Monday, November 20, 2017

Nuclear War II

An excerpt from an interview with Sen. Cardin, as a followup to my previous post:
And the nuclear command structure, which was developed during the Cold War for two nuclear superpowers with the concept of mutual destruction if either party decided to use it—that premise is no longer valid, because the chances of a nuclear conflict are more with a North Korea-type country than it is with a Russia or China-type country.
So, we could now have a more deliberative process under the presidential command for the use of nuclear weapons, and I think Congress is looking for a way to assert itself in that regard.

On the Pence Rule; A Different Possibility

Search Twitter for the Pence Rule and you'll find that most tweets are critical, and more assume it's a rule against temptation, rather like Ulysses having himself bound to the mast so he could safely view the Sirens.

I don't know Pence's original explanation of his rule, but it strikes me there's another interpretation:  as a defense against misleading appearances and false allegations.

The usual interpretation in effect deprecates men as weak-willed and passion-ridden figures; the alternative view deprecates women and the general public as prone to lies and to believing lies.  Why can't both be true?  I don't know if Pence is Calvinist, but it sounds like the Pence Rule is.

Of course, as said in The African Queen, we're supposed to rise above our nature.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Did Carter Have To Sell His Peanut Farm?

I saw that statement made today, probably on twitter.  It didn't sound right to me so I did googled "Jimmy Carters peanut farm".

From the first hit, I conclude that Carter put the farm into a trust called Carter Farms, managed by a trustee. So yes, he did, but the connotations of the statement mislead.

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Nuclear War

Back in the day we were very concerned about nuclear war.  First strike, second strike, security of deterrents, all were important subjects, to be explored by academics and movie makers.  The concern then was that the Soviet Union would do a first strike, a strike sufficient to destroy our ability to retaliate.

Since 1989 we've lost the edge on that concern.  But because our nuclear forces are getting obsolete, and because North Korea is developing the missile/Hbomb combination needed to attack the US, we're seeing a resumption of the discussion, including in the Post today.

Personally I'm supportive of the argument.  I don't see Russia or China as the sort of power which aims for global dominance (based on what we've learned since 1989, it seems the USSR never really aimed for that dominance) and other powers, like North Korea, see nuclear warfare as a deterrent.

So yes, I'd cut our forces back.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why Immigration Is Good for Jobs

Because, at least based on this one piece of evidence, they're more entrepreneurial than natural-born citizens.
"Latino-owned businesses will number 4.37 million this year, as projected by a Geoscape study.
This represents a growth of 31.6 percent since 2012, more than double the growth rate of all businesses in the U.S. (13.8 percent).
The Latino share of new entrepreneurs represents 24 percent of all businesses, compared to 10 percent a decade ago – a 140 percent increase. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to start a business, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity.
While men owned more than 56 percent of Latino businesses in 2012, women now drive more of the growth. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of female Latino-owned businesses grew an incredible 87 percent.

Those Life-Long Farmers Aren't

Nathan Yau at Flowing Data has data on people who change jobs/careers.  Interesting, but what I found worthy of comment is the position of farmers--they're the second most likely occupation to change careers.  Only 30 percent stay farmers.  I suspect that's a combination of people pushed off the farm because of adverse economics (i.e., not enough available land, etc.) plus, as I'm a cynic, people who try farming and fail (i.e., hobbyist types).  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Liberal Heart Beats Rapidly

See the picture of the delegates and guess why:

Keillor and I

Garrison Keillor and I are of an age; he's a year and a half younger.  He's got a column here
which touches on the panic old geezers feel when they lose track of something--it's a sure sign of approaching dimentia.  (I just had an MRI because of such concerns--results negative (there's an old Yogi Berra joke with that punchline). Actually it showed only age-related changes--didn't have the guts to ask my doctor exactly what that means.  I'm pretty sure it means I won't be joining the super-centenarians featured in a recent piece (maybe the Times science section) where researchers were collecting and analzying genomes to see if there is a magic bullet to account for living to 110.  Given the apparent health of the people mentioned, I wouldn't mind living that long, although the fear is that you outlive your mind. We'll see.

He also mentions the old crank phone of his youth, as a counterpoint to his new iPhone. He says you had the operator connect you--not ours.  We had a local line of 6 or 7 households, each with their own code: one long, two shorts (rings), and so forth.  Except for me it was difficult to crank it properly--trying for a long could result in two shorts, as the crank made its rotation I'd lose speed and break the ring.  Such were the challenges and thrills of youth, long since vanished except in the memories of geezers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Importance of Data Design

Getting the data design right for system operations is important.  But what happens is that we design systems using our assumptions, assumptions we've never examined or challenged, assumptions which someday will be undermined by changes in the technology or the culture.

An instance of this in the New Yorker: writer, a house husband, unknowingly describes the problem  He and his wife enrolled their child in kindergarten, filling out forms.  His wife works outside the house; he works inside the house.  But it turns out the school uses an app to make robocalls to a parent concerning school matters, apparently a lot of robocalls.  His wife got the calls, he didn't, creating a mismatch of information, which led apparently to some tension in the marriage.   When they challenged the school, turns out they could only contact one parent and someone had assumed the wife should be called.

In the good old days the number of calls from the school would have been rationed by the amount of time a human, likely the school secretary, had to make the call.  These days the cost of making calls has been reduced to zero, meaning a big increase in the number made.  Where the secretary could have dealt with the writer's situation, the robocaller can't, at least not with the existing data design. Since the calls don't cost, it would be easy enough to call both parents, if they desired.  But that would require a new design.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Driverless Cars: For Rural Areas?

NYTimes devotes its magazine this week to the subject of driverless cars.  One prediction of 2-5 years for the most ambitious cars which might work for my case. I'm somewhat dubious over some of the crystal ball gazing, but we'll see. 

My own predictions: driverless vehicles will take off first in niche markets: long distance trucking, Uber/cabs, the elderly.  They won't progress as fast with the mainstream of drivers--people like to control their lives and many will be impatient with the granny-like driving that adherence to rules will foster.   A key will be relative cost:  some of us will pay a premium for driverless cars, others will wait to benefit by lower costs on a per-ride basis.

As time goes by we'll have to change the traffic rules, but that will be difficult with a mixture of vehicles.  

One big hurdle will be rural areas.  At some point, population density will be so low that a driverless Uber/cab service doesn't make sense--it will take too long for the vehicle to get to the user.  For such areas the cost of the driverless car will have be to be less than the cost of the driven car.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Unexpected Achievements?

Despite my opposition to President Trump, I have to admit the possibility, the likelihood even, that he will have one or more achievement to his credit by the time his term ends, or perhaps only identified sometime after the end of the term.  He is disruptive, usually distructively so, and a change agent, though not as much as advertised.  But doing things differently is not always bad.

I don't know what the achievement might be--Mideast progress maybe?  Or maybe the achievements will come in the next President's time, when she is able to reconstitute some bureaucracies (State, EPA...) in a more rational form after Trump's appointees have blown up the old?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bureaucracies Across the World

The World Bank blog has a post on a survey of bureaucracies, 5 points, remembering these aren't US bureaucrats but those the World Bank deals with:
  1. Bureaucrats aren't old.
  2. Older bureaucracies aren't massive
  3. Bureaucracies aren't overwhelmingly male
  4. Bureaucrats aren't undereducated
  5. Bureaucrats aren't underpaid

More on Dutch Ag

The World Bank blog has a post on agriculture in the Netherlands, noting various factors in their success.  Some takeaways:
  • very intensive agriculture with high investment, not small farms
  • apparently the Dutch are strong on co-operatives.  It's not clear whether these are farmer-owned, as we used to have in the US. 
  • the agriculture is "sustainable" if not organic.

Is VA a Marxist Plot?

Yes, according to this Post piece, which credits a WWI vet named Robert Marx for pushing veteran benefits (along with others).

Friday, November 10, 2017


"When all the votes are counted, in other words, the result will be either a very narrow GOP majority, a very narrow Democratic majority, or a tied legislature — despite the fact that Democratic candidates outperformed Republicans by about 9.4 percentage points.ThinkProgress calculated this figure using unofficial vote counts published by the Virginia Department of Elections — the final numbers will change slightly as provisional ballots are counted and as some ballots are recounted. You can check our work here."

From Think Progress

Why Vertical Farms Fail

Having disdained the idea of vertical farming (particularly its misbegotten sibling--vertical farming using sunlight, not electricity), I want to note this piece: Nine Reasons Why Vertical Farms Fail. 
 Hattip David Roberts at Vox.

One of the nuggets there: "avoid scissors lifts".  

Don't Tick Off the Farmers: NAFTA

Politico has an article on ag organizations concerns over the Trump's administrations NAFTA renegotiation trade strategy.  I've thought in the past that the drop in commodity prices over the last few years, a big drop from their peaks around 2012, played a role in switching votes from Obama to Trump.  If ag fears come true, will be another headwind for Republicans in 2018.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


At least the Trump administration is doing better with women in appointing State executive directors for FSA (I count seven out of 50 in this list) than with new US Attorneys (one of 27 in this tweet)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

10 of 14 Women

Dems took 14 seats (open or held by Reps) in House of Delegates yesterday: 10 of the new delegates are women, 2 of whom are Latina.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Updating Gun Check Databases

Vox has a piece on the Air Force's failure to update the federal gun check database with the data on the domestic violence conviction of the shooter at Sutherland Springs.

Proposals to strengthen the system are welcome.  I wonder though, whether the responsibility should be on the Air Force or on ATF or FBI (whoever runs the database).  The problem with our distributed system of government is all the silos and all the interfaces we need.  My general rule is that you need to put responsibility on those motivated to do it right.  In other words, it makes no difference to some AF bureaucrat whether she gets information into a Fed database--she's not going to act on it nor will any AF person act on it.  It does make a difference to the Fed bureaucrat, so she is more motivated to get things right.

VA Election

Polls seemed busy when we voted around 3 pm, busy but no waiting line.  Fingers crossed for good result.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Ireland's Second Language?

Is Polish, according to a recent article on the declining usage of Gaelic.

Oh, by the way that's Northern Ireland, not Eire.

USDA in Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis has an article on USDA in Vanity Fair (hattip to Marginal Revolution). He's a good writer so it's interesting, contrasting the Trump Administration's approach to USDA with interviews with the assistant secretaries from the outgoing administration.  I like it, except for this:
By the time she left the little box marked “Rural Development,” Lillian Salerno had spent the better part of five years inside it.She was a small-business person first and had no affection for the inefficiencies she found inside the federal government. “You have this big federal workforce that hasn’t been invested in forever,” she said. “They can’t be outward-facing. They don’t have any of the tools you need in a modern workplace.” She couldn’t attract young people to work there. Once, she tried to estimate how many of the U.S.D.A.’s roughly 100,000 employees had been taught how to create a spreadsheet. Fewer than 50 people, she decided. [emphasis added]“I was always very aware how we spent money. When I would use words like ‘fiduciary duties’ or say, ‘Those are not our dollars,’ they would say, ‘Are you sure you aren’t a Republican?’ But I was really sensitive to the fact that this wasn’t our money. This was taxpayer money. This was money that had come from some guy working for 15 bucks an hour.”
I'm tempted to cast aspersions on the RD community, but I doubt they're that much different than FSA.  I know by the time I retired  I knew more than 50 people in FSA who were competent with spreadsheet software, including a couple (Joe Bryan and Loren Becker) who were using Lotus (yes, that's how long ago it was--20 years ago now) for very sophisticated purposes.  It might be true that FSA, and probably USDA in general, was slow to adopt personal software.  But in the mid 80's we were using DEC's Allinone software, which included a spreadsheet application.

The one thing in the paragraph I find crdible is "She couldn't attract young people...).

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Full Employment Act

Cynics say that new tax acts are full employment acts for attorneys.  It's also true that Trump's election was a full employment act for humorists.  See Garrison Keillor's take.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Defining "Organic": "Good" Versus "Not Bad"

A report here on the controversy over whether hydroponic, etc. ag is really "organic".

As I see it, it's a debate between the old-line organic affiliated with the food movement, who often (yes mom, thinking of you) romanticized family farming and producerism, versus the high-capital people who can fund hydroponic agriculture.  Or, to put it another way: a contest between the "good" of naturally grown food and the "not bad" of unnaturally grown food which excludes all the bad 'cides.

Or, a third way: between the romantics and the rationalists.

New Farm Bill Discussions

Uof IL extension has discussion of 2018 farm bill:
Separately, Doug Rich reported earlier this month at the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal Online that, “Economic conditions are much different today as Congress begins to work on the 2018 farm bill than they were in 2014 when the last farm bill was passed. Farm income this year will be about half of what it was in 2014. However, most farmers would be happy if Congress passed a bill that is very similar to the 2014 legislation with just a few changes.
“This was the consensus of many who attended the 2018 Farm Bill Summit held Oct. 18 at the University of Missouri Bradford Research Center in Columbia, Missouri.”
I've commented elsewhere on the increasing size of family farms.  I suspect, without thinking about it, that there's increased volatility in farm income correlated (as a result of?) the increased size.  The big farms back in the salad days of the the middle Obama administration were raking in incomes well above average, so cutting income in half while painful still leaves a substantial profit.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

On Pot

This piece reports that a majority of Republicans now favor marijuana legalization.

Back in the early 70's I was called for a month's jury duty in DC.  It was an interesting and boring time, since we sat around from 8 to mid afternoon each day waiting to be called.  I did get on some juries, which was educational, but today I want to mention the one I didn't get on.

As I recall, it was a case of possession of marijuana, possibly with intent to distribute.  Don't remember anything else about it, except I went to the judge and asked to be excused on the basis that I couldn't be an impartial juror.  After a little discussion, likely much to the displeasure of the defense attorney, I was excused.

Now I'd never smoked pot then; still haven't today.  When I try to recover my state of mind, I guess I must have been troubled by the pot laws then, likely in a comparison with alcohol.  But I'm not sure.  What's odd is I'm pretty sure that over the years I would have opposed the legalization of marijuana.  I think I dismissed the NORML people as fringe types.  I would have opposed the referendums in the various states.

But because I'm open minded, at least on some things, the statistics and experiences reported from some states, like Colorado, have convinced me to change my mind.   It seems that pot is less harmful than alcohol, which I imbibe daily, and tobacco, which I used to inhale two packs a day of, and it doesn't seem to be that much of a gateway drug. 

The last is important.  I still remember my high school science teacher being very vehement about the dangers of pot back in 1957 or 8--very very vehement.  Don't remember anything he said about science, but I do this.  But experience can change one's mind, as it has in this case.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chicken Bones Are "Food Waste"?

A discussion by Caitlin Dewey at the Post on why Americans don't eat left-overs any more.  This bothers the food movement, as embodied in the NRDC, who dug through our garbage and analyzed the results.  As someone who is the designated left-over eater for the household it bothers me. 

But--consider this: "The average person wasted 3.5 pounds of food per week. Of that, only a third consisted of inedible parts, such as chicken bones or banana peels."

Do the foodies really want me to eat my banana peels and chicken bones?  Seems they're cheating on their stats--including inedible waste boosts their headline figure of how much we waste.  Shame.

The analysis goes on to say: 
"... many consumers appear to stash Tupperware containers in their fridge and then forget to excavate them before the food goes bad. Other times, consumers grow bored of eating the same food on multiple occasions.“There were two big reasons people threw out edible food,” Gunders said. “They thought it had spoiled, or they just didn’t like leftovers.”

We've done that, but we should blame our huge refrigerators (in huge houses--have you ever noticed the refrigerators in the kitchens of British houses in their murder mysteries--usually the size of the fridges for college dorm rooms these days) and Tupperware.  :-)

More on the IRS and Policing Nonprofit Groups

A long piece on the IRS and enforcing the legal provision that to be qualified for to receive contributions which are deductible the group must be mostly a social good group, not a  political action group.  It includes a chart, which I've copied (and thereby changed the formating) below:


Note the Obama administration rejected fewer groups than did the Bush administration.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Manafort and Trump

I doubt there will be a legally-provable case of collusion between the Trump campaign and any Russians, but it needs to be investigated.  That aside, the idea that Trump would bring Manafort on as campaign manager reflects poorly on his judgment.  IMHO

Prof. Bernstein has a related post.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Super-Sized Family Farms

Wall Street Journal had an article on this.  It's now gated, but the gist is that farms keep getting bigger and bigger in order to make a profit and keep the kids on the farm.  The same article could have been written in 1967 and 1917.

See the associated video here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The New Car--I

I've owned 4 cars in my life--first a VW Beetle, then Toyota Corollas, the last one a 2006 model.  My driving is getting more questionable these days: more easily distracted and more prone to panic when I get lost are the main symptoms.  But I'm not ready to give up my keys, so early this month I leased a 2017 Prius 2, choosing it mainly on account of the advanced safety features.  It's not the self-driving car I really want, and which I asked (joking) the salesman for, but it's the next best thing, at least in my cost range (not a Tesla 3). 

So wife and I took off for the NY Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY in the car.  When we got back Monday evening we had something over 1,000 miles on the car, which told us we averaged 61 mpg.  Not bad. 

GLF and Cake Mix

A blast from the past here--a mention of the Grange League Federation.  Personal interest, as my father was a board member of the Greene GLF unit.
How did Andre’s science meet Hines’s reputation, producing a cake mix brand that would become a fixture of birthdays for decades? The final ingredient was Roy Park, a marketer for the Grange League Federation in search a way to sell the farm cooperative’s produce at premium prices. In the late 1940s, Park approached the Hines to ask for his endorsement. Hines was a notoriously hard sell—his name was his livelihood—but, writes Louis Hatchett in Duncan Hines: How a Traveling Salesman Became the Most Trusted Name in Food, Park had an enticing offer. “By making your name more meaningful in the home,” Park told Hines, “you can upgrade American eating habits. ” He also offered Hines control over any product that bore his name.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blockchain in Government

Steve Kelman at FCW has a long piece on a GSA trial of the "blockchain" technology.
In most primers on blockchain, three features are stressed again and again: verifiability, immutability and transparency. At least for blockchain entries that involve a transaction between two parties (such as buying or selling a house), the existence of the transaction on the blockchain itself verifies the transaction. This obviates the need for expensive and time-consuming involvement of intermediaries (e.g., banks or title companies) confirming that your assets are what you claim they are. This creates a powerful new way to create trust.
Immutability also creates trust, because it prevents parties from eliminating or altering information on a ledger to benefit themselves (such as by removing negative information about legal actions).
And transparency is a big benefit of the blockchain for a business process such as FASt Lane that involves the government's interaction with vendors -- all interactions, recommendations, and decisions are stored and viewable.
 It's an interesting subject.  I did initially think of Bitcoin as something of a scam.  I was wrong, though I'm still not investing any money there.    I do wonder about how many links there have to be in a chain in order to claim immutability?  Suppose a blockchain exists on 100 servers--couldn't a worm traverse all the servers and delete the data?  I'm reasonably sure that eventuality has been covered. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Dutch Are Beating Our Plants Off (in Ag Research)

In line with my previous mea culpas about underestimating the Dutch, via Marginal Revolution here's a National Geographic long article on Dutch research and implementation of sustainable farming techniques, and spreading them to the developing nations.

Methinks ARS (Agricultural Research Service should provide a copy to each Congressional representative).

Very interesting.

UNC and Shame

NCAA isn't sanctioning UNC for academic violations because their fake course were taken by more than just athletes.   Margaret Soltan at University Diaries, who specializes in tracking in dirty college athletics, has an appropriate comment. 

 (It takes an English professor to come up with the best invective.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

De Nile

Title refers to the old joke.

I've reservations about blanket judgments of people, in particular this week about people surrounding Harvey Weinstein.   Having often used denial in my life, I have to think it's common in others. Let those who've never floated their boat on that river throw the first stone. 

Who Is Black

From Inside Higher Education, a report of a demand from the black students at Cornell:

The demand: “We demand that Cornell admissions come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented black students on this campus. We define underrepresented black students as black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country.
 The black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America. Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism.”

And the experience of racism is different, Jones added.
"Everyone from the African diaspora may all experience racism on the individual level (being called the N-word and being restricted from a white frat party being only the tip of that iceberg)," Jones said. "But international students who call another place home don’t have to deal with the ingrained institutional and structural forms of oppression in the same way American black students do. (Housing discrimination, mandatory-minimum sentencing, war on drugs, school-to-prison pipeline, etc.)"

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Surge Pricing and Our Electric Lights

The NY Times has an article on surge pricing, arguing in part that it may be reasonable for artists like Bruce Springsteen to underprice their tickets when they do a hit show on Broadway (or something similar)--it's part of a longer term deal with fans not to be greedy. It segues from that to the issue of raising electricity prices when usage is high, or using variable rate tolls on commuter highways.

The bit about electric prices triggered a memory:  back in the day we had an electric meter for our normal usage, and another one for the lights in the henhouse.  The second meter meant a lower rate, the rationale being that the lights were coming on at times of low usage (like 5 a.m. or something--don't remember what) so the utility wanted to encourage it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

USDA Reorganization and Comments: Where Was NASCOE?

Well, the period for commenting on the proposed reorganization of USDA is over, and OFR received 94 comments.  Scrolling through I can't identify any comments from NASCOE.  There were several by different state soil and water district associations.  It's possible I'm unfair to NASCOE--many comments are identified by individual, others by organization, so it's possible that the NASCOE comments are under an individual's name.

I'm skeptical of the request for comment process, although this reorganization is the sort of thing it should be good for. It's quite possible that NASCOE is doing a better job of lobbying behind the scenes than it appears they are doing in the open.

The Problems with E-Verify

Part of a compromise on immigration has always been E-Verify, the process of bouncing a new employee's data against database(s) to confirm she is legal to work (i.e., has a green card).  Conservatives push it, liberals tend not to be enthusiastic.  (That's sort of weird, because conservatives generally resist government ID programs as an invasion of individual rights and liberals generally believe in government programs--but that's the way the human consistency cookie crumbles.)

So it's interesting when Cato comes out with a piece on the problems the program has in those states which have made it mandatory.   Cato is libertarian enough that their results deserve a bit of salt, but the study shows relatively low compliance rates and a significant rate of false positives. 

My uninformed analysis would suggest that a mandatory program by the feds could be much more effective, but others might disagree.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

British Race Relations?

Both the Post and the Times ran reports on the "audit" of UK race relations.   Their discussions focus on "white" and "black" groupings, in other words using the categories we're familiar with from the American experience.  But the UK is not America, and the experience of race and ethnic divisions in Britain is quite different than that of America.

When you look at the British reports and the actual audit you see a somewhat different picture.  For example, you've got 19 different "ethnicities" which were surveyed, including such categories as "White and Black Caribbean", "White and Black African", "Black Caribbean", "Irish", "White and Asian", and "Gypsy or Irish Traveller"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Rule of Law and Forgiveness

Interesting piece in the Times--the thesis in two paragraphs:
The implication is that the only proper thing to do is enforce laws uniformly, all the time, without exceptions — and that an immigration amnesty would thus be a threat to truth, justice and the American way.
But there’s a problem with that theory: Amnesties, though not always labeled as such, are central to how the nation’s legal system functions.

Pickup Trucks and Guns: David Brooks

Brooks has a column arguing that guns have become a symbol of adherence to an older agricultural/industrial America, as opposed to the newer service-oriented America.  Seems to make sense to me.  I wonder though whether pickup trucks haven't served the same purpose.  So I wonder whether there's a correlation between owning a gun and owning a pickup truck. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trump's Plan Bad News for Future Republican Presidents

President Trump is quoted in this Politico piece as saying he won't fill a number of vacancies in executive agencies because the agencies are too big and the positions are not needed.

Regardless of what this does for the efficiency of the Trump administration, IMHO it's bad news for future Republican presidents.  Why?  Because typically the top-level positions in an administration, those at or just below the secretary level, are usually filled by people who have gained experience by serving in lower level positions in the preceding administration of the same party.  That's the way the Washington swamp operates.  Clinton had problems because it had been 12 years since the last Dem administration, so he didn't have a wide range of experienced potential appointees.

Of course, at this stage we aren't worrying about the next Republican administration, but still.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Good Reasoning from a Conservative on Iran Deal

The bloggers at Powerline most of the time are way off for my taste, but occasionally one of them, usually Paul Mirengoff, comes through with a post I can applaud, even if I don't agree with every detail.

He's done it again, this time working out the logic of the Iran deal.  As I understand, he reluctantly  concludes that it doesn't make sense to withdraw because we can't must the united stand on sanctions needed to reopen negotiations and if we don't withdraw, how does it make sense to decertify, as Trump is expected to do.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Drum and the IRS Oversight Issue

Kevin Drum posts on the IRS oversight of nonprofits I visited earlier.

Ten Percent More for Humanity?

Modern Farmer has a report by Dan Nosowitz on an analysis of the costs of California's law effectively outlawing caged hens.
As a result, prices of local eggs did indeed increase: there was about a 30 percent spike right at the beginning of the law’s implementation. But that very quickly lessened: prices stabilized after about 22 months at roughly 9 percent higher than their pre-law rates. In all, the study estimates that each household spent about $7.40 per year during that time frame more than they would have had the laws not been passed. (This is a very tricky bit of math given that egg prices weren’t exactly normal during this time thanks to big droughts and avian flu outbreaks.) Now that things have stabilized, that’s much lower; according to USDA figures, prices have settled at a premium of about 15 cents per dozen. For context, during this spike, the average American household spent $6,224.00 per year on food. Yes, people are on a wide variety of budgets, but in the grand scheme of things, this seems insignificant.
 He interviews people who say 10 percent is important, but "insignificant" is where he comes down.

I'll take my usual positions: "it depends" and "it's complicated".

10 percent more for eggs isn't that big a deal, but suppose we apply "humane" rules or laws to all of farming--meaning more pay for migrant workers, better conditions for animals, more diversity in crop farming and the result is 10 percent for food.  (That's probably not a good comparison--most food has been processed in some way but eggs less so.)  Are we ready to approve a 10 percent increase in food stamps?  I think not.  On the other hand, we're ready to approve more than 10 percent increase in the cost of smoking, even though we know smokers tend to have lower incomes. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Dems and Puerto Rico

If people are and will be leaving Puerto Rico for the mainland because of Maria, it behooves the Democrats to welcome them and persuade them to vote in next year's election. 

[Updated--turns out I'm late--see this piece for an extensive consideration of migration from PR, including possible political impacts.]

Where Are the Immigrants When You Need Them?

Those happy few who watched David Simon's Treme on post-Katrina New Orleans will remember a bit, not quite a subplot, about immigrants coming into New Orleans to participate in the cleanup and rebuilding.  I thought of that when I saw this piece.  

Though it focuses on labor shortages and wage rates, it doesn't mention the incentive for increased immigration.  But the higher the wages in the construction industry, the more benefit to immigrating.

IRS Bureaucrats Did Some Things Right

According to a Politico report the IG, IRS bureaucrats applied heightened scrutiny to some liberal nonprofits on much the same basis as they did to conservative ones: looking at clues from their titles and connections.  The conventional wisdom, as I understand it, is this is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Every nonprofit should get the same amount of scrutiny, and using clues is akin to racial profiling.

This is the issue the Republicans made hay out of in the Obama administration, doing several Congressional investigations,  forcing Lois Lerner to retire, and calling for criminal prosecutions.  I didn't spend much time delving into the details, but I still want now to state two positions:
  • if you don't have unlimited resources, it's good bureaucratic strategy to focus your efforts.  That's the theory Obama used in establishing DACA, and it applies for more than just prosecutorial  work. So to me it was perfectly rational for the IRS bureaucrats to devote more attention to groups linked to the Tea Party and to Acorn, than a nonprofit set up to fund local recreational facilities, for example.   I agree it would be bad if the bureaucrats showed a partisan bias, but based on the Politico report it seems they didn't.
  • the problem, as it so often is, is Congress in writing a bad law, made worse by bad decisions in the past.  As I understand it, nonprofits can receive tax-exempt donations only if they're not "political ."  What does "political" mean--Congress didn't give a definition and IRS has in the past permitted "some" activity which would seem to a layman to be political, expanding more recently to be less than 50 percent.   That means IRS has to examine the nonprofit in depth, which requires resources, which gets back to the need to focus their attention.
Seems to me it would be better to  worry about interlocking directorates and size of the effort.  Go after the big boys.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Our Morning Hate

Orwell's 1984 featured a Two-Minute Hate, in which the whole society shared a two-minute spasm of hate of their enemy, every day at the same time.   I guiltily thought of that after a few minutes sharing our opinions of our President with a relative, with whom I chat most days.

(This follows an observation yesterday of a headline on the Washington Times website to the effect that the media was biased against Trump: only 11 percent of coverage was positive.  IMHO that means the coverage is fair; he does okay about a tenth of the time, when he's reading from a teleprompter.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Automated Crop Appraisals?

Crop insurance relies on crop appraisers to sample an acreage of disaster-affected crops and project the reduction in yield which will occur.  It looks as if automated intelligence may be on the way to assist in the job, if not eventually to replace appraisers.  The first crop: cassava.  From Technology Review:
"Some cassava farmers may not be able to tell one plant’s debilitating brown streak from another’s troubling brown leaf spot—but a smartphone-friendly AI can.
Wired reports that researchers have developed a lightweight image-recognition AI that can identify diseases in the cassava plant based on pictures of its leaves. That could be useful, because cassava is one of the most commonly eaten tubers on the planet, but is grown predominantly in developing countries where access to expertise to diagnose unusual crop problems may be limited."

Life Used To Be Better

This can't be dismissed as nostalgia.  Growing up I remember being able to see stars at night, even the Milky Way. Now if you're Kevin Drum you have to travel to Ireland to see it.

Don't know if it's significant but mentions of the Milky Way have declined significantly since the 19th century according to Google Ngrams

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Vietnam on TV and in Iraq and Afghanistan

Have now watched most of the Burns/Novick Vietnam series (missing the first one but I'd just completed the Lagevall book) and the last minutes of the longer episodes.  Had my memory refreshed but didn't learn a lot that was new, given that I'd lived through the period, following the media closely, and ended up in Vietnam for a shortened tour (11 months/11 days).  That's my general take, but I did learn more about the divisions in the North's leadership, i.e, the role of Le Duan.

While I found the range of individual stories and responses on the American and South Vietnamese side to be familiar, the stories from the other side were newer, particularly when critical.

Came close to tears twice, once when an American recounted his first glimpse of women in ao dais
which tracked my reactions when arriving in the early morning at Tan San Nhut airport, once in reaction to the piece on the Vietnam War Memorial. 

I'd say the series missed a couple areas which seem important to me, but which aren't the focus. 

One is the ways in which Vietnamese and American societies started to intermix and separate.  The usual way in which this gets covered is prostitution, with the real blend of the offspring of Americans and Vietnamese.  That got mentioned in the series.  But the blending, the intermixture was more than that.  As soon as Americans arrived, we started hiring help, slowly at first but then more and more.  For example by the time I left in May 67 we had barbers, laundry workers, hootch girls, generator helpers (don't know their exact title, but they helped with the generators), and others which time has erased.  Also mentioned briefly in the series was the black market.  I remember buying my jungle boots (with canvas uppers instead of leather as in the standard issue boots) through the black market--more comfortable than the regular boots but at that time restricted only to combat troops.  In both cases, as in our Afghanistan war, the influx of American money had a great impact on the Vietnamese economy and on the people--some good, some bad.  (Not a new phenomenon--recall the complaints of the Brits in WWII--Yanks were overpaid, over-sexed, and over here.)  

The blending, the intermixture, was accompanied by increasing separation.  When I arrived we were operating generators in compounds in Saigon.  I was then stationed at Long Binh, the main logistical base outside Saigon where we did our best to separate from Vietnamese society--we ended up with aluminum hootches on concrete pads, not the tents we started with.   Think of the "Green Zone"  
in Baghdad.  The logic is understandable: we don't want our soldiers killed so the best way to do that is to isolate them. 

The other point not covered was standard in accounts of the war: the fact that most troops were REMF's, as I was.  Lots to be said about that, but not today. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Grain Surpluses

Illinois farm Policy News reports that 2017 is going to be another year of more grain produced than consumed, the fourth year in a row.
And when focusing on U.S. farmers, the Reuters article explained that, “Even as farmers reap bountiful harvests, U.S. net farm incomes this year will total $63.4 billion – about half of their earnings in 2013, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast.
20 years ago I predicted grain surpluses once the Russians and Ukrainians got going.  So I was right, right, right!  Just didn't realize they'd be so slow about it.

Hugh Hefner and Ayn Rand

New Yorker piece on Hefner. My first memory of Playboy was my freshman year at college.  My roommate had arrived earlier, and had decorated his bookshelf with a recent centerfold.  As a naive rube from upstate NY it was both shocking and intriguing.  Not enough of either for me to ever subscribe to it, but it continued to be a presence in my mental world.

For some reason now I pair Hefner and Ayn Rand, both libertarians.  I was probably more influenced by Hefner than Rand, since his views seemed more mainline than hers.  I don't know if that's a common linkage; googling doesn't seem to bring up that many hits.  Her general influence seems to have persisted more than his, at least intellectually, though his impact on the culture was greater.

Friday, September 29, 2017

War Gaming Disasters

I'm tempted to say the Trump administration is probably getting some undeserved* flak over their reaction to Hurricane Maria.  What I wonder is the extent to which the bureaucracies war game their responses to disaster.  Does FEMA do a war game, do they war game with state agencies, or is the gaming at the DHS/DOD level?  Or how about at the Presidential level?

We know, I think, that the national security establishment has war gamed North Korea.  Has the national disaster establishment war gamed Hurricane Maria, or other emergencies (like an 8.0 earthquake in California, sun flares that zap transmission lines, etc.?

My guess is they haven't, or the war gaming has at best extended one length beyond the worst disaster that's already happened.  In other words, after Katrina hit NOLA, there likely were simulations and games using a 5.0 hurricane, but I'm guessing the simulations of a Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands wipeout haven't happened.

*though the comparison to the response to the Haitian earthquake leads me to qualify my sympathy.  My point, once again, is the Harshaw rule--we haven't had a major hurricane which squarely hit American territory in the Caribbean for years and so, without a war game, the bureaucracy is doing its thing for the first time.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

McArdle on the Trump Tax Plan

Megan McArdle has a good post on the Trump tax plan outline. We would be hit by the loss of state tax deductibility, but that's okay with me, if only they'd reduce the cap on mortgage interest deductions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Change and the Geezer

Was musing over the changes I've seen in my life: used to be only the Catholics did gambling--bingo nights funded them, another proof if one was needed, and it wasn't for my mother, of the wickedness of the Catholic church.

Another change is in cars (have I posted yet on my car-leasing experience?)--still feeling wiped out from yesterday.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Puerto Rico and Disaster III

I suspect when the federal response to Irma and Maria in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is studied by academics, the conclusion will include these points:
  • FEMA's usual disaster response implicitly assumed that the disaster is on the mainland, not on islands.  So its capacity to respond to island disasters was limited.  For example, recognizing that power crews would need their trucks transported to the island.  (To me this is another aspect of a general rule that island life is limited--so some (all?) species tend to grow smaller on islands, etc.)
  • FEMA was able to learn from prior mainland disasters (like Katrina and later ones), partly because of feedback from the affected areas, feedback often routed through federal elected officials--representatives and senators.  For example, after Katrina the agency was changed and Fugate, Obama's head of FEMA, got kudoes from Congress and the press for doing a good job.  But IMHO it's likely the job he did was deficient for PR and VI. 
  • Two problems: the media doesn't pay attention to our Caribbean citizens and their elected representatives don't have the clout that mainland reps do.

Billy Grabarkewitz

I flatter myself as being fairly knowledgeable about baseball, except for the long dead.  So I read this FiveThirtyEight piece on Aaron Judge, the Yankee rookie, with interest.  When I came to the list of outstanding rookie seasons, I was totally stumped by this 1970 rookie.  Turns out he had one good season. 

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".