Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Agreeing with Althouse on the Past

I've been following Ann Althouse's blog for years. In the last few years I think she's become more conservative, often defending President Trump.  I also think she tends to find hidden motives buried in people's statements and in news article, explaining things by those motives rather than the simpler explanation offered by Murphy's Law and taking things at face value.

But the other day she and her son collaborated on a post with which I can agree.  Basically they're remembering a past when liberals and the left were vehement in defense of free speech.  Mario Savio and the Berkeley Free Speech Movement come to mind, though definitely before her son's time.

All things being equal, I think I generally lean towards free speech (joined the ACLU back in the days of the Nazis marching in Skokie) and am reluctant to see boycotts, even though they are a part of our American heritage (boycotts of British goods led up to the Revolution).

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Petty Frustrations of Old Age

What's bad about getting older:

  • finding that after typing a few letters, you didn't get your fingers on the right keys, so "this types as " yjod yu[rd sd "
  • it takes seconds to turn the newspaper pages, so you turn from page 2 to page 6.
Your temper gets shorter so you're more enraged by the petty than you should be.

Monday, January 28, 2019

On Assimilation of Immigrants

Tom Brokaw got himself in trouble this weekend by comments on immigration.

When people talk about assimilation of immigrants, I think of two things:

  • examples of immigrants to America who have not "assimilated", at least if defined as speaking English and abandoning their language of origin:  the Pennsylvania "Dutch", aka Amish and some related communities, and some Hasidic Jewish communities, along with Native American tribes, Cajuns (I think), etc.  
  • Switzerland.  A long time democracy with at least  3 definite language communities.
So my message is relax:  have faith in American soft power and its ability slowly to permeate the norms of people living here, as well as those living elsewhere.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Rules and Regulations: Ms Rao

The Times had an article on the Trump administration problems with the Administrative Procedure Act.  It seems the courts have dinged the administration a number of times for not following the act, not providing for notice and opportunities for public comment on policy changes and not doing good enough analysis of policy alternatives to support the decision.

I didn't have a great regard for the act during my bureaucratic days--it was a pain.  A pain in particular because mostly there was no one to present an opposing view.  Most "regulatory" agencies have two or more sides interested in their decisions: should the agency be strict or lenient in writing regulations.  But ASCS/FSA was giving out money.  While there were groups like CATO or AEI who disputed the whole basis of many/most of the farm programs, they didn't usually involve themselves in the regulations, just trying to make their case to Congress and the administration.  There were issues: most notably payment limitation and sodbuster/swampbuster/conservation compliance where you'd find significant interest, but even those didn't compare to the hot issues before the regulatory agencies.

One thing the article misses is the role of OMB.  Basically the writer says Trump administration appointees to agencies were either ignorant of the requirements of the APA or rushed their process.  That's true enough, but OMB does review regulations through its OIRA. Who is the head of the office? Neomi Rao  Who is Ms Rao--the Trump nominee to sit on the DC Circuit Court, the court which reviews challenges to agency actions.

Friday, January 25, 2019

McConnell's Gift to KY Farmers: Hemp Price Support Loans to Follow?

Mitch McConnell will face the electorate in 2020.  Kentucky has announced 1000+ farmers have been given licenses to grow hemp. That might help Mitch in his primary in 2020 since he's closely identified with getting the approval for hemp. But the farmers are planning to grow 42,000 acres of hemp, which strikes me as possibly threatening a hemp surplus. (To compare, KY may have about 4,000 tobacco farmers and something under 100,000 acres of tobacco.)

(I don't know, but I don't think anyone else does either.  We don't know how big the demand will be, how well the farmers will do in growing hemp, how good the processing facilities will be. The Rural Blog post I link to mentions CBD oil.  I had the impression that CBD oil came from marijuana, not hemp.  I found this assertion though: ">BD is one of 60 chemicals known as cannabinoids that are specific to cannabis plants. The CBD that we use in our CBD hemp oil tinctures is made from industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis that contains insignificant traces of THC. Industrial hemp products are legal nationwide and contain less than 0.3% THC.")

So I wonder how long it will be before hemp farmers find the need for and the political clout to get price support loans incorporated in farm legislation?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

20 Years of Amazon

Was just logged into my Amazon account and noticed it says I've been a customer since 1998.  The company was founded in 1994, so I was a relatively early customer, but nothing notable.

I remember reading investment advice from some guru of the time.  Essentially he said one way to choose stocks was to buy those you used.  That would have been good advice.  I could have had a fortune now had I invested in Amazon when my first purchase was satisfactory.

But I didn't, never have invested in it, just paid it a bunch of money over the years.

As you get older you know not to dwell on opportunities you missed.  That's life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

FSA Employees Turn Out To Be Essential?

USDA has decided to recall 9500 FSA employees beginning Jan 24 to provide services.  Chris Clayton reported this on twitter and here's an article.

Apparently all field offices will open (not clear on DC and KCMO) and will handle most, but not all, program activities, including MFP applications, the deadline for which has been extended. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Interplay of Tech and Behavior

Peter Moskos has an interesting post at his blog.  In New York City if a policeman answers a 911 call for a person who's waiting for an ambulance she has to  enter the person's data into her phone which results in a check of the database for outstanding warrants.  Moskos argues that's wrong and bad: people will associate EMTs with law enforcement and avoid calling for help.

Towards the end he notes a separate issue--in Baltimore every time the police stopped someone, they ran a check for outstanding warrants.  In NYC, they don't.  Moskos traces the difference to a difference in technology: apparently in NYC multiple precincts share a radio band; in Baltimore each precinct has its own band.  So, as an economist would predict, there's rationing of a scarce resource in NYC but not in Baltimore.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Interpreting Human Facial Expressions

I may have written about this before.

Humans are very good at reading other people.  At least scientists say we are, and we're eager to believe it.

For years I was sure that when I grinned, it was rather like Hugh Grant's smile: bashful and attractive, expressing good feelings.

Then I went to therapy.  Early on my therapist blew away my illusions: my smile came across as unpleasantly supercilious.  I came to realize that underlying my smile was nervous tension about how the social interaction.  At least some of the therapy group were unable identify the insecurity beneath the expression.

Bottom line: I don't know how common it is to have such a disjunction between what a person is feeling and what people perceive.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Watergate Reporting and Now

Josh Marshall at TPM has, I believe, noted that reporting on Watergate had its problems.  There were news reports which were correct, there were news reports which were wrong, reports which were incredible at the time and subsequently borne out, and all sorts of variations in between.  Mostly the administration denied the reports, launching ad hominem attacks on both the reporters and the sources.  Some of the denials turned out to be well-founded, but most of the denials and the deniers lost credibility as time went back.

History can teach many lessons; one of which is events move at their own pace and sometimes patience is required to know the outcome.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

LBJ's Biggest Mistake: Vietnam or Fortas?

Was in a discussion this morning on Supreme Court confirmations, which caused me to remember one of LBJ's biggest mistakes. Briefly, without checking my facts, Earl Warren decided to retire in 1968 as Chief Justice. 

LBJ decided on a cute doubleplay--promote his attorney and longtime friend, Abe Fortas, from Associate Justice to Chief, and put Texan Homer Thornberry in to replace Fortas.  In my memory, LBJ could likely have gotten a different person confirmed as chief but Fortas was a bridge too far.  Not only was he a liberal justice, but he had always been an adviser to LBJ, something he continued as a Justice.  (Still not publicly known, he had a yearly retainer from Louis Wolfson, a wheeler-dealer of dubious reputation who had been convicted in 1967.) 

In 1968 LBJ had lost most of the clout he used to have, and people (senators) were tired of him.  So Fortas was not confirmed, meaning no vacancy for Thornberry to fill.  The next year Fortas was forced to resign over the Wolfson retainer, meaning Nixon could nominate and get confirmed the Minnesota Twins: Burger (as Chief) and Blackmun.

The bottom line: had LBJ paid more attention to ethics, he never would have appointed Fortas and continued using him as an adviser. And with better judgment he would have replaced Warren with a moderately liberal justice. Although Blackmun evolved into a liberal justice likely comparable to anyone LBJ would have nominated, a more liberal Chief Justice would have changed the composition of the Supreme Court for decades. 

As I think about it, our defeat in Vietnam seems to have been less consequential than we thought it would be in the 60's and 70's, while the changes in SCOTUS seem to be more consequential.  Hence my title.

More on FSA and Shutdown

Politico has a piece more focused on farm loans than farm payments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

FSA Goes Back to Work?

Only in part.  Here's the Politico piece on Perdue's telling 2,500 employees to return on Jan 17, 18, and 22.

And here's the USDA press release.

And here's the list of offices which will open.  (My impression is that a smaller share of offices in the Northeast are being reopened than in the rest of the country.  They may have given preference to locations with heavy MFP activity?)

I wonder how they determined the employees to call back?  All CED's of offices they're reopening?  Might not be the best employees to have. 

I wonder what happens after Monday?

Will be interesting to see how this works out.

And here's a NASCOE explainer from yesterday.  (Thumbs up to NASCOE for the post.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

It's All Downhill from Here

This month I got my first hearing aid.  Today I was told I need my first  dental crown.

My health has been generally good up to now--no hospital stays, no broken bones, etc.  But it's all downhill from here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Small Dairy? Test Farm

The Times today had an article on a supposed small farm; actually a billionaire's test farm (i.e. playtoy given my cynical mood today) trying out various systems intended for small farms.

It's call Rivendale (it doesn't tweet much).

The article is frustrating--apparently  one person is mostly responsible for the 175 milking Jerseys, using an automated feeding system and $200,000 robotic milking systems.  The cows determine when they are milked (4 times a day) and produce 15 percent more.  But it's not clear whether it's their breeding or the milking system which is responsible for the gain.

What I'd like to know, among other things:

  • what's the expected life of these robotic systems? 3 year, 5 year, 8  years, 10 years? 
  • how much maintenance and downtime do they require?  my guess is 4 systems means that 3 systems can handle the 175 with the fourth providing for some backup and fudge factor.
  • what happens when Murphy's law strikes and the systems go down?  With the systems I grew up with, as long as you had electricity you could milk cows.  Without electricity, it was hand milking.
  • can the farmhand handle the technology or does it require a tech?
  • how does the feeding system handle the "non-processed feed" they claim to be using?
  • what's the overall picture--are the cows on pasture or is it a CAFO?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

John Boyd on BBC

Since I mentioned Boyd's appearance in a Post article, I should give equal time to the BBC, where a sound bite from Boyd was included in their piece on the impact of the partial shutdown of the government.

In fairness to Boyd, I suspect he has a reputation for giving good quotes to the media--he's articulate.  In the last century I was  bit dubious of him, thinking he was more a paper farmer than a real one.  But apparently he's (re?)married with kids now and still going with soybeans, getting older along with all the rest of us.

Friday, January 11, 2019

John Boyd and the Shutdown of FSA

When the Post wanted a farmer to talk about the hardships caused by the shutdown of FSA one of the ones they found was John Boyd.  See yesterday's article.

Forgive me for finding it ironic that Boyd still depends in part on the agency which he sued.  Just another proof that life is complicated, as are people.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fences and Landowning in the Post

Marc Fisher had an article in the Post about walls, which touched on fences, which included a quote from an expert which I found to be wrong!!  I commented there, which I'll copy here:

"From the nation’s earliest days, when only white male landowners could vote, many built fences on their land to show their neighbors they were eligible voters, Dreicer [the expert] said."
This is irrelevant to the theme of the article.  Irrelevant because a fence to mark boundaries of ownership isn't like a wall.  Think of our northern boundary: it's marked, but neither fenced nor walled.  We have the symbol of ownership (US sovereignty ends and Canadian begins) without needing a physical barrier.

But I call BS--I'm sure Dreicer never built a fence. A fence requires work, both to build it the first time (particularly stone wall fences but even split rail fences) and work to maintain.  You don't build a fence to declare ownership; you build a fence to keep animals in or out.  That's why we used to have fence viewers.  See  BTW there are interesting regional and historical differences whether a landowner was required to fence his/her animals in, or to fence to keep free-ranging animals out.
Land ownership in the 13 colonies was marked by the metes and bounds system

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Our Decentralized Systems

John Phipps twitted about this piece, specifically this:
This industry, and in particular the few groups who control the narrative, need to actually just agree and make one darn file type used to transfer and create data.I know this has and is being tried and there are a plethora of ways to go about it. Also, there are legacy systems and what not. We are not going to progress much more unless this finally gets solved though. Let us “you know what” or get off the pot.
I commented, comparing this problem with the problem of incompatible data sets in the healthcare industry.  I think this is a general feature of American society and economy: with a federal system, the size of the country and its population, the market economy, and our history we don't have centralized systems comparable to those in France or in Estonia

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

First American Cotton Mill and Eli Whitney

On Dec. 20 there was mention of the anniversary of the first American cotton mill. What struck me at the time, though I'm just getting around to commenting, is the date: 1790. 

Why is the date significant?  Well, we all know there was no cotton industry before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which was in 1794. So what was Samuel Slater's factory spinning in 1790 and after, if no cotton was available?

The answer, of course, was cotton, and the point I'm trying to make is our mental picture of history is wrong.  In fact cotton was grown and de-seeded for centuries, in all continents except Antarctica.  The thing about cotton, as you can see if your aspirin bottle has a wad of cotton to suppress rattles, is it's light so a little goes a long way.  Try weighing the cotton clothes you're wearing now--they're light.  So if the elementary ginning tools in use before Whitney's invention could process a pound of cotton a day that would be sufficient for a lot of yarn and then weaving a fair amount of cloth.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Taxation Policy and Staffing

I commented on a Noah Smith tweet a couple days ago, a thread discussing tax policy. AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)  has gotten notoriety by proposing a tax bracket of $10 million and above with a rate of 70 percent.

I've not followed the debate enough to know what, if anything, she or others have proposed for the current brackets and rates.  Personally I'd add more brackets (because "simplicity" isn't important when you use software packages to file your taxes, with increasing rates.  And I'd have no problem with the 70 percent proposal.

What I do have problems with is IRS staffing.  IMHO the first priority for Democrats is to try to get bipartisan agreement on improving IRS staffing and administration, by which I mean something like doubling the auditors of richer people.  One of my early blog posts was to complain about a then-celebrity evading taxes. As an ex-bureaucrat, I want people to follow the rules, damn it.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Kentucky Dairy Farms Fading

The Rural Blog had a post on the plight of Kentucky dairy farms recently.  A lowlight:
In Kentucky, more than 10 percent of dairy farms shuttered in 2018, lowering the count to 513, down from 1,400 in 2005, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader
I don't know what the reduction in cow numbers was--Estep wrote: ""Farm Aid pointed to Walmart’s new Indiana processing plant as a example of large players taking over more of the milk-supply chain. Large companies with processing plants typically would rather deal with a few large farms than many smaller ones," 

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Police Shootings by State

Moskos has two new pieces here and here on the subject:

First piece on  police shooting people
The national annual average (of police shootings) since 2015 is a rate of 0.31 (per 100,000). And yet New Mexico is 0.98 and New York is 0.09. This is a large difference. 
Western states worst, NE states best, highest black states better than average.
Second piece is mostly on people shooting police

Quotes from the second piece:

Lack of density -- more space -- is correlated with being more likely to be killed by cops. Think of what this means. Common sense tells you it's not a view of "big sky country" that makes cops shoot someone. Whatever really matters, is correlated to density (or lack thereof). Maybe it's single person patrol. Or the time for backup to arrive. Or meth labs. Or gun culture.
The greater the percentage of blacks in a state, the less likely cops are to shoot and kill people.
1) Whites don't really care about who police shoot; period; end of story. And without the pressure over bad (or even good) police-involved shootings, cops never learn how to shoot less. Other things being equal, cops simply shoot more people if there isn't any push-back from (to over-generalize) blacks and liberals and media and anti-police protesters. Call it the Al Sharpton Effect, if you will. Basically, in many places, police organization and culture do need to be pressured into changing for the better.

2) Police can be recruited, trained, and taught to less often use legally justifiable but not-needed lethal force less. The state variations in police use of lethal force are huge. Some states (and particularly jurisdictions within states) do it better than others. Instead of saying "police are the problem" we could look at the states and cities and department that are doing it better and learn. 

Friday, January 04, 2019

Inbred Economist Professors?

A day after I noted the possible inbreeding of law professors, Tyler Cowen posted this, excerpts from an interview:
He [Cowen] said that he agreed with the idea that influence of economics comes from a relatively small number of institutions, and he thinks the number is shrinking. “What used to be something like a ‘top six’ has over time become the ‘top two,’ namely Harvard and MIT.”
I've not checked to see how many of the Harvard/MIT economics professors graduated from those universities--I suspect a lower proportion than with women law professors at Harvard, but it looks as if they're on the same path.  It's a logical extension of trends: education is important, so the best education is very important, so it's best to hire only those with the best education.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

What City Folks Don't Know

This post doesn't cover everything city folks (as my mother would call them) don't know, but just one thing.

Got a new biography of Benjamin Rush from the library the other day. (Rush was the prominent doctor in PA and a founding father and abolitionist.)  Just read a few pages, since I'm behind my reading of other books.  It looks good, well-written.

But, and there's a but.  Rush was born when his parents had a farm outside Philadelphia, though they moved to the city where his father soon died, leaving his mother to support the family.  Anyhow, the author writes about the work of "cutting and baling hay".  That's wrong--they would have cut the grass with a scythe, but they would not have "baled" it--that's a 19th century innovation--they would have likely stacked the hay, possibly stored it in a barn.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Inbred Law Professors?

I engaged in comment threads on Powerline--commenting on a Mirengoff post about Sen. Warren and the DNA test--asserting she had a false story.  As one might expect from my earlier post on the subject, I defended the test and, as you'd expect from the leanings of the website, got a lot of pushback from its devotees.

One point made was that Warren graduated from Rutgers Law.  I did a quick check of the (most of) women professors in Harvard Law and was a bit surprised by the results.  Some professors didn't include their education in their backgrounds, but most did.  Almost all of those I checked graduated from Harvard or Yale.  There was one graduate from Chicago and one from Texas in addition to Warren.

The predominance of Harvard/Yale bothers me--looks as if the system is rather inbred, at least at the law school level, less so at the undergrad level.  Also relevant is this: I noted in passing several cases where the professor had background in other fields, like history or math.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Loss Aversion Equals Fear of Change?

Economists have the theory of "loss aversion"--people fear losing what they have more than they want to gain more. From wikipedia:
In cognitive psychology and decision theoryloss aversion refers to people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it is better to not lose $5 than to find $5. The principle is very prominent in the domain of economics. What distinguishes loss aversion from risk aversion is that the utility of a monetary payoff depends on what was previously experienced or was expected to happen. Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.[1] Loss aversion was first identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.[2]
Also see wikipedia on the  status quo effect, which includes this:  " Loss aversion, therefore, cannot wholly explain the status quo bias,[4] with other potential causes including regret avoidance,[4] transaction costs[5] and psychological commitment.[2]"

I wonder whether part of the effect is the narrative difference between what you have and what you might get.  The latter is naked, so to speak.  It has no history, no web of memories, no particular narrative.  What you have, whether it's a coffee cup or whatever, is clothed with a past, with a skein of memories, a place in a narrative.