Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lower Crop Prices in the Future and the Farm Bill

That's what the CBO is projecting. according to this Bloomberg piece.  Corn cash prices down to $4.54?  That's not going to help farm bill prospects: some people will worry about lower prices, others (urban) will point to past high prices.

Meanwhile, FSA's friends over at the Farm Bureau are worrying about implementation--from Farm Policy:
“We have serious concerns about the other proposals floating around, which dictate different rules, different crops and different payments. Not only would such programs be a nightmare for local Farm Service Agency offices to administer, but farmers would have the ability to cherry-pick which program works best for them. Because of distortions in price, we’d have a system of farmers deciding what to produce based on government payments rather than market signals.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

Incarceration Rates

Mr. Coates blogged about drug policy and incarceration today, which caused to me check our history.  Incarceration jumped from 338,000 in 1980 to over 2 million by the 2000's, a 6-fold increase.

FSA Office Closings

I have a Google Alert set up for "FSA".  These days as you might expect there's lots of hits on the proposed closures of FSA offices; some are just reporting the proposal, some report meetings held to protest the possibility.  Google "USDA FSA closing" to see some of the reports.

There's probably no way to do a "BRAC"  commission for these proposals as has been done for closing military bases..

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Innovation and the Small

Innovation often comes from the small, the small business, the individual entrepreneur.  But innovation often disadvantages the small, the established small farmer, the small store owner, the small theater.

One example is the change from film to digital in movie theaters, which the Rural Blog posts on here.

It reminds me of when our farm went from horses to a tractor, turned out we needed to invest in other implements, all of which required capital.  Those who can't access or accumulate the money can get left behind.

(Having said that, the local Reston theater is under new ownership and is renovating, including all digital projections.  We saw "War Horse" there, which has great cinematography, and the experience was great. )

Communitarian Liberalism as Zero Sum

Ross Douthat in the NYTimes sets up a strawman, communitarian liberalism, on his way to attacking the Obama administration.
But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.
Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.
 His specific point is the rule providing that health care facilities which offer healthcare insurance must include contraception, etc. among the benefits.  This is particularly offensive to those facilities run by the Catholic church.

What he fails to acknowledge in his lead-in are the ways in which the government encourages those "alternative expressions of community".  For example, contributions to religious and charitable organizations are tax-deductible; property owned by such organizations is tax-exempt.  From my point of view, rather than there being a zero-sum game played between government and NGO's, there's a complex interweaving of interests, sometimes symbiotic, sometimes parasitic, among all the players.

His argument would be more effective if he offered an example of a government monopoly in education, in health care, in welfare.  I can't think of one.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why James Stewart's Production Is Down

James B. Stewart, the prize winning author, and NYTimes columnist sat down with a calculator to compute his tax rates and reports here.  The results:
I paid 24 percent of my adjusted gross income in federal taxes and 37 percent in combined federal, state and local income taxes. I paid 49 percent of my taxable income in federal income tax, and 74 percent of my taxable income in combined federal, state and local income taxes. My totals include federal payroll and self-employment taxes.
 No wonder his productivity over recent years has been down--he pays too much in taxes--that's the logic conservative economists would use.  His picture reflects his self-employment and living in NYC.  I'm too lazy to check but I think the usual figure for comparison is the AGI percentage (i.e., Gingrich paying 30+, Obamas 25+, Romney 14+).

This led me to a thought though: Mr. Stewart may well have slowed down some recently, but is that more the effect of incentives/taxes or is it the effect of aging. Much discussion of the impact of taxes on incentives omits any correction for age.

[updated: corrected typo]

GHWBush Shows Age

No, George W. Bush's dad isn't greying much, particularly when you realize he was born in 1924, but he is in a wheelchair according to this picture of him and son Jeb with Obama this weekend. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Base on the Moon

I bow to no one in my disdain for Mr. Gingrich.  But, there's always a but.  I do have to admit to just a tad of regard for his pushing the idea of establishing a base on the moon. He's wrong, of course. He pushes the base as a national enterprise, redounding to the glory of the American nation.  What the President elected in November should do is make a major push to internationalize space, try to get the Chinese participating, open our efforts up to other nations.  Obama, and Gingrich, seem to want to commercialize space, relying mostly on private enterprise. That's well and good, but.

This but is the problem of space junk. Space, near-earth space,  is a "commons", and the human race is currently engaged in its destruction. The only way to prevent polluting space is with international governance, plus funding of engineering solutions, a space garbage collector.

Back to Newt. I grew up in the classic age of science fiction: Heinlein, Asimov, Anderson, Clarke, et. al. While I know better now, it's hard to abandon one's childhood, hence my attitude towards Newt and his base on the moon.

Future for FSA Software

Haven't discussed FSA in relation to the farm bill recently.  There's discussion that it will be impossible to pass a new farm bill this year, given the election year politics, the debate over the deficit, etc. That would be good; it'd allow more time for FSA to implement their new software systems.  There's also discussion, as here in Farm Policy, about having crop-specific programs, rather that one program which covers what we used to call "the program crops", the major field crops.  That's bad.  Newly designed programs don't take on their final shape until the last minute, making it very hard to implement software for them (see ACRE), and having to implement 3 or 4 differently shaped programs for different crops further complicates the matter.  Add to that the loss of historical memory and expertise from the loss of Washington program experts. End result: "interesting times" ahead.

McDonalds in France

Via Ezra Klein, here's a study of how McDonalds has succeeded in France so well that it's their second most profitable market (the Klein post says "second biggest" but the study says profitable.

I've linked to Dirk Beauregarde posts in the past, most of which show France as a very centralized country.  But the lesson of McDonalds in France seems to be adaptation to local customs and suppliers, in contrast to their centralized and standardized operations in the US.  In part it's an attempt to recognize the French enjoy their food, and linger, while the Americans grab and go.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Good Is FSA's Management?

Federal Computer Weekly has a piece on a GAO report which analyzed why seven big IT projects were successful. 
  • The most common factor was the involvement of program officials, particularly in ensuring the participation of internal and external stakeholders. 
  • The next most factor was the knowledge and skills of the program officials and the support of senior management.

Are FSA Employees Federal?

That was my question when I saw this Post item, reporting OPM will survey all federal employees to assess their job satisfaction.  Now for some purposes county FSA employees who aren't farm loan officers are considered federal, for some purposes not.  I'd hope OPM includes them in this survey, but my guess in the normal course of events they won't.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Being Flexible: Chinese Versus US Versions

The NY Times had a long article on why Apple manufactures in China, focusing on Steve Jobs demand for the iPhone to have a glass screen rather than plastic.
One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
Meanwhile, Google Operating System has a post on how the Gmail logo was designed, including this quote from a book:
Dennis Hwang spent the day before the launch coming up with ideas for a logo and trying to make it work in conjunction with the clown-colored Google brand. (...) Even after four years at Google, I found it astounding that one twenty-something guy was sitting alone at his desk, sipping tea and developing the main branding element for a product to be used by millions of people - the night before it was scheduled to launch.
This fits our long-time image: China excels in throwing masses at a project; America is the home of the individual doer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kahneman and Dog Whistles

Finished reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow recently.  Also, there was discussion on blogs I follow about whether Gingrich was using  "dog-whistle" language in calling Obama a "food stamp president".

Kahneman's fast thinking is his System 1, which occurs unconsciously as we assess our environment on a second to second basis.  It is very capable, but sometimes faulty.  System 2 is essentially rational, conscious thought, which we hate to do and takes will power and energy.

An example is the famous optical illusions where two straight lines of equal length are displayed simultaneously, but one looks like this >----< and the other like this <----> .  When they're one above the other, the second looks shorter than the first.  That's the assessment of System 1.  Anyone who has encountered the illusion is capable of pulling from memory the fact that it is an illusion, and the lines are of equal length--that's System 2.

I'm thinking similar effects operate with political language.  Some language creates knee jerk reactions with the partisans, it's been devalued.  Things like "welfare queens", "socialist", "redneck", "Bible-thumper" all work that way.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wash Day

Boston 1775 provides part of a poem on wash day in 18th century Boston:
It’s an evocative slice of life, showing a moment when laundry day meant all the women in a household were busy and little girls weren’t allowed jelly or butter, yet science was about to let people fly:

Syrian USDA Office to Close

Chris Clayton takes a sardonic approach to the pols, and NASCOE, resisting Vilsack's proposed closure of USDA offices.

See this for NASCOE's position,including a thrust at NRCS (all agencies in a county should be evaluated when talking office closures).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Conflict in the New Farm Bill

One problem the food movement will face in the new farm bill is the choice between trying to expand the supply of good food (i.e., local and organic) and the present.  The more you do that, the lower the prices will be and the harder it will be for existing producers to continue with their current size and business model.  In other words, expand the supply and you encourage the growth of "corporate" and "industrial" organic/local agriculture.

Just a thought.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mobile Offices for USDA?

Back in the mid-90's, when the Service Center project was under Greg Carnill, one of the proposals coming from RD was to have mobile offices.  That was seen as a way to reach out to underserved areas (I think especially heavily Latino areas and reservations where language might be a problem). I thought of that when I saw this piece on VA's mobile Vetcenters.

John W. Boyd's Loan Specialist

John Boyd is prominently associated with the Pigford lawsuit.  I just happened to notice there's a vacancy in Mecklenburg county for a supervisory farm loan specialist.  I also found it interesting that the town is Boydton.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lexis-Nexis Is a Government Innovation

Who would have thought it?  That was my reaction when I read this obit in the Post. Three paragraphs:
Mr. Rubin was a corporate lawyer in New York during the late 1960s when he was asked to give his advice on a new computerized legal research system.
The digital database had begun as a project to catalogue Ohio state laws using Air Force technology [emphasis added] that tracked intelligence reports. Mr. Rubin quickly saw the system’s commercial potential because of its ability to make millions of legal documents easily and quickly available to law firms.
The key was to ensure that the database was simple to use, Mr. Rubin said, because “lawyers can’t type, and only 15 percent can spell.”
 Of course, I enjoyed the last paragraph as well. 

The Era of Good Feelings on the Hill

In a previously unreported interview, there was evidence of an era of good feelings on Capitol Hill, or maybe not.  Maybe it's like the glimpse of that rare woodpecker in the LA/AR swamps, but at least it's something: a Republican legislator was complimentary of a Democrat:
Debbie [Sen. Stabenow] was an absolute pleasure to work with in attempting to put the hurry-up proposal together for the super committee that never came about, but Senator Stabenow, Chairwoman Stabenow was a pleasure to work with and she demonstrated an intense amount ofintensity over on the senate side to try and move things there, so that’s a positive force.
That's from an interview with Rep. Lucas, chair of House Ag.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Obama, Vilsack, and Kahneman

"Loss aversion" is part of  Daniel Kahneman's thought. As he writes in Thinking: Fast and Slow, the theory is that people mostly prefer choices which minimize the risk of loss as opposed to maximizing the chance of gain. And, more interestingly, we prefer a choice which offers the chance of avoiding a loss, even though it's not rational.

On page 305 he ties that into proposed reorganizations, arguing that any reorganization will cause someone to lose something and, given human preferences for loss aversion, they'll fight a lot harder to avoid the loss than people who may stand to gain by the reorganization will fight to implement it.

We can already see this with Obama's proposal on reorganizing commerce; there's lots of resistance to including the office of the US Trade Representative in the overall reorganization.

The same sort of logic applies to the closing of USDA offices; those adversely affected by the loss will fight hard.

But that leads to a mystery: why was Congress able to reorganize USDA in 1994 by combining part of FmHA with ASCS to make FSA?  Maybe part of it was in the splitting of FmHA--those parts which became Rural Development could see themselves as gaining by the reorganization.  The old Rural Electrification Administration had long been a target for reformers, but by merging it into RD the old name and the old reputation was lost, at least among those who had only a superficial acquaintance with USDA and the lobbyists behind it could see a gain.

Meanwhile the farm loan part of FmHA might not have had the greatest reputation in the government: GAO had had the loan programs on its list to give close scrutiny to.  And I remember my boss showing me a letter someone in Congress had sent to the old FmHA, criticizing their failure to implement some legislative provision in comparison with the speed with which ASCS had implemented other provisions.  That was, of course, unfair.  FmHA was bound by different constraints than ASCS, and had a different culture.  But still the contrast might have undermined support on the Hill for maintaining it as a separate agency. 

NY Times Undermines Security

That's what I took away from their article today on teenagers.  Apparently the true token of love today is information, specifically one's password.  All very touching, but surely the Times should point out the truth: you shouldn't have just one password, but multiple passwords.

[Update: see this Consumer Reports piece after Zappos.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

War Horse and Agriculture

Just saw the movie War Horse, a very pretty film.  But Steven Spielberg is no farm boy. The first third of the movie is pre-war, when the thoroughbred Joey, the War Horse to-be, is trained both as a riding horse and a plow horse. In order to pay the rent, the father has promised the landlord to plant a field to turnips. Supposedly the field  is both virgin and stony, impossible to plow. Sure enough, it's on the side of a hill and the ground is strewn with stones (though it's not clear whether they're weathered from the bed rock, which in Devon would be sedimentary, or glacial, rounded by water). 

For dramatic purposes I can understand the decision to plow uphill, it makes the task for Joey more imposing, though it makes no sense from an erosion standpoint. When you see the first furrow plowed, and all subsequent furrows, somehow there's no stones in the soil, just good black soil.

Once the field is plowed, the father, limping from a war wound, starts sowing seed by hand. broadcasting across the furrows (no harrowing recorded). I could almost swear it was oats in the container, but I can't swear to it.  Now, through the miracle of Hollywood, all that broadcast seed turned several weeks later into neat rows! of turnips.  Unfortunately there's a big storm which somehow seems to uproot all the turnips, ruining the crop and creating another crisis for the family to face. I suppose the torrents could have eroded the dirt between the rows, but that didn't seem to be what happened.

I could go on to criticize the placement of the machine guns, but I won't.

It's a must see, if only for Emily Watson, who's always great.

Learning Self-Reliance in Scotland

The Stonehead and wife believe in self-reliance, so their sons learn cooking early.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Agriculture Is Solar-Powered

I have posted on hydroponic lettuce growing.  If you believe the advocates of organic agriculture, commercial agriculture is essentially hydroponic, in that the soil is exhausted so the plants are growing using the nutrients supplied by chemical fertilizers.  That's an exaggeration, but there's a bit of truth in it. That bit of truth means the salient fact about commercial agriculture is: it's solar-powered.

I wonder if anyone has done the calculation of the energy required to grow the crops we raise in the U.S.?  If they have, then you could do a graphic showing the sources of all the energy required to maintain our economy, presumably with solar power being a significant contributor.

Being optimistic about the power of search engines, I tried to answer the question in the previous paragraph, which didn't give an exact answer but did lead to an interesting Harpers article including this:
Nonetheless, more than two thirds of humanity's cut of primary productivity results from agriculture, two thirds of which in turn consists of three plants: rice, wheat, and corn.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Done List, Not To-do

I've probably been doing to-do lists for 60 years, off and on.  I get a spasm of will-power, a resolve to do better than I've done in the past, a desire to be better organized: result, a to-do list.  I write this because today's paper included a discussion of a new app for maintaining a to-do list.  I used to be an early adopter, picking up new technology and new software, but no more. No iPhones or iPads for this geezer, no modern apps.

My obsolescence doesn't make a difference; my to-do lists in the past have always petered out very quickly, like water draining into the sand. The number of jobs on the list was always too long, the life of my resolve was too short, and the result was disillusionment.

Two weeks is no basis to judge, but I just may have found an approach which works better for me: the done list.  Unfortunately I can't remember where I saw this suggested, but it's definitely not my idea.  What I've done is forget the list of projects, it's not important, I know well enough the things I'd like to get done. The "done list" is simply a log of days and notifications of what I've done.  My willpower extends (so far) to spending a little time doing something each day.  By recording what I've done I get some reinforcement.  It's the same psychology as the advice manuals on how to write: they say write something each day, every day.

7 Feet Ain't What It Used To Be

Back in the days of my youth, long long ago, the 7-foot high jump was, I believe, a barrier.  It represented something like the 4 minute mile, the 16 foot pole vault, the 60 foot shot put.  Wikipedia confirms it was a barrier, which was broken in 1956.

But now it's not.  Reston's Rashaan Jones, a high school junior, cleared it this week in an invitational meet.  Congratulations to him.  From the blog post:
Jones is among only seven others in Virginia high school indoor track history to have ever successfully cleared seven feet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Grand Promises

Secretary Vilsack said, according to the Des Moines Register: "
“We are updating our computer software, which dates from the 1980s, so that farmers will be able to do much of the application and paperwork from home rather than have to personally visit a USDA field office,” Vilsack said during a stopover in Des Moines on his return from Hawaii, where he had addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation."
 By chance this came just as I was reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow", and had reached the point where he recounts a story that's appropos.  Seems he was on a task force to come up with a textbook in Israel.  They'd been working for a while (maybe a year, don't have the book handy), had an outline and a couple chapters drafted.  So they were planning on when they'd finish, which they thought would be 2-2 1/2 years.  Then Kahneman asked a task force member about his experience and knowledge of other similar efforts.  The person asked, who had been in full agreement with the 2 year estimate, said that 40 percent of such efforts had never produced anything, that the rest had taken 7 years to accomplish the result, and that the task force in question was below average (in resources, etc.) compared to the other task forces he knew of.  

I.e., bottomline, the task force was not going to achieve its goal timely, and likely wouldn't do it at all. 

The members of the task force gulped, and proceeded to ignore the information.  The textbook was actually delivered in 8 years, and was never used.

Two points Kahneman made: when the meeting took place, the members were near the peak of their commitment to the effort, and had just tackled some of the big, easy pieces, so they underestimated the drain on the effort from lessening commitment and grim reality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ambivalence About Farming

I wonder if there's any occupation/profession where there's no ambivalence.  I felt a little ambivalence when I left the farm. And Bob at Pasture Raised... expresses his ambivalence in his most recent post (after a long absence). There might be more ambivalence among those who didn't grow up on a farm, but came to it later in life, perhaps with some rose-colored glasses.

Immigration and False Facts in NYTimes

The NY Times has an interesting op-ed article by a professor Dowell Myers, of SoCal, arguing that the immigration problem is over, because birth rates have fallen drastically, so our policies need to change.   I'd like to believe him.  Unfortunately, his facts are wrong, at least one of them:
Indeed, with millions of people retiring every week [emphasis added], America’s immigrants and their children are crucial to future economic growth: economists forecast labor-force growth to drop below 1 percent later this decade because of retiring baby boomers.
 If we have 2 million people retiring each week for 50 weeks, that's 1/3 of the nation retiring in a year. How easy it is to destroy one's credibility.

Surprising Energy Fact--Gas Prices

From the Des Moines Register, in an article discussing the adverse impact of lower natural gas prices on renewable energy:

"Natural gas prices have dipped  from $11.50 per thousand cubic feet in mid-2008 to $2.77 per thousand cubic feet this week on the Chicago Board of Trade."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lettuce Talk of Locavores

Post has an article on locally-grown lettuce which I find interesting, mostly because it includes some statistics.

The outfit produces 4,000 heads of leaf lettuce a week, every week, apparently immune to weather variations.  There may be additional outputs; it's not particularly clear. 

The lettuce in grown in 2 fancy-smancy greenhouses, very high tech with computers and stuff, which cover 12,000 square feet, which is a tad over .25 acre.  They're planning to add another greenhouse, some 20,000 square feet, which would bring them up to .75 acre.  Although they're greenhouses, consider this quote:
A computer regulates everything: the 43 high-pressure sodium lights and heater that maintain summerlike light and temperature; the shade cloths that come down at night or when it’s too sunny outside; the pH, nutrient balance and flow of the water and the water system; and carbon dioxide emitted into the air to boost growth.
 They have 12 part-time employees (retirees and housewives paid over minimum wage, plus 3 relatives of the owner-manager.

The lettuce with roots still attached sells in a clamshell for $5 a pop!!! (I'd assume they're selling to K street lobbyists, not to poor underpaid Feds.)  Not clear how much the grower gets. 

So, if we assume 5,000 a week for 50 weeks, that is 250,000.  Assume $2 to grower is $500,00; assume $4 and it's a million.  Assume the equivalent of 6 full-time employees paid $30,000 each is $180,000, leaving $320,00 for operating expenses and profit, or more.

If a population of 1 million uses a head per person per week, then it would take 200 such operations to supply, or 50 acres. So rooftop gardens could indeed supply greens for the city, assuming the residents were very well-paid.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Win for the Foodies: Hostess Bankruptcy

Hostess Brands, of Wonder Bread and Twinkies fame, is re-entering bankruptcy.  That's a victory for the food movement.

131 FSA County Offices OUt?

That's from the Des Moines Register.

[Updated--here's the press release,
FSA has almost exactly half the 259 cuts being announced by Vilsack in his speech to Farm Bureau.  And here's the fact sheeton the details.  I didn't see any reference to any pre-clearance with Congress.  Since the speculation is that Obama is going to run for re-election by bashing a do-nothing Congress, maybe the plan is to put this on the table, and let Republican Congresspeople yell about closures, then attack them for being hypocrites?  Am I cynical today?]

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Case for Two Parties

Though as a Democrat I don't wish success to Republicans, it's true that two parties are better than one.  That's true even in the District of Columbia, as shown in this Post column.  Briefly, a Republican candidate identified a case of fraud committed by his opponent.  Though he didn't win the election, his efforts eventually sent a city councilman to prison for 3 years. As the columnist observes, Democrats in DC often tolerate corruption.  I think that's endemic in situations where the unscrupulous politician can unite a majority against an outside threat:  think of Mayor Curley in Boston in midcentury rallying the Irish against the WASPs or numerous Southern politicians in the last century rallying the whites  against the blacks or Joe McCarthy pitting true Americans against the subversive unAmericans.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Obama Welshes on Promise?

I realize "welshes" might get me in trouble with the politically correct types, but there's a serious question raised here--whether Obama really carried out his promse.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Life Expectancy

I was surprised to learn that Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders have longer life expectancies than the US.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Indian Education

Ajay Shah has a discussion on the quality of Indian education.  Makes an interesting contrast to the usual discussions in the US

Why Economists Are Free Marketers

Reading Daniel Kahneman's new book,Thinking, Fast and Slow, still in the early chapters.  He discusses "priming", the idea that by association of ideas exposure to one thing will increase the relevance of others.  For example, if you're given "W--H" and "S--P" to complete after being exposed to words like "dirt" you'll likely say "wash" "soap", while if you were exposed to "hunger" it would be  "soup".  This is imperceptible to the person, part of what he calls System 1, though well-established by experiments.

This would explain the saying: "to the boy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail".  The boy is primed by the hammer to see things as items to be hit. 

It also explains why economists and humanists think so differently: their priming is different.  Economists talk money much of the time; humanists say, with Mr. Dodgson: "The time has come, the Walrus said,To talk of many things:Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax Of cabbages and kings And why the sea is boiling hot And whether pigs have wings."

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

It's the Simple Things That Count: Like Concrete

  Charles Kenny writes:
Starting in 2000, a program in Mexico's Coahuila state called "Piso Firme" (Firm Floor) offered up to $150 per home in mixed concrete, delivered directly to families who used it to cover their dirt floors. Scholar Paul Gertler evaluated the impact: Kids in houses that moved from all-dirt to all-concrete floors saw parasitic infestation rates drop 78 percent; the number of children who had diarrhea in any given month dropped by half; anemia fell more than four-fifths; and scores on cognitive tests went up by more than a third. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, mothers in newly cemented houses reported less depression and greater life satisfaction.)
 Concrete also works for highways, which improves economies in the third world.

Farmers Market as Intermediary

Jane Black writes in Wednesday's Post about a farmers market which serves as an intermediary between local farmers and their customers.  Organized as a co-op, it sells the farmer's produce for a 10 percent cut of the proceeds, thereby saving the farmers from having to sell and enabling them to continue producing.  It sounds good.  It sounds like the Reston farmers market at the corner of Rte 7 and Baron Cameron back in the 70's, 80's, and 90's.  That was run by a hippie who settled down and made his living by serving as a middleman between farmers and customers.  He got into trouble with the zoning people by going too far a field for some of his products, but it worked for a long while.

Selling cooperatives go way back.  They work, for a while, I think, but eventually something changes.  The person who drove the enterprise gets old or tired, or both; free market forces drive expansion and conversion into something like Whole Foods, or the clientele ages, changes, or moves. 

French Brides Wear Bespoke Dresses

That's one fact in Dirk Beauregarde's piece on French weddings. Been a while since I married my wife, but my impression is that many if not most US brides wear off-the-rack.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

That Christmas Tree Tax

Steve Sexton at Freakonomics has a post defending the "Christmas tree tax" of last year.  Needless to say I agree with him.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Omni-presence of Internal Politics

Read a biography of Gen. O. P. Smith, the commander of the First Marine Division in Korea. Also read the biography of Steve Jobs.  In both cases, as pointed out in the case of Jobs by this Govloop post, 
organizational politics played a big role in the subject's life. In any bureaucracy, military, civilian, private enterprise, what we call "politics" is always present.

The Founding Flip-Flopper

Flip-flopping has a long, if not honored, history.  The blog Boston 1775 moves south to Philadelphia to take note of a Revolutionary era flip-flopper in three posts. New Year's Day 1777, New Year's Day 1778 and the justification from later in 1778, after the Brits had left Philadelphia. 

The last shows that the Reverend Witherspoon had a wicked sense of humor, and provides a justification which our modern day politicians could use as a pattern: "I was neither pro-[insert word of your choice, war, individual mandate, conservative, whatever] nor anti-[insert the opposite word], I was a politician.

Incidentally, I note that the verse from 1777 calls upon God, while the verse from 1778 calls upon the classical gods of Greece and Rome. Probably not significant.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

"Liberating Strife"

I rarely thank politicians, particularly Republican politicians.  However Mr. Romney is celebrating American patriotic music, as discussed in this NYTimes piece today, and his interest triggered my interest.
And Mr. Romney does not just recite the lyrics — he annotates them, offering his interpretation of the meaning. “Most of the time when we sing a song, we don’t think much about the words,” he said. “But I’ve begun looking at these words and thinking about them.”
“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,” he said, is a reference to the country’s soldiers. (“Any veterans in this room here today?” he asked. “Thank you for your service.”)
The complete verse reads:
O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov'd,
And mercy more than life
For those interested, Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem in 1895. From her background and the timing, I assume the verse praises the Union soldiers of the Civil War.  I suspect Mr. Romney wants it to cover the veterans of more recent wars, but that's a stretch. Indeed, Mr. Romney might want to soft-pedal his affection for the song, at least that verse, when he campaigns in South Carolina