Monday, March 31, 2014

College and Smoking

Some recent research found that growing up in college towns was strongly correlated with becoming famous (as in rating a Wikipedia entry).  (Urban areas and immigrants were also correlated.)

That was on my mind when I saw this map. 
Why?  Because I know where Tompkins county, NY is, which is where Ithaca, NY is.  It stands out on the map of smoking rates by county--the dark blue dot in upstate NY, meaning it has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country. (I suspect the other dark blue areas are also college towns or rich urban areas (Charlottesville, VA is one guess.)

Now I don't know there's a correlation between becoming famous and not smoking, but inquiring minds want to know. (Particularly as I started to smoke in Ithaca, NY and am not famous.)

Inequality: on the Misuse of Statistics

Prof. Mankiw of Harvard linked to this Brookings study on inequality.  It's interesting, and makes the valid, I think, point that our tax/safety net system means lower income people are protected against volatility.  But it fails, at least in my quick reading, to note that figures based on the 2000-2010 period, as its are, will give misleading results.

Why?  Because 2000 was the peak of the dot com bubble in the stock market, while 2010 was early in the recovery from the Great Recession.  The net effect is to understate the income gains of the top 1 percent, and .1 percent and .01 percent.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thailand Has Satellites?

The most surprising factoid from all the coverage of the MH370 plane disaster is that Thailand has satellites.  Turns out they've had at least one for over 20 years!!

The world is moving much too fast for this geezer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What's Wrong with "Industrial"?

I've been doing some reading in 19th century documents--at that time "industrial education" seems to mean something like teaching students to work (in various trades and crafts, even in agriculture). Even earlier, "industry" was one of Ben Franklin's favorite words.

When I was growing up "industrial"  was often attached to "production", meaning stuff factories made, the more they made the better things were.

But since 1980 the use of "industrial" has declined while a bit more recently the use of "industrial agriculture" has exploded.  In this usage, "industrial" is pejorative.  Apparently it's interchangeable with "factory farms".  (Again, when I was young factories were good things; they provided jobs, made stuff, were a symbol of modernity.)

I understand, I think, the thinking behind the pejorative use of "industrial agriculture" and "factory farms", but I'm a bit amazed at the transformation of good to bad over the last 30 years.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Push and Pull of the Bureaucracy

"Items discussed with DAFO include the need for more Key PT’s. One state was able to hire more than the national notice allowed. I encourage each state to get with your SED and figure out a plan to request more."
The budget proposal to cut positions and close county offices is the big issue.  I've already noticed Sen. Gillibrand voicing opposition to closing offices in NY, and I assume that's happening elsewhere.  Since I'm retired, I shouldn't really comment, but the two sentences I quote struck me.  It's an example of how the field can out-maneuver the DC bureaucrats.  For a political scientist, it might be an instance of "rational choice", the idea that people in the bureaucracies look out for the interests of the bureaucracy, not the public.  But applying the idea of the free market to such issues, you could say the "interests of the public" are the result of the interplay of the struggle of various interests.  I think Madison's Federalist #10 might be an example of that.

There's been a long but sporadic effort in USDA to rationalize the county office structure, going back to 1976, an effort having two thrusts: establishing service centers, with multiple agencies in one location, and closing offices which no longer serve a lot of farmers.   There's been a lot of resistance to the effort, so the result has been less consolidation and fewer offices closed than the DC planners hoped to achieve but more than county employees and farmers wanted.

In the broader view, a similar process has been going on for over a century.  The rural population has dwindled in parts of the country ever since 1900 or so.  Reformers, possibly including my grandfather, thought the rural church needed to consolidate--rather than Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. small churches in small towns, why not get together into one which could afford better ministers, support more Sunday schools and other amenities.  Don't think it worked out.

Just recently I saw a blog post on the closing of rural hospitals in Georgia--similar idea I'd think. (Greene, NY, which was our market town, used to have a hospital but it closed in the early 60's, I believe.) 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Gardens

The White House garden is under snow for the second time since they removed their hoop houses.

 Having worked last fall I've two beds ready for peas, if and when we get a couple dry warm days. We've kale too, although we failed to harvest enough last fall so it's straggly now, and hasn't greened up.  Should bolt in 3-4 weeks at most.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dairy and China and the Food Movement

Farm Policy refers to a WSJ article on a project in Brittany, France doing a dairy plant for China.  This follows an LA Times article on exporting dairy to China.

It's an intriguing subject because I keep thinking lactose -intolerance, but turns out it's mostly adults and Chinese parents, who dote on their children, don't trust Chinese baby formula.  They do trust US and apparently French dairy standards.

It's an occasion for me to give a compliment to the food movement, at least the historical food movement.  I tend to mock and denigrate the current one, but I recognize that some of the same motives of the current movement also caused the establishing of  high standards for dairy products in past decades, the same high standards which now enable us to export to China.

(Of course, I have yet to see China importing product made from raw milk. :-)

[Updated--Agweb post on the subject.]

Monday, March 17, 2014

Most Interesting Sentence of Today

Actually, I'd say this sentence is very surprising.  Nate Silver is launching his new website today and he writes:
"The books in my office — I have about 500 — are arranged by color."
 What?  Is that the way a nerd does things?  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Closing FSA County Offices

Chris Clayton reports NAFEC is lobbying against the planned closures.  He quotes Mike Espy and  Mike Johanns as citing the problems they had in closing offices.  I remember when the Reagan administration tried to reorganize the state offices, combining some in the Northeast.  That was a bloodbath.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Worth of a Life, the Worth of Closure

Back in the 80's, I think it was, there was a movement to analyze the cost and benefits of government programs, particularly those programs which tried to save lives.  Liberals tended to view the effort as a back-handed way to cut environmental and work safety programs, but I think over time it's been accepted as an exercise which is worthwhile.

For some reason that came to mind when I read the first paragraph of a Propublica post:
The Pentagon spends roughly $100 million a year to identify service members “missing in action” from World War II, Korea and Vietnam – a noble effort to try and bring closure to families and loved ones. But the process has proven incredibly slow and inefficient, ProPublica’s Megan McCloskey reports, with only 60 identifications made in all of 2013.
$100 million divided by 60 works out to a pretty high price tag for providing closure to families, particularly as the people who knew the service members are dying every day.  (The people who didn't know the service members are also dying every day.) 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Attention NASCOE: Congress and Show Me the Money

The Post's Wonkblog has a piece reporting on research on Congress.  Seems that if one approaches a Congressional office with a request for a meeting, when the participants are "constituents", you are much less likely to have the request granted than if the participants are "campaign donors".  This is, of course, a totally surprising result; news which will be buried by the media.

[Update:  A modification--the key point is not that the participants donated to the member of Congress, but that they had donated to some campaign.  So they could be seen as more active and committed participants in the legislative process.  See this interview with the researchers.]

NASCOE has changed its representative on the Hill recently, as they struggle to present their point of view in the budget and legislative battles.  Perhaps it's time for them to set up a PAC to make contributions, as money seems to talk much louder than the soft voice of logic.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Fraud in FSA 578's

I don't recall this before, but maybe that's poor memory, or poor description of what happened:

Friday, March 07, 2014

Getting Food to The People

Whatever happened to the veggie truck and the bakery truck?  An older relative of mine who used to live in the DC suburbs before the war (WWII that is) remembers being able to buy fresh vegetables from a truck and bakery goods from another truck.  I assume such service couldn't withstand the restrictions on driving during WWII and the competition from supermarkets after the war.  But maybe not.  The milkman continued to deliver in my semi-rural area even into the early '50's, and a Good Humor truck has made occasional appearances in  my Reston cul-de-sac within living memory.

I do see the food movement as trying to take us back to the 1920's, the time when farmers grew a variety of crops, there were farmers markets in cities, and nobody was obese (except William Howard Taft, Chief Justice and ex-President).  Or maybe it's a matter of the pendulum swinging: from variety to standardization and uniformity and then back again.  Certainly technology is enabling a lot of new services: car sharing, room sharing, even toilet sharing (see here).  No reason it couldn't be adapted to support delivery routes and other niche marketing devices for farm produce.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

FSA's Budget

The 2015 Budget proposes a level of $1.45 billion. As part of the 2015 budget, FSA is developing a “Model Service Center” concept that will result in service centers that are better equipped, better staffed, and will provide improved service to customers. Part of the plan is to close or consolidate 250 offices and restructure the workforce to more effectively leverage its human capital. With reduced redundancies, streamlined business processes, and a reduced national footprint, FSA will be able to deliver programs more efficiently. In addition, FSA proposes additional staffing for farm loans in anticipation of increased loan demand. FSA is continuing to modernize its information technology (IT) systems and move away from unreliable, obsolete systems. Billions of dollars of annual farm program payments, conservation payments, and loans to producers have been dependent upon antiquated IT systems. FSA must continue to upgrade its IT infrastructure in order to provide more efficient and reliable services to producers. 
FSA’s MIDAS program is a critical part of its IT modernization efforts that supports farm program delivery with streamlined business processes and integrated applications that share information and resources efficiently. MIDAS achieved an initial operating capability release in April 2013 that modernized the storage and retrieval structure of current farm records and integrated this information with land use data, land imagery data and producer information. The system will permit FSA employees to access and better validate program eligibility data and financial services data from a single source and improve customer account management.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014