Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 9th, 2012

Surprise shaving boxes

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I got some good feedback from the first boxes sold, so I’ve improved the selection and packing. Five more are ready, but again, please email me to find if any are still available. I’ll respond with payment info.

Response may be delayed: my MacBook is at Apple for disk reformat, clean install of Mountain Lion, and restore from Time Machine: they are doing that because I didn’t want to attempt it. I should have the computer back by tonight.

UPDATE: Fairly traumatic encounter with Mountain Lion after getting computer home. I was assured that everything had worked, so I come home turn on computer, and am asked to provide all the usual initial set-up info including account name, etc. It rejects my regular name, so I do another, and once account is set up, no data are to be found: totally gone. I panicked, The Wife came over and after futzing around was able to find my original account, which for some reason had not been presented as an option. Obviously, I should have asked them to take me through initial sign-on before I left the store.

So things are fairly okay, still some setting up. Notes is now separate, outside of mail, and has highly irritating ideas (non-alterable, so far as I can tell) about formatting. Pretty much ruined that app. More anon.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Shaving

Comfortable folding chairs when extra seating is needed

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These folding chairs (a Cool Tool) sound like a very good solution to a standard problem: having extra chairs for various times (holiday dinners, etc.).

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 8:54 am

Posted in Daily life

Corn, ethanol, and our food future

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Jill Richardson has a good overview article on the upcoming food crisis in the US and the extent to which monoculture agriculture, with a focus on just two varieties of corn, has exacerbated the situation:

Farmer George Naylor sounds a little too much like the fictional character Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh when I ask about his corn crop. June is usually a wet month, but not this year. One time it “rained” so little it just barely wet the bottom of his rain gauge. Add that to several days of triple-digit temperatures that accelerated evapotranspiration (water loss from his soil and his crop) and his corn is in a sad state. But he’s actually relatively lucky because he is in Iowa, which got some rain early in the season. Farmers in Illinois and Indiana are faring much worse.

The 2012 drought is now the worst drought [3] our country has faced in half a century. As of the end of June, a third of the nation was in severe to extreme drought, and more than half faced moderate to extreme drought. All in all, June ranks as the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record. By the end of July,the USDA had declared [4] 1,584 counties in 32 states as primary disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers in those counties eligible for federal relief programs. Analogies to the Dust Bowl are becoming common.

Most of the time, Americans don’t need to worry much about how the food gets to our table and whether the weather has anything to do with it. It gets hot, and we put on the air conditioning. It doesn’t rain for weeks on end, and we celebrate the sunshine. But now, the fate of the corn crop on Midwestern farms even has comedian Stephen Colbert worried [5]. Agricultural economist Bruce Babcock appeared on his show, warning him that the prices of meat, dairy and eggs will increase because “American livestock are fed a corn-heavy diet.” As Colbert put it, “It is one thing for global warming to make sea levels rise, but nobody told me it would make my cheese levels recede.”

Now is perhaps a good time to reflect on the extent to which the entire American food system is built on one crop – corn. And within that one crop, we rely on a very narrow range of genetics; although there are more than 250 known genetic races of corn, the U.S. almost exclusively relies on just two of them [6]. Because the U.S. is the world’s number-one producer, consumer and exporter of corn, global food prices are also linked to America’s ability to grow corn. This year, we are going to find out what happens when the crop fails in many parts of the country. Now is a good time to ask ourselves: is it smart to bet the global food supply on a few varieties of one crop grown in one country?

Within the U.S., every state except for one (Alaska) grows corn, but the corn is concentrated geographically in the Midwest. Two states, Iowa and Illinois, grow more than 30 percent of America’s corn (measured by acreage). Add in three more states (Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana) and you’ve got nearly 60 percent of U.S. corn. Another six states (South Dakota, Kansas, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Michigan) can also be considered major producers. These 11 states grow more than 80 percent of U.S. corn, mostly without irrigation, and right now half of them are severely suffering from the epic drought.

Where does all the corn go? Well, we aren’t eating it on the cob. Most of the crop is split between livestock feed and ethanol production with a smaller percentage going to exports and smaller amounts still going to produce foods we actually eat directly like high-fructose corn syrup. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the percent of the crop that goes to produce ethanol.

Experts debate how much biofuels impact food prices, but a few trends are clear. As we’ve devoted more and more of our corn crop to ethanol, corn prices have gone up [7]. Once upon a time, prices hovered around $2.50 per bushel. Now they are well above $7 per bushel. Jeffrey O’Hara, an agricultural economist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, recalls when organic corn sold for $4 per bushel just a few years ago. Now it is going for $16 per bushel. “People are going to start wondering why they don’t see organic milk at the grocery store,” he says.

With corn prices so high, farmers have devoted more and more acreage to growing corn. Perhaps when prices were lower, a farmer might have rotated between corn and soybeans, but now he might choose to grow corn every year. Maybe in the past she would have enrolled some of her more marginal land in a conservation program, earning money to keep the land in prairie instead of growing corn there, but now it is more profitable to grow corn on that land. As a result, U.S. farmers are growing more acres of corn than any other year since the bad old days of the Dust Bowl.

But U.S. corn production has not only increased because of increased acreage. Since 1960, the U.S. has increased average corn yields [8] from around 60 bushels per acre to over 160 bushels per acre. Yields of over 200 bushels per acre are not unheard of. But this has come at the cost of genetic diversity. By selecting corn seed for yield and yield alone, the U.S. has sacrificed other valuable traits – like, perhaps, drought tolerance.

In recent years, the already narrow range of corn genes has been impacted by a lack of competition in the seed market.  Together, Monsanto and Pioneer control about 70 percent [9] of the corn seed market. Pioneer, now owned by DuPont, has been a giant in the market for decades as it was the first company to commercialize hybrid corn nearly a century ago, but Monsanto is a relative newcomer.

As it jumped into the corn seed market, Monsanto bought up major corn seed companies like Holden’s and DeKalb. The acquisition of Holden’s was especially significant as Holden’s produced inbred lines of corn seed and sold them to independent seed companies around the U.S. The independent seed companies then used those inbred lines to produce and sell their own hybrids. Monsanto now not only controls a huge share of the market, it also has the means to deprive independent seed companies of the germplasm they once relied on.

Globally, the U.S. produces more than 40 percent of the world’s corn. Next in line is . . .

Continue reading. Our food system is not in good shape and is under the control of a very few companies who will doubtless seize the opportunity to grow profits rather than food. And these companies seem to have considerable control of Congress and the USDA and other regulatory agencies.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 8:39 am

Some hope for industrial hemp

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The DEA prohibition against growing industrial hemp (not an intoxicant) makes about as much sense as forbidding growing corn (because some kids smoke corn silk—which gives you a terrific sore throat and nothing more). But the DEA is pigheaded, so the issue must be forced, and it is being brought up again. Phillip Smith reports:

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill, if passed, would get around the DEA’s refusal to differentiate hemp from marijuana and could result in American farmers being allowed to grow the industrial crop.

The bill, Senate Bill 3501, was introduced last week by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and cosponsored by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). It would amend the Controlled Substances Act to make clear that hemp is not a drug, even though it is part of the cannabis family. Hemp has much lower levels of THC than marijuana grown for recreational or medicinal purposes.

The bill marks Wyden’s second attempt this year to get hemp de-listed. He tried to offer an amendment to the farm bill the Senate passed in June to do just that, but the Senate leadership ruled the amendment was not germane.

“I firmly believe that American farmers should not be denied an opportunity to grow and sell a legitimate crop simply because it resembles an illegal one,” Wyden said. “Raising this issue has sparked a growing awareness of exactly how ridiculous the US’s ban on industrial hemp is. I’m confident that if grassroots support continues to grow and Members of Congress continue to hear from voters then common sense hemp legislation can move through Congress in the near future.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, another hemp bill, House Resolution 1831, which would also clarify that hemp is not marijuana for the purposes of the Controlled Substances Act, languishes in the Republican-controlled House.

A few years ago, a group of South Dakota farmers petitioned the DEA for a permit to grow industrial hemp, even as a pilot project, and ultimately had to go to court to force a decision, which went against them for no good reason based on any rational evidence or argument. Importing industrial hemp is perfectly legal, but the DEA insists that it must not be grown in the US.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 8:29 am

Posted in Congress, Drug laws

Teachers assisting invasive species

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This note from The Scientist is shocking. Teachers surely know better. Edyta Zielinska notes:

A recent study presented at the Ecological Society of America found that school teachers who use live animals as teaching tools could be contributing to the invasive species problem in the North America.

“Some of our schools—and the biological supply houses that provide their organisms—are creating a potential new pathway for non-native species to become invasive,” said author Sam Chan of Oregon State University in a press release.

The researchers surveyed more than 2,000 teachers in eight locations across the United States and Canada, and found that roughly 1,000 species were released by teachers. Indeed, many of the released plants and animals, including crayfish, amphibians, aquatic plants, and snails, are known invasive species.

One of the biggest problems, said Chan, is that teachers are evenly split on whether to euthanize the animals after the curriculum ends. He encourages teachers to consult local veterinarians, and to include native species rather than ordered plants and animals whenever possible.

“Many of the teachers were mortified when we pointed out they may be exacerbating the invasive species problem,” Chan said. “They want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

I’m astonished: they know what they are doing is highly destructive, but they do it anyway.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 8:26 am

How bankers collude to defraud the public

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“The bankers” in the title include Ben Bernanke, who helped cover up the Libor fraud that affected trillions of dollars and hundreds of millions of people. This is the level of dishonesty, deceit, and unethical behavior that is endemic in the banking sphere—against which the Department of Justice takes no action whatsoever. Dean Baker has a column that lays it out:

The case of the rigged Libor turns out to be the scandal that just keeps on giving. It reveals a great deal about the behaviour of the Federal Reserve Board and central banks more generally.

Last month, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave testimony before Congress in which he said that he had become aware of evidence that banks in the UK were rigging the Libor – the inter-bank lending rate and one of the primary benchmarks for short-term interest rates – in the autumn of 2008. According to Bernanke, he called this to the attention of Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Apparently Mervyn King did nothing, since the rigging continued, but Bernanke told Congress there was nothing more that he could do.

The implications of Bernanke’s claim are incredible. There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor. There are also huge derivative contracts whose value depends on the Libor at a moment in time. People were winning or losing on these deals not based on the market, but rather on the rigged Libor rate being set by the big banks.

Bernanke certainly had an obligation as Fed chair to expose and stop this rigging which was interfering with the proper working of US and world financial markets. But hey, Sir Mervyn didn’t want to take any action, what could Bernanke possibly do?

It is truly incredible that Bernanke would make such a statement to Congress and the public. There was nothing he could do about the rigging?

Suppose that he told the head of the Bank of England that he had no choice but to stop the rigging. Bernanke could have said that if King didn’t immediately take the necessary steps to end the rigging, then he would hold a press conference in which he would publicly display the evidence of the rigging and report King’s failure to take action.

Is it conceivable that this threat would have left King unmoved? Would King continue to tolerate the rigging even if could cost him his job and leave him open to public humiliation for failing to carry through his responsibilities to the people of the United Kingdom? That seems unlikely.

Of course, such a threat would have been rude. It would have required Bernanke to tell a fellow central bank head that he was failing in his job and that Bernanke was prepared to ruin his career in order to force him to act responsibly. Apparently, Bernanke never even considered this course of action.

Continue reading. And Bernanke is getting away with it. He clearly played the role of an accessory, yet nothing is done: no punishment, no censure, nothing.

What will it take?

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 8:19 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Ylang-Ylang and the S3S

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Comfortable but not a close shave—I think the blade was too old, so it’s now been discarded.

Nonetheless, I’m certainly presentable, and I did enjoy the shave: just a bit more polishing at the end. The Simpson Emperor 3 Super worked up a terrific lather from Mama Bear Soaps Ylang Ylang, and the iKon S3S is a very comfortable shaver. As usual, I switched between the straight-bar side and the open-comb side during the shave, just as with a symmetrical razor, thus enjoying a little extra variety.

A splash of Floris No. 89, and I’m ready for a day of next steps.

I’ve received some good feedback on the first set of surprise boxes, so soon will offer 5 more. I want to do them in small lots so I don’t get overwhelmed.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2012 at 8:06 am

Posted in Shaving

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