Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Brits Do It Better

Wonky bureaucrats often admire Britain and its Civil Service, even to the extent of trying to reform our bureaucracy along its lines.  (See Jimmy Carter's civil service reforms, which created the Senior Executive Service with the dream, so far unrealized after 40+ years, of having the best people identified and moving from agency to agency and department to department as the need arose. In other words, Jimmy wanted to duplicate the Dwight Inks of the world.)

We bureaucrats and pundits forget the differences in the societies of the two nations, and the structural differences of our governments.  Nonetheless, when I see this report from FCW, I can't resist being envious.
"British citizens can access tax, pension and drivers licensing information through a single, secure login called GOV.UK Verify. The system is set to exit a public beta and go live the week of May 23."
The UK hasn't progressed as far as Estonia, but they're way ahead of the US.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Only Good Country to Study Crime


The US, according to this researcher who says:

"The only good country to study crime in is the United States, because we have so much of it."

"Harvey Molotch, a professor of sociology and metropolitan studies at New York University, took me through the contentious history of women’s bathrooms in a recent conversation. Molotch was the co-editor of the 2010 book “Toilet: The Public Restroom and the Politics of Sharing,” an anthology of papers by sociologists, anthropologists, architects, historians and others about the unfamiliar and dramatic history of the public restroom."

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Good Old Days Weren't: West Pittston, PA

My paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister in West Pittston, PA. I recently got access to some of the letters received by his wife.  One thing they show is the conditions around 1900 in that area

In 1907 Ada seems to have written to a prominent Presbyterian layman, looking for a new post for her husband, based on the fact his voice and his health were being injured by the atmosphere (I assume a combination of the smoke from household stoves and fireplaces and the fumes which were a byproduct of coal mining). After they moved to Minneapolis, he got a letter from West Pittston recounting their search for a replacement, and describing the family's reaction to a settling of the earth, caused by a mine collapse under the town.

It turns out that event doesn't make the history books, or Wikipedia, but the CDC has an amazing list of mine disasters here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

No Toto, No Dorothy, But Fallows Is in Kansas

 James Fallows has a piece on immigration in rural areas, which ties into a two-part blog series by the Center for Rural America.  An excerpt from Fallows:
These cities of western Kansas, Dodge City and Garden City, are both now majority-Latino. People from Mexico are the biggest single immigrant group, and they are here mainly for work in the area’s big meat-packing plants. Others are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and more recently Somalia and Sudan, among other countries. You might think of Kansas as stereotypical whitebread America. It’s pure America, all right — but American in the truest sense, comprising people who have come from various corners of the world to improve their fortunes.
I don't like his title, "real Americans" are everywhere, but it's a worthwhile piece.  I wonder how much immigration has affected rural UK?

Friday, June 24, 2016


May you live in interesting times, goes the Chinese curse. 

I share the conventional wisdom of most of the political class that the decision is wrong.  We shall see.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Magic of Low Expectations: Trump

I follow a handful of outlets for conservative and moderate Republican opinion  Today it strikes me that Mr. Trump is going to consolidate Republicans behind him, simply through a piece of magic. 

Trump has established a baseline of expectations for his candidacy, a rather low baseline IMHO.  But I'm not a Republican.  So where I read Dana Milbank's Post article on Trump's speech yesterday which finds the speech filled with falsehoods, some Republicans can find it good.  And I think by "good" they mean it was better than they expected, it attacked Clinton, and so they feel better about Trump.  Continue this process for another 4.5 months and Republicans will be united behind him.

I only hope Trump's magic is not from the same barrel as Ronald Reagan's was, when we had some similar dynamics.

British Agriculture in the Modern World

I found this long piece from the London Review of Books very interesting. The writer's hook is Brexit. The EU budget is heavily focused on agricultural subsidies, but the EU also imposes regulations, so he can find a mix of opinions.  The writer interviews farmers about Brexit and considers the various impacts, but the piece ranges broadly. What's especially fascinating to see what's common to English and American agriculture, such as expanding farm size and conservation concerns, and what's different, particularly the continuing position of the wealthy/noble landowners. And finally the writer discovers the variety which exists behind all the stereotypes of farmers.

A couple quotes:
"[a farmer involved in conservation] was grateful for one aspect of his new life: he gets to meet people when he talks about his work. Mechanisation has isolated farmers. Wright and his brother farm alone where once 14 people worked."
"When the English government recently had the chance to carry out its own, independent CAP reform – in agriculture, there essentially is an English government, with the four parts of the United Kingdom having separate policies – it proved eager to go on subsidising the big landowners"
 Read it.

Thanks to commenter "rupello" for the lead.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Haspel on Vertical Farming

I respect Tamar Haspel's work, so I buy her conclusions on the tradeoffs involved with indoor, vertical farming.  Bottomline: because of the energy involved, the carbon footprint of current day vertical farms (of lettuce) is much bigger than for more conventional operations.  Efficiencies might import, and the lettuce produced has some advantages.

I've mocked vertical farming before, but that's the plans relying on sunlight.  I'd observe that growing lettuce is, I'd guess, the choosing the easiest path for artificial light farming.  And while these operations fit the locavore template, they don't fit the organic template.

"Grunt Work" and Organizing

Read a post this morning through my RSS feed from LawyersGunsMoney, a  site of mostly liberal college professors mostly, and mostly a bit left of me, but interesting just the same.  The post was entitled "Don't Diddle, Organize", being a call for leftists to get out and organize.  The writer included what seemed to be a snide dis of "grunt work" and a clear dis of the Democratic party.  Both riled me, so I was resolved to post a fiery comment.  Went onto the site just now, and found a lot of comments on the post, most making the same points I would have made--Democrats need to rebuild the party at the local and state level by doing the "grunt work" of organizing, not by devoting all energy to single, ad hoc causes which provide a platform for the talkers but lack the doers who make an organization formidable.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Agricultural Revolution as Insurance

I forget whether I've mentioned listening to Harari's Sapiens, as an audiobook (Mr. Bezos is taking over the world).  It's slow going, not because it's not interesting or well-written, but because I'm only listening when I use my exercise bike, and these days I'm mostly able to get exercise in the garden or by walking. 

Anyway, he's discussing the agricultural revolution, adopting the stance of Jared Diamond and others that it was bad for individuals, because hunter-gatherers had less work to get their food than did the early farmers.  While agriculture meant a given area of land could support more people, which was good for the species, it meant harder work and misery for the individuals.  His explanation for the revolution is mostly materialistic, a gradual accumulation of changes resulting in domesticated grains and animals, each change seeming an advantage but the overall result was poor.  An alternative explanation is possibly religious, citing an example of great stone columns erected by a hunter-gatherer culture in the same area where einkorn wheat was domesticate.

One thing I think Harari misses is the influence of climate and the seasons.  One of the outstanding features of our staple grain crops is storability.  There are food items a hunter-gatherer can store: acorns, dried fish, dried grapes, etc., but in most cases these are limited.  Grains can be stored indefinitely.  While Harari emphasizes the variety of foods hunter-gatherers could obtain, I'm not convinced.  Checking the climate for Jericho, a place he mentions, there's big seasonal changes: a cold wet season and a hot dry season.  What that means to me (operating on logic with no knowledge of the facts of the area) is that the life of a hunter-gatherer is good half the year, not the other half.  So growing and storing grain for the dry season would be rewarding.  A store of wheat was insurance against the risk of starving during the hot, dry season.