Saturday, January 31, 2015



Reggie from The Film House on Vimeo.

From the filmmaker:
One thing I learned from sitting in traffic is that nothing ever happens. Yup, exactly, hours of ‘nothing ever happens’. Thousands of people staring into their phones, waiting for the lights to change.
On this particular day, however, God prepared something very special for me, I met Reggie.
You know that awkward moment at the stoplight when a man or woman in need walks by your window asking for some pocket change and you start anxiously pretending to be looking at your phone? That’s how I met Reggie.
He approached my car with his tiny jar looking for change, I reached into my wallet to see if I had any, and all I could find was a $20 bill. “That’s too much for him”, I thought. At this time, as he was close enough to me so that I could see his face. I was stunned! I have never seen anything like that before. His face was disfigured from burn marks and his speech was affected.
I didn’t feel any fear or pity, I just remember having a very clear thought that this man needs the $20 bill in my wallet way more than I did. The man said ‘thank you’, and kept going.
Have you ever met someone with a story? This man had a story, and I decided I wanted to learn it.
As he was walking away, I said:
What’s your name?
Reggie, he said.
What happened to you, Reggie? Considering his looks, I thought that’s a questions he’s been asked many times before.
I was in a fire.
Did your house catch on fire?
No, I set myself on fire…

Super Bowl Weekend Links

If you aren't too engrossed in pre-pregame festivities, here are some interesting stories to check out:

The Last Days of Football - n+1

Where Americans Play Football-And Where They Don't - Wall Street Journal.  With red state vs. blue state analysis.  It is striking how rural folks are least likely to tell their kids not to play football because of concussion risk.

How Goldman Banker Became NFL's Go-To-Stadium-Finance-Guy - Bloomberg.  Should have known those fuckers would be making stacks of cash in this taxpayer ripoff, too.

A Brand New Lie To Get the Bucks Their Stadium - Above the Law.  Goldman and Scott Walker.  Everybody notices $300 million in cuts to the UW system and $220 million for a new basketball arena.

In Corn Country We Have Two Choices.  Let's Pick the More Logical, Beautiful One - Big Picture Agriculture

Ingredion bets on flat 2015 corn prices - Agrimoney. 

How can farmers in central and eastern Europe close yield gap with west? - The Guardian

Could This Virus Be Good For You? - Morning Edition.  Welcome news in case of pandemic.  I wonder if this may have spared some of the survivors of the Spanish influenza.

Your Son Is Deceased - The New Yorker

Falling Prices Spread Pain Far Across The Oil Patch - Wall Street Journal

People or parchment? - Aeon

Life in the Sickest Town in America - The Atlantic

American corruption is exceptional, too - Reuters

Getting out of Afghanistan - Fast Company

Arthur Laffer's view on the Kansas economy: Prosperity awaits patient tax cutters - Kansas City Star.  Laffer is a jackass.
In a 45-minute phone interview, Laffer said while he is “not surprised,” he didn’t know why the deficits have occurred. He still believes adamantly in his supply-side economic theory: If you reduce income taxes, you will raise more revenue, not less.
Just when the revenue starts to rise is another matter.
“You have to view this over 10 years,” Laffer said. “It will work in Kansas.”
If you reduce income taxes, you will raise more revenue, not less.  Too bad that has never worked in reality. As far as Laffer and Republicans are concerned, tax cuts can never fail.  They can only be failed.

Scott Walker Isn't Sorry - The Atlantic.  That guy looks like such a used-car salesman to me.  If I looked up smarmy in the dictionary, I'm not sure if I'd find his picture or Ted Cruz's.  Both are going to annoy the piss out of me during the Republican primary.

How an Amish missionary caused 2014's massive measles outbreak - Vox

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wonderful World

Americans' Overreaction to Islamic Terrorism

Defense One has a must-read piece on our over-sized reaction to the Islamic terrorist threat:
In fact, Muslims account for only a small percentage of the terrorism in Europe over the last several years. Most politically-motivated violence there is carried out by nationalist and sectarian groups, yet the government and the media don’t treat these threats the same. Anders Breivik killed 77 people in separate gun and bomb attacks in 2011, including many children. Many people in Europe share Breivik’s xenophobic, ultra-nationalist, anti-Muslim ideology, but we don’t hold them collectively responsible for his decision to employ violence to further those views. We don’t call for a war on his beliefs; we demand his criminal prosecution.
A similar phenomenon occurs here in the United States, where most media outlets covered the distant Paris attacks far more closely than domestic shooting sprees by white supremacist Fraizer Glenn Miller, or anti-government extremists like Curtis Wade Holley, Eric Frein, and Jerad Miller, who assassinated four police officers in separate instances last year.
The Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point documented 3,053 injuries and 670 fatalities in the United States from far right violence from 1990 to 2012. A 2014 University of Maryland survey indicates U.S. law enforcement now view Sovereign Citizens as the greatest terror threat they face. Yet the federal government effectively treats these acts of politically-motivated violence as hate crimes or lone attacks rather than terrorism. This may explain why an attempted firebombing at a Colorado NAACP office building the day before the Paris attacks received little media attention.....
Deaths attributable to terrorism here in the U.S. are a tiny fraction of the roughly 14,000 homicides committed each year, one-third of which go unsolved. Yet we devote far more resources to uncovering potential terrorists than to finding actual killers. The purpose of putting terrorist acts in context is to better understand how we might respond in a more effective manner.
The second prevalent theme in the early coverage of the Paris attacks was the tendency to exaggerate the capabilities of Muslim extremists. With very little information available — save a brief video showing the execution of a wounded police officer — many counterterrorism officials and policy makers didn’t hesitate to call it a “sophisticated” attack that represented a new and “more complex” threat. The FBI and DHS backed this description in a law enforcement bulletin, claiming the Paris attacks “demonstrated a greater degree of sophistication and advanced weapons handling than seen in previous coordinated small-arms attacks, such as the 2013 Westgate Mall attack” in Nairobi, Kenya. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed credit for the armed assault on Westgate Mall, which killed sixty-seven people. Details regarding the attack and whether some perpetrators escaped are still mired in controversy.
The facts don’t support the hasty conclusion that the Paris attack was as sophisticated as originally claimed. While one or both of the Kouachi brothers may have travelled to Yemen and received some training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, their attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices was almost derailed because they went to the wrong address. They had to ask a maintenance man for directions. They caught a lucky break by finding an employee outside the office who they forced to punch the code necessary to enter the building. After the shooting, they crashed their escape vehicle and left identification papers behind when they abandoned it.
Co-conspirator Amedy Coulibaly’s spree appeared even less organized, shooting a police officer, a street sweeper and a jogger before storming the kosher supermarket. The weapons Coulibaly and the Kouachi’s used weren’t financed or provided by organized terrorist groups, but purchased from a known criminal for less than 5,000 euros, which Coulibaly obtained through a fraudulent bank loan.
They did succeed at killing 17 people, which is tragic. But spree shooters here in the United States racked up similar death tolls, in some cases before graduating high school, or saddled with serious mental illnesses. It doesn’t take sophisticated training to pick up a gun and kill lots of unarmed people.
Yes. Yes.  A thousand times, yes.  We face dozens of more likely ways to die every day, but for some reason, people really freak out if Muslims kill some people, somewhere around the world, sometime.  I don't get it.  Well, I suspect that many Christians fear Muslim terrorism as part of some kind of Holy War, and Israelis have their own reasons for making a stink about the attacks, but I see absolutely no reason why anybody would think this minuscule threat to American lives is worth spending trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of non-American lives, and having a crazy police state apparatus record every phone call and email and web search around the world in order to "protect our freedoms."  Our freedoms (whatever those amount to in a surveillance state) are not under threat from those scary Muslims.  They are under threat from our government and our cowardly reaction to sporadic incidents of violence committed by Muslims.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Record California Drought Continues

New year, more of the same:
With just two days remaining in the month, no rain in the forecast, and a monster ridge of high pressure camped out overhead, San Francisco is now all but assured of its driest January in city history—exactly zero (that’s right, 0.00) inches have fallen so far. If the dearth of raindrops holds out, it will beat the record set last year, when just 0.01 inches fell at the airport. The long-term average rainfall in San Francisco in January is about 4.5 inches, with records dating continuously back to 1850. In the past, the city has received up to 14.5 inches in January (in 1916).
And it’s not just San Francisco. In most of northern and central California—the hardest hit regions of the state’s drought—rainfall in 2015 has been less than two percent of normal.
Any hopes the state had of finally turning the corner on its oppressive, possibly climate change–fueled megadrought have withered like the Sacramento River. Progress made in refilling the state’s largest reservoirs thanks to a series of major December storms has stalled, and key rainfall indices are back to being below normal. Snowpack in the Sierras, which supplies more than 60 percent of the state’s water resources, is down to a dismal 25 percent of normal. New data released by the National Drought Mitigation Center on Thursday showed 40 percent of the state is now classified as “exceptional drought,” the most severe category.
California was off-the-charts hot in 2014, shattering the previous statewide heat record by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit. That may not sound like a lot, but until last year, the entire historical range for all years dating back to 1895 was only a bit over 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The distance separating the now second- and third-warmest years (1934 and 1996) is just one-tenth of 1 degree. The temperature so far in 2015 has been much above normal, as well.
As the drought plods along, the impact on sensitive industries like agriculture has continued to worsen. This winter, the California salmon industry was decimated by warmer-than-normal water in the state’s lakes and streams, reports Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee reports that the state is considering temporary dams on the vulnerable Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta in a desperate attempt to keep saltwater from encroaching inland into sensitive wetlands and the state’s drinking water supply. The delta sends water to about 25 million urban Californians and helps irrigate a vast section of the state’s agricultural production.
For now, California is the country’s leading dairy-producing state. That might change if the drought continues at this pace. Iowa Public Radio reports that there’s been an increasing exodus of dairy farmers from California to the Midwest, where supplies of grass and grain are more stable. With the specter of climate change, these kinds of stories hint at what could be a broader decline in the country’s leading agricultural state in coming years.
And even worse, we're getting set up for more dry weather out West, and more very cold weather in the East.  As for dairies moving from California to the Midwest, I would probably question whether it makes a lot of sense to keep the same overall milk production when a decent amount of that is exported.  Wouldn't the world be a little better off if we exported some of the dairy and grain genetic material and technology instead?  But most importantly, if we see another extremely dry year, things are going to get ugly for California agriculture.

The Tornado Machine

Interesting, but I'm a doubter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Bad Harvest

The orange crop in Florida was really bad:

Some growers have just given up and abandoned their groves without pulling up the trees, which can worsen citrus greening, since the psyllid will feast on trees that don’t have pesticide, and then fly to nearby groves and infect those trees. There were 126,000 acres of abandoned groves in Florida in 2014, and 7,300 acres of forested areas that have abandoned citrus in their canopies, according to the USDA.
There are some measures that arrest or slow the spread of the disease, but they’re costly. Growers are now treating their trees eight times a year or more to reduce the number of psyllids on them, they’re also adding fertilizer and other nutrients to the trees' roots to help them fight the disease. A citrus grower now spends $2,250 an acre to grow trees—prior to greening, he would spend $850 an acre, according to Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry association.
“The smaller growers seem to be really thinking about the economics, a lot of them are deciding to throw in the towel and are selling their groves,” said Dean Saunders, a real-estate broker who served in the state House of Representatives and comes from an agricultural family.
As many growers give up, the infrastructure to support citrus is shrinking, too. United Indian River Packers, Inc., one of Florida’s oldest packinghouses, announced last year they were auctioning off their properties in order to focus on other businesses. A Naples store where customers could buy fresh produce before it was shipped elsewhere closed in May, the land sold to a builder.
“You kind of scratch your head and wonder—is there even going to be an industry?” Saunders said. “I don’t believe that but I understand why people would ask the question.”
That's just ugly.  I was surprised when reading a story about a Brazilian orange juice baron when I saw this statement:
 Brazil was more prepared than Florida for greening, an insect-borne bacterial disease discovered in the state’s orange groves in 2005, because it had put systems in place after outbreaks of a bacteria known as canker, said Juliano Ayres, director of Cutrale-funded Fundecitrus in Araraquara, which releases alerts as diseases spread.
I don't know.  That sounds a little sketchy to me.  But I would recommend reading the whole article at Bloomberg, because it is interesting.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Saskatchewan Looks To Tighten Rules on Farmland Ownership

Reuters, via Big Picture Agriculture:
Saskatchewan is likely to tighten what are already some of North America's strictest rules for purchasing farmland as the Western Canadian province looks to fend off big money managers hungry for what they see as a winning investment.
The province, whose fertile plains grow more wheat than Argentina, has become the latest front in a global battle between investors keen to make large-scale land purchases and local farmers worried about being priced out of the market.
The provincial government said last month it would review its law governing farmland purchases in light of farmers' concerns about recent deals. That review will specifically consider closing the door on further purchases by the C$234-billion ($188.50 billion) Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart told Reuters.
Farmers "are not high on the idea of institutional investors competing with them for the purchase of farmland," he said.
Stewart said the changes could also include measures to foil the plans of Vancouver-based Skyline Agriculture Financial Corp, a foreign-backed player looking to finance as much as C$1 billion in farmland purchases over the next decade.
Saskatchewan law already requires that companies that invest in farmland be 100 percent owned by Canadians, with foreign buyers limited to 10 acres.
Purchases by pension funds are also banned, but the Saskatchewan Farm Land Security Board allowed CPPIB to buy 115,000 acres in 2013 on the basis that its corporate structure was unique.
"We'll need to maybe think about cleaning things like that up," Stewart said. Closing the CPPIB's investment loophole "will be one of the things that will be considered for sure."
10 acres?  I guess that blows the idea of going and buying land in Canada to get ahead of the impact of global warming.  On to the next strategy. If I found a fine Canadian lass to marry....


Superfly from Victory Journal on Vimeo.

Using Football as a Tool

This is a very nice piece on the football coach at River Rouge High School, on the edge of Detroit.  I highly recommend it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Business Group Warns of Climate Change Impact in Corn Belt

Even with a bumper crop in the bin, Midwestern farmers can’t afford to ignore the risks that climate change poses to their industry, according to the latest from the Risky Business Project.
The group of high-profile business leaders, including former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Cargill executive Greg Page, on Friday released a study detailing the potential effects of climate change on agriculture in the Midwest. A sequel to the Risky Business Project’s previously released national look at climate, the “Heat in the Heartland” takes a more targeted approach based on the trends revealed by the national report.
“The conclusions, which shouldn’t have been surprising, but I think they were to me and a number of others, were how local some of the impacts are and the disproportionate impacts hitting certain industries and certain communities and certain regions,” said Paulson during a live webcast discussion with Page.
“If you looked at the nation … one of the more likely cases showed a 4 percent decline in agricultural yield," Paulson said. "But when I looked at southern Illinois and Iowa, there was a very good likelihood they wouldn’t be major corn producers as big shifts in climate zones and growing patterns” occurred....
“Just the last three years, we’ve seen times when the Mississippi was so low it’s not navigable commercially,” said Page, currently executive chairman of the board at Cargill. “And there have been times when the water was so high we couldn’t get our barges under the spouts. What we’re talking about is more volatility, more extremes in terms of temperature or precipitation.”
Here are some of the other climate-related concerns for Midwestern farming raised in the report:
More crop losses due to heat, especially for corn. “The corn crop is strongly heat sensitive and responds less to the beneficial impacts of carbon fertilization than do wheat or soybeans. As a result, the lower half of the Midwest region—the states of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa—will likely suffer significant corn yield losses by mid-century absent adaptation,” the report says.
More problems with weeds and pests. “Warmer winters will also extend the geographic distribution of weeds northward, exposing farms in northern latitudes to new or enhanced threats to productivity. This can increase the cost of weed control, which already has an $11 billion price tag per year in the U.S. alone … Moreover, many invasive species, both plant and insect, may actually benefit more than crops from the increased CO2 and temperatures brought about by climate change, though the relative effect of these factors on crop-weed competition is likely to be species-specific,” the report says.
Less healthy and less productive livestock. “For many livestock species, increased body temperatures of 4°F to 5°F above optimum levels can disrupt performance, production, and fertility, limiting an animal's ability to produce meat, milk, or eggs. Higher temperatures can also increase animal mortality. In addition, climate change can affect the price and availability of water, feed grains, and pasture, and change patterns of animal diseases,” the report says.
Given the importance of agriculture in Midwestern states’ economies, such climate-related events would obviously have a financial impact. Illinois, in particular, could be especially hurt if rising temperatures push down corn and soybean production as estimated in the report.
Based on the comment section, a lot of farmers are just as big a bunch of jackasses as the Republicans they keep electing.  The same geniuses who thought it was a good idea to pay $300 to $400 cash rent are confident that "cow farts" are harmless, so I guess humanity will be all right.  I'm not as confident about trusting Jim Jordan over actual climate scientists, but hey, I'm not going to pay $300 cash rent, either. I'm with Henry Paulson and the other folks worried about the impacts of global warming on agriculture in the corn belt.

Also, too, this:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

January 23:

Interior View
Image Credit: NASA, Expedition 42
Explanation: Some prefer windows, and these are the best available on board the International Space Station. Taken on January 4, this snapshot from inside the station's large, seven-window Cupola module also shows off a workstation for controlling Canadarm2. Used to grapple visiting cargo vehicles and assist astronauts during spacewalks, the robotic arm is just outside the window at the right. The Cupola itself is attached to the Earth-facing or nadir port of the station's Tranquility module, offering dynamic panoramas of our fair planet. Seen from the station's 90 minute long, 400 kilometer high orbit, Earth's bright limb is in view above center.

Rural Schools in Iowa Under Pressure to Consolidate

Des Moines Register:
The state currently prohibits schools from spending above a rate authorized annually by lawmakers. And because much of Iowa school budgets are based on per-pupil costs, schools with declining enrollments often face the toughest financial challenges.
Schools that can't stay within the budget boundary are labeled as having negative unspent balances, flagged by the state and are generally called before the School Budget Review Committee to provide a correction plan.
Last week 12 districts – all rural with certified enrollments of 850 or less — went before the committee, which includes four members appointed by the governor. Most asked for permission to forgive their spending overages and to approve plans to prevent overspending in future years.
"I'd like to say it's a pleasure to be here but it's probably not," Orient-Macksburg Superintendent Clark Wicks told the committee's members.
Wicks later detailed the school's fiscal remedies, which include the already closed daycare service that was once considered critical to the community but ultimately caused the district to lose more than $90,000. He believes the change the district has made will rectify the problem in future years.
"What I want to try to assure you is we're on the road to financial success," Wicks said.
Iowa since 1950 has lost 4,314 school districts. Roughly 60 percent of the remaining 338 districts in the state are experiencing declining student enrollment.
Critics like Schaller-Crestland Superintendent Dave Kwikkel argue that inequities in Iowa's school finance laws have stacked the deck against rural districts.
A prime example is transportation. Rural schools, by their nature, have far more transportation costs because they generally have larger areas to cover. Kwikkel's district, for example, annually spends about $800 per student on transportation, which he notes is about $500 more than the state average. That extra transportation cost cuts deeply into rural district budgets, he said.
"Too much money in our districts is going to get the kids in a location to educate them," Kwikkel said. "That's the biggest problem we have. It's a huge inequity."
The Des Moines Register last summer launched a yearlong project that documents the systemic loss of Iowa's schools. One of the project's focuses is Corwith-Wesley, a northern Iowa district that residents voted to close at the end of the current school year due to student enrollment declines and unrelenting financial strain.
Going forward, rural areas are going to face more consolidation decisions.  Demographics, limited job markets and continued Republican tax cuts and spending cuts are going to force small schools to merge and shutter schools.  Rural areas have long had their way of life subsidized, but population change and political pressure will make that less tenable.  This will be a familiar story throughout the Midwest.

The Gutting of Dayton

An interesting cartoon questions the logic of demolishing historic buildings in Dayton.  The challenge for Dayton and other mid-size cities is that sprawl and the general lack of disadvantages from the sprawl that is seen in larger cities makes it very difficult to provide the critical mass of people and capital necessary to undertake and make feasible the extremely costly rehabilitation of buildings downtown such as the Arcade.  There just aren't enough people still working downtown, and there aren't enough professionals living nearby to make the renovation projects look more attractive than staying located near home in the suburbs.

 An interior view of the Arcade Building

We've Been There Before

From Mother Jones:

When/how does it get back to 10%?