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A better way to die?


Michael Eades talks about the implications of humans eating animals with regards to:

  • The symbiotic relationship created therein (i.e. there are more cows because humans like eating them – similar to trees and paper)
  • Relativistic comparisons between the humane harvesting of animals via slaughterhouses and the normal way millions of animals die every day in the wild — i.e. natural causes like a hawk tearing the lung of a crow and the crow dying of asphyxiation or lions causing an elephant to suffocate, etc.
  • Cortisol’s (stress hormone) meat-ruining impact incentivizing slaughterhouses to be humane, not stressing out the animals.

It’s a thought-provoking, well-written piece. The book referenced is one I should probably add to my wish list.

Here’s a snippet:

When animals (ourselves included) are stressed, they release cortisol, a hormone that looms large in the fight or flight response. This cortisol can be measured and used as an indicator of stress. Cattle are minimally tamed animals. They are by nature skittish. They don’t take well to being handled and, in fact, don’t really like to have people around. Dr. Grandin has taken cortisol samples from animals just standing around the farm with people within view and discovered that they have a slightly elevated cortisol levels. When she tests animals in properly designed slaughterhouses right as they reach the final station, she finds that they have similar cortisol levels as animals standing in the barnyard with humans present. In other words, a little stress, but not a lot.

I can pretty much assure anyone that these animals meet their deaths in today’s slaughterhouses with orders of magnitude less stress than they would were they living in the wild and being preyed upon by large carnivores. In fact, had they been living in the wild, they wouldn’t exist today. They would have been relegated to the long list of animals that have become extinct.

Let’s consider cattle. Cows are large, fairly placid, relatively slow, and exceptionally stupid. They are also uncommonly good to eat. All these facts taken together make it clear why cattle are still with us. (It also reminds me of a great and very true statement I heard once but can’t remember where: ‘If you want to preserve the American bald eagle, all you’ve got to do is make ‘em good to eat, and before long, you’ll be overrun with them.’) And not just a few specimens in zoos, but by the millions roaming pastures the world over. Cattle, unlike other wild animals, allowed themselves to be domesticated. Humans complied and domesticated them. A covenant arose between humans and cattle in which we provided for them and they for us. We kept them safe and allowed them to breed and survive as a species; they provided us with meat in return. It’s been a great bargain for all sides. Although any individual steer trudging off to slaughter may not see it this way, the covenant has been a godsend for the breed, which has grown and prospered. There is a wonderful book titled The Covenant of the Wild detailing this animal-man symbiotic relationship that should be on everyone’s bookshelf, especially anyone’s who doesn’t feel right about eating meat or who is being relentlessly hounded by vegetarian friends or family. Although it’s never pleasant to think of animals being put to death so that we can eat them, it is reassuring to know that it is done as stresslessly as possible. If done right, with almost no stress at all. If, however, the PETA folks had their way, these animals would be turned away from the slaughterhouse doors and sent to live out their days peacefully on lush pastures somewhere.

If this vegan fantasy came to pass, what would happen to these cattle? Would their deaths be more or less stressful than at the hands of their human handlers? You probably know the answer, but let’s take a look. And, remember, not for the squeamish.

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Crisis of Credit Visualized

Even as simplified as this great 10 minute video is, it still gets complicated. And as you can imagine, when you’ve got so many transactions handling a piece of mortgage paper, even the bankers have a hard time keeping track, which just complicates this process further — sending it to a grinding halt in some cases.

I.e. you’re foreclosing and the bank wants you out of the house. You demand to see the loan and the bank can’t find it. Until they can show it to you, they can’t kick you out. Yeah, really. So often people are staying in their houses mortgage-free for months before the bank can track down the loan and actually foreclose/kick them out.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

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Jedi Mind Tricks: How to Get $250,000 of Advertising for $10,000


Tim Ferris of Four Hour Work Week has some good tips on negotiating a deal. These were specifically for negotiating advertising, which could be useful, but they seem good enough to be applied generally to any negotiation.

I need to commit these to memory:

Principle 1: Negotiate just prior to the other side’s deadlines. If purchasing advertising, find out when the space or air time must be filled and negotiate last minute. No one will sell you hard goods such tractors for $5 to get rid of them, but this happens all the time with ad space, as it is worth $0 if not filled. It expires like food products on a shelf. The same approach can be used for cars if you find out when new models come in or when sales quotas are calculated. In this dialogue, assuming the deadline for ad submission is June 30th and the rate card for a full-page ad is $3,000, the follow-up call is around June 20th at around 3:30pm your time (just prior to FedEx drop-off deadlines).

Principle 2: Make them negotiate against themselves. Give them multiple chances to lower their own price before making an offering yourself. People will often offer less than you were planning to ask for.

Principle 3: Use a “flinch” whenever someone mentions their first discounted offer. Recoil in shock and then be silent. DO NOT speak, even if the other side says nothing for minutes (I often check e-mail during this battle of wills). The tension is uncomfortable, and the salesperson usually fills this void with a concession.

Principle 4: Increase value while lowering price. Ask for bonuses as you negotiate on the original dollar amount. Most people across the negotiating table let these slip while too focused on negotiating a single price. Our goal is to get the most advertising per dollar, so add to the package as you cut price. This also gives you items to later concede or remove for further discounts.

Principle 5: Never be the ultimate decision maker. Having partners or superiors, often imagined, with veto power allows you to negotiate hard and make impossible demands without being viewed as a bastard and damaging the ongoing relationship with the other side. This is the same reason business people perfectly capable of negotiating their own deals use lawyers as go-betweens: to blame points of disagreement on “legal” and create a non-hostile bargaining environment where egos don’t collide.

Principle 6: Use intelligent “bracketing.” If the list price is $2,000 and I want to pay $1,500, for example, I’ll offer $1,000, creating a $500 buffer on either side of the target price. The other side will offer $1,750, I’ll compromise at $1,250, and then we’ll settle at $1,500. “Let’s just split the difference” creates the illusion that they are getting a concession from us when, in fact, it was all pre-planned.

Principle 7: Practice using the “firm offer.” This is when, rather than asking the non-committal “Can you do $___?” you make an if-then commitment such as “If you can do $____, we will pay you now.” The latter is an offer of payment rather than idle haggling. To circumvent this entire phone conversation, it is possible to use a pre-emptive firm offer and send an e-mail stating that you are prepared to immediately pre-purchase one ad—whether full-page, half-page, or 1/3rd-page; whichever they prefer—at 30% or 40% of rate card. To make this “firm offer” even harder to resist, FedEx them three signed checks for 30% of each of those ad sizes and tell them to cash one, whichever preferred, or rip them all up.

Negotiate once per item (whether a one-page ad or a 12-month radio campaign) and do it hard.

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Fannie Mae Rescue Hindered as Asians Seek Guarantee…_DcY&refer=home

This strikes me as being incredibly naive of the Asians. Do they really think it matters if the U.S. explicitly guarantees the mortgage-backed securities of Fannie and Freddie? The U.S. can always run the printing presses. They should be more concerned (and I know the Chinese government is concerned based on recent comments) the U.S. government destroys the value of the dollar and obliterates their dollar-denominated holdings. .

Put another way, there’s no free dessert, nor can you have your cake and eat it, too.

Below are the relevant quotes from Bloomberg:

Asian investors won’t buy debt and mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac until they carry explicit U.S. guarantees, similar to those given on bonds issued by Bank of America Corp. or Citigroup Inc.

The risks are too great without a pledge that the U.S. will repay the debt no matter what, according to Hideo Shimomura, chief fund investor in Tokyo for Mitsubishi UFJ Asset Management Co., and other bondholders and analysts in Japan, China and South Korea interviewed by Bloomberg. …

[Shimomura continues] “there is still a concern that there is no guarantee” from the government, said Shimomura, who oversees $4 billion in non-yen bonds for the arm of Japan’s largest bank.

“Looking at the risk, they’re not so attractive,” he said. “We need a guarantee before we’ll buy.”

I’m reminded of the scene in Tommy Boy where the protagonist, Tommy Callahan, makes a sale by speaking truth about guarantees:

Tommy: Let’s think about this for a sec, Ted, why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm, very interesting.
Ted Nelson, Customer: Go on, I’m listening.
Tommy: Here’s the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ’cause he wants you to fell all warm and toasty inside.
Ted Nelson, Customer: Yeah, makes a man feel good.
Tommy: ‘Course it does. Why shouldn’t it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?
[chuckles until he sees that Ted is not laughing too]
Ted Nelson, Customer: [impatiently] What’s your point?
Tommy: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn’t a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy; well, we’re not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that’s all it takes. The next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser, and your daughter’s knocked up. I seen it a hundred times.
Ted Nelson, Customer: But why do they put a guarantee on the box?
Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer’s sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me.
Ted Nelson, Customer: [pause] Okay, I’ll buy from you.
Tommy: Well, that’s…
Tommy, Richard Hayden: …What?

Cross-posted (well, sort of) to IEHI.

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Santelli’s Chicago Tea Party

Though I don’t think Chicago traders represent the silent majority in America (these guys make money on trading, volatility, etc.), you gotta love Santelli’s frank talk getting airtime on CNBC. Capitalist Chicago Tea Party on Lake Michigan? Sounds like fun.

Oh and I liked his soundbyte asking, “Who wants to pay your neighbor’s mortgage because they have one too many bathrooms?”

Here’s a YouTube upload of the clip (backup to CNBC’s clip):



Update 2/20/09 11:05 pm: Just read this:

Gibbs Blasts CNBC Ranter ( )

Relevant quote:

“I also think that it’s tremendously important that for people who rant on cable television – to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Gibbs said during the daily White House briefing for reporters, CBS News’ Mark Knoller reports.

The White House press secretary did not stop there. Knoller reports that Gibbs went on to criticize the objectivity of cable news reporting.

“If I hadn’t worked on the campaign but simply watced the cable news scorekeeping of the campaign – we lost virtually every day of the race….” he said.

Added Gibbs: “If I would have just watched Cable TV – I long would have crawled into a hole and given up this whole prospect of changing the country.”

After President Obama announced the details of his housing relief plan in Arizona Wednesday, Santelli, “the government is promoting bad behavior.” His increasingly outraged comments drew cheers from the trading floor where he was speaking.

Santelli then challenged the new administration, which he said is “big on computers and technology,” to “put up a website and have people vote on the internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize losers’ mortgages.”

The White House is showing some awfully thin skin here. Santelli hardly said anything half as outrageous as the regular comments by Rep. Ron Paul. Mind, by “outrageous,” I of course mean, “dead on but relegated as fringe/insane/stupid by the mainstream corporate/political machine.”

Beyond that, is it really the White House’s responsibility to comment no a CNBC reporters opinions regarding their bailout bill? Is it getting stuffy to anyone else in here? Free speech ::cough:: ::cough:: …

Update 2/23/09:

Here is Santelli’s on-air address to Gibbs’ comments:

And Gibbs’ original comments:
Gibbs is a chump.

H/T to Tim for the extra videos.

Update 3/2/09: See also Barry Ritholtz’s:

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Probiotics and Your Immune System…-immune-system/

More from Seth Roberts on fermentation and bacteria, specifically with regards to probiotics:

My take is that our immune systems need a steady stream of foreign pathogens (e.g., bacteria) and pieces of pathogens (e.g., bacterial cell walls) to stay “awake”;. When your immune system is working properly you fight off all sorts of bacteria and viruses without noticing. When your immune system isn’t working properly it overreacts (allergies) and takes too long to react (infectious diseases). Weston Price found twelve communities eating traditional diets whose health was excellent. Their diets varied tremendously but one thing they had in common was daily consumption of fermented foods, including cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, and fermented fish. This supports Amy’s story right down to the dosage. If you don’t eat fermented foods, you might use hookworms, which excrete a steady stream of foreign substances into the blood. (Thanks, Tom.) Hookworms definitely reduce allergy symptoms; I don’t think anyone has asked if they reduce colds and other infections.

The hygiene hypothesis.

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The Staggering Greatness of Homemade Yogurt…omemade-yogurt/

I’m not sure why I waited so long to subscribe to Seth Roberts, self-experimenter extraordinaire and creator of the Shangri-La Diet, but after seeing enough shared items of his (H/T Patri Friedman), I finally did. And so far, I’m thoroughly enjoying his typical thought-provoking blog posts.

Recently, he’s been discussing how ice chewing is a sign of iron deficiency. Why is there a relationship here? Ice crushing is similar to bone-crushing, and bone marrow is high in iron. In other words, we are evolutionarily programmed to want to chew bones when we are iron deficient. More from Seth on that topic.

Of course, chewing ice provides us with no iron! That’s a problem.

Similarly, we may have desire for certain tastes out of a need for a certain type of nutrition. Seth has been wondering if the desire for taste is really a manifestation of a need for bacteria, as fermented foods tend to be very nutritious thanks to the bacteria and the neutralization of the bad stuff in the foods fermented (I.e. fermented soy reduces the toxin phytate. Dairy fermentation reduces lactose content.).

So where does that leave Seth? Super-fermented (read: sour!), sour yogurt of course!

I’m not ready to try this one out as it sounds kinda gross and I’m just not into yogurt at this point. The non-photogenic comment by Seth at the end makes it not so appealing, too.

However, I’m saving this down for posterity:

I had made yogurt dozens of times. This time, however, I wanted to get as much bacteria as possible so I incubated it about 24 hours instead of about 6 hours. It came out far more sour (due to lactic acid) than ever before. But it wasn’t just really sour (like vinegar); it also had complexity of flavor, creaminess, and a pleasant consistency. It was more sour (tart and tangy are the conventional terms) than any yogurt I’ve ever had. I couldn’t eat a bowl of it; I had to eat it with other food. This may be why commercial yogurt is mild: So you will/can eat more of it at one time.

The yogurt I made is essentially a condiment, although it can be mixed with fruit. It improves almost anything: soup, meat, fish, fruit, string beans, scrambled eggs. (Because almost nothing we eat is sour and almost nothing we eat is creamy.) It is better than other common condiments, such as mustard and chutney, because of its creaminess. It is also far cheaper than other condiments. A small bottle of mustard might cost $3. The same volume of homemade yogurt would cost about 10 cents. (You might need twice or three times as much yogurt to get the same effect.) It is far easier to make than other condiments. And, above all, I suspect it is infinitely better for your health. Mustard has few bacteria. If you complexify and sour your food with mustard, you are essentially chewing ice.

Recipe. I took a gallon of whole milk, mixed it with 2 cups of powdered milk, heated it at about 200 degrees F. for 10-20 minutes (I’m unsure if this step is necessary), cooled it down to 130 degrees F., added 1/2 cup of starter (from other yogurt), and then incubated it in my oven at about 110 degrees F. for about a day. I divided the mixture into four glass containers. Although the lowest possible setting on the oven is “WARM”, which was too hot, the thermostat actually works at lower temperatures. I set it below WARM and used a room thermometer to adjust the setting so that the temperature was about 110 degrees. (The photo above is not mine, incidentally. My yogurt is no longer photogenic.)

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The Great Inflation Moderation that Wasn’t


Tim Iacono of The Mess that Greenspan Made consistently puts out some of my favorite charts, and has been doing so for as long as I remember (back before I was even blogging at autoDogmatic!). Anyway, his latest post is fantastic because it really attacks a huge misconception regarding the period of prosperity attributed to Greenspan known as the “Great Inflation Moderation.”

In particular, I love his chart below on Interest Rates and Existing Home Prices. I don’t know what was going on prior to 1980, but look at that inverse correlation!

And some quotes:

There are no real surprises below – a big run-up in prices as interest rates were moving lower over the last 25 years with a major price correction at the end that still has a little way to go.

It is through lower mortgage rates that dimwitted economists have sought to rationalize the dramatic rise in home prices over the last few decades, most of them thinking that everything was hunky-dory right up until the housing bubble burst in 2005-2006.

It’s no coincidence that, after the events of the last eighteen months, very few now see what was once glowingly called the “Great Moderation” as a permanent shift.

As far as price signals go, it was more like the “Great Muffling”.

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To Big to Bail: Lehman Brothers is the Model for Fixing the Zombie Banks


“Systemic risk” is the boogeyman everyone is afraid of, yet Lehman failed and life has moved on.

We need to switch from from throwing more brains at the zombie banks to taking them down one by one in an orderly fashion. That’s what bankruptcy is all about, anyway. Let the system function!

Such a process as Lehman is painful and politically very difficult, but remember that nobody is surprised now. The definition of “systemic risk” is when markets are surprised, but these are political distinctions. Repeat after us: “there is no such thing as systemic risk,” at least that can be measured scientifically. SysRsk is a political concept, a manifestation of fear and uncertainty. As the Fox told the Little Prince: “All that is essential is invisible to the eyes.”

We all mostly understand the problem now. The swiftest and surest way to restore market confidence is to create solvent banks and begin the process of rebuilding the global markets for both finance and commerce. That is why we say that the competent and efficient handling of the Lehman Brothers liquidation by the US Trustee, SIPC, other state and federal regulators, and most important the professionals of the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York is the model for dealing with the large banks.

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Synchronized Boom, Synchronized Bust…6689503909.html

A narrative from Marc Faber in the WSJ on the boom/bust that was, including some astute commentary (That I happen to agree with) on how we got here.

But because interest rates during this time continuously lagged behind nominal GDP growth as well as cost of living increases, the Fed never truly implemented tight monetary policies. Indeed, total credit increased in the U.S. from an annual growth rate of 7% in the June 2004 quarter to over 16% in early 2007. It grew five-times faster than nominal GDP between 2001 and 2007.

The complete mispricing of money, combined with a cornucopia of financial innovations, led to the housing boom and allowed buyers to purchase homes with no down payments and homeowners to refinance their existing mortgages. A consumption boom followed, which was not accompanied by equal industrial production and capital spending increases. Consequently the U.S. trade and current-account deficit expanded — the latter from 2% of GDP in 1998 to 7% in 2006, thus feeding the world with approximately $800 billion in excess liquidity that year.

When American consumption began to boom on the back of the housing bubble, the explosion of imports into the U.S. were largely provided by China and other Asian countries. Rising exports from China led to that country’s strong domestic industrial production, income and consumption gains, as well as very high capital spending as capacities needed to be expanded in order to meet the export demand. An economic boom in China drove the demand for oil and other commodities up. Rapidly accumulating wealth allowed the resource producers in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere to go on a shopping binge for luxury goods and capital goods from Europe and Japan.

As a consequence of this expansionary cycle, the world experienced between 2001 and 2007 the greatest synchronized economic boom in the history of capitalism. Past booms — of the 19th century under colonial economies, or after World War II when 40% of the world’s population remained under communism, socialism, or was otherwise isolated — were not nearly as global as this one.

Another unique feature of this synchronized boom was that nearly all asset prices skyrocketed around the world — real estate, equities, commodities, art, even bonds. Meanwhile, the Fed continued to claim that it was impossible to identify any asset bubbles.

The cracks first appeared in the U.S. in 2006, when home prices became unaffordable and began to decline. The overleveraged housing sector brought about the first failures in the subprime market.

Sadly, the entire U.S. financial system, for which the Fed is largely responsible, turned out to be terribly overleveraged and badly in need of capital infusions. Investors grew apprehensive and risk averse, while financial institutions tightened lending standards. In other words, while the Fed cut the fed-funds rate to zero after September 2007, it had no impact — except temporarily on oil, which soared between September 2007 and July 2008 from $75 per barrel to $150 (another Fed induced bubble) — because the private sector tightened monetary conditions.

In 2008, a collapse in all asset prices led to lower U.S. consumption, which caused plunging exports, lower industrial production, and less capital spending in China. This led to a collapse in commodity prices and in the demand for luxury goods and capital goods from Europe and Japan. The virtuous up-cycle turned into a vicious down-cycle with an intensity not witnessed since before World War II.

Sadly, government policy responses — not only in the U.S. — are plainly wrong. It is not that the free market failed. The mistake was constant interventions in the free market by the Fed and the U.S. Treasury that addressed symptoms and postponed problems instead of solving them.