Saturday, April 12, 2014

Your Brain on Alcohol

Yellow Sticky Notes

Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam from Meditating Bunny Studio Inc. on Vimeo.

If you are looking for a little Chicago propaganda (it's a little too much for me), go here. "A pleasing blend of old and new? (about 0:38 in)"  WTF?  Soldier Field looks like a fucking UFO crashed on it.

Palm Sunday Weekend Reads

After a long week, it is nice to remember that Lent is almost over.  Here are some interesting links:

How Congress Stayed Wet in the Dry Years of Prohibition - The Atlantic

OSHA Takes a Closer Look at the Most Dangerous Job in America - Pacific Standard

Death on the Farm - Newsweek.  On farmer suicides. A very sad read.

Lab-Grown Vaginas Implanted Successfully in Four Teenagers - Scientific American.  I didn't think I'd ever read that headline.

NSA knew about Heartbleed, exploited it for two years - Salon.  Color me shocked.

Pray for Billy Hamilton - SB Nation

Why We're in a New Gilded Age - Paul Krugman reviewing Picketty's  Capital in the Twenty-First Century. New York Review of Books

Atlanta Stadium for Falcons Prompts Bond Fight - Bloomberg. WTF? 
Home Depot Inc. co-founder Arthur Blank, having bought the Atlanta Falcons, is getting help from the city to build a $1.2 billion football stadium to replace a venue that a skeptic noted is barely older than Miley Cyrus.
The billionaire said his ambition to bring another Super Bowl to town rides on replacing the Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992, with funds including $200 million in taxpayer money.
Are you fucking kidding me?

The Heartbreaking First Legal gay Marriage in Indiana - Slate

A Whole New Ballgame - New York Times.  Baseball from unique angles.

Bars showing Pacquiao- Bradley fight must pay big - or else - LA Times.  Pay-per-view is killing boxing

How 'Choose Your Own Adventure' was born - Marketplace.  Loved those books.

How lobbying dollars prop up pyramid schemes - The Verge.  Herbalife and Amway.  I would guess AdvoCare too. However, it might not be helping Herbalife:  Herbalife Probed by Investigators - WSJ

Miller Samuel, via Ritholtz

Friday, April 11, 2014

Minor Leaguer

MINOR LEAGUER from Arctic Content on Vimeo.

The Death Toll Comparison

From Wait But Why:


Beating the Crooks at Their Own Game

Phil Ivey allegedly cheats two casinos:
An Atlantic City casino is suing a big-time gambler, claiming he won $9.6 million in a card-cheating scheme in baccarat.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Phillip Ivey Jr., considered one of the best poker players in the world.
The suit alleges Ivey and an associate exploited a defect in cards made by a Kansas City manufacturer that enabled them to sort and arrange so-called "good cards" in baccarat. The technique gave him an unfair advantage on four occasions between April and October 2012, the casino asserted in its lawsuit.
The casino claims the technique, called "edge sorting," violates New Jersey casino gambling regulations. Joe Lupo, the Borgata's senior vice president, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
There was no immediate response to a message sent Friday to Ivey's Twitter account. A lawyer who represents Ivey said he would eventually respond to a request for comment.
The suit claims the cards, manufactured by Gemaco Inc., and used in the baccarat games were defective in that the pattern on the back of them was not uniform. The cards have rows of small white circles designed to look like the tops of cut diamonds, but the Borgata claims some of them were only a half diamond or a quarter of one.
The lawsuit claims that Ivey and his companion instructed a dealer to flip cards in particular ways, depending on whether it was a desirable card in baccarat. The numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9 are considered good cards. Other "bad" cards would be flipped in different directions, so that after several hands of cards, the "good" ones were arranged in a certain manner — with the irregular side of the card facing in a specific direction — that Ivey could spot when they came out of the dealer chute.
The suit claims Ivey wanted the cards shuffled by an automatic shuffling machine, which would not alter the way each card was aligned.
A lawsuit filed in Britain's High Court by the Malaysia-based Genting Group, a major casino operator, makes a similar claim against Ivey. The suit alleges Ivey and an accomplice amassed almost $12 million by cheating at baccarat.
Almost $22 million.  That isn't a bad haul.  There really isn't a more deserving victim than a casino.

Grasping How Crows Learn

Crow after ordering pizza

Scientists continue testing crows' intelligence, and will hopefully find out how to trick them and defeat them:
But in the latest experiment to test the crows, Ms. Jelbert, working with Alex Taylor and Russell Gray of Auckland and Lucy Cheke and Nicola Clayton of the University of Cambridge in England, found some clear limitations to what the crows can learn. And those limitations provide some hints to how they think.
The birds, Ms. Jelbert and her colleagues reported in PLOS One last month, were wild New Caledonian crows trapped for the experiment and then released.
The crows were first trained to pick up stones. This is not something they do in the wild. They then dropped the stones into a dry tube to gain a reward. Then they took the Aesop’s test, in several different situations.
The birds learned not to drop the stones in a tube of sand with a treat. And they correctly chose sinking objects rather than floating ones, and solid rather than hollow objects to drop in the water.
But if part of the tube apparatus was hidden, the birds could not learn. They also didn’t seem to be able to learn that the water would rise more quickly with fewer stones in a narrow tube.
This suggests two things, said Ms. Jelbert. They weren’t just learning abstract rules, because otherwise they would have been able to learn where to drop the stones to make the water rise even if they couldn’t see what was going on.
And second, the need to see the results of the behavior suggested they did seem to have “a level of causal understanding.” These are just hints, though, in terms of understanding how crows learn and think, said Ms. Jelbert, “we’re still very much at the beginning.”
Those birds are scary smart. I liked this satire piece built around these studies.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tiny Sydney

Tiny Sydney from Filippo Rivetti on Vimeo.

The Irrational Part of the Brain?

Or maybe the most irrational part of the brain. Pacific Standard:
The insula is a small part of the brain, but it packs an emotional punch. It helps us feel some of our most powerful feelings, including love, anxiety, and hunger. Patients who damage their insula can experience these emotions and cravings in unusual ways. And that makes them highly sought after for trials by scientists—researchers who want to understand how this slice of the neuron pie affects our daily lives. High-profile research published seven years ago, for example, showed that these patients had an easier time than others in kicking cigarette addictions.
Neuroscientists also want to know which parts of the brain are responsible for the gambler’s fallacy. That’s the bank account-draining delusion that the outcome of one spin of a roulette wheel can affect the outcome of the next. This fallacy can keep us optimistically glued to our sticky casino chair. It convinces us that we can enrich ourselves by throwing chips on one color or another as the croupier grabs the roulette wheel—we think we’re seeing a pattern where there is nothing but randomness. The fallacy also misleads us into mistaking a near-miss on a slot machine as a sign that we’re close to hitting a jackpot.
British and American researchers simulated gambling games with patients whose brains had been injured in different ways. They also ran the same experiments with neurologically healthy subjects. They measured how outcomes of roulette and slot machine spins affected gambling decisions, such as whether a mock gambler was motivated to try their luck with another round.
They found that insula-damaged patients had a wallet-shielding immunity to the gambler’s fallacy—one that was lacking in everybody else.
When playing a slot machine, a near miss made most of the test subjects want to try again. This irrational response was “selectively absent in the insula group,” the scientists write in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
And when the ball in the roulette wheel landed on the same color several times in a row, most of the gamblers threw their hypothetical chips onto the other color, mistakenly thinking that color’s time was overdue. Again, “the insula group did not manifest this avoidance of recent outcomes,” the researchers write.
Hey, that bet-on-what-didn't-come-up strategy worked like a charm once (yeah, just once) for me on Chuck-A-Luck at the parish festival.  I think I ended up $25 ahead on $1 bets.  That was on a game with three dice, though, and not on the wheel that mainly features doubles and triples.  I'm not very good at probability math, but I figured you have pretty much even odds with the dice.  I guess I'm not really surprised the part of the brain that falls in love is also the part that makes us suckers for house games.  You kind of have to be a romantic fool to think you are going to beat the house (except that one time).

How a Thorium Reactor Works

The Economist:
Thorium itself is not fissile. If bombarded by neutrons, though, it turns into an isotope of uranium, 233U, which is. Thorium can thus be burned in a conventional reactor along with enriched uranium or plutonium to provide the necessary neutrons. But a better way is to turn the element into its fluoride, mix that with fluorides of beryllium and lithium to bring its melting-point down from 1,110ºC to a more tractable 360ºC, and melt the mixture. The resulting liquid can be pumped into a specially designed reactor core, where fission raises its temperature to 700ºC or so. It then moves on to a heat exchanger, to transfer its newly acquired heat to a gas (usually carbon dioxide or helium) which is employed to drive turbines that generate electricity. That done, the now-cooled fluoride mixture returns to the core to be recharged with heat.
This is roughly how America’s experimental thorium reactor, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, worked in the 1960s. Its modern incarnation is known as an LFTR (liquid-fluoride thorium reactor).
One of the cleverest things about LFTRs is that they work at atmospheric pressure. This changes the economics of nuclear power. In a light-water reactor, the type most commonly deployed at the moment, the cooling water is under extremely high pressure. As a consequence, light-water reactors need to be sheathed in steel pressure vessels and housed in fortress-like containment buildings in case their cooling systems fail and radioactive steam is released. An LFTR needs none of these.
Thorium is also easier to prepare than its rivals. Only 0.7% of natural uranium is the fissionable isotope 235U. The rest is 238U, which is heavier because it has three more neutrons, and does not undergo fission because of the stability these neutrons bring. This is why uranium has to be enriched by the complicated process of centrifugation. Plutonium is made by bombarding 238U with neutrons in a manner similar to the conversion of thorium into 233U. In its case, however, this requires a separate reactor from the one the plutonium is eventually burned in. By contrast thorium, once extracted from its ore, is reactor-ready.
It does, it is true, need a seed of uranium or plutonium to provide neutrons to start the ball rolling. Once enough of it has been converted into 233U, though, the process becomes self-sustaining, with neutrons from the fission of 233U transmuting sufficient thorium to replace the 233U as it is consumed. The seed material then becomes superfluous and can, because the fuel is liquid, be flushed out of the reactor along with the fission products generated when 233U atoms split up.
I'm surprised nobody in the States has done much with this for a while.  In the "all of the above" energy policy, this would seem to be one of the above.  Especially considering that we are building a couple of light water reactors (with federal loan guarantees).

House Crazy Caucus Plans Coup Against Boehner

Tim Alberta:
Several dozen frustrated House conservatives are scheming to infiltrate the GOP leadership next year—possibly by forcing Speaker John Boehner to step aside immediately after November's midterm elections.
The conservatives' exasperation with leadership is well known. And now, in discreet dinners at the Capitol Hill Club and in winding, hypothetical-laced email chains, they're trying to figure out what to do about it. Some say it's enough to coalesce behind—and start whipping votes for—a single conservative leadership candidate. Others want to cut a deal with Majority Leader Eric Cantor: We'll back you for speaker if you promise to bring aboard a conservative lieutenant.
But there's a more audacious option on the table, according to conservatives involved in the deliberations. They say between 40 and 50 members have already committed verbally to electing a new speaker. If those numbers hold, organizers say, they could force Boehner to step aside as speaker in late November, when the incoming GOP conference meets for the first time, by showing him that he won't have the votes to be reelected in January.
The masterminds of this mutiny are trying to stay in the shadows for as long as possible to avoid putting a target on their backs. But one Republican said the "nucleus"of the rebellion can be found inside the House Liberty Caucus, of which he and his comrades are members. This is not surprising, considering that some of the key players in that group—Justin Amash of Michigan, Raul Labrador of Idaho, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky—were among the 12 Republicans who refused to back Boehner's reelection in January 2013.
Amash, chairman of the Liberty Caucus, warned at the time that there would be a "larger rebellion" down the road if Boehner's leadership team did not bring conservatives into the fold. Such an insurrection never materialized, however, as Boehner deftly navigated a series of challenges last year and wound up winning over some of the malcontents.
I kind of feel sorry for Boehner for having to deal with these clowns.  Then I remember that his fundraising is partly responsible for getting them elected.  Anyway, they are the do-nothing caucus of the do-nothing Congress and are guaranteed to vote no on any sane legislation.  It would be interesting in a watching-NASCAR-for-the-wrecks kind of way to see them in charge, but nothing good would come of it.  For that, I thank God John Boehner is there to rein those morons in.

11th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest

My favorite was this one, but it was disqualified because the submitter wasn't the photographer:

A wall cloud near Omaha, Nebraska. "This cell grew exponentially over the next 16 minutes, split twice and spawned three EF4 tornadoes with $67.4 million in damage to residences and crops." photo by Chris Bellamy
There are some other cool ones to vote on, including a little girl bottle feeding a lamb.  Check them out here.

Grazing Battle Out West

A Republican U.S. senator added his voice Wednesday to critics of a federal cattle roundup fought by a Nevada rancher who claims longstanding grazing rights on remote public rangeland about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas
Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said he told new U.S. Bureau of Land Management chief Neil Kornze in Washington, D.C., that law-abiding Nevadans shouldn't be penalized by an "overreaching" agency.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval pointed earlier to what he called "an atmosphere of intimidation," resulting from the roundup and said he believed constitutional rights were being trampled.
Heller said he heard from local officials, residents and the Nevada Cattlemen's Association and remained "extremely concerned about the size of this closure and disruptions with access to roads, water and electrical infrastructure."
The federal government has shut down a scenic but windswept area about half the size of the state of Delaware to round up about 900 cattle it says are trespassing.
BLM and National Park Service officials didn't immediately respond Wednesday to criticisms of the roundup that started Saturday and prompted the closure of the 1,200-square-mile area through May 12.
It's seen by some as the latest battle over state and federal land rights in a state with deep roots in those disputes, including the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and '80s. Nevada, where various federal agencies manage or control more than 80 percent of the land, is among several Western states where ranchers have challenged federal land ownership.
The current showdown pits rancher Cliven Bundy's claims of ancestral rights to graze his cows on open range against federal claims that the cattle are trespassing on arid and fragile habitat of the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy has said he owns about 500 branded cattle on the range and claims the other 400 targeted for roundup are his, too.
BLM and Park Service officials see threats in Bundy's promise to "do whatever it takes" to protect his property and in his characterization that the dispute constitutes a "range war."
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, noted that BLM officials were enforcing federal court orders that Bundy remove his animals. The legal battle has been waged for decades.
Interesting.  I can't say who has the better case here, but when 80% of the land in the state is managed or controlled by the federal government, I would suspect the feds have the legal advantage.  If the ownership really is federal, I would suppose the politicians are playing farmer vs. turtle in the court of public opinion.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Got Nothing

 Map of Shale Fracking Sites in U.S.  Source: Vox

Work really scrambled my mind today.  Have you had one of those days where you wonder how the business you work at still is in existence?  If so, I can relate.  Looking around online, I just haven't seen much that struck me as worth posting.  I thought about commenting on the Jeb Bush for President campaign (seriously? After W.?), but I just can't right now.  Here's a cool piece on the Navy's experimental rail gun.  Here is a story about the Liberal victory over the Parti Quebecois, for what it's worth.  I really can't say much about Ukraine, because I don't know if Svoboda is fascist, or if the Russian support in the east is staged, or why any of it matters to Americans who aren't employed in agribusiness.  Nothing that has occurred in the last 24 hours has convinced me that Israeli interests are more significant than American interests, or that the two nations' intersts are closely linked.  Likewise, nothing has come to light in the last 24 hours that would convince me that torture conducted by the nation in which I am a citizen is less evil than torture conducted by another nation.  Another day has passed in which the Republican Party has failed to convince me to not cast a ballot for anybody but them.  The Reds managed to beat the Cardinals, and Billy Hamilton managed to do something amazing (scoring from third on the shortest sacrifice fly I've ever seen).  Honestly, unless I stumble on something interesting, that's about all I've got tonight.  I'll close out with some aurora borealis, which I find totally cool:

Eye of the Storm from Henry Jun Wah Lee / Evosia on Vimeo.

Good night. Maybe.

Update:  Is it wrong to thank God that this kid in Pittsburgh took a knife to school instead of a gun?

Leading From Behind

John Kasich digs in on opposing gay marriage:
Gov. John Kasich reaffirmed his position on gay marriage yesterday. He’s still against it.
Following an economic-development announcement at AmerisourceBergen in Lockbourne, Kasich said he supports Attorney General Mike DeWine’s appeal of an upcoming ruling by a federal judge that will require the state of Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and areas where it’s legal.
“He is going to appeal it; he should,” Kasich said in response to a reporter’s question. Kasich’s comments on the subject were his first since U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black announced his intentions on Friday.
DeWine’s office says if Black rules as he said he would, DeWine will appeal his decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and also seek an immediate stay to prevent the ruling from taking effect.
Black’s ruling is not expected to immediately affect Ohio’s ban on gay marriages inside the state.
“The people of the state, including me, voted years ago on a constitutional amendment to say that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Kasich said. “(Black) has overruled that in some respects, and that’s what a federal judge can do. But it doesn’t change the fact of how people voted.”
Will Republicans ask people to vote on the gay marriage ban again?  We're talking about an issue on which an extremely sizable percentage of the population has changed its mind in the last 10 years.  Besides the fact that Republicans are being damaged electorally by holding their ground on this, they are also on the wrong side of  history on a civil rights issue.  The longer the gay marriage ban hangs around, the longer Republicans' opposition to a civil right which WILL become the law of the land will fester among voters who have already accepted the right of gays to marry, specifically, voters who will be alive more than twenty years from now. Appealing the ruling leaves this fight in the courts until the Supreme Court strikes it down, which they will have to, or until another referendum overturns the ban.  The sensible thing to do would be to accept the ruling, which allows gay marriage in Ohio through marriage out-of-state, and begin the legislative process to bring a referendum to eliminate the ban.  This would be actual leadership on the part of the Republicans, instead of hiding behind an out-of-date popular measurement of bigotry.  A sizable percentage of the population which voted for the ban is now dead, while a sizable percentage of opponents to the ban weren't old enough to vote in 2004.  Again, Republicans can hide behind the decade-old vote and wait for the inevitable demographic changes to force the issue, but that isn't what leaders would do.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Ice

We Will Live Again from Brooklyn Underground Films on Vimeo.

The New Gilded Age

That title has been one of my labels since the beginning of the blog. Businessweek, via Ritholtz:

Dudley Do-Right

Joey Votto, in the red serge, with Nibbles at the ready:

Shale Gas Revolution Quiz

From OilPrice:

1. How much natural gas is the United States currently extracting?

(a) Barely enough to meet its own needs
(b) Enough to allow lots of exports
(c) Enough to allow a bit of exports
(d) The United States is a natural gas importer

Answer: (d) The United States is a natural gas importer, and has been for many years. The EIA is forecasting that by 2017, we will finally be able to meet our own natural gas needs.

Don't believe the hype about energy independence:
In this forecast, wellhead prices remain below $5.00 until 2028. Electricity companies look at these low price forecasts and assume that they should plan on ramping up electricity production from natural gas.
The catch–and the reason for all of the natural gas exports–is that most shale gas producers cannot produce natural gas at recent price levels. They need much higher price levels in order to make money on natural gas. We see one article after another on this subject: From Oil and Gas Journal; from Bloomberg; from the Financial Times. The Wall Street Journal quoted Exxon’s Rex Tillerson as saying, “We are all losing our shirts today. We’re making no money. It’s all in the red.”
Why all of the natural gas exports, if we don’t have very much natural gas, and the shale gas portion (which is the only portion with much potential for growth) is so unprofitable? The reason for all of the exports is too pump up the prices shale gas producers can get for their gas. This comes partly by engineering higher US prices (by shipping an excessive portion overseas) and partly by trying to take advantage of higher prices in Europe and Japan.
In a few years, we'll see oil and gas prices spike much higher, and the shale boom will be a bust for the U.S. economy, because it just isn't cheap energy. One more case where we pissed away valuable time and limited resources because of optimistic bullshit from our fossil fuel pushers.

Idiot State Rep Wants Federal Judge Impeached

John Becker (Moron-Clermont County) wants Federal Judge Timothy Black impeached for pointing out the federal unconstitutionality of Ohio's gay marriage ban:
A Clermont County state representative reiterated his call for the impeachment of federal Judge Timothy Black, after Black on Friday said he plans to overturn Ohio's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages conducted in other states.
"In an epic display of arrogance and incompetence, Judge Black announced that he will require the people of Ohio to disregard the Ohio Constitution and force the recognition of 'homosexual marriages' performed outside of Ohio," state Rep. John Becker's office said a statement. "He persists in allowing his personal political bias to supersede jurisprudence."
Becker, R-Union Township, said Black's ruling would violate both the Ohio Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Voters in 2004 amended Ohio's constitution to ban the state from validating or recognizing a same-sex marriage. The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves to the states all rights not delegated to the federal government in the Constituation. Becker first called for Black's impeachment after the U.S. District Court judge ruled last year that Ohio must recognize the out-of-state marriage of an Over-the-Rhine couple on a death certificate. James Obergefell wanted to be listed on the certificate as the spouse of John Arthur after Arthur died last year of ALS. The couple had been married in Maryland weeks earlier.
Attorney Jean Geoppinger McCoy, president of the Cincinnati Bar Association, said Black was upholding the Constitution, not violating it. She cited the U.S. Constitution's clause that says each state must give "full faith and credit" to public acts and records in other states, such as legal marriages.
"Perhaps it takes a lawyer (which Becker is not) to understand," she wrote in a January bar association publication. "Rather than having faith in the legal system and trusting it to function as our forefathers envisioned through the appellate process, Rep. Becker has chosen to attempt to leverage his legislative position by taking the public stage with an impeachment resolution."
I just love seeing these idiots fight and fight in a losing clause because they think gay marriage will hurt Jesus's fee fees. Instead of making Ohio look like a laughingstock, Rep. Becker could make Ohio more business-friendly by moving to remove the ban on gay marriage from the state Constitution (said ban making the Constitution a travesty). I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen, though. My guess is that if the Supreme Court doesn't overturn such bans by then, Ohio's will fall to a voter referendum in 2016.

Update-here's a quote from Rep. Becker's campaign website:
Being a minimalist would best describe my philosophy on government. Regarding taxes and regulations, let's start with zero and negotiate from there. Obviously, some level of both is required for a functioning society. Only an anarchist would think otherwise. I want to keep taxes and regulations as minimal as possible.
How does a moron like this get elected? Hey idiot, we tried zero taxes and regulations and did negotiate from there. This shit didn't fall from the fucking sky like a magic Coke bottle. You start from where we are at and negotiate from there. This isn't rocket science. The grassroots of the Republican Party that elects these dumbfucks is really pushing to make this nation a failed state.

Monday, April 7, 2014

San Jose Challenges Baseball's Antitrust Exemption

Baseball's long-criticized antitrust exemption is the knuckleball of Supreme Court precedent: It appears vulnerable to attack, but challengers keep striking out.
Now city officials in San Jose, Calif., are taking their turn at bat in the most notable legal challenge to baseball's exemption in a generation—one that could ultimately swing back to the Supreme Court's doorstep.
The city, seeking to clear the way for the Oakland Athletics baseball club to move to San Jose, filed an antitrust lawsuit against a resistant Major League Baseball last year. It argues the exemption, which dates to a 1922 Supreme Court ruling, has outlived any logic that once supported it. At the very least, the city says, the exemption shouldn't apply to common commercial issues like the relocation of a business.
San Jose lost an initial round of litigation, but a U.S. appeals court surprised some observers by granting the city's request to fast-track the case, setting the stage for a potential ruling in the middle of the baseball season. If it loses at the appeals level, "San Jose is prepared to take its case to the Supreme Court," says Philip Gregory, a lawyer representing the city. "We are confident the justices will see the folly of treating Major League Baseball differently from all other professional sports."
San Jose alleges the league and team owners have colluded to prevent the A's from relocating because the league has made the San Jose market the exclusive territory of a competing franchise: the San Francisco Giants.
"That is not what our antitrust laws allow for any business in America, and it should not be allowed here," Mr. Gregory says.
Major League Baseball, which hasn't given the A's permission to move, says that the land offered by San Jose isn't enough to build a stadium and notes that the city hasn't offered to help fund construction......
Baseball is the only sport with an exemption from the antitrust laws, the product of a unique run through the legal system that began in a different era of the sport—and the courts. In 1922, the Supreme Court held that federal antitrust law didn't apply to baseball because the game was a local affair, not interstate commerce.
In the following years, it became increasingly clear that baseball was in fact a big interstate business. And at the Supreme Court, the justices in other cases began embracing a broader view of the types of commerce that were subject to federal regulation.
Nevertheless, the court in 1953 and 1972 decided against bringing baseball under the antitrust laws, even as it allowed antitrust lawsuits against other sports. For example, the court in 2010 said the National Football League could be sued by an apparel maker over its licensing arrangements.
The court's later opinions said that even if the 1922 ruling was questionable, overruling it could be harmful, given that baseball had built its business around the rules the high court had announced. Any such changes should come from Congress, the court said in both cases.
I'm not sure how baseball could be considered a local affair in this day and age, but I really don't understand why baseball would justify an antitrust exemption in the first place.  It really blows me away that part of baseball's defense is that San Jose hasn't offered to pony up to build a stadium.  WTF?

Here is more history on the origins of the antitrust exemption:
When the National League joined forces with the American League in 1903, the partnership proved to be fruitful immediately. And one of the main rules of business is: success breeds imitation.
Thus, it should be no surprise that another baseball league soon had intentions of challenging the AL/NL monopoly. The Federal League started out as a minor league, but it had major intentions. In 1914, in fact, many people considered the Federal League to be a Major League. And the Federal League wanted to make it official.
On January 5, 1915, the Federal League sued Major League Baseball under federal antitrust law for interfering with their attempts to hire players that were between contracts (meaning not bound by the Reserve Clause) from the American and National League. The judge hearing the case was Kenesaw Mountain Landis [], who was known for his strict adherence to the letter of the law. Landis, however, just so happened to also be a huge Chicago Cubs fan. He understood that the Federal League had a legitimate case. However, ruling in favor of the FL would harm his Cubs, so he took the case under advisement rather than issue a ruling immediately.
In 1915 the Federal League ran into difficulties. Major League baseball had attempted to operate with three leagues in 1884 and 1890 and had failed both times. 1915 was no different. The players and owners in the Federal League were absorbed into the two more-established leagues, and late in the year the Federal League asked Judge Landis to dismiss the case against the American and National Leagues. Landis happily obliged.
But not everyone was happy with the collapse of the Federal League. The owners of the Baltimore Federal League franchise attempted to purchase a Major League team, and were rebuffed. They tried to buy an International League franchise (the IL was the top minor league organization at the top) and were once again denied. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey insulted the city when he said that “Baltimore is a minor league city and not a hell of a good one at that.” Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets chimed in by saying that Baltimore was one of the worst minor league cities because “you have too many colored population to start with.”
The perspective owners then filed an antitrust lawsuit against Major League baseball, claiming a conspiracy to destroy the Federal League. In April of 1919 a court found in favor of the Baltimore owners, and awarded them $240,000 in damages. The case was appealed in 1920, and the appellate court didn’t rule until 1921. When they did rule, they overturned the lower court’s decision, stating that baseball “was not the kind of commerce” federal law was intended to regulate. On May 22, 1922, the Supreme Court upheld this decision, reinforcing baseball’s antitrust exemption.
So when baseball went looking for a commissioner, who better than the guy who helped them out in the fight with the Federal League?

Monterey Shale Presents Challenge to Drillers

Across the southern San Joaquin Valley, oil exploration sites have popped up in agricultural fields and on government land, driven by the hope that technological advances in oil extraction — primarily hydraulic fracturing and acidization — can help provide access to deep and lucrative oil reserves.
The race began after the federal Energy Information Administration estimated in 2011 that more than 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil is trapped in what's known as the Monterey Shale formation, which covers 1,750 square miles, roughly from Bakersfield to Fresno.
But getting at that oil isn't easy. The Monterey Shale is unlike other oil shale formations across the United States. In those booming oil fields, reserves are pooled in orderly strata of rock. Once the rock is cracked open by fracking or other means, operators can sink a single well with multiple horizontal shafts and pull in oil from a wide area.
California's geology is far more complicated. The earth under the Monterey Shale has undergone constant seismic reshaping that has folded, stacked and fractured the substrate, trapping the oil in accordion pleats of hard rock at depths of up to 12,000 feet. To reach the crude using conventional methods requires oil companies to drill far-deeper wells, and more of them — a prohibitively expensive undertaking.
To crack the code, companies are busily drilling test wells here, using various fracking and acidization techniques in search of cheaper solutions. So far, no one seems to have found a method to profitably extract the oil.
Well, if the drillers can't figure out a way to get it, it can't be got. One definitely limiting factor on fracking is the scarcity of water.  Wasting millions of gallons of water for each fracking well just doesn't seem like a good plan for the use of water in California.

Chicago Income Inequality in One GIF

The Atlantic:

Put together by Daniel Hertz, a masters student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, the maps show each Census tract's median family income as a percentage of the median family income in the metro area.
As Hertz says on his blog, it's easy to see these maps as a "direct consequence of rising income inequality." But researchers Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff, who inspired Hertz, say there's more to it than that. They determined in a 2010 study that not only is there "a robust relationship between income inequality and income segregation" in the country's largest 100 MSAs, but that it's had larger effects on black families than white ones.
The rich and poor areas got bigger, and the middle-range areas disappeared.  

The Establishment of Marietta

April 7, 1788:
American Pioneers to the Northwest Territory arrive at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, establishing Marietta, Ohio, as the first permanent American settlement of the newUnited States in the Northwest Territory, and opening the westward expansion of the new country.

Plaque at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio commemorating the first permanent (United States) settlement of the Northwest Territory and the first forty-eight settlers of the Ohio Company of Associates. The plaque reads:

This tablet commemorates the first permanent settlement in the territory northwest of the Ohio, consecrated to freedom by the Ordinance of 1787, and the first organization of its free institutions. Manasseh Cutlerrepresenting soldiers of the Revolutionary Army organized as “The Ohio Company of Associates” purchased from the Board of Treasury of the United States on authority granted by the Continental Congress July 27th 1787 a million and a half acres of these waste and vacant lands. The first body of settlers forty-eight in number headed by General Rufus Putnam landed at the mouth of the Muskingum on April 7th 1788. GeneralArthur St. Clair first governor reached Fort Harmar on July 9th 1788 and upon his official entry into Marietta on July 15th civil government in the Territory was established.
This photograph was taken and provided by Mr. Kevin Carr during July 2008.
American pioneers to the Northwest Territory included soldiers of the Revolution and members of the Ohio Company of Associates. During 1788 these pioneers to the Ohio Country established Marietta, Ohio as the first permanent American settlement of the new United States in the Northwest Territory, and opened the westward expansion of the new country. General George Washington commented about these pioneers: “I know many of the settlers personally, and there never were men better calculated to promote the welfare of such a community.”
The first group of these early American pioneers to the Northwest Territory is sometimes referred to as “the forty-eight” or the “first forty-eight”, and also as the “founders of Ohio”. These first forty-eight men were carefully chosen and vetted by several of the co-founders of the Ohio Company of Associates, Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler, to ensure not only men of high character and bravery, but also men with proven skills necessary to build a settlement in the wilderness.
Happy 226th Birthday to Marietta.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

April 4:

Along the Western Veil
Image Processing: Oliver Czernetz - Data: Digitized Sky Survey (POSS-II)
Explanation: Delicate in appearance, these filaments of shocked, glowing gas, draped in planet Earth's sky toward the constellation of Cygnus, make up the western part of the Veil Nebula. The Veil Nebula itself is a large supernova remnant, an expanding cloud born of the death explosion of a massive star. Light from the original supernova explosion likely reached Earth over 5,000 years ago. Blasted out in the cataclysmic event, the interstellar shock wave plows through space sweeping up and exciting interstellar material. The glowing filaments are really more like long ripples in a sheet seen almost edge on, remarkably well separated into atomic hydrogen (red) and oxygen (blue-green) gas. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula now spans nearly 3 degrees or about 6 times the diameter of the full Moon. While that translates to over 70 light-years at its estimated distance of 1,500 light-years, this wide image of the western portion spans about half that distance. Brighter parts of the western Veil are recognized as separate nebulae, including The Witch's Broom (NGC 6960) along the top of this view and Pickering's Triangle (NGC 6979) below and right of center.

Chinese Processing Facility in Brazil on Hold

In 2011, Chongqing Grain Group Corp announced plans to build a soy crushing plant, railways and a giant inland storage and transportation hub to export goods back to China. The total price tag: $2 billion.
Yet today, the company has only managed to bulldoze a 100-hectare area on which the crushing plant might one day stand. Even that project is on hold, though, and shrubs are starting to grow back on the cleared terrain.
The stalled plans are an example of the difficulties facing once-promising Chinese investments here. Brazil's notorious bureaucracy, its slowing economy and a deep-seated mistrust of China's hunger for land and commodities all appear to explain why the field is still empty.
A Reuters investigation last year found that after a rush of investment announcements in recent years, as many as two-thirds of Chinese projects in Brazil face lengthy delays or never get off the ground.
The government of Bahia state says the Chongqing Group's plans are still moving forward - slowly.
"It's just in bureaucratic processes," said Josalto Alves, spokesman for Bahia's agriculture department. He said the plant needed approval from a municipal government as well as environmental licenses.
It's unclear whether Chongqing has abandoned the other elements of the project. Representatives for the company in China and at its subsidiary in Bahia, called Universo Verde, declined repeated requests for comment.
Interesting.  Considering the issues in China right now, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of projects around the world get put on hold or mothballed.  I think China in 2014 looks a lot like Japan in 1989 or so when it comes to international investment and expansion.

New Atomic Clock Three Times as Accurate as Old One

Both NIST-F2 and the standard it replaces, NIST-F1, are known as cesium-based atomic fountain clocks. This means they determine the length of a second by measuring a natural vibration inside a cesium atom. Within the clock, lasers push together a ball of 10 million cesium atoms and cool them to near absolute zero (which helps reduce noise). The ball is tossed up in a 3-foot chamber, passing through a microwave beam. The microwave beam kicks some of the cesium atoms up into a higher energy state, which causes them to emit light.
The cesium ball is tossed up and down several times, slightly changing the wavelength of the microwave beam each time. Engineers are doing this to search for a particular frequency. They know they’ve found the right one when the microwaves kick up the most of the atoms, producing the maximum amount of light. This is then known to be 9,192,631,770 Hz, a natural resonance frequency of cesium, which defines the length of the second in our modern world.
The previous generation of atomic clock was already quite good at figuring out the length of a second but had a few small sources of error. NIST-F1 operates at room temperature and so the walls of the chamber in which the cesium atom ball is tossed heat up, emitting a small amount of radiation. This interferes with the atoms, causing them to shift ever so slightly in their energy levels. By cooling NIST-F2 with liquid nitrogen, the new timepiece reaches temperatures of – 316 degrees Fahrenheit, virtually eliminating this excess radiation and reducing the shifting 100-fold.
After steady improvement since atomic clocks were invented in the 1950s, researchers think they are reaching the limit of accuracy with the technology. Any clock that is more precise would begin to feel subtle effects explained by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Clocks experience a gravitational warping from massive objects. The Earth, an extremely massive object, causes clocks closer to its surface to run slower relative to those above it.
Way too complex for me, but cool nonetheless. More on keeping time here.

Changing Antarctica

Scientific American features an excerpt from Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land, by James McClintock, a leading Antarctic marine biologist.  I thought this was interesting:
Antarctica boasts some of the largest icebergs ever recorded. In 2000, Iceberg B-15 broke free from the Ross Ice Shelf—a floating platform of ice that can be hundreds or even several thousands of feet thick. (Large icebergs are given designations so they can be tracked.) The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest ice shelf in Antarctica and is about the size of France. Remarkably, a vertical ice wall towering 50 to 100 vertical feet fronts 370 miles of the Ross Sea. The ice shelf was named for Captain James Ross Clark who first sighted the shelf on January 28, 1841. Iceberg B-15 measured twenty-two miles wide and 183 miles long, and was estimated to weigh three billion tons. At 4,200 square miles, the iceberg was eight times the size of the city of Los Angeles. I was fortunate to witness one of these behemoths on a cruise to Antarctica aboard the Explorer II—on whichI was lecturing with a friend, geologist Henry Pollack—in 2007. We sailed for hours, seemingly within reach, of a thirty-one-mile-long iceberg that had grounded itself near Clarence Island off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Henry, who had visited Antarctica frequently over a span of eighteen years, was, like me, nonetheless awestruck by this iceberg’s grandeur. Emerging one hundred vertical feet from the sea, the immense iceberg towered above us, dwarfing our ship as we passed.      
As global temperatures rise, icebergs will more often break off, or calve from, the mainland....
A warming Antarctic Peninsula riddled with icebergs has consequences that are hidden from the casual observer. The increased amount and sizes of icebergs scouring the coastal seafloor disrupt the marine communities there. Marine biologists have long known that near-grounded icebergs behave much like earth movers at construction sites, displacing tens of thousands of square yards of seafloor sediment. The exposed portion of an iceberg acts as a sail, transferring the energy of wind and current to motion, causing the berg’s base to plow through soft sediments and scrape over hard rocky bottoms. Massive iceberg scars extend for miles along coastal Antarctic seafloors, and these are devoid of seaweed, sponges, sea anemones, soft corals, sea spiders, starfish, brittle stars, and even fish. Over a period of a few years, the process ecologists refer to as community succession will kick into gear along these iceberg scars. Temporary communities of rapidly settling and fast-growing, but short-lived, seaweeds, sponges and sea squirts will give way to more stable “climax” communities comprised of more competitive seaweeds and marine invertebrates that grow slower and have longer life spans. Climax communities are ecological communities in which populations of bacteria, plants, and animals remain stable and exist in balance with each other and their environment. In the big picture, Antarctic seafloors that are subject to intermediate levels of periodic iceberg scour are checkered with short-term opportunistic and long-term stable communities and, as such, sustain higher overall diversities of species. But just as intermediate levels of iceberg disturbance may increase species diversity, too much iceberg disturbance may actually compromise this diversity. Heavily ice-scoured seafloors, like a graded construction site, can be biological deserts. Climate warming could result in an overabundance of coastal icebergs that regionally decimate near-shore seafloor communities.
While the loss of the arctic environment is a tragedy of sorts, I'm pretty sure the impact of climate change on humans will be pretty immense, and, from our perspective, will obviously be much, much worse outside of the arctic than in it (say in Bangledesh, for instance).  The importance is that Antarctica and the North Pole are the canaries in the coalmine, and as McClintock points out, is already wreaking havoc on life there.

Is Pabst Blue Ribbon Coming Back to Milwaukee?

 Photo By Carrie Antlfinger/AP 
This image provided by the Pabst Mansion museum shows a postcard depicting the Pabst Brewery around 1900 in Milwaukee. A small group of Milwaukee residents want to revive the city's beer brewing tradition by buying Pabst Brewing Co. from a California executive in hopes of returning the brand's headquarters to its birthplace.

Probably not, but this is interesting:
Long before it was known for fine cheddar cheese or the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin was famous for beer, especially the national brands brewed in Milwaukee: Schlitz, Blatz and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The brewing tradition started by Milwaukee's German immigrants in the 1800s endured for more than a century, until industry consolidation in the 1980s and '90s began sending familiar brands to other companies and cities.
Now a small group of Milwaukee residents wants to revive part of that proud history by buying Pabst Brewing Co. from a California executive in hopes of returning the brand to its birthplace, possibly as a city-owned brewery.
The effort appears to be a distant long shot, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the 170-year-old beer best known as PBR. But Milwaukee officials like the idea enough to talk about it, and at least one industry analyst says the plan is not beyond the realm of possibility....
The company that started in Milwaukee in 1844 is now headquartered in Los Angeles after being bought by food industry executive C. Dean Metropoulos in 2010 for a reported $250 million.
Reports surfaced last month suggesting that Pabst might be looking for buyers. Organizers of the group want Metropoulos to give them first rights of sale so they can begin raising money toward any asking price.
Pabst representatives would not comment on any potential sale or the efforts to bring the brand back to Milwaukee, saying only that they "are considering financial alternatives" that will help Pabst "aggressively pursue its next phase of growth through strategic acquisitions."
The effort to buy Pabst has a core of seven people with various business and nonprofit backgrounds. It also has a Facebook page titled "Milwaukee Should Own Pabst Blue Ribbon" and a website at, which lets visitors sign a letter to Metropoulos. The letter acknowledges that the purchase proposal might seem "crazy" but asks readers to "humor us for just a moment."
"We want to bring PBR home," reads the letter, expected to be sent next week.
In 1996, Pabst headquarters left and beer production ceased at the company's main complex in downtown Milwaukee, opening a "gaping hole in our city's economy," according to the letter. PBR is now brewed in another part of town as part of a deal with MillerCoors.
Bringing Pabst back is less about the beer and more about "investing in the city of Milwaukee," Seidelman said.
A letter to the Milwaukee mayor and city council asks them to consider the purchase of Pabst using a community ownership model similar to that of the Green Bay Packers, in which the public buys stock that does not increase in value and pays no dividends. But, Seidelman said, they are also considering other options, including forming a cooperative....
The plan is being floated at a time when some Great Lakes cities are trying to develop a "blue economy" by attracting industries that rely on water. As growing water scarcity casts a shadow over the economy in warmer states, many northern communities want to use their abundant freshwater to attract businesses, including breweries.
Jeff Fleming, a spokesman for Milwaukee's development department, said city officials know little about the effort so far but look forward to discussing any plan with the organizers.
I don't see this working out, but you never know.  More on the Pabst Brewery and plans for its future here.

Bitcoin Follow-up


Greenspan could spot a bubble in real time.  He called it a bubble the day it peaked.  But he didn't see the housing bubble coming?  Really?

Update:  Ok, maybe Greenspan really didn't see the housing bubble coming.  His record as Charles Keating's lobbyist isn't very good:
Neoclassical economists are not simply incorrect about financial regulation; they give the worst conceivable policy advice. Keating’s economists exemplify these points. Alan Greenspan claimed that Lincoln Savings posed no foreseeable risk of loss – it was the most expensive failure ($3.4 billion – which is hard to do when your S&L only has $6 billion it total (reported) assets). Greenspan and George Benston lauded 33 S&Ls that made large amounts of direct investments as the model for the industry and ridiculed the rule we adopted restricting direct investments (the rule that Keating tried to evade through massive forgeries). Within two years, all 33 S&L had failed. Most of them were accounting control frauds. It is impossible to do worse than zero for 33. Daniel Fischel claimed that his study showed that Lincoln Savings was the best S&L in the Nation – it was the worst. Economics cannot be done worse than Fischel did.
Then the question may be why he was so bad.  Ideology?  If so, why does bitcoin not fit into his ideology?