Thursday, March 31, 2016

Directives--the Past Repeats Itself

From a NASCOE report of meetings with DC officials:

" Chris gave an update on his initiative to review, consolidate and update directives. The goals of the initiative are to update handbooks and to limit actual policy to notices and handbooks. He is updated every two weeks as to the status of the review. He has also started a process where each amendment or notice is tracked through the clearance process to identify where any potential delay may occur. This should result in reduced time for directives to make it through clearance."

45 years ago ASCS had similar problems with directives:
  • too many directives and the relationship among them was not clear to the field
  • policy direction outside of the directives system
  • slow clearance processes in DC.

EU Goes Back to SUpply Management

Via Chris Clayton at DTN,on the problems of dairy in the EU

A key to the EU aid package involved reestablishing some form of supply management for Europe's dairy farmers. The call to regulate milk production comes just one year after the EU abolished 30 years of dairy production quotas. The lift of the quota, coupled with a lack of increased market access, translated into a glut of milk on the market now across Europe. The new aid package calls for reducing milk production on a voluntary basis for up to six months with a possibility of extending those voluntary measures later.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hijacking in the Past

Vox has a discussion of the airliner hijackings we used to have in the US (and elsewhere).

I remember the time, didn't remember we reached 130 in 1968-72, but a lot.  It's part of the fact that that period was also more violent: deaths due to terrorism were higher before 9/11 than after.  The discussion touches on the idea that publicity spurred the hijackings, making them in some respects similar to today's mass shootings.  You get a nut who wants attention, in 1970 he hijacked a plane, in 2016 he shoots a few people.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Creating a Context for Facts

The older I get the more I believe that humans create a context, stories, in which the "facts" they perceive make sense.  A neat demonstration of this truth is found in this video at Kottke
in which six photographers were given a person as a subject (short session), but each was given a different description/story about the person.  The results of their sessions show how the story influenced the pictures.

The Golden Rule (for Livestock Producers"

" breed the best of the best (that you have) and eat the rest."

Wisdom from Walter Jeffries.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Japan Agriculture and Cuba Agriculture

A fast check of the CIA factbook shows me that Cuba and Japan have roughly equivalent amounts of arable land.  Cuba is a third the size of Japan, but have about a third of the land arable, while Japan has about 10 percent.  John Phipps points to a piece on Cuba here, which includes the statement that Cuba imports 70 to 80 percent of its food. Meanwhile, Modern Farmer has a piece on Japanese agriculture after the Fukushima tsunami.

Though reforms instituted in the aftermath of World War II had drastically improved the California-size country’s self-sufficiency, the ensuing decades saw farmers abandoning the profession in droves. In 1965, 73 percent of the calories consumed in Japan were being produced there, compared with only 39 percent by 2010. During that same period, the area of land being cultivated had shrunk from 15 million to 11 million acres. The average age of a Japanese farmer climbed from 59 to 66 between 1995 and 2011.[emphasis added]
According to the CIA factbook, Cuba's population is 11 million, Japan's 126 million. Bottom line: Japanese agriculture is several times more productive than Cuba's.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Purchase One of Each

"I am a good deal in want of a House Joiner & Bricklayer, (who really understand their profession) & you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each, for me."

Via John Fea  a letter from George Washington in 1784.

A reminder that buying and selling people isn't unique to today's sports world, it also went on centuries ago.  And at least from the language, we can't tell whether George was after a slave or an indentured servant.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Trump Voter = Archie Bunker

Seems to me the archetypal Trump supporter is Archie Bunker, of All in the Family.

(Note: I've succumbed to the inevitable by adding a Trump label. )

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Half-Life of Information

In the dispute between the FBI and Apple over obtaining access to the terrorist's cellphone data I thought of the concept in my title.  Radioactive elements have a half-life, the amount of time it takes any mass of the element to emit radiation and convert to half the mass.  (Not a good definition but look up wikipedia if you want better.)  The point being each element decays at a set rate, fixed by nuclear physics.

Apply the same concept to the information of interest to law enforcement. Some types of information, say the DNA on a rape kit, would lose interest very gradually, perhaps losing interest entirely when the rapist is almost certainly dead of old age.  Other types, perhaps the appointment calendar, would lost interest much quicker. Assuming law enforcement knew who the person was likely to see, the calendar might be of no interest once the day of the appointment is past.

It's now been more than 3 months since the San Bernadino shootings, so my guess is that much of the information has decayed into relative meaninglessness.  We don't know the information, so we can't tell for certain, but I think it likely  The longer it takes the FBI to access the data, the greater the chance it won't be helpful.

My point: fast access to the data is worth a lot, which should be a consideration in determining whether and under what rules law enforcement gets access.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Deaths by Terrorism, Past and Present

Now we're in a relative lull in deaths by terrorism.  That seems an absurd statement, but it's the truth, as shown by this chart.  What's the difference between the past (i.e. 1970's and 80's) and now?

We forget how active the IRA groups and the unionist opposition were on the killing front.  We forget the Palestinian groups were terrorists in the 70's and 80's.  We forget the Basque groups.  We forget the small leftist/anarchist groups.  Put them all together and they caused more death than ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Perhaps it's just our amnesia. It's not the motivation--murdering because of religion was arguably what the IRA did--were they radical Catholic terrorists?  I think not.

More likely it's familiarity--most of the groups had a history and their terrorism was something we were more accustomed to so it somehow seemed less dangerous.  And importantly, most of the groups seemed to have a defined target, where today the ISIS terrorists seem to be attacking "Western civilizations". 

Bottom line for me: chill and think historically.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

Demagoguery Opportunity

FCW has a piece on moves on Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.  I would not be surprised to see politicians demagogue this as ceding US authority to those untrustworthy people outside our borders.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Amish Businesses

I've long been fascinated with the Amish, particularly from reading Prof. Kraybill's book on them. I was on a task force in the 70's with the CED of Lancaster county, who commented on her dealings with the Amish.  IIRC they didn't participated in farm programs, at least not the production adjustment ones, but I think they did with the conservation cost-shares ones.

This is an article on a Kraybill talk, set up by this:
"Over the past few decades, Lancaster County’s Amish have undergone a “mini-Industrial Revolution,” Kraybill said. High land prices plus a population explosion limited farming opportunities for rising generations, fueling a turn to carpentry, small manufacturing and other enterprises.
Today, there are more than 2,000 Amish businesses in the Lancaster area, Kraybill said. Fewer than one-third of local Amish households still rely on farming as the primary source of income."

He describes the factors in Amish culture which have fed into their entrepreneurship.  It's a lesson to those of us who wonder about how society/culture operates--things are complex. 

The Amish, much like the Hasidic Jews, the Mormons and some Native American tribes also lead to reflection on what is the meaning of "America"--what can cover all the variety we see.

Trader Joe's Parking Lots

Via Marginal Revolution, a short piece on the economic logic of Trader Joe's tiny parking lots.  (We shop there occasionally.)   Bottom line: almost no one refuses to shop at Trader Joe's because they spend a little time finding a spot, or walking to the store from the adjacent street.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Court Gamesmanship

Having just seen my prediction for the Presidential elections go up in flames with Rubio's withdrawal, I forge ahead with commenting on the Supreme Court.

I seems to me that Obama has this strategy:
  • taking the Senate Republicans at their word--they won't vote to confirm any appointee now.
  • Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee and she's likely to beat Trump.
  • if she beats Trump, there's some chance a nominee who's not a liberal icon and who's a little older will seem more palatable to the Republican Senate after election day.  That's particularly true if the new Senate has a Democratic majority.   

Paul Meringoff at  Powerline, a conservative with whom I almost always disagree, seems to support my theory, writing this morning: " Things might look different in September, if Hillary Clinton is 25 points ahead of Donald Trump in the polls and the Republicans are headed towards losing the Senate. In that event, Garland might look a lot better."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

We Used to Call It Block-Busting: Same Tactics, Different Group

Back in the 1960's we used to call it "block-busting": real estate agents using the fear of blacks to get homeowners to sell out.  In our enlightened modern times, it's similar tactics, but now it's Orthodox Jews in the Toms River, New Jersey area.  See this Bloomberg  piece, hat tip Marginal Revolution.

The key difference is, of course, the aims of the group: blacks in the 60's wanted the American dream-- better homes and better schools and saw integration as a way of getting it; Orthodox in the 10's want the American dream--independence of outside control and see segregation as a way of getting it.

Unbelievable Fact in the Times

The NYTimes has a piece on who supports Trump, including this table:
"correlations are shown in red.
Variable Correlation
White, no high school diploma
Percent reporting ancestry as “American” on the census
Mobile homes
Percent living in a mobile home
“Old economy” jobs
Includes agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade
History of voting for segregationists
Support for George Wallace (1968)
Labor participation rate
Born in United States
Evangelical Christians
History of voting for liberal Republicans
Support for John B. Anderson (1980)
White Anglo-Saxon Protestants
Whites with European non-Catholic ancestry

If it's in the Times, it must be right, but I absolutely cannot believe the negative correlation between WASPS and Trump support, and I'm writing as a WASP myself. I suppose it's possible because I no longer understand statistics, but I still think it unlikely.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Difference a Quarter Century Makes

I remember a group of us (middle managers from SCS, ASCS, and maybe other agencies) having an after-dinner conversation in roughly 1995.  I expressed some desire for better feedback on directives (I think), and Paul A. said it could be done with the Internet/World Wide Web (I'm not real sure of the dates or the innovation at issue but this is what makes most sense in retrospect.  I had some familiarity with the Internet, having been a Compuserve subscriber for several years and had heard about the web.

Anyhow, today I find these stats at the World Bank:

"Today, 95% of the global population have access to a digital signal, but 5% do not; 73% have mobile phones, but 27% do not; slightly less than half of all people (46%) have internet, but the majority do not; and only 19% of the world’s population has broadband. There also are persistent digital divides across gender, geography, age, and income dimensions within each country."

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Congratualtions to FSA and RMA--Expansion of ACRSI

FSA issued its notice on the expansion of ACRSI to all counties.  This means producers can file acreage reports with their insurance provider or FSA.  It's a limited set of crops, though because the major field crops are covered it will handle most crop acreage, It's a goal it's taken 25 years to achieve. ( Since they've done pilot testing, I assume the new expansion will be successful so it's not premature to credit its success.)

I do have some comments, of course:
  • I wonder about the experience in the pilots--were most reports filed with FSA or with the company--is there a structural bias to the system?  
  • Did the pilot include surveys of producers using it?
  • Will the savings of a more efficient system, besides benefiting producers, mean a reduction in funding for FSA operations or government support for insurance company administration?  
  • How is the spot-checking of acreage reports affected?  If errors/fraud is discovered, what's the reporting process?
I'm sure there are answers to the questions and other questions I'm missing.  But the bottom line is I congratulate the FSA bureaucrats (and the RMA types) for the achievement.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Swedish Women: Smart and Sexy

Unleashing my male chauvinism--remember I grew up in the days of Ursula Andress 
(who is actually Swiss, but what's the difference, they both begin "Sw...."), I comment on a Tyler Cowen factoid--69 percent of Swedish college graduates are women.

Build a Wall?

GovExec has a piece on the nuts and bolts of building Trump's wall on the Mexican border.  Bottomline, Congress would have to pass an act authorizing the build, and overriding several laws which would stop the project, and provide for funding (can't rely on contractors buying the idea of Mexican funding--at the very least the government would have to guarantee payment).

The author outlines a number of reasons why professionals (engineers, architects, etc.) might shy away from such a project.

I recommend it, though I'm more cynical than the author: if the money is there, some professionals will work on the project.

However, floating around in my memory is the idea that a number of years ago, probably in the Bush administration but perhaps in the Clinton, we were going to fortify the border with high-tech tools, a project which may have failed.  Was Boeing involved as a contractor?

Monday, March 07, 2016

G Street Fabrics

This is old news, but G Street Fabrics filed for bankruptcy last summer and closed two of their three stores.  When I came to DC it had one store located of course on G street. They moved to the suburbs long ago.  I guess home sewing has declined--just like home cooking.  As women have moved into the paid workforce, they no longer have the time to serve as role models for daughters, much less sons.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Government Software Purchases

When I left FSA, COTS was a big thing (commercial off the shelf software).    I assume it's still a big thing.

GovExec has a piece on the UK experience in trying to rationalize government purchases of COTS.  (I remember in the early 1990's when they tried to standardize ASCS on Wordperfect, Paradox, and Lotus 1-2-3.  )

Why shouldn't the government save billions by standardizing on Libreoffice?

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Bureaucrats Aren't Sexy, Say Tinder Folks

Via Tyler Cowen, the most right-swiped professions for males and females on Tinder don't include any bureaucratic ones. (I could quibble about a few, particularly police officer, military, social media manager, but it's generally true.)

Friday, March 04, 2016

Does 2016 Campaign Make Obama Look Better?

IMHO the answer is "yes".

[Update: I note Gallup says his approval rating now exceeds his disapproval rating.]

The Paperless Office Redux

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber discusses a paper of his that says we've reached peak paper.

I remember in 1984 when the IT guys were trying to build their case for the System/36 in ASCS offices, one of them asked me about the paperless office.  Now we all know my memory is fading as rapidly as my age is increasing, so I don't really remember whether I was asked a leading question about it, and answered with a paean to the possibility that ASCS offices and farmers would get out from under the paperwork burden, or whether I was skeptical.  Most likely I wimped out and answered somewhere in between.

Anyhow, Quiggin thinks it's finally here, and that means the consumption of paper worldwide will increase.  It makes sense to me now: I'm typing on a 23 inch monitor with color and WYSIWYG; in 1984 it would have been a monochrome 14 inch monitor, etc. etc.   He points to the explosion in information (in 1984 it would have been an 8-inch floppy).  He goes on to discuss a parallel with Peak Oil, Peak Coal, and Peak Steel.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

U.S. Is Okay

Two observations about the current state of life in the U.S:
  • a new book getting rave reviews is a sociologist's study of evictions in Minneapolis  One bit repeated in each of the reviews I've seen: one of the renters who was evicted spent her money, much to the disgust of the author, on a lobster dinner with many trimmings.  Her explanation was something to the effect that "she wanted to".   It's a sign of a great country.
  • on the way to the Kennedy Center from Reston we turn off Interstate 66 onto the road which leads to the road which passes by the Watergate on the way to the Kennedy Center.  The road passes under an overpass, which has some homeless people seeking shelter.  Over the years they've moved into real tents.  (The kind with an external frame.)  Progress is being made.
David Plouffe says: "Everything is going to be okay." in his interview with Glenn Thrush at Politico

And see this Fallows piece (referring to a previous post and Warren Buffett) 

[Updated--see Kevin Drum's take.]

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Reducing Fraud, Waste and Abuse in Government

One of the ways Presidential candidates propose to finance their promises is through reducing fraud, waste and abuse.

GAO estimates $124.7 billion in improper payment in FY2014 in testimony here. 
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that section 281 of the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 precluded the use of recovery auditing techniques>Specifically, the agency reported that section 281 provides that 90 days after the decision of a state, a county, or an area committee is final, no action may be taken to recover the amounts found to have been erroneously disbursed as a result of the decision, unless the participant had reason to believe that the decision was erroneous. This statute is commonly referred to as the Finality Rule, and according to USDA, it affects the Farm Service Agency’s ability to recover overpayments.
In 2013 GAO dinged NRCS and RMA for not checking SSA death files.  Situation hadn't changed by March 2015.

The bulk of the testimony points out problems relative to the SSA death files.

Seems to me Congress could fix many of the problems by changing the laws in several instances: permit SSA to pass on state-provided death data (eliminating the need for separate files), easing the ability to share the data with agencies, forcing state agencies to use the data (in the case of TANF)

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Spring and the Garden Calls

Reston's been in the 60's the last two days, so it's time to work in the garden, spreading manure, digging the beds, trying to get peas in timely.

That caused me to google for the White House garden news.  Not a lot.  The latest I found was a June 2015 piece on doing a harvest, segueing to planting a pollinator garden, including for monarch butterflies.  Doubt they'll take credit for the rebound in monarch numbers recently reported.