Saturday, July 29, 2017

CC: Cool and Credibility

The high summer heat of July is starting to wane. It's been more than a month since summer solstice, and the sun is well along on its southward journey. Each day is slightly shorter than the last, each night slightly longer. Fewer minutes of sunlight means fewer minutes of warming. As the sun moves south, the sun angle grows more acute with respect to the surface. Sunlight must now take a longer, slanting path through the atmosphere rather than hammering straight down, and this serves to attenuate heating as well.

Back in the winter, meteorologists were predicting the onset of El Niño conditions in the July-August time frame. Such conditions often presage slight cooling and increased precipitation here on the High Plains. As it happens, sea surface temps in the equatorial Pacific are indeed elevated, but atmospheric conditions remain neutral. The current defined ENSO state is therefore neutral, but it's interesting to note that about a week after sea surface temps came up we began to have a bit of cooling. That's just information, and the correlation doesn't prove anything at all, but it is interesting to think about. 

The sun is the driver when it comes to summer heat, but there are countless factors which contribute to high mercury readings and our subjective perception of "it's toooooo hot!" The n-illion molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, and water vapor are constantly bashing into one another, flowing down concentration and pressure gradients, joining together in ridges and troughs, and carrying on according to our best understanding of chaos theory.

Local altitude, land topography, land use, vegetative cover, plant evapotranspiration, cloud cover, relative humidity, ENSO, butterfly populations in Vietnam, and even mosquito flatulence -- all of these and more determine local air temperatures.

Humans contribute too, but despite the car-salesman patter of the AGW crowd, there's simply zero credible or falsifiable evidence that our contribution is any more or less than that of butterflies and mosquitoes.

Now that I'm old and fat I notice summer heat more than I used to. At this point in my life I don't have a lot of choice about working outside. The work must be done, and waiting for cooler weather isn't a viable option. I prefer to work when it doesn't feel too hot (duh), but I also perversely pride myself on being able to take the heat.

Of course I've never had to work on the ranch in the kind of summer heat my grandparents faced back in the 1930's and 1940's, when June-August daily high temperatures routinely ranged between 100-110 degrees. This summer the average high in June was a chilly 81 degrees (only 5 days above 90!) and 91 in July (21 days above 90, 1 day above 100).

Just for completeness, the average June-August mean air temperature BITD was about 79 degrees; so far this summer it's running about 75.

So I've got no room to complain. I still do complain, but I also know it's not that hot.


Farmers are a fortunate lot, at least in this place and time.

In a world where people increasingly distrust nearly everything, a recent Princeton University survey showed that the American public holds farmers in high esteem.

Despite a never-ending stream of anti-agriculture news and opinion, farmers were rated as one of the top professions when it comes to competence and trust, along with doctors, nurses, and teachers.

This means that farmers have a great deal of credibility capital.

Perhaps one reason for this is the fact that despite a great deal of negative press and sensationalistic scare tactics, every American must eat several times a day, and most folks realize that none of the scary predictions ever come true. They seem to understand that the food they buy and consume is utterly safe, healthy, nutritious, and incredibly inexpensive, and they know that farmers produce that food.

I’d offer a word of caution though. Farmers and ranchers should carefully guard their credibility. It’s very easy to lose.

A few cases in point.
The Whole Foods company, a food market chain which has built its customer base by offering exclusively “natural” and “organic” foods, was doing a booming business until they made a terrible mistake. In their advertising campaign they began to use a lot of junk science as evidence that the foods they sell are healthier, safer, and more nutritious than the foods sold by their competitors -- the more traditional supermarkets and grocery stores. Then they began to attack non-organic, non-natural farmers, accusing them of raising monstrous GMO crops, using deadly chemicals and pesticides, and for intentionally producing unsafe and unhealthy food in order to make money.

Well, people aren’t entirely stupid, and most folks used personal experience and a bit of light fact checking to satisfy themselves that the advertising claims made by Whole Foods are entirely bogus. Furthermore, people generally react badly when they feel like they are being lectured to by people who’ve taken on an air of unearned moral superiority. And people really, really, really hate being lied to.

Whole Foods also wounded themselves severely when all three of their regional kitchens were shut down due to a long list of FDA violations. On inspection of the kitchens, FDA Inspectors found employees splashing dirty water on to ready-to-eat vegetables, condensation dripping into barrels of egg salad* and onto food prep surfaces while veggies were being chopped, and over spray of ammonium-based sanitizer landing on food being prepared. The facilities also lacked adequate hand washing facilities and  inspectors found an unmarked drum of chemicals in the vegetable prep area.

Even worse, samples taken from food prep areas grew out a number of pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes, a particularly nasty pathogen which kills about 260 Americans each year. Food poisoning caused by Listeria carries a 16 percent mortality rate, making it by far the most deadly form of food poisoning. By comparison, Salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens associated with food poisoning carry a mortality rate of only 0.006 percent.

Here's the FDA inspection letter.

People naturally wonder why a self-proclaimed paragon of safe and healthy food would behave in such a fashion. Unsurprisingly, Whole Foods market share and stock prices plummeted, and last month the company was purchased by Amazon.

Another self-proclaimed paragon of wholesomeness, the Chipotle restaurant chain, mirrored many of the strategies of Whole Foods. In addition to jumping on the “natural” and “organic” bandwagon, they went all-in on “humanely raised” meats. Unfortunately for Chipotle, they were then caught selling meat which violated their own policies. Next, Chipotle restaurants went on to actually sicken hundreds of customers with E. coli, Salmonella, and Norovirus outbreaks.

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) recently pointed out that Americans are far more likely to be sickened by eating at Chipotle than to be injured in a shark attack. The beauty of the ACSH story is that it put the statistics in scale, context and perspective. There are about 9.7 food poisonings for every Ten Million meals served by Chipotle. For all intents and purposes, it’s nearly-perfectly safe to eat there. However, Americans suffer only 0.6 shark attacks per ten million beach visits. Again, a very small number, and American’s are nearly-perfectly safe from shark attack. Still, you are about 17 times as likely to be sickened at Chipotle than to be attacked by a shark at the beach.

As I mentioned before, people aren’t entirely stupid, and they hate being lectured at and lied to. Chipotle stock prices have tumbled from about $800 per share to less than $400 per share.

Quite a few farmers and ranchers have climbed aboard the “healthy food” train over the last decade or so. Many market the food they produce as natural, organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free, and so forth. Even worse, many have also developed marketing/advertising strategies that directly or indirectly attack producers who employ traditionally modern agricultural techniques.

I’ve talked to quite a few of these folks, and all of them seem to be well aware that the claims against modern agricultural practice are entirely baseless. Their justification is basically this: “It’s just marketing, man!”

Well. It might be worth rethinking that strategy. The only way to keep the credibility capital farmers and ranches presently own is to actually be credible. To be honest.

People aren’t entirely stupid.


*Barrels of egg salad -- I'm not sure that's a phrase that should ever have happened.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Working hands

I mashed a finger today. Quite painful but no injury beyond a subungual hematoma.

A long time ago when I was a junior corpsman on my first deployment I saw a cool trick. A guy had mashed his finger somehow and was in quite a lot of pain from the injury.

When there is bleeding under the nail, the pain comes when blood (which is mostly water and like water, cannot be compressed) flows into the space between the nail and the tissue underneath. It's trapped between the hard and nerveless nail and the soft, enervated tissue beneath. The nail won't move and the blood (which continues to flow into the damaged area until the pressure in the subungual space equalizes with peripheral blood pressure) can't be compressed, so it's the soft, tender nail bed tissue which gives way. This pressure squeezes down on the nerves, and that hurts. It's like having your fingertip squeezed in a vise.

Anyway, the guy's in a lot of pain, hopping around and moaning and cradling his hand. The senior corpsman in the treatment room -- I've forgotten his name but he was an E-5 from the helo squadron and a very good corpsman -- takes charge and sits the guy down. He takes a paper clip and straightens out one end, then sparks his Zippo to life and heats up the end of the paper clip until it's red hot. He applies the red hot tip of the wire to the guy's fingernail. It smokes and sizzles and almost instantly melts through the nail. The hurt guy jerks his hand away, dislodging the paper clip, and all the trapped blood comes dribbling out. Instant relief.

"Thanks, Doc!"

A few weeks later it was my turn, and the Zippo/paper clip trick worked like a charm.

"Thanks, Doc!"

Well, my finger wasn't mashed bad enough to need decompressing today. Just an irritating event, and not enough to get in the way of fence fixin'. Par for the course when you've got them working hands.

This stuff is actually for use in the winter to protect against and/or heal dry, cracked skin. But it fits the title of this post, so what the heck.


Other than the finger mashing I was pretty pleased with myself today. I actually turned in what I consider a good nine-tenths of a day's labor. I started in on the fence work a bit before 7 a.m. and downed tools just before 4 p.m. That's progress on the physical/endurance front.

The fencing chores were reasonably simple, mending a half-mile stretch of four-wire and tearing out and replacing a sagging corner post.
Blankety-blank thistle!

I didn't look forward to replacing the corner post. It needed to be dug out, then a new, larger, and much deeper hole needed to be dug so that the post could be emplaced securely and properly.

Since it was just the one post, and since the post was located on the south unit and miles away from where the skid steer and post hole auger were parked, it would be an "Armstrong" chore, using hand tools and muscle.

The upside was that this would be a good physical challenge. Yay! The downside was that it would be a good physical challenge. Nothing harder than south unit dirt in July.

The problem with the old corner post was the idjit who stuck it in there (that would be me) didn't set it deep enough. IIRC, it was hot and the ground was hard.

Well, nothing for it but to do it.

Well, shit! I didn't expect that. Guess I don't know how to eyeball a proper depth.

No sense in wasting such a magnificent hole, lets get a REAL post!

I did spend a few minutes watching a turkey vulture dining on Fluffy.

He didn't eat much, maybe it was too fresh.

Yeah, I know. Gross. But Nature doesn't care about our sensibilities.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Profondément derrière les lignes continentales

A delightfully coolish day here. Mostly overcast and promising rain that never materialized, the temperature climbed only as high as 81. Most of the day was solidly in the 70's with a refreshing north breeze.

Early this morning I hauled the last trailer load of thistle to the landfill. It makes such a pitifully small pile when unloaded, and there's nothing at all about the pile that would make you think it represented so much toil and sweat.

When I loaded the trailer yesterday the mercury was closing in on 100 degrees and there was not even a breath of air. The humidity was quite high as well, up in the 75 percent range. Now that may be "dry" in many parts of the world, but it's wringing wet here.

Combine sunshine, heat and humidity and evaporative cooling doesn't work for spit. Therefore I spent a couple of hours in sweltering misery.

But I got the job done and it was a good physical workout!


Some of my agriculturalist friends from England ventured across the Channel earlier in the month and shared some images and video with me. It all looks vewy Fwench.

Midnight Market (small town farmers' market). Ostrich sammies and live music!

They canoed down the River Dronne from Bonnes to Parcoul. I had no idea the french canoed!

They stayed in a converted barn, just like so many downed aviators did during the war. Only different.

And look what the French came up with for mole control!

It's good to have field agents "working" for the blog!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A twenty-first century fairy tale

Old grumpy people like me do a lot of complaining about the twenty-first century. Too fast, too globalized, too connected, too distracted, too selfish, too dangerous, too stupid, too fake news.

And on and on and on...

But it's not all bad. What a shock!

Grumpy old people have been bitching about the new hotness since humans began to live long enough to get "old" somewhere between 200,000 and a million years ago. They've always been right about some things, and wrong about others. My generation isn't any different.

I'd have never been able to experience this lovely fairy tale if it weren't for the verdammt twenty-first century.

Most of you know the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story. Well, this is no $#!+. Seriously!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Badgers and Longhorns and Pronghorns and Jacks

Mom had a great story to share about her walk last evening.

She set out about 7:30 p.m. with her usual menagerie; Jeter (the Alpha), Red, and Lily.  Lily is a ranch guest, hanging out until her humans are able to move into their new home.

Mom and the dogs walked out in the pasture along a fenceline. About a mile from the house Lily began to bark at something along the fence. Mom was curious, so she and her group moved closer, to within 15-20 feet of whatever Lily was barking at. Then several interesting things happened.

Jeter, the  big, tough Alpha Male of the dog pack, tucked his tail and headed for home at full tilt, scampering for all he was worth and making like a scalded cat.

Mom moved closer to see what the fuss was all about. Lily stayed in place, staring intently at the spot. Red moved in with mom, and they both started as soil began to fly up from the soft blow dirt alongside the fence. Red began to growl.

From the spot in question, right in the middle of the fenceline, a badger popped its head up, hissed and snorted, and glared at Red.

Red tried to attack, but mom held her back. Jeter's departure makes it seem that he's tangled with a badger before. Lily's caution proves that she's the brightest of the lot.

Mom was disappointed that she didn't get pictures. She had her phone, but also had her hands full keeping Red from being badgerized.

I'm envious, for I've only seen a live badger once before, and that was 50 years ago. I see their digging every day, but badgers are nocturnal (mostly, I guess), solitary, shy, and grumpy as hell.


Overnight the temperature fell into the mid-60's, which was nice, but then a Longhorn wind out of Texas began to flood in from the south, bringing warmth. I try not to complain too much -- it is summer after all -- but I like my nights cool. It was already nearing 80 degrees when I got up at 5 a.m. Did someone say grumpy?

I got out and dug thistle all morning, finishing the bulk of that chore for the year (I hope!). The thistle I dug was on the neighbor's place, and upslope from our south unit.

I can't really expect the neighbor to take care of it as she's got a lot of challenges which just have to come before thistle. So digging it myself is a chore, but it's also in our best interest.
Dead Bug!
Getting those plants out now will prevent their seeds from sprouting on our side of the fence in the spring and starting the whole blasted cycle over again. It's also the neighborly thing to do, given the situation, so there's no call at all for me to complain.

And it's a good workout!


On the way home this evening I got some good shots of Pronghorn.

Also a jackrabbit.

Some people say the two beasts are closely related -- enough so that they occasionally cross-breed.

Tomorrow I'll haul all the thistle I've chopped to the landfill, and that will be that. It'll be good to get back to working on fence.

Thanks all for the thoughts and prayers for Dad. That means a lot, more than I have words for.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Trying times

I pottered around with fencing work and thistle digging yesterday but I couldn't keep myself engaged in the work.

I wasn't feeling all that great, kind of worn out and dopey from the heat.

On top of that my Dad is going through a pretty rough patch. He's got a medical condition that isn't the best or the worst thing to have but has been very hard on him. Hopefully on Tuesday they'll be able to do something for him.

Dad's malady is weighing heavily on us all.

With my mind stuck in an idiot loop yesterday working with sharp and pointy things wasn't the best option, so I opted to put on the sneakers and do some road work. I "power" walked 6.5 miles with respectable (for my age cohort) splits of about 14 minutes per mile. Felt good to blow the cobs out.

Part of my route was along Highway 30, the "Fabulous Lincoln Highway." Several people stopped to offer me a ride. It's always a bit amusing to see the look on some faces when they realize I'm walking on purpose!
Lodgepole Creek choked with bullrushers.

Looking west.

Looking east.

Why am I walking? Got something to do with where choo-choo go!


Sparky the shop kitty seems to love his life.

Six-tenths of rain last night; swarmed by gnats this morning. There are worse things.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Start 'em up and other wonders

Remember this airplane? Last July 31 I posted about it.

It's a North American T-28B Trojan, still dressed in the livery she wore in naval service with VT-27 at Corpus Christi.

The engine is (was last year anyway) a Lycoming-built R-1820-86 of 1,425 hp. Although a B model, the airplane is equipped with the shorter, C-model prop.

The Trojan is owned by Lee Griffin of North Pole, Alaska. A former USAF maintenance officer, Lee has quite a story.

Last year when Lee, his pilot, and his Trojan stopped by they were on their way home from Oshkosh. I didn't visit with them yesterday, but the timing indicates that they are on their way to the big air show, which starts Monday up in one of those mosquito-ridden northern states.

Anyway, yesterday as I drove out to check cattle and begin the day I espied the Trojan on the ramp and got there just in time for the engine start. What's better than that sound?

I visited with Dad and his little girl (with the taidragger in the video) for a few moments; they were out of Scottsbluff for nothing more than a morning VFR flyabout. How cool is that?

And now for the other wonder. In a month's time a monster will gobble up the sun. This is my only opportunity to witness a total here in God's Country. Unfortunately, we're south of the path of totality. We're scheduled for 95+ percent of total. Eighty miles up the road I can be right in the gut of darkness. Which is where I want to be. However, I'd also love to be on the ranch to experience and capture the experience at the home place. What to do?

Thursday, July 20, 2017


I've mentioned before that I was a NASA kid growing up. I devoured everything I could get my hands on that was space-related. Whenever there was a launch or recovery on television (and I was not locked in durance vile at school) I was anchored in front of the screen, breathing in living history with the fascinated fervor only a youngster may possess.

I subscribed to the NASA newsletters for kids, such as they were. I spent hours in the library, reading and re-reading books and articles on space and space flight. I glued together countless spacecraft models, playing with chemicals that youngsters are not even allowed to know the existence of today. I got in a bit of trouble in second grade for making the teacher look like an idiot when I patiently but firmly explained that Mars and Venus are, in fact, smaller than Earth.

Hell, I've no doubt that I knew more about the Soviet space program than 99 percent of the people in my state, perhaps in the nation.

I was shocked when Grissom, White and Chaffee died on January 27, 1967, on the launch pad at launch complex 34 in Apollo 1. I exulted when Apollo 7 returned Americans to space where we belonged. I was giddy with delight when Wally Schirra, Don Eisele and Walt Cunningham broadcast actual live television from orbit.

I was nailed to the floor in front of the television when Apollo 8 actually flew to the moon. I remember how moved I was when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders read from Genisis.

In my dotage listening to that message has the power to make water run from my eyes and down my face. Whoda thunkit?

In the late winter of 1969 Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott and Rusty Schweickart in Apollo 9 did 10 days in Earth orbit and put the Lunar Excursion Module (Grumman Iron Works, Baby!) through its paces.

Two months later Apollo 10 returned to the moon. Anchored in lunar orbit, John Young remained aboard the command module Charlie Brown, while Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan took the LEM Snoopy down to within 8 miles of the surface in a final dress rehearsal for the actual landing. Eight miles! That's only 42,000 feet! Until they'd actually returned to the command module and discarded the LEM I was on tenterhooks wondering if they'd "break the rules" and sneak in a lunar landing after all.

Then in the High Summer of July, I watched Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong roar into the heavens from Pad 39A on July 16. Four days later I watched in awe as Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon in Eagle, while Collins remained in orbit aboard Columbia. As the warm summer day turned to evening I watched as the first men clambered down out of the LEM and walked about on the actual surface of the moon!

When the broadcast ended I stepped out into the summer night and looked at the moon. It was almost due south and was a waxing crescent, nearly at first quarter phase. I could see the Sea of Tranquility. I looked and looked and strained as hard as I could but I could not see any sign of Eagle on the surface or Columbia in orbit.

Has it been 48 years already?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's not all problems

I don't know about anyone else, but when I look away from stuff that is defined screechingly as "a terrible problem!" I can't help but notice that there are cool, wonderful things everywhere.

I see the bad stuff, Ireally do, but I don't see as much as many of my fellows seem to, perhaps because, a) I throwed away the tee-vee, and, b) because I look at the cool, wonderful stuff too.

Here's words to the hymn that the little girl sings in the video.

Whenever I hear the song of a bird
Or look at the blue, blue sky,
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
Or the wind as it rushes by,
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
Or walk by our lilac tree,
I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world
Heav’nly Father created for me.

He gave me my eyes that I might see
The color of butterfly wings.
He gave me my ears that I might hear
The magical sound of things.
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart:
I thank him rev’rently
For all his creations, of which I’m a part.
Yes, I know Heav’nly Father loves me.

It's a Mormon hymn, published in 1961 by Clara W. McMaster (1904-1997).

Yes, there are problems in the world, but it's not all problems.

There is beauty and wonder and delight just about everywhere you care to look.

You have to look though.

Question. Is it better to try to force others to behave in a certain way, or to concentrate on developing, understanding, and behaving according to certain principles?

"Nother question. So you've "done your part." Are you done?