Signs Your Kids Have Been Watching Too Much Cable News With You

Overheard a moment ago in the next room, from the kitchen, as I washed dishes:

Little Brother (Age 6): “What if somebody who’s not John McCain makes a commercial and says ‘I’m John McCain and I approve this message’?”

Big Brother (Age 12): “You would go to jail.”

Little Brother: “But why?”

Big Brother [authoratatively]: “Because. You’re not allowed to go around lying about being John McCain.”


Watching Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, one line jumped out that was so breathtaking, I had to pause the DVR, back up, and make sure I’d heard it correctly. And then I had to write it down, verbatim, to make sure I got it exactly right:

If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

I may have considerable disagreements with some of what John McCain has done over the years, and he wasn’t my first choice in the primary. But to suggest that he lacks a record to run on, or lacks significant legislative accomplishments, is a complete inversion of the reality of this contest.

Speaking of “records,” one of the most interesting perspectives on Obama’s resume I’ve read comes from Dean Barnett, a headhunter who specializes in placing lawyers in the job market. He asks, “Would You Hire Barack Obama?” In part:

It’s when Obama leaves law school in 1991 that his résumé starts raising questions. He didn’t begin a full-time job until 1993. Between 1991 and 1993, Obama divided his time between lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School, writing a book, and returning to his pre-law school activity, community organizing.

In 1993, Obama went to work for the small Chicago law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Galland. He could have gotten a job with any major law firm in America. His belated selection of a boutique law firm that offered lower pay but a better lifestyle than the top firms is striking. A lot of people in the legal industry, rightly or wrongly, would infer a certain softness from Obama’s chosen path.


What is striking about Obama’s résumé circa 2004, as he began his U.S. Senate campaign, then, is that 13 years out of law school, he had yet to commit himself to one line of work. More important, potential employers would wonder about a gulf between the ability Obama showed at Harvard and his actual accomplishments. Obama never made it beyond lecturer at Chicago, where he wrote no scholarly articles. He wrote one book, then stopped writing for over a decade. And he was less than a force in the Illinois legislature. After roughly three years practicing law, he had turned away from that career.

As a former legal headhunter, I am interested in Obama’s law firm work. Last week, I spoke with George Galland of Davis, Miner–now known as Miner, Barnhill and Galland. When I asked about Obama, Galland raved. His enthusiasm was unqualified. I asked Galland how his relatively tiny firm managed to get a guy with Barack Obama’s multitude of options to choose them back in 1993 over the better paying big boys. He said his partner Jud Miner “spent months convincing him it was a better place to work” and that Davis, Miner offered a “superior lifestyle.”


So if you’d hired Barack Obama at the end of 2004, let’s say to be a United States senator, you would have been on notice: You were getting a wonderfully gifted individual, but one with a history of failing to focus for long on the task at hand. And that’s exactly how it worked out for Obama’s constituents in Illinois. Shortly after becoming a senator, Obama began writing his second book, and shortly after that he began running for president. His accomplishments in the Senate have been virtually nonexistent.

Here’s the link to the whole thing. As I said, it’s a very interesting perspective.

And I should add that I am the last person who would criticize another for choosing a job with a better “lifestyle” over longer hours and better earnings. Our family has done precisely that, and we have no regrets. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, who finished law school just two years after Barack Obama, walked away from that career to be a full time homeschooling mother. Likewise, I could earn more money if we lived in Washington, DC and I worked for a big research firm. We’ve chosen this lifestyle because it is the right one, in toto, for our family. But here’s the key: I’m not running for President of the United States. I’m not asking for a promotion based on my previous work record.


Fascinating news that’s breaking about all the leading GOP vice presidential contenders gathering in Dayton tonight for tomorrow’s big unveiling.

This may be a big diversionary tactic, to confuse the media and fuel the speculation — in which case the mission is already being accomplished.

But I can’t help wondering if McCain may have something even bigger in mind. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if he used the event to name not just his veep…but the entire cabinet as well. Mitt Romney as Secretary of the Treasury. Joe Lieberman as Secretary of State. Mike Huckabee as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Rudy Giuliani as Director of Homeland Security. And so on.

Talk about grabbing attention going into one’s convention!

Science on the Farm

As we prepare for the new school year, we are wrapping up and filing away a few loose ends from last year. I realize that I never published the results of Homeschooled Farm Boy’s (HFB) science project, which was quite interesting.

One of our biggest challenges was coming up with a creative project; I mean, how many times have you seen the old experiment where you plant three bean seeds and give them different types of water and measure the differences in growth?

I realized we’d never been very methodical about tracking the growth rates of our sheep; heck, we didn’t even have a scale for weighing them. After some thought as the the experiment’s design, and an investment in a scale, we were ready for the first lambs to be born. Once they started arriving, HFB and I went out every single night and weighed each one. It was a bit of a hassle, but I came to enjoy spending the time with him — and teaching him how to use Microsoft Excel to record the data about each lamb and then track the results. We did this for several weeks, until we felt we had enough data for analysis. I transferred the numbers to SPSS, and showed him how to do some basic analysis of variance (ANOVA). And the best part about that was it allowed me to introduce him to more of what I do in my professional work.

Anyhow, here is his final report (the tables didn’t paste nicely, so I had to re-type the numbers here…even so, I’m not happy with the formatting. Blame Blogger):

We live on a farm and raise sheep for meat. I wanted to know more about why some lambs grow bigger and faster than others. For this reason, I chose to do a lamb-weighing project for my science report.

I decided to test two hypotheses on the way lambs grow. First, we’ve seen that male sheep tend to be more aggressive than female sheep. As a result, they might take more milk and therefore grow faster. Secondly, some of our lambs are singles, others are twins, and a few are triplets. This makes a difference because each ewe has the same amount of milk, but not the same number of lambs. I hypothesize that the singles would be biggest, then twins, while the triplets are smallest.

Beginning in late March when the first lambs were born, we weighed each lamb every day in the evening. We recorded each of these weights in a spreadsheet. Five females and eleven males were born, and of these sixteen, there were two singles, eight twins, and six triplets.

The results of the analysis prove one hypothesis and show the other one to be false. I did this by subtracting the birth weight from its final weight and dividing by the number of days old the lamb was. I also computed this average daily weight gain for various types of lambs. These figures are detailed in the table below.

Weight Gain By Lamb Types

Starting Weight Avg. Daily Gain

Males 7.5 .47
Females 7.0 .51

Litter Size
Singles 7.1 .53
Twins 7.8 .49
Triplets 6.8 .41

As the table shows, the females’ average daily weight gain was essentially the same as that of the males’. However, singles do gain more than twins, and twins do gain more than triplets. (See the table above.) The singles gained a little more than half a pound (0.53) per day, the twins about half a pound (0.49), and the triplets gained just over two-fifths of a pound (0.41).

Something interesting happened with the triplets. We had two sets. One of those triplets died on day 8. Now we had one set of triplets and the two others became twins. Before the death, both sets grew at exactly the same rate, 0.38 lbs. per day. After the death, the triplets continued growing like triplets, but the new set of “twins” began growing like twins (0.47 lbs. per day).

Impact of Reducing Triplets to Twins

Nera’s Triplets Licorice’s Triplets
(All Survived) (One Died on Day 8)

Days 1-8 .38 .38
Days 9-14 .38 .47

In conclusion, the amount of food lambs get is very important. A lamb’s growth is affected most by how much food it gets, and not as much as by if it’s male or female. Triplets are good because we have one more lamb, However, if all three triplets must share one ewe’s milk, they don’t reach their growth potential. From this I conclude that next year, if we have triplets, we should give them some extra feed to make up for the lack of milk.

Least of the Brothers?

Watching the Saddleback Forum on Saturday night, I was struck by what Barack Obama described as America’s greatest moral failing: our collective failure to “abide by that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”

My first thought was the Down Syndrome baby who Jill Stanek, the nurse at Christ Hospital in suburban Chicago, cradled in her arms for 45 minutes after he’d survived an abortion. As is now becoming widely known, Obama had an opportunity to support legislation designed to treat such children (so “least” among all humanity that even their parents want them dead) with basic dignity and medical care. Even after impassioned testimony before his committee by Jill Stanek herself, Obama voted to kill the legislation. Twice. Even the version supported by Barbara Boxer at the national level.

Then came a remarkable story today: Turns out that Barack Obama has a long-lost half-brother living in squalor in Kenya. Not a metaphorical brother this time. A real one.

The Italian edition of Vanity Fair said that it had found George Hussein Onyango Obama living in a hut in a ramshackle town of Huruma on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Mr Obama, 26, the youngest of the presidential candidate’s half-brothers, spoke for the first time about his life, which could not be more different than that of the Democratic contender.

“No-one knows who I am,” he told the magazine, before claiming: “I live here on less than a dollar a month.”

But he wasn’t entirely lost to the world, and not unknown to everyone: Senator Obama knew he existed, and visited him as recently as two years ago. He even merited a mention in Obama’s book:

He has only met his famous older brother twice – once when he was just five and the last time in 2006 when Senator Obama was on a tour of East Africa and visited Nairobi.

The Illinois senator mentions his brother in his autobiography, describing him in just one passing paragraph as a “beautiful boy with a rounded head”.

Of their second meeting, George Obama said: “It was very brief, we spoke for just a few minutes. It was like meeting a complete stranger.”

Assuming the story is true (and the source is Vanity Fair), the question I’m left with is this: What kind of a man lives in a mansion in Hyde Park and allows his brother to live in squalor half a world away? Did Barack offer to help George? Did George refuse the help, preferring to continue living in a six-foot-by-nine-foot shanty?

I don’t know the answers, but I couldn’t help thinking of the quiet choice made by a different family, also half a world away from home, when given an opportunity to help the least of those among us.

Grandpa’s Ship

My grandfather was a career Naval officer, enlisting in the late 1920s and then serving for much of his adult life. He was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack, and our family still has a box with artifacts from it.

After World War II, he served for quite some time on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. A couple of years ago, that ship was sunk off the coast of Florida, to create an artificial reef. I remember being saddened to hear that his ship was going to the bottom of the ocean — but the more I thought about it, the better of an idea it seemed. Rather than rusting away in a shipyard, or being cut up for scrap, the vessel would provide a refuge for fish and a fascinating place for divers to explore.

The NY Times is up today with a story about the “Great Carrier Reef,” two years later. It includes some remarkable photographs, and even a video from one dive.

“There’s definitely an enthusiasm for this,” said Glen Clark of the Navy’s Inactive Ships Program. “There’s actually more interest than we have ships.”

The potential economic benefits of sinking ships for reefs are significant. A report from the University of Western Florida says that the sinking of the Oriskany enerated nearly $4 million for Pensacola and Escambia County in 2007.


“It put Pensacola on the map as a diving spot,” said Jim Phillips, co-owner of MBT Divers in Pensacola. All three of Pensacola’s dive shops are reporting brisk business related to the Oriskany, with 4,200 dive trips to the wreck reported in 2007.

And the story provides another interesting detail that I had not been aware of:

The ship has become a big lure for military buffs, as well, including veterans who once served on the ship. But one veteran who has not dived the Oriskany yet is Senator John McCain, whose final bombing mission left the carrier on Oct. 26, 1967. During that mission, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war for six years.

My grandfather was a big supporter of John McCain back in 2000, in large part because of the Navy connection. But I never knew that they had served on the same ship (albeit separated by several years — Grandpa had retired long before McCain would have been on the Oriskany). Grandpa didn’t live long enough to see the sinking of the Oriskany, but I have no doubt that he’s very pleased as he looks on and sees the use that it’s being put to. And that he’s pulling for John McCain even now.

Urban Farming, Anyone?

I’m too swamped with work these days to do much but skim headlines, but I couldn’t resist clicking through and reading this story. Seems that some foreclosed properties in the City of Detroit are in such bad repair, and owners are so desperate to get them off the books, that houses are actually being let go for just one dollar.

The sale price of the home may be an anomaly, but illustrates both the depths of the foreclosure crisis in Detroit and the rapid scuttling of vacant homes in some of the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

The home, at 8111 Traverse Street, a few blocks from Detroit City Airport, was the nicest house on the block when it sold for $65,000 in November 2006, said neighbor Carl Upshaw. But the home was foreclosed last summer, and it wasn’t long until “the vultures closed in,” Upshaw said.

“The siding was the first to go. Then they took the fence. Then they broke in and took everything else.”

Tuesday, the home was wide open. Doors leading into the kitchen and the basement were missing, and the front windows had been smashed. Weeds grew chest-high, and charred remains marked a spot where the garage recently burned.

Put on the market in January for $1,100, the house had no lookers other than the squatters who sometimes stayed there at night. Facing $4,000 in back taxes and a large unpaid water bill, the bank that owned the property lowered the price to $1.

On Tuesday, listed one other single-family home, one duplex and one empty lot at $1 in Detroit.

Dollar property sales are the financial hangover from the foreclosure crisis, said Anthony Viola of Realty Corp. of America in Cleveland.

Lenders that made loans to unqualified buyers during the height of the subprime market now find themselves the owners of whole neighborhoods of vacant, deteriorating homes.

“No one has much sympathy for these banks that made subprime loans,” Viola said. “And in some cities like Cleveland, judges aren’t letting them sit on the properties — they’re ordering them to tear them down or sell them.”

So desperate was the bank owner of 8111 Traverse Street to unload the property that it agreed to pay $2,500 in sales commission and another $1,000 bonus for closing the $1 sale; the bank also will pay $500 of the buyer’s closing costs. Throw in back taxes and a water bill, and unloading the house will cost the bank about $10,000.

“It doesn’t make sense in some neighborhoods to keep paying costs and costs,” Colpaert said. “It can make more financial sense to give it away.”

This got me thinking: I wonder if it’s possible to acquire one of these urban properties, tear down the house, and somehow use the land for food production? The property must have city water and power. Some remaining portion of the house could be used to store garden tools. I doubt that livestock would be possible, but I bet a person could establish a large market garden and get away with a keeping a pen of laying hens. You could move the pen up and down the unused portions of the garden as a tractor, using the hens to destroy the weeds and return fertility to the soil. (You’d need someplace to move them in the winter time, though.) Chickens are probably technically illegal in the city, but who’s going to report you? Hens are quiet, and any nosy neighbors could be bought off with free eggs.

The key, I suppose, would be to put a secure fence around the perimeter. If neighbors have stripped the house of everything valuable, just imagine what they’d do to a market garden.

Anybody know of anyone who’s tried doing this kind of thing with an abandoned city property? Could be an interesting way for someone stuck in the city to acquire some gardening skills, and prepare for a move to the country.

Niche Farming

The New York Times has been running a good number of articles lately about niche farming. Their latest, today, has a nice profile of some widely divergent types of people who have moved to the country. It also has a nice bulleted list of advice, all of which I would heartily “second.”

For entrepreneurs tempted by the rural life, Ms. Aubrey and Ms. Holmes offer these bits of advice:
¶ Do market research. Go to farmers’ markets. Walk around. See what products are common and which ones are missing. Talk to people. Ask if they would they buy your product.
¶ Check out the local labor pool to make sure enough workers are available.
¶ Get the advice of an accountant and an attorney.
¶ Decide early on whether to go into the wholesale or retail market.
¶ Ask yourself whether you will be able to adapt to the “farm lifestyle,” notably long hours of hard toil. If you doubt you will enjoy bending over crops under a hot sun, find another line of work.
¶ Do not make the common mistake of growing too big too fast. You will risk
discovering you do not have the cash flow to put into the equipment you need to
meet your orders.
¶ Choose a “value-added” niche product, like gourmet mushrooms, that is not sold widely in your area.

“Make sure they’re unique enough for people to buy them and eat them,” Ms. Aubrey said. “If it’s unusual and tastes good, people will buy it.”

Still Here. Still Buried.

My apologies for the sparse posting. Work has been keeping me unbelievably busy, leaving very little time for much of anything else; at this point, just keeping my head above water with farm chores and trying to spend a bit of time with the kids.

This afternoon, I had a window of about three hours where I was completely, gloriously, caught up. I spent most of that time napping, and catching up from my massive sleep deficit. Sure enough, at about 6pm, I got a call from one client and an email from another, with various new requests. Enough to keep me glued to my chair for roughly two solid days, at least.

If there’s one thing farming has taught us, you have to make hay while the sun shines. And my plan is to put up all the more blog posts this fall and winter, once the election work has been gathered into the barn (as it were).