No Mandatory NAIS? (Part 2)

The USDA has released a document, NAIS User Guide, which replaces all previously published planning documents. In the preface it repeats in each of the first three paragraphs that NAIS is a voluntary program. On the next page it refers to the program as “a voluntary State-Federal-Industry partnership,” and then says this:

USDA is not requiring participation in the program. NAIS can help producers protect the health and marketability of their animals—but the choice to participate is theirs.

A few pages later the guide says this:

Participation in NAIS is voluntary at the Federal level. Under our current authorities, USDA could make the NAIS mandatory, but we are choosing not to do so—again, participation in every component of NAIS is voluntary at the Federal level. The NAIS does not need to be mandatory to be effective; we believe the goals of the system can be achieved with a voluntary program. As producers become increasingly aware of the benefits of the NAIS and the level of voluntary participation grows, there will only be less need to make the program mandatory.

This article from Beef Stocker Trends has some quotes from USDA officials:

Late last month at a community outreach event in Kansas City, Chuck Conner, USDA Deputy Secretary, and Bruce Knight, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, paved the way for the agency’s back-pedaling.

“Since we’ve had some confusion on this, we need to be as clear as we can be. This is ‘voluntary’ with a capital V. Not a currently voluntary, then maybe a mandatory system. This is a permanently voluntary system at the federal level,” Conner said.

“We’re making it crystal clear that NAIS is voluntary — no ifs, ands or buts,” explained Knight. “Farmers can choose to register their premises. They can choose to participate in individual animal or group identification. And they can opt to be part of tracking. Or not.”


As many other bloggers have said, it’s an unqualified blessing to live in a land where it is quite possible to lead a quiet life, mind one’s own business, and work with one’s hands, thereby earning the respect of outsiders and not being dependent on anybody. There are many places around the world where this is difficult, sometimes impossible.

At the same time, such a life is only possible, not guaranteed. Regardless of what the written laws say, the authorities tend to do what they think best, as do the judges, and if their assessment doesn’t coincide with yours then you are likely to suffer at their hands.

I first read about Gary Oaks in the Wise Tradtions newsletter from the Weston A. Price Foundation. Now I see that our friend David Gumpert has written about Oaks in his most recent Business Week column. I won’t summarize, please just take a few minutes to read through the column, and then give thanks that you haven’t suffered similar abuse at the hands of the government.

Reading update

A few days back I finished Why Cows Learn Dutch by Randy James, a county extension agent in Geauga County, Ohio, who has worked with the largely Amish community there for over twenty years. Each chapter uses a visit to an Amish farmer as a framing device, and goes on to look at a particular aspect of Amish farming—dairying, cutting hay, maple sugaring, running a farmstand. James has a light and friendly touch in his writing, but doesn’t shy away from dwelling on the technical and economic details of his subject, which made the book delightful and informative for me but could easily cause the casual reader’s eyes to glaze over. The most interesting chapter to me was the last one. where James helps a young Amish man figure out whether it makes economic sense to buy his father’s farm; I learned a lot about the complexities of agrarian economics, and it tied together nicely the material from earlier chapters.

Just this evening I finished By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Whenever I get bogged down in my agrarian reading project I take a day or two to read another volume in the Little House series, and it refreshes me. I expect that the best of the series is behind me, but it is still a good story and I enjoy watching for subtle clues as to how the characters think and how the social landscape is changing. I’m disappointed but not surprised to see how the Ingalls family continues to be distracted by modern-day thinking: Ma wants to stay near a town so that her girls can get an education; Pa wants to move west to where the game is plentiful—and picks a spot where the new town being built nearby has chased all the game away. And all the main characters—Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura—continue to develop interesting and quirky character flaws, a reminder that this is not a carefully plotted morality tale but just a faithful account of one family’s life.

I have a couple of mostly-finished books I need to get back to. One is Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State, whose significance goes far beyond the scope of my reading project; it’s excellent, but unfortunately the questions it answers for me have already been answered in the other two Belloc books. Belloc’s bigger thesis here is that there are really only two stable economic systems—widely distributed ownership of small property, or the slave state. Capitalism, he claims, is a highly unstable arrangement that has to resolve itself in either distributism or slavery, and since distributism is so unlikely he claims that the resurgence of the slave state is inevitable. I haven’t studied it closely enough to know whether by Belloc’s standards we are now living in a slave state, or whether it is still impending, or whether he was just wrong.

The other mostly-finished book is Scott Mooney’s Usury: Destroyer of Nations. The book is very good, although sometimes overwhelming in the detail of its argument. I’m definitely persuaded that usury in any form is not only ungodly but a very destructive force when it enters a community; I’m less sure how we take that truth and live by it in a society that has made usury such an intricate and pervasive thing, touching all aspects of our modern lives. I do have one question for Mr. Mooney that I haven’t found answered in the book: does the definition of usury encompass “sleeping partnerships,” i.e. investing only money in exchange for a portion of the profits (and losses)?

Right now I’m focused on Flee to the Fields: Founding Papers of the Catholic Land Movement. As I read the Distributists and their colleagues, I’m surprised and a little embarrassed to learn that many of my questions about agrarianism were carefully considered and answered a century ago by this collection of Roman Catholic thinkers. Worse, they make a strong case that the disastrous shift from agrarianism to industrialism was largely due to certain problematic ideas introduced by the Reformation. 

I’m embarrassed that my theological differences with the Roman Catholics kept me for so long from looking at their social teachings for answers. But what I’ve read recently makes me think that these folks have an understanding of community that far surpasses that I’ve found in any Protestant writings, and rivals that of the Amish in its usefulness as a diagnostic of the benefits and dangers of social and technological innovation. So I’m trying to put aside my qualms about Romish theology and study carefully what they have to say about agrarian community. The next step, I think, is to read through two (gulp) papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII (sometimes called “On the Condition of the Working Classes”) and Quadragesimo Anno by Pope Piux XI (sometimes called “On Reconstruction of the Social Order”), both of which are considered fundamental by the Catholic agrarian movement.

Christians and politics

I’ve mentioned before on this weblog that I am deliberately apolitical. I haven’t spent much time writing about my reasons for that, partly because I haven’t come to any firm conclusions on the matter of Christian involvement in politics, and partly because I don’t want to needlessly offend friends who are politically involved.

My aversion to politics may be the reason that I know so little about R.J. Rushdoony’s work. People whose opinion I respect are continually singing his praises, but I had (and still have) the impression that his Christian Reconstructionist followers were way too committed to solving spiritual problems through political means, and so I never looked into what Rushdoony himself had to say.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this quote from Rushdoony on the Chalcedon weblog:

According to a common error, theocracy means the rule of men in the name of God. The Bible clearly contradicts this view. The state in Scripture is a minimal institution, and so too is the church an institution. The rule of God’s law is essentially through the lives of men as they apply their faith, and as they create tithe agencies to govern various areas and needs. Where faith wanes, the theocracy wanes. The Book of Judges gives us no change in polity from beginning to end, but it gives us an alternation from peace and prosperity to oppression and tyranny, and the key is faith. The essential government comes from the self-government of the Christian man. The U.S. was best governed when it was least governed, not because less control from the state was the essential ingredient but because Christian self-government was central in the eras of good government. Without strong, self-governing Christians taking back self-government under Christ in health, welfare, education, and more, we cannot return by politics to less statism. (emphasis added)

Chris Ortiz, the writer of the weblog, goes on to say:

With Rushdoony dominion meant Christian self-government in the areas of social concern. This means we feed, clothe, and educate our own outside of the jurisdiction of the state. The purpose, despite the misconstruing of our critics, is never militant or violent. When we say “government” we mean Christian self-government. When others say “government” they mean civil government. Therefore, when we say “dominion” we do not mean a political takeover. We mean a taking dominion back from the rule of the state. This is a Christian theocracy.

That’s the kind of Christian theocracy I can get behind, and that is the kind of Christian theocracy we are striving to build around here day in and day out.

Done with two Missing Manuals

I like to keep up my web design skills, but haven’t had much time or reason to do so in the past couple of years. The last time I redesigned the bookstore website, a new web design technology called CSS was just becoming mainstream. I spent some time trying to figure it out, knowing that in the long run it could help make the bookstore site simple and streamlined and robust. But the design program I use (Dreamweaver) hadn’t fully absorbed the new technology, and the books I read were more confusing than helpful, so as time pressures mounted I gave up on the idea and did things the old fashioned way.

Well, a few years have passed since then, and time has produced a better Dreamweaver and better training manuals. So I upgraded the program and bought two of the manuals, Dreamweaver 8: The Missing Manual and CSS: The Missing Manual. I really like the Missing Manual series from O’Reilly; like most O’Reilly books they are fat, but rather than devoting their length to endless technical detail they use it for extended tutorial examples that teach the major features of a language or program. It’s entertaining to me to work through the tutorials, and after several hours I’ve gained a rough working knowledge of the basics in a fairly painless fashion.

For anyone who needs to know this stuff, I especially recommend CSS: The Missing Manual. All you need in order to work the tutorial examples are a text editor and a web browser. Not much has changed in CSS since I last looked at it, but what I couldn’t puzzle out on my own this book makes crystal clear, and so I’m fairly confident that I’ll be able to use it effectively to redesign the Cumberland Books website and to develop a couple of other new websites I want to build.

Some progress on the cow front

A week ago I was talking to Jimmy Ellis after church about cows, in particular about where we might be able to get a decently raised cow to take to the slaughterhouse. He didn’t have any suggestions, but he offered to sell us one of his to raise for ourselves. It seemed like a prudent way to get started with cows, i.e. deal with the matters of fencing and feed and water before having to also deal with milking.

So I ordered some portable electric net fencing, which arrived today. And then this afternoon Chris and Matthew and Jerry and I went to the Ellises to shop for a cow. (Jimmy Ellis is brother to Al Ellis, who we got our milk from until their cow dried up a couple of weeks back.)

When we arrived Jimmy was pitching hay to his cows, which were lined up with their heads through a feeder gate, munching away. He gave us an informal tour, which was very helpful to us since we know so little about cows right now. We talked hay, and stanchions, and portable milkers, and feeding troughs, and where to get the various bits of apparatus we’ll need. Then we went and looked at the calves he was raising, and settled on one that was about 250 pounds. He’ll deliver it in a few days, after we collect together everything else we need.

As we talked, Jimmy’s wife Marty came out and visited with us a bit, and asked us if I knew of anyone who had a used electric grain mill for sale; tommorow is their 25th wedding anniversary, and a grain mill would make a good present for them to buy themselves. As a matter of fact, I did know someone—us. Debbie has been wishing for a reason to switch from our WhisperMill (a perfectly fine machine) to a NutriMill (which has a few features that would be helpful to us). So we agreed to swap the mill for a part of the cow, balance in cash.

And there has been some progress on the milk cow front as well. Roger Murrell, pastor of the ORB church, has located a dairyman with quite a few milk cows for sale, Jerseys and Guernseys and Milking Shorthorns. Roger talked with this fellow about our situation and he had some specific cows to recommend that would be freshening in late January. Chris and I will probably go with Roger and Mike Slone some day next week to visit the dairy farm, check out the cows, and make the necessary arrangements.