Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Harshaw's Corollary of Parkinson's Law

According to Parkinson's Law:
"work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"
Or, as generalized since Mr. Parkinson first described it,
"The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource"
In this light, I've Harshaw's corollary: 
 "books expand to overfill available bookshelves"

Of course, this is time-limited--books are a vanishing breed. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Harshaw's Rule of Appropriations

Based on earmarks, block grants, and general experience, I venture to say:

"the more general the appropriation, the more likely to be; the more specific the appropriation the safer from cuts"*

* unless and until the sole Congressional sponsor leaves Congress.

For example, if Congress inserts a particular line item to buy a weapon, a plane or tank, that's pretty immune from being cut; if they appropriate $10 billion for training, that's going to be cut.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The American Food Is Meat

America may or may not have been born a Christian nation, but it was surely born a meat-eating nation.  Consider this quote from a German who lived in Pennsylvania around 1750:
Even in the humblest and poorest houses in this country there is no meal without meat, and no one eats the bread without butter or cheese
It's from a short book he wrote upon returning to Germany. Here's some highlights

The "Halo" Effect

Some recent research found that umpires give pitchers who've been named to one or more All Star teams a bigger strike zone than journeymen.  I seem to recall some other research which backed the conventional wisdom: in the NBA the big names, the all-stars, get the breaks on referee's calls--charging, blocking, traveling, etc.

Let's call this the "halo effect".  I wonder whether it's the converse of racism? The great and good can do no wrong, the small and mean can do no right?  When actually living is just putting one foot after another, sometimes misstepping, sometimes not.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Reality Check for the Food Movement?

Mark Bittman says French cuisine has gone to les chiens.  Years ago some French farmer achieved fame by attacking a McDonalds.  And French government policy has been to subsidize the smaller farmer. The fact that these measures don't seem to have worked should tell the food movement something about the difficulty of moving beyond a niche catering to the better off.  Should but won't.

How Soon We Forget, Even Ag Ec Profs

From Farm Policy, discussing the ending of direct payments:
“‘The fundamental political problem that direct payments ran into is a question of fairness,’ said Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University. ‘Is it fair farmers were receiving these payments when income was at record or near-record levels? We as a country decided that was not something we felt comfortable with.’”

The article [in the Toledo Blade] stated that, “Direct payments were included in the 1996 Farm Bill as a temporary safeguard against bad years, but eventually became permanent. The subsidies drew heavy fire recently as farm income rose to record levels. Mr. Zulauf said as long as farmers met the basic qualifications, direct payments were made regardless of need. In the new system, payments will only be made when certain market conditions exist — either revenue declines or low market prices for grain and other commodities.
Of course, as everyone knows, at least those of a certain age, direct payments replaced deficiency payments in 1996 as the Republicans' means of phasing out farm programs, except it didn't work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Our Great Democratic ex-President

Jimmy Carter and his center have, with others, almost eradicated guinea worm.

Note that education and clean water were the keys.

What Is "Genetically Modified"?

The most familiar GMO crops are those which have genes added to provide resistance to a herbicide, or to fight some disease or pest.  The anti-GMO people argue this is messing with mother nature, when you add a gene to corn which comes from some other organism, and that such messing is dangerous.  I don't agree, but I can understand why someone might think that way.

But now comes a report that Chinese scientists have genetically modified wheat to improve its resistance to powdery mildew. What strikes me is the method used: deleting  genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew.  To me, this undermines the anti-GMO argument--you aren't creating a Frankenstein's monster by combining parts from different organisms, you're simply streamlining an organism.

I suspect few anti-GMO types will agree with me.

[Update: this was a very early use of what is now familiar to most: CRISPR.  I give myself kudos for seeing this and noting the difference with standard genetic modification so early.  Sept. 10, 2018]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Kevin Drum

Towards the end of a rant (Kevin rants? yes) against Thomas Frank's new article on Obama:
"All of us who do what Thomas Frank does—what I do—have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.
But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie."

Handling Emails, Tweets, and Chats

FCW has an article on government failures in handling e-communications of all sorts.  It confirms my previous post about problems in ASCS/FSA.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bittman and Blah on Cheeseburger Freedom

From a Mark Bittman post at the Times:
If those externalities were borne by their producers rather than by consumers and society at large, the industry would be a highly unprofitable, even silly one. It would either cease to exist or be forced to raise its prices significantly.
In this discussion, the cheeseburger is simply a symbol of a food system gone awry. Industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone; low prices do not indicate “savings” or true inexpensiveness but deception. And all the products of industrial food consumption have externalities that would be lessened by a system that makes as its primary goal the links among nutrition, fairness and sustainability.
That's the concluding sentences of an argument that industrial ag, as symbolized by the cheeseburger, has very costly externalities: it has a big carbon footprint, it contributes to obesity, obesity contributes to poor health, plus a handful of more minor effects. I've no problem with Bittman's pointing out the negative externalities, but I do have two problems with the piece:

  • First, if you're going to discuss externalities, fairness means you need to talk about positive ones as well.  The cheeseburger is one of the great American contributions to the cause of freedom.  It frees women to do something other than cook 3 meals a day, as my mother did.  Whether it's to pursue a career or just to get a second income for the family, that freedom, that ability to choose is important.  (Obviously men and children also gain more freedom, more choice as well, but women are the greatest gainers.)
  • Second, I find these words simply incoherent: "Industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone".  I defy anyone to expand the statement in a way which makes sense.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm a Whippersnapper??

Via University Diaries, Pew has a political typology quiz, which says based on my answers:
Generally young, well-educated and financially comfortable, the Next Generation Left have very liberal attitudes on many issues, including homosexuality, abortion, the environment and foreign policy. While overall supportive of an activist government, most are wary of expanding the social safety net. Most also have relatively positive views of Wall Street’s impact on the economy. While most affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic, few consider themselves strong Democrats. Compare groups on key issues.
 As usual, you're offered two choices on each question and I'd view most of them as a continuum, not binary.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rules on Nondiscrimination at USDA

Thanks to Farm Policy, here's the final rule on nondiscrimination at USDA--from the preamble:

" Applicants and program participants will provide the race, ethnicity, and gender data on a voluntary basis."

If I read it correctly, it makes the rules currently applicable to the service center agencies (FSA, NRCS, and RD) apply also to other USDA programs which directly serve people.  That's important, because most of USDA's money is indirect--the food stamp, WIC, etc. program administered through state agencies.  It also expands the protected grounds to political beliefs and gender identity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Power of Organization and Wealth

I draw one moral from two different stories in today's Washington Post. 
  • In one, South Korean men are searching for brides in China and Vietnam.  According to the story the Korean men are too poor to attract a Korean bride, so they exploit the difference in wealth to go to Vietnam for a woman from a poor background who's hoping to jump up in status.
  • In the other, the Kurds in Iraq are expanding the territory they control, and according to the story the people being brought under their control are accepting it.  Order and security are better than a ruling elite of one's own ethno-religious affiliation.
My moral: the old "golden rule"--he who has the gold rules, modified to say, he who has what people want (money, order) rules.  That's cynical, but it's also rewarding those who provide what people want (and only hurting the poor Vietnamese peasant man and the ideologue in Iraq who puts ideas above human welfare).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Yields on Lake Woebegon Farms

By definition, the farms around Lake Woebegon normally have above average weather.  And "around" extends to the 48 states, at least.  The question really is, whether "normal" should include below average years.  At one time we used "Olympic averaging" in ASCS--tossing the highest and lowest years and using the remaining ones.  But there's always pressure from the field and from Congress to recognize that we live in Lake Woebegon, and that applies to crop insurance as well as the old disaster programs of the 1970's.

From yesterday's Farm Policy:
A news release yesterday from Chairman Conaway stated that, “[Chairman Conaway] called on the Agriculture Department to implement the Actual Production History adjustment in 2015. The adjustment was part of the 2014 Farm Bill and allows farmers to prevent harvest years that are affected by severe weather from having a negative impact on the calculations determining their crop insurance coverage. ‘There are farmers and ranchers who have experienced severe drought for three years,’ Congressman Conaway said. ‘Many remain in severe drought this year. A good many of these areas are in D-4 drought condition. Despite all of this, we understand the department intends to administratively delay APH relief until 2016, the THIRD year of a FIVE year farm bill. I respectfully urge the department to respond to this natural disaster in states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and other states around the country with the same speed and determination as one would expect in the case of a wildfire or a hurricane.’
“While Under Secretary Scuse did not commit to implement the provision earlier than the fall of 2015, he did commit to go back and investigate and provide the committee with detail about potential timelines, and even consider a partial implementation for areas and crops most impacted by drought and losses in the farm bill.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

Didn't Know This--Roosters Have Breeds

From Reuters, hattip Farm Policy:

"key breed of rooster has a genetic issue that is reducing its fertility"

(Never thought about the breeding of chickens, I assume given the short life span of roosters, we're talking about a son of a son of a son--i.e., a lineage?)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Enrichment of Rural Life

Was looking at a recent post on Life on a Colorado Farm, the one where she asks for help in identifying a bird at her feeder, then viewed the comments.  The LCF writer lives on a butte in Colorado, so she sees a lot of weather, and nice views.  In this she's a lot like my mother, who lived near the top of a hill in upstate New York, and enjoyed the views looking west over the hills. 

When mom married she moved to the valley, which she regretted. Her life on the hill was  back in the early 1900's so there's a great difference in life experiences.  A few of them:
  • LCF has a camera with which she takes many great pictures.  Mom had a similar enjoyment of natural phenomena, the clouds, the snow, the seasons, etc. but had no way to record it.
  • LCF has the Internet and a blog.  Mom had a lonely life on the hill--they had a watering trough by the gravel road which passed between house and barn and she was eager to visit with the few passersby who would stop to water their horses.  During my childhood she was equally eager to visit with the people who came to buy our cracked eggs.  But I'm sure she would have much enjoyed the companionship available through a blog and blogroll and sharing with people with similar circumstances and backgrounds.
The Rural Blog does a good job at reporting on rural life, which often has greater problems than nonrural life (i.e. drugs, access to healthcare, economy, etc. etc.). One thing we need to remember is the isolation of rural life in the not too-remote past, and the changes made by modern technology.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Gains in the South

A surprising factoid:
 Since 1980, almost all of the expansion of black white-collar employment shares have been in the South.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation--Something Completely Different

We had registered Holsteins on our farm, which if I recall meant we had to send in registration papers which included either a sketch of the cow's markings or a photo.  I assume the data included the cow's ancestry.  And the vet who did the artificial insemination would discuss with dad which bull's semen to use, which one was popular, etc. etc.  I never really got into this aspect of the business, and it was a business--but I was aware of the strange names of the bulls, which leads to the title of this post.

Anyhow today, via Northview Valley blog, I get to the bull in the title.  He even has his own wikipedia page, although it's flagged as having problems.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Humans Are Lazy

A quote from a TEchnology Review post--human drivers weren’t trustworthy enough to be co-pilots to Google’s software:
That approach had to be scrapped after tests showed that human drivers weren’t trustworthy enough to be co-pilots to Google’s software. When people began riding in one of the vehicles, they paid close attention to what the car was doing and to activity on the road around them, which meant the hand-off between person and machine was smooth. But that interest faded to indifference over weeks and months as people became too trusting of the car’s abilities. “Humans are lazy,” says Fairfield. “People go from plausible suspicion to way overconfidence.”

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Lack of Compatibility

From NASCOE's June update.:
"We recently learned that OMB /DAFP made a visit a Pennsylvania county office a few weeks ago. The visit focused on the progress of MIDAS. The group was curious why MIDAS is not being used as the platform for the new farm bill programs, and asked why we continue to utilize 2 systems (Web Farm & MIDAS). We understand that the group seemed to be surprised at the lack of compatibility and interaction of our software programs. Reports were that the visit was beneficial, yet eye opening for the OMB/DAFO group." 
 One thing the IT types who were involved in Infoshare never understood, and I failed to make them understand, was the problem of transitioning from legacy systems to new systems.  We went through hell in 1985-7 when we transitioned to the System/36 and everyone was happy to forget the pains.  As Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Ridiculous II

This article at Modern Farmer shows the extent to which our wealthy society can extend the ridiculous.

I can understand the logic of this dairy farm: maximizing the welfare of dairy cows.  Late breeding, no slaughter--cows dying when they "naturally" would.  It's not 100 percent clear, but apparently they don't send their bull calves to slaughter either.  It all fits the touchy-feely ethos of the food movement, but more so.

I can accept that 100 years from now wealthy nations will get most of their milk and meat from truly industrial process (i.e., bypassing animals altogether).  The remainder of the supply might be subdivided with various approaches, some organic, some slaughter free, etc.

But I won't be around to see it and I'm too much a man of my time and place to find it other than ridiculous.   A quote:
"At $10 per gallon, the price of slaughter-free milk is almost triple the cost of whole milk, which retails for an average of $3.69 per gallon. The price reflects the cost of producing the milk as well as calf care and “retirement” costs for the herd. (The cost of labor isn’t factored into the price because the farmhands are volunteers).
 So the true price is probably closer to $20 per gallon, because the labor is being paid/supported by trust funds, etc.  Might one be able to find suckers customers willing to pay more than three times the price of conventional milk?  Might one be able to find suckers people willing to get up at 4 am to milk the cows for no pay?  Yes, I suppose one might.  I still say ridiculous.