Saturday, September 7, 2013

Climate Change and Wheat Production

A recent K-State study concludes that a one degree C rise in average temperature could shave 10 bushels off of yields in Kansas:
To quantify the impact of genetic improvement in wheat, disease and climate change over a 26-year period, a team of researchers at Kansas State University examined wheat variety yield data from Kansas performance tests, along with location-specific weather and disease data.
Their results showed that from 1985 through 2011, wheat breeding programs boosted average wheat yields by 13 bushels per acre, or 0.51 bushel each year, for a total increase of 26 percent.
Simulations also found that a 1 degree Celsius increase (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in projected mean temperature was found to decrease wheat yields by 10.64 bushels per acre or nearly 21 percent.
"Kansas wheat producers are challenged by weather, pests and disease," said Andrew Barkley professor of agricultural economics and lead researcher of a multi-disciplinary team that included agronomists and plant pathologists. "Fortunately, the Kansas wheat breeding program produces new varieties of wheat that increase yields over time.
"Given weather trends in recent years, climate change is expected to increase temperatures, and this is likely to lower wheat yields in Kansas," Barkley said. "Diseases such as fungi and viruses can attack wheat and lower yields. This research quantifies the impact of weather, diseases and new wheat varieties on yields. So far, genetic improvement has allowed wheat yields to increase significantly over time, but there are challenges ahead to keep up with potential increases in temperature."
The study, funded by the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station, is the first to quantify all of these impacts (climate change, disease and genetic improvement) using a unique data set, and state-of-the-art statistical methods, Barkley said.
I've wondered whether climate change will seriously impact wheat production in Ohio, and more importantly, in places like Kansas and Eastern Colorado.  Apparently, it will have an impact.  And since wheat production is already a hit-or-miss proposition here, it probably will lead to even fewer wheat acres.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Now That's a Big Fucking Boat

The biggest of all the behemoths—the biggest ships in the world—are being built at the DSME yard for the Danish shipping line A.P. Møller-Maersk (MAERSKB:DC). They’re container vessels that will ply the route between Northern Europe and China. The new class of ship is called the Triple-E, and Maersk has ordered 20, at a cost of $185 million each. They’re 1,312 feet long, 194 feet wide, and weigh 55,000 tons empty. Stand one on its stern next to the Empire State Building, and its bow would loom over the heads of those on the observation deck; a single link from its anchor chain weighs 500 pounds. In early May the first Triple-E, the M/V Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller, named after the shipper’s former chief executive officer (and the son of its founder), was moored at one of DSME’s quays, nearing completion.
A cargo vessel of this size was unimaginable a half century ago, when the first container ship sailed from Newark, N.J., to Houston carrying 58 containers. Twelve years later the biggest container ship carried 1,200, and by 1996 the Regina Maersk class had a capacity of more than 6,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEU. The size of the vessels and the economies of scale they bring have made transportation a vanishingly small part of the prices consumers pay and made possible a world in which Americans eat bananas grown in Ecuador while wearing designer knitwear from China.
The Triple-E’s capacity is 18,000 TEU. (Most containers today are 40 feet long, so the number carried will be closer to 9,000.) Laid end to end, a single Triple-E’s shipping containers would stretch for 68 miles. “In the late 1990s we were like, ‘Oh my God, a 6,000-TEU ship,’ ” says Peter Shaerf, a managing director at AMA Capital Partners, an investment bank specializing in the maritime industry. “Then you go to 13,000 and now 18,000. I don’t know where it stops.” Practically speaking, a Triple-E, in one trip, could take more than 182 million iPads or 111 million pairs of shoes from Shanghai to Rotterdam. Such a trip would take 25 days and burn 530,000 gallons of fuel. That comes to 0.003 gallons per iPad.
Honestly, this is definitely one of the coolest engineering stories I've ever paid attention to.  I recommend everybody reads it.

Density Matters

Here's a map of the counties holding 50% of  U.S. population:

And the kicker is, this doesn't even tell the whole story.  Montgomery County, Ohio is highlighted, and at least half of the county is fairly sparsely populated.  For another example, look at southern California.  This is a map from 2000, but look at how much empty area is shown in the area in blue on the map up above (probably 75 percent of the largest county in the United States, and even a good amount of area in Los Angeles County, the most populous in the U.S.):

Honestly, nobody in rural areas can really understand what population density means to life in the United States.  We're all raised up on the Bush-Gore county-by-county election results, but yes, there are a fuckload of empty areas in the U.S., and if you highlighted their voting preferences based on geography, they will look pretty Goddamned dominant.  That just isn't the case.  And that is why the Electoral College and gerrymandering allow the Republican party to be a national party.  That may not last (thank God), but it really is impressive visually.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

And the Walls Come Crumblin' Down

LA Times: 
In California, the place that pioneered a car-friendly lifestyle, thousands of bridges built decades ago are in need of repair. Bridges last about 50 years, and in California, most average around 44 years, with more than 8,000 bridges more than half a century old. In Los Angeles County alone, 16 bridges are in the highest-risk category, aging and subject to collapse with the failure of a single component. They include a part of the 10 Freeway over the Los Angeles River, a section of Almansor Street over the same freeway and a segment of Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach.
Equally threatened is a portion of Tustin Avenue that takes about 221,000 vehicles a day over the 91 Freeway in Anaheim.
California and other states with growing populations also face the new infrastructure demands that come with the influx of more cars and trains. Analysts say the state needs to spend $750 billion on infrastructure projects in the next 10 years to remain competitive.
Some of the most important bridge links in the country are now threatened by age. The longest bridge in New York, the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, 25 miles north of Manhattan and a crucial link for the interstate highway system in the New York metropolitan area, is potentially subject to catastrophic failure, engineers say. Yet replacing it will cost at least $5.2 billion — and as much as $16 billion with transit options.
The potential repercussions of ignoring the funding shortage are huge, as recent bridge collapses in Minnesota and Washington state have shown.
If you really need a sign of the end of an empire, it's when you can't maintain the infrastructure.  We are there.  We have hit peak road.  We have hit peak car.  We are in decline.  The question is if we can do it gracefully.  I doubt it.  But if you don't believe me, this was from a couple years back. This too.  We've lived above our means for a Hell of a long time.  What can't go on, won't.  I hate to sound like a lame ass, but it is true.  Actually, I don't care what I sound like.

In Which I Compliment John Kasich

Well, backhanded compliment.  He's not as big of an asshole as most Republicans.  In an article about how Republicans are turning down Medicaid expansion generally out of spite, thanks to another terrible ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, we get this quote from Governor Kasich, who, to his credit, is pushing hard for expansion (probably because he can do basic math):
Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich couldn't agree more. He is continuing to press his GOP legislative majority to accept the Medicaid expansion that would cover an additional 366,000 Buckeye State residents, declaring "I believe it's a matter of life and death." As Kasich warned his GOP colleagues in June:
"When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he's going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."
I'd say the same thing, but as a Democratic leaning independent registered Republican, I'd sound a little partisan.  It is amazing how much good was done for John Kasich when he got his ass kicked on the Issue 5 vote.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crop Variety?

From USDA, via Big Picture Ag:

Wow, over 50% of farms growing corn have at least three different crops on the farm?  We technically qualify in that group, but we have one farm (mine) that has a corn, wheat, soybean rotation with a permanent field of hay, and all the rest of our farms are corn and soybeans.  If we broke it down by acreage, we'd have 1% of our field crops in hay, 5% in wheat, and the other 94% split between corn and beans.  Not exactly inspirational.  But, in general, that is farming in the Midwest.

Food Deserts?

Wired features a map from Nathan Yau showing the distance to the nearest grocery store (click to view):

Last time I looked at where major grocery stores are across the United States. Where you shop for groceries changes depending on what region you live in, but hunger and nutrition carries less variance. It's important that everyone has access to healthy food options, so I looked at the data, this time from Google and from a different angle. Instead of where stores are, I looked at how far away the nearest grocery store is.

The map above shows a sample of locations across the country, and line length represents distance to the nearest store. For example, in areas with a lot of lines headed to one spot is an area with fewer grocery stores. In contrast, mostly small line segments mean more grocery stores, and therefore less distance to travel to buy groceries.
Places where residents have limited access to grocery stores are called food deserts. However, there's no exact definition of what limited access means or what a long distance is. Some set a 10-mile marker whereas others say a store should be less than a mile away where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic.
I'm sorry, those areas aren't "food deserts,"  they're God damned deserts! That's why people don't live there, and that's why they don't have groceries.   Let's take a look at a map of federal lands in the west:

You know why the federal government still owns that land?  Because it is the God damned desert, that's why.  The federal ownership also keeps people from living there, but not like the lack of rain does.

Steal Number One

From CBS Sports:
Reds prospect Billy Hamilton has been one of the best base-stealers in minor-league history since being drafted out of high school in 2009. A September callup this season, Hamilton made his Major League Baseball debut Tuesday night.
It gets better, though. Hamilton -- a pinch-runner -- stole second on Yadier Molina and then scored on a Todd Frazier double. The Reds went on to win, 1-0, and creep to within 1.5 games of the Cardinals for the top wild card spot.
Hamilton has done a lot of that, and there should be a lot more to come.


Hey, clouds rank up there with stars, fog and the aurora borealis:

above from suishu ikeda on Vimeo.

There's plenty more if you search the archives under the cool stuff tag.

When You Find Yourself in a Hole, Dig Faster

That seems to be the idea out in Kansas.  From Mother Jones:
 But I think it's also worth asking what, exactly, they'd be sustaining. The following chart, pulled from the study, shows the amount of corn grown in the region since 1980—both irrigated and un-irrigated (i.e., grown without added irrigation water), as well as the amount of corn that has been consumed by cattle in the region's feedlots. The latter metric, denoted by the red dots below, is a pretty good proxy for just how teeming those feedlots have gotten over the decades.

So the area has dramatically ramped up both beef and corn production since 1980—and the great bulk of that corn comes from irrigated land. And while beef production in the region has at least leveled off, the region's farmers just keep churning out more corn—including irrigated corn. New York Times reporter Michael Wines summed up the situation in an article last May:
This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.
One major culprit has been a shift in what farms grow—from a rotation featuring corn, wheat, and sorghum to a narrow focus on a single crop that flourishes under heavy irrigation and has been in high demand lately: corn.
 A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth. At an average 14 inches per acre in a growing season, a corn crop soaks up groundwater like a sponge—in 2010, the State Agriculture Department said, enough to fill a space a mile square and nearly 2,100 feet high.
Indeed, US industrial-scale beef production is largely concentrated over the High Plains Aquifer, which stretches from Nebraska clear down to Texas.
What this reminds me of in some ways is the Grand Lake St. Mary's watershed.  Although there the issue is that large families wanted to stay close together on some heavy clay soils back when crops weren't profitable enough to do that, and there were too many people for the number of acres.  So they got into livestock production, and just kept building barns closer and closer together.  Eventually, they had way more shit than they had ground to absorb it (especially in that heavy clay).  Those nutrients ran off into the less than 12 foot deep, but 13,500 acre lake, which was perfect for growing algae.  When the state DNR came in to put together a report on the problem, their graph of livestock production was very similar to the one above (see the graphs on pages 13 and 14 here).  They just put too many animals in too small of an area.

Farmers are often a perfect example of self-interest trampling the interest of the community as a whole.  Nobody is better at overproducing, overinvesting, and generally screwing themselves in an effort to outdo their neighbors.  I understand that nobody wants to walk away from their home, especially while water is still available.  But growing corn, as opposed to wheat, just doesn't make sense.  I would look at what would help my children and grandchildren (if I could find a woman soft enough in the head to let me bring them into the world), and mining water just doesn't seem to be it.

However, the folks in Kansas aren't as bad as folks in the American west.  Flood irrigating alfalfa in Arizona is even stupider than mining groundwater in Kansas.  Reality will eventually teach folks in these areas that you can't just do more and more of the same stupid shit.  In a slightly lesser way, people here in the rain-fed part of the world will find out that even though a duoculture of crops is the easiest and most profitable way of going about things, it definitely isn't the best way to do it.  We humans will put off pain as long as we can, but eventually, we reap the whirlwind.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bay Bridge Finally Opens

A little history:
When the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opens September 3, it will have been nearly 24 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake set in motion plans for a replacement span, and 11 years since construction began.
The bridge shutdown for the final phase of construction starts August 28 and should reopen in time for the morning commute September 3.
As we're about to enter a new era in bridge history it's a good time to look back and remember just how it is how we got here. After all, there was a time when there was no bridge across this stretch of bay...
Then Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar wanted to go cheap and build a bridge similar to the San Mateo -- basically a long ramp. The proposal brought storm of protest.
Finally a deal for a more expensive design, paid for by tolls, state and federal funds.
With its cost projected at $2.6 billion, in the end the new span would cost over $3.5 billion more than that. It would be the biggest public works project in the state's history.
Construction began in 2002.
"This will be the strongest bridge in America bar none, and arguably the strongest bridge in the world," said then Governor Gray Davis on January 29, 2002.
Over the years, as with any project of this size, there would be problems.
In 2005 bad welds made headlines and prompted investigations.
More recently, galvanized seismic safety bolts cracked when tightened. Their failure threatened the bridge's opening as critics asked why they were installed in the first place.
A saddle retrofit was chosen and temporary shims are in place to make the bridge safer while the saddles go in.
Now the Bay Area's newest landmark, the new eastern span and its iconic white tower with a 6.2 billion dollar price tag, is opening.
An amazing project, but a pretty terrible project cost estimate.  And CalTrans got a few black eyes along the way.  But, it is in place, finally.

Greek Yogurt Boom Leaves New York Looking For More Milk

Morning Edition:
Greek yogurt leaders Chobani and Fage started the boom in 2007 and 2008, and production has tripled since then. Now there are more than 40 yogurt plants scattered across the state, surpassing even California's yogurt industry. Steve Hyde, who directs the Genesee County Economic Development Corp., calls New York "the Silicon Valley of yogurt."
But can New York's dairy farmers keep up?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have passed all kinds of programs to induce dairy farmers to meet the milk demand. There are grants for modern milking equipment, new business plans and anaerobic digesters that turn manure into electricity.
But even with all that, New York's dairy herd is no bigger than it was last year.
Mike Kiechle, a small dairy farmer, says he's one of the ones who would like to expand but can't.
One big problem is that milk doesn't obey the laws of supply and demand. A federal formula sets the milk price farmers are paid by region. And that price because there are a bunch of Greek yogurt plants looking for milk nearby. So to add, say, 50 cows, Kiechle's looking at a frightening risk.
"I'm going to have to have some more land," Kiechle says. "My equipment's not big enough. My barn's not big enough. And the return that we've had the last 10 years, you've got to think twice before you invest your money there."
Despite the challenges small farmers are facing, New York is producing about 3 percent more milk. Farmer Shelly Stein says that's because a lot of bigger dairy farms are milking smarter. They're encouraged by the Greek yogurt future, so they're investing in new technology and bigger, cleaner barns that make the cows more productive.
I like the dairy farmer's take on it.  After 10 years of getting his ass kicked, he's supposed to sink a ton of money into the latest diet trend?  Sounds like a bad idea to me.  And, "the Silicon Valley of yogurt"?  Yes, oh so cutting edge.

A Virginia County's Little Known Place in Civil Rights History

Humanites Magazine:
For some Farmville residents, the building, constructed in 1939 to house an all-black high school, reminds them of an era they’d rather forget. For others, it commemorates a thirteen-year legal struggle that should not be forgotten. For many, it has become a place to begin talking about what happened in Prince Edward County in the 1950s and ’60s.
In 1951, long before well-known actions such as the Montgomery bus boycott, students at Moton High School went on strike to protest inadequate facilities. Eventually, these students became plaintiffs in one of the five cases that were part of Brown v. Board of Education.
After the 1954 Brown ruling, there were efforts across the South to block integration. In Virginia, the governor closed public schools in several cities to prevent them from integrating. In 1959, the courts ruled that the closings were unconstitutional, and those schools reopened—at the same time, Prince Edward County refused to integrate and locked its doors.
For five years, Prince Edward schools remained closed while legal challenges bounced between courts. During that time, most white children attended the new private school created by segregationist leaders and funded by state tuition grants and private donations. About 1,700 black and lower-income white students tried to find schooling elsewhere or stayed home, waiting.
A little more:
Prince Edward leaders, including the Farmville mayor, a County Board of Supervisors member, and Wall, organized a group called the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberty. The Defenders believed violence would only hurt their cause. Their leader, Robert Crawford, quoted in the New Republic, said, “If this community should suffer just one incident of Klanism, our white case is lost. No matter who starts it, the whites will be blamed. We must not have it.”
After Brown II was handed down, the Defenders organized a meeting at Longwood College that drew more than 1,300 people. At the meeting, the Defenders presented their plan to close the public schools should they be ordered to desegregate. Those who questioned the plan were accused of being against the community. Through a conspicuous stand-up vote, the Defenders won approval to create what would become the private Prince Edward School Foundation.
Byrd called for “Massive Resistance” to the desegregation law and banded together with other southern congressmen in Washington to sign the “Southern Manifesto,” which stated: “This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.” It continued, “We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means.”
Back in Virginia, the General Assembly passed a new set of laws in 1956 known as the Stanley Plan, which gave the governor the power to close any school that integrated and stipulated that school districts that integrated would lose state funding. In September 1958, when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Warren County had to desegregate immediately, the governor closed those schools.
"It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”  Yes, indeed.  Shouldn't it more accurately read, "we don't want those black folks anywhere near our children because we think they are a lower form of life"?  Sounds like amicable relations to me.

Please, read the whole story.  I'm currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.  It is such a tremendously powerful and tragic book.  It covers the Great Black Migration of the 20th century, and the massive racism faced by the migrants, both in the south, and in the rest of the country after they migrated.  If somebody wants to understand modern America, and today's Republican party, I suggest this article and Wilkerson's book.

News of the Obvious Headline of the Day

Thank you, Bloomberg (h/t nc links):

Investors Are Doing Better Than Workers

 For one thing, growth is still too anemic to return the U.S. economy to anything resembling full employment for several more years, even under the most optimistic assumptions. At the same time, new evidence from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which released its monthly personal income and spending report today, indicates that most of the modest growth has gone to the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of the country’s assets.
Since the beginning of 2013, total personal income has increased by about $323.3 billion, while total employee compensation has increased by just $112.5 billion. People who get their income from renting out real estate, from dividends on stocks and from interest payments on bonds got an additional $186.7 billion. (The rest of the growth came from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits.) Put another way, workers only got about a third of the economic growth generated so far this year. That’s significantly less than their average share of income growth since the beginning of 2010, which was closer to about half.
This might not be so bad if the higher returns on assets encouraged new business investment, which in turn would create more jobs and lead to a broader recovery. So far, this hasn’t happened.
And you know what is even more amazing than that?  All of those dividends and capital gains are taxed at 15%, and none of that money is subject to FICA taxes (except for the big earners who get hit by the ObamaCare tax).  So not only are the people who have so much already getting most of our economic gains, but they pay less in tax on those gains than do people who actually work for a living.

Monday, September 2, 2013


ATOM-LAPSE from Richard Bentley on Vimeo.

Atomium was built in Brussels in 1958 for the Brussels World's Fair. It was designed by engineer André Waterkeyn and shaped in the form of a unit cell of an iron crystal, only enlarged 165 billion times!

The Danger of Loneliness

Jessica Olien:
Loneliness is not just making us sick, it is killing us. Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely.
The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.
Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.
Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s...In terms of human interactions, the number of people we know is not the best measure. In order to be socially satisfied, we don’t need all that many people. According to Cacioppo the key is in the quality, not the quantity of those people. We just need several on whom we can depend and who depend on us in return.
She quotes somebody who says that admitting we feel lonely marks us out as losers.  I know that when I get into a funk, I definitely feel like there is something seriously wrong with me.  But instead of avoiding people, I generally go find some bar to hang out in and drink beer.  After a while, somebody I know will come in, and I'll shoot the shit for a while.  Probably not the best idea, but at least I'm not totally avoiding people.  And when I am really down, I'll call some of those folks on whom I can depend, and unload some of that bile that's built up inside of me.  As it is, what I've found is that avoiding people is the worst thing I could do.  Being alone with my thoughts is scary enough, but being alone with my negative thoughts is terrifying.  I'm much better off making small talk with somebody and laughing than I am contemplating all my sad interpersonal thoughts along with all the work that has to get done at my job, all the things that need done in my dysfunctional cattle operation, and everything else that keeps me from sleeping.

Very Ugly Storms

Featured at Wired:

                               South Dakota, 2011

Supercell thunderstorms are characterized by a cycling, cylindrical vortex of air that moves upward off the ground, which is also known as a mesocyclone. Not only does it sound badass, but it produces some of the most visually striking weather on Earth.
Each summer since 2009, photographer Mitch Dobrowner and guide Roger Hill have driven through the Great Plains and high deserts of the United States in search of these jaw-dropping forces of nature. When they find them, Dobrowner pulls out his camera and takes breathtaking black and white photos that capture the enormity and intensity of these churning atmospheric formations.
There are several awesome photos over there.  Those storms fascinate me, but I am really glad we don't sit in tornado alley.

Tax Reform?

Simplifying the tax code won't be easy.  This chart helps explain why:

 About half of all tax expenditures go to the top quintile (top 20 percent of income earners). The bottom 80 percent of earners divide the other half. And within that richest quintile, the top one percent receive 15 percent of all tax expenditures (this distribution of tax breaks roughly parallels the distribution of income).
 My big non-farm tax breaks are the state and local tax exemptions, the charitable deduction and the capital gains/dividend preference.  The only one of those Republicans will want to go after is the state and local tax exemption, since they hate state and local taxes.  I definitely think the dividend preference ought to go entirely, while capital gains taxes ought to go back to the Reagan era 28% level.  Why should somebody working for a living pay more taxes on their income than somebody who's just sitting on stock investments?  The charitable deduction probably ought to be overhauled, but nobody will ever come to agreement on that.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Corn Profitability Over Time

Big Picture Agriculture has a good post on an Iowa State report titled, "Ag Cycles: A Crop Marketing Perspective", by Chad Hart an Associate Professor of Economics.  Click over and check out the corn and soybean profitability charts.  The report has some interesting information she highlights.  She points out that unfortunately the report all but ignores the impact of public policy, like the ethanol mandate and subsidized crop insurance.  I would also mention the China / emerging markets "Commodity Supercycle," which led to immense speculation in commodities markets by investment banks, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other big money, at least for a while. 

As her charts show, corn and soybeans have been ridiculously profitable in the past six years, but long term, profitable times have always been followed by major pain.  Now that we're hitting the ethanol blend wall, Congress has to limit the mandate, which will squeeze ethanol prices, and I think we can also expect oil producers to try to use the shale oil boom to try to get rid of the mandate.  If that were to go, crop prices would plummet.  It will be interesting to see if the free market fundamentalists in the Tea Party wing of Congress will allow the oil companies to crush their constituents by getting rid of the mandate.  The farm bill fight indicates to me that they probably won't go that far, but it also shows that the rest of the country isn't too keen on the massive policy supports that benefit farmers at their expense.   The recent boom times are way too dependent on what amounts to bad public policy, and with the commodity boom over, that is all we have to lean on.  A couple years of massive crop insurance losses, and we might see the crop insurance program radically change.

Troy Rock City

Well, the big show is over.  Our small county seat managed to host reportedly around 30,000 folks, and from what I saw, almost everyone did a great job.  The drinking downtown didn't cause much trouble, and should help convince the city fathers that we can do other family-friendly events which include alcohol.

I saw almost no trouble, and what I did see was the work of security and not a concertgoer.  I was standing by the edge of the stage and watched a couple of asshole security guards start yelling at a guy at the fence, grab him and pull him over it, then drag him past me and called over a local cop I know and tell him they wanted the guy thrown out of the concert.  The cop talked to the guy a while, while his significant other was standing there crying, then sent them on their way.  I came up to the cop and asked him what actually happened, and he said the security guys were being assholes and he told the couple to just go someplace where the rent-a-cops couldn't see them.  They lost a prime spot by the stage, but, other than that, they avoided getting railroaded by the security thugs.

After the show ended, we headed downtown, and I got to have a run-in with the rent-a-cops.  We wanted to head down a side street to a local bar where my cousin was playing, but they had gates blocking it off.  The security guard was standing in the middle of the crosswalk, and as we got to the building corner, I slid the gate sideways and we walked through.  I was about fifty feet down the street when she saw us, and she yelled that under no circumstances were the bicycle gates to be moved.  I yelled back that I was sorry, but my sister and her friends laughed and said that was the most insincere apologies they had ever heard.  We laughed about it the rest of the night.

The event also highlighted an engineering issue in our telecommunications system.  For large parts of the day, the Verizon wireless network was overwhelmed.  I know that happens quite frequently at sporting events and when big events like the Boston Marathon bombing or the September 11 attacks occur.  It is a lot different than the old land line system.  Here was their design reliability standard:
While POTS provides limited features, low bandwidth, and no mobile capabilities, it provides greater reliability than other telephony systems (mobile phone, VoIP, etc.). Many telephone service providers attempt to achieve dial-tone availability more than 99.999% of the time the telephone is taken off-hook. This is an often cited benchmark in marketing and systems-engineering comparisons, called the "five nines" reliability standard. It is equivalent to having a dial-tone available for all but about five minutes each year.
 The mobile system is also designed to high reliability standards, but is easily overwhelmed:
Mobile networks have bandwidth that is more than sufficient 99% of the time. However, when disaster strikes, the decentralized nature of the network means that whole geographic regions can be knocked out by increased call volume. Whenever the generous-but-finite bandwidth at carrier site buildings are strained, users are prevented from making voice calls. Because SMS text messages take up far less bandwidth, mobile carriers instead encourage users to text message each other. As Pica put it to Fast Company, "text requires less dedicated real-time capacity than voice. Data networks including LTE and EVDO were not impacted due to the nature of the way data systems are used."
Engineers are working on improving reliability amongst large crowds and in emergencies:
 It is possible to build redundancies into America's mobile phone infrastructure which would allow the easy placement of phone calls during crises. This would, however, be massively expensive and carriers would likely pass the cost onto customers. In a 2007 Computerworld article, reporter Todd R. Weiss discovered that adding regional redundancies to mobile phone networks is not economically feasible. However, mobile providers can temporarily boost coverage in areas where they anticipate trouble such as football games and music festivals. They can even take away mobile coverage--San Francisco public transit provider BART famously had carriers block wireless signals in order to prevent demonstrators from organizing after a homeless and mentally ill man was shot by BART police....
Two engineers at AT&T, Bob Mathews and Gary Chow, have devised a method of temporarily boosting mobile phone capacity at sporting events and concerts. AT&T's multi-beam antenna uses a special setup of narrow beams spaced 20 degrees apart, mounted at special events, to boost network traffic capacity up to 500% in order to deal with large crowds. The multi-beam antenna has already been tested at the San Diego Comic-Con, Coachella, and the Super Bowl. The pair helped develop the antenna in response to what they saw as a “telecom Moore's law,” wherein data traffic consumption regularly doubled every two years.
I would anticipate that smart phones really play havoc with the system at such times.

But back to the events in Troy, I was really proud of my community, the people who worked to bring it together, and all the visitors.  Everything went extremely well.  I was amazed at how many folks I see day-to-day who were hanging out at the back of the crowd where I was.  It is good to be at home:

U.S. States As Seen From Other States

Business Insider, via Ritholtz:
After seeing an excellent poll that asked Europeans what they thought of other European countries, we talked to our polling partner SurveyMonkey Audience to expand the questions and try it on Americans, to see how they felt about other states.
The results were hilarious, informative and tell you everything you need to know about the dynamic between the states.
We asked respondents — 1603 of them — to answer each question with a state that wasn't their own. The poll was carried out using SurveyMonkey's Audience feature, which was more accurate predicting the 2012 election than numerous traditional pollsters. 
They put together 22 maps from the survey here.  Here is a summary map combining the data:

 I agree with a pretty decent percentage of these.  You can tell that not too many people from outside the Midwest are enthused with the beautiful farmscape in the breadbasket of the world.

About Salinger

Weekend Edition Sunday's Wade Goodwin interviews Shane Salerno, the coauthor of the upcoming biography of J.D. Salinger, titled Salinger, and the director of the documentary of the same name:
"J.D. Salinger spent 10 years writing The Catcher in the Rye and the rest of his life regretting it."
That's the opening line of a major new book about one of America's best known and most revered writers. J.D. Salinger died three years ago at the age of 91, after publishing four slim books. But one of those books has sold more than 65 million copies and has become a touchstone for young people coming of age around the world.
Catcher in the Rye still sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year.
Shane Salerno is co-author of the monumental 600-page book, called, simply, Salinger. He's also the director of a related documentary, also called Salinger, to be released Friday, September 6.
A bit about Salinger's experience in WWII:
"One of the first details I learned was that he was carrying six chapters of Catcher in the Rye when he landed on D-Day. That was something that stunned me. He carried these chapters with him almost as a talisman to keep him alive, and he worked on the book throughout the war.
"His first day of combat was D-Day, and from there he proceeded into the hedgerows and the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, and then ultimately entering the concentration camp, a sub-camp of Dachau."
"If J.D. Salinger had not participated in World War II, we would not be having this conversation. The fact is that the work that is known prior to combat is not on the level that the rest of the work. All of the work for which we know J.D. Salinger — Bananafish, Esme, Catcher, Nine Stories — all written after the war.
"Before he had landed on D-Day, J.D. Salinger was a Park Avenue rich kid. Nothing prepared him for what World War II was going to do to him psychologically. We know this because at the end of the war, he checked into a mental institution, and then did something truly remarkable, which is, came out of the mental institution and signed back up for more, and participated in the de-Nazification of Germany."
 A little more of Salinger's reaction to the success of A Catcher in the Rye:
"He was completely overwhelmed by fame, and what he did, very much like Holden, very much like Catcher in the Rye, was beat a fast exit out of New York City. He moved to Cornish, N.H., and he never looked back.
"J.D. Salinger was not a recluse; he was very private, and he wanted a private life. He was a man of deep, deep contradictions. He was a man who would write about renouncing the world, and then write a letter to a friend about how much he liked the Whopper at Burger King."
I love the part about writing a letter to a friend about how much he loved a Whopper.