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.