Saturday, March 31, 2012

George Will's Baseball Quiz

George has a quiz on baseball history here.  I got a couple right: Whitey Ford and Stan Musial.  I guess that shows my age. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Haunted by Vietnam? Try Algeria

When I Google "haunted by Vietnam" I get 87,000 hits. Currently it seems that Obama and the military are the ones haunted. I think though that we're mostly over the Vietnam war, except perhaps as it gets wrapped up with the cultural war and what we call the "Sixties". If I'm right maybe the U.S. is a bit more mature than the French, or maybe the Algerian war was much more traumatic for the French than Vietnam was for us.

That's the conclusion I draw from reading Dirk Beauregarde's post, keyed to the 50th anniversary of the end of the Algerian war, including interviews with relatives of Algerian soldiers serving with the French army.  Lots of trauma there, perhaps somewhat parallel to the Loyalists after the American Revolution.

A sidenote: JFK first made his national mark as a liberal and policy  thinker (as opposed to a politico who tried to be the VP candidate in 1956) by a speech on Algeria attacking French colonialism.

Another sidenote: The Battle of Algiers is highly regarded.

Firing People

Via Tyler Cowen, a Bryan Caplan post about why they haven't been fired, the "they" being employees of dubious worth (I clicked there expecting something about firing executives of financial companies but it's just employees who aren't pulling their weight). 

The bottom line to me: bosses in the private world have the same sort of problems in firing as those in the public world.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Masters and IBM

Both the Post and Times have pieces on women and the Masters Golf Tournament.  The Masters, of course, along with Bohemian Grove, is one of the last redoubts of male-only membership.  They've hung tough over the years, even after they finally admitted a black member.  They've always, of course, made the CEO's of their advertising sponsors members--that's only right and proper seeing as how the ads and TV have made the tournament. 

Everything was fine until...IBM, which is one of the three sponsors, named a woman as CEO.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kickstarter and Walt Jeffries

Walt Jeffries will be able to receive money via Kickstarter for completion of his Vermont butcher shop.  I probably will wait a bit to see what Kickstarter is all about, and I'm not clear on why he qualified on the second try but not the first.

I've the vague idea that the JOBS bill which just passed with bipartisan support is somehow related to Kickstarter, at least at the minimum encouraging small enterprises to get investment dollars.  It's all about reducing "friction", as some blogger I just read said (he was able to use an Apple app to buy something from an Apple store in 2 minutes without going to the salesclerk).

It's an amazing world.

Something for the Garlic Eaters

Obamafoodorama posts before and after shots of the White House garden.  What stands out when you click on the before photo and enlarge it is the garlic they have growing.  Back in my youth, garlic was something used in cooking by southern European immigrants.   Times have changed.  (I tried garlic once but it was a tricky crop to grow.)

Looks to me as if each helper had about half a flat of starts to put out.  Not exactly a hard day's work, but the symbolism is important.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obama's Garden

Obamafoodorama has posts on the actual planting of the White House Garden.  Apparently they're planting cool weather vegetables, mostly starts instead of seeds.  If they were sowing seeds I'd call them a tad late, since they're in a warmer area than we are. But starts makes sense: that way you can see where your untrained helpers are planting; wouldn't want to have any irregular rows, or rows which drift to the right in the garden.  Planted potatoes for the first time which makes sense in terms of productivity.

I observe Mrs. Obama favored girls, particularly Girl Scouts, in selecting her volunteers.  I also observe the idea that the Obama kids will garden has faded away.  It was a nice idea but this is a show piece with lots of different people with their fingers in the soil, which doesn't make for a good learning experience for the kids.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Modern Architecture

As you might expect from a geezer I'm not a real fan of modern architecture, particularly the modern architecture of the 1960's and 70's.  I do love Saarinen's Dulles Airport and St. Louis Arch. 

And this building in Reston, now vacant, works pretty well for me.  Not great, but okay.

White House Garden

Today's the day Mrs. Obama is getting her garden planted.  I'm almost reminded of Tom Sawyer and whitewashing the fence, given the number of kids who will be working for her. It's really a two-fer, since as Obamafoodorama observes, some of the invitees are from key battleground states for the fall election.  (In DC, it's politics, always politics.)  But planting is really the easy part, once the ground has been prepared, which we can assume was done by adults over the weekend. 

She's got good weather for it, a little windy as the cold front moves in, but I don't know whether she's planting tender vegetables or not.  March 26 is late for the cool-weather ones (our peas, lettuce, onions are doing well, thank you) and a tad early for warm weather, though given the availability of hoop beds, they can probably manage okay.

Options in the New Farm Bill

Farm Policy reports House Ag leaders are talking of "options" in the new farm bill.  I'm not quite clear on whether it's different strokes for different commodities, or offering choices for the same commodity.  

This sounds like bad news for FSA managers, IT types, and field staff:  the problems of explaining programs to farmers and of implementing software, regulations, and manuals for programs grow as the number of programs grows.  And I'd guess the relationship is not arithmetic, but more geometric.  Part of the problem is that each new program distracts from the previous: if you do A for program X, are you going to do A for program Y, or maybe you should do A1 or maybe A2?  So maintaining a focus becomes very hard.

If you combine more options with the possibility of more cutbacks in staff and/or government shutdowns you've got problems.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

You Can Lead a Horse to Water...

Since 1994 NASA has required program managers to document "lessons learned" and put the documents in a database.  The IG now says the effort isn't working according to this FCW piece.

Bureaucrats resist the idea we don't know something, so it's unlikely we'll exert any effort to look up lessons learned by someone else.

Wickard and Healthcare

How did a ladies dress shop owner become involved in the battle over the constitutionality of Obama's healthcare act? Jim Chen has a law article on Wickard vs. Filburn (1942) which will play a large role in the Supreme Court debate.

The issue in that case was the constitutionality of acreage allotments and marketing quotas on wheat, given that Filburn grew his wheat, in excess of his allotment, for consumption by his animals.

As best I could see in a scan of the text, Chen has the program and agriculture pretty close to right, and he's a good writer for a legal beagle.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How To Be an Assertive Woman

Follow Joan of Arc (Ken Anderson at Volokh Conspiracy posts her declaration of war).

Potholes Again in ND?

I remember Gary Cruff (the production adjustment specialist in the ND state office) calling in in the early 80's to be sure management knew what they were doing in changing cropland definitions around pothole areas.  We had revised the handbook and in the process had  changed the language and the regulations.

 The answer to Gary was that the change was intended, though in my memory the assistant deputy administrator who made the call was from Texas which has no potholes and probably did not understand the issues.  The potholes represent areas where blocks of ice from the retreating glacier sat, so the glacial debris settled around the ice, which when it melted then created a low area or pothole. Depending on seasonal precipitation, the pothole might fill with water, or might dry around the margins. There are also long-term wet and dry trends--over the course of several  dry years the farmer might be able to crop the margins, if not the entire pothole.   The question then became: were the marginal areas "cropland" or not; was the land regularly cropped with only occasional and intermittent flooding or was it not possible to crop it in "normal" years?  Under the program, land that was cropland could be designated as set-aside/ACR, land that wasn't cropland couldn't, so the farmers wanted as much of the pothole margin to be considered cropland as possible so they could call it set-aside.  The assistant deputy administrator took the approach that the program needed to reduce production when it compensated farmers for set-aside, and if the margins were not regularly cropped the farmers were getting a freebie. He was concerned about program integrity and, as a Republican, taxpayer money.

The issue is very sensitive to what management in the 1980's used to call "the duckies", the conservationists.  The pothole areas are important for wildlife, particularly for waterfowl and migratory birds.  The conservationists could care less back then about "program integrity"; they wanted the potholes protected--call them "cropland" and designate them as set-aside.  So, as I recall it, both the conservationists and the farmers were on the same side of that issue at the time.  That seems unlikely, so maybe my memory is totally wrong.

Anyway,  Sen. Hoeven is giving NRCS flak about its enforcement of conservation compliance.  The press release doesn't say so, but IMHO it's potholes again. (Hat tip: Farm Policy)  BTW, Sen. Hoeven could use some help on his website--there seems to be some disconnect there.  Maybe as much disconnect as my memory and potholes.

Interface Problems in Farming

A reminder of how far farming has come since my dad's problem was hooking up the new tractor to the old horse-drawn mower:  From John Phipps, excusing his slow blogging, emphasis added:
Multiple issues here on the farm, inclding working to get a rural water district started, speeches. field work, and the now-incredible complexity of hooking a green planter with a red tractor and third-party electronics. No excuse, but posting came in last.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Unbelievable Weather

Went to Lowes for landscaping blocks today.  They've got their tomatoes and peppers for sale.  I want to yell: it's too damn early.  Yes, the high today was 80+ (85 according to my car) and the leaves on the trees are opening.  But we've had frosts in early May, a good 6 weeks from now.  So there's a good probability of a frost.

Kevin Drum Is All Heart

It takes a big man to admit he's wrong, and being owned by two cats Kevin Drum is big.  Today he admits to his misjudgment of Rep. Ryan's budget.

Saving on Healthcare Costs, the Stonehead Way

What we need in order to save healthcare dollars is some good old-fashioned gumption, like that of the Stonehead, who's been having a rough few weeks as he tries to raise pigs and do spring work with one good hand.  But that doesn't keep a self-respecting Scot down, as you'll see in this blog post.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

James Q. Wilson and Alliance Bureaucracy

One of the good things about the late James Q. Wilson's book, Bureaucracy, was its inclusion of the military as a bureaucracy.  Sometimes it gets very complicated, as in this diagram of the command and control structure for Afghanistan at Tom Ricks blog. I suspect a similar diagram for the Allies in WWII would be even worse.

Smoking and Sex

I owe a hattip to Suzy Khimm at Ezra Klein's blog; here's a post on the economist with maps showing worldwide cigarette consumption, by sex.
About 800m men smoke cigarettes, compared with fewer than 200m women. More than 80% of these male smokers are in low- and middle-income countries. The problem is particularly acute in China, where 50% of men smoke (compared with just 2% of women), consuming one-third of the world's cigarettes in the process.
 I can remember when the local radical (she was a Democrat and she wore slacks) was also a smoker, a scandal for a woman in that small community. She was one of my mother's best friends, and suffered from emphysema in her latter years.

I wonder if the dynamics leading to male smoking in China are the same as in the U.S.

Payment Limitation

One might think that with the likely demise of direct payments, the idea of payment limitations would recede into the background.  But Chris Clayton at DTN  reports Sen. Grassley and others are pushing revisions:
The legislation would have a $250,000 cap for married couples and maintains a hard cap on marketing-loan gains. Under a shallow-loss program, it would set a $100,000 cap for a couple under that program. It would also tighten language defining "actively engaged" to collect payments. Grassley said there are too many people claiming they are actively engaged because they participate in a phone call or two each year about the farm.
Crop insurance would not be covered.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Path Dependency and the Butterfly in Politics

Chaos theory famously says that the flap of a butterfly's wing off Brazil could change the weather in the US.  Path dependency says where you end up depends on where you start, that your choices are constrained by the initial conditions.

Freakonomics reports on a study which says, back when the Tea Parties first demonstrated, if the weather was good in the area the tea party grew larger and more powerful compared to the parties in areas where it rained. 

Can I go from that and say if the night of the Boston Tea Party had seen a blizzard come in, we'd be celebrating our Queen's 60th year of rule?

The Importance of Data Modeling

And thinking outside the box.  The NYTimes has a piece on how American retailers are trying to open up their websites to foreign customers.  Turns out it's not simply a matter of trusting shipments to UPS or FedEx.  For one thing, some foreign countries have postal codes which aren't 5 digits.  Imagine that!

I mock, yet the longer I live the more I see that my own data modeling efforts in the 90's were horribly limited by assumptions and chauvinism.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rep. Ryan and USDA

From Politico, reporting on the budget offered by the House Republicans:

"And with a new farm bill in the offing, Ryan envisions a major restructuring of food stamps together with cuts in commodity and crop insurance subsidies....

For the Agriculture Committee, which hopes to write a new farm bill before September, the expedited budget schedule poses both a severe challenge — and potential opportunity.
The draft numbers demand $8.2 billion over the first year, $19.7 billion over five years, and $33.2 billion over a decade. Indeed, the relatively high first-year number suggests that the budget will assume an early rollback of more generous food stamp benefits first allowed under the 2009 economic stimulus bill.

In terms of core commodity and crop insurance programs, the longer-term savings are considerably more than the draft farm bill negotiated by the House and Senate Agriculture leadership last fall. That measured saved just $23 billion over 10, compared with $33.2 billion.

But if a compromise can be found, the Agriculture Committee could find it in its interest to hitch a ride with the budget package so as to get a farm bill across the House floor with a minimum number of amendments.

Leaving himself a little room to bargain, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) gave a gentle reminder that farm policy is still his domain.
“I would caution people about reading too much into the numbers or policy proposals in either the President’s budget or the Ryan budget,” Lucas said in a statement.”They are only suggestions.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

The "E-Plus" World?

At John Fea's blog, meditation on whether we'll have a "print-plus" world or an "e-plus" world?  Will students expect to have all textbooks and assigned reading available in e-books or will the default be to presume as we have in the past, that such material is printed?   You can expand that to apply to government interactions, etc.--we already, I think, assume phone numbers are on websites, not in the whitepages.

US Bureaucrats: Score One for FDA

NYTimes has an interesting article on the problems a Greek entrepreneur had in setting up an olive oil export business.  Even had to provide stool samples.  But, towards the end of the article:
At one point, the company got a huge order from Denmark, he said. But the paperwork for what amounted to a wholesale transaction was so onerous that they decided not to even try to fill the order.
In contrast, he said, getting approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to export his products to the United States took about 24 hours. “It was all online,” he said. “Nothing could be done online in Greece.”
 Way to go FDA.

(Though on second thought, I hope they're devoting a bit more attention to Chinese exporters.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When Is a War Not a War

When it is the "events".  A paragraph from Dirk Beauregarde's post on the 50th anniversary of the Algerian War:
We never hear much about the Algerian war in Britan. We never seem to talk much about it in France. Even 50 years on, the war is still very much a taboo subject. Until 1999, the conflict in Algeria wasn’t even called a « war » - politicians would officially refer to the eight years of bloody conflict as « The évents ». It took a parliamentary commission and a new law for the « military opérations in Algeria » (as they were referred to at the time) to be officially qualified as a « War ». The change in terminology was not born from an act of conscience – it was all because there was no money for Algerian war vétérans and war widows – you can’t be a war vétéran or a war widow if the war wasn’t called a war. For years there was a national outcry as widow and vétérans went without pensions or compensation. So i twas on 18th October 1999 in the new Service Pensions Law that the « évents » in Algeria became officially became the « Algerian War ». Wrapping it all up in an obscure pensions act – that illustrâtes the French attitude to the War in Algeria. [Spelling corrected]

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Actively Engaged" in Farming

From EWG's blog:

The highlight of the Senate Agriculture committee’s hearing on farm subsidies and crop insurance was when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked  Michael Scuse, the Acting Undersecretary For Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture whether he considered people who participate in only two farming-related conference calls per year to be actively-engaged farmers. EWG research has uncovered millions of federal agricultural subsidies going to well- off landlords and investors living in every major American city.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Customer-Facing" Jobs

Jargon sometimes catches my fancy.  This one is from an FSA notice on telework.

I assume employees in offices other than county offices show their rears to customers.

Variations in Risk: the Case of Irrigation

Referring back to the map from yesterday, one factor which makes a difference is the use of irrigation.  I take that from this quote in Farm Policy, referring a dissent within the Farm Bureau, 3 state bureaus of which disagree with the national proposal:
“‘The problem that the three states have in common is we’re heavy in rice and cotton,’ says [Jeffrey Hall, who deals with national affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau]. ‘Also, we all have a lot of irrigated acreage. We have different issues with irrigated corn than the Midwest, which doesn’t irrigate (like the Mid-South does).
“‘The common thread for the three states was the ‘catastrophic deep loss’ proposal that AFBF has been talking about, the two policies passed at the convention (concerning that proposed) safety net program. We’ve run the numbers with University of Arkansas economists and it won’t provide the kind of safety net that our farmers feel they need to stay in business.’”
“‘The problem that the three states have in common is we’re heavy in rice and cotton,’ says [Jeffrey Hall, who deals with national affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau]. ‘Also, we all have a lot of irrigated acreage. We have different issues with irrigated corn than the Midwest, which doesn’t irrigate (like the Mid-South does).
“‘The common thread for the three states was the ‘catastrophic deep loss’ proposal that AFBF has been talking about, the two policies passed at the convention (concerning that proposed) safety net program. We’ve run the numbers with University of Arkansas economists and it won’t provide the kind of safety net that our farmers feel they need to stay in business.’”

It's a reminder of how varied our agriculture is, and how limited my imagination, because I didn't even consider it yesterday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Faux British Hipness

The USDA blog has a post on how a new market for cotton is being created with "Under Armour".  The company was founded by a UofMD man so has gotten some attention in the Post.  But I was struck for the first time today by the British spelling of "armor". I guess he was trying to be posh and hip and all that good stuff.  Maybe the athletes he clothes "glow" or "perspire" instead of "sweat".  Farmers sweat.

Catching Up With the White House Garden

Obamafoodorama has a photo of detailees gathering greens from the White House garden (they call in people from elsewhere in the bureaucracy when there's a state dinner in the works.. I think what's in the picture is mostly over-wintered greens.  I had some collards today for lunch which overwintered.

Like any innovation, 3 years on some of the interest has waned, but I'm certainly envious of their beds and the neatness with which they plant.

Crop Insurance and Direct Payments on a Map

Via Farm Policy I found the link to this map from Amber Waves (Mar 12) which shows the ratio between direct payments and crop insurance subsidies by county (part of a discussion of "conservation compliance", except they call it "environmental compliance", tying government benefits to the swampbuster/sodbuster provisions of the 1985 Act.

The map shows why many are pushing crop insurance, given the subsidy is higher than for direct payments, but there's some interesting variations.  Oklahoma for example sticks out between Texas and Kansas.  I'm not sure why, but it does.

If I understand, crop insurance could be a higher percentage of direct payments for a number of reasons. The FSA yields or acreage bases could be low or the crop insurance actuarials could be high.  Or the number of crop insurance policies sold could be high.   I wonder if there's existing maps of such data.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Licensing for Locksmiths

Matt Yglesias often criticizes those occupations where licensing plays a part.  He's enough of a libertarian to believe that beauticians, for example, shouldn't be examined or licensed. 

John Kelly in the Post today did his column on locksmiths, which are licensed.  I wonder Mr. Yglesias' reaction?

Americans Love Red Tape

Not in the abstract, but in specific areas, as Suzy Khim reports at Ezra Klein.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Hopes of Progress and Wheat

Via Marginal Revolution, I read an article from 1900 on how the world might end.  One of the possibilities was starvation:
"Should all the wheat-growing countries add to their area to the utmost capacity, on the most careful calculation the yield would give us only an addition of some 100,000,000 acres, supplying at the average world-yield of 12.7 bushels to the acre, 1,270,000,000 bushels. Adding 2,324,000,000 to 1,270,000,000 we get 3,594,000,000 bushels, or just enough to supply the increase of population among bread-eaters till the year 1931.
"Since by the year 1931 the area of cultivation can be no further extended, the farmer must endeavour to raise the average yield per acre. If atmospheric nitrogen could only be made generally available as manure in accordance with Nikola Tesla's great scheme, then the ground might be made to bear twice as large crops as it does at present."
 The hopes for progress were rather limited: doubling the yield.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Glories of Spring

Just pausing to note the warm spring weather, the trees are starting to bloom (red maple and now I think the pears?), the crocus and daffodils are blooming (why can't the breeders come up with a daffodil which can bloom when crowded?), the birds are around.

I wonder if those raised in suburbs and cities are as conscious of the seasons as on the farm.  I suspect not, poor souls.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Big Dairy

One fact I didn't note when looking at this report: more than 50 percent of total US production comes from dairies with more than 1,000 cows.

That's an amazing number--when I was growing up 50 cows seemed big, about all one person could handle with a bit of hired labor.  While productivity has grown, I'm sure these dairies depend on hired hands, these days probably a lot of immigrants.

Also see the ERS page.

The Perils of Blogging

From Chris Blattman, who's on vacation in Vietnam:

I only realized this by accident, when I peeked into my email Inbox for one measly second (I am still on vacation, dammit) and notice a gazillion comments and pingbacks on a post I wrote three years ago about Invisible Children. In the past three days, that post received roughly as much traffic as the entire blog in 2012.

More on Big Dairy

It seems the NYTimes Magazine has a piece tomorrow on 3 generations of a dairy farm,, going from hand milking to 135 cows. The daughter, the fourth generation, developed a summer camp on the farm to put herself through Cornell.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Pearl Harbor and FDR

One oddity, historical quirk, something related to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: the iconic picture is the sinking of the battleship Arizona.  Turns out as described in this post on the National Archives blog FDR officiated at the laying of the keel of the ship.

Our Well Housed DOD

There was a piece in today's Post with DOD officials asking for a new set of BRAC's (base closing commissions).  One factoid: DOD has 300,000 buildings.  Since DOD can't have more than 3 million employees and contractors, I can only conclude DOD is very well housed (or perhaps there was an error in the piece).

Change in Number of Dairy Farms

In the last 10 years, how has the number of dairy farms changed?

Dropped by one-third according to this comment reported by Farm Policy from Sen. Brown (OH):
While I support programs like Milk Income Loss Contract for the financial relief it provides to farmers in bad times, since its creation in the 2002 Farm Bill more than a third of America’s dairy farmers have gone out of business. 
 [Updated: Only a tenth of the number in 1971]

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Feds Save Money and "Perturb" Suppliers

That's my cynical take from this Federal Computer Week post about a change of policy at the VA.  They were using reverse auctions to buy supplies, claimed to have saved $7 million on $100 million purchases, but the authority has been suspended because of " a “ground swell” of complaints from VA suppliers and they are "causing significant perturbations in the VA supply chain."

Administering Conservation Compliance

Chris Clayton has a post on the possible linking of a conservation compliance requirement to crop insurance in the next farm bill.  There's this quote from a proponent which I don't understand:
“Despite what you may have heard, attaching compliance to the crop insurance premium support would have a pretty minimal impact back on the farm,” Scholl [head of American Farmland Trust] continued. “Farmers across the United States would still be able to buy crop insurance and get operating loans from their bank. Anyone out of compliance simply wouldn’t receive the crop insurance premium support until they come back into compliance. NRCS and FSA would still do compliance checks using the same system we have in place now, and crop insurance agents would not have an additional enforcement role.”
I've always assumed the government subsidies for crop insurance are behind the scenes, invisible to the policy holder.  If I have a policy for which the nominal premium is $1000 and the government subsidy is  $600, then the crop insurance company would bill me for $400.  Is that right?  (If so, it's another instance of "invisible government", which is the subject of a Christmas present which I've not yet read.  But that's a digression.)

If so, then if NRCS/FSA determine me to be out of compliance and notify the company, what happens? Does the company bill me for the $600, or do I just have my coverage reduced down to whatever $400 would buy me?  Seems to me whatever happens the agents are going to be somewhat involved, unless, of course, there's no consequences to the farmer being out of compliance.


Logic Error--the Whole and the Parts

From Ezra Klein's blog, Brad Plumer has a piece on why cities can't tackle global warming by themselves--an excerpt:
Nate Berg points to an intriguing new paper in the Journal of Urban Economics by McGill’s Adam Millard-Ball that finds two things. First, from analyzing a large sample of localities in California, Millard-Ball found cities that sign climate pledges really do take more steps to reduce their emissions. They have more green buildings. They spend more on biking and walking infrastructure. They capture more methane from landfills. But here’s the hitch: Those cities also tend to have eco-conscious residents and would’ve adopted these measures anyway, even without the plans.
I want to quibble with the last sentence.  Plumer doesn't quote any evidence for it so I'm free to argue the importance of the whole: yes, there's cases where a group action, like a city adopting an environmental plan, is mostly meaningless.  But even in those cases, there's a signaling function, an affirmation of what's important.  It's the same sort of thing as warning labels on cigarette packs and smoking bans; they say that the community disapproved of smoking which has its affect over the long haul.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

NRCS Buyouts

Apparently NRCS is going to offer buyouts, focused on their administrative types in favor of centralizing some support.

One of the complications with NRCS is the presence of state and local money, given design of the legislation encouraging states to set up the soil and water conservation districts. I had thought that federal money usually funded the district conservationist, while the state/local money often funded the administrative types.  Maybe there's variation among states, maybe I was just wrong, maybe they've figured out a way to handle the funding issues so they can centralize the administrative stuff.

How Is USDA/FSA Like a College?

IMO the government webmasters could learn a bit from Timothy Burke, in this post on How to Read Departmental Webpages (and How to Make Them Readable). He compares different colleges in the accessibility of their webpages and offers suggestions to potential students on how to interpret things.  Among his lessons:
A few modest proposals:
It wouldn’t hurt anyone if college webpages had an archival or curatorial function, particularly at the departmental level. I keep a Twitter window open to the keyword Swarthmore: I get a pretty interesting picture of what’s being said about the college that way. ...
It wouldn’t hurt anyone if the descriptions of programs were punchier, more engaging, more real. Faculty love to complain about administrative-speak, committee-speak, but I’d make a guess that many of the deadliest, most abstract descriptions of departments, disciplines and programs were written by faculty.
College webpages in general should very quickly yield in their architecture to different kinds of searchers. ...
Colleges should provide a clear lexicon both of terms and concepts common to higher education as a whole and specific to their curricula and it should be one click away at all times.
Links that lead to dead, old, or private pages are bad and yet are also surprisingly common.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

FSA Strategic Plan II

I posted an excerpt from the plan yesterday. My big problem with such strategic plans is the absence of any integration between Congress and the Executive.  In other words do the members of the House and Senate Ag committees and the members of the Ag appropriations subcommittees agree with the provisions of the plan?  I suspect no elected member has ever reviewed it.  There may be a handful of staffers who have, but I'd love to see a survey on this point.

A lesser problem is there's no recognition of the farm bill. In reality, perhaps the biggest objective for USDA, at least the farm agencies, is to implement whatever is in the farm bill.

What Does FAPRI Know We Don't

From Farmgate, summarizing a FAPRI (UofMO) 10-year projection:
Policy assumptions:
Farm Bill provisions are expected to continue, including direct payments, target prices, acreage base eligibility, and loan rates, along with renewable fuel standards, and the conservation reserve.
If I get time I'll have to look at it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

FSA Strategic Plan I

The FSA Strategic Plan 2012-16, has been released.  Beginning at  page 35 I'll quote and add emphasis:

"Objective 4.3 Strategies
• Migrate to and leverage integrated Web based solutions.
• Increase security for customers’ personal and financial information.
• Ensure the integrity of posted county price data.
• Modernize reporting capabilities to increase the usefulness and availability of data.
• Increase use of technology to support enterprise wide knowledge management.
• Streamline customer reporting and program application processes.
Expand the customer’s ability to apply for assistance, track programs, and update farming operation information online.
• Standardize program development processes.
• Provide fully integrated geospatial solutions.
• Streamline the disaster designation process and utilize GIS to identify disaster areas quicker and more accurately.

Objective 4.4 Improve Customer Service
Pillar 1 Expand Service Delivery Capabilities
FSA will continue to offer services at its local county offices; however, program and service delivery systems must expand beyond the traditional walk-in local offices. FSA will ensure that customers are aware of e-services available and that these services are easy to use."

Under "Performance Measures for Strategic Goal 4" the unit of measure is "the number of Farm Programs eligible customers may apply for via the internet."  Currently it's 5 percent, the goal is 100 percent.

Seems to me the plan is rather wishy-washy: the idea is to expand the ability  to go online, but without worrying about whether the capability is used.  

Urban Farming--in Washington

The food movement places a lot of emphasis on urban farming, usually meaning the conversion of empty lots to community gardens, though sometimes it's rooftop gardens and occasionally vertical farming. That sequence, lots, roofs, vertical, represents my degree of sympathy with it: a good deal of sympathy for lots and very little for vertical. 

Even the conversion of empty lots is a limited expedient; such lots are mostly doomed by market forces and cultural factors. Cultural factors in that a society like the English, for example, can emphasize and preserve allotment gardening. I doubt we can create such an emphasis.  Market factors in that the same forces which eliminated the 261 farmers (owners and tenants) the 1920 census found in the District of Columbia will continue to operate.  Urban land is too valuable, so I don't expect any self-sufficient farm to be created and to last in DC.  Any farming/gardening will have to be an adjunct to some bigger institution. 

I Bet You Didn't Know This

The first use of the word "refrigerator" was in 1611.

And the technology has its roots in the 11th century with Avicemma, with Oliver Evans inventing the first one in 1805.

All this was triggered by an Ann Althouse post ,
a long quotation by Mark Twain listing the foods he wanted to eat when he returned to the U.S.  The last sentence: "Ice-water--not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator."

The listing of foods is interesting--lots of game, lots of your basic American cuisine.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

MIDAS Schedule

The MIDAS schedule from the MIDAS newsletter:

"We will deploy MIDAS in two phases nationwide. Each deployment is currently scheduled to include the following components:

Release 1.0
Release 1.1
Acreage Reporting with GIS
Marketing Assistance Loans
Farm Records
SCIMS within SAP
Common Processes
Supporting Master Data
Supporting Master Data

As we developed the deployment strategy for MIDAS, we accounted for the business cycles of farmers and our FSA county offices. We also considered the peak in Acreage Reporting during June and July, as well as final program payments in November. Milestones on the way to these releases are Realization-Build, Testing and Final Preparation with a target go-live of early 2013 for Release 1.0 followed by Release 1.1 in spring 2013.

Training will take place this fall, close to MIDAS go-live so people can absorb and apply their learning right away. Training sessions will honor different learning styles and be delivered in new ways; this may include online Web-based sessions via a “train the trainers” approach. Both training and testing will be based on business scenarios provided by end users."
Not sure what everything means("common processes", "SCIMS within SAP") but that's fine.  The big problem I have is one I've mentioned before: the possibility that deployment of MIDAS and implementation of the next farm bill will overlap and compete. We'll see--IF, and it's a big "if", the project can meet their schedule they'll do better than we did in 1985.  If they don't meet their schedule....

Friday, March 02, 2012

Skid Steers

Was following links on robots in ag, and ran across a term I'd never heard of: "skid steer". Turns out it's the generic name for a type of front end loader, often called a "Bobcat", which is a particular make.  Invented to help handle turkey manure, which I can well understand, having shoveled chicken manure in my youth.

Apparently they're working to robotic skidsteers, save on labor cost.

The End of the IBM Card?

Back before I retired Treasury was starting to move us all off printed paychecks to direct deposit.  This process is finally ending, with moving everyone off printed checks.  Back in the day, one's paycheck (and savings bonds, which are also all electronic now) were actually printed on IBM punch cards, so the data punched into the card matched the printed data (payee and amount, etc.) on the check.

I wonder whether Treasury's remaining paper checks are still printed on IBM cards?  Probably not, they probably used bar-coded checks these days.

[Updated:  no more IBM cards, here's the image--looks like the data is all encoded]

Author of "Bureaucracy" Dies

Tyler Cowen reports James Q Wilson, the author of "Bureaucracy", though other works were more famous, has died.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Food Compass??

USDA hyped their "food compass" yesterday.  I may be the only one, but the term "compass" led me to expect a visual metaphor, like the old food pyramid, but the metaphor is strictly verbal. The closest thing they have to graphics is an interactive map, which also has a pdf file to explain it.

I'd think they ought to be able to do better, more visual, more intuitive.  (Of course, this is Monday morning quarterbacking by someone who has no suggestions to offer.)

The Market and Humane Treatment of Hens

Dirk Beauregarde reports on the effects of the new EU regulations banning battery cages: egg prices have soared, and prices for pastry and French bread have increased.  The story is marred, however, by the horrible puns.