Thursday, February 28, 2013 » After Horse Meat Scandal, Why Is Some Food Taboo? » After Horse Meat Scandal, Why Is Some Food Taboo?

I have to admit that, other than the Vietnamese dish with "eyeballs" mentioned by "Frank" in the broadcast, almost nothing mentioned here as a food bothers me for some reason.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Help Wanted and Holscher's Second Law of History

From this past Sunday's Casper Star Tribune.  A couple of great, descriptive advertisments of some iconic Western jobs, which people like to imagine are a thing of the past, but which actually are not.

FARM & RANCH Livestock Worker (Open Range) , Wyoming 3 Livestock Workers (Open Range) wanted. Performs any combination of the following seasonal duties involved in the open range tending of commercial livestock to assist ranch owners. Primary responsibilities are: Attend to livestock on the open range: harness, drive and feed cattle with teams of horses; feeds and waters livestock; herds livestock to pasture for grazing; examines animals to detect diseases and injuries; assists with the vaccination of livestock by herding into corral and/or stall or manually restraining animal on the range; applies medications to cuts and bruises; sprays livestock with insecticide; assists with castration of livestock; clips identifying notches on or brands animals; may assist with irrigating, planting, cultivating, and harvesting hay. Workers must be able to ride and handle horses in a manner to assure the safety of the worker, co-workers, and livestock. Must be able to find and maintain bearings to grazing areas. Must be willing and able to occasionally live and work independently or in small groups of workers in isolated areas for extended periods of time. Attend to cow-calf pairs principally on vast rugged fall, winter, and spring ranges using horses and trained dogs to keep range cattle in designated grazing areas in accordance with federal grazing permits; assist with monitoring/maintenance of water sources, water tanks, pipelines and reservoirs to ensure movement of range cattle to adhere to grazing plans; assist with calving; may help with supplemental feeding of range livestock using trucks, tractors and related trailers; protect and care for cow-calf pairs; may assist with branding, ear notching, dehorning, castrating, vaccinating livestock; report observations of livestock to rancher concerning health and injuries and help with administration of medications; assist with gathering, sorting, weaning and shipment of range livestock; assist with movement of cow-calf pairs through chutes/corrals & onto scales during sorting & shipping process; care for horses including shoeing horses; may assist with care of small herds of sheep/goats; maintain/construct fences/corrals (metal & wood) using related equipment. May assist with irrigation of hay meadows using gravity flow, wheel and pivot; may assist with planting, maintenance and harvest of hay meadows which provide supplemental feed or forage for range livestock; may use tractors, trucks, trailers, other supplemental feeding and hay harvesting equipment, other equipment, etc. necessary for performance of above duties; may assist with maintenance of machinery and equipment; may assist with maintenance of ranch buildings. Lives in mobile camps or other housing principally on the range. On call 24 hrs./day, 7 days/week. Work tools, supplies, equipment provided w/out cost to worker. Employment for of work contract guaranteed. Transportation & subsistence expenses to worksite provided by employer, 6 months experience (exp.) in above duties req'd. & references req'd. to verify exp. ( if exp. has not been in immediate preceding 12 months, up to 2 references req'd.). Must be physically able to perform above job duties. 3 job openings; positions are temporary from 3/01/2013 12/31/2013. Wages: $1500/month plus housing provided at no cost to workers who cannot reasonably return to their permanent residence at the end of the work day. Employer: Pretty Water LLC. Location: primarily on range land south of Rock Springs, Wyoming (Sweetwater County) (Southwest Wyoming). Report or send resume to nearest Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services office. Main office: 100 W. Midwest Ave., Casper, WY 82601 Ph: 307-233-4657. Job Order #2518282

LIVESTOCK WORKER 5 Livestock Workers wanted. Performs any combination of following seasonal duties for range production of livestock: attend to cow-calf pairs on vast ranges using horses & trained dogs to keep in designated areas; assist w/monitoring/maintenance of water sources, water tanks, pipelines & reservoirs; assist w/ calving, supplemental feeding of range livestock; protect/care for cow-calf pairs; may help w/ branding, ear notching, dehorning, castrating, vaccinating livestock; report observations of livestock concerning health/injuries & help w/ administration of medications; assist w/ gathering, sorting, weaning & shipment of range livestock; may assist w/ care of small herds of sheep/goats; maintain/construct fences/ corrals (metal/wood) using related tools; may assist w/irrigation of hay meadows using gravity flow, wheel & pivot; may assist with planting, maintenance & harvest of hay meadows; may use tractors, trucks, trailers, other supplemental feeding & hay harvesting equipment, etc. necessary to perform above duties; may assist w/ maintenance of machinery & equipment. Live in mobile camps/ housing principally on range. On call 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week. Work tools, supplies, equipment provided w/out cost to worker. Employment for of work contract guaranteed. Transportation & subsistence expenses to worksite provided by employer, 6 months experience (exp.) in above duties req'd. & references req'd. to verify exp. ( if exp. has not been in immediate preceding 12 months, up to 2 references req'd.). Must be physically able to perform above job duties, Employer: Vermillion Ranch Limited Partnership. Location: principally on range land south of Rock Springs, WY, extreme NW CO & NE corner of UT. 5 job openings; positions are temporary from 3/01/2013 11/30/2013. Wages: $1,200/month plus housing and board. Report or send resume to nearest Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services office. Main Office: 100 W. Midwest Ave., Casper, WY 82601 Ph. 307-233-4657. Job Order # 2518574.

FARM & RANCH Sheepherders 10 Sheepherders wanted: Using horses & trained dogs, care for & herd large flock of sheep on open range; guard flocks from predators & from eating poisonous plants; round up strays; may assist in lambing, docking, branding, drenching, medicating, vaccinating, shearing; tag, clip, & sort/cut culls; check animals for illness/injury; assist w/ supplemental feeding using wagon pulled by draft horses; care for & shoe horse(s), work w/ horses to train to direct ewes back to lambs; repair/construct fences; may assist w/ water pipeline delivery system for sheep. On call 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week. Work tools, supplies, & equipment provided at no cost to workers. Employment for three-forths of work contract guaranteed. Transportation & subsistence expenses to worksite provided by employer. Wages: $750/month + free housing & board to all workers. 3 months experience req'd. & reference req'd. to verify experience. Must be physically able to perform above job duties. 10 job openings; positions are Temporary from 3/5/2013-3/4/2014. Employer: Midland Livestock Company. Location: primarily on range land near Farson & Rock Springs, Wyoming. Report or send resume to nearest Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services office. Main office: 100 W. Midwest Ave., Casper, WY 82601 Ph: 307-233-4657. Job Order #2518400

The Science Behind Coffee and Why it's Actually Good for Your Health

Hooray, now I can base my morning coffee addiction on science!

The Science Behind Coffee and Why it's Actually Good for Your Health

Coffee Can Make You Smarter

Coffee doesn't just keep you awake, it may literally make you smarter as well. The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. Caffeine's primary mechanism in the brain is blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine. By blocking the inhibitory effects of Adenosine, caffeine actually increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine (1, 2). Many controlled trials have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, demonstrating that caffeine can improve mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive function (3).
Bottom Line: Caffeine potently blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, leading to a net stimulant effect. Controlled trials show that caffeine improves both mood and brain function.
 I'd hate to think of how dumb I'd be without it.  Ouch.


Since I first posted this, there's been a couple of additional items of this type. And here's yet another oddball one, including duel theoretical vices, coffee and beer:
A new study suggests that sugary drinks may slightly raise ones risk of kidney stones while caffeinated and alcoholic drinks may help reduce the risk, CBS News reported.
"Our prospective study confirms that some beverages are associated with a lower risk of kidney stone formation, whereas others are associated with a higher risk," study co-author Dr. Pietro Manual Ferraro, a kidney specialist at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Rome, said in a statement.
 Of course, it isn't really saying drink beer all day long.

It is interesting to note, however, in this context that John "Pandoro" Taylor once credited the saving of the life of a friend of his to "kraal", some sort of weak African beer.  Having said that, it isn't as if alcohol doesn't have its own risks.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Today In Wyoming's History: February 25: The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920

Today In Wyoming's History: February 25:
1920  Woodrow Wilson signed the Minerals Leasing Act of 1920. This act created the modern system of leasing Federal oil and gas  and coal interests, which previously had been subject to claim under the Mining Law of 1872.  

 Grass Creek Wyoming, 1916
The extent to which this revolutionized the oil, gas and coal industries in economic terms can hardly be overestimated.  Prior to 1920, these fossil fuels could be exploited via a simple mining claim, and the land itself could be patented after the claim was "proved up."  The 1920 act ended this practice as to these resources (the 1872 Act continues on for other minerals, in a very modified form, to the present day).  The leasing system meant that the resources never left the public domain in absolute terns, and the payment of the lease was a huge economic boon to the state and Federal government.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Post World War Two Homesteading

I was reading the recent issue of Annals of Wyoming, the journal of the state historical society, and there was an article that somebody had written on cultural geography and Heart Mountain, Wyoming.  Heart Mountain is the location outside of Cody Wyoming, where, during World War Two, there was an Internment Camp for Japanese Americans.

The article was on the relationship of Heart Mountain to the minds of various groups of people, and I wasn't wholly impressed.  Like some academics, the author was overly impressed with the fact that locals put images of Heart Mountain on signs or name things after it. Well, so what?  If you have a business you have to name it something, and a prominent local landscape feature is one of the more obvious choices.  After all, you are unlikely to name a veterinary clinic in Cody something like "The Giant Florida Swamp Vet Clinic."  I did find it interesting that the mountain was somewhat less mentioned by internees than you'd suspect, and that regional Indians didn't seem to mention it at all in their lore.

Anyhow, one of the things the author keeps bringing up again and again is that it featured in the photographs taken by post World War Two homesteaders.  The article suffers from the author's apparent view that everyone knows that there were post wWII homesteaders in the area, even though the Homestead Acts were repealed in in the early 1930s. 

Does anyone know the story of post WWII homesteading?  I know that some lands were opened back up for returning veterans, sort of an agricultural GI Bill, but that's all I know.

Forces with History -- Official Blog of Robert W Mackay: The Canadian Cavalry in the Last 100 Days (Part 3)...

Forces with History -- Official Blog of Robert W Mackay: The Canadian Cavalry in the Last 100 Days (Part 3)...: One of the Canadians caught up in the 2nd Battle of Le Cateau was S. H. Williams, author of “Stand to Your Horses”. He was temporarily atta...

Forces with History -- Official Blog of Robert W Mackay: The Canadian Cavalry in the Last 100 Days (Part 2)...

Forces with History -- Official Blog of Robert W Mackay: The Canadian Cavalry in the Last 100 Days (Part 2)...: The Second Battle of Le Cateau In October 1918 Le Cateau was an important transportation hub some eight or ten miles behind the German fro...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blog Mirror: The Blizzard of 1949

Nebraska report.

Wyoming Storms and Blizzards.

The North Forty News.

Disasters. The Blizzard of 49.

Blizzard traps the City of San Francisco.

Ed Quillen on the Blizzard of 1949.

Today In Wyoming's History: February 19

Entry from Today In Wyoming's History from yesterday.  I've linked it in,a s I think its the first time I've seen a map that detailed Internment camps related to the Exclusion Area during World War Two.

Today In Wyoming's History: February 19: 1864  William F. Cody joined the 7th Volunteer Kansas Cavalry. 1887  The final run of the Black Hills stage left  Cheyenne.  Attribution: ...

1942 Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any or all people from military areas "as deemed necessary or desirable."  This would lead to internment camps, including Heart Mountain near Cody.

 Map showing interment camps and other aspects of the exclusion of ethnic Japanese from the Pacific Coast during World War Two.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Holscher's Hub: Wake Island, mid 1950s

Holscher's Hub: Wake Island, mid 1950s: My father took this photograph on a stop over on Wake Island in the 1950s. This photo would have been taken either going to Japan, or comi...

Friday, February 15, 2013

German Rye Soda Bread (Brotbacken) from The Joy of Field Rations

I really like rye bread, but I've had a hard time finding a recipe for it.  Indeed, I've had a really hard time finding rye flour for that matter.

Some time ago I managed to find rye flour at "Natural Grocers" and  tried making rye bread in the bread machine.  It was a flop. So when I found a recipe for German army rye bread on The Joy of Field Rations blog, I had to give it a try.

The recipe posted there had two varieties of rye bread.  One was a sourdough bread, and the other a soda bread.  As I don't have the patience for sourdough, I went with the soda bread.  I like soda bread anyway, and occasionally make it with self rising flour.  It's easy to make.

As I lack a Kochgeschirr I just used the Dutch Oven.  It worked fine, and the bread tasted great.  I didn't mix the flour with white flour at all, I just used rye flour.

As is probably evident, mine load was a bit small, and as I probably slightly overcooked it (I was cooking stuffed peppers at the same time), so it does not have the ideal appearance.  Dutch ovens cook very hot on the cast iron, and therefore the bottom of the bread was very crisp, making it a bit hard to cut. And frankly I used a bit more flour than the recipe calls for, as the dough appeared a bit too moist at first.  These problems are easily remedied, and as the bread tasted good, I'll make it again, although next time I'll double the size of the loaf.  Another recipe worth trying.

It's funny that you don't really see that many recipes for rye bread.  I don't know why.  Perhaps my taste here is just a minority taste, and most people don't like it much, although I've seen it in restaurants.  You'd think that somebody would offer it as a bread machine recipe, but nobody does.  I wonder if it was once more common than it is now, or if it's always been sort of a second choice in the US?

Rye itself is a grass, just like wheat, and it does see a variety of uses.  Rye whiskey is one.  I guess at one time Rye Whiskey was regarded as being amongst the very best, and it was quite popular in the US prior to Prohibition.  During Prohibition it came to be associated with being "bad," ironically because it had been so good.  Bootleggers trying to vend their product would attach the tag "Rye" to it hopes of fooling the customer.  That meant that by the end of Prohibition it had a bad reputation, so much so that Bill Mauldin had Joe reporting to Willie that his mother would be pleased as he'd "given up rye whiskey and cheap ciagars."  Apparently, however, Rye Whiskey is making a comeback, or so I've read.  I also believe that Scotch and Irish whiskeys may be rye whiskeys.  Some beer is also brewed with rye.

And then there's rye bread. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic

Its flu season in the Unites States, and this one is a bad one.  The worst that I remember for many years, maybe the worst ever during my lifetime.

For probably the last five years or so, or perhaps as long as a decade, people studying the topic of epidemics have been sort of looking toward the 1918 to 1919 Pandemic.  That pandemic is the very model of a horror, in terms of epidemics.  For one thing, it spread completely around the globe, which is what made it a pandemic. For another, it basically made it around the globe twice in some ways, and because the ability of the flu evolve very rapidly, it changed as it went.  Indeed, it got worse.

A killer virus is actually a bad strategy for a virus, survival wise.  Benign viruses, in terms of long term viabiltiy, are the best strategy, but for whatever reason, that doesn't define the flu.  Part of this may be because Influenza lives in a vareity of species.  When it breaks out in a new strain, which it does every year, usually that involves some sort of evolution in one of hte other speicies that hosts it.

The main culprits in this are swine and birds.  Hence, every few years, we get a "Swine Flu" or an "Avian Flu."  Often swine and birds are involved in an evolutionary jump, which is why the flu tends to come out of Asia every year.  Close proximity of swine, birds and people on Asian farms makes the jump through the various species easy for influenza.  It also can explain why one strain may prove to be so deadly in any one speicies.  A flu virus hanging around in a pig might not kill the pig, but it might be really deadly to people.

Nobody is definitively sure what got the 1918 Influenza Epidemic rolling,  but there's some fairly strong evidence that it made its first outbreak at Camp Funston, Kansas. There are some who maintain otherwise, but the evidence is quite strong.  Indeed, the evidence is so strong that it seems the very first victim of the disease there can be identified by name.  An individual soldier who reported to sick call on a day which, by the days end, a major health crisis was fully under way at Camp Funston.

 Sick bay, Camp Funston.  1918.

And the situation was ideal for that.  Camp Funston was an Army training base that spilled out, over the banks, of Ft. Riley Kansas.  Ft. Riley was an old, old Army post by the time the U.S. entered World War One in 1917, but the US hadn't attempted to muster an Army the size of the one it needed for the Great War since 1860.  There just wasn't enough room.  So camps, like Camp Funston, were formed.  Funston housed 26,000 men.

Camp Funston sat just off Ft Riley on the banks of the Republican River.  Mostly a tent city, thousands of men were camped there in primitive conditions.  The Army at that time, for cook's sections, kept livestock, mostly pigs.  The first victim of the flu was Private Albert Gitchell, a mess orderly whose duties included tending to pigs.  He reported to sick call on March 9, 1918, and never made it back out of the sick bay.   A second soldier, Corporal Lee W. Drake, reported right behind him. A steady stream came in after that, with there being over 100 men in sick beds by the end of the first day, a medical nightmare of unimaginable proportions.  The disease broke out to the civilian populatoin almost immediately.  US troops boarding troops ships carried it to Europe, where the years of war, harding living, and terrible conditions introduced it to the European population just as World War One was drawing to a close.

The disease, biazarrely, targeted the section of the population which is normally the least likely to be impacted by the flu, those in their early adult years.  The flu normally is a risk to the elderly, but the 1918 flu was oddly not.  It hit those in their teens and twenties particularly hard.  The reason has never really been understood, in spite of investigation, although it has lead to some slight cluse that the 1918 flu strain may have made its appearance as early as 1916 and then evolved into the lethal strain that isn't well understood even now.  Indeed, there's good evidence that the disease actually may have broken out in the Haskell County Kansas civilian population in January, 1918, in a frightening, but not fully lethal form.  A local Kansas doctor was so concerned that he did warn the U.S. Public Health Service of what he was observing.  British Army doctors noted a disease with much of the same symptoms as the 1918 Flu in 1916, in a British Army camp. What caused it to break out in the fully deadly and highly transmittable 1918 variant isn't really undestood, but what is remarkable is that in March 1918 it became massively communicable and very deadly.  In all likelihood the Haskell County disease was the same one that became the great killer, in a very similar but nto quite evolved form.  It probably was communicated to troops stationed at Camp Funston when they went home on leave, and Funston had the ideal conditions to get the disease really rolling, and perhaps really deadly.  Having hit Camp Funston on March 9, it was in New York by March 11, at which time over 500 troops at Camp Funston had reported ill.  By August 1918, it had become even more deadly and was ripping through France.  By November, it was in Spain, which was not fighting in the war.  Because Spain was as neutral, for the first time the press was able to fully report on it, leading to the misnoomer the Spanish Flu.  

Canadian victims of the flu being buried, 1918.

By 1919, the flue was in Japan, and had virtually circled the globe.  Japanese mortality peaked in July, 1919.  By the summer of 1919, it had hit the entire globe, killing up to 20% of those infected, and leaving many of the survivors permanently weakened or addled.  While the disease disappeared, the deaths did not, as young people who were weakened by it continued to die into the 1920s, including my Great Aunt Ulpha Patricia.

It's regarded as the greatest lethal disease incident of all time, spreading much quicker than the Black Plague and killing more people.  And it's not all that long ago, really.  The impact on the era in which it struck was huge, killing more people than World War One, and perhaps an offshoot of the war itself.  

Could this sort of event return?  It could, but it's unlikely.  Killer flus could indeed reemerge, but this one is freakish in its behavior and lethality.  Normally, less than 1% of those get the flu die from it, which is not to discount it.  The flu kills far more people annually, for example, than much more feared diseases like AIDS do.  But a 20% lethality rate is stunning and weird, and perhaps could only have evolved due to the conditions of the First World War.  Indeed, alternative theories to the Camp Funston origin all tend to have the close proximity of pigs, birds and soldiers as a common set of elements.  And all of this, of course came in an era when medications were few, and the ability to go home and rest either slight, or for many of the young afflicted, nonexistent.

A lesson it does teach us, however, is how life takes its own turns, sometimes huge ones, which we can little predict or little control.  Private Gitchell no doubt didn't join the Army expecting to feed pigs in Kansas.  And if he worried about dying in the war, he probably didn't think that death would come via a virus, which he thought was a "bad cold" when he checked into sick call.  Nobody, in 1918, could have foreseen a virus so virulent and communicable that it would be in New York City, and likely Quebec, within a week.  My great aunt, with a brother serving in France in the Canadian Army could not have foreseen that she'd be one of the victims of a disease that freakishly broke out in part due to wartime conditions.  Her brother, a physician, could have have seen that the family causality in the war would be his sister, back home in Quebec.  For millions life took a similar, and for many, short turn which few could have anticipated.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI Announces his resignation and our earlier thread; Lex Anteinternet: A legal Gerontocracy?

I woke up this morning, like everyone else, to the surprising announcement by Pope Benedict XIV's that he will resign the Papacy on February 28.  As I often will do with important news events, I shared some internet correspondence with my good and sage friend Couvi, who made the comment "It takes a wise and brave man to make that kind of decision."

Truer words were never spoken.

In an important office, it must be hard to resign.  Where a person makes important decisions, that impact people's lives, society and even history, that decision must be an extremely hard tone to make.  And that is why, I suspect, that so few choose to make it.  Pope Benedict, who is a remarkable man by all accounts, occupies a position of supreme importance.  It speaks loudly of his courage and wisdom to be able to step down from it.

The impact of age is something that nobody wish to consider, and which the majority of those in the Western world choose to ignore if they can.  That's a luxury, sort of, of our modern societies.  It wasn't always the case by any means.  It is not true that "humans are living longer" as it is often claimed, as we've commented on before.  The upper limits of people's lives have not changed at all over the centuries. What has changed, however, is that more people make it into advanced old age than before, as fewer people die earlier from accidents and disease.

That's a good thing, and there can be no doubt about that, but what it also means is that more people now experience the impacts of advanced old age than they once did.  That's not necessarily bad, but a person should be realistic.

For many people, perhaps most people, that means that they suffer the aches, pains, and infirmities that advanced old age can bring on. A few amazingly lucky people seem to be spared that, but not most.  But, if a person can be so afflicted, but retain a sharp mind, they are blessed.  Others, of course, are afflicted with the diseases and afflictions of memory and thought, which is a scary thing to watch and endure, and which no doubt is hard for a person to experience.  We here are watching that ourselves, as my mother, a person of high intelligence, has been slowly descending into the fog, while her physical abilities slowly decline, all seemingly without her own knowledge of it.

These are things that seem to take us by surprise, and which most people choose to believe that they will never endure.  But many do.

This brings up the post I made recently entitled:  Lex Anteinternet: A legal Gerontocracy?:  In that entry I noted that Wyoming's legislature, putting a rosy face on aging, is looking at ending the statutory retirement age of 70.  Of interest, Pope Benedict, who is the oldest man to have ever been made Pope was 78 when he assumed the Papacy.  A realist, he determined during his Papacy that members of the College of Cardinals over 70 would no longer be able to vote on the question of who would become Pope, and he commented from time to time that if he was unable to effectively occupy the office, he would resign.  He has now determined to do so.

What the Pope understands, but he Legislature seemingly does not, is that people living on in greater numbers to advanced old age does not mean that everyone will be able to physically do the job, and that there needs to be a formal procedure in regards to that.  Contrary to what so many seem to assume, it has not been the case that the Papacy was occupied "old men."  I don't know the median age upon their deaths (which in the first 500 years of the Papacy was often by execution) but I'd guess it to be in their 40s.  A person may ask what that has to do with the judiciary, but I suspect that the average age of Wyoming judge leaving the bench is younger than a person might presume.  In earlier years, judges tended to leave the bench young enough, in many instances, to resume practice or to go on to other offices or their private businesses, if they owned farms and ranches.

In recent years judges have often been staying until their 70, although there are some admirable contrary examples.  Judge Downes, of the Federal District Court in Wyoming, retired at about age 65, even though he was in a position where he had a lifetime appointment.  Just very recently a 7th Judicial District state judge in his mid 60s announced his retirement.  A very long serving 7th Judicial District Judge, Judge Spangler, retired in what seemed to be his 50s, meaning that he must have gone on the bench very young.  The point here is that all of these men exercised the decision to retire while they were still very much an intellectual force.

What the have chosen to do in their retirement and will choose to do is another topic, but I'd also note that one of the longest serving judges at the time he retired, Judge Hartman, went right into critical roles with the state government under Judge Freudenthal. The point being that, here too, Judge Hartman's intellect remained a force, and he wasn't fearful of putting himself into a new role where he'd have to be, essentially, hired.  I suspect, although its' just a guess, that this is what we'll see with Pope Benedict, who remains a very strong intellectual force.  Indeed, the model for this would be Pope Celestine, who came from monastic life but who had a great intellect.  He resigned afters some years hoping to return to the monastery, but he never made, as his successor kept in Rome to consult with.

This all contrasts with the situation in which a person can occupy a position indefinitely simply by occupying it, and that's what removing the age 70 retirement requirement in Wyoming would do.  No doubt proponents of changing the law would note that judges stand for retention, but most people know very little about their local judges and routinely vote to retain them unless there's some criminal case whose outcome they disagree with.  In other words, it would be unlikely that the voters would choose to retire a judge unless things became very bad.  And for those who remain intellectually active, it is not as if there is not other work for them to do.

Society of the Military Horse • View topic - Scenes of the U.S. Army in the Punitive Exp. Era

Society of the Military Horse • View topic - Scenes of the U.S. Army in the Punitive Exp. Era

One of the themes that we're going to try to explore here is the Punitive Expedition, that event following the raid by Poncho Villa on Columbus New Mexico which saw the U.S. Army enter Mexico in search of Villa.

This SMH thread has a great collection of photos dating to this era, so I'll kick off the exploration of this topic with a link to some of them.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Evolving concepts of economics

Macroeconomics, that is.  The big picture.

The last few years, it seems there's been endless debates about the economy, but little, really, about economics.  It's interesting in that last time this really occurred in a major way, in the early 80s, there was a great deal of debate about economics.  Not so really know, showing, I guess, how successful conservative economists were in the early 80s in establishing their concepts as the predominant ones.  I don't mean that to be a criticism of conservative economics, or of capitalism in general, that's merely an observation, although one that they'd regard as an imperfect one.

Very obviously, although there's a lot of argument about the parameters of it right now, the economic model of the United States is a type of conservative capitalism, based on relatively low taxes (at least on an international scale), relatively low government expenditures, save for defense (again, based on international standards), relatively low government direct government involvement in the economy (international models again) and relatively low regulation (again, compared to other nations)  It's also a model that completely accepts the legitimacy of business organization, i.e., corporations and limited liability companies.  We're having a lot of arguments about the parameters right now, in no small part because the economy has been poor for at least five years or so, and because there's a large gulf between the President and at least the Republican party on many of these points.  Indeed, just recently we saw that gulf become very visible, as in the debate over the "fiscal cliff" the GOP insisted on not having a widespread tax increase while the Democrats wanted one, and the Democrats are loathe to cut social services and spending, while the GOP would like to.

While it would seemingly be a surprise to both sides, particularly given the language that they sometimes use about each other, they're basically arguing about the left and right ends of the same economic model.. And, given the success of the model, it's become the model for much of the rest of the world.  Indeed, some areas of the world are much to the right of the United States on the model, while many others, such as much of Europe, is significantly more to the left. Still, by and large, the competing economic models receive very little attention anymore.  It's an interesting long-term trend.

Looking at the topic from a century long prospective, this is very much contrary to even recent history.  Whether that means all of the other models have been tested and found wanting, or that some weren't tested, or if this is just a temporary hiatus in competing models, needs to be seen. But for a blog that looks at long term trends and history, it's all pretty interesting.

If we go back a century (say 1912), after mercantilism had long died, we'd see that the United States basically had a laissez fair economic model, as did much of the rest of the world.  Still, Socialism was a strong contender at that time, and it had a huge following in Europe.  Communism, the radical expression of Socialism which united Socialism's governmental ownership of the means of production with extremely radical political propositions, was also a gaining force in some regions, typically those that had the most autocratic rule.  In regions where there was democratic expression, Socialism tended to be less radical, but even at that, pre World War One Socialist were more on the Communistic end of things than they would later be, by quite some margin.

Even in the US Socialist, although in a milder form, were gaining traction as a political force.  We've seen that over at the Today In Wyoming's History blog, where Socialists, and even a few Communist, political candidates obtained votes during the Progressive Era.  Communist didn't receive many, but they did receive a few votes.  Socialist, however, did okay in elections in some areas, mostly those with heavy Eastern European populations and a lot of coal mining.  It'd be absolutely inconceivable that a Socialist, let alone a Communist would receive any votes in Wyoming today, although there is one member of Congress presently, from the Northeast, how is a self described Socialist.  Most politicians in the US, however, would run from that description, and that accusation has been levied at President Obama fairly frequently as a condemnation of his policies, rather than a praise.

The Progressive Era also saw the first real homegrown alternatives to pure laissez fair capitalism in the US.  Coming first out of the Populists, and then adopted by the Progressives in the Republican Party, who ended up being the Progressive Party, a modified type of Capitalism was proposed by such luminaries as the Theodore Roosevelt, who went after Trusts in a major way, viewing them as anti competitive.  The Trust Busting efforts of TR are legendary, but much less well known are his later propositions to force large national corporations to exist in sort of a public utility status, subject to extensive regulation, and in which the public would, by statute, own a certain percentage of the shares.  Indeed, this unique approach to regulation of economic activity remains the most radical economic proposition ever suggested by a former President, even today.

 Theodore Roosevelt

Indeed, in current economic news corporations have been discussed a great deal, but never in terms of terminating them or changing their basic nature. That's fairly amazing, if we consider that a century ago TR was basically suggesting altering them enormously.  In the entire Western world people are so completely used to corporations and related business entities that they're regarded as natural.  That really says something about how far the economic model is accepted, as of course corporations and limited liability companies are not natural at all.  The only "business entity" that is natural, would be the partnership, as people naturally join forces to accomplish all sorts of goals, but partnerships generally do not shield people against liability, except where the law has come in to provide that.  Corporations, on the other hand, always do.  A corporation is a "person" in the eyes of the law, even if not in reality, and therefore while the corporation may be liable for its acts, the individual shareholders are generally not.  That's a radical evolution in liability, and only came about as in the late mercantile period it became obvious that for big economic enterprises there was little other choice but to grant such concerns that privilege.  But the concept has become so widespread in the Western world that there are now millions of little corporations.  Indeed, for various reasons, there are corporations made up of one single person, and there are corporations made up of shareholders who are corporations.  Quite a few law firms, for example, are "Professional Corporations' or limited liability companies made up of Professional Corporations which have each have one single shareholder, that being the individual lawyers.

TR's Bull Moose economic platform failed, doomed in part because the Democrats were co-opting the less radical parts of it and because the GOP adopted a conservative approach to economics under Taft, thereby guaranteeing that Woodrow Wilson would become President.  Wilson was a "progressive", but for the most part this didn't reflect itself in economics.  The generally good economy of the teens and twenties meant, for the most part, that people lost their interest in alternative economic theories in the US anyhow, until the Great Depression.  This wasn't the case, however, in Europe.

Before going on to Europe, however, I can't help but note how this entire TR/Woodrow Wilson/Taft era provides an example of  how much American politics have changed, and not necessarily for hte better.  That an election could field such very serious and intellectual men, in one single race, is amazing.  And the nature of their views was so deep, that it makes current politics look rather embarrassingly shallow.  Taft was a traidtional laissez fare type of politician, but he was otherwise a mild reformer and a great intellect.  In modern terms, he would be a middle of the road Republican.  Roosevelt, on the other hand, simply couldn't exist  in a modern American political party, even though he's widely admired to this day.  In some views, particularly those which feel into the category of "Americanism" he'd be regarded as a Tea Party conservative now. Economically, however, he was the most radical national politician we've ever had, far, far, to the left of anyone since him.  Personally, on moral grounds, he was a deep social conservative.  In political terms, however he was on the left on social issues.  On foreign policy he was a hard interventionist.  No party now would have him.  Wilson, on the other hand, is singularly uninspiring in some ways, but politically, and in terms of temperament, I've often thought that he is so like Barack Obama, or rather that Barack Obama like him, that its frightening.  On that, with their similar academic employments, it should be noted that Wilson's temperament and background operated to largely make his second term a failure, something that perhaps President Obama should study.

I also can't help but now that Wyoming's Governor Carey was one of the Republicans who bolted the party and who became a Progressive.  That too is an amazing thought, as I can't imagine a sitting Wyoming governor in recent years bolting a national party to join a third party.  That says something about the era, and also something about how popular Theodore Roosevelt was.

 Republican, and later Progressive Governor of Wyoming, Joseph M. Carey, his family, and Dorthy Knight, daughter of a Wyoming Supreme Court justice.  Ms. Knight appears to be looking in a different direction than the Carey family, but presumably that isn't due to a split in economic views.

Returning to Europe, World War One enormously boosted the fortunes of socialistic parties in Europe everywhere.  In Germany, the largest economy in Europe, the war brought the Social Democratic Party into power, as it was the largest party in the Reichstag when the Kaiser resigned, and that catapulted it into the unenviable position of being the German party that had to negotiate the German surrender, a fact which would contribute enormously to its downfall in 1932.  All over the former Imperial powers of Europe, hard left groups that had been suppressed by autocratic governments came roaring into influence.  In Russia, a host of radical political parties espousing socialism, or the ultimate antithesis of it, anarchy, vied for power.  In the one legitimate election that the Russians had after the Czar abdicated the Socialists won, but they were soon overthrown by the a coalition of Right Radical Socialist, Left Radical Socialists and Communists. The Communist, in turn, quickly did away with their competition, and a civil war ensued.

 The hairy inspiration for the hard left of socialist political thought, which doesn't include all socialist, German Karl Marx.  More people have died due to his political thoughts than due to any other political ideal.

A civil war also erupted in Germany, a fact seemingly forgotten in modern history, as the Socialist government called upon the anti socialist, mostly monarchists, army to put down Communist insurrection everywhere.  Ultimately, unofficial right wing German militias were needed to suppress Communist forces. The Socialist won, but came out of the conflict largely discredited and weak.  And for the first time a Socialist party in power was forced to rely on very conservative elements in orer to put down Communists.  Civil wars or near civil wars also broke out in newly independent Finland and Hungary, but with different results.

 Social Democratic Party leader, and first President of the German republic, socialist Frederich Ebert.

Even the UK saw Socialism spring up, although in the form of the fairly mild Labor Party. Fears of a Communist revolution caused the British to reform their electoral process, however, wisely granting a much wider franchise to the British working man.  It turned out that most British Socialist were ahead of the curve and were solidly democratic,  but that didn't keep the government from worrying about it. At any rate, the expanded British Labor Party quickly became part of the regular British political scene.

Mexico, which few of us today would regard as radical, either politically or economically, actually preceded Russia in these regards, in being the first significant state to fight a civil war in which radical leftist would come out in top.  Many, but not all, of the Mexican revolutionaries were socialist or even basically Communist.  Extreme leftist Mexican politicians would come to power in some regions of the country, which lead to a second civil war in the 1920s.  The United States had good reason to worry about Mexico in those days, as it didn't come out of the war democratic or capitalistic.

 Venustiano Carranza de la Garza, radical left wing ruler of Mexico following the second state of the Mexican Revolution.  Carranza came to power as a "general" of the Mexican Revolution following the assassination  of Modero and the counter coup that overthrew Modero's government.  Carranza, in turn, would face rebellion from Villa and Zapata.

The wars in Mexico, Russia, and effectively Finland, saw a primitive third force come up also, which would develop in the West in a very advanced form, but which is now completely forgotten for the most part, that being Distributism.  Distributist were regarded in Europe, where they had much more influence than in the United States, as a "third way" between Communism and Capitalism, or between Socialism and Capitalism.  Basically agrarian  and anti-corporate in form, the economic theory did not espouse the nationalization of economic resources, but the distributing of them when possible. So, it was essentially anti corporate in nature, and argued that economic resources should, where possible, be distributed down to individual owners.  In parts of the globe, therefore, the Distributist argued in favor of busting up landed estates and distributing it to family farmers.  This saw some early expression, although not in an informed sense, in the Mexican Revolution and the Russian Revolution, where agrarian armies sprang up with that being their principal goal.  The most successful of these was arguably Emiliano Zapata, who was more of an agrarian revolutionary than anything else.  The economic theory did, basically accidentally, take root in post civil war Finland, where the economy became agrarian until after World War Two.  As an experiment, the Finnish example was a success, with Finland not being greatly impacted by the Great Depression due to its agrarian economy, but a mixed success given the basic hard nature of Finnish lives in that period.  A similar accidental employment of the concept occurred in newly independent Ireland, where its being mixed with autarkic  principals made it only a partial success at best.

 Agrarian revolutionary Emiliano Zapata and his staff.  Like Modero before him, Zapata would be assassinated.  His memory lives on in southern Mexico, however, and revolutionaries in the region in the 1990s styled themselves as Zapataistas.

In a highly developed form, Distributism saw its reflection and refinement in the works of individuals like G. K. Chesterton, and it tended not only to rely on economic theory, but also on (Catholic) social justice theories.  In the United States it never seems to have gotten much traction, but agrarian thought did see a revival during the Great Depression, when Distributism hit its high mark in Europe, in the form of the "Southern Agrarians."  The Southern Agrarians were not all southern, although they principally were, and they came out in opposition to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal economic policies, which they felt, correctly, was destroying the agrarian culture of the South. Unfortunatley, however, their close attachment to the rural South seemed to put them in close attachment with the ongoing negative racial and social views of the South as well, which have to be discounted in order to take their major tract, "I'll Take My Stand," (unfortunately a line form the Southern anthem "Dixie") seriously.

 Self portrait by British journalist, philosopher, commentator, novelist and polymath, G. K. Chesterton, with the British Distributist slogan.  Public Domain image in the United States as over 70 years have passed since first publication.

Similar agrarian focused economists likewise sprang up in Europe outside of the immediate Distributist fold, such as the Austrian economist Wilhelm Röpke, who perhaps became the most influential of them all due to his role in the successful post war reconstruction of the German economy.  In economic circles today Röpke is warmly remembered, but it tends to be somewhat overlooked that he was really a Distributist, insisting on the  distribution of land, arguing in favor of some non productive land uses based on quality of life views, a critic of Socialism, but also a critic of Capitalism.  Modern Germany's economy, and the German economic miracle following World War Two, are largely Röpke's work, something that most American capitalist probably miss, and that does mean that the German economic approach, and their strong economy, have some very significant differences when compared to the United States.

The Distributists and their fellow travelers were perhaps unique in some ways as they were so focused on individual families, which conceptually made them the opponent of both Socialists and Capitalists. They did not oppose capitalism in general, but they feared the concentration of wealth in the hands of Capitalist, and felt that in order for an economy to be just, the means of production had to be continually forced down to the individual or family level.  This often saw its expression, in agriculture, in being agrarian centric.  In the UK this took on some interesting philosophical deminensions as agriclture began to mechanize post World War One, as the franchise also expanded, and individual land ownership expanded at the same time.  Some Distributists, such as Chesterton, saw Distributism not only as being the best form of economy, but, reflecting a strong current of Catholic social teaching at the time, they also saw it as the most just.  Chesterton also saw it as the best hope for English Catholics, a minoritiy in their own country, as the thought was that the agrarian unit would leave them able to practice their faith free of pressure from the outside.  Chesterton's slogan at the time was "three acres and a cow," relfecting the small scale apporach that Distributist favored.

In other areas where Distributism or near Distributism was influential, the thinking was similar.  Emiliano Zapata's army sought land distribution but also closely identified itself with the Catholic Church.  Newly independent  Ireland did the same, although it also, under DeValera also came to hold autarkic views which did not suit its economy well.  Finland, on the other hand, seems to have just slipped into being an agrarian state, probably reflecting the basic nature of its economy when it was part of the Russian Empire.

If Distributism was billed, at the time, as the "third way" between Capitalism and Communism, a more accurate analysis would have probably placed it as a contestant in what was really a five way race, as at least two other theories contended mid Century, when Distributism was at its high water mark. The mass economic mobilization of World War Two was the end of Distributism for the most part, as everyone agreed in the Western World that economy had to be mobilized on a grand scale, something that Distributism, that was very small scale by nature, could not provide. Distributist, therefore, put their dreams on hold, and by the war's end that dream deferred was basically permanently denied, although a few Distributist and related Agrarian thinkers exist today, albeit with no national influnce. Perhaps the last economist who was Distributist in outlook to have a seriouis governmental role was Willis Cochran, who served in the Department of Agriculture in the Kennedy Administration, but he soon found that his philosphocial thoughts were ignored by that administration.

Distributism was not tried in any major economy therefore, but Autarky was, with disasterous results.  Autarky was the economic concept of a nation attempting, contrary to Adam Smith's observations, to produce everything within its own borderes, thereby, theoretically, boosting its own employment thereby.  Autarky was the economic philosophy of fascistic states, although it proved to be completely unworkable.

The nation that best exemplified autarky was Nazi Germany.  Many people still believe that Nazi Germany was a capitalistic state, and the Communist emphasized that in their propaganda, but in fact it was not by any means. Autarky was the official economic philosophy of the Third Reich, which makes a great deal of sense as it dovetailed so strongly with that country's whacky racial superiority theories.  Autarky generally breaks down when it becomes evident that no nation can really produce everything within its own borders, and the banning of imports simply leads to deprivation and illegal markets.  But the Germans had a convenient out, in that they felt that they could conquer any raw materials they required, a view which they seemingly shared with Japan of the same period. With ever expanding borders, and a nasty philosophy to justify it, they could come to expand their borders to control what they did not originally contain.  Where that didn't work, in their philosophy, closely controlled client states could provide the rest, which lead the Germans to view, for example, Spain as a future agricultural and mining belt serving Germany.  Spain, under German influence, adopted the theory too, with predictably bad results, not ever realizing that in the eyes of its German ally, it was just a big farm and mine.  As noted, Japan, ruled by its military in this period, tried essentially the same thing, conquering a part of China, and ultimately trying to seize resources all throughout Asia.

Autarky was never workable anywhere it was tried, and some have theorized that had the Germans not gone down in defeat in World War Two that a revolution would have occured in any event, when the economic system completely collapsed.  At any rate, autarky is one economic theory that proved not only wanting, but so very bad that it passed out of existance pretty quickly.  True full scale communism took longer, but ultimately it collapsed too as it was never really consistant with human nature.  No real socialistic system was capable of enduring human beings.

That would lead, of course, to the assumption that Capitalism triumphed in the end, but that assumption would not be correct either, as there's no singular accepted capitalist model.  In the 1930s capitalist countries everywhere heavily modified their systems to allow for a fair amount of government intervention in the economy by one means or another, and truth be known almost every advanced economy interfered in the private sector a bit before that.  In the 1930s the British economy and the American economy was very much impacted by the thinking of John Maynard Keynes, who held that the government had a role to play in Capitalism in spurring and depressing the economy to try to flatten out the business curve via the use of taxing, spending, and borrowing.  Inspired in part by Keynes, but in part just by the need to do something, the American government also came to have, during the 1930s, a great deal of direct involvement in all aspects of the economy, which enormously expanded the size of the government. The extent to which this was a success has been debated, but World War Two effectively converted the experiment into a full scale wartime mobilization effort that likely was successful in ending the Great Depression for a variety of reasons.

British economist and later U.S. government economist, John Maynard Keynes.

The shock of the Great Depression was so vast that basically the economic model it created is with us still to some degree, although it was much more so prior to the Reagan years.  It seemed to be the accepted model in the US at least up through the early 1970s, with a high degree of government involvement in all aspects of the economy at least up through that time.  A general acceptance of the New Deal era changes in the government combined with the ongoing Cold War, which necessitated a large defense structure, made this model the accepted one to most Americans.  The destruction of European infrastructure during World War Two, moreover, meant that the American economy did very well in the 1950s, as it almost would have to have, given that it was the only manufacturing industrial economy left intact.  Booster of the American model, at that time, often conveniently forgot that all of our other major competitors had their industry bombed into oblivion only shortly before.

Starting with the late 1960s, however, serious questions about the existing model began to be raised, and ultimately the economy began to have serious trouble.  The high level of spending of the 1960s and early 1970s combined with major inflationary forces sank the economy into a period of protracted recession with inflation that caused some to seriously question if the economy was sliding into failure.  Conservative economist, however, felt that spending and borrowing were the sources of the problem, and they came into power with Ronald Regan. Very controversial at first, Regan ultimately succeeded in largely putting his economic model into play and, when combined with a forces recession, the long period of stagnation ended.

Since then, the Regan model has been the basic accepted one, although the degree to which it is used has varied over time.  At some points commentators have stated that we've entered a period of permanent conservative economics. At other, they've felt that this was not the case.  But from at least 1980 or so up until recently, this basic model has held sway, which was based at least conceptually on the idea of low taxes and fairly low government involvement in the economy, although the commitment to that concept has waxed and waned depending upon who has been in office.  The same basic idea has been at work in many other economies as well, starting first with the British economy when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.  The complete collapse of real Communism brought this style of economics into much wider global acceptance as well.

The high level of government involvement, however, appears to be making a marked return since 2008, brought on by the "Great Recession" of 2008.  That event caused Republican President Bush to back a massive infusion of money into the economy which Democratic President Obama followed upon. Since then, Democrats in particular who never really accepted the retreat of the pre 1980 economic theories have been campaigning a bit for a return to an earlier era, and have been receiving some sympathetic treatment on occasion.

Ironically, in Europe, where government involvement has remained stronger, the opposite has been happening since 2008, and various European governments have started austerity programs designed to put their budgets in line.  This has been massively unpopular in some countries, Greece in particular, but Spain also provides an example.  After World War Two, European economies were heavily influenced by Social Democrats, a democratic branch of the socialist economic family, which tended to focus on the government providing services.  Now that they can no longer be paid for those same governments are looking at the unpopular choice of scaling them back during rocky economic times.  Early retirements and great unemployment benefits appear to be going out the window, although here and there votes drag them back in, as they have in France.

Austerity has been a topic in the US as well, even as there's discussion on expanding the government's role.  This has all been playing out in Congress where the fight between the Administration and Congress has been focused on spending vs. taxation, with the Republicans wanting to cut spending, and the Administration wanting to raise taxes.

All of which is no doubt pretty darned dull, but it is interesting how economic thought has actually narrowed over the past century. Either we know a lot more about how the economy must work, or we think a lot less about various aspects of it.  Even with fewer models, it seems that the various parties can't really get along on how much will be spent, and on what. Perhaps that should be no surprise, as what is paid for, and how, really are big deals.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Justice Sotomayor on being a lawyer, and me one her being in "O"

I'm a member of the American Bar Association, which means that I get their weekly email updating me on events of the past week, legal wise, which rarely actually have anything much to do with the law.  They're interesting, but like most modern journals, they are also open to comments.  I sort of scan the comments, and usually wish I hadn't.

 Law office, Plymouth Massachusetts.  Not much of a place.

I'm not sure why, but the folks who comment on the ABA articles are amongst the most extreme on the planet.  This is particularly so where the topic is the occupation of practicing law.  Probably over half of the comments on any one such topic are extremely hostile to the practice itself.  A few always counter that its the greatest thing ever.  Hardly any middle of the road, reasoned, posts are ever there. A few people try, but they tend to get shouted out.  Or maybe just ignored.  The really hostile people are busy debating each other.  You get the impression that one half is practicing in a combat zone, and the other half rides unicorns to their job of dancing in daisies.  It's rather odd.

 Extremely well turned out New York City lawyer, 1914. This lawyer probably meets the public perception of a lawyer in more than one way, and probably was in the 1914 equivalent of "big law."  Note the tailored suit, bowler, walking stick and cigar.

For some reason, certain types of forums attract real extremists, while others do not.  Newspapers, for one, and general journals, such as the ABA Journal, really attract extremists.  It's odd, but true.  When I review newpaper articles online, which generally allow for direct commentary, I tend to find that the most extreme people on the planet make up about half the comments.  In the case of the local newspaper, it seems to be the same few really extreme people.  Having said that, however, New York Times articles seem to attract the same hostile, ill informed, elements.  People are hostile in their ignorance and like to shout everyone else down.  In at least one recent Casper Star Tribune example the comments were downright mean in a way that would be hard to justify, and which the paper really ought to take out.  I know the same people wouldn't express such views in public, even if they privately  harbor them.  The ABA online articles, which I'll confess I rarely actually read,  are the same way, as they attract serial hostile or extreme commentators.  It's a little weird, frankly as there seems to be a few people who are really miffed and want everyone to know that, weekly. It's pretty apparent, when you read them, that the same people post again and again, as the dueling commentators seem to recognize each other.

 Newspaper vendor yelling out the news.  Now a lot of people seem to spend time yelling in journals.

I'll note, however, that quite a few blogs and forums are not this way at all, including "Blawgs" (law blogs).  It must be something about the format, or perhaps that they're actively moderated, allowing for more intelligent and informed discussion to occur.

This topic isn't limited to lawyers by any means, but that there'd be some miffed lawyers commenting is no surprise, as the practice has really been the focus of investigation of the topic of discontent recently.  Maybe this has been the trend for awhile, but it definately has been recently.  The 2008 collapse of the economy was particularly hard on lawyers nationwide, and as a group there a group that the general public is particularly disinterested in.  People worry about assembly line workers at General Motors loosing their jobs, but they don't worry too much about lawyers loosing theirs, and a fair number of the general public laugh a bit about it.  That's not a new development, but what is a new development is that law schools had been producing record numbers of lawyers and the newly minted lawyers had unrealistic expectations about their careers and how lucrative they could expect it to be. The crash caused quite a deflation in expectations of all sorts.

 Lawyers as they actually are.  This lawyer, in 1914, is sitting in a library with papers and with a suit that's bit rumbled.  A scene pretty familiar to most courtroom lawyers who spent a lot more time in the library than the courtroom. This was the case when I first practiced, but today that same lawyer would be sitting in his office, alone, in front of his computer which would have WestLaw or Lexis up on the monitor.

Truth be known, being a lawyer is very hard work, which is why lawyers have traditionally done better than others in the economy, even though the period in which they did very well was very brief, and not the historical norm.  Any job that's somewhat difficult to obtain and has difficult working conditions pays better than others.  It's a law of supply and demand type of deal.  It used to be somewhat more difficult to become a lawyer than other things requiring a post secondary school education, if we take the approximate 1930 to 2000 time frame.  That is well known.  But what was very much less well known is that being a lawyer is really hard difficult work.

 Kansas lawyer, right, 1913.  Casual observers sometimes assume that lawyers dress formally as they're wealthy, when in fact its because its expected of them and part of their office. Goodness knows there'd be no other excuse for wearing a hat like that. 

Regarding that education, it's now not as hard to get as it once was, as there's been a shift in the concept of professional schools over time.  I also frankly wonder if many university degrees in general are just easier, in terms of content, than they once were.  The method of teaching law, which used to be focused on the Socratic method, certainly seems to have changed, which is sad in that at least in my experience, having a degree in the sciences (geology) and in law, I found the Socratic method to be very effective and engaging.  At any rate, now, professional schools view themselves as species of businesses themselves, even though many are publicly supported.  Law schools are no different.  Institutions that used to admit a very selective number of people admit a lot more than they used to.  Some law schools used to use their exclusivity as a selling point, in fact, noting that most people who attempted to get in, would not.  And their educational approach has shifted a great deal.  Land grant colleges, which are very common in the West, used to take the approach that they were educating locals for local employment.  That idea is almost completely dead, as the same professional schools now imagine themselves graduating students for a new, exciting, global practice that for most lawyers doesn't exist, and which they couldn't compete in no matter where they graduated from.  Universities like the University of Wyoming, University of Nebraska, Kansas State, and so on, used to be very focused on their immediate states, and regions beyond that.  Specialty schools, like the Colorado School of Mines, or Texas Agricultural and Mining, were the same way in their fields, albeit with more of a regional, as opposed to state, focus.  That doesn't mean that their education was bad by any means, it wasn't, but rather that the focus was geographic.  At least in some instances recently, with at least law schools, this is no longer the case and law schools imagine themselves providing new graduates  to the entire nation, a trend which, I fear, will not serve them well long term.  Indeed, it already is not, as law school applications are plummeting and there's now a great deal of discussion about some of them disappearing. At the same time, there's been some much needed focus on how law schools approach recruitment, which is long overdue.

 Medical service officers in training during World War Two, some of whom would have been lawyers in their civilian occupations.  Contrary to what people presume now, being a lawyer did not result in a direct commission for inductees during World War Two and the Army didn't bother to assign lawyers automatically to the JAG Corps at the time. The Navy didn't even have a JAG Corps.  Service lawyers were drawn to that specialty based on need, but otherwise being a lawyer didn't result in a special assignment, and an inducted lawyer was just as likely to end up as an infantry private.

That I guess takes me to the second part of this which is the perception of "lawyer discontent."  It seems like there's a massive perception that a huge percentage of lawyers are unhappy with their work, or maybe just unhappy.  There's reason to question that as statistically invalid, but before we do, why would that perception, which Justice Sotomayor was naively attempting to address, exist?

Part of that may be the flooding of the market that's still going on, as law schools are still disgorging graduates at levels above that which the econmy can absorb, and those who are finding work in some regions are now finding it well below their economic expectation.  That raises several issues.

One is that people who entered law school with a focus on money are going to normally be disappointed.  The law just doesn't pay what people think it does.  Indeed, none of the professions actually do.  Law schools are to partially to blame here for not disabusing their students of this notion.  The first thing any new student should hear, from the law school, is that if you don't want to do the job for a wage in the lower to middle, middle class, you better look for something else.  That doesn't mean that a person should hope for more, and if they do the work, receive more, but starting out at $100,000 per year is not really that common in the real world.

The ABA deserves to be criticized here too as its bizarrely focused on the wages that are made at "big law" and it goes on and on about it.  Big law is a freakish anomaly having little to do with what most lawyers actually do.  Sure, some students enter "big law" upon graduation, but most do not.  The focus on it leads to the mistaken concept that those who don't enter it are some sort of failure, which is absurd.  But if that's the expectation that exist on the part of the ABA, that's also going to be the expectation of at least some of those entering law school too.  If you review the various forums for disgruntled law students out there, there seem to be a fair number who actually believed that.  That's just crazy.  Indeed, there's a lot of commentary that if a person has gone to a "tier one" law school, they're just doomed, which is nonsense in many areas.  I don't know any lawyer who has graduated from a "tier one" law school, including any of the judges, state or federal, that I practice in front of.  Indeed, I think darned near every judge I can think of around here graduated from the same state law school that I did, something I wish the law school would keep in mind as it shifts away from a focus on the state.

Beyond that, it's the case that lawyers in the private sector work really long hours routinely, and for decades.  There's a gross mis-preception that this is only something the newly minted experience, and the ABA type focus on "big law" and what "big law" pays means about as much to most lawyers as what major league baseball pays.  Yes, it pays well, but chances of the New York Yankees calling most of us up who can play baseball are about as good as most of us ending up in "big law," assuming we wanted to end up in "big law."  And the "big law" lawyers are working hard for that salary.  Those not working "big law," however, are also working pretty hard, and for a lot less. That's part of the discontent problem too, as the ABA, through its focus on this area, and the various others who are focusing on it, seem to be suggesting that the "big law" folks only work hard for a few years, at which time they cash in their chips, and everyone else is hardly working at all.  That's all complete baloney.  Law is pretty much a seven day a week job which follows you home every night.  The concept out there that you'll make a pile of cash quickly is just silly.  I see a lot of complaints about student loan debt in this context, but there that's the same story as for every other occupation.  A person investing in an education through loans needs to have a realistic expectation about economic returns.  Perhaps they now do, as law school admissions are way down nationwide, and I'd guess the debt to income ratio may have something to do with that.

As past of that, something that the money focused entrants might not appreciate is that, depending upon the field they enter, and if they're aiming for big cash there's just a very few, they'll be dealing with a lot of people in trouble.  You'd think that self evident, but I don't know that it is.  All civil court work, and 100% of criminal work, involves trouble and conflict.  People whose have a high love of money don't necessarily have a high love of distressed people.  While I haven't finished it yet, another posts in the works here involves people who were lawyers who became well known at something else, and to my surprise, a really well represented group in that category is clergymen.  It shouldn't have surprised me, however, as being a clergyman is pretty cerebral and it'd be natural, for those with high intellect but a deep love of people to move in that direction.  People with a lot of intelligence but focused on money are probably going to be unhappy instead.

Given that, it doesn't surprise me that there's discontent, but a recent statistical study by a bar of one of the southern states (I forget which one) suggested that the disconent story isn't real.  It turned out in that state bar that most practicing lawyers were not discontented.  This brings up the forum thing again, as what I really wonder is if the discontented are barking a lot louder than everyone else.  If they are, that might merely be because they're discontented.  I strongly suspect a lot of barkers on any one topic are, after all, the most extreme for one reason or another.  But I also think it might be because there's a fair number of people who went to law school for the wrong reason, aren't too happy with what they find, make that known, and then depart.  Indeed, there's a lot of attrition at the entry level.  So the entire story may be one of doubly inaccurate conceptualizations.  On the outside, a lot of people feel that all lawyers are rich, greedy rats who  don't work at all.  On the inside, the perception is developing that everyone is unhappy.  In reality, a few lawyers are rich greedy rats, but they're very few, and most lawyers probably keep on keeping on as they're not so miffed as the internet chatter would have everyone believe.

If all of this is the case, it doesn't surprise me that the topic of Sotomayor's interview received some true hostility.  But, at the same time, the interview made me wonder about Sotomayor a bit.

Justice Sotomayor has recently written a biography, which is fine and which I have no problems with (although I'm not going to read it).  So, as a result, she's making the book touring rounds.  That frankly bothers me, however, as a Supreme Court Justice isn't supposed to be a celebrity.  And it bothers me more that she appeared on Oprah.  I frankly really dislike Oprah.  Not personally, but professionally.  She strikes me as vapid.  Anything that's a current pop trend shows up there sooner or later, and without any attempt at standards.  So we get things like Tom Cruise acting like a freak after dumping his first wife and taking up with an actress barely out of diapers.  Not very dignified.  A real intellectual commentator would have taken after him for that.  It doesn't suprise me, therefore that Lance Armstrong would show up there to confess his misdeeds.  It does surprise me that Sonia Sotomayor showed up there, however.  But, by the same token, it surprised me that President Obama showed up there.  It's just very undignified and they ought not to have done it.

Sotomayor's personal history is interesting, and it should make for an itneresting read.  The fact that I'm not going to read it doesn't mean it would be bad, I'm just not interested in reading it.  I haven't read any of Justice Thomas' books either.  I guess, as a practicing lawyer, the biographies of justices don't appeal to me much.  They may very well appeal to others.

As a total aside, I should note here that while she fits into a category of lawyer, and judge, that's highly unique demographically, in that she's a woman of Puerto Rican extraction, the somewhat common assumption that most lawyers were white (or rather white males) up until quite recently is incorrect.  Most lawyers were men up until at least the 1990s, although there's been women lawyers in the US for a century or longer, depending upon the state.  Barring women from admission to the bar was pretty common in many localities, globally, up until just about a century ago, but membership in the bar on the part of minorities was not uncommon.  Indeed, the law has been one of the professions that has tended to be open to minorities, making it a bit unique.  Black lawyers have existed for a very long time, and other disadvantaged groups, such as the Irish at one point, always had members of their group who were lawyers.  In part, that reflects a need and a ready market.  Black lawyers, for example, could depend upon having black clients in an era when it might be difficult for a black person to find representation otherwise, or at least representation that they could fully trust.

African American lawyer, early 1940s.  Again, note that he's in a law library.

At any rate, however, I found her comment that the discontented group should go back to the origins of their becoming a lawyer to be a rather naive, but highly Oprah like comment.  Sotomayor herself came from pretty desperate straights but managed to go to Yale, meaning that she was going to be a success no matter what. That's to her credit. She also went right into real work, very much to her credit, and practices as a bonafide real world lawyer for twelve years.  She's been on the bench since 1991.  I can't find anything there to find fault with at all, and the critics who go after her for not knowing what real practice may be are completely off base.  She must, as she's done it.  I think, therefore, that the comment she made was a bit of an Oprah inspired platititude.  I hope so anyhow.

The reason that I hope so has more to do with her other observation, about pracitcing law being "a gift," than her comment about going back to the origins of practice. The reason I feel that is that the gift comment makes more sense.  I suspect, knowing something of Sotomayor's background,that the gift observation is correct and that the inspiration, probably, for her career was escaping her deprived background.  She did that, and no doubt made a very good lawyer too.  But that inspiration, if I'm right, is probably more common in some ways than supposed, or at least admitted. The idea that most who enter the practice of law are inspired by some grand and glorious ideal is probably pretty much off the mark, and she should know that too. That does describe some people, but probably not very many.  And, historically, I suspect the number of people like that are a pretty tiny miniority.

Which isn't to say that some people weren't inspired by such goals, or perhaps (at one time) by romantic literary depictions of lawyers, now a rarity, such as that of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.  Indeed, I've heard of people being inspired to enter the law by the portrayal of Finch.  If that's the case, at least that portrayal is much more accurate in some ways than modern portrayals in such things as Suits or LA Law.  Indeed, the portrayal of Finch should give wannabe lawyers pause, although few probably are inspired by it now, as he's a small town lawyer in the Lee's book and not really doing all that well.  He takes produce in for payment, and the couple of trials mentioned in the book are lost.  

As an aside, I will note that recently a father of a young man who is considering law school spoke to me and noted that Suits was the inspiration for his son's contemplation of law school, and of the father's support of it.  That does concern me.  I haven't watched Suits, and I'm not going to, but I can tell merely from the advertisements that Suits has about as much to do with the practice of law as playing Call of Duty has to do with actual ground combat in Afghanistan.  Not much.

Anyhow, Sotomayor's inspiration for entering law, no matter what her retrospective view of that topic may be, probably was to get solid employment that would lift her out of poverty. That worked.  It's a noble inspiration, but just doesn't read very dramatically.  It might work, I suppose, as a revived inspiration for flagging lawyers, but probably a lot, indeed, most, of those folks didn't come from poverty so their frame of reference might not really fit it.  Looking back, however, isn't a bad idea (the whole blog here is about it) but a person probably ought to be realistic about that.  I've met a lot of current lawyers when they were quite new and knew what inspired a few of them, but only with a very few was the inspiration something so grand.  Some just had a taste for practicing law, but with quite a few it was a career path open to them that appeared to be interesting and which also had the appearance of at least being able to provide a decent wage.  Indeed, I'm always very skeptical when somebody tells me that they "always dreamed of being a lawyer" or that that they "always knew that they wanted to be a lawyer."  In fact, the only person I've ever known well, who had that declaration, recently quit being a lawyer, and that person isn't even 50 years old, and probably isn't even 45 years old.  So they likely ceased that occupation without even two decades in it, granted two decades is a long time.

 Courtroom lawyers in "domestic" case, 1902.  Probably no rich men here.

This isn't to say that the original goals weren't entirely worthwhile.  I think they are, they're just mixed, in all likelihood, and more mundane than grand.  At some point something about the law attracted them, and it looked like it would work for a living.  That's a fine goal really.  If people now are dissatisfied in general, that may tell us something about their goals being unrealistic.  Or it might not.  But I think it somewhat does.  The public portrayal of lawyers has gone form Atticus Finch, or the defense lawyer in Anatomy of  a Murder, or even the defense lawyer in A Few Good Men, to the icky portrayals of the overly wealthy suits in Suits, LA Law, or Boston Legal.  That sort of portrayal shouldn't inspire anyone, but it does seem to reflect the yammering of the ABA, which seems to think that everyone wants to practice law in a a super sized firm in a super sized city, and it isn't helped by the fact that law schools approach their task from a market prospective but aren't always honest with their charges about what a law degree actually means..  And, by extension, the discontent reflects the crying in their Perrier view of a lot of recent law grads on the net, who seem to think that's where the real law is.

Truth be known, the real law isn't there and never has been.  A lot of the really fine acute lawyers are out in the trenches and are graduates of third tier schools.  Gerry Spence, I'd note, who some regards as the nation's premier trial attorney, was a graduate of the University of Wyoming before practicing law in Riverton, Casper, and the Jackson, Wyoming.  I myself have tried a lot of cases, so many that I had to laugh at an ABA interview of a California lawyer who thought she'd tried a lot of them as, by career's end, she'd tried 13 (as if that's a lot, what a joke), against many fine lawyers, but not one of them was in a "big law" firm and the best of them were UW grads.  What that tells a person, I think, is that a law degree basically entitles a person to take the bar, and if they pass that, it entitles them to work at the profession. That's about it.  In terms of expectations, economically, that doesn't mean that they've won the lottery and it shouldn't.  An evolution in legal business thinking in the 1970s and 1980s, when the entire culture became very money focused, may have coincided with a bubble that meant that people were making more money, on average, than they did in earlier eras, but things like that tend to correct, and that's no longer so much the case.  If people coming into the practice now expect it to be, if they they came in some time ago and are disappointed that the reality doesn't match the perception, that's not reality's fault.

I suspect also that this is more common society wide than lawyers suspect, and tat perhaps that's missed as vocalization is a trait that lawyers are trained in.  The reason I suspect this, however, is that up until at least 1945, people did not go on to university as a rule, and the economic class that did was usually quite well off.  The professions were an exception to this, but overall what this meant is that people pursuing a university degree of any kind, if they were not WASPs, were pretty focused from the onset.  Now attending university has almost become an extension of high school, a mere expectation. For that matter, graduating from high school prior to 1945 was much less common. The GI Bill started a change in all of this, and it wasn't a bad change as it boosted the economic fortune of generations, but like all such things widespread college attendance may have run its course awhile ago.  Now, a lot of people are obtaining degrees, even advanced degrees, whose motives are not the same as earlier generations, and whose exposure to a world without such degrees is not as keen.  In other words, I suspect that law school grads, medical school grads, engineering grads, etc., etc., of 1923, or 1953, looked at the world quite a bit differently than some grads do today.  I've met some university graduates, even law school graduates, who came away with their degrees with a "well now what?" kind of view of the world, which isn't, I suspect what very many earlier graduates, unless they were members of the idle rich, would have had.

In noting that, I'm not really criticizing people, but I may be criticizing institutions.  It seems that our economy has moved to the point where the young, unless they are born into a viable business, must attend university or they will be doomed to a life at the bottom end of the service economy.  Indeed, with university degrees becoming so widespread, its' now the case that even a university degree may not always result in the opposite.  I see a lot of wedding announcements in our local paper in which both parties have university degrees but are working at jobs that shouldn't require them and which are more than "starter" or temporary jobs. Those folks have basically spent four years in university for no good reason, other than that our economy is now somewhat warped.

It's frightening to think that a Juris Doctorate may be on the verge of becoming such a degree, and I don't think it is yet.  But there is a very high initial attrition of new lawyers, and a lot of discontent at the entry level.  Part of that, I suspect, may be for the same reasons.  I suspect that some of these folks are just wondering into a really hard working profession.  They probably sort of meandered through their undergraduate, had no place else to go, bought into the law school and ABA propaganda, and found themselves in something they didn't naturally like but which requires massive dedication.  I'm scared to think that their may physicians who meet this description as well.  Anyhow, those folks probably would have been happier as machinists, or something, but who ended up as lawyers as there was basically no place else for them to go.  We can't expect them to be too cheerful.  And Justice Sotomayor's advice won't help them, as they never really thought out what they were doing from the onset.  Or at least that's my observational guess.

I also worry a little about the potential lack of diverse intellect that such an evolution in the law students may herald.  Lawyers tend to be polymaths, at least the goods ones are, and if people are wondering into it because they are supposed to have a college degree and couldn't think of any other degrees to get, that's not necessarily a good thing.  Better lawyers are curious people, and they often tend to have a lot of highly diverse, but sometimes intense, interests.  That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of really good lawyers who basically ended up there simply because the are polymaths and their interests were in everything, but there is a certain dullness of character for people just mushing their way through university, even if that mushing takes them to and advance degree. 

Okay, so what on earth does that have to do with the focus of the blog?  Well, maybe not much  But it does sort of relate to one of the characters I'm trying to develop, novel wise, and it is a topic that comes up a lot, in one way or another, on the Today In Wyoming's History blog.  It wouldn't be fair to say by any means that all the significant early, let's say pre World War Two, figures in Wyoming's political history were lawyers, but a lot of them sure were.  I've actually been surprised by the number.  Many of the early governors were, and many of the early Senators and Congressmen were.  And, and of course it would stand to reason, most of these men were graduates from out of state schools. The early ones had to be, or they had to have "read the law," as UW's College of Law didn't come about until, I think, 1920.  But I haven't really ran across much about them individually.  That is, why did they enter the law?  And why did they take their practice to Wyoming?  I note that a lot of them came to the state very soon after graduating from law school, and then pretty quickly entered politics or professional office. That has to lead me to believe that they were pretty opportunistic as a rule.  Later ones seem to have sometimes been mixed in careers, i.e., lawyers and ranchers, or lawyers and correspondents, and the like.  That probably reflects something else, and it reflects something that used to be fairly common here, but no longer really is.

 Lawyer from a western state, 1926.  He's basically turned out as expected, except for his hat, which isn't a bowler, rather obviously.

So what can we take away from all of this?  Well, I'd propose the following:

1.  Comments in general journals, the ABA Journal or the local newspaper, or even the New York Times, probably aren't worth much as the folks who comment are likely to be extremists.

2.  Comments on moderated forums and blogs mean more, probably.

3.  A person has to be careful about statistics, no matter what they're on, as statistics without analysis, or without careful science behind them, can be misleading.

4.  I wish serious people, like Sotomayor, would give interviews to interviewers I could take more seriously, rather than Oprah.  I really do.

5.  Are universities and professional schools failing people?  There sure seem to be a lot of people entering work that wouldn't require a BA or BS, and it's odd to think of people getting post graduate degrees and then finding them unsatisfactory, or does that just take us back to #3?

6.  What's it say about our economy that so many people now must obtain a university degree, even though they seemingly may not be suited for what they're studying?

7.  What were those early Wyoming lawyers like?