Saturday, September 29, 2018

Dueling Dragons Launch

I may have mentioned helping my cousin with her book, which is now available on Amazon.  She's now, today, on her way to Ireland (the island) to speak at events in the Newry area in Ulster. After her return she'll have speaking engagements in the New England area. 

The book's all hers--my participation took me back to my days in Directives in ASCS, mostly ensuring the transformation of the manuscript into a product Amazon would print (using the now defunct CreateSpace publishing service, now consolidated into Kindle Direct Publishing).

I'm also helping with a blog where she'll post stories and information around and related to the story in the book. 

Anyone interested in Irish history in the 19th century and/or how tribalism works (a topic of current interest) should take a look.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Double-Digit Midget--Some Things Never Change

Via Marginal Revolution, Business Insider has a list of phrases only the military would know.  Among them: "Double-Digit Midget."  That's listed right after "days and a wake-up".

I wonder if the draftees in earlier wars were using the same phrases.  I suppose only those in a bureaucratized military, with terms of service calculated down to the day. 

Anyhow, both those phrases and a few others were familiar from my days in the US Army.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

USDA Should Proof Better or Do We Have Wood Clothes?

Foreign Agricultural Service has a request for comment on an Information Collection.  It triggered my nitpicking self:  I've bolded the offending words.

Foreign Agricultural Service

Title: Agriculture Wood Apparel Manufacturers Trust Fund.
OMB Control Number: 0551-0045.
Summary of Collection: Section 12315 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Pub. L. 113-79) authorizes distribution out of the Agriculture Wood Apparel Manufacturers Trust Fund (“Agriculture Wool Trust Fund”) in each of calendar years 2014 through 2019, payable to qualifying claimants. Eligible claimants are directed to submit a notarized affidavit, following the statutory procedures specified Section 12314 (c) or (d) of the Act.
Need and Use of the Information: The Foreign Agricultural Service will use the information provided in the affidavits to certify the claimants' eligibility and to authorize payment from the Agriculture Wood Trust Fund.
It is, of course, for manufacturers of woolen apparel.   Apparently it's funded not by checkoffs from the affected parties (think the cotton or milk promotion funds) but by some legislative legerdemain with duties on wool imports.  Administration seems to be split between AMS and FAS--AMS handles almost all of the research and promotion marketing orders stuff.   FAS has this explanation: The Agriculture Wool Apparel Manufacturers Trust Fund was authorized under Section 12315 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill) to reduce the economic injury to domestic manufacturers resulting from tariffs on wool fabric that are higher than tariffs on certain apparel articles made of wool fabric.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

College Life as It Used To Be II

Posted the other day on college life in the 17th century.  Now I'll mention an aspect of it in the 20th century--specifically panty raids

I was reminded of that 1950's fad by a short mention in the media re: Kavanagh--apparently Yale men raided women's rooms for their lingerie.  That seems to differ from what men were doing in the early 1950's, which was gather under the women's dorms and beg for panties.  I suppose the big difference is the fact we had women's dorms then; today there's no similar concentration of women to exploit.  The underlying motivations were likely the same.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

College Life as It Used To Be

Ran across this image at the Historic Ipswich website.  We can safely say no 17th century college students could be confirm on today's US Supreme Court.

Monday, September 24, 2018

MFP Instructions from FSA

USDA has added almonds and cherries to the eligible commodities for MFP payments, and FSA issued a new expanded notice covering them plus other changes.

The changes seem to be tightening up the program:
  1. a subparagraph on spotchecking production evidence
  2. more detailed instructions on reviewing evidence for reasonableness (though I don't see any definition of the "Other" category of acceptable evidence.  I don't remember that from 25 years ago--maybe it's been added and is now understood by everyone?) 
And the addition of a worksheet for making the payment calculations and computing a total payment amount.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

MFP and Privacy of Data

Article in the newspaper, lost track of which one, reporting that FSA had issued something like $23 million in MFP payments so far.

I'm impressed less by the speed with which the agency was able to issue the payments than by the ability to provide statistics.  With the centralized payment process the payment data should have been easy but they're also reported applications made and paid.  I'm not sure what's supporting that--maybe the business processes are in the cloud, making such data easy?

The article also went on to note that EWG was asking for release of the payment data.  That reminds me of this notice.  I've read it a couple times and still don't understand it, perhaps because I'm remembering that the 2008 or 2012 farm bill included a prohibition on providing payment data.  My memory may be wrong, or the law may have changed in more recent farm bills.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Toyota--Say It Ain't So--Driverless Cars

Here's a report on a Toyota bigshot's skepticism that we'll get driverless cars any time soon.

I've been driving my leased-Prius 2 for a year, chosen because of its safety features and reasonable price.  The features are good, but not fool proof--I've had a couple close calls, albeit at low speeds so likely the worst result would have been a fender-bender.  But still, I really want improvements in the features, FAST.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Are Ant Colonies Tribal?

We grow dahlias in our garden.  I regularly cut a few and bring them home for a dinner table bouquet.  Unfortunately the blossoms often have some ants in them, presumably harvesting the pollen or something.  So when I get them home and put them in vase (glass) on the kitchen counter I soon see ants running around the counter, all confused because they can't find the trail which will lead them back to their nest. 

Hence my question: is it possible for an ant from colony A of species Z to find and be accepted by ants also of species Z but from colony B?  Or would they identify the ant as an interloper who needs to be rejected, shunned, or attacked?  Assuming the latter to be true I put them out of their misery by squishing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Connectedness: the NYTimes Map

The NYTimes has an interactive map showing how people are connected by Facebook, which allows them to show the impact of distance: briefly, our friends are close, physically.  The data is at the county level, so they can show which counties people in Fairfax county are closest to (all VA counties plus DC, no MD counties).

It's good to play with.  As their final analysis, they show how the US divides if you divide areas by closeness of connections.  So if you divide the US into 2 parts, they're Hawaii and the rest of the country.  As a failed historian, I was fascinated to see that only at the 20 part division did the Mason Dixon line show up. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

50 Years in the DC Area

I forget what recently reminded me of the fact I've now lived in DC and Reston for over 50 years, but something in the newspaper did.  It's been a  while.   Even more astounding is I'm gradually catching up to the United States.  That is, at 77 my lifespan is getting close to 1/3 of the US (now 242 years).  If I live to be about 82 I'll be there.

Damn, I'm getting old.

Someday maybe I should write about the experience.  But right now I'd rather focus on the midterm elections.

Monday, September 17, 2018

MFPromises Made But Not Kept

It's been 2 weeks since the MFP was activated.  There's this promise on the website which hasn't been implemented yet:

Digital Forms Icons

Use the digital form on

Coming soon, you’ll have the option of completing a user-friendly digital application form right here on - optimized for your mobile phone or tablet. No authenticated account or password required. Just complete the digital form, and the application will be sent automatically to your county office. Then stop by your local USDA service center to sign the form and provide your production evidence any time.

Not sure what the holdup is since the form is online--maybe it's the optimization for phone or tablet?  If so, I wonder if they have statistics showing percent users of PC's versus phones/tablets? 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

How Partisan Are We Really?

Some lines from a Fivethirtyeight chat (onObama's influence today):
According to the 2017 poll I referenced earlier, Obama was seen favorably by 22 percent of Republicans. That’s not awful.
micah: That’s better than I expected, actually.
nrakich: And, according to a Gallup poll from February, 38 percent of Democrats now approve of George W. Bush! Some of that is the Trump effect, but in general, partisans cool their jets once their mortal enemy stops being their mortal enemy.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Congressional Research Service on Market Facilitation Program

Here's the CRS explanation and commentary on the MFP.

Two paragraphs from the summary:
Most farm commodity and advocacy groups have been supportive of the trade aid package even as they have called for solutions that restore export activity.
However, stakeholders have begun to question the equity of the distribution of MFP payments due to difficulties in isolating specific market effects and the lack of transparency around the formulas for determining MFP payment rates. Some trade economists and market watchers have suggested that its potential effects could be longer lasting because the imposition of tariffs and retaliatory tariffs have created uncertainty about U.S. trade policy behavior. Further, the use of CCC authority to mitigate tariff-related losses may establish a precedent for future situations.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Prima Donnas: Trump and MacArthur

I don't think many people would dispute that our president is something of a prima donna.  (See the internet's definition below.)   The question is who in American history is his peer in this regard?

Have I mentioned I'm reading "World War II at Sea"?  It's quite good and comprehensive.  Of course the author has to mention Douglas MacArthur.  I'd put his ego up against Trump's any day of the week, although he had more genuine accomplishments than Trump.

The internet says a prima donna is:
"a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.
synonyms:ego, self-important person, his nibs, temperamental person, princessdivapooh-bah;
informaldrama queen
"a city council filled with prima donnas"

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Kevin Drum's Readers Are Wrong

A couple days ago Kevin posted a graph showing price changes over time: one line was for cat food, the other dog food.  He asked his readers (cat fans, I assume, because of his Friday feature) which was which, specifically which had had the greater increase in recent years..

The "best" comment threads uniformly guessed cat food, offering good and valid reasons (cats eat meat, dogs eat more varied diets).

The answer, however, was dog food had increased; cat food is actually cheaper today than it was in 1985.

I have no idea why the difference. Possibly we underestimate the changes in the price of meat over the last 30 years?  Or possibly something else.

Monday, September 10, 2018

CRISPR and Cassava

Tamar Haspel tweeted a link to this article on using CRISPR in cassava.  Part of the key was making cassava flower reliably and early, so regular breeding and cross-matching techniques could be employed down the line.  (Cassava feeds a lot of people (is a billion a lot--I think so) but has been hard to improve because it didn't flower regularly.)

The article goes on to comment on the barriers to CRISPR being erected in other areas of the world.

CRISPR is near and dear to my heart, though it's been around for just a few years, because I identified it early as an interesting technique, though just today have I added a label for it (using "genetic modification" before). 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Insubordination in the Past

Been reading a couple of good books: World War II at Sea, and President Carter which remind me of past instances of insubordination in different executive branches.  Some instances, not from the books:

  1. FDR was told by a top naval officer before WWII the military did not have faith in his leadership.  
  2. Churchill's military continually questioned his judgment, with good cause according to most historians.
  3. Joe Califano resisted Carter's efforts to remove education from his HEW to establish a separate Education Department.  Carter ended up firing 3 cabinet officers and almost had his VP resign.
  4. Much of Lincoln's military, particularly in the early years and especially Gen. McClellan, openly dissed the president. 
  5. Andrew Jackson ended up firing his cabinet to resolve dissension.
  6. Ronald Reagan--well, I won't start on him.
So our current president's troubles are not entirely unprecedented.  

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Blast from the Past: Pogo

We have met the enemy and he is us. 

That's a quote from my sister's favorite cartoon of the 1950's, and therefore mine.  (She was 5.5 years older, enough that she could act as a guide to the mysterious world of adults. )

Reminded of Pogo by this short piece.

Here's the wikipedia take.

I see googling "pogo" doesn't bring up the cartoon as any of the top results.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Once Biten, Twice Shy in Politics

Some days I'm very left in my political opinions; other days I'm more cautious.  Today at least the cautious side wins. 

I wish President Obama had continued to be quiet, to push participation and policies but not taking on the current incumbent of the Oval Office.  I wish the Democrats weren't reaching so hard for ammunition to use against Kavanaugh.  He strikes me as about the best we could expect from this President and this party.  The current polls look promising in the House, and not too terrible in the Senate, but I'm concerned that the Republicans will be able to use their fatcat money to push the message that Democrats are extreme.

I'm likely thinking with my emotions, not not my brain, but I remember my optimism going into the 2016 elections.  And I remember McGovern in 1972 and Dukakis in 1988. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

A Compliment for

I've a jaundiced view of initiatives to put government operations on-line, which is a carryover from my experiences when I was at FSA.  However, I want to compliment for at least a small attempt at transparency--they're including on the site some promises of additions to the site as well as an early stab at presenting metrics.

I've always believed  government websites should publicize their views and usage.  I suspect the figures would disappoint people like me who want to push e-government.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Those Hard-Working Bureaucrats at FSA

Failed to mention yesterday that the instructions for MFP were issued timely.  Signup opened yesterday, and the notice providing the instructions was issued at 1:00 am. Sept. 4.

Never let it be said that FSA bureaucrats were asleep on the job.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

CCC-910 for Market Facilitation Program

FSA now has the form approved by OMB and up and operational on its website. (Or, actually on the website.)

Since I've started off nitpicking the program and it's a convenient subject to blog about, some more comments. (And there aren't many people left at FSA from my time there, which is a consideration--don't want to be unfair to friends, but unfair to strangers is another matter.)

I wonder why the producer's certification only notes that failure to certify production accurately will result in loss of benefits.  I'm too lazy to check, but didn't FSA used to note penalties for false certification--18 U.S.C. something or other? I also wonder why there's no language either tying the production to the producer's farm(s) or certifying that it is the total production from all farms in which the producer has an interest.  Don't know if there's an appendix to this contract.  Nor do I know the significance of the "adjusted production" column.

I'm a bit disappointed that FSA asks for a producer's fax number, but not her email address. 

I note with some bemusement that the nondiscrimination statement has been modified since my time--I've bolded the changes.

"In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, family/parental status, income derived from a public assistance program, political beliefs, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity, in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA (not all bases apply to all programs). Remedies and complaint filing deadlines vary by program or incident."

I note the website promises the ability to file electronically.  Maybe I've found another area to nitpick. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Alex Haley and Cornell

It turns out that Alex Haley, the author of "Roots" was born in Ithaca, NY, while his father Simon was getting his Masters in agriculture at Cornell.

Over the first hundred years of Cornell's existence it educated some African-Americans, though a man from Haiti was the first student of African descent in 1869.

IMO because of its different colleges, partly due to its land-grant status, Cornell had an easier time with diversity than did its competitors over that period.  For blacks the record was tokenism, a few students every year at best.  Cornell did better with Asian students, enrolling its first in 1870 along with its first woman. But notoriously, when the civil rights movement started impacting colleges in the 1960's, it didn't do any better than other schools.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Canada and Supply Management for Dairy

One of the biggest issues in the renegotiation of NAFTA with Canada is their desire to maintain their system of supply management for dairy.  Here's a site with statistical data on the industry.  The two big provinces are Ontario and Quebec.  As one can see from this chart there's little variation in cow numbers over the last 15 years (2004-2018).  But if you look at the number of farms, there has been roughly 1/3 reduction in farm numbers over the same period (17,000 to 11,000).

From ERS  (the copy and paste process loses the formating.  I've bolded the two big points): Midpoints increased for each commodity over 1987-2012, but the rate of increase varies widely, with dramatic long-term changes in egg, hog, and dairy production (table 9). The midpoint flock size in egg layers increased to 925,975 birds in 2012 from 117,839 in 1987 (and just over 62,000 in 1982); the midpoint for hog removals rose to 40,000 in 2012 from 1,200 in 1987; and the midpoint dairy cow herd rose to 900 cows in 2012 from 80 in 1987. The broiler and fed cattle industries show continued consolidation, with 2012 midpoints a bit more than double their values in 1987. However, each underwent striking changes in organization and technology well before the series starts in 1987 (MacDonald and McBride, 2009). Table 9 Consolidation in livestock sectors, 1987-2012 Commodity 1987 1997 2007 2012 Change (percent) 1987-2012 2007-2012 Sales midpoint: Number of head sold or removed Broilers 300,000 480,000 681,600 680,000 127 -0.1 Fed cattle 17,532 38,000 35,000 38,369 119 10 Hogs and pigs 1,200 11,000 30,000 40,000 3,233 33 Turkeys 120,000 137,246 157,000 160,000 33 2 Inventory midpoint: Number of head in herd/flock Beef cows 89 100 110 110 24 0 Egg layers 117,839 300,000 872,500 925,975 686 6 Milk cows 80 140 570 900 1,025 58 Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, compiled from census of agriculture data.

Bottom line: while Canadian dairy farms have declined in number, the rate of decline in the US is higher. 

I'm reminded of the supply management system the US used to have for tobacco, now ended.  It had a similar effect: slowing the transformation of the industry.