Friday, December 31, 2010

Black Swans for 2011

The hardest trick is to predict the onset of a black swan event.  Yet I have been pretty good at it for a single reason.  The serious black swans are able to take advantage of preexisting conditions in the market and accelerate them

I anticipated the market meltdown in 1987 which was completely unexpected at the time.  I understood that the market before 9/11 was specifically vulnerable to such an event (it did not really affect the market itself but the signals were red flagging) and was not surprised but stunned at how large the event itself and the reaction became.  I also anticipated the crisis of 2008, but that one was patently obvious to all but the willfully blind.

This writer tries to list several prospective black swans, most of which are not.  In the list, please pay attention to China construction, national defaults, and fossil fuel production.  The rest are not significant enough for the present.  My first comment unbelievably is that they are not important enough, although they certainly can create headlines.

China is converting internal currency into non producing capital stock in the form of housing and is using it as a stimulus program to sustain the development of the economy.  I hope that there are better solutions developing, but we can live with this.  In the meantime China continues to own a ton of US currency which is been converted into assets as quickly as they can which is great for the global dollar cased economy.  It is not going to stop soon, although inflation is chewing things up now.

Spain et al will be patched in the same way the rest was patched.  Again, the money has long since been spent and the printing press is covering the losses.

Energy is the big story and it is not known which way the press will run with it.  A major loss of conventional production would cause a price burst that will give us a rerun of 2008 of a gentler nature.  The real story is that we can use fresh oil production to keep the US on an oil diet for some years to come, but this is not obvious yet.  Most important all that new production is coming on stream internally and we are about to begin displacing imported oil in its entirety over the next decade as external production continues to face serious declines.

So yes, these are all plausible sources of market shocks during 2011, but not in the form of a serious black swan unless we have a major oil production crisis somewhere.  That could be a sharp loss in Saudi production.  I still do not think the vulnerability is that particularly high.

The big black swan would be for Focus Fusion to announce a major economic success in the production of fusion energy at an obviously cheap price structure.  Such could be rolled out at great speed and the entire global energy industry becomes terminally obsolete.  Equally plausible is the ultracapacitor business emerging this year making the E car truly viable.  Both are now possible and increasingly probable.  Both are capable of replacing and dominating their sectors extremely fast.  Everything else is a side show.

On the front of bad black swans, we really have nothing to worry about economically, because all the excess is sorting itself out.  It could be better and much faster but it is at least sobering and perhaps we can avoid a repeat for another eighty years or perhaps forever.  We remain on track to establish a modern middle class global civilization and we are already past the fifty percent mark and are now starting to quickly chew up the balance.  We may reach the ninety percent mark inside of as little as twenty years and by that I mean everywhere at the same level as China today.

Politically is another issue.  I think that Iran is ready to collapse and end its problem.  I also think North Korea is presently terminal.  No one else particularly matters and will disappear in the mopping up that will take place over the next two decades.  That leaves us with the question of how those two plan to die.  Obviously all are focused on arranging a soft landing for both.

As an aside, ongoing Islamic economic failure is steadily undermining Islamic extremism and we are now experienced in confronting it.  They will continue to trash around for some time longer until they grow tired of been the ditch diggers to the rest of the world.

In whole I am an optimist for the coming year and think that we will continue to muddle along quite well.

Ten Black Swans for 2011

By Christian A. DeHaemer | Thursday, December 30th, 2010

On April 17, 1793, three French soldiers broke into the tomb of Michel de Nostredame, a man we know as Nostradamus.
Legend has it that one man, a Corporal Adelaide, picked up the skull in an attempt to gain the power of the long dead seer.
His fellow soldiers bore witness that his eyes opened wide as he gained full knowledge, then was immediately struck down and killed by an errant bullet, fired from the nearby riots.
A plaque around the neck of the corpse read 1793.
It is by channeling the ghost of Nostrodamus — as if drinking blood from the very skull itself — that I give you my Black Swans for 2011.

Black Swans
For those of you who don't know, Black Swans are unpredictable events that destroy prediction models.
After 20 years in the derivatives industry, Nassim Taleb created the Black SwanTheory to explain:
  • The disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to their very nature of small probabilities).

The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs. In other words, you can't create a mathematical certainty in the market. Long Term Capital Management taught us that. Computer models and base probabilities on bell curves... Yet it's the three percent on either end that makes all their algorithms fail. And by the very nature of statistics, an event that's 1% likely to happen will happen— if you wait long enough. Today I bring you ten events that could be that unpredictable, disruptive long shot for 2012.

1. China real estate bubble pops
Hedge Fund Manager Jim Chanos said the following about China on CNBC:
Construction is 60-plus percent of GDP, compared to exports of 5 percent... The problem is that consumption as a percentage of Chinese economy has declined in the last 10 years, from 40 to 35 percent. It’s all real estate...When construction is 60 percent of your economy, and you are building lots of things that people don’t need, the state may let this get out of control... It’s hard to manage this type of bubble.
China Business Insider estimates there are 64 million vacant homes in China. If the Chinese real estate bubble pops, commodities such as copper, iron, and moly will crater.
2. Spain defaults
High national debt, high inflation, high unemployment, plummeting housing prices, and a second round of bank failures coupled with political mismanagement sends Portugal into insolvency, followed quickly by Spain.
This overwhelms the EU's 440 Euro bail-out fund and sends U.S. Treasury yields into the negative as investors flee to safety.
3. Decade of natural gas
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) more than doubled its estimate of unproved, technically recoverable shale gas reserves from 347 trillion cubic feet to 827 trillion cubic feet for its 2011 Annual Energy Outlook. This means lower natural gas prices — and twice the production for shale gas.
Furthermore, you should expect an additional twenty percent increase in U.S. natural gas production through 2035 than was predicted last year.
The national leadership won't take advantage of the opportunity to end our dependency on imported oil due to the combined lobbies of big petroleum and green energy.
In any event, natural gas storage facilities and pipelines will continue to grow until there is a global network of ports and facilities to transport natural gas in much the same way we transport oil. Right now, natural gas is around $4 in Texas but $12 inJapan. Obviously, there are opportunities here.
4. Uranium companies surge
Last year, I predicted uranium would surge to $90 a pound.
That didn't happen. Instead, it went from $40 to $65. I predict uranium in the $90s again based on the continued building of nuclear plants around the world.
If you'd listened to my prediction last year and bought uranium miners, you'd have doubled your money:
5. China clings to dollar, riots ensue
China links its currency to the dollar. The dollar is in a state of decline as a policy move to inflate away U.S. debt.
This means that everything in China is going up in price. The official rate in China is 5.1% for November — but food inflation is running at 11.7%. The last time food prices jumped in 2007, there were riots at supermarkets.
6. Farm land jumps in price
According to a survey by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank: “Farmland in Iowa increased in value by 13 percent between the fall of 2009 and fall 2010. Our survey for Indiana shows that farmland values since 1985 have gone up about 270 percent, or 5.5% per year."
Farmland prices are increasing at more than twice the historical average. This will continue, despite the fact that all other real estate prices are falling, and create a bubble. Farmers will overextend themselves, crop prices will fall, and we'll have a raft of farm foreclosures.
Willie Nelson and John Cougar will go on tour for Farm Aid VII. The national leadership will continue to squeeze food prices through subsidies for ethanol... After all, you can't be president without a strong showing in the Iowa caucus.
7. Dow has four 10% correction in 2011 — ends the year up 9.7%
Volatility is down to pre-crisis levels. Bernanke has set a paperweight on his laptop number pad. It is adding zeros to the national debt as fast as his Lenovo will allow.
Last year I wrote: “No one is talking about an extended bull market... The money that is currently being produced by the Treasury and hoarded by the banks could flow to equities and launch another bubble."
I predicted Dow 20,000. This didn't happen — but the DJIA did climb 18% on pure liquidity from the Fed.
Judging by how few bargains there are out there, I'd say that the market has gotten ahead of itself. The Bernank will continue with its flood of cash, but expect a lot of mixed signals and volatility...
8. The Year of the Electric Car
Look for EVs to sell out this year. The Nissan LEAF, the Chevy Volt, and the Fisker Karma will hit the ground rolling, giving early adopters all sorts of smug happiness.
Charging stations are springing up in downtowns everywhere. You will be able to buy them at Best Buy. The Geek Squad will hook them up in your garage.
9. Dead tech revival
Old companies like Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) (which had its best year ever), Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Corning (NYSE: GLW) will break out of their ten-year sideways range based on the revival of business spending. These companies are all trading at small P/E ratios and sitting on large amounts of cash... Intel has $20 billion; Cisco has $38 billion.
10. Fidel Castro dies
Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro finally kicks the bucket. His brother Raúl makes overtures by allowing free speech and releasing all political prisoners. He seeks to open trade talks with the United States.
The State Department continues to spurn all advancements. Leaders in both parties do nothing because you can't be president without Florida, and you can't win Florida without the Cuban vote.
Have a great New Year,

Christian DeHaemer
 Energy and Capital

Bulgarian Sun Temple Eight Millenia Old

The structure of the temple or observatory or whatever one calls a measuring device was produced through planned excavation.  This is a method well within the capabilities of all primitive societies and I must presume that it was commonly used.  This is merely a discovered and more importantly, a recognized site.

I think that we can presume that just about everywhere throughout Europe at least were there existed a common culture of cattle raising and forest soils, that something like this was available to every tribe.  We have already seen plenty of examples of wood henges and a turf henge is no departure at all. 

Obviously used as a ceremonial site to confirm the solstices and plausibly other important dates to an agricultural community, a cycle of gatherings would readily provide the workforce to maintain and rebuild such sites.

At least no one is challenging the astronomical significance of Stonehenge anymore when we keep finding similar structures all over Europe with the exact same alignments.  There are obviously a lot more as yet undiscovered.  At least now we know to check the soils.

December 16, 2010

The oldest temple of the Sun has been discovered in northwest Bulgaria, near the town of Vratsa, aged at more then 8000 years, the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reported on December 15 2010.

The Bulgarian 'Stonehenge' is hence about 3000 years older than its illustrious English counterpart. But unlike its more renowned English cousin, the Bulgarian sun temple was not on the surface, rather it was dug out from under tons of earth and is shaped in the form of a horse shoe, the report said.

The temple was found near the village of Ohoden. According to archaeologists, the prehistoric people used the celestial facility to calculate the seasons and to determine the best times for sowing and harvest. The site was also used for rituals, offering gifts to the Sun for fertility as BNT reported.

This area of Bulgaria was previously made famous because remnants of the oldest people who lived in this part of Europe were found.

Archaeologists also found dozens of clay and stone disks in the area of the temple.

"The semantics of the disks symbolise the disk of the Sun itself, which means that this is the earliest ever temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun God, discovered on our lands," archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski told the BNT.

Nuclear Reaction Defies Expectations

All our work has been focused on naturally occurring fission reactions and living with the consequences.  Here we have an empirical result that questions the present theoretical regime and we need to ask what is next?

We have learned what we have learned by hurling neutrons mostly at speeds sufficient to overcome the electrostatic potential of the target.  Now we have an unusual alternative outcome that is unpredicted in our modeling.

There could be a whole range of very low probability events in play that could completely reshape our knowledge of the detail.  One should not think that what we have is anything more than a good approximation to the empirical data that is likely to run foul of the facts as has just happened.

Cold fusion, by the way, is a strong hint.

The electrostatic fields are not necessarily continuous or mathematically convenient and many good questions have never been asked let alone answered in the lab.  I thought cold fusion was an apparatus able to ask and answer some of those questions.  Other similar apparatus need to be fabricated.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to move a low speed neutron along an axis to direct contact with an elemental nucleus at a specified location?  If we ever pull that off, then perhaps we know something that can be trusted about the nucleus.

Nuclear reaction defies expectations

Dec 10, 2010 

Better Batteries Bottom Up

This is more battery research and in this case they are growing a forest of nano batteries in order to gain in energy density.  No one really knows what the successful protocol will ultimately be, so we must push forward on every good idea.

This looks a long ways from been optimized so it is good to see early success in methodology.  This is something that could be commercialized into circuit boards and miniature devices.

Anyway, the battery rush continues.

Better batteries from the bottom up
Rice University researchers build microbatteries with nanowire hearts


CONTACT: Mike Williams
PHONE: 713-348-6728

Rice University researchers have moved a step closer to creating robust, three-dimensional microbatteries that would charge faster and hold other advantages over conventional lithium-ion batteries. They could power new generations of remote sensors, display screens, smart cards, flexible electronics and biomedical devices.

The batteries employ vertical arrays of nickel-tin nanowires perfectly encased in PMMA, a widely used polymer best known as Plexiglas. The Rice laboratory of Pulickel Ajayan found a way to reliably coat single nanowires with a smooth layer of a PMMA-based gel electrolyte that insulates the wires from the counter electrode while allowing ions to pass through.

The work was reported this week in the online edition of the journal Nano Letters.

"In a battery, you have two electrodes separated by a thick barrier," said Ajayan, professor in mechanical engineering and materials science and of chemistry. "The challenge is to bring everything into close proximity so this electrochemistry becomes much more efficient."

Ajayan and his team feel they've done that by growing forests of coated nanowires -- millions of them on a fingernail-sized chip -- for scalable microdevices with greater surface area than conventional thin-film batteries. "You can't simply scale the thickness of a thin-film battery, because the lithium ion kinetics would become sluggish," Ajayan said.
"We wanted to figure out how the proposed 3-D designs of batteries can be built from the nanoscale up," said Sanketh Gowda, a graduate student in Ajayan's lab. "By increasing the height of the nanowires, we can increase the amount of energy stored while keeping the lithium ion diffusion distance constant."

The researchers, led by Gowda and postdoctoral researcher Arava Leela Mohana Reddy, worked for more than a year to refine the process.
"To be fair, the 3-D concept has been around for a while," Reddy said. "The breakthrough here is the ability to put a conformal coat of PMMA on a nanowire over long distances. Even a small break in the coating would destroy it." He said the same approach is being tested on nanowire systems with higher capacities.

The process builds upon the lab's previous research to build coaxial nanowire cables that was reported in Nano Letters last year. In the new work, the researchers grew 10-micron-long nanowires via electrodeposition in the pores of an anodized alumina template. They then widened the pores with a simple chemical etching technique and drop-coated PMMA onto the array to give the nanowires an even casing from top to bottom. A chemical wash removed the template.

They have built one-centimeter square microbatteries that hold more energy and that charge faster than planar batteries of the same electrode length. "By going to 3-D, we're able to deliver more energy in the same footprint," Gowda said.

They feel the PMMA coating will increase the number of times a battery can be charged by stabilizing conditions between the nanowires and liquid electrolyte, which tend to break down over time.

The team is also studying how cycling affects nanowires that, like silicon electrodes, expand and contract as lithium ions come and go. Electron microscope images of nanowires taken after many charge/discharge cycles showed no breaks in the PMMA casing -- not even pinholes. This led the researchers to believe the coating withstands the volume expansion in the electrode, which could increase the batteries' lifespans.

Co-authors are Rice graduate student Xiaobo Zhan; former Rice postdoctoral researcher Manikoth Shaijumon, now an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram, India; and former Rice research scientist Lijie Ci, now a senior research and development manager at Samsung Cheil Industries.

The Hartley Family Foundation and Rice University funded the research.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Amygdala Centre for Social Network

I suspect that this is something very important.  Skip the rest of the brain.  This is the switch box for emotional coding, or at this point we can presume that is true.  Why this is important is that it is my opinion at least that our entire decision making is done through emotional loading.  This is the principle reason it is so difficult to undo a bad conception in the real world even in the face of mounting evidence.  Objectivity and balance only comes after the emotional outburst on confronting the changing facts on the ground.

I am sure that the above conjecture may well be violently opposed by those who have bought into another specialist dogma.  As an aside, in my manuscript titled ‘Paradigms Shift’ I introduce a whole range of new conceptions.  What I found intriguing is that my sample audience all had the same reaction.   They agreed and enjoyed all of the material until they hit a specific topic that they thought themselves well versed on.  At that point the rejection was palpable.  It was different for every reader.

Everyone has a large emotional loading attached to material they trained on and studied.  Rejecting that, however dated is difficult and few are truly ready for it.

For now we discover that this switch box tracks our social network in particular, but also strongly suggests that my argument that the natural village size is properly around 150.  I would like to revisit that idea.  The data suggests that key individuals develop the social networking capacity that in fact links the rest in terms of their own capacity. 

This means that we need to design of virtual community in terms of a range of sub social networks to fully understand it.  Obvious when one thinks it through, but only after one sees the data.

Amygdala at the centre of your social network
A larger emotion-processing brain centre is linked to a bigger circle of friends.
Janelle Weaver

The size of your amygdala (circled) indicates the extent of your social network. Brad Dickerson
How many friends do you have? A rough answer can be predicted by the size of a small, almond-shaped brain structure that is present in a wide range of vertebrates, scientists report today in Nature Neuroscience.
The researchers studied the amygdala, which is involved in inter-personal functions such as interpreting emotional facial expressions, reacting to visual threats and trusting strangers. Inter-species comparisons in non-human primates have previously shown that amygdala volume is associated with troop size, suggesting that the brain region supports skills necessary for a complex social life1.
On the basis of these past findings, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, wondered whether a larger amygdala size allows some humans to build a richer social world.
Barrett's team measured the amygdala volume in 58 healthy adults using brain images gathered during magnetic resonance imaging sessions. To construct social networks, the researchers asked the volunteers how many people they kept in regular contact with, and how many groups those individuals belonged to.
They found that participants who had bigger and more complex social networks had larger amygdala volumes. This effect did not depend on the age of the volunteers or their own perceived social support or life satisfaction, suggesting that happiness is not the underlying causal factor that links the size of this brain structure in an individual to their number of friends2.
"We'd all predict this relationship should be found, but [the authors] did it in a very smart way by ruling out other variables," says cognitive neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner of Columbia University in New York City. "That's why I think this paper is going to end up being a citation classic, because it demonstrates the relationship in a way that gives you confidence that it's real," he adds.
Brain teaser
But it's still a mystery how the amygdala contributes to social networks. Perhaps the structure's response to faces, emotions or emotional memories influences whether someone decides to develop and maintain relationships, says Brad Dickerson, a cognitive neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who helped lead the study.
It's likely that social behaviour relies on a much broader set of brain regions, Dickerson says. In the future, the team will use functional neuroimaging approaches to determine the relationship between patterns of brain activity in an individual and the size of social groups to which they belong.
Another important question is whether a big amygdala is a cause or a consequence of having a large social network. "In the end, it's probably some of both," Ochsner says. "But you first had to establish that the relationship really exists before you could address those critical questions." 
·                                References
1.                                                    Barton, R. A. & Aggleton, J. P. in The Amygdala: A Functional Analysis (ed. Aggleton, J. P.) 479–508 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000).
2.                                                    Bickart, K. C. et al. Nature Neurosci. doi:10.1038/nn.2724 (2010).

Science Supports Carb Wars

This is an adjunct to my article on the Arclein Diet which I posted one before.  An unemphasized assumption to that diet was a low carbohydrate intake.  This article reminds us just how important carbs are too outright obesity.

This suggests a modification to our diet for folks who are suffering obesity and are scaling way over the 125% of weight optimum.

As an example, an ordinary three squares a day with little carbs will take a natural person weighing 180 pounds up to a stable 225 pounds.  All weight over that level is arguably been supported by the carbohydrate intake of your diet.  Eliminating the carbs should allow your weight to drop back to the 225 level while never going hungry or yet fasting.

For most individuals, the first task is to eliminate carbohydrates as much as possible from your diet.  The writer here points out that in his experience, even a little bit of indulgence triggers a reaction.  It all means, no sweets at all, no bread, no rice, no grains, no beer, and so on.  Meals become eggs, meat, fish and ample veggies, particularly as one is trying to bring oneself back to the 225 mark of the example.

If this sounds a lot like the Atkins diet or the Herbalife approach, you are right.

As an aside, the Atkins book is an excellent study of the underlying science of his approach.  His conclusions were always attacked in ignorance but no one ever made any headway against the science.  Quite rightly, the critics knew few could properly read and understand the science and reach their own conclusions.  Thus they simply promoted outright ignorance to gain their own ends.  This is unfortunately the pathway for many so called controversies.

If you are morbidly obese, get bulk from vegetable and eat plenty of protein.  I would eat a lot of sardines because of their nutrient load, others like salmon.  Tofu works as any fresh meat and fish.  Eggs also work well of course.  My point is that it is not too difficult to get a protein of choice even if it is loaded with transfats and the like.

The initial problem is to quit eating bread and potatoes in particular.  Thus there is little point learning how to fast until you have licked that problem.

For the obese individual, there is two phases in a successful diet.  The first is to stop eating carbs and through that lower ones weight to the 125% level.  One can practice fasts along the way and one can perhaps add modest amounts of whole grains depending on the impact on the monthly weight loss.  At least one will be planning proper carbs in the diet which will be handy once one enters the last phase.

In the last phase, one is fasting for twenty four hours every second day for three full days.  Good quality carbs will be welcome at that point and are good to go.

However, when one is first breaking with a carb intake supporting obesity, I suspect it is best to initially try cold turkey to discover what your body is able to do before you add any back in.

Scientists say carbs—not fat—are the biggest problem with America’s diet

21 DEC 2010 10:13 AM

Just in time for the holiday-season blizzard of baked goods comes the news that carbohydrates -- not fat -- are more likely to be responsible for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and the other ills of modern civilization.

The Los Angeles Times has a detailed report on the growing body of  scientific evidence that until now has been treated as nutritional poison: Fat is good, carbs are bad.

"The country’s big low-fat message backfired," Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the Times. "The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today."

Remember Robert Atkins? He's the guy who was nearly drummed out of the medical profession for proposing that the way to get slim and stay healthy was to eat lots of meat and fat, and abstain from bread and potatoes.
The Atkins diet struck many as pure craziness. But study after study has shown Atkins more right than wrong. Carbohydrates -- meaning plant-derived foods -- have been directly linked with elevated triglycerides (fat) in the blood; suppression of HDL, the so-called good cholesterol; increased production of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) that damage arteries; weight gain and high blood pressure.
Eating carbs triggers insulin, the fat storage hormone. Over-consumption can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
Put all of these carb-related problems together and you have what medical researchers dub "metabolic syndrome." According to the Times, 25 percent of Americans now exhibit at least three of the major symptoms of the syndrome, which include elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, fat bellies, and high blood pressure.

Now, oversimplification runs both ways. Not all fat is "good": the fat from feedlot beef and factory-farm pork and chicken, which are fed loads of carbohydrates, has a different nutritional profile, higher in heart-disease-linked Omega-6 fatty acids, than those that eat their natural diets and forage on pasture, which are rich in Omega-3s. (The Eat Wild website collects the scientific literature on the differences.) And not all carbs are "bad": complex carbohydrates from whole-plant-based foods cause less of a spike in blood sugar than do refined carbohydrates, i.e. processed foods.

Says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health: "If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases."
I should know: I've lost a ton of weight in my middle age and turned my cholesterol readings around by giving up carbs and embracing a diet heavy in pastured meat, eggs, and cheese. I still enjoy salads and green vegetables out of our garden. But I blow up like a balloon if I try even a little dessert. I can't eat bread. Beer is strictly taboo.
I know it sounds looney, but fat keeps me slim -- or what passes for slim in my universe.
Turns out the only two macro-nutrients essential for human survival are protein and fat. Carbs in the form of grains and sugar are a very recent innovation in evolutionary terms, yet Americans may be consuming twice as much of them as they should, thanks in part to decades of medical advice and food marketing urging us to cut back on fat.
Meanwhile, a growing movement says we should abstain from meat to save the environment. Does this latest science not create a real dilemma for those advocating a more plant-based diet? What does it mean for our Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which place carbohydrates at the foundation of healthful eating? And what about the orange juice, chocolate milk, and sugary cereals that most schools feed kids for breakfast every morning?
The L.A. Times avoids the question vegetarians everywhere must be asking: what about whole grains and legumes, the bedrock of a thrifty, non-meat diet?

I predict that in 2011, the nutritious-diet wars will shift to implicate spelt and lentils.

Wild Seed Collecting

There is one hidden advantage provided by universal literacy and that is access to ongoing information all one’s live.  This brings about a revolution in agriculture.  It is not that the knowledge is not there, it has historically not been applied from simple ignorance.

In the developed world farmers learned to do much different things as a matter of course.  The same will happen in the paddy lands of Asia.

As we progress, this item on wild seeds needs to be though through.  Do we have some way for local land owners to collect and keep seeds on an ongoing manner?  Wild seeds are normally easy to collect.  What is lacking is a good reason.

On top of that the local owner already knows were to look for samples.  As a farm boy, I was able to locate and identify every known wild plant in Ontario in one summer and within a distance of perhaps one kilometer.  I certainly could have collected all the seeds over a summer while doing other tasks.

A successful collector can soon over a much larger region if it is considered appropriate.

Wild seeds seen as world crop 'insurance'

by Staff Writers

London (UPI) Dec 10, 2010 

British scientists say they plan to collect wild plant relatives of essential food crops including wheat, rice and potatoes to preserve their genetic traits.

The project, coordinated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, aims to safeguard valuable genetic traits in wild plants that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile, the BBC reported Friday.

The plant material collected will be stored in seed banks in the long term, but will also be used in "pre-breeding trials" to find out if the wild varieties could be used to combat diseases already threatening food production.

"There is a real sense of urgency about this," said Paul Smith, head of the Millennium Seed Bank at London's Kew Gardens.

"For some of these species, we may just get this one bite of the cherry, because so many of them are already threatened (with extinction) in their natural habitats," he said.

The hope is that the wild relatives of food crops will help plant-breeders produce strains that can cope with changing climate, plant diseases and loss of viable agricultural land.

"All our crops were originally developed from wild species -- that's how farming began," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

"Climate change means we need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future."

No rice please, we're Indonesians

Cigugur, Indonesia (AFP) Dec 12, 2010 - Indonesia is one of the world's biggest producers -- and consumers -- of rice, but in the interests of public health and food sustainability the government has launched an ambitious drive to wean people off their beloved staple.

For ordinary Indonesians like Andi Santoso, a 23-year-old student, the thought of going without rice for a day, as the government is proposing, is almost unthinkable.

"I eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner," he said, a little bemused. "If I don't eat rice, I feel like I haven't eaten. What else can I eat?"

Welfare Ministry secretary-general Indroyono Soesilo says the answer is simple, even if it sounds crazy to a nation that produces more than 40 million tonnes of rice a year and consumes around 33 million tonnes.

He likens the push to alternative sources of nutrition to asking a smoker to give up cigarettes.

"We urge Indonesians to kick their habit of eating rice. We need to diversify our diets. Many Indonesians still think that if they don't eat rice, they don't eat well," he said.

"Indonesia produces 66 kinds of other carbohydrates, such as corn, sago, cassava, sweet potato, potato and others. These all can replace rice for two out of three meals a day, for example.

"We urge Indonesians to diversify their eating habits from childhood."

With 240 million hungry mouths to feed, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. The average Indonesian consumes more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of rice a year, more than the Japanese and Chinese.

Improving farming techniques and a post-colonial food security drive have seen the country go from being the world's biggest rice importer in the 1960s to being self-sufficient now.

But while rice is plentiful and cheap, the government is worried that the nation is becoming too dependent on a single crop.

The grain that springs from paddy fields across Indonesia is vulnerable to shifting global weather patterns, such as this year's unseasonal rains linked to cooler sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, known as the La Nina effect.

Other concerns include population growth and the shrinking availability of arable land due to factors like urbanisation and rising sea levels from global warming, which the government fears could slash Indonesia's rice production.

But for millions of poor Indonesians, rice is not just a food staple, it's a livelihood that sustains life and deserves worship as a gift from the gods.

"Rice is life. It gives jobs and food," explained Djati Kusuma, the "king" of Cigugur, a village in the middle of Java island where the annual Seren Taun festival celebrates Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice.

For three days the villagers gather "to ask for her protection in order to avert disaster and to get an abundant harvest", he told AFP at the festival last month.

No one in Cigugur appears to be thinking of growing anything different on the verdant green paddy fields that flourish in the rich volcanic soil around the village.

The people in Java's rice-growing villages see the grain as something noble, occupying an elevated seat in the agricultural hierarchy compared to roots like cassava, which is associated with poverty.

Industrial growers however are rapidly seeing the potential of crops like cassava and sago for their dual uses as food and biofuel.

A September report by the International Rice ResearchInstitute (IRRI) and the US-based Asia Society said Asian countries need to sharply increase and better manage rice stocks to improve food security in a region where 65 percent of the world's hungry live.

Asia's rice-producing areas are home to nearly 560 million extremely poor people, who live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. About 90 percent of rice is grown in the region, on more than 200 million farms.

Rice is the staple food for more than three billion people, about half the world's population.