Thursday, February 28, 2013

Al's Back Reinventing Government

Government Executive reports Al Gore will speak at a 20th anniversary event of his "Reinventing Government".   Though I voted for the guy, 3 times actually, I didn't and don't think much of his initiative. Why?
  • one big thing was government procurement credit cards.  A fine idea, except someone forgot to include oversight functions to catch fraud, abuse, and screwups.  Those had to be added later, after news reports which gave bureaucrats a bad name.
  • another big thing was flattening the bureaucracy, reducing the number of layers. I'd like to see a GAO analysis comparing now with 20 years ago.  My bet is there's been no real change.
  • a small thing--getting rid of agricultural programs.  As I remember, he got the honey loan program and the wool/mohair incentive programs.  Last I checked, Congress had replaced both. 
More generally, I thought he was too conservative in his approach, just adopting a few ideas which might be good, but didn't really reinvent government


Uphill Both Ways

Memory is fallible.  I posted a comment on the Wonkblog yesterday recalling the 1986 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings reductions.  Easy to do, since it was agony for us.  All fine, except I wrote it was a 5.6 percent reduction.  Did a little searching this morning; it was actually 4.3 percent.

So memory is fallible, but I know I walked to and from school uphill both ways.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

COBOL and Binary

Back in the dark ages when I learned COBOL, the prerequisite was a course on computer basics, including number systems, binary, hex, etc..  Which is why I unabashedly steal this joke from James Fallows:


"There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Least Surprising News of the Day

"Agriculture Has Slipped from DC's Radar" is the headline on a Politico article.

Innovation and Productivity

The head of Yahoo is making the news because she's telling her employees to come to work; they can't work from home.  Apparently there's research showing there's more innovation when employees meet face-to-face, have casual interactions, etc. (I don't remember which company, Bell Labs, Apple, who, which designed its building to maximize such interactions. On the other hand working from home increases employee satisfaction, enables you to hire better employees, maximizes productivity, etc.

My only contribution: face time and casual conversation is important.  That's also a reason for meetings, national conferences or just meetings in the FSA context.  Perhaps my best contribution to FSA was when I overheard Solomon Ramirez talk about his work with DFU (an early System/36 utility software package) when we were all imbibing after a national meeting.

[update: see article on Google's building]

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Parker on the Past and USDA Sensitivity Training

Kathleen Parker, the conservativish columnist for the Post, writes mocking the sensitivity training at USDA.  I understand the mockery, but she grew up in a very different America than I did, when she writes:
There was a time when such lessons, otherwise known as manners, were taught in every American home [emphasis added]. Said homes were not privileged in most cases but they were occupied by a mother and father who, though they perhaps did not adore each other every waking moment, were at least committed to the mutual task of rearing thoughtful, well-behaved children.
The WASPy upper middle class was taught to be considerate of people's feelings; we would use "Negro" rather than "colored", at least to people's faces, and the "n-word" was reserved for the locker room.  But those "good manners", if they were such, are not sensitivity to others.

When I Don't Post, My Page Views Go UP?

Having been traveling for a few days, I find the increase in page views amazing.  I don't really want to face the logic of the message the statistics are sending me: my audience [sic] wants me to blog less.  I take back everything I've written about wanting government websites to publish their statistics.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Even Slower Blogging and the Horde of Dollars

Tom Friedman, the columnist for the Times, is much richer and smarter than I.  But today he wrote about Apple's "horde" of dollars, a mistake which provides a lovely image: convert Attila the Hun's horde into dollar bills on horses.  (He meant "hoard").

It always pleases me when big shots screw up and I can feel superior to them.

Having said that, we'll be traveling for a few days so my blogging is likely to be nonexistent

Friday, February 15, 2013

USDA Sensitivity Training Gets Attention

From the right, see this Daily Caller article.  It brings back memories of my past sensitivity training sessions.  As described, it sounds as if the instructor kept the session lively enough so no one went to sleep. I've mixed feelings about the worth of such session.  On the one hand I feel superior to them: of course I'm above average in sensitivity so why would I need training (a Lake Woebegone trait Mr. Keillor skipped), on the other hand occasional bits stick--I remember being told by the instructor in our ADA training that everyone was only temporarily able-bodied.

It's easy to mock this stuff, and hard to do it well.

Trade Direct Payments for Disaster and No Future Cuts?

That seems to be the deal the Senate Dems are proposing. Sen. Stabenow agrees to chop direct payments in return for funding 2012/13 disaster programs and no requirement for additional cuts in future legislation.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Factoid of the Day: DC Life Expectancy

Spurred by a Coates blog post on Chicago homicides, I found a site with lots of good data.  Perhaps the most startling:

What state has the highest life expectancy for whites?  DC 83+

What state has the lowest life expectancy for blacks?  DC 70+

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

USDA Is Not an Agency

My title isn't quite true, but here's my point:  Megan McArdle writes about federal regulations here.  In doing so, she mentions the "Department of Agriculture" twice, both in contexts which are vaguely adverse.  The problem I have is that USDA is a bunch of different agencies, each with their own missions and regulations, each with their own attributes.  To write of it as if it were a unitary agency is simply to misunderstand and oversimplify.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Recession, What Recession, Not for Dogs and Cats

This extension piece on careers servicing "companion animals" reports current spending of $50 billion, with an increase of $12 billion in the last 5 years.  That's roughly a 25 percent rate of increase in hard economic times.

I can believe it: we have two aging cats in the household, one of which will be amazingly costly over the rest of her life span.  I keep surprising myself that I love her that much, because she was mean (feral mother) as a youngster. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Doesn't Anyone Know How to [Do Big Systems]?

I'm probably misremembering, but I believe Casey Stengel, when he was manager of the expansion NY Mets, asked something like: "doesn't anyone know how to play this game?" 

Anyhow, that saying, whatever its source, came to mind when I read that after 4 years of effort by DOD and VA to have one system of health records for the military and military veterans, they're giving up. Only $1 billion shot to hell.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fenceless Cattle?

Atlantic has a post on this:
"A relatively straightforward technological innovation -- GPS-equipped free-range cows that can be nudged back within virtual bounds by ear-mounted stimulus-delivery devices -- could profoundly reshape our relationships with domesticated animals, the landscape, and each other."
 As someone who remembers his time fixing fence, a springtime routine on a dairy farm, and the occasional adrenaline-filled times when one or more cows got through a fence and started roaming the neighborhood, the idea sounds good to me.  

Now that we have electronic chips which can connect to a human nervous system, the next step will be to implant such chips into cows so you don't have to go get the cows and bring them into the barn for milking.  (Sorry--I forgot dairies are feeding operations these days)

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Obama Gets Praise from GAO

The Comptroller General cited the stimulus bill as providing lessons in administration:
But the most instructive experience, he said, was implementation of the 2009 Recovery Act, doling out federal stimulus money around the country under emergency conditions while minimizing waste. “That was an example of the folks at signing ceremony walking right to the control room, with boots on the ground from the president, the vice president, the secretaries and deputy secretaries,” Werfel said. “That urgency brought out the best in accountability and opportunities for collaboration. It had us doing business differently, without cutting corners. It compressed six months down to six weeks, driving through those competing stakeholders in real time,” he said.
 I think VP Biden was in charge.  He never struck me as a good administrator, but apparently a forceful personality at the top is enough.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Super Bowl Ad

Has apparently been tweaked to add images of Latino farmers. (I'm not sure whether it would have been USDA-approved, given Vilsack's outreach program.)  But John Phipps thinks it should have shown some CAFO's and snow-birds.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Ode to Village Life

Here's a paean to village life:

"The Joys of American Village Life in the 1800s

How different is the state of things to-day, and in our own country! Village life as it exists in America is indeed one of the happiest fruits of modern civilization. Our ancestors, familiar with the English and French villages, could never have dreamed of all the many striking differences which would appear two centuries later in the village homes of their own descendants in the New World. The idea would never have occurred to them that the remote village could ever share so freely in the enlightenment and civilization of the capital city. But steam, the great magician, serves the rustic to-day as faithfully as he serves the cockney.13

  Comforts, conveniences, new inventions, striking improvements are scarcely known in New York and Philadelphia, before they are brought to the villages, hundreds of miles in the interior. You find there every real advantage of modern life. Your house is lighted by gas -- and, if you choose, it is warmed by steam. The morning paper, with the latest telegram from Paris or London, lies on your dinner-table. The best new books, the latest number of the best magazines, reach you almost as soon as they reach the Central Park. Early vegetables from Bermuda, and early fruits from Cuba, are offered at your door. You may telegraph, if you wish it, to St. Petersburg or Calcutta, by taking up your hat and walking into the next street. This evening you may, perhaps, hear a good lecture, and to-morrow a good concert. The choice musical instrument and the fine engraving may be found in your cottage parlor.

What more can any reasonable being ask for, in the way of physical and intellectual accessories of daily life? And in addition to these advantages of modern civilization shared with the cities, there are others of far higher value, belonging more especially to country life. The blessings of pure air and pure water are luxuries, far superior to all the wines of Delmonico14, and all the diamonds of Ball & Black.15 And assuredly to all eyes but those of the blindest cockney, the groves and gardens and fields and brooks and rivers make up a frame-work for one's everyday life rather more pleasing than the dust-heaps, and omnibuses, and shop-windows of Broadway. And, happily for the rustic world, the vices, the whims and extravigances -- the fashionable sin, the pet folly - - of the hour are somewhat less prevalent, somewhat less tyrannical on the greensward than on the pavement. There is more of leisure for thought and culture and good feeling in the country than amid the whirl of a great city. True, healthful refinement of head and heart becomes more easy, more natural under the open sky and amid the fresh breeze of country life

. Probably much the largest number of the most pleasant and happiest homes in the land may be found to-day in our villages and rural towns -- homes where truth, purity, the holiest affections, the highest charities and healthful culture are united with a simplicity of life scarcely possible on our extravagant cities. And these advantages, thanks be to God, are not confined to one class. Even the poorest day-laborer in the village, if he be honest and temperate, leads a far happier and easier life than his brother in the cities. The time may come, perhaps, when the cities -- greatly diminished in size -- shall be chiefly abandoned to the drudgeries of business, to commerce and manufactures during the hours of day and deserted at night; when the families of the employers and laborers shall live alike in suburban village homes. In the present state of civilization, every hamlet within a hundred miles of a large city may be considered as one of its suburbs. In former centuries, he was a wise man who left the village for the city. To-day, he is wise who goes to the city as to a market, but has a home in the country."

The author is Susan Fenimore Cooper, the year is 1869.   [Threw in some paragraph breaks.]

Cafeteria in South Building

Turns out USDA has banned deep-fat fryers in its South Building cafeteria. The article seems a bit skeptical on whether the big shots' efforts at getting their employees to eat more healthily will work.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

White House Garden

Obamafoodorama has a report on the winter harvest--cabbage and broccoli.  Given their hoop houses and the relatively warm winter we've had, the garden should be productive.  (We've had some cold spells, with lows into the teens, but neither terribly low nor prolonged.)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Security Software

NY Times reported  that hackers based in China had been attacking their computer system and the identities and passwords of their staff.  Buried in the article was a factoid: their security software provided was Symantec, and its software failed to identify all but one intrusion.

Friday, February 01, 2013

James Fallows Defends Bureaucracy

Though he may not know it.  This observation from a blog post relating to software is true:
Almost any organized human activity is much more complicated and interesting than you would expect, once you examine its particularity. For instance: I have never taken mail delivery for granted after my earliest paying jobs as a parcel-post sorter and then letter carrier at the local Post Office. People scoff at the USPS, but it pulls off some amazing feats of volume management -- even as today's volume sadly goes down.