Saturday, June 22, 2013


I hadn't heard about this:
  J. D. Salinger was good at keeping secrets.
Harvey Weinstein, well, not so much.
But now the film producer may have to adopt the air of mystery for which Salinger was so famous. His company is preparing to offer a peek at a documentary about Salinger that is one of the unlikeliest projects ever to join its menagerie of potential Oscar contenders and box-office bait.
The film, “Salinger,” has been nine years in the making and is scheduled for release on Sept. 6. It is written, produced and directed by Shane Salerno, who is mostly known as a writer of action features like “Savages,” “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” and “Armageddon.”
Selling the film may test even Mr. Weinstein’s Barnum-like skills. Moviegoers will be kept intentionally in the dark about what new information Mr. Salerno might have about the reclusive writer’s life — Mr. Salinger’s son, Matthew, challenges the notion that anyone close to his father in recent decades cooperated — and the Weinstein Company will have to strike a delicate balance in its marketing. It will have to raise the curtains a little, but not too much, as it seeks to build anticipation for the release.
The dude does fascinate me.

The Grain Terminal

The Grain Terminal from Stephane Missier on Vimeo.

A little background:
On the far side of Red Hook Park’s soccer and baseball fields, locked-up behind a fence made of enormous concrete blocks, lays the last vestige of Red Hook's industrial grandeur: The New York Port Authority Grain Terminal.
This massive 429-foot long and 12-story high beige-colored fortress was built in 1922 for the purpose of washing, drying and storing grain from the Great Lakes, before the grain was loaded onto freight ships and delivered to breweries, distilleries and flour mills. Ultimately, the terminal was built to invigorate New York State’s Canal System and compete with railroad-owned stationary elevators.
Nevertheless, NYC’s uncompetitive labor costs and storage disputes forced the Port Authority to cease operations in 1965, after 40 years of under-use. Since then, the Grain Elevator has sat vacant and majestic on Gowanus Bay's waterfront, alongside the Erie Basin, dominating Red Hook's urban landscape.
City officials and engineers refer to the Grain Terminal as the Magnificent Mistake. However, Red Hook’s inhabitants affectionately term it one of two distinct names: “The Lady Finger,” due to its unique structure which consists of a series of 54 joined concrete semi-circular silos; or simply, the "Elevator.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

How Big Is the Surveillance State?

Fucking huge:
And as NBC News reports:
NBC News has learned that under the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the U.S.
This includes metadata … which can tell the government a lot about you.  And it also includes content.
In addition, a government expert told the Washington Post that the government “quite can literally watch your ideas form as you type.” A top NSA executives have confirmed to Washington’s Blog that the NSA is intercepting and storing virtually all digital communications on the Internet.
Private contractors can also view all of your data … and the government isn’t keeping track of which contractors see your data and which don’t.
And top NSA and FBI experts say that the government can retroactively search all of the collected information on someone since 9/11 if they suspect someone of wrongdoing … or want to frame him.
The American government is in fact collecting and storing virtually every phone call, purchases, email, text message, internet searches, social media communications, health information, employment history, travel and student records, and virtually all other information of every American.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA spies on Americans’ credit card transactions as well.
Also, this:
So what happens to the communications that the government isn't supposed to have? When they're accurately identified as such -- often that's an NSA analyst's judgment call -- the relevant data is supposed to be destroyed forever. But there are exceptions, when the NSA can keep and store the purely domestic communications of American citizens, and even forward them onto the FBI.
Here's how The Guardian puts it:
...the Fisa court-approved policies allow the NSA to:

• Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;
• Retain and make use of "inadvertently acquired" domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;
• Preserve "foreign intelligence information" contained within attorney-client communications;
• Access the content of communications gathered from "U.S. based machine[s]" or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.
The broad scope of the court orders, and the nature of the procedures set out in the documents, appear to clash with assurances from President Obama and senior intelligence officials that the NSA could not access Americans' call or email information without warrants.
At a minimum, this makes President Obama's recent public statements look highly misleading, if not outright lies. Says Drum, after parsing the minimization procedure document, "The minimization procedures are fairly strict, but they do allow retention and dissemination of domestic data -- without a warrant -- under quite a few circumstances. 'Threat of harm' is pretty broad, as is 'criminal activity.' The latter, in fact, seems like a loophole the size of a Mack truck. It suggests that NSA could have a significant incentive to 'inadvertently' hoover up as much domestic information as possible so it can search for evidence of criminal activity to hand over to the FBI." Several other objections come to mind, but I presume that, in coming days, we're going to understand these procedures better than we do now, so let's put that line of inquiry on hold.
Yeah, that could never get abused.  Well, considering this, I guess any potential terrorists or other criminals out there don't have too much to worry about.  Now, reporters, political insurgents and other rabble rousers, on the other hand....

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Failure May Bring Unexpected Success

That was Albert Hirschman's belief:
“We may be dealing here with a general principle of action,” Hirschman wrote:
Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.
And from there Hirschman’s analysis took flight. People don’t seek out challenges, he went on. They are “apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.” This was the Hiding Hand principle—a play on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then, trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job. “We have ended up here with an economic argument strikingly paralleling Christianity’s oft expressed preference for the repentant sinner over the righteous man who never strays from the path,” Hirschman wrote in this essay from 1967. Success grew from failure:
And essentially the same idea, even though formulated, as one might expect, in a vastly different spirit, is found in Nietzsche’s famous maxim, “That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” This sentence admirably epitomizes several of the histories of economic development projects in recent decades.
 In ways, I agree with him.  We just can't plan for what might happen.  However, that really irks the practical, scientific part of me.  But the realistic part of me knows that actual events tend to run in direct contrast to the amount of planning put into them.  I highly recommend the article.

Drought Leads To Irrigation Construction

KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Last year's drought devastated crops in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, so this year farmers are staying ahead of the curve by purchasing irrigation permits—specifically in South Dakota.
Irrigation permits have soared in 2013 in South Dakota. So far, 279 permits have been approved and 121 more are pending. In 2012, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved 205 irrigation permits.
South Dakota DENR Engineer Ron Duvall said crop and land prices are partly what are drawing the increase in permits. Duvall says current crop prices and land prices are so good that farmers are using the irrigation permits to increase their crop yields and land values.
Duvall said he expects permits to scale back in the weeks ahead. He said the amount of permits will decrease as the drought eases and farmers become busier.

The Origin of a Terrible Idea

Mother Jones looks at ag-gag laws:
Back in September 2003, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released a piece of model legislation it called the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. Like so many bills drafted by the free-market think tank, AETA was handed over, ready made, to legislators with the idea that it could be introduced in statehouses across the country with minimal modification. Under the measure, it would become a felony (if damages exceed $500) to enter "an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means," and, in a flush of Patriot Act-era overreaching, those convicted of making such recordings would also be placed on a permanent "terrorist registry."
After a few years on the shelf, ALEC's pet project found new life when radical groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front destroyed testing labs and torched SUVs, prompting FBI deputy director John Lewis to say in 2005 that "the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the ecoterrorism, animal-rights movement." The bill was overhauled—modifying the ban on shooting video to "damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise" and eliminating the section on creating a terrorism watch list. This defanged version, renamed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, was repackaged to congressional leaders as a needed revision of existing laws protecting medical research from unlawful interference. Though it wouldn't become apparent until much later, it was the beginning of lobbyists and lawmakers conflating radical ALF-type incidents with the undercover work done by PETA and journalists. The bill sailed through the Senate by unanimous consent, and in the House encountered resistance only from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Kucinich warned it would "have a chilling effect on the exercise of the constitutional rights of protest," before a voice vote on the bill allowed it to be ushered through.
The whole concept is stupid.  If you criminalize recording what is happening on your farm, you necessarily look like you have something to hide.  Honestly, I don't think I would want anybody filming me on a bad day, but you can't make recording actual events a more serious crime than what the person is recording.  This is one law which is just idiotic.

Statesman, Philosopher, Brewer

Thomas Jefferson, connoisseur of alcohol:
In September, 1813 Jefferson wrote to William D. Meriwether about an exciting new venture:
We are this day beginning, under the directions of Capt Millar, the business of brewing Malt liquors...
The "business" of malt liquor (with a captain, no less) is presumably the only thing President Jefferson had in common with Billy Dee Williams.
But Jefferson didn't stop with malt liquor and fine wine. Like Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson also had a passion for beer. Here's a letter from September, 1814, when Jefferson was 71:
I am now engaged in brewing a year’s supply of malt strong beer, which however I have no chance of saving but by a supply of quart jugs from you. I recieved (I think) 10½ dozen. and must ask the favor of 4. gross more for which mr Gibson will pay your bill. be so good as to inform me when they will be ready.
In that case, it seems as though Jefferson went a little too far.
Wait, did they say that malt liquor is presumably the only thing Jefferson had in common with Lando?  Who wrote this, the folks who denied the Jefferson-Hemings relations?  I'd say Billy Dee and Jefferson had a couple of things in common.

The Joy of Raising Livestock

Jay Vogler describes a venture raising sheep that went awry.  Here's one bad day:
One year we were deep into mud season, after a good month of cold, wet snow. I was doing everything by myself, which is exhausting, and also pretty frantic. You end up forgetting to do things. So I was carrying some buckets out to the field and I was sure I had turned off the electric fence. But I had gone through a different entrance, kind of lost my bearings.
When I was a kid those fences were battery-operated; they’d give you a little zap. Me and my buddies would grab onto them for fun, try to trick tourists into doing it. Nowadays we’re talking like 8000 or 9000 volts. When I hit that fence, the electricity pulsed up through my arms and hit my chest like a baseball bat. I had to sit down.
I used to wear these fireman boots at the time. They were great because you could slip into them real easy. You could also slip right out of them.
So when I went to stand up, kind of disoriented, I stepped right out of my boots. We’ve got an extremely heavy clay soil here, no rocks to break it up. My foot sunk straight down six or eight inches into the mud, and I went flat on my face. I remember just laying there in the ice and mud, thinking, “This is the lowest I’ve gotten.”
I never accidentally ran into the electric fence, mainly because I've been too lazy to put one in (yet. Those cows are pissing be off undermining the fences, though, so I might zap them [and probably me]).  However, I've stepped out of my rubber boots a couple of times.  One winter evening, I stopped in to feed the cows before heading to the local pub to have a drink.  Unfortunately, my boots sank into the muck and as I tried to unstick my boot, my foot came out and sank into the muck, I lost my balance and fell face first into the mud/manure mix in front of me.  I didn't make it to town that night.  But I did get a pretty good laugh at my own expense.  Anyway, if one has livestock around, especially in the disorganized hobbyist way I do, lots of strange and funny things will happen.

Beautiful Charts, or Why I Love the Census Bureau

Stuff like this, at The Handsome Atlas, from the Statistical Atlases of 1870, 1880 and 1890:

That is part of a chart showing excise revenue from alcohol in each state in the country.  There are all kinds of cool maps, like horses per square mile by state:

If you are kind of a nerd like me, and want to kill some time, check it out.  There are all kinds of gorgeous charts laying out data in ways you'd never dream of.  Such as this:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

You May Remember Me

Phil Hartman is sorely missed, but he'll always live on in the monorail song.

Trying to Make Ammonium Nitrate Less Explosive

Washington Post:
Ammonium nitrate, which packs a fearsome punch, is used in more than 60 percent of the Taliban’s bombs. It’s also essential to farming; without it, thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis would starve.
This spring, an engineer at Sandia National Laboratories announced that he had found a special additive that blunted the fertilizer’s blast without damaging crop yields...
A light rain fell as Best and his team started to make two bombs in five-gallon plastic paint buckets. The first bomb was made from traditional ammonium nitrate fertilizer — the kind that’s used by insurgents every day in Afghanistan. The other bomb contained the Sandia fertilizer, which includes an iron sulfate additive that is supposed to split the ammonium nitrate into two nonexplosive compounds: iron nitrate and ammonium sulfate.
The iron sulfate gave the Sandia fertilizer a light greenish tint. One of Best’s scientists worked silently, pouring fine aluminum powder, which fuels the blast, into the two plastic buckets of fertilizer.....Ten years ago, the bombs used in Iraq and Afghanistan were mostly old artillery shells that insurgents found in dumps and buried along regularly traveled roads. The military countered by adding layers of thick armor to their trucks. So began a decade-long game of cat and mouse; move and countermove.
Iraqi fighters, with help from Iran, built high-tech devices that could pierce the American armor. The Afghan insurgents turned to fertilizer bombs, which are cheap, easy to make and devilishly hard to detect. A typical bomb kills with razor-sharp shrapnel. A fertilizer bomb contains no metal. It kills with a wave of intense energy that passes through the thickest armor.
Based on the test, the modified ammonium nitrate was 5% less explosive.  Back to the drawing board.  I'm not exactly how they were planning on keeping folks who would like to see us get bogged down somewhere from providing our enemies with regular ammonium nitrate, but it is interesting nonetheless.  It is also interesting that the article said that since fewer soldiers are getting blown up with IEDs (mom called them IUDs the other day, and I had to correct her),  the government might kill the program.  You know, because we'll never invade another shithole country where fertilizer or other easily built explosives might be widely available.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Art Shay: The Sporting Life and Times

Art Shay: The Sporting Life and Times from Bradley Rochford on Vimeo.

Warming Will Alter Lake Ecology

Scientific American:
Martin Dokulil of the Institute for Limnology at the University of Innsbruck studied data from nine lakes larger than 10 square kilometers, or about 2,500 acres. The largest, Bodensee or Lake Constance, touches Austria's border with Germany and Switzerland; on the other side of the country, 800 kilometers (500 miles) to the east, Neusiedler See borders Germany and Hungary.
The maximum depth of the nine lakes ranges from 2 meters to 254 meters (6.5 feet to 833 feet) and they are vital to Austria's tourist industry: They play powerful roles in the Alpine ecosystem in addition to being reservoirs of water.
But the Alpine valleys are warming: From 1980 to 1999 the region warmed three times the global average. By 2050 median temperatures for the region are expected to rise by 3.5°C. The challenge has been to anticipate the impact of global warming on the lakes, researchers say.
"The predicted changes in surface water temperatures will affect the thermal characteristics of the lakes," said Dokulil. "Warmer water temperatures could lead to enhanced nutrient loads and affect water quality by promoting algal blooms and impairing the biological functions of aquatic organisms.
I'm sure other species will flourish in the warmed lakes, but for all those conservative folks I know who hate change, alterations like these will prove greatly challenging.  The more the news comes in, the more gloomy I feel about the not-too-distant future.  It might not be as bad of a thing as I think to not have children to leave the mess we've made to.

The Shale Boom, the Manufacturing Boom and Jobs

More drilling brings more manufacturing, but not more jobs (h/t nc links):

In March, a study by Cleveland State University concluded that while gas exploration had unleashed a surge in economic activity in Ohio, job growth - even in counties directly affected by the drilling - was stagnant. The employment growth that many assumed would follow the energy investment was "not yet evident," the study's authors said.
The Vallourec Star plant, for example, will employ just 350 workers. Those jobs won't begin to make up for ones lost just a year ago, when RG Steel closed its plant here and laid off more than 1,000 workers - let alone the tens of thousands of jobs Youngstown has lost since the late 1970s, when the steel mills that drove the local economy closed.
And some recent investments, like the $100 million Timken put into a new intermediate finishing line at its Faircrest Steel Plant in Canton, are resulting in fewer, not more, jobs.
Timken's old intermediate finishing line employed more than 200 workers and processed pipe and other products in 10 days, according to plant manager Larry Pollock. The new facility, built to meet surging demand from the energy industry, employs fewer than 30 and can process the same material in as little as two hours, plant manager Larry Pollock said.
In the brightly lit and relatively quiet plant, no human hand touches the pipes as they speed down the line. Workers monitor the process at half a dozen computerized control consoles. "A lot of the old assets were standalone work centers, independently loaded and unloaded, very labor intensive," Pollock said.
Data from the state's Bureau of Labor Market Information tells the story. After bottoming out in 2010, Ohio's manufacturing sector has added nearly 42,000 jobs in recent years. But the state still has nearly 110,000 fewer manufacturing jobs today than it did in 2007, when the last recession began.
Meanwhile pay across the sector is going down, not up, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.
Manufacturing workers in Ohio, for instance, have seen their wages fall 1.3 percent in the last year alone.
But signs are that the shale boom might not be as big of an impact as what was thought:

But the oil and gas business is notoriously cyclical, and that has Ballas nervous. In neighboring Pennsylvania, the drilling for shale gas "went from zero to full speed to full stop in three years," he says as he eyes the half dozen unsold tank trucks parked in his yard.
A report in mid-May from Ohio's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) suggests Ballas has reason to be cautious. The report concluded that the state's shale deposit was heavy on lower-priced gas and light on more profitable oil.
Since the oil and other liquid petrochemicals believed to be trapped here were the big draw for many drillers, not the gas itself, the report raised questions about just how much demand the industrial companies will actually enjoy as a result of the Ohio shale play - and whether some may have gotten ahead of themselves as they invested to meet expected demand.
None of this comes as a great surprise to me.  Bonus depreciation, tax laws favoring capital,  increasing health care costs and the dramatically lowering cost of computing technology have created  major incentives to invest in machinery instead of personnel.  That's been the case in each of the last three recessions, and each one has taken longer than the last to just get back to even with total jobs.  That is not a good sign for the vast majority of Americans.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Horizons from Randy Halverson on Vimeo.

NASA Photo of the Day

June 11:

Star Forming Region NGC 3582
Image Credit & Copyright: Desert Hollow Observatory
Explanation: What's happening in the NGC 3582 nebula? Bright stars and interesting molecules are forming. The complex nebula resides in the star forming region called RCW 57. Visible in this image are dense knots of dark interstellar dust, bright stars that have formed in the past few million years, fields of glowing hydrogen gas ionized by these stars, and great loops of gas expelled by dying stars. A detailed study of NGC 3582, also known as NGC 3584 and NGC 3576, uncovered at least 33 massive stars in the end stages of formation, and the clear presence of the complex carbon molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are thought to be created in the cooling gas of star forming regions, and their development in the Sun's formation nebula five billion years ago may have been an important step in the development of life on Earth. The above image was taken at the Desert Hollow Observatory north of Phoenix, Arizona, USA.

The Boss of the Security State

 Wired profiles General Keith Alexander, the head of NSA, CSS,  USCYBERCOM and several other acronym named spy groups:
This is the undisputed domain of General Keith Alexander, a man few even in Washington would likely recognize. Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his secrecy. A four-star Army general, his authority extends across three domains: He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. As such, he has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army.
Alexander runs the nation’s cyberwar efforts, an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe. In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”
And the empire is growing:
 In May, work began on a $3.2 billion facility housed at Fort Meade in Maryland. Known as Site M, the 227-acre complex includes its own 150-megawatt power substation, 14 administrative buildings, 10 parking garages, and chiller and boiler plants. The server building will have 90,000 square feet of raised floor—handy for supercomputers—yet hold only 50 people. Meanwhile, the 531,000-square-foot operations center will house more than 1,300 people. In all, the buildings will have a footprint of 1.8 million square feet. Even more ambitious plans, known as Phase II and III, are on the drawing board. Stretching over the next 16 years, they would quadruple the footprint to 5.8 million square feet, enough for nearly 60 buildings and 40 parking garages, costing $5.2 billion and accommodating 11,000 more cyberwarriors.
What a waste of money and effort, and what a likely source of abuse of power.  Also, most likely it was the source of Stuxnet, and the legitimization of cyberwar couldn't possibly blowback on U.S. national interests, now could it?

If There is a Hell...

There's a special place there for folks like this:
While Cancer Fund provides care packages that contain shampoo and toothbrushes, the people in charge have personally made millions of dollars and used donations as venture capital to build a charity empire. Less than 2 cents of every dollar raised has gone to direct cash aid for patients or families, records show.
For years, Cancer Fund founder James T. Reynolds Sr. and his family have obscured that fact with accounting tricks, deceptive marketing campaigns and lies, the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting have found.
Stories about ripping people off in the name of a cause are as old as the concept of charity itself.
But the Reynolds family is something different.
After spending nearly 20 years building Cancer Fund, the family began spinning off new cancer charities, each with a similar mission and a relative or close associate in control.
The family has founded five cancer charities that pay executive salaries to nearly a dozen relatives.
During a yearlong investigation, the Times and CIR identified America's 50 worst charities based on the money they divert from the needy by paying professional solicitation companies.
At least a dozen of these operators have built networks of multiple charities, some with interlocking boards or family connections.
They include multimillion dollar operations in Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
None are more brazen and incestuous than the Reynolds network.
To track the family connections, the Times and CIR reviewed thousands of pages of financial records and investigative documents from regulators in eight states, interviewed vendors and recipients and traced donations from the phone banks to their ultimate destination.
In the past three years alone, Cancer Fund and its associated charities raised $110 million. The charities paid more than $75 million of that to solicitors. Cancer Fund ranks second on the Times/CIR list of America's worst charities. (Florida's Kids Wish Network placed first.)
Salaries in 2011 topped $8 million — 13 times more than patients received in cash. Nearly $1 million went to Reynolds family members.
The network's programs are overstated at best. Some have been fabricated.
"Urgent pain medication" supposedly provided to critically ill cancer patients amounted to nothing more than over-the-counter ibuprofen, regulators determined. A program to drive patients to chemotherapy, touted by the charity in mailings, didn't even exist.
The Tampa Bay Times did a superb series on America's worst charities, and most, like the Cancer Fund used names similar to legitimate charities to help them rip people off.  These are the folks who take advantage of elderly folks and the not-super-bright, and it really wouldn't bother me to see many of them go to jail for a while.

Looking Back at a Big Flood

The Des Moines Register looks back at the massive flooding on the Iowa River and the Cedar River in 2008:
 First comes the melting of the third-heaviest snowpack in Iowa history. Then intense rainstorms pummel the state. Several northern Iowa cities report 10 to 14 inches of rain over 16 days. Rivers rise rapidly in early June, and Iowans turn to a dreaded but familiar pastime — sandbagging. Des Moines, Creston and Ottumwa all see rivers rise out of their banks. In eastern Iowa especially, the floods come with rare force. In the Cedar and Iowa river basins, torrents of water blast beyond so-called 500-year flood plains, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, tearing apart bridges and roads, and forever changing the landscape and Iowans' fortunes.

Here's a map from Cedar Rapids:

The 500 year flood plain, as calculated by FEMA, represents a very large flood.  Unfortunately, between a small data set and climate change, we're probably going to have to recalibrate the probabilities of such events.