Sunday, November 17, 2019

Stefanik and Partisanship

I had a knee-jerk reaction to Rep. Stefanik's actions in the Intelligence Committee hearings on Friday--I immediately followed her 2018 (and 2020) Democratic opponent.

I say it was knee-jerk, because Stefanik is the sort of Republican congressperson I'd like to see elected; that is, the sort I'd like to see the minority composed of.  Over the course of Friday her opponent picked up thousands of Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.

I don't know if we can continue to have a significant centrist representation.  Having said that, the reelection of Gov. Edwards in LA is welcome.  Even though his positions are not mine, he's  the most liberal that the Louisiana voters  will accept

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Laws on the Books Wouldn't Have Stopped It

Kevin Drum blogs against this meme as it relates to guns.  I'd expand the point
By definition, anything that happens wasn't stopped by the laws on the books.  The stock market setting a new record wasn't stopped by laws.  The 16-year old in Santa Clara wasn't stopped by the laws.  Trump wasn't stopped by the laws.

Do we conclude there's problems with our laws?  No, of course not. Most things the laws aren't intended to stop.  In many cases the laws can stop 90 percent of cases but not the last 10.  Needless to say, we never notice the 90 percent.

(There are also laws poorly written so they don't stop some cases and laws poorly enforced or implemented. )

For any specific case, you need to figure out  into which category it falls.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Who Knew: Marine Heat Waves?

Jstor has a short piece on a paper discussing marine heat waves. 

It's disappointing for the layperson because there's no basic explanation--I never thought of such a thing until 2:30pm Nov. 15, 2019.

Turns out NOAA does research into them and there's a whole organization dedicated to them.  From that site:

We know that heatwaves occur in the atmosphere. We are all familiar with these extended periods of excessively hot weather. However, heatwaves can also occur in the ocean and these are known as marine heatwaves, or MHWs. These marine heatwaves, when ocean temperatures are extremely warm for an extended period of time can have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and industries.​ Marine heatwaves can occur in summer or winter - they are defined based on differences with expected temperatures for the location and time of year.
It seems that El Nino is a related phenomenon.  And I assume that since the air and the water are both fluids, you could have some of the same sort of variations in temperature occurring in each.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bring Technology to Baseball

Reports that the Houston Astros have been stealing catcher's signs; normally okay but not using binoculars.  The Post today had a piece on the methods the Nationals used to counter any sign-stealing. Very elaborate, five different sets of signals, methods to specify which signal of a set was the real one, and methods to switch the set being used at any times.  Sort of reminds me of the code-breaking eploits in WWII.

Someone on twitter today asked about favorite football players to watch.  I'm old enough that Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr would have been three of my top choices.  The two quarterbacks called their own plays; no mikes in the helmet for them.  Athletically I'm willing to concede that today's players are much more advanced and make more breath-taking plays, but seeing a veteran quarterback pick a defense apart is great.

But we've lost that with football and its mikes, so why not allow catchers a mike in the pitcher's cap so they can call the signal safely.  Might also speed up the game, since the messaging would be simpler and faster than using multiple sets of signals.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Learning in Naval Shipbuilding

It turns out there's a learning curve for shipbuilding, particularly as seen in going from building the first aircraft carrier with a new design to the second, as well as going from an experienced non-computer literate workforce to a younger, inexperienced but computer-literate workforce. 

The New Face of Farming

Farming is open to anyone with the ability to sustain 7 digit losses  year after year. It's called "lifestyle farming" in this Bloomberg article.

(I remember when IBM had its PC printer operation in Lexington KY (later sold to Lexmark), and farms were being subdivided into 5-acre farmettes, raising questions about handling of tobacco quotas.  Or consider the new money in the UK in the 19th century who bought country estates because of the prestige attached to the land. )

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Time to Put Teeth in Records Acts?

The responses say "yes" but there's no enforcement mechanism.   As it turns out, the Presidential REcords Act refers to amendments to the Federal Records Act, most recently  in 2014 to include electronic records on non-official accounts. Specifically: "The last provision forbids officers and employees of the executive branch from using personal email accounts for government business, unless the employee copies all emails to either the originating officer or employee's government email, or to an official government record system to be recorded and archived"

I'd love to see the Archivist of the US given police authority.  (My ex-bureaucratic persona speaking.)

Monday, November 11, 2019

It's Okay to Call Me "Boomer"

I'm at the age where it's nice to be considered as younger than I am.  So go ahead, say: "ok boomer".

Friday, November 08, 2019

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Parable of the Forms

As an ex-bureaucrat I'm always interested in forms.  Here's the link to an academic paper entitled "The Parable of the Forms". The author is trying, I think, to address some issues of legal procedure by translating them into the language of a university bureaucracy.  I was struck by some parallels in USDA history.

Very briefly, when the New Deal created the farm programs in the 1930's it seems each field crop had its own program and, sometimes, its own bureaucracy.  In addition, there were siloed initiatives for conservation, housing, rural regeneration etc.

Over the years there were a number of reorganizations of these basic elements.  Also, over the years and underway when I came on board was a drive to generalize the crop programs.  When I started we had wheat and feed grains, upland cotton, ELS cotton, producer rice, and farm rice. Over time the programs were changed so by the time I retired we just had "program crops" and "ELS cotton", but then we'd added oilseeds, and a number of other categories.

The paper's author argues there's an ebb and flow to the forms issue, and to his legal issue: sometimes focused on the differences in situations and sometimes on the commonalities.  Perhaps there's a similar dynamic with programs.  Or perhaps I'm full of it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Voting Today: One of the Fears of Some Trump Supporters

My wife and I just got back from voting in VA. Polls seemed busy, although it was a longer ballot than our June primary election so that might have skewed my impression.

Some photos taken from by the exit of the elementary school room (cafeteria) .

[Updated: who knew that Google photos can make a panorama for you without your asking:

The original photos below]


I could have made a pan around the room but that's not something I've learned yet.  I didn't notice the flags around the room at first.  Counted over 30, perhaps more hidden from me in the third picture.  I assume they represent the countries of origin of the students, which explains my reference in tthe title to the fears of Trump supporters.

I suppose in some sense many of the kids have a "dual loyalty".  My ancestors have been in country for 134-300 years or so.  Because I know where they immigrated from I've a bit more interest in Ireland/Ulster/Scotland and Germany than in other countries.  I've also a bit more interest in Vietnam where I served and in China where my aunt and uncle were in the YMCA than in other countries. That interest no doubt can affect my position on issues relating to the countries, as will the much closer ties of the students in this school to their countries.  But the bottomline is they're in the process of assimilating, of absorbing American culture even as the school recognies origins.

BTW, the ballot today had instructions in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnames, and I think Chinese ideograms.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Farm Progreams: Insurance or Social Program?

I've likely written something on this before, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

There are multiple ways, "frameworks", for looking at farm programs:
  • as a social program. In this view payments should go to farmers based on their need, what they have to have to continue farming.
  • as a reform program.  In this view payments should reward farmers for doing "good" things, like sustainable practices, etc.
  • as an insurance program.  In this view payments should be like insurance, where the size of the payment is proportional to the size of the enterprise.  That is, when you buy homeowners insurance, the amount of coverage is tied to the value of the house.  The same when you buy collision/comprehensive coverage for a car.
It's usual, particularly among liberals, to use the first two frameworks. 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Friday, November 01, 2019

Soaking the Rich--What's Triviial, What's Possible

I had an early response to Megan McArdle this morning--without doing a lot of work to reconstruct: she wrote that soaking billionaires as Sen. Warren now proposes as part of her financing of Medicare for All would contribute a "trivial" amount; I responded her definition of "trivial" must be different than mine.  Apparently (because I still don't understand Twitter fully) that became part of a bigger discussion.  Coming back to the exchange this afternoon, the points seem to be that billionaires may have between $2 and $3 trillion in wealth, and taxing them as Warren proposes would produce around 4 percent of the total cost. 

Meanwhile Kevin Drum has done a preliminary analysis of the proposal here.  It's a convenient summary but very preliminary.  Anyhow, over 10 years he shows total costs as $52 trillion, the contribution of a 6 percent tax on billionaires as $1 trillion.  That means a contribution of 2 percent of total, which would, I agree, qualify as "trivial".  (IMO 4 percent is a tad above "trivial".)

I should make it clear I'm as ambivalent about soaking the rich as I am about many things.  I've seen the reservations of many on the right, particularly about the difficulties in collection (bureaucratic efficiency is always a big consideration with me.)  But disregarding those issues, here's how I think of it today:

  • I'm told I can withdraw 4 percent of my savings (TSP, IRA) each year and likely maintain my capital.  Anything over 4 percent is likely to cause to me to exhaust my savings.
  • Based on that, it seems reasonable to hit billionaires with a 4 percent yearly tax--their fortunes wouldn't diminish, on average, and any especially productive or lucky entrepreneurs could increase them.
  • Going over 4 percent is killing the goose--you can be decreasing inequality, which is good IMO, but you need to plan to get an alternative revenue source (or finding savings) for the long run.
My opinions are subject to change, particularly as Drum updates his analysis.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Is the Navy Going Sailor-less?

Is a sailor a sailor if she doesn't sail the seas?
"The Navy in its 2020 budget request asked Congress for the first installment on a $4-billion acquisition of 10 large unmanned surface vessels and nine unmanned submarines. Boeing is developing the robotic submarines, using its 51-feet-long Orca submersible as a starting point."
From this article, via Lawyers, Guns & money.

Interesting that Boeing is involved--an example of how new technology can disrupt established patterns?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Bad Old Days--My Dead Cousins

I was the youngest of 8 first cousins, 2 children in my family, my paternal uncle had 2 children, one maternal aunt had one child, the other had 3 

Those figures are what I was aware of.  But in fact there were 3 first cousins who died young, 2 as babies and 1 at age 7.

My point: if I rely only on my personal experience life in the US looked good and safe, but that's misleading because I don't see my whole cohort, just the survivors.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Second-Generation Migrants Do Well

NYTimes reports on a study comparing the economic status of second-generation immigrants--the children of immigrants--to the child of comparable native Americans. Almost without exception the second generation from whatever country does better than the natives.

The study suggests that the difference relates to where the sons lived--living in urban and growing areas was an advantage over living in rural and stagnant areas.  That makes some sense, although as I comment, there's a big range in the results; I'd suspect a range too great to be explained only by location.

What's not emphasized in the article is the fact that immigrants are able to advance, better than natives.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Unpopulated United States

When we go up to Rhinebeck, NY for the Sheep and Wool Festival, we usually take US15 to Harrisburg and either I-78 or I-81/84 to I-87.  Either way, but particularly the latter, leads through sparsely populated areas, but even the more populated areas don't seem particularly densely settled.  

According to this site some of the counties have less than 100 people per square mile.  Reminds me of James Carville's crack about Pennsylvania being Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. 

You can guess that all those sparsely settled counties vote Republican, then and now. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The End of the Clerk-Typist?

OPM is proposing to end job classifications where there are fewer than 25 occupants across the Federal government.  One of the occupations is "clerk-typist"!!

Once clerk-typist was a very common job--when I joined ASCS there were 2 or 3 in the Directives Branch.  Typically people would move to a secretarial position or a more specific position after they'd acquired some experience in the office.  Clerk-typist was an entry position, basically requiring you to pass a typing test.  IIRC 40 words per minute with minimal errors.

Duuring the early 70's there was a Work-Study program. Much is fuzzy here; I don't remember what the program objective was--"diversity" as we'd say today, perhaps, or maybe just opening a new way to recruit clerical employees.  And I'm not sure of the details at this remove--I think high school students, perhaps seniors, spent time on the job during the school year and particularly during the summer.  As I recall we had two students from DC, who happened to be dating, I think.  Both were good and we were short-handed so we wanted to make them both permanent, but to do so they needed to pass the typing test for the clerk-typist position.  Not to be sexist but of course the woman qualified easily, while the man had problems.  With the help mainly of the management technician in the office he took and retook the typing test until he finally passed, to the pleasure of his new co-workers.

They married a couple years later.  Over the years they advanced within ASCS, ending as professionals.

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves

That's the title of Jaon DEParle's new book.  It's an interesting read--DeParle moves between the saga of an extended Filopino family's travels and travails in working in the Middle East, in America, and on crruise ships, all the time sending remittances home to support and boost the living standards of those left behind, and a more abstract description of patterns of emigrant workers and migration since the 1965 changes in US immigration laws. 

Points stood out to me, as new and unexpected:

  1. the importance of the family network, emigrants providing money to those left behind, who in turn provide care for the children of those emigrant workers, possibly becoming closer to the child than their natural parent
  2. the significance of cellphone technology in vanquishing distance and maintaining family ties., 
  3. The variety of experiences, working all hours, getting involved in scams and means of making money on the side, or illegally, getting exploited by middle men and losing money through ill-advised expenditures (country rubes fleeced city slickers(.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Proud To Be "Human Scum"

My cousin identifies as a Republican, though she's recently voted mostly Democratic.  But she appreciates President Trump's calling his Republican critics "human scum". She's planning a t-shirt with that motto to fluaunt that honor to the world.

I don't qualify for it--rather like Americans can't really be knighted by the Queen, I'm left standing by the side, envious.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Updating Voter Lists

This article described the open process being used in Ohio.  They proposed to purge 235,000 inactive voters, but found that 20 percent should not have been purged.

They used an open process-generating a list, then making it public so interested groups could find errors.

Although liberals tend to be suspicious of these exercises, I had enough experience with maintaining name and address lists to be open to it.  These days bytes are cheap, and computers fast, so there's less need to keep the list clean and purged of old data.  But a clean list is still good:

  1. although the process of checking voter id against the list may be automated, as it is in Fairfax county, there will be times when a human has to get involved. When that happens the cleaner the better, so there's less likelihood of confusion and mistakes.
  2. although fraud--impersonating a voter--is vanishingly rare it can happen, and having dead people on the voter list is one vulnerability.
In my ideal bureaucrat's world, there would be a master register for all residents, so checking could be automated.  But that's never going to happen in the U.S., so this open process seems to me to be the nezt best thing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

It's All in the Spin: We Want Pence

One of the attacks the Republicans are using against the impeachment inquiries in the House is that it's an attempted coup, overthrowing an election.

Sounds good, so we Democrats need a counter:

Bottom line: we aren't trying to oust President Trump.  We have the highest regard for his abilities as an entertainer and businessman and would like to see him devote his great energy and supreme intellect to those pursuits.  It's a win-win, because a President Pence would continue to nominate conservative judges and make a great looking president, while Donald Trump could organize and create an entertainment/news network to take the flag which Fox News is in the process of dropping.

People who forecast the outcomes of elections say the Republicans should be favored to win in 2020 based on peace and prosperity, so there's no downside for Republicans in impeaching the President.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Contract Farming Versus Supply Management

Part of the logic of contract farming, as I understand it, is providing more stability to the industry.

That might be questioned, given a 30 percent drop in egg prices.

Contract farming means the farmer in the hen house doesn't determine how many hens to raise.  She forgoes the possibility of good egg prices and hefty profits for hopefully a more certain profit (assuming disease can be avoided etc.).  The company doing the contracting makes the decision to increase or decrease production. Because the company only has to track what the other companies are doing, a much easier job than reading the minds of thousands of small growers, the company can make better decisions.

What happened to the theory?  Cage-free eggs seems to be the answer.  As producers increase production of cage-free eggs, both because of state regulations and the premium prices for such eggs, they misjudged the effect on demand for eggs from caged hens, and didn't decrease production enough.  The article doesn't say, but I'd guess the contracts the companies had with their growers limited their ability to cut production quickly.  After all the farmers have a capital investment in their hen houses and their cages which they planned to amortize over the lifetime of the buildings and equipment.

I don't know how possible it would be for a cage grower to convert to cage-free operation.  If the change is simply providing more cage space per hen, the conversion might be doable, although the grower would need to add building(s) to maintain the same level of production. Going to entirely cage free would be harder.  And free-range would be even harder.

Canada has a supply management program for poultry and dairy.  I assume that Canadians are as intrested in cage-free egss as Americans, so it will be interesting to see if their plan will work better in handling the changes than our markets do.

Monday, October 14, 2019

On Columbus and Italians

Josh Marshall has thoughts on Columbus/

I'm old enough to remember when WASP's looked dubiously on Catholics (specifically and especially my mother)--they were subject to the rule of the pope, so weren't fully loyal to the US (somewhat as some even today see Jews and Israel), they were relatively recent immigrants and not fully Americanized. 

One Italian-American in my school for a while--don't remember whether Joe was set back or grade or whether  he was a grade ahead.--he didn't graduate with us I know that.  Pretty good athlete and ran with the jocks. Got teased about being a "wop".  At least in memory it was mostly teasing, as we had nicknames for others: "crotch", "piggy", and "spook" were others I remember.  The last one wasn't racial--he was very pale. 

Italian-Americans were climbing the ladder--Senator John Pastore was prominent as the first senator.

In memory at least JFK's election ended most that that prejudice--the Italians were honorary Irish by virtue of being Catholic, so when he won all the recent immigrant groups won.  ("Recent" referring to 30 years before).

Also on immigration--two of the three economics Nobelists announced today are immigrants, which isn't unusual--see this from 2017.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Top 25 Vertical Farms?

Here's a listing of the top 25 vertical farms, although it appears some are equipment providers for aeroponic or hydroponic setups.  There's some mention of LED's, particularly for marijuana. (Indoor farming of marijuana seems to make sense based on what's desirable for the plants, not just because it's easier to hide the plants from law enforcement.)  Mostly these farms are growing greens and herbs.

When I first blogged on vertical farms it was to mock the idea of sun-based vertical farms. That idea seems to have died a natural death; artificial lights are used, changing the economics.  The linked article talks of the possibility of a multi-billion dollar industry by 2022 or so.  Personally I expect there's a fair amount of froth and hype in its current state--at some point the market will sort out which designs and sets of technology can make money in which cities.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Contract Farming for Strawberries?

Contract farming made an early appearance with hens, putting the small farms like my mother's out of business.  It's spread to more and more areas of agriculture, but I wasn't aware that strawberries are now included.   See this Civil Eats story.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Trump's MFP Leads to WTO Violation?

That's the Congressional Research Service's tentative conclusion--US may be billions over its "amber box" limit in 2019.. Its conclusion:
According to the scenarios developed in this analysis, including a projected set of market conditions, the United States may potentially exceed its cumulative amber box spending limit of $19.1 billion in 2019. Excessive amber box payments in 2019 could result from the addition of large MFP payments to the traditional decoupled revenue support programs ARC and PLC.
However, this analysis found that U.S. compliance with WTO amber box spending limits was very sensitive to a change in market conditions and market valuations. Noncompliance hinges on many key market factors that are currently unknown but would have to occur in such a manner as to broadly depress commodity prices through the 2019 marketing year (which extends through August 31, 2020, for corn and soybeans). Another crucial uncertainty is how the U.S.-China trade dispute—with its deleterious effects on U.S. agricultural markets—will evolve.51 Resolution of the U.S.-China trade dispute and an improved demand outlook could lead to higher commodity prices and output values while lowering payments under countercyclical farm programs such as MAL, PLC, and ARC. Such a turn of events could help facilitate U.S. compliance with its WTO spending limits.

Count Me a Pollyanna

I know President Trump has support for his China policy from many Democratic politicians and in academia and the chattering classes.  The conventional wisdom today seems to be we need to be tough on China on intellectual property issues and other non-tariff issues.  That's not an endorsement of Trump's specific decisions on tariffs.

I may be naive, I think in the long run, maybe the long long run, that policy is ill-advised.  That feeling isn't based on much knowledge, but these are pointers:

  • Theft of intellectual property might be bad, but it seems also true that it's not always easy to exploit stolen ideas.  Ideas rely on a network, a specific environment for their implementation and and further development.
  • "theft" of ideas is applying a concept which applies to personal or real property to intellectual things.  Another way to look at it is that the "theft" means additional minds working on scientific and technical issues, coming up with new property which, if shared with the world, can help all of us.
  • In the bad old days of the cold war it was reasonable to worry about theft of weapons designs. These days there's no country with an ideology of world domination.
  • We used to dream of the US as a model for the world (see the Gettysburg Address).  We're losing that dream.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Note on Marijuana

Among the things I didn't know about marijuana is that it needs a Mediterranean type of climate--hot and dry and sunny, not the sort of climate we have in the East.  This Post story informed me.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

How To Do Big IT Projects

FCW has a post on how to do big IT projects, referring back to a study of 5 years ago.    There are four keys listed, but I can boil it down to one:
  • Get the right bigshot personally involved from start to finish and be sure she has skin in the game, as in will lose her job if the project fails.
Early on I was involved in a project to bring computers to county administrative actions (payroll and related services).  The big shot then was the deputy administrator, management (Felber) who brought people together from DASCO and DAM to do the project.

In the middle of my career I was involved with implementing the Payment-in-Kind program in 1983.  The big shot then was Seeley Lodwick, who was the Under Secretary (following service in a previous administration as exec assistant to the Administrator, ASCS)  He pulled together lawyers and program people and kept on us until it was off the ground.  

By contrast other projects failed because either they lacked bigshot involvement and/or the bigshots moved on with a change of administration.

The Obama administration did one thing right--put Biden in charge of the stimulus package implementation and one thing wrong--ineffective leadership in rollout of Obamacare.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Hemp and Tobacco (and Taxis) III

Reverting back to tobacco, in contrast to the article quoted in my first quote, there was at least some evidence that the benefits of the tobacco allotment/quota programs eventually benefited the owners of the quotas more than the actual farmers.  This article from the 1981 Washington Post discusses the issue, tied to the fact that Sen. Helms, a man for whom I had about as little respect as possible, was pushing the tobacco program while his wife was an owner of tobacco quota.

Note: IIRC over the years, maybe in the 1990's, the law was changed so that absentee owners of quota had to either sell the quota or become more actively engaged in farming.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Hemp and Tobacco (and Taxis) II

I never did get to the "taxis" part of my post yesterday.

The NYTimes yesterday had a piece on how New Yorkers had made inroads on the Chicago taxi industry.

To recapitulate the Times' previous articles on taxis in NYC:

  • to operate a cab you need a medallion, issued by the city.  IMO medallions are a way to limit entry, by restricting entry you're able to manage the prices/rates charged and limit turmoil.  That's very similar to supply management for tobacco in the US and dairy and eggs in Canada; also it's similar to the marketing co-ops for things like cranberries
  • NYC had a bidding war for the medallions,  which savvy investors used to manipulate prices and make exploitative loans to individual drivers hoping to gain an asset for their retirement..  With Uber and Lyft hitting, medallion prices have plunged, and drivers are unable to repay the loans, forcing them into bankruptcy.
  • in yesterday's article the same pattern was followed in Chicago by wised-up guys from NYC.
I've noted the parallel with agricultural supply management already.  While the medallion program likely worked reasonably well for many years, as did the tobacco program, with time smart people with money found a way to exploit the rules and make money, gaining their returns at the expense of those with fewer smarts and/or less money.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Hemp and Tobacco (and Taxis)

The Atlantic has an article using a history of the tobacco program to talk about hemp.

The history is accurate enough.  The professor points out that tobacco quotas were initially based on past tobacco production, so they tended to provide existing tobacco farmers with a guaranteed annual income (disregarding weather and similar hazards) for years.  That stabilized the regional economies.  When the program was ended there was immediate upheaval and consolidation of farms. By locking out new farmers (she doesn't note the limited provision for new farmers in the program, though the amount of quota available each year was small) it meant black and white sharecroppers lost a chance for upward mobility.

Her argument thus becomes:
"Instead of charging would-be cannabis growers for the privilege of growing, states should award licenses to a larger number of applicants from communities that have been hit hard by the War on Drugs. Much as small-scale tobacco farms anchored entire communities across the Southeast, cannabis cultivation on a human scale, rather than a corporate one, can build wealth within communities of color where opportunities to amass property have been denied—frequently at the hands of the government.
 The argument seems good, but as I've argued in other posts, the growing of hemp in the new world of legal pot (and industrial hemp) is subject to many hazards, even for experienced farmers trying to add a new crop to their operation.  If the argument was that people who had been growing illegal pot should be given licenses to grow it legally, I'd have fewer concerns.  But asking people from the inner city to grow hemp would be stupid. You'd have to have a new hemp producer program to offer financing, help gain access to land, and provide mentoring. ( I don't know the failure rate for new farmers of conventional crops, but I suspect itt's high.) That's not happening.

In the absence of such a program what would likely happen?  As in programs reserving government contracts for minority and female owned companies--you use a figurehead with the right attributes, while the real money goes to the men behind the curtain.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Hemp Problems Again and FSA/NASS?

The Rural Blog has this post.

I wonder if NASS and FSA are now taking acreage reports for hemp. A claim of more than a half million acres licensed for hemp means it's one of the mid-major crops.

And has it been added to the NAP list of crops?

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Interesting Questions on Foreign Investigations

When should an American official at any level suggest/request a foreign government investigate an American citizen?

I think the first question you have to answer is, what is the purpose of the investigation?  Is it because the official believes the citizen violated the laws of the foreign country?  Do we assume the country's judicial system is fair?  What is the US interest in seeing the citizen investigated and possibly convicted of a crime (or suffer civil penalties)?

Another set of questions around "investigate".  Is it okay for an American official to give incriminating information to a foreign government if the government is unaware of any offense?  What is the US interest is seeing the crime investigated?

How about trades of information--an intelligence operative trades info on citizen A for info on foreign citizen B?

How about cases where a crime/offense perhaps has crossed jurisdictional lines, so the start of an investigation in the foreign country might start dominoes toppling and permit an investigation in the US?

Without delving further into the issues, it seems to me possible circumstances in some cases could justify a request or a passing of information.  But, none of those would apply as I understand it in the case of Ukraine and the Bidens.

[update--addendum: I think the propoer course is to refer any suspicions to DOJ for an FBI investigation and possible grand jury.  If there's no offense under US laws but might be under foreign law, passing information from the FBI to the foreign country is possible.]

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Supply Management in Our Future?

There's a discussion of "supply management" in this twitter thread:

Canada has had supply management.  

The Farm Bureau didn't like the idea of a government program in the spring.

Here's a more recent article on it.

My own thoughts are:

  • I think supply management would slow the exit of farmers (perhaps fewer bankruptcies and more sell-offs when retiring) but aren't a magic bullet. There's value in slowing the exits, both in impact on the farmers and their communities and perhaps in allowing more time to find niche alerantives to the commodity milk market.
  • I'm not sure why alternative "milks" have gained so much market share--price or perceived health benefits or animal welfare concerns  If it's price, supply management would shift demand out of milk.. At least it improve the outlook for those alternatives.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Perdue on Small Farms

This Post article reports that Secretary Perdue said" Tuesday during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model."

I don't disagree with his point, at least as far as dairy farms producing for the commodity market, as opposed to niche raw milk/cheese production, but it strikes me as similar to Hillary Clinton's  comments about putting coal miners out of work.  Both true, both reflecting the work of free market capitalism, both politically inept.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Hemp Problems

The "Harshaw rule"--you never do it right the first time--seems to be borne out by the experiences of hemp growers.

Latest instance--this big suit against a seed supplier.  Turns out hemp has both male and female seeds, and only the female seeds produce plants with CBD.. So it's a big deal if your supplier only gives you male seeds when you're trying to produce CBD.

I've also seen references to overproduction, harvesting problems., etc.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

It's Morning in America?

That was the theme for Reagan's re-election campaign.

I thought of that when I read Kevin Drum's post on social trends in America.  An excerpt:
Just about every social indicator you can think of has been moving in a good direction for the past couple of decades. Kids are better behaved. Crime is down. More people have access to health care. Divorce is down. Most indicators of racism are down. Income has risen considerably since the end of the Great Recession and is now significantly higher than it was when Bill Clinton took office. Etc.
Kevin had started with a chart on the decline in divorces in the last 10 years, then segued into  a discussion of why we don't realize all the improvements in the last 20 years.  I agree with almost everything.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What Did Zelensky Know and When Did He Know It

It has seemed to me to be important to understand the timing of events. This post has some of it, but I've some unanswered questions:
  • before Trump made the decision to withhold the aid to the Ukraine, were there any discussions in the US government about the possibility of doing so?  If so, did word of that possibility make its way to Zelensky?
  • when Trump made the decision, it appears it wasn't particularly quickly circulated within the US government?  True?  And there was no official rationale for the decision, or at least Trump offered two conflicting post hoc rationales?
  • when did Zelensky receive word of Trump's decision, and what explanation was given?
  • what did Trump understand to be happening after he made the decision?  Did he regard the decision as something for him to follow up, as in the phone conversation, or was he at all relying on the Pentagon and State Department to follow up (unlikely in my mind)?
  • when Trump was talking with Zelensky, did Zelensky know of the decision?  Did he understand any rationale for it (better investigation of corruption, versus specifically investigating 2016 issues and/or the Bidens?
  • when Trump was talking with Zelensky, did he think Zelensky knew of the decision and understand the rationale. or did Trump think it was his role to inform Zelensky of either or both.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Each for Himself--Watergate Redux?

A couple thought on the Ukraine mess, as compared with Watergate.

In Watergate we ended with people using leaks to take down their rivals and get revenge on their enemies.  (See Martha Mitchell for the most outrageous and most entertaining instance.)  It looks as if we're starting to see that dynamic here, with Guiliani and Pompeo pointing fingers.

One advantage Trump has over Nixon is his hisotry.  Nixon was the original uptight person.  Granted he was a skilled infighter in bureaucrat melees, but he was the President who usually followed the staid norms for the office.  So when the tapes were released, everyone was shocked at the profanity and the general tone of discussion.  I doubt there's much difference between Trump's discourse in public and in private/

This Post article is interesting in this context.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Adapting to the New: the Case of Weather Reports

Politico had this post on how the weather forecasting/reporting system developed and gained acceptance in Great Britain.

I'm convinced that any significant change in society, particularly in technology, requires a period of adjustment, as people  come to understand the change, and develop new norms and new habits to accommodate it.

One example was the advent of railroads, particularly passenger trains.  I've a vague memory of a discussion of this--one issue was class. IIRC stagecoaches had a class divider--the richer rode inside, the poorer outside.  Passenger trains made travel cheaper, increasing the number of poorer people traveling.  But at least initially everyone was thrown together in a coach.  That required people to adjust their habits and expectations (though I believe in Britain and France they soon instituted a class system, more universally than in the U.S.)

I think of it as social learning.  And I think it should lessen our anxiety over changes.  Remember the "crack" epidemic?  People learned the costs of crack, and the epidemic waned.  That's what happens in an open society where information flows readily.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Beating My Drum

The "transcript" of the POTUS-Zelensky phone call has been released.  I note the Trump White House still uses monospaced type fonts.  Don't they know better?

(My pet peeve is people who've stuck with elite or pica typefaces now we're into the era of laser printers instead of using the more readable proportional spaced fonts.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Our Vanishing Churches--a Miscellany

That's the title of John Phipps post on AGweb.  It's an eloquent analysis of the plight of small rural churches, getting smaller as the community shrinks, and as their religion seems less relevant.

The Post has an article on the vanishing churches of DC.  It attributes the decline to black congregations moving to the suburbs.  But the article notes that some congregations are moving into alternate spaces, rentals, homes, movie theaters, rather than the traditional church building.  (A building, which IMHO, often was a status symbol, displaying the wealth and therefore spiritual devotion of the congregation.

The Post has another article on Lutheran ministers riding circuit--a couple handling five churches. As is mentioned in the article, Methodists have often used the process--the church my parents married in was Methodist and by the time I arrived, it was one of three churches being served by one minister.

My grandfather at the end of his career as a Presbyterian minister was sort of a roving troubleshooter in the Dakotas, much of his time apparently dealing with the issues of declining membership.  That's a trend which has only continued.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Reminder from the Civil Rights Era

Breach of Peace has a post on an exhibit of the mug shots of the Freedom Riders.

The artist likes the part which shows 120 Riders  in profile, facing right.  A portion below, from the post.

I'm reminded by these pictures of the youth of the protestors and also by the number of whites included.

Real Money Versus Details

Sen. Dirksen had the famous quote: "a billion here, a billion there, soon you're talking real money." (Turns out he never really said the whole thing, but accepted it as his.  See this. )

Secretary Mnuchin has another definition for $140 million:  "details".

Sunday, September 22, 2019

NASS Needs to Publish Pot Prices?

This post popped up in my Reston Patch postings.  Pot prices in CO popping up, according to CO tax office.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cowen on People

I follow the Marginal Revolution blog.  Sometimes, as here in Cowen's musing on Epstein, I read things which strike me:
I am now, at the margin, more inclined to the view that what keeps many people on good behavior is simply inertia. They are oddly passive in their core inclinations, but will behave badly if given an easy opportunity. And since many of these people probably are not active independent malefactors on a regular basis, their sense of risk may not be entirely well developed. Thus they themselves may have been fairly naïve in their dealings with Epstein, not quite understanding that their invulnerability in everyday life might not carry over to all situations.

  • For "inertia" I would substitute "habits".  I'm habit-bound, and I suspect most people are (except those suffering from war, displacement, natural disasters, etc.)  
  • "Will behave badly"--Cowen argues that rich men could have become Epsteins easily--they had the money--but didn't out of inertia, succumbing to temptation upon meeting Epstein.
  • "sense of risk"--this might be backwards--people who are not malefactors regularly may have a more highly developed sense of risk (even an exaggerated sense of risk) than do people who engage in risky behavior regularly.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Plum Tomatoes in Sicily

This NYTimes piece  interactive on the net) traces the shipping of tomatoes from Sicily to the UK, outlining how a hard Brexit might screw up the chain.

But what struck was the picture of tomatoes growing in Sicily.  The vines look to be about 12 feet tall, very thick, very very loaded with what look to be plum tomatoes (might be cherry tomatoes but I'm thinking plum).  I've never seen a row of tomato plants like that. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Lack of a Tape and Impeachment

One of the things lost in the current discussion over impeachment of the president is this difference from the Watergate era:  in Watergate, we started with a crime, a clear violation of law, burglars discovered red handed.  From that crystal clear focus the story expanded in multiple directions--before: why were they there, what was their aim, who commissioned them, who would have benefited and after: who paid for their defense, for their silence, who was covering up the facts, who lied.

By comparison in the current situation, as in the case of Clinton, we don't have a crime as clear as burglars caught in the act.  So the narrative starts blurry, and gets blurrier, because there's no foundational fact which no one can dispute.

And what was the fact in Watergate and not in the others: the tape on the door which guard Frank Willis discovered and removed, only to find the lock retaped.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Losing My Memory?

There shouldn't be a question mark on this--I know I'm losing capabilities.  I'm old, getting older, getting worse in most ways, perhaps all ways.  This interesting blog post shows I'm not alone.

What I find most problematic these days is my operating on "autopilot" as my wife and I call it; occasions when my habits are in control, habits established in youth when I was capable of multi-tasking, habits which lead to disasters when I can no longer multi-task. Unfortunately there's no switch I can touch to go from multi-task mode to "concentrate, you damn fool" mode.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I Told You So--MFP/CCC Financing

The Rural Blog reports moderate House Democrats are willing to fund CCC, meaning it can continue to make MFP payments.

Actually my title is wrong, at least for this blog.  I know I had the thought, but I tweeted it.  Social media is too complicated.


Just finished this book, a 100-page summary of how Geithner, Bernanke, and Paulson (the authors) fought the Great Recession, and what should be done in the future.

Having read the separate books by each of them, nothing in it was particularly new.  And having read Tooze's Crashed, which focuses on the international crisis, I wish they had paid more attention to that area.  But it's a good summary, clear and quickly moving.

It's especially apropos today, because "repos" market seized up yesterday and the NYFed had to put in $53billion.  "repos" is a term familiar from the Great Recession and from Firefighting.  Of course, there's nothing on the top line news today about it. The media and politicians won't pay attention until late, and then we'll discover our politicians have handcuffed the financial institutions.

Monday, September 16, 2019

18 One-Year Wars?

The Washington Post Magazine has an article on Afghanistan by a correspondent who had been there several times.  A quote:
Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor of Islamic history who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009, witnessed how the rotation affected operations. He was working with an information operations cell in Kabul when half the team rotated out. “We had personal relations with the gray beards,” Williams said, referring to Afghan elders. “We sort of had a rapport with them. A rhythm. It took a long time to build up that institutional memory for our team. But part of my team switched to Iraq. You’re calibrated to work in one environment, and then they’re deployed to Iraq. All of that institutional knowledge was flushed.” The United States, in short, fell into a pattern of one-year deployments, meaning the war started over every 12 months. America’s longest war turned into 18 one-year wars.
Reading the article, particularly that paragraph, reminded me of how we lost the war in Vietnam, and didn't win in Korea.  The same mistakes, the same NIH bright new ideas and concepts, only to be replaced by the bright new idea of the next bright new big shot commander seeking glory.

(Can you tell I'm bitter.)

I wasn't blogging in Oct 2001, so I have to rely on memory.  I think I was dubious about going into Afghanistan, remembering all the history of that country. But I recognized the feeling in the country so doing something violent was inevitable.  I was surprised by the ease with which the military gained dominance in the country.  Foolishly, like the rest of the country and the Bush administration, I ignored the long term.

At this point I'm somewhat haunted by the memory of the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations over Vietnam and the eventual outcome there.  If the same occurs in Afghanistan, I only hope we're as willing to admit refugees from Afghanistan as we were from Vietnam.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Presidential Choices

Let me trun through Presidential possiblities:

Trump.  No way.
Biden. Too old
Sanders. Too old.
Warren.  Almost too old, almost too radical.
Harris. Okay, a bit blah for me.
Buttigieg  Too young., otherwise good.
Booker.  Suspect orators
Castro. Okay, a bit blah.
O'Rourke.  Charisma without substance?
Klobuchar. Right age, right positioning.
Yang. Too different.

Bullock.  Okay if he had a chance
Bennett.  Okay if he had a chance
Williamson, Too different
Delaney.  Not sure his experience works with Congress.  Okay if he had a chance
Steyer, Too different
Gabbard.  Too different
de Blasio. Don't like his NYC record
Ryan.  Okay if he had a chance
Sestak.  Not enough record.
Williamson.  Too different

So my preferences:
Second choices

My second choices are easily changeable.  I'm impaessed by Warren's life and ability to change, so she gets more of a look than her positions would otherwise rate. Bullock and Bennett could advance to my second choice group if they could get on the map.

[See Wash Post's ranking here]

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Re-upping CCC Money for MFP

Today the Post reports that Representative Lowery is not planning to include replenishing CCC's borrowing authority in the stop-gap continuing resolution   Depending on the timing, that means CCC will run out of money before it completes the full $28 billion in MFP payments.  (It's hard to find the current CCC balance.  The USDA website doesn't show it; you have to dig through the Treasury accounts to get an idea of how much is available of the $30 billion it's authorized by statute. The last time I did that, maybe 6 weeks ago, there seemed to be around $15 billion left.)

This is a followup to the Post story of a couple days ago on the rather unprecedented use of CCC for the MFP.. Unprecedented at least in terms of the size of the payments and also, IMO, in the basis for the use.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Renting Office Space from Members of Congress

I've a vague memory that back in the early 70's there was a flap about Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service county offices leasing office space from members of Congress.

Possibly it was an issue raised by Rep. Findlay of IL, who didn't much like anything that ASCS did, but I won't swear to that.

Anyhow, memory suggests that ASD (Administrative Services Division) issued notices to do a survey of how many instances of this we had and requiring the leases to end.  I don't remember that there was a statutory basis for the prohibition, just a policy one. 

I've done a quick look at the USDA manual on property and didn't find anything.  Apparently FSA has determined not to put their handbooks covering administration on the website so I haven't checked that.

Anyhow, I thought the issue of renting office space is a good parallel with the issue of renting hotel rooms from President Trump.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

In Defense of Paper Straws

Republicans are mocking Democrats for trying to abandon plastic straws and bring back paper straws.

I don't think the Republicans have a case. 

I grew up with paper straws, which used to come in this thin tissue paper wrapping.  The combination was great, at least for those boys who paid little attention to the rules (unlike me, the future bureaucrat).

Tear off one end of the wrapping and you had a ready made blow gun.  Just blow through the straw at the open end and the wrapping would fly off, hopefully to land on the person or the desk of your neighboring classmate. Or, IIRC, assuming you wanted launch a slightly more obnoxious missile, you could wad up the wrapping with a little spit, stick the wad in one end of the straw and again you blow.

It may be true that a plastic straw is better at being a straw, but my impression is they con't normally come in a wrapper these days, so they aren't as good as enabling boys to be boys.

Monday, September 09, 2019

New Frontiers--of Pot

JFK used "New Frontiers" as the theme for his administration, opposing the idea of new frontiers to to Fredrick Jackson Turner's idea that the frontier had closed in 1890. 

What's interesting to me is the idea of "invasive species" as a metaphor for identifying new ecological niches as the result of innovation.  The easiest example is computers, or perhaps the internet.  But we also have innovation in markets: sometimes they're fads, like emus or bison for meat or bagel shops,  sometimes they're real, like pizza in post-WWII and avocados today.

A current new frontier is legalized marijuana.  What fascinates me is how the industry will develop; will there be parallels with other agricultural commodities or will it be totally unique?
See this post from Colorado.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Vertical Farms and Big Greenhouses

Seems to be a lot of activity with vertical farms (depending on LED lights, not the sun) and big greenhouses.  The initial idea was to grow greens, which made sense because they're quick and easy to grow and reasonably valuable.  With the legalization of marijuana the horizons have expanded in some states. Hydroponic tomatoes have been around for a while.

See this Reuters piece on vertical farms.

See this on an urban farm in Paris.

And this on an aquaponics/greenhouse farm in Maine.

And this NYTimes piece on a big greenhouse in Kentucky.

I'm not convinced that such farms will make a big contribution to the food supply over the next 10 or 20 years, but hope I'm around to see.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Paths of Hurricanes

No, I'm not going to touch on Trump and Alabama--just some thoughts on using visuals for hurricanes.

Currently we seem to focus on the track of the center of a hurricane over time.  Since uncertainty increases over time, that leads to the cone of uncertainty we're familiar with.  People have pointed out it's misleading, often misinterpreted.  It also seems to me that we'd gain by getting an idea of the strength of the storm and the width of the area affected.

I doubt one static graphic could handle that many variables, but surely an interactive one could do so.

I'm thinking of an app which would show a projected track for x days, with the duration of the projection representing the likelihood of the track.  Say if the likelihood is 40 percent, show it for 20 seconds, likelihood of 20 percent, show for 10 seconds, etc. 

By going to an interactive app, you'd also have a chance to show intensity and size.  Color code the intensity--red for cat 5, yellow for cat 4 down to blue for tropical depression, etc  Instead of a line for the track use a tubular image.  So at the current position, there would be circle, representing area now being affected. The tube for the future would reflect the increasing size of the area affected.

When a hurricane is developing, the circle at the start of the tube would be relatively small and blue.  As time passes and the storm becomes a cat 1, the circle would expand and now have both blue and yellowish shadings. When the storm becomes a cat 5, the circle would be even larger, and have multicolored rings.  With a storm like Dorian, the tube would grow larger as the colors start to fade to blue.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Particular Causes and General Causes

One of the problems in history and social science is distinguishing between what I'll call "particular causes" and "general causes".

Two examples:

  • saw a tweet on the idea that black cowboys (and other minorities) were written out of the cowboy narrative. The inference was that writers were prejudiced.  That would be what I'd label a "particular cause".  But I believe there's a general tendency when people make generalizations about a group of people: outliers are ignored,  
  • people leaving their farms.  A general cause is well-known--ever since the Industrial Revolution started, or before, people have left the country for the city. A particular cause is people screwing black farmers out of their land.  
In some cases, the "general" versus "particular" may be simply a case of different levels of analysis. No doubt many people left the farm for many different reasons. Many, including my parents, died while their children had a mix of motives to not try to farm.  Dairy farmers these days are leaving the farm because they're losing too much money.  But then the question becomes why?  It could be a black family who was denied the bank loan to expand from 100 cows to 1,000 cows. Or it could be a management decision back in the day not to expand, or a lack of decisions to expand.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Majority Minority World in Future?

This article got me thinking about our future in the US as a majority minority country.  That's inevitable regardless of any government policy.

But then I thought--just looking at the US is limited--the world is already majority minority, and it has been for millennia, likely since humans left Aftrica.

I'm comfortable saying humanity is in the process of reuniting. What will the reunited world look like and act like.  Looks is relatively easy--the majority will be African-Asian.  Acts is hard, but I'd argue that based on the imprints left on former colonies, the European influence on culture and society will remain disproportionate to their descendants representation in the population.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

It's More Complicated Than That

That seems to be my standard reaction these days to a lot of current books, articles, and posts which discuss times I've lived through and portions of history I'm reasonably familiar with.  Thinking about the reasons:

  • everyone knows, if they look at themselves, they aren't the same person from year to year, nor the same person in different contexts.  
  • applying tags to people, organizations, and events, which are at best incomplete, at worst erroneous. 
  • treating categories of people as unitary, sharing all characteristics.
All the problems result from our need to tell a story which explains what we experience, a story with little room for luck or variation. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

The Transplant Metaphor

I'd draw some parallels between transplanting plants and transplanting ideas.

This post is triggered by the concerns over Chinese "thefts" of intellectual property, and also by reading a book on the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  The author of The Most Powerful Idea in the World emphasizes the interactions and connections which created the revolution.  

As any gardener knows, it's tricky to transplant a plant. Some are very difficult to transplant; in all cases it has to be the right time of year.  Usually plants need soil and climate in their new location close to those where they originated/  When they don't have the right conditions, they wither and die.

I'd argue similar conditions hold for many ideas. It's more clear when you consider such ideas as democracy, market economy, social and political freedom.  Usually they transfer from one country to another only with considerable modifications.  Consider the operations of democracy in Kenya or India.  When you come to more technological institutions or ideas, we assume they can be transferred easily, but not in many cases.  

Consider history in what we used to call the Third World.  In many cases optimistic first world types financed shiny new things, railroads, roads, bridges.  But without the connections to other parts of society there wasn't the money to maintain them.  In Afghanistan, hurdles to the US training an effective Afghanistan army and air force included the lack of literacy among many recruits and the absence of a mechanism to get salaries from the government treasury to the common soldier without fraud.

I'd argue there are similar problems with science and technology.  Even in the US, lots of cities have aimed to create a new Silicon Valley.  Aimed to, but haven't had major success.  Part of the problem is history, part is the fact of competition--we already have a Silicon Valley, part is the lack of the unique set of conditions.which created Silicon Valley in the first place.

All of the above makes me more relaxed about intellectual property issues than most people.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Importance of the Senate

The New Yorker and the Post's Dana Milbank both have pieces on the importance of the Senate.

I've been twitting and maybe blogging on this theme for a while.  I'm at the point where the Senate is more important than the Presidency, but I doubt we need to make that choice.  The odds that Dems could take the Senate and not win the Presidency are very very low. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Farmers Working with FSA and NRCS talks about the traffic to FSA (and NRCS) offices, listing six trips required.  But I found these reported farmer interactions on the talk forum interesting, with my comments in bold:
“There is a visit to the NRCS division to apply for cover crop cost share and then the one later to submit seed receipts for payment. [Can't mail them?}Plus, if you live in a county that doesn’t have an NRCS office, as I do, and you rent farms, you may get to make trips to several different counties to get all of them signed up,” the southern Iowa farmer posted. [NRCS hasn't enabled consolidation as in the last bit below?]
Hobbyfarmer adds, “Got a call literally 10 minutes ago from an FSA employee. He forgot to have me sign some MFP papers. They want me to have to drive 42 miles each way to finish it up, so they can pay me, maybe, sometime in next two weeks.” [Thought FSA had authorized electronic signatures a long time ago.  Maybe employees are still in the hard copy world?]
“Usually, I make two trips per year – one in late winter and another after planting. But with this MFP thing, there was an extra one in late fall and another one yesterday,”  [Wonder why he got away with two before, not the six above?}Rickgthf says.
Rickgthf adds, “I had all my business for the different counties consolidated to one office, so there’s no running around to different counties at all.” [Hmm--that should be great--wonder why NRCS hasn't done the same?]

Friday, August 30, 2019

Endlings and Bare Branches

An "endling" is the last surviving individual of a species.  I ran across the term at this Kottke post on "George", a tree snail, which somehow triggered my memory of:
A "bare branch" is the Chinese term for an unmarried bachelor (therefore with no children to add to the family tree).
(Just for comparison of Chinese social norms with American, compare the "incel" to the bare branch--focus on sex versus the family.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Most Depressing News Story of the Day

An intern at the NYTimes wrote yesterday about her experiences before returning to college:

Among the depressing items was this:

"Sometimes people referenced events from 10 years ago and laughed a little because I call that fifth grade."

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

An Example of Problems in Expanding a Farm

Followed Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm (blog) for years. He used to post regularly about the work he and his family did with their farm, raising hogs and selling meat.  He was terribly meticulous as he planned and built his house and farm buildings, with the piece de resistance his own state and federally-inspected butcher shop.  Self-reliance was the motto he lived by, and he did it damn well.

For some reason he never explained, after completing the shop he stopped blogging, except for the occasional post about deals on pork. That's been true for several years now.

But today he had a post into which I can read a partial explanation. He was robbed and his fencing sabotaged.  From the post:
we were robbed on Friday 8/23 at 4:50pm by five people in three vehicles – a small red car, a large black pickup truck and a smaller black pickup truck. The robbery and the fence sabotage may be linked to an ex-employee who had previously stolen a pig that was recovered by the state police. Clearly the robbers had insider information and knew exactly what they were doing and looking for as well as knowing when ...nobody was here
Back in the day there were no employees, just Walt, wife, and two kids.  I'm guessing that the kids have grown and at least the elder, the son, have moved out, possibly for college. (Maybe they had reservations about having their lives recorded in the blog?) But the operation as Walt developed it was more than a 2-person operation, so he had to either retrench or hire employee(s).  Getting good employees in rural areas is hard, and Walt might not have been the best supervisor in the world, being very focused on getting things right.

Occasionally you see reports of cattle rustling or theft of products--while living in rural areas has many advantages, you're far from law enforcement and so dependent on neighbors to keep a watchful eye out. But Sugar Mountain Farm is picturesque, but remote. Vermont has been hit by the opioid epidemic, as seen in this piece.

I'm sorry for Walt and his family for their loss.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

USDA's Hiring Dutch Boys With Thumbs

IIRC there was a children's story about a leak in a dike in Holland, and the brave little Dutch boy who stuck his thumb in the hole to plug the leak and save the day.  That's what USDA needs now.

GovExec reports USDA is using the Reemployed Annuitants authority to offer work (part-time) to retired ERS and NIFA employees.  Apparently it will cover not only existing retirees, but those who accepted the $25K10K buyout as part of the move of the agencies to Kansas City.  Seems they're desperate to plug the gaps in expertise resulting from the move.

Monday, August 26, 2019

History in Two Songs

Just finished Robert Caro's Working, which is a collection of pieces about how he writes and wrote the Robert Moses bio and the four volumes on LBJ.  It's good. interesting to anyone who's read one or more of his books, and/or lived through the 50's and 60's.

One of the pieces discusses two songs he sees as key to the 60's, one being Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" (anti-Vietnam).

To me the other song, which of course is "We Shall Overcome" has faded a bit, to be replaced or challenged as an iconic song by "Amazing Grace".  I see a contrast in the two which might reflect the changes in American history from the 50's to the teens.

"We Shall Overcome" is a song of reform and solidarity. "Amazing Grace" is a song of individual redemption. IMHO the old structures of society I knew in the 50's have dissolved or changed from the impact of the boomer generation and social movements, so the individual is now more important than ever.

I'd suggest that before my adult years national songs were more often the patriotic songs, the ones I learned in school.  I understand that formal music instruction in K-12 is less common than it used to be, but a study comparing the songs taught now versus then would be interesting.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

How Statesmanship Works

In a word, there's a lot of Murphy's Law involved and even more luck..  That's true of the lead in to World War I and, according to Adam Tooze's The Deluge, it's true of the conclusion of the war and, I expect (because I'm not quite halfway through), of the rest of the 1920's up to 1931.

The book covers the eight big powers: UK, US, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, Japan from 1916 to 1931.  It's well written and has changed my perspective on that period.  I hadn't known the chances for an armistice before Nov. 11, 1918, based on internal politics in Germany, Russia, and the UK, but missed because the initiatives from each nation didn't find a positive response at the right time.       

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Simple Rules of Food Waste

As a retiree I hit the supermarket at odd hours, including times when employees or suppliers are changing the merchandise for sale.  The produce people go through the old produce and usually throw out the majority of it.  The bread people check the codes on the loaves and take back a lot.

We humans have a simple rule for food: when there's a choice, take the freshest and the best looking.  That simple rule means we waste a lot, because the whole marketsystem is founded on giving the consumer choices.

Friday, August 23, 2019

On the Basis of Sex

Today's news about Justice Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer comes a few days after we watched the biopic: "On the Basis of Sex".

It was better than I anticipated, or at least I was more affected by its portrayal.   Ginsburg was 3 years ahead of my sister at Cornell, and she was likely in the same class as a first cousin.  So at least vicariously I knew something of the situation of women in those years, although as far as Cornell was concerned things were changing, at least for undergrads. (I had one female professor in 4 years there.)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Blast from the Past: Oswald's Rifle

I've a lot of posts which I've started but not finished.  I may lose the train of thought; more often I see something which triggers a reaction, but isn't sufficient to carry me through a discussion.

This is a  post which I abandoned for a while but which I've come back to.  I think the trigger was the discussion of the need for semi-automatic weapons, specifically against the threat of feral hogs.

To pick up the thread, back in the day there was much discussion in the Warren Report over whether Lee Harvey Oswald would have been able to get off the shots which killed Kennedy and injured Connally.  There were questions over how many shots were fired, how many struck the limousine, how many were heard. 

As I remember it, tests with a rifle like Oswald's bolt action rifle (a cheap mail-order gun) showed that a good shot could easily get off the three shots the Warren Commission determined had been shot.  IIRC the rate was 3 shots in about 5 seconds, maybe less. 

I just did a google search, on how fast you could fire a bolt-action rifle, getting conflicting results.   Obviously there are lot of variables, skill of the shooter, the weapon, scope?, distance, accuracy, etc.  Bottom line seems to be you can put out a lot of lead in a short time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

USDA and Its Scientists

I've lost track of what I've posted about the relocation of ERS and NIFA to Kansas City.

It seems, from outside, to have been rather mismanaged.  The latest problem is the reduction from $25K to $10 in the buyout payments to those who refused to move.  (To be fair, the initial letter said the "maximum" payment would be $25K, but if a good bureaucrat had been involved in the drafting she would have questioned why the adjective, leading to a discussion of the fact that the pot of available money for buyouts was limited, and subsequently a rewording of the letter.

The opponents of the relocation have played their card well, wrapping the ERS and NIFA in the robes of "scientists".  The story is a bit more complicated than that--ERS is social science and NIFA funds research.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Slavery and Caste Systems

Having read Ants Among Elephants (see yesterday's post) I'm musing about the similarities and differences between the caste system and slavery.

Did a google search, with limited results--I don't see a solid academic study, just some student work or summaries that can go off track. This might be the best one, throwing in "class system" and "meritocracy" as well as slavery and caste. One big problem is comparing different times and different countries.

What's striking to me from Ants is the use of force to enforce caste boundaries.  As it happens, a front page article in the Post today is an account of an honor killing, a Dalit married a woman of a trading caste, her father hired men to kill him.  Force obviously was used in slavery.  Which one was/is more violent.

In both cases (chattel slavery and caste system), the position is inherited by child from parent. In chattel slavery the law backs the social norms; apparently in the caste system social norms were  sufficient. And in India these days the law doesn't support the system.

It seems some social mobility is possible in both systems.  Certainly the family described in Ants is mobile, though their upward progress seems a function of the changing laws.  Their progress seems more problematic than some mobility under slavery.  The key difference might be the ownership: if your owner was your father and/or enlightened, he could boost you.  Since Dalits have no owner, that doesn't work.

On the other hand, there might be more unity among the caste (considering Dalits as a caste) than there was in slavery.  Perhaps, perhaps not.

[Added:  Other important differences:

  • there seems to be no boss, no slave driver in the caste system. That might mean more "freedom" in one's daily routine, more akin to the "task" system in rice culture than the "driver" in cotton system.
  • mobility within the caste is restrcted--no house slaves versus field slaves, no chance to become a skilled artisan]

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ants Among the Elephants

Just finished the book, which I'd recommend.  It's very much narrative driven, very little description or fine writing, and not much analysis.  It's obvious that the author isn't writing in her first language, a fact which some reviewers on Amazon found objectionable. Essentially it's the story of the author's grandfather, uncle, and mother.  They were Dalits, or "untouchables", striving to get educated and escape the life to which they were born.  The uncle becomes a leader in the Naxalite/Communist rebellion, while the parents become college instructors.

It got good reviews (Wall Street Journal list of 10 best nonfiction books of 2017) for the description of a different world.

What strikes me is, although the family struggles to rise, they also accept the norms of the society. 

E. J. Dionne Is Absolutely Right

He has an op-ed in today's Post on the importance for Democrats of winning control of the Senate.

Unfortunately that likely means defeating some Republicans I'd just as soon see stay, but given our growing partisan divisions that's the way it's going to be. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Is Trump Really Alan Ladd or Richard Boone

Daniel Drezner picks out a paragraph from Bruenig's Post piece here:
I commented on it, and I want to expand my comment here:

The gist of Bruenig's paragraph is many evangelicals see Trump as their defender against the evils besieging them.

I'm reminded of the Westerns which were popular in my youth.  One of the themes was epitomized in the movie Shane. A similar theme was in the TV series Have Gun, Will Travel.

The plot of Shane, and many of HGWT's plots, have townspeople who are civilizing the West but whose very virtues render them helpless and inept in dealing with the pure evil of gunslingers (at one time Indians, but by my adolescence they were white).  They need a gunslinger of their own, someone with a pure heart (or at least a heart better than those of his opponents) but clouded past, to defend them and defeat evil. The opponents are numerous and wily, not above stooping to the lowest of tricks and hurting the innocent.

I can't see Trump as either Ladd or Boone, the stars of the shows, but Drezner/Bruenig do help me to understand some evangelicals.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Needed: a Peach Cartel

I think peach growers should form a cartel and push for legislation permitting "peach" to be used as a label only for fruit marketed in the month of August.

I just finished the second of two peaches I bought earlier in the week.  Both were delicious, nice yellow flesh, juicy and yielding but not soft, reminding me of the way peaches used to taste when I was a boy.  I've a vague memory (vague because it's not a good one and so suppressed) of buying peaches in June and July and being consistently disappointed.  The peaches were hard, reddish flesh, not the perfect yellow of August peaches.  In sum, eating them discouraged me from buying peaches.

If the peach growers can't form a cartel to enforce standards of identity for their product, maybe I can file a claim for deceptive advertising with the FTC.  Someone in the government has to do something.

Friday, August 16, 2019

A Contrarian Word :Steve King

Time for my contrarian side to show:  Seems to me people don't understand Steve King's words, as reported in this NYTimes piece.

He's wrong, of course, but there's a bit of truth there.

The issue is, if we humans had always had the means and the will to abort all fetuses what would that mean today?

People interested in genealogy know a truism: go back far enough and everyone is related.  So it makes sense that everyone has a rape, or incest, in their chain of ancestry.

Where King goes wrong is in his conclusions.  He's saying, as I understand him, if fetuses which result from rape or incest can be aborted, then everyone with rape or incest in their ancestry would be/should be dead.  That's wrong.  Suppose King David rapes Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant, a pregnancy which is aborted. That doesn't mean that neither David nor Bathsheba will have descendants.

The answer to the issue is: while nobody today would be alive, all the people who were alive would have no rape or incest in their ancestry.


And Canada's Dairy Farmers Are Compensated

Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump are similar in one way: when their wheeling and dealing on trade issues hurts farmers, they compensate them.  See this article on the Canadian program.

Big Japanese Dairies

A look at the Japanese dairy industry here.

Seems the farms are smaller than US.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bowling Alone and White Identity

To expand on the last paragraph of my post yesterday, which read: "Another note--it seems to me in the 1950's older people had firmer identities--they were Catholics or Methodists, union or management, Italian or Slovak.  Those identities have faded now, leaving only whiteness and politics."

Putnam's "Bowling Alone" and other books have noted the decline of organizations.  When I was growing up, one's identity was Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox, etc., which was reinforced by organizations associated with the church--Knights of Columbus.  For many whose parents or grandparents had immigrated to the US in the last of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, their identity was hyphenated: Italian-American, Irish-American etc. (I was German-American but the two world wars essentially suppressed the German-American identity.) For others unions provided an identity--coal miner, steel worker, autoworker, longshoreman, etc.  If you weren't in a union, likely your employer was an identity, as IBM and EJ were identities in my area. And still others had an identity based on military service and participation in American Legion or VFW. 

Compare that with today: unions are in decline, as are the mainline churches. Veterans organizations are diffused and losing membership.  Ethnicity has declined as the passage of time means people never knew their immigrant ancestors.

What we have now is the general "white identity", education, class, and the general "(white) evangelical" religion.