Monday, September 25, 2017

Puerto Rico Disaster--II

As a followup to my previous post, while RMA has Puerto Rico included in its database of agents, it doesn't appear to have any agents for Puerto Rico. 

I'm operating under the assumption that Maria will show the USDA arrangements for Puerto Rico to be as faulty as Hurricane Andrew did for Dade County and the Typhoon Gay (?) did for Guam.  It's the perpetual fate of those entities/places/people who don't fit the existing mold. 

Agricultural Disaster in Puerto Rico--USDA

This NYTimes piece portrays the devastating impact of hurricane Maria on Puerto Rican agriculture.  It's total.  I did a quick check of USDA websites.  The USDA site and the FSA site have nothing keyed to Maria (just Irma).  Give RMA props; their website does have a Maria page.  

That's good.  Not so good is the confusion in the site (although perhaps due to my skimming too quickly).  According to the results of a google search for "crop insurance in Puerto Rice", FCIC does have crops insured on the island, for crop year 2016, roughly in the 50-60 percent insured range.  Not clear how that happens, because there don't seem to be any companies offering coverage there.

There is a Facebook page for a Puerto Rico Crop Insurance Corporation, but with nothing in it.  There is legislation dating back to 1966 establishing a Puerto Rico Farm Insurance Corporation, which presumably is the vehicle for the coverage.  And FSA reminded producers in 2016 they needed to comply with conservation compliance rules.

The one good thing I noted in this cursory survey--Puerto Rico stands alone among all the states by having a State Executive Director on board (appointed last year and apparently immune from the turnover from the election.)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why Not Follow the UK: Gov Wifi

For commercial establishments everyone and her brother now offer WiFi.  Not the government, at least not that I am aware of.  But our British cousins offer it, specifically "GovWifi", as described in this post at the UK blog:
GovWifi, developed and managed by Government Digital Service (GDS), is a single wifi login which can be simply and cheaply installed by government departments over their existing infrastructure.Anyone who registers with GovWifi will have access to wifi at any participating public sector location. It’s available to civil servants, consultants and visitors to government departments.It’s been designed to replace user and guest wifi with a single secure wifi connection.Users register once. After that, they’ll automatically connect to the GovWifi network. They don’t need to remember a password or sign in to different networks when they move between buildings.
So why can't the US government do this?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Economic Creativity: New Occupations

How many words do you need to discuss an Amish farmer, deer farms, the production of deer urine, bowhunters and the need to disguise their scent, the problem of chronic wasting disease, and good/bad government regulation?

See this short New Yorker piece.

I'm more impressed by our the market economy and human desires endlessly create new jobs, particularly in a context of fearing the loss of jobs to AI.

Bipartisanship Lives in the WH Garden

Politico reports Mrs. Trump is continuing with Mrs. Obama's White House garden.

[added: "After brief remarks, the first lady, dressed in a red plaid shirt, black pants and sneakers, joined the children in harvesting lettuce and kale, peas, radishes, Swiss chard and mustard. They also planted cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, spinach and kale, the White House said."]

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trump Appointees at USDA

Politico has an article (or is it a post--who knows these days) about the backgrounds of Trump's appointees at USDA.  These are special assistants and confidential assistants, i.e., GS-12's and 14's and 15's.

There's a comparison with what Obama's administration did, trying to make the case that the people are being hired more on loyalty and campaign experience, than their other qualifications.  But what's most interesting to me is towards the end:
"Meanwhile, even with the campaign loyalists who are now on the USDA staff, the administration is still behind schedule in hiring for the agency’s more than 200 political positions that span from Washington, D.C., to rural communities across all 50 states."
I take that as meaning the FSA state directors are mostly vacant, and as the next paragraph notes, Secretary Perdue has a steep hill to climb to implement his proposed reorganization of support/administrative services, for which he will need the support of those political appointees. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Maintenance Isn't Sexy: USNavy

I see I've not set up a label for "maintenance", but I'm sure I've observed that it's an important and often overlooked issue.  What happens when you build a system, as we were building a software system in the mid-80's, is you can't keep building without adding more people/resources.  If you start with 10 people working on the new, once it gets deployed, you need 1 person to maintain the deployed software, leaving only 9 to build the next phase.  And so on.

Furthermore, maintenance is not sexy. You can't tell the people who are paying the bills they won't get anything for their money, just a continuance of the current service (maybe sneaking in a couple tweaks along the way).

The DC area Metro system has found this out.  They built a system starting in the mid-70's, but skimped on maintenance along the way.  Consequently last year and this service has been restricted on various sections so they could do catch-up maintenance.  People aren't happy about it.

Now it seems the USNavy is in the same boat.  GAO has surveyed their shipyards and produced a video of their major points.  An example, using 80+ year old equipment to service nuclear submarines, then discovering the furnace didn't heat the parts evenly, so they had to reinspect years worth of work.

I'm cynical today, so I'm sure Congress will continue to give DOD new weapons/things they don't ask for and fail to provide the money to fix the shipyards.  That will go until we lose a ship because of faulty repairs.  (Training is "maintenance" of your human equipment and lack of training is blamed for the recent collisions the Seventh Fleet has experienced .)

Bureaucrat of the Day: S. Petrov

Applying the term loosely to any one who holds a position in an organization and has to follow rules, or who makes the rules for others.

Farewell, Stanislav Petrov, with obits in both the Times and Post

Monday, September 18, 2017

How Humans React to Change

Lots of angst about the coming of artificial intelligence and autonomous cars and CRISPR.  Even more angst about our addiction to cellphones and social media.  I was a late-comer to smart phones, but have somewhat caught up and now understand the addiction. 

But I'm not agonizing about it.  Seems to me generally people overdo in reaction to any social change, whether it's the coming of railroads, crack, or smart phones.  Once people see the downsides, they create new norms which have the effect of damping the adverse impact.  Remember the crack epidemic of the 1980's?  Or the concerns over mass media of the 1950's (i.e., comic books, etc.)? 

So my prediction is we'll see the same thing happening with social media and smart phones.  I may not live to see it, but it will happen.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Problems in Predicting the Future

I never dreamed in the early 70's we'd see a Sunday NYTimes paper we see today.  Back then we were worried about overpopulation, exhaustion of resources, and the failure of the newly decolonized nations to achieve development.  See this piece.  

The Chinese were an ant-like people, all dressed in Mao jackets and still starving from the effects of his ideology.  In that they weren't much different than the residents in the rest of the Third World.The developed world was bad on foreign aid, often funding projects which were strategic in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, not worthwhile for the recipient.

But today we have an article on obesity in Brazil and Nestle's role in pushing First World junk food on willing Brazilians.  And we have an article in the Times mag about the billions of Chinese investments abroad, and the possible debt trap they pose for the recipient nations.

Of course there's no Soviet Union and rich Chinese are buying Western baubles.

It's a strange world.

Bringing Home the Bacon (VT, Uncured)

Walt Jeffreys, whose blog has been rather quiet this year, blogs about the process of getting the bacon, that is creating bacon from his hogs which meets the requisite USDA standards for bacon.  Interesting.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Changing Dairy Sector

"Since 2000, milk production has doubled in Idaho,"

"Idaho dairy industry representatives estimate that between 85 to 90 percent of on-site dairy workers in the state are foreign-born."

Two excerpts from a long piece  at Politico on the complexities and tensions created by the trends, particularly the handling of undocumented immigrants.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Cost of Farm Programs by Crop

I've been remiss in noting this post from IL extension which goes through a Congressional Research Service report on the expenditures by crop under the 2014 farm legislation.

Good Sentence from the Mc

Megan McArdle: "One almost admires a salesman who’s too brazen to craft a believable lie, the kind who simply utters obvious falsehoods and hopes you’re too polite to call them on it."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Harshaw Rule Confirmed

What is the "Harshaw rule"?  Something I discovered back in my days of innocence, trying to break down silos in USDA--"you never do things right the first time". 

Where is it confirmed?  In the videos Kottke has linked to here--the Elon Musk videos on landing rockets and our early space endeavors.  It's good to see someone paying more than lip service to the idea of learning from your mistakes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Comments on Consolidating USDA Support Services

USDA has a request for comments on the Secretary's proposal to consolidate support services across agency lines. Comments are due before October 7.

I'm very sceptical of the OFR's request for comments process, particulary on clearing forms.  We'll see in this case if people like NASCOE etc. get comments in, or prefer to work with Congress.

Cottonseed Again

Illinois extension has a piece on the cottonseed provisions of the 2018 Senate Ag appropriations bill. To my jaundiced eye, it looks as if the cotton growers are trying to get a goodie added through the backdoor--using appropriations to change policy.  If they do, we'll see what Brazil and the WTO think of it.  If they do, the professors will have another example to add to their picture of how government really works.

Seats at the Table

The Trump administration is not exactly pushing the right boundaries.  Two factoids:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Read the Damn Manual, All 700+ Pages

As a bureaucrat who started his career editing ASCS manuals, I'm a bit more friendly to the idea of reading manuals than the average bear.  The things we use in our lives often come with manuals, manuals I don't routinely read.  Yes, when the clothes dryer goes out or doing something new with the microwave I may consult the manual, but I don't sit down to read them cover to cover.

The same rule applies for cars.  The manual's in the glove compartment, and I'll check it for problems.  But today I'm changing my rules.

The background: as I age my driving ability is declining.  I'm more easily distracted, more easily confused when driving in unfamiliar territory,  and less quick to react.  I miss pedestrians and approaching cars at intersections.  And the future looks worse, not better.  Like most people I'd hate to give up my control and freedom by abandoning the car and switching to public transportation, even the options in Reston are very good.

With safety options multiplying rapidly as we get closer to the self-driving car, what seems to make sense to me is switching to a short-term leased car.  That way I can get the advantage of the new features and still have the flexibility to upgrade to a newer car in a couple years, assuming I'm still competent as a driver when that day arrives.

So, I'm looking at a Prius with all the safety options.  But it's a big leap from 2006 to 2017, so I'm looking at the manual.  Indeed, for the first time I'm reading the Prius manual from the beginning.

But, the damn thing is 700 pages.  (As a measure of the changes, I think the manual for my current car is about 200 pages.)  700 pages.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Trump on Improper Payments

Turns out Trump on improper payments is the same as Obama--from GovExec:
All of these ideas were also proposed by the Obama administration, representing bipartisan agreement on policy reforms.
Of the twelve policies aimed at curbing improper payments in the FY 2018 budget, four use the same language found in President Obama’s FY 2017 budget. The other eight have only small differences. The amount of projected savings also mirrors the FY 2017 budget, although with some differences. For example, the FY 2017 budget estimated that authorizing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to use “all collection tools to recover funds” would save $35 million, while the FY 2018 budget estimates $41 million. The savings projected under the FY 2018 budget are also much higher for Unemployment Insurance, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. However, the reasons for the higher projected savings are not clear.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

America the Isolationist?

Those of us of a certain age can remember when there was a significant faction of American politicians who were basically isolationist, who wrapped themselves in the history of "no entangling alliances" and "America goes not abroad in search of dragons.

Thus it's startling for me to read this piece including these words:
"Several permanent stations had been established after the War of 1812: the Mediterranean, Pacific, and West Indies Squadrons. But Jackson would give his imprimatur to a new one. Asia appealed to Jackson as part of his effort to expand American trade routes. Like the merchants of the northeast, Jackson understood that America’s economic future lay not only with its traditional European trading partners but also with new partners in the East. Simply having Navy ships in the eastern Pacific was insufficient. Consequently, Jackson established the East Indies Squadron."

Independent Irish Lasses

"Uniquely among European emigrants in the late-19th century, young single women emigrated from Ireland in the same numbers as men."

From this.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Irma and Andrew and FSA

Hurricane Irma is being compared with hurricane Andrew, which devastated southern Florida back in 1992 as a category 5 hurricane.  Agriculture took a big hit then, IIRC mostly vegetables and nursery crops grown by producers who'd never had contact with FSA.  The FSA disaster programs then could cover some of the damage, though I don't remember whether Congress passed new legislation or whether existing law was adequate.

Because of the new producers, FSA had a problem of getting producer name and address and farm data loaded into the System/36's.  We were still using old COBOL code written back in the mid-80's, some of the first code written for the System/36.  Back then neither the Kansas City system designers nor Washington program specialists really knew what we were doing.  (Harshaw's law: you never do it right the first time.)  There multiple screens for data loading, moving from screen to screen was slow, and updating the file was slow. 

Consequently FSA got a black eye in Dade county, IIRC.

Shouldn't happen with Irma.  For one thing it sounds as if urbanization in the last 25 years has replaced agriculture.  FSA's programs likely cover less of the agriculture remaining as crop insurance has partially replaced FSA, except for NAP.  FSA likely already has records for the producers and its software is better.

Dutch Agriculture

Recently saw an article/tweet/blogpost/something which made great claims about the productivity of Dutch agriculture.  I think maybe it was claiming they were the top exporter of agricultural products.  Immediately my contrarian nature kicked in, and I was sure someone was in error on the Internet.     My logic was that the Dutch export flowers, a high value crop, perhaps the highest value legal crop, so the claim was misleading.  Dairy products would also be big, and high value.  However I didn't challenge it on line, just in mind

Now comes FiveThirtyEight with their significant digits, and this fact: 

144,352 tons of tomatoes per square mile

The Netherlands has been investing in new and improved ways to maximize the efficiency of humane farming. Acre for acre, the Dutch are the best on earth: using greenhouses they get 144,352 tons of tomatoes out of every square mile, with the closest runner up — Spain — getting a fraction of that. Essentially, the Dutch decided to be a food R&D lab for everyone else — the secret seems to be greenhouses — and the outcome is they export more food, judging by dollar value, than every country except the U.S. [National Geographic]
So I guess I need to apologize to the Dutch--they aren't just a one-trick pony.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

More Reorganization for USDA

Sec. Perdue has a press release describing further reorganization in USDA.  For my own interests, FSA loses the commodity procurement (used to be DACO), but otherwise isn't touched, yet. However, this section seems to me to imply that Sec. Glickman's proposal of the late 90's to combine NRCS and FSA administrative support may be revived in some form:
Reducing Redundancies
While creating the Farm Production and Conservation mission area, it became apparent that across USDA there are redundancies and inefficiencies in the mission support activities.  Presently some agencies maintain redundant administrative support functions, including human resources, information technology (IT), finance, procurement, and property management.  For example, there are 22 employees in the department that are identified as Chief Information Officers (CIOs).  Having such a large number of CIOs creates redundancies throughout the Department when it comes to leadership on IT activities and services and results in unnecessary layering of leadership and direction.  Therefore, mission support activities will be merged at the mission area level across USDA.  Through these mergers, the mission areas will not only increase operational efficiencies, but also maximize collaboration between agencies that serve similar customers.  This has happened in many of the support activities in mission areas already and is working well.
Given the flack that got from Congress, which killed it, it will be interesting to see what happens now.

The Magic of the Free Market

Legalizing pot means lowering the barriers to entry and creating a more open market.  The result, as Kevin Drum links, is lower prices.  With producers' energies now focused on more efficient production, rather than evading law enforcement in distribution, I predict this trend will continue, at some point driving the least efficient startups out of business.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Using Racism as an Argument

Kevin Drum has a good post entitled: "Racism Is Not the Explanation for Everything the Republicans Do".

His point is very true.  I'd add another point: using "racism" to attack your opponent is dangerous to yourself.  It's like saying the opposing team won because they played dirty, cheated, and paid off the umpires.  All of that may be true, particularly if you're talking about the Patriots and the Red Sox :-), but it teaches the wrong lessons and removes the burden on you to improve your game.  It also makes the opponent the "other".

Monday, September 04, 2017

Race, Gender and Ethnicity Data Collection

USDA has its request for comment on its collection of data on its customers race, gender and ethnicity published here.  Deadline is September 21.  So far there have been no comments.  As an exercise in willpower I'm withholding comment on that.

From the notice, an explanation of why:
Summary of Collection: Section 14006 and 14007 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, 7 U.S.C. 8701 (referred to as the 2008 Farm Bill) establishes a requirement for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to annually compile application and participation rate data regarding socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers by computing for each program of the USDA that serves agriculture producers and landowners (a) raw numbers of applicants and participants by race, ethnicity, and gender, subject to appropriate privacy protection, as determined by the Secretary; and (b) the application and participation rate, by race, ethnicity and gender as a percentage of the total participation rate of all agricultural producers and landowners for each county and State in the United States.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Correcting Tocqueville

This Post Monkey Cage piece claiming Americans get more involved in politics than others includes this:
As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. … Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”
That makes it sound as if our associations come from the grassroots while in Europe they come from the top.  I think that exaggerates a bit.  I've looked at some of the early associations promoting agriculture in the U.S.  The pattern seems to be we had our  "rainmakers"  back then.  "Rainmaker" here meaning an illustrious personage, in these cases often a veteran of the Revolution and/or Founding Father, whose prestige attracts other members.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Trouble with Homophone: Significant?

I'm noticing more and more I've trouble with homophones (i.e, for those who have forgotten high school English, words with the same pronunciation but different spelling and meaning, like "its" and "it's", "knew" and "new") and with completing words correctly (i.e., by writing "ful" at the end of "meaning" rather than the "less" I intended, or, as just now, typing "the" when I meant "than").

A quick google brings up this research but doesn't confirm my layman's belief that such a decline in functioning is significant, at least of old age if not of dementia.  But whatever.

I bring this up because our illustrious President has caught some flak over a tweet in which he spelled "heal" as "heel".  I don't know whether he can't spell, whether he's getting old, or showing early signs of dementia.  None of the alternatives are correctable at this point.

Friday, September 01, 2017

The Big Sick

Saw the movie the other day and enjoyed it, although I really do need to get a hearing aid. 

The plot rests on the well-established phenomena (which I remember from my college days)--it's not knowledge of the "other" which reduces prejudice, it's cooperation and suffering together in quest of a goal.  I'm reminded of that truth when I see this report on Houston Muslims and the flooding.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Dilemma Will Hurd Poses

Run across the Republican Congressman from Texas Will Hurd a few times in the media.  He seems impressive, human, ex-CIA, not too partisan (he was half of the two Congressmen driving from TX to DC and recording it on social media).  But he's a Republican, and vulnerable.  His district is the Rio Grande area of TX, heavily Hispanic (opposes Trump's wall despite having the longest section of US-Mexican border of any Congressman).

So, on the one hand I want the Republican party to have more such representatives, rather than the Cruzes and the Gowdys, the wing nut.  On the other hand, I want the Democrats to take control of the House in 2018, and Hurd's seat is a good target.  Unfortunately I can't donate to the DCCC and specify--don't fund Hurd's opponent. 

So I'm torn.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Special Envoys and Monuments

Secretary Tillerson is looking to eliminate dozens of "special envoys"; liberals are looking to eliminate dozens of memorials and monuments to flawed people of the past.

What's the similiarity?  For me, I'm assuming many of the envoys are more symbolic than functional.  There can be an advantage to appointing a coordinator-type person to try to break down some bureaucratic silos.  But often they have the weakness of their position--outside the chain of command where "real work" (real at least in the eyes of the bureaucrats in the organization) gets done.  So their ideas are not invented here, and they just serve as a symbol for the outside organizations which sponsored the creation of the post, a sort of flag of attempted conquest planted on the foreign continent of the bureaucracy.

Memorials and monuments are also symbols, more important to a small group than most people going about their business.

Prediction: Classic Logroll--Harvey Aid Plus the Wall

A politico piece rehashing the NY/NJ grievances with TX Congress people, especially Sen. Cruz.  Since Harvey relief will be must-pass legislation, many people (i.e. me) predict that money for Trump's wall will be folded in with it, and Dems will vote for it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Uses of Violence?,

Josh Marshall has a post discussing violence against the alt-right.  He's against it, arguing that it's works to the benefit of the far right and undermines the rule of law.

While I'm with him on that, he doesn't pay enough attention to the seduction of violence, although he does admit he enjoys seeing a Nazi punched.  Most any football fan will say they enjoy a "good hit" on the opposing quarterback, running back, or receiver.  That's human--we like violence against our opponents (though we'll be sure to call for a flag if our quarterback, running back, or receiver is on the receiving end of a "vicious, illegal hit").

The antifa types seem to be much the same demographic as the alt-right: young males, though perhaps with a few more females and a sprinkling of people of color you wouldn't see in the alt-right.  But extremism attracts the similar people on both ends, although the left perhaps has a more intellectual gloss to their actions.  I suspect if you could do a brain scan of either group in the midst of an action, a march or a counter-demonstration, you'd see the same areas of the brain activated, areas which have little to do with rational thought.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Memory and Action

One of the problems we old geezers have is memory.  Not only are we losing it, particularly the short-term variety, but to the extent we retain some, we can be immobilized by it.

Maybe that's the problem with the controversies over memorials.  Memorials are signs, and important. but devote too much concern to the past and the future evades your grasp.  Much better in my mind to err on the side of focusing on the future, than the past.  (Yet, and yet, I tried to be a historian once--how does that fit?  Don't know.)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bad News for Organic Farmers

Now that Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods has been approved, Bezos' first step was to cut the prices of some organic produce, probably signalling an emphasis on lower prices in the future.  IMHO that's bad news for organic farmers, who will face pressure to take lower prices, also meaning they will face their own pressure to enlarge their operations and/or cut corners in order to survive.  So the long summer  of years when organic farmers could ask for and get a sizable premium for purity is drawing to a close, and they face a turbulent fall and then: "Winter is Coming".

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wind River

Saw the movie today and liked it. Written by the same guy who did Hell or High Water and Sicario, both of which we liked.  Atmosphere a bit like Longmire, a Netflix series we also like (i.e., rural area, Native Americans and whites).

Lesson for the Week

"Always remember: driverless cars don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be better than cars driven by humans. As anyone who drives is aware, that’s sort of a low bar these days."

From Kevin Drum

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Dilemma With Game of Thrones

I follow a lot of blog feeds.  Have done since the days of Google Reader.  Many of my feeds include good pieces on Game of Thrones.  For example, here's a New Yorker piece.

Now since I'm getting a little deaf, not quite as deaf as my wife thinks but a little, I often like to follow British shows through DVD's, because that way I can get the subtitles.  (I know, there's probably a way to get subtitles on cable, but I'm too lazy to explore it.)  And because I'm getting a little senile, there's another benefit: I can watch episodes back to back, without straining my memory to track from one week to another what happened.  And a third benefit: I can go to bed earlier, without having to watch from 10 pm to 11 or whatever.

All of this means a dilemma: if I read the blog posts on the episodes as they come out, I inevitably get a lot of spoilers.  If I don't, there's no way, no easy way, to go back and pick them up when the DVD's are released and I'm watching them.  Life's not fair, sometimes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Changes in Culture: Swearing

This New REpublic piece discusses research into the frequency of swearing in America, specifically the use of the seven words in American books.  The research found a vast increase (28 times) between the early 50's and the late oughts.

The article is dismissive of the research, claiming it's not good social science.  That may be, but as  someone has lived over those years, the prevalence of swearing is to me just a sign of the changing culture.

I'm tempted to say "standards are falling" but I'll just say changing.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Virginia as Multi-Cutural

Tyler Cowen has a post on that theme at Bloomberg.

An anecdote: a relative recently attended the high school graduation of a grandson in North Andover, MA.  She commented to me she was surprised by how diverse the area had become (she was a girl in Andover during the 1940's).  I looked up on wikipedia and found North Andover was, in 2010, about 6 percent minority.  Currently the  school's site says 18+ percent are minority.

According to Cowen Charlottesville is 9 percent minority.   Fairfax county is about 50 percent.

I'm the sort of soft-headed bleeding heart liberal who enjoys this.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Death Panels Exist: For Strawberries

A NewYorker article: (Varieties are made obsolete based on the decisions of an internal group called the Dead Variety Society.)

Bad Logic in the Fifth Circuit

For some reason, this decision voiding a fine on Exxon-Mobil for a pipeline spill gets my goat.

Imagine a similar decision on airline accidents:
"“The fact that the [accident] occurred, while regrettable, does not necessarily mean that [Boeing/United Airlines/the pilot] failed to abide by the [rules for building and operating airplanes] pipeline integrity regulations in considering the appropriate risk factors,” the court wrote. “The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite adherence to safety guidelines and regulations, [airplanes] still do occur.” [brackets indicate where I've changed the terms]
Because we have a zero tolerance for planes falling out of the sky they don't.  Why not the same zero tolerance for pipeline spills?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Good Old Days

Am I a total reactionary by mourning the good old days of the early civil rights movement, where non-violence was a successful tactic and there weren't competing marches? 

I don't like what seems to be the anti-fa tactic of counter-marching on the same day.  To me it would be a better appeal to public opinion to allow the alt-right marches to occur without an opponent, mocking them with a next-day march that is bigger and more orderly. 

It's interesting, though, that wikipedia is struggling to deal with anti-fa, calling it

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blast from the Past: Guadalcanal Diary

Guadalcanal Diary was one of the books on my family's shelves,

Mention it because the invasion occurred this month, as noted at the AmericanStudies blog.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My Hypocrisy: Coal Versus Corn

There are reports that the Republican governor of WV is looking for government subsidies for coal production.  My gut reaction is to immediately oppose them.

However, what's my logical basis? Am I being a hypocrite?  I assume the idea is to keep coal mines going through a bad spell, perhaps a bad century, providing jobs for coal miners, at worse easing the transition to a non-coal future.  (Actually Gov. Justice has a "national security" rationale, perhaps somewhat like the old subsidies for wool and mohair.) Compare that with my rationale for some farm programs: keeping farms going to ease the transition to a future with fewer farmers.  (Full disclosure: that's one of two rationales I mostly buy, at least with respect to historical farm programs, the other rationale being the production adjustment one.)

So can I come up with a way to distinguish between farmers and coal miners as worthy recipients of government subsidies?

One difference is clear: farm subsidies go to farmers, coal subsidies would go to coal mining companies. Is that sufficient?

Friday, August 11, 2017

How Bureaucracy Works

Jonathan Bernstein has good observations on the bureaucracy:
Or, to put it another way: Normal presidencies have a process in place in which important policy questions are brought to the president -- not just security briefings, but domestic problems as well. Just the need to present the president with serious briefings forces the White House staff and various agencies and departments to figure out what's important and what's not, to find potentially viable courses of action for the president to consider, and to be prepared in case the president asks tough questions in either an initial briefing or down the road. Good presidents won't just passively absorb briefings; they'll challenge the information and the options they're being presented with, reinforcing the need for everyone up and down the line to do their best work.
Sometimes the stimulus for action is from the top, sometimes it comes up from the bottom.  Either way the bureaucracy can't be much better than the person at the top.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Just saw Ms. Bigelow's new movie: Detroit.

It's similar to her previous three movies: K-19, the Widowmaker, Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty, in that it's based on facts and avoids many movie cliches.  Our verdict on it: "interesting".  I think that means, it's worth seeing, just as it's worth seeing your dentist, assuming your dentist is very capable and you've got some dental problems.

In Defense of Bureaucracy

The Post has a new history blog, with one of its posts defending bureaucracy.  I think it's a sign of the popularity of the subject that it has no comments.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Hostas and Caladiums With No Leaves

There's always a tradeoff.

What's the trade off for viewing deer from your living room window?

Having hostas and caladiums with no leaves. :-(

Interesting the way different groups of hostas have been more or less attractive to the deer.  While the deer got most of the hosta leaves in June, they just got the caladium leaves last night.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

What Next: Numbered Eggs

This NYTimes article is on a problem with tainted eggs in Europe (pesticide contaminated egg-washing solution).  Among the steps taken:
The Dutch consumer safety authority has published a guide on identifying the tainted eggs through a 10-digit serial number stamped on the shells.
 Unfortunately I was never much good at languages so I can't read the Dutch.  I can sort of see how, if we have machinery which can roll a sticker onto an orange or apple we could also develop machinery which might print a number on the egg with ink that wouldn't penetrate the shell.  Presumably the number is a farm number, not the number of the hen.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Foxes From My Window

Blogged earlier about the deer from my living room window. We also have foxes, as of today. We've seen single foxes occasionally during the past few years, but today is the first time I've seen three. A rainy day, explaining the drops on the window.

New Tech Shorts Panhandlers

The move to the cashless society means it's a harder life for panhandlers, according to a Post article.

Unfortunately, the people earliest to adopt new tech and move to cashless apps are the people who were most likely in the past to give to panhandlers.  (That's me, not the Post, but it's true, at least in the sense that panhandlers are most likely in urban office areas, reflecting the density of traffic not necessarily the generosity of the individuals.)

An interesting note--sometimes giver and panhandler form social bonds, that's the Post.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Dairy in NZ and US

That Forbes article I referenced earlier? Turns out it's wrong--NZ has experienced a significant decline in farm numbers under their current free-market regime.  See this graph.

I hasten to add that the decline in the U.S. has been more severe over a longer time.  As this Congressional Research Service report summarizes:
"Increased dairy cow output and advances in dairy farm technology and management have led to a sharp reduction in the number of dairy farms (Figure 3). Annual losses averaged 96,000 operations in the late 1960s and 37,000 in the 1970s. In recent years, the annual drop in dairy farm operations has slowed to about 2,000 to 5,000 farms per year. Operations totaled 65,000 on December 31, 2009."
I've not really looked at the comparative size of the dairy farms in the two countries.  In both there's been consolidation, but I don't have the data on how much and the productivity of cows.  It's worth noting that in NZ the total number of cows has increased slightly; in the U.S. the number has decreased by a lot. The dairy industry in the U.S. sells in the domestic market while in NZ they export. I'm sure that makes a difference in discussing dairy support programs, but I don't know how.

8 Years for Adoption of New Technologies

From a review on H-Net:  "After noting the first military use of aircraft in the Italian-Turkish War of 1911..."

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Americans Won't Do This Work?

That's the common refrain among business owners and farmers, ranging from Trump's Mar-a-Lago operation to a medium size dairy operation.  Liberals like me tend to buy the statement, because we're usually in favor of immigration, so the statement operates as justification. 

When you think about it, though, it's unusual for liberals to trust Trump or other business owners.  :-)

Why should we think the statement is true, why are immigrants willing to work off-hours and the worst jobs?  I think one reason is found in reference group theory, which is the sociologist's jargon for saying "everything is relative".  Immigrants compare their work and working conditions in the U.S. with what they faced in their home country and find it not so bad.  The American-born compare the same jobs with other jobs, and know they're the worst. 

There's also the relativity of compensation: immigrants will find that the salary and possibly fringe benefits far exceed that of their origin country.  I suspect there's a human tendency to focus on the rewards and not the cost of living.  The American-born will find the salary toward the bottom of the scale. 

There's also the standard of living: an immigrant can see  crowded living conditions in a less-desirable neighborhood as still being a step up from home.  The American-born would likely find the conditions among which some immigrants live as not desirable.

And finally there's the time frame:  the American-born looks at the less desirable job as a dead-ender. The immigrant can view it as a step up for the future, whether it's moving from dishwasher to prep work to sous-chef or simply saving money to buy goods to take back home (see Sam Quinones "Dreamland").

Among those who want to reduce immigration the standard reply to the statement is: "raise your pay."
I think that's wrong, pay being only one of the factors which makes a bad job acceptable to an immigrant.  My advice to those who would reduce immigration is this: look to the military.

The military is a case where they offer bad jobs (I'm talking basic training, which is likely worse than any normal "bad job") and attract people to them.  An E-1 gets about $17,000 a year, before taxes.  How do they attract people?  Basically it's the promotion and the fringe benefits, the retirement and education benefits.  So immigration restrictionists should come up with a program where the government provides good benefits and the possibility of advancement to the crap jobs.  Tell the high school drop out, spend x months doing this job and you'll earn tuition for college, have health insurance, etc. etc.    Is that proposal naive?  Perhaps, but I'd like to see it tried.

Friday, August 04, 2017

USDA Statistics Suck

You'd think having spent my career in USDA I'd have a good grasp of how to navigate the USDA statistics.

You'd be wrong.  Perhaps the problem is increasing senility.  I prefer to believe the problem is that USDA's statistical apparatus is stuck in the middle of the last century, pre-computer.

What's most recently teed me off is dairy (see my previous post).  I'm looking for a relatively simple set of figures: the historical number of dairy farms, 190xx to present; the number of cows, and total production for the same period.  Then I could match trends to the New Zealand figures.

USDA has two main statistical agencies: NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) and ERS (Economic Research Service).  In addition, if you're looking for figures on foreign ag, FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service) might come into play.  If you're looking for some figures on farm programs, FSA comes into play.

Problem is I've yet to figure out how to get these figures.  The NASS data seems tied to censuses. The best I've done is this ERS document

I think the basic problem is the statistical series have developed in close conjunction with users in the colleges and industry, so satisfying the needs of John Doe Public was a low priority.  Back in the days of paper, before the internet, people wouldn't be coming to the agencies just to satisfy their curiosity.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Sharecropping and Sharemilking

I read a Forbes article suggesting the end to farm programs, pointing to New Zealand as an example of that policy.  One of the effects was the claim: "The effects? New Zealand retained 99 percent of its farms."  That raised my contrarian hackles.  In trying to find substantiation I ran across this interesting concept: "sharemilking".  The farmer owns and milks the cows, and moves them from one farm to another on "Gypsy Day".

I assume by separating land ownership and cow ownership the capital requirements are lowered.  I haven't heard of this before, but I suspect there may be such arrangements in the U.S., particularly as part of a succession plan.

As for the Forbes article, while it claims support from an "academic study", in fact the article, while by an academic, is more of a blog post; itself supported by only one article.  I'm suspending judgment on the issue--perhaps I'll get the ambition to do more research.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus

From a piece on the prohibition movement:
"Prohibition was not solely an evangelical movement, but rather an economic, political and cultural coalition of Marx, Jefferson and Jesus."
 Read the whole thing.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Deer from My Window

I'm not the photographer Kevin Drum is, but I do have wildlife I can see from my living room window, much to the detriment of our hostas.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Clovis Piece

Politico has a piece on Sam Clovis, which is surprisingly positive.

Improper Payments and Election Fraud

GovExec has a piece on a proposed commission to look at steps to reduce improper payments.  It's good, but I'd like to make a connection to another issue: election fraud.

The piece includes this sentence: "The example he recommended is easing the current restriction in the Social Security Act that prevents the Treasury Department’s Fiscal Bureau from readily accessing the Death Master File for privacy reasons."  It goes on to note that IRS uses its databases to vet 87 percent of all federal payments.

A major problem in improper payments is knowing when your intended payee is dead. Perhaps the payment should go to the estate  (usual in the case of farm programs) or should not be paid at all.

A major problem in keeping voter eligibility files current is knowing when the previously registered voter has died.

By improving the IRS process by allowing access to the Death Master File (as opposed, IIRC, to using less accurate data from SSA) and using that process for both payments and voter eligibility we kill two birds with one stone.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Electric Cars Don't Need More Generating Capacity?

From a Technology Review piece skeptical of Elon Musk's ambitions:
A 2007 study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that without adding a new plant or transmission line, the U.S. grid could reliably charge 84 percent of the nation’s cars, pickups, and SUVs.
Without reading the study I understand the logic: lots of 24-hour generating capacity goes unused at night.  The cost would be for the fuel, coal or natural gas, to run it, but not the capital expense of building new generators.  (Though a 10-year old study might be somewhat out of date.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Administrative Procedures and Trump

This ThinkProgress post represents one of the hurdles for the Trump revolution:  simply put, once a regulation is in place, the bureaucracy has to use the Administrative Procedure Act to revise/change/revoke it, including cost/benefit analysis and consideration of public comment.  (There are exceptions to this, of course, and I'm specifying "the bureaucracy" since Congress can change the game, but it's a good general rule.)  In the case of the Clean Water Rule, a judge has found EPA and Corps of Engineers to be rushing too fast (because it's not a simple case, other court cases involved) in their analysis.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How the Brits Do Government IT

The site is the blog for the UK government, as you might guess.  It's interesting to follow the posts, seeing some of the differences and some of the similarities between British IT and US IT.  The British government is a lot more centralized than the US, both at the national level with its civil service setup which uses more cross-department transfers than the US (SES was supposed to incorporate that, but doesn't really), and in the structure of local government--no federalism.

Even though their IT efforts seems to follow the same pattern, with more basic applications being shared across departments, they still have silos.  An excerpt:
"We transitioned 300+ websites onto one platform in 15 months. That meant we didn’t have the time or the opportunity to look properly at how that content fitted together.
And because each organisation’s website moved on to GOV.UK separately, that content came onto the site siloed and has remained siloed. And there are now more than 300,000 individual items on GOV.UK."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Clovis Redux

The appointment of Sam Clovis might be in trouble, as he had an interview in 2014 in which he was critical of crop insurance, which has become the basic safety net program for crop farmers.

Interesting times ahead. (I predict he'll backtrack and the Senate will confirm.)

Opposition to Clovis

From the Yonder, a letter opposing the appointment of Sam Clovis as Undersecretary, USDA, for research.  His background (mainly conservative talk show host) doesn't seem to fit the legal requirement for the position.  The major farm groups say, in effect, to hell with the law, we want someone who has clout with the President.

Actuaries Don't Risk in Marriage

Flowing Data has an interesting post showing divorce rates by occupation.  Lots of data, but a couple highlights:  the military and farmers both have rates below average.  Generally the high paid professions have the lowest rates. The lowest of all: actuaries.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Technology and Dairy

Dairy Carrie reports spending $20,000 on necklaces for their dairy cows.  These are high-tech jobs, which provide indicators when the cow is in heat (high activity) and is sick (not chewing cud). In a dairy above a certain size, and I'm not sure how large this dairy is but not humongous, the dairyman needs help to keep track of these two critical factors.  (Miss a heat, and the cow is going to lose production, effectively 1/12 of annual production.  That's money, that's the difference between profit and loss.)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Regard for the Career Staff I

President Trump has been slow to fill the slots for political appointees in the executive branch, and Dems have been slow to confirm those he's appointed.  That means the various Secretaries have found themselves dealing with career executives a lot, or working without support.  I've wondered what the effect will be.

In the case of HUD apparently the result has been to raise the civil service in Carson's eyes: GovExec reports that Secretary Carson is praising the career employees at HUD.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chicken Feed (Sack) Dresses

Slate has a post on a 2009 scholarly article about the use of chicken feed sacks to make clothing back in the day, my day as it happens.  (It's even a thing on Etsy.)

I remember our getting feed in 100 pound bags.  Usually the bags were burlap and were returned back to GLF (the co-op we patronized and my dad was a board member of) for re-use.  But in my earliest memories (1945 or so) there are some cloth bags with patterns.  My sister remembered mom sewing her dresses from them.  The article says such clothes were a sign of poverty, and they certainly were to my sister.

But the times were such that people did re-use things.  I remember scavenging old nails from boards and trying to straighten them so they could be used again.  Mom had a rag bag where the unwearable old clothes went, someday to be pulled from the bag and cut into pieces, possibly for use in a rag rug, or in a quilt.  The innards of the quilt would be another example of re-use: milk strainer flannels. Much to my surprise, a similar thing is still available--description says "gauze" where my memory is of flannel squares.  When pouring a pail of milk into the milk can, you used a large metal funnel with a filter square at the bottom, the filter intended to filter out foreign materials (i.e., manure and bedding) which could have gotten into the milk pail.  (It's not only sausage-making that the layperson wants to remain ignorant of. :-)  Mom would wash the filters, which by regulation could only be used once, and use them for various purposes.  Stitched together they'd be a towel for drying dishes; stacked four or five thick, they'd become the basis for a quilt.

While I think I've adapted pretty well to changes in our culture over the last 70 years, except for pop music, the change in attitude towards material things still bothers me.  What I mean is the way people, perhaps mostly kids, will leave pieces of clothing out--presumably they've lost track of their shoe(s), or socks, or shirt and don't care to spend the time to search them out and retrieve them, and their parents are willing to buy new.  It bothers.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cotton Wants

Am I getting old and forgetful--I don't remember blogging about this program.  Remember the pressure on Vilsack to do something for cotton, but not this.  Anyway, from DTN:
"The cotton industry and contingent of 135 members of Congress are calling on the Trump administration to continue operating the $300 million Cotton Ginning Cost Share Program created by the Obama administration as a way to help cotton producers."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Show Me a Hero

That's the name of David Simon's last TV series,covering a few years in Yonkers, NY fight over the location of public housing. It's a tragedy.  In a related development, the Trump administration has abandoned a long-running dispute with Westchester County, which includes Yonkers, over the same issue.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Politics and the Grim Reaper

The last few days of drama over "repeal and replace" has shown the importance of individual senators, and the McCain operation has perhaps reminded people that death awaits us all.

As a morbid thought, suppose a Republican senator dies this month--how does that change political calculations?  Or suppose it's a Democratic senator, they have some old ones too? Or to really go for broke, suppose there's an accident which takes out two or three senators? 

[Note: this was written before announcement of Sen. McCain's cancer.]

[Added: note that Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) goes on trial later this year and Gov. Christie could appoint a successor.]

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Last Chance to Comment

 FSA is nearing the end of its comment period on a "generic clearance for collection of qualitative feedback on agency service delivery."  I'm skeptical of this whole clearance process--it's nice in theory but I suspect there's few or no comments, so it's just a paperwork exercise.  To make it more meaningful, in this case, they should include an example or two of what they're talking about.

From the Federal Register:
As part of a Federal Government-wide effort to streamline the process to seek feedback from the public on service delivery, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA) has submitted a Generic Information Collection Request (Generic ICR): “Generic Clearance for the Collection of Qualitative Feedback on Agency Service Delivery ” to OMB for approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).


Comments must be submitted by July 21, 2017.

Title: Generic Clearance for the Collection of Qualitative Feedback on Agency Service Delivery.
Abstract: The information collection activity will garner qualitative customer and stakeholder feedback in an efficient, timely manner, in accordance with the Administration's commitment to improving service delivery. By qualitative feedback we mean information that provides useful insights on perceptions and opinions, but are not statistical surveys that yield quantitative results that can be generalized to the population of study. This feedback will provide insights into customer or stakeholder perceptions, experiences and expectations, provide an early warning of issues with service, or focus attention on areas where communication, training or changes in operations might improve delivery of products or services. These collections will allow for ongoing, collaborative and actionable communications between the Agency and its customers and stakeholders. It will also allow feedback to contribute directly to the improvement of program management.
Feedback collected under this generic clearance will provide useful information, but it will not yield data that can be generalized to the overall population. This type of generic clearance for qualitative information will not be used for quantitative information collections that are designed to yield reliably actionable results, such as monitoring trends over time or documenting program performance. Such data uses require more rigorous designs that address: The target population to which generalizations will be made, the sampling frame, the sample design (including stratification and clustering), the precision requirements or power calculations that justify the proposed sample size, the expected response rate, methods for assessing potential non-response bias, the protocols for data collection, and any testing procedures that were or will be undertaken prior fielding the study. Depending on the degree of influence the results are likely to have, such collections may still be eligible for submission for other generic mechanisms that are designed to yield quantitative results.
The Agency received one comments in response to the 60-day notice published in the Federal Register of April 4, 2017 (82 FR 16338). The comment was not related to this information collection.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Decline of Widowhood

Flowing Data has a set of four graphs showing the ages/prevalence over the last hundred years of "singlehood", marriage, divorce, and widowhood.  We know that marriage rates have decreased and divorce has increased, but what we fail to consider is that widowhood has also decreased.

"The Olds"

Ran across a phrase in the Post this morning: "the olds".  It's the "s" which makes it different; not sure why, maybe someday a language person will explain.

Anyhow, ran a google search, and found the Post has an explanation and a quiz.

As one of the commenters on the piece/quiz says: "I am an old. I do not object. More of these questions should have included the option "I have no idea what this means" so that I could have qualified as "super-old."

The explanation: "In popular Internet parlance, "the olds" are essentially people who don't quite get "it," whatever "it" may be: the funniest meme, the latest Internet slang, the fact that you shouldn't comment on your child's every Facebook post. It's less about age, and more about digital zeitgeist."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The LUCkies

Paul Campos suggests the "lower upper class" is a better term than "upper middle class". I agree. I don't see anyone admitting to being upper class, but it's ridiculous that all the lawyers, doctors, CEO's, and entertainers in the top 5 percent are still considered middle class. I've created the acronym, based on my view that a lot is luck.

From his post, these are the percentiles and household income for my LUCkies, household income:

95th 215,000
99th 400,000
99.9th 1,117,000

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hoarding, Old and New

I've some hoarding tendencies--it's hard to throw stuff away, physical stuff that is.

But I, like the author of this piece, believe in hoarding browser tabs.  I use both Firefox and Chrome, and have lots of tabs open in each, enough so that I fairly often crash Firefox.   I don't have the patience now to study the piece thoroughly, but I know it's got good stuff in it, so I'll just keep it in a separate tab, along with all the other good stuff I've yet to study.

Friday, July 14, 2017

USDA Screws Up Organic Food?

That's the thrust of a Washington Post piece  on a hearing by Senate Ag:
“It seems that uncertainty and dysfunction have overtaken the National Organic Standards Board and the regulations associated with the National Organic Program,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks. “These problems create an unreliable regulatory environment and prevent farmers that choose organic from utilizing advancements in technology and operating their business in an efficient and effective manner. Simply put, this hurts our producers and economies in rural America.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I Don't Understand Insurance: Obamacare and Crop Insurance

From a Politico story on the improving profit picture for insurers in Obamacare markets:
Insurers in the Obamacare marketplaces spent 75 percent of premiums on medical claims in this year's first quarter, an indication the market is stabilizing and insurers are regaining profitability, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released this week. By comparison, in the prior two years, insurers spent more than 85 percent of premiums on medical costs during the same period, which translated into huge losses.
Insurers lose money when they spend 85 percent on medical costs? That means to me their administrative costs are 15 percent.  I'm no expert on crop insurance, but I think USDA doesn't support 15 percent in administrative costs.

Did a quick google search and found this CBO analysis of a proposal:
"This option would reduce the federal government’s subsidy to 40 percent of the crop insurance premiums, on average. In addition, it would limit the federal reimbursement to crop insurance companies for administrative expenses to 9.25 percent of estimated premiums (or to an average of $915 million each year from 2015 through 2023) and limit the rate of return on investment for those companies to 12 percent each year.b [emphasis added]
 My personal opinion is that 9.25 percent is still too high, at least that FSA could administer an insurance program at less cost, given a reasonable time and resources to gain expertise.

Good Luck, Qatar

The conflict between Qatar and the Arab states has included cutting off Qatar's supply of dairy products.  Qatar, having bunches of money, is now importing 4,000 cows to partially fill the gap, according to this piece.

I wish them well, but that's a more complex job than might appear:

  • does Qatar have air conditioned barns for 4,000 cows--temps there are rather hot.
  • does they have feed on hand for that many cows, and a supply chain to back it up.  Cows eat, every day, much of the day.
  • do they have manure disposal facilities.  Cows defecate and urinate, every day, much of the day.
  • do they have milking facilities and people to operate them?  Cows produce milk, every day.  Every day, that is, unless their routine is disrupted and maybe milkings are skipped--that can cut production quite a bit.
  • do they have milk processing plants. Milk spoils unless refrigerated, and doesn't have a long shelf life.
The point, of course, is like most things, it's more complex than an outsider would assume.

But as I say, I wish them well, and hope the Qatari PETA is not on their case. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Brooks: The Pictures We Have in Our Head

In some of the commentary on David Brooks column, or rather one paragraph in his column, I think I see some different answers to the question: who was Brooks' friend with a high school diploma?

I suspect most or all of those who commented saw her as a white woman, perhaps young, perhaps a contemporary.  If true, that shows our blinders.  IMHO it's quite as likely that she's a minority, perhaps given his social milieu an immigrant. I'm further dealing in stereotypes when I suggest that a well-to-do media person is more likely to come into contact with an immigrant in his/her daily life than with a white person with only a high school diploma.  It would be interesting to know more, but for me the bottom line is his example doesn't do the job he wants it to in his column.  On the other hand, the fact that all of us commenters focused on that one paragraph rather than his more general point suggests to me that we're guilty about our privilege and about pulling up the ladder behind us.

Etymology of "Quarters"

Speculation based on the first chapter of  the Lyndal Roper book: "Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet".  My logic:
  • towns tend to be located at the intersection of trails/paths/roads.
  • most such intersections are of two roads
  • most such intersections divide the town into "quarters"
  • hence "quarter" originally referred to one of four areas of the town in which one lived.
Posting this here because this website wouldn't allow me to contribute my 2 cents.

The book promises to be good, BTW.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

David Brooks and American Class Strata

David Brooks has an op-ed in the Times today outlining many ways in which he sees the richest among us making sure that others don't move up and join them. The basic idea is that once you have some money, you invest and invest and invest in your children.  It's an arms race among parents, and the richest have the most arms (pre-K education, elite college admissions, restrictive zoning, etc. etc.).  To me it all seems fairly obvious.

Brooks is catching flak on twitter and elsewhere, however, for one paragraph:
"Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican."
 What Brooks is getting at, which is lost in the twitter comments, is there's lots of less visible barriers to advancement, particularly for those of us who are a little less socially adept in adapting to our surroundings, and picking up on social cues. 

Where I disagree with Brooks is his history.  America has always had a class structure.  See Edith Wharton's fiction for one.  The ways in which the structure is maintained may have changed over the years; that's something Brooks should have acknowledged.

Double Standard

I'm seeing Althouse and Powerline blogs push back against the importance of the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russians to get dirt on the Clinton campaign.  Back in the day of Clinton/Gore the right was outraged over the campaign accepting money from foreigners, and I remember Powerline being exercised in 2008 when the Obama campaign seemingly did not tightly screen donations to weed out foreign money.

So their standard is:  foreign money is bad, foreign info is good?

Technology on the Farm

Interesting NBCnews overview of new technology on the farm.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Conaway and the Farm Bill

Politico has a post on the discussions between Rep Conaway, House Ag head, and Rep. Black, House Budget head.
Sources with knowledge of the discussions say that the agriculture committee was initially facing around $70 billion in proposed cuts over the next decade, but Conaway's intervention kept the pullback to around $10 billion. That came after Black lowered her original goal for total mandatory spending cuts by roughly $300 billion, and Conaway persistently made the case that slashing programs under his watch would imperil the 2018 farm bill and, by extension, farmers, rural constituents and low-income Americans struggling to make ends meet.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Importance of the Bureaucracy

Vox says the White House failed timely to book a Hamburg hotel.  Just a reminder that smooth operations depend on lots of people doing their bit, people called bureaucrats.  We don't know where the breakdown was.  I could imagine someone being turned off by Trump and not taking the initiative to remind the chain of command that booking a hotel was necessary.  I could imagine a vacancy in the usual chain of command for travel arrangements, perhaps a failure of liaison between the White House and State.  I could imagine a Trump appointee in the White House just not knowing, not having been informed, or forgetting to book a hotel, just because it's their first time and the Harshaw Rule is: Never do things right the first time.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Amish Organic Farmers and Steel-Wheeled Tractors

Washington Post has a good article on a group of Amish dairies in Iowa who are producing organic milk, but who are being undercut by what they view as illegitimate "organic milk" from large dairies.  This is a sequel to an earlier article where the Post challenged some large dairies, trying to prove by analysis of the milk and data on the operations that the cows could not be grazing as much as is required by USDA regs in order to be labeled "organic".

That's a valid challenge.  And the Amish seem eminently qualified to produce organic milk, given their religion-based resistance to technology.  It fits their "small" farms (under 100 cows, which still seems large to me).

I've followed the Amish story for a long while, ever since I served on a task force in the 1970's with the county executive director of the Lancaster County ASCS Office, who would describe the ins and outs of their relations with government programs.  Donald Kraybill has been a major source of my knowledge of the Amish, and the lines they draw of acceptable and unacceptable technology.  I still remember pictures of a horse-drawn baler.

This article was accompanied by a picture of a steel-wheeled tractor being used on an Amish farm, which would seem to show this group of Amish pushing out the boundaries of acceptable technology.  What's ironic to me is that horses fit nicely into organic agriculture--they can eat the oats which form part of an acceptable crop rotation.  The switch from horses to tractors in the Midwest from 1930 to 1955 also meant a loss of the market for oats.  So while the Amish have a valid complaint against large dairies on the one hand, on the other they're slowly acceding to the forces which undermined our organic agriculture of the 1930's.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Administrative Procedure Act Pros and Cons

EPA has run into an APA problem as interpreted by a court:
The ruling serves as a signal to Pruitt and other Trump administrations that delaying a rule's effective date may be viewed by courts as tantamount to revoking or amending a rule. In their ruling, Judges David Tatel and Robert Wilkins said that the agency could change the methane regulations but would need to create a new rule to undo the old one, and couldn't delay the effective date of the old law while seeking to rewrite it. 
Unless a higher court overrules, EPA must follow rulemaking procedures under APA to create the new rule, meaning a delay of months if not years.  As the Rural Blog notes, this is a problem because the Trump administration has used the same approach elsewhere as well.  But we liberals should not applaud too hardily; the strict application of APA could kill Obama's process for the children of undocumented immigrants (the "Dreamers").  And once liberals retake the presidency, we'll be stuck following the same process to revive those Obama rules which Trump's administration is eventually able to kill using the APA procedure

A Bubble Bursting--the Farm Economy?

It's probably been years since I posted about the possibility of an agricultural depression, like the 1980's.  Farm commodity prices have fallen and been low for several years, and the value of ag land has fallen as well.  In the 1980's those two factors meant those farmers who had overextended themselves in an effort to cash in on the 70's boom in prices started going bankrupt.  But not so this time, at least according to this article.

The factors at work:
  1. farmers built up their net worth during the boom better than they did in the 70's
  2. interest rates now are low, in the 80's high
  3. lending on real estate was more rational 
  4. better safety net due to more crop insurance coverage.
Not really qualified to question any of these, though I would observe no. 4 conflates insurance coverage for weather and coverage for economy.  We did have some bad years during the 80's weather-wise, but I don't recall much crop insurance coverage for economy.

I'd also observe there are a lot fewer farmers today than in the 80's, which IMHO reduces the likelihood of any one farmer going bust--there's fewer marginal players in the game. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

The Golden Rule, Cynic Version

The Post has an article today on development in Prince William county, interesting on several points. It seems that Loudoun County has 70+ data centers, Fairfax 43, and developers are working to put data centers in Prince William ("Prince Billy county" as my wife sometimes calls it) county, just south of Fairfax.

The cynical version of the Golden Rule is: them that has the gold, rules.  Which I take to mean there's a tendency for the wealthy and powerful to become more so, and also for the poor and weak to become more so.  The siting of data centers is an example: there's advantages to having your data center near  other centers--transferring data between them is faster when the distance is shorter.  (Michael Lewis has a book on the super-fast stock traders, who exploit micro-second difference in timing to make profits.) So the Virginia suburbs of DC were an early center for Internet cabling, which has led over time to the concentration of data centers.

There's another case for the cynical version in the article.  Indeed, the hook of the article is the plight of an Afro-American community near Haymarket, a community mostly of descendants from freed slaves who have owned land there and passed it on over the years.  But now progress is coming.

It's a complicated story--data centers require lots of electricity.  In this case there's a data center being constructed in one neighborhood and Dominion Power needs to run new transmission lines for several miles to supply the data center, using eminent domain when necessary to get the right of way for the lines.There are several logical routes to consider, but as the story says:
"Set in a remote area off Lee Highway, the Carver Road neighborhood became the chosen route by default, after other options were either deemed too costly or torpedoed by opposition from local homeowners associations."
The homeowner associations are, of course, wealthier and more influential than the African-American community.   The Golden Rule applies

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Surprise of the Day: Cowen and Deerslayer

We didn't often get off the farm, except to go to town.  One time I particularly remember is a trip to Cooperstown, sometime in late summer after the hay was in the barn and before moving the old hens out and the pullets off the range into the henhouses.

Anyhow we visited the Baseball museum and the Farmer Museum--mom was particularly into the latter, much to my sister's disgust. Mom had grown up on a farm pre-WWI so all the tools brought back memories.  The museum is on the site of the old Cooper farm, so the store had some books on him.  I successfully argued to buy one, IIRC a child's biography of James Fenimore, perhaps my first book purchased in a store not a Christmas present.

My sister got into Cooper at some point, so I followed along.  I''m not sure whether I was reading her books, or from the school library, but I read a number, not just the Leatherstocking ones, but some of his sea books as well.

So I had an affection for Cooper.  Over the years it's pained me to see his reputation among scholars decline, so today, when Tyler Cowen wrote this, it was a big surprise:
"Yes,I mean the book by James Fenimore Cooper.  I am reading it for the first time and it is much better than I had expected.  Mark Twain’s mockery of Cooper led me wrong, as I let it turn me away from being an appreciator.  And for all the more recent talk of the book being archaic and racist, I am finding it surprisingly sophisticated...."

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Voter Fraud Commission

Trump's commission on voter fraud has requested data from all the states on voters names, addresses, ID's, registration, and voting records.  It's getting a lot of flak from the left and resistance from states both on the right (i.e. Mississippi) and left.

I'm a little conflicted on this, because I've a residual affection for the idea of a national identity, like Estonia, as an enabler for many good things.  I don't trust Mr. Kobach or Hans von Spakowsky.  In an ideal world there could be tradeoffs: do a national matching process to determine which voters are registered in more than one state and/or voted in more than one state while at the same time improving the national registry of firearms owners and those ineligible to own firearms.

That's a dream world though. As I posted recently, we have some security through chaos. Maybe one thing which could be done is to require states to do is bounce their voter registration lists against the SSA list of deceased voters (the same process as is done to avoid erroneous federal payments)>

Friday, June 30, 2017

ND Top Wheat State?

That's what this Grist post says.  It seems KS and ND are competing, with ND top in 2 of last 3 years. Grist attributes it to global warming. 

Safeway Ships Air Around the Country

 (Or how 3 pounds became 30.5 oz.)

Once upon a time, long long ago, coffee was sold in 3 pound cans.  This coffee was roasted and ground, ready for use in office coffee pots and home percolators.   The cans were cans, tin cans, cans which once emptied found many uses around the home. Coffee, being a storable agricultural commodity, was always subject to volatility in supply and so in price, despite the international cartel the supply management setup known as the International Coffee Agreement.  IIRC prices for 3 pounds of coffee ran around $3 in the early 70's.

As time went by, consumer prices for coffee increased and coffee roasters found resistance to paying the high prices.  So someone had the bright idea, instead of raising the price as we need to, let's reduce the amount of coffee in the can by a bit--same effect but consumers will be less upset. (This was probably the same someone who about the same time reduced the amount of candy in candy bars.) And the someone was right.

I don't know when flaked coffee was invented--there's a patent from 1991--but it was touted as a big innovation, delivering better taste for the coffee drinker. The thing about flaking is it means an increase in the volume of roasted coffee for the same weight.  Consumers lapped up flaked coffee.

Bottomline: between reducing the amount of coffee in a can and increasing the volume by flaking, the current Safeway "3 lb" can of coffee contains 30.5 oz, or just under two pounds.  And when you open the can, as I did yesterday, you find it's only about 3/4 full.

So ever since the first decision to reduce the weight without changing the size of the contained, Safeway has been shipping canned air from its warehouses to its stores, wasting space in its trucks.

(I should note that Folgers, and I assume other roasters, somewhat reduced the size of their containers when they switched from tin cans to plastic containers for their coffee.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wolf Trap Mezzo

Wife and I went to Wolf Trap, at the Barns, for a performance of Rossini's The Touchstone, 
which the Post reviewer called a deservedly forgotten opera. It was enjoyable, but a bit long for my old bones.  Maybe I need to invest in another seat cushion (my wife has one)?  Anyway, the Wolf Trap Opera has a blog, and here's an interview  with last night's female lead.  My old-fashioned preconceptions got a jolt from it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The "Heat Island" Myth

Don't have research to back this up, but I believe some who challenge global warming do so on the basis that urban heat islands have skewed our temperature records, creating a spurious rise in temperature.

Now I could agree that a heat island effect could skew the record of maximum temperatures at a given location.  If an airport was mostly rural back in the day, but now is in a urban area, the maximum temperatures are likely to be higher than otherwise.

But that's not an argument against global warming, just an argument against reliance using record high temps at a site as evidence for it.  I'm assuming that the experts create an average temperature for a given area by taking the temperature at a point and applying it to the surface area around, extending the area until it reaches the area represented by another point.  For example, take Dulles airport, which is maybe 6 miles west of Reston.  If Dulles is at 80 degrees today and Reston is at 78, then in my mind the average temp would be 79, as Dulles represents the area approximately 3 miles east of the airport and Reston the area 3 miles west.  Determine how many square miles Dulles represents and multiply times its temp, do the same for Reston, and all the other weather stations and you can come up with an average temperature.

If this image is right, see what it does for heat islands.  The heat in an island is real, so if Dulles gets built up so it's now 82 degrees rather than 80, the 82 should still be applied to the area around Dulles. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Big Sort: Rural Versus Non-Rural

Here's a Wall Street Journal article on the effect of college education on rural youth (barely readable because of pay wall): how can you keep them on the farm once they've seen college life?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Newcomers in Our Midst

Read this bit in a Blog for Rural America piece on inclusion
"In some rural communities, a person who is not from the community but has been living in the community for 20 years may even be seen as an outsider..."

Rang true--remember when my sister was arranging pallbearers for my dad's funeral--she referred to one of the men as a "newcomer", by which she meant his family had only been living in the community for roughly 13 years.

Some dimensions: rural cultures can be slow to welcome newcomers.  And rural cultures can see people leave, like me.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rural/Non-rural Differences: Due to Migration?

Several publications noted a Post study on rural/nonrural differences:
Successful Farming.
Rural Blog
Kevin Drum 

The emphasis seems to be on cultural differences.  ERS has an analysis of "nonmetro" counties and population loss. Four of its takeaways: "
  • Rural out-migration peaked in the 1950s and 1960s (not shown on graph), but was offset by high "baby boom" birth-rates.
  • Net out-migration from nonmetro areas was more severe during the 1980s compared with 2010-16, but overall population change remained positive during the 1980s because natural increase contributed roughly 0.5 percent growth annually (compared with 0.1 percent recently).
  • Nonmetro net migration rates peaked during the 'rural rebound' in the mid-1990s and again in 2004-06, just prior to the housing mortgage crisis and economic recession. Net migration remained positive for much of the past two decades, increasing nonmetro population every year but one from 1990 to 2009, but net-outmigration has since contributed to population loss.
  • The Great Recession contributed to a downturn in natural increase, as fewer births occur during times of economic uncertainty. But falling birth rates and an aging population have steadily reduced population growth from natural increase in rural counties over time, in line with global trends."
Not sure about the overall history, but since the beginning of the country rural areas have exported some of their population to the cities.  Indeed, in England London was a death trap so it sucked in country boys and girls, often to meet an unpleasant fate.

I wonder how much of the cultural differences are due to this sorting?  Presumably the people who stay in rural areas are more integrated into the locality, more active in churches and civic organizations, more committed to having a career, or rather, to making a living through local job.  While the people who move, who go to college and never come back, those people are more into careers in academia, or finance, less interested in religion, etc.

[Update: the effect of the rural out migration means that existing institutions, the schools, churches, stores, etc. lose vitality and makes it hard to create new organizations to meet new needs.] 

A final speculation: note the ERS says that nonmetro areas suffered a net loss of population since 2010--that may be both a symbol and a cause of discontent in such areas, discontent leading to the 2016 election result.