Sunday, July 30, 2006

Round-up Ready and it doesn't melt in your hands...

The world's supply of chocolate is threatened. With demand fueled by a large number of Boomer women reaching middle age (my theory) , chocolatiers are faced with dwindling supplies. Disease problems now affect about one fifth of the the world cacao crop.

But the shrinking global total could be cut by another 25 percent again, according to Randy Ploetz, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida, if two different diseases spread from the Americas to West Africa.

They go by the names of frosty pod and witches’ broom. Both diseases are limited to the Americas but could easily jump the Atlantic on the backs of traders and tourists. “If they made it over to West Africa they could cause real problems,” says Mr. Ploetz. About 70 percent of the world’s cacao pods hang from trees in the region—and most of those hang in the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cacao producer. [More]

One solution might be GM cacao which would be resistant to the pathogens. This idea horrifies those concerned with fair trade and small producers. They may be right.

But if chocolate skyrockets in price, I can see consumer tastes being less finicky.

Icon not take anymore...

More great signage from around the world. Some of my favorites:

Kidnap Victim Release Handle

Perhaps a small elevator design change could prevent this tragedy - we could call it a "door"

I know you are thinking Arkansas, but this is from Canada.

[via Neatorama]
Battling terror in Indiana is not easy...

Lucky for us our Department of Homeland Security is there to help by ensuring emergency warning signs don't get used for nefarious puposes or the general public interest.
State homeland security officials have warned Vermillion County to stop using electronic emergency message boards to advertise fish fries, spaghetti dinners and other events.

Homeland Security, which bought the 11 signs for $300,000, said the county could risk losing federal money. The county has stopped using the signs for the community announcements, and commissioners plan discuss the matter next week.


I live about 4 miles from the ol' nerve gas (VX) depot (I can see it from my farm) so you can imagine how much safer I feel now that the warning signs are firmly in federal control instead of allowing county commissioners to use their own judgment.

Hoosiers - ya gotta watch 'em every minute...

Friday, July 28, 2006

All Doha, All the time..

To full appreciate the impact of the Doha failure and the perspective of the rest of the world, consider these reports from other cultures like:
The western nations annually spend on agriculture subsidy a staggering sum of more than $360 billion -- about the total gross national product of six Bangladeshes. In terms of per capita income in this country, this huge amount is equivalent to the income of $840 million in a world having about 6500 million people. They pay three dollars a day in subsidy for every cow while millions of people in the poor countries having agricultural potentials live on less than one dollar a day per head. Apparently, the policy suggests that cows are superior to poor human beings. The withdrawal of agriculture subsidy in the rich countries, which would make them greatly dependent on food import, could generate prosperity in the poor countries by taking off the lid on harnessing their agricultural potentials. But the bar against, as said earlier, is the rich nations' consideration of their national security.
So where does that leave Africa? Nowhere, with agricultural exports remaining largely sidelined by high farm subsidies in the developed world, it said.

The paper said the economic impact of the current failure would not be felt immediately, but the targets of eliminating trade distorting subsidies and realizing tariff free and quota free market access for least developed countries would obviously be affected.

Failure would also send out a strong negative signal for the future of the world economy and the danger of a resurgence of protectionism at a time when the pace of globalization is weighing heavily on the social and economic fabric of many countries and when geopolitical instability is on the rise, the paper said.

The newspaper said, perhaps this is time to implement WTO reforms as the body has become yet another tool for the EU and the U.S. to bully the developing world and assert their dominance.

So what's next? Suspending the Doha Round does not mean the end of the WTO. There is still a strong development case for a multilateral system, even if it is as flawed as that of the WTO. Australia and other richer countries should resist the temptation to try to get what they want through a series of bilateral trade agreements. Apart from creating complex and incoherent trade relationships, these deals usually involve developing countries losing more than they gain because of their weak negotiating position.

If the talks are to be resurrected, trade negotiators need a complete change of thinking. The US and EU should only come back to the table after doing their homework; they need to make a commitment to stop dumping their agricultural surpluses. The US, EU and Australia must acknowledge the special need of developing countries for flexibility over how and when they open up their markets.

In the meantime, the US and EU should at least respect subsidy rules — or, if they continue to break them, accept that they will face litigation in the WTO court. They must not abandon the multilateral system and should refrain from arm-twisting developing countries into bilateral trade agreements that are even more damaging than those on the table in Geneva. They should use their time to reopen the debate on institutional reform of the WTO.

However minor, such gains would at least give the world's poorest countries something to show for five years of hard slog in the negotiating chamber.

Exactly the answer foodies don't want...

Part of the thrill of being a foodie today is the chance to disdain technology (while blogging on your computer hooked to the Internet from your air-conditioned home).

So when technology provides an answer to the problem of modern food supplies interacting with ancient food-digestion systems, acceptance can be a long time coming. Take ice cream, for example.

My daughter-in-law is a food scientist and I have come to respect her work highly. If history is any guide, people like her will continue to adapt our food supplies to match not simply our desires, but our needs. Too much of the bad-mouthing of our food system is based on either elitist taste or economic illiteracy. As nutritional information mushrooms (no pun intended), our market system will make the food industry response an accurate fulfillment of consumer tastes.
I can't wait for the home version...

I know it looks useless now, but scientists have finally cracked the age-old problem of writing on water.

Laugh if you want, but whaddya want to bet some goofball proposes to an embarrassed girlfriend within 5 years using waterwriting?

[via BoingBoing]
Doing the math - Chapter 23...

As corn farmers drool expectantly over the any-minute-now windfalls from the huge new biofuels market, we may lose sight on what is happening in the rest of the world.

Yesterday, Exxon Mobil announced second quarter profits of $10,360,000,000 (I think all the zeroes add drama, don't you?). Corn farmers need to keep this number in perspective. (Plus - this is PROFIT - not revenue)

For example: Exxon Mobil could overnight buy a major share of the alternative energy market with a few months' gravy. Even ADM, the 900 lb. gorilla of ethanol could be a target. Its market capitalization is significant - around $27B, but compare that with the profit stream above. Now factor in new ADM CEO Patricia Woertz - a gifted former oil company executive.

Hmmm - what could possibly happen here?

The moral to this story: wild amounts of profit are not going to rain down on the cornfields of the US. The value in ethanol is almost completely generated at the processor level. The corn is still just corn, right?

Moreover, the profits from producing ethanol are a revenue stream that can be bought on the NYSE or over a boardroom table. (Admittedly, ADM could go private, like many other companies are considering.) And the price is certainly no budget problem for the petroleum industry.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Who's on first?...

Have trouble telling Hamas from Hezbollah? For that matter do you really know what the West Bank is banking on?

These maps can help you visualize the information.

Or maybe not.
Anybody seen the bulldozer?...

For larger picture (really need to do this) click here.

More astonishing safety stupidity here.

[via Metafilter]
It's not just the Doha Round that failed...

I think the WTO itself is in serious trouble. The ability of farm interests in the EU and US to halt the negotiations will also embolden them to ignore impending deadlines for trade reform:

But the failure of WTO powers to agree means last year’s agreement for developed countries to eliminate all forms of export subsidies for cotton by the end of this year is now hanging in the balance.

Agreements for developing countries such as the overall elimination of agricultural export subsidies by 2013, an aid-for-trade package and duty-free access for the WTO’s poorest members are also on unsure footing. [More]

In the absence of other sectors realizing what has been lost and asserting political leverage, I think Congress will be working hard to shovel money out to the farm. The idea of shaping the new farm bill to be "WTO-compliant" could be a collateral casualty of the Doha breakdown.

My prediction: more - maybe even much more of the same. Congress has has a popularity rating even lower than the Cubs winning percentage, and heading back home to claim credit for subsidies is a tried and true game plan.
Rove expressed a need to shore up political support in farm states in advance of the Nov. 7 elections. Sources say an analysis by Rove showed that further cuts in farm program subsidies would be a major factor in several farm-state races this Nov. 7.

[This from Jim Weisemeyer's frankly disheartening Inside Washington Report to ProFarmer members]
It also means our meat industry just got a 1-2 punch. Competition from ethanol to bid up feed costs and no help opening markets for their high-value products.

Strange way to treat your best customer!
Time to go long on leather...

The introduction of Bt cotton negated the need for an ocean of pesticides - for a while it seems. Chinese farmers who, like US producers have no doubt been scrupulous in setting aside refuges, have discovered even without bollworm resistance, the ecological niche is being filled by other pests. get to pay for Bt seed AND pesticides.
The five million Chinese GM cotton farmers appear to have created a natural vacuum by growing cotton genetically engineered to kill the bollworm larvae which used to destroy their plants. With the bollworm larvae gone, other pests called mirids have taken over, forcing farmers to eradicate them with lashings of expensive insecticide that have all but destroyed the original economic benefits. [More]

The similar problem of marestail and volunteer RR corn springs to mind. Technology fees and creeping herbicide costs may force us to force Congress to force consumers to buy even more ethanol.

Sounds like a plan.

Or we could go with synthetic fibers made from...corn!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bleats from the right...

Now that the Doha Round has been pronounced "pretty deceased" by experts, solemn tut-tuts are issuing from so-called conservative organizations.

This really gripes my gourd.

The Doha Round represented a once-in-a-lIfetime chance to rationalize our farm program and blame it on foreigners. Not to mention maybe helping those industries doing the heavy lifting in our ecomony like software, insurance, financial services, etc. But the right wing of American politics has rolled over for the farm lobby to get any other socially conservative vote they could think of - abortion, gay marriage, gay abortions, gay flag-burning gun-banning abortion, etc. To pretend they truly gave a hoot about de-socializing agriculture is despicable desembling. A sample of the vebiage:
Just to put this in perspective, the non-farming sectors of the U.S. economy make up between 80 to 90 percent of the GDP. Yet through its actions, the U.S. government is saying that it is willing to forgo new market openings for its most productive sectors so that wealthy landowners can continue to receive lots of money not to farm. [More]
So if the trade talk failure suddenly comes home to roost as deflated portfolios of companies whose intellectual property rights are ignored or trust funds shrunken by a debilitated dollar, you won't hear me sympathizing.

The sanctimonious right could have put their votes where their rhetoric was, but farmers weren't important enough to protect their constitutional rights to equal treatment under the law. What the conservatives railed about welfare - that it degraded the recipient and made them clients of the state - was ignored for the farm sector.

It was like giving candy to babies.

Thanks for nothing, conservatives.
Theoretically, I could live to 154...

If light drinking is good for you then if my calculations are right...
Deep in the (no)rainforest...

Brazil seems to have fallen off the radar for most farmers. Thanks to ethanol, we'll all be growing a few beans just for comic relief.

Meanwhile our neighbors down south have a drought problem of their own - the rainforest isn't getting any rain.
The consequences would be truly awesome. The wet Amazon, the planet's greatest celebration of life, would turn to dry savannah at best, desert at worst. This would cause much of the world - including Europe - to become hotter and drier, making this sweltering summer a mild foretaste of what is to come. In the longer term, it could make global warming spiral out of control, eventually making the world uninhabitable.

Since last year the Amazonian jungle has been starved for rain. While ecologists can be given to pretty melodramatic prose this could be an area to watch. Ongoing research into SA water balance may also help us understand what is going on.

Other hearts in other lands*...

While I have been trying to figure out how much damage the Doha Demise will cause, others are celebrating. Perhaps for good reason.
What makes Indian agriculture significantly different from the industrial agriculture in America and European Union (and for that matter in other OECD countries) is that Indian agriculture is diverse and based on available biodiversity wealth. India grows 260 crops every year whereas Europe and America cannot count more than 30 crops, of which 10 crops or so are commercially important. In India, each of the 260 crops is linked to millions of livelihoods.

And yet, the international magazine The Economist (July 8, 2006) wrote: "India is more worried about upsetting subsistence farmers than it is excited by the prize of freer trade in the services that now matter so much to its economy". What it fails to tell us is that the gains in services only provides employment to less than 1.5 million people whereas 650 [million]people are directly dependent upon agriculture and another 200 million are indirectly banking upon farming for survival. Moreover, the gains in services would have happened in any case with or without WTO since the service sector required cheaper manpower.
The writer is not completely wrong. Nor should we continue to write off this many people as non-players. As China and India outgrow and "out-educate" the West, our inability to look beyond the next ten minutes may be remembered as a foolish choice.

Let's start with U.S. and European agricultural subsidies, a key target for the Doha negotiators. Are those subsidies too big? Certainly. Is the Doha Round the right forum for lowering them? Probably not. Here's why: The people who suffer the most from those subsidies are the taxpayers of the U.S. and Europe, who pay billions of dollars a year to politically well-connected farmers in their own countries. If voters haven't managed to get rid of those subsidies in their own countries, it's difficult to see how foreign diplomats are going to have any luck. And, in fact, they haven't.

Too many of us were looking for Doha to do the dirty work of deregulating agriculture and restoring adult status to farmers in the EU and US.

Looks like we'll have to do it the harder way.

* Finlandia by Jon Sibelius

Monday, July 24, 2006

Maybe genetic modifiction has gotten out of hand...


[via Boingboing]
Art or something like it...

Somewhere taxpayers paid for these statues.

The Man Who Measures Clouds

[More] [Note: loads slowly]

[Via BoingBoing]
The other ethanol...

As we rush to distill corn into alcohol we are following the example of sturdy Americans who found their own nationalistic pride swell with the introduction of rum - the American gin.
This may seem a strange claim for a nation with as strong a history of militant temperance and Prohibition as ours, yet there's more than a little truth to it. Rum was invented in the Americas -- probably, though not certainly, in Barbados -- and quickly became an important part of the diet in the American colonies, where consumption of alcoholic beverages was very high. Rum and slavery were intertwined, both in the slave trade and on plantations where rum was made. "Demon Rum" became a shibboleth of the temperance movement, and rum itself became one of the most widely consumed alcoholic drinks once Prohibition forced drinkers into speakeasies or onto ships bound for Cuba. During World War II, rum and Coca-Cola "became the de facto national drink of many of the troops," and now the mojito is one of the most popular drinks among the fashionable young people who are bringing new life into the country's old cities.

I have often been puzzled by those who deify the Founding Fathers as saints when both the times and the people involved were very much like us - truly fallible. While some were abstemious Puritans, most enjoyed gambling (below), drinking, and um, wenching.
In other colonies, English attitudes towards gambling and recreation prevailed. These settlers brought with them the view that gambling was a harmless diversion. In these colonies, gambling was a popular and accepted activity. Legal gambling tended to be those types that were considered proper gentlemen's diversions. For example, it took a long time for cock-fighting to become legal because it was not considered a suitable game for gentlemen.
Sounds familiar.

I do not raise this point to diminish our progenitors, but to suggest that, like them, we are capable of far more.
Questions you always wanted to ask...

16. Why Is It Called "Blackmail?"

The first blackmailers were Scottish landlords who exploited farmers by making them pay rent in livestock or services if they couldn’t pay in cash. The goods they had to hand over were usually worth more than the rent owned, and the landlords didn’t make change.

Around the same time, local chieftains started going after the same farmers with the kind of scheme the mafia usually refers to as "selling insurance." They made an offer the farmers couldn’t refuse: pay a fee for protection. If the farmers didn’t pay, then the chieftains would unfortunately be unable to prevent ruffians from destroying crops and sacking property.

The Scottish farmers called both nefarious deals "black" because they associated that color with evil, and because both payments were made in goods rather than silver coins (called "white money"). As for the "mail" part, it doesn’t refer to the postal system. That "mail" comes from the German word for "pouch." The "mail" in blackmail is related to the Old Norse word for "payment" or "agreement."

Neatorama’s note: The photo above is of Monty Python’s skit Blackmail [wiki], where "Michael Palin plays a smarmy television game show host who extorts money from his viewers by threatening to reveal embarrassing or illegal facts about them. One game is "Stop the film," where a scandalous film is played until a phone call is received, and the amount of money needed increases the longer the subject waits."

[More] [My emphasis]

Things don't really change that much, do they?

[via Neatorama]
Maybe it is some of your beeswax...

The bee population in the US is in trouble - I think. While the immediate threat is an invasive mite - varroa destructor - many beekeepers also cite the loss of pesticide-free felds and moncultures of unsuitable crops for a sharp decline in bee numbers.
"Pollination is a valuable service that we're destroying through our land management practices," says Kremen. But she points out that there are many ways conventional farming could change to support bees. One is to grow cover crops like rye and clover, which aren't harvested but instead plowed under to enrich the soil after they've flowered. Farmers could also use roadsides and ditches to restore native plants and create bee-nesting areas. They could reduce their use of pesticides or apply them at night, when bees aren't flying. Growers ought to do these things, Kremen believes, not out of selfless concern for threatened bees but because, in the end, it will protect their own bottom line. Since honeybees -- which now pollinate up to $14 billion worth of crops annually in this country -- are in steep decline, native bees are needed as a backup. The costs of managing bee habitat could be offset by reductions in the amount a farmer spends on renting honeybees, a cost that continues to increase for many crops. In 1999, for example, U.S. plum growers paid about $6.4 million for honeybee pollination.

It is ironic that honeybees are themselves non-native species - so I guess introducing exotic species is OK if it works out - a rather flexible dogma for enviromental purists.

The other question I have is if loss of bees threatens crops like alfalfa (presumably seed alfalfa) why haven't prices skyrocketed? (Be sure to read the part about why they need young, stupid bees)

I also wonder if GM crops wouldn't be better for the bees. (I don't think Bt affects them). That would put GM opponents in an odd place.
The hammock of the future...

Wait 'til Homer Simpson sees this hammock. Rain tight, bug proof and scientifically designed.

Trees not included.

[via Futurismic]

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The vital signs are not good...

The latest on the WTO talks is discouraging.

Trade ministers are due to gather again later today at the lakeside offices of the WTO in what could be a final attempt to salvage a deal.

Diplomats say another failure by the six, who have already made several "last ditch" bids for a deal, would leave the 149-state WTO without enough time to complete all the complex details of a global free trade treaty by the end of the year.

The end-year deadline for concluding the Doha Round, which was launched in the Qatari capital amidst much fanfare in late 2001, is dictated by the 2007 expiry of special US presidential powers to negotiate on trade.

The round has been billed as a once-in-a-generation chance to boost global growth and lift millions out of poverty.

While more talks are scheduled for 7/28-9, without progress today, the outlook is poor.

Mr Lamy has set a further two days of talks for July 28 and 29, but diplomats said without some progress this weekend there could be little point in a further session.

"It is difficult to imagine that we can continue coming here without anything happening," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said as she headed for the talks.

As for the implications, we just don't know. Some opinions from smarter people than me (a very large population):
Longer-term consequences: The longer-term consequences of a Doha Round failure are serious:

-- Loss of WTO credibility: As a forum for negotiation of trade liberalization, the WTO would be seriously discredited. In the absence of any other global instrument, multilateral trade negotiations would be blocked, probably until the next decade.

-- Free trade agreements: Bilateral and regional agreements would proliferate still further, at the expense of the core WTO principle of non-discrimination.

-- Dispute settlement: The WTO's second main function, adjudicating disputes between member countries about the application of its rules, might initially be reinforced. However, this aspect of its work could also eventually suffer.

-- Multilateral cooperation: More broadly, the setback to the WTO would be damaging to the whole concept of multilateral cooperation.

The Doha Round risks collapse because participants, preoccupied with concerns about the effects of opening their markets, are reluctant to make concessions needed to achieve a deal. Possible consequences of failure for the future of the international trading system could be much more serious.


If that is not pessimistic enough try this:
Fifth, the breakdown of the trade talks would likely precipitate adverse shocks in financial markets. Given current global economic imbalances—with the US current account deficit of more than 7 per cent of GDP and a large and growing Chinese surplus—markets are sensitive already to threats of new trade protectionism and their knock-on effects on capital flows. Markets are good at discounting the value of current commitments but less secure in projecting the impact of new protectionism that could sideswipe financial and currency markets.


That one caught my attention. As we juggle record oil prices, rising interest rates and a jittery stock market, failure of the WTO could be a significant downer for even wealthy investors. While they may seek the safety of the dollar, I am not so sure any more.

Maybe I'm too late already...

Vinod Khosla, a well-known venture capitalist has ignited a fire under ethanol investing. Although long (68 minutes) this video of his presentation during a visit to Google in March is worth the investment of your time if you farm in the Midwest.
Vinod Khosla is a venture capitalist considered one of the most successful and influential personalities in Silicon Valley. He was one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems and became a general partner of the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers in 1986. In 2004 he formed Khosla Ventures.

On Wednesday, March 29th, by invitation from our co-founders and CEO, our special guest, Vinod Khosla, visited Google to deliver a tech talk about the emergence of ethanol as a viable, market ready, and competitive source of renewable energy.

His presentation has been making huge waves in the investor, policy, and business communities and we are privileged to have had him take time to talk to us about the tremendous potential for ethanol's explosion into the market.
I think information like this is important because as I posted below, the ethanol bandwagon is turning into a juggernaut that will be controlled by very large amounts of invested capital. What was striking to me were his ideas about ag policy and what my life as a farmer should be like.

Because we have insisted on goverment (public) involvment in our lives, we may learn that we also gave the public the right to change our lives to fit their visions - not ours.

Keep an eye on the idea of a "cheap oil tax" to set a floor under petroleum prices.

Waterskiing will never be the same, though...

High gas prices are crushing the power boat industry. Higher interest rates aren't helping either.
Consumer anxiety is clearly drifting from Wal-Mart and General Motors up the economic ladder. "Our products aren't necessities," Brunswick CEO Dusty McCoy said on the conference call. "Customers have to be financially able to complete the purchase, but feel comfortable making the purchase." Thanks to higher interest rates and concerns about employment, the types of people who would be expected to buy these luxury items aren't pulling the trigger. All but the wealthiest of the wealthy are feeling the pinch in some way. McCoy noted that sales of large yachts that its Hatteras unit makes have been strong, but the cruisers, the midsized boats that cost in the low six figures and are the most profitable line, have been particularly weak. The economic tide may still be rising. But it's not lifting all boats.

This perhaps explains the dragon boat craze.

Hogging the covers doesn't help either...

To the surprise of very few husbands scientists have discovered that men sleep better alone. Women are just the opposite. Anyhoo, after sleeping with a partner, men woke up stupider.

I know - how could they tell - ha ha ha.

Maybe Rob and Laura Petrie had it right.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hard to explain, but worth viewing.

Where the hell is Matt??

[via YouTube][Broadband]
Why we are losing math teachers...

Found some of my old math tests in the basement.

[via Neatorama]

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Watch what you eat. Please...

Just when your TiVo has freed you from commercials, the advertising industry finds new routes into your consciousness.

Laser-etched eggs will carry ads for upcoming TV shows for CBS.
Mr. Parker said the destination of eggs was tracked so precisely that he envisioned being able to offer localized advertising, even aiming at specific ZIP codes, to promote events like local food festivals and concerts. He is setting aside a portion of the ads for charities, too, he said. The imprint is applied in the packaging plant, as the eggs are washed, graded and “candled,” or inspected for flaws, when the eggs are held by calipers and moved along a production line at 225 feet a minute. Right before an egg is packaged, laser light is applied to the shell, giving it the etching. Each imprint takes 34 milliseconds to 73 milliseconds, so the processing of eggs is not appreciably slowed down, Mr. Parker said.
Can't those guys just leave us alone? I mean everywhere you look there are ads!! All over. Like right on this very page...

Oh, wait.

Ummm, never mind.
The Great Confused Energy Debate...

Much of the problem with our energy policy is energy ignorance. Most of us rely on intuitive or emotional responses to the complex problem of energy production and consumption, but a little hard information may force re-evaluation.

F'rinstance, while I have written about the perception that all our imported oil comes from the Mideast, in fact only about 1/6 does. Our biggest suppliers are our neighbors to the north and south.

Surprisingly, the U.S. is the third largest oil producing country in the world and the U.S. imports the most oil from Canada and Mexico. Bottom line, the “red states” politically produce energy while the “blue states” consume. If all energy and power were converted to BTUs, the state of Wyoming would produce more than Saudi Arabia.

Now for another shocker. Big Oil's profit margin is less than Big Biotech, Big Software, Big Food, etc.

But wait! There is more: Hummers are better for the environment than hybrids. Really.

The problem with our energy policy is not politics - it's math skills.
STAR WARS on a banjo...

He's pickin' - Darth's grinnin'

What more can I say.

Except I am so very sorry...

[Thanks, Aaron]
It's ALIVE - I tell you! It's ALIVE!!!...

Rising from the open grave, pulling the wooden stake from its chest, the WTO Doha round has entered true zombie status.

Dan - an earnest follower of John's World to whom I have subcontracted the job of monitoring the Washington Post - sent this link *regarding the Undead Trade Talks. The money quote:

The United States is prepared to do more to cut domestic farm subsidies, but needs a signal from the European Union and advanced developing countries that they will cut tariffs deeply enough to generate new trade flows, Schwab said.

"President Bush has indicated the U.S. will be more flexible on domestic support when we see more flexibility on market access from our trading partners," Schwab said.

The flexibility to which she refers derives from your LDP account, comrades.

Then again, it may be all over, after all.

(I love this topic - this could go on for years!)

* The old WP is free but requires registration - which has been OK for me, unless they are the bozos selling my address to the Viagra spammers.

Monday, July 17, 2006

This could get interesting...

The WTO has begun "emergency" talks (ooooh - scary!) aimed at preventing outright failure of the Doha Round. In between open-mike gaffes Pres. Bush has signaled some flexibility. This oughta fire up the farm lobby.

I mean, what if we DID get market access to India, fr'instance. Would we miss LDP's?

When stag parties go wrong...

Several dozen deer simultaneously assaulted a European chalet, rammming it from all directions.

No explanation was available from deerologists.
Comments made easier...

Thanks to a tip from Denny, I have changed the settings for comments for this blog to "anyone" - which means you do not have to set up an account.

While this raises the risk of getting spam and junk, it will make it simpler for readers to add their thoughts. We'll see how it goes. I can always revert to requiring commenters to have an account - which BTW is safe.

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

They still stole the gold, however...

As any student of history knows, Spanish conquistadores conquered Mexico not with deeds of warrior prowess, but by exposing the hapless natives to Western diseases like smallpox and typhus, for which they had no natural immunity.

Maybe not.

Acuña-Soto's trips into the woods with Stahle and the Mexican researchers continue to fill in epidemiological details. "I have evidence from 24 epidemics from 1545 to 1813," he says. "I am comparing the tree-ring data with each of them." In each case, he sees the same pattern. He also thinks he may have solved one of the other great mysteries of cocolitzli—namely, why it hit the Aztecs hard but left the Spanish largely unaffected.

Hemorrhagic viruses affect human populations that are already stressed, Acuña-Soto says. "The natives were poor and probably near starvation and living in unsanitary conditions where the rats would congregate. They also worked in the fields, where they'd be exposed to the rat droppings. The Spanish made up the upper classes."

Cortés and his soldiers defeated, enslaved, and murdered the Aztecs, but now it seems that cocolitzli, a disease brought about by a native virus, is what really finished them off. Today the Aztec kingdom exists only in museums and ruins, but the virus could still be out there. As Mexico enters into yet another period of severe drought, could the killer reemerge?
This is going to severely irritate those who really liked having a foreigner to blame cultural failures on. One would be "Guns, Germs and Steel" author Jared Diamond. It also discomfits those psuedo-anti-racists who use similar arguments as ways to demonstrate Western societies were just lucky.

The upshot for me is that all groups of people had battles to fight - some with each other, some with their environments. It's not just chance, nor is it purely genes, but expecting population quotas to be maintained over millenia as proof we are all equal is nonsense.
Sudden-death overtime for WTO...

The previously deceased Doha Round of the WTO were sent into overtime today by leaders from the G-8 nations. Pascal Lamy was given a one-month deadline to do what several years of wrangling apparently could not. If he is successful, cynicism about trade negotiations will deepen as obviously no participant has been negotiating in good faith. No future deadline will be taken seriously and negotiator careers will be golden.

I want trade to be freer, I want negotiations to be fruitful, but I want diplomats and bureaucrats to honor time commitments - and to go off the clock when the deadline passes.
Now if we could just get John Deere to make a "Gator" version...

When I was a kid, there was a lot of hoohah about a
car-boat. This looks a little more useful.

I guess they make a car-boat version as well.

[via Neatorama]
Field tile and hard work...

I did a commentary about installing drainage tile in my fields this week on USFR and got this great letter back today:

Dear John
I thought your show was good today. Can't believe the oil companies would allow us farmers a chance to buy stock in the ethonol business if it is a good deal. That is why we have not bought any. The oil company will sell their product just enough cheaper that only us dedicated farm people will pay the extra. Remember we wouldn't buy ethel cause it was ten cents more and that was when gas was twenty five cents a gallon.
Anyway my reason is to tell you about my grandpa.He came here to MO. about 1880 from W VA. He stopped to see his sister at Chenoa ILL. They were laying tile there so he worked there and learned how to do it.
He taught my dad and so about 1947 my dad tiled a wet bottom we have and then in 1960 we extended it a ways as the creek had changed the lay of land so i learned how to lay clay tile. We dug the trench with spades by hand. Streched a string from point to point then used a gage made out of lath to gage the depth from the string. Used a carpenters level on a 2 x 4 to make sure the string had the right fall so the tile would be laid on the right grade so it would drain after it was covered up. I guess grandpa wore a pair of hob nailed shoes that were heavy so when you lay the tile segments you walked on the completed tile then the new one you lay down you bump it tight against the others with your heal. I could show you easier than tell you. They kept the spades in a bucket of sand and used oil to keep them bright. Talk about hard work that is it. The neighbors north of us tried it but were not good enough with the level so theirs never did drain. a lot of hard work for nothing . My dad had a guy working for us said he could just sight through the spade handle and get the right grade. Of coure pop showed him it wasn't that easy. You also had to prime the tile as they called it which was to throw a little dirt on it to hold it in place while the rest of the dirt is thrown in the ditch. We still have the finish shovel that you use to make the little grove or depression to lay the tile on grade. It would be easier to show you than it has to tell you. Hope i haven't bored you too much.

Dale Hartley Kingston Mo.

Maybe it's growing up with machines, but I love to hear how earlier farmers solved problems with ingenuity and muscle-power.

Friday, July 14, 2006

At least now we all admit it's not aliens...right?...right?....

It's crop circle season in England and unlucky farmers are being visited by nocturnal artists. With the short nights at this latitude, creations like this have to be rolled in seven hours or less. From that perspective it's pretty impressive work.

Plus, it's three dimensional (think looking down at skyscrapers) - a first.

Of course, I'm not the guy trying to cut this barley.

Jeez- I hope this wacko idea stays mostly in Europe.

[via Neatorama]

Nothing exceeds like excess...

Obviously Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin weren't paying attention during the Tyco scandal or the Worldcom fiasco. They have ordered a Boeing 767 wide-body customized to their "party specs".

Look, I know it's their money and they are not doing anything illegal or particularly immoral (yet), but one of the most attractive aspects of Google was a certain idealism. After all, their motto is "Don't be evil". In a cynical world, even a hint of higher aspirations than "I'm getting mine" stands out from the crowd.

Workers at Google - however well-paid - may now rethink what it really is all about. Lost on many, it seems, is the possibility that self-discipline is the key to avoiding evil actions.

Investors may note that extravagant displays like this occurred shortly before the above financial blowouts.

[via B2Blog]
This could rewrite a few business models...

One of the sneaky little secrets about the propane tank exchange business is how full the average tank is when it is exchanged for a full one. Most consumers just don't want to take a chance on running out in mid-barbecue, and hence half-full returns are the norm.

It's kinda like buying the whole tank of gas when you rent a car. What a stroke of marketing genius!

Anyhoo, all that could change with transparent 20# tanks like these:

Of course, why would any propane company want to switch to them?

[via BoingBoing]

Thursday, July 13, 2006

In then end they are just models after all...

As debate about the 2007 Farm Bill intensifies, numbers will start pouring out from economic modelers like the folks at
FAPRI. But if you have been having doubts about the various weather models, why should we believe economic models?
Maybe we shouldn't.

But how plausible were the numbers? Twelve years on, economists have shown little inclination to go back and check. One exception is Timothy Kehoe, an economist at the University of Minnesota. In a paper published last year, he argued that the models “drastically underestimated” NAFTA's impact on trade flows (if not on jobs). The modellers assumed the trade pact would allow people to buy more of the goods for which they had already shown some appetite. In fact, the agreement set off an explosion in the exports of many products Mexico had scarcely traded before. Cars, for example, amounted to less than 1% of Mexico's exports to Canada before the agreement. By 1999, however, they accounted for more than 15%. The only comfort economists can draw from their efforts, Mr Kehoe writes, is that their predictions fared better than Mr Perot's. A low bar indeed.

More here from The Economist

While I do not doubt the sincerity nor the integrity of such groups, I do always remember they would be much smaller and poorer organizations if we did not have intrusive government interference in the ag sector. Ag economists are one of the big beneficiaries of a complex and expensive ag policy.

What kind of answers do you think they want to find?

Update (7/14): Another model that is not working out as well as hoped measures job creation to contrast with BLS stats that roil the markets every month.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sudoku for dummies...

Puzzle fans have taken to sudoku with a passion. Unlike crosswords, these puzzles seem to me to be simply a matter of elimination.

Nonetheless, many derive immense pleasure working them. I wonder if it is a response to jobs and lives that never seem to get anything truly resolved.

[via BoingBoing]
Happiness - it's not just for vacations...

I have read a few books on the economics and psychology of happiness. Although they often wander toward the 'New Age" part of the universe, the most recent research is fascinating. This week in a wonderfully readable article, Jennifer Senior condenses many of these ideas into a helpful summary.

So can happiness be taught? Literature based on twin studies seems to suggest that roughly 50 percent of our affect is determined by genetics. If you’re like me, a pessimist, that seems like a depressing lot. Optimists, of course, would argue that 50 percent is a lot of room to play with, and that through a combination of acts of will and shifts in fortune, our happiness levels can change substantially. (In fact, happiness researchers frequently use the equation H = S + C + V, or happiness equals our genetic set point plus our circumstances plus what we voluntarily change—a tad too reminiscent, for my taste, of a certain “Far Side” cartoon: “Einstein discovers time actually is money.”)

Seligman is most interested in V. And because he’s a self-identified depressive, or perhaps because he’s a philosopher, his idea of happiness is much more comprehensive than positive emotion. By engaging and cultivating our strengths, he says, and by deploying our virtues, we can lead a fulfilling, meaningful life—a notion not unlike Aristotle’s, who defined happiness as “an activity of the soul that expresses virtue.” He makes the critical distinction between pleasures, which make us feel good, and gratifications, which, oddly, may not involve positive emotions at all, but rather the blunting of them. Eating a Mars Bar is a pleasure; doing something that engages or enhances our strengths is a gratification, whether it’s swimming, welding, or listening to a friend in need. Optimally, when we’re in a state of high gratification, we’re experiencing what Seligman’s colleague, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”), calls flow—a state of total absorption, when time seems to stop and the self deserts us completely.

For even shorter attention spans, try the accompanying "User's Manual".
Man, Oman - maybe bilateral agreements won't fly either...

A little noticed free trade agreement (FTA) with Oman ( 200 bonus points if you can name the capital*) may be in trouble in the House. It appears that protectionism is a big political strategy with Democrats and "textile" Republicans.

Oman is the fifth Middle Eastern country to sign a free trade agreement with the U.S., joining Israel, Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco. Oman wants to modernize and diversify its economy, and free trade with the U.S. is part of that strategy. Two-way trade is now only $1.2 billion a year, but the deal would make all U.S. industrial and consumer products duty-free immediately and phase out farm tariffs over 10 years. The country is also a stalwart friend in a rough neighborhood where we need all the help we can get.

So you'd think this would be an easy call. Nope. While the FTA passed the Senate last month with 60 votes, 34 Senators voted no, including 29 Democrats. And when the deal was approved in the House Ways and Means Committee on the same day, all 15 Democrats opposed it. Congressman Charles Rangel, ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, signaled the battle to come on the House floor by noting, "I don't believe we will have much bipartisan support on the question of Oman." Thanks for the statesmanship, Charlie.

While I have been blogging away about the Doha round, it would appear that many in government have already forsaken that vehicle to concentrate on piecemeal treaties. Even that's not working very well, apparently.

That's a problem because a much larger agreement with Peru is in the works. If that one goes down, trade talks of any kind will face gloomy prospects.

(*Muscat - as in "Muscat love", I guess)

Monday, July 10, 2006

I told you not to look down! Or ahead! Or back!...

The world's most dangerous road? Or merely the one of the top 6?

[via Neatorama]
This won't help the drought as much as I thought...

Wisconsin is famous for many things like beer, and uhh, cheese, and umm...mayflies.

Last Friday a swarm was thick enough to alert the ACTION Weather Storm Danger Action Alert
Dynamic Warning Lookout Teams at local TV stations.

Luckily, they rarely attack. And no two are alike.

[via BoingBoing]
First - take a deep breath...

OK, I'm going to say a name now and I want you to keep reading calmly without exploding.

The Union of Concerned Scientis

Yes, yes, I know these guys are wacko, lefty defeatists who are anti-techonology and probably wear Birkenstock sandals with socks - but surprise!

In a remarkably even-handed Q & A about biofuels they stick to what I believe is the righteous path of fact. And while most farmers don't want to hear about increasing fuel efficiency in vehicles, many are also quietly shopping for Colorado's instead of Silverado's at the same time.

Am I getting paranoid or does having these guys on our side seem a little spooky?

Update: For a real energy intiative check out this.
Here is the idea: Propose an international treaty whose signatories would agree to eliminate gasoline from their transportation systems by a date certain—say, in 30 years. Seek initial support from Europe and Japan, but open the treaty to any country that cares to join. Specify only that the treaty should allow signatories to reach the goal in any fashion they please and that it should allow for tradable credits against whatever interim targets it sets. That way, countries can act at different speeds and in different styles. Then let the negotiations begin.

Honey, could you watch the kids while I run to the store?...

OK boys, Daddy has to run out to the garage and get another brush.
Be good...
Welding adjacent links...

As farmers move into processing with ethanol plants to capture more value, processors may be moving "downchain" to secure commodity supplies. One indication of this business model is showing up in California.
In another new twist, Correia said processors were willing to pay $10,000 to $12,000 per acre for land, regardless of what it has on it, and plant it to tree fruit. Processors, he explained, are consolidating to withstand the pressure they face from retailers.

[More here]
For farmers with low-value crops like corn, this strategy is pretty obvious. For processors of high-value crops (tree fruit) it also makes sense. Walmart has changed the game for all of us. Giant retailers breed in response giant suppliers who trigger the formation of giant farms.

The result is fewer, welded links in the old food chain.
Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts..

Everybody, now - join in on the chorus!

In Carthage, Missouri a long struggle to convert umm, greasy, grimy, yadda, yadda into oil may be paying off.
The smell is a mélange of midsummer corpse with fried-liver overtones and a distinct fecal note. It comes from the worst stuff in the world—turkey slaughterhouse waste. Rotting heads, gnarled feet, slimy intestines, and lungs swollen with putrid gases have been trucked here from a local Butterball packager and dumped into an 80-foot-long hopper with a sickening glorp. In about 20 minutes, the awful mess disappears into the workings of the thermal conversion process plant in Carthage, Missouri.

Paying off for Europe, that is.

No kidding. Once again the Europeans are leading the way with their energy policy. Even though the process has been painfully developed here, the EU is the best place to make a profit.

It looks even more promising to process automobile non-metallic waste. Of which there is mucho.
"The process is brilliant," says Candace Wheeler, a GM research scientist. "There are substances of concern in shredder residue such as PCBs, and traditional incineration of chlorinated plastics can make dioxins." But, she says, the preliminary test results indicate that the hydrolysis at the heart of the thermal conversion process breaks down the PCBs and converts the chlorine into hydrochloric acid. "No PCBs. No dioxins. No emissions," says Wheeler, noting that the principal output of the process was a "light oil" that could be used at an electric power generation plant. "It looks good from all perspectives," she says. "We think it has great potential."
The biofuels biz could be hijacked by lower cost feedstocks a little faster than I originally anticipated.