Yak loose in Virginia after escaping transport to the butchers

A yak is on the loose in the US state of Virginia after escaping from a trailer on its way to the butchers.

Meteor, a three-year-old who belongs to farmer Robert Cissell of Nature’s Bridge Farm in Buckingham, Virginia, has been missing since Tuesday.

Mr Cissell told the BBC Meteor had been raised for meat and described the animal as “aloof”.

He said if captured the yak would “most likely live out his life here with our breeding herd”.

Kevin Wright, an animal control supervisor for Nelson County, said: “It broke through a stop sign and we’ve been trying to catch it for a while. It’s a well-mannered creature and clearly doesn’t want to be handled.”

…The animal was seen at a bed and breakfast in the county but is believed to have wandered to the mountains.

Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.

Saturday assorted links

NBA crypto markets in everything

Nets sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie is in the process of converting his contract so it can be used as a digital investment tool, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports.

Dinwiddie’s deal, which he agreed to during last season, is worth $34 million over three years. By converting it to be used as an investment vehicle, Dinwiddie will receive a lump sum upfront that will likely be less than the total amount of the deal.

According to Charania, Dinwiddie’s plan is to start his own company to securitize his deal as a digital token. Dinwiddie would pay investors back principle and interest.

Dinwiddie’s deal includes a player option for the 2021-22 season, and it is unclear how opting out would impact investors. Last year, Dinwiddie took a business class at Harvard along with now-teammate Kyrie Irving.

Former NFL running back Arian Foster previously tried to do something similar but it did not pan out.

Dinwiddie is heading into his sixth season. Last season, he averaged 16.8 points and 4.4 assists.

From Sports Illustrated, via Mike Tamada, here is further coverage from Atlantic.

China fact of the day

Despite the attempt to rely more on tunnels than bridges, Guizhou ended up with 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, including the very tallest. Read that again. I didn’t say China had 40% of the world’s tallest (which would be a major achievement), I said a poor, small province in the interior with only 2.5% of China’s population has 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges.

Here is more from the Scott Sumner travelogue from Guizhou.

The chess diet

Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience.

“Grandmasters sustain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners,” Sapolsky says.

It all combines to produce an average weight loss of 2 pounds a day, or about 10-12 pounds over the course of a 10-day tournament in which each grandmaster might play five or six times. The effect can be off-putting to the players themselves, even if it’s expected. Caruana, whose base weight is 135 pounds, drops to 120 to 125 pounds. “Sometimes I’ve weighed myself after tournaments and I’ve seen the scale drop below 120,” he says, “and that’s when I get mildly scared.”

And this:

He has even managed to optimize … sitting. That’s right. Carlsen claims that many chess players crane their necks too far forward, which can lead to a 30 percent loss of lung capacity, according to studies in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. And, according to Keith Overland, former president of the American Chiropractic Association, leaning 30 degrees forward increases stress on the neck by nearly 60 pounds, which in turn requires the back and neck muscles to work harder, ultimately resulting in headaches, irregular breathing and reduced oxygen to the brain.

Here is the full ESPN article, via multiple MR readers.

Brexit update (POTMR)

Boris Johnson is planning to force a new Brexit deal through parliament in just 10 days — including holding late-night and weekend sittings — in a further sign of Downing Street’s determination to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU. According to Number 10 officials, Mr Johnson’s team has drawn up detailed plans under which the prime minister would secure a deal with the EU at a Brussels summit on October 17-18, before pushing the new withdrawal deal through parliament at breakneck speed.

The pound rose 1.1 per cent against the US dollar to $1.247 on Friday amid growing optimism that Mr Johnson has now decisively shifted away from the prospect of a no-deal exit and is focused on a compromise largely based on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement.

That is new from the FT, here is part of my Brexit post from August 29:

I would sooner think that Boris Johnson wishes to see through a relabeled version of the Teresa May deal, perhaps with an extra concession from the EU tacked on.  His dramatic precommitment raises the costs to the Tories of not supporting such a deal, and it also may induce slight additional EU concessions.  The narrower time window forces the recalcitrants who would not sign the May deal to get their act together and fall into line, more or less now.

Uncertainty is high, but the smart money says the Parliamentary suspension is more of a stage play, and a move toward an actual deal, than a leap to authoritarian government.

This remains very much an open question, but if you “solve for the equilibrium,” that is indeed what you get.

Free Will and the Brain

Tyler and I have been arguing about free will for decades. One of the strongest arguments against free-will is an empirical argument due to physiologist Benjamin Libet. Libet famously found that the brain seems to signal a decision to act before the conscious mind makes an intention to act. Brain scans can see a finger tap coming 500 ms before the tap but the conscious decision seems to be made nly 150 ms before the tap. Libet’s results, however, are now being reinterpreted:

The Atlantic: To decide when to tap their fingers, the participants simply acted whenever the moment struck them. Those spontaneous moments, Schurger reasoned, must have coincided with the haphazard ebb and flow of the participants’ brain activity. They would have been more likely to tap their fingers when their motor system happened to be closer to a threshold for movement initiation.

This would not imply, as Libet had thought, that people’s brains “decide” to move their fingers before they know it. Hardly. Rather, it would mean that the noisy activity in people’s brains sometimes happens to tip the scale if there’s nothing else to base a choice on, saving us from endless indecision when faced with an arbitrary task. The Bereitschaftspotential would be the rising part of the brain fluctuations that tend to coincide with the decisions. This is a highly specific situation, not a general case for all, or even many, choices.

…In a new study under review for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Schurger and two Princeton researchers repeated a version of Libet’s experiment. To avoid unintentionally cherry-picking brain noise, they included a control condition in which people didn’t move at all. An artificial-intelligence classifier allowed them to find at what point brain activity in the two conditions diverged. If Libet was right, that should have happened at 500 milliseconds before the movement. But the algorithm couldn’t tell any difference until about only 150 milliseconds before the movement, the time people reported making decisions in Libet’s original experiment.

In other words, people’s subjective experience of a decision—what Libet’s study seemed to suggest was just an illusion—appeared to match the actual moment their brains showed them making a decision.

The Atlantic piece with more background is here. A scientific piece summarizing some of the new experiments is here. Of course, the philosophical puzzles remain. Tyler and I will continue to argue.

Uber and Lyft drivers as employees: check your mood affiliation at the door

A reminder that if drivers become employees and so no longer can be on both Uber and Lyft, welfare will be lower with higher prices and higher wait times. See this paper. papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cf In Australia, driver multihoming is baked in.

That is a tweet from Joshua Gans.  Keep in mind Uber or Lyft could simply insist on “unihoming” as a condition of employment, as indeed George Mason will not let me take a part- or full-time job teaching at another university.

Brazil is not entirely an environmental villain

It is unfair to single out Brazil for criticism. It is one of the world’s greenest countries: over 60 per cent of its territory is covered with natural vegetation, its agriculture grew based on productivity gains and technology rather than land expansion, and about 45 per cent of its energy comes from renewables, compared with a global average of 14 per cent. It also has one of the world’s most stringent land usage regulations, known as the forest code. How many farmers around the world are required to leave aside 20-80 per cent (depending on the biome) of their native forest land?

That is from Sylvia Coutinho from the Financial Times.

China-U.S. trade war insurance fact of the day

An increasing number of US universities are looking to buy insurance policies against a drop in revenue from international students, fearing they are overexposed to China at a time of mounting trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

A 10 per cent decline in new international student enrolments at US universities — which rely heavily on revenue from Chinese and Indian students — over the past two academic years has already cost the US economy $5.5bn, according to a report from Nafsa, previously known as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.

Two colleges at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — the Gies College of Business and the College of Engineering — bought insurance in 2018 worth $60m from USI Insurance Services in Champaign, Illinois. The policy pays off if both the colleges suffer an 18.5 per cent decline in revenue from Chinese students year over year due to a government action such as visa restrictions or a “health event”.

The correct inference, I think, is that some of these colleges already have spent that supposedly forthcoming tuition money.

Here is more from Priyanka Vora at the FT.

Corn markets in everything

Farmers across the U.S. have stumbled onto a fertile side hustle at a time when prices for their crops are low: cramming produce into an air gun and charging people to fire it into the sky.

Growers of corn, apples and even pumpkins place the agricultural ammo at the base of a long tube, sometimes with the help of a ramrod. Then they use an air compressor to build up enough pressure to send the fruits or vegetables flying hundreds of feet, where they land with a satisfying splat.

“Why not shoot it?” says Fred Howell, owner of Howell’s Pumpkin Patch in Cumming, Iowa. “We’re fat Americans and we play with our food.”

It’s a way to keep jaded teens and bored adults coming back to spend time and money on the farms while the youngest members of the family are happy petting sheep.

Here is the full WSJ story, via the excellent Samir Varma.

What kind of industrial policy does America need?

That idea is making a big comeback, but let’s make sure we understand the status quo first.  So runs my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Perhaps most important, it should be recognized that the U.S. already has an industrial policy — and has for some time. It is a collection of programs and policies at the federal and state level, many of which are highly imperfect, and so the focus should be on fixing what is already in place.

The first and perhaps most significant component of U.S. industrial policy is a high level of defense spending, much higher than that of any other country. The spinoffs of this spending famously include the internet of course, but also early advances in computers and some later advances in aviation. Today’s orbiting network of satellites is in part a spinoff from the space program, which was partially motivated by military concerns.

It’s not yet clear whether current defense spinoffs will prove as innovative and as potent as those  of the past, but there are some reasons to be skeptical. Procurement cycles for weapons can stretch to a dozen years or more, yet technologies are changing far more quickly.

So if I were designing an “industrial policy” for America, my first priority would be to improve and “unstick” its procurement cycles. There may well be bureaucratic reasons that this is difficult to do. But if it can’t be done, then perhaps the U.S. shouldn’t be setting its sights on a more ambitious industrial policy.

I also consider the NIH and the biomedical establishment, and America’s extensive system of state colleges and universities, as part of what is already a quite ambitious “industrial policy,” even if we don’t always call it that.