Saturday, March 22, 2014

Song of the South

Cool footage:

March Madness Weekend Reads

Here are a few items that caught my attention:

The Religious Right's Failed Gay-Marriage Backlash - The Atlantic

Dropped: Why did Anthony Gatto, the greatest juggler alive — and perhaps of all time — back away from his art to open a construction business? - Jason Fagone, Grantland

Canada Changes Gestation Crate Rules -Harvest Public Media, via Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily

What Neuroscience Says About The Link Between Creativity and Madness - Fast Company  "In theSeptember issue of Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, Fink and the others conclude that perhaps creative and schizotypal people share an inability to filter out extraneous or irrelevant material."

The Midwestern Laggard - Menzie Chinn  Re Wisconsin

A 26-Story History of San Francisco - Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic Cities

Gold in the Mud: The twisted saga of jailhouse boxer James Scott's battle for redemption - SBNation

How We Built the Ghettos- The Daily Beast

The man who destroyed America’s ego: How a rebel psychologist challenged one of the 20th century’s biggest—and most dangerous—ideas- Medium

In an update to the link above about creativity and madness, I just heard Heywood Banks, the composer of "Big Butter Jesus" and other comedy song classics, when asked how he comes up with ideas for his songs, say they just pop into his head. "I could probably use a filter," he said.  Hmmm...

 Source: Washington Post

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hudson Yards

From this:

Long Island R.R. Yard on west side of Manhattan

To this:

Proposed Site Plan

The phrase "only in New York" is probably overused, but there are times when it still applies. A plan to build an entire 26-acre neighborhood with 17 million square feet of buildings atop two platforms suspended over an active rail yard serving America's busiest train station is one of those times.
The neighborhood will be known as Hudson Yards, and construction officially began today on the first of those platforms — over the eastern part of the rail yard. That platform will ultimately hold two office towers, two residential towers (one of which will have a hotel), a million square feet of retail, and about five acres of open public space. And it will all come together as 30 Long Island Railroad tracks remain in operation to serve commuters through Penn Station.....
The key to it all will be the platforms. Jim White, the engineer in charge of the platform construction, says 3D modeling helped identify places in the rail yard where caissons could be drilled all the way into the bedrock without disrupting the tracks. These 300 caissons, each installed with 90-ton cores encased in concrete, will serve as a foundation for load-bearing support columns. At the "throat" of the yard, where the 30 tracks converge into four to enter Penn Station, long-span bridge trusses will shoulder the weight.
All the work must be done in conjunction with Long Island Railroad to ensure the trains can continue their normal operation, says White. (The trains moving into and out of the yard don't have any passengers on them; it's effectively a parking lot.) Cross says the Hudson Yards development crew can close down any four of the main 30 tracks at a time for work but are limited to weekend-only closures of the throat, coordinated carefully with LIRR.
The time and space constraints demand an uncompromising efficiency on the part of the construction team. At some points, says White, workers will have only an hour or two to mobilize rigs weighing hundreds of tons into position, drill caissons into place, and remove all the equipment before the trains pass through. As if that weren't hard enough, the job requires an incredible degree of precision; White says the engineering tolerance is often just an eighth of an inch. (And you thought your Ikea desk was tough.)
I would not want to be the project manager on this job.  The article goes on to say that Park Avenue in the vicinity of Grand Central Station, is also built on a platform over the railroad tracks entering the station.  I did not know that.

The Rural-Urban Divide in Politics

As I've mentioned before, the political divide is closely correlated with population density.  The Wall Street Journal takes look at two neighboring congressional districts, one containing Kansas City, Missouri, and one is a sprawling district which stretches much of the way across the state:

For decades, rural America was part of the Democratic base, and as recently as 1993, just over half of rural Americans were represented by a House Democrat, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Conservative Democrats often represented rural districts, including Ms. Hartzler's predecessor, Ike Skelton, who held the seat for 34 years before she ousted him in 2010.
That parity eventually gave way to GOP dominance. In 2013, 77% of rural Americans were represented by a House Republican. But in urban areas—which by the government's definition includes both cities and suburbs—slightly less than half of residents were represented by congressional Republicans, despite the GOP's 30-seat majority in the House.
The urban-rural divide has also grown in presidential contests. In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton beat Republican George Bush in the 50 densest counties—the most urban in the country—by 25 percentage points. By 2012, Democrat Barack Obama's advantage in those urban counties had shot up to 38 points, according to a Journal analysis of Census and election data.
Today, almost all big cities, even those in red states such as Missouri, Indiana and Texas, favor Democrats for president.
The shift in rural areas has been even more dramatic. In 1992, Mr. Bush won the 50 least-dense counties—the most rural in the country—by 18 points. In 2012, Mr. Romney's advantage there had roughly tripled, to 53 points.
So what drives the split? Mainly, a hollowing out of the rural economy that has driven many of the young people to search for opportunity in the metropolitan areas, leaving an older, more conservative population:
These divisions emerged in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and the rise of such social issues as abortion and school prayer, which distanced culturally conservative rural voters from the Democratic Party.....
Rural economies have faltered as automated farming and corporate ventures subsumed many family farms. Cutbacks in manufacturing have cost jobs, and fewer jobs mean fewer opportunities for young people, driving away those with more skills and education.
Without new arrivals, these aging regions have grown more insulated from cultural change—whether the use of smartphones or the acceptance of same-sex marriage......
The population of about 3,600 has held roughly steady for the past several decades, but the town has shrunk.
El Dorado used to have two grocery stores until one bought the other and closed it. The county hospital stopped delivering babies in 2012 because there weren't enough deliveries to justify keeping an on-call surgeon. A bond issue to upgrade aging school facilities was twice rejected by voters.
The historic Opera House Theater, the only one in town, can't show movies until supporters raise $60,000 for a digital projector. So far, they have $13,000.
With few jobs waiting for young people after college, adults in town assume most won't return to start their own families after graduation. The exodus has left the town older and more conservative.
There is a certain charm to some small towns (sometimes, but not always) that can be hard to find in the cities and suburbs, but looking at the chart below, I can tell you that economically and demographically, things look better for the cities than for the rural areas.  That doesn't even get into the fact that rural areas are recipient areas when it comes to state and federal taxes, and the lack of jobs definitely doesn't help that fact.

What really bothers me about the politics is that the GOP is leading rural America off of a cliff.  Without the transfer of tax dollars from metropolitan areas to rural areas, these communities would be even worse off.  GOP tax cuts and spending cuts make it harder for these communities to survive.  As the excerpt above mentions, local voters have twice rejected a levy to upgrade the schools.  Nowhere is the damage to rural areas from GOP policies more obvious than in primary and secondary education.  States like Ohio and Missouri use the state income tax to transfer money from the rich suburbs to rural and inner-city urban schools.  The GOP has purposely targeted this mechanism by pushing for numerous income tax cuts when budgets are balanced or in surplus, and slashing state support for schools and local government when budgets are in deficit (fueled by those tax cuts as soon as the economy slows down).  The suburbs can raise the needed revenues locally, while the rural and inner-cities can't.  At a certain point, voters in rural areas are going to figure out that the GOP hurts them, and when they do, the Republican Party is dead.  Hopefully, that is before the rural areas die.

Sweet Victory

For anyone who gets sick of hearing about "THE Ohio State University" (i.e. anyone not associated with OSU, and/or anyone with any sense of decorum or decency):

I love it.  I guess the editors voted down, "F U OSU"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

1940s Chicago

The Atlantic Cities:
At a recent estate sale on the south side of Chicago, Jeff Altman spotted a canister of film simply labeled "Chicago" and "Print 1." That tidbit of information was intriguing enough for Altman to drop $40 on the print.
Altman, who works in film post-production, took two weeks to inspect and fix minor issues before scanning and turning it into a digital video.
The result is this short film, a marvelous and thorough overview of 1940s Chicago, when the Wrigley and Tribune Towers were still considered modern landmarks.
In contrast to typical city promotional films, this video offers glimpses of downtown spots like Buckingham Fountain along with the city’s manufacturing plants and meat-packing facilities. The footage also comes with all sorts of statistics and facts. For example, Michigan Boulevard (now Michigan Avenue) carried more than 55,000 automobiles on an average day.

Fracking Over Old Fields

From the storied King Ranch near the Mexican border to the 1901 Spindletop well in East Texas-- the most famous gusher of all time--oil companies are returning to their old stomping grounds in search of the next big find.
All over East Texas, producers such asAnadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) and EOG Resources Inc. are flocking back to areas that helped fuel America’s rise as a superpower after World War II. They’re applying new techniques to layers of rock stacked like playing cards underground that oil companies have drilled for decades. And, as fields from Louisiana to North Dakotaare starting to show signs of fatigue, drillers are targeting areas that have long gone overlooked or barely tapped.
“I never thought I’d go back to East Texas,” said Mark Plummer, a third-generation oil man who grew up hearing stories about his grandfather’s days in the oil patch “living the roughneck dream.” Those fields were thought to be long-played out by the time Plummer arrived in 2000 with his own company, Chestnut Exploration & Production. The basin was “dead as a door nail,” he said. Now he’s betting his East Texas play will be his “Jed Clampett moment,” referring to the television character who struck it rich in the 1960s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies.
These guys are very optimistic, but it strikes me as somewhat desperate.  They are hitting the oldest oil field in Texas to try to squeeze some more out.  It has been working for them to a point in the Permian Basin, but I can't imagine it will be a big hit, or for long.  Here's a little more:
Oil companies are racing to establish new fields capable of sustaining a drilling campaign that has upended world markets and pushed the U.S. past Saudi Arabia and Russia last year as the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. Fueling the renewed search is a fear that shale wells are petering out too quickly, raising the stakes for a new find to replace rapidly declining production in some areas. North Dakota, one of two states at the heart of the U.S. oil renaissance, saw the sharpest output decline in the state’s history in December.
Not everyone is sure there is another big oil find out there. In 2011, former Chesapeake Energy Corp. founder Aubrey McClendon said all of the largest untapped U.S. fields have been discovered. So far, about 80 percent of the growth has come from just two areas: North Dakota’s Bakken shale and South Texas’s Eagle Ford formations.
Last year saw the slowest rate of oil production growth, at 40 percent, in those two areas since the onset of the boom. That compares to 2011 when oil production nearly doubled in the fields.
Some producers have touted Ohio’s Utica or the Tuscaloosa Marine shale in Louisiana as the fields most likely to see a flurry of development next. Others have focused instead on wringing more out of every well. As the industry moves to dispel fears of falling prices or wells that fizzle too quickly, many have begun to look to well-worn regions of East Texas.
I don't know anything about the Tuscaloosa Marine shale, and I haven't heard much about the Utica, but I'm betting they won't hold a candle to the Eagle Ford or Bakken.  However, the statement about North Dakota seeing the sharpest output decline in the state's history doesn't match up with data I've seen.  I'm still anticipating that the Bakken will peak soon, but the experts are saying it will be about 5-7 years out.  I really get the feeling that when the shale production does peak, there are going to be a lot of people who don't understand what happened to the "new Saudi Arabia."  Maybe if they knew we were picking over the carcasses of century-old fields they would understand why we can't expect this to go on forever.

History of Life

Geological time in a chart (from, via Ritholtz):

Sin City's Greatest Sin?

In his tour of the thirsty West, Eric Holthaus stops in Vegas, and nearby Lake Mead, Sin City's main water source:
Lake Mead provides 90 percent of the water to the once-again booming city of Las Vegas, as well as indirectly to Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, and agricultural areas downstream via diversions from the Colorado River. As the result of an ongoing multiyear drought, this giant lake is now approaching the lowest water levels since its construction.
When we saw it for the first time, we gasped.
The sight of so much water in the middle of a desert is in itself brain-twisting, but to see the bright-white “bathtub ring” marking the lake’s historic high-water mark more than 100 feet above current levels, contrasted with boats merrily speeding around on the dwindling reservoir, was nearly too much to take. It was a sharp reminder that despite building dams, aqueducts, and other super-human feats, water in the desert is inherently temporary. We stayed only a few minutes.
The last time water levels were this low, in 2010, federal officials contemplated worst-case scenarios of forced cuts to Las Vegas—of both electricity and water. It didn’t happen then, but the drought this time around is worse.
The lake is now expected to reach a new record low of 1,080 feet by April 2015 and to cross the first trigger for downstream water cutbacks at 1,075 feet shortly thereafter. By summer 2015, the water supply to Las Vegas itself could be affected if an $817 million tunnel project—currently months behind schedule—isn’t yet completed. That project, conceived as a way to extend Lake Mead’s usefulness in the face of climate change, is designed to suck water from the lake all the way to the very bottom—a point long after even the turbines of Hoover Dam would have to shut down, possibly for good.
The new tunnel can’t be finished fast enough. As the magnitude of the current drought started to hit home, construction of an impromptu tunnel designed to buy the larger project a few months of time was approved late last year. Officials described the newest tunneling project as an “emergency meant to avoid an emergency.”
It all has the feel of a patient on life support, with a spaghetti of IV lines coming out of both arms. The morbidly curious can follow the daily level of Lake Mead (down another 1.7 inches Monday), via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website. Holthaus goes on to say that Las Vegas has very high water consumption per person.  I would be curious to know how much of that high consumption is used to irrigate golf courses, how much is used in the massive casino fountains, how much goes to watering residents' lawns and how much just gets used by the huge numbers of tourists.  Probably the vast majority goes to the first three, but the last one has to contribe a decent amount to that per capita use rate.  Whatever the split, millions of people living in the desert is a really terrible idea that we'll pay for in the future.

Chapman Hit By Line Drive

Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman suffered fractures to bones in his nose and left eye while taking a line drive to the face Wednesday night.
Chapman was carted off the field and transported by ambulance to a hospital and would be kept overnight for observation, the Reds said on their Twitter account.
The Reds said Chapman was originally taken to Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City, Ariz., where tests indicated the facial fractures. He was then transferred to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, where he was to undergo further testing.
Reds manager Bryan Price said Chapman was conscious and talking as he was taken off the field during the game against the Kansas City Royals.
"Not good," Price said. "He left the field on a stretcher, took a line drive just above his left eye is what it looks like -- a contusion, a laceration, and certainly needs to be taken to the hospital and checked. We've got Tomas Vera, an assistant trainer, is going to be with him. And then we'll get our updates from there."
The hard-throwing left-hander was struck by Salvador Perez's hit with two outs in the sixth inning. The pitcher crumbled to the ground, face down and flailing his legs. The ball caromed into the third base dugout. Medical personnel, including Royals Dr. Vincent Key, rushed the field. Chapman's father was among the people to run onto the field immediately after he was struck.
Players from both teams huddled around the mound as the 26-year-old Cuban was being attended to and the stadium became silent. An ambulance's siren could be heard in background while Chapman was loaded onto the stretcher.
"I know this isn't uncommon as we would like it to be, but it was frightening, certainly frightening," Price said.
The game was then called with Kansas City leading 6-3.
Another famous fireballer also got hit in the face with a wicked line drive:
On May 7, 1957, during the first inning of a night game against the New York Yankees at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Score threw a low fastball to Gil McDougald with Jim Hegan catching. McDougald lined the pitch to the mound and struck Score in the face, breaking Score's facial bones and injuring his eye. McDougald, seeing Score hit by the baseball and then lying down and injured, ran immediately to the pitching mound instead of first base to help Score. McDougald reportedly vowed to retire if Score permanently lost his sight in one eye as a result of the accident. Score eventually recovered his 20/20 vision, though he missed the rest of the season.
He returned late in the 1958 season. Though many believe Score feared being hit by another batted ball, and thus changed his pitching motion, Score himself rejected that theory. Score would tell Cleveland sportswriter Terry Pluto (for The Curse of Rocky Colavito) that, in 1958, after pitching and winning a few games and feeling better than he'd felt in a long time, he tore a tendon in his arm while pitching on a damp night against the Washington Senators and sat out the rest of the season.
In 1959, he'd shifted his pitching motion in a bid to avoid another, similar injury. "The reason my motion changed," Score told Pluto, "was because I hurt my elbow, and I overcompensated for it and ended up with some bad habits." As a result of the changes Score made in his pitching delivery, his velocity dropped and he incurred further injuries. Score pitched the full 1959 season, going 9–11 with a 4.71 ERA and 147 strikeouts.
In the book "The Greatest Team Of All Time" (Bob Adams, Inc, publisher. 1994), Mickey Mantle picked Herb Score as the toughest American League left-handed pitcher he faced (before the injury). Yogi Berra picked Herb for his "Greatest Team Of All Time".
Eerily, when he came up, Chapman was compared to Score:
Scouting legend Art Stewart, who chiseled his first reports on stone tablets, upped the ante in describing Aroldis Chapman.
Stewart called the lanky Cuban the "best young left-handed arm I've seen since Herb Score," and in doing so crossed a bridge that spans 55 years, to Score's rookie season with the Indians. A few phenoms have come and gone since then.
 Hopefully, Chapman recovers fully, and we aren't talking in a few years about how this injury affected his career. That is one of the scariest things that can happen in baseball.  It is one of the main reasons given for opposition to aluminum bats in the big leagues.  Back in high school, one of the hardest balls I ever hit was headed right at the face of the opposing pitcher.  Luckily, I never hit the ball extremely hard, and he was able to duck out of the way.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Morebarn - Silver Screen

Morebarn * Silver Screen from KALEIDA on Vimeo.

2014 NCAA Bracket

Here's my bracket that definitely won't win me a billion dollars:

South region:
First round - Florida, Pitt, VCU, Tulsa, Dayton, Syracuse, Stanford, Kansas
Second round - Florida, VCU, Syracuse, Kansas,
Third round - Florida, Syracuse
Florida advancing

East region:
First round - Virginia, GW, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Providence, Iowa State, St. Joseph's, Villanova
Second round - Virginia, Michigan State, Providence, Villanova
Third round - Michigan State, Villanova
Michigan State advancing

West region:
First round - Arizona, Gonzaga, North Dakota St., San Diego St., Baylor, Creighton, Oregon, Wisconsin
Second round - Arizona, San Diego St., Creighton, Wisconsin
Third round - San Diego St., Creighton
Creighton advancing

Midwest region:
First round - Wichita St., Kansas St., St. Louis, Louisville, Iowa, Duke, Arizona St., Michigan
Second round - Wichita St. Louisville, Duke, Michigan
Third round - Wichita St., Michigan
Wichita State advancing

Championship - Florida vs. Wichita St., with Florida prevailing, 76-69. 

Scientists Expect Decreased Yields With Global Warming

Center on Food Security and the Environment (via Sowing Agricultural Seeds Daily):
If global temperatures continue to rise, the amount of crops farmers can harvest will sharply decline during the next 100 years.
Stanford professor David Lobell and an international team of climate scientists modeled future crop yields under several global climate scenarios throughout the 21st century. They found that if average global temperatures rise by more than two degrees Celsius, farmers are likely to get less wheat, rice and maize out of each plot of land. Yields are expected to fall by an average of 4.9 percent for every one degree Celsius rise in average temperature. Year-to-year variability of harvests is also expected to rise, as drought and flooding become more frequent. Crop yield losses will speed up throughout the century, with declines in yield beginning around 2030 and with the fastest drop happening in the second half of the century.
Lobell, an associate professor of Environmental Earth System Science and the associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford, reviewed over 1,700 published studies with a team of climate scientists from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. The team found that if farmers adapt to climate change within the next few years, they have a better chance of avoiding or even reversing the predicted decline of wheat and rice yields in some regions. Agricultural adaptation strategies like irrigating fields and developing new crop breeds could increase projected yields between 7 percent and 15 percent.
The new study also highlights the need for better data on the potential future impacts of other factors that affect crop yields, like the prevalence of pests and plant diseases, and the availability of water supply. A full version of the study can be found online at Nature Climate Change.
That makes some sense in relation to corn and wheat, neither of which react well to high temperatures.  I'm not really familiar with rice.  I personally would anticipate yields to remain relatively flat overall, as yield drags due to temperature rise cancels out yield improvements due to genetic improvement. However it works out, I anticipate that population increase combined with temperature rise leads to food scarcity.

Bumper Harvest Makes Lobster Less Rare In Restaurants

Lower cost leads restaurants to include more lobster in dishes.  Why more supply?:
It is rare dynamic in today's food world: Supply of lobster is plentiful and pushing down prices. This comes at a time when rising commodity costs are boosting the price of foods like beef and coffee. And much of the most popular seafood is being severely overfished. The supply of North Atlantic lobsters has steadily climbed for over a decade.
Supply is likely growing because of a combination of factors. Warming water in recent years may be boosting lobster population. Fishermen are following regulations that protect young and egg-bearing lobsters. And there has been a decline in recent decades of natural predators such as cod, which eat baby lobsters.
Lobster fishermen groups in the U.S. and Canada, the main areas where lobster is caught for the American market, say retail prices have fallen. In the past two years, the average price that Maine fishermen are paid for whole live lobster has been under $3 per pound, down from a high of $4.63 in 2005, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Lobster prices can vary widely across the country. Many restaurants buy in bulk to lock in a good price.
"When you increase supply by 80% in five years," it is hard for prices to keep up when consumer spending is weak, says Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, which represent the state's fishermen.
When Golden Corral and Quizno's are serving lobster items, it's gone pretty lowbrow.  Wait'll we get McTails.  I've only eaten lobster twice.  Once in a lobster roll in Boston, and once as a whole boiled lobster at a company gathering.  It didn't do a whole lot for me.  I think I'd like any meat dipped in melted butter.  Hell, just give me a bacon cheeseburger instead.  But the lobster chips do sound pretty good.

Scientists Dismayed by Corn Rootworm Bt Resistance

They tell farmers, "I told you so:"
One of agricultural biotechnology’s great success stories may become a cautionary tale of how short-sighted mismanagement can squander the benefits of genetic modification.
After years of predicting it would happen — and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators — scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn.
Until Bt corn was genetically altered to be poisonous to the pests, rootworms used to cause billions of dollars in damage to U.S. crops. Named for the pesticidal toxin-producing Bacillus thuringiensis gene it contains, Bt corn now accounts for three-quarters of the U.S. corn crop. The vulnerability of this corn could be disastrous for farmers and the environment.
“Unless management practices change, it’s only going to get worse,” said Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State University entomologist and co-author of a March 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study describing rootworm resistance. “There needs to be a fundamental change in how the technology is used.”
First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.
By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance werewarning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge.
Key to effective management, said the scientists, were refuges set aside and planted with non-Bt corn. Within these fields, rootworms would remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. By mating with any Bt-resistant worms that chanced to evolve in neighboring fields, they’d prevent resistance from building up in the gene pool.
But the scientists’ own recommendations — an advisory panel convened in 2002 by the EPA suggested that a full 50 percent of each corn farmer’s fields be devoted to these non-Bt refuges — were resisted by seed companies and eventually the EPA itself, which set voluntary refuge guidelines at between 5 and 20 percent. Many farmers didn’t even follow those recommendations......
There’s a lesson to be learned for future crop traits, Shields said. Rootworm resistance was expected from the outset, but the Bt seed industry, seeking to maximize short-term profits, ignored outside scientists. The next pest-fighting trait “will fall under the same pressure,” said Shields, “and the insect will win. Always bet on the insect if there is not a smart deployment of the trait.”
The kicker is that many of the expensive triple-stack and smart-stack hybrids have a hard time outperforming cheaper hybrids without the multiple traits.  When it comes to misusing products in a way that will engender resistance in targeted plants and animals, I don't think we can underestimate the foolishness of farmers (see Roundup resistant weeds).  I heard a farmer express complete shock last year about the Roundup-resistant pigweed (and marestail, and giant ragweed).  Hoocoodanode?  Maybe the weed scientist at Ohio State who had been warning farmers about weeds developing resistance for about a decade.  I remember the same farmer complaining about that scientist searching all over Ohio in order to find 3 or 4 plants that were Roundup-resistant.  He didn't seem to understand that if this guy could find Roundup-resistant weeds anywhere they would soon be everywhere, because they were going to continue to mutate, reproduce and spread.  And he's one of the more forward-thinking farmers I know.  I heard a number of farmers say that no weeds would be Roundup-resistant, because Roundup killed everything.

As far as the refuge goes, I was really tempted to go to a 50% or higher refuge, not so much because of the scientists' recommendations, but because the seed was $30 to $50 cheaper per bag, and seemed to out-yield the triple-stack seed.  I saw the Bt corn mixed in somewhat randomly in the field as a game of Russian Roulette for the insects, and they were eventually going to lose.  However, I didn't end up doing it, mainly because, like all the other farmers, I feared having a massive influx of insects decimate my field which was less-protected than my neighbor's field.  So you can put me in with the other foolish farmers in the "who's to blame" category.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Food Prices Jump on Drought Damage


Federal forecasters estimate retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5% this year, the biggest annual increase in three years, as drought in parts of the U.S. and other producing regions drives up prices for many agricultural goods. The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday reported that food prices gained 0.4% in February from the previous month, the biggest increase since September 2011, as prices rose for meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs.
Globally, food inflation has been tame, but economists are watching for any signs of tighter supplies of key commodities such as wheat and rice that could push prices higher.
In the U.S., much of the rise in the food cost comes from higher meat and dairy prices, due in part to tight cattle supplies after years of drought in states such as Texas and California and rising milk demand from fast-growing Asian countries. But prices also are higher for fruits, vegetables, sugar and beverages, according to government data. In futures markets, coffee prices have soared so far this year more than 70%, hogs are up 42% on disease concerns and cocoa has climbed 12% on rising demand, particularly from emerging markets.
 Drought in Brazil, the world's largest producer of coffee, sugar and oranges, has increased coffee prices, while dry weather in Southeast Asia has boosted prices for cooking oils such as palm oil.
One more squeeze on household budgets.  Things may get really interesting if things don't improve in California.

Gravitational Waves and the Big Bang

I'm glad these guys are explaining it, because I sure as hell can't:

Fire on MH370?

Zaharie Ahmad Shah1 was a very experienced senior captain with 18,000 hours of flight time. We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They’re always in our head. Always. If something happens, you don’t want to be thinking about what are you going to do–you already know what you are going to do. When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer.
Take a look at this airport on Google Earth. The pilot did all the right things. He was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make an immediate turn to the closest, safest airport.
For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire. And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations....
What I think happened is the flight crew was overcome by smoke and the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. You will find it along that route–looking elsewhere is pointless.
Makes much more sense than somebody stealing the airplane and secretly landing it somewhere.

First Four Predictions

Since these games tip-off tonight, I better get my predictions in right now.  I'll take Mount St. Mary's, Xavier, Cal Poly and Iowa.

Update: 0-1 so far.  

Hot and Cold

While it has been colder here in the midwest this winter than it has been in recent winters, that's not the case the closer you get to the coasts:

This winter has been a tale of two Americas: The Midwest is just beginning to thaw out from a battery of epic cold snaps, while Californians might feel that they pretty much skipped winter altogether. In fact, new NOAA data reveal that California's winter (December through February) was the warmest in the 119-year record, 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.
The map above ranks every state's winter temperature average relative to its own historical record low (in other words, relative to itself and not to other states). Low numbers indicate that the state was unusually cold; higher numbers mean it was exceptionally warm. As you can see, the Midwest was much colder than average, while the West was hotter than average (despite a season-long kerfluffle about polar vortexes, the East Coast wasn't exceptionally cold, after all).
As we've reported, there's currently a scientific debate over whether climate change in the Arcitc is making the jet stream "drunk," and thereby increasing the likelihood of extreme cold spells; the exact role of climate change in California's record heat is still unclear.
That doesn't stop people around here from claiming every day below freezing as proof that climate change is a hoax.  People are stupid.

How High's The Water?

Charlotte News & ObserverGo:
There’s not much dispute these days, up and down the coast, about whether the ocean is rising. The question is: How high will it go here, and how fast?
North Carolinians must wait until 2016 for an official answer. That’s the law.
After promoters of coastal development attacked a science panel’s prediction that the sea would rise 39 inches higher in North Carolina by the end of this century, the General Assembly passed a law in 2012 to put a four-year moratorium on any state rules, plans or policies based on expected changes in the sea level. The law sets guidelines under which the Coastal Resources Commission, a development policy board for the 20 coastal counties, will formulate a new sea-level prediction to serve as the official basis for state planners and regulators.
The backlash fomented by a conservative coastal group called NC-20 prompted commission members in 2011, most of them Democratic appointees, to reject the 39-inch prediction from the panel of engineers and geologists, including Riggs, that has counseled the commission since the 1990s. A new documentary film, “ Shored Up,” shows anguished commission members imploring their science advisers to somehow “soften” the high-water warning.
Now the 13-member Coastal Resources Commission has a new chairman and eight more new members appointed last year by Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory. The 2012 law says the commission must receive a new draft sea-level prediction from its science panel by March 2015, but the new commission has not asked the science panel to start work.
Frank Gorham III of New Hanover County, whose business is drilling for oil and gas in Texas and New Mexico, contributed $8,000 to McCrory’s 2012 campaign. McCrory appointed him chairman of the Coastal Resources Commission in 2013.......Citing trends that show a fairly steady but slow increase in sea levels over the past century, the NC-20 group favors a forecast of only 8 inches of sea-level rise by 2100.

Read more here:
How about promising that government-backed insurance will not protect development in case of damage from storms or sea-water rise?  Let the free market determine how confident they are in GOP-determined climate science.  I know how confident I would be.  If you give me the over-under on 8 inches, I'll take the over.
Read more here:

Frank Gorham III of New Hanover County, whose business is drilling for oil and gas in Texas and New Mexico, contributed $8,000 to McCrory’s 2012 campaign. McCrory appointed him chairman of the Coastal Resources Commission in 2013.

Read more here:
Read more here:

The Tennessee Whiskey War


On the one side is Brown-Forman Corp., maker of the top-selling American whiskey, Jack Daniel's.
At the company's urging, Tennessee passed legislation last year requiring anything labeled "Tennessee Whiskey'' not just to be made in the state, but also to be made from at least 51% corn, filtered through maple charcoal and aged in new, charred oak barrels.
As it happens, that is the recipe for Jack Daniel's, which traces its Tennessee roots back more than a century and today sells more than 90% of the state's whiskey.
On the other side of this feud is U.K.-based Diageo PLC, the world's largest liquor company and owner of George Dickel, the distant No. 2 Tennessee Whiskey. It is lobbying Tennessee lawmakers to relax the rules so area distillers don't have to copy Jack Daniel's.
Some small craft distillers in Tennessee also say they want to be free to experiment and complain new wood barrels are in short supply amid growing thirst for American whiskey here and abroad.
Legislators in Nashville plan to debate axing some of the rules Tuesday in House and Senate committees ahead of possible floor votes.
Proposed amendments include rolling back the requirements on new barrels and maple charcoal filtering.Brown-Forman—which is based in Kentucky—is casting the debate in near-apocalyptic terms, saying in a news release Friday that Tennessee Whiskey was "under attack
."It accused Diageo of trying to undermine the designation by watering down regulations that would "dramatically diminish the quality and integrity'' of Tennessee Whiskey and make it inferior to bourbon.
Bourbon, the most famous type of American whiskey, is made with a recipe similar to Jack Daniel's. Under longstanding federal regulations, any whiskey labeled "bourbon'' must be distilled in the U.S. using at least 51% corn and aged in new oak barrels that have been charred. Unlike Tennessee Whiskey, bourbon doesn't require maple charcoal filtering. It can also be made in any state, although more than 90% of bourbon is produced in Kentucky.
There is no federal regulation governing the term "Tennessee Whiskey.''
According to Wikipedia, NAFTA regulations define Tennessee whiskey as straight bourbon whiskey produced in Tennessee.  That would make Diageo's case a little more difficult.

Whatever the case, I'm sure this, like most other subjects, is well beyond the comprehension of the Tennessee legislature.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Imperial Valley Farmers Have Plentiful Water

Even though California is mired in a record-setting drought, Imperial Valley farmers find themselves with plenty of water, unlike farmers in the Central Valley. Why? Senior water rights:
While other areas — including the farm belt of the Central Valley — face immediate supply cutbacks, the Imperial Valley continues to have all the water it can use.
The valley is not connected to the State Water Project, which delivers water from Northern California. Its water comes directly from the Colorado River, which has continued allocations.
The valley's share is ensured by agreements among the seven states that depend on the river, starting with the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
In water law, one rule is supreme: "First in time, first in right."
As a result, Imperial County, with a population of 175,000, gets 3.1 million acre-feet of water a year. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, serving 19 million people, gets about 1.1 million acre-feet.
More than a century ago, the pioneer farmers of the Imperial Valley — many of them immigrants from Asia and Europe attracted by cheap land — braved blistering summer temperatures and barren ground. Through grit and ingenuity, they pulled water from the Colorado River years before the thirsty communities of coastal California looked eastward.
The drought is largely a rumor here, but one with ominous overtones: that outside forces with political clout might try to force the valley to sell some of its water, as was done a decade ago, or even try to take a portion.
It is often said that war is God's way of teaching Americans geography. I sort of feel like a drought or flood is God's way of teaching us about our water infrastructure. I've learned more in the last two mounths about agricultural regions of California, and the irrigation systems that supply them, then I had in my entire life before now. It would be nice to learn more about it without the drought pressing down on people out there.

Sir Trevelyan of Janesville

Timothy Egan considers Paul Ryan's knowledge of his family's history for St. Patrick's Day:
IN advance of St. Patrick’s Day, I went time traveling, back to the 1840s and Ireland’s great famine. On one side of the Irish Sea was Victorian England, flush with the pomp and prosperity of the world’s mightiest empire. On the other side were skeletal people, dying en masse, the hollow-bellied children scrounging for nettles and blackberries.
A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a “culture of dependency”? Certainly England’s man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. “Dependence on charity,” he declared, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”
And there I ran into Paul Ryan. His great-great-grandfather had fled to America. But the Republican congressman was very much in evidence, wagging his finger at the famished. His oft-stated “culture of dependency” is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock. But it was also England’s excuse for lethal negligence.....
Ryan’s running mate in 2012, Mitt Romney, made the Tory case with his infamous remark that 47 percent of Americans are moochers, “dependent upon government.” Part of that dependence, he said, extended to people “who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” Food — the gall!
You can’t make these kinds of heartless remarks unless you think the poor deserve their fate — that they have a character flaw, born of public assistance. And there hovers another awful haunt of Irish history. In 2012, Ryan said that the network of programs for the American poor made people not want to work.
On Wednesday, he went further, using the language of racial coding. This, after he told a story of a boy who didn’t want his free school lunch because it left him with “a full stomach and an empty soul.” The story was garbage — almost completely untrue.
“We have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” In other words, these people are bred poor and lazy.
Where have I heard that before? Ah, yes — 19th-century England. The Irish national character, Trevelyan confided to a fellow aristocrat, was “defective.” The hungry millions were “a selfish, perverse, and turbulent” people, said the man in charge of relieving their plight.
Egan qualifies his criticism, but the point is clear enough.  I know Ryan can empathize with folks.  He's made clear that he really feels the pain of rich people who are required to pay taxes on their wealth, but he's shown almost no ability to empathize with people who have been considered a worthless race, just as his forebears were considered by the wealthy English.  Sir Trevelyan, indeed:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day


The Antennae Galaxies in Collision
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA; Processing & Copyright: Davide Coverta
Explanation: Two galaxies are squaring off in Corvus and here are the latest pictures. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not. That's because galaxies are mostly empty space and, however bright, stars only take up only a small amount of that space. During the slow, hundred million year collision, one galaxy can still rip the other apart gravitationally, and dust and gas common to both galaxies does collide. In this clash of the titans, dark dust pillars mark massive molecular clouds are being compressed during the galactic encounter, causing the rapid birth of millions of stars, some of which are gravitationally bound together in massive star clusters.

Paris Doing It's Best Beijing Impersonation

A view of the Eiffel Tower seen through thick smog, on March 14, 2014, in Paris
Photo by Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Air pollution that has turned the skies over Paris a murky yellow and shrouded much of Belgium for days forced drivers to slow down Friday and gave millions a free ride on public transportation.
The belt of smog stretched for hundreds of miles, from France's Atlantic coast to Belgium and well into Germany. It was the worst air pollution France has seen since 2007, the European Environment Agency said.
Nearly all of France was under some sort of pollution alert Friday, with levels in the Parisian region surpassing some of those in the world's most notoriously polluted cities, including Beijing and Delhi.
To combat the smog, public transit around Paris and in two other cities was free Friday through Sunday. Elsewhere in France and in Belgium's southern Wallonia area, the free ride was only for Friday.
The smog is particularly severe here because France has an unusually high number of diesel vehicles, whose nitrogen oxide fumes mix with ammonia from springtime fertilizers and form particulate ammonium nitrate. Pollutants from the burning of dead leaves and wood contribute as well.
Diesel fumes and ammonia fertilizer making ammonium nitrate?  Never heard of that.

PEDv Drives Up Pork Prices

Des Moines Register:

Prices for ribs, chops, hams and other pork products in the grocery store are expected to climb as much as 15 percent this summer as supplies are slashed by a new swine virus that’s sweeping the country.
That’s tough news for consumers, also facing rapidly rising prices for beef. Shrinking hog supplies also could cause reduced hours at some meat processing plants across Iowa and the country. The disease hits just as pork producers are recovering from high corn prices.
The situation is critical for Iowa, the nation’s largest producer of pigs. Iowa producers generate about $7 billion in sales and employ about 39,000 workers caring for the state’s 20.5 million animals.
So far, producers in 26 states have reported infected herds with the highly contagious porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, known as PEDv. The virus is fatal to piglets. In less than a year, losses are estimated at 5 million.
“It’s going to have a profound impact on supplies this summer,” said Steve Meyer, an analyst at Paragon Economics in Adel. “Prices are going to get significantly higher.”
The virus poses no threat to other animals or humans. And pork products remain safe for consumers, officials say.
That's more bad news for consumers, as beef prices have risen sharply in the last year.  Overall, that's a pretty sizable price increase on my bacon cheeseburger, which is my favorite food in the world.


Where would one hide a Boeing 777?  And why would one hide it?

I assumed from the start that it crashed, and never really considered terrorism, especially since there weren't any claims of hijacking or ransom demands.  Now authorities are thinking it may have flown to somewhere in Central Asia and possibly landed safely.  Why would somebody do that and keep it a big secret? Are they the weirdest terrorists ever?

On a separate note, is NSA holding back information, or do they have no fucking clue where a jetliner full of people went?  If that is the case, I'm not exactly impressed with their ability to do anything with the massive amount of data they are collecting every day.  It would seem to be a lot easier to track all the commercial air flights in the world than it would be to collect data on every phone call placed in the world.

Anyway, I'll still wager that the plane crashed in the ocean somewhere.

Chesapeake Energy's Big Royalty Gouge

Boiled down to basics, they worked like this: When energy companies lease land above the shale rock that contains natural gas, they typically agree to pay the owner the market price for any gas they find, minus certain expenses.
Federal rules limit the tolls that can be charged on inter-state pipelines to prevent gouging. But drilling companies like Chesapeake can levy any fees they want for moving gas through local pipelines, known in the industry as gathering lines, that link backwoods wells to the nation’s interstate pipelines. Property owners have no alternative but to pay up. There’s no other practical way to transport natural gas to market.
Chesapeake took full advantage of this. In a series of deals, it sold off the network of local pipelines it had built in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas and the Midwest to a newly formed company that had evolved out of Chesapeake itself, raising $4.76 billion in cash.
In exchange, Chesapeake promised the new company, Access Midstream, that it would send much of the gas it discovered for at least the next decade through those pipes. Chesapeake pledged to pay Access enough in fees to repay the $5 billion plus a 15 percent return on its pipelines.
That much profit was possible only if Access charged Chesapeake significantly more for its services. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened: While the precise details of Access’ pricing remains private, immediately after the transactions Access reported to the SEC that it collected more money to move each unit of gas, while Chesapeake reports that it also paid more to have that gas moved. Access said that gathering fees are its predominant source of income, and that Chesapeake accounts for 84 percent of the company’s business.
What’s more, SEC documents show, Chesapeake retained a stake in the gathering process. While Chesapeake collected fees from landowners like Drake to cover the costs of what it paid Access to move the gas, Access in turn paid Chesapeake for equipment it used to complete that process, circulating at least a portion of the money back to Chesapeake.
Oil and gas companies like Chesapeake make a good living screwing over small landowners.  The industry seriously needs reined in, but the own the Republican party, and it doesn't cost much to buy the Democrats, either.

West Texas Wall of Dust

Claims Journal (via nc links):
A wall of dust as tall as 1,000 feet and 200 miles wide that roared across parts of West Texas and New Mexico is yet another sign of how rain-starved the region is.
National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Aldrich in Lubbock said Wednesday that the dust that lifted into the air on Tuesday evening came ahead of a fast-moving cold front that reached the city, already more than 1.5 inches behind on precipitation this year as drought lingers.
Most of the .17 inches of moisture that Lubbock’s gotten this year has been from snow and freezing precipitation.
Wind gusts Tuesday evening reached 50 mph and it took about 30 minutes for the leading wall of dust to move from the north end of Lubbock County to its southern border. Dust hung in the air afterward for hours and the strong winds persisted.
Visibility was reduced to about a mile in Lubbock. Northwest of Lubbock in Muleshoe and Friona the visibility was zero, Aldrich said.
Aldrich says the dust storm began in Amarillo and the wall of fine soil particles extended west into New Mexico and east to near Post, about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock. The front began in Kansas, and once it reached the parched Panhandle around Amarillo, the dust began to get kicked up.
That's not good.