Sunday, June 30, 2019

Space Is Getting Crowded

Technology Review counts up the upcoming Mars missions. I'm aware of EU and US missions in the past, but who knew these nations would go to Mars:

  • Russia!
  • China!!
  • UAE!!!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Purchasing Fertilizer in 1880

Turns out the 1880 Agricultural Census schedule recorded the cost of fertilizer purchased for the farm.

I'm not sure what fertilizers were available then--guano certainly.. The US had passed the Guano Islands Act in 1852.  The wikipedia article on guano suggests perhaps saltpeter was replacing it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

My Perception Gap (Flawed Test)

I just took the "Perception Gap Quiz". which has been in the news recently.  It's very brief, and my result is flawed because I've read about the results and adjusted my responses accordingly.   My gap was -9%, when the average Dems is 19%.  I gave the Republicans too much credit in judging Trump to be a flawed person and in worrying about climate change.

I suspect even if I hadn't read about the quiz before, I likely would have had a smaller perception gap than the average Democrat.  I do scan the Washington Times website each morning, though I rarely click through to the story, and I follow the Powerline Blog, staffed by four conservatives, and the Althouse blog.  Althouse may have voted for Obama in the past and hide her 2016 choice, but she tends to be right of center.  And my background growing up means I can be more understanding of Trump voters, at least if I'm reminded to be understanding.  (My knee-jerk reactions may differ.)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Peach Is a Sometime Thing

Ate a peach this afternoon, perhaps the fourth one I've bought this summer. 

It was not a peach; the flesh wasn't yellow but had a reddish cast; although the peach had lost moisture so the skin was loose the flesh didn't taste ripe.  All in all it was a far cry from the peaches I remember from growing up.  I suspect because a ripe peach is a sometime thing the breeders have been hard at work, trying to extend the shelf life in the store, laudably trying to reduce the waste of food involved in trying to sell peaches in grocery stores.  But in doing so they've change peaches for ever.

The peach of my childhood was ripe for a couple days at most.  Who knew that the peach of my childhood would vanish forever at the hands of earnest scientists trying for improvement?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


Which groups of armed men get to be called "militias" and which don't?  Could the Black Panthers have called themselves a "militia"? 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Wave of the Future

NYTimes reports on refugees from Africa coming to Portland, ME.  Part of the reason for their selection of Portland is prior immigrants have settled there and say it's safe and welcoming.  This is the sort of "chain" immigration pattern which has long been a feature of American life.

When you look at the world today, the countries with the highest birth rates and youngest populations are in Africa. Afghanistan looks to be the first non-African country in the ranking, and it's 23rd.  What that means to me is that Africa will be the primary source of migrants over the next few decades.  The migrants may go to Europe and the Middle East based on geography (although I saw a discussion of the Nigerian community in China today) but a good number are likely to come to the U.S., since we already have the connections, the first links in the chain.

I wouldn't be surprised in 20 years or so the children of today's Hispanic and Asian immigrants find African immigrants to be a threat. Maybe I'll live that long.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Economist Discovers Social Norms

The issue Scott Irwin, an economist, is considering is how farmers decide(d) either to plant corn late or to go with prevented planting.  The earlier tweets in this thread all considered rational calculations of return, but this tweet is his final thought:
I view myself as a rational human being, but over my life I've often not acted as such.  I'm not sure whether social norms, habit, or psychology were at work

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Reparations as Honey Pot

Under some designs of reparations we might see a "honeypot" effect.  I wanted to write "honeypot", but I find by google that's used in computing for a trap for hackers. What I mean is the effect where something of value is free, or easily accessible, thereby attracting all sorts of con-men who exploit it. We see in the Oklahoma land-rush.

We also see, again in Oklahoma, as described by Daivd Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon., an National Book Award finalist. Briefly, oil was discovered on the Osage Native American reservation in the 1910's, enriching the members of the tribe.  Immediately the new wealth attracted a wide variety of people seeking to exploit this new resource:

  • merchants selling luxuries at exploitative prices.
  • "guardians" appointed to manage the money of "incompetent Indians". 
  • murder
Unfortunately in cases where government action or inaction creates opportunity for illicit gain, we don't lay the traps in advance; we try to recover after the fact.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

AFIDA Reports and Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land

I posted earlier this year on the issue of foreigners buying agricultural land.  At that time I found an obsolete link to FSA AFIDA reports (last updated in 2012).

The other day I saw a hysterical tweet on the same subject, with Tamar Haspel (a good writer on food issues) countering.

This morning for no reason I decided to Google AFIDA and found the active list of FSA AFIDA reports. The last report on this one is for 2016.

It starts with:
Foreign individuals and entities reported holding an interest in 28.3 million acres of U.S. agricultural land as of December 31, 2016. This is 2.2 percent of all privately held U.S. agricultural land and approximately 1 percent of all land in the United States (see fig. 1 for State-level detail).

The Resurgence of Whole Milk?

I've been buying 2 percent milk at the grocery for decades.  In recent years, as I've noted before, the amount of cooler space devoted to milk of different fat levels has decreased.  When I picked up milk the other day I realized the amount of space devoted to 2 percent milk was down, and the proportion devoted to whole milk was up.

I'm vaguely aware of some research supporting the consumption of whole milk.  Googling found this piece, along with others with titles pointing both ways.

Meanwhile I see this post. showing the dairy industry pushing for whole milk in schools.

Friday, June 21, 2019

About Joe Biden and Dealmaking

I'm not sure of the relationship between Biden and Southern Democratic senators back in the 1970's and 80's.

What I do believe is that an effective President must be willing to make deals with anyone.  In this connection I want to recall one of my all-time favorite movies: Kelly's Heroes and Crapgame.

At the climax of the movie Don Rickles, as Crapgame, tells Telly Savalas, the wise old sergeant to make a deal.  What kind of deal?  A deal deal.   The deal is made, and the Americans and the Germans split the gold in the bank.  (You have to see the whole picture to understand the plot.)

Seriously, in my mind LBJ was the most effective president of my lifetime, and he was a dealmaker. I only regret he couldn't find his way to make the deal with the Chinese that Nixon did.

The point is, a deal usually brings together people whose interests conflict to some degree.  I go to buy a car, I want the best car for the lowest price, the deal wants the highest price for the cars she has in stock.  If we meet in the middle, we find the minimax, a deal which represents the best possible outcome for us both, even if it doesn't satisfy our maximum desires. 

Bottom line:  it bothers me to see Democratic candidates setting up barriers to dealmaking.  Hopefully it's all or mostly political positioning, not to be taken seriously.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

How Soon I Forget--Reparations

I'd forgotten I'd actually posted my views on reparations this spring. I haven't changed my mind since, just forgot I'd written it.

I do have more thoughts on the difficulty of administering such a program, which I might get to in the future.  I have to say the history of the Pigford suit doesn't increase my confidence in the ability of the government to run such a program

I also have some reservations about Coates' Atlantic article in 2014 which raised the profile of the issue, which I might get to.

There's also a question: if we can design a program which would effectively raise the wealth of blacks, what basis would we have to deny other minorities access to such a program? Or even poor whites?

Black Swans and Just Plain Errors

I just revised my post of yesterday to observe that it's difficult to predict the future. 

Obviously the tendency is to project trends of the present into the future: in 1960 South Korea is a dependency of the US, in 2020 South Korea will be a dependency of the US; in 1950 the Red Chinese were a horde of indistinguishable people wearing Mao jackets; in 2020 the Chinese will continue to have no individuality and dress alike; in 1950 Japan makes cheap children's toys (still remember a metal airplane toy which made a noise when you pushed it along the floor; in 2020 Japan will still be behind the curve of technology.

Mr. Taleb of "Black Swan" fame has a theory of why we fail; a theory I forget the content of.  It's possible we just err.  Or it's possible we like the comfort of the known and dislike Rumsfeld's "unknown unknows".

It would be an error, I think, to assume that President Trump is doomed to be as unpopular on election day 2020 as he is today.  Things may happen, or they may not. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

This Kind of War

This Kind of War is by T.R.Fehrenbach.  The Kindle version was on special the other day, so I bought it.  The Korean War was the first war I experienced, through the newspapers, the newsreels, and magazine articles.  The book was written in 1963, long enough after the war's end for some perspective, long enough ago to offer some insights.  (Fehrenbach was an officer in the 2nd Division, a unit which features prominently in the book, but he doesn't cite his experience explicitly.) I've read something about the war since, especially a bio of the general commanding the 1st Marine Division focused on the battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

He alternates between a focus on individual battles and individuals and a broad general picture of the war.  It's still recommended by figures like Sen. McCain and Gen. Mattis.

Some things which struck me:

  • the learning curves of the various militaries involved. The North Koreans, Chinese, South Koreans and US all came into the war with different backgrounds; the first three were able to learn  from the experience while the US was handicapped by the rotation policy.
  • the writer's surprise at the ability of Japan to rehabilitate American equipment, a reminder of how far Japan has come since my boyhood when they made cheap toys.
  • serious omens for our experience in Vietnam.
  • [updated: the author's prediction South Korea would forever be a basket case dependent on US, although that's more definitive than his actual words--a reminder of how limited our vision of the future can be]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

NYTimes Articles

Today the Times had one article on projections of world population.  The projection for max population is lower than before because of falling birth rates.

The Times also had an article on research into new crops, which said it was very important because of the "rapidly growing population." 

I find it a bit inconsistent.

What was interesting in the second article was scientists finding ways to plant and harvest multiple times during the year, up to 6 plant/harvest cycles for wheat.  That permits more rapid development of  new varieties.  Norm Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, was a pioneer in this, moving to Mexico where he could do two crops of wheat a year. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Effect of (Some) Government Programs

From the Rural Blog's post on tobacco, specifically moves raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21:

"The [tobacco] industry has shrunk since the federal program of production quotas and price supports ended in 2004, and consolidated into larger farms. Pratt estimated the number of burley growers has plummeted from 175,000 to 3,000. And that has reduced the political influence of the crop that once had a powerful hold on Congress and state legislatures."
In other words, in 15 years the number of farmers has dropped to 2 percent of its starting level.

Side comments:  there's still the meme on the left that farm programs help the big guys, which drastically oversimplifies by lumping all farm programs together.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Gains in Government Productivity?

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a series of posts on the increased cost of higher education and health services in the US over the past years.  On first reading they're convincing. 

Briefly it's Baumol's  disease--it's hard to raise productivity in service industries because it requires people's time--the time for musicians to play a live performance, a doctor to examine a patient, a surgeon to do an operation, etc.

So how about government?  That's a question I'll try to get back to.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Now and Then: Watergate Remembered--Profanity

While I've never set up a label "Watergate", I find I have referred to it several times in the context of Trump's actions.

One thing which hurt President Nixon was the revelation of the contents of the tapes.  What he said harmed his cause;eventually it sunk it when the "smoking gun" tape showing he planned the coverup. Another aspect diminished his reputation and support: profanity.

Remember in 1973-4 standards were crumbling under the determined attack of the baby boomers.  By standards I mean definitions of "propriety".  (A google ngram for the word shows its usage had been fairly steady for 40 years or so, but dipped significantly in the 70's.)  Nixon represented the people who still believed in propriety, who upheld standards of decorum, who were stiff in public.

So it was a shock to his supporters to find he actually swore in private.  And it's revealing that in the transcripts, his words were replaced by "expletive deleted".

Those were the days.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

No Impeachment in Second Term

Query: imagining the worst, if President Trump wins reelection there's no way to impeach him?

The argument would be that all his faults were known to the voters in 2020 (which is what Fred Hiatt argued in the Post recently, except with reference to 2016). 

I think it's possible that something could happen after 2020, or some revelation about events before then (recordings of him conspiring with Putin or taking money from Russia during 2016 perhaps) which might change the situation, but you'd have to regard any impeachment as very unlikely.

What that means for people like me who support Pelosi's stand on impeachment is we have to work even harder to defeat Trump in 2020.  The people who support impeachment can logically, if mistakenly in my opinion, say they have two bites at the apple--impeach and if the Senate doesn't convict defeat him in 2020.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Animal Identification and Traceability

Years ago, two administrations ago, Walt Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm was active in a fight against an animal identification scheme.  The opposition echoed some of the standard American memes: anti-big government, pro-local, anti-technology,anti-big boys, pro . They were successful in killing the birth to dead ID plans, called NAIS.

The other day I saw a picture of a cow in a tweer.  The cow had tags in both ears, plus an RFID device hung around her neck.  I expressed some surprise; the owner explained the reasons, including "traceability", which led me to google the term.  That led to this article in Beef Magazine, which brought me up to date.

Apparently the stopgap compromise solution was to identify for those animals crossing state lines the start point and the destination point.  But now they're looking again at a more sophisticated  plan.

Walt Jeffries is no longer actively blogging so I don't know what his take on this is.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Did Trump Shoot Himself in the Foot

I wonder whether President Trump didn't shoot himself in the foot on immigration.  This Post article has this graph of apprehensions., showing the big surge in 2019, going back to the apprehensions in the GWBush administration.

The difference between now and then is Bush saw an influx of people aiming to work; Trump is seeing an influx of families claiming refugee status.  Because claimed refugees surrender to the first US official they see, Trump's wall is a case of fighting the last war.

But why the surge?  I'd blame it on Trump.  He came into office having made a big deal out of immigration and his wall.  For a while the apprehensions ran about the same level as in the Obama era; Obama having made a big deal out of discouraging immigration as well.  But Trump couldn't get support for his wall.  Doing what he is so very good at, he generated lots of publicity by attacking "migrant caravans".  That was counter-productive.

By publicizing migrant caravans Tump informed Central American citizens that they didn't have to pay a coyote to smuggle them into the U.S. and incur the risk of dying in the desert; they could travel as a family and claim refugee status.  That changes the whole cost-benefit calculus.  Trump might as well have advertised--"here's the loophole by which you can live in the U.S. for years, and maybe even become legal." 

Now no doubt if Trump had never mentioned immigration people would have learned to take more advantage of the refugee rules, and there would have been a transition to it as well as an increase in net apprehensions.  But while Trump's bluster about immigration early in his administration may have discouraged some migrants, it's now created a crisis.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A Thought for FSA Personnel

Chris Clayton of Progressive Farmer has tweeted asking USDA for answers on prevented planting.

I  expressed doubts as to whether leadership could make fast, good decisions.  That's not necessarily a criticism of Sec. Perdue and his team--I wouldn't have had great confidence in the capability of any of the leadership teams during my time at agriculture.  It seems to me the prevented planting issue has spun up very quickly, more quickly than I can remember situations in the past.  With MFP1 there was a longish lead up, during which the analysis people could get their acts together and the implementation people in DC and KC could get prepared.  MFP2 is different, although to the extent it covers 2019 production there won't be that much impact.  Where it's key is on the plant/no plant/change crop decision.(

Another factor is FSA doesn't have recent experience with prevented planting.  Back in my early days in the agency the disaster program included PP. Then, as FSA  was phased out of the disaster business in favor of crop insurance, we lost that institutional memory.  The inclusion of PP in crop insurance policies means the implementation process is going to be more complicated than it was in the old days.)

(Can't resist noting that the combination of Trump's trade war and flooding has undercut the idea that crop insurance could mean the end of ad hoc disaster programs.)

Bottom line: FSA personnel in DC trying to implement whatever decisions are made are having a bad few weeks.  FSA personnel in the field are in worse shape: face to face with farmers desperate for information to make their decisions and lacking the direction from DC.   

My sympathy for both groups, but particularly the field.

More on the Disaster Aid Bill and Payment Limitation

From the text of the bill:

"Sec. 103. (a) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), a person or legal entity is not eligible to receive a payment under the Market Facilitation Program established pursuant to the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act (15 U.S.C. 714 et seq.) if the average adjusted gross income of such person or legal entity is greater than $900,000.
(2) Paragraph (1) shall not apply to a person or legal entity if at least 75 percent of the adjusted gross income of such person or legal entity is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities.

(b) In this section, the term “average adjusted gross income” has the meaning given the term defined in section 760.1502 of title 7 Code of Federal Regulations (as in effect July 18, 2018)."
So someone whose gross income combines farm and nonfarm sources has an additional hoop to jump through.  My impression is that FSA enforces the basic AGI limit by passing the appropriate ID to IRS and gets back data (likely just a flag) on whether the $900,000 limit is exceeded or not.  Now they'll have another determination to make, after that.  I'm sure FSA welcomes the additional work (NOT).

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

What's in the Disaster Aid Bill for Farmers

Here's the Senate summary of the contents of the just-passed disaster aid bill (emphasis added, given my post of yesterday).

Farm Disaster Assistance: $3.005 billion is provided for the USDA Office of the Secretary (OSEC) to cover producers’ net exposure to losses stemming from 2018 and 2019 natural disasters. Assistance is also provided to cover blueberry and peach crop losses resulting from freezes and hurricanes in 2017 and producers impacted by Tropical Storm Cindy. USDA would administer funding through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) under OSEC.

Emergency Forest Restoration Program: $480 million is provided for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) for non-industrial timber restoration.

Emergency Conservation Program: $558 million is provided for the Emergency Conservation program (ECP) for repairs to damaged farmland.

Emergency Watershed Protection Program: $435 million is provided for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) for rural watershed recovery.

Rural Community Facilities: $150 million is provided for Rural Development Community Facilities grants for small rural communities impacted by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019.

 Nutrition Assistance for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): $25.2 million is provided for disaster nutrition assistance for the CNMIs impacted by typhoons.

Market Facilitation Program AGI Waiver: Language is included to waive the average gross income requirement for producer eligibility under the administration’s Market Facilitation Program. 

Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance: $600 million is provided to supplement disaster nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico stemming from 2017 hurricanes.

Puerto Rico Nutrition Study: $5 million is included for an independent study, including a survey of participants, on the impact of the additional benefits provided through disaster nutrition assistance.

American Samoa Nutrition Assistance: $18 million is provided for a grant to American Samoa for disaster nutrition assistance.

Hemp Crop Insurance: Language is included to ensure crop insurance coverage for hemp beginning in the 2020 reinsurance year.

Rural population waiver: Language is included to provide eligibility to designated communities impacted by a natural disaster for certain Rural Development programs.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Payment Limitations in the News Again

Been a busy day so I didn't get a chance to follow up on this piece.

What strikes me is the idea that the payments were on a US Treasury database.  I assume it's a result of the more general law requiring transparency on US payments  Wonder how EWG and the farm community will react.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Incredible Stat: Spending on Trump Security Versus Mueller

The end of an Anne Applebaum piece in the Post:
"The British state will spend 18 million pounds (about $22 million) on his security; the U.S. taxpayer will spend many multiples of that sum; hundreds of hours will have been wasted on planning. And all so that one man’s fragile ego can be boosted for another day."
The total cost of the Mueller investigation might be around $34 million.

For a short week's trip the UK may spend up to 2/3 the cost of the Mueller investigation.  Toss in the US costs and we're about even

(Note: the BBC article Applebaum links to is more fuzzy on the estimate than she is.)