Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Monitor Redux: DDG 1000 Zumwalt

Via Lawyers, Guns, and Money, a piece on the launch of the new destroyer: Zumwalt, with a hull design which reminds me of the Monitor.

Apparently a complex and innovative project which came in okay.  Hope it works out, but so far the DOD looks good.

Via the same source, an article on a new long-range bomber.  Interesting that they're planning an unmanned version of it. 

Funny Sentence About WWII Photo

"Landing, from what I’ve read, was considered one of the more important qualifications for a pilot."

Via Kottke, this sentence is from a piece on the "most honored [US]photograph" of WWII, taken by a "nutty crew".

Anyone who has the slightest interest in military history and/or heroism should read it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Words To Design By

From a TPM post on Kentucky's ACA IT system:
"From a design standpoint, Kentucky made the conscious choice to stick to the basics, rather than seeking to blow users away with a state-of-the-art consumer interface. A big part of that was knowing their demographics: A simpler site would make it easer to access for people without broadband Internet access, and the content was written at a sixth-grade reading level so it would be as easy to understand as possible.
"We wanted it to have a branded feel, but that was not the most important part," said Gwenda Bond, an exchange spokesperson. "The most important part was that it works. I think a lot of people would say that simplicity is good website design."

Monday, October 28, 2013

West Virginia, Farm Bill, and Food Stamps

The Post had an article on how West Virginia has changed from a bastion of Democracy to a state shortly to be dominated by Republicans.  In it, they mentioned that JFK's first executive order included a reactivation of a pilot food stamp program.   This morning Farm Policy discusses the conference committee on the farm bill with the food stamp program being the top issue.

A couple thoughts:
  •   even in 1960, black poverty was mostly invisible.  Civil rights issues sucked all the air out of the room, leaving little room to consider other issues.  So the poverty in the Appalachian region was a big focus.  Not only did JFK do the food thing, he also got legislation creating an Appalachian Regional authority, covering parts of 13 states.  The idea was a pale imitation of the TVA, trying to coordinate federal programs to help the area (which included my home county).
  • the references to "food stamp program" are a bit misleading. Beginning in the 1930's the Feds distributed surplus commodities to the needy.  In 1939 there was a brief attempt at food stamps--allowing the needy to buy stamps which could be used only to purchase food.  But I believe that program died with WWII.  The surplus distribution more or less continued.  (I'm not sure, but I think schools, Indian tribes, and foreign countries all got surplus food in Ike's administration, along with some of the poor.
  •  JFK's order really started a new food stamp pilot project, which worked okay and got legislated in 1964.  I believe, without checking, that Sen. McGovern was a major force behind it. By 1964 the Harrington book on Poverty in America was making an impact; awareness of poverty among blacks was growing, but it still wasn't as racially centered as it seems today.  (Used to be, and probably still is, that the majority or at least plurality of food stamp recipients were white.) That's perhaps why some West Virginians discount the importance of SNAP; the program seems part of the landscape and no longer seems an effort by Dems to help WV whites.
  • the problems with distributing surplus food to the food are somewhat similar to foreign aid (PL-480)--you have to establish channels to ship the food to the right destination and the available surpluses aren't necessarily what is most needed by the recipients.  So food stamps for the poor were similar to today's ideas of "monetarization" of food aid. 
  • food stamps used to be sold, so you'd get $10 face value of stamps for $x in cash.  The idea was to expand the poor's spending on food.  As the program has evolved, that element faded away. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Farm Bill Time Again

The House and Senate conferees will meet next week on the farm bill. The Rural Blog passes on speculation about possible effects on FSA offices.

I wonder whether FSA employees are comparing the rollout of MIDAS (which seems to have had problems, though not very visible outside the walls of FSA) with the rollout of ACA. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Software Problems

There seem to be many experts who are diagnosing the problems with the ACA online system.  I'm not going to join their ranks--I'm no expert.  I expect only those on the inside, and only some of those, know really what has gone wrong and how hard or easy it will be to fix.

The one thing I will say (immediately contradicting the paragraph above) is that they shouldn't have changed the design to put establishing an account first, instead of putting it at the end.  The problem seems likely to have been the change.  It apparently was too late in the day to make it; they should have kept on with the general design they started with.  That raises the question of whether they had buy-in on the system design from everyone, by which I mean Tavenner, Sebelius, OMB, and the President, well in advance.  

The closest I've ever come to this sort of problem was the 1983 payment-in-kind program, in which the Reagan administration strongarmed the lawyers into a tricky device to swap CCC-owned grain for acreage reductions, a program which I remember as being slapped together in about 2 weeks (though memory is probably fallible).  The Secretary had the Under Secretary ramrodding the implementation, because it was a high risk endeavor, and he had regular (daily?) meetings with the peons who were doing the scutwork. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Found--an Honest Blogger

Diogenes may still be looking for an honest man, but I've found an honest blogger--Kevin Drum, in a post on post-shutdown polls:
I don't want to beat a dead horse, but — oh, who am I kidding? I love beating this particular dead horse.

(Returned from a 5-day trip to NY which explains the hiatus.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ranchers' Problems

I may have occasionally voiced the opinion that dairy farmers have a worse job than others, but here's a nice post on ranchers' problems.  Hat tip: Northview Dairy.

I wonder if the ranchers have considered pushing for federal subsidies for the cattle insurance that's available?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I Live in a Rut, But I'm Not Alone

An excerpt from an interview with Nobelist Robert Shiller, the economist:
"What was discovered by some of the behavioral finance research is people are inertial. They don’t do anything. If they have to sign up for the plan, they won’t do it. If they do sign up, they'll put their money in whatever asset seems to be recommended and leave it there the rest of their lives. You would think it’s kind of obvious, that some people aren't that interested in managing their portfolios."

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Right Stuff and Bureaucratic Reports

Was Chuck Yeager a "bureaucrat"?  I guess I'd go too far to call the exemplar of the "right stuff" such, but this laconic bureaucrat's report of his breaking of Mach 1 is worth noting.

(Incidentally, I'm not sure why the National Archives website is still up.)

AGI on Crop Insurance

Chris Clayton at DTN reports both Houses are generally in agreement on limiting crop insurance subsidies for high income insureds:

"On Friday evening, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., saw his resolution tightening income eligibility pass the House on a voice vote. The language was comparable to the Senate provisions. While a voice vote doesn't get everyone on record, the resolution does show GOP House leaders support the provision.
Conferees will have to begrudgingly keep the income cap or find some way to pivot around the issue."
Wonder how USDA would administer this?  Conceivably through FSA, I suppose, so USDA hits IRS only once.  But that assumes the rules for determining a person between crop insurance and USDA are the same, doesn't it?  (As time goes by I"m more and more aware that what I used to know is getting obsolete.)  Given how long it took for RMA and FSA to coordinate on acreage reporting dates, I wouldn't hold my breath for that result.  Might be simpler (remember KISS?) to leave the two operations completely separate and put up with complaints from farmers and Congress about the duplicate paperwork and discrepancies in rules. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Outed: the Secrets of the Obamas and Their Garden

Found 5.5 inches of rain in our garden plot over the last few days; actually more because the rain gauge only goes to 5.5.

Assuming the White House garden got equivalent amounts, the situation described in this long Obamafoodorama post from yesterday is even worse than the pictures show.  The point of the post is that the government shutdown means very little work done in the garden by staff, so it's quickly become overgrown and unharvested.

The garden evolved from a family project in the spring of 2009, where the girls were supposed to get their hands dirty, into a showcase project for gardening.  The post reveals explicitly for the first time that the plants growing in the White House garden were transplanted from an offsite greenhouse location.  Lots of other details about the garden in the post, [edit] including the fox now prowling the grounds.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Actively Engaged" in Farming Revisited

You'd think we'd know what a farmer is; after all people have been farming for thousands of years.

But, here, via FarmPolicy at Sen. Grassley's website, is the latest GAO report on FSA enforcement of the rules.

I remember the people (WP and SN) originally developing the rules after the 1985 farm bill.  Amazing to realize that they might well be grandparents by now.  If I remember, the first crack at implementing the provisions got overridden by Congress.  That sort of history is probably why FSA is saying they won't change rules now without having Congress act.  Part of the problem is, once provisions are in the farm bill and passed, members' attention shifts elsewhere, so the members who are more responsive to their farmer constituents gain in influence.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

What the Past Was Like--59 Years Ago

I stumbled across the program for the 12th Youth Forum, held in NYC in 1954.  The first pages are the text for a speech delivered by Mayor Robert Wagner.  Beginning at page 11 is the actual program.  Panel subjects were:
  • How can the United Nations be improved to deal with the problems of international peace?
  • How can the United States strengthen her policy toward her friends, her foes and neutralist nations?
  • How can the United States best protect itself against the dangers of subversion and still maintain civil liberties? (The panel chairman was a 15 year old Martin Peretz, I assume the Peretz who went on to fame as owner of New Republic.)
  • Do current educational practices prepare youth for effective participation in American democracy?
  • How can youth and adults meet the challenge of juvenile delinquency?
The panel chairs and co-chairs were balanced by sex, and the panel leaders seem to have been as well (though some unisex names).

Among the speakers and guests were the Philippines envoy to the UN, Wagner, the heads of NYC police, education, and schools, Sam Levenson, a comic, and representatives of three of the NYC sports teams (Jackie Robinson, Whitey Ford(!), and Kyle Rote, plus media types. There were delegates from youth organizations (Scouts, Boys Club, CYO, PAL) and religious organizations, and delegations from high schools in the city.

What struck me?  The seemingly inclusive nature, at least for 1954, more inclusive than I think the time is given credit for.  The prominence of religious organizations.  The seriousness of the subjects--I doubt there's any comparable youth level discussions today.  The dominance of a "communitarian" agenda and the absence of any libertarian one.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A USDA Benefactor of Humanity Dies

Bet you didn't think anyone in USDA ever benefited humanity?  Well, Ruth Benerito was the scientist who's given credit for permanent press.  Link is to her NYTimes obit at age 97.   Wikipedia said she had 55 patents.

I can't resist noting that USDA laboratories are now shutdown, thanks to a certain party.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Healthcare and the Amish

Always fascinated by the Amish, who are exempted from ACA (Obamacare) because they were exempted from Social Security way back in the last century, as this article describes.

The article doesn't mention the Amish occasionally being medical tourists--i.e., traveling to Mexico for some operations, something about which I've read in the last couple years.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Ezra Klein Differs on ACA Software

Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein are notably more damning of the Obama administrations healthcare exchange software than I have been.  This from Klein:

'But the Obama administration did itself -- and the millions of people who wanted to explore signing up -- a terrible disservice by building a Web site that, four days into launch, is still unusable for most Americans. They knew that the only way to quiet the law's critics was to implement it effectively. And building a working e-commerce Web site is not an impossible task, even with the added challenges of getting various government data services to talk to each other. Instead, the Obama administration gave critics arguing that the law isn't ready for primetime more ammunition for their case.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Farmers Didn't Improve Their Fields Until the 20th Century?

One meme of a few in the food movement, Prof. Pollan I'm looking at you, is farmers began industrial agriculture in the 20th century, specifically when nitrates left over from the military started to be used on our fields.  (That's my memory of Omnivore's Dilemma.)

Low-Tech Magazine has a long post on lime kilns  (all that rain in the British Isles tended to acidify the fields, thus creating a demand for lime to counter it).   Wikipedia cites usage of lime for agricultural purposes in the 13th century.  It's easy to underestimate the brains of our ancestors.

I've memories of our whitewashing the stable walls, and using lime on the concrete behind the cows to keep it dry and prevent the cows from slipping.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Obama's Open Government Fail--on Obamacare

I just love to tweak IT types and goo-goo types about openness, and occasionally I like to tweak my liberal friends.  In that spirit, let me quote this from the NYTimes post on activity on the healthcare exchanges:
"It is unclear what the [healthcare] exchanges meant in citing heavy volume; most did not provide numbers, or even return phone calls in the first hours of operation. It is also unclear to what degree problems with the Web sites were due to the kind of technical hurdles that supporters of the program had warned about and that opponents had predicted would demonstrate its unwieldiness."
 Too bad HHS didn't require each exchange website to post their count of unique visitors.

More seriously, I expect the dust to settle and the glitches to get resolved (mostly) in the next few days or weeks, just as Medicare Part D did back in the Bush days.

3 Minutes for Food?

Via Marginal Revolution, a USAtoday story on how the universe is gradually slowing down, in the inevitable triumph of entrophy.

Actually, it seems that fast food outlets are having trouble maintaining their speed of "drive-thru" visits.  I don't patronize such lines, so I was struck by the fact that McDonald's fills orders in about 3 minutes (the current figure is 9 seconds slower than it used to be).