28 Jul 2008, 10:10pm
Rural Life
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The Free Life of a Ranger

Murchie, Archie. 1991. The Free Life of a Ranger : Archie Murchie in the U.S. Forest Service, 1929-1965 with R.T. (Robert Thomas) King. Univ of Nevada Oral History Program, 324 pgs.

Review by John Thomas, Jr.

This book is an account of a person who spent considerable time and effort to get the job done, no matter the conditions. Grit. That is a word that comes to mind. Unafraid is another. Archie Murchie’s life was one that had him involved in Forest and community affairs on many fronts, and having the ability to get along with most people was his self described greatest asset.

In a different time and a different place, Archie Murchie made a conscious effort to get an education and rise above his parent’s life of hard work, injury, and poverty. He went to college for pre- forestry in North Dakota, and in 1928, to Forestry School at U. of Montana. In those days, he says, if you could pass the civil service test you went to work for the USFS, and if not, for the forest products industry.

He relates that the USFS paid a fair wage, although not as much as the forest products industry. Even so, as many did in his lifetime, he chose to work for the USFS. As a civil servant you had a year round job, job security if you worked smart, hard, and had a modicum of people skills. In a difficult era for the United States economy, he most likely made the right choice for himself. In later years, he talks about people jealous of the money USFS Rangers made before WWII.

Archie tells a tale of hard work, trying conditions, long hours, even longer days, and weeks without end. A Ranger’s life was one of being the caretaker for vast areas of public land, at times by yourself. You had seasonal help, mostly to fight fire, but when fires were not burning you used those people to make and clear trails, build bridges and cabins, repair or construct lookout stations, and be a presence on the Forest.

It was a life of toil, much of which was spent as a solitary quest. Archie talks about family and moving his family to town so his kids could attend school. I don’t know if many modern women would accept a husband’s lot that kept him from home for much of the year.

Archie Murchie was more of a range manager than a forest manager. In either case, Rangers come and go, but the grazing permit stays with the ranch in most cases. A great deal of the book is devoted to an assessment of permittees, grazier tricks and strategies, and how to foil a permittee who was still steeped in the culture of the free range, of the times before the Taylor Grazing Act and other public land regulations were enacted to control transient herders. There was a time when bands of sheep were grazed from lambing grounds to spring graze, to shearing graze, to summer graze, to weaning graze and on to winter graze. One big circle of movement of bands of sheep, and all on public lands with out any responsibility to the land or private property.
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Animals whose behavior changes near their life’s end

by Julie Kay Smithson

Dear friend,

I don’t know the answer to your question, but I wanted to share something with you that happened to me more than eighteen years ago.

My dear old gray Arabian gelding, Smoke, that had blessed me with his company for eleven years, was in his thirties. For the last three months of his life, although he appeared as healthy as ever, things changed in the way he related to me. Always a camera hog, he no longer wanted his picture taken. Instead of coming up to me and hanging around (I had several other horses and he was always the most cozy), he’d greet me and then wander away.

No, it wasn’t anything like dementia. I think he was trying to prepare me for the separation by distancing himself a bit “before the fact.”

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14 Mar 2008, 8:47pm
Rural Economics Rural Life
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From Climate Alarmism to Climate Realism

By Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic. Remarks delivered at the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change, New York, March 4, 2008 [here].

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like first of all to thank the organizers of this important conference for making it possible and also for inviting one politically incorrect politician from Central Europe to come and speak here. This meeting will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to the moving away from the irrational climate alarmism to the much needed climate realism.

I know it is difficult to say anything interesting after two days of speeches and discussions here. If I am not wrong, I am the only speaker from a former communist country and I have to use this as a comparative — paradoxically — advantage. Each one of us has his or her experiences, prejudices and preferences. The ones that I have are — quite inevitably — connected with the fact that I have spent most of my life under the communist regime. A week ago, I gave a speech at an official gathering at the Prague Castle commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1948 communist putsch in the former Czechoslovakia. One of the arguments of my speech there, quoted in all the leading newspapers in the country the next morning, went as follows: “Future dangers will not come from the same source. The ideology will be different. Its essence will, nevertheless, be identical — the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good, and the enormous self-confidence on the side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice the man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality.” What I had in mind was, of course, environmentalism and its currently strongest version, climate alarmism.

This fear of mine is the driving force behind my active involvement in the Climate Change Debate and behind my being the only head of state who in September 2007 at the UN Climate Change Conference, only a few blocks away from here, openly and explicitly challenged the current global warming hysteria. My central argument was — in a condensed form — formulated in the subtitle of my recently published book devoted to this topic which asks: “What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?” My answer is clear and resolute: “it is our freedom.” I may also add “and our prosperity.”

What frustrates me is the feeling that everything has already been said and published, that all rational arguments have been used, yet it still does not help. Global warming alarmism is marching on. We have to therefore concentrate (here and elsewhere) not only on adding new arguments to the already existing ones, but also on the winning of additional supporters of our views. The insurmountable problem as I see it lies in the political populism of its exponents and in their unwillingness to listen to arguments. They — in spite of their public roles — maximize their own private utility function where utility is not any public good but their own private good — power, prestige, carrier, income, etc. It is difficult to motivate them differently. The only way out is to make the domain of their power over our lives much more limited. But this will be a different discussion.

We have to repeatedly deal with the simple questions that have been many times discussed here and elsewhere:

1) Is there a statistically significant global warming?

2) If so, is it man-made?

3) If we decide to stop it, is there anything a man can do about it?

4) Should an eventual moderate temperature increase bother us?

We have our answers to these questions and are fortunate to have many well-known and respected experts here who have made important contributions in answering them. Yet, I am not sure this is enough. People tend to blindly believe in the IPCC’s conclusions (especially in the easier to understand formulations presented in the “Summaries for Policymakers”) despite the fact that from the very beginning, the IPCC has been a political rather than a scientific undertaking.

Many politicians, media commentators, public intellectuals, bureaucrats in more and more influential international organizations not only accept them but use them without qualifications which exist even in the IPCC documents. There are sometimes unexpected and for me unexplainable believers in these views. Few days ago, I have come across a lecture given by a very respected German economist (H. W. Sinn, “Global Warming: The Neglected Supply Side, in: The EEAG Report, CESifo, Munich, 2008) who is in his other writings very critical of the German interventionist economic policies and statist institutions. His acceptance of the “conventional IPCC wisdom” (perhaps unwisdom) is striking. His words:

“the scientific evidence is overwhelming”;

“the facts are undeniable”;

“the temperature is extremely sensitive to even small variations in greenhouse gas concentration”;

“if greenhouse gases were absent from the atmosphere, average temperature of the Earth’s surface would be -6°C. With the greenhouse gases, the present average temperature is +15°C. Therefore, the impact of CO2 is enormous”;

he was even surprised that “in spite of all the measures taken, emissions have accelerated in recent years. This poses a puzzle for economic theory!” he said.

To make it less of a puzzle, let me make two brief comments.

As an economist, I have to start by stressing the obvious. Carbon dioxide emissions do not fall from heaven. Their volume (ECO2) is a function of GDP per capita (which means of the size of economic activity, SEA), of the number of people (POP) and of the emissions intensity (EI), which is the amount of CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP. This is usually expressed in a simple relationship which is, of course, a tautological identity:


but with some assumption about causality it can be turned into a structural equation. What this relationship tells is simple: If we really want to decrease ECO2 (which most of us assembled here today probably do not consider necessary), we have to either stop the economic growth and thus block further rise in the standard of living, or stop the population growth, or make miracles with the emissions intensity.

I am afraid there are people who want to stop the economic growth, the rise in the standard of living (though not their own) and the ability of man to use the expanding wealth, science and technology for solving the actual pressing problems of mankind, especially of the developing countries. This ambition goes very much against the past human experience which has always been connected with a strong motivation to go ahead and to better human conditions. There is no reason to make the, from above orchestrated, change just now — especially with arguments based on such an incomplete and faulty science as is demonstrated by the IPCC. Human wants are unlimited and should stay so. Asceticism is a respectable individual attitude but should not be forcefully imposed upon the rest of us.

I am also afraid that the same people, imprisoned in the Malthusian tenets and in their own megalomaniac ambitions, want to regulate and constrain the demographic development, which is something only the totalitarian regimes have until now dared to think about or experiment with. Without resisting it we would find ourselves on the slippery “road to serfdom.” The freedom to have children without regulation and control is one of the undisputable human rights and we have to say very loudly that we do respect it and will do so in the future as well.

There are people among the global warming alarmists who would protest against being included in any of these categories, but who do call for a radical decrease in carbon dioxide emissions. It can be achieved only by means of a radical decline in the emissions intensity. This is surprising because we probably believe in technical progress more than our opponents. We know, however, that such revolutions in economic efficiency (and emissions intensity is part of it) have never been realized in the past and will not happen in the future either. To expect anything like that is a non-serious speculation.

I recently looked at the European CO2 emissions data covering the period 1990-2005, which means the Kyoto Protocol era. My conclusion is that in spite of many opposite statements the very robust relationship between CO2 emissions and the rate of economic growth can’t be disputed, at least in a relevant and meaningful time horizon. You don’t need huge computer models to very easily distinguish three different types of countries in Europe:

the EU less developed countries — Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain — which during this very period tried to catch up with the economic performance of the more developed EU countries. Their rapid economic growth led to the increase of their CO2 emissions in 15 years (in which they signed Kyoto) by 53 percent;

the European post-communist countries which after the fall of communism went through a fundamental, voluntarily unorganizable transformation shake-out and an inevitable radical economic restructuring with the heavy industry disappearing (not stagnating or retreating) practically over night. Their GDP drastically declined. These countries decreased their CO2 emissions in the same period by 32 percent;

the “normal” EU, slow-growing if not stagnating countries (excluding Germany where it’s difficult to eliminate the impact of the fact that the East German economy almost ceased to exist in that period) increased their CO2 emissions by 4 percent.

The huge differences in these three figures — +53 percent, -32 percent and +4 percent — are almost fascinating. And yet, there is a dream among European politicians to reduce CO2 emissions for the entire EU by 30 per cent in the next 13 years (compared to the 1990 level). What does it mean? Do they assume that all countries would undergo a similar economic shock as was experienced by the Central and Eastern European countries after the fall of communism? Now in the whole of Europe? Do they assume that European economically weaker countries would stop their catching-up process? Or do they intend to organize a decrease in the number of people living in Europe? Or do they expect a miracle in the development of the emissions/GDP ratio, which would require a technological revolution of unheard-of proportions? With the help of a — from Brussels organized — scientific and technological revolution?

What I see in Europe (and in the U.S. and other countries as well) is a powerful combination of irresponsibility, of wishful thinking, of implicit believing in some form of Malthusianism, of cynical approach of those who themselves are sufficiently well-off, together with the strong belief in the possibility of changing the economic nature of things through a radical political project.

This brings me to politics. As a politician who personally experienced communist central planning of all kinds of human activities, I feel obliged to bring back the already almost forgotten arguments used in the famous plan-versus-market debate in the 1930s in economic theory (between Mises and Hayek on the one side and Lange and Lerner on the other), the arguments we had been using for decades — till the moment of the fall of communism. Then they were quickly forgotten. The innocence with which climate alarmists and their fellow-travelers in politics and media now present and justify their ambitions to mastermind human society belongs to the same “fatal conceit.” To my great despair, this is not sufficiently challenged neither in the field of social sciences, nor in the field of climatology. Especially the social sciences are suspiciously silent.

The climate alarmists believe in their own omnipotency, in knowing better than millions of rationally behaving men and women what is right or wrong, in their own ability to assembly all relevant data into their Central Climate Change Regulatory Office (CCCRO) equipped with huge supercomputers, in the possibility to give adequate instructions to hundreds of millions of individuals and institutions and in the non-existence of an incentive problem (and the resulting compliance or non-compliance of those who are supposed to follow these instructions).

We have to restart the discussion about the very nature of government and about the relationship between the individual and society. Now it concerns the whole mankind, not just the citizens of one particular country. To discuss this means to look at the canonically structured theoretical discussion about socialism (or communism) and to learn the uncompromising lesson from the inevitable collapse of communism 18 years ago. It is not about climatology. It is about freedom. This should be the main message of our conference.

29 Feb 2008, 9:01pm
Rural Life
by admin
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Movie: The Trip to Bountiful

(Note: While talking with a friend this afternoon, she mentioned an older movie, “Back to Bountiful,” and told me a bit about it. My excitement grew as I realized that this movie is the one I’d been searching for ever since seeing it on television in the late 1980s. A search at Google proved its name to be “The Trip to Bountiful.” For those who enjoy a decent movie, this one has a five-star rating at Amazon.com [here] out of 42 reviews! Truly a family movie with much to offer each viewer. — Julie Kay Smithson)

Movie Review, NYT, December 20, 1985 [here]

The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

NYT Critics’ Pick (This movie has been designated a Critic’s Pick by the film reviewers of The Times).

By Vincent Canby

It’s 1947. Carrie Watts is a well-meaning, loving old woman but, as her son, Ludie, and daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, know from years of experience, living with Carrie in a tiny Houston apartment is no picnic. It’s more like a Balkan truce.

When Carrie isn’t butting into Ludie and Jessie Mae’s business, she’s singing hymns that, according to her daughter-in-law, “are going out of style.” Even more irritating to Jessie Mae are the days when Carrie just stares out the window, “pouting.” She also has “spells” - her heart is unreliable, though the doctor has assured her that it will last as long as she needs it.

Carrie is no more fond of the arrangement than Ludie and Jessie Mae are. She longs to go back to Bountiful, the small Texas town near the Gulf of Mexico where she was born, married and raised her children, of whom only Ludie survives.

A return to Bountiful, however, is impossible. Nobody is certain that it even exists anymore, and there’s the persistent problem of money. Times aren’t great for Ludie and Jessie Mae, who are childless and approaching middle age with not much to show for it but each other.

On any average day, Jessie Mae will accuse Carrie of going through her dresser drawers, which is the one thing the refined Jessie Mae cannot stand. Carrie will respond by being rather imperially baffled by a woman who desires only to have her hair done or to go to the drug store to drink a Coke. Ludie, loving both women, satisfies neither.

One afternoon, while Ludie is at work and Jessie Mae is out sipping Coke, Carrie Watts makes a clean getaway. Wearing a hat that looks as if she always sat on it at the breakfast table, and her best dress, which sags in the wrong places, she takes off by bus for Bountiful. She travels light, carrying only an overnight bag, her pension check and some small change.

This is more or less the beginning of “The Trip to Bountiful,” Horton Foote’s funny, exquisitely performed film adaptation of his own play, directed for the screen by Peter Masterson. “The Trip to Bountiful,” which opens today at Cinema 2, is almost as unstoppable as Carrie Watts.

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