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.