Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Calm Down II

Don Kettl says to calm down.  

I've commented to Dan Drezner as follows:
"I think you all are too easily dismissing Murphy's Law. We Dems have a good motive to see machiavellian scheming--the more intelligent our adversaries the greater our victory when we triumph, as we surely must. No--simple screwups trying to do too much and please a boss who has a gnat's attention span will explain it all."
 And I said elsewhere that I was reminded of the Clinton administration--their kerfuffles with gays in the military and getting a female Attorney General. Like Clinton, Trump doesn't have a chief of staff cracking the whip.  The question is, how long will it take before Trump brings in a "savior" (like David Gergen was supposed to be for Clinton) and who will it be--Christie?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Two for One Order

The President has issued his order on regulations--do away with two regulations each time you do a new one.  I discussed it previously here and argued against a similar proposal of Senator Warner's back in 2010.  Cass Sunstein back in November argued it might work in limited cases.  He ends:
"In theory, “one in, two out” is silly, and in practice it’s likely to be a bit of a mess. It’s hardly the most sensible approach to regulatory reform. But with a little flexibility, and a lot of determination, executive branch officials might be able to make it work."
The two for one is the headline grabber, but the order also mandates "zero incremental costs" for regulations.  OMB is given this authority:
  The Director shall provide the heads of agencies with guidance on the implementation of this section.  Such guidance shall address, among other things, processes for standardizing the measurement and estimation of regulatory costs; standards for determining what qualifies as new and offsetting regulations; standards for determining the costs of existing regulations that are considered for elimination; processes for accounting for costs in different fiscal years; methods to oversee the issuance of rules with costs offset by savings at different times or different agencies; and emergencies and other circumstances that might justify individual waivers of the requirements of this section.  The Director shall consider phasing in and updating these requirements.
The zero incremental costs creates another dimension to evaluate regulations by, possibly a conflicting one.

My own two cents: by the time OMB gets through writing and rewriting its guidance to the agencies and the agencies get through with their meetings to understand the guidance and train their people, this executive order will have cost the government millions of dollars.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Stepping on a Stick on a Stone

Sometimes you can walk along and step on a stick, or a board, which happens to be in a seesaw position, sitting on a pivot point.  Your foot goes down on the board, and a short time later the other end of the board flies up and hits you in the face.  Our federal legal system sometimes operates that way in history.

Prof Somin says Trump's sanctuary cities EO is unconstitutional.  One of the ironies of history in our federal system is the way decisions spring back to strike people.  In this case a Supreme Court decision on part of Obamacare which liberals disliked may come back to support liberals.  See Somin's post for the details.  This is another example of how federalism works--James Madison would be happy.

Another outcome of federalism is the promotion of hypocrisy--politicians may be on one side of a federalism issue while in power, the other side when not in power. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Marches Might Cut Both Ways

Five Thirty Eight estimates the total number of participants in all the Saturday marches was about 3.2 million, total in the Tea Party marches of April 2009.  I can read this two ways:
  • Republicans should be ten times more fearful of the passion against Trump than Democrats feared passion against Obama.  That is, the Tea Party was effective in limiting Obama to 2 years, instead of 8, so it's likely the Womens March will be more effective in limiting Trump.
  • Democrats should be ten times more fearful of the passion against Trump than Republicans feared passion against Obama.  That is, the Tea Party disrupted the Republican party, moving it further to the right, so it's likely the Womens march will also move the Democratic party to the left.

Records and Security Orientation for Trump Staff?

On Sunday the White House staff appointed by Trump had their orientation on ethics. Please tell me that the staff, and all department heads, are also going to receive an orientation from National Archives and Records Administration  and IT on records management, email management, and cybersecurity?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump's White House Stuck in the Past

Powerline blog reproduces Trump's Executive Orders on immigration.  Based on the images, his staff is still stuck back in the typewriter era, using Courier or Elite typefonts.   I don't know how many times I have to repeat this: proportional spaced fonts are easier to read.  (Presumably if and when published in the Federal Register they will appear as proportional spaced--I'm assuming the Powerline image is the document Trump signed.)

Cataract Followup

I blogged the other day complimenting Kaiser on its cataract surgery setup.  Very good, but...

My mother-in-law had cataract surgeries about 10 years ago, in the office of her ophthalmologist, with the staff just a nurse, the receptionist, and the doctor.  Her results were good.  I'd assume Kaiser does a better job by devoting more people and better routines (i.e., checklists, etc., everything Atul Gawande would approve of). But "better" is at the margins, an incremental improvement.  Now when it's my eyes, I want every little increment I can get, but as a society we might be better off if one of the Kaiser staff was employed as a home-visiting nurse.  Might be, but there's no way in our society to get there from here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Calm Down

That's my general attitude to the transition to the Trump administration.

See Brad Plumer's tweets this afternoon, just as an indicator:
I dunno. Stories about EPA frozen grants, deleted websites, media blackout… seems like they've all been smaller than first thought, no?

Is that because the initial coverage was overblown — or because the initial coverage was right and Trump's team backed down? Hard to tell.
[Updated:  This indicates agencies are being cautious in their Federal Register publications.]
 I remember similar stuff happening in previous administrations.  Two things to remember: we're disrupting old political habits, the new administration doesn't know what they're doing and neither does their opposition, so opportunities for mistakes and misreading are great; because we're in new situations emotions run high leading to further exaggeration.

Once we (the administration and the public) get accustomed to our new roles we can start identifying what is going wrong and which policies are bad.

[All of the above doesn't mean I've taken back my endorsement of the demand to release Trump's tax returns.]

The Last Mile Versus the Last 1 Percent

The old saw (Pareto) says 80 percent of the cases can be handled with 20 percent of the effort.  An extrapolation would be: self-driving cars can handle 80 percent of the driving very easily but it's the last 5 percent, especially the last 1 percent of the time which is difficult.  Which I find to be rather like the old "last mile" problem in cable: easy enough to move data across country in a flash, but getting it the last mile was difficult. 

Nissan has an answer, whether it's workable remains to be seen.  They're using a telecenter to handle the unexpected problems (like a emergency road crew patching potholes or something).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cataract Surgery

Had my second surgery yesterday. Apparently I haven't mentioned it.  It's time to recognize the capabilities of modern medicine and medical technology, and the good people at Kaiser Permanente Tysons Center who performed the surgery.  The mix of backgrounds of the people there warms a liberal's heart (as does the diversity of the people at the Reston Kaiser center where my internist and optometrist work).  

[Updated: Dr. Slack performed the operation and some of the people involved  were Dominique at reception,  Melita in Pre-op, Rizza Bernard and Reagan Jerome in the operating room, and Erin C. in recovery--I hope I've got the names right and there were others whose names I don't have.) Thank you all.]

Sunday, January 22, 2017

FSA Makes the NY Times

Usually it's bad to be mentioned in the national media.  So it is this time, when an article on bald eagles killing chickens on a Georgia farm includes how FSA administers the Livestock Indemnity Program. Under the program farmers suffering loss of livestock can be compensated.  The loss is roughly calculated by determining the dead divided by the total herd/flock.  But the compensation is not for the total loss, it's for the loss over the normal, the usual.  The usual mortality rate for chickens is 4 percent, but that's for conventional flocks, living indoors.  The Georgia farm is part of the food movement, so his chickens are free range.  So what's the usual mortality rate?  40 percent was FSA's first try; 18 percent was the second, the third is still pending.

(I'm assuming the Livestock Indemnity Program, included in the 2014 farm bill, was intended as an alternative to a crop insurance policy, which livestock producers have been asking for.  The indemnity approach dates back at least to the 60's, when occasionally there was DDT contamination of milk, and we had indemnity payments for that.  Of course DDT was the reason that bald eagles were an endangered species and why there's still stiff laws protecting them.)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What Next for Women's Marchers?

That's a question being widely asked.  A modest suggestion:  if one out of every hundred marchers is inspired to seek elective office in the next election cycle, whether local, state, or federal office,  and half of the marchers work to support such candidates, they'd make a major increase in the number of women in office.  (Looks like about 2,000 women in state and federal office; if a million marched today that's 10,000 candidates, assume a quarter win that's 2,500.)

Women's Health in Nineteenth Century

The Jstor blog has a piece on de facto first ladies.  What's telling is that the list ends in 1915, with Woodrow Wilson's daughter (his wife died and there was a (short) time before he remarried).  There are 13 daughters, daughters-in-law, and nieces listed for the 19th century, but only one for a bachelor (Buchanan).  (The list does omit Anna Roosevelt, who often acted for FDR because her mother was out doing good works.)  That factoid shows two things:
  • life was hard for 19th century women
  • life, particularly because of public health improvements, was better for 20th century women.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Petition Trump

As of 3:24 today the Whitehouse petition site was still up, with petitions for Trump to divest assets and release tax returns.

Seattle WTO Protests and Today's of Trump

I wonder at the background of the protestors in DC today, the ones who destroyed some windows.  Were they perhaps the children, actual or ideological, of the WTO protestors of 17 years ago in Seattle?  And how do they relate to Trump's inaugural speech, which certainly was anti-global institutions and anti-elite? Or is it just the violent impulse present in all of us, using whatever materials are available to rage against the world, a world weighing too heavy on them?

Days of Hope

Reading this NYTimes piece from 8 years ago sparks memory of another era.  Briefly, Obama held, or spoke at, dinners honoring John McCain and Colin Powell on January 19, 2009.  (I was prompted to do a search by a tweet comparing photos of Trump's crowd at the Lincoln Memorial and Obama's.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Loving Hidden Figures?

I've now seen both Loving and Hidden Figures. I enjoyed the latter more, I think more highly of the first.

Why?  Hidden Figures has Hollywood touches.  More significantly, I lived through the space race and a number of things struck me as off, though in fairness I may simply be showing my ignorance.  Loving on the other hand covers the same time period, but I claim less familiarity with the context. It seems realistic, as Manchester by the Sea is realistic, but Hidden Figures less so.

On the other hand, I find Hidden Figures to be more interesting.  In some ways it's the other side of the coin from what seems to be the standard modern criticism of liberal government during the New Deal and later.  When you combine government and new technology, there are chances for change I think are less present in business.  Unfortunately, often the advances aren't sustained.  I suspect the African-American women in NASA who changed from "computers" to "feeding" the IBM 7090 computer were not the tip of a significantly growing programming force.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Trump and Agriculture

Trump's got problems with agriculture.

Not only is he unable to find a Hispanic woman from the upper Midwest who worked for Earl Butz to appoint as Secretary [full disclosure--that was stolen from someone's tweet).

Not only do his announced policies result in a stronger dollar, which is harmful to our export markets, and field crop agriculture depends heavily on exports.

But his promises on immigration threaten to cut into the labor supply for big farms.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump's Effectiveness

Steve Kelman at FCW suggests Trump may be effective.  His post boils down to the idea that Trump can bully major players (lobbyists, companies, etc.) to do what he wants or to not oppose him.

It's a good point. As I remember Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power, the key is for the President to be able to persuade political players.  Bullying is effective.  JFK bullied steelmakers; LBJ bullied members of Congress (see the "Johnson treatment" video). Trump is a great bully.

The question is how long it can last.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Trump's Approval Worse Than Obama's Ever Was

I think this statement is true.  The link says Trump's rating is 37 percent, while Obama's lowest was 38 percent.

I'm sure the conservative bloggers (Powerline, I'm thinking of you) who made much of Obama's unpopularity will note Trump's as well. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Unique Identity: the American Solution

Some countries, like Estonia and Burkina Faso, try to assign a unique identifier to each citizen.

Others, like the U.S., don't.  Instead we have workarounds.  One of the latest which has comet to my attention is the Food and Nutrition Service's "Electronic Disqualified Recipient System (eDRS).  This seems to be a file of people who have been disqualified for food stamps (aka SNAP) because of fraud.  FNS is now notifying the public it will furnish the file to each of the states so they can verify SNAP recipients against the file.

One might consider this to be somewhat similar to the "do not fly" list, where civil liberties people protest the lack of procedures for challenging the contents.  But it seems likely from this bit in the MD manual that there is a process for determining fraud:

Fraud overpayments. Consider cases suspected of fraud to be client error overpayments until the court or an Administrative Disqualification Hearing (ADH) makes a determination of fraud. Consider an overpayment in any month in which a client files a false report timely and this results in an overpayment to be a client error overpayment. This applies even if there is an agency error in the same month, unless the agency caused the client's failure to report.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Most Powerful Force in Washington

According to former intelligence chief Dennis Blair:
"There is no more powerful force in Washington than, “What if this comes out somehow and I was found not to have done my utmost?”
 That's from a [Vox ]   Atlantic interview, on the Trump dossier. Quite interesting--bottomline, not much government agencies could have done with it, since it relates to an American.  Need enough evidence of a crime to get a warrant.

It reminds me of the old days of the Washington Post Federal page, which used to have a column highlighting Fed screwups.

But maybe the real most powerful force in Washington is the reality described in the last paragraph:
"I would just give you one of Blair’s Laws developed over the years: If there is a choice in explaining a government action between a Machiavellian, clever, ingenious plot to achieve that result and sort of blind, bumbling, well-meant incompetence, choose number two all the time.

[Corrected source]

Friday, January 13, 2017

Complications of Organic Farming

Extension has a piece where they analyzed the phosphorus and potassium added to an organic farm (since 1985) and the adverse effects of excess P and K.

Perhaps I'm too skeptical of the food movement but I suspect some of the adherents believe that "natural" equates to "easy".  After all, if you don't have to hassle with herbicides and pesticides and just rely on Mother Nature how difficult could farming be?  But as shown in the piece, if you want to maximize what you produce you're faced with the problem of analyzing and adjusting your inputs.

What Could Go 1 Million Revolutions Per Minute?

A paper toy/centrifuge.  See Kottke.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sharing Agricultural Data and the Rewards Thereof

Here's a DTN/Progressive Farmer piece on software packages, "real estate robots" to evaluate farmland, particularly its value.
"The beauty of the services is that they can help you assess a potential rental farm's crop and yield history, protest your land taxes, look for comparable sales, gauge real-time property values, or identify who owns the farm you covet -- all from the comfort of your personal computer.
By logging onto these free sites, you know boundaries on every parcel, what economic rental rates are and which farm is owned by a brother and sister in Florida, Sherrick said.
Meanwhile precision agriculture is building data on fields.  And somehow I think there's still a prohibition on FSA releasing some crop data outside USDA. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

USDA Is Tail-End Charlie

"Tail-end charlie" is a term from aerial combat--the last plane in a formation is particularly vulnerable.  In ground combat you don't want to be "point" on a patrol, nor do you want to be at the end of column.

Anyhow, since Trump has now nominated a head of the VA, USDA is officially the tail-end charlie.  Farmers who expected a NYC billionaire to put priority on their concerns were fooling themselves.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I'm Relaxed on Trump Appointees

Jonathan Bernstein captures why I'm relaxed about Trump appointees: the confirmation hearings fulfill other functions than approving/disapproving.   The only thing worrisome is whether all the ethics paperwork will be filed before Senate approval.  The Senate should not approve before seeing all the paperwork.

My attitude is generally: "enough rope", as in give him enough rope to hang himself.    I remember the results of Reagan's appointments: Interior, EPA, and State all self-destructed, and OMB didn't go so well either.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Driverless Car Showdown--Waymo and Mobileye

Mobileye is doing the learning approach, as described here. I've blogged before about the advantages of this approach.  But Alphabet (Google) has spun off its driverless car enterprise into Waymo, which announced this week it would have Chrysler minivans outfitted with its technology on the road by the end of the month.  Waymo isn't building its own cars anymore; instead it's providing a package of sensors, computers, and software to be added onto existing cars.  As well as I can tell Waymo is still taking the top-down approach, presumably taking advantage of Google Map data and expertise.

The competition between the two approaches will be interesting.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Vertical Farming and Misleading Illustrations

The New Yorker has an article on vertical farming, featuring a Cornell professor, Ed Harwood, who is depicted as the prime mover behind aeroponics.  (When you check the wikipedia article he's mentioned in one sentence.)  Anyhow, Harwood's aeroponics uses water sprays of nutrients and a patented fabric together with specialized LED lights.

It all sounds good, but I'm constitutionally unable fully to approve of vertical farming.  The catch in this article is the illustration, which instead of showing stacks of plant trays and LED lights shows a few leafy open-air terraces, with the implication that the light for photosynthesis is furnished by the sun. The illustration fits the original concept of vertical farming, but not that described in the article.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Virtues of Consistency in Managers

I think I've recounted this before, but I'll do it again.  Early in my managerial career I exploded at an employee, using some curse words.  My boss, actually the deputy director of the division, counseled me in a session I've remembered.  (Of course I had to apologize to the employee.)  Also in the division was another branch chief, Lew, a WWII veteran of D-Day (I think his ship was sunk) who was, to stereotype, a volatile Italian-American, and a male chauvinist. (This was 1975 or so.) One of his section chiefs was a young woman, Linda, who was new to management.  I think the conversation happened some months after a reorganization of the division.

Anyhow, the deputy director noted that while putting Lew as Linda's boss seemed counter-intuitive, he thought it was working.  The key factor was that Lew was consistent, so Linda could learn to adapt to his ways.  By contrast, if your manager was unpredictable, erupting occasionally while usually being emotionally withdraw (i.e, like me), it was hard for employees to adapt, to learn what worked and what didn't.

The lesson rang true to me then, and I've found subsequent experience confirming it.  With this in mind, I fear our President-elect will not be a good manager.  His subordinates will get tired of his changes of directions, and start withholding problems/information which might trigger bad decisions.  And that withholding may lead to bigger problems.

We'll see.

Friday, January 06, 2017

A Good Cornellian

Being lazy, I'm stealing from Vox:

"Charles F. Feeney, who made a fortune from duty-free stores and prudent investments in technology companies, last year successfully completed his goal of giving away $8 billion. Over years of giving, he aggressively avoided the spotlight and asked recipients not to publicize the donations. Feeney has kept about $2 million — with an “m,” not a “b” — to continue his modest retirement. What a nice dude. [The New York Times]

 There's something to be said, however, for not hiding one's light under a bushel--publicizing one's donations helps establish a norm that this is the proper thing to do.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

CRISPR: Once Again

Here's a piece on various advances in science the use of CRISPR (editing out genes) will enable in 2017 and future years.

I've been doing regular posts noting the rapid advances in using the method.  My first notice was about 20 months ago, when  I noticed it bypassed the usual objections to genetic modification. Maybe it's time for me to keep quiet, rather than trying to impress with my prescience? 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Farm Structure

ERS did a piece on farm structure recently. Here's its graph:

I've used it to counter the common meme that big corporations dominate agriculture.  It's not true, at least with field crops.  But then I started thinking--it's true enough that corporations are big in fruits and vegetables, but why would that be?

I'm guessing the key is that fruits and vegetables must offer much higher gross income per acre than wheat or corn.  If true, it would follow that those acres are much more valuable and therefore take more capital to acquire, leading naturally to the greater use of corporations to assemble the acreage.

Another factor might be the economic structure: field crops likely require less processing than do vegetables. And fruits and vegetables spoil, they can't be stored, at least not unless they're processed by canning, juicing, drying, or freezing. Those factors make it more likely for vertical integration.    We've had vertical integration with poultry and eggs for 50-60 years.  I suspect the fruits and vegetables sector preceded birds.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Lag Times and Lead Times

People who study human behavior in societies need to worry about lag times and lead times.  That comment results from this piece on  the results of legalizing pot in Washington--most studies show little change in teenage pot use.

I'm not convinced, perhaps because I've a vivid memory of a high school teacher warning against the dangers of marijuana, probably in 1958 or so. But over the last 50 years there have been "epidemics" of use/abuse of various substances, most notably the "crack" epidemic in the 1980's.  That seems to have settled down, perhaps because kids saw the adverse impacts of crack addiction and decided to avoid it.  There have been others--the "date drug" scare, for one. 

Such epidemics are, I think, very much like epidemics of physical disease: the flu, SARS, HIV, Ebola.  The initial cases don't show up in summary statistics; there's a lead time for the disease to spread to the point where it will show up.  The necessity of a lead time means there's a lag time in seeing its effects.

So I'm not convinced by a few years experience in one state.

Sunday, January 01, 2017