Thursday, August 31, 2006

What's not to love about global warming?...

If you're from Greenland, anyhoo.

Egede is a pioneer and exactly the kind of man Greenland's government, which has launched an ambitious program to develop agriculture on the island, likes to see working the land. Sheep and reindeer farmers have already been grazing their herds in southern Greenland for many years. As part of the new program, cattle will be added to the mix on the island's rocky meadows, part of a new dairy industry officials envision for Greenland. One day in the near future, the island's farmers could even be growing broccoli and Chinese cabbage.

There are many reasons for this agricultural boom, the most important being a rise in temperature. For most people on earth, global warming still consists of little more than computer models and a number that seems neither concrete nor threatening: an increase of about 4.5°C (8.1°F) in the average temperature worldwide by the year 2100. But what this will mean for Greenland is already becoming apparent today. In Qaqortoq, for example, the average temperature increased from 0.63°C to 1.93°C in the last 30 years. This, in turn, has added two weeks to the growing season, which now amounts to 120 days. With up to 20 hours of daylight in the summer, those two weeks make a huge difference. [More]

How tough must your life be if you get excited about the chance to grow broccoli?

Sobering words for ethanol backers...

The highly respected Consumer's Reports has produced a no-nonsense review of an FFV Tahoe.

They were not amused:
  • The fuel economy of the Tahoe dropped 27 percent when running on E85 compared with gasoline, from an already low 14 mpg overall to 10 mpg (rounded to the nearest mpg). This is the lowest fuel mileage we’ve gotten from any vehicle in recent years.
  • The FFV surge is being motivated by generous fuel-economy credits that auto-makers get for every FFV they build, even if it never runs on E85. This allows them to pump out more gas-guzzling large SUVs and pickups, which is resulting in the consumption of many times more gallons of gasoline than E85 now replaces.
I've talked about his before (the mileage problem) and while it's a legitimate gripe, it seems to me the rush to ethanol will shoulder mere consumer complaints aside. Still we could be setting up for some market whiplash if ethanol limitations are not fully disclosed and oil/gasoline prices continue to fade.

How low could gas prices go? Some predictions are starting to sound too good to be true.
I bet he even used "burnt sienna"...

If only my folks had forked out for the big 64 crayon box, this could have been me...

More fantastic crayon art here.

[via Neatorama]
How many of your landlords are women?...

There is an interesting problem faced by many women, especially those who are widowed or divorced. Often a fear of becoming destitute grips them, regardless of the actual circumstances. Called "bag lady syndrome" it can afflict even well-to-do, educated women, causing anxiety and even depression.
Bag-lady syndrome plagues, puzzles and, in more extreme cases, paralyzes women who want to get a better grip on their financial lives, according to Olivia Mellan, the author of “The Advisor's Guide to Money Psychology” and a Washington, D.C., therapist who specializes in money psychology. Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet.
When I read about this problem, it helped me understand some of the experiences I have had with elderly female landowners - even some of my relatives. Since men are not prone to this particular fear (we have our own monsters under the bed) it wouldn't be a bad idea to be more aware of how these anxieties might be affecting those women we care about or deal with.

Women often marry older men and usually live longer than men. Consequently, they tend to end up controlling a considerable portion of the nation's assets. Land is no exception. These trends show no sign of stopping, and the emergence of Alzheimer's as a major late-in-life threat (especially for women) could mean this type of anxiety could become more common, as women struggle to prepare for that sad possibility both emotionally and financially.

Facing up to reality and the numbers seems to be one way of combatting this fear. I think another is to keep some strong relationships alive with succeeding generations, whether family or not.
At least dust wasn't a problem...

I visited the Farm Progress Show in Amana, IA yesterday. Didn't really see much - just taped some commentaries for USFR. The rain on Tuesday left the parking lots an off-road challenge.

Maybe I should not have rented a PT Cruiser...

Anyway, I had an odd moment in the Monsanto exhibit where they had an actual (tiny) experimental farm you could tour. They showed off products in the pipeline, one of which was dicamba-resistant beans. I got pretty excited if for no other reason than I never can get my plastic spray tank clean enough to prevent dicamba-cupping on the first load I spray on beans.

Then I realized these beans were probably 5-6 years away and thought - "Crimony, I may not be farming then".

Took all the fun out. Some things change when you can finally see the finish line.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The real puzzler...

Jim Weisemeyer is writing (ProFarmer content) about what might happen if Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress.

Personally, I'm still waiting to see what will happen if the Republicans ever get control.
Another energy source to watch...

Liquified natural gas (LNG) has until now been mostly an engineering curiosity. It seemed like a good idea, but the technology involved and public acceptance were pretty formidible obstacles to larger market share. Well, a few billion dollars can help that.

Creating LNG involves cooling normal natural gas to 260 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, sending it around the world in superinsulated ships and then re-gasifying it at its destination.

"It's one of the biggest investment trends in the world," said David Talbot, with the energy research firm John H. Herald. "That's what's happening. We're going increasingly from crude oil to natural gas."

Since it looks like the Canucks will be using more of their natural gas to melt oil from their vast shale/sands deposits, we may need alternate sources soon. This is what is frustrating about our energy problem: even if we can replace some foreign oil with ethanol, we could be importing more natural gas and even finished products.
A world of words...

I have always loved reading. I think it may be because my parents signed me up for the Weekly Reader Children's Book Club as a grade-schooler. Anyway, I saw this article on about the "Joy of Reading" it triggered some wonderful and just-about-lost memories.

Reading to your child can be one of life's sweetest pleasures. You're spending focused time together and teaching a habit that can open countless doors throughout his or her life.

But an 8-month-old will appreciate books and reading differently from the way a 4-year-olds or an 8-year-old will. Read on for tips on what to expect and how to make reading an experience of happiness and growth for every age.

As newspapers struggle, there is some sense of despair that reading as a pastime is diminishing. I think the more likely explanation is newspapers no longer serve the reading public as well as competitive media.

Indeed, we in the ag media are uneasy about the future about reading among ag professionals. I am more optimistic, but think that media like this (blog) may be part of the key to the future. The immediacy, response speed, and the ablility to link to sources and addtional information seems to provide more content faster.

On the downside, the careful crafting of seamless paragraphs laying out in-depth information in way readers can absorb it - the real craft of the writing profession - is struggling to find a continuing audience. To writers, especially long-time, classically trained ones, this loss of respect for their work is painful. I am hung up somewhere in between, admiring real writers but using "quicky" techniques myself.

Farmers can identify with this shift in professional values. Our work too, seems to be swithcing to more "quick and dirty" from precise and measured. The key to this may be that the "quick" is really, really, really quick, and the "dirty" is less and less so, thanks to proof-reading, spell-checking technology. In other words, like Japanese cars, the "el cheapo" versions are getting better and better - to the horror of classical craftsmen.

C'mon, don't tell me you haven't speculated about buying one of those $8000
Chinese tractors at the farm store. The same thing is happening in journalism.

Compared to writers like Pam Henderson or Marcia Taylor I rank pretty low. All I can do is exploit the power of the first person (on my farm we...) and substitute technology for skill. But while my skill will likely inprove little, the technology underlying it grows exponentially. For example, I will soon upgrade (I think) to an even better version of Blogger - for free!

Finding work that is immune to technology substitution is becoming one big key to a successful career.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Brings a tear to my manly eye...

This from a reader in Washington:

If any of your blog readers want to see an "onion cam" have them call up and choose the activeX format. Then to control the camera, click on the camera icon and username "guest" and password "guest".
Carrot harvest next.
Maybe I'll finally find out if "baby carrots" are really newbie veggies or big ones whittled down to sell?

Besides what is the fascination with "baby" foods (carrots, peas, turnips, etc.)? Seems kinda creepy to me.

[Thanks, Pat]
I'm not even sure it is wrong...

Ya know, if I was a giant multinational grain company, I would start opening my basis for corn and beans to historic dimensions. I probably already have enough fall delivery contracted (not to mention old crop in storage) and lowering my bids to basement levels simply opens up the US treasury for my farm suppliers at no cost to me.

Plus after all the farmers have cashed the LDP checks, I'd calculate I can pry the rest of the crop from them at a lower price, since they will be adding in that extra xx¢ to their sales target.

Plus it will teach 'em to build storage, so I don't have to.

Just a thought...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What caused the downfall of Easter Island? Maybe not what you think...

Easter Island has always been a favorite mystery of historians. First of all are the weird statues.

Then the question of what the heck happened here? The prevailing theory has been "ecocide" - human self-extinction from environmental degradation. Or to put it briefly: they shouldna cut down all da trees.

Maybe not. One scientist disputes the popular moralizing by best-selling author Jared Diamond in Collapse, as well as others. While I can sympathize with those who are convinced we are pillaging our natural resources, things are seldom as clear-cut as they seem.

I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island's prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today's problems.

Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us.

Regardless, I know people will often opt for the most ominous and exciting scenario - it's human nature to prefer the unusual to the mundane.

As for me, I just feel better about killing every rat I can.
John Denver-Rocky Mountain High Tribute

I'll admit it - Jan and I are John Denver fans. We have listened to this piece a thousand times, but being flatlanders from the Midwest had never associated realistic imagery like this video. John Denver was the troubadour for our lives, and we miss him.
More posters to motivate you...

Or not.


[via Neatorama]

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I want to be on his team...

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke surprised some observers by ignoring interest rates and talking about global trade.
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke cautioned lawmakers yesterday to avoid the temptation to impose protectionist trade policies as the United States grapples with fierce competition from globalization. [More]
His remarks are in stark contrast to the gloating in some parts of agriculture over the failure of the Doha Round.

I think his remarks are significant. The Fed carries mucho weight with lawmakers, since interest rates could retard growth and worsen deficits enough to prompt actual fiscal restraint.

OK - that may be wishful thinking, but it could happen. All I know is everytime I get into a scuffle with the Fed, they win.

Friday, August 25, 2006

At last a topic I am an expert on: women...

A recent article at provoked a storm of outrage from women, and surprisingly the editors removed the offending prose only to replace it with a poorly developed counterpoint alongside:
Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women--even those with a "feminist" outlook--are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.
You can choose your own side here, but note that the original article was buttressed by a host of statistical references, the rebuttal used only anecdotes. I don't mind being called a Neanderthal, and I am open to other explanations for the reasons behind the complaints commonly ascribed to successful women today.

But in the absence of data to the contrary, my conclusion is having it all is simply overblown narcissism, on the part of both sexes. Good marriages do not conform to the fashions of the moment, they evolve from two people sacrificing much for each other only to find they have gained the world in exchange.
A bumper sticker for the rest of us...

I know I'm always taking on the controversial topics but here is the first bumper sticker I have considered for my combine in years:

[via BoingBoing]
tokyo - hectic

Next time you are in the middle of a 200 acre field all by yourself, remember this is what most people on earth live with.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Don't need no stinkin' program...

Great post from a reader in southern IL about growing tobacco.
The attached photo makes is look like we are growing fenceposts in southern

(If you think we still dig holes to set post check this out -

The real story is we are growing burley tobacco in new areas. Last year the
government ended the great depression supply control program. Most growers
quit because the price fell, but many farmers are makeing more money than

There is a good political and economic statement in here somewhere if you
know how to say it right.

Additional money that actual producers made from the cartel was mostly paid
in rents to grandchildren of depression era farmers (often the grandchildren
are completly removed from the old farm). Real farmers could not take
advantage of economies of scale (thoes are being developed). Also it
appears that the corp was not grown in areas that are best suited to grow
tobacco. Tobacco production became an extremely inbreed business. U.S.
burley is of premium quality with worldwide demand. We could be exporting
instead of importing if it was not for supply controls.

The program ended with a buyout, which is quotaholders get paid so much a
year for so many years. If corn and soybean programs end I hope there will
be a buyout instead of a sudden end of the money when many people bought
land counting of government money to make the payments.

Several program crop farmers in souther Illinois (and a few other places)
are experimenting with tobacco patches. Even though I don't smoke and
encourage others not to, I find the tobacco crop interesting and thought you
might too if you know about it.

J.R. Hubele
Thanks for the input, Jason. I don't think I can add to the obvious, however. Any imagined link to farm programs and sufficient supply of commodities is nonsense.

We don't worry about a french-fry shortage for example - and potato farmers don't get a dime from the government.

For another perspective on tobacco growing, watch last week's segment on USFR.
Rational exuberance...

I went to to a Free-lunch Fertilizer meeting yesterday just to see old friends and neighbors. (That seems to be harder to do anymore). If you are like me, you could eat free the whole month of August with a little planning by attending seed plot tours and customer appreciation days.

Anyway, one of my favorite ag economists, Darrell Good - a local boy made, well, "good" - spoke about the price outlook for corn and beans. I appreciate his commments because they are thoughtful and carefully articulated. So when Darrell couldn't find any reason to be less than bullish about corn for the next several YEARS, I sat up and made a note.

Couple that with Jerry Gulke's poorly contained enthusiasm for corn prices and I start to get all warm and tingly inside.

Guess what: so is about every other farmer who can coax a corn plant out of the ground.

We're already factoring higher prices into our decisions for rent, machinery, and other inputs.

Hmm, I wonder what land prices will do this fall?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Great photo website...


[via Neatorama]
Old enemies, old grudges...

One of the attractions for our trip to the Baltic was a chance to visit (slightly) Russia. The ship spent 2 days in St. Petersburg and I did the tourist things: Peterhof, Catherine's Palace, Hermitage, etc. as a shuffling member of a busload of senior tourists. Not my first choice, but pretty much the only one.

What weirded me out was my apprehension and inability to relax. Long ago and far away these people were my enemy, and I spent a fair portion of my twenties chasing Charlie-class submarines not too far away from where I was currently standing.

Old animosities die hard, and while my perceptions were doubltess skewed by my history, I would not go back to Russia again if you paid me. Compared to our other stops, the atmosphere was morose and almost sullen. The people were not unfriendly, but the reality of life in Russia today constantly showed through the tourism effort.

Russia may be on her way back to autocracy, and if history is any guide, authoritarianism there is a powerful political lure, unlike democracy. The two-tiered development and new riches from energy resources could hasten the process, creating a new ruling class to dominate similar to the old Politburo.

Already values are changing, and not always for the best. I hope I am wrong, and I wish the people of Russia the best of luck. But their leadership does not strike me as the most promising.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Great Dance...

August is a time I have come to associate with the courtship of landowners and farmers. In order to satisfy the traditional leasing dates that came due in early fall (based on the need to get the fall crops like wheat sown) any changes in tenancy came to fruition during these days of deep summer.

The new transparency in renting farmland has altered this pattern somewhat, but we still see (at least in my area) feverish activity about now. Too many operators still don't get it. Farmers have little leverage compared to landowners. As a result, I have seen a 10-15% jump in cash rents in my area over last year.

There are still many in my area whose business plan is based on landowners who do not understand their pricing power. This happy circumstance can come to an abrupt halt when death, divorce, or reality intrudes. Especially at risk are those operators who have traditional leases that will convert to market-priced before they can close their career.

Like deer in the headlights, farmers freeze - waiting to be hit or missed. Most will be a victim of an economic collision, because the common expectation is share leases will be converted to cash leases. In other parts of the Cornbelt there is an active denial that such a competitive situation could ever taint their relationship-based economics.

Too many of us thought we were good operators when we were simply fortunate. Luck is a factor in all careers, but I have seen anough evidence to suggest the real test of operator proficiency is to withstand the market forces that currently buffet our profession.

We are, I believe, in the process of selecting the very few who will till America's land. And the choice will be made in in crisp clear numbers. The old myth of cash-renters raping the land has been challenged by a new breed of competitor who can bid high and farm well.

We have always talked about wanting to keep the "best and the brightest on the land". What if we have succeeded?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Look - it's no sillier than JarJar Binks...

If you are fan of motivational posters AND Star Trek, your spaceship has come in:

If you don't find motivational posters helpful, try these:

Or make your own:

You have a nice day now.

[via Metafilter]

Friday, August 18, 2006

I thought I was just lowering my standards...

News you really need to know - not like that Lebanon stuff:

Researchers have established that very attractive people are 36 per cent more likely to have daughters than sons and that the world's females are becoming better-looking than men as a result. [More]

I had always wondered why our family had only sons. (My Dad had only grandsons, so far me too.) As the article states, the evolutionary strategy for plain people is to have sons, especially intelligent sons whose guile will win them a beautiful mate.

Just a short autobiography.

Hey - you can't argue with science.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Texas, just another state to me...

Texas is a different kind of place.

But down deep, I think Texans are probably frustrated Minnesotans.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It's important to make the "vroom, vroom" noises while you're watching too...

After I had seen Helsinki (yes, every bit of it) I settled back in the ship for an adult beverage and foot relief. I got to watching the freighter berthed next to us load and unload containers. Only too cool.

I tried to figure out the latching mechanism at the cormers of the the containers. It's pretty pathetic but I was hypnotized. The straddle cranes that tender the loading cranes are really slick as well. The wheels track together so they can turn down narrow aisles and straddle trucks.

Then there must be some honkin' piece of software with wireless readouts making sure the right container is in the right place. It's pretty easy to see how "The Box" revolutionized shipping and made our China import addiction possible.

Anyway, I'll probably travel thousands of miles and see centuries of history and culture, and 5 years from now remember only these giant port machines.

My grandson would love this...
Way cool trick for dads...

Make an electric motor in 2 minutes from just these:

If you have kid in grade school, he or she will love it!!

OK, OK I guess a Mom could do it too.
But it's just not natural.

[via BoingBoing]
No, I'd better not say anything here. Nope...

The "sceptred isle" has a, um, sperm shortage, prompting clinics to import Danish sperm. We all know what that could mean:
Warnings that "huge numbers of blonde, blue-eyed children" will be born as a result of the number of couples using sperm imported from Denmark have prompted the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to review the shortage of British donors.
Blue-eyed blondes! The horror!

Those crafty Vikings may win yet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wonder if they could do this with corn...

Scientists have developed flood-tolerant rice. I always assumed rice was flood tolerant, but I guess you can overdo anything.
While rice thrives in standing water, like all crops it will die if completely submerged for more than a few days. The development and cultivation of the new varieties is expected to increase food security for 70 million of the world's poorest people, and may reduce yield losses from weeds in areas like the United States where rice is seeded in flooded fields. Results of this study will appear in the Aug. 10 issue of the journal Nature. [More]
Think about if you could buy a few bags of "flood corn" to plant in those waterholes you can't afford to get drained. Or aren't allowed to (wetland). Or don't have any place to drain to.
Too proud to use a digital camera, I guess...

George Vlosich fools around a lot with his Etch-a-Sketch.

So does he buy a new one for each picture or what? Glad you asked:
Each time George picked up a new Etch-A-Sketch, his talent grew by leaps and bounds. So much so, that the Etch-A-Sketch company sent out a representative to George's home to check and see if George was actually the one creating these works of art - He was, and the Etch-A-Sketch company has been providing George with free Etch-A-Sketches ever since. That sure helps out a 10 year old's wallet!!

What happens if there is an earthquake?

[via BoingBoing]
Commuting will never be the same...

Those wacky Dutch have solved the problem of not having enough time to to stop off for a cold one after work.

The Fietscafe

is a mobile pub, for groups up to 17 people per bike, who can transport themselves by moving the pedals.

Not all guests do have to cycle; the Fietscafe® is provided with 10 freewheels, so you can change seats from time to time.

You need a sober driver and of course, the best bartender looks after the beer and drinks.

[via Neatorama]

Monday, August 14, 2006

The organic lure, and the organic cure...

While most milk producers are not having a good year, organic dairies are seeing record demand for their product. In fact, there is talk of shortages.

The big problem I see with organic milk production is it is non-differentiable - you cannot take a sample of milk as far as I know and perform a test that will prove it is organic. You simply have to believe what the seller says. This also makes cheating pretty easy.

Anecdotal reports indicate organic milk tastes better. This seems to be a common thread with all organic production, but I can't find any rigorous blind taste-testing results.

Despite my reservations, I am satisfied that we have in place a way to handle this difference of opinion fairly and efficiently.

It's called a supermarket.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

One small step for mankind, one chance to sleep in for womankind...

The farmer's answer to a manly breakfast. The Egg-and-Muffin-Toaster could save your marriage and save you paying outrageous prices for coffee at McDonald's.

[Be sure to try the "Build one yourself" on the website - it's a hoot.]

Huge award for the first real user report.

[via Red Ferret]

Saturday, August 12, 2006

We're either in the Baltic or off just off Seattle...

Foggy and rainy on the cruise ship today, but otherwise an excellent adventure. The big thing with travelers is comparing airport horror stories. I found out, fr'instance that shaving cream is a "liquid".

Memo to self: shaving with hand soap seems like it should work, but it really doesn't.

It is becoming clear that this event is going to fundamentally cahnge business travel. What's the point in carry-on luggage if you can't take your toiletries (what a prissy word).

U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, said the plot "eliminates the days of carry-on baggage," according to The Associated Press.

Nancy McKinley of the International Airline Passengers Association said the new rules are going to be a "huge adjustment," especially for business travelers.

"The challenge is going to be with the airlines on all the luggage [that] is checked and can it actually get to the destination in a reasonable amount of time once you get there -- how long do you have to wait for it and all of that," she said. (Watch how airports are getting bags through screening and to planes -- 1:47) [More]

Still it could be worse - you shoulda seen the guys at the duty-free liquor store. It was like Old Yeller just died in there.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The further adventures of Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager...

Some of the amateur videos going up on YouTube are pretty good. This one is for all you Star Wars fans.

C'mon, you know who you are.
Gasoline schizophrenia...

American minds are churning feverishly trying to embrace a stark contradiction. While the easiest and highest payoff to address our energy "crisis" is conservation, we just don't wanna.

Without a doubt, a stiff gas tax would shift many of us to efficient vehicles, add no-till acres, and boost public transit. But we seem to want it both ways - cheap energy and efficient use.

I know, let's pass a law!

Well, we kinda did a few years ago and guess what? It didn't work. Looky, there is a good reason Toyota/Honda/et al are kicking tailpipes in the American market. Americans may be unrealistic, but we are not permanently stupid.

The marketplace for energy will sort this out as fairly as can be done.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Being rich is no piece of cake after all...

The cost of living it up is starting to take a toll. Upper end consumers are starting to exhibit the same consumption cutbacks as those of us who routinely shop at Walmart.

Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg has examined the spending and consuming habits of his colleagues and clients on Wall Street and has created his own "Wall Street core inflation index," which tracks the rise in prices of the necessities of yuppie life: "jewelry, spas, lawn care, health care, sporting goods, housekeeping services, tuition, airlines, hotels, salons, legal/financial services, and dry cleaning." His conclusion: The price of spoiling yourself rotten is rising rapidly. "The Wall Street core CPI is running at 4%, nearly double what it is for Main Street," he wrote in a report on July 28.

In other words, forget about the heat and the Frappuccinos. Sales at Starbucks and its sister high-end retailers may be faltering because the cost of living well is rising more rapidly than the overall cost of living. [More]

The picture of the US as "hollowed out" from a disappearing middle class seems to resonate for many. I think one indicator of the divide may be a nascent desire to more discrete consumption via the Internet on the part of the rich.

In other words, the Two Americas may be falling into step.
(Permission granted to gloat quietly)
And it looks like we're walking downhill.
My secret to international travel succTiming!...

Jeez - stoopid terrorists had to pick my anniversary trip to test "gatorade bombs". BTW, you can't even carry gel-caps on planes.

"Due to the nature of the threat revealed by this investigation, we are prohibiting any liquids, including beverages, hair gels, and lotions from being carried on the airplane," a DHS statement said.

Increased security means airline passengers around the country should show up at least two hours early for all flights, an official with the Transportation Security Administration told CNN. (Watch tips on how to get through security faster -- 1:45)

British and U.S. security agencies quickly moved to impose strict limits on carry-on items in the wake of Thursday's arrests, causing extended delays at airport security checkpoints. (Full story)

The British Airports Authority said no hand luggage would be allowed onto planes leaving British airports until further notice.

British Airways canceled all short haul flights in or out of Heathrow Airport for Thursday, and delays were stacking flights up at airports across Europe.

So anyhoo, I'm stuck here in O'Hare, hoping I don't miss the boat.

How iconic!
Here's the dill, pickle...

(Forgive me - it's an old family joke started by my son Jack)

Jan and I will be celebrating our 35th anniversary - which is over 143 husband-years! We leave today for a Baltic cruise. We have always wanted to visit these areas and I would like to see the Baltic from the top. [Last time was in a submarine about 35 years ago.]

I have talked Jan into letting me take my computer, but I don't know if I will be posting. And as fascinating as other people's vacation photos are, it will have to be something pretty spectacular to show up here. You know what they say, "What happens in Helsinki, stays in Helsinki"

Weep not! I have cleverly pre-positioned some ersatz "news" and dubious drivel for the Webmaster to post at irregular intervals. So stay tuned. It goes without saying that I will not be replying to comments either. (Wait, then why did I say it?)

Al Pell will be covering USFR, so I just hope I still have job when I get back...

Soldier on, and if the markets go to heck, it won't be my fault. I'll see you around the 22nd.

Peace out, dudes.
A little arithmetic...

Some context to help you understand what it's like to be one of 1,300,000,000 Chinese. In a nation slightly smaller (area) than the US.

A day at the beach:

Can you find Waldo?

[via Neatorama]
The condition of our air...

If you have ever stood outside next to your house air conditioner you can intuit what it is doing. That hot blast is heat from inside pumped outdoors. Great idea.

But as you have likely noticed from your power bill, all that pumping is not free. And it may not be a great idea in the long run.

Have you heard the news? Scientists have found a planet that can support life. Its atmosphere is too hot for year-round habitation, its gases impede breathing, and surface conditions are sometimes fatal. But by constructing a network of sealed facilities, tunnels, and vehicles, humans could survive on this planet for decades and perhaps even centuries.

The planet is called Earth.

If you've seen this planet lately, you know what's going on: temperature records shattering, scores of Americans dead. By summer's end, the toll will be in the hundreds. It's not as bad as 2003, when a heat wave killed 30,000 people in Europe. But according to global-warming forecasts, within 40 years, every other summer will be like that one.

The hotter it gets, the more air conditioning we install and crank down. This is called a positive feedback loop. And I'm danged if I can see any way out short of an economic meltdown.

Of course, human-caused global warming could be another hoax by the media (like the Moon landing). But every hot summer/mild winter brings more conversions.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Yes, it was hot enough for me, thank you...

The California heat wave took a toll on agriculture - especially the huge CA dairy herd.

With 12 days of blistering temperatures over 105 degrees in the Central Valley, dairy cattle -- the state's largest agricultural sector -- may have been rocked the hardest. Exact figures are being tabulated, but dairy farmers have suffered an estimated loss of more than $1 billion, says Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of the Modesto-based trade organization Western United Dairymen.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has requested federal disaster assistance for the state's $5.2 billion milk industry.

For consumers, it's unclear whether higher prices for milk and other dairy products will result, Marsh says, because there's no direct correlation between what a farmer gets paid and what consumers pay. [More]

The last paragraph is the most interesting. Obviously some in the media have realized the disconnect between farmer prices and retail, which also means they can figure out that farm programs are not a consumer benefit.

Whether it is global warming or not, people will be more likely to think so after a very hot summer. Our minds don't stray too far from the present.

[via Slashfood]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sign me up...

Sprint Nextel has announced that it is going to announce (?) it will invest big-time in WiMax, a long-range Wi-Fi network technology.
WiMax could benefit consumers by providing a low-cost alternative to the high-speed Internet access being offered by the cable and telecom operators that dominate the market in a duopoly. Upstarts could use WiMax to break cheaply into incumbents' markets, offering lower prices and higher speeds. [More]
This could radically change the timetable for widespread affordable rural broadband. Having heavyweights like Intel and Sprint behind it, this technology looks to be a big boost for farmers and others in the country. The beauty of WiMax is the range - although much dispute occurs on this point:

Note that this should not be taken to mean that users 50 km (31 miles) away without line of sight will have connectivity. Practical limits from real world tests seem to be around 3-5 miles (5-8 km). The technology has been claimed to provide shared data rates up to 70 Mbit/s, which, according to WiMAX proponents, is enough bandwidth to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1-type connectivity and well over a thousand homes at 1Mbit/s DSL-level connectivity. Real world tests, however, show practical maximum data rates between 500kbit/s and 2 Mbit/s, depending on conditions at a given site.[2]

It is also anticipated that WiMAX will allow inter-penetration for broadband service provision of VoIP, video, and Internet access—simultaneously. Most cable and traditional telephone companies are closely examining or actively trial-testing the potential of WiMAX for "last mile" connectivity. This should result in better price-points for both home and business customers as competition results from the elimination of the "captive" customer bases both telephone and cable networks traditionally enjoyed. Even in areas without preexisting physical cable or telephone networks, WiMAX could allow access between anyone within range of each other. Home units the size of a paperback book that provide both phone and network connection points are already available and easy to install.[More great background info]

At the same time broadband over power lines (BPL) got official OK from the FCC - adding more players in the Internet services market - power companies. This technology also will allow the power company to read your meter and monitor usage (and maybe other stuff??) - sort of like a "Energy NSA" - how 21st Century is that?

The line here at the bottom: broadband should getter cheaper and better and more available soon.
Luckily I never lock anything...

This video is pretty amazing. It seems almost any lock can be opened in seconds. I wondered why locksmiths were talking about it - then I realized what business would be like when resistant locks are invented.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Growing old gracefully. In the truest sense...

In a touching and wonderfully written interview, Jon Meacham from Newsweek, offers a moving portrait of a giant of our time: Billy Graham.
A unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have." Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved: "As an evangelist for more than six decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven," says Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross. "However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart."

The liar gene...

All parents have seen it. Your two-year-old misbehaves, say, she gets in a forbidden cupboard and pours shampoo on the floor. Confronted in the act and asked "Did you do this?' often before she begins to cry she will stoutly say, "No, Mommy, no."

Is lying even in the face of damning evidence instinctive? (Maybe not, but liars' brains are different.)

It would seem so for athletes. Floyd Landis - the temporary winner of the Tour de France - followed what is now a predicitable script for those found en flagrante delicto:
  1. Deny
  2. Deny
  3. Float some possible explanations
  4. Deny
My theory is this behavior pattern has been widely adopted because of its utility in politics. And the skills that make someone a good politician may derive from a natural tendency to umm, preveracate.

Really. I'm not making this up.
Cuba now, Cuba later...

As a Francisco-Franco-type watch (apologies to all of you too young to remember Franco jokes on SNL) has been put into place for Fidel Castro, all sorts of speculation has emerged about post-castro Cuba. Some even are wondering about Cuban agriculture.

In first world countries the average caloric cost for food production, taking into account all the energy needed to produce everything required to produce the food and get it to market, is 12 calories in for every calorie out. Cuba no longer had that much energy available to dedicate to agriculture and was forced to find “new” ways of growing the food they desperately needed. In doing so they reversed the caloric equation and got 12 calories out for each calorie put in.

How did they do this you might ask? Well I didn’t put new in quotations marks above for nothing. Mostly they went back to older, organic, sustainable methods of farming with some new twists. Methods the campesinos had used for centuries.

  • Plowing fields with oxen instead of tractors. Added benefit, oxen don’t compact the sopil the way multi-ton tractors do which leads to better soil preservation and higher yields due to better aeration.
  • forgoing monoculture and growing a wide variety of crops on each farm, and rotating those crops.
  • Using natural biological pest controls. Bugs that eat bugs and chemical extracts from plants like garlic and tobacco for spraying. Plants, such as sunflowers, that attract beneficial insects, and others, such as marigiolds, that repel insects.
  • composting all organic material and returning the compost to the land to build up soil
  • growing plants that are native to the climate and getting the farmers involved in selecting the best seeds and trading them amongst themselves.
  • privatizing, in the form of employee owned co-operatives, farms and allowing the employees to sell the produce that exceeds their government imposed quotas (yes capitalism is rearing its head in Cuba)
  • Bringing agriculture into the cities by converting vacant lots and other open spaces into urban gardens

That’s what I can remember from the documentary. Peak oil is either upon us or soon will be. Global agriculture in developed countries will take a big hit in the near future. The ability to affordably grow and transport food will be severely impaired, economies will completely collapse and chaos will reign. Millions will die of starvation if no alternative sources of food appear. This is not in the far future it is in the easly forseeable future, a matter of two or three decades. Global warming will add to this problem. [More]

Good luck with that. (I don't bring this up as endorsement, just information.) What is with this fascination with old-timey farming? Like anybody really wants to be behind a horse for 12 hours a day - they just want me to be behind it!

While some farmers see Cuba as a promising market, one key will be opening our sugar market to the one product they have a natural advantage for. What grain farmers often forget is Cuba has no money. None. Zero. Zilch. And one reason is our unnatural alliance with the sugar industry.
Another potential beneficiary, van Batenburg said, is Imperial Sugar Co. (IPSU) . If the embargo is lifted, the U.S. may decide to import Cuban sugar, which could benefit U.S. sugar refiners, as the new supply could lower raw sugar costs. [More]
Lobbying for the US government to "loan" (heh-heh) Cuba funds will be the first instinct. Oh-that's a good idea -
Cuba's precarious economic position is complicated by the high price it must pay for foreign financing. The Cuban Government defaulted on most of its international debt in 1986 and does not have access to credit from international financial institutions like the World Bank, which means Havana must rely heavily on short-term loans to finance imports, chiefly food and fuel. Because of its poor credit rating, an $11 billion hard currency debt, and the risks associated with Cuban investment, interest rates have reportedly been as high as 22%. [More]
Look, if you really want to help Cuba after Castro, open up the US sugar market.

Plus we'll get WTO Bonus Points.

Update: Great insights into the future of our sugar program from Da Man - Jim Weisemeyer (gotta join ProFarmer for full access). His bottom line:
The biggest challenge ahead for U.S. sugar growers will be dealing with Tier-2 sugar from Mexico and when the duty ends on Jan. 1, 2008. U.S. farm policy tools to control supply are dwarfed by the events ahead when Mexico has duty-free access to the U.S. sugar market. [My emphasis]

Sunday, August 06, 2006

We're Number Two, we're Number Two!!...

During my life, many of the areas of dominance for American business have shifted. Case in point: commerical aircraft construction was an American monopoply after Aeroflot folded.

Then came
Airbus. To be sure, US plane manufacturers (OK, Boeing) are battling back and Airbus has proven to be just as prone to bad management as any company, but still the trend is clear.

We have real competition for commercial space launches, we are not even in the game for shipbuilding, taller skyscrapers are going up around the world, we are slipping in health statistics like infant mortality and longevity, and the Olympic basketball trophy isn't automatically inscribed with "US".

I know, I know, talking like this means "the terrorists win" and it makes me un-American, but that's not really where I'm going right now.

I'm having trouble with the whole
General Motors mess. And pretty soon, it's going to be the #2 automaker in the world.

Many analysts believe Toyota will pass G.M. this year as the world’s biggest auto company, given an aggressive expansion plan that comes as G.M. is losing market share in the United States. Toyota is scouting sights for another assembly plant and a new engine plant, and will open a truck factory in San Antonio this fall.

On Friday, Toyota said it was on track to meet its forecast of selling 8.45 million vehicles in its current fiscal year, which ends March 31.

G.M. has not released a sales forecast, but it sold just over 9.1 million vehicles last year.

I was alive back when Charles Wilson, GM CEO almost* said, "What's good for GM is good for the country".
I believed it, too.

What does it mean (if anything) that another American icon is displaced from the top of the heap?
The Apocalypse?
Time to invest internationally?

Or does it mean that guys like me who really like
Pontiac Vibes (engineered by Toyota) are simply making reasonable choices?

First off, like many Boomers right now, I am probably overthinking pretty much everything in my life. But the initial tendency for many of us is to declare the grapes slightly tart - "They're all multi-nationals, what difference does it make?"

Another answer I'm hearing is to play our military trump card - "Oh yeah, we could still invade those guys tomorrow and whup 'em!". It is one area where we have unchallenged leadership. Only that isn't looking quite as impressive as it used to, since the baddies are fighting a different kind of war.

Or we could just go into denial, which seems to be a popular option. "We're still the best". This is where the PR flacks earn their salaries. By coming up with obscure measurements and bizarre comparisons we can squint one eye and with the right perspective still seem to be #1.

American agriculture may be about to turn a similar corner if our ag balance of trade goes deficit. I can't wait to see how the end-zone-dancers tweak the old "feeding-the-world" brag. My guess is we'll use a narrower statistic to prove our claim. (In fairness, remember that ag trade stats include wine, for example).

You can kinda hear that already from our friends at USDA:
Aside from its symbolic value, the U.S. agricultural trade balance is not by itself a measure of export competitiveness, or import dependence. The U.S. remains a highly competitive exporter of grains, oilseeds, red meats, poultry, and cotton. But the U.S. also imports large quantities of grain products, vegetable oils, beef, pork, and cattle. U.S. farmers and food manufacturers do not and cannot produce all or enough of the foods that Americans desire, especially tropical crops. Today, trade is simply a means of providing for needs and wants that are not satisfied domestically or are more cheaply produced elsewhere. [More]

For me the larger question is our insistence on keeping score. We really have trouble being anything but Numero Uno. This may mean decades of permanent disgruntlement as the rest of the world not merely catches up, but passes us in specific areas.

Seems like a waste to me. For example, my buddies in Denmark aren't number one at anything, except maybe being happy.

Maybe if I stopped watching the scoreboard, I could enjoy the game more.

*At one point GM had become the largest corporation registered to that point in the United States, in terms of its revenues as a percent of GDP. In 1953 Charles Erwin Wilson, then GM president, was named by Eisenhower as Secretary of Defense. When he was asked during the hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee if as secretary of defense he could make a decision adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa". Later this statement was often misquoted, suggesting that Wilson had said simply, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." At the time, GM was one of the largest employers in the world – only Soviet state industries employed more people. On December 31, 1955, General Motors became the first American corporation to make over one billion dollars in a year. [More]