Saturday, June 21, 2014

New USDA Report Most Accurate Ever

Unidentified farmer coughing into threadbare handkerchief

From America's Finest News Source (h/t local Twin):
WASHINGTON—According to a Department of Agriculture study released Friday, the vast majority of U.S. farmers have recently finished squinting off into the horizon and are, at present, woefully kicking at the dirt. “Based on our research, we can confirm that 68 percent of American farmers are currently removing their hats and wiping the sweat from their brow with the back of their arm, with an additional 26 percent coughing into a threadbare handkerchief,” the report read in part, noting that if they had not done so already, most farmers in the U.S. would soon spit on the ground beside them before staring up at the clouds and reckoning the possibility of rain. “The data indicate that while American farmers may or may not be chewing on a single length of wheat, nearly all of them are at this time squatting down to inspect a dried, shriveled beanstalk.” The study concluded that 100 percent of American farmers would, within moments, lazily shake their heads and lament that things just ain’t what they used to be.
I think I covered all those bases last weekend.  And, you know what, things just ain't what they used to be.

Solstice Weekend Reads

Here are some stories for you to peruse on the longest day of the year:

The Land of 10,000 Takes: Minnesota's long, tortured and very, very complicated relationship with 'Fargo' - Grantland

Absurdities, Blatant Lies, Chutzpah, Political Expediency, Odd Couples - Mish.  I often disagree with Mish, but he's spot-on here about Iraq and Syria.

The Stories of our Grandchildren - The Archdruid Report.  Money quote, "Equally, it’s much easier, and much more comfortable, to insist that the ongoing decline in standards of living here in America is either the fault of the poor or the fault of the rich. Either evasion makes it possible to ignore all the evidence that suggests that what most Americans think of as a normal standard of living is actually an absurd degree of extravagance, made possibly only briefly by the reckless squandering of the most lavish energy resource our species will ever know."

I Was Tony Gwynn's Bat Boy - Deadspin (h/t to my sister). In case you missed it earlier this week.  Very good.

Methane Inquiry Closes, but Questions Linger - Texas Tribune.  The industry may be able to claim that they haven't polluted many wells with fracking fluids, but methane is another story.  How dangerous it is in water wells, I'm not sure.  Can't be good for indoor air quality, though.

Slavery's Legacy: Race-Based Economic Inequality - Pacific Standard.  Or why Mississippi is so backward and poor.

Casino Boom Pinches Northeast States - Wall Street Journal.  Indiana is hit, too.  It took Ohio way to long to legalize casino gambling, but I think the expansion in the state has gone pretty reasonably, with just one casino in each of the four biggest cities, and the race tracks from Toledo and Columbus moving to Dayton and Youngstown to take advantage of casino-free markets in which to place racinos. Canton-Akron is the only large orphan area, but they aren't very far from Cleveland or Youngstown, and Thistledown is considering a move to that market.  Gambling is no longer a growth sector, and glitzy casinos outside of Vegas are probably a thing of the past.

Answering J.D. Salinger's Fan Mail Made Her A Writer - Vox.  An interesting tidbit about one of the types of fan mail: "The last category, there were the letters that were tragic. They ran the gamut, but lot of them were older people who were reliving or thinking about their experiences during World War II. Because of this, they had read Salinger when his works first came out, and because of that they felt that he had captured their experience during the war or after the war, and they were rereading it and realized, oh my god, this is about the war."

How the Mormons Conquered America: The success of the Mormon religion is a study in social adaptation - Nautilus

Arizona Could Be Out of Water in 6 Years - Smithsonian

The House of Mondavi: How an American Wine Empire Was Born - Longreads

How Foster Farms Used the USDA, Big Chicken Lobbyists and Lawyers to Avoid a Recall - Firedoglake.  Interesting, if a bit dramatic.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Balan the Blowpipe Maker

Balan the Blowpipe Maker from Ross Harrison on Vimeo.

EPA Weighs Texas Request In Battle Against Palmer Amaranth

Wall Street Journal:
The Texas Department of Agriculture asked the EPA last month for an exemption to permit growers to douse fields this summer with propazine—a chemical little-used in U.S. agriculture—to control an invasive plant known as palmer amaranth, or pigweed.
Pigweed, which can grow 3 inches a day, is one of several nasty invaders that have developed resistance to the nation's dominant weed killer, glyphosate, which is widely sold by Monsanto Co. as Roundup.
Texas, at the behest of the state's cotton growers, is asking the EPA to let farmers spray propazine, the active ingredient in the herbicide Milo-Pro, on up to 3 million acres, or nearly half of the state's estimated cotton acreage this season. The Lone Star state is the nation's largest cotton producer, accounting for 33% of last year's crop, which was valued at $5.2 billion, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group, and other environmental watchdogs oppose the proposal on the grounds that propazine poses potential risks to human health. Propazine has been identified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen and is a restricted-use pesticide requiring a license to purchase and apply, according to Milo-Pro's manufacturer.
Propazine is closely related to atrazine, a herbicide used by many corn growers that is banned in the European Union. Critics of the sister herbicide cite studies indicating it can interrupt sexual reproduction in frogs, and result in potential human reproductive problems.
I would guess the exemption will be granted.  It looks to me like the herbicide fell out of use, the company didn't fund required studies because of lack of use, and now they are digging it back out because of the Roundup-resistant pigweed debacle.  It is interesting how the article is worded, specifically mentioning atrazine being used by many corn growers (almost all), but is banned in the EU.  Considering how much atrazine is sprayed in the Midwest, I can't imagine propazine being withheld in Texas.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Todd Frazier's Kickass Season So Far

The Wall Street Journal looks at the best all-around players this season:

Wins Above Replacement, the total value metric that has risen in popularity recently, can be broken down into its components. The basic building blocks of WAR are runs above average in batting, baserunning, and fielding, before those runs created are converted into wins added to a team's ledger. As the chart shows, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels has been 26.9 runs better than an average hitter, 2.4 runs better than an average baserunner, and 4.0 runs better than an average fielder.
Alex Gordon is also having an amazing all-around season. Gordon is the only player in MLB to rate as 10 runs better than average both at hitting and fielding while also being an above average baserunner. Gordon's excellent production is one of the primary reasons why the Kansas City Royals are on top of the American League Central.
That's pretty good company for Flava Fraz.


Statement from Jesse Brass on Vimeo.

This Will Make Your Head Hurt

The vastness of the universe explained:

When confronted with the topic of stars and galaxies, a question that tantalizes most humans is, “Is there other intelligent life out there?” Let’s put some numbers to it (if you don’t like numbers, just read the bold)—
As many stars as there are in our galaxy (100 – 400 billion), there are roughly an equal number of galaxies in the observable universe—so for every star in the colossal Milky Way, there’s a whole galaxy out there. All together, that comes out to the typically quoted range of between 1022 and 1024 total stars, which means that for every grain of sand on Earth, there are 10,000 stars out there.
The science world isn’t in total agreement about what percentage of those stars are “sun-like” (similar in size, temperature, and luminosity)—opinions typically range from 5% to 20%. Going with the most conservative side of that (5%), and the lower end for the number of total stars (1022), gives us 500 quintillion, or 500 billion billion sun-like stars.
There’s also a debate over what percentage of those sun-like stars might be orbited by an Earth-like planet (one with similar temperature conditions that could have liquid water and potentially support life similar to that on Earth). Some say it’s as high as 50%, but let’s go with the more conservative 22% that came out of a recent PNAS study. That suggests that there’s a potentially-habitable Earth-like planet orbiting at least 1% of the total stars in the universe—a total of 100 billion billion Earth-like planets.
So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.
Moving forward, we have no choice but to get completely speculative. Let’s imagine that after billions of years in existence, 1% of Earth-like planets develop life (if that’s true, every grain of sand would represent one planet with life on it). And imagine that on 1% of those planets, the life advances to an intelligent level like it did here on Earth. That would mean there were 10 quadrillion, or 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.
Moving back to just our galaxy, and doing the same math on the lowest estimate for stars in the Milky Way (100 billion), we’d estimate that there are 1 billion Earth-like planets and 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.
And if you really want to make your head hurt, consider there are 6 x 10^23 molecules in a mole.

Coal Production In Pictures

The Atlantic features photos of the extremes of coal production, from massive electric-powered excavators to human laborers with baskets on their backs.  The photos from coal mines in India remind me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (for an interesting [but totally unrelated to this post] look at the back story to why Temple of Doom was so dark [shocker: because of relationship troubles with women], go here):

8 year old Prabhat Sinha, from Assam, carries a load of coal weighing 60kg, supported by a head-strap, as he ascends the staircase of a coal mine on April 16, 2011 near the village of Khliehriat, India. After traversing treacherous mountain roads, the coal is delivered to neighboring Bangladesh and to Assam from where it is distributed all over India, to be used primarily for power generation and as a source of fuel in cement plants. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #
On quibble with this feature at The Atlantic: the headline says, "Global Coal Usage Reaches 44 Year High," followed by this:
Earlier this week, BP issued its annual "Statistical Review of World Energy" report. According to the report, coal was the fastest-growing fossil fuel worldwide last year, and "coal's share of global primary energy consumption reached 30.1 percent, the highest since 1970". Despite a decrease in coal usage by North America and Europe over the past several years (due in large part to cheaper natural gas), global coal consumption has risen to new highs, driven by the growing and power-hungry markets of China and India.
That is as a percentage of primary energy consumption, not as total tonnage. World coal consumption has more than doubled from 1980 (4.122 billion short tons) to 2012 (8.449 billion short tons).  That isn't a 44 year high, it is an all-time high in the history of the world.  If you are concerned about a potential climactic calamity due to fossil fuel use, I think that is baked into our cake.  I don't think we're undoing all that damage.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wolf and the Bees

Wolf and the Bees from Juliet Zulu on Vimeo.

On the lighter side, if you are interested in beekeeping, Randy Travis and Clint Eastwood have some advice for you (posted because Slate reminded me of Clint Eastwood's career as a crooner):

The Positives and Negatives of Thorium Reactors

What’s green about thorium? First, thorium reactors are more efficient than uranium reactors, because they waste less fuel and produce far more energy. Most nuclear power plants are currently only able to extract between 3 and 5 percent of the energy in uranium fuel rods. In molten salt-cooled reactors, favored by many thorium proponents, nearly all the fuel is consumed. According to a pro-thorium group of British lawmakers, one metric tonne of thorium delivers the same amount of energy as 250 tonnes of uranium.
Second, and perhaps most important from a “green” perspective, thorium yields little waste and is less radioactive. According to its proponents, residue from the thorium reaction will become inert within 30 years, compared to 10,000 years for radioactive waste currently generated from uranium reactors.
A further advantage thorium has over uranium is its relative abundance in the Earth's crust. The silvery-black metal is estimated to be three to four times more plentiful than uranium, with large reserves existing in China, Australia, the United States, Turkey, India and Norway. Tons of it are known to be buried in the U.S., since thorium is a by-product of rare earth mining.....
One large hole that can be punched in the argument for thorium involves the economics of thorium reactors. Experts say compared to uranium, the thorium fuel cycle is more costly and would require extensive taxpayer subsidies.
Another issue is time. With a viable thorium reactor at least a decade away if not more, the cost of renewable alternatives like solar and wind may come down to a point where thorium reactors won’t be economical. Critics also point out that the nuclear industry has invested too much in uranium reactors – along with government buy-in and a set of regulations around them – to be supplanted by thorium.
As for the “green nuclear” argument, thorium's detractors say that isn't necessarily the case. While thorium reactors produce less waste, they also produce other radioactive by-products that will need safe disposal, including U-232, which has a half-life of 160,000 years.
“It will create a whole new volume of radioactive waste from previously radio-inert thorium, on top of the waste from uranium reactors. Looked at in these terms, it's a way of multiplying the volume of radioactive waste humanity can create several times over,” said Oliver Tickell, author of Kyoto2, speaking to The Guardian.
I thought the main draw to thorium was safety?  After Fukushima, that would seem to be a beneficial advantage:
Science writer Richard Martin states that nuclear physicist Alvin Weinberg, who was director at Oak Ridge and primarily responsible for the new reactor, lost his job as director because he championed development of the safer thorium reactors. Weinberg himself recalls this period:
[Congressman] Chet Holifield was clearly exasperated with me, and he finally blurted out, "Alvin, if you are concerned about the safety of reactors, then I think it may be time for you to leave nuclear energy." I was speechless. But it was apparent to me that my style, my attitude, and my perception of the future were no longer in tune with the powers within the AEC.
Martin explains that Weinberg's unwillingness to sacrifice potentially safe nuclear power for the benefit of military uses forced him to retire:
Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. . . . his team built a working reactor . . . . and he spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to make thorium the heart of the nation’s atomic power effort. He failed. Uranium reactors had already been established, and Hyman Rickover, de facto head of the US nuclear program, wanted the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out in 1973.
Clearly, there are some serious drawbacks, or we'd have thorium reactors at utility scale.  I'm in favor of safe nuclear power, but I've got my doubts about the feasibility of thorium as a major energy source.

Chutzpah - noun, or Dick Cheney as Billy Madison

So Dick Cheney wrote an editorial. In the Wall Street Journal. On Iraq (it would seem like we could stop pointing out the ridiculousness of this right here, but that would be too soon).  And wrote this about the successor to the absolutely worst president of my lifetime:
Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.
Maybe if he said, " since 2008...." that would make a little sense.   Dick Cheney was the criminal mastermind behind the worst presidency since at least Warren G. Harding.  He destroyed the credibility of the United States' position against torture.  He blustered about weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds over New York, being welcomed as liberators, ending the war in Iraq in weeks, not months (or a decade), and about a coming wave of terrorist attacks after the administration in which he served (or, more accurately, led the dumbfuckery), and in which the United States suffered more casualties to terrorism than under all other Presidents combined, left office.  None of this was accurate.  He was one of the chief masterminds of the worst unforced military error in the history of the United States (ok, Vietnam was bigger, but at least there was another "superpower" around back then, and we were doing it as a proxy war).  Could any human being be more wrong and more lacking in basic self-awareness or decency of any kind?  The Wall Street Journal news division may have some good stories once in a way, and often has top-notch graphics, but the editorial page has always been ridiculous, and has now passed into the stage of being a flaming bag of dog shit on your front porch.  I've got one bit of advice for you, "Don't put it out with your boots, Ted."

Somewhere, in some horrible, dark place (like the inside of his soul), Dick Cheney is laughing hysterically and saying, "He called the shit poop!" Fuck Dick Cheney and all his compatriots.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Lazy, Hazy Evening

After a long weekend and Monday side dressing corn and baling hay, I'm sitting on the porch this evening, poking around the internet on my laptop and listening to the Reds game on grandma's crank-powered radio, which was acquired to ensure she could listen to The Truckin' Bozo on WLW after society collapsed because computer programmers were too lazy to upgrade code to grapple with the turn of the century.  Now we've got all our spring work done, and since we've still got a couple of weeks to get ready to run my obligatory field of wheat, I figured I could take an evening off.  Plus, it's too hot to do anything but sweat your ass off.  I just happened to notice that June is already half over, and I now realize that those crazy old bastards really were right when they talked about how quickly time passes.  Now all those damn fool kids look at me like I'm nuts when I tell them the same thing.  Don't worry, whippersnappers, you'll be saying the same thing when I'm dead and gone.

Pink Slime Makes A Comeback

Thanks to record high beef prices, consumers are reconsidering their concerns with "finely textured beef:"
A much-maligned beef product that was once frequently added to hamburger is making a comeback. Two years ago, beef processors cut back sharply on producing what they call "lean, finely textured beef" after the nasty nickname for it, "pink slime," in the media. Now, higher beef prices are leading to increased demand for the product.
To prepare, grocery stores and beef processors are getting ready for a new round of questions from consumers.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin says the product is 100 percent lean beef trimmings treated with citric acid to kill bacteria. In early 2012, unappetizing pictures made the rounds on social media after ABC News did an investigative report that the processors say frightened consumers into thinking the product was unsafe. And Martin says the reaction was swift.
"Ultimately what happened is consumers contacted retailers. So by the end of March 2012, Cargill's finely textured beef had incurred an 80 percent decrease in volume. We ultimately were forced to close down two of the production sites out of the five we had operating that produced finely textured beef," he says. Beef Products International closed down three plants and laid off more than 700 workers.
But now, Cargill says, sales of the product are up as beef prices are rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says in 2010, the cost of ground beef averaged $2.25 a pound. Now it's nearly $4 a pound. So grocery stores and food processors, like the makers of lasagna and pasta sauce, are buying more ground beef with the cheaper beef product mixed in.
Personally, I've been surprised that so many people are willing to pay through the nose for organic food, and that so many folks got upset about pink slime.  There's a lot of processed food that is probably made in a way that I don't want to know about, but it tastes good enough for me to eat, and it is astonishingly cheap.  I don't understand why people brag about their purchase of free-range eggs and grass-fed beef and locally sourced vegetables.  I'm sure they are trying to establish their social bona fides, but they just look gullible to this guy.  Oh well, pass me the pink slime.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Early Week Reads

This was going to be weekend reads, but we got busy with field work and I didn't get anything done here:

How A New Evolutionary Map Could Help Farmers Eliminate Fertilizer - Pacific Standard.  On developing nitrogen fixing cereal grains.  That would be a revolution in sustainable agriculture.  Still leaves P and K, though.

Turning 14 in Cincinnati: 'I worry about surviving' - Cincinnati Enquirer.  Wow.  Very sad.

The Eccentric Genius Whose Time May Have Finally Come (Again) - The Atlantic

How Ronald Reagan Changed Bruce Springsteen's Politics - Politico

Earth may have underground 'ocean' three times that on surface - Guardian

It's Not Surprising Two Harrier Jets Have Crashed in a Month - Wired.

The Biggest Housing Bubble in the World is in....Canada? - Wonkblog. The Vancouver market has Chinese cash pouring in.