Friday, June 30, 2017

ND Top Wheat State?

That's what this Grist post says.  It seems KS and ND are competing, with ND top in 2 of last 3 years. Grist attributes it to global warming. 

Safeway Ships Air Around the Country

 (Or how 3 pounds became 30.5 oz.)

Once upon a time, long long ago, coffee was sold in 3 pound cans.  This coffee was roasted and ground, ready for use in office coffee pots and home percolators.   The cans were cans, tin cans, cans which once emptied found many uses around the home. Coffee, being a storable agricultural commodity, was always subject to volatility in supply and so in price, despite the international cartel the supply management setup known as the International Coffee Agreement.  IIRC prices for 3 pounds of coffee ran around $3 in the early 70's.

As time went by, consumer prices for coffee increased and coffee roasters found resistance to paying the high prices.  So someone had the bright idea, instead of raising the price as we need to, let's reduce the amount of coffee in the can by a bit--same effect but consumers will be less upset. (This was probably the same someone who about the same time reduced the amount of candy in candy bars.) And the someone was right.

I don't know when flaked coffee was invented--there's a patent from 1991--but it was touted as a big innovation, delivering better taste for the coffee drinker. The thing about flaking is it means an increase in the volume of roasted coffee for the same weight.  Consumers lapped up flaked coffee.

Bottomline: between reducing the amount of coffee in a can and increasing the volume by flaking, the current Safeway "3 lb" can of coffee contains 30.5 oz, or just under two pounds.  And when you open the can, as I did yesterday, you find it's only about 3/4 full.

So ever since the first decision to reduce the weight without changing the size of the contained, Safeway has been shipping canned air from its warehouses to its stores, wasting space in its trucks.

(I should note that Folgers, and I assume other roasters, somewhat reduced the size of their containers when they switched from tin cans to plastic containers for their coffee.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wolf Trap Mezzo

Wife and I went to Wolf Trap, at the Barns, for a performance of Rossini's The Touchstone, 
which the Post reviewer called a deservedly forgotten opera. It was enjoyable, but a bit long for my old bones.  Maybe I need to invest in another seat cushion (my wife has one)?  Anyway, the Wolf Trap Opera has a blog, and here's an interview  with last night's female lead.  My old-fashioned preconceptions got a jolt from it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The "Heat Island" Myth

Don't have research to back this up, but I believe some who challenge global warming do so on the basis that urban heat islands have skewed our temperature records, creating a spurious rise in temperature.

Now I could agree that a heat island effect could skew the record of maximum temperatures at a given location.  If an airport was mostly rural back in the day, but now is in a urban area, the maximum temperatures are likely to be higher than otherwise.

But that's not an argument against global warming, just an argument against reliance using record high temps at a site as evidence for it.  I'm assuming that the experts create an average temperature for a given area by taking the temperature at a point and applying it to the surface area around, extending the area until it reaches the area represented by another point.  For example, take Dulles airport, which is maybe 6 miles west of Reston.  If Dulles is at 80 degrees today and Reston is at 78, then in my mind the average temp would be 79, as Dulles represents the area approximately 3 miles east of the airport and Reston the area 3 miles west.  Determine how many square miles Dulles represents and multiply times its temp, do the same for Reston, and all the other weather stations and you can come up with an average temperature.

If this image is right, see what it does for heat islands.  The heat in an island is real, so if Dulles gets built up so it's now 82 degrees rather than 80, the 82 should still be applied to the area around Dulles. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Big Sort: Rural Versus Non-Rural

Here's a Wall Street Journal article on the effect of college education on rural youth (barely readable because of pay wall): how can you keep them on the farm once they've seen college life?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Newcomers in Our Midst

Read this bit in a Blog for Rural America piece on inclusion
"In some rural communities, a person who is not from the community but has been living in the community for 20 years may even be seen as an outsider..."

Rang true--remember when my sister was arranging pallbearers for my dad's funeral--she referred to one of the men as a "newcomer", by which she meant his family had only been living in the community for roughly 13 years.

Some dimensions: rural cultures can be slow to welcome newcomers.  And rural cultures can see people leave, like me.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rural/Non-rural Differences: Due to Migration?

Several publications noted a Post study on rural/nonrural differences:
Successful Farming.
Rural Blog
Kevin Drum 

The emphasis seems to be on cultural differences.  ERS has an analysis of "nonmetro" counties and population loss. Four of its takeaways: "
  • Rural out-migration peaked in the 1950s and 1960s (not shown on graph), but was offset by high "baby boom" birth-rates.
  • Net out-migration from nonmetro areas was more severe during the 1980s compared with 2010-16, but overall population change remained positive during the 1980s because natural increase contributed roughly 0.5 percent growth annually (compared with 0.1 percent recently).
  • Nonmetro net migration rates peaked during the 'rural rebound' in the mid-1990s and again in 2004-06, just prior to the housing mortgage crisis and economic recession. Net migration remained positive for much of the past two decades, increasing nonmetro population every year but one from 1990 to 2009, but net-outmigration has since contributed to population loss.
  • The Great Recession contributed to a downturn in natural increase, as fewer births occur during times of economic uncertainty. But falling birth rates and an aging population have steadily reduced population growth from natural increase in rural counties over time, in line with global trends."
Not sure about the overall history, but since the beginning of the country rural areas have exported some of their population to the cities.  Indeed, in England London was a death trap so it sucked in country boys and girls, often to meet an unpleasant fate.

I wonder how much of the cultural differences are due to this sorting?  Presumably the people who stay in rural areas are more integrated into the locality, more active in churches and civic organizations, more committed to having a career, or rather, to making a living through local job.  While the people who move, who go to college and never come back, those people are more into careers in academia, or finance, less interested in religion, etc.

[Update: the effect of the rural out migration means that existing institutions, the schools, churches, stores, etc. lose vitality and makes it hard to create new organizations to meet new needs.] 

A final speculation: note the ERS says that nonmetro areas suffered a net loss of population since 2010--that may be both a symbol and a cause of discontent in such areas, discontent leading to the 2016 election result.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Igloos Are Parabolic

NYTimes had an article on the vanishing art and science of building an igloo.  It's very interesting--my interest was particularly tweaked by the statement that igloos were not semicircular (or hemispheres) in shape but parabolic.

Why is that?  Google provides the answer:
"The bonded ice crystal structure of sintered snow holds up well under compression; it can bear substantial weight without crumbling. Under tension, however, the same block of snow would easily be torn apart with very little force. For this reason, a cross-section of an igloo more resembles a parabolic arch than a hemisphere" Architecture Week
With a semicircle, the portion of the walls which meet the ground are basically vertical, while the vector of the force from gravity is at an angle to the ground, the two are not aligned and the weight of the snow blocks above pushes out.  With a parabola, the portion of the walls next to the ground are aligned with the force pushing down down.

That paragraph was a struggle--too bad I can't go back to high school math to refresh my comprehension of vectors, etc.  
[Edited title]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Attention Mr. Bezos: Adjuncts and Prison Classes

Bezos has asked for ideas on how to use his money for immediate impact, as opposed to long-range improvements.

I'd suggest funding classes for convicts.  Occasionally there are reports of successful programs of this kind: Bard College is one I've read about.  Seems to me it fits Bexos' criteria: the promise of near instant significant impact and a space where there don't seem to be other philanthropists venturing.

No Nominees for USDA Positions

Mr. Perdue is getting lonely.  See this Post database for status on Trump's progress in filling positions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Security Through Chaos

An Atlantic piece on how our political system is so chaotic there's no way to know how compromised our elections are.

That's the wisdom of our Founding Fathers--by giving us a federal system with elections administered at local and state levels they ensured it would be hard to get an overall view of the system, but it's also hard to subvert the whole system, simply because there isn't one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reducing Prisons

Vox has a piece discussing a proposal to replace prisons with mandatory labor and geolocation--i.e., let the convict work to compensate his victim or society, but with an ankle bracelet.

It appeals to my squishy liberal heart.  However, I note that the Kentucky doctor who bilked Social Security of hundreds of millions of dollars by approving disability claims has now vanished.  He was out on bail with an ankle bracelet, but cut it off and vamoosed.  

That's not to say the proposal is totally impractical, but it could work only by a trade off of the difficulty of removing the bracelet, the likelihood of evading recapture, the gains of freedom, and the consequences of recapture.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Defense of Trump (?)

Lots of people, including my favorite blogger Kevin Drum, poke fun at our president for tweeting about his 50 percent favorable rating in the Rasmussen poll.  I'd like to defend him a bit: part of the reason Rasmussen is an outlier apparently is the different universe it's polling.  Rather than "all voters" or "registered voters" which other pollsters seem to be using, Rasmussen is using "likely voters". I'm guessing they are basing their judgments as to whether a respondent is likely to vote based on whether the person voted in 2016.  In addition, they've tended to have a pro-Republican "house" effect.  So the bottom line is Rasmussen is saying that Trump's voters still believe in him, which isn't exactly news.  The other pollsters are saying that the Clinton voters and non-voters are more and more turning against Trump, which also isn't news.

Saying No to an Illegal Request

Ezra Klein has a piece on Comey and Trump. David Ignatius has another.  The last paragraph:
"Comey’s personal ethical dilemmas are now interwoven with the nation’s political history. It’s the stuff of high drama — the temporizing ethicist meets the amoral bulldozer. The story didn’t have a happy ending for Comey — or, it seems, for the country."

A question, asked by Sen. Feinstein, is why Comey didn't take a stronger stand if he perceived Trump's request as illegitimate, illegal even.  Comey says he wasn't strong enough.

I've sympathy with his quandry.  I remember in the 1990's (1992) receiving a call from a person in my chain of command asking me to donate to the Ranchers and Farmers PAC (Jeffress Wells, now deceased).  This was a violation of the Hatch Act and indeed Wells and two other people were found guilty of a misdemeanor violation for their actions--soliciting political funds using government time and facilities.  But while I refused, I was weak.  I said I had already given to the Dems (which may have been a lie, but I did contribute during that election season).  That gave me sufficient leverage to argue my way out of giving.

So like Comey I didn't stand up and say: "that would be wrong, you're violating the law, etc."  Why not?  For me, I was taken by surprise and I'm rarely very good when I'm surprised.  I didn't have the Hatch Act at the tip of my tongue; indeed I never thought of the law until months/years later when the case hit the papers (and a House subcommittee started investigating). I also tend to be ambivalent with authority, trusting it most of the time and fighting it some of the time. So the emotions of standing up to authority, I'd worked with Jeff for 23 years off and on, didn't like him particularly but still, undermined the ability to go further and take a principled stand rather than just an evasive one.

I don't often remember this story, because it's not one I'm particularly proud of.  When I do remember it, as now, it reminds me to be a bit more sympathetic to others who were faced with an illegal request, but whose response was less than a blast on their whistle.

The rest of the story?  I think Wells may have discussed, rather hinted at, the consequences of not giving, but I can't be sure.  Nor can I be sure that later, after Clinton won and Wells was one of the people given power in the transition over the future organization of ASCS, there was any connection between my refusal and the proposed dissolution of the branch I was heading.  Jeff and I had a couple run-ins in this general time period--I was working closely with the ASCS "trail boss", linked with the Republicans, trying to reengineer our systems and Jeff wanted to kill it--NIH.  Whether the refusing donations preceded that, or not, I don't remember.

The way things came out, Jeff didn't achieve as much power in the new organization as he had hoped and my branch had impressed enough people with their work that we stayed together.  Though I was worried for a good while.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Types of Bureaucrats

World Bank has a piece on types of bureaucrats in developing countries, applying a typology from an old board game.

Players may select one of four lifestyles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages: lifer, over achiever, empire builder, or hustler. To be promoted from level to level, a player will need the required number of promotional prerequisites and that's where the fun comes in. All sorts of things can happen. Players may be demoted. They may be involved in scandals. They may become involved in power plays. They may have to go before a Grievance Committee. A player may even go bankrupt and have to start all over from the bottom again. There is no one sure formula for success. Players will have to stay out of trouble and use all their cunning to succeed.

Interesting Take on the South

Kevin Williamson has been getting more of my attention lately.  Perhaps I'm getting more conservative as I get older?
As recently as the 1960s, much of the South was in effect a Third World country within the borders of the United States, complete with corrupt and ineffective government, poverty, and the associated social pathologies. The economic rise of the South did not make New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, or the Midwest poorer — it made them richer, providing them with new markets and new opportunities for production.

Read more at:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Proof on the Ground of Global Warming

FiveThirtyEight has a post describing the NOAA and USDA climate maps.  There's differences in data sources and methodology as well as aim, but they do show the gradual movement north of climate zones.

Global warming skeptics like to challenge temperature histories, claiming scientists change the data to fit preconceived ideas.  I view that as highly unlikely, but the most reliable evidence of global warming is: show me the money.  When people spend their money, as in cruises through the Northwest Passage or in changing what plants they raise, that's good solid evidence.

Factoid of the Day: Dutch Ag Exports

The Times has a good piece on how the Dutch combat the sea, and their efforts to sell their expertise across the world to areas threatened by rising oceans.  But the amazing factoid is this:
"The Netherlands exports nearly $100 billion a year in agricultural products, second only to the United States."
Of course, the reason for the ranking is the high value of their exports of horticultural products, like tulips.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Clinton, Jackson, Trump, and Censure

The chattering classes are starting to talk about impeachment.  I've seen the statement that if the Dems take the House in 2018 Trump will be impeached. 

That may well be true, but I see nothing on the current horizon that says he will be convicted by the Senate. Remember the Reps are odds on to retain control of the Senate.  Even if they don't, conviction requires 2/3 of the Senate.  There's no way to convince that many Rep senators.

What should be considered, assuming there's substantial cause, is what the Dems offered the Reps in 1998, and what was actually passed in the case of President Jackson, a resolution of censure.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Irish Farming--Custom and Rentals?

Got a hint that maybe Irish crop farming has a different model than the U.S., or maybe it's just my imagination. 

In the U.S. I imagine that farmers own and rent land, but own equipment.

In Ireland, I'm not sure about the land, and think maybe they do more rental of heavy equipment and/or hire custom harvesters than in the U.S. 

My pictures may be distorted because I'm thinking more of MW corn/soybean than of Great Plains wheat harvesting.

Republicans Impress Me

They got some 20+ people up and at the ballpark by 7 a.m. in order to practice for a charity baseball game?  That impresses me.  Hope Scalise and the others injured recover fully from their wounds.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Google Shows: Self-Induced Abortions Up?

From a Vox interview with a researcher who's studied Google Trends:
I'm pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it's hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion. They're also, I calculate, missing pregnancies in these states that aren't showing up in either abortion or birth rates.
 That's factoid which fits a liberal preconception: pro-lifers are successfully restricting the operation of abortion clinics, so it seems likely good old American self-reliance would combine with the Internet to research how to do it oneself. Fitting a preconception doesn't make it wrong.  Indeed, in this case the availability of a story which fits the data being reported makes me tentatively a believer. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sciences: Geology, Economics

Noah Smith has a post discussing whether economics is a science.  Having taken geology as the "gut" course filling my science requirement albeit some 55 years ago, I'll raise my hand and say if geology is a science then economics is a science.  Geology was then a historical science, with some lab work involved.  I assume the lab work has expanded as knowledge has improved (didn't recognize continental drift back then, or was just starting to), but you've a similar problem, figuring out how the application of scientific generalizations over time has resulted in the current state of affairs.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Clarke's Magic and the Past

Arthur Clarke is famous as a science fiction writer, one prominent in my youth.  He famously wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

That's the third of his three laws. 

I think there's a converse to it.  J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 notes an article on the importance and complexity of wheels in the colonial era.  One of the blogs I follow has posted videos showing someone doing stone age technology; I think this is one of them but I don't remember the source.

Let me play with it: "Any sufficiently out-dated technology seems simple and isn't."

Take the two laws together and modern humans seem advanced and super intelligent.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Laboratories of Democracy: the Case of the US

Justice Brandeis praised states as "laboratories of democracy", considering federalism is a way for states to experiment with different programs and arrangements before we try them on the national level.  Think of how "Romneycare" in Massachusetts served as a test for Obamacare.  Liberals are reconsidering their belief in federalism as they oppose the Trump administration--it's great for California to lead the way on climate change.

I hadn't considered until I read this post at Jstor how the U.S. itself served as a laboratory for democracy, an example for Canada of what not to do as they constructed their government in 1867. Notably, they wanted to avoid the features of federalism which had cost their neighbor to the south over 600,000 dead.  They distrusted the 10th Amendment and the strong president (the dictator Lincoln).

Friday, June 09, 2017

Did Trump Watch "West Wing"?

I ask because Comey quotes him as referring to "that thing".  For me at least, that evokes the West Wing, though when I search this post says it's long been established as a thing, but the Joe Harley comment confirms my memory.

The answer to the question is obviously "no"--if he had he'd understand a bit about how the government operates.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Good and Bad for USDA--ARS

Politico has a piece entitled: "A tour of the government's 'nerd labs': The cutting-edge (and sometimes secret) labs where Washington tries to hatch the future.  ARS (Ag Research Service) is number on the list, after NIST and before DARPA.  That's complimentary.  What isn't so good is the date given for the establishment: 1953.

That's ridiculous; USDA was doing this work back in the 19th century, arguably even before USDA was established.  What they mean, of course, is that the agency was formed under its current name in 1953, but still.

Representing Acres, Not People

President Trump famously passes out maps of the US showing the counties he won and those Clinton won, the result being a very red US. Liberals like me carp that the map represents acres, not the people.  He also is proposing to change the air traffic control system to a nonprofit corporation.   That idea has run into the reservations of senators representing many of the acres shown on his map.  The problem being that the more sparsely settled areas of the country are also more dependent on air traffic (Alaska is perhaps the biggest for small planes).  So the senators fear the impact of this possible change.  And the senators are mostly Republican.

A case of principle (smaller government) conflicting with the real world, IMHO.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Virtues of Hypocrisy

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue"  wrote La Rochefoucauld  (learned something from the bio, I had him pegged as late 18th century, wrong by 100+years).

As shown by its presence as a label, I've written fairly often on hypocrisy.  The political parties are liable to it, as their positions on some issues, particularly procedural and legal, flip-flop with the election results.

There's also hypocrisy in issues like global warming and the Paris Accord.  Both Trump and his critics pretend the accord is more powerful and more binding than it actually is. In a way they've a de facto agreement to misrepresent it.  By portraying it as very important, they can rally their backers to greater and greater efforts to defeat it/defend it as the case may be.

See this Keith Hennessey post for a somewhat similar perspective on Paris:
A surprising dynamic often surrounds QTIPS policy changes—the most passionate supporters and opponents have a common interest in arguing that this particular policy change is enormously important, while downplaying the reality that its direct impact is barely measurable. These mortal opponents have a shared goal of hyping the issue and the battle.
 The key point I'm getting at, and Hennessey also does, is the two sides agree on the same thing.  

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

How We Discriminate, Maybe

NYTimes has a piece on research into how primates/humans recognize faces:

"These dimensions create a mental “face space” in which an infinite number of faces can be recognized. There is probably an average face, or something like it, at the origin, and the brain measures the deviation from this base.
A newly encountered face might lie five units away from the average face in one dimension, seven units in another, and so forth. Each face cell reads the combined vector of about six of these dimensions. The signals from 200 face cells altogether serve to uniquely identify a face."
 I don't understand this fully, not in the sense I understand "2+2 = 4", and the article doesn't go into the idea of an "average face". At least the first page of the Cell report doesn't go into an "average face" either, so I'm sticking my neck out when I write the rest of this post. 

Assume there is an "average face" stored in our memories which serves as the baseline against which the coding of a new face takes place (like the Greenwich Meridian, serving as the starting point). I'd guess there's some innate biology we're born with, but the pump is primed by our early childhood experiences.  So maybe by 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year we have an "average face" pretty well constructed.

Note the implications: we'll find faces more similar to our average face easier to recognize and likely more attractive. ( (It'd be a neat experience to test adults on facial recognition to see if they recognize faces similar to their mothers faster or as more pleasing than others.)   That would account for the common idea that "all X's (insert race or ethnicity of your choice) look alike". 

Now those implications aren't supported by the article or report--there's no implication that there's learning involved in recognizing faces.  The way the biologists did the experiment they weren't likely to see it.  

Monday, June 05, 2017

Cracks in the Facade?

ThinkProgress reports that Kellyanne Conway's husband tweeted in reaction to DJT's morning burst, saying that Trump's tweets might make some people feel better, they won't help with the Supreme Court.

One wonders about his state of mind--why withdraw from a nomination to the Justice Department, then openly criticize your wife's thin-skinned boss?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Jumping the Line

Seems to me that cutting into line is one thing which arouses  a lot of anger. It does with me.  Even in traffice, where I understand the theory of the "zipper merge" leading to smoother flows, I get mad when someone zooms up the right lane and cuts in in front of me.

So guess my reaction to this weak statement:
"“I feel badly that I have the means to jump the line,” he said. “But when you have kids, you jump the line. You just do. If you have the money, would you not spend it for that?”"
That's from a NYTimes article, part of a series on the "velvet rope" economy, by which the writer means a growing tendency for those with wealth to be able to buy advantages. In this case it's on concierge medicine; for fat yearly fees a medical practice will provide on-call service and cover all medical needs, except hospitalization.

I suppose the two cases aren't that comparable.  In the one the guy is gaining a bit of time, and costing me and others behind me a bit.  In the other the injury to the rest of us is harder to see, presumably slightly higher costs and/or long wait times to see a doctor, although a free marketer might argue that the high fees the jumpers pay will eventually lure more people into medicine.

The fact the injury is vague and possibly debatable means a standard test of morality is less obviously applicable.  I mean the Golden Rule--in this case the line jumper sees no "other" to consider.  This leaves me in a confused and peavish mood, lacking a clear villain to oppose, but not satisfied with the outcome.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Balz: Everyone Knew the DNC Sucked

Now he tells us

Strikes me as a big failure of journalism.

Balz starts:
"Of all the reasons Hillary Clinton thinks she lost the 2016 election to President Trump, the least among them was the state of the Democratic National Committee. That it was a mess long before she became a candidate was well known."

I don't remember any Post articles describing the mess.  Yes, from reading the Post you'd know that Obama wasn't doing much with the DNC, and in 2016 there were stories on the chairwoman.  But in 2016 I was sitting fat and happy, knowing that the DNC had a better operation than the RNC.  Not so, despite my regular donations to the DNC.

Aging means the loss of illusions.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Why the Democrats Should Follow the Beatles

This is the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is getting attention in the media.  Listening to the radio I heard the announcer say that three of the Beatles weren't that enthusiastic about it; Paul was the one who liked it.

Why my title?  The lesson here for the Democrats is that you go along to get along, and while the Beatles didn't agree on the record, they reached a consensus decision to go ahead with it.  That sort of give and take is important for any organization, and will be important as the Democrats go forward.

A Gem from the National Review

"It is not unconstitutional to be a fool"

from NR