U.S. History

The Third Time Might Not Be the Charm

It turns out that the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” is neither Chinese nor a curse.

      According to multiple sources, the adage’s roots reach back to a late-19th century member of Parliament commenting on how Great Britain’s expanding empire had made for “interesting times.”

      True enough for the empire’s builders; not so […]

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Twenty-Four Miles of Bad Spending, Bad Policy, Bad Ideas

      One trillion is one thousand billion or one million million. In money terms, $1 trillion is a stack of $100 bills 631 miles high.

      Now consider that the three coronavirus relief bills already approved by Congress will collectively spend about $3 trillion, or a $100-bill stack 1,893 miles high.

      But wait, Congress isn’t done. Its […]

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We Don’t Even Choose ‘Herd Immunity’ for Livestock

Two generations ago, no one in the cattle business ever thought “herd immunity” was a solution to bovine brucellosis. Instead, farmers and ranchers, often with the help of U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians, blood-tested every animal they could find to discover, trace, and isolate the disease’s source and spread.

      It was hard, dirty work but […]

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Public Investment Needs to Return Public Good

      If the ill-tempered and deadly first half of 2020 had been a first-calf heifer on the dairy farm of my youth, my father would have ticketed it for the freezer a month ago.

      His yardstick of heifer potential was short: If she lived up to her breeding, she was a “keeper;” if she “put more on […]

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Finding New Ground

      Some observers see the Black Lives Matter movement as a tidal wave washing away America’s original sin, slavery, and the systemic racism it fostered for more than 400 years.

      Maybe, but as the last 75 years of the American civil rights movement has proven time and again—and often in blood—rooting out hatred requires more […]

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Red, White, Blue, and Black

      The first African American I really interacted with was not an American but was, in fact, an African. He was a Nigerian graduate student who served as a teaching assistant to the “discussion session” of a political science class I took at the Big U in 1973.

      That I was nearly 20 years old […]

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Memorial Day 2020

Every Memorial Day, my long-time friend David would honor both his family and fellow Vietnam War veterans with a visit to his hometown cemetery, an hour’s drive west of St. Louis.

      Once there, and with the help of his siblings and cousins, David would mow the grass in the family plot, scrub its granite and […]

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Laughter Is No Longer the Best Medicine

      One reason—there were others—for my departure from farm magazine writing was laughter. Let me explain.

      In the early-1980s, the world, like now, was headed to hell in a hurry and agriculture was leading the parade. U.S. interest rates were a crushing 14 percent, farmland prices were on their way to plunging 40 percent in just five […]

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Prepare for the Worst, Pray for the Best

      Despite overwhelming evidence from literally every corner of the world, a farmer friend recently related to me that three—not one, not two, but three—rural acquaintances had assured him that “this whole virus thing is just a big hoax to bring down Trump.”

      If so, worldwide there’s more than 25,000 graves, over a half million […]

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The Changing Geography of U.S. Farming and Food

    Geography isn’t static. Rivers change course, mountains erode, and islands disappear under rising seas.

      The geography of farming and food changes, too. For example, 180 years ago my home county was the castor bean and castor oil capital of the U.S. Both titles, however, slipped into irrelevance as a new resource, crude oil, rose […]

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