Saturday, August 11, 2012

The 27% Candidate

This Ryan pick for VP really strikes me as desperate.  Ryan's budget, when set out in the light, won't go over well.  For the second election in a row, the Republican candidate chooses a candidate which the Republican base will like better than the candidate himself.  Meanwhile, that candidate will erode support with independent voters.  Does anybody other than the wingnut 27% believe that insurance companies will take care of old people's health care better than the government?  Do any of those people who fear the Obama death panels realize that insurance companies will profit from declining treatment to the elderly?  Are private sector death panels better for the country than the imaginary government ones?  What will an affordable insurance policy for an 85 year old look like?

Anyway, my visit to the county fair reminds me that I love the familiarity of this place, in spite of its limits.  I really feel that the folks at the county fair, while largely mocked and taken advantage of by those in power, are the only real base for the Romney/Ryan ticket.  Unfortunately, I think these folks will get hurt the worst by Republican policies.  It makes me sad and angry.  This fall, grain farmers are going to take a hit from the drought.  But the social safety net/welfare program of crop insurance will make sure that we will be able to plant next year's crop.  It is an extremely flawed program, but we are damn lucky it is available.  The crooked politicians might even throw in some disaster aid (almost certainly for livestock farmers, and very likely also for grain farmers) on top of it.  And yet, those same folks will vote overwhelmingly for the candidates who give to the rich (including rich farmers) and take from everybody else.  As far as I can tell, those voters just don't feel comfortable with the change in modern culture, and think somehow they can get back to what they consider a better time.  Unfortunately for them, that isn't happening.  Their way of life is disappearing, and with it some very good, and some very bad things.  I wish that they could impact culture in a good way without inadvertently wreaking havoc on their own lives.  But I'm afraid their partners in the process are using them against themselves. 

In a bit of a lucky accident, the selection of Ryan may mitigate the damage a little bit.  While Obama is just a nicer version of the Social Security "reform" crowd, his now more likely reelection may allow the Republican party to disintegrate and bring about the pendulum swing we need back to the center.  30 years of trickle down economics is just too much, and we need to bring things back toward the post-New Deal consensus.  This is a great nation, but its greatness is based on a strong middle class.  The only way we can get that is with a strong government which provides a social safety net, and helps protect capitalism from itself.  Right now, capitalism as practiced today is the best case against itself.  If there is a God, may He (or She or It) please truly bless this country.  We need all the help we can get.

Down At The County Fair

Our county fair this year isn't very impressive.  There are a lot of empty spaces out on the midway.  I swear this is the first time in my life that they don't have an arcade, but a couple of people told me they didn't have one last year.  I still believe there was one last year, but I can't prove it.  Anyway, when I was a kid that was the most important thing there.  Of all the money I spent at the fair, 80% went to video games.  I budgeted out to be able to eat two meals each day for $2, and the rest went in the quarter slots.  After I spent the day's money, I would hang around and check the coin return slots for lucky finds.  The best deal was when the Pole Position game said 50 cents a credit, but was giving a credit for each quarter.  My friends and I noticed this and got to play like 8 free games.  We came back later in the day, and there were 14 credits on the machine, but a little kid was playing.  We stood there like vultures and waited for him to finish.  As soon as he walked away, we pounced on the machine and played all the credits.  We were quite the class act.  Apparently, the days of the video arcade are dead.  Long live the video arcade.

Update: The arcade did show up on Saturday, so the rumors of the arcade's demise were greatly exaggerated.

So Who Decided Paul Ryan Is Smart?

Where did the media narrative in which Paul Ryan is a conservative intellectual arise?  His conservative wet dream budget just doesn't add up using non-Republican and real world arithmetic, and his plan for elimination of the social safety net has absolutely no chance of working in reality.  But because conservatives swear he's smart (the same ones who think Rush Limbaugh isn't a drug addict blowhard idiot), the media has to repeat it.  Of course, if you rule out professorial bow-tie wearing douche bags, the crowd clamoring for the title of smart Republican is pretty small.

I'm glad the Republicans have put their base on notice that if they vote for this shitty ticket they are going to get rid of Medicare.  If those old folks put their racism on hold for a minute, they might realize they are voting against themselves.  I can't tell you how many people I know who can't wait until they are 65 so they can retire.  Paul Ryan's selection as VP puts people under 55 on notice that they may never be able to retire, if their retirement plans haven't told them that already.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bear Party Gets Wild

From Gawker:
A cabin in northern Norway was ransacked by a family of bears, according to cabin owner Even Borthen Nilsen. And they made a night of it.
They had a hell of a party in there. The cabin has the stench of a right old piss up, trash, and bears.
So either bears or humans with really bad personal hygiene.
And a taste for beer. The bears, allegedly an adult and three cubs, somehow finished off over 100 cans of beer. (I'm guessing there was less drinking than smashing, but even so.) The bears also gorged themselves on marshmallows, chocolate spread, and honey, because Norwegian cabins are the stuff of fairy tales.
Adding to the magic of this story: the Norwegian press has a way with words.
Nilsen explained that excrement on the outside of the cabin left him in no doubt that it was a family of bears which had taken over his cabin for night of feasting and drunken revelry.
That is a sweet story.  I'd hate to wander into that party.

Will Paul Ryan Be Romney's VP Candidate?

One can only hope.  Just for reminders, this is Paul Ryan's budget proposal:
The fact that this budget is shot through with political chickenshit is relevant because this is primarily a political document, a campaign blueprint for the Republicans this fall. (It's also an attempt to establish bargaining position in the upcoming budgetary brawl with the White House. Whether that succeeds, of course, is completely dependent on whether the White House takes any part of this bag of horrors seriously enough as an actual budget to negotiate on it.) As a plan for governing, it's yet another blueprint for economic dystopia from a man who either doesn't know, or doesn't care, what life is actually like for the people who don't buy him $4000 bottles of wine in restaurants far from the Time Out Pub in Janesville. It's a supply-sider's wet dream, in technicolor, with Jenna Jameson serving you popcorn at intermission. Food stamps and Medicaid — which loses $770 billion anyway, according to Ryan's plan — get handed back to the states in the form of block grants which, if our experience with stimulus money and the tobacco settlement are any indication, the states will then use to fund those things that get their governors re-elected, and you may have noticed that healthy poor people are rarely one of those things. There's what amounts to be a flat-tax: two basic income-tax rates, the top being 25 percent. Also the corporate tax rate gets cut to 20 percent. Because he has to pretend that he's visiting this radical restructuring of the American economy on us because of his great concern over The Deficit — and we'll get to that particular canard in a moment — Ryan proposes to close "loopholes", which means that the upper one percent loses some boutoniere money while you lose your mortgage interest deduction, but you and Steve Forbes will be paying the same flat rate, so it's all good!
And there was the usual conservative boilerplate about lazy poor people whose initiative has been blunted by government cheese or something:
"We propose welfare reform, round 2," he added, charging that aid programs were encouraging people to sponge off the government. "We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people ... into complacency and dependence."
Says a guy who got through high school and college on Social Security survivor's benefits. Can I mention right here that Paul Ryan, while not yet as colossal a dick as Rick Santorum, is working very hard at it?
Yse, indeed.  The poorest Americans have it too easy and the richest have it too hard.  Maybe in Bizarro Land.  I can only imagine seeing a guy making $20 million a year and paying a lower percentage of his income in taxes than most middle class families teaming with this toolbag to blow an election in which the incumbent, if not running against the least likable political candidate oh, wait, Romney did beat Gingrich) and the most blind to reality platform ever , would get blown out of the water.  It used to be only the Democrats who could snatch defeat from what should be an easy victory.  Now the Tea bag led Republican party can top them.

A Troubled Life Cut Short

David Simon eulogizes a drug dealer he got to know in writing his book, The Corner.  He went on to play Brother Mouzone's bodyguard,  Lamar (h/t The Dish):
At fifteen, he was selling drugs on the corners of Fayette Street, but that doesn’t begin to explain who he was.  For the boys of Franklin Square — too many of them at any rate — slinging was little more than an adolescent adventure, an inevitable rite of passage.  And whatever sinister vision you might conjure of a street corner drug trafficker, try to remember that a fifteen-year-old slinger is, well, fifteen years old.
He was funny.  He could step back from himself and mock his own stances — “hard work,” he would say when I would catch him on a drug corner, “hard work being a black man in America.”  And then he would catch my eye and laugh knowingly at his presumption.  His imitations of white-authority voices — social workers, police officers, juvenile masters, teachers, reporters — were never less than pinpoint, playful savagery.  The price of being a white man on Fayette Street and getting to know DeAndre McCullough was to have your from-the-other-America pontifications pulled and scalpeled apart by a manchild with an uncanny ear for hypocrisy and cant.
He could be generous, and loyal. I remember him rushing out before Christmas to spend his corner money on gifts for his brother, nieces and nephews — knowing that his mother wasn’t going to get it done that year. I remember the moments of quiet affection he demonstrated when his mother was at her lowest ebb, telling her gently that she was better than this, that she could rise again. And, too, I remember his stoic, certain forgiveness of his father, who moved wraith-like around those same corners, lost in an addiction he could never defeat.
“I really feel like he’s at peace now,” DeAndre said after Gary’s funeral, explaining that his father was too gentle for the corners, too delicate a soul to be out there along Fayette Street. His father was never going to be what he was. Not ever again.  DeAndre said this with no malice, in a voice that was as loving as any words I ever heard him speak.
That is a story I just can't imagine.  As Simon lists off all the people he got to know who died from the street, I just don't understand how he could do what he did.  It just seems too agonizing to me.

Markets Rise On Eve Of Crop Report

A Reuters poll of 21 analysts this week pegged the U.S. corn yield at 127 bushels per acre, the lowest since 1997, with production at a six-year low.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) August crop report, to be released at 7:30 a.m. CDT (1230 GMT) on Friday, has taken on extra importance since the department's estimates will be based on surveys of farmers and its own experts inspecting fields for the first time since the drought began to rally prices in mid-June.

New-crop December corn futures rose to $8.29-3/4 per bushel, the highest price ever for a Chicago Board of Trade corn futures contract and above the previous record of $8.28-3/4 that was set by the spot September contract three weeks ago.

There were several bullish inputs to the markets.

Traders were moving or rolling long holdings in front-month September corn into the December and other new-crop contracts, preparing for a bullish government crop report and in step with the periodic rolling of positions undertaken by a Goldman Sachs index fund.

"The Goldman roll started Tuesday, you have that going on and the report is tomorrow. Everyone is expecting the corn number to be pretty friendly," a CBOT trader said.

Also, "there's talk China bought 3 to 4 cargoes of beans and looking for more, so there's a lot going on," he said.

Soybeans soared 3 percent as the drought kept trimming U.S. crop prospects, as China surfaced this week buying U.S. soybeans and as traders banked on further demand from the world's largest buyer of the oilseed.

"Beans continue to be driven higher by more new-crop sales to China," Cekander said.

The U.S. government on Thursday said China bought 165,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans, boosting China's total purchases for the week to 271,000 tonnes. Each cargo of soybeans holds 55,000 tonnes.

Wheat rose in step with the gains in corn and soybeans, and on worries about weather stress in Russia's lush Black Sea wheat growing region.
Things will very likely be crazy for the next couple of trading sessions, but you never quite know what might happen.  I can't imagine how expensive livestock feed is going to be next year.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dickey Bounces Back For Win

After losing two of his last three decisions, R.A. Dickey pitched a complete game five-hitter to capture his 15th win of the season:
Dickey pitched a complete game for his 15th victory, stopping Jose Reyes' 26-game hitting streak in the process and helping the New York Mets end their nine-game home skid with a 6-1 win Thursday over the Miami Marlins.
"That nine-game streak that was stopped today is more important than the 15 wins," said Dickey, who allowed five hits and struck out 10.Dickey (15-3) turned in his third straight stellar outing -- he allowed only two earned runs combined in his previous two starts -- after going through a monthlong rough patch. He was 12-1 at the All-Star break but just 2-2 in six starts afterward. That leveling off coincided with the Mets' fall from the NL wild card race.Pitching in 89-degree heat, perfect weather for his fluttery pitch, Dickey threw his fourth complete game of the year and eighth of his career."He's got the feel for it back, again," manager Terry Collins said. "All I can tell you is I hope the next eight starts are like this one."
Dickey is scheduled to start next Wednesday in Cincinnati.  I would be attending, but I'm getting sent out to Illinois and Iowa for work, instead.  Bummer.

Is The Ag Boom Almost Over?

USA Today, via Big Picture Agriculture:
Ag-related college majors appeal to both the heart and mind of a student, university officials say, as a booming agriculture industry and practical skills taught at the colleges can help develop a career that addresses issues such as global hunger and obesity in the U.S.
"There's a better understanding that when we use the term agriculture, it's not all plows and cows. It's clearly looking at the real intricacies of science and innovation," said Ian Maw, vice president for food, agriculture and natural resources at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in Washington, D.C.
At traditional agriculture powerhouses such as Penn State, where enrollment is up more than 40% since 2004, career preparation can include cutting-edge research in areas such as plant breeding or genomics. Schools in more urban regions draw students interested in local foods and healthy eating.
Farmland prices have tripled in the U.S. in the past decade, and corn prices have doubled since mid-2010. The high-paying jobs that follow are catching students' attention in a down economy, Maw said.
Iowa State University, where the agriculture college this fall expects to surpass an enrollment record set 35 years ago, is straining to meet industry demand for its graduates, said Wendy Wintersteen, the agriculture college dean.
Anthony Lackore, 24, graduated from Iowa State in 2010 and works as a production agronomist raising soybean seeds for DuPont Pioneer, a company that produces hybrid seeds. He had the job lined up by the fall of his senior year.
OK, 35 years ago was in 1977, the last golden age of agriculture.  By 1983, there was serious trouble in the Midwest.  Hopefully things don't end up like that again, but a peak in agriculture college enrollment could be a contrary indicator.

The Chinese Ponzi Market

Via Ritholtz, the Financial Times reports on the Chinese banks.  Scary.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bulletproof Tires?

Adriene Hill: Genetically modified crops are engineered to be tough. It helps them fight off pests, withstand drought.  And it's a beefed-up-ness, you can see.
Mark Newhall: Their stalks are stiffer and tougher.
Mark Newhall is the editor of Farm Show magazine.
Newhall: So when you cut them off to harvest them, it's like having a field of little spears.
Little spears that are stabbing, and bumping and chewing up tractor tires -- poor tires.
Robert Parks is the owner of Custom Tire Cutting which customizes tractor tires. He says this GMO crop stubble is killing tires early.
Robert Parks: In some instances, just a year or two, where normally they would get five or six years out of the tires.
And, replacing them is no small thing. We're talking hundreds or thousands of dollars per tire and tractors with, sometimes, eight tires. Which means farmers, faced with these tougher stalks, want tougher tires.
Parks' company will harden tires for his customers by baking them. But the tire companies are on the job too. Jim Patrico is an editor at Progressive Farmer magazine.
Jim Patrico: They're doing things like a kevlar lining.
Yup, that kevlar, the kind soldiers have in their helmets and vests.
Boy, the anti-GMO folks were freaking out about this.  But, honestly, there are a lot of plants that are pretty tough already.  It is a sign of plant health that in high population areas the plants are able to maintain strong stalks.  The real trouble comes where the population is low, and the plants are able to grow bigger.  That's really bad news.

Detroit Becomes Body Dump


In mid-July, the decapitated bodies of a couple were pulled from the Detroit River and a nearby canal. Authorities say they were shot and dismembered in their home in suburban Allen Park, then driven to a little-used Detroit park and dumped in the water. A man who lived with them is charged in the slayings.
The bodies of two Hamtramck women were discovered in March buried in a neglected Detroit park. Five men are accused in the murders.
Back in December, the bodies of two women were found in a car parked near a vacant house. Six days later, the badly burned remains of two other women turned up in a car trunk. Police believe all were killed elsewhere and dumped in Detroit. A man from suburban Sterling Heights has been charged.
Detroit has more than 30,000 vacant houses, and the deficit-strangled city has no resources of its own to level them. Mayor Dave Bing is promoting a plan to tear down as many as possible using federal money. The state is also contributing to the effort.
But it's hard to keep up. About a quarter-million people moved out of Detroit between 2000 and 2010, leaving just over 700,000 residents in a city built for 2 million.
Hmm, sounds like "The Wire" to me:

Domestic Terrorism Analyst Ignored

Daryl Johnson had a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,’” Johnson recalls.
It was anything but a lucky guess on Johnson’s part. He spent 15 years studying domestic terrorist groups — particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis — as a government counterterrorism analyst, the last six of them at the Department of Homeland Security. There, he even homebrewed his own database on far-right extremist groups on an Oracle platform, allowing his analysts to compile and sift reporting in the media and other law-enforcement agencies on radical and potentially violent groups.
But Johnson’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009, when an analysis he wrote on the rise of “Right-Wing Extremism” (.pdf) sparked a political controversy. Under pressure from conservatives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repudiated Johnson’s paper — an especially bitter pill for him to swallow now that Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, killed at least six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For Johnson, the shooting was a reminder that the government’s counterterrorism efforts are almost exclusively focused on al-Qaida, even as non-Islamist groups threaten Americans domestically.
“DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Johnson tells Danger Room. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.”
I am SHOCKED that conservative politicians push for the government to investigate brown people and tell them not to pay attention to the white racists shooting brown people.  Who would have ever guessed that?  Why do right-wing and racist go together so easily?  I'm not sure, but they sure seem to.

CSU Tells Europe To Piss Off

Members of the Christian Social Union, sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, called for Greece to be “cut free” from the euro, accused Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti of seeking to access German taxpayers’ money and branded ECB President Mario Draghi’s bond-buying plans a “violation” of the central bank’s rules.
The chorus of criticism from one of Merkel’s two coalition partners underscores the fine line the chancellor must tread to retain support for her anti-crisis efforts going into federal elections in little more than a year. With a Bavarian state vote in September 2013, there’s also a “strong tactical element” to the CSU stance as it uses the crisis to buoy support, said Gero Neugebauer, a politics professor at Berlin’s Free University.
“The CSU has the capacity to hurt Merkel without over- turning her policy,” Neugebauer said yesterday in a telephone interview. “But the CSU instinctively knows it can only go so far in sawing the branch it sits on. Bavaria does extremely well out of the euro: Think BMW, Siemens (SIE), EADS.”
Germany’s political parties are sharpening their profile before national elections in the fall of 2013 that Merkel has said will be fought on the euro crisis. With the chancellor and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on vacation, the CSU has filled the vacuum with comments on crisis policy.
Honestly, I don't think such actions would work out well for Germany.  Of course, I don't think the austerity is working out well for them, either.  The problem is that savers like Germany think they are doing something noble or impressive, but the fact of the matter is that savers are really hoarders, and the economy needs the savers to spend money.  If people can't spend on their own, it is better for them to give the money to folks who can.  I know, it doesn't make much sense, but it is true.  What good does a giant stack of money do for you when you are dead? 

Honeybees And Climate Change

Scientific American:
Many blame neonicotinoid insecticides -- a new type of insecticide related to nicotine that attacks the nervous system of the insects and is deemed less toxic than organophosphates -- although not everyone agrees. Some scientists complain that experiments to date have been restricted to laboratories and do not replicate the real world.
The spotlight has also recently swung onto the varroa mite, which is omnipresent in honeybee colonies but seems to become a major threat when those bees have been weakened and made vulnerable by some other factor.
"Varroa is probably the single most important thing affecting honeybee populations. If you talk to French beekeepers, they will tell you that pesticides killed their bees. But it is pesticides and varroa. If you talk to the Spanish bee researchers, they will tell you that a gut parasite is killing their bees. But it is the gut parasite and varroa," said Norman Carreck, science director of the International Bee Research Association at the University of Sussex.
But one fact that bee experts all agree on is that while bees, particularly honeybees, are very adaptable creatures in normal circumstances, they are highly vulnerable to extremes of weather, particularly downpours and flooding.
"Weather has a huge impact on honeybee survival. What seems to be happening is that we in the U.K. are getting more extremes of weather at either end of our normal range. Whether that is due to climate change is an interesting question," Tim Lovett, director of public affairs at the British Beekeepers' Association, said last month at the annual Hampton Court Flower Show about 10 miles southeast of central London.
"The wrong weather at the wrong time can be very bad for bees," he added. "One of the major causes of loss among honeybees in the spring is starvation. There are suddenly thousands of new mouths to feed. If they wake early and the plants are still asleep, then there is trouble. Likewise, if the plants wake early and the bees are still asleep and miss the first flush, then there can also be trouble."
Botanist Sandra Bell at the world-renowned Kew Gardens in London said flowering times have advanced by several weeks over the past half-century. While it is hard to pin that on climate change, it is certainly one of the effects to be expected, according to the models.
That is interesting.  This spring was definitely an earlier one, but not having a real winter also makes bugs a bigger issue.  I think that may impact temperate growing areas pretty significantly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Republicans Versus Reality

Bruce Bartlett (h/t Mark Thoma):
In early 1993, Bill Clinton asked Congress to raise the top statutory tax rate to 39.6 percent from 31 percent, along with other tax increases. Republicans and their allies universally predicted that nothing good would come of it. They even said that it would have no impact on the deficit.
Ronald Reagan himself was enlisted to make the case the day after President Clinton unveiled his program. Writing in The New York Times, the former president said, “Taxes have never succeeded in promoting economic growth. More often than not, they have led to economic downturns.”
Of course, Reagan himself raised taxes 11 times between 1982 and 1988, increasing taxes by $133 billion a year, or 2.6 percent of the gross domestic product, by his last year in office. Presumably he supported these measures because he thought they would raise growth; otherwise he could have vetoed them.

Speaking before the Heritage Foundation’s board on April 16, 1993, former Representative Jack Kemp, Republican of New York, predicted budgetary failure from the Clinton plan. “Will raising taxes reduce the deficit?’ he asked. “No, it will weaken our economy and increase the deficit.”
Conservative economists were often quite specific about exactly what the negative impact of the president’s plan would be. On May 8, The New York Times interviewed several. John Mueller, a Wall Street consultant, said inflation would rise to “at least 5 percent within the next two or three years.”
In fact, the inflation rate did not rise at all until 1996 and then went up to 3.3 percent before falling to 1.7 percent in 1997 and 1.6 percent in 1998.
Then there were the Bush tax cuts.  They may not have created any jobs, but they did manage to keep the government from running too large of a surplus.  Idiots.

Jobs Acolyte Or Rejector?

Wired asks:

Are You an Acolyte or a Rejector?

Steve Jobs had a brash personality that lends itself to very different interpretations, depending on who you are. Based on these anecdotes from Walter Isaacson’s biography, which camp do you fall into? —B.A.
In 1975, Atari paid Jobs and Steve Wozniak to create the iconic game Breakout. Woz pulled four all-nighters to get it done—but Jobs pocketed the whole bonus that Atari paid for the game’s efficient design.
You can push colleagues to extraordinary lengths.           Don’t screw over your friends.
In 1981, Jobs refused to give founding stock to Apple employee number 12, Dan Kottke. A fellow employee intervened, offering to match whatever options Jobs was willing to spare for Kottke. “OK,” Jobs replied, “I will give him zero.”
Good leadership is unsentimental.              To foster loyalty in employees, you need to be loyal to them.
In 1994, Jobs announced he was firing a quarter of the Lisa computer team, telling them, “You guys failed … Too many people here are B or C players.”
Tolerate only A players.                                      Scared employees don’t take risks.
In 2005, Jobs ordered a smoothie at Whole Foods, but when the aging barista didn’t make it to his taste, he railed about her incompetence.
Force the whole world to bend to your vision.         Understand the limits of your power.
Chalk me up as a rejector.  The man was a total asshole.  He might have been a genius, but there are evil geniuses.  I'd rather be a decent person as opposed to being a visionary.  Especially a dead visionary.  When he died, most people thought Steve Jobs would be remembered forever for his accomplishments.  I'm not so sure of that.

Global Warming Worse Than Thought

James Hansen says he was partly wrong about global warming.  He was too optimistic:
My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.
In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.
These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.
Twenty-four years ago, I introduced the concept of “climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.
But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the die would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.
But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.
I'm getting the feeling that I will be around to see that all those climate change deniers were dead wrong.  Unfortunately, saying I told you so won't do any good.

There's An App For That

The University of Missouri has developed an app for judging heat stress on cows:
Research assistant Brad Scharf shows a group of teenagers clad in jeans and cowboy boots how to measure a cow's respiration. The app is still being tested, and these members from the 4-H Club and the National FFA Organization, formerly the Future Farmers of America, are the testers.
The app is a calculator of sorts. It takes the breaths per minute along with information about the cow's breed, type, what it's eating and other basic information. Then, it crunches the data and tells you how the cow's feeling in this environment. Spiers says it's surprisingly simple.
"It will automatically pull in the air temperature and humidity so that the producers or student can look at this later to see how hot their animals were under these conditions," he explains. "Then they can work with [the animals]. They can treat them differently, depending on how stressed they are."
Farmers often use fans, water misters and shades to help cool down their animals. The app can help them figure out which cows need these things most and which ones don't. And it looks into the future, too: The app uses weather forecasting to show how the cow will likely feel in a few days.
My lack of smart phone prevents me from taking advantage of this.

Sub-irrigation Systems

Big Picture Agriculture features some systems:

In the above video, Beck’s Hybrids and AGREM explain the installation of a sub-irrigation system near Atlanta, Indiana. The system drains the field with tiles and also sub-irrigates it. The project uses one-third to one-half the water of center pivots, controls the nitrate run-off pollution, requires less fuel, and increases yields. The AGREM Sub-irrigation System claims to be the only system available that combines the benefits of contoured drainage with irrigation. AGREM does ongoing studies of its system with the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited. []
Tile on 15 foot centers can't be cheap, that's for sure. 

Monday, August 6, 2012


The Atlantic has some great photos of the Mars lander Curiosity.  Cool stuff:

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, on May 26, 2011, in Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The rover was shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on June 22, 2011. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Enjoy Your Civic Holiday

To those up north (and to my former boss), enjoy your August holiday.  We have to wait until September for one.

Fairs Suffer In Drought

But at county and state fairs across corn country this year, the most widespread drought since the 1950s is also evident. While the fairs are soldiering on, dousing themselves in Lemon Shake-Ups and Midwestern resolve, the hot, dry, endless summer has seeped into even the cheeriest, oldest tradition.
“You see the stress of this all on individuals everywhere you go — even the fair,” said Vivian Hallett, who most years has entries (and winners) in nearly every imaginable plant category at the Coles County Fair in Illinois. Not this year.
“We just didn’t have the stuff,” said Ms. Hallett, 65. “All our pumpkins have died. Zucchinis? Dead. Our green beans are just sitting there turning rubbery. And my gladiolas never came up at all.”
Fair judges speak of discolored, shrunken vegetables and nearly empty categories (only one gladiola appeared at the Dane County Fair, a judge there said). But in some places, human attendance has shriveled, too — some combination, organizers say, of miserably hot weather and larger, overwhelming concerns back home on the farms.
“It was the roughest I’ve seen,” said Gary Shemanski, facilities manager at the Johnson County Fair in Iowa. There, he said, attendance fell, four rabbits perished in heat that passed 100 degrees, and a beloved, final fireworks display was canceled for fear of setting off a fire in the bone-dry county.
For some among the hundreds of agricultural fairs across the country — and particularly for the largest state-level fairs — events have gone along apace this summer, organizers said. Healthy numbers of visitors arrived, as did long lists of contest entries in a summer when rural families may need a distraction more than ever.
Fairs are on a long, slow trend toward irrelevance, one more casualty of the population shift from rural areas to suburbia, and the declining numbers of farmers and small family farms.  The drought doesn't help that any, but somebody could write a story about fairs struggling every year.

Droughts Then And Now

Weekend Edition Saturday:
In the '30s and '40s, Charles Hildenbrand used horses, replaced today by tractors, combines and planters with high-tech gadgets and computers. So is it even fair to compare this summer's drought to the devastating droughts in the 1950s, or even the Dust Bowl years?
"Certainly from a geographical footprint, it's right up there with the '50s and '30s at over 60 percent," says climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
"But the '30s and '50s were multiyear droughts," he says, "and this drought, so far for the majority of the country, is not a multiyear drought yet."
In those exceptionally dry years of the 1930s, farmers and ranchers plowed up the Great Plains to plant wheat. They ended up losing not just their crops but their top soil, too, as winds blew it into giant dust clouds that darkened the skies for hundreds of miles.
That spurred the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, which paid farmers to not farm some land and to replant the native prairie grasses to keep soil in place. Svoboda says the USDA agency also encouraged farmers to change their tillage practices.
"Instead of tilling the soil over, they use what they call no-till drilling or low-till ... which doesn't disturb the soil. It plants directly into a residue-covered soil that retains a lot of soil moisture in that upper part of the profile," he says.
In addition to being better able to preserve what little moisture is in the soil, hybrid crops send roots deeper to find moisture.
One thing we don't need is a multiyear drought.  Prices will get plenty high as it is, without throwing in another bad year.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Flow III

The Flow III from Bose Collins on Vimeo.

NASA Photo of the Day

July 30:

Ash and Lightning Above an Icelandic Volcano
Image Credit & Copyright: Sigurður Stefnisson
Explanation: Why did the picturesque 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland create so much ash? Although the large ash plume was not unparalleled in its abundance, its location was particularly noticeable because it drifted across such well-populated areas. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland began erupting on 2010 March 20, with a second eruption starting under the center of a small glacier on 2010 April 14. Neither eruption was unusually powerful. The second eruption, however, melted a large amount of glacial ice which then cooled and fragmented lava into gritty glass particles that were carried up with the rising volcanic plume. Pictured above during the second eruption, lightning bolts illuminate ash pouring out of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

Private Forecasts Lower Yield Expectations

Des Moines Register:
Farm Futures Magazine said Friday that based on a survey of more than 1,900 farmers that this year’s harvest is likely to be no more than 117 bushels per acre, with national production coming in at slightly less than 10 billion bushels.
Another survey by the private forecasting firm Informa put the harvest 10.3 billion bushels, down from its July estimate of 12.49 billion bushels.
Informa cut its yield estimates for the crop to 121 bushels per acre from its previous estimate of 142.5 bushels per acre, according to reports from commodity traders.
Another forecast by FCStone predicted U.S. farmers will harvest 11 billion bushels of corn, with an average yield of 124.3 bushels an acre.
A week ago Doane Agricultural Services said its inspection of Iowa fields indicated a 117 bushel per acre yield, which would be the lowest in the state since the flood year of 1993.
In the last three years, the U.S. Average per bushel yield has been 164 bushels in 2009, 153 bushels in 2010 and 148 bushels last year.
Total corn production in 2011 was 13 billion bushels. The U.S. department of Agriculture forecast at planting time a 2012 crop averaging 166 bushels per acre, with total production of more than 14 billion bushels planted on 96 million acres, the largest since 1937.
I really have no idea what the corn yields are going to be around here, but ours won't be pretty.  We're really going to get a test of how strong the political will is for turning our food supply into energy.  Prices are going to get pretty high, and something's got to give.

Patent Drawings Then and Now

Wired shows some examples of drawings accompanying patent applications over the years:
Since the United States Patent & Trade Office opened in 1790, it has required that every patent be accompanied by an illustration depicting the applicant's invention. But in the past 222 years, patent drawings have changed, degrading from detailed works of art to simplistic line drawings that barely qualify as illustrations.
Whereas patent drawings from the 1800s and even early- to mid-1900s featured artistic techniques like shading, multiple perspectives and texture, today’s patent drawings are often embarrassing doodles at best. We can blame both cultural changes and adjustments in patent application rules. For one, the patent office no longer requires that patent applicants hire an official draftsman to draw an invention. And in 2000, the PTO adjusted its rules to decrease how often applicants need to revise their drawings with corrections.
A couple of examples:

 Artificial Arm, 1865

Much less impressive is this:

Gestures for Touch Sensitive Input Devices, 2006

I love their description of this travesty:
For a company that could actually afford beautiful patent drawings, Apple is a huge disappointment. The company has revenues in the tens of billions, yet its patent drawings are notoriously bad. In this drawing for gestures used in touch-capable devices, like the iPad, it’s as if the illustrator had never seen a pair of hands. They’re disproportionate, and there’s no distinction between the palm and wrist. Plus, the fingers look strangely alien as they rest on the tablet in a totally unnatural position.
The tablet itself also lacks any depth, and the illustrator didn’t even bother to include letters and numbers on the touch keyboard. At least the drawing does have minimal line shading to show its glass surface. Still, those hands are so grotesque and contorted, it’s hard to fathom why Apple didn’t just hire a professional artist to handle this patent drawing.

Not Getting What He Pays For

The LA Times looks at a new book called The Fiscal Cliff, which the patriarch of the family who owns the Chicago Cubs helped fund to push his case for lower government spending and more tax cuts for rich folks.  Unfortunately for him (but hilariously for me), things didn't go planned:
Selahattin, 54, and Ayse, 53, are the authors of "The Fiscal Cliff," a book published by a Ricketts nonprofit called Ending Spending, which normally ranks Washington politicians by their support of a federal spending cap. The organization released the book last week with great fanfare, announcing that it was sending a copy to every congressional and Senate office in Washington, evidently to advance its position that government is too big and taxes are too high.
That's the point made in the book's introduction by Brian Baker, the president of Ending Spending.
As it happens, however, the Imrohoroglus' book doesn't quite say that. In some respects, their take may be just the opposite: Tax revenues are too low and government can't be shrunk just like that.
"We've got tax revenues at 15% of GDP," Selahattin Imrohoroglu says. "You've got to come back to the '80s and '90s." In those decades, tax revenues averaged 19.5% of gross domestic product; were that ratio in place today, it would mean additional revenue for the federal government of more than $700 billion a year, "and then all the gloom and doom projections go away."
The Imrohoroglus didn't even learn until their manuscript was finished that it would be published with Baker's introduction, or for that matter that the publisher would be Ending Spending. And it doesn't sound as if they were especially overjoyed at the news.
"I read the proposed introduction and said, 'This is some political statement that has nothing to do with the book,'" Selahattin says. He had to type "Ending Spending" into Google to figure out what it was.
Maybe Mr. Ricketts ought to put his business acumen into getting his Cubs to not suck as opposed to trying to create a bogus argument for taxing him less.  Of course, I'm perfectly happy with the Cubs sucking, and I think it is hilarious that his "nonprofit foundation" paid to publish a book that explicitly argues against his position.  Unfortunately, conservatives have been able to convince the rubes that tax cuts for super rich people will benefit them.  They won't.

Luck And Success

Robert H. Frank points out a study on how outside forces can affect success:
The sociologists Duncan J. Watts, Matthew Sagalnik and Peter Dodds carried out some of these experiments, which Mr. Watts described in his superb 2011 book, “Everything Is Obvious* (*Once You Know the Answer).” Their work focuses on online markets, but it has much broader implications. It suggests that although market success does depend on the quality of a product, the link is extremely variable and uncertain. Even the best contestant in a product category may fail, and even the worst one sometimes wins. And for an overwhelming majority of contestants in the intermediate-quality range, they found success to be largely a matter of chance.
The researchers invited subjects to a temporary, experimental Web site called Music Lab, which listed 48 recordings by little-known indie bands. In the control version of the experiment, subjects could download any of the songs free if they agreed to give a quality rating after listening.
The average of these ratings then served as an “objective” rating of each song’s quality in subsequent versions of the experiment. In the control group, subjects saw no information other than the names of the bands and the songs, so their individual ratings were completely independent of the reactions of other participants.
Those independent ratings were extremely variable. Some songs got mostly high marks or mostly low marks, but a substantially larger number received distinctly mixed reviews.

Reinvesting In The Middle Class

National Journal writes up Nick Hanauer and his crusade for taxing the ultra wealthy folks like himself:
Like a lot of self-made rich guys, Hanauer has developed a theory on how to fix the ailing economy. He preaches it in op-ed columns, television interviews, political gatherings, and casual conversations with Seattle’s innovation royalty. He was invited to give a speech this spring by the organizers of TED, the nonprofit that has grown famous for commissioning “TED talks” on such diverse topics as the nature of innovation, the science of global warming, and the need to spread contraceptives throughout the developing world. Hanauer’s pitch took five minutes at the TED University conference on March 1. Afterward, organizers seemed keen to post it on their website. Then in May, they abruptly told him his remarks were too controversial, too political for TED, and wouldn’t be published online.
The disqualifying notion at the center of Hanauer’s talk was that the innovators and businessmen are not, in fact, “job creators”—that the fate of the economy rests instead in the hands of the middle class. So Hanauer wants to tax rich guys like himself more, to pay for investments to nurture middle-class families.
“We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years,” Hanauer said at the TED conference. “Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Rather, they are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers.” When the middle class thrives, he said, “businesses grow and hire, and owners profit.”
Emerging research from high-powered experts across the ideological spectrum backs that economic inversion. Their work shows how America’s long-term prosperity is in jeopardy because the middle class is struggling and the super-rich are pulling away.
Widening income inequality helped drive us into the Great Recession and is holding back our recovery. It is tempting to view the stagnation of the middle class and the disappearance of middle-skill jobs as a problem for only some of us. That’s simply untrue. Mounting economic evidence  suggests strongly that Hanauer’s argument is correct and is, in fact, fundamental to America’s future. It’s not a do-good argument. It is a selfish one, both for innovators and for every other American counting on the innovator class to power growth for decades to come.
The evidence suggests that the United States needs a vibrant middle class. Not for any of sentimental reasons, but because it’s a very dangerous thing not to have.
As Hanauer is discovering, that’s not something many American elites want to hear.
The article focuses on Hanauer, his glamorous lifestyle and his position that middle class people need to be able to purchase consumer goods to make "job creators" rich.  He pushes for higher taxes on the wealthy, but we also need to see an increase in the share of productivity which goes to labor versus capital.  The article notes that no single businessman is going to raise the wages of his workers and have any real impact on the wider economy unless all other workers are also getting raises.  Unfortunately, the Bush tax cuts, Romney's tax plan, and the Ryan budget all give special consideration for investment income versus earned income.  As Hanauer notes, he pays an effective tax rate of 11%.   Most middle class families pay as much or more as a share of their income, and they have jobs they have to go to.  That doesn't make any sense.