Monday, October 31, 2011

Steve Jobs and Medicine

The blogger at Respectful Insolence specializes in taking down the "woo" merchants, by which he means anyone who pushes "alternative" or "holistic" medicine. I like his posts, though they usually run longer than I've the patience for and require more medical knowledge than I can muster.  But today's post is on Steve Jobs and his pancreatic cancer and he surprises by concluding Jobs' life couldn't have been saved, probably, even if he had strictly followed all the prescriptions of conventional medicine.

A Shortage of License, Where Are Sodom and Gomorrah?

Marginal Revolution links to a nice piece on meritocracy, as in the decline of.   It's good, though a bit light on solutions to our problem of declining mobility. 

I may have done this before (the problems of a blogger with a faulty memory) but it's possible we have a shortage of vice in the country.  After all, if we want people to rise in socio-economic class from one generation to the next, and I do, we equally want people to fall in class.  I can't get into the Four Hundred unless one of the existing elite disgraces himself.  With that perspective, one of our problems may be there's not enough vice, not enough ways in which the idle rich can go to hell, or the dogs, not enough ways to dissipate wealth. 

It certainly seems as if society is getting more conservative in some ways: less crime, less divorce, less flaunting of wealth. 

So my sermon for today is addressed to the 1 percent: go forth and sin some more.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Case of the Missing Drill Sergeant

I've the feeling articles on why Americans can't be found to do [hard manual labor, whether harvesting crops in Alabama or wherever] are perennials.  But I noted Italians can't be found to do the hard labor of making cheese, according to this Marginal Revolution post.  So why?

It's not genetic: we know Italians did hard manual labor when they were immigrating to this country in the 1890's. We know WASPs did hard work back in the 1630's and 40's and we know our ancestors did hard work at other times.  So why can't Alabama farmers find Americans to pick tomatoes instead of relying on immigrants?

I offer the solution; it's called the "missing drill sergeant". In my experience there were two things, and two things only, which could make me do hard physical labor: one was growing up with it; the other was a drill sergeant.

By growing up with it, I mean this: by growing to be a man on a dairy farm I incorporated ideas of what was hard and what had to be done, what would make me respected among my peers when I hired out.  I also literally incorporated the muscles I needed to do hard work and the calluses I needed to avoid the pain.

The other way I learned to do nasty things was through my Army drill sergeants.  I was constrained by the situation and forced to do things I'd rather not.

I'd say the same applies to our workforce: we don't have slavedrivers and drill sergeants in the modern economy.  Those Americans who grew up to do the work have, if possible, made their escape, just as I escaped from the dairy farm.  So we rely on people from elsewhere, whose frame of reference from growing up in a less developed country makes picking tomatoes or working on Italian dairy farms seem at least tolerable, considering the financial rewards.

[Updated with a couple links.]

Friday, October 28, 2011

Muffins Overreaction

I wrote earlier that the Obama administration might be overreacting to a report of $16 muffins at a conference. The DOJ IG has now conceded its report was wrong. Of course, the media will not learn any lesson from this and only the best will do a followup story,  The problem is we the public are all ready to believe that bureaucrats are invariably wasteful, so we're easy prey to such stories.

I've a vague memory of a flap over government conferences which resulted in a big clampdown in USDA, requiring the Secretary to approve conference.  If I recall, the problem there was the conference was held at a sexy location (i.e., some resort with a high style reputation), although because it was off-season it was arguably not a waste of money when you looked at transportation costs as well as housing costs.

Trusting Small Business

The RSS feed from Government Executive had two adjoining posts: one was "Fraud continues in small business procurement programs", the second was "House votes to repeal contractor withholding tax requirement. The conjunction is educational.

What we're saying is, while we know small businesses are not angels, being subject to the normal human urge to cheat and lie, the House (and the Senate and the President) are willing to let them cheat on their taxes for a while longer.

Maybe the thing I hate most is tax fraud. I realize the Republicans believe small businesses are the fount of all job creation and the embodiment of all virtues.  But I'm conservative enough, or Calvinistic enough, to believe you don't trust anyone.  As the Founders believed, you have checks and balances.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cultural Transformation

FSA issued a notice on how to deal with customers, including a long list of do's and don'ts.  When I joined the agency they had a series of training packages for county office employees, including one called "counter skills", since the usual setup for the offices included a counter, like that in banks back then, over which the farmer and employee conducted business.  I've no idea what the package included, whether it was mostly the sort of communication skills included in the current notice or whether it was more content oriented.  I'd guess the later.  The current notice reflects, I think the change in the culture over the past decades.

Unusually for me I'm not quibbling or nitpicking the instructions, they're good, at least for the case where there's an arms-length relationship.  [Second thought: to some extent it's the same sort of thing as the procedure for developing individual development plans or the script for a play.  If the actors put their heart into it, it can be great; if they just read it, it's lousy.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Building Infrastructure: Cooperatives and the REA

Life on a Colorado Farm has a post on how parts of rural Colorado were electrified.  Clue: it took cooperation, a cooperative, and the government to do it.

Althouse and Jobs

This may be a first, but I recommend the Ann Althouse post on Steve Jobs (the bio) and the comment thread.  Don't think it's quite up to Mr. Coates, but it's good.

Thoughts on Government Regulations

Walt Jeffries has a very interesting post
on the cost of his farm butcher shop, including mention of the government regulations which he faced.  I asked for his view of the regulations, which he provided in the comments, then requesting my response which I've now provided in comments.  We agree on at least one thing:
Scaling things is a general problem that government is not terribly good at. They tend to produce uniforms in one size fits all. Few would argue with that
See his blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NASCOE Proposals I

NASCOE has a set of proposals submitted to the Administrator, FSA, and SEcretary Vilsack.  They're interesting, which is why I'll probably post multiple times.  The thing which struck me first was the proposal to combine State offices.

I remember when the Reagan administration tried that.  As a matter of fact, that's how my former boss, Sandy Penn, came to DC.  If I recall Delaware and MD were to be combined, meaning a reduction in state specialists.  I guess Sandy was the low woman on the seniority list, so she transferred to DC. The combination was all set to happen, when it was suddenly cancelled.  The scuttlebutt was that someone in New England, I think a state executive director, was the college roommate of a Congress person with serious clout, maybe membership on the Appropriations Committee? 

Anyhow, forgive my cynicism, but I don't think this is going to happen.  (Coincidentally, DOJ is trying to move some field offices, and getting big flack from the field.)

Those Sex-Linked Differences in Math

When I was young, I was a math wiz.  That was when I was 17.  I rapidly lost my aptitude to the point I almost failed my college calculus course (in my defense the guy had a thick accent and was not an inspired teacher).  But I always accepted the idea that guys were superior in math.  In high school the math teacher, a goateed ex-sailor, graduate of the Merchant Marine academy, set up a class for advanced math (i.e., advanced algrebra, spherical trig, etc.) which was all guys (like 6 of us). 

So when Larry Summers speculated about the possible causes for women to be underrepresented in the sciences, technology and mathematics, and included possible genetic differences at the extremes, I was open to the idea, even though it's not politically correct.  I pride myself on being an open-minded liberal.

But the data seems to be running against that hypothesis, as witness this paragraph in a Washington Post article today:
A recent report from the American Association of University Women notes that, 30 years ago, the ratio of seventh- and eighth-grade boys who scored more than 700 on the SAT math exam, compared with girls, was 13 to 1. Now it’s 3 to 1.
The same article says women are getting more than 50 percent of all doctorates total (a fact I'd seen elsewhere).  But there seem to be two possibilities: between 1950 and now there's been a mutation in female genes which means they no longer "throw like girls" and can handle math, or the culture has changed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Usefulness of EWG's Database Impaired

A time or two I've noted that using crop insurance instead of direct payments has the effect of hiding the increases in governmental liability (assuming prices and/or yields rise over time) and getting around the payment limitation provisions.  Another side effect is noted in this language in a Grist post:
EWG's Cook is concerned about another potential problem with the proposed new subsidy. With the current set of farm payments, groups can track exactly how much government support individual farmers receive (as EWG does with its Farm Subsidy Database). But with the "shallow loss" plan, says Cook, "the subsidy lobby" is creating a new "income-guarantee entitlement aimed at the biggest commercial operations" that will likely be "totally opaque to the public." Which means no more tracking who gets how much.
I assume there will be no tears shed in the farming community over this.

What Happens When There's No Card Catalog?

One of the ways I try to help people do Google searches is to tell them: type in the window the words you would use in searching the old library card catalog.  But what happens when that advice no longer makes sense?  This was triggered by a post on the NYTimes article describing a private west coast school which banned all technology.  Does searching in Google come naturally, or is it learned? 

I think the later. 

In some ways this is like learning to type--I vaguely remember an article saying that kids were picking up typing by the availability of PC's, etc. with keyboards.  But how many of those kids will be able to do 40 wpm with 1 mistake?

I guess I'm starting this week as a grump.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

These Young Farmers Are Wimps

From the Life of a FArm blog:
The highlight of haying this year was the addition of the New Holland 570 square baler. After putting up 400 square bales we have affectionatley[sic] named them “idiot cubes”.  There is so much work in squares it sure makes you wonder if it’s worth it.
 Of course, that's why farmers have gone to round bales, even though there's a significant loss of hay in the weathering of the outside layer. (I remember the first round bales, back in the early 50's, which were roughly the size of the square bales.  Difficult to handle and because ratio of the surface to the mass was more equal, a lot more loss if you had a rain storm during haying.  You couldn't leave them in the field, so it was a technology which was quickly abandoned, or that at least went back to the labs to be developed later.

Powerline and Climate Change

Back in the spring, the conservative blog Powerline made a big deal of the skepticism of Prof. Richard Muller about climate change. John Hinderaker's last words:
More importantly, Muller is heading up the new Berkeley Earth Temperature Study, which will review and analyze all of the data on this subject starting from scratch. Unlike the Climategate cabal in Britain and in our NASA, the Berkeley group will share its data with all comers. Keep your eye on this; it will take time–years more than months probably–but may prove to be the thread that unravels the main prop of the climate campaign.
Yesterday Kevin Drum observed the results.

Today every liberal is jumping on the bandwagon, gloating in Muller's reversal.  It's really a shame to see liberals stoop so low:  we should be better people than to gloat.

I love it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How To Do a Demonstration

By chance, NARA had this as document of the day:  

The boomers did do some good demos.

She Won't Be Mother of the Year

Not this year.  She asks these questions:
Why? Why does David have to work so hard to do what comes easily for most? Why does he still sometimes struggle even to call us by name? Why does he sometimes have to make things so difficult?

Why? Why does he take such joy in things that most people don't even notice? Why is he so easy to please? Why is he almost always happy? Why does he work so hard each and every day?

The Advantages of Animals Over Technology

I'm generally favorable to technology, but as my mother used to observe, there were advantages to animals. For example, when field work for the day was over, you could pretty much let the team of horses find their way to the barn.  And, according to her though I never experienced it, if you took a load of potatoes from her folks' farm to the city (Binghamton) to sell, once the load was disposed of the horses would take you home with little or no guidance.

I'm reminded of that when I read a recent post on Ricks' "The Best Defense".  Earlier I'd seen the progress people were making on developing a pack robot, four-footed, self-powered, capable of crossing irregular terrain carrying 1-200 pounds.  It looked impressive. Then there was Sgt. Reckless, a war horse in the Korean War, who carried 5 tons in 51 trips.  I bet she was a lot quieter and a lot cheaper to develop.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Definition of Wheat

What's fun is to watch a bunch of academics and city folk at try to understand the AAA of 1938 and the Wickard v Filburn case (excess wheat), representing the furthest stretch of Congressional power under the commerce clause of the Constitution.

Either they don't understand the Act, they don't understand farming, they don't understand current farming, or they're just off on tangents.  There's 240+ comments on a post several days old, so I didn't read them all.  Towards the end some of the nonsense gets weeded out.

The Decline of Standards

How do scholars expect to get respect when they don't dress the part:
Beyond the conference, as some commenters note, we almost never teach in suits.  The men in my department tend to wear long-sleeved shirts and ties when they teach, but most of the men professors in other departments wear jeans or khaki pants with a fleecy vest and hiking boots.  (That’s the preferred look around here, anyway, but it’s probably more casual on average than other parts of the country might be.)
In my day the professors wore suits, when they didn't wear corduroy sports coats with the leather elbow patches.  Things have gone to the dogs.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Building Our Infrastructure: The Unseen Bits

Lots of discussion these days about the need to reinvest in our infrastructure, by which people often mean the transportation industry: roads, rail, airports, FAA control systems. The civil engineers are pushing this, and they are getting traction.  But yesterday as we traveled back to Reston on some interstates (most of which seemed in as good shape as I can remember, though the rest stops had their problems) I was struck by the thought that we're actually improving our infrastructure in unseen ways.

For example, I noticed the emergency call phones along the side of some roads.  And notices for getting emergency information by tuning the radio to a given frequency.  Surely those auxiliary portions of our transportation infrastructure are going to fade away, replaced by smart phone apps.  Rather than the expense of maintaining separate physical systems, our investments in cellular networks and the development of smart phones will provide more information faster at minimal cost. (Just as the PC was able to replace the dedicated word processor and the desk calculator.)

Consider the past: when I was a child each gas company put out a line of road maps, with some competition from Rand McNally and AAA. The maps weren't all that great, but they were all we had. Then the turnpikes came along, followed by the interstates, and the individual states started issuing maps.  Gas company maps went the way of "full service".  With the concentration of traffic on interstates, things like the emergency call phones and the radio information networks were economically feasible.  For trip planning, you could be a member of AAA and get "tripticks" (or something close), assuming you wanted to pay the money and wait for it to be delivered,

Then came the Internet and things like Google maps, which could plan a route in seconds and give alternatives in a way AAA never could.  Since we don't travel much, I was surprised for our recent trip that Google maps now gives updated information on construction and repairs, not to mention weather conditions and traffic flow.  All of this added information is free.

A final thought: having more information available means faster travel and fewer delays which means greater economic productivity.  I'm not sure how the economic statistics are going to capture those effects.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ron Paul and the Farm Programs

Ron Paul released his budget outline, calling for a trillion dollars in cuts.  Looking at the details, Rep. Paul either proposes to continue farm programs unchanged, or considers them so unimportant as to ignore them.  For USDA he eliminates Food for Peace, FAS, WIC,  and research and education, and whacks food stamps. But no mention of FSA/CCC/NRCS.

Front Page of the Times

That's where an article on the proposed replacement of the direct payments program with something like ARRM finds a home. One knows the article won't be favorable to farm programs, even though it begins thus:
It seems a rare act of civic sacrifice: in the name of deficit reduction, lawmakers from both parties are calling for the end of a longstanding agricultural subsidy that puts about $5 billion a year in the pockets of their farmer constituents. Even major farm groups are accepting the move, saying that with farmers poised to reap bumper profits, they must do their part.
The author focuses on the Thune-Brown bill and opposition from EWG. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Slow Blogging

Wife and I are traveling over a long weekend, so blogger will be slow or nonexistent.

Jobs and Proportional Spacing

In his famous commencement speech Steve Jobs took credit for bringing proportional spacing to the personal computer, claiming that Microsoft wouldn't have had the vision to do so.  It's possible his claim was tongue-in-cheek, but Mr. Manjoo at Slate took it seriously in his appraisal of Jobs. " If he hadn’t brought proportional typefaces to the Mac—if the Mac had never existed—it’s difficult to think of anyone else who would have. Microsoft? Dell? No way."

I beg to differ.  Several lines of development came together on the personal computer.  IBM in 1948 announced the IBM Executive Typewriter, which provided a proportionally spaced font.  To the best of my knowledge, such typewriters were always a class symbol, used for "executives". A second line was preparation of copy for photo-offset printing, with the Varityper and later the IBM Selectric Composer.  A third line started with the mainframe with the creation of typesetting.  These separate lines stemmed from the realization that print is just easier to read and prettier to look at if it's proportionally spaced, which then gets you into the details of font design, serifs versus no serifs, etc. etc. It didn't take Steve Jobs for people to realize this.  He didn't create the demand for it from scratch.

My own exposure to the issue came in the early 70's, when we were using IBM mag tape/selectric typewriters for directives. We were looking for replacement systems, which got me looking far afield at the minicomputers of the day.  The monitors on these were limited:; they could form letters with maybe a 6x9 dot matrix.  And their output was limited to the dot matrix or daisy wheel printer.

Another way to discuss this is to focus on the final product, which is "what you see is what you get"--WYSIWYG, both on the monitor and on the output device.  The Executive typewriter, Varityper, Composer all used hardware to provide the output.  WYSIWYG on the monitor required getting enough pixels on the screen to model different type fonts. WYSIWYG on the output device required a device which could vary the output under software control: inkjet, dot-matrix, or laser printers.  And, of course, you needed a software package between the monitor and output device.

What Apple did do by the mid-80's was package the three elements (monitor, software, laser printer) together in a package which could enable desktop publishing.  Once that was in place the doors opened wide and demand rushed in.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Women Didn't Do Science and Technology

How short a time that was. A post from the winner of the Google Science Fair--all three winners were female, meeting the President.

A Generalization Too Far

I've taken to following the comments at Ta-Nehesi Coates' blog at the Atlantic.  Today he wrote a true sentence:
The disease of presentism, looking up the past from the strict moral, legal, cultural, political and economic context of our time, is a constant problem.
 There's another disease which I often see, which I can't name, except as in the title of this post.  It's generalizing too much, too far.  For example: the status of women. In today's America they have one status; in the America of 1850 they have another--right?  I'd say wrong. Forgetting about the past, the status of women in the Amish culture, the Hasidic Jewish culture, the Hollywood culture, the Mormon culture, the Salvadoran culture of recent immigrants, etc. etc. is very different. There's some continuities, but we always have these different groups in the bigger society. The best we can do, perhaps, is to recognize we're probably making generalizations about middle and upper middle class mainstream American society.

Tell Me What You Really Think (of 9-9-9)

Via Tyler Cowen, Bruce Bartlett assesses Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan rather soberly.  He concludes:
Even allowing for the poorly thought through promises routinely made on the campaign trail, Mr. Cain’s tax plan stands out as exceptionally ill conceived.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I Remember Hitchhiking

Freakonomics explores a couple reasons for the decline in hitchhiking: fear and the rise of women drivers and an associated rise in car ownership and multi-car families.  I'd add a couple: the rise of limited access highways and the diversion of traffic to them--even if hitchhiking is not explicitly prohibited it's harder to stop and pick up person in the midst of 70 mph traffic; the tipping point phenomena--if it's not often done it feels riskier.

I used to hitchhike on my way home from cross-country practice, though mostly I ended up walking all the way.  Modern kids are spoiled.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

FSA Progress on Civil Rights

This press release claims progress. This demonstration presumably counters the claim, though the news report doesn't link the two.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

What The? Used Cars Increase in Value

VA has a tax on the value of the car(s) you own (don't get me started on it) which means they have to determine the car's value each year, for which they use some standard NADA manual.   The Herndon Patch just has a post forwarding info from Fairfax County--15,000 cars increased in value over last year.

???  I guess it must be times are so tight that people are bidding up the value of used cars rather than buy new?    Strange times.

European Agricultture versus US

Haven't linked to posts at CAP Health Check recently. One subject the Euros are dealing with is whether to move to flat rate payments (paying the same rate per acre hectare regardless of the historical crop grown). For someone steeped in US farm programs that's an astonishing idea--I can't imagine anyone in the US proposing it, much less a realistic possibility of enacting it, but it's seriously on the table across the sea.

Why? I suspect one answer is there's more variation in US agriculture than in Europe, particularly within a country:
  •  First of all each country is much smaller than the U.S.
  • Second, there's much more climactic variation, consider dryland cotton and irrigated cotton.  Irrigation isn't that important, I don't think, in the EU
  • Third, there's a greater diversity of important crops.  Specifically cotton and rice are much more important than in the EU.  And those are the high value crops, meaning thy get the biggest support payments.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Hatch Act Violations and FSA

A Politico piece on proposals to change the Hatch Act says:
Lerner also said the standard penalty dictated by the Hatch Act — termination of employment — is too harsh in most instances and may even encourage agencies not to report violation
I'm too lazy to research, but if memory serves the ASCS employees in the 1990's were found guilty of violating the Hatch Act and paid $1,000 fines, but didn't lose their jobs.  One of them solicited me for money on the phone during work hours, not that I was ever asked to testify nor did I volunteer the information. Since the Dems were in power and the solicitation was on behalf of a bundling organization giving to Clinton, I doubt the agency reported the violation.  I think we can thank a whistleblower.

Sen McCaskill and MIDAS?

The Alaskan Native Corporation act permits Bering Straits to be the prime contractor for MIDAS. Another ANC corporation has just been tarnished by the indictment of one of its officials in a contracting scandal. Federal Computer Week has an article on whether other corporations will be tarred with the same brush, including this comment:
"The Alaska Native Corporations should compete for these large contracts and further should not be allowed to ‘front’ for other corporations that are actually doing the work,” McCaskill said in her statement.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I Was Wrong--Palin

I'm not sure I ever published a post on Sarah Palin, but I do remember thinking that she was no flash in the pan, as some commentators thought after the 2008 election.[Updated: I did say on Oct 31, 2008 we'd have Palin to kick around for a long long time. 4 years is not long.] In that I was wrong; her reputation has suffered enough I don't believe she will ever be a serious candidate for national office again.

No Flowers for Gates?

Turns out people have left flowers at the Apple store in Reston.  I don't expect Bill Gates to have flowers left when he dies: first there's no Microsoft stores; second he never established the personal connection that Jobs did.  But I do expect ambassadors and other figures from various countries to express their condolences.  Jobs never did charity; Gates is, and is making a difference.  To me that makes him a bigger man.

Sen. Lugar Is Heard From

Via FarmPolicy, here's an analysis of Senator Lugar's plan to put FSA mostly out of business (tongue in cheek). Centerpiece seems to be a version of the ARRM I blogged previously, plus cutting CRP, consolidating other programs and some other stuff I can't follow.  But here's a command: "This section directs the Secretary to create a simplified form for initial requests by producers for
assistance. This section also directs the Secretary to evaluate how all conservation application
materials can be streamlined to make it easier for producers to apply to one or more programs."

[Updated by adding all the language after "previously".]

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Hole in the Crop Insurance Safety Net

FarmDocDaily has a post pointing out a hole in crop insurance as a one-stop, do-it-all safety net: periods when crop prices are low for multiple years (mid 80's, late 90's).  (His graph misled me, because it compares the 5-year average price with the projected price used for setting crop insurance.  I believe the actual price for the year would show more variability.) Of course, in such years the political pressure becomes such that Congress will do something to patch the hole; at least, that's been the experience in the past but whether it works that way in the context of large deficits is another question.

On Line Education

Margaret Soltan at University Diaries has a major vendetta against on-line education, as well as laptops in class, Powerpoint, etc., all positions you might expect of a humanities professor at GWU. In my younger days I used to be an early adapter, so the idea of online education makes a lot of sense to me.  So I'm torn.

Matt Yglesias came out with a good post which strikes to the heart of the problem of online education, but I'll link to Kevin Drum's commentary/excerpting of it.  The problem is, of course, almost no one is self-motivated enough to do online education.

I think there's a simple solution to that problem: your online university requires the student to deposit a total fee, say 50 percent of the cost of an in-person education, or $50,000, whichever is smaller.  Then, as the online student completes courses and passes tests, she gets a refund of part of the deposit..

Problem solved.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Harvest Time at the White House

Apparently today is harvest time for the White House garden. Either I've not kept up, Obamafoodorama hasn't kept up, or the White House hasn't been publicizing it, but I've lost track of what they're growing.  According to today's post, sweet potatoes.

In our own garden the tomatoes are done, cleaned up the rest of the vines this morning (early blight is a problem so the vines go out in the trash, not back into the ground. We don't grow sweet potatoes, though we like them well enough.  The fall vegetables have been in the ground for a good well: lettuce and brassicas.

Back to the White House garden--if I remember correctly next spring they can claim to be organic, since the land has been free of chemicals for 3 years next March.

[Updated:  Apparently in June they were planting the three sisters of Native Americans, corn, beans, and squash--that's from a link in the post above.]

What Is the Proper Role of the Bureaucrat?

The NYTimes has an article discussing the pipeline being proposed to run across Canada and much of the US.  The pipeline opponents believe that a bureaucrat in the State Department was inappropriately helping a lobbyist for the pipeline, who had a political connection to Clinton.  It raises for me the question of what is the proper role of a bureaucrat:
  • the neutral arbiter of the rules, enforcing them as best you can, rather like an umpire in a baseball game?
  • the advocate for the cause, like the Army Chief of Staff for the army? 
  • the helpful postal clerk, who attempts to guide the aged customer with an odd package through his options?
  • the social worker, encouraging the client to do the right thing? 
  • the FBI agent, enforcing the law? 
Seems to me all of the above are appropriate in context.  

There's also the question of different personalities: some people are effusive and outgoing, others (the better ones I say with total bias) are reserved and taciturn.

It's often difficult to judge a bureaucrat's behavior fairly without seeing a lot of their interactions with clients/customers.

Those Underpaid CEO's

The Post today reveals the nation-wide shortfall in CEO pay: it seems at least half the CEO's in America are underpaid, failing to make the median income.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Great Bureaucrats?

Government Executive Magazine has a list of 20 great American government bureaucrats. Not sure I agree with all the judgments: if number of Presidential nominations is the rule Elliot Richardson might deserve a mention, as well as his resignation in the Saturday Night Massacre.  I'd also throw Ben Franklin into the mix.

Farm Bill Proposals

Stu Ellis at Farmgate reviews some proposals for changed farm programs.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Pack of Aides

The Project on Government Operations observes that the top brass arrive to testify before Congress with a pack of aides.  They're critical, as well they might be.  Their point is there are too many generals and admirals in proportion to the grunts.

However there's a counter argument, which may not apply to testimony before Congress but can apply to attendance at meetings.  One of the best things I think a manager can do is to highlight the contributions of subordinates. If a manager brings staff to a meeting, he/she should often be able to have the staff person do the talking and arguing.  I was able to do that sometimes, though often my know-it-all tendencies interfered.  :-(