Saturday, August 31, 2019

Farmers Working with FSA and NRCS talks about the traffic to FSA (and NRCS) offices, listing six trips required.  But I found these reported farmer interactions on the talk forum interesting, with my comments in bold:
“There is a visit to the NRCS division to apply for cover crop cost share and then the one later to submit seed receipts for payment. [Can't mail them?}Plus, if you live in a county that doesn’t have an NRCS office, as I do, and you rent farms, you may get to make trips to several different counties to get all of them signed up,” the southern Iowa farmer posted. [NRCS hasn't enabled consolidation as in the last bit below?]
Hobbyfarmer adds, “Got a call literally 10 minutes ago from an FSA employee. He forgot to have me sign some MFP papers. They want me to have to drive 42 miles each way to finish it up, so they can pay me, maybe, sometime in next two weeks.” [Thought FSA had authorized electronic signatures a long time ago.  Maybe employees are still in the hard copy world?]
“Usually, I make two trips per year – one in late winter and another after planting. But with this MFP thing, there was an extra one in late fall and another one yesterday,”  [Wonder why he got away with two before, not the six above?}Rickgthf says.
Rickgthf adds, “I had all my business for the different counties consolidated to one office, so there’s no running around to different counties at all.” [Hmm--that should be great--wonder why NRCS hasn't done the same?]

Friday, August 30, 2019

Endlings and Bare Branches

An "endling" is the last surviving individual of a species.  I ran across the term at this Kottke post on "George", a tree snail, which somehow triggered my memory of:
A "bare branch" is the Chinese term for an unmarried bachelor (therefore with no children to add to the family tree).
(Just for comparison of Chinese social norms with American, compare the "incel" to the bare branch--focus on sex versus the family.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Most Depressing News Story of the Day

An intern at the NYTimes wrote yesterday about her experiences before returning to college:

Among the depressing items was this:

"Sometimes people referenced events from 10 years ago and laughed a little because I call that fifth grade."

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

An Example of Problems in Expanding a Farm

Followed Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm (blog) for years. He used to post regularly about the work he and his family did with their farm, raising hogs and selling meat.  He was terribly meticulous as he planned and built his house and farm buildings, with the piece de resistance his own state and federally-inspected butcher shop.  Self-reliance was the motto he lived by, and he did it damn well.

For some reason he never explained, after completing the shop he stopped blogging, except for the occasional post about deals on pork. That's been true for several years now.

But today he had a post into which I can read a partial explanation. He was robbed and his fencing sabotaged.  From the post:
we were robbed on Friday 8/23 at 4:50pm by five people in three vehicles – a small red car, a large black pickup truck and a smaller black pickup truck. The robbery and the fence sabotage may be linked to an ex-employee who had previously stolen a pig that was recovered by the state police. Clearly the robbers had insider information and knew exactly what they were doing and looking for as well as knowing when ...nobody was here
Back in the day there were no employees, just Walt, wife, and two kids.  I'm guessing that the kids have grown and at least the elder, the son, have moved out, possibly for college. (Maybe they had reservations about having their lives recorded in the blog?) But the operation as Walt developed it was more than a 2-person operation, so he had to either retrench or hire employee(s).  Getting good employees in rural areas is hard, and Walt might not have been the best supervisor in the world, being very focused on getting things right.

Occasionally you see reports of cattle rustling or theft of products--while living in rural areas has many advantages, you're far from law enforcement and so dependent on neighbors to keep a watchful eye out. But Sugar Mountain Farm is picturesque, but remote. Vermont has been hit by the opioid epidemic, as seen in this piece.

I'm sorry for Walt and his family for their loss.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

USDA's Hiring Dutch Boys With Thumbs

IIRC there was a children's story about a leak in a dike in Holland, and the brave little Dutch boy who stuck his thumb in the hole to plug the leak and save the day.  That's what USDA needs now.

GovExec reports USDA is using the Reemployed Annuitants authority to offer work (part-time) to retired ERS and NIFA employees.  Apparently it will cover not only existing retirees, but those who accepted the $25K10K buyout as part of the move of the agencies to Kansas City.  Seems they're desperate to plug the gaps in expertise resulting from the move.

Monday, August 26, 2019

History in Two Songs

Just finished Robert Caro's Working, which is a collection of pieces about how he writes and wrote the Robert Moses bio and the four volumes on LBJ.  It's good. interesting to anyone who's read one or more of his books, and/or lived through the 50's and 60's.

One of the pieces discusses two songs he sees as key to the 60's, one being Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" (anti-Vietnam).

To me the other song, which of course is "We Shall Overcome" has faded a bit, to be replaced or challenged as an iconic song by "Amazing Grace".  I see a contrast in the two which might reflect the changes in American history from the 50's to the teens.

"We Shall Overcome" is a song of reform and solidarity. "Amazing Grace" is a song of individual redemption. IMHO the old structures of society I knew in the 50's have dissolved or changed from the impact of the boomer generation and social movements, so the individual is now more important than ever.

I'd suggest that before my adult years national songs were more often the patriotic songs, the ones I learned in school.  I understand that formal music instruction in K-12 is less common than it used to be, but a study comparing the songs taught now versus then would be interesting.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

How Statesmanship Works

In a word, there's a lot of Murphy's Law involved and even more luck..  That's true of the lead in to World War I and, according to Adam Tooze's The Deluge, it's true of the conclusion of the war and, I expect (because I'm not quite halfway through), of the rest of the 1920's up to 1931.

The book covers the eight big powers: UK, US, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, Japan from 1916 to 1931.  It's well written and has changed my perspective on that period.  I hadn't known the chances for an armistice before Nov. 11, 1918, based on internal politics in Germany, Russia, and the UK, but missed because the initiatives from each nation didn't find a positive response at the right time.       

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Simple Rules of Food Waste

As a retiree I hit the supermarket at odd hours, including times when employees or suppliers are changing the merchandise for sale.  The produce people go through the old produce and usually throw out the majority of it.  The bread people check the codes on the loaves and take back a lot.

We humans have a simple rule for food: when there's a choice, take the freshest and the best looking.  That simple rule means we waste a lot, because the whole marketsystem is founded on giving the consumer choices.

Friday, August 23, 2019

On the Basis of Sex

Today's news about Justice Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer comes a few days after we watched the biopic: "On the Basis of Sex".

It was better than I anticipated, or at least I was more affected by its portrayal.   Ginsburg was 3 years ahead of my sister at Cornell, and she was likely in the same class as a first cousin.  So at least vicariously I knew something of the situation of women in those years, although as far as Cornell was concerned things were changing, at least for undergrads. (I had one female professor in 4 years there.)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Blast from the Past: Oswald's Rifle

I've a lot of posts which I've started but not finished.  I may lose the train of thought; more often I see something which triggers a reaction, but isn't sufficient to carry me through a discussion.

This is a  post which I abandoned for a while but which I've come back to.  I think the trigger was the discussion of the need for semi-automatic weapons, specifically against the threat of feral hogs.

To pick up the thread, back in the day there was much discussion in the Warren Report over whether Lee Harvey Oswald would have been able to get off the shots which killed Kennedy and injured Connally.  There were questions over how many shots were fired, how many struck the limousine, how many were heard. 

As I remember it, tests with a rifle like Oswald's bolt action rifle (a cheap mail-order gun) showed that a good shot could easily get off the three shots the Warren Commission determined had been shot.  IIRC the rate was 3 shots in about 5 seconds, maybe less. 

I just did a google search, on how fast you could fire a bolt-action rifle, getting conflicting results.   Obviously there are lot of variables, skill of the shooter, the weapon, scope?, distance, accuracy, etc.  Bottom line seems to be you can put out a lot of lead in a short time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

USDA and Its Scientists

I've lost track of what I've posted about the relocation of ERS and NIFA to Kansas City.

It seems, from outside, to have been rather mismanaged.  The latest problem is the reduction from $25K to $10 in the buyout payments to those who refused to move.  (To be fair, the initial letter said the "maximum" payment would be $25K, but if a good bureaucrat had been involved in the drafting she would have questioned why the adjective, leading to a discussion of the fact that the pot of available money for buyouts was limited, and subsequently a rewording of the letter.

The opponents of the relocation have played their card well, wrapping the ERS and NIFA in the robes of "scientists".  The story is a bit more complicated than that--ERS is social science and NIFA funds research.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Slavery and Caste Systems

Having read Ants Among Elephants (see yesterday's post) I'm musing about the similarities and differences between the caste system and slavery.

Did a google search, with limited results--I don't see a solid academic study, just some student work or summaries that can go off track. This might be the best one, throwing in "class system" and "meritocracy" as well as slavery and caste. One big problem is comparing different times and different countries.

What's striking to me from Ants is the use of force to enforce caste boundaries.  As it happens, a front page article in the Post today is an account of an honor killing, a Dalit married a woman of a trading caste, her father hired men to kill him.  Force obviously was used in slavery.  Which one was/is more violent.

In both cases (chattel slavery and caste system), the position is inherited by child from parent. In chattel slavery the law backs the social norms; apparently in the caste system social norms were  sufficient. And in India these days the law doesn't support the system.

It seems some social mobility is possible in both systems.  Certainly the family described in Ants is mobile, though their upward progress seems a function of the changing laws.  Their progress seems more problematic than some mobility under slavery.  The key difference might be the ownership: if your owner was your father and/or enlightened, he could boost you.  Since Dalits have no owner, that doesn't work.

On the other hand, there might be more unity among the caste (considering Dalits as a caste) than there was in slavery.  Perhaps, perhaps not.

[Added:  Other important differences:

  • there seems to be no boss, no slave driver in the caste system. That might mean more "freedom" in one's daily routine, more akin to the "task" system in rice culture than the "driver" in cotton system.
  • mobility within the caste is restrcted--no house slaves versus field slaves, no chance to become a skilled artisan]

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ants Among the Elephants

Just finished the book, which I'd recommend.  It's very much narrative driven, very little description or fine writing, and not much analysis.  It's obvious that the author isn't writing in her first language, a fact which some reviewers on Amazon found objectionable. Essentially it's the story of the author's grandfather, uncle, and mother.  They were Dalits, or "untouchables", striving to get educated and escape the life to which they were born.  The uncle becomes a leader in the Naxalite/Communist rebellion, while the parents become college instructors.

It got good reviews (Wall Street Journal list of 10 best nonfiction books of 2017) for the description of a different world.

What strikes me is, although the family struggles to rise, they also accept the norms of the society. 

E. J. Dionne Is Absolutely Right

He has an op-ed in today's Post on the importance for Democrats of winning control of the Senate.

Unfortunately that likely means defeating some Republicans I'd just as soon see stay, but given our growing partisan divisions that's the way it's going to be. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Is Trump Really Alan Ladd or Richard Boone

Daniel Drezner picks out a paragraph from Bruenig's Post piece here:
I commented on it, and I want to expand my comment here:

The gist of Bruenig's paragraph is many evangelicals see Trump as their defender against the evils besieging them.

I'm reminded of the Westerns which were popular in my youth.  One of the themes was epitomized in the movie Shane. A similar theme was in the TV series Have Gun, Will Travel.

The plot of Shane, and many of HGWT's plots, have townspeople who are civilizing the West but whose very virtues render them helpless and inept in dealing with the pure evil of gunslingers (at one time Indians, but by my adolescence they were white).  They need a gunslinger of their own, someone with a pure heart (or at least a heart better than those of his opponents) but clouded past, to defend them and defeat evil. The opponents are numerous and wily, not above stooping to the lowest of tricks and hurting the innocent.

I can't see Trump as either Ladd or Boone, the stars of the shows, but Drezner/Bruenig do help me to understand some evangelicals.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Needed: a Peach Cartel

I think peach growers should form a cartel and push for legislation permitting "peach" to be used as a label only for fruit marketed in the month of August.

I just finished the second of two peaches I bought earlier in the week.  Both were delicious, nice yellow flesh, juicy and yielding but not soft, reminding me of the way peaches used to taste when I was a boy.  I've a vague memory (vague because it's not a good one and so suppressed) of buying peaches in June and July and being consistently disappointed.  The peaches were hard, reddish flesh, not the perfect yellow of August peaches.  In sum, eating them discouraged me from buying peaches.

If the peach growers can't form a cartel to enforce standards of identity for their product, maybe I can file a claim for deceptive advertising with the FTC.  Someone in the government has to do something.

Friday, August 16, 2019

A Contrarian Word :Steve King

Time for my contrarian side to show:  Seems to me people don't understand Steve King's words, as reported in this NYTimes piece.

He's wrong, of course, but there's a bit of truth there.

The issue is, if we humans had always had the means and the will to abort all fetuses what would that mean today?

People interested in genealogy know a truism: go back far enough and everyone is related.  So it makes sense that everyone has a rape, or incest, in their chain of ancestry.

Where King goes wrong is in his conclusions.  He's saying, as I understand him, if fetuses which result from rape or incest can be aborted, then everyone with rape or incest in their ancestry would be/should be dead.  That's wrong.  Suppose King David rapes Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant, a pregnancy which is aborted. That doesn't mean that neither David nor Bathsheba will have descendants.

The answer to the issue is: while nobody today would be alive, all the people who were alive would have no rape or incest in their ancestry.


And Canada's Dairy Farmers Are Compensated

Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump are similar in one way: when their wheeling and dealing on trade issues hurts farmers, they compensate them.  See this article on the Canadian program.

Big Japanese Dairies

A look at the Japanese dairy industry here.

Seems the farms are smaller than US.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bowling Alone and White Identity

To expand on the last paragraph of my post yesterday, which read: "Another note--it seems to me in the 1950's older people had firmer identities--they were Catholics or Methodists, union or management, Italian or Slovak.  Those identities have faded now, leaving only whiteness and politics."

Putnam's "Bowling Alone" and other books have noted the decline of organizations.  When I was growing up, one's identity was Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox, etc., which was reinforced by organizations associated with the church--Knights of Columbus.  For many whose parents or grandparents had immigrated to the US in the last of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, their identity was hyphenated: Italian-American, Irish-American etc. (I was German-American but the two world wars essentially suppressed the German-American identity.) For others unions provided an identity--coal miner, steel worker, autoworker, longshoreman, etc.  If you weren't in a union, likely your employer was an identity, as IBM and EJ were identities in my area. And still others had an identity based on military service and participation in American Legion or VFW. 

Compare that with today: unions are in decline, as are the mainline churches. Veterans organizations are diffused and losing membership.  Ethnicity has declined as the passage of time means people never knew their immigrant ancestors.

What we have now is the general "white identity", education, class, and the general "(white) evangelical" religion.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Past and White Identity

Here's an Atlantic article discussing "white identity".  Graham is interviewing a social scientist who says:
I think the term white identity politics often conjures up this image of a working-class white man who maybe lost his manufacturing job and feels he’s being left behind. There’s not a lot of evidence that such a person is the typical white identifier. People high on white identity tend to be older [emphasis added] and without college degrees. Women are actually slightly more likely to identify as white than men. And white identifiers are not exclusively found among those in the working class. White identifiers have similar incomes, are no less likely to be unemployed, and are just as likely to own their own home as whites who do not have a strong sense of racial identity.
She goes on to distinguish between having a positive attitude towards one's racial identity and a negative attitude towards other racial/ethnic groups (i.e. prejudice).  By attacking immigrants, Trump attracts both the prejudiced and the white identity groups, the latter which dislikes the idea of being in the minority.

Why would white identity people tend to be older?  One theory would be they learned the attitude at their mother's knee, and carried it forward through life, in contrast to younger people who didn't learn such feelings in youth.  Might be something to that, but I prefer another theory.

My guess is that as people get older they tend to try to understand their life.  When you're young, you're too busy living to have much time for navel grazing,but when you're in your 60's and beyond you've got the time, and at least in my case the motivation to make sense of things.  That's one basis for my theory.  The other basis is the truism that old people view the past through rose-colored glasses.  The way things were when we were young seems still the natural order of things. Changes since one's youth seem "newfangled", unnatural, wrong, or at least grating.  (The last popular music I really liked and listened to was the Beatles.)

Combine the two: the force of nostalgia and the drive to understand and you have a formula for white identity.

I'd note I don't remember much "white identity" back in the 1950's, at least not identity that was separate from prejudice. 

Another note--it seems to me in the 1950's older people had firmer identities--they were Catholics or Methodists, union or management, Italian or Slovak.  Those identities have faded now, leaving only whiteness and politics.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Role of Power in Society

The older I get the more attention I give to the role of power in society. It seems to me to play a role throughout society, a role not usually analyzed as such.  What's important when one entity has power is that there is some countervailing force in society.  Lacking that, you have injustice.

That's why unions were so important as counter balances to the big industrial powers in the 1950's and 60's.  Today we have the big tech firms, the Microsofts, Amazons, Netflixes, Googles, etc., and we're still struggling to develop institutions of some sort to check their power.

Monday, August 12, 2019

A Gripe About Dell

The 1 year warranty on my Dell desktop is expiring, so I was looking into an extension.  That caused me to become very unhappy with Dell:

  • when I went to their website, I was able to find an extension for about $42 a year.  The page promised a 15 percent discount for ordering on line, although there was a phone number to extend by phone.
  • the page did not offer any obvious link to a description of what was or was not included in the warranty.
  • when I added it to my shopping cart and tried to check out I couldn't.  On separate days I got the message that the page was no longer available.  One day I got a message saying the code was wrong--something about the length of the HTTPS header exceeding 8140 bytes.
  • there was no apparent way to contact Dell about the website problem.
  • when I called the support line, I explained my problem to four separate people (each one very nice, and the first three transferring me to someone they thought could help)
  • the last person got me so mad that I forget what his explanation was--IIRC he seemed to be saying the problem was known. Although the web page said my warranty expired on the 12th, he claimed it was actually the 11th.  
  • after a day to cool off, I called the number on the web page.  The woman attempted to explain the elements of the warranty and gave me a price of $350+ for 3 years extension.  I asked for something in writing, which she promptly sent to me.
  • the Dell explanation of its warranty service was long and legalistic.  I understand why--trying to cover all legalities in all the states, but what I really wanted was something more sales-oriented, a chart showing the different options (the guy from yesterday seemed to say there were different levels of support) and their cost.
Bottom line:  while the people were polite and did their best, I conclude Dell makes them work within a flawed system, which will cause me to think seriously about a different vendor for my next desktop.  Meanwhile, I'll take my chances with no warranty--if I need help, which I usually don't, I'll pay for support for that episode.

What Dems Are Stupid About

Politico has this:

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF IDEAS in this Democratic primary. But there is almost no discussion by the two dozen candidates running for president about how they would get a Republican Senate to pass their policies. (Saying you’d end the filibuster doesn’t count, since presidents don’t control Senate rules.)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What I Learned Today: New Sport

Apparently this is a new sport, was on channel 4 when I turned on the TV, now advertised on Twitter.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Size of "Small Farms"

NFU comments on the Family Farmer Relief Act.

And a new Congressman tweets about it:
What does it do?

Raise the debt limit for Chapter 12 filing from $4 million to $10 million.

When big farms have thousands of cows and thousands of acres, I guess $10 million is "small", but it's hard for an old man to get his arms around.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Ex-Politician Speaks Truth? Mulvaney on Moves

Mulvaney is Trump's acting everything, currently chief of staff.  This Govexec article reports on his recent speech in his native South Carolina, discussing USDA's move of ERS and NIFA offices from DC to Kansas City.

“Now, it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” he said. “I know that because a lot of them work for me. And I’ve tried. And you can’t do it. But simply saying to the people, you know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven and move you out into the real part of the country, and they quit. What a wonderful way to streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.” 

Meanwhile OIG says provisions in the appropriations law prevents USDA from spending money on the move.  USDA says the provisions are unconstitutional:
In an OGC opinion prepared to respond to the IG’s draft conclusions, USDA says the “committee approval” provisions in the omnibus act are unconstitutional.
“The department states that Supreme Court, Office of Legal Counsel, and Government Accountability Office (GAO) precedents support their position,” the IG said. “The department provided advance notification to the committees before obligating funds for office reorganizations and relocations to the extent they involve a reprogramming or the use of the identified interagency agreement or transfer authorities. The department states that it is not required to obtain committee approval of such actions.”

But the inspector general said that position conflicts with previous positions taken in litigation by USDA. “The department needs to communicate, in writing, this change of interpretation to USDA leaders at the sub-cabinet and agency levels.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Post on Dairy Farm

The WaPost has an article on the death of a dairy farm. It's more than an article:

One more year on the farm

A visual narrative of one family’s fight to save their land


After seeing a number of stories on the plight of dairy farms I'm frankly becoming numb to the plight of the families.   So my reaction to this is: flat flat land.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Are Farm Programs Insurance or Welfare?

Seeing several articles, some based on EWG's research, hitting Trump's MFPI and MFPII for helping big farmers and not small ones.

Seems to me there's a basic conceptual issue here; how are farm programs to be "framed"?

One way to look at them is as "welfare", similar to food stamps, welfare (TANF), Pell grants and student loans, etc.  For welfare programs, our expectation is that our tax dollars are given on the basis of "need", with the most needy getting the most money.  If farm programs are indeed "welfare", as they've often been labeled, then giving the most money to the largest farmers in bass-ackwards.

Another way to look at them is as "insurance", whether it's federal flood insurance or unemployment insurance or the insurance policies on cars, homes, and life provided by private companies.  In all such cases (that I can think of), insurance coverage is tied to the "value" of the property.  The more expensive the car or house, the more coverage you can get on them.  The better your salary, the higher your unemployment insurance benefit.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Cleaning Files and Voter Suppression

Jennifer Rubin in the Post cites a Brennan Center report on voter list purges. The report emphasizes that counties which are no longer required to pre-clear changes in their electoral operations under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act have increased their purge rates (roughly from 8 percent to 10 percent a year).

Rubin is concerned. 

I'm not, likely because I had some experience with the problems of maintaining lists in the past.  The bottom line: it's difficult to keep a list of name and addresses up to date because there's really no cost, no push to identify errors.  An example: one of my past employees resigned from ASCS relatively quickly--IIRC her husband in another agency decided to take an early out and they decided to move to Florida.  So her exit process was rather hurried and incomplete.  After I retired I would occasionally search the online USDA employee directory, just to see who still worked there.  For about 10 years, I'd still find Jane's name in the phone directory.

The way FSA counties were supposed to update their name and address list was to do an address check (not the right terminology) requested with USPS once a year..  I'm sure some didn't do it, and it wouldn't have been fool proof.  I gather that some purging of voter lists done differently, bouncing a voter file against another  database.  The problem there is using names to match. One of my employees noted her home county had a lot of people named "Johnson".

Although the color coding of the report is poor, some of the higher ranking states in purge rates are Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.  In some states (Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin) the rates among counties are very similar; in other states (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi) the rates vary widely among counties.

Without knowing the process being used to purge the files and the history of past purges at the county level, I think it's dangerous to draw general conclusions.  As a good liberal I am, of course, a bit suspicious of the actions of those counties which used to be covered by Section 5.  But I don't think the Brennan Center proved any wrongdoing. 

A final consideration: purging voter rolls isn't very important IMHO--having a dead or moved voter on list offends my bureaucratic sensibility and it wastes computer storage, but is very unlikely to open the door for any voting fraud

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The End of City Newspapers?

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a post showing the decline in circulation of big city newspapers over the last 17 years.  Some papers have fallen from 500,000+ to 50,000- !!

I knew the newspaper industry had been hit by craigslist and online news, but hadn't realized how deeply newspaper staffs had been cut.  It's bad because papers had been a countervailing force against local problems.  Some innovations may be replacing that function in part, but not totally.