Sunday, December 31, 2017

Land Titlles and Drones

According to this piece only about 30 percent of land in Africa is titled and recorded.  The plan is to use drones to map in detail enough to be useful for recording titles.  Apparently in some parts of Africa hedges often delineate ownership.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Things Are Getting Better

The Council for Foreign Relations has a post listing 10 ways things got better in 2017, a reminder that the dust Trump has raised in the US shouldn't get in our eyes.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Degrees of Separation

Turns out there were three degrees of separation between a Swiss/German scientist and an American aristocrat.  Einstein wrote a letter to FDR on the feasibility of nuclear fission and bombs, which was transmitted because Szillard knew Sachs who knew FDR.  That's based on Isaacson's recent biography of Einstein--very good, though I'm listening to the Audible version,not reading it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Reston in the News

Turns out the top ranked story in the Times for the day was this one, reporting on the killing of a Reston couple, allegedly by the boyfriend of the daughter, who has expressed racist and pro-Nazi opinions.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Changes in National Issues

I wrote a post on how the parties have flip-flopped since my youth, including a partial list of issues which have changed and faded out of the national discussion.  Some additional thoughts:

Some new issues include:
  1. Abortion.  The debate owes much to the civil rights debate.
  2. Gay rights.  
  3. Animal rights and welfare.
  4. Inequality (seems to be an easier way to discuss economic issues than poverty.
  5. A slew of foreign relations issues.

Some other old issues:
  1. Gambling is now legal most everywhere.  When I was growing up it was only in the Catholic bingo nights and Nevada, so it wasn't really much of an issue.
  2. Poverty (which has come in and out of national consciousness--from FDR's one-third of the nation, to the War on Poverty. 
  3. Decolonization, which was followed by the Third World. 
  4. Blue laws and restriction of trade.
  5. Doctors and lawyers advertising for business.

Farm Bill Time?

According to the House Ag committee, which has a website for it.  Hattip to Northview Dairy

You'd think after 20 years I'd be able to divorce myself from any interest in such doings.  Can't teach an old dog...

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Unrest Within the Organic Community

The Post did an investigation of a big "organic" dairy a while back.  I put in the quotes because the article raised questions about whether it met the requirements for being organic, especially whether the cows were grazing or not. Here's a piece questioning whether USDA's subsequent investigation which found no big problems were sufficiently thorough (apparently the dairy was warned before the investigators showed up).

This would be a good episode for some academic to write on, because it involves several issues: efficiency from scaling up, the tradeoffs of grazing versus grain (and the simple logistics of grazing), the bureaucracy of writing and enforcing regulations, capture of bureaucracy by interest groups, strategies of interest groups of various kinds (the "organics" wage a media war, the industry wage a guerilla war of lobbyists).

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Decline of a Completist

"Completist" is a term used by the new publisher of the NYTimes in his interview with the editor of the New Yorker.  It means someone who has to read everything in the paper.

I used to be a completist.  Back on the farm we got the Binghamton Press delivered in the mailbox.  But for really important things, like the first Soviet A-bomb test in 1949, we'd make a point of going to the Forks or Greene to pick up the Times (the stores might have 4 or 5 for sale).  I think, with the assurance of old age, that's what we did for the bomb test.  Probably the first time I read the Times, trying to understand the story.

Later we would get the Sunday Times to satisfy my sister's appetite for the news.  Finally when I got to college I could fully indulge my completist obsession.  After working breakfast at the dorm, I'd stop at Noyes Lodge overlooking Beebee Lake, pick up a Times and with a cup of coffee read the whole thing (assuming I didn't have an early class). 

I think it was both psychological and sociological--i.e., I was a farm boy trying to figure out the big world and gain status within it by knowing about everything.  So my reading life went.

But now I find I don't have the patience or interest to be a completist.  I've read too many stories of the ways people mistreat each other, too many stories of the hungry and the sick, too many stories. I still read the Times (and the Post) every day, but I skip over a lot of stories.  Such is life.

[Update: it's a good interview.  A bit of humor from it:
"D.R.: I’m giving you a very important opportunity here. I just saw the new Steven Spielberg movie, “The Post.” And I hope this doesn’t hurt, but this is about the Washington Post’s experience vis-a-vis the Pentagon Papers. Now, the Times is given credit for breaking the story, but I’m told that people at the New York Times are really annoyed with this movie.
A.G.S.: I wouldn’t say really annoyed.
D.R.: No, I mean, super annoyed at this movie.
A.G.S.: I think we’re all looking forward to the next Watergate movie. Focussing on the extraordinary reporting of the New York Times."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Factor of Ten

According to NYTimes article on electric cars, there are less than 10 times the number of gas stations than the number of recharging stations and the operating cost of an gasoline car is about 10 times the cost of an electric car.  I'm surprised by both: the number of charging stations and the operating cost differential.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What's Perdue Up to?

From FCW:
"The Trump administration announced the establishment of five centers of excellence at a Dec. 14 industry day hosted at the White House. The General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Service will lead the development of centers focused on cloud adoption, infrastructure optimization, customer experience, service delivery analytics and contact centers. The Department of Agriculture is the first customer.
Wilmer said the decision to name Agriculture as the home of the first center of excellence came down to the commitment of Secretary Sonny Perdue.
"The secretary of Agriculture was extremely supportive of modernizing Agriculture, I think that's one of his major objectives, and I think [he] understands the importance of IT in all of this.... So Agriculture seemed like a perfect example." Wilmer said. "When you have secretary-level-down commitment in making this happen, we wanted to make sure the first one that we roll out is going to be a success... then we can follow up rapidly with others."
Not sure what area of USDA is being targeted here.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

What's Scary? Trump 2017/2025

That's from an interesting Times article on the energy industry in Wyoming. That might seem counter-intuitive; isn't Wyoming all ranches and cattle, or maybe sheep?  For those of us who know Wyoming from following "Longmire" on Netflix maybe it's not so surprising.  The oil industry was big in one season and ranching wasn't that big. According to the article, oil, coal, natural gas, and wind are all big, although competitors.

The idea of 8 years of Trump is terrible.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

How China Came to Boom

You must thank the bureaucrats for the almost miraculous changes in China over the last 40 years.  That's what I get from this, via Lee Crawfurd post summarizing presentations at a World Bank seminar on bureaucracy:
 Yuen Yuen Ang — How has China done so well in last 40 years without democratic reform? Through bureaucratic reform which has provided accountability, competition, limits on power. 50 million bureaucrats: 20% managers & 80% frontline workers. Managers have performance contracts focused on outcomes, with published league tables. Frontline workers have large performance-based informal compensation. (bonus podcast edition with Alice Evans here)

Friday, December 15, 2017

How the Parties Have Flip Flopped

During my lifetime there have been big changes in the political parties:
  1. In 1950 the Democrats were the party of the white working class; today Republicans are the party of the white evangelical class
  2. In 1950 the Democrats were the party of the Catholics, today Republicans share the vote
  3. In 1950 the Democrats had a good foothold in rural areas, today the Republicans dominate 
  4. In 1950 the Democrats controlled a solid South; today the Republicans control a solid South
  5. In 1950 white college-educated women were represented by the moderate League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women (in which my aunt was very active); today those women are feminists and vote mostly Democrat
  6. In 1950 the Republicans had a foothold with black voters (Ike would get 40 percent in 1952); today the Democrats dominate
  7. In 1950 Asian American and Latino Americans weren't significant blocs, today they are and lean (most of them) Democrat
The argument today is that our politics is more partisan and more divided than ever before.  I think that's too simplistic.  The South was solid in 1950, it's solid today.  Catholics are less divided than before.  The difference is that the blocs comprising the parties are now more aligned on some ideological parameters.   Another difference is that some policies are no longer partisan--they've been resolved.  For example:
  1. Public power used to be a big issue--would we expand it or not?  Not an issue today.
  2. Farm policy used to be a national issue, getting the attention of presidents. Not so today.
  3. Labor-management relations used to be a national issue.  We had strikes of miners, of autoworkers, of longshoremen, of steel workers, strikes which the president often had to step in and get a settlement.  No more today.
  4. Segregation used to be a big issue--not today.
  5. Cold war policy used to be big.
  6. Socialism and the threat of communism were big in 1950.  Not today. 
  7. National debt
There's other issues, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.   There's also a new set of issues, creating different divisions:
  1. Immigration
  2. Gender/sex
  3. Feminism/sexual harassment
  4. Inequality 
  5. Taxes

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Be Nice to Republicans Day

From Joe Biden:
" "You may remember, you were a little kid, your dad took care of my Beau ... Your dad became friends with Beau and Beau talked about your dad's courage, not about illness, but about his courage."
No, I didn't know that and John McCain doesn't strike as a great baby sitter, if that's what he did, but it's generous.

I Called the President an Idiot

Big hearing today where a House committee grilled the Deputy Attorney General about tweets/emails between two FBI agents.  In one or more Trump was called an "idiot".  This arguably reflects adversely on the agent and might indicate a prejudice which carried over into official duties.

While I never had the position the agents had, being lower on the totem pole than they, I too used to call the president an "idiot".  In my case it was Reagan, not Trump, and technically I called him "the senior idiot" (reflecting the fact I was calling my immediate boss "the junior idiot".  But I'm not aware that my dislike and low evaluation of Reagan ever affected my performance.  As a matter of fact I got an award (cash, no less) for my work in implementing the most controversial program ASCS handled during my time with the agency.

It's impossible to tell with the agents.  But in my experience the ability of people to compartmentalize and to deny is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Favorite Country

New Yorker has a piece on it.
It was during Kotka’s tenure that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.

Eleven Hoops for Regulations

Back in the day I once had responsibility for processing ASCS regulations to the Office of the Federal Register.  My memory fades, but I believe in the Nixon administration the text of a regulation moved directly from the preamble to the table of contents or other text.  Beginning perhaps with Ford's requirements on clearing big regs for their inflation impact, successive Presidents have added more and more hoops for the poor reg writer to jump through.

A recent FSA rule caught my eye.  There are eleven different sections citing requirements (EO 13771 is the Trump one.) 


Executive Orders 12866, 13563, and 13771

Executive Order 12866, “Regulatory Planning and Review,” and Executive Order 13563, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,” direct agencies to assess all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, if regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety effects, distributive impacts, and equity). Executive Order 13563 emphasized the importance of quantifying both costs and benefits, of reducing costs, of harmonizing rules, and of promoting flexibility. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designated this rule as not significant under Executive Order 12866, “Regulatory Planning and Review,” and therefore, OMB has not reviewed this rule. The rule is not subject to Executive Order 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.”

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995

Pursuant to the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. chapter 35, subchapter I), the collections of information in this rule have been approved by OMB under control number 0563-0053.

E-Government Act Compliance

USDA is committed to complying with the E-Government Act of 2002, to promote the use of the internet and other information technologies to provide increased opportunities for citizen access to Government information and services, and for other purposes.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995

Title II of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) establishes requirements for Federal agencies to assess the effects of their regulatory actions on State, local, and tribal governments and the private sector. This rule contains no Federal mandates (under the regulatory provisions of title II of the UMRA) for State, local, and tribal governments or the private sector. Therefore, this rule is not subject to the requirements of sections 202 and 205 of UMRA.

Executive Order 13132

It has been determined under section 1(a) of Executive Order 13132, Federalism, that this rule does not have sufficient implications to warrant consultation with the States. The provisions contained in this rule will not have a substantial direct effect on States, or on the relationship between the national government and the States, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government.

Executive Order 13175

This rule has been reviewed in accordance with the requirements of Executive Order 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments.” Executive Order 13175 requires Federal agencies to consult and coordinate with tribes on a government-to-government basis on policies that have tribal implications, including regulations, legislative comments or proposed legislation, and other policy statements or actions that have substantial direct effects on one or more Indian tribes, on the relationship between the Federal Government and Indian tribes or on the distribution of power and responsibilities between the Federal Government and Indian tribes.
USDA has assessed the impact of this rule on Indian tribes and determined that this rule does not, to our knowledge, have tribal implications that require tribal consultation under E.O. 13175. If a Tribe requests consultation, USDA will work with the Office of Tribal Relations to ensure meaningful consultation is provided where changes, additions and modifications identified herein are not expressly mandated by Congress.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

USDA certifies that this regulation will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. This regulation is a conforming amendment to a final rule published by FCIC that states the Federal crop insurance program is the same for all producers regardless of the size of their farming operation. For instance, all producers are required to file an AD-1026 with FSA to be eligible for premium subsidy. Whether a producer has 10 acres or 1,000 acres, there is no difference in the kind of information collected. To ensure crop insurance is available to small entities, the Federal Crop Insurance Act (FCIA) authorizes FCIC to waive collection of administrative fees from limited resource farmers. FCIC believes this waiver helps to ensure that small entities are given the same opportunities as large entities to manage their risks through the use of crop insurance. A Regulatory Flexibility Analysis has not been prepared since this regulation does not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities, and, therefore, this regulation is exempt from the provisions of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 605).

Federal Assistance Program

This program is listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance under No. 10.450.

Executive Order 12372

This program is not subject to the provisions of Executive Order 12372, which require intergovernmental consultation with State and local officials. See 2 CFR part 415, subpart C.

Executive Order 12988

This rule has been reviewed in accordance with Executive Order 12988 on civil justice reform. The provisions of this rule will not have a retroactive effect. The provisions of this rule will preempt State and local laws to the extent such State and local laws are inconsistent herewith.

Environmental Evaluation

This action is not expected to have a significant economic impact on the quality of the human environment, health, or safety. Therefore, neither an Environmental Assessment nor an Environmental Impact Statement is needed.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Morell on Many Things

I recommend the Politco interview by Susan Glasser of Michael Morell, former CIA big shot.  What especially struck me was his ability and instinct to try to understand and present things from the other's point of view: as in how Trump viewed/s the intelligence community as affected by people from the community, like Morell, opposing his election, as in how Putin views America, as in how world leaders view Trump.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Changing My Mind on AI

This report by kottke on the advances in AI, particularly the advances in learning, makes me change my mind.  I've been relatively conservative on my expectations for AI.  I remember back in the late 80's getting excited by the possibility of using AI to make "person " determinations for payment limitation purposes.  That evaporated under the pressure of other demands on time and resources and the wide gap between us program specialists and the private consultant types we were talking to.

Over the years I've followed with some interest the progress of chess playing software, which finally beat the best human player a few years ago.  But the slowest of the progress and the narrow limits of the field meant to me I should take the dramatic predictions of the future of AI with a big dose of salt.

But now I've changed.  Why?  Because of the advance in AI in learning how to do AI. If I understand it, the key is setting a desired criteria--what it means to "win" a chess game--provide starting conditions and letting the computer teach itself, by playing itself repeatedly and changing the program used based on the outcome--if a difference in the program brings the outcome closer to the desired criteria, incorporate it.

So the important thing is the improved strategy for AI, and presumably a strategy which can be applied to any situation where you can identify a desired criteria, a definite outcome.  It's "learning how to learn" applied to software. 

[Update: a piece in Technology Review on the subject. Perhaps a bit more balanced than the Kottke piece.]

Thursday, December 07, 2017

How Times Have Changed: Test Data

The Times had an article on the theft by three Homeland Security employees of a set of personal data of DHS employees.

What were they going to do with the data?

Well, they were going to write software, or rather copy  and modify the IG's software for managing IG cases and sell it to other IG's.  And the stolen data was going to be used to test the software as they developed it.

What a change in 30 years.  Back in the 1980's and early 90's I very casually moved around sets of live data saved from county office systems to serve as the basis for testing new software.  While we had the Privacy Act requirements, we weren't really conscious of privacy restrictions and security.  Consequently I, and others, could do then what would be firing offenses today.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

USDA Attorneys

Politico reports on a problem with USDA attorneys: conflict between the union and their new leader.  (I didn't realize the attorneys had a union.  I wonder if it's a heritage from New Deal days.  Some of the attorneys then were notably left-wing, even communist, so likely they'd be activists on their own behalf as well as the rural poor.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Looking on the Bright Side

I've the Pollyana gene, no doubt inherited from my mother.  In that spirit I'd like to remind people that things have been bad before.  Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money reposts a Kansas City Star reprint of a 1973 Art Buchwald column, providing a list of canned excuses to be used by defenders of Richard Nixon.  The content and logic apply as well for today's defenders of our President. 

Bottomline, we survived Tricky Dick regardless of the damage he did to our institutions; we'll survive Don the Despicable.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Trump Stumps Computers?

From the ever-reliable Kevin Drum, as the end to a post on AI advances:

"Alternatively, this merely represents the Donald Trump effect. News articles in 2017 are stuffed with bizarre Trump quotes, and even the best machine translation software probably chokes when it tries to make sense of them. When it comes to bafflegab, humans are still the world champs."

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Republicans Favor Drunks?

Vox notes that the Senate tax bill cuts taxes on alcohol by 16 percent.

IMHO that's the wrong way to go.  Taxes should be raised, simply because alcohol is dangerous to society.  That's one principle the founding fathers believed in, witness the whiskey tax.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Lessons of 1999

Somewhere I got this link to the Sixty Minutes piece on Amazon from 1999.  Pelley's ambivalence about Amazon shows up.  He and a Wall Street type are amazed that it's more valuable than Sears. And the standard of value cited for Internet companies is Yahoo.

(I note I was one of the 2 million new Amazon customers in 1998.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Newbie Farmers Risk Life and Limb?

From the Rural Blog:
"Bill Field, who has tracked farm fatalities for almost 40 years, says that almost a quarter of Indiana's farm fatalities over the past four years were on hobby farms, Rick Callahan reports for the Associated Press.

USDA map; click on the image to enlarge it
Part of the problem is that hobby farmers tend to be amateurs who were lured to farming from other careers, and don't have the experience to avoid common farm accidents

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

We Used To Be a Lily-White Nation

I exaggerate, of course, but...

I write of the "public nation", as opposed to the "real nation".  The "public nation" is the nation reflected in the culture, the America which Trump wants to make great again, the America which liberals think is evolving to fulfill the promises of past history.  Maybe I'll write more on the concept sometime, but this is mostly based on my personal history:

Take 1946 as an example: blacks (Negroes in the proper parlance of the time) were not seen on television--there wasn't much then.  They weren't in sports, not visibly.  Not in pro basketball, not in pro baseball, not in pro football, not in horse racing to name the major sports then. They were in evidence in track and field and in boxing (Joe Louis).

Negroes weren't in movies, much, other than as servants.  They weren't in national politics, a couple representatives (William Dawson and Clayton Powell).  Probably the most powerful Negro was the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Back in the day you could tell by the name whether the name was the first name or the last name.  And you could tell whether the person was male or female.  No longer.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Our Democracy

From a Brad DeLong post:
  • 178.4 million people are represented by the 48 senators who caucus with the Democrats.
  • 144.1 million people are represented by the 52 senators who caucus with the Republicans.
  • 65.9 million people voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tim Kaine to be their president and vice president
  • 63.0 million people voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence to be their president and vice president.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

When Was the "Back-to-the Land Movement?"

Even academics don't know their history--there was a significant movement of people from cities back to the rural areas during the depression. So I beg to differ with the bolded quote from Jstor.
If historic recipes are a form of folklore, what do the cookbooks from the American communes of the 1960s and 1970s tell us about the communards and their influence? Quite a bit, writes Stephanie Hartman. Her survey of these cookbooks points out that our current interest in the slow food movement and “clean” eating are offshoots of that original back-to-the-land movement. The cookbooks created by communes were often informed by a counter-cultural critique of industrial food practices.
Just another instance of the boomers self-absorption, I guess.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Jobs, Automation: Craft Brewing and Women's Cheesemaking

Had lunch Wed in a Herndon strip mall, next door to a craft brewery which throughout our lunch had a long line of people buying their new release.  That's new, at least new to me.  Back in the day we had a bunch of companies each brewing their own brand.  Then the whole industry consolidated into a couple/three big conglomerates, killing most of the brand names.  Then we saw the gradual growth of micro-breweries, and then a rapid expansion.  See this page for statistics from the brewers association.  It's going so fast wikipedia can't keep up.

Meanwhile the paper (NYTimes?) recently had an article on women farmers making cheese.  Also a new thing. And finally today the Post has a piece on new young farmers, who are described as being part of what I'd call the "food movement" (i.e., small, organic, community supported ag).

Seems to me in the recent debate over AI and the likelihood of robots replacing humans in all jobs we forget the ability of humans to invent new desires and to invest their time in uneconomic ways.  Can we create robots which are irrational?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Nuclear War II

An excerpt from an interview with Sen. Cardin, as a followup to my previous post:
And the nuclear command structure, which was developed during the Cold War for two nuclear superpowers with the concept of mutual destruction if either party decided to use it—that premise is no longer valid, because the chances of a nuclear conflict are more with a North Korea-type country than it is with a Russia or China-type country.
So, we could now have a more deliberative process under the presidential command for the use of nuclear weapons, and I think Congress is looking for a way to assert itself in that regard.

On the Pence Rule; A Different Possibility

Search Twitter for the Pence Rule and you'll find that most tweets are critical, and more assume it's a rule against temptation, rather like Ulysses having himself bound to the mast so he could safely view the Sirens.

I don't know Pence's original explanation of his rule, but it strikes me there's another interpretation:  as a defense against misleading appearances and false allegations.

The usual interpretation in effect deprecates men as weak-willed and passion-ridden figures; the alternative view deprecates women and the general public as prone to lies and to believing lies.  Why can't both be true?  I don't know if Pence is Calvinist, but it sounds like the Pence Rule is.

Of course, as said in The African Queen, we're supposed to rise above our nature.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Did Carter Have To Sell His Peanut Farm?

I saw that statement made today, probably on twitter.  It didn't sound right to me so I did googled "Jimmy Carters peanut farm".

From the first hit, I conclude that Carter put the farm into a trust called Carter Farms, managed by a trustee. So yes, he did, but the connotations of the statement mislead.

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Nuclear War

Back in the day we were very concerned about nuclear war.  First strike, second strike, security of deterrents, all were important subjects, to be explored by academics and movie makers.  The concern then was that the Soviet Union would do a first strike, a strike sufficient to destroy our ability to retaliate.

Since 1989 we've lost the edge on that concern.  But because our nuclear forces are getting obsolete, and because North Korea is developing the missile/Hbomb combination needed to attack the US, we're seeing a resumption of the discussion, including in the Post today.

Personally I'm supportive of the argument.  I don't see Russia or China as the sort of power which aims for global dominance (based on what we've learned since 1989, it seems the USSR never really aimed for that dominance) and other powers, like North Korea, see nuclear warfare as a deterrent.

So yes, I'd cut our forces back.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why Immigration Is Good for Jobs

Because, at least based on this one piece of evidence, they're more entrepreneurial than natural-born citizens.
"Latino-owned businesses will number 4.37 million this year, as projected by a Geoscape study.
This represents a growth of 31.6 percent since 2012, more than double the growth rate of all businesses in the U.S. (13.8 percent).
The Latino share of new entrepreneurs represents 24 percent of all businesses, compared to 10 percent a decade ago – a 140 percent increase. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to start a business, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity.
While men owned more than 56 percent of Latino businesses in 2012, women now drive more of the growth. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of female Latino-owned businesses grew an incredible 87 percent.

Those Life-Long Farmers Aren't

Nathan Yau at Flowing Data has data on people who change jobs/careers.  Interesting, but what I found worthy of comment is the position of farmers--they're the second most likely occupation to change careers.  Only 30 percent stay farmers.  I suspect that's a combination of people pushed off the farm because of adverse economics (i.e., not enough available land, etc.) plus, as I'm a cynic, people who try farming and fail (i.e., hobbyist types).  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Liberal Heart Beats Rapidly

See the picture of the delegates and guess why:

Keillor and I

Garrison Keillor and I are of an age; he's a year and a half younger.  He's got a column here
which touches on the panic old geezers feel when they lose track of something--it's a sure sign of approaching dimentia.  (I just had an MRI because of such concerns--results negative (there's an old Yogi Berra joke with that punchline). Actually it showed only age-related changes--didn't have the guts to ask my doctor exactly what that means.  I'm pretty sure it means I won't be joining the super-centenarians featured in a recent piece (maybe the Times science section) where researchers were collecting and analzying genomes to see if there is a magic bullet to account for living to 110.  Given the apparent health of the people mentioned, I wouldn't mind living that long, although the fear is that you outlive your mind. We'll see.

He also mentions the old crank phone of his youth, as a counterpoint to his new iPhone. He says you had the operator connect you--not ours.  We had a local line of 6 or 7 households, each with their own code: one long, two shorts (rings), and so forth.  Except for me it was difficult to crank it properly--trying for a long could result in two shorts, as the crank made its rotation I'd lose speed and break the ring.  Such were the challenges and thrills of youth, long since vanished except in the memories of geezers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Importance of Data Design

Getting the data design right for system operations is important.  But what happens is that we design systems using our assumptions, assumptions we've never examined or challenged, assumptions which someday will be undermined by changes in the technology or the culture.

An instance of this in the New Yorker: writer, a house husband, unknowingly describes the problem  He and his wife enrolled their child in kindergarten, filling out forms.  His wife works outside the house; he works inside the house.  But it turns out the school uses an app to make robocalls to a parent concerning school matters, apparently a lot of robocalls.  His wife got the calls, he didn't, creating a mismatch of information, which led apparently to some tension in the marriage.   When they challenged the school, turns out they could only contact one parent and someone had assumed the wife should be called.

In the good old days the number of calls from the school would have been rationed by the amount of time a human, likely the school secretary, had to make the call.  These days the cost of making calls has been reduced to zero, meaning a big increase in the number made.  Where the secretary could have dealt with the writer's situation, the robocaller can't, at least not with the existing data design. Since the calls don't cost, it would be easy enough to call both parents, if they desired.  But that would require a new design.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Driverless Cars: For Rural Areas?

NYTimes devotes its magazine this week to the subject of driverless cars.  One prediction of 2-5 years for the most ambitious cars which might work for my case. I'm somewhat dubious over some of the crystal ball gazing, but we'll see. 

My own predictions: driverless vehicles will take off first in niche markets: long distance trucking, Uber/cabs, the elderly.  They won't progress as fast with the mainstream of drivers--people like to control their lives and many will be impatient with the granny-like driving that adherence to rules will foster.   A key will be relative cost:  some of us will pay a premium for driverless cars, others will wait to benefit by lower costs on a per-ride basis.

As time goes by we'll have to change the traffic rules, but that will be difficult with a mixture of vehicles.  

One big hurdle will be rural areas.  At some point, population density will be so low that a driverless Uber/cab service doesn't make sense--it will take too long for the vehicle to get to the user.  For such areas the cost of the driverless car will have be to be less than the cost of the driven car.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Unexpected Achievements?

Despite my opposition to President Trump, I have to admit the possibility, the likelihood even, that he will have one or more achievement to his credit by the time his term ends, or perhaps only identified sometime after the end of the term.  He is disruptive, usually distructively so, and a change agent, though not as much as advertised.  But doing things differently is not always bad.

I don't know what the achievement might be--Mideast progress maybe?  Or maybe the achievements will come in the next President's time, when she is able to reconstitute some bureaucracies (State, EPA...) in a more rational form after Trump's appointees have blown up the old?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bureaucracies Across the World

The World Bank blog has a post on a survey of bureaucracies, 5 points, remembering these aren't US bureaucrats but those the World Bank deals with:
  1. Bureaucrats aren't old.
  2. Older bureaucracies aren't massive
  3. Bureaucracies aren't overwhelmingly male
  4. Bureaucrats aren't undereducated
  5. Bureaucrats aren't underpaid

More on Dutch Ag

The World Bank blog has a post on agriculture in the Netherlands, noting various factors in their success.  Some takeaways:
  • very intensive agriculture with high investment, not small farms
  • apparently the Dutch are strong on co-operatives.  It's not clear whether these are farmer-owned, as we used to have in the US. 
  • the agriculture is "sustainable" if not organic.

Is VA a Marxist Plot?

Yes, according to this Post piece, which credits a WWI vet named Robert Marx for pushing veteran benefits (along with others).

Friday, November 10, 2017


"When all the votes are counted, in other words, the result will be either a very narrow GOP majority, a very narrow Democratic majority, or a tied legislature — despite the fact that Democratic candidates outperformed Republicans by about 9.4 percentage points.ThinkProgress calculated this figure using unofficial vote counts published by the Virginia Department of Elections — the final numbers will change slightly as provisional ballots are counted and as some ballots are recounted. You can check our work here."

From Think Progress

Why Vertical Farms Fail

Having disdained the idea of vertical farming (particularly its misbegotten sibling--vertical farming using sunlight, not electricity), I want to note this piece: Nine Reasons Why Vertical Farms Fail. 
 Hattip David Roberts at Vox.

One of the nuggets there: "avoid scissors lifts".  

Don't Tick Off the Farmers: NAFTA

Politico has an article on ag organizations concerns over the Trump's administrations NAFTA renegotiation trade strategy.  I've thought in the past that the drop in commodity prices over the last few years, a big drop from their peaks around 2012, played a role in switching votes from Obama to Trump.  If ag fears come true, will be another headwind for Republicans in 2018.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


At least the Trump administration is doing better with women in appointing State executive directors for FSA (I count seven out of 50 in this list) than with new US Attorneys (one of 27 in this tweet)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

10 of 14 Women

Dems took 14 seats (open or held by Reps) in House of Delegates yesterday: 10 of the new delegates are women, 2 of whom are Latina.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Updating Gun Check Databases

Vox has a piece on the Air Force's failure to update the federal gun check database with the data on the domestic violence conviction of the shooter at Sutherland Springs.

Proposals to strengthen the system are welcome.  I wonder though, whether the responsibility should be on the Air Force or on ATF or FBI (whoever runs the database).  The problem with our distributed system of government is all the silos and all the interfaces we need.  My general rule is that you need to put responsibility on those motivated to do it right.  In other words, it makes no difference to some AF bureaucrat whether she gets information into a Fed database--she's not going to act on it nor will any AF person act on it.  It does make a difference to the Fed bureaucrat, so she is more motivated to get things right.

VA Election

Polls seemed busy when we voted around 3 pm, busy but no waiting line.  Fingers crossed for good result.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Ireland's Second Language?

Is Polish, according to a recent article on the declining usage of Gaelic.

Oh, by the way that's Northern Ireland, not Eire.

USDA in Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis has an article on USDA in Vanity Fair (hattip to Marginal Revolution). He's a good writer so it's interesting, contrasting the Trump Administration's approach to USDA with interviews with the assistant secretaries from the outgoing administration.  I like it, except for this:
By the time she left the little box marked “Rural Development,” Lillian Salerno had spent the better part of five years inside it.She was a small-business person first and had no affection for the inefficiencies she found inside the federal government. “You have this big federal workforce that hasn’t been invested in forever,” she said. “They can’t be outward-facing. They don’t have any of the tools you need in a modern workplace.” She couldn’t attract young people to work there. Once, she tried to estimate how many of the U.S.D.A.’s roughly 100,000 employees had been taught how to create a spreadsheet. Fewer than 50 people, she decided. [emphasis added]“I was always very aware how we spent money. When I would use words like ‘fiduciary duties’ or say, ‘Those are not our dollars,’ they would say, ‘Are you sure you aren’t a Republican?’ But I was really sensitive to the fact that this wasn’t our money. This was taxpayer money. This was money that had come from some guy working for 15 bucks an hour.”
I'm tempted to cast aspersions on the RD community, but I doubt they're that much different than FSA.  I know by the time I retired  I knew more than 50 people in FSA who were competent with spreadsheet software, including a couple (Joe Bryan and Loren Becker) who were using Lotus (yes, that's how long ago it was--20 years ago now) for very sophisticated purposes.  It might be true that FSA, and probably USDA in general, was slow to adopt personal software.  But in the mid 80's we were using DEC's Allinone software, which included a spreadsheet application.

The one thing in the paragraph I find crdible is "She couldn't attract young people...).

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Full Employment Act

Cynics say that new tax acts are full employment acts for attorneys.  It's also true that Trump's election was a full employment act for humorists.  See Garrison Keillor's take.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Defining "Organic": "Good" Versus "Not Bad"

A report here on the controversy over whether hydroponic, etc. ag is really "organic".

As I see it, it's a debate between the old-line organic affiliated with the food movement, who often (yes mom, thinking of you) romanticized family farming and producerism, versus the high-capital people who can fund hydroponic agriculture.  Or, to put it another way: a contest between the "good" of naturally grown food and the "not bad" of unnaturally grown food which excludes all the bad 'cides.

Or, a third way: between the romantics and the rationalists.

New Farm Bill Discussions

Uof IL extension has discussion of 2018 farm bill:
Separately, Doug Rich reported earlier this month at the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal Online that, “Economic conditions are much different today as Congress begins to work on the 2018 farm bill than they were in 2014 when the last farm bill was passed. Farm income this year will be about half of what it was in 2014. However, most farmers would be happy if Congress passed a bill that is very similar to the 2014 legislation with just a few changes.
“This was the consensus of many who attended the 2018 Farm Bill Summit held Oct. 18 at the University of Missouri Bradford Research Center in Columbia, Missouri.”
I've commented elsewhere on the increasing size of family farms.  I suspect, without thinking about it, that there's increased volatility in farm income correlated (as a result of?) the increased size.  The big farms back in the salad days of the the middle Obama administration were raking in incomes well above average, so cutting income in half while painful still leaves a substantial profit.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

On Pot

This piece reports that a majority of Republicans now favor marijuana legalization.

Back in the early 70's I was called for a month's jury duty in DC.  It was an interesting and boring time, since we sat around from 8 to mid afternoon each day waiting to be called.  I did get on some juries, which was educational, but today I want to mention the one I didn't get on.

As I recall, it was a case of possession of marijuana, possibly with intent to distribute.  Don't remember anything else about it, except I went to the judge and asked to be excused on the basis that I couldn't be an impartial juror.  After a little discussion, likely much to the displeasure of the defense attorney, I was excused.

Now I'd never smoked pot then; still haven't today.  When I try to recover my state of mind, I guess I must have been troubled by the pot laws then, likely in a comparison with alcohol.  But I'm not sure.  What's odd is I'm pretty sure that over the years I would have opposed the legalization of marijuana.  I think I dismissed the NORML people as fringe types.  I would have opposed the referendums in the various states.

But because I'm open minded, at least on some things, the statistics and experiences reported from some states, like Colorado, have convinced me to change my mind.   It seems that pot is less harmful than alcohol, which I imbibe daily, and tobacco, which I used to inhale two packs a day of, and it doesn't seem to be that much of a gateway drug. 

The last is important.  I still remember my high school science teacher being very vehement about the dangers of pot back in 1957 or 8--very very vehement.  Don't remember anything he said about science, but I do this.  But experience can change one's mind, as it has in this case.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chicken Bones Are "Food Waste"?

A discussion by Caitlin Dewey at the Post on why Americans don't eat left-overs any more.  This bothers the food movement, as embodied in the NRDC, who dug through our garbage and analyzed the results.  As someone who is the designated left-over eater for the household it bothers me. 

But--consider this: "The average person wasted 3.5 pounds of food per week. Of that, only a third consisted of inedible parts, such as chicken bones or banana peels."

Do the foodies really want me to eat my banana peels and chicken bones?  Seems they're cheating on their stats--including inedible waste boosts their headline figure of how much we waste.  Shame.

The analysis goes on to say: 
"... many consumers appear to stash Tupperware containers in their fridge and then forget to excavate them before the food goes bad. Other times, consumers grow bored of eating the same food on multiple occasions.“There were two big reasons people threw out edible food,” Gunders said. “They thought it had spoiled, or they just didn’t like leftovers.”

We've done that, but we should blame our huge refrigerators (in huge houses--have you ever noticed the refrigerators in the kitchens of British houses in their murder mysteries--usually the size of the fridges for college dorm rooms these days) and Tupperware.  :-)

More on the IRS and Policing Nonprofit Groups

A long piece on the IRS and enforcing the legal provision that to be qualified for to receive contributions which are deductible the group must be mostly a social good group, not a  political action group.  It includes a chart, which I've copied (and thereby changed the formating) below:


Note the Obama administration rejected fewer groups than did the Bush administration.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Manafort and Trump

I doubt there will be a legally-provable case of collusion between the Trump campaign and any Russians, but it needs to be investigated.  That aside, the idea that Trump would bring Manafort on as campaign manager reflects poorly on his judgment.  IMHO

Prof. Bernstein has a related post.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Super-Sized Family Farms

Wall Street Journal had an article on this.  It's now gated, but the gist is that farms keep getting bigger and bigger in order to make a profit and keep the kids on the farm.  The same article could have been written in 1967 and 1917.

See the associated video here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Guns and the Founders

An interesting piece on types of gun laws our early politicians would have been familiar with.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The New Car--I

I've owned 4 cars in my life--first a VW Beetle, then Toyota Corollas, the last one a 2006 model.  My driving is getting more questionable these days: more easily distracted and more prone to panic when I get lost are the main symptoms.  But I'm not ready to give up my keys, so early this month I leased a 2017 Prius 2, choosing it mainly on account of the advanced safety features.  It's not the self-driving car I really want, and which I asked (joking) the salesman for, but it's the next best thing, at least in my cost range (not a Tesla 3). 

So wife and I took off for the NY Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY in the car.  When we got back Monday evening we had something over 1,000 miles on the car, which told us we averaged 61 mpg.  Not bad. 

GLF and Cake Mix

A blast from the past here--a mention of the Grange League Federation.  Personal interest, as my father was a board member of the Greene GLF unit.
How did Andre’s science meet Hines’s reputation, producing a cake mix brand that would become a fixture of birthdays for decades? The final ingredient was Roy Park, a marketer for the Grange League Federation in search a way to sell the farm cooperative’s produce at premium prices. In the late 1940s, Park approached the Hines to ask for his endorsement. Hines was a notoriously hard sell—his name was his livelihood—but, writes Louis Hatchett in Duncan Hines: How a Traveling Salesman Became the Most Trusted Name in Food, Park had an enticing offer. “By making your name more meaningful in the home,” Park told Hines, “you can upgrade American eating habits. ” He also offered Hines control over any product that bore his name.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blockchain in Government

Steve Kelman at FCW has a long piece on a GSA trial of the "blockchain" technology.
In most primers on blockchain, three features are stressed again and again: verifiability, immutability and transparency. At least for blockchain entries that involve a transaction between two parties (such as buying or selling a house), the existence of the transaction on the blockchain itself verifies the transaction. This obviates the need for expensive and time-consuming involvement of intermediaries (e.g., banks or title companies) confirming that your assets are what you claim they are. This creates a powerful new way to create trust.
Immutability also creates trust, because it prevents parties from eliminating or altering information on a ledger to benefit themselves (such as by removing negative information about legal actions).
And transparency is a big benefit of the blockchain for a business process such as FASt Lane that involves the government's interaction with vendors -- all interactions, recommendations, and decisions are stored and viewable.
 It's an interesting subject.  I did initially think of Bitcoin as something of a scam.  I was wrong, though I'm still not investing any money there.    I do wonder about how many links there have to be in a chain in order to claim immutability?  Suppose a blockchain exists on 100 servers--couldn't a worm traverse all the servers and delete the data?  I'm reasonably sure that eventuality has been covered. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Dutch Are Beating Our Plants Off (in Ag Research)

In line with my previous mea culpas about underestimating the Dutch, via Marginal Revolution here's a National Geographic long article on Dutch research and implementation of sustainable farming techniques, and spreading them to the developing nations.

Methinks ARS (Agricultural Research Service should provide a copy to each Congressional representative).

Very interesting.

UNC and Shame

NCAA isn't sanctioning UNC for academic violations because their fake course were taken by more than just athletes.   Margaret Soltan at University Diaries, who specializes in tracking in dirty college athletics, has an appropriate comment. 

 (It takes an English professor to come up with the best invective.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

De Nile

Title refers to the old joke.

I've reservations about blanket judgments of people, in particular this week about people surrounding Harvey Weinstein.   Having often used denial in my life, I have to think it's common in others. Let those who've never floated their boat on that river throw the first stone. 

Who Is Black

From Inside Higher Education, a report of a demand from the black students at Cornell:

The demand: “We demand that Cornell admissions come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented black students on this campus. We define underrepresented black students as black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country.
 The black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America. Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism.”

And the experience of racism is different, Jones added.
"Everyone from the African diaspora may all experience racism on the individual level (being called the N-word and being restricted from a white frat party being only the tip of that iceberg)," Jones said. "But international students who call another place home don’t have to deal with the ingrained institutional and structural forms of oppression in the same way American black students do. (Housing discrimination, mandatory-minimum sentencing, war on drugs, school-to-prison pipeline, etc.)"

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Surge Pricing and Our Electric Lights

The NY Times has an article on surge pricing, arguing in part that it may be reasonable for artists like Bruce Springsteen to underprice their tickets when they do a hit show on Broadway (or something similar)--it's part of a longer term deal with fans not to be greedy. It segues from that to the issue of raising electricity prices when usage is high, or using variable rate tolls on commuter highways.

The bit about electric prices triggered a memory:  back in the day we had an electric meter for our normal usage, and another one for the lights in the henhouse.  The second meter meant a lower rate, the rationale being that the lights were coming on at times of low usage (like 5 a.m. or something--don't remember what) so the utility wanted to encourage it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

USDA Reorganization and Comments: Where Was NASCOE?

Well, the period for commenting on the proposed reorganization of USDA is over, and OFR received 94 comments.  Scrolling through I can't identify any comments from NASCOE.  There were several by different state soil and water district associations.  It's possible I'm unfair to NASCOE--many comments are identified by individual, others by organization, so it's possible that the NASCOE comments are under an individual's name.

I'm skeptical of the request for comment process, although this reorganization is the sort of thing it should be good for. It's quite possible that NASCOE is doing a better job of lobbying behind the scenes than it appears they are doing in the open.

The Problems with E-Verify

Part of a compromise on immigration has always been E-Verify, the process of bouncing a new employee's data against database(s) to confirm she is legal to work (i.e., has a green card).  Conservatives push it, liberals tend not to be enthusiastic.  (That's sort of weird, because conservatives generally resist government ID programs as an invasion of individual rights and liberals generally believe in government programs--but that's the way the human consistency cookie crumbles.)

So it's interesting when Cato comes out with a piece on the problems the program has in those states which have made it mandatory.   Cato is libertarian enough that their results deserve a bit of salt, but the study shows relatively low compliance rates and a significant rate of false positives. 

My uninformed analysis would suggest that a mandatory program by the feds could be much more effective, but others might disagree.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

British Race Relations?

Both the Post and the Times ran reports on the "audit" of UK race relations.   Their discussions focus on "white" and "black" groupings, in other words using the categories we're familiar with from the American experience.  But the UK is not America, and the experience of race and ethnic divisions in Britain is quite different than that of America.

When you look at the British reports and the actual audit you see a somewhat different picture.  For example, you've got 19 different "ethnicities" which were surveyed, including such categories as "White and Black Caribbean", "White and Black African", "Black Caribbean", "Irish", "White and Asian", and "Gypsy or Irish Traveller"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Rule of Law and Forgiveness

Interesting piece in the Times--the thesis in two paragraphs:
The implication is that the only proper thing to do is enforce laws uniformly, all the time, without exceptions — and that an immigration amnesty would thus be a threat to truth, justice and the American way.
But there’s a problem with that theory: Amnesties, though not always labeled as such, are central to how the nation’s legal system functions.

Pickup Trucks and Guns: David Brooks

Brooks has a column arguing that guns have become a symbol of adherence to an older agricultural/industrial America, as opposed to the newer service-oriented America.  Seems to make sense to me.  I wonder though whether pickup trucks haven't served the same purpose.  So I wonder whether there's a correlation between owning a gun and owning a pickup truck. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trump's Plan Bad News for Future Republican Presidents

President Trump is quoted in this Politico piece as saying he won't fill a number of vacancies in executive agencies because the agencies are too big and the positions are not needed.

Regardless of what this does for the efficiency of the Trump administration, IMHO it's bad news for future Republican presidents.  Why?  Because typically the top-level positions in an administration, those at or just below the secretary level, are usually filled by people who have gained experience by serving in lower level positions in the preceding administration of the same party.  That's the way the Washington swamp operates.  Clinton had problems because it had been 12 years since the last Dem administration, so he didn't have a wide range of experienced potential appointees.

Of course, at this stage we aren't worrying about the next Republican administration, but still.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Good Reasoning from a Conservative on Iran Deal

The bloggers at Powerline most of the time are way off for my taste, but occasionally one of them, usually Paul Mirengoff, comes through with a post I can applaud, even if I don't agree with every detail.

He's done it again, this time working out the logic of the Iran deal.  As I understand, he reluctantly  concludes that it doesn't make sense to withdraw because we can't must the united stand on sanctions needed to reopen negotiations and if we don't withdraw, how does it make sense to decertify, as Trump is expected to do.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Drum and the IRS Oversight Issue

Kevin Drum posts on the IRS oversight of nonprofits I visited earlier.

Ten Percent More for Humanity?

Modern Farmer has a report by Dan Nosowitz on an analysis of the costs of California's law effectively outlawing caged hens.
As a result, prices of local eggs did indeed increase: there was about a 30 percent spike right at the beginning of the law’s implementation. But that very quickly lessened: prices stabilized after about 22 months at roughly 9 percent higher than their pre-law rates. In all, the study estimates that each household spent about $7.40 per year during that time frame more than they would have had the laws not been passed. (This is a very tricky bit of math given that egg prices weren’t exactly normal during this time thanks to big droughts and avian flu outbreaks.) Now that things have stabilized, that’s much lower; according to USDA figures, prices have settled at a premium of about 15 cents per dozen. For context, during this spike, the average American household spent $6,224.00 per year on food. Yes, people are on a wide variety of budgets, but in the grand scheme of things, this seems insignificant.
 He interviews people who say 10 percent is important, but "insignificant" is where he comes down.

I'll take my usual positions: "it depends" and "it's complicated".

10 percent more for eggs isn't that big a deal, but suppose we apply "humane" rules or laws to all of farming--meaning more pay for migrant workers, better conditions for animals, more diversity in crop farming and the result is 10 percent for food.  (That's probably not a good comparison--most food has been processed in some way but eggs less so.)  Are we ready to approve a 10 percent increase in food stamps?  I think not.  On the other hand, we're ready to approve more than 10 percent increase in the cost of smoking, even though we know smokers tend to have lower incomes. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Dems and Puerto Rico

If people are and will be leaving Puerto Rico for the mainland because of Maria, it behooves the Democrats to welcome them and persuade them to vote in next year's election. 

[Updated--turns out I'm late--see this piece for an extensive consideration of migration from PR, including possible political impacts.]

Where Are the Immigrants When You Need Them?

Those happy few who watched David Simon's Treme on post-Katrina New Orleans will remember a bit, not quite a subplot, about immigrants coming into New Orleans to participate in the cleanup and rebuilding.  I thought of that when I saw this piece.  

Though it focuses on labor shortages and wage rates, it doesn't mention the incentive for increased immigration.  But the higher the wages in the construction industry, the more benefit to immigrating.

IRS Bureaucrats Did Some Things Right

According to a Politico report the IG, IRS bureaucrats applied heightened scrutiny to some liberal nonprofits on much the same basis as they did to conservative ones: looking at clues from their titles and connections.  The conventional wisdom, as I understand it, is this is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Every nonprofit should get the same amount of scrutiny, and using clues is akin to racial profiling.

This is the issue the Republicans made hay out of in the Obama administration, doing several Congressional investigations,  forcing Lois Lerner to retire, and calling for criminal prosecutions.  I didn't spend much time delving into the details, but I still want now to state two positions:
  • if you don't have unlimited resources, it's good bureaucratic strategy to focus your efforts.  That's the theory Obama used in establishing DACA, and it applies for more than just prosecutorial  work. So to me it was perfectly rational for the IRS bureaucrats to devote more attention to groups linked to the Tea Party and to Acorn, than a nonprofit set up to fund local recreational facilities, for example.   I agree it would be bad if the bureaucrats showed a partisan bias, but based on the Politico report it seems they didn't.
  • the problem, as it so often is, is Congress in writing a bad law, made worse by bad decisions in the past.  As I understand it, nonprofits can receive tax-exempt donations only if they're not "political ."  What does "political" mean--Congress didn't give a definition and IRS has in the past permitted "some" activity which would seem to a layman to be political, expanding more recently to be less than 50 percent.   That means IRS has to examine the nonprofit in depth, which requires resources, which gets back to the need to focus their attention.
Seems to me it would be better to  worry about interlocking directorates and size of the effort.  Go after the big boys.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Our Morning Hate

Orwell's 1984 featured a Two-Minute Hate, in which the whole society shared a two-minute spasm of hate of their enemy, every day at the same time.   I guiltily thought of that after a few minutes sharing our opinions of our President with a relative, with whom I chat most days.

(This follows an observation yesterday of a headline on the Washington Times website to the effect that the media was biased against Trump: only 11 percent of coverage was positive.  IMHO that means the coverage is fair; he does okay about a tenth of the time, when he's reading from a teleprompter.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Automated Crop Appraisals?

Crop insurance relies on crop appraisers to sample an acreage of disaster-affected crops and project the reduction in yield which will occur.  It looks as if automated intelligence may be on the way to assist in the job, if not eventually to replace appraisers.  The first crop: cassava.  From Technology Review:
"Some cassava farmers may not be able to tell one plant’s debilitating brown streak from another’s troubling brown leaf spot—but a smartphone-friendly AI can.
Wired reports that researchers have developed a lightweight image-recognition AI that can identify diseases in the cassava plant based on pictures of its leaves. That could be useful, because cassava is one of the most commonly eaten tubers on the planet, but is grown predominantly in developing countries where access to expertise to diagnose unusual crop problems may be limited."

Life Used To Be Better

This can't be dismissed as nostalgia.  Growing up I remember being able to see stars at night, even the Milky Way. Now if you're Kevin Drum you have to travel to Ireland to see it.

Don't know if it's significant but mentions of the Milky Way have declined significantly since the 19th century according to Google Ngrams

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Vietnam on TV and in Iraq and Afghanistan

Have now watched most of the Burns/Novick Vietnam series (missing the first one but I'd just completed the Lagevall book) and the last minutes of the longer episodes.  Had my memory refreshed but didn't learn a lot that was new, given that I'd lived through the period, following the media closely, and ended up in Vietnam for a shortened tour (11 months/11 days).  That's my general take, but I did learn more about the divisions in the North's leadership, i.e, the role of Le Duan.

While I found the range of individual stories and responses on the American and South Vietnamese side to be familiar, the stories from the other side were newer, particularly when critical.

Came close to tears twice, once when an American recounted his first glimpse of women in ao dais
which tracked my reactions when arriving in the early morning at Tan San Nhut airport, once in reaction to the piece on the Vietnam War Memorial. 

I'd say the series missed a couple areas which seem important to me, but which aren't the focus. 

One is the ways in which Vietnamese and American societies started to intermix and separate.  The usual way in which this gets covered is prostitution, with the real blend of the offspring of Americans and Vietnamese.  That got mentioned in the series.  But the blending, the intermixture was more than that.  As soon as Americans arrived, we started hiring help, slowly at first but then more and more.  For example by the time I left in May 67 we had barbers, laundry workers, hootch girls, generator helpers (don't know their exact title, but they helped with the generators), and others which time has erased.  Also mentioned briefly in the series was the black market.  I remember buying my jungle boots (with canvas uppers instead of leather as in the standard issue boots) through the black market--more comfortable than the regular boots but at that time restricted only to combat troops.  In both cases, as in our Afghanistan war, the influx of American money had a great impact on the Vietnamese economy and on the people--some good, some bad.  (Not a new phenomenon--recall the complaints of the Brits in WWII--Yanks were overpaid, over-sexed, and over here.)  

The blending, the intermixture, was accompanied by increasing separation.  When I arrived we were operating generators in compounds in Saigon.  I was then stationed at Long Binh, the main logistical base outside Saigon where we did our best to separate from Vietnamese society--we ended up with aluminum hootches on concrete pads, not the tents we started with.   Think of the "Green Zone"  
in Baghdad.  The logic is understandable: we don't want our soldiers killed so the best way to do that is to isolate them. 

The other point not covered was standard in accounts of the war: the fact that most troops were REMF's, as I was.  Lots to be said about that, but not today. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Grain Surpluses

Illinois farm Policy News reports that 2017 is going to be another year of more grain produced than consumed, the fourth year in a row.
And when focusing on U.S. farmers, the Reuters article explained that, “Even as farmers reap bountiful harvests, U.S. net farm incomes this year will total $63.4 billion – about half of their earnings in 2013, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast.
20 years ago I predicted grain surpluses once the Russians and Ukrainians got going.  So I was right, right, right!  Just didn't realize they'd be so slow about it.