Sunday, September 30, 2012

MIDAS Training/Information


FSA put out a notice on MIDAS training.  I followed the instructions to this on the Foundational Learning System

The narrative for slide 5 (it's important to note slide numbers, otherwise you have to skip forward or back0 said: "in the future, the goal is for 24/7 access by the producer and employee to the data/forms...  (This comes after slide 4 which outlines benefits for producers and field offices in the immediate future.)

I think that vision warrants a lot of discussion.  I see elsewhere that the MIDAS team has presented to (staff on, I assume) the House and Senate Ag and Appropriations Committees. Given Congressional resistance to closing offices, I wonder how the Gordian Knot is going to be cut (online availability = reduced employees?).

I'd compliment the team on the slide show.  The narration seemed not simply to consist of reading the slides, which is good.  In future I hope they get more graphically minded.

As an old directives man, I'd also suggest they need a system for identification of their shows; using names rapidly gets awkward and I'm assuming there will be a process for getting feedback and making changes/corrections  which can gain by such identification.

While the plans for training discussed by the Administrator are good, how will producers learn the system, will they be trained? And shouldn't the software be user-friendly enough not to need training?  Or will the FSA training mostly consist of an interpretation: in MIDAS this is the  equivalent of this process on the current system/System/36?  

Don't Eat Your Spinach?

Myth: spinach is especially rich in iron.  See this post at Wiredscience.

What was the Mark Twain bit about Error being halfway round the world while Truth is still putting its boots on?

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Worm Is Turning, Do Not Call

I'm getting tired of the calls we get.  We have Verizon FIOS which is nice, because I can call up the record of my incoming calls. In theory at least, I can tell Verizon to block calls from people who don't give their numbers, but that seems not to work.

We've been on the FTC's Do Not Call list for 9 years.  Occasionally I threaten the live callers with it, particularly the ones which try to extend the warranty for our car and the one for Discovery magazine, but I've never followed through.

I've never followed through until today, that is. This afternoon I got a robocall pushing vent cleaning.  I hung up, got into Verizon and found the phone number that called, and finally got to the DoNotCall website, where I verified that we were on the list and filed a complaint with them. 

I'm not a big fan of the FTC site.  I got confused and flipped between tabs, which seemed to cause the partial phone number I'd entered to move to the right.  And I'd like for them to save my info to ease entry of future complaints. 

Bottom line: it feels good, even though this is the practical (non)result:
Do not call complaints will be entered into a secure online database available to civil and criminal law enforcement agencies. While the FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems, your complaint will help the agency investigate the company, and could lead to law enforcement action.

Polling Technology

I've gotten tired of the calls I receive.  Several recently have been polls, which is sort of okay.  There are differences in the way polls operate.  Two polls both had the voice giving the choices: if the election were held today, if you would vote for Obama, press "1", if you would vote for Romney, press "2"... But one poll allowed you to press the number at any time, while the other required you to wait until your heard all the options.  Needless to say, I soon hung up on the second poll, while I completed the first one.

I wonder why the run of polls--do they exchange lists of people who are actually willing to answer polls? Probably.  Market research firms run the danger of turning me off--listening to 15 minutes of questions is not fun, particularly when the pollster promised it would just take a "few minutes".  People, my definition of a "few minutes" is 5, plus or minus 1.

Two Word Review of Little America

Mr. Chandrasekaran has written another book, Little America, on the war in Afghanistan, particularly since Obama was elected.  His first, Emerald City, was well-reviewed.

My review is simple: "oh sh*t", repeat at least once for each chapter.

[Updated: For a more considered reaction, see this from Foreign Policy ]


Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Really Really Gripes Me: Tax Cheats

From Brad Delong, quoting a Bloomberg piece by Jesse Drucker:
Mitt Romney ‘I Dig It’ Trust Gives Heirs Triple Benefit: In January 1999, a trust set up by Mitt Romney for his children and grandchildren reaped a 1,000 percent return on the sale of shares in Internet advertising firm DoubleClick Inc. If Romney had given the cash directly, he could have owed a gift tax at a rate as high as 55 percent. He avoided gift and estate taxes by using a type of generation-skipping trust known to tax planners by the nickname: “I Dig It.”…
The Obama administration proposed cracking down on the tax benefits in February…. Romney or his trust received shares in DoubleClick eight months before the company went public in 1998. The trust sold them less than a year after the IPO…. Multimillionaires use such trusts to avoid… taxes… [by] assign[ing] a low value to assets they donate to the trust….
 DeLong thinks this amounts to tax fraud, although IRS doesn't prosecute this, presumably because the valuation of the asset when put in the trust is hard to determine.   

Not that I'm calling Mr. Romney a cheat.  It's just taking logic to an extreme.  My alma mater solicits for donations of assets (or did, before the stock market and real estate tanked) as a good tax strategy. 

The Weather Gods Don't Like Obama

Apparently the heat and drought reduced our GDP growth this summer because of reduced agricultural production, just as our warm weather reduced it last winter because of lower usage of energy for heating.   Strange.

[Update: see Prof Roberts at Greed, Green, and Grain on the reduction in GDP.]

The End of a Common Culture?

Brad DeLong usually blogs about economics and economic history, bashing Republican economists with verve and vigor.  But he also blogs WWII, one of which triggers this:

Context: 70 years ago today, the Marines on Guadalcanal were engaged with the Japanese forces.  Due to poor communication, a group of Marines gets cut off.  Meanwhile the destroyer Monssen is patrolling offshore.

"It was then that Smoot noticed a lone figure on another hill waving signal flags. His signal read: SEND BOAT ASHORE. The captain was wary of Japanese trickery. The figure was dressed in what he called “army drill,” but from this distance the man could belong to either side. “We didn’t know who it was and I wasn’t going to take any chances.” Smoot asked a signalman if there were a way to verify his identity. The signalman had an idea, and flagged a question to their mysterious correspondent: WHO WON THE WORLD SERIES IN 1941? The answer—YANKEES IN FIVE—decided the issue.
The deck force lowered a whaleboat over the side, and it motored in to the beach. When it returned, it was carrying the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines, his aide, and two other marines. Coming aboard, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, age forty-four, saluted Smoot. “I doggone near lost my life getting down to the beach. I’ve got a whole group of my men up there in the hills. I’ve got to get them out of trouble.”
 My title? In 1942 it was safe to assume almost everyone in the US military knew who had won the World Series in the prior year.  The nation shared a common culture, at least in that regard.  My feeling is such an assumption is not safe today, not about the World Series, not about the Super Bowl, not about nothing.

[Updated: Ezra Klein this morning admitted he didn't know who won last year's World Series.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Graphing Your Wife's Contractions

Matt Stiles at The Daily Viz comes up with visualizations of every sort of data, but this time he outdid himself: graphing minutes between contractions as his wife went into labor.

Congratulations on daughter Eva.

FSA and Twitter Following

FSA is in the list of the 50 most followed Federal agencies. 

But it's included under USDA, which rates 19th out of 50. 

Query: why does USDA have both the @usda and @usdagov tags? And where are the other USDA agencies (Forest Service makes it on its own, no. 47) like NRCS?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Nissan Leaf and Driving

Technology Review reports on a study of usage of Nissan Leafs.  It seems the drivers are going 16,000 miles a year and encountering greater battery fade than they expected.

I wonder if these owners are driving more because the cost per mile is so low (essentially zero).  The law of unintended consequences?

The Culture That Is Japan

Two bits from the news (NYTimes) today, without links unless I get ambitious:
  • Apples poor map software in the iPhone 5 hit Japan hard, but they have their own mapping software because it's so important in cities like Tokyo.  Because the city just grew, it doesn't have a system of street naming and house numbering which permits verbal directions; you basically need a map to find your way.
  • Ichiro carries 8 bats in a humidity controlled case because it's very important for the bat to be at the right humidity. Apparently a 31 oz bat can increase in weight by .75 oz due to humidity.  It's also revealing when he was playing in Japan as a young man, he broke his bat in anger, and then wrote an apology to the man who made the bat.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bad Weekend and Throwing Like Girls

DC area had a bad sports Sunday (Nats, Skins) and a bad zoo Sunday (panda cub).  But James Fallows has had an interesting sequence of posts on the subject of gender differences in how people throw.  A good deal of evidence for culture/training, which makes sense to me.

Rising Costs: Tuition and Weddings

Saw the figure yesterday that the average American wedding costs close to $30,000.  I can't believe it, but then I can't believe tuition costs either.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Importance of Fat

You only know what's important when you begin to lose it.  Fat is important, both for humans and for bureaucracy.

Taking a pro-fat position goes against the grain. I've always been slender, got down to 135 when I got out of the Army, got up to 155 towards the end of my days as a lazy, overpaid govmint bureaucrat.  And while I've overcome some of my prejudices, I have to admit I've some reservations about the obese. It's always seemed more important to me to do something, rather than just sit and jiggle.

I'm getting old. I know because in certain positions my skin is slack over my bones and muscles, my subcutaneous fat is fading away and I can see what I will look like if I make it into my 80's mid 70's.. It's distressing, best handled by denial.

While the headlines continue to be about increasing obesity in the nation, some research suggests being skinny isn't good.  Why? Fat is a reserve of energy, a savings account you can draw upon if and when you get sick. Skinny people don't have the reserve so they don't recover from illness as well; sometimes they don't recover at all.

Politicians love to attack fat, not so much obesity, though Mrs. Obama does a good job, but fat in the form of the "bloated bureaucracy". (The peak use of that phrase seems to be around 1994, the revolution led by Rep. Gringrich.)  Currently Mr. Romney is pledging to cut federal employees while President Obama says he wants a "lean government".

I want to be a bit contrarian, defending the idea of a less than lean government.  A bit of "fat" can improve the way government looks/works.  For example, take the DMV.  Suppose  one DMV employee can handle 20 customers a day, and the DMV office expects to serve 100 customers a day.  So "lean government" means you staff the office with 5 employees, right?  Maybe so, but unless you can ensure that customers arrive at regular intervals throughout the day, you won't provide good and timely service.

A less than lean government can also be important in cases of sudden change.  For example, President Obama decided to permit children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the US for up to 2 years.  That was a change of policy, and the USCIS had a big job quickly to work up the forms, processes, and software to handle the applications.  I don't know what they did, but my guess is they didn't have time to hire employees, so they likely drew upon their "fat", relieving their best employees of routine work and assigning it to less capable employees, the "fat".  They undoubtedly used overtime and contracts as well, but the fat was important.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Farm Program Support in OECD

Keith Good has a summary of an OECD report comparing levels of farm support among different nations.  Basically because commodity prices have gone up, the level of support (i.e., program payments as percent of total income) has gone down.  As usual the US is below the EU.

Life-Cycle Citizenship

I want to try to push this concept, given the problems in having a reasonable discussion with the current "makers" and "takers" stuff, and based on my consciousness of coming to the close of my lifecycle.

Over the course of a lifetime, people are always dependent at some times and usually are productive at others. So the percentage of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes is higher than 47 percent, because that statement includes both the young and the old.  There's exceptions: people on social security start paying income taxes when their income exceeds $25,000 (a fact I just had to look up), and people on civil service retirement (moi) pay income tax on the portion of their annuity representing the government's contribution.  And, as has been discussed extensively on liberal blogs, employed people pay the payroll tax, drinkers and smokers pay the excise tax, drivers pay the gas tax, etc.

[Updated: Matt Yglesias.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"School Spirit" and Football

Apparently the boom years of the 1920's also saw a boom in discussions of "school spirit", according to this Google ngram search.. I'm not sure what's going on there.  Maybe it reflects the "high school movement" described in wikipedia:

The high school movement is a term used in educational history literature to describe the era from 1910 to 1940 during which secondary schools sprouted across the United States. During this early part of the 20th century, American youth entered high schools at a rapid rate, mainly due to the building of new schools, and acquired skills "for life" rather than "for college." In 1910 less than 20% of 15- to 18-year-olds were enrolled in a high school; less than 10% of all American 18-year-olds graduated. By 1940, 73% of American youths were enrolled in high school and the median American youth had a high school diploma.[1] The movement began in New England but quickly spread to the western states. According to Claudia Goldin, the states that led in the U.S. high school movement (e.g. Iowa and Nebraska) had a cohesive, homogeneous population and were more affluent, with a broad middle-class group.[2][3]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NRCS IT Type

Federal Computer Week Government Executive profiles the whippersnapper who now heads up NRCS IT.

It's fine, but it sounds as if NRCS only got a website when she came aboard, which is wrong.

I've never been very impressed with their website, and it appears it's been revised now, which may be the project which failed twice before.  I do see they have a my.nrcs.usda.gov site.  I'm not clear whether farmers can get services on the website--probably.

I'm not sure what is meant by saying the website is accessible to both external and internal user base. Maybe they're saying the NRCS intranet is accessible through the home page?

Finally in my nitpicking is the claim NRCS is the second biggest USDA agency.  Not sure that's correct, if you add together FSA's federal and county employees, but then NRCS could add in their district employees as well. [Updated to correct error]

The "Makers" and the "Takers": White House Bees

There's no better evidence for the truth of Gov. Romney's position than this report from Obamafoodorama. 

It seems those "takers" in the White House have been exploiting the industrious little "makers" who inhabit the beehives on the grounds, exploiting with this predictable result:
"The beehive this year produced 175 pounds of honey, down from the very large 2011 harvest of 225 pounds. In 2009, the hive produced 143 pounds, and in 2010 it produced 184 pounds."
 In other words, the "makers" have lost their incentives so their production is dwindling away.

"Free the White House Bees"

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sardonic Enjoyment on the Farm Bill

Because my life is not impacted by the progress or nonprogress of the farm bill, I can be amused by the gyrations in the House, as reported by Politico and Farm Policy.  Because I'm a Democrat, my amusement is increased because the Republicans appear to be having a tad more difficulty with its politics.

One thing you can always rely on Congress for, as previously observed by Mark Twain, Mr. Dooley, and Will Rogers: amusement.

Sustainable Ag on Sequestration

I've a lot of respect for the work Sustainable Ag does in tracking Congress and the administration.  Here they discuss the impact of sequestration on farm programs.  The headline is that crop insurance is defined as a prior legal obligation and therefore not subject to sequestration. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Robot-Ready Cows? Humane Dairying

Having just posted on dairy, I might as well go whole cow.

Here's an interesting piece on the extensive adoption of robots in dairying (I owe a hat tip, but not sure to whom).  Some excerpts:
Many dairy kids [like me] leave the farm because they see their parents slave away in milking parlors twice a day, seven days a week, with never a vacation or even a break for the children's baseball games. With robots, a mechanical arm handles the milking and each cow chooses its own routine, leaving farmers with more time for family and flexibility for other chores.  
Groetsch says the gamble was worth it. The family's small squadron of farm droids, which includes a mechanical cow-back scratcher and an automatic feed pusher, has turned their barn into a 24-hour operation, with less hired help.
The 3,000-pound, red robo-milkers work around the clock, except for twice-daily cleaning sessions. They also eliminate the chore of corralling cows for milking: After being trained to accept the robot, cows get milked whenever they please. The robot measures their production and knows if a cow needs to be milked more or less often
Immigration has a role here; the Dutch are pioneers in dairy technology, Hispanics have more and more come to find their place as hired help on dairy farms.

Feminist Vegans and Dairy

From a letter to the editor of Book World (which I initially couldn't find through navigating the Times website, so retyped, and then found the link by a Google search.
Andrew Delbanco [in a review of The Victims' Revolution] classifies as "cant" the statement that "dairy is a feminist issue. Milk comes from a grieving mother."  I wonder which of these facts about dairy production he disputes: (1) mammals produce milk only after giving birth (2) female cows produce milk only if they have recently calved (3) people cannot take the milk if the calf drinks it; (4) dairy farmers therefore remove calves from their mothers within days of birth; (5) both mother and child resist and protest this separation; (6) mothers often bellow and moan for days thereafter; (7) mothers sometimes go to extreme lengths to locate and reunite with their calves; (8) dairy farmers utilize restraints to prevent them from doing so.

Dairy is the product of the exploitation for profit of the reproductive capacities of female bodies.  To consider this a feminist issue is a defensible political position.  Cows share with us the basic brain architecture responsible for emotion.  The idea that mother cows do not grieve when their children are removed from them, and are not grieving still as machines suck the milk from their bodies -- that is cant. 

signed: Patrice Jones
Springfield, VT
The writer is a co-founder of VINE, a feminist animal sanctuary that shelters, among others, survivors of the dairy industry.
The context of the quote referred to is: "A couple of years ago, Bawer [the author of The Victims' Revolution] made a trip home to see what’s happened to the academic world he left behind. He attended a few conferences for women’s studies, black studies, queer studies and Chicano studies, where he heard plenty of cant, as when a participant at a “Fat Studies” conference explained her veganism by declaring: “Dairy is a feminist issue. Milk comes from a grieving mother.”"

Based on my childhood on a small dairy, I would dispute the following:

(2) Cows produce milk for roughly 300 days after calving, not just "recently calved".
(3) Cows produce more milk than any calf could drink. 80 pounds daily in the first month after calving if memory serves, and that figure is probably twice as high now.  We fed our calves about 14 pounds of milk a day, gradually weaning them to hay and grain.  The calf was probably 3 months old, or so. Now if left together, would the calf have continued to suckle? Perhaps, though cows get tired of suckling and are willing and able to use their hooves on their offspring, so I wouldn't expect a prolonged babyhood.
(6) I'd say some cows bellow (never heard a moan) for a couple days, but the majority don't.
(7) We never had any cows go to "extreme lengths" to reunite that I remember.
(8) So we never used any restraints on "grieving cows" which weren't a part of the normal routine--i.e., stanchions to hold them from milking.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Volt and Farming

The Post runs a Reuters piece on the GM Volt today, in which I think they distorted the picture.  (The gist of the article seems to be here, though it's not quite what appeared in the print edition.) The headline was that GM is losing $50,000 on each Volt they sell. The reality seems to be that GM and farmers share something.

In the article, there's this sentence: "Each Volt then costs around $20,000 to $32,000 to build, including materials, labor and factory operations"  And the Volt is supposed to sell for $39,145.

What that says to me is while GM is taking a loss on each Volt because of the accounting for the development costs and the overhead of the company, they've actually got positive cash flow on each one (assuming they don't discount the price much).  That's like a farmer.  As long as she can sell her crop for more than the out-of-pocket cost of growing and harvesting it, she can keep going, hoping next year the prices will be better and the yield will be higher.  That's rational, at least assuming the farmer is emotionally invested in farming.  So too is it rational for GM to continue to produce and sell Volts, assuming next year the prices will be better, the yield higher, and the company and its customers will be higher on the learning curve.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farming Apprenticeships

Farmdocdaily has a post discussing the problems of establishing farming apprenticeships.  Sounds a lot more difficult than I would have supposed.  I guess one problem is minimum wage requirements.  Seems as if you could have a contractual relationship farmer A pays B $x an hour for work; apprentice B pays A $x for lessons.  Probably too simple.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Polling

Last night for the second day in a row I took a phone call from a polling service, using an automated system.  They asked roughly similar questions, though last night's was a bit more detailed, particularly on the demographics (i.e., religion). 

If I recall, and my memory is fading, this is the first time I've been polled solely on politics, excluding the calls where the Dems reassure themselves I'm still a rock-bound Democratic voter who will vote/has voted.

FSA and CCC: the Magic Numbers

Are 8.2 and 7.6.

What does that mean? Based on a very fast skim of the OMB report on sequestration, FSA would take an 8.2 percent hit to its administrative funds, and CCC would take a 7.6 percent hit to part of its funds. I don't understand the CCC calculation but the cut amounts to $469 million, with a good portion of the $19,175 billion either exempt or offset.

[Update: Appendix B has a breakdown of sequestrable versus exempt.  Unfortunately I can't copy the text, but something called the "Discrimination Claim Settlement" is sequestrable.  Is that Pigford, or the women and Hispanic?]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In Which I Trash the Sammies

The "Sammies" are awards ( 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals ) to federal employees for service to America.  This year's awardees are described in this Post piece. 

Of course they all appear to be big shots, which sort of makes sense because bureaucratically speaking, the higher you rise in an organization the greater your impact and thus potentially the greater the contribution you can make to the U.S. 

Somehow today this logic falls flat to me.  If I've got a rich uncle who dies and leaves me money, lots of money, I might just set up a series of awards for employees at the lower end of the pay scale, people who went far beyond the bounds of their job description. Seems to me performance by lower-paid employees could be much more extraordinary, all things considered, than the jobs done by GS-14's.   Maybe set the cutoff at GS-7, or at GS-12, but no higher.

Beyond the challenge of identifying a rich uncle, the next step is figuring out an impartial way to make the awards.

Best Sentence Today (Nun)

"What a difference a nun makes."

That's from a Project on Government Oversight post about oversight of nuclear weapon facilities. (The "nun" in question was one of a group of protesters who roamed through a supposedly secure facility, causing a big shot at Energy to change his mind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Call an Ambulance for the Right Wing

I worry for their hearts when they hear Jane Fonda is playing Nancy Reagan. (I wonder whether Alan Rickman can change his voice enough to be convincing as Ronald--probably he's a great actor.)

MN Famers on Congress " we’re hopeless"

So says Rep. Collin Peterson--his constituents don't expect action from Congress on the farm bill.

From Farm Policy.

[Updated: Politico piece on the current status.]

[Update 2: Politico report on rally for farm bill]

A Fat Tax

Sarah Kliff has a post at the Post on a possible "fat tax" on milk--boosting the price for the high-octane stuff.  I know the difference, but I remember my father checking the butterfat content of our milk; was it shown on the milk check, or was it a separate process--however it worked it affected the price we got for our milk.  As she writes in the post, butterfat is an expensive part of the milk.

The study on which she writes looked at supermarkets which priced low fat milk lower than full fat milk. 

Posting Feedback on Government Sites

I think government websites should post their metrics online.  Usa.gov takes the first step towards that--a journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.

I suppose I'm being a little hypocritical, since I don't give my own stats.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Apparent Inconsistency: Rebecca Felton

Who was Rebecca Felton?  The first woman to serve in the US Senate.  Also "a prominent society woman; an advocate of prison reform, women's suffrage and educational modernization; and one of the few prominent women who spoke in favor of lynching."  She was from Georgia.

Mentioned in "American Tapestry, The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama" by Rachel Swarns, which I'm finding interesting.

The Paradox of "Food Insecurity"

ERS has its annual report on food insecurity.

There's a paradox here: the number of people receiving food stamps is at an all-time high. The number of "food insecure" people is high.  The number of obese people is high, with the poor having the highest proportion of obesity. This seems to me to amount to a paradox.

What's going on?  To analyze it, there's four characteristics of people:
  1. poverty
  2. "food insecure"
  3. obese
  4. receive food stamp
Receiving food stamps is a binary attribute: you either do or you don't during the time frame, the other three are more scalar, but government surveys convert them into binary attributes.  With 4 attributes, there's 16 possible combinations, ranging from: poor and food insecure and obese and receiving food stamps to not poor and not food insecure and not obese and not receiving food stamps.

It seems we don't have good data to map the distribution of people into those 16 combinations.  We can assume we know how the world works:

 In one conception, the people getting food stamps are the poorest of us; everyone who is really poor gets food stamps and only the poor get food stamps. In that world, everyone who is poor and obese gets food stamps. Implications:
  •  food stamps are well distributed
  • the food insecure get food stamps but don't manage them well.
  • the food insecure are also obese, perhaps because they binge eat.
In another conception of the world, the world of the poor divides into two portions: one set is poor, no food stamps, and food insecure; the other set is poor, gets food stamps, and not food insecure.  Implications:
  • food stamps are poorly distributed
  • food stamps fill their role of preventing hunger and the only social problem is getting all the poor to participate in the food stamp program.
  • NOTE: the missing issue is where are the obese in this conception.  
Now the ERS report says 57 percent of the food insecure participated in a food program (food stamps, WIC, and a third program), but they compare apples and oranges: food insecurity is for a calendar year, participation in food stamps, etc. is for the month before the survey, meaning a family which suffered food insecurity in January, goes on food stamps in July and is surveyed in August would count as food insecure.

What's my point: the ERS work lacks essential information.  Of course, in their defense I can imagine their surveyors would be reluctant to carry a scale and tape measure with them on their interviews so they could check the BMI of the respondents.   One of the prices we pay for privacy is the lack of information to make good policy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Country It Is Changing

Two factoids, with no credit to sources:

New York City and Washington DC are among the metropolitan areas which are now majority minority.

Over half the students in the Fairfax county school system use a foreign language.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Standing Staff Meetings

Too soon old, too late smart.  Somewhere this week I read of some guy who does meetings standing up, and I realize that's the way I should have done my meetings. 

The idea is, people get tired of meetings so there's an incentive to be brief and to the point.

All Hail Mr. Griffin III

That is all.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Dispersion of Takent and Character

Barking Up the Wrong Tree has a post on a study showing how widely dispersed are talent and character.
What they found is that in low complexity jobs, workers’ outputs do not vary much, and the best worker is usually not much better than the average worker. As the jobs become more complex however, there’s more and more variation, and the difference between the best worker and the average grows. For example, in low-complexity jobs the top 10% of workers produce 25% more than the average, and 75% more than the bottom 10%. For high-complexity jobs, such as professional and sales jobs, the difference is much larger. The top 10% of workers produce 80% more than the average, and 700% more than the bottom 10% (8).
That's no surprise to any manager.  Unfortunately it makes performance appraisals, which are difficult in the best of circumstances, even more difficult.  

Friday, September 07, 2012

Selection of Hens by Combs

National Geographic (hat tip owed somewhere) has an article which says:
Farmers and other breeders of poultry have long known that the comb, that reddish display of spiky skin on top of chicken heads, can be a reliable indicator of health and vigor. Now scientists have demonstrated that hens with the largest combs produce the most eggs — and roosters have it all figured out.
“Hens with the largest combs are like to get a bigger dose of sperm from roosters,” according to a paper presented this week in the science journal PLoS Genetics by scientists at Link√∂ping University in Sweden.
 We raised our hens from day-old chicks in brooder houses, then they went outside on the range until they started laying.  In the fall we'd cull the old hens and bring in the best of the pullets from the range.  Mom would select the pullets, and mostly used comb size for the selection.  We'd start with 900 chicks and end up with maybe 750 layers, with the remainder sent off to NYC as fryers. 

A Form for Autonomous Vehicles

Be still my heart--a form, a sure-enough honest to goodness form.

 I'm eagerly awaiting the day when I can turn my driving over to an autonomous vehicle like Google's.  As I may have said previously here or in some comment somewhere, I'm aware my capabilities are diminishing: my attention span is shorter, I'm more easily distracted and upset, and my reactions are slower.  All of which means the day is coming when I should no longer drive, which means a considerable blow to our lifestyle.

But it seems the great state of Nevada, blessed be its name, has actually come up with a form, an application for permission to test autonomous vehicles.  As any good bureaucrat knows, once you have a form, the rest is downhill all the way.

[Update: hat tip, Eugene Volokh at Volokh Conspiracy.}

Thursday, September 06, 2012

How Soon We Forget

Watching the Newshour tonight Judy Woodruff suggests President Clinton faced less opposition than President Obama.  I disagree.  Clinton squeaked some stuff (taxes, gun control) through his first session with no Republican support; then he faced Newt and the Republicans.  The vehemence of the opposition to Clinton, with the suggestions of murder and drug dealing, Filegate, etc. matches the birther nonsense.

Restaurants and Their Customers

The NYTimes had an article on how restaurants are tracking their customers, recording their preferences:
Even a single visit can prompt the creation of a computer file that includes diners’ allergies, favorite foods and whether they are “wine whales,” likely to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle. That’s valuable information, considering that upward of 30 percent of a restaurant’s revenue comes from alcohol. Some places even log data on potential customers so that the restaurant is prepared if the newcomer shows up.
That a waiter you have never met knows your tendency to dawdle or your love of crushed ice may strike some diners as creepy or intrusive. But restaurant managers say their main goal is to pamper the customer, to recreate the comfort of a local corner spot where everybody knows your name.
Is this an invasion of privacy or the way technology enables the free market best to satisfy customer desires?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

What Robots Can't Do

Robots can do more and more every day, and I'm eagerly waiting for the day when they can drive a car.  But what they can't do is use a toothbrush to fix a space station, as described here.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Organic Food

Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy posts on a meta-study of the nutrition values of organic food.  It says no consistent support for the idea that organic food is safer or more nutritious. Apparently it's true there are differences between organic and non-organic food, but the evidence that the difference is enough to make a difference in human health is lacking.

Why Congress Drives Program Developers Crazy

Yes, I was crazy by the time I retired.  Chris Clayton reports Sen. Grassley is guessing a 1-year extension of the farm bill.  Where does that leave the MIDAS people.  I don't know.  If I were in their shoes a year or so ago, there would be these choices:
  • develop to support current programs, in which case if Congress does its job, you've wasted your efforts
  • develop to support current programs, minus the direct payment and counter-cyclical ones which the conventional wisdom says are going to bite the dust, in which case if you believe Grassley you've missed the boat and need an emergency effort
  • develop to support only the basic records, with some sort of bridge to existing software to provide support for ongoing programs, in which case you run the risk of hanging counties out to dry, sort of like the SURE program under the 2008 legislation.
I've no idea which way they went; maybe there's another option which is better.  But it points out the difficulties of software development scheduled to coincide with farm legislation.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Bidens' Net Worth

TaNehisi Coates had a post talking about meritocracy and the revolving door--big shots moving back and forth between government and private business, making money.  That spurred me to check Joe Biden's net worth, which, at least according to this, is less than mine, and less than zero.

Farmland Prices

John Phipps links to this post, which is a year old, but is still interesting.  Describes land prices in 15 countries and mentions the land tenure laws.  Very large differences in land values with New Zealand shown as having the priciest land.

Ouch--Obama

From a Politico piece on the Obama Administraion:
Beyond policy debates, Obama has not been especially creative in using the moral platform of the presidency to force change. This is an arena in which all presidents, naturally cautious and self-protective, tread carefully. But the contrast with some of Obama’s own role models is notable. When JFK faced an integration crisis at the University of Mississippi in 1963, he gave an Oval Office speech saying: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.” When Obama decided to endorse gay marriage, he gave an interview to a morning television anchor and made clear that he was merely stating his personal preference and that the issue should be left to the states.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Reston Has a Forest

Local photographer won a photo contest for urban forests.  Have I mentioned the two deer seen twice this week outside my townhouse?

High Income for 2012?

Very interesting farmgate piece on the possible implications of the income figures for 2012.  Farm income will be up, farmers with the harvest price option on their crop insurance will make out well, and taxpayers might question what subsidies should be in the farm bill.

[Updated to fix link]

Saturday, September 01, 2012

What Prof. Mankiw Forgot to Point Out

Prof. Mankiw of Harvard notes a Wall Street Journal piece on the growth of entitlement, showing 50 percent of U.S. households now get Federal benefits.  He doesn't note this interesting bit of the article:
In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements, but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential, but in any given year, it was on the whole roughly 8% higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat.
Mankiw was, of course, a part of the GWBush administration.