Monday, December 15, 2014

FSA IT Crimped

On page 29 and 30 of the Cromnibus, FSA IT is somewhat crimped: half the $132 mill is withheld pending a detailed analysis/report on projects over $25K.  (Copy and paste from GPO documents is unsatisfactory, so read yourself, if interested.  Everything has to fit the "Farm Service Agency Information Technology Roadmap", which sounds like something which should be available on the internet?

FSA Offices Are Frozen

No, they didn't lose their heating system, but the cromnibus apparently had language in it, via Chris Clayton at DTN

Under the funding provision approved by the House, Farm Service Agency would be blocked from cutting staff or offices.
The bill blocks the Farm Service Agency from closing 250 county offices or eliminating 815 staff. The budget agreement actually puts a "temporary moratorium" on closing FSA offices or relocating employees" until a comprehensive assessment of FSA workload is completed by USDA. "This agreement reiterates dissatisfaction with the agency's budget submission. The budget request did not provide a rationale for the proposed office closures and staffing changes, did not clearly describe the effect of the proposed actions, and did not include a timeline for implementation that demonstrates how savings could be achieved."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Good Day for Engineers

Eugene Volokh praises the Kipling poem "Sons of Martha", which he sees as an ode to engineers, and Lynn Beiser thanks the engineers at Honda for saving her son's life and body.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Return of the Schizophrenic Congress

The "Cromnibus" bill funding the government for FY15 is being worked on today.  As usual with big pieces of appropriations, there's some policy riders included, often riders which reverse or bar the agencies from doing what legislation says they should.  And there's cuts for the IRS, making it harder to enforce tax laws.  I'd call those Republicans who vote for the bill hypocrites if they also criticized Obama for failing to enforce immigration laws, but once we start identifying hypocrisy among Washington politicians we embark on a never-ending task. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Modern Health Care: Dentistry

I know I've been lucky with my teeth, very few problems, certainly mainly less than I deserved considering the care I've given them.

I hate dentists.  When and where I grew up, one went to the dentist only when there was a big problem.  I think I went once in my teens.  Then came the Army and I had 2-3 small cavities filled. There was one trip to a dentist in my 40's, ruined by a young know-it-all hygenist who lectured me on tooth care. Sometimes I'm humble, but not that humble.

Finally in my 60's I finally had a crisis--bad wisdom tooth which had to come out.  After that I started seeing a dentist every 6 months.  He was my ideal dentist: had no hygenist, did his own cleaning, silent, we exchanged no more than a couple sentences each visit.   He retired, right when my other wisdom tooth started acting up.  After a couple years I finally arranged to see a new dentist.  On the morning of my appointment, half the wisdom tooth fell out.

I was impressed by my dentist's setup--the x-rays were displayed on a tablet computer, as was each procedure with its (high) cost. Though I didn't like the switch from taking a sip of water to rinse one's mouth to having a suction tube setup.  Anyhow, I got a referral to a specialist for the wisdom tooth, which I used this morning.  My dentist's office was able to email the xrays to the specialist's office, so they were able to extract what was left of the tooth without a prior appointment; total elapsed time maybe 40 minutes from the time I walked in the door.  That's impressive.  Perhaps less impressive is the multiplication of jobs in the field of dentistry, but that's looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Networks and Agricultural Economics

This is a Politico article from a while back, describing the competition between agricultural economists at different universities for the 3 million dollars to pay for helping farmers understand their options under the farm bill.

Call me old-fashioned, call me stick-in-the mud, but isn't helping farmers understand the world the whole raison d'etre of the extension service? 

Anyhow, David Rogers tells a good story of how government works, particularly the linkages among Congress, the bureaucracy and the private/nonprofit/educational world.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Revkin on Technology and Small Farms and "Factory Man"

Here's a post at the Times covering meetings on technology and small farms.

Just finished reading the book "Factory Man", on the history of the rise and fall and persistence of the furniture industry in Henry County, VA.  The factory man is John Douglas Bassett III, who's able to compete with Asian furniture makers, not on cost but on customization and speed.  So, as of now, the US factory can use automation to be more responsive to customer desires because the Asian makers are limited by the time it takes to move a container across the Pacific.  (Not sure why a manufacturer in Mexico or Central America couldn't do better than the Asians.)  So the bottom line is the mass of furniture is made in Asia, but the niche markets which require customization can still be served by US manufacturers.

I see a possible parallel with American agriculture.

Weird Fact of the Day: B-52s Versus Cruisers

The B-52 goes back to my childhood, and is still around.  From an article arguing that the Air Force should have replaced its engines with more fuel-efficient modern ones, comes this fact:
Since today’s B-52s rolled off the Wichita production line, the Navy has launched and scrapped two classes of destroyer and four cruiser classes, and that comparison makes a $550 million Long Range Strike Bomber look a little more digestible.
 Back in WWII the cost relationship and the longevity comparison between a bomber and a destroyer or cruiser would be one-sided in favor of the ship.  I suppose that's an indirect measure of the cost of electronics  versus the cost of people.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Memory and "Hang Separately"

I posted earlier   about how memory distorts historical reality.  Boston 1775 offers another instance, where the quote usually attributed to Ben Franklin about the need for rebels to hang together else they would hang separately was much earlier attributed to Richard Penn.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Hans Rosling Is a Bureaucrat

Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, I got to this profile of Hans Rosling.which raised my respect for him considerably.  Rosling is famous for his presentations on world health, economic, and wellbeing statistics.  He comes off very well, and upsets many of my preconceptions.  So I already respected him

What's new from the article?  He's volunteered to go to Liberia and help on Ebola statistics.  My knee-jerk reaction (I'm a liberal so my knee jerks) is that someone so good at the big picture is likely to be inept at the nitty-gritty which bureaucrats worry about.  Not in the case of Rosling.  For example, there's a difference between showing "blank" for a county's Ebola cases and "0", a big difference.