Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Not many people know that I once spent a good deal of time studying the poultry industry in Mexico. In fact, I published several specialized reports and a book chapter with one of my research colleagues from the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro several years ago. My experiences with the poultry industry in Mexico is just one of the reasons why I found this article on the increasing size of Thanksgiving turkeys so interesting.

In a few words, the super birds we see on our Thanksgiving table today have been artificially "engineered" to satisfy market demand. Today's stoop framed and debeaked frankenbirds are no accident, as this Mother Jones article makes clear.

I encourage you to read the article because it helps us understand two things about the modern poultry family (which include chicken, turkey, and quail among others). First, the size of our poultry "products" have been supercharged in unnatural ways. Second, the time needed to grow poultry has been sped up.

In our 2009 book chapter, for example, my colleague and I explain how chicken producers have employed new farming techniques to reduce the amount of time necessary to grow a four-pound chicken. A four-pound chicken no longer needs nine-and-one-half weeks to grow, as was the case in the late 1960s. Today you need just six weeks to grow a four-pound chicken.

What this means is that four production cycles per year (1960s) have been increased to 5.7 cycles per year because of improvements in technology, environment, and management.

A modern poultry farm, with two hatcheries.
In human terms this is the functional equivalent of engineering and modifying our environments so that children become full-sized "adults" (i.e. reach their 18-year-old size) by the time they're a 13-year-old.

There's more, but you get the point. Your Thanksgiving turkey is a frankenbird.

- Mark 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


- Mark


Many are still unaware that the Syrian refugee crisis represents the largest displacement of people in our time. At least half of Syria's pre-war population is now displaced, with most fleeing to neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and even Iraq. 

With the GOP doing their level best to use the Syrian refugee crisis to become America's racial and religious gate-keepers (once again) it's time to wipe away the hypocrisy from the Republicans "all lives matter" claim.

I've posted on the GOP's hypocritical pro-life position before, but it needs to be brought up once more since the GOP is turning their back on human life, again.

Specifically, if you have a "pro-life" friend, who likes talking about how they support the sanctity of life, you might want to ask them the following:

1. Do you support torture? 
2. Do you support the death penalty?  
3. Do you oppose euthanasia for the terminally ill?  
4. Do you believe that over 100,000 civilians killed (as collateral damage) in a reckless war of choice is justified?
If they answer yes to one or all of these questions - and they are opposed to letting any Syrian refugees into the U.S. - they do not appreciate the sanctity of life, and are not pro-life. They're pro-something, but it's definitely not pro-life. 

Seriously. How does turning a blind eye to torture, state sanctioned murder, human suffering, and mindless death make you a defender of the sanctity of life? How about those who say they are pro-life but who also work to deny food and health care to children and the working poor?


There's more, but you get the point. Many in the pro-life crowd have a demented vision of human dignity, and don't really appreciate the sanctity of life. 

- Mark

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


As several of you have noticed, I haven't posted much recently. There's a reason. Simply put, I'm swamped. That said, I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. To help kick start this opening we have this article from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich below. He explains how ego and money, outright lies, and bigotry have become the dominant features of American democracy.


The next president of the United States will confront a virulent jihadist threat, mounting effects of climate change, and an economy becoming ever more unequal.
We’re going to need an especially wise and able leader.
Yet our process for choosing that person is a circus, and several leading candidates are clowns.

How have we come to this?
First, anyone with enough ego and money can now run for president.
This wasn’t always the case. Political parties used to sift through possible candidates and winnow the field.
Now the parties play almost no role. Anyone with some very wealthy friends can set up a Super PAC. According to a recent New York Times investigation, half the money to finance the 2016 election so far has come from just 158 families.
Or if you’re a billionaire, you can finance your own campaign.
And if you’re sufficiently outlandish, outrageous, and outspoken, a lot of your publicity will be free. Since he announced his candidacy last June, Trump hasn’t spent any money at all on television advertising.
Second, candidates can now get away with saying just about anything about their qualifications or personal history, even if it’s a boldface lie.
This wasn’t always the case, either. The media used to scrutinize what candidates told the public about themselves.
A media expose could bring a candidacy to a sudden halt (as it did in 1988 for Gary Hart, who had urged reporters to follow him if they didn’t believe his claims of monogamy).
But when today’s media expose a candidates lies, there seems to be no consequence. Carson’s poll numbers didn’t budge after revelations he had made up his admission to West Point.

The media also used to evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, and those evaluations influenced voters.
Now the media’s judgments are largely shrugged off. Trump says he’d “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, round up all undocumented immigrants in the United States and send them home, and erect a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border.
Editors and columnists find these proposals ludicrous, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Fiorina says she’ll stop Planned Parenthood from “harvesting” the brains of fully formed fetuses. She insists she saw an undercover video of the organization about to do so.
The media haven’t found any such video, but no one seems to care.
Third and finally, candidates can now use hatred and bigotry to gain support.
Years ago respected opinion leaders stood up to this sort of demagoguery and brought down the bigots.
In the 1950s, the eminent commentator Edward R. Murrow revealed Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy to be a dangerous incendiary, thereby helping put an end to McCarthy’s communist witch hunts.
In the 1960s, religious leaders and university presidents condemned Alabama Governor George C. Wallace and other segregationist zealots – thereby moving the rest of America toward integration, civil rights, and voting rights.
But when today’s presidential candidates say Muslim refugees shouldn’t be allowed into America, no Muslim should ever be president, and undocumented workers from Mexico are murderers, they get away with it.

Paradoxically, at a time when the stakes are especially high for who becomes the next president, we have a free-for-all politics in which anyone can become a candidate, put together as much funding as they need, claim anything about themselves no matter how truthful, advance any proposal no matter how absurd, and get away bigotry without being held accountable.
Why? Americans have stopped trusting the mediating institutions that used to filter and scrutinize potential leaders on behalf of the rest of us.
Political parties are now widely disdained.
Many Americans now consider the “mainstream media” biased.
And no opinion leader any longer commands enough broad-based respect to influence a majority of the public.
A growing number of Americans have become convinced the entire system is rigged – including the major parties, the media, and anyone honored by the establishment.
So now it’s just the candidates and the public, without anything in between.
Which means electoral success depends mainly on showmanship and self-promotion.
Telling the truth and advancing sound policies are less important than trending on social media.
Being reasonable is less useful than gaining attention.
Offering rational argument is less advantageous than racking up ratings.
Such circus politics may be fun to watch, but it’s profoundly dangerous for America and the world.
We might, after all, elect one of the clowns.

- Mark

Friday, November 13, 2015


This just another reminder that, when it comes to Republican talking points about how horrible things are under President Obama, the GOP simply doesn't have a clue what they're talking about. Here's the big picture.

Then we have the numbers when it comes to comparing how jobs and unemployment have fared under recent Democratic and Republican presidents ...

Then we have market performance by presidential administration.

One thing is clear. When it comes to comparing the difference between Democratic and Republican administrations from William McKinley through President Obama (Aug. 2012), Democrats outperform Republicans (by far) when it comes to Total Returns (787% vs. 332%) and Average Annual Return on investment (15.31% vs. 5.43).

Since the graph above only goes through August of 2012, the total returns and average annual return on investment are much higher for President Obama and other Democratic administrations. This is because markets (both the NYSE and the DJI) have climbed significantly over the past three years.

So, yeah, whether it's how the GOP works to ignore how President Obama has worked to clean up President Bush's mess, or how they ignore Democratic administrations outperforming their Republican contemporaries in the market since the late 1800s.

Finally, in the FYI category, as I discussed last week, the jobs picture in the U.S. has improved significantly since the Republican Party announced that Obamacare was going to kill jobs in America.

There's more, but you get the point. Republican presidential hopefuls are either delusional or have no clue what they're talking about when it comes to the economy or their market talking points.

- Mark 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


This orchestra is made up of musicians from the U.S. military, and they're playing probably the best "Unchained Melody" instrumental you'll hear anywhere.


As we celebrate Veterans Day I also thought it would be a good idea to remind ourselves of people who actually went to war when they didn't have to, and perished in the process.

Unlike our modern day cowardly politicians, and blow hard media pundits who cheer every war opportunity without sacrificing anything, these are Americans who had fame and fortune but also believed they should contribute more to the cause. Not one of the three individuals below were drafted or forced to abandon the charmed and comfortable lifestyles that would be part of their future (regular readers will recognize these stories from previous posts).

Glenn Miller was a band leader in the swing era. His career was beginning to sky rocket with still recognizable hits like "In the Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade." In 1942, while making between $15,000 and $20,000 per week (roughly between $200,000 and $300,000 today), Miller decided to join the war effort. At 38 he was too old to be drafted, and was initially told by the Navy that they did not need his services. He convinced the U.S. Army that they could use him to help "modernize" their music, which allowed him to serve by entertaining the allied troops.

Miller and his 50-piece band played across Europe, and perished on December 15, 1944 while crossing the English Channel to play in Paris. Glenn Miller is still listed as Missing In Action.

Pat Tillman was a football player in his prime playing for the Phoenix Cardinals in the late 1990s. After the 9/11 attacks Tillman left a lucrative career in the National Football League to enlist in the U.S. Army at the age of 25. At one point Tillman turned down a multi-year $9 million contract from the St. Louis Rams because of the loyalty he felt towards the Cardinals. Before enlisting in the U.S. Army Tillman also turned down a 3-year $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals.

Tillman joined the Army Rangers and died in the mountains of Afghanistan under circumstances - first called an ambush, and later labeled as "friendly fire" - that remains a mystery for many today.

The Joseph Kennedy, Jr. story is a unique one because of his family connections and wealth. His father made a name for himself on Wall Street, and as Franklin D. Roosevelt's Ambassador to Britain. His younger brother, John F. Kennedy, would become the 35th President of the United States.

A graduate of Harvard, Kennedy studied for a year at the London School of Economics before attending Harvard Law School. A delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1940, Kennedy was already fabulously rich as a young man because his father, as the story goes, gifted each of his kids $1 million (about $17 million today) so they could make their own way in life, while telling the family to go to hell if they wanted.

Kennedy voluntarily left Harvard before finishing his final year in law school to join the U.S. Navy in 1942. There he completed 25 combat missions, and volunteered for Operation Aphrodite weeks before his tour was up. He died on a mission over England.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

- Mark 

Monday, November 9, 2015


Hedy Lamarr, Austrian film icon from Hollywood's Golden Age, would be 101 years old today. Lamarr is best known for her starring roles in Algiers (with Spencer Tracy), Comrade X (with Clark Gable), John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat (with John Garfield), and Samson and Delilah (with Victor Mature).

What many don't know about Hedy Lamarr is that she was also a mathematician and inventor of the first order. Specifically, inspired by her anti-Nazism, she was the co-creator of a frequency-hopping system that's an integral part of much of the communication technology we use today, including GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi networks, and CDMA (used in cordless/wireless phones). Lamarr's earlier inventions included technology that improved the traffic stoplight and a tablet that dissolved in water to create a carbonated drink.

There's more to Lamarr's story, which you can access in these articles from C/NET, Finding Dulcinea, and NPR.

- Mark

Saturday, November 7, 2015

WEEKEND READING (Nov. 6, 2015)

Conservative school board members who pushed for 'patriotic' history get booted (Think Progress).

And the market favors to the banks continue ... Freedom Caucus votes for $17 billion in government payouts to banks through highway funding bill (Huffington Post).

Dorms for grownups: A solution for lonely Millennials (The Atlantic)?

Rupert Murdoch takes over National Geographic, then lays off award-winning staff (Reverb Press).

'It's out, and it's UGLY': 10 reasons why TPP is a total freaking disaster (Reverb Press).

8 sneaky racial code words and why politicians love them (The Root).

Democratic Socialism has deep roots in American life (History News Network).

Is the economy overheating? Here's why it's so hard to say (NY Times).

As America's middle class collapses, no one is buying stuff anymore (Boing Boing).

Stiglitz: Here's how to fix inequality (The Atlantic).

George H.W. Bush slams 'iron-ass' Cheney, 'arrogant' Rumsfeld in new biography. Also faults Bush 43 (Washington Post).

George H.W. Bush settles old scores with Cheney and Rumsfeld (The Atlantic).

4 predictions Republicans made about the economy that are really embarrassing now (Think Progress).

10 lies Republicans love to use to terrify Americans (Forward Progressives).

Exposing 5 of the biggest lies Republicans tell about the economy (Forward Progressives).

Republicans to rally with pastor (Kevin Swanson) who says God is about to destroy America due to gay marriage (Right Wing Watch).

Opal Covey, who came in last place in Toledo Mayoral race, claims she actually won (because God told her she did) but lost because of "another attack from the devil" (Patheos).

Pastor who prayed for Obama's death calls President communist 'bastard' with 'whore' mother (Addicting Info).

Mormon church bars same-sex couples and their children (NY Times).

Kevin Swanson: Sex slavery better than welfare (Right Wing Watch).

Ben Carson assures conservatives that his campus speech monitoring would only target liberals (Right Wing Watch).

Ben Carson says archaeologists are wrong about Egyptian pyramids, says they were built to store grains (Patheos).

Ben Carson caught in big lie about West Point "scholarship" (Crooks & Liars).

White middle-aged people in U.S. dying quicker than in any other developed nation - Princeton Study (Russian Times).

Programmers: Stop calling yourselves engineers ... it's ticking off the real engineers (The Atlantic).

Nuclear fuel has melted through base of Fukushima plant (The Telegraph).

Dog Talk: If you see your dog do this, this is what they're trying to tell you (Boredom Therapy).

- Mark 

Friday, November 6, 2015


The Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March of 2010. Days before it became law the Republican leadership announced that Obamacare would be a "job-killing government takeover of health care." Dan Diamond, health and pharma expert from Forbes magazine, just put out this graph.

Diamond writes:

The economy looks drastically different than in March 2010 — more than 11 million jobs have been created, and the unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half.

In fact, health care jobs grew 50% more in 2014 than in 2013. There's more, but you get the point. Republicans got it wrong, big time, about Obamacare.

- Mark