Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mothers' Day Weekend Reads

May this be a good weekend for all the mothers out there.  Here are a few stories that caught my eye:

Run, Joe, Run: Why Democrats Need A Biden Candidacy - The Atlantic. A similar case can be made that a Paul candidacy can allow a similar debate in the GOP, but the extremism there makes it less likely.

'What could be more interesting than how the mind works?' Steven Pinker's history of thought - Harvard Gazette

How to Trap the Guilty and Gullible into Revealing Themselves - Wall Street Journal

Hardship Makes a New Home in the Suburbs - New York Times

Alan Guth: What Made the Big Bang bang - The Boston Globe Magazine.  A very accessible article about the inflation theory of the origin of the universe, and the fascinating man who birthed it. More on this later.

Black Pastors Help Rand Paul Divine That Voter ID Laws Are 'Offending People' - The Wire.  The sad part is that Rand Paul's brush with reality will tank him with the racist base of the GOP.

Also, more links later as I can get to it.  I have a few things I need to do.

Update: The rain never came, so I ended up planting corn all day (and much of the night).  We have 55 acres of corn left, so we'll see if we can beat the rain.

Solna subway station, Stockholm - The Big Picture in 2013

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Awakening - New Zealand

AWAKENING | NEW ZEALAND 4K from Martin Heck | Timestorm Films on Vimeo.

It's Getting Hot Out Here

Vox highlights an interesting graph from the National Climate Assessment:

Since the 19th century, average US temperatures have risen by 1.3°F to 1.9°F. (Note, though, there have been some fluctuations here and there: in the 1960s and 1970s, temperatures dipped, partly due to the cooling effect of sulfate pollution that was eventually cleaned up.)
Recent decades have been even hotter: since 1991, virtually every part of the country has been warming, with the biggest temperature increases occurring in the winter and spring.
Also of note, major rainfall events are bringing more rain in the Midwest:
So that 100-year storm is no longer a 100-year storm.  Finally, climate change will impact agriculture, some for better, some for worse:

The report notes that warmer temperatures have lengthened the growing season in the Midwest by almost two weeks since 1950. What's more, higher concentrations of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere have helped boost plant growth.
Those benefits are expected to last another few decades. But climate change will also have negative impacts that will start to hurt agriculture. An increased number of extremely hot days could damage crops. And heat waves during pollination could reduce corn and soy yields.
As such, the report recommends that farmers in the Midwest start preparing for projected climate impacts now — before the negative impacts start dominating.
I anticipate longer stretches of really cool, wet weather, along with longer stretches of really hot, dry weather.  The timing of each will be key.  A couple of general points:

Wheat genetics will have to change to continue to be in any way viable in Ohio.

Any investment in tile will be important on our heavier, clay soils.

We don't know how much hotter it's going to get, but it will get hotter.

Bad News for the U.S. Catholic Church

Hispanics are leaving in droves:

What's behind these huge changes in the Church? Researchers pointed to a few factors. Part of it may have to do with the growing influence of evangelicals in Latin America over the last century—in 1910, 90 percent of people living there were Catholic, but by 2010, that had declined to 72 percent. Some of it can also be attributed to broader trends in the U.S.; for example, about a third of all American Millennials say they don't identify with any particular religion, and roughly the same proportion of Hispanic-Americans aged 18-29 feel this way.
But the bigger story is that Hispanics are leaving the Church, period. Some of those who left were born here, and others were born abroad; some were from Mexico, but many were from other countries. Today, almost a quarter of Hispanics in America used to be Catholic—they were raised in the Church, but since then, they have joined a different denomination or stopped practicing a religion all together. Most people who have left the Church are now unaffiliated, but Protestants—particularly evangelicals—have captured a significant proportion of converts. Almost half of Hispanic-American who are currently Protestant were raised as Catholics.
Among all Hispanic-Americans who have left Catholicism, most people said they just drifted away from the Church or stopped believing in Church teachings. But people who converted to Protestant denominations were almost as likely to say they left because "they found a congregation that reaches out and helps its members more" than the Church—roughly half said this was true.
When the one growth demographic is quickly falling away, that doesn't bode well.  I guess the difference between the Church and the Republican Party is that at least Hispanics were once Catholic.  Right now, the GOP and the Church are in slow-motion demographic death spirals.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Effects of the ACA

A chart from Gallup:

Imagine if all the states run by Republican assholes actually expanded Medicaid like anyone with a functioning brain or a soul would have.

Ohio Primary Election 2014

I think the only real campaign of interest on the ballot in Ohio today is Speaker John Boehner's seat.  One surprising thing about this election is that NPR reports that Boehner has spent almost $12 million, compared with about nothing for each of his opponents.  This shouldn't really be much of an election, but will be most telling in how many people cast a vote for the nobodies running as Tea Party alternative candidates.  I see comments on Facebook, and in interviews in the Dayton Daily News of people mad about Boehner, you know, actually allowing the government to function by letting a majority of members of Congress pass legislation by ignoring the idiot caucus in his own party, which receives enormous support from grassroots loons.  I would anticipate that Boehner will win between 65-75% of the vote.  Anything less than that will be a short-term win for the Tea Party and a long-term loss for the GOP as a whole, because it will show that the base is really, really dumb and has no clue about how to compete nationally as a party.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Derby Attention Masks Racing's Decline

While the Kentucky Derby and other signature horse-racing events remain popular, a long-run decline in thoroughbred racing has prompted owners of many of the nation's tracks to close them down to make way for housing developments and office parks. What used to be the famed Bay Meadows racetrack here—spread across 171 acres—will soon see 1,000 new housing units, about one-third of which will be rental housing and the rest single-family homes and town homes.
Similar scenes are playing out across the nation. Later this year, Bay Meadows' owner, Stockbridge Capital, will begin demolishing a second track, Los Angeles' Hollywood Park, which is on prime real estate near Los Angeles International Airport. That also will become homes and offices. On Saturday, Ohio's 91-year-old Beulah Park, which is near Columbus, will run its last race...
Last year, 100 racetracks ran at least one thoroughbred race, down from 111 in 1991, according to Equibase, an industry-owned database. But that modest decline doesn't capture just how much pressure there is on the industry: The number of thoroughbred races was down 19% from a decade ago, and the wagering handle has fallen by roughly 30% to about $11 billion.
"The underlying economics of the [racing] business are gone," Mr. Meany said.
The main culprit: competition from casinos. Decades ago, in the industry's heyday, horse and dog races were more or less the only place Americans could legally gamble outside of Las Vegas. Since then, the nationwide explosion in gambling—which began in tribal casinos and riverboats but has steadily moved closer to population centers and into downtowns—has siphoned off customers.
Beulah Park, along with Raceway Park in Toledo were vehicles in the spread of casino gambling in Ohio.  After casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo were approved by voters in 2009, Governor Strickland granted "racino" licenses to Ohio's seven racetracks.  Not long after that, it was announced that Raceway Park would relocate to Dayton and Beulah Park would move to Youngstown, allowing slots gambling in two more of the metro areas in the state.  There is also talk that Thistledown will move a few miles south from North Randall in the Cleveland suburbs to be closer to the Akron-Canton market.  From a gaming perspective, the moves make sense, but from a horse racing perspective it is clear that the horse racing is only a vehicle for a gaming license.  If you can't justify keeping thoroughbred racing in Columbus, where the population is growing, and instead move the track to Rust Belt poster-child Youngstown, the future of the sport outside of the major races is extremely suspect.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

NASA Video of the Day

April 28:

Time Lapse of a Total Lunar Eclipse
Video Credit: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, U. Arizona
Explanation: Why would a bright full Moon suddenly become dark? Because it entered the shadow of the Earth. Almost two weeks ago this exact event happened as the Moon underwent a total lunar eclipse. That eclipse, visible from the half of the Earth then facing the Moon, was captured in numerous spectacular photographs and is depicted in the above time lapse video covering about an hour. The above video, recorded from Mt. Lemmon Sky Center in Arizona, USA, keeps the Earth shadow centered and shows the Moon moving through it from west to east. The temporarily good alignment between Earth, Moon, and Sun will show itself again tomorrow -- precisely half a moon-th (month) later -- when part of the Earth will pass through part of the new Moon's shadow.

Mayweather Wins Tough Decision

Floyd Mayweather Jr. notched his 46th straight win with a majority decision over Argentine Marcos Maidana (35-4) on Saturday night.
Mayweather's successful work at the Las Vegas MGM Grand was, however, anything but the boxing walkover it was expected to be. The rugged fighter known as "El Chino" made "Money" Mayweather work for his money at the welterweight unification fight, where Mayweather was defending the WBC belt and Maidana the WBA title.
Many of Mayweather's former foes have vowed to make their meetings with him a brawl, but the preternaturally elusive fighter from Grand Rapids, Mich., has always managed to skip blithely out of the way of his hyperaggressive rivals. Tonight was different.
While fans will squabble about who won, everyone concurs that Maidana succeeded in making Mayweather fight instead of box. The 12-round title unification bout was a scintillating but ugly contest in which both combatants were warned about questionable tactics: Maidana for coming in with his head and Mayweather for excessive holding. At one point, Mayweather and Maidana wrestled and tumbled through the ropes and onto the ring apron.
From the first to the last gong, Maidana kept his pre-fight promise of applying relentless pressure. Again and again, he drove his man to the ropes and fired away with chopping overhand rights and left hooks. But waging fistic war on the inside requires maintaining the distance to work effectively and do damage. Whenever the Argentine broke the perimeter, and that was often, Mayweather was usually able to grab him and tie him up.
According to CompuBox, Maidana fired 858 punches, almost twice the number of Mayweather. The much more accurate puncher, Mayweather was able to strafe Maidana with his patented lead and counter rights, but they did little to slow Maidana down. Maidana landed slightly more power shots.
Boxing would be more popular, if somewhat less profitable, if the major fights were more widely available to the public.  It would also help if the best fighters fought one another.

Another Race To the Bottom Amongst States

Bribing movie producers to film in their states.  A study in California demonstrates incentives don't pay for themselves:
One thing Hollywood has been very good at over the last few years is extracting tax incentives from states to move production around the country.
But another thing has always been clear about these incentives: They don't pay for themselves. In state after state, objective, independent studies have shown that they invariably run in the red, returning pennies and dimes to state treasuries for every buck handed out to producers.
Now California's independent Legislative Analyst's Office has added to the data bank. In a study released Wednesday, it calculates that for every dollar California spends on the $100-million annual film subsidy it created in 2009, the state treasury gets back 65 cents. 
The LAO does California's taxpayers a further service by debunking a key study that purported to prove the contrary. One is a supposedly "independent" study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. which, as we observed at the time of its release in July 2011, was quietly funded by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, whose members collect all these lavish subsidies. The LAO shows that the LAEDC's work, which has claimed to find that the state's Hollywood subsidies return more in economic benefit than they cost, was every bit as slipshod as we reported.
Although a few states have debarked from the Hollywood handout gravy train, 37 states still offer incentives. That has put tremendous pressure on California to do the same in order to hang on to its role as the nation's center of film and television production; a measure to expand the state's subsidy and extend it through 2022 is currently making its way through the Legislature.
Corporations and movie producers have been able to get states to bid amongst themselves for how badly to screw their own residents to bring in jobs or, in this extremely stupid example, movies.  A moratorium on tax incentives would be a good thing for the body politic, but politicians, especially Republicans, prefer to help out the folks who don't need any assistance while citizens see failing infrastructure and less responsive government services.  It's lose-lose for you and I, and win-win for corporations and their political lackeys.