Friday, January 29, 2016

Got the munchies?

While looking for something else,  I stumbled on the fact that survivalists can buy 5-gallon pails of frosted flakes and cheerios.

Imagine a prepper, sitting in his stifling bunker with his shootin' arn over his knees munching through five gallons of rapidly wilting cereal flakes. It hardly seems worth surviving for that.


It appears we have avoided peak almond.

Plus, a Washington Post commenter alerted me to the development of a self-pollinating almond.  

I feel sorry for people who don't read newspapers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review 360: The Meaning of Fossils

THE MEANING OF FOSSILS:  Episodes in the History of Paleontology, by Martin J.S. Rudwick. 287 pages, illustrated. Chicago paperback

Martin Rudwick begins his five essays on “The Meaning of Fossils” about the time of Shakespeare’s birth, when scholars were trying to decide whether fossils had any connection to life. Ancient people had had no doubts about that, at least for the big, showy stone bones.

The Chinese thought these were dragon bones and pulverized them for medicine. There was thus no chance that a science of paleontology would start in China, because collections of carefully recorded specimens were a prerequisite.

In the Hellenistic and Roman world, showy bones were recognized as remains of fabulous creatures and giants and were deposited in temple treasuries. These might perhaps have led to a science except that, as Gibbon noted, they were swept away with much of the rest of civilization by religion and barbarism. Among the losses were marvelously beautiful triceratops shields that had been fossilized as gemstones. Somehow, these made their way to Greece from the central Asian deserts.

Americans were like the Chinese. The Indians and Spaniards noticed the spectacularly beautiful stone trees of el desierto pintado and left them alone.

American capitalist entrepreneurs planned to pulverize them for fertilizer. The government socialized them to save them for all of us, but government could not protect the fossils from the penknives and hatpins of Boobus Americanus. Within a few years they had pried off the calcite crystals that made the Petrified Forest sparkle under the Arizona sun.

In the sixteenth century, scholars began trying to sort out the curiosities that were considered “fossils,” some of which were inorganic, some not. They did not come to a conclusion about whether any were remnants of former life, in part because the state of knowledge of biology was too sketchy, in part because their Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophies did not lead them to ask that question. Here, and throughout these lectures that were delivered in the 1970s, Rudwick is concerned to debunk the idea, promoted by Victorian historians, that it was religion that retarded the recognition of what fossils meant.

He is party convincing as regards thinkers who may be called (anachronistically) scientists, not so much about Christian intellectuals. Cotton Mather was perhaps the first American to pay attention to fossils, and his thoughts were every bit as silly and prejudiced as any Victorian historians alleged them to be.

By Mather’s time, scientists were nailing down the organic origin of fossils – shark’s teeth were important here – and beginning to consider whether fossils could answer questions such as, how old is the Earth?

This led, by the time of the French Revolution, to conclusions about stratigraphy, classification and the length of time life had existed.
Most of this advance happened under government auspices in Paris, and England – in the grips of religious obscurantism – became a backwater in the developing science of paleontology (and other sciences as well).

Rudwick notes that ideas that later became important originated in odd corners of inquiry, and progress was strongly determined by discoveries that became more and more numerous but were not plannable – except in the sense that a growing army of trained investigators was looking everywhere.

The final chapter takes the history to about 1870, by which time Darwin, the geologists, botanists and bone-hunters had completed the framework by which we understand fossils today. Except, of course, for that large fraction of Boobus Americanus whose understanding is stuck about where it was when Shakespeare was born.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

You gotta read past the hedline

In The Washington Post, Adam Taylor has a story that is interesting in itself:

The ‘Obama is a Muslim’ conspiracy theory is still reverberating in the Middle East

But if you read the whole thing, including the comments, you learn that 

1. The ex-police chief of Dubai has 1.2 million Twitter followers

2. The polls repeatedly finding that many, probably most American Republicans believe 
Obama is a Muslim are likely accurate

Home, home on the gun range

Life chez Palin:

There were guns scattered  throughout the house, but the armed Palin society did not make for a polite Palin society.

Having guns scattered throughout the house did not decrease the likelihood that one of the residents would be shot but increased it.


Father and son die in shootout at Pearl River County gun shop 

 Does it seem to you that the gun incidents are getting more and more baroque? It does to me:

Co-Founder Of Anti-Obama March Shot Between The Eyes By Organizer Over Gun Dispute

Read more here:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review 359: Spectacle

SPECTACLE: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, by Pamela Newkirk. 297 pages, illustrated. Amistad, $25.99

Displaying unwilling humans is just about the oldest civilized activity. Wall paintings and bas-reliefs from earliest Egypt and Sumer depict captives being humiliated. The drive to do this has not noticeably diminished over 5,000 years.

March 20 will be the 100th anniversary of the suicide of Ota Benga, a Congolese Pygmy who was a big draw for gaping Americans at both the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and, two years later, in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo.

This is not merely a curious episode from a bygone age, when the most eminent figures in American anthropology conspired with a deranged South Carolina racist to kidnap and humiliate and make money from the misery of a small African. Not small only because he was a Pygmy but because he may have been a child. Pamela Newkirk, professor of journalism at New York University, shows that some of the leading institutions of today — including the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Zoological Society, the Smithsonian Institution and elite universities from Chicago to Dartmouth — are still lying, covering up and distorting their shameful part in the affair.

Newspapers, too, performed vilely, for the most part, although a few supported a band of mostly black ministers who fought for the freedom of Ota Benga.

It says a great deal about American morality that when Ota Benga was locked in a cage and shown for two bits a look that thousands of ordinary Americans thought it amusing to burn him with cigarettes, stone him and chase him. And that it did not seem to occur to the elite of New York that slavery was supposed to have been outlawed 40 years earlier.

It took a Scot, Rev. R.S. MacArthur, to point out to white racists what they were doing. Even after he did, many saw nothing wrong with it.

Ota Benga’s personal disaster was an episode of the great capitalist genocide in the Congo, which killed more people than died in Hitler’s Holocaust. Or Stalin’s destruction of the Ukrainian peasantry. Or Abdul Hamid’s slaughter of the Armenians.

All these famous atrocities were smaller (in terms of lives taken) and shorter than King Leopold II’s money-making enterprise; and if there is an omission in Newkirk’s retelling, it is the slight attention she pays to the American businessmen, including famous names like Guggenheim,  who — long after a small band of moralists led by the English shipping agent E.D. Morel had exposed the atrocity — scrambled to get in on the slaughter.

On the other hand, Newkirk spends a lot of effort in portraying the educational and cultural infrastructure of African-Americans in the years after Emancipation. It is easy to see why; few Americans know anything about it and she is seizing a teachable moment, but the late pages of “Spectacle” drag as a result.

Still, she holds up a mirror and many an American of today should see himself in it and burn with shame.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hemp is not our future

I rarely write a letter to the editor, and then the motivation is the same that inspires the occasional stating-the-obvious-that-no-one-else-has-expressed post at RtO: Some things are so obvious (like, for example, the sun is not yellow although every depiction of it you have ever seen is bright yellow) that no one notices.

Thus my letter, published today, suggesting a new airport on the cane lands in the valley. It would not require more than a small fraction of HC&S's land; I estimate 1,500 acres or so. So, what will happen to the rest?

The short answer was stated by Ben Lowenthal in his State of Aloha column last week, where he noted that the abandoned Haserot and Libby pine fields around Haiku remain unused 40 or more years after going out of production. Or, as HC&S managers used to say, if it can be grown in the San Joaquin Valley, you cannot grow it in Hawaii and make a profit.

A worm's eye answer was supplied in a post by the Hawaii's Farmer's Daughter.

A problem in a country where 49 out of 50 people have never lived on a farm, and where 48 out of 50 have no knowledge of what farming involves, is that 48 or 49 out of 50 Americans have delusional ideas about where food comes from. For the anticane people on Maui, 50 out of 50.

Hemp, hemp, hemp they say. It won't be hemp.

Although hemp grows most anywhere, it prefers high latitudes. Enthusiasts who like to cite evidence that shamans smoked hemp thousands of years ago in Siberia might like to consider the obvious: The climate of Siberia is not like the climate of Maui.

Americans tried to grow hemp in the 19th century. For every 100 acres of cotton, there were 9 acres of hemp, mostly in Kentucky and Missouri, also with climates unlike Maui's. They weren't very good at it. The hemp was used to make burlap to enclose cotton bales, but high-value products like cordage were always made of Russian hemp, which was superior. (The patient muzhiks retted their hemp under snow; the impatient Americans spoiled their fibers.)

Hemp may have thousands of uses, but so do any plants. Plants are alike: They make cellulose, sugars, starches, fats and proteins. There is great variety in the proteins, from gluten that makes dough stretchy to poisons that make insects sick, but the other products are much of a muchness.

Some plants produce in forms that are more convenient to use than others. That is why ethanol is made from corn and not from hemp. Cellulosic ethanol, like the Second Coming of Jesus, has been promised repeatedly but somehow never happens.

Now that natural-fiber cordage has been replaced by petroleum-derived fibers, the practical uses of hemp are few and minor. France is the largest producer, most of it used for animal bedding. The total acreage planted to hemp in France amounts to about two-thirds the acreage of HC&S.  



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Biology, how does it work?

When I hear the anti-GMO and anti-evolution kooks talk, I look at my hands.

Talking about "foreign" genes is nonsense. We share many, many genes with animals. Limbs, for example, take many forms in their derived state, but the genes that are behind 4-limbedness go  back a looong way.

Same with the genes for sight (light recognition).

Now, according to a report in the New York Times, scientists have identified the ur-gene that accounts for multicellularity.

That's really far back, maybe 800 million years.

Not only that, but they re-created the original version of the gene evolved by unicellular creatures. And they determined that it evolved by a single site mutation from a gene that had another function entirely.

You don't really understand something until you can take it apart and mix up the parts and put it back together.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The alternative reserve currency

Remember all that talk about the renminbi replacing the dollar as a reserve currency, or even as a favored trading currency?

Boy,  do those people look silly!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Cane going

Jill Engledow has a good round-up on implications of shutting down HC&S's cane farming on her Maui Then and Now blog.

She'll be slimed.

She does not consider EMI's water leases. I don't see how these can be preserved, although first the diversified agriculture that A&B proposes to replace cane will have to fail, I suppose. It will.

This cannot be good for Wailuku Water's leases either.

Good news for the Hawaiians and their supporters who want streams restored. Just don't expect any more poi.

The antismokers, a group with no aloha, are going to eat dust. I hope they like it.

Too much cocoa?

Although I  didn't notice, 2015 was supposed to be a tough year for chocolate eaters. Now Rabobank predicts (via Bloomberg News) a surplus of cocoa in 2016. Good news for most, I suppose.

The prediction depends upon more normal rainfall and continued political stability in West Africa. Neither a surety, especially the political stability. West Africa is in the Koran Belt and the expansion of the current Islamic purification movement seems as likely to extend to West Africa as anywhere else. 

If it is also true, as reported, that banana farmers are going to be hard hit by disease, then I would expect some to turn to cocoa -- the plants have similar growing preferences.

The ghost of Julian Simon must be chuckling. He scores over Paul Ehrlich again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wanted: Billy Jack Cheese Balls

So you saw that the bird refuge revolutionaries put out a call for snacks. They have guns, thye can kill their own snacks. But they also asked for other contributions to help them through an occupation that might last as long as the siege of Masada. RtO has suggestions but feel free to add your own.

1. AstroGlide

2. Birdseed

3. "How to Win Friends and Infuence People," by Dale Csrnegie

4. diapers

5. those little bars of soap you get at motel 6

6. NYC subway map

7. orange sticks

8. bongs

9. the annotated edition of "Mein Kampf" that came out this week

10. Deer B Gon

11. eyeliner

12. Turtle Wax

Why Glass-Steagall can work

Almost since RtO started in early 2008, I have been calling for a restoration (and modernization) of the Glass-Stagall Act, which was the primary regulation that kept American financial mrkets stable for 60 years, despite the incompetennce of the people who managed them.

(I describe myself as a New Dealer,  and Social Security Insurance and Glass-Steagall are the primary reasons.)

Now Senator Sanders has made a modern version of G-S a plank in his platform. H. Clinton and Larry Summers are sniping at him. Note that Summers was one of the worst secretaries of the Tresury in history.

I would hope that the gem of this discussion -- restoration of something that works like Glass-Steagall did -- does not get lost in the maneuvering of the contestants for the presidential nomination. Here is a nice little summary of how and why G-S was and is a good idea.

Professor Hockett uses the musical chairs analogy that I have used so often, and generally his short summary is incisive, except in one respect. It was not AIG's lending that caused the nearly-fatal clog in the financial markets but its insane underwriting of guarantees on swaps. That's a point crucial to understanding why the Bush government responded as it did in October 2008, but not especially relevant to the argument in favor of Glass-Steagall.

A note on the side: Future social historians of the United States are going to have a time describing how 3 men who were almost universally described as the smartest men in politics of their time managed to maintain those reputations despite unbroken records of disasters on a stupendous scale: Summers, Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Looking back, looking forward

One safe prediction for 2016 is that Americans will, for the most part, not bother to vote. Why is that?

At the extremes, you will hear that voting cannot make any difference, that the corporations (or the Jews or the liberal media or whatnot) run everything and it doesn’t matter which party is in power. But — and here RtO is merely stating the obvious — that cannot explain why people vote even less in local elections than in state or national elections, though it seems unlikely that anyone really thinks Citibank bothers to exert its influence on the level of a county commissioner election.

Obviously — and this year-end post is going to consist entirely of obviousnesses — people who could vote don’t bother because they are generally content with how the country is being run. The malcontents are noisier but the contents speak more clearly by saying nothing much.

This was to be expected. A government of the people should gradually solve its problems. After a couple of centuries, most of the big problems should have been corrected. They have been.

The issues that tore the nation almost to pieces in the 19th century are now so remote that only students of history even know what they were:

Slavery is an exception, but how many citizens remember that it was a big issue whether the United States should have a national bank and paper currency? Rand Paul but he is only a lonely crank. Or votes for women? Restrictions on child labor? Newt Gingrich but he is only a lonely crank. National parks? Only libertarian crackpots think those were a mistake.

Standing army? Settled. Income tax? Settled. Copyright for intellectual property? Settled and approved everywhere outside Silicon Valley.

National highways? Approved by all. Deed covenants to keep out Jews and blacks? Illegal. Using the National Guard to shoot workers? Hasn’t happened since 1936. Looking to the Ku Klux Klan for moral leadership? Millions of Americans did in the Roaring Twenties but now the KKK is a national joke.

How about a government old age pension or a public safety and welfare program for those not able to support themselves? Both are still widely hated by many but neither is much of an issue.

Unemployment insurance? That used to be a moral issue but the Bush Crash exterminated any residue of doubters outside the Cato Institute. 

There are still problems to be addressed, but none equals the enormity of slavery or has the potential impact of the switch to fiat currency. Today,we are asked to think that something called net neutrality is a vital issue. So low has the content of public controversy fallen.

It is the premise of Restating the Obvious that people know a lot more than they realize, they just haven’t taken a moment to reflect.

For example, in 2015 every American realized:

— that the right-wingers were lying about death panels.

— that the right-wingers were lying about guns being confiscated.

In 2015, no hurricanes touched the United States, the tenth year in a row that hasn’t happened. That explains a lot about why few Americans take global warming seriously. That and the fact that of the 40 college bowl games this season, only two were played north of Annapolis: New York and Boise. Americans have been moving to warmer climates for three generations. Small wonder they don’t get excited about a warmer climate.

In 2015, of the two in three Americans who don’t have a gun, 99.999999% never had occasion to need one. Even of the Trembling Third who do keep guns, 99.999999% had no more occasion to grab a firearm for protection than a sterling silver fishknife.

Yet in 1875, many Americans either had or aspired to have a silver fishknife. Thanks to the father of one of my high school classmates, who invented the fish stick, most Americans have never seen a silver fishknife, and I’d bet that 8 in 0 have never even heard of it.

For my money, the biggest public event of 2015 was the growing national perception that guns serve no useful function in a modern society. For those who didn’t get the message, 205 was a year of rising anxiety and extravagant purchases of guns and ammunition. As these slowly rust away, even they will sooner or later begin to think the 2nd Amendment was a bad idea.

UPDATE: New Year's night

The same old story, terrified gun nut shoots own child.


Thinking it over, it occurs to me that sports, despite its ridiculousness, is a fairly sensitive barometer of public opinion. It is not only bowl games that have failed to migrate north despite the alleged change in climate.

Spring training started in the 1890s (according to Wikipedia) in Florida and became common by 1913. Experiments with locations were extensive, from Hawaii to the Dominican Republic, and occasionally as far north as Hot Springs. But the only significant shift has been not north but west, to Arizona.