Demography, Recipes

Fruit Soup

For many years, the Census differentiated between Germans and Germans from Russia.  While there were significant historical differences between the two groups, by the time I was doing the demographic work for South Dakota, the largest difference I could see was the menu.  This recipe, for Plumemoos, a fruit soup served cold, is a hot weather dish passed to us from the Germans from Russia.


2 qt      water
1 c.      sugar
1 c.      seedless raisins
1 c.      dried prunes
1          29-oz can of peaches
1          cinnamon stick
1          package red jello
1 qt.     Purple grape juice

Cook dried fruit, sugar and cinnamon stick til fruit is tender.  Add jello to hot soup and stir to dissolve – this will color and thicken the soup when it has cooled.   When cooled, add grape juice to taste.  Serve cold – a wonderful, soothing soup for a hot summer day.

Community, Demography

What is a Farm

A dozen years ago, I wrote “What is a Farm” and now I have one.

The bottom line that defines a farm is production.  “The current definition, first used for the 1974 census, is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. (1992 Census of Agriculture).”  It’s kind of fun to be able to quote myself, and find that the commentary is still accurate 12 years later.

This July, I harvested 275 little round bales of grass hay, and stored them in the log shed.  I figure if I sell them at $4 each, the place makes the minimum to be a farm.  Logically, that makes me a farmer, for the first time in my life.  I remember seeing a neighbor in Ag Hall when I worked for Extension – and commenting to Todd that he was the first farmer I had seen in that building . . . to be fair, I hadn’t worked in Ag Hall all that long.  Now that I’m a farmer I do have to sell those cute little bales to actually qualify.

Since I’ve already done the research, I can help others determine if they also qualify: “The definition also makes it easy to be a “small farmer”: if a family has a couple dozen hens and eats organic eggs from its own free-range chickens, the family probably produces enough to be living on a farm. Similarly, a two-Holstein-steer feedlot with all purchased feed can meet the definition of a farm. Obviously, a large hog confinement facility is a farm, even if it lacks plows and fields.” 

This table shows how the government’s definition of a farm has changed over time:


Wild Geese Have Flown

Another hatch of goslings have taken flight from the pond.  In the flyway we saw huge numbers of Canada geese – here, we see a single pair, year after year, who are our Summer neighbors, and traffic slows to watch them.

Gander seems as strong and youthful as ever, but the years are taking a toll on Goose – the cold Spring months that she spends on the nest have aged her more  She walks slowly, spends more time with her head held low, and leaves the flock leadership to Gander.  Hopefully, she will winter easily and return to raise another flock next Spring.

They chose the pond because the island makes a safe nesting spot as soon as the ice goes out.  They arrive early, to beat the competitors, with last year’s flock.  This year, the hatching took two rainy days – Goose remaining on the nest, Gander on the goslings.  Their parenting dedication is impressive.

July has been the month of flight training.  Gander starts training them on water landings before they can fly, with flapping runs from the dock to drop into the water, move to swimming mode, and leave open space for their siblings.  The next stage of flight training includes a walk into the mowed field, then a takeoff, circling until organized, and a water landing in the pond – repeated until everything is satisfactory.  Eventually they move to landings on solid surfaces, then to forced takeoffs when he leads them close to the house and the small dogs.  Then one day the flock flies off to other sites in the area, returning occasionally to the home pond. 


Alumni Magazines

As a young man, MSU’s alumni magazine occasionally brought information about classmates, but was by and large an irrelevant publication.  Adding a couple more degrees brought more alumni magazines – and the deaths column became something I watch more.  Not sure why – perhaps to make sure I’m not there.

Today, STATE listed Jeeta Kant and Bob Mendelsohn.  I met Jeeta when she was unable to get into the sociology Master’s program, and couldn’t understand why her 35 year-old bachelors in Soc didn’t punch all the buttons – she had good grades, but lacked the research.  A colleague in geography looked at the books she had done on Hutterite colonies, and in 2008 she completed her MS in geography on the topic.  After that, she worked on a research project in the civil engineering department, on edible and usable plants on the Pine Ridge, completing her Ph.D. in 2013, at the age of 66.  She spent a few years as a postdoc researcher before retiring.  Jeeta didn’t have a conventional academic career, but she did show that age isn’t an insurmountable handicap, and combining a research career with social security isn’t impossible.  

Bob Mendelsohn’s specialty was deviance – and it always struck me as a bit strange that our deviance prof was the closest to the norm.  I mean, the guy was married to his high school girlfriend, from 1967 until he went away this May.  He retired in 2008, and spent several hours telling me of his return to studying his Judaism.  He was challenged by the thought of giving up deli ham sandwiches – hopefully keeping kosher came easier as he moved to the east coast.  I’ll remember a Jewish researcher who loved the green and red decorations, and the music of Christmas.  Totally different upbringings – but a good friend who left the world a better place for having been here.

Community, Plants

Making Hay

Cutting grass is the main component of making hay – and, until the mid 1840s, the task was left for human muscles, usually with a scythe or sickle (I have seen artifacts where stone chips were glued into wood or bone preceding iron or bronze).

I’m haying about 18 acres of old lake bed – drained with ditching powder about a century ago.  It isn’t the best cropland (it’s a high shrink-swell clay known as a vertisol that is high in calcium salts), but the decision to turn it into hayland was made at least 30 years before I was born.  The plus is that it is fairly flat.

When I decided I needed tools for haying, the first thing I looked at was sickle bar mowers.  First used in the 1840’s, the horse-drawn mower became practical after the war between the states.   It’s interesting to look at the relatively short period of time that horses provided agricultural power – basically the 19th century until 1950 – excepting, of course, our Amish neighbors.  Brand new horse drawn mowers are still available. 

Instead of buying a sickle bar mower, I bought a drum mower.  It takes more power – but my little diesel has almost 30 horsepower.  It’s shorter than a sickle-bar mower, but faster.  The technology on either is mature. It cost less than a new sickle-bar mower, and seems to be doing fine for my application.

My rake is too small – so I’ll be buying a second section for it to double the size.  Twice the rake will still get around the field quickly.

Then comes the baler.  I’m baling with a brand-new baler – mini-round bales.  Habits are an interesting thing.  It’s been over 40 years since I last baled hay with an old Case baler.  It fed from just to the right of my tractor.  This new baler needs my tractor to straddle the old windrow.  It took the first hundred bales just to get over the habit of keeping the windrow to my right.  I’m baling with hemp twine, and next year I may try sisal or plastic.  It’s fun.  I may be a bit slow and old, but making hay is a lot more fun at 71 than it was at 15.


The Misery Index

Almost a half-century ago, an economist named Arthur Okun developed the Misery Index.  It’s a simple calculation – just add the unemployment rate to the inflation rate, and you have the Misery Index.  He also came up with Okun’s law – which is online, but I think it would be better termed Okun’s estimate.

At any rate the Misery Index has been going up lately.  But it’s kind of a funk index, so I’ll pick a few years before and after Okun invented the index to give perspective:

YearMisery Index

I read that it started at 7.9 when Biden was inaugurated, and that the Misery index stood at 11.3 in June. 

A much more complete description of the Misery Index is available here, where Kimberly Amadeo provides a timeline by years and by presidents.  Probably her most significant description is of a “Goldilocks Economy where the ideal rate of growth is 2%-3%. To achieve this level of economic efficiency, employers need to find workers. There needs to exist a natural rate of unemployment of between 4% and 5%. When the rate is lower than that, companies can’t find enough good workers to maximize production.”

I remember the high inflation as part of the Carter years, yet the chart tells me that we only returned to the “Goldilocks Economy” for the last three years of Reagan’s administration. 

Amadeo points out “Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) . . .reduced the index to 5.9% in 1965 with spending on the Great Society and the Vietnam War.”  I had thought that the inflation went up with Nixon when the country changed from silver certificates to federal reserve notes – but perhaps his greater contribution to the increased Misery Index was ending the Vietnam War and the draft.  Kind of strange to think that ending the draft would increase the Misery Index.

Steve Hanke has calculated a series of Misery Indices for the different nations of the world, and his analysis of the situation is here.

A glance at this compilation showed that Venezuela was harder hit than Zimbabwe – and that Suriname, a country that I enjoyed visiting, was fifth on the chart.


Reading the First and Second Amendment

The First Amendment, protecting free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, begins with the words “Congress shall make no law . . .”  The second Amendment ends with “the  right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  I looked them up after hearing an argument that “The right to free speech does not include yelling fire in a crowded theatre” as a reason that specific categories of firearms could be legitimately controlled.

It isn’t a valid argument – “Congress shall make no law” does not say or mean the same thing as “shall not be infringed.”  You don’t need to be a philologist to know that the two phrases are different.

Years ago, L. Neil Smith wrote “Why Did It Have To Be . . . Guns?”  It’s worth reading. He explains why he isn’t really a single issue voter: “ all politicians—even those ostensibly on the side of guns and gun ownership—hate the issue and anyone, like me, who insists on bringing it up. They hate it because it’s an X-ray machine. It’s a Vulcan mind-meld. It’s the ultimate test to which any politician—or political philosophy—can be put.”

CBS quoted Biden:  the “2nd Amendment, from the day it was passed, limited the type of people who could own a gun and what type of weapon you could own.  You couldn’t buy a cannon.”  Two things – a private individual definitely could buy a cannon at the time the second amendment was written and passed, and despite the President’s comment “It Seems Like Most Of My Career I’ve Been Dealing With This Issue,” his problem may be that he has spent most of his career trying to find ways to infringe.

The first amendment reads:  “ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Seems pretty simple – Congress shall make no law on these topics.  The 14th amendment expands that limitation to the states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So let’s look at the second: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”   If you want to argue the militia clause, that’s fine – but the Heller decision ruled that it’s the right of the people – never said it was a collective right of the National Guard.

Basically, Congress never passed a law preventing you from yelling “fire” in a crowded theater –  the phrase “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater” is from the Supreme Court, Schenck v United States (1919) and was not about yelling fire, but encouraging people to resist the draft during World War I.  My many times great-grandfather may have settled for a rifle, but could have purchased a cannon in 1790, and “shall not be infringed” is a pretty straightforward statement.  Of course, since I lack legal training, this analysis isn’t likely to stand up in a court.


Thoughts on Short-barreled Rifles and Braced Pistols

Years ago, when Congress put a $200 transfer tax on machine guns and silencers, they also put that tax on short-barreled rifles.  A short-barreled rifle has a barrel less than 16 inches according to law, which was a fairly easy thing to understand.  The problem is, people enjoy finding ways to get around laws. 

Back when they passed the National Firearms Act, the idea was that a short-barreled rifle was more accurate than a pistol – and factories even produced stocks for pistols.  You could own one of the stocks legally, you could own one of the pistols legally – but put the two together and it was an instant felony.  Not a significant problem in olden times – but the AR-15 really created a spot that legislation from the thirties and sixties didn’t anticipate.

The AR-15 has a pistol grip.  So if you take a new receiver, you can put on a short barrel (under 16 inches), never put on a stock, and you have a pistol.  The military M-4 barrel is 14 ½ inches long.  So long as you never put a stock on, you have a poorly balanced, heavy pistol.  But it was legal, despite the other drawbacks – which included a buffer tube that kind of extends the frame back about five or six inches.

On one hand, the beastly balance of that AR-15 pistol didn’t enhance one-handed marksmanship.  On the other hand, that extra half-foot of buffer tube gave some enterprising shooter something to press against his cheek.  Then the next step was a pistol brace that would attach to the buffer tube (where the stock wasn’t).  Once the ATF ruled that you could occasionally shoulder a braced pistol, the waters got murky – and by the numbers I’ve seen, there may be as many as 30 million AR pistols with braces in the US – basically one for every eleven Americans. ATF says at least 3 million. I don’t stand behind either number, but either one is fairly large.

Shooters in Dayton (Ohio) and Boulder (Colorado) used AR pistols with braces in their attacks – giving a reason to more precisely define the difference between a short-barreled rifle and a braced pistol.  This form seems to be the simplest answer to what DOJ proposes  (taken from )


A Tater Tot Hot Dish

Some dishes are local staples.  I recall stopping in at a restaurant in Scotland, South Dakota, where the population is mostly of German descent, and they were cooking Haggis.  With a Scots surname, I didn’t get a choice in what I ordered – I was given “Haggis”.  Robert Burns wouldnae hae recognized it – by the time the South Dakota ladies had modified the recipe, it was downright tasty – worthy of a second helping.

Brookings, on the other hand, was a spot where tater tot casseroles showed up with amazing regularity – weddings, funerals, potlucks – the tater tots were a staple.  This recipe comes from the KBRK Cookbook – p 27, and was contributed by Margie Cole. 

2 lbs hamburger
Cream soup, any kind
tater tots

Brown hamburger and onion, drain.  Stir in soups, add a little milk and mix with hamburger.  Pour into a 9×13 pan and cover with tater tots.  Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.


North Moved Since I Was a Kid

I’ve been blessed to live and work in locations where there is a large difference between true north and magnetic north.  On many occasions, I’ve made a living looking through a transit, or pulling a chain to measure distances – though my modern chains were either steel or cloth tapes.  Still, as I pulled out my old compass to run a line, I realized that the declination – the difference between magnetic and true north – had changed a lot since I last set it in the early nineties. 

This article shows how to set the declination on a Brunton compass.  Even in today’s world of GPS, it is a useful skill.  This photo, taken from the REI site is shown to convince you to click the link and read their information. 

During my working life – say from age five to fifty – the declination was always around 20 degrees in Trego.  In 1956, it was 21 degrees East, and by 1999 it had dropped to 17 degrees.  Today, it’s 13 degrees 41 minutes East.  The magnetic North Pole has been moving, probably forever, but definitely faster over the past few years.

It gets significant when you recall the shooter’s approximation – a minute of angle is an inch at a hundred yards.  If I hadn’t corrected my compass declination to show the change from the mid-nineties, my view of the world would have been roughly 3 ½ degrees off.  Doesn’t sound like much, but between 40 acre corners (a quarter of a quarter section), 440 yards at 210 minutes of angle gives about 75 feet of error.  Following a compass for a mile, and looking for a corner monument that has been there for nearly a century gives an appreciation for reducing your potential errors.

A British Navy officer, James Clark Ross, discovered the magnetic north pole in 1831.  I imagine it showed up as some really funky compass readings, and someone made the usual scientific observation – “Now that’s interesting.”

Before that, the difference was determined between a star shot (Polaris) at night, and reading the compass.  David Thompson’s night works taking star shots just north of us was part of what made his explorations and mapmaking so significant.  By the time I came along, I could look all the calculations up in a book.  Now, it’s available online.

At any rate, the magnetic north pole has been moving a lot lately.  This National Geographic article provides more, and better information on the topic.