city limits.
And a sign near the entrance to the Wal-Mart offers $17 an hour for cashiers and stock clerks, above what the retailer typically pays entry-level workers.
The oil economy totally puzzles me. $17 to work at a Walmart in the middle of BFE? 10% population growth in a year?  1,665 building permits in 2013?  This will not end well.  I don't know when it will end, but it will, and badly.

Scary Economic Chart of the Day

From Testosterone Pit:

Margin debt started spiking in January 1999 and in March 2000 hit a record of $278.5 billion, or 2.66% of GDP. That very month, stocks began their epic collapse, which, after 28 months of cliff dives and sucker rallies, left the S&P 500 down 45% and the Nasdaq nearly 80%!

Margin debt started spiking again in September 2006 to peak in July 2007 at $381.4 billion, or 2.60% of GDP. The market maxed out in October. Then the fetid air started hissing out of it. As stocks swooned, brokers told their frazzled clients with suddenly too much margin debt to put more money into their accounts or sell their holdings – right now! Forced selling commenced. As margin debt was unwound by dumping whatever could be dumped at whatever price, the selloff turned into a plunge. After a few waves of it, hedge funds, leveraged to the gills and going deaf from the giant sucking sound of redemptions, were forced to sell too, which drove stocks down further and triggered more forced selling. When the dust settled, the S&P 500 had crashed 57%.

Margin debt began spiking again in August 2010 but didn’t make it very far. In April 2011, well below the prior records, it headed south as spooked investors fondled their sell buttons. But in August 2012, it started rising again, and this time, it turned into a phenomenal spike that set a new record in July 2013 and continued shooting toward the stars. In February, at $465.7 billion, margin debt hit 2.73% of GDP. The highest ratio ever!
Over that period, investors had borrowed an additional $188 billion from their brokers and bought stocks with it, which drove up stock prices further and encouraged even more borrowing. Margin debt: the great accelerator on the way up. And on the way down.
Maybe THIS time is different.  Ha ha.  Eventually this will crash out, but hopefully that 2.6-2.75% of GDP range isn't where you automatically get a crash.  Let it be higher, because I'm not ready to unwind my portfolio positions.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Winter in Fenway (sonnet 97)

Winter in Fenway (sonnet 97) from DGA Productions on Vimeo.

Do not fear. Winter is over and baseball is back.

Baseball Loyalties by County

Facebook, via The Atlantic:

Is Feed To Blame For Spread of PEDv?

Wall Street Journal:

With a dearth of solid leads, investigators are exploring whether something in pig feed could be a conduit for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which has spread to 27 states and killed millions of young pigs since it was first identified in the U.S. last April. One focus of the inquiry: porcine plasma, a widely used feed ingredient made from the blood of slaughtered hogs and fed to piglets.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and pork-industry officials are examining a range of feed ingredients and manufacturing processes as well as other possible pathways for the virus, like contaminated air or dust particles carried from farm to farm.
Though the evidence is inconclusive, some researchers say that porcine plasma could be spreading the virus from adult pigs that show few symptoms, or that some plasma may have been contaminated in transit.
The ingredient has been a mainstay of piglet diets in the U.S. since the 1990s, after scientists discovered it provided antibodies to protect young pigs from disease and helped them switch from feeding from their mother to the grain-heavy diet common on livestock farms.
Last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency disclosed that it had found plasma contaminated with the virus, after multiple hog farms in Ontario that were hit by PED, and another farm on Prince Edward Island with a suspected case, all reported that they bought feed from the same vendor, Ontario-based Grand Valley Fortifiers.
The Canadian agency said that the virus was present in plasma that originated in the U.S. and was obtained at the company that manufactured Grand Valley's feed, which the agency has declined to identify. It said the plasma contained virus "capable of causing disease in pigs."
Earlier this month, however, the agency said laboratory tests in which it fed Grand Valley's feed pellets to piglets failed to demonstrate that the feed, which contained plasma and many other ingredients, could cause infection.
I didn't know that porcine plasma was processed and added into hog feed. It would seem like the processing would destroy the virus. I heard somebody say that even after cleaning a barn out and letting it sit empty for several months, the disease shows up in a new crop of pigs. It doesn't sound good when scientists aren't sure what is causing PEDv to spread so far.

Prospective Planting and Grain Stocks

Here's what USDA came out with:
Corn Planted Acreage Down 4 Percent from 2013
Soybean Acreage Up 6 Percent
All Wheat Acreage Down 1 Percent
All Cotton Acreage Up 7 Percent

Corn planted area for all purposes in 2014 is estimated at 91.7 million acres, down 4 percent from last year. If realized, this will represent the lowest planted acreage in the United States since 2010; however, this will represent the fifth largest corn acreage in the United States since 1944.

Soybean planted area for 2014 is estimated at a record high 81.5 million acres, up 6 percent from last year. Compared with last year, planted acreage intentions are up or unchanged across all States with the exception of Missouri and Oklahoma.

All wheat planted area for 2014 is estimated at 55.8 million acres, down 1 percent from 2013. The 2014 winter wheat planted area, at 42.0 million acres, is down 3 percent from last year but up slightly from the previous estimate. Of this total, about 30.2 million acres are Hard Red Winter, 8.43 million acres are Soft Red Winter, and 3.35 million acres are White Winter. Area planted to other spring wheat for 2014 is expected to total 12.0 million acres, up 4 percent from 2013. Of this total, about 11.3 million acres are Hard Red Spring wheat. The intended Durum planted area for 2014 is estimated at 1.80 million acres, up 22 percent from the previous year.

All cotton planted area for 2014 is expected to total 11.1 million acres, 7 percent above last year. Upland area is expected to total 10.9 million acres, up 7 percent from 2013. American Pima area is expected to total 158,000 acres, down 21 percent from 2013.

Corn Stocks Up 30 Percent from March 2013
Soybean Stocks Down 1 Percent
All Wheat Stocks Down 15 Percent

Corn stocks in all positions on March 1, 2014 totaled 7.01 billion bushels, up 30 percent from March 1, 2013. Of the total stocks, 3.86 billion bushels are stored on farms, up 45 percent from a year earlier. Off-farm stocks, at 3.15 billion bushels, are up 15 percent from a year ago. The December 2013 - February 2014 indicated disappearance is 3.45 billion bushels, compared with 2.63 billion bushels during the same period last year.

Soybeans stored in all positions on March 1, 2014 totaled 992 million bushels, down 1 percent from March 1, 2013. Soybean stocks stored on farms are estimated at 382 million bushels, down 16 percent from a year ago. Off-farm stocks, at 610 million bushels, are up 13 percent from last March. Indicated disappearance for the December 2013 - February 2014 quarter totaled 1.16 billion bushels, up 20 percent from the same period a year earlier.

All wheat stored in all positions on March 1, 2014 totaled 1.06 billion bushels, down 15 percent from a year ago. On-farm stocks are estimated at 238 million bushels, up slightly from last March. Off-farm stocks, at 818 million bushels, are down 18 percent from a year ago. The December 2013 - February 2014 indicated disappearance is 419 million bushels, down 4 percent from the same period a year earlier.
What that does to the markets, I don't know.

It's Opening Day!

Finally, baseball is back.  That means spring is here and summer is around the corner.  At least at this moment, the Reds are in first place.  Here are some links from Opening Days past:

Worst First Pitch Evah

Opening Day and the Findlay Market Parade

Roy Hobbs vs. The Whammer

Life Is A Ballgame

Cubs Cancel Season

It's Opening Day

Sunday, March 30, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

March 29:

A Milky Way Dawn
Image Credit & Copyright: Babak Tafreshi (TWAN), ESO Ultra HD Expedition

Explanation: As dawn broke on March 27, the center of the Milky Way Galaxy stood almost directly above the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory. In the dry, clear sky of Chile's Atacama desert, our galaxy's dusty central bulge is flanked by Paranal's four 8 meter Very Large Telescope units in this astronomical fisheye view. Along the top, Venus is close to the eastern horizon. The brilliant morning star shines very near a waning crescent Moon just at the edge of one of the telescope structures. Despite the bright pairing in the east, the Milky Way dominates the scene though. Cut by dust lanes and charged with clouds of stars and glowing nebulae, the center of our galaxy sprawls across the darker zenith even as the deep blue sky grows brighter and buildings still glint in moonlight.

Throwing Money In A Bureaucracy Rat Hole

An aerial view of the parking lots and mine entrance

Actually, an old mine:
This is one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government — both for where it is and for what it does.
Here, inside the caverns of an old Pennsylvania limestone mine, there are 600 employees of the Office of Personnel Management. Their task is nothing top-secret. It is to process the retirement papers of the government’s own workers.
But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper.
The employees here pass thousands of case files from cavern to cavern and then key in retirees’ personal data, one line at a time. They work underground not for secrecy but for space. The old mine’s tunnels have room for more than 28,000 file cabinets of paper records.
This odd place is an example of how hard it is to get a time-wasting bug out of a big bureaucratic system....
Held up by all that paper, work in the mine runs as slowly now as it did in 1977.
During the past 30 years, administrations have spent more than $100 million trying to automate the old-fashioned process in the mine and make it run at the speed of computers.
They couldn’t.
So now the mine continues to run at the speed of human fingers and feet. That failure imposes costs on federal retirees, who have to wait months for their full benefit checks. And it has imposed costs on the taxpayer: The Obama administration has now made the mine run faster, but mainly by paying for more fingers and feet....
But why is it in a cave at all?
The answer to that question is that, back in 1958, the U.S. government was in the market for storage space. It needed 30,000 square feet to hold personnel files that were being relocated from a building in Washington. Officials looked at buildings in Richmond, Va., and Syracuse, N.Y., before choosing this place, an underground complex where 1,000 workers had once cut limestone to feed the steel mills.
A private company had turned the place into an enormous safe-deposit box: safe from the weather and the Soviets, kept naturally cool as a cave. Today, the complex is owned by the company Iron Mountain, which leases out other caverns to store old Hollywood movie reels and photo archives.
That just seems crazy, but then there's this:
“On a daily basis, we would get from five to 50 e-mails, asking everybody to take time out of their day to search their desks for case files,” the former worker said. That worker said the experience of hunting down lost paperwork and lost files inside an underground cavern had been bad enough to force a career change.
The worker’s new job: setting off explosives.
“I’m handling live ordnance on a daily basis, just to get out of there,” said the worker, whose company blasts holes in the ground for oil and gas wells. “One of the five worst jobs in the world was a great alternative to being down there.”
Actually, when I started my current job, all our orders were paper files, and we usually got 1 to 5 emails a day asking people to check their desks for files. When we had a lean event on the order processing system, electronic files were the thing I pushed for. Even with some bugs, it is a hell of a lot better. And that was in the efficient private sector.  I probably wouldn't leave this job to work with explosives, but some days I feel like I should.

Opening Day: When I Enjoy a George Will Column

Trivia.   I didn't do so good.  Thanks, George:

"Andre Dawson," Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully once said, "has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren't we all?" Yes, so use some of your remaining time constructively by identifying the player or players who:

(1) Won three batting titles by at least 44 points (two players).

(2) Hit more than 50 home runs in a season in which he had fewer than 50 strikeouts.

(3) Won a batting title hitting .361 but slumped to .243 the next season.

(4) Was the oldest MVP.

(5) Caught the most games.

(6) Was the first catcher to hit 40 home runs.

(7) Batted at least .300 and drove in at least 100 runs in each of his first 11 seasons.

(8) Hit 50 home runs in one season and stole 50 bases in another (two players).

(9) Had 3,000 hits and 1,500 walks (four players).

(10) Had 3,000 hits, 300 home runs and a career .300 average (four players).

(11) Received the most unintentional walks.

(12) Is the only American League player to have 100 walks, 70 extra-base hits and 30 stolen bases in a season.

(13) Are the only three National League players with such a season.

(14) Was the first lefthander to win 300 games.

(15) Won three ERA titles before age 26.

(16) Was the last player to have 600 hits with three teams.

(17) Is a Hall of Famer whose lowest winning percentage in 10 pitching seasons was .643.

(18) Had 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons.

(19) Had eight league home run titles, ranking second to Babe Ruth's 12.

(20) Completed 237 of the 370 games he started in the 1950s.

(21) In 1968, the "year of the pitcher," hit 10 home runs in 20 at-bats in six games.

(22) Contracted tuberculosis, interrupting his Hall of Fame career at second base and perhaps costing his team a third consecutive pennant.

(23) Hit five home runs in a doubleheader (two players).

(24) Was the first African-American to win an American League batting title.

(25) Was an All-American basketball player (Duke) before being an MVP.

Bonus question: Who said, "The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is they have the best home record in baseball."

Answers after the jump