Thursday, April 17, 2014

No PSA, please...

I have tried to avoid difficult conversations with friends and family about my conviction we are over-screening for cancer, especially breast and prostate. While I have numbers on my side, people do not want rational discussions - they want to live, and almost always at any cost (which they do not know) or any effort or even if the odds of successful treatment are small.

Mostly they embrace the idea that more screening can only be a good thing. The "Save Just One Life Standard" is a powerful calculus and frankly exploited by our medical industry. What is not understood is that to save that one life other lives are damaged or even sacrificed due to false positives, treatment consequences, and other unadvertised complications.

More evidence continues to pile up to illustrate how unreasonable our expectations from screening are.


The bottom half of this pic shows the actual effect of mammography. If we take 1000 women age 50 and watch them for 10 years, and don’t screen them, 5 will die of breast cancer, 44 will die of other causes, and 951 will be fine. If we do screen them, then 4 women die of breast cancer, 44 or 45 die of other causes, and 951 or 952 are fine. This is why the effects seem to be negligible.But if you ask women to estimate how well mammography works, then you’re in for a whole different ballgame. They think that without screening, of those 1000 women, 160 are going to die from breast cancer in the next 10 years. They way, way, way overestimate the danger. They also overestimate the effectiveness of mammography. They think that it will halve the rate of death, so that only 80 of the 1000 women will die from breast cancer.Therein lies the problem. If you think that breast cancer is going to kill 16% of all 50-year-old women in the next 10 years and that mammography makes a huge difference in the mortality rate, then you’re going to demand a universal screening program. Hell, I’d demand it if that were the case. Until we can change the perception of the public to more closely match reality, and make them realize that the harms may outweigh the benefits, we’re going to get nowhere in trying to make changes. [More]

Along those same lines, someone I know recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and promptly underwent a prostatectomy. After the operation, he was told his prostate and the lymph nodes removed showed no trace of cancer. His original biopsy was mixed up with another patient at the lab. While he did have symptoms it could have been benign BPH. I do not know all the facts, but often in these cases the urge to "cut that cancer out of me" is overwhelming and surgeons rarely suggest watchful waiting. (My physician brother always considered a surgeon as a doctor who believed there was nothing wrong with you that an expensive operation couldn't prolong.)

Many things went wrong - no second opinion and biopsy is one obvious fault. But our system refuses to accept that aggressive treatment is not always the answer, so there was no established procedure to slow the rush to surgery. Nor does a hyperactive litigation system offer real compensatory relief, IMHO.

I have always expected to talk a good game, but in the end melt down to a passive victim should I face such a diagnosis. But after simply telling my doctor to not check my PSA because I'm over 60 and have no risk factors or symptoms, I think I will be able to deal with the next level of decisions should the occasion present. Multiple experiences of friends and family with difficult treatments and dubious benefits reinforces my inclinations. Getting older also helps anchor our cost/benefit calculations, I think.

There is something about the process of learning and taking small steps that enables us to gain control of our lives. And we will never control health care costs until we control our own health care.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Empowering killing...

 The demand for "kill switches" on smartphones has prompted an about-face by manufacturers and carriers to offer an opt-in capability on new phones starting in 2015.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, a wireless communications trade group, said on Tuesday that smartphones manufactured after July 2015 for sale in the US will include "a baseline anti-theft tool" that is either preloaded or can be downloaded. The voluntary agreementalso stipulates that mobile carriers will support the availability and use of this tool.The anti-theft software will be capable of: remotely wiping data from the device in the event of loss or theft; rendering the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users, except for emergency services calls and, if available, user-defined emergency phone numbers; preventing unauthorized reactivation "to the extent technologically feasible"; and restoring operability and user data if possible and desired by the authorized user. [More]

At first blush, this appears to be a reasonable step to addressing the increasingly troublesome smartphone theft problem in major cities. (Here in the farm we're wrestling with the smartphone-tilled-in problem, of course).  Some don't think this goes far enough, however.
“The wireless industry today has taken an incremental yet inadequate step to address the epidemic of smartphone theft,” Mr. Leno said in a statement. “Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive. While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets.” [More]
But after all the anxiety of bad guys taking your phone and doing naughty things with it dies down, and adding the troubling alleged linkage of the NSA to the Heartbleed virus, I'm thinking how easy it will be for smartphones to be rendered pocket junk by the government.

Maybe this possibility already exists at the carrier level and we just aren't aware of it, but even from my distance of the libertarian fringe, easier communications shutdown can be seen as a bug, not just a feature.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This happened to me once...

 Not.

Canada corn...

While most American farmers are debating climate change, neighbors to the north are trying to cash in. Here is where there are now enough GDU's to grow corn.


[Much better bigger - click]
Growing seasons on the Canadian prairie have lengthened about two weeks in the past half-century. The mean annual temperature is likely to climb by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) in the region by 2050, according to Canadian researchers.In Canada, that means amber waves of wheat are giving way to green fields of corn. Farmers sowed a record 405,000 acres of corn in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta last year, double the amount two years earlier and almost eight times what it was 20 years ago. That compares with an estimated 95.4 million acres sown in the U.S. last year. [More]
One key is crop insurance, which as we all know now determines how we will farm. And insurers are on board.
Improvements to the Crop Insurance Program for 2014 include a pilot program to provide yield-loss coverage for corn in the east central and southeast areas of the province.  In addition, the establishment benefit feature has also been expanded to include coverage for corn of $65 per acre. [More]
In the words of economist Kevin Costner, "If you cover it, they will plant." - or something like that.

All over the world, businesses large and small are spending billions to mitigate (more likely) profit from global warming and other climate changes. Watching these unfold is probably more useful than trying to sway public opinion to the latest IPCC conclusions.


[Unreadable unless you click it]

As minimal as it is for North America (except the West), it's pretty bad news for India,China, Africa, and Australia. So we're talking ~7 billion folks with very probable food supply issues in the future.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

For those who thought...

My fondness for xkcd was weird:



[Click to embiggen]


Not the only one...

Ezra Klein's essay in Vox that I found dismaying affected others in similar and divergent ways.  This is Will Wilkinson (I think) from the Economist*.
So we're screwed? Mr Klein offers only this cryptic sign off: "If American politics is going to improve, it will be better structures, not better arguments, that win the day".The outrage of gerrymandering, of the filibuster, of the overrepresentation of thinly-populated states in the Senate, of lax campaign-finance regulations, are all preoccupations of Mr Klein and others similarly taken by the romance of ideal democratic procedures, and there is certainly a great deal to say in favour of "better structures". But is there a path to "better structures" that does not run through "better arguments"? Alas, no. My sense is that the impulse behind Vox is a profoundly honourable one based on what Mr Klein at the outset of this piece calls the "More Information Hypothesis". The hypothesis is that in the presence of more, better and more lucidly presented information, the democratic public will improve the performance of its signature deliberative tasks. The design of Vox, especially its innovative use of evergreen explanatory "cardstacks", would seem to be the More Information Hypothesis embodied. Yet Mr Klein's introductory essay at the helm of his new publication appears to debunk the hypothesis on which the entire enterprise seems to be founded. If it's really true, as Mr Klein would have us believe, that we are basically deaf to information we'd rather not hear, no matter how clearly and colourfully conveyed, then what's the point of Vox?  'Vox' is of course Latin for 'voice'. Mr Klein's strange inaugural essay may seem an inauspicious beginning, but I detect a note of hope. If there is one force capable of combating "identity-protective cognition" it is the rare and precious disposition Keats called "negative capability"—"when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason..." Politics makes us stupid in no small part because of its incompatibility with negative capability—with the tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty, and simple not-knowing that earnest truth-seeking requires. Now, there is more than a hint of "irritable reaching" in Mr Klein's call for "better structures"; he can't seem to reside wholly comfortably in the realm of uncertainties. Still, Mr Klein did have the audacity to launch a new publication presumably meant to shore up American democracy through access to better information with a lengthy meditation on the pointlessness of doing just that. That's negative capability! Coming as it does from our nation's capital—that dark eye of "a perfect storm for making smart people very stupid"—Mr Klein's unexpected plunge into the bracing waters of self-doubt comes as a bright and promising sign for Vox and its audience. [More]
I realize this has ever been thus, and appreciate your historical references, but what may be different this time is our ability to reinforce irrational thinking is getting a big assist from the self-definable information flows, from specific reliably biased TV channels to one-note websites.

Friday on Agritalk for example, Jim Weisemeyer and I joined Mike for a free-for-all discussion that, of course, leaned to Jim's expertise - politics. Jim is not a big Obama fan, and opined the big problem with Congress was the President's "failure to lead".  That like Clinton, he should be talking to congresspersons across the aisle.  When I asked him who would possibly be interested in going behind GOP leadership backs to craft a deal, he replied vaguely, "northeastern moderates" 

Seriously - Olympia Snow came to mind, but that's where it stops.  The list of moderate Republicans is not long. He mentioned PA congress members, but I checked the list and didn't see any reps who wouldn't immediately face a TP challenge if they tried that, and Pat Toomey doesn't strike me as someone ready to take on McConnell to deal with the Pres.

Moreover, when did it become the president's job to make congress do their job? Better still, how's that going to happen 'zactly when we don't have any money to throw around, because Congress is deeply concerned about the deficit and making it one of the minor issues (after Obamacare, Obamacare, and Obamacare) in this election. He used Clinton as an example, but that was long ago and far away politically. There are no "Bob Doles" or "Richard Lugars" under the dome. You might as well cite LBJ for an analogy.

Moreover, Obama's low approval is the central tool in the entire Republican strategy this year. I can't see anybody in their right-wing mind wanting to be seen shaking hands with Obama. 

Then it struck me, I'm probably missing some facts because of my filtering system, just like Ezra described in the essay. And for the life of me, I can't argue the other side. Can anybody else outline a scenario where the president crafts a deal with congress on say, immigration, that would last longer than the Camp Tax Reform plan?

How good is my information biasing mechanism?


*Yeah - I coughed up for a digital subscription.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Are farmers committing suicide more often?...

This is exactly the kind of sloppy statistical writing that drives me nuts.  The topic (farmer suicide) looked (and is) serious, but as I read it became apparent the writers weren't interested in framing the numbers in a way that would be helpful to readers.
Since that crisis, the suicide rate for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population. And this isn't just a problem in the U.S.; it's an international crisis. India has had more than 270,000 farmer suicides since 1995. In France, a farmer dies by suicide every two days. In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government's seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought.Robert Fetsch, a retired professor of human development and family studies at Colorado State University, says there are profound social reasons farmers are reluctant to seek help. "Farmers are extremely self-sufficient and independent," he says, "and tend to work around whatever they have, because they are so determined to keep moving."One factor disputed among agricultural and mental health professionals is the connection between pesticides and depression. A group of researchers published studies on the neurological effects of pesticide exposure in 2002 and 2008. Lorrann Stallones, one of those researchers and a psychology professor at Colorado State University, says she and her colleagues found that farmers who had significant contact with pesticides developed physical symptoms like fatigue, numbness, headaches and blurred vision, as well as psychological symptoms like anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating and depression. Those maladies are known to be caused by pesticides interfering with an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter that affects mood and stress responses."A lot of farmers are very familiar with the pesticides, so they sort of take it for granted," Stallones says. "It's an invisible kind of thing, so if you can't actually feel it, taste it, touch it, you might not believe it's an issue."Not everyone is sold on the link between pesticides and depression. "I don't think there's firm data on that yet," says Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior director of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A greater contributor to suicide in rural areas, she says, is the easy access to guns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most suicides in America involve firearms, and more than half of all firearm deaths every year involve suicide. Harkavy-Friedman points to a 1998 study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry that showed the most common means of farmer suicide in England and Wales from 1981 to 1988 was guns. Following firearm legislation in 1989 that reduced access to guns, the total number of farmer suicides went down. [More]

I should have seen it coming from the extravagantly photoshopped cover, but it really begs to be given context.  Which is why God gave us Google.

First off, the article tells a few stories about tragic suicides.  Fair enough, but those anecdotes prime us for interpreting any numbers as pessimistically as possible. The note the comparisons without any total. 
  • "the rate for suicide for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population"  Let's unpack that.  To begin with, the male rate is always higher than the general population - men kill themselves more often.





  • So if they were talking about the true general rate, male farmers could be expected to have about twice the rate just because they are male - 20:12

  • But if they meant twice the rate for other males, let's see what that looks like. Looking at white males in the US, it turns out the rate for farmers is not so out of line. In fact, it's lower than the rate for physicians, dentists, veterinarians, finance workers, chiropractors, heavy contruction operators, urban planners (?), handmolders (??), real estate sellers, electrical assemblers, lawyers, and lathe operators.
  • Look at the above numbers from NIOSH on occupational deaths. They cover a period from 1984 to 1998. For farmers that added up to 94 suicides out of 4984 deaths. That's a little over 6 per year. When the numbers get this small annually even one or two deaths can bump the rate up dramatically.
What are the most recent numbers for farmer suicide?  Amazingly enough, it's hard to find out.  I use "The Straight Dope" as a kind of "Snopes" for these questions. Here's what they found out.

Well, it hasn't been easy to track this one, and I'm not sure I've got a definitive answer. Let's start by noting that suicide statistics are questionable at best. Many suicides are classified as "accident" to spare the family from publicity. So the statistics are only a rough indication.I easily found statistics on the Internet about suicides by age, region, gender, and race, but very little about occupation. Actually, since suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among those age 15 to 24, probably the answer is "student", but I don' t think that's what you're looking for.I called the library of the Society of Actuaries, thinking they'd know. The librarian said she used to work at a large psychiatric library, and that about 8 years ago, the answer was psychiatrists/psychologists/related. However, she couldnt quote me a source or cite a statistic, except what she says she knew. [More]
In fact, I spent an amazing amount of time trying to nail this statistical jello to the wall. And largely failed.  All the articles I found were slanted to assess blame, attack GMO's or Big Ag or pesticides, raise sympathy for (usually) smaller farmers, or persuade readers to support some cause.

Every now and then you would find a real number (I think) like this:

Still, Colorado state health officials recorded 4,012 suicides in the past five years; 53 were farmers, mostly men, who shot themselves. Bankrupt farmers have sought government help as bankers press for payments, often triggering the suicides. [More]
So that would mean about 10 farmers per year in CO alone. But without historical or comparative numbers it doesn't tell us much. And it sure doesn't jibe with the national numbers from NIOSH above.

I'm not going to waste any more time on this since it looks somewhat futile, despite the tragedy it represents. My conclusions:
  1. All suicide stories evoke strong empathy, which primes our interpretation of data.
  2. Assume any farmer suicide story to be slanted for persuasive purposes unless proven otherwise.
  3. Suicide rates are distorted by low numbers, so disregard any claims of drastic rate changes. 
  4. If guns are mentioned, remember while guns are a factor, their biggest influence is effectiveness - suicide attempts by firearm have a much higher success rate than other methods. I don't want to be dragged into an NRA rebuttal rant about guns and suicides, so I'm leaving it at that despite my own aversion.
  5. What is happening in other countries, especially India, but also France and China, are largely cultural phenomena, and hard to apply to the US.

So when you read, as I did in Kevin Van Trump's daily newsletter, an account like this, note your reaction and don't leap to conclusions.
West Central Iowa - Two weeks ago my best friend and neighbor committed suicide. The whole community is in shock because this was one of the calmest, nicest guys I knew. He was a good farmer who had cattle and row crops. He worked harder than anybody I know. I talked to him almost every day. This past winter with all the snow and bitter cold for so long while having a lot of cattle, I think it just got to be too much. He knew it was going to be a late spring, had a ton of manure to get hauled because he didn't get much done during the winter, plus all the crops - just took a toll on him. So we all need to learn from this. If you feel stressed out, you either need to get more help or let some livestock or rented land go back. Also we need to watch out for each other. As I look back I could tell he was depressed but not in a million years I thought he would do something like this. There has been many times where I have thought instead of me owning the farm, that the Farm owns ME. Money isn't an issue, just too much work to get done, especially if you farm alone. Farming has changed so much since I started. Seems like the seasons were longer or something. People were more laid back. A lot more rush rush now. Anxiety can sure set in this time of year with looking ahead and so much to do.
Each event is a tragedy of its own, and thankfully, suicide is still rare enough to shock us each time. I don't think the link between suicide and farming is precisely enumerated nor well explained, just frequently spun. 

[A good (albeit troubling) thread on the aftermath of suicide is here.]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Persuasion and other myths...

I have struggled with disappointment for years over my inability to find arguments to persuade farmers and others with logic to share my views on topics from subsidies to inflation to climate change. But new research suggests I was born too late (or early) for this strategy to have much of a chance. In our era, a different belief dynamic is at work.

As I have pointed out before, empirical (observed) evidence - facts, if you will - just don't seem to pack the persuasive power I believe they should.
Presented with this problem a funny thing happened: how good subjects were at math stopped predicting how well they did on the test. Now it was ideology that drove the answers. Liberals were extremely good at solving the problem when doing so proved that gun-control legislation reduced crime. But when presented with the version of the problem that suggested gun control had failed, their math skills stopped mattering. They tended to get the problem wrong no matter how good they were at math. Conservatives exhibited the same pattern — just in reverse.Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart. Partisans with weak math skills were 25 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. Partisans with strong math skills were 45 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. The smarter the person is, the dumber politics can make them.Consider how utterly insane that is: being better at math made partisans less likely to solve the problem correctly when solving the problem correctly meant betraying their political instincts. People weren’t reasoning to get the right answer; they were reasoning to get the answer that they wanted to be right.The skin-rash experiment wasn’t the first time Kahan had shown that partisanship has a way of short-circuiting intelligence. In another study, he tested people’s scientific literacy alongside their ideology and then asked about the risks posed by climate change. If the problem was truly that people needed to know more about science to fully appreciate the dangers of a warming climate, then their concern should’ve risen alongside their knowledge. But here, too, the opposite was true: among people who were already skeptical of climate change, scientific literacy made them more skeptical of climate change.This will make sense to anyone who’s ever read the work of a serious climate change denialist. It’s filled with facts and figures, graphs and charts, studies and citations. Much of the data is wrong or irrelevant. But it feels convincing. It’s a terrific performance of scientific inquiry. And climate-change skeptics who immerse themselves in it end up far more confident that global warming is a hoax than people who haven’t spent much time studying the issue. More information, in this context, doesn’t help skeptics discover the best evidence. Instead, it sends them searching for evidence that seems to prove them right. And in the age of the internet, such evidence is never very far away. [More of a must-read]

My problem is exacerbated by being pretty moderate and therefore wishy-washy on many ideological issues.  I don't have nearly as much problem changing my mind on issues, and since I have been shown to be wrong so many times, it's not new to me. But the larger factor is the blessing of friends who cut me some slack.  Not everybody has that these days.
Imagine what would happen to, say, Sean Hannity if he decided tomorrow that climate change was the central threat facing the planet. Initially, his viewers would think he was joking. But soon, they’d begin calling in furiously. Some would organize boycotts of his program. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of professional climate skeptics would begin angrily refuting Hannity’s new crusade. Many of Hannity’s friends in the conservative media world would back away from him, and some would seek advantage by denouncing him. Some of the politicians he respects would be furious at his betrayal of the cause. He would lose friendships, viewers, and money. He could ultimately lose his job. And along the way he would cause himself immense personal pain as he systematically alienated his closest political and professional allies. The world would have to update its understanding of who Sean Hannity is and what he believes, and so too would Sean Hannity. And changing your identity is a psychologically brutal process.Kahan doesn’t find it strange that we react to threatening information by mobilizing our intellectual artillery to destroy it. He thinks it’s strange that we would expect rational people to do anything else. "Nothing any ordinary member of the public personally believes about the existence, causes, or likely consequences of global warming will affect the risk that climate changes poses to her, or to anyone or anything she cares about," Kahan writes. "However, if she forms the wrong position on climate change relative to the one that people with whom she has a close affinity — and on whose high regard and support she depends on in myriad ways in her daily life — she could suffer extremely unpleasant consequences, from shunning to the loss of employment."Kahan calls this theory Identity-Protective Cognition: "As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values." Elsewhere, he puts it even more pithily: "What we believe about the facts," he writes, "tells us who we are." And the most important psychological imperative most of us have in a given day is protecting our idea of who we are, and our relationships with the people we trust and love.Anyone who has ever found themselves in an angry argument with their political or social circle will know how threatening it feels. For a lot of people, being "right" just isn’t worth picking a bitter fight with the people they care about. That’s particularly true in a place like Washington, where social circles and professional lives are often organized around people’s politics, and the boundaries of what those tribes believe are getting sharper. [Same]
Outside a few close friends, I really don't have much of a tribe. In fact, you guys reading this are a big part of my community. Being a Methodist helps, as that group is certainly less concerned with orthodoxy. Working by myself on a farm is another stroke of luck since I don't have those links to damage.

I'm not blaming the rest of the world - those are just the ground rules now for policy debate, and after reading about it I have realized I've wasted a lot of breath/words. It's a good thing I enjoy the process, because measured by results, I don't have much to show for decades of lobbing my opinions out there.

I read this article right after it was published and frankly it bummed me out for days, but it also seemed to confirm suspicions already lurking in my mind. Tribalism rules.

The obvious follow on question is why is this true now?

Maybe we are all looking for community and a sense of belonging. We already know that is a key factor in happiness, long-lives and satisfaction. And old communities are struggling. The geographical community of proximity, especially in rural areas is depopulated and bifurcating into large farmers and lots of low-income residents. These two groups don't have much in common.

Our civic, fraternal, and recreational organizations are fading as well. Lions and Elks are endangered species. VFW is literally dying off. Masonic lodges are closing. Bowling leagues are lame. And all the time TV and Internet offer a pseudo-community without leaving home or risking the exact social problems Ezra details above. Even work has at best a more fragile sense of inclusion, as layoffs have made everyone anxious, and lifetime employment a joke from the past.

So any real-time, fact-to-face contacts we do have are extremely important. Why not arrange your beliefs to make sure those connections stay in place? After all, what will you replace them with?

The future has hazards ahead for many of us, as well. It appears white Americans get more conservative as we slip toward a minority. So will moderates and liberals bend to go along?
Near the top of the list, they found, was a deep consciousness of being “white in a country with growing minorities.” One participant described his town as such:
Everybody is white. Everybody is middle class, whether or not they really are. Everybody looks that way. Everybody goes to the same pool. Everybody goes—there’s one library, one post office. Very homogenous.
For most of their lives, these people could ignore the country’s demographic change. But the election of President Obama was a clear sign that things were different.The result was fear and anxiety. A fear, for instance, that comprehensive immigration reform would begin a tidal wave of dependency, as Democrats won their votes with the allure of government programs such as Obamacare. “Every minority group wants to say they have the right to something, and they don’t,” said one Tea Party participant. “There’s so much of the electorate in those groups that Democrats are going to take every time because they’ve been on the rolls of the government their entire lives. They don’t know better,” said another. [More]

These issues are magnified to extremes simply due to smaller numbers in our profession and rural life. The fact that farmers overwhelmingly agree on any number of arguably illogical political issues says far less about reasoning power, and far more about fear of loneliness, perhaps.

This too will pass, I think, for the reasons illuminated toward the end of the article. Convictions grounded in ideology eventually fail to cope with reality that doesn't care. I don't know how those moments will unfold - its been 20 years and people are still adamant rampant inflation is a threat. So that would suggest it won't be overnight epiphanies and conversions.

Maybe we will rebuild new communities I can only try to imagine to give us the social assurance to change our minds in the face of evidence. I know one thing for sure: the first step is to give friends slack to consider a new position. Dancing in the end zone after an undeniable election result, for instance, is not just rude, it is an unkindness that destroys connections we need to be happy and pollutes the atmosphere of social discourse.

I still think it all began with Cassius Clay and the death of the Good Winner, but that's a theory for another time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Junkbox, Episode MMXIV ✈︎...

A confidential source reports the seed corn price war is alive in his neck of the woods, with a one Big Seed player offering the same discounts as last fall.  I think it's just getting started.

Less rain than expected - still not close to the field yet.


Monday, April 07, 2014

DIK has started...

This is my acronym: Discount-In-Kind.  If you haven't been offered a generous helping of free seed from a competitor, you're missing out. Of course, you can use that lever on your own dealer as well.

Seed companies are sitting on masses of 2103 production and acres seem to be down this year. The marginal cost of that inventory is way below the $400 list price, so you do the math.

This is a time honored end-around for marketing types to reduce prices without seeming to. You have to play the game, however.  Ask around, swap with your friends.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The longer, the worser...

 Or something like that. There are several theories floating around about the enigma of the long-term unemployed. Tyler Cowen, whom I often struggle to follow, has a very interesting post and column that at least illuminates some of the possibilities.
Many of these labor market problems were brought on by the financial crisis and the collapse of market demand. But it would be a mistake to place all the blame on the business cycle. Before the crisis, for example, business executives and owners didn’t always know who their worst workers were, or didn’t want to engage in the disruptive act of rooting out and firing them. So long as sales were brisk, it was easier to let matters lie. But when money ran out, many businesses had to make the tough decisions — and the axes fell. The financial crisis thus accelerated what would have been a much slower process.Subsequently, some would-be employers seem to have discriminated against workers who were laid off in the crash. These judgments weren’t always fair, but that stigma isn’t easily overcome, because a lot of employers in fact had reason to identify and fire their less productive workers.In a nutshell, what we’re facing isn’t your grandfather’s unemployment problem. It does have something to do with modern technology, and it will be with us for some time. [More]

I find this pretty persuasive, but also think we are largely underestimating the effect of technology, even though it is getting attention. Perhaps it is not as obvious as robots on the assembly line, but more along the lines of me troubleshooting and sending my new iMac back (yes - total FAIL) without ever talking to another human. Even the tech support guys in India are losing out.
People with little economics training intuitively grasp this point. They understand that some human workers may lose out in the race against the machine. Ironically, the best-educated economists are often the most resistant to this idea, as the standard models of economic growth implicitly assume that economic growth benefits all residents of a country. However, just as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson showed that outsourcing and offshoring do not necessarily increase the welfare of all workers, it is also true that technological progress is not a rising tide that automatically raises all incomes. Even as overall wealth increases, there can be, and usually will be, winners and losers. And the losers are not necessarily some small segment of the labor force like buggy whip manufacturers. In principle, they can be a majority or even 90% or more of the population. [More]
Economists also constantly look back to data and anecdotes about past technology advance that spurred so much growth that displaced workers were easily absorbed into new industries, with even higher pay. I know we always think this time is different, but that cannot be ruled out either. A disruptive technology could wipe out whole sub-sectors, and recently has.

Farmers too often let their eyes glaze over on such subjects. But many will lose farms and careers as consolidation continues. More importantly, the job prospects of our children and grandchildren become much more arbitrary. 

TC's point about men and service jobs is chilling as well. 

[Good comments after the post about people like TC on tenure grasping the feeling of unemployment.]

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The computerectomy...

Is not going well.  Thank goodness for my iPhone and iPad or I'd be severed from the Collective.