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."