Community

Stahl Peak on 5/23

It’s the time when the snowpack can rise quickly – a cool, rainy Spring.  The latest observation is 34.3 inches of water on the pillow – 151% of the 30 year average.  It is definitely a lot easier to click the link than it was to haul the snow tubes up to get the data in the late seventies.

What happens next is a question for the weather forecasts.  NOAA has released these projections for June, July and August. 

The folks who know about these things are calling for a warmer and drier summer than normal.  If that’s the case, it is good to be going in with a little extra water in the high country.

Community

Fewer Democrats than Hinsdale County

I’m looking at my primary ballots.  Montana has an extremely civilized method of conducting primary elections without forcing people to register with one questionable party or the other.  It’s nice – in South Dakota, the most fervent Democrat I knew had been registered as a Republican for 40 years, just so he could vote in the primaries.  Here, in the privacy of my own home, I can pick the party I want, send it in, and never have to publicly endorse either party.

My Democratic Party ballot includes the names of only three democrats – Monica Tranel, Tom Winter, and Cora Neumann.  They are democrats – Tranel lives in Missoula, Winter in Polson, and Neumann in Bozo.  In short, there are no Lincoln County democrats on the ballot in Lincoln County.  And I don’t have any particular preference for the other 3 – though wikipedia says Monica was an Olympic rower.  I’m not sure that overcomes the achievement of becoming an attorney.  I can think of a couple good reasons to keep attorneys out of the places where laws are made.  Similar arguments go for the clergy.

I’ve checked the telephone book, and found no evidence of Alferd Packer in Lincoln County – but if memory serves (and it does) the 1883 sentencing quote seems relevant: “Alferd Packer, stand up you son of a bitch.  There were seven democrats in Hinsdale County, and you, you voracious man-eating son of a bitch, you ate five of them.  I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead.  You republican cannibal.  I would sentence you to hell itself but the statutes do not permit it.”  (You can check Alferd Packer out on line – I’m writing from memory because I’d rather print the legend – the actual sentence may have been a bit milder)  Here’s Alferd’s picture:

So I look at the empty democratic primary ballot, with the thought that it is difficult to have a two-party system if one party doesn’t show up.  What societal trends have occurred that the metaphysical ghost of Alferd Packer has his imprint on our ballots?  Heck – Alferd left 2 democrats in Hinsdale County – the closest democrat on our ballot is in Polson. 

The ballots show only a single choice in partisan candidates for local political offices.  If I want to make that choice, I can vote for either Brian Teske or Stuart Crismore to fill the blank spot as county commissioner from Libby.  Doubtless, both fine men.  Have to be.  It’s the only spot on the ballot where we actually have an election.  The other candidates will move unopposed into the offices in November.

We need to stop Alferd Packer’s ghost.  Encourage your local democrats to come out of the closet.  I can remember one brave democrat at the county fair, trying to sell me a raffle ticket, with the argument, “Your side has been in power and caused all these problems. You should at least kick a dollar into helping us.”  I asked “Who are the libertarians who have been in power?” and he left.  I’m thinking that I should have kicked a couple dollars in just to encourage the dems to come out into the open – that blank ballot does show the death of a two-party system . . . and history gives me plenty of examples of single party systems.

Let’s be kind to our local democrats, and see if we can stop the ghost of Alferd Packer from roving around Lincoln County.

Community

A Tombstone in Fortine

There’s a large, expensive tombstone in Fortine Cemetery, dating back to 1918.  The name, Waseles is one of the names the man lived under – but to his contemporaries in Trego and Eureka, he was Mike Smith. 

It tells part – a small part – of the story.  My grandfather bought Waseles’ homestead in 1918. He had met Waseles – but knew him as “Mike Smith.”  P.V. Klinke had the job of settling the estate – and here is the data he had to attempt to run down the next of kin.  On the east side of Fortine Creek Road, his root cellar is merging with the earth.  On the west side, his log cabin and barns are still visible and maintained.

This 1914 map of Russia pretty well demonstrates the impossibility of finding his next of kin, with only the word “Russia” to go by – Michal Waseles could have been a Finn, a Ukrainian, a Pole – he came to the US from a very different Russia than we recognize today.

You may note that there was an autopsy performed.  At the time Waleses (Smith) died, he was under indictment for torching a couple of logging camps and tossing tools in the pond behind the splash dam on Fortine Creek. (I still use an axehead that I took from the creek, removed the lime, and rehafted.  I had thought it was lost by one of the loggers – but more likely, it was tossed in by Mike Smith and I recovered it 50 years later.)   It had been a time of strife, with the logging strike of 1917 shutting down the woods across the nation.  Waleses had been bossing the crew that ran the logs from Trego to Eureka – but the assumed name of Smith, the legal charges, and the time suggest that he had moved from management to labor activist. 

With no way to find next of kin or heirs, it looks like P.V. (Peter Vigo) Klinke decided to spend all of the estate’s income he could on the finest tombstone for Michal Waseles (AKA Smith) he could, and minimize the share that went to Lincoln County.

Community

Using Enough Gun

Sometimes the questions are enough to get you thinking – this time it was “What caliber pistol is best for bear country.  It got me thinking – we’ve seen a lot of changes in what constitutes enough gun since Lewis and Clark came through Montana almost 220 years ago.

The phrase, “Use Enough Gun” comes from Robert Ruark, who did a lot of his hunting in Kenya.  By his standards, William Clark probably used barely enough gun.  His personal rifle for the first trip crossing North America was a 36 caliber flintlock.  If memory serves, it was re-rifled when the expedition spent the winter in Oregon – which suggests it got a lot of use.  Still, I’d figure it was about as powerful as a hot 38 special. 

The other expedition members were using refurbished 1792 contract rifles and muskets – the rifles were 49 caliber, probably using a 48 caliber round ball – probably somewhere around 750 foot pounds of muzzle energy . . . a little less than that paragon of power, the M1 carbine.  It seems a little strange to realize that, in terms of muzzle energy, the whole Lewis and Clark expedition couldn’t match an M1 carbine with a 30 round magazine.

It gets easier to understand how they could put 10 bullets into a Grizzly, then run into the Missouri River to get away.  Lewis and Clark may have been using enough gun when they left Ohio.  By the time they reached the Great Falls of the Missouri, they definitely weren’t using enough gun. 

Glancing at Cartridges of the World, I see that the Sharps “Big Fifty” had a muzzle energy of 1630 foot pounds with a 335 grain bullet, and 1920 foot pounds with a 473 grain bullet.  This cartridge fed the buffalo gun into the 1870’s – and it seems only fair to contrast it against the thirty-thirty’s muzzle energy of 1902 foot pounds with a 150 grain bullet.

I suspect the folks in the Lewis and Clark expedition would have enjoyed having the choices we have today as to what to carry in bear country – whether it’s spray or a sidearm.

Community

The Differences Within a Group

A half-century ago, I encountered the phrase that “the difference within a race is greater than the difference between races.”  Experiences since then have tended to support that view – particularly in the field of genetics.  Twenty-three and me assures me that a bit over 2% of my genome is due to ancestral Neanderthals – typical of folks with northern European ancestry, and non-existent in the sub-Saharan folks.

The fossil record in Australia and New Guinea was primed and ready to show the Denisovan component as the genetic record was decoded from a finger bone.  That, plus the Neanderthal remains and tools on a couple of Mediterranean islands show that mankind was going to sea long before the species became H.sapiens sapiens. 

I’m a sociologist – my training is to look at the differences between people being cultural, a result of learned behavior rather than biological.  Color seems one of the least significant differences – we’re products of our upbringing, our culture, our education systems.  Still, we seem to be moving into an era where we will be noticing biology’s effects on human behavior as well as cultural and social influences.

The geneticist folks have it figured that blue eyes showed up somewhere around 10,000 years ago – I figure that actually means the trait showed up and reproduced enough that blue eyes are fairly common today.  Heaven only knows how many traits showed up, were unsuccessful in the mating game, and disappeared.  Light skin color (more or less white) shows up about 6 or 7,000 years ago – whether in Europe or East Asia.  This is 21st Century data – unknown when I started my studies.

Sociobiology (E. O. Wilson) is a field of biology that looks to explain human behavior in terms of genetics and evolution.  The Wikipedia entry says “Within the study of human societies, sociobiology is closely allied to evolutionary anthropology, human behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and sociology.”  My training is in cultural ecology and sociology, so I am more a student in my reading here – though a student with training in research methodology.  Suffice to say, the concept has face validity.  On the other hand, so does examining behavior as I’ve learned half a century back.  I suspect I have to be cautious in which premises I accept and reject.

Wiki’s entry “Studies of human behavior genetics have generally found behavioral traits such as creativity, extroversion, aggressiveness, and IQ have high heritability. The researchers who carry out those studies are careful to point out that heritability does not constrain the influence that environmental or cultural factors may have on those traits.” seems to support Murray’s observations in Human Diversity The Biology of Gender, Race And Class.

At the beginning of Ch. 14, Murray writes: “I focus on the genomics revolution in this chapter because it will have broader direct efforts on social science than will developments in neuroscience.  To do quantitative neuroscience research, you need to be a neuroscientist and have access to extremely expensive equipment such as MRI machines.  The results of the research will inform a variety of social science questions, but the work won’t be done by social scientists.  In contrast, the products of the genomics revolution, especially polygenic scores, will be usable by social scientists with no training in genomics by the end of the 2020s in the same way that IQ scores are used by social scientists with no training in creating IQ tests.”

He cites Plomin as he explains “Clinical psychology will move away from diagnoses and toward dimensions.  One of the revelations of recent research is that polygenic scores are normally distributed, thereby demonstrating that genetic risk for psychological problems is continuous.  There is no gene that moves a person from normal to psychologically disordered.  In fact, the words “risk” and “disorder” no longer have the same meanings they once did.”

Murray cites three conclusions (p.294):

  1. Human beings can be biologically classified into groups by sex and by ancestral population.  Like most biological classifications, these groups have fuzzy edges.  This complicates things analytically, but no more than that.
  2. Many phenotypic differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior that we observe between the sexes, among ancestral populations, and among social classes have a biological component.
  3. Growing knowledge about human diversity will inevitably shape the future of social sciences.

It’s been a great time for a sociologist.  I’ve been able to stand on the shoulders of giants and see further because of their research, and the next generation, with tools unimagined when I began, will move my chosen science further from the methodologies that granted doctorates and professional powers to folks who developed classification criteria by consensus.

Community

Thoughts on Bureaucracy

Max Weber developed most of the theory on bureaucracy – he viewed it as a rational method to improve efficiency . . . and in many ways, he was correct.   Still, it was Max who described the final evolution of bureaucracy: “It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving towards bigger ones – a state of affairs which is to be seen once more, as in the Egyptian records, playing an ever-increasing part in the spirit of our present administrative system, and especially of its offspring, the students. This passion for bureaucracy … is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics … we were deliberately to become men who need “order” and nothing but order, become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these: it is such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is, therefore, not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life.

As I started reading social theory, I got hung up on Weber – a conflict theorist who was accused of arguing with the ghost of Karl Marx (and Karl’s is not a bad ghost for the sake of argument) who favored the rationality of the bureaucracy, yet recognized the horror it could inflict.

A half century after Max Weber’s widow put his work into print, Jerry Pournelle produced The Iron Law of Bureaucracy: “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals that the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”  Unfortunately, my experience with bureaucracy has tended to support Dr. Pournelle’s observation.

Current applications of Weber’s approach to bureaucracies and management can be seen at: https://harappa.education/harappa-diaries/max-weber-theory-of-bureaucracy/ and it is probably easier than reading the original Max.  

Still, if we look at the Iron Law of Bureaucracy in terms of local government and services, we can see how it works.  Seventy-five years ago, Lincoln Electric began with people – possibly imperfect people – who believed in bringing electricity to their part of rural America.  It wasn’t just a job, it was a mission.  Just fifteen years later those same believers brought telephones to rural people.  It was a mission.  InterBel developed one more mission – bringing the internet to our rural area, and that cooperative maintains at least some of the mission orientation.  Over at Lincoln Electric, the employee and board focus is more on maintaining the bureaucracy, with the original goals outdated and forgotten – despite the number of neighbors who live off the grid.  It’s a natural bureaucratic tendency – Pournelle’s Iron Law

If we look at the public school system, we see where the local school board has been largely replaced by the professional bureaucrats housed in the Office of Public Instruction.  I have a feeling that there is a sub-species of teacher that lusts after a bureaucratic post.  The old joke, when school boards had more power, went “Be kind to your D students – before you retire, you’ll be working for them.”

It’s not the only joke that suggests the educational bureaucrats – I think it was George Bernard Shaw who wrote “Those who can do.  Those who can’t, teach.”  It didn’t take long for the addition: “Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”  A while later the harsh phrase came “Those who can’t teach teachers administrate.”  Somewhere in these jests is hidden the Office of Public Instruction.

The Economic Research Service shows that Lincoln County’s economy is government dependent.  I suspect that means we have a lot of bureaucrats.                      

Community

You Can’t Make Critical Theory Without Marx

Critical theory is a form of sociological theory.  It’s not my chosen theory – I’m pretty much a positivist, the kind of guy who likes numbers to support his hypothesis.  The basic premise of critical theory is that it isn’t enough to research dispassionately, the researcher must work to change society. 

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.  Karl Marx, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach

My goal has been to describe what I studied, possibly to infer causality when I could, but not to change the world.  I have worked with people who want to change the social institutions they study – but despite whatever intellectual arrogance I have, I’m not so confident that my way is the best way for everyone.  I guess that engaging in critical theory just takes more confidence and ego than I have.

There are aspects of critical theory that I accept – Horkheimer wrote of liberating people “from the circumstances that enslave them.”  Critical theory looks at ideology as causing the problems that call for liberation.  I’m not a fan of any particular ideology – I believe that scientific method offers the best way to study the world around me.  I believe I can learn from my students, and I have.  But even the Special Services motto – de oppresso libre – fits in with critical theory.  It’s not a bad approach – it just isn’t the one that best fits me.

Feminism is critical theory – it’s just over a century ago that the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote.  My grandmother would have been past 30 before that happened.  In Marx’ words, “the purpose is to change it.”  I’m not particularly convinced that Karl Marx was much of a feminist – but I can see where my preferred methodology of looking for numbers didn’t provide such solid answers.  Leaving women as second-class citizens was simply wrong – any man who has raised a daughter knows that.  If you look at the war between the states – the historical record pretty much implies that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson both recognized the wrongs of slavery, yet fought for a system, an ideology if you like, that wanted to perpetuate the institution.   I’m not a critical theorist – but there are aspects to critical theory that I cannot reject – despite the fact that the numbers aren’t there.

Pablo Freiere in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed brought critical theory into teaching – traditionally, teaching is done with the teacher front and center, treated as the authority.  Pablo thought that there were times when the teacher should learn from the students – and I have learned a lot from mine. 

Critical theory starts with the assumption that systems produce an unsatisfactory quality of life, and that the masses are the victims of oppression.  If the masses are happy, it’s because the system has deluded them.  The masses are assumed to be the helpless victims of the system.  The elite are viewed as so powerful that they are responsible for all the social problems. 

Power structures are seen as systems of control.  The dominant ideology is seen as causing all social problems (I can’t really tell how critical theory is distinct from an ideology – it seems to have the same characteristics.

If I look at critical race theory, it assumes that racism is normal and needs to be called out, to be noticed.  As I commented earlier –  if I can’t use numbers, I’m not comfortable using the theory.  I’m not really sure how this theory applies on other continents.  I do believe I could find data to test the theory in the US – taking South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Montana data regarding American Indian/Police encounters and contrasting the Black American/Police encounters in other parts of the nation (in Montana, for example, American Indians are a higher percentage of the population than Blacks are in California – the data that can test the theory exists. 

A Science for Everyone, Community, Demography

Thoughts on Inflation

I’ve been watching monetary inflation since 1976 when I voted for Jimmy Carter.  I still don’t give Jimmy full credit for that spate of inflation – Nixon made the call that the US dollar would no longer be backed by gold in August of 1971.

1968 had been an interesting election – I recall the unhappy observation “Nixon, Humphrey, Wallace – three strikes and you’re out.”  The picture below brought back memories of a happier time, when I would add a million dollar Zimbabwe bill to a retirement card, so that my retiring colleagues would be millionaires as they left the university.  Ten bucks bought all the Zim million dollar notes I needed for a slew of retirement receptions.

Now the thing about inflation is that it taxes savers, and can move into being a tax on investors.  If we look at the value of gold during the California Gold Rush – 1849 – it was $18.93 per ounce.  That same value held through the Virginia City days, and basically took Montana from wilderness to statehood.  In 1920, gold finally topped $20 per ounce.  When Franklin Roosevelt was elected President, gold was at $20.69 per ounce – the next year, 1933, it was $26.33.  In 1934, it went to $34.69.

A couple of old Winchester catalogs, from 1900 and 1916, suggest that my Grandfather paid about $19.50 or a little more for his 1894 32 special rifle.  A glance online suggests somewhere close to $1,200 dollars today.  As I write this, gold is going for $1890.35 – roughly 100 times higher than when the rifle was made in 1902 along with the new, more powerful 32 special.  The cost of the rifle hasn’t kept up with gold.  Inflation or not, it’s kind of nice to look off the front porch and see the spot where my grandmother got a four-point in 1922.

At that turn of the century, land here was still available for homesteading – land here in Trego had little value.  Thirty dollars per acre was still a norm for accessible land in the 1950’s.  It’s another basis for calculating inflation – and if memory serves, Lee Harvey Oswald was paid 85 cents per hour in 1963. 

Median family incomes were somewhere around $500 per year in 1900, and had risen to about $3,300 by 1950.  Still, that half century was a time of many new developments and a greatly improved living standard.  Part of the change was that people could buy more – much like during our more recent inflationary times – along with the inflation of the eighties came the personal computer, the compact discs, video players etc.  Technical advances reduced the impact of inflation.

There is a certain irony in Putin’s decision to tie the Russian ruble to the value of gold.  Since that decision the ruble has gone up 6% compared to the US dollar.  He’s kind of the anti-Nixon, creating a stronger currency instead of a weaker one.  I guess that inflation often boils down to a handful of government officials making the decision to print more money.  I have a hunch inflation helps the folks who get the new dollars a lot more than it helps those who are trying to hang on to the existing dollars.

Demography

My Neighborhood Doesn’t Reflect My Nation

One of the advantages of social media is that folks with different views post their different opinions.  One of the disadvantages is that those different opinions come from different – often very different – locations. 

Let’s take climate change opinions for a simple example – I live just a touch south of the 49th parallel and a little over 3,000 feet above sea level.  Simple facts are that raising the sea level by a couple hundred feet isn’t going to affect my place.  Getting another three weeks of growing season is a positive thing for my garden.  If I were living in Paramaribo, just a little north of the equator and about 6 feet above sea level, my perspective would be different.  My greatest risk is wildfire – in Paramaribo even the dry season is rainy.

One of the readily available measurements of population is the percentage of foreign-born residents in a community.  In San Francisco, 34.4% of the population were born outside the United States.  Statewide, 26.9% of California residents were born outside the US.  Here in Lincoln County, Montana 2.6% of our population are foreign born (and I suspect half of those are Canadian).  It makes for a different point of view.

Race?  I live in a state where most of the population is white, and the second largest group is American Indian (6.6%).  Contrast that with Washington DC, where the Black population is 46.4% (compared to Montana’s 0.6%).  West Virginia somehow has the lowest percentage of foreign born residents and the lowest percentage of American Indian population.  Maine (94.6%) is the whitest state.  I have a hunch that who your neighbors are might affect your viewpoint.

18.7% of Montana’s population is over 65 – and five states are even higher.  Just 11.1% of Utah’s population is over 65.  (29.5% of Utah is under 18).  Who you see around you affects your perspective. More information is available at indexmundi.com

Washington DC has the nation’s highest median household income – $92,266 . . . but it is skewed by race.  The median for Black households is $42,161, while the white median is $134,358.  Montana’s median household income was $65,712.  Mississippi came in last at $45,081.

West Virginia has the highest home ownership rate – 74.6%, while Montana’s rate is 69.7%.  Home ownership rate in Washington DC is around 42.5%.

Just a few spots where we can look at how our locality affects how we perceive the universe.

Community, Meteorology

Stahl Peak Snow Pack Still Increasing

This graph, from 4-30-22 shows that the snowpack on Stahl is still increasing.  The upper line on the record suggests that there’s only a week or so left for it to increase.  Still, 127% of the long-term average is nice to see.

NOAA has this posted for May-June-July, suggesting we can expect the chances of warmer temperatures and less than normal precipitation coming up.