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:

Approved
Denied
2005
63,402
765
2006
66,262
1,283
2007
68,278
1,607
2008
65,761
1,221
2009
56,943
472
2010
48,934
500
2011
49,677
205
2012
45,029
123
2013
37,946
79
2014
94,365
67
2015
86,915
57
2016
79,545
37

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.