Saturday, June 30, 2018

Good News Today: Multiple Myeloma

The NYTimes has column today on good news this week.  I'll add to it:  

Kevin Drum reports on the progress being made on multiple myeloma--the disease he's been fighting for years.  He's hopeful, which is great news for many, but especially for devoted readers of him, which I am.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Bipartisanship in the Senate

Despite the acrimony, in the right circumstances the Senate can pass bills on a bipartisan basis.

They did so this week with the farm bill.  And a Senate committee  passed a bill restructuring the way musicians are paid.

Neither issue is terribly partisan, at least for the Senate.  The right wingers in the House force a split on the issue of work requirements for SNAP, but they finally got a version passed there.   It will be interesting to see how well the two houses work to reconcile differences and pass final legislation.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Socially-Isolated Citizens: Really?

The NYtimes reported that 12 percent of people report using their cellphones in the shower.

The Benefits of Moderates

Who is appointed and confirmed to the Supreme Court is very significant.  My spouse is very concerned.  The senators who seem to be key are Collins and Murkowski on the Republican side, who presumably would not want an appointee certain to overturn Roe.  And on the Democratic side, the WV, ND, MO, and IN senators who might want to polish their non-partisan credentials by voting for a Trump appointee.

Ideologues on both sides want to oust the RINOs and DINOs in their party.  The more they do so (no Jacob Javits or Hugh Scott in today's Republican party) the more power the remaining individuals have. 

It's similar to the maneuvering within the Court itself.  Back in the old days, Sandra Day O'Connor was the swing vote, and Kennedy was just a slightly less conservative than his fellows on the right.  O'Connor retires, promoting Kennedy into the swing position.  Kennedy retires, and the conventional wisdom is that Chief Justice Roberts becomes the swing. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Unions and Marketing Agreements

The Supreme Court struck down the ability of unions to charge fees to non-members for service rendered in representing them to management. 

A couple comments:

  1. FSA in DC became unionized before I retired.  As a manager, it was another pain, another hoop to work through.  But it wasn't really that big of a deal, as I remember it.  My suspicion is that the union has become less effective over the years because of turnover in its members, meaning the original members who pushed to get the vote have retired and/or got tired.  That's the way humans do.  (Might be wrong, particularly as issues like Trump's attitude towards civil servants and more importantly Perdue's proposals for reorganization have come to the fore.)
  2. As I've been distracted by working on a book for a relative I've not read the decision or evern detailed discussion of it.  But, not allowing that to stop me, I'd think the principles of the decision spell trouble for the agricultural marketing order/promotion system.  I'd think the argument is the same: being required to pay fees to a union or promotion fees to a promotion organization is a violation of free speech and free association.
That's not to say I like the fact.  While sometimes I lean libertarian I do think the government can appropriately encourage the formation of groups, like unions and marketing groups.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Chang and Eng or the Bonds of Affection

What's the more appropriate reference for today's political situation?

Is it Change and Eng, the original Siamese twins, forced to accommodate each other by their bond of flesh, or is it Lincoln's "bonds of affection", as he pleaded in his first inaugural address?

IMHO we're stuck with each other, and we just have to get along (with each other).

Monday, June 25, 2018

Chimps Jumping Up and Down

Lots of discussion on social media about Red Hen: pro or con civility. 

Personally I'm pro, partly because I prejudiced against conflict and partly because of a viewpoint Megan McArdle voiced in a series of tweets: the most important thing is to take back the House in 2018 and the presidency in 2020 and everything should be judged by the measure of whether it helps or hurts achieving those goals.  IMHO the current dispute is a distraction.

Drawing back a bit to gain more perspective, I'm reminded of descriptions, perhaps video, of two groups of chimpanzees facing off against each other, each jumping up and down and trying to intimidate the other.  That seems to me to be the underlying dynamic of the current conflict: some on the left like Maxine Waters want to be nasty to all Trump supporters, some on the right claim the mantle of innocence. 

Changing Standards: 10K for Bar Mitzvah

Carolyn Hax does an advice column in the Post, which I read.  (What can I say, I used to read Ann Landers and Dear Abby.)

She answered a letter from someone worrying about the cost of a bar mitzvah.  They'd budgeted $10,000 for it, but the husband's parents wanted to go higher--$40K IIRC.  The in-laws threatened to boycott if they didn't get their way.  Husband told his parents that was their choice.

Hax applauded the answer.

As a (former) country boy I was stunned.  Who is willing to pay $10K for what I understand to be an elaborate birthday party/baptism celebration?  Better to invest the money for college.

Then, I'm a geezer.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Like Marrying Like: Petri and Stromberg

Ms. Petri usually does well in her humor columns, but Saturday's was very good.  Then I see this notice in the NYTimes, explaining the marriage.

In the old days Mr. Stromberg would have married his secretary, who would have been his better half.  Now he marries a columnist, who's still his better half.  I can't complain, since the marriage produces the column, but it's assortative mating.  Unfortunately it reduces social mobility. 

But read Petri's piece.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

How To Forget Occam's Razor: a Conservative Example

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a nice example of logic discussing an Andy McCarthy piece (which I did not read).  He believes the "fix" was in from the beginning for the investigation into the Clinton emails (yes, the conservatives are still digging over that--pretty soon they'll be tying it into the Clinton Filegate  scandal).  His reasoning: Obama said Clinton didn't have any bad intent in using a private email server.  Comey listened to Obama and said the same thing.

That's convincing, isn't it?

But apply Occam's Razor.  Which is simpler:

  1. There was no evidence of evil intent and two men of different political parties came independently to that conclusion.
  2. There was evidence of evil intent, Obama corruptly said there wasn't, Comey ran an investigation using FBI agents, usually considered conservative which was really just for show, made sure he didn't find any smoking gun evidence, and agreed with Obama. 
The second alternative is simpler only if you believe in Clinton's guilt from the beginning.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Improbability of Sustaining Sanctions on North Korea

I'm no expert in this area, but the Post had an article on Kim's visit to China which caused me to think.

Based on our experience with sanctions against various countries: Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc., I draw this lesson:  to some extent imposing sanctions is a moral cascade--there's a triggering event which gets leaders of countries/the ruling class upset and determined that "something must be done".  The answer is imposing sanctions.  Sometimes the sanctions are more for show, rather like arresting a few prostitutes used to be back in the middle of the last century, or cracking down on gambling in a gin joint in Casablanca.  But sometimes the outrage is enough to support strong sanctions, sanctions that hurt.

This seems to have been the result with Iran before the nuclear deal and North Korea after the tests of long range missiles and the hydrogen bomb.  It's hard, however, to sustain outrage.  It's particularly hard when the leaders who imposed the sanctions, Xi and Trump, are making nice with the leader of the sanctioned company.  The sanctions may be in effect still, but the bureaucrats who have the job of enforcing them aren't going to have their hearts in it.  They know there's not going to be calls from the leader's office asking them "what did you do today to make life hard for North Korea."

The analysis of the Singapore summit has been that Trump didn't give Kim anything which couldn't be reversed in the future, except the first meeting with the US president. But that analysis will be wrong if the sanctions are slowly eroding because of the change of attitude at the top,

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Caring for the Past: Cemeteries

The Rural Blog had this post--as rural communities dwindle in population there's less and less support for the institutions of the past.  I've run into this in my own life:  while the churches and cemeteries where my ancestors worshiped and are buried are still active, I can't be sure that's going to be true in another generation.

Personally, I'm going to be cremated.  Because I have no children no one will miss my gravestone.  But the church my Rippey ancestors helped found no longer has enough members to support a minister; it has been combined with another church.  My parents church was already combined with two others when I was growing up.  As the mainline denominations lose members the outlook is grim.

I think there is no answer.  We can't preserve everything from the past, so many churches and cemeteries will gradually disappear, just as the evidence of the ways of life of previous residents of this continent have already disappeared.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Updating Voting Lists--What SCOTUS May Have Missed

The Supreme Court has ruled on the methods Ohio uses to update their voting registers, deleting names if they don't vote  and don't respond to a postcard.  Good liberals are up in arms, wishy washy types like Kevin Drum are blah.

ASCS/FSA had a voting register, essentially a subset of the overall name and address file.  I never knew how well we maintained it, whether the county offices followed through on their instructions.  Basically, they were supposed to, once a year, do a mailing with the request for the postal service to report back any items where the address was wrong.  I don't know how well the postal service did this; I'm a bit suspicious of the quality.  As  far as I know, USPS still has the service though you have to pay a surcharge for the special handling.  As far as I know, Ohio doesn't use the approach nor did it become an issue in the litigation.  Just skimming the news accounts of the Court's decision it seems the debate was over whether it was rational to assume that a voter who failed to return a postcard had changed her address or was just not responsive to postal reminders.

It seems to me there are two aspects to the voting register: one is whether the register has an accurate mailing address; the other is whether the individual citizen is eligible to vote.  And it seems that Ohio and SCOTUS, perhaps many states, are conflating the two, likely because in the old days people didn't move.

Let's start at the beginning:

  1. a person turns 18 and registers to vote, providing whatever proof of identity and age is currently required by the state, whatever proof of "legal residence" (i.e., tying the citizen to a voting precinct) is required, and the current mailing address. Now in most cases the two addresses will be one and the same, but they needn't be.  (Actually, these days the mailing address should be replaced or amplified by email address/smartphone number--it's contact information.)
  2. Now, the manager of the registry can update the mailing address independently of the legal residence.  They can ask the USPS for changes of address, or do as ASCS used to.  
  3. When the person comes into vote, if there's no indication their legal residence has changed (because their mailing address is out-of-date or does not match the residence)  they can vote.  
  4. If there is an indication the legal address may have changed, the manager can go through a process to validate the change.  IMO logically you'd do an online-verification, ensuring the citizen has only the one legal residence recorded and thus can vote only in one precinct.
  5. The only reason to drop the citizen from the voting rolls (other than death) would be if the citizenship is revoked or eligibility to vote is lost due to a criminal conviction or declaration of incompetence.
As it stands for Ohio voters dropped from the rolls, they have to go through the process of re-enrolling, like photo-id.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Emails on Weiners's PC

IIRC when the FBI announced they'd found Clinton emails on Weiner's PC I was doubtful it was important.  Granted, as a Clinton supporter I didn't want there to be any bombshells, but I saw it as something of a parallel to my situation.  With two PC's in a household, it only makes sense for materials from one to be backed up on, or copied over to, the other PC.  As far as I can tell that's how it turned out.

In my mind, that would be a reasonable assumption for any investigator, meaning if staff is short and other investigations press, as with the possibility of collusion with the Russians, it was reasonable to give priority to the Russian angle. Strzok didn't know at the end of September the way Comey would handle the matter.  Under normal rules the reopening of the investigation wouldn't have been announced.  If and when Strzok testifies, I expect that to be his explanation. 

We'll see.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Are We More Divided Than Ever?

There's lots of doom and gloom around these days: democracy is failing; our constitution is obsolete; drastic changes are need; the center is not holding.  We can lose ourselves in pessimism.

I'm thinking back over my impressions of politics over my life:

  • In the Truman administration and early Eisenhower we had all the controversy over communism and corruption, subversion, and demagoguery.  In addition, we had lots of labor strife, with John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, and Harry Bridges prominent.   
  • In the late Eisenhower administration through the Nixon years we had divisions over civil rights.  Killings and demonstrations, "massive resistance", axe handles, ugly hatred and the threat of race war. We had "Impeach Earl Warren".
  • In LBJ and Nixon we had Vietnam, with the Weather Underground and radical terrorists bombing buildings.  
  • We also had Watergate, which some any saw as a coup. And we had Roe v Wade and the associated controversy over abortion.
I'd say two things are different these days:  a loss of confidence in institutions, and Trump's absolute domination of the news.  I doubt there's any day since summer of  2016 in which the name of Trump doesn't appear on the front page of either the Post or the Times.  IMHO we have to get past the Trump administration before we can begin to understand this time.  (Similarly, we couldn't understand Nixon in 1972 and 73.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sometimes You Can't Win: Bureaucracy

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution each day has a page of links. On Wednesday he had two of interest:

1. Has delegation in American government become much worse?
3. What made ARPA work well?

If you don't click, you'd think the answer to 1 is Congress is delegating a lot more to the executive and that is bad.  When you click on 3, you find part of the answer is lots of authority was delegated to ARPA.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Bureaucrat and Politics: Reagan and Me

The DOJ IG report is out.  Pro-Trump partisans see it as helping him; anti-Trump partisans see it as confirming Clinton lost the election due to Comey's announcements.  Both seem to agree that the Strzok-Page emails were beyond the pale, particularly his reassurance to Page that "we'll stop him" meaning stopping Trump from winning the election.  The only evidence he did anything to back up the promise is the idea he didn't work on the Weiner emails issue for a month because he was working on the Russian-collusion investigation.  At least in the discussions I've read there's little detail on this.

In defense of bureaucrats being able to separate personal opinions and professional duties I'll offer a story from the Reagan administration.  I was strongly opposed to Reagan's election, and remained so throughout his 2 terms.  I was in the habit of referring to him as "the senior idiot", and a boss of mine as "the junior idiot".  Although I don't remember saying that to my co-workers, I'm sure most of them knew I wasn't for him.  In ASCS at the time, at least in the program areas one was pretty well identified as Democrat or Republican.  While I steered away from active involvement and wasn't then contributing money, the players within the bureaucracy knew my tendencies.

Anyway, comes fall of 1982 and the Reagan administration decides to implement a legally-questionable multi-billion dollar program to both reduce CCC-owned surpluses and crop acreages without budget expenditures--the program known as Payment-in-Kind.  Because of my background on the administrative side I knew the people who needed to be involved to create the forms and handle the directives and regulations to implement the program.  Because of my experience on the program side I understood most of the complexities of creating the program, writing the regulations and the contract (the contract the OGC lawyers insisted on to provide a legal fig-leaf for the program), and dealing with Kansas City IT players, I was a key player in the implementation (Had a chance to watch Seeley Lodwick, then the Under Secretary ramrod morning coordination meetings, giving me an example of what to do, an example I dearly wish Obama had seen when implementing ACA.).

The bottom line: I and a lot of other bureaucrats did a good job and PIK was implemented.  We did it despite our political leanings, whether pro- or con- Reagan.

I've written before on this question: Trump trusts people working for him to be good soldiers, if not lickspittles, and support his positions even if they're very different than what the workers used to support.  (See Mulvaney, see Bolton.) The same should apply to FBI agents.

Addendum: I admit there's a difference between the FBI behavior I've seen described from articles on the OIG report and mine.  Some of the agents were more open in expressing their opinions to each other than I ever remember being.  That's a bit bothersome.   On the other hand, I'm sure many soldiers and marines involved in our years of recent wars openly voiced their adverse opinions, while still doing their jobs.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Trump as Quintessentially American

Trump has gained attention for his noting to KJU the potential of NK beaches.  While there's derision, it strikes me as quintessentially American.  Perhaps my opinion is swayed by my exposure to the "frontier thesis" of Frederick Jackson Turner which pointed to the impact of "free land" on the development of American society and culture.

Pointing out the parallel--Americans historically have found opportunity existing in new frontiers, first in land, later in new areas of endeavor.  So it's typically American for Trump to see development opportunities in an area which might become newly available to entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Farm Bill In the Senate

DTN reports on the progress of the Senate's version of the farm bill.  And from there you get this:
Censky also said that the Trump administration is continuing the modernization of technology at USDA and that officials hope that all the programs in the 2018 farm bill will be available online.

Farmers will still need to go to county Farm Service Agency offices to sign some papers, but Censky said he hopes farmers will be able to deal with applications and other forms online from home before going to the office. Farmers uncomfortable using a computer will still be able to go to the county office to fill out paperwork, he said.
I note there's a provision requiring use of the same county yields, requiring reconciliation of NASS and crop insurance figures.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

North Korea and the US

If I consider Pres. Kim to be rational, this is what I imagine his ultimate goals/wishes would be, in no particular priority:

  • security guarantees from the US
  • nuclear weapons and missiles
  • peaceful unification of the peninsula under his leadership, being an autocracy like China's Xi
  • economic aid from South Korea and where ever.
For the US, our goals would be:

  • no nukes or missiles
  • no unification or unification under the South's system
  • no proliferation or transfer of nuclear or missile technologies.
I suspect the minimax solution, assuming both sides are rational is trading NK aid and security for verified agreements on nonproliferation, and kicking the unification question down the road.  

It's possible that Trump's clownish antics will provide enough cover and distraction for the US to give up its, and his, proclaimed goals denuclearization. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trump Records Management II

Some more thoughts on the Politico piece describing how Trump tears up documents when he's through with them, requiring employees to tape these official records back together.  (See yesterday's post.)

  1. Who knew our President actually handled any documents--the impression the media gives is he operates in meetings and by tweets?  That's an exaggeration, of course.
  2. Presumably these are briefing papers, not decision memos.
  3. Ann Althouse commented this morning, making one valid point: Scotch tape isn't the right choice for archival materials (which anything seen by POTUS likely would be). Can't say much for the rest of her post.
  4. The employees who spoke to the reporter were likely GS-11 or below in pay grade.  Perhaps they're in the same category as Clinton's Filegate employees--people who usually carry on from one adminstration to the next, but who aren't permanent civil service so don't have the usual job protections.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Records Management in the Trump White House

This is--I lack the words.

The management of official records is a serious business, but one can only laugh.

Import Brains (Continued)

Via Marginal Revolution an article on the amazing success of Nigerian-Americans. 

Some points which occur to me:

  • importing immigrants who succeed is good foreign aid--they tend to return to the country of origin and/or send remittances.
  • I wonder what happens to the children.  There's research, mostly I think on Hispanic immigrants, which show the children as losing the advantages of immigrants and gain the disadvantages of American children (obesity, crime, etc.)
  • such success is complicating the task of American racism in finding support for their stereotypes.
  • I write all this despite having had negative feelings towards African/Caribbean immigrants in FSA some 25 years ago--there were a couple with whom I had some interactions.  It was easy to doubt their ability to contribute when they had no background in US agriculture (though looking back on it I suspect I was being unfair.)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Trump and God Bless America

As an independent-minded liberal, or so I like to think, I must occasionally give our president the benefit of the doubt. One such occasion has arisen.

When he disinvited the Eagles to the White House, his substitute ceremony included "God Bless America".  During the song, Trump seemed not to know all the words, a fact which has attracted attention and some derision.

The Post has an article on the history of the song which is very good.  Its popularity is relatively recent, that is, within my lifetime.

I don't know about Trump, or the rest of you, but the way I learned our patriotic songs was in music class in elementary school.  Anchors Aweigh, etc.  I'm sure I can no longer remember the words to any of them, even our national anthem, in the sense that I could sit down and write out the song.  But, get me standing with a group of people and a band playing and somehow muscle memory takes over and I can produce what stands as singing of the words, good enough for government work anyway. 

But I'm sure "God Bless America" is not a song I learned. I'm aware of it, having heard it enough, but I've no muscle memory to count on.  Now Trump, being younger than I, may have learned the song in his elementary school, may have if he wasn't talking or disrupting the class (on his way to military school).  If so, let's criticize away.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Time to Check


USDA just got $10 million for it, one of three agencies to get the first awards from OMB's Modernization Technology Fund, according to this article.

Personally I wonder about two things:

  1. what is the management and organizational structure supporting the effort?  Dedicated resources or detailed from the agencies? Full-time managers and programmers, or part-time?
  2. what metrics do they have, and how are they fed back into the management structure?   
In other words, how is the bureaucracy organized.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Trump and the Harshaw Rule

My Harshaw Rule says you don't do things right the first time. 

The Trump Administration provides abundant proof of the rule.  Starting with the man at the top, the administration has been filled with people who lack previous background in their posts.  And their various blunders and flouting of ethical standards are the result.  The unprecedented turnover in Trump appointees is an indicator of the strength of the Harshaw rule.

All this means, however, that in the Mueller investigation there will be no conclusion of a "corrupt intent" for the simple reason Trump had no ability to form a coherent intent. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Starbucks and Casual Fridays

One of the big changes in American culture since my youth is clothing.  Back in the day jeans and overalls were working class clothes.  Sailors for example wore jeans and white t-shirts.  Veterans home from the war maybe wore their khaki dress uniforms, or parts thereof, and the style migrated to others. My father, for example, wore overalls and blue work shirts on the farm, while when he headed to Greene for the weekly shopping trip and to pick up cow and chicken feed at the GLF store he would wear khaki, or gray twill styled something like a uniform. And hats.

When I went off to college in '59 my older sister was consulted about proper attire, resulting in a trip to Robert Hall, a now long-defunct clothing chain that might have been just a hair above Sears or Monkey Wards. Sports coats, dress pants and shirts were the uniform, or so I was told.

Meanwhile office workers wore dress clothes, suits and such.  Housewives wore house dresses, while secretaries dressed up.  Bottom line: you could make reasonable guesses about the class of any person by seeing how they dressed.  You could get a confirmation by looking at their car, always American and with distinct steps up the ladder.

Today those distinctions have faded, and I think in most cases have been obliterated.

That brings me to the Philadelphia Starbucks incident where the manager called the cops because two African-American men were waiting there without buying.  My intuition is the situation would never have arisen back in 1958.  Not only did we have no Starbucks, but if we'd had one most African-Americans would likely not have patronized it, out of financial concerns.  But, and I come to my point, hypothetical African-Americans in a 1958 Starbucks would have been well-dressed.  Their clothes would have said to the manager: we abide by your norms and conventions, we're "good Negroes", and don't be concerned.    Because of the fading of signals of social class, there's less certainty today, meaning more tension, and tension, IMHO, triggers racist thoughts and actions.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Tracing the Thread: Connections Via the Internet

There seems to be much debate over the impact of the Internet and the web on society.  Some say we're absorbed in our cellphones and shrinking from face to face interactions.  Some disagree.

A story:

My extended family was small; I had six living first cousins, all of whom were several years older than me.  They lived in distant places, and we didn't have family reunions.   The closest we came in recent years was when two cousins came to my mother's funeral.

Then came the internet and PC's.  A cousin, Marjorie Harshaw Robie, got a hand-me-down PC from her son, and started to get into genealogy, becoming very interested in and familiar with the Harshaw and the Robies.  Through connections she made there, a remote cousin got in touch with her, offering a set of original diaries written by James Harshaw in County Down in the middle of the 19th century.  My cousin got them microfilmed and took them back to Ireland to the Public Records (archives) Office.   Her work with the diaries attracted enough attention that PBS, which was doing a TV series on the Irish in America, did an interview, excerpts of which actually got aired.  My sister, who had been into genealogy before the advent of PC's, noticed and mentioned to me. 

Another few years passed and I looked my cousin up on the Internet and got her email address (this was before Facebook).  We made connections, first through email, then through AOL instant messaging (and now Facebook).   She's now putting the finishing touches on her second book, Dueling Dragons (expect to see more on it here).

Meanwhile, as a retiree I got involved in blogging and in following bloggers.  One of the bloggers I began to follow, probably about 2008, was TaNehisi Coates.  At that time he had one of the best sets of people commenting on his posts, including a number of regulars.   One of the regulars was Andy Hall, who had his own blog: Dead Confederates, a blog which I added to my RSS feed.

On the occasion of Memorial Day, Andy posted about three Civil War veterans, one of whom was George Frank Robie, a Union Medal of Honor winner who's buried in Galveston, Andy's hometown.

Naturally, when I saw the post, I passed the url to my cousin in case he was new to her.  This is real life, not fiction, so George Frank did not turn out to be an ancestor of her husband, but only a relative.

What lessons do I take from this?  I think the Internet does enable, though not force, new connections following existing paths of relationship and interests.