July 12, 2018 in 2,819 words

China’s soybean imports forecast to fall as tariffs hit and buyers switch to other animal feed

Prices of oilseed from US to rise, prompting buyers to seek out alternatives, Chinese agriculture ministry report says

China on Thursday cut its forecast for soybean imports for the 2018/19 crop year, warning that higher prices due to Beijing’s trade war with Washington will curb demand as farmers switch to alternative ingredients for their animal feed.

Imports of soybeans in the crop year that starts on October 1 would be 93.85 million tonnes, down 1.8 million tonnes, or 2 per cent, from last month’s estimate, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in its monthly crop report.

That compares with its estimate of 95.97 million for the 2017/18 crop year and would be the lowest import level since the 2016/17 year, according to US government records.

The ministry’s Chinese Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (CASDE) report said new 25 per cent tariffs on US shipments introduced last week would inflate prices of the oilseed.

DEGREE OF RETRIBUTION: China can turn to South America to replace US soybean imports.

With the onset of Trump’s trade war, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China—the world’s largest and second-largest economies, respectively—have reached a crisis point. Yasheng Huang, a political economist, MIT professor, and the author of Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics, argues that “a trade war would negatively affect the interest of U.S. consumers, companies, and the financial system of the United States.”

Speaking at the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival, Huang goes on to explain how the newly-imposed tariffs on Chinese goods will raise domestic prices. He also reveals how the U.S. and China can coexist “peacefully and profitably”—and why the onus is on America to ensure that reality.

The First Amendment reason your license plate could end up in an ICE database


Big data.

A quick trip to the mall is landing some California shoppers in a law-enforcement database.

A chain of malls in California is using license-plate reading technology to collect the numbers on cars in their parking lots, according to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF,) which advocates for civil rights online. The mall operator, Irvine Company Retail Properties, then transmits the information to a surveillance technology vendor called Vigilant Solutions, which sells the data to clients.

One of Vigilant’s clients happens to be US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) Local law enforcement agencies also use its license-plate databases.

The EFF has alleged that Irvine customers’ data could end up at ICE, though the shopping chain told The Verge that Vigilant shares its information only with local police. Irvine only collects plate numbers at three of its dozens of shopping centers, it added. Vigilant itself called EFF’s report inaccurate. EFF has countered by calling on Irvine to prove that the data is only shared with local police departments. “We remain concerned and skeptical,” it wrote.

Life as a Gay Man Behind Bars

“You seem plenty tough, Brian, but you’re not prison tough,” warned Mark, a public defender who represented me when I got a DUI back in 2006. “You need to suck up to the prison guards because you’re not going to survive the Aryan Brotherhood.”

I was/am acutely aware of what they do to guys like me — preppy gay white boys with delicate features — in prison. It’s estimated that roughly 200,000 people are raped in prison every year, the vast majority of whom are adult men since the vast majority of people we lock up are adult men. And a 2012 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 39 percent of men who identified as gay said they’d been sexually assaulted by another inmate compared to 1 percent of straight-identifying inmates.

That’s why Mark advised me to promptly join a gang if I had ultimately been sentenced to prison (luckily, I was not). Gangs are based on race, so as a Whiffenpoof (third from left), my options were probably the Nazi Lowriders or the Aryan Brotherhood, both aligned with the hardcore Sureños Latino gang. “I just can’t see you being successful doing that,” Mark says, rightly, when I reach back out to him last week. He adds that someone like me would be better off in the warden’s office as a “trustee,” which means wearing all white and sycophantically shadowing prison guards so that they’ll protect you.

In other words, I’m the guy they’ll rape first.

I credit my irrational, yet very real, fear of being raped in prison to a combination of things. First and foremost: Pop culture. Family Guy loves prison rape jokes, as do Get Hard, Let’s Go to Prison, Half Baked, Dave Chappelle, John Oliver and SpongeBob Squarepants. More than anything, though, my terror of being raped by a carousel of violent convicts stems from the Shawshank Redemption. I’d first seen it in college, shortly after agonizingly (and sloppily) losing my anal virginity, thereby swearing off my bottoming career for what’s going on two decades now.

Aerial and satellite photos reveal massive mines scarring the earth’s surface


Going deep.

Humans have always dug into the earth for new resources. But while millennia-old techniques like crystalizing salt in evaporating pools still exist all over the world, cavernous open pit mines like Chile’s Escondida copper mine (nearly four kilometers wide) are far more representative of what modern resource extraction looks like. Below, images taken from airplanes, satellites and even astronauts on the International Space Station reveal how insatiable mining has irreversibly altered the face of the earth.

The Andina mine in Chile.

The Diavik diamond mine, south of the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

A satellite image of the Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile.

5 Crazy True Crime Stories Involving Video Games

The biggest crimes related to video games are usually whenever EA releases something like their five-dollar “Look at virtual boobs” DLC. But sometimes games have featured prominently in crimes that are very real and very weird. Like when …

5. Some College Kids Tried Scamming Minecraft, And Their Program Eventually Brought Internet Service Down Across The Eastern U.S.

You all know what Minecraft is, but you may not know that many people play on privately run multiplayer servers. Some cater to half a dozen friends, others host tens of thousands of strangers, and many offer custom rules and features. Running Minecraft servers can become a small business. Some make a few hundred or thousand bucks a month from donations, usage fees, and sales of in-game tools, and one large server was pulling in 100 grand a month.

Which means at least one player earned enough to make their skull fortress a reality.

When the money’s that good, you want to lure people away from your competitors. And sure, you could just advertise your best features and promote a fun environment, but that’s hard. If you’re unethical, it’s way better to simply launch a DDoS attack on a rival server, because it’s easy to attract customers when the other options have the functionality of bricks.

For those of you who either aren’t tech-savvy or have been led by CSI to believe that DDoS stands for “Dangerous DOS Office Spam,” a distributed denial of service attack floods a server with so many simultaneous requests that it slows to a crawl and can’t do anything. It’s like shutting down a sandwich shop by sending in 300 people to all demand their order at once. Only in this case, it was up to 600,000 computers that had been linked into a botnet through malware infections.

Alexa is a terrible doctor


In need of a few new skills.

We become accustomed to technology so quickly, it’s easy to forget that Amazon’s Alexa was a pioneer just six years ago.

The idea was to introduce into people’s homes and offices a personal assistant so knowledgeable, so available, and requiring such minimal human effort that she would become ubiquitous. The utterance of a single word—her name—causes Alexa to spring into action. Without opening a laptop, tablet, or mobile device, we can now set reminders for ourselves, shop, and get answers to simple but essential questions like the weather as we go about our morning routine. Alexa, and the family of devices that rely on her, are programmed to become smarter as we use them, learning to recognize our voices, speech patterns, and usual requests.

A massive success, Alexa is now in some 20 million American homes. Experts estimate Amazon accounts for more than 70% of the US market for “smartspeakers” equipped with a voice user interface (VUI). As familiar members of the household, Alexa and her ilk have been trusted with tasks as essential as ordering our Ubers and as personal as singing our children to sleep. She is efficient, unbiased, and reliable—basically, all the qualities of the best human personal assistants, without any of the worry that comes from someone knowing the particulars of your life.

Given all that, it seems like Alexa would be the ideal assistant to handle questions about perhaps the most important, and most personal, subject matter: our health. But on this front, she’s got a lot of learning to do.

“May We Live Long and Die Out”

How a global movement to extinguish the human race won its latest convert: me

In Portland, Oregon, hardly a weekend goes by without some kind of street fair or outdoor market. Even on a blisteringly hot Saturday last July, the Division-Clinton street fair was in full swing. Food vendors and political groups lined the streets; families with kids and strollers filled in the gaps. But one of the booths was not like the others. It had a prominent green banner reading, “Thank you for not breeding.” A table was perched underneath the tent canopy, with a cartoon of a dodo bird alongside a dinosaur with its left arm around a human silhouette. “Visualize VOLUNTARY HUMAN EXTINCTION,” it read. “May we live long and die out.” Behind the table was a man named Les U. Knight.

A young couple looked quizzically at the signs, then approached Knight.

“Is this about not breeding cats and dogs?” they asked.

“It’s about all domesticated animals,” replied Knight, smiling. The corners of his piercing blue-gray eyes turned up as well. “But especially humans.”

Knight, a tall, lanky man in his early seventies with a mat of silver hair, is the leader of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement—VHEMT (pronounced “vehement”) for short — a worldwide crusade of at least 9,000 people who have voluntarily decided not to have children. The idea behind VHEMT is that Homo sapiens have caused so much damage to the planet already that the only thing that can restore the balance is for humanity to go extinct, and the only humane way to do that is by refusing to procreate.

The real reason the sound of your own voice makes you cringe

Does the sound of your own voice make you want to cover your ears? You are not alone.

Hate the sound of your own voice? We all do. But why?

Most of us have shuddered on hearing the sound of our own voice. In fact, not liking the sound of your own voice is so common that there’s a term for it: voice confrontation.

But why is voice confrontation so frequent, while barely a thought is given to the voices of others?

A common explanation often found in popular media is that because we normally hear our own voice while talking, we receive both sound transferred to our ears externally by air conduction and sound transferred internally through our bones. This bone conduction of sound delivers rich low frequencies that are not included in air-conducted vocal sound. So when you hear your recorded voice without these frequencies, it sounds higher – and different. Basically, the reasoning is that because our recorded voice does not sound how we expect it to, we don’t like it.

Dr Silke Paulmann, a psychologist at the University of Essex, says, “I would speculate that the fact that we sound more high-pitched than what we think we should leads us to cringe as it doesn’t meet our internal expectations; our voice plays a massive role in forming our identity and I guess no one likes to realise that you’re not really who you think you are.”

Indeed, a realisation that we sound more like Mickey Mouse than we care to can lead to disappointment.

The iconic Fountain (1917) is not created by Marcel Duchamp

In 1917, when the United States was about to enter the First World War and women in the United Kingdom had just earned their right to vote, a different matter occupied the sentiments of the small, modernist art scene in New York. It had organised an exhibit where anyone could show his or her art against a small fee, but someone had sent in a urinal for display. This was against even the most avant-garde taste of the organisers of the exhibit. The urinal, sent in anonymously, without title and only signed with the enigmatic ‘R. Mutt’, quickly vanished from view. Only one photo of the urinal remains.

Theo Paijmans, June 2018

In 1935 famous surrealist artist André Breton attributed the urinal to Marcel Duchamp. Out of this grew the consensus that Duchamp was its creator. Over time Duchamp commissioned a number of replicas of the urinal that now had a name: Fountain – coined by a reviewer who briefly visited the exhibit in 1917. The original urinal had since long disappeared. In all probability it had been unceremoniously dumped on the trash heap, but ironically it was destined to become one of the most iconic works of modern art. In 2004, some five hundred artists and art experts heralded Fountain as the most influential piece of modern art, even leaving Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon behind. Once again it cemented the reputation of Duchamp as one of the towering geniuses in the history of modern art.


In 1982 a letter written by Duchamp came to light. Dated 11 April 1917, it was written just a few days after that fateful exhibit. It contains one sentence that should have sent shockwaves through the world of modern art: it reveals the true creator behind Fountain – but it was not Duchamp. Instead he wrote that a female friend using a male alias had sent it in for the New York exhibition. Suddenly a few other things began to make sense. Over time Duchamp had told two different stories of how he had created Fountain, but both turned out to be untrue. An art historian who knew Duchamp admitted that he had never asked him about Fountain, he had published a standard-work on Fountain nevertheless. The place from where Fountain was sent raised more questions. That place was Philadelphia, but Duchamp had been living in New York.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The host of “Countdown to the Closing Bell” breaks down the difference between the economy and the stock market and shares who deserves blame or credit for their performance.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Germany is controlled by Russia, according to the U.S. President controlled by Russia.

Mike Pompeo traveled all the way to North Korea only for Kim Jong Un to bail on him for a potato farm.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Katie hosts a philosophical discussion on the sexiest way to die, joined by fellow great minds Raph, Ally, and Brennan.

顔をもふもふされるまる。Maru’s face is very fhuffy!

Max watching his friend at the garage working on the forklift. Max doesn’t like the forklift very much.


Zsa Zsa, Reigning ‘World’s Ugliest Dog,’ Has Died

Zsa Zsa, seen here being held by her owner, Megan Brainard, died some two weeks after winning the World’s Ugliest Dog contest in California.

Just over two weeks after she was crowned the World’s Ugliest Dog, Zsa Zsa, an English bulldog with a penchant for pink and a perpetually lolling tongue, has died. She was 9.

“I’m sad to share that Zsa Zsa passed away in her sleep last night,” reads a message from her owner, Megan Brainard, a pet groomer in Minnesota.

Zsa Zsa went from enduring years living in a puppy mill to being adopted by a family and finally to winning fame and fans. Put up for auction after her breeding years were done, she was bought by an animal rescue group before making her way to Brainard’s home.

“Her mother saw her beautiful picture on pet finder and HAD TO HAVE HER!” the dog’s entry to the contest said. “She now lives out her retired life in Anoka, MN.”

As is often the case, retirement brought new chances for travel. Zsa Zsa and her family made a long road trip to compete in the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, which is held in Petaluma, Calif.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?