Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's All Downhill From Here

Well, the best two days of sports are now over.  The first round (I refuse to call it the second round, like the NCAA does) of the NCAA tournament, with 32 games in two days, is the best sporting event of the year.  From now on, we just keep getting fewer and fewer games, and any upsets are less monumental than the ones that occur on Thursday and Friday.

Lightning Bolt

While I wouldn't drink the swill (even with the world's worst head-splitting hangover), I really like this song from the latest Gatorade commercial:

However, no matter how musically gifted this kid is, he just looks like somebody I want to punch. What it amounts to is that he looks like Aaron Craft's punk younger brother.

We Are Outliers

This is one of the most fascinating articles I've read in a while (h/t Ritholtz).  But like many myth busting works, it seems patently obvious as soon as it is pointed out:
The growing body of cross-cultural research that the three researchers were compiling suggested that the mind’s capacity to mold itself to cultural and environmental settings was far greater than had been assumed. The most interesting thing about cultures may not be in the observable things they do—the rituals, eating preferences, codes of behavior, and the like—but in the way they mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception.
For instance, the different ways people perceive the Müller-Lyer illusion likely reflects lifetimes spent in different physical environments. American children, for the most part, grow up in box-shaped rooms of varying dimensions. Surrounded by carpentered corners, visual perception adapts to this strange new environment (strange and new in terms of human history, that is) by learning to perceive converging lines in three dimensions.
When unconsciously translated in three dimensions, the line with the outward-feathered ends (C) appears farther away and the brain therefore judges it to be longer. The more time one spends in natural environments, where there are no carpentered corners, the less one sees the illusion.
As the three continued their work, they noticed something else that was remarkable: again and again one group of people appeared to be particularly unusual when compared to other populations—with perceptions, behaviors, and motivations that were almost always sliding down one end of the human bell curve.
In the end they titled their paper “The Weirdest People in the World?” (pdf) By “weird” they meant both unusual and Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”
Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.
There are so many directions a discussion of this work could take.  One of the most obvious is a look at the differences of culture which explain the rural/urban divide in American politics.  Another would be to analyze how unique the presumptions of the superiority of markets are to America and other Anglo nations, and how our culture molds and justifies these presumptions.  Behavioral economics (and reality, too) has undermined many of the assumptions which are the foundation of the half century of belief in "rational markets," but this article argues, and I believe, that our whole premise of Fukuyama's "The End of History" is mainly cultural chauvinism.  There is no "right" way of doing things, and while it is undeniable that our system of democracy and capitalism (or the bastardized versions of each that we practice here in the United States) has led to tons of innovation, I have to point out that we often adapt technology from Europe that's 20 years old.

Our now dysfunctional government is the byproduct of a culture which honors trying to game the system.  Why do we have thousands of pages of regulations for Obamacare or Dodd-Frank or the EPA or anything else?  I would say it is because we are raised to look down on the government as a burden and not as the playground monitor it is.  That Jesus guy was able to sum up proper human behavior in a sentence: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  And as wikipedia points out, that is a pretty common facet of philosophy amongst cultures.  However, at least in this country of 300 million crazy vectors, laying out what is proper behavior and what isn't takes lots and lots of pages of legal bullshit.  What it amounts to is trying to describe every way the smartest people in the country might try to take advantage of the dumbest.  It would be much better if our culture was still good at shaming people into behaving properly.  Instead, banks and other corporations fuck over the dumbest people out there just to scam that extra million to put into the company bonuses, and people look around and say that, hey, they're just following the regulations, then bitch about how burdensome the regulations are.  Obviously, that is a pretty fucked up mess.

 I know the idea of society patrolling behavior and keeping it in the lines while not trampling minorities is utopian, but a combination of small-town judgementalism when it comes to economic issues, and libertarian ideas when it comes to social issues is the exact opposite of what we have in the Republican party, and while it may be what the liberal wing of the Democrats shoots for, the mainstream of the Democratic party is more relativistic in both realms.  We could also still use some of that orthodoxy in social issues, but there are a lot of mitigating factors which make it less effective.  That would be the content of a different post.

Friday, March 22, 2013

You're The Only One


Via Ritholtz:

The Near Republican Coup?

Charles Pierce is a national treasure.  Here he is describing the situation where Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich considered forming a "unity ticket" to defeat Mitt Romney:
Really, now. A guy who thinks he speaks God's will on earth and a guy who thinks He's the one giving dictation? What could possibly go wrong there?
At the heart of the Gingrich-Santorum breakdown was a battle over who would be the eventual presidential candidate.
No kidding. Who'd a thunk that?
Based on what Gingrich told Businessweek, it appeared to be a deal-breaking factor. "In the end, it was just too hard to negotiate," Gingrich said. By March, Santorum's camp was voicing scenarios for Gingrich to drop out. "If he finishes third in all the Southern states except Georgia, the path is for him to move aside and let us have a one-on-one shot with Romney," Brabender told HuffPost on Super Tuesday. "That's the path."
Yes, it is difficult to build a national ticket when both prospective members are delusional enough to believe they should be president, despite the fact that one of them is a god-bothering nuisance who'd lost his last Senate race to an ice-sculpture by 15 points, and the other guy is on what appears to be an extended vanity exercise cum home-shopping enterprise.
I cannot imagine any possible world which may theoretically exist in the realm of quantum physics and string theroy where those two megalomaniacal douchebags could have done better than ol' Willard.  These were two of the most repulsive people I have ever seen in public, and the fact that a sizable percentage of the American population would vote for either of them is a sign that we are well on our way to oblivion.

The Truth About Trickle-Down Economics

The Atlantic:
One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.
But why? Lower-income Americans are presumably no more intrinsically generous (or “prosocial,” as the sociologists say) than anyone else. However, some experts have speculated that the wealthy may be less generous—that the personal drive to accumulate wealth may be inconsistent with the idea of communal support. Last year, Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, published research that correlated wealth with an increase in unethical behavior: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff later told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.” They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Colorful statements aside, Piff’s research on the giving habits of different social classes—while not directly refuting the asshole theory—suggests that other, more complex factors are at work. In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical .
If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess? Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told me that greater exposure to and identification with the challenges of meeting basic needs may create “higher empathy” among lower-income donors.
In short, many rich people are just hoarders, and most of the rest are just assholes.  Leaving the welfare of everyone else at their mercy is the dumbest idea ever.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

NCAA Bracket

For the edification of folks who want to feel better about their own NCAA tournament selections, I give you my picks:

Midwest bracket
First round (what NCAA calls second round): Louisville, Colorado State, Oklahoma State, St. Louis, St. Mary's, Michigan State, Creighton, Duke
Second round: Louisville, St. Louis, Michigan State, Duke
Regional semis: Louisville, Michigan State
Regional winner: Michigan State

West bracket
First round:  Gonzaga, Wichita State, Wisconsin, LaSalle, Belmont, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Ohio State
Second round: Gonzaga, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Notre Dame
Regional semis: Gonzaga, New Mexico
Regional winner: Gonzaga

South bracket
First round: Kansas, Villanova, Virginia Commonwealth, Michigan, UCLA, Florida, San Diego State, Georgetown
Second round: Villanova, Michigan, Florida, Georgetown
Regional semis: Michigan, Georgetown
Regional winner: Georgetown

East bracket
First round: Indiana, Temple, UNLV, Syracuse, Butler, Marquette, Illinois, Miami
Second round: Temple, Syracuse, Marquette, Miami
Regional semis: Syracuse, Miami
Regional winner: Miami

Final game matchup: Georgetown and Gonzaga, with Gonzaga prevailing.

I made these picks this morning, and considering the performance Gonzaga put in against Southern, my bracket will be torpedoed rather quickly.

O'Brian's Is Dead. Long Live O'Brian's

Today I received a check in the mail settling an arrangement for my all-time favorite public house, O'Brian's.  It is hard for me to describe the place, because it was my second home for most of six years.  The family which ran it were my nearly constant companions through that run.  In the time it was open, I got to know a large number of people, many of whom, like me, loved the place in spite of its quirks.  I run into a lot of them at other bars, and they convey how much they miss the place, and the folks who ran it, and we spend a good deal of time reminiscing and asking about other regular customers. It was the launching pad and campaign headquarters for my brief but entertaining political career.  During that campaign, I purchased stickers saying "Happy St. Patrick's Day, Vote for [A Farmer] for State Representative," then proceeded to spend the day sitting at the end of the bar with several friends, drinking Guinness and passing the stickers out to revelers.  It might not have won many votes, but it was a lot of fun.  It was the place one of my best friends was reintroduced to his future wife (and his shoes were introduced to the contents of her stomach), and now I'm their daughter's godfather (actually, the night they ran into one another was the day after my marathon campaign stop on St. Patrick's Day).  On election night that year, I held my campaign party there.  Friends and family came in and consoled me on my utter defeat by a clueless Tea Partier, before there was a Tea Party.

One of the charms of the place was also one of its downfalls.  It was quiet and often not crowded.  I can only guess at the number of hours in which I was the only customer.  Often, if the owners were busy doing something in the kitchen or upstairs, and I needed a drink, or another customer came in and wanted something, I'd go behind the bar and get it, then mark it down on the tab.  When the kegs kicked, the ladies would ask me to change the keg for them, and I'd go back and take care of it.  For the vast majority of the time it was open, a pint of Guinness cost four dollars, and I wouldn't want to know what my total bill was.  All I can say is that it would equal much of a year's salary, at a minimum.  But all the money spent couldn't add up to the great memories of the place.

Last week, a new bar opened up in the same spot, and while they made a few changes, it looks mostly the same, but lacks somewhat in family atmosphere.  I've stopped in several times, but with the exception of the eve of St. Patrick's Day, hasn't had much better crowds than O'Brian's did, even in some of its darker days.  I wish the owners well, and I'm sure I'll stop in fairly regularly, but it will never be O'Brian's.

What Was That?

Yesterday morning, I went outside at about 5:30 to get some firewood, and there were six flying objects coming in my direction in formation.  One was a well lit large looking plane, while the other five had single red beacon lights.  Two were flying on the left flank of the well-lit plane, and the other three were hanging back a few hundred yards.  I don't know if the five were escorting fighters or drones or something, but they seemed to be flying fairly slowly.  If they were scanning their surroundings for activity, they saw me taking a leak. 

Old Man Winter Has Worn Out His Welcome

I don't know about you, but I think Old Man Winter should get his fat ass out the door.  Spring is supposed to be here, but the chill wind is telling me otherwise.  We've gotten the new planter and part of our seed corn, so I'm getting into gear.  However, I guess it is good it isn't 75 right now, or I'd be getting pretty antsy.

On another note, I went to the store on Monday to restock my beer supply, and Kroger had the Samuel Adams summer sampler pack on the shelves (which I promptly purchased).  I was stunned that the Spring selection was already gone, and it was two days before the first day of spring.  Maybe the good folks at Boston Beer think that the beer will hang around in customers' refrigerators for a couple months, but if that is the case, they have clearly misunderstood this customer.  Anyway, the Summer Ale just doesn't sound as appealing when it is 15 degrees out in the morning.  Maybe they ought to slow down on the release of the seasonal samplers.

WTF is a Raccoon Dog?

The fashion retailer Nieman Marcus had a little run in with the Federal Trade Commission this week. It was one of three companies involved in a settlement over fake fur. It turns out that some Burberry coats they had advertised as faux fur were actually real fur. They were made from an East Asian animal called a raccoon dog.
A raccoon dog is not quite a raccoon and not quite a dog. What it definitely is not, is synthetic, which means it cannot be sold as fake fur.
Humane Society attorney Ralph Henry says the society tested coats in a lab and notified the FTC, when they discoverd that the coats were made from the animal's fur.
Actually, Wikipedia comes to the rescue:
The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides, from the Greek words nukt-, "night" + ereutēs, "wanderer" + prokuōn, "before-dog" [but in New Latin used to mean "raccoon"] + -oidēs, "-oid"), also known as the magnut or tanuki, is a canid indigenous to East Asia. It is the only extant species in the genus Nyctereutes. It is considered a basal canid species, resembling ancestral forms of the family. Among the Canidae, the raccoon dog shares the habit of regularly climbing trees only with the North American gray fox, another basal species. The raccoon dog is named for its resemblance to the raccoon (Procyon lotor), to which it is not closely related. Native East Asian raccoon dog populations have declined in recent years due to hunting, fur trade, urbanization, an increase of animals associated with human civilization such as pets and abandoned animals, and diseases that may be transmitted between them. Following its introduction into central and western Europe, however, it has been treated as a potentially hazardous invasive species.

I don't get fur, so I don't understand this.  But I bet China was involved.

True Facts About The Dung Beetle

Funny and gross:

Doesn't human mating often involve impressing a female with a big bunch of shit? At least when I hear some guys' pickup lines, it seems to.

Chart of the Day

From The Atlantic:

Maybe the shale gas boom in Eastern Ohio will allow Ohio to join Wyoming and North Dakota on the positive side of this chart.  Oh, wait, John Kasich would just propose another tax cut for rich folks.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Bad Day At The Salt Mine

From Boudreaux's backyard you can see the entrance to Texas Brine. The firm operates several salt wells here in Assumption Parish , injecting water into an underground salt dome to leach out brine. The sodium chloride is used by the nearby petrochemical industries that line the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
"This is the sinkhole," says Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch. He looks out over what appears to be a lake surrounded by swamp land and a fresh earthen levee. It was all swamp before Aug. 3, the morning workers discovered the sinkhole.
One day the area was swamp, he says, and the next "there's nothing, except debris, floating vegetative matter, and as it turned out, there was some liquid hydrocarbon that had risen to the surface."
That was crude oil and natural gas bubbling up from below ground. It was a mystery at first, but now authorities say an abandoned salt cavern collapsed, shifting the rock and salt formations deep below, causing the sinkhole above and unleashing hydrocarbons into the ground water aquifer up to two miles from the site.
The sinkhole is still growing. Monitoring reveals continuing shifting underground and a possible problem at a second cavern.
The state has ordered Texas Brine to drill 30 of these natural gas wells around Bayou Corne.
Patrick Courreges with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources says the escaping methane poses a danger.
"Want to get that out so that you don't have the risk of homes with enclosed spaces having a concentration of gas buildup that could be flammable or explosive," Courreges says.
Courreges says Texas Brine had plugged and abandoned this salt mine in 2010 after integrity problems. And state rules at the time did not require any continued monitoring. Now scientists have discovered the side wall of the salt cavern collapsed, causing tremors, the sinkhole and oil and gas leaks. Courreges says they've yet to find a roadmap for dealing with this unique set of problems.
I'm sure pesky regulations would have just discouraged the company from sucking the town down into the ground. 

A Succinct Description of Life in Flyover Country

From a story on gun suicides in Wyoming:
"I hear people all the time say about some places in Wyoming [that] there's nothing to do there but get pregnant and get drunk," says 17-year-old Mady Schmidt of Casper.
I guess if you don't count playing video games, watching TV or running a shitty blog (at least for this guy), there aren't too many other things to do.  Oh, wait, I left out playing euchre.  Now everything is covered.

Whiskey Makers Buck Tradition

In the search for new flavors, distillers are experimenting with different wood barrels for aging:
Morris recently launched Woodford Reserve "Four Wood," the seventh release in Woodford Reserve's annual Master's Collection, which sees Morris alter one of the five sources of the whiskey's flavor—grain, water, fermentation, distillation or maturation. Focusing on the time the whiskey spends in the barrel for 2012, Morris put standard six- to seven-year-old Woodford Reserve in a maple wood barrel as well as former sweet wine casks to lend more chocolate, nutty and dark cherry flavors not usually found in bourbon. Much like the original Woodford Reserve mingled with the new charred American oak barrel, the "Four Wood" chemically reacted with its barrel wood to produce a particular set of flavors. The former fortified wine barrels had wine soaked into the wood and are larger than standard whiskey barrels, giving the Woodford Reserve a larger surface-to-whiskey ratio as well as the small-scale fruity flavors that remained from the barrel's former alcohol.
In an effort to create a spicier-finishing whiskey, Maker's Mark added toasted French white oak staves to its existing bourbon barrel for its 2010 Maker's 46. "French oak has a different flavor profile than American oak—it’s spicier," Boswell says. "The French oak wood is lighter, a less dense wood. The oxygen interacts with the spirit differently than the American oak barrel."
French white oak packs nine times more tannic acid than American oak, Boswell says. When the Maker's Mark hits the barrel and mingles with the French and American oak, the whiskey takes on both woods’ profile characteristics. With the French spice and American sweetness, Maker's 46 delivers a spicy, rich caramel whiskey that leaves its flavor on the tongue longer than traditional Maker's Mark.
Aging has even gone beyond stationary warehouses. For its Ocean-Aged Bourbon, Jefferson's Reserve placed several barrels on a 126-foot ship and let the casks cruise at sea for nearly four years. The increased oceanic air pressure (compared with its warehouse), along with the Panama Canal's extreme heat pushed the whiskey deeper inside the wood, causing the wood sugars to caramelize and add a rumlike black hue.
Luckily, with the exception of Laphroaig, I haven't been able to really taste much difference between whiskeys.  I don't think this is for me, but it is interesting.  It is pretty amazing how complex the organic chemicals that create flavors are.  I probably should have paid a little attention during that semester of Orgo I was present for.

The Way Forward In Animal Agriculture?

While the old guard is fighting a losing battle, a young farmer in Ohio is looking to meet market demand:
“Getting into livestock allowed us to add cash flow and we’re helping out the grain side with labor by being here and with the resources. We built one hog building in 2005 and another in 2006 for my brother to operate. Then, we decided to start another venture with chickens to allow room for my cousin to be a part of the farm,” Harting said.
They also knew the poultry litter from the chicken barns would be a valuable resource, significantly cutting down the fertilizer cost in the grain operation. But, ultimately, the decision to produce free-range eggs over conventional came down to what made the most sense for their operation and the environment at the time.
“We looked at the choices and a cage house was a bigger investment than the free-range building,” he said. “They were trying to push Issue Two in Ohio right when this barn was being built and that is when we geared more for the free-range. With all of the regulations they are making, it opens up the door to this new era. We looked into it and we were able to get a contract. We liked what we saw with the free-range with the smaller bird numbers too.”
They ended up contracting with Egg Innovations in Indiana that provides the organic feed and the birds and markets the eggs. There are significant requirements for documentation and record keeping through the program, but ultimately, Harting said is pays off in the end because of the higher premium he receives.
He built two Big Dutchman barns with the Colony 2+ Alternative Layer System that are  specifically designed for the free-range application.

Colony 2+ from Big Dutchman on Vimeo.

I think it is notable that while many guys have looked to Indiana as the place to go with livestock after Ohio cut a deal with the HSUS, it is actually an Indiana company behind the free-range egg project. Smart folks don't fight the demands of the market, they adapt. This kid looks to be adapting pretty well. We'll see if folks like Jim Buchy learn from them.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Republicans Can't Change

Charles Pierce:
The Republicans are not going to change in any substantive way for two very good reasons: one, they can't. (See above.) Their base is a mixture of crazy ideas and lunatic independence, and now the crazy ideas and lunatic independence are independently financed, and the politicians they produce instantly walk into safe congressional districts that have become ironclad locked wards; and two, they don't really want to. As is obvious, they've forced the debate so far to the right, and so distant from the confines of intellectual gravity that our politics have become utterly unmoored. The ur-lunacy of the modern Republican party is represented by the crazy bass-ackwards theories of economics which they have come to adopt as an unshakable faith. Bear in mind — supply-side theory, which was blessed at birth by Saint Ronnie Himself, is no less nutty and distant from reality than is Paul Broun's view on how the earth was made and whence come the snowflake Jesus babies. It's the original anti-science position that made all the others possible. It's the gate through which all the more baroque ideas were delivered. It's how a scenario actually can be constructed whereby Paul Ryan is the liberal alternative. And it is the one part of the Reagan legacy that the party can never give up.
If the party really were committed to changing itself, it would encourage within its ranks a real economic debate over whether the fanatical adherence to an economic philosophy that was concocted on a cocktail napkin almost 40 years ago is really where the entire party wants to plant the flag forever. It would debate seriously whether it is time now to lay the ghost of Imaginary Reagan. And a thousand Republican politicians say, in response — "OK, you first, Ace."
He's right that the party has come to hold so many crazy ideas as firmly as any religious belief that they can't really change any of them without undermining all of them.  It brings to mind a little song from a long time ago, which pretty well sums up how a religious tenet gets taken to the logical extreme:

Building the World's Largest Ship

Building the World's Largest Ship (in 76 seconds) from Maersk Line on Vimeo.

An Overstuffed Sausage

Via The Dish, video of this dachshund prior to trimming down:

There is one very good reason why my dog would never get that fat. I just wouldn't buy him that much food. That is so amazingly absurd.

First Four Picks

I didn't get my picks in before the games started, but I was guaranteed to pick North Carolina A&T over Liberty, and that has nothing to do with Liberty having a losing record.  I am also guaranteed to pick St. Mary's and LaSalle.  In the final First Four game, I'll take LIU-Brooklyn.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chart of the Day

Gerrymandering in Michigan:

The Iraq War, 10 Years Later

It is interesting reading about all the folks who thought the Iraq war was necessary and proper 10 years ago who have since changed their minds, but one thing I could say was that I didn't give a damn back then whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  I thought it was idiotic to invade, but mainly I just argued with people I worked with, and told them it was a bad idea that likely wouldn't end well.  At a certain point, I just gave up on arguing and said that I sure hoped the people who thought it would be quick and easy were right.  Early on, it looked like maybe I was wrong, but as things heated up in the summer of 2004, I really got pissed off at how the Bush administration was letting things slide out of control.  By 2006, it was clear the administration was just trying to get through the 2006 midterms.  Anyway, I'm glad so many folks realize they were wrong, and I hope they keep that in mind while the Israelis and the Republicans (and possibly Obama) push for war with Iran. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gypsy Rover

NASA Photo of the Day

March 11:

Sakurajima Volcano with Lightning
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Rietze (Alien Landscapes on Planet Earth)
Explanation: Why does a volcanic eruption sometimes create lightning? Pictured above, the Sakurajima volcano in southern Japan was caught erupting in early January. Magma bubbles so hot they glow shoot away as liquid rock bursts through the Earth's surface from below. The above image is particularly notable, however, for the lightning bolts caught near the volcano's summit. Why lightning occurs even in common thunderstorms remains a topic of research, and the cause of volcanic lightning is even less clear. Surely, lightning bolts help quench areas of opposite but separated electric charges. One hypothesis holds that catapulting magma bubbles or volcanic ash are themselves electrically charged, and by their motion create these separated areas. Other volcanic lightning episodes may be facilitated by charge-inducing collisions in volcanic dust. Lightning is usually occurring somewhere on Earth, typically over 40 times each second.

Storytelling Foul

I was telling a Woodie story last night, and forgot one of the best parts, the cliffhanger.

The story was one I heard Woodie tell a couple of times, and it was set at a land auction.  This farm was selling, and one of the main bidders was some hillbilly, seemingly straight out of the hollow, wearing bib overalls with tobacco juice dripping off of his chin.  The auctioneer kept mentioning to the guy that the winning bidder would have to put down a 10% payment at the close of the auction, because he didn't think the guy had a pot to piss in.  The guy would acknowledge that and keep bidding.  Finally, he got the winning bid and told his wife to go out to the car grab the milk can.  So his wife went out to the car and brought back the milk can.  The guy opened it up, and it was empty.  He told his wife that she grabbed the wrong one, so she went back out and got another one.  He opened it up, and pulled out enough cash to buy the farm outright.

When I told this story, I left out the whole part with the wrong milk can, and jumped straight to the cash filled one.  That's why I'm not nearly as good of a storyteller as Woodie.

The Pilgrims' Progress

From Lapham's Quarterly:
Plymouth Colony was established in 1620 with the landing of the Mayflower on the long arm of Cape Cod, and it was dissolved into the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691. This seventy year period saw the establishment of a strong colonial government, war and peace with the natives, and it also established the Puritan faith in at the heart of early America, in which the Church was an established social order where members obeyed God—and looked out for each other to do the same. Our collective mythmaking about the Pilgrims and their pious conservatism does not make room for this image of the colony. Pilgrims are hard-working, religious, pious people to us, and Americans are intoxicated with this puritanical vision of past. We don’t see Plymouth as a party town, but as the birthplace of our best selves.

And yet alcohol was everywhere. The Mayflower had been stocked with more beer than water, as well as cider, wine, and aqua vitae, a form of distilled brandy. The first Thanksgiving included thanks for a successful barley crop, which allowed for the brewing of beer, and aqua vitae, or “strong water,” was used to smooth over discussions with the Wampanogs. Alcohol was essential to the survival of the colony, both as a drink and a currency, and a great deal of energy and time was dedicated to lawmaking and law enforcing surrounding the making, selling, and drinking of alcohol.
The Plymouth Colony Court Records begin in 1623, but don’t discuss regulation of alcohol until ten years later, when John Holmes, a regular drinker, finally pushed the court to act. Holmes was “censured for drunkenness, to sitt in the stocks, & amerced in twenty shillings fine.” This steep punishment suggests that Holmes must have experienced quite the bender.
The law he had broken? There was none in the Court records at the time. But two months later in July the court ruled, “That the person in whose howse any were found or suffered to drinke drunck be left to the arbitrary fine & punishment of the Govr & Cowncell, according to the nature & circumstance of the same.” Now it was illegal to be drunk, and illegal to allow a person to get drunk in your home.
The article finishes with a great line:
 The pilgrims are our ancestral drinking buddies.
Where is the like button?

The Decline of Monarch Butterflies

There was a piece on CBS Sunday Morning about the decline in numbers of Monarch butterflies.  In it they mentioned that populations were thought to be declining due to pesticides which eliminated their main food source, milkweed.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put together that this is mainly due to Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.  Here's the New York Times in 2011:
Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, and their larvae eat it. While the evidence is still preliminary and disputed, experts like Chip Taylor say the growing use of genetically modified crops is threatening the orange-and-black butterfly by depriving it of habitat.
“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 100 million acres of these row crops,” said Dr. Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and director of the research and conservation program Monarch Watch. “Your milkweed is virtually gone.”
The primary evidence that monarch populations are in decline comes from a new study showing a drop over the last 17 years of the area occupied by monarchs in central Mexico, where many of them spend the winter. The amount of land occupied by the monarchs is thought to be a proxy for their population size.
“This is the first time we have the data that we can analyze statistically that shows there’s a downward trend,” said Ernest H. Williams, a professor of biology at Hamilton College and an author of the study along with Dr. Taylor and others.
The paper, published online by the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, attributes the decrease partly to the loss of milkweed from use of “Roundup Ready” crops. Other causes, it says, are the loss of milkweed to land development, illegal logging at the wintering sites in Mexico, and severe weather.
Of course, they include some people who deny any link (I bet they have research funded by Monsanto).  But from personal experience, I don't remember the last time I saw milkweed in the field.  As a kid, it was everywhere.  Then again, I haven't seen too many Monarch butterflies recently.  While that may not be the worst thing in the world, it is a somewhat scary indicator of what unforeseen  changes we wreak on the environment around us.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Sure it's Notre Dame propaganda, but the Irish Blessing is worth it.