Saturday, December 7, 2013

Grain Farmers Might Face Rough Future

This forecast is calling for grain farmers to lose money until 2017. More to come in tomorrow's Register:

We've been told a number of times that this boom is different, but if things get as bad as they are saying, we may, as Warren Buffett says, find out when the tide goes out who was swimming without a bathing suit.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Genealogy of Baseball Teams

An awesome print at History Shots:
 One close-up:

A little background:
The New York Yankees started as the Baltimore Orioles. The Minnesota Twins were once the Washington Senators. But not before they were the Kansas City Blues. And the Cleveland Indians? To some, they'll always be the Grand Rapids Rustlers.
Pro-baseball has seen its share of relocations, new names, and disbanded franchises, enough to confuse even the most history-obsessed fans. Thankfully, information designers Bill Younker and Larry Gormley have mapped it all out for us in one incredible infographic.
Gormley tells us it took over 1,000 hours to put together. The final result is an end-all reference guide for when your friend doesn't believe the Detroit Tigers really have always been the Detroit Tigers (established in 1894), that Brooklyn couldn't stop renaming its team (before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they were, at various times, the Trolley-Dodgers, Bridegrooms, Robins, and Superbas), or that the Newark Peppers were a real thing.

 More cool charts they sell here.

Sinking Two Feet?

In a story at Pacific Standard on the ineffectiveness of a Dutch groundwater tax, there was a link to this story:
Federal scientists added another piece of evidence last week in the argument for regulating California's underground water — the San Joaquin Valley's famous sinking landscape is still dropping.
The U.S. Geological Survey study showed a 1,200-square-mile section of the west side in Madera, Fresno and Merced counties has dropped almost 2 feet in just two years.
The land is always subsiding in the Valley, but not this fast. It happened quickly, mostly because of new permanent crops, such as almond orchards, in areas of Madera County that do not have access to river water, say many water experts.
The study has some water community insiders quietly buzzing to me about California passing its first law over groundwater supplies. States such as Colorado have had such regulation for years. There is no such law here.
Even among some farmers, there is talk of the regulation, though nobody has stepped up yet to openly suggest it. This political hot potato will burn most anyone, even in a state as environmentally minded as California.
The USGS study is important. Nearly 2 feet of subsidence in two years over a broad landscape is telling, especially with the clarity of new technology. But a swiftly sinking landscape is hardly new in the Valley.
Between 1926 and 1970, the ground sank nearly 29 feet on the Valley's west side. It slowed after farmers started buying Northern California river water to irrigate.
But farmers have long complained to me that drought and environmental regulation at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would force them to use more underground water. It defeats the purpose of the projects to deliver water from the north, they say.
1,200 square miles is nearly 3 counties in this part of the world.  That is crazy.  And 29 feet?  Holy shit.

Read more here:

World's Largest Ship Launches for First Time

At 600,000 tons and 243 feet wide, when the Prelude left its dry dock in South Korea after a year-long build, it unseated the Emma Maersk (1,302 feet) as the world’s largest ship. But calling it a ship is almost a misnomer. The Prelude is a floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility that will be posted off the coast of Western Australia and will stay there for the next quarter-century.
As an FLNG plant, the Prelude handles everything involved in capturing, processing, and storing liquid natural gas, sucking the stuff from deep within the Earth and refining 3.9 million tons each year before it’s offloaded onto smaller ships that bring it back to the mainland.
Since the Prelude has to process and hold 175 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of the liquid natural gas year-round, it has to withstand anything Mother Nature sends its way. For that, there’s a 305-foot-tall turret that runs through the ship and into the seafloor, keeping the Prelude anchored and allowing it to slowly pivot to the direction of the wind. Between the moorings, the turret, and the three 6,700-horsepower engines, the ship can handle a category 5 hurricane.
The Prelude is set to launch in 2017, and will settle into its new home 300 miles north-east of Broome, Western Australia through 2042.
Yeah, it's bigger than this ship.  Here's some video explanation:

In Which I Agree With Alan Greenspan

I know, it sounds crazy, but:

Greenspan Says Bitcoin a Bubble Without Intrinsic Currency Value

I think this is pretty accurate:
 Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Bitcoin prices are unsustainably high after surging 89-fold in a year and that the virtual money isn’t currency. “It’s a bubble,” Greenspan, 87, said today in a Bloomberg Television interview from Washington. “It has to have intrinsic value. You have to really stretch your imagination to infer what the intrinsic value of Bitcoin is. I haven’t been able to do it. Maybe somebody else can.”
The worst part about it is that computers are just burning up electricity doing useless calculations to mine Bitcoins.  You may as well get them for collecting your own shit.  People are stupid.

The End of an Error

80 years ago today.  Happy Repeal Day.  Have some liquor and celebrate.

2014 Gulf of Maine Shrimp Season Cancelled

ThinkProgress, via nc links:
The Gulf of Maine Northern shrimp fishery has never been big. But the season, usually between December and May, helps make ends meet for Maine fisherman during otherwise difficult winter months, before the lobsters and tourists arrive. In 2012, the value of the Gulf catch was about $5.1 million. Historically, as much as 25 million pounds of shrimp have been caught in the Gulf of Maine. The last time the fishery had to shut down, way back in 1977, just 1 million pounds of shrimp were landed. Regulators closed the fishery the following year, and since then, shrimp populations have rebounded to record highs.
The problem looks bleaker this time around. The annual shrimp survey in 2012 revealed the lowest abundance of adults ever recorded in the survey’s thirty-year history.
“I think everyone was startled by what we saw in 2012, and there was a lot of pressure to close down the fishery for the 2013 season,” said John Annala, Chief Scientific Officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. “The survey this summer found just 20 percent of the 2012 record low, so it has fallen off incredibly sharply.”
Perhaps most worrying is the fact that juvenile shrimp have not been picked up in a survey since 2010. Northern shrimp live about five years, so the lack of younger shrimp for three years straight may mean empty nets for years to come.
“During the last ten years the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine has been running about 2.5 degrees Celsius or about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous one hundred year average,” Annala said. “We don’t know what the thermal threshold of this species is, but the Gulf of Maine has always been the southernmost extreme of their range, so we probably don’t have much wiggle room.”
Even if Northern shrimp prove themselves to be more heat tolerant than scientists predict, the warmer waters in the Gulf of Maine are proving deadly to the shrimp’s food supply, tiny zooplankton. Last spring, the usual surge in plankton never happened. Many species of plankton are also at the southernmost end of their thermal tolerance. Warmer waters are also making the Gulf more hospitable to shrimp predators like dogfish and red hake.
Between overfishing and climate change, our oceans are going to be hit pretty hard in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

No Shit! Ohio Still Leads Nation In Cussing

Megan Garber:
A new map, though, takes a more complicated approach. Instead of using text, it uses data gathered from ... phone calls. You know how, when you call a customer service rep for your ISP or your bank or what have you, you're informed that your call will be recorded? Marchex Institute, the data and research arm of the ad firm Marchex, got ahold of the data that resulted from some recordings, examining more than 600,000 phone calls from the past 12 months—calls placed by consumers to businesses across 30 different industries. It then used call mining technology to isolate the curses therein, cross-referencing them against the state the calls were placed from.
The findings?
People in Ohio cursed the most as compared to every other state in the Union: They swore in one out of about every 150 phone conversations. Ohio was followed, respectively, by Maryland, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Illinois.
And who swore the least? Washingtonians. They cursed, on average, during one out of every 300 conversations. (Yes, this means that Ohioans swear at more than twice the rate of Washingtonians. Because when Ohioans do something, apparently, we put our goddamn minds to it.)
Fuck yeah we do.  Not to be picky, but this story is a little old.  I figured the graphic was worth posting it again.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Double Bird

Charles Pierce gives a beautiful description of Marcus Hall's two-handed salute to Michigan fans on Saturday:
In the second quarter of what already had been a carnival of a first half, Michigan had just scored to take a 21-14 lead. Ohio State's Dontre Wilson fielded the kick at his own goal line and ran it back 16 yards. However, deep in the pile, ill feelings mysteriously arose. Family relationships were disputed loudly. Within seconds, a WWE card broke out. Helmets flew, as did at least one punch. An exaltation of penalty flags took wing. By the time the game officials had finished approximating who had done what to whom, and whose mothers had been most grievously insulted, two Ohio State players and one Wolverine found themselves dismissed.
"I was disappointed in that," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer grumped afterward.
(It is devoutly to be hoped that the Buckeyes followed the direction of their governor, John Kasich, regarding the letter "m" and remembered to call people "otherfuckers" in the scrum. These are the things I worry about.)
One of the expelled, offensive lineman Marcus Hall, was particularly exercised. He slammed down his helmet. He kicked what I can only hope was the bench. And then, as he was being led off into exile up the tunnel, Hall enthusiastically flipped off the Michigan crowd with both hands. This being Thanksgiving weekend, there were a lot of people out there watching with nothing in their hands save beer, and nothing on their hands but time. Within two minutes, Hall's gesture had been GIF'ed approximately 9,678 times. This guaranteed him the kind of instant fame only the Internet can provide. It also guaranteed that Marcus Hall never will have to pay for a meal in Columbus for the rest of his life — whether he and the Buckeyes play for the national title or not. He demonstrated vividly that he don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan. I know I'm supposed to be outraged by this, but I can't be. That would require me to be a TV drone and worry about things like The Image Of The Sport. Hell with that. Marcus Hall lived the dream of every Ohio State fan since the series began in 1897.
I love the part about otherfuckers, even though I find Kasich's recommendation to be a stupid bit of demagoguery.

Mr. Christmas

Mr. Christmas - a short documentary from Nick Palmer on Vimeo.

Ron Burgundy's Curling Broadcast Debut

Ohio Catfish Species Declared Extinct

Scientific American:
Hope has been exhausted for the Scioto madtom (Noturus trautmani). Unseen since 1957, the small catfish has now been listed as “extinct” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, following decades of fruitless searches. The madtom was the only extinction out of more than 430 species updates published to the Red List last week.
Even when the species was alive, sightings of the Scioto madtom were rare, possibly due to their blink-and-you’ll-miss-them size (between 35 and 61 millimeters). Sightings of the species were recorded only 18 times; each happened within a single stretch of Big Darby Creek, a tributary of the Scioto River in central Ohio. Little was ever known about the fish’s ecology or behavior.
Its rarity, however, was enough to get the madtom protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act back in 1975. Biologists then spent years looking for signs of the fish and information on how to protect it. “No other fish has been searched for more persistently by researchers in Ohio than this species,” according to the Ohio Department of Nature Resources.
In 2009 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a review of the Scioto madtom’s status (pdf), writing that the species—which, like the five other madtom species in Ohio, depended on shallow, fast-moving waters with a lot of gravel and silt substrate—probably disappeared “due to modification of its habitat from siltation, suspended industrial effluents and agricultural runoff,” as well as competition from another madtom species that had moved into that region of the stream. The review concluded that the long amount of time since the Scioto madtom has been seen meant it no longer met the definition of an endangered species, “and therefore delisting the species due to extinction is recommended.” The FWS has yet to take that step, but the IUCN responded to the recommendation and has now finally declared the species to be extinct.
Never heard of it, but if I come across one, readers of this blog will be the first to know. There is hope:
Another madtom species, the northern madtom (N. stigmosus) went unseen for 31 years until ichthyologist Milton Trautman, who discovered the Scioto madtom, found two of them elsewhere in Big Darby Creek.
Still, I won't hold my breath.

Germany Also Shorts Infrastructure Spending

NYT (h/t nc links):
Germany was once known for its superfast autobahns, efficient industry and ability to rally public resources for big projects, like integration with the former East Germany. But more recently, it has been forced to confront a somewhat uncharacteristic problem: Its infrastructure — roads, bridges, train tracks, waterways and the like — is aging in a way that experts say could undermine its economic growth for years to come.
As it has been preaching austerity to its neighbors, Germany itself has kept a tight rein on spending at home. Now critics abroad, including the European Union and the United States, are pressing it to do more to stimulate its own economy, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s likely partners in a new coalition government, the left-leaning Social Democrats, are seeking more money for a variety of domestic programs.
A good place to start plowing money into, many experts say, is the nation’s physical underpinnings. A government-appointed commission recently concluded that it needed to spend 7.2 billion euros a year, or $9.7 billion, for the next 15 years — roughly 70 percent more than it spends now — just to get existing infrastructure back into shape. Others say that even more is needed for schools, for instance, and for extending fiber optic cables to less populated areas.
$9.7 billion a year?  That sounds like nothing compared to what ASCE thinks the U.S. needs to spend ($3.6 trillion by 2020.  Admittedly, ASCE isn't exactly a neutral observer).  But still, Germany has about 25% of the number of people as the U.S., and spends a tiny fraction of what the U.S. does on defense spending, so $9.7 billion a year is practically nothing.  To put it in perspective, the Brent Spence Bridge replacement, carrying I-75 across the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky, is expected to cost $2.5 billion by itself.  Anyway, at least we aren't the only extremely short-sighted developed nation.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day

November 26:

Cap Cloud over the Sierra Nevadas
Image Credit & Copyright: Guido Montañés
Explanation: One might say this was a bell weather day for the Sierra Nevada mountains. In January, just as the Sun was setting above the district of Albayzín in Grenada, Spain, a huge cloud appeared as a bell capping the Veleta peak. Such a Cap cloud is formed by air forced upwards by a mountain peak, with the air then cooling, saturating with moisture, and finally having its molecular water condense into cloud droplets. Such a bell-shaped cloud structure is unusual as air typically moves horizontally, making most clouds nearly flat across at the bottom. Vertical waves can also give additional lenticular cloud layers, as also seen above. Given the fleeting extent of the great cloud coupled with momentarily excellent sunset coloring, one might considered this also a bellwether day for an accomplished photographer.

Petroleum Coke Piles Anger Neighbors

With the amount of Canadian oil entering the U.S. increasing almost daily, refineries like Marathon in Detroit, BP in Whiting, Ind., and Phillips 66 in Roxana, Ill., have expanded to handle the glut. Even more oil could be on the way if the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is approved, though by then additional domestic pipelines could direct some to refineries in other regions, experts say.
Refineries usually sell the petcoke to other companies, which store it until it can be loaded onto Great Lakes ships for export to places like China. Burning it emits high levels of soot and greenhouse gases, so its use in the U.S. is limited.
In Detroit, petcoke began appearing along the Detroit River in the spring, several months after the Marathon Petroleum Corp. refinery completed a $2.2 billion expansion. But an outcry by residents, who shot video footage of the blowing grit, prompted city officials to order the removal of the piles.
In Chicago, residents became alarmed when the black piles began growing about six months ago, said Tom Shepherd, a member of a neighborhood group. The last straw was when the petcoke went airborne on Aug. 30 and blew into their yards, churches and a Little League field.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered the city Health Department to adopt regulations for petcoke, while aldermen introduced competing ordinances to regulate or ban it outright. The city and Illinois Attorney Gen. Lisa Madigan have filed suit against Beemsterboer over the petcoke on his sites.
The anti-Oil Sands crowd and the folks concerned with global warming will combine with neighbors of refineries to really limit these petroleum coke piles, unless the owners find a way to effectively control dust emissions.  As unpopular as petroleum coke is in these crowds, they have to be better neighbors.

What is Sea Level?

Geodesy makes my head hurt.

Farmers Need To Make Case For Urban Support

A Des Moines Register editorial makes the case that for the Farm Bill to get support, they need to give some things up to get urban support:
That rural-urban coalition fell apart last year when the House removed food stamps from its version of the farm bill. The legislation has also become a battleground for environmental groups that see crop subsidies encouraging reckless and unsustainable management of farmland. Consumer groups increasingly concerned about Americans’ diets and rates of obesity believe Congress should encourage production and consumption of fruits, vegetables and organically grown foods. And, while city folk might be sympathetic to the plight of family farmers, they are less so of corporate-style industrial agriculture. This splintering of views on what had been a fairly noncontroversial piece of legislation has not been lost on lawmakers from rural states, including Iowa’s congressional delegation. Yet it is still not clear that leading farm organizations in this state and in other farm states have gotten the message that they have to make a better case for the federal support they enjoy.
Every other Iowa business would dearly love to have taxpayer-subsidized price supports and insurance that protects against natural and economic losses. Farmers must make a better case for why their industry should get special treatment.
It is not enough just to say that economically stable farming is essential to putting food on the table at reasonable prices. Or that farmers are subject to potentially ruinous risks related to the weather or insects and blight. American farmers must also demonstrate in measurable ways that they are using sustainable farming practices that protect the environment and preserve the land for future farmers.
They must demonstrate that they are willing to accept mandatory conservation rules and participation as a tradeoff for asking American taxpayers to subsidize their business. That has not happened. Instead, powerful farm organizations and state leaders in Iowa send the opposite message that they expect government handouts without any strings being attached.
That attitude will no longer do. Congress is on the precipice of failing, for the third time in the past two years, to pass an extension of the historic farm bill. It is time for rural America to wake up to that possibility.
Farmers are going to find out that the politicians they put into office are so enamored of "trickle-down" economics that they are willing to sacrifice spending which goes to their constituents in order to further cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  You get what you vote for.

Job Creators? Not Quite

Henry Blodget:
"Rich people create the jobs."
Specifically, by starting and directing America's companies, entrepreneurs and rich investors create the jobs that sustain everyone else.
This statement is usually invoked to justify cutting taxes on entrepreneurs and investors.  If only we reduce those taxes and regulations, the story goes, entrepreneurs and investors can be incented to build more companies and create more jobs.
This argument ignores the fact that taxes on entrepreneurs and investors are already historically low, even after this year's modest increases. And it ignores the assertions of many investors and entrepreneurs (like me) that they would work just as hard to build companies even if taxes were higher.
But, more importantly, this argument perpetuates a myth that some well-off Americans use to justify today's record inequality — the idea that rich people create the jobs.Entrepreneurs and investors like me actually don't create the jobs -- not sustainable ones, anyway.
Yes, we can create jobs temporarily, by starting companies and funding losses for a while. And, yes, we are a necessary part of the economy's job-creation engine. But to suggest that we alone are responsible for the jobs that sustain the other 300 million Americans is the height of self-importance and delusion.
So, if rich people do not create the jobs, what does?
A healthy economic ecosystem — one in which most participants (especially the middle class) have plenty of money to spend.
Over the last couple of years, a rich investor and entrepreneur named Nick Hanauer has annoyed all manner of other rich investors and entrepreneurs by explaining this in detail...
What creates a company's jobs, Hanauer explains, is a healthy economic ecosystem surrounding the company, which starts with the company's customers.
The company's customers buy the company's products. This, in turn, channels money to the company and allows the the company to hire employees to produce, sell, and service those products. If the company's customers and potential customers go broke, the demand for the company's products will collapse. And the company's jobs will disappear, regardless of what the entrepreneurs or investors do.
Lots of people don't believe this, which seems obvious to me.  Income inequality cuts a large percentage of people out of being able to fully support the economy, while a smaller percentage of the population has way more money than they could ever use to benefit the economy.  Why have we had so many bubbles?  Mainly because all the excess wealth is being employed in speculating for greater gains.  All those dollars are chasing a finite number of potential investments.  If you are really concerned about a balanced budget, you would support taxing more of that wealth, or creating regulations to ensure that more of the national income went to labor.  Most "budget hawks" are opposed to both.