The bulk of a fast-food hamburger from McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's is made from cows that eat primarily corn, or so says a new study of the chemical composition of more than 480 fast-food burgers from across the nation.
And it isn't only cows that are eating corn. There is also evidence of a corn diet in chicken sandwiches, and even French fries get a good slathering of the fat that makes them so tasty from being fried in corn oil. .....
Eating a diet of meat from corn-fed animals hasn't been linked to any specific health effects in humans. But it has resulted in widespread environmental degradation, including drained water supplies, degraded soils, and reliance on fossil fuels for fertilizer, pesticides and farm machinery fuel, says preventive medicine physician Bob Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Here’s a fairly amazing market statistic for you: right now, the Nasdaq is below where it was on July 15, 1997. Eleven and a half years of incredibly volatile stagnation
It is Eliot Spitzer that I am referring to. If only he had resisted the temptations of the flesh! Spitzer would have been one solid candidate for the AG spot, and will be well in line for the 2016 presidency. When I read his profile in the New Yorker a few years ago, way way before his sex scandal/crime, my immediate thought was President Spitzer. Ah, lesson learnt--we are humans, and we err, particularly the smartest ones.
In WaPo, Spitzer has an op-ed. I wonder if this is his first ever public comments on policy questions since his public statement that he was stepping down as NY's governor. In that op-ed, Spitzer writes:
No major market problem has been resolved through self-regulation, because individual competitive behavior doesn't concern itself with the larger market. Individual actors care only about performing better than the next guy, doing whatever is permitted -- or will go undetected. Look at the major bubbles and market crises. Long-Term Capital Management, Enron, the subprime lending scandals: All are classic demonstrations of the bitter reality that greed, not self-discipline, rules where unfettered behavior is allowed.Well, the message is on the mark. If only the messenger had not strayed :-(
Those who truly understand economics, as did Adam Smith, do not preach an absence of government participation. A market doesn't exist in a vacuum. Rather, a market is a product of laws, rules and enforcement. It needs transparency, capital requirements and fidelity to fiduciary duty. The alternative, as we are seeing, is anarchy.
While not the same set of dynamics, here is Marlon Brando uttering the famous line from On the Waterfront: "I coulda been a contender, instead of a bum, which is what I am - let's face it"
And here is Robert De Niro uttering the same lines in Raging Bull:
The folks at Ashland did a great job. (When the play ended, I was thankful that they did not adapt it to any other time period, as they occasionally do with Shakespearean plays.) Once again, Shakespeare punched the lights out of me--how did that guy manage to do all that fantastic stuff? And such profound dramas!
Even as the play was progressing, it was difficult not to compare it with contemporary American social and political events. Later on in the summer, politics unfolded the way Shakespeare wrote about--four hundred years ago, and about events that occurred more than 2000 years ago! Obama droppin' the "g" or not mentioning arugula after one mishap, all in order to relate to the commoners. Later on the hilarious attempts by McCain to relate to Joe the Plumbers, and the "betcha" folksy Palin .... well, Shakespeare portrays these so well in Coriolanus.
Here is a neat essay on Coriolanus, from the New English Review (once again, thanks to AL Daily). The author notes that:
Has political life really changed very much since Shakespeare’s day, at least as portrayed in Coriolanus? If anything, it seems to have regressed towards it, having perhaps (but only perhaps) have moved away from it for an interlude of a century or two.
Demagogues and war heroes we have with us still, while discernable principles seem very few and far between. The crowds are still demanding that the candidates display their war wounds: when Mrs Clinton ‘mis-spoke’ she was trying to demonstrate that she, too, knew what it was to be under fire. The desire and willingness to present others in the worst possible light, as a sufficient argument in itself, is still with us.
Friday, November 14, 2008
A British couple who married in a lavish Second Life wedding ceremony are to divorce after one of them had an alleged "affair" in the online world.
Amy Taylor, 28, said she had caught husband David Pollard, 40, having sex with an animated woman. The couple, who met in an Internet chatroom in 2003, are now separated.
"I went mad -- I was so hurt. I just couldn't believe what he'd done," Taylor told the Western Morning News. "It may have started online, but it existed entirely in the real world and it hurts just as much now it is over."
Second Life allows users to create alter egos known as "avatars" and interact with other players, forming relationships, holding down jobs and trading products and services for a virtual currency convertible into real life dollars.
Taylor said she had caught Pollard's avatar having sex with a virtual prostitute: "I looked at the computer screen and could see his character having sex with a female character. It's cheating as far as I'm concerned."
The couple's real-life wedding in 2005 was eclipsed by a fairy tale ceremony held within Second Life.
But Taylor told the Western Morning News she had subsequently hired an online private detective to track his activities: "He never did anything in real life, but I had my suspicions about what he was doing in Second Life."
Pollard admitted having an online relationship with a "girl in America" but denied wrongdoing. "We weren't even having cyber sex or anything like that, we were just chatting and hanging out together," he told the Western Morning News.
Taylor is now in a new relationship with a man she met in the online roleplaying game World of Warcraft.
In this column in the NY Times, Kinsley yet again injects that humor into a discussion of the current economic crisis. Here is an excerpt:
Without consumers to lead the charge, an economic recovery will be hard to achieve. And yet everyone agrees that we need to start saving more. So should I buy that coffee maker to stimulate the economy? Or should I save the money in order to “grow” the economy and provide for my own old age? I can’t do both.
This is the dilemma that 30 years of Reaganomics (the real Reaganomics — keeping the economy overstimulated with huge deficits and irresponsible consumer borrowing — not the fantasy Reaganomics of government run like a family and tax cuts that pay for themselves) has left us with. So what do we do? The nearest thing to an actual plan seems to be something like this: stimulate first, to avert various short-term disasters, and then — at some signal from the Treasury Department — turn around and start saving like mad, to avert various long-term disasters. In other words, we need to get back our consumer confidence, and then lose it again.
The first part is fun. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, only more and faster. The deficit may soar to $1 trillion a year while the government hands out cash to whoever shows up at the teller’s window. Each of us can do our own bit as well. Show your consumer confidence. One last shopping spree. Buy that coffee maker whether you want one or not.
Part II will not be fun. Return the coffee maker (if the store is still in business), and deposit the money in your 401(k). Start drinking instant.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
[The] American mall—that most quintessential of American institutions—is in its dying throes, if not already dead. Moribund malls have not gone unnoticed amongst industry analysts and Web sites like Deadmalls.com that feature photos of hundreds of now-abandoned sites. But what were once just worrying signs appear to have finally flat-lined. Last year was the first in half a century that a new indoor mall didn't open somewhere in the country—a precipitous decline since the mid-1990s when they rose at a rate of 140 a year, according to Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of the forthcoming book "Retrofitting Suburbia," which focuses on the decline of malls and other commercial strips. Today, nearly a fifth of the country's largest 2,000 regional malls are failing, she says, and according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, and a record 150,000 retail outlets, including such mall mainstays as the Gap and Foot Locker, will close this year.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
One of the best things that can come out of this: it will mess up Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will soon be in big trouble, because:
The government has based its 2009 budget on a price of $60 per barrel. Oil revenues account for some 90% of Venezuela's export earnings, more than 50% of the government's budget revenues and around 30% of gross domestic product.
There is thus much at stake. Government rhetoric is now dominated by talk of saving money and austerity, and the country being able and willing to take steps to live with oil prices at 2007 levels ($60 to $70 dollars per barrel) or less. Stress is also being put on the scale of Venezuela's international reserves of nearly $40 billion.
It is speculated that Russia might want to form an OPEC-like natural gas cartel. And it also wants a greater role in global oil prices. Well, wouldn't Putin like that! In fact, that might be the only way he can prop up the prices and also secure his own position.
And in Iran, 60 economists have published an open letter critiquing Ahmedinejad's policies:
"Meager economic growth, widespread jobless rate, chronic and double-digit inflation, crisis in capital markets, government's expansionary budget, disturbed interaction with the world, inequity and poverty have combined with the global economic downturn to leave undeniably big impacts on exports and imports," the letter says.Ahmadinejad immediately blasted back, contending at a seminar on economic development that Iran has been "least affected by this international financial crisis" and urging economists to design "an independent economic system and model based on justice," according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The vote last week was transformative in a sense. In many ways, however, the election produced no change at all. The country is split in much the same way it was divided four and eight years ago. People continue to sort by age and by way of life. As a result, our communities (and states) are growing more like-minded.In his regular blogging place, Daily Yonder, Julie Ardery notes the importance that college towns played in Obama's victory, and reports on how one student made his decision:
Oh, and there is the continuing and stark racial division in both the geography and how Americans live. In Republican-landslide counties, blacks and Hispanics are distinct minorities. Where McCain won by 20 percentage points or more, there were five Anglos of voting age for every black or Hispanic, Cushing found. In Obama-landslide counties, there are 1.3 whites for every black or Hispanic. Obama counties and McCain counties are very different places.
Liberals and Democrats seem to think the country's divisions have disappeared just because their man won. And it is easy to ignore people on the other side when they aren't your neighbors. But that doesn't mean the country is less polarized-because it isn't.
According to an Indianapolis news station, "An IU student who identified himself as a Republican said he threw his support to Obama at the last minute because of the something the Democrat said on ‘Monday Night Football.’Oh well.
"'He was asked, "What would you change in college football," and he said he wanted a playoff system,' said IU student Ben Dyar. 'It was really tied before that, but that pretty much sent me over the edge. I decided to vote for Obama.'"
Meanwhile, the guys who analyzed the 2000 election data and showed that the red-state/blue-state divide is not accurate, and that the country is varying shades of purple, have more interesting cartograms based on the 2008 data. They note that:
large portions of the country are quite evenly divided, appearing in various shades of purple, although a number of strongly Democratic (blue) areas are visible too, mostly in the larger cities. There are also some strongly Republican areas, but most of them have relatively small populations and hence appear quite small on this map.
Iceland’s entire banking system is ruined. In addition to the usual domestic credit shock, this financial sector collapse is causing havoc to the import and export sectors, which are crucial to this small open economy. International bank transfers are difficult. Capital controls are in place; a multiple exchange-rate system is operating. Many companies are facing bankruptcy. Others are thinking of moving abroad. Polls show that a third of the population is considering emigration.
The International Monetary Fund has promised aid, but the Dutch and British governments are demanding compensation for citizens that deposited billions in an Icelandic bank’s high-interest saving accounts. Since Iceland’s GDP is down 65% in euro terms, repayment is unlikely—especially if the nation’s best and brightest move abroad to escape the shock and growing tax burdens. This has happened before. The Great Irish Famine triggered a mass emigration shock which tipped the nation into a downward spiral; population fell in most counties from 1840 to 1961, according to O’Grada and O'Rourke (1997).
I learned all this from a fascinating Vox column posted 12 November by Jon Danielsson, who is a Reader (professor, in American English) of finance at the LSE. Here’s the most sobering bit:
In this crisis, the strength of a bank’s balance sheet is of little consequence. What matters is the explicit or implicit guarantee provided by the state to the banks to back up their assets and provide liquidity. Therefore, the size of the state relative to the size of the banks becomes the crucial factor. If the banks become too big to save, their failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.That’s worth paraphrasing: If banks are too big to save, failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are several European nations with banks their taxpayers could not save.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Writing op-eds has been far more productive in terms of creating and sharing knowledge, than my formal scholarship can ever be. In my non-academic employment, well, let us just say that the executive director tried to tell me, without explicitly telling me, that it will be better if told the newspaper not to identify me as an employee of the agency where I worked. I told him that might not be possible.
Sometime in 2001, I started blogging. Sporadically. Then almost two years ago, I deleted all the content. Left it dormant, and then restarted blogging only a few months ago. Blogging and public intellectual activities go hand-in-hand. And, no better a spokesman for that than Daniel Drezner, who writes in the Chronicle that:
It is not clear how many academics will choose to embrace the technology. The academic politics of blogging can also be problematic, particularly for younger scholars focused on tenure. Another emerging problem is that professionalization is creeping into the blogosphere. Popular bloggers are also increasingly paid bloggers — and the emergence of what Irving Howe called a "phalanx of solidarity" among prominent bloggers might retard public debate.
Despite such limitations, Götterdämmerung will have to wait a while longer. In his essay "The Social Role of the Intellectual," C. Wright Mills lamented that, "Between the intellectual and his potential public stand technical, economic, and social structures which are owned and operated by others." The blogosphere does not eliminate those structures, but it does provide an intriguing substitute. As Siva Vaidhyanathan recently concluded, "There has never been a better time to be a public intellectual, and the Web is the big reason why."
What really caught my attention in the op-ed was Krugman's honesty in assessing FDR's record. Particularly, this sentence: "What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs."
When I was at Calstate, one course that I taught was "Economy and Society", which was to convey economic ideas to the teacher-prep majors. I would routinely ask them something like, "hey, it looks like WWII was good for the economy. so, does it mean that whenever we fall into an economic rut, we ought to just start a large-scale war?"
It always got them thinking, and they would start providing all kinds of responses. Until somebody pointed out that there was severe rationing. and then somebody else would point out the enormous loss of life and property we suffered, and the world suffered.
In other words, I wish Krugman hadn't written that sentence, or phrased it that way. It was not the fiscal stimulus of WWII, but it was literally blood all over the place that re-started the economy. I mean, everybody on the planet knows that Krugman is a progressive liberal, and there is no way he meant to minimize the loss of life and property. But, it is also the unfortunate aspect of economics that loss of lives--in millions--becomes a mere economic footnote, and not the main story. The main story in economics is always only economic growth.
I have a love-hate relationship with economics. Which is why I systematically stayed away from a PhD in economics itself, but did read up on it .... and continue to ....