Monday, October 31, 2016

Those Damn Boomers

I'm a member of the silent generation (born 1941) so naturally I don't like the boomers. Turns out I'm right, as usual.  Two sentences from a piece on trends in incarceration:
"Multiple factors account for the rising proportion of older Americans in prison. First, ever the trendsetters, baby boomers are somewhat more criminally active in late life than were previous generations."

Alaskan Ag--The Reality of Climate Change

The skeptics of climate change challenge the accuracy of temperature graphs, so I like to find phenomena which can't be challenged, like the Northwest Passage or growing cabbages outdoors in Alaska.

(I remember back in the late 70's there were a few farms with bases or maybe normal crop acreages on record in Alaska. )

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Congressional Research Service on Payment Limitation

A new website has lots of Congressional Research Service reports (which are usually not made public, unless the member of Congress who requested the report releases it), including this one on payment limitation issues.

The Times and GMO Crops--Something Screwy

NYTimes has a front page article on the usage of GMO crops: comparing the yields and herbicide usage between US/Canada and Europe.  Not sure how I got this referral, but this commentary post 
seems quite on the point, pointing out some of the problems in the article.

One thing I haven't seen discussed; perhaps it's too elementary for these writers to explain, but it's straight line graph of yields. Turns out the Times sticks its graphics in a separate url--I've stolen it here:

The arrow points to the place where GMO's come into play and the graph covers early 80's to 2015 I think.  What I don't understand is what the lines represent.   If they show the average increase/decrease in national yield each year, each would be a jagged line, with an upward slope.  So it must be some average over the time period.  But obviously an average over the whole time period won't show any change for GMO adoption in the middle of the period.  It might be an average over the whole period for Western Europe and two averages for US/Canada--one up to the adoption of GMO's and one after, but it's certainly not labeled that way nor explained.

The unit of measure is "hectograms per hectare", which is a metric yield measure, like kilograms per square meter.  I read the graph as implying the corn yields for the US and Western Europe are the same, which can't be right. I know damn well corn yields in the US vary greatly, so there's got to be a big difference between countries.  I did a search and found this: "These analyses indicate that Western Europe started with a lower yield than the USA (29,802.17 vs 39,895.57 hectograms/ha) and managed to increase yield much more quickly (1,454.48 vs 1,094.82 hectograms/ha per year) before any use of GM corn by the USA." (The source is some Kiwi's blog working on the same issue back in 2013.  See this post.)

On a football Sunday I've now exhausted my energy on this issue--perhaps more later.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Weren't Abedin's Emails Synced?

If I understand, the FBI got a PC/smartphone from Anthony Weiner as part of their investigation of his texting and found some of his wife's emails also on the PC/smartphone.  I'm not clear:
  1. did Abedin have an email account on the PC or did she receive/send emails under her husband's account?
  2. if she had a separate email account (most likely) was it different than the account(s) for which she's already turned over emails?
  3. if it was different, was it associated only with the PC or their ISP account or was it a cloud account (i.e., hotmail/yahoo)?
  4. if it was different and unique to the PC/home, did she fail to reveal it to the FBI?
  5. if it was part of a cloud account (i.e., she had one email account which she accessed from different devices, which I assume is probably the most common configuration these days) was the account on the PC synced with the cloud account?
  6. if it was synced, then presumably the FBI should have already seen the emails.
Given the time lapse for Weiner's transgressions, I'm amazed the FBI is just now looking at the PC/smartphone.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Politics Back in the 18th Century

From Boston 1775 which has been running a series on the celebrations of Washington's birthday (first as president, then as historic man) and the controversies involved as Americans tried to figure out what sort of government and society they had, Albert Gallatin writes:

"The court [i.e., the Adams administration]is in a prodigious uproar about that important event. The ministers and their wives do not know how to act upon the occasion; the friends of the old court say it is dreadful, a monstrous insult to the late President; the officers and office-seekers try to apologize for Mr. Adams by insisting that he feels conscientious scruples against going to places of that description, but it is proven against him that he used to go when Vice-President."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

First the Truck Drivers, Then the Soldiers

Kevin Drum blogs about the threat to long distance truck drivers (and a commenter notes the follow-on impacts on restaurants, etc.) presaged by Uber's use of a self-driving truck (with driver on board) to ship Budweiser a long distance.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes discusses new developments in weapons, including autonomous drones.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GMO's in Africa

Technology Review has a piece on trials of GMO crops in Tanzania and the possibility African countries are becoming more open to them.  I think this is how change occurs--while humans may resist the new, usually there come times when the advantages of the new outweigh the resistance.

But the example of Japan's resistance to modern firearms cautions that it can take a long time for the advantages to become clear.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Unrealized Greatness of Cows

Cows as the answer to diseases?  See this Technology Review piece.

Politics Is Checkers Not Chess

Some of the bloggers I follow, particularly Althouse and Powerline on the right but also some on the left, sometimes fall into fancy theories about what the other side is doing.  IMHO they tend to be a bit paranoid, figuring that their opponents are smart enough to play a double game.  Unfortunately I don't have any examples to hand; maybe now I'm posting on the subject I'll remember to point out future examples as I come across them.

As you can tell by my description, I usually doubt such posts.  In my experience, it's often better to consider that people have tunnel vision and focus on the near than to expect them to be playing games.  My metaphor in the title then is people play checkers, not chess.  I suppose expert checker players can set traps, but even beginning chess players can come up with a knight fork, or a revealed check.

I'm blogging today because it seems to me that the Wikileaks of Podesta's emails tend to confirm my view--I haven't noted any fancy stratagems being revealed, just  day-to-day planning.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Small Gardens in the UK

The "allotment" in the UK is like a plot in a community gardens in the US, except with a much longer history..  It's a reflection of the difference in the two nations that a scholar is able to come up with estimates of the total number of allotments over more than a century, up to a million such gardens in a nation of maybe sixty million people.  Also in the UK, unlike the US, the national government had legislation on the subject, dating back to 1907, with allotment gardens dating back to the early or mid 19th century.

According to the linked piece, the evolution of allotments in the UK involved differing motivations and rationales: supplying the needs of the working class; serving as a hobby for middle classes; a focal point for socialization; and finally the trendy ecological concerns of recent times.

I show my prejudices by noting this long historical perspective should serve as a caution to US enthusiasts.

The Next USDA Secretary?

Speculation begins here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stone the Rich Economist

N. Gregory Mankiw has a piece here--he paid $2500 apiece for "Hamilton" tickets in NY and is reasonably happy about it.  As a market economist he sees it in terms of supply and demand, mourning only that the creators of the show get only the benefit of the $500 face price.

What's interesting to me is the comments: the most "liked" comments are those trashing the rich plutocrat who can afford such a price.  I'm not sure whether that's coming from the presumably liberal readers of the NYTimes or from those who support Mr. Trump.  Probably the former, that would be more consistent with the liberal ethos.  But it's a little straw in the wind which shows the support Clinton can get for "soaking the rich".

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Drum's Crystal Ball

Kevin Drum had a crystal ball post--how will Paul Ryan and Clinton work together after the election. He got a lot of comments.

All I know is it's going to be interesting.  One problem for the Democrats is the number of senators up for reelection in 2018, including a number from red states (Manchin, Heidtkamp, etc.).  So there's a strategic choice in the Senate: either go for broke on liberal issues (assuming you can get the Dems to buy it) and sacrifice your majority in  2018; or try to preserve your majority in 2018 by dodging the more controversial issues, at the risk of aggravating the left and laying the ground for a challenge in 2020.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What's a "Colorist"?

Did Bess Truman have one?

Apparently Michelle Obama invited a number of people to last night's state dinner based on their personal service to her over the last seven years.  I understood hairstylist and makeup artist, but "colorist"?  A brief check of  the Internet yields little that's helpful, unless Mrs.Obama has been dyeing her hair? 

We've come a long way as a society from the days when Bess Truman was "Boss".

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Consequence and Lab Girl

Was away on annual visit to Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck.  Two books to recommend, both as it happens by people raised in the Presbyterian church, which must be why I like both:

Consequence, by Eric Fair.  Memoir of someone who had tours with our military and our contractors, with the major focus on interrogations in Iraq and religion.

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.  Memoir of a woman growing from a high school science lab (great evocation of the sort of lab I remember) through a career as paleo/geo/botanist.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Divisions in the GOP

I've been dubious of discussions of current events which see today as unique, without precedent.  One of my touchstones in electoral matters is 1964, when the nomination of Barry Goldwater caused big divisions in the Republican Party.  I remember Rockefeller being booed off the stage by the victorious AUH20 delegates so naturally I believe that was worse than anything we see today.

But maybe not.  I happened to do a Google search ("google" is redundant, isn't it?) for Republicans who supported LBJ in 1964 and found this Stu Rothenburg piece..

It seems that almost all Republican big shots supported Goldwater, at least on paper. Nixon, unlike Romney, campaigned for Goldwater.  Eisenhower, unlike the Bushes, supported Goldwater.  John Lindsay was the big name Republican to go for LBJ.  Who was he?  The Representative of the "Silk Stocking" district in NYC, identified as an up and comer, but also very liberal.  The current day parallel might be Sen. Rubio, though a senator is a bigger name than a mere representative, even one for whom the NYTimes is the hometown paper.

So it seems to me, very tentatively, that the GOP is more divided at the top these days than it was in 1964.  And, perhaps, the GOP was more divided, or rather less partisan, at the grassroots than it is today.  If that's true, maybe it's the result of a more national media,

Friday, October 07, 2016

Predictions: Senate

The Senate may be controlled by the Democrats, but likely by a very slim margin.  Based on our history, a 50/50 split or 51/49 split is going to be unstable.  Among the events which can affect passage of a specific bill and/or control of the Senate (disregarding the likelihood of a filibuster and the need for 60 votes)
  • any individual senator can hold out for his or her favorite project issue (we saw that in the ACA negotiations--the senators from LA, AR, and NE at different times held out for something special)
  • a senator may switch parties
  • special elections to fill vacancies (first of all--the VA seat Kaine now holds) from resignations or death. Note most governors are Republicans, in cases where they have authority.  Such elections will attract gobs of money.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Senior Moments, the Frequency of

Has anyone graphed the occurrence of "senior moments" during a life.  IMHO it probably follows a "power law", similar to this graph, where age is the horizontal axis and number of senior moments in a year the vertical axis. (Disregard the values on this graph--it's the best image I could find quickly.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Life Lessons from Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum had earlier blogged about the idea his cancer wasn't a particularly educational illness; no big revelations about life had followed from the discovery or treatment .

In this piece he muses about the idea that sharing one's personal experience can help others, even if it is only to say people are not alone. There shouldn't be the expectation that illness is life-changing; sometimes it's just something to work through, or not.

Vote to Preserve the WH Garden?

If you don't like the Democratic ticket you can at least vote to preserve Michelle Obama's White House Garden.  PBS Newshour covers a ceremony this afternoon which tries to preserve it as a permanent feature of the grounds.  Not quite comparable to Jackie's Garden, but something.

I think I've noted earlier my skepticism that the Obama children ever did much in it, despite their mother's naive hopes when it was first announced.  That's just as well, because I suspect Barron Trump won't be living in the White House and the Clinton grandchildren are too young.  So the Park Service will continue to care for it.

Given what happened to Carter's solar roof, I'd expect Trump to do away with all Obama innovations.  Indeed, I wish someone would ask him in the debates whether he plans to redecorate the White House to suit his tastes, maybe a nice gold color with "Trump" in neon above the portico?

The Clintons likely will continue with the garden, but without the fanfare.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Technology as Empowering, Even Dairy Cows

In some ways automated milking systems/robot milkers are the epitome of industrialized agriculture. It's easy to create an over-simplified picture in your mind of what's involved.   I won't venture to compare these systems with our practices with 12 cows in a stanchion system, but much of this extension article surprised me.  Some excerpts:
  • "cow’s attendance to the milking station is not only dependent on the PMR and pellets [feed] offered in the RMS [robotic milking system], but also on feeding management, cow comfort, cow health, and social interactions among cows."
  • "If forage moisture changes and rations are not adjusted promptly, visits may drop. The drop in visits will result in a decrease in milk production and an increase in the number of fetch cows. The increase in fetch cows may disrupt other cow behaviors, resulting in even bigger decreases in visits and milk production, leading to a downward spiral that creates much frustration for the producer. It is crucial to have consistent feeding in order to maintain high production and minimize the number of fetch cows[i.e. cows someone has to fetch and herd into the RMS]"
  • "Cows like consistency. This is even more important in a RMS herd."
The advice in this Progressive Dairy article by a "senior farm management support adviser." advoses letting cows do their thing.  (The "subtext" is the difficulty of changing one's behavior when new technology comes into the job site.)

Those Efficient Private Companies

MGM is building a casino in Prince Georges County, the National Harbor project.  Today's printed Post had an article on the opening plans.  What caught my eye was the subheading--a $500 million cost overrun--the whole project cost $1.4 billion, so that's probably a 33 percent overrun

This will go unnoticed, but similar inefficiency in government tends not to.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Japanese Self-Cleaning Ovens

From Andrew Gelman at Statistical Modeling we learn that the Japanese have no word for "self-cleaning oven".   That inspired me to search: inquiring minds wanted to know why?  Were all ovens self-cleaning, or what?  This led me to an interesting write-up on Japanese kitchen appliances.

It doesn't directly answer the question, but this is what I read between the lines:
  • kitchens are small and appliances are small
  • meals are physically small (no Thanksgiving turkey)
  • ovens are small (microwaves now)
  • ranges are gas (I presume given the size of Japan and population density fuel was never abundant, so no (i.e. "no" = "few') wood/coal stoves for cooking and no transition to electric stoves.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Book Recommendation: Rosa Brooks

The book is "How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon", the author is Rosa Brooks, the daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich, the leftish foodie and writer.  Interestingly, Brooks is now married to a colonel in the Special Forces, having spent time in the bureaucracies of the State Department (Bill Clinton admin) and Pentagon (Obama admin) as a human rights/law of war lawyer. 

The book is a little diffuse, but it gets blurbs from Gen. McChrystal and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former policy wonk in the State Department.  Brooks acknowledges her experiences have changed and undermined her inherited preconceptions, though you still get the idealism of the former human rights activist. To me, of course, the most interesting bits reflected the bureaucracies of DOD and State, and the tension between them, but Brooks' thesis is that the old paradigms of war and peace no longer work, we need to pay attention to the in-between, particularly as impacted by technology, and fashion new rules of law and social structures to deal with social conflict.   I was struck by her thoughts about the individualization of war--we can track and kill individuals now--what does that do to "war", which used to be anonymous mass versus anonymous mass?