Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Dilemma Will Hurd Poses

Run across the Republican Congressman from Texas Will Hurd a few times in the media.  He seems impressive, human, ex-CIA, not too partisan (he was half of the two Congressmen driving from TX to DC and recording it on social media).  But he's a Republican, and vulnerable.  His district is the Rio Grande area of TX, heavily Hispanic (opposes Trump's wall despite having the longest section of US-Mexican border of any Congressman).

So, on the one hand I want the Republican party to have more such representatives, rather than the Cruzes and the Gowdys, the wing nut.  On the other hand, I want the Democrats to take control of the House in 2018, and Hurd's seat is a good target.  Unfortunately I can't donate to the DCCC and specify--don't fund Hurd's opponent. 

So I'm torn.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Special Envoys and Monuments

Secretary Tillerson is looking to eliminate dozens of "special envoys"; liberals are looking to eliminate dozens of memorials and monuments to flawed people of the past.

What's the similiarity?  For me, I'm assuming many of the envoys are more symbolic than functional.  There can be an advantage to appointing a coordinator-type person to try to break down some bureaucratic silos.  But often they have the weakness of their position--outside the chain of command where "real work" (real at least in the eyes of the bureaucrats in the organization) gets done.  So their ideas are not invented here, and they just serve as a symbol for the outside organizations which sponsored the creation of the post, a sort of flag of attempted conquest planted on the foreign continent of the bureaucracy.

Memorials and monuments are also symbols, more important to a small group than most people going about their business.

Prediction: Classic Logroll--Harvey Aid Plus the Wall

A politico piece rehashing the NY/NJ grievances with TX Congress people, especially Sen. Cruz.  Since Harvey relief will be must-pass legislation, many people (i.e. me) predict that money for Trump's wall will be folded in with it, and Dems will vote for it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Uses of Violence?,

Josh Marshall has a post discussing violence against the alt-right.  He's against it, arguing that it's works to the benefit of the far right and undermines the rule of law.

While I'm with him on that, he doesn't pay enough attention to the seduction of violence, although he does admit he enjoys seeing a Nazi punched.  Most any football fan will say they enjoy a "good hit" on the opposing quarterback, running back, or receiver.  That's human--we like violence against our opponents (though we'll be sure to call for a flag if our quarterback, running back, or receiver is on the receiving end of a "vicious, illegal hit").

The antifa types seem to be much the same demographic as the alt-right: young males, though perhaps with a few more females and a sprinkling of people of color you wouldn't see in the alt-right.  But extremism attracts the similar people on both ends, although the left perhaps has a more intellectual gloss to their actions.  I suspect if you could do a brain scan of either group in the midst of an action, a march or a counter-demonstration, you'd see the same areas of the brain activated, areas which have little to do with rational thought.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Memory and Action

One of the problems we old geezers have is memory.  Not only are we losing it, particularly the short-term variety, but to the extent we retain some, we can be immobilized by it.

Maybe that's the problem with the controversies over memorials.  Memorials are signs, and important. but devote too much concern to the past and the future evades your grasp.  Much better in my mind to err on the side of focusing on the future, than the past.  (Yet, and yet, I tried to be a historian once--how does that fit?  Don't know.)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bad News for Organic Farmers

Now that Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods has been approved, Bezos' first step was to cut the prices of some organic produce, probably signalling an emphasis on lower prices in the future.  IMHO that's bad news for organic farmers, who will face pressure to take lower prices, also meaning they will face their own pressure to enlarge their operations and/or cut corners in order to survive.  So the long summer  of years when organic farmers could ask for and get a sizable premium for purity is drawing to a close, and they face a turbulent fall and then: "Winter is Coming".

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wind River

Saw the movie today and liked it. Written by the same guy who did Hell or High Water and Sicario, both of which we liked.  Atmosphere a bit like Longmire, a Netflix series we also like (i.e., rural area, Native Americans and whites).

Lesson for the Week

"Always remember: driverless cars don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be better than cars driven by humans. As anyone who drives is aware, that’s sort of a low bar these days."

From Kevin Drum

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Dilemma With Game of Thrones

I follow a lot of blog feeds.  Have done since the days of Google Reader.  Many of my feeds include good pieces on Game of Thrones.  For example, here's a New Yorker piece.

Now since I'm getting a little deaf, not quite as deaf as my wife thinks but a little, I often like to follow British shows through DVD's, because that way I can get the subtitles.  (I know, there's probably a way to get subtitles on cable, but I'm too lazy to explore it.)  And because I'm getting a little senile, there's another benefit: I can watch episodes back to back, without straining my memory to track from one week to another what happened.  And a third benefit: I can go to bed earlier, without having to watch from 10 pm to 11 or whatever.

All of this means a dilemma: if I read the blog posts on the episodes as they come out, I inevitably get a lot of spoilers.  If I don't, there's no way, no easy way, to go back and pick them up when the DVD's are released and I'm watching them.  Life's not fair, sometimes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Changes in Culture: Swearing

This New REpublic piece discusses research into the frequency of swearing in America, specifically the use of the seven words in American books.  The research found a vast increase (28 times) between the early 50's and the late oughts.

The article is dismissive of the research, claiming it's not good social science.  That may be, but as  someone has lived over those years, the prevalence of swearing is to me just a sign of the changing culture.

I'm tempted to say "standards are falling" but I'll just say changing.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Virginia as Multi-Cutural

Tyler Cowen has a post on that theme at Bloomberg.

An anecdote: a relative recently attended the high school graduation of a grandson in North Andover, MA.  She commented to me she was surprised by how diverse the area had become (she was a girl in Andover during the 1940's).  I looked up on wikipedia and found North Andover was, in 2010, about 6 percent minority.  Currently the  school's site says 18+ percent are minority.

According to Cowen Charlottesville is 9 percent minority.   Fairfax county is about 50 percent.

I'm the sort of soft-headed bleeding heart liberal who enjoys this.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Death Panels Exist: For Strawberries

A NewYorker article: (Varieties are made obsolete based on the decisions of an internal group called the Dead Variety Society.)

Bad Logic in the Fifth Circuit

For some reason, this decision voiding a fine on Exxon-Mobil for a pipeline spill gets my goat.

Imagine a similar decision on airline accidents:
"“The fact that the [accident] occurred, while regrettable, does not necessarily mean that [Boeing/United Airlines/the pilot] failed to abide by the [rules for building and operating airplanes] pipeline integrity regulations in considering the appropriate risk factors,” the court wrote. “The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite adherence to safety guidelines and regulations, [airplanes] still do occur.” [brackets indicate where I've changed the terms]
Because we have a zero tolerance for planes falling out of the sky they don't.  Why not the same zero tolerance for pipeline spills?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Good Old Days

Am I a total reactionary by mourning the good old days of the early civil rights movement, where non-violence was a successful tactic and there weren't competing marches? 

I don't like what seems to be the anti-fa tactic of counter-marching on the same day.  To me it would be a better appeal to public opinion to allow the alt-right marches to occur without an opponent, mocking them with a next-day march that is bigger and more orderly. 

It's interesting, though, that wikipedia is struggling to deal with anti-fa, calling it

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blast from the Past: Guadalcanal Diary

Guadalcanal Diary was one of the books on my family's shelves,

Mention it because the invasion occurred this month, as noted at the AmericanStudies blog.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My Hypocrisy: Coal Versus Corn

There are reports that the Republican governor of WV is looking for government subsidies for coal production.  My gut reaction is to immediately oppose them.

However, what's my logical basis? Am I being a hypocrite?  I assume the idea is to keep coal mines going through a bad spell, perhaps a bad century, providing jobs for coal miners, at worse easing the transition to a non-coal future.  (Actually Gov. Justice has a "national security" rationale, perhaps somewhat like the old subsidies for wool and mohair.) Compare that with my rationale for some farm programs: keeping farms going to ease the transition to a future with fewer farmers.  (Full disclosure: that's one of two rationales I mostly buy, at least with respect to historical farm programs, the other rationale being the production adjustment one.)

So can I come up with a way to distinguish between farmers and coal miners as worthy recipients of government subsidies?

One difference is clear: farm subsidies go to farmers, coal subsidies would go to coal mining companies. Is that sufficient?

Friday, August 11, 2017

How Bureaucracy Works

Jonathan Bernstein has good observations on the bureaucracy:
Or, to put it another way: Normal presidencies have a process in place in which important policy questions are brought to the president -- not just security briefings, but domestic problems as well. Just the need to present the president with serious briefings forces the White House staff and various agencies and departments to figure out what's important and what's not, to find potentially viable courses of action for the president to consider, and to be prepared in case the president asks tough questions in either an initial briefing or down the road. Good presidents won't just passively absorb briefings; they'll challenge the information and the options they're being presented with, reinforcing the need for everyone up and down the line to do their best work.
Sometimes the stimulus for action is from the top, sometimes it comes up from the bottom.  Either way the bureaucracy can't be much better than the person at the top.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Just saw Ms. Bigelow's new movie: Detroit.

It's similar to her previous three movies: K-19, the Widowmaker, Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty, in that it's based on facts and avoids many movie cliches.  Our verdict on it: "interesting".  I think that means, it's worth seeing, just as it's worth seeing your dentist, assuming your dentist is very capable and you've got some dental problems.

In Defense of Bureaucracy

The Post has a new history blog, with one of its posts defending bureaucracy.  I think it's a sign of the popularity of the subject that it has no comments.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Hostas and Caladiums With No Leaves

There's always a tradeoff.

What's the trade off for viewing deer from your living room window?

Having hostas and caladiums with no leaves. :-(

Interesting the way different groups of hostas have been more or less attractive to the deer.  While the deer got most of the hosta leaves in June, they just got the caladium leaves last night.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

What Next: Numbered Eggs

This NYTimes article is on a problem with tainted eggs in Europe (pesticide contaminated egg-washing solution).  Among the steps taken:
The Dutch consumer safety authority has published a guide on identifying the tainted eggs through a 10-digit serial number stamped on the shells.
 Unfortunately I was never much good at languages so I can't read the Dutch.  I can sort of see how, if we have machinery which can roll a sticker onto an orange or apple we could also develop machinery which might print a number on the egg with ink that wouldn't penetrate the shell.  Presumably the number is a farm number, not the number of the hen.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Foxes From My Window

Blogged earlier about the deer from my living room window. We also have foxes, as of today. We've seen single foxes occasionally during the past few years, but today is the first time I've seen three. A rainy day, explaining the drops on the window.

New Tech Shorts Panhandlers

The move to the cashless society means it's a harder life for panhandlers, according to a Post article.

Unfortunately, the people earliest to adopt new tech and move to cashless apps are the people who were most likely in the past to give to panhandlers.  (That's me, not the Post, but it's true, at least in the sense that panhandlers are most likely in urban office areas, reflecting the density of traffic not necessarily the generosity of the individuals.)

An interesting note--sometimes giver and panhandler form social bonds, that's the Post.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Dairy in NZ and US

That Forbes article I referenced earlier? Turns out it's wrong--NZ has experienced a significant decline in farm numbers under their current free-market regime.  See this graph.

I hasten to add that the decline in the U.S. has been more severe over a longer time.  As this Congressional Research Service report summarizes:
"Increased dairy cow output and advances in dairy farm technology and management have led to a sharp reduction in the number of dairy farms (Figure 3). Annual losses averaged 96,000 operations in the late 1960s and 37,000 in the 1970s. In recent years, the annual drop in dairy farm operations has slowed to about 2,000 to 5,000 farms per year. Operations totaled 65,000 on December 31, 2009."
I've not really looked at the comparative size of the dairy farms in the two countries.  In both there's been consolidation, but I don't have the data on how much and the productivity of cows.  It's worth noting that in NZ the total number of cows has increased slightly; in the U.S. the number has decreased by a lot. The dairy industry in the U.S. sells in the domestic market while in NZ they export. I'm sure that makes a difference in discussing dairy support programs, but I don't know how.

8 Years for Adoption of New Technologies

From a review on H-Net:  "After noting the first military use of aircraft in the Italian-Turkish War of 1911..."

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Americans Won't Do This Work?

That's the common refrain among business owners and farmers, ranging from Trump's Mar-a-Lago operation to a medium size dairy operation.  Liberals like me tend to buy the statement, because we're usually in favor of immigration, so the statement operates as justification. 

When you think about it, though, it's unusual for liberals to trust Trump or other business owners.  :-)

Why should we think the statement is true, why are immigrants willing to work off-hours and the worst jobs?  I think one reason is found in reference group theory, which is the sociologist's jargon for saying "everything is relative".  Immigrants compare their work and working conditions in the U.S. with what they faced in their home country and find it not so bad.  The American-born compare the same jobs with other jobs, and know they're the worst. 

There's also the relativity of compensation: immigrants will find that the salary and possibly fringe benefits far exceed that of their origin country.  I suspect there's a human tendency to focus on the rewards and not the cost of living.  The American-born will find the salary toward the bottom of the scale. 

There's also the standard of living: an immigrant can see  crowded living conditions in a less-desirable neighborhood as still being a step up from home.  The American-born would likely find the conditions among which some immigrants live as not desirable.

And finally there's the time frame:  the American-born looks at the less desirable job as a dead-ender. The immigrant can view it as a step up for the future, whether it's moving from dishwasher to prep work to sous-chef or simply saving money to buy goods to take back home (see Sam Quinones "Dreamland").

Among those who want to reduce immigration the standard reply to the statement is: "raise your pay."
I think that's wrong, pay being only one of the factors which makes a bad job acceptable to an immigrant.  My advice to those who would reduce immigration is this: look to the military.

The military is a case where they offer bad jobs (I'm talking basic training, which is likely worse than any normal "bad job") and attract people to them.  An E-1 gets about $17,000 a year, before taxes.  How do they attract people?  Basically it's the promotion and the fringe benefits, the retirement and education benefits.  So immigration restrictionists should come up with a program where the government provides good benefits and the possibility of advancement to the crap jobs.  Tell the high school drop out, spend x months doing this job and you'll earn tuition for college, have health insurance, etc. etc.    Is that proposal naive?  Perhaps, but I'd like to see it tried.

Friday, August 04, 2017

USDA Statistics Suck

You'd think having spent my career in USDA I'd have a good grasp of how to navigate the USDA statistics.

You'd be wrong.  Perhaps the problem is increasing senility.  I prefer to believe the problem is that USDA's statistical apparatus is stuck in the middle of the last century, pre-computer.

What's most recently teed me off is dairy (see my previous post).  I'm looking for a relatively simple set of figures: the historical number of dairy farms, 190xx to present; the number of cows, and total production for the same period.  Then I could match trends to the New Zealand figures.

USDA has two main statistical agencies: NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) and ERS (Economic Research Service).  In addition, if you're looking for figures on foreign ag, FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service) might come into play.  If you're looking for some figures on farm programs, FSA comes into play.

Problem is I've yet to figure out how to get these figures.  The NASS data seems tied to censuses. The best I've done is this ERS document

I think the basic problem is the statistical series have developed in close conjunction with users in the colleges and industry, so satisfying the needs of John Doe Public was a low priority.  Back in the days of paper, before the internet, people wouldn't be coming to the agencies just to satisfy their curiosity.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Sharecropping and Sharemilking

I read a Forbes article suggesting the end to farm programs, pointing to New Zealand as an example of that policy.  One of the effects was the claim: "The effects? New Zealand retained 99 percent of its farms."  That raised my contrarian hackles.  In trying to find substantiation I ran across this interesting concept: "sharemilking".  The farmer owns and milks the cows, and moves them from one farm to another on "Gypsy Day".

I assume by separating land ownership and cow ownership the capital requirements are lowered.  I haven't heard of this before, but I suspect there may be such arrangements in the U.S., particularly as part of a succession plan.

As for the Forbes article, while it claims support from an "academic study", in fact the article, while by an academic, is more of a blog post; itself supported by only one article.  I'm suspending judgment on the issue--perhaps I'll get the ambition to do more research.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus

From a piece on the prohibition movement:
"Prohibition was not solely an evangelical movement, but rather an economic, political and cultural coalition of Marx, Jefferson and Jesus."
 Read the whole thing.