Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Quince rootstock were put into the ground yesterday

I had some quince rootstock sucker and I mounded shredded brush over their bases them last summer.  I also covered the pile of mulch with dog food bags.
Etiolation is how plants respond to darkness.  One happy outcome is that the sun does not destroy the growth regulators that would otherwise cause rooting.
Well, lookie here!



This is a bunch of rootstocks that I broke apart and planted.
Some were on the skinny side for roots
Others were well endowed.


While planting the rootstocks I noticed a couple of peach seedlings.

Close up of peach twig.

Some pears cultivars are compatible with quince, which results in a dwarf pear tree.  Here is a list of compatible cultivars from a reputable source.

Quince are staging a minor come back in their own right.  Part of that is a growing interest in middle-Eastern cuisine.

Quince cultivars
This is a cultivar named Claribel.  It was grown from seed collected in the Russian Federation...close to where the Battle of Stalingrad was fought.  Do you suppose it gets cold there?

The remainder of this post are lifted from a presentation Joseph Postman gave.

Postman lists 27 quince cultivars that were capable of surviving -30 F in December.  Four were capable of surviving -40F.  They did not test all of the cultivars in the collection but chose a cross section based on SSR genetic fingerprinting and a literature search looking for cultivars that had a reputation for being winter hardy.
This is the results of the SSR study.  It gives you a feel for the Quince "family tree".  The selections circled in green are ones that I am adding to my collection.  The ones circled in red are examples of multiple cultivars being genetically identical.
This is a compilation based on several years of data.
This is a gratuitous picture of a Quince.
An image taken at the ARS Quince orchard in Oregon

New Zealand Milking Parlors

New Zealand had a problem.

New Zealand has few competitive advantages in the global economy.  They do not have massive ore deposits, or extensive fossil fuel deposits, or awesome deep-water bays for shipping.  They do not have millions of engineering graduates.  They were hampered by their position in the most active seismic region of the Pacific Rim and rolling terrain.  And they were also hampered by having  population with expectations of First World living standards.

New Zealand does have fertile soil due to all of that seismic activity.  They also have the reliable rains and temperate climate one associates with medium sized islands in the "Roaring 40s" (latitude).

So the commodity most suited to New Zealand's strengths and weaknesses was the production of dairy products.  Unfortunately, most Asians do not have a tradition of consuming dairy products.  And the one nation that did, India, was not overly endowed with hard currency.  Shipping milk to the major markets, Europe and the US, was hampered by the fact that milk is extremely perishable and heavy.

The solution was to become very good at producing "manufactured milk products" like butter, cheese and dried milk.

In the US, producers do not make money on Grade B milk, that is, the milk that is processed into dairy products.  There is always an oversupply of Grade B milk and the prices are always too darned low.  Dairies get knocked back to Grade B milk when their quality slips.  The dairy producer has to keep milking the cows.  He has no option in that regard because it is a health issue for the cows.  US producers gladly sell the Grade B milk for some money rather than dump it on the ground.

Let me recap:  New Zealand was not well suited for the production of grain but is well suited to raise dairy cattle.  The US business model involved feeding large amounts of grain to cattle, grain that New Zealand would have to buy in the US, transport the grain 8200 miles, feed the cattle, extract the milk, "manufacture" the dairy products and then ship back to the US or Europe.  And somehow make money on a product that local, US producers were losing their ass on.

The path to success was extremely Darwinian
Some of the problems solved themselves.  Feeding the cattle imported grain was an obvious non-starter.  The only path to profitability was to feed the cattle what wanted to grow in New Zealand:  Perennial Ryegrass and White Clover.

Other problems floated to the surface when the bean-counters finished their preliminary analysis.  New Zealand milk producers had to put milk in the tank at 1/3-to-1/4 the cost of US producers.  That was not going to happen relying on cute life-hacks or infinitesimally small efficiency gains.  It demanded a ruthless re-engineering of the entire business process.  No stone could be left unturned, no toad could remain unkissed.

Milking parlors
A major part of the path-to-profit was to rethink milking parlors and to make them more labor efficient.  Labor is money.  The other aspect is that "labor" was used to fix "situations" when the cows were stressed.

Stressed cows give less milk.  One of the keys was going to be figuring out ways to get cows to do what the dairyman wanted them to do without stressing them....without relying on force.

How successful were they?

In 1990 the very best US farms could milk 90 cows per hour per person.  In 1990 the very worst New Zealand farms milked 135 cows per hour per person...and the New Zealand metric included the labor spent in clean-up.  In 2010 the very best US farms were still pegged at 90 cows per hour per person.  In 2010 you were not considered much of a dairyman if you could not move 180 cows per hour per person through your milking parlor.

How did they do it?
They realized that the only things the human could uniquely do was to put the milking machine on the cow and to clean up afterward.

They looked at all of the other things milkers were doing, i.e. spending time on.  Much of it involved moving cows.

People started asking, "Why do we have to drive them into the barn?  They want to get milked.  A full udder is painful."

One of the answers was that barns are dark.  Cows are prey.  Predators den in caves.  Caves are dark.  Therefore, dark places are not safe places for cows.  The barns were opened up and the walls were removed from the  entrance and exit.  The cows could see light and landscape in the direction they were supposed to move.  It became more like walking through a valley than entering a cave.

Another answer is that cows don't deal well with corners.  Imagine a semi truck trapped in an employee parking lot.  It has a bunch of traffic stack-up behind it so it cannot back up.  It has a bunch of very sharp maneuvers to execute.  The driver stresses.  The driver locks-up.  Same thing with cows.  The solution was to never require that they turn.  Straight through, baby!

Incentives
Cows have a significant control over how quickly the let their milk down.  They can help you or they can fight you.

Realizing this, US producers reward cows after milking with grain.  Typically the operator would hook up the milking machines, leave the pit and get a five gallon bucket of corn.  He would put it in a feed trough over to the side and then go back to the pit.  When the last cow finished giving milk he would release all of the cows from the milking machines and the cows would saunter over to eat their grain.  That is a human or operator centered process.

The problem is that cows are much like the office gossip.  They are not very bright and they seem to waste what little intelligence they have on negative thoughts about their cow-workers.  "Oh hell.  I am next to Blossom, that iron-teated, splay-footed cow always take for-evah to drop her milk.  I'll show that old bitch.  I will go even slower!"  (Note:  Cows are notoriously potty-mouthed.)

Contrast that to New Zealand.
Pavlov's dog.  Ring the bell and the dog starts drooling.

The cows get plugged in.  The operator starts from whichever end has the high-producing cows.  More milk takes longer to extract and he wants them to finish in a near-deadheat.  He pulls a cord that drops five pounds of corn through a thin-walled metal "stove pipe" into a tin lined feed trough.  The corn rattles coming down the stove pipe.  It rattles when it hits the bottom of the feed trough.  Grain dust rises into the air and the ventilation pattern carries it over to the cattle.  The ventilation pattern is intentionally designed to do that.  Ryegrass and clover are salad.  Grain is the equivalent of Snickers bars.


Rudimentary pneumatic logic (in the beginning) was programmed to release each cow as she finished milking.  There was only enough corn for the first cow!  Be damned if Blossom gets it.

Pavlov's dog drooled.  Kiwi cows exploded milk.  Those cows RACE to finish first.

After leaving the center of the milking parlor they are free to go to a fresh slice of paddock.  Fresh paddock is highly valued by cows.  Unlike the paddock they just left, the fresh paddock does not have cow poop tracked all over it.  Even the girls who did not get any grain are eager to tear into the fresh paddock.

Speaking of poop...
US dairymen brag about how many cows they milk per hour.  There is a strong temptation to not keep book on the labor consumed by incidental tasks; opening and closing gates, cleaning up the poop and so on.

In New Zealand, efficiency is not about bragging, it is about economic survival.  Leaving out "real" costs leads to compromised information, poorly informed decisions and then to bankruptcy.

Consider poop.  It takes time to clean up after cows poop in the milking parlor.

In New Zealand the cows are moved from the paddock directly to the milking parlor via the opening of gates.  Most of the cows are quietly resting and chewing their cud as they wait for the gate to open.    Cows poop-and-pee when they stand up.

Then they poop-and-pee on the walk to the barn.

Some barns even had a shallow "pond" the cows walked through just before they entered the barn because stockmen noticed that cows ALWAYS poop-and-pee when they waded into streams to drink.  By the time they get to the milking machine they are pretty much all pooped and peed out.

But if they are not...the operator has a hose that attached to a ceiling mounted pivot.  The hose is not long enough to touch the floor.  That is because somebody noticed that the typical wall-mounted spigot left a loop of hose on the floor that trapped poopy-soupy water and the operator had to spray the floor down twice.

The ceiling mounted pivot might not seem like a big deal but you have to remember that the operator only has 20 seconds per cow if he is going to process 180 per hour.  He will fail if he has to leave the pit even once.  He will fail if he has to do anything twice.

So why can't the US close the gap?
The biggest reason US producers have been unable to close the gap is due to the anchoring effects of sunk costs.

Rather than build an optimum facility in the exact, best optimum location the dairyman succumbs to the temptation to refurbish an existing building.  A building that is not in the right place.  A building with the wrong exterior dimensions.  A building with uneven floors and walls that cannot be removed. A building that cannot accommodate straight through animal travel.

The New Zealand technology does not lend itself to cherry-picking.  It only takes one knot in the hose to choke the flow.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Milo...

Some guy named Milo is getting hammered.

"The Breitbart editor was disinvited from speaking at the conservative conference after an old video resurfaced"   -USA Today
I wonder if anybody is putting any effort into finding evidence that he repudiated or clarified those views between the time the video was recorded and the story broke.

Of course any back peddling that occurred after the story broke is suspect.

I have been guilty of saying some bone-headed things.  I have been guilty of saying (and writing) things that were poorly worded.  Those who might have judged looked at the preponderance of evidence and judged accordingly.

I am not apologizing for this Milo person.  I am pointing out that we have processes and, hopefully, the attention spans to exercise those processes.

Would YOU want to know the odds?

My brother was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Some folks think it is strange that he does not want to know "the odds".

I, however, think it is wise for many different reasons.

This is a "calibration" curve showing how most people process "odds" or "uncertainty".

The straight, green line that cuts across the graph diagonally is "perfect calibration."  That is not how folks intuitively process data, even ones that are highly trained in statistics.

The red, broken line more closely represents how people mentally "map" odds.  Most people are fairly well calibrated for 50:50 odds.  That is, the flip of a coin.

Most people are marginally calibrated for 25% and 75% odds.  When, in fact, the odds are 25% we treat them as if there was a 10% or 15% chance of occurring.  When there is actually a 20% chance of an event occurring we round down to 0%.  In a similar way, odds of 80% round up to 100% after being bent by our mental prism.

For all practical purposes that means that a patient who is told that their chances of survival are less than  20% will bend that information into certain doom.  They will lose the will to live.

Here is the pay-off line:
Based on the heuristics of how people process information: It would be more honest to dial in a little bit of Kentucky Windage and tell people with a 0.5%-to-20% chance of survival that they have a 25% chance of survival (which they will interpret as 10%-to-15% chance) than to than to tell them the mathematically defensible odds of survival (which they will morph to 0%).

But even that is misleading
To quote Gordon Dickson's Dorsai

Estimates had been...five percent (casualties) for the defending forces.  But such figures, without meaning to be, are misleading.  To the man in battle, twenty percent, or even five percent casualties do not mean that he will be five percent or twenty percent wounded... 

For life and death are binary.  There is no such thing as being a little bit dead.

Even if your odds of survival are one-in-a-million, iff you are the one...then you are still 100% alive.  The clarity of hindsight informs us that "your" odds for survival were 100%, just like the odds of that ovum being fertilized with that spermatozoon were 100%...in hindsight.

As a final consideration, consider the odds of a misdiagnosis.  Surely those odds are higher than 1%.

Healthcare practitioners
The game changes quite drastically for healthcare practitioners.  Doctors must use math to determine the course of treatment that offers the greatest benefit and the least harm.  Intuition is just not good enough.

Nurses must be protective of their own mental health.  Good nurses have an empathy bond with their patients.  "Knowing" that a patient might be dead in two months facilitates protective pre-grieving.  It also keeps the world orderly and sufficiently predictable to keep them from going bat-shit crazy.

The folks who are ripped to shreds are the doctors and nurses who are afflicted with cancer.  Perhaps even worse are the doctors and nurses who have close family who are diagnosed with the types of cancer that typically have 5%-to-20% survival rates.   Their professional training drags them one way.  The bonds of family anchor them.  What gives?

That is where we are today.  I have a brother with cancer.  I have a sister who worked as a nurse on the oncology floor for 25 years.  My sister lost her daughter in 2010 so she knows the agony of losing a child...and it tears her up when mom and dad ask her questions.  I have another brother who is a radiologist.  Actually, I have it pretty easy.

Bonus link on calibration and the appropriateness of extreme confidence.
 

Real Politics

Real politics involves developing a package where all major stakeholders gain something.

A map showing the solar power potential of the region immediately adjacent to the US-Mexico border.
I suspect that many of the political alliances that are currently dead-set against a wall between Mexico and the United States would be deeply conflicted if the wall were topped by solar panels and the power production were split between Mexico and the United States 28%:72% (the population ratio between the two countries at this time).

Furthermore, I think the solar panels should be installed over a 15 year time-span where the contracts were let on five, three-year segments to better exploit technical advances and production efficiencies.  A long installation period also means that the panels will reach the end of their productive life over an extended period of time and the replacement schedule will be spread out over time.   Bidding would be open to any company with production facilities in the US or Mexico.


How much power?
A 1500 mile wall topped with a 2 meter wide (about 6') solar panel that is tilted in a fixed, optimum orientation will intercept an average of 28,800 megawatt-hours of solar radiation per day.  At 13% efficiency that equates to an average of 3,700 megawatt-hours of electricity per day.  More in the summer.  Less in the winter.

The most recent nuclear generation unit to go on-line in the United States is Unit Two of the Watts Bar station.  It has the ability to produce about 28,000 megawatt-hours per day, or is about seven times larger than the Mexico-US wall proposal.

A cross section of the wall as seen from Texas.  Obviously this has a tilt to the right.
A cross section of the wall as seen from California.  Obviously this has a tilt to the left.
How could this proposal possibly fail?

Hat-tip to Charles Hugh Smith

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Dog Days of February

I spent much of today with the Michigan Search and Rescue teams.

They train every three weeks.  They needed volunteers who could sit quietly in the woods for five hours.

I did not chat with many of the folks.  They were all business.

But I do have pictures of dogs.



There were many puppies in attendance.  Socialization is an important part of the mission.  They must be socialized around other dogs because they might work a very large event, like 9/11, where there will be many, many other dogs working.  They must also be socialized around people because some of the techniques involve letting the dogs run off-leash.

Lots of smiling dog faces.  These are dogs that are happiest when they are working.  You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.
Some basic obedience training took place at the start of the event.  That got everybody into a working mindset.

Can you tell this dog adores her master?
Clementine is a rock-star.  She is a bloodhound.
My original intent was to take a bunch of pictures of dogs but things moved too quickly.  There was not much stand-around time.

Belladonna told me that she would believe me unless I got some pictures.  So I did the best I could.  I asked a couple of other guys if they could send me photos.  I will post them if they show up.

The set-up
The volunteer "victims" were placed in the woods.  We were spaced about 400 yards apart.  For the novice dogs we were placed in easy-to-find places.  For the more experienced dogs we were shuffled up and placed into more difficult places, that is, farther from the trail.

The first team with an experienced dog told me that I was too visible and they directed me to move one hundred yards farther to the west.  Okie-dokie.

Exactly one hundred yards to the west was a tiny pot-hole swale.  EXACTLY the kind of place a deer would bed down in.  Good enough for a deer to avoid detection by predators, good enough for me.  And it WAS exactly 100 yards west of where I had been.
The dogs really struggled with that pot-hole.  My scent stream lifted off only to reappear 60 yards downwind and to the left or right of downwind.  The handlers told me they walked around the rim of the pot-hole and the wind direction shifted like crazy-mad.

I think they also had issues with the fact that I wear no fragrances and my outer clothing has not been laundered for more than a month.  Not that I am a slob, it is just that I have many coats and jackets and there is little mud or filth in the winter.

Another thing I did was to remain still and to shield my face.  A fairly large number of the people they need to find are folks with dementia or emotional issues.    In the moment they might not want to be found or might be petrified by dogs.  Sometimes the victim is not conscious.

Dogs are predators and they see motion more than shapes, and shapes (body language) more than detail.  Think like a bunny, hunch over like a stump, hide your face and don't move and you will be harder to find.

This would be Akron.  Akron is a novice dog.  He loves cheese.

I forgot this little darling's name.  He was also a newbie.  His treats tasted like chicken.  OK, they smelled like chicken.
This is the bottom of the pot-hole I tucked into after I was directed to move. 
According to my compass, the previous picture is looking north-east which is nominally downwind of the prevailing winds.
I had a dog that was 20 yards downwind of me and did not find me.  They wear bells and you can follow their progress with your ears.
This is the first experienced team that found me...before I was moved.  When the dog finds you he/she has to bring the handler right to your position.  You can see the tips of my boots in this shot.
 The handlers work very hard to ensure that the dogs will bring the handler right to your position.  Close is not good enough.  The team might be looking for somebody trapped in rubble, inside culverts or in boats or campers.  The last thing the handler does before leaving is to capture the GPS for quality control reasons.


This is Zephyr.  She has some very stylish kicks(footware) 
 She found me like she was a heat-seeking missile.  Her owner was very humble, he said later dogs had an advantage because there was human and dog scent all homing in on the victim.  That is why Michigan SAR likes to do their training in large facilities with many volunteers.  That gives more dogs the ability to puzzle-out the problem without the cues left by previous teams.

A surprising number of dogs are rescue dogs.  Zephyr was a rescue dog that was purchased in front of (outside of) a dog store in Miami, Florida.
Front of card

Many of the teams (invariably named after the dog) have their own business cards.  This is Zephyr's card.


The red dog on the right is a mixed breed.  The owners believe she has some Redbone Coonhound in her background.  The dog in the middle is of mixed ancestry.  The dog on the extreme left is a German Shorthair Pointer who is also being trained to air-scent interesting chemical combinations.

I expect I will do this again.  Like my daddy told me...there will always be a place for people with strong backs, closed mouths and a high tolerance for boredom.  I continue to marvel that it took me 57 years to find my niche; a job where I can sit out in the woods, read a book and smell bad.

Many more pictures at Michigan SAR's Facebook page.

Overall, it was a lovely way to spend a warm February Sunday.


The Last Breath of Jesus

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.  -Matt 27:50

I visited my brother yesterday.  I walked in as the respiratory therapist was walking him through some exercises.  She left him with a nifty device to exercise with.  It measured breath volume.

According the this website, the normal "tidal volume" is about a half liter.  Little bro was knocking out +2.0 liters.

Assuming that Jesus's last breath on the cross was 2.0 liters, then he exhaled 5.4e22 molecules.  Looking at just the nitrogen and argon, he exhaled 4.26e22 molecules of essentially inert molecules...molecules that are floating around in the atmosphere today.  Oxygen, carbon dioxide and the like are likely to be sequestered by chemical reactions or "banked" in the ocean.  But N and Ar are likely to still be floating around.

The mass of the atmosphere is approximately 5.15e18 kg.  The number of molecules is approximately 1.1e44.  You can look it up.

The odds that any one, given molecule in today's atmosphere was exhaled during Jesus's last breath is 4.26e22/1.1e44 or 3.8e-22

3.8e-22 is a very small number but it relates to the odds of a single molecule.  What if we multiplied it by a larger number...say the number of molecules we inhale in an average breath?  That would approximate the odds of our inhaling a molecule from Jesus's last breath in any one of our normal inhalations.

3.8e-22 (odds of a single molecule...) X 1.3e22 (molecules in normal tidal inhalation) = 5.0

That suggests to me that we inhale an average of five molecules with every breath that were exhaled by Jesus during his final breath.


If you choose, you can keep the commandments;
loyalty is doing the will of God.
Set before you are fire and water;
to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand.
Before everyone are life and death,
whichever they choose will be given them.
The eyes of God behold his works,
and he understands every human deed.
He never commands anyone to sin,
nor shows leniency toward deceivers  -Sirach Chapter 15:15-20

Of course we also inhale five of Hitler's last breath and five of Budda's last breath and five of....  It is up to you to choose whose breath will guide your path.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Asian Pears

Reader Loren commented on a recent post

"What is you climate zone? 5 or 6? How does the Asian Pear do in your climate? I'm in a 5 in the SW WI and wonder if it will thrive."
Zone maps available HERE

According to the USDA Zone map my location is 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than yours.  I believe that microclimate can make up to 15 degrees F difference.

My location is very exposed.  I get much wind and lots of radiant heat loss on clear nights.  Due to the elevation I do not have an issue with the coldest air puddling up on the coldest, clear still nights.

I have had winter damage on some of my Asian pears.



Not my photo
I had sunscald damage on the roostock (P. cally) of one tree.
I also had twig death after one test winter.  The tree recovered and bore a partial crop that year.

Cultural practices

This is all pretty standard stuff for northern climates.

I think perforated, white drain tile would make good tree wrap in cold climates.  It becomes critical to control rodents when you are providing them with predator-proof housing.

  • Use hardy rootstocks.  If Pyrus calleryana (not very hardy) is your only choice then bury the graft union a couple of inches below the soil line.  Otherwise, plant with the graft union one or two inches above the soil line.
  • Plant the tree where it will get the maximum amount of sunlight per day.  Sunlight equals ripe fruit.  Sunlight equals twigs and trunks chock full of carbohydrates that act as antifreeze.  Sunlight is your friend! 
  • Wrap the trunk.  I have used old newspapers, dogfood bags, bags that contained concrete mix, brown paper bags, red rosin paper, cardboard pizza boxes.  They all worked.
  • Control rodent populations.  Cage against deer and moose browsing if necessary.
  • Control the fruit load.  Trying to ripen too much fruit means a winter killed tree.
  • Make sure you have a more-than-ample supply of potassium.
  • Manage nitrogen and water so you get about three feet of growth in a non-fruiting tree and eighteen inches of growth in fruiting tree. 
  • Do not apply high nitrogen fertilizers after June first.
  • Do not prune before March first. By March first you will have some idea of how severe the winter was.  Also, leaving branches in-place provides some shielding from radiant heat loss and they mutually protect each other.
  • Asian pears are vulnerable to overbearing.  You will have branches break.  The trees will recover.
  • Do not let the tree touch steel wire or posts.
  • I used a "Swim Noodle" to prevent the cordage I was using to secure this Asian Pear from cutting into the trunk.  I see no reason why a "Swim Noodle" could not be used for trunk wrap on young trees to protect against sunscald.  Bags of leaves will be spread in the spring for mulch.  Left in bags to minimize rodent habitat.
  • Secure the tree so it does not get wind-whipped.
Cultivars
There are three kinds of "Asian" pears.

The kind that most people think about is Pyrus pyrifolia.  The majority of the "Asian" pears in the super market are this species.  Many selections are absolutely delicious.  For the most part these are very grower-friendly trees.  They almost try too hard to make you happy.

The hardiest "Asian" pears are Pyrus ussuriensis.  Most of these pears are not so great for quality.

The third group is a huge, messy swarm of "hybrids".  If you look through this list generated by the Agricultural Research Station you will see that many of the most cold hardy pears are hybrids.  The list is not a "clean" list because it includes cultivars that are 'NOT COLD HARDY".  My guess is that the summer intern who assembled this list did not proof read it.  They simply mined the database looking for the string "*COLD HARDY*".  Caveat emptor.

While there is not much agreement, there is some data that suggests that Shinseiki and Korean Giant are two of the hardier Pyrus pyrifolia cultivars.

For example, the link for Shinseiki states:

Cold Hardy. Survived and fruited for several years in USDA zone 4A near St. Cloud Minnesota. -- D. Griffin, 2005

Perhaps coincidentally, both Korean Giant and Shinseiki share Chojuro as a parent.  Chojuro is Mrs ERJ's favorite Asian Pear by a very large margin.

As a bonus, here is a Canadian source of some hardy pears...including some of Russian origins.

Loren:  I hope you found this helpful.

Pigou's Solution

---Administrative note:  One of my younger brothers was diagnosed with cancer yesterday.  Prayers for him and for his family will be much appreciated.  I know many of you have gone through similar issues, both personally and have watched close family members meet this challenge.

I intend to keep blogging.  It is one of the ways I "process".  The writing standards will slip.  You will see more grammatical errors and some of the analogies will be a bit of a stretch, the logic will not be as seamless, you will see fewer photos and the topics will drift from what you are used to seeing.

On his behalf, thank-you for any prayers. We hope for one outcome and yet acknowledge that God's will shall be done.  Regardless of the near-term outcome we know it will be brutally hard for his immediate family.  I am not encouraging pledges of prayers in the comments, although you are more than welcome to leave them.  I do ask that you send up a quick prayer in those moments when you have the time...when you are stuck in traffic or in an elevator.  Ask for strength and wisdom and peace for my brother and his family.

And if you don't think of your self as the praying type, I believe that prayers from folks who are out-of-the-habit count for extra.  It is a big deal when the least communicative child phones home.  End of administrative note---


This essay was originally going to be titled "Failures of the Free Market System" but I rejected that title.

We do not say that a C-clamp "failed" when we cannot use it to measure to the thousandth of an inch.  Nor do we say that a digital caliper failed when we are unsuccessful breaking loose a section of rusty, 2" black iron pipe.  Resemblance does not guarantee function nor is function assured because we "really, really want it to work that way."

It would be convenient if "Markets" could do everything.  But there are some things that it cannot do because it was not designed to do those things.

Internal costs and external costs
Internal costs are costs that the producer cannot avoid and consequently impact the pricing policies of the producer.

External costs are costs that are not borne by the producer.  Somebody else ends up paying "external" cost.

Successful competitors are the ones who can externalize more of their costs than the other guys.

Video camera analogy
Suppose you had a security camera that was positioned to view the interior of a bank lobby.  While it might offer incidental coverage of the parking lot, that is not the interior camera's mission.  Degradation of the mission, coverage of the inside, cannot be tolerated even if it offers more coverage of the parking lot.

We would not say the camera failed if it did not record an accident in the parking lot.  That is not what we ask it to do.  Internal costs impact prices.  In the wild, external costs only impact prices in the most incidental of ways.

Internal costs influence prices
Internal costs influence prices in two ways.  Lower internal costs allow producers to lower prices to the customer.  That customer is the first link in the value subtraction chain.

Internal costs that are higher than the transaction price results in the least efficient producers liquidating and a shrinking of the supplier base.  Supply-and-demand suggests that prices will rise until an equilibrium is reached and no more producers are shaved off the inefficient end of the line.

External costs
Externalized costs exist in countless forms.  By way of illustration, a couple of common forms of externalized costs are the health issues caused by pollution incurred in the production process and end-of-lifecycle costs.

The total cost of burning coal, for instance, is not completely comprehended by the cost of removing it from the ground and transporting it to the market (the internal costs).  The total cost of burning coal must include the effects of midden pile leaching, lives shortened by Black Lung, the accelerated depreciation of structures due to acid rain and the impact on the health of people, crops and wildlife.  Either that, or it must comprehend the cost of mitigating those undesirable outcomes.

One function of government is to re-associated externalized costs back to the activities that created those costs.  That is, convert the external cost into an internal cost so the robust allocative efficiency of the market can be tapped.  This is known as Pigou's Solution.

At this point some readers are thrashing around on the floor in pain
As much as it may hurt to admit it, government has a role in pricing.  It can be via taxation, regulation or mandated "deposits".  There are some things the private sector cannot do.

A couple of mundane examples:
Whink stain remover.  Carried by every big-box store.  Walmart, Lowes, Menards, Home Depot....grocery stores.  It contains about 10% hydrofluoric acid
This what hydrofluoric acid does to flesh.  For some reason it does not trigger pain receptors and so you, or kids, can play in a puddle of it unaware that they are picking up a fatal dose through their skin.
An unfortunate choice of packaging.
Letters to the big-box stores (with these pictures, incidentally) all bounced off.  They are so compartmentalized that there is no place to inject that information.  It is impossible to drill into the organization and find anybody who "owns" unsafe products at Walmart, for instance.

Another example
Burning vinyl creates dioxin, one of the most potent carcinogens around.

Vinyl is everywhere, but especially in building construction.
The foreman said to the young, dumb kid, "Make the scraps disappear."  They made a dandy bonfire.
You may study up on the topic and challenge me, "But Mr ERJ, the literature says that the pyrolysis of vinyl does not produce huge amounts of dioxin unless copper is present as a catalyst."

Thanks for pointing that out.  What do you suppose is the primary component of the insulation in this wire?

Is it any wonder that firefighters have a much higher rate of cancer than the general public?

"...researchers found that more than two-thirds of firefighters – 68 percent – develop cancer, compared to about 22 percent for the general population, no matter the race or gender."  Source
Asking contractors to use hardwood flooring instead of vinyl flooring or to use non-vinyl insulated wire is to ask them to commit economic suicide.  They will never win a bid.  Asking the manufacturer of Whink to cease-and-desist would likely destroy the economics of an entire town in Oklahoma.  It ain't gonna happen.  It is not within the scope of the "Market" to voluntarily absorb external costs, just like monitoring the parking lot is not within the scope of the interior cameras.

It is within the scope of government to reattach those costs back to the transaction.  This is actually a libertarian concept because "the forgotten person" is unknowingly, unwillingly subsidizing the producer who is most successful at externalizing the full costs of a product.  Liberatarians  believe in the doctrine of free will.  Was  the firefighter who got cancer able to exercise free will?  I suppose he could have quit his job if he had enough information.  And then who would put out the fires?