Monday, February 29, 2016

Cottonseed Yet Again

I've blogged on the issue of making cottonseed an oilseed before.  Here's a good backgrounder by Keith Good on the issue. 

Short summary: bowing to Brazil's victory on cotton programs at the WTO, Congress took cotton out of the other farm programs in the 2014 farm bill.  Didn't touch authority on oilseed designation.

Y2K as Metaphor: International Date Line

From a NYTimes piece reporting on a DOD study raising problems with potential autonomous weaponry, which selects its own targets.
The Center for a New American Security report focuses on a range of unexpected behavior in highly computerized systems like system failures and bugs, as well as unanticipated interactions with the environment.
“On their first deployment to the Pacific, eight F-22 fighter jets experienced a Y2K-like total computer failure when crossing the international date line,” the report states. “All onboard computer systems shut down, and the result was nearly a catastrophic loss of the aircraft. While the existence of the international date line could clearly be anticipated, the interaction of the date line with the software was not identified in testing.”
 I guess the Y2K may work as a metaphor because it refers to a fact which existed and should have been accounted for in system design, but wasn't.  I'd add it to the failure of a Mars mission because of interfacing systems, one of which used metric, and one of which used American.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

How the English Were Fooled by Geography

In the Age of Exploration sailors could establish their latitude (ie. how much north or south of the equator they were).  So English sailors knew the latitude of London was 51 degrees north.  Naturally when they first visited what they'd call New England, they figured that since the latitude was 41 degrees, or about 700 miles south of London, the weather should be warmer.  But Bartholomew Gosnold writes his father:
it is the latitude of 41 degrees, and one third part; which albeit it be so much to the southward, yet it is more cold than those parts of Europe, which are situated under the same parallel: but one thing is worth the noting, that notwithstanding the place is not so much subject to cold as England is, yet did we find the spring to be later there, than it is with us here, by almost a month: this whether it happened accidentally this last spring to be so, or whether it be so of course, I am not very certain; the latter seems most likely, whereof also there may be given some sufficient reason, which now I omit; as for the acorns we saw gathered on heaps, they were of the last year, but doubtless their summer continues longer than ours.
 Of course he was wrong--the New England summer is shorter and hotter.  Because the Gulf Stream had not yet been discovered as a thing affecting climate, Gosnold was fooled by geography and logic: similar latitudes should have similar climates.  According to my logic, this ignorance probably meant colonizing expeditions were less well prepared than they would have been if climate had been understood.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Less Equality Everywhere, Including Math

Atlantic has a nice piece on increasing achievement by American teenagers in math.  Why?  "problem solving", outside class programs, STEM parents.  But these things are available to the richer among us.
"National achievement data reflect this access gap in math instruction all too clearly. The ratio of rich math whizzes to poor ones is 3 to 1 in South Korea and 3.7 to 1 in Canada, to take two representative developed countries. In the U.S., it is 8 to 1. And while the proportion of American students scoring at advanced levels in math is rising, those gains are almost entirely limited to the children of the highly educated, and largely exclude the children of the poor."

Once upon a time I was good in math.  Participated in a state-wide test (the Mathematical Olympiad) in my junior year, did well, again my senior year, not so well.  It's been downhill from there.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Vietnam Wall Replicas

I never would have thought of replicas of the Vietnam Wall, much less that there were traveling exhibits of it.  But GovExec has an article on the replicas, and DOD"s RFP for another in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the war.  I'm not sure what they're using as the starting date, certainly the first person on the Wall preceded 1966.  Thanks to wikipedia we learn it was 10 years earlier, and he was killed by "friendly fire", so to speak.  A fitting opening to a very complex and confused episode in history.

My personal 50th anniversary won't be for another 16 months or so.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Lady in the Van

Enjoyed this movie very much.  I see on Rottentomatoes that the critics liked it better than the public (92 percent to 75). I suspect the difference is because it's not the heartwarming story you might expect.  I laughed a lot, perhaps because I'm old enough to enjoy some black humor, perhaps because I just carried over a reflex from watching Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.  As usual, she's very convincing.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Tear for Justice Douglas

Nathan Yau at Flowing Data has a chart of the liberal/conservative scores of all justices since 1937.  The point is to show how replacing Scalia will make a big change in the median justice.  It's fine for that.

But for me, a person who remembers the days of "Impeach Earl Warren", it's fun to look toback over history.  Liberals today are more tightly grouped than in the last 50 years.  But look at the outliers over time.  Justice Thomas is one, but the real outlier is Justice Douglas.  The metrics used run from -6 to +4 with minus being liberal and plus being conservative.    So, during the years shown (1937-2015) the outliers are:
  • Douglas (-6)  (eyeballed) who wanders ever more "liberal" until the end
  • Rehnquist (-4.5) who's most conservative in 1975 but grows more and more moderate, particularly after becoming chief.
  • Marshall (-4.3) who becomes more liberal
  • Brennan (I think) (-3.9) who becomes more liberal
  • Thomas (+3.5) who's pretty consistent, a bit more moderate in recent years
  • Scalia (+3.5) who's amazingly changeable, starting off at +1.2, going to +3.5 in 2000 and back to +2
The conservatives get frustrated with the Court.  A clue to why might lie in an eyeball comparison of liberals and conservative justices since Nixon--the conservative paths seem to be more scattered and variable than do the liberal ones (particularly after discounting Brennan and Marshall).  The variability probably means they're less effective in joining to form a majority.

[updated--the reason for the title of the post--Justice Douglas was talented, but he became seriously odd in his later years.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Request for Information on Acreage Reporting

USDA is:
investigating the use of a commercially available service to provide a reporting system to support Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency's (RMA) common acreage and crop reporting compliance and other program needs. The objective of this RFI is to investigate whether commercial capability presently exists that can supply a viable alternative to the current Java based in-house system. 

The actual RFI is here.

Looking at the template for responding, I'm wondering whether there's been previous extensive meetings with potential respondents.  If there hasn't, the respondents may be at a loss to complete many of the items.  

China's Rural Areas and America's

FiveThirtyEight  has a post on Monroeville, AL, which has changed since the 1930's.   That reminded me of this NYTimes piece on China's rural areas.  President Xi visited a rural town:

The bucolic scenes, shown on Chinese state television, cast Mr. Xi as a paternal leader in the footsteps of Mao, at home with the rustic virtues that once made this mountainous region of southeast China a birthplace of the Communist Party’s rural revolution.

But those images conflict with contemporary reality here. Within days, this struggling community of 250 souls will be nearly empty.

Like an increasing number of villages across China, most of its people have left to find work or attend school elsewhere, returning to their ancestral home only for the New Year holidays. The rest of the year, only 50 or so people live here, most of them elderly, usually fending for themselves.
 My point?  China's social evolution is similar to the US one, except much faster.  In our case, the rural areas emptied out over decades; in theirs, just years.  (

Crop Insurance Explained

Modern Farmer has an explanation of crop insurance, particularly the Harvest Price option, in their explanation of the cuts Obama is proposing in his last budget. Seems to me to be a reasonable explanation, not that I'm an expert these days.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Rebel Lee, Harper That Is

The print version of the NYTimes has a picture of Harper Lee and A.C. Lee taken in 1961 on the porch of the home in Monroeville, AL. It's different than the one online in this piece.

I'm sure that town was at least as conservative as the upstate NY area I grew up in.  Three things caught my eye:
  1. she's smoking, not something a proper lady did at that time.
  2. she's wearing slacks, also not something a proper lady did.
  3. her expression, which seems a bit rebellious and sulky.
It's interesting, in the online picture of the two, perhaps taken on the same day, the two are posed the same (A.C. facing left nearest the camera, his daughter reclining behind him facing right), no cigarette is in sight, A.C. hides the slacks (or perhaps she's wearing a dress), and the expression is more neutral.  I wonder about the story behind the two photos.

In the Post there was a picture of Ms Lee as a white-haired pleasant old lady.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Transitions and MIssing "W"s

GovExec has a piece on presidential transitions, basically from a luncheon sponsored by the White House Transition Project.

It's focused on the White House, but there could be similar efforts at the department and agency level.  Though come to think of it, it's likely in the case of USDA that incoming appointees used to work there, so have some institutional memory.

(Incidentally, now the passions have cooled, it appears the stories about the Clinton-Bush transition were overcranked.)

The No-Good Thieving Daily Mail

I'm taking Nathan Yau's account at face value, but it seems convincing--in short, The Daily Mail has stolen his visualizations twice in a year, and has been accused of making it a general practice.

Not good.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Insurance Against Ransomware?

LA hospital paid ransom to free up their IT systems.  Technology Review explains vulnerability.  I wonder if any insurance company is offering insurance against this risk?  It seems a logical step, which would also provide financing for investigators to work against such hackers.

Don't See "Hail Caesar"

Don't see it, that is, unless you're over 65 or are devoted to post WWII movies.  If you meet either of those conditions, see it.  It's very funny, with more of a message than you might expect.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Human

Some more on Scalia:
  • a Post piece by a liberal who clerked for him.  At least during the first 20 years, he usually had a liberal clerk.  I guess as a Catholic he believed in the devil's advocate (the post in sainthood proceedings).
  • politicians are by nature hypocrites--a good way to persuade people is to make them believe you agree with them, and the only peaceful way to resolve conflicts is to persuade people.
  • the fight over his replacement is occasion for a lot of hypocrisy on both sides.
  • prognostications on the importance of the replacement process forget we have several senior justices, anyone of whom might kick the bucket at any moment, which would decidedly upset current calculations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bitching at OPM

Trying to be good and do taxes early this year.  Need my statement from OPM.  Their website has not, to my eyes, been updated in some years.  Usually these days a commercial site has a "Sign in" button in the upper right corner which allows access to the customer account.  Not so for OPM.  They have "Services Online" stuck in the middle of the page.  It should be obvious to the observant, but it wasn't to an old geezer.

Next, for some reason my password manager and OPM's software are allergic to each other. Over the years I've tried a few times to get into the site.  I've never been able to manage it, without having to reset my password (part of the problem is the weird way they handle account numbers). 

Finally they have two questions to determine whether you can request a new password by email or by snail mail.  That's fine, except who remembers whether one's accessed the site within the last 15 months and set up security questions?  I certainly don't.  Consequently, OPM may be stuck not using an automated process to reset my password. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Where Does Wisdom Lie

Often between the extremes, is my answer. 

Steven Hayward, a blogger at Powerline (meaning middle right), mentions my favorite blogger, Kevin Drum here:
"Anyway, one of the writers in Mother Jones who is actually worth reading is Kevin Drum, because he does some good original reporting, and sometimes departs from leftist orthodoxy or at least offers some original thoughts. Yesterday on the Mother Jones blog, Drum beat his drum: Over the past few weeks I’ve written five posts making the following points:
  1. The acting Oscars are not really all that white.
  2. Flint is not a public health holocaust.
  3. The 1994 crime bill didn’t create mass incarceration.
  4. Photo ID laws probably don’t have massive turnout effects.
  5. Social welfare spending has gone up a lot over the past three decades, and welfare reform had very little impact on either this or the deep poverty rate."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How We Handle Dangerous Animals

This is triggered by posts on Prof. Moskos' blog, Cop in the Hood. (He was a cop and is a sociology prof.)

Occasionally we have cases where the authorities have to deal with dangerous animals.  Maybe a leopard escapes from a zoo, or a cattle truck overturns and a bunch of steers are running wild, or a bear wanders into the burbs to raid garbage cans, or ...  Sometimes these situations end with death for the animal, sometimes no weapons are fired, sometimes a tranquilizer dart gun is used.

Occasionally we have cases where the authorities have to deal with dangerous humans.  Maybe a man is running naked with a knife, or a youth is carrying what appears to be a rifle, or...

My question: is there a good reason for not approaching the two sets of situations in the same way?

My theory is that animals don't send the adrenaline flowing in quite the same way as humans, but is that a reflection of our culture or is it innate?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Famous People and Breast Cancer

ScholarlyKitchen passes on a 12 minute video of the scientist who found the BRCA1 gene (breast cancer) describing a little bit of what went into that.  For a scientist she tells a funny story.

Midshipman Nicholson and Louisiana Purchase

A reminder that anonymous bureaucrats and functionaries play an indispensable role in history--see this description of the paperwork which went into implementing the actual purchase of Louisiana.  Some 30 documents.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Sausage Machine Described

 A law review article reveals the sausage machine which is Congress writing laws.

The truth is that members of Congress do not write the laws; they (or a few of them) decide policy, which gets transmuted into law by staff and staff attorneys employed by members and committees. And when there's omnibus legislation, different people write different parts, not necessarily using the same terminology or legal theories.

This is true now, it was true even with the Constitution.  Anyone who has had experience of a group trying to produce a written product knows the paper does not  magically reflect a group mind, but compromises which fully satisfy no one.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Against Corporate Farming

From Blog for Rural America, what do Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa all have in common?

It might seem that they are the homes of big corporate farms. But no, they all passed laws restricting corporate farms within the last 100 years.  The post explains some of the challenges to such laws.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Love It--the Eternal Silos of FSA and NRCS

Just realized I hadn't heard from NASCOE in a while so I checked the website, which has been completely redone.

Here's what I love.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE: (combined sources)
At this point, FSA employees with access to existing systems can access FSAfarm+ using their employee eAuth Level 2 login; however, we have not added NRCS employees to the list of authorized users. The website was built as a customer self-service portal and FSA employee access has been authorized so employees may assist our customers with questions regarding the website. NRCS FSAfarm+ access has been discussed with leadership and they are looking into obtaining the required approvals.
They've got a new process for submitting field office concerns and getting responses from DC.  This response is to a request that FSA give NRCS access to their records.  This was Sec. Madigan's concept back in 1991.  As you can see from the response, those silos are still standing tall.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Revenant Is an Oscar Favorite?

Just saw the movie.  Maybe an old geezer doesn't have the patience for 5 minute shots with nothing much happening, but I did not like it.  Yes, DiCaprio's efforts must be respected and I wouldn't have a problem with him getting best actor.  And the picture making is fine, though the scenery is cold.  But a movie is supposed to tell a story and there wasn't much there, certainly not enough for 2 hours 30 minutes.  Maybe chop an hour out and it would play, but there's no way I see it as a best movie candidate.

Great Work--NRCS

"Agriculture’s “Natural Resources Conversation Service dropped 13 places to rank 25th overall in the 2016 Index – no other agency fell further,” the analysts said"

This is from a Government Executive article on a survey of plain language in government websites.

Not sure how well done this is--the study dings USDA generally, but only NRCS is listed in the detailed results table.

Monday, February 08, 2016

How Government (Congress) Doesn't Work

Politico has an article on unauthorized agencies.  The books say Congress sets policy and authorizes an agency to carry it out in legislation developed by the legislative committees.  Then the appropriations committees allocate the money in yearly appropriations bills.  The reality is the policy committees may shirk their duty.  Why?  It's explained in the text.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Times on Cover Crops and Finance Industry Logic

NY Times has an article on increased use of cover crops by farmers to build soil, increase water retention, and reduce erosion.  Author cites big farms--3K to 10K acres.  The cover crops seem to be a mixture.  And spring planting is really no-till, though that's not clear in the article, where no-till is rather dismissed.

I remember in Nash County, NC, I think it was during my fall visit to get oriented to ASCS field operations, the CED went out to a sawmill.  They were shaving logs to make the thin wood strips used in making baskets (this was before plastics).  The CED signed up a couple of the workers to cover crop practices which were cost-shared under the old Agricultural Conservation Program.  Under cost-sharing ASCS would pay a part of the per-acre cost for installing the practice  while the farmer paid the rest. Nixon and Earl Butz tried to kill the ACP, but eventually settled for eliminating some practices, They focused on the one which increased production, which included cover crops.  Their logic was similar to Greenspan's logic in supporting deregulation in the finance industry:  rational financiers wouldn't take irrational risks; Butz said rational farmers would spend their own money to install cover crops. 

Globalization--LED Lamps

Ordered two LED lamps from Amazon along with some other things.  Specified free delivery as we weren't in any hurry for any of the items.  All but the lamps have arrived so I just checked Amazon to see where they were.  They're in transit from China with a 3-5 week travel time.  That amazes me, just seeing globalization and automation working in practice.  (Why it's more amazing to see an order delivered directly from China than the same order delivered from a warehouse in the US which originally came from China, I don't know.)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Why the Left Dominates the Humanities?

Consider this excerpt from the conservative Republican get-together, as transcribed byMichelle Cottle in the Atlantic:
" During the Freedom Caucus Q&A, a young man stood up—prompting moderator Fred Barnes to crack, “You’re the only one under 60 who’s going to ask” a question—to say he would soon be graduating with his master’s degree and wanted the panelists’ thoughts on how to improve job prospects for his generation.Mulvaney responded by asking the guy what he’d studied. “U.S. history,” the young man replied. Solid, patriotic, non-multi-culti degree to make the likes of conservative icon and history professor Newt Gingrich proud, right? Not any more. Representative Mark Meadows promptly teased, “That’s the problem!” Everybody laughed. Mulvaney then launched into a lecture about how, back in his day, banks wouldn’t give a guy a student loan unless the applicant offered assurances that he would be able to pay it back some day. But now that the federal government just hands over the money, nobody bothers worrying about whether or not they’re pursuing a worthless degree. “This is not to denigrate or demean folks who want to study philosophy or U.S. history or anything,” Mulvaney assured the young scholar. “But you need to sort of consider job prospects when making those decisions.” It’s all well and good to go study “sub-Saharan African basket weaving,” quipped Mulvaney, but afterward “don’t come looking to us and say, ‘Where are the jobs for sub-Saharan basket-weavers?’”
  Discriminattion against conservatives in the academy is one theory offered to account for a perceived dominance by liberals.  This response is an anecdote pointing to two other explanations: conservatives disdain academics and put money first.  Of course what makes the anecdote special is a conservative calling US history a worthless degree.

Friday, February 05, 2016

McGovernism Is Not Progressive?

A piece on the definitions of "progressive" in Slate.  I'm bemused by what the movement from Clinton's work for McGovern in 1972 to the current state of the party says about our politics and our society.

McGovern, for those too young to remember, ran on a platform of, among other things, ending the war in Vietnam and a guaranteed minimum income.  He also got defeated in a landslide, losing his own state IIRC.  Hillary and Bill Clinton were Texas organizers for McGovern, may even have been the state chairs but memory fogs.  Also for "amnesty [for draft dodgers], abortion, and legalization of pot|".

I'd forgotten, but McGovern beat Eugene McCarthy, Shirley Chisolm, the first black presidential candidate, and Patsy Mink, the first Asian-American candidate.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Cottonseed Revisited

Chris Clayton reports on the cottonseed/oilseed question--Vilsack says OGC says he doesn't have authority to decide that cottonseed is an oilseed eligible for farm programs.  Chris quotes some of the law which he reads as supporting the cotton position.  In my experience, whenever politicians exert enough pressure, the lawyers find a way to justify what they want done; that's what they learn in law school.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How Do You Remember the 1990's?

A discussion over on this site about teaching the history of the 1990's.  I'll copy my answer here:
FWIW: The long decade perhaps goes from the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11, from the rise of the personal computer into 50 percent of households to the start of Google and the release of the iPod, the decade in which Walmart went nationwide. In my memory it wasn’t a difficult decade, it was a hopeful decade (for straight white males), something like I imagine the 1920’s to have been, with lots of froth (the tech boom). AIDS was the big cloud.
  Beloit College does a yearly list of what college freshmen know and don't know.  Here's the 2016 list.

I don't know how you categorize the 2000's-- from 9/11 to 2016 maybe, or a short 9/11 to 1/20/2009?


I predict the tickets will be Hillary Clinton/Julian Castro versus Marco Rubio/John Kasich.

[Update 1--that was Feb 2.  New prediction:

Clinton/Castro versus Kasich/Rubio.   :-) ]

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

How Much Does a Professor Earn?

Find out here, for at least one professor.  I agree with the theory, salaries for public employees should be available.

Historical Landmark: End of White Male Tickets

Looking back I think we can say that 2004 marked the last time that the two major parties will present white male tickets to the voters.  They didn't in 2008 or 2012, and I'm sure they won't in 2016. I'm comfortable they won't in future years.  I'd even suggest it will take a big change in our politics for even one of the parties to present an all-white-male ticket in 2020 or beyond.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Allocating Goods

There are a number of economic goods (I love to play like I'm an economist) with a price, but a price which is less than the value which an ideal market might place on them.  The goods aren't sold in a free market, but some hybrid of the market and an allocation process. To my eye, these goods usually get allocated on the "who you know" principle.  Examples:
  • tickets for playoff games go to relatives of the players, the staff, the owners.  I understand there's a set allocation for teams, but within the allocation getting a ticket is less a question of money than of influence or the strength of the relationship.
  • IPO shares go to those connected with the underwriters of the offering.  Again I understand the bank will allocate shares to their best customers.
  • many jobs.