IT’S a pickle of a paradox: As our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off. Why? Because the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience.
Monday, December 31, 2007
[Just thought--this is a rather negative note upon which to end the year, but I won't guarantee to post again. So happy new year to anyone reading this.]
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Yes, it's China. Sounds like the problems in getting doctors to work in rural areas in the US
If personal incomes, working conditions and future development opportunities can be improved in underdeveloped regions, more and more talents will be attracted to work there, says a signed article in People's Daily. The following is an excerpt.
In the application process for the national civil servant test of 2008, many positions attracted over 1,000 applicants - one of these positions attracted 3,592 test-takers; but no applicants showed interest in 59 positions in underdeveloped regions.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Meanwhile, over at Volokh.com they just wrapped up a guest-blog series on women in combat. The man against the idea argued that women, as a rule, were incapable, unfit for combat, disruptive, etc. etc. The woman for the idea argued that decisions should be made on an individual basis. (I just skimmed the arguments, but I think she missed a good one: female brains are still cheaper than male ones and a smart combatant is better than a dumb one any day of the week).
Anyhow, both issues tie back to the extent to which we use rules/guidelines/stereotypes/generalizations in our lives. Do we say that someone 75 needs to prove they're still a safe driver? Do we say they need to prove they're competent to execute contracts? Do we say that a woman needs to prove she's a capable fighter, but not a man? (In my time, the 11B MOS (military occupation specialty) was for the leftovers--those who couldn't be plugged into other slots.) It seems we make default judgments--anyone 21 and over is mature enough to drink, anyone 18 and over is worthy of being a voter, unless and until someone is able to take the person to court and have them declared incompetent. And there's a difference between incompetence and being a danger to others, as witness the Virginia Tech shooter.
Do I have answers? No, though I'm conscious of losing some capabilities as I age. And I'd observe that bureaucrats are usually the ones who have to administer rules.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
It touches a memory from childhood, when city slickers would come out searching for a tree on our land. The father was intending to steal something, and setting a bad example for his children. Not good.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
The world turns.
The Agrinvest plan sounds a bit like a 401K for farmers.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
What was the trigger for it? I commented I needed to blog about it, and that was her reaction.
What was "it"? Damned if I can remember now. Her reaction just washed away the "it".
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I'm curious over the impact of the on-line comment process on the number and quality of comments.
53 years ago:
Independence County’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service committee, which has served nearly four months longer than a regular tenure, has issued a statement that the committee welcomes an investigation of the election of county committeemen held in August.
The statement was issued in reply to a Guard story that the office of Compliance and Investigation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture had been asked to investigate the election after the state committee said it has had 10 or 12 complaints. The state ASCS committee has never certified the election of William P. Magness, Clyde Stewart and W.S. Finney. The men were supposed to have taken office Sept. 1.
From the Batesville Daily Guard.
Where does Satan come in? Where do I come in? Many decades ago I wanted to be visibly pious. I saved my allowance and made a big display in Sunday School of all the money I contributed. But I knew better. I knew that was egotism. That was a sin. That was Satan. Or, alternatively, maybe I felt it was conforming to society and I could feel rebellious (once every 2 decades or so). So I made a simple decision: stop going to church.
What will happen in Egypt? I don't know, but I don't believe a conformist society can last in the modern world. Satan and egoism are still at work.
Monday, December 17, 2007
From personal experience, I might say it takes longer.
But on the other hand, since I'm contrarian, maybe not. Brain scans also seem to show that the brain is like a muscle, different types of experience leave their mark. For example, London taxi drivers have to study for 3 years to learn all the streets and pass the exam. Scans show the area of their brain devoted to spatial relationships grows over the 3 years. So, maybe we shouldn't assume that the brain scans devoted to maturity simply show the natural development of the body with the logical conclusion that we shouldn't expect mature judgment from 21 year olds. Maybe the scans reflect the progressive infantilization of Americans, the fact that children/adolescents/young adults aren't exposed to situations that test their judgment. We don't have 8-year olds responsible for herding their family's cows. We have (I'd guess) fewer teenagers working jobs and more studying. We have more students in college and post-graduate study. (You learn many things in college, but not necessarily good judgment).l
Philpott would like a supply management program (once known as "production adjustment"--my area of concern) for corn and soybeans to reduce current levels of production for fear of environmental consequences.
Friday, December 14, 2007
- One praises the energy saving virtues of hunting in your own backyard (particularly white-tailed deer, to which I would add the Canadian geese who now overwinter, thanks to global warming).
- The other challenges the casual and unthinking usage of "food-miles" to evaluate food, also making the claim that feeding 6 billion people (more conceived every second) will take some industrial agriculture, and ending with a plea to look at the big picture.
What's not clear is whether the forfeited assets should have gone against the debts (in which case there's a bureaucratic foulup among Justice, USDA, and FSA) or not. In any case, it's not clear why FSA didn't send demand letters to the associates 4 or more years ago. Unfortunately, when you don't often have such cases, they tend to get messy because no one remembers how to process them.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Instead of starting from scratch, going for perfection and falling on their face, they worked with their critics, OMBwatch, who already had a similar site. They put the site up, on schedule, and will be able to improve it as they learn more about what people want and how agencies can feed data to it.
They even included a wiki.
- Some Americans don't have phones. See the graph in this piece, which is mostly focused on the growing percentage of Americans who have only wireless service, but the survey shows about 2 percent don't.
- Some Americans don't have official proof they were born, and have a somewhat ambiguous status. See this piece on native Americans crossing borders.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
When they visit nonagenarian Earl Butz, the secretary of agriculture under Nixon who institutionalized subsidies for big agribusiness, they are positively gentle. From an assisted-care facility, Butz describes the subsidy system he helped set up for corporate agriculture as creating an “age of plenty.”Butz is remembered, not so fondly by those of us old enough, as a Secretary who tried to dismantle the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (FSA's predecessor) and the farm programs of the time. As Kevin Drum observes in a post I've shared, "we create our own reality".
I find the reference to the change in software systems particularly interesting. It almost sounds as if they have moved to an integrated system more like the one that FSA uses. It's the only way to go, if you can.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
""It [unfriendly websites] could be unintentional oversight or incompetence," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center of Democracy and Technology, which plans to release a report today with OMB Watch, a watchdog group, that shows that basic government information often does not show up in results provided by search engines run by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask.com.
Today's hearing comes nearly five years after the E-Government Act required government agencies to make information more accessible electronically. The law is scheduled to be reauthorized soon.
According to the report, simple queries -- about, say, small-farm loans, or visitation rights for grandparents -- miss critical information because many agencies do not organize their Web sites so they can be easily indexed by search engines. Some agencies embed codes in their sites that make certain pages invisible to search engines."
Makes sense to me. Of course, right now the Government Printing Office is undertaking an elaborate project to revamp its efforts. And the OMB official who testified started by plugging USA.gov. Too many agencies fell into the trap of thinking their web site is where people want to go (which is what I thought when I retired), when all too often people (i.e., me) want a Google search to find their answer and to hell with the nice introductory web site.
See here for a joint report by OMB Watch and CDT.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Communication is the key to our organization and I hope that you are receiving information from your State President and/or Area Exec. Unfortunately, many of our members have become extremely fearful of using the government computer for any purpose. Thanks to Cindy Peterson, Jon Williams, and Darin Slack, the NASCOE Exec Committee has written a document entitled "Government Computer Usage". The Area Execs will be distributing this, it will be posted on the web site, and may be in this NASCOE Now! Our hope is that this will give everyone a little better understanding of when the government computer can and cannot be used.
..a number of scientists and corporate executives who met here said NSFnet remained a powerful example of how a handful of government bureaucrats in concert with an equally small number of scientists made a set of carefully considered federal policy decisions, in this case leading directly to the modern Internet...
...many of the scientists, engineers and technology executives who gathered here to celebrate the Web’s birth say he [Al Gore] played a crucial role in its development, and they expressed bitterness that his vision had been so discredited.Maybe the media owes Al an apology?
Friday, December 07, 2007
I suspect that all large organisations are “slow to change” if that means “adopt the path the leaders of the organisation have decided to move forward on”. In fact, this applies even to small organisations or dare I say it individuals. Certainly when I make a decision to try to change my own behaviour, I do sometimes experience difficulty in “driving through change”!
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Agate Pan or basin for starching
Clothes boiler (tin with copper bottom)
Clothes pin bag
Cup for measure
Duster for lines
Heavy cloth for tubs and boiler
Ironing table and board
Saucepan for starch
Set tubs, three or four, or machine
Small pieces of muslin and cheese cloth
Small pointed irons
(Not to mention starch, soap, blueing,etc.)
You look at the list, and think about the work each item implies, and the expertise. (Is there anyone out there who knows how to use a "skirt board" these days?) Permanent press has made a big difference to women, second only to processed foods. Remember that, in those days, every man unattached to a woman would have to have his clothes laundered.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
It makes sense for Amazon, at least narrowly. They know a customer is either going to abandon the cart entirely, in which case raising the price doesn't matter, or is going to want to buy on a later date. Indeed, they may even know I'm a customer who often comes back and buys. Customers like me have a psychological investment in the transaction and are unlikely to back out. So it's an easy $2-4 per item for them.
I said "narrowly", because the suspicion immediately causes my customer satisfaction with Amazon to drop. They aren't operating in good faith if my suspicions are true. And the mere suspicion is damaging.
The advent of revenue insurance programs, which have been attractive to farmers, have greatly increased the business being done by insurance companies and the cost to the government has doubled over the past 7 years.I think it's safe to say that the costs of subsidizing crop insurance, much like those of flood insurance, don't get the scrutiny that direct outlays do.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Now my children, in the old days some 30 years ago, a COBOL program would run in a partition of less than 100K and the first PC from IMSAI had 4 or 8K RAM. Simply incredible, the speed of change (but then we've been saying that since the steam engine and telegraph.)
"At the same time, new supplies are slowly making their way on the market. New oil and natural-gas liquid production from OPEC nations could reach 2 million barrels a day next year, and another 1.1 million barrels a day are expected to come from non-OPEC sources, like Russia or Norway, according to estimates by Deutsche Bank. Some OPEC specialists say these factors could substantially alter the balance between supply and demand after years of market tightness."If the economy slows in the U.S. and more production comes on line and Iraq gets a hair closer to normality, the price of oil will drop more than the $10 it has already. That means ethanol is less attractive. That means corn prices drop.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Please be aware there are numerous jobs available in WDC. If you are interested in working in WDC go to www.usajobs.gov and check it out. CEPD would also be interested in working with employees outside of Washington in flexible ways to test and develop software. NASCOE hopes to be able to work with them on that opportunity in the future. The MIDAS project will also be looking for folks to be detailed to WDC in the near future. If you have an interest in that keep watching the vacancy announcements!I once was actively prodding people to move to the DC area. It's still a great place to live (Fairfax county has the best high school in the country) but not to buy. Unless the housing crash gets much worse, I don't see how FSA can get good people to come, unless they're singles who want the big city life or those who have a burning ambition to move up. Of course, the same applies for the teachers in those Fairfax schools.
about the advantages of an extended family (someone can stay with you to help you over the first days of recuperation). As a friend told him, they're good insurance against risk.
Of course, if he were a good libertarian he'd go to the market for home health aides.
(Since my wife had her foot put in a cast on Wed, I feel a link.)
Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
a medical services manager who earned $87,300 a year could afford only 14 percent of the homes in the Washington area last year, compared with 49 percent four years earlier, the study said.
households needed to earn $49,000 a year to afford the region's average monthly rent of $1,226.
has another. (One emphasizes the fact that illegal immigrants rely on welfare, the other that they don't rely on "welfare". The picture I get is that immigrants with families don't have health insurance so they use Medicaid in emergencies and food stamps regularly while they don't sign up for what used to be called the "dole".)
Who knows. It's all an amusing mess for me, if not for the people who have to employ accountants and lawyers to straighten it out.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
triggered by the inability to buy a $300,000 combine, he says:
" In every bubble (which this well could be) the secret was to bet heavily early, and I think this is still early because we are not sure it's a bubble yet."I think he's wrong--when most people agree it's a bubble, it's too late. (See the tech bubble, see the housing bubble.) It probably made sense to buy farmland in 2005, maybe even 2006, but not in 2007. (I keep remembering the state specialist in Iowa who almost bought a farm too far in 1979.)
"So, will the next president be willing to act unilaterally with assertive, even aggressive use of executive authority -- like George Bush, except for nobler purposes? Who among the candidates is willing to promise, as FDR did, that "In the event that Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility and I will act."
So it all comes down to whose ox is gored. If GW does things I don't like, and I don't, I rail about abuse of Presidential power. If Hillary does things I do like, I praise her Presidential leadership.
This is a symptom of the problem, which is we're trying to use the Social security number system for work it was never designed to do. It would be much better to start over, setting up an accessible system with proper updating and quality checks, and privacy safeguards.
Monday, November 26, 2007
I think it's true before WWII most upper middle class families had staff--i.e., maids/cooks. Electric appliances in the home, the spread of restaurants, and processed food reducing cooking time has had an impact. I wonder, is it easier to accept inequalities of income when there's no employer/employee relationship involved?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Via Greg Mankiw, an economist writing for Cato takes on Frank's arguments here. I'm not up on the subject enough to offer much comment, but I did find the climax of Henderson's argument interesting:
It is true that we often want something when we see that someone else has it. But what doesn't ring true is Frank's view about why we want things. One of my earliest instances of an intense want was in 1955, when the coonskin cap came along after Walt Disney had made Davy Crockett famous. I saw some of my friends wearing them and I badly wanted one. My father, though, would not buy one for my brother or me. I remember the intense pain I had about not having it. But did I want that coonskin cap because I was competing with my friends for status and position? Not at all. I wanted it because it was so neat. Now, you might doubt the memory of a 56-year-old about his introspection 52 years earlier. Fine. Then consider this case. I also remember when the Ford Mustang and the Mercury Park Lane came along in 1965, when I was 14. I wanted either one of those cars badly. I tore out the full-page magazine ads picturing those cars, taped them on my wall, and pined for them every day. But the reason I wanted them was not that I saw people around me with them. I lived in a small town in rural Canada where you didn't see new cars as soon as they came out. I had seen the ads for these cars and started yearning for them long before anyone in my town owned one. So, why did I want one of these cars? Because they were just so beautiful. I've asked other friends why they want the new expensive gadgets when they come out and invariably the answer is that they're such neat toys. Few mention that they want them because they want to be higher up on the positional scale.It seems that the invisible hand of the positional good market operates much the same as the invisible hand of the free market. Free market capitalism doesn't really require everyone to be price/quality conscious all the time. Many of us can continue to operate in ruts, buying what we always buy from the vendors we always buy from. But some people have to be different. That difference is enough to make competition operate.
So too with positional structures. Dr. Henderson wanted goods as a boy because they were beautiful. What he considered beautiful were the rare goods, the neat ones, the ones only a few of his friends had. What does that mean--they were expensive, they were above average in cost. So Dr. Henderson, even though he's pure of heart and doesn't envy others, is looking up the positional ladder.
Friday, November 23, 2007
To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the sense of immigrant entitlement that comes through, especially in the quotations from the leaders of hispanic organizations. Even those who favor lots of legal immigration, as I do, should be concerned about the implications of that attitude for the future of our country.I've no problem at all with people who pay taxes demanding good service from their government, especially since taxpayers don't pay for processsing citizenship applications, the applicants do via a fee.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
(Until now, it was what Gene Weingarten [Updated--my memory for names is going] of WaPo calls a "googlenope"--no hits on Google)
Think of it like thanking your mother, now dead, for cooking all those Thanksgiving dinners for you. (I know, now I'm getting silly, comparing bureaucrats and mothers.)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I'd treat guns like cars. Every American, even including illegal immigrants, has the right to drive a car, once they've been tested.
I made a similar proposal several months ago.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Write the candidates, strike a blow for clear thought and achievable goals.
Greg Mankiw, another Harvard prof, is skeptical. 3 generations means 8 grandparents, only one of whom has to have land to meet Gates' criteria.
I'm more with Gates, though he'd need a much bigger sample and to do the mirror image study to be convincing. (What proportion of inner city welfare recipients had ancestors who had property or position?)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Skinner expressed concern that the manual procedures for TSA's watch list could pose a security risk. The agency currently receives data from the Terrorist Screening Center, standardizes this information and enters it into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which is posted on a TSA Web site daily. Airlines can then download or print out the spreadsheet.Can lead to human error--no kidding! Apparently they reinvented the wheel when they put TSA together, lots of stovepipe systems as all the bureaucrats with their individual missions went to work and did their thing.
Skinner believes this system leaves room for problems to occur at many stages. For example, the watch list can be downloaded or printed out by unauthorized parties. Also, there are no standard guidelines for how airlines should use the information; some check multiple spellings of names while others use only exact spellings. Some smaller airlines manually check the names against the spreadsheet, which Skinner says can lead to human error.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Note the bipartisan mentions in the second.
“If you want to keep the office open, (get) out in the community and push the word,” the commission was told by Charles Zink, the director of the local FSA [Madison, NC] office. link
“NAFEC, an organization composed of and lead by farmers, nominated
and elected by farmers, and serving all farmers in each of their county
FSA offices, is indebted to Senators Baucus, D-Mont., Nelson, D-Neb.,
Salazar, D-Colo., and Thune, R-S.D., for their initiative and leadership
in the introduction and passage of an amendment to the Senate’s
proposed farm bill which will retain ‘Critical Access’ FSA county offices
for the duration of the 2007 farm bill,” declared Kuhlengel. “We also
owe our appreciation to Chairman Harkin, D-Iowa, Ranking Minority
Member Chambliss, R-Ga., and the rest of the committee for their
support of this vital provision.” link
Much of the debate over Farm Bill reform centers on spending priorities. According to the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database, 10 percent of the beneficiaries of commodity subsidies received 66 percent of all the money spent on subsidies between 2003 and 2005. Because 6 out of 10 farmers don't get any subsidies at all (they grow vegetables, fruits, nuts or other crops that aren't eligible for subsidies), this means that during this period, just a tiny fraction of the farmers in the US collected over $22 billion in payments. Despite all of the money we pour into farm subsidies, most small and medium-sized farmers are still struggling to make ends meet.Okay, farmers who plant and harvest a bigger acreage of field crops get the bigger share of the dollars. But the argument is unclear--should we subsidize the small and medium-sized farmers of all crops and not the large? Who is a farmer? Most farmers get off-the-farm income. Most small farmers operate at a loss. Back in Kentucky in the 1980's around Lexington, IBM was building up its printer operation, later sold off as Lexmark. We had tobacco farms subdivided into 5 acre lots to accommodate the houses the IBM executives were putting up. They still had farmland, they owned farmland, but were they farmers? (They might well be included as farmers in some reports.)
[give Lundgren credit for not throwing in an attack on corporate agriculture, which people often include here--contrasting small farmers with corporate farms.]
Presumably we shouldn't be interested in subsidizing the 16% of farmers who are "lifestyle" farmers (those Lexmark executives, or the Barbara Kinsolvings of the world), nor the 16% who are "retirement" farmers. Clearly M. Lundgren doesn't want to subsidize the 2.2% of nonfamily farms (might be run by corporations, universities or monasteries, or whatever) or the 8.2 percent of large and very large family farms. That leaves about 10% limited resource and 25% small family farms as the target group.
Unfortunately for Lundgren, the lifestyle and retirement farmers are exactly the people who disproportionately receive conservation payments. The big farmers need their $4,000 an acre land to grow crops, not conservation uses. And the limited resource and small family farms also need their land for farming.
And the corporate farmers? They're disproportionately found growing stuff that's not subsidized: fruits and vegetables, "other livestock". Any implication that we should shift the focus of farm programs from big field crop farmers to growers of fruits and vegetables would have us subsidize corporate agriculture. (Of course, I recognize Lundgren and those who share these opinions don't want that. The problem is they, we all, argue based on assumptions and pretty ideas in our heads, not on the facts.
Source of all this info -- ERS publication. Recommended
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Although that's major news, and noteworthy, it doesn't prove what Tom wants it to prove. For organic ag to feed the world, replacing industrial ag, you don't need to prove that, acre for acre, organic is of equal productivity in a given year. You need to prove it over a course of years. In other words, organic ag rests on the idea of crop rotation. Corn one year, soybeans the next, maybe alfalfa years 3-5, then corn again. So over 10 years, the total production of the acre is 2 years worth of corn, 2 years worth of soybeans, and 6 years worth of something else. For industrial ag, it might be 5 years corn, 5 years soybeans, or even 7 years corn, 3 soybeans.
Unfortunately, through a combination of causes, that leverage has evaporated. For one, because the farm program is basically decoupled from the production of a crop (as required by the WTO) farmers don't complain as much about not knowing program provisions before they make planting decisions.
(Government Performance and Results Act of 1993).
I suppose I'm just getting old and cynical, but if the government bureaucrats would spend less time managing performance and more time performing, we might all be better off.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
I've no problem with the government gathering gobs of data to do their work. But many times the data doesn't have to be tied back to an individual. So the first rule is collect the data but lose the individual. In some cases you need the individual. The second rule should be, when the individual is tied to data, you log accesses and make the log available to the individual. In other words, I should be able to call up, via internet, the job description of any government employee who looks at my tax information, my health data, even my name and address.
I remember the Iowa state specialist who back in 1981 was moaning about having bought a "farm too far". I wonder how many land buyers this time around will be caught out. Or have things fundamentally changed?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Imagine my surprise to find no category for "Best Government Blog". (One might argue that's an oxymoron, there can't be a "best government" anything. But that's a different subject.)
Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post has something he calls a "googlenope"--i.e., a set of words for which Google can't find a match. Turns out "Best Government Blog" has 3 matches, as of Nov. 10, 2007, before this post is published. But "Great Government Blog" had no matches, until...
Friday, November 09, 2007
They propose a rule--no payments to anyone over 5'7". Now that's a rule a bureaucrat likes--clear and precise.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Some times you just can't win.
Monday, November 05, 2007
(This is inspired by a provision in one bill to make farmers ineligible for payments if they're determined to have committed fraud. That's a step, but ask FSA how many farmers fit this description now.)
Absent such provision, payment limitation is like the speed limit.
[note to self--I seem to be in a dour mood today.]
It's much the same process with tax paying--if this is a high income year, any tax adviser will say, consider raising your deductibles, like move charitable contributions into this year.
Of course Congress will reverse their shell game down the road, once the "scoring" is safely in the past. Only taxpayers who indulge in fraud can do the same with taxes.
- He is very complimentary of Clinton--brains, sustained interest in economics, a fellow devotee of facts with good economic policies. Other presidents suffer by contrast.
- He's notorious as an early devotee of Ayn Rand, for whom I have little regard (which no doubt is worrying her as she suffers in the circle of Dante's Inferno designed for libertarians). But, as often seems the pattern, while he generally doesn't believe much in government, he praises the Federal Reserve highly. I say it's a pattern--it seems I often notice Republicans who come into government skeptical of the bureaucracy who, when they leave, say something like: my bureaucracy was able and effective.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
From an ecological standpoint, the fundamental problem with U.S. farm policy dating back to the '70s is that it rewards farmers for maximizing yield at all cost.I assume that his reference is to the 1970's, but the same statement would be true for the 1870's and the 1770's. As long as farmers are producing for the market, which they've been since Captain John Smith decided that pursuing gold in the New World was not a paying proposition, at least not in coastal Virginia, their incentives lead to short term over-production at the cost of long-term productivity. That's an issue in the cash lease/share lease controversy in Illinois, I just posted on.
The Illinois Farm Bureau is opposed to the policy change.
John comes down on the side of the right of the owner to rent to whom he chooses.
- the article comments that 3/4 of the IL farmland is rented, which is higher than I would have guessed.
- There's no comment in the article about the possible role of payment limitation rules. UofIL would no longer be eligible for farm payments when they cash lease. I don't know what the current rules are, but educational institutions used to be exempt from payment limitation. According to EWG, the university got $450K in 2005. I don't know how they might be affected by the pending proposals.
- John mentions the outdated notion that a leasor's labor and improvements gave him some sort of moral ownership of the land. That ties back to Ireland, whence came many of my ancestors, where you couldn't buy land and the best you could hope for was a long term lease. If I'm not mistaken, the English passed a law giving the tenant some right to his improvements. It also goes back to western New York in the early 1800's, where people hoping to buy land from the Holland Land Company also felt they had a right to their improvements. Unrest reached such a point that a Company's office in Mayville, NY was burned, destroying all the records.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
I'm not going to spend much of my remaining time on earth worrying about the details of this argument. I'd just make general statements:
- (apparently) tight laws can be loosened by the right regulations and back-door pressure from members of Congress whose constituents are personally and greatly concerned. So where the advocates of lower payment limits will be tempted to fold up shop once the farm bill is enacted, either declaring victory or licking their wounds in defeat, the opponents will be on the job every work day until the next farm bill
- my first statement applies both to AGI and payment limitation--in theory I don't know there's much difference between them. (In practice, at this stage of the bill, it's different.)
- the law of unintended consequences applies, always
Thursday, November 01, 2007
But is anyone bothered by this line?
Under Phase I, Lockheed Martin, which won the $305 million Sentinel contract in March 2006, built the front page of the Web portal, which features functions such as Google search and an FBI phonebook.Presumably there's also a big security piece (which seems to be referred to later in the story), but gee, Google search and a phonebook? That's such a steal for a mere $305 million.
1) Projections of corn use for ethanol continue to climb upward, putting pressure on corn prices, encouraging acreage shifts, and resulting in reduced supplies of other crops.Of course, the expansion in South America is changing tropical forest into monocultural land. As Robert Heinlein wrote, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
2) Higher US prices are encouraging crop production expansion in South America and elsewhere, with an impact on livestock production and the price of meat.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Sec. 11068. Prevention and investigation of payment and fraud and error.
This section would amend the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 to require financial institutions to disclose the financial records of any customer to any government authority that certifies, disburses, or collects payments, when the disclosure of such information is necessary to verify the identity of any person in connection with the issuance of a federal payment or collection of funds, or the investigation or recovery of an improper federal payment of collection of funds.
No idea of the background for this.
Monday, October 29, 2007
"Between 2002-03 and 2004-05, enrollment in schools located in communities of fewer than 2,500 increased by 1,339,000 (or 15%)," write Jerry Johnson and Marty Strange, policy analysts for the non-profit Rural School and Community Trust. School enrollment in larger communities (populations over 2,500) fell by 2% in this same period.
The study calls "most startling" its finding that the number of minority students increased 55% in rural schools, "with some states experiencing increases of over 100%." Rural schools in the Southeast and Southwest are the most ethnically diverse in the nation.
[Update--When I noted this to my sister, a former teacher, I looked at the figures and said, they can't be right. It didn't seem right that rural areas would have roughly 10 million students. I'm not sure what's going on, but this table from the Department of Education seems to show less than 1 million students in rural areas (plus towns under 2,500) in 2002. It might be the authors just slipped a zero somewhere. Or it might be I don't understand at all.]
Anyhow, it's a beauty of a turf war that sprouting right before our eyes.
All of which is to say, when someone talks of the opinions of farmers, as here, [updated--I think it's an honest discussion, but often they aren't] take a grain of salt.
Friday, October 26, 2007
What it means is that the institutional incentives are at work: anyone who wants attention has to have a good story, and conflict makes a hell of a better story than communion. (That's why blogs like mine have low readership--there's no conflict.)
It's interesting. I think there's some relevant issues:
- "How many mistakes has she made and how well has she learned from them?" If you never do anything, you never screw up. If you never admit and learn from your mistakes, you're an idiot. Seems to me Hillary's okay here, except perhaps for being slow to admit mistakes. it's tough for any smart and ambitious person. Anyone remember any admissions of error by others in the race?
- Who would she appoint to her administration? Doris Kearns Goodwin got a book out of the fact that Lincoln appointed heavyweights to the Cabinet, and then managed them. Both parties will have a bench of talent to appoint (unlike Bill in 92--the 12 years in the wilderness meant talent was scarce). The idea that she has a tight circle doesn't bother me much--the issue is whether she'll expand it if elected. Her tight circle is better than GWB's was because they don't have an anti-Washington bias. The unknown is whether they have the balls to admit that GWB did some things right (Bush certainly had problems admitting that Bill had done some things right).
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
(I think I've mentioned before a supermarket location that went through 3 incarnations, being too small for efficient Safeway/Giant operation. Now it's been open as a Latino themed market, with good vegetables at lower prices than our regular Safeway.)
Maybe this explains the recent reports on the Obama is a Muslim urban legend, or the anti-McCain gossip in South Carolina in 2000--the gossip persists and spreads because we're tuned into it as intrinsically valuable, not only do some of us believe it, but it's worth passing on.
Monday, October 15, 2007
In part, this is a lesson to those leftie liberals, who want to write laws to solve problems. You write a law setting up standards for things like "organic" and you have certain pictures in your head. (See Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion). And you write the law based on those pictures. But the reality is that smart and determined people want to make a buck, so your law tends to be evaded, at least in part. Far from the picture in textbooks, administering law is like a long conversation, back and forth, between two people, who might stay married for 50 years, or might get divorced in 6 months.
Watts Brothers, which started milking cows in December, is Washington's largest organic dairy with 2,200 milking cows.
State regulators and some small dairy farmers speak highly of it, but critics question whether milking thousands of cows is worthy of the term "organic."
I was also tickled by this quote:
"People want to picture cute 50-cow dairies all over the countryside, but our economics don't allow for that everywhere anymore," said Georgana Webster, an organic-livestock inspector for the Washington Department of Agriculture, which determines whether dairies like Watts Brothers are following national organic standards.Having been brought up on a very uncute, mini-dairy of 12 cows.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
But, assuming the movie was faithful to Roth's book, which I haven't read, it's unrealistic. Kidman works on a dairy farm, but also in a store and as a janitor on the local college (from which Hopkins was fired). That's unrealistic right there--if you're doing two milkings a day you don't have the energy for two other jobs. And then Hopkins and she make love at all times of day and night. Roth's forgetting the first law of dairying:
"The cows have got to be milked"
Whatever else you do, they've got to be milked, and milked at the same times every day. You might indulge in a quickie. But you can't have a long night of sex then a leisurely breakfast--Kidman has got to pull on her clothes and get back to the barn for the 4 or 5 am milking.
(But how was the movie--I see why it failed commercially but it's worthwhile on Netflix.)
Friday, October 12, 2007
In nature, the gradual lowering of temperature resulting in water icing over. Or adding sand to a pile to the point where the pile collapses in an avalanche.
In society we can have tipping points in fashion: men wear hats, until all of a sudden in the late 50's early 60's they don't.
In wars we can have tipping points. Looking at Iraq, it seems to me that one was averted early this year. The situation was deteriorating. The "surge" stabilized and reversed the deterioration, meaning we didn't have the sort of collapse we can see in South Vietnam in 1975.
Now, it's perhaps possible that we are seeing a possible "tipping point" the other way. Sunnis in Anbar province have changed their position. Today's Times carries a front page article on the souring of relations between the Shiites and the militias. For anyone growing up in the age of guerrilla warfare, as I did, that's important; for as Mao said--the guerrilla fighter must be as a fish in the water of the society. Another straw in the wind is, as Megan McArdle notes, an uptick in the Iraq Index on power.
It's too early to say, but it's possible for the appearance of things to change quickly.
Charles: "Nonetheless, if 2008 is going to be a Democratic year, as it very well could, Hillary would serve the country better than any of her Democratic rivals."
David: "No Republican would design asset-building plans the way Clinton does. No Republican would pay for them the way she does. But at least she has a middle-class agenda. Right now, the general election campaign looks like it’s going to be a replay of the S-chip debate. The Democrats propose something, and the Republicans have no alternative."
From the speech of the acting Secretary at the USDA awards ceremony:
I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the special contributions of one of today's honorees, Paul McKellips from the Farm Service Agency. Paul has volunteered for three details to Iraq as part of the State Department's Go Team. He has helped draw attention to the plight of Iraqi farmers struggling to develop their own operations into a steady source of income for their families. Paul has willingly stood in harm's way in service to his nation and in service to agricultural producers. I do applaud that commitment, and I extend my gratitude to all of the USDA employees who have volunteered to help farmers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Currently we have eight agricultural advisors in Afghanistan and Iraq and another 18 advisors will be detailed by November. Last week, of course, I was saddened and we were all saddened to announce the loss of one of our brave USDA employees. Tom Stefani of the Forest Service was serving on a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan as an agricultural advisor when he lost his life in an explosion. Tom had worked hard to implement a number of improvements for producers in Afghanistan including a poultry rearing facility and a cold storage facility. Tom was a respected rangeland management specialist in Nevada, and his colleagues there and, of course, throughout our USDA family will miss him greatly.
On a different note, I see Willie Cooper, long time state executive director of FSA in Louisiana (most SED's change with the administrations, Willie doesn't) was leader of a team honored for responding to Katrina and Bob Manuel was a member.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
It's a revealing sentence because it's one filled with a telling self-regard. He agonizes. And to agonize is to achieve merit. Cohen doesn't jump reflexively to one side or the other, but agonizes over the thorny complexities of the great questions. It's a serious pose because Cohen is a serious person who loves to mop up his own moral seriousness. Puncturing that bubble is a grave offense.I plead guilty.
First, the reach of government has been growing in virtually every developed nation in the world, including in America, and it hardly seems that a far-reaching free market conspiracy controls much of anything in the wealthy nationsRobin Hanson at Overcoming Bias talked of a Regulation Ratchet--the idea that when bad things happen, government steps in with regulation, but there's no equivalent process for deregulating.
And today, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution notes the short time between the physics discovery recognized by the Nobel and its usage in Ipods, etc.
Why do I put these three together? Because I think the mental model latent in the first two cases is contradicted by the third. I think Cowen would agree with the "regulation ratchet", the idea that government always expands and never contracts. And I think both Hanson and Cowen are unconsciously seeing society as fixed. ("Society" being the environmental niche in which the "reach of government" is growing.) But, as Tabarrok implicitly recognizes, change happens, innovations occur, things advance, and society changes and evolves with it. The Ipod rests on a technological advance, but the Itunes storefront depends on a network of governmental regulations which may, or may not, need to be changed to deal with digital rights management (DRM) of songs. If the FCC or Congress or the courts, or all three, change the rules for DRM, is that really an extension of the reach of government. How about the government's rules for Western Union, the old telegraph monopoly--have they not vanished into the past?
"For most of us, most of the time, government is not some faceless bureaucrat [emphasis added] who is constantly ordering us around; it is more like a guardian angel: an invisible benevolent being that accompanies us throughout their day, easing us through potential difficulties and protecting us from impending harms. Admittedly, the angel analogy is a bit exaggerated, but the underlying truth is not: government has an extensive and overwhelmingly positive effect on our everyday lives."
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
If we ever come to vertical farming, the logical crops economically speaking should be "organic"--the highest cost, highest margin, locavore crops. Somehow there's a discrepancy there.
“Monkey society is governed by the same two general rules that governed the behavior of women in so many 19th-century novels,” Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth [two scientists whose studies of baboon behavior are fascinating] write. “Stay loyal to your relatives (though perhaps at a distance, if they are an impediment), but also try to ingratiate yourself with the members of high-ranking families.”
Monday, October 08, 2007
Any student of government has to weigh the relative value of a legal mandate versus winning the hearts and minds. This piece comes down on the side of legal mandates.
"The suppression of the transatlantic slave trade, and the role of law and the courts in its undoing, is a remarkable story about the complex relationship between political power and moral ideas. Most people who study international relations are realists of one sort or another, and in conventional realist wisdom states act to support intangible and idealistic goals like human rights only when those actions are relatively costless: whatever their rhetoric, nations choose money and power over their ideals.
Suppressing the slave trade was, however, extremely costly. By one modern estimate, Britain’s effort cost an average of nearly two percent of its national annual income for each year between 1807 and 1867, and the direct costs of its yearly efforts between 1816 and 1862 were roughly equal to the annual profits it had received from the trade between 1761 and 1807. Not only was it costly, but it required a very long national attention span. The resources expended on suppression required the continued commitment of successive governments over a period of decades....the weight of the evidence suggests that Britain pursued the abolition of the slave trade because most people in Britain thought it was the right thing to do."
- First I remembered the tobacco legislation in the 1980's. The papers had found Sen. Helms (or his wife) had tobacco allotments which they were leasing out (something like that). And of course there was controversy over the government supporting tobacco, particularly when the Surgeon General was so against it. So the law was changed--first to the "no net cost" provision (allowing the tobacco people to claim the program didn't cost the government; second to require Sen. Helms to sell his allotments by requiring him to be actively engaged in tobacco farming. So I thought: all I have to do is go back and find the rules. Well, it took a while but it seems about all they did was to require the farmer to share in the risk of production of the tobacco. That's a let-down, because, at least in theory, that's always been part of the definition of a "farmer" for the wheat, feed grain, cotton, and rice programs. (Perhaps less so since 1996, because you no longer have to grow the crop to get direct payments.)
- Second I looked up the bill Owens [update--corrected] had mentioned. In the good old days, when I was on top of my game, I could assimilate such a bill quickly, find the problematic areas where decisions were needed, and identify the software to support implementation. But those days are gone. I've no idea whether, as the good Senators claim in this piece, lawyers would be put out of business or not. I tend to doubt it, but who knows. And do I care? Not as much as I used to. That's probably a measure of how much closer to the grave I am now than 20 years ago. (As I say, a sad chain.)