30 December 2008

Tuesday Afternoon in a Small Town

I recently posted about an experience at our local Post Office; I'd gone to pick up a package, and our mail carrier (who'd been sorting her mail and preparing for delivery) recognized me. She came out from the back and gave me the day's mail right then (in addition to the package).

Today's experience at the same post office might top that one. Again, I had a slip for a package to pick up. I knew it would be small, and the weather was pretty decent, so I decided to combine the post office trip with a bicycle ride. Sunny days with dry roads are scarce and getting scarcer around here, and I never pass up a chance to get out on a bike. So, I bundled up in my cycling clothes --- including a ski mask-like garment called a balaclava that totally covered all of my head except for my face --- put on some sunglasses, took a small back pack, and set off for town.

A few minutes later, I was clunking up to the postal counter in my bike cleats. I dug the package slip and my driver's license out of my back pack, and waited for an available clerk.

The package slip turned out to be unnecessary. Despite my bizarre clothing, and all of my head except my face being covered, the clerk already had my package and set it on the counter as she greeted me. She made a joking comment about wondering when I'd be in, and then had me sign the release. "Do you need any stamps?" she asked, as I slipped the package into my pack.

"Not this time, but thanks," I replied, putting my sunglasses back on and marveling at how she'd been able to recognize me.

The ride was wonderfully invigorating, but eventually the stiff headwinds penetrated even my heavy wool socks. Making a mental note to put my feet in plastic baggies next time, I turned the bike for home. But despite the bitter cold, I couldn't stop thinking about that lady at the post office --- and how much I like living here in Michigan.

24 December 2008


In a world where holiday lights and store displays go up even before Thanksgiving, our family tries to maintain a strong distinction between Advent and Christmas. We don't play "Christmas" music in our home before December 25th, and all the decorations are strictly limited to Advent images. We don't even buy a tree, let alone put it up, until very close to Christmas Day.

This was Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's idea, and I've grown to really appreciate it. In my family, our tree and decorations typically went up in early December --- and came down around New Year's Day. It's been wonderful to rediscover the meaning and definition of these different seasons, and to keep our Christmas displays up throughout the entire Christmas season.

This year was no different. Yesterday, Homeschooled Farm Girl and I finally shoveled our 4x4 truck out of its snow-bound prison, fired up the motor, and set out to find our tree. In recent years, we've grown accustomed to getting last minute trees for free --- or for five bucks at the most. Why pay more for something you're going to throw away anyhow?

Why? Well, this year we got the answer. The local grocery store had no trees, leaving few options. We could drive 10-12 miles either north or south, and try to find something. Or we could follow the signs to a local Christmas tree farm.

We chose the latter, even though it meant leaving the truck in 4x4 the entire time. The farm itself was a half-mile down a dirt driveway; we never could have reached it with a different vehicle. Once we arrived, we discovered sticker shock: after so many years of picking up cheap last-minute trees, I was amazed to learn that these trees cost upwards of $40. Or more.

The guy did have one tree that was already cut. It was a bit on the short side, but was well-shapen. And he said he'd let it go for twenty bucks. I didn't want to spend a lot of time hunting for the perfect tree, so I agreed to take the short one.

But more than that, I had a larger reason for buying my tree there: I wanted to get it directly from the farmer, to support his family, and keep the money in our local community. Was $20 more than I was used to spending? Yes. But where was that $20 going? Directly into the pocket of a guy who had spent a lot of time and sweat building a beautiful Christmas tree farm. No middlemen. No brokers. Directly into the farmer's pocket.

How do you put a pricetag on that? I certainly can't. That's why I happily paid the twenty bucks, took the tree home with Homeschooled Farm Girl, and will think about that farmer every time I look at the beautiful tree in our living room.

Merry Christmas to you all.


Some of you out there may be wondering if the recent economic downturn has impacted all businesses equally. Has a receding tide lowered all boats? Or have some retailers managed to buck the regressive trend?

A number of media stories have reported that gun shops have been doing booming business in recent weeks. Even before the election, the folks at my local gun shop commented that their sales level seemed directly proportional to Barack Obama's standing in the polls over the course of 2008; there is genuine concern that, if elected, he would move swiftly to outlaw certain semiautomatic rifles in the same way Bill Clinton did.

In recent weeks, I've had occasion to handle and shoot a semiautomatic (civilian) version of the famed AK-47. That experience helped me understand why the AK-47 has become the most popular military rifle in history: it's amazingly light, well-balanced, with a short and easily-maneuverable barrel, and fires round after powerful round from a high-capacity magazine without missing a beat. Anyhow, I happened to be at our local gun shop this afternoon, and made a comment to the owner about the AK-47, and asked, "I imagine you've sold quite a few of them since the election?"

He stopped what he was doing, looked me in the eye, and replied: "We've sold piles of them. Been all I can do to get them in."

Piles. And it's not just our local shop. An online retailer that I've browsed (but never purchased from) posted the following notice on its site about a month ago:

TODAY IS MONDAY 11/17/2008



7.62X39 AMMO................361 CASES

AK 30 RD MAGS.....................................783
AK RIFLES (ALL TYPES ) .........................243

7.62X39 AMMO................1218 CASES
AK 30 RD MAGS.....................................3855
AK RIFLES (ALL TYPES ) .........................572




Interesting times...

21 December 2008

HFG: Retrospective Voter

This morning, we awakened to single digit temperatures, another couple of inches of snow, and very high winds blowing it everywhere. And not a snow plow or salt truck in sight. According to the weather forecast, the winds are supposed to gust up to 40 MPH today --- meaning the wind chill is well below zero. Bottom line: there was no way we were making it to Mass, so the kids spent some extra time this morning making Christmas decorations. (The decorations will not actually go up until December 24th, however. Our family tries to maintain a very strong distinction between Advent and Christmas; we don't even have a tree yet.)

Anyway, while coloring one of her paper angels, nine year old Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) asked, "Can I give my angel an Afro?"

Mrs Yeoman Farmer immediately replied, "Absolutely not."

As HFG began giving her angel a different style of brown hair, Little Brother commented (no doubt drawing on his observations of MYF's family photo albums), "A lot of people in the seventies had Afros."

To which HFG replied, matter-of-factly, not taking her eyes off her crayon, "That's because Jimmy Carter messed everything up."

I laughed out loud, and couldn't help thinking of the cartoon at the beginning of Morris Fiorina's classic book, Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. Two grumpy old men are looking out the window at a blizzard, and one is turning to the other and commenting, "We never had winters like these past two before Carter took office."

Who knows? With the winter we're having here in Michigan, maybe some kid in a Democratic household is making the same observation about George W. Bush...

19 December 2008


I've expressed my strong opposition to auto industry and other bailouts in other posts. Part of me dared to hope that the worst of these was over. But with the announcement of this morning's "rescue package" for the Big Three, I simply must add a few more thoughts.

First off, among the more disingenuous rationalizations for the auto industry bailout is the notion that consumers will not purchase a vehicle from a bankrupt company.

[Bush] said that bankruptcy was not a workable alternative. “Chapter 11 is unlikely to work for the American automakers at this time,” Mr. Bush said, noting that consumers would be unlikely to purchase cars from a bankrupt manufacturer.

I contend that when Chapter 11 is explained properly to consumers, they will be willing to purchase from a company which is reorganizing itself under its provisions. Perhaps two brief anecdotes from my own experience will illustrate this:

1) United Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December of 2001, and didn't emerge until February of 2006. Over the course of that period, I logged many thousands of miles (and spent thousands of dollars) on United Airlines...and many other passengers logged and spent much more. While it is true that a plane ticket costs significantly less than a car, for a business traveler the stakes can be very high: if an airline is liquidated on the eve of a critical trip, it may be impossible to arrange alternative transportation at the last minute. An entire, long-planned and potentially profitable trip can thus be wiped out. And for business or leisure travelers, if an airline liquidates in the middle of a trip, the traveler will be stuck at the destination (or perhaps even in a connecting city) without a ticket home. These facts were on my mind every time I bought a ticket on UAL, but I had confidence that the airline was simply reorganizing itself so it could emerge on its feet again.

2) Even if an automotive company liquidates, a vast network of aftermarket repair shops and parts suppliers will remain to service the company's vehicles. I have an extreme example of this in my own experience: For the last eight years, I have been the happy owner of a vehicle make which has not even been imported into the USA since 1983, and which has not had a single dealership in this country for 25 years. And despite the puzzled looks from auto parts store employees when you ask for parts for a "Fiat," once they start looking they can nearly always find what you need (or special order it). And if you want to bypass the local shops, there are online retailers who stock literally every single part of the car from bumper to bumper. When asked, nearly any foreign car repair shop will work on a Fiat. When I blew half of the motor a few years ago, it didn't take long to locate a new short block --- and arrange for a shop in Urbana (IL) to put the whole thing together. She's run like a dream ever since.

Of course, my 1975 Fiat was many years out of warranty when I acquired it in 2000. For someone contemplating a new car purchase, warranty issues would loom larger; if I bought a new Chevy truck tomorrow, and GM liquidated next month, what would happen if my transmission failed before the warranty expired? This could be among the first issues addressed under a well-structured bankruptcy, with funds set aside and an independent entity established to cover such claims.

While there are many reasons Fiat withdrew from the US market, government regulations had a lot to do with it. Put simply, it got too difficult (and expensive) for Fiat to keep up with increasingly strict American safety, fuel economy, and environmental regulations. Anyone who has visited Italy knows how incredibly "basic" even modern Fiats are. Mine is laughably unsafe: no shoulder belts, no airbags, no roll bar, no crumple zones. The only safety features it has are lap belts (but only in the front --- the back seat has no belts at all) and padded sun visors. But you know what? I don't care. I love the car, and drive it every chance I get, anyhow. (Mrs Yeoman Farmer, by contrast, does care...and will not allow any of the children to ride with me.) And 20 MPG is plenty good gas mileage for my purposes.

Which raises an important question: Are the American automakers in trouble now for some of the same reasons Fiat was in 1983? Has the cost of compliance with federal regulations driven the price of the product beyond what consumers are willing to pay? While I can understand the need for some emissions mandates, crash safety requirements are a separate issue. Why not lift the mandates, and let the manufacturers differentiate themselves based on safety features? Let Volvo capture a larger market share of those who value crash safety most highly, and are willing to pay extra for it. While there are probably very few Americans crazy (or daring) enough to buy a car with as little crash safety as my 1975 Fiat Spyder has, I bet there are many who would be interested in a lower-cost "basic" vehicle that has less crash safety than currently mandated. As I understand it, the Big Three have no trouble selling such vehicles in overseas markets. Why not give Americans a chance to vote with their wallets and buy "Fiat-like" automobiles themselves?

I'd argue that the most effective auto industry bailout would consist of suspending all safety and fuel economy regulations for the next two years, and letting the auto companies build the vehicles that American consumers can afford and want to purchase.

But hey. Nobody in Washington listens to me. That's why I think we're far more likely to see something resembling this in 2012 than anything resembling a Fiat.

Now I'm going to go listen to Red Barchetta and dream about the day when we have Michigan roads clear enough to take my Spyder out on again.

18 December 2008

Grand Theft Auto

This piece in today's New York Times is perhaps the clearest statement of what I believe to be wrong about the recent spate of business bailouts --- particularly the one being proposed for the Big Three.

Pan Am, which had been a leading U.S. international airline since the 1930s, collapsed in 1991. Like other great U.S. companies, it died in the marketplace because it blundered. Churn — of people and businesses — has always defined America. Nobody subsidized U.S. Steel or the automaker Packard in the belief that the world without them was unthinkable.

Coming to the United States from Europe, I found this constant reinvention bracing. Look at the top 40 companies by market capitalization in Europe and most have been there for decades. Not in the United States, land of Google and eBay. Churn requires death as well as birth. The artificial preservation of the inert dampens the quest for the new.

America let Pan Am die. Italy keeps Alitalia going although the airline’s been a dead man walking for years. There you have it: two continents, two business cultures. At least until recently, when the sheer extent of the U.S. financial collapse led the Treasury to discover forms of life-support that refuse to utter a taboo word — socialism — but resemble it nonetheless.

Let’s face it, the American International Group has no right to be around, if risk, markets, transparency, accountability and other foundations of American capitalism mean anything.

Which brings us to Grand Theft Auto, not the video game, but the ongoing drama starring General Motors and Chrysler in a desperate quest for billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that they say is essential to their survival. (Ford has said it does not need federal money now to survive; it’s in somewhat better shape.)

I know, hundreds of thousands of jobs are directly at stake, hundreds of thousands more indirectly. This is not an economy that’s creating new jobs for those lost. Why should autoworkers get worse treatment than bankers?

These are agonizing questions. But it’s equally agonizing to contemplate the United States becoming the land of Alitalia-style life-support rather than Pan Am-style churn. If the Big Three, their heads in the sand, have made the wrong models with the wrong technologies for years, while their competitors adapted to a changing world, at least one must pay the price.

Go read the whole thing. It's right on.

Because if the Big Three bailout goes through, don't be surprised if we see automotive ads like this one in a few years.

15 December 2008

Things Old and New

I just got home from an Opus Dei evening of recollection at a church in Ann Arbor, led by a priest who drives up from South Bend. We have these recollections every couple of months, and they always draw several dozen men from around the area.

We begin with solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance on the altar, and then the priest leads us in a half-hour reflection. He is then available for 45 minutes or so for confessions, followed by a second reflection. Finally, we close with solemn benediction, and the Blessed Sacrament is returned to the tabernacle. All in all, these are wonderful events and bring considerable spiritual fruit to those who attend.

I am usually tapped to help serve the exposition and benediction (Homeschooled Farm Boy, who is an altar server at our parish, thinks it's cool that Daddy is also an altar boy). Tonight, I managed the incense and another guy managed the humeral veil. But between the two of us, and the priest, everyone managed to forget to bring the book with the priest's prayers. He did have a song sheet which included most of what he needed, so we were fine during exposition and the first part of benediction. But only as he knelt to recite the divine praises did we realize we were missing something very important. We all looked around, but the book was nowhere to be seen.

As I retreated to one of the pews, to look to see if the misalette had what we needed, the priest began digging in his pocket. And produced...a Palm Pilot! As he removed the stylus and began tapping through various screens, he muttered, "I know it's in here." Sure enough, about a minute later (it felt more like ten minutes, with the whole congregation looking on), he cleared his throat and began, "Blessed be God..."

And so we went all the way through the divine praises, finishing with "Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints." The priest returned the PDA to his pocket, and we all began singing "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" as he reposed the Blessed Sacrament.

And as we processed off the altar, I couldn't help smiling at the wonderful mix of "things old and new" I'd just observed: solemn exposition and benediction, with bells and incense and wonderful Latin hymns, led by a priest dressed in a cope and humeral veil --- and packing a PDA with the divine praises as an emergency backup. You simply can't not love that. He only could've topped it by connecting to the internet and downloading the prayers as he recited them.

Back in the sacristy, I commented that I'd never before seen a priest lead benediction with a PDA. He chuckled and replied, "And I've never done it before. I'm just glad I have so much stuff on there."

I told him I agreed. And made a silent resolution to make sure I double-check that we have the Handbook of Prayers book at the altar next time.

10 December 2008

Fleeing the Cities

From the Moscow Times comes word that our family's move to the country isn't so unusual. Even in the former Soviet Union people are leaving city life behind in favor of rural values and relative self-sufficiency. The Sterligov family had much more serious things to flee than we did, though, and they have made a much deeper commitment to rural self-sufficiency. But it sounds like we'd have a lot in common, assuming we could bridge the language barrier.

The financial crisis has cost some tycoons their fortunes, but one of Russia's first multimillionaires says he hasn't lost a kopek.

That's because German Sterligov, a one-time boy wonder of Russia's young market economy, dropped out of the business world years ago and started raising sheep and other livestock on two farms outside Moscow.

"We're in clover compared to the oligarchs," Sterligov said on a recent weekend. "I've got 100 sheep, a horse, a cow, some poultry and goats."

Now Sterligov, 41, is promoting an electronic barter scheme for commodities trading that he claims could save Russia's foundering financial system.

But he has no plans, he said, to return to the traditional capitalist road, saying his luxury-loving former colleagues among the superrich will soon see the virtues of simplicity and self-sufficiency.

At Sterligov's log cabin about 100 kilometers northwest of Moscow one recent afternoon, hens pecked grain from the snow in front of the porch as he scolded his four sons -- aged 4 to 12 -- for neglecting to feed the chickens properly and for "messing up the stove."

Go read the whole thing. It's a wonderful story.

H/T: Laurie

09 December 2008

Most Astounding

Of all the astonishing news to come out of Illinois today, one particular item shocked me most. No, not that Rod Blagojevich aparently tried to sell an open Senate seat to the highest bidder. Not that the Governor taunted the press (a la Gary Hart) to try to catch him, just the day before. Not that the Governor used an unbelievable amount of profanity in his professional conversations.

Nope. All that is par for the course for Illinois politics, and those of us who worked on Jim Ryan's gubernatorial campaign in 2002 are at last feeling vindicated today. (I can't think of a man in public life with more personal integrity and higher ethical standards than Jim Ryan, and I hope he comes out of retirement soon.)

This news item was what most surprised me:

The bond specifies that Blagojevich will forfeit $4,500 on bond if he fails to make his next court appearance. He was also ordered to turn in his passport and firearm owner's identification card.

Rod Blagojevich, perhaps the most anti-gun governor in Illinois history, has a Firearm Owner ID (FOID) card? Huh? When did that happen? This is the man who, as a state legislator, introduced a bill to raise the fee for a FOID card from $5 every five years to $500. Since an Illinois resident can't legally purchase or possess a firearm without a FOID card, or even purchase ammunition, Blagojevich's bill would have effectively eliminated legal firearm for all but the wealthy. And as Governor, he has supported a wide range of anti-gun legislation, and earned consistent "F" ratings from the NRA.

The story doesn't mention whether Blagojevich actually owns a firearm or not, or whether the FOID card was a campaign gimmick designed to ingratiate himself with rural voters. But trust me: when I lived downstate, even our least politically active neighbors knew during the 2002 campaign that Blago was "that guy who tried to make the FOID card cost five hundred bucks."

Obviously, that issue wasn't enough to save the 2002 election for Jim Ryan. Neither were the corruption issues we raised about Blagojevich's past. But many of us who have tried in vain to stop Rod Blagojevich in the past will be going to bed happy tonight. Vindicated at last.

But still wondering when --- and why --- he ever got that FOID card.

08 December 2008

It's 4am...

Hillary Clinton's "3am phone call" ad has been on my mind all morning. What follows is The Yeoman Farmer December 8th version of that ad. I'll leave it to my readers to determine how good of an advertisement this is for "buying that idyllic little place in the country":

It's 4:06am and Mrs Yeoman Farmer and the Yeoman Farm Children are safe and asleep. But there's a Border Collie in the barn with the livestock, and he's barking. The Yeoman Farmer awakens, and listens. It's just the normal "Hey, I think I might have heard something" bark, so TYF rolls over and tries to go back to sleep.

Two minutes later, the bark changes to one of challenge and alarm. TYF is now wide awake, and thinking too hard about the barn to go back to sleep any time soon. He throws on some clothes, loads a .45 auto pistol, finds the high-powered flashlight (grateful he remembered to fully charge it last week), and heads to the barn to investigate.

Heaving open the half-frozen barn door, TYF is immediately met by a wriggling and energetic border collie. He braces himself, then flips on the lights and gives the barn a quick scan. And sees...nothing but livestock and barn cats. Pistol in one hand, and pistol-grip flashlight in the other, he investigates the deepest darkest corners and rafters of the barn. And sees...nothing. Followed by the dog, he circles the barn and illuminates the surrounding fields. Whatever had been in or around the barn seems to have vanished into the frozen winter air.

The livestock had seemed hungry, so he stashes the pistol and the flashlight in a car, then returns to the barn to get an early start on morning chores. He brings a couple of bales down from the hayloft for the sheep and the goats, smashes the ice on their water tanks, and puts some grain out for the chickens and ducks. He then pets the dog, tells him he's a good boy, secures the barn, and returns to the house.

Pistol and flashlight are unloaded and checked and put away. The Yeoman Farmer undresses and crawls back into bed. As he tries to get sleepy, he remembers that December 8th is a Holy Day of Obligation, and Mass isn't until the evening. And the kids will be sleeping in because they get the day off of school. With the animals all fed and safe and happy, and a light day at work, TYF decides he will sleep in, too.

And ignore any additional barking the border collie might feel like doing. Because it's now 4:30am, and all the Yeoman Farm Children are still safe and asleep. Does anyone really want to go back out to that frozen barn again before daybreak?

06 December 2008

Saturday Morning at the Post Office

I stopped by the local post office at about 9:30 this morning, to mail a package. As the clerk was weighing it and printing up the postage, I heard a woman's voice call out from behind a divider.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "You're here."

The woman emerged from where she'd been sorting mail, and I instantly recognized her as our own rural mail carrier. "Since you're here," she smiled, handing me a bundle of mail, "You might as well take this now."

I smiled, laughed, and thanked her for saving me from trudging through snowdrifts to the mailbox later that afternoon. "I love small towns," I added.

Can anyone even imagine something like this happening in a city?

05 December 2008

What I Like about Guns

Firearms are an essential tool on any farmstead, and it's good to get comfortable with them if you plan on living in the country.

Of top priority is a good shotgun, preferably a 12-gauge pump. 10-gauge is overkill (but good for hunting Canada Geese), and 20-gauge or .410 may not have enough stopping power. When the dog starts barking his head off in the night at some predator, a 12-gauge is a wonderful thing to have slung over one's shoulder when going out to investigate. Just a few weeks ago, I blasted a possum which Scooter discovered near the house. In the past, my Mossberg has easily dispatched everything from skunks to coyotes --- and a blast in the air or the ground is very effective for getting the neighbor's dog to high-tail it back to his own property.

A pump action shotgun is generally the most reliable. And if one awakens to the sound of an intruder in one's house, simply working that pump action is usually enough to send the burglar sprinting for the nearest exit.

Which brings us to another important issue: isolation in the country is a two-edged sword. Privacy is golden, but criminals like privacy as well --- and may see a country house as an easy target out of neighbors' earshot. And it takes the sheriff significantly longer to respond to a call out in the country than in town (assuming the burglar hasn't cut your phone lines, and you're even able to call). In the meantime, the family needs defending.

We've fortunately never been the victims of crime, but with increasing economic troubles (particularly in this state), it's hard to know when rising crime rates might touch us.

This is on my mind because just this morning a car pulled into our driveway and down to the back door of the house. From my office, I had a very clear view of it the whole time. I didn't recognize the car, and there were several youngish people inside who I didn't recognize. I placed a quick call to the house, and Mrs Yeoman Farmer said she didn't recognize the car, either. And we weren't expecting visitors.

I locked my office door and tried to think. What's a guy living out in the country to do in a situation like this? The vehicle certainly didn't look threatening enough to justify a call to the police. But were they casing the place? Sending someone to the back door to break in? Minutes passed, and the driver didn't budge. Why was the driver sitting there behind my house with the engine running? There was simply no way for me to know, but not enough justification for dialing 9-1-1.

I decided to go out to the car and investigate, but the number of people in the vehicle concerned me. I was clearly outnumbered, and they looked to be in the prime of youth (also the prime ages for criminality). But I certainly didn't want to stroll out to the driveway carrying a shotgun. Firearms are like golf clubs, and need to be used situationally. A long gun would've been far too intimidating and confrontational. That's why I also keep a very small, easily concealable, semi-auto pistol close at hand in my office. I slid it out of its place, inserted a clip (but for safety reasons did not yet chamber a round), and slipped it into a pocket. Should I need it, it would be easily accessible...and a round could be chambered quickly enough.

Fortunately, that was completely unnecessary. The driver rolled down his window as I approached the car, and one glance told me everyone in it was harmless. A kid in a safety seat was playing with religious literature, and I could tell from their dress that these were some kind of proselytizers from a local church. The driver explained that "a friend of ours is inside visiting," and I smiled and returned to my office...because I knew Mrs Yeoman Farmer, a highly trained apologist and catechist, would be skillfully handling everything the visitor might want to discuss. An encyclopedic knowledge of both the Bible and Catholic doctrine, coupled with a cheerful and upbeat personality, means MYF usually throws these kinds of visitors for a complete loop. She always invites them in, and they always depart befuddled. And they seldom come back to try again.

As I replaced the pistol in its hiding place and returned to my desk, I said a quick prayer and began offering up my work for the fruitfulness of MYF's encounter with the visitor inside. Roughly 20 minutes later, the car pulled away and MYF jogged out to my office with a report: Jehovah's Witnesses (or "JWs," as we call them). We used to get them all the time when we lived in residential areas, but this was our first since moving to the country (which is another nice thing about living this far out of town). She gave me a run-down of the conversation, which I won't trouble you with here. The bottom line, though, is it's doubtful these people will be returning any time soon.

But back to the firearms...did I feel a little foolish for my overreaction to these people? Sure. And if that car does come back, I probably won't arm myself before going out to greet them. But do I regret carrying a pistol this morning? Not in the least. Because it never hurts to think ahead, or to take prudent measures. And I felt much more comfortable approaching that car than I would have otherwise.

I was never a Boy Scout, but I do remain a firm believer in their motto. And sometimes a firearm is the most effective way for a guy who lives this far out in the country to "be prepared."

27 November 2008

For Those Interested

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's mother's funeral will be held the day after Thanksgiving.

Her obituary can be found here.

I'm publishing this post from my brother-in-law's house, and feeling the strangest mix of emotions. We're certainly thankful that MYF's mother's long suffering has ended, but there is still a very big empty place at the Thanksgiving table.

Thanks again to all of you who have been accompanying our family with your prayers these days. It has made more of a difference than you can know.

19 November 2008

Nearing the End

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's mother has been hospitalized for the last week or so, in the most critical portion of the ICU. As many of you know, she suffered a series of strokes several years ago and has been chronically ill for some time.

I just got a call from MYF, with the sad news that the end is officially now near. Her mother has gone into a spiral, and will not be recovering; there are simply too many systems shutting down all at once. If she is still with us on Friday, that is when the life support will begin to be removed.

As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated. MYF's mother is among the best-prepared people, spiritually, for this passage. But I hope we can all accompany her with our own prayers, and ensure she makes the best possible transition into eternal life.

Updates will follow as I have them.

UPDATE: Saturday morning, Nov 22nd. MYF is at the hospital with other members of the family. Her mother has been in constant decline for the last 24 hours or so, and it is looking like she will be removed from life support later today. A time has not yet been set, but it will be soon. And from then, it will be simply a matter of waiting. As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated.

FINAL UPDATE: MYF's mother passed away at 2:35am on Monday the 24th. It was a very peaceful and spiritual death, and both MYF and her father were there at the bedside. For those of you who are local, the funeral will most likely be this Saturday and will definitely be at St Joseph's in Jackson, but the details have not yet been arranged. Thanks to all of you who have been accompanying us with your prayers.

18 November 2008


The recent rise of piracy on the high seas, with even very large cargo ships being taken over, is a troubling development. And as experts point out, military action can't really solve this problem effectively. It doesn't make much sense for the U.S. Navy or the Royal Air Force to send a grain freighter or oil tanker to the bottom of the sea --- and such an approach would be fraught with legal difficulties. And even if one boards a pirated ship to take it back, what procedures does one use to arrest the pirates? Which nation's forces ought to do it? What rights would the suspected pirates have, and in which country's court system?

Analysts said, however, that the seizure of the Sirius Star exposed the use of foreign warships as “a sticking plaster” that would not solve the problem. “Maritime security operations in that area are addressing the symptoms not the causes,” said Jason Alderwick, a maritime defence analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Roger Middleton, a Horn of Africa specialist at the Chatham House think-tank, said that the capture was a crucial escalation. “Now that they have shown they are able to seize an enormous ship like this, it is beyond a military solution. You won’t fix this without a political solution.”

I'm not an expert in the subject, but here's a quick thought for what it's worth: Why not have the U.S. Congress issue Letters of Marque to private mercenaries ("privateers"), who could then act with official government sanction --- but outside official government channels --- to take these pirated ships back. The shipping companies, or their insurance companies, could pay a bounty to these privateers when the ship and cargo were successfully recovered --- not unlike the way repo men are compensated. No sovereign military need involve itself in the conflict, and what happens to the original pirates during these operations needs not be a concern of the U.S. government.

The Atlantic Monthly published a long and fascinating article several years ago called "Anarchy at Sea," describing the operations of one band of modern pirates, and how easy it was for them to capture commercial vessels. The piece speculated about a few possible solutions, but came to no firm conclusions as to how best to solve the problem.

I wonder if some variant on Letters of Marque might just do the trick. It's one of the least-used enumerated powers in the U.S. Constitution, but may prove itself as useful today as it seemed to our Framers 220 years ago.

14 November 2008

Dandelion Break

In the spirit of Opus and the old Bloom County cartoon strip, I propose we all step away from the political discussion...and take a brief dandelion break.

Posting will be sparse over the next week, but I'd like to leave you with this video. Have been sitting on it for a few months now, waiting for the right time to share it. Embedding it below, but it's best if you open in its own window and watch in high quality. And crank the volume. And smile.

Acting Barack

A caller to a talk radio program earlier this week made an interesting point, and one I had not previously considered. She was an older, well-spoken black woman (the VP-elect would probably describe her as "articulate"), who told the conservative host that she agreed with both Presidential candidates on certain issues, but had ended up voting for Barack Obama. She was calling to share a personal observation: that, in the wake of election day, "doing well in school" had suddenly become a lot more important to a lot more black kids in her area. Teachers have been reporting fewer discipline problems. Kids are paying more attention in class and to their schoolwork.

In too many predominantly-black schools, kids who are bright and want to do well are denigrated by their peers for "acting white." This leads to a perverse and ingrained culture that encourages delinquency and underachievement. (Mrs Yeoman Farmer and her siblings attended predominantly-white Catholic schools, so they did not encounter this problem.) If Barack Obama's election helps turn this situation on its head, and academic success becomes regarded as "acting Barack" (I just made that phrase up), I'd say that is a tremendous cause for celebration.

I should emphasize that I still believe these election results, on balance, are not as good for the country as a whole (or for blacks in particular) as the alternative outcome would have been. But as much as I would prefer not to have Barack Obama as my president, the fact is ... he will be. And if/when his presidency produces good fruit, I will be among the first to acknowledge it.

In the meantime, I'd be very curious to hear from any of you out there who are educators or otherwise connected to urban public schools. Are you detecting a post-November 4th difference in black kids' attitudes toward education and academic success?

13 November 2008

From the Comments

An anonymous reader comments (I tried to allow it to be posted, but fouled up the moderation, so am pasting it in from the email notification):

Sadly the VAST majorty of hate I have encountered in the great land is from conservitives. Always has been, and alway will be...

If that has been your experience, Anyonymous, that is indeed a sad thing. And I apologize on behalf of whomever from our side has expressed "hate" toward you, whatever that was.

I've been thinking that "hate" is probably not the word I should have used, as it assumes we understand the interior disposition of the person expressing some kind of opinion. I've been using "hate" as a shorthand for "vulgarity," "vitriol," and anger. And I've seen more of all those things from our own side than I'd like --- but I challenge the objective observer to do the following: open up two browser windows, one with Daily Kos and the other with Redstate or Powerline ... and tell us which posts (including those from the commenters) have more vitriol and vulgarity.

Of course, there aren't any truly objective observers of politics. Each of us processes these messages through his own set of filters, and draws his own conclusions. I'm simply sharing with you all what my own experiences have been.

Here's a practical, recent example: Think about the anger and vandalism directed at the Mormon temple in Los Angeles this last week. Can anyone find a similar YouTube video of angry Mormons (or Knights of Columbus) chanting "Faggots burn in hell!" or even "Tax Lambda Legal!" outside the headquarters of a No on 8 organization? I do know there are gay-haters out there, but my sense is that the Yes on 8 rallies looked and sounded a lot more like the families in this video than like the scene outside the Mormon temple.

12 November 2008

Our Plan

I think Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have figured out how we're going to weather the upcoming financial crisis: get our family farm reclassified as a bank! Then we will be eligible for, oh, a few billion dollars from the Fed.

Or maybe we should call ourselves an auto manufacturer. I've done so much work on my own old cars, I sometimes feel like a car company. Looks like "car companies" are going to be getting a pretty good chunk of change, too.

God help this country.

UPDATE: After publishing this post, I went out to check the mail. Once again, my mailbox was stuffed with credit card offers. And a couple of weeks ago, I had my ultimate "would you like fries with that?" moment. While finishing up a phone call with our bank about a completely unrelated issue, the customer service agent pointed out that I was eligible for a $50,000 auto loan...and was I interested in buying a car? No, I replied. And if I was, we'd probably get something cheap and second-hand, and pay cash. (I couldn't imagine ever spending anything in the ballpark of $50k for a car.)

Okay, but the fifty grand is there if you want it, the agent assured me.

I thanked him politely, and wrapped up the conversation. But couldn't help asking myself...where are all these frozen credit markets?

And how much of our current financial mess is due to people accepting loans they really had no need for, when a more basic house or car would've done perfectly fine? When we bought our first house, the bank told us we qualified for about twice as large of a mortgage as we ended up using. We would've loved a larger house, but the only way we could've paid that larger mortgage was to send Mrs Yeoman Farmer back into the workforce. It's becoming clear that during those same years, many other people were making different decisions than we were about debt. I suppose we can only hope that the current dislocations help people choose to prioritize differently in the future. A lot of us may not have any other choice.

09 November 2008

Moderation On

I feel like I'm really coming of age as a blogger --- I've gotten my very first troll! As explained yesterday, someone has emerged from the far Left fever swamps and taken it upon herself to call me every name imaginable. If you want some entertainment, take a look at the comments she has left over the last couple of posts.

I'm now fairly confident that all of these recent hostile comments are coming from the same person, and I also have a strong suspicion as to that person's identity. She seems to have followed me over here from a discussion thread elsewhere on the web, in which I deigned to question whether the election of Barack Obama was an unalloyed Great Leap Forward for America. (Doubtful that she'll understand that allusion, but I trust the rest of you get it.) The word choices in these blog comments are too similar to the vitriol she expressed in those other threads, and in private emails she sent. I know her name, and have actually met her a few times in the past when she was more balanced, but will not use that name here.

For those of you who have wondered why I've never used Mrs Yeoman Farmer's actual name in the blog, and why I've never named the children or shown photographs of any of them...this is why.

I'm going to leave all of the troll's comments up, for illustration purposes, but will be turning on comment moderation for now. I still encourage the rest of you to add your comments to my blog posts --- you will just need to wait a while for me to approve them. I hope this is only necessary as a temporary measure. I've never used comment moderation before, so please bear with me as I learn how it works.

08 November 2008

More Hate

All readers know that the election didn't turn out the way I would have liked. I've thus far put up a couple of posts referencing the results; once I've caught my breath from the campaign season, I intend to put up a longer post with my thoughts about the outcome and what it means for the country. (As many of you are aware, my day job involves political polling and microtargeting on behalf of GOP candidates.)

Though I have strong partisan and ideological convictions, I am not a confrontational person by nature. As such, in addition to work for Republican candidates, I've been able to develop a strong "secondary" client base among left-leaning nonprofit organizations and foundations; they appreciate my insights, and the balance I bring to their research. In return, I have enjoyed the relationships I have built with them, and the opportunity to work on some important causes (not all of which I have agreed with).

Two months ago, I put up a post describing my first excursion into the fever swamps of the Far Left "net roots." Not a few readers of this blog are themselves left-of-center, and I appreciate the respectful tone they have always used in their comments and/or personal correspondence. But somehow or another, someone seems to have crawled out of those fever swamps and has taken it upon him/her self to tell me (and you) what they really think about this author. He/she seems to have gravitated toward my first post-election post, in which I jokingly speculated as to whether the liberals who had moved to Canada after the 2000 and 2004 elections might begin returning soon. I also joked about the rest of us trying to find Galt's Gulch before January 20th --- a literary allusion which seems to have gone over this person's head (as Galt's Gulch is decidedly not in Canada, but rather somewhere in the Rocky Mountains).

As this person did not leave an email or web address, it's impossible to verify his/her identity. But I will preserve his/her comment for the rest of you to get a good look at what crawls out of the fever swamps from time to time.

If you wish to criticize me or my ideas, please do so. I ask only that you be respectful of me and of those who take the time to comment on my posts. And leave my wife out of it. It may infuriate some of you that Mrs. Yeoman Farmer is a black conservative and did not vote for our current President-elect. You may disagree with her and my belief that these election results are good for neither blacks nor the country as a whole. Despite the highly personal investment in and commitment to racial equality that Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and our children have, I understand that others may have a different point of view. I ask only that you be as considerate and thoughtful in your commentary as I have been --- and always will be --- in writing these posts.

That Lottery Pick

An interesting rumor began circulating in the last couple of days: on election night, the Illinois Lottery "Pick Three" numbers were 6-6-6. Within hours, I'd heard the same thing from two different friends. As this sounded too coincidental to be true, I took a closer look.

It turned out to be extremely easy to investigate. The Illinois lottery publishes all of its results online, and you can search all the way back to 1980. With a couple of clicks, I determined that none of the draws on Tuesday November 4th included a combination of 6-6-6. Here are all of that day's picks:

11/04/2008 Evening Pick 3 8-4-5
11/04/2008 Evening Pick 4 2-7-2-0
11/04/2008 Little Lotto 02-09-21-29-30
11/04/2008 Mega Millions 10-21-23-41-55[09]
11/04/2008 Midday Pick 3 6-0-5
11/04/2008 Midday Pick 4 9-3-8-2

But take a look at the evening pick of the very next day, after Barack Obama's election:

11/05/2008 Evening Pick 3 6-6-6

Naturally, many will read some kind of significance into this. As for me, I do think it's interesting --- but I'm far more interested in probability than in numerology.

As the three lottery balls are drawn independently, the odds of getting three sixes (or any other three numbers) are .1x.1x.1, or one in a thousand. Indeed, this calculation matches the odds posted on the Illinois Lottery's website. So far this year, there have been 1160 Pick 3 or Pick 4 drawings (the only games, as far as I can tell, with balls between 0 and 9 drawn independently). By the laws of probability, there should have been only one or two 6-6-6 combinations drawn this year. In fact, there have been five. (Nov 5th, Oct 23rd, March 22nd, and Jan 16th on the Pick 3, and July 5th as part of a Pick 4.) In other words, this combination isn't as rare as you'd expect. And besides November 5, none of those other dates even comes close to corresponding with significant Obama milestones or primary victories, or good debate performances.

Further evidence that 6-6-6 isn't as unusual as you'd expect: In all of last year, there were 1364 Pick 3 or Pick 4 drawings; 6-6-6 occurred three times (again, more than the laws of probability would predict).

There will always be those who read significance into the occurrance of certain numbers. Remember the kooks who said Ronald Wilson Reagan was the antichrist, because each of his three names contained six letters? In the current case, I'm more inclined to believe that the state lottery is the province of the devil than to believe that the November 5th Evening Pick 3 signals that Barack Obama is the antichrist.

But if, on January 20th of next year, one of our goats gives birth to a kid with seven heads and ten horns, I'll make sure I publish the news here.

06 November 2008

Moving Back Down?

A week or two ago, I posted an amusing video with instructions for liberals who might be interested in moving to Canada after the election. I guess that's no longer necessary (but the video is still pretty funny, and one can only hope that our friends on the left will be dusting it off four years from now).

But that has gotten me thinking about two questions:

1) When will the liberal American ex-pats start moving back home from Canada?


2) Can the rest of us get to Galt's Gulch before January 20th?

04 November 2008

One Big Family

One of the best things about being Catholic is that you're not alone. Regardless of your personal family situation, you're part of a much larger family. That's really been brought home to me (in a manner of speaking) these last few days, when I've been in NYC on business. There is a Catholic church right around the corner from my hotel, and right on the way to where I'm working. It's been easy to stop in for Mass, and it's remarkable the diversity of people who are there: the business executives, the Fordham students, the young married couples with small children, the homeless man huddled in the back pew...all here. All part of this crazy family.

And the family isn't just here in this particular church building, or the one we attend back in Michigan, or anywhere else. All of us are only one slice of the family; the saints who've gone before us, and are now in heaven, are the older brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles we've heard so much about and are looking forward to meeting again. And especially during this month, we're praying for the souls in purgatory, that they can be speeded along their way to that family reunion as well.

I think it was James Joyce who said the best description of the Catholic church is "Here comes everybody." And it's hard to think of a pair of days that illustrate that better than November 3 and 4 do. Today is the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, one of the most prominent reformers at the Council of Trent. He grew up in the aristocracy, became a cardinal archbishop at the age of 22, and his uncle was a pope. He lived a life of outstanding holiness, and cleaned out many of the abuses in the 16th century church. And yesterday, November 3, we celebrated the feast of St. Martin de Porres --- a contemporary of Charles Borromeo, but living in a social situation which couldn't have been more different. He was the illegitimate mixed-race son of a Spanish nobleman and a young black freed slave in Lima, Peru. He grew up in abject poverty, and lived a life of austerity and menial labor (which he regarded as a tremendous blessing, because all work is a participation in God's own creation).

November 3 and 4. Two men, alive at the same time, on different sides of the world, in entirely different circumstances...and yet both are my older brothers who I admire and who have a lot to teach me.

I posted the following video some time back, but it somehow seems especially appropriate to recommend it again today:

02 November 2008

Sure Enough...

Like I was saying yesterday about Zogby's Friday night tracking result being unreliable unless substantiated by an additional day:

After a strong day of polling for Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday, Democrat Barack Obama experienced a strong single day of polling on Saturday, retaining a 5.7 point advantage that is right at the edge of the margin of error of the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby daily tracking poll.

But as bleak as the situation looks for the GOP at this point, I'm still not prepared to concede defeat until the votes are counted.

01 November 2008

That Zogby Result

By now many of you have heard the news that John Zogby's tracking showed John McCain up by a point in last night's interviews --- which narrowed the gap to about five points in the three day roll. As willing as I am to grasp at straws at this point, and as hopeful as I know this news makes many of you feel (except you, J.D.), I need to throw a bit of cold water on the story.

There is one glaringly obvious fact that was missing from Zogby's press release: Last night was a Friday. And Halloween.

What difference does this make? All the difference.

As many of you know, in my day job I am a political scientist and public opinion researcher (sad to say, but farming does not pay the family's bills). Before going into business for myself, I spent many years working for a Republican political polling firm. In the last three or four weeks leading up to every election day, we would be in the field nearly every night conducting tracking interviews.

Every night, that is, except Friday and Saturday. Well, occasionally Saturday. But we almost never interviewed on Friday. And during the rest of the year, when a regular poll was in the field, we almost never interviewed on a Friday night. There is a simple reason for this: the kind of person who is home, and willing to sit around answering a series of questions about politics, on a Friday night, is...well...not all that representative of the electorate as a whole.

And then there's Halloween. No matter what day of the week Halloween fell on, we tended to regard that night's interviews with skepticism. If we didn't have to be in the field that night, we didn't interview on Halloween. Simply put: many young and single people are out at parties that night. Go to any big or not-so-big city on Halloween night, and you'll find lots of twenty and thirty-somethings out and about, dressed in bizarre costumes. You'll also find, pretty much anywhere in America, single parents out taking their kids door-to-door. Who's home to answer the phone when the pollster calls? Disproportionately (and that's the key word), married parents of young children (home to answer the door for trick-or-treaters while the other parent takes the kids door to door), or single people with no social life, or empty nesters whose children have grown.

A pollster can weight his sample all he wants to make it representative in terms of age, gender, race, and partisanship. But when the available sample on a certain night is fundamentally skewed on certain other dimensions, that's something more difficult to weight into proportion --- assuming the pollster is even able to identify those other biases in his sample that night.

I'm not saying John Zogby shouldn't have interviewed last night. Heck, we interviewed on Halloween (at least when it wasn't a Friday) at my firm. Rather, what I'm suggesting is that there's a strong possibility last night's sample is fundamentally unrepresentative of the electorate as a whole. I'd love to be proven wrong. But until Zogby reports a similar result in Saturday's interviews, I'm going to remain highly skeptical.

29 October 2008

Lambs to the Slaughter

The first batch of lambs went in to the butcher last night. As long-time readers of the blog know, we had a bumper crop of lambs born this spring; the 8 ewes had 16 lambs between them. One succumbed to disease and one was killed by a dog, but we had 14 survivors --- and they've been extremely healthy. I credit several factors for this year's success:

1) A clean, brand-new pasture with no parasite build-up from previously grazing animals;

2) Climate that is more similar to our flock's native Iceland than the swelteringly humid Illinois summers we've had;

3) An excellent barn, providing better shelter, especially to newborn lambs;

4) Mineral feeders always kept full and sheltered in the barn --- back in Illinois, they frequently ran out of mineral or it was ruined out in the pasture;

5) A switch from rain water (in Illinois, collected in tanks from building run-off) to iron-rich hard well water.

Yesterday afternoon, Scooter and I rounded up the whole flock and secured them in the barn. I then backed my old 1984 Ford Bronco 4x4 into the barn, put the seats down, and spread a tarp in the back. One by one, I selected the largest male lambs and hoisted them into the back; one of the children stood guard at the truck's tailgate to ensure we had no escapees. We managed to fit seven large male lambs, plus the yearling female who was rejected by her mother and proved too small to be bred last fall (she also had a lousy set of horns, another reason to cull her). And to the great joy of Homeschooled Farm Girl, we also loaded up Biscuits (the pathetic goat kid who was so stupid, he never learned to drink water from a bucket and had to be bottle-watered his whole life).

So, down the highway we went, NPR on the radio, and Scooter the Amazing Wonderdog perched on the passenger seat with me for the ride. Actually, we deliberately avoided highways and made the 11 mile trip almost exclusively on deserted country roads. This proved to be a wise decision, as I had nothing to separate the testosterone-laden back of the SUV from the passenger compartment. Biscuits in particular seemed to be squeezing the last moments of trouble from his miserable life, repeatedly trying to climb onto the truck's console and into my lap. I shoved him back each time, and each time he again stuck his face up to my neck and tried to nibble my collar. Had we been on a busier road, driving at high speed, I probably would've caused several accidents.

Finally, after one especially firm shove, Biscuits waded through the ovine hoard and made his way to the back of the truck. My first reaction was relief, but this proved premature. After smashing his long horns against the ceiling several times (destroying the headliner), I then noticed him trying to butt his head through the window on the tailgate. Being an old truck, we haven't been able to latch that window in years. Each time he tried opening the window, I slammed on the brakes to force all the animals to move forward. This only worked, however, as long as the truck was rolling. At the next stop sign, Biscuits seized his opportunity --- and disappeared out the window.

Disgusted, I slammed the truck into Park and got out to look for him. He'd hopped into a ditch, but appeared too stunned to figure out what to do next. I easily caught him, without even needing to get Scooter (I brought him along in case of a massive jail break). Once Biscuits was again loaded in the truck, we were fortunately only a mile or so from the butcher. We arrived without further incident (apart from complete destruction of the headliner).

This butcher, unlike the one we used in Illinois, has an extensive set of holding pens in a barn out back. At first I thought this was wonderful, as it meant I could bring the animals the evening before --- rather than loading them up and driving early in the morning on the day of slaughter. However, once we began unloading the animals, the butcher and I immediately grew concerned: their gates are set up to contain commercial-sized meat animals. Standard breeds of sheep would've been fine, but we never would've used gates like these to contain Icelandics on our farm. We managed to get all of them into a pen far in the back; even if the lambs had worked really hard and gotten through a gate, there were two additional sets of gates they'd also need to negotiate to get totally loose. Also working in our favor: several members of the flock were too big to squeeze through, and because they were in a strange place we knew they'd all stick together. Plus, dusk was closing in and they'd want to stay in a shelter.

Even so, I worried about my flock last night and even considered driving over to check on them. These were our biggest animals, and represent hundreds of pounds of meat that would be literally impossible to replace on the open market. There was a busy highway not far from the butcher, and I imagined my little flock wandering onto it in the night. Funny how, even when the animals are within hours of being slaughtered, a shepherd can't help worring about their safety and well-being. In the end, I decided to entrust them to the intercession of St Francis of Assisi, and told myself to get a good night's sleep. This proved to be a good decision; I called over this morning, and they confirmed everything was alright. All the same, next time, I will bring the animals in at 8am on the day of slaughter.

It was a little strange last night, securing the barn and seeing such a reduced flock. I don't exactly miss the lambs we took in, but it was an odd feeling to see so many fewer. A little sad. But those feelings evaporated this morning when I put hay out for the remaining flock, and saw how much easier it was for the smaller lambs to get at it now. We'll give those little guys a couple more weeks to put on weight, and then take them in at the same time I pick up the meat from the first batch.

Yummmmm. I can hardly wait to enjoy some Icelandic lamb chops again.

23 October 2008

Time to Play Ball

Very moving:

H/T: Baseball Crank.

20 October 2008

Shorn Again

Yesterday was sheep shearing day again on the farm. "Mrs. Lisa, the Sheep Shearing Lady" (as the kids call her) was up here from Indiana for the weekend; she drives a huge circuit across the region, hitting a nearby flock on Saturday and then us on Sunday. (As posted elsewhere, we don't typically like to do work on Sundays, but in this case we didn't have much of a choice --- you need to get the sheep shorn when the shearing lady is available.)

We got 25 beautiful fleeces from our flock, ranging from the very small (a couple of our undersized triplet lambs) to the very large. In all, we have 14 lambs and 11 mature adults. Apart from the fleeces, shearing day gives us an excellent close-up look at each individual member of the flock. We won't be keeping any lambs as breeders this year (our flock is plenty large), but under normal circumstances this is a good chance to identify the best-conforming animals.

It's also a time to identify definite culls. One male had a beautiful set of horns, had reached a reasonable size, and had a nice fleece; until shearing day, I'd been thinking of possibly keeping him for breeding next year. But with his fleece off, we immediately spotted a big problem: he has a significant hernia on his belly. He will be among the very first to go to the butcher.

Today, the whole flock was out again in the pasture, enjoying the fall sunshine and 60 degree temps with their coats off. Here they are, enjoying some windfall pears that I'd tossed over the fence for them. (This picture also gives a good look at how expansive the new pasture is.)

16 October 2008

Moving On Up

If John McCain somehow manages to pull off an election upset, that will no doubt be the final straw for a whole lot of liberals. They'll finally make that move to Canada they've been threatening for so many years! In that vein, someone has put together this very funny instructional video:

Though I do wonder, with Conservatives winning in the recent elections up there, if any Republicans might be looking North with longing eyes this November...

15 October 2008

Going with Goats

We really like our dairy goats, and enjoy eating the male offspring, but Icelandic lamb has been our primary meat of choice.

That said, the New York Times has put together a great story about a former cattleman who has gone into meat goats big-time. He was an early pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock; like us, he believes that the better an animal is treated, the better it will end up tasting.

We don't believe animals have "rights," but we do have a duty to exercise responsible stewardship over them. And part of that responsible stewardship means letting a sheep or a goat glorify God by allowing it to behave in the way God designed it to behave. Remarkable how when you allow animals to behave in the way they were designed...they end up having all the wonderful flavor and nutrition that their Designer intended them to have.

Sorry for that digression. The goat herder profiled in the Times doesn't express this kind of philosophical argument for humane animal treatment, but his story is still very instructive for anyone contemplating raising livestock for meat:

He and Nicolette Hahn Niman, an environmental lawyer, were married five years ago, and now they are raising what they hope will be the best-tasting animals around. They have a handful of premier cattle that fatten only on pasture and a flock of traditional turkey breeds they personally chauffeured from Kansas to Bolinas last spring. Mr. Niman also has an organic pig project going in Iowa.

But he hopes goat will be the cornerstone of his comeback. That’s in part because he has more of them around, and because he sees a wide-open market for pristine, pasture-raised goat meat. The guy is, after all, a businessman.

“I don’t need to get 10 percent of the market anymore,” he said. “I just want to be the best.”

Chefs on both coasts are fast discovering his goat meat, although it is still available only in limited amounts, under the name BN Ranch.

In June, Mr. Niman stopped by Eccolo in Berkeley with a piece of shoulder, a loin, a leg and a rack of ribs. The chef and owner, Christopher Lee, now breaks down one or two of the 30-pound goat carcasses a week.

“It was succulent,” Mr. Lee said. “It was mild. It was just perfect.”

Like other chefs who have begun to cook with goat, Mr. Lee predicts a bright future for the meat.

09 October 2008

Vote Your Conscience

I haven't found a more succinct statement of what is at stake in this election:

Vote your conscience. And make sure your conscience is well-formed.

07 October 2008

This Day in History

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and sometimes called Our Lady of Victory. The feast was dedicated in memory of the tremendous victory that Christian forces won over the Turks of the Ottoman Empire on October 7, 1571. When Muslim forces were threatening to overrun the Mediterranean, and with it all of Western civilization, Christian Europe rallied and went out to meet the Ottoman Empire. Pope Pius V famously asked all those back home to pray the rosary on behalf of those in harm's way; the result was a stunning victory which saved Christendom.

Michael Novak wrote an excellent piece on the subject two years ago, and is well worth another read. In part:

The two greatest naval forces ever assembled — 280 ships in the Turkish Armada, some 212 on the Christian side — came into each other’s sight on the brilliant morning of October 7. So confident was the Turkish admiral, Ali Pasha, that he sailed proudly at the center of his own Armada, bringing with him on vessels just to his rear his entire fortune, and even a part of his harem.

Historians tell us that all over Europe a pall fell. Few had hopes that the Christian fleet could avoid the doom that seemed to hang over Italy. The pope had urged all Christians to say the rosary daily on behalf of the brave crews on the Christian galleys. The rosary is a simple prayer that can be said in almost any setting, and had already achieved a certain popularity among humble folk. With each decade of the Hail Marys they had been taught to reflect upon a different event in the life of Jesus. The beads went through one’s fingers as regularly as the blood through one’s body, as regular as heartbeats and the breathing of the lungs.

To make a long story short, Don Juan aimed his own galley directly at the heart of the Turkish armada, directly at the clearly colored sails of the Ali Pasha’s galley, with its great green flag, inscribed 28,000 times with the name of Allah in gold. The Venetian vessels sailed furiously into the Turkish right wing, and with the help of the revolt of the galley slaves collapsed that wing. Six of the largest Christian vessels had been outfitted with a platform elevated above normal levels on which rows of devastating cannons were arrayed. Blasts from these new cannons were withering, and within minutes sank dozens of Turkish ships. The sea, witnesses said, was covered with flailing sailors, floating turbans, pieces of wood and sail.

The passion for defending their own civilization against ruthless invaders also strengthened the muscles of those engaged in the close, bloody, violent hand-fighting when one vessel came alongside another. But it was mainly the new firepower of the smaller Christian fleet that quickly sank galley after galley until, after not too many hours, the Turkish center also collapsed, as if cut through by a hot knife. The Admiral’s galley was captured, along with 240 more Turkish ships.

These are lessons well worth remembering, in the midst of the seeming-impossible trials that our country is now facing. Let's all remember to pray for our country and her future every time we say the rosary, and to ask Our Lady of Victory to pray for us.

Turkeys Hard At Work

I had a couple of posts about turkeys back in the spring, and apologize for not providing some updates since.

Regular readers recall that we're raising Bourbon Red turkeys again this year; they are a wonderful heritage breed, and we've had good luck with them in the past. In getting a garden established on our new property, we decided to incorporate "poultry tractors" into the design from the very beginning. We had a neighbor use his tractor to bust the sod in several four-foot rows across a sunny section of our front yard. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer planted several of these beds this year, and we reserved the remaining rows for our turkeys.

We have 22 mature turkeys now, divided between two portable pens. As described in a post earlier this year, each pen is four feet wide, eight feet long, and two feet high; the eight-foot sections are covered in plywood, and the four-foot sides are enclosed with chicken wire. Every day or two, we've been moving each pen eight feet farther down its own garden bed. In the photograph below, the pens are moving toward the camera. Note the height of the weeds in the portion they haven't gotten to yet, and the complete devastation in the portion behind each pen.

This system has three excellent benefits: the turkeys destroy the weeds, the turkeys get excellent supplemental greens in their diet, and the turkeys provide an excellent layer of fertilizer that can be worked into the garden bed for next year's planting. Next year, we will rotate the pens to the garden beds that were planted this year, and plant our vegetables on the beds the turkeys have been working this year.

Here are the turkeys in one pen, with the lid removed, just before the pen is to be slid down to the next eight-foot patch of weeds. Clearly, they're wondering what's taking me so long.

As for me, I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving.

05 October 2008

For Simpsons Fans Only

Some fun election-time parody: McBain for President!

(Warning: some mild profanity.)

03 October 2008


Well, it's official. With today's bailout vote, the country is now officially on Hayek's Road to Serfdom. And I wonder what will ever be able to pull us back.

Kudos to our congressman, Mike Rogers, for voting the right way on this atrocious assault on the free market. And to Senator Debbie Stabenow, who cast perhaps the first vote that I've agreed with. No doubt she and I opposed the bill for different reason, but I'll take my political allies pretty much any way I can get them.

I need to organize my thoughts before I say much more, or anything that might be taken the wrong way. Went out for a good ride on my road bike this afternoon, cranking up and down some hills, and that cleared my head a little. But I need more of that before I say much else about what's happened to this country and what's becoming of our freedoms.

For now, I think this succinct summary of Hayek's book sums up most of what I'm thinking:
Hayek’s central thesis is that all forms of collectivism lead logically and inevitably to tyranny, and he used the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as examples of countries which had gone down “the road to serfdom” and reached tyranny. Hayek argued that within a centrally planned economic system, the distribution and allocation of all resources and goods would devolve onto a small group, which would be incapable of processing all the information pertinent to the appropriate distribution of the resources and goods at the central planners’ disposal. Disagreement about the practical implementation of any economic plan combined with the inadequacy of the central planners’ resource management would invariably necessitate coercion in order for anything to be achieved. Hayek further argued that the failure of central planning would be perceived by the public as an absence of sufficient power by the state to implement an otherwise good idea. Such a perception would lead the public to vote more power to the state, and would assist the rise to power of a “strong man” perceived to be capable of “getting the job done”. After these developments Hayek argued that a country would be ineluctably driven into outright totalitarianism. For Hayek “the road to serfdom” inadvertently set upon by central planning, with its dismantling of the free market system, ends in the destruction of all individual economic and personal freedom.

Hayek published this book in 1944. Sounds like it could have been written literally last week.

02 October 2008

Starting to Get Funny

Following up on yesterday's post...another day of supposedly frozen global credit markets, ready to cut off capital flows and shut down businesses. And what does my mail bring?

1) From [NAME OF CREDIT CARD COMPANY] Small Business: 0% APR on purchases and transfers until January 2010!

2) From [NAME OF OTHER CREDIT CARD COMPANY]: Rewards for Professionals! 0% APR for 12 months. 3% back on eligible business expenses. No annual fee!

Again, I realize that credit marketing efforts are separate from the actual granting of credit. But I'll believe we're in a global credit market freeze when I stop finding these things in my mailbox every single dang day.

Better Hope...

This is addressed to those who argue that the 451-page monstrosity working its way through the Congress is not really a "bailout," but rather a "purchase" of "assets" that will always have market value, because real estate is always worth something. Putting aside the philosophical questions about whether the government has any business intervening in private transactions, or whether such interventions only encourage future moral hazards, I'd like to bring a more practical issue to your attention:

You'd better hope that these exotic packages of mortgage-backed securities don't contain many properties from Saginaw, Michigan like the one that just sold on Ebay. I suppose $2.20 is technically more than "zero," but I'd wager it's a whole lot less than what was owed on any mortgage. And, while you're at it, better check for anything in Detroit --- like the house I blogged about a few weeks back, that sold for one whole dollar.

And while the government is going on a shopping spree for new "assets," maybe their next purchase should be all those unsold cars that the automakers have been sitting on. After all, those will have value some day, too, right?

Don't laugh. I bet some legislator from Michigan will propose an "unsold auto asset" purchase next week.

01 October 2008

One Answer

In my previous post, I asked why, if credit markets are supposedly frozen, I'm still getting so many offers for new credit cards and credit lines.

After emailing that same question to someone I know, who has worked extensively in mergers/acquisitions and other credit-intensive fields, he explained that marketing efforts often continue despite what may be happening in other departments of a financial institution. The idea is to keep bringing prospects through the door, and to decide later whether those prospects ought to be granted credit. And those prospects can always be sold to another firm if need be. (Thank you, Danby, for posting a similar comment on my original post.)

But my email correspondent added something else, that I found more troubling:

Lastly, this crisis is not overblown at all. If congress doesn't do anything, we will most likely go into a depression that many think will be worse than the Great Depression. Our world revolves on credit to a ridiculous extreme, moreso than most people can even possibly fathom. When credit stops, so does the economy.

A lot of Investment Bankers used to joke about how the whole economy was a house of cards supported by debt markets that would stop if banks decided to stop lending. The response of economists was that this would never happen because there is too much money to be made in lending. Well, it could be upon us and it will get ugly.

I'm not sure I agree with the premise that the current crisis extends beyond investment banks; I think some of these folks may be deliberately freezing interbank lending as a means of forcing Congress to act (a big game of "financial chicken"). But my larger question is this: if the current economy truly is a house of cards, supported by debt markets (a premise I do not dispute, by the way), is that an economic structure we really want to continue propping up? How many hundreds of billions of tax dollar interventions will that prop-up require? All to continue living in a house of cards?

I'm not saying I want to blow down the house of cards, start another Great Depression, make everybody do penance, and hope we all learn the value of thrift. I'm asking why we don't seize this opportunity to restructure our economy and our lifestyles in a way that doesn't require a sea of debt markets to keep us afloat?

I love my credit cards; they're an incredible convenience. I use them to pay for nearly everything, meaning I don't need to carry cash (which can be lost or stolen). And I can write a single check each month. But here's the key: I write that check. And I write it for the full amount. We never carry a balance. But as George Will points out in his brilliant piece today, far too many Americans have been thinking they can budget like the government does: constantly carrying a balance, and "hitching outlays to appetites."

In running my own business, I don't depend on "commercial paper." When a client hires me to conduct a public opinion survey, my only real cost is to hire a fieldhouse to make the phone calls and tabulate the results. I have one fieldhouse I send almost all my projects to, and we have developed a solid relationship of trust. The moment I get paid, they get paid. And they have the cash reserves to live with that. Likewise, for me, I know my clients and trust they will pay when I deliver their results. If it's a new client, or someone I'm not yet comfortable with, I ask for a chunk of the total once the interviewing begins. That way, even if I get shafted for the balance (which, BTW, has never happened), I can still pay my fieldhouse. I'd rather starve than shaft the company that collects my data. Again, it's a matter of maintaining cash reserves and not depending on "commercial paper" to keep me afloat. And it's also a matter of trust --- knowing and evaluating the people you're doing business with, and making judgments about who you will grant your own informal short-term credit to. I have clients who are notorious late-payers. But I continue doing analysis work for them, because my only "expense" is my own time --- and I've known them for many years, and they have never failed to pay. Trust.

The Yeoman Farmer wonders if we'd all be better off in the long run if the current house of cards does fall down, and we can rebuild the system on a foundation of saving and thrift --- and personal relationships, and trust, and cash reserves. But have we gotten ourselves into a situation where such a transition is impossible without massive dislocations for massive numbers of good families and businesses who have acted in good will?

Back in Illinois, we had many neighbors who'd lived through the Great Depression and could still tell vivid tales describing what it was like. I couldn't imagine making a deliberate choice to put my family through that. But I pray that if our nation does undergo some kind of massive dislocation, the transition is swift and the ultimate resolution is truly beneficial to us all.

Can Someone Explain this to Me?

Can someone with more knowledge of financial and credit markets please explain something to me?

If the credit markets are in such a crisis situation, with banks no longer lending to each other, and millions of small businesses are in danger of losing their vital credit lines, why is my mailbox still jammed every day with credit card offers?

Just today, I got an offer from one of my current credit card companies, offering me thousands of dollars in cash advance convenience checks at a really low interest rate and no fee. And I got another offer from another company, for a whole new credit card account. And this is just a typical day. Sometimes I get even more offers than that --- particularly since I own a small business, I seem to get several offers a week for small business credit cards and lines of credit.

Granted, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have good credit ratings, have lived within our means for many years, and pay our bills on time. But we don't have a particularly large income. And these new credit lines they're offering us are completely unsecured, with no collateral needed.

I realize we've proven ourselves to be good credit risks. But the local shoestore is probably just as good of a credit risk. Why are they in danger of losing their credit, while we're still getting all this new credit thrown at us?

Family Life Review

Many thanks to James Volpe at the Natural Family Life blog for running a review of my novel.

In part:

Christopher Blunt has written a novel demonstrating nearly the entirety of the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality. I am stunned by how well everything hangs together without being forced. The plot involves fornication, abortion, contraception, personalism, NFP, annulments, and marital chastity. The story is gripping and believable with a main character, Stan, who appeals to me, a Simpsons-loving entrepreneur. Stan is also a Catholic like me, who takes the Truth for granted and needs to re-learn the Faith constantly.

As Stan re-learns the Faith, a variety of events occur in his life which succeed in being surprising while not being unexpected. Stan's life is not a common one, yet it appeals to the common man. His is a truly Catholic life, where small things can teach great lessons and where an average man is prepared for great gifts.