Monday, September 30, 2019

Hemp Problems

The "Harshaw rule"--you never do it right the first time--seems to be borne out by the experiences of hemp growers.

Latest instance--this big suit against a seed supplier.  Turns out hemp has both male and female seeds, and only the female seeds produce plants with CBD.. So it's a big deal if your supplier only gives you male seeds when you're trying to produce CBD.

I've also seen references to overproduction, harvesting problems., etc.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

It's Morning in America?

That was the theme for Reagan's re-election campaign.

I thought of that when I read Kevin Drum's post on social trends in America.  An excerpt:
Just about every social indicator you can think of has been moving in a good direction for the past couple of decades. Kids are better behaved. Crime is down. More people have access to health care. Divorce is down. Most indicators of racism are down. Income has risen considerably since the end of the Great Recession and is now significantly higher than it was when Bill Clinton took office. Etc.
Kevin had started with a chart on the decline in divorces in the last 10 years, then segued into  a discussion of why we don't realize all the improvements in the last 20 years.  I agree with almost everything.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What Did Zelensky Know and When Did He Know It

It has seemed to me to be important to understand the timing of events. This post has some of it, but I've some unanswered questions:
  • before Trump made the decision to withhold the aid to the Ukraine, were there any discussions in the US government about the possibility of doing so?  If so, did word of that possibility make its way to Zelensky?
  • when Trump made the decision, it appears it wasn't particularly quickly circulated within the US government?  True?  And there was no official rationale for the decision, or at least Trump offered two conflicting post hoc rationales?
  • when did Zelensky receive word of Trump's decision, and what explanation was given?
  • what did Trump understand to be happening after he made the decision?  Did he regard the decision as something for him to follow up, as in the phone conversation, or was he at all relying on the Pentagon and State Department to follow up (unlikely in my mind)?
  • when Trump was talking with Zelensky, did Zelensky know of the decision?  Did he understand any rationale for it (better investigation of corruption, versus specifically investigating 2016 issues and/or the Bidens?
  • when Trump was talking with Zelensky, did he think Zelensky knew of the decision and understand the rationale. or did Trump think it was his role to inform Zelensky of either or both.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Each for Himself--Watergate Redux?

A couple thought on the Ukraine mess, as compared with Watergate.

In Watergate we ended with people using leaks to take down their rivals and get revenge on their enemies.  (See Martha Mitchell for the most outrageous and most entertaining instance.)  It looks as if we're starting to see that dynamic here, with Guiliani and Pompeo pointing fingers.

One advantage Trump has over Nixon is his hisotry.  Nixon was the original uptight person.  Granted he was a skilled infighter in bureaucrat melees, but he was the President who usually followed the staid norms for the office.  So when the tapes were released, everyone was shocked at the profanity and the general tone of discussion.  I doubt there's much difference between Trump's discourse in public and in private/

This Post article is interesting in this context.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Adapting to the New: the Case of Weather Reports

Politico had this post on how the weather forecasting/reporting system developed and gained acceptance in Great Britain.

I'm convinced that any significant change in society, particularly in technology, requires a period of adjustment, as people  come to understand the change, and develop new norms and new habits to accommodate it.

One example was the advent of railroads, particularly passenger trains.  I've a vague memory of a discussion of this--one issue was class. IIRC stagecoaches had a class divider--the richer rode inside, the poorer outside.  Passenger trains made travel cheaper, increasing the number of poorer people traveling.  But at least initially everyone was thrown together in a coach.  That required people to adjust their habits and expectations (though I believe in Britain and France they soon instituted a class system, more universally than in the U.S.)

I think of it as social learning.  And I think it should lessen our anxiety over changes.  Remember the "crack" epidemic?  People learned the costs of crack, and the epidemic waned.  That's what happens in an open society where information flows readily.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Beating My Drum

The "transcript" of the POTUS-Zelensky phone call has been released.  I note the Trump White House still uses monospaced type fonts.  Don't they know better?

(My pet peeve is people who've stuck with elite or pica typefaces now we're into the era of laser printers instead of using the more readable proportional spaced fonts.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Our Vanishing Churches--a Miscellany

That's the title of John Phipps post on AGweb.  It's an eloquent analysis of the plight of small rural churches, getting smaller as the community shrinks, and as their religion seems less relevant.

The Post has an article on the vanishing churches of DC.  It attributes the decline to black congregations moving to the suburbs.  But the article notes that some congregations are moving into alternate spaces, rentals, homes, movie theaters, rather than the traditional church building.  (A building, which IMHO, often was a status symbol, displaying the wealth and therefore spiritual devotion of the congregation.

The Post has another article on Lutheran ministers riding circuit--a couple handling five churches. As is mentioned in the article, Methodists have often used the process--the church my parents married in was Methodist and by the time I arrived, it was one of three churches being served by one minister.

My grandfather at the end of his career as a Presbyterian minister was sort of a roving troubleshooter in the Dakotas, much of his time apparently dealing with the issues of declining membership.  That's a trend which has only continued.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Reminder from the Civil Rights Era

Breach of Peace has a post on an exhibit of the mug shots of the Freedom Riders.

The artist likes the part which shows 120 Riders  in profile, facing right.  A portion below, from the post.

I'm reminded by these pictures of the youth of the protestors and also by the number of whites included.

Real Money Versus Details

Sen. Dirksen had the famous quote: "a billion here, a billion there, soon you're talking real money." (Turns out he never really said the whole thing, but accepted it as his.  See this. )

Secretary Mnuchin has another definition for $140 million:  "details".

Sunday, September 22, 2019

NASS Needs to Publish Pot Prices?

This post popped up in my Reston Patch postings.  Pot prices in CO popping up, according to CO tax office.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cowen on People

I follow the Marginal Revolution blog.  Sometimes, as here in Cowen's musing on Epstein, I read things which strike me:
I am now, at the margin, more inclined to the view that what keeps many people on good behavior is simply inertia. They are oddly passive in their core inclinations, but will behave badly if given an easy opportunity. And since many of these people probably are not active independent malefactors on a regular basis, their sense of risk may not be entirely well developed. Thus they themselves may have been fairly naïve in their dealings with Epstein, not quite understanding that their invulnerability in everyday life might not carry over to all situations.

  • For "inertia" I would substitute "habits".  I'm habit-bound, and I suspect most people are (except those suffering from war, displacement, natural disasters, etc.)  
  • "Will behave badly"--Cowen argues that rich men could have become Epsteins easily--they had the money--but didn't out of inertia, succumbing to temptation upon meeting Epstein.
  • "sense of risk"--this might be backwards--people who are not malefactors regularly may have a more highly developed sense of risk (even an exaggerated sense of risk) than do people who engage in risky behavior regularly.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Plum Tomatoes in Sicily

This NYTimes piece  interactive on the net) traces the shipping of tomatoes from Sicily to the UK, outlining how a hard Brexit might screw up the chain.

But what struck was the picture of tomatoes growing in Sicily.  The vines look to be about 12 feet tall, very thick, very very loaded with what look to be plum tomatoes (might be cherry tomatoes but I'm thinking plum).  I've never seen a row of tomato plants like that. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Lack of a Tape and Impeachment

One of the things lost in the current discussion over impeachment of the president is this difference from the Watergate era:  in Watergate, we started with a crime, a clear violation of law, burglars discovered red handed.  From that crystal clear focus the story expanded in multiple directions--before: why were they there, what was their aim, who commissioned them, who would have benefited and after: who paid for their defense, for their silence, who was covering up the facts, who lied.

By comparison in the current situation, as in the case of Clinton, we don't have a crime as clear as burglars caught in the act.  So the narrative starts blurry, and gets blurrier, because there's no foundational fact which no one can dispute.

And what was the fact in Watergate and not in the others: the tape on the door which guard Frank Willis discovered and removed, only to find the lock retaped.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Losing My Memory?

There shouldn't be a question mark on this--I know I'm losing capabilities.  I'm old, getting older, getting worse in most ways, perhaps all ways.  This interesting blog post shows I'm not alone.

What I find most problematic these days is my operating on "autopilot" as my wife and I call it; occasions when my habits are in control, habits established in youth when I was capable of multi-tasking, habits which lead to disasters when I can no longer multi-task. Unfortunately there's no switch I can touch to go from multi-task mode to "concentrate, you damn fool" mode.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I Told You So--MFP/CCC Financing

The Rural Blog reports moderate House Democrats are willing to fund CCC, meaning it can continue to make MFP payments.

Actually my title is wrong, at least for this blog.  I know I had the thought, but I tweeted it.  Social media is too complicated.


Just finished this book, a 100-page summary of how Geithner, Bernanke, and Paulson (the authors) fought the Great Recession, and what should be done in the future.

Having read the separate books by each of them, nothing in it was particularly new.  And having read Tooze's Crashed, which focuses on the international crisis, I wish they had paid more attention to that area.  But it's a good summary, clear and quickly moving.

It's especially apropos today, because "repos" market seized up yesterday and the NYFed had to put in $53billion.  "repos" is a term familiar from the Great Recession and from Firefighting.  Of course, there's nothing on the top line news today about it. The media and politicians won't pay attention until late, and then we'll discover our politicians have handcuffed the financial institutions.

Monday, September 16, 2019

18 One-Year Wars?

The Washington Post Magazine has an article on Afghanistan by a correspondent who had been there several times.  A quote:
Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor of Islamic history who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009, witnessed how the rotation affected operations. He was working with an information operations cell in Kabul when half the team rotated out. “We had personal relations with the gray beards,” Williams said, referring to Afghan elders. “We sort of had a rapport with them. A rhythm. It took a long time to build up that institutional memory for our team. But part of my team switched to Iraq. You’re calibrated to work in one environment, and then they’re deployed to Iraq. All of that institutional knowledge was flushed.” The United States, in short, fell into a pattern of one-year deployments, meaning the war started over every 12 months. America’s longest war turned into 18 one-year wars.
Reading the article, particularly that paragraph, reminded me of how we lost the war in Vietnam, and didn't win in Korea.  The same mistakes, the same NIH bright new ideas and concepts, only to be replaced by the bright new idea of the next bright new big shot commander seeking glory.

(Can you tell I'm bitter.)

I wasn't blogging in Oct 2001, so I have to rely on memory.  I think I was dubious about going into Afghanistan, remembering all the history of that country. But I recognized the feeling in the country so doing something violent was inevitable.  I was surprised by the ease with which the military gained dominance in the country.  Foolishly, like the rest of the country and the Bush administration, I ignored the long term.

At this point I'm somewhat haunted by the memory of the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations over Vietnam and the eventual outcome there.  If the same occurs in Afghanistan, I only hope we're as willing to admit refugees from Afghanistan as we were from Vietnam.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Presidential Choices

Let me trun through Presidential possiblities:

Trump.  No way.
Biden. Too old
Sanders. Too old.
Warren.  Almost too old, almost too radical.
Harris. Okay, a bit blah for me.
Buttigieg  Too young., otherwise good.
Booker.  Suspect orators
Castro. Okay, a bit blah.
O'Rourke.  Charisma without substance?
Klobuchar. Right age, right positioning.
Yang. Too different.

Bullock.  Okay if he had a chance
Bennett.  Okay if he had a chance
Williamson, Too different
Delaney.  Not sure his experience works with Congress.  Okay if he had a chance
Steyer, Too different
Gabbard.  Too different
de Blasio. Don't like his NYC record
Ryan.  Okay if he had a chance
Sestak.  Not enough record.
Williamson.  Too different

So my preferences:
Second choices

My second choices are easily changeable.  I'm impaessed by Warren's life and ability to change, so she gets more of a look than her positions would otherwise rate. Bullock and Bennett could advance to my second choice group if they could get on the map.

[See Wash Post's ranking here]

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Re-upping CCC Money for MFP

Today the Post reports that Representative Lowery is not planning to include replenishing CCC's borrowing authority in the stop-gap continuing resolution   Depending on the timing, that means CCC will run out of money before it completes the full $28 billion in MFP payments.  (It's hard to find the current CCC balance.  The USDA website doesn't show it; you have to dig through the Treasury accounts to get an idea of how much is available of the $30 billion it's authorized by statute. The last time I did that, maybe 6 weeks ago, there seemed to be around $15 billion left.)

This is a followup to the Post story of a couple days ago on the rather unprecedented use of CCC for the MFP.. Unprecedented at least in terms of the size of the payments and also, IMO, in the basis for the use.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Renting Office Space from Members of Congress

I've a vague memory that back in the early 70's there was a flap about Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service county offices leasing office space from members of Congress.

Possibly it was an issue raised by Rep. Findlay of IL, who didn't much like anything that ASCS did, but I won't swear to that.

Anyhow, memory suggests that ASD (Administrative Services Division) issued notices to do a survey of how many instances of this we had and requiring the leases to end.  I don't remember that there was a statutory basis for the prohibition, just a policy one. 

I've done a quick look at the USDA manual on property and didn't find anything.  Apparently FSA has determined not to put their handbooks covering administration on the website so I haven't checked that.

Anyhow, I thought the issue of renting office space is a good parallel with the issue of renting hotel rooms from President Trump.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

In Defense of Paper Straws

Republicans are mocking Democrats for trying to abandon plastic straws and bring back paper straws.

I don't think the Republicans have a case. 

I grew up with paper straws, which used to come in this thin tissue paper wrapping.  The combination was great, at least for those boys who paid little attention to the rules (unlike me, the future bureaucrat).

Tear off one end of the wrapping and you had a ready made blow gun.  Just blow through the straw at the open end and the wrapping would fly off, hopefully to land on the person or the desk of your neighboring classmate. Or, IIRC, assuming you wanted launch a slightly more obnoxious missile, you could wad up the wrapping with a little spit, stick the wad in one end of the straw and again you blow.

It may be true that a plastic straw is better at being a straw, but my impression is they con't normally come in a wrapper these days, so they aren't as good as enabling boys to be boys.

Monday, September 09, 2019

New Frontiers--of Pot

JFK used "New Frontiers" as the theme for his administration, opposing the idea of new frontiers to to Fredrick Jackson Turner's idea that the frontier had closed in 1890. 

What's interesting to me is the idea of "invasive species" as a metaphor for identifying new ecological niches as the result of innovation.  The easiest example is computers, or perhaps the internet.  But we also have innovation in markets: sometimes they're fads, like emus or bison for meat or bagel shops,  sometimes they're real, like pizza in post-WWII and avocados today.

A current new frontier is legalized marijuana.  What fascinates me is how the industry will develop; will there be parallels with other agricultural commodities or will it be totally unique?
See this post from Colorado.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Vertical Farms and Big Greenhouses

Seems to be a lot of activity with vertical farms (depending on LED lights, not the sun) and big greenhouses.  The initial idea was to grow greens, which made sense because they're quick and easy to grow and reasonably valuable.  With the legalization of marijuana the horizons have expanded in some states. Hydroponic tomatoes have been around for a while.

See this Reuters piece on vertical farms.

See this on an urban farm in Paris.

And this on an aquaponics/greenhouse farm in Maine.

And this NYTimes piece on a big greenhouse in Kentucky.

I'm not convinced that such farms will make a big contribution to the food supply over the next 10 or 20 years, but hope I'm around to see.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Paths of Hurricanes

No, I'm not going to touch on Trump and Alabama--just some thoughts on using visuals for hurricanes.

Currently we seem to focus on the track of the center of a hurricane over time.  Since uncertainty increases over time, that leads to the cone of uncertainty we're familiar with.  People have pointed out it's misleading, often misinterpreted.  It also seems to me that we'd gain by getting an idea of the strength of the storm and the width of the area affected.

I doubt one static graphic could handle that many variables, but surely an interactive one could do so.

I'm thinking of an app which would show a projected track for x days, with the duration of the projection representing the likelihood of the track.  Say if the likelihood is 40 percent, show it for 20 seconds, likelihood of 20 percent, show for 10 seconds, etc. 

By going to an interactive app, you'd also have a chance to show intensity and size.  Color code the intensity--red for cat 5, yellow for cat 4 down to blue for tropical depression, etc  Instead of a line for the track use a tubular image.  So at the current position, there would be circle, representing area now being affected. The tube for the future would reflect the increasing size of the area affected.

When a hurricane is developing, the circle at the start of the tube would be relatively small and blue.  As time passes and the storm becomes a cat 1, the circle would expand and now have both blue and yellowish shadings. When the storm becomes a cat 5, the circle would be even larger, and have multicolored rings.  With a storm like Dorian, the tube would grow larger as the colors start to fade to blue.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Particular Causes and General Causes

One of the problems in history and social science is distinguishing between what I'll call "particular causes" and "general causes".

Two examples:

  • saw a tweet on the idea that black cowboys (and other minorities) were written out of the cowboy narrative. The inference was that writers were prejudiced.  That would be what I'd label a "particular cause".  But I believe there's a general tendency when people make generalizations about a group of people: outliers are ignored,  
  • people leaving their farms.  A general cause is well-known--ever since the Industrial Revolution started, or before, people have left the country for the city. A particular cause is people screwing black farmers out of their land.  
In some cases, the "general" versus "particular" may be simply a case of different levels of analysis. No doubt many people left the farm for many different reasons. Many, including my parents, died while their children had a mix of motives to not try to farm.  Dairy farmers these days are leaving the farm because they're losing too much money.  But then the question becomes why?  It could be a black family who was denied the bank loan to expand from 100 cows to 1,000 cows. Or it could be a management decision back in the day not to expand, or a lack of decisions to expand.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Majority Minority World in Future?

This article got me thinking about our future in the US as a majority minority country.  That's inevitable regardless of any government policy.

But then I thought--just looking at the US is limited--the world is already majority minority, and it has been for millennia, likely since humans left Aftrica.

I'm comfortable saying humanity is in the process of reuniting. What will the reunited world look like and act like.  Looks is relatively easy--the majority will be African-Asian.  Acts is hard, but I'd argue that based on the imprints left on former colonies, the European influence on culture and society will remain disproportionate to their descendants representation in the population.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

It's More Complicated Than That

That seems to be my standard reaction these days to a lot of current books, articles, and posts which discuss times I've lived through and portions of history I'm reasonably familiar with.  Thinking about the reasons:

  • everyone knows, if they look at themselves, they aren't the same person from year to year, nor the same person in different contexts.  
  • applying tags to people, organizations, and events, which are at best incomplete, at worst erroneous. 
  • treating categories of people as unitary, sharing all characteristics.
All the problems result from our need to tell a story which explains what we experience, a story with little room for luck or variation. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

The Transplant Metaphor

I'd draw some parallels between transplanting plants and transplanting ideas.

This post is triggered by the concerns over Chinese "thefts" of intellectual property, and also by reading a book on the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  The author of The Most Powerful Idea in the World emphasizes the interactions and connections which created the revolution.  

As any gardener knows, it's tricky to transplant a plant. Some are very difficult to transplant; in all cases it has to be the right time of year.  Usually plants need soil and climate in their new location close to those where they originated/  When they don't have the right conditions, they wither and die.

I'd argue similar conditions hold for many ideas. It's more clear when you consider such ideas as democracy, market economy, social and political freedom.  Usually they transfer from one country to another only with considerable modifications.  Consider the operations of democracy in Kenya or India.  When you come to more technological institutions or ideas, we assume they can be transferred easily, but not in many cases.  

Consider history in what we used to call the Third World.  In many cases optimistic first world types financed shiny new things, railroads, roads, bridges.  But without the connections to other parts of society there wasn't the money to maintain them.  In Afghanistan, hurdles to the US training an effective Afghanistan army and air force included the lack of literacy among many recruits and the absence of a mechanism to get salaries from the government treasury to the common soldier without fraud.

I'd argue there are similar problems with science and technology.  Even in the US, lots of cities have aimed to create a new Silicon Valley.  Aimed to, but haven't had major success.  Part of the problem is history, part is the fact of competition--we already have a Silicon Valley, part is the lack of the unique set of conditions.which created Silicon Valley in the first place.

All of the above makes me more relaxed about intellectual property issues than most people.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Importance of the Senate

The New Yorker and the Post's Dana Milbank both have pieces on the importance of the Senate.

I've been twitting and maybe blogging on this theme for a while.  I'm at the point where the Senate is more important than the Presidency, but I doubt we need to make that choice.  The odds that Dems could take the Senate and not win the Presidency are very very low.