08/20/2015 archive

The Maple Syrup Cartel

Or you can call it a co-operative, depends on your Point of View.

Canadian Maple Syrup ‘Rebels’ Clash With Law

By IAN AUSTEN, The New York Times

AUG. 20, 2015

To keep prices high, the federation enforces strict quotas for the province’s 7,400 producers. Instead of flooding the market during years with bumper crops, all syrup produced beyond that amount is stored in the federation’s warehouse, which helps prop up prices by limiting supply. When seasons are lean, it releases the syrup, to maintain stable supply and pricing. (Sales of small containers to consumers at farms are exempt from the system.)

After five particularly bad seasons drained most of its stock by 2008, the federation enlarged its hoard. Stacked in barrels nine high, the reserve currently holds about 60 million pounds of maple syrup.

Prices are set by the federation, in negotiation with a buyers’ group. The federation holds most of the power, given that it controls a majority of the world’s production.

Such domestic systems are facing scrutiny in a global marketplace. One major hurdle in the talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal with 12 countries, has been Canada’s refusal to dismantle a similar quota system for dairy and poultry farmers.

Brown gold.  Worth more a barrel at this point than Oil.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Trevor Timm: It hurts to say it, but sometimes Donald Trump speaks the truth

Donald Trump offends entire voting blocks at will, constantly gets his facts wrong, and most of his policy positions are either contradictory or insane. Yet, on some issues, he’s also right.

His deliberate forays into xenophobia and arrogance on immigration and foreign policy certainly remain awful and ugly, but there’s also another reason he continues to sit atop the Republican polls: he speaks a particular kind of truth about some issues the way only someone with no filter can. These days, his venom particularly stinging to other Republicans, whom he has no problem attacking with a delightful abandon that is usually considered sacrilegious in inter-party primaries. [..]

In the coming weeks, Trump will inevitably say something horribly offensive to a particular person or group – that’s what he always does. But when the conventional wisdom machine then proclaims his campaign can’t possibly survive, remember there is a reason they will once again likely be wrong.

David Cay Johnston: Currency wars and the threat of deflation

Downward pressure on prices signals dangers for the world economy

The price at which you can trade American dollars for foreign currencies may seem abstract, but events unfolding right now make it important to your future income, whether you have a job and the direction of the world economy in the next few years.

Around the globe, we are seeing strong downward pressure on prices, especially for commodities, prompting some governments to make their currency cheaper relative to the dollar. That suggests we may be entering a period of deflation, last experienced in a serious way in the U.S. in the Great Depression of the 1930s and the late 1800s. A deflationary spiral would represent a serious threat to the global economy. [..]

We need adapt our thinking to the emerging economic conditions of the 21st Century, in which flat prices or even a deflation threatens our prosperity. Without the incentive of rising prices brought by inflation, we risk falling into a vicious cycle of economic decline by deferring the purchases that drive the economy and the investments in education, infrastructure and basic research and undergird it. That would be a tragic mistake.

Michael Keegan: The Constitution the Republicans Can’t Stand

If you are running for office as a Republican today, you have to mention your reverence for the Constitution at least as much as you mention your love for Ronald Reagan.

The Second Amendment — every word should be taken literally because it was literally ordained by God! The First Amendment protects my right to discriminate against gay people! Neither the Constitution nor the Bible contains the word “Obamacare”!

But Republican politicians have a few glaring blind spots when it comes to the Constitution. One of those is the 14th Amendment, a pillar of our inclusive democracy, a key component of which Republican presidential candidates are now asking us to ignore or change.

E. J. Dionne: All Votes Matter: When Will Discrimination End at the Ballot Box?

Many find politics frustrating because problems that seemed to be solved in one generation crop up again years or decades later.  The good thing about democracy is that there are no permanent defeats. The hard part is that some victories have to be won over and over.

And so it is with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a monument to what can be achieved when grass-roots activism is harnessed to presidential and legislative leadership. Ending discrimination at the ballot box was a way of underwriting the achievements of the Civil Rights Act passed a year earlier by granting African-Americans new and real power to which they had always been constitutionally entitled.

Thomas Frank: It’s not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street

Center-left pundits have carried water for the president for six years. Their predictable excuses all ring hollow

As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era’s greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.

Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it’s easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely “buoys on the tides of history,” not “mighty frigates parting the waters,” he scarcely made a ripple. [..]

It is, in other words, a classic apologetic. The pundit, a clear-thinking, reality-based fellow (and yes, they are almost always fellows), knows that if you paid attention back in 2008 you understood that Obama wasn’t promising anything great. Plus, the president has delivered all kinds of subtle but awesome stuff that his soft-headed fans overlook. Besides, there are those awful racist Republicans. Good Christ! Would we rather have one of them in the Oval Office?

This theme has been so elaborately developed over the last few years that it would be possible to write a decent history of the Obama administration entirely in terms of the various apologetics deployed on its behalf, savoring all the different grades of literary style, noting all the catch phrases and in-jokes the pundits share with one another, enumerating all the clever put-downs they use to deride the unrealistic liberal masses.

As a preface to any such future history, let me outline here the main points of the genre.

David Dayen: Presidential libraries, an all-American scam: Why these overpriced vanity projects are bad for politics, the economy & history

Barack Obama is in the early stages of raising $1B for his planned library in Chicago. What a waste!

We spend a lot of time fretting about the power of money in elections. But what about the power of money after all the elections end? The lure of cashing in once leaving politics can have as much of an impact on policy as the continual lobbying and campaign contributions while a politician is in office. Yesterday the New York Times depicted this in rather unseemly fashion, showing how President Obama has vigorously plotted his post-presidency since a week after getting elected to a second and final term.

By “plotted” I mean “flattered potential donors at late-night White House dinners.” The scene-setter for the article featured Obama and his wife in a private upstairs dining room this February, hobnobbing until 2 a.m. with venture capitalists, billionaire CEOs, actresses and hedge fund manager Marc Lasry, last seen getting $450 million in public money from Wisconsin to build a sports arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, which he co-owns. The dinner was part of a series of all-night bull sessions with “extraordinarily rich groups of people.” [..]

Which all begs the question: If a private citizen seeks private donors for a building with his name on it, and an endowment for a foundation that could potentially do good work, why should we care?


The Breakfast Club (Ashley Madison)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgFairly recently I’ve spoken about the need to keep your private information, private.  Ideally you never, ever use your own name and only anonymous email addresses.  This limits your exposure to things you can not control, like your credit card and shipping info.

I have a separate family of emails I devote just to that.  I suppose if I was serious I’d get into BitCoin or at least a blind Paypal account.  If you have a couple of bucks to incorporate you can go wild with the added protections corporate personhood affords, but my prescriptions are only the mild sort designed to keep the casual spy off your back.

One idiot move I’ve never done is sign up for a porn or swinging site under my own name and certainly not one that required my personal information (Disclaimer: not that I’ve never visited a porn or warez site to evaluate anti-virus performance, of course I have, where do you think you picked them up?  Mary-Bo Peep’s Knitting and Yarn Supplies?  It’s just as likely actually, and the reputable porn sites are pretty good at policing and most warez sites not so much.).

So you might think that I’d laugh off the Ashley Madison hack and I do except on the ethics question-

Do you have things about your life you’d like to keep private?

I’m not much into porn because sex is icky and there are only a finite number of ways to do it so it’s also boring.  Neither am I inclined to enter a romantic relationship at this point in my life (mid-30s, 1926, do the math) and it’s been my experience that nothing is zipless.

Still, there are things that I don’t think are relevant to you as a reader and I don’t care to share with my family and friends because their opinion of me is important and enduring.  This is why there are therapists with whom you can have a professional relationship and those communications are privileged.

There are two things that bother me about the Ashley Madison hack.  The first is that it seems to be based mostly on its purient interest rather than any possible public good.  It’s kinda sorta relevant if some “homosexuality can be cured through conditioning and punishment” spouting icon gets burned lurking Craig’s List (Why you so stupid?) but not so much if some random teenager is driven to suicide by the exposure of their sexuality.

The second is not what you would expect.  It’s that businesses, people you actually pay money to in expectation of delivery of a particular good or service, are so disrespectful of your privacy that they leave the most intimate details of your transactions exposed to thieves who can steal from you or simply sell it to other businesses (corporate personhood, gotta love it) to use to target your particular used shoe fetish and Mary-Bo Peep’s Knitting and Yarn Supplies is no less likely than anyone else to do this.

I will note that I’m not much for the needle arts though I can sew well enough to make horrible looking sacks that might keep your personal micro-climate warm enough to keep from getting chilled while at the same time giving you more mobility than if you were wrapped in blankets.

The Ashley Madison Data Dump, Explained

By DANIEL VICTOR, The New York Times

AUG. 19, 2015

On Tuesday, hackers appeared to make good on a threat to release what they said was 9.7 gigabytes of account and credit card information from 37 million users of the site.

Frankly that seems rather high even for 37 million users.  Surely it is not all text.

The data includes members’ names, user names, addresses, phone numbers and birth dates as well as details of credit card transactions.

Brian Krebs, a security researcher, said in a blog post that he spoke with three people who found their information and the last four digits of their credit card numbers in the database, suggesting they were indeed stolen from the company.

“I’m sure there are millions of AshleyMadison users who wish it weren’t so, but there is every indication this dump is the real deal,” Mr. Krebs wrote.


The hackers said they were upset about Ashley Madison’s policy for deleting user data when requested. The company has long offered members the ability to scrub their profiles and information from the site for $19, a feature that BuzzFeed News said generated nearly $2 million in 2014. But, as the breach showed, the data remained.

“We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of A.L.M. and their members,” Impact Team wrote, referring to Avid Life Media. “Now everyone gets to see their data.”

So basically, useless extended warranty plans.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History August 20

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

August 20 is the 232nd day of the year (233rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 133 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1911, the first around-the-world telegram sent, 66 years before Voyager II launch

On this day in 1911, a dispatcher in the New York Times office sends the first telegram around the world via commercial service. Exactly 66 years later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sends a different kind of message–a phonograph record containing information about Earth for extraterrestrial beings–shooting into space aboard the unmanned spacecraft Voyager II.

The Times decided to send its 1911 telegram in order to determine how fast a commercial message could be sent around the world by telegraph cable. The message, reading simply “This message sent around the world,” left the dispatch room on the 17th floor of the Times building in New York at 7 p.m. on August 20. After it traveled more than 28,000 miles, being relayed by 16 different operators, through San Francisco, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Bombay, Malta, Lisbon and the Azores–among other locations–the reply was received by the same operator 16.5 minutes later. It was the fastest time achieved by a commercial cablegram since the opening of the Pacific cable in 1900 by the Commercial Cable Company.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft is an unmanned interplanetary space probe launched on August 20, 1977. Both the Voyager 2 and the Voyager 1 space probes were designed, developed, and built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. Identical in form and instruments with its sister Voyager program craft Voyager 1, Voyager 2 was launched on a slower, more curved trajectory that allowed it to be kept in the plane of the Ecliptic (the plane of the Solar System) so that it could be sent on to Uranus and Neptune by means of utilizing gravity assists during its fly-by of Saturn in 1981 and of Uranus in 1986. Because of this chosen trajectory, Voyager 2 could not take a close-up look at the large Saturnian moon Titan as its sister space probe had. However, Voyager 2 did become the first and only spacecraft to make the spaceflight by Uranus and Neptune, and hence completing the Planetary Grand Tour. This is one that is made practical by a seldom-occurring geometric alignment of the outer planets (happening once every 175 years).

The Voyager 2 space probe has made the most productive unmanned space voyage so far, visiting all four of the Outer Planets and their systems of moons and rings, including the first two visits to previously unexplored Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 had two sensitive vidicon cameras and an assortment of other scientific instruments to make measurements in the ultraviolet, infrared, and radio wavelengths, as well as ones to measure subatomic particles in outer space, including cosmic rays. All of this was accomplished at a fraction of the amount of money that was later spent on more advanced and specialized space probes Galileo and Cassini-Huygens. Along with the earlier NASA Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, sister probe Voyager 1, and the more recent New Horizons, Voyager 2 is an interstellar probe in that all five of these are on one-way trajectories leaving the Solar System.

In Memoriam: Julian Bond 1940 – 2015

Civil Rights activist died August 15 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida due to complications of cardiovascular disease. He was 75. Mr. Bond is survived by his wife, Pam Horowitz; sons Horace Mann Bond II, Jeffrey and Michael Bond; daughters Phyllis Jane Bond McMillan and Julia Louise Bond; sister Jane; brother James; and eight grandchildren.

His family announced that he will be buried at sea according to his wishes:

“We are honoring his wishes that his body be cremated and his ashes be committed to the Gulf of Mexico,” the family said in a statement Tuesday. “This will be a private, family only service. The final request will be carried out at sea on Saturday, August 22, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time.”

The statement went on to express that the family understands that many “loved and admired” Bond and invited the public to share in the ceremony.

“We invite you to gather at a body of water near your home and precisely at 2:00 p.m., CDT, spread flower petals on the water and join us in bidding farewell to Horace Julian Bond. This gesture will mean a great deal to us as a family and also provide some comfort in knowing that you share our loss.”

Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman was joined by Taylor Branch, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Benjamin Jealous and Richard Cohen to remember Mr. Bond.

Transcript can be read here

Just The Nightly Show (Happy Anniversary Larry)

Tonightly is the 100th episode.  Our topic will be birthright citizenship (good luck with that Donald) and a visit from the Trump Troll (love that hair).  Our guests are: Calise Hawkins, Brett Gelman, and Lil Rel Howery.

So, that went well.

Primary Sources