Wednesday, August 31, 2016

British Agriculture and US

I think one big difference between the UK and the USA is land tenure.  Oversimplifying, to get people to work the land the USA mostly offered ownership, though in the South we used slavery.  In the UK they always had enough people for the land and technology which were available, so they've always had tenants without ownership.  Of course these days the US has lots of renters, but typically outside the South the renter has some owned land, and has expanded her operation by renting from the heirs of deceased owners.  (I don't know how many errors I've written so far.)

To me this difference is shown in the Duke of Westminster, who just died.  The pieces on his death noted he was one of the biggest landowners in the UK, including some 300 acres worth of London.  I don't believe we would see similar stories in the US.  Yes, we've some big owners, like Ted Turner, but their lifestory isn't centered around landowning.

Another big: the Tenant Farmers Association, a UK organization:
  The TFA is the only organisation dedicated to the agricultural tenanted sector and is the authentic voice on behalf of tenant farmers.  The TFA lobbies at all levels of Government and gives professional advice to its members.
The TFA seeks to support and enhance the landlord-tenant system.  It represents and advises members on all aspects of agricultural tenancy and ancillary matters.  It also aims to improve the professional and technical knowledge of its members, to increase the flow of new tenancies onto the market and to help the farming industry best apply existing agricultural tenancy legislation.

The Virtues of Rural Life

 I suspect my blogging has reflected my aversion to rural life, having left the rural area where I grew up as soon as I got a permanent job.  Yet I'm ambivalent, as I often am, so I'll link to this piece in the Post, written by the guy who moved his family to Red Lake County, MN after describing it as the worst place in America to live, based on ratings of various criteria.  A paragraph:
Nor, as far as I can tell, have we come up with a good way to quantify nostalgia. Red Lake Falls feels like the kind of town your grandparents would live in, and I mean that in the best possible way. The town's 1,400 residents keep tidy homes on tidy lawns with sprawling vegetable gardens out back. To an adult living here for the first time, it feels like the kind of place you remember visiting during summers in childhood, where memories are built on indolent afternoons spent in broad sunny lawns while the adults relaxed on a screened-in porch with cocktails in their hands.
The author has children, BTW, and I don't, which might explain much.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Threats to USDA

Some USDA offices have been threatened and closed.  This was in an e-mail to employees, but nothing on USDA's social networks I can find as of now.  (My suggestion: having a twitter feed is a nod to the conventions of the present, but isn't yet incorporated in to the habits of the bureaucracy.

Changes in History: Political and Gaming

John Fea at the Way of Improvement blogs about an op-ed claiming that political historians are a dwindling breed.  Supposedly the rise of social and cultural history and the study of minorities and women has risen, while politics has declined.  I've no opinion about that, but I was gob-smacked today to learn a relative, just beginning university at a good school, is taking the "history of gaming" in his first term.

Monday, August 29, 2016

So Long, Russians

I see by my blog statistics I'm no longer getting Russian visitors to the blogs.  That's good, not that I have anything against Russian visitors, just hackers.

Amish Healthcare

Megan McArdle wrote a while back on healthcare problems and solutions.  This past article
describes how the Amish handle their health care.  While they accept modern medicine, they're exempt from Obamacare and the community self-insures, apparently effectively.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Farewell to the Barbershop?

An article here at Jstor on the changing culture for men's hair:

The last two paragraphs:

They’re not signs of a disintegrating bygone culture of manhood. Rather, they signify a transformation of white, well-to-do masculinity. In the past, the barbershop was a place for these men. Today, while the old model may thrive in black or up-and-coming neighborhoods, white professional men are seeking a pampered experience elsewhere.
And they’re creating intimate relationships in these new men’s salons. But instead of immersing themselves in single-sex communities of men, they’re often building one-on-one confidential relationships with women hair stylists. Stylists often explained this intimacy as part of their jobs. For white men with financial means, though, the men’s salon becomes an important place where they can purchase the sense of connection they may otherwise be missing in their lives.
For a while in my younger years I cut my own hair, but then I migrated back to a barbershop, finding a shop which was reminiscent of my boyhood shop in Greene, NY: patrons and barbers who knew each other and would talk about things like hunting and cars.  My Herndon shop was bigger, not a two-man operation, and it had trophy heads and military memorabilia on the walls. Still it seemed the patrons and barbers mostly knew each other, or at least made small talk (not my forte). Over the years it's downsized and become less of a conversation center.

I don't know what's happened to barbershops in small towns in rural areas--probably closed if the area has lost population. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Vilsack Undermining Rural Values

This has gotten a lot of attention from the right, including giving Rush Limbaugh a lot of laughs (and showing he doesn't understand rural life very well).

Our neighborhood store was run by two middle-aged women, who lived behind the store (until it burned).  What was the nature of their relationship?  Who knew, certainly not I. Nor did we care.  I remember being astonished when a co-worker at my summer job (who'd had surgery for ulcers which didn't improve his disposition any) commented on them with a sneer.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Do You Buy From Amazon?

I do, so I found this bit amusing:

"“People will buy it,” Treibel said. “Amazon customers generally are affluent and irrational and they just want it quick.”

It's from an Atlantic piece on how someone is exploiting the Trump and Sanders campaigns.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

An Early Lost and Found Service

Who knew that town criers ran a lost and found service?
John Fea at the Way of Improvement links to another blog on a preRevolution town crier:

 They would make public announcements, but also served as a sort of lost and found,

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dairy Innovation in Brazil

An interesting piece in the World Bank blog:
Within 20 minutes, all 40 cows were milked with new equipment the family acquired two months before with support from the SC Rural Program. Prior to this, they’d had to endure the laborious and time-consuming process of milking the cows by hand. “We decided to adopt this automated system not only to improve productivity and quality of the milk, but because Zenaide and I were having back problems,” said Osni.
I have to say I'm not real comfortable with the writer and the "12-hour internship".  Consider the paragraph above.  Milking cows by hand is time-consuming; even using the milking machines we had on the farm it would take around an hour and a half.  I don't think cows let down their milk much faster these days. 40 cows seems too big an operation for two or three people to manage.  And going from hand milking to an elaborate robotic operation (though the nature of the equipment is never specified) seems a rash decision--too big a capital investment, too big of a leap.

Later in the article there's a reference to technology leading to a tripling of milk production in the state in 10 years. IMO improved breeding and increased numbers would be the biggest contributors to such an increase, with better technology enabling the bigger herds.   But who knows--it's interesting; Brazil may become as a big a competitor of the US in dairy as it is in soybeans.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Administrative Procedure and Bathrooms

Jonathan Adler at Volokh posts on the federal judge's order blocking the administration's guidance to schools on bathrooms, finding that they didn't comply with the Administrative Procedure Act beloved of all bureaucrats.  Adler doesn't note that similar problems arose with the administration's effort to change the rules on undocumented immigrants.  The bottom line is the executive branch didn't go through a rule-making procedure, allowing the public to comment, before issuing the document.  To be cynical, the executive thought if the document wasn't labeled a "regulation", rule-making wasn't required.

So the Obama administration has suffered two defeats this year on issues dear to liberal hearts.  There's some small consolation in this idea: if the Trump administration (:-( should try similar tactics in order to undo or change liberal policies, liberals would have a stronger case to force the Trumpites into the long rule-making process.

Just as a matter of history, I suspect these two episodes are just another step in the long history of changing administrative procedure into formal regulations.  The lawyers have to make work for themselves.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Best Paragraph I Misread Today

From Walt Jeffries at Sugar Mountain, explaining why a pig was in hospice care:
"Also, pigs are rather mean to each other. They will target and kill the weak amongst them. This is a herd behavior because the weak may attract predators and scavengers. By killing or leaving behind the weak the herd survives. So a pig’s strategy is to beat up the weak individuals. Pigs do not do altruism. Pigs are not kind. Pigs are not loyal. But Hollywood and animal nut groups have made them out to be much like us. They are not. Or rather they are like the worst of us, the Trumps and the Clintons.†"
I swear when I first read it this morning, I missed the last three word.  I guess it's called Freudian omission.   :-)  (The footnote invites the reader to insert her own preferred politician--I missed that as well.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rural Development and LGBT

A post at Lawyers, Guns and Money on the USDA's rural programs, the outreach to the LGBT community, and the concerns of the right wing (Limbaugh).

Erroneous Payments and Wrongful Death

Post reports that SSA has erroneously recorded some people as dead when they aren't.  Seems to be part of a project to improve the accuracy of death records, where SSA continued to show people as living when they were indeed dead. 

(I've blogged on this several times before, but used a number of different labels for the posts.  Search on "erroneous" in the upper left search box to find them.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Katznelson Is Successful and Wrong (in Part)

Ira Katznelson has succeeded in convincing the conventional wisdom that FDR worked with Southern racists to limit the scope of New Deal legislation so that blacks were not aided.  While that's a smal part of his most recent book, "Fear Itself" , it seems to be the meme which has most resonated with liberals.

Given the scope of the New Deal, you'd have to examine many legislative histories to confirm or dispute the general thesis.  I don't know the truth of others, but I do not believe it is an accurate description of the reasons for circumscribing the coverage of Social Security in the original act.  Katznelson.  I've noted this before in a Post Wonkblog discussion of the book, by point to:
an interesting counterpoint by Larry DeWitt, a public historian with the Social Security Administration. Here's the abstract:
The author concludes that the racial-bias thesis is both conceptually flawed and unsupported by the existing empirical evidence. The exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers from the early program was due to considerations of administrative feasibility involving tax-collection procedures. The author finds no evidence of any other policy motive involving racial bias.
I'd add to DeWitt's work by pointing to the expansion of SS coverage to farmers. (See this IRS publication.)  It's personal to me, because I remember my parents becoming eligible in 1950 (from an SSA history):
The amendments of 1950 brought 9 million workers into covered employment (Christgau 1960), including regularly employed farm and domestic workers and, with some exceptions, self-employed persons. These new workers would generally not have much in the way of covered earnings from 1937 to 1950. Except for those just beginning their careers, newly covered workers would thus receive low retirement benefits. A "new start" formula was instituted that allowed the computation of benefits on the basis of average monthly wages after 1950 (if that yielded higher benefits). Similar to the 1939 amendments, this policy reflected a choice by policymakers to award adequate retirement benefits to persons who may have worked (and paid taxes) in covered employment for only a short period of time.
 I'm reminded of this point because among the family papers I just inherited was correspondence concerning the difficulty of establishing my father's birth date (in 1889) to become eligible for SS. The bottom line was that SSA had become a functioning bureaucracy which was capable of handling the extra covered workers, and IRS was capable of writing IRS pub 51.  And the resistance of the farm lobbies, like the American Farm Bureau, had been overcome.  (See this NYTimes article on the differing attitudes of Farm Bureau and National Grange.) This expansion was passed enough though Southern Democrats retained their power in Congress.

While the evidence is clear to me, I'm not holding my breath as I wait for academic historians to recognize this error.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Roger the Dodger as a Republican Indicator

Via Marginal Revolution, Wonkblog has the results of a survey of Republicans and Democrats, which includes their favorite athletes. 

I was struck by the second favorite athlete of male Republicans: Roger Staubach.  I attended most all of the home football games of my university, and my junior year we played Navy at home. (We had delusions of grandeur then, with a quarterback who went on briefly to start for the NY Giants plus the first soccer-style place kicker.)  

Wikipedia says, after a short stint in relief against the Minnesota of Carl Eller:
"A week later, against Cornell, with the offense misfiring, Hall of Fame Coach Wayne Hardin decided to put Staubach into the game to see if he could spark the team's offense. He led Navy to six touchdowns, throwing for 99 yards and two touchdowns while running for 88 yards and another score as Navy won 41–0.[3]"
 It's an indicator of the age of Republican men that Roger is second most popular.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trump and Agriculture

Politico has a piece on the A-Team Trump has assembled to advise him on agricultural policy.

I wonder why he has the support of so many agricultural leaders when his economic team and foreign policy team are so weak? 

I suspect a mixture of these things are operating:
  • Trump couldn't care less about agriculture, so there's little need for the team and Trump to agree on issues.  Trump can rubber stamp almost anything they come up with. In contrast Trump has positions on foreign affairs and economics which turn off a lot of the "establishment".
  • rural areas are strongly pro-Trump, so the ag team represents catering to their interests.  The picture's not so clear when it comes to other areas
  • academics are less important to the ag establishment than they are in the other areas.  Like economics, the ag team doesn't seem to have many academics.
  • ag leaders on the team are either less interested in free trade and immigration than those not on the team, or they figure they might be stuck with Trump as president and it's worth it to gain positions where they can affect policy (because they know a Trump presidency isn't going to pay much attention to agriculture.
  • Something completely different.  :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Location, Location, Data Center Location

Reston happens to be very well located for Internet purposes, as shown by this business expansion plan.

It was near enough the Pentagon to be an early presence in the DARPAnet, and things just went on from there. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic History: Amateurs and Professionals

Back in my youth the Olympics were the realm of amateurs, and a lot of energy was devoted to policing the line between amateurs and professionals. I guess amateurism was the last refuge of the WASP hierarchical society; sports was limited those who had the money and the leisure to train for events and participate in meets.  My impression is the horse events, like dressage and jumping, are the remaining holdouts, but maybe I'm missing the sports without sufficient appeal to pull in a paying audience.

Speaking of audiences, in my youth track and field was the fourth big participation sport, with horse racing and boxing the big audience sports.  (Early TV had the Friday night fights; yes, a professional fight every Friday night, to go along with the bigger events like the Carmen Basilio-Sugar Ray Robinson fights.)  The interest in track and field has dwindled, and the shrinking interest is shown in the meager coverage it gets outside of the Olympics.

Meanwhile the big three of basketball, baseball and football have gained prominence.  One benefit to those sports, as opposed to track and field or boxing or horse racing, is statistics.  Particularly these days you can lose yourself in the statistical analysis of players and games.   Track and field events don't have that complexity; the only thing they have is ever more refined measurement of results. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympic Memories: Bikila

As a confirmed liberal, you know I enjoyed the victory of Abebe Bikila, the first sub-Saharan African to win a gold medal in the (1960) Olympics, running the marathon bare-footed.  Little did we know that not only was this a symbol of the decolonization of Africa, but also of the coming dominance of East Africans generally in distance events. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Olympic Memories: Korbut

Olga Korbut defined charisma.  She seemed to come from nowhere in the 1972 Olympics, tiny and fearless. In my memory she was the first Iron Curtain athlete to win a following in the West, because her personality forced its way past our political prejudices.

WSJ Is Unfair to Dairy

Disregard the article (which is about attempts to regulate methane from cattle) and focus on the picture.(Article may be behind a pay wall.)  It's one cow, grazing, but what's unfair about it is how dirty the cow is. I can't figure it out. Our cows would look like that only sometimes, after a long winter when they've been in the barn all the time, except on good days when they might be let out for an hour or so while we cleaned the gutters.  The cows would have been lying down, and come into contact with manure from the gutters, perhaps getting their tails wet, and slapping the manure around.

The landscape seems to me to be a fall one, not spring, although the article is on California, with which I'm not familiar.

It's also odd that the cow is alone, though that's probably an artifact of picture selection--a single cow being more photogenic than a herd.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Berries and Cherries

Who knew that South Korea is importing loads of US blueberries and cherries, even more since the recent trade pact?  That's part of this article on Trump's effect on South Korea.

What was striking to me was how cheap the cherries were.  The article doesn't specify the size, but $8 isn't that much more than I'd expect to pay for cherries in my local Safeway.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Eat Cheese, Support Your Local Dairy

Wall Street Journal reports on the plight of dairy farmers--cheese stocks have soared as the dollar has strengthened. Commodity prices go up and down; the job of farmers is to ride the waves.

Olympic Memories: Mills

Memories:  Billy Mills coming from behind down the stretch in the 10K.  Can still bring tears to my eyes.  Youtube

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Surprise of the Day: Cambodia

World Bank says Cambodia is now a lower middle income country (i.e., not the lowest grouping).

My memories of Cambodia feature Pol Pot and thousands/millions of skulls.  But now it's one of the fastest growing countries in the world.  History is strange.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Contrarian: Descriptive Not Prescriptive

I'll probably be alone in this, but my interpretation of Trump's statement is, it's a one-sentence digression describing what the gun nuts could do if his prediction of Clinton taking away guns came true.  I'm led to this because Trump famously isn't big on Second Amendment rights, or hasn't been in his past. So he outlines a sequence: Hillary aiming to take guns away (wrong), appointing Justices who share her aim (wrong because she doesn't aim to take guns away), yielding an inevitable result if you don't elect Trump.  But Trump's mind, which skitters like a moose calf on ice, undermines his projection by playing with the idea that gun nuts might assassinate Clinton.  It's not pushing the idea, it's the spur of the moment statement of a smart ass who never leaves a thought, or nonthought, unexpressed.

USDA and Civil Rights

The Jefferson Auditorium is the big meeting room in USDA's South Building at 14th and Independence.  Lots of ceremonies there, usually the audience filled the middle seats first, then the rear and lastly the front seats.  Apparently that's changed since I left.  Here's the blog post  bragging about the improvements the Vilsack leadership has brought to USDA in the area of civil rights.

Olympic History: the Soviets Are Coming

Intellectual History had a post on the Olympic games, which got me to thinking about the changes I've seen over the years, both in the Olympics and sports more generally.  One of the changes is in the title.  Flowing Data has a "streamgraph" showing the distribution of medals among nations over the history of the Olympics.

One of things not often remembered about post-WWII history was how competitive we (i.e., the US) felt about our position in the world and how challenging the USSR seemed to be.  We competed in heavy industry: tons of steel poured and tons of coal mined.  And beginning in 1952 we competed in the Olympics: the Soviets burst onto the scene in 1952 and caused great angst.  Then the East Germans added to our tension in 1968 and especially 1972--our dominance was slipping.  Our free enterprise, amateur-based system just couldn't keep up with the state-organized and subsidized systems of the Soviets and East Germans.  Changes had to be made. That at least was a strong reaction after every Olympic games for many years.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Why Prefer Convenience Foods?

From an ERS study:
First, Americans may be constrained by labor-force participation and have less time to spend on preparing food. Second, prices of many convenience foods may have fallen relative to their less convenient counterparts. Third, income changes may affect the degree of convenience demanded by households. Lastly, advertising, which is notably
more visible for the most convenient foods, may stimulate demand for convenience foods.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Chickens Need Space?

 A couple more stories on the "cage-free" movement for chickens:    Haspel in the Post
and today. 

Today's story treats the movement as a fait accompli for the Humane Society. As I've written before, I've some reservations about this.  There's tradeoffs: on the one hand chickens get space to behave more "naturally", on the other hand some of the chickens will lose their lives earlier than they would otherwise.  Being pecked to death is not a good way to die.  (Hens being omnivores react to the sight of blood and compete to get a beak full, and then another, and then another.

And the "free-range" concept also has qualifications: chickens are naturally a warm weather bird, so those being reared north of the Mason Dixon line won't go outside for all the months of the year.  Hen houses typically aren't climate controlled, perhaps fans to move the air during the summer but I doubt heaters.  I remember our hens huddling together for warmth on the cold days of the year, more hens in closer contact than if they were in cages.

I'm no expert in modern day poultry raising but I wonder about culling.  On the farm my mother would cull our flock of 1-year old hens down by half, keeping the best for another year.  But that's labor-intensive (requiring early morning rising and all-hands on deck).  I don't know whether these days hens are culled in the same way.  If they are, the process would be much easier and more accurate with the cages than not.

I honor the impulse behind the cage-free movement, but a sizable fraction of the benefits are accruing to people's sense of their own merit.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Amish Dust Is Gold (for Asthma)

Two pieces in the NYTimes today on the same scientific research.

Briefly the Amish in Indiana have small dairy farms with barns near the house, the Hutterites have larger farms with bigger barns away from the housing quarters.  First exams of children from the two groups found significant differences in asthma, and in the underlying biology (too complex for me to summarize).  Experiments with dust from the two applied to mice reproduced the same differences in biology.

It's part of a recent theory--children today suffer because their environments are too sterile, while early exposure to a more varied environment can reduce asthma--but significant in that the experiment identifies the chain of biologic events at issue: which dust from which source.

Soon we may see the Amish making more by selling dust from their farms than by selling milk. :-)

I also found the cultural differences between Hutterites and Amish interesting.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The Hazards of Inconsistency

Daniel Drezner has a piece on MorningJoe's interview with ex-CIA head Hayden which might be setting records for him for the number of comments.  His big problem is the revelation that several months ago a high level foreign policy type was briefing Trump, and Trump asked three times during the interview why the US couldn't use nuclear weapons. (This was Joe Scarborough belatedly revealing the information.)

I've a different problem, based on Hayden's comments: Trump's inconsistency.  Hayden is a former bureaucrat, as am I, and apparently we both share a belief that perhaps the most important quality in a leader is consistency.  Whatever good and bad qualities a leader has, the supporting players, including the permanent bureaucrats as well as the leader's personal retinue, can adapt.  Is the leader an idiot? Then speak and write simply, and keep complex issues away. Is the leader intellectually omnivorous? Write 100 page tomes on every issue?  Is the leader a drunk? Structure his time so the drunk periods don't overlap with decision making.  Does the leader fly off the handle and order "off with their heads"? Agree, and do nothing.

Note: some of my examples are written based on the revelations of the Nixon tapes and the memoirs of Nixon's official family,another from Reagan's.

The point in all this is, if the leader is inconsistent from day to day, it's much harder for the good bureaucrat to adapt to compensate for his/her deficiencies and maximize her/his strengths.

Factoid: Last Widow of a Revolutionary Soldier Died 130 Years After DofI

Vita Brevis has a piece on  the longest-living widows of veterans of our wars.  Some vets got old, married young, and their widows lived long.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Did Ukraine Pay Its Share of NATO?

My title asks a question arising from DJTrump's weekend ABC interview, the one where he promised Putin would not go into the Ukraine.  All the attention has been on the question of whether he knew that Russian troops, under the guise of separatist rebels, already control the eastern part of the country.  (Trump later said he knew, that blamed Obama, and when he was president there would be no change.

Earlier in discussing Estonia, I believe, Trump said that it was foolish for the US to protect nations in NATO if they didn't pay their share. (That's a loose paraphrase.)  So putting the two together, I have to assume that not only is the Ukraine a member of NATO, or would be admitted on January 21, and they have borne their full share of defense costs for NATO.  Otherwise Trump is inconsistent, or perhaps like other 70 year olds (and older) he's forgotten what he said before.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Issues We Need Discussion On

What we really need from the presidential candidates is a discussion of their post-election financial plans.  Is Trump going to put his operations into a trust?  If his children play a part in the administration how is that going to work (i.e., they can't administer the trust). As for Clinton, how is the family going to separate itself from the Clinton Foundation?

Trump's Ag Man

Here's a Tom Philpott piece on Trump's key man on agriculture issues.  I don't know that we learn much about policy issues--the idea is first win, then develop policies.  Sounds like Trump.