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Victory for raw-milk seller in Minnesota

If your cow looks like this, don't drink its milk.

Another day, another big update on legal issues surrounding milk.

A soft-spoken Minnesota farmer was cleared of violating state laws for distributing raw milk Thursday, a verdict advocates for such foods called their first major legal victory.

The farmer stands in contrast to all of those loud, rambunctious people for which Minnesota is famous.

After a three-day trial and more than four hours of deliberation, a Hennepin County jury found Alvin Schlangen not guilty of three misdemeanor counts of selling unpasteurized milk, operating without a food license and handling adulterated or misbranded food.

The trial highlighted a deep national divide between raw milk advocates who contend unpasteurized dairy products can relieve allergies and prevent illness and public health officials who warn that raw milk can cause serious and sometimes fatal diseases, such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. …

Read more: Food, Living

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Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren debate climate change

Image by DonkeyHotey.

Unless you live in Massachusetts, you may not be aware that there was a debate in the state commonwealth's Senate race on Thursday. You may also have not been aware that there is a Senate race. (You are hopefully aware that there exists a governmental body called "the Senate.")

The race has drawn a lot of attention for a few reasons. First, the sitting senator, Republican Scott Brown, won election in 2010 in a heavily Democratic state over a candidate supported by President Obama. Second, his opponent is Elizabeth Warren, whose work inspired the president to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Third, the GOP is making a push to control the Senate this year. If they lose the Massachusetts seat, that becomes all but impossible.

As befits a Senate race, the debate focused on national issues, including, among its seven questions, a question on climate change. Video of the full debate is below; the question on climate change begins at 48:19. (An editorial aside: Watching this will bring back memories of high school class president elections in which the smart honor roll student takes on the popular quarterback.)

The question: "Do you believe climate change is real, and, if so, what should the federal government be doing about it?"

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Farewell, summer from hell

God, we missed you so much, fall. Don't ever leave* us again. (* Ugh.)

Today is the last day of summer in these United States. It has been a crappy one.

Not, like, your summer. I'm sure your summer was great: ice cream and swimming and lots of time at the arcade, or whatever you do for fun. I mean it's been crappy for these United States.

For one thing, it was hot. 2012 is on track to easily be the hottest year in America's recorded history:

Since January, year-to-date temperatures for the continental US have consistently run well above the 20th-century average with each passing month – reaching a maximum of 6 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the period ending March 31, then declining steadily to 4 degrees F above the 20th-century average for the period ending August 31. …

Still, that 4 degrees is at least a full degree higher than January-to-August averages in any of the five warmest years on record.

Yaaaaaay.

Read more: Uncategorized

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A man, a plan, a pipeline: The tycoon guiding Romney on energy

Reuters has an extremely long profile of our old friend Harry Hamm: Romney advisor, oil tycoon, patriot.

Some excerpts!

Once again, ladies and gents -- Harold Hamm. (Photo by Continental Resources.)

On Keystone XL

In 2009, the 66-year-old founder and chief executive of Continental Resources formed a lobby group of fellow Oklahoma oilmen and reached out to state governors, landowners and environmentalists along the proposed route. Hamm feared Keystone XL would flood his firm's backyard with cheap Canadian oil.

"We basically stopped Keystone at the border," Hamm said in an interview with Reuters, explaining how the alliance was able to stymie permits for the line. "We didn't want all that oil dumped in Oklahoma."

A year later, in 2010, Hamm turned around and backed the line after his lobbying succeeded in persuading the operator, TransCanada Corp., to add a $140 million extension, or spur. That addition would pick up Hamm's crude and that of other nearby U.S. producers and carry it to the refining hub along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

"When that changed, we felt like we had to support it," Hamm said.

The spur line could allow Continental to net an extra $20 per barrel for the crude it ships down the line. That adds up to as much as $200 million a year for Continental, after transportation costs, according to Reuters calculations that were vetted by industry analysts.

On Romney

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Romney opposes key support to wind industry, opposes Obama not helping wind industry

How can you tell when Mitt Romney is talking politics? Both sides of his mouth are moving.

For a while now, we've been blustering about a stupid impediment the wind industry faces -- the expiration of a tax credit for energy producers that puts an incentive on wind energy. The production tax credit (PTC), as its known, exists for a slew of other renewable sources, but only wind's is due to expire on Dec. 31. With an extension of the credit looking unlikely, wind power companies are cutting back on production, uncertain if the same (very high!) level of demand will exist in 2013. And cutting back on production means layoffs.

A wind farm in Minnesota. (Photo by Nic McPhee.)

The New York Times picked up the story:

The tax break, which costs about $1 billion a year, has been periodically renewed by Congress with support from both parties. This year, however, it has become a wedge issue in the presidential contest. President Obama has traveled to wind-heavy swing states like Iowa to tout his support for the subsidy. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has said he opposes the wind credit, and that has galvanized Republicans in Congress against it, perhaps dooming any extension or at least delaying it until after the election despite a last-ditch lobbying effort from proponents this week.

Opponents argue that the industry has had long enough to wean itself from the subsidy and, with wind representing a small percentage of total electricity generation, the taxpayers’ investment has yielded an insufficient return.

Reminder: the oil industry is celebrating its 96th year of receiving government subsidies.

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Study on GMO corn requires a non-GMO grain of salt

The Daily Mail is a British tabloid in the classic tradition of tabloids: sensationalized, eager to entertain, shallow. Here's an example headline it ran today: "Michelle thought diet pills could help her drop a dress size. Now she's got just ten years to live." I mean, that's a pretty solid headline right there. Clicking through, the story is a lot less salacious -- anecdotal experiences are prominent, while scientific evidence is mostly used as filler. A good reminder to take what you read in the Daily Mail with a grain of salt.

Here's another one of its headlines, this time from yesterday: "Cancer row over GM foods as study says it did THIS to rats... and can cause organ damage and early death in humans." The article is paired with truly grotesque photos of tumor-swollen rats, and a shot of a protestor dressed as the grim reaper in a field of corn.

Not the lab rats from the study. (Photo by jurvetson.)

Let's let Reuters describe the research behind this story.

Rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto's genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller Roundup suffered tumours and multiple organ damage, according to a French study published on Wednesday. …

Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and colleagues said rats fed on a diet containing NK603 -- a seed variety made tolerant to dousings of Roundup -- or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in the United States died earlier than those on a standard diet.

The animals on the GM diet suffered mammary tumours, as well as severe liver and kidney damage.

The researchers said 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.

Wow, right? Yeah, the Daily Mail put a powerful headline on the report, but this time it's clearly warranted!

Except for what's hidden behind that ellipsis up there.

Read more: Food

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Americans are eating so many friggin’ avocados these days

When I was a kid in upstate New York, we didn't eat avocados. Until I moved to California, I may never have eaten one. Maybe guacamole, but I don't remember it, and I think that eating green paste would have made some sort of imprint. (I'd also never had jicama, but that's a different category of odd.) Basically the entire extent of my familiarity with the things was an insult my sister made up, calling me "avoca-toes" for no real reason.

But maybe the problem wasn't growing up in Rochester. Maybe it was growing up several decades ago.

Avocados, in a bag, waiting. (Photo by Nate Steiner.)

From the Wall Street Journal:

With more people paying close attention to diet and health, more single produce items are rocketing to superstardom. ...

Such is the case with avocados. Mexican imports, available in all 50 states only since 2007, have led to year-round availability and now contribute more than 60% of U.S. supply. Avocado sales in 2011 totaled $2.9 billion, beating 2010 by 11%, according to the Hass Avocado Board, based in Irvine, Calif. Consumption in the first half of 2012 was 30% ahead of the same period last year.

Thirty percent! Americans in the first half of 2012 ate almost one-third more avocados than they did the year prior.

Read more: Food

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Low-income smokers in New York drop 25 percent of their income on cigarettes

Taxes on cigarettes are considered "sin taxes," costs intended, in part, to punish bad behavior. One bad behavior that cigarette taxes in New York punish: being poor.

Photo by DucDigital.

From the AP:

Low-income smokers in New York spend 25 percent of their income on cigarettes, according to a new study, which led advocates for smokers’ rights to say it proved high taxes were regressive and ineffective. …

In New York, which has the nation’s highest cigarette taxes, a pack of cigarettes can cost $12, though many smokers have turned to buying cheaper cigarettes online or to using roll-your-own devices.

Wealthier smokers -- those earning $60,000 or more -- spend 2 percent on cigarettes, according to the study. ...

[The American Cancer Society's Russ] Sciandra said state statistics showed that smokers earning less than $30,000 a year paid 39 percent of state and city taxes on cigarettes. He added that more of the cigarette tax revenue should be used to finance smoking-cessation programs.

To some extent, this is a function of percentages. If you only have $100, $25 will seem much more dear than if you have $1 million. But the impact is real. The Atlantic's Derek Thompson wrote about how people at various income levels spend their money. For an average low-income household, housing, utilities, and transportation alone generally eat up almost three-quarters of the budget.

Read more: Living

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Shell building world’s biggest ship that will sail on ever-higher seas

Pretty soon there's going to be a new world's biggest ship. Cool, right? It's probably going to sail the seas, laden with toys for children and cute animals, and bring joy to every dock. Like a reverse pirate ship, sent on missions to cheer up any city that needs it, overflowing with wonderful goodies and puppies and tons of mylar balloons with smiley faces on them. Right? That's probably what it's going to carry.

Shell will forge the hull of a floating [liquefied natural gas] plant in South Korea by year-end that will be the world’s largest vessel, weighing six times the biggest aircraft carrier, a Nimitz-class warship. Some 5,000 workers will build the factory to produce LNG off Australia’s northwest coast in a $13 billion project that also will shield Shell from escalating costs it would have to pay at the country’s onshore plants.

Rivals from Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. to GDF Suez SA of France likewise want to turn gas into liquid at sea, where many of the largest finds were made in the last decade. It’s a generational change for a land-based industry that started about 50 years ago in Algeria, where Shell provided technology for Camel, the first commercial LNG plant. Today those facilities typically cost at least $20 billion to build.

“We remove the need for the pipeline and use about 50 percent of the raw materials for an equivalent onshore plant,” said Neil Gilmour, Shell’s FLNG general manager. He’s overseeing construction of the world’s first floating LNG vessel, which will be as long as the Empire State Building, for use by the Prelude venture partners.

World's biggest ship sails past world's worst soccer field. (Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell Plc/Bloomberg.)

Oh, so it's going to be a giant gas refinery. That's cool too, I guess.

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Forecast for 2100: Massive rainstorms in the tropics

In at least one respect, climate math just got simple. A 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature yields 10 percent heavier rainfall extremes in the tropics. I mean, it's algebra. Where t is temperature and r is rainfall extreme:

t + 1 = r x 1.1

There you go. Oh, we should probably note, this is bad news for the tropics. From MIT's description of its study that produced this formula:

Extreme precipitation in the tropics comes in many forms: thunderstorm complexes, flood-inducing monsoons and wide-sweeping cyclones like the recent Hurricane Isaac.

Global warming is expected to intensify extreme precipitation, but the rate at which it does so in the tropics has remained unclear. Now an MIT study has given an estimate based on model simulations and observations: With every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature, the study finds, tropical regions will see 10 percent heavier rainfall extremes, with possible impacts for flooding in populous regions. ...

[MIT assistant professor of atmospheric science Paul] O’Gorman found that, compared to other regions of the world, extreme rainfall in the tropics responds differently to climate change. “It seems rainfall extremes in tropical regions are more sensitive to global warming,” O’Gorman says. “We have yet to understand the mechanism for this higher sensitivity.”

Read more: Climate & Energy