Saturday, August 2, 2014

Little Liza Jane

I haven't been to a wedding up in God's Country in a while, and I am a ridiculously terrible square dancer, but for some reason, this song has been stuck in my head all evening. "Oh little Liza, little Liza Jane. Oh little Liza, little Liza Jane."  Enjoy.

Washington's Government-Based Economy Booms

As the size of the federal budget has ballooned over the past decade, more and more of that money has remained in the District. “We get about 15 cents of every procurement dollar spent by the federal government,” says Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and an expert on the region. “There’s great dependence there.” And with dependence comes fragility. About 40 percent of the regional economy, Fuller says, relies on federal spending...
Peak Washington of the early 2010s, many economists believe, got its start during the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Reagan’s messianic push to get government out of the way of private-sector growth famously led to lower taxes and reduced regulation. It also led to a subtle change in the way government did business. Hiring became secondary to contracting, and more and more public projects were outsourced to private firms.
Washington’s economy did well under Reagan (added military spending gave it a boost), but the move to contract out more and more government work proved to be a crucial long-term change. In 1993, Bill Clinton announced a “reinventing government” initiative, which ultimately included cutting the federal work force by about 250,000 positions. The agencies winnowed their rolls, but over the course of the Clinton years, their budgets expanded, and in many cases, the work just went to contractors. Those contractors often came at a bloated cost, too. In a study released in 2011, the Project on Government Oversight found that using contractors can cost the federal government about twice as much as federal employees for comparable work. According to the study, the salary for a federally employed computer engineer would be about $135,000; a contractor might bill the government around $270,000 for similar work.
It was not until the Bush years, though, that this increasingly wealthy not-federal-but-still-government work force truly metastasized. The amorphous war on terror and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security — plus the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — bloated the country’s spending by about $1 trillion. The contracting dollars that were pumped into the local economy, Fuller says, more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, when it reached $80 billion a year. This, in turn, created hundreds of thousand of desk jobs and fostered a sprawl of nameless, faceless office parks lining the roads out to Dulles Airport.
In the process, tens of thousands of new workers, often well-paid young white-collar professionals in areas like technology, bioscience and engineering, also entered the local economy.
Nice to know that "smaller government" mainly just means better-paid private sector contractors.  Well, I pretty much knew that, but it is good to see it getting some press coverage.

Lake Algae in the News Again

Toledo warns residents not to drink city water:
Ohio's fourth-largest city has warned residents not to consume its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly related to algae on Lake Erie.
Toledo issued the warning early Saturday. It said tests at one treatment plant returned two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption.
The city warned against boiling because it will only increase the toxin's concentration. The advisory covers city residents and those in Lucas County served by the city's water supply.
The city's advisory says Lake Erie may have been affected by a bloom of harmful algae that produces the toxin. Consuming the tainted water could result in vomiting, diarrhea and other problems.
Ag pollution in the Maumee River basin has previously been fingered as one of the leading causes of algae blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie.  Any news like this puts additional pressure on farmers, and rightfully so. This "do not drink" advisory is reported to affect 400,000 residents.

Friday, August 1, 2014

First of August Weekend Links

Beautiful weather in the middle of the Dog Days gives you a chance to check out these pieces on the front porch:

A Portrait of Priests and Nuns, Watching the Decline of Catholic Culture - Wired.  As my faith has been slipping away, stories like this have less pull on me than in the recent past.  I can't decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it seems kind of sad.

 A punter on Ray Guy finally making the Hall of Fame - SBNation.  First punter ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

36 Hours in Green Bay, Wis. - New York Times.  If you squeeze baseball into this sentence, I think this describes most of what I think of when I consider vacation: "Perhaps not surprisingly, given the ready access to fine dairy, fish, beer and produce, eating and drinking figure prominently among pastimes."

Reanimating Bertha, a Mechanical Behemoth Slumbering Under Seattle - New York Times

The Man Who Delayed D-Day - Nautilus

UCLA flood from water line rupture is a red flag for L.A. infrastructure - LA Times.  Get used to this:  "Officials have long known that hundreds of miles of city water lines have deteriorated and need replacement, with many past the century mark. But in recent years, L.A.'s elected leaders have been unwilling to hike water rates enough to fix them more rapidly. As it stands, the city-owned Department of Water and Power is on track to replace main water lines only once every 300 years....Councilman Paul Koretz said he had been informed that replacing the lines more quickly — every 100 years instead of every 300 — would cost roughly $4 billion. It would take a decade to accomplish, and require a 4% water rate increase every year, he said." We have more infrastructure than we can afford, and that will hurt us badly going forward.

The Great Forgetting: Where Do Childrens' Earliest Memories Go? - Aeon

 How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables - Pacific Standard

Beyond Energy Efficiency - Slate

A Republican Victory By a Nose, Not a Wave - The Upshot.  It's still way too early to tell, but it sure feels like the Republicans have come really close to jumping the shark.  They are so far out there that this may be their last hurrah.  They won a lot of races in 2010, and took maximum advantage when it came to attacking government workers and gerrymandering state legislatures and Congress.  If they can't win big this year, they will have to change or die.

Florida legislators have two weeks to redraw the state's gerrymandered districts.  Here's how that might play out - Wonkblog.  Geez, compared to district 5, district 10 looks pretty reasonable.


Alaska's endless summer day:

Solstice from STURGEFILM on Vimeo.

Groundwater Irrigation in the Crosshairs

Eric Holthaus fires a warning shot before the coming drought-caused California water war:
Exceptional drought now covers a majority of California, from Los Angeles to Mount Shasta, including the whole of the vast Central Valley, where America grows the bulk of dozens of agricultural commodities.
According to Brad Rippey, author of this week’s Drought Monitor report, the drought is creating lasting consequences. “California is short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year.” For perspective, 11.6 million acre-feet of water is equivalent to 3.8 trillion gallons—enough to provide eight glasses of drinking water per day for everyone on Earth for three years. That’s a lot of water....
 Last week, a separate study by NASA and the University of California-Irvine found that more than 75 percent of Western water loss over the last 10 years came from excessive groundwater pumping. California is the only state that doesn’t restrict groundwater use, though state lawmakers are proposing legislation motivated by the worsening drought to change that. In my Thirsty West trip through the state earlier this year, it was clear that the continued expansion of politically powerful industrial agriculture is worsening the state’s water woes.
Should the drought get even worse over the coming months—which it may, now that a super strong El Niño is off the table—there isn’t any room left to upgrade it now that the official drought scales are maxed out. The painful phase of this drought has begun. It’s time for sacrifices.
Farmers: You’ve had your chance. It’s time to submit to restrictions on groundwater pumping, if only to ensure your future survival in the state. Cities: Prepare to pay more for food as a result. It’s a best-case tradeoff in a worst-case scenario.
 Barring a miraculous burst of precipitation, this drought may change California agriculture forever.  The status quo is entirely unsustainable, and big changes are going to be on the way.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The High Five

The latest 30 for 30 short covers the origin of the high five.  Not only was Dusty Baker an underrated manager, he (maybe) participated in the original high five:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vin Scully To Return for 66th Season in 2015

Legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully will still be in the booth next season:
Vin Scully is staying in the booth for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 86-year-old Hall of Fame announcer will return for his record 66th season with the team in 2015. The announcement was made by in Korean, Spanish and English by players Hyun-Jin Ryu, Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner on the Dodger Stadium video board in the second inning of Tuesday night's game against Atlanta.
The news was greeted with loud cheers and a prolonged standing ovation for Scully, who stood and waved to fans from his booth, where he hugged his wife, Sandi.
A decision about Scully's future has become an annual rite of passage in recent years as he evaluates his health and his family's wishes in considering whether he wants to continue.
''God willing, I will be back next year,'' he said in a statement released by the team. ''Naturally there will come a time when I have to say goodbye, but I've soul-searched and this is not the time.''
Scully's consecutive years of service make him the longest-tenured broadcaster with one team in sports history. He calls all nine innings of the team's home games and road games in California and Arizona for the Dodgers' new television home on SportsNet LA, while the first three innings of his games are simulcast on the radio.
SBNation (source of above chart) has a tremendous profile of the man who redefined baseball broadcasting here.  I do like seeing Marty and Joe back-to-back on that chart.  Nothing is more appropriate than that.

Central Valley Water Mining Is a Race to the Bottom of the Aquifer

LA Times:
California's three-year drought has sparked a surge in demand for wells in the state's agricultural heartland. With federal and state allocations of surface water reduced to a trickle, growers are searching deeper underground for sources of water to keep their farms from ruin.
The clamor has overwhelmed California drillers and pump installers, forcing some farms to hire contractors from neighboring states.
It's also setting the stage for more problems later as groundwater supplies are shrinking faster than they can be replenished. In parts of the Central Valley, the water table has plummeted, drying up old wells and sinking the land above, a phenomenon called subsidence.
That's resulted in even deeper wells that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and require more energy to pump water to the surface. As recently as two decades ago, a well several hundred feet would suffice. Today, large farms are drilling to depths of 2,000 feet in anticipation of falling water levels.
"We're going bigger horsepower every year," said Charles Barber, president of Caruthers Pump south of Fresno, who has customers on a three-month waiting list. "We've lost 30 feet of groundwater in a year in some places. We keep that up for 10 years and we won't be farming like this anymore."
At the end of June, the state's top agricultural producing county, Tulare, had issued 874 well permits, 44 more than all of last year. Fresno County, the second-biggest farm producer in California, issued 601 well permits over the same period, about 100 short of matching its total for 2013...
By the end of 2014 alone, groundwater is expected to replace three-quarters of the 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water lost to drought this year — raising groundwater's share of the state's agricultural water supply from 31% to 53%, the UC Davis report said.
That won't end well.  Unsustainable is unsustainable, no matter how you look at it.

End of July Mid-week Links

A few interesting stories:

Crime Fiction - The New Yorker. Did police coercion to finger the wrong man let a serial killer stay free?

Could Silicon Valley Become the Next Camden? - The Atlantic

Break up the states! The case for the United Statelets of America - Salon

The Gold Standard Was an Accident of History- Macro and Other Musings

The black hole of US  government contracting - Le Monde diplomatique

How bird flocks are like liquid helium - Science

Under Water: The EPA's Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution - Pacific Standard.  More on the farm lobby freaking out gullible farmers.

How Dodge Packed 707 Horsepower Into the Hellcat Without Destroying It - Wired.  Because 707 Hp makes sense in a street car.

The Original Tea Partiers: How GOP Insurgents Invented Progressivism - The Atlantic.  "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, the original all-or-nothing insurgent.  Not a Tea Party nutjob.

Where the biggest beer, wine and liquor drinkers live in the U.S. - Washington Post

Monday, July 28, 2014

EPA Chief to Farmers: Don't Be Stupid

National Journal:
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is under fire in rural America for a "Waters of the United States" rule that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed in April, has been making the effort, with a trip to Missouri early in July and a meeting last week with Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee who have been asking for a sit-down since May.
The outreach hasn't stopped the criticism, but McCarthy told me in an interview Thursday that she feels the effort has been worth it. McCarthy said the trip to Missouri was "a signal that this rule is very important to EPA." On Capitol Hill she said she learned that "EPA speaks with a lot of technical language and science. It is not readily translated into what is clear on the ground for the farm community."
WOTUS, as the rule is being called in environmental and agricultural circles, would define the scope of waters protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act following two Supreme Court decisions that said the feds had to come up with a more scientific basis for deciding what water bodies come under their jurisdiction. The point of the rule is to make sure that the nation's drinking water is safe from discharges of pollution. The biggest point of contention is a provision that says EPA and the Army Corps would be allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to regulate wetlands and other waters that are not directly connected to running streams and rivers but have "a significant nexus to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas."
Farm and ranch leaders who examined the rule immediately said they feared the provision could require them to obtain government permits for activities in which they have long engaged as a regular part of their businesses—and that because the determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, the proposal creates a great deal of uncertainty about their future operations. EPA also issued an "interpretative rule" that tried to define farm practices that would be exempt from regulation, but that only made farmers think about what practices were not included and worry they would come under regulation.
The ensuing battle can be summed up in one word: ditches. Farmers and ranchers say EPA wants to regulate all their ditches that may fill up with water at some point during the year. The Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation has called on McCarthy to "ditch the rule."
On the trip to a farm in Missouri and in a speech to the Kansas City Agribusiness Council, McCarthy said she wanted to "ditch the myths" about the rule, but her critics weren't satisfied. The farm federation reacted to her Missouri trip by sending Congress a document "decoding" point-by-point an EPA blog post that attempted to explain the rule. The Republican senators she met with issued a series of news releases saying they appreciated her visit but EPA should still withdraw the rule.
Bills have been introduced in Congress to require EPA to withdraw the rule, but they are unlikely to go anywhere, at least as long as Democrats control the Senate and President Obama backs the rule. In any case EPA and the Army Corps are under pressure from the courts to define their jurisdiction. That means EPA is likely to proceed with the rule, although McCarthy said she won't finish it until next year after her staff has analyzed all the comments due by October and received a study from a scientific advisory panel.
Farmers need to calm down a bit.  If they don't do anything stupid, like drain a wetland they haven't farmed for 20 years, or channelize a stream that runs through their farm, almost everything they do will be covered under nationwide permits or anti-degradation.  Ditch maintenance should be able to be completed without too much issue if BMPs are followed.  Plus, EPA has many more things to worry about than farmers' tillage practices (like manure over-application in lake watersheds).  EPA is going to focus on urban and suburban development first and foremost under these rules, not what Johnny Seedcap is doing in the back forty.  But farmers are useful idiot if lobbyists like Farm Bureau or the Cahmber of Commerce come along and tell them that EPA is trying to regulate every grass waterway on their farms.  Then farmers will scream at Congress and Congress can beat on EPA to make it easier for Wal-Mart to bulldoze the creek running through some suburban neighborhood.  I work with EPA all the time, but every farmer I know will tell me what's going to happen if a draft rule is approved.  They never know what they are talking about.

Flying Blind

While Austin has begun studies to plan for the effects of climate change on infrastructure, denialist ignorance at the state level leaves the state not even considering future climate challenges where they will be most significant:
At the end of the century, Austin’s average summertime high temperature could be six degrees above today’s average high of 97 degrees. And it may be hotter than 110 degrees in the city more than 20 days a year; even one day that hot is a rarity now.
Those are among the findings of a study that the city commissioned last year on the impact of climate change.
“If you’re going to build a substation that’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars but it’s not going to operate over 110 degrees, it’s really important to be thinking about that now,” said Zach Baumer, the city’s climate program manager. While other Texas cities have looked at climate change issues, none have done comprehensive studies of their impact.
The study, which Mr. Baumer said cost less than $20,000, was the start of Austin’s efforts to apply global climate projections specifically to the city. Reports from groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focus on global temperature and rainfall models, which for Austin are “just not useful to actually make decisions,” Mr. Baumer said. With forecasts specifically related to Austin, “we can start to put plans in place and act in ways that make sense, and not just sort of generalize, ‘Oh, we’re doing something about it,’ ” he added.
The study, which was done by the scientific research and consulting firm Atmos, also found that while Austin would probably experience longer dry spells and receive less rain over all, it would be hit more frequently with “extreme precipitation” events that could lead to widespread flooding. City departments recently asked the City Council for more than $650,000 for detailed assessments of how climate change could affect Austin’s infrastructure, from its water reservoirs and power plants to its parks.
Beyond Austin’s efforts, regional planning organizations in the Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth areas are among several across the country using federal highway funds to study the effects of global warming on critical road infrastructure. Mr. Baumer said the impact on roads was among the easiest to study in the context of climate change, because engineers already know what temperatures and conditions the roads can withstand.
Still, without broader cooperation from the state, it is unclear how far individual cities can go. State water officials do not consider climate change when planning for Texas’ future, and legislators will not ask them to anytime soon, said State Senator Troy Fraser, a Republican and chairman of theSenate Natural Resources Committee.
“It’s not a parameter that we’ve requested they look at,” Mr. Fraser said in June. “There’s a disagreement within the people of Texas on the science of greenhouse gases.”
State water officials do not consider climate change when planning for Texas' future, and legislators will not ask them to anytime soon?  Seriously?  Voters approved spending $2 billion to work on implementing the State Water Plan, but they aren't going to consider climate change when doing it?  Idiots.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NASA Photo of the Day

July 22:

Cave with Aurora Skylight
Image Credit & Copyright: Ingólfur Bjargmundsson
Explanation: Yes, but have you ever seen aurora from a cave? To capture this fascinating juxtaposition between below and above, astrophotographer Bjargmundsson spent much of a night alone in the kilometer-long Raufarhólshellir lava cave in Iceland during late March. There, he took separate images of three parts of the cave using a strobe for illumination. He also took a deep image of the sky to capture faint aurora, and digitally combined the four images later. The 4600-year old lava tube has several skylights under which stone rubble and snow have accumulated. Oh -- the person standing on each mound -- it's the artist.

Boxing Wraps Up at State Fair

Columbus Dispatch:
Boxers young and old vied for championships in 21 bouts that capped the fair’s 47th amateur boxing tournament, which started with about 170 fighters ages 8 to 25 who weighed in on July 22, and ended with 31 winners in various categories, including 10 who were unopposed.
Yesterday’s fights at the ShowPlace Pavilion drew a crowd of more than 250 spectators as well as a steady flow of passers-by throughout the day.
Steve Gorski and his wife, Trisha, stopped by the pavilion during a break from visiting the fair’s sheep and cows with their daughters, Amelia, 4, and Abigail, 6, and their son, Zachary, 9.
Mr. Gorski, a former college boxer, didn’t know about the fair’s tournament and wanted his kids to get a glimpse of the action.
“It’s an exciting sport,” he said. “I wanted to at least show the kids what’s going on.”
Others came from throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania to cheer on friends and family members as they exchanged punches in the ring.
Allen Horner watched anxiously as his stepson, Skyler Gill, 15, of Zanesville, fought Shelton Organ, 16, of Columbus, for the championship in the junior division’s 145-pound weight class.
Gill recently returned from Las Vegas after taking third place in the national Junior Golden Gloves tournament this month with his team, PAL Zanesville Boxing.
I didn't realize they had a boxing tournament at the Ohio State Fair.  Even though it makes football look safe, I love that sport.