Saturday, January 3, 2015

First Weekend of 2015 Links

Well, it's a fresh, new year, but we seem to have the same stale politics.  Here are some stories for your enjoyment:

No More Bouts, but the Fight Goes On - Wall Street Journal

The Weirdness of the NHL's First Modern Outdoor Game - Deadspin.  An exhibition game in Vegas in September, 1991.

As Bourbon Booms, Demand For Barrels Is Overflowing - NPR

America's Top 100 Land Owners 2014 - Modern Farmer.  I missed making the list again this year.  Maybe 2015.

High-Tech Tools Help Irish Dairy Farmers Produce More Milk - Morning Edition.

Harvesting Crop Insurance Profits - WSJ Opinion. A proposal to tweak the crop insurance program to limit windfall payouts (h/t Big Picture Agriculture).

A Beautiful Salt Refinery That Looks Like Another Planet - Wired.  But see, National shame: 'A living hell' for slaves on remote South Korean islands. Salt field workers.

Falling Crude Prices Force Ethanol Makers to Take It on the Chin - Wall Street Journal

Our new pro-science pontiff: Pope Francis on climate change, evolution and the Big Bang - Wonkbook.  Also, see Pope Francis Has Declared War on Climate Deniers - The New Republic

The New Brand of Jesuit Universities - The Atlantic.  Notre Dame had a similar "what does it mean to be a Catholic University" discussion while I was there, but it was 85% Catholic students at the time.

The Man Who Invented Scotch Tape - Priceonomics

Say Goodbye To 'Made In China' - Bloomberg.  The sheer size of the Chinese steel industry is amazing.

Our New Politics of Torture - NY Review of Books.  On how Republicans have come to support torture.

The Steep Cost of America's High Incarceration Rate - WSJ Opinion (Two in one week. Crazy.)

What's Wrong With Georgia? - The Atlantic

Did Drought and Climate Change cause Middle Eastern states to collapse in 2014? - Juan Cole (Informed Comment)

Alaska's record-warm year in 2014 worries observers - LA Times

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Winter Classic

The NHL is weighing whether to delay the game to allow for better ice conditions:
A Winter Classic with sunglasses? With a halftime in the first period? Or delayed for a couple of hours on account of, well, gorgeous weather?
Those were among the options discussed Wednesday as the NHL faced the prospect of playing its showcase outdoor game on a bright, sunny New Year's Day in the nation's capital.
"Nobody wants to delay the game," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "So if there's any way we can avoid delaying the game, we're going to avoid delaying the game."
Faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Nationals Park for the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals. The forecast calls for lots of sun and few clouds -- and therefore lots of glare on the sheet of ice -- with a high temperature in the low 40s.
"It would be more of a player-safety issue," Daly said. "The glare, if you're having trouble picking up the puck, I think there'd be a concern."
The Capitals found that out during Wednesday's midday practice, when the ice was soft at one corner of the rink and the puck was sometimes hard to see. They tried various forms of eye black, a seemingly appropriate attire for an event taking place on a baseball field.
"It was pretty bad," defenseman Mike Green said. "Once you got on the ice and were skating around, it took about five or 10 minutes for guys to adjust, and it wasn't easy to see pucks on the ice. It should be tough on the goalies if that's the case tomorrow."
Defenseman Karl Alzner stood out by wearing a pair of ordinary sunglass. He said he'll wear them again Thursday if allowed -- a member of the league's hockey operations department confirmed to's Katie Strang they they will be -- because they made a world of difference.
"That actually might be the way to go," defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "If it comes to it, you might see a lot more guys wearing them.
Good luck to them.  Hockey in the States can use all the help it can get.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Peak Shale Oil Production in 2015?

Kurt Cobb considers potential surprises in the energy industry in the coming year:
The coming year is likely to be as full of surprises in the field of energy as 2014 was. We just don't know which surprises! I am not predicting that any of the following will happen, and they will be surprises to most people if they do. But, I think there is an outside chance that one or more will occur, and this would move markets and policy debates in unexpected directions. 
1. U.S. crude oil and natural gas production decline for the first time since 2008 and 2005, respectively. The colossal markdown in world oil prices has belatedly been followed by a slightly smaller, but nevertheless dramatic markdown in U.S. natural gas prices. The drop in prices has already resulted in announcements from U.S. drillers that they will curtail their drilling operations significantly next year.
But drilling that is already contracted for will likely go forward and wells waiting for completion will be completed. It can be costly to pull out of drilling contracts. And failing to complete already successful wells and bring them into production is downright foolish since the costs incurred in drilling the wells including future debt payments remain. In those circumstances, some revenue at lower prices is preferable to no revenue at all.
Having said all that, scaled-down drilling plans, when combined with what's left in drillers' immediate inventory both to drill and complete, may not be enough to overcome the prodigious production decline rates from existing wells in deep shale deposits of oil and gas which have provided almost all the recent growth in U.S. production. The decline rates are 60 to 91 over three years for tight oil plays and 74 to 88 percent over three years for shale natural gas plays.
If low prices continue for a second year, the cheers for "Saudi" America will disappear. It was never to be anyway. What America has left is high-cost oil and natural gas. And, even at high prices both were likely to peak and decline in the next 5 years. Now, low prices may bring peak production rates in the coming year for both U.S. oil and natural gas--peaks that may never be seen again.
This seems fairly likely to me.  I never expected oil prices to crater, but now that they have, it makes a lot of sense that drilling activity might decrease enough that the new production could be less than the decline rate of existing wells.  Once production peaks, it will be hard for drillers to make up that gap.  2015 will definitely be an interesting year in the shale plays.

Monday, December 29, 2014


IONIAN from Ryan Clarke on Vimeo.

Why Can't the World's Best Army Win Wars?

 Reality is a bitch

James Fallows has an excellent cover story in the January/February issue of The Atlantic on why the most expensive and technologically superior army in the world can't win the wars our politicians send it to fight.  You have to read the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:
At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.
Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once....
Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years......
Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.
Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.
There are a lot of things which contribute to our lack of success in the wars we fight: ignorance of other cultures, foolish civilian leadership, yes-man military brass, crooked contractors, an uninterested citizenry which is unwilling to sacrifice, but most significantly, stupid plans for post-war occupation and rebuilding.  The people who put forth the idea that we would be welcomed as liberators were either idiots or knaves.  We think we can convert others to our way-of-life at gunpoint, when we would never do the same if somebody else tried that here.  For some reason, we can't get through our fat heads that people whose family members are killed by our weapons are going to see us as occupiers, and we have neither the time, money or motivation to be British-style imperialists.  We've wasted 13 years and at least $1.5 trillion, and all we have to show for it is a few thousand dead Americans, a few dozen thousand dead Iraqis and Afghanis, and several failed states.  Even after all that, most of the American public won't even acknowledge that none of this was done to "protect our freedom."  We are idiots.  Anyway, read the article.  It is very good, but it understates how badly we've fucked things up since World War II.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day


Unusual Light Pillars over Latvia
Image Credit & Copyright: Aigar Truhin
Explanation: What's happening over that town? Close inspection shows these strange columns of light occur over bright lights, and so likely are light pillars that involve falling ice crystals reflecting back these lights. The above image and several similar images were taken with a standard digital camera in Sigulda, Latvia in late 2009. The reason why these pillars fan out at the top, however, remains a topic for speculation. The air was noted to be quite cold and indeed filled with small ice crystals, just the type known to create several awe-inspiring but well known sky phenomena such as light pillars, sun pillars, sun dogs, and moon halos. The cold and snowy winter occurring this year in parts of Earth's northern hemisphere is giving sky enthusiasts new and typically unexpected opportunities to see several of these unusual optical atmospheric phenomena for themselves.

Dick Cheney and Torture

David Bromwich has a fine essay linking American acceptance of police brutality with acceptance of torture.  It is well worth reading.  I found the description of Dick Cheney's role in pushing the U.S. to torture to be spot on:
The US national security state is the lengthened shadow of Dick Cheney. He made himself a master of the levers of government when he was secretary of defence under George H.W. Bush. His sense of rightful authority will have been confirmed by his regular participation in the continuity-of-government exercises: a yearly ritual enactment of the government’s response to a national catastrophe, begun in the Reagan years and put aside under Clinton, in which the lives of important members of the government and military were preserved at a fortress hideaway, and a design was worked up and executed for a post-constitutional order. An account of these exercises is given in James Mann’s excellent Rise of the Vulcans (2004); a curious detail is that Cheney and his associate Donald Rumsfeld stayed on as participants even when they held no government office.
After the real catastrophe of September 2001, Cheney succeeded in changing America’s idea of itself. He did it with a tireless diligence of manipulation behind the scenes, commonly issuing his orders from a bunker underneath the Naval Observatory in Washington. The element of fear in Cheney is strong: a fact that is often lost in descriptions of him as an undiluted malignity. His words and actions testify to a personal fear so marked that it could project and engender collective fear.
Cheney worked hard to eradicate from the minds of Americans the idea that there can be such a thing as a ‘suspect’. Due process of law rests on the acknowledged possibility that a suspect may be innocent; but, for Cheney, a person interrogated on suspicion of terrorism is a terrorist. To elaborate a view beyond that point, as he sees it, only involves government in a wasteful tangle of doubts. Cheney concedes from time to time that mistakes can happen; but the leading quality of the man is a perfect freedom from remorse. ‘I’d do it again in a minute,’ he said recently of the plan for the interrogation programme and the secret prisons which the office of the vice president vetted and approved.
Cheney is a coward of the first-order.  His demand that the CIA torture highlights his inability to deal with the very, very small chance that we might be subject to another terrorist attack.  He, amongst all the cowards and chickenhawks in the Bush administration, was ready to put other peoples' lives at risk to try to attain the unattainable: total security.  His resort to torture marks an all-time low amongst American statesmen.  All Americans in uniform are more likely to face torture if captured because of him.

Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Gathering of People Ever on Planet Earth