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:
"Summary
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).

Dates

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 jstor.org 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.
 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Igloos Are Parabolic

NYTimes had an article on the vanishing art and science of building an igloo.  It's very interesting--my interest was particularly tweaked by the statement that igloos were not semicircular (or hemispheres) in shape but parabolic.

Why is that?  Google provides the answer:
"The bonded ice crystal structure of sintered snow holds up well under compression; it can bear substantial weight without crumbling. Under tension, however, the same block of snow would easily be torn apart with very little force. For this reason, a cross-section of an igloo more resembles a parabolic arch than a hemisphere" Architecture Week
With a semicircle, the portion of the walls which meet the ground are basically vertical, while the vector of the force from gravity is at an angle to the ground, the two are not aligned and the weight of the snow blocks above pushes out.  With a parabola, the portion of the walls next to the ground are aligned with the force pushing down down.

That paragraph was a struggle--too bad I can't go back to high school math to refresh my comprehension of vectors, etc.  
[Edited title]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Attention Mr. Bezos: Adjuncts and Prison Classes

Bezos has asked for ideas on how to use his money for immediate impact, as opposed to long-range improvements.

I'd suggest funding classes for convicts.  Occasionally there are reports of successful programs of this kind: Bard College is one I've read about.  Seems to me it fits Bexos' criteria: the promise of near instant significant impact and a space where there don't seem to be other philanthropists venturing.

No Nominees for USDA Positions

Mr. Perdue is getting lonely.  See this Post database for status on Trump's progress in filling positions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Security Through Chaos

An Atlantic piece on how our political system is so chaotic there's no way to know how compromised our elections are.

That's the wisdom of our Founding Fathers--by giving us a federal system with elections administered at local and state levels they ensured it would be hard to get an overall view of the system, but it's also hard to subvert the whole system, simply because there isn't one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reducing Prisons

Vox has a piece discussing a proposal to replace prisons with mandatory labor and geolocation--i.e., let the convict work to compensate his victim or society, but with an ankle bracelet.

It appeals to my squishy liberal heart.  However, I note that the Kentucky doctor who bilked Social Security of hundreds of millions of dollars by approving disability claims has now vanished.  He was out on bail with an ankle bracelet, but cut it off and vamoosed.  

That's not to say the proposal is totally impractical, but it could work only by a trade off of the difficulty of removing the bracelet, the likelihood of evading recapture, the gains of freedom, and the consequences of recapture.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Defense of Trump (?)

Lots of people, including my favorite blogger Kevin Drum, poke fun at our president for tweeting about his 50 percent favorable rating in the Rasmussen poll.  I'd like to defend him a bit: part of the reason Rasmussen is an outlier apparently is the different universe it's polling.  Rather than "all voters" or "registered voters" which other pollsters seem to be using, Rasmussen is using "likely voters". I'm guessing they are basing their judgments as to whether a respondent is likely to vote based on whether the person voted in 2016.  In addition, they've tended to have a pro-Republican "house" effect.  So the bottom line is Rasmussen is saying that Trump's voters still believe in him, which isn't exactly news.  The other pollsters are saying that the Clinton voters and non-voters are more and more turning against Trump, which also isn't news.

Saying No to an Illegal Request

Ezra Klein has a piece on Comey and Trump. David Ignatius has another.  The last paragraph:
"Comey’s personal ethical dilemmas are now interwoven with the nation’s political history. It’s the stuff of high drama — the temporizing ethicist meets the amoral bulldozer. The story didn’t have a happy ending for Comey — or, it seems, for the country."

A question, asked by Sen. Feinstein, is why Comey didn't take a stronger stand if he perceived Trump's request as illegitimate, illegal even.  Comey says he wasn't strong enough.

I've sympathy with his quandry.  I remember in the 1990's (1992) receiving a call from a person in my chain of command asking me to donate to the Ranchers and Farmers PAC (Jeffress Wells, now deceased).  This was a violation of the Hatch Act and indeed Wells and two other people were found guilty of a misdemeanor violation for their actions--soliciting political funds using government time and facilities.  But while I refused, I was weak.  I said I had already given to the Dems (which may have been a lie, but I did contribute during that election season).  That gave me sufficient leverage to argue my way out of giving.

So like Comey I didn't stand up and say: "that would be wrong, you're violating the law, etc."  Why not?  For me, I was taken by surprise and I'm rarely very good when I'm surprised.  I didn't have the Hatch Act at the tip of my tongue; indeed I never thought of the law until months/years later when the case hit the papers (and a House subcommittee started investigating). I also tend to be ambivalent with authority, trusting it most of the time and fighting it some of the time. So the emotions of standing up to authority, I'd worked with Jeff for 23 years off and on, didn't like him particularly but still, undermined the ability to go further and take a principled stand rather than just an evasive one.

I don't often remember this story, because it's not one I'm particularly proud of.  When I do remember it, as now, it reminds me to be a bit more sympathetic to others who were faced with an illegal request, but whose response was less than a blast on their whistle.

The rest of the story?  I think Wells may have discussed, rather hinted at, the consequences of not giving, but I can't be sure.  Nor can I be sure that later, after Clinton won and Wells was one of the people given power in the transition over the future organization of ASCS, there was any connection between my refusal and the proposed dissolution of the branch I was heading.  Jeff and I had a couple run-ins in this general time period--I was working closely with the ASCS "trail boss", linked with the Republicans, trying to reengineer our systems and Jeff wanted to kill it--NIH.  Whether the refusing donations preceded that, or not, I don't remember.

The way things came out, Jeff didn't achieve as much power in the new organization as he had hoped and my branch had impressed enough people with their work that we stayed together.  Though I was worried for a good while.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Types of Bureaucrats

World Bank has a piece on types of bureaucrats in developing countries, applying a typology from an old board game.

Players may select one of four lifestyles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages: lifer, over achiever, empire builder, or hustler. To be promoted from level to level, a player will need the required number of promotional prerequisites and that's where the fun comes in. All sorts of things can happen. Players may be demoted. They may be involved in scandals. They may become involved in power plays. They may have to go before a Grievance Committee. A player may even go bankrupt and have to start all over from the bottom again. There is no one sure formula for success. Players will have to stay out of trouble and use all their cunning to succeed.

Interesting Take on the South

Kevin Williamson has been getting more of my attention lately.  Perhaps I'm getting more conservative as I get older?
As recently as the 1960s, much of the South was in effect a Third World country within the borders of the United States, complete with corrupt and ineffective government, poverty, and the associated social pathologies. The economic rise of the South did not make New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, or the Midwest poorer — it made them richer, providing them with new markets and new opportunities for production.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/448630/conservatives-new-party-bill-kristol-republicans-populism-globalism

Friday, June 16, 2017

Proof on the Ground of Global Warming

FiveThirtyEight has a post describing the NOAA and USDA climate maps.  There's differences in data sources and methodology as well as aim, but they do show the gradual movement north of climate zones.

Global warming skeptics like to challenge temperature histories, claiming scientists change the data to fit preconceived ideas.  I view that as highly unlikely, but the most reliable evidence of global warming is: show me the money.  When people spend their money, as in cruises through the Northwest Passage or in changing what plants they raise, that's good solid evidence.

Factoid of the Day: Dutch Ag Exports

The Times has a good piece on how the Dutch combat the sea, and their efforts to sell their expertise across the world to areas threatened by rising oceans.  But the amazing factoid is this:
"The Netherlands exports nearly $100 billion a year in agricultural products, second only to the United States."
Of course, the reason for the ranking is the high value of their exports of horticultural products, like tulips.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Clinton, Jackson, Trump, and Censure

The chattering classes are starting to talk about impeachment.  I've seen the statement that if the Dems take the House in 2018 Trump will be impeached. 

That may well be true, but I see nothing on the current horizon that says he will be convicted by the Senate. Remember the Reps are odds on to retain control of the Senate.  Even if they don't, conviction requires 2/3 of the Senate.  There's no way to convince that many Rep senators.

What should be considered, assuming there's substantial cause, is what the Dems offered the Reps in 1998, and what was actually passed in the case of President Jackson, a resolution of censure.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Irish Farming--Custom and Rentals?

Got a hint that maybe Irish crop farming has a different model than the U.S., or maybe it's just my imagination. 

In the U.S. I imagine that farmers own and rent land, but own equipment.

In Ireland, I'm not sure about the land, and think maybe they do more rental of heavy equipment and/or hire custom harvesters than in the U.S. 

My pictures may be distorted because I'm thinking more of MW corn/soybean than of Great Plains wheat harvesting.

Republicans Impress Me

They got some 20+ people up and at the ballpark by 7 a.m. in order to practice for a charity baseball game?  That impresses me.  Hope Scalise and the others injured recover fully from their wounds.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Google Shows: Self-Induced Abortions Up?

From a Vox interview with a researcher who's studied Google Trends:
I'm pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it's hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion. They're also, I calculate, missing pregnancies in these states that aren't showing up in either abortion or birth rates.
 That's factoid which fits a liberal preconception: pro-lifers are successfully restricting the operation of abortion clinics, so it seems likely good old American self-reliance would combine with the Internet to research how to do it oneself. Fitting a preconception doesn't make it wrong.  Indeed, in this case the availability of a story which fits the data being reported makes me tentatively a believer. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sciences: Geology, Economics

Noah Smith has a post discussing whether economics is a science.  Having taken geology as the "gut" course filling my science requirement albeit some 55 years ago, I'll raise my hand and say if geology is a science then economics is a science.  Geology was then a historical science, with some lab work involved.  I assume the lab work has expanded as knowledge has improved (didn't recognize continental drift back then, or was just starting to), but you've a similar problem, figuring out how the application of scientific generalizations over time has resulted in the current state of affairs.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Clarke's Magic and the Past

Arthur Clarke is famous as a science fiction writer, one prominent in my youth.  He famously wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

That's the third of his three laws. 

I think there's a converse to it.  J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 notes an article on the importance and complexity of wheels in the colonial era.  One of the blogs I follow has posted videos showing someone doing stone age technology; I think this is one of them but I don't remember the source.

Let me play with it: "Any sufficiently out-dated technology seems simple and isn't."

Take the two laws together and modern humans seem advanced and super intelligent.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Laboratories of Democracy: the Case of the US

Justice Brandeis praised states as "laboratories of democracy", considering federalism is a way for states to experiment with different programs and arrangements before we try them on the national level.  Think of how "Romneycare" in Massachusetts served as a test for Obamacare.  Liberals are reconsidering their belief in federalism as they oppose the Trump administration--it's great for California to lead the way on climate change.

I hadn't considered until I read this post at Jstor how the U.S. itself served as a laboratory for democracy, an example for Canada of what not to do as they constructed their government in 1867. Notably, they wanted to avoid the features of federalism which had cost their neighbor to the south over 600,000 dead.  They distrusted the 10th Amendment and the strong president (the dictator Lincoln).

Friday, June 09, 2017

Did Trump Watch "West Wing"?

I ask because Comey quotes him as referring to "that thing".  For me at least, that evokes the West Wing, though when I search this post says it's long been established as a thing, but the Joe Harley comment confirms my memory.

The answer to the question is obviously "no"--if he had he'd understand a bit about how the government operates.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Good and Bad for USDA--ARS

Politico has a piece entitled: "A tour of the government's 'nerd labs': The cutting-edge (and sometimes secret) labs where Washington tries to hatch the future.  ARS (Ag Research Service) is number on the list, after NIST and before DARPA.  That's complimentary.  What isn't so good is the date given for the establishment: 1953.

That's ridiculous; USDA was doing this work back in the 19th century, arguably even before USDA was established.  What they mean, of course, is that the agency was formed under its current name in 1953, but still.

Representing Acres, Not People

President Trump famously passes out maps of the US showing the counties he won and those Clinton won, the result being a very red US. Liberals like me carp that the map represents acres, not the people.  He also is proposing to change the air traffic control system to a nonprofit corporation.   That idea has run into the reservations of senators representing many of the acres shown on his map.  The problem being that the more sparsely settled areas of the country are also more dependent on air traffic (Alaska is perhaps the biggest for small planes).  So the senators fear the impact of this possible change.  And the senators are mostly Republican.

A case of principle (smaller government) conflicting with the real world, IMHO.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Virtues of Hypocrisy

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue"  wrote La Rochefoucauld  (learned something from the bio, I had him pegged as late 18th century, wrong by 100+years).

As shown by its presence as a label, I've written fairly often on hypocrisy.  The political parties are liable to it, as their positions on some issues, particularly procedural and legal, flip-flop with the election results.

There's also hypocrisy in issues like global warming and the Paris Accord.  Both Trump and his critics pretend the accord is more powerful and more binding than it actually is. In a way they've a de facto agreement to misrepresent it.  By portraying it as very important, they can rally their backers to greater and greater efforts to defeat it/defend it as the case may be.

See this Keith Hennessey post for a somewhat similar perspective on Paris:
A surprising dynamic often surrounds QTIPS policy changes—the most passionate supporters and opponents have a common interest in arguing that this particular policy change is enormously important, while downplaying the reality that its direct impact is barely measurable. These mortal opponents have a shared goal of hyping the issue and the battle.
 The key point I'm getting at, and Hennessey also does, is the two sides agree on the same thing.  

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

How We Discriminate, Maybe

NYTimes has a piece on research into how primates/humans recognize faces:

"These dimensions create a mental “face space” in which an infinite number of faces can be recognized. There is probably an average face, or something like it, at the origin, and the brain measures the deviation from this base.
A newly encountered face might lie five units away from the average face in one dimension, seven units in another, and so forth. Each face cell reads the combined vector of about six of these dimensions. The signals from 200 face cells altogether serve to uniquely identify a face."
 I don't understand this fully, not in the sense I understand "2+2 = 4", and the article doesn't go into the idea of an "average face". At least the first page of the Cell report doesn't go into an "average face" either, so I'm sticking my neck out when I write the rest of this post. 

Assume there is an "average face" stored in our memories which serves as the baseline against which the coding of a new face takes place (like the Greenwich Meridian, serving as the starting point). I'd guess there's some innate biology we're born with, but the pump is primed by our early childhood experiences.  So maybe by 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year we have an "average face" pretty well constructed.

Note the implications: we'll find faces more similar to our average face easier to recognize and likely more attractive. ( (It'd be a neat experience to test adults on facial recognition to see if they recognize faces similar to their mothers faster or as more pleasing than others.)   That would account for the common idea that "all X's (insert race or ethnicity of your choice) look alike". 

Now those implications aren't supported by the article or report--there's no implication that there's learning involved in recognizing faces.  The way the biologists did the experiment they weren't likely to see it.  




Monday, June 05, 2017

Cracks in the Facade?

ThinkProgress reports that Kellyanne Conway's husband tweeted in reaction to DJT's morning burst, saying that Trump's tweets might make some people feel better, they won't help with the Supreme Court.

One wonders about his state of mind--why withdraw from a nomination to the Justice Department, then openly criticize your wife's thin-skinned boss?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Jumping the Line

Seems to me that cutting into line is one thing which arouses  a lot of anger. It does with me.  Even in traffice, where I understand the theory of the "zipper merge" leading to smoother flows, I get mad when someone zooms up the right lane and cuts in in front of me.

So guess my reaction to this weak statement:
"“I feel badly that I have the means to jump the line,” he said. “But when you have kids, you jump the line. You just do. If you have the money, would you not spend it for that?”"
That's from a NYTimes article, part of a series on the "velvet rope" economy, by which the writer means a growing tendency for those with wealth to be able to buy advantages. In this case it's on concierge medicine; for fat yearly fees a medical practice will provide on-call service and cover all medical needs, except hospitalization.

I suppose the two cases aren't that comparable.  In the one the guy is gaining a bit of time, and costing me and others behind me a bit.  In the other the injury to the rest of us is harder to see, presumably slightly higher costs and/or long wait times to see a doctor, although a free marketer might argue that the high fees the jumpers pay will eventually lure more people into medicine.

The fact the injury is vague and possibly debatable means a standard test of morality is less obviously applicable.  I mean the Golden Rule--in this case the line jumper sees no "other" to consider.  This leaves me in a confused and peavish mood, lacking a clear villain to oppose, but not satisfied with the outcome.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Balz: Everyone Knew the DNC Sucked

Now he tells us

Strikes me as a big failure of journalism.

Balz starts:
"Of all the reasons Hillary Clinton thinks she lost the 2016 election to President Trump, the least among them was the state of the Democratic National Committee. That it was a mess long before she became a candidate was well known."

I don't remember any Post articles describing the mess.  Yes, from reading the Post you'd know that Obama wasn't doing much with the DNC, and in 2016 there were stories on the chairwoman.  But in 2016 I was sitting fat and happy, knowing that the DNC had a better operation than the RNC.  Not so, despite my regular donations to the DNC.

Aging means the loss of illusions.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Why the Democrats Should Follow the Beatles

This is the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is getting attention in the media.  Listening to the radio I heard the announcer say that three of the Beatles weren't that enthusiastic about it; Paul was the one who liked it.

Why my title?  The lesson here for the Democrats is that you go along to get along, and while the Beatles didn't agree on the record, they reached a consensus decision to go ahead with it.  That sort of give and take is important for any organization, and will be important as the Democrats go forward.

A Gem from the National Review

"It is not unconstitutional to be a fool"

from NR

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two Airborne Command Centers?

This Defenseone piece says the AF wants to replace the Air Force 2 planes and the Doomsday command center planes.

Did any one know the Navy also runs a Doomsday command center plane?  Next thing I'll learn that the Marines and the Army each have their own plane.  After all, they each have their own air force.

Imagining the Future--the Founders

John Fea comments on Sen. Mike Lee's Am history--good read.  Lee wrote that Alexander Hamilton could never have imagined the sort of big government we have today, implying that therefore such government was somehow illegitimate.  Fea points out that neither Hamilton nor the other founders could have imagined the society and economy we have today.  I'll go on to note that while Franklin and Jefferson IIRC wrote about the U.S. filling the continent and the expansion of the populace, as is usually the case they just imagined more of the same: more people, more farmers, etc. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cut My COLA?

If I understand the Trump budget, he would decrease the COLA's (cost of living adjustment) for those in the Civil Service Retirement System (like me) by .5 percent each time.

I can handle that, though I'd rather see a graduated decrease: say .1 for those with smaller annuities, 1.0 for those with larger ones.

Monday, May 29, 2017

All the Farmers Are Above Average?

It's hard to be above average.

USDA Reorganization

You can comment on the proposed reorganization here.

Apparently USDA had problems with some of the comments received, because OFR shows 9 received, but only displays the text for 3.  The process is described here:

This count refers to the total comment/submissions received on this docket, as of 11:59 PM yesterday. Note: Agencies review all submissions, however some agencies may choose to redact, or withhold, certain submissions (or portions thereof) such as those containing private or proprietary information, inappropriate language, or duplicate/near duplicate examples of a mass-mail campaign. This can result in discrepancies between this count and those displayed when conducting searches on the Public Submission document type. For specific information about an agency’s public submission policy, refer to its website or the Federal Register document.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hay and Peas

We've had a rainy May. It's raining again right now.  It's good for our garden peas but I can't help thinking of the farmers trying to get their hay into the barn.  One of the most frustrating parts of dairy farming was encountering a long stretch of rainy weather, particularly back before we had good weather forecasting.  Cut hay, get it rained on, rake it,get it rained on, turn it over, more rain and then you had nothing worth putting in the barn except it needed to get off the field so it wouldn't kill the grass.

How the Bureaucracy Copes

Trump supporters believe there's a "deep state" composed of Democrats in the bureaucracy who will take every opportunity to sabotage the administration by illegal and/or unethical leaks, obstruction, and delay.  It may be so. Sometimes they resign as described in this Grist piece.

However the bureaucracy is also composed of careerists, who want to preserve their careers, remain in their jobs, keep their functions going.  To that end, they may over-conform, as obsequious panderers to what they perceive as the administration's wishes. The Post has an article
describing "re-branding" efforts: "While entire departments are changing their missions under Trump, many of these rebranding efforts reflect a desire to blend in or escape notice, not a change in what officials do day-to-day — at least not yet, according to 19 current and former employees across the government, and nonprofit officials who receive federal funding."

Or, as Mr. Comey did when in the fed law enforcement Oval Office meet and greet, they try to fade into the woodwork and avoid the notice of administration offices  Hope it works better for them than for Comey.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Canadian Dairy and the Effects of Supply Management

This is an interesting piece by a Canadian dairy farmer, which shows how differently that country manages dairy industry.  Canada uses a supply management system, which sounds similar to the system ASCS managed for our tobacco industry until this century.

To me the bottom line is that supply management can work for a number of years, as it did for Canadian dairy and American tobacco and peanuts, if "work" means maintaining smaller producers. It doesn't work if the priority is innovation and efficiency over the long range.

How To Influence Congress: Townhalls

The Congressional Management Foundation has a helpful post.

An Understatement of the Month?

Keith Hennessey (GWB's former economist) is commenting on the Trump budget and apparent disagreements between OMB Mulvaney and Treasury Mnuchin:

"Two trillion dollars is a lot of money..."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ukrainian Skippers--Really??

The operation of the human mind (at least my mind) is a puzzle.  I was reading this NYTimes piece this morning, which describes how richer people can hire boats and skippers to smuggle them into Europe:
"The family of six had paid about $96,000 to travel from Afghanistan to Turkey. The last leg of their journey, a cramped week’s sail through the Aegean and Mediterranean seas aboard a cerulean 15-meter yacht, the Polina, piloted by three Ukrainian skippers, cost $7,000 a head. It dropped them in Sicily in relative style."

What struck me was the "Ukrainian" bit, which was the only nationality of skippers described in the article.  I was sure that the Ukraine was this land-locked country, so how in the world would they have people with expertise in navigating smaller boats?  

The short answer is: the Black Sea.  Ukraine is one of six countries with ports on the Black Sea.

I don't know whether I was confusing Ukraine with Belorussia, which is indeed landlocked, or just had a poor mental image of the map of Eastern Europe.

Factoid: did you know you can sail from the North Sea to the Black Sea (Rhine-Danube canal).

Post Readers Are Knee-Jerk Liberals?

Not so, at least on this evidence.  The background: Christine Fair is an activist who was at an exercise club where she saw Robert Spencer also exercising.  She raised a stink and the club banned Spencer. Today she has a post in the Post defending her actions.  When I checked about 1 pm she had drawn more than 450 comments.  When looking at the comment threads sorted by "likes", the top threads (maybe 5 or 6, didn't bother to scroll down through all of them) were all anti-Fair.

Count me in their camp--as long as Spencer was lifting according to the club rules, he should be left alone.  You want to protest his views, which are terrible, fine, but do it at his office or his speeches, etc.  And even his speeches, I'd follow the recent Notre Dame precedent, attend then walk out, or vocally protest for 10 minutes, then allow him to talk. 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Is Perdue on Board With Trump Budget?

The answer, it appears, is "no", according to this piece on his testimony today to the House appropriations.

Beer in Chinese Tanks Via Erie Canal

Via Northview Diary, here's a newspaper piece on the travels of Chinese beer tanks.

Apparently the US can no longer fabricate the large fermentation tanks needed for an expansion of a brewery, the Genesee brewery in Rochester.  So they were made in China, shipped through the Panama Canal, up to Albany, then on the Erie Canal (where the Northview blogger took photos) to Rochester.  The tow, carrying 2 tanks, is over 400 feet long. In total there are 12 tanks, which will make a lot of beer. 


Drink Genny.  Be a real man.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump Budget for USDA

Tim Mandell at the Rural Blog copies the gist of Chris Clayton's early analysis of the Trump budget--big cuts, including  payment limitations on crop insurance and farm programs.  USDA takes a 20.5 percent cut in discretionary, the biggest of any agency except State.

Dead on arrival and already starting to smell.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Always More Complicated

That's my rule in approaching generations about humans--society or history, at least it's the rule I try to remember.

Lyman Stone has a post here in which he challenges and complicates the story of immigrant groups outearning whites, which Mark Perry of American Enterprise Institute has pushed based on census data.

You need to read it all, if you're at all interested in the subject, but a quick and possibly flawed summary has two points:
  1. "ancestry" and "race" are separate categories and shouldn't be used in the same comparison because of the way the data are collected. 
  2. for many ancestry groups the comparison being made is flawed because it's based on "household income" and there's wide variation in the size of households among the different groups.
Based on some calculations Stone did it seems the best generalization is that immigrant Russians do have an exceptional record in earning, but otherwise it's complicated.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Overstaffed Congress

" "People think Congress has all these resources and staff. In fact Congress hasn't increased its resources since 1974, and the House of Representatives cut its budget by 20 percent since 2011 for each Member office."

From Congressional Management Foundation 

Part of the problem is the (mostly Republican) Congressional desire to be seen as responsible trustees of the taxpayers' dollar. The one thing they can control is the staff and their salaries.  And then they complain about lobbyists and the power of the bureaucracy. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Importance of Height

I speculated to Ross Douthat that height was important, that Comey's 5 inch margin on Trump was significant in his firing.

Sometime later Kathleen Parker agreed with me.

(If he can select people based on looks, he can fire people who make him feel uncomfortable.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Future Is Now: Amphib Warfare

Born before US entry into WWII, I grew up with a lot of military history available.  I didn't like the military when I served, but retain some interest.  Here's an excerpt from a Bloomberg piece on Trump's problems with our new aircraft carrier:
Last week, at Camp Pendleton in California, I watched a Marine landing exercise. First, drones came in to map out what was on shore. Then an amphibious landing vehicle hits the shore, but the first thing off it was a machine-gun-armed robot, not a human. Then the human Marines arrive. But they are being resupplied by drones. One quadricopter drone comes down to drop an MRE. Then, a Marine changes that supply drone into a strike one, by now putting on board it a grenade and flying it off to hit the enemy. Sounds science fiction? Islamic State is doing similar things with jury-rigged drones in Mosul, Iraq, right now.
 Back in the late 19th century the new thing for navies was the torpedo.  So we had torpedo boats intended to launch them.  And then the navies developed "torpedo boat destroyers", to counter torpedo boats, a name then shortened to "destroyers".  The article notes that our new destroyer is now comparable to a heavy cruiser of WWII.

How soon will we have "drone destroyers"--inquiring minds want to know?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Comments on USDA REorganization

An article at Progressive FArmer.

Majority-Minority: Love When I'm Right

Herbert Gans has an op-ed on the prospect for a majority minority nation by 2050.  He doubts it, as did I in this post.


Getting Customer/Client/Citizen Feedback

Sens. Lankford and McCaskill introduced " the bipartisan Federal Agency Customer Experience Act (S.1088), a bill to roll back a federal requirement that makes it difficult for agencies to get feedback from the public concerning their satisfaction with agencies’ customer service."

That's from the press release  but it seems to me the bill does something more and different.  I think I've seen agency websites use a standard web feedback form (from Foresight, or some such company) and I doubt they've cleared such collection of data through OMB.  No doubt the clearance requirements for public data collections are an obstacle, but the more important thing they require is annual publication of the data collected.  Way back in the early days of this blog I think I recommended a similar process, though I was suggesting a running total, like the data Google Analytics gave to bloggers. 

The missing piece though in the Act is something explicitly tying the data back to Congressional oversight--it's fine to collect data but if the bosses (i.e. Congress) don't use it, it's simply an exercise. 

Hattip: FCW

Friday, May 12, 2017

USDA Reorganization

A post here on it at ThinkProgress.

The USDA report to Congress on the proposal.

Basically it would move NRCS, RMA, and FSA under one new Undersecretary, leaving FSA and FS each with their own Undersecretary.

This sentence from the USDA post perhaps hints that there will be more attention to the consolidation/cross-agency work that has been going on over the last 26 years:
Locating FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service under this domestically-oriented undersecretary will provide a simplified one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers, the men and women farming, ranching, and foresting across America.
 The proposal gives more prominence to the FAS and international trade, which is strongly supported by the ag interest groups, which may be enough to overcome concerns among the conservation types over a possible/perceived downgrading of conservation.

We'll see.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cottonseed Again

Illinois extension has a post on the cottonseed issue.  As it says, in greater detail than I have the brain cells to waste on, it's complicated, involving both the base acreage/"generic base" issue and WTO.  From the conclusion:

Much depends on the final details of any Congressional response but cotton farmers are currently receiving significant assistance from the 2014 Farm Bill and adding cottonseed may provide a windfall to them, including one recoupled to cotton planting decisions. Congress, if considering adding cottonseed, may also have to consider further revisions to the 2014 Farm Bill such as precluding payments on generic base acres for any covered commodities planted on them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I May Be Wrong

On the Comey-Russia thing:

I doubt there's much going on between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Most likely the Russians wanted to undermine Clinton and Trump wanted to beat her, but I doubt any real collusion.  People in Trump's campaign might have been more aware of Russian hacking than the general public, but I don't see them colluding.

As for the firing, I'd expect an investigation but the major effect will be a continuing distraction from other issues, no impeachment or anything similar.  Trump had the authority to fire the FBI director, however poorly it was handled.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Habituation II

I've suggested that maybe over time we'll get bored with President Trump.  In that spirit:

"From fiveThirtyEight

10 percent

During President Trump’s first 50 days in office, 62 percent of his tweets got more than 100,000 likes. In the following 51 days, just 10 percent of his tweets passed that benchmark. [Bloomberg]"

Monday, May 08, 2017

Billy Beer and Kushner

"Billy Beer".  That's an American icon, symbolic of the long time problem presidents have had with their relations.  Jimmy Carter's younger brother Billy got himself into trouble several times, most notoriously by endorsing Billy Beer.  Just within my memory, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, all had problems with siblings or children.  Going further back, Lincoln had in-law problems and Adams had children problems.

So all in all I don't take the problem of Jared Kushner's sister pitching EB-5 visas in China too seriously. It's unseemly, but we can't expect saintliness.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

What Happened to Make Some Conservatives Smart?

For some strange reason I'm finding the reasoning of some conservatives much more impressive these days.  People like George Will, Charles Krauthammer in the Post and Kevin Williamson in the National Review actually can write columns with which I agree, or at least engage with.

There was a science fiction story in my younger days, something about a dumb person becoming smart, then reverting.  Flowers for Algernon, that's the story.   Did these conservatives have that operation last fall?  Will they revert back to their unenlightened ways at some time in the future?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Dirty Cows

Seen a couple pictures of dairies recently.  Always interested in them.  Here's a tweet, leading to a Post article on the Canadian dairy flap, but the article doesn't have the tweet's photo.

IMHO the cows shown are dirty.  Since it's a conventional setup and the focus of the article is Wisconsin dairy, and it's only April, my guess is that the cows mostly stay in the barn, as our cows did, and that's why they are dirty.  But our cows would get dirty because they lay down, got their tails in the gutter with the manure, and spread the manure to their flanks and legs.  In the setup shown, the cows are raised up on a platform, so the manure can spread across the lower driveway behind them.  (Likely have a skid-steer small tractor to doze the manure.)

Do I have a point?  Not really.  Given the realities, cows are going to get dirty part of the time. Perhaps for the big dairies where they never get to the pasture they're going to be dirty all the time.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Paragraph of the Day: Mirengoff

At Powerline, Paul ends his commentary on the passage of the 2017 spending bill with this:
Candidate Trump liked to say that under his presidency, he would win so much on behalf of America that we would get tired of winning. As yet, I don’t feel remotely tired.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Big Chickens: Taste and the Globe

Interesting piece in today's Times on chickens.  Scientists are trying to develop a chicken which tastes better and grows more slowly, and also is more active:
Today’s conventional broiler chickens have been bred over the years to produce the most amount of meat in as short a time as possible, reducing a farmer’s costs and increasing profits. In 1935, the average broiler chicken reached the slaughter-ready weight of 2.86 pounds in 98 days, according to the National Chicken Council. Today’s broilers are an average of 6.18 pounds at the time of slaughter, when they are about 47 days old.
 My uncle was a research scientist at the ARS Beltsville MD center, working on nutrition, which adds to my youthful exposure to chickens on the farm.

The food movement faces a conflict here:  on the one hand this fits the current emphasis on moving from "industrial agriculture" to more focus on taste and nature; on the other hand a slow growth chicken means a bigger impact on the environment because it eats more grain over its lifespan.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Trump's Achievement?

Trump will end with at least one undeniable achievement--he is disrupting institutions and norms.  He may and likely will become less disruptive as time goes on, but disruptive he has been.

The economists have a favorite concept for market economies: "creative destruction".  Among the things it means is the corporations and technologies dominant in 1950 are mostly gone by now: United States Steel, Bethlehem Steel, AT&T, Kodak, A&P, Sears and Montgomery Ward, etc. etc.

There's an easy parallel to make: creative disruption.  Is Trump triggering a political realignment?  We'll see.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Difference a Job Makes for Marriage



That's a tweet which I probably could have better incorporated in this post.  Anyhow, the graph shows the marriage rates for whites, Hispanics and blacks, divided between "ever enlisted" and "civilians".  What caught my eye were the rates for enlisted blacks, very much the same as enlisted whites, and enlisted Hispanics, significantly higher than enlisted whites and blacks.  The rates for all enlisteds were significantly above those for civilians.

What I take from this is that secure jobs enable marriages.  I may be wrong, there may be significant differences between the men and women who enlist and those who don't.  But I like the idea that a steady salary leads to marriage.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Habituation in Everything

AP reports a study of interest in Trump's tweets:
"His "FAKE NEWS" tweets don't rocket like they once did. His exclamation points (!) don't excite quite the same old way.
Donald Trump's 140-character volleys helped define the first 100 days of his presidency. But the traction on his medium of choice has slipped a bit as his tone and button-pushing tendencies have cooled."
Psychologists have the concept of "habituation" , meaning our (i.e., animals) response to a repeated stimulus diminishes over time.  We get bored. We look for the next new thing.

Is it too much to hope that process is operating with Trump's tweets, and that declining responses will lead to fewer of them?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Saint Jimmy and Bad Barack

Barack Obama is taking some heat from the left for giving a speech for $400,000.  As usual I've mixed feelings:

On the one hand I wish the Obamas had followed the example of the Carters in sending their daughters to a public DC school.  They didn't.   I also wish the Obamas would follow the example of the Carters in "rarely" giving paid speeches.  They won't.

On the other hand where do you draw the line?  Is a $10,000 fee for a speech at an alumna mater okay while $400,000 would be wrong?  Or is the issue who the speech is to?  We don't want the Obamas talking to "bad" people but it's okay to talk to "good" people?  Won't "bad" people benefit more by listening to them?

On the third hand, I disdained Reagan's speeches in Japan.

My bottom line is while I wish we were a nation of saints, and I wish the president were the highest-paid, best compensated American executive, neither is true, so we live in the world we have.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dirty Jeans

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline repeats and expands on the Nordstrom dirty jeans (for $425), which Sen. Ben Sasse has called the end of the American experiment.
"Nordstrom advertises the jeans this way:
These heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.
Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted that selling dirty jeans signals the end of the American experiment. Mike Rowe describes the dirty jeans as “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic.”

Paul's not a whippersnapper, but Sasse is, so he doesn't know the true end of the American experiment was not selling dirty jeans, but pre-washing jeans, particularly stone-washing, where people paid a premium for jeans with an artificially shortened life. It's been down-hill ever since.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Influence of the Past

Social scientists, usually not historians, are investigating the influence of the past on the present.  More accurately, they're finding correlations between conditions in the past and current conditions.  A couple examples are the beer/wine division of Europe and the influence of past slavery on current political institutions (i.e. the US South).

Here's another in a tweet.--tracing the vote division in France to 12th century political divisions.

It's an interesting subject; I'd like to see something theorizing about the mechanics of such influences.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Learning Who You Are

I blew it.  Had a nice quote, I think from the novelist Zadie Smith, quoting something from I think Salmon Rushdie, to the effect that we learn who we are from our actions. But I lost the citation, by which we can conclude that my identity is partially that of a slapdash reader with poor note-taking skills and worse memory.

Still I'll riff a bit on the idea: 
  •  Identity comes after we act.
  • As I grow old, I discover more things about myself, as I reconsider my memories, including whether they can be trusted.
  • Or maybe it's not "identity" but constructing the narrative of your life, like a childhood puzzle with a bunch of numbered dots on the page, where if you drew lines linking them in order you'd see a picture.
  • Perhaps typically "American", focusing on action, the pragmatism of acting as if you believe, which creates belief.
[Updated: found it at the World Bank, of all places.  Here's the post.  The Bank is actually linking to a Financial Times report.  The text:

“There is a line of Salman Rushdie’s, I think it’s an essay, where he says: our lives teach us who we are.| And I think that’s the case. It’s not that you have a set identity, it’s that by your actions you find out what sort of person you are. And the news is not always…lovely.”  ]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nostalgia: Small Pot Farms, Lesbian Bars, and Segregated Schools

Nostalgia is a seductive emotion, often the result of remembering a past with more niches than today's society/economy, even when the niches result from social barriers, like discrimination and prohibition.  See:

lesbian bars
industrial pot
segregated schools

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rural Life: Improvements

The Rural Blog has a post on seven ways rural life has improved. The items:
  • water service
  • trash service
  • private phone lines
  • paved roads
  • satellite TV
  • Internet
  • Apple, Amazon, Netflix
I agree with the items, though they may not be present in all rural areas.  For example, some roads in the Mid West are reverting to gravel because there's not enough traffic and taxes to support asphalt. And I'm sure pumped wells are still common in many places.


Friday, April 21, 2017

A Tale of Two Lakes

"Syracuse water comes in a gravity-fed line from Skaneateles Lake, a Finger Lake about 30 miles southwest of the city, and is considered by some to be one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S. Miner’s press secretary Alexander Marion notes that newcomers are offered a glass of “Skaneateles on the rocks”—tap water, in other words.
A quick reality check, though: Syracuse is also adjacent to Lake Onondaga, which the New York State Department of Energy and Conservation has named the “most polluted lake in America,” thanks to industrial waste related to the city’s salt-mining history and years of untreated sewage dumping."
From Politico

The article is about an effort in Syracuse to record data on underground utilities, water mains, etc. and use data analysis ("big data") to predict problems and improve the process of maintenance.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blast From Past: Tractor [Cades]

Interesting piece here from FiveThirtyEight, comparing the upcoming science march with other collective action protests, especially the "tractors on the mall" protests.  I remember them well.  This was the time period when I moved from directives to programs, specifically the "normal crop acreage" concept (i.e., a base for the whole farm rather than crop specific, intended to give more flexibility to farmers) and a disaster payments program which was, in effect, competing with crop insurance to see which approach would become the one for the future (crop insurance won over the next 15 years).

It's significant, I think, that the 538 post links to the American Agriculture Movement website; the AAM was the organization behind the tractor cades, but in fact the website is defunct, with nothing updated since 2015. While commodity prices are down and have been down for the last few years, the farmers who are left aren't in as bad shape as they were at the end of the 70's.

[Tweaked the title and fixed the link]