Monday, August 13, 2018

Sometimes I'm Stupid

Although I'm not sure whether it's plain stupidity, impatience, or stress.

As I posted yesterday, I bought a new PC on Saturday, since the old one was giving the blue screen of death.  What I missed, what was stupid, was the fact that the good people at Microsoft had a QR code (like a 2d bar code) associated with the blue screen and error message.  Finally woke up to the fact today.  I had, fortunately, taken a picture of the screen and QR code on Friday, so I did a google search for the image--found it and an explanation of the error code.

Now I'm not sure when I follow up on the error code I'll find a cause which shows I was too hasty in buying the new PC.  But it does make me feel stupid.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

New Computer

Bought a new PC yesterday, as my old desktop was displaying multiple blue screens of death.  The process of setting it up and moving from the old one is familiar, yet a bit different.  In the old days you'd be told about moving files from old to new, because everyone upgraded their PC to the newest and greatest version.  No such instructions these days, perhaps because they know the likely reason for a new purchase is the old PC is dead?  Or perhaps they figure the newbies are not buying desktops, but tablets or laptops or whatever, and the old timers who are stuck in a rut with desktops can figure out what to do.

Friday, August 10, 2018

USDA Reorganization--ERS

Government Executive has a good piece on the USDA announcement of a reorganization of the economics people, including a move of ERS outside of the DC area.  I've no expertise in this area, but when has that kept me from commenting?

My first reaction to the move was negative, but then I read the rationale in the piece: the difficulty of getting professionals to move to the high-cost DC area.  That makes sense to me.  I remember the problems we had back in the 80's and 90's in getting people to move--one reason why we ended up hiring program technicians from county offices under SCOAP.  Single women had less difficulty moving than did married men with families, the usual targets for hiring as program people in DC.

My third reaction is triggered by the discussion in the piece.  Distance in bureaucracy is critical.  The problem in attracting professionals to DC is not limited to ERS or USDA.  Apparently the locality pay differential doesn't work at these levels, and also USDA hasn't gotten the authority to offer bigger money for such positions (like doctors in HHS/NIH or attorneys elsewhere get).

Bureaucrat Gets a Bust

Not many bureaucrats get immortalized in bronze, but Pearlie Reed did. The piece has a reference to his founding the National Association of Professional Black NRCS Employees.  When you search that website it seems that Louis E. Wright may also have been a founder, or maybe "the" founder.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Comparative Advantage in People

The economists have an ancient law which they call "comparative advantage".  Essentially it says a country should do whatever it does best at, even if its best is poor, poorer than other countries.  If countries follow the rule, they'll end up trading goods at the lowest possible price.  For example, American workers are good at assembling stuff, but they're also good at creating Disney films.  Chinese workers are pretty fair at assembling stuff, but they aren't not good at creating Disney films.  So the answer is obvious.

The NYTimes has an op-ed today which (mis)applies, without saying so, the theory to people.  Barbara Oakey notes that academically girls are good at reading and writing, better than boys.  But tests show that girls and boys have roughly equal aptitudes for math.  She argues that girls, finding that they do better than boys at reading/writing will think they're less good at math and so choose to focus on reading/writing and slight their math.  Her answer is to resist this, and to push girls to study math more.

Now Prof. Oakey is more focused on choices before college, not the ultimate choice of occupation. But drawing on the comparative advantage idea, she may be pushing a rock up the hill.  She ignores the psychology on the other side: boys will find themselves outclassed at reading and writing by the girls, so will tend to focus on math. 

[Caveats: all this is very general, phrased in ideal types, not real people.]

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Jimmy Carter Reconsidered I

I'm reading "President Carter: the White House Years" by Stuart Eizenstat, who was Carter's main policy adviser in the White House.  So far about a quarter through.  It's well written, although it could use closer editing--in a couple places there's near repetition of content/points just pages apart.

That's not really important.  The big issue in the early days was energy, which Eizenstat claims Carter changed national energy policy drastically and permanently.  I'm not convinced yet, but I did run across this graph from AEI, which shows a dramatic drop in energy imports spanning 10 years from Carter's term through the end of Reagan's. 

I may post more later on Carter.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Upward Mobility Revisited

Robert Samuelson has a column in the Post on the decline of upward mobility in America.

What's being measured is inflation-adjusted incomes, comparing children and parents.  So the percentages of children who exceed their parents income has declined. A Brookings study tries to parse out which classes and which age cohorts see the change.

A couple of observations strike me:  it's (relatively) easy for poor kids to beat their parents; it's hard for rich kids to beat their parents.  The child of a welfare mother with no job only has to make it into a lasting job while the child of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates will never beat her parents.

The 1940 cohort has the greatest success, so using it as the baseline for comparison skews the results.  People like me profited by the post-war boom, the increase in productivity, which hasn't been matched in later years.

One thing the discussions, particularly Samuelson's, don't approach is a hobbyhorse of mine: in a steady-state economy every person who is upwardly mobile has to be matched by another who is downwardly mobile. That's apparent when, as here, you use inflation-adjusted income as your measure; it's less apparent when you talk about people moving from one level (decile, quartile) to another.

With dollars of income, it's possible for everyone to out earn their parents, provided only that the economy grows enough.  (Think of China, where the income measure means everyone is upwardly mobile.)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

White Anxiety and Spelling Bees, etc.

Usually discussion of white anxiety focuses on growing economic inequality, the decline of the middle class, and the influx of immigrants resulting in a minority-majority country (not that I necessarily agree with these).  But I think there's another source of anxiety which isn't often discussed: white stupidity.

What I mean is whites look around and see that South Asians are dominating the National Spelling Bee (19 of the last 23).  I don't have an article to link to but I believe that students with immigrant backgrounds are also out competing "whites" in what used to be the Westinghouse Science Competition.  The new suit charging Harvard discriminates against Asian students forces "whites" to recognize their grip on claims to superiority in test-taking is slipping away.

To rub salt into "white" dreams of superiority Asian women have dominated the LGPA.

Friday, August 03, 2018

"Milk", by Mark Kurlansky

I got this book from the library, not Amazon, so I wouldn't feel right reviewing it there.  But I think the "critical" reviews on Amazon are  generally on point. 

For someone who grew up on a dairy farm the subject is interesting.  For someone who doesn't cook all the recipes aren't interesting.  The coverage is wide and broad, but not deep.  He tries to cover milk from a variety of species around the world, tossing in recipes every two or three pages.  He wraps up with a brief look at modern US farming.  The book started as a magazine article, and it still retains some of that character.  The author leans somewhat to the side of organic/locavore dairy, finding farms which are trying to find a niche where they can charge high enough prices to stay in business.

But the author is a bit credulous, I think, in accepting some of the claims.  For example, that one Holstein could outproduce 50 Jerseys.  Not possible--the farmer must have been pulling his leg. 

There's also the claim cows stay in the herd until 3 or 4.  Seemed incredible to me--3 means one lactation, which isn't enough to cover the cost of rearing the calf.  I know we had cows in our herd aged 9 or 10, because they were still productive milkers.  Did some superficial googling and found 4 or 5 is a common figure.  Still seems low to me, but then I remembered what we did with our calves: the males went for veal, of course; some of the females we kept and others we sold (depending on whether chance had given us a run of females).  The selling is the key--dad could sell calves because there were other dairies in the region, and his herd was respected.  Today, I'd assume there's no market for female calves, so they all go into the herd. If the cow has two pregnancies, chances are she's borne her replacement.  So the economic calculation for the herd is the cost of rearing the calf until it can be bred and give birth, versus the cow's production over that time.   (I'd also assume because of better breeding the calf has a greater potential than its mother had.)

Thursday, August 02, 2018


The USDA CIO's office has a blog post touting their work towards "dashboards" consolidating access to data across the USDA.

Fedscoop notes in the second phase of the "lighthouse" project:
In this second phase, USDA plans to award contracts across the same five focus areas as Phase I — IT Infrastructure Optimization, Cloud Adoption, Customer Experience, Data Analytics and Contact Center — and an additional contract for support of its program management office.
 The same piece offers this quote:
"While the CoEs address a wide swath of IT modernization at USDA, the White House’s Matt Lira argued in June that what they all have in common is creating a better-functioning government.
“We are ultimately in the business of restoring the public’s faith in these institutions themselves,” Lira said.
I'm a little dubious of these efforts.  I do hope they are collecting metrics.  If I were feeling energetic, I'd file a FOIA request for available metrics of online usage. But then, if I were feeling energetic, I'd have better things to do than nitpick efforts.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Need for Photo ID and Our Assumptions

President Trump last night said you need photo id when you go to the grocery store.  His people have defended the statement two ways: if you're paying by check, you need the id or if you're buying alcohol you need the id.  His opponents find these lame rationalizations--few people pay by check anymore and he didn't mention beer and wine.

As an opponent, I agree. But there's a danger here of accepting and reinforcing the assumption--all Americans go to the supermarket, all Americans have checking accounts, and all Americans live in single-family homes.  All, of course, are false.  Many Americans go to the local grocery, where their family may have shopped for years, and where the owner knows them and needs no id.  Many Americans have no checking account. Many Americans never go to the store, being essentially confined to their homes and dependent on others to buy their groceries for them. And many Americans  live in group settings where food is served. And some Americans live on the street and depend on food kitchens, etc.

[updated: Vann Newkirk at the Atlantic agrees.]

Monday, July 30, 2018

Implementing the Trade War Payments I

Agweb has the announcement of the CCC programs, which include these details (from Jim Wiesemeyer, who was a pain in the neck  back in 1983 during the the implementation of the Payment-in-Kind (PIK) Program).
“USDA says it will take some time to develop the needed rules and regulations for the efforts and there will be a Federal Register notice published,” Wiesemeyer said. “There will be a relatively simple signup —producers will need to tell USDA what their 2018 production is for the crops targeted, and that level of what they actually produced times a payment rate and producers would get a payment based on that formula.”
Specific details for how the program will work, how the program will be implemented and how farmers can sign up for payments have not been announced. According to USDA undersecretary, Greg Ibach, the details will be released closer to Labor Day when USDA plans to fully implement the program.

“Payments are expected to start going to producers in September and will be also dictated by when the producer actually harvests the crops where the direct payments will be made,” Wiesemeyer said. “That would signal most wheat producers would be first up to receive the payments along with pork and dairy producers.”
I suspect there's some parallels with PIK--USDA and FSA have been working on the program for a couple months.  And they'll be working even harder now the announcement is out.  Based on my experience with PIK and other programs, the biggest problem will have been figuring out what decisions need to be made, specifically things like which commodities will be included and the economic logic for computing payment rates. How long do you assume the trade war is going to last is a big one.  Maybe you can compute an impact on prices for the 2018 crops of wheat, corn, soybeans, etc and assume that the trade war will be over in time for the 2019 crop?  But for dairy and pork the exact duration is more important.  Or maybe you set up a continuing program so you can do multiple computations and multiple payments?

Those are policy issues for the big shots in USDA and OMB--I hope Sec. Perdue's policy team is well staffed and works smoothly, much more smoothly than the administration's foreign policy team.

The bureaucratic issues are of more interest to me.  Developing the signup forms and procedures, writing the regulations, and getting OMB clearance on the forms and regulations are big jobs. In 1983 we didn't have all the tools they have now--IIRC Wordperfect was our major tool.  I know for sure we were still printing forms and procedures then. And those had to be shipped to state and county offices and arrive before farmers could sign up for the program.

 My big question on this program is how Trump's EOs on reducing the burden of regulations and the number of regulations will come into play.  I'm sure at the beginning of the year USDA and OMB didn't plan on having at least one brand new regulation, and more likely three new ones, to fit under the Trump rules.  Three new rules would mean having to do away with six old ones.  My cynical take is OMB will waive the rules and no one of any consequence will notice.

I'm also curious how FSA in DC will train the states and counties.  I know they're doing a lot of training online.  In 1983 DC had to train the states and the states would train the counties.  Preparing training materials when issues are still in up in the air is fun.  Getting up in front of 100 state people who are impatient to get going and nervous over the jam they're in is great fun.  The reality though is that "training" is more complicated than simply passing on information and procedures.  In-person training is an opportunity to find out the holes and flaws in what you (the DC specialist) has done.  And it's an opportunity over the long run to build trust--if you promise to get an answer from the big shots and are able to deliver, people trust you more.  And I think that trust ultimately pervades the whole network of people from DC specialist through to the farmer applying for benefits.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Succesion on the Farm

NYTimes has an op-ed on Trump's trade war, focusing on the emptying of the rural landscape.   His example:
A friend, a small-town Iowa banker who specializes in working with farmers, offered a local example. It’s time for Mom and Dad to retire, get off the farm and move to town. Much of the time, if no heir is interested in continuing the operation, the farm is auctioned to the highest bidder.
This time, one son wanted to take over the farm. But there were other children entitled to their share, so the farm went up for auction.
But now they had to compete with larger farm operations. The son “did the best he could,” said my friend, but a big operation “bid it up more than it was worth, some guy from out of town no one knew — probably from one of the big operations up north. The kid didn’t have a chance. It was heartbreaking.”
It's wrenching, but good planning might have saved the day:  the parents establish a legal entity (not a lawyer but likely a corporation of some ilk) in which all the children share equally, with the son who wants to farm an employee/owner.  Over time, if the operation is profitable the son buys out his siblings, assuming they don't want any link to the farm.

A couple things of note:

  • this proposed sequence means converting a "family farm" into a "corporate farm" even though there may not be much change in the day-to-day operation.  Although likely the son who wanted to farm was bearing much of the workload when his parents decided to throw in the towel.
  • the "big operation" is unknown, unspecified.  It could well have been a neighbor who has the greater access to capital than the aspiring son has.  It's logical it's a bigger operation: with everything else equal, the bigger operation will have lower per-acre operating costs than the smaller operation
  • the succession problem is one reason why the median farmer is old.   

Friday, July 27, 2018

Five Out of Six Elections Lost--Learn From the Past

Joe Scarborough had an op-ed in the Post this morning. He wrote "Republicans would win the White House in six of the next seven presidential elections [after 1964]. I don't think the math works: 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, ?? I count it as five out of six elections (which is even better for his point--that the Republicans recovered fast after the Goldwater disaster).

Naturally, being a nitpicker, I leaped on the statement.  But thinking more broadly, I was reminded of the 1972 election and George McGovern.  To me, and others who supported McGovern such as the Clintons, that was a cautionary lesson.  The lesson: the first rule of politics is you have to win the election.  While I've a good deal of sympathy for many of the proposals now being floated by Democrats, I'll always support that rule.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

USDA in a Best Seller?? Maybe in a Movie?

Improbable as it seems, it's possible, not certain but possible, that USDA will be featured in a best selling book available for its bureaucrats to give as Christmas presents to their family members.


Michael Lewis has a new book coming out in October, described in this NY Times piece.
“The Fifth Risk,” which W.W. Norton will publish in October, paints a dire picture of the chaos and mismanagement in the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce during the transition from President Barack Obama to President Trump. Within these seemingly dull, benign bureaucratic systems, Mr. Lewis encountered devoted public servants struggling with understaffed and neglected agencies while confronting potentially catastrophic risks.
Lewis has a good history of hitting the best seller list.   And several of his books have been made into movies ("The Blind Side", "Money Ball").

I've already added it to my Amazon wish list.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thoughts on the Trump Bailout

Apparently the Market Facilitation Program payments will be tied to actual production:

  • I wonder how the program provisions will interact with other farm programs, particularly the crop insurance policies for whole farm revenue?
  • I wonder whether they will apply a payment limitation on the benefits.  Under the legislation authority they're using I don't believe they would have to, but might be criticized if they don't.  I've already seen a query on Twitter about payments to big farmers.
  • On the fraud end, it would seem that cross-referencing insurance production data and MCP data would be necessary.  Fortunately FSA and RMA have ironed out all the differences in their databases so that will be a piece of cake (won't it-- :-)

The Post, Farmers, and the Trump Bailout

Via Tamar Haspel on twitter, the Washington Post has a page asking farmers for their input on the Trump bailout program, including contact information so reporters can follow up.  The approach is new to me.  Worth trying IMHO but while the Post's audience may have expanded and diversified with the impact of the internet, I'm not sure how much attention it will attract.

BTW Haspel is maybe the best Post reporter they've had since Ward Sinclair, which is going back a bit. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ted Williams

I'm old enough to have followed Ted Williams during the end of his career and then when he was manager of the Washington Nationals. I was a Yankee fan, not the Bosox, though my aunt was an avid follower of that team.

Williams was the greatest hitter ever.  Losing 5 years to the military during his best years means his career statistics are only Hall of Fame worthy, not Greatest of All Time. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sport and Video Games

As a followup to my post on the decline of sports in Reston the NYTimes had a piece on "esports" getting together with the IOC.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Haspel on Greenberg's Mistaken Times Op-Ed

Tamar Haspel should be followed by anyone interested in food policy. Here she offers good criticism of a Paul Greenberg op-ed in the Times.

I do want to comment on Greenberg's idea that specialty crops should return to the Midwest from the South and the coast.  The problem I see is that the South and coasts (and Central and South America) have natural advantages for growing fruits and vegetables--specifically their growing seasons are longer and/or opposite to the season in the central U.S.  Transportation, specifically the interstate highway system and air, has obliterated the advantages of growing locally. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Where I'm at on Trump

The Helsinki summit and its aftermath has caused me to change my perceptions of the Trump administration, somewhat.

For background, let me recall Watergate.  I followed the scandal avidly, being a good liberal Democrat.  But given my preference for Murphy's Law as the best first explanation for mishaps in human society, I gave Nixon a lot of slack for a good while.  It was conceivable that Henry II (who will rid me of this tiresome priest vis a vis Becket) was a good historical reference.  In other words, no  top-down plan being executed, but a messy tangled web of interactions.

This general approach was gradually eroded: John Dean's testimony, the tapes, and the revelation of the tape contents.  So now I believe, that while there were messy elements, Nixon was the impetus and responsible for the coverup,  if not certainly for the initial breakin.

Helsinki caused me to remember this progression and to see the parallels with Trump and Russia.  I don't think there's proof of collusion, but I do think Trump set the climate of an unconventional campaign not concerned with past norms.  As an underdog the campaign was willing to do anything that offered promise--witness Donald Jr's reaction to the offer of dirt.

Without tapes and/or witnesses flipping, I don't think there's a case for impeachment, not a case strong enough to be prosecuted.  The Democrats should only pursue that if it's likely the Senate would convict. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thomas Burrell Is Back in the News

Thomas Burrell and his Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association is back in the news. This time the suit is over seeds which didn't perform up to expectations.

I write "back" because he was described, not favorably, in this NYTimes article on the Pigford litigation. An excerpt:
Last October, a court-appointed ombudsman wrote that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had given money to individuals and organizations in the belief that they were reserving the right to file a claim under the second settlement for black farmers, only to learn later that their names had never been forwarded to the authorities. People familiar with that statement said it was directed in part at Thomas Burrell, a charismatic orator and the head of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, based in Memphis.

Mr. Burrell has traveled the South for years, exhorting black audiences in auditoriums and church halls to file discrimination complaints with his organization’s help, in exchange for a $100 annual membership fee.

In an interview last month, Mr. Burrell said he had dedicated his life to helping black farmers after biased federal loan officers deprived him of his land and ruined his credit. He said his organization had misled no one, and had forwarded the names of all those eligible and willing to file claims.

“I have never advocated anybody file a false claim,” he said. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gottlieb Got Milk

Don't say the Trump administration has never done anything for dairy farmers.  His FDA head, Scott Gottlieb, says he'll crack down on "milks" from vegetative sources.

Taking the Bad With the Good

We've been dry for 3-4 weeks, meaning the perennials are browning and the vegetable garden requires watering.

So a storm rolled through an hour ago, causing a power surge which set off a shrill continuous tone and seeming to fry half of my backup power/surge protector bought many years (20?) ago after losing a PC to a power surge. It took flipping all the circuit breakers in the breaker box to finally kill the sound, with the quiet permitting a more considered analysis of what happened.

It's interesting--with the smart phone available, I no longer feel a need for backup power, so my replacement will just be a surge protector.

The dugouts at National park, where the All Star game will be played tonight, are flooded, along with some roads.  But at least we got some water.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Median Farmers Aren't?

Saw an interesting chart today on Twitter, which I was able to find again by using the search function:


What's amazing to me is the disparity between the farm and nonfarm income. The bottom line would seem to be that median farmers get their income from nonfarm sources, so why call them farmers?

(I've some thoughts on the age of farmers which I'll stick in another post.  I think my logic there will somewhat undermine the picture above.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Ups and Downs of Sport

When I moved to Reston in 1976, tennis was big.  There were a number of recreation areas with multiple tennis courts, tennis leagues, and tennis coaches.  That soon declined.  The Southgate area which had 4 courts, converted two to basketball.  I've not noticed anything on the leagues and teaching in recent years and seldom see anyone playing on the one set of courts I pass with some regularity.

Horse riding was a part of the early Reston, but when I arrived the stable was on its last legs.  The building finally collapsed a few years after I arrived, which led to a long fight within Reston Association about whether to rebuild or convert the stable and riding area to other uses.  The other uses finally won, so a parking lot, two basketball courts, and a soccer field went in, a sign of the sports which were popular then.

By the early 2000's construction was booming and so was soccer.  The soccer field, by which I pass on the way to my garden plot, was very busy.  Youth teams, and teams of young men, probably mostly Hispanic immigrants, were were omnipresent on the weekends and I suppose in the evenings.

Then came the recession and the collapse of construction and then the recession of immigration from the area.  First the men's teams were no longer evident, then the youth teams dwindled away.  While in the early years the maintenance people had problems keeping the grass growing, especially in front of the goals, there's no problem now.

As a capper, this trend has been confirmed by the media authority, the NYTimes, in this article

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Guns and Drones and Second Amendment

I wonder, with drones becoming more and more capable and technology advancing on other fronts, how long will it be before we run into some constitutional questions?

For example, the Second Amendment confers the "right to bear arms".  These days that means literally carrying a gun around, and pulling the trigger.  Suppose we get drones with lethal capacity.  Will the person who controls the drone be considered to be "bearing arms"? 

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Arms Race in Robocalls?

My wife and I were being annoyed by robocalls.  Saw something about Nomorobo and signed up for it.  It's free for landlines (which all we needed).  The way it works requires the phone to ring once, but before it can ring again Nomorobo figures out it's a robocall and intercepts it.  So the ring-once is still a bit annoying, but at least you don't have to pause the movie, move the cat out of your lap, and get up to answer the phone, only to find it's robo.

So we've been happy with it; only the occasional call has been getting through.

But this morning two calls got through, one was even masked by seeming to come from someone in our telephone exchange (at least if we still had telephone exchanges).  So I wonder whether the robocall people have started to figure out Nomorobo's algorithms and begun to change  to counter them?

Skewing the Stats--A Greenie Crime

I wrote a letter to the NYTimes on an article in last week's NYTimes magazine:

When I read Brook Larmer’s article: “E-Waste Offers an Economic Opportunity as Well as Toxicity”Image” I was very surprised.  According to the article the US generates 42 pounds of e-waste per person per year.  For our 2-person household, our PC, laptop, cellphones and TV would barely amount to 100 pounds.  We don’t replace those items very often.  Something seemed off.
 So I did a little googling on the UN University site, finding this: “The weight of e-waste generated worldwide in 2016, including used refrigerators, TVs, personal computers and cellphones, was up by 8 percent from 2014, when the previous study into the problem was conducted.”
Turns out UNU defines e-waste as anything that uses electricity, not just electronic gear. (

Including all kitchen appliances, lamps, etc. in “e-waste” certainly gives a bigger headline figure, but are the problems in recycling appliances really the same as in handling cellphones and laptops?
In answer to my question--I don't think so.  Maybe in the future when everything is on the internet, but not now.

I should also note that this isn't peculiarly a failing of the environmentalist movement; everyone and her brother do it.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How Far Ahead Are Democrats Thinking?

There's lots of comments about the impact of Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.  There's also Democratic proposals for what they want to do if and when they are elected in 2020.  I wonder though about  this issue:

Given the decision on Obamacare (this name seems to be fading in favor of ACA--not sure why the change) by SCOTUS, what sort of constitutional basis can the Dems use for future health care legislation?  Can they fix ACA in 2021 by reviving the provisions Trump is killing?  Would such revivals find support in SCOTUS?  There would still be the 5 Justices who supported its legality but on divided opinions.  Would the Dems need to redo ACA to base it more firmly on the authority to tax?  Would they want to?

And how about the next bridge further--legislation to provide Medicare for All?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Who Runs in 2020

My cousin asked me about my opinions on who the Democrats should nominate for 2020.

I found it difficult to answer.  So far there's no one head and shoulders above the crowd.

If I had to choose, maybe Hickenlooper, the Colorado governor, but that's based on almost nothing. My feelings now are somewhat similar to my feelings in 1969-71.  We have a president I can't stand, who's not a likable person.  What the Democrats ended up doing was choosing McGovern, a very fine man, but too easily caricatured as out of the mainstream and Nixon won by a landslide.

That's my fear this time: our dislike of Trump and Republican/Trump positions will be so strong we end up with a candidate who can't win.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Why No Americans in Thai Rescue?

This is (not) serious:  I understand while we had American military--Seals--on the site of the rescue of the Thai soccer team, they didn't go into the cave.

Why not?

Could it be they're too big--Accu-weather said the tightest opening was 15 inches, which is smaller than the 2 feet I'd heard before.  Seems to me likely that Americans would usually be too big to fit through the smaller opening. 

Bottomline: we need more immigrants in the smaller sizes so our military can be ready for any eventuality.

Monday, July 09, 2018

One of the Mysteries of the Economy Is Solved

Economists are moaning about how the U.S. economy isn't increasing in productivity as fast as it used to.

There's an observation, given a name I don't remember at the moment, that increasing productivity in services is difficult: it takes roughly the same number of people and time to perform Beethoven's Emperor piano concerto now as it did 200 years ago.

But some critical areas of the economy are declining in productivity.  Back when I was young one reporter would write one article in a newspaper.  But these days, as described here, on the recent rash of stories on Alan Dershowitz,  it takes two reporters to write an article.  In the good old days, the subject wouldn't have rated one story.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The Importance of SCOTUS

Someone in the Times today wrote to the effect that the importance of Trump's choice for the Supreme Court is beyond calculation.   That's bunk.

The choice is important, but but not that critical.  There was a review in the Times of a book on the Opium War between Britain and China.  The reviewer, Ian Morris, described the writer as believing historical actors were very important, the influence of accident and personal quirks often determining how events turned out.  And that's the way the author told the story of the war.  The reviewer liked the book, but was more in the camp of historical forces.

I probably tend to be in the latter.  A metaphor: society is a big balloon filled with water.  You can shape the balloon, but only within limits.  The same applies to constitutional law and society.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

The Russians Are Coming

Over the last few months I've been mostly absorbed in trying to help my cousin with her forthcoming book, "Dueling Dragons: The Struggle for Ireland 1849-1875".  That work is coming to an end, hence a recent uptick in the words published on this blog.

The lower level of activity has resulted in a decrease in readership.  Never particularly high, it's probably been down by a third or more.  That is, until a couple days ago.  All of  a sudden my daily views have jumped 3-400 percent, all of the increase seeming to come from Russia.

Easy come, easy go, is my motto.

Friday, July 06, 2018

FSA and NAP--Catching Fraud

The Rural Blog has a short piece on this:
Dexter Day Gilbert, who has farms in Alabama and Florida, pleaded guilty recently to submitting false applications under his name and others to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. He submitted 14 false claims of loss between July and November 2016. Court documents say he began submitting the applications in March 2016. He will be sentenced in September.
Digging a bit further, the fraud (almost a million, which I find amazing) may have been in collusion (to use a currently popular term) with an FSA employee.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Liberals Love America, Conservatives Don't

The heading is click bait.

I responded to a Brit Hume tweet, later deleted, about how liberals don't love America.  I'll expand it a bit here:

IMO most liberals, like me, aren't terribly proud of America's past.  We tend to see the dark side, and there is a dark side: the ruin of Native American tribes, slavery, imperial misadventures, etc.

But most liberals, again like me, love America for its future, believing that the "arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice"; the future will redeem the past.  For the Christians among us it's a postmillennial vision, the idea that if Christians do Christ's work on earth, the world will get better and better, leading up to the eventual return of Christ.  (I'm channeling what I think were the beliefs of my minister grandfather and missionary aunt.)

On the other side, conservatives see America as having been a model for the world, the establishment of the government under the Constitution as being the great event in world history.  So they love America for its past, but are concerned about its future, as liberals thoughtlessly destroy the fabric of society which accounted for its greatness.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Do Away with ICE?

I believe it was Noah Smith or Matt Yglesias who asked for a piece on whether we need a federal internal police force focused on immigration.

This is the way I'd analyze it:

Question:  do we want federal laws on immigration or not?

Answer: if we do, then you have to deal with the situation where people violate the laws and are inside the U.S.


  1. Have the laws but don't enforce them (similar to laws on prostitution, speeding, etc.)--not acceptable to public opinion now, though it might work in a less frenetic environment.
  2. Have state and local police enforce the laws--as long as immigrant is a fraught issue probably not a good option because you'd have great variation in enforcement (i.e., sanctuary cities) 
  3. Have the FBI or other existing federal police body enforce the laws.  This would shake things up, but in the long run the causes that ICE may have developed into an organization with a culture and standard operating procedures some, like liberals, find offensive likely would recreate the same problems.  (IMHO, any situation where there's power on one side and no power on the other is very likely to devolve into something bad--"power corrupts, etc."
  4. Reorganize ICE under new authorities and new leadership.  That's what will happen if the Dems win in 2020.

Monday, July 02, 2018

"Impeach Earl Warren"

Just tweeted to Orin Kerr on the impact of the Earl Warren court on American life.

The cry of "Impeach Earl Warren" was likely more widespread in the 1960's than any slogan of more recent years.   It's memories like that which make me think we were more divided then than we are today.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Good News Today: Multiple Myeloma

The NYTimes has column today on good news this week.  I'll add to it:  

Kevin Drum reports on the progress being made on multiple myeloma--the disease he's been fighting for years.  He's hopeful, which is great news for many, but especially for devoted readers of him, which I am.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Bipartisanship in the Senate

Despite the acrimony, in the right circumstances the Senate can pass bills on a bipartisan basis.

They did so this week with the farm bill.  And a Senate committee  passed a bill restructuring the way musicians are paid.

Neither issue is terribly partisan, at least for the Senate.  The right wingers in the House force a split on the issue of work requirements for SNAP, but they finally got a version passed there.   It will be interesting to see how well the two houses work to reconcile differences and pass final legislation.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Socially-Isolated Citizens: Really?

The NYtimes reported that 12 percent of people report using their cellphones in the shower.

The Benefits of Moderates

Who is appointed and confirmed to the Supreme Court is very significant.  My spouse is very concerned.  The senators who seem to be key are Collins and Murkowski on the Republican side, who presumably would not want an appointee certain to overturn Roe.  And on the Democratic side, the WV, ND, MO, and IN senators who might want to polish their non-partisan credentials by voting for a Trump appointee.

Ideologues on both sides want to oust the RINOs and DINOs in their party.  The more they do so (no Jacob Javits or Hugh Scott in today's Republican party) the more power the remaining individuals have. 

It's similar to the maneuvering within the Court itself.  Back in the old days, Sandra Day O'Connor was the swing vote, and Kennedy was just a slightly less conservative than his fellows on the right.  O'Connor retires, promoting Kennedy into the swing position.  Kennedy retires, and the conventional wisdom is that Chief Justice Roberts becomes the swing. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Unions and Marketing Agreements

The Supreme Court struck down the ability of unions to charge fees to non-members for service rendered in representing them to management. 

A couple comments:

  1. FSA in DC became unionized before I retired.  As a manager, it was another pain, another hoop to work through.  But it wasn't really that big of a deal, as I remember it.  My suspicion is that the union has become less effective over the years because of turnover in its members, meaning the original members who pushed to get the vote have retired and/or got tired.  That's the way humans do.  (Might be wrong, particularly as issues like Trump's attitude towards civil servants and more importantly Perdue's proposals for reorganization have come to the fore.)
  2. As I've been distracted by working on a book for a relative I've not read the decision or evern detailed discussion of it.  But, not allowing that to stop me, I'd think the principles of the decision spell trouble for the agricultural marketing order/promotion system.  I'd think the argument is the same: being required to pay fees to a union or promotion fees to a promotion organization is a violation of free speech and free association.
That's not to say I like the fact.  While sometimes I lean libertarian I do think the government can appropriately encourage the formation of groups, like unions and marketing groups.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Chang and Eng or the Bonds of Affection

What's the more appropriate reference for today's political situation?

Is it Change and Eng, the original Siamese twins, forced to accommodate each other by their bond of flesh, or is it Lincoln's "bonds of affection", as he pleaded in his first inaugural address?

IMHO we're stuck with each other, and we just have to get along (with each other).

Monday, June 25, 2018

Chimps Jumping Up and Down

Lots of discussion on social media about Red Hen: pro or con civility. 

Personally I'm pro, partly because I prejudiced against conflict and partly because of a viewpoint Megan McArdle voiced in a series of tweets: the most important thing is to take back the House in 2018 and the presidency in 2020 and everything should be judged by the measure of whether it helps or hurts achieving those goals.  IMHO the current dispute is a distraction.

Drawing back a bit to gain more perspective, I'm reminded of descriptions, perhaps video, of two groups of chimpanzees facing off against each other, each jumping up and down and trying to intimidate the other.  That seems to me to be the underlying dynamic of the current conflict: some on the left like Maxine Waters want to be nasty to all Trump supporters, some on the right claim the mantle of innocence. 

Changing Standards: 10K for Bar Mitzvah

Carolyn Hax does an advice column in the Post, which I read.  (What can I say, I used to read Ann Landers and Dear Abby.)

She answered a letter from someone worrying about the cost of a bar mitzvah.  They'd budgeted $10,000 for it, but the husband's parents wanted to go higher--$40K IIRC.  The in-laws threatened to boycott if they didn't get their way.  Husband told his parents that was their choice.

Hax applauded the answer.

As a (former) country boy I was stunned.  Who is willing to pay $10K for what I understand to be an elaborate birthday party/baptism celebration?  Better to invest the money for college.

Then, I'm a geezer.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Like Marrying Like: Petri and Stromberg

Ms. Petri usually does well in her humor columns, but Saturday's was very good.  Then I see this notice in the NYTimes, explaining the marriage.

In the old days Mr. Stromberg would have married his secretary, who would have been his better half.  Now he marries a columnist, who's still his better half.  I can't complain, since the marriage produces the column, but it's assortative mating.  Unfortunately it reduces social mobility. 

But read Petri's piece.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

How To Forget Occam's Razor: a Conservative Example

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a nice example of logic discussing an Andy McCarthy piece (which I did not read).  He believes the "fix" was in from the beginning for the investigation into the Clinton emails (yes, the conservatives are still digging over that--pretty soon they'll be tying it into the Clinton Filegate  scandal).  His reasoning: Obama said Clinton didn't have any bad intent in using a private email server.  Comey listened to Obama and said the same thing.

That's convincing, isn't it?

But apply Occam's Razor.  Which is simpler:

  1. There was no evidence of evil intent and two men of different political parties came independently to that conclusion.
  2. There was evidence of evil intent, Obama corruptly said there wasn't, Comey ran an investigation using FBI agents, usually considered conservative which was really just for show, made sure he didn't find any smoking gun evidence, and agreed with Obama. 
The second alternative is simpler only if you believe in Clinton's guilt from the beginning.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Improbability of Sustaining Sanctions on North Korea

I'm no expert in this area, but the Post had an article on Kim's visit to China which caused me to think.

Based on our experience with sanctions against various countries: Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc., I draw this lesson:  to some extent imposing sanctions is a moral cascade--there's a triggering event which gets leaders of countries/the ruling class upset and determined that "something must be done".  The answer is imposing sanctions.  Sometimes the sanctions are more for show, rather like arresting a few prostitutes used to be back in the middle of the last century, or cracking down on gambling in a gin joint in Casablanca.  But sometimes the outrage is enough to support strong sanctions, sanctions that hurt.

This seems to have been the result with Iran before the nuclear deal and North Korea after the tests of long range missiles and the hydrogen bomb.  It's hard, however, to sustain outrage.  It's particularly hard when the leaders who imposed the sanctions, Xi and Trump, are making nice with the leader of the sanctioned company.  The sanctions may be in effect still, but the bureaucrats who have the job of enforcing them aren't going to have their hearts in it.  They know there's not going to be calls from the leader's office asking them "what did you do today to make life hard for North Korea."

The analysis of the Singapore summit has been that Trump didn't give Kim anything which couldn't be reversed in the future, except the first meeting with the US president. But that analysis will be wrong if the sanctions are slowly eroding because of the change of attitude at the top,

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Caring for the Past: Cemeteries

The Rural Blog had this post--as rural communities dwindle in population there's less and less support for the institutions of the past.  I've run into this in my own life:  while the churches and cemeteries where my ancestors worshiped and are buried are still active, I can't be sure that's going to be true in another generation.

Personally, I'm going to be cremated.  Because I have no children no one will miss my gravestone.  But the church my Rippey ancestors helped found no longer has enough members to support a minister; it has been combined with another church.  My parents church was already combined with two others when I was growing up.  As the mainline denominations lose members the outlook is grim.

I think there is no answer.  We can't preserve everything from the past, so many churches and cemeteries will gradually disappear, just as the evidence of the ways of life of previous residents of this continent have already disappeared.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Updating Voting Lists--What SCOTUS May Have Missed

The Supreme Court has ruled on the methods Ohio uses to update their voting registers, deleting names if they don't vote  and don't respond to a postcard.  Good liberals are up in arms, wishy washy types like Kevin Drum are blah.

ASCS/FSA had a voting register, essentially a subset of the overall name and address file.  I never knew how well we maintained it, whether the county offices followed through on their instructions.  Basically, they were supposed to, once a year, do a mailing with the request for the postal service to report back any items where the address was wrong.  I don't know how well the postal service did this; I'm a bit suspicious of the quality.  As  far as I know, USPS still has the service though you have to pay a surcharge for the special handling.  As far as I know, Ohio doesn't use the approach nor did it become an issue in the litigation.  Just skimming the news accounts of the Court's decision it seems the debate was over whether it was rational to assume that a voter who failed to return a postcard had changed her address or was just not responsive to postal reminders.

It seems to me there are two aspects to the voting register: one is whether the register has an accurate mailing address; the other is whether the individual citizen is eligible to vote.  And it seems that Ohio and SCOTUS, perhaps many states, are conflating the two, likely because in the old days people didn't move.

Let's start at the beginning:

  1. a person turns 18 and registers to vote, providing whatever proof of identity and age is currently required by the state, whatever proof of "legal residence" (i.e., tying the citizen to a voting precinct) is required, and the current mailing address. Now in most cases the two addresses will be one and the same, but they needn't be.  (Actually, these days the mailing address should be replaced or amplified by email address/smartphone number--it's contact information.)
  2. Now, the manager of the registry can update the mailing address independently of the legal residence.  They can ask the USPS for changes of address, or do as ASCS used to.  
  3. When the person comes into vote, if there's no indication their legal residence has changed (because their mailing address is out-of-date or does not match the residence)  they can vote.  
  4. If there is an indication the legal address may have changed, the manager can go through a process to validate the change.  IMO logically you'd do an online-verification, ensuring the citizen has only the one legal residence recorded and thus can vote only in one precinct.
  5. The only reason to drop the citizen from the voting rolls (other than death) would be if the citizenship is revoked or eligibility to vote is lost due to a criminal conviction or declaration of incompetence.
As it stands for Ohio voters dropped from the rolls, they have to go through the process of re-enrolling, like photo-id.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Emails on Weiners's PC

IIRC when the FBI announced they'd found Clinton emails on Weiner's PC I was doubtful it was important.  Granted, as a Clinton supporter I didn't want there to be any bombshells, but I saw it as something of a parallel to my situation.  With two PC's in a household, it only makes sense for materials from one to be backed up on, or copied over to, the other PC.  As far as I can tell that's how it turned out.

In my mind, that would be a reasonable assumption for any investigator, meaning if staff is short and other investigations press, as with the possibility of collusion with the Russians, it was reasonable to give priority to the Russian angle. Strzok didn't know at the end of September the way Comey would handle the matter.  Under normal rules the reopening of the investigation wouldn't have been announced.  If and when Strzok testifies, I expect that to be his explanation. 

We'll see.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Are We More Divided Than Ever?

There's lots of doom and gloom around these days: democracy is failing; our constitution is obsolete; drastic changes are need; the center is not holding.  We can lose ourselves in pessimism.

I'm thinking back over my impressions of politics over my life:

  • In the Truman administration and early Eisenhower we had all the controversy over communism and corruption, subversion, and demagoguery.  In addition, we had lots of labor strife, with John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, and Harry Bridges prominent.   
  • In the late Eisenhower administration through the Nixon years we had divisions over civil rights.  Killings and demonstrations, "massive resistance", axe handles, ugly hatred and the threat of race war. We had "Impeach Earl Warren".
  • In LBJ and Nixon we had Vietnam, with the Weather Underground and radical terrorists bombing buildings.  
  • We also had Watergate, which some any saw as a coup. And we had Roe v Wade and the associated controversy over abortion.
I'd say two things are different these days:  a loss of confidence in institutions, and Trump's absolute domination of the news.  I doubt there's any day since summer of  2016 in which the name of Trump doesn't appear on the front page of either the Post or the Times.  IMHO we have to get past the Trump administration before we can begin to understand this time.  (Similarly, we couldn't understand Nixon in 1972 and 73.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sometimes You Can't Win: Bureaucracy

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution each day has a page of links. On Wednesday he had two of interest:

1. Has delegation in American government become much worse?
3. What made ARPA work well?

If you don't click, you'd think the answer to 1 is Congress is delegating a lot more to the executive and that is bad.  When you click on 3, you find part of the answer is lots of authority was delegated to ARPA.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Bureaucrat and Politics: Reagan and Me

The DOJ IG report is out.  Pro-Trump partisans see it as helping him; anti-Trump partisans see it as confirming Clinton lost the election due to Comey's announcements.  Both seem to agree that the Strzok-Page emails were beyond the pale, particularly his reassurance to Page that "we'll stop him" meaning stopping Trump from winning the election.  The only evidence he did anything to back up the promise is the idea he didn't work on the Weiner emails issue for a month because he was working on the Russian-collusion investigation.  At least in the discussions I've read there's little detail on this.

In defense of bureaucrats being able to separate personal opinions and professional duties I'll offer a story from the Reagan administration.  I was strongly opposed to Reagan's election, and remained so throughout his 2 terms.  I was in the habit of referring to him as "the senior idiot", and a boss of mine as "the junior idiot".  Although I don't remember saying that to my co-workers, I'm sure most of them knew I wasn't for him.  In ASCS at the time, at least in the program areas one was pretty well identified as Democrat or Republican.  While I steered away from active involvement and wasn't then contributing money, the players within the bureaucracy knew my tendencies.

Anyway, comes fall of 1982 and the Reagan administration decides to implement a legally-questionable multi-billion dollar program to both reduce CCC-owned surpluses and crop acreages without budget expenditures--the program known as Payment-in-Kind.  Because of my background on the administrative side I knew the people who needed to be involved to create the forms and handle the directives and regulations to implement the program.  Because of my experience on the program side I understood most of the complexities of creating the program, writing the regulations and the contract (the contract the OGC lawyers insisted on to provide a legal fig-leaf for the program), and dealing with Kansas City IT players, I was a key player in the implementation (Had a chance to watch Seeley Lodwick, then the Under Secretary ramrod morning coordination meetings, giving me an example of what to do, an example I dearly wish Obama had seen when implementing ACA.).

The bottom line: I and a lot of other bureaucrats did a good job and PIK was implemented.  We did it despite our political leanings, whether pro- or con- Reagan.

I've written before on this question: Trump trusts people working for him to be good soldiers, if not lickspittles, and support his positions even if they're very different than what the workers used to support.  (See Mulvaney, see Bolton.) The same should apply to FBI agents.

Addendum: I admit there's a difference between the FBI behavior I've seen described from articles on the OIG report and mine.  Some of the agents were more open in expressing their opinions to each other than I ever remember being.  That's a bit bothersome.   On the other hand, I'm sure many soldiers and marines involved in our years of recent wars openly voiced their adverse opinions, while still doing their jobs.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Trump as Quintessentially American

Trump has gained attention for his noting to KJU the potential of NK beaches.  While there's derision, it strikes me as quintessentially American.  Perhaps my opinion is swayed by my exposure to the "frontier thesis" of Frederick Jackson Turner which pointed to the impact of "free land" on the development of American society and culture.

Pointing out the parallel--Americans historically have found opportunity existing in new frontiers, first in land, later in new areas of endeavor.  So it's typically American for Trump to see development opportunities in an area which might become newly available to entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Farm Bill In the Senate

DTN reports on the progress of the Senate's version of the farm bill.  And from there you get this:
Censky also said that the Trump administration is continuing the modernization of technology at USDA and that officials hope that all the programs in the 2018 farm bill will be available online.

Farmers will still need to go to county Farm Service Agency offices to sign some papers, but Censky said he hopes farmers will be able to deal with applications and other forms online from home before going to the office. Farmers uncomfortable using a computer will still be able to go to the county office to fill out paperwork, he said.
I note there's a provision requiring use of the same county yields, requiring reconciliation of NASS and crop insurance figures.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

North Korea and the US

If I consider Pres. Kim to be rational, this is what I imagine his ultimate goals/wishes would be, in no particular priority:

  • security guarantees from the US
  • nuclear weapons and missiles
  • peaceful unification of the peninsula under his leadership, being an autocracy like China's Xi
  • economic aid from South Korea and where ever.
For the US, our goals would be:

  • no nukes or missiles
  • no unification or unification under the South's system
  • no proliferation or transfer of nuclear or missile technologies.
I suspect the minimax solution, assuming both sides are rational is trading NK aid and security for verified agreements on nonproliferation, and kicking the unification question down the road.  

It's possible that Trump's clownish antics will provide enough cover and distraction for the US to give up its, and his, proclaimed goals denuclearization. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trump Records Management II

Some more thoughts on the Politico piece describing how Trump tears up documents when he's through with them, requiring employees to tape these official records back together.  (See yesterday's post.)

  1. Who knew our President actually handled any documents--the impression the media gives is he operates in meetings and by tweets?  That's an exaggeration, of course.
  2. Presumably these are briefing papers, not decision memos.
  3. Ann Althouse commented this morning, making one valid point: Scotch tape isn't the right choice for archival materials (which anything seen by POTUS likely would be). Can't say much for the rest of her post.
  4. The employees who spoke to the reporter were likely GS-11 or below in pay grade.  Perhaps they're in the same category as Clinton's Filegate employees--people who usually carry on from one adminstration to the next, but who aren't permanent civil service so don't have the usual job protections.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Records Management in the Trump White House

This is--I lack the words.

The management of official records is a serious business, but one can only laugh.

Import Brains (Continued)

Via Marginal Revolution an article on the amazing success of Nigerian-Americans. 

Some points which occur to me:

  • importing immigrants who succeed is good foreign aid--they tend to return to the country of origin and/or send remittances.
  • I wonder what happens to the children.  There's research, mostly I think on Hispanic immigrants, which show the children as losing the advantages of immigrants and gain the disadvantages of American children (obesity, crime, etc.)
  • such success is complicating the task of American racism in finding support for their stereotypes.
  • I write all this despite having had negative feelings towards African/Caribbean immigrants in FSA some 25 years ago--there were a couple with whom I had some interactions.  It was easy to doubt their ability to contribute when they had no background in US agriculture (though looking back on it I suspect I was being unfair.)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Trump and God Bless America

As an independent-minded liberal, or so I like to think, I must occasionally give our president the benefit of the doubt. One such occasion has arisen.

When he disinvited the Eagles to the White House, his substitute ceremony included "God Bless America".  During the song, Trump seemed not to know all the words, a fact which has attracted attention and some derision.

The Post has an article on the history of the song which is very good.  Its popularity is relatively recent, that is, within my lifetime.

I don't know about Trump, or the rest of you, but the way I learned our patriotic songs was in music class in elementary school.  Anchors Aweigh, etc.  I'm sure I can no longer remember the words to any of them, even our national anthem, in the sense that I could sit down and write out the song.  But, get me standing with a group of people and a band playing and somehow muscle memory takes over and I can produce what stands as singing of the words, good enough for government work anyway. 

But I'm sure "God Bless America" is not a song I learned. I'm aware of it, having heard it enough, but I've no muscle memory to count on.  Now Trump, being younger than I, may have learned the song in his elementary school, may have if he wasn't talking or disrupting the class (on his way to military school).  If so, let's criticize away.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Time to Check


USDA just got $10 million for it, one of three agencies to get the first awards from OMB's Modernization Technology Fund, according to this article.

Personally I wonder about two things:

  1. what is the management and organizational structure supporting the effort?  Dedicated resources or detailed from the agencies? Full-time managers and programmers, or part-time?
  2. what metrics do they have, and how are they fed back into the management structure?   
In other words, how is the bureaucracy organized.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Trump and the Harshaw Rule

My Harshaw Rule says you don't do things right the first time. 

The Trump Administration provides abundant proof of the rule.  Starting with the man at the top, the administration has been filled with people who lack previous background in their posts.  And their various blunders and flouting of ethical standards are the result.  The unprecedented turnover in Trump appointees is an indicator of the strength of the Harshaw rule.

All this means, however, that in the Mueller investigation there will be no conclusion of a "corrupt intent" for the simple reason Trump had no ability to form a coherent intent. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Starbucks and Casual Fridays

One of the big changes in American culture since my youth is clothing.  Back in the day jeans and overalls were working class clothes.  Sailors for example wore jeans and white t-shirts.  Veterans home from the war maybe wore their khaki dress uniforms, or parts thereof, and the style migrated to others. My father, for example, wore overalls and blue work shirts on the farm, while when he headed to Greene for the weekly shopping trip and to pick up cow and chicken feed at the GLF store he would wear khaki, or gray twill styled something like a uniform. And hats.

When I went off to college in '59 my older sister was consulted about proper attire, resulting in a trip to Robert Hall, a now long-defunct clothing chain that might have been just a hair above Sears or Monkey Wards. Sports coats, dress pants and shirts were the uniform, or so I was told.

Meanwhile office workers wore dress clothes, suits and such.  Housewives wore house dresses, while secretaries dressed up.  Bottom line: you could make reasonable guesses about the class of any person by seeing how they dressed.  You could get a confirmation by looking at their car, always American and with distinct steps up the ladder.

Today those distinctions have faded, and I think in most cases have been obliterated.

That brings me to the Philadelphia Starbucks incident where the manager called the cops because two African-American men were waiting there without buying.  My intuition is the situation would never have arisen back in 1958.  Not only did we have no Starbucks, but if we'd had one most African-Americans would likely not have patronized it, out of financial concerns.  But, and I come to my point, hypothetical African-Americans in a 1958 Starbucks would have been well-dressed.  Their clothes would have said to the manager: we abide by your norms and conventions, we're "good Negroes", and don't be concerned.    Because of the fading of signals of social class, there's less certainty today, meaning more tension, and tension, IMHO, triggers racist thoughts and actions.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Tracing the Thread: Connections Via the Internet

There seems to be much debate over the impact of the Internet and the web on society.  Some say we're absorbed in our cellphones and shrinking from face to face interactions.  Some disagree.

A story:

My extended family was small; I had six living first cousins, all of whom were several years older than me.  They lived in distant places, and we didn't have family reunions.   The closest we came in recent years was when two cousins came to my mother's funeral.

Then came the internet and PC's.  A cousin, Marjorie Harshaw Robie, got a hand-me-down PC from her son, and started to get into genealogy, becoming very interested in and familiar with the Harshaw and the Robies.  Through connections she made there, a remote cousin got in touch with her, offering a set of original diaries written by James Harshaw in County Down in the middle of the 19th century.  My cousin got them microfilmed and took them back to Ireland to the Public Records (archives) Office.   Her work with the diaries attracted enough attention that PBS, which was doing a TV series on the Irish in America, did an interview, excerpts of which actually got aired.  My sister, who had been into genealogy before the advent of PC's, noticed and mentioned to me. 

Another few years passed and I looked my cousin up on the Internet and got her email address (this was before Facebook).  We made connections, first through email, then through AOL instant messaging (and now Facebook).   She's now putting the finishing touches on her second book, Dueling Dragons (expect to see more on it here).

Meanwhile, as a retiree I got involved in blogging and in following bloggers.  One of the bloggers I began to follow, probably about 2008, was TaNehisi Coates.  At that time he had one of the best sets of people commenting on his posts, including a number of regulars.   One of the regulars was Andy Hall, who had his own blog: Dead Confederates, a blog which I added to my RSS feed.

On the occasion of Memorial Day, Andy posted about three Civil War veterans, one of whom was George Frank Robie, a Union Medal of Honor winner who's buried in Galveston, Andy's hometown.

Naturally, when I saw the post, I passed the url to my cousin in case he was new to her.  This is real life, not fiction, so George Frank did not turn out to be an ancestor of her husband, but only a relative.

What lessons do I take from this?  I think the Internet does enable, though not force, new connections following existing paths of relationship and interests. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Don't Dial the Dash

One of my pet ideas deals with the need to learn new things and the fact people do so, gradually incorporating what we've learned into a series of layers.  One example: learning to drive.

I remember my long and difficult process of learning to drive (don't ask how many times I flunked the driving test). But gradually I became confident.  Some 60 years later I barely notice how automatic some of my driving processes; I realize with a start that I did something now which would have terrified me years ago.  We don't have children, so there's no one watching me drive who's going to absorb lessons from me, but that happens all around the world.  People often make claims about the virtues or vices of drivers in different areas: "drivers here are aggressive and don't allow people to merge"--that sort of thing. I suspect part of this is people constructing narratives out of thin air, but a little bit might be the unconscious learning passed from parents to children on how to drive.

Another example: dialing the telephone.  Kottke has a training film from the 1920's, training on how to use a dial phone.  It's interesting, but what struck me was the instruction which serves as the title for this post.  We don't think about it now, but when people made the transition from a telephone where you used a crank to ring the bell (remember "Ma Bell") to dialing numbers, they needed to be told the dash wasn't dialed.  That knowledge rapidly sank into the culture, babies absorbing it with their mothers' milk,  No one today needs to be told not to dial the dash. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Still Using Spreadsheets for Budget?

Back in the day, I remember ASCS budgeting was being done, in part at least, by spreadsheets created by Joe Bryan.   Apparently some agencies are still using spreadsheets, at least according to this FCW piece. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Technology to the Rescue?

This Technology Review piece outlines the possibility for technology replacing mass application of herbicides.  Using Moore's law means we can reduce the use of both chemicals and energy.   That should make the food movement happy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why Not Trust Bureaucrats?

Via a twitter mention, I got to this Weekly Standard article reporting on a discussion with the OMB/CPSB director, Mulvaney.  It's interesting, but as sometimes happens I have my own take on part of it.

Mulvaney was challenged about the differences in his actions as OMB director and his outspoken policy preferences in his previous job as a member of the House, like no reform of Social Security and running big deficits.  His response basically is, he's not changed his mind, but as a member of Trump's administrator in his day job he follows directions from his boss.

That's fine.  The sense the article gives is that Mulvaney was open and direct, making a contrast with some other politicians.  So good for Mulvaney.

But what's sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander.  If Republicans want me to respect Mulvaney's stance, they should offer the same respect to bureaucrats in the administration.  If Mulvaney can salute and say "yes, sir", so can career bureaucrats.  Give them competent leadership and you can trust them as much or more than you can trust the political appointees of the administration.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Remembering the Chinese Campaign Finance Scandal

I'm cursed with a memory for politics.  These days I'm remembering the big scandal in the Clinton administration over allegations that Chinese money flowed into the the Clinton and Gore campaigns. It seems to me relevant in today's investigations over possible Russian and other country contributions (both financial and other) to the Trump campaign.  To some extent, the roles are reversed: Republicans then viewed with alarm, Democrats minimized.  The evidence that money originated in China was sufficient to cause some refunds and convict some people.

To a lesser extent the Filegate controversy parallels an issue today: how much separation should there be between the DOJ, specifically the FBI, and the White House.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Rocky Road for the Farm Bill

Apparently two sets of hurdles for the farm bill:

  • one is the fight over the provisions in the bill, most notably the tightened work requirements for SNAP, but also other issues.
  • the other is its status as close to must-pass legislation (it's not really must-pass--Congress could always kick the issue down the road by doing a one-year extension of the current farm bill.  But Congress doesn't have much going on, so the farm bill is the best bet to use for leverage on other issues, like the quest for a vote on immigration legislation.  That's what resulted in today's defeat of the bill.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Partisanship in the Past

Somewhere buried in my memory is an ancient view on partisanship, ancient meaning it dates to the Cold War or the rise of communism.  I think it was Graham Greene who said something like: "I'd rather betray my country than betray a friend."  Or maybe it was E.M.Forster who said "only connect"?

(Turns out it was Forster.)

I write this because in my twitter feed someone whose friend voiced support for President Trump denied the friend--threw him out of the house, maybe.  Quite a contrast of then and now (though I acknowledge Forster's sentiment was an outlier then, and now. )

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why There Was No Collusion

The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that the intel guys were right: Putin ordered his people to hurt Clinton and help Trump.

We know that Donald Jr. at least wanted Russian help.

But the bottom line to me is the Trump campaign was too inept to collude with the Russians in any meaningful way.

Import Brains, Export Ideas

That's my formula to keep America great.

One quote, from AEI:
There is a stunting statistic that I almost always have to give these days since hearing it. If you look at all of the PhDs in the US in the STEM fields, 56 percent were foreign born. So we are able to attract very smart people from abroad, keep them here, and have them work.
Yes, a handful of those brains may spy for their original homeland, more of them will return "home" at some time or the other, but many of the brains will spend their most productive years in the U.S., years in which they do good science, create innovations and innovative enterprises, and generally make the  U.S. better, most importantly by making it a place where others want to come, to learn and maybe work. 

Other things being equal, it's better to export ideas and things, and to import people.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"White" America

An excerpt from a  Vox piece on biracial identity in America:
"Before the election, we found that white people thought he [Obama] was “too black” and black people found him to be “too white.”
Those perceptions shifted significantly after his reelection. Only then did white individuals see Obama as being “white enough” for them and black individuals see him as being “black enough.” This switch suggests people did seem to understand that he was biracial but found it easier to claim him as a racial in-group member once he became a success story."
 The author goes on to say we have difficulty with ambiguity, so like to simplify.

What that means to me is that's one method by which America will remain "white": as members of current "minority" groups become successful, they'll be assimilated into "us". 

The Parable of the Forms

This paper is written by a law professor, so it's directed at legal procedures, but he uses the design and use forms as a way to make his point.   I'd say the logic applies as well to the design of agencies: one reason why we have recurrent efforts to simplify how USDA deals with farmers, and recurrent failures.  The view from on high is much clearer than the view at the grassroots, and the grassroots typically have more staying power. 

Recommended for bureaucrats.

Monday, May 14, 2018

What Are Barns Good For?

Abandoned barns are a fairly common site along I-81 in NY. Smaller farms are going out of business.  The old pattern of using summer pasture and winter hay is ending, so there's no need for a tall barn to store hay.  (I'm guessing today's big operations haul in feed as needed.)   So as one culture fades away leaving behind its unneeded structures, what do we do with barns?  One answer is to tear them down and use the barn siding wood to add a rustic feel to high-end houses.  Another is given here:
It’s wedding season, which means you now have a higher-than-normal chance of spending time in or in the vicinity of a barn. A survey from The Knot, which offers wedding services, reported that 15 percent of couples who got married in 2017 held their reception in a barn, farm or ranch, up from 2 percent in 2009. [

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Value of a Curmudgeon

Bob Somerby is a character.  He writes the Daily Howler, a long lived blog (started last century), critical and skeptical of media.  He was Al Gore's roommate at Harvard, along with Tommy Lee Jones, and taught for some years in a Baltimore school.  His posts are colored by his past, as any regular reader can tell. (The mass media's mistreatment of Gore's candidacy, the failings of young reporters, particularly their math illiteracy, the fact that American education does better than many media reports have it, and the fact that American education fails black students, the willingness of liberals to buy into myths, etc.)  He's long-winded and, an admission, I often skim the first paragraphs and skip the last paragraphs.  But all that said, he's an invaluable corrective who drills down into the depths of an issue.  We could use a couple more like him, as long as they had different bees in their bonnet than he.

A sample--a post on NYC schools points out:
"Good lord! In New York City, a school which is 9 percent white isn't just a "segregated" school; it's intensely segregated, an even worse abomination. 
Meanwhile, a school which is 15 percent white represents the "desegregation" ideal! On such slender distinctions our liberal language now rests."

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kenya and Space

President Trump supposedly doesn't think much of African countries.  He might be surprised, as I was, at the news Kenya has its own satellite in space.

Even more surprising, Kenya's not in the list of the top five African space programs (Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, and Algeria.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Secret of Current Trump Support

To me, it's found in this quote in a New Yorker piece on understanding Trump:
“The truth is, virtually everyone who claims to know what Trump is going to do has been wrong at some point,” one sharp analyst told me. “The best indicator, in my mind, is to go back and read his core campaign pledges and speeches. Those have been far more instructive than anyone in Congress, in the Republican Party, or on his own team.”

FSA Has an Administrator!

Secretary Perdue announced three administrators today, including FSA's Fordyce, formerly SED in Missouri.  It's only 16 months since the inauguration, but who's counting?  I remember Randy Weber was acting Administrator for a number of months after Clinton's inauguration.  I suspect the appointment process is taking longer and longer; someday we'll see an administrator appointed when she has less than 2 years to serve.

(I see the president of NASCOE is also from Missouri, for what it's worth.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mount Will Erupts

Beneath a slightly graying cap of hair, there lurks a sleeping volcano, a volcano named George Will, who erupted this morning in the Washington Post, devastating the VP.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A Veto for the Farm Bill

It's been decades since a President threatened to veto a farm bill--so long that the last time has escaped my memory.  (I'd be pretty sure that Truman may have threatened but I don't believe anyone since Nixon.)

But President Trump is promising a veto to ensure work requirements for SNAP.   This will be interesting.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

They Made It

The Caps beat Pittsburgh last night to reach the conference final.  I wrote yesterday that the losing streak had to end, and it did.  Now we'll see what happens in the finals.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Caps and Brooklyn Dodgers

I'm old enough to remember when the sports jinx haunted the Brooklyn Dodgers.  They'd make it to the World Series nearly as often as the NY Yankees, but always lose.  Gil Hodges, their elite first baseman, wouldn't hit and so was often the goat.  Their motto was "Wait Til Next Year".  That streak lasted until 1955, when Johnny Podres led them over the Yankees in seven games.

I write this because the Washington Capitals, who I sort of follow, have a streak of losing in the playoffs, so they've never made the conference finals.  This may change. This must change.  This will change, but will it be this year?

(Someone has observed, what can't last forever, won't. I think that applies here.)

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Swamp, John McCain and President Carter

Sen. McCain is attracting favorable articles now, for pure and understandable reasons.  After his death, whenever it comes, more commendations will come and slight criticism will be unbecoming.

So let me offer a bit of criticism and context now.

There's been much discussion of "the swamp" in DC and the need to drain it.  Very laudable I'm sure. But I've a vague memory, I think based on Timberg's book, that McCain was a denizen of that swamp for a while.  After his release from the POW camp, and recuperation from his injuries, and before he retired from the Navy and entered electoral politics, he was assigned to the Pentagon as a liaison to the Senate.

Now the Ford and Carter administrations had a project for medium-sized aircraft carriers, conventionally powered and cheaper than the nuclear carriers the Navy and Rickover had been building.   As a naval officer McCain's ultimate commander was President Carter, but his real allegiance was to his bureaucracy, the Navy.  And the Navy, or at least many of the big shots, wanted the biggest and best of everything (pardon my cynicism).  McCain was an effective lobbyist with the Senate for the nuclear carriers, operating against the official policy of the administration.  It was a little reminiscent of the "revolt of the admirals" of 1949, except that McCain and the others were able to achieve their goal with less publicity.

That's how the swamp works, and Sen. McCain was once a swamp dweller.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Wendell Berry Meet Westby Cooperative Creamery

Washington Monthly had a piece on the Westby:
Westby is the exception, not the rule. It’s a holdout from an earlier era when co-ops helped farmers and rural communities keep a much larger share of the nation’s wealth than they do today. Most everywhere else across rural America, the powerful cooperative movement has either faded or, worse, become co-opted by giant monopolies that prey off the very small-scale producers they’re supposed to protect. In that way, they reflect a broader change in the economy. While pretending to represent farmers’ interests, these co-ops in fact dictate prices to farmers just as Amazon dictates prices to book publishers and Walmart to its suppliers. Cooperative Creamery in WI
Wendell Berry writes for the Henry County Local on the recent spate of creameries and distribution channels dropping dairy farmers and includes this:
The person interviewed in these several articles who makes clear and admirable sense is Gary Rock, a dairyman, one of Dean’s terminated, in LaRue County: “He would like to see a base program across the nation that sets production quotas in line with market demands.” He thus sees through the problem to its solution. He is advocating the only solution to the problem of overproduction. Kentuckians don’t have to look far for an example of the necessary solution, for we had it in the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-operative Association. That organization effectively controlled production, maintained fair prices, and gave the same protections to small producers as to large ones. The history of the Burley Association disproves, as its membership conscientiously rejected, the “inevitability” of the destruction of family farms by agribusiness corporations.
Of course Berry is wrong.  Production wasn't controlled by the co-op, but by your faithful USDA/ASCS bureaucracy (operating in conjunction with the co-op).  "Supply management", one term for the sort of program involved, is something Canada still uses for dairy and eggs and maple syrup. We dropped the tobacco and peanut supply management programs after I left, not that there's any relationship. :-)

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Working at USDA Is Injurious to Your Health?

Apparently USDA's South Building, where I used to work, is undergoing lead abatement work.  (Makes sense, given when it was constructed.)  Now employees are reporting health problems and tying it into the (non)availability of telework under Sec. Perdue's new policies.  See this GovExec piece.