Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Candy Thompson

I see I'm late in realizing that Candy has been appointed to be Associate Administrator for Administration and Operations and her bio hasn't been posted yet.  I remember her 27 years ago when she and Chris Niedermayer were in Kansas City working on testing the price support software for the system/36.

For all the newbies, yes, it's true that we walked to and from Ward Parkway uphill both ways in the snow barefoot.  Those were the days. 

Animal Rights/Welfare has a series of posts in this area.  Here's one on cages and chickens.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Was on Their Minds in 1787?

Stumbled on an item from New Jersey in 1787.  After the NJ convention had ratified the new constitution, they adjourned to a tavern to celebrate.  "After dinner, the following toasts were drank:

  1. The new constitution
  2. The united states in congress.
  3. The president and members of the late federal convention.
  4. The governor and state of New Jersey.
  5. The states of Delaware and Pennsylvania.
  6. May the independence of the union, reared on the basis of the new constitution, be perpetual.
  7. The princes and states in alliance with the united states.
  8. May the interest of the united states be ever deemed the interest of each state.
  9. Religion, learning, agriculture, arts, manufactures, and commerce, in harmony and mutual subserviency to each other.
  10. The memory and posterity of those who have falled in the late war.
  11. May the gratitude of the American citizens be equal to the valour and patriotism of the American soldiery.
  12. The daughters of America.
  13. May the united states be the asylum of invaded liberty.
Volunteer [sic?] May the American drums soon beat reveille to the dawn of the new government, and tattoo to anarchy and confusion.
Ditto.  Universal liberty, justice and peace. "

Stolen From DeLong: 14th Century

"A Commonplace Book: Buying Power of 14th Century Money: "In the second half of the 14th century, a pound sterling would: (i) Support the lifestyle of a single peasant laborer for half a year, or that of a knight for a week. Or buy: (ii)( Three changes of clothing for a teenage page (underclothes not included) or (iii) Twelve pounds of sugar or (iv) A carthorse or (v) Two cows or (vi) An inexpensive bible or (vii) ten ordinary books or (viii) Rent a craftsman’s townhouse for a year or (ix) Hire a servant for six months…. It should be obvious from the above list that the conversion rate depends a great deal on what you buy…""

Stole this from Brad DeLong verbatim.  Can't wrap my head around the various conversions.  It seems a knight is worth 26 times a peasant or a servant.  That's not a bad ratio, given the relationship of the wages of modern CEO's and their lowest employees, but it would seem bad to anyone before 1970.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Industrial Farming and "Soiling Cattle"

"Industrial farming" usually includes "factory farming".  I think the usual assumption is that in the good old days, as when I grew up, dairy cattle were pastured and only recently have they been confined with the feed brought to them.  As is often the case, that assumption is wrong.  It seems in the old days "soiling cattle" was a recognized method, promoted in this Google book of 1874. Other references found by Google are earlier.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Chris Clayton at DTN reports on the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.  They're not following the Americans in moving from direct payments to crop insurance.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gun Nuts Should Use Puritans, Not Hitler

Politico has an article where the Anti-defamation League warns against using Hitler in the context of the current debates over gun safety.  That's fine, but one does need an extreme example in any political argument, so I'll offer one: the Massachusetts Puritans.  I'm reading Bernard Bailyn's Barbarous Years which is interesting.  He observes that in the early days of the Bay Colony, when there was a raging conflict between Wheelwright and Hutchinson and the leaders of the colony (I'm sure that was covered in your history class--Anne Hutchinson being the first prominent woman protestor), the leadership took the step of confiscating all the arms possessed by the 60-70 people who supported the dissidents.

So instead of using a photo of Hitler, use one of the standard pictures of a Puritan, like John Winthrop, the man who used "city on a hill" before Ronald Reagan.

Friday, January 25, 2013

High Prices at GPO

I've been looking at the history of Washington, DC in the 1800's for a couple different reasons.  One is a writing project I may post about later.  Anyhow, I'd like to see this book on the Army Corps of Engineer involvement with DC.  I've read a bio of Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who engineered the dC water system, bridges, etc. in the 1850's-60's, and was quartermaster general in the Civil War.  Also read Liberty's Cap (I think that's the right title), which deals with the process by which the Capitol Building was given its final dome in the same period.  So I've got some idea of what might be involved, but this would be interesting.

Look at the price, though: $61.00.  I don't understand it at all. Why doesn't the GPO use print on demand?  Looking at Amazon, it appears a number of outfits have scanned old books, and are now selling them as print on demand books for amounts in the range of $15-20.

Johanns Gets Poor Memory

Farm Policy quotes Johanns as
“I can remember during Hurricane Katrina when the price dropped. We paid out about $4 billion almost overnight. I can point to the year 2000 where that farm policy paid out about $30 billion.

but EWG shows $25 billion as the total in 2000 and $24 billion in 2004

Thursday, January 24, 2013

COBOL Is Hack Proof

That's the official conclusion of a House committee, at least its head.  So old no one understands it enough to hack it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Your Cell Phone or Your Rifle: A Choice

A mental experiment for those who believe the Second Amendment is important in protecting freedom.

Suppose, for sake of argument, a leftie President has purged the military of all right-thinking people and is obviously plotting a coup to establish a dictatorship.  It's time to take to the hills.  Now, you have a choice: you can only take one of the following with you, and your choice applies to every member of the resistance:  your cell phone or your rifle?

To me, that's a no-brainer given the scenario and reasonable assumptions for what's not described.  A cell phone would be much more useful in organizing resistance than a rifle, however large its magazine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Livw by the Sword....

There's some sense from President Obama's speech yesterday that he may use executive authority to advance some of his goals.  That's fine, I guess, but liberals shouldn't applaud without remembering whatever one President does by way of executive orders, etc., a later President can reverse the same way.

We Once Had Self-Driving Transport

This is inspired by a post at Freakonomics, which discussed trains.

In my case, I'm referring to horse and buggy.  It's true horses don't require nearly the amount of close attention that cars do.  My mother would remember driving into Binghamton with a load of cabbage and potatoes, spending the day, and allowing the team to find their way home that night.

I'm enthusiastic about the idea of Google (and others) self-driving cars--especially important with my declining abilities as I age, but I'm not ready to go back to horses.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Combine USPS and FSA

A report on a report from the inspector general for USPS says:

The white paper -- which represents suggestions but not final policies -- pointed to USPS’ expansive brick-and-mortar operation as a valuable resource to all federal agencies

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Depleting the Soil--It's Not Astrophysics

This post at Time/World beats the drum about our broken food system:
some experts fear the world, at its current pace of consumption, is running out of useable topsoil. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with TIME, talked to University of Sydney professor John Crawford on the seismic implications soil erosion and degradation may have in the decades to come.

Prof. Crawford has this background: "John Crawford was awarded the prestigious Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney in 2008. He holds a BSc in Physics from the University and Glasgow and a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics from the University of London."

I'm being a bit hard on him.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bureaucrats Suck at Prediction

The release of the notes from the Federal Reserve Board's deliberations in 2007 causes one blogger to conclude:
One lesson here is that our public officials, even the hard-working, highly intelligent ones, are far from demi-gods. They have the same blind spots and tendency toward analytical failures of anyone else. Secrecy allows public officials, whether in the world of monetary policy or others like national security, to create a Wizard of Oz like illusion of holding great power, of maneuvering levers with information in hand that mere mortals can only dream of. When reporters interview a high official, there is often a subtext the high official aims to convey: If you knew what I know, you would understand the supreme wisdom of my actions.
Seeing what the Fed officials were saying privately, to each other, in 2007 is a reminder that this isn’t always so, and just because a person has more information, it doesn’t mean he or she has the right answer.

Republicans Will Violate the Constitution?

J.I. Bell at Boston 1775 notes the Republicans are now proposing to violate the Constitution, specifically the 27th Amendment which prohibits varying the salary of Congress people.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Corporate Agriculture Is a No-No

The foodies distaste for corporate industrial agriculture is perhaps the most recent manifestation of our American populist hatred of corporations.  As witness this article and Rural Blog post on already existing restrictions on corporations in farming.  9 states have such restrictions.

Rep. Lucas Says I'm Wrong

I blogged here that 2013 direct payments wouldn't be made.  The Chair of House Ag says they will be.

The same Farm Policy post notes Vilsack is also a bit skeptical.

Pinball Bans

Conor Friedersdorf has a post on the history of banning pinball games.  He finds it incredible.  I don't--because I grew up in a time and place where pinball machines were morally suspect. 

I'm not sure why--poker games used to be banned.  There was a suspicion of games of chance, perhaps on the belief that it was infringing on God somehow.  I note the Amish use chance to choose their bishops--I understand it's because they believe the hand of God governs the choice, or maybe it's just a good way to avoid divisive campaigns for the post.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gains in Afghanistan

David Ignatius has a column in the Post today on the positive side of the war in Afghanistan.  Most notably:
"Life expectancy has increased from 44 years to 60 in the past decade; the maternal mortality rate has declined 80 percent; the under-5 mortality rate has dropped 44 percent. The number of primary health-care facilities has increased nearly fourfold."
I'm amazed the gains can be so great in such a short time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Between a Rock and a Hard Place--FSA

The good bureaucrats at FSA are between the rock of current law (the extension of the 2008 farm law) and a hard place--the certainty that direct payments aren't going to survive this Congress.

Why do I say "certainty"?  Because all parties agree there needs to be more cutting, and direct payments was already on the block last year, so it will be one of the first candidates offered up this year.  According to today's Farm Policy, cutting direct payments was already proposed in a Republican amendment to the Sandy disaster aid package: i.e., the Republican majority wanted to offset some of the disaster aid with cuts to spending and they included direct payments.

So the bottom line is that FSA has to act as if they were going to have direct payments, but we all know farmers won't see a nickel of them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vilsack Stays

That's probably good news, since in my experience every new leader comes in thinking he/she has better ideas than the old leader, and at least half the time they're wrong.

Ben Franklin, the Chinese and Soybeans

I understand Ben Franklin imported the soybean  because of  tofu.  Today China accounts for 60 percent of soybean imports.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Suicides and Combat Deaths

According to this military suicides exceeded the number of combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2012. We don't pay much attention to either these days but apparently suicides are up and combat deaths down.  There might even be a relationship: possibly combat creates meaning which is missing when based in the states?  I don't know.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nevada and Voter ID

I don't have much problem with phasing in voter ID requirements, as long as it recognizes the problems of the elderly (and others).  I'm struck by this paragraph in a Politico story:
"One state, Nevada, is proposing a different kind of voter ID law — one that would cull photos from the DMV and state databases rather than making voters bring their IDs to the polls. If a voter doesn’t have a photo in the database, they would be photographed at the polling station.
Makes sense to me.  If the bureaucracy already has a photo associated to a name, why not put the burden on the bureaucracy instead of the citizen.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Oscars and Bureaucrats

The papers today note some of the top movies are favorable to DC figures, although the Post calls them "bureaucrats".  I don't think Lincoln qualifies as a bureaucrat, he was a politician and a good one.  The heroes of "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty" could be called bureaucrats I guess, and since they'll never make a movie, good, bad or indifferent, about a USDA employee, it's about the best we can do.  (I enjoyed "Lincoln" and "Argo", haven't seen ZDT yet.)

The Past Was Long Ago--Pope Pius XII and the Nobility

Via Brad DeLong, this is the speech Pope Pius XII gave to the "nobility" (I think of the Vatican, but I'm not clear on it) in 1943.  (DeLong is blogging WWII.) What struck me was how archaic the sentiments seem: the belief in the duty of the nobility, the patriarchy, the antagonism towards both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, etc.  It's a long way from this speech to Vatican II.

Video Teleconferencing Systems

This notice announces that systems bought in 2009 for FSA state offices are no longer under warranty and may be repurposed or disposed of.  Apparently they've been replaced by Cisco systems.  That should tell me two things:
  • video teleconferencing has been very productive.  I suspect, though I'm too lazy to check, I've expressed skepticism on the point in the past.  So I'm glad to hear I was wrong, because in theory I'm all for it.
  • the Cisco system is a very big upgrade over the Microsoft system.  If not, what's the justification for replacement?  There may be a hint when the notice says that many of the Microsoft systems are still workable; maybe they weren't very durable.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Profiling the Customer

Had an appointment at my HMO yesterday (Kaiser).  For the first time the technician was filling out fields for my race, languages, etc.  He was apologetic, explaining it was a new requirement.  I was struck by the parallel with FSA/USDA getting similar information from its customers. 

But his explanation was a bit different than FSA's would be: because Reston has so many people from different countries, the big justification for the data was to determine whether there were language barriers and, if so, whether Kaiser could get an interpreter with the right skills.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Whoops--Meade Screws Up

From my RSS feed I see this at the Ann Althouse blog:

The Clown Suit Solution.

Did you see the comment by Patrick that Glenn linked to:
“I think it would be the ultimate act of honesty to dress the Secretary of the Treasury in a clown costume. I have no objection to that at all.”
Well that gave me an idea. What would be the value of having all 14.5 million federal government employees - starting at the top with the President - made to wear clown suits for, say, the next four years? Who knows? But the free market should give us an idea, right?
For whatever reason, this is no longer on the blog.  I don't know if the blogger thought better of the taste of the comment, but I doubt it, or actually checked his facts and found there are more like 2.1 million federal employees.  I'm tempted to put it down to the conservative mindset, but I'll attribute it to a screw up, nothing more significant.

[Update: this morning the post is back up on the site, with no change]

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Words for the Ages?

"A little petting each day goes a long ways towards making the livestock [people] manageable."  From the Sugar Mountain Blog, brackets added.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Killing Farm Subsidies

That we should do so is Robert Samuelson's opinion in today's Post.

The Pace of Change

Does anyone remember electronic calculators and digital watches?  Both used to be big, big in popularity and big in price, if not in size.  I used to do office work on my summer job using an old hand crank calculator, so electronic models seemed a great advance.  Over time the price came down and the capabilities went up, and then the pocket calculator was really subsumed by other electronics.

I try to keep that lesson in mind: electronics changes faster than you expect.  Here's another example: a NM super computer which the latest thing in 2008 is now outmoded and uneconomical in 20013.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Geezers and the Future

The Times has an article today arguing that Social security is in worse shape than we know, because the actuaries at SSA don't have a good grasp on demographics.  The authors present a lot of graphs and seem rather convincing.

However, I've my own theory, based on simple economics, so it's probably wrong.   

Everyone points to the facts that the baby boomers are getting older, and mostly they're living longer, while the working population is not increasing as fast.  The result is each geezer dependent is and will be supported by fewer workers, meaning the taxes on the workers will have to go up to provide the pensions the geezers have been promised.  That seems sound logic.

But, the geezers don't and won't live on their pensions, not on paper money, they will live on bread and butter and real things, produced by real people during the days and months they're living.  So what happens?  If I understand economics, when the supply (produced by workers) gets small, and the demand (from geezers with fat pensions) is large, the effect will be to boost the wages of the workers.  That should bring more workers into the system, whether by geezers finding it rewarding to work longer or to work parttime, or by workers having two jobs and working overtime, or by immigrants coming into the country.

The one problem I see is the indexing of pensions for inflation, because this process of adjusting the economy would go a lot faster if the pensions weren't indexed.  Perhaps the alternative will be for workers to be paid in intangible benefits, stuff which benefits them and makes work more attractive but which doesn't get reflected in the cost of living indexes.  Is that what's happening in Silicon Valley, with all the fringe benefits? 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Peak Oil, Not So

Sharon Astyk writes well.  She does locavore/food movement things, while raising a family and taking in foster children. She and her husband have big hearts, for which she deserves much praise. She's also  a peak oiler, who has in the past predicted gloom and doom: our economy is falling apart, running out of oil, etc. etc. This year though she's decided not to make predictions.

I think this is a sign of the wisdom which comes with age.  I'm sure wisdom comes with age, it doesn't have much else to recommend it. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

Walt Jeffries: Always Helpful

The Post had three articles on a couple who raised some pigs, then slaughtered them, exploring our relationship to food. Here's a link to the last one which begins:
The death we want for our animals is the one we want for ourselves: painless, instant, on a day like any other. Our three pigs took seven months to reach slaughter weight , and my husband, Kevin, and I had been thinking about that slaughter for the duration. Painless. Instant. On a day like any other.
 Turns out Walter Jeffries was helpful.  As he also is here, at his Sugar Mountain Blog.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Whoops: a Wrong Forecast

"I continue to think that there is a higher probability that the 2012 Farm Bill will be passed before the end of this year than that the current farm bill will be extended. My reasons for this assessment include the broad agreement that currently exists in much of the two farm bill drafts, the concern over what a new budget baseline will mean for the farm safety net, and the potential use of the budget savings in the new farm bill to fund bi-partisan priorities. Of course, this assessment means that the House and Senate will need to compromise over the existing differences in the two draft bills."

That's from Illinois extension on Dec. 6.  A reminder: we often are too sure of our views.

Washington Times Criticizes RMA

Washington Times has an article criticizing the Congressional mandate for RMA to push crop insurance.
"...the RMA’s money is going toward educating farmers on how to make use of crop insurance, adding potential new customers to an already overburdened federal program that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year, the agency’s own documents show."

Unregenerate Chauvinist: Big Hair, Nice Legs

That's my chauvinist reaction to the departing commander of the Space Station.  See her on Youtube here conducting a tour.

Who knew Sunita Williams held the record for space flight for a woman? And lots of other facts at Wikipedia.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Sept Extension of Farm Bill

Apparently the legislation which passed the Senate extends the 2008 farm legislation through September, although some disaster provisions weren't included. Sequestration is delayed for 2 months.  If it comes into effect, I think it hits direct payments.  

[Updated to reflect passage]

Bureaucrats and Civil Servants

Other English-speaking countries seem not to have the prejudice against bureaucrats we have in the US.  Based on Google alert, in the US it's a pejorative term, while in other countries it's more descriptive.

In India, there's even a horoscope for bureaucrats (hat tip Marginal Revolution).