Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Administrative Disaster Program?

That's what Sen. Lincoln claims the White House has offered, $1.5 billion of disaster aid done administratively, to get past the roadblocks to the legislative package for small business.  See this Farm Policy report. 

Having been in USDA in 1983 when Reagan's people pulled a land retirement program out of their hat without Congressional authority, I wouldn't bet against it.  On the other, damned if I can imagine how they'll do it.  The effect is psychological--it looks very doubtful Lincoln can win reelection, so the White House is showing they'll run risks to help their supporters.

Speaking of Optimism--Fred Brooks

My previous post was on optimism--Fred Brooks wrote a great book in this area 35 years ago: The Mythical Man-Month.  He has another out, which should be good. The Design of Design.  It's on my Christmas wish list.

Overconfidence Among the Professionals

This post reports on a study showing lawyers are overconfident in predicting the outcome of their cases.  I believe the recent Atul Gawande article in the New Yorker said that doctors are overly optimistic in predicting how long their patients will live.  IT professionals routinely promise to complete projects faster and cheaper than they can (see this on the FBI's Sentinel program).  Military professionals often are overly optimistic in predicting the outcome of military operations. Politicians over promise the results of their votes. Economists, except for Tyler Cowen, are overly sure of the outcome of their proposed policies.

Think there's a pattern here?

[Updated: A day late and a dollar short, Professor Robin Hanson comes to the same conclusion.]

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Final Word for Today

From Tyler Cowen:
We still don't know what we are doing.
I respond to honesty.

The Dark Secret of Ossining Was Not Mad Men

If Matt Weiner's Mad Men keeps rolling along, he may get to the time when Ossining's schools were desegregated.

I was trolling through a site listing the reports of the Civil Rights Commission and stumbled across this report, on the desegregation of Ossining's schools over the period  1969-74.  There was what we used to call de facto segregation, because Ossining had a significant black population (working at Sing Sing, I assume. So back in that idealistic time the effort was to realign elementary school boundaries to provide a more integrated environment.

I Thought Republicans Disliked the Nanny State?

This bit from Farm Policy about a House Ag hearing on nutrition was amusing:0
Subcommittee Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, expressed concern about health and obesity rates, and noted that data from the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) would not be available for another two years. He went on to ask the second panel of witnesses yesterday an interesting theoretical question about a potential “new paradigm” in linking SNAP benefits to improved choice. He offered a hypothetical example: “Instead of a SNAP card having $100 on it, a SNAP card would have 100 ‘nutritional points,’ and that would also be measured as you buy certain foods and therefore the market would then respond to develop food products that would fit easily into the nutritional categorizations.” To listen to this interesting discussion on linking SNAP benefits to nutritional health, click here (MP3- 8:12).
As technology progesses more and more can be done. I don't know whether the old slogans about "nanny state" work in the new environment.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


 From a Grist post on energy efficiency, talking about China:
For every 100 urban households there are 138 color TV sets, 97 washing machines, and 88 room air conditioners. Even in rural areas there are 95 color TVs and 46 washing machines for every 100 households.

I suppose I should be used to this by now, but somehow I'm often revert to the images of the 1950's and 60's, from the Korean War and the Great Leap Forward. Who whaddya thunk it?

And a Tear Flows Down a Face: Oldest Farm Gone

Sometime in the 70's I think it was there was a famous picture of an Indian, sorry--Native American, with a tear running down his cheek.  If I remember it was tied into the environmental movement.

Don't know why I thought of that when I saw this article on a farm in NH which dates back to 1632, owned by members of the same family, which is now up for sale.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What David Brooks Fails to Mention

In Tuesday's Times, David Brooks imagines he's a Democrat again, and from that position gives advice to Obama, who should be.
focused on the long term? He could explain that we’re facing deep fundamental problems: an aging population, overleveraged consumers, exploding government debt, state and local bankruptcies, declining human capital, widening inequality, a pattern of jobless recoveries, deteriorating trade imbalances and so on.
These long-term problems, Obama could say, won’t be solved either with centralized government or free market laissez-faire. Just as government laid railroads and built land grant colleges in the 19th century to foster deep growth, the government today should be doing the modern equivalents.
What Brooks doesn't mention is the sort of stuff in this OMB Watch post, because, as it says:
The administration gets little credit for these achievements, which are often wonky in nature and easily overshadowed by the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington.

The Missing Data for Education: Teacher Data

David Leonhardt in the NY Times reports on a study from Tennessee of kindergarten, under a headline: The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers.
Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.
These results are despite the fact that during most of their school years, the effect of kindergarten doesn't show up in test scores.  I'm sure this is going to attract a lot of attention, and it should.  See Mankiw and Althouse.

Earlier this year I saw a mention of a similar result where early intervention didn't have lasting impact on test scores in school, but seemed to lead to better life results (less joblessness and crime, higher salaries).  Intended to blog it, but it slipped through.

What I'd really like to know is data on the teachers of the best classes back in 1980's: who were they, what were their backgrounds, were they identified as good teachers by their principal and the local community, and, most importantly, what has happened to them in the intervening 20+ years?  Did they find teaching kindergarteners a satisfying career, or did they move on?

Geezers and the Kindle

Interesting discussion here of the fact Amazon is temporarily out of the Kindle, now they've dropped the price to $189. 

Having helped an older relative with her Kindle, but not having one myself, I wonder about this factor.  I assume the elderly, like me, are slower than the rest of the world to adopt fancy cellphones and stuff like the IPad or the Kindle. But simply looking at me, I'm more likely to spring for a Kindle than an IPhone or IPad.  I don't know if that's broadly true.  My logic is that the multipurpose jobbie is a bit overwhelming in its possibilities.  I could cope with learning the Kindle, but not all the stuff that a smart phone or tablet can handle. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sherrod as Faceless Bureaucrat

One puzzle about the Sherrod episode is why, why was it so explosive, so radioactive?  Why did the administration and NAACP react so quickly?  Race is obviously part of the answer, but I'd suggest bureaucracy, specifically "faceless bureaucrats", is also part of the answer. [ed--gee that's a surprise.]

As I see it now, this is my best guess at what actually was happening in 1986 and then what happened last week.

What's the context?  The NYTimes has an article published Sept. 10, 1986, which provides some background. Essentially the Farmer's Home Administration (FmHA) of USDA had made lots of loans in the 1970's which, in the hard times for agriculture in the 1980's, had turned sour. Meanwhile the Reagan administration, not known for its enthusiasm about government programs, had tried to cut back on FmHA's programs.  And GAO and the press had found a lot of instances of abuse of the programs. And finally 1986 was the first time there was an automatic cut in federal programs under Gramm-Rudman. All this meant bad times for farmers. Although FmHA was trying to collect delinquent loans, as the Times article says, "The agency has been sued 55 times since 1981 by farmers saying its loan-collecting and foreclosure practices were unconstitutional. The agency lost 37 times...." My suspicion from Sherrod's statement is that the Federation had participated in one or more of the lawsuits and, perhaps, had obtained an injunction against FmHA's pressing its foreclosure actions.

To complicate the situation even more,  in 1986 Georgia and the Southeast were suffering a historic drought as described in this Times article. "In Georgia, Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is predicting, ''We may lose up to 5,000 farmers over the cycle of the next 12 months.'' That would be 10 percent of the state's index of 50,000 farmers and ranchers, ''and of that 50,000, probably 25,000 are in financial trouble,'' he said."  

From what we are told, in 1986 Sherrod was working for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Land Assistance Fund,  presumably as a counselor of some kind. Don't know how long she's worked there--the Federation seems to have originated in the late 60's.  (In 1980 there was a Times article about the Emergency Land Fund and its efforts to preserve black land ownership. The Fund  merged with the Federation in 1985.)

Sherrod was about 38.  In comes Mr. Spooner, who is her first white client.  She assumes that he's not here of his own volition; he's not a walk-in customer like other customers (I'm assuming black farmers would often come to her first); he's been sent by USDA or GA Department of Agriculture.  (I'd assume having him as a client means she becomes rather tense, more tense than usual.  That would be my reaction, but maybe that's wrong, because she may be an extrovert people-person.)  She's definitely on guard.

What's Spooner feeling? Sherrod says he eventually ended up in Chapter 11 bankruptcy so I'll assume he probably had FmHA loan(s) and was in trouble. We don't know why he tried the Federation--Sherrod's assumption that USDA had sent him might be correct. If FmHA was trying to foreclose, it might be a conflict of interest for them to advise Spooner on the best way to fight it.  Referring him to a third party, like the Federation, would make sense.

Spooner is about 20 years older than Sherrod, so he's born in the early 1920's, in south Georgia when the KKK is riding high.  We don't know what his opinions and feelings were in 1986; maybe he had evolved faster than other Georgians (who had elected Lester Maddox of pick-axe handle fame, then Jimmy Carter of the famous grain in earlier decades). In the interests of telling the story it's probably fair to say he's not happy about turning to a radical organization, which would have been the reputation of the [coop] and one which caters to blacks, but he needs to save his farm.

Again, we don't know if this is the first time Spooner is acting as the customer/client of a black, a situation where he is a supplicant.  Let's say it is; almost certainly he's never applied for help on such an important matter to a black woman.  So in addition to feeling trapped by his economic situation, he may well be feeling uptight from the situation--he's asking for help from a black woman. And it's a younger person

So, as Sherrod describes it, Spooner talks and talks.  To her he comes across as trying to be superior. Maybe that's true, maybe not; maybe he's compensating for his helplessness..  Maybe he's telling his story from day 1 and trying to show that his predicament isn't his fault; maybe he's just anxious about getting help.

Back to Sherrod now: She says she's trying to figure out how much help she'll give him.  There's an implication of games-playing here; he's trying to impress her, she's feeling her power.  If she's bad, she'll turn him away.  If she's good, she'll help him all she can.  Somewhere in between is where she comes down, at least in her telling; she sends him to a white lawyer. I'm not clear why that's not the optimum solution.  Sherrod isn't a lawyer and he's got legal problems, but maybe she thinks her advice would have been good.  Or maybe she knows the lawyer isn't much good, as he turns out to be, and maybe that fact gives her a little malicious pleasure. It's definitely a situation with a lot of emotional currents.  When the NAACP audience listens to it, William Saletan in his analysis of their reaction only allows for one interpretation, but to me there's enough going on that likely different people picked up on different elements. Most of all, I suspect they were, as we do, empathize with her mixed emotions.

Now what about Sherrod's narrative strikes someone so strongly that they make the excerpt, someone adds text giving wrong information to the front, it gets played, and NAACP and USDA over react to it?

The first and obvious answer is racial.  Breitbart's position now is that she's recounting an episode of discrimination and her audience is enjoying it. The idea is "man bites dog"--a black person has power and discriminates against a white.  And, given the misframed excerpt, the idea which Vilsack and the NAACP was reacting to, the [wrong] fact she was a USDA bureaucrat when she did this. But humans tend to enjoy reversals: we love to see the powerful take a pratfall, so I don't think the racial element, by itself, was enough to account for its power.

I think there's another story here, a story which is symbolized by the conversion of "faceless bureaucrat" into an epithet. In part it ties into American anxieties about the power of the faceless bureaucrat.  We don't like power; we tolerate powerful people if they don't rub our noses in it. But we're aware whenever we deal with a bureaucrat that they know the rules, we don't.  They have the power, we don't.  So the idea of a bureaucrat, like Sherrod, being arbitrary and capricious is frightening; it's particularly frightening if you represent people who usually sit across from the bureaucrat, like the NAACP, or if you manage a bureaucracy, like USDA, which has been called the last plantation.

So arbitrary bureaucracy is our bogeyman (a good old Scots term, apparently) which has a scare power all out of proportion to its reality. That's why the excerpt had its power. And because it was powerful, Vilsack and the NAACP reacted too fast. 

Fred Hoyle Is Laughing Now

When I was growing up there were a number of paperbacks, published I think by Ballantine, on science.  Isaac Asmov was one writer, Microbe Hunters was a title I remember, and Fred Hoyle was another writer.  I believe that's where I first heard about the "Big Bang" versus "Steady-State" theories of the universe--Fred was the leading proponent of Steady State.  Then the Big Bang won out and I thought certainty had been achieved, at least in that minor area of thought.  Then I saw this:

Big Bang Abandoned in New Model of the Universe

A new cosmology successfully explains the accelerating expansion of the universe without dark energy; but only if the universe has no beginning and no end.
I guess I'm doomed to die without knowing what sort of universe I really inhabit.

What Really Gets Commenters Going

I thought the Sherrod case was the prime example of what really got commenters going on blogs.  But I was wrong.  What really gets people stirred up is if a blogger asks how to beat a speeding ticket. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Little Remembered Fact? White Lynchings

Matthew Yglesias blows up an American Spectator piece on the lynching of Sherrod's father, but he includes a graph showing lynchings from 1882 on.  In the first 10 or so years, the graph seems to show more whites being lynched than blacks (caution: my memory is that statistics on lynchings were very hard to gather so need to be taken with a grain of salt).  Of course, in proportion to population, the rate for blacks was always higher, but white lynchings remind us just how violent a country we used to be.

On the Limits of Transparency

One of the problems with "transparency" is: who cares?  The data may be out there or available, but unless there's someone with enough interest in the submit to dig into it and make a story out of it, there's little impact.  Part of the solution can be auditors/IG's.  See this piece from the World Bank blog.

To cite one example, we did a big, RCT study on what reduces corruption in community programs. Whereas my entire team thought that increasing participation and transparency would be most effective, in actual fact increasing the frequency of locally publicized audits had far greater effects.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Either I'm Blind or Opengovtracker Disses USDA

I don't see USDA listed on this site.

Dealing with People, Lawmakers Will Keep This Secret?

Here's a discussion of a guide to dealing with "distressed constituents", by which is meant, not constituents who have been impacted by a natural disaster, or the recession, but those, not to put it mildly, who are nuts. (My term, not theirs.)  Anyone who has dealt with the great American public knows they're out there.  H. L. Mencken thought much of the public was.  But it's not something any Congressperson is going to advertise: "hey, I've had my staff read this great guide so now we'll be able to deal with you better."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Audience Approval of What in Sherrod's Speech?

William Saletan does a careful analysis of the audience's reaction to Shirley Sherrod's speech.  My own reaction, which I've hesitated to state because I don't have a lot of experience listening to majority black audiences responding to black speakers and ministers, was that they were giving the audible feedback which seems to be the norm in such settings.  Saletan's analysis is much more careful than that, and convinces me that Breitbart's claims are wrong.

Change in the Armed Forces

Women/mothers make Sailor of the Year.  Turns out we have 4 sailors of the year and women won all 4 spots.  Article says they're about 16 percent of the Navy.

What's Possible and What's Not

The Priest/Arkin series on the post 9/11national security bureaucracy is filled with interest.  As a sidelight, two small scenarios show the difference between what's possible in IT and what isn't.  Here's what's possible:
To understand how these firms have come to dominate the post-9/11 era, there's no better place to start than the Herndon office of General Dynamics. One recent afternoon there, Ken Pohill was watching a series of unclassified images, the first of which showed a white truck moving across his computer monitor.
The truck was in Afghanistan, and a video camera bolted to the belly of a U.S. surveillance plane was following it. Pohill could access a dozen images that might help an intelligence analyst figure out whether the truck driver was just a truck driver or part of a network making roadside bombs to kill American soldiers.
To do this, he clicked his computer mouse. Up popped a picture of the truck driver's house, with notes about visitors. Another click. Up popped infrared video of the vehicle. Click: Analysis of an object thrown from the driver's side. Click: U-2 imagery. Click: A history of the truck's movement. Click. A Google Earth map of friendly forces. Click: A chat box with everyone else following the truck, too.
And here is what's not possible,  from the first article:
The practical effect of this unwieldiness is visible, on a much smaller scale, in the office of Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Leiter spends much of his day flipping among four computer monitors lined up on his desk. Six hard drives sit at his feet. The data flow is enormous, with dozens of databases feeding separate computer networks that cannot interact with one another.
So, in one case IT is able to correlate information from different sources into one presentation; in the other it's unable to.

Why the difference? This is just speculation, but I see two key differences. In the first instance different kinds of information are being brought together and the sources of data probably were created within the last 5 years.  In the second instance similar kinds of information from different bureaucracies are coming in, and probably all of them had deep historical roots.  (For example, FBI's case file system dates back to J. Edgar Hoover's prime in the 1920's.)

Best Sentence of July 23

"But who expected in 2003 that in 2010, the president of the United States would have "Hussein" in his name but the president of Iraq wouldn't?"  Tom Ricks at the Best Defense


My mind's on curves. Not female curves, but something more nerdy. 
  • On the one hand, there's the curves of economics.  I'll probably get the terms wrong, but there's a supply/demand curve that shows for any price there's a market clearing point at which supply and demand are in equilibrium.  And implicit in that, or maybe something else, is a curve that shows the marginal cost of producing something declines as production goes up--mass production saves money in other words.
  • There's also the learning curve.  The more time you've spent making stuff/learning a subject, the easier it is. 
  • Finally in my thoughts is the Pareto 80/20 rule.  Now it's not usually talked of as a curve, but if you visualize it you can see it.  To me, it's the exact opposite of the supply/demand curve and the learning curve.  I used to use it in discussing software development.  It would be easy to do software to handle simple cases, but as the cases got more difficult it would become harder and take longer.
It seems this week I've got more questions than answers; because in this case I can't figure out how the curves work together, if they do.  Or is it just a case of different tools for different situations.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Must Reading for Those Discouraged by the State of Dialog on the Web

See this post of Dan Drezner's.

Bureaucratic Triage

I'm musing on a question, stimulated by the Sherrod uproar: is it ever right for a bureaucrat to discriminate (in the technical sense, not the pejorative sense) among his clients/customers/public and, if it is, for what reasons? We all agree a bureaucrat working on behalf of the public should not/may not discriminate based on race, religion, etc. But what discriminations are appropriate and why?

I'm thinking about MASH, or other hospital shows, which show a triage process.  If you consider the medical staff to be bureaucrats, then they're discriminating among their clients, but using criteria which normally we'd endorse. 

There used to be a field called operations research, coming out of the whiz kids and WWII, which tried to evaluate different strategies for handling customers: first come, first served; express lines, etc.  Is first come, first served discriminatory?   Or is giving priority to the simple cases, which speeds average throughput, be discriminatory?  Is it okay if you're transparent about your algorithm?

We all know, I think, that some people get treated better than others for reasons of personality.  Is that ever right?

No answers today, but it's an interesting question.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sherrod: The Albany Movement, New Communities, and Pigford

Shirley Sherrod's husband was one of the leaders of the Albany Movement. 

Apparently they were leaders of the New Communities: 
One of the most important initiatives of the Southwest Georgia Project was the organization of New Communities, Inc., a land trust. By January 1970, the group had purchased nearly 6000 acres of land in Lee County Georgia, which made it the largest single land mass owned by Blacks in the United States. The purpose of the project was to upgrade the quality of life of rural, poor, and mostly Black communities by offering meaningful employment, creating economic leverages to ensure and improve the income of small farmers, and ownership opportunities for its settlers.
Apparently the trust ended up losing the land, under circumstances which led to the award under the Pigford suit.  At this early date it's not clear the ins and outs of how the Sherrods' relate to the money awarded--are they still trustees and who would be the beneficiaries. Fox has a piece here.  My guess is that New Communities was one of the case subsumed under the Pigford class action suit.  The suit was resolved by having two tracks:  Let me quote from the 2005 CRS report:
The Pigford consent decree basically establishes a two-track dispute resolution mechanism for those seeking relief. The most widely-used option — Track A — provides a monetary settlement of $50,000 plus relief in the form of loan forgiveness and offsets of tax liability. Track A claimants had to present substantial evidence (i.e., a reasonable basis for finding that discrimination happened) that
! claimant owned or leased, or attempted to own or lease, farm land;
! claimant applied for a specific credit transaction at a USDA county office during the applicable period;
! the loan was denied, provided late, approved for a lesser amount than requested, encumbered by restrictive conditions, or USDA failed to provide appropriate loan service, and such treatment was less favorable than that accorded specifically identified, similarly situated white
farmers; and
! the USDA’s treatment of the loan application led to economic damage to the class member.

Alternatively, class participants could seek a larger, tailored payment by showing  evidence of greater damages under a Track B claim. Track B claimants had to prove their claims and actual damages by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., it is more likely than not that their claim is valid). The documentation to support such a claim and the amount of relief are reviewed by a third party arbitrator, who makes a binding decision. The consent decree also provided injunctive relief, primarily in the form of priority consideration for loans and purchases, and technical assistance in filling out forms
Finally, plaintiffs were permitted to withdraw from the class and pursue their individual cases in federal court or through the USDA administrative process.

Sounds to me as if the New Communities must either have been a Track B, or an individual case. Although I've reservations about Pigford issues, the Track B cases are the most likely awards to be warranted, IMHO. And without knowing how awards are computed, the current market value of 6,000 acres of Georgia farmland would be high.

[Updated: it's possible the suit was outside Pigford entirely--no doubt this will be clarified as time goes on.]

The Blindness of the Chattering Class

One common meme among the chattering class in discussions of how to fix the deficit is to mock the great American public. Polls often show the public preferring to cut foreign aid as their first choice to fix the deficit, not realizing how small a percentage of the budget is spent on foreign aid.

But, as the Bible used to say, remember the beam in your eye before the mote in your neighbor's eye. The chattering classes, both right (Breitbart and left (Vilsack and NAACP) missed the lies in the framing of the Sherrod video.  The main one: that RD spends $1.2 billion in Georgia is easily debunked if you have a sense of the numbers.  My thought process:
  • how big is Georgia--don't know, but Atlanta has been growing, so let's say it's 15 million people.  
  • the U.S. is something over 300 million, so Georgia is 1/20 of the US.
  • if Georgia gets 1/20 of the RD funds, that means RD is spending $25 billion total.
  • no way RD spends that much.  The USDA budget is somewhere around $100 billion, about 50-60 percent food stamps and other nutrition programs, etc. $15-20 billion for farm programs, doesn't leave much for all of the rest.
Now I haven't checked my accuracy, except to find I overestimated Georgia's population and, to find RD spends closer to $1.2 billion nationally

Shirley Sherrod's Speech, Book to Follow?

I have to apologize to Shirley Sherrod.  From the video bit, I thought she wasn't the best story teller.  But reading the transcript of the full speech (well, almost the full speech--I guess the transcriber got bored when she started on the Rural Development programs) she's pretty good.  I think she's a bit younger than I, so I remember some--the sheriff she mentions who fined everyone coming through the county.

Not great--she says growing up she wanted to leave the farm, get away, go north and get herself a Northern husband.  But she ended up marrying someone in the civil rights movement.

About now there should be a handful of journalists contacting her and offering to write her memoirs.

There are some things she describes which fit into the Pigford case.  I may incorporate them into a future post.
[Updated--she and her husband apparently won the biggest award under Pigford--I say apparently because the release here isn't quite as explicit as I'd like.]
[Update 2--her husband, Charles Sherrod, has a short bio here.]

15 Minutes of Fame, Zero to a Million Hits

Andy Warhol famously said everyone had 15 minutes of fame.  Somewhat along the same lines, is anyone keeping records on how fast people get their fame--I'm thinking of the skyrocketing number of hits for "Shirley Sherrod"?   Now it takes about 15 minutes for people to get their 15 minutes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

2 Cents on Shirley Sherrod

In response to a request from a reader, here's my two cents on Shirley Sherrod (Google if you haven't heard it). (I've started a longer post which takes off from the episode, but it's not really on point.)
  • The subtitles added to the video, either by Breitbart or Fox, are clearly lies. The video excerpt dates the episode to the 1980's (right after Chapter 12 bankruptcy was passed for farmers), so Sherrod's talk is not describing her current work or attitudes.
  • There's no way in hell that Rural Development spends $1.2 billion in Georgia each year. They might possibly have that amount in outstanding loans made in Georgia, but that would represent several years worth. RD has three categories, which are mostly making loans and guaranteeing loans: Rural Business, Rural Utilities (the old Rural Electrification Agency), and Rural Housing. Here's a link to the USDA budget for 2011, RD begins on page 56. 
  • It's not that clear from the video clip, but Sherrod is not describing a federal job--as she says she assumed the farmer was referred to her from USDA or the Georgia Department of Agriculture. So she probably had no legal obligation to treat applicants equally. (In the mid 80's there were lots of farmers going  under.)
 Personally, I find her current explanation believable, as apparently do some conservatives--Glenn Beck right now looks (5:08 pm)  as if he's going to pivot to trashing Vilsack/Obama for pushing her out.  I guess miracles do happen.

Regardless of how the episode turns out,there's no way Fox News should have run the video with the obvious errors in the text.

How Fast Is the Internet?

I googled Shirley Sherrod this morning about 8:30 and got about 880,000 hits. Did it again a few minutes ago and got 1,330,000 hits. Such is the pace of the Internet.

[Updated: at 9:23 am, 7/21/2010 it was 1,610,000 hits.  Granted I didn't put the name in quotes, so it's not all that Shirley Sherrod, but it's an impressive jump.]

[Updated at 4:29 pm 7/22/2010 shows 158,000,000 hits. Guess that reflects all the tweets and blog post comments.]

Overpaid Federal Bureaucrats, and Contractors

The Dana Priest/William Arkin series in the Post on the post 9/11 national security complex has many points of interest.  But one today is as a counter to the idea that federal employees are overpaid.  At least in the national security field, contractor employees get about 25 percent more than federal.  Admittedly, this sounds like a top of the head estimate and probably does not include fringe benefits, but no federal employee ever got a BMW:
Contractors can offer more money - often twice as much - to experienced federal employees than the government is allowed to pay them. And because competition among firms for people with security clearances is so great, corporations offer such perks as BMWs and $15,000 signing bonuses, as Raytheon did in June for software developers with top-level clearances.

Raising Country Kids: Sweet Wheat

Raising Country Kids: Sweet Wheat

I've linked to The Cotton Wife posts of photos of her cute kids, so fairness demands I give equal time to the wheat growers of the nation.

Unfair Comparison: 1940's Dairy (Organic) Versus Now?

From Farm Policy, quoting a release supporting production agriculture as environmentally friendly:
The update also pointed out that, “Dr. Jude Capper of Cornell University reported last year that more milk from higher-yielding cows that are fed more grain and less grass have helped reduce the carbon footprint of the U.S. dairy industry by 43% since 1944.
“‘Interestingly, many of the characteristics of 1940s dairy production — including low milk yields, pasture-based management and no antibiotics, inorganic fertilizers or chemical pesticides — are similar to those of modern organic dairy systems,’ Capper noted.”
I'm not sure that's a particularly fair comparison.  I'm reacting because I was brought up on a 1940's dairy farm.  We did use penicillin for mastitis, however. If I remember our production was about 11,000 pounds per cow, which was quite a bit above average.  Today I think the average cow is much above that (more like 20,000 pounds).  I suspect most of that increase is breeding, not feeding. If that's true, the comparison doesn't work, because there's nothing to prevent organic dairies from having the best-bred cows.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nature or Nurture--Sex-Based Differences

I like The Cotton Wife Blog.  She has good pictures of attractive redheads, often in a rural, farm setting.

But the post I linked to raises the old nurture/nature question on the differences between boys and girls.  Which came first, her son's behavior or her evident enjoyment of the differences?

Returning Roads to Gravel

Political Animal comments on an apparent trend of cash-strapped states returning asphalt roads back to gravel.  The theme is that this is an example of failure to spend money on necessary infrastructure, which all us good liberals support.

It's possible there's a knee-jerk reaction here.  Many in the administration and in environmental community generally have bemoaned the drop in population in rural areas, particularly when it reflects the growing size of farms, "industrial agriculture".  The fact is, as population thins out, there's less need for roads which can support high volumes of traffic, because there simply isn't the traffic. Roads may be used most by the farm operator who needs to move her equipment from one section to another; sections which used to support multiple families but which no longer have anyone living on them.

Let's Refudiate Twitter?

Sarah Palin illustrates one of the pitfalls of Web 2.0--you tweet a new word, like "refudiate" and you get mocked.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Best News Today

Is contained in  this NYTimes article. which describes how Greg Mortenson and the US military are getting together.  (Actually, the print version of the headline specifically mentions Mortenson and "Three Cups of Tea", which makes Gene Weingarten's column in the Post more timely.  Gene mourns the decline of headline writers, because headlines on the Web are intended to play into search engines, not for information or humor. Be sure to see his mention of Lady Gaga.)

I read Mortenson's book back when it was just getting a little word of mouth. Briefly, chance leads him into the mountains of Pakistan/Afghanistan and into building schools for girls, schools which are supported by the village elders and therefore protected against outside terrorists The book was well-written and moving. It gradually found an audience, getting onto the Times best seller list, finally selling 4 million copies, including to the wives of Gen. Petraeus and Adm. Mullen, which has led to some rapprochement between Mortenson and the military, a rapprochement described in the article.

So far his site says 70+ schools, the Times article 130+ schools have been built. Mortenson thinks educating females is the ultimate solution to the problem of terrorism in that part of the world.  Makes sense to me.

What Scares a Nuclear Submariner?

I don't think of submariners and Navy Seals in the same way, but I do consider submariners to be tough-minded.  John Phipps is a ex-sub man and he's scared ****less by herbicide-resistant weeds.

I'd score that as one point for the organic types.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Organic Versus Locavore

EWG has a post on organic gains from which I take this quote:

Organic salad greens have fared even more impressively.  According to Nielsen surveys, fresh cut salad greens increased their market share from 8.3 percent in 2006 to 15 percent so far this year.  Pre-packaged specialty salads have grabbed a whopping 46 percent of that market sector, compared to 29 percent in 2006.
I observe the good news for organic isn't good news for locavores, as I'm assuming the pre-packaged greens are shipped. Once again the consumers' desires are conflicting; healthy--yes; convenience--yes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Keepseagle and Pigford

Here's a piece on the Keepseagle class action suit, which follows in the footsteps of Pigford. Unwittingly, the author may reveal some of the Catch-22 qualities of the FSA loan program.  The farmer given the most attention in the piece cites the discrimination he encountered.  He's described as saying: "After the regional office denied him a loan at 4 percent interest, Porter said he received an 8 percent interest loan through a private bank. He purchased the acres he lives on now, but he said the high interest has put a strain on his finances."

Now FSA's lords  in Congress have laid down commandments to FSA bureaucrats, and to the Farmer's Home Administration bureaucrats before 1994, which go something like this:
  • thou shall lend to the new farmers, to the historically disadvantaged, and to the needy
  • thou shall never compete with private enterprise, so thou shalt not lend to someone who can receive a loan from local banks
  • thou shall not lose money on bad loans
  • honor the maxim, late money is worse than no money.
Now, in theory, if the local banker is prejudiced and the FSA bureaucrat is not, there are opportunities to make good loans.  Of course the FSA bureaucrat isn't usually some stranger, she's someone from the locality, or at least the state, so if the banker is prejudiced it increases the chances the bureaucrat is also prejudiced.

Or maybe the local banker runs out of money to loan.  In that case FSA bureaucrat could, in theory, step in. The only problem is the running out of money is likely to occur late in the lending season, so the FSA bureaucrat's loan is likely to be late.

Now suppose both FSA and the bank have money to loan, and neither is prejudiced.  So Jane Doe goes to the bank and gets an offer of a loan at 8 percent.  She goes to FSA  but since she has a loan offer from the local bank, FSA turns her down. Or, as in Porter's case, FSA turns him down, thinking it's likely the local banker will approve the loan. That could be the case, or it may be discriminatory intent.  It certainly feels like discrimination to the loan applicants.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

USDA Cafeterias and Memory Lane

The Post's Jane Black visited various government cafeterias and rated them. She rated the USDA cafeteria a "D". I'm not sure how much it's changed in the last 10-15 years, since I last got the salad bar (with blue cheese dressing) every day.

When I started work at USDA I was in the Auditor's building, a red brick building from 1867 or so across 14th street from the South building and Administration buildings.  Back then there was a small cafeteria on the first floor of the Auditor's building, and the South building had at least 2, maybe 4, cafeterias. In the middle 70's they built a new cafeteria by taking over one of the courtyards between wings 2 and 3, big enough to serve the complex.  Once it was complete, they closed the old cafeterias, redid the space and moved my Administrative Services Division to the former site of the 6th floor cafeteria.

The old cafeterias were old-style: one line with limited choices for appetizer/salad, entrees, which were served by attendants, desserts, beverages, and payment at the end. The new cafeteria had more choices and was set up on the scramble system, with different stations for different things. Took a little getting used to.

[Added]  I think this is just a small example of the expansion of choice, particularly choice in food, over the last 50 years.  We expect lots of choices everywhere, we let and want our children to choose.  That's fine, but it also is a factor in obesity.

All Heart, Not the Shirt Off His Back, But the Tie Off His Rack

That's our President.

CRS Graphic

Posted by Picasa

I mentioned the CRS report on farm programs in this post. This graphic is snipped from the report because it clearly shows the reduction in farm program payments and the increase in crop insurance. Click on it to enlarge.

Fort Bliss More Dangerous Than Iraq?

That's a headline which could be derived from a NYTimes piece yesterday on the tribulations of an Army brigade returned from Iraq to Fort Bliss, Texas

I Helped Create a Monster

Farm Policy reports on calls for simplifying farm programs. Neither ACRE nor SURE work in all parts of the country.

I'm afraid I take a little credit for this.  By participating in installing computers and software programs in FSA county offices in the mid-80's, I became an "enabler".  Essentially we enabled the idiots in Congress and the farm lobby groups to design new and more complicated programs. I apologize.

I Don't Believe the Army Recruits

From a Politico piece on changes in basic training:
" Of those who are recruited, 54 percent of males and 43 percent of females are overweight."
Of course, most of my basic training unit were draftees, but I doubt there were more than 3 or 4 who were overweight.  The whole story is interesting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One Time I Agree With Althouse

Ann Althouse quotes from a Washington Post interview with the head of Zappos.  The last bit:
Tony Hsieh: We offer tours to the public, and our headquarters are in Las Vegas. We will pick you up at the airport, ride in the Zappos shuttle, take an hour long tour and then drop you off at the hotel.

For candidates we do the same thing: We pick them up, give them a tour, and then they spend the day interviewing. But at the end of the interview process, our head of recruiting goes back to the shuttle driver and asks them how they were treated. If they were not treated well when they thought they were off the clock then we won't hire them, it's not even a question.
There are a lot of big shots who, away from the camera and the media, are a**holes. But this is about how you create a culture in your organization. And it's good--certainly makes me more likely to buy again from Zappos, not that a retired codger needs much wearing apparel.

Elect That Man to Congress

We need the incisive insights on Capitol Hill, as displayed here: " I think home teams play better at home,"  NL manager Manuel.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ms Sullivan, C-Span and the FBI

I was channel surfing, partially catching Fran Sullivan, GWB's staffer over DHS, etc.  Quite interesting, in that she's coming from a bureaucratic perspective, and some of the audience were also bureaucrats (i.e Chertoff, Ben-Veniste).  One thing which caught my attention in the area of sharing data was mention of the FBI's case file system.  As she observed, if the key to your filing system is a case tied to an individual, and all information gets entered in that system, you're liable to be unable to find  data which doesn't.  Unfortunately the case file is embedded in the FBI's DNA, so their ability to design their software is limited.  Rather like FSA's reliance on county files.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bureaucrat Who Did His Duty

You always have to have a signature on an order.  That's what Lt. Hamburger said.  See this Brad DeLong post

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Open Government at NTIS

My first contact with NTIS (which I think stands for National Technical Information Service, the techie wing of the Commerce Department) was back in 1970 or so when I was trying to research word processors and then CRT's--bought a couple publications of theirs.  Not much has changed, as Matt Yglesias discovers--their publications are now on CD's, but they still cost ($80). Matt thinks information yearns to be free; I believe the problem for NTIS is their operations are not funded by Congress, but by user fees.  This is somewhat similar to the Administrative Conference of the US which uses its online document service fees ($.08 per page to download) rather expansively.

In principle I think all information generated within the government should be on line, searchable, and available at no charge.

Striking Sentence of July 11

" The engineers programmed RUBI to cry when its arms were pulled. "

This comes from a NYTimes article on how computer scientists are creating robots who act as partners, teachers, or helpers, particularly for children, especially autistic children. The first trial with RUBI, two boys pulled off its arms.  So crying turned out to be the solution; the boys backed off.  I recommend the article.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cost Per Visit

Federal Computer Week has an article on the United Kingdom's effort to reduce the number of web sites the government supports. perhaps 75 percent of the 820 sites. They've also come up with a metric the US government should use: the cost per visit to the site. (The priciest was $17+ per visit.)  Although, on second thought maybe the metric should be the cost per minute of visit.  I've proposed before each government website should have a link to a set of metrics describing usage of the website.  I repeat the suggestion.

And How About Federal Standards (Chickens)?

Understanding Government has a post on California chicken.  As they say, the animal rights people imposed tougher standards on CA chicken growers 2 years ago, over poultry opposition.  This year, animal rights and poultry people imposed the same tougher standards on eggs imported into CA.   One can see this in many ways.  I'd add to UG's discussion the  idea that liberals usually tend to support one nationwide standard for things, except when they don't, as here.  Again I go back to the idea of our weak government, due in part to federalism.  Political principle is easily discarded when the government structure makes it easy for you to win.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Housing Size

Ezra Klein has a post responding to a suggestion of mine--discussing the difference in housing size among the nations and cities. The US is sitting at something over 800 square feet per person (that's including all square footage in the house); European figures, which are "usable space", presumably just kitchens, living rooms, bed rooms, range from 300 for Estonia to about 550 for Denmark

US median housing size has gone from about 1500 in 1973 to 2500 in 2005, with the Northeast leading the way.

I doubt how much value the increased square footage adds to human happiness.  After all, it only takes 100-200 square feet to give each child a bedroom.

The Trials of the Bureaucrat

Census takers are bureaucrats. Via Chris Blattman, here's how the great American public deals with them.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Burke on Causes of the Revolution

Then, Sir, from these six capital sources; of descent; of form of government; of religion in the northern provinces; of manners in the southern; of education; of the remoteness of situation from the first mover of government; from all these causes a fierce spirit of liberty has grown up. It has grown with the growth of the people in your colonies, and increased with the increase of their wealth; a spirit, that unhappily meeting with an exercise of power in England, which, however lawful, is not reconcilable to any ideas of liberty, much less with theirs, has kindled this flame that is ready to consume us.

Funniest Sentence for Codgers Today

From Joel Achenbach at the Post, who's got a 50th birthday upcoming:
 It's a milestone when "nap" makes your daily To Do list.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Lawyer Knows Soccer

David Post at Volokh Conspiracy made a bet at 23  to 1 odds that Spain and the Netherlands would be in the World Cup final.

Immigration and Housing Prices

I still have a bee in my bonnet about the relationship of immigration to housing prices, and the tightening of enforcement to price drops.  I found another bit of support in these paragraphs from a Calculated Risk post:
I can add a little to this story: I know of an individual investor (through a close friend) in the Phoenix area who has bought almost 100 homes over the last 18 months. The investor has shared with me his portfolio. He has only bought single family homes, no condos. His average purchase price was under $35,000 and most of the homes are 3 br / 2 ba.

He is renting the homes, many by the room. Yeah, they sound like flophouses! The investor is starting to have a vacancy problem that he attributes to the new Arizona immigration law that takes effect on July 29th.
 Incidentally the housing prices in Manassas Park are now about half what they used to be.

Questions on Reading "Revolutionaries"

I've started reading Jack Rakove's "Revolutionaries,  A New History of the Invention of America".  It's not doing well on Amazon's ratings, except when you look at the one-stars you find people complaining, not about the book but about the Kindle price. So far I'd recommend it--it reads easily. I'm reasonably familiar with the period but it has triggered a couple questions/observations so far. 

  • I wasn't familiar with Edmund Burke's speech on conciliating the colonies--Rakove quotes enough that I've looked it up on line.
  • I wonder why none of the Canadian provinces attended the "First Continental Congress".  I grew up reading Kenneth Roberts, whose historical fiction included the attack on Quebec/Montreal led by Benedict Arnold and Gen. Montgomery, which was an attempt to get those northern provinces to join the revolution.
  • although Americans don't usually like having the national government exercise powers over individual citizens, that's exactly what the First CC did--establish local committees to enforce the boycott on British goods.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Obama Uses Poles for His Tomatoes

That's the takeaway I got from this Obamafoodorama post, which includes a photo of the President showing off the White House garden to Biden and Reid.  It's good to see Obama involved with the garden; look what my better half has done. Although, just to carp, I've yet to see any of the Obamas doing any actual work in the garden other than the first plantings and harvesting--who is doing the weeding, since they don't use mulch down the rows?

So Much for the Myth of the Loving Bonobos

Beneath the velvet glove lies an iron hand, according to this article in today's Times:
Once, while in the Congo, I witnessed Tatango, this young male bonobo, start to do what the chimps in Uganda regularly did: he went up to the alpha female, Mimi, and backhanded her across the face. She gave him the most withering look. Within seconds, five unrelated females chased him into the forest. Poor guy. They almost took his testicles off. After that, he never made another problem. Bonobo females seem to know that if they stick together, the males can’t dominate.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ohio Compromise--How to Treat Livestock

It's not the Missouri Compromise of 1820, but Gov. Strickland probably faced some similar passions: the Farm Bureau protecting current methods of raising livestock, particularly cages for hens and farrowing  crates for sows, while the Humane Society wants to end both.  Farm Policy has a description here

If I understand, they took a standard approach in these sorts of disputes: grandfather in the existing operations and apply new rules to new operations. (Same tactics have been used in lots of labor union-employer disputes; keep the old-timers whole and make the newbies suffer.) John Phipps has a slightly jaundiced, dare I say cynical evaluation.

Given the proliferation of outlets, the bottom line for farmers and processors is: if you and your customers wouldn't like seeing it on-line, don't do it, because it will be on-line.  Just ask Dave Weigel about the ability to keep data private.

Those Regimented French--Govt. Prescribed Sales Days

From Mr. Beauregarde:
France being France, shopkeepers just can’t hold sales when they like, sales are national évents with precise dates set for when they start and finish. So, they started yesterday and will go on for five weeks. Bargain hunters were out eary yesterday morning. Some stores were offering réductions of up to 40% on some articles. [fixed typos]

Words of Wisdom from the President

Obamafoodorama reports on the picnic the Obamas had for 1100 military and dependents.  To quote:
He noted that due to the sweltering heat, he and Mrs. Obama had advised the troops not to come in uniform. But the President pointed out one fellow, a corporal, who was attired in a dark suit.
"I said man, you must be hot," President Obama said. "And he said, I'm sorry sir, I know you're my Commander In Chief, but my grandmother said I had to dress up."

"You can't argue with Grandma,"  President Obama said, to laughter.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


It took over a year (from May 30, 2009 to June 16, 2010) but FSA finally updated the link from its page on the ARRA to MIDAS (i.e, from the Recovery Act to the project to redo FSA computer systems.)  I have to say the data they provide doesn't do much for me.

The Age of Blogging: Bellesiles

The American Historical Association included a link to a piece by Michael Bellesiles on teaching military history in time of war.  It's well-written, with the key being the serious injury to the brother of one of the class.  It got a good reaction in the comments, until one commenter asked why Bellesiles was only an adjunct at Central Connecticut.  Other commenters jumped in, recalling the scandal over his sourcing of Arming America, and loss of his Emory U job and his Bancroft Prize.

Moral?  These days it's hard to escape your past

Numbers for Today

An assortment of numbers which struck me:

41--the number of deaths in Iraq among the combat forces, though most were non-combat
78 percent--the number of NFL players who are bankrupt or in financial difficulties 2 years after leaving the league
37--the number of Shakespearean plays Sen. Byrd quoted in his speeches on the floor of the Senate in 1994.

4th--the day of July.

The Alpha and Omega of Bureaucracy

The Post today had pieces showing the alpha and omega of bureaucracy:
Ezra Klein discusses the need for "creative bureaucrats" (my term, not his) to write the regulations for health care reform and financial reform.  Getting the system right up front is critical to success or failure. He writes:
Both bills require the creation of institutions, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the state health insurance exchanges. And both require existing agencies, like the Federal Reserve and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to take on much larger roles. All of this tends to play poorly politically, with naysayers worrying about unelected bureaucrats making important decisions behind closed doors. But in some ways, the greater danger is that the doors will be open and the wrong people will walk through
Peter Carlson has a piece from the other end of the bureaucracy: the "operator", the person who has to apply the rules and regulations in face to face dealings with the (in this case) American public as a census worker.  He had to contact people who failed to mail back their form.  His account, including the creation of two new races (Armenian-Irish and Irish-Peruvian) shows the reality behind government statistics, as well as being a reflection of where we are in the great melting pot.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Soft on Crime--Republican Justices?

  From the Scotus Blog (hat tip Volokh Conspiracy),  counter-intuitive sentences, though I don't intend to revive the "soft on crime" political slur, regardless of to whom it is applied:
"But it is easy to overlook that their principled reading of other provisions regularly leads Scalia and Thomas to adopt the very most defendant-favoring positions on the Court.  In previous Terms, Scalia and Thomas have been a part of the majority revolutionizing both sentencing and the right of confrontation, which favor criminal defendants."

Pigford Update

The Pigford money has been having a hard time making it through Congress because it's attached to legislation the Reps and Dems are fighting over.  But there was a switch to a plan B which may help, described here.

But this quote from John Boyd puzzles me:
"Boyd also called on southern Republican senators to "do the right thing for the black farmers" who are their constituents and vote for it. He noted that Mississippi and Alabama each has about 20,000 black farmers who would get settlements."
I don't see anything in this which supports his figures, though he may be thinking of people who would/have applied and not the "black principal operator"  ERS uses.  Mr. Boyd should also note that (20,000 + 20,000) * $50,000 = $2,000,000,000, which is more than is available and more than is agreed to in the recent negotiations.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Those Tough French Schools--Factoid of the Day

Via Mr. Beauregarde:
"40% of French school kids up to the age of fifteen have repeated a year at some stage in their éducation."

And, within living memory, French kids used to go to school on Saturday.

NRCS and FSA--Testimony from FSA

I quote from a legislative statement dated today, the testimony of Mr. Lohr:
Both FSA and NRCS are in the process of upgrading their technology and business processes, FSA through the Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems (MIDAS) project and NRCS through the Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative. Having FSA administer conservation programs would go a long way towards assisting NRCS in reaching its Streamlining Initiative goals of reducing field staff administrative workloads by 80%. It would also enable their field staff to reach the goal of spending 75% of their time in the field providing conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers. NRCS has indicated concern with the administrative burden on field office technical staff from expanded roles for contract development and management. NRCS’s Streamlining Initiative encourages a move to a “natural resource centric view” concentrating on identifying and solving resource problems and moving away from a “financial assistance centric view.”

The NRCS Streamlining Initiative highlighted as one of its top objectives the implementation of programs through alternative staffing and delivery approaches designed around more efficient business processes to minimize the non-technical workload on field staff.

Now is the time to make the IT changes to enhance FSA’s administrative and NRCS’s technical capabilities .For example, FSA and NRCS use different GIS software programs, ArcGIS and Toolkit, respectively. This is not practical. It is extremely inefficient to develop and maintain two USDA systems to administer farm and conservation programs. We can no longer afford these inefficiencies.

The third from the last sentence surprises me.  So much for the work of Kevin Wickey.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What Does Extension Do?

Here's an article on the shift of an extension director over to FSA, which provides some information on what extension actually does, at least in Iowa.

A Bit of History

Brad DeLong has been running a series of posts related to WWII.  Here he quotes Neville Chamberlain's speech when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.  I found this sentence striking:
"Every man and woman in this country who remembers the fate of the Jews and the political prisoners in Austria must be filled today with distress and foreboding."

McArdle and Normalizing Children

Megan McArdle is back from her honeymoon and worrying about normalizing children: human interventions to adjust the height, and other characteristics, of our children.  As a very tall woman, she tentatively plumps for normalizing:
"If I were presented with a virtually riskless way to let my daughters buy clothing off the rack, and blend into the classroom a little better?  Frankly, no child of mine is ever going to have a brilliant athletic future in front of her.  So why not?  I'm pretty sure she could fight the patriarchy just as easily without a 35 inch inseam."
I'm bugged by the middle sentence and would have commented but I come late to the party so I'll post here instead:
  • she does not allow for the genetics her daughter will receive from her husband.  He may be a total klutz, but maybe not.
  • even if neither parent contributes much in the way of coordination, I'm reading the sentence, perhaps wrongly, as saying Ms McArdle looks down on athletics, at least as it pertains to her and hers. I'm hearing in it an echo of the attitude I get from some older relatives of mine: I'm no good on computers and technical type stuff.  That drives me up the wall. Now if they'd say: the world is full of wondrous things and my time on the planet is limited, so I choose not to invest the time needed to learn the ins and outs of Windows and the Internet--that I could understand.  
  • so I guess I'd wish McArdle to say: while I'm not good at athletics, I'll try to keep my daughter's eyes open to athletics, just as I keep them open to a possible career in nuclear physics.

Balls and Strikes

Andrew Pincus at TPM reports on an exchange with Ms. Kagan on the famous Roberts definition of a judge's role: call balls and strikes.  I'm disappointed she didn't go further with the metaphor.  Anyone who grew up when I did was told the strike zone was between the knees and the armpits, and over the plate.  Anyone who watches baseball on TV today knows that's not the way umpires see it today.  And there's no consistency from umpire to umpire.  The best the pitcher and the batters can hope for is consistency through the day.