Sunday, June 30, 2013

RSS Feeds and GMO Technology

Just trying to get ready for the end of Google Reader, meaning I'm looking at some stuff which has remained unread. 

Predictably some of the food movement have attacked the award of the prize to Monsanto scientist, claiming that the technology doesn't increase food supply or help with nutritious or sustainable food.  Accepting that position for sake of argument, genetic modification will still prove its worth, as in this case of obtaining resistance to wheat rust.

Good Sentence of the Week

" Biting people is hard, and people tend to notice when you try it."

From Ezra Klein's review of World War Z--interesting in the parallels of zombies to viruses and werewolves to sex.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Box and CubeSats

There's a good book on the development of containers, as in container ships, which by permitting the a standardization of the loading and unloading of ships greatly reduced costs and permitted global supply chains.  It's called "The Box"

And here's an interesting piece on a plan for a fleet of small satellites to take photos of the earth  It seems they're going to use CubeSats, which is a standardized module for launching scientific instruments into space. Apparently the concept is on its way to being as important for science as the container is for transportation.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Defeat of Farm Bill

Keith Good at Agfax writes about the defeat of the farm bill, including some interesting discussion from Craig Jagger, who blames the defeat in part on the changes in Congressional rules.   I liked this:

Furthermore, the BGov Study stated that, “In addition, explicit timing shifts were used to capture ‘savings’ of $2.6 billion over 10 years for the 2002 farm bill and $4.5 billion over 10 years for the 2008 farm bill. Timing shifts move costs outside the 10-year budget window. The CBO scores savings for the shifts even though only the timing, not the amount, of program costs change. Those explicit timing shifts are not available for the 2013 farm bill, because all that could be identified have been used and each timing shift can be used only once…When major program changes are being made, having extra money to make them more palatable to those losing benefits makes writing legislation easier. This farm bill process undoubtedly has been more contentious and difficult from not having extra money above its baseline that recent farm bills had. Now to add funding for a new program or to increase funding for an existing program, funding for a different Agriculture Committee program that has a baseline needs to be cut, robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Bottomline: the Ag committee had run out of tricks to ease the pain.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Concrete Canoes and Leadership

What makes a concrete canoe float?  That question, along with some others, is answered in this NYTimes article today. 

Who knew the civil engineers had a whole competition among colleges to make concrete canoes?  And it's been going on for years? 

Buried in the text is the observation that success in the competition takes a combination of leadership and finding people willing to do the drudgery, like sanding down the concrete so the canoe moves well through the water.   Leadership and drudgery are the keys to success in many things, IMHO.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paintbrush Factories and Old Farmers

The Times magazine today has a piece on brush manufacturers, mostly paintbrush manufacturers. It seems the U.S. still has a bunch of them.  According to the article the manufacturers are competing with China, not by doing the lowest cost brushes, but in two other ways: constantly innovating to find new niches for their expertise, and doing the same old, same old thing they and their forebears have been doing, producing high quality brushes for the most demanding end of the market.

As I read it, I was struck by some parallels to farmers.  The author cited one manufacturer who wouldn't get into the business today, but since he already had the plant, and the machinery paid for, and he had the labor and customers, he could make a profit going forward.  I suspect that has been the case with many farmers over the years: they have the land and equipment and expertise so they can produce and get a positive cash flow for as long as their health holds out.  It doesn't make sense to an economist, but it makes human sense. 

Yes, I'm talking about my parents.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Student Loans and Urbanism

Buried in a Post piece on the "echo boomers" living in DC and Arlington is this observation:
“What you’re seeing in Arlington and Washington is that you can live here without a car,” said Harriet Tregoning, director of the District’s Office of Planning. She says that is a boon for people who owe a lot of money on college loans: “If you don’t have a car, you can pay off your college debt quickly. As long as it’s expensive to go to college, we have a competitive advantage.”
It makes sense to me.  Of course I've also heard that the average/median (not sure which) rent in DC is around $2,100.  That's a bunch.  Of course if you're young you can squeeze up.  And there appears to be a new phenomenon.  Back in the day I lived just south of Logan Circle.  And for the next 25 years there were alternating stories in the Post--problems with prostitution and other urban ills in the area and people renovating old houses amidst the crime. 

In this century it seems to me the renovation and crime story is much less common, the more common one is the influx of young, mostly white inhabitants.  I don't know whether crime is less, there's a more rapid flow of new people, the newspaper mindset is different, or what's going on, but I think there's a big differenc.e

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Healthcare in France--Free Vacations in the Sun?

Dirk Beauregarde has a vitamin D deficiency, which leads to this:

In France we have a massive welfare bill, mainly due to our free, universal, cradle to grave health care system – it is quite common for the public Heath system to send the sick, the lame, the stressed and the depressed, away for long term cures by the sea or in the mountains why cant they send a low level vitamin D teacher to Corsica for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eating on Food Stamps

Rep. Stockman's staffer reports the results of a week on food stamps.

His purchases:
For $21.55 Ferguson purchased at Dollar Tree:
Two boxes of Honeycomb cereal
Three cans of red beans and rice
Jar of peanut butter
Bottle of grape jelly
Loaf of whole wheat bread
Two cans of refried beans
Box of spaghetti
Large can of pasta sauce
Two liters of root beer
Large box of popsicles
24 servings of Wyler’s fruit drink mix
Eight cups of applesauce
Bag of pinto beans
Bag of rice
Bag of cookies

For $6.03 at the Shoppers Food Warehouse next door Ferguson bought a gallon of milk and a box of maple and brown sugar oatmeal.
 The total cost is about 4 dollars less than the $31.50 Dems have been using.  I'm not sure I'd call it "eating well" as Stockman does, but he has the right idea, mostly.  Lots of rice and beans, some pasta and cereals--cheap calories and nutrition. He could have varied it by buying more in bulk over time.  I'd suspect it's a fairly healthy diet, vegetarian, although there's no fresh fruits or vegetables at all. 

Of course, I'd not want to be him when he feeds two young kids this diet for a week.  A stop at St. Elizabeth's might be next.

Some Businesses Always Liked Immigration

This post from Making Maps reprints an article about a 69 foot map being moved back in 1917.

I find it interesting that it belonged to the "immigration department" of the Northern Pacific Railway.

It's also a reminder of how much we've gained by the ability to zoom.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Editing Mistakes and Crop Insurance Fraud Used as a Weapon

In the political infighting over the farm bill, with supporters of farm programs attacking SNAP (food stamps) the SNAP people are fighting back by citing crop insurance fraud.  There's an article in the NY Times this morning on the subject--obviously the SNAP proponents have dug up some ammunition, including the recent NC case and a GAO report.  That's all good. 

What's not so good is this correction:
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the annual spending for the food stamp program and the amount of fraud involved. The budget is $75 billion a year, not $760 billion. The amount of fraud is around $750 million, not $760 million. The article also contained another error: Federal data shows that the rate of food stamp fraud, which has declined sharply in recent years, now accounts for .01 percent of the $75 billion program, or about $750 million a year; not 1 percent.
 Apparently the Times has fired so many fact checkers that they've no one left who knows the difference between 1 percent and .01 percent.  They were right the first time and their correction is wrong.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

We Were More Cultured in the Old Days

Erik Loomis posts the lists of best selling books in 1969 here.  Roth, Nabokov and Vonnegut were on the fiction list; serious stuff on the non-fiction list.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hot News in the Confederacy

Happened to have cause to look up the Southern Illustrated News, which turns out to be the Confederacy's answer to Harpers'.  Amazing how much attention was devoted to fashion.  An excerpt:

The Latest Style of Parisian Belle.
            At the French spas, during the past summer, the ladies have worn their skirts nearly as short as the Bloomer surtout, while Hessian boots, laced from the knee about half way down, and with tassels swinging from the tops, have been the sole substitutes for the Bloomer unmentionables.  Add to these articles of costume a broad belt at the waist, with a buckle in front about fourteen inches in circumference, together with a jaunty hat, without strings, something like the chapeau of the stage highwayman, and worn rakishly aslant on the head, and you will have some idea, fair reader, of the gentlemanly appearance of a Paris belle at a fashionable watering-lace during the late flirting season.  Stay, we have omitted one item—an eagle's feather stuck erect in the hat in the  Rob Roy Macgregor fashion.  The correspondent of an English newspaper, after describing this outrageous "rig" (which, by the way, is rendered still more conspicuous by its glaring and strongly contrasted colors), says that the impudent bravado with which it is worn is more offensive to decency than the dress itself!  Such is the mode, in the court circle of France under the eyes of a matron Empress.  Whether she set the fashion or not, we cannot say; but as she some time ago assumed the masculine hat and cane, it is quite likely that the Hessian boots, short petticoats, belt and chieftain's feather are specialties introduced by the gay and festive, though middle-aged and somewhat faded, Eugenie.

This was late in the war--November 26, 1864 to be exact.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Welcome to This Century, the US Navy

According to this PCMag item, the Navy is finally, finally going to stop using all caps for its messages.  But the last two paragraphs don't give me confidence:

"At this point, the Navy still has systems that can't handle messages with upper and lowercase letters. "In these instances, the C2OIX system will be able to convert the text to upper case before making final delivery," McCarty said.
That problem is expected to be fixed by 2015, the Navy said."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good Sentence on the Nature of Our Politicians

"For starters, it means that the entire political system is filtering strongly for a very peculiar personality type"

From Matt Yglesias, here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Security Clearances and Math

Somehow the math doesn't add up.  There was an article in the Post this morning, then I found this blog post.
 "The number of persons who held security clearances for access to classified information last year exceeded 4.2 million — far more than previously estimated — according to a new intelligence community report to Congress (pdf)."
OPM says there are 2.756 million federal employees, and a total of 4.403 million legislative, executive and military branch employees.  I never had a security clearance, either in the Army or in USDA, but the figures imply that the average person in government does.  Why, for goodness sake?  I can see the law enforcement branches, but not much else.

I hope the figures are wrong.  I hope what's going on is that the data bases of security clearances aren't being purged very well when people leave the government.  Or is it the case that: once cleared, always cleared, and leaving government doesn't cancel the clearance. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Defeat for Research and Promotion Plans

One legacy of the New Deal (perhaps even of Herbert Hoover) was the creation of government-sponsored, farmer approved cartels called research and promotion plans.  Basically a referendum of farmers approves a plan to assess a fee on sales to be used by an organization to promote the commodity.  Some raisin producers have taken USDA to court, made it to the Supreme Court, and won--at least that's how I interpret this post at SCOTUS blog.  (In the case of raisins, there's requirements for the handlers to hold reserves, and the issue is whether the people suing were handlers or producers and whether the reserve requirement was a "takings" under the Constitution.

I wonder if athletes will try again to challenge the cartels run by the NCAA and the pro leagues?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

"Personal Data"

Some senators get upset by EPA releasing personal data tied to CAFO's. 

I continue to be perplexed--I think it was the DC Circuit Court said in 1994 ASCS had to give payment data to EWG, including names and addresses. I think the logic was the data wasn't personal.  But now we're saying it is personal, which is the position ASCS had taken since the Privacy Act was passed.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Joys of Dairying

Threecollie at Northview Dairy reminds me of one of the joys which I really, really miss--milking a wet cow.  

It's one of things aspiring farmers should experience before investing too much of their hopes and money into a dairyman's life.

Friday, June 07, 2013

More Administrative Procedure Act Weeds

I mentioned an amendment to the farm bill from House Judiciary, requiring compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act.

Today I followed up an a USDA notice in the Federal Register, not something I usually do, and found they're withdrawing a 1971 statement on APA compliance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing to rescind the Statement of Policy titled “Public Participation in Rule Making,” published in the Federal Register on July 24, 1971 (36 FR 13804) that requires agencies in USDA to follow the Administrative Procedure Act's (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures even in situations where the APA does not require it. The Statement of Policy implemented a 1969 recommendation by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), which urged Congress to amend the APA to remove the exemption from the notice-and-comment requirement for rulemakings relating to “public property, loans, grants, benefits, or contracts,” adding that agencies should follow the notice-and-comment procedures pending amendment of the APA.
They've several justifications for withdrawal: loan programs are governed by OMB rules, some notices of proposed rulemaking don't attract significant comments, Congress never adopted the 1969 recommendation of the ACUS, information on rules is much more readily available in today's environment than it was in 1971. 

I know the Dems revived the ACUS. I wonder what they've done, if anything, to bring the rulemaking/public participation process into the 21st century.

What the Government Can Do With My Phone Records

As a Verizon subscriber, the government has my phone records or rather the records of what my number was doing: what numbers called my number, what numbers my number called, etc.

Even though I'm a longtime supporter of ACLU, it doesn't particularly bother me.  I do wish, however, that NSA and FCC would put their heads together and stop all the automated calls I get.  My number is on the Do Not Call registry, but it doesn't stop the machines calling my machine.  Surely NSA has all the data FCC would need to identify the callers and stop the calls?  IMHO those calls are a more serious threat to the safety and sanity of the country than Al Qaeda is.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Into the Bureaucratic Weeds with the Farm Bill

From Farm Policy:
"A news release yesterday from Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) noted in part that, “[Chairman Goodlatte] introduced an amendment that would ensure regulations imposed under the FARRM Act are subject to promulgation under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Congressional Review Act, which falls under the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee.  The version of the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee last month waived this requirement. Congressman Goodlatte’s amendment passed the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote with bipartisan support.”
 I've not followed this closely.  Farm Policy goes on to explain this action on the part of House Judiciary is part of the infighting over the dairy provisions in the House Ag farm bill.  Chairman Goodlatte wants USDA to do some studies.  But from the description, it sounds more general, perhaps applying to all provisions of the farm bill. 

In my memory the farm bill always contained an exemption from the APA for production adjustment programs.  The usual reason was that Congress never got the legislation completed in time, so we were always behind the eight ball in getting the program in the field.  By waiving APA requirements Congress could ask us to act quickly and keep their constituents happy.  Now as I write my memory is being tickled with the idea that maybe one of the attorneys in OGC did push us to comply once or twice, but by putting out an interim rule instead of doing the proposed rule/public comment/ final rule process. 

I may also be wrong on this, but I think the APA always technically applied to the farm bill, but in the 70's ASCS ignored it.  It was only with the 1983 PIK program with its contracts that we got really serious about involving the lawyers and dotting every i.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Federal Program Inventory

Performance.gov has a new inventory of federal programs.  I'm not sure why it exists, or how it differs from the Catalog of  Federal Domestic Assistance Programs maintained since I was a new bureaucrat by GSA.  The administration is cutting redundant data centers; are they creating redundant catalogs?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The End of the "Healthy Immigrant" Paradox?

The Times Saturday had a report on the results of a new German census which cuts the German population.  Germany had thought they had a handle on their population because of their mandatory registration system, but the first census in many years showed different.

According to the article what happened is that immigrants registered themselves in a place, which was added to the cut.  But when immigrants decided to leave Germany, they often didn't report their leaving to the authorities, meaning the total population was inflated.  What's more, because those shadow people were never reported as having died, it came to seem that immigrants were healthier than native Germans--the "healthy immigrant" paradox.

What's interesting is that scholars have worked on the "healthy immigrant effect" in this and other countries, offering varying reasons for the phenomenon.  Google the term and see.  So I wonder whether there's similar problems with the data being used to assess the effect in the U.S.?

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Should the White House Garden Be Quarantined?

That's the suggestion Chris Clayton makes (tongue in cheek) at his Progressive Farmer blog, referring to the GMO wheat found in Oregon.:

For conservatives, the wheat controversy could lead to "Roundup-gate," but because of USDA's handling of the situation. No, this scandal goes straight to the White House. You see, First Lady Michelle Obama planted wheat in her garden this year. We were told in April by White House policy advisor on nutrition, Sam Kass, that the wheat came from Oregon or Washington and was an "experimental variety." However, the White House assured blogger Eddie Gehman Kohan of Obama Foodorama that there was no reason to believe the wheat is genetically engineered.…
A good patriot would call for the White House garden to be sealed off, sprayed with glyphosate and tested. Perhaps the House Government Oversight Committee also needs to investigate the source of the seeds.
Two themes run through the lives of my relatives and ancestors: teaching/preaching and science.  So both lead me to endorse Mr. Clayton's position and disdain Japan's, S. Korea, EU etc.  And his position on raw milk is pretty good, too.

Germans Tip?

Now I'm a good tipper.  I worked in a dormitory cafeteria for 4 years in college to help pay my way, so I identify with servers, and by extension others who are tippable. 

My mother was of German descent, and somehow I always thought of Germans as tight, organized, methodical, but not good tippers. 

That's why this piece on NBCnews is surprising.