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School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever.

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever. →

The New York Times provides an apocalyptic headline for this article by Julie Bosman. In reality, this is a story about one specific, rural school closing, with some notes about other tiny, rural schools that have also closed.

Lola was among the last students to attend Arena Community Elementary. After classes let out last Monday, the school was shuttered permanently by the River Valley School District, whose administrators say that unforgiving budgets, a dearth of students and an aging population have made it impossible to keep the school open. For the first time since the 1800s, the village of Arena has no school.

Arena Elementary is the second small rural elementary school in two years to close in the district, nearly 300 square miles of rolling pastures and dairy farms in southwestern Wisconsin. The one in the neighboring village of Lone Rock closed last spring. The district now has just one open public elementary school, in Spring Green, nine miles away.

Administrators say they hardly had any choice.

The numbers are there for anyone to see: The River Valley School District graduated 105 seniors this year, and expects only 66 kindergartners to start school in the fall.

Residents worry about what will happen to Arena, population 834, without the school. There isn’t much else on this two-lane stretch of Highway 14: a gas station, a cheese outlet, a cafe called Grandma Mary’s, beloved for its Friday fish fry and beef stroganoff.

But the reality of rural life in the Midwest, school officials say, is that younger people are fleeing. They want Starbucks and Thai restaurants, plentiful jobs and high-speed internet, and when they start families, they want schools with amenities and big, thriving athletic programs.

“In any small community, anywhere in this country, our kids grow up and move away,” said Mark Strozinsky, a River Valley school board member. “They go to college and get a job, but it’s not here, because the opportunity is not here. So who’s left here? Grandma and Grandpa.”

Two schools in the Portage school district in central Wisconsin closed several years ago after enrollment declined sharply, the district administrator, Charles Poches, said.

“You can’t have four teachers for 40 kids,” he said.

As the public face of the district, Mr. Poches said that he bore the brunt of residents’ fury at public hearings.

“It was hell,” he said. “We’d have 50 people, some who didn’t even have kids there but had gone to school there. They felt it was part of their community. It was very traumatic.”

Melissa Schmid, whose 10-year-old stepson, Evan, completed fourth grade this year, said she wished she had fought harder to keep the Arena school open. When the time comes for her 1-year-old daughter, she and her husband have decided to send her to school in a different district to spare her a long bus ride.

She worries about the value of their house. New people aren’t moving to Arena much anyway. But they definitely won’t now.

“We basically have a bank and a cheese factory,” Ms. Schmid said. “It’s not going to be a growing community.”

Communities are born, grow, mature, decline, and, eventually, die. This article tugs at the heartstrings, but it's not clear to me why we should try to stop what's happening, to make rural America great again. I understand how the existing residents feel. But the hard truth is that people increasingly prefer suburban and urban lifestyles to rural life. No amount of nostalgia or outside financial support is going to cause this rural district to grow again.

Surf’s Up, and the Ocean Is Nowhere in Sight

Surf’s Up, and the Ocean Is Nowhere in Sight →

Diane Cardwell and Matt Higgins report for the New York Times on artificial surf parks. I started out feeling bemused by the entire idea. But the article is interesting and the technology and challenges are fascinating.

The quest to surf on artificial waves has long been challenged by the difficulties of mastering the fluid dynamics, engineering and mechanics necessary to mimic the ocean. And the energy required was often too expensive.


Mr. Townend was also an investor in the Ron Jon Surfpark, in Orlando, which was scheduled to open in 2008. It promised to produce saltwater waves eight to 10 feet high and to transform artificial waves from water park attractions into stand-alone operations.

The wave test run at Ron Jon Surfpark was “unreal,” Mr. Townend recalled. “But it tore the bottom up.” Investors lost millions in the failed experiment.

​So what's changed?

The newer surfing pools have been made possible by advances in computing, allowing for better simulations of how the water will behave and for more sophisticated controls. Slight changes in timing, pressure or angle of the water can determine whether a wave will form a curling barrel — the holy grail for skilled surfers — or a soft hump that’s easier to ride.

​The focus of the article is the new NLand Surf Park, in the Texas desert. (I just love the visual of ambitious investors trying to bring the most quintessential beach activity to one of the harshest and least beach like areas in America.) What is NLand?

a much-delayed attraction under development by Doug Coors, a scion of the beer-making family ... a giant artificial body of water within 160 acres of cactus-studded former ranch land here in Hill Country.

And how does NLand produce its waves?

The waves at NLand, like those at Mr. Slater’s site in California, which uses its own closely guarded technology, are produced using a hydrofoil. The large blade moves through the water, pushing it into formations as it hits the contoured bottom of the pool.

“Essentially a chairlift motor with a snowplow on it,” Mr. Coors said, the mechanism travels beneath a central pier, creating waves that flow off both sides until it reaches the end, where it resets and runs back the other way. The water comes from a rain catchment and filtration system, and the approach is less energy intensive than older wave-making practices that involved pumping.

Still it takes a lot of energy to make a wave — roughly equivalent to running 10 cars. Mr. Coors is considering installing solar panels to help generate the electricity.

​What are the advantages to surfing in Texas instead of in California?

“It takes a long time to become a surfer,” said Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association, the global governing body for the sport. “If you’re in the ocean for an hour, and you get six, seven waves, you’re very lucky. Learning to surf is like learning to play the guitar when you can only strum once every 30 seconds.”

Some who have surfed NLand say it feels just like natural waves but with more frequent and longer rides — up to 35 seconds — that give novices more time to properly position themselves and advanced practitioners the opportunity for more maneuvers.

The entire article is interesting and includes some video of the NLand Surf Park. Sure, real beaches are the best, but I'd like to have some other options for waves when I'm stuck in Wisconsin, far from the beach.

Exercise Is Not the Path to Strong Bones

Exercise Is Not the Path to Strong Bones →

I've heard, from multiple sources, that weight training can increase bone density and strength. According to Gina Kolata, at The New York Times, that's not actually true.

The answer came a little more than a decade ago when scientists did rigorous studies, asking if weight bearing exercise increased bone density in adults. They used DEXA machines, which measure bone density by hitting bones with X-rays. Those studies failed to find anything more than a minuscule exercise effect — on the order of 1 percent or less, which is too small to be clinically significant. As expected, DEXA found bone loss in people who were bedridden and in astronauts. But there was no evidence that bone was gained when people walked or ran.

Scientists have continued to investigate as tests for bone density grow ever more sensitive. More recently, using new and very expensive machines that scan bone and are able to show its structure at a microscopic scale, they reported a tiny exercise effect in one part of the bone’s architecture known as the trabecula, little branches inside bone that link to each other. The cortical shell — the outer layer of bone — also seems to be slightly thicker with weight bearing exercise. But these are minute changes, noted Dr. Clifford Rosen, a bone researcher at the Maine Medical Research Institute. There is no evidence that they make bone stronger or protect it from osteoporosis, he said.

Poor Sleep Gives You the Munchies, Study Says

Poor Sleep Gives You the Munchies, Study Says →

Courtesy of Jonah Bromwich, at the New York Times:

A study published on Tuesday in the journal SLEEP suggested that the brain receptors that can lead the sleep-deprived to crave unnecessary food were the same as those activated by marijuana. Essentially, not sleeping can give you a ferocious case of the munchies.

The study took a close look at receptors affected by endocannabinoids — so named for cannabis, the marijuana plant — which it found were closely involved in the food cravings that come from sleep deprivation. Sleep restriction in the study’s subjects led to amplified endocannabinoid levels in the blood, leading to hunger pangs, which generally intensify in the early afternoon, to increase further.

Subjects who were deprived of sleep said that they felt hungrier, and had more trouble controlling themselves when faced with the snacks. They ended up consuming nearly twice as much fat and protein as the control group. (There was not a significant difference between the calories consumed by each group during regular meals.) Previous studies have shown that the sleep-deprived are particularly vulnerable to foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates.

I can confirm these results from my own anecdotal evidence.

This entry was tagged. Food Research Science

Black Residents Armed With Assault Rifles Stand Guard Outside White-Owned Business During Ferguson Riots

Black Residents Armed With Assault Rifles Stand Guard Outside White-Owned Business During Ferguson Riots →

A group of black Ferguson residents armed with high-powered rifles stood outside a white-owned business in the city during recent riots, protecting it from rioters that looted and burned other businesses.

… a group of heavily armed black men stood outside a Conoco gas station.

One of the residents, a 6-foot-8 man named Derrick Johnson, held an AR-15 assault rifle as he stood in a pickup truck near that store’s entrance. Three other black Ferguson residents joined Johnson in front of the store, each of them armed with pistols.

The men said they felt indebted to the store’s owner, Doug Merello, who employed them over the course of several years.

I said before that I didn't like the rioting and looting that was going on in Ferguson. This story is both a good example of why not and a good antidote to the riots.

This entry was tagged. Civil Liberties Guns

Best predictor of divorce? Age when couples cohabit, study says

Best predictor of divorce? Age when couples cohabit, study says →

For years, social scientists have tried to explain why living together before marriage seemed to increase the likelihood of a couple divorcing. Now, new research released by the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families gives an answer:

It doesn't. And it probably never has.

"Up until now, we've had this mysterious finding that co-habitation causes divorce," she says. "Nobody's been able to explain it. And now we have—it was that people were measuring it the wrong way."

Couples who begin living together without being married tend to be younger than those who move in after the wedding ceremony – that's why cohabitation seemed to predict divorce, Professor Kuperburg explains. But once researchers control for that age variable, it turns out that premarital cohabitation by itself has little impact on a relationship's longevity. Those who began living together, unmarried or married, before the age of 23 were the most likely to later split.

Interesting. This should change the way that Christians talk about the importance of chastity before marriage. It probably won't but it should.

My Week in North Korea

My Week in North Korea →

Michael Malice, writing at Reason.com, on his experiences while touring North Korea.

Some North Korean humor, though, is actually quite good. As I was driven into Pyongyang from the airport, our guide referred to the monolith Ryugyong Hotel as “our latest rocket launch,” a quip that both acknowledged the tension between our respective nations and simultaneously defused it (pun intended, God help us), all while seeming quite daring to an outsider. It was the first of a constant series of surprises I experienced during my eye-opening visit to the world’s darkest dictatorship.

I found it to be a poignant read. He's publishing a book soon on North Korea and, based on this article, I think I might want to read it.

This entry was tagged. North Korea

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Dies

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Dies →

Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who became one of the most influential global leaders of the postwar period, died on Monday, three decades after her championing of free-market economics and individual choice transformed Britain's economy and her vigorous foreign policy played a key role in the end of the Cold War.

"It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke this morning," said Mrs. Thatcher's spokesman, Timothy Bell. She was 87.

On hitchhiking around America via private plane

On hitchhiking around America via private plane →

The most fun is the people I run into. This country is so diverse…it’s like 50 different countries but everywhere I go I encounter helpful people who have interesting stories of their own. The landscape of the US is stunning, particularly in the West.

The most surprising? How much fun flying in small airplanes can be! One flight in New Mexico stands out where wild horses were running below the plane and there were no roads in sight. I was also surprised to discover so many people who are returning to a lifestyle of sustainable living, from urban farms to solar homes and the eco-friendly efforts of the larger cities. I also really dug getting to try out the flight simulators at Dallas’s Aviation Training & Resource Center.

I think I know what I'll do when I retire.

This entry was tagged. America Wealth

Portland sequoia cut down for bike path

Portland sequoia cut down for bike path →

It's tempting to think that in a battle of green vs green, that a green project must lose.

The City of Portland cut down the giant sequoia in Pier Park, in order to make way for a pedestrian and bicycle greenway.

On Thursday, protesters crossed over caution tape and their presence halted the chopping down of the sequoia, along with other, less iconic trees close by. The tree will be used to build PP&R’s first Nature Play area at Westmoreland Park.

"It will help kids connect with nature, and provide a sustainable, natural playground in the first such endeavor across our system," Ross said, in a post on PP&R's Facebook page. "We will mitigate the loss of the sequoia by planting seven giant sequoias in neighboring Chimney Park, where there are much fewer trees."

Ironically, this is a net win for the environment. Young trees absorb much more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than mature trees do. By cutting down one sequoia and replacing it with seven young ones, Portland will actually be decreasing the amount of CO2 in its atmosphere. (But the dead sequoia will leak CO2 back into the air. It'd be better if it was buried deep underground. Oh well. Shame about the beautiful old tree too.)

F.D.A. Panel Recommends Restrictions on Hydrocodone Products Like Vicodin

F.D.A. Panel Recommends Restrictions on Hydrocodone Products Like Vicodin →

This is the type of policy that sounds good when you think about all of the ways that drugs can be abused. But it completely fails to consider the impact on patients who really need access to Vicodin. For instance, pregnant women cannot safely take ibuprofen (Advil). Women who suffer frequent severe headaches during pregnancy must either take Vicodin or spend months in hell. The DEA and FDA consider that a good bargain. I don't.

Trying to stem the scourge of prescription drug abuse, an advisory panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration voted on Friday to toughen the restrictions on painkillers like Vicodin that contain hydrocodone, the most widely prescribed drugs in the country.

The recommendation, which the drug agency is likely to follow, would limit access to the drugs by making them harder to prescribe.

The change would have sweeping consequences for doctors, pharmacists and patients. Refills without a new prescription would be forbidden, as would faxed prescriptions and those called in by phone. Only written prescriptions from a doctor would be allowed. Distributors would be required to store the drugs in special vaults.

But at the panel’s two-day hearing at F.D.A. headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., many spoke against the change, including advocates for nursing home patients, who said frail residents with chronic pain would have to make the trip to a doctor’s office. The change would also ban nurse practitioners and physician assistants from prescribing the drugs, making it harder for people in underserved rural areas.

This entry was tagged. Drugs

12 Year Old Girl Shoots Home Intruder

12 Year Old Girl Shoots Home Intruder →

Just last night, I posted that the "gun is civilization" and that "the gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger". This morning, I came across this story, from October, 2012. It perfectly illustrates the point.

A day off for fall break was anything but relaxing for a 12-year old Bryan County girl, when an intruder broke into her home on Michael Avenue.

Deputies say, the girl was home alone when a man she'd never seen before, rang the front doorbell. They say when no one answered the door, the man went around to the back of the house and kicked a door open. That's when authorities say, the girl grabbed a gun and hid in a bathroom closet.

"He had worked his way all the way through the house and into the bathroom. And from what we understand, he was turning the doorknob when she fired through the door." Says Bryan County Under sheriff, Ken Golden.

After the man was shot, The 12- year old ran out of the closet and called for help.

I hope that none of my girls are ever in that kind of situation. And I hope that if they are, that they do as well as this girl did.

This entry was tagged. Civil Liberties Guns

Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall

Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall →

The Atlantic published 54 photos of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. If you haven't seen any photos yet, you should check these out.

Last night, Hurricane Sandy -- the largest Atlantic tropical system on record -- made landfall just south of Atlantic City, New Jersey, bringing winds up to 90 mph (150 kph), and pushing a massive storm surge onto beaches and shorelines. At least 12 deaths have been reported in the United States. These fatalities, when added to the previous toll in the Caribbean, leave Sandy responsible for more taking more than 80 lives to date. Millions across the Eastern Seaboard are now without power, and even more are struggling with rising floodwater. Sandy continues northward, now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, and those affected are now assessing the damage. Collected here are images of Sandy's aftermath, many from New York City, which suffered widespread blackouts and a record-setting high tide early this morning.


This entry was not tagged.

Amelia Earhart: New evidence tells of her last days on a Pacific atoll?

Amelia Earhart: New evidence tells of her last days on a Pacific atoll? →

Interesting article. I look forward to what else the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) discovers.

[N]ew information gives a clearer picture of what happened 75 years ago to Ms. Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, where they came down and how they likely survived – for a while, at least – as castaways on a remote island, catching rainwater and eating fish, shellfish, and turtles to survive.

This entry was tagged. History

Welcome to North Korea, Part I

Welcome to North Korea, Part I →

Kyle B. Smith tells about his experiences, while visiting North Korea.

I took my camera out and started snapping some photos. “No pictures!” I was politely, but firmly, admonished by a pretty young flight attendant. Though still sitting on the tarmac in Beijing, I figured it would be best to follow DPRK rules as being inside the Air Koryo plane already made me feel like I was under the watchful eye of the Dear Leader.\

You could easily tell who the North Korean citizens were. Each had a pin on his or her shirt, right over the heart, featuring either the beaming smile of Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader and Eternal President of Korea—the only official head of state who is dead—or a more innocuous pin with the North Korean flag on it.

Interesting. I'm looking forward to part 2.

This entry was not tagged.

Could Amazon’s Lending Library End in Court?

Could Amazon’s Lending Library End in Court? →

This explains so many questions about the new Amazon Kindle Lending Library: why it has so few books, why you can only browse the books from your Kindle, and why you can only check out one title per month.

PW has learned that the overwhelming majority of publishers with titles featured in the program did not reach any agreement with the retailer. Rather, these titles were taken without publishers' knowledge or consent.

... As has been reported already, titles from the big six houses were not included in the Lending Library because these publishers sell on the agency model. The books featured in Amazon’s Lending Library are all either self-published, published by Amazon (under one of its imprints), or published by houses that sell on the wholesale model. Amazon was able to include publishers’ titles without their consent because the e-tailer is treating the borrowing process as a sale—each time a Prime user borrows a book, Amazon pays the publisher as if the book was bought.

Apparently, some of the publishers (and some authors) are quiet upset about this. Legally, I'm not sure how this works. If Amazon is essentially buying a book, each time it's checked out, the publishers are still getting sales and Amazon is eating costs. This seems to financially hurt Amazon far more than the publishers. But, intellectual property contracts and law can be very slippery things and there may be legitimate ways that this hurts publishers and authors.

This entry was tagged. Kindle

Once a Global Also-Ran, Hyundai Zooms Forward

Once a Global Also-Ran, Hyundai Zooms Forward →

Maybe I should get a Hyundai for my next car.

Engineers from General Motors Co. took apart Hyundai Motor Co.'s Elantra sedan in 2009, studying the engine and trying to predict what the Korean auto maker might do next. When the latest Elantra launched this year, GM engineers were surprised: The compact sedan beat their predictions for weight, fuel economy and cost as well.

"In terms of momentum, [Hyundai] is a bigger threat right now than anyone else," says Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of GM, who still consults for the Detroit car maker. "I worry about them a lot."

Hyundai has had a lot of success building on it’s roots of keeping costs low (especially labor costs) and being able to innovate quickly, releasing new models faster than Toyota, Honda, or Ford can.

This entry was tagged. Imports Innovation

From Presidential Candidate to Rikers Island

From Presidential Candidate to Rikers Island →

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was ordered held without bail Monday after Manhattan prosecutors charged him with seven counts stemming from allegations he sexually assaulted a hotel housekeeper—a decision that sends one of the towering figures of international finance and French politics to a jail cell on New York's Rikers Island.

I like that very much.

This entry was tagged. Justice

Home Sales Data Doubted - WSJ.com

Home Sales Data Doubted - WSJ.com →

The housing crash may have been more severe than initial estimates have shown.

The National Association of Realtors, which produces a widely watched monthly estimate of sales of previously owned homes, is examining the possibility that it over-counted U.S. home sales dating back as far as 2007.

The group reported that there were 4.9 million sales of previously owned homes in 2010, down 5.7% from 5.2 million in 2009. But CoreLogic, a real-estate analytics firm based in Santa Ana, Calif., counted just 3.3 million homes sales last year, a drop of 10.8% from 3.7 million in 2009. CoreLogic says NAR could have overstated home sales by as much as 20%.

If true, that is definitely not good. It's going to take a whole lot longer than we thought to get back to a healthy housing market, if the number of unsold homes is a lot larger than we think it is.

This entry was tagged. Housing Market

Chill Out About Toyota Already

Well, I haven't posted anything about the Toyota brouhaha yet. So this is it.

Car and Driver takes down the Prius drivers whining about their brakes. Their high-tech regenerative breaks that all of them were so proud of a few years ago.

Popular Mechanics explains in painstaking detail exactly why Professor Dave Gilbert, of Southern Illinois University, is dead, dead wrong when he claims that electromagnetic interference causes unintended acceleration in Toyota's cars. Henry Payne points out that Professor Gilbert is being paid by trial lawyers suing Toyota and that ABC has been airing fraudulent footage in support of these fraudulent claims.

Finally, Steve Chapman reminds us that Toyota's are still amazingly safe.

During the last decade, the sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles has been blamed for 34 fatalities. In that same period, more than 21,000 other people died in accidents while riding in Toyotas. Your own lapses, and those of other drivers, are far riskier than the flaws found in your automobile.

Chuck Hurley, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, agrees on the pressing need for Toyota to repair its troubled cars. But he estimates that more than 80 percent of traffic deaths are the result of excessive speed, drunken driving, or unused seat belts. Last year alone, more than 11,000 Americans died in accidents involving drunk drivers. By contrast, only about 2 percent of wrecks stem from vehicle defects.

In summary, take a chill pill folks. Lay off of Toyota and remember that Congress outright owns two of Toyota's competitors. Do you think that might be influencing Congress's shameful behavior? I do.