Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Fruit Farmers Have It Easier Than Animal Farmers

Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw posts on apple producers who find a bumper harvest means prices go low, so low it's not economic to harvest fruit for juice.  He sees it as a textbook case of producers cutting back production.

I guess, but I'd point out, as I tried in the title, that animal farmers are in a different situation.  Yes, you can cut back production very marginally--you dry up cows a little earlier, feed your animals a little less.  But, given my parents stories of dairymen's strikes in the 1930 where producers had to dump milk, I'm sensitive to the it. An apple grower, in the fall, is facing the picking expense, which I'd guess is a significant portion of the total costs of the crop.  If she can't sell the produce to the juice people for more than the cost of picking, it's a no brain decision.  The situation facing a pork producer or a dairyman is more complicated--each day your animals live is another day of feed costs (plus labor, but here feed is probably the big item). So it's not a black and white calculation, it's a guess of what the future holds--lower feed prices, higher pork prices, higher milk prices, whatever.

NOTE:  I'll be traveling tomorrow through Friday so blogging is likely to be light.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Climategate and On-the-Ground Reality

The anti-global warming folks have labeled the emails stolen from the East Anglia University climate research unit as "Climategate". It's well and good to enjoy the discomforture (sp?) of your adversaries.

But it's also nice to recognize realities on the ground. "Ground" is not taken literally--this is the fabled Northwest Passage from a Post feature listing unnoticed stories from 2009:
The mythic Northwest Passage still captures imaginations, but this September, two German vessels made history by becoming the first commercial ships to travel from East Asia to Western Europe via the northeast passage between Russia and the Arctic. Ice previously made the route impassable, but thanks to rising global temperatures, it's now a cakewalk

Slow FSA Payments

 From a discussion of slow cash flow:
Another factor has been those USDA farm program direct payment checks from the Farm Service Agency that were about a month late in arriving this fall. That delay has also caused some farmers to scramble to meet cash flow needs.
I don't know if this was isolated or perhaps part of the learning curve involved in moving payments from county offices to Kansas City. Or maybe something else.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Rules on Improper Payments

FSA has taken flak for issuing improper payments, including to deceased producers, although estates of deceased producers are eligible to receive payment but not forever.

But there's a new executive order which will make these more transparent, which may or may not apply to FSA programs:
During the next six months, the Treasury secretary, attorney general and OMB director must publish online information about improper payments for high-priority or high-cost programs. The data is to include agencies' current and historical error rates for incorrect disbursements; the known causes of the mistakes; the amount of money that has been recovered; and the entities that have received the highest amount of outstanding improper payments as long as those entities aren't being considered for referral to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Miller Apologizes

Undersecretary Miller apologizes:

"It is not the county FSA program technician's fault you're not getting payments. It is not the people in the state FSA office's fault you're not getting payments," he said. "It is my fault, and I apologize."
Efforts are under way to modernize the agency's computers, Miller said. But the effort will take several years and cost at least $500 million. In the meantime, the current system has to remain functional although its personnel and information technology services are stretched beyond the breaking point.
Miller's referring to MIDAS, which got money through the Recovery Act which, last I checked, FSA has not reported on. (Last update 4/30/2009)   FSA did award money for coordination, according to this. As a cynic, I suspect Torres is an SBA 8(a) firm (as Fu was in the mid-1990's when Info Share was the toast of the day, and later Soza was, when Greg Carnill was leading the effort and business process reengineering was the the fad of the day.) 

The Disease Benefits of CAFO's

An article of faith among foodies is that CAFO's are a cesspool of disease, incubators for death.  Maybe so, but this extension piece claims hogs in CAFO's have less lungworm, kidney worm, trichinella,  toxoplasma, swine dysentery, atrophic rhinitis, actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, brucellosis, classical swine fever (hog cholera) and pseudorabies

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Testing Needed?

In the controversy over when to have mammographs, there's costs. 

Ezra Klein has my thought published before I got around to it: if testing at 40 is good, then why not test at 30, and twice a year rather than yearly?  Surely the point is that there's a continuum, for any person, and for the community generally. That is, testing identifies cancers which would not be otherwise identified until too late to treat effectively and permits their effective treatment.  At some point on the continuum most everyone agrees testing is warranted and at another point it's not.  Same sort of thing men face with prostate cancer, though I gather from the first link there might be a more straight-forward link between a positive test and treatment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the Mystery of the Male Anatomy

I enjoy Joel Acehenbach's writing in the Post, and he points to a post on the Scientific American blog explaining the whys and wherefores of the male genitalia.

I Predicted This--ARRA Transparency as Omen of the Future

As I said here, despite problems with data, Obama's effort to provide transparency on stimulus spending is important, not just for itself, but in laying down the tracks for future efforts:  From Nextgov:

"Technology that states have deployed to report how they spent federal stimulus funds is likely to permanently change information exchange across the public and private sector, despite controversy over figures on the number of jobs created and saved, said New York officials, academics and federal leaders."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Damn Bureaucrats Can't Get Things Right

This time it's not the government, it's Fox News bureaucrats.

I'm sure it's not a conspiracy by liberal spies to undermine the good reputation of the network.  It's just Murphy's law at work.  And Murphy was and is nonpartisan.

Disaster and Obama

Farm Policy for today notes an effort in the Delta states to do disaster payments. If I remember somewhere sometime the Obama administration was proposing a multi-year fund to handle disasters.  They were trying to avoid emergency appropriations bills.  Don't remember if agriculture was included or, like other of their proposals, it never went anywhere.

Housing Sales Revive?

Just judging by my cluster--my next door neighbor's house is now under contract, after having been on the market maybe 30-45 days.  That's much better than a year ago.  Don't know if they got their asking price ($277,000), but if they did the owner made a profit.  I think the bank repossessed it around Jan. 2008, someone in the city picked it up for about $180,000, rented it for a year to college students, then spent a lot of money fixing it up.  So he perhaps made $50-60,000 on his investment.

Prices in the area seem, according to zillow, to be bimodal--a bunch of houses below $200K and some now selling for $275K.

Update on White House Garden

Obamafoodorama tries to keep it real, saying the White House garden (nor the beehive) won't be feeding the Indian PM at the state dinner.
The Kitchen Garden is currently wintering over, and not producing enough vegetables to feed hundreds of guests a multi-course vegetable-based State Dinner; the photo of the garden, above, was taken yesterday afternoon. It's a little barren. There's still some lettuces, some spinach, and a variety of herbs growing, but that's pretty much it at the moment.

I think they could be growing more--turnips and rutabagas, kale and collards, but I give the site props for honesty.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Milbank Explains the Filibuster

Dana Milbank uses Tennessee Williams to describe the debate and vote on cloture last night.  In doing so, he also describes the reason for the Senate rules on cloture, i.e., why the filibuster is effective:
Landrieu and Lincoln got the attention because they were the last to decide, but the Senate really has 100 Blanche DuBoises, a full house of characters inclined toward the narcissistic. The health-care debate was worse than most. With all 40 Republicans in lockstep opposition, all 60 members of the Democratic caucus had to vote yes -- and that gave each one an opportunity to extract concessions from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid.
Bottom line is that Senators never want to give up power and the filibuster gives power.

Asian Brains

From Google's competition for programmers:
Last year's champion, Lou Tiancheng of China, code-named ACRush, once again took top honors and the $5,000 grand prize. Qi Zichao of China won second place, and Iwata Yoichi of Japan came in third.

The Corn Genome

The good people at USDA (plus a bunch of egghead types) have deciphered the corn genome.

Down the road this is important.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farm City Novella Carpenter

I enjoyed this book, maybe because I like too much humor (the complaint of one Amazon commenter). Child of hippie parents creates a garden in a vacant lot in the bad part of Oakland, including eventually chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits and pigs.  She's honest and accurate, though I did wonder about collard greens in July--I think of them as a cool weather crop but I guess not.

From my praise you can guess there's a minimum of locavore/organic ideology in the book.  The main thread of the book is the garden, but the small bits about neighbors, friends, and relatives make it more than one-dimensional.

Instant Nostalgia--The Weekly Reader

Via John Phipps, believe it or not The Weekly Reader is still around.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Windows 7.0 and Change

A household mantra here is: "change is bad", which is meant two ways--a statement of how we operate, being resistant to change, and a reminder that being open to change is good.  For some reason, I have a lot less problem being a relatively early adopter of some technology (though not Facebook, cellphones, or Twitter) than I do getting out and meeting and greeting people.

Anyway, be that as it may, yesterday I upgraded both desktop and laptop to Windows 7.0.  Went reasonably well, no major glitches.  I can't say I'm greatly impressed by it yet, except for this:  Microsoft games, particularly the chess Titans game. It's been 50 years since I played much chess, and I wasn't much good then.  This game seems sure to be another way to eat up time.

And How Do We Explain Rich Indians?

And all the other business operators, from a study:

In the United States, the typical Indian entrepreneur has an average business income that is substantially higher than the national average and is higher than any other immigrant group. Net annual income in the United States is 60 percent higher than the overall average. Meanwhile, in Canada and the UK, Indian entrepreneurs make similar incomes as other immigrants, but employ more employees than almost any other ethnic group.

You're Prosperous Because of Bureaucrats

That idea is ratified by Dr. Mankiw, former chair of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers and Harvard economics prof, who refers us to MIT economist Darin Acemoglu in this article, which compares the Nogales cities:
"The key difference is that those on the north side of the border enjoy law and order and dependable government services — they can go about their daily activities and jobs without fear for their life or safety or property rights. On the other side, the inhabitants have institutions that perpetuate crime, graft, and insecurity."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


By the time I'd retired, I had a collection of coffee mugs.  One was labelled "InfoShare", which was about the only product of a multi-million dollar effort, originally instigated by Secretary Madigan and carried on for a while by the Dems, to get the various USDA agencies which work with farmers to share their information.  One of the areas was the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and ASCS (by 1994 RMA and FSA).  Both got reports of which fields were planted to which crops so it seemed a no-brainer that there should be a common reporting date, a common acreage report, disaster reports, etc. Well, this week FSA issued a  notice which represents a some progress in that supposedly simple change. 

Reading between the lines I see the simplification and standardization effort still has a ways to go.  This much progress wasn't a result of the initial Infoshare project, but of Congress putting a provision in the farm bill.  (Not the 2008 farm bill, but the 2002 farm bill--only takes 7 years to make progress.)

I really feel guilty, at least a little, mocking USDA for this.  It's true there were and are reasons for the differences in the operations of the two agencies, and therefore the data collected by each.  So, unless you have someone with a 2 x 4 in the right position, progress is difficult.

[Note:  I'm upgrading to Windows 7.0 today, so blogging will be light.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Setting Yourself Up for Failure

The improper payments rate has increased, partially because the Obama administration set themselves up for failure: 
"an illegible signature from a doctor was now more likely to trigger a classification of improper payment than it has in the past."
More seriously, OMB is going to call Secretaries on the carpet if they fail to improve.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The USDA Reorganization

Seems to be causing the usual flurry of problems and discontented employees, including one Chief Financial Officer. There's some suspicion that management might be using the reorg to weed out employees they don't want.  (I would be shocked, shocked if that were true.)  See this Government Executive writeup.

Stimulus Numbers and GIGO

The Obama Administration is learning the pitfalls of naive IT enthusiasm--the idea we can improve government with a little innovation.  First there was their soliciting of ideas from the public for improving government, a process which seems to have fizzled out, partially under the impact of the birthers take-over, partially through not thinking through the process.

Now there's the transparency promise of data on jobs saved and created through the stimulus.  They've had hiccups, the most recent one being ABC's noting that the jobs data is ascribed to non-existent Congressional districts. That reflects a common problem in new systems, a failure to validate input.  Meaning, in the old phrase, "garbage in, garbage out".  (I haven't seen that used much recently--not sure why.) Ideally for each data element input you have some validations, like a table of valid congressional district numbers, or a reasonableness check, like matching dollars and numbers of jobs.

Whippersnappers like the IT guys in the administration have to learn, just like I did.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Whom Do You Trust--a Bureaucrat?

Technology Review explains that the whole internet rests on faith in the integrity of bureaucrats in the Department of Commerce and Verisign--under a new plan to make the domain name server system more secure they will hold the security-key for the topmost domain in the DNS. (See the post for an accurate explanation.)

Most Surprising Post Today--Sleeping Chinese Students

In my lifetime we've gone from the antlike masses of Chinese in their Mao jackets and their little red books to the bursting capitalism of their state economy.  But a constant has been: Chinese work hard.  But through Margaret Soltan at University Diaries comes this from the Taipei Times:

"While Lee was addressing the ceremony, a number of students in attendance were caught on camera dozing off, having breakfast, playing games on their cellphones or reading comic books…"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Diamond on Japan's History and Uniqueness

Hat tip Megan McArdle.  A couple sentences:
. Unlike the winter rains prevailing over much of Europe, Japan's rains are concentrated in the summer growing season, giving it the highest plant productivity of any nation in the temperate zones. While 80 percent of Japan's land consists of mountains unsuitable for agriculture and only 14 percent is farmland, an average square mile of that farmland is so fertile that it supports eight times as many people as does an average square mile of British farmland. Japan's high rainfall also ensures a quickly regenerated forest after logging. Despite thousands of years of dense human occupation, Japan still offers visitors a first impression of greenness because 70 percent of its land is still covered by forest.
This is an old Jared Diamond piece on Japanese prehistory. What does the factoid mean in the context of concerns over modern agriculture?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith in International Institutions--a Lost Cause

The Progressives had great faith in international institutions.  Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations was just one culmination of efforts at reforming the world, bringing (WASP) law, order and morality to everyone.  And Herbert Hoover wasn't that far removed from this faith.  Indeed, he was the exemplar of what could be accomplished for the needy by international aid efforts through his leadership of relief efforts in Europe during and after WWI.

And even later, from the 1930 blog:
Pres. Hoover says US should play a part in World Court; in Armistice Day speech, declares belief world will within a few years become firmly interlocked with arbitration and conciliation agreements, and disputes not resolvable through diplomacy will be arbitrated; sees important role for Court: “In the development of methods of pacific settlement ... a great hope lies in ever extending the body and principles of international law ... Our duty is to seek ever new and widening opportunities to insure the world against the horror and irretrievable wastages of war.”
The right's faith in international law has long since evaporated.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

A cynical man says it's all a matter of whose ox is gored.  As evidence, yesterday I noted the ex-head of NOW threatening to defeat pro-life Democrats in an effort to purify the Democratic Party just as a couple weeks ago, the conservatives threatened to defeat Scozzafava(sp?) to purity the Republican Party.  And they did.

Meanwhile there's a Politico report the White House is concerned about leaks on national security, particularly with regards to Afghanistan strategy.  Didn't the Bush administration have the same concerns?  Next thing we know VP Biden will be declassifying material to undermine a Rep point.

And finally, a note that Rep. Hoekstra may have disclosed intelligence capabilities (i.e., that we read the email of radical clerics) which raises the ire of a liberal.

Politics is often a matter of tactics and rhetoric, which saddens my goo-goo side. But anyone who expects or sees consistency in their favorite politician is blind.

You Too Can Write Like an Academic

There's now software available to do the work, and all the thinking, for you.  Find it here.

Hat tip: American Historians Blog.

Straws in the Wind--the Rise of New Media

Was channel surfing the other day and caught the tail-end of an interview with someone plugging a list of the 100 most powerful people in the world (I think).  Two media people made it--the head of the BBC and the head of X.

Tyler Cowen plugged a video on a new city in China which is empty, though it's built for 1 million.  (It starts about 1 minute in.)  It's done by X.

What is "X"?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Virtues of Failure

Via here's a post at NASA's blog suggesting the need to celebrate failure. As you might expect, the writer gets a little pushback in the comments, given NASA's very visible failures in the past.  But I buy the basic point: you--the bureaucrat--can only learn if you admit your failures. That's what the FAA does--promise pilots they won't get into trouble when they report near-misses. Unfortunately, in the government context it seemed we (I, and maybe others) fell into the us versus them trap in dealing with auditors.  Not always, but often. The problem with GAO and OIG is the possibility adverse reports make it to the Washington Post and Congress.  Bosses don't like being hauled up before Congress to defend their operations, especially when, as is sometimes the case, they don't really understand the issues involved.

When I Was a College Student

My freshman year was in a dorm, built during the 1950's.  Between me and my roommate we probably had 3 or 4 appliances (clocks and radios).  That thought was triggered by this excerpt from a post quoted by Margaret Soltan:
Take Stanford University, where the student body avows itself as green as Kermit the Frog. Buttressed by a stack of PowerPoint graphs, a friend likes to demonstrate to his students that, as they have grown ever more Gaia-friendly over the years, their consumption of energy in the Stanford dorms has grown ever more mind-boggling. It’s those shiny gadgets of theirs. My friend does this for the sheer delicious malice of it, not because he expects a single student to unplug anything. He knows that, among any student body, ethics is primarily a fashionable pose.

What are the chances we could get college students to return to the good old days in the name of environmentalism?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wash Your Hands

That's the message at freakonomics.

Congress: Ask the Bureaucrats

That's the message of this Government Executive piece--that much legislation is poorly designed and hard to implement, problems which could be avoided if only the legislators asked the bureaucrats who have to implement it for their input early in the process.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Virtues of Rice and Strawberry Shortcake

From a post on Slate about the amount of fertilizer and pesticide used by different foods:
White rice came out the big winner here, returning more than 2 million calories per pound of pesticide used and 82,000 calories per pound of phosphate. Onions and sweet corn ranked nearly as efficient as rice when it came to pesticide, but were only so-so in terms of fertilizer; the opposite was true for oranges and apples. Lingering at the bottom of both lists were strawberries, which returned just 121,000 calories per pound of pesticide, and 5,300 per pound of fertilizer.

A Question of Priorities

The major is quoted as having said: "I'm a Muslim first and an American second".  My first reaction is, of course, if you're truly religious you have to believe your immortal soul is invaluable, so religious faith comes first.  Would we raise an eyebrow if any public figure said "I'm a Christian first and an American second"? 

But then, thinking about JFK and his famous address in Houston, I start to wonder.  Basically in 1960 the idea among Protestants was that JFK was a Catholic first and an American second and, because Catholics owed allegiance to the Pope (that's a vanished concept) he could not be trusted as a President.  JFK's speech said his priority as President was America, not his faith.

But on the other hand, we respect Quakers and Amish who claim the right of conscientious objection, which seems in part to be a claim that religion takes priority over patriotism.

Bottomline:  I don't know--I suspect there may be a position I'd agree with, but it probably requires lots of consideration of the situation.  But that would require more thinking than I have patience for right now (ever again?).  So, here as elsewhere I opt for tolerating positions without trying for consistency.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Feminism in 1930

From the 1930 blog:
A survey of the 500 female students at Stanford got 225 responses. Summary: About 90% expect to marry, with 40% currently in love. College men and fraternity members preferred. 70% “do not enjoy kissing for its own sake”; 20% believe in “companionate marriage”; 80% believe in divorce; 30% “consider themselves experienced in love”; 20% “approve of the double standard of morals”; most important qualities in husband: personality, appearance, and wealth. Favorite cities: San Francisco, New York, Washington, Los Angeles; most admired women: Mrs. Hoover, Helen Wills, mother, Amelia Earhart; most admired men: Lindbergh, Hoover, Edison, David Starr Jordan, Admiral Byrd. Religion: almost half Christian, 15% no religious faith, 7% “exotic Oriental creeds”, 1% spiritualism.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

No, I Don't ike Crop Insurance

That's prejudiced, I know.  So that tells you to take my opinions with a grain of salt.  But here's a report of an analysis of the private crop insurance industry which, to my mind, isn't exactly favorable.

If I weren't old and tired I'd try to track the contributions of crop insurance to politicians., but I am so I won't.

John Phipps has a similar reaction, plus a nice graph.   

Everyone Can "Nudge"

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness is  by Drs. Sunstein and Thaler. Under the banner of libertarian paternalism they argue the government can nudge people into better decisions.  For example, if the default option is to enroll the new employee into the 401K plan, enrollment will be higher and savings greater than if the default is not to enroll.

This is all well and good, and I approve.  But everyone can nudge, as it turns out in a NY Times article on the adoption of credit cards in taxis, a measure the cabbies initially resisted.  Why have they changed their minds?  The credit system provides pre-set tip amounts, so it makes it easy for the customer to tip, and to tip larger amounts than they might otherwise do. 

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bureacucratic Catch-22

I'm no fan of HIPAA, the law which tries to protect the privacy of patients.  Here's an example.--applying the law literally can prevent a person from accessing her own data, when someone else has stolen an identity.

Oh, To Be a Student Again

This is really nice--a comparison of size ranging from coffee bean to carbon atom, and lots of neat stuff  in-between.from a scienceblog post. Hat Tip Monkey Cage

Back When Ticker Tape Was Ticker Tape

Apollo 11

No, earlier than that.  Unfortunately, I can't find the sort of image I'm remembering from the late 40's and early 50's when ticker tape was really what was thrown out of windows during NYC parades.  Ah, memory.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging

For some reason, I don't do as good photos as Ann Althouse and Kevin Drum do. I've done one previous Friday cat blog--this is a recent photo of our older cat (the no. 1 entity in the household) in a thoughtful mood. Cats are above and beyond our human messes, so this is appropriate for this week's news.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 05, 2009

When the Free Market Meets Romantic Ideology

As a liberal I may over-estimate the strength of free market capitalism in conquering beliefs, but this excerpt from an Agweb report on an ERS analysis of organic dairy doesn't make me change my mind:
Most organic milk operations are small, with 45% milking fewer than 50 cows, and 87% fewer than 100, the study says. But the largest organic dairies, those with more than 200 cows, account for more than a third of organic milk production and are far more likely to generate returns above their capital and labor costs. That suggests that organic milk production will migrate toward larger operations, the authors say.

The World Is Filled With Whippersnappers--Yes, Ezra Klein I Mean You

I mostly like Mr. Klein's work, but the transcript of his chat today provokes the title.  First, he admits he had no credit, because he always used a debit card.  Second, he's asked why the limited range of brackets for the income tax, and I get the blinding revelation that Mr. Klein was at best a babe in arms when Sen. Bradley and Rep. Rostenkowski got through the 1986 tax bill. I recommend the book on that process to anyone who wants to watch sausage being made.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Present in the Past

From the 1930 blog, two items:
  1. In 1930 two of the corporations with the longest run of paying dividends were the NYCentral and Pennsylvania Railroad.  By 1970 or so both were bankrupt, partially because Ike had adopted Mr. Raskob's suggestion for coast to coast superhighways.
  2. The volume of fruits and vegetables being shipped by rail was notably higher--an ill omen for the sort of localized production which used to occur in Ontario county, NY, and southern Illinois.  Of course, this sort of shipment soon moved to trucks.

Problems at the USDA Blog?

Here's the August post on the USDA blog with my comment.

Here's the text of a comment I've received (similar to ones I've received sporadically over the weeks).

Ephedrine faq. wrote:

[Trackback] Ephedrine. Pseudo ephedrine. Bronch-eze ephedrine. Danger of ephedrine. Ephedrine products for asthma.

Respond to this comment at:

When I use the "archives" feature to scroll through the posts for a month, for both August and July a handful of posts at the end of the month are displayed, but nothing for the first part of the month nor is there a way to find older posts. 

Bottomline:  somehow USDA isn't paying a whole lot of attention to their blog.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The 11th Commandment

Republicans believe Ronald Reagan is the Alpha and Omega of their political wisdom, at least until it comes to upstate New York, where the young whippersnappers don't seem to rememberhis 11th Commandment.

World's Slowest Landslide Has a Great Name

Actually, I don't know this is the world's slowest landslide, but it sounds likely:
William H. Schulz and Jason W. Kean of the United States Geological Survey, with Gonghui Wang of Kyoto University in Japan, studied the Slumgullion slide in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. This slide is 2.5 miles long, about 350 yards wide and 65 feet thick at its lower end, and moves an average of about a half-inch a day. Because it moves so slowly, it is not hazardous (although it will wipe out a state highway in about 100 years) and is ideal for study.

Big Farms Are Better for Workers?

That's the thesis of this Slate piece, based on time spent in California fruit and vegetable farms and discussions with migrant workers.

In IT terms, it's the difference between working for Microsoft or IBM (back in the day) and a small contract programming shop.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Farming

Farm Policy summarizes the dangers to farmers of the recent wet weather.  City folk, as mom would say, don't have a conception of how variable things can be.  An excerpt: " “Over the past two months, futures markets have added about 36% to the price of corn and 17% to the price of soybeans, in part due to the difficult harvest, said Joe Victor, vice president of marketing with Allendale Inc., a commodity-research advisory firm. Corn futures for December delivery closed Friday at $3.66 a bushel.”"

(In fairness to city folk, I'm sure there are economic niches other than farming subject to ups and downs. Which would you rather be, a corn farmer or a middle-aged newspaper person?)

Why Don't the French Have Ghosts?

That's the question Dirk Beauregarde asks here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Blasts from the Past

Just finished the book on National Security advisers by Ivo Daalder and I.M. Destler.  Having lived through the era (from McGeorge Bundy in JFK's administration through Stephen Hadley in Bush's), there wasn't that much new for me.  But their judgments were interesting: Bundy/JFK and Scowcroft/Bush come out the best, with the latter combo no. 1).

The book moves quickly, and I'd recommend it if your taste runs to bureaucratic politics.  A few notes:
  • all honor to Bromley Smith, who was an unsung bureaucrat at the beginning who established many of the essentials of the national security system
  • when the right wing faults people for not reading the 1,000+ pages of various legislation, they would do well to remember that Bush's NSC adviser failed to read the 90 odd pages of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before the Iraq War
  • when the right wing faults Obama for dithering, they might reread the narrative of how Bush took us into two wars
  • when the right wing faults the "czars", they might remember the national security adviser is neither statutory nor confirmed by the Senate
The authors' major point is that the President and his adviser are a unit, the one should compensate for the weaknesses of the other.

The Last Farm on Manhattan

From the 1930 blog:

10 years ago, 5 farms remained on Manhattan Island. Now only one does, occupying a block at Broadway and 213th St., growing vegetables and some chickens.