Monday, December 31, 2018

Evidence of Ascension--USA Climbing

Since I blogged yesterday about declension, I should balance the scales by recognizing ways in which the US/world is better than in my youth:

  • no famines, like we had in India and China during my lifetime
  • progress in development--see Hans Rosling's presentations and books.  Back in the 50's and 6's the issue was how the Third World would do.  As it's turned out, it has done a lot better than we thought at points during the last 50 years, doing so in different ways than the conventional wisdom believed.
  • technology has opened the flow of information
  • in the US, LBJ's civil rights and Great Society legislation, aided by steps taken by later presidents, has changed the social landscape.  For all the continuing problems we have made great progress.
  • peace--despite our participation in wars in the 21st century, the Cold War is dead and buried.
  • health and safety--we've lengthened our life span and made life better even for those living longer.
I could go on, but my bottom line is I prefer living today to the past.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Evidence of Declension--US Going to the Dogs

Don't know why but today I want to write about what can be seen as evidence of decline in the U.S. over my lifetime:

  • holidays have changed.  When I was young blue laws meant many stores were closed on many holidays (except George Washington's birthday) and holidays were celebrated with more attention to their significance.  The rise of shopping every day of the week and every evening has enabled women to participate in the market economy, getting money for their work.
  • the culture has gotten "coarser".  Expletives abound, porn is available, available not only for "normal" sex but all sorts of "deviations".  There's a possible relationship to the greater openness about many subjects ("cancer" was discussed in whispers when I was young).
  • the economy seems to have gotten more concentrated--we've lost a lot of chains of department stores, a lot of family farms, a lot of local stores, a lot of newspapers. On the other hand, we used to have just 3 TV networks, and there were concentrations in steel, autos, and coal--the sectors which used to be the pride of the country and the arena in which we competed with the Soviet Union.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

FSA Offices Closed; NRCS Offices Open

That's the word.  For NRCS here.

BTW, neither agency has updated its "farm bill" page to reflect the signing of the 2018 farm bill.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Trump, Troops, and Maga Hats

I don't have a problem with Trump signing MAGA hats for troops.  I wouldn't have had a problem with Obama signing his book for troops.

Where I might have a problem is with the provenance of the hats.  Is the Baghdad PX selling them?  That's a no-no.  Did they come in "care" packages from loved ones?  That's fine, if misguided.  Did the Trump advance team provide them?  That's bad and illegal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Advantage of Two-Party Rule

This Govexec piece (originally in Propublica) describes an instance of how people can learn to game government rules, in this case the HUD rules for federally-subsidized housing. If it's worthwhile, people are ingenious enough and motivated enough to figure out games, whether it's the "Potemkin Villages" of the Czars or installing walls in a building to hide major defects.

With two-party rule you establish some incentives to find dirt on the other guys.  Even there is no dirt, there's the human incentive to make change, to throw out the bathwater because it was the pet project of the other party.

Monday, December 24, 2018

My Ancestors and Carols

The Atlantic has this survey of the history of carol singing, noting how the Puritans fought it.

My paternal great grandfathers both were associated with Presbyterian churches which had problems with music--organs being the trigger.  I wonder whether that means their congregations still held against Christmas carols?  I don't know--it's worth noting the best I can tell both men were on the pro-organ sides. 

Anyhow, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The End of Family Dairies?

The Post has an op-ed on dairy farming, beginning:

"After 40 years of dairy farming, I sold my herd of cows this summer. The herd had been in my family since 1904; I know all 45 cows by name. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take over our farm — who would? Dairy farming is little more than hard work and possible economic suicide."
The ex-farmer is from Wisconsin, he switched from conventional to organic mid career, and blames "organic milk" from Texas as a cause of his problems. 

Here' a USAToday story which provides some further background. 

One complaint is whether the cows producing the organic milk actually graze in the fields.  (Not that Wisconsin cows graze in the fields 12 months of the year.)

I've sympathy for the plight.  Back in my youth 45 cows was a good-sized farm, about the size of my uncle's farm (formerly my grandfather's).  Giving up a way of life is hard, particularly when you feel passed over by progress. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

A Blast at Moving ERS from DC

The Hill publishes an opinion piece blasting USDA on its proposal to move ERS out of DC.

I don't know who would be the first and second ranked agricultural economics research institution in the world, but it says ERS is number three.

I've some sympathy with one argument for the move: finding a place where living costs are lower and a government salary  goes farther.

I remember talking with Keith Townsend, the program specialist in the state of Washington, about moving to DC and his counter arguments. That was before locality-based salaries came into effect, but I strongly suspect the adjustments probably feel inadequate to many.

Friday, December 21, 2018

How Politics Works--Give With One Hand and Take...

USDA this week announced a proposal to limit states ability to grant waivers of some SNAP provisions.

Some weeks ago HHS announced proposals to expand states ability to grant waivers of some ACA (Obamacare) provisions.
The lesson for today:  politics doesn't work the way idealistic theory says--structural provisions, like federalism, are used and manipulated to achieve political ends.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Too Confusing for Seniors?

I saw this picture on twitter.  My immediate reaction was the title.  I've had a little problem with confusion in my leased Prius.  Two things--it's the change between a conventional Corolla to a hybrid Prius and the proliferation of controls.  In a way it reminds me of software applications--for example, the proliferation of options in things like Microsoft Word.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Amy and Worst Boss?

I've supported Amy Klobuchar as my favorite candidate for the 2020 election. Recently she's gotten more publicity in terms of favorable mentions (fivethirtyeight's draft picked her as one of four favorites, along with Harris, O'Rourke, and Biden) and interviews on national TV.

So far the biggest negative about her is this piece in Politico, which says she has the highest rate of turnover of her staff of anyone in Congress.  From this fact they deduce that she's the worst boss.  While I can imagine some other possibilities I'll accept it as a factor to include in weighing her candidacy.  What's a bit more important than the turnover is whether she can attract and choose capable lieutenants, both for her campaign and administration.  (LBJ was a terrible boss by most standards, but he persuaded good people to work with him.)

Apparently her chief of staff was in Harvard in 2006 in a music appreciation class for which the lab page is still up.  She seems to be the daughter of a Minnesota attorney and may be 32.

We'll see over the next 23 months.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

George Washington on Refugees

Washington wrote to a recent immigrant from Ireland in 1783, who was representative of a number of such immigrants:
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights & previleges, if by decency & propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.

Monday, December 17, 2018

They All Look(ed) the Same

Saw a picture related to a review of a book on Calhoun, Webster, and Clay.  The picture is here.

I've long been aware of sameness in people.  Back in the day,all mainland Chinese wore Mao jackets, and there were no Yao Mings then.  Visiting ballet companies from the Soviet Union didn't present much diversity in size or complexion. Military parades showed soldiers almost uniform in height.  We still see some of this when viewing reports from North Korea, although my impression is that there's more diversity at least in dress there.

I've always related this uniformity to cows and hens--visitors to the farm could not see how we could recognize our cows by sight--to them all cows looked the same.  We of course knew different, but when it came to our hens they really did all look the same.  (Not really--when looking at group of hens I'd recognize differences while I was looking, but it wasn't possible for the differences to make enough of an impression for me to remember individual hens the next day.)

Anyhow, what's interesting to me in this picture is how similar all the Senators, and onlookers, look.  They're all dressed the same, and their faces look the same--typical WASP faces.  Compare the picture above with this showing the new House members:

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Free Land in Britain

When I studied American history the influence of the Frederick Jackson Turner Frontier Thesis was waning, but still being considered.  A part of the thesis was the presence of "free land" as a safety valve for workers in urban areas. Then I had a government professor, Theodore Lowi, who divided government functions into regulation, redistribution, and distribution (of goodies). Finally I had a history professor, Paul Gates, who did a lot of work on land issues. 

With that background I've often been interested in such issues; most recently today when I read a review of a biography of Thomas Cromwell in the Times, a review which included the statement that one-third of the land in Britain was taken from the church and redistributed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in a process overseen by Cromwell. That seems incredibly high to me but I don't know.

I wonder about the long-term economic impacts of the distribution--presumably buying and selling of land by monasteries was less common than when the laiety took title.   Herman DeSoto has a theory on the importance of having land titled as paving the way for mortgaging and selling land.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

No Shortage of Presidential Candidates

According to Ballotpedia, a site I recommend:

  • More than 430 candidates have already filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2020, including 128 Democrats, 59 Republicans, 18 Libertarians, and 10 Greens.

Friday, December 14, 2018

"It's" the Deterioration of Age

Among the nits I'm bothered by is the misuse of "it's" as possessive.  "It's" of course is a contraction of "it is" and should never be used otherwise.

All through my life I've adhered to this rule with little problem. 

But now...

Now it seems that my brain and my rules are on different pages.  I routinely type "it's" when it fits as a possessive.  Apparently the age-related impairment my recent MRI found involves undermining that aspect of my typing memory which knew the difference.

The good news is that part of my brain which proofs what I've done--I think it's a general capability not limited to reviewing my writing--still seems capable.  So I type "it's position is..." and then go back and delete the apostrophe.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

HR 2--Farm Bill

HR2 has now passed both Houses of Congress.  Here's a summary:

"The bill modifies agriculture and nutrition policies to:
  • require farmers to make a new election to obtain either Price Loss Coverage or Agricultural Risk Coverage for the 2019-2023 crop years, which may be changed for the 2021-2023 crop years;
  • replace the Dairy Margin Protection Program with Dairy Risk Coverage and modify coverage levels and premiums;
  • make Indian tribes and tribal organizations eligible for supplemental agricultural disaster assistance programs;
  • reduce the adjusted gross income limitation for receiving benefits under commodity and conservation programs; [the nieces and nephews provision[
  • modify funding levels and requirements for several conservation programs,
  • consolidate several existing trade and export promotion programs into a new Priority Trade Promotion, Development, and Assistance program;
  • legalize industrial hemp and make hemp producers eligible for the federal crop insurance program;
  • establish an interstate data system to prevent the simultaneous issuance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program) benefits to an individual by more than one state;
  • increase the loan limits for farm ownership and operating loans;
  • modify the experience requirement for farm ownership loans;
  • authorize a categorical exclusion from requirements for environmental assessments and environmental impact statements for certain forest management projects with the primary purpose of protecting, restoring, or improving habitat for the greater sage-grouse or mule deer; and
  • modify the organic certification requirements for imported agricultural products."

I find I'm no longer current enough with the law to comment.  "Qualified pass-through entities" instead of partnerships and joint ventures?  Don't know what it signifies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Boy, the Hammer, the Nail, and Trump

The old saying is: give a boy a hammer and he'll see everything as a nail, as something to hit with the hammer.  It's true enough--we get set in our ways so we use the same approaches to every problem. And when we have a tool there are opportunities.

But I realized today you can change the saying, almost reverse it.  Suppose the boy has a nail to pound and no hammer?  Then everything he sees becomes a potential hammer.  It's "necessity is the mother of invention" time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Silos: Culture Versus Change

I've written before on the problems of combining organizations--typically I've seen the problem through the lens of organizational culture--for example, ASCS and SCS had very different cultures when I was working.

But I saw something today which caused me to think of another consideration.  The story: I was doing my morning walk, coming through the Hunters Mills shopping center, which now is your standard strip mall. In a couple places I saw they'd placed cobblestones and fine stone next to the curb.  The places were at the corner of an intersection and the logic of placing the stones was to handle cases where the turning radius of a long tractor trailer was larger than the radius of the intersection, meaning the rear wheels of the trailer would jump the curb and put ruts into the grass.

I came up with a "just so" story to explain this:  back in the day when Reston's roads were designed, some 30-50 years ago, tractor trailers were shorter than they are now.  So you had one organization working on road design standards and other organizations designing tractor trailers to provide the most cost efficient transportation.  Each organization had its own focus and its own evolutionary history and impulses, their culture.  But what's important is the changes happening within the organization, not any cultural conflict between the two organizations. 

So, coming back to ASCS and SCS--the bigshots in USDA could look at them and see a static picture, meaning changes ordered by management would be the only thing going on (particularly when IT types were ignorant of programs).

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Farm Bill and Payment Limitation

The Post editorial page says that Rep. Conaway got his nieces/nephews provision (see my previous post under this label) included in the farm bill, which will be included in the final appropriations bill, assuming Congress and the President can come to some agreement on it.

This seems to fit a long lasting pattern where public attention is limited in both time and scope.  So when people pay attention to how the farm bill is being put together in House and Senate payment limitation will get attention.  Attention means that the power of the lobbyists and "special interests" is somewhat diminished as the more fringe players have more of a place at the table.

But when public attention moves away from the subject the lobbyists/special interests then have more power.  Typically they exercise their power by adding provisions to appropriations bills or omnibus "must pass" legislation where the voices which oppose the provision, like the Post editorial writers, are drowned in concerns over the bigger picture--as now, whether or not part of the government will be shut down, mostly over a dispute over the President's "Wall".

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Update on Vertical Farming

Via @TamarHaspel, here's a piece on Medium assessing the current status of vertical farming.  Bottom line: the vertical farming startups are very close-mouthed about their data, which leads the writer to doubt whether many of them will succeed. 

Given that current farms focus on greens sold at premium prices, there's also skepticism over whether the concept can achieve more than niche status.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Dairy in Japan

Google's official blog has a  post on a big (900 cow) dairy in Japan.

While most/many Asians may be lactose-intolerant, there seems to be enough exceptions to support a dairy industry.

Some googling found this paper by the Japanese Dairy Council which covers the ground from a to z.

A couple highlights--no. of dairy farms has declined from over 400,000 in the 60's to 20,000 in the 2010's, number of cows has been relatively steady at about 1.4 million or so.  Consumption is about half in milk and half in cheese/butter.  For anyone with more stamina than I there's an explanation of how milk is marketed and how the government's subsidy/regulation setup works.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Late-Life Discoveries

Sometimes it's amazing how stupid, or not exactly stupid but unaware, I've been.

I discovered yesterday that I comb my hair with my left hand.  That's surprising because I write right-handed and do everything else right-handed, although I have retrained to use my left hand to mouse when I developed carpal tunnel in the right.  The retraining took a while, but I got it done.

Partly this is triggered by a tweet replying to L.D.Burnett's tweet about typing, when I recalled how muscle memory kicked in towards the end of my half-year typing class in HS and suddenly I was typing 45-50 wpm instead of 10. 

It now makes sense of a childhood memory of adults conferring over my head on which side of my head the part should be.  Someone, I forget who, perhaps a barber or my father quoting a barber, saying to leave me to discover which way felt natural to me.  Somehow I did, though it still seems a little strange to see a photo where my hair is parted differently than the mirror shows.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Movie Review: Green Book

The movie has attracted some flak in the media, but my wife and I enjoyed it.

In a way it reminded me of movies like "Pretty Baby Woman [Freudian slip]"--the standard plot about people with different personalities who change each other, especially the one where with the romantic stereotypes of the spontaneous, earthy, joi de vivre type gets the uptight person to seize the day

The movie does that plot well.  It's relieved from being too corny because in this movie the black character is the WASP buttoned up one and the white character is his opposite.  To me that dynamic is more important to the movie than the racial issues--the prejudices of the 1960's and the segregation in the South--though it's the racial aspects which seem to attract media attention.

And the acting is great--we've liked Mortensen from past performances, ever since Witness and then LOR.  Despite the 50 pounds he may have added for the role, and the weight he may have added doing all the eating in the script, he still comes across as capable and intelligent.  And the only thing wrong with Ali is I can't spell his last name.

It hasn't been doing well at the box office, but it just picked up five Golden Globe nominations for the movie and its actors.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

My Thoughts on the "Greatest Generation"

A reply to a Wendell Pierce tweet:
As the media reflects on the passing of the Greatest Generation, they should remember that generation was flawed. It allowed segregation &watched Americans kill others trying to exercise their right to vote.Greatness was their ability to change & live up to their professed values

Replying to 
Flawed, as every generation is flawed: failing to fully correct evils they knew of, and failing to recognize clearly evils their descendants see all too clearly.

As you can tell, I'm ambivalent, as usual, particularly about making moral judgments on the past.  We're all stuck with the history we inherit.  The best we can expect of anyone, whether individual, generation, or nation, is to do better than their predecessors.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Nieces and Nephews in Farming?

AEI notes the House Ag chair is pushing to allow nieces and nephews to be "persons' for payment limitation purposes:
"In the midst of this week’s negotiations over the farm bill, House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) is pushing to remove any limits on subsidy payments to farms through what has become known as his “nieces and nephews” provision. This provision would increase the number of people eligible to receive up to $125,000 in subsidy payments under one of two major income transfer programs, whether the people in question really participate in the farm business or not.* * *Currently, only two people per each farm business can be eligible for these programs — called Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage — capping total payments to a farm business to $250,000. However, the “nephews and nieces” provision proposed by the current chair of the House Committee on Agriculture would substantially increase the number of people eligible for a payment. For example, an agribusiness owner with four “nieces and nephews” described as “actively engaged in farming,” because they participate in an annual earning’s conference call, would be allowed to classify those four people as “actively engaged” because of that call. The owners would then be able to increase the subsidy paid to the farm business up to a limit of $1.5 million a year.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Did the Elite Used To Believe in Service?

The current assessments of George H.W. Bush's life often include a statement to the effect that in the past the elite, as exemplified by Bush,, used to believe in service to the nation, in noblesse oblige.  Such statements seem to be accepted unthinkingly, without question.

I'm not so sure there's that much difference between now and the past.  When you look at the business elite, the big shots with the big bucks, there seems to be a mixture of plutocracy and service. For every Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie Foundation created decades ago you can match similar efforts by Gates and Buffett.

Charlie Wilson famously said what's good for the U.S. is good for General Motors, and vice versa.  Our current elite knows better to say that, but I suspect they think it.  Wilson headed DOD under Ike.  Trump has had his own set of rich men, members of the elite albeit rather second level, serving in his administration.

My bottom line is that there's always been a mixture of motivations for public service: some people want new fields to explore (think Sen. Corker), some people want a career in politics moving in and out of government depending on which party is in control, some just fall into it.

[Update:  Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, & Money visits the grave of Joseph Choate, touching on some of the good and bad aspects of the old-time elite beliefs.  Choate's brother founded the Choate private school, now Choate-Rosemary Hall, attended by many elite, including JFK. ]

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Catching Up With Sharon Astyk

Years ago I followed the blog of Sharon Astyk.  She was an interesting writer, an environmentalist who pushed peak oil and locavore ideas.  She and her husband and children lived on a small farm where she did her canning, writing books, and held classes on her ideas. I didn't agree with her ideas but found her persona appealing.

Time passed and she gradually dropped the blog and pushing her ideas and devoted more time and energy to foster children.  (I don't know if she ever dealt with the failure of her predictions to eventuate.)

The other day I googled her and found this article: the Astyks have left the farm for an urban setting, taking advantage of a city for rearing foster children with special needs.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center

Hadn't seen this before this public notice of redelegations of authority by the secretary of USDA.  Turns out I'm way way late to the game.

This is what is included in the 2019FY budget for the center.

This is the explanation of the center:
"The Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center is a centralized operations office within the FPAC mission area and headed by the Chief Operating Officer (COO), who is also the Executive Vice President of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The FPAC Business Center is responsible for financial management, budgeting, human resources, information technology, acquisitions/procurement, customer experience, internal controls, risk management, strategic and annual planning, and other similar activities for the FPAC mission area and its component agencies, including the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Risk Management Agency (RMA). The FPAC Business Center ensures that systems, policies, procedures, and practices are developed that provide a consistent enterprise-wide view to effectively and efficiently deliver programs to FPAC customers, including farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners."
It sounds very much like Sec. Glickman's proposal in the late 1990's, a proposal which was killed in Congress.

According to this article on the creation of FPAC from February Bob Stephenson is the head and the initiation of the center is Oct 1.

One of the complications in implementing this is the mixed legal status of NRCS--it's a federal agency working with the Soil and Water Conservations Districts which are established by state law and get funding from states and which have their own organization to lobby Congress.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Seeing Into the Future--Democratic House-Senate Split

Perry Bacon at Fivethirtyeight has a piece on the growth of the progressive wing of the House Democratic party.  While the Blue Dogs have revived a bit, the progressives were strengthened much more by the results of 2018.  This got me to thinking, always dangerous.

Pelosi will be the Speaker, and she'll have to work to keep her caucus united.  Meanwhile, over on the Senate side McConnell will lead a slightly stronger Republican party, which is also more conservative, losing Flake and what's his face from Nevada.  And Schumer's Democrats are facing a tough road in the 2020 elections.  He'll want to protect his incumbents and try to lay the groundwork to challenge the vulnerable Republicans in 2020.

All this reflects the increasing division of the country, as shown in our elections:  the red States went a little redder and the blue and purple areas went more blue, or in institutional terms, the Senate goes conservative and the House goes liberal.

So Pelosi, Schumer, and McConnell will be deeply challenged to get legislation passed, particularly the Dems.

55+ years ago a government professor of mine named Theodore J. Lowi theorized, perhaps not originally with him, that changes in parties didn't happen by the out-party changing their policies but by the in-party dividing and losing focus.  Not sure how that theory stands up to today's politics.

[updated to add second link]

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Diversity at the Founding

J. L. Bell in Boston 1776 discusses the deliberations which led to the Great Seal (and Franklin's turkey).  The various proposals included this one, from a Swiss artist who was consulted by the Continental Congress:

 Du Simitière:
For the Seal he proposes. The Arms of the several Nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, DutchGerman &c. each in a Shield. On one side of them Liberty, with her Pileus, on the other a Rifler, in his Uniform, with his Rifled Gun in one Hand, and his Tomahauk, in the other. This Dress and these Troops with this Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America…

The Americans involved seem to have favored classical themes and references, but the outsider was struck by our diversity.

USDA Civil Rights Post

The president's nominee to be assistant secretary for civil right faced her Senate Ag committee hearing.

She was head of the EEO office in 1987-90.  I wonder if she was asked about the Pigford suits and settlements at all? 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Cargo Trikes

Who knew that "cargo trikes" are a thing?   I surely didn't, but when you google the phrase there are a number of models to choose from.

What is a "cargo trike"--it's a tricycle with a cargo platform/box behind the driver/pedaler, sometimes with battery assist.

Reminds me of the 3-wheeler motorcycle based buses in Vietnam in the 1960's--could handle 6 people.

Apparently these vehicles are finding a place elsewhere in the world to deliver things in urban areas. There's probably a dichotomy: some would be in areas like New Delhi where the congestion is  great.  The others might be in Europe to displace gas/diesel vehicles from downtown areas, replacing polluting engines with human (mostly) power.

I wonder--is this an example of innovation and technology creating new jobs which don't require advanced education?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Verizon Fios, Ricky Jay, and Mystery Writers

Been having problems which may link to our router, furnished by Verizon as part of our FIOS plan.  So I spent much of the afternoon chatting with a saleswoman, trying to explain that we were happy with our current service (and reconciled to the price) but needed a new router.  She was persistent in trying to upgrade us in different ways. 

It was an interesting experience, which led me to think about information asymmetry.  What I experienced today wasn't exactly an asymmetry in information.  Verizon lists all their options for services, equipment, etc. and the costs for each on their website.  So in theory I had the information I needed available to me. What I didn't have was the time, patience, maybe the brainpower, and definitely the self-confidence to sort through the options and make my decisions. 

Ricky Jay died, and the papers are running his obits.  If I understand magic, which I don't, in theory the audience has the information to see through the act. But the magician gives us so much information, much of it misleading, that we are totally confused.

Mystery writers, at least the classic ones, give the reader all the clues needed to determine "who done it", but so artfully, included with so much dross, most readers will be surprised in the end.

What I'm saying is there's some underlying commonality among the three scenarios.  There's two parties, and one party has the advantage in the relationship because they control how the relationship is structured, particularly by providing a surplus of "information".

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Originalism and State Constitutions

Originalism a la Scalia is the conservative/libertarian philosophy of interpretation of the US Cnstitution.  It seems to have different flavors: interpret the words according to their meaning at the time of adoption; interpret them based on the intentions of the writers, etc.

As a liberal I don't buy it, but it does seem to be a more consistent doctrine than anything on the liberal side.  I suspect, though, that the doctrine gains support because of our glorification of the "Founding Fathers".  Americans like to believe they were wise lawgivers, like Moses coming down with the  Ten Commandments. 

In the recent election we voted on a couple amendments to the Virginia constitution. They were rather specific.  The language of one meant adding this provision:
(k) The General Assembly may by general law authorize the governing body of any county, city, or town to provide for a partial exemption from local real property taxation, within such restrictions and upon such conditions as may be prescribed, of improved real estate subject to recurrent flooding upon which flooding abatement, mitigation, or resiliency efforts have been undertaken.
That amendment isn't comparable to the amendments of the US Constitution. 

The VA site on the constitution observes:
Virginia signed its first constitution in 1776 upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Since that time, there have been frequent amendments and six major revisions to the constitution: 1830, 1851, 1864, 1870, 1902, and 1971. Our current constitution is an amended version of the 1971 constitution. These revisions to the Virginia constitution are representative of the political, social, regional, and racial climate of the times.
The writers of the original constitution were some of the Founding Fathers--Madison, Jefferson, Wilson, so one would think that we should have revered their language just as we do the US constitution. But we didn't, nor have we done so with later revisions.  See this site for state constitutions.

So my question for the originalists--does/should the doctrine apply as well to state constitutions?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Modern Loneliness--Brooks and Sasse

Arthur Brooks has an op-ed in the Times on loneliness in modern times, partially keyed off Sen. Sasse's book.  (DA paragraph:
Mr. Sasse worries even more, however, about a pervasive feeling of homelessness: Too many Americans don’t have a place they think of as home — a “thick” community in which people know and look out for one another and invest in relationships that are not transient. To adopt a phrase coined in Sports Illustrated, one might say we increasingly lack that “hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.”
This tweet by Adam Rothman includes some pushback to the position.

I agree there can be loneliness and social isolation in the city or suburb. Some of that is shaped by the social structure, some is chance, and some is personal choice.  The city has always been a place of freedom and opportunity, and it remains so.  The thick society found in rural areas and the smaller towns often has its downsides.  

There have been some reports that American mobility is down, both mobility among classes and geographic moves.  I suspect some of the people who are concerned with the lack of a "thick" community are also concerned with the lack of mobility.  IMHO the two go together in many cases.

"Dialing" the Phone Versus Cranking It

Saw a twitter thread the other day--some wordplay about phones.  The person with the last word claimed to know how to "dial" a phone, or was familiar with a dial phone.

I could top that claim--I remember how to crank a phone: back in the days of a party line you cranked the phone to ring the bell.  (Remember the "Bell" System?  Of course the phone was invented (officially for the US by Alexander Graham Bell) so it's just coincidence that the signal was a "bell", or something close to it.)  Each house had it's own code--long rings and short rings, the length of the ring determined by how long you cranked.

Today though we still talk of dialing the phone, even though we're "buttoning" it, rather than dialing.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Changing Views--You Can't Control the Future

My grandfather chose a cemetery plot in the Sylvan Lawn Cemetery in Greene, NY, one where he, his wife, and three children with spouses could be buried.  (Didn't work out the way he planned.)   My cousin was asking why he chose that cemetery.

This picture shows the entrance.

What it doesn't show is the view, not the view of today but the view in 1936 when my grandmother died and he was choosing a cemetery.  The cemetery is on the side of the hill just to the east of the Chenango River, west of  E.Juliand and north of Greene St.

 Most of the town is on the floodplain west of the river.  Back in 1936 there was a fine view west, looking over the town and to the hill behind the town.  Even in the 1960's the view was good.  But by the time my sister's ashes were interred in the plot trees have grown tall and thick, obscuring any view from the plot

Such growth has occurred all over the East--both on the farm where I grew up and along the Hudson, where the houses and mansions of the wealthy once had great views of the river and west to the Catskills. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Trump Administration Gets Bad Press, a Bit Unfairly

Our president would argue there's no news in my title. But while I'd argue the administration often deserves all the poor publicity it gets, articles in the press today are a bit unfair.

I'm referring to an article in the NYTimes on the progress of payments under Trump's "Market Facilitation Program" of providing payments to producers of commodities whose sale has been impacted by Trump's tariffs. The criticism is partly that FSA has been slow in getting payments out to farmers (and also that the payment rates aren't equitable.)

I'll make my point by citing a blog I follow: Life on a Colorado Farm.  (I recommend it for the great photos and the glimpses into the rhythms of farm life.)  The author reported today they'd just finished corn harvest.  Why is that important?  Corn growers can qualify for MFP payments only if and when they can provide production evidence, like warehouse receipts.  I don't know that they're going to apply for MFP payments (my guess is not), but today is the first day they could have a completed application. 

While it's true grain harvests are winding down, the USDA-NASS graphs show soybean harvests span about 2 months, from mid September when it begins to now, when it's 85-90 percent.  What that time frame could mean is that FSA offices receiving the applications are overwhelmed.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Farmers Do Their Thing With Pot

A Post article describes the declining price of marijuana where legalized. 

States projected revenue assuming low productivity gains when real farmers took over from the pot growers. (exaggerated for the point).  But real farmers are good, so prices are falling and so are tax revenues.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Discussion this morning with my cousin on the possible replacement of Rep. Pelosi as Speaker of the House in the new Congress.  We agree on two points, which may not be compatible: (1) Democrats in the House need new leadership in the future and (2) Pelosi needs to be Speaker when the House organizes in January.

She's about a year older than I.  She seems not to have lost much, if anything, unlike me.  :-(

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What's the Market Dynamics for Hearing Aids?

Starting to get a hearing aid.  The process raises questions about how the market works.

Apparently, from Consumer Report reviews there's little difference among the leading brands. But the prices seem high, particularly when you look at some of the personal devices being hawked on the Internet.  How do audiologists get away with charging so much and why doesn't competition drive the price down?

 Probably part of it is an information disparity, such as we often feel when dealing with doctors, etc.  The audiologist selling the hearing aids knows a lot more than we do as a first-time buyer.  And once we have a good experience with her/him, we'll keep going back to them. 

So it's rather like buying a car--once you've bought the first one you're likely, all other things being equal, to keep going back to the same dealer and manufacturer.  There's also the age factor: I suppose most aids are sold to older people and, while I wouldn't say we're gullible, I would say we're easier marks than younger types.  (Note the "we"--while theoretically I could experiment with online devices, I won't--I'll go with the flow.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Declining Value of Signatures

Stories on the elections, particularly in Florida but also elsewhere, have touched on the issue of signatures, but without going into much detail.  I assume what happens is that the voting registrar has a voter's signature on file and is trying to match it to a signature on an absentee ballot or a mail ballot.

Thinking about my signature over the years causes me to believe that the process is of declining value:

  • my signature has varied--usually I've signed "William D. Harshaw", but occasionally "William David..." I use "Bill..." for less official occasions.
  • my bank may still have my 1968 signature on file, although perhaps it's been updated.  IIRC when I bought the house in 1976 I had to go to an officer of the bank to convince him I was me, because the difference in signatures over the 8 years was great enough to raise doubts.
  • but that was back in the day when I made payments by check, signing 5 or more checks each month.  These days I likely write 5 or more checks in a year, so whenever I sign a check I'm really out of practice.  I'd predict that means my signature is more variable these days.
  • I usually use a debt card instead of a credit card, but when I use the credit card I often have to sign using my finger on a tablet, not using a pen.  My tablet signal bears only a slight resemblance to my pen and ink signature.
So my bottom line is the bureaucracy should begin to steer away from signatures as a proof of identity.

[Updated: post on signatures.]

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Swings of National Politics

One of the theories of political scientists, I think including Jonathan Bernstein, is that voters engage in strategic voting--for example in 2016 they voted for Republican senatorial candidates expecting Clinton to become president. The effect generally and nationally is to swing power from one party to the other.

I've no citations to oppose the theory, but I've another one which may be at least complementary.  The book "The Politics of Resentment" argues in part that rural voters feelignored by the political establishments in Madison, WI and DC.  This fits with the idea that voting for Trump in 2016 was sending a message to the establishment.  What happens when the message is sent?  Perhaps enthusiasm wanes.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Women Who Don't Work?

Deb Perelman writes about bake sales: "They feel like a holdover from a time when many moms didn’t work "

We all know what she means--the women didn't work for pay.  They didn't have an employer paying them.

Economics skews our picture of reality.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

When Are Farmers No Longer Farmers

From a Congressional Research Service report on 2018 Farm Income Outlook comes  a table which I can't incorporate.

You can access it here.  What struck me first, from the CRS report, was the rapid increase in farm household income from off farm sources, to the point that off-farm accounted for easily 3 or 4 times as much income as farm sources.

Then, as I tried to find a way to get the image into this post, and failed, I found this ERS spreadsheet.  We all remember the difference between "mean" and "median", right.  According to the table the median farmer had no income from farming in the years 2013-2018. 

That's weird, but this helps to explain it (from a Rural Development Perspectives article)
Almost 90 percent of elderly operators' average household income came from off-farm sources, with nearly half of their off-farm income coming from "other off-farm income," which includes Social Security. Another 19 percent of their off-farm income came from interest and dividends, reflecting savings and investments by these households during earlier years. Unlike elderly operators, operators under age 65 received most of their off-farm income from wages, salaries, or self-employment.
 That was my mother after my father died--for a number of years she continued the poultry operation, but SS income was really the basis of her livelihood.  But we don't think of these situations when discussing "farmers".

Friday, November 09, 2018

Klobuchar for President

Previously I've mentioned Hickenlooper as a possible candidate for the presidency. In October it was Hickenlooper and Klobuchar.  Today my preference is Klobuchar

I still like him, but now I'd like to see Amy Klobuchar   My number one priority is someone who can beat Trump in 2020.  Today I think she can.  More importantly, I predict on November 3, 2020 I'll believe it still.  Why:

  • in 2020 she'll be 60 years old, 14 years younger than Trump and younger by a similar margin than Sanders, Biden, and Clinton, and 11 years younger than Warren., 8 than Brown''
  • in 2020 she'll be 60,   4 years older than Harris, 12 years older than O'Rourke, 9 years than Booker, 6 years than Gillibrand,
  • her experience in government relative to her competitors is roughly similar to her age--more experience than those younger, less than those older
  • by 2020 I expect the great American electorate to have tired of Trump, even more than they have already.  The contrast between "Minnesota nice" and "New York crass [add your own adjectives] could not be greater.
  • having been elected to the Senate 3 times from the Midwest battleground of Minnesota shows her ability to campaign and win.
  • early analysis of the landscape for the 2020 election sees the MW states of WI, MI, and MN along with PA as key, so her  Minnesota background gives her a headstart.
  • all else equal, I think a woman will do better in debates with Trump than a man would.  I see Clinton as having done better against him than the 16 Republican men.
What are her vulnerabilities:
  • foreign affairs/national security.  Depending on the course of events over the next 2 years her lack of background could be a real handicap.
  • perceptions: "too nice to lead", "not a tough enough fighter against Trump" would be my guesses at the lines of attack against her. I think her exchange with Kavanaugh helped her here, but much will depend on her ability in debates.
  • not progressive enough.  That would be the view of the Sanders cluster of the Democratic party.  I think she's about as progressive as the nation will stand as a president in current circumstances, absent a recurrence of the Great Recession.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The History of NY Dairy, and the Future?

Civil Eats had a piece on Engelbert Farms of Nichols, NY, which isn't too far away from where I grew up.  The farm is partly in the flood plain of the Susquehanna, meaning it's got some good soil.  Our farm was partly (very small part) in the flood plain of the Page Brook flood plain, meaning we had less good soil.  The farm now consists of over 1,000 acres, owned and rented.  Our farm was 80 acres, owned.

From the Civil Eats piece I did a search for the farm's website, which has this history of the farm.

From the history you can infer much about the overall history of dairy in NY--the consolidation of farms, the competition for land from urban and industrial uses, the influence of Cornell and extension, etc.

The farm was an early, perhaps the early adopter of organic principles, so it might predict the future.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

How Did I Do on Predictions

Scott Adams predicted a huge Republican turnout. I was somewhat skeptical, but he was right. He waffled on whether the Republican vote total would exceed the Democrats.  I predicted it wouldn't.

A few days ago I didn't predict, but considered the possibility that Trump's rallies presaged a surprising victory for the Republicans.  They didn't.

I didn't make any official prediction for the elections--I would have used the Fivethirtyeight estimates as the basis if I had, meaning I would have done okay but not great.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

I Voted Today

My precinct had three sign-in stations where they scan your VA drivers license/ID card and ask you for your name and address.  Then you get your paper ballot, go to the booth and mark it, then scan it at one of two stations.

We waited maybe half a minute for a sign-in station to free up; no waits thereafter.

The precinct seemed busy.  I think usually we get around 700 votes.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Changing Times--Bureaucrats in FSA

I wish USDA had continued to publish an organizational telephone directory.  Back in the day, before computers, we had a printed directory for FSA and a separate one for all USDA DC employees.  I particularly miss the first, which showed employees by their unit.  As far as I know that information is no longer available.  Neither is the old USDA organizational directory which showed all the agencies with their managers down to at least branch level.

All this is triggered by the table in Notice MFP-4 showing the three program specialists to whom questions should be referred--all three are women.  Back in the day, a female program specialist in DC was rare, not unheard of but rare.  With an old-style phone directory I could figure out whether it's now the case that male program specialists are endangered.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Pro-Growth Will Win in 2020?

Michael Tomasky argues that to win in 2020 Dems need to argue for growth against the supply-side theories of the Republicans. 
Democrats, rather than merely appealing to people’s consciences, will be able to respond that government investments and wage increases are growth producers that will spread benefits well beyond the top 5 percent or 10 percent.
 I'm not sure that's right, not entirely.  

Frank Bruni talks to people about how to win in 2020:  A couple Republicans observe:
Be direct, blunt and consistent. “He has the same message today that he did the day he came down the elevator at Trump Tower,” Myers observed. “The message discipline is incredible. He has never wavered. It’s very real and very powerful.”Convey strength. More than ever voters seem to crave that, and many see it in Trump — in the steadiness that Myers mentioned, in the way he confronts cultural headwinds, in his sustained advocacy for Kavanaugh. “The American people like a fighter,” Lewandowski said. “Donald Trump proved that.”"
Trump is "consistent "?  That's not how I see him--he goes back and forth on many issues. But he comes across as "Trump" everyday, every way. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Promising Book on Rural Consciousness

May post more later, but just got Katherine Cramer's "The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker". 

Looks good--I can definitely understand her description of "rural consciousness."

(As the polling of the current election seems to show a growing rural and remote suburb versus urban and close suburb gap, this may be more relevant than ever, even though written before 2016.)

Friday, November 02, 2018

Perdue Tanks USDA Morale?

From a Govexec piece on agencies with dropping employee satisfaction:

In March, the Agriculture Department announced that it was severely restricting its telework program, reducing the amount of time employees can work remotely from four days a week to one, or two per pay period. The policy change reportedly came after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was unable to find an employee in the office on a day that person was telecommuting.
I've some sympathy with Perdue.  He's likely had little to no experience with telecommuting (not that I have any, having retired before it was really approved) and it could have been a shock the first time you try to find someone who's at home, working.

I found this anonymous report from inside USDA  which provides an employee view of the importance of telecommuting, but disappointly has no juicy gossip about the inciting incident.

The real point is something Perdue as a politician should know--it's never easy to take a benefit from a taxpayer or an employee.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Considering the Unthinkable

It's worthwhile to pause my incessant checking of the NYTimes polling site and the fivethirtyeight assessment of probable and possible outcomes and consider the unthinkable:

Maybe, just maybe, the polls are off and Trump's packed rallies represent something more than the enthusiasm of a set of niche voters.  It seems that pollsters and analysts may have reassessed their performance in 2016 and have changed their methods and approach in 2018.  I hope so.  But it's also possible the pull of a conventional wisdom is still working.

We should know  in five days time, although the worse thing I've seen today is the idea it will take weeks to find out who controls the House.  (The reason: a lot of close races and the long time it takes to count mail ballots, particularly in CA.) 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Scott Adams Predicts

Scott Adams, whose cartoon Dilbert I love, has gone on Fox to predict a huge, possibly record-setting turnout for the Republicans in next Tuesday's elections.

Since the Republicans in 2010 got about 44 million votes and in 2014 got over 45 million, I'd say that means a turnout of over 46 million votes. I think elsewhere he's clarified that he's not predicting that the Republicans would still control the House, just the votes would be up.  His rationale is IMHO fuzzy: Republicans love the feeling of the victory of 2016 (Adams was an early and sole predictor of Trump's election), they tend to act more than talk and are bashful in talking to pollsters so the current polls underestimate GOP turnout (it's an echo of an early 21st century meme that voters who opposed  black candidates would not admit that to pollsters).

My record on predictions is bad, so I won't officially predict that Democratic turnout will top the Republicans and top 47 million votes.  We'll see. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Even Bees Are Losing Their Privacy

Modern Farmer notes that beekeepers are being offered the ability to monitor their bees online, meaning a loss of privacy.  In partial compensation, they can also provide bees with a solar-heated hive, which will harm the varroa mites without harming the bees.  Or, if all else fails, drone bees are on the horizon.  (A possible confusion between drones that are bees and bees that are drones will ensue.)