June 1, 2015

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Pickerhead’s Iron Rule of Government is that it always screws up. Knowing that, would it surprise that the water crisis in the West is partially caused by federal policies? Scientific American has the story which starts in Coolidge AZ located almost halfway between Phoenix and Tuscon. We cut this long piece short but supplied links without firewalls if you want to read more.  

State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of the least hospitable land in the country. The valley of red and brown sand is interrupted occasionally by rock and saguaro cactus. It’s not unusual for summer temperatures to top 116 degrees. And there is almost no water; this part of Arizona receives less than nine inches of rainfall each year.

Then Route 87 tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life. Barren roadside is replaced by thousands of acres of cotton fields, their bright, leafy green stalks and white, puffy bolls in neat rows that unravel for miles. It’s a vision of bounty where it would be least expected. Step into the hip-high cotton shrubs, with the soft, water-soaked dirt giving way beneath your boot soles, the bees buzzing in your ears, the pungent odor of the plants in your nostrils, and you might as well be in Georgia.

Getting plants to grow in the SonoranDesert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat. That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away. …

… The water shortages that have brought California, Arizona and other Western states to the edge of an environmental cliff have been attributed to a historic climate event—a dry spell that experts worry could be the worst in 1,000 years. But an examination by ProPublica shows that the scarcity of water is as much a man-made crisis as a natural one, the result of decades of missteps and misapprehensions by governments and businesses as they have faced surging demand driven by a booming population.

The federal subsidies that prop up cotton farming in Arizona are just one of myriad ways that policymakers have refused, or been slow to reshape laws to reflect the West’s changing circumstances. …



Since a new earthquake movie (San Andreas) is out, it’s a good time for Smithsonian Magazine to write about what the next big CA quake will be like.

A giant earthquake will strike California this summer. Skyscrapers will topple, the Hoover Dam will crumble and a massive tsunami will wash across the Golden GateBridge. Or at least, that’s the scenario that will play out on the big screen in San Andreas

The moviemakers consulted Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, before they started filming, but “they probably didn’t take much of my advice,” he says. While the actual threats from the Big One are pretty terrifying, they are nowhere near the devastation witnessed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his onscreen companions. Even the largest of San Andreas’ quakes can’t produce a massive tsunami like the one that swells over San Francisco in the movie. “The really big tsunamis, like the one that hit Japan, are caused by earthquakes that generate a major displacement of the ocean floor,” Jordan says. The San Andreas fault sits far inland, and the land slips past on either side. For that reason, a quake also can’t cause the fault to split apart into a giant chasm as it does in the film. And despite the warnings of distraught movie scientists, even the largest of California’s quakes won’t be felt by anything but seismometers on the East Coast.

That doesn’t mean California is off the hook, though. While the movie may be more fantasy than reality, the Big One is coming, and it will produce plenty of destruction. “We think Southern California is locked and loaded, that the stresses have really built up, and when things start unleashing, they could unleash for years,” says U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Ned Field. …



Salt again! Peter Whoriskey in WaPo posts on new research.

For years, health authorities around the world have warned people that they are eating too much salt.

This salty binge is causing heart attacks and strokes, according to these warnings, and in the U.S. alone, authorities say too much salt is precipitating  tens of thousands of deaths annually.

Yet the response to these warnings has been a remarkable show of dietary disobedience. An estimated 95 percent of the world’s population keep eating salt in amounts officials deem excessive.

So who’s right – the people, or the health authorities? The question sounds naive, but in fact, some scientists ask the very same thing, and it lurks behind the debate that has sprung up this year over the government’s longstanding salt advice, which is embedded in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

At a major scientific conference last week in New York City, some presenters suggested that, in fact, the persistent global appetite for salt might be a sign that humans are geared for more salt than health authorities would allow.

These scientists point to new science indicating humans may be hard-wired to crave salt, and that there may be a natural appetite for it above the amounts that the government recommends. They point to the vast gap between what the authorities say is a healthy amount of salt and the amounts that people around the world are actually consuming. …



Turns out the best review of the new Wright Bros. book was in National Review. Best because it highlight’s McCullough’s delight in recounting government’s failures and the myopic national media.

… The story of the Wright Brothers was also a story about the efficacy of “government investment.” It turns out that the head of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Langley, who himself was himself an inventor and a renowned scientist, put a team of the best and the brightest minds together to launch a manned-flight project, and put some serious government money behind the project.

Only it didn’t pan out. The project, which cost some $70,000 — a large sum at the time — was a complete disaster, McCullough explained. “The Langley project unfortunately deterred the government from taking a serious interest in the Wrights because they really wasted so much money on something that didn’t work at all,” McCullough explained.

“‘We didn’t suppose the aeroplane could ever be practical outside the realm of sport,’ Orville Wright said. ‘It was the sport of the thing that appealed to Will and me.’”

Not that the Wright brothers would have taken the help. They thought that outside investment — from either the public sector or the private sector — would mean that they had relinquished control of their day-to-day work and decision-making. So they used their own money, and used it judiciously, rather than answer to any outsiders.

If you think the scientific elites fared poorly in this story, you’ll love the way the media elites came off. It turns out that, believing that a couple of bike-shop owners could not possibly do what they’d claimed to have done, never bothered to check out their story. But Amos Root, a writer with an interest in scientific pursuits, a guy who made a small fortune making beekeepers’ equipment, went down to Dayton to see things for himself. McCullough explained what happened next.

“He wrote a superb article describing the flight that he saw. It wasn’t only very descriptive. It was very accurate, and of considerable length. The first full accurate, fair reporting of this phenomenon that changed history was written by a beekeeper, published in his little newspaper.”

That’s right. It took a beekeeper to break the biggest science story of the year. But there’s more:

“Root then sent his story to Scientific American, saying, You’re free to publish this at no charge, and they just dismissed it as the writings of some whacko out in Ohio. The arrogance, the superiority of those who were in the know, again and again, in the government, in journalism, was almost comical.”

Our government elites weren’t much interested in the story, either. McCullough described the situation: …



Since he moved to the NY Times and went native, David Brooks has rarely been in Pickings. His last is worth our attention. The title is “The Small, Happy Life.” 

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in essays describing their purpose in life and how they found it. A few thousand submitted contributions, and many essays are online. I’ll write more about the lessons they shared in the weeks ahead, but one common theme surprised me.

I expected most contributors would follow the commencement-speech clichés of our high-achieving culture: dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world. In fact, a surprising number of people found their purpose by going the other way, by pursuing the small, happy life.

Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”

Young continues, “I have always wanted to be effortlessly kind. I wanted to raise children who were kind.” She notes that among those who survived the Nazi death camps, a predominant quality she noticed was generosity.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments. …


One person who didn’t sign on to a small life was a fisherman in Florida who landed a 550 pound grouper from a kayak. Daily News with the story. 

Next time he should bring a bigger boat.

A Florida man made a once in a lifetime catch when he reeled in a 552-pound grouper fish May 20 while sitting on a kayak in Sanibel, Fla.

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