Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking forward to 2013 in science and space

I concluded the science year in review 2012 with a programming note.
I'll have science and space events to look forward to in 2013 next at Midnight GMT.
Time to make good on that, beginning with a final look back at the year that was in space  in Happy New Year from NASA Television.

Follow over the jump for what scientists expect to happen in the coming year.

Rewind YouTube Style and science year in review 2012

As I concluded my previous post:
Look for my year in review tonight at midnight EST, when New Year's Eve arrives here.
Time to reverse my usual serious to silly progression and work my way up from the ridiculous to the sublime.  First, YouTube on YouTube: Rewind YouTube Style 2012

We invited some YouTubers to star in a mash-up of culturally defining moments of 2012. Can you spot all the references?

Can you name all the YouTube stars in the video? Watch carefully and you might even find a few surprises... (Hint: try moving your mouse around in the player!).

Yes, Psy is number one. No surprise there.

I'm not done being silly, although I'm working my way up with Stephen Colbert, for This Year @NASA!

In case you missed it, here's Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and his shout out for NASA TV's "This Year @NASA!"
Speaking of This Year @NASA, here it is.

This Year @ NASA, 2012

Curiosity Has Landed, Flight of the Dragon, Antares Rolls and so much more...
The rest of the year in science over the jump.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Double serving of space and astronomy news leftovers

I've been passing out the space and astronomy stories from the past two weeks in installments as responses to the Fake Mayan Doomsday, Christmas (twice), Gangnam Style, and discovering a potentially habitable exoplanet.  That didn't take care of all of them, however.  Here are almost* all the rest of them from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Two Higgs Bosons? edition) and Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Apocalypse Not edition) that didn't either meet the funny test, fit a special occasion, or both, plus two stories that I had planned on including, but removed because they had already been covered in another OND, and a third from last night's OND.

I begin with the final This Week @NASA video for the year.

NASA Television on YouTube: Countdown to Launch on This Week @NASA

With their launch from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station fast approaching, Expedition 34/35 Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko, Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn of NASA and Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency continue to train and finalize plans for the December 19 flight. Also, Orion taking shape; Mars field trip: GRAIL's impact; FASTSat's finale; "Big Wind"; rocket holiday; and more!
DarkSyde at Daily Kos has more general space and science news in This week in science: It's the sun, stupid and This week in science: Showboats as does cynndara in ALSO IN THE NEWS TODAY.

Follow over the jump for much more space and astronomy news from the far reaches of time and space to the surface of the Earth.

Did we just discover Plateau?

Science News: News in brief: Possible planet looks habitable
Candidate body pushes limit of astronomical detection
By Alexandra Witze
Web edition: December 19, 2012
The closest single star like the sun — Tau Ceti, 12 light-years away — may harbor five planets slightly more massive than Earth. One may even lie in the star’s habitable zone.
According to the analysis, Tau Ceti is surrounded by five planets that weigh between two and six Earth masses and take between 14 and 640 days to orbit the star. The one reported in the habitable zone is a five-Earth-mass planet with a period of 168 days.
For a science fiction fan, discovery of a habitable planet around Tau Ceti would be very significant, as the list of planets around the star in Tau Ceti in fiction indicates.  Since this blog has a Niven and Pournelle theme, I'll quote the entry on the two they created for their fiction.
A Gift from Earth (1968), Known Space novel by Larry Niven. The colony world Plateau in the Tau Ceti system lives by a rigorous code: All crimes are punishable by involuntary organ harvesting, while organ transplants are reserved to the benefit of the aristocracy. A robotic Bussard ramjet (see graphic) arrives from Earth, bearing a gift that will upset the unstable social balance on Plateau.[16] The relative proximity of Tau Ceti to the Earth (with a turnaround point at UV Ceti) is an important plot element in the novel, enabling Plateau to be isolated from the mother planet, and yet still close enough to receive occasional cargoes via ramjet.
Tau Ceti also makes a cameo appearance in The Ethics of Madness, as noted in the Wikipedia entry on Known Space.
Plateau in the Tau Ceti system is Venus-like, with a plateau (called Mount Lookitthat), half the size of California, rising high enough out of the dense atmosphere to be habitable. Inhabitants ("Mountaineers") are divided into two rigid hereditary castes, the "crew" and the "colonists", depending on whether their ancestors piloted the colonizing vessel. The crew are the upper caste, and hold power through their monopoly on organ transplantation and control of the police. The original colonists signed the "Covenant of Planetfall", agreeing that this outcome was just recompense for the labors of the crew during the voyage; that they signed at gunpoint as they were awakened from hibernation is kept secret from later generations, and also that those who refused, died. This repressive system is overthrown in A Gift From Earth, and the former inequality and caste system appears to have disappeared by the time The Ethics of Madness takes place.
Now for a planet that both Niven and Pournelle created.
The Legacy of Heorot (1987), first novel in the Heorot trilogy (1987–1997) by Larry Niven, Steven Barnes, and Jerry Pournelle. Two hundred colonists arrive on the paradise world Avalon (Tau Ceti IV) to found a new community, having made the 100-year journey from Earth in suspended animation. The colonists, all selected for their outstanding physical and mental attributes, make a terrible discovery: Their intelligence and reasoning skill have been damaged in transit, a devolution that will ill serve them in their upcoming struggle with the native grendels for control of their new land.
Colonists to Avalon fighting Grendels.  That doesn't remind me of anything, does it?

Finally, read the rest of the list of fictional inhabitable worlds around Tau Ceti; it's impressive.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deer hunting--doing it wrong and right

Two stories about young people hunting have appeared on my monitor within 24 hours.  Since I'm not one to ignore signals from the Internet and I have expressed my interest in hunting deer, I'm going to put the two together.

As an example of "deer hunting, you're doing it wrong," I present two young men who ended up being the subject of a WXYZ report: 2 men accused of hunting deer in Warren.

I have only two good things to say about this story.  First, they were bow hunting, which is less dangerous than shooting a gun inside a city, which would have gotten them in even more trouble.  Second, it's still deer archery season, which lasts until January 1st.  My wife has a third; she thinks they were doing the City of Warren a favor by removing a deer that could have caused a traffic accident.  In case you're wondering, my wife lived in the country for 15 years, so she's had plenty of experience with deer-car collisions.  Other than that, FAIL!

Follow over the jump for the story about "hunting, you're doing it right" from Slate.

Michigan Science Center opens on Boxing Day

Time to follow up on some good news.  WXYZ has the video.

Michigan Science Center opens

Fox 2 News has an even livelier segment on the facility.

Fox 2 News Headlines

Those clips give a good introduction to the visitor experience.  For what's making this possible, the Free Press gives some details in Michigan Science Center celebrates holiday opening in Detroit.
The science center’s leaders announced earlier this month that they had raised more than $5 million to re-launch the beleaguered venue.

New leadership and business plans were put in place, and a new commitment to science, technology, engineering and math education were revealed. The 2013 budget for the nonprofit is less than $5 million, with staffing at about 45 people; both figures are less than half of what the numbers were before the center closed.
The Detroit News provides even more on the money.
In September, the center announced it had raised more than $2.5 million. Other contributions include a $1 million gift from the GM Foundation. Lear Corp., ITC Holdings, the Manoogian Fund, the DTE Energy Foundation and the Penske Corp. also gave. The Toyota Technical Center, a division of Toyota North America, Inc., also donated $300,000 to the science center.
Michigan Radio explains what the Michigan Science Center means to Detroit and what it hopes to accomplish.
Ben Falik, who was there for the grand opening with his dad and three-year-old son, said it’s important to have a science center in Detroit’s cultural district.

“There’s so much momentum in midtown and the cultural center now,” Falik said. “We were crestfallen, like a lot of people, when it [Detroit Science Center] closed. I think we didn’t really appreciate the science center until it was gone.”

Organizers say the Michigan Science Center will have a “broader mission” that includes outreach throughout the state, and a more formal commitment to science, technology, engineering and math education.

Michigan Science Center spokesperson Kerri Budde said the center has “broadened its mission” beyond its Detroit hub.

“We’re gonna be taking our traveling outreach statewide, versus just being southeastern Michigan. So we’re partnering with folks [from] Michigan Tech University, to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum,” Budde said.
The Free Press elaborates on these goals.
Among the new initiatives is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) experience, an outreach program aimed at attracting 150,000 people across the state to the science center by making it an educational hub, he said.

“We want to reform, educate and really change the experience of what the science center is moving forward,” [Todd Slisher, the center’s director of visitor experiences] said.
So, how did the Michigan Science Center do the first day?
Slisher said officials, who didn’t anticipate a snowstorm, expected 500-700 people for today’s opening, with attendance growing to about 1,000 people each day through the holiday weekend.
The Detroit News answers the next question, how many people does the center expect to visit next year?
Museum officials say they anticipate 260,000 visitors will walk through the doors in the first year of operation.
I'll do my part to make that happen by sending my students there and visiting myself.  Here's to a healthy cultural center helping lead to Detroit's recovery.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Amazon bacterial biodiversity at

In my previous biodiversity news entry, I mentioned that it reminded me that I have a story about rainforest biodiversity to write.  It's done.

The bacteria in this deforested area of the Amazon will be more homogenous after it becomes pasture.
Credit: Joanna B. Pinneo—Aurora/Getty Images
MSU scientist finds deforestation decreases biodiversity in bacteria, too
For decades, scientists have known that deforestation is one of the greatest threats to the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest, which has the highest number of plant and animal species of any region its size on the planet.  Now, scientists have found out that deforestation is a threat to the diversity of bacteria in the soil, too.

In a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Thursday, December 27th, an international team of scientists including Michigan State University professor James Tiedje, as well as researchers from the University of Massachusetts, University of Oregon, University of Texas at Arlington, and University of Sao Paolo, found that converting forest into cattle pasture reduced the number of species of bacteria present at first.  Although the number of species then increased, so that there were more in any soil sample than before the land was cleared, they also became more uniform over a wide area by eliminating endemic species and replacing them with bacteria found in pastures all over the Amazon.  This decreases bacterial diversity all thoughout the former rainforest as people clear the land for agriculture.

In a press release from the University of Texas at Arlington, lead researcher Jorge Rordigues said, “We have known for a long time that conversion of rainforest land in the Amazon for agriculture results in a loss of biodiversity in plants and animals.  Now we know that microbial communities, which are so important to the ecosystem, also suffer significant losses.”

This finding caused the scientists to worry that the loss of genetic variation in bacteria across a converted forest could reduce the ability of the ecosystem there to continue functioning.
Lots more, including quotes aplenty from the researchers and their paper, at the link in the headline.  There is also a video there from Grab Networks, which has little to do with the story proper, but does a good job of highlighting the biodiversity of the Amazon.

This will probably be the last "newsworthy" article of the year for me at  It's time to write year-end roundups, which will count as "evergreen" material.  I don't have enough of those right now.

UCLA football players as biodiversity tourists plus biodiversity news

Last night, my undergraduate alma mater played in the Holiday Bowl.  Before the game, the football players visited the major attractions of San Diego, which just happen to include the San Diego Zoo and Sea World, both places for a certain kind of biodiversity tourism.  Here are the videos UCLA posted on its YouTube channel about the visits.

First, UCLA Football Visit the San Diego Zoo.

The Bruins visit the World Famous San Diego Zoo as part of activities leading up to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
It looks like the players got some entertainment value out of the zoo, but I'm not sure they learned much, or if they did, they didn't communicate it.  How about the next stop on their itinerary, Sea World, which is more about entertainment than education?

UCLA Celebrates Christmas at Sea World

Bruins continue the leadup to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
I think this was a better video, but that's because the focus was on Christmas, not the animals, although the players really enjoyed their experiences with the beluga whales.

So, how did the team do at the game itself?  The Los Angeles Times has the answer.

Bruins' flat showing in Holiday Bowl takes fizz out of UCLA's season
The Bruins' weak performance in a 49-26 loss to Baylor casts Coach Jim Mora's debut season in a much less flattering light.
SAN DIEGO — There have been rumors down here that the Chargers might be interested in UCLA's Jim Mora as a replacement for Coach Norv Turner.

If the Holiday Bowl was an audition, Mora could not have done more to prove himself the ideal choice to be the next Chargers' head coach.

Like the Chargers do so often, the Bruins played flat and let their fans down, losing 49-26.
It's just as well I didn't watch the game.  Here's to hoping that Michigan does better against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl next week.  MGoBlue has already posted a video of their trip to Tampa.  They've already visited a children's hospital, something UCLA also did in San Diego.  If they visit Busch Gardens, I'll let you know.

What, you were expecting something more serious from me?  First, I can't be all doom all the time.  Second, follow over the jump for the biodiversity news from the past three weeks of Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday on Daily Kos.  That should be serious enough for anyone.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

NASA gets last word on fake apocalypse

I thought I was done with the fake Mayan doomsday with Apocalypse Not.  Then I found another slant on the topic with It's the drum corps apocalypse!  Tonight, I realized that I had missed a video about the topic that I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Two Higgs Bosons? edition) on Daily Kos.  Since I recycle and reuse everything I can, I present it here.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Why the World Didn't End Yesterday

The Mayan calendar explained! The world is safe from rogue planets, solar flares and other imagined calamities!
Watch this NOW to learn why NASA Science says you'll be here Dec. 22 to view it again!
May the third time be a charm so I don't have to blog about this particular version of the end of the world again, ever!

James Bond and drum corps, a blast from the past

I promised the following in the conclusion to It's the drum corps apocalypse!
If there is any other combination of topics that would compel me to blog, it's the combination of James Bond and drum corps.  Trust me, I've found that already, along with an eight-year-old article I wrote describing the performance.  That will fit right in with the monthly theme of Work, as I wrote that for Drum Corps World.
Time to follow through, first with the relevant passage from my review Cavaliers win as drum corps returns to Canton.
As heralded by their warm-up, “An All-Time High”, The Cavaliers (62 B, 18 FP, 11 PP, 36 G, 4 DM) earned their highest score of the season so far at Canton as they continued their adventurous and debonair ways. Their “007? show contains many light-hearted and entertaining details related to the James Bond theme, beginning with the guard miming the MI6 agent’s handling of his PPK revolver.

The individual brass players being chased from set to set as he “escapes”, continues the theme, and finally, the game of “Spy vs. Spy,” where two brass players play as they “shoot” at each other across a rank of sopranos.

And all of those are before the first standing ovation! The musical interpretations dominate the second part of the show, with “Hovercraft” rocking, while it evokes a trademark Bond exotic location, [and] “Tomorrow Never Dies” taking turns being eerie, lyrical, and intense.

While the big gimmick move from the past three years is missing, there is a relatively big drill move along the back sideline one minute before the end of the show. I won’t spoil it for you—you’ll have to watch for yourself.

It is, however, reminiscent of some of their moves from the early 1980s. Although the ending seemed to be missing something, it was still enough to earn the Green Machine a second standing ovation and a sweep of every caption and subcaption over the only other remaining all male competitive junior corps.
Here are two videos of the show.  Like the last two entries featuring drum corps, the first one is an unofficial one of a complete performance (ETA, as I expected, it was taken down, so I am replacing it with New Zealand Girl Reacts to 2004 CAVALIERS DRUM CORPS 007 PERFORMANCE!! — a video that might just stay), while the second is an official teaser promo, which means it will remain up even if the first is taken down.  See if my description of the show has held up over the intervening eight years.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film 'Dr. No,' here is a clip from the 2004 The Cavaliers show '007.'
As for why James Bond would be on topic for this blog, consider the following two ideas.

First, this blog is about science fiction as much as it is about collapse.  In that vein, the James Bond movies, even more so than the books, qualify, as they are really science fiction films set 20 minutes into the future.  As science fiction, the films both celebrate the latest technology and explore in a very escapist fashion a current technological, scientific, or even environmental issue that is a source of societal anxiety.  Keeping that ambivalence in mind while watching a Bond film makes it a more intellectually interesting experience, at least for me.  See if it works for you, too.

Second, Bond has averted the near total extinction of humanity at least twice, as well as defused other situations that could have resulted in World War III several other times.  Because of these 'good deeds,' he qualifies as an honorary Crazy Eddie.  That alone makes the films worthy of discussion.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NASA Gangnam Style

After all the serious business on this blog I've covered this year, I think I need a good laugh.  NASA Television on YouTube just happens to provide one in "NASA Johnson Style" ("Gangnam Style" Parody).

NASA astronauts and scientists are among those in this educational parody of Psy's popular music video. "NASA Johnson Style" was created, written and produced by the Houston center's co-op students who volunteered for the project " to inform the public about the amazing work going on at NASA and the Johnson Space Center."
And to think all these people did this at their work!

I'll have a serious space and astronomy news update later this week.

It's the drum corps apocalypse!

I thought I was done with the fake Mayan Doomsday in Apocalypse Not.  It turns out I wasn't.  If there is another subject I can't leave alone besides the end of the world as we know it, it's drum corps.  So what could possibly make me post again about the topic?  A drum corps show about the end of the world--and I found it.  I had two reactions as soon as I did; first, I have to post about it, and second, I have to have a drink before I do.

Here's what you'll be watching, according to the Galt* Herald.
The Mandarins’ 2012 show “Prophecy” is an original program composed and designed by Key Poulan (design coordinator and brass arranger), Tony Nunez (music coordinator and percussion arranger), Geoff Longo (visual and color guard caption manager), and Drew Farmer (visual coordinator and drill designer). The program is based on the Mayan calendar prophesying that Dec. 21, 2012 is the end of the calendar and strikes the beginning of a new era. An ancient Mayan text has emerged from the jungles of Guatemala confirming the so-called “end date” of the Mayan calendar, Dec. 21, 2012. Considered one of the most significant hieroglyphic finds in decades, the 1,300-year-old inscription contains only the second known reference to the “end date.” Carved on a stone staircase, the inscription was found at the ruins of La Corona in the dense rainforest of northwestern Guatemala. Since there are so many engineers involved in the Mandarins, the model they made of the Mayan pyramid for the program is 1/7th scale of the actual pyramid in Mexico.
At least the corps was calling it the "end of an era" and not "the end of the world."  Just the same, they have total eclipse flags, even though a solar eclipse has nothing to do with the event, and form "2012" at 9:30 in the first video.  They couldn't resist the "woo" factor.

Without any further ado, here are videos of the show.  Just like the ones I included in Christmas music from the Cadets and Crazy Eddie's Motie News, the first is an unofficial video that might be taken down (in fact, it's more likely to be than the rehearsal video I used yesterday), while the second is an official promo that should stay up much longer.

2012 DCI World Championship Prelims, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN

2012 Mandarins - Prophecy

If there is any other combination of topics that would compel me to blog, it's the combination of James Bond and drum corps.  Trust me, I've found that already, along with an eight-year-old article I wrote describing the performance.  That will fit right in with the monthly theme of Work, as I wrote that for Drum Corps World.

*In this case, Galt is the name of a town, not the Ayn Rand anti-hero.  I haven't had much to say about that topic since the Romney-Ryan ticket was defeated, but I'm sure I'll get around to it.  I'm already collecting material.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

NASA videos: Christmas sky and ISS message

In my first holiday entry, I told my readers to stick around for "more holiday greetings and space news."  I took care of the first with some Christmas music from the Cadets.  It's time for more holiday space news from NASA.

First up, here's one for everyone who has a telescope or received one for Christmas: ScienceCasts: Christmas Sky Show

The Moon and Jupiter are converging for a heavenly sky show on Christmas 2012. Got a telescope? Something extra-special is happening on Jupiter that makes it an appealing target for backyard optics.
Second, I pass along this message of peace and international cooperation from the ISS.

Further Up Yonder: A Message from ISS to All Humankind

NASA Television shares this inspiring production by Italian videomaker, Giacomo Sardelli, about the International Space Station, its inhabitants, and its role in space exploration. Sardelli writes of the video, "I'm not the first one to use NASA's pictures taken from the International Space Station to craft a Timelapse video. You can find many of them on the Internet, that's where my inspiration came from. What I wanted to do, though, was to look beyond the intrinsic beauty of those pictures, and use them to tell a story and share the messages sent by the astronauts who worked on the station in the last 11 years."
Enjoy what's left of this Christmas night, everyone!

Christmas music from the Cadets and Crazy Eddie's Motie News

I wished you all a Merry Christmas in July.
I present to you the 2012 Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, who are performing a show they call "12.25." It's easily the most accessible show they've done this century* and a lot of fun to watch and listen to. See how many Christmas-themed sets the corps forms during the show. I count at least two Christmas trees, a snowflake, a bow, a bell, and an ICHTHYS fish. How many do you see?
I also warned my readers to watch it while they could.
Enjoy this while it lasts.** I expect it will be taken down before the end of August. If and when that happens, I have a backup video ready.
It didn't even stay up on YouTube for the rest of the week.  Both the video I embedded and my backup were taken down a few days later.  I wasn't pessimistic enough!

I'm much more optimistic about these two videos.  The first is a complete run-through from a rehearsal, which don't seem to be subject to the same level of copyright enforcement as show performances.  The second is an official promo video of the finale of the show from the championship performance.  If nothing else, the second should stay up as long as YouTube exists.  Both are in HD, which means they're worth watching in full screen mode.

Enjoy the holiday music, everyone!

Lake Highlands HS, 7/23/2012

2012 The Cadets - 12.25

Follow over the jump for the footnotes.

Merry Christmas from NASA and Crazy Eddie's Motie News!

NASA Television on YouTube: Happy Holidays, NASA TV Style!

Our wish for a happy holiday season, and a healthy and prosperous 2013!
Merry Christmas!

Stick around, I'll have more holiday greetings and space news today and tomorrow.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Driving update for December 2012: Other car and bonus gas price rollercoaster

In last month's driving update, I made the following observation and promise.
While I'm on the subject of my wife's car, it also passed a milestone this past August--83,000 miles on August 13th.   As of this afternoon, it had barely reached halfway to 84,000 miles.  I'll do my best to keep track of the miles driven on it as well from now on.
Yesterday, her car's odometer rolled over 84,000 miles.  That's 1,000 miles in 132 days, which means my wife and I my wife and I drove the car 7.58 miles/day and 231 miles/month.  I can't compare that number to the previous mileage for the car unless I dig out the sales receipt with the odometer reading and date, which I'm just not up to doing right now.  However, I can add it to the 11.5 miles/day and 350.6 miles/month I drove from August through November and again to the next mileage figure I get in February or March to get a total miles driven for the household.  That means that my wife and I drove our two cars an average of 19.1 miles/day and 581.6 miles/month since August.  I won't be able to say until April at the earliest whether this means the total miles driven by the two of us is going up or down, but at least I now have a baseline.

As for all the nation's drivers, Bill McBride at Calculated Risk just updated the total miles driven yesterday, reporting that Vehicle Miles Driven increased 0.3% in October and including the following from the Department of Transportation:
Travel on all roads and streets changed by +0.3% (0.9 billion vehicle miles) for October 2012 as compared with October 2011. Travel for the month is estimated to be 251.5 billion vehicle miles.

Cumulative Travel for 2012 changed by +0.6% (14.9 billion vehicle miles). The Cumulative estimate for the year is 2,464.5 billion vehicle miles of travel.
As for the long-term trend, it's still moving sideways after falling from the peak in December 2007, five years ago.

In his very next entry, McBride quoted the latest on gas prices from CNN: Gas prices slide, but the decline won't last, survey says
The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.26, down 58 cents over the past 11 weeks, the Lundberg Survey found.

But that good news at the pump is unlikely to continue, says publisher Tribly Lundberg.

“Higher crude oil prices are translating into higher wholesale gasoline prices,” and retailers will need to pass them through, she says. Expect prices to jump 5 or 10 cents per gallon soon.
That happened here already.  The day after I posted Gas price rollercoaster drops to 2012 low--so far, the price at the corner station fell again to what is likely to be the low for the year, $3.15/gallon.  The next day, it rose to $3.25, while the three stations a few blocks away actually dropped their prices to $3.08, also their lows for the year.  That was too unstable a situation to persist, and as of three days ago, all four stations are now selling regular for $3.18.  That's still lower than my last report, even if it isn't the very lowest price of 2012.

As for that increase in price, the Gas Buddy graph at the Calculated Risk entry reflects it already.  I personally think that the current low price will hold until the new year, at which time it will start going up again.  Until then, it's time to use this taunting macro.  I may not have another chance.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Apocalypse Not

It's time to put to rest a topic I began mocking in May 2011 and really zinged in January, the fake Mayan Doomsday.  I present all the stories, memes, and videos on the topic from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Apocalypse Not edition) on Daily Kos, which I just posted about an hour ago.

I begin with a meme I stole from JekyllnHyde.

More over the jump.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Florida to tackle invasive species the fun way--hunt them!

Scientific American: Why Florida’s Giant Python Hunting Contest Is a Bad Idea
By Kate Wong
December 7, 2012
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has announced that it will hold a month-long competition starting January 12, 2013,  “to see who can harvest the longest and the most Burmese pythons” from designated public lands in southern Florida. The goal is to raise awareness about the threat this invasive species poses to the Everglades ecosystem, and to generate “additional information on the python population in south Florida and enhance our research and management efforts.” Python hunting permit holders, as well as members of the general public, are invited to compete for the cash prizes of $1500 for the most pythons killed and $1000 for the longest python killed.

The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world. (In August researchers at the University of Florida reported the capture of a 17.7-foot-long specimen—the biggest one ever found in the state.) And there’s good evidence that these constricting snakes, which are native to Asia, are bad news for the Everglades ecosystem. In January researchers published a paper implicating the python in the dramatic decline of raccoons, bobcats and other mammals there.

But allowing anyone over the age of 18 to register and go out and hunt giant snakes on public lands? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, this is Florida, which is known for the crazy news it produces.  As an expatriate Californian, I'm perversely glad that it had the insane reputation that it does; it makes California, especially southern California, look good.

As for the results of this hunt, I expect they'll end up in next year's edition of The 40 Most Insane Things That Happened In Florida.  I told you, the news out of Florida makes California look sane.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fiscal Cliff is holding up Farm Bill and holding down consumer confidence

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Last night, Boehner's "Plan B" for helping avert the Fiscal Cliff, which really should be called the Austerity Bomb, failed.
This morning, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, held a news conference to talk about the fiscal cliff, after his back-up plan–dubbed “Plan B”–did not even garner enough support to be voted on in the House.

“It’s not the outcome that I wanted, but it was the will of the House,” Boehner said Friday. ”We had a number of our members who just really didn’t want to be perceived as having raised taxes. That was the real issue.”
That's having all kinds of ripple effects.  First, it's likely to actually increase spending on agricultural subsidies, but not on all the food items people consume.  Reuters via Scientific American has more in Negotiators see glimmers of progress on farm bill
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With a week left to act, agricultural leaders in Congress are still deadlocked on two major issues for a new U.S. farm bill, cuts in crop subsidies and reductions in food stamps, said two of the four key negotiators on Thursday.

But the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees suggested that recent talks had yielded at least some progress.

Without reauthorization, U.S. farm policy would revert to the provisions of the Agricultural Act of 1949, the last "permanent" farm bill and one crafted for an entirely different U.S. economy.

Among other things, if lawmakers do not agree on a new bill, milk prices in U.S. grocery stores could double next month under terms of the fall-back statute which would also limit plantings while pushing up farm subsidies by billions of dollars.
Milk and other dairy products just happen to be one of the two most valuable agricultural products the U.S. produces, the other being corn.

Happy Winter Solstice 2012

Solstices and Equinoxes

Fropm the Washington Post: Winter Solstice 2012: Myths and facts about the shortest day of the year
The world won’t end on December 21, but the 2012 winter solstice is still on the astronomical calendar.

On Friday at 6:12 a.m. (EST), Earth’s north pole will be at its maximum tilt away from the sun, marking the official start of winter and shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re looking for some bright sunshine to alleviate the winter blues, head south of the equator, which is now enjoying its longest daylight period of the year.

Think you’ve heard everything there is to know about the solstice? Let’s take a look at seven different statements to see what’s true and what’s not…
Lots of fun trivia about the solstice at the link.

As for the sentiment in the first paragraph of the article, I have this cartoon.

Once again, Happy Solstice!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Schools closed because of DOOM!

Between Sandy Hook and the Mayan Doomsday tomorrow, several schools in the counties north and south of metro Detroit are closed today and tomorrow.  WXYZ has the report.

Schools closed in Lapeer, Genesee County also Marlette & Tuscola
Watch the crawl beneath the reporter for the affected districts.  If they flash by too quickly, WDIV has a permanent list of the closed schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties here and an updated list good until Friday here.  That list shows that Monroe Community Schools south of Detroit are closed tomorrow as well.  Ah, life in the county, how I don't miss it.

Over at Troy Patch, the reporter is asking if Troy Schools should close tomorrow, too.  While no one has left any comments at the article, on their Facebook page, the answers are overwhelmingly no.  Good for them.

Snyder vetoes expanded concealed carry, signs transit authority, and other good news

I don't have to worry about expanded concealed carry and neither does anyone else in Michigan.  To his credit, Governor Snyder vetoed it.  That's one less bad law to come out of the "Inflamed Duck" session.  Snyder also signed most of the measures I approve of, including transit and lighting authorities and the new downtown arena.
Calling today “an exciting day for Detroit, “ Gov. Rick Snyder signed a series of bills that will have big impacts on the Motor City and its suburbs.

The bills will create regional transit and Detroit lighting authorities and allow the city’s Downtown Development Authority to capture funds that can be used to help entertainment mogul Mike Ilitch with his proposed $650-million sports and entertainment complex. One also will allow Eastern Market to get funds to expand Shed 5 and its ability to help locally made food products.

“We don’t spend enough time celebrating success,” Snyder said. “Today is a day to celebrate success for both short-term recovery and long-term growth.”
I don't know if he signed "Kelsey's Law" yet, but all of this is good news.  Before I do, I'll add that the price of gas has dropped some more, as the corner station is selling regular for $3.15 and two stations where the city limits of Clawson, Royal Oak, and Troy meet list gas at $3.09.  Also, I'm done grading.  Take it away Professor Farnsworth!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Student sustainability video festival 7: Hantz Farms

In Student sustainability video festival 6: Urban farming, I concluded with the latest news on Hantz Farms.   It turns out that one of my students last semester used a Hantz Farms promotional video as part of their presentation.  Here it is.

Hantz Farms: Detroit's Saving Grace

Hantz Farms, the biggest proposed urban farm ever, is setting out to reinvigorate Detroit's blight filled neighborhoods and stimulate its economy. Supported by Hantz Group, this farm is what Detroit's dwindling population so desperately needs.
As a promo, it looks very effective.  Is it all what it seems to be?  I don't know, but I have my reasons to be skeptical.  I'll keep them to myself for now.  Until then, check out the comments to the video and to the Free Press article I included in yesterday's entry.  You can see how polarizing Hantz Farms has become.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Student sustainability video festival 6: Urban farming

It's the end of the semester, which means it's grading time.  It also means posts light on text and analysis until the grades are posted.  Time for another entry featuring the videos my students have used in their presentations this year.

In this installment, I present my favorite from the semester just concluded, AMERICA REVEALED: Urban Farming on PBS.

See the full episode at  Meet the ordinary people who bring food production back to basics in this clip from AMERICA REVEALED "Food Machine."
I told the student who used this that he had just played the next video that I will add to my lectures.  It hits all the themes involving urban agriculture that I include in my class--local food, use of empty land, improving local diets, helping the local economy, and connecting people to their food.  It even repeats a pair of images that I show my students to make a point about how empty Detroit has become, the St. Cyril neighborhood 70 years ago and now.  Actually, St. Cyril is even emptier now than in the modern photo.  That always gets my students.

Speaking of urban agriculture, remember what I wrote about Hantz Woodlands?  Well, the sale was approved as the Detroit Free Press reported in Hantz Woodlands gets green light from Detroit City Council.
More than a mere land sale, the Detroit City Council's 5-4 vote Tuesday to sell about 1,500 lots to the Hantz Woodlands project keeps alive the idea that Detroit will serve as a worldwide center of urban innovation for postindustrial cities.

In recent years, hundreds of artists, architects, academics, filmmakers, urban planners and students have flocked to Detroit to see urban innovation at work. The Hantz proposal, billed as the world's largest experiment in urban agriculture, was a big part of that global interest, receiving worldwide publicity.

The Hantz Woodlands project is a plan to buy about 1,500 city-owned parcels, or around 140 acres of land, for about $520,000 and plant hardwood trees on them as a beautification project. The parcels are almost all vacant lots; Hantz has committed to demolishing at least 50 blighted buildings that remain. Proposed almost four years ago as Hantz Farms, the project now will have a chance to demonstrate whether large-scale blight removal and reforestation will help Detroit's recovery.

Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr., a "yes" vote on the deal, said urban agriculture isn't a silver bullet to fix Detroit's problems, but that it is an important component of redevelopment.

"A 'no' vote would have sent the message to the world that Detroit isn't really serious about urban agriculture," Cockrel said.
I guess that means that Detroit is officially serious about urban agriculture.  That's good news and I don't need Professor Farnsworth to announce it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gas price rollercoaster drops to 2012 low--so far

Prices have fallen even more since I announced a 9-month low.  On Thursday, I saw regular selling for $3.19 in Hazel Park.  By Friday, the corner station had dropped their price to $3.19 as well, as had the three stations a few blocks away.  As far as I know, gas is still selling for that much.

According to the Gas Buddy graph over at Econobrowser, gas in Detroit hasn't been this cheap since last year at this time, when the average for Detroit fell to $3.16.  That means the current price is the low for the year so far.

It's not just Detroit, it's nationwide as the headline from the Detroit Free Press proclaims "Gas prices to hit low for the year!"  Since it's an Associated Press article, I'll refrain from quoting it.  However, it does predict that the national average will drop below the $3.28 from the beginning of the year by Monday.  Econobrowser shows that's already the case, with the nationwide average at $3.25 and Detroit's at $3.23.

Before I post Professor Farnsworth, I'll ask again, is this price high or low given the cost of Brent?  The answer is that it's low.  Econobrowser is showing a price of $108.13 for a barrel of Brent, which should result in a price of $3.54.  I wonder what the projected price is if I used West Texas Intermediate, which is $86.10 according to Econobrowser?  It's $2.99.  It looks like gasoline is starting to track WTI again.  Even if it's not, it's still good news.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some good came out of the "Inflamed Duck" session after all

Original at Electablog, who coined the term "Inflamed Duck."

The Inflamed Duck wasn't all bad, although it came pretty close, what with Right To Work For Less, expanded concealed carry, restrictions on abortion, a new emergency manager law, repealing the business property tax without replacing it, and making recalls more difficult.  Three in particular, Right to Work For Less, restrictions on abortion, and the zombie emergency manager law, stand out as examples of how Michigan has become Ignoreland.  The protests against the first two were the largest and second largest demonstrations on the Capitol grounds in Lansing this century, if ever, and the voters rejected the previous emergency manager law at the ballot box just last month.  Welcome to life in a republic, not a democracy.

However, some good things happened, along with some bad things not happening.  Follow over the jump for the list from the Detroit Free Press.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Geminid meteor shower and other space and astronomy news

Time for the past week's space and astronomy stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Doha climate talks conclude edition) at Daily Kos.  First, an event that is still happening, just barely. via Scientific American: A "Gem" of a Meteor Shower Is Coming up Next Week
The Geminid Meteor Shower offers stargazers a host of slow, bright fireballs and lasts for two to three days
By Joe Rao and
December 7, 2012
If you were disappointed with the meager showing put on by this year's Leonid Meteor Shower, don't fret.  What potentially will be the best meteor display of the year is just around the corner, scheduled to reach its peak on Thursday night, Dec. 13: the Geminid Meteors.

The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini, the Twins.  On the night of this shower's maximum the meteors will appear to emanate from a spot in the sky near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

The Geminid Meteors are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers, even surpassing the famous Perseids of August. Studies of past displays show that this shower has a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness. Geminids typically encounter Earth at 22 miles per second (35 kilometers per second), roughly half the speed of a Leonid meteor. Many appear yellowish in hue. Some even appear to travel jagged or divided paths.
More stories over the jump.

This week deserves Grumpy Cat

Friday, December 14, 2012

Expanded concealed carry, really?

Last night, this happened.

WXYZ: Debate over concealed weapons bill

The Detroit Free Press elaborates in State House, Senate pass bill allowing guns to be carried in more places.
Changes to the concealed weapons law passed the state House and Senate late Thursday, allowing trained gun owners to carry their weapons in formerly forbidden places, such as schools, day care centers, stadiums and churches.

Schools, however, and privately owned facilities could opt out of the new law if they don't want people carrying guns in their buildings.
[O]pponents, including state Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, said the bill went too far.

"There are just some areas where guns should not be allowed," she said.
Like schools, such as the site of the Connecticut shooting: 20 kids among 27 dead in school massacre.  WXYZ has reactions here...

Obama addresses nation on Connecticut school shooting

And here.

Adam Lanza identified as gunman in Connecticut school shooting

While White House spokesman Jay Carney says 'today is not the day for "Washington policy debates,"' others think today is the day.

In the wake of a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 dead, including 20 children, gun control advocates gathered near the White House in Washington. (Dec. 14)
I'm sure the demonstrators the Associated Press taped would think expanding concealed carry to schools is not the solution.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blogging as professional development: energy and air pollution

In my geology class tonight, I gave my lecture about energy and mineral resources and added the following image from a Grist article I used in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Doha climate talks conclude edition).   In fact, it was the conclusion of the lecture.  I decided to finish with some good news.

Grist: Nearly 50 percent of new electricity generation capacity added in 2012 was renewable
By Philip Bump
Every month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission puts out a report called the “Energy Infrastructure Update” [PDF]. It is done in Microsoft Word by someone whose first priority isn’t aesthetics.

But it does contain interesting information! Among which, this time: From January through October, 46.2 percent of new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. was renewable.
Yes, folks, blogging can be professional development.

I didn't include the following article's findings, as I ran out of time.  However, it would have been on topic.

University of Michigan: Fuel economy remains at record high, emissions now at record low
December 5, 2012
ANN ARBOR—Fuel economy of all new vehicles sold in the United States remains at its highest level ever, while emissions are at a record low, say researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Average fuel economy (window-sticker values) of cars, light trucks, minivans and SUVs purchased in November was 24.1 mpg, the same as in October and up from 23.8 in September and a full mile per gallon better than a year ago. The record-tying mark is a 20 percent increase (4.0 mpg) from October 2007, the first month of monitoring by UMTRI researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle.

The improvement in fuel economy over the last five years corresponds to a 17 percent reduction in fuel consumption (gallons per mile).

In addition to average fuel economy, Sivak and Schoettle issued their monthly update of their national Eco-Driving Index, which estimates the average monthly emissions generated by an individual U.S. driver. The EDI takes into account both vehicle fuel economy and distance driven—the latter relying on data that are published with a two-month lag.

During September, the EDI dipped to a record 0.80, down from 0.81 in both August and July and down from 0.86 a year ago (the lower the value, the better). The index currently shows that emissions of greenhouse gases per driver of newly purchased vehicles are down 20 percent, overall, since October 2007.
In fact, I could have used this articles in my final Environmental Science lecture for the semester, which was about air pollution.  I made the point that improving the gas mileage of cars also decreases their emissions, and this would have been a great supporting detail.  Next semester.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gas price rollercoaster hits 9 month low

Time to see if my predictions in the previous installment came true.
What actually happened was that the price at the corner station shot up to $3.55 from $3.37 this morning.  Good thing I filled up yesterday.  That means the price is now more in line with the $3.61 expected from the price of Brent.

The three stations a few blocks away are still selling regular at $3.37, so I'm skeptical the corner station's price will stay that high.  I expect it to drop to $3.49, then $3.45, at which point the other stations should increase their price to match.  Let's see if that happens.
The first part indeed came true; the price at the corner dropped to $3.45.  The second part didn't, but I'm not sad about it.  The three stations down the street held steady at $3.37.  In response, the price at the corner station fell back to $3.37 a couple of days ago.  Yesterday, all four fell to $3.35.

Prices haven't been this low here since February, when the WXYZ video I embedded also shows $3.37 for regular.  The Gas Buddy graph over at Econobrowser also shows that gas in Detroit hasn't been this cheap since then, too.  In fact, the current price is close to the low for the year, which was $3.30 back in January.

Is this price high or low given the cost of Brent?  The answer is that it's low.  Econobrowser is showing a price of $108.01 for a barrel of Brent, which should result in a price of $3.51.  Time for Professor Farnsworth again.

Too bad I can't use Farnsworth for other stories in yesterday's news, but they will be the subjects of other posts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Doha a dud, the planet is screwed, and other climate news

I concluded Climate news leftover: Melting ice caps with the following promise.
I'll have more climate news coming up later this week, including a story about the conclusion of the Doha conference.
Time to follow through with all the climate news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Doha climate talks conclude edition) on Daily Kos, beginning with that diary's top story.

Reuters: Doha climate talks throw lifeline to Kyoto Protocol
By Regan Doherty and Barbara Lewis
DOHA | Sat Dec 8, 2012 2:44pm EST
(Reuters) - Almost 200 nations extended a weakened United Nations plan for combating global warming until 2020 on Saturday with a modest set of measures that would do nothing to halt rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

Many countries and environmentalists said the deal at the end of marathon two-week U.N. talks in OPEC-member Qatar would fail to slow rising temperatures or avert more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

Environment ministers extended until 2020 the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges about 35 industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions until the end of 2012. That keeps the pact alive as the sole legally binding climate plan.

But the 1997 treaty, 23 days away from expiry, has been sapped by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada and its remaining backers, led by the European Union and Australia, now account for just 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.
Here's what I had to say about this outcome over at Kunstler's blog Monday morning.
I've also been following the U.N. climate conference in Doha, which managed to eke out what could barely qualify as a successful result under the most charitable criteria.
In other words, it's the bare minimum the delegates could do and still convince themselves that they accomplished anything.  It's times like this when I really do feel like humans are acting like Moties and I'm just another Crazy Eddie.  Speaking of which...

io9: After extensive mathematical modeling, scientist declares “Earth is F**ked”
Dave Levitan
December 7, 2012
Brad Werner has a simple question: Is the Earth fucked? He also has a remarkably complicated methodology yielding a very simple answer: yes, unless people start a serious global rebellion.

Werner, a complex systems researcher at UC San Diego, spoke on Wednesday at the huge American Geophyiscal Union conference going on in San Francisco. This is a meeting where a typical talk might be called "Status and potential capacities to sequester carbon of China's terrestrial ecosystem," or "The significance of the opening angle of pyroclast ejection during explosive volcanic eruptions." Werner's talk really was called "Is Earth Fucked?"

AGU Executive Director/CEO Christine McEntee told ScienceNow, "Our program committee evaluates the scientific merit of the abstracts and accepts those that meets their criteria. Our scientists are free to create the titles of their sessions."
Yes, this is a real talk.  No, this is not The Onion.  The one thing that the author thinks will save us is grassroots resistance to capitalism.  I wonder if he's a member of Occupy?

That's the short-term view.  Here are a couple of articles on the long-term one.

LiveScience: Have Humans Caused a New Geological Era?
By Tia Ghose
Fri Dec 7, 2012 03:13 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO — Humans drive trillions of miles in cars, clear-cut forests for agriculture and create vast landfills teeming with tin cans, soda bottles and other detritus of industrialization. There's no doubt that humans have radically reshaped the planet, and those changes leave traces in the Earth's geological record.

At the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union this week, geologists are grappling with how to define the boundaries of that human-centered geologic era, referred to as the Anthropocene. Despite our dramatic impact on the planet, defining our era has proven a difficult task.

"If it's to be a geological period, it has to be visible in the geological record," said Anthony Brown, a researcher at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, who is trying to define the boundary.
How about a mass extinction distinct from the terminal Pleistocene, about which I happen to know something?

Of course, the end of the world as we know it is nothing new.

Science News: BOOK REVIEW: Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth
By Craig Childs
Review by Sid Perkins
Web edition: November 29, 2012
The world could end any number of ways — and in a sense it already has, many times, in mass extinctions that paved the way for new life.
In chapters packed with vivid descriptions and lyrical language, Childs tells tales not merely of droughts and ice ages, but of globe-swallowing deserts and planet-freezing cold spells during which equatorial oceans were awash with slush. Chronicling Childs’ jaunts from Greenland to Mexico to a forbidding island in the middle of the Bering Sea, this thoroughly enjoyable book is a fascinating travelog of an excitable, seething and perilous planet where catastrophes are frequent, at least when measured on a geological timescale.
After all, even the Moties regain civilization, over and over and over again.

More climate news over the jump.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Detroit's urban agriculture ordinance and controversy over Hantz Woodlands

First, the good news from the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit's urban agriculture plans move forward
The Detroit City Planning Commission approved the city’s new urban agriculture zoning ordinance Thursday evening. The action takes the city closer to officially recognizing the city’s multitude of community gardens and encouraging new and larger urban farms.
Roughly four years in the making, the ordinance is expected to pass council easily, just as the commission approved it unanimously.
Kunstler should like this.  At least one city is trying to transition to a future where more people are involved in growing food, which is what he predicts.  On the other hand, Detroit should be careful.  As I've written before and am now telling my students, the solutions we develop here for our problems will be exported, even the bad ones.

Speaking of which...
The passage of the zoning ordinance does not settle the controversy over whether the City of Detroit should sell large volumes of tax-foreclosed vacant lots to large-scale farming efforts such as the proposed Hantz Farms tree-growing business. City Council is expected to take up the Hantz proposal again Tuesday.
Speaking of that controversy, WXYZ has a video report on that, as well.

Residents gathered to protest the potential sale of land near Indian Village to a Detroit company
This stikes me to be more about loss of local control than about the actual use of the land as a tree farm.  For that, one has to read the comments to an article by Jeff Wattrick of Deadline Detroit and Wonkette, who asks How Is John Hantz Different Than Dan Gilbert?
Really, what’s the difference between Gilbert’s strategy of purchasing downtown office buildings on the cheap and filling them with his employees and John Hantz’s plan to purchase city-owned vacant land for an agricultural venture?

Well, there is one difference. The majority of Gilbert’s purchases have been privately owned, partially occupied buildings that were already generating at least some property tax dollars for the city. Hantz is proposing to purchase barren, city-owned land, thus returning those parcels to the property tax rolls.
Given the choice between Hantz "grabbing" city-owned land so he can clean it up and develop tax-generating tree farms and the status quo—land as a city-owned liability with its own kind of “urban farm,” the kind that periodically sprouts old tires and discarded bags of Cheeto’s Flaming Hot, I’ll take the Hantz land grab every day of the week and twice on this Tuesday.

The fears of Hantz’s secret plans—he might build a factory!—are akin to 9/11 conspiracy theories and those Maine voter fraud allegations. Perhaps Detroit’s grape-throwing class hasn’t yet heard the news, but we’re living in a post-industrial economy. Rich white people don’t build factories anymore, not in the United States.

Hells bells, if John Hantz wanted to build a factory or condos or whatever, he’d probably just say so. If that were the case, the same people currently questioning his motives would throw him a parade.

The proposed Hantz purchase may raise a legitimate question about why one wealthy entrepreneur’s purchase offer rates so much attention when countless residents and small businesses have trouble purchasing neighborhood vacant lots from the city.

That’s valid, but denying Hantz doesn’t move us closer to a reality where the city—currently Detroit’s largest landholder—sells lots to tax-paying residents and businesses, for community gardens or pocket parks or even the occasional in-fill house, without a hassle.

Arguably, the Hantz sale might set a precedent whereby the city finally loosens its grip on its inventory of vacant and fallow land. Something it desperately needs to do.

At the least, the deal means Detroit will have 143 fewer acres available for illegal dumping.
That's the pro-Hantz view.  In the comments, Pro Detroit makes the anti-Hantz case by suggesting that Hantz is after the "Agricultural land tax exemption and Federal farming grants."  That at least makes sense to me, even business sense.  As for what else he calls Hantz, well, that might just be true, but I'm not going to repeat it here.  It also doesn't quite answer Wattrick's question.

As for my take, I think we're seeing the mirror image of the hysteria over Julie Bass.  I haven't talked to Julie in a while.  Maybe I should ask her what she thinks of this.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Climate news leftover: Melting ice caps

I collected this story for Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Obamafish edition) on Daily Kos. but then decided not to use it as it had been used two days earlier.  No wonder I forgot to use it in Climate news from commerical sources for 12/6/12.

Science News: Shrinking polar ice caused one-fifth of sea level rise
Comprehensive analysis quantifies ice sheet loss in Greenland and Antarctica
By Erin Wayman
Web edition: November 29, 2012
Scientists now have one polar ice study to rule them all. An international team of researchers has compiled 20 years of data from 10 satellite missions to create the most comprehensive assessment to date of Greenland’s and Antarctica’s shrinking ice sheets.

And the verdict: Between 1992 and 2011, the Greenland ice sheet lost 2,940 billion metric tons of ice while the Antarctic ice sheet shed 1,320 billion metric tons. All that water raised the sea level by an average of 11.1 millimeters, accounting for one-fifth of sea level rise over that period, the team reports in the Nov. 30 Science.

The findings are a good starting point for making improved predictions of future sea level increases. “Our estimates of ice sheet mass loss are the most reliable to date,” says study coleader Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds in England.
I'll have more climate news coming up later this week, including a story about the conclusion of the Doha conference.

Geeky and nerdy menorahs for Hanukkah

I'll begin with this one that I posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Doha climate talks conclude edition) at Daily Kos last night.

The Mary Sue: Things We Saw Today: Have a Happy Hanukkah With This Trilobite Menorah
by Rebecca Pahle
5:30 pm, December 8th, 2012
Etsy seller Trilobite Glass Works makes a menorah in the shape of a… wait for it… trilobite. Via Mental Floss’ list of 15 More Quirky Menorahs. Happy first day of Hanukkah, everyone!
More menorahs from Mental Floss over the jump.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pollution news from Scientific American

Time to wring the last bit of sustainability-related news out of Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Obamafish edition) on Daily Kos.  Fortunately, all of the remaining stories have a common theme--pollution.

Reuters via Scientific American: Wood stoves, extreme cold blight air at Alaska's "North Pole"
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Santa may need more than Rudolph's bright nose to get through the grimy North Pole atmosphere.

North Pole, Alaska - the Fairbanks suburb, not the spot at the top of the globe - has posted some of the nation's worst air-quality readings in recent days, thanks to high levels of wood smoke streaming into stagnant cold air.

Concentrations of particulates have made North Pole's air "very unhealthy," meaning children, the elderly and other vulnerable people should stay indoors and all residents should refrain from prolonged exercise, according to local government officials.

The "very unhealthy" classification was given in the past few days. A search of - the government portal which monitors air quality - did not reveal any other U.S. community currently with such poor quality air.
Scientific American: Flame Retardants on the Rise in Furniture
Couches and household textiles remain a major source of retardants, which can build up in our bodies and the environment. Some of the semi-volatile chemicals have been linked to cancer and altered hormones in children
By Brett Israel and Environmental Health News
Flame retardants in U.S. furniture are on the rise, with a new study finding them in nearly all couches tested.

The findings, published today, confirm that household furniture remains a major source of a variety of flame retardants, some of which have been building up in people’s bodies and in the environment.

In the new tests, three out of every four couches purchased before 2005 contained the chemicals, with a now-banned compound in 39 percent. For newer couches, 94 percent contained flame retardants, nearly all next-generation compounds with little known about their potential health effects.
Nature via Scientific American: Washington State Declares War on Ocean Acidification
The state, a leading U.S. producer of farmed shellfish, has launched a $3.3-million, science-based plan to address this growing problem for the region and the globe
By Virginia Gewin and Nature magazine
Washington state, the leading US producer of farmed shellfish, today launched a 42-step plan to reduce ocean acidification. The initiative — detailed in a report by a governor-appointed panel of scientists, policy-makers and shellfish industry representatives — marks the first US state-funded effort to tackle ocean acidification, a growing problem for both the region and the globe.

The state governor Christine Gregoire,  says she will allocate $3.3 million to back the panel's priority recommendations.

“Washington is clearly in the lead with respect to ocean acidification,” says Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
That's the end of the series of last week's news.  Time to start collecting this week's science, space, environment, and health news for tonight's edition.

Wheaton, Shatner, and Lockhart praise NASA spinoffs and other space and astronomy news

I concluded yesterday's post with "The next one in the series should be about space.  It's been three weeks since I last posted one of those."  As promised, here it is.  All stories originally used in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Obamafish edition) on Daily Kos.

The three video public service announcements about NASA's spinoff technologies narrated by Wil Wheaton, William Shatner, and June Lockhart together compose this installement's featured story.

NASA Television on YouTube: Wheaton Steps Up for NASA Spinoffs

Wil Wheaton, the actor who played Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," is host of a new public service announcement about how much of the technology we rely on daily was developed by NASA for space exploration and then adapted or enhanced for use here on Earth.
Similar PSAs are hosted by William Shatner and June Lockhart, both of whom also portrayed space explorers on TV and the silver screen. Wheaton, who also has a large social media following, explains how many of these technologies have found their way into our schools, homes, cars, computers and American industry.
Here are the other two PSAs.

NASA Television on YouTube: William Shatner's NASA Spinoff PSA

Actor William Shatner, who portrayed "Star Trek's" Captain James Kirk on TV and in film, hosts a video highlighting how NASA's outstanding accomplishments in space are used to improve life on Earth.
NASA Television on YouTube: NASA Spinoffs Lauded by Lockhart

Actress June Lockhart hosts this public service announcement about how NASA's outstanding accomplishments in space are used to improve life on Earth.
More space news over the jump.

Friday, December 7, 2012 article on U-M climate change survey

The majority of Americans surveyed think that government should take responsibility for addressing climate change.
Credit: University of Michigan
U-M study: Majority of Americans favor government addressing climate change
Large majorities of Americans now favor all levels of government taking responsibility for addressing climate change, a University of Michigan study released Wednesday revealed.  The Fall 2012 climate change survey, one of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE), showed that 73% of respondents thought the federal government should take at least some responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases, 72% felt that state governments should also do so, and 68% wanted local governments to shoulder some or a great deal of the responsibility as well.

"This represents a significant increase in public support from the past two years for all levels of government to address climate change," said U-M Professor Barry Rabe, director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at U-M's Ford School of Public Policy in a press release. "This also coincides with findings of considerable support for some specific policy options to reduce greenhouse gases."

The study found two policy options intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions had overwhelming support, renewable electricity standards and mandatory increases in vehicle fuel efficiency.  Support for both options declined significantly when the cost of purchasing electricity or vehicles increased 10% as a result of the policy.  Despite the decreased enthusiasm because of higher cost, both proposals still maintained majority support.

A third policy option, increasing taxes on the burning of fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, also called a carbon tax, had only a narrow plurality of support when cost was not mentioned, but was opposed by a majority if it increased the cost of energy 10%.  However, should such a tax be imposed, only 21% would favor repealing the tax, while the rest thought the money should be used to fund renewable energy research or lower the deficit.
Details at the link in the headline.  Also, here is the video embedded with the article.

Barry Rabe on climate change survey

University of Michigan professor Barry Rabe says that a majority of Americans think that government should address climate change and favor renewable energy standards and increased gas mileage.
Credit: The University of Michigan
This is good news, although not enough to make up for the bad news coming out of Lansing this week.  That crowd would likely ignore surveys like this in their last minute rush to get their deepest policy desires signed into law now that voters can no longer punish them for their votes.