Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Problems of Farmers Markets for the Poor

From the experience of an LA market:
"On a recent visit to the Harambee site, there were few visible signs of a vibrant farmers market. There were only three booths, with only one — Williamson’s — providing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Several years ago, the area was booming with Black farmers and produce. But according to Williamson, who set up shop there three years ago, many of the farmers either died, were too old to continue farming, moved on to flourishing farmers markets like the one in Hollywood, or simply could no longer afford it."
In part it's the old problem of a vicious circle, one problem feeds on another which feeds on another.  Minorities don't have the income, so they focus on the cheapest calories, which are unhealthiest, meaning more sickness, and since they are less likely to have health insurance (except Medicaid in some cases) they get worse, meaning they're less reliable workers, meaning more likely to be fired, meaning less income, meaning no cars, etc. etc.  All of which means poor returns for those who try to serve the minority market.

And, in today's Times, there was an article on a development in the Bronx, where there's a fight over including a supermarket.  As best I can tell, a supermarket is needed, but there's already a small chain in the Bronx which has cemented alliances with community activists, and is opposing the additional competition.

Management Lessons

I liked this list of 10 lessons for managers who want to change things from Government Executive.  I won't claim to have been particularly successful, but they make sense to me.  I'm not sure that President Obama is following them, particularly the "limit your goals" one.

It Takes a While to Change Agency Names

See this article on the Livestock Forage Disaster Program which uses the "Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service" (quoting someone who probably had a senior moment) from Seguin and Guadeloupe counties, TX.  There's also a complaint about the crop insurance requirement:

Federal relief for farmers is tied to a number of requirements that weren’t completely clear — including a requirement that those who apply for aid have crop or livestock insurance, which many smaller operations don’t carry.

“They had to take certain steps or be participants in certain programs in order to be eligible for assistance,” Wiggins said. “My question is, if a farmer has insurance, why would they need to apply for assistance?” [Exactly so :-) ]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Learning Curve for Fluorescents

This Treehugger piece on choosing fluorescent bulbs notes the learning curve:

When you used to go into the hardware store, you were faced with a wide array of different shapes and wattages of bulbs, different ratings for lifetimes, there were dozens, if not hundreds of choices.
When people look at CFLs, they have no frame of reference of a lifetime of bulb shopping and just pick the cheap spirals and stick them everywhere. They don't go in pot lights, they shouldn't go upside down, and they should be chosen according to the specific condition, just like you used to when you bought a spot for a pot and a seven watter for the fridge. It is no more complicated.

Females Are Bigger, Dairy Industry Suffers

We can blame females for adding to the ills of dairy farmers. Turns out because the X chromosone weighs more than the Y, bull sperm can be fairly reliably separated into male and female. So, inseminate your cows with sperm with the X chromosone, you'll very likely have female calves.  And when the calf matures and is bred, you'll have another milk producer, which is just what dairy farmers need in an era of over-production and low prices.

The NYTimes article (click on title) says the sperm-weighing process became available in 2006, so the impact is just hitting.

(I note one of the dairymen quoted in the piece sounds Dutch--the Dutch have been migrating to the US for our cheaper land.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Defending Our Liberty--NYPD and FBI

Mr. Zazi's case, as described in the NYTimes, reveals how our governmental structure protects our liberty.

I've mentioned Understanding America (at least I thought I had, though search does not find it--anyway it's a collection of essays on various topics emulating Tocqueville)--I think it's James Q Wilson who writes in the essay on the legal system, while Britain has essentially one police department, we have many thousands.  In the op-ed I link to, Mr. Sheehan describes the tensions and infighting between the FBI and the NYPD, which since 9/11 has developed its anti-terrorism units and deployed even overseas.  My point is, although my lead sentence is a bit sarcastic, basically the US relies not on efficient and effective government, but on our decentralized ineffective governments to protect liberties.  As a bureaucrat, I mourn that preference; as a failed historian, I understand it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Enough Doctors?

I've suggested we need more medical personnel if health care reform goes through.  Here's a contrary opinion
passed on by Ezra Klein here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Catch the Movie then the Interviews

Wife and I saw The Informant this week.  We ended up really liking it.  Then C-Span reran its interviews with the author of the book, Kurt Eichenwald, which I caught part of, but the transcript is here.  As he says, a betrayal of capitalism. And, incidentally, a revelation of how what C.Wright Mills called "the power elite" works. It's a great story, but I'm too cheap to buy the book; I've got it on hold at the library.

Great Piece on Health Care

Via Marginal Revolution, this piece describes how airline travel would work if it was run like health care. It's good for a laugh, and some thought.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sometimes I Think Free Marketeers May Be Right

This post on the USDA blog boasts about the new advances:
MyFood-a-pediashould be your first stop. Here you’ll find quick access to nutrition information for over 1,000 foods.[emphasis added] MyFood-a-pedia has calorie count information and can help you figure out how what you’re eating contributes to your health. It also shows the number of “extra” calories in foods from solid fats, added sugars and alcohol.
Sounds good, right?  But then I remembered reading Ms. Slatalla's Thursday column in the NYTimes about her efforts to reduce her middle age spread:
Lose It! [an Iphone app] has its own database listing the calories in a few thousand different foods. And if a food was not listed? I could always find it in another iPhone app, the LiveStrong calorie counter, which lists 450,000 foods.
So maybe Mr. Vilsack should call Mr. Jobs? (I actually doubt there's 450,000 foods in the world, but maybe food/quantity combos is reasonable.  Anyway, rather than nitpicking the Times again, the important point is this is a case where private initiative can do better than the government.  What USDA should do is doublecheck the data Lose It! uses.)

Food and Population

This is in the nature of a followup to the post on the NY Times article--FAO is estimating we need 70 percent more food by 2050.  But world population is expected to rise by only 1/3; the remaining increase is needed for a higher standard of living, among the poor and the rich.

Farm Income Drops

From Farm Policy:
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts farm income of $49.1 billion in 2009 when adjusted for inflation. That would be a 39% drop from 2008, a record year when U.S. farmers earned $80.4 billion after expenses.
That's a bigger drop than most in this recession, though housing prices are falling further in some areas, I believe.

Greg Craig and Guantanamo

The Post has a piece saying Mr. Craig is off the Guantanamo issue.  Craig says he thought there was a consensus to close Guantanamo, instead he's run into resistance from both sides of the aisle.  Understanding Government has a post on it. I differ with their conclusion by going back to Tip O'Neill's saying: "all politics is local"--in other words, not in my backyard. The whole country could agree on putting the detainees in the Yucca Mountain repository, except for Nevada (whoops, that's nuclear waste). I don't see any of the left demonstrating in the streets in favor of any particular prison.  Hypocrites, all.

Ted Turner Is the Son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

This is from the 1930 Blog:

Largest contributors to League of Nations are Britain $559,712; US $450,000, and Germany $429,728. Of US contribution about $430,000 is private, mostly from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. US is not a member of the League.
(Ted Turner gave a billion to the UN several years ago. This JDRjr tidbit is a reminder of the internationalist outlook of some of the elites--Carnegie before WWI.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Overconfidence Helps, But Why Underconfidence

Technology Review has a piece on why overconfidence (the idea one is an above-average driver, etc.) is evoluntarily sound.
In fact, overconfidence is actually advantageous on average, because it boosts ambition, resolve, morale, and persistence. In other words, overconfidence is the best way to maximize benefits over costs when risks are uncertain.
So why are some people lacking in confidence (as in social relations), why do that evolve?

Diversity and Races

The past was a different time. I stumbled across this in an article discussing the emigration from Ireland as a result of the Great Famine.  It's interesting to see the use of "races".  And the social analysis:

Since it must be so - since so large a part of our British fellow-subjects must join a foreign allegiance, or a colony all but independent, we rejoice to see, in this inevitable event, the providential means of a beneficial mixture of races. The history of this island shows by how many invasions, conquests, compromises, and fusions of races the British character has attained its noble though composite excellence. A walk in our villages or streets, the survey of a market, a church, or a dinner table, will bear out the truth of history that Britons, Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans, Dutch, Flemish, French, and even more races, go to the happy composition of an Englishman and English society. Hence the versatility, hence the enlarged sympathies of the race. It is ascribed to our position in a fluctuating climate, and temperate zone, that we are able to adapt ourselves to any region of the earth, and pass with little injury to extremes of heat and cold. To an unparalleled variety of national ingredients, and the kindred facts of our complex social state and mixed constitution, we owe it that we excel in so many departments of human ambitions, and enjoy so many internal sources of prosperity and happiness. The experience of our own good fortune makes us wish to see the Celtic race allied to more vigorous and fortunate elements. The fates, however, seem to forbid that fusion in these islands. The Celt calls Ireland his own, and is jealous of interlopers, while in England also our superior wealth and cultivation have created an Interval which can seldom be passed. Religion also stands in the way. That part, too, of our industrial system which would otherwise offer the best opening for union and improvement is too full and too fixed to admit a Celtic Immigration. A Connaughtman may bring his family into Manchester and hide them in a cellar, but he could hardly get a night's lodging in an agricultural village, except once a year, for himself and his sickle. Now America supplies the opportunities of national fusion and perfection which are impossible at home. In those vast and thinly-peopled countries labour is precious, has friends and elbow-room, finds openings and opportunities every where, and, what is more, feels itself neither intruder nor exclusive owner, but simply a free citizen on a free soil.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Complexities of the Earth for Liberals

I consider myself a liberal, mostly, but the world is sometimes too complicated.  Consider today's NYTimes:
  • liberals like historical preservation, but Greensburg, KS was leveled by a tornado.  The result, as they build from scratch, is highly environmental friendly town.  Lesson: there's trade-offs between history and efficiency. Technology in this case is a friend to the environment.
  •  a judge rules USDA needed to do an environmental impact statement before approving GMO sugar beets.  But there's the claim: "Mr. Grant, who is also the chairman of the Snake River Sugar Company, a grower-owned cooperative, said easier weed control allowed farmers to reduce tillage, which in turn saved fuel and fertilizer and reduced erosion." People don't realize it takes significantly less energy per unit of output now than in 1970 for most major crops, precisely because of such advances in technology.
  • the UN bought carbon offsets for the cost of its meeting on climate. "They offset those emissions by directing money to a power project in rural Andhra Pradesh, India, through which agricultural leftovers like rice husks and sunflower stalks are turned into electricity for the local grid." I always shudder when I hear such promotion of this use of biomass.  Don't people recognize that organic farming requires the return to the soil of organic matter, such as rice husks and sunflower stalks?  Otherwise you're mining the soil, to use a familiar idiom.
  • an article describes a decade of stability in global temperatures and the problems it creates for  people pushing the fight against global warming. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

K Street Lobbyists and Other Trivia

Time for my dentist visit today.  His office is in DC near K St and 20th.  As usual I got downtown with time to spare, so I spent it people-watching.  My impressions:
  • K street lobbyists and their support staff and the others who work in the K street area are not obese.  I may have seen more women who could put on 5 pounds than people who were obese.
  • the briefcase is totally passe.  Mostly I saw canvas bags which could have been laptop carriers, sometimes carried by the handle, sometimes with a shoulder strap. That's probably mostly male.
  • backpacks are in.  Saw a lot on both men and women.
  • suits and ties are an endangered species. There were some men in the full getup, but it wasn't the majority.  Add in men with tie but no jacket and men with jacket but no tie and you'd get closer to a majority.
Other items--the Metro train was more crowded than on previous visits, there was almost universal violation of the HOT-2 rules on I-66, and there seem to be more acorns this year than last.

Most Annoying Headline Today

In Treehugger: Undisturbed, Prehistoric Sand Dune Discovered at Michigan State University.

I specifically object to "Prehistoric"--it's too broad.  I live in the watershed of the pre-historic Potomac River. I've forgotten most of my geology, but it almost sounds as if the dune might qualify for this headline: "Sand Dune at MSU Survived Last Glacier, and Man". If it really is a sand "dune", that to me implies it was created by wind. It could be a sand "bar", created by water during the ice age.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Webinar's for Government

I see FSA is sponsoring a webinar.

I've never participated in one, but I applaud the attempt to try something new (although I noted the other day NASCOE cited some problems with some new training using the web).  Anyhow, it's a learning experience.

And having mentioned NASCOE, their new website is progressing. I still wish they'd be more adventurous, but it seems as if it will be an improvement.

The Times Gets It Wrong [Or Maybe Not]

Unfortunately, urban myths circulate in many areas.  Sunday Andrew Martin of the NY Times wrote:
While the food supply grew faster than the world’s population from 1970 to 1990, as the Green Revolution’s gains took hold, the situation has now reversed itself. Productivity gains in agriculture have slowed, and since 1990, the growth rate of food production has fallen below population growth.
This, of course, is not true, even though it's a prevalent concept.  Via Wikipeda we learn that the rate of world population growth has  declined:

In 2000, the United Nations estimated that the world's population was growing at the rate of 1.14% (or about 75 million people) per year,[27] down from a peak of 88 million per year in 1989. In the last few centuries, the number of people living on Earth has increased many times over. By the year 2000, there were 10 times as many people on Earth as there were 300 years ago. According to data from the CIA's 2005–2006 World Factbooks, the world human population increased by 203,800 every day.[28] The CIA Factbook increased this to 211,090 people every day in 2007, and again to 220,980 people every day in 2009.

Globally, the population growth rate has been steadily declining from its peak of 2.19% in 1963, but growth remains high in Latin America, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.[29]

Meanwhile, USDA in 2008 wrote:
The annual growth rate in the production of aggregate grains and oilseeds
has been slowing. Between 1970 and 1990, production rose an average
2.2 percent per year. Since 1990, the growth rate has declined to about 1.3
percent. USDA’s 10-year agricultural projections for U.S. and world agriculture
see the rate declining to 1.2 percent per year between 2009 and 2017.1
The ERS publication shows an increase in per-capita production in the period 1990-2007 and projects it to continue for the next 10 years, although at a much slower pace.

[Updated: I had made my point in an email to the NYTimes. Mr. Martin wrote back a response which says the wording could have been improved but the thought was correct, citing a conversation with Ron Trostle of ERS.  I'll try to research further.]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Service Oriented Architecture--Is It Alive or Dead? [Title Updated]

Following a sequence of links on service-oriented architecture, came upon an interesting discussion of the insurance industry vis a vis IT and this (in the context of the problems of developing "services" which apply to multiple situations):
Practices like this prevent any form of "standard insured" from being developed in the insurance industry. No insurance businessman will support this because there are nuances and implications built into the idea of an "insured" that are different for each product type. To see this, what happens when a covered person has no brain activity but is on a life support system; are they dead and does a life insurance policy have to pay, or are they alive and the medical insurance policy has to pay. In reality, life insurance policies assume you're dead when a death certificate is written, because doctors will only sign a document for people they pronounce as "dead". All of the language in a life insurance policy surrounding the word "insured" assumes this to be true. But some medical insurance policies assume you're dead when your organs can be harvested for transplantation, even without a death certificate. And all of the language surrounding their term "insured" works to limit the medical policy's liability within this context. So such a person is neither alive nor dead, and it will take a court case to decide which policy is liable. A software service could only deny all payment given these rules.

These kinds of "business context" assumptions are ultimately coded into the business rules of the systems and they make it very difficult to identify the differences between systems and the data resources the systems manage. As a result, it is difficult to decide what a "service" is and what it should do. 
Software developers need to understand that a service can only exist within an operating context; business people need to understand the an address is an address every place it appears. And while software systems might be able to standardize the data of an "insured", and they may be able to standardized the relationship between a policy and its "insured", the business context will always limit how the data is used, and the service will always have to include this business context. This means that every service will either provide just data, or the service will be specific to a business context, but unless the business itself is defined to use standard contexts, the services can never be shared between contexts.
It's this sort of thing which also causes problems in merging organizations, in handling silos, etc.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Google for Bureaucrats

Google provides a page listing its services which might help the poor bureaucrat.

Here's an excerpt which highlights one of my pet peeves with government web sites, and offers a fix, of course:
As many as four of five Internet users reach government and other public sector websites by using Google and other search engines.* The problem is that such websites often provide access to information, like public records, through a database application, and our "crawlers" generally can't access and thereby index the webpages in these databases. This means that much of the public information on these websites isn't included in Google's index, and that many search engine users could be missing out on the information and services that your website offers.
Calling the "..ra boys" (Kundra and Chopra).  Please pay attention.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Technological Silos in the ER

Informational silos refers to the idea that different organizational structures cannot communicate with each other--classically the only way the pre-WWII Navy and the Army communicated was through the President. 

Interesting piece at Technology Review discussing the fact that medical devices don't talk to each other.  Each device is the outcome of a long process of evolutionary development and improvement, aimed at one problem.  But when they're attached to/monitoring the same patient, they need to talk.  Or, as is said in Cool Hand Luke: "what we have here is failure to communicate".

Dana Milbank on the Obama Farmers Market

Dana Milbank is a columnist for the Post who snarks everyone.  Today he mocks the Obama Farmers Market.  The prices he quotes are too high for federal employees, at least those who support a family and are saving to put kids through college. (Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr cites the case of a Federal judge resigning because the pay is too low.) Meanwhile, Obamafoodorama gushes over Michelle's speech and leadership.  (I'm trying to resist the urge to imagine what the right may do in 2012 with Milbank's material.  All too easy to mock this as elitism for the few, far far away from the plight of the jobless and the middle class.)

"You'd Expect Presidents to Wear Socks"

Best line I've seen so far today--from Eugene Volokh's post attacking monarchy and suggesting elective kings or queens.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

History of Jobs

Via a couple sites (Marginal Revolution and others), here's an interactive graphic showing change of jobs over the last 150 years. (Launch the full screen version for best readability.)  Some interesting trends: farming down, clerical up, etc.  But who would have known the proportion of the labor force serving as waitresses would have dropped from 1960 to 2000?  Or that clergymen would have maintained their proportion over the years?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Problems of Locavore Agriculture

Obamafoodorama has a post on various ag issues, including the problems faced by a farm in the DC metro area.

Some challenges: Georgia and Zach lease their land, for a shockingly high amount of monthly rent. They’ve spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours boosting the quality of their soil with amendments in order to grow better vegetables—but when their lease is up, they’ll have to start over elsewhere. There’s a huge problem with deer eating their crops; the growing area is fenced, but better, deer-secure fencing is incredibly expensive. Figuring out better direct marketing techniques would help, too; Zach and Georgia could have a big local CSA project where they sold to near-by residents, instead of having to drive more than an hour to DC for farmers markets. Although DC is considered local in food speak, it’s not Georgia and Zach’s own community—so they’re “relocating” their wealth elsewhere, as well as spending money on gas—and contributing to greenhouse problems.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Third Surprising Statistic

From the NY Times today in an article on the possible banning of smoking from New York City's parks.  Apparently after the Mayor got smoking banned in restaurants and pubs the smoking rate dropped from about 20 percent to about 16 percent.

Why Are We Fat--We're Capitalists

Cornell has a study out which says:
The study found that fathers who worked long hours or had non-standard schedules were more likely to use takeout meals, miss family meals, purchase prepared entrees and eat while working. Working mothers in the study who worked under similar conditions purchased restaurant meals or prepared entrees or missed breakfast significantly more often than other women. About a quarter of mothers and fathers said they did not have access to healthful, reasonably priced or good-tasting food at or near work.
One of the things celebrated about our economy is our flexibility and hard work, the idea that unlike France people can and do change locations and jobs, meaning the economy is more friendly to innovation and change.  But the quote suggests we pay a price for that on our waistline.

The Next Most Surprising Statistic Today--Fruits and Vegetable Consumption Increased

(After the teachers from the Philippines in the previous post), this quote surprised me:
While consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased from about 192 pounds over the course of a year in 1970 to 280 pounds in 2008, the risk of food-borne diseases associated with fresh produce has also increased.

Importing Professionals

One thing which struck me in the papers this morning is a statistic from Baltimore--10 percent of its teachers now come from the Philippines.  (A while back the Post had an article about a teacher from there who worked in Prince Georges County, but I didn't realize the trend was exploding so fast.)

Monday, September 14, 2009


I've always been curious how many farmers actually make use of the e-government options on the USDA website. ("Always" = 1992, back in the old days with Infoshare, which was a pilot project initiated by the Republican administration. The project had lots of hype, but it wasn't clear how many farmers could take advantage.) Now I've seen an indication of the answer.  USDA has submitted for OMB a collection of information under the Paperwork Reduction Act for the USDA's e-authorization process, the means by which a USDA customer gets a login/password. Level 1 has minimal security requiresments; Level 2 permits doing business on-line, such as applying for benefits, but requires in-person verification.  The estimate of usage is 40,088 for level 1 and 18,088 for level 2.

That seems small, given the option has been available for a number of years. Why isn't the usage higher--my suspicions:"Build it and they will come" doesn't work  But that's probably what's happened in USDA--people have built different functions and put them out, but without any nurturing. The way FSA is organized there's no one in charge of e-government programs, no one to watch how much usage there is, to figure out where the problems are and what the fixes might be.  Conversely, FSA has 70+ years experience of trying to improve service through county offices.

It's also true these e-government options probably don't have great potential to benefit the farmer. Someone who farms in multiple counties might gain, but I doubt they'd gain much.  To see what I mean, look at a contrasting application, Treasury Direct:  If you want to buy a bond from the Treasury Department, you used to have to establish a paper account with an FRB.  Most peopel did their purchases through brokers, paying the service fee.  But with the Internet you can buy on-line without ever talking to a live body at Treasury or exchanging a piece of paper, or paying a transaction fee.

I think e-government won't advance much at FSA until either they reorganize to make it a focus on the program side and/or they're able to provide access to all of the farmer's information, particularly GIS data. Or maybe integrate FSA GIS with the farmer's own record keeping software?

Getting Out

The Times has a piece on the various measures we collectively call "bail-outs", including a discussion of the difficulty of getting out, of unwinding. It reminds me of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, an entity created under the Hoover administration which made loans for various purposes, over the years amounting to close to twice the annual government budget under Hoover.  It took until 1957 to wind down its affairs and close the doors. x

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Grand Plans and Sad Realities

All too often people of my stripe get carried away by the brilliance of their own ideas. And sometimes they are able to convince others, convince enough others to get them implemented, at least in part. But when the idea meets the rude reality, the resulting heat is often enough to melt the best idea.

Prof. Negroponte of MIT had such an idea, a simple, tough laptop for the third world. Here's a progress report.

My Mind, What's Left, Is Blown

From the NYTimes:
Vietnam, for years a bitter foe of the United States, is now a friend. The clearest evidence of how far things have changed may be the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, a route that connects more than a half-dozen luxury golf courses and resorts. (Like its namesake, the golf trail runs north-south, but presumably the resemblance ends there.)
Who would have thought, when the Johnson administration was debating whether to bomb the Ho Chi Minh trail, they were really debating whether to help create sand traps and water hazards for wealthy golfers?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Defense of Bureaucrats

Mr. Stier in the Washington Post writes an op-ed saying bureaucrats "...deserve better from their president. As the nation's leading public servant, you are their boss, and they take their cues from you." He's upset by Obama's references to government bureaucrats in the healthcare debate and ends " should avoid demoralizing those who are serving their country by portraying them as nameless, faceless "bureaucrats."

I think that's a lost cause--defaming bureaucrats is now too deeply engrained in the political psyche to reverse.  Our only comfort is knowing that while politicians come and go, the bureaucrat endures forever.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Milestones and Memory

The Post today has a nice piece on a schoolteacher using a 9/11 curriculum package to teach the event. It's a reminder that 8 years means there are students who don't really remember 9/11.

It's also a reminder of something I thought of watching the commentary on Ted Kennedy's death. It's been 40+ years since he was elected Senator, so anyone under 55 probably doesn't remember that, despite all the glowing memories and statements about how "we all" remember (the RFK eulogy, probably). Anyone under 60 wasn't really impacted by JFK's death. Few personally recall HST (I claim to be precocious.)  We may live on the same earth but we remember distinctly different worlds.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kevin Drum on the Blogosphere

If you're at all interested in adult commentary and the blogosphere, read this interview with Kevin Drum.

Organics = Liberal

That's why they can get away with such items for their committee to consider as "Personal Body Care Standards". I can just hear what some on the right wing might make of that.

Good News Day

Seems the child mortality rate in the Third World has dropped dramatically since 1990. Plaudits to the Gateses and all others involved. Not mentioned, but this is a prerequisite to trimming the world's population--if you can be sure your child will live and provide for you, you'll have fewer children, eventually.

Good Government: Conflicts Versus Transparency

The Project on Government voices concern over an Obama appointee with a conflict of interest. Obama raised the standards for appointments, but has also waived the standards in a few cases. (I've not seen an analysis of the net effect compared to prior administrations.) I'm ambivalent on the subject; I highly value knowledge and conflict rules tend to work against that. So why not a compromise: the more spotless the appointees background, the less transparency in office, and vice versa. Appoint someone from the industry and they have to put an Internet videocam in their office.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Need a Name for Bright Ideas That Aren't

It's not NIH (not invented here) but it's the same sort of ego-centric thinking. Maybe it's:
only I am brilliant enough to think of this idea = OIABETTOTI or my bright idea is best BIIB. I think there's a recurrent pattern among smart people of thinking no one ever before has had this great idea when the fact is someone probably has had a similar idea.

I'm picking on my favorite President, who wants to set up a farmers market for DC by closing Vermont Avenue on Thursdays.

But there are eighteen farmers markets in DC. Have the people in the White House thought about this? You need both supply and demand for a successful market. There's not many people living near the White House, so the demand is going to be mostly office workers picking something up for the evening. Doesn't strike me as the best prospect.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Our Varied Agriculture

Once again I'm reminded the pictures in my mind (as Walter Lippman once put it) don't match the reality of agriculture in the U.S. Nor, I'd guess, do the pictures in your mind.

Which county in the US has the most farms, do you think? Some place in Illinois or Iowa?

How about San Diego? At least that's their claim on their publication here. 6,687 farms. The median size is less than 5 acres. But their acreage of field crops has about doubled in the last 10 years.

It's a big country with lots of variety, which we all tend to forget in favor of simple positions.


My area of Reston is probably the most diverse and the poorest part. I remember a saleswoman warning me against buying the house I did by citing the mantra: location, location, location. There's an argument housing is a proxy for investment in children--parents choose the best schools by choosing the right school district, which would explain why redistricting gets very heated. Anyhow, the local elementary school has had its problems, despite lots of efforts to improve it, including going to a year-round calendar. Fairfax County is proud of its schools, but my school is the runt of the litter.

Not having kids, I don't follow No Child Left Behind that closely. It seems though from this article that NCLB can get very picky, with the fate of a school coming down to 3 students. I'm ambivalent about that--it's possible for unique circumstances to screw up any bureaucratic rule.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Why Animal Farmers Should Be Afraid

Here's a Treehugger followup to their post on how male chicks are killed. The summary of comments gives some time to those, like me, who argue this is the way you feed the world. But they put the key point at the end: the observation the original post attracted a hell of a lot more comments and interest than did other green issues. Our diet, and how animals are treated, are a very sensitive issue, so there will be lots more attention devoted to it in the future, which will not be good for current animal rearing practices.

What's Up in MA?

TPM has a commenter provide an update on the results of Gov. Patrick's health care reform in Massachusetts.

Noting the second point, maybe we solve the problem by expanding the number of green cards available to doctors and nurses from other countries. Or maybe we should do as the Amish do, send some of our people to Mexico for treatment.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Feeling Talented? Painting with Sand

Via Edge of the American West, the winning contestant in Ukraine's Got Talent. The article gives some context to the painting:

What she depicts is love and war, set amidst the turmoil of The Great Patriotic War, or as we call it in America, WWII. Ukraine was probably the area most devastated in the war, even more than Germany. It was a conflict that saw nearly one in four Ukrainians killed. A population of almost 42 million lost between 8 and 11 million people, depending on which estimate one references. Ukraine represented almost 20 percent of all the causalities suffered during WWII. And that was after Stalin had killed millions during the manufactured famines before the war. It to this day touches every Ukrainian. That's the context of war memory that Kseniya reaches out to.

It's an amazing 8 minutes. Even more amazing is to reflect how much humans bring to their sensations, as we the viewer are constructing the art from some sand on a projection table.

Next Task for Foodies

The foodies are currently driving to improve the menu in public schools, adding locally grown frutis and vegetables and doing away with junk food and the sort of thing bought just to help farmers (i.e., pork and cheese).

You'll know they've won that fight when they start on such efforts as:
  • urging the Girl Scouts to sell apples, not cookies
  • urging PTA's and sports teams to send their kids out going door to door selling brown rice, not chocolates.

Making Life Better for Our Animal Brothers

John Phipps blogs about a proposal to breed animals to reduce/eliminate their pain at being confined, as in CAFO's. Tyler Cowen blogs about researchers who have identified how to create music which tamarin monkeys like.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher (in France)?

Dirk Beauregard has an interesting interview with two teachers in France. They are language teachers, but I gather some of their responses apply to the profession generally. The picture is, it's hard to become a teacher but once you're in, you're in. No job switching in the French system.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Is Organic Farming the Wave of the Future? Maybe Not

Google Insights is one of Google's beta projects which tracks the change in the number of searches over time. Just for the heck of it I used it to search for "organic farming". I expected to see a steady rise, as it seems the subject is getting more and more attention. But, no--see this

The US isn't in the top countries and the interest seems to be declining gradually. Of course, one swallow does not a summer make. Maybe the Obama White House garden caused "organic garden" to show an increase? Here the trend line is flatter, and the US is in the top 3, but Obama doesn't seem to sparked enough interest to change the trend.

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat Strikes Again

In the third part of his guide to Pittsburgh for the G-20 conference, discussing shopping areas:
-The South Side - Shopping for young, hip urbanites
- Shadyside - Shopping for older, ironically hip urbanites
- Squirrel Hill - Shopping for Jewish, hip urbanites
- Downtown - Shopping for urbanites that need hip replacements
A good start to the long weekend.

Obama Can't Win

Two leading voices of the right have entirely opposite takes on our President:

Mr. Krauthammer in the Post this morning attacks him as Icarus whose wax wings have melted, an audacious flyer, all left wing, who is now going to have to operate as an ordinary politician. He says:
Obama unveiled his plans for a grand makeover of the American system, animating that vision by enacting measure after measure that greatly enlarged state power, government spending and national debt
Meanwhile, Mr. Brooks in the Times writes on health care reform, seeing Obama as a timid politician who wrongly promised everyone they wouldn't lose an existing health plan if they liked it, urging him to be bold:
This is not the time to get incremental. It’s the time to get fundamental. Reform the incentives. Make consumers accountable for spending. Make price information transparent. Reward health care, not health services. Do what you set out to do. Bring change.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Health Care Concern

Ezra Klein in the chat linked to in my previous post responded to a question that's been worrying me. Generally speaking on health care I'd be for a European system. Lacking that, I'd support some of the proposals being floated, Wyden-Bennett if it were feasible. My biggest concerns are:
  • the reliance on cleaning up "waste" to fund some of the proposals. Ronald Reagan made me suspicious of that idea long ago. Certainly I could see some big gains in efficiency if the entire system were as efficient as say Kaiser, or the Cleveland Clinic. But I'm too cynical to believe "waste". It's like what's-his-face's (Stockman--remembered a minute later) magic asterisk in Reagan's first budget.
  • the focus on dollars doesn't pay enough attention to the health-care supply. Even if, by some miracle, we converted tomorrow to a single-payer system which cut administrative costs from 20 percent to 5 percent, we still have a problem. We need the doctors, nurses, labs, and clinics to provide the additional health care needed by the uncovered population (or by the covered population whose illness is not covered). Granted, as Ezra says, it will take time to implement changes and the uncovered people need, on average, less health care than the currently covered, I still have my doubts. Given that part of the financing is to be cutting reimbursements to providers, that's a signal to youngsters considering health care to go somewhere else. (Perhaps, given Obama's budget, to education or environmental occupations.)
Those are my concerns, but on balance I still favor what's being proposed.

An Honest Blogger

Ezra Klein in a Washpost forum:

"Betsy McCaughey is really just a horrible, evil, awful, lying person who wants to make the world worse for people because that's her ticket to increased TV time."

Come on Ezra. Don't hold back. Tell us what you really think.

Ezra Klein: I can't. This is a family paper.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Out-of-Network Fees

A good piece in MSNBC on out-of-network fees. Although I like Kaiser, we got caught by this. Amazing, since we don't travel much but when someone takes ill on a trip, it's hard to be rational.

The Funniest Sentence Today

From Angry Drunk Bureaucrat, part of his guide to Pittsburgh for the G-20:

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is noted for its collection of old fossils, which make up the core of the local Democratic Committee.
Read the whole thing--he's in rare form.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

White House Garden Video

Via Obamafoodorama, the White House has released a video on its garden. It's a puff piece, including a clip from the Victory Garden planted in 1943. Sam Kass observes that garden was over-hyped, as the reality turned out to be rather small, smaller than Michele's.

The video includes a time-lapse sequence of the garden, up through July. Kass claims it had produced over 200 pounds of vegetables by sometime in July. I'm not sure how impressive that is, but I give them credit for keeping it going. Many new gardeners give out by mid-summer.

I can't resist a couple snarks criticisms, though:
  • Kass talks about amending the soil, apparently to adjust the N P K figures. What I don't see is the first and most important step in the organic gardening ideology: adding organic matter. If I recall, the USDA garden got some compost from Pennsylvania. But the White House garden's soil looks rather orange/red, not nice and dark brown, throughout the video. I'm not even clear whether they tilled the sod under, or removed it.
  • someone kept the garden pretty well weed free. But it wasn't through the use of the second primary element of organic gardening: mulch. Mulch adds organic matter, and keeps down erosion when we have the strong rains often associated with our thunder storms. But it looks as if the WH just weeds and weeds. I hope that's Malia and Sasha doing the weeding--weeding is educational and character building. That's what my Calvinistic and Lutheran forebears would have said, but mostly it's just hard on the back, which is all the more reason young backs should pain, rather than the middle-aged guys from the Park Service who did the original tilling.
  • back to organic matter. As I say, that's the key to organic gardening, and any good garden is only as good as its compost pile, at least that's what the organic nuts gardeners say. So where's the White House compost pile or bin? That should be front and center in this operation.
  • where's the tomato count? The video doesn't go into August, so you can't tell how many plants they had, but tomatoes are the best argument for home gardens you can have.
  • where's the fall plantings? By now they should be planting for fall, unless they're going to cheat again by buying seedlings.
  • and the video could be better.
I have to think there's a lot of PR in this. And I can sympathize: Michele wouldn't be the first beginning gardener to have grand plans for all the work she and her girls are going to do, only to find out as the summer goes on that real life intervenes with other priorities. You have only to look at a handful of the plots in the community garden where my wife and I garden.

Cavalry in Poland

Margaret Soltan at University Diaries puts up a picture of her father-in-law, a cavalry officer in the Polish Army on the eve of WWII.

The picture can stand for many things, but it reminds me how long it takes to make changes. Yes, there were cavalry fights in WWI, but very few and none significant (unless you count camel cavalry and T.E. Lawrence). But here, 21 years later, a whole generation, a sovereign nation with brains and know how is still putting cavalry in the field. (As a side note, the Poles you remember were the ones who originally figured out the German Enigma machines, enabling Ultra to become a decisive factor in beating Hitler. ) Of course, the German Wehrmacht still moved by horsepower, but I don't think they had cavalry.

Prediction--Vera Lynn

I suspect there's enough old fogies like me to see her rise on the charts in the US. I'm too cheap to buy her records but YouTube is good.