Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Junkbox, Episode NSRTFRK...  

Pull out the combines - let's make this one go away.
 Wow - a brief moment of intense cloudiness! Maybe we can break 1/4" for July!

Monday, July 30, 2012

There's a nap for that...  

And it's ten minutes long.

You heard me.
The 5-minute nap produced few benefits in comparison with the no-nap control. The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these benefits maintained for as long as 155 minutes. The 20-minute nap was associated with improvements emerging 35 minutes after napping and lasting up to 125 minutes after napping. The 30-minute nap produced a period of impaired alertness and performance immediately after napping, indicative of sleep inertia, followed by improvements lasting up to 155 minutes after the nap.


These findings suggest that the 10-minute nap was overall the most effective afternoon nap duration of the nap lengths examined in this study. The implications from these results also suggest a need to consider a process occurring in the first 10 minutes of sleep that may account for the benefits associated with brief naps. [more]
Some obvious caveats:
  1. The test group was miserably small (24) and non-representative.
  2. The researchers were Australians
 My only problem is I seem to be on the road or in the field when I need a nap.

Google to the rescue (but not in my lifetime, I doubt).

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, USDA!...  

From the recent July 2012 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Update:

• Beef: 2011 annual production was changed from 36,195 million pounds to 26,195 million pounds.
• Pork: 2011 annual production was changed from 22,752 million pounds to 22,758 million pounds.
• Pork: Third quarter 2012 production was changed from 5,260 million pounds to 5,620 million pounds.
• Total red meat and poultry: Annual 2012 production was changed from 92,132 million pounds to 92,140 million pounds.
• Total red meat and poultry: Annual 2013 production was changed from 92,742 million pounds to 92,052 million pounds. 
[My emphasis]

Ten million freaking pounds!!!  How do you miss by dang near 40%??

This is hardly confidence inspiring. It involves - to my untrained eye - a spreadsheet cell that should contain a formula adding the four quarters.  Something like:


The quarterly numbers seem about right:  ~6.5 million pounds.  So the only way to get 36 M pounds is to a) have a basic and obvious error b) override the total.

Or maybe call it a typo, which itself is damning evidence of incompetence.

Here is a screen shot of the erroneous table:


Another bushel of trust in the accuracy and integrity of USDA reports is lost.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Worst book covers...  

My favorite:


And along with the commentator below, I too use my Kindle (on iPad) to read stuff which would likely have an embarrassing cover.  Such as "Return to the Planet of Sorority Babes" and other meaningful space operas.
Why the surge in digital demand? Privacy is one explanation. Erotic titles with racy covers are believed to sell better as e-books because the technology removes the embarrassment of toting them around in public – and the same may be true of spiritual titles, experts say. Book jackets covered in angels and rainbows may be equally uncomfortable for some people to read in public, says Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, a publisher of self-published e-books. “These books can be sampled, purchased and read without the judgmental eyes of a clerk at the cash register, or colleagues who might glance at the cover.” Plus, digital bibles and sex trilogies are only as heavy as your Kindle Fire, he says. [More]
What if this leads to a lot more reading of a lot more dubious literature?  Good new? Bad news?

Just to get some perspective...  

In case all you've been able to see are fields struggling to hold on...


Cool music too.
How many Japanese economists...  

Does it take to replace a light bulb? 

Who cares? Because we may all be about to become one.
It’s beginning to look like Keynes was wrong about liquidity traps, at least when he argued that there’s a certain minimum nominal yield that government bond investors demand, and that long term rates can be reduced no further.  Wherever people draw a line, bond yields just seem to plunge right through, to one record low after another.  And we know from Japan that they can go even lower.  But what does this mean?
It probably means multiple things.  For instance it suggests that the Keynesian/market monetarist AD pessimists and the Great Stagnation AS pessimists are both right.  We are looking at BOTH low inflation and low real GDP growth for many years to come.  Why don’t I think AD explanations are enough?   Partly because even the 20 year T-bond now has a negative real yield. Indeed it suggests the Bernanke “global savings glut” hypothesis is also correct, a point I’ve argued previously.  Japan is the future of the world. [More]
I have been trying to grasp the nature of this savings glut for the last few years. Nothing else really explains why interest rates refuse to climb or inflation is almost trivial, even with commodity volatility.

Simply put, we (the world) have much more saved than there is to invest in. Not only that but we suddenly have gotten fiscal religion and are repaying debt like crazy.
So what is going on? The main answer is that this is what happens when you have a “deleveraging shock,” in which everyone is trying to pay down debt at the same time. Household borrowing has plunged; businesses are sitting on cash because there’s no reason to expand capacity when the sales aren’t there; and the result is that investors are all dressed up with nowhere to go, or rather no place to put their money. So they’re buying government debt, even at very low returns, for lack of alternatives. Moreover, by making money available so cheaply, they are in effect begging governments to issue more debt. [More]
It truly counterintuitive to grasp that assets and debts are really just two sides of the same transaction. Our seemingly horrifying debt is also the retirement fund for Mom and Dad (bonds). So the more we stress to save, not spend, the more we need investments to put those savings in.

It is also a comment about demographics and its effects on national economies. That is the real meaning, IMHO, when we see Japan as our future.
In short, Japan's economy works better for those middle-aged and older than it does for the young. But it is not yet in crisis, and economists say there is plenty it could do to raise its potential growth rate, as well as to lower its debt burden.
Last weekend Yoshihiko Noda, the prime minister, took a brave shot at promoting reform when he said Japan planned to start consultations towards joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is an American-backed free-trade zone that could lead to a lowering of tariffs on a huge swath of goods and services. Predictably it is elderly farmers, doctors and small businessmen who are most against it.
Reforms to other areas, such as the tax and benefit system, might be easier if the government could tell the Japanese a different story: not that their economy is mired in stagnation, but that its performance reflects the ups and downs of an ageing society, and that the old as well as the young need to make sacrifices.
The trouble is that the downbeat narrative is deeply ingrained. The current crop of leading Japanese politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are themselves well past middle age. Many think they have sacrificed enough since the glory days of the 1980s, when Japan's economy seemed unstoppable. Mr Weinstein says they suffer from “diminished-giant syndrome”, nervously watching the economic rise of China. If they compared themselves instead with America and Europe, they might feel heartened enough to make some of the tough choices needed. [More]
While eyes strain to make the first sighting of inflation or rising interest rates, the fact we are so afraid of seeing them almost insures their delayed arrival. In the face of real numbers on CD rates we cling to cash and cash equivalents like...a bunch of old people.
The super wicked problem...  

I have long since forsaken the naive hope of convincing farmers about the threat of global warming. In a world of "alternative information systems" such as .net websites with black backgrounds, too many fonts and lots of exclamation points, we all can have our own facts.

Climate change is an issue that is now beyond coherent discussion, especially in the public relam, but certainly even among friends. We've learned to just not go there.

How shall we ever address this?  Some suggestions are popping up.
One lesson to be learned here is that environmental issues can no longer speak for themselves.  Unlike the images of urban haze from the 1960s, stories of anxious polar bears or dried up waterbeds fail to generate public mobilization on climate change issues.  In fact, a study by Sol Hart and Erik Nisbet suggests that increasing public knowledge about climate change does not lead to greater support of climate policies.  Merely transmitting information about environmental repercussions—no matter the degree of impact on the human or natural environment—is not enough to persuade the population of the public who is already disengaged or dismissive about climate change. 
Instead, Hart and Nisbet’s study points to the important role of social cues in interpreting climate news.  Participants in the study were more receptive to and persuaded by a story about climate change effects when the community involved was socially similar to their own (in this case, farmers in up-state New York verses farmers in France).  The public, on both sides of the political fence, are more likely to rally behind an environmental cause when they can personally relate to the people or places in question, suggesting that localizing climate change in terms of impacts and policy action is an important path forward. 
There is significant opportunity for the climate change movement to adopt new media strategies in order to reach larger populations of the public.  Integrating social cues and increasing the relevancy of climate stories is one encouraging method.  Others include introducing climate change issues under existing frameworks, such as public health or the moral responsibility to protect innocents, as was the case in campaigns against smoking and Big Tobacco.  These strategies can help untangle the super-wicked problems of climate change so that the movement can generate alliances with people across political ideology and social identity. [More]
It could be that we'll be unlucky and see increased incidence of climatic extremes like this drought, and availability bias will swing public opinion toward acceptance of scientific opinion, even as that opinion continues to be buttressed by converted skeptics.

My own preferred response is to create the case that whatever decision we in ag make we are literally betting the farm. Aaron and I are betting this year is not the outlier we believe. Events like this will plague his growing career more so than my history. If we are wrong, we'll take the consequences, and we'll leave others free to choose their own path. But if asked, we will explain our reasons.

And how making no decision is a decision.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mispeak Oil...  

A funny thing happened while we were looking for Peak Oil. It kinda went away. 



At any rate, debate has been rekindled by three interesting articles, all of which are serious reading.

First, the highly acclaimed environmental journalist for the Financial Times, George Monbiot, throws in the all-natural towel:
The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil – the decline of global supplies – is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.
Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.
Some of us made vague predictions, others were more specific. In all cases we were wrong. In 1975 MK Hubbert, a geoscientist working for Shell who had correctly predicted the decline in US oil production, suggested that global supplies could peak in 1995. In 1997 the petroleum geologist Colin Campbell estimated that it would happen before 2010. In 2003 the geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes said he was "99% confident" that peak oil would occur in 2004. In 2004, the Texas tycoon T Boone Pickens predicted that "never again will we pump more than 82m barrels" per day of liquid fuels. (Average daily supply in May 2012 was 91m.) In 2005 the investment banker Matthew Simmons maintained that "Saudi Arabia … cannot materially grow its oil production". (Since then its output has risen from 9m barrels a day to 10m, and it has another 1.5m in spare capacity.)
Peak oil hasn't happened, and it's unlikely to happen for a very long time. [More worth reading]
The tipping point for him was a report by Leanardo Maugueri of Harvard (funded by BP, ahem).

But wait - there seems to be some doubt about Maugueri's numbers. In fact, considerable doubt. A rigorous criticism was published by an equally respected science journalist, Chris Nelder.
To his credit, Maugeri acknowledges that his analysis “is subject to a significant margin of error, depending on several circumstances that extend beyond the risks in each project or country,” and he details numerous important caveats. And to the extent that he reveals the assumptions underpinning his forecast, his transparency is laudable. In the final analysis, however, it is insufficient. He fails to provide adequate justification that his assumptions, being widely divergent from most other industry estimates, are remotely realistic.
We must conclude that the key assumptions about reserve growth and its effect on decline rates in Maugeri’s report are muddled, speculative and unverifiable. And sprinkling those assertions with repeated declamations about how peak oil is a non-issue, insisting repeatedly that the only real constraints on his scenario have to do with political decisions and geopolitical risks, suggests that his report is more about grinding a political axe on behalf of the oil industry than offering a serious or transparent analysis. Finally we must note that Maugeri is well known for his hostility to peak oil, as is BP, which funded his report. After taking real-world risks, costs, and restrictions into account, the case for peak oil—which is about production rates, not production capacity or reserves—seems far more realistic. [More]
Finally, The Oil Drum, the blog for oil geeks, picks up the thread and adds the best comments to boot.
Summary Maugeri's analysis and conclusions are critically dependent upon the decline rates applied to existing and future fields, and yet he does not explicitly say what these decline rates will be. However, Maugeri’s assumptions can be derived from his Table 2, which projects gross and net capacity additions over the period to 2020. Doing so suggests he uses an average annual decline rate for all fields of 1.6% over this period, which is less than half of the IEA and CERA estimates for 2008 (4.1%/year and 4.5%/year respectively). The discrepancy is even greater since the IEA and other analysts project an increase in average decline rates over the 2011-20 period. If we replace Maugeri’s 1.6% decline rate assumption with the IEA estimate of 4.1%, the projected loss of production capacity over the period to 2020 increases from 11 mb/d to 26.5 mb/d. In turn, the projected global production capacity in 2020 reduces from 110.6 mb/d to 95.1mb/d (a reduction of 14%). Since average decline rates would be expected to increase over this period, this projection must be considered optimistic. [More]
While I think I'm trying to be impartial, I probably am carrying my own biases into this fray, but Sorrell's point about decline rates vs. depletion rates is abstruse but convincing for me.  I have never been fascinated with Peak Oil because I wasn't sure what it really meant in everyday terms. Clearly the US production boom has made it seem like there is no real problem in the immediate future (for us anyway).

But looking at actual output trends as the critics do, I can't swallow the enormous production increases predicted in the Maugueri report. The larger picture is the linkage to climate change. If we get better and better evidence that CO2 is an major and immediate problem, the amount of oil we can pump is merely a measure of how fast we can drastically alter the environment for the worse.

In fact, those numbers are really depressing. It is not rocket math either.
Which is exactly why this new number, 2,795 gigatons, is such a big deal. Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That's the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.
We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain. [More]
While skeptics don't think the 2℃ is all that scary, more of us are growing uncomfortable with the 0.8℃ we've already managed to produce. Not to be a doomsayer, but I just don't see much happening until way too late. And given the current state of domestic and global policy debate, the first few decades will be spent assigning blame to win elections even if we do decide we're in trouble.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The best drought graphic yet...  

From the NYT. For librul MSM, they do a decent job on stuff like this.

[Click to enlarge]

[Wait -the dates didn't copy. So lower right is 1896. Upper left is 2012. Read left-to-right in each row]
The white other meat...

This struck me as an idea that might reshape protein markets...along with sky-high feed costs. 
Brown got into fake meat after working in the clean-energy business. He says he loves the taste of meat, but his childhood on a family farm convinced him to refrain from killing animals*, and he’s been vegan for many years. In 2009, he met Fu-Hung Hsieh and Harold Huff, food scientists at the University of Missouri who’d been working to create a meat substitute for more than a decade. The three formed a company, and they’ve been working to build the perfect fake meat ever since.
The process has moved along in fits and starts. “It’s a combination lock,” Brown says. “There are three different parameters we’re working with—heat, cooling, and pressure.” To make the meat, the firm starts with a powdered protein—for the chicken strips, they’re using soy; for the beef, they’ll use a protein from a kind of pea—that they form into a liquid paste. The paste is heated, then it’s extruded through a machine that resembles a pasta press, and then cooled. “It was a process of trial and error to get all of those to align exactly right in the right sequence,” Brown says. “But if you do—if you get the heating and cooling sequence right, and you apply exactly the right pressure through the extrusion—you get the proteins to align in a way that makes them almost indistinguishable from animal proteins.”
Brown says that other hurdles remain, and Beyond Meat is constantly working to refine its methods. Making the perfect fake beef is harder than making chicken, because people expect real beef to look a bit red, from blood. Beyond Meat can add a red hue using beet juice or other natural colorants, but Brown doesn’t know yet if people will consider it strange to have bloody-looking fake meat. This sounds like a trivial factor, but one study has shown that a meat substitute’s appearance is the most important factor to consumers—even before you taste it, you decide whether fake meat is acceptable based on how it looks.
Over time, Brown believes, the firm will get all these little details just right. He’s also confident that society will accept his innovations just as it has adapted to tech revolutions of the past. “Once, we had the horse-drawn carriage, and then we had the horse-less carriage, and then we had the automobile,” he says. “I’m firmly convinced we’re going to go from beef and chicken products that are animal in origin to those that are made with plants—and at some point in the future you’ll walk down the aisle of the supermarket and ask for beef and chicken, and like the automobile has no relationship to the horse, what you get will have nothing to do with animals.” [More]
More reviews here, here, here.

Commercial ag has been justifiably dismissive of the faux meat market threat, yet it is hard not to sense a number of things to cause rethinking.

First, the animal cruelty cause doesn't seem to be going away. We're just a Walmart away from junking gestation crates everywhere - without any loathsome government regs to blame.

Second, as shown above the meat imposters are getting better, and given our preference for prepared (i.e. seasoned and cooked) food, the differences apparent raw begin to become meaningless. All they need is some economies of scale to undercut real meat, and I think a significant market share could switch, at least in categories like frozen dinners.

Finally, as pork and beef follow chicken into near total concentration due to economic pressure from feed costs, public connections to producers will likely unravel. CAFO's just look like CAFO's. And they don't match what the public wants farms to look like. Or what we peddle in the PR marketplace.

*But what really struck me was the highlighted line above. I thought putting kids to work (on ROPS-less tractors, for example) was how you made them stalwart champions of producing food the way Grandpa did.

Perhaps not always.

Yeah, I know...  

I haven't been posting much at all, but I finally decided something had to give. Nonetheless, I miss it, and when I'm retired (date now postponed), I will be back to considerably more activity. Here's where we are in my corner of the Dozen Drought™.
  • Last rain 5 weeks ago. Maybe 6 days over 100℉ so far. We are on full water conservation right now as in "Does anybody else need to go?" Rural water district is still 3 years away, but the process to get funding is inching forward. Why do I think this program is likely to be axed during budget talks?
  • My March 28 corn (short season) experiment is dented, and the milk line halfway. The shucks are dry and some ears dropping. Leaves fired up to the ear. It counts out to a decent yield, but does the ear drop signal poor test weight? Estimate harvest about 18 August.
  • Meanwhile, the full season high amylose corn is strange looking. Variable height, even though it is single cross. Good ears, but just beginning to dent. It was planted late April. Generally yields about 70% of regular corn, but in droughts does comparatively better. No idea how the ears will hold up.
  • Beans are waist high, have pods and look OK, except when leaves are flipped in the afternoon. Cripes, how can you tell? A friend who sprayed a fungicide/insecticide mix seems to be on to something. I will look into it next year.
  • Spoke to IA Farm Bureau this week. I emceed the whole meeting and the talk there was how fast the road to riches turned south. Driving from home to Ames to Lanesboro, MN showed me plenty of decent corn, although every patch of lighter, higher soil is starting to brown. Also it seems much father behind than home. SE MN looked great. People were actually mowing lawns.
  • Speaking with every expert I can find, I am amazed at the range of indemnity payout exposure for the government: $12-50B. While insurance companies and reinsurers are on the hook for much of it, I think the Treasury takes over after certain limits are hit. If this does result in a big hole in the budget, it seems to me a switch to an all insurance-type farm bill gets tougher, especially if it gets booted to next year. The new scheme already has big exposure from low prices. 
  • I've got a friend who thinks he will be over $200/A better off than if he had raised 200 BPA corn at $5 due to CI.  Is this a feature or a bug? I am uncomfortable with that being how we make a living in ag. Of course, it is a one-time boondoggle maybe, but still. Reminds me of the Dakota Shuffle.
  • I guess premiums could go through the roof next year as a result. I say all this stuff because as part of the 15% (about 40% in my area) who have never had insurance, I am not fully initiated into the deeper mysteries. The curious thing is I can't lose anything if the insurance program gets cut - a perverse comfort.
  • I will reconsider crop insurance next year unless we get a mess of rain before March. I suspect it will be a tough call for us, due to a puny APH, uninsurable crops, and expected high premiums. However, I don't want my philosophical positions to pollute Aaron's analysis.
  • We have prepared our Apocalypse Budget, and have ways to draw down the equity we put all those premiums we didn't pay into. Looks like we just may skate by, if beans can make 30. Family member and long-time landowners are helping, which is why we have been voluntarily raising rents for years. I think we can make them whole over the next 2-3 years.
  • Signed on for another year with Farm Journal. I was drifting toward giving up the commute and responsibility, but I would miss the guys and I am hideously overpaid. Humor articles, however, are little tricky right now.
Like everyone experiencing a painful Black Swan event, I am sure my brain isn't working at optimal efficiency. This is another reason I haven't been posting. The savage political atmosphere doesn't help and I don't want to rant. Frankly, I'm having trouble concentrating.

So I'm just woodworking in the Greenhouse Support Structure. I forked out for a split-unit air conditioner. It works great and is remarkably efficient (SEER = 19). Coupled with time-of-day electricity pricing, I can keep a/c costs quite low. Plus I can't see the fields from inside.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Obamacare for farmers...  

Bruce got that right.

BTW, I have never seen Bruce so stiff. Of course, I would be sooooo cool on Colbert....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Junkbox, Episode MMXIII...  

Not too soon to plan for next year's challenges.  BTW, I heard from an industry insider crop insurance rates could be breathtaking next year.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why Bruce was right...  

Jan likes Bruce Springsteen's music. So I have heard "My Hometown" a few times. And I could not help but think of the line, "...these jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back" as I read these seemingly disconnected news items.
But now Amazon has a new game. Now that it has agreed to collect sales taxes, the company can legally set up warehouses right inside some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Why would it want to do that? Because Amazon’s new goal is to get stuff to you immediately—as soon as a few hours after you hit Buy. (Disclosure: Slate participates in Amazon Associates, an "affiliate" advertising plan that rewards websites for sending customers to the online store. This means that if you click on an Amazon link from Slate—including a link in this story—and you end up buying something, Amazon will send Slate a percentage of your final purchase price.)
It’s hard to overstate how thoroughly this move will shake up the retail industry. Same-day delivery has long been the holy grail of Internet retailers, something that dozens of startups have tried and failed to accomplish. (Remember Kozmo.com?) But Amazon is investing billions to make next-day delivery standard, and same-day delivery an option for lots of customers. If it can pull that off, the company will permanently alter how we shop. To put it more bluntly: Physical retailers will be hosed. [More]
The crucial aspect of this is the impact is in the service sector - not manufacturing. The former is supposedly the sector of the Future for jobs.

Next, jobs in an industry that is a little closer to home for some of us.
But à la carte would blow up television, which has been the most dependable and lucrative business model in modern entertainment history. The Internet gutted the music industry. Print journalism has been forced to innovate or die -- or, sometimes, both simultaneously -- in response to the Web. The American movie industry has survived fundamentally because it learned to diversify away from the terms "American" and "movie industry" -- most of their revenue now comes from overseas and "merchandise-able" franchises. But the cable bundle is still basically the cable bundle, and it is still growing by hundreds of thousands of subscribers a year. Innovation is an answer to a problem. As long as cable providers don't have a revenue problem, they have less need to innovate.

The debate between DirecTV (a provider) and Viacom (a "content" creator) is about finding the right price that providers should pay for content that most people don't watch. That's where bundles are useful. They disguise the price of things we don't use. But with pay TV growth slowing, we're at the edge of a revolution. "DirecTV thinks video streaming is eating away at the ratings of channels like MTV and Comedy Central," Jeff Bercovici writes at Forbes, and the company has "demanded that Viacom give consumers the right to select channels a la carte."

The Aereo story is different. It's not about cable. But it is about distributing broadcast networks online. Once sports fans can get the Olympics and NBA and other shows without a cable package, whenever they want it, it could serve alongside Netflix, Hulu and other services to replace the cable bundle.
The Internet is ruthlessly efficient at stripping cross-subsidies and allowing content to shine on its own. (As Jim Fallows has pointed out, newspapers once paid for international coverage with classifieds and cars. Now, if you want classifieds and cars, you go to a classifieds site or a cars site. Bye-bye, cross-subsidy.) Devices like Aereo combined with cases like Viacom's could be leading to an a la carte model for television. The question isn't really if the Internet's unbundling revolution will visit the television industry but when. [More]
But, this post, while subject to great debate in the econoblogosphere, strikes me as coming close to describing reality as any explanation I've seen.
When I look at this graph I see evidence of the computer age everywhere. After the recession of 2001 ended profits came roaring back and equipment investment eventually started ramping up sharply, but the employment ratio increased only between September of ’03 and December of ’06, the most frenzied time for both the construction and financial industries.
And since the Great Recession officially ended in June of 2009 GDP, equipment investment, and total corporate profits have rebounded, and are all now at their all-time highs (non-financial profits are near their historic high). The employment ratio, meanwhile, has only shrunk and is now at its lowest level since the early 1980s when women had not yet entered the workforce in significant numbers.
So current labor force woes are not because the economy isn’t growing, and they’re not because companies aren’t making money or spending money on equipment. They’re because these trends have become increasingly decoupled from hiring — from needing more human workers.
As computers race ahead, acquiring more and more skills in pattern matching, communication, perception, and so on I expect that this decoupling will continue, and maybe even accelerate. This doesn’t mean that companies are about to stop hiring altogether; there are still plenty of things that humans alone can do. But it means they’ll need to hire at an ever-lower rate, compared to how quickly they’re growing, making money, or buying equipment. Because America’s working age population will continue to grow for at least the next few decades, I predict that the employment ratio will not start to trend upward in the coming years. If anything, I think it’ll decrease. [More]
It is clearly reasonable in our subsector (cash grain). We're replacing people at an increasing rate matched by our acquisition of technology. When we can have one guy monitoring 2-3 field machines, it will be obvious, but our current self-deluding pseudo-stats about "jobs that depend on ag" help us to imagine this isn't happening.

More importantly, there is no political solution to this trend, I doubt. Pretending there is leaves us without any plans for adapting to it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It wasn't supposed...

To be called the "God particle". 
SIEGEL: I want to ask you about this particle's nickname, the "God particle." What did Higgs, who I've read is an atheist, think about the nickname the "God particle"?
MARTIN: I'm sure - I actually haven't ever asked him this directly, but I'm sure he doesn't like it. Almost all particle physicists detest that name. It was actually Leon Lederman, who's a Nobel laureate, that came up with it. But he was trying to call it "that goddamn particle," and that wasn't allowed by the publishers so it became the "God particle."
So the name stuck and I think it's fine because then people know what we're talking about. But secretly, all of us hate the name, the "God particle." [More]
That would have made reporting the news a little tricky. But maybe it wouldn't have upset the religious right as much.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Junkbox, Episod CIV℉...  

We may wish it's as bad as 1988.
Finally, a reminder I hold the rights to"The Dozen Drought".  Send royalties to Jan.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Now a little less light...  

As fireworks sales climb briskly, it is amazing to note injuries have not kept pace.

The number of firework injuries, meanwhile, has not increased proportionately. Data from the National Firework Safety Council finds there were 7,300 firework-related injuries in 2008, just slightly up from the 7,000 in 1996.
Elsewhere, the Sunlight Foundation gets into the Fourth of July spirit by digging into the history of firework industry lobbying. Firework makers appear to be a bipartisan bunch, donating “$1,149,280 to Republican candidates and $1,082,834 to Democratic candidates since 1990.”  Nearly all of their donations went to local level politicians, rather than those running for Congress or presidents. [More]

Especially when you witness this:



None for us - absolute burning ban.

Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Perhaps a little light...  

Maybe the rhetoric will flame out or just dull in the heat wave. Then we can talk about what the health reform law actually is doing and will do. An ordinary guy at Reddit plodded through the bill and came up with the best summary I have found.
Okay, explained like you're a five year-old (well, okay, maybe a bit older), without too much oversimplification, and (hopefully) without sounding too biased:
What people call "Obamacare" is actually the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, people were calling it "Obamacare" before everyone even hammered out what it would be. It's a term mostly used by people who don't like the PPACA, and it's become popularized in part because PPACA is a really long and awkward name, even when you turn it into an acronym like that.
Anyway, the PPACA made a bunch of new rules regarding health care, with the purpose of making health care more affordable for everyone. Opponents of the PPACA, on the other hand, feel that the rules it makes take away too many freedoms and force people (both individuals and businesses) to do things they shouldn't have to.
So what does it do? Well, here is everything, in the order of when it goes into effect (because some of it happens later than other parts of it): [Please read the succinct summary here]
Posting about the ACA is toxic, like climate change only meaner, and right now (drought) I really don't need that. Nor do rational arguments seem to gain much traction. Haidt's book made it clear to me why.

But I want to help readers when I can to at least be irate over real stuff, not pure lies. It isn't the biggest tax increase in history. People aren't dying because ACA has cut off their dialysis.

I don't want to add irritation to anyone right now, but a little light might help.
Only off 4 years...  

In speeches this winter, I often mentioned the prediction that natural gas would pass coal as our primary electricity source by 2016. I had to move it down from 2019 due to new projections.

It appears I was still a little off:


This is breathtaking speed for conversion. I don't think we know what it ultimately means for our economy and culture. For agriculture, I wonder what freeing up all those coal trains could imply for grain movement. I was often told out West that grain got short shrift because coal was so much more lucrative to move.

Or it could be they will head west to move the coal to China, instead.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Junkbox, Episode DRIPNOT...  

Hope it's raining for you.