Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Now out in print.

"Thank you for your service"

Thanks, but you don't need to, nor should you either.

Me, as a Sergeant in the Wyoming Army National Guard (HHB, 3d Bn, 49th FA), on maneuvers in South Korea.

At some point in the last twenty years, it became common to thank veterans for their military service.  It started off with thanking World War Two veterans, and then it spread to almost every veteran.  I've found that in the past few years I've been thanked for my service in the Army National Guard.  It always catches me off guard, and it makes me a little uncomfortable.  I didn't do anything that compared with those who served in World War Two, quite a few of whom I knew, nor did I do anything that compared with that which was done by veterans of the Korean War or Vietnam War, nor any other U.S. war, or even guys who served in the active duty service of any era..  Even at that, while I hesitate to even mention it, there's quite a difference between those who had the sort of service my (Canadian) Uncle Terry, my Uncle Bill (Navy submarine officer), or my wife's Grandfather had (Marine Corps in the Pacific) and those who served in the armed forces in bases here in the US during the war, of which there were a large number.  I'm not dissing any of this service, just noting that perhaps the "thanks" deserves at least some level of discernment.

 Me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, during basic training.  I was quite thin at the time, but would get even thinner as I came down with pneumonia at Ft. Sill.  When this photo was taken in the platoon area, we were cleaning our M16A1 rifles.  The names of our drill instructors, SSG Stringfellow and SSG Adams, appear on the campaign hat silhouettes.

I joined the Wyoming Army National Guard the summer after I graduated from high school.  I did this for a variety of reasons.

  photo 2-28-2012_101.jpg
Armored vehicles and artillery pieces getting set to deploy, South Korea.

One of the reasons was sort of career related.  When I was in junior high and high school, I seriously contemplated a career in the Army.  As a very outdoorsy kid, with a love of history, and growing up in an age when every adult male I knew had served in the military, there was a long period of time in which I planned on becoming an Army officer, or maybe a Marine Corps officer.  I held this desire pretty strongly when I was a young teen, and strongly, but mixed with other things, as I approached high school graduation. By the time I graduated from high school I'd determined to join the Army after university, after taking ROTC.  However, by the time I graduated my desire was seriously waning as I love my state, and being outdoors in it, making me one of those odd personalities who'd rather wonder around outdoors in their native place than spend long periods of time away from it.  Anyhow, I went to check out the University of Wyoming but determined to go to the local community college for two years first, a sign of that "not knowing what to do" problem I recently posted on.   That meant no ROTC.

  photo 2-28-2012_092.jpg
155 mm SP M109 howitzers in field, South Korea.

I felt a bit guilty about that so that was part of my motivation, and indeed the motivation foremost in my mind, when I went out to the Armory that summer and joined the National Guard.  As I'd been planning on entering the University of Wyoming, and not Casper College, this was a big shift in plans, and I was uncomfortable with the notion that part of my change in plans might be based on a bigger change in plans, and that if I didn't go to UW I'd never enter ROTC and by extension I'd never enter military service at all.  As it turned out, that feeling was somewhat correct, as when I went to UW two years later my desire to enter the Regular Army had passed completely, for reasons that I couldn't tell you now, as I didn't know what they were then, but which were probably formed by being increasingly outdoors in my native state in my early adulthood.   But this desire at the time of my entry into Casper College wasn't the only one.  Part of it was that it was just something I wanted to do.  And part was that the Guard at that time would help pay for college directly.  It wasn't that I had to join the Guard to go to college, that would be untrue, but I thought it a good deal that the Guard would help, and that way I wouldn't have to rely completely on my father, who by that  time had my very ill mother to worry about.  It was sort of a feeling that this was something I could do to help pay my parents back for what they'd done for me, although I never, at any point, told them that, either at the time, or later.  And part of it was a vague feeling that at some point later in life I'd want to be a writer, and that any writer ought to know the topic he was writing on, which to my mind meant that I ought to have some military service.

  photo 2-28-2012_098.jpg
Near accident, cabbage field, South Korea.  Some troops who really do deserve our thanks are the peacetime solders, including Guardsmen, who die in accidents.  One of my friends from basic training, who was in the Nebraska National Guard, died a year or so later in an accident in which a trucked he was driving rolled.

I was an artilleryman in the Army National Guard, which had a course of initial training sufficently long that, technically with basic and advanced training combined, I actually am a veteran of the U.S. Army due to that.  That is, when a National Guardsman goes to basic and advanced training, he's active in the service, actually in the regulars.  When I graduated from the artillery school at Ft. Sill I received a discharge from the active duty Army, and I received an Army Service Ribbon.  In my case, that service was sufficently long for that purpose that I actually qualify as a veteran of the U.S. Army.  Bizarrely, as my basic and advanced training period overlapped with a crisis in Lebanon, to some groups, such as the American Legion, I qualify for membership, which frankly strikes me as really odd.  My Guard service further laps over various crises in the 1980s also has that impact, but in my mind, and in reality, no Guardsmen can or should regard themselves as any sort of "combat" veteran due to those things. There was no chance whatsoever that we were going to be called up for any of them.

  photo 2-28-2012_097.jpg
Artillery battery of the 3d Bn,49th FA in the field, South Korea.  There were three firing batteries in the Wyoming Army National Guard's 3d Bn at that time, all of them equipped with M110 8in. howitzers, and an additional three 1st Bn that were equipped with trailed 155 howitzers.  This was a Cold War structure that no longer exists, and the Guard in the state today is much smaller, and in terms of artillery is equipped with rockets.

I served in the National Guard for six years, which overlapped my entire undergraduate course of study plus one year.  That is, like a lot of geology students, I took five years to receive my undergraduate degree rather than four, and I graduated right into unemployment, the norm at the time for new geologists. During the entire time I lived in Laramie, I remained in the Headquarters Battery of the 3d Bn, 49th FA in Casper, my native town, where for most of that time I was in the Liaison section.  I toyed with the idea of transferring into an air cavalry scout unit in Cheyenne, as did one of my basic training friends, but never did.  I liked being in the National Guard, but after six years I took my second discharge (my first was the Honorable Discharge following basic and advanced training from the Army) and ceased being a member.  My reasons were two fold.  A primary one was that I was getting ready to go to law school and I erroneously believed that law school must meet the common beliefs held about it, and involve constant unrelenting study.  It actually does not, and law school was considerably easier than my undergraduate course of study in geology.  The second was that Guard units, at least ones in the West like ours, are isolated pockets of military training in some ways, so after six years, a lot of it was becoming very repetitious.  Things that I found interesting early on were getting intolerably dull after six years, such as the annal class on Preventative Checks, Maintenance  & Service.

  photo 2-27-2012_010.jpg
Me again, South Korea.  M88 tank retriever in background.  M110 and M109 batteries had tank retrievers (not doubt M109 units still do) as self propelled artillery pieces are heavy tracked vehicles and have to be extracted with one if they break down.

I've never regretted my time in the National Guard, and there are occasions when I've regretted not staying in.  I was a Sergeant at the time I got out, and I clearly could have continued on for a higher grade of NCO, and could have chosen to take the steps to become an officer.  I just didn't.  So doors were open to me, and I knew that.  The Guard had been very good to me, and I'd worked full time at the Armories in Casper in Cheyenne during various summer breaks, and during my period of post bachelor degree unemployment, so not only had I benefited from being a regular Guardsman, but individually I'd been treated very well.  I've felt a bit guilty, from time to time, about not carrying in the  Guard for that reason.  It's a classic example of people looking out for us when we're young, in a way that we didn't fully appreciate at the time.  I nearly always had a job of some sort when I needed it, in that period, when a local economic depression was going on, thanks to the National Guard.

  photo 2-28-2012_090.jpg
South Korean M48 tanks.

And I made some lifelong friends in the Guard I still see from time to time, who stayed in. Those friends saw service in Iraq later on, and its hard not to feel that you let them down, although they've never said that, and at least one of them has told me more than once that I got out at the right time.  During the first Gulf War, when I was just out of law school, I made arrangements with a couple of Guard friends who were well placed to give me the heads up if they were about to be activated, so I could get back in, as thinking I'd let them go and had done nothing myself would have been too much.  But the unit had just gone through a structural change and was not called up. With the wars of 2011, however, with small children at home and the knowledge that the prior war had seen no timely deployment, I didn't do the same, and I still feel bad about that.  My old unit, reflagged under a different designation, saw service in Iraq, although not as artillery.  One of my old friends from my NCO days, who had also been an NCO, saw service in Iraq twice as a high ranking officer.

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Black Hawk helicopter, South Korea.

To a certain extent I sometimes wish I'd stayed in just because I wish I had.  I have to acknowledge, however, that post Cold War Guardsmen bear a much different burden than we Cold War Guardsmen did.  We trained for "The Big One", i.e., a really large war such as one with the Soviet Union.  We took that very seriously, but we also knew that if we were called up, it was a really big disaster and our civilian lives and careers would have mattered little in the context of the times.  Now, with the active duty service being relatively small, Guard units are called up all the time for "small wars".  That means a Guardsman today can truly contemplate almost certain, and perhaps multiple, call ups.  We faced unlikley call ups, but ones which if they had occured would have more likely than not resulted in our demise.  But we didn't face the specter of constant call up, which is harder on a Guardsman in some ways than it can be on an active duty soldier.  Guardsmen leave their civilian occupations and lives every time they're called, which active duty soldiers do not.  One lawyer I know who is Air Guardsman admitted to me, in response to a question I posed to him, that if he was called up, it'd destroy his practice, a pretty big sacrifice, for which he indeed would be owed thanks.  This must be the case for a lot of Guardsmen, and it imposes a pretty heavy burden on them that we really didn't have.

  photo 2-28-2012_096.jpg
Headquarters personnel of the 3d Bn, 49th FA, in South Korea.

At any rate, it's nice of people to thank former soldiers for their service, but I don't deserve it.  In some ways, I sort of feel the same about people who are called up but faced no real risk of death or injury, as we owe the country service simply by living in it, and perhaps aren't entitled to thanks for merely doing what we are obligated to do.  And I didn't run down and join because there'd been a Pearl Harbor.  Some of it was likely patriotism I suppose, and certainly I think I would have regarded myself as patriotic.  But a lot of it was personal as well.  And it served me rather well.  At age 18, when I joined, I was exceedingly shy and being in the Guard did impact my personality in a good way, with basic training probably being particularly helpful. That's probably a reason I should have stayed in, as military service does counteract the natural tendency of introverts to be just that, and U.S. service is a rather vigorous one, which encourages activity.  I've never regretted doing it, and I have occasionally regretted getting out.  Over the past year all the old timers, I think, who were in with me have retired, and I suppose I would have done the same from the Guard as well by now.  But "thanks" for my service aren't really mandated.  I"ve found that most former servicemen, at least the peace time ones like me, feel the same way.

 photo 2-27-2012_030.jpg 
Liaison section tent, Korean pig farm, South Korea.

Mid Week At Work: Everywhere is nowhere?

1920s vintage motivational work poster, in an era when this genera was at its height.   This is one of those posters which is likely completely out of sink with the era that is coming into the workplace now, and which seems quite comfortable with the idea of rapidly switching employers.

Odd to see the use of a prospector as the boogeyman here. Generally, they're sort of an admired historical class.  Most didn't make it big, of course, or anywhere near big. Some did, however, and in a way they were sort of the entrepreneurs of their era, which likewise tend to fail more often than they succeed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The American Songbook

Some time ago, several years ago in fact, I was in Court and the judge presiding over the case (we were in chambers) noted that his children, who were approximately the same age as mine, didn't learn the songs we all learned as kids in school.  I was quite surprised by that, but upon returning home I found that was indeed true of my own. Entire groups of songs that we learned in school were completely unknown to them.

In grade school, in the 1960 and early 1970s, we learned a range of "traditional" songs, some of which, in thinking back, weren't all that old at the time, but seemed so.  These included the Hudie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) series of songs that most people believe are age old folk songs, some genuine old folks songs, folk songs of the 1930s and some well known U.S. military ballads.

Songs that I can recall learning this way, if not always understanding, include Down In the Valley, Jimmie Cracked Corn, Johnnie Came Marching Home, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Little Brown Church In the Vale,  Red River Valley and This Land is Your Land, amongst others.

The lyrics of some included cultural references that were never explained to us, such as Jimmie Cracked Corn, which is sung from the prospective of a Southern slave.  By today's standards, that song would be both rather shocking, and not exactly socially tolerable.  Others were cleaned up versions of songs that had heavy situational references unknown to us.  Down In The Valley, for example, is a Leadbelly song that includes a references to being in prison, if all the lyrics are included, 
Write me a letter, send it by mail;
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail,
Birmingham jail, dear, Birmingham jail, 
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail,
At least one standard was somewhat controversial in its origin, but it seems to have gotten over it quickly, perhaps in spite of the desires of Woodie Guthrie, it's author, that being This Land Is Your Land.  Guthrie, who was basically a fellow traveler prior to World War Two, meant the lyrics of the song much more literally than most seem to believe.  Of course, the last three stanzas of the song are usually omitted.
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
One of the more unusual songs, looking back, that we learned was the Field Artillery Song.  I later had to learn it again, or sing it rather as I already knew it, at Ft. Sill.  I'd already learned it as a child in grade school.
Over hill, over dale,
We will hit the dusty trail,
And those Caissons go rolling along.
Up and down, in and out,
Counter march and left about,
And those Caissons go rolling along,
For it's high high he,
In the Field Artillery,
Shout out your "No" loud and strong,
For wher-e’er we go,
You will always know,
That those Caissons go rolling along.
I had to ask my father what a caisson was, at some point, I recalled.  It isn't something that a person encounters everyday, of course.  Similarly, we learned the lyrics of The Marine Corps Hymn.

We learned a selection of national or patriotic songs as well.  Of course The Star Spangled Banner was one. So was My Country Tis of Thee, which I learned at home was to the same tune as the British National Anthem, The Queen.  My Country Tis of Thee is much less less martial.
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From ev'ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!
The "land where my fathers died" caused some distress to us, as young children, in hearing it as thankfully all of our fathers were alive.  It would be years later before I"d actually hear all of the lyrics to the origianal song, The Queen.
God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save The Queen!
O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!
One song we learned that was probably unique to us was the state song, Wyoming.

These songs tended to be taught in music class, in which a music teacher who went from school to school taught the songs and occasionally played the piano.  I can't recall her name, but I do recall that she tried to teach us something by making us memorize the words Tee Tee Te-te Tong, in much the same way the children in The Sound Of Music learn the "Doe, a deer" song.   Sometimes we gathered in school assemblies, seated by grade and sang them along with clips from "film strips".

Now all of this seems to be a thing of the past, and there's a lot to teach so perhaps that's no surprise. But in looking back at it, it's a bit of an open question, maybe, of what occurs when a culture loses its base of common songs.  The country won't collapse, of course, but a bit of a widely shared heritage is lost in the process.


Friday, March 21, 2014

USDA Blog » 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Opportunity for All

USDA Blog » 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Opportunity for All

Agricultural Cluelessness: Nevada Farmers Hack The Drought By Switching Up The Crops : The Salt : NPR

NPR has a story on farmers in Nevada and drought:

Nevada Farmers Hack The Drought By Switching Up The Crops : The Salt : NPR

That this sort of thing is going on is no suprise, so I wouldn't have even linked this in here save for one of the comments, which is clueless.  It states:
Humans once farmed parts of what is now the Sahara desert! The arid
west simply has too many people living in it, for farming to be
sustainable for long periods of time!
The arid west may or may not have too many people living in it.  Those of us who grow up here and like our room probably largely agree with that, and tend to cringe when some newcomer comes in and tells us how he or she moved here as "I just love how empty it is", not realizing that the huge check they brought from the sale of their out of state home which will be used for the construction of a new one, and their presence in and of itself, operates against the very thing they declare they love.  Be that as it may, the statement that;  "The arid
west simply has too many people living in it, for farming to be
sustainable for long periods of time!" is amazingly ignorant.

People don't farm the west for the west.  The west hasn't had that sort of agricultural economy for a century or longer, if we're talking about crops.  Farmers in the US farm for the entire country really. Granted, there is local farming, but if a person feels that farming is the thing that's endangering the West due to the human population, they probably have the story reversed.

Framing in the Southwest, where this story is focused, has been going on at some level since for hundreds of years.  Modern farming implements and practices  may be having a negative impact, but the thing that's really unsustainable in the west are cities built without regard to the supply of water.  Water mining is really common, for cities, in the southwest, and that is something that ultimately defeats istself.

I guess the main thing that irritates me about a comment like this is the seeming ignorance of the person commenting on the huge modern farming infrastructure of our nation.  Fruits and vegetables on most people's tables come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and indeed quite a few come from south of the border.  The farmer in this photo may produce a crop that's just as likely to be served on a dinner table in New Jersey as it is in Las Vegas.  There is a local food movement, of course, but only a tiny percentage of Americans participate in it, and the assumption the writer made is almost surely off the mark.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How the heck does a person figure out what to do?

Truckin' got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on.

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street.
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it's all on the same street.
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.

Dallas, got a soft machine; Houston, too close to New Orleans;
New York's got the ways and means; but just won't let you be, oh no.

Most of the cast that you meet on the streets speak of true love,
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone.

Truckin', like the do-dah man. Once told me "You've got to play your hand"
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay'em down,

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurres to me What a long, strange trip it's been.

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Livin' on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is "Ain't it a shame?"

Truckin', up to Buffalo. Been thinkin', you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go, and just keep truckin' on.

Sittin' and starin' out of the hotel window.
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel,
But if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in.

Busted, down on Bourbon Street, Set up, like a bowlin' pin.
Knocked down, it get's to wearin' thin. They just won't let you be, oh no.

You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel;
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurres to me What a long, strange trip it's been.

Truckin', I'm a goin' home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on.
Hey now get back truckin' home.

Truckin by the Grateful Deal.

How does a young person determine what direction to go in life?  I.e., how do we expect those looking to graduate from high school to know what to do as a career?  This isn't a rhetorical question, I really have no idea.

Back when I was in high school the local schools made next to no effort to assist with this at all.  We had guidance counselors, but the guidance we received was simply not there.  Maybe it would have been if we asked, I suppose, but most 17 year old males aren't going to walk into the guidance office and ask.  I know that I didn't.

I did have to go there, but only because my guidance counselor had to sign off on a paper that I'd seen him in order for me to graduate. All high school seniors had this requirement.  This presented a problem for me as it seemed that my counselor was sort of like Major Major in Catch 22, you could only see him when he wasn't in. Try as I might, I could never catch him in his office.  Finally I went into school very early in the morning and sat outside of his door until he showed up.  He did, of course, and had sort of a crestfallen look on his face to see me there. He signed off on my sheet, never asking me about my career plans.

That was pretty inadequate guidance.
Joey tried to help me find a job
A while ago
When I finally got it I didn't want to go
The party Mary gave for me
When I just walked away
Now there's nothing left for me to say

All the burning bridges that have fallen after me
All the lonely feelings and the burning memories
Everyone I left behind each time I closed the door
Burning bridges lost forevermore

Years have passed and I keep thinking
What a fool I've been
I look back into the past and
Think of way back then
I know that I lost everything I thought that I could win
I guess I should have listened to my friends

All the burning bridges that have fallen after me
All the lonely feelings and the burning memories
Everyone I left behind each time I closed the door
Burning bridges lost forevermore
Burning Bridges by Mike Curb

Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference.  I had some ideas of what I thought I wanted to do at the time, and perhaps guidance would only have brought that out and I would have headed down the same road, which at that time was into an undergraduate course of study in geology, something that I had a natural talent for and which my mother encouraged me in.  They did test us for aptitude, and I recall my test suggested that I might make a good game warden, a career I also considered but which my father counseled me against, given the stiff competition in this region for those jobs.   Given my thin attention to school at the time, he would have been justified in thinking that I wouldn't give sufficient attention to my grades, although that turned out to be in error.  Once in college, I really became a student.

Anyhow, do they do better now?  I hope so.  Looking out at young people, I feel for them in this area.  People push them in one direction or another, and I sometimes wonder if anyone ever helps them figure out what they can do, would be good at, and what they want to do.  Age 18 is pretty young to really know that, but by 28, which comes pretty soon, you probably ought to have a pretty good idea and be well on your way.
One night while I was out a ridin'
The grave yard shift, midnight 'til dawn
The moon was bright as a readin' light
For a letter from an old friend back home

And he asked me
Why do you ride for your money
Tell me why do you rope for short pay
You ain't a'gettin' nowhere
And you're loosin' your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there

He said last night I ran on to Jenny
She's married and has a good life
And boy you sure missed the track
When you never come back
She's the perfect professional's wife

And she asked me
Why does he ride for his money
And tell me why does he rope for short pay
He ain't a'gettin' nowhere
And he's loosin' his share
Boy he must've gone crazy out there

Ah but they've never seen the Northern Lights
They've never seen a hawk on the wing
They've never spent spring on the Great Divide
And they've never heard ole' camp cookie sing

Well I read up the last of my letter
And I tore off the stamp for black Jim
And when Billy rode up to relieve me
He just looked at my letter and grinned

He said now
Why do they ride for their money
Tell me why do they ride for short pay
They ain't a'gettin' nowhere
And they're loosin' their share
Boy, they must've gone crazy out there
Son, they all must be crazy out there 

Night Riders Lament by Jerry Jeff Walker.

Of course, some people just seem to know what they want to do from an early age, something I've always been amazed by.  They'll form an early idea of what they want to do, and pursue it. 
Non, Rien de rien
Non, Je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal tout ça m'est bien égal

Non, Rien de rien
Non, Je ne regrette rie
C'est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé 
Avec mes souvenirs
J'ai allumé le feu
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs
Je n'ai plus besoin d'eux
Balayés les amours

Avec leurs trémolos
Balayés pour toujours
Je repars à zéro
Non, Rien de rien
Non, Je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal tout ça m'est bien égal
Non, Rien de rien
Non, Je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie, car mes joies
Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi
Je Ne Regrette Rien by Edith Piaf (I Regret Nothing).

Others seem to fall into jobs, however.  Some of them find their early goals can't be met, or perhaps they lose interest in the pursuit of the original goal, or decide it isn't worth it.  Some of those fall into one thing or another and like that alternative.  Others just fall into something.

I'm not suggesting, I'll note, that nothing is done now.  I just don't know what it is.  I have a son in high school and they do seem to have more recruiters and job fair type things when I was there.  Perhaps a lot more is going on than I suppose. 

But it's heavy burden, and I feel for those involved in it.

Message from Session: UW Must Do More to Help Itself | News | University of Wyoming

Message from Session: UW Must Do More to Help Itself | News | University of Wyoming

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Romanticizing the Past

One of the things a lot of blogs like this one do is to romanticize the past.  It's really common on some "looking back" blogs, and then accidental in others.  I suppose its both here.

Be that as it may, it's really important, when looking back, to credit what was better, and some, maybe many, things really were, while at the same time being realistic about the past.  A lot of things were pretty dicey, quite frankly, about any one historical era.  And, as part of that, knowing something about the mindset of any one era is important when looking back at it as well.

One thing that stands out enormously between the past and the present is the state of medical care.  We're so used to the type of medical care we now have, the availability of fairly effective medicines, that we can hardly grasp how that was once not the case.  Some types of diseases, like asthma for example, have increased in the modern era, which is worrying, but at the same time many diseases, such as asthma, are treatable now and really weren't once.  Asthma was darned near a death sentence for some up until the second half of the 20th Century.  People didn't understand what caused it, and treatments for it were crude at best.  The book Mornings On Horseback gives one of the best descriptions of the condition of asthma in any era, and gives a fantastic description of how young Theodore Roosevelt, an asthmatic, was treated for the condition as a child. When he went into an asthmatic attack, he was loaded into a buggy and required to smoke a cigar as the buggy went at high speed through the streets of New York.   That sounds absurd now, but that's what they did. 

Medicines have become so common, in fact, that there's debate about whether some treat real conditions or not.  Behavior medicines are something that wouldn't even have been considered necessary up until maybe the 1960s when they really started to come in for the first time.

Serious injury and premature death is still with us, but not like it once was.  According to something I read quite awhile back, in the 19th Century the majority of men in the US, by their 40s, lived with a chronic injury.  I can believe it.  Indeed, at age 50 I have some aches and pains that I know stem back from some old injury, and that most men endured that is pretty believable.  When you look at photos of Americans in their 60s, or even 50s, that are 50 or more years old its almost shocking as they tend to look so old.  In contrast, quite a few, but certainly not all, Americans in that age range today look much younger (although not all do).  Men in their 40s, prior to 1950, generally have a much older appearance than men in their 40s do today.

Premature death in males was so common in the late 19th Century that the number of women who raised a child, for some time, as a single parent is about the same number who do today.  The reasons were different, however.  They had been married and their spouse was killed in some sort of an accident.

This isn't the only example of this, by any means. It's really common to see things like "those were a more peaceful time" or "that was a simpler time".   For a lot of people, these statements weren't true at any one point in the past.  Certainly immigrants living in densely packed crime ridden east coast ghettos weren't living a peaceful life.  Members of the Irish diaspora, pretty much anywhere, faced a pretty rough life.  Big populations of people from European and even the Middle East were on the move in the early part of the 20th Century for a reason.

Wars were pretty darned bad in various early eras as well.  Contrary to what people want to believe, there are fewer and fewer wars on the entire planet every year.  A human being is less likely to fight in a war now that any time in the history of civilization.  Indeed, in certain earlier eras a male was practically guaranteed to fight in a war, and the loosing side's female population was guaranteed to receive the worst possible humiliating treatment.  This sort of thing has resided to an all time low, which doesn't mean that it doesn't still happen.

All this isn't to say that there aren't some thing in the past that are better than now.  There are, and people who like to maintain everything now is prefect are fooling themselves.  Somethings that people take as progress are not, and some things in terms of social norms are actually swinging pendulum type deals which will reverse course and go in another direction, at some point.  For certain occupations, those which are passing into history because of technology, this isn't a good time, if you occupy one of those occupations and like your job.  For others, where this is an era of uncertainty, that's also true.  For some classic occupations, like farmer, this is the roughest time imaginable for people in the Western world, as the dreams and aspirations of somebody not born into it are nearly unrealizable.  

But, all in all, in looking at anyone era, we need to be careful about romanticizing it.

Mid Week At Work: Photographing the Punitive Expedition.

Standards of Dress: Office, city and town wear over the past century.

 A motivational poster from the 1920s.  By modern standards, nearly any city worker would "look the part", even if they didn't in the 1920s.  Experts on occupations maintain this advice is still correct today.

We've had several threads on this topic, but it might be interesting to just look at it as a general topic.  If a person was to transport themselves back to a city, in the year 2014, one of the first things they'd probably notice is that they were under-dressed.  The standards of dress in 1914, and for that matter 1924, 1934, 1944, 1954, and 1965, were much higher.  It wasn't until the mid 1960s that this really began to change.  What's up with that?

 Exceptionally well dressed, pre World War One, New York Lawyer.  This fellow, who is wearing bespoke everything, isn't dressed in a fashion that greatly departs from the standard for his occupation and era, but it is clear that everything he is wearing is exceptionally well made.  Woman behind him is dressed as per standards of the era.

Clearly, earlier eras were a much formal time.  It's interesting, in that context, to note that the society was, at the same time, much more rural.  A fairly substantial number of people in the early 20th Century, for example, were either right off the farm, or only one generations removed.

Newspaper vendor, circa 1920s. This photo is a bit unusual as the vendor is an adult, at at time at which this occupation was typically occupied by rough and tumble children.  He's turned out in suit and tie, and the suit is correctly buttoned leaving the bottom button unbuttoned, a sign that he knows the standard for wearing it (the bottom button on a man's suit is never supposed to be buttoned).

Formal wear extended to nearly every town occupation.  It was simply expected.  Occupations that we would be surprised to find wearing suit and tie today, did then. Storekeepers, office workers, nearly everyone with a town job, dressed up by today's standards.

George M. Cohan, playwright and composer, dressed to the business standard of today.  Now, a person of his vocation would be just as likely dressed to shock.

Dressing to shock simply didn't occur, until the 1920s. At that time it started to come in with youth of that period, who began to wear some eccentric clothing, some of which was regarded as fairly scandalous at the time.  Flappers wore short skirts, by 1920s standards, and men and women of that age adopted the raccoon coat as sort of symbol of rebellion.

Mary LaFollette, age 25.  I don't know if the daughter of "Battling Bob LaFollette", the "Wisconsin Bolshevik" was a flapper, but this raccoon coat is truly remarkable.

Youthful rebellion continued on in clothing styles into the late 1930s and early 1940s, with the Zoot Suit, a style that came out of California and spread to other urban areas of the nation.  Paradoxically, by modern standards, the Zoot Suit was, in fact, a suit.  It was more suit, if you will, that other suits, being longer and baggier.  So, in that earlier era, even youth aiming to shock didn't dress down, they dressed up.

Dancing Zoot Suiters. Apparently the photographer was so fascinated he forgot to include the heads of the dancers in the photograph.

Inklings of change in standards crept in by the 1950s, but it wasn't really until the social rebelling of the 1960s that things really changed.  The average high school student of the 1940s and 1950s probably had at least one nice set of clothing.  A young man probably at least owned a tie, and many probably owned suits.  By the time I went to high school in the 1970s, I didn't know how to tie a tie, and as noted, I didn't own a suit until I was in my last year of undergraduate studies at the University of Wyoming.

Men supervising irrigation project, 1914.  The men from the office are, here, all turned out is suit and tie, something that would be unlikely to see today.

Up until some point in the 1960s, most people dressed on a daily basis in a fashion that would be regarded as fairly formal today, but now mostly simply do not.  Most storekeepers, unless in a type of market, or selling a very upscale product, will not dress so formally on a daily basis.  Most office employees aren't so formally attired either.  Even in law offices, which people imagine to be a white collared world, on an average day many lawyers aren't dressed up. This is even true in some of the old style "white shoe" firms of the East, I'm told.

Firefighting class.  Probably around World War Two.  Everyone in this class has a tie on, and a couple are wearing very nice suits.

So why the formality?

I truthfully can't say, but it's very evident.  And not only is it evident, but it was universal, from the old to the young.  Indeed, in any one era, contrary tot he movie depictions we see, dress varied very little by age.  Young men in their mid teens can be found wearing the exact same style of suit and cut of shirt as men in their 80s.

One of the reasons might be that people simply had fewer changes of clothes and so less room for experimentation.  We tend not to appreciate it now, but in prior eras people had changes of clothes, to be sure, but not nearly as many.

Washing clothes was also difficult up until the washing machine was perfected, which really wasn't until the mid 20th Century.  Because of that, clothes tended to be wool, which is wears long if kept well.  Once washing machines came in, cotton pushed out wool everywhere, as it's really easy to machine wash.

Heating conditions in early 20th Century and late 19th Century buildings are sometimes cited as a reason, as the heating plants of those buildings simply wasn't that efficient, and therefore during the winter, they were cold. Conversely, however, during the summer they were hot, and people were still pretty dressed up, so that seems to be at least a questionable claim.

Another reason may actually be because this was a more rural society, and this was true not only in the US, but everywhere in the Western world.  People moving from farms to cities may have wished to somewhat disguise that fact by means of their dress.  Likewise, people who had blue collar jobs may not have wished to appear to be social inferiors to those with white collar jobs, in a society that was then somewhat more class conscious.  Indeed, just recently in our local paper a fellow was spotlighted who attends all of the local NCHS basketball games very well dressed, and upon being interviewed it was revealed that he'd worked in labor in Detroit, where he "was dirty all week" so he dressed up on the weekends.  A photograph of him did show a very well dressed man, something that would be unusual in that setting here.

Wisconsin farmer on a Saturday night, 1940s.  Note that while he's pretty stripped down at the time of the photo being taken, he had been wearing a three piece suit.

Finally, it seems there was just something in the 1960s that broke the back of the old formality.  That may be good or bad, or both, but it seems to have occurred.  

Is this good or bad, or is it just something that "is"?  Well, I'd probably be a hypocrite  if I commented very much.  I don't dress and suit and tie everyday, or even most days. And some days I go into the office in pretty informal attire.  Nonetheless, some aspect of this is bad.  For one thing, it disrupts the "uniform" of certain occupations.  Every occupation has a mental image associated with it, and when people don't match it, it can disrupt things about that, oddly enough.  And Americans have become perhaps the sloppiest attired people on earth.  Not only do a lot of people not recognize any distinctions in clothing, they have no self respect as to what they wear.  When people start showing up at markets in the jammies, something has gone amiss.

Related Threads:

Clerical Standards of Dress. 


I guess as an illustration of this trend, the last couple of weeks there's been a orthopedic surgeon with an advertisement in the newspaper showing him dressed in a canvas work type shirt and jeans.

He's not dressed sloppily, or any such thing, just extremely informally.  Almost like what I'd expect of geologist spending a day in the office, given that it's basically an outdoor profession.  This sort of change in standards is quite pronounced, as even as recently as the 80s or 90s, we'd expect to see a doctor dressed in whites or with a dress shirt and tie.

Postscript II

The other day I went up to the mall (a dreaded experience for me) to try to buy a shirt.  While there I noticed all the nice khakis at Penny's and realized that I'd recently retired a couple of pairs and that my remaining pairs are getting a bit tired. So I bought two pairs.

Actually, I bought chinos, as opposed to "khakis", as that describes the sort of semi dress trousers that I bought.  "Khaki" is actually a color, although the phrase routinely is used to depict a style.

I don't know exactly when cotton khaki trousers came to be business wear, but  they are.  In some areas of the country they're casual business wear, and in others they're actual business wear.  I wear chinos, which are the type of trouser you normally think of in this category, a fair amount as they're generally dressy enough for work most days, and they're easy to wash, not being wool.  But they are an aspect of the trend discussed above.

Chinos were originally a type of trouser issued to soldiers for summer wear.  Up to World War Two, and even up into it, the U.S. Army issued a cotton khaki colored uniform for field and garrison use.

Summer field uniform, just prior to World War Two, and early in World War Two, featuring cotton khaki colored shirt and trousers.

Relatively early in the war, field uniforms advanced and the Army quit using khakis for field wear, having gone to various "olive" colored uniforms for that instead. But the cotton khaki uniform kept on keeping on as a semi dress item.

U.S. Army physicians, World War Two, wearing summer khaki garrison uniform.

As a result of this, a lot of khaki chinos were made in World War Two, and the recently discharged servicemen took them into the clothing short post war world, where they became pretty standard wear for a lot of men. As they were not jeans, they passed muster in those places where you couldn't wear jeans, which was a lot of places, and became semi dress trousers.

Textile worker carrying a load of Army chinos during World War Two.

So a sort of field uniform that could be worn in garrison, evolved into a sort of work sort of casual item for men who worked in offices, which is wear they are today.

They're quite common now, although I may wear them more than some others in my line of work I know.  And its interesting to see how you can get ones that vary from really cheap in price to very expensive in price. A company called "Bill's Khakis" specializes in making chinos that match the original GI ones, but at a much more expensive price, which I guess shows how things have gone in the U.S.  Still, they don't have universal approval.  One judge I'm aware of has a local rule prohibiting the wearing of khaki trousers in court and doesn't even like to see them being worn in the courthouse.

Support is ending for Windows XP - Microsoft Windows

Support is ending for Windows XP - Microsoft Windows

Boo Hiss Microsoft.


This is apparently a more significant deal than I'd imagined.  Our tech guy at work tells us if we have XP, we better get to something else, one way or another, within the next couple of weeks.

The computer I'm on right now runs XP.   

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Rebirth Of Rye Whiskey And Nostalgia For 'The Good Stuff' & Beer and Prohibtion.

Always exploring the history of things, including social and material history, our eye was caught recently by a couple of items which relate 20th Century history, specifically the history of alcohol and Prohibition.  For example, there's this item:

NPR's "Salt" broadcast ran this recent item:  The Rebirth Of Rye Whiskey And Nostalgia For 'The Good Stuff' : The Salt : NPR

I'm not really a whiskey fan, but at least locally whiskey has been in the news a lot recently, and here we have this NPR example.  All in all, I think I've read that whiskey consumption is overall on the decline nationally, but given the news content, you'd not know that.

As noted, I'm not really a big whiskey fan.  Right now, we actually have, however, four bottles of different types of whiskey upstairs in the cupboard, probably a personal all time record.  We don't have a liquor cabinet, and don't need one, so the cupboard suffices, even if that oddly places the whiskey right next to the breakfast cereal.  We have so much because of Christmas, and we're likely to have the present four bottles for a really long time.  We have, respectively, Wyoming Whiskey, a bottle of Pendleton and a bottle of single malt Irish whiskey, so not only do we have a record amount, we actually have a record variety as well.  You can probably fairly easily tell by the novelty of this that we're not exactly living the "Mad Men" life around here.

In spite of not liking it much, I know something about it, and that's probably because of law school.  It isn't like we were living out the Pogues "Streams of Whiskey" there, but there was a single malt Scotch whiskey revival going on at the time, so we became exposed to it a bit then, and being inquisitive, I learned something about the makeup of whiskey at the time.*  It's sort of an interesting topic.

The big American whiskey is bourbon.  The reason for this is found in the history of transportation, oddly enough.  Bourbon is a corn based whiskey and it was distilled on the eastern Frontier early on.  While beer was really a staple during colonial times, hardy Frontiersmen distilled a lot of whiskey. Why?  Because it keeps better than corn on the cob does.  And it's relatively easy to transport in barrels, and there's always a market.  It wasn't, therefore, that frontier farmers were making thousands of gallons of "corn likker" to get sloshed, although there was some sloshing going on, but rather because it's easier to keep it in the barn than it is to keep a pile of corn. It doesn't attract mice either.  

Like with all things which people make, a simple necessity became an art, and bourbon was born.  It's been the American whiskey for probably around three centuries.

Frankly, I can't stand it as a rule.  Even the best bourbons generally taste like something that ought to be fueling a jet to me, but it's been what Americans mean by "whiskey" for a very long time.  And it's been in the news here recently as Wyoming now has its own distillery, which makes "Wyoming Whiskey".

A bottle of Wyoming Whiskey.

Wyoming Whiskey is a new brand of whiskey that's distilled in the tiny Hot Springs County town of Kirby.  It came about, according to what I've read, as the Meads purchased farm ground in the area in order to have a steady supply of corn for their cattle operation, and then hit upon the idea of distilling whiskey in the county.  Hot Springs County is otherwise famous for, well, hots springs, and is of course the location of Thermopolis, which features the same.

When Wyoming Whiskey was released, the first batch (there have been only two to date) was big news. To my huge surprise, my wife actually signed us up for two bottles. She doesn't even drink whiskey except on extraordinarily rare occasions, so it was quite a surprise.  But we ended up with two of the very first bottles.

I like it, to my surprise. But the public reaction has been interesting.  Whiskey Magazine rated it as first rate, which is interesting in part because up until I read that in the Casper paper, I didn't know that there was a Whiskey Magazine.  Who subscribes to that. . . and why?  Anyhow, their reviewer thought it great.  Amongst people I generally run into, however, it seems a lot of people hate it.

Why is that?  I don't know for sure, but I have my theories.  In part, Wyomingites are a hard sell on anything, and that may be a lot of it.  But I have also noticed, in talking to people, that the people who don't like it generally like bourbon, and people who do, like me, don't drink it much.  My suspicion is, therefore, that those people acclimated to bourbon, and who enjoy it, like the jet fuel nature of the taste. As I don't like bourbon, that's probably why I think Wyoming Whiskey is okay.  But if they have to rely on people like me to buy it, they're in big trouble, as the chances of me buying enough of it to be felt economically are nonexistent.  Anyhow, put another way, I think that bourbon drinkers expect bourbon to taste like bourbon, rather than the lower proof, milder, and softly minerally taste that this has.

Canadian Whiskey, I should note, is just blended bourbon.  Whiskeys are blended in order to take the harsh taste out of them, and blending is very common with all types of whiskeys.  Canada grows a lot of corn, and at some point, somebody must have hit upon the idea of borrowing American whiskey as a product. They probably did it, tasted the product and said something like "Ack!!!. . Grgemhph!  Eh?  Where's the water?"  So they blended it.

Unlike almost every bourbon, some Canadian Whiskeys I like.  Namely Royal Crown and Pendleton. That's it. The rest make me gag.  Again, it doesn't matter, as I buy so little that they don't care what I think, but those two aren't bad. And Pendleton, which is named after Pendleton Oregon, has a really neat bottle with a Steamboat like rider on it. Presumably the University of Wyoming, which owns that trademark, is making a few bucks off of that.

Royal Crown, by the way, is owned by the alcohol giant Diageo, which also owns Bushmills (Irish Whiskey), Guinness and a zillion other brands.

Bourbon basically got its start on the western slopes of Appalachia, and that's no surprise as that region was first settled by "Scots Irish", i.e., that demographic that immigrated from Ireland, but which were actually Scottish, placed in Ireland as a buffer in Ulster against the native Irish.  The Scots and the Irish both have a very long history of Whiskey distilling, and it's basically a Celtic concoction in the first place. So, they were simply using a process that they were already familiar with.  The word "whiskey" is itself a corruption of the Gaelic term uisce beatha/uisge beatha"  which means "water of life," sort of an odd description, if you think about it.

Scotch and Irish Whiskeys are very closely related, which is odd as Scotch is, in my view, horrid, while Irish whiskeys can be good, or can be horrid.  I think that this has something to do with the water. Both types are grain whiskeys, and can be made from any of the grass grains or a blend of them, but Scotch is made from bog water, and Irish Whiskey is made form water that flows from limestone sourced springs.  My personal theory is that this makes Scotch taste and smell like diesel fuel, as the water in Scotch peat bogs also has, well, peat in it. And, besides, anyone familiar with bogs knows that cows love bogs, and we all know, or should know, what cows love to do in bogs.  It explains a lot.

One of the grains that can be in Irish Whiskey or Scotch Whiskey is rye.  I did an item here on rye bread awhile back, which I really like, but I've never had Rye Whiskey.  An odd thing about Rye Whiskey, which relates to the theme of this blog, is that Rye Whiskey has a pretty bad reputation, but because of a historical event, that event being Prohibition.

As noted in the item above, Rye was actually a premium whiskey before Prohibition.  During Prohibition, however, bootleggers took up labeling bad whiskey as Rye in order to fraudulently peddle the bad stuff to people who remembered the good stuff. As a result, "Rye" came to be associated with nasty cheap booze, an reputation that came on fairly fast, which stuck up until recently.  Rye was such a shorthand for bad whiskey that Bill Mauldin had his Joe character, in the Up Front cartoon, joke that his "old woman" would be comforted by the fact that he had "give up rye whiskey and .10 cent ceegars", an ironic statement for an infantryman.  Recently, however, Rye has been making a comeback, the quality Rye apparently still being out there.

As I like rye bread I'd be curious if I like Rye Whiskey, but I'm too cheap to buy it, so I"ll have to keep wondering or be fortunate enough to be attending some social event where somebody serves it.  Liking rye bread probably doesn't translate into liking Rye in any event, as I like corn, but hate bourbon.

Related to the Prohibition story and Rye, Prohibition also did in breweries.  And here too there's both an interesting story, and interesting recent developments. 
 Late 19th Century New York beer I've never heard of.  Apparently the plan in the picture is t drink a bunch of beer and then drive the cart, which is undoubtedly a very bad idea.

Beer has an even older presence in North America than whiskey because beer was a staple in the British Isles from some point in antiquity up until some point in the 20th Century.  And this was true not just of the British Isles, but an entire belt of countries in northern Europe. Basically north of the Rhine, and in the British Isles, up to the Baltic the average drink was Beer.  Below the Rhine it was wine.  Once you got out into Poland and Russia this was no longer true, and if there was a staple drink, I don't know what it was. Certainly a lot of vodka was being consumed out in those regions, but I don't think it would be as if people sat down to dinner and had a big heaping glass of vodka.  At least I hope not.  Beer was brewed in Europe everywhere, but as a staple its basically associated with these regions, and it's best from these regions.  Likewise, probably ever location in Europe ferments some wine, but it's associated with southern Europe for a reason.

A lot of the reason for that, by the way, is climatic.  So perhaps its not too surprising that the beer brewing also saw the development of some other spirits.  Anyhow, the English brought beer to North America.  Indeed, the Mayflower put in when it did not because that location seemed ideal, but because the ship had run out of beer, a genuine problem.

In the 19th Century there were a vast number of local breweries in the US.  I doubt very much that an accurate idea as to how many there were is known.  Prior to refrigeration for rail cars being worked out, which happened in the second half of the 19th Century, beer could not easily be shipped, so breweries needed to be local, or there was no beer.  Refrigeration in rail cars meant that beer could be shipped by rail for the first time, and shortly thereafter pasteurization of beer, a process of course worked out for milk, not beer, began to be employed which meant that beer could be stored for some time without refrigeration.  Light is the enemy of beer, and the dark bottle that's so familiar to everyone also played a role in beer storage, seeking to create a vessel that could store beer, allow the customer to see it, and also keep out the destroying elements of light.

Rail car refrigeration mean that beer could be transported long distances for the first time, and that gave rise to the first big breweries in the US, the Anhauser-Busch brewery in St. Louis being the first such example.  Nonetheless, all the way up to the Volstead Act in 1919, there were a lot of local breweries.  I don't know how many may have existed in Wyoming, or co-existed together at any one time, but at least Casper and Sheridan did have breweries.  Casper's pre Prohibition brewery was the Hilcreast Brewery, named after the Hilcrest spring which still provides cooler water for Casperites today.  None of the Wyoming breweries survived Prohibition.  Hilcreast's brewery building still stands, just as it did in 1919, being a three story brick building, but its an electronics store now.  When I was a kid, it was a potato chip plant, packaging Cook's Potato Chips, the kind we all bought locally.

 Trade card for Wiedemann Beer. This is a company that I've never heard of, but it turns out, they survived Prohibition, and they're still around.

It's widely claimed that Prohibition did in the quality of American beer and that when breweries re-emerged from Prohibition, the beer wasn't what it once was. There were certainly a lot fewer breweries and that any managed to survive is amazing.  Some did, however, and rapidly went back into brewing.  According to at least Europeans, American beer was pretty bad however, and real beer fans maintained that to also be the case, which made for a small market, up until the late 1970s, for import beers, which were regarded as very exotic.**  The trend toward brewing singularity actually increased after Prohibition ended, which is odd, in that the large commercial brewers began to purchase the smaller one, a trend which continues to this day, although they no longer tend to wipe out the distinctive natures of the individual breweries as they once seemed to.

This is because of the rise of the "micro brews."  Defining what a micro brew is; is difficult.  But some time in the late 1970s very small breweries began to develop with very distinctive beers in reaction to the blandness of American beers.  This started slowly, but after it got rolling, it really got rolling.  When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, around here, the beers that you saw in the summer when men went fishing, etc., were Coors (really a regional beer), Olympia, Hamms and maybe Rainier.  Of course, Budweiser, which was and is the American giant (now owned by Belgian company) was around, but it seemed that at least amongst the men I knew, none of them ever drank it.  There were some other brands, of course, but those are the ones you tended to see.  Starting with Anchor Steam, however, small breweries began to make major inroads into the large brewers' markets, brewing beers with strong distinctive flavors and sometimes brewed with old fashioned, methods.  Anchor Steam, New Belgian, Odell, Sam Adams, and any other number of brewers rose up in this fashion, some becoming pretty big in the process, and there seems to be no end in sight to the revival of small breweries and the multiplicity of beer types.***  Recognizing a declining market when they see it, the big breweries have gotten into the act themselves and have come out with "micro brew" type beers, even though they're from big breweries.

Probably with that in mind, and returning to the them of our post here, Coors just recently introduced a beer that they claim is "Pre-Prohibition" style lager.  Being unable to pass up something which claims to be an historic exploration, I bought a six pack and then looked it up.  Indeed, it might at least partially answer the question that I had.  According to the information on the beer, the recipe for it was discovered by Coors' employees in Greeley in a part of their brewery they no longer use. That there is such a quarter in their brewery surprises me, but perhaps it shouldn't, as the Greeley brewery has long ago overlapped the walls of its original facility.  Anyhow, in finding  the old recipe, which dates to the immediate Pre-Prohibition era, they determined to make it.  At first they only offered it on tap, but now they're selling it in bottles.

One beer, of course, can't tell us what all beers were prior to the Volstead Act, but this one is revealing.  Coors has long been a major local beer here, and its not bad.  It's a really light beer, and so Coors was well positioned to move into the "light beer" market when it came about, although I've always wondered if that hurt their regular beer sales, which aren't much different.  But it's never been my favorite.  Their Pre-Prohibtion beer, sold as "Batch 19," on the basis that Prohibition came in that year, 1919, is much different.  It's stronger, in terms of alcohol content, and it has a lot more flavor.  I like it, but I suspect that it won't appeal to die hard Coors fans.  It might appeal, however, to micro brew fans.

If Batch 19 indicates what American beer was like prior to Prohibition, what we could take away from that is that at least some American beers were German style lagers but with a stronger taste. Sort of a collision between German lager and British lager.  For beer fans, therefore, the Volstead Act probably was sort of a small beer burning of the library at Alexandria, temporarily.

*Streams of Whiskey is one of several sodden tunes by the excellent Irish band the Pogues, which sadly no longer exists as a band.  The band celebrated a certain boozy view of things which undoubtedly would have disastrous effects on a person's health if actually followed, for example:
Last night as I slept
I dreamt I met with Behan
I shook him by the hand and we passed the time of day
When questioned on his views
On the crux of life's philosophies
He had but these few clear and simple words to say

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing
Not content to limit the commentary to whiskey, the song also provides:
Oh the words that he spoke
Seemed the wisest of philosophies
There's nothing ever gained
By a wet thing called a tear
When the world is too dark
And I need the light inside of me
I'll walk into a bar
And drink fifteen pints of beer

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing
More than one Pogues song was a modern, hard core, hard edge, Irish drinking song and the primary force behind the music, Sean MacGowan acquired a reputation as a hard drinker as a result.  It's interesting to note, therefore, that at least one interview of a close associate of MacGowan's has related that he did not, in this period, actually drink all that much, but that as a result of the music people insisted in buying the band drinks wherever they were.

While the Pogues no longer exist as a band, all the band members are still with us, suggesting that they didn't drink as much as the songs might suggest, and they have independent music careers.

**Having said that, complaints against American beer go all the way back to the colonial period, when British soldiers complained about he bad quality of American beer compared to English beer.

***I wonder if the micro brew explosion is beginning to run its course, however.  When it started, in the 1970s, the goal was "good beer."  Micro breweries still claim that as their goal, but in recent years a weird, and probably bad, trend has been going on where the exploration they're engaged in really is towards making stronger and stronger beers, alcohol content wise, which isn't the same as good beer.

For some reason its often missed that a lot of really excellent beers, particularly those of the British Isles, are very low alcohol content.  This makes sense to me, as the beer was brewed to be consumed in a pub, at a "session."  Beers of that type are called "session beers."  Session beers are very common British Isles beers, and are low alcohol as a rule.  Guinness Stout, for example, which defines "stout," is only a little over 3% alcohol.  It almost qualifies as a "light beer" by American standards.  Even the post Prohibition Coors, widely regarded as a classic American beer in some quarters, was pretty low in alcohol content in the classic "Banquet" variety.

German beers, on the other hand, have always been higher in alcohol content, for reasons that are completely lost to me. Even so, they probably rounded out somewhere in the 5% neighborhood.  Now, however, American microbreweries are rushing to brew what they call "IPAs,", or "Indian Pale Ales."  IPAs were a type of beer originally brewed by British breweries solely for consumption in India, and were shipped incomplete, with high alcohol contents and lots of hops, on the thesis that this would keep it from spoiling on the long, and extremely hot, trip to India.  At one time, however, it had some slight popularity in the UK when some accident required an unfinished batch to be sold on the docks when it couldn't be shipped.  It's become popular with microbreweries however, and so now they're all rushing to brew very bitter, very high alcohol content, and very icky beers.  This has expanded into other offerings, such as stouts, where high alcohol stouts are now offered as well, when historically, stouts are actually low alcohol.  This trend is taking micro-brews out of the "good beer" category into some weird high alcohol arms race, which may mean that they've about run their exploratory course, which was, perhaps, inevitable. That may mean, however, simply a return to the era of the local brewery.


This past week the extent to which local brewing has returned to Wyoming became apparent to me when I became aware of a couple of breweries or brewpubs I was previously unaware of.  The first couple were in Gillette, when I drove by one restaurant that advertised it was the home of a brewpub and then later that same day I walked pass a storefront on Gillette Avenue that advertised that it would soon be home to the Gillette Brewing Company.

Today, in the paper, the Wonder Bar, which has been around for decades, is advertising it's bar brewed beer, indicating that it is indeed brewing on the premises.  I knew, as indicated above, that it could, but I wasn't sure that it was.  It is.

Anyhow, quite a change.  Soon, it would appear, every substantially sized town in Wyoming is likely to have a brewpub.

Epilogue II

If this story references another which includes "nostalgia for the good stuff" perhaps some recollection of the bad stuff is also warranted, which is provided this week by a story in the Casper Star Tribune.  The Tribune reports:

Wyoming men who are alcohol-dependent earn about 5 percent less than co-workers who don’t have a problem with alcohol.
They also are somewhat less likely to be in the workplace at all.
These are two of the findings from a report compiled by the University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center for the Wyoming Department of Health.
The UW report concluded that alcohol is more of an economic burden on society in Wyoming than tobacco or drug abuse.
The study estimated that elimination of alcohol abuse would save $843 million a year, based on 2010 costs. Costs were for health care, lost productivity, crime and accidents.
Elimination of tobacco would save $689 million per year, and the elimination of illegal drugs $391 million per year. “Illness studies are routinely used by government agencies to justify and prioritize prevention, intervention, and research programs,” the report said.
Nanette Nelson, associated research scientist at the UW center, said she and her colleagues were surprised that alcohol was the most costly. “We thought we would see tobacco to be the front-runner,” she said.
As alcohol is a legal drug, it's easy to forget how much of a burden on society it really is.  It's also easy to forget that those advancing Prohibition, prior to 1919, were not wacky really. They had a valid point.  At that time, in a lot of places, the "saloon trade" was completely unregulated.  To open a bar, you just opened one.  We've never gone back to that.  Indeed, the impact of alcohol has been smaller post Prohibition than it was pre Prohibition, as Prohibition did have a lasting social impact. Still, the burden imposed by alcohol today remains real.

Epilogue III

Examples of local breweries from the regional past:

June 12

1890  The brewery in Laramie sold its first beer.  Up until Prohibition, small local breweries were extremely common in the United States.  Attribution:  Wyoming State Historical Society.
 From Today In Wyoming's History.

Epilogue IV

A NPR article on the explosion of small breweries across the U.S.   This demonstrates the increase in small breweries, but it's considerably below the number I'd expect.  I read awhile back that Denver now has something like 200 brew pubs, which would suggest the number of small breweries is higher than reported here.