Saturday, January 30, 2016

End of January Weekend Links

It's unseasonably warm here, but you won't hear me complain.  Here are some good stories to sit out in the sun and enjoy:

Buffalo  and Wide Right, Broken Hearts and No Illusions - SB Nation

A Guy Like Me - The Players' Tribune

How Prince Sammons Came To America - Cincinnati Magazine  

The world's first robot-run farm will harvest 30,000 heads of lettuce daily - Tech Insider

Legal Beef - Texas Monthly

Scientists Are Building a Case For How Food Ads Make Us Overeat - The Salt.  Food ads are about the only commercials that work on me.  That's probably why I am very poorly dressed but also fat.

Math whizzes of ancient Babylon figured out forerunner of calculus - Science Magazine

The Man Who Tried to Kill Math in America - The Atlantic

The Crusade Against Multiple Regression Analysis - Edge

The Great Migration: The African American Exodus from the South - Priceonomics

Theranos Is Running Out of Time - Bloomberg

Who Poisoned Flint, Michigan? - Rolling Stone.  Who are Republican policymakers, Alex.

The Buddy System - The New Yorker

Long Before Helping Flint, Michigan Officials Were Shipping Clean Water to Their Own Workers - Mother Jones

New Koch - The New Yorker  

Big Agriculture Gets Its Sh*t Together - Fortune.  Fair Oak Farms.  Interesting anecdote from Wayne Pacelle to open the story.  Farmers who hate Pacelle are totally over-matched.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Fog Begins To Lift On Flint Water Crisis

Motor City Muckraker:
The Flint water crisis that led to thousands of people being poisoned began because state officials maintained it would save the cash-strapped city money by disconnecting from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and using a different source.
But it turns out, DWSD offered the state-controlled city a deal that would have saved Flint more money by staying with Detroit.
An e-mail obtained by Motor City Muckraker shows the deal would have saved the city $800 million over 30 years, which was 20% more inexpensive than switching to the Karegnondi Water Authority.
A high-ranking DWSD official told us today that Detroit offered a 50% reduction over what Flint had been paying Detroit. In fact, documents show that DWSD made at least six proposals to Flint, saying “the KWA pipeline can only be attributed to a ‘political’ objective that has nothing to do with the delivery – or the price – of water.”...
“When compared over the 30 year horizon the DWSD proposal saves $800 million dollars or said differently – saves 20% over the KWA proposal,” then-DWSD Director Sue McCormick said in the e-mail dated April 15, 2013....
Then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon signed off on the KWA deal in April 2013, which ultimately led to the emergency manager deciding to draw water from the Flint River until the city connected to a new regional system....
Saying he was sorry for the mistake, Snyder pledged full transparency during his State of the State address last week and released e-mails related to the water crisis from 2014 and 2o15. Curiously, he refused to release e-mails from 2013, which would have showed why state officials decided to make the switch from DWSD to the KWA.
Now it seems clear why Snyder wouldn’t release the e-mails: They would have revealed that the switch was not about saving money.
So what was it about? Some have suggested that Snyder was motivated by a desire to break up DWSD and ultimately privatize it. In the summer of 2015, DWSD was split into two entities: the DWSD and the Great Lakes Water Authority.
When I first heard of the problems with the Flint water supply, and found out the city, under an emergency manager, had decided to build a pipeline to get water independently of the city of Detroit, my first thought was that the state was trying to put pressure on the DWSD to force them to turn control of the water system over to the suburban counties.  However, some of the information presented, like DWSD cutting off Flint when they announced the intention to build the pipeline, and leading to the city switching to the Flint River as a water source, tended to undermine that theory.  Now we see that there is probably more to that possibility, although I fear, like with the actual motivations for engaging in the Iraq war, we'll never fully know the truth.

However, based on what I can see from looking at a map, and trying to think logically, I think I'm starting to understand how this played out.  Looking at a map of the Detroit water system, and reading about where the proposed water line was going to go, I just don't understand how the new project could have been cheaper than what Flint already had:

 map of proposed pipeline compared to existing DSWD system

According to Wikipedia, the proposed pipeline originates on the St. Clair-Sanilac County line, just north of the existing water plant which currently served Flint.  The Wikipedia article also indicated that Flint bought the water from the DWSD, then supplied it to Genesee County.  I can only see justification for building the new water line if, A) it resulted in cheaper water for Lapeer and Genesee County, and B) put pressure on DWSD to agree to privatization or handing control over to Oakland and Macomb Counties.  There is no way in hell that you could build a new treatment plant and a new pipeline that would be cheaper than the existing system, with or without surcharges from Detroit.  Apparently, there was some discussion of that at the time of the deal.  Once Detroit proposed a better deal, the Flint pipeline was dead in the water. 

But taking a step back, it would appear that DWSD was a major player in the decline of the city of Detroit.  The system's expansion fed the development of the suburbs which killed the city.  Those suburbs pretend to be better than the city, but they wouldn't exist without it.  Like every major metropolitan area, the suburbs have benefited by robbing the city of high income residents while leaving the city to get by serving a much smaller, poorer citizenry.  It has gutted the core cities, and if there is any justice in the world, it will destroy those suburbs, too.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

NASA Photo of the Day

January 19:

A Dark Sand Dune on Mars
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Explanation: What is that dark sand dune doing on Mars? NASA's robotic rover Curiosity has been studying it to find out, making this the first-ever up-close investigation of an active sand dune on another world. Named Namib Dune, the dark sand mound stands about 4 meters tall and, along with the other Bagnold Dunes, is located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. The featured image was taken last month and horizontally compressed here for comprehensibility. Wind is causing the dune to advance about one meter a year across the light bedrock underneath, and wind-blown sand is visible on the left. Part of the Curiosity rover itself is visible on the lower right. Just in the past few days, Curiosity scooped up some of the dark sand for a detailed analysis. After further exploration of the Bagnold Dunes, Curiosity is scheduled to continue its trek up the 5-kilometer tall Mount Sharp, the central peak in the large crater where the car-sized rover landed.