Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Foodies and Their Myths

Nathaniel Johnson at Grist ties in a New Yorker piece on Vandana Shiva to talk about her big ideas, which he likes, and her analysis of the details, which he doesn't:
Romantic environmentalists tend to get the big-picture problems right, while fudging the details. Rationalists nail the details, but sometimes become so immersed in the minutiae that they lose sight of the big picture.

I don't agree with Johnson on the total big picture, but I greatly respect his willingness to look at the holes in some foodie arguments.

A more ascerbic person might consider "fudging" to be the same as "lying", but today I'm feeling generous, and willing to admit all parties have their myths: liberals, conservatives, foodies, production ag.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pizzly Bears

A new term to me, but not to biologists who study hybrids.  A very interesting article in the NYTimes magazine.

EU Agriculture Policy

I've lost track of what's been happening in the EU farm programs over the last few years.  Here's a BBC piece of about a year ago.  

Some highlights:
  • cost about $80 billion for direction farm payments and rural development
  • direct payments to farmers in central and east Europe countries being phased in (those countries much more dependent on agriculture) but farmers in the old EU countries get most benefits
  • fights over environmental incentives and payment limitations
  • enjoyed this: "The definition of an "active farmer" has also been contentious. The current payments system is largely based on land area and past subsidy levels, meaning that landowners like airports and sports clubs, which do not farm, have been getting subsidies based on their grasslands or other eligible land areas."
  • big farmers get most benefits

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Great Sharon Astyk on Reading to Kids

Several years ago I found Ms Astyk's Casaubon's Book blog, which then was devoted to the food movement, locavores, peak oil, etc.  I mostly disagreed with her views, but she wrote very well so it was worth following her RSS feed.  She and her husband live on a small farm in upstate New York where he's a professor and she's a writer/lecturer and, for some years now, a foster mother.  She has several sons of her own and an amazing procession of foster kids, all of which has made her blogging very very sporadic, and perhaps eliminated her writing and speaking.

Her occasional posts on the foster parenting experience are good, and particularly interesting as she meditates on the effects of class and culture. Her last post is  a long essay on reading to kids.  I strongly recommend it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

From Seeds to Tanks, the History of Government Giving

Lots of publicity these days about the government giving surplus military arms and money to buy equipment to the nation's police forces.  It reminds me of the good old days, back when Congressmen gave out seeds--no I wasn't alive then but those gifts are credited as the seeds (pun intended) which grew into the USDA.

Much the same political dynamic may be going on today.  The public always asks its government: "what have you done for me lately" and it's nice for Congresspeople to be able to point with pride to their gifts.  Used to be that they pointed to "pork", once they distributed seeds, in the 21st century they can point to shiny objects from DOD or money from TSA.  All part of GWOT.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Foodies Lose in Public Vote

Burger King tried "Satisfries", which are french fries with less fat and sodium.  After their trial, they allowed their franchises to choose whether to keep them on the menu or not.  Apparently 3 out of 4 franchises opted to stop cooking Satisfries.  

Voter Fraud--Almost Nonexistent

Actually my title is misleading.  This article doesn't report any voter fraud; it simply says that our voting files are in a mess. And that proven cases of fraud are rare. Dead people aren't removed; people who move aren't updated, etc. etc.  All of which would permit some fraud, but nothing has been proved.  Our federal system is prone to this sort of problem because there's no centralized clearinghouse.

What interests me is the fact that an NGO, IBM, and local election officials are developing a system to crosscheck records and cleanse the files.  As a bureaucrat, my kneejerk reaction is/was that the feds should have developed the system, but that's not going to happen as long as our governmental structure works/doesn't work the way it does.  So score one, or maybe a tenth of one, for the libertarians and conservatives who talk about order emerging, rather than being imposed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Obama Greatly Disappoints Me

I think over the years I have mentioned my near-obsession with mono-spaced type.  To summarize: in the old days typewriters mostly were either pica or elite, using the same amount of space for each letter.  Once we moved to word processing, particularly with inkjet and laser printers, we could easily produce proportionally spaced type. There's now no reason to use monospaced type.  Readers do much better with proportionally spaced type.

So what does President Obama use for his War Powers Act letter to Congress?  See here.

Epithets and the Bureaucrat

Turns out Lois Lerner used "___hole"  in an email to her husband, referring to some conservatives.    I know nothing about Ms Lerner except what I read on wikipedia . She seems to have been a career government lawyer.  Now I don't like lawyers much, though I suspect our family attorney with whom we've been dealing this summer doesn't know that.  I also believe I did a good job of hiding my feelings back in the 1980's, when I used routinely to refer to President Reagan as the "senior idiot" and my division director as the "junior idiot".

My point is that a professional bureaucrat should be able to separate personal feelings and professional behavior, just as an attorney should be able to defend a person she believes is guilty.  Maybe it's that separation which many may perceive as inauthentic which leads people to dislike both attorneys and bureaucrats.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

What We're Good At

As reported by Dan Drezner:
As a senior U.S. diplomat once told me, “If there’s anything the United States is good at, it’s telling other countries what’s in their best interests.”