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 naΓ―ve 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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Past and White Identity

Here's an Atlantic article discussing "white identity".  Graham is interviewing a social scientist who says:
I think the term white identity politics often conjures up this image of a working-class white man who maybe lost his manufacturing job and feels he’s being left behind. There’s not a lot of evidence that such a person is the typical white identifier. People high on white identity tend to be older [emphasis added] and without college degrees. Women are actually slightly more likely to identify as white than men. And white identifiers are not exclusively found among those in the working class. White identifiers have similar incomes, are no less likely to be unemployed, and are just as likely to own their own home as whites who do not have a strong sense of racial identity.
She goes on to distinguish between having a positive attitude towards one's racial identity and a negative attitude towards other racial/ethnic groups (i.e. prejudice).  By attacking immigrants, Trump attracts both the prejudiced and the white identity groups, the latter which dislikes the idea of being in the minority.

Why would white identity people tend to be older?  One theory would be they learned the attitude at their mother's knee, and carried it forward through life, in contrast to younger people who didn't learn such feelings in youth.  Might be something to that, but I prefer another theory.

My guess is that as people get older they tend to try to understand their life.  When you're young, you're too busy living to have much time for navel grazing,but when you're in your 60's and beyond you've got the time, and at least in my case the motivation to make sense of things.  That's one basis for my theory.  The other basis is the truism that old people view the past through rose-colored glasses.  The way things were when we were young seems still the natural order of things. Changes since one's youth seem "newfangled", unnatural, wrong, or at least grating.  (The last popular music I really liked and listened to was the Beatles.)

Combine the two: the force of nostalgia and the drive to understand and you have a formula for white identity.

I'd note I don't remember much "white identity" back in the 1950's, at least not identity that was separate from prejudice. 

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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Role of Power in Society

The older I get the more attention I give to the role of power in society. It seems to me to play a role throughout society, a role not usually analyzed as such.  What's important when one entity has power is that there is some countervailing force in society.  Lacking that, you have injustice.

That's why unions were so important as counter balances to the big industrial powers in the 1950's and 60's.  Today we have the big tech firms, the Microsofts, Amazons, Netflixes, Googles, etc., and we're still struggling to develop institutions of some sort to check their power.

Monday, August 12, 2019

A Gripe About Dell

The 1 year warranty on my Dell desktop is expiring, so I was looking into an extension.  That caused me to become very unhappy with Dell:

  • when I went to their website, I was able to find an extension for about $42 a year.  The page promised a 15 percent discount for ordering on line, although there was a phone number to extend by phone.
  • the page did not offer any obvious link to a description of what was or was not included in the warranty.
  • when I added it to my shopping cart and tried to check out I couldn't.  On separate days I got the message that the page was no longer available.  One day I got a message saying the code was wrong--something about the length of the HTTPS header exceeding 8140 bytes.
  • there was no apparent way to contact Dell about the website problem.
  • when I called the support line, I explained my problem to four separate people (each one very nice, and the first three transferring me to someone they thought could help)
  • the last person got me so mad that I forget what his explanation was--IIRC he seemed to be saying the problem was known. Although the web page said my warranty expired on the 12th, he claimed it was actually the 11th.  
  • after a day to cool off, I called the number on the web page.  The woman attempted to explain the elements of the warranty and gave me a price of $350+ for 3 years extension.  I asked for something in writing, which she promptly sent to me.
  • the Dell explanation of its warranty service was long and legalistic.  I understand why--trying to cover all legalities in all the states, but what I really wanted was something more sales-oriented, a chart showing the different options (the guy from yesterday seemed to say there were different levels of support) and their cost.
Bottom line:  while the people were polite and did their best, I conclude Dell makes them work within a flawed system, which will cause me to think seriously about a different vendor for my next desktop.  Meanwhile, I'll take my chances with no warranty--if I need help, which I usually don't, I'll pay for support for that episode.

What Dems Are Stupid About

Politico has this:

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF IDEAS in this Democratic primary. But there is almost no discussion by the two dozen candidates running for president about how they would get a Republican Senate to pass their policies. (Saying you’d end the filibuster doesn’t count, since presidents don’t control Senate rules.)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What I Learned Today: New Sport

Apparently this is a new sport, was on channel 4 when I turned on the TV, now advertised on Twitter.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Size of "Small Farms"

NFU comments on the Family Farmer Relief Act.

And a new Congressman tweets about it:
What does it do?

Raise the debt limit for Chapter 12 filing from $4 million to $10 million.

When big farms have thousands of cows and thousands of acres, I guess $10 million is "small", but it's hard for an old man to get his arms around.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Ex-Politician Speaks Truth? Mulvaney on Moves

Mulvaney is Trump's acting everything, currently chief of staff.  This Govexec article reports on his recent speech in his native South Carolina, discussing USDA's move of ERS and NIFA offices from DC to Kansas City.

“Now, it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” he said. “I know that because a lot of them work for me. And I’ve tried. And you can’t do it. But simply saying to the people, you know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven and move you out into the real part of the country, and they quit. What a wonderful way to streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.” 

Meanwhile OIG says provisions in the appropriations law prevents USDA from spending money on the move.  USDA says the provisions are unconstitutional:
In an OGC opinion prepared to respond to the IG’s draft conclusions, USDA says the “committee approval” provisions in the omnibus act are unconstitutional.
“The department states that Supreme Court, Office of Legal Counsel, and Government Accountability Office (GAO) precedents support their position,” the IG said. “The department provided advance notification to the committees before obligating funds for office reorganizations and relocations to the extent they involve a reprogramming or the use of the identified interagency agreement or transfer authorities. The department states that it is not required to obtain committee approval of such actions.”

But the inspector general said that position conflicts with previous positions taken in litigation by USDA. “The department needs to communicate, in writing, this change of interpretation to USDA leaders at the sub-cabinet and agency levels.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Post on Dairy Farm

The WaPost has an article on the death of a dairy farm. It's more than an article:

One more year on the farm

A visual narrative of one family’s fight to save their land


After seeing a number of stories on the plight of dairy farms I'm frankly becoming numb to the plight of the families.   So my reaction to this is: flat flat land.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Are Farm Programs Insurance or Welfare?

Seeing several articles, some based on EWG's research, hitting Trump's MFPI and MFPII for helping big farmers and not small ones.

Seems to me there's a basic conceptual issue here; how are farm programs to be "framed"?

One way to look at them is as "welfare", similar to food stamps, welfare (TANF), Pell grants and student loans, etc.  For welfare programs, our expectation is that our tax dollars are given on the basis of "need", with the most needy getting the most money.  If farm programs are indeed "welfare", as they've often been labeled, then giving the most money to the largest farmers in bass-ackwards.

Another way to look at them is as "insurance", whether it's federal flood insurance or unemployment insurance or the insurance policies on cars, homes, and life provided by private companies.  In all such cases (that I can think of), insurance coverage is tied to the "value" of the property.  The more expensive the car or house, the more coverage you can get on them.  The better your salary, the higher your unemployment insurance benefit.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Cleaning Files and Voter Suppression

Jennifer Rubin in the Post cites a Brennan Center report on voter list purges. The report emphasizes that counties which are no longer required to pre-clear changes in their electoral operations under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act have increased their purge rates (roughly from 8 percent to 10 percent a year).

Rubin is concerned. 

I'm not, likely because I had some experience with the problems of maintaining lists in the past.  The bottom line: it's difficult to keep a list of name and addresses up to date because there's really no cost, no push to identify errors.  An example: one of my past employees resigned from ASCS relatively quickly--IIRC her husband in another agency decided to take an early out and they decided to move to Florida.  So her exit process was rather hurried and incomplete.  After I retired I would occasionally search the online USDA employee directory, just to see who still worked there.  For about 10 years, I'd still find Jane's name in the phone directory.

The way FSA counties were supposed to update their name and address list was to do an address check (not the right terminology) requested with USPS once a year..  I'm sure some didn't do it, and it wouldn't have been fool proof.  I gather that some purging of voter lists done differently, bouncing a voter file against another  database.  The problem there is using names to match. One of my employees noted her home county had a lot of people named "Johnson".

Although the color coding of the report is poor, some of the higher ranking states in purge rates are Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.  In some states (Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin) the rates among counties are very similar; in other states (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi) the rates vary widely among counties.

Without knowing the process being used to purge the files and the history of past purges at the county level, I think it's dangerous to draw general conclusions.  As a good liberal I am, of course, a bit suspicious of the actions of those counties which used to be covered by Section 5.  But I don't think the Brennan Center proved any wrongdoing. 

A final consideration: purging voter rolls isn't very important IMHO--having a dead or moved voter on list offends my bureaucratic sensibility and it wastes computer storage, but is very unlikely to open the door for any voting fraud

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The End of City Newspapers?

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a post showing the decline in circulation of big city newspapers over the last 17 years.  Some papers have fallen from 500,000+ to 50,000- !!

I knew the newspaper industry had been hit by craigslist and online news, but hadn't realized how deeply newspaper staffs had been cut.  It's bad because papers had been a countervailing force against local problems.  Some innovations may be replacing that function in part, but not totally.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

My Political Preferences for President

I've written on this blog that I support Amy Klobuchar for 2020. [Note: I started writing this before the Tuesday debate.]

I remember 1972, when George McGovern was the Democratic candidate.  He had good positions, with which I agreed. But he was tagged as supporting "amnesty, abortion, and acid", in other words supporting the far left. His "demogrant" of $1,000 per citizen was also far out, though I think Sen Booker has a similar proposal.  Though I voted for him, I would have preferred a more moderate candidate, like Muskie or Humphrey, as more likely to give Nixon a fight.

In general I don't have principled objections to many of the proposals on the left.  Put them into legislative form, design good bureaucratic structures to implement them, and see if you can get enough support from the center and right to pass the legislation.  Implicit in that sentence is the idea that the plans of Warren and other candidates can't be enacted or implemented.

I'm pleased that Buttigieg last night pointed out the problems of getting proposals through the Senate.  Even if we get the four seats we need for majority control, our margin will depend on Sens. Manchin, Sinema, Jones, King, Warner, et. al., none of whom are very liberal.  So here's my preferences:

  1. someone reasonably sure of beating Trump
  2. someone who will have positive coattails in AZ, CO, AL, KY, KS, NC, etc.
  3. someone who won't hurt Senate candidates.
It's way too early to know who will meet my preferences.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

How Food Waste Happens

Watching DC's channel Four News.  (4 pm, 7/12/2020)Just had a consumer segment reporting on a test of having a supermarket deliver produce.  Bottom line, not good.  Berries mush, apples bruised, avocado not organic.

Agreement by the anchors that picking produce was personal, so such problems were big issues.

The program had no discussion of food waste, but it revealed why food waste happens--we pick the best out of the bin, and leave the worst, meaning the worst get tossed.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Fraud in the Farm

Farmers are no better or worse than other humans--that's my position and I'm sticking to it.

What's important, I believe, is structuring institutions so there's "countervailing power"--give anyone some power, you need to find another person whose interest is countering that power.

In the case of agencies, that's typically the inspector general, including the auditors, the fraud hot lines, and the whistleblowers.  I'm not sure those checks and balances are sufficient, but they can work, as in this instance of a tobacco farmer in Kentucky defrauding crop insurance.

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Farm Policy blog has a post on the announcement of signup for MFP II

If I'm correct, CCC may be getting close to exhausting its borrowing authority by the end of MFP II, requiring Congress to replenish it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Down and Dirty Dairy People

My mother always celebrated the goodness of farmers, particularly dairy and poultry farmers. Se would be disappointed at the shenanigans described in this thread.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Electric Airplanes and Electric Motorcycles

This article discusses the developments in electric aircraft.  I had no idea they were being worked on.
Noertker and his team at the Los Angeles-based startup Ampaire are developing first-generation electric aircraft — and they’re far from the only ones. Something on the order of 170 companies have joined what Noertker calls an electric aircraft “arms race.” Several made a splash at the Paris Air Show a couple weeks back. 
I wonder though. Yesterday while I was in the garden a motorcycle roared down Reston Avenue.  I'd assume that doing an electric motorcycle would be very easy compared to an electric airplance.  However, my cynical take is that the roar of the cycle is 90 percent of the value of the vehicle.

So, a modest prediction: development and sales of electric airplanes will advance faster than electric motorcycles.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Will Autonomous Cars Save Parking Spaces in the City?

It's assumed the answer to my question is "yes"--some recent articles arguing for changing zoning requirements in the city to reduce the number of parking spaces required.

I'm not so sure.  As long as people commute from the suburbs to the city for their jobs, it seems to me parking is going to be a problem.  Yes, in some cases I can imagine a Reston commuter to DC getting a car at 7 for a 30 minute drive to DC, the car then returning to Reston to pick up another commuter at 8 for another 30 minute drive.  But then it's going to need to be parked until the evening.  So if the two individuals were each driving solo into the city and parking now, that would reduce the number of parking spots needed.  But that's a special pattern

Granted, you can imagine with autonomous cars and a drive sharing app, we could have much more flexible drive sharing so the number of people in the car rises from 1 to 2 or more on average.  And there likely will be realignment of jobs and homes based on the availability of autonomous cars.

My bottom line: the change requires people to change their habits, meaning it's going to take a while before the impact on parking spaces is felt. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Circuitous Route to Farm Survival--Cather, Stephens, and Somerby

Among the books in our house when I was growing up were three or four by Willa Cather, including My Antonia..  I've read it several times, but unlike some people I know, my wife for one, I don't have a great memory for the contents of what I've read.

Bob Somerby has his blog, The Daily Howler, which I follow.  He's often repetitive and usually idiosyncratic, predictably criticizing journalism and liberal pieties, although from a liberal background.  (He was a roommate of Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones at Harvard who has never forgiven some journalists for their criticism of Gore.  Also taught school in Baltimore for years, leading to sharp criticism of educational panaceas and the misuse of statistics.)

Yesterday he wrote a piece picking up on a Brett Stephens op-ed in the Times, in which Stephens uses My Antonia to discuss immigration.  The book is based on Cather's childhood, spent in Nebraska among immigrant families, mostly Czech, with the central character the "Antonia" of the title. It's a rich picture of immigrant and farm life on the Nebraska plains which I recommend. I also recommend both the Stephens piece and the Somerby piece.

Somerby has a quote from the book, which reads in part:

"There was a curious social situation in Black Hawk [the local market town] All the young men felt the attraction of the fine, well-set-up country girls who had come to town to earn a living, and, in nearly every case, to help the father struggle out of debt, or to make it possible for the younger children of the family to go to school..

What I'd point out is it's the 1880's, not now, and farmers are being supported by off-farm income! Most people don't realize that most American farmers do rely on off-farm income today.   Usually, when that's discussed, it's treated as a revelation and an indicator of how bad the farm economy is. But maybe it's time to reconsider.  (BTW, back in the day most FSA clerks (program assistants) were the daughters and/or wives of farmers, or former farmers.)  I think what's going on is the same logic as my father used when he notoriously came home and told my mother she was going to have a flock of chickens (mom held that grudge until she died).  The logic--diversification reduces risk.  That's true whether you're talking investments in stocks and bonds, or agriculture. Hens and dairy have different economic cycles. But an even better diversification is a nice steady income in town, whether it's 1880 or 2019.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Boyd and the 109,000

EWG reports John Boyd's testimony before a House Committee on Financial Services:
"John Boyd is founder and president of the 109,000-member Black Farmers Association. Testifying before the House Committee on Financial Services, Boyd said the Trump tariffs are “a national crisis” for farmers – and that small minority farmers are hurting the most:
It seems as though many have turned a deaf ear to America’s small farmers and black farmers alike. . . . Anytime the government gets involved, when they say it’s going to be a speedy payment to farmers, it’s always last for African American farmers, it’s always last for Latino farmers, for small-scale farmers and for women farmers."
That's the National Black Farmers Association,, not Thomas Burrell's 20,000 member Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

Not sure about those membership counts.  Might be as inflated as the Farm Bureau's.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Trump and Bureaucracy

A tweet:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Refugees from the Past: 1956

Media reports that some in the Trump administration want to cut the number of refugees admitted next fiscal year to zero.

I was first conscious of the US and refugees in the 1956.  The Hungarians revolted against their Soviet-supported leader, an uprising eventually put down by Soviet tanks. The result was a surge of refugees coming to the "West" as we called it back then.  There was much sympathy for these fighters for freedom who had suffered, so the US was able to welcome some,including an airlift which evacuated some thousands.. 

This was a precursor to the welcome extended to Cuban refugees after Castro took over, and subsequent episodes where the refugees seemed to be pawns or victims of the Cold War. Of course, back in the 19th century America viewed itself as the refuge for revolutionaries, from the 1798 Irish uprising to the 1848 uprisings particularly in Germany. We were the beacon of freedom.

But the Cold War is over, the beacon seems to be flickering, and our open door for refugees is closing.

(Can't resist a personal note: one contribution of the Hungarian refugees was the soccer-style kicker in the NFL, with Pete Gogolak being the pioneer during the days I was in college.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Marching Season and Remembering the Past

Here's a report on Marching Day in Northern Ireland.

The Protestant Orange Order is able to muster a lot of people, including a 6-mile long parade, ostensibly to celebrate a battle 330+ years ago.  I write "ostensibly" because it's really an assertion of community identity, at least incidentally in opposition to their Catholic neighbors.

Compare that to the remembrance ceremonies of the white South, celebrating the Confederacy of 158 years ago.  I'm sure there are some scattered around, but they aren't significant enough to warrant much attention. Why the difference?

You suggest one is celebrating a victory, the other an ultimate defeat?

That might logically make a difference, but where are the big parades celebrating the Union victory?  The closest we can come is the Juneteenth observances of recent years. And, more importantly, there's no organization dedicated to the celebration, as well as agitating for the cause now.  We had one such organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, but the GAR ended with the last vet, in 1956.

So why do Americans forget the past more easily than those in Northern Ireland? 

I suspect part of the answer is immigration: we've added millions of people who've no live interest in the fight for the union or the abolition of slavery.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How Do Small Farms Survive?

Here's the piece from which I stole the heading:
The answer: renting out a minihouse through Airbnb

Another piece in the media suggesting comfort animals, as in those with big brown eyes, aka "cows", is the answer.

The real answers, of course, are:

  1. off-farm income, as has been the case for decades.
  2. drawing down capital (i.e., the value of land and buildings)   (My mother used to fuss about farmers who would be better off selling out and investing the proceeds in bonds.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Farming: the Definition

I follow Cam Houle on twitter and was struck by his T-shirt in this tweet.

Turns out the t-shirt is available on Amazon.

It seems even in Canada with its supply management setup, dairying is a losing proposition.

Monday, July 15, 2019

President Carter and the Courts

Slate has an interesting piece on President Carter's approach to filling judicial vacancies: Some points:

  • he was able to persuade Sen. Eastland to support a judicial commission to pick appeals court judges.
  • the result was diversity:
When Carter took office, just eight women had ever been appointed to one of the 500 federal judgeships in the country. (For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to the district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court.) Carter appointed 40 women, including eight women of color. Similarly, before Carter, just 31 people of color had been confirmed to federal courts, often over Eastland’s strenuous disapproval. The peanut farmer from Plains appointed 57 minorities to the judiciary. (He also had more robes to fill: A 1978 bill expanded the federal judiciary by 33 percent, or 152 seats.)
Justices Breyer and Ginsburg were Carter nominees for appeals courts.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

FL Olmsted: Bureaucrat

Reading a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted: "Genius of Place"

He's known as the creator of NYC's Central Park, his first big project just before the Civil War,.   But judging by his career through 1863 when he resigned from the United States Sanitary Commission, which he had serrved as executive secretary through its creation to Gettysburg, his true calling was as a bureaucrat.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Amish Vacations

"Amish vacations" seems like an oxymoron; dairy farmers don't get vacations. 

But the Amish have been moving into other occupations, and they still have big families, meaning someone can be in line to do the day-to-day work even of dairy farms.

So it seems that the Amish do take vacations, as shown by this Kottke post., linking to some photos and older articles.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Farewell to Cokesbury

My sister was a devoted patron of the Cokesbury book store in Syracuse.  It closed in 2012 as part of the closure of its 57 physical stores, shifting to online only.

I suspect the closure reflects both the decline of mainline Protestantism and the impact of Amazon on bookstores. 

Slate has a long piece on the decline of the religious bookstore here, and John Fea links it to evangelical religion.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

On the Filibuster and Policy Flip-Flops

Just replied to an Ezra Klein tweet about ending the filibuster.

If the Democrats can win the presidency, and if they can win control of the Senate, they've not won too much, at least not when compared to the stack of policy proposals the candidates, especially Warren, are coming up with.  The fact that the Senate majority will likely be composed of Sens. Manchin, Rosen, Jones, Kelly (AZ), Gideion (ME) and whoever, all centrists whose seats aren't the most secure, means the most liberal proposals won't get considered in the Senate, regardless of the filibuster.

The filibuster means even somewhat bipartisan measures (say 51 Dems plus 7 Reps) won't pass.

Removing the filibuster means a Dem majority can change policy (if they can agree, which is a big "IF").  My reservations here can be seen in the Mexico City policy on abortion--see my discussion below.

Two considerations might make me change my mind:

  1. suppose ACA is deemed unconstitutional by the Supremes next fall.  Obviously the Dems will want to pass some new healthcare legislation, but what can be passed that will not also be invalidated by the Supremes? I'd like to see some discussion of this.  Is it possible to change ACA enough to get past the 5 conservatives on the Court?  If so, we might need to kill the filibuster to get it done.  Pass it, and hope 8 years of a Dem administration gets it solidly entrenched enough to withstand Rep control of Congress and the Presidentcy.
  2. the other issue is the Congressional Review Act, which has been used extensively by the Reps to kill Obama's regulations.  The Act includes this provision:
(2)rule that does not take effect (or does not continue) under paragraph (1) may not be reissued in substantially the same form, and a new rule that is substantially the same as such a rule may not be issued, unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the joint resolution disapproving the original rule.
That provision hasn't been tested in the courts, but what it could mean is there's no way for a victorious Dem party to reinstate Obama's regulations.  That's my interpretation, though one should never underestimate the ingenuity of lawyers.  If that's its meaning then we may need to kill the filibuster to permit bare majorities to pass the new laws needed to reauthorize the regulations.

 As Wikipedia describes:
First implemented in 1984 by the Reagan Administration, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has enforced the policy during all subsequent Republican Administrations, and rescinded the policy at the direction of all Democratic Administrations.[3] After its initial enactment by President Reagan in 1984,[4] it was rescinded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in January 1993,[5] then re-instituted in January 2001 as Republican President George W. Bush took office,[6] rescinded in January 2009, as Democratic President Barack Obama took office[7][8] and reinstated in January 2017, as Republican President Donald Trump took office.

That's no way to run a railroad, much less a country, if applied to all major policies.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Big Sort and Actblue

Gave money to Ms. McGrath via Actblue yesterday in the vain hope she'll be able to beat Sen. McConnell.

Something this morning ( likely reading about the Republicans struggle to come up with their own version of Actblue) triggered this thought: over time our politics have become more partisan, our parties more unified, our legislative bodies more cleanly divided; has Actblue been a cause?

Back in my childhood parties were local--you had Tammany Hall dominating NYC politics, various state houses and state bosses controlling how state delegations voted in the national conventions.  National lobbies were groups like Farm Bureau and the Grange, National Association of Manufacturers and Chamber of Commerce, AFL and CIO,  American Bar Association and American Medical Association.  Dollars for national ads weren't important (Ike did the first TV ad in 1952 I believe.

Anyhow, these days individuals can easily give to campaigns across the country, and candidates can fly to New York or LA to raise money from the rich based on their policy positions, not their ability or commitment to do their best for their constituency (a la Sen. Robert Byrd).

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

My Political Thinking on 2020

A couple of Never Trumpers-Megan McArdle and Jennifer someone (forgot her last name) have argued on twitter that Democrats expect too much of them. If I understand they feel Dems want them to vote for any Democrat we nominate, in spite of a leftish platform which violates all conservative principles.

I tweeted replies a couple times to McArdle.but let me be more considered:

  • if you're a Never Trumper, then logically you need to NOT vote for Trump.  Vote libertarian or don't vote, but don't vote for Trump. Yes, that means you're saying Trump's personal and presidential deficiencies, the damage he's doing to our institutions and our world standing, outweigh policy considerations, especially the chance to add two more conservative justices to the Supremes.  If that's your judgment, okay.
  • Consider this, however. Suppose Warren is the candidate and you like only one of her 1,000 plans. If she's elected with your vote, the odds are that she is at best governing with the support of a Democratic House, where the "majority makers" of 2018 are still worrying about their jobs in 2022, and a nominally Democratic Senate, where the balance of power is held by Joe McManchin, Kristen Sinema, Jackie Rosen, Doug Jones, and the winning candidates in ME, CO, AZ, and ?.  In other words, in neither House will there be majority support for the Warren plans which most deeply offend conservative sensibilities.   
In light of the above, my suggestion for Never Trumpers is to vote strategically--if it's close for the presidency, vote for the Dem, knowing we're likely to have split government for the next four years. If it looks good for the Dem, vote libertarian.  If it looks good for Trump, pray.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Aging, Savings and "Crashed"

Reading "Crashed" raises questions about interest rates and the amount of capital in the world.

I'm sure it's been observed before, but the world is getting older.  Japan and the US are examples, but China's another one.  I'll be foolish and apply my own experience to the rest of the world.  The older I get the more I save, partly because it's more important to have security for the future and partly because my desires are less.  Or in other words, I'm more set in my ways.

Extrapolate that pattern world wide and maybe we have more savings, more capital than investment opportunities and thus lower interest rates. 

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Problem of Gig Workers, Farm Workers

Strikes me that the infamous "gig workers" and farm workers share some problems, though their situations are different. (Before I proceed, apparently there's at least confusion or  doubt over how significant the sign economy is.)

As I understand gig workers, they may be working for larger companies, like Uber or Lyft, or for smaller ones.  Farm workers, except in the case of the large fruit and vegetable outfits, are usually working for smaller employers.

In both cases, the worker is unlikely to get fringe benefits--health and disability insurance, minimum wage protection, etc.  The problem for farmers is the paperwork burden.  The problem for the workers is the power situation--almost impossible to organize.

I wonder if a state-mandated broker setup might work. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

On Reading Adam Tooze's "Crashed"

I'm currently reading Adam Tooze's "Crashed, How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World". The Amazon blurb is:"An intelligent explanation of the mechanisms that produced the crisis and the response to it...One of the great strengths of Tooze's book is to demonstrate the deeply intertwined nature of the European and American financial systems."--The New York Times Book Review."

That's the aspect of the book I'd highlight--I've read Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner's books on the crisis, but they give a US -centric view of the Great Recession and its aftermath.  So Tooze provides a more complete picture. 

He's not a great stylist, and I was disappointed by the Introduction, but he does the narrative well, and the book grows on you.  Some of the discussions are over my head.  Lots of the financial details go by too fast for me to deeply understand, but I get enough out of it.  Tooze is critical of decisions made by many of the leaders,  but I think fairly so. I recommend it.

But all that's not why I'm moved to post about it.

Tooze reminds me of the turmoil and tension of those days, the uncertainty over how things would turn out.  And that brings me back to today, and our current President.

Bottom line: we should thank our stars and stripes that Obama was president then and not Trump.  It's impossible to imagine the damage he would have done.

On the other hand, the existence of the crisis and perhaps the mistakes made in handling it and the aftermath might well have been a necessary condition for Trump's victory in 2016.  A question to consider in the future.

Boundaries Are Important, as Are Perspectives

From the Foothill Agrarian blog:

"From a predation perspective, our lambing season comes at a time when the coyotes and mountain lions don’t have many dietary options. From a dog’s perspective, lambing season offers all sorts of gastronomic and maternal delights. Our dogs love to clean up afterbirth! We’ve had young female dogs that decided they should care for newborn lambs - their maternal instincts drive them to steal lambs from the ewes. Both predilections can create problems. Ideally, we need a dog that is attentive but respectful of lambing ewes. We need a dog that gives a ewe her space while lambing, but that keeps the predators at bay."

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Super Delegates and 2020

Seems as if the Democrats change their rules for nominating much more often than the Republicans.

Back in the 50's the nomination was a combination of primaries and favorite sons and smoke-filled rooms.  The 1968 convention with the Mississippi controversy over seating the black Democratic delegation resulted in changing to dominance by primaries.  Then in the early 80's the pendulum swung back by creating the super-delegates to provide more "adult" guidance to the party.  Now, after 2016, the pendulum has swung again towards primaries.

It's interesting to me, as a supporter of Amy Klobuchar, to note she does a lot better in accumulating endorsements from party figures than she has done in polling.  That leads me to speculate that the switch away from super delegates may wind up depriving her of the nomination.

How Some on the Right Befoul Our History

The Post had a collection of short pieces (2-3 paragraphs) today from different writers entitled Nine Things to Celebrate This Fourth of July.

Hugh Hewitt arouses my ire by excerpting and linking to an old essay on the "Price They Paid", recounting the sacrifices made by the signers of the Declaration.  I'm mad because it's been debunked  (in 2005) by  Some of the facts are correct, but the interpretation is off.  The signers didn't suffer because they signed the Declaration as the essay claims; they suffered because the Revolution was a time of danger and hardship.

The essay represents to me the sort of right wing mythologizing which undermines patriotism and the value of history.  It's popular because anyone who reads it says OMG and feels awestruck.  But it's not true.