Saturday, November 16, 2013

Land Price Crest?

This chart is open to that interpretation (from Big Picture Agriculture):

 With already falling grain prices, the bearish impact of the ethanol mandate reduction, lack of interest from Wall Street, higher interest rates due to eventual Fed tapering and increasing fear of  deflation, I think land prices will face severe headwinds going forward.  I would call a secular agricultural land price peak for the time frame between harvest 2012 and harvest 2013.

2013 National Geographic Photo Contest

Via The Atlantic, National Geographic's photo contest for this year is here.  One of my favorites:

Fall Moose: I was fortunate to come across this moose having his evening meal in the Snake River, in Wyoming. He had chosen an excellent backdrop for his dining and the least I could do was get a snapshot of it. (© Glen Hush/National Geographic Photo Contest) #

Ray Mancini on the Duk Koo Kim Fight

The BBC interviews Ray Mancini on the fateful fight 31 years ago this week:
On 13 November 1982, reigning WBA lightweight world champion, Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini was due to defend his title against challenger, the South Korean Kim Deuk-koo.
In Mancini's words it was going to be an "action fight" in front of a 15,000-strong crowd at Las Vegas's fabled Caesar's Palace venue. Millions more were tuning in at home on TV.
It was a fight that Mancini went on to win but his opponent suffered fatal injuries that would cause great controversy and change the sport.
Thirty-one years on from that fateful night, Ray Mancini talks about the fight.
The video is at the link (no embed feature).  More on the fight and its impact here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

In New England - Fall 2013

In New England - Fall 2013 from Vincent Urban on Vimeo.

Terrible Day for a Local Horse Owner

Dayton Daily News:
Three people are injured and seven horses are dead after dozens of horses escaped an area farm.
An estimated 39 horses got away from a Miami County property on West Sugar Grove Road early Friday morning. Some were wrangled in the 8000 block of U.S. 36 on the western edge of Covington.
Others were found along U.S. 36, where at least three crashes were caused by the roaming horses.
The horses in those crashes died.
Two crashes occurred within minutes of each other around 3:30 a.m. on Ohio 41, east of Covington. Drivers in those crashes were taken to Upper Valley Medical Center for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.
Three horses were killed in the wrecks on Ohio 41.
An additional horse was injured, but later put down by a Miami County deputy with the permission of the owners. The horse's injuries were determined to be too severe to survive, according to deputies.
As of 5:50 a.m., deputies and wranglers still searched the widespread area, searching for more than a dozen horses still unaccounted for. By 8:30 a.m., it was believed all 39 horses were captured.
I've had a cow get hit by a car, and that is a really shitty situation.  Having 39 horses out and seven get hit by cars is a terrible day.  I am glad to see a deputy put one horse down.  When my cow needed shot, the deputy wouldn't do it.  I had to go back home and get a gun and shoot the cow myself.  That wasn't the best start to a morning.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Unknown Known

Rumsfeld and Cheney, the Gerald Ford boys, were such a driving force, and so in error.

The Meaning of the McRib

Ian Bogost claims the pure phoniness of the McRib is meant to make the rest of the processed food at McDonalds seem more normal.  I love this description of the sandwich:
“Pork” is a generous term, since the McRib has traditionally been fashioned from otherwise unmarketable pig parts like tripe, heart, and stomach, material that is not only cheap but also easier to mold and bind into a coherent, predetermined shape. McDonald’s accurately lists the patty’s primary ingredient as “boneless pork,” although even that’s a fairly strong euphemism. Presumably few of the restaurant’s patrons would line up for a Pressed McTripe.
Despite its abhorrence, the McRib bears remarkable similarity to another, more widely accepted McDonald’s product, the Chicken McNugget. In fact, the McRib was first introduced in 1982, shortly after the company had designed the McNugget. Chicken McNuggets are fashioned by the same method as is the McRib, namely by grinding factory-farmed chicken meat into a mash and then reconstituting them into a preservative-stabilized solid, aka a “nugget.” And both products are bound and preserved by a petrochemical preservative called tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ. According to the Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, one gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” In a 2003 lawsuit accusing McDonald’s of consumer deception, federal district court judge Robert W. Sweet called Chicken McNuggets a “McFrankenstein creation.”
But despite rejoinders like that of Judge Sweet, the Chicken McNugget flies under the radar, hiding its falseness, while the McRib flaunts it. In part, this is because the concept of a Chicken McNugget corresponds with a possible natural configuration of ordinary poultry, whose meat could be cut into chunks, battered, and fried. By contrast, there is no world in which pork spare ribs could be eaten straight through, even after having been slow cooked such that some of the cartilage breaks down. It’s a partial explanation for the horror and the delight wrought by McRib, but not a sufficient one.
I've got to say that I had never eaten a McRib sandwich prior to reading this article this morning.  After I read this description I thought, "I've got to have one."  So McRib was my lunch.  Yeah, it's kind of odd, but all that talk of tripe made me want to try it out (although the article mentions that McDonalds claims it no longer contains offal).  How was it? Meh.  I'll be able to live through several more appearances of the McRib without having another one.

The Beauty of Mathematics

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who's Taking it on the Chin in the Recession?

Rural folks:
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual survey of rural America, which puts the divergence in stark relief. Non-metropolitan areas experienced their first recorded period of population loss, and a decline in the labor force participation rate pushed unemployment down slightly (though the jobless rate surpassed the urban unemployment rate earlier this year). But even as the rest of the country entered a tepid recovery, and some rural areas gained jobs from the natural gas boom, net employment didn't budge rural regions:

The bifurcation adds another dimension to the widening political and social urban-rural divide.
The Department of Agriculture has a whole division devoted to rural issues, which is aimed at fixing the jobs problem through initiatives such as farming cooperatives and infrastructure development. But the long-term problem might be more structural in nature, as the USDA suggests in its finding that suburbanization is slowing down:
The housing mortgage crisis slowed suburban development and contributed to an historic shift within metro regions, with outlying metro counties now growing at a slower rate than central counties. Similarly, nonmetro counties adjacent to metro areas that had been growing rapidly from suburban development for decades declined in population for the first time as a group during 2010-12. This period may simply be an interruption in suburbanization or it could turn out to be the end of a major demographic regime.
It's important to note, though, that not all cities have recovered equally from the recession.
As much as I love this part of the country, we are getting killed.  It just isn't good.

Mapping Twitter F-Bombs

Well, somebody is (via the Dish):

Sorry, that is badass. Also, I've got to go to Twitter and say, "Fuck yeah."

A Bronze Stalk Battle

Not that I'm totally up on the Mid-American Conference. but  when it comes to the Bronze Stalk Trophy, a guy has to make a decision.  Because of the whole Dekalb seed corn tie-in, plus my hatred of all things Indiana, I'll be rooting for Northern Illinois.  Come on Huskies, win this:

You gotta love that motivation.

How to Beat The Price is Right

 Ben Blatt breaks down how to beat the games on The Price is Right
NOW and THEN is hardly the only contest where game theory can greatly increase your chances. Many others can be cracked with a bit of knowledge of the show's (nonrandom) habits. Consider the pricing game called Squeeze Play. Current host Drew Carey shows the contestant either a five- or six-digit number and asks the player to remove one digit from the number—first and last digit excluded—to reveal the price of a prize. Over the last eight years, this game has been played 215 times with a five-digit number, meaning the contestant can either remove the second, third, or fourth digit. If every contestant had gone into the game opting to pick the third digit, regardless of the prize or the numbers displayed, the combined contestant winning percentage would have been 49.8 percent. Instead, players got wrapped up in guessing the exact price—and had a combined winning percentage of just 35.8 percent.          
The reason that it's better to always pick digit No. 3 in Squeeze Play is that the show’s producers are clearly not placing the numbers randomly. The wrong digit was placed in the third slot 49 percent of the time as compared with 22 percent and 28 percent for the second and fourth, respectively. The discrepancy between the winning digit's location and what we would expect if that digit were placed randomly is statistically significant—meaning the placement is not, actually, random. Whether the show's producers are intentionally favoring the middle location, or are doing so simply because they’ve failed to simulate randomness, is unclear. What is clear is that guessing the middle digit is the safest bet in Squeeze Play.
This isn’t a knock on The Price is Right. The show makes no promises of behaving like a casino, with perfectly random distribution of numbers. And its nonrandom habits are great for the contestant—and presumably for the show, which doesn’t want to feature an endless parade of losers.
Apparently, my favorite game, Cliff Hangers, is one of the easiest to beat.  But I so love hearing the yodeling.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Ox

The Ox from Ben Proudfoot on Vimeo.

Economists and Comedians

Via naked capitalism, The Irish Times highlights a gathering of economists and comedians at Kilkenomics Festival.  My favorite part:
The highflying economists found at Kilkenomics already have a maverick disposition. This is clear at Friday’s SAS Young Economist of the Year competition where the aforementioned Black, one of the judges, refers to a “drug-crazed roommate” in an anecdote and Nobel-tipped behavioural economist Dan Ariely explains the concept of scarcity with reference to overweight elephant seals who “sometimes kill the females when they copulate.”
“I really hope there’s a point to this,” says worried compere Colm O’Regan, before fine-tuning the story for the school-going audience: “When a male seal and female seal like each other very much…”
WTF?  The use of the word copulation brings up a couple of memories.  First, looking up copulation in our thesaurus was the most popular use for the book at our parochial grade school.  Second, when we were doing public speaking in drama class, one of the guys commented on a presentation by writing, "good oral copulation."  When the teacher read it, she burst into tears and left the room.  That wasn't expected.

The Great Whale Slaughter

Pacific Standard:
The work began inauspiciously. In her first season, the Slava caught just 386 whales. But by the fifth—before which the fleet’s crew wrote a letter to Stalin pledging to bring home more than 500 tons of whale oil—the Slava’s annual catch was approaching 2,000. The next year it was 3,000. Then, in 1957, the ship’s crew discovered dense conglomerations of humpback whales to the north, off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. There were so many of them, packed so close together, the Slava’s helicopter pilots joked that they could make an emergency landing on the animals’ backs.
In November 1959, the Slava was joined by a new fleet led by the Sovetskaya Ukraina, the largest whaling factory ship the world had ever seen. By now the harpooners—talented marksmen whose work demanded the dead-eyed calm of a sniper—were killing whales faster than the factory ships could process them. Sometimes the carcasses would drift alongside the ships until the meat spoiled, and the flensers would simply strip them of the blubber—a whaler on another fleet likened the process to peeling a banana—and heave the rest back into the sea.
The Soviet fleets killed almost 13,000 humpback whales in the 1959-60 season and nearly as many the next, when the Slava and Sovetskaya Ukraina were joined by a third factory ship, the Yuriy Dolgorukiy. It was grueling work: One former whaler, writing years later in a Moscow newspaper, claimed that five or six Soviet crewmen died on the Southern Hemisphere expeditions each year, and that a comparable number went mad.
Over the years, it is estimated the Soviet whaling fleet killed 180,000 whales, even though the Soviets had no real uses for the whale meat.  So why did they kill them?  To meet numbers:
 The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products. “Whalers knew that no matter what, the plan must be met!” Berzin wrote. The Sovetskaya Rossiya seemed to contain in microcosm everything Berzin believed to be wrong about the Soviet system: its irrationality, its brutality, its inclination toward crime.
That is insane.  

How Big was Haiyan?


Haiyan is the strongest storm to ever make landfall, according to Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground, a Web site often quoted by the best weather experts. Masters knows severe weather data better than anyone I’ve encountered, and his blog is filled with fascinating facts. The “strength” of a cyclone, typhoon or hurricane—they’re all the same storm, just different names used in different parts of the world—is determined by the top speed of sustained winds, not gusts. According to Masters, Haiyan had sustained winds of 190 to 195 mph when it struck the Philippines, making it the strongest cyclone ever at the time of landfall.
It was also the fourth strongest cyclone ever recorded, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii. Three others had higher sustained winds while out at sea, then weakened before hitting land: Typhoon Nancy in 961, with 215 mph winds; Typhoon Violet in 1961, with 205 mph winds; and Typhoon Ida, in 1958, with 200 mph winds. All three eventually hit Japan. The second strongest storm at the time of landfall was Hurricane Camille, which struck Mississippi bearing 190 mph winds.
It’s important to realize that even a modest rise in speed can cause a huge increase in damage, because the power in wind increases as the cube of speed; a wind that is twice as strong delivers eight times as much power. Camille obliterated towns and the landscape. If the same storm hit Miami or New York City today, Masters says, the damage could be half a trillion dollars. Building codes in southern Florida require the highest wind resistance in the world, Masters says, yet the rules have only been in effect for a couple of decades and many buildings are older than that.
While it has gotten a good bit of coverage here, imagine what things would be like if this thing hit the U.S.  We'd be hearing about it for months.

Not the First Time The Postal Service Delivered on Sunday

Here's a little Postal Service history I didn't know:
And i1810, Congress passed a law requiring that local post offices be open for at least an hour on Sundays; most were open for much longer.
Despite and because of all that, the Postal Service was also … a party. As the historian Claude Fischer puts it, "post offices themselves were important community centers, where townsfolk met, heard the latest news read aloud, and just lounged about." (The offices played that role, in part, because the Postal Service didn't offer home delivery, even in large cities, until after 1860.) On Sundays, that town-center role was magnified. When everything else was closed but the local church, post offices were places you could go not just to pick up your mail, but also to hang out. They were taverns for the week's tavern-less day. "Men would rush there as soon as the mail had arrived," Fischer writes, "staying on to drink and play cards." 
Post offices, as a result, were also sources of controversy. In the 1820s, leaders from a variety of Protestant denominations campaigned to end Sunday delivery on religious grounds. Similar movements would arise over the course of the 19th century. And the objection wasn't just to the Sunday-ness of Sunday delivery, to the fact that mail delivery on Sunday was a violation of the Sabbath. It was also to the social-ness of Sunday delivery. The six-day-delivery campaigns, Fischer writes, were "part of the churches’ wider efforts to enforce a 'Puritan Sabbath' against the demands of Mammon and against worldly temptations like those card games." Exacerbating the problem, from the Puritanical perspective, was the rise in immigration among Catholics, "many of whom," Fischer notes, "celebrated 'Continental' Sundays which included all sorts of secular pleasures—picnics, even beer halls—after (or instead of) church."......
Toward the end of the 19th century, though, another alliance would arise: Religious leaders would join with organized labor to end Sunday mail delivery. For workers, closing post offices on Sundays wasn't necessarily a matter of religion, but it was a matter of time. A Sunday-less work week was also a six-day work week. (Though, Fischer points out, "the church-labor alliance did have its limits. Protestant ministers and the union men disagreed on how the Lord’s day of 'rest' should be spent—in religious devotion or in play.")
It proved to be the right alliance for the right time.
Yeah, I didn't know they used to deliver mail on Sundays.  For more on Sunday drinking, see here and here and here and here and here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Record Breaker

The Record Breaker from Brian McGinn on Vimeo.

Ethanol Industry Worries About Mandate

National Journal:
As the Environmental Protection Agency readies next year’s renewable-fuel standard, both biofuels producers and gasoline refiners are poised to pounce. No matter where EPA sets the volume requirements for ethanol and other biofuel blends in 2014, the standard is going to face push-back.
“Groups within the biofuel industry are fully committed to challenging the rule in court if the EPA changes how it implements the standard,” said Paul Winters, communications director for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “We want to see the targets continue to be set at the highest-achievable level.”
The biofuels industry is concerned about the 2014 standard because a leaked draft of the proposal showed the agency might reduce the target for renewable fuels from the statutory requirement of 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion gallons next year.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy emphasized in a statement last month that no decisions would be made until all stakeholders had an opportunity to provide input, but the leaked draft made many ethanol producers nervous.
While reducing the requirement will definitely not be bullish news for the corn market, this would really kick the shit out of farmers:
A bill to eliminate the standard’s corn-based ethanol requirements—sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Jim Costa, D-Calif., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Steve Womack, R-Ark.—is pending in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
That would destroy the frothy Midwestern land market. And that's why it most likely wouldn't ever happen.

Inequality Chart of the Day

Via Ritholtz, the WSJ:

 Lord, please give us more tax brackets with higher marginal rates.

Fractal Vegetable

Wired features fractal patterns in nature:

Romanesco Broccoli

This variant form of cauliflower is the ultimate fractal vegetable. Its pattern is a natural representation of the Fibonacci or golden spiral, a logarithmic spiral where every quarter turn is farther from the origin by a factor of phi, the golden ratio.
Image: Flickr/Tin.G.
They've got more.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

NASA Photo of the Day


Comet Between Fireworks and Lightning
Image Credit & Copyright: Antti Kemppainen
Explanation: Sometimes the sky itself is the best show in town. In January 2007, people from Perth, Australia gathered on a local beach to watch a sky light up with delights near and far. Nearby, fireworks exploded as part of Australia Day celebrations. On the far right, lightning from a thunderstorm flashed in the distance. Near the image center, though, seen through clouds, was the most unusual sight of all: Comet McNaught. The photogenic comet was so bright that it even remained visible though the din of Earthly flashes. Comet McNaught has now returned to the outer Solar System and is now only visible with a large telescope. The above image is actually a three photograph panorama digitally processed to reduce red reflections from the exploding firework.

Humanitarian Food Aid Reform May Hurt Merchant Marine

All Things Considered:
Over the past quarter-century, the Merchant Marine has hit one obstacle after another. Rising labor costs in the U.S. made U.S. mariners less competitive and environmental laws raised the cost for U.S.-flagged ships.
The past year has been especially tough. First, sequestration cuts threatened to cut off funding for the 80 ships that are currently supported by the U.S. military, which depends on the Merchant Marine to transport vital war supplies.
Now, a proposed change in the U.S. food aid programs threatens to further reduce funding. Currently, the U.S. government buys millions of dollars of food here in the U.S. and ships it abroad on American vessels.
Chris Barrett, who researches economics at Cornell University, says the U.S. food aid programs were created in 1954 to dispose of government-held commodity surpluses.
"It turned out that the main thing could really accomplish with food aid besides surplus disposal was humanitarian assistance," Barrett says. "It was a very effective vehicle for responding to emergencies that resulted from natural disasters."
Barrett says the proposed change would allow the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to shop locally for food aid. It would be able to purchase up to 45 percent of food aid for developing countries in local markets. That would essentially divert purchases from the American market. And less food coming directly from the U.S. would mean less shipping for the Merchant Marines.
The story is pretty interesting.  Good to know that humanitarian food aid was a way to support farmers and sailors.

In a somewhat related story, John Tierney visits Maine Maritime Academy, one of seven maritime academies in the country, where the outlook is more positive for the merchant marine:
Increasing numbers of MMA students come to study marine science and marine biology, many doing a dual-degree option in small-vessel operations, which prepares them to work in various fields of ocean science where they may also need the capability to operate small research craft (“small” here means vessels not over 200 gross tons).  That particular combination is very popular and, one professor told me, “golden” in its career prospects.
And that’s the point. Whatever their course of study, young people enroll here because they know their education will prepare them for a career, typically a quite lucrative one. MMA understandably boasts that each year it places more than 90 percent of its graduating class in professional employment or graduate studies within 90 days of graduation, many of those with starting salaries over $100,000. At a recent career fair on campus, 80 companies showed up to recruit MMA students, many of whom already have firm job offers well before they’re seniors.
Maine Maritime got mentioned on the blog previously for their run-oriented football team.  I did not realize there were seven maritime academies in the U.S.

For Some, Pope Isn't Conservative Enough

When Pope Francis was elected in March, Bridget Kurt received a small prayer card with his picture at her church and put it up on her refrigerator at home, next to pictures of her friends and her favorite saints.
She is a regular attender of Mass, a longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement and a believer that all the church’s doctrines are true and beautiful and should be obeyed. She loved the last two popes, and keeps a scrapbook with memorabilia from her road trip to Denver in 1993 to see Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day.
But Ms. Kurt recently took the Pope Francis prayer card down and threw it away.
“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Ms. Kurt, a hospice community educator. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”
In the eight months since he became pope, Francis has won affection worldwide for his humble mien and common touch. His approval numbers are skyrocketing. Even atheists are applauding.
But not everyone is so enchanted. Some Catholics in the church’s conservative wing in the United States say Francis has left them feeling abandoned and deeply unsettled.
The Pope's too liberal for conservatives after years of saying that if you disagreed with the Pope you weren't really a Catholic?  Hee hee.  I wonder how many of those folks are praying that we'll get a new Pope soon.

We Need Better Legislators

Rep. John Becker has a stupid idea:
House Bill 340, sponsored by Rep. John Becker, R-Union Twp., would exempt all firearms manufactured and sold in Ohio from federal law and regulation. Firearms produced in Ohio would be stamped “Made in Ohio.” The bill excludes machine guns, bombs and weapons that cannot be operated solely by one person.
Becker’s not sure which federal laws or restrictions would be impacted by the changes he’s proposing but said the bill will do two things:
  • Assert Ohio’s sovereignty to an increasingly intrusive federal government
  • Encourage firearm manufacturers to open up shop in Ohio

“[The feds] use the Commerce Clause or General Welfare clause to effectively make the Constitution do and say anything they want it to do or say, which is very much the opposite of the original intent of the Constitution,” Becker said.
The bill cites the Second, Ninth and Tenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution to justify the change.
Montana passed a “Firearm Freedom Act” in 2009, and other states have passed similar legislation: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. Nearly identical legislation failed to move out of an Ohio House committee in 2009. That bill had about 10 more cosponsors than the three who have signed on to Becker’s.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials told Montana firearm manufacturers that federal law supercedes the Montana law and pro-gun rights groups there have filed suit against the feds. Two courts ruled in favor of the government, and the pro-gun groups plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
So just a couple quick questions, how does Rep. Becker propose to make sure these "Made in Ohio" guns don't enter interstate commerce and would this mean an Ohioan would not be able to take this gun with him out of state?  Really, there is no need to take this legislation seriously, because it isn't serious.  The guy doesn't even know which laws he's proposing the guns would be exempt from.  Could we just not propose stupid bills?  Just a tip, if similar bills are only passed in states such as Arizona, Idaho, Kansas or Tennessee probably are pretty stupid and/or unconstitutional laws.  Luckily, most Ohio Republican leaders are smart enough to bottle stupidity like this up in committee.