Friday, June 15, 2012

Farmland Investors Go Global

All Things Considered:
In some countries of Africa, there's a land rush under way as investors claim farmland, establish mega-farms and try to cash in on high prices for food and biofuels. These deals are controversial. Critics accuse investors of dispossessing subsistence farmers.
But there's another side to this story. There are plenty of people working in economic development who believe that this surge of interest in African farmland, if it's handled well, could also be an opportunity for Africa.
Investors certainly think so. Among them is Jes Tarp, CEO of a company called Aslan Global Management. A native of Denmark and former pastor, Tarp now lives in Wisconsin and runs a company that owns tens of thousands of acres of farmland in Ukraine and Africa.
The money for these ventures comes from small investors: "There are farmers, there are doctors, there are insurance agents. People from all walks of life," Tarp says.
Tarp tells these investors that they will do well. The farms in Ukraine are already profitable. And Tarp thinks the one in Africa eventually will yield "solid returns" of 15 to 20 percent each year.
But according to Tarp, his investors also want to do some good in the world. "The one thing that they have in common is, they are looking for an investment where their investment will make a difference," he says.
Some of their money is transforming a remote corner of Mozambique, in southern Africa. It's financing a farm called Rei do Agro, Portuguese for "King of Agriculture."
This seems crazy to me.  We've already arbitraged global labor to screw developed countries.  Now we are arbitraging land and food to screw third world countries.  It just doesn't make sense.   Maybe things will work out for the best, but I'm doubtful.

1920 Duluth Lynchings

June 15, 1920:
On June 14, 1920, the James Robinson Circus arrived in Duluth for a performance. Two local teenagers, Irene Tusken, age 19, and James Sullivan, 18, met at the circus and ended up behind the big top, watching the black workers dismantle the menagerie tent, load wagons and generally get the circus ready to move on. What actual events took place between Tusken, Sullivan and the workers are unknown; however, later that night Sullivan claimed that he and Tusken were assaulted, and Tusken was raped by five or six black circus workers. In the early morning of June 15, Duluth Police Chief John Murphy received a call from James Sullivan’s father saying six black circus workers had held the pair at gunpoint and then raped Irene Tusken. John Murphy then lined up all 150 or so roustabouts, food service workers and props-men on the side of the tracks, and asked Sullivan and Tusken to identify their attackers. The police arrested six black men in connection with the rape.
The authenticity of Sullivan's rape claim is subject to skepticism. When Tusken was examined by her physician, Dr. David Graham, on the morning of June 15, he found no physical evidence of rape or assault.
Newspapers printed articles on the alleged rape, while rumors spread throughout the town that Tusken had died as a result of the assault. Through the course of the day, a mob estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 people formed outside the Duluth city jail and broke into the jail to beat and hang the accused. The Duluth Police, ordered not to use their guns, offered little or no resistance to the mob. The mob seized Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie and found them guilty of Tusken's rape in a sham trial. The three men were taken to 1st Street and 2nd Avenue East, where they were lynched by the mob.
The next day the Minnesota National Guard arrived at Duluth to secure the area and to guard the surviving prisoners, as well as nine other men who were suspected. They were moved to the St. Louis County Jail under heavy guard.

How About a War On Furniture?

Micah Zenko:
According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.
This is in no means a minimization of the attacks on September 11.  But those terrorists hijacked airplanes, and were able to fly them into buildings because people thought they were just being taken hostage.  They weren't brilliant masterminds or super men.  Tom Clancy had a pilot flying a jetliner in a kamikaze attack on the Capitol building in "Debt of Honor."  We've totally freaked out because of one very, very lucky day by some lunatics.  Let's just regroup and relax.  God knows we've had over ten years to do so.

The Legend of Vladimir Guerrero

Jonah Keri:
And yes, he approached the game differently from anyone else, including sizing up opposing pitchers by facing them on his PlayStation. One of the oldest axioms in sports is to practice the way you play. No problem for Vlad. He swung at everything on PlayStation, too.
Favorite memory of Vlad was when he went yard on the pitch that bounced in the dirt. Never seen a player with an unlimited strike zone like Vladdy.

Pat Carroll
People tell stories about Vlad the way they might about Roy Hobbs, if he were real. I once saw Vlad make a diving catch over an alligator in right-center. Oh yeah? I once saw him hit a ball that landed in Moose Jaw. Pfft! You weren't there when he threw a guy out at home while lying in a sleeping bag in the right-field bleachers while his mom read him ghost stories.
Thing is, everything short of gators and Moose Jaw and sleeping bags actually happened. Tim Kurkjian wrote a whole feature about the home-run-on-the-pitch-that-bounced. I never saw Vlad hit a home run on a ball that bounced in front of the plate. But I did see him hit a ball off the wall in right-center on a pitch like that. And where most hitters learn plate discipline as their careers wear on, Vlad never lost his urge to swing at everything.
I just remember the home run he hit in, I believe, the 2005 2006 all-star game.  The thing was almost in the dirt, and he golfed it so far it was amazing.  As soon as he made contact I knew it was way gone.  Unbelievable.  I just finished reading a book about Yogi Berra, and he was the guy before Vlad who could hit any pitch.  I am always impressed by such players, mainly because I liked the pitches that were at least on the high side of the strike zone.  The hardest ball I ever hit (which went tremendously foul) would have hit the bill of my helmet if I hadn't have tomahawked it.  Good times.

Chart of the Day

Non-feed uses of corn (from Big Picture Ag):

Corn ethanol use for 2011/12 is projected up 50 million bushels this month to 5,050 million as recent ethanol production data have been stronger than expected. While slowing from its peak in December 2011, ethanol production and use has been partly sustained by ethanol exports, as declining gasoline use and limits to blending ethanol have curbed domestic use.
Think about that.  We've turned all the food we could into fuel, at least as long as most cars can't handle more than a 10% blend, so now we're exporting it.  Meanwhile, beef and pork prices go higher, because feed costs so much.  What's up with that?

I remember about 10 or 12 years ago, the county extension agent was doing some monthly ag meetings.  We were talking about the huge 13 million bushel corn crop, and nobody had any idea what we'd do with all that corn.  I jokingly suggested burning it.  That really got one farmer excited.  He thought I was serious.  I wasn't, but apparently somebody else was.  I really think this is bad policy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Elijah Craig Bourbon

June 14, 1789:
Whiskey distilled from maize is first produced by American clergyman the Rev Elijah Craig. It is named Bourbon because Rev Craig lived in Bourbon County, Kentucky.
In approximately 1789, Craig founded a distillery. This last enterprise led to his subsequent dubious reputation as the inventor of bourbon whiskey. Craig has sometimes been claimed to have been the first to age the distillation in charred oak casks, "a process that gives the bourbon its reddish color and unique taste."
When he built it, Craig's distillery was in the territory of the original Fayette County. The location later became part of Woodford County in 1789, and then Scott County in 1792. It was never in Bourbon County, as some have claimed. However, both Fayette County and Bourbon County were named in honor of the noted Revolutionary War Gen. Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette of the French nobility and its royal House of Bourbon.
As American whiskey authority Charles Kendrick Cowdery has observed, "By the time Bourbon County was formed in 1785, there were dozens if not hundreds of small farmer-distillers making whiskey throughout the region… Ultimately, most of the corn-based whiskey made west of the Alleghenies was called 'bourbon', to distinguish it from the rye-based whiskies that predominated in the East." Cowdery and some other historians assert that no actual historical evidence exists to indicate that Craig's whiskey was unique in its time or that he practiced charring of the aging barrels, and that the first known publication potentially alluding to Craig as the inventor of bourbon was not published until 1874 (and includes only a brief entry in a densely-packed list without actually mentioning Craig himself or pointing to any evidence, and without any elaboration as to what was claimed to distinguish the product as the first bourbon). In fact, it has been stated that considerable evidence exists to indicate that "Elijah was making exactly the same kind of whiskey that most of his contempararies were making" and that Craig's reputation as the inventor of bourbon is simply a "charming legend".
I like charming legends.

Senators Are Pathetic

Yves Smith:
In Senate testimony, Dimon revealed his idea of “portfolio hedging” to be even more egregious than the harshest critics thought. Dimon presented the job of the CIO to be to make modest amounts of money in good times and to make a lot of money when there’s a crisis. (That does not appear to be narrowly true, since in the last couple of years, during which there was no crisis, the CIO’s staff were among the best paid in the bank and produced significant profits for the bank. That is a bald faced admission that the CIO’s mandate had nothing to do with hedging. A hedge is a position taken to mitigate losses on an underlying exposure should they occur. Instead, Dimon has admitted that the mission of the CIO is to place bets on tail risks that are unrelated to JP Morgan’s exposures. A massive, systemically destructive strategy like the Magnetar trade would fit perfectly within the CIO’s mandate.
Needless to say, this definition is an inversion of not just what the Volcker rule was meant to stand for (limiting financial firm gambles with taxpayer money), it’s NewSpeak, or in this case, DimonSpeak: “a hedge is whatever I say it is, no more and no less.” Another bit of DimonSpeak was his specious response when he was arguing against the Volcker rule. The JP Morgan chief asserted that a customer loan could be construed to be a prop trade. Um, no, Volcker applies to trading books. The fact that he’d run a line like that shows how little he thinks of the intelligence of the Senate Banking Committee and the public generally.
And Senators, especially Republicans, just kissed his ass.  How pathetic are these losers?  The guy is a  jerk, and these guys gave him a free pass.  Some actually asked him how banks should be regulated!  Please guys, take his dick out of your mouth before asking your question.

Roll of the Dice In Election

After Diana Newland and Edward Lapeyre each won 111 votes in a runoff election Saturday and a recount confirmed the result yesterday, Texas election code forced the two to "cast lots." A nearby pair of dice settled the matter: Newland rolled a five, while Lapeyre came up short with a four.
"It seemed odd, but after discussing it [with Lapeyre], we were just ready to get it over with," Newland said, adding that her opponent was gracious about his misfortune. "I could not have gone out and campaigned a third time, and we had already gotten people to come out twice, bless their hearts."
The decisive roll followed two failed attempts. Lapeyre's first roll skipped off the table, and the city secretary had decreed beforehand that a do-over would be triggered by that outcome. When the second throws yielded a tie, Newland said she became "frayed around the edges."
But the third roll ended a race that Newland said had the town of 10,000 abuzz with anticipation since Saturday's inconclusive runoff.
I've seen drawing cards, flipping a coin or dealing a poker hand, but why don't they play rock, paper, scissors. 

Quitting the Republican Party

Michael Stafford tells why he quit the Republicans:
I came to the decision to leave the GOP not with a heavy heart, but with a broken one.
I reached this point through a long series of awakenings and realizations- a path marked by literally years of wrestling with, and finally accepting, the political implications of a number of difficult truths. It involved ever-increasing levels of cognitive dissonance, as I tried to square my experiences, concerns, and knowledge, with my continued loyalty to the GOP.
As a local GOP official after President Obama’s election, I had a front-row seat as it became infected by a dangerous and virulent form of political rabies.
In the grip of this contagion, the Republican Party has come unhinged. Its fevered hallucinations involve threats from imaginary communists and socialists who, seemingly, lurk around every corner. Climate change- a reality recognized by every single significant scientific body and academy in the world- is a liberal conspiracy conjured up by Al Gore and other leftists who want to destroy America. Large numbers of Republicans- the notorious birthers- believe that the President was not born in the United States. Even worse, few figures in the GOP have the courage to confront them.
Republican economic policies are also indefensible. The GOP constantly claims that its opponents are engaged in “class warfare,” but this is an exercise in projection. In Republican proposals, the wealthy win, and the rest of us lose- one only has to look at Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget to see that.
I can only say that I didn't leave the GOP with a broken heart.  I ran as a Republican candidate because I wanted to tell everybody they can't be crazy.  Instead, I kept my mouth shut, because everybody I knew sounded crazy.  I couldn't tell them all they were nuts.  Oh well.  Hopefully they will come to their senses.

Evolution And Politics?

Scientific American:
Which of these two narratives most closely matches your political perspective?
Once upon a time people lived in societies that were unequal and oppressive, where the rich got richer and the poor got exploited. Chattel slavery, child labor, economic inequality, racism, sexism and discriminations of all types abounded until the liberal tradition of fairness, justice, care and equality brought about a free and fair society. And now conservatives want to turn back the clock in the name of greed and God.
Once upon a time people lived in societies that embraced values and tradition, where people took personal responsibility, worked hard, enjoyed the fruits of their labor and through charity helped those in need. Marriage, family, faith, honor, loyalty, sanctity, and respect for authority and the rule of law brought about a free and fair society. But then liberals came along and destroyed everything in the name of “progress” and utopian social engineering.
Although we may quibble over the details, political science research shows that the great majority of people fall on a left-right spectrum with these two grand narratives as bookends. And the story we tell about ourselves reflects the ancient tradition of “once upon a time things were bad, and now they’re good thanks to our party” or “once upon a time things were good, but now they’re bad thanks to the other party.” So consistent are we in our beliefs that if you hew to the first narrative, I predict you read the New York Times, listen to progressive talk radio, watch CNN, are pro-choice and anti-gun, adhere to separation of church and state, are in favor of universal health care, and vote for measures to redistribute wealth and tax the rich. If you lean toward the second narrative, I predict you read the Wall Street Journal, listen to conservative talk radio, watch Fox News, are pro-life and anti–gun control, believe America is a Christian nation that should not ban religious expressions in the public sphere, are against universal health care, and vote against measures to redistribute wealth and tax the rich.
I don't really see this entirely as tribalism.  My family unit would probably be my closest tribe, and yet political opinions vary widely.  And my views have changed radically in a relatively short period of time.  I do believe that wanting to belong in a group can convince somebody to hew to stronger beliefs than the would otherwise, to try to fit in well.  That is why I think converts to a religion are so often hardcore believers.  However, my politics feel more contrarian these days, at least locally, so maybe I'm trying to exert independence from the group or maybe it is because of my doubt in the wisdom of crowds.  I'm not quite sure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

RA Dickey Is Still On Fire

Well the game isn't over yet, but RA Dickey has put up 8 more scoreless innings, running his streak to, I believe, 32 2/3 innings without giving up a run.  For a knuckleball pitcher, that is damned impressive.  I guess Cubs Dad should be doing pretty well since he caved in and picked him up for his fantasy league.  Even the biggest anti-knuckleball bigot can be won over with impressive pitching.

Update:  Dickey still has an earned run streak going, but the scoreless streak ended with an error, 2 passed balls and a hit ground out.

Romney Pisses Off Iowa Cafe Owner

Molly Ball:
Mitt Romney visited a cafe in western Iowa last week, and the cafe's owner was not impressed.
Dianne Bauer, owner of the Main Street Cafe in Council Bluffs, told a local TV station that Romney's staff trashed the place, that Romney didn't greet or thank her, and that when he called her afterward to smooth things over, she felt she was being mocked.

"He responded 'well, I'm sorry your table cloths got ripped off, wadded up and thrown in the back room' and I took it as mocking," she said. "We're the ones he's wanting to get the votes from, you'd think we would have been treated better." She says the whole experience left her wondering.
"With how he treated me, is that how he's going to treat others? You know, if he gets in office is he going to be that way to us little people?"
Bauer also noted in her interview with the local Fox station KPTM that when Rick Perry paid a visit during the primary, he went out of his way to schmooze her -- a perfect illustration of Perry's natural, glad-handing political style vs. Romney's general lack of human touch. (It's also a reflection of the increased security and production values of a general election vs. a primary, though, regardless of candidate: The owner noted that the Secret Service presence was "all out, like you'd think Obama was here.")
Romney is coming to our neighborhood to visit the renowned Republican diner of K's in Troy (Santorum was there in the primary).  He's coming on Sunday night, the day the restaurant has always been closed.  However, they will open for his visit, and no doubt he'll be disgusted by the wet grill frying burgers in grease. I won't be there.

The 2 Percent Inflation Trap

David Glasner:
When the rate of unemployment is above the natural level, a short-run increase in inflation generates an increase in output and employment that is permanent, and therefore greater than the cost associated with a temporary increase in inflation. As the unemployment rate drops toward the natural level, the optimal level of inflation drops, so there is no reason why the public should anticipate a permanent increase in the rate of inflation. When actual unemployment exceeds the natural rate, inflation, under a strict Friedmanian analysis, clearly pays its own way.
But we are now trapped in a monetary regime in which even a temporary increase in inflation above 2-percent apparently will not be tolerated even though it means perpetuating an unemployment rate of 8 percent that not so long ago would have been considered intolerable. What is utterly amazing is that the intellectual foundation for our new 2-percent-inflation-targeting regime is Friedman’s natural-rate hypothesis, and a straightforward application of Friedman’s hypothesis implies that the inflation rate should be increased whenever the actual unemployment rate exceeds the natural rate. What a holy mess.
I'll throw out two reasons why people are afraid of going beyond 2 percent inflation.  Regular folks don't believe that they'll see wage inflation, but they will see price inflation.  That's been how things have worked whenever the Fed quantitatively eases.  The funds pour into commodities and drive up prices, but nobody gets a raise.  Meanwhile, with interest rates at zilch, bond investors don't want to see anything that will drive down prices on the bonds they're holding.  Double whammy, and no action.  Sure it's stupid, but I think that's what the issues are.

Expired Food Is Often Fine

The Atlantic:
Much like the Pirate Code, it turns out that expiration dates on food packages are more of a guideline than anything else. Here's Nadia Arumugam, writing in January for
And even the Food and Drug Administration approves of outdated fare. The government agency decided that expiration dates are simply an indication of optimum quality as deemed by the manufacturer. "Foods can remain safe to consume for some time beyond sell-by and even use-by dates provided they are handled and stored properly," says Dr. Ted Labuza, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota. [...] Apart from baby formula and certain types of baby foods, product dating is not even required by federal regulations.
In many cases, the expiration date simply indicates when a food item has passed the point of optimal quality. Grocery stores will actually take expired foods and turn them into prepared goods sold from behind a counter. In short: this stuff is perfectly safe to eat.
Just a tip, eggs last way past the expiration date.  I've eaten them six months beyond the date, back in the days before I had chickens.  Now that I have the chickens, I sell the eggs and rarely eat any.  As for milk, my experience was that certain grocery stores had milk that lasted longer than other stores.  One store sold milk which was dated 2 weeks beyond the date of purchase, and it would last more than 2 weeks beyond that.  Another store had milk dated 7 days beyond the date of purchase, and it would only last 7 days beyond that.  I always followed the look, smell then taste strategy.  It hasn't failed me yet.

The Vacuum-Powered Human Spider


While the rest of us wait four more agonizing weeks for the theatrical premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man, student makers at Utah State University actually fabricated their own. Powered by vacuums, the so-called “Ascending Aggies” built their very own wall-crawler for an Air Force competition to help commandos scale tall buildings without stepping into a vehicle or picking up a grappling hook. The team of engineering undergrads out-competed teams from 16 other universities to win the Air Force Research Laboratory’s annual Design Challenge, earning $50,000 in grant money and a chance to win double that. All for what they call a “Vertical Ascender,” shown in the video above, that can haul at least 300 pounds — however noisily. Each Ascender is battery-powered and “designed to operate for about 30 minutes, which was several times the expected climb time,” Steven Hansen, the winning team’s faculty adviser, tells Danger Room. “For the competition, each university had one hour to train the Special Forces climbers and to get four climbers to the top of the 90-foot wall.”

The Myth Of Perpetual Growth

Paul Farrell:
Bottom line: Whether it’s Roubini or Roach, Kudlow or Krugman, you can’t trust the predictions of any economist. Ever. Best warning: That famous BusinessWeek editorial several years ago headlined: “What Do You Call an Economist with a Prediction? Wrong.”
Unfortunately, we live in a world of capitalists who thrive on the great Myth of Perpetual Growth, endless growth, ad infinitum, forever, till the end of time.
But driving the economists’ growth myth is population growth. It’s the independent variable in their equation. Population growth drives all other derivative projections, forecasts and predictions. All GDP growth, income growth, wealth growth, production growth, everything. These unscientific growth assumptions fit into the overall left-brain, logical, mind-set of western leaders, all the corporate CEOs, Wall Street bankers and government leaders who run America and the world.
But just because a large group collectively believes in something doesn’t make it true. Perpetual growth is still a myth no matter how many economists, CEOs, bankers and politicians believe it. It’s still an illusion trapped in the brains of all these irrational, biased and uncritical folks. Capitalism itself is at a crossroads. Growth is capitalism’s sacred cow but it’s “grow or die” theory doesn’t work anymore. With us since 1776, it’s being challenged by a “new god of reality” that’s flashing warnings of an emerging new reality from critics, contrarians and eco-economists.
I generally qualify as a contrarian.  I've always believed in the limits of  growth, especially when it comes to capitalizing on fossil fuels.  The green revolution has hidden some of the issues in agriculture, but I get the feeling we might see some real challenges on that front.  Not surprisingly, I've also been labeled a pessimist. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NBA Finals Prediction

Well, since I predicted the Kings in 6, I'll extend my guesses to the NBA.  I'll take the Heat in 7, just to see everybody pissed off.

Dishonesty And Creativity

Dan Ariely's new book looks at how and why we lie:
But could it be, Ariely wondered, greater intelligence was responsible for better stories? One experiment measured the brain structure of pathological liars, and compared it to normal controls — more specifically, the ratio of gray matter (the neural tissue that makes up the bulk of our brains) to white matter (the wiring that connects those brain cells). Liars, it turned out, had 14% less gray matter than the controls but had 22-26% more white matter in the prefrontal cortex, suggesting that they were more likely to make connections between different memories and ideas as increased connectivity means greater access to the reserve of associations and memories stored in gray matter. “Intelligence,” it turned out, wasn’t correlated with dishonesty — but creativity, which we already know is all about connecting things, was.
In another experiment, Ariely tested how “moral flexibility” was related to the level of creativity required in different jobs by visiting an ad agency and studying the capacity for dishonesty in representatives of its various departments:
[T]he level of moral flexibility was highly related to the level of creativity required in their department and by their job. Designers and copy-writers were at the top of the moral flexibility scale, and the accountants ranked at the bottom. It seems that when ‘creativity’ is in our job description, we are more likely to say ‘Go for it’ when it comes to dishonest behavior.
I have to admit, many of the folks I knew who made up or exaggerated stories were very creative.  One of my friends loved to exaggerate, and when we had something truly hard-to-believe and hilarious happen, he was more than ready to embellish the story.  I never quite understood why he couldn't be happy with what actually happened.  Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, I generally don't have to intentionally make up parts of my stories to have something outlandish to tell.

More On Pacquiao-Bradley

We were six or seven rows back from ringside, and when it became clear that Timothy Bradley Jr. had been declared winner by split decision over the heavily favored Pacquiao, my companion shot out of his chair and shouted: "WHAT'S HAPPENING? WHAT'S HAPPENING?? THIS IS MADNESS! WHO IS THAT GUY WHO DID THIS?"
That guy (and girl) were Nevada State Athletic Commission judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford, who each scored the fight 115-113, seven rounds to five, for Bradley. Or, if you choose to believe the whispers that swept through press row at the same time as a chorus of boos filled the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, "that guy who did this" might not have been the judges. According to a conspiracy theory that had been floated and workshopped and all but perfected in the two minutes it took to walk from the arena to an adjacent banquet room for the post-fight press conference, "that guy" was Pacquiao's promoter, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum.
This sounds far-fetched — and it is — but not much more far-fetched than the possibility that three professional judges who also happen to be human beings with eyeballs connected to optic nerves connected to non-lobotomized brains could watch that fight and believe that Bradley won. Or that it was even just a close victory for Pacquiao. There didn't seem to be a single reporter on press row who gave the fight to Bradley, and if there was, he or she must have been too ashamed to admit it. I overheard HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman saying he scored it eight rounds to four for Pacquiao, and that he thought doing so was being generous to Bradley. Ten rounds to two, nine to three, and even 11 to one in favor of Pacquiao were more common spreads among journalists who covered the fight. So when people tried to understand why Pacquiao lost a fight where he landed 82 more power punches than Bradley and 12 more jabs while connecting on a much higher percentage of his blows, it's no surprise that foul play came immediately to mind. Anyone who searched for a rational explanation for this result was bound to come up empty. After that, what's left but whatever cloak-and-dagger machinations you care to imagine in a sport controlled by a handful of powerful promoters with varying agendas and overseen by a patchwork of ineffectual state athletic commissions?
Those stats are pretty amazing, but I don't buy into the conspiracy theory.  That is one of the real issues with boxing, the scoring is much less than clear cut.  Back in the day, I used to watch Boxing After Dark and Championship Boxing on HBO, and I was usually scoring the fight pretty closely to how the announcers were, even when Prince Nassim Hamed was fighting, whom I hated with a passion, and rooted for him to get knocked through the ropes every fight.  However, the judges oftentimes scored the fight significantly different.   As for my boxing career, the closest I came to a victory was a split decision loss in which my roommates claimed I was robbed.  That's the breaks.

How Delaware Became Incorporation Central

Bloomberg (h/t Ritholtz):
By 1900, New Jersey had grown so fat from corporate fees that several fiscally challenged states -- including Arizona, Delaware, Maine, South Dakota and West Virginia -- followed its example and began competing to charter as many corporations as possible. Some states competed by charging lower fees, others promised laxer regulations, and several offered both.
In 1913, New Jersey, fiscally secure (for the time being), destroyed its own chartering business when it passed antitrust measures urged by its lame-duck Democratic Governor Woodrow Wilson, who argued that the fast-growing state no longer needed the revenue that chartering provided.
Delaware emerged as the corporate favorite after 1913 because it adopted New Jersey’s well-understood and respected corporate law and legal precedents, minus the antitrust attitude. As an additional inducement, it offered the whole package at half of what New Jersey charged.
The other charter-hungry states failed to keep pace for several reasons. South Dakota offered the nation’s lowest chartering and franchise fees, but business executives feared its volatile political climate, which featured powerful populist, progressive and Democratic forces. Its courts sometimes engaged in what the local newspaper described as “corporation lynching” and its capital was a tiny town at the very end of the railroad line adjacent to a large Indian reservation.
West Virginia and Arizona were also distant destinations with reputations for violence and bad weather that rendered them unattractive to corporate executives and their attorneys, even if the need to visit was merely prospective.
At the time, South Dakota, West Virginia and Arizona corporations carried the reputation of being especially untrustworthy.  So Delaware won out because they weren't quite as dodgy.

Iowa And Nebraska Get Drought Warning

CBS (h/t Big Picture Ag):
Farmers in Nebraska and Iowa should prepare for drought conditions this summer that could devastate their crops, climatologists said Thursday.

The warnings echoed what ranchers and farmers reported from their fields this week — dry conditions unlike anything they've seen.

Nebraska State Climatologist Harry Al Dutcher said the state averages an inch of rain per week in June, but the soil is so dry that crops will need nearly double the typical rainfall throughout the month just to grow as normal. And that, Dutcher said, is unlikely.

Farmers who irrigate will also have to use more water, raising their costs and cutting into their profits. Dry-land farmers are at the mercy of Mother Nature and crop insurance.

"Unless we go through an exceptional three-week wet spell, we're going to be playing this game on and off all growing season," Dutcher said. "At this point, it's just a matter of what is the degree of crop damage going to be? I hate to be so negative, but how can you not be at this point?"
I only got 0.2" out of the rain today, and our forecast is pretty dry for the next 10 days.  Some of our corn has been curling pretty bad the last couple of days, so things aren't looking all that great here, either.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Busy Week

Things may be somewhat slow on the blog this week, as everything else is getting pretty busy.  I've got a Lean event at work that will keep me there 11 hours a day, plus we've got to get the combine ready for wheat, and I've got to get the hay mowed and baled.  Sounds like a lot of fun.  I'll try to get a few things posted, but I don't know how much will actually get done. 

A Worthwhile Committee

June 11, 1776:
The Continental Congress appoints Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston to the Committee of Five to draft a declaration of independence.
While Jefferson did most of the work, he still hated the editing the document went through.  Normally committees come in for criticism, but in this case, something remarkable came out of one.

Arsenic and Rice

Deborah Blum:
The researchers of that study, based at Dartmouth College, identified rice as the primary source of inorganic arsenic. They found it (again, in very tiny amounts) in rice syrup used to sweeten baby formula, rice cereal,  rice flour used in making crackers and cookies. This does not mean that rice is by by nature  a poisonous plant. It isn’t.
But both soil and groundwater can contain arsenic -  as a naturally occurring element and as a residue from the use of arsenic-based pesticides. And , as the Dartmouth scientists noted,  “Although As (arsenic) is not readily taken up by crops or transported to the edible parts, a notable exception is rice…The magnitude of this uptake varies widely between cultivars but the ability to take up elevated concentrations of As (in comparison with other cereal crops) appears to be a trait found in the entire rice germplasm.”
In other words, rice turns out to be outstandingly good at absorbing arsenic from the environment and storing it.  One reason is that the plant is designed to easily absorb the mineral silicon which helps give rice grains their elegantly smooth structure. The crystalline structure of arsenic is just close enough that rice plants readily uptake arsenic as well. In fact, a toxic metal study, also from Dartmouth, describes rice as “a natural arsenic accumulator.”
The efficiency of this system also means that the arsenic tends to be absorbed directly in its more toxic inorganic from rather than being converted to an organic form of arsenic. And rice, experts say, seems to be a primary source of arsenic in the human diet..  Or as a newly published book  by Andrew Meharg,  at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Rice and Arsenic, puts it, “Rice is the major exposure route globally to the non-threshold carcinogen inorganic arsenic.”
She also brings up arsenic in chicken feed and apple juice.  Could Chinese pollution be adding more arsenic to rice-growing soils in Asia and eventually increasing arsenic uptake in rice?

Why Do The Wealthy Save?

Larry Willimore looks to an old essay to look at savings by the wealthy (h/t Mark Thoma):
There has been considerable discussion lately about the phenomenon of increasing concentration of income and wealth, and whether it might be good policy to collect more taxes from wealthy citizens. The standard theory of saving behaviour, known as the ‘Life Cycle’ hypothesis, is not helpful for this debate, nor does the model explain why Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are giving away almost all their wealth before they die, just as steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) did a century ago.
The Life Cycle model assumes that the only purpose of saving (accumulation of wealth through sacrifice of consumption) is to finance future consumption. Johns Hopkins economist Christopher D. Carroll in 1997 showed how and why “the model greatly underpredicts the amount of wealth held by the households at the top of the wealth distribution”. His essay is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.
I've just been thinking about this.  Personally, I think a sizable percentage of the wealthy are just naturally hoarders.  They just won't spend much money, regardless of how much they have.  Likewise, some poor people couldn't save money if they were handed a giant pile of dough.  As far as stimulation of the economy goes, giving someone like myself a tax cut isn't going to do anything but potentially overvalue the stock market.  Giving more money to folks with very little income, on the other hand, will definitely stimulate the economy.  Put another way, if somebody handed me $1 million today, I would put that money in the bank and "invest" in some stocks or maybe buy a farm.  I would still drive the same 2005 Ford Focus I am currently driving, at least until it seizes up or I run out of replacement parts.  Give somebody else $1 million, and I bet they spend most of it.   Who is better for the economy, the hoarder or the spender?

Farmers Frustrated By Gestation Crate Bans

Progressive Farmer:

"We're tired of these announcements. It's been used simply as a get-out-of-jail card that really has no meaning or anything behind it," said Dallas Hockman, National Pork Producers Council vice president of industry relations. "We have not seen any of what I would call serious commitment by these groups (restaurants and retailers) to meet with suppliers and identify a sourcing for that commitment."
A new study released by NPPC at its annual expo in Des Moines shows that only 17.3% of the nation's sows spend a portion of their time in open housing, defined as a pen where a sow has room to turn around.
The survey had 70 responses from operations of 1,000 sows or more, which combined own about 3.6 million of the nation's 5.7 million sows. When asked about plans to put more sows in open pens, the operators indicated 23.8% of their sows would be in open pens within two years, a 6.5 percentage point increase.
Kroger, the nation's largest grocery chain, announced early this week it's joining Wendy's, McDonald's, Smithfield Foods, Hormel Foods Corporation, Burger King, Denny's, Safeway and others in saying it will eventually stop buying pork produced using gestation crates.
In a recent news release, Kroger said it "concluded that there are many ways to humanely house sows. Kroger believes that a gestation-crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation-crate-free housing for pregnant sows."
Just some advice for farmers, but if you are planning a new facility, plan an open pen facility.  These companies are going to have to follow through on those announcements, so you'll come out for the better.  If you have a gestation crate facility, start planning how you will make a conversion.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Germans Own

From Ritholtz:

Looks to me like the Germans will eventually bail out Europe, one way or another.  If they don't work out a deal to rework the PIIGS sovereign debt, they'll have to bail out their own banks to make depositors whole.  Insurance is going to face issues also.

NASA Photo of the Day

June 4:

Milky Way Galaxy Doomed: Collision with Andromeda Pending
Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. van der Marel (STScI), and A. Mellinger
Explanation: Will our Milky Way Galaxy collide one day with its larger neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy? Most likely, yes. Careful plotting of slight displacements of M31's stars relative to background galaxies on recent Hubble Space Telescope images indicate that the center of M31 could be on a direct collision course with the center of our home galaxy. Still, the errors in sideways velocity appear sufficiently large to admit a good chance that the central parts of the two galaxies will miss, slightly, but will become close enough for their outer halos to become gravitationally entangled. Once that happens, the two galaxies will become bound, dance around, and eventually merge to become one large elliptical galaxy -- over the next few billion years. Pictured above is an artist's illustration of the sky of a world in the distant future when the central parts of each galaxy begin to destroy each other. The exact future of our Milky Way and the entire surrounding Local Group of Galaxies is likely to remain an active topic of research for years to come.

Why The Economy Is Dragging

Little by little, our economy is reducing its debt burden, slowly repairing the damage caused by 10, 20 or 30 years of excess.
If you want to know why economic growth has been so tepid, here’s your answer. Four years after the storm hit, the economy is still deleveraging. And it’s very hard for any economy to grow when everyone is focused on increasing their savings.
Total domestic — public and private — debt as a share of the economy has declined for 12 quarters in a row after surging over the previous decade. The rapid rise in federal debt over the past four years has distracted us from the big picture. The level of public debt is indeed worrisome, but it’s not as big a worry as the economy’s total level of debt — public and private.
Although we have a whole cottage industry devoted to warning us about the dangers of too much public debt, we don’t have any comparable Cassandras telling us about the dangers of too much private debt. Yet the history of the past 30 years (or 300) clearly shows that too much debt, of whatever variety, can pose a systemic risk to the national and global economies.
As much as we hear politicians, pundits, tea-party patriots and the Congressional Budget Office obsessing about government debt, it was excessive private debt — not public debt — that caused the 2008 financial meltdown. And it was private debt — some of it since transferred to the public — that lies behind the current European debt crisis. (Greece is unique in having a public sector that ran up spending while its private sector is rather conservative.)
When the private sector is deleveraging, the nation must be exporting and/or the public sector must be borrowing.  The Republican plan to slash government spending, if actually acted upon, would torpedo the economy.  It will be interesting to see if they go back on their pledges if they win the elections this fall, or if they are dumb enough to actually do what they say they will do.

Bradley Gets By Pacquaio In Split Decision

Timothy Bradley promised to shock, though the biggest shock in his fight with Manny Pacquiao came from the judges' scorecards.
In a fight Pacquiao seemed to have in hand, two judges decided otherwise, giving Bradley a split decision Saturday night and ending the Filipino fighter's remarkable seven-year unbeaten run.
Promoter Bob Arum fumed, the crowd at the MGM Grand arena booed, and Pacquiao seemed stunned when the decision was announced. Arum said there would be a November rematch, though he blasted the way the decision went down.
"I've never been as ashamed of the sport of boxing as I am tonight," said Arum, who handles both fighters.
Bradley came on strong in the later rounds, winning five of the last six on two scorecards and four on the third. He won 115-113 on the scorecards of judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, while losing on Jerry Roth's scorecard by the same margin. The Associated Press had Pacquiao winning 117-111.
"I did my best," Pacquiao said. "I guess my best wasn't good enough."
Pacquiao tried to turn the fight into a brawl, using his power to hurt Bradley in the early rounds. But Bradley changed tactics in the middle rounds and used his boxing skills to win enough rounds to take the narrow decision for the welterweight title.
It ended a 15-fight winning streak by Pacquiao dating to 2005 that turned him into a boxing superstar and made him a national hero in the Philippines.
A very questionable decision in a marquee fight is exactly not what boxing needs.  But, controversy and boxing go hand-in-hand.  I just wish they could have some major fights you don't have to drop $50 to watch.

The Autopsy Of MF Global

It’s apparent from Mr. Giddens’s report that as MF Global’s financial woes deepened last summer and fall, protecting customer assets was among the least of Mr. Corzine’s priorities. Mr. Corzine testified to Congress that he never knowingly asked anyone to break the law, and nothing in the report explicitly contradicts that. At the same time, he made demands for cash that appear to have left employees no alternative but to divert customer assets.
None of this would have been possible if regulators actually required firms like MF Global to keep customer funds safe. Instead, the commodities commission allows firms to use an alternative method for calculating customer funds in foreign accounts that vastly understates what belongs to customers. Cash, for example, doesn’t count. The difference between what MF Global actually owed its customers and what it needed to segregate under the alternative method was calculated at the firm on a daily basis and often exceeded $1 billion. Although MF Global reported only the alternative calculation to regulators, it prepared its own segregation report every day that showed the true extent of its liabilities. MF Global, like most brokerage firms, also kept a surplus in the segregated funds to make sure that it never ran short. This was available to the firm for other purposes, although in practice it was rarely used. But as the European debt crisis escalated last summer and demands for greater liquidity intensified, the firm proposed to tap the surplus and borrow funds overnight from segregated customer accounts, which prompted a worried response from Ms. Serwinski, according to the report. “Client assets may be put at risk even if for overnight,” she warned, and then asked whether, in the event of “financial crisis,” there was any guarantee that the firm would be able to repay its customers.
The answer, clearly, was no.  Corzine and others should be prosecuted. I don't understand how creditors got margin money, but customers got screwed.  What a bunch of crooks.

The Impact of the Triple Crown Scratch

Connor Simpson:
When it was announced Friday afternoon that I'll Have Another was pulling out of the Belmont, we knew the financial implications at the betting window would be huge. The New York Post is reporting that the ticket resale market has almost completely dried up since Friday afternoon. General admission tickets were going for as much as $80 dollars before I'll Have Another pulled out, but are now going for $9. One man who spoke to the Post said he had four tickets to the race he was going to sell for $2,400, but since the news broke that their would be no potential Triple Crown winner his phone's gone cold and he can't move the tickets.
I'm not too surprised by this.  I am surprised that somebody thought they could get $2400 for four tickets.