Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tax Weekend Links

Hopefully you've already filed your taxes.  If not, get to work, and if so, here are some stories to enjoy this weekend:

When in Roma... - SBNation

Family Business - Grantland

Walk It Up - Cincinnati Magazine.  My favorite walk-up music of all-time: Jack Hannahan.

These Vintner Monks Turn Wilderness Into The Divine Gift Of Wine - The Salt

Why the Ethanol Mandate Is Terrible Policy - American Conservative

U.S. meat industry buying more human antibiotics: FDA - CNBC.  That is not a good headline.  Here is the FDA report.

Roundup and Risk Assessment - The New Yorker

California Drought-Fighters Turn to Australians for Help - Bloomberg

Incredible Images of Algal Blooms Taken From Space - Wired.  Lake Erie makes it (way to go farmers in the Maumee River watershed).

200 Years Ago This Week: Tambora's Eruption Causes a Planet-Wide Climate Emergency - Weather Underground

What everyone gets wrong about the history of cigarettes - Vox

The Unlikely Paths of Grant and Lee - Slate

Ohio Officials Propose Funding a Plant for Fiat Chrysler in Toledo - Wall Street Journal.  Corporate welfare at its most ridiculous.  I'm old enough to remember when the state gave GM a shit-ton of money to put in a paint line at the Moraine plant.  The same plant the state just gave massive tax breaks to a Chinese windshield glass company to move into.  I also remember when the state gave another shit-ton of money to Daimler Chrysler (at the time) to build the Jeep Liberty plant.  Shouldn't the state get some equity when they put up that kind of dough?  The payroll taxes are just dividends on the investment.  There should be some equity, too.  Warren Buffet would get a lot better deal for his investment than the state of Ohio will get.  That's bullshit.

Cops and Robbers - Texas Monthly

The Rookie and the Zetas - Dallas Observer

The Secret Sauce - Bloomberg.  On BDubs.  It answers the question I was wondering earlier in the week: what was the third W for in BW3.  Weck, as in Beef on Weck.  Wings and Weck, totally a Buffalo origin.

Why Pope Francis could be facing a Catholic schism - The Spectator

Blaming Iran for Shi'ite Unrest Throughout the Middle East - Counterpunch

Where the White People Live - The Atlantic

Lessons from a century of decline in the rail industry - Pieria


Thursday, April 9, 2015


SUN from Michael König on Vimeo.

Rural America is Dying. Literally.


The number of people living in rural (nonmetropolitan) counties declined for the fourth year in a row according to population estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. While hundreds of individual counties have lost population over the years, especially in remote or sparsely-settled regions, this marks the first period of population decline for rural (nonmetro) areas as a whole. Population declines stem from a combination of fewer births, more deaths, and changing migration patterns. From July 2013 to July 2014, the increase in rural population that came from natural change (58,348 more births than deaths) did not match the decrease in population from net migration (89,251 more people moved out than moved in), leading to overall population loss. The contribution of natural change to rural population growth will likely continue its gradual downward trend due to historically low fertility rates and an aging population. Net migration rates are prone to short-term fluctuations in response to economic conditions. This chart is based on the data found in County-level Datasets: Population on the ERS website, updated April 2015.
More bad news for rural areas here.

Wisconsin Supreme Court For Sale?

A referendum was passed in a low-turnout election in Wisconsin on Tuesday to change the way the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court is chosen.  This sounds so bad it almost has to be an exaggeration:
On the surface, what happened yesterday looks like just a small change in how the Wisconsin Supreme Court chooses a chief justice. In fact, it's much more.
The referendum was rushed onto the spring-election ballot when little else was up for a vote, guaranteeing a low turnout. And Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), a group aptly described by the Center for Media and Democracy as "Wisconsin's premier lobby for corporate tax breaks and low-wage jobs," poured in $600,000 at the last minute to back the measure.
The result: One of America's finest jurists may no longer be Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. For 126 years the chief justice has been chosen by seniority. Under that system, Shirley Abrahamson has held that post since 1996. In Wisconsin, Supreme Court justices are elected -- and the voters reelected Abrahamson to another 10-year term as Chief Justice in 2009. But now the state constitution has been amended so the justices will elect their chief. Chief Justice Abrahamson has filed a lawsuit to retain her position as Chief Justice for the remainder of her current term. Thanks to massive expenditures by groups such as WMC, which has spent at least $5.5 million on Supreme Court races since 2007, there is a conservative majority on the court -- likely guaranteeing that, unless Abrahamson's lawsuit succeeds, there will be a conservative chief justice at the helm.
But that's just the beginning. There's another backdoor effort underway to force Abrahamson off the court entirely by setting a mandatory retirement age of 75. Abrahamson is 81, and the people of Wisconsin reelected her to serve for four more years.
And there's more:
The conservative majority on the court lowered the court's conflict-of-interest standards. They approved changes in requirements for when justices must "recuse" themselves -- that is, decline to participate in a case. Now special interests can appear before judges to whom they've made campaign contributions -- and they can give money to judges even as those judges are presiding over cases to which the donors are parties.
The changes were written by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
I guess owning the legislative and executive branches just isn't enough. 

Frozen Four

Boy, I forgot all about the NCAA hockey semifinals being on TV tonight.  Providence is going to the championship game, and will play the winner of North Dakota and Boston University.  Go Friars.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dark Horse: An all-electric '68 Mustang's quest to shatter records

Dark Horse: An all-electric ’68 Mustang’s quest to shatter records from The Verge on Vimeo.

Tech Money Targets Agriculture

Wall Street Journal:

Farmers are starting to harness the kind of intricately detailed and up-to-the-minute data about production costs, speed and output that have become standard in many U.S. factories. Corn and soybean farmers in recent years started adopting such “precision agriculture” techniques to make better-informed decisions, and it’s spreading throughout the sector.
Thomas McPeek, for example, has adapted for Florida orange groves a laser-scanning technology used in architectural work to accurately measure every nook inside and outside a building. Positioned on a small truck that can cover 300 acres a day, a mobile scanning device developed by his company, AGERPoint Inc., analyzes how light reflects off trees to determine everything from the height and density of their canopies to which oranges or trunks are starved for water or afflicted with diseases or pests. It yields a map that some farmers are using to more precisely apply water, pesticides and fertilizer and treat ailing trees.
Harnessing more data, “we’re helping cut a lot of waste out of agriculture,” Mr. McPeek said. His company is finalizing an investment from a venture-capital firm that would triple the company’s staff to 12 people, he said. AGERPoint declined to disclose how much money it was raising.
It will be interesting to see what practical applications come from all the money thrown at agricultural technology.  We've collected a lot of data, but haven't used it much.  It is still obvious that drainage is our biggest issue, and I didn't really need much software to figure that out.

Figuring Out the Supreme Court

Want to know how the Supreme Court will rule on a case?  Ask this guy:
Jacob Berlove, 30, of Queens, is the best human Supreme Court predictor in the world. Actually, forget the qualifier. He’s the best Supreme Court predictor in the world. He won FantasySCOTUS three years running. He correctly predicts cases more than 80 percent of the time. He plays under the name “Melech” — “king” in Hebrew.
Berlove has no formal legal training. Nor does he use statistical analyses to aid his predictions. He got interested in the Supreme Court in elementary school, reading his local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer. In high school, he stumbled upon a constitutional law textbook.
“I read through huge chunks of it and I had a great time,” he told me. “I learned a lot over that weekend.”
Berlove has a prodigious memory for justices’ past decisions and opinions, and relies heavily on their colloquies in oral arguments. When we spoke, he had strong feelings about certain justices’ oratorical styles and how they affected his predictions.
Some justices are easy to predict. “I really appreciate Justice Scalia’s candor,” he said. “In oral arguments, 90 percent of the time he makes it very clear what he is thinking.”
Some are not. “To some extent, Justice Thomas might be the hardest, because he never speaks in oral arguments, ever.”1 That fact is mitigated, though, by Thomas’s rather predictable ideology. Justices Kennedy and Breyer can be tricky, too. Kennedy doesn’t tip his hand too much in oral arguments. And Breyer, Berlove says, plays coy.
“He expresses this deep-seated, what I would argue is a phony humility at oral arguments. ‘No, I really don’t know. This is a difficult question. I have to think about it. It’s very close.’ And then all of sudden he writes the opinion and he makes it seem like it was never a question in the first place. I find that to be very annoying.”
I told Ruger about Berlove. He said it made a certain amount of sense that the best Supreme Court predictor in the world should be some random guy in Queens.
“It’s possible that too much thinking or knowledge about the law could hurt you. If you make your career writing law review articles, like we do, you come up with your own normative baggage and your own preconceptions,” Ruger said. “We can’t be as dispassionate as this guy.”
Berlove also referenced the current supremacy of the best humans over the machines. “There’ll probably be a few top-notch players up there who can do better” than the computer model, he said. But he added, “With time, they might be able to do what they did to Garry Kasparov, or what they did to Ken Jennings,” referring to IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson supercomputers.
That is amazing.

Farmers Strain Central Valley Aquifers

As a drilling frenzy unfolds across the Central Valley, California’s agricultural heartland, the consequences of the overuse of groundwater are becoming plain to see.
In some places, water tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years. With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water.
Scientists say some of the underground water-storing formations so critical to California’s future — typically, saturated layers of sand or clay — are being permanently damaged by the excess pumping, and will never again store as much water as farmers are pulling out...
Cannon Michael, a farmer who grows tomatoes, melons and corn on 10,500 acres in the town of Los Banos, in the Central Valley, has high priority rights to surface water, which he inherited with his family’s land. But rampant groundwater pumping by farmers near him is causing some of the nearby land to sink, disturbing canals that would normally bring water his way.
“Now, water is going to have to flow uphill,” said Mr. Michael, who plans to fallow 2,300 acres this year...
The land devoted to almond orchards in California has doubled in 20 years, to 860,000 acres. The industry has been working hard to improve its efficiency, but growing a single almond can still require as much as a gallon of California’s precious water.
The expansion of almonds, walnuts and other water-guzzling tree and vine crops has come under sharp criticism from some urban Californians. The groves make agriculture less flexible because the land cannot be idled in a drought without killing the trees.
When these guys are out of business, they will only have themselves and mother nature to blame.

Baseball Season is Here

It's Opening Day! Go Reds!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bad Day at Work

Almost Half of California Urban Water Use is Watering Lawns


NASA Photo of the Day

March 31:

Corona from Svalbard
Image Credit & Copyright: Miloslav Druckmüller, Shadia Habbal, Peter Aniol, Pavel Starha
Explanation: During a total solar eclipse, the Sun's extensive outer atmosphere, or corona, is an inspirational sight. Streamers and shimmering features that engage the eye span a brightness range of over 10,000 to 1, making them notoriously difficult to capture in a single photograph. But this composite of 29 telescopic images covers a wide range of exposure times to reveal the crown of the Sun in all its glory. The aligned and stacked digital frames were recorded in the cold, clear skies above the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway during the Sun's total eclipse on March 20 and also show solar prominences extending just beyond the edge of the solar disk. Remarkably, even small details on the dark night side of the New Moon can be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a Full Earth. Of course, fortunes will be reversed on April 4 as a Full Moon plunges into the shadow of a New Earth, during a total lunar eclipse.

The One Time a Year I Post a George Will Column

His annual Opening Day baseball quiz:
Visiting a struggling pitcher on the mound, Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver advised, “If you know how to cheat, start now.” Be advised that Googling is cheating as you try to identify: 
1. The player who compiled at least 400 total bases in five different seasons (no one else did it in four)
2. Which three players hit 500 home runs but never struck out 85 times in a season. 
3. The last player to steal 100 bases in one season. 
4. The four players to steal a base in four decades. 
5. Before Madison Bumgarner last year, the only pitcher to win three world championships before age 26. 
6. The only World Series between teams with fewer than 90 regular-season wins. 
7. The MVP who played the most games (65) as DH. 
8. Which two of the five players with the highest career batting averages are not in the Hall of Fame. 
9. The pitcher who started a World Series game one for three teams. 
10. Which team today has gone the longest without appearing in the postseason. 
11. The only pitcher to lead the majors in ERA four consecutive years. 
12. The two post-World War II pitchers to win 20 games in fewer than 30 starts. 
13. The only pitcher to give up seven or more earned runs in consecutive postseason starts. 
14. The manager with 20 consecutive winning seasons. 
15. The manager with the highest winning percentage. 
16. The player who pitched five shutouts in his first seven starts. 
17. The only rookie to win a Cy Young award. 
18. The player who won consecutive batting titles for the 1951 and 1952 Philadelphia A’s. 
19. The first pitcher to win at least 30 games in three consecutive seasons. 
20. The two pitchers with 373 wins. 
21. Which pitcher won the most games in a three-year period. 
22. Who has received the most Hall of Fame votes without being admitted. 
23. Who over twelve seasons led first basemen in home runs, RBIs, total bases, extra-base hits and OPS. 
24. In the 500-home-run club, whose strikeouts-per-home-run ratio of 1.74 is second to Ted Williams’s record of 1.36. 
25. The only player to hit at least .300, with at least 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons. 
26. Which three pitchers won their league’s triple crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA) three times. 
27. The only current major-league city never to host a World Series. 
28. Who played the most games at shortstop and has the highest fielding percentage (minimum 1,000 games). 
29. The only team to make the playoffs while finishing last in the major leagues in home runs and walks. 
30. The pitcher with the most consecutive wins. 
31. Who is fifth, behind Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and Jim Thome, in the best ratio of at bats per home run. 
32. Who won three of the first four American League batting titles. 
33. The two hitters with two 20-home-run seasons before their 21st birthdays. 
34. The leader in career games pitched. 
35. The pitcher with the most strikeouts in a season in the 1980s. 
36. The three players who hold their franchises’ records for singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. 37. How many times Greg Maddux led the league in strikeouts. 
38. The pitcher who had 999 walks with three games remaining in his career, and walked no one in those three. 
39. The highest career batting average for a career that began after WWII. 
40. The first National Leaguer to hit 500 home runs. 
Bonus question: Who, explaining how cold weather can shorten by 25 feet the distance a fly ball travels, said: “If the fence is 338 feet [away] and you hit the ball 338 feet, you’ll be 25 feet short.” 
Answers (after the jump):