Sunday, May 30, 2010

Accident = Russian Accent

The Post has a article today on an American woman who had an accident and recovered but with a "Russian" accent.  Apparently this is a rare but recognized phenomena, although the accents may differ.  Given the recent research on how the brain is modified by learning, I'm fascinated.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day

Garrison Keillor at Wolf Trap last night spoke in memory of an Anoka, MN man, 2 years younger than he, who died in Vietnam.

I'm old enough to remember going to the cemetery on Memorial Day to clean the graves of my grandparents.  With the popularity of cremation such ceremonies will dwindle away.  Maybe that's why college students these days supposedly have less empathy for others.

Crop Insurance Administration

I wonder what the Congressional Research Service or GAO might do with a study of the administrative costs of crop insurance.

I wonder if any FSA CED's would volunteer to administer crop insurance policies for what the companies average? 

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Food Movement and the Tea Party Movement: Brothers Under the Skin?

I think there are a number of parallels between the Tea Party movement versus the Food Movement (as defined by Pollan):
  1. Both have producerist strains: true value is not produced on Wall Street nor on big industrial farms; for foodies true value is produced by small family farmers.
  2. Both see international institutions as antagonists.  The food movement attacks international corporations, the tea party attacks international government, the UN, the north American compact, etc
  3. Both elevate local values over national and national over global values.
  4. Both draw, I think, from the middle and upper middle classes, mostly white. The Tea Partiers may be a tad more suburban and red state, the foodies a tad more urban and blue state.
  5. Both have anti-technology strains.
  6. Both see the American people as innocent, passive victims.  The Tea Partiers give no hint that the government they dislike and the programs and institutions they would kill have been endorsed by both parties in popular elections going back for decades.  The foodies give no hint that the obesity they deplore and the food they would trash result from the choices of consumers and families over decades. 
  7. Both seem to be nostalgic romantic movements, seeking to turn back the clock to an earlier time, at least in selected aspects.
  8. Both are suckers to con-men with dubious schemes, such as vertical farming or the return to the gold standard.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peterson on Payment Limitation

Today's FArm Policy led with this:
The Washington Insider section of DTN noted yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Shifting away from direct payments [related graph] would go a long way toward resolving the problem of farm payment limits, which Ag panel Chairman Peterson sees as the main reason for opposition to federal farm program. ‘A lot of the huge payment issues would go away if you don’t have direct payments,’ Peterson said. Direct payments, he says, are what generates ‘all the opposition because we make payments to people who aren’t farming [such as] people who own land [but] who live in New York City.’
I'm not sure I follow his logic.  Yes, there's a difference between saying Bigshot farmer got $X in taxpayer money and saying he got $X in taxpayer subsidized insurance indemnities, but it's not that big a one. Certainly it won't fool the smart people in the food movement, and I doubt their friends in the mass media.  Maybe I'm wrong--twill be interesting to see. 

I believe I'm correct in saying, as a general rule, the people who get indemnity payments and the people who get direct payments should be the same people: i.e., those who have an interest in the crop.  There may be minor differences in how the rules work and there may be major differences in the administration of the rules, but again we'll see.

Payment LImitation and Crop Insurance

Some random thoughts triggered by EWG's publication of crop insurance data and the various testimonies before the House Ag committee on the trade-offs between FSA farm programs and insurance.

One thing not yet mentioned: payments under most FSA programs are subject to limitation, crop insurance is not.  So it would be logical for big farmers to push for putting more benefits under the crop insurance umbrella rather than FSA.  (What does that mean--raising benefits, cutting the loss needed to trigger payments.)  Cutting against that logic is the fact that cotton and rice producers seem to be the biggest fans of the traditional FSA programs, and not of crop insurance.

It might be possible to apply a payment limitation, or indemnity limit, to crop insurance--continue to subsidize the administrative costs and indemnities up to a given figure.  After all, FDIC insures savings accounts only up to $200,000 ($100,000 permanent); car insurance limits the liability amounts; homeowners insurance limits liability.

Overpaid Bureaucrats

Yes, I consider Federal Reserve members to be bureaucrats.  And I mean the title sarcastically.  See this via Wonkbook from the Wall Street Journal:

That means Ms. Yellen [paid $410,000 as chair of San Francisco Fed), who is President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next Fed vice chairman, would see her pay more than halved [to $179,700]  if she is confirmed to the post in Washington."

[Sorry, I blew the link.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Discrimination Claims

AP has a story on a proposal to resolve claims of discrimination filed by Hispanics and women.

The Obama administration on Tuesday offered $1.3 billion to settle complaints from female and Latino farmers who say they faced discrimination from the Agriculture Department.
The proposal comes as Congress is poised to approve a $1.25 billion settlement with African-American farmers in a similar discrimination case. The agency also is negotiating with Native American farmers over another lawsuit.
The NY Times has a story on the Pigford claims.

Organic Grain Yields

From a farmgate post focused on the prices for organic soybeans and corn:

Singerman also reports several studies that indicate organic corn yields were 8 to 10% lower than conventional corn, and organic soybean yields were anywhere from 1% to 19% lower than conventional beans.

Here's the summary:

While price premiums for organic corn and soybeans may seem to be twice that of the prices of conventional crops, that relationship may be more coincidental than normal. Prices for both organic and conventional crops can be volatile, but they are set in different markets, they do not move in lock step with each other, and conventional crops cannot be substituted for organic crops meaning they are separate commodities.

Organic Milk

Had to buy milk today so I checked the coolers.  My Safeway has 7 coolers devoted to milk of various kinds (whole, reduced fat, organic, soy, etc. etc.).  Of the 7, 2 were organic, a proportion which surprised me a bit.  The Safeway doesn't serve the richest clientele in the richest county in the country; lots of immigrants live in the area, though many of those are doing well.  But 30 percent organic is pretty good market penetration.

And, although the taste tests in this Grist post were a bit inconclusive, supermarket organic milk came out pretty well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pollan in the NY Review of Books

Michael Pollan has a review article in the NY Review of Books.  Briefly he sees a "food movement"
Among the many threads of advocacy that can be lumped together under that rubric we can include school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops; the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty” (the principle that nations should be allowed to decide their agricultural policies rather than submit to free trade regimes); farm bill reform; food safety regulation; farmland preservation; student organizing around food issues on campus; efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food; initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights; nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution; and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids. 
He has problems with his facts and history in three cases
The dream that the age-old “food problem” had been largely solved for most Americans was sustained by the tremendous postwar increases in the productivity of American farmers, made possible by cheap fossil fuel (the key ingredient in both chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and changes in agricultural policies. Asked by President Nixon to try to drive down the cost of food after it had spiked in the early 1970s, Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz shifted the historical focus of federal farm policy from supporting prices for farmers to boosting yields of a small handful of commodity crops (corn and soy especially) at any cost.
This is a repeat of an error from The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is wrong.  Butz didn't have this power, the legislation passed by Congress was a change, but in the long view not that big of a change, and the decisions Butz made to lower loan rates were reversed by his successor after he was fired and during President Ford's reelection campaign.

Beginning in 2001 with the publication of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a surprise best-seller, and, the following year, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, the food journalism of the last decade has succeeded in making clear and telling connections between the methods of industrial food production, agricultural policy, food-borne illness, childhood obesity, the decline of the family meal as an institution, and, notably, the decline of family income beginning in the 1970s.
Did household income decline since 1970?  No. See this wikipedia article   Or see this for a quick view. Note he doesn't cite women's lib, which some of his readers might be supportive of.

And finally he twice refers to the White House "organic garden".  Wrong--Michelle's garden is not organic, though it leans that way. See Obamafoodorama.

Problems in Madagascar and Globalization

The NY Times has an article on how the new regime in Madagascar, a biologically unique island,  is lax on logging of its forests. What struck me was the picture showing loggers, one of whom is wearing what looks to be an American football jersey with the number 72.  I don't know how the jersey arrived on the man, but it's another indication of how interconnected we've become.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ron Paul and the Food Movement?

Via John Phipps, Ron Paul says:

The Green Revolution -- a misleading name applied by PR firms to the onset of globalized, chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture that is anything but friendly to the environment -- is coming unraveled around the world, bringing devastation to farmers from the plains of China to the plains of America.

I'm not sure most foodies would be comfortable sharing a bed with Ron Paul. My stereotype is that the food movement, as Michael Pollan christens it, is generally leftish.

French See Our Farmers Markets and Go One Better

According to Mr. Beauregarde, they converted the whole Champs Elysses to a farmers market with 8,000 young farmers:
The aim of the operation, which started on Sunday and finishes at 8pm this evening is to remind Parisians that 80% of the nation’s territory is still predominantly rural, even if only 20% of the French actually live there, and 10% of the French still earn a living from the land. That living though can no longer be called a life. Revenues of the nation’s dairy farmers and cereal growers have fallen by 30% over the last two years, and things are not set to get much better with the forthcoming révision of the Common Agricultural Policy. So, today’s « display » of the nation’s agricultural wealth in the nation’s capital is to tell all those big city types that French agriculture can deliver the goods, but not for very long.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Picking on Texas

Briefly, the Post carried an article on the revised social studies curriculum for Texas schools on Friday, Ann Althouse posted an extensive criticism of the article Sunday morning at 1:48 am, and Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy posted early this afternoon.  Adler started off with Althouse in being critical, but it's become reasonably clear that the Texans published proposed standards in April, which is what Althouse read, but last week they made some more changes, which is what the Post article referred to, so Adler has switched to being critical of Althouse.

In addition to taking pride in being right (I commented on Althouse's post that the pdf's she referred to were last revised in April) I think the episode is interesting on several counts:

  • Althouse jumped to conclusions, dissing the Post and defending the Texans. And her commenters mostly followed suit.  This might count as conservative close-mindedness, but more reasonably it's just another example of how easily we all follow our prejudices in what we accept.
  •  Adler gets props for acknowledging his initial error.
  • Althouse's jump was based on the assumption that the Texan pdf files were the latest version. That's probably the most interesting thing: we now assume that official actions are available on line and that they will be updated promptly.
  • Texas bureaucrats get dinged--they wasted lots of time and electrons by failing to update their documents as fast as we expect.  If only they had used Google Documents, they could and should have been updated as the commission adopted changes and the documents up on the Net as the meeting ended.
[Updated: Althouse has added to her post to modify her position somewhat and to reflect some of the info available from the Post.  I'm disappointed though with the tenor of her addition, but anyone who's blogging at 3 in the morning! deserves some sympathy.

Meanwhile the American Historical Association sent a letter to Texas which is interesting.]

    What's Hot? What's Not? (Bureaucracy)

    Via Chris Blattman, the lexicalist site allows you to search the Internet stream (hey, I sound as if I know what I'm doing) and maps the results.  I searched for "bureaucracy" and got this:
    "People are talking about this 27% less today than they were a month ago (on average, once every 1,678,795 words)."
    Virginia and Iowa are the hottest venues.

    {Updated: Meanwhile those stoic Down-easters in Maine have "love" on their mind.  And maybe Rep. Souder can blame his fellow citizens for his troubles, because Indiana is second.]

    Kathleen Parker and Real Heroes

    The Post's Pulitizer winning columnist, Kathleen Parker, opines on the Blumenthal false claims, ending thus:
    "Had he gone to Vietnam, as he apparently thinks he should have, he would have learned that, and this: Real heroes never brag, and real Marines don't lie."
    Very snappy, opines I, but real Marines are human like the rest of us, with their own fair share of failings, including falseness. And it'd be nice to think of Vietnam as a great school, but someone should check its accreditation.

    Saturday, May 22, 2010

    Those Wimpy Liberals

    Turns out we're easily "nudged" to save energy or otherwise be environmentally correct.  Meanwhile, those stalwart, independent-minded conservatives react to such "nudges" by wasting more energy.

    (Or maybe I could interpret this as liberals being rational, conservatives irrational? Feels better to me.)

    EWG and Crop Insurance

    Over the last 15 years FSA bureaucrats have sometimes squirmed as the Environmental Working Group published farm program payment data on its website  and the news media wrote stories about it.
    may now feel a little schadenfreude  vis a vis their crop insurance compatriots. EWG now has published crop insurance indemnity and administrative cost figures for 1995-2009.  I'm sure people with an axe to grind can make some hay out of it (though using an axe to cut grass doesn't work well).

    Farm Bill Developments

    I keep starting posts commenting on the latest farm bill developments.  But the House Ag committee hearings are generating stuff faster than I can finish a post, so the bottom line is: see Farm Policy,and Chris Clayton,as well as the testimony at the House Ag committee site.

    I think what I'll do is occasionally offer observations on implications of various proposals.  

    Chicago Climate Exchange

    A long while ago I blogged about a Northeast farmer who was selling carbon offsets. At the time I was leery of his claims, but it was the first time I'd run into the idea that farmers were currently selling offsets.  It now seems, according to this post on the sale of the Chicago Climate Exchange, that such offsets are selling for $.10 a ton. No need to comment further, I think--the market has spoken.

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Whose Bureaucrats Are Better: US or Marshall Islands?

    Apparently Transocean, a company involved in the Gulf oil spill, likes to put its rigs under the Marshall Islands flag.

    Maybe we should outsource parts of the government to the Marshall Islands?

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Kids Don't Like Vegetables, Particularly Beans

    That's the lesson I get from Ed Bruske's latest report from the school lunch front, spending time in school kitchens from DC to Berkeley.  Apparently roasting vegetables helps, and camouflaging them within the recipe also helps, but at the end of the day school kids won't eat them.

    Although the school lunch reformers Ed talks to retain their optimism, I wonder. If kids are used to snacks, and they're living in a society which gives them the right to say what they like and which honors their decisions, what's the use? Maybe in 10 years or so the foodies will have evolved a set of recipes which are nutritious, cheap, and eaten by kids. But maybe not.

     I  remember (vaguely) my own school days.  We had a kitchen where the food was prepared.  The cooks were neighbors, sometimes mothers. The food was standard 1950's fare, meat loaf, liver, etc. Almost all the time I carried my lunch--a sandwich, fruit, maybe carrots, and milk. So I don't remember how much choice you had in the cafeteria, but my impression is: very little.  Adults had authority and you took what you were served.

    Unless and until we're willing and able to deprive kids of their "right to choose", I'm afraid the school lunch people are rolling a rock uphill.

    No Bird Brains Here

    Don't know how they did it, but this article (hat tip Ann Althouse) says birds can distinguish between wheat that's conventionally grown and wheat that's organically grown.  And, wait for it, they prefer the conventional, apparently because it has more protein.

    I'm a bit skeptical--wheat strikes me as a crop where growing it organically isn't much different than conventional, but we need to trust the wisdom of our feathered friends.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Extension Service in New York City

    The Times has an article on an extension specialist who retired in March. Turns out he's the father of urban farming, at least in NYC and at least over the last 35 years:
    You have most likely never heard of Mr. Ameroso. Yet from a rubble-strewn vacant lot in Brooklyn where he showed New Yorkers how to grow food in 1976 to a three-acre stretch of Governors Island that he’s helping to sow now, he has been behind nearly every organized attempt to grow and sell food in the city, as well as many of the city’s best-known food organizations.
    He was New York City’s first extension agent focused on farming, and now probably its last one. Mr. Ameroso formally retired in March and will spend the 2010 growing season removing himself from the daily work of city farms and making sure his colleagues — many of whom he’s trained — can carry on without him.
    Extension started to help farmers improve their farming methods, taking advantage of research at the land-grant institutions.  It expanded to include homemakers, demonstrating canning techniques, teaching nutrition, etc. IMHO it reflects the Progressive impulse to teach and organize, improving things by using reason. Now, as one can see at  it takes on a much wider scope of problems--aging, caregiving, psychology, management, etc.  As indicated in the Times piece, there was an attempt to extend extension's reach into the city.  While many in the city could have benefited by the advice and information now available, serving urban needs hasn't been a success.  There's the isolated cases as described by the Times, but extension never figured out how to fill urban needs in a way which would cause urban politicians to support appropriations for extension.  It could be a case study in the limitations of organizational flexibility: in the case of extension you could take the extension worker out of the country, but not the country out of the organization.

    Mongolian Locavores

    David Lawrence has an interesting post on Mongolian diets (so heavy on the meat his family almost starved its hired help) at PSD--World Bank.

    I wonder how obese Mongolians are, but at least they're following Michael Pollan's rules about what a good diet is: something your grandmother would prepare.

    The Old Familiar Story: Surpluses in Agriculture (Pot This Time)

    Via Ann Althouse, here's an NPR story on a crash in marijuana prices in California.  Seems there's an oversupply of field-grown pot; buyers prefer the indoor stuff.  It ends, as other farm stories have ended over the decades:
    "California's pot economy is transforming, and it's starting to resemble a real commodities market where only big players can compete. It's a shift that could leave some growers in the dust."

    AFTERTHOUGHT: This is also a case where consumers presumably prefer the product of industrialized ag over natural field grown stuff.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Best Sentence of May 18

    "As long as there is snow up there we will have wind. "

    From a post at Life on a Colorado Farm, talking about the state of the crops and the mountains which surround the farm.  Don't know why I like it so much--is it iambic pentameter? It's good science, if I remember my college geology 101. It's good philosophy for a farmer--you can't control the weather, you just live with it. Anyhow, I recommend the post and the site.  (Though, to be frank, the author's photographs gain from the topography whereas the Cotton Wife's photos gain nothing from Virginian topography but lots from cute red headed kids.)

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    There's Always Something, Even in Quantum Cryptography

    Technology Review has a post on the ways errors in practice might create loopholes in quantum cryptography:

    When it comes to secure messaging, nothing beats quantum cryptography, a method that offers perfect security. Messages sent in this way can never be cracked by an eavesdropper, no matter how powerful.
    At least, that's the theory.
    Actually, I was also bemused by the fact someone is actually creating and selling quantum cryptographic systems.  My grasp of modern physics ceased with the old solar system model of the atom, with the orbiting electrons.  Quanta and strings are a couple generations beyond me.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    The Very Model of a Superior Social Security Bureaucrat

    Via Volokh Conspiracy, a profile of the head of the Social Security Administration. The last lines quoted from his poem "Cancer Prayer" remind me of Walt Whitman's poem, Dressing the Wounds, which my wife and I heard put to music by John Adams at the Kennedy Center last night.  There is a time to welcome death.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    Terrorists and Miranda

    Back in the Bush administration there was a flap related to the Army's publishing of its manual on interrogation techniques.  Some argued it was wrong to described permitted and prohibited methods in detail, because it would enable terrorist organizations to train their members to resist interrogation.  That seems to make sense: we can't exaggerate how wily and tricky these terrorist networks are.

    But if that makes sense, then surely there's no need to modify the Miranda warning and law with regard to U.S.  citizens and residents.  Any smart terrorist organization understands that these people have rights under the Constitution, rights which aren't dependent on the Miranda warning.  Any libertarian will tell you there's no obligation to say anything to a law enforcement officer.  So smart organizations will train their US citizen recruits in their constitutional rights, and modifying the warning will do nothing.

    So there's a choice: believe in smart terrorist organizations and don't change Miranda; or, believe terrorist organizations are less than smart, that Murphy's Law operates there as well as elsewhere,  and the terrorist threat becomes too small to warrant any changes.

    Farmers Markets Are Inefficient

    That's a reality recognized in this post at Ethicurean.  Adam Smith recognized the virtues of specialization, but farmers' markets make the farmer be good at both growing and selling.  A farmer who has to spend much of the summer standing in a stall at a market is prevented from growing as much as she can.  Granted some select farmers can attract enthusiastic interns who can fill in, but it's not a formula that works for growing that sector of the agricultural economy.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    A Symptom of the Times in USDA Succession

    Here's a post on the new order of succession at USDA. In old days this was more important, since people worried about nuclear war.  These days the order is more symbolic.  I don't remember the exact order, but the Under Secretary over FSA and FAS used to be up there.  No more--he's now next to last among the under secretaries.

    EWG Subsidy Database and the Farm Bill

    The Environmental Working Group is knocking USDA for failing to provide farm program payment data tied to individuals when the checks were written to entities.  Seems USDA is estimating it would cost a bunch of money ($6.7 million) and Congress changed the law so they don't have to.  I'm not a real fan of EWG, I didn't like it back in the last century when they won their court case to get the payment data, but seems to me they're in the right here. Given Obama's emphasis on transparency, it's going to be difficult for the ag committees to hold the line on this one.

    Us and the Brits--Transition and Budgets

    There's been a little comment in the blogosphere on the transition in Britain. Took a day or two to come up with a coalition government, but now the Brits have all their cabinet in place and beavering away--no long drawn out confirmation hearings and the occasional embarrassing disclosures for the British. That's just a piece with the other ways in which their government differs from ours. I found this in a writeup on the British budget approval process:

    The British Parliament has no ways and means committees, no budget committees, no appropriations committees. The committees that do scrutinize government departments lack the power to authorize new government programs and spending. Britain has one dominant figure who controls most of these functions: the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Roughly speaking, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Treasury/Finance Minister for the British Government, yet he has unparalleled power compared to the US Treasury Secretary.

    The Chancellor has sole responsibility for setting tax rates. He does not preside over a tax committee. Rather he makes all of his tax decisions in an annual statement to Parliament, which is referred to as the annual Budget Statement. In essence, the Chancellor is a one-man Ways & Means Committee. The Budget Statement he presents (discussed below in greater detail) outlines not only tax rates, but also the total amount of money that will be spent on all government activities (both mandatory and discretionary).

    Thus, the Chancellor is also a one-man Budget Committee.
    If I understand, the finances and spending bills get considered and there's the possibility for change, except if the government doesn't agree to the change, they can make it a vote of confidence and win that way. 

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Rebound in Prince William County

    Post had an article on Wednesday describing a rebound in Prince William county, VA. Schools are full and housing is moving.  That fits what I've noted on visits to my mother-in-law in Manassas Park--fewer "for sale" signs up for shorter times.

    In my mind this is the way the real estate market revives: the new households formed, whether of immigrants who band together to finance a house, young people finally able to buy instead of rent, low-income households rising up the ladder, all find places where houses are affordable, as in Prince William.  They buy new houses and existing houses.  The owners of the existing houses then may have the money to finance a more expensive house, and so on up the ladder.  Instead of the "trickle-down" theory of wealth, this is the "build from the bottom" theory of housing prices.  (And it's one reason why I've still got the bee in my bonnet that the anti-immigrant fervor of 2005-7, as in Tom Tancredo, helped to pop the housing bubble.)

    Anyhow, the future is looking a little brighter.

    USDA Bureaucrat: Lyster Dewey and Hemp

    The Post has an article on Lyster Dewey and his diaries, which record his work growing hemp, as well as other things, in the USDA gardens occupying the site where the Pentagon was built. USDA bureaucrats do many things.

    Incidentally, during WWII the USDA also had a War Hemp program.  Find other links by googling "War Hemp".  I remember in the early 70's someone contacted the ASCS records people looking for the old records (I think the program was probably funded out of Commodity Credit Corporation funds.)

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Equal Time for Cows--Predicting Their Behavior

    Grew up on a dairy/poultry farm.  I've already posted on hens today, so I thought I'd throw in this piece from MIT on a model to predict cows' behavior: specifically whether to stand or lie down.

    I'm a little skeptical of Bostonians talking about cows, they're probably more familiar with shoes.  But I can't controvert anything said in the post.

    Hens and Cages

    From Farm Policy
    Rod Smith reported yesterday at Feedstuffs Online that, “American consumers buy eggs from cage housing systems by a margin of more than 40 to one over eggs from cage-free systems, according to data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), which tracks checkout scanner transactions from 34,000 grocery and other retail stores in the U.S.
    “Furthermore, based on other research, Americans pay three times less for eggs than Europeans do. Also, more than half of Americans prefer that egg producers continue to use current cage housing or migrate to alternative systems such as aviary or colony cages, and 44% prefer cage-free housing.
    I wonder how it came to be that Americans pay three times less for eggs? Is the European poultry industry less concentrated?  Is it not vertically integrated as ours is? Do we just profit by the bigger market?  Do Europeans prefer more what in wine they call "terroir", which are the mostly imaginary qualities which are supposedly associated with production in a specific area.

    [Updated--decided to do a little Googling and found this about the French industry.:]

    National egg consumption over the last three to four years is estimated at 248 eggs per person on average, compared with 251 a decade ago.
    Of these 248 eggs, 172 (69%) are believed to be table eggs, while the remaining 76 (31%) are thought to be processed eggs. Household purchases represent 40% of total consumption, followed by yolk and albumen (31%) for the food industry, table eggs for the catering sector (20%), and poultry farmers’ personal consumption (9%). Supermarket sales amount to nearly 4 billion eggs, or around one third of total consumption. Organic, Label Rouge and free-range eggs account for 28% of eggs sold and 42% of supermarkets’ turnover from egg sales. [I suspect here's a big difference.] France remains one of the EU’s biggest egg consumers.
    The French egg market is at a crossroads in a fast-changing regulatory, economic and sanitary environment. While production and consumption perspectives remain favourable at international level, growth is slower in France and the rest of Europe, with a slight decline in production over the last few years.
    The sector’s outlook depends on the development of EU-wide regulations concerning animal welfare, human health and the environment. The forthcoming ban on conventional cages, which is due to come into force on 1st January 2012, is expected to result in the further diversification of rearing systems and the development of alternative rearing methods, the ITAVI forecasts. In addition, growing awareness among consumers of animal welfare, as well as health and environmental issues, is likely to shape the market and benefit the organic sector.
    The French poultry industry faces the tough challenge of adapting its production structures and making strategic investment choices over the next 20 years. However, the heavy costs involved may result in the disappearance of a number of small poultry farms, says ITAVI deputy manager Jean Champagne. Future production methods will have to guarantee human health and animal welfare as well as offer competitive prices, all the more so as the EU market is likely to be opened to imports from third countries that are not subject to the same requirements.

    The March of Progress--Phipps Declares Non-GM Corn Over

    John Phipps says genetically modified corn has now swept the field, at least in the U.S., because there's no longer a premium to corn growers for growing non-GMO corn.  He's got a pdf essay which he links to from a blog post. 

    Frailty, Thy Name Is Beginning Gardener

    From a NY Times article on the fad for company gardens:

    Still, what seems like a good idea in the conference room doesn’t always translate to the field. People don’t always follow through. It’s the same dynamic that fills the office refrigerator with old yogurt containers and moldy lunches.
    At PepsiCo, most of the plots are still weedy and empty. The weather has been cool and so, gardeners say, has enthusiasm. Last year when the company first turned over a plot the size of two tennis courts to peppers and tomatoes, 200 of the 1,450 employees here signed up, mailroom workers and midlevel administrators alike. This year, the volunteers dwindled to about 75, and many of them have yet to ready their plots.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    A Blast from the Past--PIK Certificates and a Wrong Prediction

    John Phipps must have been having a nostalgic moment because he threw in a mention of PIK in a recent post
    with a link to an explanation  of "PIK and roll" from the 1987 Washington Monthly.

    I remember the start of the PIK program, or at least the 1983 incarnation. I suspect there are many FSA employees who were hired back then and remember it with some mixed feelings.

    At the end of the article, two long retired Senators, Boschwitz and Boren, discuss their proposal for "decoupling", for removing the link between the crop produced and what the program pays.  We moved towards that in the next two farm bills, with the 1996 Freedom to Farm incorporating it.  Here's what was said:
    "A system of direct income support would make government dependency less easy for farmers to swallow. They could no longer kid themselves that the farm program merely provided them with a "fair price.' Many farm groups oppose the plan on the grounds that it would turn the farm program into welfare, to which Boschwitz replies: "Farmers are getting benefits now and they would get benefits under my plan. What's the difference? If they call my plan "welfare,' what do they call the current programs?'"
    The prediction was wrong--farmers have had no problem at all of arguing to keep the DCP payments long after they were supposed to be phased out. The "fair price" argument may have faded into the pages of history but the argument for preserving farms remains.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    The Final Word on Vertical Farms

    One of my hobbyhorses is vertical farms, or rather the unfeasibility of vertical farms.  This post should put the final nail in this idea:
    Although the concept has provided opportunities for architecture students and others to create innovative, sometimes beautiful building designs, it holds little practical potential for providing food. Even if vertical farming were feasible on a large scale, it would not solve the most pressing agricultural problems; rather, it would push the dependence of food production on industrial inputs to even greater heights. It would ensure that dependence by depriving crops not only of soil but also of the most plentiful and ecologically benign energy source of all: sunlight.

    Deficit Commission Predictions

    Obama's deficit commission has been holding hearings, as has the House Agriculture Committee on the 2012 farm bill. The deficit report is due after the fall elections.

    I now take up my crystal ball.  I predict the commission will include in its recommendations an across-the-board cut on much discretionary spending.  My logic is: it is very difficult to end programs; usually there are good arguments, or at least reasonable ones, for the existence and the value of the program, particularly if you ignore the costs. So it's going to be very difficult for 14 of the 18 commissioners to agree on a hit list.  Politically it's much easier to impose a flat percentage cut.  That way everyone (at least everyone in the affected programs) shares the pain and the cuts seem more equitable.

    For those with short memories, or short lives, there was much concern about deficits back in the Reagan administration; that was one reason Reagan ended up signing some tax raises. Back then Congress and the administration could reach agreement on an approach to cutting deficits; it was called the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act.  In 1986 it kicked in and we ended cutting deficiency payments (and other payments) by something like 4.6 percent. 

    So my prediction is history will repeat itself--the commission will propose a percentage cut like we had in 1986.

    Why the US Is Losing Its Preeminence

    The Chicken Little position is well stated in this NYTimes article on a Chinese woman teaching Chinese to teens in Lawton, OK.   Interesting contrasts in culture:
    “They party, they drink, they date,” [the teacher] added. “In China, we study and study and study.”
    Note: I'm not much bothered by the prospect.  The only thing I can be sure of is the contrast will be different in 30 years.

    Sunday, May 09, 2010

    Mother's Day URL's

    Steve Hendrix in the Post magazine interviews people his mother taught in a gifted class many years ago, and finds it was a big influence in their lives.

    Roger Rosenblatt in "Making Toast" paints a picture of a mother, his daughter, now dead and the family she left behind. Emotional because underwritten.

    The Answer to Some Mysteries?

    According to this post passing on a study, the more intelligent and dependable a child, the more likely she is to live longer.   

    No mention of whether it applies to both sexes, or whether the result only explains why females live longer than males.  Assuming this has cross-cultural validity, it might answer why the average IQ rises each generation.

    Funniest Sentence Today

    Kevin Drum in a post on Prof. Kagan's qualifications to be a Justice (the argument being she can persuade Justice Kennedy):
    Anyway, Diane Wood has six kids and plays the oboe. I'll bet she can convince just about anybody of just about anything.

    Economists Don't Know What They're Talking About--DeLong

    Brad proves it by this statement (from his intro to an upcoming course):
    Doesn't that mean that we [the students] are guinea pigs--experimental animals? A: Yes, but the life of an experimental animal can be a very interesting and fulfilling one.

    Saturday, May 08, 2010

    The Weak US Government

    One of my hobbyhorses--how really weak the Federal government is. I get support, albeit unknowingly, from a surprising source--a libertarian. Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy writes:

    My parents and I were green card holders from 1979 to 1986. As far as I know, they rarely if ever carried proof of legal residency with them except when entering and leaving the country. I suspect that most other legal immigrants behave the same way. Why? Because the chance of running into a federal law enforcement officer in everyday life is infinitesmally [sic] small.
    This is in the context of a discussion of the Arizona immigration law.  Somin is worried because people have or could have dealings with local and state law enforcement officials almost every day.  (In fact, I've had very few interactions with such officials in the course of a rather long life.  Maybe I drive slower than Somin.) 

    Friday, May 07, 2010

    McCain Flip Flops on Farm Programs

    From Chris Clayton:

    One senator to spotlight in the letter is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has opposed farm programs his entire career, but in the past two weeks has signed onto two letters defending traditional farm programs.

    Brooks and Ricks on the US Army

    David Brooks is laudatory today.  He believes the Army has been converted to a counterinsurgency doctrine through the leadership of Gen. Petraeus.  Tom Ricks likes the Brooks narrative,

    I must say I'm more skeptical.  There was an earlier post on The Best Defense in which a guest poster ended by saying:
     I would argue, though, that the truth is closer to this being a business as usual concept regarding something perceived as a fad: General Petraeus and COIN are the flavor of the month now, but once Iraq winds down for us and explodes for the Iraqis after our drawdown and Afghanistan drags on and gets more of a mess, will it still be an appetizing taste? Past history shows that it won't be. That leaves the real question as: how much can GEN Petraeus' influence change the dynamic?
    There are a  bunch of comments on that post, most of which I've not read.  Personally I'm a bit cynical about the Army, the whole military actually. Supposedly after Vietnam they changed their culture. But either they forgot the change, and the lessons of the war, or the change was oversold.  Or maybe the sheer inertia of the Army is underestimated.  After all, you've got people who've invested their lives in armor or artillery who have every incentive to look for flaws in a COIN Army.  They're backed up by the military-industrial-Congressional complex.  Drinking tea with tribal leaders may be effective, but it doesn't create jobs in a Congressional district.

    So my bottom line is Mr. Brooks may be over impressed. Petraeus may have done everything right, and everything it could, but it doesn't mean COIN is embedded in the Army's DNA yet.

    Thursday, May 06, 2010

    No One Trusts Their Bureaucrats

    This Politico article argues that the publics in all industrial democracies have lost their trust in bureaucrats and hierarchical organizations. Why? Because people are richer and more educated.

    I'm not sure of the argument, but it is a useful reminder that America is not as unique as we'd like to think.

    The Layers and Layers of Duplicity in the New Yorker

    Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in the New Yorker elaborating on the layers of duplicity in intelligence, and counter-intelligence, and counter-counter-intelligence, and....   Matt Yglesias links to it.

    Meanwhile, via Best Defense, Steve Coll comments on the possible attitude of Pakistani terrorists to the NY car bomber.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2010

    Update from Herndon

    Back before the failed attempt at immigration reform before the last election, Herndon, VA gained some fame.  The town board had approved the establishment of a labor center, rather than having day laborers stand around a 7/11 waiting for employers.  The town board and mayor were then ousted from office (must have been in 2006) by opponents who said the center was encouraging illegal immigration and wanted the town to crack down.

    Well, time passes and there was another election in Herndon yesterday. The Restonian blog picks up the story:
    Mayor Steve DeBenedittis survived a last-minute write-in campaign, but the four challengers more or less ran on what we'll politely call an "anti-Arizona" platform and will have a majority on the council, which suggests that we'll have to go back to poking fun at the town's recreational activities instead of its AZ on the W&OD policies.
    Because of the housing crash, and resulting recession, immigration has been less of a hot issue in the area. I suspect this result will not receive the attention that the 2006 election had, however.

    No More "Leatherstocking Region"

    Margaret Soltan reports the decision to rename the region formerly know as "Leatherstocking Region".  Seems the name, which honors James Fenimore Cooper's hero of 5 novels, doesn't do anything for tourists. 

    Professor Soltan doesn't mourn the name change; indeed she adds insult to injury by quoting Mark Twain on the excellence of Cooper's literary talents. Twain was obviously jealous of Cooper.  After all, has Daniel Day Lewis ever played one of Twain's heroes?

    Glenn Beck More Enlightened Than Lindsay Graham!

    Politico reports Sen. Graham wants to bypass Miranda rights for American citizens suspected of terrorist acts.

    Meanwhile, with my very ears, I heard Glenn Beck last night we shouldn't Mirandize aliens, but we should protect the rights of American citizens.

    I guess I need to get my hearing checked, and if that's okay, head for the head doctors.

    The Proposal and Chris Blattman

    We recently watched The Proposal from Netflix.  For those who don't recall, it is a romantic comedy where the Sandy Bullock character needs to marry to stay in country and the INS heavy is going to question them both (forget the male lead's name) to see if the marriage is real.  The movie was good.

    Now comes real life.  Chris Blattman is a Harvard prof from Canada who's going for his green card interview with his wife.  He's getting nervous:

    "Now, normally you’d think a Canadian professor with a job and a work visa wouldn’t be a big worry to the INS. Plus I’m interviewing in Connecticut and not Arizona. But Jeannie quizzed me the other day, and it turns out (1) I have no idea what color her toothbrush is, (2) I overestimated how long we have been married, and (3) we live in different cities and  have different last names
    Also, if you squint, you could mistake us for Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. This bodes ill. I could be blogging from Canada on Wednesday.

    Blattman's international development blog is good.

    The Fascinating World of Politics

    Today is a red-letter day for those who enjoy the twists and turns of politics.

    Ruth Marcus in the Post describes the background to the passage of the Arizona immigration law.  Seems they went to a "clean election" concept, which enabled people with no deep-pockets backers to win elections to the state legislature.  Without the vetting of the establishment, the legislators became more populist.

    The Times describes a surge of African-American candidates encouraged by Obama's success, except these are Republican candidates. The idea black candidates can be elected in majority-white constituencies is empowering.

    And the Times describes Britain's own shut-the-door politics, people who fear the impact of allowing all those Polish immigrants into the country, destroying Britain's way of life.  The O Henry twist here is the writer finds some of these fearful people at a mosque in Luton.
    Don't you love human beings?

    Tuesday, May 04, 2010

    Followup to Lazy Students

    From an interesting article on a Duke professor who tried having her students do a crowd-source assessment of their work:
    She said that the students each ended up writing about 1,000 words a week, much more than is required for a course to be considered "writing intensive" at Duke (even though her course didn't have that designation). She also said that the writing (she read every word, even while not assigning grades) was better than the norm.
     This is incidental information, but 1,000 words is about 4 pages, which doesn't sound like all that much for a writing intensive course.  Of course, my memory is raising the bar, but seems to me that was roughly the standard for my freshman English class many years ago.

    As for the main subject, the professor and students claim is the process worked very well.

    Robot Bureaucrats

    Thanks a bunch, Ann Althouse:
    Also, for some reason, I don't find robotic voices intimidating. If I'm interacting with a bureaucrat, I prefer a robot.

    Monday, May 03, 2010

    Spreading Innovations II

    Posted earlier on the problem of spreading innovations in the US Army.  Another example, which may be familiar: anyone who has a reputation for knowing technology, for being able to program VCR's or whatever the current standard is, perhaps has had this experience.  You show someone who is less knowledgeable, perhaps an older relative, a neat way to accomplish something they'd like to do: find out the weather in Dublin by doing a Google search for "dublin weather".  They're duly impressed and seem to comprehend what you've demonstrated.  But, next week or next month, a similar situation occurs and the person doesn't use the knowledge you've passed on.

    Obama Defends Government, Not Bureaucrats

    Obama spoke at the University of Michigan, asking for civility and defending the necessary role of government.  That's all fine, just as motherhood and apple pie are fine (though rhubarb pie is better), and honoring "Older Americans" as you all are supposed to do this month is fine.

    But when is someone going to speak out in praise of the poor "faceless bureaucrat"? You can't have government without faceless bureaucrats.

    [Updated--this is Public Service Recognition week.  Though how one recognizes the faceless I'm not sure.]

    My Suspicions Confirmed, College Students Are Slackers

    Tyler Cowen passes on a report which claims to show students in my day worked 40 hours a week on their studies (plus another 20 working their way through school, at least for some like me), whereas now they work 27 hours a week.  Of course, it could be that the use of Powerpoint has improved the transmission of knowledge so much that less studying is needed because more is accomplished in class.  Or it could be youth are going to pot.

    Sunday, May 02, 2010

    $500 an Hour for Law School Graduates?

    Piece in the NYTimes on the people handling the bankruptcies in the financial sector, particularly Lehman Brothers.  Apparently the time of associates in law firms (the worker bees familiar from John Grisham's novels who are 1, or 2, or 3 years removed from law school) can be billed at $500 an hour.  If they worked 2,000 hours in a year, that's a cool mill. And associates, if Grisham is right, are expected to bill 60 or 70 hours a week.

    Remember that when right wingers talk about government bureaucrats being paid more than private--I double damn guarantee no Federal lawyer is in the same ballpark as these people.

    The piece offers some justifications for the charges, and there is some oversight.  But my bottom line is: pigs at the trough, making hay while the sun shines (to mix farm metaphors). The creditors of the bankrupt institution don't have the ability effectively to monitor the firms and serve as a countervailing interest to abuses.

    Saturday, May 01, 2010

    What Does a Crofter Do? [Updated}

    A nice post at Musings from a Stonehead describing what a crofter (small farmer) does: walk and carry. He's not walking behind horses, but the farm is small enough not to need a riding tractor.  That's one reason old time farmers had no problems with their weight.

    Meanwhile, just to prove small farms are the same on both sides of the Atlantic, StonyBrookFarm has a post about the concept of "cool boredom", which he sees as part of doing chores on a farm:
    Lugging around water buckets, wheeling out bales of hay, standing still and running the hose for ten minutes to fill a fifty gallon water trough, walking from pasture to pasture, paddock to paddock, barnyard to barnyard, following a rote routine multiple times a day, day after day, are the stuff for me of cool boredom on the farm.
    Both posts are worth reading in their entirety.

    How Much Has Politics Changed?

    Mr. Brookheiser, in his memoir of Bill Buckley, recalls that 2 weeks after LBJ became President, the National Review declared his honeymoon was over.  (How'd I like the book--it was a quick read with a number of good lines in it.  I don't think much of his politics, but the guy writes well.)