Monday, May 23, 2016

The Influence of Vested Interests and How to Overcome Them

 Political scientists and others like decry the power of special interest groups, sometimes described as having pretty complete power over public policy.  That's often true, but not always.  Take the example of the nutrition label on food, which has just been changed.

As background, consider this NY Times  article, which includes this: 
A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina conducted a detailed survey of the packaged foods and drinks that are purchased in American grocery stores and found that 60 percent of them include some form of added sugar. When they looked at every individual processed food in the store, 68 percent had added sugar.
Naturally the food processors liked the status quo.  But with Michelle Obama as the spokesperson, they were defeated.  Among the factors: Obama's image and clout, the easy contrast between self-interested food processors and those who want to improve the nation's health, and the absence of any broad-based coalition in favor of sugar.  There's no NRA, no grass-roots organization, to provide support to the processors.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Influence of a President

I thought this article in the NYTimes, "Economic Promises a President Trump Could (and Couldn’t) Keep, Much of what Donald Trump vows to accomplish in his first 100 days, if elected, is not feasible. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have room to maneuver."  was a good discussion of the influence of a President.

While the bureaucracy does restrain some of the impulses of the chief executive, her message can set the tone.  As a further instance, I'd go back to the Reagan Administration and its handling of EEO in USDA.  I'm sure Reagan didn't give orders, but his tone definitely said civil rights is not important in this administration.  That IMHO set the stage for what happened in 1996-7, now known as the Pigford suit.  Had the EEO machinery been kept in place and tuned up a bit, the problems of some of the lead plaintiffs in the suit might have been alleviated enough so there wouldn't have been the leadership to organize the lawsuit.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Oh for the Days of Panty Raids: College Students Then and Now

Catherine Rampell in the Post has a column on today's college students.
"But many  such {anti-bias] programs have mission-crept into disciplinary, pseudo-parental roles.
They have encouraged student informants to rat out peers (anonymously, if they choose) for building a phallic snow sculpture; playing a party game called “mafia” (which one student complained was anti-Italian); or chalking sidewalks and marking whiteboards with support for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee."
I hate to show my age, but back in the day we were just on the down slope of panty raids, and in the middle of uprisings against in loco parentis rules.  There was a curfew in the women's dorms (yes, the dorms were single sex), male visitors had to sign in, and the one foot on the floor rule applied. My sister's class was, I think, one of the last to wear freshman beanies. Hazing of freshmen was in retreat, finding a refuge in the fraternities and sororities.  We felt like adults, and wanted the university to cut back on its babying.

Maybe it's an illustration of cycles in history--sometimes we progress toward an end goal, but other times, as in the regulation of conduct among new/near adults, we waver back and forth.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Value of Urban Farming

Seems to be not the tangible produce grown, but the intangibles, the community building David Brooks would like to see. Brad Plumer reports on a study:
" Urban farming likely won't ever provide cities with all that many calories. And the environmental advantages are … debatable. But urban farms can provide a bunch of other neat benefits, from bolstering local communities to (sometimes) encouraging healthier diets. They can also give city-dwellers a better appreciation of how our food system works, which is less nebulous than it sounds."
Like many crunchy things, urban farming tends to be more white and rich than black and poor. Strictly speaking it's not locavore per se, but I'll tag it that.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Long Life of Established Wisdom

A long life can toss up instances where the established wisdom changes rather rapidly.  Here's one:
In its issue of May 13, 2000, The Economist magazine carried a banner headline calling Africa “The Hopeless Continent” because, it proceeded to argue, of its peoples’ predisposition to bloody civil wars, corruption, civil disorder and tyrannical rulers.  It wondered if all these were traceable to an African “inherent character flaw”. In its issue of March 2nd 2013, the same magazine labeled Africa “The hopeful Continent” and proceeded, alongside Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal to feature the theme of “Africa Rising” as East Asia had done decades earlier.  Reforms in national governance, good macro-economic management and new technocratic leadership were the reasons advanced to explain the swift transition from the extreme of hopelessness to the one of a rising Africa. 

From World Bank

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Not My Parents Fruits and Veggies

This post discusses how fruits and vegetables have been changed over the generations by breeding--interesting.

Even in my lifetime, fruits such as grapefruit, oranges, blueberries have significantly increased in size.

The Half-True Headline

Timothy Noah writes on the rush of the Obama administration to get final rules published before the 6 month cutoff: anything published after May 23 can be revoked by the next President; anything before then a formal rulemaking procedure is required which takes months, maybe years.

The headline is: "Obama rushes out rules to guarantee legacy."  That's true, and fine.  The administration is issuing rules faster in 2016 than in 2013-15.   Noah doesn't explicitly feed the idea that Obama is a big-government, regulation heavy Dem, though I'm sure some readers will jump to that conclusion.

Buried in the middle of the story, Noah notes that Bush used the authority to revoke a Clinton regulation on workplace safety.  And then: "Bush was careful not to get caught in the same trap himself seven years later. His administration pushed through 214 rules in the first five months of his final year in office — 19 more than the Obama administration for the same period."

So the bottom line is Bush did more regs than Obama, so the headline could have read: "Obama dawdles, lags behind Bush pace" 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Letting Out the Cows

Mostly I'm somewhat skeptical of the Humane Society and PETA's approach to animal welfare.  Although I'd consider myself tender-hearted in dealing with the animals on our farm when I was growing up, and even more so when dealing with the felines who rule the premises where we live, I tend to resist the arguments for animal welfare.  Temple Grandin comes closer to my temperament; no sentimental attachment to animals but a hard-headed concern for making things easier all around.

Having said that, there are occasions when I swing, at least momentarily, over to the other side, the dark side as the dairymen and chicken farmers would say. 

One such occasion is viewing this, a video of cows being turned out to pasture.  Ironically the blogger is probably more anti-Humane Society than I, but we share the experience of the reaction of cows to being turned into a pasture after a long winter.  It's exuberant, and a reminder that cows have feelings.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Fellow Obsessive on All Caps

Lena Groeger posts on the Weather Bureau's movement away from all-caps. Her objections are similar to my comments about mono-spaced type, but more general. She points out the life-saving impact of the change, and extends the topic from the Weather Bureau to the Surgeon General's warning, the fine print in legal documents and warranties, traffic signs, and NASA.  As I grow older and my eyesight declines, I find these matters of typography more and more important. Some magazines and websites like to use white/light type on a dark background; very artistic I'm sure, but hard on the older people among us.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Basis for Global Optimism

I'm optimistic on the U.S.; I'm even more optimistic on the world.  Remember I grew up when colonialism was ending, and the West was becoming aware of the sad state of affairs the ebbing of imperialism was leaving behind.  (And ignoring some of the benefits.)  And through much of the first half of my adult life we flailed around, struggling with how to help the Third World, finding that many of our prescriptions didn't work as we intended.  So that's the background when I read this in a  Technology Review piece:
But by far, the technology that is likely to be most transformative in the long term is the cell phone. The growth of this technology in sub-Saharan Africa has been phenomenal. By 2007, there were more cell-phone subscriptions than people with access to sanitation. Today, there are more than 850 million subscribers across the entire continent, bringing penetration to roughly 74 percent. Phone-based technology is already helping to create digital health records, track medical supply levels, improve supply chains, and map out areas already covered by vaccination.