Friday, April 20, 2018

Irony Alert

Somewhere in my reading today I ran across a brief mention that Gens. Kelly and Mattis found themselves opposing Gen. McMaster on some issues--it seems the split was between those who tried to rein Trump in (Kelly-Mattis) versus McMaster who was more willing to go along.

I can't wait for McMaster's memoir.  If I recall his dissertation, converted into a well-regarded history called Dereliction of Duty, was critical of LBJ's Joint Chiefs for not being straight with him, for going along with his policies rather than resisting the expansion of the war without being open with the public.  So if today's item was correct, it might be that McMaster found it hard to play the role of adviser than he thought it was back in his academic and youthful days.  Wouldn't be the first, nor will it be the last, person to make the discovery.

[Update: it was a New Yorker piece:  "On one side were Mattis, Tillerson, and Kelly, each of whom in varying degrees sought to push back against the President; on the other was McMaster, who made his natural allies furious for what they saw as his habit of trying to accommodate the President’s demands, even if they were far-fetched. “General McMaster was trying to find a way to try to execute, not to tell him no,” the former government official told me."

USDA/FSA Burns "Bridges"

The Obama administration established "Bridges to Opportunity"--see the explanation here and a press release from January 2017 on the expansion. My brief explanation is FSA agreed with nonprofit organizations to refer farmers to them (i.e.  if someone was interested in organic ag, the FSA office could refer the person to organizations promoting organic ag, using a database of those with agreements) using a database.

Now the Trump administration is having the FSA offices to revoke the written agreements with these nonprofits.

The assertion is that the referral service is being incorporated into the "" website.  That seems reasonable, but what's not clear in the notice is why they need to revoke the agreement, if the change is basically incorporating the old "bridges" database into their new consolidated website.

I'd guess there was boilerplate language for the agreements with the nonprofits, but I can't find it anywhere. If I were really curious I'd submit a FOIA request for the language and for data on how many agreements were entered into.  If I were cynical, and I am, I'd suspect the Republican administration views the nonprofits with which agreements were made as likely leaning Democratic, many of them likely serving minorities and women.

Apparently the bulk of the "Bridges" was a replacement for the "Web Receipt for Service" software of several years ago.

Disaster Averted? --EU

I was struck by the chart below  (stolen from a tweet fussing about the fact only the US is predicted to see an increase in government debt over the next years, but what's more interesting to me is the fact that Greece and Italy stand next the top of the list in reducing their ratio.  This is how many years since we were all worrying about the nearly inevitable Greek exit from the EU, the collapse of Spain (also doing ok) and Italy and the resulting disaster for the European Union.  That didn't happen--there's still problems now and in the future for the EU, but on a sunny Friday afternoon it's worth noting the bad news which didn't happen.

From a tweet: 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why the Change in 1842 to FY?

Here's a piece on a proposal to make the government's fiscal year jibe with the calendar, something which was last true before 1842.  I wonder why Congress made the change back then.  Were they having problems passing appropriations bills timely even then?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

For the Good Old Days of DVD Extras

The NYTimes had a piece on the fading away of extra features which used to be included on DVDs. My wife and I are long-term subscribers to Netflix, back in the days before streaming, and we (or I at least) enjoyed most of the features, particularly the director commentaries. The best movies seemed usually to have been models of teamwork: a lot of talented people working together for a common goal.  No doubt that was an exaggeration, or more kindly a rosy colored look back.

The commentaries varied widely: some directors would narrate the action on the scene--very boring.  Others would use the action as the launching point for little stories, discussions of technique, particularly the more cinematic types.  Some would make a point of praising the work of both the actors on screen and the members of the crew behind the scenes. Some series, like Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, would have multiple features and often two or more commentaries per episode.

I'll miss the extras.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tabarrok's Great Post re: Facebook

Alex Tabarrok is the less prominent blogger at Marginal Revolution, but I think his post yesterday is great. 

He makes the point that much of the data Facebook stores is created by Facebook, or more accurately in my mind by the combination of our activities which are enabled by and only possible through Facebook.  As he says, speaking of a cousin in Dubai who he's never called or written a letter in over 20 years: "The relationship with my cousin, therefore, isn’t simply mine, it’s a joint creation of myself, my cousin and Facebook."

I tweeted about the post yesterday, not something I do everyday.  I got a response from one person, and we've gone back and forth a bit.  Let me summarize my position:

Like Tabarrok, I've a current relationship with a cousin which has been made possible through the Internet, email in the first instance, then shifting to AIM and finally to Facebook Messenger: a sequence of communication tools of better and better capability and more ease of use.  I understand that the data stored in the cloud has changed with each tool: now Facebook keeps the full text of our messages.  But the capability of the tool is an essential part of the relationship.  Given our personalities and ages we didn't and couldn't establish it based on snail mail. 

I (and my cousin) are interested in genealogy; she's writing a book (at 87) covering events in 19th century Ireland partly involving two collateral ancestors. For us, all bits of data are precious if they concern the lives of our ancestors, or the lives my cousin investigates.  Of course the data is almost all on paper with just a little bit on film.  What does the future hold for genealogists; how will they handle all the data which is now being stored and which presumably will be available?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Better Than We Used To Be

Kottke has a post with an aerial photograph of Edinburgh in 1920.  We don't know the time of year or day; we don't know whether the conditions were normal or abnormal.  But what it suggests to me is a memory, a memory of the great London smog of  1952 (most recently dramatized in BBC's The Crown and of reading about the PA smog of 1948.

Using coal to heat houses, as we did our house when I was growing up, produced smoke which killed, most dramatically in the right (wrong) geographic and climactic conditions.  That problem has been solved, at least for home heating.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Incredulity and Impeachment

I remember Watergate.  In 1972 the conventional wisdom about impeachment was perhaps captured in JFK's Profiles in Courage--the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was wrong, very wrong, and the country was only saved by a Kansas senator's courage (IIRC--not bothering to look it up).  The country had skated up to the edge then but had wisely drawn back.  Impeachment was a constitutional dead letter, almost on a par with stationing soldiers in homes (Third Amendment), possibly used in the odd case of a judge, but not for presidents.

As Watergate unraveled, impeachment started to become possible.  Then in the summer of 1974 suddenly things clicked into  place and the avalanche started.

Will history repeat itself? 

I don't think so--Republican support of Trump seems too solid, but as Watergate shows surprises can happen.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Harshaw Rule in Aircraft Carriers

Another demonstration of the validity of the Harshaw Rule (first time fail) is in Robert Farley's piece on the worst aircraft carriers ever built (via Lawyers, Guns and Money).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Berkshire Hathaway and the Pay of Bigshots

From vox, in a piece on "pay ratios" the comparison of the pay of the CEO and the pay of the median employee in the company.  Some ratios are over 1,000.

Not all of the pay ratios released so far are so gaudy. Warren Buffett, the CEO of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, makes less than twice his company’s typical employee. 

[Updated:  Jeff Bezos earns 59 times the median Amazon employee according to this article.]