Saturday, April 13, 2013

On To The Derby

Overanalyze stormed to victory in the Arkansas Derby, while Java's War went from last to first to capture the Blue Grass Stakes.  Both will be in Louisville on May 4.

The Shoemaker

The Shoemaker from Dustin Cohen on Vimeo.

Workfare

Planet Money highlights the Earned Income Tax Credit:
Last year, a federal program called the Earned Income Tax Credit took about $60 billion from wealthier Americans and gave it to the working poor. And here's the surprising thing: This redistribution of wealth has been embraced by every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
"This program worked," says Richard Burkhauser, an economist at Cornell University and the American Enterprise Institute. "And there's not a hell of a lot of these programs where you can see the tremendous change in the behavior of people in exactly the way that all of us hoped it would happen."
When he says it worked, he means it helped single mothers on welfare find work and get out of poverty.
In the 1930s, in the early days of welfare, many of the women who received it were widows. Americans didn't think single mothers should have to work, so the government paid them to stay home. But by the '90s, the idea of paying people not to work seemed backwards to many Americans. If moms want to get paid, many thought, they should get a job.
The Earned Income Tax Credit started as a small program in the 1970s and was expanded under President Reagan. But it was President Clinton who turned the program into what it is today — one that effectively gives low-wage working parents a big bonus. For some workers making around $15,000 a year, that bonus can now reach nearly $6,000. As the name suggests, the money is paid out like a tax refund, when workers file their income taxes.
I'm surprised more conservatives don't pitch a fit about this program.  Maybe deep down, they know that some money has to be redistributed.  Or maybe, they don't understand it.  

In Stellar Company

The U.S. and other fine exemplars of limited government and individual liberty share a taste for capital punishment:




Friday, April 12, 2013

Alchemy

Alchemy from Henry Jun Wah Lee / Evosia on Vimeo.

LeBlanc Wins Hobey Baker Award

USCHO:
Drew LeBlanc didn’t reach the national championship game with St. Cloud State, but he picked up one piece of hardware from his trip.
LeBlanc was named the 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner on Friday at Consol Energy Center, one day after the Huskies lost to Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four semifinals.Tenth nationally in points per game and the national leader with 37 assists, LeBlanc returned from a compound left leg fracture last season to captain St. Cloud State to its first Frozen Four appearance.
With 13 goals, LeBlanc has the lowest goals total of a Hobey-winning forward, a list that includes 25 of the 33 winners.
He beat out fellow Hobey Hat Trick finalists Eric Hartzell of Quinnipiac and Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College, as well as seven other finalists who were on the ballot given to the 23-person selection committee after the NCAA regionals.
Each of the three Hat Trick finalists was the player of the year in his conference, but LeBlanc also was the WCHA’s student-athlete of the year.
I'd have picked that Hartzell kid.  More about the trophy's namesake here.  Quinnipiac and Yale meet in the NCAA championship game on Saturday night.

The Threat of Citrus Greening

Fruit drop has been a big problem for Florida citrus growers during the 2012-2013 season.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Gene Albrigo, UF/IFAS

Since it was found in Florida in 2005, the bacterial disease citrus greening has done tremendous damage to fruit trees in the state, and could potentially kill the entire industry there:
So far, greening is thought to have shrunk commercial citrus production in the state by about a third, from eight hundred and fifty thousand acres under production in 2002 to five hundred and twenty thousand today. (During the state’s real-estate collapse, some growers discouraged by the spread of greening and unable to sell their land simply abandoned their groves, leaving psyllids to multiply unchecked.) This spring, greening is being blamed for an unprecedented “fruit drop,” in which eighteen million boxes worth of oranges and grapefruit fell prematurely. Growers have hired extra pickers to try to save some of the fruit, but losses are estimated at a hundred and thirty-eight million dollars, and more are expected as Valencia oranges continue to ripen in coming weeks.
Some citrus experts predict that unless greening is contained, Florida citrus crops will be gone within five years. “Among the many diseases of citrus that have invaded or could invade Florida, greening represents the greatest threat to the industry,” a National Academy of Sciences panel wrote in 2010. And the damage won’t be limited to Florida: the disease has now been identified in California and Texas, and Arizona is watching for its first case.
Southern Gardens Citrus, which supplies not-from-concentrate Florida orange juice to major brands, is betting on genetic engineering as a long-term defense against greening, and has invested more than six million dollars in research on greening-resistant trees. “Some things are motherhood, and Florida orange juice is one of them,” the company’s president, Rick Kress, said. “We’re going to find a solution.”
Back at the Citrus Experiment Station, the entomologist Michael Rogers and his colleagues aren’t so sure.
Wow.  More information on citrus greening here. Invasive pests are doing so much damage. With the emerald ash borer around, I doubt that we'll have any live ash trees in our area within 5 years or so.  There's also Thousand Cankers Disease working on walnut trees.  We're going to have a very different environment in the not too distant future.

Beauty In Salt

The Atlantic features pictures from salt mines around the world.  Here are two really cool ones:

Tourists visit The Saint Kinga's Chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland, on December 15, 2011. According to the Supervisory Board of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, the historic mine extends for a total of about 300 km (186 miles) and functioned continuously since the Middle Ages until 1996 when the salt bed ceased to be exploited completely. The mine, which is on the UNESCO's Cultural and Natural Heritage list, currently serves tourism, museum and health purposes. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel) #


If you look closely, you can see sculptures on the walls. Here is one up close:

 Part of the salt sculpture The Last Supper is pictured at The Saint Kinga's Chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland, on December 15, 2011. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel) #

All of the pictures are worth checking out. Another salt mine feature is here.  A bad day at the salt mine is described here.

The Metalsmith

The Metalsmith from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

Curse Word Trivia

Time magazine features 9 bits of information about swear words from Melissa Mohr, the author of a new book, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing:
8. Swearing can physiologically affect your body.
Hearing and saying swear words changes our skin conductance response, making our palms sweat. One study, Mohr notes, also found that swearing helps alleviate pain, that if you put your hand in a bucket of cold water, you can keep it in there longer if you say s— rather than shoot. Which is a good piece of info to have next time you’re doing a polar bear plunge.
I can believe that.  Dropping a bunch of profanity often makes me feel better, whether it is after hitting my finger with a hammer or getting mad at other idiot drivers.

From the Toilet to the Table

All Things Considered looks at cities processing sewage sludge for agricultural fertilizer:
On a normal day, Kansas City, Mo., processes more than 70 million gallons of raw sewage. This sewage used to be a nuisance, but Kansas City, and a lot of municipalities around the country, are now turning it into a resource for city farmers .
After the sewage has been processed at a treatment plant, it's piped out to Birmingham Farm on the north side of the Missouri River.
Tim Walters is the chief agronomist for Kansas City who runs Birmingham. He's got the 1,350-acre farm plumbed with pipes to disperse the smelly stuff.
The city runs much of the heavier goop through a process called anaerobic digestion, which heats the sewage to kill pathogens. When the processed sludge, or "biosolids," arrives at the farm, thick jets of it arc out 30 to 40 feet from giant moving spreaders.
"It's black, black gold," says Walters. "Looks like grease. Doesn't smell like grease ... and when you get it on you it's hard to get off."
The sludge is packed with nutrients good for the corn and soybeans grown here that generate almost half a million dollars in profits for the city each year. Walters figures the free fertilizer is worth about $175,000 a year, in last year's prices. But it's in short supply.
"Every year we typically run out, they can't digest enough, they can't get enough down to us," says Walters.
The city's two digesters run all the time, but they still can't keep up with Birmingham's demand, let alone the city's supply of waste. Still, more than half the biosolids are put to use, which makes Kansas City just about average for the U.S., according to Ned Beecher, who directs the .
It is damn good fertilizer, but it often stinks to high heaven when it goes on.  The article says that Kansas City is incinerating some of the sludge because that's cheaper than digesting it.  That sure seems like a waste.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is Obama A Closet Republican?

His budget includes looking at selling the TVA:
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of North Alabama grabbed his glasses to scan page 51 of President Barack Obama's budget request Wednesday and turned red as he absorbed a seven-sentence proposal that could put TVA in private hands, alter rates for 9 million customers and jeopardize 12,000 employees.
Tucked under a heading of "Creating a 21st Century Government" in the president's nearly 230-page fiscal 2014 budget document is a the section that states:
"Given TVA's debt constraints and the impact to the federal deficit of its increasing capital expenditures, the administration intends to undertake a strategic review of options for addressing TVA's financial situation, including the possible divestiture of TVA, in part or as a whole."
Brooks wasn't the only congressional lawmaker shocked by the idea -- especially since TVA's power programs have been completely ratepayer funded since 1959.
It's correct that TVA's roughly $24 billion in debt is carried as part of the federal deficit, but ratepayers pay TVA's debt, not taxpayers.
"There is today no federal taxpayer subsidy for TVA, period," stormed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "There is by law no federal taxpayer liability for TVA debt. And after deducting its debt, selling TVA would probably cost taxpayers money."
Alexander issued the statement shortly after the proposed budget was released.
That seems as dumb as selling the Ohio Turnpike, and even John Kasich wasn't stupid enough to do that.

Bean Leaves Are Natural Bedbug Traps

 Images of bed bug legs (yellow) on bean leaf surfaces with hooked trichomes (green). Scanning electron microscope photo from The Royal Society

Smithsonian:
Recognizing this ongoing problem, researchers are constantly trying to come up with new methods for quickly and efficiently killing the pests. The latest technique, described today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, takes a hint from mother nature and history. For years, people in Eastern Europe’s Balkan region have known that kidney bean leaves trap bedbugs, sort of like a natural fly paper. In the past, those suffering from infestations would scatter the leaves on the floor surrounding their bed, then collect the bedbug-laden greenery in the morning and destroy it. In 1943, a group of researchers studied this phenomenon and attributed it to microscopic plant hairs called trichomes that grow on the leaves’ surface to entangling bed bug legs. They wrote up their findings in “The action of bean leaves against the bedbug,” but World War II distracted from the paper and they wound up receiving little attention for their work.
Rediscovering this forgotten research gem, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Kentucky set out to more precisely document how the beans create this natural bedbug trap and, potentially, how it could be used to improve bedbug purging efforts. “We were motivated to identify the essential features of the capture mechanics of bean leaves to guide the design and fabrication of biomimetic surfaces [or synthetic materials that mimic ones found in nature] for bed bug trapping,” they write in their paper.
They used a scanning electron microscope and video to visualize how the trichomes on the leaves stop the bedbugs in their ravenous tracks. Rather than a Velcro-like entanglement as the 1943 authors had suggested, it seems that the leaves stick into the insects’ feet like giant thorns, physically impaling the pests. Knowing this, the researchers wondered if they could improve upon the method as a way to treat bedbug infestations, because leaves themselves dry out and can’t be scaled up to larger sizes. “This physical entrapment is a source of inspiration in the development of new and sustainable [or scalable and chemical-free] methods to control the burgeoning numbers of bed bugs,” they write. They used fresh bean leaves as a template for micro-fabricating produced surfaces that precisely mimicked the leaves. To do this, they created a negative molding of the leaves, then poured in polymers sharing a similar material composition of the living plant’s cell walls. The team then allowed bedbugs to walk across their synthetic leaves to test their effectiveness compared to the real deal. The fabricated leaves did snag the bugs, but they didn’t hinder the insects’ movements quite as effectively as the living plants.
Another example of learning from nature.

Severed Goat Head Delivered To Cubs Owner

Adam Clarke Estes:
Police are investigating a severed goat head that was delivered to Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, at the iconic Wrigley Field. That's weird right? Not in Chicago. Apparently this has happened before — several times.
The Cubs suffer from the Curse of the Billy Goat, you see. It's like a poor man's version of the Curse of the Great Bambino that plagued the Boston Red Sox for nearly a century. The superstition dates back to 1945 when a local tavern owner named Billy Sianis took his pet billy goat to a World Series game at Wrigley Field. The goat had its own ticket and everything, but the fans sitting near Sianis didn't take kindly to the uncommon guest. (Evidently, his breath stank.) So officials booted Sianis and his goat out of the stadium. The disgruntled fan said that the Cubs would never win a World Series again, and nearly 70 years later, they still have not.
It's unclear how many goat heads have been sent to Wrigley Field, but we count at least three: one in 2007, one in 2009 and now one in 2013.
This isn't even an April Fools' story.  Probably, old man Ricketts will blame it on Barack Hussein Obama.

Margaret Thatcher and Soft Serve, Revisited

Daniel Fromson:
For starters, most sources agree that the soft-serve industry arose in the United States, not Britain, and that it preceded Thatcher’s arrival at J. Lyons by about a decade. In 2008, Marian Burros offered a version of the conventional narrative in the Times:
Either J. F. McCullough or Tom Carvel deserves credit as the first soft-serve maker. Mr. McCullough made soft serve in 1938 in Moline, Ill. One August day, he offered it at a friend’s ice cream shop in Kankakee, Ill., and 1,600 people paid 10 cents for all they could eat of his newfangled treat.… Mr. Carvel appears to have stumbled on soft serve about the same time. When his truck carrying ice cream broke down in Hartsdale, N.Y., he sold it from the truck over two days as it softened.
Sam Dean, blogging for Bon App├ętit about the Thatcher-soft-serve connection, suggests that this early soft-serve was more like proto-soft-serve, since “it wasn’t the fluffy, creamy stuff you’d expect to get from a Mr. Softee today.” This raises an intriguing ontological question—if ice cream is soft, and looks like soft-serve, is it, in fact, soft-serve?—but also raises further red flags about Thatcher’s bona fides, condemning her, at best, to be a lesser figure in the sort of Talmudic quarrels that have characterized disputes about the origins of the hamburger and other iconic foods. It also doesn’t hurt that McCullough and Carvel founded Dairy Queen and Carvel (and did so before Thatcher arrived at J. Lyons), whereas Thatcher merely went on to be Prime Minister.
Furthermore, the history of the British soft-serve industry in particular does not reinforce the notion that the soft-serve technology developed by J. Lyons & Company, much less by Thatcher, laid the groundwork for Mr. Whippy’s cones. As in the United States, in Britain multiple entities pioneered soft-serve simultaneously. One was J. Lyons—but, according to Steve Tillyer, who is almost certainly the most avid amateur chronicler of midcentury British soft-serve, with several books on the subject to his name, J. Lyons entered the industry by partnering with the American ice-cream-truck brand Mister Softee and opening local franchises using that company’s American machines. “The story of soft ice cream in Britain,” Tillyer writes, “started in the United States.”
The best part is that the Margaret Thatcher invented soft serve meme may have been brought up by the left to attack her policies as being like soft serve compared to real ice cream.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Limits To The Navy Laser Weapon



Spencer Ackerman:
It just so happens that the LaWS’ ability to track and kill surveillance drones and swarming fast boats matches with Iran’s development of surveillance drones and swarming fast-boat tactics. And it just so happens that the Ponce will spend most of 2014 deployed in Iran’s backyard. Neither Klunder nor Eccles will come out and say it exactly, but the maiden deployment of the LaWS has immediate implications for the U.S.’ ongoing sub rosa conflict with the Iranians — and provides a new weapon for the Navy at a time when it’s had to scale back its aircraft carrier presence off of Iran’s shores.
“Any country that operates the kinds of threats this system is designed to deal with should pause and say, ‘If the United States Navy can take a challenge like that and muster the scientific expertise from industry, academia and inside the government and pull together a solution that can be fielded as rapidly as this one’s been fielded, and go from a test environment directly to a forward-deployed unit for demonstration in the field and in the Fifth Fleet,’” Eccles said, “they should recognize that when we say ‘quick-reaction capability’ we truly deliver on a quick reaction capability.”
Within initial limits. The Navy won’t say just how many kilowatts of energy the LaWS’ beam is, but it’s probably under the 100 kilowatts generally considered militarily mature. The fact that LaWS can kill a surveillance drone and a fast-attack boat has more to do with the vulnerabilities of those systems than it its own prowess. It cannot stop an anti-ship missile, and its beam, about the circumference of a dime, will do little more than singe a fighter jet. And there remain significant challenges with cooling a shipboard high-energy laser, a necessary safety feature.
But Greenert, Eccles, and Klunder are confident that the next wave of Navy lasers will be more powerful. The laser programs, long in development, lacked focus for years: should the Navy do the harder work of developing a vastly more powerful Free Electron Laser; or get the less impressive but more practical solid-state lasers into the fleet first?
It does look pretty cool as the drone bursts into flames, though.

Secrets From the Potato Chip Factory

Secrets From The Potato Chip Factory from Planet Money on Vimeo.

The Levee Must Go

Des Moines Register:
The city of Hamburg in southwest Iowa has invited contractors to bid on removing 8 feet of dirt from a levee on the west side of town. It was a bitter but necessary concession that the city has lost its battle to preserve the wall that valiantly protected the city from the flooding of the Missouri River in 2011.
The Missouri spilled out of its banks for most of that summer after record snow melt and spring rains forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release massive volumes of water from reservoirs upstream in Montana and the Dakotas. With the Corps’ assistance, volunteers peeled off soil from surrounding farms to raise the existing 11-foot levee by 8 feet, and that saved the town from being flooded.
After flood waters receded, the city was presented with two options: Spend $5.6 million to make the taller levee permanent, or remove the top 8 feet of material. Despite the city’s creative efforts to raise the money — including an online plea for donations complete with a You Tube video of a flash-mob dance in downtown Hamburg — it proved too much for a community of 1,200 residents and 85 businesses with an annual city budget of $1.2 million.
There are no bad guys in this story. The community stepped up to build a wall in an emergency to protect the town. But there is a big difference between a wall of dirt thrown up in an emergency and a permanent flood-control protection structure designed and built to the Army’s engineering standards.
Corps of Engineers officials point out that the city could not rely on the temporary addition to hold back flood waters without constant monitoring and repairs, which is costly, time-consuming and uncertain. Indeed, the Corps and the city were in “flood fight” mode with daily inspections and patches to keep the emergency levee intact for four months.
The Corps might consider paying for part of a permanent levee, but it would have to pass a cost-benefit analysis. Even if it passed that rigorous test, Hamburg would then have to wait in line behind a long list of other approved projects that are awaiting engineering studies and an appropriation from Congress.
That is an interesting situation.  I have to agree with the paper, and the Corps.  Without major improvements, the temporary levee would very possibly fail when it is needed again.  However, considering how much work has to be done each spring along the Red River of the North, I would hate to be trying to build this thing up and tear it down if flooding gets very frequent along the Missouri. I'd probably hit up the state and feds and area businesses for any loan money I could get my hands on, and at least start the process of making the levee permanent.  The project to put things back like they were before is projected to cost about a quarter as much as improving the whole thing.  Seems like a waste to totally scrap the temporary levee out.

High Tech Maple Syrup Collection

Morning Edition:
When most people imagine maple syrup production, they think of buckets hanging from trees collecting sap. But these days, most of that sap is collected by pipeline and vacuum pumps.
Technological advances in the past decade have allowed Vermont's maple syrup producers to triple the number of taps they're putting in maple trees. They're getting twice as much sap per tree, which means more syrup and more money. Statewide, the crop brought in $40 million last year, doubling in value in just six years.
At J.R. Sloan's sugarhouse in Fletcher, Vt., sap arrives in tanks on the back of huge trucks, where it's pumped underground into tubs. It's a model of efficiency. Years ago, producers had to boil all of the water out of sap to concentrate the syrup. Now, sap is sent though reverse osmosis machines, which filter most of the water out before boiling begins.
The result is pure Vermont maple syrup.
"See what he's pulling off the rig right there? That's fancy," Sloan says. "That's our best product you can make. That's the highest money."
Sloan started out tapping 14,000 trees in the spring, even as he worked a full-time job. He was taking a chance when he built his sugarhouse. "That cost $117,000 to build that, with all the equipment. And the first year, I grossed $239,000," he says. "Syrup went wicked high that year. I got into it at just the right time."...
And the sugarhouse has not only gotten bigger, it's been redone to meet food safety standards. They've switched to new taps that prevent the holes in trees from healing up, extending the season. Vacuum pumps also allow sap to flow even as the spring weather that sugarmakers depend on becomes less predictable.
Weather and climate change will always be a concern, but even last year, when Vermont had 80-degree days in March, producers made more syrup than in most previous years.
That makes our GPS controlled tractor not look so fancy.  All that production might throw off the Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve those crazy Quebecois keep.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wheat Breeding Advances



Big Picture Agriculture explains double haploid breeding:
To make doubled haploids, the process uses corn pollen to trick emasculated wheat plants into believing that they have been pollinated, and then the plants reproduce a set of identical chromosomes instead of one each of two different parent plants. Genomic selection that previously took six years to choose parent plants, now takes only one year. (The field testing phase still requires many years, however.)
The whole thing is a little complex for me, but there is also an explanatory K-State video over there.

GOP Clown Show In Columbus

Dispatch:
Legislative Republicans rolled out a plan today that eliminates most of Gov. John Kasich’s tax proposals in his two-year, $63.3 billion budget.

House GOP leaders threw out Kasich’s tax cuts and replaced it, for now, a 7 percent income tax cut. It would be a $1.5 billion cut over two years....Above all else in his tax plan as he prepares for a re-election campaign, Kasich wanted to cut the state income tax, and he proposed a 20-percent cut across the board, plus an additional 50 percent tax deduction for business owners up to $750,000 worth of net income.

Though Kasich said his overall tax package would have resulted in a $1.4 billion cut over three years, he looked to cover much of the lost income tax revenue with a broad sales tax expansion and a new tax on shale drilling that proved unpopular with GOP lawmakers....Republicans also jettisoned, for the second straight year, Kasich’s proposal to increase the state severance tax, which is levied on oil and gas extracted from the ground. The tax was aimed at the state’s burgeoning fracking industry, but once again the oil and gas industry successfully fought it off....House Republicans also did a major overhaul to Kasich’s school-funding plan, which he called Achievement Everywhere. The plan drew fire because 76 percent of poor, rural districts would have received no new money, while a number of suburban districts would have seen significant increases.

Overall spending, Amstutz said, will remain similar to what the governor proposed. But under the House plan, the number of districts getting no additional money decreased from about 400 to 175. Like Kasich’s plan, no district would get less money...House Republicans also rejected Kasich’s proposed Medicaid expansion to cover 275,000 low-income Ohioans through the federal health care law. The plan to increase eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would have been 100 percent federally funded for the first three years and brought in $13 billion in federal money over the next seven years.

“We are continuing work on the Medicaid issues,” said Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina. “We are not in a position at this time to discuss the depths of those issues and the problems we are facing.”

The speaker said there continues to be a lack of clarity from the federal government. “I’ve never seen anything quite as confusing as this situation.”

Rep. John Patrick Carney, D-Columbus, said he will introduce a stand-alone Medicaid expansion bill by the end of the week using Kasich’s proposed language. He said he will look for House Republicans to provide 11 votes to go along with the 39 Democrats.
The rejection of Medicaid money is just ignorant stubborness, which will hurt hospitals in rural areas.  The school funding goes back to the point here, that rural areas are subsidized by suburban areas, while the tax cuts from both Kasich and the House are just plain stupid.  A 50 percent tax deduction for business owners making $750,000 a year?  What the fuck, they can afford to pay some fucking taxes.  I am so sick of Republican dumbfucks bitching about taxes.  Take a look around.  The vast majority of folks are struggling to get by, and Republicans are looking out for the folks who don't need any damn help.  Fuck those GOP assholes.

Wanted: Rural Attorneys

NYT:
“A hospital will not last long with no doctors, and a courthouse and judicial system with no lawyers faces the same grim future,” South Dakota’s chief justice, David E. Gilbertson, said. “We face the very real possibility of whole sections of this state being without access to legal services.”
In South Dakota, 65 percent of the lawyers live in four urban areas. In Georgia, 70 percent are in the Atlanta area. In Arizona, 94 percent are in the two largest counties, and in Texas, 83 percent are around Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Last summer, the American Bar Association called on federal, state and local governments to stem the decline of lawyers in rural areas.
Last month, South Dakota became the first state to heed the call. It passed a law that offers lawyers an annual subsidy to live and work in rural areas, like the national one that doctors, nurses and dentists have had for decades...
The new law, which will go into effect in June, requires a five-year commitment from the applicant and sets up a pilot program of up to 16 participants. They will receive an annual subsidy of $12,000, 90 percent of the cost of a year at the University of South Dakota Law School.
This compares with a 40-year-old federal medical program, the National Health Service Corps, which offers up to $60,000 in tax-free loan repayment for two years of service in underserved areas and up to $140,000 for five years of service. The program consists of nearly 10,000 medical, dental and mental health professionals serving 10.4 million people, almost half in rural communities.
A spokesman for the federal program said research had shown that residents who train in rural settings are two to three times more likely than urban graduates to practice in rural areas.
Rural areas are struggling to survive, and whether residents want to realize it or not, the rural way of life is subsidized by the government, and has been for most of the history of this country.  Rural Free Delivery, the Rural Electrification Act, the Universal Service Fund, the Federal Aid Road Act, the Rural Development Administration, the various ag programs, state school funding schemes, the list goes on and on.  And yet, rural folks overwhelmingly vote for knaves and buffoons who work to end these very programs, telling us hicks that it is the brown people who get all the help from the government, and it comes out of our pockets.  For whatever reason, folks lap that shit up.  If things continue the way they've been going, rural folks are going to find out the truth very soon.

On Sacred Ground

Cincinnati Is A Joke To Pitch In

Pete Rose on today's ballparks:
On the proliferation of home runs:
What we’ve done for baseball is this: We made all the ballparks smaller, we’ve juiced up the ball, the pitchers are bigger and stronger, and we won’t call strikes. Everything is against the pitcher. They should raise the mound again, put them on even terms. They lowered the mound after the '68 season; that’s because Bob Gibson had 13 shutouts and Denny McLain won 31 games. And they haven’t done anything with it since then.
I saw a guy last year in Cincinnati — I’m not bullshitting you — his fucking bat broke in half, and he hit the ball out in center field. Out of the ballpark. And is there a reason why Ryan Howard has over 200 opposite-field home runs? I played against Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente, and I don’t remember seeing any of them hit opposite-field home runs. And they were pretty good hitters. One hit 660 and one hit 755, and I don’t remember them hitting opposite-field home runs. I just don’t remember it. I’m sure they did sometimes but not like these guys today. Cincinnati is a joke to pitch in; it’s a fucking joke to pitch in. Philadelphia is a joke to pitch in, Camden Yards is a joke to pitch in. Now, the new San Diego ballpark, and the Met ballpark was a joke to pitch in, so what do they do? They bring the fences in! So it’s gonna be worse.
That's pretty funny.  And true. 

Is Australia A Portent for the Great Plains?

Agrimoney, via Big Picture Agriculture:

Australia's volatile climate, which experts warned will produce increasing weather extremes, has already contributed to a loss in farmland the size of Ukraine, a leading analyst warned.
Australia's Climate Commission warned earlier this week of a high risk that the heatwaves, drought, wild fires and cyclones which have reached at least part of the country over the past few months will become more severe.

"Records are broken from time to time, but record-breaking weather is becoming more common as the climate shifts," Tim Flannery, chief commissioner, said.
Yet already Australia's farmland is on the decline, with more than 60m hectares (600,000 square kilometres) - an area the size of Germany and the UK combined, and equivalent to a 13% loss - falling out of production over the past two decades, Luke Mathews, at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said.
"Some of this decline is attributed to urban encroachment, but more is attributed to retired land because of poor productivity and environmental considerations," he said, flagging "limited water supplies" as a major land constraint.
Much of the land lost will have been of poor quality, used only for grazing, but in some areas, notably parts of Western Australia, extended dryness is threatening what have historically been arable farms too.
Read the whole thing.  If I were in the Great Plains, I'd be feeling a might bit uncomfortable.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Rough Start

R.A. Dickey is struggling to start up the season:
Middlebrooks hit three home runs, two off NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, and the Red Sox routed the Toronto Blue Jays 13-0.
"He had about 2,000 feet of homers," Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester said of Middlebrooks. "He obviously feels pretty good at the plate. It's fun to watch."Middlebrooks went 4 for 5 with four RBIs. He hit two home runs off Dickey, a two-run shot to right in the first inning and a solo drive into the second deck in left in the fifth. He connected again off Dave Bush with a leadoff longball to left in the seventh, the first three-homer game of his career.Mike Napoli added a two-run shot, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Nava also went deep as the Red Sox connected for six homers and set season highs for runs and hits (15), one day after getting just two hits in a 5-0 loss.....Boston jumped on Dickey in the first, scoring five runs before the knuckleballer had recorded an out.Ellsbury led off with a double, Shane Victorino singled to center and Pedroia drove in a run with a groundball single through the right side.Napoli hit a two-run double and Middlebrooks followed with a first pitch homer to right.Even the outs Dickey got were loud. Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia each flied out to the warning track before Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out to end the inning.Dickey (0-2) allowed eight runs -- seven earned -- and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. It was his shortest start and the most runs he'd allowed since giving up eight runs in 4 1/3 innings of a 14-6 loss at Atlanta last April 18, when he pitched for the New York Mets."Throughout the course of the season you're going to have a clunker or two," Dickey said. "You just have to try and forget it as soon as you can. Obviously today was one of those days for me."The five first-inning runs allowed by Dickey matched the amount he gave up in the first inning in all of 2012, when he made 33 starts.
That's the crazy part about the knuckleball.  When it's on, it's on.  When it's off, it's really off.  He'll come around eventually, but man, those games are painful.

Earth from Orbit 2012

The center pivot fields that pop up at about the 0:45 mark are really cool:


The Smell of Rain

One of the main contributors to the distinctive smell are oils secreted by plants during dry spells:
Back in 1964, a pair of Australian scientists (Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas) began the scientific study of rain’s aroma in earnest with an article in Nature titled “Nature of Agrillaceous Odor.” In it, they coined the term petrichor to help explain the phenomenon, combining a pair of Greek roots: petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of gods in ancient myth).
In that study and subsequent research, they determined that one of the main causes of this distinctive smell is a blend of oils secreted by some plants during arid periods. When a rainstorm comes after a drought, compounds from the oils—which accumulate over time in dry rocks and soil—are mixed and released into the air. The duo also observed that the oils inhibit seed germination, and speculated that plants produce them to limit competition for scarce water supplies during dry times.
These airborne oils combine with other compounds to produce the smell. In moist, forested areas in particular, a common substance is geosmin, a chemical produced by a soil-dwelling bacteria known as actinomycetes. The bacteria secrete the compound when they produce spores, then the force of rain landing on the ground sends these spores up into the air, and the moist air conveys the chemical into our noses.
“It’s a very pleasant aroma, sort of a musky smell,” soil specialist Bill Ypsilantis told NPR during an interview on the topic. “You’ll also smell that when you are in your garden and you’re turning over your soil.”
Because these bacteria thrive in wet conditions and produce spores during dry spells, the smell of geosmin is often most pronounced when it rains for the first time in a while, because the largest supply of spores has collected in the soil. Studies have revealed that the human nose is extremely sensitive to geosmin in particular—some people can detect it at concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion. (Coincidentally, it’s also responsible for the distinctively earthy taste in beets.)
The smell I mostly associate with rain is the smell of wet asphalt.  It isn't particularly pleasant, but it is familiar.

Margaret Thatcher, Soft Serve Ice Cream Inventor?



Maybe:
Margaret Thatcher, the legend goes, helped invent soft-serve ice cream.
Yes. The Milk Snatcher, who was also an ice cream inventor. The Iron Lady of Soft Serve. Thatcher, you see, before she was a politician, was a research chemist. The future prime minister, then Margaret Roberts, received a degree in chemistry from Oxford in 1947. And she put it to use first in work at a glue factory, and then with a research job at food manufacturer J. Lyons and Company, a "foodstuff conglomerate" in Hammersmith. Thatcher's task in that role? To help figure out a way to whip extra air into ice cream using emulsifiers -- so that the ice cream could be manufactured with fewer ingredients, thereby reducing production costs. (And so that, additionally, the dairy-y result could flow from a machine rather than being scooped by hand.) While Thatcher's exact contribution to the effort remains, in a way that would foreshadow her future political career, a matter of controversy, her team ultimately succeeded. And the work resulted, ultimately, in the swirly stuff we know today as soft serve. (Or, if you're in Britain, "soft scoop.") J. Lyons's airy dairy was served from ice cream trucks -- under the brand Mr. Whippy -- in Great Britain. And then, as soft serve is wont to do, it quickly spread.
I wouldn't have guessed that.  Next time I get a butterscotch dipped cone at Dairy Queen, I'll think of the Iron Lady.  Or not.  While neoliberals attest to her greatness, I would wager history will judge the Thatcher-Reagan revolution more harshly than most folks seem to think today.

Awkward History

Reenactments at Colonial Williamsburg are now targeting some of our most widely held views of our nation's past:

Beyond the glaring racial hypocrisy, other “Revolutionary City” episodes bring up uncomfortable contrasts. When Benedict Arnold and the Redcoats “take” the town (as they briefly did, in 1781), the infamous traitor scoffs at our boos and catcalls. You losers threw away British security over a few pennies in taxes on tea, he demands, wrecking your economy and leading to all this death and suffering. What was that all about? No one in the crowd can come up with anything good. “Religious freedom!” someone shouts. “Worship whatever deity you please,” Arnold retorts, as long as you tithe to the Church of England. “We’re taxed too much!” says someone else. Your taxes under the Continental Congress are 100 times higher than under the king, he tells us. You can almost feel the anxiety of the crowd: If the Revolution was about something bigger than church or taxes, what was it?
Sneakier still, in an almost Brechtian vein, is “A Court of Tar and Feathers,” an episode with undertones of the Milgram experiment. Three men from the crowd are hauled up on an outdoor stage to serve as the jury in a kangaroo-court case against a suspected Loyalist, who is accused of demeaning the Revolution. Indeed, we’ve heard him say it: “I sing the cause of America each time I visit the necessary house.” Guilty as charged! The men on stage are rushed into a sentence: The miscreant must issue a craven apology, or be tied up at the “liberty post,” coated with tar and feathers and ridden out of town on a rail. No, we don’t actually see this happen, but it’s a scary moment.
I can only assume that other people in the crowd noticed that this guy was being persecuted and threatened with torture for exercising the most basic of our constitutional rights, one that all Americans supposedly understand and treasure. (We do tend to give it up pretty easily in times of crisis, don’t we?)
Good points, albeit uncomfortable points. I really think the oversimplified history of our country's past really hurt our body politic today.

Vagina Science

Via Ritholtz, Jenny Morber gets into the details of female anatomy.  This part was pretty crazy:
In 1991 a group of three researchers published a paper that described a method for casting a mold of the vagina using material more commonly used to make dental impressions. In short, liquid polymer goo is injected into a willing woman’s vagina with a kind of caulk gun. She waits ten minutes. Then with the help of KY, squatting and pushing, and the string from a tampon that was inserted before the material dried, the mold is removed. Though this paper included only two participants, a few years later the same researchers (plus a couple of others) published another study that examined vaginal molds of 39 women. In these women, all Caucasian, vaginal lengths ranged from almost 7 to almost 15 centimeters (2.75–6 in) with diameters between 2.4 and 6.5 cm (~1–2.5 in). A later study classified the diversity of vaginal shapes: conical, parallel sides, heart, slug, and pumpkin seed. (I can’t be the only one hoping that my vagina looks like a pumpkin seed instead of a slug.)
And if you are thinking that maybe you really ARE above average because you have evidence that a seven inch penis can fit in yours, please remember that these studies are performed on women who are not sexually aroused. The vaginal wall lengthens during arousal as increased blood flow pushes the cervix and uterus upward. How do we know this? Well, MRI sex videos help (NSFW).
That sounds like some folks who are really interested in advancing the scientific knowledge of society.  Otherwise, I can't figure out why anybody would go through all that. There's a lot more information in the article.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

April 6:

Earth at Twilight
Image Credit: ISS Expedition 2 Crew, Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, NASA
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture actually is a single digital photograph taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles.

Taking The Cows To Town

Rural Africans are bringing their livestock with them as they move to the cities, and that is causing a number of problems:
Dagoretti, a district of Nairobi, is a maze of tin huts and wood shacks. Since the 1970s, it's grown from about 40,000 residents to roughly 240,000, springing up haphazardly as Nairobi spilled over into the surrounding land. There aren't clearly delineated plots so much as a mass of semiformal homes belonging to former country folk who've arrived in search of economic opportunity.
Today, about 40 percent of the African population lives in urban areas, a rapid migration that's expected to triple in size over the next four decades.
But the people who are moving to cities aren't entirely leaving their rural lives behind. Instead, they are bringing their livestock with them, often keeping them right in their backyards, even in densely populated areas.
As a result, low-income countries have started to see a dramatic spike in a class of disease known as zoonoses, which pass from animals to humans. These can cause everything from tapeworms to fatal diarrhea, and they're concentrated near major cities in Africa and India.
A recent study by the International Livestock Research Institute found that zoonoses make up 26 percent of the infectious disease burden in low-income countries, but just 0.7 percent in high-income countries.
The article goes on to say that in spite of the health risks, economic issues make it better to keep the livestock then to leave them behind.  As far as diseases go, I would guess modern science would have an easier time controlling some of these than some of the antibiotic-resistant diseases that migh come out of our confinement facilities.  That said, it seems that new strains of flu often come from areas where people live with their livestock.

Chinese Ghost Cities

Contrary to what 60 Minutes reported, Wade Shepard says Chinese ghost cities are really just massive new developments that aren't yet finished when reported on:
I’d been chasing reports of deserted cities around China since last December, and I had yet to find one. Over and over again I would read articles in the international media which claim that China is building cities that are never inhabited only to find something very different upon arrival. The New South China Mall had a lot of empty shops but it turned out to be a thriving entertainment center, Dantu showed that an initially stagnant new city can become populated and come alive, and I found that Xinyang’s new district, a place called a ghost city since 2010, wasn’t even close to being built yet. The 60 Minutes report served as portent that there are really ghost cities out here in China. Or so it appeared....
The layouts of many older cities of China cannot easily be made to fill the demands of the modern era. Rather than fighting long, losing battles against transportation, urban migration, and sanitation, the Chinese are just starting over and building new cities from scretch. The old city of Zhengzhou is currently packed bumper to bumper with automobiles — its curvy, narrow, organically created streets are a warzone of traffic. The city is a scrambled mess that has been brought to a breaking point by a population that’s overgrown its bounds and consumes more resources than ever — so a pressure valve has been released in its northeastern quadrant, and the Zhengdong New District was created.
Many of China’s new urban districts are not being built for new migrants coming into cities, but for people looking to escape the congestion and insanity of the old cities. So, generally speaking, many of these new cities are being created to accommodate the country’s rising wealthy and middle classes — who tend to drive personal automobiles, leave large resource consumption footprints, and, simply speaking, want more space and things.
So the eastern suburbs of Zhengzhou were transformed into a rolling sea of brand new high-rises, soaring skyscrapers, elevated highways, museums, exhibition centers, and shopping malls. This new district currently covers 58 square kilometers, roughly the size of San Francisco, and there are plans to nearly quadruple it. Zhengdong was designed to hold two million people and act as the city’s upper/ middle class epicenter — a new city for the rich.
The scale of development in China boggles my mind.  I would think that the pace of development has been too fast in China, blowing a giant bubble, but considering how many people are there, I could be completely wrong.  The next couple years will probably let us know if it really is a bubble.  

A Surveyor's Orderliness



A new book looks at the evolution of the Manhattan street grid:
To an astonishing degree, what we learn from The Measure of Manhattan, Marguerite Holloway’s biography of John Randel Jr., the chief designer and implementer of the grid, accords well with Levitch’s psychological profile of the consummate grid-supporter. His implication was a correct one: The grid is indeed a self-portrait.
Randel, who was born in Albany in 1787, grew up during “a surveying boom,” when a large portion of prominent American males—Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and later, Lincoln—served in the profession at some point. “His was the era of laying lines on the land,” Holloway declares. It was “a culture and a period in which reason and measured action were prized and dominion over the natural world—through exploration, experiment, science, cartography, and infrastructure—was celebrated.” Beginning in about 1804, Randel was hired to assist New York State surveyor-general Simeon Dewitt in his plan to grid upstate New York. Dewitt was influenced by the earlier plan to grid the entire United States, outlined in the 1785 “Ordinance for Ascertaining the Mode of Disposing of Lands in the Western Territory”—the reason why flyover country looks like a waffle iron.
In 1806 New York City’s governing Common Council appointed three “fit and proper persons”—including Dewitt—to devise a coherent strategy for northward development, preferably one that would “unite regularity and order with public convenience.” These commissioners recognized Randel—described throughout The Measure of Manhattan as “meticulous,” marked by “obsession and brilliance” and a “compulsion” central to his “sense of self”—as the perfect person for the job. He worked nearly every day of the dozen or so years he spent creating and then instituting the grid plan—“with increasing precision and obsession,” Holloway writes. He refused to survey or write on the Sunday Sabbath, and once resorted to paying an especially disorderly employee not to drink. He invented his own instruments when he found existing ones insufficient for the task, and had tantrums over surveying mistakes of piddling importance. Repeatedly set back by winter, wind, and rain; slowed by robbery and broken instruments; arrested and sued for cutting down trees; and once assaulted by an old woman wielding cabbages and artichokes after drawing a street through her kitchen—the surveyor’s main obstacle was his own finicky perfectionism. “Irregularities unsettled Randel,” as Holloway understatedly puts it.
Planning for the development of New York City beyond its northern border—then at Houston Street, called North Street, though pre-existing Greenwich Village was exempt—was regularly presented in Manichean terms of intellect against emotion, order against chaos. “We have suffered so much from pestilence,” a group of New Yorkers wrote to the mayor and Common Council just after Randel submitted his plan, “We have so severely felt the evil of confused Streets.” The plan’s geometric egalitarianism appealed to the young country’s democratic spirit, and, as Holloway persuasively argues, helped to “transform space into an expression of public philosophy.”
But once the Enlightenment started giving way to more Romantic notions of reason, order, solitude, space, and beauty, the grid became less popular. Frederick Law Olmsted, for instance, wrote that curved streets “imply leisure, contemplativeness, and happy tranquility,” while straight streets connote “eagerness to press forward, without looking to the right or left.”
This book will go on my to-read list.  Of all professions, surveyors and engineers seem like some of the most likely to be unsettled by irregularities.  While it has its limitations, I am a big fan of the rectangular survey system and of the street grid systems like those found in New York and other cities throughout the country.  Yes, I am unsettled by irregularities.  However, there are a number of them in my life that I just prefer to pretend they don't exist. 

Derby Prep Results

Verrazano won the Wood Memorial to remain undefeated and early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, while Goldencents captured the Santa Anita Derby.  Next week brings the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn, and then it is off to Louisville.

The USS Thresher Disaster

Boston Globe:
The morning of April 10, 1963, was expected to be another round of rigorous but routine sea trials for the pride of the nation’s sub fleet. But what happened would jolt the nation: the worst submarine disaster in US history; the loss of all 129 crew, officers, and civilians on board; and a stinging blow to the American military at the hair-trigger height of the Cold War.
As the 278-foot-long Thresher began its descent that morning, only six months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the unthinkable happened.
A pipe burst, electrical circuits shorted, nuclear propulsion shut down, and sailors on the USS Skylark, a trailing Navy ship, received these words from below: “Exceeding test depth.”
They heard little else from the crew, and the Thresher plunged more than a mile to the bottom of the North Atlantic. The Skylark, however, did hear the submarine’s death rattle: ominous hissing and groaning that preceded a devastating implosion that killed everyone on board within seconds.
“It seems just like yesterday to me,” 86-year-old Barbara Currier said from the same home where two Navy officers told her of the Thresher’s fate.
To help ensure that day is not forgotten, a memorial service was held Saturday at Portsmouth High School to commemorate the sacrifice of Currier and the other men who died. Organizers said about 1,200 people attended, including 76 former Thresher crew members and relatives of the lost....
The sudden loss of the Thresher, a fast-attack submarine designed to find and sink its Soviet counterparts, stunned the Navy. But the tragedy led directly to a rigorous reexamination of US submarine safety that is credited with preventing similar accidents.
“The Navy had an introspection,” said Galeaz, a veteran of the submarine service. “Not only did they do an inquiry, but they changed everything: quality control, inspections — everything changed. And that’s literally because of these guys on the Thresher.”
The remains of the disintegrated Thresher were discovered in 1985 by oceanographer Robert Ballard, who received secret funding from the Navy to search for the submarine while traveling to his publicly announced goal, the wreck of the RMS Titanic, which he also found on the voyage.
That is one bit of history I didn't know about.  It is hard to imagine being in that sub and just waiting for the pressure to get great enough to crush the ship in and kill you.  Hearing all the creaks and groans of the ship and wondering if this is it.  That would be the longest few minutes ever.