Monday, August 13, 2018

Sometimes I'm Stupid

Although I'm not sure whether it's plain stupidity, impatience, or stress.

As I posted yesterday, I bought a new PC on Saturday, since the old one was giving the blue screen of death.  What I missed, what was stupid, was the fact that the good people at Microsoft had a QR code (like a 2d bar code) associated with the blue screen and error message.  Finally woke up to the fact today.  I had, fortunately, taken a picture of the screen and QR code on Friday, so I did a google search for the image--found it and an explanation of the error code.

Now I'm not sure when I follow up on the error code I'll find a cause which shows I was too hasty in buying the new PC.  But it does make me feel stupid.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

New Computer

Bought a new PC yesterday, as my old desktop was displaying multiple blue screens of death.  The process of setting it up and moving from the old one is familiar, yet a bit different.  In the old days you'd be told about moving files from old to new, because everyone upgraded their PC to the newest and greatest version.  No such instructions these days, perhaps because they know the likely reason for a new purchase is the old PC is dead?  Or perhaps they figure the newbies are not buying desktops, but tablets or laptops or whatever, and the old timers who are stuck in a rut with desktops can figure out what to do.

Friday, August 10, 2018

USDA Reorganization--ERS

Government Executive has a good piece on the USDA announcement of a reorganization of the economics people, including a move of ERS outside of the DC area.  I've no expertise in this area, but when has that kept me from commenting?

My first reaction to the move was negative, but then I read the rationale in the piece: the difficulty of getting professionals to move to the high-cost DC area.  That makes sense to me.  I remember the problems we had back in the 80's and 90's in getting people to move--one reason why we ended up hiring program technicians from county offices under SCOAP.  Single women had less difficulty moving than did married men with families, the usual targets for hiring as program people in DC.

My third reaction is triggered by the discussion in the piece.  Distance in bureaucracy is critical.  The problem in attracting professionals to DC is not limited to ERS or USDA.  Apparently the locality pay differential doesn't work at these levels, and also USDA hasn't gotten the authority to offer bigger money for such positions (like doctors in HHS/NIH or attorneys elsewhere get).

Bureaucrat Gets a Bust

Not many bureaucrats get immortalized in bronze, but Pearlie Reed did. The piece has a reference to his founding the National Association of Professional Black NRCS Employees.  When you search that website it seems that Louis E. Wright may also have been a founder, or maybe "the" founder.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Comparative Advantage in People

The economists have an ancient law which they call "comparative advantage".  Essentially it says a country should do whatever it does best at, even if its best is poor, poorer than other countries.  If countries follow the rule, they'll end up trading goods at the lowest possible price.  For example, American workers are good at assembling stuff, but they're also good at creating Disney films.  Chinese workers are pretty fair at assembling stuff, but they aren't not good at creating Disney films.  So the answer is obvious.

The NYTimes has an op-ed today which (mis)applies, without saying so, the theory to people.  Barbara Oakey notes that academically girls are good at reading and writing, better than boys.  But tests show that girls and boys have roughly equal aptitudes for math.  She argues that girls, finding that they do better than boys at reading/writing will think they're less good at math and so choose to focus on reading/writing and slight their math.  Her answer is to resist this, and to push girls to study math more.

Now Prof. Oakey is more focused on choices before college, not the ultimate choice of occupation. But drawing on the comparative advantage idea, she may be pushing a rock up the hill.  She ignores the psychology on the other side: boys will find themselves outclassed at reading and writing by the girls, so will tend to focus on math. 

[Caveats: all this is very general, phrased in ideal types, not real people.]

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Jimmy Carter Reconsidered I

I'm reading "President Carter: the White House Years" by Stuart Eizenstat, who was Carter's main policy adviser in the White House.  So far about a quarter through.  It's well written, although it could use closer editing--in a couple places there's near repetition of content/points just pages apart.

That's not really important.  The big issue in the early days was energy, which Eizenstat claims Carter changed national energy policy drastically and permanently.  I'm not convinced yet, but I did run across this graph from AEI, which shows a dramatic drop in energy imports spanning 10 years from Carter's term through the end of Reagan's. 

I may post more later on Carter.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Upward Mobility Revisited

Robert Samuelson has a column in the Post on the decline of upward mobility in America.

What's being measured is inflation-adjusted incomes, comparing children and parents.  So the percentages of children who exceed their parents income has declined. A Brookings study tries to parse out which classes and which age cohorts see the change.

A couple of observations strike me:  it's (relatively) easy for poor kids to beat their parents; it's hard for rich kids to beat their parents.  The child of a welfare mother with no job only has to make it into a lasting job while the child of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates will never beat her parents.

The 1940 cohort has the greatest success, so using it as the baseline for comparison skews the results.  People like me profited by the post-war boom, the increase in productivity, which hasn't been matched in later years.

One thing the discussions, particularly Samuelson's, don't approach is a hobbyhorse of mine: in a steady-state economy every person who is upwardly mobile has to be matched by another who is downwardly mobile. That's apparent when, as here, you use inflation-adjusted income as your measure; it's less apparent when you talk about people moving from one level (decile, quartile) to another.

With dollars of income, it's possible for everyone to out earn their parents, provided only that the economy grows enough.  (Think of China, where the income measure means everyone is upwardly mobile.)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

White Anxiety and Spelling Bees, etc.

Usually discussion of white anxiety focuses on growing economic inequality, the decline of the middle class, and the influx of immigrants resulting in a minority-majority country (not that I necessarily agree with these).  But I think there's another source of anxiety which isn't often discussed: white stupidity.

What I mean is whites look around and see that South Asians are dominating the National Spelling Bee (19 of the last 23).  I don't have an article to link to but I believe that students with immigrant backgrounds are also out competing "whites" in what used to be the Westinghouse Science Competition.  The new suit charging Harvard discriminates against Asian students forces "whites" to recognize their grip on claims to superiority in test-taking is slipping away.

To rub salt into "white" dreams of superiority Asian women have dominated the LGPA.

Friday, August 03, 2018

"Milk", by Mark Kurlansky

I got this book from the library, not Amazon, so I wouldn't feel right reviewing it there.  But I think the "critical" reviews on Amazon are  generally on point. 

For someone who grew up on a dairy farm the subject is interesting.  For someone who doesn't cook all the recipes aren't interesting.  The coverage is wide and broad, but not deep.  He tries to cover milk from a variety of species around the world, tossing in recipes every two or three pages.  He wraps up with a brief look at modern US farming.  The book started as a magazine article, and it still retains some of that character.  The author leans somewhat to the side of organic/locavore dairy, finding farms which are trying to find a niche where they can charge high enough prices to stay in business.

But the author is a bit credulous, I think, in accepting some of the claims.  For example, that one Holstein could outproduce 50 Jerseys.  Not possible--the farmer must have been pulling his leg. 

There's also the claim cows stay in the herd until 3 or 4.  Seemed incredible to me--3 means one lactation, which isn't enough to cover the cost of rearing the calf.  I know we had cows in our herd aged 9 or 10, because they were still productive milkers.  Did some superficial googling and found 4 or 5 is a common figure.  Still seems low to me, but then I remembered what we did with our calves: the males went for veal, of course; some of the females we kept and others we sold (depending on whether chance had given us a run of females).  The selling is the key--dad could sell calves because there were other dairies in the region, and his herd was respected.  Today, I'd assume there's no market for female calves, so they all go into the herd. If the cow has two pregnancies, chances are she's borne her replacement.  So the economic calculation for the herd is the cost of rearing the calf until it can be bred and give birth, versus the cow's production over that time.   (I'd also assume because of better breeding the calf has a greater potential than its mother had.)

Thursday, August 02, 2018


The USDA CIO's office has a blog post touting their work towards "dashboards" consolidating access to data across the USDA.

Fedscoop notes in the second phase of the "lighthouse" project:
In this second phase, USDA plans to award contracts across the same five focus areas as Phase I — IT Infrastructure Optimization, Cloud Adoption, Customer Experience, Data Analytics and Contact Center — and an additional contract for support of its program management office.
 The same piece offers this quote:
"While the CoEs address a wide swath of IT modernization at USDA, the White House’s Matt Lira argued in June that what they all have in common is creating a better-functioning government.
“We are ultimately in the business of restoring the public’s faith in these institutions themselves,” Lira said.
I'm a little dubious of these efforts.  I do hope they are collecting metrics.  If I were feeling energetic, I'd file a FOIA request for available metrics of online usage. But then, if I were feeling energetic, I'd have better things to do than nitpick efforts.