Saturday, May 2, 2015

An Appeal to Farmers' Vanity

From Shell:

However, that is the shittiest field of corn I've ever seen, and I've seen some shitty ones.

Kentucky Derby Weekend Links

The biggest horse race of the year, the biggest boxing match in a generation, if you need anything else to do, here are some stories to read (including some on the previously mentioned events):

Freddie Roach Is The Best Damned Trainer Alive - Los Angeles Magazine

Career Arc: Manny Pacquiao - Grantland

The Dodger: Floyd Mayweather and the Impunity of Genius - The Atlantic

Kentucky Derby: American Pharaoh betting odds, race outlook - SB Nation and Kentucky Derby 2015 odds: Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Materiality race outlook - SBNation.  I'll take Dortmund.

The king of soya focuses on a high-tech vision of farming - Financial Times

Bird Flu Outbreak Prompts State of Emergency in Iowa - Wall Street Journal

Washington State Is So Screwed - Mother Jones

What happened to America's black farmers? - Grist

End of an Error - Texas Observer

Hiking the 2,650-Mile Pacific Crest Trail - priceonomics

Why GE Ditched Finance - The New Yorker

The Billionaire, the Dealer and the $186 Million Rothko - Bloomberg.  I'm not very cultured.  I'd never heard of Rothko.

The Unpleasant Charisma of John Kasich - The Atlantic.  It's indicative of how I feel about the Republican presidential field that I see a guy I refused to vote for for governor as one of the better candidates.  A very low bar, indeed.

In Savannah: 24 Hours, 192 Horn Blasts - Wall Street Journal. Where I've attended church my whole life, sermons are often paused for "train breaks."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Alcohol and Drug Use by Job

Wonkblog, via a friend's facebook post:

Agriculture, in the top half on drinking, but not way up there.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Antarctica from Kalle Ljung on Vimeo.

Ferguson: An Extreme Example of Our Misplaced Economic Priorities

The Atlantic:
Outwardly, at least, the City of Ferguson would appear to occupy an enviable position. It is home to a Fortune 500 firm [Emerson Electric]. It has successfully revitalized a commercial corridor through its downtown. It hosts an office park filled with corporate tenants. Its coffers should be overflowing with tax dollars.
Instead, the cash-starved municipality relies on its cops and its courts to extract millions in fines and fees from its poorest residents, issuing thousands of citations each year. Those tickets plug a financial hole created by the ways in which the city, the county, and the state have chosen to apportion the costs of public services. A century or more of public-policy choices protect the wallets of largely white business and property owners and pass the bills along to disproportionately black renters and local residents. It's easy to see the drama of a fatal police shooting, but harder to understand the complexities of municipal finances that created many thousands of hostile encounters, one of which turned fatal.....How can all this be happening in a community that is home to a Fortune 500 company? Why is the city government filling out its budget with municipal court fines when Emerson Electric is doing $24 billion a year in business out of its headquarters on West Florissant Avenue?...
But Ferguson is extraordinarily constrained in its ability to pay for the services that its residents require. Municipal tax revenue is limited by the Missouri constitution. In 1980, Representative Mel Hancock—the founder of a group called the Taxpayer Survival Association—wrote an amendment that required any increase of local taxes, licenses, or fees to be approved by a citywide referendum, with very few exceptions. Along with gun-license fees, which are explicitly exempted from the provisions of the “Hancock Amendment,” municipal fines provide Missouri cities with one of the few sources of revenue they can expand without a referendum.
The Hancock Amendment, like similar laws in other states, radically constrains the possibilities of municipal governance. Unable to raise tax rates, many municipal governments have only one tool at their disposal: lowering them. They cannot raise money, but they can give it away.
Take Emerson Electric. On July 27, 2009, Emerson opened a brand-new $50 million flagship data center on its Ferguson campus. Subsequent press reports about the data center were filled with numbers: 100 dignitaries at the ribbon cutting, including Missouri Governor Jay Nixon; 35,000 square feet; 550 solar panels; $100,000 in annual energy savings for the company; ability to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. They noted how many people Emerson employed globally, nationally, and in the St. Louis metropolitan area, although the number of people who might eventually be employed in the new data center itself was hard to find.
In fact, a state-of-the art data center might eventually employ about two dozen people, none of whom were guaranteed to live in (or anywhere near) Ferguson...
In 2014, the assessed valuation of real and personal property on Emerson’s entire 152-acre, seven-building campus was roughly $15 million. That value has gone up and down over the last five years as Emerson has sold off some buildings and built others, but it has not exceeded $15 million in the period since the data center was completed. So what happened to that brand-new $50 million dollar building?
One explanation would be if Emerson had received a Chapter 353 “local real property tax abatement” to support the construction of the building....Even after a 2013 property tax increase (from $0.65 to the state-maximum $1 per $100 of assessed value), Ferguson received an estimated $68,000 in property taxes from the corporate headquarters that occupies 152 acres of its tax base—not even enough to pay the municipal judge and his clerk to hand out the fines and sign the arrest warrants.
Read the entire article.  The massive efforts to keep communities segregated, the giveaways to corporations, developers and other monied interests, the shifting of the tax burden onto the poorest members of the community: they are all just extreme examples of how our society has been structured to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.  I really thought that the Great Recession would make it clear to everybody that these policies had to end.  I believed it would be obvious that a consumption-based economy wouldn't function when consumers couldn't afford to keep consuming.  I was wrong.  In the face of obvious signs that we'd been doing almost everything wrong in our economy for 30 years, conservatives, who somehow managed to take control of more of the state and local governments than they had when they drove the economy into the ground (mainly because the wealthy, the elderly and rural whites vote much more frequently than urban dwellers, the young and minorities) have doubled down on the failed policies that increased inequality and eroded the middle class.  Ferguson, St. Louis County and Missouri are extreme examples of what happens when these failed policies are given free rein, but they are by no means the only examples.  Any state with a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature is putting similar policies in place: handing our corporate welfare, cutting income taxes and increasing sales taxes and other regressive forms of revenue, such as fines and fees.  Spending on education is capped, or funneled to privately-run charter schools and well-off suburban schools at the expense of urban and rural districts.  Infrastructure spending is put off.  Public worker pensions are underfunded and starved to the point of insolvency.  Programs supporting the ever-growing cadre of poor citizens are cut. But income taxes can always be cut (which always return the largest amounts to the wealthiest citizens who have no need for it), and tax giveaways are always available for "economic development."  These policies will continue to lead to greater inequality, and will continue to trigger demonstrations and riots, like we saw last year in Ferguson, and today in Baltimore.  Our government for the rich at the expense of the poor is reaching the breaking point.  Can we change the system before it gets burned down?

The Future of Religion

Not good, at least for Christianity:

Today one of the largest categories of religious affiliation in the world—with more than a billion people—is no religion at all, the “Nones.” One out of six Americans is already a None; by 2050, the figure will be one out of four, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Churches are being closed by the hundreds, deconsecrated and rehabilitated as housing, offices, restaurants and the like, or just abandoned.
If this trend continues, religion largely will evaporate, at least in the West. Pockets of intense religious activity may continue, made up of people who will be more sharply differentiated from most of society in attitudes and customs, a likely source of growing tension and conflict.
Could anything turn this decline around? Yes, unfortunately. A global plague, a world war fought over water or oil, the collapse of the Internet (and thereby almost all electronic communication) or some as-yet unimagined catastrophe could throw the remaining population into misery and fear, the soil in which religion flourishes best.
I don't think I'm going to root for disaster so that people get the old-time religion.  However, I'm not ruling out that a bleak future doesn't cause a revival of faith.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nikon Small World In Motion 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

April 23:

Meteor in the Milky Way
Image Credit & Copyright: Marko Korosec
Explanation: Earth's April showers include the Lyrid Meteor Shower, observed for more than 2,000 years when the planet makes its annual passage through the dust stream of long-period Comet Thatcher. A grain of that comet's dust, moving 48 kilometers per second at an altitude of 100 kilometers or so, is swept up in this night sky view from the early hours of April 21. Flashing toward the southeastern horizon, the meteor's brilliant streak crosses the central region of the rising Milky Way. Its trail points back toward the shower's radiant in the constellation Lyra, high in the northern springtime sky and off the top of the frame. The yellowish hue of giant star Antares shines to the right of the Milky Way's bulge. Higher still is bright planet Saturn, near the right edge. Seen from Istra, Croatia, the Lyrid meteor's greenish glow reflects in the waters of the Adriatic Sea.

Texas Panhandle Running Out of Water

The New Republic:
“Some of the first wells here were hand-dug,” Morris said. “So that tells you how shallow it was to water. Then in the 1950s, they were still finding some water at fifty feet down.” Morris grew wistful. “Today you have to dig all the way to red bed.”
By the onset of the latest drought, the groundwater shortage had grown so severe that the State of Texas commissioned an in-depth study to quantify the problem. The results, published in the Texas Water Report in January 2014, could hardly have been more dire. “Since the 1940s,” the study reported, when ranchers, in a surfeit of optimism, began trying to grow cotton on the arid rangeland, “substantial pumping from the Ogallala has drawn the aquifer down more than 300 feet in some areas.” But the real trouble has been recent. One hundred feet of the 300-foot decline of the aquifer occurred in the decade between 2001 and 2011. This period coincided with a run-up in commodity prices that tempted farmers to start growing thirsty feed crops. With rising temperatures and what the report described as “the near-total absence of rain” of the current drought, water use for irrigation has jumped another 43 percent.
Worst of all, the portion of the Ogallala Aquifer south of the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle, where Lockney and Plainview sit, is cut off from the main aquifer system. As a result, the reservoir recharges more slowly than the northern portions that supply irrigation water for most of the Central Plains. So as Texas Panhandle farmers chased commodity profits and tried to keep pace with corn production in Nebraska and Iowa, they pumped out the aquifer faster and faster, draining the great basin of water that had sustained Texas cattle for two centuries.
All of which helps explain why wells at the edge of the Ogallala basin are starting to come up dry. To show me, Morris pointed to a satellite map of the area on his office wall. “Most of Floyd County is cut up in one-section blocks,” he said. The dirt roads, spaced at even mile markers, describe a perfect grid over the landscape. Around Lockney and stretching west back toward Plainview, each section contained a green circle, where a center pivot was irrigating a field of corn, soybeans, or cotton. But east of Lockney, the circles were smaller—pivots covering just one or two quarters of the section—or the larger circles were only covering part of the square, like a half-eaten pie. Still farther east, moving toward the edge of the caprock, there were no green circles at all. “This was all, at one time, irrigated farmland—all of it,” Morris said with a sweep of his hand. But the wells there have run dry. And the farmers have all picked up and left—which means ranchers are left without water and feedlots are left without food.
100 feet in 10 years?  Wow.  The whole article is informative, and the map included with the article shows how far the aquifer has been drawn down in the Texas Panhandle and southwest Kansas.  A region which has already significantly emptied out is going to shrink further as the water disappears.