Organic guilt

I have a confession to make. I buy “organic” food, and I feel rather guilty about it.

My wife and I were in the local Wegman’s the other day (Wegman’s is worth a rant by itself; I’ll get back to Wegman’s) poking around in the “Nature’s Market” section where they keep the organic food. “Aha!” says my wife, “here’s something you’d like,” and held up a small bag labeled “Gone Nuts: Cilantro Lime Mojo” with, underneath it in smaller type, “Pistachios and Pepitas”.

I seized the bag and looked on the back. “Pure food ingredients” it trumpeted.
“No weird stuff added. INGREDIENTS: Raw Pistachios, Sprouted Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Lime Juice, Organic Fresh Cilantro, Organic Spices, Organic Jalapeno, Organic Cold Pressed Olive Oil, Himalayan Crystal Salt and Lime Oil.” My mouth watered. “Oh Goddess,” I muttered in her direction, “it’s packaged crack for me…”

Ah, but then came the deadly disclaimers. “VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE NO GMOs NO TRANS FAT.” and “We support local and fair-trade sources growing certified organic, transitional, and pesticide-free products.” Aaaarrrgggh! Suddenly my lovely potential snack was covered with an evil-smelling miasma of diet-faddery, sanctimony, political correctness, and just plain nonsense. This, I find, is a chronic problem with buying “organic”.

I definitely have “organic” tastes. I don’t eat or drink things with high-fructose corn syrup in them because the stuff tastes to me like burnt plastic. Give me free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, yes, because factory-farmed animals fed on corn mush, rapeseed, and bone meal produce bland, characterless meat. I like artisan breads made without preservatives and eaten the day they were baked because compared to that experience conventional packaged bread is like chewing a bad grade of foam rubber.

The problem is, every time I buy “organic”, I feel like I’m sending a reinforcement to several different forms of vicious stupidity, beginning with the term “organic” itself. Duh! Actually, all food is “organic”; the term just means “chemistry based on carbon chains”.

Take “no GMOs” for starters. That’s nonsense; it’s barely even possible. Humans have been genetically modifying since the invention of stockbreeding and agriculture; it’s what we do, and hatred of the accelerated version done in a genomics lab is pure Luddism. It’s vicious nonsense, too; poor third-worlders have already starved because their governments refused food aid that might contain GMOs. And without GMOs it’s more than possible that the new wave of wheat rust, once it really gets going, might condemn billions to death.

Vegan? I’ve long since had it up to here with the tissue of ignorance and sanctimony that is evangelical veganism. Comparing our dentition and digestive tracts with those of cows, chimps, gorillas, and bears tells the story: humans are designed to be unspecialized omnivores, and the whole notion that vegetarianism is “natural” is so much piffle. It’s not even possible except at the near end of 4000 years of GMOing staple crops for higher calorie density, and even now you can’t be a vegan in a really cold climate (like, say, Tibet) because it’ll kill you. In warmer ones, you better be taking carnitine and half a dozen vitamins or you’re going to have micronutrient issues sneak up on you over a period of years.

OK, I give on gluten-free. Some people do have celiac disease; that’s a real need. But “no trans fat”? Pure faddery, or the next thing to it. The evidence indicting trans fats is extremely slim and surrounded by a cloud of food-nannyist hype. I hate helping to keep that sort of balloon inflated with my dollars.

Who could be against “fair trade”? Well, me…because the “fair trade” crowd pressures individual growers to join collectives with “managed” pricing. If you’re betting that this means lazy but politically adept growers with poor resource management and productivity prosper at the expense of more efficient and harder-working ones, you’ve broken the code.

Finally, “pesticide-free”. Do I like toxic chemicals on my food? No…but I also don’t fool myself about what happens when you don’t use them. This ties straight back to the general cluster of issues around factory farming. Without the productivity advantages of pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, and other non-“organic” methods, farm productivity would plummet. Relatively wealthy people like me would cope with reduced availability by paying higher prices, but huge numbers of the world’s poor would starve.

I buy “organic” food because it tastes better and I can, but I feel guilty about reinforcing all the kinds of delusion and superstition and viciousness that are tied up in that label. We simply cannot feed a world population of 6.6 billion without pesticides and factory farming and GMOs and preservatives in most bread; now, and probably forever, “organic” food will remain a luxury good.

Try telling its political partisans that, though. Hyped on their belief in their own virtue, and blissfully ignorant about scale problems, they have already engineered policies that have cost thousands of lives during spot famines. The potential death toll from (especially) anti-GMO policies is three orders of magnitude higher.

And my problem reduces to this: how can I buy the kind of food I want without supporting dangerous delusions?

316 thoughts on “Organic guilt

  1. For anyone that wants an even better rant on the stupidity of “organic” farming, see John Ringo’s recent novel “The Last Centurion”. Also has a fairly good rant on AGW.

  2. And my problem reduces to this: how can I buy the kind of food I want without supporting dangerous delusions?

    You could always try growing it yourself.

    This is, of course, not a solution that’s available to everyone, and certain things (growing your own grass-fed beef) will be impossible for pretty much everyone except a professional organic farmer. But it does work for a lot of things.

  3. First, Eric – I feel your frustration.

    I do think you’ve shotgunned a few issues indiscriminately.

    First, the items you’re right on:

    GMOs: You’re both right and wrong on this one.

    You’re right in that unless you’re eating wild game, amaranth and tree harvested nuts, you’re certainly eating GMO foods of some sort or another.

    You’re wrong in your assertion that GMO stuff is always harmless. Most of the current advances in GMO crops are building in resistancas. Which all sounds well and good until you recognize what they’re building in resistance to – herbicides.

    What this means is that herbicide layers in many crops that are not ‘organic’ are two to three orders of magnitude higher than they were even a decade ago, because the herbicides that aren’t killing off the competing weeds are generally being absorbed into the plant. Thousand-fold increases in the consumed dosage of RoundUp in food make me skittish.

    This is a GMO crop that basically doesn’t get grown in the places where it’d be beneficial because the only benefit it has is if you can also douse things with herbicides at staggering doses.

    Fair Trade: Some of what you say is correct. Some of what you say isn’t – those collectives you disparage can (and often are) run by cronyism with low yields. On the other hand, it is kind of nice to know that your chocolate is produced by farmers who actually own the land they’re growing it on, and isn’t going to be strip mined, or isn’t going to render downstream areas into fishkills.

    Modern American agriculture (currently) feeds the world. There’s growing evidence that what we’re doing is, effectively, strip mining the soil; the draining of the Ogalalla Aquifer at rates in excess of its replenishment has already moved the ‘too dry for wheat’ zone halfway across Kansas.

    Why does this come back to fair trade practices? Because the correlation rate between desertification of farm land and unsustainable practices and ‘corporatism’ runs at about 0.8. Extracting maximum value from farmland now can appease shareholders; extracting maximum value from farmland in the long term requires more of a conservation-driven mindset than we’re currently seeing.

    Fair Trade practices are, in essence, a reaction to improper incentivizations and cost dodging on downstream effects. I agree that they are an inefficient solution to these problems…but they are an attempt at solving these problems.

    Now, let’s look at marketing fluffles.

    Organic: Organic meant ‘connected to a system of living beings’ from 1778. It was first used for ‘carbon chain chemistry’ since 1871, and “pesticide free” / “made natural” from 1942, which is a specific marketing inference harkening back to its use in 18th century naturalism. So, as annoying as both of us find the terminology and its use, it IS actually referring to the longest tenured use of the word, and a longer tenured usage than ‘carbon chain chemistry’.

    Vegan: This is an informative part of product labeling. It means that the product will not offend the religious (or dietary) demands of a segment of the demographic the product is marketed to. Yes, it’s marketed to people who have grease on their reality handles and admire its glistening squishiness with self-delusional satisfaction…but it is also important to people with certain food allergies, beyond ‘gluten free’

    Gluten-free: If you talk to people who immunosuppressive research, and research allergies, the entire complex of peptides that make up gluten trigger an immunological response in roughly 70% of Caucasians, about 30% of Africans, and nearly 90% of people of Middle Eastern stock. It does not trigger responses in most East Asians or Australian Aborigines. We don’t know what that immunological response is actually doing, but in extreme cases it’s celiac disease. In milder cases, it appears to be linked to IBS and Crohn’s diseases. (The general line of thinking is that when you cause your immune system to respond to an allergen you’re rolling the dice that it won’t also start to trigger on something ELSE in your digestive tract.)

    Pesticide Free: In the case of nuts, you’re not only 100% correct, but it’s NEARLY CERTAIN that they’re lying and not categorizing things that are pesticidal in nature as pesticides. (Indeed, many of the traits that make certain nut trees resistant to rusts and pesticides are the same traits they’re trying to graft into GMO grasses…)

  4. Oh – and if you look at the major “organic” brands, most have been quietly purchased by Archer-Daniels-Midlands from the 1990s to the mid 2000s. It caused a ripple in the financial news, but rarely caused an outcry. (The exception is Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, which caused much anguish and lamentation among my more vegetarian/liberal/hippie friends.)

  5. >how can I buy the kind of food I want without supporting dangerous delusions?

    I feel your pain. I hold my nose and just buy it when there is no alternative. Same thing when I buy something that has any other kind of mass marketing gimmickry attached to it. So what if they are making money off a bunch of deluded smelly hippies. More power to em.

    As long as you don’t ascribe to the delusion, I don’t think you can be morally held responsible for others actions or opinions. I have to pay taxes because they have a gun to my head. I don’t like what they do with my taxes, but I don’t really have a realistic choice in the matter. I’m not Gandhi. I didn’t invent this crazy system. Such is life. Turn it to your ends when you can and keep your personal principles clear. You can’t fight mass delusion…..you’ll just wind up burned at the stake.

    Brawndo. It’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes!

  6. @esr: While I love this rant, I have a couple of minor nits:

    humans are designed to be unspecialized omnivores,

    Humans were not designed; they evolved to be unspecialized omnivores. Unless you have some sort of odd disagreement with prevailing scientific theory.

    But “no trans fat”? Pure faddery, or the next thing to it. The evidence indicting trans fats is extremely slim and surrounded by a cloud of food-nannyist hype. I hate helping to keep that sort of balloon inflated with my dollars.

    A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 did show a strongly positive correlation between trans fat consumption and coronary heart disease, though the specific mechanisms are still a matter for debate. In any case, nobody would really argue against the idea that moderating fat intake has definite positive health benefits; most foods containing trans fat also happen to be quite high fat and cholesterol, so steering clear of trans fat is actually useful in that regard.

  7. Wonderful essay. I’d like to use it on the site in the email. Can you send a note to that address to discuss this and other contributions? Thanks.

  8. Yeah me too.

    But I do need the “gluten free” label, as my irish heritage has apparently doomed me to no wheat, barley and so forth. (No beer! *sob*). But the touchy-feely government stupids are actually going to screw me up there too. They want everyone to be forced to put labels on their foods that “should” be gluten-free, and state that all others of the same kind are gluten free, even if they haven’t done anything to reduce cross-contamination. So the one thing I have to guide me may be governmentally-mandated to be incorrect. Isn’t that great??

  9. >Humans were not designed; they evolved to be unspecialized omnivores. Unless you have some sort of odd disagreement with prevailing scientific theory.

    Hah. You know me better than that by now.

    >A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine

    Yes, and in how many cases — especially cases relating to diet – have such studies proven to be utter bunkum? Based on historical performance, a very high standard of skepticism about such claims is indicated.

  10. Growing your own isn’t always practical on a large scale, but there are particular niches that are low work/high return.

    In particular, herbs and seasonings (like rosemary and mint) are often dead simple to grow, and are exorbitantly expensive in the stores.

    Just a thought.

  11. You have to go into the business- of creating narratives.
    The labels are stories, bad stories because they don’t reflect reality very well.
    From what I can see, the organic label isn’t as effective in the wine industry, and I believe this is because wine already comes with a provenance. The provenance makes for a better story.
    We used to come by stories of how our food was made pretty naturally, seeing a live animal before it was butchered was considered a right (before FDR).

  12. I am in the same boat. I want food that doesn’t contain weird, unnecessary ingredients (hormones in milk, HFCS in things that don’t need to be sweetened, etc.), food that is fresh and tasty, food was bred for flavor rather than uniformity and/or long shelf life. To get these, I often have to give money to people I consider luddites and anti-science. Well, it ain’t the worst contradiction in my life.

  13. Hah. You know me better than that by now.

    Yeah, I know. I was just being pedantic.

    Yes, and in how many cases — especially cases relating to diet – have such studies proven to be utter bunkum? Based on historical performance, a very high standard of skepticism about such claims is indicated.

    Sure. But even if the study is totally bunkum (and it could very well be), you can see for yourself by reading nutrition labels that foods containing trans fat are generally very high in fat. Avoiding high-fat foods is certainly beneficial nutritionally speaking.

  14. @Mastiff:

    Yep. And most herbs and seasonings grow like weeds. If you allow it to, mint, for example, will take over your whole yard in very little time. The advantage is obvious: you can grow them with very little effort on your part, and the payout is big.

    We have some cilantro and rosemary growing in our garden now.

  15. >If you’re betting that this means lazy but politically adept growers with poor resource management and productivity at the expense of more efficient and harder-working ones, you’ve broken the code.
    Fuck me sideways, ESR. Are you really suggesting that the fake “free trade” regime we have now doesn’t do exactly the same thing? That the corporations involved in it aren’t “politically adept” and haven’t rigged the system towards their ends? I figure that if this gives people in the Third World some relief from a system designed to systematically fucked them at every turn, then it’s a good thing. (Also, in my experience, the food’s much better, too.)

    Funny, because I eat organic, locally-grown-where-possible, FairTrade-otherwise produce for all the right reasons, which is that the State has systematically rigged the market against small producers, and these things are good and necessary in the system we have now. In a free market things would necessarily tend towards small, local, largely organic producers; it just seems like the right thing to do to support those kinds of producers under the system we have now. Also, fuck Monsanto. Just sayin’.

  16. >In a free market things would necessarily tend towards small, local, largely organic producers;

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is almost certainly wrong. “Small and local” implies “unable to collect economies of scale”. I’ve already noted the problems with “organic”.

  17. If I had to grow my own food I’d starve. Not because I can’t work a garden (I can), but because it wouldn’t leave me enough time to actually make a living, which I’d still need for the things that can’t be grown/produced locally. Can’t raise heifers or chickens in my back yard (per the HOA); I’m pretty sure that I’d have to put the vegetable garden in the front yard (too much shade in the back), which would also piss off the HOA. While we have a large river nearby, the fishing is … risky. Apparently significant numbers of fish are switching genders (not gender roles, genders) in the Potomac.

    Much more efficient to pay an expert to specialize on food production … like eggs.

    As for Wegman’s, the local Wegman’s is our preferred market, but they do have a irritating blindspot. The Sterling Wegman’s has 24 checkout lanes, of which 4 are wider than average and intended for handicapped use. The rest of the aisles are no more than 5cm wider than the carts. Guess how many of the ADA-compliant aisles are open after 9pm at night? If you guessed ‘zero’ you’d be right. At some point I’m going to stop complaining to the managers about it and start looking up 800 numbers. I just don’t see why it’s so hard to arrange to open those lanes first, and close them last, for the convenience of their customers.

  18. Side note – for an interesting look at the studies re: fats and coronary disease (I don’t agree with everything in the book but there IS some useful information in it) one can look at “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes

  19. Hmm – where to begin. I largely agree with Ken, but I also feel your pain. I’ll tell you what we do: I grow some vegetables in my backyard, and the rest on the farm of a friend. To give you an idea, in 2008 I decided to weigh everything I harvest. From my backyard, and from the 22m x 10m plot on the farm, We harvested over 700kg (that is ca 1500 lbs) of vegetables and fruit. Meat? – I buy a steer / heifer from the same friends, and have it slaughtered myself. Hog – I got one from another friend, who raises them herself, and lets them wallow in the mud etc. Another friend, who is a butcher, did the cutting, wrapping and sausage making for me. (One free range hog = 390 lb, hanging weight). Lamb – that I buy directly from another farmer. Eggs – from friends. Milk – shh – from some Mennonite folks I know. Another friend is out hunting, promised some elk, deer and goose (I cringe to think how few people here in North America actually eat the geese they shoot. Good stuff!). Grains I buy directly from farmers – well, these happen to be the only certified organic people I buy from. Whatever. But I mill the stuff in a countertop mill myself, bake the bread myself (kneading is a great way to get rid of your frustrations). O yes, I brew my own beer / cider / root beer / wine / mead etc…. it’s another hobby.

    Anyway – you see the pattern: Buy / source directly, money goes to the fellow who did the work, he / she gets more, I pay less, my family eats healthier / better tasting food, we all go to bed happily.

  20. Eric, “buy local” may be economic nonsense, but in this case it’s exactly the solution to your quandary. Local organic farmers are not, in general, minions of some new world order. They’re just in it to make a buck like anybody else. If you buy your food straight from the farm stand, it means you can give the growers whatever vetting you desire.

  21. As a Organic Chemist I find the concept of Organic=Healthy to be absurd. If there’s one thing that nature is still better at than man, it’s making HORRIBLY DEADLY compounds. The nastiest nerve gas we’ve developed can’t hold a candle to Botox. Naturally occurring genotoxic compounds are also often more toxic than their synthetic brethren (Org. Process Res. Dev., 2010, 14 (4), pp 1037–1045). That paper also points out that we are exposes to ~1.5 grams of these nasty compounds EVERY DAY with nominal negative effect.

    I will concede the better taste argument, simply because all of the chemical fumes have addled my sense of smell, so it all tastes the same to me now, but the health issues are simply bunk.

  22. @ESR:
    > Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is almost certainly wrong. “Small and local” implies “unable to collect economies of scale”.
    And there are diseconomies of scale, too, above a certain threshold. Numerous studies show that this threshold is far, far lower than the conventional wisdom would have it. Output per acre is optimal at somewhere around the family farm size. It’s only because of government distortion of the market (both direct subsidies, and they’d-like-you-to-think-they’re-indirect ones like “infrastructure”) that the model of farmland-further-than-the-eye-can-see harvested by monstrous £400,000 mega-machines is economically feasible.

  23. Fair Trade: while it is true that there is much utopian social engineering in the FT movement – generally the activists don’t just pay the farmers wel land leave them alone but try to tell them how they should educate their children etc. etc. the whole things just reeks of well-intentioned but intrusive paternalism – there is actually one great thing about it and it is that that it is all about buying produce from people who are actually owning their own lands and not are just employees of a corporation. Probably we agree that property ownership is the most important basis of a functioning economy, however, not all property are the same. There is a huge difference between owning some pieces of paper called shares or stocks which one can buy and sell a hundred time a day, and owning a piece of land inherited from the grandpa which one intends to leave his own grandkids in a good shape. Generally, the second is a lower time preference option, esp. when it comes to conservation, preservation, and sustainability.

    TL,DR if we expect the free market to care about the environment or sustainability we must support the longer-range, lower time preferenced, less liquid forms of property ownership (such as land) rather than the liquid, fast-paced, high time preference ones (shares and stocks).

    Yes, I know that third-world farmers are, sadly, perfectly capable of totally irresponsible slash-and-burn agricultural practices which are even worse than factory farming, but they generally do that on land whose ownership is unclear or is state-owned or community-owned in some vague form, not on land which they actually own.

  24. >Output per acre is optimal at somewhere around the family farm size.

    That is an extraordinarily unlikely claim. I know how capital-intensive farming is, and “families” (other than, say, the Rockefellers) simply don’t have that kind of scratch without going very deep into debt. Evidence, please.

  25. >If you buy your food straight from the farm stand, it means you can give the growers whatever vetting you desire.

    Sure, it’s a great solution for me. But like organic farming, it doesn’t scale well.

  26. @Stadon: As someone who was an OrgChem student, I once said the same things you just said, then I opened a dictionary and learned that a word can have multiple meanings depending on context, and ‘organic’ means something else here. Do you gripe that a ‘chair’ cannot be an important professor but only a sitting implement?

    @ESR: with “I’ve already noted the problems with “organic”.”, you mean “I feel like I’m sending a reinforcement to several different forms of vicious stupidity, beginning with the term “organic” itself. Duh! Actually, all food is “organic”; the term just means “chemistry based on carbon chains”.”
    or something else? Because Ken already corrected you far better than I did here on the meaning of ‘organic’. OTOH, if you want to argue that the term ‘organic’ as it is used in marketing food and other products means quite a lot of different things, and is sometimes misused, please do.

  27. >OTOH, if you want to argue that the term ‘organic’ as it is used in marketing food and other products means quite a lot of different things, and is sometimes misused, please do.

    There’s that, and there’s also the problem that organic farms are highly inefficient compared to the conventional kind. I can afford the price premium that implies; J. Random Third-Worlder cannot.

  28. > Humans were not designed; they evolved to be unspecialized omnivores. Unless you have some sort of odd disagreement with prevailing scientific theory.

    I realize this is off topic, but I find this an interesting digression. I read Darwin’s Dangerous Idea some time ago, but I seem to recall that Dennett agreed that human beings were “designed” – it’s just that they were “designed” without a conscious “designer”.

    I mean, doctors would have a hard time doing their jobs without at least using the language of design. We have a good idea, for example, of what the heart is “for”, but we don’t know for sure what the appendix is “for”.

    You can, of course, always argue that there is a difference between using “the language of design” when describing an object, and saying that said object was “really designed”. The point is that there’s a continuum here and it’s not always clear where to draw the line, or where the two ideas become indistinguishable.

    The free will debate is of a similar flavour – you can always argue that something is only acting “as if” it had “free will” as opposed to actually having “free will”, but past a certain point the difference won’t be something tangible.

  29. >You can, of course, always argue that there is a difference between using “the language of design” when describing an object, and saying that said object was “really designed”.

    Clearer: Design implies teleology, a “final cause” for which there has been optimization. What Darwin does show is that teleology doesn’t imply a designer.

    So when I say “humans are designed” I imply a final cause but not necessarily a designer.

  30. @ESR “But like organic farming, it doesn’t scale well.” “now, and probably forever, “organic” food will remain a luxury good.” Oh. Sorry, I missed that bit when I asked my previous question. But then, it’s a luxury product. Acknowledge it as such, eat your luxury pistachios and enjoy them. Lamborghini doesn’t scale either. Do you think the producers that market their food as ‘organic’ or ‘free range’ don’t know the difference in production?

    It looks like your beef is with the perception that somehow, government cronies will mandate all farms to be ‘organic’ and then America’s | the world’s supply of food will plummet. I don’t really think so. I think people will realise that organic food is nicer and more expensive, rich people will buy organic and be healthier and most people will not even have a choice about what they buy. Just as right now.

  31. Eric, you shouldn’t address my messages while I’m in the middle of writing the next ones…

  32. “you can’t be a vegan in a really cold climate (like, say, Tibet) because it’ll kill you”

    Glad for bringing that up – Buddhism is too often directly married to vegetarianism in the minds of young Western people and this is a misconception. It is more accurate to say that it has always been a debated topic. On one hand, the objectives were to avoid harming sentient being and to not meditate with a stomach full of heavy food because you’ll fall asleep. On the other hand for the second purpose it is a much easier solution what monks usually did, that’s they simply didn’t eat anything solid after midday, save for drinking “tea” chock full with greasy yak butter which has enough calories, fat and proteins to get by even in freezing temperatures but does not make one sleepy.

    As for the first purpose, Kalu rinpoche have put it this way: “Look at those good people, they don’t eat meat, but they do drink tea. In order to grow tea, one must first plow the ground, which kills little bugs, worms and bacteria below and above the ground. Then the whole area is peppered by pesticides so actually they might just as well drink a cup of blood.” What Buddhists of the Kalu rinpoche type have alwas understood is that it is nearly impossible to live in a way that really does not kill or hurt any kind of sentient being, and saying that killing worms is OK but calves not because calves are cute but worms are not is exactly that kind of self-delusionary attitude that a serious spiritual practitioner should avoid.

    So the relationship between vegetarianism and Buddhism has always been a fluid one, sometimes getting stronger, sometimes getting weaker, for the older, red-hat schools, it was a bit like sex: monks and nuns should in theory stay chaste but actually many had families, it was considered a theoretical ideal not always to be followed to the letter in practice. When the yellow-hat, the gelugpas came into power, it was enforced more strictly among monks in the big cities, after all gelugpa means “virtuous”. In the countryside where the yellow-hats were weaker and the red-hats stronger, not so. Of course one should have always tried to avoid to be the direct cause of the killing of an animal, but selling yaks to the local Muslim minority and buying meat from them and not inquiring much into about how did the yaks turn into meat was always a popular option in Tibet, at least when the local yellow-hat paragon of virtue wasn’t looking too closely.

  33. I buy from local, non-organic farmers because they produce the highest quality produce at the best prices. I buy chicken, pork, and beef locally because I’m in the midwest, and we know how to turn green stuff into those kinds of meat really, really well. I buy lamb chops imported from the souther hemisphere for the same reason. When I can’t get local produce, I buy from wal-mart and avoid the organic section. Quality is high (thanks, Hispanic population!), prices are low (thanks, advances in logistics research and market pressures!), and I’m not sending any adverse signals.

    Buying “organic” is paying for paperwork. “Free Trade” is rent seeking without the government middleman. Local produce, as it is usually brought to market, is more environmentally harmful than produce shipped across the continent.

  34. Eric, perhaps you don’t know about the wine business. Wine (red in particular) has multiple chemical components that help heal and avoid cancer. Or so they say. My father did analysis on the matter that he sold wineries so they could say ‘my wine has X quantity of resveratrol, and it is good for you” (he was involved in the ‘has X quantity’ bit, not the ‘it is good for you’). Good wines have all the publicity, all the attention, all the good stuff, and a fraction of the global wine market that doesn’t represent even 10% (or a similar low number, I don’t recall the exact figure) in volume (prices are something else). So, J Random 3rdWorlder drinks from his carton, and others gorge on the Chateau Lafite. Perhaps this is why I’m not too worried about ‘organic’ foodies dooming us.

  35. >I buy lamb chops imported from the souther hemisphere for the same reason

    Yeah. Americans who’ve never had grass-fed lamb have no idea what they’re missing; the domestic corn-fed stuff is flavorless by comparison.

  36. “What Darwin does show is that teleology doesn’t imply a designer.

    So when I say “humans are designed” I imply a final cause but not necessarily a designer.”

    Wait, what? Isn’t the whole history of discovering genetics and marrying it with darwinism was about removing any and all kinds of “fitness teleology” from the theory of evolution, and by the end of the sixties evolution was through and through de-telelologized?

    BTW I would be personally glad if some Aristotelean kind of causa finalis could be proven, heck, at least demonstrated not to be extermely unlikely but left open as a possibility, but frankly I expected you to be the last person to believe in such a thing. If you do I think this is something that deserves a post IMHO because you are sailing strongly against the currently popular Dawkinsian wind. BTW Darwin himself considered himself a reinventor of Aristotelean causa finalis teleology, but as far as I know the geneticists of the sixties have successfuly thrown it out…

  37. My thoughts on the matter? Don’t worry about it. You buy organic not because of the dubious claimed benefits put on the package by marketers, but because you prefer the flavor and other directly tangible benefits to you.

    It would be admirable if you had the option of getting organic products which did not market to the anti-GMO/fair-trade/omg-toxins crowd, but sadly the reality is that the majority of organic food providers care about GMO/fair-trade/toxins more than you or I. If you have to choose between an inferior product which doesn’t promote the aims of anti-GMO/fair-trade, and a superior product marked as being GMO-free or fair traded, I would go with the superior product because it is superior.

    I’ll note that your “organic” tastes have very little to do with the organic foods movement. Chickens can be free-range but fed fertilized foods, and cattle pasture can be fertilized as well without negatively impacting the flavors you are interested in but preventing the use of the “organic” label.

  38. >Wait, what? Isn’t the whole history of discovering genetics and marrying it with darwinism was about removing any and all kinds of “fitness teleology” from the theory of evolution, and by the end of the sixties evolution was through and through de-telelologized?

    Depends on what level you’re talking about. There’s an irreducible final cause in evolution; that which promotes successful replication becomes more common. Darwin understood this, which is why he considered himself to be reinventing Aristotelean teleology. I get it, too. It was neither the first nor the last issue on which Darwin turned out to be more clear-sighted than his interpreters in the first hundred years after The Origin of Species.

    The error that had to be purged from genetics was sloppy imputation of teleology at lower levels. The war that took the longest was rooting out assumptions about “group selection”. But even there, it turns out that teleological language can be justified if you can show how group selection is implied by adaptive strategies for individual genetic lines, which is in turn implied by the one big final cause of evolution.

    In general, what we need to beware of is smuggling in teleological assumptions other that the one big one. But claims like “humans are designed to be omnivores” are not really problematic that way.

  39. @Adriano: Having multiple definitions of a word doesn’t really r if one of the definitions is demonstrably false. Organic can only be defined as “healthy” if you arbitrarily define it as such, ignoring the evidence to the contrary. Now if you do that you are setting up a false equivalence by claiming that since our food fits one definition of “Organic” (grown without chemicals/GMOs/whatever else they deem bad this week) it must fit them all, including their arbitrary definition of “healthy”. To use your example, it would be tantamount to assuming your department head is a recliner.

  40. ESR:
    >I know how capital-intensive farming is, and “families” (other than, say, the Rockefellers) simply don’t have that kind of scratch without going very deep into debt.
    …*IF* you assume what you’re wanting to prove, which that we need huge farms that require large, complicated and expensive special-purpose machinery. Smaller farms are not nearly as capital intensive; to take it to absurd extremes, the tomatoes I grow in my back yard required “capital” of precisely two bags of compost and a watering can. I’m not saying that growing stuff on the backyard scale is the most efficient way of doing things (but damn those are awesome tomatoes). But I wonder if you’ve been looking at the system as it exists, concluding (correctly!) that all the successful farms are very capital-intensive, and consequently conclude that in a free market (bad premise because we have never had one, either there or over here) large-scale farming would be the norm because it’s capital intensive, while leaving the question of why it is capital-intensive unanswered. The issue is whether it would need to be in a free market, or indeed, whether that business model could survive without farm subsidies, government-funded roads, subsidised irrigation projects, etc etc.

    > Evidence, please.
    As much as this will sound like “the state-subsidised Doberman ate my homework”, I did a TON of reading about this a few years ago, bolted onto a couple of theories as to why, came to conclusions and never bothered to record my sources (one reason I should write more, I guess). I could start digging again, I suppose, if you wanted me to do that badly enough. (Though there’s a good, albeit limited, summary of literature in Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory, pp. 42-51. I suspect you already own that book.)

  41. @Stadon: “Organic can only be defined as “healthy” if you arbitrarily define it as such”.
    First, I don’t define it as ‘healthy’, and nowhere was that stated. I could define it as “food products grown or produced in a certain fashion”, but I don’t because I don’t collaborate with dictionaries or encyclopaedias. It is marketed as healthier than non-organic food (and tastier, and better for the economy, etc.), true, but that’s neither here nor there.
    I’m not a fan of organic food for the reasons Eric points out, and also because, here, they cost more than what I want to pay for them. Organic products might have a stringent standard to adhere to, but it depends on your country’s regulators.

  42. Anonymous:

    “…*IF* you assume…”

    The total area of land to be farmed does not change no matter how it is subdivided. There are real economies of scale possible with the huge machinery, especially at harvest time.

    There are companies that specialize in harvesting. They own the machinery, and the crews follow the harvest seasons. They travel from Texas into Canada and back. The farmers have to schedule a year or more in advance.

    The relics of the New Deal farm policies do distort things, but not by encouraging the purchase of enormous machinery.

  43. The only problem I have with GMO’s is modern patent law, and the way it’s applied to the companies that use the more modern accelerated methods, like Monsanto. They prohibit saving seeds, and they sue neighboring farms if it is found that some of the seed blew onto their farms and they didn’t immediately notice and purge that portion of their crop.

    I too have a bit of a palate for organic type foods, entirely because of taste. I like stuff that tastes like real food. I’m also trying my hand at gardening for the first time this fall because it’s a skill that I’d like to develop, and I think that sort of work is good for the soul. I also enjoy making my own beer, cooking, and other such things for the same reason.

  44. @BobW:
    >There are companies that specialize in harvesting. They own the machinery, and the crews follow the harvest seasons.
    I’m aware. I’ve worked for an agricultural contractor JSYK. :)

  45. I went through this whole debate years ago, and decided that I would demonstrate my reverence for all life by maintaining a diet that had no connection whatsoever to living matter. I now subsist entirely on Wonder ‘Bread’ and Velveeta ‘Cheese’.

  46. “Organic” is a term than meant (and still means) one thing, but now means another. Since the two meanings can be easily be distinguished by context, there isn’t a problem (unlike, say, “hacker”).

    With the exception of Non-GMO and possibly fair-trade, all of your listed labels are true for your theoretical equivalent product that you imagine. The fact that you buy this product doesn’t mean every else has to.

    To answer your question, until almost all people ignore these labels, it will not be economically rational for manufacturers to not include ones that merely happen to be true?

    May I ask of my of my own, why is it that upmarket products you dislike upmarket products you buy for containing you do not want, when such features are not mandated by goverment on everyone else (GMO being a key exception here) and don’t reduce to quality of the product for you?

  47. > Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is almost certainly wrong. “Small and local” implies “unable to collect economies of scale”. I’ve already noted the problems with “organic”.

    “Small and local” likely means “externalities accounted for in the price”.

    “Small is beautiful” by E. F. Schumacher. Take a read through sometime. Russ Nelson could use a dose, too. First chapter is here: http://www.ee.iitb.ac.in/student/~pdarshan/SmallIsBeautifulSchumacher.pdf

  48. @ Stadon > As a Organic Chemist I find the concept of Organic=Healthy to be absurd. If there’s one thing that nature is still better at than man, it’s making HORRIBLY DEADLY compounds. The nastiest nerve gas we’ve developed can’t hold a candle to Botox.

    No, nature is not “better than man”, and your use of ‘compounds’ here is suspect, as it clouds the ontology.

    Here is the short course:

    Deadliest toxin (a poisonous substance produced by living cells or organisms) == Botulinum toxin (the cause of botulism – no shit).

    Deadliest Chemical weapon == Lethal Nerve Agent (VX) material safety data sheet

    Deadliest Chemical = Dioxin. 400X as deadly as arsenic. Dioxin has an LD50 of only 20 µg/kg, so it would only take about 1.5 mg (approx the mass of an “O” on a printed magazine page) to kill an average human. In comparison, the nerve gas VX has an absorption LD50 of 60 µg/kg.

  49. I think your semantic quibbling re the terms “organic” and “GMO-free” are just that. I suspect you’re fully aware that “organic” is a conventional term with a clear meaning in commerce: food produced by agricultural techniques that involve the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. And likewise, “GMO” refers to an organism whose genetics reflect recombinant DNA modification, not the moditification of DNA through selective breeding. This is a semantic quibble akin to those who say anti-Muslim hatred is a form of anti-semitism: i.e., you argue from one formal dictionary definition of a word to criticize what are clearly conventionally accepted usages. For someone who has come down on the “descriptive” against the “prescriptive” side in linguistic matters, I suspect you know better than this.

    As for the alleged starvation that would result from universal application of organic techniques, I detect the intellectual influence of Norman Borlaug. As an antidote, I suggest this as a starter:
    “The Green Revolution Saved Lives? A Poison Meme That Just Won’t Die”
    http://c4ss.org/content/295
    “The Green Revolution

  50. BTW, the “productivity” of capital-intensive methods is primarily in terms of productivity per labor-hour, not productivity per acre. Substituting capital for labor is a standard strategy used by those with large amounts of investment capital, in order to minimize the agency costs of labor. Small-scale, intensive techniques are actually much more productive in terms of output per acre (see John Jeavons’ bio-intensive method, as well as the entire family of intensive raised-bed techniques to which his method belongs).

    And the substitution of capital for labor doesn’t even mean increased total labor efficiency; it just means reduced labor inputs at the actual point of production. This efficiency is more than offset by greatly increased unit costs of distribution. It’s Bordodi’s law: the economies of large-scale production are offset by diseconomies of large-scale distribution. It may take more labor to grow a tomato in your back yard than it does to grow it in your back yard. But the costs of growing in your back yard are final costs, because the tomato’s grown at or near the point of consumption. When you figure in the costs of shipping, supply-push marketing, and all the rest of it, the total labor required to grow your own tomato is less than the labor required to earn the money to buy one at the supermarket.

    Economies of scale exist. Economies from division of labor exist. But they’re not unlimited, and the terms “economies of scale” and “division of labor” aren’t magic words.

  51. > Holy shit, Kevin Carson just showed up. Whoah.

    And here I spent part of yesterday assembling my Cupcake CNC with our son.

  52. >“organic” is a conventional term with a clear meaning in commerce: food produced by agricultural techniques that involve the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers

    I think you wanted a “not” in there.

    >I suspect you’re fully aware that “organic” is a conventional term with a clear meaning in commerce: food produced by agricultural techniques that involve the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

    But I consider that usage meaningless hype, because I don’t recognize any basic ontological distinction between “natural” pesticides/fertilizers and “synthetic” ones. It’s all just carbon compounds; supposing otherwise is vitalism or mere superstition, and just because other people have a lot of emotional energy invested in the distinction doesn’t rescue it from meaninglessness. You might as well be arguing Trinitarian theology, and to just as little effect.

    >For someone who has come down on the “descriptive” against the “prescriptive” side in linguistic matters, I suspect you know better than this.

    Really? You really have me confused with a descriptivist? Then you, er, haven’t been paying attention very well.

    >As an antidote, I suggest this as a starter: “The Green Revolution Saved Lives? A Poison Meme That Just Won’t Die”

    What I see there is a lot of dodgy goalpost-shifting, and I say that despite the fact that I agree with much of your critique of land-use patterns. You essentially argue that we shouldn’t credit Borlaug with saving two billion lives because they might have been saved by breaking up latifundias instead. Breaking up latifundias might have been a fine idea, but we don’t live in a world where someone did that. The actual, real world we live in is one in which Norman Borlaug actually saved two billion lives by methods of which you happen to disapprove. Tough shit for you; I’m on his side.

  53. >When you figure in the costs of shipping, supply-push marketing, and all the rest of it, the total labor required to grow your own tomato >is less than the labor required to earn the money to buy one at the supermarket.

    And of course if you wish to apply “hedonic adjustments” to this equation that cardboard tasteless thing from the super market is not equal to my German Stripe heirloom tomato.

    I wonder how the numbers stack up if you remove all the taxes in the calculation.

  54. Question for a goyyim like yourself: if you liked dill pickles, would the Kosher label offend you? Are you bothered by the fact that you are supporting that whole insane, oppressive religious Kosher infrastructure with every salty, vinegary crunch?

    LaBrioth.

  55. Eric: I did indeed intend to put a “not” in there. Whether you regard the absence or presence of synthetic pesticides as making a meaningful difference in real quality, it’s a real difference in growing methods and one for which some consumers have a real preference. Hence “organic” as a label indicating that synthetic pesticides have not been used. I thought the tone of your original message (“just means,” as though you were sincerely unaware that the term had another conventional usage with a clear-cut commercial meaning) was disingenuous, insofar as you pretended to be less knowledgeable than you actually were.

    And whether Borlaug’s methods saved lives compared to the status quo without Green Revolution seed varieties — despite the title — was hardly the sole topic of my column. What I “essentially argue” is that Borlaug — as evidenced by his own strawman attacks on organic farming — didn’t know much about the range of methods in use in organic farming. My main reason for linking to it was that it quoted Borlaug using the same talking points you used here re mass starvation resulting from not using synthetic fertilizers — and that I systematically refuted those talking points.

  56. Eric, great post. The general intelligence level of your commenter community is pleasing, even though some are confused.

    Let’s not get down on the latifundia. When my next tech company makes it big I plan to sell out and buy a property where I own my whole view. I am against slavery so all my peasants will be robots and the tilling will be done by autonomous John Deere robo-combines. If my demesne is attacked by Chavez-tistas or Mugabe-ites or market anarchists I will have my John Deere robo-lawnmowers stand up on their back wheels to defend my land and my otium.

  57. We quit buying organic. We’re not 12-years old anymore and it won’t stunt our growth, and frankly we really couldn’t taste the difference even with self-motivated hype and deluysions – and it’s more expensive.
    But the thick coating of Smuggitry was near toxic by itself.

  58. @Adriano: As it turns out, we are in agreement. I never said you claimed that you said it meant healthy, only that when people do they are incorrect. To be honest, I did assume that you fell in that category, but I stand corrected.

    @Wet: Your short course on chemical nomenclature is, quite frankly, wrong. You make an incorrect distinction between “compound”, “toxin” and “chemical”. Anything that isn’t a pure element is a compound. The fact that they are man made, natural, toxic, benign or helpful makes them no less compounds, especially since toxicity is a function of dose and sensitivity. The difference between a chemical and a chemical weapon is simply in its use, not in anything intrinsic to the substance. So yes, since botox, VX, dioxin, brevetoxin, DDT, and formaldehyde are not composed entirely of any one element, they are, by the scientifically accepted definition, compounds and therefore comparable under the metric I proposed. Any other interpretation would just be drawing arbitrary, self serving distinctions.

  59. >if you liked dill pickles, would the Kosher label offend you?

    I do, in fact, like dill pickles. And buy them kosher because the quality is better. If I liked hot dogs there is no question I’d buy the kosher kind.

    I guess the answer to your question is that I don’t see kashruth as a threat to my liberty or the ability of poor people to get food, so the market signal I send by buying kosher doesn’t disturb me.

    (Note: I’m rather fond of Jewish deli food in general, so my preferences actually have consequences.)

  60. >and that I systematically refuted those talking points.

    I didn’t see a refutation. I saw a lot of rather ungrounded assertions that do not square with what I know about agricultural production economics.

    This is not to say that I think your position is crazy, just that it would take a lot more evidence to convince me and that you have not made a promising start.

  61. 100% organic food! Now advertising-free!

    > Are you bothered by the fact that you are supporting that whole insane,
    > oppressive religious Kosher infrastructure with every salty, vinegary crunch?
    Repressive how, exactly?
    … and is this really enough to convince me to stop eating dill pickles?

  62. Well, I was writing in a column format with length constraints and conventions on footnoting, and I was responding to bare assertions made by Borlaug in an interview (just as I’m responding to ungrounded assertions made by you here).

    But even before I got to the point of making assertions, a lot of my refutation consisted of pointing out problems with Borlaug’s framing of the issues that indicated he knew little about organic farming techniques actually in use (e.g. the claim that doing without synthetic nitrogen fertilizers would require the application of animal wastes in large quantities), and stuff like the howler that “a nitrogen molecule is a nitrogen molecule” without regard to the effect of fungal and bacteriological soil ecologies on the absorption of that nitrogen molecule.

    As for the factual assertions, simply Googling on “John Jeavons” would be a great start.

    FWIW, I’ve had relatively civil conversations (in a hospital setting talking to my patients) with a retired agronomy professor and retired county extension agent who both repeated the slogan that “without mechanized/chemical agri the world would starve.” When pressed on actual non-mechanized, organic techniques like intensive raised bed horticulture, both admitted that — oh, well, in *that* case — the world might not starve after all (one of them said “Oh, like they do in Japan!”). It’s just that such alternatives aren’t even on the radar for such people until you point them out.

    Organic farming techniques, as developed by people like Bob Rodale, Louis Bromfield, and Jeavons, have about as much in common with the rule-of-thumb techniques of our great-great-grandparents as a Ferrari has with a Model-T. They’re not a throwback to pre-scientific or primitive methods. While much of the basic technique (esp. in the case of raised-bed methods) were developed long ago (e.g. by the market gardeners of early modern NW Europe), modern organic methods also incorporate decades of findings in soil science, botany and microbiology.

  63. Farming in the large looks a lot more expensive when you start accounting for all of the subsidies, including subsidies for transportation.

  64. I have Celiac, so I’ve been paying more attention lately to the labels. I am yet to see GLUTEN FREE proudly emblazoned on something that I actually had concerns about. There are various little exceptions, but for the most part… your nuts are gluten free? No kidding. My mayonnaise says it is gluten free. Yes, that’s great, but who throws flour in their mayo? Or ketchup? Or can of beans? (Not baked beans, just canned beans.) Who puts flour in their pickles? (Not to fry them, in the standard jar of pickles you’d buy on a shelf.)

    I recall finding a Geocities website once while browsing around that complained about the labels that say PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE and asked you if you wanted corporation putting that horrid stuff into your foods. (Hmm, while googling for that I see the crackpottery is alive and well.) “Gluten free” seems to be on that trajectory; starting out for a legit reason, then getting picked up on by ignorant idiots thinking they’re being all organicky and stuff by avoiding it.

    (Admittedly, as pointed out by Ken Burnside, people avoiding gluten for the wrong reasons, or at least insufficient reasons, are more likely to blunder into something that actually helps them than trying to avoid phenylalanine. But it’s still for the wrong reason.)

    And I note that gluten-containing foods aren’t generally labeled as such; I find myself wondering how many people buy a product proudly labeled gluten free, then immediately pick up the week’s loaf of bread….

  65. >he knew little about organic farming techniques actually in use

    I don’t know much about them either. But I don’t have to, because I do know this: superior efficiency creates market opportunities.

    I will believe your assertions about the superiority of modern organic farming when – and only when – I see organic-farming entrepreneurs outcompeting conventional factory farms on price and volume per acre, and proving it by driving factory farmers out of business. (I would welcome such a development.) But until then, the least hypothesis is that your economic analysis is just as broken as my (admittedly limited) knowledge of agricultural economics now leads me to believe. Your case is certainly not helped by any of the other examples I know about of attempts to substitute labor-intensive methods for capital-goods concentration.

    You say you want to refute Norman Borlaug? Shut up with the theory and feed the world more efficiently than he did.

  66. Oh, and I have it direct from an industrial corn/beans farmer here in Indiana that without the crop subsidies, direct and indirect, big farming as we know it would collapse.

  67. Here is a thought or two to piss everyone off.

    I think your comparison with regards to GMO is unfair. Of course, selective breading is indeed a form of genetic manipulation. However, there is a qualitative difference between mixing the genetic material of two cows and mixing the genetic material of a goat and a spider, or rice and corn. Nature is designed to make slow and gradual changes through genetic manipulation, and adapt accordingly. The genome is extraordinarily complex, and, most importantly, combinatorial. Introducing radically different genes can be expected to have consequences way beyond the first order effects.

    Not that I am particularly opposed to GMO food. And I agree that the idea of Zimbabwe refusing it, and instead allowing their people to starve to death is amongst the most criminal of actions in the past twenty years. Nonetheless, I think it is wise to use caution in regards to GMO foods. I don’t think the long term effects on human nutrition have been well studied enough to have good answers on the effects. To call that neo-luddite is hardly a fair characterization of a reasonable concern. What I say about pesticides pertains to GMO too.

    In regards to organic and the peticides issue you raise: you are absolutely correct. We have 6 billion people on the planet because of pesticides. They are a great thing. We should bring back DDT as well, few government actions have had as severe a death penalty as that foolish ban. However, what is good for the Ethiopian isn’t necessarily good for the Pennsylvanian. No doubt you could survive on a diet of thin gruel and water, but I am sure you choose not to. You use your wealth to give yourself better choices. I don’t know the state of research on pesticides in human nutrition, but it is certainly reasonable to raise a concern that they might have a negative effect. If you are rich enough to be safe rather than sorry, that seems perfectly reasonable choice to me. After all, who the heck eats watermelon in winter except rich fat cats like you and I.

    Finally, my comment in regards to kosher pertained principally to veganism. I don’t see what difference it makes to you that a certain group of people who make restricted choices happen to be able to eat the same food as you. Fruitarians are truly nuts, but I still like bananas. I do know a few vegans, and I don’t know any of them that want to make you a vegan by law (though many of them might want to ban factory farming, and other such practices, that is a more complex issue.) Let a thousand flowers bloom, especially if they have juicy fruits to eat when they are pollinated.

    However, I also hate the whole locally grown, fair trade baloney. It is based on ignorance of the facts.

  68. >However, there is a qualitative difference between mixing the genetic material of two cows and mixing the genetic material of a goat and a spider, or rice and corn.

    Look up “transposons” to learn that nature does this sort of thing all the time. A shockingly large percentage of human DNA shows siighs of having been cross-species imports via ancient retroviruses.

    >I don’t think the long term effects on human nutrition have been well studied enough

    We do, however, know a lot about the short term effects of starvation, by which I mean death.

    >I don’t know the state of research on pesticides in human nutrition, but it is certainly reasonable to raise a concern that they might have a negative effect.

    Indeed. I like being able to pay money to reduce my pesticide load. What I don’t like is subsidizing anti-pesticide political activism.

  69. Eric, you are ignoring the huge subsidies and regulatory preferences that conventional industrial farming has. Why are regular Coke and Pepsi made with HFCS and not plain sugar? Sugar tariffs and corn subsidies make HFCS much cheaper than sugar, and still Pepsi is making Pepsi Throwback and people are willing to pay for it. Still people are happy to pay for Coke imported from Mexico which is made with sugar. You really really should look into the huge market distortions created by the government with their subsidies stolen from us in the form of taxation. It’s telling that organic farmers do make a profit in spite of the competition with heavily subsidized conventional farms.

  70. >Eric, I think you might like this guy: http://freetheanimal.com/ He’s a libertarian who’s done a lot of research into what’s really healthy to get himself fit.

    Interesting that he’s independently developed ideas closely parallel to mine about the value of a “caveman” diet – low on sugar, processed foods and starch and high in protein.

    No nutrition guru told me to do this. I deduced it from first principles in the 1970s. Thirty years later I’m almost ridiculously healthy and in good shape for martial arts considering I’m over 50 – no joint problems and I’m stronger than I was at 30. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  71. > I don’t know much about them either. But I don’t have to, because I do know this: superior efficiency creates market opportunities.

    Ah–the real is rational. But “efficiency” is defined in terms of adaptation to the selective pressures in a given environment. And those selective pressures, in the present case, largely reflect the structure of incentives created by the state: subsidies to long-distance transportation, subsidies to large-scale irrigation, assorted subsidies to the forms of large-scale agribusiness that are most wasteful of acreage (i.e., that make holding enormous tracts of land out of cultivation into a lucrative real estate investment), enforcement of GMO seed patents, food libel laws and restrictions on GMO labelling.

    All the winners in a corporatist market can tell you is what business model is promoted by the state’s incentive structure.

    > I will believe your assertions about the superiority of modern organic farming when – and only when – I see organic-farming entrepreneurs outcompeting conventional factory farms on price and volume per acre, and proving it by driving factory farmers out of business. (I would welcome such a development.) But until then, the least hypothesis is that your economic analysis is just as broken as my (admittedly limited) knowledge of > agricultural economics now leads me to believe.

    If you lived in the USSR, would your “least hypothesis” regarding the failure of private manufacturing to outcompete and drive state industry out of business be that critical free market analysis of state socialism was broken?

  72. >Oh, and I have it direct from an industrial corn/beans farmer here in Indiana that without the crop subsidies, direct and indirect, big farming as we know it would collapse.

    By all means let’s abolish those subsidies and find out.

  73. >Why are regular Coke and Pepsi made with HFCS and not plain sugar?

    You actually picked my favorite example of a problem I know is due to government market-rigging. I’m aware of the problem, believe me, and it pisses me off. Cane-sugar sodas actually taste good.

  74. > I don’t know much about them either. But I don’t have to, because I do know this: superior efficiency creates > market opportunities.

    But “efficiency” is defined in terms of adaptation to the selective pressures in a given environment. And those selective pressures, in the present case, largely reflect the structure of incentives created by the state: subsidies to long-distance transportation, subsidies to large-scale irrigation, assorted subsidies to the forms of large-scale agribusiness that are most wasteful of acreage (i.e., that make holding enormous tracts of land out of cultivation into a lucrative real estate investment), enforcement of GMO seed patents, food libel laws and restrictions on GMO labelling.

    What the winners in a corporatist market tell you is what business model is promoted by the state’s incentive structure.

    > I will believe your assertions about the superiority of modern organic farming when – and only when – I see organic-farming entrepreneurs outcompeting conventional factory farms on price and volume per acre, and proving it by driving factory farmers out of business. (I would welcome such a development.) But until then, the least hypothesis is that your economic analysis is just as broken as my (admittedly limited) knowledge of > agricultural economics now leads me to believe.

    What Rob K says. Suppose you lived in the old Soviet Union. Would your “least hypothesis” regarding the failure of private manufacturing to outcompete and drive state industry out of business be that critical free market analysis of state socialism was broken?

  75. I don’t know much about them either. But I don’t have to, because I do know this: superior efficiency creates market opportunities.

    I will believe your assertions about the superiority of modern organic farming when – and only when – I see organic-farming entrepreneurs outcompeting conventional factory farms on price and volume per acre, and proving it by driving factory farmers out of business…. But until then, the least hypothesis is that your economic analysis is just as broken as my (admittedly limited) knowledge of agricultural economics now leads me to believe.

    What Rob K. said. Big agribusiness is competing with small-scale organic farming in an environment characterized by selective pressures (pressures created by state subsidies and other interventions) on behalf of large-scale agribusiness. You might as well have said, in the old USSR, that the “least hypothesis” was that the failure of private manufacturing to outcompete the Ministry of Medium Consumer Goods and drive it out of business meant that critical free market analysis of state socialism was broken.

  76. # esr Says:
    > Look up “transposons” to learn that nature does this sort
    > of thing all the time.

    No need to look it up, I am familiar with them. However, this is a different claim than your original claim. Your original claim was that GMO was as benign as making a slightly taller Chihuahua, or slightly milkier cow. Brave humans have been performing such animal husbandry since we stopped all that stomping around hunting wildebeest. Now you are claiming that GMO is similar to a capricious disease process that, in a small fraction of cases, produces a stronger host. Perhaps your argument is correct, but it is certainly less appealing.

    > We do, however, know a lot about the short term effects of starvation, by which I mean death.

    This is a false choice for you and I. We are in no danger of the latter, and so have the luxury of making choices in regards to the former. Zimbabweans are not so lucky. But, of course, that could be said about most domains of life (though I believe the winters are rather more mild there than in Pennsylvania.)

    > What I don’t like is subsidizing anti-pesticide political activism.

    Is that what it is, or is it marketing taking advantage of other people foolishness? Wouldn’t you like to support that kind of payback? Even if the marketing people believe their own spin, the irony is surely rather delightful.

    Oh, and a +1 on getting rid of that sugar market manipulation.

  77. > superior efficiency creates market opportunities

    Well no, you have it a little backwards there, Eric.

    The large market opportunities didn’t come about because of superior efficiency, not directly.

    I’ll just quote Mr. Carson’s book:
    The state played a central role in the triumph of mass-production industry in the United States.
    The state’s subsidies to long-distance transportation were first and most important. There never would have been large manufacturing firms producing for a national market, had not the federal government first created a national market with the national railroad network. A high-volume national transportation system was an indispensable prerequisite for big business

    In other words, the so-called “internal economies of scale” in manufacturing could come about only when the offsetting external diseconomies of long-distance distribution were artificially nullified by corporate welfare. Such “economies” can only occur given an artificial set of circumstances which permit the reduced unit costs of expensive, product-specific machinery to be considered in isolation, because the indirect costs entailed are all externalized on society. And if the real costs of long-distance shipping, high-pressure marketing, etc., do in fact exceed the savings from faster and more specialized machinery, then the “efficiency” is a false one.

  78. esr Says:
    > the value of a “caveman” diet

    Caveman diets are suitable for caveman lifestyles. A cubicle might seem like a cave, but it isn’t.

  79. I’m not exactly sure, but isn’t HFCS cheaper than sugar due to the large amount of government subsidy? The other day, I was in costco and saw that Pepsei is bringing out bottled soda with sugar.

  80. > One thing on which we’re definitely agreed.

    Though for entirely different hoped-for outcomes, of course. :-)

  81. Ken Burnside:
    You’re wrong in your assertion that GMO stuff is always harmless. Most of the current advances in GMO crops are building in resistancas. Which all sounds well and good until you recognize what they’re building in resistance to – herbicides.

    What this means is that herbicide layers in many crops that are not ‘organic’ are two to three orders of magnitude higher than they were even a decade ago, because the herbicides that aren’t killing off the competing weeds are generally being absorbed into the plant. Thousand-fold increases in the consumed dosage of RoundUp in food make me skittish.

    My understanding is that the point of Roundup Ready soybeans is that they can withstand Roundup at a younger age, when weeds are highly vulnerable to it. Thus the Roundup can be applied earlier, at much lower concentrations, for the same effect. I have seen the cost savings on herbicide touted as the major advantage of Roundup Ready soybeans.

    Maybe there is some mechanism under which early low exposure to Roundup results in far greater absorption than late high exposure. But it doesn’t seem likely.

    ESR: there is another reason to sneer at ideologically trendy foodisms. One claim is that “buy local” saves “carbon”, i.e. energy, by reducing transportation. An NYC foodie should buy Hudson Valley tomatoes, grwon in heated greenhouses, rather than tomatoes shipped from California. Right.

  82. @esr> “Interesting that he’s independently developed ideas closely parallel to mine about the value of a “caveman” diet – low on sugar, processed foods and starch and high in protein.”

    Cavemen didn’t drink milkshakes from McDonalds.

  83. Kevin Carson Says:
    > the total labor required to grow your own tomato is less than
    > the labor required to earn the money to buy one at the supermarket.

    That is nonsense. A tomato at the supermarket costs perhaps 20 cents. That 20 cents includes everything from the cost of the pesticides, through the cost of the seed, all the way up to the discounted, amortized cost of the labor to build the truck that drove it to the supermarket, and the mortgage on the land the farmer used to grow it. That is, after all, what a price is. Even if I work at McDonalds, it takes only a couple of minutes to earn 20 cents. It’d probably cost me that much in water and miracle grow to grow a tomato, regardless of my labor cost.

  84. > An NYC foodie should buy Hudson Valley tomatoes, grwon in heated greenhouses, rather than tomatoes shipped from California. Right.

    No, a NYC foodie should buy tomatoes in season. Sunlight is (still) free.

  85. ESR: BTW… Himalayan Crystal Salt ???

    This stuff?

    http://www.himalayancrystalsalt.com/

    * Has the World’s Highest Elemental Content With 84 Of The Nutritional Elements We Need – Use For: Rejuvenating Bathing, Replenishing the Skin, Drinking Therapy, Flavoring Food
    * Is Pure, Unpolluted, Without Environmental Impact – From a Time When the Earth Was Pristine
    * Contains No Impurities From Environmental Pollution
    * Possesses Potentially High Inherent Stored Information From 250,000,000 Years Ago – PSYMPHONY™ – Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® is Primarily a Storage Medium. This Special Salt is Waiting for the Moment to Have its Inherent, Stored Energy, its Bio-Energetic Content Set Free by Combining it With Water
    * Is Stone Ground, Hand Washed, and Prepared – 100% Genuine Crystal Salt

    Only $29.50/kg!

    (This makes the “organic” hype look almost sane!)

  86. @Jessica Boxer> “That is nonsense. A tomato at the supermarket costs perhaps 20 cents.”

    ’twas not always so

    “(wholesale) tomato prices fell from $32 for a 25-pound box in late March to $22 by late April-and to $8 by mid-May, according to Agriculture Department data”

    Further, at around 3 -4 medium tomatoes / pound, and the $1.00/lb (*retail*) pricing in the article, a tomato at the supermarket costs around 25 – 33 cents. Back in January, it was easily twice these figures.

    The wholesale prices of tomatoes in shown in a graph in the article: http://sg.wsj.net/public/resources/images/MI-BE022_TOMATO_NS_20100616184038.gif

    Where do you shop?

  87. Rich,

    In Wicca, salt is symbolic of the element Earth. It is also believed to clense an area of and harmful or negative energies.

    (I’m not Wiccan, but Eric is. so is Morgan )

  88. LS: Actually, Velveeta *is* cheese.

    I did some work on a computerized scale in Kraft’s Canton plant. They took in raw milk and made cheddar cheese in 700 pound blocks. You can’t sell cheese in 700 pound blocks, so it gets cut up into much smaller blocks. Well, sometimes in the cutting process the cheese falls apart. Can’t sell it. But if you run it through a process which liquifies it and then hardens it again, it’s now salable … just not as “cheese”, but “pasturized process cheese food.”

    If you want fresh cheese curds, try pulling them out of the machine that’s curdling the cheese!

  89. wet: I read Small is Beautiful many years ago. The entire book can be summed up by:

    Enterprises should be economically efficient. In our society there are many incentives that reward bigness not because it is efficient, but simply because big is presumed to have economies of scale. If our society has a bias towards smallness, I would have written a book entitled “Large is Beautiful”.

    “Quote” provided without reference to the actual source material.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people who read the book come away with the message “Small is Beautiful without worrying about economic efficiency, even if Large would be more beautiful in this case.”

  90. >Cavemen didn’t drink milkshakes from McDonalds.

    Er, I don’t either. Not sure I see your point.

  91. Have you done a double-blind taste test? Coincidentally, I watched the organic food episode of Penn & Teller Bullshit today. In addition to some of the things you mentioned they ran informal tests in which people were overwhelmingly wrong!

  92. >Well no, you have it a little backwards there, Eric.

    I don’t think so. I reject Carson’s premise that our transport net required government subsidies to allow food producers to serve national markets – and on this part of economic history I am (unlike agro-economics) pretty confident in my fact base. It is certainly the case that the relative costs in the U.S. network are distorted by subsidy, especially subsidies to road and air transport at the expense of rail. But if you look at how transport networks have historically developed in different countries under different policy regimes – including countries where governments are too poor to subsidize anything – the trend curves in transport cost functions over time for countries with similar GDP don’t actually look all that different. Compare, for example, France and Germany over any particular 50-year span.

    This empirical fact suggests that the underlying economic drivers towards a national distribution net are sensitive to aggregate demand but not very sensitive to policy manipulation, which is what I’d expect on a-priori grounds. What’s sensitive to policy manipulation is the modal mix – e.g., percentage of rail vs. road vs. air vs water. This pattern is particularly evident for bulk shipping, where economies of scale matter most.

  93. >Himalayan Crystal Salt ???

    Yeah. I’m pretty sure that, given the size of the package, ain’t more than a few decigrams of the stuff in there. And yes, they doubtless added it as boob bait for trendoid foodies. That didn’t hook me; it was the lime/pistachio/olive-oil combination that hooked me. “Cold pressed olive oil” actually did draw me.

  94. I’m deeply uncomfortable about the general lack of control over cross-pollination of GMO crops, though I’m not sure what to do about it. Avoiding GMO foods feels suspiciously like sympathetic magic rather than actual economics.

  95. >Have you done a double-blind taste test?

    Dude, the day I can’t tell an artisan Tuscan loaf or a preservative-free sourdough baguette from a slice of Wonder Bread is the day I know I’m dead.

  96. >What is that in the cup? http://i.imgur.com/CGvul.png [It's All Text!]

    Heh. See the way I’m sort of grimacing? I remember that…I think they got that picture about a half second before I realized what I was drinking and went “Eeeewww!”

    I don’t mind milkshakes if I can get real ones. I’ll have one once every couple months, especially if I’m traveling somewhere like the Midwest where the dairy is good and they have a tradition of doing them right.

  97. >Though for entirely different hoped-for outcomes, of course. :-)

    Dunno why you say that. I think Kevin Carson and I would both hope for the outcome that, absent subsidy, organic farming is more efficient. The difference isn’t one of what’s hoped for, it’s that I think that hope is next to utterly futile and he doesn’t.

  98. >Suppose you lived in the old Soviet Union. Would your “least hypothesis” regarding the failure of private manufacturing to outcompete and drive state industry out of business be that critical free market analysis of state socialism was broken?

    No. But there’s a key difference. On the one hand, I have reason from other domains to believe the free-market critique of state socialism. On the other hand, I have prior reason to disbelieve, strongly, your contention that transport economics of food is as distorted as you claim.

  99. I wrote:
    >“Cold pressed olive oil” actually did draw me.

    I’ll note that this is another case where the quality difference between the high-end product and the cheap mass-market stuff is not subtle. My wife and I got slapped with it hard when we inadvertently bought some cheap blended olive oil rather than the cold-pressed premium stuff we usually buy. Eyyuggh! It was gluey and tasteless – barely adequate for cooking, unacceptable for making dressing or dipping bread in.

  100. Why are you eating bread anyway?

    Humans weren’t designed to eat grains, and they poison us. Anyone who can afford to eat only mostly grass-fed meat, with some vegetables, fruits, and nuts, should do so.

  101. Jessica: I think you’re overestimating the total time and expense of growing a tomato. At least the way I do it, planting some seeds I saved last year in a milk carton full of compost takes a couple minutes labor, spading a 2ft. deep planting hole and filling it back in with a dirt/compost mixture takes maybe five min. or a little more. I don’t know the amortization on the 6 ft. of wire fencing in a cage, but I’ve reused them for fifteen years and typically use the same cage for English or snow peas and tomatoes or cukes in the same year. The compost works fine as fertilizer, and I hardly water at all till late July or August. And you divide that total cost and labor-time by about thirty tomatoes on a plant.

  102. >Humans weren’t designed to eat grains, and they poison us.

    There’s some point to this, and in fact I don’t eat a lot of bread compared to the other calorie sources in my diet – haven’t since about 1975. But you’re going a little far.

  103. > Heh. See the way I’m sort of grimacing? I remember that…I think they got that picture about a half second before I realized what I was drinking and went “Eeeewww!”

    Is this because you didn’t see the McDonald’s logo on the cup, or because you didn’t know what it was?

  104. >Is this because you didn’t see the McDonald’s logo on the cup, or because you didn’t know what it was?

    I didn’t see it. I was desperately hungry – my wife and I had taken the Amtrak up just before the event, which was described as a “luncheon”, and not had a chance to eat. They did the awards thing and then shuffled us all out into a large social space where waiters were circulating with hors d’oeuvres, miniburgers, and these shake things. I scarfed down several burgers (which were absolutely not McDonalds, as they tasted of actual meat and anyway I asked after my disgusting encounter with the shake), grabbed a shake and drank a bit of it before I registered how nasty it was. Bleagh.

    I might have recognized the colors and shape of the cup, if I had been inside a McDonalds at any time since 1974. But I decided that year that McDonalds represented everything I loathed about least-common-denominator consumerism and that never giving them one damn bit of my money again was the least I could do to protest it.

    I’m not ideologically opposed to burger joints in general. If pressed enough for time or in an airport where all the alternatives are dire I will fall back on Wendy’s with some feeling of relief. But I look for an Au Bon Pain first, and often find one. Au Bon Pain is the functional equivalent of McDonalds for people with foodie tendencies.

  105. I am afraid that trying to avoid pesticide//human-chem contamination in food is pretty much a lost cause for most people.

    The more long-lived any particular human produced chemical compound is, the more likely you will be able to find residues in the food chain. Especially so for those living downstream or downwind from such chemical sources.

    Really long lived pesticides like DDT->DDE can still be found in the Arctic or Antarctic regions today in reasonably high concentrations in some animals.

  106. @ESR
    >> Cavemen didn’t drink milkshakes from McDonalds.
    > Er, I don’t either. Not sure I see your point.

    I thought it to be a quip to your ‘low on sugar, processed foods and starch and high in protein’ utterance. It depends on what you mean by ‘processed foods’.

    On that note, I’d say that you having practiced martial arts and having a relentless drive to improve yourself has also something to do with your wellbeing. Your exact same diet could make one slob a very fat man, too.

  107. To be exact, I’ve tried all sorts of coffee and find that McDonald’s adds a special kind of evil to it. Ditto for the juice. It’s hard to screw up so much a beverage if not on purpose. This might have changed since they’ve had to compete with Starbucks, but I’m not willing to test again.

  108. @Jessica Boxer Says:

    >Caveman diets are suitable for caveman lifestyles. A cubicle might seem like a cave, but it isn’t.

    Caveman diets are suitable for caveman bodies, which we still have. We haven’t evolved much in the past 10K years. The machine is what it is. We will be healthier if we feed ourselves the fuel we’re best suited to use.

  109. To add a vote for local food over organic:

    Step 1: Read this book: http://www.amazon.ca/Everything-Want-Do-Illegal-Stories/dp/0963810952/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282666856&sr=8-3
    Step 2: Drive 4 hours south to Polyface Farms in Staunton, Virginia
    Step 3: Introduce yourself to Joel Salatin, and tell him that you are a Libertarian gun toting beef eating foodie
    Step 4: Make a new friend
    Step 5: Buy a car load of food
    Step 6: Invite your friends over for a Libertarian food barbecue free from poisonous chemicals _and_ poisonous ideas!

    Seriously, Salatin’s position is this:
    Providing safe and healthy food for your family is a key responsibility of responsible adults. It behooves us to make sure that the food we feed our children is grown and harvested in a healthy and responsible manner. We must not abdicate this responsibility to the state or to industry. Therefore we should develop personal relationships with our food producers and verify for ourselves that the food we eat will nourish us and meet our needs.

    This has benefits both esoteric and practical ranging from:
    – Better quality food
    – Sometimes cheaper food
    – Better living for the farmer
    – Educational opportunities for children involving personal responsibility for food and the environment
    – Less impact on the environment (I mean toxic chemical impact, not greenhouse gas impact, although it usually means that too)
    – A stick in the eye to The Man, since most of these small operators are using their professional judgement about best practice, and not trying to game some regulatory oversight

    Salatin goes on to describe how his polycultural techniques are able to make his farm enormously productive, and absent government subsidy and regulatory burdens, he would take on agri-business any day of the week.

    And so on. Just read the book.

    Sean C.

  110. Eric, I’m doing some digging into the distribution costs of agribusiness farms.

    I will point out that in countries that do NOT have transportation subsidies, the average ‘farm’ is significantly smaller. (We have HUGE subsidies in place for maintaining the Interstate Highway System).

    Mexico does not have the same transportation subsidies for transporting agricultural produce that the US does, and most Mexican agriculture is done in much smaller ‘family’ farms than ours is. They do have subsidies for producing beans, corn and wheat, and those subsidies also result in subsidies for producing meat.

    Mexico’s per capita GDP is lower than ours, and Mexico is a net food exporter because of surpluses. So, smaller farms do appear to compete (and produce an export surplus).

    Note that the US Agricultural industry also has significant barriers against imports, that can often double or triple the cost of imported foods. Ostensibly, these are health related, or to keep pests from crossing the border, sometimes this is a concern, but as is the case of any proscriptive action by the government, once enacted, it remains in place.

    Anecdotally, living in rural farm country in Iowa, there is a HUGE political divide between the family farms and the agribusiness monster-farms; the family farmers are generally trying to find a political candidate to vote for that isn’t owned by agribusiness. This is one of the reasons why Iowa and Kansas vote for the religious whacko wing of the Republican party. The other side of the Republican party is on its knees fellating the people driving them out of business, and the Democrats have the whole urban/rural split working against them.

    Those incentives are distorting what gets grown, and how it gets grown. There are still cases where, if you’re handling a farm, you’re paid more to not grow than to grow, or where you’re growing crops that you’re going to sell to the government, which is then going to sell them at less than they paid for it to have it not rot in the silos, most often as animal feed.

    The organizations that buy the ‘government waste disposal’ animal feed corn tend to be the ones that buy it in job lots – the government won’t sell it at those prices unless you can fill out the paperwork, and unless you’re feeding an enormous range of pigs or cows with it.

    The incentives on transport also put incentives on what gets grown; this is the reason why store bought tomatoes suck. There’s a huge incentive to grow tomatoes that look good on the shelf rather than taste good in a dish, because they have to survive being shipped halfway (or entirely) across the country.

    Finally – back of the envelope calculations:

    My local farmer’s market sells tomatoes at 4 lbs per dollar right now. So 25 cents per pound.

    My local super market sells much worse tomatoes at about 3 lbs per pound. So 33 cents per pound.

    My local super market will sell tomatoes in January for about $0.50 per lb. My local farmer’s market won’t open in January.

    For me to buy those tomatoes at the local farmer’s market, I have to be there on a Wednesday afternoon or a Saturday morning.

    I can go to the supermarket from 6 AM to 11 PM and buy tomatoes.

  111. The problem is you have bought into a cult. You probably believe “organic”=good and non-organic=bad. It is a religion and organic is the pure god and pesticides are the devil. And yet there is no evidence that organic food actually has any health benefits. Everyone dies and we almost all will die from heart atacks, cancer or strokes if we live long enough and aren’t killed in a car accident first. This will be true no matter how many organic “offerings” you make. You are welcome to follow your blind faith in “organic” but you will have to suffer with the trappings of the religion too. l

  112. >I will point out that in countries that do NOT have transportation subsidies, the average ‘farm’ is significantly smaller. (We have HUGE subsidies in place for maintaining the Interstate Highway System).

    I’m sure this is true. I don’t think Kevin Carson is wrong to relate factory farming to the existence of a national distribution net; where we differ is that he thinks that net is largely an artificial creation of subsidy, while I think that markets grow distribution nets endogenously as aggregate demand rises and the subsidy mainly affects the modal distribution. In both analyses, the “natural” unsubsidized size of farm should indeed vary between the U.S. and Mexico; the difference is that in his theory the difference is driven by policy intervention, whereas in mine it’s mainly a function of aggregate demand.

  113. re GMOs : Technical concerns aside the biggest problem with GMOs is that the corporation that develop and sell them are *cough* sneaky bastards *cough*. Just like drug dealers they will attract farmers with lower prices and keep them in a firm grip. The farmers will then have to buy fresh seeds every year and be powerless when the prices increase. Besides, the patent situation does not make it easier for startups to compete with the current leaders so no amount of free-market thery can fix this.

    re pesticide-free and farming methods : I remember a very interesting study (sorry I don’t have the reference with me) that showed significant increase in crop yield by simply keeping some trees in the fields. Obviously this comes with challenges of its own but it demonstrates that pesticides/fertilizer are not the only way to increase crop yield.

  114. @esr: Au Bon Pain isn’t too bad. But their bread tastes as much like gourmet bread as McDonald’s burgers taste … well, like a burger. ;)

    McDonald’s isn’t nearly as bad as they used to be these days. They do have some very nice salads with fancy greens everything. Yeah, you’re stuck with little packets of dressing, but this is fast food, not Seven 17 or Hyde Park. They also have a nice spicy steak breakfast burrito. Nothing like their normal breakfast fare.

    That being said, I’m a french fry addict, so every now and then I have to get some from Mickey D’s since they have some of the tastiest french fries available in fast food. But I’m also a gourmet bread addict, and of the “Fast food” sandwich places with gorumet bread, I like Panera Bread better.

  115. >I have to get some from Mickey D’s since they have some of the tastiest french fries available in fast food

    I remember this was true in 1974 – it’s the one thing I regretted about swearing off McDonald’s. I guess it’s some sort of achievement that it’s still true 36 years later.

  116. > Output per acre is optimal at somewhere around the family farm size.

    Even if true, so what?

    We have more arable land than we use.

  117. I remember this was true in 1974 – it’s the one thing I regretted about swearing off McDonald’s. I guess it’s some sort of achievement that it’s still true 36 years later.

    My (rare) stops to traditional fast-food joints involve me leaving with fries and an ice cream — because those are the only appetizing things left on their menu.

    Carl’s Jr. actually has better fries and WAY better burgers than McDonald’s. However, I don’t have the iron gut I once had as a kid, and even a Carl’s Jr. burger is prone to make me quite ill. (I don’t have this problem with e.g. steakhouse or gourmet burgers.)

  118. Aside from the problems with pesticides, fertilizers and battery farming, organic food has another HUGE advantage over food from big agribusiness: minuscule energy inputs. Modern agriculture has enormous energy inputs, and when you combine that with the petroleum used to make fertilizer you are talking about an enormous reliance on artificially cheap energy.

    It was organic farming, not the Green Revolution, that saved Cubans from starving in the 90s and 2000s. The Green Revolution nearly ruined Cuba as soon as the oil supply from the SU was cut off.

    Scale that up to planet-size as the worldwide supply of oil peaks, and you have a massive food crisis with one really obvious solution: making organic farming the default.

  119. I love the comment and discussion this post has generated!
    I’m no authority on any of these topics, other than I try to buy organic or choose items in the supermaket with the least ingredients.

    There’s a good documentary on food production in the US called Food Inc.
    http://www.foodincmovie.com/

    It’s well worth a look and really highlights the business and motives behind modern, large scale food production today.

  120. Carl’s Jr. actually has better fries and WAY better burgers than McDonald’s.

    Pssst: I live east of the Mississippi. So does Mr. Raymond, though he’s probably been to the West Coast more often than I have.

  121. Morgan: Hardee’s is Carl’s Junior east of the Mississippi.

    I have a tradition when we drive to conventions. We go to a Hardee’s/Carl’s Junior or some similar ‘upscale fast food’ burger joint, and I order one of the largest hamburgers they have. With bacon and extra everything.

    My line of reasoning is that if a fast food heart attack on a bun doesn’t kill me, nothing at the convention will either.

  122. @Ken, it’s the bun that’ll give you the heart attack, not what’s on it.

  123. > To be exact, I’ve tried all sorts of coffee and find that McDonald’s adds a special kind of evil to it. Ditto for the juice. It’s hard to screw up so much a beverage if not on purpose. This might have changed since they’ve had to compete with Starbucks, but I’m not willing to test again.

    It has. McDonalds redid its coffee a few years ago, now with 90% less evil! It’s still not as good as Starbucks and of course doesn’t hold a candle to what you can get at a specialty shop, but it’s drinkable now.

    Actually, Starbucks has moved up quite a bit too. Their standard drip coffee is still “charbucks” like always, but some stores now have a “clover” press that prepares some excellent stuff. They even sell Jamaican Blue Mountain now. I don’t care for Blue Mountain and prefer much bolder beans, but their Aged Sumatra is the best coffee I’ve tasted.

  124. Morgan and esr: you must, simply MUST visit a Five Guys restaurant. They sell burgers and fries. That’s IT. Well, and hot dogs, but otherwise that’s IT. Free toppings, as many as you want, the burgers are cooked just before you eat them, and the fries are burning hot and come from fresh not frozen potatoes. There’s at least one in Philly, Eric.

    http://www.fiveguys.com/

  125. Holy Crap!

    Eric, you really stirred up a hornets nest on this one :^).

    You’re mostly correct from my study and experience. There’s lots of well intentioned people who pay lots of “silly” money for things that have the word “organic” stamped on them, and this is actually a good thing because “organics” and similar niches have been a saving grace for the small farmer/rancher that has to go up against the factory farms that receive HUGE subsidies and are able to spread their risk over vast areas.

    All that said, there’s been some serious misinformation in some of these posts. Here’s three that come to mind as I tap this out:

    ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup is used instead of sugar in soft drinks because of government subsidies (or some such nonsense).’ The truth is that HFCS is cheaper because it takes less of it to sweeten a drink than cane sugar. Pound for pound they have historically be about the same price, so HFCS is cheaper to use. As for the “government subsidies”? Those actually are acting AGAINST HFCS, because that same sweet goodness that gives us HFCS also gives us Ethanol, and I at least hope by now we all know how the Government’s interference has effected corn prices on that score.

    ‘Organic farming takes a lower total energy input.’ While this is true on the surface, this is disregarding labor costs and the costs of crop losses (something that most folks don’t deal with because the grocery store ALWAYS has crops). To make 10K bushels of corn organically you have to plant the equivalent of 11K bushels with commercial techniques because the typical organic corn crop (using non GMO plantings) will have about a 10% loss to pests and fertilization issues. Of course, if you get the wrong pest you’ll lose the whole crop because there’s nothing you can do for some of the worst invasions without resorting to chemists. Additionally, to have the best chance at producing a viable crop, some method of controlling pests and weeds must be implemented, and soap and lady bugs only get you so far. Generally to raise yields to an acceptable level, the farmer has to do much more “maintenance” of the crop which makes the work much more time consuming and intensive. I’ve heard of dozens of schemes to increase efficiency in this regard, but they all come down to more work for less product.

    Organics saved Cuba because the people there are SLAVES and labor there has no cost because it has no value in their economy (at least to themselves).

    In ranching, intensive grazing techniques are the financial equivalent of “organics” in farming, allowing a small family operation to actually earn a positive cash flow and producing what is generally considered a qualitatively better product. It’s also labor intensive (adding 10-15% to the necessary labor for the rancher) and is not suitable for very large herds because the work involved scales linearly and does not benefit from large scale operations in the same way that free-ranging or feedlot operations do.

    In the end, you pay for a better product, and many organics are better products NOT because their organic, but as a side benefit of the farmer (or rancher) paying closer attention and producing a qualitatively better product.

    Oh, and Eric, you might also watch for people (particularly in ranching operations) who use the term “Natural”, as in “Natural Raised Beef”. While there’s no regulation out there as with “organic”, this term is generally used among ranchers to mean that they raise their animals in the most natural way possible while not foregoing things like medications when necessary for the care of the animal. It’s kind of a middle road, and usually results in a qualitatively better product without the sanctimony and hypocrisy that frequently accompanies organics these days.

  126. Russell Nelson> …MUST visit a Five Guys restaurant.

    Uh why? We have one here (my CEO insisted on going there) and I’ve rarely had a more tasteless hamburger in my life. They give you 2 patties, but two tasteless patties is not significantly better than one.

    Is food REALLY so bad in other cities that this crap passes for GOOD? Or is this company actually dumb enough to put the worst possible restaurant in the chain in a place were people are used to and EXPECT good beef? That’s like serving farm-raised frozen shrimp in New Orleans: they know the difference.

  127. >Is food REALLY so bad in other cities that this crap passes for GOOD?

    That’s kind of interesting. There are Five Guys instances out here where the burgers are quite good, and yes I’ve been to enough good restaurants in beef-producing regions to have standards. What I wonder is why yours is so awful. Incompetent franchisee, maybe?

  128. >Actually, Starbucks has moved up quite a bit too.

    I believe the reports from my coffee-drinking friends that Starbuck’s is not very good, but take it from a choosy expert on a different hot drink that they make excellent cocoa.

  129. > Carl’s, Hardies, Five Guys, … its all the same sh*t.

    In-n-Out burger FTW.

    @esr> “Give me free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, yes, because factory-farmed animals fed on corn mush, rapeseed, and bone meal produce bland, characterless meat.”

    Taste is one reason to prefer free-range chicken, but a more pointed reason: roxarsone

    You see, factory-farmed chicken is raised on roxarsone. The problem with Roxarsone is that it contaminates the soil and water nearby these chicken lots.

    So this:

    Finally, “pesticide-free”. Do I like toxic chemicals on my food? No…but I also don’t fool myself about what happens when you don’t use them. This ties straight back to the general cluster of issues around factory farming. Without the productivity advantages of pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, and other non-”organic” methods, farm productivity would plummet. Relatively wealthy people like me would cope with reduced availability by paying higher prices, but huge numbers of the world’s poor would starve.

    is due for a reconsideration. Roxarsone is specifically fed to poultry to control coccidial intestinal parasites, thereby improving feed efficiency. The chicken gains weight at a faster rate.

    Normally ‘organic’ growers love to spread chicken manure on their crops. Discuss.

    The ‘organic’ label is a pile of horsefeathers, crowned with good intentions. What you want to do is buy from local producers, or produce your food yourself.

    See also: where your (Wegman’s) eggs are produced: http://vimeo.com/12423560

  130. I’ve never understood the fanatical following In-n-Out has, myself. Five Guys does well, but they’re a bit on the expensive side. I do like their customization options.

    Give me a Whataburger any day. Double meat, cheese, no tomatoes, with jalapenos. I spend far too little time in the Southern states where that chain exists these days.

  131. I avoid anything with an organic label, unless there is no alternative. I find no difference in taste. I do find a difference in the taste to tomatoes and peppers I grow myself, but I attribute that to the short time from garden to my table.

  132. As I mentioned in a comment on a prior thread:

    1) Farmer’s Market tomatoes taste better and are (currently) cheaper than super market.

    2) Free range eggs at the super market are currently 20 cents more expensive per dozen, and taste significantly better. Farmer’s market eggs are about 1.20 more expensive than low grade super market eggs, and taste amazingly better – I now buy the free range eggs as my normal and the farmer’s market eggs for special occasions.

  133. esr>What I wonder is why yours is so awful. Incompetent franchisee, maybe?

    Must be, they didn’t even go to the trouble to pepper the meat. It was like eating soggy cardboard. One of the worst burgers I’ve ever had.

    Jay: Agreed, for fast food Whataburger’s about as good as it gets. Problem is, the majority of folks on this site don’t have access to that blessing of Texas :^). If they did, McDonald’s would give up serving those suspicious looking sandwiches they call “Hamburgers” ;^).

  134. Ken: Enjoy the free-range eggs while they last. Now that the FDA is going to start inspecting egg farms, it’s only a matter of time before they pass rules that are as insane as everything else and it becomes impossible to free-range your chickens because you’ll have to account for all your inputs to some bureaucrat.

    The Dept. of Ag. has done more to destroy agriculture in this country than all the droughts, pests, wilts, and rots combined. I hate those bastards!

  135. @Russell Nelson

    Morgan and esr: you must, simply MUST visit a Five Guys restaurant. They sell burgers and fries.

    I haven’t been, but I have been meaning to try it. Five Guys just opened up here in Florida like maybe a year or so go. The nearest location is about 25 minutes away by car, but when I’m in that general vicinity next, I think I’ll give it a try.

    @Jay:

    Give me a Whataburger any day. Double meat, cheese, no tomatoes, with jalapenos. I spend far too little time in the Southern states where that chain exists these days.

    Sadly, all of the Whataburger locations in my area closed last year. Good stuff, but I’m driving to Jacksonville to get it.

    @esr: Agreed. Charbucks blows. Superautomatic espresso machines only made it worse. Their popularity is due to the fact that in their most popular drinks, the espresso is well-masked by syrups, milk and whipped cream. They could swap the espresso out for liquified burnt horse manure and most probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

  136. I have long been a reader of esr’s blog, but food is something near to my heart (I come from a family of farmers, on both sides of the tree, and I have long believed the preparing and sharing of food is the best way to make friends), so…

    > I believe the reports from my coffee-drinking friends that Starbuck’s is not very good, but take it from a choosy expert on a different hot drink that they make excellent cocoa.

    I worked at Starbuck’s for a year after college. I know exactly what the “chocolate” is that Starbuck’s puts in the hot chocolate. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, but my wife seemed to like the chocolate milk I made her while she was pregnant. And yes, Starbuck’s beans are burned. An enterprising family just opened up a coffee place less than a mile from my house where they roast the beans on site, and it’s amazing (or maybe it isn’t, when you think about it) the difference in flavor. Smooth, smokey but not ashen, with all sorts of flavors you miss from CorpCoffee (C).

    > Dude, the day I can’t tell an artisan Tuscan loaf or a preservative-free sourdough baguette from a slice of Wonder Bread is the day I know I’m dead.

    I’ll vouch for this. I took it upon myself to learn to make bread while recently gainfully unemployed. After some disappointing trial runs, I produced two beautiful oblong loaves, with a crisp brown crust, that were appropriately hollow when tapped, and tasted of WHEAT, and the earth. It gave me that same feeling of connection with the ancients that esr talks about when he wields sword and shield.

  137. I’ll say this again since people didn’t seem to notice last time.

    Gun toting Libertarians such as Eric say very plainly that they refuse to trust the state with their physical safety, and therefore take personal responsibility for it.

    If you are so passionate about personal responsibility for your physical safety that you are willing to devote time and energy into firearms ownership and training, then buying local food should be a no brainer. If you don’t trust the state to protect your home, why do you trust it to protect your food?

    Eric, I presume that you are on a first-name basis with your gun smith, shooting coach and martial arts instructors? The people who are providing you with the tools to protect yourself and your family?

    Do you have a personal relationship with your farmer and butcher? If not why not?

    To put it in Darwinian terms, organisms need to be just as concerned about safety from parasites and infections as they do about safety from predators.

    Industrial chicken is butchered and gutted by machine or minimum wage workers under brutal time pressures. I don’t trust either of those things to keep chicken shit out of my food. I trust my butcher to do so, because I talk to him, I know he cares about his job, and I help pay him a living wage.

  138. >I worked at Starbuck’s for a year after college. I know exactly what the “chocolate” is that Starbuck’s puts in the hot chocolate.

    Explain, please?

  139. @ESR:
    I’d like to see you answer cbright’s question. Comparing artisan bread to Wonder Bread is just silly. The texture alone gives the game away. Comparing artisan bread to, say, WalMart’s “artisan bread” would be a much better test.

    In this thread you’ve extolled the virtues of grass-fed lamb, grass-fed beef, and free-range chicken on the basis of taste. I’d like to see you back that up with a double-blind test. For that matter, I’d like to see just about any foodie or organic-food enthusiast do the same. Far too many endorsements have taken the form of, “I read the label, so I knew it would taste better. And it did!!!”

    I’d also like to see a side-by-side taste test of McDonald’s new(ish) Angus burger with a home-made one. I’m sure home-made would win…but not by much. McDonald’s is fanatical about food quality (as they have to be–think about it from their position, given the legal climate in the US) but their critics . . . seem to be stuck in the 1970’s.

    @Ken Burnside
    I think your Fair Trade response is under-researched. Correlation is just that. Small- and factory-sized farms have the same abllity to generate new land, that is, zero. So how do their conservation incentives differ? And who do you think, in chocolate-producing areas, has the capital and connections to own their own land? Probably not the humble family farmer.

    @the home-gardening advocates.
    More power to you. I completely agree that your tomatoes are better than what you buy. But is it sustainable? What’s going to happen after 3 years of crops on the same stretch of back yard? Will you have to (gasp!) fertilize?

    I do snark too much, but I’m glad to read intelligent discourse on the topic.

  140. Sean C.,

    I’ve maintained in the past that the future of humanity lies in small communities (Dunbar’s number, maximum) which provided from within themselves all that their members might need, and was almost laughed off this blog for it. You have done an excellent job of presenting the case for why the current trajectory of Western civilization with its huge settlements and mass markets is doomed to abject failure.

  141. I’ve eaten at Whataburger when I lived in Texas.

    Their chicken sandwiches are awesome. Consistently taste like good, free range chicken. Consistently juicy without being underdone. Put on some jalapenos and fried mushrooms and cheese, and you’re golden.

    Their burger meat is generally gristly and overcooked to the point of dryness, and masked with the most hideous failure at making mustard I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste. Eric says that HFCS tastes like scorched plastic to him. I want you to imagine what would happen if you took plastic packets of cheap mustard and put them on a clamshell grill until they melted and mixed the condiment with the scorched plastic.

    Now, denature the polymer in acetone so that the plastic doesn’t harden when it cools.

    THAT’S the taste I associate with Whataburger hamburgers.

    (Or I tell them to leave all condiments off, and I get something that is tasteless and dry.)

    So far, the best ‘national chain’ fast food burgers I’ve had are Hardees/Carl’s Jr. I’ve also had intermittent really good experiences with Burger King. (I’ve also gotten food poisoning from Burger King, so it hits both ends of the spectrum.)

    There is a local chain here called OmegaBurger. It’s decent hamburgers…but the french fries are amazing; they’re thick cut, and rolled in flour that’s heavily mixed with garlic powder and pepper, then fried in pure olive oil.

  142. >The texture alone gives the game away.

    Well, sure. How is that illegitimate? Interesting texture is a lot of what I look for in bread.

    >Comparing artisan bread to, say, WalMart’s “artisan bread” would be a much better test.

    WalMart has artisan bread?

    It’s been other people extolling free-range chicken. I’m not a big fan of chicken in general, so I haven’t developed a palate there. I think I’m on pretty firm ground about grass-fed beef and lamb, but haven’t had the opportunity to do a blind test.

  143. >but the french fries are amazing; they’re thick cut, and rolled in flour that’s heavily mixed with garlic powder and pepper, then fried in pure olive oil.

    Tastes differ; I don’t like thick-cut fries, as they tend to be mealy in the middle. I think well-made shoestring fries, which are mostly cooked surface, are much tastier. I approve of the garlic powder and pepper, though.

  144. @esr: Give me free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, yes, because factory-farmed animals fed on corn mush, rapeseed, and bone meal produce bland, characterless meat.
    I assumed you were speaking from direct experience.

    WalMart has artisan bread?
    Yes. And Target and many other chain- and discount-groceries.
    Hmm. Let me walk that back. By definition they aren’t “artisan”. I think I can successfully argue that they are artisan-style. But that may still be attempting to compare apples and oranges.

    I would be very interested if you were to taste-test beef and lamb. You’d mentioned above your scepticism of the advantages of organic-farming entrepreneurs–if they were truly more efficient they (barring external market distortions) should be putting factory farms out of business. I think the same is true on taste–if there is a demonstrable taste advantage then organic foods should displace a large portion of non-organics, even at a small price disadvantage.

    The fact that the organic farming movement has not performed these tests and trumpeted the results makes me think that the taste advantages elude most palates. Or they’re overpriced.

  145. >I assumed you were speaking from direct experience.

    I was. I’ve never done a blind test, but I’ve traveled enough that I’ve had a lot of chances to learn what grass-fed beef and lamb are like. They’re much more normal outside the U.S.

  146. > I’ve maintained in the past that the future of humanity lies in small communities (Dunbar’s number, maximum) which provided from within themselves all that their members might need, and was almost laughed off this blog for it.

    And it was correct to laugh at you.

    Such communities will have at most 200 specialized skills. They’ll probably have far fewer because a significant fraction of their population will be children and some folks will have duplicate skills or be unskilled.

    They don’t stand a chance against communities with more skills, not to mention resources.

    Every such community can make crappy bicycles but very few can refine the necessary metals because ore isn’t locally available. And then there’s the small matter of tires….

    Throw in the economies of scale that small communities can’t exploit and those communities will go the way of every other attempt at small self-sufficient community – dead in two generations.

  147. Eric, the thick cut fries at OmegaBurger are generally cut from fresh potatoes no more than an hour (and often less than 10 minutes) before being put into the fryer.

    This results in French fries that taste like potatoes with spicing and a crisp crunch on the outside, and like well prepared garlic mashed potatoes on the inside.

    I mostly eat out with a vegetarian or two – I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to learn to cook, learn to cook vegetarian dishes well. While it’s not impossible to screw up a hunk of meat, it doesn’t take nearly as much effort to turn it into something tasty as, say, turning a random lot of potatoes and spinach does.

  148. I was. I’ve never done a blind test, but I’ve traveled enough that I’ve had a lot of chances to learn what grass-fed beef and lamb are like. They’re much more normal outside the U.S.

    I’m with ironchefoklahoma on this one. I’ve had both grass fed beef and grain fed beef. As long as you are comparing the same cuts of equal quality, there isn’t much of a discernible difference in taste. The reason many people think grass fed beef is so much better is because the grain fed beef sold by most supermarkets is garbage. Not all grain-fed beef is created equal.

  149. I’ve had grain fed and grass fed; grass fed beef tends to get more exercise, and is stringier/tougher. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Grain fed beef tends to have a more even distribution of fat through the muscle.

    However, the quality of the cut and how well the animal was treated in life tend to predominate, much like Morgan says.

    On the other side, free range chicken, because chickens are effectively insectivores, tends to taste MUCH better than factory farmed. If you ‘don’t have a taste for chicken’ because it’s bland, that’s probably the reason why.

  150. >On the other side, free range chicken, because chickens are effectively insectivores, tends to taste MUCH better than factory farmed. If you ‘don’t have a taste for chicken’ because it’s bland, that’s probably the reason why.

    You have to be careful though. Like ‘organic’, ‘free-range’ has been subverted by industrial producers, and most supermarket ‘free-range’ chicken was raised on corn.

    To be sure, go find a farmer who sells ‘pastured poultry’. Eric lives close enough to the inventor of the term that he could just drive down there and buy some.

    I’ve done some almost-blind taste tests (“Here, try this” “Wow, that’s good!”) and most people do notice a big difference.

    Oh, and when you are buying healthy birds from someone you trust, you don’t have to overcook your chicken either.

  151. RE: esr’s original problem:

    Bear in mind that such verbiage is essentially ‘free’ advertising on the package. Much like calling ketchup ‘fancy’ or a bottle of soda ‘fat-free’. Just ignore it and buy what you like. Though I have to admit I find the whole ‘evaporated cane juice’ thing incredibly irritating.

    And try shopping at Trader Joe’s. It has the ‘organic’ vibe and some organic stuff, but given that its owned by a ‘Big Evil Corporation’ you won’t see as much hippie crap. I actually just threw out a few cans of black beans I bought there as it turned out they were made in China!

    Anyway, they have lots of good, gourmet foodie grub. It’s just sourced from the same places that provide the regular supermarkets so you are unlikely to see that sort of verbiage by law. If you want to pay through the nose for hippie buzzwords, go to Whole Foods.

    I will have to comment to the haters on organic food that organophosphate pesticide use on berries has been positively linked to ADHD in children. Which really isn’t surprising, as the stuff is a potent neurotoxin. I’ll also note that almost certainly within the next few years that organophosphates will be proven to be a prime mover behind the autism epidemic in North America (along with coal fired power plants).

    Finally, in regards to Norman Borlaug, history will prove him to be the greatest mass-murder of all time. Our planet has a finite carrying-capacity and deliberately inflating human population is only setting us up for an inevitable correction in the future. It’s one thing when a housing bubble eventually pops; wait and see what happens when the human one goes!

    Starvation is simply natures way of telling you that your way of life isn’t sustainable. Borlaug didn’t feed the hungry; he simply deferred their inevitable starvation until their population has exploded.

  152. >And try shopping at Trader Joe’s.

    We sometimes do.

    >Finally, in regards to Norman Borlaug, history will prove him to be the greatest mass-murder of all time. Our planet has a finite carrying-capacity and deliberately inflating human population is only setting us up for an inevitable correction in the future. It’s one thing when a housing bubble eventually pops; wait and see what happens when the human one goes!

    The demographic transition now occurring everywhere in the Third World says you’re wrong. Increasingly, the problem to worry about is fertility collapse and entire nations reproducing way below replacement rates.

  153. >The demographic transition now occurring everywhere in the Third World says you’re wrong.

    Are you referring to the deaths caused by the floods in Pakistan or the Russian wildfires? More people means more energy consumption and all the issues that go along with it; from peak oil to AGW. Bulldozing the planet in the name of factory-farms populated with GMO crops is ultimately self-defeating.

    Organic farming is as much about sustainability as anything else. And given the obesity epidemic in America at the moment nobody is going to be starving here anytime soon.

    Re: Fertility collapse; this is only a problem for those collecting ponzi-financed social security and medicare. Its fabulous for the rest of us!

  154. Morgan Greywolf – “Yep. And most herbs and seasonings grow like weeds. If you allow it to, mint, for example, will take over your whole yard in very little time. The advantage is obvious: you can grow them with very little effort on your part, and the payout is big.We have some cilantro and rosemary growing in our garden now.”

    If it grows like a weed, why in the world can’t I grow it. I’ve got 4 dying cilantro plants on my balcony. I had to take them off the balcony rim it was so embarrassing. Is there someting about them I don’t know, like maybe they are shade plants, or something along those lines?

    Anyway, I find that organic fruit (or at least fruit labeled organic in a regular grocery store) doesn’t actaully taste all that good. I recently had the experience of buying a bag of cherries from the grocery store that were really, really good. A week later, I bought some from a farm stand out in the country and they had no taste at all. Admittedly, the ones I bought at the farm stand were larger, and therefore bound to taste worse. I wonder if you could even find no GMO cherries, as in the original cherries from 10,000 years ago. Same applies to corn and many other grains.

  155. HFCS is just sugar. It was intentionally formulated to be the same as your table sugar. It is used in soft drinks and prepared foods for a couple of reasons. First because it is a liquid it is easier to dispense and mix in a factory environment. Second it is cheaper then sugar from cane or beets because corn is a good soruce of sugar and a produces a larger crop per acre then either cane or beets. Almost all food products in this country enjoy some kind of subsidy and cane and beet sugar are no exceptions.

    I dis agree that Norman Borlaug was the greatest mass-murder of all time. It is Rachel Carson who created a mass hysteria about DDT and prevented the control of the tsetse fly and malaria carrying mosquitos that cause the death of millions and millions every year.

  156. If it grows like a weed, why in the world can’t I grow it. I’ve got 4 dying cilantro plants on my balcony. I had to take them off the balcony rim it was so embarrassing. Is there someting about them I don’t know, like maybe they are shade plants, or something along those lines?

    What’s your climate like? I live in Florida, and cilantro (corriander, same thing) seems to thrive well here without much effort on my part other than watering during the dry season.

  157. >I wonder if you could even find no GMO cherries, as in the original cherries from 10,000 years ago. Same applies to corn and many other grains.

    Well, given that natural selection could be considered GMO, everything from the last 10k years has undergone genetic modification to some extent.

    But in the spirit of your question, an absolutely perfect example is ‘wild’ blueberries vs. cultivated. Wild blueberries are much smaller and more flavorful/nutritious then their domesticated brethren. Organic wild blueberries are also healthier than the cultivated variety in that as I’ve mentioned above; chemical pesticides used on berries have been linked to ADHD. Seriously, if you haven’t tried organic wild blueberries, go treat yourself to some today. Will change your life.

    @GoneWithTheWind,
    >I dis agree that Norman Borlaug was the greatest mass-murder of all time. It is Rachel Carson who created a mass hysteria about DDT and prevented the control of the tsetse fly and malaria carrying mosquitos that cause the death of millions and millions every year.

    Epic Fail, man! See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT#Mosquito_resistance

    It was creeps like Norman Borlaug that advocated non-essential use of DDT (like agricultural) that caused it to be less effective when used to control mosquitoes. Borlaug compounded the problem by artificially inflating the food supply in poorer countries and creating a population explosion before other infrastructure was available to properly support it.

    Look at the history of Europe/America pre-Borlaug. We survived our famines and dust-bowls without the ‘green’ revolution. And built a robust, sustainable ecosystem as a result. We are even moving towards a ‘post’ green-revolution model built on a core foundation of sustainability.

  158. kewp says:

    >> Finally, in regards to Norman Borlaug, history will prove him to be the greatest mass-murder of all time. Our planet has a finite carrying-capacity and deliberately inflating human population is only setting us up for an inevitable correction in the future. It’s one thing when a housing bubble eventually pops; wait and see what happens when the human one goes!

    Anyone want to take bets on this? I’m betting the “greatest mass murder in history” will wind up being someone like Mao or Stalin rather than Norman Borlaug. Borlaug made it possible to feed the world, everyone, including the very poor in places like India. He is a hero .

    And as Eric noted, the real problem we are facing these days is collapsing birhtrates around the world. People are not having enough babies.

    Honestly Kewp, educate yourself a little.

  159. And as Eric noted, the real problem we are facing these days is collapsing birhtrates around the world. People are not having enough babies.

    No problem. We’ll just go back to making Roman Catholicism the state religion. :-P

    *ducking*

  160. Kewp says:
    >>> It was creeps like Norman Borlaug that advocated non-essential use of DDT (like agricultural) that caused it to be less effective when used to control mosquitoes. Borlaug compounded the problem by artificially inflating the food supply in poorer countries and creating a population explosion before other infrastructure was available to properly support it.

    from the article that Kewp links to:
    DDT can still be effective against resistant mosquitoes,[92] and the avoidance of DDT-sprayed walls by mosquitoes is an additional benefit of the chemical.

    You don’t much care for your fellow humans do you kewp?
    “Atificially inflating food supplies?” You have a problem with people in poor countries having plenty of food?
    And yeah look at the history of the world pre-Borlaug. It sucked. We do not want to go back to that.

  161. “We survived our famines and dust-bowls without the ‘green’ revolution.”

    The question is not, will we survive famine. The question is, will you survive a famine? Quite a lot of we in fact did not survive.

    You have the air of one who casually assumes that they will always be in the part of humanity that gets the food, rather than the portion that does not. How easy it is to condemn “the other” to death to suit your delicate environmental sensibilities.

  162. @Darrencardinal

    Read the article again; it was DDT use as an agricultural pesticide (and mosquitoes don’t target wheat last time I checked) that compounded the problem of resistance in mosquitoes. Which is irrelevant anyway, as my point was DDT isn’t banned for vector control in most of the world. So much for that strawman.

    Regarding my fellow humans; given that I’ve spent a lifetime ridding myself of the bias of hyperbolic discounting I’m probably one of the few true humanists around at the moment.

    Even Borlaug himself said the following:

    “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people.”

    This is hyperbolic discounting at its worst.

    What he very specifically *didn’t* say is what happens when we hit 10 billion. Or 15, or 20. Or whatever the maximum carrying capacity of the planet is before everything goes to hell. If you think about it for a moment you will realize all he did was both accelerate and defer a rather serious issue. Wouldn’t it make sense to aim for sustainability now rather than later?

    And for the record, our country has plenty of cheap food and its working against us. Look at the problems of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in this country. Being sustainably hungry is good for you. Its the starving that isn’t.

    As an aside, while I understand that the global birthrate has declined somewhat, the overall population is still growing:

    http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_pop_totl&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=global+population

  163. >You have the air of one who casually assumes that they will always be in the part of humanity that gets the food, rather than the portion that does not. How easy it is to condemn “the other” to death to suit your delicate environmental sensibilities.

    Sadly, as long as I’m an American that is unfortunately going to be the case. To think otherwise would be to assume the guy with the most guns in town would let his family starve rather than take his neighbors grain by force.

    And as I hope I made clear by now; I’m hoping not to condemn anyone to death. I simply support sustainable agriculture in the present (even if it its less efficient at first) vs. at some point in the future when it may be to late to do anything about it.

  164. No kewp you are not a humanist, you are more of a humanitarian, and what I have noticed about people like you is while you claim to love humanity in the abstract, individual people you cannot stand, and really would not mind seeing condemned to death.

    Here in America DDT is banned for vector control by the way. We can afford this here in the USA but in Africa it has condemned many people to death.

    Our agriculture is sustainable. It is the organic nonsense that you no doubt favor that will condemn people to starvation.
    People will be fed as long as we don’t listen to eco-retards like you.
    Honestly you need to get out more. Your mind is infected with a lot of Malthusian nonsense that has been discredited.

  165. DDT isn’t banned in Africa! See!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT#DDT_use_against_malaria

    “Malaria remains a major public health challenge in many countries. 2008 WHO estimates were 243 million cases, and 863,000 deaths. About 89% of these deaths occur in Africa, and mostly to children under the age of 5.[78] DDT is one of many tools that public health officials use to fight the disease. Its use in this context has been called everything from a “miracle weapon [that is] like Kryptonite to the mosquitoes,”[79] to “toxic colonialism.”[80]”

    And for the record, I don’t favor organic food. I pick and choose based on preference and research, particularly for foods I eat daily or almost daily. Ain’t free markets great?

  166. There’s a difference between GMO and selective breeding– selective breeding has been informally tested over a very long time period for not leaving people feeling cruddy. This isn’t an infallible test, but it’s something.

    In re Au Bon Pain: I was traumatized by some remarkably awful chicken strips in one of their salads. The strips turned out to be composite chicken. Are they still doing that?

    I’m very glad Michael Pollan has no political power. I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemna, and he doesn’t address whether his small organic farms (his preferred method of food production– Whole Foods involves too much mass production) can feed everyone. He doesn’t even make up an answer to the question because he doesn’t see the question. In a radio interview, he didn’t grasp why everyone doesn’t spend $7/dozen eggs.

    I don’t know whether small organic farms (or small non-organic[1] farms) could produce an adequate amount of food. I also don’t know what distribution would look like if food from small farms were generally sold in stores– farmer’s markets have such limited hours that they don’t work for a lot of potential customers.

    Even if small farming would produce enough food, there’s still a question of whether that high a proportion of people want to do it. Some people love farming. Others hate it.

    [1] I know “organic” is problematic. There’s no other handy way to express the concept, and words frequently have multiple meanings.

  167. My local farmer’s market sells tomatoes at 4 lbs per dollar right now. So 25 cents per pound. My local super market sells much worse tomatoes at about 3 lbs per pound. So 33 cents per pound.

    What? I’m paying $.99/lb for supermarket romas and $4/lb for good tomatoes at a farmers’ market, pretty much year round, in Portland, OR.

    Sadly, the Portland farmers’ market is mostly an artisan prepared food market for yuppies, hence very expensive. But even at a supermarket I am paying far more than you. Why is that?

  168. For the fun of it:The $64 Tomato.

    An energetic and moderately well-financed gardener explores the possibilities of impulsiveness and bad luck, not to mention the horrors of figuring out what he spent to get a few tomatoes. It’s pretty funny, and I assume what he got for the book drove the price of the tomatoes down to something reasonable.

  169. @Nancy Lebovitz:

    I don’t know whether small organic farms (or small non-organic[1] farms) could produce an adequate amount of food. I also don’t know what distribution would look like if food from small farms were generally sold in stores– farmer’s markets have such limited hours that they don’t work for a lot of potential customers.

    You hint at an answer below:

    Even if small farming would produce enough food, there’s still a question of whether that high a proportion of people want to do it. Some people love farming. Others hate it.

    The reason we’re not all able to eat food from small farming is simply due to economics. Our entire food production and distribution system arose out of the need to get the most food to the most people by the most efficient means possible.

    Really, if we were to switch to small farming, there would have to massive changes to our society and its infrastructure. In essence, a change to small farming would necessarily mean a total reorganization of our society from where it is now, into a more tribal organization where small, communal tribes are organized around small farms.

    Probably the only thing that could trigger such a massive change is if our population numbers were severely reduced or if our infrastructure were severely crippled. Or both.

  170. One of the things which makes farming unattractive– isolation from the larger society– is considerably ameliorated by modern communications.

  171. One of the things which makes farming unattractive– isolation from the larger society– is considerably ameliorated by modern communications.

    Like the Internet? Have you tried getting decent high-speed Internet access in a rural area? Your options are usually dial-up and satellite/dial-up hybrid. In many areas of the country, even 3G/4G wireless isn’t an option.

  172. Like the Internet? Have you tried getting decent high-speed Internet access in a rural area? Your options are usually dial-up and satellite/dial-up hybrid. In many areas of the country, even 3G/4G wireless isn’t an option.

    This is an issue only in America. It’s a solved problem in most of the rest of the developed world.

  173. David McCabe: I live in Milwaukee, which, while not in farm country directly, has (due to vagaries of climate and soil) pockets of very productive farming around it, without those pockets being wide enough to support mechanized agriculture.

    You can plot agriculture as three overlapping graphs.

    Output per acre
    Output per person
    Output per kJ of energy put in.

    Modern American agriculture is not sustainable in its current form – we are functionally strip mining underwater aquifers west of the Mississippi, and we are pretty much dependent on artificial fertilizers at this point because prior farming practices have damaged the soil.

    Those artificial fertilizers turn into farm runoff when it rains, and cause problems downstream. Oddly enough, the industrial farming lobby protests when those downstream problems are linked back to them, using it’s “the price of doing business” and “do you want people to starve?”.

    Much like the liability for groundwater contamination in West Virginia and central Pennsylvania from coal mining gets jobbed with “if we are liable for water contamination downstream, people will lose jobs, and electricity rates will go up.”

    Me personally, I figure that if you’re going to ‘flush your waste to the river’ and be done, you and all the employees of your company should drink and bathe from that river downstream of your flush point. I guess that makes me an environmental whacko socialist, like Robert Heinlein was.

    Organic/small farming is an attempt to prioritize sustainable practices, by flattening the curve on graph 3, being willing to accept a steeper curve on graph 2 and trying to equal or exceed the steepness of the curve in graph 1.

    I wish them a lot of luck; agronomy as a science has made tremendous strides in the last 30 years.

  174. Hell, Morgan, Fairmont, Minnesota is a farming town of 11K people, the biggest for 50 miles in any direction. I have the fastest Internet available here, 3600K down, 620K up via DSL. If I lived outside the city limits, I couldn’t even get that. The GSM mobile service here isn’t even EDGE unless you’re up close to I-90, which runs a little ways north of town – and there are spots north of there that have no cell service at all.

    Darren, don’t bother with kewp. His language gives him away. “Sustainable” is a left-wing codeword, just like “social justice”.

  175. Jeff, that’s because the rest of the world doesn’t have big wide open spaces like the US does. A big farm in Europe would fit inside a medium-sized American farm and not touch the edges.

    That failure to understand the basic difference is usually confined to discussions of transportation systems, where people try to use Europe as an example of why rail an work in the US, but it can slop over into discussions of farming and related issues, too.

  176. Hell, Morgan, Fairmont, Minnesota is a farming town of 11K people, the biggest for 50 miles in any direction. I have the fastest Internet available here, 3600K down, 620K up via DSL.

    Exactly. ;) I have 10 Mbit down/1 mbit up, and that’s for budget cablemodem service from Bright House Networks. (They also offer 40/5 and 20/2).

    And you’re lucky to get what you got. :)

  177. >What’s your climate like? I live in Florida, and cilantro (corriander, same thing) seems to thrive well here without much effort on my part other than watering during the dry season.

    San Diego, moderate humidity, warm but not too warm, lots of sun, body culture (though not as bad as LA).

  178. > “Sustainable” is a left-wing codeword, just like “social justice”.

    That’s a little strong. “Social justice” is like “racism” in that both have been politically abused to the point of becoming nearly meaningless, and “social justice” was on a shorter road to nowhere because it never had much content to begin with. But “sustainable” is not yet as badly damaged; it retains significant meaning as a term of art in economics and some kinds of engineering design, at least. You’ll see me use it occasionally.

  179. >This is an issue only in America. It’s a solved problem in most of the rest of the developed world.

    One of the main reasons for this is often misunderstood and ties into the farm economics stuff. The U.S. is in the unique position of being (a) extremely large, and (b) having a population better diffused over that extremely large than anywhere else. Everywhere else has a population that is either much smaller or much more concentrated into a small portion of the country. Communist China is the only country to have a deployment problem even nearly as bad as ours, and even their population is more heavily concentrated in a few huge coastal metroplexes and a couple of key river valleys. (See this population-density map.)

    This means that the U.S. is at an extreme that’s important in a lot of ways. Our geography favors large farms but also requires a colossally expensive transportation net – the latter being a problem we’ve solved more effectively than any nation or civilization in recorded history. It also complicates the hell out of broadband development; it would be damn difficult here even without an evil predatory telecomms oligopoly squatting on the last mile.

  180. @Chris Green:

    Should be okay. Cilantro likes lots of sun (not a problem in San Diego!), so make sure your windowsill is south-facing and not in the shade too much. If not, move it. Be careful not to over-water it; cilantro doesn’t like its roots in standing water.

  181. “Social justice” is like “racism” in that both have been politically abused to the point of becoming nearly meaningless, and “social justice” was on a shorter road to nowhere because it never had much content to begin with

    “Social justice” has already passed through nowhere and crossed the border into Moonbatistan: if you hear someone uttering it without attaching scare quotes, then you can already make a lot of high-confidence inferences about their politics. You might as well have heard “bourgeoisie”. Neither “racism” nor “sustainable” is quite that badly injured yet.

  182. >>I worked at Starbuck’s for a year after college. I know exactly what the “chocolate” is that Starbuck’s puts in the hot chocolate.

    >Explain, please?

    What we were given was a bag of powdered…something, with a smell somewhat resembling chocolate, that was mixed with hot water to form the “chocolate” syrup. My best guess (it’s been long enough now that I don’t remember the bag label) is that it was cocoa powder of unknown origin mixed with powdered milk and sugar. It lacked any cocoa butter that gives chocolate its creamy smoothness and without fail gives me stomach upset, something regular chocolate syrups do not. When you go to your local caffeine dispensary, ask to see the chocolate syrup and look for one of the known purveyors…my local haunt uses Ghirardelli.

  183. kewp> I simply support sustainable agriculture in the present (even if it its less efficient at first) vs. at some point in the future when it may be to late to do anything about it.

    Really? How many acres do you manage? How many head of live stock? What was your production average over the last 3 years? You sound a whole lot like what we describe around here as, “All hat, no cattle.”

    Every producer supports “sustainable agriculture.” Unfortunately people like you, who haven’t a freakin’ clue what that really means seem to think you can tell the farmers and ranchers how to run their businesses. This isn’t 1930, most farmers know more about the chemistry and biology of farming than most college grads from ag programs, and because land isn’t cheap and easily available as it was in the 20’s and 30’s, they know that they have to take care of what they have or they’ll starve after they burn it out.

    Add to this, the “helping hand” of government giving all the most perverse incentives and driving down prices for most ag products, and the margins for most farmers are so razor thin they cannot afford even one year’s crop losses. And you want them to go in a direction that will reduce their production by 10-20%? This is why Organics are necessarily more expensive, and you think that’s good for those who can barely afford to feed their families now?

  184. Nancy Lebovitz>One of the things which makes farming unattractive– isolation from the larger society– is considerably ameliorated by modern communications.

    Actually, for most dedicated farmers, that’s not the least bit unattractive. They go to town when they want to mix with “the larger society” and get to have privacy the rest of the time.

    It’s a redneck thing, you wouldn’t understand ;^).

  185. Ken Burnside> …because chickens are effectively insectivores…

    Actually, they eat an awful lot of greens too, mostly new shoots and young leaves, which balances out their nutritional needs. This adds “spice” to both the chicken and the eggs making them tastier. I’ve verified this by throwing weeds to chickens locked in the chicken house (we had some chicken hawks hanging around for a while) and they would gobble them down and the eggs tasted better for a week or so afterward.

    Since I’ve turned my new flock out, about 3 months ago, they and the geese have pretty well decimated the weeds around the chicken house (at least the new ones) and they absolutely love the Wondering Jew that had taken over my wifes flower garden, go figure.

  186. esr> The U.S. is in the unique position of being (a) extremely large, and (b) having a population better diffused over that extremely large than anywhere else.

    To this I would add the high cost of labor for installation of equipment and facilities, which makes wireless (cell, wifi, wimax, etc.) in many rural places impractically expensive. ROI is a direct function of cost-of-installation/population-density.

  187. @dgreer
    >Really? How many acres do you manage? How many head of live stock? What was your production average over the last 3 years? You sound a whole lot like what we describe around here as, “All hat, no cattle.”

    Given that my tax dollars are keeping dairy farmers afloat in my state; apparently I understand a bit more about macroeconomics and sustainability than they do! See:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/business/02dairy.html

    To summarize, the CA gummint is buying and warehousing dairy products the market doesn’t want so farmers don’t go out of business. So, feel free to lecture me about competence and sustainability when I’m not paying your rent.

  188. @Morgan Greywolf
    >The reason we’re not all able to eat food from small farming is simply due to economics. Our entire food production and distribution system arose out of the need to get the most food to the most people by the most efficient means possible.

    Not quite. The reality of the economy of scale plus the state of current government subsidies simply makes it difficult for smaller farms to compete. And of course big factory farms that use products like synthetic fertilizer and insecticide will be have hidden external costs the smaller, organic ones do not.

    You want to feed the country from small, organic farms? Simply eliminate farm subsidies except for farms that are certified organic and beneath some set acreage. Then sit back and let the market take care of the rest.

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we demonstrably have too much food. Obesity/diabetes are a huge problem and farmers/ranchers can’t stay in business due to supply gluts. Moving to organic farming will push commodity prices up and the our nations BMI down. And poor folk will still have food stamps, so nobody is going to starve.

  189. >What we were given was a bag of powdered…something, with a smell somewhat resembling chocolate, that was mixed with hot water to form the “chocolate” syrup. My best guess (it’s been long enough now that I don’t remember the bag label) is that it was cocoa powder of unknown origin mixed with powdered milk and sugar.

    Right. If I have the timeframe right, that was Godiva you were using at Starbucks – dark chocolate, sugar, and some milk solids. It’s very good stuff, actually – I’ve blind-tested it against Ghirardelli’s and could spot the difference instantly. Godiva has a darker, earthier taste, whereas Ghirardelli.is lighter, sweeter, and has a pronounced vanilla top note. I prefer Godiva.

    Starbucks has since switched to something other than Godiva, but the taste remains very similar. I think it’s just your basic West African chocolate, but with good processing and no bogus ingredients.

  190. >You want to feed the country from small, organic farms? Simply eliminate farm subsidies except for farms that are certified organic and beneath some set acreage. Then sit back and let the market take care of the rest.

    You’re not going far enough. All farm subsidies should be abolished – otherwise it’s not “sit back and let the market take care of the rest”, it’s just another form of dishonest political thimble-rigging.

  191. “Oh, and when you are buying healthy birds from someone you trust, you don’t have to overcook your chicken either.”

    Well, yes. When I was a toddler, my mother used to take me shopping (no one to babysit), which included the live poultry market. Pick out the bird that looks best to you, the women there would wring its neck, pluck the feathers in a superhuman flurry of activity, and you knew it was fresh.

    At home, mom would turn up the gas and hold the meat over the flame, burning the hairs off. Then the neckbone, feet and giblets all went into the big soup pot that was constantly simmering on the stove.

    The food was good, and it’s nice to wax nostalgic about home and mama – but mama was at home all the time, doing this stuff. I tell this story to remind people that the industrialized food supply chain had a lot to do with the liberation of women. We can’t go back to those days. Most people simply don’t have the time for slow food, except on special occasions.

  192. >Moving to organic farming will push commodity prices up and the our nations BMI down.

    The hidden premise that Americans are obese because food is too cheap is highly questionable. I think more of the blame lies with the astonishingly, perversely bad diet advice the government and the medical establishment has been pushing since the 1960s. Eat more grains and starches instead of meat and fat – yeah, and carbs like that are what you feed pigs to fatten them for market. Between that and sugar being dumped by the truckload into processed foods, I don’t think you need “food is too cheap” as any part of the explanation.

  193. @esr
    >You’re not going far enough. All farm subsidies should be abolished – otherwise it’s not “sit back and let the market take care of the rest”, it’s just another form of dishonest political thimble-rigging.

    That’s your market fundamentalism talking.

    Keep in mind that non-organic factory farming has very real external costs. Both on the local scale, in the form of health problems from pollution and globally via climate change (which I understand you deny).

    This is fine of course, I suppose we could wait for the free market to correct itself by killing off consumers en masse’ and bankrupting businesses via lawsuits. Or we could chose a more pro-active solution that addresses the problem now, rather than later.

    Specifically, mitigating external costs via well-managed subsidies. If you pay folks to run small, organic farms vs. big factory farms, they will do just that. And we will have better, tastier, healthier food and less poisoned kids in the process.

    At this point its fast becoming a national security issue. Russia is burning, Pakistan is flooding and Americas Breadbasket is going to begin to desertify if the global mean temp. goes up even 1 degree Celsius.

  194. >Specifically, mitigating external costs via well-managed subsidies.

    If history ever records a case of “well managed” farm subsidies that did not rapidly become riddled with political favoritism, rent-seeking, and outright corruption I am not aware of it. Not just no, but hell no. What you’re talking about would become just another form of rip-off as soon as the players figure out that their optimal strategy is to game the subsidy system rather than producing efficiently.

  195. >The hidden premise that Americans are obese because food is too cheap is highly questionable.

    I can’t disagree that there is lots of bad diet advice floating around. You also can’t disagree that a two-liter of Coke costs less an two-liter of organic juice. Or grass-fed beef is more expensive than typical feedlot supermarket cattle.

    A comprise would to suggest its easy to have eat poorly for cheap in America.

    …in an interesting bit of serendipty, this story caught my eye…

    http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2011756_2011730,00.html?hpt=T2

    The Wages of Eating

    The biggest reason not to ignore the food purists is that in a lot of ways they’re right. Our diet is indeed killing us, and it’s killing the planet too. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a study revealing that nearly 27% of Americans are now considered obese (that is, more than 20% above their ideal weight), and in nine states, the obesity rate tops 30%. We eat way too much meat — up to 220 lb. per year for every man, woman and child in the U.S. — and only 14% of us consume our recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Our processed food is dense with salt and swimming in high-fructose corn syrup, two flavors we can’t resist. Currently, enough food is manufactured in the U.S. for every American to consume 3,800 calories per day — we need only 2,350 in a healthy diet — and while some of that gets thrown away, most is gobbled up long before it can go stale on the shelves.

  196. >What you’re talking about would become just another form of rip-off as soon as the players figure out that their optimal strategy is to game the subsidy system rather than producing efficiently.

    Not really. Farmers have been paid not to farm for many years to good effect. Kind of hard to game this system, unless you consider the entire exercise fraudulent. See the CRP program:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4736044

    The same idea can work for organic farming.

  197. >The Wages of Eating

    It’s those “five servings of fruits and vegetables per day” that are the fatten-pigs-for market prescription. But I already knew the writer was a fool parroting bankrupt conventional wisdom from the phrase “We eat way too much meat”, one of the the surest signs of a food nannyist whose actual agenda is quasi-religious mortification of the flesh rather than actual public health or anything silly like that.

    Writing like this is almost repellent enough to push me back to over-sugared, over-salted, heavily processed foods just as a protest against the rather sinister sanctimoniousness of most of the “healthy-eating” crowd. They’re as almost bad as the environmentalists when it comes to doubling down on bad ideas that sabotage their own ostensible cause.

  198. > Kind of hard to game this system, unless you consider the entire exercise fraudulent.

    Actually, he told you exactly how to game the system. In smaller words – the definition and accounting for externalities is ripe for gaming. The rules for measuring externalities is ripe for gaming. The rules for applying same are ripe for gaming.

    Which reminds me – you claim that global warming is a significant issue. What changes in your lifestyle have you made? What is your position on nuclear power?

  199. >Which reminds me – you claim that global warming is a significant issue. What changes in your lifestyle have you made? What is your position on nuclear power?

    Stop. That will ‘jack the thread.

  200. @esr
    > “But I consider that usage meaningless hype, because I don’t recognize any basic ontological distinction between “natural” pesticides/fertilizers and “synthetic” ones. ”

    There is an ontological difference: that of evolutionary exposure. Classes of molecules or specific molecules that have been encountered by humans on an evolutionary scale are less likely to harm us even if they also happen to be deadly to insects. If you just invent a molecule, the chances that it will be harmful to humans is high; most highly reactive chemicals tend to be harmful to living things all else being equal. If we’ve adapted to it, obviously that negates a lot of the danger. Then the challenge is finding chemicals that are safe for humans but deadly for insects/pests. And obviously we know synthetic pesticides are almost universally poisonous.

  201. kewp> Given that my tax dollars are keeping dairy farmers afloat in my state; apparently I understand a bit more about macroeconomics and sustainability than they do! See:

    So, since your tax dollars support the space program, that makes you a rocket scientest, or at least qualifies you to run NASA?

    >http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/business/02dairy.html

    Sounds like a classic example of malinvestment a la Hayak. The answer is simple: butcher the cattle. Of course most modern dairies use Holstein cattle (the white-with-black-spots cattle) which make large volumes of milk, but the milk is not the best, and the animal hasn’t got enough meat to make it worth much on the market as a carcass. If they changed to Jersys, they’d get almost as much milk, the milk would be higher quality (greater milk-fat and protein per volume) and they’d have a decent meat animal when things slow down. That’s why dairys usually raised Jersys before government subsidies.

    >To summarize, the CA gummint is buying and warehousing dairy products the market doesn’t want so farmers don’t go out of business. So, feel free to lecture me about competence and sustainability when I’m not paying your rent.

    I had already explained that subsidies are bad, and WRT you reply to Eric above, you’re wrong and Eric is right, ALL subsidies in farming are evil. They ALWAYS create large corporate farms, they ALWAYS push these folks to make bad investments, they ALWAYS lead to small family farms going under or selling out, and they ALWAYS drive the margins down to the point where farmers cannot make enough money to survive.

    Again, you’re in WAY beyond your depth here.

  202. kewp, enthusiastic but ignorant folks like yourself have caused vast amounts of environmental destruction.

    The CRP program you linked to rewards and promotes environmental destruction.

    I watched farmers put their farmground into CRP. They then took the money the government gave them for “preserving the environment” purchased cattle ranches and plowed the fragile grassland to plant more government subsidized mono culture grain.

    A side affect of the government subsidies has been a massive increase in land costs. Which has made it difficult for for fresh blood and new ideas to enter agriculture, thereby constraining creativity.

    Learn more about agriculture and the environment, it will help you avoid promoting environmentally destructive programs like the CRP.

  203. >If you just invent a molecule, the chances that it will be harmful to humans is high; most highly reactive chemicals tend to be harmful to living things all else being equal.

    I’d buy your argument if it didn’t have this howler in the middle of it. You’ve confused reactivity with toxicity, an error from which much nonsense flows and which convinces me that you don’t actually know what you’re talking about and are just waving your arms frantically.

    A “reactive” chemical is one which generally promotes all manner of electron-exchange reactions, like a strong acid. A “toxic” chemical is one which interferes with specific metabolic pathways by substitution, like botulin toxin. In loose usage, reactive chemicals are described as “toxic”, but this obscures a distinction that’s specifically important when you’re discussing toxicity load from pesticides. Pesticides would be less dangerous if they were more reactive; but since they are not in fact very reactive, they can persist in the environment for long periods, doing their toxicity-by-substitution number on anything with vulnerable metabolic pathways that happens to wander by.

    (A few chemicals are both; HCN, for example is both rather reactive in general and screws fatally with a specific receptor in nerve cells.)

    It is extremely difficult to evolve defenses against highly reactive chemicals, and rare for organisms even as robust as bacteria to manage this. If you’re made of CHON, they just eat your defense! Evolution only helps your odds against toxins. If you invent a molecule at random, if it’s highly reactive then it will tend to kill everything, and you can’t evolve against it. If it’s not highly reactive, then it will be toxic only if it happens to fit a metabolic pathway in your body – which is tricky, and most random molecules in fact cannot do this.

  204. @esr
    >You’ve confused reactivity with toxicity.

    I don’t think so. I meant “reactive” in the most general sense, as in, it has an affect on living things. If it’s non reactive, as in by definition, does not effect the human body, it’s less likely to have a positive or negative effect, of course. And I meant “toxic” as well very generally, simply as a negative to an organism’s genetic fitness. I’d say your definitions for both are much too specific to be applicable to this issue.

    But to clarify my point: just as more genetic mutations are detrimental then beneficial, most random reactive molecules will be detrimental to humans, as our criteria for survival is very specific. In that context, you can’t expect a molecule whose main design criteria is to kill insects, to automatically be safe for humans. If it wasn’t specifically designed to be safe for humans, you don’t get that design criteria “for free”. So, synthetic pesticides were designed with certain a margin of human safety in mind, of course. That margin not being very inclusive of long term human health effects. Outside of that margin, in the long term, we don’t get that safety from nothing. In other words don’t expect not to have negative health effects from synthetic pesticides after eating them in foods for 30 years.

    As for the evolvability of defense against toxins, if we use the general definition of “toxin”, then that can be anything such as a specific enzyme disruptor, in which case the solution is an enzyme with just a slightly different shape but same effect, for example.

  205. >But to clarify my point: just as more genetic mutations are detrimental then beneficial, most random reactive molecules will be detrimental to humans, as our criteria for survival is very specific.

    You still sound like you have no actual idea what you are talking about. If human metabolism were as fragile and non-homeostatic as you make it sound, the ongoing arms race between insects and pesticides secreted by plants would kill us; they have much shorter generations than humans and thus evolve new toxins faster than we can evolve specific metabolic defenses against them.

    >In other words don’t expect not to have negative health effects from synthetic pesticides after eating them in foods for 30 years.

    Actually that’s mostly what I do expect – because we aren’t already being killed by plant toxins. It must follow that humans and other animals have evolved relatively broad defenses against toxic metabolic disrupters. There will be exceptions of both kinds, of course; the point is that “synthetic” pesticides do not pose a particularly novel threat in evolutionary terms.

  206. >If human metabolism were as fragile and non-homeostatic as you make it sound, the ongoing arms race between insects and pesticides secreted by plants would kill us;

    Insects can evolve defenses against classes of toxins to a certain degree just as humans can. So it would be expected that it is in fact difficult/slow for a plant to evolve a new toxin once it’s predators have evolved a general defense for it, especially one that doesn’t end up poisoning symbiotic relationships or ruining it’s own homeostasis. The plant must find some substance different enough from its existing toxin that it won’t be matched by the predator’s defenses (obviously slow with an evolutionary search mechanism.) If it does by some chance evolve that new toxin, you bet humans have just a great a chance as any other species to be poisoned by that new toxin as the ‘target’ predator species does. In other words, my assertion that random new classes of molecules are most likely dangerous for humans, does not in anyway imply fragility in ecosystems.

    >It must follow that humans and other animals have evolved relatively broad defenses against toxic metabolic disrupters.

    And I also claimed we have broad defenses against toxins. The point is, do these defenses go on forever (in terms of all possible classes of molecules?) It is simply magical thinking to assume some completely random molecule invented in a lab, and only tested for safety in the short term, is going to be safe for humans in ways it was both not designed for and not tested for. Evolution gives us millions of years of accumulated selection pressure. A synthetic design criteria get’s us just exactly what humans put into it in a short (decades) design time-frame, which isn’t much.

  207. While we’re talking burgers: If the second-best burger I’ve ever had is a 5, this is a 10: http://www.violettapdx.com/ Every ingredient is something special. And it costs less than the burgers at the pub!

  208. An interesting article on Brazilian agriculture:
    http://www.economist.com/node/16886442

    To sum up: Brazil’s government invested in R&D, and no subsidies. 40 years later they have a booming sector if industrial grain and livestock production. And although they do it with huge farms, it sounds like they avoid most of the evils of monoculture, feedlots, and confinement livestock.

    It doesn’t really support my view of things, but what are ya gonna do? Facts are facts.

  209. @AndyFreeman
    >Actually, he told you exactly how to game the system. In smaller words – the definition and accounting for externalities is ripe for gaming. The rules for measuring externalities is ripe for gaming. The rules for applying same are ripe for gaming.

    So is gaming the system by denying the reality of external costs. This is well documented in Naomi Oreskes excellent new book, “Merchants of Doubt”.

  210. @dgreer
    >So, since your tax dollars support the space program, that makes you a rocket scientest, or at least qualifies you to run NASA?

    You think NASA and privately held dairy farms are equivalent organizations? This explains much.

    >They ALWAYS create large corporate farms, they ALWAYS push these folks to make bad investments, they ALWAYS lead to small family farms going under or selling out, and they ALWAYS drive the margins down to the point where farmers cannot make enough money to survive.

    This is brilliant. You really think none of this happened *before* farm subsidies?

  211. @Duracomm
    >kewp, enthusiastic but ignorant folks like yourself have caused vast amounts of environmental destruction.

    >The CRP program you linked to rewards and promotes environmental destruction.

    Go read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. The dust bowl was a product of the free market.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_bowl#Causes

    It wasn’t until government sponsored soil conservation programs that the Great Plains was able to recover.

  212. @esr
    >Actually that’s mostly what I do expect – because we aren’t already being killed by plant toxins. It must follow that humans and other animals have evolved relatively broad defenses against toxic metabolic disrupters. There will be exceptions of both kinds, of course; the point is that “synthetic” pesticides do not pose a particularly novel threat in evolutionary terms.

    Go eat some Amanita phalloides and let us know how well evolution has protected you from plant toxins.

    Beyond that simple and obvious observation, do you really think that anything that doesn’t kill you outright is harmless? As I’ve mentioned before, synthetic pesticides have been positively linked to ADHD:

    http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/news/20100820/pesticide-exposure-linked-to-adhd-risk

    Evolution is notoriously bad at re-mediating issues that merely impact quality of life vs. imminent death. Consider tooth decay, back pain, mental illness and sickle-cell anemia for example.

    In other news, synthetic insecticides have also been linked to colony collapse disorder.

    http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/news/43568

    This is another example of how the human impact on the environment can destroy species faster than they can adapt.

  213. kewp,

    The homestead act was a government program that required homesteaders to plow up the prairie they homesteaded.
    This government mandated conversion of fragile prairie land to farmground set the stage for the dust bowl.

    This government supported destruction of fragile prairie habitat continued when government ag secretarty earl butz used his government position to urge farmers to “plant fence row to fence row”.

    The CRP is just the latest iteration of a government ag policy producing government programs that provides financial rewards for environmentally destructive farming.

  214. >Go eat some Amanita phalloides and let us know how well evolution has protected you from plant toxins.

    Are you being deliberately stupid as a form of humor, or did you fail to grasp the meaning of “do not pose a particularly novel threat in evolutionary terms”? Nature is not nerfworld, it includes plenty of lethal threats. But plants as toxic as amanita phalloides are rare – if humans and other animals had the kind of vulnerability to pesticides you propose, nothing could eat vegetables without dying.

    >In other news, synthetic insecticides have also been linked to colony collapse disorder.

    Most such “studies” aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Wake me up when there’s independent confirmation and at least a plausible guess about the mechanism of toxicity.

  215. Duracomm,

    Blaming the homestead act for the dust bowl is like blaming public roads for drunk driving deaths. Sure, they enabled the problem, but ultimately the real culprit is individual citizens making bad decisions.

    In the case of the dust bowl, the problem was one of poor land management. Namely many years of farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops. Which isn’t surprising when you think about it, as such practices are money losers in the short term. There is that dang hyperbolic discounting again!

  216. I’ve heard that the reason the homestead act led to bad agricultural practices is that the purpose was to get the urban poor out of the cities– these were people who didn’t know enough about farming.

    Pollan says that feedlots are the result of regulations– grains are subsidized, but it’s against the rules for farmers to use their own subsidized grain to feed their own cattle. Unfortunately, Pollan thinks he can come up with regulations which will only produce results he wants.

  217. ESR,

    I’m deliberate poking fun at your nonsensical position. Given that mushrooms can kill you, why is it such a stretch that pesticides can cause neurodegenerative diseases like autism or ADHD?

    Or in the specific case of endosulfan, cerebral palsy? Cite:

    http://journals.lww.com/epidem/Citation/2005/09000/Study_on_Health_Hazards_Associated_With_Endosulfan.157.aspx

    “Most such “studies” aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Wake me up when there’s independent confirmation and at least a plausible guess about the mechanism of toxicity.”

    You didn’t read the article:

    “So how do these insecticides achieve such a powerful long-term effect? The answer lies in the way that they work. Neonicotinoids bind irreversibly to receptors in the central nervous system of insects. “An insect has a limited amount of such receptors,” explained Jeroen van der Sluijs, a scientist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who has also worked on the problem. “The damage is cumulative: with every exposure more receptors are blocked until the damage is so big that the insect cannot function anymore and dies.”

  218. > Blaming the homestead act for the dust bowl is like blaming public roads for drunk driving deaths. Sure, they enabled the problem, but ultimately the real culprit is individual citizens making bad decisions.

    That’s why govt decisions are far superior. They’re made by unicorns.

    Regulation is systemic risk.

  219. @Nancy Lebovitz

    This is what I love about Libertarians. When the free market fails, its always because the gummint either regulated too little or too much. They can’t lose and the gummint can never win.

    On the subject of agriculture regulation; let me share one of my favorite sat images. (I used to work in an office where we had a satellite poster of this area). Just search ‘salton sea’ in google maps, turn on the satellite layer and scroll down to the border.

    Can anyone see the difference between regulated farming in the US vs. unregulated farming in Mexico?

  220. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are genetic diseases. You do not get diabetes from the food you eat you get it from your parents. If you have diabetes then some foods can and will exacerbate your illness. This is often the reason people are confused or misinformed about this.

    The dustbowl was caused by cyclical warming cycles and weather patterns. While it may have been made worse initially by common farming practices it was an inevitable result of weather pure and simple.

  221. >Given that mushrooms can kill you, why is it such a stretch that pesticides can cause neurodegenerative diseases like autism or ADHD?

    Nobody is denying that. What I’m objecting to is the notion that synthetic pesticides pose a special risk that natural ones do not. It’s all just carbon chains! Humans are in fact quite good at avoiding harm from such compounds. We have this thing called “skin”, you see. It has a layer of keratinized dead cells on for a reason. We also have a digestive system that is quite good at breaking up the pesticides secreted by, for example, cruciform vegetables. Without such defenses we’d be extinct. Pesticides are not a new problem!

  222. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are genetic diseases. You do not get diabetes from the food you eat you get it from your parents. If you have diabetes then some foods can and will exacerbate your illness. This is often the reason people are confused or misinformed about this.

    Heart disease may be genetic.

    Obesity isn’t a disease. Obesity is your body’s endocrine system following programming that served it quite well when we were hunter-gatherers and had irregular food supply issues. We’ve managed to beat that irregular food supply issue…but we haven’t beaten our cravings for salt, sweet and “crunchy”.

    In naturally occurring foods, salt as a taste is usually a signifier of high caloric foods. Sweet means that you’ve stumbled across perishable fruits in season (and the taste of alcohol means you’ve come across perishable fruits just out of season….) and crunchy foods, nobody’s sure of. Maybe the sensation of crunching the marrow of small animals, or just some random craving bundled with something else that didn’t kill our ancestors.

    Our marketing driven food industry has figured these out. There’s more HFCS in a jar of Pace salsa than there is in a 2 liter bottle of non-diet Coke. HFCS isn’t quite the same as table sugar; some people can taste the difference. It has more fructose in the mix compared to sucrose, fructose is more readily absorbed and it tastes sweeter…and we can taste that sweet (and notice that it hits the craving) even when it’s in jalapeno salsa with onions and diced tomatoes.

    Which leads to the next issue – diabetes, specifically insulin resistance diabetes.

    Lots of foods trigger the release of insulin; nearly everything that has fructose will do it, as fructose is the sugar our body can metabolize most readily. Most simple starches will do it as well. My own metabolism is mildly hypoglycemic; I tend to have low blood sugar levels normally, I tend to be better at breaking out reserves under moderate exercise, and I have difficulty putting on weight. And when I take a dose of something with fructose or starches, I produce insulin, which scavenges those energy rich carbohydrates, and puts them away – and usually drops the rest of my blood sugar levels in the process.

    At which point, I get sleepy. A medium bowl of pasta or a side of mashed potatoes is about the best sleep aid I’ve ever had.

    What happens with a percentage of the population is that their body becomes resistant to the insulin they produce. Nobody is sure why this happens, but it’s STRONGLY linked to both stress related hormones and a diet high in HFCS.

    Any place where the American diet has been exported, the obesity and type II diabetes rates have risen to US levels within a generation. If the cause were solely genetic diseases, this would not be the case.

    I strongly recommend Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories.

  223. I’m in the middle of reading Diabetes Rising, which is by a journalist with Type 1. The prevalence of both sorts of diabetes has been going up for the past century, and the disease is more complicated and less understood than you’d gather from popular press accounts.

    The book should be of interest to rationalists– it’s got plenty about various theories and the evidence for and against them. Oh, and types 1 and 2 aren’t nearly as simply distinct as is commonly said.

    I’ll be posting about the details when I’ve finished reading the book.

  224. @esr

    Now we are getting somewhere. What you are missing is that the mechanism of synthetic vs. ‘organic’ pesticides is almost always vastly different. See this article:

    http://gardening.about.com/od/gardenproblems/a/OrganicPesticid.htm

    For example, mineral oil smothers aphids vs. poisoning them. And its perfectly possible to smother someone with mineral oil, I’ll add. Its just not easy.

    Also note that the risk associated with organic pesticides is often different than that associated with synthetic ones. See: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0011250

    However, contrast this with the risk of organophosphate based insecticides.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organophosphate#Health_effects

    These are ‘organic’ chemicals and will still kill you in sufficient dosages. Some of these have even been weaponized, such as sarin gas. Others are critical components of life, such as DNA and RNA. In fact, the reason that they are so effective as insecticides and herbicides is that they are similar enough to the chemicals that power our biological processes to disrupt them.

    This leads back to my personal choice to shop organic by product.

  225. @GoneWithTheWind

    I had this debate on the JREF fora years ago until I was blue in the face. Its amazing how deep denial runs even amongst so-called skeptics and rationalists.

    Disease can have genetic and environmental origins. However, for the time being, given that we can’t change our DNA our only choice is address the environmental factors. If you are genetically predisposed to diabetes/heart disease than you need to be extra careful to mind your lifestyle if you want to stay healthy. If you know this and still chose to make unhealthy choices; well I have no sympathy for you. Sorry.

    I’ll make an exception for obesity; which as has been mentioned above is simply in our genetic code and a function of thermodynamics. More energy in than out and you get fat. Its that simple.

  226. @Andy Freeman
    >That’s why govt decisions are far superior. They’re made by unicorns.
    >Regulation is systemic risk.

    Good point. For example, the Bush administration spent eight years dismantling financial regulations that had been put in place as a reaction to the Great Depression.

    The net result being, unsurprisingly, another economic depression. I’ll take the unicorns!

  227. >More energy in than out and you get fat.Its that simple.

    No, it isn’t. Google for “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?”; this is one of the nyths the author busts while laying waste to two generations of bad dietary advice.

  228. @esr

    Atkins only works when people eat less. An 800 calorie buttered steak is less fattening than a 1,200 calorie fast food meal of a burger, fries and coke.

    This has been documented and proven:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3416637.stm

    What matters is reducing your caloric intake. If a high-protein diet helps you do this, good for you. There is still no magic involved.

  229. kewp – while not magic, the path by which excess carbohydrates get preferentially stored as fat whenever their energy value exceeds the energy used by the bipedal plains ape is pretty well documented.

    It’s a capability we selected for to help deal with irregular food supplies. Our cravings for foods that deliberately trigger this are there to make sure we stock up on carbs to store as fat to compensate for irregular food supplies.

    We have now managed to get rid of the irregular food supplies…but have not managed to switch off that programming. We have also managed to develop a market economy of packaged food producers that have learned to target that programming.

    And we’ve got lots and lots of endocrine triggers that nobody knows how the hell they work or why. The person who figures out how to give everyone the metabolism I had 15 years ago will make more money than Croesus knows what to do with….well, until the side effects kick in. :)

    My basic advice to anyone wanting to lose weight:

    1) Make a rule that says you can’t drink a glass of soda (or can of soda) until you’ve had 2x that volume of water first, and the water has to have been consumed no farther forward than 30 minutes.
    2) Get in the habit of walking. Park farther away from the door at the store. Use stairs rather than elevators. If you can configure your workspace to allow you to type and use the computer standing up, do so.
    3) Try for a diet that’s about 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs. DO NOT skip the fat; fat is the component in food that makes your brain say “I’ve had enough”. When eating carbs, go preferentially for vegetables and fruit, rather than bread, pasta or potatoes.
    4) Try to schedule your meals to occur at the same time every day; in an optimum world, you’ll be eating a mixture of carbs and fat early in the morning, a high protein meal in the early afternoon, 30-40 minutes after doing vigorous exercise and weight training, and a ‘balanced’ meal that’s smaller than either before going to bed.

    Most of the blood serum cholesterol in the human body comes through processes in the liver. The largest part of the process that generates cholesterol is breaking down fatty acids; the largest source of fatty acids that get broken down are from converting your own body fat to energy…which is why people who suddenly lose weight discover that their blood pressure spikes and their serum cholesterol levels go skyrocketing. The effect is temporary and fades when the new stable weight is set.

    Again, Gary Taubes “Good Calories, Bad Calories” is a good read on this subject. He’s got the statistics and longitudinal studies to break it down….but we’re still in the ‘phlogiston chemistry’ level of understanding how all the metabolic and endocrine systems work. We know what happens when we break a component of it, we don’t know how all those processes intermingle all that well.

  230. Ken,

    I’m not disagreeing with you. My own personal diet is a calorie restricted/high protein/low carb diet. And I’ll just say no to the soda (or any sweet drinks for that matter). The science is in favor as well:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_research_related_to_low-carbohydrate_diets#Meta-analytic_summaries

    The specific myth I’m addressing is that people on any of the various high-protein diets are actually consuming the same amount of calories as someone that is obese.

    People really underestimate how high calorie carb food/drink can be. A two liter of Coke has the same caloric content as 3-4 beef steaks, for example. So its no surprise people cut out the soda and mashed potatoes and lose weight. They just their calorie intake by 50%!

  231. Ken, how well tested is your advice? What proportion of the people who follow it lose weight? How much? Is the weight loss stable for at least 5 years? Are they healthier or just thinner?

    If they regain lost weight, do they also gain more weight on top of it?

    Your advice seems less dangerous than most, but I’ve reached the level of dubiousness where I’d want the whole cohort of people who tried it tracked to see if any developed eating disorders.

  232. Nancy, most of my advice is stuff I’ve gleaned from years of watching friends do crazy diets. Including Atkins, paleo diet and others. It’s advice I generally try to follow myself, and all I can really say is ‘it seems to work for me, and it seemed to work for friends of mine who were trying to lose weight without buying a gym membership.’

    The last part of it (eating certain foods at certain times of the day) and the first part (cutting sodas, even diet ones) seem to have the largest impact.

    But, no, it’s probably not gotten a study on that exact permutation of recommendations. It still boils down to:

    1) Reduce calories (or pseudo-calories) by cutting down soda intake.
    2) Increase exercise by walking more.
    3) 30/30/40 is reasonably close to Paleo-diet and recommendations from Taubes; it also maps to The Zone, which was one of the more successful diets tried by friends of mine.
    4) Be consistent about what you eat and when; load up on carbs early in the day so that they can power you through the day. Use protein in the middle of the day to avoid carbohydrate crashing, and (ideally) after a weight lifting workout to help build muscle mass in the window after exercise. Most of step 4 is a combination of assorted training table diets I’ve been on for endurance sports (carbo loading) and weight lifting (protein uptake window).

  233. Diabetes in this country is not actually increasing. What is increasing is testing and identifying diabetes. The author of Diabetes Rising probably did enough research to recognize this fact but didn’t want it to get in the way of a good book title.

    It is true that if you have diabetes and certain kinds of heart disease you can benefit from specific diets. What is not true is that those same diets will prevent diabetes or heart disease if you do not have those diseases. It would be like telling someone not to eat peanuts as a way of preventing peanut allergy.

    It is mythology that HFCS is somehow “different” then regular table sugar or that you can taste the difference. It is essentially the same thing as table sugar and it was intentionally designed to be that way so it would be easy for food producers to use. The name “high fructose corn syrup” originated in the fertile mind of an advertising executive who thought it might help sell it. This all happened in a time when health food nuts thought fructose (commonly found in fruits) was better for you then table sugar. So the whole name thingy was inaccurate from the start. The real reason food producers use HFCS is because it is cheaper AND because it is already in a liquid form and easier for them to use in an automated factory. Your body turns all sugar and all carbohydrates into glucose. Your body doesn’t know and couldn’t care if your soda was sweetened with HFCS or cane sugar.

    As for the famous sugar high; it is true that some people (a small percentage of people) have a different reaction to sugars (and starches) then others do. However it is worth knowing that 100% of people experience a dramatic rise in blood sugar after eating. This is normal not abnormal. If your body responds normally with insulin to control the sugar then there is no bad effect. If it does not then you may indeed have a serious health problem which diet modification can help you control. However none of this is a result of HFCS. That is pure mythology.

    To the “What if it’s all been a big fat lie” fan, ask yourself a simple question. If we all eat the same food/crap and pretty much we do, why are only 22% obese/overweight? Go to any McDonalds or other fast food outlet near a high school and you will see many school kids eating lunch. You will see skinny kids, normal weight kids and fat kids. How could that be if “bad dietary advice” makes us all fat??? We aren’t all fat and we pretty much all eat the same stuff. Most of us are skinny to normal and most of us eat the same thing the fat people do. It is genetic!! If your mother and/or father was fat you will probably be fat. If you are fat it will be impossible for you to diet down to a normal weight and stay that way for the rest of your life. Your body is working against you and it will win.

    There is no such thing as “junk food” or “good calories, bad calories”. You are either eating an adequate diet that provides your MDR of vitamins, minerals and nutrients or you are not. Everything you eat in excess of this is converted either to energy or to fat depending on your lifestyle and genes. You cannot make yourself “healthy” by eating any diet unless the diet you are eating is deficient. Most Americans eat a varied and adequate diet and do not need supplements, vitamin pills or “whole foods” or organic foods or whatever fad is making the rounds. As long as you do not eat a self-limited diet (like a calorie restricted high protein low carb diet for example) the American diet will provide everything you need. If you fall for fad diets then you may indeed be short changing yourself.

  234. Kewp,

    The point you are missing is that your 100 % all natural, organic food is loaded with 100 % all natural mutagens and toxins.

    >>>
    Plants have evolved a variety of pesticides and antifeedant compounds, many of which are reactive and toxic at some level – therefore, most (as in 99.99%, according to his estimate) of the pesticides in the human diet are those found in the plants themselves.

    The cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, mustard and so on) are particularly rich in compounds that will light up an Ames test.

    A fine article of his from 1990 (Ang. Chem. Int. Ed.,29, 1197) states that “. . .it is probably true that almost every plant product in the supermarket contains natural carcinogens.”

    And that’s before cooking. Many of these reactive compounds are destroyed by heating, but many others are formed, especially in browning or charring of proteinaceous foods.

    There are two ways to react to news like this: either you can panic at the thought that every meal you take is full of mutagens, or you can decide that (since people aren’t dropping all around you) that we’ve apparently got some method of dealing with them.

    That we do: the digestive processes, gut and liver especially, the same things that are the bane of medicinal chemists for tearing up our carefully-designed wonder drugs. They give the same treatment to most everything you eat. In most cases, they’re successful at detoxifying whatever compounds might be present, even if they were at harmful concentrations.

    >>>

    http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2002/07/30/the_ames_test_and_the_real_world.php

  235. Continuing the point for Kewp

    >>>

    Ames’s point is that the mental division many people have between “artificial” or “synthetic” chemicals (bad) and “natural” ones (good) is nonsense. The same number of toxic compounds are found in each category, and we’re exposed to far more of the latter.

    Instead of worrying about parts-per-billion of pesticide residues, we should worry about greater public health risks like smoking, alcohol, etc.

    Going crazy about the minute amounts of synthetic compounds that we can now detect not only diverts time and money from more useful concerns – it can lead to decisions that end up doing more harm than the compound residues ever could.

    Ame’s article is a fierce broadside against this sort of thinking.

    >>>

    http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2002/07/30/the_ames_test_and_the_real_world.php

  236. Duracomm,

    As your article states, the dose makes the poison. And apparently there is enough of a dose on fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides to cause brain damage in children. We’ve learned much since 2002:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organophosphate#Health_effects

    “A 2007 study linked the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos, which is used on some fruits and vegetables, with delays in learning rates, reduced physical coordination, and behavioral problems in children, especially ADHD.[2]

    A 2010 study has found that organophosphate exposure is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.[3]

    Another 2010 study found that organophosphate exposure is associated with an increased risk of ADHD in children. Researchers analyzed the levels of organophosphate residues in the urine of more than 1,100 children aged 8 to 15 years old, and found that those with the highest levels of dialkyl phosphates, which are the breakdown products of organophosphate pesticides, also had the highest incidence of ADHD. Overall, they found a 35% increase in the odds of developing ADHD with every 10-fold increase in urinary concentration of the pesticide residues. The effect was seen even at the low end of exposure: children who had any detectable, above-average level of pesticide metabolite in their urine were twice as likely as those with undetectable levels to record symptoms ADHD.[4]”

    You really need to get some new Libertarian talking points, guys!

  237. You really need to get some new Libertarian talking points, guys!

    The libertarian talking points are going to be the same as they’ve always been, because they are arguing from a priori assumptions, not empirical fact.

  238. Kewp,

    You linked three papers.

    One was embargoed until may 11, 2011 and addressed occupational (not food based) exposure to pesticides. The other two concerned ADHD.

    Pretty weak tea given that organophosphates have been in use for decades.

  239. Kewp,

    Government action is the most terrifyingly effective environmental destroying machine there is.

    Government has a vast amount of resources at their disposal which enables them to cause massive environmental destruction.

    If you really want to help the environment you will learn and understand that.

    Here is an example to help you understand just how environmentally destructive government is.

    http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0706f.asp

    Destroying the Everglades

    >>>>

    In 1948, Congress approved the Central and South Florida Project, which authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to divert all of the water flowing south out of Lake Okeechobee.

    The effects on the Everglades were devastating.

    According to the National Park Service

    The numbers of wading birds, such as egrets, herons, and ibises, have been reduced by 90%.

    Entire populations of animals, including the manatee, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, the Miami black-headed snake, the wood stork, and the Florida panther, are at risk of disappearing.

    Massive die-offs of seagrass beds in Florida Bay have been followed by the extensive losses of wading birds, fish, shrimp, sponges, and mangroves.
    >>>>

  240. Duracomm,

    Firstly, I have a background in environmental science and work at a top research institution. I understand the scientific and political issues involved here better than you ever could.

    Second, the environment doesn’t need help from anyone. The absolute worst we could do would be to kill ourselves off. This is our game to lose.

    Beyond that, I am entirely apolitical and freely acknowledge that governments do bad things. For example, gassing people with organophosphate based nerve agents. Or damaging the Everglades (which was done to help special interests in the private sector, of course).

    I fail to see what this has to do with the simple reality that maybe some synthetic pesticides are bad for you.

    If you guys actually believed in free markets you wouldn’t devote so much effort to sabotaging them

  241. > Bush administration spent eight years dismantling financial regulations that had been put in place as a reaction to the Great Depression.

    Interestingly enough, Clinton was president during those years.

    The Great Recession was triggered by a Dem push for home ownership by the “underserved” which was largely done during the Clinton years. Bush left it alone. McCain tried to get some oversight into a small part of it and got his teeth kicked in in 2005/2006. (McCain is largely a dolt, but he was moving in the correct direction on this one. Barney Frank should be in jail.)

    Fun fact – AIG’s insurance for CDOs was the result of regulator requests. They needed an excuse to push more CDOs onto bank balance sheets. (Banks were pushing back on the basis of risk so the regulators invented “no risk” CDOs via insurance.)

    The bank asset crisis was largely a consequence of regulators encouraging banks to hold certain kinds of things as regulated assets. The encouragement took the form of tax benefits and “recommendations”. When those things took a hit, banks were both over-allocated AND largely in the same boat.

    And regulators are the folks who kewp wants to give more power.

  242. > The libertarian talking points are going to be the same as they’ve always been, because they are arguing from a priori assumptions, not empirical fact.

    We’re still waiting for Read to explain how his “Dunbar-size self-sustaining” community will actually work. We know that it won’t have bicycles or even iron plows pulled by horses. (It can have horses, but iron isn’t universally available. Structural wood isn’t available everywhere either.)

  243. @Andy Freeman
    >Fun fact – AIG’s insurance for CDOs was the result of regulator requests. They needed an excuse to push more >CDOs onto bank balance sheets. (Banks were pushing back on the basis of risk so the regulators invented “no >risk” CDOs via insurance.)

    You are cracking me up.

    First of all, the swaps market is unregulated (which is why they are called swaps and not insurance. Insurance is regulated). Bond insurance is different.

    Second, the fact that the swaps market is unregulated is what allowed AIG to get so leveraged and ultimately bankrupted them. It’s perfectly possible to sell a trillion dollars of swaps against a dollar of debt.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, I know this because my broker helped create a hedge fund that purchased swaps against subprime CDOs from AIG as a speculative investment. No regulators involved. And it was these sorts of deals that bankrupted AIG.

    You are in *way* over your head here, buddy.

  244. Also – one part of the narrative that’s parroted by the Right on this – the “Banks were forced by the CRA to invest in poor neighborhoods with high risk…” is demonstrably false.

    The evil loans banks were forced to write for Social Justice, the regulations of the CRA?

    1) They’re mandated by law to be fixed rate mortgages.
    2) They’ve had a lower rate of foreclosure than other ‘owner occupied’ mortgages of comparable demographic slices.
    3) The homeowners who get them have to go through a more thorough credit check than usual.

    Now the program is ‘new’ which means that it hasn’t been infested by Peter Principle risers.

    The vast majority of ‘upside down’ mortgages aren’t for owner occupied homes. They’re from people caught out on ‘investment houses’ (buy low, refurb, sell and make a quick buck) when the game of musical chairs ended by the calliope falling through the roof.

  245. @Ken Burnside

    There also was the issue of engineering CDO products that were designed to fail; as Paulson did via Goldman-Sachs.

    Whats so amusing to me is that I’m in favor of regulations precisely because I know how easy it is for amoral creeps like my broker and myself to grift the system!

  246. kewp: you keep talking about “free markets”. There is no such thing as a free market. There are only markets regulated by customers and markets regulated by governments. Somehow, the markets regulated by governments never turn out very well for customers.

  247. Thanks, Ken.

    The other piece is that everything I’ve heard (ok, mostly from This American Life) said that the banks were scrambling to offer bad loans. If it had just been a regulation they didn’t like, they could have dragged their feet.

  248. Most of the bad loans were directly or indirectly made by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac not the banks. These loans were fully insured and should have been safe investments and then they were bundled and sold. This was the result of law changes by congress in 1999 and not simply some “regulation” they were mandated to make these loans. It was an incredibly bad idea which could only hvae ended in the way we have seen, i.e. defaults and bankruptcies by both individuals and companies too big to fail. This change in the law was spearheaded in congress by Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. As this depression unfolds do not forget Barney and Chris brought it to you…

  249. Many of the regulations dismantled that led to the ‘boom-bust’ economy we’ve experienced since the mid-90s were dismantled by Clinton in the ’93-94 time frame. They triggered the ’90s boom – just like Hayekians thought they would.

    The belief that enlightened self interest would countervail the incentives to ‘game the system’ was naive. The basic rule of investing is that everyone is working on incomplete information. The incentives to make sure that your information is more complete than your competitors starts out with research bureaus. It inevitably ends with disinformation campaigns, ever more leveraged positions based on continuing disinformation, and collusion.

    This is (to me), a direct effect of the idea that you can own a part of a company, get a dividend (or watch the share rise in value) and not have to care about how the company serves its customers.

  250. Russell,

    We had a market regulated by consumers elected to public office and governed by oath of office, oversight and transparency. The Bush admin. largely did away with this, via either outright deregulation or crony capitalism. We are in Depression 2.0 as a result.

    You are mistaken in thinking that this is consumer vs. government. It’s really consumer vs. producer (aka businesses). And as has been made perfectly clear over the last eight years, you can’t trust the producers to regulate themselves. The credit derivatives my broker short-sold all had AAA ratings, for example. Once you realize that government is simply a civil institution to protect consumers from abuses from producers you will realize how intellectually, morally and economically bankrupt your adherence to market fundamentalism is.

    And for the record, Clinton, Greenspan and Obama are culpable as well. They are all plutocrats, and GWB was their King.

    Ken,

    Google ‘The Great American Bubble Machine’. The housing bubble was deliberately engineered by Goldman-Sachs as a product their hedge-fund customers could sell short. And you are wrong, the basically rule of investing is that only the losers are working on incomplete information.

  251. Kewp,

    Government policy has been knee deep in the housing market for decades and it is certain that government action contributed to the creation of the housing bubble.

    Evidence of government’s contribution to the creation of the housing bubble is the staggering amount of bad debt the government sponsored enterprises Fannie and Freddie own.

    http://city-journal.org/2009/19_2_homeownership.html

    >>>
    Nearly a century of Washington’s efforts to promote homeownership has produced one calamity after another.

    As Washington grapples with the current mortgage crisis, advocates from both parties are already warning the feds not to relax their commitment to expanding homeownership—even if that means reviving the very kinds of programs and institutions that got us into trouble.
    >>>>

  252. Kewp,

    Government leverages stupidity. When you understand that you will be able to gain some insight on ways to improve and protect the environment.

    Take a look at the CRP program you lauded.

    Environmentally irresponsible farmers who destroyed highly erodible, fragile grasslands became eligible for large amounts of government money. Stupid to reward bad behavior but that is what a lot of government ag programs do. And when you reward stupid behavior you will get more of it.

    Farmers put farm ground into CRP and used the government cashflow to purchase more fragile grassland and plow it up. Not surprising that they would continue their environmentally destructive practices, the government made environmental destruction highly profitable.

    Now we have the spectacle of farmers plowing up ground that was once enrolled in the CRP. This is driven by high commodity prices and idiot government biofuel policies is one of the substantial causes of those high commodity prices.

    History repeats and anyone who had any real world understanding of ag polciy would understand this. All they had to do was look at the soil bank program.

    Try spending some time on the ground away from your top research institution. You might gain some insight that would enable you to start understanding ag policy and how it drives environmental destruction.

    You would eventually understand that there is no hope of reforming ag subsidies. The environmentally responsible thing to do is to end them.

  253. Duracomm,

    I’ve made it clear we live in a plutocracy. Our government is little more than a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries, the sugar conglomerates and few other big players. A former CEO of Goldman-Sachs was even the Treasury secretary under Bush! Creating an even bigger plutocracy by losing whatever little safeguards we still have in place is a severely bad idea.

    Your comically incompetent misunderstanding of the CRP is yet another example of how Libertarianism leverages stupidity. Try researching things for yourself instead of parroting talking points. Specifically:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_Reserve_Program#Landowner_Requirements

    You have to actually have owned the land for at least 12 months *and* it has to have been recognized as ‘cropland’ for 4 of the previous 6 crop years. If you looked into the program you would see that its mostly being used to reclaim marginal bits of cropland that were money losers for their owners anyway. And even you can’t deny we haven’t had another Dust Bowl.

    And for the record, I don’t actually support subsidies except for small, organic farms. Having a nationwide network of small, self-sustaining farms is good for our national security; like a TCP/IP for agriculture. In the macro perspective, it also helps fight deflation and high unemployment as they require more human labor to operate. Lets put those hippies to work! But to be fair, if I had to chose between our current subsidy program and none at all, I would chose nothing. I’m not disagreeing with you.

    Take care to try and understand my position before you label me an emo tree-hugger. I’m much more a Teddy Roosevelt styled conservationist.

  254. > It inevitably ends with disinformation campaigns, ever more leveraged positions based on continuing disinformation, and collusion.

    Horse-shit. It ends with real-time feeds and arbitrage.

  255. Kewp,

    There has been a revolving door between goldman sachs and the federal government for decades.

    The only solution to the problem of corporate rent seeking driven by concentrated benefits and diffuse costs is to shrink the size of government and restrict it to activities that do not lend themselves to corporate rent seeking.

    Nothing else will work.

  256. Kewp,

    I like your comments they do an excellent job of providing teachable moments.

    But you should grow your knowledge base before accusing other of having “comically incompetent misunderstanding” of issues. Glass houses, rocks, etc, etc.

    1. There was no repeat of the dustbowl prior to the CRP starting up. Your continual linkage of the the CRP and the dustbowl nicely illustrates your ignorance regarding the CRP and how it works in the real world.

    2. Nothing in your link (another wikipedia one) contradicts anything I have previously said.

    Nothing in the rules you cite or any of the CRP regulations prevented farmers from

    1. Putting farm ground they owned into the CRP
    2. Purchasing fragile, highly erodible prairie habitat
    3. Plowing the newly purchased highly erodible habitat and converting it to mono culture crop production.

    I don’t have to go to wikipedia to research things for myself, I watched it happen.

    Three months ago I watched CRP land being plowed up and put back in mono culture crop production.

    An absolutely predictable outcome. All one had to do is be aware of what happened with the soil bank program.

  257. Duracomm,

    You are circling the drain at this point.

    The CRP is part of NRCS, which itself is a product of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Resources_Conservation_Service

    “The agency was founded largely through the efforts of Hugh Hammond Bennett, a soil conservation pioneer who had worked for the Department of Agriculture since the early 20th century.[3] On September 13, 1933, the Soil Erosion Service was formed in the Department of the Interior, with Bennett as chief. The service was transferred to the Department of Agriculture on March 23, 1935, and was shortly thereafter combined with other USDA units to form the Soil Conservation Service by the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935, passed by Congress on April 20, 1932.[4][5] Hugh Bennett continued as chief, a position he held until his retirement in 1951. On October 20, 1994, the agency was renamed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994.[4]”

    You have no understanding of history.

    Beyond that, your talking points are becoming laughably silly. Point by point.

    1. You can only put farmland you own into the CRP. Duh.

    2. This is an example of a free market transaction. Are you suggesting the government ban ownership of private land? Do you know who else suggested that?

    3. This has nothing to do with the CRP. The CRP only covers converting existing cropland.

    Everything you mention above is a product of the private sector. It has nothing to do with the government or government regulations. Or the CRP.

    As far as reverting CRP land to mono culture crop production, that is the right of the landowner and they are just putting it back to what it was before. As I’ve mentioned it has to have been actively farmed for at least four years before even being eligible.

    Overall CRP is a net win. Educate yourself, look up studies on the CRP via google scholar.

  258. Kewp, I pretty much agree with you except for the insulting libertarians bit, being as I are one myself.

    I saw The Big Uneasy last night– it’s an account of the flooding from Katrina being the result of energetic multi-decade incompetence of the Army Corps of Engineers. The movie doesn’t offer solutions– the levies have been rebuilt wrong again. I don’t know whether the pumps are any better. The Army Corps of Engineers is still politically invulnerable.

    It’s humanly possible to have competent government-run flood control. The Dutch do it.

  259. The answer to your question is, well, if you are buying food you are already participating in the dangerous delusion of currency as something valuable and abstracted from reality. Barter for your food or better yet, grow your own. Ranting and raving about delusional Vegans and fair tradists is not going to help. Sure, their understanding of the truth is imperfect and does pander to some misguided ideas, but, is it really all that bad compared to the kind of greed and wanton disregard for environmental and other consequences that seems to drive the commercial food production? Many of the crop issues such as wheat rust were created by the huge scale monocultural production methods employed by big agribusiness. And there’s a big difference between cross pollinating tomatoes and gene-splicing bacteria into corn so it will produce it’s own pesticides. I’d say your vegan chip manufacturers are better than frito lay but not as good as making your own at home with food grown in your backyard.

  260. Nancy,

    I’m livid with libertarians as their populist incarnation rejects free market economics. A concept I happen to be somewhat enamored of.

    Re: competent Dutch flood control. This only happened in the wake of their own Katrina in 1953

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1953

    Governments and private industry share a common trait of being reactive vs. proactive. When I was in college 15 years ago, levee failure in New Orleans was taught as an example of an environmental disaster waiting to happen. The citizens of the area all knew the risk and they got the government they deserve; they are as culpable as anyone.

    Re: ‘The Big Uneasy’, While I’m a Harry Shearer fan, I’m not sure he would be my go-to guy for critiquing civil engineering. Plenty of blame to go around for sure; but for a start we might consider as a nation taking environmental issues a little more seriously.

  261. The U.S. is in the unique position of being (a) extremely large, and (b) having a population better diffused over that extremely large than anywhere else.

    The U.S. is also in a unique position of not giving a shit about infrastructure. Europeans are much more willing to eat costs and therefore invest in continuously improving infrastructure than Americans, who seem to suffer from a chronic case of sunk-cost fallacy. As a result your average European is used to having truly high-speed broadband access from anywhere, driveable roads, and spotlessly clean rail and metro stations and train cars — things which are luxuries here.

    Plenty of blame to go around for sure; but for a start we might consider as a nation taking environmental issues a little more seriously.

    Good luck getting that to happen. I think the chronic sunk-cost fallacy has a lot to do with the problem here, in addition to an entrained revulsion (particularly in red states like Louisiana) to considering issues on environmental grounds.

  262. Kewp,

    The teachable moment your provide this time is how ignorant but overconfident folks like yourself promote environmental destruction.

    Lets unpack part of your recent gibberish and illustrate how ignorant and confused your are.

    >>>
    As far as reverting CRP land to mono culture crop production, that is the right of the landowner and they are just putting it back to what it was before.
    >>>

    Land was supposed to be enrolled in the CRP program because it was highly fragile and prone to erosion and soil loss. In other words the land was supposed to be in the CRP because farming it was an environmental disaster.

    In spite of this and after years of receiving government money to protect this highly erodible fragile ground the farmer decides to plow it out and convert it back to monoculture crop production.

    1. This proves the CRP was counterproductive and a complete waste of money. After the farmer sucked up government money for years he destroys the land again and puts it right back into being highly erodible mono culture farmground. Waste, waste, and more waste.

    2. The counterproductive part comes from the fact that the farmer had money from the highly lucrative CRP program that he could use to purchase more fragile land and convert it from biotically diverse prairie to mono culture government subsidized crop production.

    3. High commodity prices are the economic driver of this environmentally disastrous conversion to mono culture farming.

    Commodity prices are high because the US government has a vast array of policies that artificially inflate the value of mono culture crop over what their actual free market value is.

    A great illustration of this artificial price bloat is the warehouses stuffed with dairy product you mentioned up thread.

    In the face of this ongoing, government driven, environmental destruction you still refuse to acknowledge how destructive government programs like the CRP are.

    You need to decide what is more important to you, big government liberalism or the environment.

    Because in the US the two of them can’t coexist.

  263. >in addition to an entrained revulsion (particularly in red states like Louisiana) to considering issues on environmental grounds.

    The red states have come to believe that “environmental grounds” are normally nothing more than a thin pretext for nanny-state meddling. Sadly, this belief is well-founded, and the environmentalists have no one to blame for the resulting backlash but themselves. I mourn the missed opportunity, because some of the issues used so pretextually are real.

  264. To Jeff Read: European countries are small and this makes it much easier to provide “high-speed broadband access from anywhere”. It simply isn’t cost effective or worthwhile to do that in the U.S.

    As for rail transportation I visit Europe and I ride Amtrak and use subways in the U.S. The comparisons are closer to the same then you imply. The Paris subway is no better or worse then Boston or New York. Not cleaner or safer and no faster. Most European countries have under invested in their highway infrastructure and their traffic congestion is incredibly bad. Are you sure you are talking about the same Europe I visit?

  265. A few points about farming in general, how it relates to organic production, and why government ag policy actively inhibits organic production.

    The single biggest, unavoidable cost with ag production is land. And it is kind of difficult to farm without land.

    Government programs like CRP have artificially increased land prices far above their productive value. This is the root cause of two critical problems:

    1. High land cost require larger production volume to pay for it.

    2. The high land cost are a substantial barrier to entry and makes it very difficult for young people or others with fresh ideas to enter agriculture.

    The two prong result of government policy is one of the big reasons organic production is difficult.

    A.) The high land cost puts organic production at an economic disadvantage.

    B.) Worse high land costs makes innovation and uptake of things like organic production much more difficult. New producers with new ideas cannot gain access to the land needed to implement and test their new ideas.

    In other words creative destruction is absent from ag. Government policy has made it more static than it would be without government intervention.

    Those who support organic production need to understand the most effective way to enable organic production is not to promote and talk about organic it is to end government involvement in the ag sector.

  266. The levy failure was not the fault of the Army Corp of Engineers. New Orleans was the most corrupt city in the world and it had multiple levy districts who got money from the federal and state governments to build and maintain levees but in fact they wasted and stole that money instead of using it for the levees. The state knew this and of course got their share so they protected the scam. Those levees were not built to withstand a Katrina. The low pressure, rather then the wind speed or even the rain, was the levy killer. This was a concious decision because of the extrodinary costs involved to actually protect New Orleans. You have to go there and see the situation to really understand it. The city should not have been rebuilt. They should have purchased property further inland and subdivided it and sold the lots to the New Orleans residents. Then they should have removed/burned all the debris and removed the levees and given the swamp back to nature.

  267. >Are you sure you are talking about the same Europe I visit?

    Of course not. He’s talking about the idealized Europe of left-wing fantasy.

  268. kewp: Just out of curiosity, how is it that the things you’re saying directly contradict my direct experiences and the experiences of the vast majority of people who have participated in this conversation? While most people here disagree with you, it’s been my experience that folks around here don’t lie to win an argument (and if they do, the rest of us are absolutely merciless about pounding them for it).

    Is it possible that there’s a vast libertarian conspiracy to deny the truth that you are aware of but for some reason we cannot see? Do you think that everyone here is self deluded?

    Not trying to pick a fight here, I just don’t understand why you’re apparent experience (not opinion, but your stated experiential knowledge) in the world is so diametrically different from many others here. It’s not like you’re arguing with a much of rednecks at a tractor pull (although I could see how you would get that impression talking to me :^), these folks are mostly educated well above even the average internet user, and mostly have IQ’s well north of 120, many are worldly (I can’t claim that myself) and many have the similar nack of seeing HOW things work and understanding them at core level that is peculiar to the hacker breed (I personally internalize these things a models, don’t know about the rest here but it seems to be similar).

    Could you attempt to explain such differences? I am VERY curious about it as I can find no plausible model for it that does not involve deception or appeal to authority (e.g. “I read a book that said …”). How did you world view get so vastly different from ours.

    ESR: I apologize in advance for hijacking this thread, but this is something that I truely want to understand and am willing to be singed by your flames to come a little closer to understanding the phenomenon. It’s all my fault. Mia Culpa.

  269. As for rail transportation I visit Europe and I ride Amtrak and use subways in the U.S. The comparisons are closer to the same then you imply. The Paris subway is no better or worse then Boston or New York. Not cleaner or safer and no faster.

    So Parisians have to suffer through the frequent delays, faltering safety record, and severe underfunding issues that, say, the T has in Boston? Comforting. But it directly contradicts the trends as reported to me by frequent visitors to and former inhabitants of Europe (mainly Germany and Italy).

    To be fair to Americans, I’ve ridden the MAX system in Portland, Oregon, too; and it is much better by far than any other municipal rail system I’ve been on (though it gets sluggish downtown due to frequent stops in the shopping district; and coverage is not nearly as extensive as the T or the NYC subway). I’ve also been told that it’s probably the closest thing we have to “modern” municipal rail from a European (specifically German) perspective.

  270. After Katrina, I got to see a “500 year flood” from, well, right in the middle of it in Iowa.

    In Iowa, we had graft and corruption (and three senior Congresscritters) after the Great Flood of ’93.

    In Iowa, our graft and corruption looks like this:

    “Hey, Bob. The specs call for a 10 foot levee that’s 2 feet thick. How much extra would it cost to make that 14 feet and 3?”

    “You have the money for that?”

    “Nope, but I’ve got a Congressman’s office number.”

    Which meant that in 2008, when we had the worst floods in memory, everything along the northern third of Iowa held solid. Which meant that the flood regulation installations that were downstream of us in Des Moines, broke.

    It wouldn’t’ve broken if our stuff hadn’t held.

    Interestingly enough, more people were put out of their homes by that set of floods than were put out by Katrina. They were put out in a network of much smaller communities, over a smaller area.

    And we seem to have recovered faster, too.

    “From the blessings of FEMA, spare us, O Lord.”

  271. @dgreer
    >Just out of curiosity, how is it that the things you’re saying directly contradict my direct experiences and the experiences of the vast majority of people who have participated in this conversation? While most people here disagree with you, it’s been my experience that folks around here don’t lie to win an argument (and if they do, the rest of us are absolutely merciless about pounding them for it).

    That’s a great question! Glad you asked.

    Two psychological issue are at play here. First is the confirmation bias:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

    The peanut gallery here is essentially composed of wingnut libertarians; so no surprise everything is seen through that filter. And I’m sorry you consider these people educated and well informed. You really should get out more.

    Look at Duracomm for example. If you actually read anything about the CRP, you would realize what he is claiming is the exact opposite of what is happening. This is direct from the WP article, for example:

    “Moreover, the CRP program is considered to be undesirable by many land owners because it prevents or minimized the use of their land for agricultural production, not only decreasing farm income, but also decreasing over-all food production in a world with an ever increasing demand for food.”

    Note that farmers participating in the CRP actually *lose* money. The rental payments are less than they would make working the land. But Duracomm literally cannot parse the above statement, his confirmation bias is so strong. Given that I’m apolitical (I’ve only voted once) I don’t have any biases except a general one towards science/truth, if that even could be considered a bias.

    Or another example is the conversation regarding the housing bust. Despite the fact that I shorted subprime mortgages via my broker (who made millions) and made money off the AIG bailout; you still see libertarians claim this was a product of regulators and government intervention. Even when I’m acting as a whistleblower and pointing out what a horrible idea naked credit default swaps are (which are totally unregulated). Again the confirmation bias is so strong they can’t see fraud in the free market even when its right in front of their face. And someone that participated in and perpetuated that fraud is admitting it!

    The second psychological issue is the Dunning-Kruger effect:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

    In a nutshell, incompetent people tend to over-estimate their competence and underestimate the competence of others. Also note that this phenomenon is most pronounced among Americans.

    A good example is ESR and Ken Burnside’s “Data Against Demagogues” project. Here incompetent amateurs have convinced themselves that they are more competent to run climate models than professional scientists with PhD’s. Observers will note this project never went anywhere, unsurprisingly.

    >Is it possible that there’s a vast libertarian conspiracy to deny the truth that you are aware of but for some reason we cannot see? Do you think that everyone here is self deluded?

    Now that you mention it; there actually is. I’ve been tracking it for a few years and the story just broke in the media recently. Allow me to introduce you to the Koch Bros:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer

    In summary, their combined wealth of 40 billion dollars puts them behind only Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in the list of wealthiest Americans. They also happen to be Libertarians, the most powerful ones in the world. Ever hear of the Cato Institute? Their father, Charles Koch founded it. More details here:

    http://www.prwatch.org/node/9396

    These wonder twins are behind more than a few nefarious activities. Including some of the most heinous environmental crimes in U.S. history. See:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Koch_Industries#Convictions_for_Environmental_crimes

    “And in the final months of the Clinton Presidency the Justice Department levelled a ninety-seven-count indictment against the company, for covering up the discharge of ninety-one tons of benzene, a carcinogen, from its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas”

    Yikes. And it gets better; they are also funding a disinformation campaign against climate science. See:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Koch_Industries#Climate_Change_Denial

    Ever wonder why ESR was so quick to jump on the ClimateGate hoax? He works for them!

    http://www.cato-unbound.org/contributors/eric-s-raymond/

    What’s especially delicious about ESR’s affiliation with that Koch Industries is that they literally built out the Evil Empire. And I mean the Stalin era Soviet Union, not Microsoft:

    http://www.alternet.org/economy/146504/the_roots_of_stalin_in_the_tea_party_movement

    Kind of puts ESR’s rabid commie accusations in a different light, eh?

    >Could you attempt to explain such differences? I am VERY curious about it as I can find no plausible model for it that does not involve deception or appeal to authority (e.g. “I read a book that said …”). How did you world view get so vastly different from ours.

    I think in a nutshell its because I source my world-view from reality and my own enlightened self-interest; not those of the Koch Brothers, whom have spent millions defining yours. Whats kind of pathetic about this whole exercise is that its actually our government that’s protecting us from the Libertarians; not vice-versa. The Koch’s would literally poison your families well if it would save them money.

    Whelp, I’m about done here and will take my exit before ESR throws one of his famous tantrums and bans me. In passing I’ll toss out some amusing anagrams of Eric S. Raymond, that are obviously proof positive he is a commie plant.

    A Red Cronyism
    Is Red Acronym
    Red Scam Irony
    Red Army Scion (my personal favorite)
    Sir Coy Red Man

    Cheers, and come on people, don’t be such tools!

  272. >Ever wonder why ESR was so quick to jump on the ClimateGate hoax? He works for them!

    You’re a paranoid loon. I have never “worked for”, consulted for, nor received any other form of compensation from the Cato Institute. And I was a climate skeptic long before the degree of fraud in the so-called “science” of AGW became as publicly apparent as it is now.

  273. Why is it the stupidest most ignorant twats have the most to say, and post the most links?

    “The very worst are full of passionate intensity…”

  274. dgreer,

    Kewp is one of those smart folks who don’t realize how clueless they are. His combination of arrogance and ignorance is entertaining to watch. I used to think folks like him were trolls but sadly there are individuals who are that ignorant.

    But apparently he does have a background in environmental science and works at a top research institution. What kewp sadly lacks is any practical knowledge or on the ground experience.

    Here is another teachable moment he provides, illustrating his economic ignorance this time, he said.

    >>>
    Note that farmers participating in the CRP actually *lose* money. The rental payments are less than they would make working the land
    >>>

    That was most definitively not true when the farmers enrolled in CRP or they would not have enrolled in it. He believes that someone would voluntarily enroll in a program that cost them money.

    But that does not square with what he wants to believe so he can’t accept the plain economic truth.

    His belief in big government is more important to him than preserving the environment.

  275. Kewp said,

    >>>
    Look at Duracomm for example. If you actually read anything about the CRP, you would realize what he is claiming is the exact opposite of what is happening.
    >>>

    What’s truly entertaining is that while kewp was getting his background in environmental science and getting ready to work at a top research institution I was out in the real world.

    I was on the ground watching the destruction of vast amounts of prairie as it was converted to mono culture crop production.

    I watched the CRP program come out and witnessed the substantial monetary rewards it gave to the farmers who were responsible for this destruction. Contrary to what kewp thinks there was a stampede to sign up for CRP because it was so financially lucrative.

    More land would have signed up for it but enrollment in the CRP was limited to around 25 % of the farmground in any one county.

    History repeats and as we saw with the soil bank most of the land is going to be pulled out of the CRP and be returned to mono culture crop production.

    The next round of destruction is underway, driven by big government fans like kewp and their idiot policies.

    If he combined his background in environmental science and work at a top research institution with a little real world experience he might gain some understanding of just how environmentally destructive folks like him are.

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/environment/2008-03-27-farming-plowing-grasslands_N.htm

    >>>>
    America’s grasslands vanishing amid agricultural boom

    The USA’s open plains and prairies are threatened by soaring grain prices that have increased their value as cropland. Grain prices have been driven up by a seemingly insatiable worldwide appetite for food and by federal energy policies promoting corn-based ethanol that are working at cross purposes with government programs designed to conserve open spaces.

    As a result, landowners in South Dakota and across the USA’s Farm Belt are converting to cropland marginally productive acres that for decades — in some cases, centuries — have remained uncultivated because farming them wouldn’t have been profitable or because of their environmental value.
    >>>>

  276. Kewp says:
    >>> Whelp, I’m about done here and will take my exit before ESR throws one of his famous tantrums and bans me. In passing I’ll toss out some amusing anagrams of Eric S. Raymond, that are obviously proof positive he is a commie plant.

    A Red Cronyism
    Is Red Acronym
    Red Scam Irony
    Red Army Scion (my personal favorite)
    Sir Coy Red Man

    God Eric please ban this guy. I really cannot take much more of him and his attempts at “humour.”

    And if you think Eric is taking money or something from the Cato institute…. Jesus tap dancing Christ I do not know where to begin with that…

  277. >His belief in big government is more important to him than preserving the environment.

    That’s been obvious for several days from his language and tone. He’s reached a new level by alleging that I’m a tool of the Koch brothers, though – you should evaluate all his claims about other “facts” on the assumption that he’s a paranoid nutcase who sees conspiracies everywhere.

  278. kewp: yeah, you’re confused. I can see that. I’m trying to unconfuse you. No, you don’t get to say that the government is regulating in the same manner as customers — it’s not possible to get the information out of customers, so government always regulates differently than do customers.

    Government as a civil institution? When the government gives up its ability to use violence to solve problems, I’ll start believing that. Until then, I have to conclude that you’re blind to the violence inherent in government action.

    Now, I do agree with you that corporations do have an interest in controlling government — but that’s only because customers have given up their regulatory role and delegated it to government — which immediately set about corrupting itself.

    I reject the idea of “market fundamentalism”. It tries to create a pastiche of two independent ideas: markets regulated by customers rather than government, and religious fundamentalism, which ignores facts in favor of opinion. The first can be easily shown to be based on facts, and the latter is a stinking pile of manure. Mix them together and you’ve got your own ideas, not mine.

  279. >God Eric please ban this guy. I really cannot take much more of him and his attempts at “humour.”

    You know better. I don’t ban people for being obnoxious or having ideas I disagree with; I won’t even ban people who accuse me of being a paid agent of INSERT-EVIL-HERE. I agree that kewp is an annoying, ignorant tool whose degree of disconnection from reality is exceeded only by his self-righteousness, but that’s not sufficient reason to ban him either. He has a couple more levels of descent into trollishness before I’d consider banning him., and who knows…he might catch a clue, or go away. In the meantime, consider him a continuing education in Gramscian brain damage. You have to grok how these people think in order to defeat them.

  280. Gone with the Wind, if the major problem with the levees was with the local government and not the Army Corps of Engineers, why wasn’t the Corps doing some serious whistle-blowing about it before the fact?

  281. I won’t even ban people who accuse me of being a paid agent of INSERT-EVIL-HERE.

    Gee, Eric, if you’re a paid agent of the Tea Party movement, the Koch brothers, or former Soviet communists, it seems they’re really not getting their money’s worth. Better lay on the propaganda a little harder, huh?

    BTW–the cognitive dissonance around the idea the Cato Institute was founded by someone working for communists hurts my brain. The two ideologies represented by each of those groups couldn’t possibly be more polar opposites. Of course, those wearing their tinfoil hats will just be thinking “What better way to hide it?” ;)

  282. ESR Said:
    “I definitely have “organic” tastes. I don’t eat or drink things with high-fructose corn syrup in them because the stuff tastes to me like burnt plastic. Give me free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, yes, because factory-farmed animals fed on corn mush, rapeseed, and bone meal produce bland, characterless meat. I like artisan breads made without preservatives and eaten the day they were baked because compared to that experience conventional packaged bread is like chewing a bad grade of foam rubber. ”

    If you buy food to taste good, buy it to taste good. Back in the 1970’s I found “health food” which tasted better. I was an under weight 13 year old. I talked my mom into buying me treats because it was yummy. Several adults and my peers expressed dismay, “how could I eat that cardboard?” Sometimes the question would involve “graze on grass” or “eat those rocks.”
    I maintained I ate what I liked, and i hadn’t given up junk food. I enjoyed white pita bread. Some adults into “health food” insisted I would soon no longer like Almond Joys, Ho Ho’s, pepsi and other colas, white bread,or fast food burgers. That never happened either.

    Now I’m in my 50’s. I consitantly buy organic eggs, because they taste better. I like fancy white pita, paan, and various Italian breads, Yes, the organic versions taste better. I’ve developed a love olive oil drizzeled over blue potatoes. I buy organic chips, if I’m needing to some chips When the mood hits me, when i have the cash,and when the “good looking stuff” is in seasonI buy organic fruits and vegies. Etc.

    Why? I like the taste.

    Yet, I still drink non-diet colas–never diet! I prefer stuff with real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. Love that “Pepsi Throwback.”

    (Saddly, I have had to cut down on Almond Joys, Ho Ho’s, and chips. My metabolism doesn’t burn it off as when I was a kid. I have to watch my fat intake for other health reasons. )

    I advise you to banish your “organic guilt” and eat what you enjoy. I do think it is wise to pay attention to various health issues. [If 3 chocolate bars aday gives one digestive probelms, it behooves one not to eat that much. If one is allegergic to something (shell fish, peanuts, chocolate, etc), it behooves one to avoid it.]

    “I feel like I’m sending a reinforcement to several different forms of vicious stupidity, beginning with the term ‘organic’ itself. Duh! Actually, all food is ‘organic'; the term just means ‘chemistry based on carbon chains’.”

    Yes, the meaning of the word “organic” has evolved in our language to mean something other that it did a few decades ago. It happens all the time in English. “Thrill” once meant to “pierce” or “drill.” It now means “excitement.” “Occult” once meant “hidden.” It now means “magic,” although we still have “occult blood tests.”

    This stuff you like to eat used to be called “health food,” now its called “organic.”

    Do you think that by refusing to buy something labled “organic” you are going to get rid of “diet-faddery”?

    Do you think it will stop “sanctimony”? I was surprised how many people kept trying to talk me out of eatting “weird” food in the 1970’s. The santemonious argument was I ought not to feel complelled to eat this awful tasting health food. They always knew I definetly hated it, because they hated it. When I protested I liked it, they usually switched to a very odd emotional explanation about how “health food was ruining everyone else’s food.”

    Admittedly, I also saw some adults blanch, when I pulled out a Hershe bar ouside a health food store to enjoy with my all natural fresh strawberry yogert milkshake.

    People will always be full of “nonsence.”

  283. kewp,

    Thanks for the response. I’m afraid it read a bit more like a unibomber manifesto that I’d hoped :^), and I have to agree with Eric, you sound a bit paranoid, but I’m willing to accept that you honestly believe these things.

    I deduct from your statements that you have no actual experience in farming, ranching, or range management? Do you (personally) know anybody who does, or is all your facts re: CPR from books and articles you’ve read elsewhere? Again, I ask this because your statements are completely counter to almost everything I’ve ever heard from folks actually doing this or things I’ve read regarding doing it for my own land.

    So Libertarians have the Kochs, Conservatives have Dick Chaney (?? can anybody else nominate a conservative boogy man?), and Liberals have George Soros. Interesting idea, that everything in our political society is run by 4 people. Hmmmmm… Why don’t we just rent Madison Square Garden and have the WWE organize a cage match for them? Whoever wins gets to set the agenda for the next 50 years? ;^) I suspect the results would be no worse that what we’ve seen from the last 50 years worth of elections.

  284. Eric responded to a Cato article by Jaron Lanier, and as I remember it included some pretty righteous and well-thought-out drubbings of the vague bogosity present in the original article. (A salient feature of Lanier’s writing. I get the feeling that he is trying to say something; the problem half the time is — what?)

    Hey, here’s a thought:

    What if Charles and David became libertarians because their father Fred saw how bad the Stalin regime really was?

    When connecting dots remember: if you miss a few, you probably won’t end up with the correct shape.

    I’m not saying I’m a big supporter of libertarianism, their policies, and the guys backing them financially, but to draw these connections and say that the modern libertarian movement is backed by Stalinists is either sloppy research or fraudulent.

  285. Conservatives have Dick Chaney (?? can anybody else nominate a conservative boogy man?)

    Oh, where do I begin? The Bush family is probably as good a place as any. Do some digging into where Prescott’s money went.

  286. dgreer says:

    >>> Hmmmmm… Why don’t we just rent Madison Square Garden and have the WWE organize a cage match for them? Whoever wins gets to set the agenda for the next 50 years?

    How about economists championship wrestling? Where two economists slug it out, and the winner is presumed to have the correct prescription for our country?

    Can you imagine a Texas death match between “Too Sexy” Thomas Sowell taking on Paul “The Rat” Krugman?

    This is the kind of stuff I think of to amuse myself.
    Bet nobody thought this comment thread would wind its way around to economist championship wrestling.
    And you just know Sowell would whip the snot out of Krugman.

  287. And you just know Sowell would whip the snot out of Krugman.

    Screw that. Esther Duflo would chop them all to pieces before they knew what hit them with her super ninja skillz.

  288. Jeff Read> The Bush family is probably as good a place as any.

    Jeff, I said conservatives. I don’t think even most conservatives would consider EITHER Bush to have been on their side, tho HW was certainly more conservative than his son, prolly as a result of having run the CIA for some years and know (literally) where the bodies were berried :^).

    Darrncardinal: Let’s do it! :^) I’d love to watch Krugman get his ass kicked. “Give him the Claw!!!”

  289. >I don’t think even most conservatives would consider EITHER Bush to have been on their side

    Nonsense. This is the “No True Scotsman” fallacy on stilts.

  290. esr> Nonsense. This is the “No True Scotsman” fallacy on stilts.

    Ok, I’ll yield. They just didn’t seem to be “conserving” anything, they just set fires in different places.

  291. Nancy; You could not be from New Orleans and believe that the Corp didn’t blow the whistle. The Louisianna congressmen/women stopped them in congress. Of course the congressmen were getting some of that money. The fraud and graft in New Orleans and Louisianna was historic and unbelievable. It is only marginally better today. But make no mistake everyone in the world knew for 50 years that the levees were underbuilt and fraud at the local levels was the problem.

    The home mortgage deduction prior to about 1978 was a real deduction. Then the government changed it so that every taxpayer got a deduction even if they had no deductable expenses. But IF you had deductible expenses they had to exceed the standard deduction before they counted. In other words congress gave all taxpayers a gift and at the same time reduced the value of the home mortgage deduction. Still the deduction did indeed make it easier for lower to middle class people to buy a home. Not a bad thing really. As for buying a bigger house I cannot for the life of me understand why you would care. Are you really that jealous???

  292. Jeff said: “So Parisians have to suffer through the frequent delays, faltering safety record, and severe underfunding issues that, say, the T has in Boston? Comforting.” What frequent delays?? Admittedly Bostons system is really old but generally it runs on time and with few delays. I am not aware they have any serious safety problems either.

    The MAX in Portland is the biggest bondoggle in history. Imagine if you possibly can their newest line will cost $200 million a mile!! I have a footprint in the concrete of the first MAX line built and I have been using the MAX since it was built. It is a classic example of a super expensive public project that has zero reason for ever being built. What they did was build a line that was being serviced adequately by busses. The cost per ride is about $20 with about $19.50 subsidized by tax payers. Everywhere they put the MAX the serious crime rate doubled and tripled. Most of the non-federal money for MAX was stolen from the fund that was supposed to be dedicated to roads and bridges. The result is gridlock on all the highways into and out of Portland. Tha MAX transports less then .05% of the commuters every day but sucks up 90% of the local budget for transportation. Speaking of safety issues the MAX is noted for taking out pedestrians. What Portland did was replace an efficient bus system with an expensive and inefficient rail system. Portland is broke, they over tax businesses which are moving out and it is all because of MAX. Now they want to build another I-5 bridge that should cost about $500 million but with MAX line it will cost $4 billion!!!!! $4 billion for a bridge! And the funniest part is both Portand and Vancouver has voted numerous times to NOT bring MAX across the river. Go figure!

  293. GoneWithTheWind, citation needed. At least some of your arithmetic is wrong, since a MAX ticket costs $2.30, so unless 3/4 of riders are cheating, there’s no way that $19.50/20 could be subsidized. (Though I think public transit *ought* to be heavily subsidized, at the expensive of the existing outrageous subsidies on personal automobile transit. Look up revenue from gas and licensing taxes versus simply the *maintenance* on existing roads.)

    I was pretty startled when Jeff Read said that MAX was the best we’ve got. It’s a maddeningly slow, unreliable, low-coverage network.

    Although, compared to busses, it does share the advantage of all non-automobile transportation: It is immune to rush hour. I would far rather take a Zipcar than MAX… in the middle of the day. But from 3:00 to 6:00 PM, MAX wins.

    Aside from the insanity of rush hour, Portland’s bus network is pretty good. The service quality is high enough to get well-dressed (for Portland) businesspeople on the bus every day. But it is underfunded, with service cuts announced every month or two.

    As for the new interstate bridge, I don’t see why my tax dollars should pay to induce demand for more soul-crushing, childhood-warping, and not least national-security-eroding suburban development. Vancouverites are the sole beneficiaries of a new bridge, and should be the sole benefactors. Or perhaps they would rather spend their money on development in East Portland; they’ll find the commute shorter than what any humongous interstate bridge could give them.

  294. s/expensive/expense/

    Somebody recently talked me into trying some very expensive chocolate. I had expected it to be like wine, where the difference between good and top-end is imperceptible. However, this product had very little in common with ordinary chocolate. Its texture was firm and granular, and it didn’t melt. It was dark chocolate, and wasn’t very sweet, yet it wasn’t bitter. It was fruity. I don’t think I’ll be dropping $8 on a chocolate bar very often, but it’s recommended to try once if you can swing it.

  295. You assume that everyone pays $2.30 for every MAX ride!! I don’t, I pay the senior rate. If you buy a pass you pay pennies per ride. The math is approximately correct and would be 100% correct if the government were more open.
    I don’t think public transportation should be subsidized in fact I don’t think anything should be subsidized. I have read the constitution and I believe it is actually unconstitutional to subsidize anything using tax money.
    I suppose you could argue that some general fund monies somewhere in the U.S. pay for some road improvements. However the funds that originate from fuel taxes that are supposed to pay for roads are heavily looted by federal and state governments for non-road projects. In fact MAX benefits from those funds which I also think is illegal since the fuel taxes are/were dedicated in law for road improvements/maintenance.

  296. Boy, I really don’t want to get sucked into a conversation with an absolute non-tax believer. But here goes… I reserve the right to get bored and leave at any time.

    I want citations for the following figures:

    * $200M/mile. I have it from WP that the new Green Line cost only $575.7 million. I can’t find a distance figure, but from the map, this is at least eight miles of new track, for a cost of at most $71M/mile. Moreover, Seattle’s new light rail line is record-breaking at $197M/mile, and includes extensive underground work.

    * The upcoming Milwaukie line includes a new, two-mast suspension bridge. That might contribute to your figure; if so, it should be pulled out.

    * Need a citation on crime rates.

    * Need a citation for .05% of commuters and 90% of funding.

  297. I am indeed talking about the proposed Orange line and that includes the bridges.
    You could not possibly be unaware of the crime that follows the MAX line.
    Do your own research. You obviously wouldn’t believe mine anyway. But be aware that the politicians go to great lengths to hide the data from you. Try and find the actual revenues from the riders. You can find inflated ridership numbers because they like to tout that as an indication of “success”. Try and find their operating expenses and again you will find deceit and a simple lack of data. But maybe the process will open your eyes.

  298. @David: I think that’s more because you are used to very bad chocolate. If your ‘good chocolate’ is Cadbury’s or Hershey’s, any good chocolate will be noticeably different. In wine, I can easily taste the difference between boxed wine and a $30 bottle. I can also taste the difference between a $15 and a $30 bottle, usually.

    @GoneWithTheWind: you are accusing, the onus is on you to prove your affirmations, not on Dave to disprove them.

  299. In my experience, “organic” is a marketing term for “make sure you check this produce for worms and other infestations.”

  300. I haven’t “accused” since I was in grade school. What David was doing is a classic ploy; demand proof, then more proof, then your proof isn’t pure enough, then something else is wrong with your proof. I stated facts, the information is public and if you look hard enough you can prove it to yourself. If you don’t want to hear it no one can “prove” it to you.

  301. Adriano: My standards are higher than that, but this was still something quite outside my experience.

    GoneWithTheWind: You can’t expect anyone to believe you if you simply spout off a bunch of round numbers and won’t back them up. Especially when you obviously have a dog in the fight. (“Portland is broke, … and it is all because of MAX” — this is not the voice of a disinterested observer.) Show me a reputable source with those numbers and I will concede.

    A couple more things:

    * MAX is “noted for taking out pedestrians”? Pro tip: Don’t stand in the middle of a train track.

    * The supposed MAX crime increases: I have heard this again and again from rabid anti-public-transit suburbanites, but couldn’t find any data supporting it when I looked a couple of years ago. You certainly can’t pick out any MAX track on a map of Portland crimes.

  302. We had a race condition: I posted my latest comment before seeing yours.

    I only asked for proof once. You are an indignation junky. Not enough lifespan for this conversation.

  303. >You are an indignation junky.

    “Indignation junky.” Hah. Most useful neologism I’ve heard this year.

  304. Wonderful, isn’t it? You can credit David Brin for the idea, perhaps also the phrase.

  305. Is it pro-public transportation to replace an efficient and cost effective bus system with an expensive inefficient light rail system? The bus fare is subsidized at about 50% while MAX is subsidized at about 95%. Is it anti-public transportation to point out folly and misappropriation of tax money? I was there when the first MAX line went in and all they did was replace existing bus lines with a light rail. Why? Who profited by the light rail decision? All tax paying residents of Oregon paid for it. In fact since the federal government subsidized it all American taxpayers paid for it. But we didn’t get to vote for it. Ironically Portland got to vote for it and voted against it (the expansion of light rail) but the government ignored the citizens and built it anyway. Metro is out of control. Who is benefiting from Metro’s decisions???

  306. Relevant to this discussion are the alarming discoveries by guys like Robert Lustig that sugar, at the levels consumed in a typical American diet, is a poison, having a liver toxicity profile resembling alcohol (but without the buzz). And that’s not just HFCS but sucrose too, which metabolizes into glucose (which your body and brain need) and fructose (the bad stuff).

    Since we know that Food Inc. loads down their processed foods with excessive amounts of sugar (including HFCS) you should be eating organic, guilt-free. You’ll be way ahead of the curve health-wise ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>