Saturday, June 1, 2013

Cutthroat

Don't watch if you are squeamish:



The latest film is Cutthroat, by award-winning director Steven Cantor. Clint Malarchuk was famous for being an NHL goalie, but he would go down in hockey history for suffering one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of sports when an opposing player's skate severed his carotid artery. This story covers Malarchuk's miraculous physical recovery from the injury as well as the long and grueling emotional recuperation that took two decades and included an eventual stay in a mental hospital for PTSD treatment. [Warning: This film contains graphic footage of the injury.]

An Interview With Billy Joel

The interview covers his drinking issues, his bad business partners that cost him millions, and other dark parts of his life.  It doesn't touch on this terrible music video.  I thought this was funny:
A.G.: On the “Oprah” show, Katie said that when she met you in the bar of the Peninsula Hotel in 2002, she had no idea who you were or what music you played. You must be quite a charmer.
B.J.: I guess I am. Maybe that’s part of the reason I was successful onstage. She really didn’t know about me. She thought I had a song called “Uptown Girl” and “Only the Good Die Young.” That’s all she knew. She thought I was a one-hit-wonder kind of guy.
A.G.: Is it true that the same day you met her, you took her to your Broadway show?
B.J.: Yes, she was in the city with some friends from college, and I took her out to dinner at a nice Italian place. I wanted to make an impression. We went to a place that had truffles, I think. Then I took her to “Movin’ Out.” Once in a while, I would go there and sit in with the band at the end of the show at the encore. It was one of those nights. I made an impression there, and then we stayed in touch with each other.
A.G.: That’s one way to make an impression, take somebody to your jukebox musical.
B.J.: Hey, you saw the film version of “Tom Sawyer,” right? Walking on the fence, a feather on his nose to impress Becky Thatcher? I never forgot that. I’m shameless when it comes to that.
A.G.: Right before you married Christie Brinkley, you dated Elle Macpherson. And later you married Katie Lee, also a young, very beautiful woman. Do you think your relationship with female beauty is any different from any other red-blooded American male?
B.J.: A lot of guys are just too intimidated to even ask them out, but I had a great way to meet people. People are just interested in you because you’re a rock star. O.K. Some guys use a car. Some guys have a cute dog. I’m a rock star. That’s who I am, what I do. What’s wrong with that?
For a kind of geeky looking guy, I'd say he was doing pretty well.

Is Intellectual Property Killing People?

Some Saudis think so:
The case brings to the fore a growing debate over International Health Regulations, interpretations of patent rights, and the free exchange of scientific samples and information. Meanwhile, the epidemic has already caused forty-nine cases in seven countries, killing twenty-seven of them.
At the center of the dispute is a Dutch laboratory that claims all rights to the genetic sequence of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus [MERS-CoV]. Saudi Arabia's deputy health minister, Ziad Memish, told the WHO meeting that "someone"--a reference to Egyptian virologist Ali Zaki--mailed a sample of the new SARS-like virus out of his country without government consent in June 2012, giving it to Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.
"The virus was sent out of the country and it was patented, contracts were signed with vaccine companies and anti-viral drug companies, and that's why they have a MTA [Material Transfer Agreement] to be signed by anybody who can utilize that virus, and that should not happen," Memish said.
Though Memish referred to a "patent," the Dutch team has not patented the viral genetic sequence but has placed it under an MTA, which requires sample recipients to contractually agree not to develop products or share the sample without the permission of Erasmus and the Fouchier laboratory. Memish said that the Dutch MTA was preventing Saudi Arabia from stopping the MERS-CoV outbreak, which appears to have started eleven months ago in the Eastern part of his country. The Dutch team denies the MTA is slowing work on the outbreak, saying it has given virus samples to any lab that has requested it.
Courts in North America and Europe have ruled that it is possible to patent life forms or their genetic sequences, spurring the practice of claiming patent control on newly identified microoganisms. Such patents give owner rights over royalties on all products derived from the genetic sequence, including vaccines, diagnostics, and genetically targeted treatments.
But, unlike throughout history, scientists wouldn't try to develop treatments if they can't reap windfall profits.  Or so say the defenders of patents for life forms and genetic sequences.  Jonas Salk might disagree.  However, recent evidence has shown that the profit margin, or lack thereof, might be the difference between life and death.  Nobody comes out of these messes looking very good.


Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Night with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

This song's been in my head for a few days:

Ouch, That Hurts

Michele Bachmann's opponent drops out since he is much less likely to beat a generic Republican than that specific crazy-eyed nutjob Republican:
Jim Graves, the Democrat who came within 1.2 percent of ousting Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2012 and planned to challenge her again next year, announced today that he is indefinitely suspending his campaign for Congress in light of Bachmann’s decision to withdraw from the race earlier this week. While he could presumably resume his bid at any point, this effectively means he’s stepping out of the race.
“After meeting with my closest family members, friends and supporters, we have decided to suspend Jim Graves for Congress indefinitely,” Graves said in a statement. “This was never about Jim Graves; this was about challenging the ineffective leadership and extremist ideology of Michele Bachmann on behalf of those she represents. As of Wednesday, that goal was accomplished—and our supporters are and should be incredibly proud of that accomplishment. I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude for the tireless work of our fantastic campaign team and our legions of friends and supporters.”
Graves got into the race to oust Bachmann, and in that sense, “mission accomplished,” as he told MinnPost in an interview last night. “There’s no way anyone could run and win who would be worse than Michele Bachmann. So we accomplished that task,” he said. Indeed, he came closer to defeating Bachmann last year than any other Democrat has, and was likely a major factor in her decision to drop out.
"There's no way anyone could run and win who would be worse than Michele Bachmann."  Ouch.  And honestly, looking at the grassroots Republicans out there, I wouldn't bet on that if I were him. 

A Bad Day on the Basepaths



The Wichita Pickoff:
You may have never heard of the “Ol’ Wichita Pickoff” before, but it’s going to haunt one baseball player in the great state of Mississippi for the rest of his life.
We don’t know this kid’s name, but that’s probably just as well. What we do know, however, is that he plays for Gulfport High School, which recently lost the Mississippi Class 6A high school baseball championship to Southaven High, thanks in part to a trick play that came at a very crucial moment.
The Mississippi Class 6A baseball championship is a best-of-three series, you see. And in Game 1, with the score tied, 3-3, in the top of the 7th and final inning, Gulfport had a man on second and one out, giving them a great chance to grab the lead. However, on a 1-0 count to the batter, Southaven pitcher Wyatt Short faked a pickoff attempt to second. The shortstop and second baseman then pretended like the ball, which was not actually thrown, went into center field—an act just convincing enough to get the Gulfport baserunner to take off for third.
That’s when Short revealed that the ball never left his hand.  He then ran toward the runner, and got him out in a rundown at second base.
I'm pretty sure our coach had us practice that one.  I don't remember if it worked or not.  Regardless, I hope that kid's school is out for the summer.

Those Crazy Fifties and Sixties

Ann Finkbeiner:
Once the United States had built the first atomic bomb in 1945, it then improved it by building the first hydrogen bomb in 1952. It then began working on building more portable bombs, and since the Soviet Union had done the same, the United States also wondered about the bombs’ effects. So in the early 1950s, the government set up models of all the things that bombs could blow up—houses, bridges, cars, pigs, sheep—and exploded bombs near them. The government did this for at least a decade and didn’t stop until it and the rest of the world banned above-ground testing. The tests, many of them at the Nevada Test Site, were called “shots,” and they had names.
The shot called Encore was on May 8, 1953, and among the many effects it tested was what a nuclear bomb would do to a forest. The Nevada Test Site wasn’t replete with forests, so the U.S. Forest Service brought 145 ponderosa pines from a nearby canyon and cemented them into holes lined up in tidy rows in an area called Frenchman Flat, 6,500 feet from ground zero. Then the Department of Defense air-dropped a 27-kiloton bomb that exploded 2,423 feet above the model forest. The heat set fire to the forest, then the blast wave blew down the trees and put out some fires and started others. Here’s the video.


I am really amazed the human race wasn't wiped off the face of the earth back in those days. I mean, there was this. And this. And this. And this.  And this.  Plus, the Cuban missile crisis. And God only knows what near disasters (or really well covered up disasters) the Russians had.

The funny part is that a commenter to Finkbeiner's post made a veiled joke about Indiana Jones hiding in the refrigerator in that terrible last movie, and Finkbeiner asked for a citation, to which the commenter posted a YouTube link.  Finkbeiner commented again saying that it is a testament to the actual craziness that occurred that she thought they may have stashed an archeologist in a fridge to see if he'd survive.  That won the internet for me today.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fireworks In Danang


Danang International Fireworks Competition 2013 from Rob Whitworth on Vimeo.

I'd Like To Punch Jim Jordan In The Neck

and then run like hell:
House budget-writers have proposed giving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security nearly $9 million less than it requested for high-risk chemical tracking in the coming fiscal year, citing ongoing concerns about gaps in the oversight of plants like West Fertilizer Co.
A bill by the House Appropriations Committee also would withhold $20 million until DHS submitted a detailed spending plan to Congress that included answers to questions about chemical security inspections.
The moves appear to be the first repercussions faced by any of the federal, state or local regulators responsible for facilities like West Fertilizer since last month’s fire and blast, which left 15 dead and 200 injured.
DHS declined to answer written questions about the spending bill for fiscal 2014 and the committee’s requests for information. The U.S. Senate has not yet presented a budget proposal.
DHS was assigned in 2007 to regulate security at chemical facilities that the government thought might be vulnerable to terrorist attack or theft. A year later, the department was also charged with tracking the buying and selling of ammonium nitrate — the chemical that detonated April 17 in West.
Ammonium nitrate, known widely as a crop fertilizer, was used in combination with other materials in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City and several terrorist bombings in India since 2007. It can become explosive under extreme heat and when exposed to shock.
In a legislative report accompanying last week’s budget proposal, the House Appropriations Committee cited the West disaster and took aim at DHS, saying it has made “only marginal progress in carrying out its regulatory responsibilities.”
The lawmakers wrote in the report that DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate “has failed to fully implement” the ammonium nitrate tracking, which remains in the “rule-making” and public comment process. They also noted department inspectors didn’t know West Fertilizer Co. had stores of ammonium nitrate well beyond the 400-pound amount requiring oversight.
“Although the recent tragedy in West, Texas is assumed not to be connected to terrorism, it nevertheless highlights the importance of a functional and efficient CFATS [Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards] program. Even more specifically, however, this event highlights the inability of NPPD to implement the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program, and it raises serious concerns that the Department’s Chemical Security Inspectors were unaware that West Fertilizer Co. was handling 2,400 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate.”
That figure was noted in a 2006 permit form that West Fertilizer Co. filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
What a fucking bunch of assholes!  If DHS was bothering those hard-working job creators who would eventually blow up half their fucking town, these same assholes would be pitching a goddamned fit.  It really takes a ton of gall to strip money away from DHS under those circumstances, but House Republicans are up to the task. 

Farm Bill Leans Toward Crop Insurance Welfare

All Things Considered:
For decades, farmers have been getting checks from the federal government as part of a safety net to help protect against, for instance, the financial ruin of drought or floods.
So last year when a big drought hit the Midwest, who paid for it? You did.
As my colleague Dan Charles has , payouts from crop insurance policies added up to about $16 billion, and much of it was paid by taxpayers.
And as Congress debates a new farm bill that will authorize future spending on crop insurance subsidies, it seems that the programs are poised to become more generous.
Lawmakers are considering an additional program that would help farmers recoup even more of their losses than currently is covered by crop insurance.
You see, the way crop insurance works, farmers are eligible for payouts not only when their crops fail due to drought or flood, but also when the prices of their crops drop.
In essence, farmers with crop insurance are able to lock in a guaranteed price. Sometimes, like last summer, they're able to get the best of all worlds: High prices for their crops, together with a hefty insurance payout to compensate them for a small harvest.
Since we, the taxpayers, pay about 60 percent of crop insurance premiums, farmers can get these generous insurance policies on the cheap.
Farm state Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, is among those who think the program works. He summed up his support recently on the Senate floor when he said, "Crop insurance allows producers a way to manage risk, so they can provide a stable and secure food supply and pass their operations onto their children."
But not everyone is so convinced that this is a success story.
Critics say crop insurance has reduced the risk of farming so much that farmers are now incentivized to farm on marginal lands, such as wetlands or lands with less than optimal soil.
"When the government is guaranteeing you [a farmer] 85 percent of your income, it suddenly makes a whole lot more sense to farm in places that might flood or have low soil moisture, which might not have been practical to farm if you simply had your own skin in the game," says Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group.
He also says the system helps the rich get richer. About a third of the subsidies go to the largest 4 percent of farm operators.
In its farm subsidy , EWG finds the largest recipients of crop insurance support receive more than $1 million a year in subsidies.
As if the direct payments of $18,000 a year, and last year's crop insurance payment of $70,000 weren't enough, dad and I got a check for $28,000 from the SURE program (quasi-disaster payment) a week or two ago.  That was for the 2011 crop (which wasn't all that bad).  Honestly, I think that payment was made because last year was an election year, but they just weren't efficient enough to get it to us before the election.  It makes me laugh to hear the same farmers who bitch about minorites on welfare justify why the crop insurance program should be even more generous.  Nothing like a sense of entitlement.

Good News In Texas

Less pollution with sensible regulation:
To get the surprising back story about how Houston's air got cleaner, it's worth a visit to Harvey Jeffries, at the University of North Carolina's school of public health in Chapel Hill. As this retired professor tells the story, air pollution regulators were on the verge of making a multibillion-dollar mistake. They were going all-in against one of the pollutants that create smog, while downplaying the role of other emissions from the petrochemical plants.
Ozone (often called smog) forms when nitrogen oxides react in sunlight with chemicals called volatile organic compounds. Regulators were focusing their efforts overwhelmingly on nitrogen oxides, cranking down on them so hard that compliance would cost $4 billion a year. Jeffries says that was a big mistake.
"If you spent the $4 billion, if you did all the cleanup, they were controlling the wrong thing and ... they wouldn't do anything to prevent the true cause of the highest ozone," Jeffries says. He made that argument to the state and local officials.
Jeffries said the most bang for the buck would come from cutting back on volatile organic compounds like ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene plastic. Chemicals like these are produced in abundance along the ship channel.
"You're talking about billions of pounds of fluids and liquids a day, being produced in Houston. And if you only lose .001 percent of that, it's a massive amount of material, and that was being ignored, totally, completely," he says.
Jeffries pointed to a massive scientific study the state of Texas had funded in the year 2000. Results from that showed that volatile chemicals were a big culprit. Happily for industry, they were also a cheaper problem to fix.
It turns out that routine day-to-day emissions were not the biggest problem. On occasion, plants put out large bursts of chemicals. That could be when they were starting up or shutting down, or simply trying to avoid a disaster when a process went awry. Ethylene gas is commonly vented to the air.
The companies ended up cleaning up leaks and reporting requirements forced them to change to keep from getting bad publicity.  I'm generally not a fan of Texas, but when something goes right, I'll say something positive.

Who Gets The Tax Breaks?

The folks who would generally pay the most taxes:


The capital gains/dividends preference, state and local tax deduction and the charitable gift deduction make up most of the tax expenditures that go to me.  The capital gains.dividends preference is the most ridiculous.

Obama Gets Gaelic Football Invite

BBC:
Eight of the world's most powerful leaders will meet next month in a Fermanagh hotel.
Away from prying eyes, the G8 will discuss the issues of the day.
But out of Cameron, Merkel, Putin, Obama, Hollande, Abe, Napolitano and Harper, it looks like Obama might be the most popular.
He's the only one invited to a pint and a GAA game, anyway.
Cavan man Dean Arrowsmith has invited the world leader to sample Gaelic football for himself.
The Ulster quarter-final takes place on Sunday 16 June at the 18,000-seater Brewster Park in Enniskillen.
Perhaps a bit of Obama's 'Yes We Can' spirit will be all the Cavan players need to help them beat Fermanagh.
It was after Cavan's 1-15 to 1-11 win over Armagh at the weekend that Mr Arrowsmith wrote his email to the White House.
"If you have time in your hectic schedule," it reads, "I would like to invite you to attend the game with myself and a few friends, I will even pay in to the game for you (it's only €15), and let you experience the national game of our country for the first time."
The 24-year-old, who used to promote Dundalk FC in the Airtricity League, told Obama he would "buy you a pint of Guinness and discuss the trials and tribulations of what occurred on the field."
The President ought to take him up on the offer, but he might be able to buy the beer instead. I'd definitely take a Gaelic football primer from somebody in the know.

Gordon Gee Stays Classy

Yahoo:
Gee, who has taken heat before for uncouth remarks, told members of the council that he negotiated with Notre Dame officials during his first term at Ohio State, which began more than two decades ago.
''The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week,'' Gee said to laughter at the Dec. 5 meeting attended by Athletic Director Gene Smith, several other athletic department members, professors and students.
''You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that,'' said Gee, a Mormon.
The Big Ten had for years courted Notre Dame, but the school resisted as it sought to retain its independent status in college football. In September, the school announced that it would join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey but would play five football games each year against ACC teams.
In the recording, Gee referred specifically to dealing with the Rev. Ned Joyce, Notre Dame's longtime executive vice president, who died in 2004.
''Father Joyce was one of those people who ran the university for many, many years,'' Gee said.
Gee said the Atlantic Coast Conference added Notre Dame at a time when it was feeling vulnerable.
''Notre Dame wanted to have its cake and eat it, too,'' Gee said, according to the recording and a copy of the meeting's minutes.
Gordon is a money grubbing Orville Redenbacher wannabe who makes me look cool.  Way to try to be funny, dork.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Last Ice Merchant

The Last Ice Merchant (El Ăšltimo Hielero) from Sandy Patch on Vimeo.

Moocher Paradise

Bloomberg:
Every year, about 30 states receive more in federal spending than they pay in taxes, while the other 20 states bankroll the federal government. New Mexico and Mississippi are usually the greatest net beneficiaries of spending, receiving roughly $2 in spending for every dollar paid in taxes. New Jersey and Illinois are the greatest net contributors to the federal government, receiving about 60 cents in spending for every dollar paid in taxes. States in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Coast generally lose money to the federal government, while Southern and Great Plains states benefit.
If we think of states as voters -- and they are in presidential elections due to the Electoral College -- then the Moocher Myth is backward. Starting with the 2000 election, the states that have benefited the most from federal spending have voted Republican. Those that pay the most in taxes per dollar received in spending vote Democrat. This paradox occurs even controlling for a state’s per-capita income, total population, racial composition, education level and defense spending.
At the county level, the Moocher Myth is more intriguing. The Census Bureau counts federal dollars in five broad categories: retirement and disability payments, salaries and wages, procurement contracts, grants, and other direct payments. In 2004 -- the last year the Tax Foundation calculated the tax burden per county -- the counties that received the most per person in retirement or grants had higher vote margins for Democrat John Kerry.
But the counties that received the highest per-capita spending in the category “other direct payments” voted for George W. Bush. “Other direct payments” includes Medicaid, food stamps, crop subsidies, housing assistance and many other programs that people generally think of as “welfare.”
It remains a mystery why places that receive the most per person in federal spending, particularly on welfare programs, vote in presidential elections for the party that wants to cut those programs. The most likely suspects are Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution.
I knew it was the damn Democrats that made us righteous rural Americans overly dependent on government spending that is taken from the well-off in major metropolitan areas.   Well, they and the Founding Fathers.

Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger?

Wendy's might be bringing it to life in a fast food version:
Wendy's has a twist on burgers that's not yet for sale, but it's already getting buzz as one of 2013's most innovative fast food offerings: a pretzel burger.
More specifically, the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.
Whether this premium product rolls out this summer -—- or next fall — is anyone's guess. Wendy's won't say — declining to discuss the pretzel burger until its national introduction. "We're not sharing details of this sandwich today," says spokesman Denny Lynch, in an e-mail. "It's not in any of our restaurants."
But new products are the life-blood of fast-food, and Wendy's, formerly the industry leader in product innovation, could regain its claim to that crown with a serious hit. This upcoming burger — made with a soft-pretzel-like roll — has some fast food experts fawning.
"This could be a very, very big deal," says Christopher Muller, professor of hospitality at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration. "I don't know why, but there's nothing else on the market quite like it." If it's a hit, he says, others are guaranteed to follow.
Pretzels are totally on-trend, notes Mark Brandau, senior editor at Nation's Restaurant News. The trend actually began at some casual dining restaurants and is working its way down to fast food, he says. Several years ago, Blimpies rolled out a line of subs made with pretzel bread. And throughout much of Europe — particularly Germany — pretzel rolls of all kinds are extremely popular, Muller says.
I guess gussying up the fast-food burger is the trendy thing right now.  I saw today that McDonald's is getting fancy with the Quarter Pounder ( or the Royale with Cheese in Paris), with bacon and onions and shit.  Well, I, for one, am looking forward to the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.

Chinese Firm Offers To Buy Smithfield

Reuters:
China's Shuanghui International plans to buy Smithfield Foods Inc (SFD.N) for $4.7 billion to feed a growing Chinese appetite for U.S. pork, but the proposed takeover of the world's No. 1 producer has stirred concern in the United States.
The transaction, announced on Wednesday, would rank as the largest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company, with an enterprise value of $7.1 billion, including debt assumption.
As it stands. the deal is the biggest Chinese play for a U.S. company since CNOOC Ltd offered to buy Unocal for about $18 billion in 2005. The state-controlled energy company later withdrew that bid under U.S. political pressure.
Like similar foreign transactions, the Smithfield deal will face the scrutiny of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, a government panel that assesses national security risks.
And at least one member of Congress said the deal raised alarms about food safety, noting Shuanghui was forced to recall tainted pork in the past.
"I have deep doubts about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first," U.S. Representative Rose DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement.
Seriously, as if U.S. producers don't have meat recalls? It will be interesting to see what happens with this.  Nobody pitched much of a fit when JBS came from Brazil and bought something like 30% of our beef processing capacity (it would have been more but the Justice Department called anti-trust on them), is China scarier?  The good thing is that my 101 shares of Smithfield (I owned shares in Premium Standard Farms before Smithfield bought them) went up like 28% in value.  Maybe this is the Chinese version of buying Pebble Beach Golf Course or Rockefeller Center was when the Japanese were at the apex of their economic might.  I remember how xenophobic I was back then.  I'm just not feeling too concerned right now.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Art on Envelopes




Smithsonian:
Jack Fogarty and John MacDonald served with the Army’s 98th Evacuation Hospital in World War II’s Pacific Theater from 1944 to 1945, where they spent “many an hour sitting around in a jungle clearing,” according to Fogarty, who is now 92 and living in Teaneck, New Jersey. The two soldiers developed a tight friendship as they worked and relaxed together.
Fogarty became close friends, too, with John’s wife, Mary MacDonald, who remained home in Queens, New York. Fogarty had met her before he and John shipped out, and he struck up a correspondence with her that lasted until he and John returned home. An amateur artist, Fogarty illustrated his envelopes to show Mary daily life around the camp—jungle hikes, beach swims, evenings in tents under gaslight.
“My drawings were an expression of love for the MacDonalds,” says Fogarty. “I loved them and they loved me in the best of terms.”
The letters sealed a lifelong friendship between Fogarty and the MacDonald family. Mary MacDonald died in 2003; her husband in 2007.
Meg MacDonald, one of the couple’s four daughters, recently donated 33 illustrated envelopes, eight letters and a watercolor made by Fogarty to the National Postal Museum, which is currently exhibiting them online.
He answers some questions about the illustrations and correspondence at the site, which also features a number of other examples of his envelope art.

Here's David Kotok reviewing some of his father's letters to his mother:
Dad served in the Pacific in WWII. He left when I was three months old and returned after my third birthday. Mom and I lived with my grandparents on the family farm. So did my Aunt Pearl, whose husband was in Europe in the army.
I’ve read the censored letters Dad wrote to Mom. Powerful reading packed with nostalgic moments, these notes had sections cut out by a stranger whose task was to insure that the enemy wouldn’t glean information from them if they were intercepted. I think about US Army censorship of a letter from New Guinea that my father sent to my mother. That letter took many weeks to travel from the place where he wrote it to delivery at the farm.
I also have the flag Mom got as a vet’s widow when Dad died. I just went over to it. I picked it up. I turned it around. I put it back in the place where it sits in my home office.
Nostalgia has triggered some wetting of the eyes and a flood of images in the brain.
There is a permanence that is lost as we've gone from letters to phone calls and texts.  I've come across some of the letters I received from folks in the days before email took over.  They enable me to see what was said long ago, something which is impossible with a phone call.  I'm curious as to how much actual history will be lost because we no longer have such a record.  Memory is a very fickle thing.

Exorcising a Ghost of War

World War II veteran Tom Blakey found that volunteering at the National World War II Museum helped him escape from a memory which haunted him since D-Day:





On this Memorial Day, we need to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country, but we also must remember all those who served and survived, and must help them as much as we can in dealing with the scars of that service, both physical and mental.  We have not been doing a good job with that, especially with the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.  We sent them to do work we couldn't bother ourselves to mess with, now it is time to help with the high costs that work incurred.

Update:  more on the struggles to provide care to veterans at the VA:
The quality of care varies from one V.A. facility to the next. In 2004, the V.A. Inspector General called the Dallas facility the worst in the nation; last year, a Dallas TV station interviewed veterans who alleged that the facility was so poor that it put “lives at risk.” The V.A. tends to be slow, taking an average of nine months to determine if it will cover a veteran’s health claim. And getting a claim approved can be even more difficult if symptoms are not observed at a veteran’s exit physical. Yet P.T.S.D.’s symptoms may not emerge for a while, and they are often accompanied by a cascade of other health problems. Chiarelli, the former vice-chief of the Army, told me that doctors should be “given more latitude” in assessing combat veterans, adding, “But there’s where you get into cost issues.” The V.A. is a sclerotic and overwhelmed bureaucracy; it barely has the resources to maintain its current level of health coverage, let alone expand it. (A spokesman acknowledged that veterans wait “too long for earned benefits,” and said, “We have an aggressive plan in place to end the backlog in 2015.”)
The story deals with Chris Kyle, and the veteran who killed him and another man.  The shooter's mother speaks about mental health treatment for veterans:
Jodi looked out and said, “All I can think about in my mind is that, if they would have left him in the hospital, then those two men wouldn’t be dead today. And, you know, it’s not like I want to beat on the V.A., that’s not at all what my intention is. My intention is that they step up and give these men—”
“The help they need,” Raymond interrupted.
“The treatment they deserve,” Jodi continued. She said that a forensic psychologist had recently assessed Routh’s capacity to stand trial, though he had not received mental-health assistance from the V.A. since January. She said of veterans, “It’s not just that they deserve it. They’ve already earned it. They’ve already served their time. They’ve already done what they were asked to do.” Jodi wiped her tears. The Marines had trained her son for war, she said, but they never “untrained” him for normal life.
She is right about what those veterans deserve.  The VA is unprepared for the task of serving the veterans of the wars of the last decade.  It is criminal that we as a society have forsaken them.

Fighting To The Bitter End

USCCB fires preemtively on the Supreme Court's upcoming gay marriage and DOMA ruling:
In a bulletin insert delivered to parishioners around the nation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the Supreme Court could be preparing to affirm marriage equality, and urged an outpouring of anti-LGBT sentiment and sermons to push back against the potential change.
“A broad negative ruling could redefine marriage in the law throughout the entire country, becoming the ‘Roe v. Wade’ of marriage,” the bulletin reads. “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined with many other organizations in urging the Supreme Court to uphold both DOMA and Proposition 8 and thereby to recognize the essential, irreplaceable contribution that husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, make to society, and especially to children.”
It goes on to call for prayer, fasting and personal sacrifice to achieve the goal of keeping same sex couples from enjoying the same rights as other married couples, and urges parishioners join the church’s anti-LGBT “Fortnight for Freedom” events leading up to the 4th of July.
“Be a witness for the truth of marriage in word and action,” the conference ordered American Catholics. “Take advantage of opportunities to speak about marriage’s unique meaning in conversation with friends, family, neighbors or co-workers. Share the truth in love.
The bulletin adds that, while “there are many ways to protect the basic human rights of all,” true Christians should oppose extending the rights of marriage to LGBT people because doing so “serves no one’s rights, least of all those of children.”
They've picked their hill, definitely not the right one, but they are prepared to defend it to the death.  Of all the things the Church could be doing, spending 2 weeks around the Fourth of July railing against birth control and gay marriage just doesn't seem like the best.  I would guess there are a lot of other things that could be done to engage with young Catholics and not highlight some of the Church positions that push those folks away.  DOMA is almost certainly dead in the water.  Proposition 8, if not overturned by the Court, will be removed by initiative in November or November 2014.  Illinois will probably legalize gay marriage soon, which, with California sooner or later, will leave at least 14 states allowing gay marriage.  This position will haunt the Church for many years to come.

Personally, I think the Church knows that social acceptance of homosexuality pretty much dooms the celibate priesthood in the United States to a slow demise.  In the past, a very sizable percentage of the seminarians were guys who knew they were homosexual but entered the priesthood because there was no other real socially acceptable path available.  Now, many of those men will just leave the Church, or go about their lives and ignore the Church on this issue.

Planting Is Complete

We finished the rest of our beans yesterday.  Now I've got to get the first cutting of hay made.  It'll be the first try using my new discbine.  I'm sure I'll find every rock in the field, and that farm happens to be the rock capital of the world.  It ought to be interesting.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

German Brewers Lobby Against Fracking

The Atlantic:
Fracking opponents have come up with plenty of interesting arguments against the practice, but perhaps the most compelling yet comes just this week from Germany: Blast apart our soil, the German Brewers Federation told the federal government, and you risk befouling our national beverage.
Brewing the world's best hefeweizen, you see, requires great drinking water -- and fracking, they said, "could reduce or even completely eliminate the security of the water supply." In a letter, the organization argued that this newfangled way of extracting energy would conflict with Europe's oldest food purity law, the Reinheitsgebot of 1516, which stated, "We wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be barley, hops and water."
Nasty fracking wastewater, they say, is not on that list.
Germany is Europe's biggest beer producer and has the continent's third-largest per-capita consumption, after the Czech Republic and Austria. So perhaps Big Beer is indeed the best-positioned group to pressure the government of Angela Merkel, who is currently attempting to draft up fracking regulations that would allow the exploration of Germany's untapped natural gas reserves without harming the environment.
Considering how much more dependent on natural gas imports they are than we are, I am surprised we are so much further ahead of them on fracking.  Outside of energy, we generally trail the Europeans on technology adoption. At least on the construction side.

Hilariously Bad Video

I was poking around YouTube looking for a song to post and for some reason thought of "Keeping the Faith" by Billy Joel.  One of my friends and I loved this song back in parochial school. Mainly, it was the line, "I thought I was the Duke of Earl when I made it with a redhead girl in a Chevrolet," because it seemed racy at the time, plus my friend loved Chevys and had a redheaded girlfriend at the time.  Anyway, this may be the most outrageously awful and corny music video of all time.  The overacting and expressions are worth watching for a little while:


NASA Photo of the Day

From May 22:

Red Sprite Lightning with Aurora
Image Credit & Copyright: Walter Lyons (FMA Research), WeatherVideoHD.TV
Explanation: What's that in the sky? It is a rarely seen form of lightning confirmed only about 25 years ago: a red sprite. Recent research has shown that following a powerful positive cloud-to-ground lightning strike, red sprites may start as 100-meter balls of ionized air that shoot down from about 80-km high at 10 percent the speed of light and are quickly followed by a group of upward streaking ionized balls. The above image, taken a few days ago above central South Dakota, USA, captured a bright red sprite, and is a candidate for the first color image ever recorded of a sprite and aurora together. Distant storm clouds cross the bottom of the image, while streaks of colorful aurora are visible in the background. Red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side.

Golson Leaves Quarterback Hole At Notre Dame

Yahoo:
In a matter of about seven weeks, Notre Dame has gone from a quarterback surplus to a quarterback crisis.
The stunning news Saturday night that starter Everett Golson is no longer enrolled in school comes after five-star freshman Gunner Kiel announced his transfer in April to Cincinnati. Suddenly, the Fighting Irish chances of repeating last year's BCS championship game run look a lot longer than they were coming out of spring practice. A team with a solid opportunity to start 2013 in the preseason top five now must be reconsidered.
In fact, the loss of Golson continues a succession of shocks Notre Dame has endured since its 12-0 season landed it a spot opposite Alabama in the title game. First, the Irish bombed against the Crimson Tide and were routed, 42-14. Then star linebacker Manti Te'o had his reputation assailed when revelations surfaced that the girlfriend he spoke of many times during the season – and who allegedly died – in fact never existed. Now the school's starting quarterback has been dismissed from school.
That can't be good for Notre Dame's outlook in the fall.

Ogallala Running Out In Southern Plains



The drought is putting tremendous strain on the Aquifer:
Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.
Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past.
“That’s prime land,” he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. “I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help.” Now, he said, “it’s over.”
The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.
Also:
Two years of extreme drought, during which farmers relied almost completely on groundwater, have brought the seriousness of the problem home. In 2011 and 2012, the Kansas Geological Survey reports, the average water level in the state’s portion of the aquifer dropped 4.25 feet — nearly a third of the total decline since 1996.
And that is merely the average. “I know my staff went out and re-measured a couple of wells because they couldn’t believe it,” said Lane Letourneau, a manager at the State Agriculture Department’s water resources division. “There was a 30-foot decline.”
Kansas agriculture will survive the slow draining of the aquifer — even now, less than a fifth of the state’s farmland is irrigated in any given year — but the economic impact nevertheless will be outsized.
It will be interesting to see what happens in that region.  There, more than almost anywhere else, water sustains the community.  As it goes away, many of the people will, too.

The aquifer has been mined, just like an open pit or an oil well.  And like an oil well, production declines are brutal:

Sitting in his Ford pickup next to Section 35, he unfolded a sheet of white paper that tracked the decline of his grandfather’s well: from 1,600 gallons a minute in 1964, to 1,200 in 1975, to 750 in 1976.
When the well slumped to 500 gallons in 1991, the Yosts capped it and drilled another nearby. Its output sank, too, from 1,352 gallons to 300 today.
This year, Mr. Yost spent more than $15,000 to drill four test wells in Section 35. The best of them produced 195 gallons a minute — a warning, he said, that looking further for an isolated pocket of water would be costly and probably futile.
We'll see the same thing in the Bakken and the Eagle Ford.  The irrigated agriculture way of life in the plains is maybe even more doomed than our automobile lifestyle.

Events At West Fertilizer Laid Out

I missed that last week investigators released a report on the West Fertilizer explosion:
Investigators think the wooden fertilizer bins caught fire, and the heat caused the fertilizer to create flammable gases. The gases accumulated under pressure in the tall column of the bin, and falling equipment and debris created the shock necessary to set off a portion of the fertilizer that had become “highly sensitized,” Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said.
The first blast set off another portion of the ammonium nitrate a few milliseconds later, a sequence confirmed by seismic readings miles away at Lake Whitney.
Kistner said 28 to 34 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, leaving 20 to 30 tons that did not explode. Another 100 tons were sitting in a boxcar nearby that did not explode.
The total amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer on hand was significantly less than the 270 tons the company reported in late 2012, according to
Kistner.
The bin that exploded was about 20 to 24 feet tall, 10 feet wide and 30 feet deep, said Daniel Horowitz of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
He said national firefighting organizations recommend fire codes that require explosive materials to be stored in nonflammable containers, but he said it appears neither the state nor the county have adopted those codes.
The safety board is doing its own investigation of the incident to determine what safety measures are needed to prevent incidents like this elsewhere.
“This is the worst amount of damage to a community the Chemical Safety Board has ever seen,” Horowitz said. “We simply can’t have explosions like this happen again.”
Also, there was this:
 The amount that did detonate had the explosive power of 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of TNT. It flung bits of buildings and vehicles up to 2.5 miles, though most of the debris fell within 3,000 feet, more than a half-mile.
In the end, they figure the fire was started by a golf cart, an electrical fire or arson.  I'd guess golf cart or electrical fire.

The Spokesman

The Spokesman from dean saffron on Vimeo.