Inflation Over a Lifetime

A young man at the grocery checkout told me of an elderly woman yelling at him over the store’s high prices – and I realized the different perspectives time brings.  I’m probably one of the youngest people who can recall putting a nickel in the Coke machine to get a bottle of Coca-Cola.  It must have been 1957 or 58.  Dad’s last duty station was in Tacoma.  I don’t remember his office – but I did know the path to where the Estes was moored – AGC-12, an amphibious flagship, and quite possibly the last of the Pacific fleet to host a 5-cent pop machine.

When I started college in 1967, I discovered that the last ten-cent pop machine on campus was in Montana Hall annex.  The dormitory machines were already up to 15 cents, but the last dime machine was operating in MSU’s equivalent of the flagship.  I’m generalizing on minimal data – but it seems like the last of the low-cost vending machines were left in the halls of the highest paid.

An article on Foxstarts with the headline “Rising costs erode buying power of Social Security earnings by 36%, report says”.  The article continues with these observations:

“Inflation is moderating, but rising costs have eroded the buying power of Social Security earnings by 36%, according to a recent study by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL).

Older Americans that retired before 2000 would have to earn an extra $516.7 more per month or $6,200 more this year than what they are currently getting to maintain the same level of buying power as in 2000, according to the study.

The loss of buying power comes even as Social Security cost of living adjustments increased by 8.7%, which boosted the average monthly benefit by about $140.”

The article notes that the price of eggs tops the list of fastest growing costs for seniors.  I guess there is always the option of replacing eggs with gruel, as Scrooge did.

“The cost of goods and services purchased by typical retirees rose by 141.4%, averaging about 6.2% annually over the same period,” TSCL said. “For every $100 a retired household spent on goods and services in 2000, that household can only buy about $64 worth today.”

Eggs topped the list of fastest-growing costs for seniors since 2000, according to recent data from TSCL, which compared price changes from March 2022 to February 2023. Also counted among the top five growing costs seniors are dealt with are prescription drugs, heating oil, dental services and Medicare Part B premiums.

This chart, taken from macrotrends suggests that the stock market is doing better than social security, but the economy isn’t doing so well on Biden’s watch as it did for either Trump or Obama.

Annual, even monthly, inflation rates from 1914 to present are available at and their inflation calculator is here .  With this sort of data available, it is much easier to understand how inflation actually affects us.  I do know that, if my comparison data is that rare nickel coke machine from 1957, my view is going to be a bit distorted.

NPR provides a little more perspective:

1886, a bottle of Coke cost a nickel. It was also a nickel in 1900, 1915 and 1930. In fact, 70 years after the first Coke was sold, you could still buy a bottle for a nickel.

Three wars, the Great Depression, hundreds of competitors — none of it made any difference for the price of Coke. Why not?

In 1899, two lawyers paid a visit to the president of Coca-Cola. At the time, Coke was sold at soda fountains. But the lawyers were interested in this new idea: selling drinks in bottles. The lawyers wanted to buy the bottling rights for Coca-Cola.

The president of Coca-Cola didn’t think much of the whole bottle thing. So he made a deal with the lawyers: He’d let them sell Coke in bottles, and he’d sell them the syrup to do it. According to the terms of the deal, the lawyers would be able to buy the syrup at a fixed price. Forever.

The Coca-Cola vending machines were built to take a single coin: a nickel.  Levy says the folks at Coca-Cola thought about converting the vending machines to take a dime. But doubling the price was too much. They wanted something in between.

So they asked the U.S. Treasury to issue a 7.5-cent coin. At one point, the head of Coca-Cola asked President Eisenhower for help. (They were hunting buddies.) No luck.  The last nickel Coke seems to have been in 1959.  The nickel price had lasted over 70 years. “


The Seasonal Visitors

Folks driving by the pond are slowing and stopping to view the lesser Canadian geese and their hatchlings.  Since I get to watch them more than most, I can tell a bit more of their story.  For me, it begins a few years back, watching Goose and Gander as they picked the island for a nesting site.

They arrive early – when the island is still covered with snow, and the solid ice of the pond offers no protection from predators.  Still, the early arrival is important in claiming their chosen nesting site and keeping it their own.  The first goose left with her flock several years ago, in poor condition, and didn’t make it back.  Gander had a new consort, and had his non-existent hands full convincing sweet-young-thing that nesting on the island was mandatory.  Her personal record of past successes has made continuing her predecessor’s nesting site a non-issue.  The goose continues to keep a low profile nesting on the island, while gander continues to keep eagle gazes away, as he swims around the island or paces the field, keeping predators distracted.

I’ve ordered more nitrogen fixing bacteria for the pond – if it were just goose, gander and offspring the nitrogen enrichment wouldn’t be too bad.  But we have (as I write) three separate sets of hatchlings, plus last year’s adolescents and their mates.  In other words, the pond is challenged by about 20 adult geese, another 20 hatchlings, and that means I need some management techniques to keep the algae growth down and the water clean.  Meanwhile, gander cruises the pond with one set of goslings and two sets of grand-goslings.  I think he is middle-aged now, and that he got his start with a goose who was older than he.  Experience has led to tremendous reproductive success.

The garden snake has several tiny garter snakes on the prowl – intensely bright markings on these small snakes.  The ponds seem to be offering a great ecosystem for painted turtles – and the muskrat population is growing again.  There is a new redwing blackbird claiming ownership of the ponds, with two consorts nesting.  Robins abound, and a small cohort of grackles move in competing with them for worms.

The first hatch of ducklings are now following their mother around the pond.  Diving ducklings definitely lack the inborn order of geese – by the time they’re three days old, they can best be described as milling around their parent and disappearing to explore life under water.  Meanwhile, the Coot hen is on the nest somewhere – our regular pair of coots tend to hang close to Goose and Gander – Coots are another monogamous species.

The deer still show that the winter was hard for them.  The parts of the field where I have tried to plant alfalfa seem to be their chosen salad bowl.  It was easier to raise alfalfa when there were fewer deer.


Popularity in the 21st Century

So I’m looking at a poll of popularity among politicians.  The poll even includes Elon Musk – who is not a presidential candidate, not eligible to run for the presidency (born in Africa, you know) and has 14% more favorable ratings than unfavorable.

DeSantis has 8% more favorable ratings than unfavorable, as does Nikki Haley.  Tim Scott and Vivek Ramiswami check in with 7%.

The high scoring Democrat is Bernie Sanders, with 1%.  Trump’s at -1%, and Biden at -10%.

The message – emphasis on the mess syllable – is that Americans view our political leadership unfavorably more often than favorably.  That evidence may be a statement on the quality of our leaders, or it may be a statement about the quality of our electors.  Or, I can simply embrace the power of inclusion, and assume that we have an intensely divided electorate led by political figures we all find unacceptable. 

With a change in advertising emphasis, and no change in taste, Bud Light went from top selling brand to the bottom almost overnight – the folks who made the decisions on beer advertising definitely lacked an understanding of beer drinkers. 

I’m enjoying an improvement for gardening – an earlier Spring, with less frosts – yet I listen to “Climate Change” pronouncements that treat a longer growing season here at the 49th parallel as if it is a bad thing.  Not all change is bad – and the longer growing season and short-season crop variants are a good thing for gardens in my area.

If I recall correctly, Richard Nixon won the presidency with 61% of the vote in 1972 – and resigned before the end of that term.  Lyndon Johnson was at 61.1% in 1965 – and the comments I recall suggest his favorability rating was Bidenesques by the time I entered college.  In other words, electing politicians who have high unfavorable ratings isn’t a new thing – it’s just being measured now.

In ancient Athens,

“In the 1960s, archaeologists made a remarkable discovery in the history of elections: they found a heap of about 8,500 ballots, likely from a vote tallied in 471 B.C., in a landfill in Athens. These intentionally broken pieces of pottery were the ancient equivalent of scraps of paper, but rather than being used to usher someone into office, they were used to give fellow citizens the boot. Called ostraca, each shard was scrawled with the name of a candidate the voter wanted to see exiled from the city for the next 10 years.

From about 487 to 416 B.C., ostracism was a process by which Athenian citizens could banish someone without a trial. “It was a negative popularity contest,” says historian James Sickinger of Florida State University. “We’re told it originated as a way to get rid of potential tyrants. From early times, it seems to be used against individuals who were maybe not guilty of a criminal offense, so [a case] couldn’t be brought to court, but who had in some other way violated or transgressed against community norms and posed a threat to civic order.” Athenians would first take a vote on whether there should be an ostracophoria, or an election to ostracize. If yes, then they would set a date for the event. A candidate had to have at least 6,000 votes cast against him to be ostracized and historical records suggest that this occurred at least a dozen times.”

Now just might be a time to bring this idea back.  Since nobody in Congress reads the 5,000 page laws that they cavalierly pass, all we need to do is recruit a single congressional staffer to slide in a couple of pages that re-institute the ostracophoria, but basing it on polling scores and making it automatic.  Once the new ostracophoria passes, and we just take it to an agreeable court to get it enforced – New York would have a court that would exile Trump, and my guess is that I could find a judge in Wyoming to exile Biden.  Those old greeks might have been on to something.


Chesterton’s Perspective a Century Back

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.” (1924)

“This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.” (1919)

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”  (1922)

“What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.”

A society is in decay, final or transitional, when common sense really becomes uncommon.

“Truth can understand error, but error cannot understand truth.

There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal Socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the State, and the present Capitalist system, in which the State is run by the big businesses.

Moral issues are always terribly complex for someone without principles.


A Montana Made Movie I Missed in the 70s

I didn’t see Thunderbolt and Lightfoot when it first came out – and later I spent several years working along the highline where it was filmed.  It showed up on youtube – free to view if you’re willing to put up with ads – and, with the familiarity with the area, and the fact that I was in my early 20’s when it was filmed, I enjoyed a Clint Eastwood movie that I hadn’t seen.

The movie starts with Clint preaching a sermon – only to be interrupted by a guy trying to shoot him with a broomhandle Mauser.

Dad had told a story about pre-revolution Chinese officials shooting out his tires with Brooms in China before I was born – I’m not sure the Marine sergeant that pulled him out of the jam wasn’t the source of my name “Michael.”  So it starts with a church I’ve seen, and Eastwood under fire from a gun I enjoyed rebuilding in the late eighties – until Bill Clinton froze my source of Chinese Broomhandles.  If I’m remembering correctly, the old church in Hobson was taken down in the eighties, and moved (either in part or total) to Troy – but memory is a fickle thing.

The cars – first Thunderbolt and Lightfoot liberate a 72 Buick Riviera.  Dad had one – the same tan color (the one pictured looks a lot nicer).  The guy who was trying to shoot Eastwood with the broomhandle was driving a 51 Mercury club coupe – in high school and college, I drove a 50.  Gerald Johnson gave me a transmission from his 51 when that engine blew.  I’d never realized that my car choices were so close to Eastwood’s.

While I was working in Chinook, I met a deputy whose Model 29 Smith had Eastwood’s autograph on the butt.  Not a bad thing, but he had added a bunch of clear sealant to protect the autograph, and couldn’t get the grips off when the bloody thing went out of time.  A Clint Eastwood autograph undoubtedly has value – but I really like having a firm belief that my revolver will be in time, and go bang, when I squeeze the trigger.

Then there was the gun that gave Clint’s character the name “Thunderbolt”.  So help me, a 20 mm Oerlikon.  The most produced anti aircraft cannon of World War II.  Responsible for almost half the Japanese aircraft shot down during the war.  Dad’s comment was that he got nervous when the 20 millimeters opened fire – those Japanese planes were too close to his ship.  Still, the Oerlikon was the late war Kamikaze killer.

Clint was using the Oerlikon to create an opening in the bank vault.  Now the Oerlikon is the only cannon I know of that fires from blowback – like a 22.  Like a Hi-Point.  I’m kind of accustomed to some sort of locked breech even in pistol calibers – but the Oerlikon firing pin hits the primer before that 50 pound breechblock even closes.  I mean, yes, it was the most common cannon in the US Fleet – but a 20 mm cannon just seems a little too much for blowback.

I’m pretty sure the schoolhouse where the loot was hidden is alongside the highway by Saco.  If you drive by on highway 2, look for it.  I liked the scenes in Fort Benton – the trees have grown since 1972, but it’s still identifiable.  Great Falls, over 50 years, has seen a lot of rebuilding.  Still, if you have spent time in central Montana and along the High Line, I hope you can enjoy the old movie as much as I.  I do wish that I had been able to watch it with Dad – and put the movie on pause to talk about everything we would have recognized.


A Carbine in a Pistol Caliber

It’s reached a point where 9mm ammunition is the cheapest centerfire cartridge available.  When I was younger, that title belonged to 38 Specials – but somewhere along the years, it moved to the old 9mm parabellum.  Back in the revolver day, it made sense (at least to me) to have a revolver and a lever action carbine in 357 magnum – where I could feed either with 38 specials or 357 magnums.  Now, as revolvers have given way to semiautomatic pistols, the default option is 9mm.

The chart shows the power advantage that a carbine has over a pistol – and the carbine makes hitting the target a bit easier.  The next chart  shows the differences between velocity based on barrel length for the 357 magnum. 

Since velocity correlates with power when the same bullet weights are used, that 16 inch barrel offers about 17% more energy than the 6-inch barrel on my revolver.  Going back to the 9mm, the carbine bounces the power up by about 46% over the pistol (and it’s worth mentioning that my 9mm pistol barrel isn’t quite 4 inches long).

A century and a half ago, the combination was in 44-40 – the Colt Frontier revolver and the Winchester model 1873.  That carbine showed the same 17% advantage as the 357 magnum charts – the bottom line is that the longer barrel offers more power and is easier to hit with.  The combination in the same caliber meant that the same box of ammunition could feed both rifle and revolver.

Occasionally, someone asks about the best pistol cartridge for bear country.  I’ve never had to deal with a bear attack.  I have had a fistfull of 22, of 38, of 357, and of 45 when I’ve been fairly close to a large grizzly – if you go back and click the link, you will quickly see that no handgun fills me with absolute confidence.  Despite that, it is easy to remember that Bella Twin used a single-shot 22 rifle, with 22 long (not even long rifle) cartridges to take the world record 1953 grizzly in Alberta.  This photo shows Bella Twin’s bear rifle:

Robert Ruark wrote the book Use Enough Gun.   The chart below suggest that a big part of using enough gun is having a long enough barrel.

At any rate, there is an argument to be made for pistol caliber carbines – whether in bear country or facing a paper target.  My own, from the pre-cataract surgery days, is a Hi-point 9mm with a simple red dot sight added.  It isn’t enough gun – but it beats praying.


When Hallie and Winton Prayed Me Better

My thoughts go back almost 35 years – to a time with a vertebrae smashed with a compression fracture, a brace that I wore constantly, and a 10 pound lifting limit. Fundamentally, the back part of the vertebrae had been converted to bone mush, and I was fortunate in having trained people calmly get me strapped to the backboard and hauled out.

After that, the medical part was just living in the brace, walking in my one pair of slip-on shoes, and doing nothing. As Fall moved into winter, I was visited by two old friends – Winton and Hallie Weydemeyer. I had known for years that Hallie was a Christian Scientist – but I had never expected to have Hallie show up to use the power of prayer to heal me.

With snow covering the ground, Renata abandoned me (after hiding my shoes) to Hallie’s prayers. Winton threw in a few (kind of like a relief pitcher) whenever Hallie would run down, and then she would return with new vigor to pray me better.

I don’t know whether the prayer was effective or not – the initial x-rays show a vertebrae that slopes down at about a 45 degree angle – not safe in any sort of a fall or strain. A future surgery to fuse things to better protect the spinal cord was a strong option. The post-prayer x-rays show a shorter vertebrae, still sloping, but at probably 5 or 6 degrees. It could be that the bone, turned into mush by the impact, just reformed as best it could as I spent the months of recovery in a brace, 24-7. It could be that Hallie and Winton got the divine intervention they requested.

And when people come to heal you with several hours of tag-team prayers, you really do have to be polite. After all, I don’t have any evidence that it hurts recovery.


A Cartoon to Learn From

I noticed this cartoon – and it holds a message that doesn’t come from the typical guidance counselor’s office:

It’s a slightly different way of displaying the bell curves that explain IQ (intelligence, the G factor)

The article describes parts of the author’s life after the brain injuries associated with multiple concussions – “Two standard deviations below the mean is considered to be low IQ or mentally handicapped. We accept that people with low IQ fall outside the norm and may need additional assistance to adapt and be successful in society. Sadly, the same compassion and understanding does not often exist for people more than two standard deviations above the mean.  The existence of only “positive” words to describe IQ on the high side is an example of that. A big difficulty for people with high IQs is that they are sorely in the minority.  Though there is a long tale to the bell curve it is a narrow one.  96% of all people fall within 30 points of the mean IQ of 100.”  Clicking the link takes you to her page, where she discusses her own experiences of high intelligence and traumatic brain injury.

“One of the biggest difficulties for Gifted/Brain Injured adults is that all of our life we have been able to rely on our ability to pick things up quickly, make the thought connections between disparate ideas, multitask, multi-think . . .  We relied on it even if we were unaware that we were doing so. Suddenly those abilities have been stripped from us.  That is huge. We are completely at a loss how to navigate life.  Even with a very mild TBI executive functions involving planning, multitasking, and sequencing are usually compromised.  Because the gifted tend to “coast” relying on the enhances abilities, this fall from grace is into an especially deep pit.”

Note the verbal, the grammatical  error in the statement, and how they support the situation she describes.  Her writings are worth the click and the time it takes to read them.


The Perpich Case

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Guard is controlled by the federal government and not an independent state militia.  It wasn’t a second amendment case – the governor of Minnesota was objecting to the Minnesota Guard being sent to Central America.

He lost at the Supreme Court –

“Held: Article I’s plain language, read as a whole, establishes that Congress may authorize members of the National Guard of the United States to be ordered to active federal duty for purposes of training outside the United States without either the consent of a state governor or the declaration of a national emergency. Pp. 496 U. S. 347-355.

(a) The unchallenged validity of the dual enlistment system means that Guard members lose their state status when called to active federal duty, and, if that duty is a training mission, the training is performed by the Army. During such periods, the second Militia Clause is no longer applicable. Pp. 496 U. S. 347-349.

(b) This view of the constitutional issue was presupposed by the Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U. S. 366, 245 U. S. 375, 245 U. S. 377, 245 U. S. 381-384, which held that the Militia Clauses do not constrain Congress’ Article I, § 8, powers to provide for the common defense, raise and support armies, make rules for the governance of the Armed Forces, and enact necessary and proper laws for such purposes, but in fact provide additional grants of power to Congress. Pp. 496 U. S. 349-351.

(c) This interpretation merely recognizes the supremacy of federal power in the military affairs area, and does not significantly affect either the State’s basic training responsibility or its ability to rely on its own Guard in state emergency situations. Pp. 496 U. S. 351-352.

(d) In light of the exclusivity of federal power over many aspects of military affairs, See Tarble’s Case, 13 Wall. 397, the powers allowed to the States by existing statutes are significant. Pp. 496 U. S. 353-354.

(e) Thus, the Montgomery Amendment is not inconsistent with the Militia Clauses. Since the original gubernatorial veto was not constitutionally compelled, its partial repeal by the Amendment is constitutionally valid. Pp. 496 U. S. 354-355.

880 F.2d 11 (CA 8 1989), affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

The second amendment says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Perpich decision, ruling that “During such periods, the second Militia Clause is no longer applicable” plays hob with the argument that the second amendment exists to arm the National Guard.  It doesn’t make any difference that the guard is “well regulated” if it isn’t a militia.  I’ve spent a lot of my life around college campuses, and heard that argument many times – but I never took the time to find Perpich and read it.  I kind of wish I’d had it on hand when my Dean pushed that National Guard argument on me – but research too late doesn’t change decisions.


To The Folks Who Lose Elections

Trego has completed its school board elections – for the first time since 2007.  Sixteen years – a long time for a democratic institution to operate in the absence of voter input.  It isn’t a stretch to say that the people who make democracy work aren’t the people who win elections – democracy works at this basic level because of the people who lose elections.

I’ve been appointed to the board once – to fill a vacant position.  Appointed to the board, by the board.  After that, I was elected by acclamation.  That means I was the only person to apply for the position, and there was no election.  After all, there is no point in holding an election if there is just a single candidate.  The actual expense of the election at Trego was $3,315.19 (not including the time the school clerk spent setting it up).  For a change, for the first time in at least 16 years, the majority of our school trustees have been elected by the voters.

And the election occurred because there were enough candidates to have losers as well as winners.  Without losers, voting doesn’t occur, and the winners are elected by acclamation.  My term has 2 more years to run – and I hope that I am the last trustee elected by acclamation.

Only 15% of registered voters bothered to vote.  That seems like a small percentage – but without the candidates who chose to run, who lost the election, no voter input would have selected the trustees.  School trustees were the first ‘officials’ where elections were abandoned for ‘acclamation’.  It’s understandable – the position, when done correctly, is notably unrewarding.  Here, in Trego, in 1988, nepotism had reached a point where the County School Superintendent, Cindy Middig, was actively trying to correct it.

Cindy left office before her term was over, and the commissioners appointed Mary Hudspeth – about eight years later, I asked Mary why she didn’t do something about the nepotism at Trego.  The answer was simple – Trego’s clerk completed the year-end reports perfectly, and that made the nepotism tolerable.  Long story made short – for over 30 years, the county superintendent’s office ignored and enabled nepotism at Trego school.

So here’s to the folks who run for school boards and lose.  The winners – elected by ‘acclamation’ – may well attempt to do things properly . . . or at least the best they know how.  But without the people who are willing to run for office and lose the election, we lack actual public input, public decision making – hell, we lack any choice.  We need those losers to have legitimate election winners.

Of course, Trego’s past problems – and the record of 16 years between the most recent elections doesn’t argue strongly that competitive elections will continue – are not unique in Lincoln County.  The County had a single-party election in 2022.  Part of that was a single word in the election codes: may.  Had that word been exchanged for shall, the unelected county election administrator would not have had the power to guarantee single party dominance of Lincoln County’s political structure – subsection 7 would have been allowed to function.

The people who lose elections do as much or more to keep the democratic process functioning as the people who win.  In general, I don’t mark the ballot for an unopposed candidate – but that isn’t enough – if we don’t have enough candidates to make sure that every elected position is contested, we’re on the same path that Cindy Middig tried to correct in Trego back in 1988.  Democracy may well die in darkness – but elections by ‘acclamation’ and unopposed general elections probably qualify as darkness.

Thanks to our losing candidates.  In Trego, each performed a larger service by legitimizing the winning candidates.