July 22, 2015

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Yesterday potatoes, today corn. Smithsonian Magazine with the lowdown on corn.

Corn has a bad rap. Think of those 90 million U.S. acres growing the stuff, and what comes to mind? Monocrops, perhaps? Cheap meat and processed foods? Ethanol? Subsidies? Polenta might not even make your list.

But let’s separate corn, the plant, from corn, the cog in the industrial machine. There’s a strong case (which I’m going to make) that field corn, used as a grain, is the single most important food crop on the planet. That case is based on what I’ll contend is the most underappreciated metric in agriculture. I am, singlehandedly, going to try to change that. Yes, I am going to try to make you care about an arcane agricultural metric to which, heretofore, you probably have given not a moment’s thought.

That metric is calories per acre.

Calories matter because every last one of us needs about 1 million of them each year. They certainly aren’t the only thing we need; we also need vitamins and minerals, fats and protein. But if we don’t have those 1 million calories, other needs fade into the background. There’s not much point in talking about phytonutrients if people are starving.

In the calorie department, corn is king. In 2014, average yield in the United States was 171 bushels per acre. (And the world record is an astonishing 503 bushels, set by a farmer in Valdosta, Ga.) Each bushel weighs 56 pounds and each pound of corn yields about 1,566 calories. That means corn averages roughly 15 million calories per acre. (Again, I’m talking about field corn, a.k.a. dent corn, which is dried before processing. Sweet corn and popcorn are different varieties, grown for much more limited uses, and have lower yields.) If you had taken our 2014 corn harvest of 14.2 billion bushels and used it to feed people, it would have met 17 percent of the entire world’s caloric needs.

By contrast, wheat comes in at about 4 million calories per acre, soy at 6 million. Rice is also very high-yielding, at 11 million, and potatoes are one of the few crops that can rival corn: They also yield about 15 million (although record corn yields are much higher than record potato yields).



City Journal with a post on what ails shopping malls and how they might be cured.

                                                 … Many of today’s shopping malls maintain a ghostly presence on the fringes of America’s urban spaces. Nearly 15 percent of malls are between 10 and 40 percent vacant, up from just 5 percent in 2006. Another 30 million square feet of mall retail space are in the throes of what real estate analyst D.J. Busch of Green Street Advisors terms a “death spiral.”

Shoppers are increasingly making purchases from home; Internet sales reached 6 percent of total retail spending in the fourth quarter of 2013, nearly doubling their share from 2006. Many parts of America are “over-malled,” suffering from nineties-era overbuilding that left a glut of retail space that’s hard to fill. Older malls are feeling the pinch. Though the bulk of shopping malls remain healthy to an accountant’s eye, they’re fast becoming cultural dinosaurs. Many shoppers feel alienated by their concrete brutalism and aging, introverted atmosphere. “Within ten to fifteen years,” says mall developer Rick Caruso, “the typical U.S. mall, unless it is completely reinvented, will be a historical anachronism—a sixty-year aberration that no longer meets the public’s needs, the retailers’ needs, or the community’s needs.”

Is it possible to breathe life into dead malls? “Sometimes a mall goes out of business because it has lost its economic reason for being,” architect Victor Dovernotes, but “almost every community needs something.” We need to “stop thinking about these as failed shopping center properties and start thinking about them as potential mixed-use properties.” Reinventing shopping malls won’t be easy. They are large and inflexible spaces. Yet, as Victor Gruen knew, we have always needed gathering places. That is why we should look back to Gruen’s original vision of the mall to find its purpose for the decades ahead. …




The Guardian says researchers are finding ways to combat memory loss.

Researchers may have found a way to slow down or prevent memory problems that arise in old age and which can become devastating in patients with dementia.

The fresh hope comes from a series of studies in humans and mice that identified a protein which causes memory impairment when it builds up in the blood and brain with age.

Scientists found that injections of the protein made young animals’ memories worse and reduced the growth of new neurons in their brains. Further studies showed that blocking the protein prevented memory loss in older animals, making them smarter than untreated animals of the same age.

The findings are the latest to come from researchers in the US who have shown in previous work that blood plasma taken from young animals can rejuvenate the muscles, brains and other tissues of older animals.

Those studies have led scientists to suspect that blood plasma contains a cocktail of factors that either drive or counteract the natural ageing process. …



Discovery reports one migration from Siberia peopled the Americas.

Native American ancestors reached the New World in a single, initial migration from Siberia at most 23,000 years ago, only later differentiating into today’s distinct groups, DNA research revealed Tuesday.

Most scientists agree the Americas were peopled by forefathers who crossed the Bering land and ice bridge which connected modern-day Russia and Alaska in Earth’s last glacial period.

And it is known through archaeological finds that humans were already present in the Americas 15,000 years ago.

But there was a long list of outstanding questions.

When did the migration take place? In one or several waves? And how long did these early pioneers spend in Beringia — the then-raised land area between Asia and America?

On Tuesday, analysis of Native American and Siberian DNA, present-day and ancient, sought to fill in some of the blanks with two studies carried simultaneously in the journals Science and Nature. …



NY Times reports on vitamin expiration dates.

Vitamins and dietary supplements are not required to carry expiration dates on their labels. This is one area where supplements differ from prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, which are subject to more stringent regulations.

If companies want to print a “use by” or “best by” date on their supplement labels, they can do so voluntarily. But they are then required to honor those claims, said Tod Cooperman, the president of ConsumerLab.com, a popular independent testing company.

“If you see some type of expiration date,” he said, “the manufacturer is legally required to have stability data demonstrating the product will still have 100 percent of its listed ingredients until that date.”