Sunday, January 31, 2016

Companies Leaving Crop Insurance

Bloomberg has a post on companies (Wells Fargo, Cargill, Deere) leaving crop insurance.

That development somewhat counters the argument that government subsidies to crop insurance are too high.  On the other hand, given the size of these companies, it may be that the hassle is too much for the potential profits, particularly since prices have declined.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cottonseed Equals Oilseed?

Illinois extension has a discussion on the possibility of cottonseed being added to the list of oilseeds covered by farm programs.  Up to now, even though cottonseed is more than 50 percent by weight of the product of the cotton plant, the fiber has been considered the crop, with cottonseed a useful by-product, like milk is the product of the dairy cow, with the meat being a by-product.  Apparently there's a push on to implement a provision of the farm bill to add it as an oilseed, but there's budgetary implications (maybe one billion dollars, almost real money) and trade-offs in terms of program provisions and encouraging/discouraging crops. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Economics of Commodities--Almonds

As Yogi said, deja vu all over again.

My mother, a woman of decided opinions, which I'm just now realizing, would rail at the stupidity of the poultry.  Egg prices would go up, people would buy chicks and raise layers, the supply would increase, the prices would go down to the point people were losing money.

The same logic has been followed over and over, with variations, with respect to different commodities.  Most recently it's been oil.  Remember the days of peak oil, of $130 a barrel? 

Now it's almonds, as described in the linked article. 

Big Farm--In Russia, Not Texas

NY Times has an article on American ranchers from Wyoming teaching Russian how to handle cattle. There's an operation with 1.5 million acres*, which seems bigger than any Texas operation (the King ranch is under a million).  The Russians are amazed at how hard the Americans work, and the fact they don't do it on vodka.

*  Granted, this isn't contiguous acres, which makes a bit of difference.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hard To Foresee the Future--Farm Programs reports new CBO projections: higher outlays under the FSA farm programs PLC/ARC and lower outlays under crop insurance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gentrification of the Neighborhood

The Post magazine has an article on the proposal for a bridge park in DC, modeled somewhat on the High Line in NYC.  It would cross the Anacostia river on old bridge piers, connecting the poorer Anacostia neighborhood with the richer Capitol Hill neighborhood.  One of the big concerns is the likely gentrification of Anacostia, the driving out of lower-income dwellers and replacement by richer yuppies.

It strikes me that this gentrification is the story of America.  Developers, like the English, see land which isn't being used to its maximum given current economic and technological conditions, acquire the property by hook or crook, and resell it to new people for a profit. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

8 Inch Floppies

The mention of 8 inch floppy disks in this Govexe post (on outdated technology in our nuclear weapons military/industrial complex) brings back memories of the IBM System/36

What a 74-Year Old Can Do

I'm about 7 months older than Sen. Sanders, so for a little while longer we're both 74 years old.  I've just spent 2 days doing a lot of snow shoveling.  Based on that experience, I don't believe Bernie is up to the demands of the Presidency.  While there are and have been examples of elderly leaders, it doesn't make sense to elect someone whose second term would end when he's 82.  Even 79 is a bit old for me.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Privacy and Genealogy

Made a run to the store, first for Starbucks, then for food. (My priorities). 

The brain cells are clicking just enough to comment on genealogy and privacy.  I subscribe to, and have several family trees there (mostly trees for people who might be related, partially to help my cousin in her researches).

Today Ancestry published their first ever Transparency Report, describing the times they have been asked for data by law enforcement and the times they released it. They also revised their policies. My brain's not up to reading it, but they refer to the EU's rules on moving personal data.  Just one more straw in the wind of future concerns on data.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snow Days

About 28 inches here in Reston.  That's enough I think that our usual snow plow (pickup truck with blade) won't be much use.  The cul-de-sac has cars on both sides.  Usually the plow can scrape snow to the ends, leaving a ridge behind the cars that you have to shovel.  With this much snow I don't think the approach will really work.  We'll see--I remember an early snowstorm, maybe late 70's, where we waited and waited until finally a front loader came in.  That may be necessary this time.

The ethics of snow are interesting--to dig out your car you can either throw the snow into the drive path behind the car or carry it to the front of the car.  The first hurts the rest of the people in the cul-de-sac, particularly those who live further up the cul-de-sac, making it harder for them to get out.  The second hurts the back.

So far I've seen two four-wheel drive vehicles, one pickup, one jeep, make it out to the road, both after significant trouble; two other four-wheel SUV's  tried and failed to make it out.  Wife and I are reconciled to being house-bound for another day.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Over the years there've not been many comments on the blog, no doubt a tribute to the validity of the positions I take and the logic of my arguments.  More recently, say over the last few years, I've had a problem with understanding Google's rules on comments and their interaction with Google+, meaning any comments wouldn't show up on the blog.  Hopefully now I've corrected the problem.

Who Says the Old Days Were Better?

Not Consumer Reports, and they've a crash test between a 1959 and 2009 car to back it up.  (Link to Kottke)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Internet Is Not Always Perfect

Back in the day, one of the most valuable items to come into one's in-basket was an updated telephone directory.  That's particularly true after a change of administration--it'd usually take 4 months or so for the reorganization to get done, people get assigned to new positions, and the data put into the directory.  But once you had it in hand, you could spend a little time leafing through, seeing who had been assigned to a turkey farm and who had risen in the world.  (That's especially true for someone like me, who tried to keep away from gossip, mostly because I wasn't any good at it.  Those who participated in the grapevine would already know that so and so had taken his secretary with him to his new position, that the idiot son of a Congressman had landed in an assistant position, etc. etc.

More seriously, though is there anything more serious than climbing the greasy pole, from the telephone directory you could get a feel for the organization.

I launch into this subject to mourn the absence of any organizational directory for USDA or FSA.  (USDA says they have one, but it's been unavailable for years.)  You can search for individuals quite nicely, but you can't find positions.   For example, who is the Executive Assistant to the Administrator, or has that position changed over the years?  From a historical viewpoint, having similar charts of the organization from  1950, 1975, 2000, and 2014 would be instructive.  I remember seeing the USDA level directory from the 1950's, about two pages of big shot jobs.  These days it's probably 20 pages, if only we had one.   Of course, only retired geezers have the time to worry about past history.  :-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Customer Self-Service Portal

FSA Notice CM-778 covers the release of the Customer Self-Service Portal, which permits FSA producers access to see (and print some) of their basic data.   This was mandated by Congress in the farm bill.  I guess they got tired of waiting for the different administrations to come through with their promises.  [/end snark]

Without access to the software my comments aren't worth much, but here goes, in no particular order:
  •  I hope usage statistics are maintained so managers can get a feel of who finds this application useful, when, and how often.  My own guess is that it's not too useful, that's why in 1992 I resisted the idea of slapping together a similar application under Infoshare.  I think I realize now that was a poor decision.
  • there's mention of the FSA-156EZ (that brings back memories)--I'd hope that they're moving towards covering all the data on the farm operating plan at some point
  • the fact that the same data exists in different places, which is how I interpret the statement that SCIMS is not the system of record, says to me there's been deficiencies in management over the years.  A part of me wonders, though, whether my concern with storing data only once is a carryover from the old days of IT, and it isn't really that much of a problem with modern systems which replicate and synchronize data in different databases.  
  • this portal seems to have been developed as a separate stand-alone app, simply added to the Online Services page.  Again I'm stuck in the past, but it would seem better to have an integrated approach with some logic behind it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Being Pothead Doesn't Make You Dumb, It Show You're Dumb

That's the message I take away from this post on the Wonkblog at the Post.

It discusses research trying to determine whether smoking marijuznz impairs IQ. Apparently it may not, but those who aren't so intelligent are more likely to be smokers.

[corrected age-related typos]

Monday, January 18, 2016

Creating American Icons

Having lived through the Civil Rights movement and the development of PC's, I see some similarities.  In both cases there were many people involved, important people who played big parts in the developments.  In both cases there was lots of conflict, false starts, and coulda-beens.  In both cases the passage of time has led to creation of a handful of icons:  Martin Luther King reigns as the icon of civil rights, in the form of a simplified plaster saint of non-violence and Bill Gates reigns as the icon of personal computers, becoming a sanctified elder statesman of altruism.  I don't mean to denigrate either man, just to suggest that similar processes are at work.  We need a simple narrative, so the number of heroes is ideally one, and we don't like humanity, so the number of vices acceptable is maybe one as well, but zero is better.

John Phipps and the State of Agriculture

John has a blistering post here criticizing farmers for seeing themselves as victims, closing ranks, and  disclaiming responsibility (i.e., as fertilizer runoff).  Instead he believes agriculture should be accountable for its actions.

He calls agriculture a "tiny industry"  ;-) something my sainted mother would roll over in her grave at. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Estonia Revisited

"Today, Estonia is regarded as one of the most advanced e-governments in the world. The use of technology and digital services is widespread in both the public and private sector. We can set up a new company and have it legally up and running within 20 minutes. Nearly 95 percent of Estonians declare their income online, because it takes less than five minutes and no accountants. All this brings tax administration costs down to only 0.3 percent of net tax revenues, and saves each citizen an average of 5.4 workdays a year."

From a World Bank post on  how Estonia got there.

Farm Kids and "Our Kids"

Reading Robert Putnam's "Our Kids"

Farm kids seem naturally to have a childhood closer to that enjoyed by those with highly educated parents these days than kids with parents in standard-issue suburbia.  There's differences, of course.  The cultural/intellectual environment isn't as rich and you can't assume a lot of emphasis on words.  I suspect there's less diversity among the kids in a rural school these days than there was in my time, but still more than in most suburban settings.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Grazing Allotments and Base Properties

Nathanael Johnson continues to impress me.

His piece on the Oregon Malheur sit-in/occupation offers a new piece of info: grazing allotments are connected to "base properties" and their value is capitalized into the market price of the property (much as tobacco allotments were capitalized into the value of the land to which they were attached).

[Update--apparently the local FSA office in the area was closed as a precautionary measure--not clear whether it's still closed.]

Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP Alan Rickman

I seem to be on a culture kick this week.  Alan Rickman died at age 69.  The obits talk about Harry Potter and Die Hard, and the stage.  I'd like to mention the Barsetshire Chronicles, a BBC series based on the Trollope novels in 1982.  Rickman played Obadiah Slope in a memorable performance.  Slope is an ambitious young clergyman, a villain, but whose love for the girl almost redeems him.  The books were great, but Rickman's performance is greater.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

El Chapo's Escape Is Not a Crime

I was looking back to see when I first started blogging.  It was January 2005 and my first post linked to a Post article on an escape from Mexican prisons. According to the article, merely escaping from prison was not a crime in itself.

On "Whippersnapper"

As a geezer, I often use the word "whippersnapper".  To me it means someone younger than I who is less serious and more assertive than I.  It's definitely ageist,  (Ageism is perhaps the one dichotomy which will last the longest.  We've seen race and sex and gender being dissolved away, distinctions fading, epithets being outlawed.)  But everyone is young and everyone will be old. Only if we finally conquer death will the distinctions between the generations fade away.)

 Today I wonder about its origin.  Google shows that the origin is fuzzy, perhaps from "whip snapper".   However a British site says it's a combination in the 17th century of "whip snapper" and "snipper snapper".   From meaning a street boy who had no ambition but lazily snapping a whip for recreation it came to mean "A diminutive or insignificant person, especially a sprightly or impertinent youngster" in the sites definition.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Another Cultural Disconnect--Star Wars

We just saw the new Star Wars movie today.  While I saw and enjoyed the original Star Wars movie, I have to admit I never saw any of the others.  I suppose that impaired my enjoyment of the new one.  While I enjoyed parts of the movie, particularly the Harrison Ford bits (he's about a year younger than I) it didn't turn me on.  Using the Netflix 5 star rating system, I'd give it a 3, while apparently most critics are giving it a 4, even a 5.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cultural Disconnect--Bowie

I've never been up on popular culture, but the reaction to the death of David Bowie shows how far off I've been.  For me, the name was familiar but I never followed his music or his movies or whatever else he did.  From the reaction today it seems he was a much more significant figure than I would have guessed. 

The Impact of History and Chance on Discrimination

Somewhere in the last few days there was a report of a study on discrimination against women scholars.  As I remember it, in economics, if a paper has multiple authors, their names are listed alphabetically.  In physics (?), the convention is to list the primary author first.

I wonder why those different conventions arose in the first place: chance, some difference in the way papers are developed between the two disciplines, something else?  Anyhow, the bottom line is: in economics a woman who is part of a team of authors gets no credit for her work.   (Credit was determined by counting the publications according to sole-authorship versus team, then seeing the correlation between no. of pubs and the academic position achieved.)  Only sole author pubs helped a woman economist.  In physics there was no such impact.

It Was My Mother's Fault


"Although mostly I suspect it was because my mother raised me badly, so I didn't have the good manners to show proper gratitude in a normal way. Definitely my mother's fault, one way or another."

That's from an InsideHigherEd  post, interviewing Prof. Pietsch, the guy whose acknowledgments in his book have gone viral, thanks to John Fea's spotting them at the AHA convention.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Republican Split--What's New?

NYTimes has a piece today on a split in the Republican party, between the Trump-Cruz faction and the "establishment".  I think it's overdone.  I remember the Republicans were split:
  • between the Taftites and Eisenhower Republicans in the 1950's.
  • between Rockefeller and Nixon in 1960 (the Treaty of Fifth Avenue)
  • Goldwater and establishment in 1964
  • Ford and Reagan in 1976
  • Reagan and John Anderson in 1980
  • Bush and Buchanan in 1992
  • etc. etc.
While usually the ticket could and would bridge the difference (i.e., Nixon and Agnew; Reagan and Bush), there might be problems this year.  Trump and Rubio are doable, perhaps Cruz and Christie, or Cruz and Kasich.  Christie and Cruz might be also.

Economy a Reason for Primary Anger?

I noticed a title on a post somewhere saying that farmers' income would be down by 28 percent this year. Commodity prices are down across the board with no relief in sight.   I wonder if the changes in the outlook for agriculture fuel a little bit of the anger which seems to be showing up in the primaries, particularly on the Republican side?

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Shame on Tom Davis: the Cost of Being Wrong

I sometimes contact my representative and senators, but not often.  Never did before I retired.  I think the first time I did was to write Tom Davis, the Republican who was then my representative, supporting the idea of authorizing needle exchanges, perhaps in DC, perhaps nationally.  This was in the late 90's, when AIDS was still a terror. Congress had banned funding for needle exchanges and for research on needle exchanges.

Davis was a moderate Republican, who'd work across party lines, though shortly after I think he became chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign committee.  He later retired at a relatively early age.  He's well respected for his knowledge of politics and has often been interviewed on TV on various issues.   All in all, he was the sort of Republican who might have supported needle exchange.

But he didn't. He wrote back with an explanation of why he couldn't support the proposal.

It's now close to 20 years after my letter.  Congress, controlled by Republicans, has just removed the ban on funding needle exchange programs (see this fivethirtyeight post).  There's no telling how many lives were cost by the decision not to research exchanges.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Chinese Agriculture Is a Mess

That's the message I get from this interesting blog post.  It seems they have excess corn inventories and screwed up prices and programs.  It's a compendium of reports from Chinese officials and media.  This is just a taste:
The Caixin journalist observes that reforms of agricultural subsidies and procurement policies have been brewing over the last two years. Chinese officials have laid out a principle of detaching subsidy support from prices, but they have no clear policy to replace market-distorting price supports. The Caixin journalist observes that the government has put its hope in target price subsidy policies they have been testing for cotton in Xinjiang and soybeans in northeastern provinces since 2014, but many industry experts are pessimistic that these policies can be expanded to other commodities due to the extremely high administrative costs and other problems.
 It sounds as if they're where we were in the 1980's. [I've added the blog to my RSS feed.]

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Farming as a Living and a Way of Life

Via the Rural Blog, this essay in Salon.  The writer grows 10 acres of organic vegetables in California, made $2500. (I'm not clear, that may be $2500 in addition to roughly $100 a week.)

I remember my mother grousing about the land-poor farmers, who'd be better off by selling and investing the money at 6 percent.  (I don't think that's particularly right--land values in upstate NY in the 1950's weren't that high.  And maybe it was my high school ag teacher who made the point in accounting for farming you needed to charge the cost of capital (land) and labor cost, before you got to management income.)

As she says, almost all small farmers these days have "city" jobs as my mother would have called them.  The full-time small farmer is mostly gone, or just surviving because she has the land and the house paid for, so low cash flow isn't that bad.

The rewards of a small farm are a degree of control and independence (though cows and hens are a ball and chain, and being a slave to the market counters the illusion  of control).  It's also great for raising kids--they get loads of time with their parents, and all sorts of learning experience, plus blisters.

Without lots of small farmers you don't have much rural life or community, because there's no one to support the churches, the farmers organizations, the community suppers, etc 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Defining "Engaged": Farming Versus Selling Guns

For several days we've known that Obama was going to announce actions on gun regulation which he could take on his authority, without relying on Congress to pass new laws.  I've been curious to see what they would be.  Remember that his actions on immigration are currently tied up in court because, it is claimed, he needed to follow the rule-making process in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and didn't   So my question was: would he try the same sort of thing on guns, or could he find some other ways to affect the sale and possession of guns.

It seems that he mostly has, and partially by definition of "engaged", which I find to be a parallel with the "actively engaged in farming" issue in payment limitation regulations. (Search for "actively engaged" to see prior posts on this.)

From this Post piece (currently with 1430+ comments):
That distinction centers on the phrase "engaged in the business." Those who are engaged in the business of selling firearms, such as firearm dealers, need to conduct background checks. Those who aren't, such as individuals selling guns, don't.
 The Post piece includes an interview with a law professor, whose discussion could equally apply to the "actively engaged" issue.  To recall: as Sen. Grassley can testify, some in Congress want the USDA to interpret "actively engaged" very strictly,  others want a very loose interpretation.  Typically because the farm state legislators are more continuously involved, USDA tends to follow the loose interpretation.  This favors the farm interest: everyone actively engaged can receive payments up to the limit.  For gun control, the politics reverse themselves: everyone actively engaged in gun dealing faces the regulations on sales.

The open question at the moment is a comparison of how Obama is promulgating his interpretation of "engaged" (i.e., proposed rule under APA or simply instructions to the bureaucrats) versus FSA's use of the regulatory procedure.  More to follow.

The Past Was Different

Via Brad DeLong, from Eleanor Roosevelt, a list of some of things not available in Britain in January 1946 (Roosevelt was about to travel to the UK):
"Then came these little items among the things the traveler must be sure to take to England.
  • 'Women's hose—none available.'
  • 'Low-heeled walking shoes—repairing impossible.'
  • 'Clothes hangers.'
  • 'Soap (hand, laundry, shampoo)—none available.'
  • 'Razor blades—none available.'
  • 'Shaving material of all kinds.'
  • 'All cosmetics, creams, perfumes, colognes, nail polish, etc.'
  • 'Bath towels, face towels, wash cloths, any necessary medicines, vitamin tablets, sugar, cigarettes, matches, chocolate candy, fruit juices, flashlight, personal stationery.'
It took a long time for the Brits to get back on their feet and end rationing.  In comparison the U.S. was in good shape.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Importance of Grinding, Even Today

Got an interesting book for Christmas: Cuisine & Empire, Cooking in World History.  It's a survey of different cuisines over several thousand years.  I've read part of the part.  One of the early surprises was the discussion of grinding grain.  What's really involved is a shearing action. With hand tools, like the metate, it takes a long long time for the woman to grind the grain for a family

The Times has an article on the ways in which solar electricity is coming to areas of India which don't have power lines.   It includes this quote:

"“We still have to do manual grinding of grains and spices,” Mr. Kalayya said. “It takes up a lot of time. The next loan can be for a machine that will do this.”