Thursday, June 29, 2006


Is the Doha Round dead? How can you tell?

Reports of gridlock seem to be correct, and if prolonged we could quietly be ignoring a high-water mark for trade liberalization for a while. It seems most of the players are concerned with being able to allocate blame for the failure, not salvage what hope remains for freer trade:

However, Europeans and Americans are sniping at each other on who should move first.

The US is demanding further cuts in EU farm tariffs while the EU says Washington must slash its costly domestic farm subsidy programme.

Both the EU and the US are insisting that rapidly-developing Asian and Latin American states must lower import tariffs in the industrial sector.

The current administration is in danger of replacing Herbert Hoover's as the worst record on trade. [Bonus points: What did the Smoot-Hawley tariffs do?]

While many Big 8 subsidy farmers will breathe a sigh of relief, thinking their payments safe, the fallout from a
WTO round failure could be immense:
The most likely scenario, said Jean- Pierre Lehmann, the director of the pro-free trade Evian Group in Switzerland, would be a failure to reach an accord this year, with efforts postponed until at least 2009.
Lehmann warned that such a result would be a blow to global trade, leaving the system "impotent and irrelevant."
More anon.
The high school principal from heck...

Meet your new Treasury Secretary. He will sign all your money. He will defend the dollar(?). He will carefully count up the deficit. He will probably not take much guff from Cabinet officers like:

Don't know who he is, do you?

In fact, I think the new Treasury Secretary was picked just to scare the bejabbers outta those darn Chinese who keep forcing their Walmart stuff on us. Only he has been working for the Chinese for some 15 years. Ooops!

One thing he probably will not do is have much influence with the White House.
They are right - it doesn't strike twice...

I count 4 times. Great lightning photos here. And tips on snapping your own.

[via BoingBoing]

Hiccup #1

There are two new sections in John's World:

What's For Dinner? - recipes we liked and you can find on-line

On the Coffee Table - book recommendations from stuff we have read - sometimes recently, some golden-oldies

Since this is 2006, nothing is working right the first time, so do not adjust your set - we'll see if we can get these additions running soon.
Welcome to the New, Higher-Fiber John's World

I thought we were switching to the new format tonight, so there are currently some holes to plug. Meanwhile, behold a cleaner, easier to use John's World.

Some notes:

  • It will take me a few weeks to backload all the archives, BUT you will be able to search them easily to find a link or commentary.
  • Each item is archived separately, rather than a whole day's post.
  • I will probably post single comments more often.
  • Please feel free to send in your comments. Since your remarks will post "live" here are some rules:
  1. No profanity. None.
  2. No flaming other folks who post. If you can't criticize with civility your posts will be edited.
  3. I will try to answer your questions or reply to your points as soon as possible.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why should milk be any different than jobs or construction contracts?...

The price of milk in Chicago may be "rigged". [In fairness, everything in Chicago may be rigged] Actually, all milk prices are, but the system is getting way outta whack because, like all price fixing schemes, it cannot adjust to rapid changes in supply and demand.

Chicago was the most expensive market in the nation for whole milk in 2005, averaging $3.96 a gallon. In the first half of 2006, it has slipped to second behind New Orleans, which has Hurricane Katrina to blame.

For 2 percent milk, Chicago does a little better. It was the fifth-most expensive market in the nation in 2005--at $3.58 a gallon--in the USDA's survey of 30 urban markets. So far in 2006, Chicago has slipped to seventh place for 2 percent milk.

In comparison, a gallon of milk in Carbondale, Ill., just five hours away, was among the cheapest in the nation last year, averaging $2.68 for whole milk and $2.55 for 2 percent.

What amazes me about all these agricultural economic schemes is how the apparent losers - small farms - are the most ardent supporters. Even as consolidation rolls over them - assisted by the government payments - they troop to Washington to demand more of the same.

Government intervention will ensure a handful of enormous farms - my guess is 35-50,000 - producing 90% of our ag output in my lifetime. And it will be small farmers who will make it possible.
Charles Darwin's tortoise dies...

This story fascinated me. Harriet - thought to be the world's oldest tortoise, died at age 176 in Australia. She was hatched on the Galapagos Islands was believed to have been captured by Charles Darwin, right before he decided to dedicate his life to making school board meetings in the United States total nightmares.

Is there a rebate on that tie-fighter?...

A Jedi shops for a car. [For Star Wars fans, or anyone needing a laugh]

[via Neatorama]

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Swiss Army Couch...

This "seating unit" unfolds to any configuration like a um, well, Swiss Army knife. Our army creates vehicles like the Hummer, the Swiss army inspires interior design.

There is a metaphor there somewhere.

Free-ish trade...

It is becoming increasingly clear no deal at the WTO will meet US agriculture's approval. All the market access in the world won't mean much until we become competitive in the global marketplace, so many leaders now see any deal as "unilateral disarmament" - as if our own trade barriers/subsidies are helping us somehow.

US producers keep pointing to EU subsidies or trade restrictions in tiny economies and saying, "All the other kids are doing it!".

To me this is like refusing to quit smoking until everybody else quits first. "Unilateral disarmament" should be undertaken for its own sake - because we are not giving weapons - we are giving up economically harmful practices. Trade barriers like our sugar program and production subsidies do not make our agriculture strong - just the opposite.

Especially now that we have made it a law that people must use ethanol regardless of price, and we may not be exporting much anyway -at least corn - this could be a good time to try to kick our subsidy habit.

I think the administration might be thinking along the same lines.
Live long and prosper...

We have had the happy privilege of hosting a family gathering this weekend. My mother's memorial service was Saturday and our family gathered at a small cemetery a mile from the farm to say goodbye.

My sons and nephews - ever a colorful lot - are now grownups. Or as close as they are likely to get. At one point, as we visited here at our farm, I notice that two of them had on Star Wars T-shirts.

I gave them a hard time, of course, as required by law. They immediately returned fire about my Star Trek obsession.

Realize that we are talking about 3 engineers, 1 physicist, 1 med lab supervisor, and 1 scientist.

Pretty predictable.

It made me stop and estimate how lame I actually was at my advanced age to be relatively unashamed of my attraction to an admittedly silly, low-budget, badly-acted TV series nearly 40 years old.

Upon sober reflection, I think I have found some common ground with the Star Wars generation and legitimate reasons justify my continuing enjoyment of this make-believe world.

Most of all, Star Trek was hopeful. Problems were solvable if enough ingenuity and passion were applied. This is the attitude that took the US to land on the moon, and it is the attitude that has been sorely damaged by the cynicism that passes for conventional wisdom. Optimism may be passe, but it is also empowering.

Star Trek had places for new ideas. The resistance to change in the future was shown as much diminished allowing for whole new worlds of possibilities. While I am old enough now to appreciate things NOT changing, I am persuaded that opposition to progress is a problem mostly for those who have already got their piece of the pie. Conservatism is the philosophy of choice for beneficiaries of previous change. Star Trek depicted a world where the power and logic of an idea held greater sway than the status quo.

Like Star Wars, there were heroes, and the heroes had to not merely do extraordinary deeds but agonize over what was right or wrong. Does the "good of the many always outweigh the good of the few"? Exposing boys' minds to ideas of right action and qualities like honor and loyalty didn't hurt many of us, and was curiously effective.

All cultures have their mythologies to explain shared values. For better or worse, Star Trek and Star Wars, have become an integral part of America's, at least for a while.

So if you want to make fun of Star Trek events like this one in Riverside, Iowa - fair enough. But underneath the silliness, even a critic must acknowledge there was a power to touch the future.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I thought they were bad in Chrisman...

Like many towns, residents of Chrisman have battled flocks of starlings. Other Midwestern communities have struggled with invasions as well. They seem to leave as mysteriously as they arrive.

But we didn't know what a starling flock was all about:

To give you a hint, the Danes call it the Black Sun.

[via BoingBoing]
Two jumps ahead...

While most of us are still pondering the implications of 2 billion bushels of corn going into ethanol, some investors are looking further ahead.

And last month Goldman Sachs (Charts), the world's largest investment bank, poured $27 million into Iogen, a Canadian-based biotech specializing in ethanol made from cellulose.

It used to be thought that this fuel, which some argue has the potential to replace more than two thirds of all gasoline used in the U.S., was decades away from commercial viability.

But high gas prices, a touch of technical innovation, and a healthy dose of capital may move that date up.

"There are a lot of people who think the technology is there," and could be competitive even if oil prices return to $30 a barrel, said Greg Bohannon, a managing partner at Greenrock Capital, a California-based private equity fund that focuses on renewable energy. "Why would Goldman Sachs invest in a company that's not going to be commercially viable for 10 years?"

Chances are, they didn't.

Cellulosic ethanol has always seemed like a great idea for my grandson. I had forgotten to take into account what $70 oil makes possible.

$70 oil can:
All these things are possible because now when you save or replace a barrel of oil, you keep - you guessed it - $70. Most farmers, who have long since forgotten how markets and people really act because of our artificial Subsidy-World, will soon learn how economic substitution works.

Regardless of whether cellulosic ethanol is sooner or later, the source of the cellulose could be the pivotal question. Corn stover, frequently mentioned, is a prime candidate for several reasons.

First, we will have plenty of it, seeing as how we'll be growing all that corn for ethanol. Second, the technology to handle it is already in place - large balers, special trailers, etc. Third, the ag lobby will be all over this idea, seeing a chance to sell chisel-clogging residue for real US dollars, so there could be yet another subsidy somewhere in those shucks.

But my point - which you suspected I had mislaid, I'll bet - is this. How much fertilizer, especially P & N will it take when you take the corn and the stover off every year?

I think the smart money is in phosphate mines or manure contracts. If we could site a NH3 plant in the US, I'd buy into that too. I've already talked about our significant - and growing - foreign N dependence. [When my archives are ready, you can link to past blither. Soon, very soon]

Ethanol is going to make a lot of people wealthy. A few may be farmers.

Homework: If corn prices are $3.25 for fall delivery, what will you offer for cash rent for 200 prime acres 2 miles from your farm?

This could be the most exciting time of my career.

And the riskiest - or are those the same thing?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I've got weed problems enough...

I don't need to make new ones. Consider the following incident:

A farmer pulls a truckload of soybeans onto the pit at the elevator ahead of me, raises the bed, and opens the gate.

Nothing happens. There is a solid wall of beans and ...lambsquarter seeds.

Saw it with my own eyes. Never want to see it again, either.

I've had some end rows myself where the lambsquarters seemed unusually robust, so when rumors of glyphosate-resistant lambsquarters started popping up, I paid attention. (Marestails have never been a big deal for us)

It's not like we couldn't see this coming, for crying out loud. But it's also the case that we could easily postpone the day we negate the utility of glyphosate. I don't claim to be an example, but that's one reason I use dicamba.

Sure it drifts and seems to hurt the neighbor's beans, but they all know I'm good for any damage, and I have never had to actually compensate anyone. Besides, since it's pretty much out of favor, it's gotten cheaper. And it works pretty well on my weed spectrum.

I'm trying some other chemistry like Callisto, just to shut up my neighbors who consider me hopelessly old-fashioned, but I still like cheap.

As we rush to all-corn-all-the-time, there will be a side-effect of all-glyphosate-all-the-time. My theory is that as glyphosate degrades to a market of buy-one-get-one-free, we can afford to splash in something extra to delay resistance.

Sex and babies - a parting of the ways

Over the last few years I have been routinely creeped out by the fact any domestic animal of value pretty much has a sex life from hell. Thanks to the widespread adoption of artificial insemination (AI), animals from terriers to standardbred horses are reproduced in with clinical precision and very little fun, apparently.

Perhaps it's being one of generation forced to read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but my discomfort with this trend was only partly offset by the admittedly large benefits in costs and efficiency. It seemed to me to presage a day when humans themselves chose to procreate via technology rather than passion.

That day is now much closer, I believe.

Scientists in Britain have found a way to test embryos for a myriad of genetic problems, allowing parents-to-be a chance to avoid a wide range of health problems or tendencies. The larger concern with this idea has been the seemingly inevitable ability to similarly select for height, or IQ, or even the talent to dance.

These new choices are fraught with moral questions, and I believe we will be hearing much, much more about those very soon. Most of these cries will center on the issue of "designer babies".

Professor Braude is resolute on the ethical question of designer babies.

"It is a step to designer babies for those people who've got genetic disease," he said.

"And what we're designing, if you like, or selecting for, is a baby that's not going to die.

There are also questions about what your health insurance company will have to say about NOT testing, so they won't be on the hook for genetically influenced problems - the list of which grows every day.

The more troublesome consequence for me is these tests, and the ability to select, are available only for embryos outside the womb.

As more couples use in vitro fertilization (IVF), the practice has become safer, cheaper, and now - with tests such as this - superior in some ways to the "old method" used by humans for several million years.

Just like the jump in Cesarean section births to avoid any hint of complication during normal delivery, I believe risk-averse parents will opt for IVF to allow a screening process before implanting the embryo. I'm not sure I blame them.

But it will finally and completely separate sex - that wildly popular athletic entertainment - from reproduction. It will also make the answer to "Mommy, where do babies come from?" even trickier.

We are irrationally, hysterically risk-averse where our children are involved. Even thunderous preaching from religionists opposed to this sort of science will fall on disobedient ears, I am convinced.

And in the end, we will be a little less human, and a little more like the animals we keep.

The further (international) adventures of OSHA-MAN

Jan and I have always called the stick-figure in the warning signs on machinery, "OSHA-Man". Some of the signs are cryptic, some are really funny. But there are lots of them out there:

I'm not exactly sure what the hazard is here, but I'm staying out of blue triangles.

Great series of photos: Stick Figures in Peril on

My favorite: warning of the hideous danger of boxed lightning.

[via BoingBoing]

Sunday, June 18, 2006

When you put it that way...

There was a remarkably interesting article about men and church in the Chicago Tribune on Friday. Both Jan and I noticed it and it made a lot of sense as I scanned the pews this morning. It was titled "Why men don't like to go to church":

"Every Muslim man knows that he is locked in a great battle between good and evil, and although that was a prevalent teaching in Christianity until about 100 years ago, today it's primarily about having a relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally," Murrow said, referring to Christ.

"And if that's the punch line of the gospel, then you're going to have a lot more women than men taking you up on your offer because women are interested in a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. Men, generally, are not." [my emphasis]

Most interesting was the assertion that we have been here before.

Concern about the perceived feminization of Christianity--and the subsequent backlash--is nothing new.

In the middle of the 19th Century, two-thirds of church members in New England were women, said Bret E. Carroll, professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus. Portrayals of Jesus around that time depicted a doe-eyed savior with long, flowing hair and white robes.

Then, around the 1870s and 1880s, came a growing emphasis on making religion attractive to men. The movement known as "muscular Christianity" extolled manliness and had its heyday from 1880 to 1920, according to Clifford Putney in "Muscular Christianity."

I am clueless how to go about addressing this, but I suspect that one reason I love my work with the choir is because it involves doing something.
Trekkies just won't give up...

I call myself a Star Trek fan, but I am an amateur. Thanks to cheap digital video equipment, home-made videos of the genre abound.

That's so beautiful, I think I'm going to cry a little right now...

The Battle for Broadband...

While most some a few of us were riveted by the pseudo-debate in Congress over the war in Iraq, another legislative battle is underway that has significant implications for rural America.

The "Net Neutrality" controversy has enough conflicting elements policy to confuse the casual observer and concern the knowledgeable. I fall somewhere in between, I think, and have struggled to decide where I stand on this complex issue.

The success of the Internet has rested, I believe, on its power to give an equal voice to unequal players. Talented and original content providers could compete with enormous organizations and more amazingly, win because the quality of the experience was based on the information they produced, not the way it was delivered. Maintaining this policy of treating websites equally seems like a fundamental key to preserving the power of the Internet, especially for individuals or poorer participants.

However, the right of communications companies ("telcos") to offer wealthy content providers (Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc.) faster delivery of content (the prime example: video) seems like a reasonable extension of free enterprise as well.

These two ideals conflict because once multiple tiers of speed for different content are allowed, the slow becomes the lame. It also sets a precedent for "valuing content" to determine how fast it gets sent. The analogy would be toll roads charging trucks carrying grain a different price than trucks carrying steel.

But mostly it allows yet another elite level of service available to those who have the wealth. I understand that allowing this form of economic discrimination will create jobs and increase economic activity, but our exclusive use of this yardstick as the measure of what is good has produced variable results.

For rural America, I suspect we would not see many benefits from "premier class" service, and our regular Internet speeds would likely languish as communications companies rush for the big bucks. The trickle down would be as slow as trying to get basic broadband coverage.

I do not begrudge the wealthy their perks (OK, I do, but I try to bite my tongue). I simply have come to the conclusion that the Internet offers too great a chance to bring us together to allow it to degenerate into simply another high-end electronic toy.

This battle may be described poorly but briefly as a struggle between the "Googles" and the "Bells". Each side has representation in Congress and the issue fractures normal political lines. And the stakes may run into the billions.

Above all it is an exceedingly complex issue to wrestle to the ground. - so not many are trying. For what it is worth, my meager study of the issue leads me to suspect this may be the moment when we can preserve a democratic tool that is re-shaping society everywhere for the better.

We have growing profits in abundance, we do not have growing ties to each other. I support net neutrality regulations.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Required Bird Flu posting...

Just because it's petered out as a pandemic doesn't mean I don't really, really care about bird flu. In fact, here is how you can use that free T-shirt from the herbicide company to save your life:

Such a mask is a poor defence against influenza, except perhaps when used by trained health care workers, Dato said in a telephone interview.

"If it's really needed, you actually have the mask on and you are next to somebody who has influenza, then that mask is catching influenza droplets. So then when you are done with it, it is really contaminated," she said.

"It has to be appropriately washed, cleaned maybe with some bleach. It is somewhat like a dirty diaper (but) at least a dirty diaper that has poop in it, you can see that it is contaminated and you don't put it in your pocketbook."

OK, maybe not the best simile, but you get the idea
Why soccer didn't catch on in the US...

Wish I had written this.
Oh yeah, well I'm 300 percent against it!...

One of the things the French are best at is cooking. Another is arguing. Right now they are getting a double work-out.

It seems some chefs are "cheating":

Science fiction? No, this is the reality in many French restaurants, which are “cheating” their customers with a growing range of artificial products, according to gastronomic purists. They say that the use of flavourings to enhance the taste of otherwise ordinary dishes is misleading because they are rarely mentioned on the menu.

Mostly it has to do with truffles - a kinda mushroom that has gotten way expensive.

Anyhoo, the experts are not amused.

M Robuchon, widely considered to be one of the most talented chefs of the past 20 years, agreed. He said: “I am 200 per cent against the use of artificial flavours and additives.” However, such flavours appear to be an increasingly common ingredient in French cuisine, with chefs looking for quick, cheap recipes.

Looks like French math scores aren't improving either.
Just in time for the 4th...

Go ahead, guess.

Nope, it's a hail cannon.

Really. They can be a tad noisy too.

Do they work? Color me skeptical. If they do work, that could be a problem also.

In Colorado, where Fort Lupton and Brighton are the only other places where farmers use cannons, the research on whether they actually work is slim, said Nolan Doesken of Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center.

“Without some solid data, it is really hard to judge one way or the other,” he said.

But the World Meteorological Organization dismisses cannons as nonsense, saying that “there is neither a scientific basis nor a credible hypothesis to support such activities.”

A pair of Dutch meteorologists recently published a study concluding that cannons have “no significant effect” on hail. If rocket explosions and thunder can’t destroy hailstones, they wrote, “it follows that surface-emitted sound waves . . . will be even less effective — except maybe to annoy the neighborhood.”

One thing for sure. They sell.

[Is it my imagination or does that place look pretty unlikely for any kind of precip at all?]

[via Metafilter]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pretty soon cabbies in the Bronx will be investors...

For a sense how the non-farm world looks at ethanol, check out this business report.
Fire sale on SUV's...

Is your gas-guzzling SUV draining your discretionary cash? You are not alone. Seems like many people are looking for a way out of their 700-month lease on a Ford Explosion.

The responsible solution would be to advertise the car for sale, pay off the loan and switch to a more affordable ride (even leased cars can be bought and then sold to get out of high payments). The irresponsible solution some people choose is to burn the vehicle and let the insurance company pay what is owed.

Could we call this "carson"?

Vehicle arson has had a long and occasionally humorous track record over the years. In Texas, a car salesman was arrested after offering his customers what he called a "rotisserie program." He would have their cars torched; then, after they collected on the insurance, he sold them a new car. In another part of the state, two students were arrested after they torched their high school teacher's car in exchange for passing grades.

What is it with Texans?
Just for fun...

No idea what is going on here.
And the lion and the lamb, etc....

You gotta give them credit - the animal rightists know how to play the emotion heartstrings of typical Americans. Photos like this:

clog up a website that injects anthropomorphism into our relationship with other species.

The human characteristics commonly ascribed to animals in popular culture usually centers on either their perceived personality or disposition (for example, owls are usually designated as wise); their appearance alone (penguins are usually portrayed as plump aristocrats, because their plumage resembles a tuxedo); or a combination of both (raccoons are commonly portrayed as bandits, both because of the characteristic black stripe over their eyes, which resembles the stereotypical mask of a bandit, and because they roam at night, sometimes breaking into peoples' garbage). It should be noted, however, that such personification can be modern or ancient. For example, foxes are portrayed as cunning and have been for thousands of years, but penguins were not widely known of before the 20th century and so all anthropomorphic behaviour associated with them is modern.

Is it me, or does the cat look a little unexcited?
Gee, I wonder who will get the blame?...

The good news: men are closing the longevity gap with women. Thanks to heart-bypasses, cholesterol meds, and seat belts, men are finally starting to die more slowly.

In an otherwise interesting report, this odd note among the advice to men who want to live longer:

--Get a wife, a partner or at least a lot of friends. Married men live longer. (Their wives die sooner than single women, but that's a different column.) People with close friends and relatives live longer, too, Butler says.

[My emphasis]

But if you want a wife in Japan, be prepared to fork out plenty for a pseudo-church wedding - all the rage among young Japanese too busy to find their own partners.

A giant industry is at work getting the record number of unmarried Japanese to the altar. Computer-dating agencies say that they are taking over the role of the traditional nakodo, or match-maker, usually an aunt or busybody neighbour. Haruyuki Fujieda, a senior executive at Zwei, one of the biggest agencies, says research shows that over four-fifths of all singles between 24 and 44 do not choose to be unmarried, but are too busy to have found the right partner.

Meanwhile, the birth rate plummets. Could there be a connection??

(I liked the part about the fake priest.)
Gosh, it's getting thirsty in here...

While we may see the world as a constant battle between good and evil, or conservatives and liberal, or Cubs and Cardinals, or farmers and government, it turns out the struggle has actually been between beer and wine.

The history books usually consider the rise and fall of Rome merely in terms of politics, territories, military campaigns, and personalities. They never consider the fate and influence of beer in the movement of society and events. The Germanic primitives, so underrated by Rome, also represented the power of beer, while the Roman rulers of the then-universe also represented the power of wine. Because the beer drinkers prevailed in central and northern Europe and the wine drinkers did not, beer was to take on a significance in the daily lives of the people that otherwise it might not have had. As the brew arose to become mighty in the post-Roman world—a world soon to be Germanic, Christian, and feudal—it also became the object of political and military affairs that helped to shape the destiny of that continent and, thus, of the world that we have inherited today as we start the third millennium. Strangely, beer's first big move to social and political prominence came during a period of roughly five centuries that are generally considered to be among the most stagnant in human affairs, the Dark Ages, when it became the preeminent domain of cloistered brew monks and nuns ... but that is another tale.

Sounds like a win-win for me!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Photo for the Day...

[More here]
How many Long John Silver's are there anyway?...

Somebody asked me at church today if I was going to brew my own biodiesel.

Maybe someday, but first I want to master the perfect martini. I know I wouldn't put anything I had manufactured myself in a $200,000 tractor.

My JD dealer agrees.

But lots of other people are getting into the backyard biodiesel business. Mostly they are using free waste cooking oil - which is a big plus for the input cost problem.

Unfortunately, that waste oil already had users and they are not amused, so biodieselers are getting some pushback from the rendering industry.

Can you imagine the bizarre schemes Americans will come up with if gas prices go to $4?

[via Metafilter]
Ummm - how 'zactly will that work?...

I was thinking on the planter the other day about all the changes the ethanol boom is going to cause for farmers and everybody else in the US. One of the big motivations behind renewable fuels is the idea of energy independence. I think it is safe to read that as independence from nasty ol' Arab oil.

The idea here is somehow we have gotten ourselves in a subservient position to cultures we loathe and our goal is to once again be able to scorn Mideast oil producers with American impunity. Regardless of the merit of this goal, my musing centered on how we seem to be going about it.

The idea, if I get it right, is we will produce all this ethanol which will then replace gasoline in the marketplace and hence oil from sandy places. So far, so good.

But here is where I need help. If we churn out billions of gallons of ethanol which does truly reduce the demand for gasoline, HOW DO WE REPLACE ONLY ARAB OIL?

Here is what I have doped out (the operative word being "dope"):

First, most of our oil is indeed imported: 60% [BTW - this is really good oil info site]

However, most of the sources are NOT Arabs:

Top Suppliers of U.S. Crude Oil 2004
(Thousand barrels/day)

Country of Origin
Thousand Barrels/day
Canada 1,616
Mexico 1,598
Saudi Arabia 1,495
Venezuela 1,297
Nigeria 1,078
Iraq 655
Angola 306
Kuwait 241
United Kingdom 238
Ecuador 232
Algeria 215
Russia 158
Norway 143
Colombia 142
Gabon 142
Argentina 59
Brazil 51
Trinidad and Tobago 49
Indonesia 34
Australia 21
Libya 18
Cameroon 18
Guatemala 18
Malaysia 18
Brunei 15
China, People’s Republic of 14
Congo (Kinshasa) * 14
Oman 10
Congo (Brazzaville) 8
United Arab Emirates 5
Ivory Coast 5
Qatar 4
Yemen 4
Denmark 2
Peru 1
Syria 1
Thailand 1

Other 158

Total 10,088

Persian Gulf ** 2,400

Includes crude oil imported for storage in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.


In fact, if you label Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Algeria as "undesirable" sources, that adds up to about 22% of our imports or roughly 13% of our usage. [I don't count Qatar, because they refuse to buy a "u"]

Stay with me.

So how do we replace Arab oil and not Canada oil, eh? For that matter, how do we know we won't replace domestic production? If that happened we could end up even more dependent on foreign oil!!

And there is no guarantee that it won't happen.

As near as I can figure out, the marketplace for oil will continue to favor low-cost producers. Just like low cost farmers can pay higher cash rents, low cost oil producers can endure dropping oil prices better than high-cost producers. Since the US is a relatively high-cost producer and SA is the Walmart of Oil, falling demand for oil and the consequent lower prices will stop pumps everywhere else before the Saudis say "uncle".

Even if oil prices simply remain unchanged, how the heck do we pick out those barrels of oil that came from Saudi Arabia?

My conclusion: you can't muscle out the lowest cost producer. We should know that from our own business experience. Which means that energy independence or at least "Arab" independence is a pipe[line] dream. I'm not the first guy to figure this out either.

In fact, the only good examples of "energy independence" seem to be countries that have focused on controlling consumption, like Denmark.

This doesn't mean ethanol is a bad idea. It just means we can lay off the stupid "sheik and camel" cartoons, maybe.
Where is global warming when you need it?...

62? 62 measly degrees of Fahrenheitness? You call that a daily high for June 11?
Meanwhile my wretched, tiny crops shiver in the arctic blasts.
It's a good thing I'm not a postal worker.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Nobody is keeping score...

All those blowhards on TV who offer predictions and supposedly informed analysis do know one thing: they seldom get held to their own words. Like weather forecasters, pundits can take refuge in the idea that almost nobody either remembers what they promised would occur or will take the trouble to check the record. [I know I count on it]

One reason is our craving for entertainment. Shoot-from-the-lip commentators are simply more interesting to most of the public than sober, balanced and much more accurate experts. Compare Darrell Good (more coffee,please) to Sue Martin (beans in the 'teens?).

Imagine your job as a media executive depends on expanding your viewing audience. Whom would you pick: an expert who balances conflicting arguments and concludes that the likeliest outcome is more of the same, or an expert who gets viewers on the edge of their seats over radical Islamists seizing control and causing oil prices to soar?

Feel free to bring up my wildly inaccurate past utterances. Quite honestly, I don't remember what I said most of the time.

Hey - you'll be middle-aged too someday!
But do they make a work boot?...

[via BoingBoing]

Your prayers are answered - sandals with a built-in bottle opener! Be careful what you walk through first, of course.

BTW - I think a top federal legislative priority should be to require non-twist off bottle caps to be fluorescent orange to indicate at a glance which ones are hand-shredders.
June 9, 2006

The Kelo decision - the case everybody lost...

The glacial schedule of our legal system too often turns out useless results. The now-infamous Kelo vs. New London decision, which has been interpreted with shock by many state governments as an erosion of property rights, has generated a mess in Connecticut.

The point here is not to play gotcha with Pfizer but to demonstrate that economic circumstances can change radically in a relatively brief period of time, and while private companies are capable of adapting, governments (and in particular "private-public partnerships") are not. Governments can react, however, as the NLDC is also finding out. The brutality with which the Fort Trumbull residents were removed has shocked the nation, and Connecticut Gov. Jodi M. Rell, a wavering supporter of the homeowners, has a strong disincentive to sink more money—beyond the $15 million that's already going to the Coast Guard museum—into the town of 25,000.

Regardless of whether the ruling was sound law, it is bad economics and even worse business. One of the crucial reasons the US is losing some competitive advantage globally is our increasing dependence on public policy to substitute for entrepreneurship.

While we seek to have government mitigate risks our competitors are placing bets with their own money and beating us to the punch. Eminent domain is cumbersome, unfair and expensive. For those reasons alone - not to mention the political questions - it is best used as a last resort.

As the world speeds up we may need less, not more government - simply because it cannot respond in time to be effective.

Perhaps there is a parallel here for farm policy.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Let's make a deal...

It turns out that we are all into barter. The arrival of eBay and similar Web-based commerce is changing the way we choose our purchases.

For example, if you know you will have a reasonable market for an expensive item after say 2 years, wouldn't you be more likely to splurge on a really upscale choice?

“As a society, we’re evolving into one of temporary ownership,” says Mr Nissanoff, who recently started a luxury trading site called “We used to buy and hold everything, let it gather dust or break, and then we threw it away.” Because people realise that the value of goods decline over time, they will start parting with them while they still have value—and use the money they make to upgrade.

This aftermarket not only exists, it is booming. On the flip side, if you simply want to buy "up" you can find steeply discounted high-quality to-die-for brands much more easily.

The world is becoming one big garage sale.

Free entertainment - great seats...

Noctilucent clouds. Even if you aren't into the celestial display, it's a groovy word to insert into a casual conversation.
It's all about personal security...

If, like me you are terrified of Inappropriate Guys rooting through your garbage, you may have bought a shredder. [Personally, there are times when having my identity stolen sounds like a favor.]

But what about your old car you just traded off?

The perfect answer here.
Another job that looks so cool from a distance...

Follow Top Producer of the Year Chad Olsen as he cuts the wheat harvest from Oklahoma to North Dakota. Check his blog for updates on this nomadic life.
Fool me once...

Remember the last crop report? Many of you digested the surprises more rapidly with help from Top Producer market analyst Jerry Gulke. Check this Friday after 8:15 (Central) for his breakdown, along with a Player-to-be-Named-Later from Doane's Agricultural Service.

Monday, June 05, 2006

For the record...

I think I am done planting.

No promises.
Shared talent...

More here
Confucius predicts partly cloudy...

The Chinese aren't just talking about the weather - they are changing it. Or so they say.

And why not? The central-government leadership—dominated by engineers—has been messing with Mother Nature ever since the Chinese Communist Party came to power. They’ve built the world’s biggest dam, the world’s highest railway and even the world’s biggest Ferris wheel (in Nanchang, still awaiting verification from the Guinness World Records). Why not perfect the science of climate control?

I'd laugh, but why do I have the odd feeling that weather rockets will soon be sold at Walmart?
Business as usual, terror-wise...

New Yawkers are outraged at the reallocation of Homeland Security funds away from NYC to places like Omaha.

Homeland Security officials insist Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are up for substantial increases because they are tourist destinations. Memphis made the list because of the cargo passing through it. But Omaha (up 38 percent)? [More here]
And for good reason, we farmers say...

Our idea of fairness when it comes to federal $ is one-for-me-one-for-you (regardless of actual risks). To be sure, we have tried our best to make agri-terrorism pretty scary sounding, but even the guys in Iowa have a hard time keeping a straight face when claiming we are at risk of a terrorist attack. Agri-hysterical announcements like this would be laughable in any other industry:

There have been at least five acts of agri-terrorism in the United States and 17 worldwide. [For 5 bonus points , name one] In one attack, a radical group released Mediterranean fruit flies in California. The Medfly attacks more than 250 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables. A similar attack with a corn or soybean pest could devastate South Dakota’s agriculture industry. [Exactly what pest could they use that Ms. Nature is not already using?]

[my comments]

The idea of agriterrorism is pretty far-fetched [I will allow eco-loons and animal rightists as minor irritants], but not so ethereal as to write off as a way to add some federal moola to the local economy. Plus if a seemingly credible threat can be implanted in the minds of rural worriers, we can sell them some insurance.

The odds of a mildly serious threat to food and water supplies is minuscule however, just because of the daunting problem of widely dispersed targets. Plus at the end of the day, is a poisoned pig farm as scary as a subway explosion?

I find this bickering over federal aid reassuring. If homeland security is now just another pork barrel industry - and I think that is where we have arrived - it means most Americans are less scared than they are looking for an angle.

In short, America is getting back to being America. While I never doubted we could get over 9/11, I am reassured to see us shrug off the fear-mongering of politicians and media to take the time to pick their pockets.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I know it's the first thing I look for...

Why are we attracted to some members of the opposite sex? You are not going to believe this, but it may be because of immune system compatibility.

So much for outward appearances. What about the less obvious cues of attraction? Fascinating work on genetics and mate preferences has shown that each of us will be attracted to people who possess a particular set of genes, known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which plays a critical role in the ability to fight pathogens. Mates with dissimilar MHC genes produce healthier offspring with broad immune systems. And the evidence shows that we are inclined to choose people who suit us in this way: couples tend to be less similar in their MHC than if they had been paired randomly.

The article also offers some of the most nerdy dating advice I've ever run across:

The researchers found that the optimum proportion of possible mates to “examine” before setting your aspirations and making your choice is a mere 9% — so at a party with 100 possible mates, it’s best to study only the first nine you randomly encounter before you choose. Examining fewer means you won’t have enough information to make a good choice, examining more makes it likely you’ll pass the best mate by. No doubt the models underestimate the complexity of real mate choice, but the fundamental insight is clear: don’t search indefinitely before choosing, lest you miss out on all the good mates or run out of time altogether.

Not that I'm interested in that kind of stuff, of course.

I'm married. Always have been, I think.