Saturday, July 19, 2014

Late July Weekend Links

Here are some interesting stories to check out over the weekend:

From YMCA Flying Fish to France: My English Channel Swim - Bloomberg

Research supports the notion of the 'hot hand'; baseball players always believed in it - Washington Post.  I was always a believer.  Whether it was baseball, golf, cornhole, darts or any other semi-athletic competition which required some motor skills, I was either on or off (generally off).

 Lessons From America's War for the Greater Middle East - Andrew Bacevich

The intellectual cess pool of the inflation truthers - Wonkblog.  Amity Shlaes being an intellectually-bankrupt faux-economist faux-historian hack isn't exactly noteworthy.  The truthers are way wrong about hyperinflation, but considering the steep rise in health care, education and energy costs (and the trickle-down into food costs thanks to ethanol policy) combined with pay growing slower than inflation, this article may be a little too dismissive of the squeeze the former middle class is under.

Inflation is always and everywhere a political phenomenon - Pieria

Evaluating the Benefits and Costs of Patents - Morning Edition.  The fact that this is even being discussed shows how badly the patent system is in need of reforms.  Until the last few years, questioning the patent system was beyond the pale.

Cheap at sea, pricey on the plate: The voodoo of lobster economics - Globe and Mail

How to Ignore a Plague - Medium

Give Us This Day The Bread Wheat Genome - Scientific American

Farming the apocalypse - Aeon

A disturbing glimpse into the shrouded world of the Texas grand jury system - Houston Chronicle.  I don't think abuse of the grand jury system is limited to Texas.  But like in other bad categories, Texas is amongst the leaders nationally.

So Sue Me: Republicans Learn To Love Litigation - The New Yorker.  Republicans desperately try to maintain ruling power and privilege despite being a minority (numerically, not ethnically, yet) party.  Note: you shouldn't attack other minorities when you are one. That will be a lesson which takes Republicans a long time to learn.  They're a bit on the slow side.

 Quiz: Which Of These State Fair Foods Are Faux - The Salt.  Mmmmmm.

Corporate America Is Enriching Shareholders at the Expense of the Economy - FiveThirtyEight.  Somehow, an accounting professor wrote an article that mentioned dividend payments to shareholders increased in the last decade without mentioning that the tax rate on dividends was cut from ordinary income rate to 15%.  He even appears to not even realize that the tax rate was cut. WTF?

America's Move to Soy Hobbles Dairy - Wall Street Journal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Stupidity of Bottled Water

Michael Hiltzik:
The sale of bottled water to most Americans, who have access to cheap and safe tap water from municipal systems, is a marketing scam, and environmentally devastating besides. As Peter H. Gleick of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute showed in 2007, it took the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bottles for American buyers in 2006. That would be enough to fuel 1 million American cars and light trucks for a year.
"Bottled water requires energy throughout its life cycle," Gleick has written. "Energy is required to capture, treat, and send water to the bottling plant; fill, package, transport, and cool the bottled water; and recycle or dispose of the empty containers."
Consider the unnecessary energy usage in shipping, say, Fiji Water to these shores from a Pacific island dictatorship 5,000 miles away, all to satisfy the marketing thirst of the product's distributors, Lynda and Stewart Resnick of Beverly Hills. And while you're cradling that shiny square bottle in your hands, keep in mind that 30% of Fiji's 800,000 residents don't have access to clean drinking water themselves.
The drought is bound to focus more attention on the extraction of water from California sources for retail sale. The Desert Sun of Palm Springs started that process this week, with an exhaustive look at the deal between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Nestle Waters North America, which draws water for its Arrowhead brand from sources on the reservation.
The piece was not as exhaustive as it could have been, because neither Nestle nor the Morongo are forthcoming about how much water is being drawn.
Wait, Fiji water actually is bottled in Fiji and shipped to the United States?  That may be the stupidest thing I have ever heard of.  It should be legal to flog people who are stupid enough to market or buy something this stupid.  I did find this entertaining tidbit:
In 2006, Fiji Water ran an advertisement stating, "The label says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland". This was taken as an insult by the city's water department. The Cleveland Water Department ran tests comparing a bottle of Fiji Water to Cleveland tap water and some other national bottled brands. Fiji Water reportedly contained 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per litre where as the tap water of Cleveland contained none.
Bottled water is for idiots.  Drink it straight from the tap.

Minnesota Reins In Greenhouse Emissions

While other states and critics of the Obama administration have howled about complying with its proposed rule slashing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Minnesota has been reining in its utilities’ carbon pollution for decades — not painlessly, but without breaking much of a sweat, either.
Today, Minnesota gets more of its power from wind than all but four other states, and the amount of coal burned at power plants has dropped by more than a third from its 2003 peak. And while electricity consumption per person has been slowly falling nationwide for the last five years, Minnesota’s decline is steeper than the average.
The Obama administration’s proposal would reduce power plants’ carbon pollution 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Minnesota set similar nonbinding goals for its entire economy seven years ago: a 15 percent reduction by 2015, 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. (Minnesota measures carbon differently; by federal standards, its reductions would most likely be greater.)
The state swings some regulatory sticks in its carbon-cutting effort. Minnesota has not only set deadlines for utilities to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, but it has also required minimum shares for certain renewables like wind and solar energy. Minneapolis, which issued a hefty clean energy blueprint in February, is using its utility franchise negotiations to bargain for further carbon-cutting measures.
But it dangles carrots, too. Voracious power consumers like iron ore mines, for example, can sidestep a regulatory mandate by showing a commitment to reducing electricity use. And the state jump-starts green energy efforts by striking deals with utilities: This year, the state and its private utilities agreed to jolt the slow-growing electric-automobile market by offering discount recharging rates.
Well, thanks to Tea Party goons here, Ohio just scrapped our renewable energy requirements. Nothing like leading from behind.  If Ohio Republicans can't make us more like Mississippi, they will at least make us more like Indiana, the Mississippi of the North.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What To Expect If China Crashes

China surpassed Japan in 2011 in gross domestic product and it's gaining on the U.S. Some World Bank researchers even think China is already on the verge of becoming No. 1 (I'm skeptical). China's world-trade weighting has doubled in the last decade. But the real explosion has been in the financial sector. Since 2008, Chinese stock valuations surged from $1.8 trillion to $3.8 trillion and bank-balance sheets and the money supply jumped accordingly. China's broad measure of money has surged by an incredible $12.5 trillion since 2008 to roughly match the U.S.'s monetary stock.
This enormous money buildup fed untold amounts of private-sector debt along with public-sector institutions. Its scale, speed and opacity are fueling genuine concerns about a bad-loan meltdown in an economy that's 2 1/2 times bigger than Germany's. If that happens, at a minimum it would torch China's property markets and could take down systemically important parts of Hong Kong's banking system. The reverberations probably wouldn't stop there, however, and would hit resource-dependent Australia, batter trade-driven economies Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan and whack prices of everything from oil and steel to gold and corn.
"China’s importance for the world economy and the rapid growth of its financial system, mean that there are widespread concerns that a financial crisis in China would also turn into a global crisis," says London-based Slater. "A bad asset problem on this scale would dwarf that seen in the major emerging financial crises seen in Russia and Argentina in 1998 and 2001, and also be more severe than the Japanese bad loan problem of the 1990s."
Personally, my finances would probably get hit harder if China implodes than they did in the Great Recession.  My investments are ridiculously over-weighted in basic materials and heavy industry.  For some crazy reason, I decided that some coal and iron ore stocks looked cheap.  Well, if the Chinese economy seizes up, they'll get a ton cheaper (I maybe ought to cut my losses in those).

Then there's the risk on the farm side.  I could see corn in the $2 dollar range for a little while if things really went to hell in China.  That would make a lot of overpriced farm ground lose a shitload of value.  Likewise, if Chinese oil demand slackened, oil prices would get crushed, and there could be a lot of defaults in the oil patch. Scary as it sounds, we may have to hope that the Chinese Communist party is smarter at the Capitalism game than the stooges here in the States who seem to think they invented it.  If they aren't, we all might be, like Private Pyle, in a world of shit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Havana

In Havana from Ezaram Vambe on Vimeo.

Velcro All the Way

For my sister and for Pete:

The Six Californias Plan and the Conundrum of Modern Politics


For the past few months, a tech billionaire has been promoting a "Six Californias" plan to break up California into, well, six states. And on Monday, he said he had collected enough signatures to put the plan up for a statewide vote in 2016.
Sure, this looks like a self-serving plan for a Silicon Valley resident to tell the rest of the state to fuck off, but there have to be some benefits to splitting up, though, right?:
Proponents say the division would help create a more business-friendly environment, solve the state’s water issues, and ease traffic congestion.
Solve the state's water issues and ease traffic congestion?  How is that going to happen?  Oh, yeah, I'm sure the answer is free markets.  Wouldn't this create chaos in the operation of the State Water Project?  But the really interesting fallout from such a plan, which will never happen, involves urban-to-rural transfer payments:
The plan's most dramatic implications would be for wealth distribution and inequality. The proposed new state of Silicon Valley (where Draper lives) would become the richest state in the nation, while the new state of Central California would be the poorest, according to a report by the state legislative analyst's office. This table from the report shows that, in 2011, the state's personal income tax base was concentrated overwhelmingly in just 3 of the 6 proposed states:
The richer areas of California also currently subsidize schools in poorer regions of the state, as seen in this chart from the report:

And this is where it gets weird:
For his part, Draper has asserted that "t​he people in Central California,​ and the people in​ Jefferson​, who would be the poorest states, ​are the ones who are the most enthusiastic​ supporters of Six Californias." He says they feel unrepresented under the current regime and want to be broken away from Sacramento.
So the areas which benefit the most from the current arrangement are also the ones which want out the most.  This plays itself out in almost all of the "secession" movements around the country.  Low-population, conservative rural areas in states in which political control rests with Democrats elected from the urban areas where the vast majority of the population lives.  Trying to set up their own states would cost them more money, by far, and would almost certainly lead to worse public services and infrastructure, but if they can hate on gays, brown people and science, they are all for it.  They are sure that the government is holding them down and butting in to their lives, when really all it is doing is shoveling them money to support their lives in areas where population density wouldn't support the infrastructure of modern life without heavy subsidies.

This does, however, summarize politics at the state and federal level.  At the state level, representatives from rural areas are the most supportive of Republican plans to slash taxes and government spending, even though the tax burden falls on wealthy urban and suburban areas, and the transfer payments go to rural areas and inner city areas.  The suburban representatives, while still pretty conservative, tend to be more moderate, even though they represent the folks who will save on the taxes and have the means to support their local schools, government and infrastructure.  Likewise, at the federal level, the states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and New York (especially around the Big Apple) consistently pay a much higher share of the tax burden and elect more liberal representatives who favor those policies, while states which benefit from federal transfer payments, like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana support cutting taxes and federal spending, even though their situation as the poorest states in the nation would only become more dire. Wealthy conservatives and libertarians work to benefit at the expense of their base supporters, and yet they will gladly let that base cut its own throat. I can't say that I fully understand it, but I have come to expect it.  At a certain point, I really feel like saying, "fuck you idiots, have at it."

One final aspect this story is notable to me.  Central California is home to some of the richest farmland in the world, and yet, if set up as its own state, would be by far the poorest state in the nation.  Its only true rival for poorest region would most likely be the Mississippi Delta, also home to some of the richest soil in the world.  Meanwhile, Iowa, in spite of all the lunatics in the northwestern area of the state who vote to be represented by Steve King, possibly the dumbest member of Congress, is much more progressive, even though it is also home to extremely rich soil.  What is the difference?  I would speculate that it is a combination of ethnic culture and history, land ownership patterns and demographics, but I think it would be an interesting subject of study.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Merck Wants Zilmax Back on Market, But Packers Don't

A sweeping effort by Merck  & Co. to revive a livestock drug it pulled from the U.S. market last year is stalling amid resistance from the nation's largest beef processors.
Merck for months has been preparing to conduct a large-scale study this summer to demonstrate the safety of its Zilmax product. The feed additive was widely used to promote weight gain in U.S. cattle before Merck suspended sales in August 2013 because of concerns in the beef industry that the drug made it difficult for some animals to walk.
The pharmaceutical company has said it wants to test Zilmax on about 250,000 cattle, in what Merck says would be the most-extensive randomized, controlled study of any drug fed to cattle. Though the cattle involved would represent less than 1% of the annual U.S. cattle slaughter, they would be valued at about $500 million at current prices for slaughter-ready cattle and produce roughly 200 million pounds of beef.
But Merck has delayed plans to begin its field evaluation because of continued unease among Cargill Inc., JBS SA and other meatpackers about animal welfare, as well as some packers' reluctance to try to market the beef that would be produced during the research, according to people familiar with the matter.
Merck confirmed the study has encountered setbacks. "This has become more time-intensive than we anticipated," said David Yates, a Merck manager who helped design the planned study. He declined to discuss details of negotiations with meatpackers, but said: "We continue to work on the process to make sure we have alignment with all parties."
The research requires the support of feedlot operators, which fatten cattle for slaughter, and the meatpackers that buy and process them into steaks and ground beef. The three-largest U.S. beef processors— Tyson Foods Inc., Brazil-based JBS and Cargill—account for about 60% of total production, according to industry estimates. JBS also operates one of the world's largest feedlot operations in the U.S.
I don't think you are going to get much producer buy-in on the product when the packers are resistant. I think Merck has a loser on their hands here.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Delivery from NO WEATHER on Vimeo.

What's the big deal about fixed-gear bikes?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

July 8:

Iridescent Clouds over Thamserku
Image Credit & Copyright: Oleg Bartunov
Explanation: Why would a cloud appear to be different colors? A relatively rare phenomenon known as iridescent clouds can show unusual colors vividly or a whole spectrum of colors simultaneously. These clouds are formed of small water droplets of nearly uniform size. When the Sun is in the right position and mostly hidden by thick clouds, these thinner clouds significantly diffract sunlight in a nearly coherent manner, with different colors being deflected by different amounts. Therefore, different colors will come to the observer from slightly different directions. Many clouds start with uniform regions that could show iridescence but quickly become too thick, too mixed, or too far from the Sun to exhibit striking colors. The above iridescent cloud was photographed in 2009 from the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal, behind the 6,600-meter peak named Thamserku.

Forecast Still Calls For Bumper Crop This Year

Des Moines Register:
U.S. farmers are poised to harvest record corn and soybean crops this fall if favorable growing conditions remain in place for the next several weeks, the government said Friday.
The Agriculture Department lowered its estimate of corn production this fall to 13.86 billion bushels, a decline of 75 million bushels from its June estimate, after reducing how many acres it expects to be harvested. But some market watchers expect that USDA's record corn yield forecast of 165.3 bushels per acre could be boosted after it surveys fields ahead of its August report, pushing the season's total harvest to an all-time high. The current corn harvest is just shy of the record high of 13.93 billion bushels in 2013.
"Favorable early July crop conditions and weather support an outlook for record yields across most of the Corn Belt, however, for much of the crop, the critical pollination period will be during middle and late July," USDA said in its monthly report looking at crop supply and demand.
USDA said Monday 75 percent of the U.S. corn crop and 72 percent of its soybeans were rated good to excellent, with the crops slightly ahead of schedule. In Iowa, 76 percent of corn and 73 percent of soybeans were classified as good to excellent.
"I think if they bump that yield (in August), you could see a record crop," said Tomm Pfitzenmaier, an analyst at Summit Commodity Brokerage in Des Moines. He speculated the USDA could increase corn yields to between 168-170 bushels per acre.
If we get a crop like this, next year will be very interesting.  Prices will be in the dumps.  So far here, our early corn on our better drained soils look awesome, while our later corn on the poorly drained soils are showing some stress.  Some of our later fields are coming into tassel, so a little more rain, and the corn crop will be made.  It should be a very good year, yield-wise.

Miami Sees Effects of Climate Change, Yet Ignores It

The Guardian:
Every year, with the coming of high spring and autumn tides, the sea surges up the Florida coast and hits the west side of Miami Beach, which lies on a long, thin island that runs north and south across the water from the city of Miami. The problem is particularly severe in autumn when winds often reach hurricane levels. Tidal surges are turned into walls of seawater that batter Miami Beach's west coast and sweep into the resort's storm drains, reversing the flow of water that normally comes down from the streets above. Instead seawater floods up into the gutters of Alton Road, the first main thoroughfare on the western side of Miami Beach, and pours into the street. Then the water surges across the rest of the island....
Hence the construction work at Alton Road, where $400m is now being spent in an attempt to halt these devastating floods – by improving Miami Beach's stricken system of drains and sewers. In total, around $1.5bn is to be invested in projects aimed at holding back the rising waters. Few scientists believe the works will have a long-term effect.
"There has been a rise of about 10 inches in sea levels since the 19th century – brought about by humanity's heating of the planet through its industrial practices – and that is now bringing chaos to Miami Beach by regularly flooding places like Alton Road," says Harold Wanless, a geology professor at the University of Miami. "And it is going to get worse. By the end of this century we could easily have a rise of six feet, possibly 10 feet. Nothing much will survive that. Most of the land here is less than 10 feet above sea level."
What makes Miami exceptionally vulnerable to climate change is its unique geology. The city – and its satellite towns and resorts – is built on a dome of porous limestone which is soaking up the rising seawater, slowly filling up the city's foundations and then bubbling up through drains and pipes. Sewage is being forced upwards and fresh water polluted. Miami's low topography only adds to these problems. There is little land out here that rises more than six feet above sea level. Many condos and apartment blocks open straight on the edge of the sea. Of the total of 4.2 million US citizens who live at an elevation of four feet or less, 2.4 million of them live in south Florida.
At Florida International University, geologist Peter Harlem has created a series of maps that chart what will happen as the sea continues to rise. These show that by the time oceans have risen by four feet – a fairly conservative forecast – most of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Virginia Key and all the area's other pieces of prime real estate, will be bathtubs. At six feet, Miami city's waterfront and the Florida Keys will have disappeared. The world's busiest cruise ship port, which handles four million passengers, will disappear beneath the waves. "This is the fact of life about the ocean: it is very, very powerful," says Harlem.
Yet despite the outsized impact rising sea levels will have on the state, Florida's politicians not only ignore the potential damage, they deny the science and continue building.  It is hard to get good drainage when the water is higher than the land.  Just to note, 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions created by human activity have occurred since 1970, and annual output is increasing every year.  We're only beginning to see the impacts of those emissions, and for Florida, a large percentage of the population and the real property will be severely impacted.  Fools and their money...

Last Night's Full Buck Moon

Christian Science Monitor:
If skies are clear in your part of the world tonight, you’ll be able to see something called a “Full Buck Moon.”
That’s a full moon rising and setting at the time of year when bucks – male deer – typically begin to grow their new antlers, starting with velvety bumps on their foreheads.
“Full moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States,” explains skywatching columnist Joe Rao. “Those tribes of a few hundred years ago kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.”
The full moon names and dates for 2014 include: Full Wolf Moon Jan. 15, Full Snow Moon Feb. 14, Full Worm Moon Mar. 16, Full Pink Moon Apr. 15, Full Flower Moon May 14, Full Strawberry Moon June 13, Full Buck Moon July 12, Full Sturgeon Moon Aug. 10, Full Harvest Moon Sept. 8, Full Hunters’ Moon Oct. 8, Full Beaver Moon Nov. 6, and Full Cold Moon Dec. 6.
July’s full moon was also called “Thunder Moon” because it occurred at the time of year when thunderstorms are frequent.
I generally only see these names in The Old Farmer's Almanac.