Sierras snowpack one-third less than smallest on record


The bulk of California’s water comes from Sierras snowpack. This year, the snowpack numbers are dreadful. The worst ever previous snowpack was 25% of normal in 1997. This season, which ends April 1, it is a mind-numbing 8%. However, this does not yet herald  The End Of The World As California Knows It. Read on!

Snowmelt from the Sierras flows down to the Sacramento Delta, and then southward via aqueducts to the Central Valley and southern California. In a good rain year, there are too many interests competing for too little water in the Sacramento Delta. This year there will be much less water than normal.

The Colorado River basin had a good year, 90% of normal. However Imperial Valley CA agriculture and southern California lay a big claim to that water, as least 20%, much of which goes for agriculture in a baking desert. They use Lake Mead water for that, as does Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson. If the California drought continues, the big cities of the southwest will almost certainly act to prevent the Imperial Valley from taking its 20% share of all Colorado River water.

However, it may not need to get that. Some wise and calming words from California Water Blog.

Statistically, last year’s drought is about a one in 15-30 year event. With a changing climate and growing water demands, we should prepare for such droughts occurring more than once a generation.

California will not run out of water this year, or next, if we are careful. We will respond mostly as we did last year, with some modest changes.

In rough order of importance, California will make up most of this year’s water shortage by:

  • Additional groundwater withdrawals of perhaps 5 million or more acre-feet
  • Reductions in urban and environmental water uses and agricultural fallowing — totaling perhaps 4 million acre-feet
  • Shifting perhaps 1 millon acre-feet of water use from lower to higher economic values through water markets
  • Depleting reservoir storage by perhaps 1-2 million acre-feet
  • Increasing wastewater reuse and other conservation efforts

Another problem for California is less water means less hydropower, which results in  reduced supplies of electricity.

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US far-left parties declare united front. The Empire trembles

As one who has traveled the far-left extensively, I got a giggle out of this. Two itty bitty far-left groupscules no one has heard of have announced they are joining together. One wonders if they will merge their tedious manifestos, a perilous task indeed. However, given that both websites are humorless, filled with endless prose, and have as few images as possible (because that would be frivolous and boojie), perhaps they can pull off the merger. All fifty of them.

It came as a surprise then to witness two of the more active far-left parties, the American Party of Labor and the Party of Communists USA announced that they would work together in the future.

The Party of Communists has a long and rich history, having been formed in May 2014. APL is similarly quite young. Both are revolutionary Marxist vanguard parties. This means they will lead the revolution as they have the Proper Understanding and the rest of you unenlightened sods are expected to follow obediently. The big problem with all this for them is they resolutely refuse to understand the American working class is not going to go commie. It just isn’t. Instead, any real revolution and change in this country will have to emerge out of the middle class and will probably be called populism.

Alert observers of the far-left will immediately notice exclusion of a major player from consideration.

We need more cooperation between the left-wing, between the greens and the communists, between the socialists and the progressives. If these two organizations can come together in brotherhood, we all can.

I am of course, referring to anarchists. The socialist-anarchist split is the oldest on the far left, going back more than a century. Revolutionary Marxists can barely stand to acknowledge existence of anarchists, much less deal with them as equals. So much for solidarity.

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Red Acre Farm CSA in Cedar City UT needs help


The Patterson family has been operating Red Acre Farm, an organic, bio-dynamic farm and CSA, for ten years. Symbria and her daughter Sara are pillars of the local food movement in Utah, and recently spearheaded the successful effort to make herd shares legal in Utah. However, their work would not have been possible without the constant support of Symbria’s husband Lynn, who built their infrastructure and worked as a contractor to help support the growth of the farm.

Lynn Patterson passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Tuesday night, March 24. Friends have started a GoFundMe site so Symbria and Sara can continue their excellent work in the community and the state. The money will be used to hire farm hands and for funeral expenses.

Sue and I often bought food from Red Acre Farm when we lived in Cedar City and know this hard-working family. Any contribution will be hugely appreciated.

Red Acre Farm CSA

GoFundMe for Patterson family.

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Marketeers. Take a tip from Boyd Gaming (and all casinos)

main street station casino photo

Main Street Station. Photo by Ken Lund

There’s plenty of good money to be made by having a niche. Casinos are expert at this. They appeal to their particular demographic. Boyd Gaming has three casinos in Downtown Vegas; Main Street Station, The California, and Fremont. 60-65% of their revenues come from visitors from Hawaii. It’s been this way for decades. Boyd markets in Hawaii, offers package deals, and makes sure Hawaiians can get superb Hawaiian food while visiting. Not surprisingly, Hawaiians keep coming back.

There’s a lesson here for anyone selling a product or service. Focus on niches. Treat your customers well and give them deals. They will reward you. In Vegas (and elsewhere), you do not need to be the biggest and most upscale to make money. Casinos in Downtown Vegas are deliberately prole. They don’t compete with, say, Wynn on the Strip, where rooms start at $199 a night and go way up from that. By contrast, Main Street Station rooms start at $33.

Here’s what really good marketing can do. From the comments:

Having grown up in Hawaii, I love the food, staff, and visitors. In the 1990’s it was impossible to get Hawaiian style food so eating at the Cal was part of my vacation. I have also ran into friends in the casino more times then I can count. I also have friends with golden arm plaques that I look at every visit. In fact classmates of mine are planning our 50th birthday year at the Cal next year.

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Summit. Red Rock Canyon Calico trail.

Calico Trails hike, Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon Calico trail.


Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just outside Vegas. I did the Calico Trails hike today, 2.4 miles rated as moderate, however some of the pitches required fairly serious scrambling over steep rock inclines. The weather was perfect, about 75. In a couple of months it will be baking.

Red Rock Canyon Calico Hills Trail crag




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The Sim City model of growing a company. Screw VC money

Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land details how his companies have never used VC money in an article about the unexpected and sad end of GigaOm, which closed suddenly after it ran out of money. If you grow organically, don’t get over-extended or have a crushing debt load, then your business can survive bumps and bad times without funding or borrowing.

It’s what I once called the “SimCity” model of growing. I used to often play the game years ago. I would take two approaches. One was to use the “FUNDS” cheat to get all the money I needed to build everything at once. But in doing this, I often found my cities built that way didn’t thrive. Instead, naturally growing my city slowly over time allowed it to stabilize and do well.

There are multiple problems with VC funding. The VC might run out of money or simply stop funding you. Then what? And if they put up money, they will certainly want a say in how the company is run. Their goals are probably different from a company that wants long-term growth, as VCs generally want to go public fast so they can cash out. This may conflict with building the company.

Also, your company doesn’t have to be ginormous to do well. A solid niche can be quite profitable too.

Sometimes, it’s not an inner sigh. Sometimes, it’s public, as happened ironically last month after GigaOm published a story suggesting that even “niche” media wants to be mass. I countered that no, we didn’t — and others chimed in.

Our revenue would be worse if we had a broad audience. We produce content for digital marketers, so your typical BuzzFeed reader interested in that damn dress isn’t going to be much of value to us.

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Downward mobility in supposedly upscale suburbs


So you bought a nice 4 bdr house in the suburbs with a pool and 2-3 cars in the garage and you’re living the dream, right? Maybe. Or maybe you’re in downward mobility and don’t know it yet.

Granola Shotgun (“stories about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience”) runs the numbers, assuming the house costs $260,000 and is in Lancaster CA, a satellite suburb of Los Angeles representative of many other suburbs. Bottom line: if income isn’t over $100k, homeowners are probably living on the edge of financial disaster, even though the house is 2,500+ sq ft. Median income for the area is $52,000.

Take out $1,300 a month for the mortgage, upwards of $2,000 a month for three cars, property taxes, and utilities. That leaves about $1000 for everything else including food. A big car repair bill or worse, a medical problem, could blow a hole in the budget. If the homeowner makes $62,000, enough to qualify for a 20% down mortgage, it would leave $1,800 a month, which is better but still not much of a cushion.

If a family lives in Lancaster they probably have long commutes to jobs in other parts of L.A. County. Three cars would not be unusual nor would be steep car expenses. This leads to another perhaps unforeseen problem. That bigger house in the hinterlands of the suburbs is indeed cheaper than homes closer to the urban areas. However, per capita income in Lancaster is dropping. When an area starts to wobble, the better-off move out first, which leads to more decline, even though this may be hard for residents to see, because it happens slowly.

Residents in the area were upset a Walmart Neighborhood store opened. They wanted a Whole Foods because they thought they were more upscale than they actually were. Whole Foods and Walmart knew better. There’s a disconnect between the big houses and quarter acre lots and the reality of the area.

But when asked what they would want the land to be used for instead of a Walmart the nearby residents said they wanted a Whole Foods. Their primary concern wasn’t actually about traffic or loss of open space. It was really about status. Walmart is low class and reflects poorly on the “prestigious” homes in the area. A Whole Foods would have been in line with how the locals feel about themselves and their place in the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, both Whole Foods and Walmart ran the numbers on the site and the numbers made it very clear that these people are in fact a Walmart demographic.

And then, because perhaps the area is starting to decline, locals block public transit because they don’t want Those People coming in to their area. Thus, the area gets even more isolated and less likely to attract business.

Any attempt to make the suburbs easier to navigate without a car is equated with people who can’t afford private vehicles and was therefore discouraged. “Why would we want to attract that kind of population?” When county, state, and federal highway funding comes with strings attached suburbs reluctantly implemented half-assed bus systems as an afterthought, but these are always wildly inefficient in such dispersed environments. The more the suburbs decline the more adamant the insecure middle class becomes about eliminating the things that would make life easier for the poor.

But then the car breaks down and they can’t afford to fix it.

The end result is that many of the people who once relocated to suburbia thinking they were stepping up find themselves living in an environment that doesn’t support their basic needs. The hardest hit are the young, the elderly, and the infirm since they’re the groups that are the least able to pay for private transportation. Many of these folks probably never imagined they would end up without a car or the cash to support the America Dream. But there they are on the side of a busy eight lane arterial with their grocery bags wondering what went wrong.

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Slender Man

Slender Man stabbing girls to be tried as adults

Two schizophrenic girls, now 13, will be tried as adults for attempted first-degree intentional homicide for repeatedly stabbing classmate Payton Leutner to appease the imaginary Slender Man. If convicted, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier could get 65 years. What is served by potentially putting little girls in prison for the rest of their lives? Yes, some people need to be in prison forever, no question. However, sentences this harsh for defendants so young leaves no possibility for redemption or change.

I’ve been clean and sober a long time and know people who led seriously violent lives (hardcore bikers, mob enforcers) before getting clean. They probably had been monsters. However, they changed, and then led productive lives. Sometimes you couldn’t even guess what their previous lives had been like.

Sometimes the law is an ass and legal arguments seem bizarre. The defense tries to show the girls, deluded as they were, thought they were protecting themselves and their families from Slender Man, and thus the attack could be construed as self-defense. If so, then they could be tried as juveniles for attempted second-degree intentional homicide and be eligible for release at age 25. But the judge disagreed.

After delivering a half-hour analysis Friday of statutes governing homicide charges and potential defenses, Bohren rejected the self-defense claims. He noted that the girls also thought killing Leutner would make them Slender Man’s servants, earn them the right to live in his mansion and prove to others the creature was real. Those motivations outweigh self-defense, he said.

I’m not saying the judge’s decision is wrong. Given the laws he must abide by, his decision is perhaps reasonable. However, with a first-degree charge, the defendants must be tried as adults under Wisconsin law. Laws this harsh, with no exceptions allowed, need to be re-thought.

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cloture votes by year

Maybe the left and right are both correct about what they’re screaming about


Rather than viewing the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in DC as not based in reality but being just politics, what if both sides are genuinely concerned about what they see as breakdown in law and governance? To oversimplify a bit, the left howls about no rule of law against banksters. The right thunders against overreaching federal government policies. Partisans on both sides attack the president (if he is in the other party) for vastly overstepping his authority and ruling by decree. And on this, the partisans are usually correct.

Matt Ygelesias says maybe both sides are right and what we are seeing is the beginnings of a genuine constitutional crisis, which if unchecked, could led to the downfall of our democracy.

Rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right

Since the president and Congress are elected by the people, they can both claim to speak for the people

This is a core issue. What happens when Congress and the president have apparently irreconcilable views? The Constitution provides no way to rectify this, so what you get is gridlock and increasing anger on all sides.

The breakdown of American constitutional democracy is a contrarian view. But it’s nothing more than the view that rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right. Maybe Bush and Obama are dangerously exceeding norms of executive authority. Maybe legislative compromise really has broken down in an alarming way. And maybe the reason these complaints persist across different administrations and congresses led by members of different parties is that American politics is breaking down.

Our government is no longer responsive to the people. It’s bought and paid for by monied interests, and is highly corrupt. There is no center or commonality of interests. Rather, it’s grab whatever you can.

As dysfunctional as American government may seem today, we’ve actually been lucky. No other presidential system has gone as long as ours without a major breakdown of the constitutional order. But the factors underlying that stability — first non-ideological parties and then non-disciplined ones — are gone. And it’s worth considering the possibility that with them, so too has gone the American exception to the rule of presidential breakdown. If we seem to be unsustainably lurching from crisis to crisis, it’s because we are unsustainably lurching from crisis to crisis.

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American Spring in Chicago?


Let’s hope the upcoming Chicago mayoral election boots out the odious Rahm Emanuel and leads to special prosecutor investigation into the illegal detention center and torture chamber known as Homan Square. Maybe the election could even spur a genuine American Spring in Chicago, which sure needs one (as do many other US cities and the country as a whole.)

William Boardman does his usual, excellent advocacy journalism here, detailing the sewer that is Homan Square and Chicago politics in general, hoping for a political spring there.

In its essence, the story is simple and predictable: the Chicago police have a secure facility where they can take prisoners and hold them more or less indefinitely, keeping no official record of their whereabouts, while treating them with torture techniques made familiar by their application to prisoners at Guantanamo. The Guardian story by Spencer Ackerman, a reliable reporter who used to work for Wired, is based on public records and the personal accounts of both victims and attorneys, none of whom hide behind anonymity. The report provides ample detail that can be independently verified by any responsible public official or investigator or other news organization.

The Guardian report makes consistent allegations supported by testimony that can be independently verified:

  • that police take people into custody without arresting them;
  • that police hold prisoners incommunicado, sometimes for days;
  • that police deny prisoners their right to make a phone call;
  • that police deny prisoners any contact with their lawyers;
  • that police lie to lawyers about the whereabouts of their clients;
  • that police keep prisoners shackled hand and foot.

Additionally, there are allegations of further torture including threats and brutality. Most of this behavior is prohibited by the constitution.

Mayor Emanuel and Chicago PD are stonewalling. They know damn well allegations like this, if proven, means people (them) might be going to prison.

Remember the Chicago police riot of 1968: it was sanctioned by then Mayor Richard J. Daley who shouted anti-Semitic insults at the Connecticut Senator who spoke out against the violent rampage of city cops against unarmed anti-war protesters. Chicago policing was not good before that, and it hasn’t improved appreciably since. Government in Chicago, as in so many other places, remains tolerant of illegal, racist, brutal, and sometimes lethal police behavior.  That’s why it matters.

This is why Chicago needs a political Spring.

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Bob Morris


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