Saturday, May 31, 2014

Earth and Mars in this week's space and astronomy news

Leading off this week's space news roundup from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Hurricane season arrives) are two videos about the Earth as observed from space by NASA.

First, Science at NASA asks a question about a topic mentioned in Hurricane forecasts as the season begins, ScienceCasts: El Niño - Is 2014 the New 1997?

The Jason-2 satellite sees something brewing in the Pacific. Researchers say it could be a significant El Niño with implications for global weather and climate.
Next, more climate research from JPL/NASA in Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2: NASA's New Carbon Sleuth.

NASA's OCO-2 mission, scheduled to launch July 1 from Vandenberg AFB, California, will make precise measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere. The orbiting observatory is NASA's first satellite mission dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth's carbon cycle that is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate. OCO-2 will provide a better understanding of the sources of carbon dioxide emissions and the natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and how they are changing over time.
Follow over the jump for the news from and about Mars, along with This Week at NASA and other general space news.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Prices shoot up for summer driving season

Before I update the situation in the local gas war, it's time to check the prediction I made in Gas prices jump in time for Memorial Day.
Once the corner station drops its price to $3.75 to match the other three, which I expect it to do tomorrow the comparison then will be to the lowered prices on the 24th of last year.  That weighted average was $3.78.  This year's prices will be lower than last year on the same date even if the corner station doesn't drop its price, which it will.
The corner station did lower its price to $3.75, but on Monday, not Saturday as I predicted.  Even so, prices remained below last year at this time, as I had calculated.

After that, I decided not to extend my forecast.
As for predictions beyond the corner station matching the neighborhood price, I'm not going to make them today.  It's a holiday weekend, and I'm going to stop while I'm ahead.
That ended up being a wise decision, as the stations did not raise their prices on Tuesday or Wednesday, as I would have expected.  Instead, all four of them jacked up the price for regular to $3.95 on Thursday.  I would not have predicted that.

Follow over the jump for why I was been surprised, who wasn't surprised, and the reaction and reasons for the price rise.

Thursday, May 29, 2014 article on petitions submitted for ballot initiatives

Volunteers from Raise Michigan showing the receipts from the Board of State Canvassers after submitting their petitions for a ballot measure to raise the state's minimum wage.
Credit: Sam Inglot of Raise Michigan and Progress Michigan (with permission).
Time to follow up on something I linked to in articles on wolf hunt ban and millage elections.
Also, there is the possibility of a pro-hunting measure getting on the ballot or, worse yet, having the legislature approve it, making both anti-hunting initiatives pointless.
This week, that happened, along with a couple of other things.

Petitions submitted for minimum wage, wolf hunt
It has been a busy seven days at Michigan's Board of State Canvassers.

Wednesday, Raise Michigan dropped off boxes of signatures for the ballot proposal to increase the state's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

The day before, the pro-hunting group Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management submitted their petitions to allow the wolf hunt to continue and appropriate money to control Asian Carp and other invasive aquatic species.

Finally,  on Thursday of last week the Board of State Canvassers approved placing a measure to approve the legislature's repeal of the state's personal property tax on the August 5 ballot.
Much more about all three measures at the link in the headline.

I've already said what I have to say about the wolf hunting measures.  As for the minimum wage measure, it might get on the ballot, but the result will be moot, as the legislature did an end-run and approved a lower minimum wage increase, repealing the law the initiative would have amended in the process.  I'm not thrilled about this subversion of democracy, but it did show that pressure from the people worked.  I'll also take the half a loaf offered.

As for the personal property tax, that had to go.  My first encounter with it was when I worked at Pre-Historic Forest and the owner was hit with it.  Any item not for sale had to be paid its depreciated value.  His response was to mark everything he could for sale.  that turned out to be prophetic.  The next year, the park closed and just about everything ended up being sold.

One more batch of Global Selfies from NASA

This should be NASA's last batch of Global Selfies.

JPL/NASA: #GlobalSelfie Photos of our Beautiful World

People from over 100 countries participated in NASA's #GlobalSelfie campaign on Earth Day, April 22, 2014, by sending photographs from some of the most beautiful spots on our planet. Here are a few.
I had no idea that NASA would get so much mileage out of this Twitter campaign.  With a success like this, the agency might just do it next year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

US exports of grain to Mexico increasing

While a Texas Tech professor predicts rising food prices because of drought and disease, Blair Fannon of Texas A&M reported on May 5, 2014 that U.S. grain exports to Mexico rise in value to $7.3 billion.
COLLEGE STATION – U.S. exports of grain, oilseed and related products to Mexico averaged 22.2 million metric tons per year from 2008-2012 with an average annual value of $7.3 billion, according to a report by the Center for North American Studies at Texas A&M University.

The result is a 22 percent volume increase over the average of the early 2000s and two and a half times the value, according to the research findings.

“Higher grain and oilseed prices on the world market were certainly one major factor,” said Dr. Parr Rosson, professor and head of the department of agricultural economics, Texas A&M University. “The other factor was increased demand in Mexico for grain-fed beef, which has risen, especially in major cities across that country. Increased number of cattle in feedlots resulted in not only more tonnage being fed, but higher prices as well. The third factor was a lower valued U.S. dollar during much of this time period, especially compared to historically high values over the past 20 years.”
Remember, food will follow the money.  If that means U.S. food prices rise to improve both the nation's trade balance and the profits of agribusiness, that's what will happen.  The good news is that Mexico's economy is improving enough to afford our grain.  That pleases me, even if it means I have to pay a little more for my food.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Texas Tech professor predicts rising food prices

For the daily post about food, I'm passing along distressing news from Callie Jones of Texas Tech that I included in last week's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Hurricane season arrives): Texas Tech Professor: Food Prices Could Continue to Rise Through Summer
Mindy Brashears appeared on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” to discuss current food supply issues.

Americans typically spend a relatively small amount of their disposable income on food, but that trend likely will change this summer, a Texas Tech University food expert told FOX Business on Tuesday night.

Appearing on “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” Mindy Brashears, professor of food microbiology and food safety, and director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence, said that Americans should expect food prices to rise because of the current drought and other issues.

In the last year, the U.S. pork supply has decreased by about 10 percent due to the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv). Meanwhile, the drought in California continues to drive up prices on beef, vegetables and fruit. Over the weekend, nearly 2 million pounds of ground beef were recalled by a Michigan packing plant.
The video doesn't seem to embed, but it can be watched here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Science of beer and hot dogs for Memorial Day

I posted my serious entry about the holiday with Silent images for Memorial Day 2014.  Now it's time for something more fun.  How about some beer and hot dogs?  Discovery News presents videos about the science of both.

First, Why Does Beer Foam?

We've known for awhile that when beer is poured, gases dissolve and make tiny bubbles that create a foam at the top of the drink! Now, scientists have found the secret as to why it is so thick and can last so long. Watch as Trace explains what makes the perfect foam.
Trace isn't kidding about how long a beer head can last.  When I was still living in Los Angeles more than 25 years ago, I was drinking a Guiness at Molly Malone's, a bar so Irish that it was used as a location for Patriot Games, a Tom Clancy movie involving the IRA.  The musician who was playing there needed someone to move his equipment from the bar he'd played at the night before, so I volunteered.  I left my beer behind.  When I returned an hour later, the beer was still there, head still standing.  Since it was a Guiness, it was just as good at room temperature as it was cold, if not better.  I was lucky my drinking buddies respected my drink and the servers let it stay there for my return.

Next, What's REALLY in Hot Dogs?

Hot dogs are a popular summertime food when you're out grilling with your friends and family. But what's really inside hot dogs? Trace is joined by Will Johnson to discuss the history of the frankfurter, and how you might want to think twice before consuming one.
On second thought, I'll skip the hot dogs.  Good thing I have a couple of nice kabobs to grill today.

Silent images for Memorial Day 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reactions to Star Wars VII cast announcement

For tonight's entertainment-themed entry, I'm taking advantage of today being the original Star Wars Day, which is the anniversary of the premiere of Episode IV, to make good on my promise to post reactions to last month's cast announcement for Episode VII, which I made first in Pyramids on Star Wars Day and then in Music for Revenge of the Sixth.*

First, here's what I posted at fandom_lounge on JournalFen last month. Star Wars: Episode VII Cast Announced (Warning: page seems to display properly with Internet Explorer only; Firefox and Chrome just retrieve text, missing the photo of the entire cast at Pinewood Studios.)

The Star Wars team is thrilled to announce the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in the new film.

Director J.J. Abrams says, "We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."

Star Wars: Episode VII is being directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer. The movie opens worldwide on December 18, 2015.
One of the items that only displayed properly using Internet Explorer is this publicity still, which is much easier to see at

The article pointed out an imbalance in the cast.
It should be noted, there are only two women and nine men (and two droids) in the cast announcement. Of course, with a large "space opera" ensemble, there will be many more cast along the way, and this doesn't preclude the possibility of more cameos for returnees to the franchise.
Follow over the jump for more about that angle and others dealing with the casting and Disney's reviving the franchise.

Advice for Memorial Day grilling from Texas A&M

For the daily post about food, I'm passing along this advice from Texas A&M that I included in last night's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Hurricane season arrives): AgriLife Extension experts offer tips on safe Memorial Day grilling, food safety
May 22, 2014
COLLEGE STATION – With Memorial Day weekend approaching, many Texans are preparing their grills for a family cookout, and to help ensure a safer, more trouble-free time, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts are offering some sage advice.

“It’s extremely important that people take extra care if planning to grill outdoors, especially in open areas,” said Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension specialist in family development and resource management, College Station. “Three out of four households have an outdoor grill, and cookouts are a Memorial Day weekend tradition.”

Data from the National Fire Protection Association shows gas grills were involved in an annual average of 7,200 home fires from 2007-2011, while charcoal or other solid-fuel grills were involved in an annual average of 1,400 home fires. In 43 percent of home outdoor fires in which grills were involved, the fire started when a flammable or combustible gas or liquid caught fire.
Cook safely this weekend.  I know I will.

Hurricane forecasts as the season begins

It's time to be a good environmentalist and recycle the top stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Hurricane season arrives).  The first one, which has been getting a lot of traffic, comes from NOAA.

NOAA predicts near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season
El Niño expected to develop and suppress the number and intensity of tropical cyclones
May 22, 2014
In its 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal season.

The main driver of this year’s outlook is the anticipated development of El Niño this summer. El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.

The outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.  For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).
That wasn't the only prediction NOAA made.  Follow over the jump for the agency's forecast for the eastern Pacific, as well as news of the first hurricane of the season from The Weather Channel.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rainbow unicorn farts in your general direction

I'm in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time" mood today, but it isn't a good mood, either.  To relieve it, I'm going to post two videos that include farting.  First, Rainbow Farting Unicorn.

Next, French Taunting - Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which includes among its many loopy insults "I fart in your general direction."

Put the two together, and it's "rainbow unicorn farts in your general direction."

There, I feel better already.

Asteroids--near miss and capture plans--in this week's space and astronomy news

It's time to finish posting this week's space and astronomy news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing).  There is enough for one more theme after composing Weather from space, Kids and animals in NASA's Global Selfies, and NASA on West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing--asteroid near misses and what to do about them.

Mike Wall of has both stories, beginning with Near Miss: Tiny Asteroid Gives Earth a Close Shave (Photos).
A small asteroid buzzed Earth Saturday (May 10), coming well within the orbit of the moon.

The near-Earth asteroid 2014 JG55 missed our planet by just 60,000 miles (96,560 kilometers), or about one-quarter of the distance between Earth and the moon. The flyby marked the third-closest asteroid near miss of 2014, researchers said.

The space rock was traveling about 22,000 mph (35,400 km/h) relative to Earth when it zipped past, they added.
That's an example of the problem.  Here's a possible solution: NASA's Asteroid-Capture Mission May Test New Method to Defend Earth.
NASA's bold plan to park an asteroid near the moon may also test out a new way to protect Earth from dangerous space rocks.

Last year, the agency announced that it intends to tow a near-Earth asteroid into a stable lunar orbit, where it could be visited repeatedly by astronauts for research and exploration purposes. NASA officials are still ironing out the details of the mission, which may bag up an entire small space rock or snag a boulder off the surface of a large asteroid.

If NASA decides to go with the boulder option, the asteroid-capture mission will also include a planetary-defense demonstration, providing the first in-space test of a so-called "enhanced gravity tractor," officials said.
Yes, bad news, good news.  Follow over the jump for the rest of the news.

Being 'hangry' is bad for your marriage

Being hungry can make people grumpy, which could lead them to taking it out on other people, including their spouses.  The Ohio State University reported the latest research in Lashing Out at Your Spouse? Check Your Blood Sugar.
Study finds that ‘hangry’ husbands and wives get more aggressive

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lower levels of blood sugar may make married people angrier at their spouses and even more likely to lash out aggressively, new research reveals.

In a 21-day study, researchers found that levels of blood glucose in married people, measured each night, predicted how angry they would be with their spouse that evening.

At the end of the 21 days, people who had generally lower levels of glucose were willing to blast their spouses with unpleasant noises at a higher volume and for a longer time than those who had higher glucose levels.

The study shows how one simple, often overlooked factor – hunger caused by low levels of blood glucose - may play a role in marital arguments, confrontations and possibly even some domestic violence, said Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.
Keep yourselves well-nourished and your marriages may be happier.  I'm going to take this advice and eat lunch.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gas prices jump in time for Memorial Day

It's been more than three weeks since my previous dispatch from the front lines of the gas price war, Corner station took a week to return to its trench.  That's not because I haven't been watching; I have.  It's because, despite two charges by the corner station into No Man's Land, the other front line refused to budge.  For the past three weeks, the three stations down the block held at $3.65 per gallon for regular, this despite the corner station advancing to $3.79, holding for several days before staging a orderly retreat to $3.65, then charging again to $3.89, which meant $4.04 midgrade, and standing its ground for several days again before beating a hasty retreat over the weekend.  This week repeated the pattern, with the corner station again making its claim in No Man's Land at $3.89, again.  This time, it retreated within a day to $3.87, then yesterday to $3.85, bringing midgrade to $4.00.  All the while, the corner stations remained at $3.65.  Today, they finally moved, raising their prices to $3.75.  This ended their determined stand to maintain prices that they had maintained since I reported them increasing prices to $3.65 in Another advance in the gas price war.  That happened on April 15, 2014, 38 days ago.  I must admit, five-and-one-half weeks of price stability was a remarkable achievement.  The prediction I made at the end of April of no price increases for the next week held true for three weeks!

Follow over the jump for the underlying price trends, a comparison with last year at this time, and some thoughts on where things might go from here.

Neanderthals knew how to boil their food

I can go back in time for food news more ancient than The ancient Egyptians ate their vegetables.  How about the Paleolithic, as Dan Vergano of National Geographic News asked Hot Stew in the Ice Age? Evidence Shows Neanderthals Boiled Food.
An ancient diet expert suggests our early cousins knew how to boil their meals.

Neanderthal cooking likely wouldn't have won any prizes on Top Chef, but a paleontologist suggests that our ancient cousins knew how to cook a mean stew, without even a stone pot to their name.

"I think it's pretty likely the Neanderthals boiled," said University of Michigan paleontologist John Speth at a recent meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, Texas. "They were around for a long time, and they were very clever with fire."
Boiling water, so easy even a Caveman could do it!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Weather from space

This entry's title is deliberately ambiguous.  It could mean weather as viewed from space or weather that comes from space.  Fortunately, both of them apply.

First, the weather viewed from space, as NASA presents NASA's RapidScat: Watching the Winds from Space.

Explore the science behind NASA's wind-watching mission, ISS-RapidScat, launching to the International Space Station in 2014.
Now, the weather that comes from space, as Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience and reports Solar Winds Linked to Increased Lightning Strikes.
Solar winds hitting Earth may trigger an increase in lightning, a new study suggests.

The research finds an increase in the number of lightning strikes after the streams of plasma and particles known as solar wind arrive on Earth from the sun. Exactly why this correlation exists is unclear, but researchers say the interaction of solar particles might somehow prime the atmosphere to be more susceptible to lightning.

"As the sun rotates every 27 days these high-speed streams of particles wash past our planet with predictable regularity. Such information could prove useful when producing long-range weather forecasts," study researcher Chris Scott, a professor in space and atmospheric physics at the University of Reading, said in a statement.
It's not just electromagnetic effects from solar flares that humans on and above the planet have to be worried about.  It turns out that space weather can affect real weather on Earth!

The ancient Egyptians ate their vegetables

On LiveScience, Alexander Hellemans asks What Did Ancient Egyptians Really Eat?
(ISNS) -- Did the ancient Egyptians eat like us? If you're a vegetarian, tucking in along the Nile thousands of years ago would have felt just like home.

In fact, eating lots of meat is a recent phenomenon. In ancient cultures vegetarianism was much more common, except in nomadic populations. Most sedentary populations ate fruit and vegetables.
Be like the Egyptians--eat more fruit and vegetables!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 article on Michigan Libertarian candidates

Michigan Libertarians nominate candidates at state convention
Monday, the Libertarian Party of Michigan released the names of all their nominees for federal office in Michigan.  These included candidates for U.S. Senator and twelve of Michigan's fourteen Congressional seats.  Among them are nominees for both of the Congressional districts that represent Washtenaw County.

The Libertarians also published a partial list of their candidates for statewide offices, including candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Michigan Supreme Court, all of whom will be on the ballot in Washtenaw County this November.

The Libertarians nominated the candidates at their state convention in Howell on Saturday, May 17.
List of candidates and what I could find out about them in an evening of research at the link.

There should be another article on the Libertarian candidates for state educational boards, state legislature, and local offices later, once they post them on their website.  After that, the next article I plan will be on the candidates nominated by the Green Party, who hold their convention on June 6-7.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Acorns for food, a nutty idea

Here's an odd food idea by Dawn Starin of Scientific American I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing): Is Reintroducing Acorns into the Human Diet a Nutty Idea?
If harvested sustainably and treated to remove bitter tannins, acorns may once again have a more prominent place in the kitchen

As the world’s breadbaskets strain to meet the demands of the Earth’s growing population, already more than seven billion strong, we could use another nutritional, ecologically friendly food source. Could acorns, the fruits of the oak tree, be the answer? Certainly, they are beginning to draw renewed interest in the hunt for sustainable alternative food sources.

Over the past decade various Web sites, magazines and newspapers have recommended that the occasional acorn-based items be reintroduced into our diets. With a growing interest in foraging for local, edible wild plants, eating new and ever-more exotic food items and the need (both real and imagined) for gluten-free ingredients sweeping through parts of the Western world, is it possible that acorns—small nuts that fit all of these criteria—could be on the verge of a dietary comeback.
More than 15 years ago, I read Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel," where the idea of domesticating oaks was discussed and dismissed.  Here is the reasoning from enotes: Why were almond trees domesticated for consumption but oak trees were not?
Basically, the answer is that bitterness in almonds is controlled by only one gene.  In oak trees, by contrast, the bitterness of acorns is controlled by many genes.

The reason that this is important is because this means that about half of the almonds from a tree that is not bitter will also produce trees that are not bitter.  By contrast, almost all of the acorns from a "good" oak tree would (if you plant them) produce an oak tree whose acorns are bitter.

This means that it would be much easier to selectively breed good almonds than it would be to breed good oaks.  Therefore, people would quit trying to domesticate oaks but would continue to try to domesticate almonds -- they would have a much better chance of success with the almonds.
Also, I recall that Diamond argued that oaks have long generation times and the selection pressures humans were capable of putting them under were less than that of the wild animals that normally eat acorns.  Still, if one could reduce the bitterness by a more expeditious way than grinding the acorns into flour and then leaching the tannins out of them for more than a day, I suppose it could work.  However, oaks will likely remain a wild-collected food source, like morels and truffles, for at least a century, even if they can be successfully turned into food for modern humans.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kids and animals in NASA's Global Selfies

NASA continues to relaease more Global Selfies.  This time, they're two videos of photos of animals and school children that I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing) on Daily Kos.

First, NASA #GlobalSelfie Photos of Animal Friends.

Several of the 50,000 images submitted to NASA for its Earth Day #GlobalSelfie campaign included greetings from animal friends with whom we share the planet. The photos were submitted as part of NASA's campaign to produce a mosaic "Global Selfie" to be released on May 21. The event was designed to encourage environmental awareness and remind people of NASA's ongoing work to protect our home planet.
Next, NASA released #GlobalSelfie Photos from Schools Around the World.

Schools from around the world participated in NASA's #GlobalSelfie campaign by submitting photos taken on Earth Day, April 22, 2014. 50,000 images were submitted on Earth Day and are being assembled into a mosaic image to be released May 21. The Global Selfie event was designed to encourage environmental awareness and recognize NASA's ongoing work to protect our home planet.
I'll have a post on this month's Nourish theme later.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The economics of anime and manga plus bonus movie links

Avril Lavigne - Hello Kitty

For tonight's entertainment-themed entry, I'm going to recycle and combine two entries I originally posted to fandom_lounge on JournalFen.  First, the perils of cultural globalization from All of Sailor Moon licensed for U.S. market plus bonus Avril Lavinge.

I begin with The economics behind Avril Lavigne's creepy "Hello Kitty" video from Ezra Klein's about the unintended consequences of the past decade's boom in cultural exports.
Japanese cultural appropriation is a bonafide thing.

For this, you can blame Japan's economy. Or at least sort of: Japan's economic rise and stagnation contributed to a massive corporate effort to export Japanese culture, which made it much more available to non-Japanese like Avril. For both good or, in this case, ill.

Broadly speaking, Americans have become much more aware of Japanese cultural touchstones - ramen, Pokemon, J-pop - in recent years. Between 1992 and 2002, Japanese cultural exports tripled in value.  Take a look at this chart of the size of the US manga (roughly, Japanese comics) market over time:

I was there for that expansion in the number of manga titles in the U.S. and the resulting boom in sales, along with booms in anime, video games, Japanese snack food, and collectibles, and I thought it was glorious.  I'd been a fan of Japanese animation since I was a kid in Los Angeles in the 1960s and watched the first Astro Lad broadcast in the U.S., along with Kimba the White Lion, The 8-Man, Speed Racer, and the Amazing Three.  Now, the grandchildren of all those shows had arrived and I could enjoy them all with my younger daughter, who was also a fan.  Speaking of her, follow over the jump for news about the show that got her hooked on anime.

Discovery News on the banana crisis

Discovery News provided an update to Student sustainability video festival 15: 'The Top Banana' trailer, when I wrote the following.
Time for another video presented by a student.  This one addresses a point I make every semester, about how the dessert bananas people eat are threatened by fungus because of the unintended effects of growing monocultures of clones.
Here are Trace and Tara, answering the question Why Are Bananas Going Extinct?

A new fungus called Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 is threatening to eliminate all the Cavendish bananas! Why is this a big deal, and are we able save this delicious fruit? Watch as Trace and Tara discuss this growing concern.
Now I have my choice of two videos to show to my students this semester when I lecture on this topic.  The trailer for "The Top Banana" is more fun, but the Discovery News one is more informative.  I think I'll show both and see which one works better.

NASA on West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing

It's time to post the big environmental and collapse-related news of the past week which is the lead story of Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing) on Daily Kos tonight.

ScienceCasts: No Turning Back - West Antarctic Glaciers in Irreversible Decline

A new study led by NASA researchers shows that half-a-dozen key glaciers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are in irreversible decline. The melting of these sprawling icy giants will affect global sea levels in the centuries ahead.
Follow over the jump for the news from the scientist's mouth himself in two videos from JPL.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Poverty and obesity from the University of Houston

Last week's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Mother's Day) on Daily Kos brought more news about poverty and malnutrition.  Consider this a follow up to both Nutrition news from SDSU and Nutrition and poverty from campuses on the campaign trail.

University of Houston: Long-Term Childhood Poverty Contributes to Young Adult Obesity Rates
Research from Department of Health and Human Performance, Texas Obesity Research Center
By Marisa Ramirez
May 8, 2014
A new study from the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) finds childhood poverty reaches into the lives of white, Hispanic and African-American young adult women, contributing to their propensity to be overweight and obese.

“We know that having a low socioeconomic status during childhood contributes to children being overweight or obese,” said HHP’s Daphne Hernandez, who also is an executive board member of the UH Texas Obesity Research Center. “We’ve found a connection between the long-term exposure to poverty during childhood and obesity rates among young adult woman.”

Hernandez examined how repeated exposure to poverty during childhood impacts a young adult’s risk of being overweight or obese. The results are published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
As I told my students this week, poverty leads to malnutrition.  Not only is starvation a form of malnutrition, overconsumption of cheap, fattening food leading to obesity is, too.  This study confirms that connection between poverty and obesity.

Catastrophe averted from solar flare and other space and astronomy news

Last year, I posted Meteors, solar flares, and U.N. action and The Weather Channel on solar storms about tracking, forecasting, and preparing for solar flares.  None of that compares to just plain luck in protecting our planet, as NASA Goddard pointed out in The Best Observed X-class Flare.

On March 29, 2014 the sun released an X-class flare. It was observed by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS; NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO; NASA's Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager, or RHESSI; the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hinode; and the National Solar Observatory's Dunn Solar Telescope located at Sacramento Peak in New Mexico.

To have a record of such an intense flare from so many observatories is unprecedented. Such research can help scientists better understand what catalyst sets off these large explosions on the sun. Perhaps we may even some day be able to predict their onset and forewarn of the radio blackouts solar flares can cause near Earth - blackouts that can interfere with airplane, ship and military communications.
Here's to the experience preparing us for the next time, should our luck run out.

Follow over the jump for news about more risks from space and other astronomy news.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Teeth and jaws of our inner fish

I had heard about this series but only watched the third episode.  Based on that alone, I recommended it to my students in biodiversity.  One of them watched all three episodes online and submitted reports on them.  That was enough to make me watch the clips on PBS's YouTube channel.  One of them was so good that I showed it to my other students as an example of both embryological evidence for evolution and fossil evidence for evolution.  Here is that clip, We Hear With The Bones That Reptiles Eat With.

Our ears are much more sensitive than most reptiles', due to the tiniest bones in the human body. But where did these bones come from? Evolutionary biologists Karen Sears and Neil Shubin show us evidence of their connection to the bones of ancient reptilian jaws.
Cool stuff.  Not only does it show a whole host of intermediate forms, but it introduces important characteristics of mammals.

If I'm going to talk about jaws, I'll also talk about teeth.  Here's The Evolution of your Teeth from Your Inner Fish.

The molars, incisors, and canines that fill your mouth have a deep evolutionary history. Join paleontologists Roger Smith and Neil Shubin as they trace the history of your teeth back to fearsome beasts that lived over 200 million years ago.
That's not all.  There's also What Can Fossil Teeth Tell Us?

You may not think there's much insight to be gleaned from a tooth, but paleontologist Neil Shubin shows us that's not the case. As he demonstrates with a collection of skeletons, teeth contain an incredible amount of information about how an animal lives its life.
By the way, these videos speak to me not just because my student watched them and wrote about them, leading me to show one of them to my biodiversity class, but because I have had a terrible toothache this week, one bad enough to convince me to go to the dentist.  As a result, I'm going to have a root canal next week.  I'm actually looking forward to it.  It can't be worse than the toothache and it will cure it, after a fashion.   Wish me luck with my organs of nourishment!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Driving update for May 2014: Ruby

Last month, it was Driving update for April 2014: Yuki.  This month, it's time for an update to Second driving update for December 2013: Other car, as Ruby rolled over 87,000 miles today.  Since the previous update was on Boxing Day, that means that it took 140 days for my wife's car to go 1,000 miles.  Amazingly, that's exactly how long it took the last time, resulting in an average of 7.14 miles/day and 217.9 miles/month.  Hey, look, absolutely no change!  When I wrote "Ruby's statistics should be interesting to see when she turns over the next 1000 miles," I had no idea they would be interesting because nothing had changed.

I also wrote "Even more interesting will be the total of both cars, as that's the stat that's really important."  Yuki turned over her previous 1000 miles must a week before Yuki, and it was during a week when I hardly drove, so I'll assume I drove the full 1000 after I came home from Chicago.  Also, I drove another 400 miles since the last update on my car, so I'll add that to the total.  Then subtract the 130 miles I counted in the previous joint update.  The result is that my wife and I drove our cars a total of 2270 miles in 140 days, for an average of 16.2 miles per day and 494.4 miles/month.  That is 2.9 miles per day and 87.3 miles per month less than the 19.1 miles per day and 581.7 miles per month I reported in December.  It's also less than the 16.75 miles per day and 510.8 miles per month we drove the last time I did these calculations.  Good, we're doing our part in driving less.

Diabetes news from Michigan universities

Here are two news items about diabetes from Michigan universities that I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Mother's Day) on Daily Kos.  Both came out on the same day, May 8th.  If I hadn't been burned out from posting articles on wolf hunt ban and millage elections, I might have written one about these two.

First, the University of Michigan reports Financial insecurities hinder women from adhering to diabetes regimen.
ANN ARBOR—Changes imposed by a diabetes regimen are considered unmanageable by financially insecure women, a new University of Michigan study indicates.

Study participants who were brought up with fewer resources were more likely to have family members who were diabetic when fewer treatment options were available, exposing them to the worst-case scenario. Women with more resources were aware of less severe cases and typically had more ties to the health care field.

"It became apparent that having previous knowledge about diabetes and the regimen, as well as having previous experiences viewing complications unfold among loved ones, shaped the experience of diagnosis and attitudes toward diabetes," said Emily Nicklett, U-M assistant professor of social work and the study's lead author.
Looks like a good reason for health insurance reform.

Next, Wayne State University reports Grape skin extract may soon be answer to treating diabetes.
DETROIT — The diabetes rate in the United States nearly doubled in the past 10 years. Approximately 26 million Americans are now classified as diabetic, stressing an urgent need for safe and effective complementary strategies to enhance the existing conventional treatment for diabetes.

Preliminary studies by researchers at Wayne State University have demonstrated that grape skin extract (GSE) exerts a novel inhibitory activity on hyperglycemia and could be developed and used to aid in diabetes management. Recently funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, this $2.1 million transitional study will provide insights into the novel inhibitory action of GSE on postprandial hyperglycemia and will also provide preclinical data in support of the biological effectiveness and safety of GSE and its components in potential prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

“It is hopeful that our research may eventually lead to the successful development of a safe, targeted nutritional intervention to support diabetes prevention and treatment,” said Kequan Zhou, Ph.D., assistant professor of food and nutrition science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and lead investigator on the grant. “Our study will provide important pre-clinical data regarding the anti-diabetic mechanisms, biological efficacy and safety of GSE that should facilitate eventual translation into future clinical studies to assess GSE and its components as a safe, low-cost and evidence-based nutritional intervention for diabetes.”
I hope this treatment works.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pests and pollinators this week in class

It's the second week of classes for the summer session, which means that it's about time to add new material to the stories I tell to my students.  First, here's an update to Giant African Snails returning to Florida, itself a follow-up to Giant African Snails invading Latin America.

As I expected, when I tell the story about “on a rainy day, when the snails all came out and crawled all over the road, the cars would squish them and cars would end up skidding on the squished snail,” the students say "Ew."  This semester, I was thinking of adding the video by the Florida Agricultural Commission.  However, I found something even better: Why giant snails are a problem for Florida.

Giant African land snails pose a big threat to Florida. CNN's John Zarrella explains why.
I showed that to my Biodiversity students this week.  They were suitably impressed.  If there's time, I'll show the same video to my Environmental Students in a couple of months.

Next, I showed my Environmental Science students the Discovery News video from Discovery News and PhysOrg on colony collapse disorder to explain the importance of bees and their ecosystem services to humans.  Those students were suitably impressed as well.  I could have done more to impress on the students the importance of pollinators, including mentioning the following article from North Carolina State University: Bee Biodiversity Boosts Blueberry Crop Yields.
Research from North Carolina State University shows that blueberries produce more seeds and larger berries if they are visited by more diverse bee species, allowing farmers to harvest significantly more pounds of fruit per acre.

“We wanted to understand the functional role of diversity,” says Dr. Hannah Burrack, an associate professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research. “And we found that there is a quantifiable benefit of having a lot of different types of bees pollinating a crop.”
That would have been cool.  I'll have another opportunity to explain the importance of biodiversity as natural capital in a few weeks.  Maybe I'll mention this research then.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

H.R. Giger dead at 74

Reuters: "Alien" artist, surrealist H.R. Giger dies aged 74
Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger who designed the monster and revolutionary sci-fi sets for the film "Alien" has died, his museum said on Tuesday. He was 74.

Giger, who was born Hans Rudolf in the eastern Swiss town of Chur in 1940, died on Monday in Zurich from injuries he obtained after suffering a fall, an employee of the H.R. Giger Museum said, confirming reports in Swiss media.

Famous for creating the otherworldly creature in Ridley Scott's 1979 horror film "Alien", Giger was awarded an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 1980.
Giger also painted the cover art for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery" and was the concept artist for a failed attempt at a Dune movie.

Above originally posted to deathwatch at JournalFen.  Follow over the jump for the value added section here at Crazy Eddie's Motie News.

100 Global Selfies from NASA

It turns out that I wasn't done with Earth Day when I posted Earth Day on and above the planet.  NASA followed up with 100 #GlobalSelfie Photos from Around the World.

These photos from around the world represent just a small number of the 50,000 photos that were posted to social media platforms in response to NASA's #GlobalSelfie campaign on Earth Day 2014. The 50,000 images are being assembled into a mosaic image of Earth to be released later in May. The Global Selfie event was designed to encourage environmental awareness and recognize NASA's ongoing work to protect our home planet.
That was cool.  I hope they do that or something equally fun next Earth Day.

Monday, May 12, 2014

National Climate Assessment 2014

Last week, the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment report was released, which would have been the lead story of Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Mother's Day) on Daily Kos if it hadn't been Mother's Day.  Here are the stories I included about the topic in that diary, beginning with NASA's Fleet of Satellites Help Understand Climate Change on This Week @NASA.

The third U.S. National Climate Assessment was released which took observations from NASA's fleet of satellites to help understand climate change in the United States. Also, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 spacecraft arrived at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base to begin final preparations for a scheduled July 1 launch. In Florida, the remaining flight hardware for the Delta IV rocket that will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test-1 in December arrived at Port Canaveral. At the Stennis Space Center, a cold-shock test for the RS-25 engine that will help power NASA's new Space Launch System rocket was completed. The Chandra X-ray Observatory found new stars, simulated space dust was created on earth, a new ISS crew trains in Russia, Shannon Lucid and Jerry Ross are inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and NASA recognizes the small business community for helping the agency work toward achieving its goals!
I'll have the rest of the space news later.  Right now, follow over the jump for what three campuses on the campaign trail, Indiana University, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, have to say about our current climate.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

More on Game of Thrones names

For my usual Sunday entertainment-themed entry, I'm going to stick to celebrating Mother's Day by following up on Game of Thrones--names, geology, and security theater with an update about names from Vox.

Naming babies after Game of Thrones characters got even more popular last year
A month ago, we tracked a handful of names from fantasy and sci-fi series (Khaleesi and Arya from Game of Thrones, Hermione, Sirius, and Draco from Harry Potter, and Katniss from The Hunger Games); unsurprisingly, the names' popularity tracked that of the series they come from pretty well.

Today, the Social Security Administration released name data from last year, and Khaleesi and Arya are doing as well as ever. There were 241 Khaleesis born in 2013, up from 146 in 2012 (a 65 percent jump). That puts the name above the likes of Stacy, Pamela, Janet, and Joan...

Arya also grew impressively, going from 756 (girls only) in 2012 to 1,135 in 2013, a 50 percent jump.
CNN noticed Arya's increase in popularity.
The fastest riser for girls in 2012 was Arya, the name of a beloved character in the "Game of Thrones" series on HBO.
According to Vox, "Arya tied with Madeleine and bested Amanda, Phoebe, Helen, and Karen."  Welcome to the power of pop culture!

The science of Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!  I'm kicking off this scientific celebration of the occasion with a video from Discovery News.

When Are Moms Most Likely to Make Babies?

Sexual habits vary throughout the world, and the times of the year that women give birth seem to shed some light on when babies are conceived. Is there a pattern to when women are more likely to get pregnant? Tara and Trace discuss some interesting habits among couples to try to get to the bottom of this question.
Follow over the jump for two articles from Vox.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nutrition and poverty from campuses on the campaign trail

Nutrition news from SDSU included an outreach story about how to educate low-income families about proper nutrition.  It turns out that wasn't the only story about nutrition and poverty from campuses on the campaign trail in my archives of Overnight News Digest on Daily Kos.  Here are two more.

First, Meredith Gunter of the University of Virginia reported back in January about U.Va. Study: One in 10 Virginians Receives Food Stamp Benefits.
Slightly more than one in 10 Virginians receives monthly benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, according to University of Virginia researchers in the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Research Group. SNAP payments in Virginia in 2012 totaled approximately $1.2 billion, as reported by the Virginia Department of Social Services.

This finding and others related to SNAP benefits across Virginia are detailed in a Census Brief released today, the second in a series of short publications depicting trends in census and other data of interest to the commonwealth.

SNAP provides monthly subsidies to individuals and families in or near poverty, specifically for the purchase of food; a family of four in Virginia with a net monthly income of $1,963 or less is eligible for benefits. Individuals recently unemployed are eligible for only a limited time.
The next month, the University of Michigan described how Poor conditions early in life may lead to health problems for many elderly in the developing world.
ANN ARBOR—Well-intended efforts to improve infant and child health in the developing world in the mid-20th century could be linked with increased risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease for people born during this period when they reach older age, a University of Michigan researcher found.

People born in developing countries in the 1930s through the 1960s lived their early lives when there was rapid improvement in life expectancy—mostly due to public health interventions involving antibiotics or other medical innovations. But for many of them, their standard of living did not improve, said Mary McEniry, a demographer at the U-M Inter-university Consortium of Political and Social Research, part of the U-M Institute for Social Research.

"Having a higher standard of living often means better nutrition and improved ability to fight off infections," she said. "We know that adult lifestyle—diet and exercise—can be very important in terms of health. However, there are now several studies that suggest that poor living conditions in early life can have long-range consequences on one's health at older ages.
As I wrote yesterday, here's to everyone being properly nourished.

Mars, solar flares, and this month's stargazing in this week's space and astronomy news

Since I am still in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time" mood, I'm leading off with something optimistic, NASA's Path to Mars.

Get an inside look at NASA's next steps in deep space exploration -- from the space station, to an asteroid and on to the human exploration of Mars.
I am just waiting for this system to become operational to rub Greer's nose in his prediction that the U.S. age of manned space exploration is over.  I'll tell him "one of these days, the last U.S. manned spacecraft will lift off.  But it wasn't when the last shuttle launched and it probably won't even be today.  Neener!"  I got to write something similar last week, when a skeptic at Daily Kos commented "NASA's Path to Mars is a load of crap.  If SLS flies any mission worthy of the name, I'll eat my hat."  I responded by saying that I'd save the salt, pepper, butter, and gravy for him.

Next, an item more appropriately doomy--how the Earth nearly got hit by a crippling solar flare in 2012.  Science at NASA has the story in ScienceCasts: Carrington-class CME Narrowly Misses Earth.

Two years ago, an intense solar storm narrowly missed Earth. If it had hit, researchers say, we could still be picking up the pieces.
Yes, monitoring and preparing for solar storms are good ideas.

Follow over the jump for more of last week's news from NASA as well as a look ahead to sky events in May.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Nutrition news from SDSU

In From baseball to permaculture, I brought news about food, farming, and nutrition from the University of San Diego.  Today, it's San Diego State's turn with two articles.  First, Alyson Faucett of SDSU writes about An Apple a Day.
San Diego health advocates team up to create healthy eating incentives for low-income families.

It is no secret that a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand; but making quality foods available to everyone is an ever-progressing mission. For San Diegans using government assisted nutritional aid, the Fresh Fund program made it possible to purchase fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets.

A team at the Institute for Public Health at San Diego State University in partnership with San Diego County Health and Human Services worked to execute and evaluate the program.
Federal funding from the Center for Disease Control’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative kick-started Fresh Fund as well as similar programs across the United States. Starting in June 2010, people using government assisted nutritional aid could use their credits to purchase produce at five San Diego farmers markets. For every dollar spent, participants would receive up to $20 in matched incentives.
Faucett returns with @FearlesslyFitt
Jessie Arnold and Andrea Nunez-Smith are experts in nutrition, fitness and Instagram.

San Diego State University students Jessie Arnold and Andrea Nunez-Smith are floor-mates, best friends and fitness gurus who are taking their passion for nutrition and fitness into the realm of social media. On their joint Instagram account, FearlesslyFitt, the dynamic duo posts workout plans, meal ideas, and “fitspiration” aimed toward college students trying to stay healthy while living in residence halls.
The idea for the Instagram account surfaced on a trolley ride to the mall. Arnold and Nunez-Smith realized that they had much more in common than their residence hall address.  Both are nutrition majors with high hopes and goals for their future careers and athletic achievements. The two wanted to find a way to help college students achieve their fitness goals, from running a half marathon to avoiding the dreaded “freshman 15.”
Nunez-Smith’s passion for wellness surfaced a few years ago when she found out she was allergic to a few very common foods. She began researching the effect different foods can have on the body and got involved with training for triathlons. She is now a nationally ranked triathlete and is training for an international competition in August.
Here's to everyone being properly nourished.

Good economic news from Michigan and elsewhere

I'm in the rare position of being able to report solid news and still indulge my "I can't be all DOOM all the time mood."  Of course, it's all good news from the perspective of Business as Usual, but I'll take good BAU news right now, too.

First, the University of Michigan reported that Consumer confidence improved in April.
ANN ARBOR-Consumer confidence has rebounded to nearly its highest level since 2007, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

Conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research since 1946, the surveys monitor consumer attitudes and expectations.

The April level of consumer confidence was just one index-point below the post-recession peak, according to U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys. The recent gain, he said, was due to much more positive assessment of consumers' current financial situations as well as renewed optimism about the outlook for the national economy during the year ahead.
That's the good news from a nationwide survey.  What about here in Michigan?  Wayne State University reports good news for this part of the state in  Solid economic growth for region continues according to Southeast Michigan Purchasing Managers Index.
DETROIT - The Southeast Michigan Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for April is 53.6. Though that's down slightly from 55.0 in March, it is still indicative of an expanding economy.  A PMI value above 50 generally suggests economic growth.

"The good news is the economy is continuing to come back," said Tim Butler, associate professor of supply chain management at Wayne State's School of Business Administration, who interpreted this month's results.  "That the PMI settled down a bit from March, only demonstrates that the rate of growth is continuing at a steady pace, overall.  Another indicator of an expanding economy is the three-month moving average index, which increased from 51.5 to 52.0," Butler said.

Comments from purchasing managers responding to this month's survey ranged from "Companies continue to hoard cash and postpone capital investments and hiring," to "We are beginning to see our customers finally breaking loose and ordering capital equipment."
It's even better where I live, with the University of Michigan reporting Oakland economy leaving recession in its dust.
ANN ARBOR—Now entering its fifth year of recovery, Oakland County is leaving the 2008-09 recession firmly behind in its rearview mirror.

After bursting out of the recession with more than 65,000 new jobs over the past three years, the Oakland economy will add nearly 43,000 jobs through 2016—11,000 jobs this year, 15,000 next year and 17,000 the year after, say University of Michigan economists. And for the first time since 2003, Oakland's unemployment rate will fall below the national average this year, dropping to 5 percent by 2016.

"We see the continuation of a healthy recovery through 2016, extending its span to seven years, but with the pace of growth moderating a little more this year and accelerating again in the following two years," said economist George Fulton. "Oakland's recovery is supported by an expanding U.S. economy, a recovering local housing sector and increasing vehicle sales, with the Detroit Three fully participating.

"All of this is backed by the county's strong economic fundamentals and forward-looking policy initiatives."
Three years ago, I mocked U of M's forecast for Oakland County in The Business As Usual people are optimistic about Oakland County.  It turns out that the BAU people weren't optimistic enough.  The forecast was for 29,000 jobs over the past three years.  The county added more than twice as many.  As I wrote in October, when I recall I last posted good economic news, "This is great news for Business as Usual.  Too bad these (still) aren't Business as Usual times."  It was still good enough to break out Professor Farnsworth then, so this month's even better news deserves him, too.

Follow over the jump for economic surveys from Florida and Indiana orginally included in the past two Overnight News Digests on Daily Kos, which aren't bad, but aren't as good as the news from Michigan, either.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

From baseball to permaculture

Even after Sustainable strawberries and coffee and How farmers can improve the environment, I'm still not done with articles about sustainable farming practices that nourish the planet as well as people.  Here's an article I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (NASA and Super Bowl) back in February from the University of San Diego: Muno: Permaculture Farming is Better Food for Life.
When Kevin Muno wanted to be the best baseball player he possibly could be during championship seasons at the University of San Diego, it wasn’t enough to simply hit, throw and catch a ball. The Torero outfielder (2007-11) knew proper nutrition was essential.

“As an athlete, I was looking to fuel my performance with some of the best nutrition possible,” Muno recalled. “Coach (Rich) Hill did a great job of instilling in us that it wasn’t just about working out, but the nutrition you put into your body made a big impact on how you played on the field.”

He researched different diets, worked with USD’s strength and conditioning staff and learned about the Paleo movement. Muno was educated on grass-fed beef, vegetables, perennial food sources and highly nutritious foods. But what he also gained through this research was a career path for his post-baseball life — farming.

“While I was learning about where the food was coming from, I began to realize that a lot of our food comes from farms very detrimental to our environment,” Muno said. “That’s what led me to farming. This way, I’m combining my passion for nutrition and my longtime love of nature and the outdoors. It just felt right.”
Much to my surprise, I've only mentioned permaculture in this blog twice before, once in 2011 and again in 2012.  It's about time I mentioned it again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sustainable strawberries and coffee

I have more on sustainable farming practices than I included in How farmers can improve the environment.  From Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (100% of California in drought) on Daily Kos come these two articles.

First, North Carolina State University presents Strawberry Fields Forever.
North Carolina is the nation’s No. 3 strawberry producer, but many of the state’s berries grow on small plots lacking the acreage to carry out sustainable growing practices like crop rotation. That, combined with constant concerns about soil pathogens and reliance on chemicals to rid plants of ubiquitous pests like spider mites, puts immense pressure on these farms’ long-term health.

Can North Carolina withstand this pressure and keep its top-three status behind fruit and veggie behemoths California and Florida, the top two U.S. strawberry producers?

NC State crop science Ph.D. student Amanda McWhirt is working with fellow university agroecologists, horticulture scientists and entomologists on a National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative research project to implement sustainable soil methods on strawberry farms – methods that won’t blow a hole in farmers’ budgets or overcomplicate their lives.
Next, the University of Texas reports Shade Grown Coffee Shrinking as a Proportion of Global Coffee Production.
AUSTIN, Texas —The proportion of land used to cultivate shade grown coffee, relative to the total land area of coffee cultivation, has fallen by nearly 20 percent globally since 1996, according to a new study by scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and five other institutions.

The study's authors say the global shift toward a more intensive style of coffee farming is probably having a negative effect on the environment, communities and individual farmers.

"The paradox is that there is greater public interest than ever in environmentally friendly coffee, but where coffee production is expanding across the globe, it tends to be very intensive," says Shalene Jha, assistant professor in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences and lead author of the study published April 16 in the journal BioScience.
Here's to more of our food and drink being grown sustainably. articles on wolf hunt ban and millage elections

It's time for me to follow up on Wolf hunts and millages with reports from  First, Michigan's Board of State Canvassers approves second wolf hunting ban proposal.
While voters were going to the polls to decide millage and bond questions Tuesday, Michigan's Board of State Canvassers decided two issues that will affect what will be on the November ballot.

The board certified a second ballot initiative to stop the wolf hunt in the Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  This will join an existing measure that will appear before voters in November.

The commissioners also approved the language for a petition to get a new party, the Independent Non-Affiliation Party of Michigan, on the ballot this November.
So I was right about the wolf hunting initiative and wrong about the petition to put a new party on the ballot.  The latter still may not happen, as it needs 32,261 signatures from registered voters at least 100 signatures each from seven of Michigan's 14 congressional districts to get the party on the ballot this November.  Also, there is the possibility of a pro-hunting measure getting on the ballot or, worse yet, having the legislature approve it, making both anti-hunting initiatives pointless.  That written, that this second proposal will be on the ballot is a small victory for sustainability.

Next, Voters approve Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority millage overwhelmingly.
Voters in Ann Arbor and both the city and township of Ypsilanti overwhelmingly approved a millage increase for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) Tuesday.

With all precincts reporting in a light turnout of 12.74%, the proposal to increase property taxes 0.7 mill to improve bus service earned 13,949 yes votes (70.69%) to 5,783 no votes (29.31%).

Other millage proposals being voted on in Washtenaw County did not fare as well, as two school millage proposals went down to defeat while one millage was renewed.
The overwhelming approval of the AAATA millage is another blow in favor of sustainability and against austerity.*  On the other hand, the school millages being voted down I find somewhat disappointing.  Stockbridge's would have funded improvements to the buildings and purchased equipment and buses.  Those are probably necessary and the school will have to do without.  On the other hand, Pinckney's would have funded playgrounds and public recreation.  I can see why that would have been turned down.

Follow over the jump for more news on the struggle between sustainability vs. austerity from last night's elections.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Music for Revenge of the Sixth

In addition to the promised reactions to Star Wars VII cast announcement, which will be coming later this week (possibly as late as Saturday), I have one more piece of music for Pyramids in Star Wars--the Star Wars: The Old Republic version of the Imperial March.

Here is the entire track: Domination, The Sith Empire.

Follow over the jump for more music from the Sith Empire on SWTOR.

Wolf hunts and millages

Today is an important day for questions of sustainability vs. austerity here in Michigan.  First, the state Board of Canvassers will be meeting today to decide whether to certify a ballot initiative to stop the wolf hunt in the state.  There is already an intitative that would do that, but the state legislature passed a measure that makes it meaningless unless the law they passed is repealed.  This new ballot measure would do exactly that.  Meanwhile, the pro-hunting forces are trying to get their own measure on the ballot.  This could mean we have three ballot initiatives about wolf hunting this November.  Won't that be fun?

The Board of Canvassers will also be considering whether to give the Independent Non Affiliation Party of Michigan ballot access.  In contrast to the ballot measure about wolf hunting, I suspect they won't approve it.

Today is also an election day for millages.  In addition to the usual school millages, there are two that I'm paying special attention to as questions of sustainability vs. austerity.  In my beat of Washtenaw County, there is a millage to improve service for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA AKA "The Ride").  I'm not only interested in this professionally, but personally, as I rode "The Ride" regularly for the decade I lived in Ann Arbor.  It was a great bus system then and allowed my family to go from having two cars and driving each one 100 miles a day to having one car and driving it 100 miles a week.*  Of course I'm rooting for it to pass.

The other question is a bond and millage for the Birmingham Public Library, one town over from me in Oakland County.  I'm not covering that for, but I am rooting for that one to pass, too.  Watch the WXYZ video.

Stay tuned for reports on all of these, whether reprinted from or directly on this blog, tonight.

*Of course, moving from Anaheim, California, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, helped.

How farmers can improve the environment

As one could probably tell from my Cinco De Mayo entry, I was in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time mood" this morning.  Three days of bad news was starting to get to me.  So, I think it's time for some good news about how farmers can do things to improve the environment while growing crops.

First, a Michigan State University study shows changes in farming practices could help environmental stability.
By changing row-crop management practices in economically and environmentally stable ways, U.S. farms could contribute to improved water quality, biological diversity, and soil fertility while helping to stabilize the climate, according to an article in the May issue of BioScience.

The article, based on research conducted over 25 years at Michigan State University and the university’s Kellogg Biological Station in southwest Michigan, further reports that Midwest farmers, especially those with large farms, appear willing to change their farming practices to provide these ecosystem services in exchange for payments. And a previously published survey showed that citizens are willing to make such payments for environmental services such as cleaner lakes.

The article is by G. Philip Robertson and six coauthors associated with the MSU Kellogg Biological Station, which is part of the Long Term Ecological Research Network. The research analyzed by Robertson and colleagues investigated the yields and the environmental benefits achievable by growing corn, soybean, and winter wheat under regimes that use one third of the usual amount of fertilizer—or none at all—with “cover crops” fertilizing the fields in winter.
It's not just row crops.  Penn State research reveals true value of cover crops to farmers, environment.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops -- widely agreed to be ecologically beneficial -- is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"As society places increasing demands on agricultural land beyond food production to include ecosystem services, we needed a new way to evaluate 'success' in agriculture," said Jason Kaye, professor of biogeochemistry. "This research presents a framework for considering a suite of ecosystem services that could be derived from agricultural land, and how cover crops affect that suite of services.

"Cover cropping is one of the most rapidly growing soil and water conservation strategies in the Chesapeake Bay region and one we are really counting on for future improvements in water quality in the bay. Our analysis shows how the effort to improve water quality with cover crops will affect other ecosystem services that we expect from agricultural land."
Here's to farmers nourishing the planet while raising crops to nourish us.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco De Mayo recipe from Tipsy Bartender

One of the ideas suggested by Nablopomo for May's Nourish theme is sharing recipes.  So to mark today, I'm sharing Tipsy Bartender's recipe for Cinco de Mayo Mexican Flag.

This Cinco de Mayo celebrate with THE MEXICAN FLAG! It's a layered drink loaded with booze! Make it it big batches for all your friends.
1 oz. (30ml) Rum
1/2 oz. (15ml) Simple Syrup
1/2 oz. (15ml) Grenadine
1 Cup Strawberries
1 oz. (30ml) White Rum
1/2 oz. (15ml) Coconut Rum
1 Pineapple Slice
1/2 oz. (15ml) Cream of Coconut
1 oz. (30ml) Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz. (7ml) Midori
1/4 oz. (7ml) Coconut Rum
1/4 oz. (7ml) Blue Curacao
1/4 oz. ( 7ml) Spice rum
1/4 oz. (7ml) Bacardi 151
Green Food Coloring (Optional)
Feliz Cinco De Mayo!

Climate change reducing food supply

As if it weren't bad enough that we may be facing a food shortage by 2050 and natural disasters have alreacy caused food shortages, climate change may already be reducing our ability to produce food for the seven billion people already here.  In March, Denise Chow of LiveScience wrote Draft UN Report: Global Warming Could Cost $1.45 Trillion.
The effects of global warming could cost the world $1.45 trillion in economic damages, with the planet's crop production projected to decline up to two percent every decade, according to news coverage of a new UN report.
Last week, North Carolina State University contended that this may be happening this year in the U.S. as Increased Drought Portends Lower Future Midwest Crop Yields.
Increasingly harsh drought conditions in the U.S. Midwest’s Corn Belt may take a serious toll on corn and soybean yields over the next half-century, according to research published today in the journal Science.

Corn yields could drop by 15 to 30 percent, according to the paper’s estimates; soybean yield losses would be less severe.

North Carolina State University’s Roderick Rejesus, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics and a co-author of the Science paper, says that corn and soybean yields show increasing sensitivity to drought, with yields struggling in dry conditions in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana during the 1995 to 2012 study period.

“Yield increases are getting smaller in bad conditions,” Rejesus said. “Agronomic and genetic crop improvements over the years help a lot when growing conditions are good, but have little effect when growing conditions are poor, like during droughts.”
As 'Years of Living Dangerously' is pointing out, climate change is NOW.