The Shutdown Hits Home


Friends, in his own opinion, ProfessorRoush has done an exceptional job at Garden Musings, avoiding any mention of politics here over the now 3+ years I’ve blogged. Only those who know my tendency to rant over seemingly minute issues can fathom what a struggle that has been, but I’m going to make an exception today. The dam has broken. The Rubicon has been crossed. The …. oh, you know what I mean.

Last night, I was at a Riley County Extension Board meeting and the local horticultural agent reported that he and the ag agent had recently seen a new “weed,” Tragia sp. and had visited the plant experts at K-State to identify it. Now, Tragia, also known as NoseBurn, is not new, since two species have been reported in Kansas, but it’s fairly rare and I hadn’t seen it before either. In fact, it’s not described at, my go-to Kansas native plant site. So I pulled out my iPhone and went to, where, to my surprise, I received the following message:


My Fellow Gardeners, that is way beyond absolutely ridiculous. This is the ultimate evidence that the bureaucrats are playing games. I’m in a fortunate place in my life, not old enough for social security or medicare, not directly dependent on the federal government for income, and not planning any trips presently to a national park. So I’ve been personally unaffected by the “Shutdown” and as long as the military and senior citizens get paid, I have enough of a libertarian streak that I’m happy for a respite from government. I was a little aggravated yesterday over the news of closing of the WWII memorial; I mean, the place is for walking around—do we have to barricade it off? But to shut down a running informational website? I understand that the information may not be immediately updated, but I’m sure that I can manage without the absolute latest information on a botanical specimen. I suppose someone might offer the feeble explanation that no one is around to make sure Server #2115 doesn’t overheat and subsequently burn down Washington, but the USDA plant database isn’t the only thing on those servers and I suspect that computer technicians in charge of running servers are on the “critical” list of personnel anyway.

Recognize that I’m not pointing a specific finger here. Blame the Democratic senators or blame the Tea Party, but they are all representing the people who elected them, and we got what we asked for, stalemate, which is almost as good as not having a government. Shutting the USDA plant database down, however, is nothing but a political ploy. A pox on both their Houses.

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James Roush
Dr. James K. Roush is a 2007 Riley County Master Gardener. He now gardens on a shallow façade of clay overlying the chert and limestone bedrock of the Kansas Flint Hills that provides a sharp contrast in gardening experience to the deep Indiana soils he was raised on. When he’s not gardening, reading about gardening, or writing about gardening, he is a small animal veterinary orthopedic surgeon and a Professor at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. A long-suffering wife and two children share his time and tribulations with the garden.


  1. I work in an area that requires me to get geospatial data and on the side look at the USDA plant database and I was thoroughly pissed off on Tuesday when I couldn’t access data. For some reason the USFS has been nice enough to leave their data up.

    It is rather ridiculous.

  2. Same with National Park Service web pages. Sure I can’t visit the parks today, but you won’t even let me plan a future trip? There is no technical reason I can think of that these sites couldn’t remain active — unless they did have to shut down a bunch of servers.

    Congress doesn’t get paid during shut downs, right?

    • Yeah. They do. But some are magnanimously saying they will not accept the money, or they will accept it but donate it (tax write-off?). For them, it’s an option. Unlike the thousands (millions?) who have this forced on them and face actual economic hardship because of it.

    • Alan, that’s a rhetorical question, right?….in fact, the last I read, even those who didn’t WANT to get paid during the shutdown got paid; there’s no way for them to opt out.

      I haven’t heard any of them saying they’d donate that pay they don’t want to charity, however…..

      • So far about 100 Senators and Congresspersons have said they will donate their pay to various causes.

        Nobody minds having parts of the government that they don’t use shut down unless they have some empathy for those who are hurt, but nobody wants the parts that benefit them shut down. As Bill Clinton said, we all like to believe we were born in a log cabin which we each built by ourselves.

  3. as a fed, let me give you my perspective. The servers are shut down to protect them. The memorials are closed because there’s no one to watch for vandals. There are a few employees to keep an eye on things but most of us are home trying to figure out how to pay for all the fees public schools are having to pass on to us when we’re not getting a paycheck. And quite frankly if it takes a terribly minor inconvenience to you too remind you how much you get from those of us not getting paid, it seems fair.

    • Is it a minor inconvenience Terry, or are is there an active attempt to make sure we all feel the hurt?….I saw news reports last night of some kind of pioneer farm that is run entirely without federal money, but who was told they had to close because the farm SITS on federal land. Barricades and everything.

      • There’s a difference between a dumb server that simply serves out static webpages and an Oracle (or other database) system that creates dynamic, data driven web pages. One can sit there and ruin. The other requires nightly maintenance. If you hack into a static webpage, you can maybe change the picture to something embarrassing. If you hack into a database you can do some real damage. If there’s no admin there, it can be catastrophic. All the admins are busy applying for unemployment.

      • So was it the land that had to close because there’s no one there to keep an eye on the federal part? Was there a manned gate? We’re there contracts with the farm that had to be put into abayence? Did the farm have agreements about patrols from fed employees who are no longer there?

    • Aren’t the federal employees furloughed going to get back pay for their time off? If so, it’s a tad difficult to have any sympathy for them. In fact, I bet the federal employees who still have to work would love to be furloughed. Seems all Americans would love to have the problem, especially those that can’t find jobs or are just getting by on minimum wage.

  4. The server is still up and running they just aren’t letting you access any of the beneficial pages. They are only allowing access to the shutdown page. That means they still have all the same maintenance and security needs as a fully running site. They aren’t saving any money at all.

    It reminds me of a Thomas Sowell quote.
    “Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do?

    The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.”

  5. Rather than keep the website up, or let people enjoy our monuments that have no gates, the powers to be would rather make this shutdown as painful as possible. Which is odd except that the people in charge want us to feel as much pain as possible so as to score political points. They stopped carrying about the citizenry awhile ago.

    • And if someone gets raped or mugged at the unprotected Lincoln Monument while Park Rangers are on furlough, then that can be blamed on the government too! Nobody to protect it? That wouldn’t attract vandals now, would it? We’re kicking kids out of Headstart and you’re upset about access to a plant database? The government is supposed to have a plan in place for periodic shutdown — we keep the plant databases up and running, shutdown the NIH, keep the FAA running, shutdown meat inspection, etc. anything else that you personally feel you need? Perhaps you should let them know.

      • Bad example, using Head Start. It’s a nice baby-sitting operation and it employs unskilled people, but there is zero evidence that it makes a shred of difference in the lives of these kids. There’s no difference in outcome for kids who attended Head Start versus kids who didn’t. So why continue a program that demonstrably has no effect?

        • You’re wrong. There are scientific studies that show Head Start has a beneficial effect on students. Those effects may not outweigh continued education in disadvantaged schools. That’s a reason to upgrade schools, not throw little kids out on the streets.

  6. I posted my comment before Terry posted his above. He say’s it all, “And quite frankly if it takes a terribly minor inconvenience to you too remind you how much you get from those of us not getting paid, it seems fair.”

    Its not about trying to keep things running or making due with limited resources, it’s about how important they think they are are and hoping you feel the pain.

    • I didn’t say it was being done to inconvenience you. I said if that was what out took for you to look up and see what services the government you’re so contemptuous of provides then it will be worth it.

      By all means, go start your own website. Gather your own data. Fund your own research. Cut all the taxe

      • Terry,
        I am not contemptuous of you or any one caught up in this. What you say about government can be applied to private business. When the economy tanked and my garden center suffered, my customers suffered too. If I had had the attitude that, “you have to suffer because you have stopped shopping with me as often”, I would be out of business. Imagine if I pulled down my website, cut my hours of operation, stopped carrying stuff out for them, etc., and then said, “because I can’t pay my mortgage, your going to know what it’s like to be without our services “. That would be it for us. They would have stopped shopping with us, and gone somewhere else. I know what it’s like to face economic ruin. The answer is not complaining about my situation, and making my customers pay the price.

        • Trey,
          I think that Terry’s point is that all of these services take money to run and it is not fair to ask those people to work for free. It is not Terry’s (or any other worker at the monuments/servers/national parks, etc.) that those things are shutdown. I am sure that Terry would like to be working and getting paid for that work. Do you really expect ALL of the federal employees (that are not responsible for this) to work for free?

        • I’m guessing you didn’t tell your employees to go home or work without pay then work up a bunch of conspiracy theories about why you composted half of your plants.
          No one shut down anything in the hopes of making you miserable by not looking up weeds or planning vacations. There’s no one there to make sure bad people don’t come in and do bad things.

          • I disagree that no one has shut things down “on purpose”. I think a lot of the closures and what not are done with that exactly in mind. I don’t fault the workers who are caught up in this. The blame is with us. We elect these same people over and over again expecting a different outcome.

  7. I was shocked when I encountered the error message on the very same page yesterday. I am a student in horticulture research and am lucky enough to work in the department I study at. While researching information on some of the plants I gathered seed from in the campus bioretention garden yesterday, I went to that page for information, since it is one of my go-to’s. I can’t believe what’s goin on politically right now. The scale of it is mind-boggling.

  8. My son (a physicist) has also been furloughed, and while I can’t talk about everything he does, I can say that if the shutdown continues for a while anyone in the military that relies on lasers or radio frequencies might wish he were working….

    This grumbling about websites and inconvenience in planning vacations or looking up information seems petty in the face of what’s going on. Once upon a time, people used to think that we’re all in this together; now it’s more like “what can they do for me”. You want to cherry-pick who gets paid (“as long as the military and senior citizens get paid”)? You’re in a position to make that decision?

    Sure, we all hope the politicians grow up and things go back to “normal”– meaning we can take our government services for granted and gripe about “government interference/incompetence” in those areas we either don’t know or care about……meanwhile, there are a lot of us out there in limbo, just waiting to see what the future brings, trying to plan how to pay bills (forget about planning vacations).

    • I agree Anne, it is petty to worry about the website and there are real problems out there like regular Federal employees trying to pay the bills. But I also thought it is petty to shut down the USDA database.

      • I guess what irked me Professor Roush, is that it sounded like you were saying that as long as you had access to your database, and military and seniors got paid, you don’t give a cr*p about what happens with the government or others who are affected by the government shutdown–in fact, you welcome a “respite from government”. I’m sorry to hear that your government has been so oppressive to you…..I’m the first to admit that it’s not perfect (and I’m in 2 highly-regulated industries, so I know the long touch of government), but it’s far from the worst out there. I would say a lot of the plutocracy in America derives from greed, and an attitude that as long as you can get away with it, you can do it; and that’s an attitude that seeped into our politics more and more starting in the Reagan years….but that’s another story.

        Maybe we should use this time to get away form our computers, go out in our gardens and enjoy the end of the season!

  9. “This grumbling about websites and inconvenience in planning vacations or looking up information seems petty in the face of what’s going on.”

    Amen to that! Let’s get our priorities straight people.

  10. I work with Census data, visiting the website from a couple times a week to a couple times a day. It’s what I’m paid to do – grab pertinent data for an area, map it or put it into some other user-friendly format. There’s no reason whatsoever to shut it down. And yet, it is. And I flounder, hoping that when someone asks me for info, I’ll be able to find it on data I’ve already downloaded. So far, not so good.

    And the real burn is that while the powers play with the lives and paychecks of citizens, some are opting to forego their own paycheck or to donate it. For them, it’s an option! Still completely clueless about what it’s like to be an ordinary government worker, government dependent, or businessperson tied to government or gov’t facilites during the shutdown.

    • Bingo. We have a ruling class, with greater than a 90% change of reelection every cycle, who don’t have to live under the same rules as the rest of us. I did mention that I have a Libertarian streak, didn’t I?

  11. Not all gov websites are down. Still available are the websites for the National Institutes of Health, FDA, Immigration Services, Dept of Justice, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, EPA, National Hurricane Center, USDA’s food safety and inspection service, Dept of Transportation, IRS, Homeland Defense, etc, etc.

    • It depends on what kind of sites they’re running, who got called essential and whether or not there are life and property issues. Govt employees don’t sit around thinking “gosh, who can I inconvenience today”. We’re to busy doing our jobs between sequester furloughs, shut down furloughs, unfilled positions etc

  12. Boo F ‘in hoo Professor Roush. So sorry you have been inconvenienced by not be able to access a government website.

    What about the inconvenience to 40 million Americans who are uninsured, can’t get medical insurance and have no access to healthcare? That is what this is about. Right wing nut jobs trying to stop the working poor from getting access to medical care by holding the country and the economy hostage. All those states that refused the medicaid expansion have already successfully done that to a huge number of the working poor.

    I am one of them, a self employed peasant gardener who has never been able to afford medical insurance my entire working life because my profession is not deemed worthy of a wage much above subsistence level. The entire horticulture industry is likely rife with the uninsured.

    And you want to whine cause you can’t find the “weed,” Tragia sp. on a government website. The real Tragia sp is staring you in the face.

    Terry thank you for speaking up and thank you for the work you do. I am sorry y’all get caught in the middle of all this BS.

    I have never bought the BIG LIE that government is more inefficient and burdensome than private enterprise. Every single government worker I have done business with have been courteous, prompt and helpful. Not a one of them has ever told me they will show up some time between 8am and 5pm. I have never reached India when I called a government office. There has never been a two year contract with a penalty if I break the contract early.

    I get my phone from AT+T. I have to call them regularly after a hard rain because the in multiple places damaged phone cable is hanging from the pole wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag. They won’t run a new line up the mountain because there’s no profit in it for them. They will try and sell me high speed internet and cell service over and over and over. Just for fun once I said yes to the internet. The modem and set up kit arrived and then two weeks later I get the call. I’m sorry there is no high speed internet up there.

    Yes I know. That is what I told the salesman who sold it to me.
    So much for the efficiency of the capitalist system. And that is only one example.

    Poor Professor Roush. He can’t get to a single website. There are times I can’t get on the internet at all with The profit motive simply does not have the magical powers this culture has bestowed on it. If it did, well we wouldn’t have 40 million Americans shut out of the healthcare system and government would not have had to step in and regulate the industry.

    • Christopher C NC,

      How do you think wealth is created? It’s created when one party makes a good or service available that others are willing to pay for. I am sorry that there is not a great enough demand for “peasant gardeners” to allow you to live as comfortably as you wish, but that was your choice. I am also sorry that AT&T would not run your very own personal cable up the mtn. for your convenience, at their expense — selfish bastards! (Also, AT&T is a service provider not a cable company, so this makes no sense anyway.)

      So the gov’t has never forced you into a 2 year contract with a penalty if you break it? Oooh, except for that mandatory lifetime contract called Obamacare, and oh shit, there is a penalty for not signing up! At least the cell phone contract is voluntary.

      Dude, get a clue.

      See what you started, Professor Roush

      • Mary you need to get a many clues it seems. Service provider not a cable company? You’re right that makes no sense. Try going to the AT+T site. That might help you see what services they sell. It may not tell you that service is delivered via buried cable line. My own personal cable line up the mountain right. I live in NC not Siberia.

        • Regardless of the party that buries the cable, my point is that you show a complete lack of understanding of economics. If it were profitable to run cable they would do it. Part of the trade-off of living a rural area is that you don’t have access to as many goods and services.

          • I understand economics perfectly well. Better than you most likely. I also understand how insurance works as a collective pool against individual risk. I also gather from your comments that profits and wealth are of more value and importance to you it seems than the well being of people. Good for you. We know what you value most.

            And for the record I have lived quite comfortably and enjoyably in some of the world’s most beautiful places on the income of a peasant gardener who was always in high demand. No, I have never had all the latest, best and shiniest consumer conveniences. I never needed or wanted them. I quite consciously made a decision to choose a quality of life over income. That choice meant affording health insurance wasn’t practical.

            And you would just resign all low wage earners to that fate as their choice. Good for you. We know how you feel. It’s their fault that the profits of the free enterprise system only works on the backs of low wage workers and that profits for the medical insurance industry require premiums so high millions of people are left out. Smart people would never be poor by choice and get screwed by ending up at the bottom of the great and mighty free enterprise capitalist system.

  13. Hi all,

    Thought I would just chime in–when I posted this guest rant, I honestly thought Jim Roush was stressing the ridiculousness of the whole stand down by pretending he really cared that the USDA database was down.

    And as for Obamacare, as we all know, it went into effect regardless of the shutdown. That is another aspect of the supreme irony of it all.

    I just thought it was funny. But certainly there are serious issues at play. Thank god we won’t really be discussing them here—unless plants are involved.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth, for the clarity. Yes, I didn’t and don’t really care if the USDA website was down, but I did think it was an extremely absurd extension of the Shutdown, clearly putting the extent our dependence on government on display. I’m sorry, I guess it’s a little too early and the wounds are way too raw for any satire.

    • Ha ha. For many people this is personal and for a huge number of people predominantly across the south, Obamacare has effectively been shut down. You can call it the Republican state legislature’s created donut hole of Obamacare.

      • Christopher, if we couldn’t laugh at the absurdities of contemporary politics, we would have to resort to desperate measures. That being said, there is a reason I live where I live, besides liking snow. I am truly appalled that some of our states are happy with having uninsured residents, and are happy to punish those who need medicaid benefits.

        But they would be able to do all that regardless of the shutdown.

        • So let’s see, GardenRant. You slap up a political post, then urge people not to discuss politics in the comments section. You then immediately proceed to present your own political views!

  14. “Make them all beggars, because they’re easier to please.” What the government gives you, the government can take away. Health care costs are going to continue to skyrocket, you will be paying more out of pocket, and doctors are going to be harder to find. Obamaacre does nothing to address many of the reasons why health care costs in our country are so high. Obamacare makes the madness of our current health care system ever worse. There is no other industry where the cost of the product and the price have so little to do with each other. It’s an over-regulated business with way too much government involvement, and that will get worse. With the IRS as the enforcers. It’s not gonna be good.

    • Once again, you’re wrong. The cost curve on health care is already starting to go down. The exchanges are coming in below what was expected. If you were previously uninsured, out of pocket expenses are going to come way down. If you have employer based insurance, nothing will change. And how in the world do you pair over-regulation with cost-price differential. It comes largely from the AMA and doctors *not* having any oversight. My husband is a conservative (sporting a NotARepublican bumper sticker) doctor so I hear that rant all the time.

    • Also, your claim that there is no other industry where “the cost of the product and the price have so little to do with each other” is wrong; farming is another. Food prices often don’t reflect the true cost of production, at least monetarily; we may pay also environmentally and socially though, in addition to with money.

  15. Please. I follow Garden Rant because I am a gardener. If I want to read intractable political debates between those who will never change each other’s minds, I would be on Politico or Huffington Post.

    • Ha! Thank you, Pat.

      Yes, I have strong opinions on these matters but I often need to get away from it all. It’s gotten so that I no longer listen to news on my commute; I get too angry. So I listen to soothing music and daydream, trouble free, for a short while. The garden is also a place to escape.

      • Wonderful garden, Christopher. I live on a small suburban lot, and the wife and I have opted for a rather busy garden. We like it, but it’s crowded with imports.

        Yours definitely cries out for ambling.

  16. The shutdown has hurt more than just those looking up items on the USDA site. We local DC-area gardeners are cut off from gardening on Federal lands, prevented from meeting with local plant societies, block from accessing public gardens as volunteers, etc.
    Many small hort businesses have been hurt and that pain is now being passed on to as we all cut back on our purchases and expenditures. Read more at:

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