Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Reads

A few stories you can read on this extended holiday weekend:

The Case for Reparations - Ta-Nehisi Coates.  In case you hear somebody say something ridiculous like that black people are advantaged because of affirmative action.

Science Standards Divide a State Built on Oil and Coal - New York Times

The Dos Equis Guy Has Nothing on the Inventor of the Banana Slicer - Slate

Gaius Publius: "Erring on the Side of Least Drama" - Why Climate Scientists are Inherently Conservative - naked capitalism.  Uh oh.

California's Drought Isn't Making Food Cost More.  Here's Why - NPR.  Irrigation.  A real race to the bottom.

They're Here: Lake Flies Have Emerged - Wired. Gross.

Nazi pork and popularity: How Hitler's roads won German hearts and minds - VoxEU.  Infrastructure investment leads to the Holocaust?

'Pink Slime' Makes Comeback as Beef Prices Spike - Wall Street Journal.  Ok in my book.  See also, 5 food additives more disgusting than 'pink slime' - Marketwatch. Google Castoreum.

This Happened Twice Before, and Each Time Stocks Crashed - Wolf Richter.  The chart is disconcerting.

A libertarian utopia - Aeon.  Isn't libertarian society an oxymoronic concept?

The Effluent Society - Texas Monthly. I was well into the civil engineering program in college before I realized that city water wasn't recycled waste water.  I still drank city water, and I assumed that's why they added the chlorine.  As far as I was concerned (and it is true), well water on the farm was recycled waste water (well-diluted), since the leach field lets it percolate down to the aquifer.  Recycled waste water, meeting SDWA requirements, doesn't bother me a bit.

Everything is broken - Medium. "It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire.
Computers, and computing, are broken." Yikes.

Rogue Element - The New Yorker. Crazy

I didn't realize that for more than two years I've been in the older half of the country's population:


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Largest Man-Made Structures

Via Ritholtz:

The Newest Addition

I had a really rough year calving so far.  I lost three calves during the coldest week of the year, then I lost one a few weeks ago.  I finally have a little heifer on the ground:

Hopefully I haven't jinxed her by posting this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Portrait of my grandfather: 80 and still cycling

Portrait of my grandfather : 80 and still cycling from Florent Piovesan on Vimeo.

How High's The Water?

My county got pummeled with rain tonight.  I got 1.9" while dad got 3.5" about three-and-a-half miles away.  In town they are reporting five inches with a lot of flooding. The interstate is a parking lot in front of my house.  Thank God I'm not stuck in that traffic jam.

If you want to know how global warming will affect agriculture, one way will be soil erosion.  Anyway, here's a song for you:

At least it wasn't this bad:

Not A Slow, Soaking Rain

About a half-hour ago:

Sprawl Kills

Pedestrian deaths in the United States are at a five-year high, and if you’re among the few people who walks around Orlando, you’re more likely to be killed by a car than anyone else in the nation. You can thank 60 years of auto-centric planning and transportation policies for that.
Things aren’t much better elsewhere in the southeast or southwest, two regions that account for the majority of the 20 most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians. All of them boomed after World War II, an era when urban design and transit planning favored the almighty automobile above walking, cycling and mass transit.
That’s the key takeaway from “Dangerous By Design,” a sobering report by the National Complete Streets Coalition, an arm of Smart Growth America. The report outlines the riskiest cities for pedestrians and argues–at a time when Congress is debating a transportation funding bill–that state and federal legislators and regulators must do more to make our streets safer for all who use them.
The report notes that 45,284 pedestrians were killed between 2003 and 2012 (the latest year for which data were available). The numbers have spiked in the past few years, from just over 4,200 deaths in 2007 to nearly 5,000 in 2012, and the researchers behind it are at a loss to explain why. But they make no bones about arguing pedestrians and cyclists would be safer on “complete streets”—those that include crosswalks and dedicated bike and bus lanes to slow traffic and increase safety.
The common link is among cities in the Sunbelt, which grew rapidly after World War II, when transit design abetted suburban sprawl and focused primarily on drivers.
There, low-density neighborhoods “rely on wider streets with higher speeds to connect homes, shops, and schools—roads that tend to be more dangerous for people walking,” the report says. More than half of all pedestrian deaths recorded from 2003-2012 occurred on wide arterial roads designed to move cars quickly.
The safest cities, according to the study, tend to be older ones, particularly in the northeast, that developed long before the car became the dominant form of transport.
Sprawl makes pedestrians more rare, which leads folks to forget they might be present.  God forbid you try to cross a multi-lane arterial street without a light.  One other thing to note is that Florida has the four cities with the highest danger index.  I think more older drivers may contribute to a higher fatality rate for pedestrians.  I am surprised Cincinnati or Dayton don't appear, as they are largely sprawling metro areas.  However, winter may limit the amount of pedestrian activity here when compared to the Sunbelt.

Shale Bubble?

This story makes me think so:
Mark Hiduke just raised $100 million to build his three-week-old company. This 27-year-old isn’t a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur. He’s a Texas oilman.
The oil and gas industry is suddenly brimming with upstart millennials like Hiduke after decades of failing to attract and retain new entrants. Now that a breakthrough in drilling technology has U.S. oil and gas production surging, an aging workforce is welcoming a new generation of wildcatters, landmen, engineers, investors, entrepreneurs and aspiring oil barons.
“I’ve never seen an industry do what the oil and gas industry has done in the last 10 years,” T. Boone Pickens, the 85-year-old billionaire oilman, said in an April 25 phone interview from his Dallas office. “Ten years ago I could not have made this statement that you have picked the right career.”
Hiduke’s company, Dallas-based PetroCore LLC, received the $100 million commitment from a local private-equity firm in May. He and his three partners plan to buy underdeveloped land and drill shale wells, he said. They’ll draw on the expertise of their engineer, who, at 57, is old enough to be his father.
The shale boom has “created a lot of opportunity for young professionals to jump in and be given enormous responsibility,” Hiduke said by telephone May 6. “It’s pretty much tech and then energy.”
As oil and gas producers change their focus from grabbing land to drilling, young entrepreneurs are forming companies to trade everything from minerals to leases and wells to equities. They’re competing against, and sometimes collaborating with, industry veterans twice their age.
“These guys are going to be the poster children of self-made oil and gas tycoons,” Nathen McEown, a 33-year-old accountant at Whitley Penn LLP in Dallas who organizes networking dinners, said in an e-mail April 1. “Or they could be the poster children of how too much money is chasing deals.”
I'd wager on the latter.  Anytime you see stories like this, people are going to end up taking a bath.  I just know it won't be me.  This story from a few weeks ago strengthens my feeling that the story above is a contrary indicator.  Bloomberg also highlights this as a shale bubble story.  Or maybe it should be referred to as a greater fool story.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rodents on Turntables

I'm not sure why they are doing this, but it made me laugh:

Rodents on Turntables - @LiveNation from Division of Labor on Vimeo.

The video reminds me of the Cincinnati Archdiocese rat-spinning controversy.

The Mushroom Capital of the United States

Kennett Square, Pennsylvania:
The countryside around Kennett Square in Pennsylvania’s semi-rural Chester County is well-known for its thoroughbred horse farms, its rambling estates where scions of industry and retail still ride to the hounds and its fresh-vegetable producers who supply local farm-to-table restaurants in Philadelphia and Wilmington, just across the state line in Delaware.
But a grittier agricultural industry dominates the region: mushrooms. Kennett Square is king of fresh, commercially-grown mushrooms. Not only is mushroom farming the leading agricultural pursuit in Chester County, the area is also the largest producer of fresh mushrooms in the United States.
Chester County’s 61 mushroom farms account for 47 percent of total U.S. mushroom production, according to Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Development Council. This means over 400 million pounds of mushrooms valued at $365 million, with an overall contribution to the local economy of an estimated $2.7 billion. The industry directly employs almost 10,000 workers, mostly from the area’s large Hispanic community.
The landscape surrounding the region is dotted with single-level cinderblock buildings — variously called mushroom “barns,” “houses” and “doubles” — where the mushrooms are grown. The roads themselves hold a vehicular menagerie — flatbed trucks carrying baled hay for compost coming from as far away as the Midwest, dump trucks carting steaming compost to and from the barns and, of course, panel-bodied trucks racing to deliver just-picked mushrooms to nearby processing facilities. And when all that compost is being turned and is particularly ripe, winds carry that particular, rank aroma that says, “You’re in mushroom country.”
The bulk of the mushrooms produced in the area are in the Agaricus family – the ubiquitous white and brown buttons plus the large portobellos that have become popular grilled-steak substitutes of late. The region also produces what are called “specialties” or “exotics” – shiitakes, oysters, maitakes, beeches, enokis and pom poms. (Unfortunately, wild porcinis and morels have never been tamed.)
It surprises me that nobody has been able to domesticate morel mushrooms.  They are selling in the local grocery for $50 a pound.  Every time I think of mushroom farms I think of Travis Tritt's song, "Lord Have Mercy On the Working Man."

Will Insurance Companies Drive Climate Change Policy?

Last month, Farmers Insurance Co. filed nine class-action lawsuits arguing that local governments in the Chicago area are aware that climate change is leading to heavier rainfall but are failing to prepare accordingly. The suits allege that the localities did not do enough to prepare sewers and stormwater drains in the area during a two-day downpour last April. In what could foreshadow a legal reckoning of who is liable for the costs of climate change, the class actions against nearly 200 Chicago-area communities look to place responsibility on municipalities, perhaps spurring them to take a more forward-looking approach in designing and engineering for a future made different by climate change.
“Farmers is asking to be reimbursed for the claims it paid to homeowners who sometimes saw geysers of sewage ruin basement walls, floors and furniture,”reported E&E News. “The company says it also paid policyholders for lost income, the cost of evacuations and other damages related to declining property values.”
Andrew Logan, an insurance expert with Ceres, told E&E News that there is likely a longer-term agenda in mind with this latest effort, and that the company “could be positioning itself to avoid future losses nationwide from claims linked to floods, sea-level rise and even lawsuits against its corporate policyholders that emit greenhouse gases.”
While these suits are the first of their kind, Micahel Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York, told Reuters that there will be more cases like them attempting to address how city and local governments should manage budgets to prepare for natural disasters that have been intensified by climate change.
“No one is expected to plan for the 500-year storm, but if horrible events are happening with increasing frequency, that may shift the duties,” he said.
Insurance companies are becoming increasingly concerned, and more vocal, about the rising costs of climate change. With large fossil fuel companies reluctant to take greenhouse gas mitigation efforts in the face of potential profit losses, the behemoth insurance industry could provide a counterbalance to the energy industry when it comes to incentivizing near-term emissions cuts, or at least adaptation to the effects of climate change.
Failure to adapt infrastructure is going to cost somebody money, and nobody hates spending money more than those insurance scumbags.  It looks like insurance companies are going to push for the public sector to increase spending to ensure they won't be on the hook for massively increased payouts.  This ought to be entertaining.  I think I'd become even more conservative in my storm sewer designs if I were still in the civil engineering field.

Land Prices Remain Flat

From the Chicago Fed:
Agricultural land values in the Seventh Federal Reserve District were still higher than a year ago during the first quarter of 2014, but by just 1 percent. In contrast, “good” farmland values depreciated 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 relative to the fourth quarter of 2013. Moreover, cash rental rates for District agricultural land were down 2 percent for 2014 compared with 2013. Based on the survey responses of 214 District agricultural bankers, these results highlighted the variation in farmland values due to the localization of farmland markets; increases in farmland values in some areas contrasted with decreases in others. Demand to purchase agricultural land was weaker in the three- to six-month period ending with March 2014 compared with the same period ending with March 2013, yet there were pockets where farmers remained keen to purchase additional land. The number of farms sold, the amount of acreage sold, and the amount of farmland for sale were down during the most recent winter and early spring compared with the previous winter and early spring. Almost three-quarters of responding bankers expected farmland values to be stable during the second quarter of 2014, but there was growing sentiment among them that agricultural land values would be headed downward.
The top is in.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sinkhole Opens Under College Football Stadium

Sorry, not at the Swamp.  First it was the Corvette museum.  Now it's Austin Peay's football stadium.  Damn geology.

We Are Dead Stars

Obamacare Fight May Be Near an End

Indiana is expanding Medicaid in an experimental program:
For the first time since Obamacare split the country in two, the conditions for a cease-fire have begun to appear.
An architect of this detente — although he denies any such intent — is Mike Pence, who as a conservative Republican congressman in 2010 fought bitterly against the law and who as governor of Indiana refused to implement it.
But Pence, after intensive negotiations with the Obama administration, just announced his intent to take the money Obamacare provides for Medicaid expansion and to use it on his own terms to broaden health-care coverage for the working poor.
For Pence, a happy warrior for conservatism and a possible 2016 presidential contender, the reason is pragmatic: If he could get money under an Obamacare waiver to enlarge a market-driven health-care program in his state, there would be no point in cutting off his nose to spite his face.
“When it comes to the issue of health care, I believe that people in my party need to be solutions conservatives, offering real alternatives to the big-government answers,” he lectured Monday at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank, on a visit to Washington. Conservatives, he said, “need to ensure that the safety net is well-designed and strong enough to provide a firm basis for those starting out on life’s ladder.”
 Sure, the program that will be implemented will be a giveaway to for-profit insurance companies and will be more expensive than just expanding Medicaid straight-up, but when an idiot like Mike Pence realizes that it is stupid to fuck over his own citizens AND the hospitals in his state, you know the reflexive opposition is almost dead.  As Indiana goes, so go the other morons.

Supercell Time-lapse

That is wild.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

May 14:

Live streaming video by Ustream

A Live View from the International Space Station
Credit: NASA, UStream, HDEV Project
Explanation: If you were floating above the Earth right now, this is what you might see. Two weeks ago, the robotic SpaceX Dragon capsule that delivered supplies to the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS) also delivered High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) cameras that take and transmit live views of Earth. Pictured above, when working, is the live video feed that switches between four cameras, each pointed differently. Watch white clouds, tan land, and blue oceans drift by. The above video will appear black when it is nighttime on the Earth below, but the space station's rapid 90-minute orbit compresses this dark time into only 45 minutes. The present location of the ISS above the Earth can be found on the web. If the video appears gray, this indicates that the view is either being switched between cameras, or communications with the ISS is temporarily unavailable. As the HDEV project continues, video quality will be monitored to assess the effects of high energy radiation, which types of cameras work best, and which Earth views are the most popular. Although this feed will eventually be terminated, lessons learned will enable better cameras to be deployed to the ISS in the future, likely returning even more interesting live feeds.