Not raising hogs

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Following on from Barbara Partee's example of Kruschev not banging his shoe, I just came across a great example of chained hypothetical negative events. It was during Bonnie Webber's plenary address here in Austin yesterday, at the NASSLLI Summer School. (BTW, if you'll be in the Austin area on Saturday, I have an announcement for you: NASSLLI is hosting a big event commemorating the centenary of Turing's birth, and it's free and open to the public.) But without more ado, here's the "Not raising hogs" text, a good Texas story of how to get something from nothing:


To: Mr. Clayton Yeutter
Secretary of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir,
My friends, Wayne and Janelle, over at Wichita Falls, Texas, received a check the other day for $1,000 from the government for not raising hogs. So, I want to go into the "not raising hogs" business myself next year.

What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best type of farm not to raise hogs on, and what is the best breed of hogs not to raise? I want to be sure that I approach this endeavor in keeping with all government policies. I would prefer not to raise Razor Back hogs, but if that is not a good breed not to raise, then I can just as easily not raise Yorkshires or Durocs.
As I see it, the hardest part of this program will be keeping an accurate inventory of how many hogs I haven't raised.

My friend Wayne is very excited about the future of this business. He has been raising hogs for 20 years and the most he ever made was $420 in 1978, until this year, when he got your check for $1,000 for not raising hogs.

If I can get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, will I get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 "not raised" hogs, which will give me $80,000 income the first year. Then I can buy an airplane.

Now another thing: these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that you also pay farmers for not raising corn and wheat. Will I qualify for payments for not raising wheat and corn not to feed the 4,000 hogs I am not going to raise?

I want to get started not feeding as soon as possible, as this seems to be a good time of the year to not raise hogs and grain.

I am also considering the "not milking cows" business, so please send me any information on that also.
In view of these circumstances, I understand that the government will consider me totally unemployed, so I plan to file for unemployment and food stamps as well.

Be assured that you will have my vote in the coming elections.

Patriotically yours,
Otis Deal

PS: Would you please notify me when you plan to distribute more free cheese?

(From an archive of Texas humor at the Gathering Place)

By the way, Bonnie's talk was all about identifying easy problems in natural language processing, or at least problems which have a practically useful approximate solution. She discussed this multiple negation text as an example of something that is NOT an easy problem. It was a cute talk: Bonnie tells me she'll give me her slides to post, and I'll let you all know when that happens, and tell you a little more about the talk.


  1. Simon Spero said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

    I thought Natural Language Processing was defined as any problem in computational linguistics for which a practical, useful solution has already been found?

  2. mike said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    Joseph Heller, from "Catch-22":
    Major Major’s father […]advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for his advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” he counseled one and all, and everyone said “Amen.”

  3. david said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

    This story is all over the web. Here on page 9 is a 1982 rendition

  4. J G Stringer said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

    I won't be in the Austin area on Saturday but I looked up the Turing event anyway and was delighted to see that, although it is free and open to the public, people WILL have to prove that they have NOT paid to attend.

    From the website: "Others may be required to present 'tickets' (email confirmation of your $0 ticket purchase) at the door."

  5. Barry B said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

    Now another thing: these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that you also pay farmers for not raising corn and wheat. Will I qualify for payments for not raising wheat and corn not to feed the 4,000 hogs I am not going to raise?

    I'm reminded of Chico Marx's character, Baravelli, in Animal Crackers. If he rehearse to play the piano, you pay him. If he doesn't play at all, then you pay him for that, and since he also doesn't rehearse–that means you can't afford him.

  6. Carl said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

    My high school chemistry teacher was being paid to not farm, and as one would guess there's more to it than the letter suggests. His farm was covered in kudzu because that proved the land was arable (a use for the useless weed), and I think he had permission to not grow corn or some such. The real money though was in not growing tobacco, and he wished he could get permission to not grow it, but the allotments were scarce.

  7. Rubrick said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 4:26 am

    If only I had a dime for every comment I haven't made on one of Geoff Pullum's posts…

  8. Mark Etherton said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:36 am

    As david points out, this is a well-known letter. It has been traced back to the 1930s:

  9. Gnome Stome said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 7:51 am

    many a true word spoken in jest – herein lie some truths about modern agriculture – in particular agriculture as practised (or not) by certain identifiable voting demographics

  10. wally said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 10:09 am

    I will be in Austin, and thanks for the link for the tickets, but
    @J G Stringer, signing up for those tickets was much more painful than it needed to be

  11. Jeroen Mostert said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    Rubrick raises a good point. Many sites would be substantially improved by people not making comments, and we ought to start rewarding people for not making them.

    That's my two cents thrown away right there, unfortunately.

  12. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

    I once threatened to write a book about a certain bar and several people immediately offered to pay me not to write it. I haven't written the book, but I also haven't been paid.

    My question is: Should I not thank them for not paying me for not writing the book?

  13. Maureen said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    Kudzu isn't useless. It's a farm crop in Japan.

    The problem is that it grows a lot faster than anyone could possibly use all its useful and tasty parts.

  14. Nicholas Waller said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    @ JG Stringer – I once went to an event at a theatre in Wells which was free (a performance by the folk singer Vin Garbutt), but for which you had to have paid £10 for tickets in advance. So in order to not-pay to attend the gig, you had to pay; you couldn't simply not-pay by not paying. But it was still free – you were given your £10 back on the door.

    (The background, for those interested, is this. The then Old Down Acoustic Club, based in a pub, had built up a bit of cash reserve from its normal weekly activities and wanted to give it back to their loyal punters by means of a free Christmas gig by a top name in a larger-than-normal venue. He was a big draw – and himself was paid in full, btw, and so was the theatre – and to control numbers the club issued tickets. Free-from-the-get-go tickets might have gone to all sorts of oh-might-as-well people who might then not have bothered to turn up, leaving a half-empty venue and lots of people who would have liked to have seen Garbutt for nothing unable to go. So the £10 – a deposit and statement of intent, in fact – meant only people really intending to go would bother to acquire tickets. But it was nice to show up and be given £10 – you could go out with nothing in your pocket, see a gig and end up with enough money for three pints and a packet of crisps).

  15. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

    It's meaningful to say you skipped breakfast, but not that your hobby consists of NOT collecting stamps.

  16. Philip said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

    I'm an accordion player, and I've often thought about playing music for folks enjoying the park or the beach. Five bucks per song or ten dollars just to go away seems fair, no?

  17. peterv said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

    John Cage, of course, was not paid to write 4'33.

  18. David B Solnit said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

    Another angle can be seen in the one about the guy on his way to work who sees his bus pulling out, runs after it, nearly catches up with it at the next stop but doesn't quite, keeps running and keeps on not quite catching up, and finally realizes he's arrived at his destination. He tells the story to a co-worker, concluding "…and so I saved $2 in busfare!" The response: "Next time run behind a taxi and you'll save 20 bucks."
    It seems to me that people often talk like this about economic matters: if I don't sell my house/stock while the market's up, I've lost X amount. Sure, but if my non-selling occurs at other times…

  19. Ken Brown said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

    Nicholas Waller, when I first saw Vin Garbutt ten quid would have been enough money for thirty pints and a ten packets of crisp, Literally – bars in Durham were selling pints at 20-25 pence in the mid-1970s. And yes he was brilliant and still is.

    Of course in those days North-Easterners were being paid not to mine coal or build ships. Its just that they got paid about a twentieth of what they would have got for mining coal and building ships. I was a mere student, so I was getting paid not to look for a job and so not put up the unemplyment figures even more.

  20. NCSmith said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

    @Philip: It pays better if you not play the bagpipes.

  21. BlueLoom said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 6:42 am

    About a decade or so ago, I proposed a new fundraiser to the mgr of my local NPR classical music station: they could auction off not playing certain musical pieces. I said I would pay well for a month of not playing Ravel's Bolero. If my funds were not exhausted from my non-Bolero investment, I might also pay them for not playing Mussorgy's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Other listeners might pay the station for not playing "The Little Drummer Boy" during December.

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    @BlueLoom: Once you pay the Bolerogeld, you never get rid of the Bolero. (I suppose that's why it would be a good fundraising method.)

    For another take on this old topos, here's a page from Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille by Steven Brust.

  23. Walter Jeffries said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    "Kudzu isn't useless. It's a farm crop in Japan. The problem is that it grows a lot faster than anyone could possibly use all its useful and tasty parts."

    Oh that I could grow kudzu, or anything as prolific and nutritious. I really do raise hogs, on pasture, so I'm always looking at what to grow. If I had Kudzu they would eat it all up. We had thistles and burdock, despicable plants if you have sheep, but the pigs ate them all.

    While I do raise pigs I don't get any subsidies. I'm not big enough. Just 300 or so. To get into the subsidized farming market tends to require being a lot larger and they like confinement over pasture.

  24. Nicholas Waller said,

    June 22, 2012 @ 2:56 am

    @ Walter Jeffries – does this mean that there are now a lot more pigs not raised in confinement than there are not raised on pasture?

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