Friday, March 27, 2020

What's in the Covid-19 Bill for FSA?

From Politico:
Special deal: The stimulus provides $9.5 billion in emergency aid for the agriculture industry and replenishes $14 billion in spending authority to the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp., a Depression-era financial institution set up to stabilize the farm economy — the same USDA agency sending trade bailout payments to farmers. Producers ranging from dairy farmers and cattle ranchers to fresh fruit and vegetable growers are eligible.
How they got it: Livestock groups have been leaning on lawmakers for weeks to pony up funds for producers who have seen commodity prices plummet since January. Western senators including John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who chairs the Appropriations panel that oversees agricultural spending, made sure those provisions were part of the stimulus plan from the get-go. Then, top Democrats like Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, pushed to include language making specialty crop farmers — like Michigan’s tart cherry growers — eligible for the emergency aid.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What's the Metaphor for the Covid-19 IMpact

I like metaphors, as I've said before.

The other day I ran across a metaphor used by someone, perhaps an economist, who said the course of the economy will be like driving a car on a highway--you run into a jam, a slowdown where all the traffic slows down, but once the jam is resolved you and the rest of the traffic resume their usual speed.

That's a reassuring image.  Let me offer a differ one, more realistic in my opinion;  In spring and fall you sometimes encounter fog banks on interstates.  In winter you sometimes get a storm which lays down some ice in an area where traffic isn't expecting it.  In these situations you can have a sequence of rear-end accidents, resulting in 20, 30, or more vehicles involved in some damage.  Some cars can run, but are blocked in;; some are a total loss.  Traffic is stopped for a time.

Now I'm not comparing the covid-19 impact to such an accident. Let's imagine a four-lane highway, like the Dulles toll road or the CApitol Beltway. There's a multi-car accident which blocks 2 or 3 lanes and damages some cars.  Rubbernecking slows the traffic in the unblocked lanes. 

That's my metaphor. It seems to me part of the question in sending people back to work is this: how many cars have been damaged in this accident--is the major problem a blockage of the lanes or the damage to the cars.

Damage to the cars in this example equates to impacts on employers and employees. If there's little damage, the economy could easily resume its speed. If there's lots of damage, it will take time to repair it. 

I'm thinking that the more damage we see, the greater the importance of getting the economy going again. 

No Light at the End of the Vietnam Tunnel

"Light at the end of the tunnel" was a phrase made famous during the Vietnam war.  Its initial use is not clear, but it grew to be used sardonically to mean the opposite--there is no way out of this mess.

This history seems to be forgotten by the Trump administration according to this post.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why Trump's Ratings Are Up

My guess of the reason for Trump's approval ratings to be rising is three-fold:

  • he's no longer doing his rallies.  I'd guess independents and Democrats don't like his behavior during the rallies, so that helps.
  • he's talking from the White House in the press briefing room.  While he's still doing Trumpisms, there's a veneer of presidential behavior.
  • Republicans are feeling better about Trump, and Democrats are worried about the virus, which impacts willingness to respond to pollsters and how they respond.

Peeves: Flaunted and Dispersed

"Flaunt" means to show off.  When writing about people disobeying  Covid-19 rules you mean "flout".  Your "aunt" might be showy, a "lout" definitely isn't.

"Dispersed" means to scatter.  When writing about payments from stimulus programs, you mean "disbursed".   (Did your college have a "bursar"? )

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Epstein Dead and Buried (Metaphorically)?

Gregory Cochran is an anthropologist who is very much a contrarian.  On his West Hunter blog he posts occasionally, mostly on the evolution of humans.  He seems to be on the conservative side, at least in that he argues for the impact of evolution on human traits, etc.  In other words, he's not politically correct.

With that understanding of his leanings, I was surprised to read this takedown of Richard Epstein, who recently speculated on the outcome of Covid-19, arguing that concerns were over done. Most notably he predicted deaths in US would be 500 or les.

I only know that predictions vary very widely, and everyone who positively asserts a prediction is overdoing it.

But Cochran's post is a great example of taking no prisoners.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Claw Backs on Covid Aid

Personally, my wife and I fall into the category Steven Pearlstein described Friday--people whose income is not siigniicantly impacted by Covid-19. See this more recent post on Politico.

I don't know whether we will receive anything under the measures now being put together in  Congress.

It strikes me that in the absence of the right infrastructure to focus payments you could include a clawback provision. For us, the IRS would know on our 2020 taxes that we received Covid money. If our adjusted gross income for 2020 doesn't show a decrease from 2019, i.e., we weren't hurt by the pandemic, then tax the Covid money, 100 percent or something less.

[Updated:  Here's Greg Mankiw proposing the same thing.]

The Lack of Governmental Infrastructure

One of things crisis  fighters run into is the lack of governmental infrastructure. 

In the Great Recession a bit part of the problem in helping people whose houses were under water was the lack of any infrastructure which had direct contact with mortgagees.  Instead people like Geithner had to design programs to work through banks, but because the mortgages often had been been sold on/collateralized from the original loan maker it wasn't an effective program.

We now come to 2020 and Covid-19.  The programs under discussion now want to make direct payments to people.  But the government doesn't have that infrastructure.  The best we can do is write checks to those who filed a tax return with IRS in the past, but that obviously misses a lot of people: those who weren't required to file, those who joined the country more recently, those who never filed a tax return--i.e., tax evaders.

My Predictions?

I don't really have any, but I just saw a Politico post following up on various predictions made about Obamacare.  They mostly were wrong.  So with that in mind I'll venture this: at least 80 percent of the predictions ever offered about Covid-19 will turn out to be wrong.

Nicholas Kristof at the Times sketched the best and worst cases for the outcome. I'll venture the prediction that the outcome will be closer to the best than the worst.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Will the Cost of Fighting Covid-19 Exceed the DAmage It Causes?

John Hinderaker at Powerline blog ends a post on the Covid-19 virus (he uses "Wuhan virus" which is an indicator of his viewpoint) with this sentence:
" But policymakers need to consider the possibility that the damage done by the extreme measures being taken to slow the spread of the virus will ultimately prove to be greater than the harm done by the virus itself."
My reaction was--we should hope that's the case.   But I've had to struggle with figuring out whether my kneejerk reaction was valid, or just liberal bias.  Let me try now:

  1. Covid-19 is a case of natural disaster.
  2. Natural disasters vary widely in their causes and destruction: think of Hurricane Katrina or Sandy; earthquakes and tsunamis, droughts, floods, forest fires
  3. It seems to me that forest fires are a decent parallel with forest fires.  Why-both fires and epidemics occur over significant time, not the minutes of an earthquake or the days of a hurricane. That extended time period means humans can fight them, can hope to mitigate effects, limit their scope. 
  4. So consider the Paradise CA fire of a couple years ago.  Suppose, instead of a downed transmission line, it had started as campfire which escaped the firepit. But there was a fire station near enough and someone with a cellphone who saw the escape. In short, the Paradise fire was contained within a couple acres by the exertions of a fire crew over a day.  The cost of fighting the fire would maybe have been $1K, more than the burn damage.  Given that scenario,should we not fight the fire because of a cost-benefit ratio.
  5. In summary, when considering natural disasters the correct cost-benefit analysis is not money expended versus damage incurred; it's money expended versus some combination of probability of damage and the cost of the damage.

Friday, March 20, 2020

In Lieu of Mail Elections

There's a move, led in part by my former candidate for President, Amy Klobuchar, to move to mail elections in the fall.

I've reservations about mail elections because I like the feeling of community you get by voting in person.  I've reservations about moving to mail for our national elections, fearing that people are underestimating the difficulty involved, particularly when you consider counties are basically in charge of elections (remember the butterfly ballot). IMO there would likely be a number of snafus in November because the Harshaw rule applies.

I'd suggest an alternative in case Covid-19 is a danger in November--move to multi-day elections.  Instead of "election day" we'd have maybe "election week", or 2-3 days  That way we'd not need to change the technology, just spread out the people as they come to vote, so they can maintain their 6 foot distance.  The big hurdle that comes to mind is the burden on the people manning the polling places--older folks usually and more vulnerable to sickness.  But, if the virus is still an issue unemployment will be higher, providing a pool of potential hirees.

[Update--it seems the Klobuchar/Wyden proposal allows in-person advance voting, which is the same as an "election week"--I knew she deserved my support

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Innovation--Uses of Social Media

I think it's true that whenever things change some humans adapt to it.  It's like invasive species in biology--when a new ecological niche opens some opportunistic species will take advantage of it.

Anyway, what seems to be going on today is, given the challenge of Covid-19, humans are finding ways to use the internet and social media to counter its effects.  Using Amazon to order supplies, using Zoom for online learning, having a community sing over media, joining friends for online meals.

These uses aren't unprecedented, I'm sure, but tweaks on existing uses and expansion to new audiences.  These uses and audiences are likely to persist even after Covid-19 becomes a normal part of the world's health picture.

Kevin Drum has a post today arguing the greater speed of information exchange now as compared to 1918's Spanish flu explains a greater economic impact.  I'd agree, but also point to the advantages this speed offers--we can learn from the esperiences of others much quicker than in 1918.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Logistics of Checks to Everyone

As a bureaucrat when I see proposals to send checks to "everyone" I immediately jump to the logistics.

I know we've done this in the past--I think in the GWBush administration.  Google that and I find this:
In 2009, the Economic Stimulus Act sent out $14.2 billion in stimulus checks.1 2 The one-time payment went to recipients of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veterans, and railroad retirees.
Note that's far from "everyone".  Others, the employed, got a tax credit. This was part of Obama's stimulus.  As for GWB:
The year before ARRA, the George W. Bush administration sent out stimulus checks to battle the 2008 recession. It spent $120 billion in fiscal years 2008 and 2009.1 It rebated taxes on the first $6,000 of income for individuals or the first $12,000 of income for couples. Stimulus checks were mailed out as follows:

Individual taxpayers received up to $600.4

Married couples were eligible for up to $1,200.
Households with children received $300 per dependent child.
Rebates were reduced for higher incomes at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples.\
Around 20 million retirees on Social Security and disabled veterans also received checks for $300 if they earned at least $3,000 in benefits in 2007.4 Couples received $600.
Everything from this site including a discussion of impacts.

The problems with "everyone" is the government doesn't have a database with everyone in it, unlike say Estonia or India.  So to issue checks Congress has to cobble together databases from across the government.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Contrails as a Metaphor for Covid-19

I like metaphors, using something concrete to grasp ideas. I was thinking about Covid-19 (surprisingly!) this morning, specifically the process by which the virus spreads. What gets complicated to think about is the elapse of time, particularly since I tend to resist binary choices--a person is infected or not.

So here's my metaphor:  think of an infected person as a jet plane flying in a clear sky, particularly a older one.  The plane leaves a contrail behind it, which over time loses its structure and dissolves into nothing.  The contrail represents the virus particles being

Nowfly another plane through the contrail, representing an uninfected person.  If the contrail is well structured the person is more likely to be infected than if time has passed or winds have dispersed it.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Covid-19 Makes Us All Poor

Don't normally listen to podcasts but I did this one at Slate with an ER doctor..

He points to the lack of control felt by him and the public. That's one of the things about being poor--the lack of control over your life, the need to live from crisis to crisis, without the resources to get ahead of things.  The lack of control means you lose the ability to scan the environment and to plan the future.

For me, these descriptions apply to my current state of mind--my mental horizon has contracted to the issues raised by the virus: buying food, the loss of outside entertainment possibilities, the uncertainty,.  In other words, I'm now pretty much stupid.

[Updated--I forgot the most important thing--obsessing about the possibility Starbucks will close. I can't live without my coffee.]

Saturday, March 14, 2020

If Memory Serves--Cheney and Pence

If I remember correctly after 9/11 Vice President Cheney and President Bush were, for several weeks/months? kept separated, so a terrorist attack on one wouldn't take out the other.

Is it possibly time for President Trump and Vice President Pence to be separated?  Trump is in the population must vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19. The VP is getting there, but isn't nearly as vulnerable.  By separating them we'd help ensure that the virus couldn't take out both men at once, given that serious cases can result in lengthy hospitalizations.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Flu and Social Forces

The Covid-19 virus has caused us (starting with President Trump) to become more aware of the toll of the annual  outbreak of influenza.  I was vaguely aware the death toll was significant, but not the full scope of the impact.

I'd compare the flu and some social forces such as segregation, prejudice, changes in social mores.  Like the flu, we're vaguely aware of such forces,  but we only sporadically become really conscious of them. Like the flu, forces operate mostly below our level of consciousness.  Like the flu, some social forces there's a range of variation in the instances: most being minor and temporary but some being very serious.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Slow Learners in Trump Administration

It seems as if it's the fourth or fifth time Rep. Katie Porter has questioned Trump administration officials with results that rate a tweet.

If I were someone in the administration I'd use a sick leave day to avoid testifying.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Walter Raleigh

Walter Raleigh, Architect of Empire, was a Christmas present.  It's academic history, for which I've a smaller appetite these days.  I understand there are limited sources for his biography,which has to be considered. Anyhow, I just finished it:  Some things which struck me:

  • a lot of parallels between the treatment of Ireland and America (i.e.,Virginia). In both cases England was dealing with natives and trying to "plant" colonists. In the case of Virginia there was much ignorance and little attention to logistics.
  • the English thought of their efforts in America as different and more enlightened than those of the Spanish, partly because the Spanish were Catholic and England's adversary, partly from learning about the Spanish conquest and rule.
  • while dealing with the monarch was much like dealing with our current President, requiring much flattery etc. Queen Elizabeth I and King James I had the Tower and eventually the executioner's axe.
  • government was very fluid and not well defined; the most obvious example is the ease with which government resources were used for privacy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Linking "Vertical Farms" With Microgrids

If I understand this article, a microgrid is a set of power generators dedicated to supplying a set of power consumers.  When the generators are a combination of solar and natural gas and the consumers are "vertical farms" there might be a workable and economic combination.  Vertical farms use lots of energy (the old dream of using sunlight which I laughed at years ago seems now defunct).

The big advantage of a microgrid is that it can be installed along with the vertical farm, so you don't rely on the power company to have the capacity to support your farm.  The microgrid operator can guarantee a price, making it easier to figure out your business plan.

Seems to me in the long run the microgrid is not the best solution.  Vertical farms need a lot of energy and for many hours in the day (apparently if you blast a seeding with light for 18 hours a day instead of 6 you get more growth--that's my impression). But it strikes me that plants are relatively forgiving, which means if you're operating a smart transmission system, vertical farms could easily be cut off when the system gets overloaded for some reason.  See this.

I assume it's also true that there are economies of scale in power generation.  Such economies should mean a power company could undercut a microgrid in many cases.

The article notes it's not clear what price for electricity would enable vertical farms to make a profit.

We'll see.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Telework--What Will USDA Do?

OPM is out with guidance to agencies encouraging telework due to Covid19. 

Earlier in the administration Sec. Perdue made drastic cutbacks in the USDA employees authorized to telework.

So far there's nothing on the USDA website about telework.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Caldwell's Age of Enlightenment

As a thinker, Christopher Caldwell is a good writer.  His words flow, and you ride with them, until suddenly there's a problem.

Bpttomline--I don't like his style--

I'll pick out one paragraph in his final chapter

"Those who lost most from the new rights-based politics were white men.  The laws of the 1960's may not have been designed explicity to harm them, but they were gradually altered to help evceryone but them, which is the same thing.  Whites suffered because they occupied this uniquely disadvantaged status under the civil rights laws, because their strongest asset in the constitutional system--their overwhelming preponderance in the electorate--was slowly shrinking, because their electoral victories could be overruled in courtrooms and by regulatory boards where necessary, and because the moral narratives of civil rights required that they be cast as the villains of their country's history. They fell asleep thinking of themselves as the people who had built this country and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races."

page 276

Notice what he does there.  In the first sentence the losers are "white men".  By the end of the paragraph "they", who are the bottom rung, are "whites". To me that's sloppy thought. Somehow the advances women have made since the 1960's are ignored. To be consistent he'd have to discuss an ethnic/gender  hierarchy, but that would complicate his argument.  He'd have to recognize that white women have gained during the period.

He's also playing games with the causes.  Assume that white voters were the "overwhelming preponderance" of the electorate in the 1960' in part because of the denial of the right to vote in the South.  The civil rights laws were passed by that overwhelming preponderance (85 percent in 1960). Whites still maintain their preponderance and will for another 20 years or so. The Republicans have had a majority on the Supreme Court since Nixon.  Give Caldwell credit though--he doesn't name a villain to account for the changes other than the sleepiness of whites.

There's an interesting book to be written discussing the last 60 years, paying attention to what was lost and what was gained, but it isn't this book.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Every Cow Has "Her People"/

Vox has an interview with the director of "First Cow", who comments of the cow: "She had her people."

She also agrees with the interviewer: “Milk is so exciting.”

Friday, March 06, 2020

That Was the Week That Was

I'm showing my age in the title I chose--see this wikipedia explainer.

For Democrats, and political observers, it's been 7 days of twists and turns.  I'm amused to see Hugh Hewitt's Mar 1 oped: and the Michael Tomasky's piece in the New York Review of Books.

Both remind me of this

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Why I Voted for Warren

I voted for Elizabeth Warren yesterday.  I've been a supporter of Klobuchar for as long as she was in the race and would have voted for her had she not withdrawn.  So my choices yesterday were Bloomberg, Biden, and Warren.  Sanders is both too old and too radical for me to consider, though I will vote for him if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

My bottomline was that anyone my age is too old for the job. I think I'm still pretty good mentally.  My memory fails occasionally, more than it used to, but I can analyze and write pretty well.  Assume that Bloomberg and Biden are equally capable.  But I find it hard to imagine that either man would, if elected, be able to credibly plan to run for reelection. That's just an age too far.  So they'd be a lame duck  immediately.  The record of our presidents during their second terms when they're lame ducks is not great.

The VP,  whoever it is, would naturally want to run for president in 2024, which would likely mean she'd need to establish some distance from the president just to have their own identity. Meanwhile other Democratic politicians would be maneuvering to run as well.  All that means big difficulties in getting the party to come together and support the President's proposals.

Applying the logic above leaves me with Warren as my choice.  I'm not fond of some of her plans, but I like her brains and her passion, so she was an acceptable choice. When I voted, I realized it was a symbolic vote, since she had no chance to win delegates in VA.  But that's life. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

When You Know You're Losing It

When you tweet about the silent generation finding "it's voice."

On the other hand, the title of this post isn't "When You Know Your Losing It"

If all this is too cryptic, congratulations--you're a millennial.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Famous Last Words--I'll Give It All Away

Steve Jobs' widow says:
"“I inherited my wealth from my husband, who didn’t care about the accumulation of wealth,” she told the New York Times. “I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.” [emphasis added]
IIRC Andrew Carnegie wanted to give away all his money.  He didn't accomplish that.  As the article at the link observes, there's still a Carnegie Foundation which gives away money each year.

Wjhy iis it hard for the rich to give away all their money (those who want to, like Carnegie and Jobs)?
  • money has this way of earning more money, You have to run faster just to stay in one place, much less lower the stock of assets.
  • those who manage the money as the donor grows old and after they die have a vested interest in keeping the flow of money going. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Be Afraid--What Are the Odds

I think the odds for the Covid virus having major impact on American society are low.  I might be unduly affected by the experience of the Ebola panic, when a certain person was panicking (initials DJT).

On the other hand, I think the odds for a very screwed-up transition from the Trump administration to a Democratic president in 2021 are about 100-1 (assuming we do in fact defeat the man).  The Obama administration started the transition process back in the spring of 2016.  Of course they knew they were leaving, but Trump will have problems imagining that process so I don't expect him to approve any advance planning before Nov. 2020.  After election day, assuming again he's defeated which I'm not offering any prediction for, he will be in no mood to facilitate any planning, so the process will have to be carried out by career officials, otherwise known to Republican partisans as the swamp.

America Is Rich Country But Feels Like a Poor Country

I like the website. He recently spent some time in Vietnam and Singapore with some good pictures. (Saigon was home to lots of motorbikes when I was there 50+ years ago, but it's gotten more crowded since.) He has this observation:
" the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows."

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bring on Self Driving Cars

Tesla says they average 1 fatality every 3 million miles.  The government says the US averages 1 fatality every 500,000 miles.  That tells me if we gave everyone a Tesla we could save 30,000 lives a year.

That's from this NYTimes article which should have been entitled: Teslas 6 times safer than driver-driven cars.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Disaster Coverage for Hemp

I'm still, I think the word is, bemused by the legalization of hemp.  The latest item is FSA issuing the rules for NAP coverage for 2020.  I don't know whether this is the first or second year for such coverage. 

I'm pleased to see the comparison of the provisions of the FSA NAP program and RMA's hemp insurance.  Almost all of the parameters are the same. Ever since the beginning of FCIC and AAA there have been complaints about the differences between the programs, most specifically the crop reporting dates.  Thousands of work hours and innumerable meetings have now been devoted to trying to resolve the differences, so it's good to see differences being resolved from the beginning.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Michael Milken--Angel or Devil?

Keith Williamson had a short post the other day: 
Reis Thebault, writing in the Washington Post, identifies Michael Milken as “the ‘junk bond king’ who was charged with insider trading…”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board says that Milken “was never charged with insider trading.”
I was curious so I checked wikipedia. 
In March 1989, a federal grand jury indicted Milken on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud. The indictment accused Milken of a litany of misconduct, including insider trading, stock parking (concealing the real owner of a stock), tax evasion and numerous instances of repayment of illicit profits.
He pled guilty to six counts,  which likely were the least serious ones, securities and tax violations (i.e., not insider trading). So it sounds like a plea deal: the feds got jail time and a scalp on the wall; Milken avoided a long and expensive trial which might have resulted in much more serious penalties and which can be described as "technical", and therefore worthy of a pardon. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Return of the "Shorts"

Reading about Wall Street shenanigans in the 19th and 20th century often included discussions of "bears" and "shorts". It's easy to think those tactics are just a part of history, long since outmoded by federal regulation and modern finance.

Not so, according to this. Though to give the modern age it's due, it doesn't appear that there were underhanded things going on--just the ups and downs of a company pushing the envelopte.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Definitions of Farming: US Versus EU

Defining who is a "farmer" is complicated.  It's been 35 years since our legislation first tried to define "actively engaged in farming".

Yesterday I came across this piece, discussing EU's efforts first to define "active farmer" and now to define "genuine farmer".  The Irish are holding listening sessions with various farm groups (which are interesting in themselves, as different than US groups) which come up with various standards.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Hemp Insurance and Bureaucracy has a page on the announcement of hemp insurance and other aspects of growing hemp.

They note the need to report acreage to FSA, including their hemp grower registration number.  I searched on that and found this page for Virginia.  Virginia, of course, requires its own series of acreage reports

IMO this is a classic instance of how bureaucratic silos develop.  Something new comes up, and existing bureaucracies are assigned the job of implementing rules/laws. But since it's likely that the new responsibility doesn't fit neatly within the scope of one bureaucracy, we get duplication. 

I'd predict that 10 years from now the Virginia Hemp Growers Association will have formed and will be lobbying for a simplification and consolidation of paperwork requirements.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Presidential Health

As long as I'm discussing physical abilities today, I might as well offer my 2  cents worth on presidential health.

There's a current controversy over the release of medical records. I quickly agreed with Kevin Drum's post on medical and financial transparency.  Latter Twitter provided more information--Bloomberg is a qualified pilot, including helicopters, and passed an FAA medical exam last year; there's not that much difference among the types of medical information provided by current and past candidates--typically a physician's summary with some data but not really complete information.That includes Sanders.

Apparently Bloomberg had two stents inserted in the past, but not as aftermath to a heart attack.  Biden has survived brain surgery, which sounds scary but apparently doesn't have any meaning for the future.

Does the ADA Apply to Airlines?

I follow John Fea at the Way of Improvement.  Today he notes the controversy over reclining airplane seats.

He's 6' 8", so naturally he hates flying.

I wonder though--the Americans with Disability Act requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.  Couldn't height, in the context of airplanes, be considered a disability?

Answer: Based on a layman's skim of the ADA text it isn't.  The key thing seems to be this definition of disability:as a condition which  "...substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual".

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Interest Rates and Savings Rates

Saw a chart showing the US savings rate over the years today.  It's interesting.  Here's the wikipedia page, which only goes to 2010. (Is wikipedia losing its oomph?)  It shows the savings rate dropping to about 4 percent in 1998 and 2 percent in 2005, recovering to about 7 percent in 2010. Since then the rate has been in the 7 percent neighborhood.

Some of the discussion, at least on one site, is how low the rate is, when considering how much people should be saving for their retirement.  But the article where I saw the graph was emphasizing the positive, the revival of the rate since the recession, noting how low the interest rates are currently.

That caught my attention.  I know just enough about economics to know that interest is the price of money.  So my (maive) assumption is that the higher the interest rate the higher the savings rate. But that doesn't appear to be the case.  I must be missing something.

(It is interesting the fluctuations of savings--in my young adulthood it was around 10 percent, from 1975 to 85 it declined to 7 percent before its most recent drops.

Monday, February 17, 2020

"Only" Versus "Nearly"

In a Times editorial today I saw a statement to the effect that "nearly one-third of Americans think same-sex marriage is wrong".  I don't know if the statistic is right, but it struck me that it should have read "only one-third....". 

In other words, what seems most important to me is how little opposition there now is to same-sex marriage, just about 25 years after President Clinton signed legislation "defending marriage". 

I never thought popular opinion could change that fast.  Indeed, when the subject was first raised, I didn't see it as a particularly serious or important initiative.  So frankly I wished it would go away, as making it an issue was a strategy Republicans/conservatives could use to defeat Democrats/liberals.

I was wrong then. 

The IRS Budget

Trump proposes to cut IRS employees by over 1,000.

Trump proposes an increase in IRS budget.

I saw both takes online, which was very confusing.

Here's a bit of explanation:
For the Internal Revenue Service, the plan proposes $12 billion, which is about a 4% increase from fiscal 2020, yet would decrease staff levels by 1,183 full-time employees. However, with $400 million in “cap adjustments,” there would be a net increase of 1,700 positions from fiscal 2020 levels. “Cap adjustments” are spending that is allowed above the limits in the 2019 budget agreement because of its potential to generate revenue.
There's much more at the link.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Decline? of Dairy

Is dairy farming really going to hell in a handbasket? That's what I often see, with the trend to ever-larger farms and the decline of the dairy farms of the sort I knew in my youth.

But here's another take from a blogger I follow.  She notes the decline of "English" farms of 50 cows or so over the past 20 years, but notes their replacement by Amish farms.  I'm not sure where the Amish are marketing their milk.  Is it being sold as organic?  That would seem likely.  Anyhow the post is a reminder that change is complicated. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Importance of Hidden Improvements

Economic historians have an ongoing debate about the reasons for the Industrial Revolution and why it happened first in the UK and Netherlands.

One thing which occurs to me is the importance of hidden inventions: the sort of things which are important but haven't gotten attention, things like:

  • the invention of eyeglasses
  • the improvement of lighting--when did the whaling industry develop, was it to provide whale oil to light the lamps of the UK and US? 
  • the development of quarantine as a means to counter infectious diseases
  • the accumulation of people--the greater density of population leading to more interchange of ideas
  • the spread of literacy meaning easier communication of ideas among people and over time.

Friday, February 14, 2020

We Should Calm Down II

See this wikipedia piece on party divisions.  Despite the Democrats moaning about the advantages which gerrymandering and the structure of the Senate give to the Republicans, during my lifetime I've lived through several Congresses in which the Democrats had at least a 3/5 margin in the Senate (albeit with 2 independents) and a couple recent Congresses in which they had a bigger margin in the House than the Republicans ever have. 

The key for us is continuing our 2018 progress at the state level in 2020.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

We Should Calm Down

John Fea at the Way of Improvement blog sponsors this post on divisions within America. Zack Beauchamp at Vox has this post on the ills of our democracy.

Personally I don't buy the crisis talk.  I remember the divisions in the country in the 1950's and the 1960's and the 1970's and....  Notably in the late 60's and early 70's we had riots and terrorist bombings, not to mention our strongest third party movement in a long time.   We survived, and I'm sure we will continue to survive.  Trump will leave office on or before Jan 20, 2025.  I hope we elect a Democrat in 2020 who will lower the tensions and revive many of the norms which he has broken.  But if we have to live through another 4+ years, we'll survive.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Importance of Heritage: Klobuchar

IIRC Hubert  Humphrey was called a "happy warrior" which turns out to be a poem by Wordsworth

The label has been applied to others, notably Al Smith by FDR, but Googling "happy warrior" and "Humbert Humphrey" has 285,000 hits.

Because the voting age was 21, I couldn't vote in 1960, but Humphrey was my candidate.  He made perhaps the most important political speech ever in the 1948 Democratic convention, one on behalf of civil rights and one which meant the exodus from the convention of the Dixiecrats who ended with Strom Thurmond as their candidate.

Once elected senator he was a stalwart for liberal causes through the 1950's, serving as a bridge between LBJ and the liberals, being active in many causes.

After Humphrey Walter Mondale and then Paul Wellstone continued the heritage of Minnesota liberalism in the Senate.

Klobuchar worked as an intern for Mondale, who has been a mentor to her since.  And Wellstone encouraged her first run for office.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Marvels of Modern Medicine

I've some loss of hearing, so have been using hearing aids for about a year.  I don't wear them all the time, mostly when going out or watching movies. By themselves they are a marvel, small enough to fit inside the ear. The inside the ear bit is complicated--a tube, a little jobbie which fits into the tube but can be replaced when it gets clogged with earwax, and a rubber/plastic shield which fits over the jobbie which seems also to protect against earwas.

Anyhow I've used the aids often enough that I've had to replace the shield and the jobbie a couple times.  But two weeks ago a confluence of errors,including failing to test that the shield was securely attached, meant that the shield came off and was stuck way inside my ear.  Uncomfortable.

Anyhow after some days in denial, I went to the doctors.  My internist wasn't able to reach it, so I got a referral to an EMT specialist.  He had this machine connected to a TV screen so when he inserted his implement into my ear both he and eye could see the shield inside the ear canal. No sooner had I realized what I was seeing than he'd grabbed the shield with the implement and removed it.  Total elapsed time < 1 minute.

I don't know how economists account for such improvements in productivity.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Another View of Automated Indoor Growing

For some reason I feel more kindly to the operation in this article than I do the one in my previous post.


For one reason, the farm described is in a warehouse, one story, not multiple stories.  My guess is then that the cost for the building/real estate is lower per plant.  Might not be true but that's my take.

Another reason, the operation is described as experimenting, learning from failure.

A third reason, admission of problems, such as using cameras to monitor the health of plants is not always a replacement for eyeballs on the plants.

A fourth reason, the writer notes the cost differential and ask why people should pay the difference.  That's key to me.  I'm not convinced that simply better taste and fresher produce is going to be enough.  Maybe it will be; after all the Fuji apple has gained market share replacing the Red Delicious  as a standard apple.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Another Vertical Farm Dream

A dream by Framlab described in this piece promising to turn Brooklyn into an agricultural community.

My problem with the outline: it completely omits any discussion of people, at least the people who are supposed to do the work of tending the farm.  Apparently AI is supposed to do it all.  Not going to happen, they'll need a minimum crew.  And there's no discussion of marketing the produce (greens)--maybe it's supposed to be a grow your own operation.  Again, I don't think it's going to happen.

"Vertical farming" or at least hydroponics paired with AI can accomplish a lot, but not what's described here.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Was President Wilson Really Bad?

Since my college days the reputation of President Wilson has collapsed, mostly because his racism has gained attention.

But I'm puzzled by a note in the papers this morning--the 1917 Immigration Act, very exclusionist, was passed today over Wilson's veto.  I wonder why he vetoed it.
[Update below]
Through the magic of the Internet:
"In two particulars of vital consequence this bill embodies a radical departure from the traditional and long-established policy of this country, a policy in which our people have conceived the very character of their Government to be expressed, the very mission and spirit of the Nation in respect of its relations to the peoples of the world outside their borders. It seeks to all but close entirely the gates of asylum which have always been open to those who could find nowhere else the right and opportunity of constitutional agitation for what they conceived to be the natural and inalienable rights of men; and it excludes those to whom the opportunities of elementary education have been denied, without regard to their character, their purposes, or their natural capacity."

From wikipedia:

" This act added to and consolidated the list of undesirables banned from entering the country, including: alcoholics, anarchists, contract laborers, criminals, convicts, epileptics, "feebleminded persons," "idiots," "illiterates," "imbeciles," "insane persons," "paupers," "persons afflicted with contagious disease," "persons being mentally or physically defective," "persons with constitutional psychopathic inferiority," "political radicals," polygamists, prostitutes, and vagrants.[17]

To contain the so-called "Yellow Peril," the Immigration Act of 1917 established the "Asiatic barred zone" (shown in green), from which the U.S. admitted no immigrants.

Map showing Asiatic zone prescribed in section three of Immigration Act, the natives of which are excluded from the United State, with certain exceptions

For the first time, an immigration law of the U.S. affected European immigration, with the provision barring all immigrants over the age of sixteen who were illiterate. Literacy was defined as the ability to read 30–40 words of their own language from an ordinary text.[3] The act reaffirmed the ban on contracted labor, but made a provision for temporary labor. This allowed laborers to obtain temporary permits because they were inadmissible as immigrants. The waiver program allowed continued recruitment of Mexican agricultural and railroad workers.[18] Legal interpretation on the terms "mentally defective" and "persons with constitutional psychopathic inferiority" effectively included a ban on homosexual immigrants who admitted their sexual orientation.[19]

One section of the law designated an "Asiatic barred zone" from which people could not immigrate, including much of Asia and the Pacific Islands

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

(Wall) Maintenance Is Never Sexy

That goes for Trump's wall, as well. Among the items mentioned in the article are:

  • Painting (Trump wants it black, not rust).
  • Repairing sabotage--quite expensive because you need a crew and access to reweld.
  • Maintaining roads for access and electronics. It's not clear to me what sort of electronics are involved and how durable they might be.
  • Storm gates to allow storm water to flood arroyos. The gates have to be raised during storm season and monitored for people going underneath them.
  • Undermined foundations.  Downpours can work to erode dirt from around the foundations,  leading to collapse.
The article says DHS isn't providing estimates on the maintenance costs.  It has a quote predicting in 20 years or so it will be a rusting relict in the desert. 

I can readily believe if and when we get immigration legislation and the situation in the Northern Triangle of Central America settles down Congress won't be eager to appropriate money for maintenance.  That fits with one lesson I learned in government--maintenance isn't sexy--it doesn't get management attention, you don't get medals for it, you don't get money or people to do it.  

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Bloomberg's Helping Trump

News today that Bloomberg is increasing his campaign staff to 2,000 people.  Does he realize that the money he's spending on his campaign is simply helping Trump to boast of the state of the economy?

Monday, February 03, 2020

Adjusting to Innovation--Dentists

When I grew up I only saw the dentist as couple times.  Then a dentist in the Army filled a small cavity, and I went years/decades before I started seeing a dentist regularly.  Then he retired and I finally made connections with a Reston dentist.  After a few years she sold her practice to a new dentist.

Anyhow, for the first 70 years of my life, I was used being given a paper cup of water to sip and then spit out as the session went on.  When I started with the Reston dentist she had a setup with a flow of water in one tube and a suction tube to drain it out.  That's new and difficult for me to adjust to.  The new dentist tells me to close my lips periodically, which I don't remember his predecessor doing.  Somehow I get the feeling that a kid in the dentist's office for the first time would have a structured explanation of what's going on.  But because I'm old and perhaps because the dentist is assuming that I've had previous experience/training they skip that step with me.

The other new thing is flat screen TV to watch.  Not that I can take advantage--my eyesight isn't that good, the dentist is often obscuring my sight, and I've no idea of what I might want.  I wonder how many of the patients really get any benefit from it, versus it's being a signal of quality?

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Driverless Cars for the Disabled

An article today in the papers on someone working on driverless cars for the disabled.  It seems to me quite possible such cars will fill niche spots, long belong they become widely usable.

The Ultimate File Cabinet for Bureaucrats

Via Marginal Revolution, this piece on the biggest, baddest file cabinet you ever saw.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Farmers Don't Believe Trump's Trade Promises?

From Chris Clayton's report on the recent American Farm Bureau convention's policy recommendations:
"Still, Farm Bureau members voted to keep language in the policy book supportive of MFP payments even with President Donald Trump touting trade wins in China and the congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). 
"Our members are basically saying 'Show us results'," said Scott VanderWal, a South Dakota farmer and AFBF's national vice president. "We're very, very happy the president has the China phase-one agreement in place, USMCA in place and will be signed very soon, but no products have moved, implementation hasn't happened yet, and it's kind of a 'prove it to me' thing. When we get down the road, there is nothing we would like better than to really see these agreements kick in and show us some expanded market opportunities, and hopefully the markets will come back with that to where we can go back to making all of our income off the market rather than having the government make up for those trade disputes and the damage to the market that has been done."

Friday, January 31, 2020

Then and Now--V: Before TV

We didn't get a TV set until 1956 or 7, as I remember it.  I can remember the advent of the TV was a big thing.  We visited my aunt and uncle to see it--the program was Friday Night Fights.  Boxing was really big back then.  The series of fights between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson (the original "sugar ray") was legendary. The succession of the heavyweight title from Marciano through Archie Moore to Floyd Patterson and then Ingmar Johannson I'm sure made the front pages of the local newspaper, maybe not the Times.

Until we got the TV radio and games were our evening entertainment.  For a few years my sister, dad and I would play cut-throat pinochle.  Or we'd play crokinole.  I don't know whether the nation was paying more attention to radio programs or TV programs.  We'd listen to the Shadow, the Goldburgs, Sergeant King of the Mounties, Lone Ranger in the afternoon, mom would listen to Queen for a Day, later we'd listen to One Man's Family, a long running soap..  Gunsmoke was one favorite and Our Miss  Brooks  another.  Amos 'n Andy was on Saturdays, IIRC and I remember it, but it wasn't a family regular--I'm not sure why, perhaps my parents or sister found it objectionable.  I'm not sure; perhaps I remember some strain surrounding it but it might be my imagination.

The Texaco Saturday opera broadcast from the Met was a standard for my sister, not for the rest of us.

[changed title to reflect content]

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Innovation as an Invasive Species/Infectious Disease

There's a lot of concern over inequality, over polarization of American society, etc.

In part I think we're having trouble with the advent of the Internet and of social media. I'd observe that in the past human society has taken time to adjust to innovation.  When railroads came along people were thrown into close contact with strangers in a new situation for extended periods of time.  It took time to develop norms and habits to deal with this, not to mention the need to standardize time keeping.

I'd suggest a good metaphor for innovation is to consider it an invasive species or a new infectious disease.  Initially the species or disease makes rapid inroads because humans don't have any developed immunity or there are no natural enemies..  Over time these develop.

I think this is true for society, as well.  Humans learn, eventually.  And they adjust, eventually.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Thoughts on Movies and CGI

Wife and I watched the 1993 movie "Gettysburg".  It's not a movie which would be made today. It's not how we see the Civil War battles, indeed not how we see war today.

But regardless, I want to note a technical difference.  In Gettysburg the moviemakers were able to use the thousands of Civil War re-enactors to serve as extras in the movie, especially of course in the battle sequences.  The result, to someone who's used to the CGI-enhanced or based battles of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones., is very different.


  • in some ways it's more realistic.  It's more "fractal" I 'll call it because less regular. When crowd scenes are composed by creating one segment--say 50 riders on horses, and duplicate it multiple times to give the appearance of 500 riders, I think we subconsciously are aware of the duplication.
  • it shows the difference between bottom-up and top-down compositions. When you have 1,000 real people coming together to act as soldiers their behaviors and actions retain a lot of individuality.  You're only able to get a high degree of uniformity in places/situations like Korean military or dance displays where the people can be trained over months and years.  When someone at a computer generates 1,000 images of people, while her imagination may be great she cannot imagine 1,000 realities.
  • in some ways it's less realistic, or at least less supportive of the story.  In the scenes showing masses of soldiers there's always the odd person running around or someone doing something which wouldn't be included, not even thought of by a CGI designer.  It can be distracting because you can't determine whether the action is part of the story, or just random noise.  (It's probably more realistic in a real battle scene that's what happens, but it's not what we've been trained to expect in a movie.  Chekhov's thing was if you show a gun on a mantel in Act 1, it had to go off by Act 3.  That's not life, but it's modern storytelling.) 
I assume there will never be another Gettysburg, at least not shot on American soil.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Rising Insurance Rates: Car Not Health

Via Marginal Revolution a Wired post discusses the increasing costs of car insurance. It's up 30 percent in a decade.  It's interesting--who knew Houston lost 1 million cars?  But one thing it doesn't cover is whether there's any parallel between auto insurance and health insurance.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Then and Now--IV Housing

One of the big differences between the 1950's and now is housing:  Here's an Atlantic article
on the issue:
"The typical new single-family house in the U.S. is twice the size of the average urban or suburban dwelling in the European Union—more than 2,000 square feet versus approximately 1,000 square feet. ... In the past half century, the number of bathrooms per person in America has doubled. “We went from two people per bathroom to one person per bathroom in the last 50 years,” says Jeff Tucker, an economist at Zillow."
Everyone has their own room and their own bathroom.

Some Thoughts on the 1619 Project

One of the major items is the idea that the preservation of slavery played a big part in the American Revolution;  The best evidence appears to be

  •  the southern reaction to Gov. Dunmore's offer of freedom to slaves who would fight for/work for the British.  
  • fears that the Somerset decision, outlawing slavery in the UK, was a harbinger of changes in the colonies.
I'm a failed historian and I'm a WASP so my judgments are suspect, but here goes:
  • the Dunmore issue is valid, but the timing makes it less relevant. As I learned in school, the run-up to the revolution took years, going back to the Stamp Act protests.  It comes in November 1775, after  the April Concord/Lexington fighting and months after the siege of Boston began.  It might have swayed Southern planters who were on the fence to decide to support independence.
  • because slavery in the  British colonies in Canada and the Caribbean continued for years after the Revolution, people should not have had major concerns over the effect of Somerset.  But humans are able to worry about things without having a solid basis for it.  I'd like to see an analysis of discussion of Somerset in America between 1772 and 1776.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Polarization--A Speculation on Rural Rootedness

Ezra Klein has a new book out on our polarized nation.  Bob Somerby sees polarization as the biggest issue we have. There's different views on causes, but it seems true that some of the polarization is rural versus urban.

I've a speculation to offer: Is it true that rural residents are less mobile than suburban and urban ones?  My mental image is of counties which were settled in the 19th century, like Perry County, IL where my great grandparents settled.  Since the initial settling, sons and daughters have moved away, leaving a relatively static population of the oldest son (who got the farm) and his wife.  His children would repeat the cycle.  All that should mean that current rural dwellers have a long family history with the area which would contrast to the mobility seen in urban and suburban areas.

I don't know whether that image is true. It might not be. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Then and Now--III

Determinants of Identity

In the 1950's in rural upstate New York:

  • the most important identities were ethnic--Italian, Polish, etc. and religious: Catholic, Jew, Protestant.  There were the slang terms for each.  Catholicism was important, as my mother in particular had an inherited (Lutheran) suspicion of the church.  They gambled (bingo nights), they wanted their own schools, they were under control of the Pope, etc.  Mom may have been in the minority with these views, but they were strong, at least in the abstract if not when dealing face to face. One of my best friends was of East European extraction, his parents were immigrants, his father dying young, and Catholic.  Mom had no problems with that.
  • I knew two Jews growing up (perhaps three, a son of a local family surnamed "Benjamin" was a playmate for a few early summers).  One was our family doctor, who I believe had emigrated from Germany before WWII; the other was the dealer who bought our hens and pullets, presumably for chicken soup in New York City.
  • as for African-Americans, which we were careful to call "Negroes", not colored and not "n****r, because we were more enlightened than others, I'm sure I saw a handful on the streets of Binghamton (pop 80,000) but we had no interaction.  No blacks in the school, though I've a memory, possibly false or a dream, of someone enrolling for a few days when I was in high school. Don't know if that happened.  
  • homosexuality was a subject not discussed, even more of a taboo than cancer was. It's possible some of my class (of about 40) were gay, but I never knew it then and haven't confirmed it now.  
  • I think the bottomline is how high the wall of separation between me, a WASP, and these others was.  That lack of knowledge could create 
Now things are different--issues of religion and ethnicity seems antiquated. While I'm not good at making/keeping friendships, I've encountered enough people during my life to feel I know them, and could take my cue from Terence:  "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me."[

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Then and Now--II

Some additional thoughts on the differences in America between the 1950's and now as I experienced them:


  • in the 1950's we still had the remains of an older cultural world, a world of "high art" and distinct social divisions.  There were serious novels and books on the best seller list: works by Hemingway, Steinbeck, Nabokov, and Pasternak.  The Book of the Month Club was riding high.  Leonard Bernstein was on TV.  A boy in rural New York got a definite sense of a defined hierarchy, ruled over by the NYTimes, the New Yorker, and the Saturday Review of Literature as gatekeepers and New York City as the center of the universe.
  • in the 1950's "mass culture" was a rising concern--the TV "vast wasteland"  was a concern before Newton Minow so labeled it in 1961.  Comic books were becoming popular among the boomer youth, but were viewed as a threat to the culture and a cause of juvenile delinquency by Dr. Wertham, resulting in establishing the Comics Code Authority, to self-regulate the content. (This might have been modeled on the Motion Picture Production Code  and the effort by the Catholic Church to censor movies. People saw the popularity of books like Peyton Place was seen as a threat to standards.
  • in the 1950's you had classical music, jazz which was starting to get some serious attention, and popular music--Sinatra, Crosby,  Rock was just appearing, but it was a threat to the morals of the youth. Folk and country were niches.
Culture Today
  • today I don't see the structure we had in my youth, in books, in music or generally. The best seller list more rarely seems to contain "serious novels",  There are several more niches, niches which have more attention to them from serious critics. 
  • it seems to me that's a generalization: today there's lots more variety, more niches in all aspects of culture and much less of a pecking order in evidence.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Then and Now--I

As I age, my memories of my youth seem to get stronger.  Here's some of my memories of American society circa 1950's:

Big Companies

  • the big companies then  (components of Dow Jones) mostly made things: the big 3 automakers, GE, US Steel, Bethlehem Steel, National Steel, oil companies.  Woolworths and Sears Roebuck were big retailers, though there were supermarket chains around.  Franchises weren't big, no McDonalds or other fast food chains then. AT&T was big, a big monopoly known as "Ma Bell". Vice in the form of tobacco and distilling found a place.
  • now the big companies are Microsoft, /Apple,  Amazon, Google, and Facebook, They don't really make things comparable to steel or cars.  The oil and chemical companies are still around but Detroit has lost its status. Health care and drugs are big these days and no tobacco or alcohol in the Dow.. 
  • labor unions were big--the big companies were opposed by big unions--the UAW, the Steelworkers, the Communications Workers.  Other important unions were the Longshoremen and the United Mineworkers.  In this situation there were a lot of strikes and several notable leaders: Walter Reuther, Harry Bridges, and John L. Lewis, not to forget George Meany, head of the AFofL
  • now unions aren't big--the biggest represent teachers and public service workers.
  • in the 1950's banks were limited to one state, so you had lots of one city banks (First National of Greene) and some state chains (Marine Midland).  Finance wasn't big.
  • now Visa and American Express are in the Dow Jones, along with Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Memories of MLKing

This article documents an April 1961 speech by Martin Luther King at Cornell University's Bailey Hall. From there I found this:

  •  On April 14, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Cornell University's Bailey Hall, calling for continued action to obtain Black Americans' full participation in society, North and South, and asking for funds to aid the effort.  2,500+ people attended, and the Ithaca community raised $6,000 for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's efforts in the South. Here is a quote from his speech as reported by the Ithaca Journal:

    "Some people say 'Slow up, adopt a policy of moderation', but we cannot afford to slow up. There are too many people in this nation today without the rights this government has guaranteed them. ... It is not enough to decry a Negro being lynched in the South. You must rise up when a Negro is not permitted to live in a neighborhood, join a club, or a fraternity or sorority."
The articles note an overflow crowd in Bailey, and that money was raised for the SCLC.

I was one of those attending.  My most vivid memory of it was that King was preceded by another speaker.  I don't know who it was, perhaps Rev. Lowrey who's described as appealing for contributions after the speech.  The Sun, at least, got his name wrong, I think.--the Rev. Joseph Lowery was one of the founders of the SCLC.  For many years I suspected King of being rather ruthless.  Why?  Because the initial speaker was very disappointing, so there was a big contrast when King came on with his very polished speaking. King by himself would have been outstanding, following the initial speaker gave the audience an emotional "arc" (at least for me, but I suspect my emotions were respective of a good number of the audience).. 

That contrast has been my strongest memory, overshadowing King's message. (IIRC he was preaching to an audience who was anxious to be converted.) But today I finally researched it, with the results above, and I conclude I've been unfair to King.  If it was Lowery who spoke, then he and King were among the founders of the SCLC and if this was a fundraising trip then it made sense for Lowery to speak just as an organizational prerogative..  The contrast  between the two may well have been accidental, not intentional.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Why I'm Skeptical of Some Ag Activists-II

To carry on from my previous post:

In and after the 1920's people could choose between locally grown produce and that grown further away. Over time people chose the salad vegetables grown in California (mostly) over their local produce.  Why?  Presumably because the CA produce was available through more of the year and perhaps because it was cheaper and more consistent in quality. 

In the 1920's "organic" wasn't a category, wasn't a characteristic that would have played into anyone's buying decision. I don't know when people actually ended up with salad vegetables that weren't organic.  I suspect chemical fertilizers came more slowly to local farmers than to the larger concentrated farmers in California.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Down With Binary Choices: Confederate Flag and State Capacity

Ran across a couple things which trigger me:

  • a survey asking whether the Confederate flag was racist or heritage (symbol).  Why isn't it a racist heritage symbol?
  • this post states one side of a dispute with Tyler Cowen: whether building "state capacity" (meaning having bureaucracies that provide public goods) leads to greater development or vice versa.  Why isn't this modeled as an iterative feed back process, where for example educating the population a bit more increases productivity which provides the money to increase state capacity?  
I've noted before, I've a personal aversion to conflict and binary choices; these are just another instance.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Why I'm Skeptical of Some Ag Activists--I

One reason I'm skeptical of some positions taken by ag activists against "factory farming".

What we currently have in the country is the result of millions of decisions in the past.  Within the memory of people still living most farms were small family operations, "small" at least by current standards.  And they were organic, mostly. (I'm thinking of the 1920's.) So a very stark contrast to today's agriculture.

I think many activists would say 1920's agriculture was overall more desirable than 2020's agriculture. Accepting that position just for the sake of argument then raises the question: how do you put the toothpaste back in the tube? 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Once Again the Loudmouth Gets All the Attention

In an age-old pattern (think of the prodigal son in the Bible) the loudest mouth gets the attention.

In this case, he gets an article in the NYTimes announcing his retirement (plus I've seen tweets on the same subject).

Who is he?  Diego, a turtle.  Not just any turtle. but one of three males in an endangered species who were assigned the duty/given the opportunity to mate often with females in order to drive the numbers of the species above two digits. 

He did, he performed admirably, siring about 40 percent of the 2,000 turtles in the species.  He's described as having a big personality, charismatic.

It just so happens one of the two other males was firing blanks, leaving the third, the silent stalwart type, the one not seeking headlines, to sire the other 60 percent.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Problems with "Model" Farms

This is a good analysis of efforts to model different and better ways of doing farming.  I'm a lot older than the author, so we both may be stuck in the past.  Underlying a lot of the analysis is a more general law which applies in education and medicine: replication will kill you.  That is, a "model" farm that actually works for a number of years, and many such ventures don't, may fail when replicated to other environments.

Gene Drives Reversible?

NYTimes magazine has an article on gene drives, discussing the positives and negatives.  Lots of concerns about negatives, particularly outside the scientific community.

In reading it I wondered:  if I understand correctly, the gene drive consists of a genetic package which says: "if you find gene A, replace it with gene B and Crispr package X."  So a gene drive spreads a gene throughout the population while also spreading the Crispr package needed to replace A by B.

So what did I wonder?  Whether a gene drive isn't reversible, just do: "if you find gene B, replace it with gene A and Crispr package X"

Of course, it turns out any layman speculation I might have is out-of-date, witness this 2015 piece.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Growth of "Vertical Farming"

I think the term "vertical farming" has come to mean indoor agriculture under LED lights with lots of technology and automation.  I'm still skeptical about current economics, but, if I'm to be consistent with supporting technology in the case of climate change and self-driving cars, I have to agree that vertical farming will become economical for at least some crops.


As is the case with most innovation and technology, there are trade-offs.  One trade-off which comes to mind is vulnerability.  Transitioning from field agriculture to vertical farming for greens, for example, would increase the demand for electricity. More significantly, if a solar flare of sufficient intensity fried many transformers which would take years to replace, reactivating field agriculture for greens would also take years.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Photo IDs for Voters

I've blogged on this issue before. Today the new KY secretary of state is reviving it.

He and I think that requiring photo ids would be good for public confidence, even though there's no evidence of impersonation voter fraud.  For me at least the key is to ease into the requirement--make photo ids easy-peasy.  I suspect these days most young people get photo ids for driving or traveling.  That leaves one problem area--those on the margins of society--the old, the native Americans, the less fully assimilated (think Amish, Hasidic Jews, or whoever).  I think providing photo ids in these cases is worthwhile simply better to integrate people into society.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Great Advances in Medicine

Saw the doctor today at Kaiser.  (It'd been a couple years so I was overdue.)  Many changes since my last visit

  • checking in by entering data at a kiosk, rather than a reception clerk at the waiting area.
  • changing the format of the printout summarizing the visit.
  • eliminating the weigh-in station--they upgraded the examining table/recliner with one which can register your weight.  It also raises and lowers, so your feet can be on the floor instead of dangling in the air.
I'm sort of mocking the healthcare industry here, but it's worth noting that there's a record decrease in the death rate from cancer.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

"Peak Document"

That's a term used in the title of the presidential address at the American Historical Association meeting. What McNeill is talking about is the surge of information coming not from documents but from science--especially genetics.

It's a valid subject, of course, but I admit when I first saw it my thoughts went in another direction; the change in sources in the current and coming eras because of digital media.  An example, when I was hired by ASCS people had improved the document management systems involved. The Commodity Credit Corporation board had a permanent secretary and an assistant, the board made decisions based on "dockets" which were systematically filed.  Most decisions within ASCS generated paper documents, memos and letters, all routed through clearance channels and eventually filed in the Secretary's Records or administrator's.   

As a failed historian I was intrigued by the processes.  The paper files didn't capture everything--there was a lot going on in the agency which wasn't fully  documented (particularly the political maneuvers) where the documents were like an iceberg, only a small part visible

By the time I left FSA, this picture was changing.  Partially it was the result of personnel changeover--the institutional memory of the reasons behind practices had been or was being lost.  Partly it was a change of norms--new people and new problems had new ways of doing things, often resulting in faster action but a diminished historical record.  Much of it had to do with automation, both the problems and processes of implementing policy with compers in the county offices and the new powers of communication conferred by new technology.

One example was the "wire notice".  Urgent messages to field offices would be sent by telegraph, which meant going through the telegraph office, therefore required official authorization, and permitted central filing of the message.  Once email arrived, it was possible for anyone to email anything to anyone with no central file. (Of course, this didn't happen immediately.) And for a number of years there was really no system for recording and filing such messages.  Supposedly after 30 years NARS has enforced systems in the agencies, but I'm dubious. 

The bottom line--in the 1970's a historan could look at the official files in the National Archives and do a reasonable history.  I doubt that's feasible for th 2000-2010 perioc

Monday, January 06, 2020

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Iraq and Suleimani

Some thoughts on Suleimani's death 

  • last week at this time an optimist like me could look at the Middle East and seen some good signs.
  • in Iran there had been recent demonstrations against the government
  • in Iraq there were protests against the influence of Iran on Iraqi affairs.
  • today there seems to be unity both in Iraq and Iran against the US.  We'll have to see how long it lasts, but it will be a while
  • I'd like to think the decision memo presented to our President would have predicted these consequences and he would have weighed them in making his decision, but I doubt it.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Lesson: In Washington Read the Footnotes

Notoriously, the request for the FISA court to approve surveillance of Page etc. included a footnote describing the Steele dossier.  The conservatives and liberals disputed whether a footnote was sufficient notice to the court of the possible bias of the dossier.

Now Just Security has a long description of the to and fro between DOD and OMB on President Trump's withholding aid to Ukraine, which was implemented by footnotes.  It seems that here DOD did read the footnotes, but it's not clear why footnotes were the appropriate vehicle for the notice from OMB to DOD--perhaps because other readers might be expected to ignore them?

I wonder: these days are budding scholars told how to use footnotes and trained to read them?

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Slavery in Canada and "Turn"

We've been watching "Turn" on Netflix, which is a 4 season series dealing mainly with Washington's spies, but which touches on, or forces connections to, episodes in the Revolution which are more commonly known. (I think it makes very generous use of "dramatic license".)

Anyhow, in the episode ending season 2, the African-American who was freed by Capt. Simcoe and enlisted in his Queen's Rangers takes the son of the enslaved maid to Major Andre from Setauket into York City to rejoin his mother. (The maid's been doing a little spying for the rebels on the side.) Needless to say, the British soldier loves the maid and urges her to flee with him to Canada so they can both be free.

I wondered about the accuracy of that so I did a little researching on the internet.

Sure enough, slavery in Canada lasted until 1834, when it was abolished throughout the empire.

But wait, it's not that simple.  "Lower Canada" was originally Quebec, founded by the French until the Brits won it by conquest in the French and Indian War. "Upper Canada" became today's Ontario and was mostly settled by the English.

Reading between the lines it seems likely the Brits just kept the old French laws, including those pertaining to slavery at the start.  And in "Lower Canada" they might have kept the laws until 1834. But by 1790's slavery in Upper Canada was being questioned, and a courageous troublemaker  named Chloe Cooley resisted being sold as a slave into New York.  That resulted in an act restricting the importation of slaves and promising freedom to children born after 1793. But the act only applied to Upper Canada.

Based on skimming the second article I linked to, slaves in the thirteen colonies should not have seen Canada as the promised land of freedom before 1793.