Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Spread of GMO Seed

Treehugger has a post on Canada's problem with GMO seed in flaxseed.  Tests find 1 seed in 10,000 is a genetically modified strain which was never grown commercially, but which was approved by the Canadian agency.  It's causing big problems with exports to the EU.

Apparently some people planted it and it has spread. It seems impossible to separate out such seeds, so presumably the strain will keep being planted and replanted. I wonder: what's the eventual outcome? Is natural selection suspended in our fields of flax, so it will remain at 1 in 10,000, or will the proportion gradually increase or decrease?  I also wonder, once we decode the genome for everything, will [deluded] people somewhere start enforcing a sort of genetic purism, accepting only those strains/varieties which originated before the advent of genetic modification?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Catch-22 in the Courts

Via Volokh Conspiracy, can one file suit against people who:" ... conspired with the American government in its attempts to eliminate him and have otherwise taken various steps to interfere with his ability to establish himself and live freely as a martian."?

Answer: No. "...It follows that if the plaintiff is not a person in that he is neither a human being nor a corporation, he cannot be a plaintiff as contemplated by the Rules of Civil Procedure. The entire basis of Mr. Joly’s actions is that he is a martian, not a human being. There is certainly no suggestion that he is a corporation. I conclude therefore, that Mr. Joly, on his pleading as drafted, has no status before the Court."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sunlight and Obama

I don't think it's a causal relationship, more a matter of riding the wave, but you still have to give Obama credit for participating in the open government/transparency movement. I say this as today the AP pointed out some problems in the recovery Act data--in some cases too many jobs were claimed. The White House has immediately fired back. And I'd refer to my rule about learning, it's still a learning curve.

But in the broader context we're developing the expectation, fed by Obama administration actions and the initiatives of many good government types, that government data will be open, accessible, manipulable, and correct.  That's a major step forward.  If you believe, as I do, the government is a congeries of organizations of people, some of which are efficient and effective and some are not, then having good data available to all will identify which are which.  In the long run that's very important--one big step to restoring and maintaining public confidence in government.

Adjusting to Change--California Cotton

A surprising, but true, paragraph from On the Record (tracks California water issues mostly):

MWD will not buy water from fallowed cotton because there is almost no cotton left in California. The decline has been going on for several years now.  People who are willing to opine in the paper should already know this.
San Diego will not buy water from fallowed rice because rice is getting good prices these days. It isn’t a low-value crop right now and rice farmers don’t want to sell. Even if rice farmers would sell, neither the state nor the feds have spare capacity to move non-project water across the Delta these days, and buyers aren’t tempted to buy water that might not get delivered.
When I started with USDA, the Southwest was big cotton country and California growers, the names of whom I'm having a senior moment for, were big payment recipients. Conversely, Southeast cotton was down, mostly because of the boll weevil.
Meanwhile, cotton growing in the Southeast has revived somewhat.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No-Till for the Long Haul

Ag Web has an article from a long time no-till farmer which should  please the greens and foodies on first reading, if not the second. 

I say that because he makes clear it's not an open-and-shut case for no-till, it's heavily dependent on the type of soil and the nature of the topography.  And an investment in tiling is required. (My guess is plowed land dries more than no-till land, hence the need for tile.) And he's very much into new technology.  So the overall perspective is very different than the romanticism I see in many locavore-organic-sustainable ag types.

Kevin Drum Does Pith

"rich people tend to do really stupid things when they have too much money lying around for too long." From a post on the difference between asset bubbles and consumer price inflation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Problem with Government--Speed

Or the lack thereof.  Senate Ag has a hearing. Extension reports milk prices are recovering and the recovery will continue.

Paperwork Reduction Act

OMBwatch and Nextgov both have pieces on the request for comments on how to improve the operation of the Paperwork REduction Act.  I hope to comment, but then I hope to do a lot of things.

Having the Right Incentives

It's important, whether for CEO's of financial companies or CIA bureaucrats.  Brookings reveals the CIA screwed their incentives during the Bush presidency. Via Understanding Government from Washington Monthly.

A Mere Surmise, Sir

A quote from the new Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man. Mixes Schrodinger's cat and the Book of Job into a comedy which I enjoyed. 

I also recommend Rob Roy,  a 1995 film starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange based, to my surprise, on a real Scottish character.  Watched it on DVD last night.  It's unforgivable there's no special features.

Monday, October 26, 2009

French Food, McDonalds and Globalization

I think someone at the Times has been reading Dirk Beauregarde, who had this post on the gradual Galloisization of McDonalds.Today Nadim Audi writes the same story,but with the hook of a McDonalds in the Louvre (now we know what the Mona Lisa's smile means).

Who knew there was  "le goût de l’Amérique"?  For those whose high school french is even worse than mine, it's "the taste of America".

Environmental Flub

IMHO the climate action people should bite the bullet and admit a failure.  I don't see how you claim "hundreds of thousands" of people demonstrating world-wide, when the supporting detail cites 300-500 demonstrators in the biggest European and North American cities. I realize expecting the truth from the organizers of any demonstration, for any cause, reveals me as hopelessly naive.  But so be it.  I'm just as dubious of the Rolling Thunder claims as the claims.

Flash: Breaking News from the Post's Ezra Klein

The men of Congress are paragons of physical fitness. It's only the women who seem like they might have difficulty sustaining full-court press. Link

The Post on CAFO's

Yesterday the Post had an article describing a state-of-the-art CAFO, in the context of H1N1 flu and the dangers of pig-human transmission.  I suspect some may quarrel with sentences such as:"CAFOs such as Schott's are inherently safer than backyard pig farms, where the animals mingle with people and birds fly overhead."

As I think I've said before, a CAFO is to older farming as an airplane is to a car.  It's a safer mode of transportation, but a whole lot scarier and, when it fails, does a whole lot more damage.

Read the whole piece.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Identity and Surveillance

The Post has an article today on the adoption of mobile fingerprint readers, equipment originally designed for the military.Local police departments are using them to good effect in various scenarios. Meanwhile the NYTimes reports on the use and possible misuse of CCTV in Britain. Anyone who follows PBS Mystery will know how automatic it is for Brit detectives to check the closed circuit TV tapes.  But apparently, as with many innovations, once it's built it's used.  The Brits have a case where the school authorities used the tapes to try to determine whether a family actually lived in the district they claimed to.  Result: some upset

While some, like the ACLU, see such things as violating our right to privacy.  I'm reminded, however, in the small towns we used to live in there was no such privacy--everyone knew everyone without the need  of a fingerprint reader and everyone watched everyone, without use of CCTV.

Transparency in Government--Taxes

Via Kevin Drum here's a discussion of our past history in revealing tax information. I might be persuadable of the advantages of making all tax data accessible on-line (see the last part of the document).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Second Most Dangerous Place in Washington

The first most dangerous place in DC is supposedly the space between a microphone and Sen. Chuck Schumer.  If so, the second most dangerous place is the space between a new program and an ambitious bureaucrat.  An example, from Farm Policy reporting on a discussion of how carbon offsets might work:

“But the government and companies buying offsets will want proof that the carbon is being properly held in the soil.”

Yesterdays article noted that, “These verifiers confirm project eligibility, ownership of environmental attributes and ongoing project performance and inspect data such as meter readings, fuel purchases and records.

Gustafson says crop insurance adjustors would be a good fit for this kind of work.
“‘The crop insurance agents are very good and prepared to do many of those tasks,’ he says. ‘They already work directly with producers and they monitor farm activity and programs like this to make sure that they are complying with farm program requirements, as well as specifications for the crop insurance policies.’”

I have to admit I thought FSA could do this work.

It Takes All KInds

LATimes does an interview with a pioneer of the Internet.  His 99-year old mother is on the Net, but his wife just got e-mail 6 months ago.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Second Amendment

As a good liberal who remembers exactly where I was (U of Rochester library) when I heard about JFK's assassination, I've always been a supporter of gun control.  And as someone who trusts authority, mostly, I bought the idea the Second Amendment related to militias.  Then, in recent years, scholars have made the argument that it really pertains to individual rights.  And enough have made that case, and as I've lived and crime has decreased, I've come to accept the idea that there might be an individual right to weapons.  (Looking at the Young Irelanders has also been interesting.) You might say I've learned a better interpretation of the Second Amendment.

But then, via Althouse, I stumbled on this site, which quotes the discussion in the House of Representatives on the Second Amendment.  Nothing there about individual rights.  (I realize that's not a clinching argument, but it certainly causes me to question my recent learning.

The Advantage of Bees

They work regardless. Obamafoodorama reports high production from the White House beehives (either 100 pounds or 140 gallons of honey, depending on who you believe. Neither source is audited by GAO--I'm waiting for a Rep to request one.)

A quote: "-Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass called the beehive "probably the greatest acheivement of the garden."

Q. How much honey will I have?
A. Again, it really depends on a lot of factors, but you will definitely have enough to share once your hive really gets going. In my experience, the Backyard Hive will produce an average of 3 to 4 gallons of honey per year.



The weight of honey varies slightly with the moisture content. One gallon of honey weighs approximately 12 lbs.

Analysis:  The photo I've seen shows only the one hive, meaning it must have produced 12 gallons or so to reach the 140 pound mark.

I think Enid is a little doubtful herself, as she says: "The numerically magical White House Beehive"

[Afterthought:  However skeptical one may be, I have to remember there's no beehives within miles of the WH, which means the bees have no competition.  And there's a fair amount of flowers around, although hardly an almond orchard.]

Corn for City Folks

For any "city folks" (my mother's term for those strange people who didn't live on a farm) who don't know how field corn is harvested, here's a photo sequence.

(Don't tell anyone, but I never harvested corn--dad had stopped growing corn for silage by the time I was conscious of farming activities.)

[Updated: And Erin has a nice picture marking the end of another farming cycle.]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

USDA Reorganization

Government Executive has a piece on the reorganization of USDA administrative agencies. For some reason the USDA web site doesn't seem to have been updated to reflect the changes (which not to amount to much, except putting the staff offices and agencies under one person,  Pearlie Reed, formerly of NRCS, rather than reporting to the Secretary. Given that Vilsack apparently announced his intentions during the summer and implemented them effective for the new fiscal year, it reflects badly on the USDA website people.

[Updated--ran across this in a Farm Policy post: "

In a separate DTN article from yesterday, Jerry Hagstrom reported (link requires subscription) that, “Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan plans to continue managing the USDA budget even though a reorganization has placed the USDA’s budget office under an assistant agriculture secretary.
“‘I will be running the budget process at USDA,’ Merrigan said in an interview.
“Under the reorganization, the budget office is under the purview of Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed. Since the change went into effect Oct. 1, farm lobbyists have expressed alarm that if an official below the level of deputy secretary made the presentations USDA would be in a disadvantaged position compared with other departments. One former USDA official said White House Office of Management and Budget officials always ask how they can cut farm subsidies, particularly cotton subsidies, and that only a deputy secretary or the secretary himself would be able to defend them against budget officials looking for programs to cut.”]

On Wingnuts

From The Monkey Cage comes this report of academic research, which finds the wingnuts on both sides tend, as opposed to more centrist people, to be:
  • less trusting of institutions
  • more paranoid and conspiratorial minded
  • less tolerant of ambiguity
  • more Manichaean (in religious terms--seeing life as a struggle between Satan and God)
And finally: "The far left and the far right also resemble each other in the way they pursue their political goals. Both are disposed to censor their opponents, to deal harshly with enemies, to sacrifice the well-being even of the innocent in order to serve a ‘higher purpose’, and to use cruel tactics if necessary to ‘persuade’ society of the wisdom of their objectives. Both tend to support (or oppose) civil liberties in a highly partisan and self-serving fashion, supporting freedom for themselves and for the groups and causes they favor while seeking to withhold it from enemies and advocates of causes they dislike."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Seeds of the Agricultural Adjustment Act

From the 1930 blog:

"Two Farm Board members say will concentrate on controlled production and cooperative marketing by producers as “sole salvation for American farm industry.”

It wasn't clear to people at the time, but clearly the AAA was evolving from the lessons learned in the Hoover Administration--Hoover tried price support loans through the Farm Board and voluntary reductions through jawboning, but it didn't work. 2 1/2 years later the AAA would provide for the loans, but with mandatory reductions of production.

The Wingnuts on Both Extremes

At least every other day I think the wingnuts on the right and those on the left show the same symptoms (i.e., crazy).  This article in Slate pointing out both right and left are anti-H1N1 vaccine is an example of the anti-government, anti-science populism.  Read it all, but I particularly like the last sentence of the last paragraph:

"Still, the current political climate is a veritable petri dish for swine flu fears. For one thing, the debate over health care reform has already stirred up suspicions that the government will use medicine to hurt the American people. (The charges range from well-intentioned negligence to conspiratorial world domination.) Meanwhile, post-Katrina, lack of disaster preparation is unacceptable. Politicians would rather overreact than underrreact. Then, of course, there's the Internet echo chamber and the vague paranoia surrounding Obama. A caller recently told Glenn Beck that "if this were five years ago, I'd probably say definitely, I'll take it [the vaccine]." Perhaps there's a simpler, more elegant explanation for why members of both political extremes refuse to get vaccinated: natural selection."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Trying to catch up with my blog reading I missed while traveling:

"... because the Senate pretty much runs on bad policy compromises.... Ezra Klein

"Conventional wisdom, whether it's mine or someone else's, deserves pushback...."  Kevin Drum

"..these are not just local haulers but transcontinental shippers running from Hamburg to Hanoi, Damascus to Delhi, the Urals to Hydarabad...." Fred Starr quoted at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense talking about using Afghan roads to connect faraway places.

Marijuana and Prioritizing Resources

I never smoked pot, so you might expect I'm dubious of the medical marijuana laws passed by some states.  It seems to me likely these, whatever their benefits to the ill, will serve as figleaves (spell check doesn't like that) for abuse.  So I'm not applauding the Obama administration's ruling that DOJ won't spend time prosecuting those who use the laws.  On the other hand, I'd much rather DOJ devote its attorneys to prosecuting tax fraud and those who try to cheat the farm programs. So, as usual, I end up ambivalent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

White House Garden--6 Months

Obamafoodorama has a post celebrating the 6 month anniversary of the White House garden.   I don't recognize many of the plants in the picture at the top (which doesn't mean much--I'm not good at recognizing).  The photo isn't dated--presumably it's maybe late August as there looks to be some fall lettuce growing. Because gardeners are competitive, I do wish there was more transparency.

Props to Obamas

As I was grumpy yesterday (see prior post), I'll give kudos to the Obamas for doing a family picnic for Secret Service and their families. It's a simple thing, but both good in human terms and in management terms.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is Obama First Cook?

Must be getting grumpy in my old age, but my first reaction to Obamafoodorama's gush over Michelle's speech at HHS is to ask how much cooking she and Barack are doing these days.  A good feminist should have gone for a two-fer--it's time for more home cooking by men.  I have to admit I didn't watch it, and from watching her speak in the past I'm sure she was effective. But the Obamas are now upper class, which these days means servants, and preaching from the upper class sometimes grates.

21 Stupid Airline Travelers

Can you take a grenade with you when you fly?

21 people thought so in the last 14 months. (Or at least TSA caught 21 grenades.)

No Fun Being Secretary of Agriculture

Which son do you love more: production (i.e., "industrialized") agriculture or sustainable, local, organic agriculture? See Farm Policy for reports on a talk Vilsack gave in Iowa

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Politicians in Vermont

That's the word from Sugar Mountain, which has had its first snow, following a hard freeze, which kills off all pests like politicians.

And let me toss in this link from The Cotton Wife--the pictures are worth the wait.

Identity and Passwords

Interesting piece on passwords in this week's Newsweek.  The latest and greatest is not biometrics, but a one-time password you receive on your cell phone.  If that gets going, I'll really have to get into the modern world (I make very limited use of a cell). But our true security lies in the herd instinct--the predators get the weak and the unlucky while the rest of us run off thinking ourselves immortal just because we escaped.

Irish Scottish Dairy Farming

For those interested in dairy, here's a report of a visit by Ulster dairymen to Scottish dairy farms.

BTW, I would be curious whether the hired hands were Brit natives or immigrants (as seems to be the case in the US).  I'm also struck by the emphasis on butterfat levels--I haven't noticed that in the US although back in the day it was important (got paid a bonus for levels above 3.5 if I remember.)  There's a reference to the higher milk prices in Scotland than Ulster--wonder how they manage that.

The Bucolic Life

Is not danger-free. See this accident in York County, PA, an ancestral home.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Glorious Food of Yore

Wasn't, at least in my house.  Mark Bittman (see earlier post) writes:
In the 20th century, the rise of packaged foods brought drastic changes to the way many of us eat, and not for the better. A huge percentage of our food is now awful-tasting, nutritionally bankrupt and environmentally damaging.
I can't agree.  I think most of our food is appealing (in another article in the Times magazine, a Brit cook acknowledges a 15-pound hamburger from a WV restaurant is good).  That's a complaint of some--the sneaky nutritionists at the big companies trick us by using lots of salt, sugar, fat, and other tasty things.  If a fast place really  sold "awful-tasting" food, it wouldn't survive.

More seriously, I remember tasting frozen peas for the first time.  There's no comparison between the mush from canned peas and frozen peas.  (In upstate NY, fresh peas were as fleeting as a hummingbird.) And the canned soups of today are much tastier than the Campbell soups of my youth. And even though my mother cooked, she wasn't good at it--didn't have the time or money or interest to do it well.  (Her baking, on the other hand, as one might expect of the child of  German parents was often great.)

Hispanic Farmers and FSA

An NPR story today on alleged discrimination in providing farm loans.

A note--I don't know anything about it.  However, I do remember visiting with farmers in the early 90's who complained that their loan applications weren't approved timely--this was in the context of proposals USDA should streamline its processes.[Updated: I should also note while Reagan killed the EEO office, it was later revived, although GAO has consistently pointed out its ills.]

Locavores Versus Consumers

The NY Times Magazine had a food theme yesterday, including an article by Mark Bittman in which he argues for a quantum leap forward in grocery shoppiing:
"This is my fantasy about virtual grocery shopping: that you could ask and be told the provenance and ingredients of any product you look at in your Web browser. You could specify, for example, “wild, never-frozen seafood” or “organic, local broccoli.”
He also wants his preferences recorded with the ability to be notified of the arrival of his favorites. He interviews a software vendor about the possibilities and concludes existing retailers aren't really focused on filling his individual wants. 

I think a big hurdle to this is the almost reflexive opposition by small and local growers to tracking and animal identification systems.  That's going to be needed to get the data needed to keep Bittman happy into the IT system.

The Image and the Reality

The image is, Chicago is a violent place.  The reality is, Chicago's homicide rate continues to decline.

The image is, guns are magic, pull the trigger and your target goes down.  The reality, as shown in a video from Toledo, is that most bullets don't hit anything alive (I heard 17 bullets found in the bar, no casualties).  The same is true in war--in Iraq II our troops were using thousands of rounds to kill one person.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is Michael Moore a Tea Partier?

We saw Michael Moore's Capitalism this week.  I didn't like it much, although he had some good laughs, particularly when accosting the Wall Street firms over their receipt of TARP funds.  But the whole thing seemed rather disjointed and without a theory to link together his attacks.  The gist seemed to be the unionized General Motors of the 1950's and 60's of Moore's youth was the good life, and everything since has gone to hell.  But the best he can do to explain how the capitalism of the 60's, changed to the capitalism of 2000 is to blame deregulation.  Moore also gets himself caught in illogic--Obama's campaign is represented as the people rebelling against Wall Stteet but Obama's Treasury Secretary is depicted as a complete and utter failure (for his part in the bailouts).

Given the prominence of the bailouts in his movie, I was struck by the emphasis in this article on the role TARP played in angering the tea partiers. It's not unusual in American history to find both right and left wing radicals feeding off the same populist temper.

Friday, October 09, 2009

FSA IT Report Required

From the Agriculture appropriations bill (now passed and sent to the President):
Given the complexity and scale of FSA's information technology (IT) improvement initiative, the conferees seek to ensure that FSA successfully and cost-effectively delivers the modernized systems relevant to the Department's submission under Section 300 of OMB Circular A-11. Moreover, the conferees recognize that achieving FSA's IT modernization goals depends on coordination and integration with other IT initiatives across the Department that are beyond FSA's control.
Accordingly, the conferees direct the Department to submit to the Committees a description of how the Department will coordinate and oversee the interdependent planning and implementation of FSA's IT modernization initiative with all other related Department IT modernization initiatives.
Furthermore, the conferees direct the Department to submit to the Committees an expenditure plan for all past-and current-year funds allocated for FSA IT systems modernization and stabilization activities since fiscal year 2008 that describes:
1. The FSA IT projects funded;
2. The expected performance capabilities and mission benefits of each of these projects;
3. The estimated and completed project cost, schedule, and system operation milestones with target dates;
4. The estimated and actual costs associated with attaining these milestones;
5. A comparison of the project cost, schedule, and milestones to those provided in fiscal year 2008; and
6. The processes, tools, contracts, and human capital in place or planned to accomplish effective management and oversight of the projects.
After the initial expenditure plan, the Department is to provide reports by April 1, 2010, and by August 1, 2010, that provide updates on the cost, schedule, and system operation milestones. To the extent milestones are missed, the report is to provide a summary of the reasons why and plans for corrective actions.
The conferees recommend that funds be allocated to implement the National Agriculture Imagery Program, with images collected nationally on an annual basis, in order to provide the maximum benefit for USDA programs and other users of these images. The conferees encourage the Secretary to utilize all appropriate imagery sources to meet programmatic requirements.

A Look Back at Clinton

I've started reading the Taylor Branch book, The Clinton Tapes. One thing I didn't remember was the assassination attempt (I guess you'd call it that), when the right wing nut (mentally ill) sprayed the White House with bullets.  How soon we forget, so we think today is always unique and worse.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

USDA Data Collections--EEO Data

From a USDA submission to OMB for information collection:

Data will be collected through a questionnaire to determine the race, ethnicity and gender of farmers and ranchers who apply for and who participate in USDA programs and services. The data is also necessary to provide USDA and its agencies with sound data on the demographics of its constituents. The data will enable USDA to (a) develop a baseline on its applicants and participants, (b) assist in planning for and implementing appropriate responses to the needs of its constituents, and (c) in the conduct of oversight and evaluation of civil rights compliance. The information will be used by the Office of Advocacy and Outreach and the agencies' outreach offices to determine if socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are being equitably served by USDA programs. Failure to collect this information will have a negative impact on USDA's outreach activities and could result in an inability of the agencies to equitably deliver programs and services to applicant and producers.
 Comments will follow.

Transparency Works, in the Long Run

Much discussion over the results of study of the effect in NYC of posting the calories in restaurant foods.  In short, no significant impact on the food chosen.  Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein aslo link to it.

I'd caution people to relax and think long term.  I remember when the health warning was added to cigarette packs. It took a long time, but that was one step in establishing a social consensus against smoking.  That, the consensus, is what is effective in changing behavior.

Feminism--1930 and Now

From 1930 Blog:
Higher education suspected of discouraging marriage in women students. Of living graduates of Wellesley College, less than 1/3 are married at the present time; of 400 women just graduated from Northwestern, only 23 stated in a final poll that “matrimony was their preferred career.”

From today, over 50 percent of college chemistry graduates are female.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Perverse Effects of Emigration to America

As seen from the House of Commons in the 1870's:
There is another point to be considered. Lately, the emigration from Ireland has very considerably diminished in comparison with former years, and in place of that we have returning to Ireland people of whom I fear it must be said that during their residence in America they have acquired a good many Western vices and forgotten a good many Irish virtues.
The context is a debate over the need for continuance of special laws (curfew, control over arms, etc.) with regards to parts of Ireland, given the agrarian "outrages".

Monday, October 05, 2009

Slick Misinformation on Agriculture

Cato has a site (hattip Federal Eye) on where government could be cut.  (No surprise, they'd cut USDA by 90 percent or so.) But there's an interesting presentation with a timeline which is a format I haven't seen before on the Net.  Unfortunately the material on the evolution of USDA and farm programs is both biased and wrong.  But as a failed historian, I appreciate the timeline.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Organic REport

This is from the summary of an ERS report on organic farming:
The number and variety of consumers of organic products has increased, but those consumers are not easily categorized. The one factor that consistently influences the likelihood of a consumer’s buying organic products is education. Consumers of all ages, races, and ethic groups who have higher levels of education are more likely to buy organic products than less-educated consumers. Other factors, such as race, presence of children in the household, and income do not have a consistent effect on the likelihood of buying organic products.

Retailing of organic products has evolved since 1997, when natural foods stores were the main outlet. By the late 2000s, nearly half of all organic foods were purchased in conventional supermarkets, club stores, and big-box stores. Although produce remained the top-selling organic category, sales of dairy products, beverages, packaged and prepared foods, and breads and grains had reached significant levels.

On the wholesale level, by 2007, the share of organic handlers’ sales to conventional retailers and club stores increased, while the share of sales to wholesalers and other distributors declined. Organic handlers are firms that buy organic products from farmers and other suppliers, process or repack the goods, and then sell the value-added resulting products to retailers, institutions, and other handlers, or directly to consumers or restaurants. Because of the competition for organic ingredients, handlers in recent years have relied on contracts versus spot-market sales to procure needed inputs.

While organic farmland acreage increased from 1997 to 2005, growth was not swift enough to prevent periodic shortages of some organic products. Certified organic farmland designated for raising grains and soybeans grew slowly, placing pressure on sectors such as dairy and meat sectors that depend on these inputs. The 2002 USDA National Organic Standards regulation in most cases requires farmland to be dedicated to organic farming for 3 years before that
farm’s products can be labeled as organic. This creates a lag between increases in retail demand and supply from farms.

Reagan's Role of a Lifetime: Guileless Innocent?

James Mann writes "The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan". It's an interesting and reasonably convincing narrative, which is saying something because, back in the day, I used to call Reagan the "senior idiot". Mann argues while others, both the Nixonian realists and the conservatives, were locked into their old perceptions Reagan was able to recognize an opportunity when Gorbachev came to power. Reagan's negotiations with Gorbachev meant Gorbachev got enough support and credibility to maintain his power and take the actions which led to the end of the Iron Curtain.

Reagan often evaded conflict or other unpleasantness by telling stories, essentially filibustering the time away.  Mann notes this pattern, and suggests it may have been a conscious strategy, not just the deep reflex of a child of an alcoholic father.

Mann's thesis is easier for liberals to accept than the conventional triumphalism of the conservatives, particularly because Mann notes the extent to which conservatives other than Reagan and Schultz were wrong.

On Not Knowing Your Farmer

James McWilliams writes at the Times of the pros and cons of farmers markets. There are some extroverts who want a social interaction with their vendors; others of us want an arms-length transaction.

The Sudan Contributes

This is the best slogan for my blog.

Affirmative Action Works?

It does, at least for women judges, and under one theory. See this Slate article reporting on academic paper.

While women selected to be federal judges generally had lesser qualifications (based on some metrics), once selected they performed as well or better than male judges (based on some metrics).

And We Return to Where It All Began, Oilwise

"Pennsylvania is at the forefront of the nation’s gas drilling boom, with at least 4,000 new oil and gas wells drilled here last year alone, more than in any other state except Texas."  From Propublica article on the problems caused.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Another EEO Review at USDA

According to this announcement (they're hiring a firm to do a review).

Meanwhile the Hispanic farmers lawsuit is raised again:
There is still a law suit that dates back years ago with thousands of claims from Hispanic farmers saying they were discriminated against. A similar case was settled for African American farmers, resulting in $2.5 billion. Hispanic farmers want to know where's their money and what's wrong with their case. However, because of logistics and the fact that the case was not certified as a class-action lawsuit there are too many separate claims and Vilsack said it's not so easy.
“If it were up to me, I could,” said Vilsack. “But I need direction from congress, either to set the process up or give me money and say go figure the process out. I don't have either one of these right now.”

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Image of China

The Times and the Post both feature the same picture on their front page, above the fold: an image of Chinese sailors marching in the parades commemorating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese People's Republic.(Here's the slide show, I think the photo was different than slide 3, but same subject.  See this video of other images via The Best Defense.)  It's striking partially because it's overexposed, so the white trousers of the sailors blend together.

It's also striking to me as a former civilian in the military by how well dressed the lines are.  For those who never had the duty of serving, "dress right, dress" is the command sergeants use to tell their troops to align on the person to the right.  If everyone aligns well, you get a straight line of troops.  The military components of the ceremony must have spent days and months of dressing right.

The other striking thing also plays off the symmetry and geometry on display: the uniformity of the troops.  Not just the spotless uniforms, but everyone is the same height and weight, give or take a couple pounds and an inch.  That's what 5,000 years of history as a relatively common culture will do.  Supposed 9 of 10 Chinese citizens are of Han descent.  Even in the other photos in the Times slide show there's great uniformity: the leaders are male and roughly the same height and weight.  Even when I reflect back, remembering a photo from early in the Bush II years, of a signing ceremony (maybe tax cuts) where it was striking the uniformity of white male faces, you'd never get that uniformity in the U.S.

While I'm sure the commanders of the ceremonial troops look for uniformity--if I recall, the members of the ceremonial Old Guard at Arlington cemetery have height and weight restrictions--the difference between the two societies is still notable.  But there is one photo in the slide show showing Chinese civilians watching the ceremonies.  In my youth, even my middle age, they would have been dressed the same.  But no more.  There's still an impression of physical sameness, but dress and grooming are now individual.

Hypocrite of the Year?

A shoe-thrower in Turkey protesting globalization and the IMF may have tossed a Nike? From the NYTimes

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Idealistic Dreaming by a USDA Official

From Farm Policy

Reuters writer Roberta Rampton reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Agriculture Department could get better results from its agricultural research spending if it focused on a narrower list of priorities, the USDA’s top research official said on Wednesday.

“Rajiv Shah, the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education and economics, told a Congressional hearing that ‘the next six months will be a time of great organizational evolution’ as he reviews research conducted by USDA scientists as well as grants it gives to external research bodies.

“‘To do agricultural research really well, and to do it in a way that generates real benefits for people, we really believe that you have to focus for a long time on a specific, narrow set of scientific problems,’ Shah told Reuters after the hearing of a U.S. House agriculture subcommittee.”
The problem is, you've got to distribute the money among the states and crops. And note he was testifying to House Ag, not the appropriations subcommittee.

Whatever Happened to Employee Suggestions

That's my reaction to the use of Web 2.0 techniques to elicit ideas from employees.  Back in the olden days, when typewriters existed and were made of wood, ASCS had an employee suggestion program--write up an idea, send it up the line, to some near-sighted bureaucrat who would turn it down with all the reasons why it wouldn't work, was too expensive, was inappropriate, wasn't invented in DC, etc. etc.

A few suggestions were approved--but that was tricky.  Personnel had a formula for determining the award amount for approving a suggestion.  Something that would apply nationwide was worth more than something just for a state or commodity.  So you had to figure out how to slot an approved suggestion into the mix with other suggestions so as to get an award amount that made sense.

One that was approved was for field employees to use the IBM data handling utilities  (originally it was the Data File Utility, then upgraded to Query/36.) on the System/36  to do things without waiting upon DC and the Kansas City programmers. We had a struggle to get the right award amount approved for that.  So it's nice to see DC is still occasionally using the software, even 20 years later.