Friday, January 30, 2015

Umm, guys...

Every morning I check Bloomberg to see how much those darn interest rates have shot up.

This shouldn't be happening.

BTW - check out the new Bloomberg Business site.

Lessee - 10-yr bonds heading toward 1%; 30-yr toward 2%.  And I wet myself a little when they broke 3%.  Should have read my own astute thinkings on interest rates.  (Which of course was a guess like everybody else's)

So how puzzling is it that the CBO - admittedly a few months ago  - decided to use this projection for interest rates.

[The whole CBO report]

As I said, this was done in Nov 14 so it's already wrong, but what could make rates jump as shown above that I can't see coming?

Well, I'm not the only one puzzled.

The actual arguments in the body of the report contradict elements of this forecast, however. It’s quite possible that, for at least a few years before the next recession, the combination of strong growth and previous austerity measures will combine to produce a budget surplus and an associated scarcity of safe assets. [More, highly recommended]

While I think this is an extreme long-shot, it is NOT unthinkable. And as European yields continue to set multi-century lows, it's hard to find those forces that will counter the slow slide of US Treasuries yields.

Can you imagine the heads exploding in Washington if Klein (above) is even close to correct? An Obama surplus???  WTF??

Like a death in the family...

 Andrew Sullivan, perhaps one of the greatest masters of the blog format, is ending his blog - The Daily Dish.
One of the things I’ve always tried to do at the Dish is to be up-front with readers. This sometimes means grotesque over-sharing; sometimes it means I write imprudent arguments I have to withdraw; sometimes it just means a monthly update on our revenues and subscriptions; and sometimes I stumble onto something actually interesting. But when you write every day for readers for years and years, as I’ve done, there’s not much left to hide. And that’s why, before our annual auto-renewals, I want to let you know I’ve decided to stop blogging in the near future.Why? Two reasons. The first is one I hope anyone can understand: although it has been the most rewarding experience in my writing career, I’ve now been blogging daily for fifteen years straight (well kinda straight). That’s long enough to do any single job. In some ways, it’s as simple as that. There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen. [More]

I am not surprised. His output, range of subject and quality of analysis earned him the respect of friends and adversaries alike.  I have freely linked and been led to wonderful information over my blogging career. More importantly, I have tried to emulate his variety, intensity, integrity, and thoughtfulness when posting my own stuff.

But boy howdy - do I appreciate his decision. Blogging - especially at his staggering output level is exhausting and can take over your life very quietly. Given his precarious health, this decision is not just understandable but overdue, IMHO.

Still, I will sorely miss his work. I'll bet I averaged an hour per day on his site, after following up pointers and sources. And like me, he was a conservative who could suddenly found himself unwelcome in the GOP as it careened to the hard right. With his strong Burkean philosophy, he could not join the abandonment of true conservative principles on matter of military intervention and egalitarianism.

His voice and intellect framed many political debates, and his insights will be sorely missed.  I will him well, in every sense of the word.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's all hum...

The "Lumberjack Song" in honor of the most dangerous job in the US.

Seems to me like we're getting safer, but then a graph of children killed on the job would be much less encouraging.
Our own p.c problem....

 Jonathan Chait wrote a dense, but helpful essay about the rise and reaction to intense "political correctness" in leftist circles. This won't interest many of you, but as I waded through it (Chait is a thoughtful observer and polished writer) the anecdotes he relates kept ringing a bell in the back of my mind.
These ideas have more than theoretical power. Last March at University of California–Santa Barbara, in, ironically, a “free-speech zone,” a 16-year-old anti-abortion protester named Thrin Short and her 21-year-old sister Joan displayed a sign arrayed with graphic images of aborted fetuses. They caught the attention of Mireille Miller-Young, a professor of feminist studies. Miller-Young, angered by the sign, demanded that they take it down. When they refused, Miller-Young snatched the sign, took it back to her office to destroy it, and shoved one of the Short sisters on the way.Speaking to police after the altercation, Miller-Young told them that the images of the fetuses had “triggered” her and violated her “personal right to go to work and not be in harm.” A Facebook group called “UCSB Microaggressions” declared themselves “in solidarity” with Miller-Young and urged the campus “to provide as much support as possible.”By the prevailing standards of the American criminal-justice system, Miller-Young had engaged in vandalism, battery, and robbery. By the logic of the p.c. movement, she was the victim of a trigger and had acted in the righteous cause of social justice. Her colleagues across the country wrote letters to the sentencing judge pleading for leniency. Jennifer Morgan, an NYU professor, blamed the anti-­abortion protesters for instigating the confrontation through their exercise of free speech. “Miller-Young’s actions should be mitigated both by her history as an educator as well as by her conviction that the [anti-abortion] images were an assault on her students,” Morgan wrote. Again, the mere expression of opposing ideas, in the form of a poster, is presented as a threatening act. [More]

I was frankly more puzzled than anything by this involved incident, having zero experience of this type of rancor. But it slowly dawned on me there are issues in agriculture that have generated our own system of similar p.c.  For examples, undercover animal rightist action or GMO opposition has only one acceptable response from producers. While several degrees less strident and threatening, there is little room in our media for any response that leans away from support for the status quo.

We are quick to take offense, implacable in argument, and inflexible in negotiation on the biggest issues facing our industry today. Our conduct is analogous to the rabid victimhood-seeking of the left, albeit much less prolix.

Chait nails the longer term problem with this strategy/mindset.
Or maybe not. The p.c. style of politics has one serious, possibly fatal drawback: It is exhausting. Claims of victimhood that are useful within the left-wing subculture may alienate much of America. The movement’s dour puritanism can move people to outrage, but it may prove ill suited to the hopeful mood required of mass politics. Nor does it bode well for the movement’s longevity that many of its allies are worn out. “It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing,” confessed the progressive writer Freddie deBoer. “There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.” Goldberg wrote recently about people “who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in [online feminism] — not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.” Former Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay told her, “Everyone is so scared to speak right now.”That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use. Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph. [Same]
That was the trigger for me: exhaustion. Agriculture's unrelenting self-promotion and rigid sanctimoniousness has become boring. And if you haven't gotten the Tweet, that is the greatest sin in public discourse these days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Are we hunkering?...

Wasted too much time this morning reading smug/sarcastic/funny tweets about the East Coast Snopocalypse Fail. In the process, I stumbled across this:
I don’t mean to say we’re in a panic, but we are behaving like buffoons. Obviously, if people really were afraid of going hungry, they’d be stocking up on batteries and cans of beans and would skip the baby arugula. (Blizzard tip: Salad greens are both perishable and low in energy-content. Don’t buy them.) No, this is a different kind of frenzied state than you’d find during a genuine catastrophe—less frightened than nervously excited, not so much survivalist as shopaholic. In fact there’s a name for such behavior, which takes prudence as a beard for gluttony. The word is hunkering, in the specifically American sense of digging in and taking shelter. It’s the anxious form of self-indulgence, where fear is fuel to make us cozy. The end is nigh … let’s eat!Official weather warnings feed this hunker culture. They talk in terms of quantity, not quality—an implicit exhortation to go shopping. Meteorologists say that a crippling and historic storm will dump several feet of snow or more. “More”—that’s what drives the hunkered mind: The weather will be so excessive, with so much snow on top of snow, that we should take excessive action. Politicians gin up excessive numbers, the bigger the better: We’ve got 700 pieces of equipment at the ready, says Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh, and more than 35,000 tons of salt. On Sunday, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied local hunkerers with a call for immoderation: “Whatever safety precautions you take in advance of a storm,” he said, “take even more.” Got that? It doesn’t matter what you do, exactly, as long as you do as much of it as possible. [More]

Interesting. But then it hit me - is much of agriculture in a slo-mo hunker mode right now? We have been warned about the "party being over" for like, ever. Those admonitions have only gotten more shrill as grain prices swooned. And it could be there is a small portion of our conscience nagging that we really didn't totally deserve the money that fell from the skies (for grain producers) the last few years.

You can make your own judgement. But if we are hunkering, it seems to me we are likely to overshoot, just as happened in NYC. Carrying this train of thought one step further, I think there might be some competitive openings should the worst case not arrive on time, or fail to show up at all. 

People are slow to abandon "hunker mode". Maybe because it seems to admit their own erroneous thinking, maybe because they remember a late hit sometime during their lives. I don't know for sure, but I think I'm going to risk unhunkering early. 

Or maybe I never really hunkered that much to begin with.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Free market measles...

I'm trying to move past the stupefying idiocy of refusing to get measles vaccinations. (Yeah - I'm looking at you, CA). We have learned from GMO's, climate change, evolution, etc. that we are not going to reason effectively with those who embrace non-science, so what else can we do?

First, there are reasonable grounds for compulsion.
1. Phillips v. City of New York (2d Cir. Jan. 7, 2015) reaffirms that the government may mandate vaccinations. It may mandate vaccinations for everyone, and it can certainly mandate them for everyone who goes to public school. Seems quite right to me; there may indeed be a presumptive constitutional right to be free from unwanted medical treatment, but such a right can be trumped by the very strong public interest in preventing people from becoming unwitting carriers of deadly illness. (And not immunizing oneself creates a threat not just to others who choose not to immunize, or whose parents choose not to immunize them, but also to others who can’t be immunized because of age or medical condition, or whose immunity is imperfect.)Such statutes often do allow religious exemptions, but that’s not a matter of constitutional obligation. In Phillips, the one of the plaintiffs did try to claim the exemption, but the trial court found that her “objections to vaccinations were not based on religious beliefs,” and the plaintiff didn’t appeal that finding. [More]

I know, I know - Big Government Overreach - but this is clearly overridden by the Spock Principle: The needs of the Many outweigh the needs of the Few. Actually, this principle is woven through many common law fundamentals, and as Volokh points out above, has been upheld in various forms.

Measles can be very dangerous. The effectiveness math demonstrates we need to get to about 96% vaccination rates to provide herd immunity.
It’s also not a coincidence that California has been repeatedly hit by outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccine coverage is dangerously low in parts of the state, thanks to the anti-vaccine movement.In California’s Santa Monica-Malibu school district, 11.5 per cent of parents refuse to vaccinate their kids. In nearby Orange County, the figure is 8.6 per cent. In Beverly Hills it’s five per cent—almost, but not quite, a safe level of vaccine coverage.In a large study that observed measles infections in the Netherlands over decades, scientists calculated that 95.7 per cent of a population needs to be immune to measles to prevent regular outbreaks. And since no vaccine is perfectly effective, even more than that number need to be vaccinated to protect the whole community. That’s what herd immunity is: Without a good-sized population of susceptible humans to attack, viruses such as measles just don’t circulate as much, and that protects babies under one year old and others who aren’t able to get the vaccine or don’t respond to it. [More]
Idea: Auction off the rights to be in the unvaccinated 4%. Hey - we're talking Orange County here where anti-vaxxers appear to be mostly well-off. I bet they could raise enough to lower the cost of vaccine for others, or add a new football stadium at the local school.

As is so often the case, The Onion says it best.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Final Solution...

 Farmers may win the war on the EPA with Congressional help. But I've always thought that was not the real threat to our insistence on farming the way we want to. The bigger issue is the willingness of those around us to tolerate any externalities like runoff, smells, dust, etc. If real harm is being done, I can't see how we can prevail in our judicial system regardless of politics.

We may be about to test that theory.
Des Moines, Iowa, is confronting the farms that surround it over pollution in two rivers that supply the city with drinking water. Des Moines Water Works says it will sue three neighboring counties for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. It's a novel attempt to control fertilizer runoff from farms, which has been largely unregulated.Too much nitrate can be a health risk, especially for infants under the age of 6 months, and it's difficult to remove from water. Filtering out nitrates cost the Des Moines water utility $900,000 in 2013.Bill Stowe, general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, told Iowa Public Radio in an interview last week that "we are seeing the public water supply directly risked by high nitrate concentrations."
Stowe says the source of these nitrates is pretty clear. Farmers spread nitrogen fertilizer on their corn fields, it turns into nitrate and then it commonly runs into streams through networks of underground tile pipes that drain the soil. [More]

This is reminiscent of jailing Al Capone on income tax charges, or OJ on (civil) wrongful death - by civil rather than criminal prosecution. While the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, there seems to me to be consensus that the N especially, and probably the P, is ours. 

While it seems hard to comprehend, farmers could eventually come to demand some regulatory relief that would protect them from civil actions like this. Too, the DSM lawsuit outcome will affect strip-tillers and hillside plowers the same, which won't go down easy either.

The Iowa suit will be closely watched by environmental groups and government entities sniffing around for a tobacco-like settlement jackpot. I think that is a real possibility. It could be funded by a tax of some kind on fertilizer or per acre or (insert your mechanism guess here).  Whichever, cities downstream of us aren't going to let this slip by their treasuries.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 12, 2015

This is our story...

 A straight-up parody of a crop failure is making the rounds in ag today.

First, it's well done - nobody breaks character and the premise is amusing.  But if you are like me it is more revealing than riotous.

Notice how you stop laughing and start squirming about halfway through.  This is formulaic journalism from the camera angles to the composition to the unctuous announcer.  Any one of us could have written the close, right?

We've assumed this role of victim for so long, we could start doing stories like this by shorthand, just like the old prison joke where inmates told jokes by number.  And if it's that familiar, maybe this is how our story really is shaped - we just insert a new crop and farmer accent.

We are obsessed with telling our story, but we need a new script, methinks.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Best laid plans, etc...

I'm gonna start posting again, but we're dealing with some health issues here at the Phipps farm. It comes with being our age, but we got a scare when Jan had a serious heart event Friday.  She's good now with complete recovery on the horizon, but my New Year resolution to restart blogging was the first casualty.

Anyhoo, even though blogging is over, I miss it and will get back to the game.

BTW, I will tweet my posts, FWIW. Follow me @jwphipps - you won't have to check here as often.

Where's my catcher?...

 I still don't understand why there is no self-propelled, autonomous grain cart.  (I call it a catcher) It would be controlled by the combine operator, be self-contained and on tracks. I'm thinking a half-cab like a spotter tractor for trucks.

Sure Kinze has the remote control cart, but why haven't we put engines on grain carts like we did for sprayers?

In all the IoT possibilities, I think this is #1 for grain farmers.  This is not a flying car.  It would be astonishingly productive, with a high marginal value during harvest. The three person minimum (combine, cart, trucks) would go back to the dump-on-the-end minimum of two persons, allowing father-son, brother-brother, and husband-wife pairs to keep a combine rolling continuously.

Instead we get drones and multi-hybrid planters - both answers looking for a problem.