Monday, November 30, 2015

Our German Inheritance--Vampires

It seems that the concept of vampires was imported during the American Revolution by Hessian doctors serving with the Brits. They used vampires to explain tuberculosis, specifically the wasting away.  That's from Boston 1775

Racism and Rhetoric

Some ironies:

Some on the left talk of racism in ways which strongly imply whites are bad people. Some on the right talk of a culture of poverty in ways which strongly imply the poor (blacks) are bad people.  Neither focus on class or structural causes.

Some on the left dismiss talk of a "Ferguson effect", denying that verbal attacks on policy might lead to violent attacks. Some on the right dismiss the idea that rhetoric attacking Planned Parenthood might lead to violent attacks.  (To be honest, Peter Moskos at Cop in the Hood) this idea published first.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why Didn't We Do a Joint Legacy Viewer

DOD and VA have had problems integrating their health care IT systems.  Now they've focused on a "Joint Legacy Viewer", which uses the principle of "write locally, read globally".

As is often the case, I think back to the 1990's (old geezers live in the past, you know) and the idea of integrating the USDA farmer  service agencies, at least in their IT.  At that time our (my) focus was always creating one database to serve the agencies.  In retrospect that was wrong. 

In 1992 we were demoing a mocked-up viewer of ASCS data.  Maybe we should have tried to build on that, rather than going for the big top-down solution.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Poor History

John McWhorter writes for the Wall Street Journal, being generally critical of campus activity on racism (hat tip: Althouse).

While it's okay, I want to challenge his history, specifically:
"What changed the game [to make civil right advances possible] in the Eisenhower era was a combination of television broadcasts of hideous images and the federal government’s publicity concerns during the Cold War."
I'd say what changed the game in the 50's was the culmination of the NAACP's litigation campaign establishing equal rights, which led to the activation of idealism among the political elite. As you move into the 60's civil disobedience and the violent reactions to it came to the forefront, 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Collective Action Problem: Who Will Bell the Don

The saying goes, " who will bell the cat", which turns out to be based on a fable from the Middle Ages. Dana Milbank wrote about the Republican problem with Donald Trump.  It would likely be to the benefit of all the other candidates if he lost support, but if only one candidate attacks him he or she might not attract Trump's former supporters.  For some reason I was reminded of this old saying.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


This Technology Review article discusses the use of CRISPR to "engineer babies".

And another article says: "Gene drives are just the latest example of the fantastic power of CRISPR editing to alter the DNA of living things,..."  This is in the context of engineering mosquitoes which stop the transmission of the malaria parasite and ensuring they proliferate, raising the possibility of a victory against malaria. But it raises the ethics of changing the biosphere, permanently.

I first posted about CRISPR back in April, which was pretty good of me, though my post was more about the quandary it poses for opponents of genetic modification.  That quandary becomes more severe as we begin to see the potential uses of the technique.

[Updated: An Atlantic article on understanding our genes.--hat tip  Marginal Revolution.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fortran?? Really, Fortran

FCW has a post on supporting Fortran, by "accommodating the legacy code with an open-source Fortran compiler to help integrate the programming language into a larger pool of computer languages in supercomputers."

Fortran was old when I was learning COBOL back in the 70's.  And most of the people in the US have never heard of either, too young.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Appropriating a Cultural Image

Lots of debate over "appropriating" another culture (see Eugene Volokh on yoga).  So I was struck by the image here,
which is entitled "Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression". (Image reached from this post at The Junto.) It's a political cartoon published shortly after the Boston Tea Party.  It shows British and Americans as opposing camps, with the Americans represented as Indians. Excerpts from the explanation/text in the cartoon:

12. America represented by a Woman is an Indian queen, with drawn bow about to loose an arrow at Lord North.
Behind her are six Indian warriors. They are:
13. The Sons of Liberty, represented by the Natives of America, in their savage garb. They emerge from the forest, armed with bows and spears, saying “We will secure our freedom, or die in the Attempt”: “ Lead us to Liberty  or Death”; “Lead on, Lead on.”  Above them the shores of America stretch out from Boston to the Delaware. Seated in comfort on these shores, holding a liberty cap on her staff, a tabby cat curled somewhat incongruously at her feet, is:
14. The Goddess of Liberty, addressing herself to Fame and pointing To her Sons, saying proudly “Behold the Ardor of my Sons and let not their brave Actions be buried in Oblivion.”
 Bottom line: much of our history is appropriated imagery.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Maintenance May Be China's Downfall Future Nightmare

Although China's economy has slowed a bit, it's still growing, after 35 years of impressive growth.  But it strikes me that China will face a big problem down the road.  Because their growth has been so rapid, much of their infrastructure is roughly the same age. That means it will be wearing out about the same time, requiring a lot of repairs or replacement.  China has profited by the ability to modernize their agriculture, freeing/driving workers to the cities.  Meanwhile the 1-child policy has meant fewer children to support, so the ratio of workers to dependents has been high, whereas in the future it will be low.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Rogers

My father's ancestors were heavy on Presbyterianism.  I was very surprised to learn that Donald Trump  is a Presbyterian. :-(  My equanimity was restored by this Atlantic piece reminding me that Mr. Rogers was also a Presbyterian. :-(

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Refugees make good renters, according to this piece from Bloomberg, hat tip Marginal Revolution.  Some of the upstate New York rust belt cities are finding them an asset--Utica, Syracuse.

And the flowchart for the vetting process, (thumbnail below) from the White House.  Makes the old Republican chart on ACA implementation look simple.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Vox, Wikipedia, and Woodrow Wilson

Dylan Mathews has a post at Vox on Woodrow Wilson and race.  IMHO he has two errors:

"Wilson himself was the descendant of Confederate soldiers..."  According to Wikipedia, his father was briefly a chaplain in the Confederate army.

" Wilson lent The Birth of a Nation his approval by screening it at the White House and reportedly telling Griffith that it could "teach history with lightning.""

The bit about the quote is terrible.  Yes, this has been reported, but it's dubious.  Mathews links to the abstract of an article which promises to examine the history of the quote.  The article is behind a paywall so Mathews should give us the article's conclusion, not an abstract.Other sources question the quote.  See Snopes

[updated.  See footnote 25 from this source.[

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Three Times Greece or Poland

No, that's not good.  The US maternal mortality rate is three times that of Greece or Poland, according to this piece.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Cheap Can Coding Be?

How about one dollar?  This FCW  piece explains how putting a project out for bid, resulted in a cost to the government of one dollar.   Naturally the competitors are upset.  I'm not.  I do wonder about the rise of contractors and free-lance employees: are they really paying the taxes they should, not only income taxes but social security etc. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Feeling Old With Windows. 10.0

Upgraded my desktop PC to Windows 10.  The Microsoft people are getting better at transitions--practice makes almost perfect I guess.

We've come a long way since the days of DOS and the command line.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Surprising Facts--Vietnam

"At the start of the Vietnam War in 1964, the US and Vietnam had wildly divergent life expectancy and family sizes; by 2003 they were the same."

From a Guardian article.

I never would have thought this, particularly not in July 1966.

Cage-Free Hens and Taco Bell

The Post reports Taco Bell has joined the cage-free egg grouping of fast food restaurants.  (Note, the math in the piece is flawed, as I take pleasure in pointing out to them in comments.)

It seems I've done a number of posts on cage-free eggs, but without a tag for it; you have to search the blog to find them.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

EU Terrorism Deaths, Higher in 1970's

I vaguely remember the terrorism of the past, but I'm dumbfounded by this graph, which comes from a Fivethirtyeight post on terrorism.

I recommend the whole thing.  "terrorism" has different causes, which is well to remember.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Grant More Honorable than Washington?

Saw a piece on the opera/play Appomattox, written by a Brit who was struck by Grant's terms to Lee at Appomattox.  Well he might be.

But our great leaders have not always been so honorable.  Apparently after the victory at Saratoga and the surrender of Burgoyne's army, the terms provided for the repatriation of the troops (not to serve in the war again).  Brad DeLong links to a letter from Washington urging essentially that we violate the terms, arguing that a fast return of the troops would merely free other troops to come from Britain.  (I've a personal interest, my ggggrandfather was a captain who I believe was part of the guards when the captured troops ended up in a camp near York, PA.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mobility and the Draft

Here's a piece on the decline of geographic mobility in the US.  The focus is more on short distance moves than long distance moves.  I don't know why the decline and haven't seen a recent discussion.  I do wonder though whether the ending of the draft in the Nixon administration had anything to do with it--the draft was on my mind because I recently argued that a grandparent of several grandsons didn't need to worry about a Republican president getting us into a war and reactivating the draft.

The draft might have affect mobility of young men two ways:
  • they got out of their home and into the world, even if they were never stationed overseas. That might have made them more comfortable with traveling and moving.
  • they got to know and become friends with men from other parts of the country, perhaps informing them of job and/or educational opportunities outside of their community.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Dangers of English

I'm stealing two images from an Illinois extension post on big data in agriculture:

U.S. Being Subsidized by Asia

Two posts caught my eye:
  • James Fallows at Atlantic on a follow-up post on Chinese education--an excerpt from a reader's comments:
First, the US college system is now deeply dependent on the sky-high tuition that international students pay; here at Purdue, it's often said that the international students are essentially subsidizing the in-state tuition for Indiana students. Many schools are massively dependent on international student dollars, and Chinese student dollars particularly -- which means we're massively exposed to fluctuations in the Chinese economy.
  • The NYTimes reports that because of cuts in the National Parks Service budget, they're doing an appeal for contributions to the Korean War Memorial on the Mall, an appeal so far answered only by Korean businesses. 
Folks, this is pitiful.  I blame our politicians and ourselves: we need higher taxes to fund education and parks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Stakes of the 2016 Elections

Discussing last night's debate generated these thoughts:

  • if a Republican wins the Presidency, the odds are high that Republicans will continue to control the House and Senate.
  • since every day the 9 on the Supreme Court get closer to the grave, it's likely there will be some vacancies on the Court during the term, possibly Scalia, Ginsburg, and Breyer, depending on factors. Assume a Republican president, the replacement(s) are likely to be to the right of the 3 (possibly not to the right of Scalia but certainly to the right of Ginsburg and Breyer).  That would move the court rightward and would mean one-party control of all three branches of government.
  • we'd see a test of the theory that united government can make big and enduring changes.

  • if a Democrat wins the Presidency, the odds are high that Republicans will continue to control the House, maybe the Senate.  
  • replacements on the Supreme Court would, I guess, be more moderate than the departed justice. The Senate is likely to be more closely divided than when Kagan and Sotomayor were nominated and possibly more partisan.  So if all 3 of my possibilities leave, the court might move slightly left, with the swing justice becoming one of the newbies. 
  • we'd see a test of whether a change of personnel, the President, could change the political climate in Washington.
Either way, the politics of the 2017-21 period will be interesting.

I'm comfortable in predicting that the changes won't turn out to be as drastic or harmful to the country as the partisans would predict.  On the other hand, I'm voting Dem.  :-)

TPP and Agriculture

I suppose if I got into Twitter, I could tweet this link, but I haven't, yet.

Vox has a good piece on the impacts of the TPP (the Pacific trade pact) on segments of agriculture.  Soybean farmers win big, some reductions in trade barriers (Japanese rice, Canadian dairy), etc.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Good News: Entrepreneurs and Race

From Fortune:
The number of businesses owned by African American women grew 322% since 1997, making black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.
Overall, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 74% between 1997 and 2015—a rate that’s 1.5 times the national average, according to the recently published “2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report” commissioned by American Express Open. Women now own 30% of all businesses in the U.S., accounting for some 9.4 million firms. And African American women control 14% of these companies, or an estimated 1.3 million businesses. That figure is larger than the total number of firms owned by all minority women in 1997, the report found.
It surprises me, because it's easy to slip into the idea that black people seek secure jobs and aren't risk-takers.  It shouldn't surprise me, because I know several of the black women with whom I've worked have had the ability to be entrepreneurs. I don't know whether in retirement they've taken that direction, or maybe their daughters have. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

Why College Costs Are High?

From a Conor Friedersdorf piece on Yale:
These are young people who live in safe, heated buildings with two Steinway grand pianos, an indoor basketball court, a courtyard with hammocks and picnic tables, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gym, a movie theater, a film editing lab, billiard tables, an art gallery, and four music practice rooms.
When I went to college, while freshman dorm was heated and safe, its only frill was a lounge room with a TV.  And we had to walk uphill to reach classes, and uphill to reach the dorm.  

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Number of Tractors: 1920 US Versus 2000 Africa

The World Bank has a post on agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.  Now I'm going by memory, which is that Prof. Pollan in Omnivore's Dilemma wrote that the US had 254 tractors on farms in 1920.  I doubted that, and found the Census report 254,000 tractors (Pollan had missed the unit of measure in the table).  So that figure sticks in my mind, although given my advancing age it should be taken with a grain of salt. 

But that's the context in which I read this:
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the trend has been rather different. In 1961, the number of tractors in use was more than in both Asia and the Near East (at 172 000).  After that the number increased slowly to peak at 275 000 by 1990 before declining to 221 000 by 2000.
 In other words, sub-Africa had fewer tractors in 2000 than the US had in 1920.  Further, the population of Africa was about 600 million, while the population of the US was about 100 million.

Friday, November 06, 2015

National Black Farmers Assocation 25th Conference Agenda

Here's the agenda for the 2-day conference (today and tomorrow) of the NBFA.

When read with a political eye, it's interesting--lots of USDA speakers plus a rep from Clinton's campaign.

Vote on Appropriations or Head for the Hills

Apparently despite their brave talk about returning to "regular order", the thing the House Republicans don't want is to vote on appropriations bills. I'm sure Speaker Ryan is very surprised.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

God's Plan for Interest Rates

Mea culpa.  When I skimmed the first mention of this, I thought: there's one of those crazy Republican congressmen again.

Wrong.  It's one of those crazy Democratic congressmen, earnestly telling Janet Yellen that God's plan is for interest rates to rise in the spring.

Erroneous Payments: Two Views

"If I were to tell you that the Social Security disability program was 99.88 percent accurate in issuing benefit amounts to recipients, you might think they were doing an outstanding job. But if I told you the program overpaid by $11 billion – while neglecting to mention how they clawed most of it back – you might dust off your pitchfork and join your local mob’s march to the nearest SSA satellite office."

From the Post 
(The news accounts didn't explain that the overpayments were over a number of years and didn't cite the total payments made.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Paperwork Reduction Act Takes Deserved Hit

From Github on the revision of OMB Circular A130:
Pretty much everyone who's responsible for designing digital information collections in Government knows the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) is one of the greatest barriers for making government simple, because of the obstacles (real or imaginary) it throws up between government researchers and the public. The idea that any structured information collection from 10 or more people, even if it is voluntary, even if the very purpose of the data collection is to reduce the burden of paperwork on the American public (whether digital or physical) has to go through a laborious, expensive, time-consuming, and rarely useful centralized process doesn't make any sense. The current implementation of the PRA defeats the very purpose of the law, and certainly defeats the objectives of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA).
I wish someone like my representatives in Congress would revise the Act.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Bush Replies, Who Was the Ohio Governor?

A blast from the past--there was an Ohio governor long ago who won some fame by his replies to constituent mail, often curt and funny, especially when the incoming letter was irate.  Somewhat like Chris Christie's responses in some of his meetings with constituents.

Today Jeb Bush put out a book of email, one of the early messages quoted in the Politico piece reminded me of that governor, the rest not so much.