Wednesday, June 26, 2019

More on pollinator/parasitoid wasp attracter plants

Rugosa rose is very attractive to native pollinating insects and, presumably, parasitoid wasps. It smells very pretty, produces hips that are rich in Vitamin C and has a long bloom period.

My rugosa roses started blooming on June 6 at 420 GDD b50 and may be the "bridge" species I am looking for between horseradish and motherswort. The horseradish was blooming hot-and-heavy on June 6.

Now I have to figure out where I am going to squeeze in a few specimens in my orchard.

Picture taken approximately June 3, 2019, 370 GDD b50
Cleavers, on the right side of image, have a long bloom period and tiny white flowers that might be attractive to pollinators. I will have to put out some sticky traps to find out. Cleavers are still blooming.

Seven Skinny Cows: John Wilder



John Wilder was not the typical middle manager in a large, American corporation.

His dad was a cop in a medium-sized town. John went to a second-tier state university and majored in history. Even then there were many academic advisers who gave the rotten advice “Follow your passions.”

Graduating with student debt the equivalent of a new car, John found that his degree gave him exactly zero incremental hiring advantage over a new high-school graduate.

Determined to not make the same mistake twice, he did some research and chose a Master’s program where jobs were both abundant and lucrative. His research suggested that the straightest line between where he was and where he wanted to be was to get a Master’s degree in Business Administration. His belated research also revealed that graduates with an MBA from any state’s flagship university commanded starting wages 50% higher than graduates from any of the me-too universities.

As the son of a city employee, he had almost no idea what “Business” meant. He knew “Finance” had something to do with accounting and he didn’t want to sit behind a computer all day and do other people’s taxes. He remembered his dad going nuts on April 14th every year and he wanted nothing to do with “Finance”.

He opted for Marketing. He though his flair for writing bullshit would make that a cake-walk.

And it was a cake-walk until the section of Statistics for Business Majors he was scheduled for was cancelled and the other sections had already filled up. He had a choice, take a different statistics class or spend another half year in school. He opted for Statistics for STEM Majors.

The class thoroughly kicked his ass. He would have failed except for the Chem major he sat next to. She was cute and quiet. Her name was Sam.

She dragged him kicking and screaming through that class. And then the next one. Sometime during John’s academic Baatan Death March a switch flipped in his head. He saw the power of statistics and he fell in love with Sam.

He graduated in the upper-middle of his class. He thought that his chances for a job were decent. He was surprised to find that his services were avidly sought by insurance companies. They were impressed that he took “real” statistics classes rather than the watered down pap most MBAs took. Who knew?

His love of history informed him that Black Swan events are about a once-a-century events for the dominant culture. After a hundred years, all of the people who experienced the previous Black Swan were dead. Dominant cultures are a lightening rod for envy and chaos.

John had little success convincing his company to pad the rates for those Black Swan events. They would point to the paucity of wars and pandemics and famines and debauched currencies and say that the statistics did not work for sparse data. His argument that Black Swans could be aggregated and then there were enough data points was met with silence. He was informed, “Things are different now.”

John and Sam found themselves swimming in money.

Sam’s needs were simple. She did not crave cruises or spending time in all-inclusive resorts. Nor did she want a fancy BMW or a prestige house address. She bought a two year old Impala and drove it for five years before buying another. They had lived in the same blue-collar neighborhood for the last twenty-five years. She could have bought any or all of the prestige artifacts that define affluent people on her salary and bonuses. Her team had hit a home-run with a single drug a decade ago and had several Chemotherapy synergizing drugs that had come within one trial of being approved

She could have bought those things but felt no need.

John created his own insurance plan for the dreaded Black Swan event.

He rejected the billionaire plan of jetting to Fiji or Australia or Alaska. Moving is always a shock and why would people in Fiji want another mouth to feed, especially when that mouth was not family? And Australia or Alaska, he never understood the attraction of moving to an austere environment where the deer had to have legs that were six feet long to move through the snow or where every snake, bug and plant was toxic and could kill you.

Rather, he started buying farmland in Eaton and Ingham counties.

Ebola bankrupted his company. Life insurance is predicated on the idea that there will never be more than 1.4% of the population dying any given year.

The family bunkered up.

While holed up, John made an intensive study of England before, during and after the Black Death wiped out a third of the population. John chose England because the event had been extensively documented. History does not repeat itself but John was convinced that history rhymed.

John’s take away was that labor would be in short supply, wages would go up and that the price of most commodities would deflate.

Another thing John gleaned before the internet went down was that livestock became the crop-of-choice after depopulating events. Growing grain and other food crops is labor intensive. A single man and a dog can manage a flock of six hundred sheep, about the number that a quarter of a square-mile of prime, mid-Western corn land could support. Without tractors or domesticated animals to pull implements, it would take eighty adults to farm that same amount of land.

Furthermore, it takes thirty years to double the number of “workers” in the population. Under ideal conditions the population doubles in twenty years but the majority of the increase is under ten years of age and not able to do heavy, ag work.

On the other hand, a flock of sheep can increase by 60%-to-70% every year. A flock of six ewes can grow to sixty in five years and 600 in ten, 6000 in fourteen and 6,000,000 in twenty-three years.

Unless John was willing to let his farmland revert to brush, the only real option was to become a shepherd.

The other thing pushing John in that direction was that fabric made from synthetic fibers was soon going to become nothing but a mythic memory. Cotton does not grow in Michigan which left hemp and wool as the only two options.

Fortunately, John had often worked from his home office. It was well stocked with toner cartridges for the laser printer and 24 pound, acid-free paper. John downloaded books on agriculture, animal breeding and sheep. Not trusting that his laptop would run forever, John printed them out and put them in three ring binders.

The first challenge for John was going to be to find seed-stock. Few commercial sheep farmers in Michigan raised “wool” sheep because the market had placed a large premium on “meat” breeds.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

ERJ 5-0 WC

This is a first for me. The woodchuck ran into the livetrap even though it had no bait.

I had the trap on top of an old barn foundation. Apparently they like elevated highways.
Here he is giving me the eye.

Africa always wins

Belladonna's friend from Ghana made a statement something to the effect that "Western science does not work in Africa." The context was using science to improve crop yields.

Like all broad generalizations, there are elements of truth to the statement as well as some important caveats. In general, Bella's friend was mostly right.

The literature pretty clearly supports the contention that ag experts from temperate regions cannot go to tropical farms and use the same boiler-plate soil chemistry targets.

For example, in temperate regions most people target a pH of 6.5. pH is a measure of soil acidity/alkalinity. 6.5 is just slightly acid of neutral.
The southwest corner of Ghana gets a lot of rain. 1300mm is over four feet of rain.

The challenge in high rainfall, tropical areas is that most of the soil is a gritty clay with lots of kaolin. In temperate regions the clay is greasy with large percentages of bentonite and montmorillonites.

The tropical kaolins are highly leached and acid. The nutrients that are not leached away are either bound up in plants or "locked" in complex, insoluble compounds with aluminum and phosphate.

Dumping enough limestone on the soil to jack it all the way to a pH of 6.5 results in releasing toxic levels of those elements, like manganese, that are locked up.

The same southwest corner that gets dumped on with lots of rain is deficient in calcium. No surprise there.


The "smart money" does not recommend wholesale application of limestone on acid, tropical soils. It recommends an incremental, feel-your-way along approach where limestone is treated like a nutrient and relatively tiny amounts are added and the results monitored.

Variable versus attribute data
Another major impediment is that most African farmers don't believe in higher math like division.

In the United States farmers actively seek incremental yield/incremental input data. They want to know, "How much nitrogen must I add if I am planning for 200 bushel/acre harvest?" They understand that each bushel of corn removes a set amount of nitrogen, about 0.7 pounds. Some more is lost to leaching and vaporizes. Some more is tied up in the leaves and stalks...so most farmers expect to apply one pound of nitrogen for every sixty pounds of corn they expect to harvest.

A pound of nitrogen costs $0.30 (spot price anhydrous ammonia, by the ton) while the spot price for corn at the time of this writing is $4.60 a bushel (almost 60 pounds). That is like a machine that you feed one dollar bills into and it spits out a fifteen perfectly legal dollar bills back out. Why would you not buy fertilizer?

Lack of trust. How does one know that the pale powder that looks like dirt is what the seller says it is?

This is a two-factor experiment. For example, the red shaded area might be ten pounds of limestone per tree and white area a quarter pound of potassium. Or, red might be five pounds of calcium and the white ten pounds of calcium. There is also a freebie hiding in the setup. If care is taken and the trees beside the road are harvested separately the scientist can also evaluate the effect of lower density planting.
Even if an enterprising agent were to set up field trials most farmers would struggle to assimilate the information. Why should they pay cash money out-of-pocket...which is very difficult to come by...when they get some harvest for free. Any finite number divided by zero is infinite. It is hard to be more cost effective than that. The fundamental watershed in thinking is to divide incremental yield by incremental input.

This "divide by zero input" thinking was common in the United States in the 1920s. "Why should I pay money to buy Hereford calves and pay money to feed them five pounds of grain a day? I can raise the native cattle on grass alone to market weight."

Well, Sodbuster, it took you seven years to raise that sway-backed, cat-hammed steer to market weight on unimproved pasture. Improved cattle plus a little bit of grain means you can take that calf to market in 20 months, not 84 months. That is four times as many gross receipts in your pocket

One intermediate step is to put the nuts harvested into each tree into its own, individual basket. It helps if the baskets are color coded. Then, weigh the baskets and rank order them from heaviest yield to lightest yield. It should be clear if most of the heavy end is one color and most of the light end is a different one. This is a variation of the Tukey End Count test.

It is beyond dispute that fertilizer application levels are suboptimal in Africa. Some studies indicate that yields could be tripled if recommended levels were applied.

Africa and other tropical areas are rapidly being deforested to plant oil palms, even as they import edible oils. Applying fertilizer seems far more benign than leveling the remnants of tropical rain forests.

The tribal thing
The other issue is that little trust exists between tribes. Since fertilizer looks like dirt, who is to say that the rascal from the other tribe didn't divert most of the fertilizer to his cousin, mix in dirt and made you pay full price?

It happens.

Consequently, you buy only from your uncle or cousin or a person from your own tribe. There are few economies of scale to be had, especially when you layer on every level where mordita occurs. It shouldn't be hard to find limestone in Ghana, for instance. Deposits occur west of Accura, Oterkpolu and Jama. For all practical purposes there is no part of southwestern Ghana that is more than 160 miles from a commercially viable limestone/dolomite deposit.

Money funny business
Ghana, like many other third world countries, got squeezed by the world banking organization. They were put on an austerity diet and stopped subsidizing fertilizer purchases. Crop yields dropped. Exports dropped at the same time prices tanked. The currency traded at 2000 to the USD before austerity and 7000 to the USD afterward.

The issue of bringing rigorous science to Africa is not a problem that can be attacked in isolation. In the end, Africa wins.

Post Script on tribalism: Tribalism is like the system of water-tight compartments on a warship. While it incurs costs it also firewalls epidemics. It may be that Africa's obdurate tribalism is the most viable strategy for dealing with certain diseases. It will never minimize the number who die but it guarantees that a sustainable population will survive somewhere.

Under the conditions of Africa, virulent tribalism may be the only rational system of organization.

Seven Skinny Cows: Little Wedgie Stubert



Richard "Wedgie" Stubert had an IQ in the low 80s and fancied himself “a player”. He was the poster child for every negative stereotype that urban dwellers have of "rednecks".

Some people assumed Wedgie’s low IQ was due to the fact that his mother “liked to have fun” as one of her friends charitably phrased it. Even though his mother was sixteen when she became pregnant she had no problems getting her hands on copious amounts of alcohol. Something about older boyfriends who liked young girls who “liked to have fun”.

Others pointed out that Wedgie was a low birth-weight baby and his mother was barely seventeen when he was born and both of those are statistically related to lower intelligence.

Few observers had any energy for the Stubert family but those rare few decided it did not matter whether Wedgie was stupid because of genetics, pre-natal conditions or childhood environment. The entire Stubert family was stupid and the variables were knotted together and could not be separated.

Wedgie thought everybody else was an idiot because they all nodded when he told a big windy, that is, an outrageous fabrication.

Frankly, nobody cared about his miscreant behaviors and nobody saw an upside to pointing out that everybody knew when he was lying. On the rare occasions he told the truth, he stopped licking the corners of his mouth and stopped batted his eyelids every half second. When he was lying he alternated licking the corners of his lips reminiscent of the Tin Man pumping the oil-can to unstick his lips and Wedgie batted his eyelids like a metronome. That, and when he was lying he stuck “I swear to God!” in about every third sentence.

Another habit Wedgie had was that he spit everywhere. He was sure it made him look manly and it was a way of showing his dominance and disdain for everybody around him. Marking his territory, if you will.

The first four years of Wedgie’s academic career were unremarkable. He was lost in the herd.

By the beginning of fourth grade little Wedgie started to stand out. The social worker said he had Oppositional Defiant Disorder. His teachers said he was just being a Stubert. Wedgie did not complete assignments. His teachers passed him hoping the herd effect would pull him along. Besides, having him in the classroom was exhausting and the teachers the next grade up might be able to do something with him.

He graduated with a solid D- GPA. He was happy. He considered school to be a waste of life’s energy and in his mind there was no benefit to getting a D when a D- was good enough. It must be noted in passing that he graduated with lower reading ability and math skills than when he left third grade.

The economy was hot when Wedgie graduated and he drifted from job-to-job, getting “released” for an enterprising range of bad behaviors. Sometimes he was caught rifling through a co-worker’s purse. Sometimes it was taking fast-food home that he had not paid for. Sometimes it was for dealing a little bit of weed out the back door.

Once he was caught removing safety shields from mowing equipment. The boss told him to put them back on. Later that day the boss saw the mower had all the safety shielding removed. When challenged, Wedgie said it was like that when he picked it up in the morning.

Of course he was fired and, of course, the employer could not find the shields  because Wedgie was smart enough to hide the evidence by throwing them into tall weeds. The employer lost the use of the mower for most of the season because the replacement parts were back-ordered. There are many, many Wedgie Stubert clones in every community and represented a profitable business segment for the mower's manufacturer.

Wedgie was not the least bit conflicted by authority. He expected to get screwed by them so he always made sure he got in his licks in preemptively.

Wedgie knew that everything authority figures wanted him to do was going to be to his disadvantage and he automatically did everything in his power to derail their efforts. It was a stupid-simple optimization strategy.

Nothing changed for Wedgie with Ebola.

The first time he was entrusted to use the chainsaw Wedgie deliberately bent the bar so the crew could go home early.

He lost steel wedges every day.

He broke sledge handles.

Within a week the only job he was trusted with was to hump firewood, and even then he had to stack it on his own, personal pile because the straw-boss could see Wedgie was malingering and not carrying his fair share.

Wedgie was booted from woodcutting the second week when the straw-boss caught him pitching chunks of wood from the main pile into his own personal pile.

Deprived of gainful employment, Wedgie sponged off his mother, who still “liked to have a good time” even though she looked fifty when she was only thirty-five. There were always guys who didn’t care what she looked like as long as she turned off the lights.

Initially the oldest profession did well, post-Ebola. Families were shattered. Lives were stressful. Men sought solace where they could find it and paid for it with whatever they could.

One of Ms Stubert’s customers paid her with a fake Rolex watch and left her with a whacking big dose of Ebola virus.

Ms Stubert shared the virus with her entire family, including Wedgie.

It was a point of pride for Wedgie that he violated the curfew. He and his buds would pillage vacant home looking for money, food and drugs. Some of his friends had girl friends and they weren’t very discriminating after they passed out. It was party-time every night of the week.

Like a comedy sketch of a bowling ball that knocked down every pin in the bowling alley, Wedgie’s sloven habits, indiscriminate mating and exuberant and juicy expectorating not only infected all of his “buds” but resulted in the near extinction of their extended families.

For the most part the families that met their demise did not contribute much to the economy, either before or after Ebola. There were a few exceptions. One family had the misfortune of having their daughter going through a phase where she flirted with the bad-boys; her therapist called it the ‘Leader of the Pack’ stage of life. Unfortunately the phase happened EXACTLY when Ebola hit Wedgie’s posse like a torpedo.

But for the most part Wedgie’s gift took out the grifters, the drunks, the slatterns, the lazy and stupid.

By the time Ebola burned out in Kates Store and Pray Church they had both lost another third of their population. The net effect was to raise the average IQ by five points and wiped out the sub-90 skirt of the bell curve.

The people who Ebola culled from the gene pool were the same people who sowed the seeds of chaos and discord due to their insatiable envy, inherent suspicions and their instinctive opposition to every rule.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Is Vehicular Homicide when you want to kill a vehicle?

Belladonna had a car problem today.

Who knew that starters had a Smoke Emitting Diode to signal that they were malfunctioning?

My best guess is an internal short.

Yes, we drove to Grand Rapids to see if it could be "fixed" with zip-ties and bicycle inner tube. I hoped that the insulation on one of the starter motor wires had rubbed through and the juice was shorting to the engine. No joy.

Mr Mechanic is going to make a dime or two off Belladonna's car.

Will government cease to function during an Ebola event?

(In reference to Hard Times make Hard Men) This reminds me of Duckworth's demise - people getting caught not helping the community. 
I figured Ebola would make it into the community at some point, and drugs is as likely as any other method - though when you mentioned young men, I was expecting the problem to be women. 
You haven't mentioned government in a while - are the feds or locals making any attempt at governing at this point? Or are they not mentioned because they are irrelevant at this point since anything they are doing doesn't affect the community?   -Frequent commentor Jonathan H

What happens to government is mostly outside the story arc but they are worth discussing, just because.

Very early in the epidemic government will beef up with contractors and by leveraging through charitable organizations.

A key trigger point, at least in Michigan, will be when the schools see 25% absenteeism. The reason that 25% is a key measurement is because that is when a "school day" does not count toward No-Child-Left-Behind metrics and toward graduation requirements.

The decision to suspend school operations at 25% absenteeism until there is sufficient evidence that the epidemic is over has already been enshrined in state law. That will probably be the de facto trigger for the suspension of all "non-essential" government operations and martial law in the tenser, urban areas.

A key point is not "25% of the students are sick", it is "25% of the students did not show up." You can bet that many parents will choose to keep their kids home if/when they pick up on the fact that the epidemic is Ebola, not the seasonal flu. In fact, I bet the schools blow through that 25% absent number the day after the second case is confirmed in a community.

For the sake of simplicity, the Governor will suspend government operations on a county-by-county basis. He/she will shut down the county when the largest school district in the county trips the 25% threshold.

So who is left? The "essential employees." First responders, prison guards, water treatment operators, the guys who fix traffic lights and the military.

First responders will be hardest hit with Ebola. First responders and prison guards will get blue-flu. The military will be confined to base.

Recap: three weeks after the second case of Ebola is confirmed in a community there will be no government. If you are lucky, the toilets will still fill and flush.

80% mortality means 20% survival, right?
Not so quick, Feldman.

With IVs and what we consider to be low-tech intervention, the number of 20% survival rate is bandied about. That presumes a long logistical tail supporting the head of the spear. Who is going to stick the IV if the medical personnel are dead or (wisely) decided to stay home? Who is going to wash bedding, change dressings, feed, toilet and clean the patient?

Assuming that everybody in the household will die is a reasonable first-order approximation if Ebola shows up in post-collapse, snow-flake America. Even if they put the carrier on the proverbial ice-floe, it will be too late. Everybody in the house had already been exposed.

Even if the patients survived Ebola and "only" has cognitive impairment and trashed vision, they must still learn to avoid predators in the new normal even as they figure out how to find or grow food and avoid freezing to death.

It is a tiny bit of a spoiler, but I figure Kates Store will spin-down to a low-water mark of twenty living people per square mile. It started out with fifty or sixty per square mile.

Areas that are not as organized as Kates Store and/or have a high percentage of low-trust residents will spin down to ten living people per square mile...even if they started with three thousand. It might be different if a city were 100% inhabited by devout Quakers or Amish or Mormons.

Michigan currently has about nine-million residents. Most of them live in low-trust areas. A reasonable low-water mark for Michigan's post-Ebola population is 60,000 people. That is a 0.7% survival rate.

I would not expect any meaningful difference for any part of the US east of a line from Fargo, South North Dakota - to - Houston, Texas or for the states of California, Oregon, Washington or Hawaii.