Thursday, December 31, 2020

Some Sympathy for Gen. Perna

 General Perna is the chief operating officer for Warp Speed, which is now taking some flak for the seemingly slow progress of vaccinating for covid-19.

I never had to deal with his problem, but I have been involved in rolling out programs affecting thousands of counties and a million or so people on a crash basis. The difference between his problems and mine were great:

  • the visibility to modern media.  ASCS/FSA programs were visible to local newspapers, but weren't followed nationally or internationally.
  • an organizational structure which reached to the end user, the farmer, and one which had long experience in crash programs, dating back to 1933 when it was first set up.
  • a program which usually was similar to previous programs--I can't judge how closely the covid-19 program matches the influenza program but it seems quite different.
Just from my back seat position of almost total ignorance, there's some things which didn't happen which should have:
  • a tick-tock time schedule. Perna's already apologized for screwing this up. My impression is that there weren't sit-down meetings thrashing through every minute step, which could then be documented in a schedule to establish a base of understanding.
  • implementation training. Because a vaccine is just a "jab" in the arm which everyone knows how to give, and because the implementers of the Warp Speed hadn't done this before, it was easy to assume (I assume) that no training was necessary. The reality is that training sessions get everyone on the same page, allow for the identification of areas where silos create problems, and permit exchange of ideas.
  • as a former directives person, I suspect whatever directives were issued weren't really in a system.  Part of the problem seems to be lack of delineated authority, but it's also the human tendency to resist systems--to believe that a memo (or these days an email, etc.) handles the immediate problem, without realizing the proliferation of unsystematic directions can worsen problems.
I suspect, given the overall directive of relying on state and local governments to distribute and vaccinate, leaders assumed that those governments had systems in place.  Ass u me.  

I want see to the after-action reports and analyses of the effort to see how wrong this post is.

I also want to restate my sympathy for Perna (unusual for me to feel for a general): doing something new under scrutiny and a time line is a formula for bad public relations.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

On Signaling Theory

 Google "signaling theory" and you get links for its use in economics and sociology with this brief explanation:

Signaling theory is useful for describing behavior when two parties (individuals or organizations) have access to different information. Typically, one party, the sender, must choose whether and how to communicate (or signal) that information, and the other party, the receiver, must choose how to interpret the signal.

I see it used fairly often on the Marginal Revolution blog, which raised my curiosity and triggered a line of thought.  One of its uses relates to higher education; the idea being that education is important for the signal it gives to potential employers and others, not so much for the actual learning which may or may not have happened, but for the fact the person got into a college and got through the college, something of a rite of passage.

Some of the people with whom I worked in ASCS/FSA hadn't gone to college, and I've often thought about what differentiated them from the people who did have college.  I don't think it was intelligence so much as self-confidence.  By graduating from college a person learns about herself, signals to herself that she can surmount some obstacles of a certain difficulty.  That signaling is in addition to the signals sent to others.  I suspect it can enable a feedback cycle.  My co-workers who hadn't gone to college hadn't learned that about themselves,  and didn't get the feedback from others.  

Similar psychology works in other fields--my being drafted and spending 1 year, 11 months and 11 days in the USArmy showed me I could do things I hadn't been confident of before.  

I'd encapsulate this as developing a sense of "mastery" in a field, which perhaps is the reverse side of the coin of "impostor syndrome". 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Why Was I Wrong on Trump's Power Over Agencies?

After Trump had been elected president, I remember pontificating to a cousin and his family about the way the deep state would limit Trump's impact, except I was talking in terms of the "iron triangle".   That was conventional wisdom back in the 1960's--the idea being that a combination of the bureaucrats in an agency, the members of Congress on the committees overseeing the agency, and the interest groups lobbying the members and the agency formed a powerful "iron triangle".

With that understanding I've been surprised by the Trump administration's ability to overturn a lot of regulations in a number of different agencies.  So what happened?

A number of things have changed over the last 60 years:

  • There's a lot more regulation and regulatory agencies, for one thing, and agencies which existed in the 1960's have been given more regulatory responsibilities.  EPA and OSHA are just two of the new agencies, and FSA/NRCS are an example of the added regulatory authority. I think there's a lot more generalized hostility to regulation now than there used to be, partly because of this expansion.  
  • In the 1960's the discussion was more about the ICC or CAB, two agencies which were eliminated in the Carter/Reagan deregulation effort.  In those cases there had been "regulatory capture"; the agencies served the interests of the regulated, less the general public.
  • In the 1960's there was a general faith in government, which carried over to endorse the validity of agency regulation. That was one aspect of LBJ's Great Society.  But while the faith was sufficient to create the agencies, it didn't result in forming interest groups which could effectively power the agencies as envisaged in the "iron triangle" theory.
  • In the 1960's committee chairmen were powerful, Congressional leadership not so much.  That meant the chairmen could get their way reasonably often, despite the opposition of the President.  With the Gingrich revolution the chairs have diminished power.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Importance of Local Government

 Somewhere in this blog I've mentioned the differences in local government between New York and Virginia.  In New York, outside the cities, the counties are divided into towns for purposes of local road maintenance, tax collection, etc. and into central school districts for schools.  My father was on the Chenango Forks Central School board for a number of years. (You can find a sample of what goes on in a town government in this recent supervisor's email.) 

In Virginia the county handles the schools and other local functions, In NY Broome County has 16 towns, 7 villages, and one city--Binghamton. 

I was struck in reading the Gordon-Reed/Onof book on Thomas Jefferson by a discussion of his letter on local government. In 1816 he was pushing to subdivide Virginia counties into smaller units, specifically in this instance "wards" which would handle local public schools (which Virginia didn't have).  There's a reference to using the areas which were the basis for the militia (I'm guessing companies). He observes that the New England town meetings shook the ground beneath his feet and caused his embargo to fail.

He didn't persuade Virginia to adopt wards/towns. As I've done before, I wonder the effect of this difference in organization.

Robert Putnam in "Bowling Alone" argues for the importance of nongovernmental social organizations as schools for democracy.  If he's right, surely the local government units are as important, if not more so.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Third CFAP?

 Joe Glauber, former chief economist for USDA, tweets here:

responding to this:

Congress should not give #farmers, who already have numerous safety net programs, more aid. @JoeGlauber1, @dwschanz, and Vince Smith argue congress should aid Americans facing #hunger instead in @thehill. #COVID19

Which in turn links to this AEI post.

Over at the Facebook group for FSA employees there was surprise and some consternation at the prospect of doing another round of payments. 

NASCOE has a summary here.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Sometimes I Underestimate the Military

I wasn't impressed by the military during the time I was in the Army; something which is likely reflected at times in my posts here.  But via Lawyers, Guns and Money I was directed to this article on Army anti-drone efforts, which seems impressive. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Meanings of Slavery

 I'm not sure what "slavery" meant in the18th and early 19th century.  One meaning obviously was chattel slavery, where a person was enslaved, could be sold, and the status was inherited based on one parent's status.

But what was the "slavery" which the American rebels feared at the hands of the British?  What was the opposite of the , "land of the free" in the Star Spangled Banner--was that also slavery?

One thing that's true--for centuries in many different places the losers in a war might be subject to slavery, or worse.   The New England settlers sold some of their Indian captives into slavery in the Caribbean. Oliver Cromwell sold Irish captives into the Caribbean (though I don't believe their status was inheritable).  Some Native American tribes imposed "slavery" on their war captives, although it seems there was a lot of variety in the patterns. I was surprised to learn that some Pacific Northwest tribes indeed had chattel slavery.  

I've not seen any discussion of whether the rebels really feared being sent into slavery if they lost the war, or whether the use of "slavery" was similar to the current use of "slavery" in connection with socialism by libertarians.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Autonomous Trucks

 Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution links to a report of Walmarts self-driving trucks, with no safety drivers. 

Tecnology Review and Food

Since I don't get the hard copy version of Technology Review, I'm not sure whether it's one issue, but this is the notation they attach to the beginning of a number of posts on their website:

"This story is one of a series about how hidden innovations produce the foods we eat at the prices we pay."

The big story seems to be: How to train a weeding machine. Does the work of 30 people. It broadens into a discussion of the problems of digitizing vegetable production, starting with Landsat back in 1972 (I remember ASCS had a guy in Houston working on Landsat for a while--big dreams back then.) 

There's also  one on GMO maize in Kenya A comment here--the farmer notes in passing:
"But I still have more crops than some of my neighbors, who sometimes recycle seeds and don’t have very much at all."

That one sentence seems to me to encapsulate the challenges for the small farm/food movement people.  It points to an evolution over decades which will lead to modernized production ag growing the bulk of our calories, with smaller operations producing for the niches. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Thomas Jefferson and Hemings

 Reading "Most Blessed Patriarch:Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination" by Gordon-Reed and Onof.  It reads well, discusses his ideas more than his deeds.  

I'm just part way through it, but I wanted to note an observations which struck me:  the authors write that in his own time, his contemporaries viewed his relationship with Sally Hemings as one of love, which was dangerous to the social structure;  while in our time most critics refuse to believe it was love, rather a relationship of power which was the essence of slavery.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Self-Driving Cars Revisited

Technology Review posts a puff piece written by Baidu, a Chinese firm which seems to be progressing well in developing a self-driving car, with emphasis on steps they've taken trying to earn the trust of potential customers. 

US firms are making progress as well.  The pandemic has severely limited my driving, so it seems as if a self-driving car could  fulfill my needs soon.

FSA Goes to the City

 It seems if you can't keep them down on the farm, FSA has been directed to follow them to the city.

Apparently the 2018 farm bill included provisions for establishing county committees for urban areas.  I missed the first announcement in August of the establishment of committees for these cities:

  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Portland, Ore.
  • Richmond, Va.
I did see the notice for these additional cities:
  • Atlanta,
  • Dallas,
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul,
  • New Orleans,
  • Phoenix,
  • St. Louis
Apparently Sen. Stabenow was the force behind the effort.  I'm not sure of the logic of stretching USDA agencies into the city, as opposed to stretching HUD into agriculture.  Lots to learn her.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Views of an Old Grump

 A collection of gripes, with no particular theme and no sources.

  • FSA is one step further along to treating hemp as just another crop--a recent notice covered NAP's provisions relative to it.  I guess that's okay, but
  • When I see the legalization of marijuana, I recall vividly my HS science teacher, a Mr. Youngstrum, cautioning us never to use marijuana.  The vivid memory stems from his vehement emotion, unusual to see in any teacher in that era.  I guess I know the arguments, and don't really oppose the trend; it's just a big change since my youth.
  • I heard on the radio something, an ad I guess, which was anti-tobacco.  I think the woman said we could eliminate smoking in 12-15 years.  Hadn't been paying enough attention to follow the argument or her reasoning.  As a reformed 2+ pack a day smoker (long ago) that wouldn't be bad, although I'm skeptical of our ability to do so.  And it jars a big when contrasted to our position on marijuana.
  • I saw a reference to "authentic self"--the idea being that achieving one's authentic self was the proper goal of living/education/something.  Hogwash and poppycock, to use expressions common in my youth. The idea renders me speechless/wordless.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Labor Theory of Property: Parking Places

 If I recall my John Locke correctly, his theory of property was that the owner established a claim to property by intermixing his labor with natures. (My memory seems to be close according to this.)

The snowstorm expected tomorrow will offer the chance to create property.  While my home owners association provides two parking spaces per townhouse, a lot of people also park along the side of Greenrange Drive. After the snow ends, they'll have to shovel their cars out (assuming there's more snow than the 1-3 inches currently predicted).  In doing so they'll feel they've established a property right to the space, and a few will try to exclude others by putting traffic cones, folding chairs, or whatever in the space when they pull out. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Justice for Black Farmers-- A Systemic Problem

 One of my problems with the draft legislation S.4929, JBF, is it is piling new programs on old programs. (The text has been posted on

In a rational government Congress would evaluate the success or failure of existing rural development and farm loan programs, change the law where needed, and reorganize the bureaucracy. If current programs are successful we could add resources, if they have weaknesses we could reform them, if they're too bad we could kill them.  But such changes wouldn't convince the advocates that reforms were real  and therefore wouldn't reward the Congressional sponsors. So instead we get more programs, with somewhat different approaches, 

Bottom line: it makes life more difficult for the bureaucracy.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

How To Distribute the Vaccine

The Volokh Conspiracy had a post urging adoption of a point system to fairly distribute the Covid-19 vaccine.   I like the idea.  The military used a point system for demobilizing troops after World War II which seemed fair.  It's a way to handle cases where multiple factors are at work (i.e., an essential worker with underlying condition).

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Gripe With the Met--Membership Accounts

 I've a gripe with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, specifically its website, and more specifically the way it handles membership.  I know I've run into similar problems elsewhere; I think one was the Wolf Trap website, possibly the New Yorker as well.  And my guess is that it's a result of hidden silos: when they got into the internet, separate departments did separate developments.  For the Met, the website is focused on visitors, describing exhibitions, how to visit, etc. and how to become a member.  What's missing is any focus on existing members--to find your member account info you have to go to the shopping option.  

It makes sense that the accountants would worry about renewals, etc. while the museum people just worry about getting people in the door.

But, if I were emperor, my edict would be that any website for an organization would have a "Log in/Your Account" icon in the upper right corner,

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Racism Behind the Decline of Black-Owned Record Stores?

I have a problem with some descriptions of the decline of black-owned farms over the last 100 years.

My problem can perhaps be illustrated by developments in another industry: record stores.  This article describes the growth of black-owned record stores.  But they are no more.  Why?  I agree that black-owned stores were more likely to fail than white-owned ones.  The owners were probably less wealthy to start with, and faced bias in getting capital for their operation. To the extent they were focused on a niche market they may also have been more vulnerable. (I'm not sure that's right--it seems that independent booksellers often have survived in niches where the Border chain went under,but for the sake of argument I'll include that factor.

But a major factor in the decline of black-owned record stores is the change in demand--people don't want vinyl or CDs these days, or not enough do to sustain a lot of stores. I'd make the same observation about the type (and size) of farm operations black farmers were mostly engaged in during the last century.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Improving Rural Life--Butchers and Regulations

Posted earlier on the need for Democrats to address rural issues.  

Here's another one, which fits with the liberal position about favoring small farmers, etc..  (Yes, you can take the "etc." as indicating I've some reservations about the food movement.) Better yet, it's an opportunity for a bipartisan play, as deregulation will appeal to the Republicans.

I've mentioned Walt Jeffries in this blog before. He used to post regularly at Sugar Mountain blog.  It may be now that he's switched to Facebook.  He and his family built their own butcher shop over a period of years, which was documented at the blog.  Had to go through the Vermont and USDA inspection and licensing process, which took a while but, somewhat surprisingly since he tends to the libertarian, which seemed to go relatively smoothly.

Meanwhile the Foothill Agrarian, a California sheepgrower, has lost the butcher  which used to process his lambs (as opposed to buying the lambs--the distinction is important).  His post here describes the problem.

I commented on the post with some questions, but it seems to me both Democrats and Republicans could agree on carving out exceptions to national or state regulations to ease the problem for local butchers.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Getting Ahead of Theirselves--JBF

 I've been checking for the actual text of the "Justice for Black Farmers" Act sponsored by Sen. Booker.  Today I found it; it's Senate S4929, but while it's been introduced and a number assigned, the text is not yet available.

The  bill is getting some publicity, both pro and con.  I may continue to post on it.

Haircut Time

 Had my second haircut since the start of the pandemic today.  Some trepidation, given the new surge of cases which has hit Virginia, though not as hard here as elsewhere in the country.  

Monday, December 07, 2020

Breaking the Rule--Japan

I have the "Harshaw rule", which says you never do something right the first time. 

There have been exceptions to the rule, one of which has just occurred--Japan has just brought back a sample from an asteroid--congratulations to them.

[Update: It turns out my compliment was undeserved.  According to the NYTimes article, there was a previous try at doing this, which had several problems.

"Hayabusa2 is not Japan’s first planetary mission. Indeed, its name points to the existence of Hayabusa, an earlier mission that brought back samples from another asteroid, Itokawa. But that mission, which launched in 2003 and returned in 2010, faced major technical problems."]

Sunday, December 06, 2020

On Trump Judges

 Josh Blackman is a conservative law professor writing on the generally conservative Volkoh Conspiracy, but today he notes the failure of "Trump" judges to buy the Trump lawsuits. 

We should give credit when credit is due. 

Saturday, December 05, 2020

On Regulatory Approvals

 The UK has approved the Pfizer vaccine for use; the FDA hasn't yet.  Some, like the Marginal Revolution blog, are critical. 

The FAA grounded Boeing's 737-Max for 20 months, before approving it this month. 

These are judgment calls, or actually likely a nested series of judgment calls in each case. 

There are some of us alive who remember thalidomide, and the British Comet.

I'm not one to second guess bureaucrats who have to make judgment calls with life and death consequences. 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Me and Kevin Drum I

 Kevin Drum  on Dec. 1 blogged his positions on an assortment of domestic issues. I commented that I agreed with almost all of them (I plan a separate post discussing them in detail) but he embodied the typical Democrat moderate/progressive in totally ignoring rural issues. 

Here's my thoughts on some issues:

  • it's hard for me to see the revival of rural areas--farms keep getting bigger and more consolidated.  Even as some farms hire immigrant labor companies are developing technology to replace labor, especially robots.  So the depopulation of the farm areas will continue.
  • I think the first priority is broadband for all.  Al Gore pushed Internet connectivity back in the day, the Obama administration supported it, but didn't complete the job.  (I've no idea of how well or poorly the Trump administration did.) 
  • Broadband is the key to several things, changes which the pandemic has pushed along.
Telehealth.  The pandemic has shown the feasibility of this, provided there's broadband.  It needs to be pushed, as does permitting  healthcare providers to work across state lines.

USPS.  I'd change the structure and financing of USPS to raise its rural profile--to say more specifically that X is the money we, the nation, devote to rural areas.

Remote work.  Again the pandemic has shown that working remotely can be manageable.  

Drones.  Permitting and developing drone delivery might help rural areas.

James Fallows has a piece with a different orientation, but a similar goal--reconnecting rural and urban areas.

[Updated.: And here's another discussion.]

Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Era of Commissions and Czars

 President-Elect Biden is planning a covid- czar, apparently.  I suspect we'll see more czars, task forces,  and commissions in the Biden administration than in past ones.

Czars can provide the promise of greater coordination among different silos.  There's a widespread perception the government does not act effectively, so the czar is one solution.  Cynically, it also offer another prestigious position for Biden to use in satisfying the demands of various parts of his coalition for influence.  (Think of a robin with one worm in its mouth facing four hungry chicks in the next.)

Task forces do much the same.  Trump's covid0-19 task force doesn't have a good reputation, but the Operation Warp Speed seems to be doing well at combining the efforts of HHS, CDC, FDA, and the military.

And commissions are a way to seem bipartisan and, at the least, give the impression of action while kicking insoluble issues down the road.  

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

To Start a War

 I like this book by Robert Draper.  A 3-star review on Amazon says there's no new stories in it, which may be true.  We know the outline of the decision to go to war, true enough.

I like these things:

  • the book covers a broad area, but it doesn't sprawl.  Draper seems to do it by focusing each chapter on a key play so you get a balance of characters and narrative flow.
  • Draper goes deeper into the bureaucracy than just the major players at the Cabinet and subcabinet level.  
  • it comes off as a balanced appraisal, sympathetic to the players but appropriately critical.  (That means I don't see any intentional villains, just humans operating with their preconceptions and priorities which often led them astray.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Why Was Trump's Support Up in Rural Areas?

 I can think of two possible explanations I've not seen mentioned in discussions on this issue:

  1. The billions of dollars Trump authorized paying farmers as compensation for losses from the trade war with China, along with the billions in food boxes under MFP.
  2. More generally, I'm foolish enough to believe Trump got support because he was perceived as fighting for farmers and rural areas generally.  The facts may be that China won't fulfill their commitments under the agreement, at least not fully, but the drama of the tariff battles and the ensuing agreement would have been memorable.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Quibbling with Caste

 Started reading Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents". I want to quibble with some sentences on page 29: 

"[The South] was where the tenets of intercaste relations took hold before spreading to the rest of the country..." (There follows a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville with a similar point.) 

I think this is wrong: slavery was a feature of the world before Europeans reached the Americas.  It was a part of the Old Testament, it was part of medieval times, it was an accepted feature of war. It was arguably part of many Native American societies.  There was slavery in Great Britain until the Somerset decision.

The bottom line is: we can't blame the South for slavery, which is the way I read Wilkerson.  She can argue that slavery on Southern plantations was developed into an American archetype, perhaps with some unique features.  But even there, she would need to recognize the differences between Southern slavery and Caribbean sugar plantations. 

As I said, it's a quibble.  Wilkerson's writing at a level of generality and artistry with which I'm not terribly comfortable.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Fixing the Election Process

One place where Republicans and Democrats should be able to reach bipartisan agreement is on fixing the election process. In the past Democrats have felt they do well with the biggest turnout and Republicans have mostly felt the opposite.  But in 2020 both parties did well with big turnout, although Democrats in the race for president and Republicans for Congress and the legislature.  That perspective on the facts might make it easier to reach a compromise. 

I don't see why technology can't be used to monitor the processing of ballots--put cameras in place and record everything. People should be able to agree on best practices among the states with the best records in handling mail and inperson voting.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

On Enforcing Payment Limitation

GAO looked at how FSA is enforcing payment limitation rules.  The summary conclusion seems to be "improving, but with a ways to go".  I ran across this paragraph, which reminded me how Mike Campbell in the Sherman county FSA office in 1992/3 wanted us to make the process so simple it would put consultants out of business.  We failed to do it, and so have the people now in FSA (and Congress, especially Congress):

 Several FSA officials said that large farming operations receive assistance from consulting firms to help them comply with active personal management criteria. For example, a state office official said the documentation that consulting firms prepare for farming operations is consistently sufficient to support a determination of active personal management.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Good Reform on Shell Corporations?

 I saw a report today, which I've since lost, that House and Senate conferees have agreed on an important reform: requiring what we used to call in ASCS the "live bodies" who own a corporation to be identified.  Under current law if you want to hide the ownership of something, you set up a shell corporation to own it, and then set up more shell entities to own the shell corporation and so on. 

I hope the reform goes through, but there's lots of hurdles between a deal on Capitol Hill and having it in the law signed by the Presideb. We'll see.

[update--the politico article]

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

FSA Flip-Flops on Actively Engaged?

 Rural Blog has a post linking to a Progressive Farmer article on a change in payment limitation regulations published here. The article interprets it as a flip-flop, easing the requirements for payment limitation determinations.  I'm not sure that's right but  I'm 23+ years out of date on these technicalities, if not more, so I'll just quote the meat of the explanation:

After publication of the rule, stakeholders notified FSA of concerns regarding potential non-intended, adverse effects to farming operations comprised solely of family members. In streamlining the definitions for consistency, these revised definitions were inadvertently made applicable to farming operations solely owned by family members. This was not the intent of this rule change, and as revised, the definitions were more restrictive than they needed to be in order to provide intended consistency in the rule. Those more restrictive definitions were not intended to apply to farm operations comprised or owned solely of family members. Therefore, this document restores § 400.601 and the previous the definitions of “active personal management” and “significant contribution” in § 1400.3 that were applicable prior to publication of the final rule on August 24, 2020. The more restrictive definitions described in § 1400.601 apply only to farming operations comprised of non-family members that are subject to a limit in the number of farm managers seeking to qualify for actively engaged in farming based on a contribution of active personal management alone.

 There's a reference to a GAO study as well, which seems to be this.

Monday, November 23, 2020

National Records Act and Trump

 Jill Lepore has an article in the New Yorker on the Trump administration and official records. It's  pretty good.  For a while I was responsible for records management in ASCS.  This was pre-PC.  In those days "records management" was a component of "paperwork management", which also included "directives" and "forms".

Back then paperwork management had become rather formal, partially perhaps because of the Billie Sol Estes case.  But since then technology seems to have disrupted everything; at least it was well on the way to doing so when I retired.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Justice for Black Farmers Act--First Take

 Successful Farming has a piece discussing this bill, introduced by Sens. Booker, Warren, and Gillibrand. Warren's statement of support is here. The legislative language is here . (I'm not sure the bill has actually been introduced--the draft language doesn't have a number and I can't find it at Mother Jones has an article on it.

It includes several reforms and programs, most of which are focused on black farmers (defined as American-born).

The biggest ask is a program to give qualified applicants of up to 160 acres of farmland, representing from $400,000 to $800,000 in value (using Farm Bureau's average farmland value of $4,100) at no cost.

Other provisions seem to oust OGC from civil rights matters, to put additional layer(s) of authority and/or review over the existing civil rights structure and the FSA county committees, and call for an extensive research and statistical work by ERS and NASS. In addition to the provisions on black farmers there are changes relating to packers and stockyards, conservation, and local markets.

There's an "Oversight Board" focused on current and future USDA/FSA operations and an "Equity Commission" focused on historical and structural issues to do a report within 2 years, and a Civil Rights Ombudsman.

I'm still trying to understand everything in this.  Some things which struck me:

  • while I don't see anything about the composition of the Oversight Board, the Equity Commission is specified in detail--black farmers, NGO members, and HBCU faculty.
  • there's a discrepancy--the title is for "Black Farmers" but some of the language is "socially disadvantaged".
  • Alcorn State's Policy Center is written into the bill.  It's headed by Eloris Spight, who seems to have moved from the HR side at NRC to policy before moving to the education world in 2014.
For now, that's what I have. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Right and Geography

 In this month someone on the right has:

  •  mistaken the country of Georgia for the state of Georgia (tweeting that Georgia only had 3 million people so the number of votes reported for the state showed fraud
  • mistaken the state of Washington and the city of Washington, DC (similar tweet to the first)
  • mistaken Minnesota ("MN") for Michigan ("MI") as part of a lawsuit submission.
  • at Fox, labeled Michigan's Upper Peninsula as Canada.
One might conclude there's a lack of education in geography and/or that speed makes for sloppy work. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Drones and the Military

 The Armenia-Azerbaijan hostilities have involved extensive and effective use of drones by the Azerbaijanis which caused the Post to see the future of warfare. in this article.

I doubt that DOD will move quickly to adapt weapons and tactics for scenarios where the adversary is using drones against us--it's not a situation we've run into much up to now, so the military bureaucracy is unlikely to have focused on the threat.

I'm reminded of some discussions of the evolution of the submarine and torpedo, where you had "torpedo boats", then "torpedo boat destroyers" which evolve into the WWI-WWII hierarchy of weapons. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Problems With Executive Action

 Dylan Mathews has a post at Vox: "10 enormously consequential things Biden can do without the Senate".

He writes: "Pushing the limits of executive authority is sure to provoke legal challenges that the Biden administration could lose, especially with a 6-3 Republican Supreme Court. But even if only half of the options below are implemented and affirmed by the courts, the practical effects would still be hugely significant."

I guess my conservative side is showing.  I know the frustrations of facing a deadlocked Congress, a body which cannot decide what laws to pass. But there are problems in going down this road. 

  • successful executive actions can be reversed when a new Republican president comes into office.  We can't assume that Democrats will always control the executive, or that the Republicans will come to accede to Dem actions.   Reversals can mean a frustrated and ineffective bureaucracy: one which will know their work is temporary and built on shifting sands.
  • using the executive actions increases the power of SCOTUS, meaning it will become more political and fights over filling vacancies even more heated.
I prefer the longer range option of building support in the country which results in electing majorities in Congress which can pass permanent legislation.  That strategy is the one which Dems used for Obamacare.  In the end, it's better to piecemeal our way to permanent reforms than to become wedded to visions of perfect solutions for which the clock will strike midnight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Hypothetically--This Is a Messed Up Program

 I graduated from college long before college loan program came into existence, so I've no first-hand experience with it. However, my impression is that it's been a political football as the parties alternate in power.  The Democrats push loans issued directly by the Education Department while the Republicans believe in loans from banks/financial institutions with a federal guarantee. As the program has gone on,  people have made changes to the provisions, including forgiveness of payments under certain conditions.  So you end up with the sort of mish-mash this person finds herself in.  If you follow the thread of responses to her, itbecomes even more confusing than indicated here. 

One fallacy of my education in government, as my school called "political science" is that Congress makes decisions and the executive branch administers them.  In reality for some areas it's an ebb and flow of changes making it very hard for the poor bureaucrat to administer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Deadlocked Senate?--a Prediction

 I strongly doubt the Democrats will be able to win two Senate seats in Georgia in January, thereby deadlocking the Senate at 50/50.

But that's not my real prediction.  My real prediction is, if the Senate is deadlocked, it won't stay that way for the next 2 years.  In other words I'm predicting one of the oldtimers in the Senate will die.  I think the odds are with me--there are a few over 80:  including Feinstein, Grassley, Shelby, Inhofe--Sanders and McConnell will become 80 in the time period, and we know McConnell has balance problems.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Voter Turnout--Hate Versus Love

 Donald Trump boosted his total votes from 63 million in 2016 to 73 million in 2020. His opponent went from 65.8 to 78.9. (2020 totals are preliminary, still a bunch out esp in NY.)

By my calculations Trump's increase was about 16 percent, his opponent's almost 20 percent.  For fun let us attribute all of the Biden increase to people hating Trump (using "hate" as a blanket term) and all of Trump's increase as people loving him (using "love" as a blanket term).

Verdict: Hate is more motivating than love.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Thoughts on Trump's Appeal

 My first thoughts on Trump: 

I don't think commentators are giving Trump enough credit for attracting about 72 million votes. I'd like to see a spreadsheet comparing percentages of eligible voters won over recent history of presidential elections but I'd guess his support is higher than past losers.  (Trump is a loser--I love the sentence.)

It's also true his qualities are likely mostly responsible for Biden's record vote total.  I think I know most down ballot Republican candidates ran slightly ahead of Trump.  If I'd thought about that before Nov. 3 I think I'd have predicted a greater difference. 

Why does Trump have this appeal?  There's the policy issues, most of which I disagree with, but I think most of the appeal is personal.  First, he's a performer.  Ann Althouse persists in seeing him as a comic, as joking in many of his statements, statements which I regard as repulsive and evil.  I have to admit that many of his supporters enjoy his performance.  Second, he connects with the audience. Is that just another way of saying he's a performer?  Perhaps. But what I'm getting at is his ability to merge his persona and the audience together in a shared "we/us".  He's a demagogue, because much of the merging is based on attacking the "others".

{Added later: Just got an appeal from the Virginia Democratic Party noting that Trump increased the turnout in rural areas, which are critical for maintaining Democratic control of the Virginia legislature.]

Friday, November 13, 2020

Do Away With Plane Geometry?

 That's what Kevin Drum proposed.

I remember plane geometry fondly.  I think it was my best subject in high school.  I enjoyed the process of figuring out the logic, the deduction from axioms through a step-by-step process.  Its appeal stayed with me through my job at FSA; I almost always told people to walk me through the process, whatever software or problem we were discussing, step by step.

My teacher was suffering from diabetes. I think he'd come to the Forks district the year before, teaching us algebra I.  He was very good despite his illness, which started to get worse during the next year, the year of geometry, the year when he gradually went blind, though continuing to teach, the year when I weakly agree to provide answers to another student.  He died, I think, that summer.  I still remember that year with pleasure and with shame.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Big Farmers --Past and Present

 Successful Farming has a piece on 3 of the  biggest American farmers: row and crop farmers (which I think means excluding fruits and vegetables).  That led me to this on William Scully, an Irish immigrant, who died in 1906 with 225,000 acres in the Midwest.

It's a reminder that America has always been a country where some can get very rich.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


 "Carnism" is a word I just discovered in this Vox piece. It gets 150,000 hits in Google; it has its own wikipedia page.

It seems to mean the opposite of "veganism", designating the set of beliefs, attitudes, and social institutions which lead most Americans to eat meat from various animals.

Without getting into it much, I can buy the likelihood that some societies will come to see meat eating as undesirable or repulsive, perhaps on the level with smoking, perhaps someday equating it to racism.

In that possible future I wonder how our descendants will think of us--if political correctness still reigns will all statues of meat-eaters be removed.  Logic would argue so.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Covid-19 Impacts on Society

 This FCW article argues that Covid-19 should impact the government's priorities on IT. Ir's part of a larger set of speculations over the long term impacts. Maybe:

  • broadband access is more important so everyone can work and study from home?
  • people who for the first time were forced into using online services will continue to use them, and expect their availability?
  • on-line shopping is growing and the old brick and mortar department stores, and smaller outfits, are obsolete?
  • lots of restaurants going out of business, more delivery services, and perhaps more home cooking?
  • more family togetherness?

Monday, November 09, 2020

WTO Limits on Farm Subsidies

 I've wondered whether USDA would run into problems with the WTO's limits on farm program payments. A recent CRS report analyzed the problem.

The last paragraph of the summary says:

If the United States were to exceed its WTO annual spending limit, then offending farm programs (whether ad hoc or traditional) could be vulnerable to challenge by another WTO member under the WTO’s dispute settlement rules. However, if the payment programs that appear likely to cause the United States to exceed its WTO spending limits in 2019 and 2020 prove to be temporary, then a successful WTO challenge might not necessarily result in an adverse ruling against the United States or any other authorized retaliation (e.g., permission to rais e tariffs on U.S. products), depending on the outcome of a WTO dispute settlement proceeding. 

The issue is summarized as this:

The U.S. government provided up to $60.4 billion in ad hoc payments to agricultural producers cumulatively in 2018, 2019, and 2020, in addition to existing farm support. These payments have raised concerns among some U.S. trading partners, as well as market watchers and policymakers, that U.S. domestic farm subsidy outlays might exceed its annual WTO spending limit of $19.1 billion in one or more of those three years. [emphasis added]

I bolded the numbers because the last I'd heard it was $48 billion. I'm sure the $60 billion had little to do with the election results.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

And the Transition Starts

 I start and don't finish a good number of posts.  One I started before the election predicted how the transition would go.  Unfortunately it assumed Biden/Harris would win FL and NC so it doesn't really work.

I join the people who point to the relatively peaceful days since Nov. 3. There's been no significant violence.  I think part of it was how long it took for the election to be called--if it had been called on Tuesday night it would have been more likely for jubilant Biden supporters and/or upset Trump supporters to explode, or get into confrontations. Another part is just the machinery operating; we're used to the pageantry and operation of elections, and the familiarity of the usual routine dampens emotion. 

So far Trump is resisting the outcome, which is inevitable. The margins in the different states are small, but not small enough for recounts or court challenges to overturn the outcome in any state, much less in the multiple states which would be needed.

I think the Trump administration will gradually sputter out, with little grace and some noise.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

The Erosion of Traditional {X}

 The Post magazine has an article: "How Religion Can Help Put Our Democracy Back Together".

It includes this sentence: "Meanwhile, another parallel collapse is unfolding: the erosion of the traditional norms that have sustained our democracy. "

It's the sort of statement which I see relatively often: modern trends are undermining/eroding something from the past.

It's true enough, but what's usually ignored is the building of the new.  For example, one thing going on now, about which I know nothing except it's gathering momentum and creating professionals, is the development of online games. What sort of norms are the participants in such games learning?  What's the culture which has developed?  How might those things carry over to public life.

Congratulations to the Bidens, Harris, and Emhoff

 And most of all to the United States of America. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Democratic Debates Start

Reps. Spanberger and AOC seem engaged in an early debate over the course of Democratic politics.  Spanberger said Dems should deep-six talk of "socialism" and "defund police", blaming that for the defeats of some Democratic representatives who gained office in 2018, and the failure to take new seats.

AOC has a twitter thread countering that position, arguing that some new progressives won (my comment--I think they won safe seats by winning the Democratic primaries) and that many candidates were lousy in their digital campaigns.

I suspect both are right.  It's a big country, but politics is often local.  So positions which are popular in one place, like NYC and its suburbs, and not in another area, like southern Virginia, or southern Florida. Appeals which work with one voting bloc may well turn off another bloc. [Updated: and people are complicated and react differently to different stimuli.]

Hopefully the different parts of the party can mostly reconcile under (probable) President Biden's leadership.  His task will be quite difficult: he's likely to be considered a one-termer, and therefore have less clout than otherwise.  I'm reminded of 1976 and President Carter's job--he too had liberals on his left, still smarting over the failure of their dreams in 1972,  and led by a Kennedy.  That didn't work out well for him. 

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Congratulations to Republicans

 Republicans made significant gains in House races, mostly it seems because they nominated and supported women candidates. For that they deserve congratulations, even though one of the successful candidates is an OAnon supporter.

This is one of the ways our politics works in the long run: one party comes up with an advance, like nominating women candidates or a fund-raising mechanism like ActBlue; the party gains an advantage; the other party then tries to catch up.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

My Predictions: 0 for 2

 Once again the elections defied my predictions.  I'm assuming Joe Biden will be inaugurated on Jan 20, but that's about the only thing I got right this year (won't talk about 2016).

Time enough for analysis when all the votes are in, but it seems the national polls once again were reasonably close, the state ones had their problems.

But the lesson for me, once again, is to warn that my picture of reality is warped by my desires for what reality should be. You'd think after almost 80 years I'd learn. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

What Dems Will Owe to Stacy Abrams and Beto O'Rourke

 As in my previous post, I'm confident of the election outcome.  Georgia and Texas might or might not vote for Biden/Harris, but it's clear that Democrats owe a lot to the efforts of Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Beto O'Rourke in Texas.

Monday, November 02, 2020

What We Will Owe to Arnon Mishkin

I'm confident that the Biden/Harris ticket will win, likely tonight.  In that confidence I want to link to this NYTimes article on perhaps the most important bureaucrat/nerd involved in the election: the man running the Fox decision desk.  

He's important because the media decision desks provide the data for analysts to call a state as having firm results. He's doubly important in my scenario because the Fox news people are the ones who have the credibility to persuade Trump supporters that their man has lost.  And he's triply important because of the big unknowns of this election: the impact of early voting, of the massive turnout, and of the pandemic. And he's quadruply important because of the uncertainty of Trump's reaction to a defeat.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Women Advance? Some Evidence

It's interesting to follow the posts on the FSA Facebook Group for a number of reasons.

Sometimes posters in the group ask for help on various issues, questions of policy, software, approaches to handling service during the pandemic. Sometimes it's just sharing news, funny stories, etc.

In the last week there was a work issue which seems to have been solved by some software developed by a county employee, which a number of people asked for.  Back in the day that sort of thing happened as well.  A couple difference from 30-40 years ago:

  •  the existence of the Facebook group.  I don't think we had a formal sharing site before the SCOAP QandA's in the late 80's and Jeff Kerby's BBS around 1990 or so. There's more lateral communication these days as opposed to running things up and down the ladder of the hierarchy.
  • the gender of the person creating the solution. In the old days the creators tended to be males (I'm thinking of doing programs for programmable calculators around 1980 and queries for the System/36.  I might be wrong on this--it might be I just noticed or remember the men more and/or the female creators were operating in a more informal environment.
I think both differences are good. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

A Bad Tuesday Evening- Unexpected Violence?

Some are worried by the possibility of  violence resulting from the 2020 election.  Their fears seem mostly to be that Trump supporters will be upset by a Biden victory and commit some violence.  The fear is of "sore losers" I suppose it's possible that some on the right have a similar "sore loser" fear of violence coming from Biden supporters if Trump pulls off another upset. 

As a general proposition I'm not that afraid of the scenario. But there is one which I just thought of which scares me.

I remember occasions, I think mostly when a college wins either the NCAA football or basketball championship where the students take to the streets and riot, destroying property, etc.  We normally dismiss such episodes, at least I dismiss them, as "boys will be boys".

But, there's a lot of emotion invested in the outcome of this election. Isn't it more likely that election violence will come from "exultant winners"?  I remember the election of 2008, when the winners exulted.  That was a victory of love, of belief in Obama, of the redemption of America, and I don't remember any particular violence, or animosity directed towards McCain supporters.

But a Biden victory on Tuesday would be a victory based on a lot of animosity towards Trump, and some of his supporters. 

I always like a metaphor, so think of the exultant winners and despondent losers as two masses of plutonium, back in the days of the Manhatten Project.  Keep them separate and everything is copasetic.  Bring them together and you get a nuclear explosion.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Future of Vertical Farming

 This asks the question: Can Vertical Farming Grow Beyond Herbs and Leaves?

I'm dubious, if we're talking generally.  I can see vertical farming might work in niche areas: on the moon and Mars or in permanently inhabited space stations, where it's the only economical alternative.  Or in areas such as Iceland, where geothermal power means cheap cheap electricity, which current powers aluminum smelters and datacenters for block-chain systems. Or in the grand future when we have practical fusion.  

Or there may be a technological breakthrough which drastically changes the economics.  But bottom line, I don't see its broad comparative advantage, particularly as long as we use fossil fuel to generate electricity and, if as I assume, it's a net contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Most Christian Continent?

 From this source via the Templeton foundation, it's Africa.  The trick here is that the ranking is based on total numbers, so Africa with 631 million has more Christians than Latin America with only 601 million, but in percentage terms Latin America at 92 percent blows away the other continents.

Where is North America, you ask? At 277 million it's the smallest of the big five continents.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Will Justice Barrett Disappoint the Right?

 She's almost guaranteed to.  Only Justices Alito and Thomas have not, in recent memory at least, disappointed the right on some decision or other.  Kavanaugh is too early to be a fair case, but I'd predict he also will. (For one thing, he's the father of daughters, which research has shown sometimes leads to more liberal conclusions.)

What are some things which might lead her to surprise conservatives on some cases?

  • She's a mother, unlike everyone else on the Court.
  • She's the mother of two black children.
  • She's a woman, and her two fellow justices who are women are also liberal.
  • She's young as justices go, so she has plenty of time to evolve.
She's also likely to change the group dynamics of the court--a 6-3 split may lead one of the majority to distinguish her/himself from the others.

Monday, October 26, 2020


 Matt Yglesias at Vox writes on nepotism.  It's a thorough and to my mind bipartisan treatment.

I do wish Biden had been asked during the debate what role, if any, his family would play in his administration. Would he have replied: the same sort of roles as my predecessor has assigned to Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, Jared Kushner or would he have excluded them? Would he promise to put his assets into a blind trust? 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Golden Rule Applies in Government

 I've referred before to the idea of a "golden rule", the cynic's version: those that have the gold gets. It's also known as the "Mathew Effect", named by the sociologist Robert Merton from verses in the New Testament.

Saw another instance of it, from Hawaii where ProPublica reports that the "Homestead Program" (who knew we had a century-old program to provide homesteads to native Hawaiians) this:

But no one, not even the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the state agency that oversees the initiative, fully understood how far the program has strayed from its original intent. A first-of-its-kind analysis by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica of department data showed the program has benefited those with the means and knowledge to navigate the complex homesteading system while leaving behind much of the Native Hawaiian community it was primarily meant to help.

I suggest there are similar instances throughout government where the legislature passes a worthy program, but enrollment is required and there's an information gap, so some of those who might qualify simply don't know about it or don't know enough to navigate the hoops. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Network Effects in the Classroom

 Washington Post magazine had an interesting article by a university English teacher on teaching English, including through the transition in the spring to Zoom.
What struck me was this: 
"Especially in a class organized around discussion, it’s the level of the floor, not the ceiling, that most dictates the strength of the group. Even if you get lucky and have two or three great English students in a class, they can’t carry a weak group, and it’s more likely that the gap between the standouts and the rest will breed resentment....

My insistence that all students participate in class discussions isn’t just some kind of touchy-feely inclusiveness, nor is my insistence that they bring the reading in hard copy and shut off all electronic devices some kind of aggressive old-fashionedness. Rather, it’s a recognition that the class works better for everyone if we’re not dragging along silent or distracted partners, and of what’s special and valuable about what we’re doing. Students are essentially paying for two things in a humanities class: the admissions process that produces the students in the room, and the hiring and promotion process that produces the teacher. Everything else they can get at home, online: They can do the reading, study scholarship about the writers and their eras, post opinions and even watch lectures about literature (most of which are bad, so far, but if you dig you can find substantive ones, and in time there will be more).

What happens in the classroom — humans paying attention to books and one another — may seem rudimentary to a fault, but it’s a vanishingly rare and precious experience. Most of the people in the room will never again gather regularly with other people to think deeply about something they have all read, uninterrupted for 75 whole minutes by text messages, emails, buzzes, beeps, dings, klaxons, flashing lights, tempting links, breaking news alerts or GIFs of naked mole rats dancing..."

One way of thinking about this is the idea of "network effects"; the idea that the more participants on a network you have, the more attractive the network is.  So in a classroom, consider the activity, the speech in the classroom during the duration of the class to be a network, where the more participation you have the more value for all.

I don't know that the observation leads anywhere, but I like it.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Farm Program Payments

From  here, a nice graph of US farm payments, including MFP and CFAP.


Today's Tractors

It's amazing how far out of touch I can get.  Was discussing this morning the likely cost of a modern tractor.  I guessed 6 figures.  My first search turned up this ad for a used John Deere, a 2016 model. Asking price is $300K+.  Further searching showed a lot more progress in guidance and precision than I expected.  Also checked wikipedia and their entries seem somewhat out-of-date.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Broadband Gaps in the Big City?

 Turns out the rural areas aren't the only ones.  This Technology Review explains, in the context of an effort to fill the gaps.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Two Sides of Low Interest Rates

 In today's NYTimes Paul Krugman has an article arguing for big stimulus spending, partially justified by the very very low interest rates now being charged for the Federal government's borrowing.

In the business section is an article on CALPERS (the California employees pension fund) and its problems with trying to have its 7 percent return on investments.  It's taking on more risk to try to get its returns up.   CALPERS has, or used to have, a reputation for good investment strategies, so if they're having problems you can bet other smaller retirement funds across the country are having more problems.

I don't have any answers, just the observation. 

[Updated--ProPublica has a related piece, also on impact of Fed's actions on retirement savings.'

Monday, October 19, 2020

What's Good in America?

 From Cesar Hidalgo comes a twitter thread describing three things he finds good about America (although he's leaving for more academic opportunity in France).

A tweet:

My summary of the thread:

  • people value quality work (over cost)
  • people value entertainment, even in speaking to business audiences
  • our bureaucracy is simple!!! 
Let me expand on the last item, since it is so surprising.

He's talking specifically about the running of a small business, and comparing it to the notary-ridden bureaucracy in countries whose legal codes are based on Roman law, not common law. I think it might be related to the De Soto thesis, arguing the need for well-defined and documented property ownership.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Adherence to Principle Creates Different Alliances?

 I follow L. D. Burnett, who is a history professor at Collin College both on twitter and at this blog. Her background might surprise some of her right wing critics.  She's more vocal about her opposition to Trump and his administration than I, which recently caused the Collin president to criticize a tweet of hers. Links are at the end of her post here.

What was different to me was that FIRE jumped in to her defense.  I've been only vaguely aware of FIRE; I knew it opposes speech codes in college, but thought of them as defending conservatives.  Turns out they adhere to principle, even when it involves someone on the left.  As someone who joined the ACLU at the time of Skokie I need to recognize their stand. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

A Rush To Regulate

Eric Lipton at the Times writes about the Trump administration's rush to get their last (I fervently hope) regulations through the process and published in the Federal Register.  It's not a new process, but as the Obama administration learned to its regret the Congressional Review Act puts regs issued now in jeopardy.   I hope the Biden/Harris transition team has studied their history and is ready to apply the same medicine to these regs.

The Importance of Weather and Farming in the Civil War

 John Fea at Way of Improvement posts an interview with Kenneth Noe, author of a book on how weather impacted the Civil War, both directly and through its impact on farming. Seems interesting. Likely a similar book could be written on any war of years, for example the American Revolution. 

The Problems of Hemp

 The Rural Blog has a post on the problems of hemp farmers--no good crop insurance or disaster payments.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

We Voted

My wife and I voted today, in Fairfax county's second day of widely available advance voting. A beautiful day, it wasn't too bad to spend 2 hours in line and voting.

 This is about 10 minutes after we got into line.

This is maybe an hour into the day.

This is the Democrats notice to voters--four languages (English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean). Because Fairfax is part of 3 Congressional districts, it got a bit complicated.

As the second day of voting at this site things went reasonably well but I'm glad we waited until day 2.  (Harshaw rule).

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

2020 Election Predictions

I screwed up my 2016 election prediction but that doesn't prevent me from predicting again.  Because I feel optimistic today I think Biden/Harris will win a solid victory, north of 350 electoral votes, the Democrats will control the Senate 52-48, and they'll gain 5 seats in the House. These results will come after all the votes are counted, maybe by the end of the month, but most importantly the presidential outcome will be apparent the evening of Nov. 3.

 Trump will bluster for a bit, but will find he's a lame duck and has no support in the Party to fight the outcome.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Those Were the Days (of Dashed Math Dreams)

Andrew Gelman posts some memories of fellow competitors in the Math Olympiad program. 

I was never on that level, but I did have contact with Prof. Nura Turner, who seems to have ramrodded the program in its early years.  In 1957-8 school year some of us Chenango Forks students took a math test, I think sponsored by some math society--maybe John Turna our math teacher pushed it. Anyhow, IIRC I got into the top ranks in the region--which may have been upstate NY, don't remember.  Anyhow I must have been one of these because Prof Turner included me in the people she tried to track.  

I write "tried" because I wasn't too cooperative.  IIRC my scores in my senior year were lower, an omen of what happened in college.  I was placed in the calculus course for math majors, not the one for math geniuses.  The teacher had a thick accent, I forget from where, and I never got into it. So after one term any interest in pursuing math was gone--government and American history were much more interesting.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

1619 Project and the Birth of the Nation

 Bret Stephens writes about the 1619 Project  Actually, he focuses on only a few sentences of it, but the sentences have become controversial.  In a nutshell, the original writeup in the Times said two things: the Revolution was fought to preserve slavery and the nation was born with the arrival of slaves in 1619.  The writeup has been changed and softened since its original publication.  IMHO the Revolution was well underway in the hearts and minds of Americans well before 1775 and had little to do with slavery.  It's true that slaveowners were alarmed by British attempts to woe slaves to support the Loyalist cause, but that was late in the process.  If the preservation of slavery in the face of the Somerset decision in the UK had been a major factor, one would have expected the British sugar colonies in the Caribbean to have joined the 13 colonies because they were even more dependent on slavery than were the mainland colonies.

The question I really want to consider is: what constitutes the "birth" of a country, a nation?  How do we know? Was Canada born with the French in the the 17th century or when the British conquered it in the 18th century, or with the 1867 Act?  When was the UK born, and did it die with the loss of Eire, or will it die if Scotland secedes?  

Was France born with the First Republic, or the Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth?  Was Germany born before Bismarck?  

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Lloyd Wright in Fortune

 Mr. Wright has a Fortune magazine piece on black farmers and USDA discrimination in loans. 

"Even today, plainly racist policies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) frequently deny Black farmers the resources they need to keep their businesses afloat.
Creating a more equitable agriculture system will be impossible unless Black farmers have control over their own financial destinies. That goal will require a new credit and financing institution, owned and controlled by Black farmers and aimed squarely at supporting Black farmers, landowners, and their cooperatively owned businesses.

He asks that Congress waive loan repayments by farmers who got Pigford settlements and establish the new financing institution.  

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Rich Democrats

I'm unsettled by the trends noted in this Bloomberg piece: specifically Democrats are becoming richer.  It's good that we've been giving money through ActBlue to the various campaigns and party organizations, but I became a Democrat back in the day when the party was a coalition of unions, ethnic groupts, and a smallish group of "eggheads", as they were famously known in the 1950's.

Now Democrats are a bit richer than Republicans, at least by some measures.  Apparently the Republicans still have the business class, the car dealers, insurance agents, small business types, but the Democrats are supported by the eggheads' grandchildren, college-educated and many with graduate degrees, plus minority groups.  A couple of my concerns: 

  • there can be a disconnect in interests between the two.  For example, the rich Dems in the Northeast want to remove the limit on deductibility of state and local taxes which was part of Trump's tax cut law. 
  • And all too often there's a lot of NIMBYism among the rich, when additional development would increase the supply of affordable housing.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Two Reasons Why Bigger Farms Survive Better

 Two recent pieces showed the advantages of bigger farms:

  1. the development of new and better equipment.  Buying, maintaining, and operating new equipment is expensive, whether it's the change from horses to tractors as my father and more experienced, or today's change from manual labor to fancy robotics, as in the robotic milking machines or the robotic harvesting machines. See this piece.  
  2. changing operations to respond to risks in the environment, whether by diversification as my father and mother added poultry to their small diary farm; paying for insurance against weather disasters or acts of God or against sicknesses and accidents (farming is a risky occupation); adding irrigation, or whatever. In the case of modern dairy farming, it seems being big enough to have an accountant, or at least someone specialized in strategy, at least according to this piece.

Risk management

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

MacArthur Foundation Discovers Heir Property

 Via Ann Althouse, the MacArthur Foundation awarded a fellowship to a law prof working on heirs property issues.

One of the things which always bugged me about the Pigford litigation was the failure by the USDA, the DOJ, and the plaintiffs to consider the effects of factors other than discrimination.  Unfortunately the original suit was filed before Google because there was some scattered recognition by scholars that dying intestate with heirs property was a significant factor, but it never was considered in the suit. Since the Pigford suits have been settled there's been a lot more recognition and research, along with provisions in the farm bill. 

Monday, October 05, 2020

What Gets a Member of Congress Reelected?

 It's certainly not ensuring that the IRS has enough funding and authority to do a good job of collecting taxes.  

See this report.  It's issued by  the House Budget Committee and these are its members.

[Updated: Annie Lowrey at the Atlantic has a relevant article.]

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Immigrant Remittances

 The Post has an article on reverse emigration; the pandemic forcing migrants who lost their jobs to return home. What I found interesting was the diagrams showing the volume and direction of remittance flows. Mexico and India were big recipients and the US and UAE big sources. 

I remember in the late 50's and 60's the left was very concerned about the volume of foreign aid Western governments needed to provide to the new governments of the Third World managing their new independence from the old colonialist powers. That was a big big issue in those days.   Decolonialism is about as forgotten these days as the Cold War.  For a long while it seemed that the effort was doomed to failure.

Without much notice, perhaps dating back to the immigration reform in the US in 1965 and OPEC oil embargo in the 1970's, emigration grew and so did the remittances back home. Remittance flows reached over $500 billion in 2018, according to the World Bank. In  comparison foreign aid was $140 billion.

I may be getting somewhat conservative as I get older, but I take this as pointing to the power of individual decisions, market driven even, more power than progressive's belief in the ability of rational government to direct the course of human affairs.  It's a reminder, not conclusive.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Violence in Politics

 A survey has shown that more Americans believe violence in politics is sometimes permissible.

I think the survey is flawed, as surveys often are. In this case there's no definition of what violence is--are we talking about a demonstration resulting in broken windows, or broken bones, or a revolution.

In the broad sense if we believe in classic American history, in which the American Revolution became a light to the world, wehave to concede a place for violence.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

A Letter from the President

 USDA and the administration are catching flak because of this:

The Agriculture Department last week began mandating that millions of boxes of surplus food for needy families include a letter from President Donald Trump claiming credit for the program.

 I'm trying but failing to remember somewhat of a parallel. Secretary Bergland signed a letter which we sent out to farmers, perhaps to all active producers associated with a farm.  This was, I think, in 1980, an election year.  The subject was something related to crop insurance.  I don't remember whether it was base on legislation or a policy decision, perhaps an expansion of the insurance program..  I do remember ASCS had been running a test of selling crop insurance, because Roy Cozart, who became DASCO when the Reagan administration came in, was working on putting FCIC directives into the ASCS system. That test was a failure.

IIRC we career bureaucrats, and possibly Roy, who was career but with political pull, raised an eyebrow on it. The differences between then and now: Jimmy Carter didn't sign the letter and I remember the content as being more informative and less propagandistic than the current letter.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

No Federal Money for Tobacco, Except in Pandemic

 In 2004 when Congress provided for the ending of the tobacco program, they included a blanket provision that no CCC money could go to tobacco growers.

That was fine, except when things change.  It's 2020, an election year, and North Carolina is a battleground state, and tobacco is still important to the state, and the pandemic hit.  So USDA will provide up to $100 million to tobacco growers from the second pandemic law (CARES Act), but they'll do it bypassing CCC.   All this from here.

USDA ended most of its tobacco reporting shortly after the program was ended, but I did find it in the crop report--NC grows about half the US acreage--150,000 acres in 2018.  (Got there from a hit on a CDC publication. ) That's about a third of what we grew in 2000 and about a tenth of what China grows now.

I Feel Good

Didn't watch the debate last night, so didn't waste 90 minutes of my remaining lifespan. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Our Schizoid History-I

 Someday I may write more on this, but here's a placeholder: Throughout our history white America has had a schizoid attitude towards slavery, possibly an attitude also found in England and elsewhere.

  • on the one hand slavery is bad, the worst thing possible.  It's what Americans feared, or at least said they feared from British rule.  You can see it in the pamphlets leading up to the Revolution, and you can see it in our national anthem.  (Britain's "Rule Britannia" also claims "Britons will never be slaves" in its second line.)
  • on the other hand, of course, slavery is legal in some places until 1865.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Fixing the Court

 A lot of discussion among Democrats over what to do about a Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority.

I'd suggest one strategy not much discussed, which assumes Biden/Harris win and the Democrats gain a Senate majority:

  • end the filibuster in the Senate (might be problematic, given their moderates who might be reluctant).
  • spend time fixing the vulnerabilities in important legislation, like ACA and Clean Air, etc. 
My theory is this: over the last 4 years and more, conservatives have filed enough court cases and the Trump administration has changed enough administrative rules that good lawyers can identify the weak points.  Rather than rely on defending rules in the court, preempt the challenges by fixing them.  If the challenge is that the agency, EPA, etc., has exceeded its authority under the law, change the law to provide the authority.  If the challenge is that Congress has exceeded its authority under the Constitution, change the law to rest on a firmer basis.

What's iffy about this strategy is, of course: Roe v Wade. Although polls suggest a majority support its general outline, trying to legislate it would be like gun control.  The fierce minority would prevail over the majority.  I could suggest a compromise which appears reasonable to me, but it's a matter of principle for the opponents.  What would my hopeless compromise be?  Clinton used to say "legal, safe, and rare".  I'd think a compromise which added "early" to the formula should work, except it won't. If you had taxpayer funded abortions in the first trimester with over-the-counter of the "day-after" pill , then court-approved abortions for the next two with the basis being restricted (health and safety, rape, unusual circumstances), perhaps with a prescribed role for a voice for an advocate for the fetus, and taxpayer funding of pre-natal care for those who lose their case for abortion.

The details don't matter, because for people on both sides it's too basic an issue of rights to agree to a compromise.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Dreams of a Self-Driving Car

 I've posted before about my hopes for a self-driving car, something which compensate for my declining physical abilities as I age. I didn't want to see the headline on this piece.

I repeat my previous suggestion of using an approach of developing a car which can memorize routes, given that many people like me do most of their driving over a limited selection of routes. Apparently from the article that's not the way companies are going--their loss.

On a personal note, I just completed my 3-year lease of a Prius with extensive safety features which saved me two or three times from likely accidents,

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Do People Follow Instructions?

 Ever since I started with ASCS in its Directives Branch I've been interested in that question.  This election it is important because lots of voters will be voting by mail for the first time, and lots of county clerks will have to compose instructions and see their voters try and sometimes fail to follow them.

Anyone remember the "butterfly ballot" in Florida in 2000? I think the answer to the question is: "sometimes".  But it's often a problem to convey information from one mind to another, and often people doing something new try to figure it out themselves, only checking the manual when they screw up. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Power of the Past

This is a tweet from today. 

 The Harvard business school students misjudged the power of the past.  IMHO the established retailers had power because they'd accumulated capital, both financial and real capital, plus the network capital of networks of suppliers and customers.  But while this present capital was enabling, it was also constricting.  In a situation where openness to the new and learning from experience was all-important, the pathways laid down in the past were no longer adequate; they were misleading.  It's called the "Innovator's Dilemma". 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Right Question for President Trump

Lots of stuff going around on whether the losers will accept the results of the fall election.  I don't think the question to the president yesterday was well-phrased.  I think the right question for the president is whether he has designated his transition team. (He has, actually, designated Chris Liddell as you can see if you spend some time googling. But my real question is: does he know this, or has Meadows made the designation without telling Trump for fear he'll erupt. Based on everything which has come out about how the administration operates, I suspect that his staff keeps lots of stuff from him.)

[Updated: Politico just put out this piece on Liddell's work.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Hullabaloo Over SCOTUS

 Back in the 1960's the right was all "Impeach Earl Warren".  Part of the outrage as I remember it was over decisions on crime, part was one person, one vote, and a good part was forbidding the "Lord's Prayer" in schools. There were divisions on the Court, but they tended to be cross-cutting: Justice Black was strict constructionist on First Amendment rights, William Douglas was the epitome of the "living constitution", neither of which fit neatly into the divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

President Nixon started the process of replacing Warren (following a filibuster of Johnson's nominee for Chief of Abe Fortas) and converting SCOTUS to a Republican dominated branch of government.  Since then, in the 52 years, Republican presidents have named 14 justices, Democrats 4.  If things had worked fairly according to the amount of time each party had the presidency, the Dems would have had 7, and the Reps 11. 

Regardless, while there have been ups and downs and decisions I dislike, the country has survived.  We've made significant advances in social areas, and Roe v Wade has survived. 

I predict however the current episode works out, someone looking back 25 years from now will not see a major turning point in legal history with the filling of the current vacancy.  In the long run, the court follows the election returns and the direction of the country.