The new Google News app is superb


This is a bit off top from my usual types of post, but I have discovered something so amazing that it warrants mentioning. Even here. It is newly updated Google News app.

If you are unfamiliar with Google News, it is an app that is available for Android and Apple smart phones and tablets (that said, I found it will not run on the oldest versions of the iPad). It is a new aggregator of sorts, and it has been around for a long time. And while it was worth having before, in the past week Google updated this app and made it indispensable in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

The new Google News app allows users to add what news sources it wants to follow or not follow. When a news article appears under the For You section, you can decide whether or not to request "more stories like this" or "fewer stories like this." All of this information is fed into a complex algorithm that automatically changes what news stories you see on your Google News feed. Do you find professional wrestling uninteresting like me? Just tell Google News to show fewer news stories on the topic. Do you consider a news source too conservative or too liberal for your liking? Just tell Google News to hide stories from that news source. Do you want to see more news stories on a particular topic? Just tell the new Google News app to do so. It is amazing. And very automatic.

Now, the algorithm takes some time to learn. For some reason it keeps sending me articles on SEC football. I'm sorry, but I'm a Big 10 fan. And its agricultural offerings are a little slim, but it is improving.

If you want to teach the app to post more articles about agriculture, for example, you can do what I did and went into the Favorites section and highlighted topics on agricultural machinery, beef, wheat, cattle, sugar beets, ranching, and agriculture. Sadly, most agricultural trade journals are not teamed up with Google News to include their articles into the mix. If they did, it would be the perfect application. But it does offer enough agricultural articles to keep me interested...which is important for me as a Montana agricultural photographer. You can also save searches, too. So if I want to search the Internet for news about agricultural photography, I can save that search and manually look for any news on the subject.

If you aren't already using the new Google News app I highly encourage you to check it out. I think you just might fall in love with it like I did.

99% of farms are family owned...but only half are family farmed

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 99% of all American farms are still considered "family farms," which means they are owned by families and not corporations. However, according to New Food Economy magazine, only half are family farmed.

The article that appeared recently in the magazine said 355 million acres across the United States, or almost 40% of the country's farmland, is rented out to other farm operators. In the Midwest this is especially true. In Iowa, for example, that number is much higher, where more than half of the farmland there is farmed by renters. This is all interesting information for this agricultural photographer for obvious reasons.

If you have not yet read this article from New Food Economy magazine I would say it is worth checking out. And if you have not done so already, check out my agriculture photos.

The anatomy of a troll

Fire eating through the side of an old house during a controlled burn near Belleville, Wisconsin.

If you conduct any of your life online, at one point or another, you have probably been trolled. And although one might argue people who spend any amount of time online have no life at all, the trolls they meet are every bit a reality.

Recently a woman made headlines when she apologized for trolling people online. She claims to have spent more than 12,000 hours bullying strangers on the Internet from the dark recesses of her basement in St. Louis, Missouri. In the article she said she was coming clean and admitted to being 'haunted' by the horrible words she once hurled at others. And while this might be a cautionary tale for why people should not troll, I think it is a much better example of what a troll really is. Let's examine who this woman really is.

Her name is Landon Eason. She is overweight and unattractive. Now, please don't hate me. I'm not trying to shame her. Hell, most would consider ME unattractive. I am merely pointing out facts. Deeper in the article this woman also admitted to being an alcoholic. She is also a bitter divorcee. She is unemployed. And she spends a disproportionate amount of her time typing away on a computer in a dark room of her home. Without knowing all of the other facts, I'd also guess she has poor health (both mentally and physically), she is uneducated, and has few (if any) friends. And if she has family that is still alive, they probably don't enjoy being around her. This, I am afraid, is the anatomy of a typical troll.

Over the years I have crossed paths with trolls. Some came from groups who disliked my photography and the profession of those who raise cattle. They consider the cattle industry inhumane and those who make photographs of the beef industry accomplices to murder. Other trolls are associated with competitors. And still others are anonymous people whose opinions differ from mine and whom I have crossed paths with online. Regardless of who these trolls are or why they bully people, they almost always share a common profile. And they almost all like to play for keeps...because God forbid a person should have an original thought and think just a little bit differently than they do.

Every month there are trolls trying to ruin my name by publishing false and libelous information about me or my business online. Other trolls have reported me to police for crimes I have not committed. Some trolls have even tried contacting my family hoping to embarrass me and hoping I will stop whatever it is I am doing that makes them so angry and vile. And there are other trolls who share my personal information online. The goal of trolls is simple; to shut me up...even though my actions harm no one and are 100% legal and ethical in every way. My trolls, unfortunately, cannot say the same thing and ultimately end up engaging in the very sins they accuse others of doing. I hope one day I am afforded the opportunity to know who they really are, because I would not waste an opportunity to use the law to punish them for damages.

As more and more Americans live their lives inside a smart phone or computer and fewer and fewer live their lives in the old fashioned three dimensional world of reality, trolling will become more and more common. It is a sad reality of life. It's just too bad these people lack the brains and/or integrity to articulate their views humanely. It is also too bad our world has become a place where people no longer respect the views and actions of others without having to engage in a personal crusade to destroy their lives.

How pitiful these people must be. How miserable their lives surely are. And how much time they must have on their hands. Perhaps if they spent less time trolling and spent more time out-and-about meeting people, engaging people, and getting to know people (real people), maybe their view of the world might be a little different. Going through life as a nobody with no friends or family who love and respect you is not a way to live one's life. And if you a troll just because you disagree with me, why not throw open your curtains and share what you are doing with the rest of the world? Like a cockroach, trolls like to work under the cloak of darkness. And do you know the perfect disinfectant for cockroaches (and trolls)? It is more sunlight.

Oh, and might I also suggest trolls seek help from a mental health professional. You need it.

When Havre is in the national eye it is seldom a good thing

A statue of James J. Hill in Havre, Montana. He was a railroad executive who managed the Great Northern Railway, and he is the namesake for Hill County, where Havre is located.

I received an alert from Google last night. It said searches for Havre, Montana were up a whopping 355% over the past week (May 15, 2018 to May 21, 2018). Traffic to my photos of Havre on my website also increased dramatically last week, too. So, unless you don't pay attention to the national news (and who can blame you if you don't), you probably know the reason why.

To review, last Wednesday two U.S. citizens were stopped and questioned by an agent from the Border Patrol in the wee hours of the morning when they were heard speaking Spanish to each other inside the Town Pump gas station in Havre. One of the two women, whose name is Ana Suda, was born in Texas. She was shopping for groceries with a friend when the agent from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency stopped them and asked to see their IDs. That's when one of the women pulled out her cell phone and began recording. Not long after the video was posted YouTube it went viral and made national headlines. No small surprise in today's political climate.

The last time Havre made the national news was in October of last year when more than a dozen inches of snow fell on the area. Havre also made headlines again when we learned something those living here already knew...Havre experienced the worst winter in the country. All of those stories prove it is seldom a good thing when Havre is in the national news.

To someone not from Havre, or even the region, it might seem odd to see a Border Patrol agent stopping someone because they are speaking Spanish. While polite, the agent might have handled the situation better, but there's a reason why people like him are Border Patrol agents and not salespeople. Also, Border Patrol agents, like police officers, have a very dangerous and equally thankless job to do these days. My how quickly we all forget how much we loved these men and women back in September 2001. But I digress.

What that agent said to the two women is accurate. There are not a lot of people (if any) who speak Spanish on the Hi-Line here in Montana. In fact, I too would find it odd to hear two people having a conversation in Spanish or any foreign language here...unless of course it is was some Hutterites talking to each other in old German. And if you are not from around here, you probably have no clue what a Hutterite is or what old German sounds like. In Havre, Montana that Border Patrol agent has the right under the law to stop anyone and ask questions regardless of what language they are speaking. Why? Because Havre is a very short distance from the Canadian border.

Now Ana hasn't lived in Havre a very long time. What she should know is that Havre is located a mere 40 miles from Canada, which places it within a special border protection zone authorized under the Patriot Act where agents are given greater authority to stop people, conduct searches, and ask to see documentation. You may not like the law, but unfortunately in a democratic republic such as the United States, you cannot pick and choose what laws you want to follow. I learned this same lesson when a Border Patrol agent stopped me (no, I wasn't speaking Spanish) while making photos in downtown Havre in the middle of the night. I reminded the agent it wasn't illegal for me to make photos while the rest of the city was sleeping. He agreed, but said because I was located within 100 miles of the Canadian border I could be questioned and asked to verify my identification. Of course I complied, but I made sure to verify his claim on the Internet. And he was right. What's more, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to have the law changed in 2014. And they lost.

Given the current political climate in our country, many illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom come from Spanish speaking countries, are now trying to flee into Canada. By doing so, according to Forbes magazine, illegal immigrants entering Canada are channeled into the internal Canadian refugee claims process and can avoid being returned to the United States. And I'm sorry, but Border Patrol agents are hired to do a job...including stopping people who want to illegally enter (or leave) the country.

Again, that Border Patrol agent might have handled the situation better (how I don't really know), but to those who are unfamiliar with life in the northern reaches of Montana where its citizens are located a very short distance from the largest unfortified border in the world, I think many of you have been overreacting. This is another example of people on both coasts who think they know everything...but simply do not.

I honestly don't think the Border Patrol agents in Havre care one bit what nationality or race you are. They are trained to spot things that would appear outside the norm. They have a job to do...to protect and defend the United States border. How do I know they don't care about race or nationality? Because in a community of less than 10,000 people, these same Border Patrol agents are our neighbors and friends; despite the fact none of them were born or raised in Havre. In fact, most of them arrived here from outside of the state.

Frankly, the proof is in the pudding. In 2003 an Iraqi refugee was arrested by Border Patrol agents in Havre for being in the United States illegally. In 2004 a Vietnamese national was arrested for the same thing. A Tunisian citizen and a Palestinian citizen were also arrested for plotting to transport explosives into Montana and derail a passenger train. In 2014 Border Patrol agents arrested an American man riding the Amtrak train when it stopped in Havre because he was caught carrying 17 lbs. of marijuana. In 2017 Montana Border Patrol agents arrested five Romanian nationals who were here illegally. That same year agents arrested a 25 year old Canadian man who entered the United States illegally when he cut down a border fence and drove his truck through. And in a separate incident that same year, Border Patrol agents arrested an Irish man who illegally entered the U.S. from Canada. And arrests like these happen all of the time. Far too numerous to list them all here. Border Patrol agents routinely board the Amtrak train in Havre looking for non-citizens who lack the proper paperwork needed to stay in the country legally. These checks happen every single day. And the rest of the country should not be shocked. If you crossed the border illegally, you are here illegally. But if you are here legally, you should not expect the Border Patrol agents to look the other way just because you are speaking Spanish; just like they didn't look the other way when I was speaking to no one taking photos of downtown Havre in the middle of the night.

If you found my website and this article because you were searching for more information on what happened to those women in Havre last week, I feel it necessary to tell you that Havre is a wonderful community with people who tend to be very open minded and who also tend to be very family oriented. Once Ana lives here long enough I'm confident she too will know this. Sandwiched between two native American Indian reservations AND located very near several Hutterite colonies AND along a major highway which moves international travelers to and from Glacier National Park AND located a very short distance to an international border, the people here do not live in some sort of secluded enclave of Caucasians who take issue with those who come from a different place and speak in a different tongue. And generally speaking, the people of Havre do not like attention. Especially this sort of attention. So if you are visiting my website to see some of my photos of Havre and Hill County, that's fine. Please have a look around. But if you are here to stir more of the muck, please move along. There really isn't much more to see here. Trust me, you have far bigger fish to fry in your own community, thank you.

J.C. Allen & Sons vintage farm photography

I recently learned about the agriculture photography of J.C. Allen, John Allen, and Chester Allen. From Lebanon, Indiana. I have ordered some of their books and I'm already quickly becoming a fan. Together J.C. Allen and his sons created some wonderful photography of rural life in America. Here is a video I found on YouTube about them. If you are interested in photography at all be sure to take a look.