Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Canticle for Leibowitz

One of the best science fiction novels of my youth was Miller's "Canticle for Leibowitz".  Via Brad DeLong, here's the New Yorker's nice appreciation of it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Historians: Move to Mexico

Although I failed to become a historian, I've kept up my subscriptions to the main journals over the years, meaning I see the articles and data where American historians obsess over the fate of their profession, or more accurately their careers as professors.

This isn't conclusive, of course, but maybe they should look South:

"On the love of history: My kids go to a local Mexican school, and it seems like they perform in a special history program almost every month. Children dress up in traditional garb or as political revolutionaries, and they enthusiastically sing, dance, recite poetry and perform plays depicting important historical events. I was once talking with a fellow mom about how my husband and I were trying to understand our children’s interests so that we could help them find a job they would love as adults. I jokingly moaned that my son only liked history but that he could never make a living off of that. My friend looked at me, shocked! "No!" she cried. "In Mexico, historians are highly valued and never have a hard time finding a job!"
 That's from a blog running a series on childrearing in various countries, focusing on the cultural differences among them. It's interesting.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Advantages of Diversity--US and Pets

There's one subtle advantage to a diverse nation which James Madison never realized, but I'm discovering as relatives adopt dogs and we adopt cats.

What is it?  Apparently the effete blue areas, like Reston and MA, believe in neutering their cats and dogs. The virile read areas, like the rest of VA and the South, believe in nature and what happens naturally.  The result: one area has a surplus of dogs and cats and the other area has a deficit, which any economist, and even someone like me without any ecoomics, realies will result in trading, exporting the surplus to the deficit areas to the greater benefit of all.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Obama As Hands-Off Executive: The Case of Dreamers

The Post had an article this morning previewing a speech by Janet Napolitano, who's describing the inside story behind the Administration's delay of deportation for the "Dreamers".

What struck me was, after DHS had developed a proposal:
"She pushed ahead anyway and took the proposal to the White House. Though she never met with Obama about it, Napolitano recalled in the interview how other top officials — especially then-White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler — grilled her about the challenges of implementation and the legal issues of acting without Congress."[emphasis added]
 While I think I've a realistic grasp of the limits of personal Presidential power (having read Neustadt many decades ago), I find this amazing.  Here's a major use of executive power, arguably stretching beyond the limits (though I think not), sure to be a political hot potato, winning plaudits from the Latino community and condemnation from the right and Dems running in red states, and the President never meets with the Cabinet Secretary on it!!

I assume after the White House staff vetted it, they gave a paper to the President and he signed it, but IMHO that's not the way to run the railroad.  Trying to be fair to Obama he probably trusted his staff and liked the policy paper, so why bother meeting with Napolitano?  My answer: even if all that's true, the more involvement DHS feels from the big boss, the more enthusiasm they can muster to handle the nuts and bolts and go out and defend the policy.  If Napolitano can't come back from the White House saying "the President looked me in the eye and said you've got to make this work, it's only fair", her staff has to wonder about her clout and the Prez's commitment.   And so do I.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Maiden Blush

Google "Maiden Blush" and you get some hits, but not what I'm looking for--an apple. I'm inspired by this article in the NYTimes on an obsessive who's documented 17,000 varieties of apple, few of which are commercially grown today.  He's going to have a book out shortly, a book which started as a file under MS-DOS and for which he's still using WordPerfect 7.  I tip my hat to him, at least I would if JFK hadn't eliminated hats.

There were a few old apple trees on the farm where I grew up.  I only know two names: Yellow Transparent and Maiden Blush.  The Transparent was a good cooking/sauce apple, early maturing and close to the house, so we made fair use of it.  The tree was easy to climb, though the best apples were always beyond one's reach.  The Maiden Blush was in the "orchard" proper, the group of four or five tree slowly mouldering away.  The trees themselves weren't productive, so I visited them only a couple times a summer, occasionally tasting the odd apple.  Presumably my family knew the names of the other trees, but if I ever knew them I've long forgotten.  "Maiden Blush" sticks in my mind.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Late Viriginia Springs?

That's what John Boyd says:
For many years on my Virginia farm I had my corn crop in the ground by the end of March. But that has not been the case for the last 10 years. Spring planting season has become more and more delayed because of changes in our weather patterns. Nowadays, I find myself planting corn in May.
He's in southern VA and I'm in northern, but I don't  think that's right, at least if I compare my vegetable garden to his field corn.  There's been a good deal of variability recently (and I can only remember "recently"), but I don't see climate change as delaying planting.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It Ain't What It Used To Be: 3 Pounds of Coffee

That's sort of a generic title to the post, which I could be using for a fair number of mine.

Anyhow, I'm a coffee drinker, though over the years I've dropped from maybe 10 cups of regular down to one Starbucks vente regular used to spike maybe 6 cups of decaf.  The point is, since I started at ASCS I was involved with the office coffee pot, that indispensable support for most bureaucrats.  I can remember when  a 3-lb can of coffee was about $3.  Then I remember when they went to "flaked" coffee, which reduced the weight without changing the size of the can.  Think that was about 33 oz.  But I noticed this morning, when I opened a new can, it was only about 2/3 full and the weight was down to 22 oz. (for about $8).

The logic is that existing supply chains are set up to package, ship, and store the old 3 lb container, so changing the container size doesn't make sense when the price changes, and maybe the customer won't notice the price increase when it's achieved by reducing the quantity, but there must be some point where saving the cost of shipping air (the empty space in the can) around the country makes a change worthwhile.  Isn't there?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Farming Drones

Piece on farmers wanting to use drones. They argue that the US will fall behind in the technology unless FAA immediately does rules. 

It would seem to me the usefulness of drones would be directly related to the size of the farming operations, so that would tend to favor US drones, once approved.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

5 Minutes to Pay Your Taxes?

That was the claim in a newspaper article this week.  Trying a short-cut search brought up this article in The Economist, which has a more reasonable estimate:
Estonia’s approach makes life efficient: taxes take less than an hour to file, and refunds are paid within 48 hours. By law, the state may not ask for any piece of information more than once, people have the right to know what data are held on them and all government databases must be compatible, a system known as the X-road. In all, the Estonian state offers 600 e-services to its citizens and 2,400 to businesses.
 As a bureaucrat I love the idea.  The reality for the US though is we're always going to trade efficiency for what we see as privacy and freedom.