On the Sky-High Racing Pigeon Market

The Associated Press reports on the lightning-fast pigeon named Bolt, who became the world’s most expensive racing bird when his Belgian breeder sold it for 310,000 euros ($400,000) to a Chinese businessman:

One-year-old Bolt, named after the Jamaican Olympic superstar sprinter Usain Bolt, and with an outstanding pedigree of proven champions to match, was the latest Belgian-bred pigeon to claim record prices. Yet the sums paid surprised anyone involved in the sport, auction house Pipa said. The previous record for a sale of a single bird stood at 250,000 euros ($322,000) from January 2012.

At a time when a crisis is holding Europe in an ever tighter grip, a feathered handful of prime fowl of some 450 grams (a pound) is reaching unparalleled levels. The full auction of the Leo Heremans coop, 530 birds in all, also yielded a world record of 4.345 million euros ($5.58 million) more than double the previous record from last year.

I had no clue there was a market in racing pigeons!
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(via @tylercowen)

Readings: Facebook MD, Trading, Rainbow Toad, Tweeting Birds, Dominion of Melchizedek

What I’ve read online today:

(1) “How Facebook Saved My Son’s Life” [Slate] – amazing story of how Facebook friends of one mother, Deborah Kogan, recognized symptoms of the rare Kawasaki disease in her young son, all while doctors missed the initial diagnosis…

(2) “How Hard Is It To Become the Michael Jordan of Trading?” [The Big Picture] – if you’ve ever wondered the statistics on what it takes to become a professional athlete, this post provides some numbers:

The talent pool gets much more competitive at the college level. The NCAA estimates approximately 3% of HS basketball players, and 6% of HS football and baseball players make an NCAA team.

If those number look daunting, the cut is far more challenging at the professional level. In basketball, only 1.2% of NCAA senior players get drafted by an NBA team. NFL drafts 1.7% of NCAA senior football players; Baseball holds the best odds, where 8.9% of NCAA baseball players will get drafted by a Major League Baseball club — but that includes minor league farm teams.

There’s a handy chart at the bottom of the post which summarizes the statistics. Now, what does it take to become an all-star trader?

(3) “After 8 Decades, Tiny Toad Resurfaces in Asia” [New York Times] – very cool discovery of the Borneo rainbow toad (click through to see the picture):

The Borneo rainbow toad, with its long spindly legs, looks a bit like an Abstract Expressionist canvas splattered in bright green, purple and red. But when this amphibian was last seen, in 1924, the painter Jackson Pollock was just 12, and the only image of the mysterious creature was a black-and-white sketch.

(4) “First Evidence that Birds Tweet Using Grammar” [New Scientist] – fascinating evidence suggests that birds tweet using proper grammar

First, they played finches unfamiliar songs repeatedly until the birds got used to them and stopped overreacting. Then they jumbled up syllables within each song and replayed these versions to the birds.

“What we found was unexpected…” The birds reacted to only one of the four jumbled versions, called SEQ2, as if they noticed it violated some rule of grammar, whereas the other three remixes didn’t. Almost 90 per cent of the birds tested responded in this way. “This indicates the existence of a specific rule in the sequential orderings of syllables in their songs, shared within the social community.”

(5) “The Strange Tale of Alleged Fraudster Pearlasia Gamboa” [San Francisco Weekly] – probably the most bizarre story I’ve read all week. It’s about the Dominion of Melchizedek, which, according to Wikipedia, is a micronation known for facilitating large scale banking fraud in many parts of the world. The SF Weekly story profiles its president, Pearlasia Gamboa, and her confessions.

The Dominion [of Melchizedek] eventually expanded beyond its underwater seat of government to claim more land: three more tiny Pacific islands and portions of Antarctica. After annexing its polar territory, the Dominion began listing among its senior officials a figure with the surname “Penguini,” a touch that a veteran California fraud investigator describes as “cute.”

What was the point of such a lovingly detailed fiction? The Dominion of Melchizedek, according to government authorities, was intended to act as a sort of mothership for con artists worldwide, issuing fake banking licenses, passports, and other documents to lend a veneer of official authenticity to fraud schemes. “Everything about it is phony,” says John Shockey, former head of the fraud unit for the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency.

A fascinating read.