Saturday, July 6, 2013

Farm Bill Failure Shows Ag Influence Decreasing

Although a number of factors contributed to the defeat of the bill — including Speaker John A. Boehner’s failure to rally enough Republican support and Democratic opposition to $20 billion in cuts to the food stamps program — analysts said the 234 to 195 vote also illustrated the shift in the American population and political power to more urban areas.
“There are a small number of Congressional districts where farming continues to carry much sway,” said Vincent H. Smith, a professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University. “Especially in the House, the farm lobby has been substantially weakened.”
For much of American history, the agriculture sectors wielded tremendous political power. Farm groups were able to get key farm legislation passed by rallying millions of farmers in nearly every Congressional district. Influential farm state legislators like Representative Jamie L. Whitten of Mississippi, a Democrat who was chairman of the Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on agriculture, brought billions in agriculture financing to their states and fought off attempts to cut subsidy programs despite pressure from both liberals and conservatives.
Actually, it shows that the total nut jobs in the Republican caucus, like Jim Jordan and Tim Huelskamp, are driven more by their religious devotion to tax cuts and spending cuts (and fucking over poor people [just like Jesus would want, I guess]), than they are to common sense, political sense, economic sense or most other kinds of sense.  I agree with them that direct payments are dumb, but their war on food stamps, right now, manages to screw over the Republican leadership and  give the Democrats political cover to take the high ground on those cuts, while these back bench idiots piss off one of the few constituencies Republicans still have left. .But that's what you get when the rich folks who run the party allow so many not very smart ideological loons to rise up so high in the party because they can count on their votes to degrade our civil society. 

Rural folks are also responsible for electing these morons.  Grain ag has had five or six of the greatest years in a generation due to the commodity "supercycle"/China/biofuel perfect storm.  As those narratives go away, many of the folks in these guys' districts will be hurting, and they just went and pissed on all the folks they'll need to help the residents of their districts out.  While regular folks in flyover country get hurt, the oligarchs these guys do the bidding of will be getting even richer. And the Jim Jordans and Tim Huelskamps of the world still won't understand whats going on.

Well, It's a Long Winter Up There

 National Journal:
If you're an economically minded patriot, it might occur to you at some point on July Fourth, between sips of beer, to ask, "Which state consumes the most beer?" If it does, the beer lobby's got you covered.
The Beer Institute on Tuesday released state-by-state consumption rankings for 2012, and North Dakota wins, consuming the most beer per capita. New Hampshire was next, followed by Montana. All three, it just so happens, share a border with our Molson-loving neighbor to the north. Utah consumed the least.
Ohio ranked 23rd, with 30.1 gallons per capita.  Clearly, somebody other than me is dragging down the average.

The South Won't Rise Again

And thank God that it won't, because it was a truly awful, shitty place:
In many ways, the story of modern Birmingham starts on Center Street, a leafy hill lined with neat brick ranch-style houses. In the 1940s, Center Street was the city's color line. To some, the west side was the white side and the east side was in transition.
Standing at the top of the hill, Jeff Drew remembers when the first black families tried to cross that divide.
"If you wanted to get a house on the west side of Center Street chances are you were going to have some resistance from white folks," Drew says.
But Drew's family, along with other up-and-coming black professionals, moved to the west side of Center Street anyway in a determined effort to take on one of the most segregated cities in America. At first, Drew says, the Ku Klux Klan would burn the doors of the houses that African-Americans moved into. Sometimes members of the Klan would fire shots into the dark of night.
"Those big cathedral windows were what were being shot at all of the time," Drew recalls.
And then there was dynamite. Drew says they knew a blast was coming when they heard decommissioned police cruisers burning rubber up Center Street.
"Flying up the hill. They'd throw that bomb, and we used to marvel at how fast those guys could drive. Cowards. Right up this hill," Drew says.
Those trips were so frequent that Center Street became known as Dynamite Hill, which was quite a distinction in a city that had its own notorious nickname: "Bombingham."
Birmingham historian Horace Huntley says white supremacists, with the power of the government and police behind them, were trying to intimidate civil rights pioneers.
"There were 40 plus bombings that took place in Birmingham between the late 40s and the mid 60s. Forty-some unsolved bombings," says Huntley.
What a truly twisted, fucked up region.  And yet, I can strike up a conversation with somebody any day of the week in Ohio and find out they think the world would be a better place if "the NAACP and the liberals hadn't forced political correctness down our throats."  Listening to the gun nuts, you'd think they themselves had government officials throwing bombs at their houses every night.  However, I'm pretty sure that isn't the case.  The folks in the story above actually did have bombs thrown at their houses, and it was the government officials, or their sanctioned henchmen doing it.  But, Goddamn, things were better in the olden days, when "the ....... (pick your favorite racist term) knew their place and stayed in their part of town."  Racism may no longer involve throwing bombs at people's houses, but it sure as fuck isn't dead.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


From New York a few years back:

Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks in New York City: Canon 5D mark II from Mike Kobal on Vimeo.

A Little Weber Grill History

Businessweek gives a little history of the classic charcoal grills, and the company which dominates the grill market:
Sixty-one years ago, George Stephen got tired of wind and rain messing up his cooking on an open-air grill, the main barbecue tool of the day. He grabbed a buoy made where he worked, Weber Brothers Metal Works in Illinois. He sliced it in half and fashioned a tight-fitting dome lid. It didn’t work very well until a neighbor suggested he poke holes in the kettle so air could fuel the fire. The Weber grill was born.
Stephen eventually bought the Weber metal shop, creating Weber-Stephen Products of Palatine, Ill., which is now the world’s largest grill manufacturer. The privately held company doesn’t disclose financials, but Euromonitor International says Weber-Stephen claims 35 percent of the $2.5 billion U.S. market, with rival Char-Broil a distant second.
In 1971, Stephen hired Mike Kempster, Weber-Stephen’s current chief marketing officer. He calls himself the “godfather of the brand.” In a warehouse adjoining a plant in Huntley, Ill., Kempster gestures at thousands of shrink-wrapped boxes of grills and smokers stacked in 20-foot towers. “Looks like a big supply, right?” he asks. “It’s probably less than a week.” He won’t specify how much the factory produces, but around 80 trucks haul stuff away daily. Shipments peak at about 110 semis a day just before July 4.
I love me some Weber grills.  Not surprisingly, I'm a classic charcoal guy.  Weber still makes a lot of their products in the US, but have added some production in China. 

One of my favorite oddball Saturday Night Live sketches of all-time (apparently I was one of the only fans) involved Chris Rock cooking on his Weber grill and telling "Tales of the Barbeque."  Unfortunately, I can't find a video.

Crazy Jet Stream

Today's map:

With the rain coming up from the Gulf, things aren't looking too promising here.

Why Are We So Nuts About This Stuff?

We had the President of Bolivia's plane forced down because we thought Edward Snowden might be on it?  WTF?  This is insane.  Seriously, the government obsession with Snowden seems nuts.  What is wrong with the national security whackjobs?

A Few Summer Photos

Here are a few photos from wheat harvest:

Dad running the combine:

The wheat standing prior to harvest:

A close-up:

an American Gothic sculpture visiting downtown Troy:

and finally, a somewhat failed long exposure of the full moon.  It was an 8 second exposure, you can see lightning bugs streaking across it:

And Folks Here Complain About EPA

China Introduces Death Penalty for Serious Cases of Pollution


When In The Course of human events...

Morning Edition had visitors to the National Mall read the Declaration of Independence.

They also asked people questions about the Declaration, and what it means to them:

Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Falling Behind

Watch Two American Families on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

George Packer reviews a documentary which will air on Frontline next Tuesday:
I was reminded of this scene from “Someplace Like America” while watching a new documentary film, “Two American Families,” which will air next Tuesday night, July 9th, on the PBS series “Frontline.” The film, produced by Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes (friends of mine), and narrated by Bill Moyers, follows the lives of two families in Milwaukee, the Stanleys and the Neumanns—the former black, the latter white—over the past two decades, starting in 1991. Both come out of the solid working class, and their fates are familiar ones. Jackie Stanley and Tony Neumann had factory jobs at the huge engine maker Briggs & Stratton, while Claude Stanley worked for A. O. Smith, a leading maker of chassis frames. All were union jobs, and all disappeared around 1990 as manufacturing went overseas. That’s when we meet the Stanleys and the Neumanns—just as both families are beginning to sink. The only work the men can find pays half the factory wage, without benefits—Claude waterproofs basements, Tony retrains and works the overnight shift doing light manufacturing. Jackie Stanley tries to sell real estate; Terry Neumann gets into a cosmetics-selling scheme, works at a school cafeteria, then drives a forklift. Without unions to support them, they are all at the mercy of indifferent employers and the harsh vagaries of the post-industrial economy.
The Stanley kids pick up odd jobs to help their parents. The Neumann kids start to struggle in school as their parents’ work lives leave a vacuum at home. There are never enough hours of work, or hours together at home, or dollars to pay the bills. Vacations disappear; health crises become disasters. The oldest Stanley boy, Keith, goes to college at Alabama State on a credit card. Neither family can get back to where they were before their economic slide began—a slide that coincides with those booming nineties.
This outline barely does justice to “Two American Families,” which will take its place among the central documents of our time. We all know the gist of the story, but its power lies in what we didn’t know, in the details of these American lives: Tony Neumann trying to hold back his tears at Sunday mass, the hardening of Terry Neumann’s features as she feeds a severely disabled boy in her care, Jackie Stanley’s sense of failure, Claude Stanley’s undaunted laugh even as his eyes flash with anger. The white family splits up; the black family stays together. Terry Neumann loses her house, which JPMorgan Chase sells at a fraction of the debt she owed on it. Of the eight kids between the two families, only Keith Stanley gets a four-year college degree, and with it a good job at city hall. The other children survive in varying degrees of dependency on their parents; some become parents themselves, too soon.
Read his whole piece.  It is a good reminder that Charles Murray is a pompous, judgemental, entitled asshole who has no idea how hard so many people work, and in spite of that fact, their hold on the American Dream is slipping away.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

RA Dickey Is Bouncing Back

R.A. Dickey threw a faster floater, and that meant trouble for the Detroit Tigers.
The knuckleballer won again, Jose Reyes and Mark DeRosa homered and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the slumping Tigers 8-3 on Monday for their seventh straight home win.The Blue Jays delighted a sellout crowd of 45,766 on Canada Day with their 11th victory in 13 games at Rogers Centre.Coming off his two-hit shutout against Tampa Bay, Dickey (8-8) was sharp and won for the third time in four starts. The knuckleballer allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings, striking out four and walking one."Just another great outing," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Second one in a row. I see more bite on his knuckleball than we've seen in the past a little bit."Plagued by back and neck soreness early in the season, Dickey has put those issues behind him and found increased velocity as a result."It's been kind of a tough go getting it back," Dickey said of his velocity. "I threw a knuckleball 81 miles an hour today, I threw a lot at 80 miles an hour, I threw an 85 mile an hour fastball. All those velocities are tops for the year."That's the velocity I could count on last year," he said. "You can get away with a lot more mistakes when the velocity's up there."Detroit slugger Prince Fielder said it was tough to track Dickey's dancing pitches."It was knuckling," Fielder said. "It's hard for catchers to catch it, so imagine how hard it is to hit it."
It's good he's coming around.  The amazing stat is that he's started 18 games and gotten 16 decisions.  If he can keep bring that knuckleball at 80 or 81, he'll be sitting pretty damn good.

Another Conservative Waste of Time

Huffington Post:
 As promised, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) introduced legislation late Friday to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.
The bill already has 28 Republican cosponsors, none of whom are particularly surprising. But it remains to be seen whether House Republican leaders will throw any support behind it, particularly now that the Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) previously cosponsored a similar Federal Marriage Amendment that failed to advance in July 2006. That vote was the last time Congress has voted on such a proposal. Requests for comment from Boehner's and Cantor's offices were not returned.
Let me guess, I bet Jim Jordan is one of the wastes of human flesh sucking up taxpayer money while floating this stupidity.  Uh, yes:
Huelskamp's bill has no chance of becoming law, but it gives lawmakers strongly opposed to same-sex marriage a chance to make their views known. Its cosponsors include Republican Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), John Fleming (La.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Ralph Hall (Texas), Andy Harris (Md.), Randy Hultgren (Ill.), Sam Johnson (Texas), Walter Jones (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Lankford (Okla.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Steven Palazzo (Miss.), Stevan Pearce (N.M.), Robert Pittenger (N.C.), Joe Pitts (Pa.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Bill Shuster (Pa.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Steve Stockman (Texas), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) and Frank Wolf (Va.)
The bill is just two sentences long:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.
Ah, the intellectual consistency of states' rights conservatives is displayed in full view.  Seriously, dumbfucks, it takes 38 states to amend the Constitution, and 13 (out of 50, leaving 37 left [and don't tell me that Barack Obama thinks there are 57 states]) already have same-sex marriage, meaning they are unlikely to approve your ignorant Constitutional amendment.

I really liked this quote:
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, but Huelskamp told The Huffington Post last week that he's pushing his bill because majority opinions aren't always the best measure for legislating.
"A majority of Americans don't like President Obama as president, but he's still the president," Huelskamp said.
And the vast majority of the population thinks the Republicans in the House of Representatives are damaging our country, mainly because of stupid assholes like you and Jim Jordan, Mr. Huelskamp.

Why The IRS Should Be Busier

Pro Publica:
Shortly before Election Day last year, mailers went out to Texas voters featuring pictures of a Democratic congressional candidate and a rare species of spider, whose discovery had forced stoppage of an important highway construction project.
“The same left-wing extremists who support Pete Gallego want more burdensome regulations that put the interests of spiders above our need to create more jobs,” the flier declared, referring to discovery of the endangered Braken Bat Cave meshweaver. “The best way to stop left-wing extremists from killing jobs is to vote against their hand-picked candidate Pete Gallego.”
The group that put out the mailer, A Better America Now, reported to the Federal Election Commission it had spent about $65,000 for the mailer and TV advertising in the hard-fought race to represent Texas’ 23rd district.
But in a tax return recently filed with the IRS, the group claimed it did not spend any money at all on “direct or indirect political campaign activities.”
The tax return is signed under the penalty of perjury by the group’s president, Bob Portrie, and the accounting firm LBA Group. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Assholes.  These groups should be thoroughly audited.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Just A Reminder Why We Had The Voting Rights Act

Louis Menard:
On February 18, 1965, a civil-rights worker named James Orange was arrested in Marion, Alabama, on charges of disorderly conduct and contributing to the delinquency of minors, and was thrown into the local jail. Orange had organized a march by young people (“minors”) in support of a voter-registration drive being run by several groups, including the one he worked for, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose president was Martin Luther King, Jr.
That night, four hundred people gathered in Zion’s Chapel Methodist Church, in Marion, and prepared to walk to the jail, about a block away, and sing freedom songs. They left the church at nine-thirty and ran into a police blockade. Ordered to disperse, they were attacked by fifty or more state troopers and other law-enforcement officials wielding clubs. Street lights had been turned off or shot out; white vigilantes were on the scene; reporters were attacked and cameras were smashed. No photographic record of the night survives.
As Gary May tells the story, in “Bending Toward Justice” (Basic), people still in the church, hearing the screams outside, ran out the back, chased by the troopers. One of those who fled, Cager Lee, was struck on the head, fell to the ground, and was kicked. Lee was eighty-two; he was five feet tall and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds. But he escaped, and ran into a café, where he saw his daughter Viola and two grandchildren, Emma Jean and Jimmie Lee Jackson. When troopers stormed the café and began beating people, Jackson tried to protect his mother. He was shoved up against a cigarette machine and shot twice in the stomach by a trooper named James Fowler. Jackson managed to get out of the café but was beaten over the head until he collapsed on the street. He lay there, bleeding, for thirty minutes. Eventually, after a nearby hospital was unable to treat him, he was driven by a black undertaker, in a hearse, to a hospital in Selma, thirty miles away.
Jackson was twenty-six years old, and an Army veteran. He had tried five times to register to vote, without success. While he was in the hospital, Colonel Al Lingo, the director of public safety for the state of Alabama, placed him under arrest for assault and battery with intent to murder a peace officer. But on February 26th, eight days after the shooting, Jackson died. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, generally regarded as the greatest legislative achievement of the so-called “classical phase” of the civil-rights movement—the phase that began in 1954 with the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education—had three martyrs. Jimmie Lee Jackson was the first.

Read the whole thing. It is amazing that this shit occurred less than fifty years ago. Now, thanks to the conservative hacks on the Supreme Court, and the useless boobs rural folks keep electing to Congress, Republicans will go back to trying to disenfranchise blacks.  Thank God the terrorist culture of the South is mostly gone, but it is amazing how quickly folks decide everything is ok, and there is no longer any reason to try to right past wrongs. 

Ohio Budget: Helping Those Who Don't Need It

Cincinnati City Beat:
An analysis released June 26 found Ohio’s top 1 percent would get the biggest breaks from the tax plan included in the final version of the two-year state budget, while the state’s poorest would pay more under the plan.
The analysis, conducted by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy for public policy think tank Policy Matters Ohio, shows the tax plan ’s slew of tax cuts and hikes balance out to disproportionately favor the wealthy in terms of dollars and percents.
On average, the top 1 percent would see their taxes fall by $6,083, or 0.7 percent, under the plan. The next 4 percent would pay $983, or 0.5 percent, less in taxes.
Meanwhile, the bottom 20 percent would pay about $12, or 0.1 percent, more in taxes. The second-lowest 20 percent would see their taxes go down by $5, rounded to 0 percent. The middle 20 percent would see an income tax cut of $9, which is also rounded to 0 percent.
Policy Matters criticizes the tax plan, claiming the revenue should go to other programs, not tax cuts.
It's good the Legislature is always ready to go out of their way to make sure rich people get even richer and poor people get even poorer.  Since Scrooge is dead, somebody has to do the Devil's work.  These tax cuts make no damn sense, but what's new, the Legislature is run by the Republican party.  Nothing those bastards do makes any sense.

Another Look at Gettysburg

About this time 150 years ago, the first elements of the Union and Confederate armies met outside of a sleepy little Pennsylvania town.  Scholars and cartographers recently took another look at the battle to try to recreate what the commanders could see on the battlefield and to try to understand Lee's costly decisions:
The technological limits of surveillance during the American Civil War dictated that commanders often decided where to deploy their troops based largely on what they could see. We know that Confederate general Robert E. Lee was virtually blind at Gettysburg, as his formerly brilliant cavalry leader J.E.B. Stuart failed to inform him of Federal positions, and Confederate scouts’ reconnaissance was poor. The Confederates’ field positions, generally on lower ground than Yankee positions, further put Lee at a disadvantage. A striking contrast in visual perception came when Union Gen. Gouvernour K. Warren spotted Confederate troops from Little Round Top and called in reinforcements just in time to save the Federal line.

What more might we learn about this famous battle if we put ourselves in commanders’ shoes, using today’s digital technology to visualize the battlefield and see what they could see? Our team, which includes myself, researcher Dan Miller and cartographer Alex Tait, have done just that. Alex recreated the 1863 terrain based on a superb map of the battlefield from 1874 and present-day digital data. Dan and I captured troop positions from historical maps. Our interactive map shows Union and Confederate troop movements over the course of the battle, July 1 – 3, 1863. Panoramic views from strategic viewpoints show what commanders could – and could not – see at decisive moments, and what Union soldiers faced at the beginning of Pickett’s Charge. You will also find “viewshed” maps created with GIS (Geographic Information Systems). These maps show more fully what was hidden from view at those key moments.

Altogether, our mapping reveals that Lee never had a clear view of enemy forces; the terrain itself hid portions of the Union Army throughout the battle. In addition, Lee did not grasp – or acknowledge – just how advantageous the Union’s position was. In a reversal of the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Lee’s forces held the high ground and won a great victory, Union General George Meade held the high ground at Gettysburg. Lee’s forces were spread over an arc of seven miles, while the Union’s compact position, anchored on several hills, facilitated communication and quick troop deployment. Meade also received much better information, more quickly, from his subordinates. Realizing the limits of what Lee could see makes his decisions appear even bolder, and more likely to fail, than we knew.
The maps and simulated panoramic views of the battlefield are worth checking out.  In the end, instead of Union commanders making poor decisions in attacking strong Confederate defensive positions (as they did a number of times), or a risky and bold decision by Lee working out against the odds (as they did several times), Lee made poor and risky and bold decisions in attacking strong Union defensive positions, and it just didn't work.  In the end, that defeat, combined with the fall of Vicksburg, doomed the Confederate army to defeat, though it took nearly two bloody and painful years, which left the Confederacy a burned over wasteland.

Cincinnati's Brewery District Shows Signs of Life

Dayton Daily News:
Over-the-Rhine — or OTR as locals call it — was founded by German immigrants in the 19th century but fell on hard times in the 1970s and ’80s. It was the site of the city’s race riots in 2001 and once was dubbed the most dangerous neighborhood in America.
In the last decade, OTR has been undergoing intense gentrification amid criticism that the city’s poorest are being pushed out, and the southern half of the neighborhood has become the trendiest spot in Cincinnati, with bars, restaurants, and high-end condos taking the place of run-down and often-vacant buildings.
The northern half, where the brewery district is, has been largely untouched by gentrification.
Back in the late 19th century, the district was at its peak, with 18 large breweries in operation, some on a national scale, Hampton said.
One of them, the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., became the fifth-largest brewery in the nation and could have reached the heights of Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors had its founders not decided to close when Prohibition hit in 1920 and lasted 13 years.
All but one of the pre-Prohibition breweries in the district eventually shut their doors and a handful was demolished. From 1957 to 2010, only one beer-maker was in business in Over-the-Rhine, leaving the ornate and massive brick breweries empty and crumbling.
Now, three companies are brewing beer in the district. One of them, Rhinegeist, is brand-new and will open a taproom to the public on June 29 in what used to be part of the Christian Moerlein complex.
It would be pretty cool to see this area get revitalized.  It is so close to downtown, it has a lot of potential.  Cincinnati's brewery history is pretty fascinating.

The World Soil Erosion Threat

Blouin News looks at one of the biggest threats to the world's ability to feed itself, soil erosion:
Today two giant new dust bowls have formed. One is centered in the Asian heartland in northwestern China and western Mongolia. The other is in the African Sahel — the savannah-like ecosystem that stretches across Africa from Somalia and Ethiopia in the east to Senegal and Mauritania in the west. It separates the Sahara Desert from the tropical rainforests to the south. Both of these newer dust bowls are massive in scale, dwarfing anything the world has seen before.
China may face the biggest challenge of all. After the economic reforms in 1978 that shifted the responsibility for farming from large state-organized production teams to individual farm families, China’s cattle, sheep, and goat numbers spiraled upward. A classic tragedy of the commons was unfolding. The U.S., a country with comparable grazing capacity, has 94 million cattle, a somewhat larger herd than China’s 84 million. But when it comes to sheep and goats, the U.S. has a combined population of only 9 million, whereas China has 285 million. Concentrated in China’s western and northern provinces, these animals are stripping the land of its protective vegetation. The wind then does the rest, removing the soil and converting rangeland into desert.
Wang Tao, one of the world’s leading desert scholars, reports that from 1950 to 1975 an average of 600 square miles of land turned to desert each year. Between 1975 and 1987, this climbed to 810 square miles a year. From then until the century’s end, it jumped to 1,390 square miles of land going to desert annually.
Jared Diamond's Collapse was particularly bleak in discussing the damage in China and Mongolia.  Throughout the world, we are mining the topsoil.  That won't end well.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fortnight For Freedom Is Back

Today at Mass, we recited this prayer:

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—

for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
 What, might you ask, is this decisive hour in the history of our nation?  It would be the Obama Administration's plan to have free birth control available to workers through their employer's health insurance.  That is a decisive hour in the history of our nation?  Not, say, the Civil War?  Would the bishops be raising the same fuss if the government decided to pay for the birth control separately from employer-provided insurance?  Probably, but their case would be more underwhelming than it already is.  As it is, Religious Freedom sounds a Hell of a lot better than "we don't believe in birth control."  Overhyped?  I think so.  Better marketing?  Yes.  Frank Luntz would be proud (or he might be actively involved).

NASA Photo of the Day

June 27:

Noctilucent Clouds over Moscow
Image Credit & Copyright: Sergey Lisakov
Explanation: This panoramic night scene from June 8 looks out across a Moscow skyline from atop the main building of Lomonosov Moscow State University. Shining in the darkened sky above are widespread noctilucent clouds. From the edge of space, about 80 kilometers above Earth's surface, the icy clouds can still reflect sunlight even though the Sun itself is below the horizon as seen from the ground. Usually spotted at high latitudes in summer months the diaphanous apparitions, also known as polar mesospheric clouds, have come early this season. The seasonal clouds are understood to form as water vapor driven into the cold upper atmosphere condenses on the fine dust particles supplied by meteor smoke (debris left by disintegrating meteors) or volcanic ash. Their early start this year may be connected to changing global circulation patterns in the lower atmosphere. (emphasis mine) During this northern summer, NASA's AIM mission provides daily projections of the noctilucent clouds as seen from space.

Every River In The Lower 48

Nelson Minar didn’t really mean to create a piece of art. When the California-based software engineer began working on All Rivers, a gorgeously detailed look at the waterways in the 48 contiguous states, it was really just a practice in computer nerdery. Minar, a self-described “computer nerd at heart,” simply wanted to create a vector map (a map consisting of Geographic Information System data) using open source data. “The single All Rivers map was just me goofing around to see what it’d look like,” he told Wired.
It looks pretty cool. Inspired by Ben Fry’s All Streets poster, Minar’s version shows a vast web of blue veins spreading across the United States. River-rich areas like Mississippi are dense with blue, but more surprisingly, so are notoriously dry areas like Nevada and Arizona.
To create All Rivers, first Minar gathered information from NHDPlus (National Hydrography Dataset) and put it in a database. He extracted the Strahler number, a measure of how significant a creek is, to determine how large the rivers would appear on the map. From there he built a web server that would allow him to serve the flowline data as vector map tiles, and finally he wrote a JavaScript program that did most of the cartography work for him.
Minar kept All Rivers pretty simple, using only the Strahler number as a variable. But he says it’s possible to gather more information to include on future maps. “To be a useful hydrography map, it should have information on river volume, size, seasonality, etc,” he said. “That’s a lot of data to cram into a single picture. I don’t know how to do that and make it look good.”
I think I would avoid all of those big empty areas.  If it is an area which doesn't form a stream channel, the place is way to dry and flat.  No thanks. Or in the case of the Everglades, way too wet and flat.

Resource Bubble Popping Down Under

From Macrobusiness, via nc links:
In early May, I noted how falling mining equipment sales could be a harbinger of a sharper than expected reduction in mining capex.
Over the remainder of May, we then witnessed a spate of mining services firms – Coffey, UGL, Worley Parsons, Transfield Services, and Boart Longyear lower their earnings guidance and/or cut jobs amid slowing mining activity.
The bad news has continued this week, with a spate of job cuts announced by Australian coal mining companies, with Peabody Resources, Downer EDI, and Glencore Xstrata all slashing jobs and cutting output.
Now, heavy machinery dealer, WesTrac, which supplies Caterpillar machinery such as bulldozers and trucks to miners and builders, has today announced that it will cut 350 jobs – roughly 10% of its workforce – amid “challenging market conditions”.
That can't be good for the crazy housing market down there.  I'm getting a bit concerned about the future of the grain markets, too.  Will the farmland bubble be bursting soon?  I'd guess it is becoming much more likely.

How Is This Useful?

The Washington Post shows the PRISM slides that Edward Snowden released.  This one got me:

What possible use could all that data be?  There's got to be so much useless information there that they miss so many more important things.  As Andy Borowitz mocks:
Despite having an annual budget in the neighborhood of ten billion dollars, the agency had no idea that a dude who was working for it five days a week was getting ready to send those classified documents to a journalist who would then tell everybody in the world.
“Maybe if we hadn’t been so busy keeping our eye on those other three hundred million people, we would have noticed that this one guy who was working right under our noses was up to something totally fishy,” the spokesman said. “But you know what they say about hindsight.”
Seriously, how can Facebook posts and chats provide almost any useful information, unless the NSA is really interested in what people I went to high school with ate, or where they were drinking beer, or what funny thing their kids said or did?  I haven't seen anybody post a status update saying "Planning to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge."  Anyway, it would probably be more accurate to say, "An FBI plant came to me with an idea to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge." 

I can't believe any Democrats would support this plan because it makes the government look like boorish, incompetent fools wasting taxpayer dollars, and I can't believe any Republicans would support it because it actually lives up to their usually irrational sounding fears about Big Government.  But both parties seem to have an irrational fear of (Islamic) terrorism.

What Foods Go on a Stick?

Fried Brownie On-a-Stick

At the Iowa State Fair (and as I understand it, the Minnesota State Fair), lots of them.  The Des Moines Register asks folks which new food at the Iowa State Fair were they most looking forward to.  The choices:

Shrimp Corndog
Smoothie On-a-Stick
Bacon-Wrapped Riblet On-a-Stick
Fried Brownie On-a-Stick
Soft Salted Chocolate-Dipped Almond Pretzel On-a-Stick
Coconut Mountain On-a-Stick

Right now, Bacon-Wrapped Riblet On-a-Stick is winning handily, while Soft Salted Chocolate-Dipped Almond Pretzel On-a-Stick, Shrimp Corndog and Fried Brownie On-a-Stick are in a tight race for second.  I'd go with the third, fourth and fifth items on my list, personally.

It's been years and years since I went to the Ohio State Fair, but I just don't remember food On-a-Stick being a big thing.  Did I just miss it, is it a recent trend, or is it a regional thing?  My guess is regional thing.  Any input?

Between Memory and Reality

Craig Davidson tries to flesh out what of his memories from his youth are real, and what are imagined.  It touches on the shaping of memory with storytelling as he tries to reconstruct what happened at the amusement park he worked at, which is now embroiled in scandal.  His story involved disposing of a dead sea lion:
Matt grabbed one flipper, I the other. The creature possessed the disobliging weight of all dead things—but it was wet, its hide naturally oily, so it glided rather easily across the floor, up a cement ramp, and into the freezer, where we left it among the pallets of frozen fish.
Near the end of our shift, we returned to the freezer and stood around the animal, our breath puffing whitely. It was now encased in ice—the lacy, wafer-thin kind that forms like a crackling skin over winter puddles and shatters under the slightest pressure—and frozen to the smooth concrete. We pushed and shouldered it. No luck. In extremis, Rod put the boots to it, kicking until it came unstuck.
Matt and I laughed—a shameful admission. You know those hysterical giggles you get when a situation is so absurd, shocking, or terrifying that they’re more a form of damage control? The laughter boils up your throat with a fizzy club soda effervescence, impossible to tamp down, intent on releasing the poison inside you.
I truly want to believe that’s what it was. Otherwise, it was just two cruel boys laughing as our supervisor kicked a dead sea lion in the head.
The ice splintered. The sea lion spun on its axis like a compass needle seeking true north. We guided it from the freezer, its body skidding awkwardly down the ramp and onto a concrete platform set above the Barn’s floor. Rod backed up Big Blue, an ancient stake truck retrofitted as a trash hauler, until its bumper nearly touched the platform. Then we slid the sea lion into the bed.
He met with his old friend, to compare whether his friend's memory matched up to his.  His friend remembered how the author got covered in shit from the dead animal as they tried to pry it out of there.  That was a detail the author always left out when recounting the event.

The difference between our narrative of events and the actual event has always intrigued me.