25 March 2009
23 March 2009
21 March 2009
This brief video really must be seen to be believed:
H/T: Baseball Crank
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 attempts to streamline the unwieldy federal food regulation system, as does the similar Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. Both, however, are written as a "one size fits all" bill that would ramp up fees and regulation on all producers of food (and, in the case of the latter, drugs and cosmetics). The little guy who sells homegrown tomatoes or homemade soap at the farmers market would be subject to the same regulation as industrial giants, without the resources to implement it.
"There are legitimate problems that the large commercial producers – the peanut factory that ships around the country – those need to be better regulated," said Judith McGeary, an Austin lawyer and board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. "What we need is a very explicit, unambiguous, clear and broad exemption for small farmers and small producers – people who are making jams and breads for the local farmers market."
Those exemptions aren't in the current legislation. On the NAIS front, a House subcommittee hearing this month was "a disaster" for the local food movement, McGeary said. In the Texas Legislature, proposals to make NAIS voluntary at the state level, absent a federal mandate, are going nowhere.
Ironically, the food safety problems that cause such legitimate public concern are caused by large-scale, technology-driven industrial food production and distribution methods – precisely the sort of thing that local, sustainable farmers don't engage in. Yet they are the ones who will suffer the most from these government attempts to solve a problem caused by bigness and technology by imposing more bigness and technology.
We do need better food safety regulation of major producers, but local family farms and artisans shouldn't pay for sins they didn't commit. Consumers need to have the small-farm alternative – and if they are going to preserve it, they have to contact federal and state legislators now.
18 March 2009
Anyway, this is the text of the message she sent tonight:
This morning, Senator Stabenow went to the Senate floor to speak about the outrageous bonuses being lavished on employees at AIG. She spoke about the outrageous double standard between Wall Street and America's automakers, who have submitted their management plans to the auto task force and are renegotiating contracts with their workers, who have already taken cuts. Our families are struggling, and those who got us into this mess should not be rewarded for their failure.
Here is the link to Senator Stabenow's speech:
I do agree with the Senator that those who got us into this mess should not be rewarded for their failure --- and, as I said above, I credit Senator Stabenow for opposing the original TARP legislation, out of whose funds AIG was bailed out. That said, this was my reply to Senator Stabenow:
Didn't you vote for the "stimulus" bill which included an amendment explicitly protecting these bonuses? I'm assuming you were not aware of that amendment, given the short amount of time available to review the conference report. But had you been aware of that amendment, would you have voted differently on the bill?
Naturally, every member of Congress will now purport to oppose that provision. But just how much do they really mean what they say? Given that the amendment was indeed part of the final stimulus bill, do they oppose the bonuses enough to have voted against the stimulus?
My larger question, directed at the Senator's colleagues (including the current President), who did vote for TARP and are now expressing outrage, is this: If you really wanted fundamental change in the way these financial institutions do business, including the way they compensate their employees who "got us into this mess," shouldn't you have let those institutions fail and be liquidated? Or at least written your mandated compensation changes in to the original bailout agreement? By continuing to prop them up with $173 billion of no-strings-attached taxpayer dollars, why are you surprised that they continue to operate their business as they have in the past?
Personally, I'm more outraged by the $173 billion that was "loaned" or otherwise entrusted to this failed monstrosity than I am by the way that company spent $165 million compensating the employees which the government's bailout package enabled them to retain.
17 March 2009
MYF happened to remark, "Your history book is a lot more interesting than mine was in the eighth grade."
HFB replied, matter-of-factly: "Well, yeah. A lot more has happened since then."
So, let me clarify and emphasize an important core philosophy of The Yeoman Farmer: if you don't like the rules in your state or your country, advocate for and work to change them --- but don't flaunt and break them unless you're being asked to do something immoral or unconscionable. As one of William Golding's characters put it, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages."
This blog discusses grape cultivation and home winemaking, but will not tell you how to brew a batch of moonshine or build a backyard still. I discuss firearms and support responsible gun ownership, but would not explain (even if I had the knowledge, which I don't) how to build a silencer for your pistol or convert your rifle to fully-automatic fire. Our family strongly opposes the NAIS, but will (reluctantly) register our livestock with it if we are eventually required by law to do so.
Longtime readers may have observed that the War on Drugs has never before been the subject of a post on this blog. The reason for that is simple: it's not a subject that interests me much, and I don't have strong opinions about it one way or the other. Neither Mrs Yeoman Farmer nor I have consumed marijuana (or any other illegal controlled substance) in any form, and have no desire to do so, even if we were visiting a place where it was legal. That said, I am not unsympathetic to those who would like to change some of the drug laws in this country. But if you're looking for advice on cultivating a crop that isn't currently legal, you won't find it on this blog. We do hope you stick around and enjoy the commentary about everything else related to farming, family, faith, and citizenship --- and work to change the law rather than break it.
13 March 2009
A passport is what's needed to pass into new lands freely, and they are not always easy to get. Passport is the story of Stan Eigenbauer and his search for happiness. He thinks he finally has it, but fate has it in for him, and he soon faces a decision which could either make or ruin his life. Using the passport as a symbol, Passport is a tale of choices, love, and doing what's best for others and oneself. Highly recommended reading.
A reminder that you can see all editorial reviews, and find links to the book's Amazon and Barnes & Noble listings, at the publisher's website.
Ruger makes an extremely popular concealed carry weapon, the LCP, chambered in .380. It's so small, it can literally fit in the palm of an average man's hand. And while .380 isn't the most powerful cartridge, the LCP can hold seven rounds. Our local gun shop cannot keep them in stock, and only sells them on a wait list. No doubt this is one reason why Sturm Ruger's stock is trading near its 52-week high. (Also, Smith & Wesson released earnings data last night: Adjusted net income for the third quarter 2008 was $9.2 million, compared to $3.7 million in the 2007 third quarter.)
Anyhow, I wondered if the popularity of the LCP, and the shortage of .380 ammunition, were unique to our area. A story today from Tulsa suggests otherwise:
The surprise sales come with .380 caliber semi- automatic pistols. A relatively small self-protection weapon, it's not one that people typically fire in great quantity at the firing range, Prall said. Yet, the ammunition is now hard to find. "Nobody would have predicted that," he said.
"We ran completely out here of 9 mm and .380," said Johny Mathews, product and service manager at the U.S. Shooting Sports Academy on East 66th Street North. "We were begging, borrowing and stealing from wherever."
Concealed-carry classes at the academy are booked through April. "We used to do 15-person classes, and now we do 24 because of the demand," he said.
Mathews believes that politics are partly to blame, but the economy also has people worried. "It's 50/50, I think" he said. "When people lose jobs and get desperate, good people can sometimes do bad things. People hear more about home invasions, robberies, and they think it will only get worse. Then they're afraid they might lose their guns or ammo, so they stock up."
Sales are so intense that Stone has limited sales of .380 ammo to one box per customer at Dong's. He has .380-caliber handguns for sale, and likes to be able to sell ammunition to whoever buys a gun, he said.
A shipment of 10 Ruger .380 LCP handguns was sold in 24 hours this week — seven the first day, three the next. "Last week I had 28 boxes of .380, rationed to one per person, and it was gone in three days," Stone said.
Academy Sporting Goods stores also are low on .380 ammo. "The other day we got 16 boxes of .380 and a guy came in first thing and bought all 16," said Jon Ide, hunting and fishing sales associate at the 41st Street store. "A few people are doing all the buying, and it's the people who are trying to just get a box or two that can't find any."
I'm just glad I got my LCP, and a good supply of .380, when I could. Now, if only I'd invested an equal amount of money in Sturm Ruger stock at the same time...
12 March 2009
11 March 2009
As you might suppose, this is a program we strongly object to and refuse to join. Other organizations, like this one and this one, have done an excellent job compiling and documenting various problems with it, and I'd encourage you to browse these if you want to know more. What's particularly heartening to me is that the ACLU has also gone to bat for some farmers against the NAIS --- concerns about this system seem to bridge the political spectrum.
Our most fundamental objection to NAIS is the invasion of privacy. Quite simply, it isn't any of the government's dang business what kind of animals we have, or how many. We moved to the country precisely because we wanted to be left alone, and to raise some livestock for our family's own consumption. We do not want to implant our animals with RFID tags, or microchips --- and we certainly do not want to send reports to the federal government every time we take a goat kid to the vet.
Apart from privacy concerns, compliance cost is one of the big issues for small producers. The NAIS is being pushed by big agribusiness lobbies; most of the enormous livestock producers already have sophisticated computer systems to track their animals, already have the RFID hardware in place, and in any event have a large herd over which they can spread fixed costs. The NAIS represents a much larger relative cost for the small producers. Small ranchers, like the neighbor from whom we buy beef, are already operating on a very narrow profit margin; adding these additional costs would make his beef significantly more expensive --- just as consumers are becoming more cost-conscious. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the NAIS is being pushed by large agribusiness concerns precisely because it makes it more difficult for smaller producers to compete.
Cost aside, I'm generally quite suspicious of governmental "national databases" of any kind (apart from those related to criminal offenders), because the opportunities for abuse are legion. Should a disease break out on a farm a mile down the road, the government may decide (as happened in some places with Mad Cow disease) to exterminate every piece of livestock within any radius it decrees --- regardless of the health of our individual animals. A national database would only make it easier for the feds to find and kill our healthy animals.
And remember the Depression-era programs which slaughtered millions of young pigs, in an effort to increase commodity prices? And the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation which directed these "excess" agricultural commodities to the poor? Just imagine the opportunities for mischief if the federal government determined that, based on the NAIS records, our family had "too many" sheep and goats...and that a "fair share" of these needed to be "redistributed" to those who had not made adequate provisions.
What can you do? The Department of Agriculture is currently pushing for a set of new rules that will further advance the NAIS. However, there is a public comment period open until March 16th --- so, by all means, please weigh in and let them know what you think. If you follow this link, it will take you to a page with all the comments that others have posted thus far; they're currently up to over 196 pages, which translates into more than 4,900 individual comments. The very first line on the very first page says "Proposed Rules." Click on the bubble in the far right ("Add Comments") column of that line. That will open up a form, where you can give the Department of Agriculture your own two cents about the NAIS. It will take awhile for your comment to post to the site, but it should show up within a few hours.
You can also click on individual comments, to see what others have written. I browsed through a random selection of several of these, and every single one was negative. Generally speaking, I think the more effective comments --- like good letters to the editor --- are more brief, and do not try to make too many individual points.
I'm honestly not sure how much of a difference folks like us can make in slowing down this regulatory leviathan. But let's not allow that uncertainty to stop us from trying.
10 March 2009
My Silca outlasted the bike I owned at the time, and traveled back and forth across the country so many times I lost count. It flew with my bike in its case, and rode around in the trunks of cars that long ago went to the junkyard. It sat in sheds and basements and garages and barns in Illinois, Michigan, California, Washington, and Virginia.
And, eventually, it began to wear out. I hardly ever used it, or even rode a bike, between 2000 and 2007; only since then have I slowly begun to get back into the sport. This past year, as I've been getting increasingly serious about riding (both my own bike and the tandem with our kids), I found that the Silca pump wasn't holding a good seal with the tire valve stems. Air leaked like crazy as I pumped, and the pump head would easily disconnect from the stem at even moderate pressure.
My first thought was that I'd gotten a good run from my investment in the Silca pump, and that it was time to buy a new one. One look at current retail prices quickly disabused me of that plan. My next thought was to buy a new brass pump head. A little searching revealed that to be a better course of action, but it still felt odd to be paying $20 to replace a part on a pump that had originally cost me only $35.
I continued searching, and discovered something important: Silca pumps are designed to be entirely rebuildable. And even inside that brass head, the rubber washer can be replaced. I opened up my pump's head, inspected the washer, and realized that was probably my problem: it was hard and dry and didn't seem able to provide a good seal. Back to Google, I found any number of online retailers listing that rubber washer for just a few dollars. But, just as quickly, I also discovered the limitations of online retailing: every one of those sites was going to charge at least $7 or $8 to ship that tiny rubber washer. They could've put it in a letter-sized envelope and mailed it to me for less than a dollar, but every site was set up with automated UPS or FedEx shipping calculators. Simply on principle, it seemed wrong to buy something and pay three or four times as much for shipping as for the product. But I wondered how else I could get something as seeming-obscure as a Silca rubber washer.
The next afternoon, I made a point of stopping at the local bicycle shop ("local" being relative...the closest bike shop is 15 miles from our house). It's a fairly well-stocked place, and they've done an excellent job getting my bike out of mothballs, but the shop itself doesn't compare to what you'd find in Seattle or a college town. I didn't expect them to have the washer, but figured they could special-order it for me. Even if my total cost ended up being similar to buying it online, it was the principle of the thing. Especially in these economic times, I wanted to support a local retailer.
The first clerk I spoke with was significantly younger than I am. As I explained what I was looking for, he got a puzzled expression on his face. I quickly added that they'd probably have to special-order it, and perhaps we could look at some catalogs. He agreed, and led me to a stack of books in the repair area, but still didn't seem to know quite what I was talking about. As he began opening a parts book, a middle-aged (female) employee happened to go past us. (Fortunately, this woman was the very person I'd originally hoped to speak with; when I'd brought my old Bianchi in for servicing, she'd expressed great appreciation for its vintage Campagnolo components, so I knew she knew about old Italian bike stuff.) Young Clerk turned to her and tried to ask which book he should look in, but he didn't even know how to describe what he was looking for. "Rubber washer for the head of a Silca pump," I told her.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "I think we may even have those," and walked briskly to a wall of parts bins in the service area. A moment later, she returned with a small plastic wrapper containing not one but two of these rubber washers, marked 95 cents each. "Perfect!" I exclaimed.
As the female employee hurried off to assist the customer she'd been working with, I turned back to the younger clerk. "Is that all you need?" he asked, still looking slightly bewildered.
"Yep," I smiled, removing one of the washers and producing a dollar bill from my wallet.
Later that night, I showed Homeschooled Farm Boy how to change the rubber washer. Earlier, he'd had to help me me inflate the bike tires by holding the pump head tightly to the rim --- but even then, we'd lost a lot of air to leakage. Now, with the new rubber washer, everything worked perfectly.
I'm hoping I get another twenty years of service from this pump. And maybe Homeschooled Farm Boy will someday show his own son how to rebuild it for just one dollar.
07 March 2009
Now children get separated from their parents all the time. But we usually recognize this as an unavoidable tragedy, from which any humane soul would spare the child if we could. But in the case of artificial reproductive technology with anonymous sperm donors, the state is actively separating a child from his or her father. The state itself is enabling something that we ordinarily strive to prevent.
And why is the state acting as the agent of separating children from parents? Because the woman wants the state to do so. But her desires are sufficient reason to violate so basic a right as the child’s right to affiliation with both parents.
This is the real tragedy which the Nadya Suleman case brings to light. It is not that she made an unconventional decision, in part using other people’s money, and counting on financial support from her parents and the state. The problem is that no one has a right to have a child, in the way that anyone with the ability to pay has a right to buy a house. This use of the language of the market assumes the very point that is necessary to prove, and which I believe can not be proved: namely that a child is a kind of commodity, to which other people have rights and entitlements. The child is not an object of rights, but a person who has rights of his or her own. The child is an end in himself or herself.
The violation of rights in this case took place well before she and her doctor decided to implant “a lot” of embryos, rather than a “reasonable” number. The real violation took place when she decided, with the help of the state, that she was entitled to the use of someone else’s genetic material to achieve her personal reproductive goals.
06 March 2009
Sturm, Ruger and Company (RGR) closed today at $10.32. It opened the year at $5.97 and was at $6.02 on Innauguration Day. Since the innauguration, it has increased 71%.
Smith & Wesson (SWHC) opened the year at $2.27. The day Barack Obama was innaugurated, it had inched up to $2.45. It closed today at $4.43. That's an increase of 81% since Innauguration Day.
By comparison, the S&P 500 closed today at $683. That's a decline of 15% since the Innaugural.
And, to follow up on my previous post about the price of gold: the spot price of gold exceeded the value of the S&P 500 on Innauguration Day (for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War), and has remained comfortably ahead of that index ever since. The two were at a rough parity on January 20th; one ounce of gold is now 37% higher than the weighted average of the 500 largest publicly-traded companies.
I don't offer investment advice on this blog, and I'm not an economist or financial analyst. And I didn't have the foresight to buy stock in either of the gun companies above. But I think these trends are fascinating indicators of what's going on in the marketplace --- and in the sentiment of this nation's investors. And the ways in which Americans are now "voting with their wallets."
In the meantime, the chickens are loving the opportunity to get out of the barn and scratch up what they can. Before we moved to a farm, we wondered what the point was of having roosters; apart from fertilizing chicken eggs, and waking everybody up at the crack of dawn with their crowing, roosters didn't seem to have much practical purpose.
How wrong we were! For starters, roosters provide order to the flock. When out foraging on the property in groups, it's usually the rooster who is most on the lookout and giving leadership to the hens accompanying him. When he uncovers a particularly prime piece of forage material, he doesn't gobble it all up. Rather, he bobs his head up and down, pointing at it, making a particular kind of deep-throated clucking noise. The hens pick up on this signal, and come running to devour whatever he's found. We've also watched roosters round up groups of hens and drive them into shelter when a fast-moving afternoon thundershower has approached.
Roosters also provide all kinds of entertainment --- especially when you have more than one. Ever wonder where the term, "Pecking Order," comes from? Just spend a day or two watching the chickens interact. There's a definite hierarchy in the chicken house, and it's loads of fun to watch. Our current Alpha Rooster is a big Rhode Island Red; he's easily the largest of the flock, and he carries himself in a way that flaunts that size. The other roosters tread lightly around him, and give him a wide berth, especially near the feeders.
But just because a particular rooster is lower on the totem pole doesn't mean he's out of luck. He just gets a smaller posse (or harem) of hens! It's the whole "posse" thing that I've found most amusing about roosters. A lower-ranking rooster will often take a small group of hens and move to either a different outbuilding or a remote corner of the chicken house. That unit will stick together, particularly when they roost at night. (Yes, the chickens really do come home to roost. Nightly.) There is one group, in particular, that Mrs Yeoman Farmer would like me to move from a corner of the barn to the main chicken area --- but every time I try to transplant them, they're back in their corner the next day.
Anyhow, these "posses" also tend to stick together when they go out to forage in the daytime. The way they carry themselves, and cluck, and signal to each other is fascinating. When we humans come too close, the rooster tends to pull himself into a "high alert" stance, and interpose himself between us and his hens. He'll then begin a more urgent clucking, which sends the hens scurrying to a new place. Once they've gone, he will then follow.
This Barred Rock rooster may rank low in the pecking order, but that's not stopping him from being a leader to the group he is in charge of:
And maybe that can be an inspiration to us all.
04 March 2009
IT HAS BEEN A MADHOUSE HERE.
WHAT IS UP WITH OUR PHONES?
WE ARE GETTING A LOT OF COMPLAINTS ABOUT HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO GET THROUGH TO US ON OUR PHONES.
BELIEVE ME, WE KNOW, AND TO QUOTE A FORMER PRESIDENT, WE FEEL YOUR PAIN. HERE IS THE PROBLEM.WE HAVE 7 INCOMING PHONE LINES HERE AT CLASSIC . DURING NORMAL TIMES THIS IS MORE THAN ADEQUATE. HOWEVER, THESE ARE NOT NORMAL TIMES. THE FIREARMS MARKET IS JUST EXPLODING RIGHT NOW WITH THE DEMAND FAR EXCEEDING THE SUPPLY.
FOR EXAMPLE:- IF WE GET IN A BATCH OF 200 AK RIFLES, AND POST THEM TO OUR SITE, IT WILL LITERALLY GENERATE THOUSANDS OF PHONE CALLS TRYING TO PURCHASE.THE SAME THING IS HAPPENING WITH AMMO. WE WILL GET IN A COUPLE OF PALLETS OF AMMO IN AND AS SOON AS WE POST IT TO THE SITE IT WILL GENERATE HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF CALLS.
WE DO HAVE HELPFUL CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES WHO ARE DOING THEIR BEST TO TAKE ALL OF YOUR ORDERS.BUT THE PHONES ARE LITERALLY RINGING OFF OF THE HOOK.
02 March 2009
The next song began playing, and the mood and message couldn't have been more different: I Knew You Were Waiting, by George Michael and Aretha Franklin. I cranked the volume up, and realized that the juxtaposition was so sharp it couldn't have been accidental; some D.J. at the radio station must have put those two songs together on purpose.
When the music faded and the station went to commercial, I switched the radio off and tried to process my thoughts. I've always thought of America as an "I Knew You Were Waiting" nation --- a country that has encountered more than her fair share of difficulties and setbacks, but in the midst of them remained optimistic about her ultimate future triumph. What other country has even claimed to have a "Manifest Destiny?" Our best days, it has always seemed, have been those still ahead of us.
And yet...and yet...in a distressingly short period of time, we seem to have become a "Seasons in the Sun" nation. Our family used to make confident plans about the future, secure about certain assumptions. But how do you make decisions about significant business investments, or even personal retirement planning for 30 years down the road, when you can't even be sure who will be running the banks next week? What our tax rates will be next year? How much more the stock market will slide? If the bank will revoke the line of credit we have against our house? (We've never tapped it, but it gives us tremendous peace of mind knowing it is there as a last resort.) Have we moved enough cash into assets that will not be wiped out by the inflation that seems inevitable given the current spending spree in the nation's capital? If the Michigan economy thoroughly implodes, and displaces large numbers of people who have grown accustomed to having all their consumer wants satiated, how far will the civil unrest spread? If I have to call 9-1-1, will anyone be able to come and help? Do I have enough firepower here on my farm to protect my family? And will the Attorney General try to take that firepower out of my hands? Why does my bulk ammo dealer keep selling out of .45 ACP, 7.62x39, 12-ga 00 Buck, and nearly every other popular defensive round? And why have I started to see people around here flying the Stars and Stripes upside down, which is the universal sign of distress?
While our country was distracted celebrating the historic events of January 20th, something quite different (and underreported) was happening in Iceland: economic collapse led to rioting in the streets. Are images like these a precursor of what we can expect this summer?
I don't think the USA is "coming apart at the seams" --- but it sure appears poised to do so. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I want, with every fiber of our beings, to believe that this is still an "I Knew You Were Waiting" nation. But we also believe, with equal intensity, that we need to prepare for what may break loose when large swaths of this country conclude that the wine and the song, like the seasons, have all gone.