Sunday, November 29, 2009

I just might make it...

By "I", I mean "we", of course.  Even though I'll be flitting to Cargill meetings this week, our harvest might be done by the breakfast I'm speaking at for the Marketing Rally.

As you can guess, there is plenty of room for late-comers, so if you're done or getting close, restart your marketing for 2009 and 2010 (yup - I'm selling corn and beans both now).

Click here to register, and good luck this week.
Just a little luck...

We all could use some, especially when we try stuff like this:






[via neuroworld]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The meaning of hungry...

In a wonderfully concise post, Raj Patel illuminates the way we count hungry people here in the US and around the world.  While the idea of food security is one key data set here, the more stark picture is by counting calories.
So it's useful to have other ways of measuring the depth of hunger. Counting the number of calories that individuals get to eat every day is how the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) measures hunger in the world. They count how many people eat less than 1900 calories a day, and their index of hunger is 'undernourishment'. According to their most recent estimates, 1.02 billion people will be undernourished in 2009. Overwhelmingly these people were in poor countries (just over 15 million people were undernourished in rich countries from 2004 to 2006--if the global measure of hunger was "food insecurity," the number of hungry would be substantially higher).
The data used to calculate undernourishment helps to compass the depth of hunger, the degree to which people are going seriously without calories every day. By counting the average calorie intake of people who are already undernourished, you can get a sense of how badly off the hungry are. When their average intake is 300 calories below the minimum daily intake of 1900, they're considered intensely food deprived. The countries with deepest levels of hunger are Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Belize, where a hungry person has an average daily calorie intake of 430 calories below the minimum acceptable. [More]

Doing the math as you are inhaling Thanksgiving smells from the kitchen is a battle between your brain and your stomach, but suffice it to say 1900 calories is not much.

Hunger in the world is a sign of political failure and economic inefficiencies. It is also reflective of the need for labor and economic mobility and freer trade.  These ideas currently are out of favor, so I expect the statistics for hunger, however calculated, to get worse in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Good news!...

We're now the worst case scenario.

If you've been wondering why index funds have been pouring money into commodities when it makes no fundamental sense, you're not alone.
A third explanation is that investors are making increasing use of commodities as an investment class. Although Treasury Inflation Protected Securities offer a hedge against an increase in the U.S. consumer price index, they don't offer protection for foreign investors against depreciation of the dollar. Insofar as increases in the prices of commodities like oil may depress real economic activity, holding commodities as an investment also offers useful diversification against risks to equities. Particularly when interest rates are low, there is an incentive to hoard physical commodities as an investment vehicle.
The paper by Tang and Xiong proposes that the increased use of commodities as a financial investment accounts for the increasing correlation among commodity price changes over time. In support of that claim, they note the growing popularity of investment strategies based on the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index or the Dow Jones Commodity Index. Tang and Xiong document that correlations among commodities included in the indexes have increased faster than those not included. For example, one of the regressions they estimate relates the return on commodity i to equity returns, bond yields, the value of the dollar, and oil prices, where the coefficients are allowed to grow with time at different rates before and after 2004, and with different trends on these coefficients estimated for commodities included in indexes as for those excluded. The figure below shows their estimated time path for the coefficient on oil prices comparing the indexed and non-indexed groups.  [More]
And it's probably because you think the world economy is not about to collapse - you giddy fool, you.
In a report entitled "Worst-case debt scenario", the bank's asset team said state rescue packages over the last year have merely transferred private liabilities onto sagging sovereign shoulders, creating a fresh set of problems.  
...
SocGen advises bears to sell the dollar and to "short" cyclical equities such as technology, auto, and travel to avoid being caught in the "inherent deflationary spiral". Emerging markets would not be spared. Paradoxically, they are more leveraged to the US growth than Wall Street itself. Farm commodities would hold up well, led by sugar. [More][My emphasis]

Of course, they're French, but still I feel better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Before you slip into sinful error with your bird...

Remember, stuffing is evil.



[via ezra]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't shoot the personable messenger...

FWIW:

"Studies Suggest Males Have More Personality"


[More]

Serious science has verified what common sense has made obvious for years.

 

Maybe not a battle...

Military metaphors are all the vogue, and the hard-pressed animal agriculture sector is frequently described in terms like "attacks", and "offensive".  While the debates being carried on in such terms may seem useful to "rally troops", the whole symbology could be misleading and counter-productive.

To be sure there is heated rhetoric, but name one arena of public contention that does not deploy over-the-top language to gain a few meager moments of public awareness?  This is a one-way emotional street, as well, with real mental and political difficulties to reverse.

But regardless of the individual arguments over meat consumption, biodiversity, healthy diets, animal care, global warming, or rural economic and social structure, I think a slowly merging flow can be detected.  More importantly, assessing the overall direction of these singular struggles may be the key for producers to planning well in this century.

I think I see a change in the nature of the discourse, at least at some levels. Notes of realism and compromise are popping up is diverse places. For example, Urban Lehner's typically thoughtful take has some powerful similarities with one of the economic blogging universe's superstars, Tyler Cowen.  First Lehner:

Problem is, even if the industry's right, these arguments may not win battles. Voters hear so many confusing and contradictory claims in the name of science that it's lost some of its power to persuade. If science says cages aren't cruel but voters see photos and film footage that make them squirm, my guess is they're going to believe their own eyes.
As for veganism, the question before the voters won't be whether to declare meat eating illegal; it will be whether the meat and eggs they eat should come from animals raised in cages and crates. Tell a carnivore that activists want to ban meat eating someday, and she'll tell you she'll vote no when that day arrives.
This is not something hog and poultry raisers want to hear, especially when many of them are bleeding red ink. It would be easier to win the battle if the science was conclusive and uncontradicted. It isn't. It would be easier to win the battle if it was over veganism -- and someday it might be. But today it's over cages.
To win the battles immediately ahead, the industry needs better arguments. It can offer halfway measures, like bigger, less-confining cages. The new Ohio board might do that. It can make clear how much more consumers will pay for meat and eggs if cages and crates are outlawed. It can point out that pricier cage-free eggs, free-range chicken and heritage pork are available, so if consumers feel strongly about farm-animal practices they can vote with their wallets.

In the end, the industry must somehow persuade voters animals aren't suffering. Otherwise, Ohio could end up being a melancholy victory -- or perhaps one of the industry's few victories, period. [More]

This well reasoned observation hardly fits with calls to arms by other livestock proponents. More importantly to me is the tone, which has been missing too long in the ag media, I think: grownup-to-grownup.

At the same time, Cowen - hardly a Pollanesque crusader - offers a similar logical approach.

Speaking of animal products, a few of you asked me a while ago how the eating of animals could possibly be morally justified.  My primary objection is to how we treat animals while they are alive, especially in factory farms.  The very rise and continuing existence of humanity is based on the widespread slaughter and extinction of other large mammals, not to mention other animals as well.  I'm not saying we should feel entirely comfortable with that, but rather a "non-aggression" stance toward other animals simply isn't possible, short of repudiating all of human civilization, even in its more primitive versions.  Everyone favors the murder of animals for human purposes, although different people draw the lines at different places.  I don't know of any good foundationalist approach to these issues, but at the very least we should be nicer to non-human animals at the margin and less willing to torture them.
At the policy level we should tax meat more heavily and regulate farms more strictly, for both environmental reasons and reasons of animal welfare.  I draw a line at where the life of the animal is "not worth living," but for me animal slaughter is not immoral per se
There are a few things you can do personally, including:
1. Buy less from factory farms.
2. Eat better meat and in turn eat less meat, substituting quality for quantity.  This is a common demographic pattern, so it shouldn't be too hard to mimic. [More]

It is hard to look at the American citizenry right now and think reasonableness will soon come into vogue, but I think it will.  The alternatives lack the power to endure.  Consequently, I see a future where such opinions will be commonplace, and our livestock industry will be reshaped as a result.

Nor am I sure raising the alarm about costs (our traditional fallback retort) will win over all those who think changes should be made. It's not 100% guaranteed what will happen to meat costs, as the system will adapt economically and productivity changes are hard to predict.  Mostly, warnings about rising costs don't have much traction.  Until people are confronted with the actuality, they tend to assume it may not happen. [This is one key problem with the health care debate].  Maybe we've simply been over-warned about too many economic possibilities.

But the cumulative effect of these several influences on the livestock sector  - not to mention the unruly grain markets - make assuming a return to old trends seem wishful thinking.  With all the above forces trending the directions they are, changes will occur. Not overnight nor universally, but powerfully and relentlessly.

We're not fighting battles, we're responding to new decisions by increasingly informed and empowered consumers.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

So wrong...

In so many ways.



Ya think she won't wonder what she was thinking a few years from now?

[Thanks, Brandon]
OK - I'll start running again...

My meager attempt at exercise - running - has dwindled to sporadic episodes this year.  I have iron-clad excuses:
  • I was traveling
  • I just got home
  • We were working extra hours
  • It was raining
  • My ____ hurt. (Fill in the sexagenarian blank)
 Meanwhile, my resistance to stress dwindled as well.  I must be part rat.
“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”
The stress-reducing changes wrought by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight, however, as virtually every researcher agrees. In the University of Colorado experiments, for instance, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did. “Something happened between three and six weeks,” says Benjamin Greenwood, a research associate in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, who helped conduct the experiments. Dr. Greenwood added that it was “not clear how that translates” into an exercise prescription for humans. We may require more weeks of working out, or maybe less. And no one has yet studied how intense the exercise needs to be. But the lesson, Dr. Greenwood says, is “don’t quit.” Keep running or cycling or swimming. (Animal experiments have focused exclusively on aerobic, endurance-type activities.) You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your first jog, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular biochemical changes will begin, Dr. Greenwood says. And eventually, he says, they become “profound.” [More]

This year has been THE WORST farming year I have known.  Still, this is no excuse to roll over and let circumstance run my world.

This nondescript old body has brought me this far - it deserves better than my recent care.
Yikes - anybody looking at the long range forecast?...

Here's mine (east-central IL)  from Accuweather.



That's right  - teens and entire days below freezing.

At least the combine won't have trouble with the wet spots.

Not all agree.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A fast two decades...

As someone who read about the Berlin airlift in the Weekly Reader, the idea of the Berlin Wall being gone for twenty years was arresting.

So were these photos.



[More]
No reality here...

The uproar over mammogram guidelines is discouraging for anyone who thinks the cost over over-medicating and defensive medicine cannot continue.
In the midst of the debate over health care reform, we have been handed the perfect example of why America will never get health care costs under control: The furious reaction to new guidelines that recommend most women should get mammograms later in life and less frequently. [More]

As long as we cling to the idea that one life is worth all the wealth in the world and millions in the future should suffer for my well-being in the present we will be unable to adopt common sense measures like this recommendation. It's also why too many of us men will have unnecessary prostate surgery.
Doctors have routinely recommended prostate cancer screening for men over 50 using a blood test for prostate specific antigen, or PSA. The belief was that early diagnosis and aggressive treatment for any cancer is better than standing by and doing nothing.
But many prostate tumours are slow-growing and take years to cause harm. Some studies suggest many men are living with the side-effects of aggressive treatment with surgery and radiation for a cancer that may never have killed them.
The researchers said in the United States, fewer than 2 per cent of men with under age 65 opt to forgo prostate surgery in favour of regular testing for their cancers. And 73 per cent of those ultimately have surgery within four years.
But a separate study in the journal Cancer by researchers at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, found that men with early stage prostate cancer who put off the surgery in favour of regular checkups were not overcome by anxiety. [More]

Oddly enough this individual failure is precisely why we will eventually devolve to a system where the government makes such allocations.  Just as other developed nations have discovered.

One more time: we can't afford all the health care everyone wants.  If we can't devise a system to ration health care effectively, that's all our economy will be about. And yes, that is the correct verb.

And we will still have a mortality rate close to 100%.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I rate this as good news...

While we in the country insist on lots of local control over public matters, what it usually boils down to is politics and self-interest on a microscopic scale.  It also means very little gets done. Slowly.

When siting communications towers or wind farms, the best and worst of our civic commitment is on display.  Higher authority is not to be despised in such cases.
The unanimous “declaratory ruling” made good on a promise FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made in an otherwise coolly received speech at an industry conference in early October. Under the new rules, state and local governments must act within 90 days of receiving an application for a co-location, that is, a tower site to be shared with other operators, and 150 days for other applications. Carriers have complained that governments are frustrating their efforts to improve coverage by sitting on tower applications indefinitely.
The FCC also ruled that state or local governments may not use the fact that wireless service is available from another carrier as ground for rejecting an application. And they may not require a zoning variance for every cell site. [More]

One small step for better broadband and phone coverage.
Not only Christmas...

Is coming.  The traditional Fall Farmer Meeting Season is about to commence - ready or not!  As you can see from my calendar at left the other left, I may not be around for closure on this harvest.

As I struggle to concentrate on the financial outcome for this year and the prognosis for 2010, I have realized one thing: I am not thinking very clearly.  I think I have pre-PHSD (Post Harvest Stress Disorder).

I am NOT equating my mental issues to veterans coping with PTSD or making a lame comparison.  For several years, however, I have noted a pronounced change in my mental processes after harvest - and this harvest is one for the books.

One thing that seems to help me is re-establishing my bearings by conferring with other producers and experts. So despite the obvious difficulties, I am glad to be a part of the FJ Marketing Rally.

I would enjoy the chance to visit with you there.  This could become the premier marketing meeting of the season, and the first one could be the pattern.  Do the calculation and if you can see making it, it could be another reward for enduring 2009.

Besides - and you didn't hear it from me - the talk about a free-for-all Jello-wrestling tournament  between the market analysts may not be that far off.



[It will take some time getting that image out of your mind, won't it?]
Looking forward to tweckling....

I don't tweet.  I have introductory phrases longer than 140 characters. So this new challenge for public speakers such as yours truly made my presenter-blood run cold.
Tweckle (twek'ul) vt. to abuse a speaker only to Twitter followers in the audience while he/she is speaking.
Conference speakers beware: Twecklers are watching.
They're out for blood.
And you may be their next victim.
Once upon a time, conference goers could do little more than passively fork their cheesecake when a snooze-inducing keynote speaker took the podium. No longer. The microblogging service Twitter is changing a staple of academic life from a one-way presentation into a real-time conversation. Flub a talk badly enough and you now risk mobilizing a scrum of digital-spitball-slinging snark-masters. This is from a higher-education conference in Milwaukee:
  • we need a tshirt, "I survived the keynote disaster of 09"
The Twitter "back channel" can be a powerful tool to quickly knit a gathering of strangers into an online community, a place where attendees at meetings broadcast bits of sessions, share extra information such as links, and arrange social events. But the same technology can also enable a "virtual lynching." That's the phrase one twitster used to describe what happened at last month's HighEdWeb Association conference, an event that has gone down in social-media history as perhaps the most brutal abuse of the back channel yet.
The setting was a midday keynote speech before some 400 college professionals in Milwaukee. The presenter was David Galper of the now-defunct online music service for college students, Ruckus Network. The Twitter reaction as he spoke included the T-shirt suggestion, and continued:
  • it's awesome in the "I don't want to turn away from the accident because I might see a severed head" way
  • Too bad they took my utensils away w/ my plate. I could have jammed the butter knife into my temple.
Perfect conditions propelled this Twitter torrent: a speaker who delivered what was apparently a technically flawed and topically dated talk to a crowd of Web experts who expected better. They reacted by flaying him with more than 500 tweets in one hour. The onslaught grew so large that it went viral—live. The conference became one of the most popular topics on Twitter, meaning strangers with no connection to the meeting gaped at Mr. Galper's humiliation when they logged onto their home pages. One consultant who coaches academics on public speaking now uses the disaster as a what-to-avoid case study. [More]

I could just raise my fee.

Or be more interesting.
Dept. of Duh!...

Maybe I'm missing something really important here but did we really need a study to prove the railroads made agriculture boom?
During the 1850s, land in U.S. farms surged by more than 100 million acres while almost 50 million acres of land were transformed from their raw, natural state into productive farmland. The time and expense of transforming this land into a productive resource represented a significant fraction of domestic capital formation at the time and was an important contributor to American economic growth. Even more impressive, however, was the fact that almost half of these total net additions to cropland occurred in just seven Midwestern states which comprised barely less than one-eighth of the land area of the country at that time. Using a new GIS-based transportation database linked to county-level census, we estimate that at least a quarter (and possibly two-thirds or more) of this increase can be linked directly to the coming of the railroad to the region. Farmers responded to the shrinking transportation wedge and rising revenue productivity by rapidly expanding the area under cultivation and these changes, in turn, drove rising farm and land values. [More]

In fairness, I did not plunk down $5 for the paper on principle, but just looking at the age of towns in IL for one example, the ones on the IL Central tend to be the oldest.  The railroads also prompted the immigration of millions of Northern Europeans to the Midwest and forever altered its previously Yankee culture.

That influence was by far the more important for America, IMHO.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For all who watch BBT*...



 [More]

*Big Bang Theory
Jump Bach, Jack...

Music on a Mobius strip.



The trouble with true genius is we can't really grasp it.

[via j-walk]
Inequality: not to worry...

In my search for enlightenment on the nature of income inequality, I have run into some innovative and intriguing slants from those who don't see a big problem.  A new one, which has been approved for general consumption by some libertarian thinkers like Will Wilkinson was penned by Scott Winship.

First his conclusion:
It is not immediately clear what to think about income concentration being confined to the very top.  Would it be worse if income were becoming increasingly concentrated in the top half of the distribution at the expense of the bottom half or if it were becoming increasingly concentrated in Bill and Melinda Gates's household at the expense of everyone else?  Does the answer change depending on whether the "losers" are experiencing strong income growth or not?  On some level, as long as incomes are rising for everyone, it matters little how much more the Gates's income is rising.  They cannot price others out of markets for goods and services by themselves.  On the other hand, if the top fifth of the income distribution is pulling away from the bottom 80 percent, then the consequences for those falling behind could be profound.  The top fifth might be able to sort themselves into the best neighborhoods with the best schools, and they might bid up the cost of higher education to the point where the best schools become unaffordable to most families.

The evidence indicates that patterns of inequality more closely resemble the Gates scenario than the bifurcation scenario.  It is unlikely that the rise in inequality, then, has had much practical impact on the quality of life of middle-income or poor Americans.  The exception would be if rising inequality had spawned competitive spending patterns to maintain relative standing in such a way that families end up worse off as a consequence of trying to keep up with the Joneses.  For now, however, this possibility remains largely untested.

Finally, the magnitude of the increase in inequality and its nature might be of little practical importance even as the level of inequality has deleterious effects.  In other words, what may be relevant is that the top ten percent has received at least a third of all income in every year since 1980, not that it increased from a third to nearly half by 2007.  But if that were the case, it would have different implications for American society, politics, and economics than if growing inequality is a trend to be viewed with alarm.  Indeed, we would be in worse trouble if the levels of inequality prior to the run-up of recent decades were as consequential as the level we have today, for we are unlikely to ever see inequality levels so low in the foreseeable future. [More]

As this graph shows, his assertion (I believe) is that income gains are not being hogged by the upper 10%.  They are mostly going to the upper 1%!  




This is viewed - stay with me here - as better, for the reasons he outlines above. Indeed, the casual acceptance of this lopsided economic outcome gives one pause. As Wilkinson puts it,"And what we know is that almost the entire increase in inequality since the 1980s is attributable to a stupendous rise in incomes at the top of the top of the top of the income distribution.".

Added to the argument that since the cost of living for the poor has risen less than the cost of living for the rich (there's no Walmart for Gucci bags, I guess), these assurances seem to skirt one larger problem for me: How the heck do we grow the economy if the vast majority see no real income growth?

I saw Michael Swanson from Wells Fargo put the formula for GDP up in his presentation at The Elite Producers Conference:

GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)

C = consumer spending (72%)
I = Investment   (~10%)
G = Government (~25%)
(X-M) = Net exports (-3%)

Swanson then pointed out the key to growth in his opinion was to increase "I", investment.  OK, I'll buy that, but it's going to be really hard to move GDP much if you don't increase "C" in my thinking. 10% growth in C produces 7% GDP growth; 10% growth in I gets you 1%.

So if income is almost entirely absorbed into folks who aren't going to consume, but just invest, it will be hard to see much economic growth, simply because of the relative importance of the two factors.  This is my issue with growing income inequality.

As the folks in the dairy industry struggled to find ways to increase demand and prices, it seems stagnant income for most Americans will undo their efforts.  With flat income growth, food sellers have to take sales from housing or clothes, etc. to grow.

Maybe there is nothing morally wrong with lopsided income distribution.  Maybe it is ordained by religious adherence to Capitalism as inscribed in Leviticus or the Bill of Rights or somewhere.


But it's not going to help our economy grow.  Humanitarian issues aside, our system won't work if all of us don't see income progress.  This is the real headache for livestock and dairy.  Bill Gates can't eat all the meat and milk he can afford.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In a year where I am cursing my luck...

Maybe I should consider how lucky my species has been.
Instead, moderns were very, very lucky—so lucky that Finlayson calls what happened "survival of the weakest." About 30,000 years ago, the vast forests of Eurasia began to retreat, leaving treeless steppes and tundra and forcing forest animals to disperse over vast distances. Because they evolved in the warm climate of Africa before spreading into Europe, modern humans had a body like marathon runners, adapted to track prey over such distances. But Neanderthals were built like wrestlers. That was great for ambush hunting, which they practiced in the once ubiquitous forests, but a handicap on the steppes, where endurance mattered more. This is the luck part: the open, African type of terrain in which modern humans evolved their less-muscled, more-slender body type "subsequently expanded so greatly" in Europe, writes Finlayson. And that was "pure chance."
Because Neanderthals were not adept at tracking herds on the tundra, they had to retreat with the receding woodlands. They made their last stand where pockets of woodland survived, including in a cave in the Rock of Gibraltar. There, Finlayson and colleagues discovered in 2005, Neanderthals held on at least 2,000 years later than anywhere else before going extinct, victims of bad luck more than any evolutionary failings, let alone any inherent superiority of their successors. [More]

I'm not sure I buy this theory 100%, but I do find as I age gracelessly, the role of sheer chance is much overlooked.  Many work harder and smarter than we do.  Many are more talented and visionary.  But they don't climb to the top.

Worse still, many who do seem unlikely competitors.  This could be a convenient excuse for bad results, but I think it could better prompt us to more correctly allocate credit for our own progress.
Stone walls do not a prison make*...

Obviously, they don't make a city either.



[via mr]

*...nor iron bars a cage.
Filthy lucre...

Really.
Also found on bills: fecal matter. A 2002 report in the Southern Medical Journal showed found pathogens — including staphylococcus — on 94% of dollar bills tested. Paper money can reportedly carry more germs than a household toilet. And bills are a hospitable environment for gross microbes: viruses and bacteria can live on most surfaces for about 48 hours, but paper money can reportedly transport a live flu virus for up to 17 days. It's enough to make you switch to credit. [More]




Also: the $ (dollar sign) is not found on the currency.
The young are different...

Being a boomer myself, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at wide differences in opinion between age groups.  But lately some pretty stark comparisons have been pointed out.

For instance, in former East Bloc (communist) countries it appears a latent "nostalgia" for the bad ol' days is creeping into the perceptions of oldsters.



As we look to the future, this final table raises interesting questions. Across the board, younger citizens are both more supportive of the transition to a market economy and to a multiparty political system. Only time will tell whether democracy and capitalism are always more favorable to the young than to the old or if this will turn out to be more of a cohort effect, with aggregate support for democracy and capitalism increasing over time people who have come of age under post-communism occupy an increasingly larger portion of the population. Of particular interest here is Russia, where a very sharp divide apparently exists between those under and over the age of 50 in terms of support for both multiparty democracy and market economies. [More]

Here in the US, a similar pattern has emerged concerning gay rights.
Traditionalists take heart that same-sex marriage has lost every time it's been on the ballot, and that a decisive majority of the public rejects it. The latest poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds 53 percent of Americans are against, with 39 percent in favor.
But anyone who denies that "American opinion is shifting" inhabits a fool's paradise, whose walls are sagging noticeably. Opposition to gay marriage is shrinking. In 1996, 65 percent took a negative view. Since then, support has fallen by about one percentage point a year. Put another way, one out of every eight Americans has gone from opposing the concept to endorsing it.
Time is on the side of gay marriage. The heaviest opposition comes from people over 65. Among those under 30, by contrast, supporters predominate—and by a hefty 58-to-37 percent margin. Ask any actuary where this disparity will lead.
The opponents of same-sex matrimony are in ever-worsening straits. Civil unions and domestic partnerships, which provide some or most of the accouterments of marriage, have been provided to gay couples in nine states and the District of Columbia, according to Lambda Legal. Once radical, these are seen today as the sensible compromise between giving gays the right to sacred matrimony and giving them a sharp stick in the eye. [More]

Somehow it's kinda comforting to think maybe we boomers won't have much lasting effect on our world.



A place for everyone...

I scratched my head when RFD-TV brought Don Imus on board, and was not surprised when the marriage broke up.  But you can't keep a good man mouth down.
I gather that Fox Biz has managed to push up its morning ratings by hiring that great financial guru Don Imus. But that sort of proves the point; Fox Business can get viewers, but only by turning itself into … Fox News. [More]
Have you spoken to the sales department?...

Mike Wilson goes boldly into dangerous waters for a farm magazine editor.  In the current issue of Farm Futures he has an excellent story about monopolies on both sides of our value chain, and then an editorial than winds up thusly:
The development of GMO seed took a basic com- modity — seed production — and turned it into a product complete with legal restrictions, even lawsuits against some farmers. Life science companies rightly began to use intellectual property rights laws to protect their inventions, changing the way farmers use those seeds. “We are at a point where a handful of corporations can decide what something is worth without really having a test of the market,” says Richard Oswald, Langdon, Mo.
As a key link in the food chain, farmers need buyers to compete for their commodities. Farmers need input sellers to compete among each other to ensure better efficiencies and more transparency in the marketplace. [More but in an awkward pdf format]

Ya see - this is the advantage of being the editor.  I can imagine the various conversations I might provoke by sending in a column questioning the business practices of the largest advertisers for farm media. 

Especially in the early moments of an increasingly bitter struggle for market share in the seed biz.
DuPont, the second-biggest seed maker, grabbed U.S. sales from Monsanto this year, showing its larger rival that farmers won’t always pay for the most advanced seeds. Monsanto aims to regain market share with corn that contains eight genetic changes and the first update of its herbicide-resistant soybeans in 13 years.
Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant is counting on the new soy and corn varieties to add $1 billion to profit by 2012. A survey of growers early in the harvest now under way indicates the seeds aren’t meeting yield expectations, contributing to an 11 percent decline in Monsanto’s shares the week the results were circulated.
“The distrust that could be building in the market is very negative for Monsanto,” Paul Baiocchi, a senior market strategist at Delta Global Advisors, which manages $1.5 billion, including Monsanto shares, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.
The new soybeans, known as Roundup Ready 2 Yield, boosted yields 7.3 percent, St. Louis-based Monsanto said today in a presentation. That’s at the low end of the company’s prior forecasts for a 7 percent to 11 percent gain. [More]

There are reasons why farm magazines are pretty slim at times.  Too many pubs chasing variable streams of advertising is one. It is not a trivial exercise to wander into touchy territory such as seed/grain concentration.

On the other hand, it's going to be hard not to comment on an issue that is only going to fester into customer rage this winter IMHO.

Well done, Mike. 

I'm going to applaud from waaaay over here, though.
Mandates and the Constitution...

Among the several comments I have received about health care reform is the suggestion mandates to buy health insurance are unconstitutional.  I hadn't hear any debate about this, but I have been pretty well out of the loop (no, still not done).

My initial reaction is why health insurance would be any more unconstitutional than auto insurance, but luckily better minds than mine have pondered this question.
Before we get started down this road, yes, the individual mandate is constitutional. For a roundup of the argument, see this Tim Noah piece. For a longer, more technical explanation, see this post by law professor Erik Hall.
The summary is that you can look at the individual mandate as a tax, which is constitutional, or as a regulation forcing private actors to engage in a certain transaction, much like the minimum wage, which is also constitutional. I've also heard scholars mention auto insurance, which is an obvious analogue, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, which proved that the government can order businesses to install ramps, despite the fact that the constitution doesn't explicitly give the federal government jurisdiction over entryways. [More]

And of course, the mind wanders to the ethanol mandate...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Photo of the Day...

Haven't done this for a while.



[More]

(Guess who's rained out)
A little sugar...

Knowledge. 

From "Twenty Things You Didn't Know About Sugar"

9 The artificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame were found accidentally when lab workers doing research that had nothing to do with sweetening put a bit of the test compounds in their mouths and liked what they tasted.
10 What kind of researcher sticks an experiment in his mouth?
11 At least he had an excuse. The scientists who discovered sucralose (now sold as Splenda) were originally trying to create an insecticide. An assistant thought he had been instructed to “taste” a compound he’d only been asked to “test.”
Science and the people...

Seem to be diverging

First some recent survey information.
Doran and Kendall Zimmerman, 2009
A poll performed by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman at Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago received replies from 3,146 of the 10,257 polled Earth scientists. Results were analyzed globally and by specialization. 76 out of 79 climatologists who "listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change" believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 75 out of 77 believe that human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. Among all respondents, 90% agreed that temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800 levels, and 82% agreed that humans significantly influence the global temperature. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement. A summary from the survey states that:
"It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes."[83] [More]
For a more exhaustive overview of the scientific community, I found the following helpful.

Climate change critics like Richard Lindzen try to say "There's no consensus on global warming." in the Wall Street Journal, in front of Congress, and many other places.  This argument has also been made repeatedly on Fox News.1,2  Other researchers like Dean Dr. Mark H. Thiemens say this "has nothing to do with reality".1,2,3   The following is a list of quotes from scientific organizations, academies, scientists, industry spokesmen, etc supporting the existence of man made climate change and the need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Many of these quotes reference the IPCC or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is widely regarded by mainstream scientists as either the "most reliable" or one of the most reliable sources for accurate information on climate change.  As you will notice,  the evidence against the consensus critics like Lindzen and pundits on Fox News is overwhelming.  If you are confused as to whose opinion matters, just pay attention to the peer review science journals and the National Academy of Sciences.  For those that don't know, the National Academies are like the Supreme Court of science.  The number of climate scientists in the US can be found by examining the members of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).  As of November 10, 2006 we know that there is a minimum (no official count of foreign climatologists is available) of 20,000 working climatologists worldwide 1,2.   An important fact to remember is that many high profile critics you see in the news do not qualify as climate scientists when these standards are applied.  Keep both of these concepts in mind the next time you see a handful of self proclaiming "climate scientists" with dissenting opinions.  It is also important to note that Exxon Mobil is funding a $10,000 bounty for climate denialists and skeptics.  If only 2% of the 20,000 climatologists were bought out then we'd have 400 deniers (skeptics are convinced by science not money).  If you have suggestions for the addition of other quotes please post them at our blog. [More]

[Another recent survey]

The compelling value of these sources is both the depth and breadth of the agreement, rather than self-proclaimed authenticity.  More interesting is this recent study done with economists.
The law school’s Institute for Policy Integrity sent surveys to 289 economists who had published at least one article on climate change in a top-rated economics journal in the past 15 years. Half of those economists responded anonymously to a dozen questions that solicited their opinions on a range of issues, from the impact of climate change on particular industries to how the benefits of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions should be calculated.
The survey found that 84 percent of the economists agreed that climate change “presents a clear danger” to the United States and global economies – hitting agriculture the hardest – even though the severity of global warming remains unknown.
Only 5.6 percent disagreed with that statement, while 7.6 percent were neutral and 2.8 percent had no opinion.
Not surprisingly, the economists favored a market-based approach to limiting carbon emissions, with 80.6 percent supporting the auctioning of emissions allowances, while 9 percent believed the government should give them away.

Climate change legislation before Congress would initially distribute some free allowances to industry while increasing the number of auctioned permits over time. “Some of the answers we get were fairly consistent with what we expected, to the extent that they are consistent with general economic theory, which is likely to favor an auctioning system,” said J. Scott Holladay, an economics fellow at the institute and an author of the report.
Nearly all the economists – 94.3 percent – said the United States should agree to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through an international climate treaty. Fifty-seven percent said the country should make such a commitment even without an agreement. [More]

Given this growing near-unanimity among experts - especially in the field of climatology - why is the general public sliding the other way?



 [Source]

I don't find this surprising.  Given the recession and the fact that climate change legislation  is about starting to pay for the damage we have inflicted and will inflict on the environment, there is little upside into trying to grasp the mechanics and implications of theis complex problem.  Upton Sinclair put it best:
If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it

 The awkward part is when skeptics try to force reason backwards.  We don't want to pay for climate change damage, so we try to undo the physics and chemistry underlying the phenomenon.  That's not going to well, so the better tactic is political resistance.

For the most part logic and reason are not too important in political debate these days.  Which is why folks feel free to hold inconsistent positions on political issues.  What is playing well is emotion, especially outrage, and more especially displaced outrage. 

Upset about the bank bailout? Deny AGW.

That'll show'em. 


The larger problem is just like the economic issues facing us, climate change is beyond the attention span of most and secondary to the immense problems facing so many every moment.


Without patience and clear voices in an arena of civil discourse, I think the most effective course of action is to prepare for significant increases in all such issues.  This does not guarantee disastrous consequences, but it sure makes them more likely.


The funny part is if those consequences come earlier than we think, rather than after we're off the stage.






 
 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bad headlines...

This kind of stuff makes folks think wind power could be THE answer to our energy problem.

Giant New Utah Wind Farm Will Power Los Angeles




OK, doesn't that imply to you it will light up the whole dang megalopolis?  But wait, down the story you get the real output.

Featuring 97 wind turbines, the first phase of the project has the capacity to generate 203 megawatts of wind energy, enough to power about 45,000 homes per year, Gaynor says. [More]


I have written before about the constraints on wind power: intermittent production requiring backup, grid issues, and flat out minuscule output compared to coal, NG, or nuclear.  But we still love the "free" illusion.

And the subsidies.
Harvest update...

Thank goodness for a stretch of great weather and some corn reluctantly drying down to about 20% so we can bin it (nervously with air).  At the same time yields - and especially test weights - are in the toilet.  Very disappointing after some credible, but hardly outstanding early numbers.

You know the feeling: you don't want to open up the next field/number.

Thanks for your patience, and I hope your efforts are going better.  However, I flew from Las Vegas to ORD yesterday and saw NOT ONE combine going after we entered IL.

Memo to self: rethink scheduling speeches in November.

Thank God for a spouse and son who are going above and beyond in my absence.

BTW, if you would like to meet both Jan and Aaron (and offer condolences) he and I will be speaking at the TP Young Farmer Meeting in January.

Assuming we're done...

Update update:  I spoke today in LaGrange, IN and visited with some grain dealers/feed millers/farmers.  Yields seem to be pretty good, but within this week the mold problem has exploded with no place to go with badly damaged grain.  Mostly gibberella up here - but because of the mycotoxins more problematic than diplodia in my area.  Moisture is still 25-30%.
I don't think this helps...

Ongoing cognitive behavior research could only add to the wave of anthropomorphizing food animals, I suspect.  As we discover how smart pigs are, for example, we draw too many irrational conclusions about how we should relate to them.
Animal Behaviour, researchers present evidence that domestic pigs can quickly learn how mirrors work and will use their understanding of reflected images to scope out their surroundings and find their food. The researchers cannot yet say whether the animals realize that the eyes in the mirror are their own, or whether pigs might rank with apes, dolphins and other species that have passed the famed “mirror self-recognition test” thought to be a marker of self-awareness and advanced intelligence.
To which I say, big squeal. Why should the pigs waste precious mirror time inspecting their teeth or straightening the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins, when they could be using the mirror as a tool to find a far prettier sight, the pig heaven that comes in a bowl?
The finding is just one in a series of recent discoveries from the nascent study of pig cognition. Other researchers have found that pigs are brilliant at remembering where food stores are cached and how big each stash is relative to the rest. They’ve shown that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace.
They’ve found that pigs are among the quickest of animals to learn a new routine, and pigs can do a circus’s worth of tricks: jump hoops, bow and stand, spin and make wordlike sounds on command, roll out rugs, herd sheep, close and open cages, play videogames with joysticks, and more. For better or worse, pigs are also slow to forget. “They can learn something on the first try, but then it’s difficult for them to unlearn it,” said Suzanne Held of the University of Bristol. “They may get scared once and then have trouble getting over it.” [More]

It seems to me eating "smart" animals is at least as confusing on some mental level as eating "cute" animals.  It's why I am growing increasingly nervous with strenuous campaigns to "educate the public".

If we tell them all the information it should include stuff like above.  If we tell them our version we look like run of the mill shills and are easily countered by stories like this. Moreover, active media confrontation only garners more exposure to such data.

Between the information explosion and the medical community trying to cope with the cost and consequences of obesity, I could see a generation long decrease in meat consumption to levels similar to other countries(To my surprise the US is not tops in this category, and you'll never guess who #1 and #2  are!)

Increased feed costs will simply be the coup de grace, unless we can refocus our sales to nations way down the consumption list, I think. Our meat industry is going to have to be about trade and the right product mix.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unsustainable food marketing...

Compare and contrast the following news items.  First, the connection between obesity and minimum wage levels.
Growing consumption of increasingly less expensive food, and especially “fast food”, has been cited as a potential cause of increasing rate of obesity in the United States over the past several decades. Because the real minimum wage in the United States has declined by as much as half over 1968-2007 and because minimum wage labor is a major contributor to the cost of food away from home we hypothesized that changes in the minimum wage would be associated with changes in bodyweight over this period. To examine this, we use data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from 1984-2006 to test whether variation in the real minimum wage was associated with changes in body mass index (BMI). We also examine whether this association varied by gender, education and income, and used quantile regression to test whether the association varied over the BMI distribution. We also estimate the fraction of the increase in BMI since 1970 attributable to minimum wage declines. We find that a $1 decrease in the real minimum wage was associated with a 0.06 increase in BMI. This relationship was significant across gender and income groups and largest among the highest percentiles of the BMI distribution. Real minimum wage decreases can explain 10% of the change in BMI since 1970. We conclude that the declining real minimum wage rates has contributed to the increasing rate of overweight and obesity in the United States. Studies to clarify the mechanism by which minimum wages may affect obesity might help determine appropriate policy responses. [More]

Apparently, for reasons to be determined, the lack of any meaningful floor in wages shifts food consumption to less desirable health effects.  This is surprisingly close to the thrust of Food, Inc. and a serious indicator of one the problems our system currently struggles with: the increasing concentration of income growth into fewer hands.
Concern over the perilous state of the economy ran throughout the discussions during the conference.
“There are families not eating at the end of the month,” said Stephen Quinn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Wal-Mart Stores, and “literally lining up at midnight” at Wal-Mart stores waiting to buy food when paychecks or government checks land in their accounts.
Among the steps Wal-Mart is taking to address the changes in shopping habits, Mr. Quinn listed an overhaul of the retailer’s private-label brand, Great Value, which is promoted in commercials describing how families can fix dinners with Great Value products “for less than $2 a serving.” [More]

After visiting with dairy farmers this week, and trying to think of their marketing perspective, the failure of our economic engine to produce income gains for most Americans poses a huge marketing problem for these producers. The tiny portion of us who are seeing income growth will niot be spending more on food, but folks at the bottom would.

Redistributive schemes are ideological anathema until you try to sell a product.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An old reliable gag...

Haven't done any signage stuff for a while, so...


 


[Just a few more...]

[via drb]
Another reason to favor biscuits...

I haven't had much time to surf recently, but I had to check out this headline:

Baguette Dropped From Bird's Beak Shuts Down The Large Hadron Collider (Really)


[More]

And you thought your harvest was having unexpected problems.

 

Not waiting to "get it right"....

As the health care reform debate intensified, one strain of objection has centered on the "undue" speed and sloppiness of the reform effort.  We should slow down and get it right, opponents argue.

Only we have been trying to get it right for decades and meanwhile the problems have only gotten worse.  But they are right in saying the current legislative vehicles have enormous flaws and likely will not perform as advertised. 

Yeah, right - like any government program does.

So the choice is between ugly choices or none.  I go with ugly, and so does John Cassidy.
So what does it all add up to? The U.S. government is making a costly and open-ended commitment to help provide health coverage for the vast majority of its citizens. I support this commitment, and I think the federal government’s spending priorities should be altered to make it happen. But let’s not pretend that it isn’t a big deal, or that it will be self-financing, or that it will work out exactly as planned. It won’t.
Many Democratic insiders know all this, or most of it. What is really unfolding, I suspect, is the scenario that many conservatives feared. The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it (and many other Administrations before that) is creating a new entitlement program, which, once established, will be virtually impossible to rescind. At some point in the future, the fiscal consequences of the reform will have to be dealt with in a more meaningful way, but by then the principle of (near) universal coverage will be well established. Even a twenty-first-century Ronald Reagan will have great difficult overturning it.
That takes me back to where I began. Both in terms of the political calculus of the Democratic Party, and in terms of making the United States a more equitable society, expanding health-care coverage now and worrying later about its long-term consequences is an eminently defensible strategy. Putting on my amateur historian’s cap, I might even claim that some subterfuge is historically necessary to get great reforms enacted. But as an economics reporter and commentator, I feel obliged to put on my green eyeshade and count the dollars. [More]

We have used this act-first-and-figure-out-the-consequences-later practice as standard procedure for most of my adult life.  Our Iran policy springs to mind as an example. Congress - and the American polity, for that matter - have never produced brilliant legislative action as a result of careful study and reasonable debate.  Farmers ought to know that from many farm Bill experiences.

Perfection is the enemy of the possible, and I would sooner push the system to where, as in other developed countries, no American worries about getting basic health care, going broke because of a health problem, or losing health coverage when laid off.  We'll figure out how to pay for it and control costs when the economics absolutely force us to. 

This is how we do other less important programs, and how we arrange the economic crises that will allow for politically unpopular entitlement reform.

Friday, November 06, 2009

You'll catch more flies with subsidies...

Than capitalism. For those of your worried about the deficit, how about cutting back on this government boondoggle?


Arguments over the profitability of the crop insurance industry are to be expected and have occurred often. An arm of government, be it the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or the RMA, releases a report that finds excess industry profits. The industry responds with arguments about the flawed accounting standards used by government analysts and then releases its own report that allows it to argue that it cannot absorb any cuts in the taxpayer subsidies that it receives because the industry is already undercompensated.
What should Congress conclude? Should members and their staff believe the industry reports that further cuts will reduce industry profits to the point at which companies will not be willing to participate in the program? Or should they believe the GAO and RMA reports that conclude that substantial cuts can be made because the industry is overcompensated?
Although economists are often maligned for their lack of ability to be precise in offering prescriptions for what ails the economy, their concepts and analytical tools can often give insights into competing arguments. An examination of how the crop insurance industry operates and competes provides a simple and reasonably accurate measure of the amount of excess profits the industry receives. This measure estimates that industry subsidies could be reduced by more than a billion dollars without adverse impacts on program effectiveness. [More]

Of course, farm subsidies are the last thing that fiscal hawks in farm country want to see cut, but oddly that's pretty much the attitude of other lobbying sectors as well.  The problem in our case is graphs like these:



It also explains why practically ag product/service I buy comes with an automatic "You want crop insurance with that?"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

And while we're talking about church...

For all you Methodists.



And for anyone who has been attending long enough to identify.




[via mefi]
Ah, yes...a capella on Sunday morning...

This quick essay rang a bell.
The first time I attended my father’s church, I was mortified, standing among my siblings, to realize we would be singing hymns without accompaniment: the sole piano player had defected to another church before my father’s arrival. With barely over a dozen members in the congregation, you couldn’t get away with mouthing the words. And trying to sing loudly enough to prove you have neither a heathen’s irreverence - though you are your very own, grown-up kind of heathen, singing out of respect for your parents’ belief - nor a tin ear while trying to keep your neighbors from hearing the cracks in your voice is akin be being strangled. Or slowly drowning. The necessary ratios of open throat to closed throat, of sound release to sound blockage, are tricky. Sure, it sounds pornographic, but anyone who has reluctantly joined in on the joys of communal singing knows it’s the truth. Your heart rate accelerates equally from oxygen deprivation as congregational stage fright. All this to say, trying to maintain privacy while singing in church is difficult enough without a conspicuously absent piano and twelve good country people singing acapella. [More]

To all for whom congregational singing is not something you look forward to.

[via 3Q]

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bless our TV laziness...

I actually ask the folks at USFR not to tell me what our Nielsen ratings are unless they have to for some reason.  I think it would every bit as nerve-wracking as watching the combine monitor on a year like this (another reason Aaron is in the cab).

One of the TV's industries concerns is as DVR's become commonplace and more shows are watched after recording, many of you will skip the commercials.  

Apparently not.

Against almost every expectation, nearly half of all people watching delayed shows are still slouching on their couches watching messages about movies, cars and beer. According to Nielsen, 46 percent of viewers 18 to 49 years old for all four networks taken together are watching the commercials during playback, up slightly from last year. Why would people pass on the opportunity to skip through to the next chunk of program content?
The most basic reason, according to Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a media buying firm, is that the behavior that has underpinned television since its invention still persists to a larger degree than expected.
“It’s still a passive activity,” he said.
And those passive viewers are watching in numbers big enough to turn some hits (“House” on Fox) into even bigger moneymakers, some middling successes (“How I Met Your Mother” on CBS) into healthier profit centers, and some seemingly endangered shows (“Heroes” on NBC) into possible survivors.
Two years ago, in a seismic change from past practice, Nielsen started measuring television consumption by the so-called commercial-plus-three ratings, which measure viewing for the commercials in shows that are watched either live or played back on digital video recorders within three days. This replaced the use of program ratings.
At the time, network executives fiercely resisted the change, fearing that they would never get credit for recorded shows because viewers would skip through all the commercials. But the figures show otherwise.
“It’s completely counterintuitive,” said Alan Wurtzel, the president of research for NBC. “But when the facts come in, there they are.”
Almost across the board, the gains for playback are growing. The best preseason estimate for the current season, said David F. Poltrack, the chief research officer for CBS, was about a 1 percent increase from playback over the live program for the networks combined. Instead, many are in the range of 7 to 12 percent, with some shows having increases of more than 20 percent when DVR ratings are added. The four networks together are averaging a 10 percent increase.
“It’s the magnitude that’s really surprising us,” Mr. Poltrack said.
In the 18-to-49 group of viewers — the one prized by networks because most ad sales are directed there — Fox has the biggest percentage increase, from an average rating of 2.39 (which translates into about 2.5 million viewers) for its live programs to a 2.71 rating (about 3.1 million viewers) when the three-day DVR playback results are added in. [More]

Of course, it could be viewers can't read the remote without their glasses, to pick a problem completely at random.

Or the remote is not in the right hands, i.e. a girl.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The reason I worry about H1N1...

Not personally.  I'm too old.
So why is it that older people would be more trusting of vaccines?
One reason is that people over the age of 65 remember a time when there were no vaccines. Polio, measles, whooping cough, and mumps were all diseases that caused grave illness before there were vaccinations. The polio and whooping cough vaccines were developed in the 1950s, the measles vaccine in 1968. Older generations remember these illnesses and a time when infectious diseases were not only more prevalent, but more deadly.
Those of us who are younger than 60 do not remember these times. Yet, we may recall that in 1976, there was concern that a similar swine flu vaccine was possibly linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome and that more people contracted this illness than the flu, which never really affected the population as was feared. However, the CDC reports that every year an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 Americans develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, whether or not they've received a vaccination.
Since I am not a physician, I am in no position to recommend or discourage the H1N1 vaccine or the standard flu vaccine. As with all issues related to personal health, vaccinations are an individual choice. And as I've discussed before, there are a myriad of reasons that people choose not to follow Western medical advice. I do think however, it's worth bearing in mind what the older generation may be able to teach us: Many people have died of diseases that are prevented today by vaccines. As is often the case with generational differences, older people have lived a history of which younger people have no experience. And although it is a typical human tendency to forget, or deny the lessons to be learned from the past, when it comes to healthcare, many older people remember a time when modern medicine was not an enemy, but a source of protection that prevented death.  [More]
But the trendy rejection of science and the conflation of folk wisdom with understanding of nature threatens to make this flu more of a problem than it should be with our modern resources.

The anti-vaccination movement has the potential to inflict serious harm on the most likely victims of swine (H1N1) flu.  
But the underlying argument has not changed: Vaccines harm America’s children, and doctors like Paul Offit are paid shills of the drug industry.
To be clear, there is no credible evidence to indicate that any of this is true. None. Twelve epidemiological studies have found no data that links the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine to autism; six studies have found no trace of an association between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury that has largely been removed from vaccines since 20011) and autism, and three other studies have found no indication that thimerosal causes even subtle neurological problems. The so-called epidemic, researchers assert, is the result of improved diagnosis, which has identified as autistic many kids who once might have been labeled mentally retarded or just plain slow. In fact, the growing body of science indicates that the autistic spectrum — which may well turn out to encompass several discrete conditions — may largely be genetic in origin. In April, the journal Nature published two studies that analyzed the genes of almost 10,000 people and identified a common genetic variant present in approximately 65 percent of autistic children.
But that hasn’t stopped as many as one in four Americans from believing vaccines can poison kids, according to a 2008 survey. And outreach by grassroots organizations like Autism One is a big reason why. [More]


This idea - rejecting science that contradicts how we think things should be is familiar to farmers. Consider the EU hormone ban. Or anti-GMO activists.

I find the same cafeteria approach to science in the debate over anthropogenic climate change. And before you fire up your response, consider this emotion is exactly how anti-vaxxers feel.
The rejection of hard-won knowledge is by no means a new phenomenon. In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri PoincarĂ© said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people “know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling.” Decades later, the astronomer Carl Sagan reached a similar conclusion: Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort. “A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society,” Sagan wrote of certain Americans’ embrace of reincarnation, channeling, and extraterrestrials. “There are unsatisfied medical needs, spiritual needs, and needs for communion with the rest of the human community.”
Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard. 

This flu is already serious and promises to strike at the very most painful core of our society - our children. America stands for allowing citizens to hold and promote their beliefs, but make no mistake about granting credence to the anti-science crowd, whether it is creationism or anti-vax.  It undermines the very foundation of not just our profession, but our culture.