Barking Backward

A Blog by Jameson Parker

The Span of Life

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

- Robert Frost

Animals!

May 19th, 2018 8 Comments

 

Oh, no!

Just when I actually break down and praise President Trump, he goes and puts his foot in it.

I took a break from the news for a few days (and what a lovely respite it was; my blood pressure went back down to normal levels, I laughed more, and I almost thought—for a few minutes—that we lived in a healthy world) and no sooner do I come back when I read, see, and hear that our president has stuck his foot in it by calling MS-13 members “animals.”

Animals!

Of course, he didn’t put his foot in it as much as the putative but spurious press did by deliberately misunderstanding him and pretending he was referring to all illegal immigrants. Some of the media eventually, grudgingly, admitted their dishonesty, but having done so, they immediately followed those deeper thinkers on Capitol Hill—Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi—and condemned the president for his callousness, crudity, and inhumanity for calling MS-13 members animals.

I know I will now offend my conservative readers, but I’m going to side with Chuckie and Nancy and the media. To call MS-13 members animals is a crude, grotesque, and extremely offensive insult to the entire animal kingdom, and to the class Mammalia in particular. If President Trump had called all MS-13 members cockroaches, I would consider that an insult to cockroaches, but I would let it go, primarily because I don’t like cockroaches. But to imply that rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters, let alone coyotes and skunks, are somehow as worthy of disdain and contempt as MS-13 members…

Well, once again, our president has said the wrong thing. Unless, of course, what he meant was that he thinks highly of MS-13 members, but I hardly believe that to be the case.

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Peace Officers’ Memorial Service

May 18th, 2018 8 Comments

 

Donald Trump is too frequently the least presidential president we have ever had. He speaks—or tweets—when he should remain silent and is too often crude, boorish, bullying, and a buffoon. You may or may not approve of the direction in which he is leading the country (with some exceptions, I do, very strongly), but even his most ardent supporters cannot call him eloquent. Or charismatic. Or presidential. Or even, surprisingly enough for someone who had a reality television show, particularly adroit on camera: he doesn’t speak well; he seeks out people in the crowd the cameras can’t see, which is simply confusing to viewers; he turns to look for people while still talking, so that words get lost; and he sometimes walks away from the microphone altogether.

But the other day, something happened during the annual Peace Officers’ Memorial Service; nothing earth-shattering, but the kind of thing that makes Deplorables like me, guys and gals who cling to God and their guns, willing to overlook a multitude of coarse behaviors and ill-advised tweets.

It started in typical Trump fashion. As usual, the speech was like the man: awkward, clumsy, and filled with too many digressions. He departed frequently from his speech, something that always makes me hold my breath for fear of what he might say or do next; he pointed out unseen people; he smiled at people off-camera. Then, unexpectedly, he pointed to the family of a murdered officer and told them to come up onstage. And, as all too often happens with Trump’s unscripted moments, there was a clunkingly clumsy delay, because there was a locked gate in the barricade protecting the president and other politicians onstage, and the gate had to be opened, dignitaries and honorees had to shuffle out of the way to make room for the family, who were clearly unsure of what to do, and all this was then compounded because an elderly family member had stayed seated and the President insisted she too come up to the stage, but she had to be assisted up the stairs, which is why she hadn’t gone up in the first place…

In short, it was just another awkward, unscheduled event; vintage Trump.

But then, leaving the microphone, he moved forward to embrace the family members, kiss two of them on the cheek, hug and kiss the elderly lady, touch shoulders, grasp hands, say things we could not hear and will likely never know, but also too, clearly things that meant something to those family members. He bantered charmingly and lovingly with the elderly lady and, in short, treated them with the kind of kindness and grace and dignity with which all bereaved should be treated all the time.

He unexpectedly asked the partner of the fallen officer to say a few words, a situation that made the officer in question clearly uncomfortable. He wisely kept his comments brief, but he was very moving in his praise of his murdered partner.

What President Trump said (I mean the stuff he said into the microphone) was unremarkable and not particularly memorable. But a family who lost a beloved daughter, mother, granddaughter, that family will never forget that moment.

I remember very little of my father’s funeral. I was still in shock from the fact of his sudden and violent death; in shock because of some of the things I had to see and had to do; in shock because of all I should have said and done that could now never be said or done; in shock because I was unable to envision a life without him. But there were two encounters with total strangers I will never forget.

One was a Marine who came to the memorial service and to the reception afterward. He was giant of man, far taller than I would have thought the military would allow, an officer, in full dress uniform, someone I had never seen before and never saw again. But when he came forward and we shook hands, he put his free hand on my shoulder, and that little gesture from a stranger moved me in a way that hugs and kisses from the known and loved did not. To this day, I remember that man, and that meaningless touch from a stranger. Meaningless to all but me.

The other was a police detective. I had to go down to the central police headquarters in Washington, DC to retrieve my father’s personal effects, the things (gold pocket watch, wallet, pen, keys, change) that had been on him and had been put into keeping at the police evidence locker. The station was enormous and very crowded, and I had to stand in endless lines with different forms that had to be approved and stamped and signed by different entities and then on to other lines. I have no memory of how long I was there, but I know there were frequent episodes of pointless redundancy and mistakes before I finally got—for what I thought would be the last time—into the interminable line that led to a single window, maned by a single uniformed officer, at the evidence lockup. But when I finally made to the window, the bored officer glanced at my paperwork and handed it back.

“Nope. Still not right. I can’t give it to you. You gotta get this form signed here and this form signed as well.”

I tried to argue, but he cut me off.

“Kid, go get the forms signed in the right places.”

I turned to leave and bumped into a plainclothes detective waiting behind me. I stepped back and looked up at him. If he knocked on my door today I would recognize him instantly. He was tall, lean, balding, with a curious comma-shaped scar high on his left cheekbone, and he had the coldest eyes of any man I had ever seen up to then, the dead and absolutely feral eyes of a predator, one of the big cats, a bird of prey, devoid of anything but appraisal: would you be good to eat; would it worth my time to kill you?

I apologized and started to step around him, but he put up one hand to stop me, and there was so much authority in that casual gesture that I froze instantly. He looked at the uniformed officer sitting behind the bars of the little window.

“Give him his dad’s stuff.”

The officer began to demur. “No, I can’t do that. He’s gotta…”

“I said. Give him his dad’s stuff. Now.”

It was spoken very quietly, but with such deadly intensity, such implied but unspoken danger, that I literally shrank away from the detective, as did the officer at the window. People talking in the line became instantly silent, leaning out to look at the detective. Two uniformed officers walking away down the hall stopped and turned. A family examining their own recovered property over by the windows looked up with open mouths.

The officer at the little barred window pushed his chair back and without ever taking his eyes off the detective, fumbled beneath the counter and placed a paper bag with my father’s things on the counter. I picked it up and turned around.

“Thank you.”

He said nothing. He looked down at me and gave a brief nod of his head, his eyes as cold as ever, and I never saw him again. But that moment’s kindness from a stranger—apart from the deadly and quiet sense of very real danger that he gave out for that one brief sentence to the lockup officer—never left me. Clearly, he had seen something in my face, some quality of despair and desperation above and beyond the grief I was struggling to cope with, and he had intervened on my behalf.

I have no idea if the family of that murdered officer, just one of far too many officers being honored in that ceremony, will have that moment onstage—with President Trump greeting and consoling them as he might a family member—seared into their brains as that Marine and that detective are seared into mine, but I suspect they will.

I know, I know: it doesn’t undo or atone for all the many blunders and the crudity, but for that one brief, shining moment, President Trump was magically, memorably presidential.

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The Hage Family Ordeal, Updated

May 11th, 2018 13 Comments

 

Have you ever read about the highland clearances? Briefly, it was the brutal, forced eviction of the Scottish Highlanders by wealthy landowners (primarily titled lowland Scots) in order to grab more land to line their own pockets. It was one of the darkest and most shameful episodes in Scottish history, the sort of thing that could never happen here, right? Read on.

Sometimes completely unrelated events come together in a concatenation that catches you off guard. In this case it was three events.

A reader on my Facebook page, who disagrees with my blog about Switzerland, stated that “…[the Swiss] actually trust their government. The US citizen wants to protect himself and their” [sic] “own peace, because they deeply distrust their own government to protect them.”

And a very nice, albeit liberal, friend of mine chided me gently for my derogatory comments about the FBI (part of a lengthy exchange in the comments about my posting of Victor Davis Hanson’s article on the Trump resistance).

And my copy of Range magazine (http://www.rangemagazine.com) arrived with an editorial and an article by Ramona Hage Morrison, summarizing her family’s ordeal at the hands of the United States government, the same government which is mandated with protecting it citizens and their constitutional rights, rights intended to protect American citizens from the kinds of abuses suffered by the Scottish highlanders.

Those three things inspired me to re-post my original piece about Wayne Hage and his ranch, and the unspeakable treachery and duplicity of the United States government, in this case specifically the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (an agency that was founded with original mandate of helping ranchers; my, how times have changed), the Department of Justice, the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office, and progressive judges unconcerned with following the law, never mind actually enforcing it. The kinds of abuses perpetrated by greedy, wealthy, titled landowners may be a thing of the past; instead, today, it is a single greedy, wealthy, infinitely powerful landowner doing the same thing: the United States government.

At the conclusion of my article, I have added a brief summary of the events that have occurred since it was first written, but I highly recommend you either buy a copy of Range, or—better yet—subscribe. Then let me know if you think any American should ever trust his government.

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Tonopah—it’s a Shoshone word meaning either “water brush” (a small desert shrub) or, more likely, “little spring”—in central Nevada, owes its existence to a sometime hay farmer, sometime prospector, and sometime district attorney (for thirty-five dollars a month) named Big Jim Butler who camped there in May of 1900. The story goes that his burros wandered away from him in the night, and when Big Jim found them they were sheltering from the wind near an outcropping that looked likely. It turned out to be somewhat more than likely, assaying out at a staggering six hundred and forty ounces of silver to the ton. Less than a year later, Tonopah was a town of sorts, with eager hopefuls living in tents, or in shacks made out of barrels or oil cans or glass bottles set in adobe, living even in the shafts themselves.

In 1903, some Mormons decided to jump a claim on the edge of Tonopah and when the mining company representative confronted them, they pulled their guns on him. Among the townspeople who came to see what the commotion was about was a fifty-five year-old saloon-keeper who looked down the vertical shaft.

“You gentlemen get on out of there. This ain’t your mine.”

“Oh, yeah? And who the hell are you, old man?”

“My name’s Wyatt Earp.”

It was many years since his days as a lawman, many years since Tombstone and the OK corral, many years too since he had made and gambled away a fortune in Alaska, but such was the strength of his reputation that the claim jumpers climbed quickly and quietly out.

His reputation was not strong enough, however, to keep him from being run out of town shortly afterward for fixing a boxing match.

The Pine Creek Ranch lies about sixty miles north of Tonopah and has the reputation of being the single most isolated ranch in the United States. The hardtop ends at the picturesque old semi-ghost mining town of Belmont (summer population between twenty-five and thirty, winter population six), once the county seat, with an elegant brick courthouse, and it is eighteen miles of dirt road from there to the ranch headquarters. The ranch owes its name and its existence to the creek that comes down out of the mountains there; the water made it a natural place for a stage stop on the Belmont to Austin stage line back in the eighteen-sixties, long before Tonopah.

I know this land. This is where, as a transplanted Easterner, I began to fall in love with the West. I have hunted and camped multiple times in the Arc Dome Wilderness in the Toiyabe Range, and on Table Mountain in the Monitor Range. Trout streams empty into ponds the color of strong tea. Elk and deer move through the pastures and woodlands. In the Arc Dome, after I shot a five-by-six buck, two mountain lions trailed us almost all the way back to the camp; we found their tracks over ours the next morning. On Table Mountain, near 11,000 feet is an aspen grove known as Porno Grove where lonely—and seriously horny—Basque sheepherders once carved their fantasies into the trunks of the trees: naked women standing, on their backs, on all fours; breasts with life-support systems attached; men with heroic phalluses, coupling in every imaginable and some unimaginable positions; hundreds of images carved into the trees. Most are done just about as crudely as you might expect. Some are elevated by aesthetics or humor, a few by both.

It was on Table Mountain that a white mule—who has since gone, unlamented, to his just reward—led our entire pack string, in hobbles, away from camp and back down fourteen miles of exceptionally difficult trail to the valley floor.

There are few things in this life quite as deflating as bouncing out of your tent in the pre-dawn hours to go feed the horses and finding them conspicuous by their absence. You stand there with a bucket of feed in each hand and your jaw listing southward, reflecting that not only is it fourteen miles to the trailhead, but another honest fifteen or twenty miles from there to the nearest and only ranch—Pine Creek—where there might—emphasis on might—be signs of life. Suddenly you begin to think fond thoughts of mass transportation and the interstate highway system and beltways and traffic jams.

Fortunately, our outfitter’s wife had a cell phone with her. Fortunately, the weather was clear enough that she was able to get a signal. Fortunately, the cell phone at the Pine Creek Ranch—they had no hard-wiring for phones or electricity—was working (it also functioned solely at the whim of the weather). And, most fortunately of all, there was someone there.

The next afternoon a young buckaroo rode into camp, leading our string—and the damn mule. The young hand wore a flat-brimmed, round crowned black Stetson, neckerchief, chinks, Carhartt jacket, Garcia spurs, and a Garcia bit on his horse, and he looked as if he just ridden right out of a Will James or Charlie Dye painting. His name was Wayne Hage, Jr., and that night he and I sat up late on opposite sides of the fire drinking Coors and Jack Daniels as he told me the story of his family’s legal battles and harassment and persecution at the hands of the United States government. It was easy to dismiss his tale as the delusional ravings of a disenfranchised cowboy, which is pretty much what I did, until one May night several years later when Tom Brokaw said something that made my ears perk up.

NBC Nightly News is hardly a hot bed of radical right-wing thought. Like all the major networks it tries to both reflect and influence the thinking of the mainstream majority of Americans, so when Tom Brokaw announced, “And the Fleecing of America. The government seizing private property just to increase the tax base. Is that fair?” I sat up. I had heard words very similar to those on top of Table Mountain. I decided I wanted to know more.

 

There is a lot of arid nothing to drive through in Nevada, and zipping through with the cruise control set at seventy does nothing to change that impression. But the thirty-sixth state gets its name from the Spanish word, nevar, meaning ‘to snow,’ and Nevada, meaning ‘snow clad,’ or ‘snow covered,’ is an apt name. The Sierras in California block most of the westerly storms—the western slope of the Sierra Mountains may get as much as eighty inches of precipitation in a year, while the eastern slope averages around ten inches—yet despite that, the mountains of Nevada get enough snow each winter that at the higher elevations the nation’s most arid state has some surprisingly good trout fishing—native brook trout—and equally good grass range. In a state where eighty-six percent of the land is publicly owned, that good grass range has become a bitter bone of contention.

In 1862, in an effort to encourage Western settlement and relieve urban labor pressures, Congress passed the Homestead Act, which essentially gave one hundred and sixty acres, free, to anyone willing to occupy and cultivate the land for five years. One hundred and sixty acres, a quarter section, one half mile square—free! To Easterners, accustomed to rich, arable land, and thinking in terms of pasturing many cows per acre, one hundred and sixty acres—free!—must have seemed like manna from Heaven.

Unfortunately, unlike the manna, rain did not fall from Heaven.

The ninety-eighth meridian runs a little ways west of the North Dakota-Minnesota border. It runs down through Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the aptly-named Corn Palace, a little east of Grand Island, Nebraska, near the staging grounds of Sandhill cranes on the Platte River, and in Kansas it runs just west of Wichita, where Wyatt Earp served briefly as a lawman. In Oklahoma it pretty much follows highway 81, west of Oklahoma City, and in Texas it passes near former President Bush’s home in Crawford and on down through Austin. It is an arbitrary line, but it is significant because it is an isohyet.

An isohyet is any line connecting points on a map that have equal amounts of rainfall, and along the ninety-eighth meridian the amount is thirty inches, the bare minimum needed for agriculture. Speaking in generalities, one can say that east of the ninety-eighth meridian enough rain falls to make one hundred and sixty acres a decent farm. West of that line there is not enough rainfall to make one hundred and sixty acres productive agriculturally, and a quarter section is not enough land to ranch. The farther west you go, the less rain there is. For thousands of eager settlers the Homestead Act was just a cruel joke. Homesteaders sold, mortgaged, and borrowed everything they could lay their hands on to make the journey west to their free piece of paradise, and by 1890, only one out of three had managed to stay on their dream long enough to gain the title.

In the desperately arid Great Basin of Nevada, as in most of the West, you can’t think in terms of multiple head of cattle per acre. You think instead of how many acres it takes to run a cow-calf unit, and in some places it may take an entire section, six hundred and forty acres, or more, to run a single unit. Where grass is converted to dollars through the medium of cattle, good grass is almost as valuable as gold.

So in a state where the Federal Government claims public ownership of eighty-six percent of the land, grazing rights become an extremely valuable commodity, and if you’re a rancher, those grazing rights directly affect the ultimate value of your ranch, as well as your ability to earn a living.

Even more valuable than grass is water, both kinds of water. Ground water is reasonably straight forward: it means any water that is under the ground. Surface water is a little more complex. It can refer to the obvious, such as streams and lakes, or it can refer to wells or stock ponds or other collecting systems that are influenced by surface water. Either way, without water the land is useless, so water rights become critical, and the history of water rights in the West is a story of bloodshed, chicanery, legal maneuvering, politicking, fraud, lobbying, graft, greed, malfeasance, and shady dealings so complex and so convoluted as to be almost unbelievable. If John Grisham and Tom Clancy collaborated with Jackie Collins, they might be able to do justice to the story.

But if you own the land, all this is moot, right? Well, no. Land ownership in the West is nowhere near that simple. For one thing, in addition to the water rights and grazing rights, there are also mining rights, timber rights, oil and gas rights, wildlife rights, easement rights, development rights, trespass rights, and possibly other rights that I’m not aware of. It is a concept known as the ‘split estate,’ and to take it to its illogical extreme, it is theoretically possible for you to own a piece of land in the West with which you can’t do a single damn thing except pay taxes and boast.

Conversely, if you own grazing rights, say, on land controlled by the Federal government, when you die, the IRS will tax those rights as your ownership interest in the land, your private property.

For ranchers throughout the West these rights, grazing, water, and so on, have become inextricably entangled with the question of property rights as defined under the Fifth Amendment. If the government decides to take your property for the greater good of society, should you not be compensated fairly, as spelled out in the Fifth Amendment?

 

When I was there, The Pine Creek Ranch was 757,000 acres, give or take a plot or two. 757,000 acres is—if I’ve done my math correctly—roughly 1,183 square miles. To give you an idea of the scale of the place, Rhode Island, at 1,214 square miles, is only slightly larger, while the country of Luxembourg (nine hundred and ninety-nine square miles) is substantially smaller. The country of Liechtenstein (sixty-one square miles) would barely qualify as one of Pine Creek’s pastures. The ranch was eighty-two miles long, running north-south, and varied in width from eight miles at the narrowest to almost thirty-five miles wide. It encompassed two separate mountain ranges with peaks ranging from 11,000 to 12,000 feet. The ranch headquarters on the valley floor sit just at 7000 feet.

7000 acres of meadows and hay fields on the valley floor were owned by Wayne Hage, Sr. in fee patented land (sometimes called full fee simple, or fee simple absolute) which means he owned both the land itself and all the inheritable rights that come with the land. 750,000 acres were fee lands, which means the public owns the land, while he owned some of the inheritable rights, in this case water rights and grazing rights.

This is a little like saying, “I own the chair, but you own the right to sit in it,” but that’s the way things have evolved in the West, thanks to a raft of frequently contradictory and indigestible slabs of legislation such as the Homestead Act, the Organic Act (the one of 1897, of course, not the Organic Acts of 1849, 1884, 1890, 1900, 1916, 2003, or any of the others by the same name), the Taylor Grazing Act, the Forest Reserve Act, the Mining Act, the Stock Raising Homestead Act, the Illinois Central Act, and the Act of July 26, 1866 which has surely the most spine-tingling, breath-taking, pulse-racing sub-title of any act ever passed by Congress: “An Act granting the Right of Way to Ditch and Canal Owners over the Public Lands and for other Purposes.”

Clearly, any cattle baron with 757,000 acres and the intestinal fortitude to duke it out toe-to-toe in the middle of the legal ring with the United States government for twenty-five years must be larger than life, a titan of a man in a twenty gallon Stetson, a sprawling, brawling, hairy-chested, two-fisted cross between John Wayne and Daniel Webster, shaking the devil by the scruff of his neck, while dispensing home-spun wisdom and rough justice from a ponderosa-pine castle.

 

Not exactly. I once had a sweetly vague professor who would occasionally try to absentmindedly write on the blackboard with the stem of his pipe. That’s who Wayne Hage, Sr. reminded me of. Small, rumpled, portly, hair and shirttails both sticking out at variegated angles, his Stetson little more than a glorified fedora, a beard that managed to somehow be both short and untidy, he was an unlikely warrior, who dispensed his hard-won legal knowledge from a modest cinderblock ranch heavily festooned with dozens of mud cliff-swallow nests.

There were three common rooms in the ranch house: Wayne’s office, which looked like a cross between an unsuccessful law office and a disorganized history professor’s inner sanctum; a family room with an enormous fireplace and a television set; and the great room, a combination kitchen, entry, and dining room, with a wonderful antique wood-burning cook-stove and some prints by Western artist Jack Swanson on the walls. Wayne and I sat at the long table in this room on the folding metal chairs that served as dining chairs, looking out at an ancient unpainted wooden barn (possibly a hangover from the old stagecoach days) and the great expanse of the Monitor Valley.

Before the advent of instant celebrity and super-lotteries and reality television, Americans used to admire Horatio Alger men, men who overcame adversity through hard work and pluck and self-reliance.

“I started working as soon as I was old enough be able to. My father was in mining, a consulting geologist, but a lot of the other members of the family were involved with ranching, so I pretty well grew up with ranching, up around Elko.

“The winter of ’51, ’52 was devastatingly hard, so I persuaded my parents to let me drop out of school. I spent my high school years working around on different ranches in that country. At that time, you had the big cattle outfits and they’d put out a roundup wagon and just stay out on the range for maybe ten months of the year. For a teenaged boy, that kind of life made school seem pretty dull and uninteresting, so I just stayed with it.

“I was breaking horses in the Owyhee Mountains when the Korean War was going on. I figured I’d beat getting drafted and enlist in the Marines, but at the recruiting office I ran into a friend of the family. He said, ‘You’re a dumb S.O.B. Just look at you. You haven’t even been to high school. You enlist in the Marines and put in three years, and when you get out you’ll still be a dumb S.O.B.’ Then he started telling me about all the educational opportunities that were available in the Air Force, and before I knew it I had signed on the line and enlisted for four years. I got good schooling, came out at the top of all my classes, learned a lot about electronics, made up my high school with a G.E.D. test.”

At the end of the long table where we sat was a stack of magazines, Western Livestock Journal, Range, The Economist, Archaeology, and a carefully folded American flag. As we spoke, his ran his fingers over the flag, much as a man might run his hand absently over the head of a dog.

“When I came out of the Air Force I went right back to work on the ranches. Once that gets in your blood, making your living on horseback in that environment, it’s hard to get it out of your system. But I had the G.I. Bill, so I went ahead and got my degree. I was working on my Master’s at Colorado State when I got married, so I came back to a little ranch just over the Nevada line in northern California, finished up my Master’s at the University of Nevada. About fifteen years later I had the opportunity to buy this place, the kind of ranching I like, big open range kind of ranching.

“I knew the people were selling the place ‘cause they were having a lot of trouble with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, but I had worked for both of them, and I had taken a lot of courses relating to range science. I thought to myself, I understand good range management better than they do, and if that’s what they want, we’ll get along just fine.”

Wayne bought Pine Creek Ranch in 1978, and two months later the National Park Service met with him at a coffee shop in Tonopah and informed him that they were going to buy his ranch.

“They offered me a price that was about half of what I had just paid for the place, so I said, ‘OK, that’s fine, that’s for the land. What are you going to pay me for the water and the grazing?’ They said they weren’t going to pay me anything, that I didn’t own those. I told them I disagreed, that I had just paid a whole lot of money for those rights and I expected to be paid for them in turn. I said, ‘You go on back and do your homework. If those grazing allotments are public lands and the government owns them, then we’ll talk your price. If they’re not public lands and the government doesn’t own them, then we’re going to talk my price.’ Well, they went back and did their homework and I never heard from them again.”

All this is perfectly standard. America is a nation of laws, and when you and I disagree on something, we turn to the law to resolve our differences. And as proof of the efficacy of the system, you need look no further than Pine Creek Ranch, for Wayne Hage Sr. won every ruling in every court at every stage of his twenty-five-year battle with the federal government.

What is not standard, and what Wayne Hage was not prepared for, was what happened outside the courtrooms, a dreary litany of unrelenting harassment: gates left open, fences cut, vandalism, destruction of property, his cattle mysteriously turning up over and over again on the wrong side of allotment fences, all of it coupled with an overwhelming avalanche of paperwork. In a single grazing season, one hundred and five days, Pine Creek Ranch had seventy ‘visits,’ and forty citations from the United States Forest Service. (One of these was an accusation of failure to maintain the fences on Table Mountain. After two days of riding the fence line, a hand found the Forest Service flag marking a single missing staple.) Forty-five separate trespass citations (for cattle) were served, all of which were subsequently dropped when an eyewitness saw Forest Service employees moving Hage’s cattle onto restricted land. A major spring was fenced off and the water illegally diverted to a local Ranger Station. The Forest Service filed claims over water rights, and each claim had to be defended before the state water engineer. Permits were cancelled, suspended, and burdened with impossible conditions.

Finally, Forest Service employees armed with semi-automatic rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests came in and confiscated one hundred and four head of cattle. They must have been a little disconcerted when Wayne Hage reached into his truck for his own weapon, a thirty-five-millimeter camera, and asked them to, “Smile pretty, boys.”

But by that time four administrative appeals against the Forest Service (at $50,000 to $200,000 each) and fifteen years of legal battling had left him bankrupt.

“I thought to myself, ‘They’ve driven me into the ground. I’m broke. I’ve spent all my money fighting the Forest Service. They’ve made it so expensive for me to operate that it costs me twice as much to run a cow as I can hope to gain out of her. I can’t even maintain the essential functions of the ranch. If the United States wants this ranch that bad, they can have it. I’m not going to argue anymore. I’m folding my tent and getting out. But the Fifth Amendment says they have to pay me for it.’”

Which of course begs the question of just why the United States wanted the Pine Creek Ranch that much.

In the play The Zoo Story, Edward Albee has one of the characters say: “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

Asking Wayne Hage, Sr. about the motivations of the government, or the relationship of the various administrations to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management over the last twenty-five years, or the legal issues at the heart of his lawsuit, would invariably prompt a response that would have made Edward Albee proud. One hand absently stroking the flag, he would look at the swallows flashing past the window and say, “Well, now, let me walk you through that…” and off we would go on a long hike across the dry and rocky terrain of the jurisdiction authority of the Federal District Court versus the United States Claims Court, prior appropriation doctrine, riparian law, alienable rights versus unalienable rights, the inappropriate influence of the Sierra Club on the Department of Agriculture, the externalizing of the national debt under the Johnson administration, the implications and interpretation of the fourteenth Amendment….

But the bottom line, like everything else in the West, was water. Or money; in the West the two words are pretty much synonymous. The Pine Creek Ranch sits on the largest source of fresh water in central Nevada, some 80,000 acre feet worth of ground water, readily and regularly renewed by the run-off from the Monitor Range on one side and the Toquima Range on the other. At 7000 feet that water is an easy gravity feed to either Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in America, or even to Los Angeles, which is expected to add six million more people to its freeway system in the next twenty years. So instead of raising beef and supporting the elk and deer and antelope—and brook trout—of central Nevada, the Pine Creek water will go to fuel the fountains in front of those tastefully understated casinos in Sin City, or to water those oh-so-vital and ubiquitous lawns and golf courses in what Richard Henry Dana, Jr. once described as, “…a fine plane country, filled with herds of cattle, in the center of which was the Pueblo de Los Angelos…”

The final phase of this ordeal was the determining, by the United States Court of Claims, exactly how much the grazing rights and water rights on 750,000 acres were worth. According to various sources, the ultimate settlement, delivered after Wayne Hage’s too early death, was $14,000,000. Was it fair? Would ten times that amount have been fair? When looked at in the context of having your way of life taken from you, or in context of the harassment he and his family had to endure, would one hundred times that amount have been fair?

 

The kid who once found high school too dull and uninteresting ended up knowing more about constitutional law and American history, and legislative history in particular, than most superior court justices, but that knowledge came at a terrible price. Sitting at that long table, I asked Wayne Hage, Sr. if, after everything that had happened, after all his legal battles and victories, he had more or less faith in America.

“Well, the situation has changed.”

“But you’ve won.”

“It’s not that simplistic or that clear.”

“Wayne, you took on the United States government in the courts, using the United States laws and the United States Constitution, and you won.”

“Constitutional rights don’t exist under Federal Courts. All they’re interested in is what the rules are and did you violate the rules. I was smart enough to go through the Claims Court. If I hadn’t done that, I would have lost.”

“Yes, but…” I couldn’t let it go. The man who sat absently stroking the flag and gazing out over the land that would soon no longer be his wasn’t bitter or defeated or victorious, but somehow infinitely sad, and I wanted him to at least acknowledge what he had achieved with Hage v. United States, both for himself and for all property owners. At last he looked at me.

“You bet I believe in the rule of law, but most people are trapped in a fiction of law, rules and regulations, and don’t understand the law at all.”

I had to be satisfied with that, but perhaps that’s Wayne Hage, Sr.’s greatest lesson and legacy.

 

As I left, as my dog and the ranch border collie both walked around stiff-legged, taking turns peeing on all four of my tires, I turned to Wayne Hage.

“A hypothetical question for you, Wayne. If you get all that money and you could still keep the ranch, what would do?”

“I’d be like the rancher in the old joke. Rancher wins $250,000,000 dollars in the Super Lotto. Goes down to pick up the check and the press are all there and one of them asks him, ‘Now that you got all that money, what are going to do?’ Rancher takes off his Stetson, scratches his head a bit, puts the Stetson back on, says, ‘Well, I reckon I’ll keep on ranching until all that money is gone.’” He laughed for the first and only time during my visit.

We shook hands.

“Well, Wayne, I hope you get a fortune out of the government. You deserve it, and you’ll be a rich man.”

He didn’t hesitate. “I’ve always been a rich man. I’ve always had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, three meals a day. I’ve always been rich.”

***************************************************************************************

 

Only, Wayne Hage was right: it wasn’t that simplistic or that clear, and now, more than a decade after his death, it would appear the United States government has won and conducted their own variation of the Highland clearances. Instead of swords and murder, they have used legal maneuvering, chicanery, and their own indefensible influence and power, bragging openly about having “more money and more lawyers,” and how they would get the case into the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where, a DOJ attorney boasted, “We can get everything we want from the Ninth Circuit.” Make sure you read Ramona Hage Morrison’s article in Range, along with the accompanying article by Chance Gowan and the editorial by long-time fighter for rancher’s rights C.J. Hadley. It will curdle your blood with rage.

I hope it is clear that this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. Instead, it is an issue of grotesquely bloated and out-of-control bureaucracies filled with smug, self-satisfied, career employees of the federal government whose only fealty is to preserving their own jobs and enforcing their own world views, men and women both ignorant of and unconcerned with the rule of law or the Constitution.

I still strongly believe the American governmental system (i.e. the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) is the greatest system the world has ever known, created by men who wanted desperately to protect ordinary people from those who were ruthless enough and dishonest enough to subjugate others to their will. Unfortunately, for all the brilliance of the Constitution, it is only a tool, and as such, like a gun or a car or violin, it doesn’t matter how exquisitely crafted it may be; it is only as good or bad as the men and women who use it, and when those men and women are insatiable ticks, ever engorging themselves at the public expense, not even the brilliantly crafted Constitution can withstand their corruption.

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Switzerland

May 7th, 2018 14 Comments

 

We were still living in Europe when I reached adolescence and my father wisely decided that shipping me off to boarding school was preferable to serving a lengthy prison sentence for murdering his only son. Any parent who has raised a child as obnoxious as I was all the way through adolescence will rightly argue that there should be a special reduced sentence for parents who succumb to temptation: “Involuntary manslaughter resulting from extreme provocation; six-month prison sentence, maximum, with probation until all other children have passed safely through adolescence.” Something like that; perhaps more lenient.

In any event, the school I was shipped off to was in Switzerland, run by a father-and-son team of educators with lengthy educational pedigrees and credentials. The father was a doddering and decrepit old fossil in his late fifties, early sixties, something like that. The son was just a regular old man in his thirties, and—as Switzerland mandates military service for every able-bodied male between nineteen and thirty-five (I always thought it was twenty to forty-five, and researching this article I found other ages cited, but nineteen to thirty-five is close enough for government work)—I have a vivid memory of watching him, in his uniform, strap a fully automatic rifle across his shoulders, and bicycle off to train or serve or both. The rifle was kept somewhere in the vast and freezing old chateau that housed the school; all Swiss soldiers are required to keep and maintain their assigned service weapons with them.

Some quick stats for you:

**Switzerland has an almost entirely civilian militia (only 5% of the military consists of professional soldiers) who go through basic training and then continue to train and/or serve one day a month plus two or three weeks once a year. (I think this is still more or less accurate.)

**Switzerland has a long history of being politically neutral, but it has more soldiers relative to its population than any other country on earth.

**After service, men (and now women) are allowed to keep their personal small arms.

**Switzerland has the third-highest rate of private gun-ownership in the world.

**Children are taught to shoot at very young ages, where the phrase “taught to shoot” should correctly be interpreted to mean marksmanship, safety, maintenance of a firearm, responsibility, and patriotism. There is an annual shooting competition for children as well as ones for doddering old crocks like my headmasters.

**Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of crime and/or violent crime (including murder by any means) of any country in the world. (Statistics are like opinions, but while the actual numbers vary depending where you look, all sources agree on this.)

**Switzerland consistently ranks among the top five in the annual list of “happiest nations on earth.”

**Switzerland ranks second in the United Nations list of “human development,” a list which includes wealth, education, life-expectancy, and health.

**If I have my stats right, Switzerland ranks first in average wealth per resident.

I could go on, and some of this may have varied somewhat over the years, but you get the idea.

So, in case you were ever naïve enough to believe anti-gun politicians and progressive billionaire-sponsored anti-gun groups who sanctimoniously intone that they have no intention of trying to take your guns, that all they want is the “common-sense regulations” that will make us all soooooo much safer, because, after all, “if it saves just one life,” yadayadayada… If you really were that naïve, consider the following:

The European Union has mandated certain gun control measures that affect every member nation. Switzerland is not technically a member of the EU, but it is a member of something called the Schengen Area, which is, essentially, a border-free zone that allows any EU citizen to travel, live, or work in any EU nation. As a member of the Schengen Area, Switzerland is required to abide by the EU rules governing firearms. This gets complicated and I don’t wish to get bogged down in legalities here, but the bottom line is that the safest and most peaceful nation on earth, the one that has relied on a citizen army to keep it both safe and neutral for around five-hundred years, where the chance of being murdered, or even becoming a victim of violent crime, is considerably less than in any other country on earth, that same country is now being required to disarm its citizens, which is to say, its citizen army, all in the name of safety.

Worse still, various Swiss progressive groups and organizations, including the Socialist Party are calling for even more draconian gun control measures including removing local (i.e. canton) control and turning it over to the government, requiring training and sports-participation standards, and government registration.

To what end, I hear you cry? Not to make Swiss citizens safer, to “save just one life,” because other than possibly Antarctica, there is nowhere on planet earth where you can be safer. So why? Ah. Good question.

Possibly so progressive socialists can force Switzerland down the same primrose path they forced Great Britain to skip down, and we know how well merry England, the country that used to be the safest on earth, has fared in recent times.

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Victor Davis Hanson on Trump Resistance

April 25th, 2018 23 Comments

 

An article below by Victor Davis Hanson, author and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, that reminded me of this famous passage by Robert Bolt, in his play, “A Man for All Seasons:”

Sir Thomas More: “What would do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

Roper: “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil the benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake.”

Victor Davis Hanson is one of the best minds alive in this country today. Read his following article, and read his blog: http://victorhanson.com

 

When legal bloodhounds and baying critics fail to take out Trump, what’s next? The Resistance wants Trump’s head — on the chopping block.

On the domestic and foreign fronts, the Trump administration has prompted economic growth and restored U.S. deterrence. Polls show increased consumer confidence, and in some, Trump himself has gained ground. Yet good news is bad news to the Resistance and its strange continued efforts to stop an elected president in a way it failed to do in the 2016 election.

Indeed, the aim of the so-called Resistance to Donald J. Trump is ending Trump’s presidency by any means necessary before the 2020 election. Or, barring that, it seeks to so delegitimize him that he becomes presidentially impotent. It has been only 16 months since Trump took office and, in the spirit of revolutionary fervor, almost everything has been tried to derail him. Now we are entering uncharted territory — at a time when otherwise the country is improving and the legal exposure of Trump’s opponents increases daily.

First came the failed lawsuits after the election alleging voting-machine tampering. Then there was the doomed celebrity effort to convince some state electors not to follow their constitutional duty and to deny Trump the presidency — a gambit that, had it worked, would have wrecked the Constitution. Then came the pathetic congressional boycott of the inauguration and the shrill nationwide protests against the president.

Next was the sad effort to introduce articles of impeachment. After that came weird attempts to cite Trump for violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. That puerile con was followed by plans to declare him deranged and mentally unfit so that he could be removed under the 25th Amendment. From time to time, Obama holdovers in the DOJ, National Security Council, and FBI sought to leak information, or they refused to carry out presidential orders.

As the Resistance goes from one ploy to the next, it ignores its string of failed prior efforts, forgetting everything and learning nothing. State nullification is no longer neo-Confederate but an any-means-necessary progressive tool. Suing the government weekly is proof of revolutionary fides, not a waste of California’s taxpayer dollars.

Anti- and Never-Trump op-ed writers have long ago run out of superlatives. Trump is the worst, most, biggest — fill in the blank — in the history of the presidency, in the history of the world, worse even than Mao, Mussolini, Stalin, or Hitler. So if Trump is a Hitler who gassed 6 million or a Stalin who starved 20 million, then logically Trump deserves what exactly?

The book industry is doing its part. Mythographer Michael Wolff’s hearsay Fire and Fury suggested that Trump was a dangerous child despised as much by his friends as by his enemies. As  FBI director, James Comey leaked confidential memos, lied to Congress, misled a FISA court, admitted that he based his handling of the Clinton-email investigation on the assumption she’d win the presidency, misinformed the president about the status of his investigation. And the now-former director book-tours the country slamming Trump hourly on the assumption that he would certainly not be former, if only his prior obsequious efforts to appease Trump had saved his job. Comey is building perjury cases against himself daily with each new disclosure that belie past sworn testimonies, but that is apparently less scary to him than simply ignoring Trump.

Robert Mueller and his “dream team” were long ago supposed to have discovered proof of Trump’s collusion with Russia. A year later, they have found nothing much to do with this mandate. Then the alternative scent was obstruction of justice. Then the chase took another detour to follow some sort of fraud or racketeering. Now the FBI is reduced to raiding Trump’s lawyer in an effort to root out the real story on Stormy Daniels. One wonders what might have happened had Michael Cohen panicked and destroyed 30,000 emails before Mueller seized his computers. No matter, Mueller’s legal army presses on, even as it leaves its own wounded on the battlefield, as resignations, reassignments, and retirements for improper conduct decimate the Obama-era FBI and DOJ hierarchies.

Trump has left the intelligence community unhinged. John Brennan (“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. . . . America will triumph over you”) and James Clapper (who called Trump a veritable traitor working for Putin) have both admitted to lying under oath to Congress in the past, and with their present invective, they have discredited the very notion of a Washington intelligence elite. At some point, Mueller’s zealotry will remind federal attorneys that equality under the law demands indictments of those with far greater legal exposure, regardless of the exalted status of Comey, Andrew McCabe, and — in the matter of lying under oath, leaking classified materials, and destroying evidence — John Brennan, James Clapper and Hillary Clinton.

In addition, a media, found to be more than 90 percent negative in its coverage of the Trump administration, sought to delegitimize the president. Journalists declare that disinterested reporting is impossible in the age of Trump — and therefore believe that Stormy Daniels or James Comey’s Dudley Do-Right’s memos are a pathway to accomplish what they are beginning to concede Robert Mueller cannot.

Everything from the NFL to late-night comedy shows have become Trump-hating venues. Almost every sort of smear from scatology to homophobia has been voiced by celebrities to turn Trump into a president deserving such abuse — and worse. Late-night television host Steven Colbert was reduced to incoherent and repellant venom: “You talk like a sign-language gorilla that got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c*** holster.” Actor Robert De Niro has become deranged and dreams of pounding on Trump’s face. But then so does former vice president Joe Biden, who on two occasions boasted that Trump is the sort of guy that a younger he-man Biden used to take outside the gym to give a whippin’ to.

Each cycle of hysteria demands another, as the race to the bottom has descended into which celebrity or politician can discover the most provocative — or crude — Trump expletive. “S***” and “f***” are now the ordinary vocabulary of angry Democratic politicos and officeholders. Are we reaching a point in the so-far-failed Resistance where little is left except abject violence in the manner of the Roman or French Revolution? The problem for Trump’s pop-culture foes is not whether to imagine or advocate killing the president. That’s a given. They just need to agree on the means of doing so: decapitation (Kathy Griffin), incineration (David Crosby), stabbing (the Shakespeare in the Park troupe), shooting (Snoop Dogg), explosives (Madonna), old-fashioned, Lincoln-style assassination (Johnny Depp), death by elevator (Kamala Harris), hanging (a CSU professor), or simple generic assassination (a Missouri state legislator).

The Resistance and rabid anti-Trumpers have lost confidence in the constitutional framework of elections, and they’ve flouted the tradition by which the opposition allows the in-power party to present its case to the court of public opinion.

Now the Democratic party — whose presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, hired Christopher Steele to find dirt on Trump with the aid of Russian sources to warp the 2016 election — is suing President Trump, alleging collusion with the Russians. If Clinton were called as a witness, what would she say under cross-examination — that she did not hire Steele, that he never purchased Russian dirt, or that there was no collusion effort to enlist foreign nationals such as British subject Christopher Steele and Russian propagandists to warp an American election?

Insidiously and incrementally, we are in the process of normalizing violence against the elected president of the United States. If all this fails to delegitimize Trump, fails to destroy his health, or fails to lead to a 2018 midterm Democratic sweep and subsequent impeachment, expect even greater threats of violence. The Resistance and rabid anti-Trumpers have lost confidence in the constitutional framework of elections, and they’ve flouted the tradition by which the opposition allows the in-power party to present its case to the court of public opinion.

Instead, like the French revolutionaries’ Committee on Public Safety, the unhinged anti-Trumpists assume that they have lost public opinion, given their venom and crudity, and are growing desperate as every legal and paralegal means of removing Trump is nearing exhaustion. Robert Mueller is the last chance, a sort of Watergate or Abu Ghraib that could gin up enough furor to drive down Trump’s poll favorability to the twenties and thereby reduce his person to a demonic force deserving of whatever it gets.

After the prior era of hysteria, between 2005 and 2008, when books and docudramas staged the imagined assassination of George W. Bush, and celebrities like Michael Moore and activists such as Cindy Sheehan reduced Bush to the status of a war criminal, the Left in 2009 demanded a return to normal political discourse and comportment, with the election of Barack Obama. A newly contrite and apologetic America was abruptly worth believing in again. In 2009, the CIA and FBI suddenly were reinvented as hallowed agents of change.

Bush careerists, including Clapper and Brennan, were now damning the very counterterrorism practices that they once helped put in place, while offering Obama-like politically correct sermons on the benign nature of Islamism. Surveillance and jailing were appropriate punishments for suspected Obama apostates (ask James Rosen or Nkoula Basseley Nakoula). The IRS was weaponized for use against Obama’s ideological opponents. Suggestions that the president was unfit or worse became near treasonous. Unity was the new patriotism. The assumption was that Obama had ushered in a half-century of progressive norms, not that he so alienated the country that he birthed Donald Trump.

The danger to the country this time around is that the Left has so destroyed the old protocols of the opposition party that it will be hard to resurrect them when progressives return to power.

We are entering revolutionary times. The law is no longer equally applied. The media are the ministry of truth. The Democratic party is a revolutionary force. And it is all getting scary.

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Our Town

April 17th, 2018 7 Comments

 

A wonderful quote from Thornton Wilder’s iconic play, Our Town, one that is especially suited for this Eastertide season between Easter and Pentecost:

Emily has returned from the dead to look at her beloved family, aching to be with them once more. She sees them as they were fourteen years earlier, when she was still a young girl, on her birthday, but she knows all that will come, all the joy and the sorrow:

EMILY, in a loud voice, to the STAGE MANAGER: “I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back—up the hill—to my grave. But first, wait! One more look. Goodbye, goodbye, world. Goodbye, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.” She looks toward the STAGE MANAGER and asks abruptly through her tears: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”

STAGE MANAGER: “No.” Pause. “The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”

EMILY: “I’m ready to go back.” She returns to her chair beside Mrs. Gibbs. Pause.

MRS GIBBS: “Were you happy?”

EMILY: “No…I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people.”

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Code Girls Review: Politically Correct Thinking

April 9th, 2018 28 Comments

 

I had an all-time first, Gentle Reader.

I make it a point never to review a book I do not like. For one thing, if I don’t like a book, I almost certainly won’t finish it, so how can I possibly critique it?

Beyond that, serious writing, like any creative endeavor, is extremely difficult, while critiquing is all too often a purely destructive act that is far too easy. There are probably many more moronic reviews than there are moronic books, and that’s saying something.

So, if I review a book on this website, it’s because I thought it worthy of your attention. And for the same reason, I routinely post my reviews on Goodreads and on Amazon.

The review in the post immediately preceding this one, a somewhat personal review of Liza Mundy’s Code Girls (the exceptional historical and feminist look at the unsung heroes—or heroines, if you want to get all John Wayne about it—of World War Two) was as positive as I can get. Nor did I consider it offensive in any way: no full-frontal nudity, no explicit threats of violence or mayhem, no advocating wholesale lynching on Capitol Hill (which might just qualify as common sense these days). So picture my confusion when almost instantaneously, literally within probably less than two minutes, I received an email from Amazon telling me my review had violated their guidelines and would not be posted.

Mystified, I reviewed the guidelines and reviewed my review. Nothing. Nor were there any hints in Amazon’s email that might suggest which guideline(s) I had violated. The company apparently adheres to the old adage, “Never apologize, never explain.” (An adage variously attributed to a nineteenth-century Oxford professor, who supposedly added, “Get it over with and let them howl,” and at the other end of the continuum to the authors of the John Wayne movie, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, where the Duke adds, “It’s a sign of weakness.”)

I asked my bride to read the post and give me a lead. Darleen suggested that perhaps, because I discuss encryption and cryptanalysis and the teams that did that work during World War Two, I had somehow tripped some algorithm set up by Amazon and, oh, I don’t know, the NSA or something. After all, the notice came far too quickly for a human to have read the review.

This struck me as extremely unlikely. For one thing, if the NSA hasn’t anything better to do than monitoring scruffy little websites like mine, I would suggest we could make a serious reduction in the national budget deficit by getting rid of that agency entirely and firing everyone there for wasting their time and our money. For another, I doubt very much if the NSA and Amazon are in bed together.

But Darleen’s suggestion led me in the wrong direction, and it wasn’t until last night, in the shower, that the truth came to me.

In the review, I quote the title of the John Lennon song, Woman is the Nigger of the World. And I will give you eight-to-five, Gentle Reader, that is why the review was rejected.

If I am correct, it is proof of the idiocy of politically correct group-think algorithms and politically correct thinking of any kind. For one thing, the lyrics of the song are extremely apposite to the theme of Ms. Mundy’s book. Read both. For another, the title phrase of the song, which is also the hook, was coined by Yoko Ono, who gave credit for it to black author Zora Neale Hurston. (It is actually, if I have my facts right, a distillation of two sentences in Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.) And finally, if I am right about why Amazon felt my review violated their guidelines, it—Amazon—is supremely hypocritical, given that they sell Lennon’s album, Some Time in New York City, and list Woman Is the Nigger of the World, as the first track, clearly and unapologetically, right there on their own website. They also offer the song for sale as a single. No hypocrisy there, by golly, but I’ll bet that’s the reason.

Eight-to-five? Hell, make it seven-to-one.

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Book Review: Code Girls

April 7th, 2018 7 Comments

 

Bonn, Germany, 1960 or ’61, long before unification, long before the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, possibly even before the building of the Berlin Wall, because while that went up in 1961, I don’t remember precisely which year this happened. My father was with the American Embassy, and we were living in an apartment in Bad Godesberg when an English girl came to visit. Her name was Virginia Rhodes, nicknamed Ginny, and my mother introduced her to me with the offhand explanation, “Her father was one of my commanding officers in the Navy during the war.”

I was only twelve or thirteen, drugged on camping and uninterested in girls, especially ancient hags of sixteen or seventeen, so I had little interest in her, but my mother’s comment caught my attention. I knew my father had downed tools and enlisted immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and I was vaguely aware that most of America had volunteered for this or that to help the war effort, but I had no idea my mother had been in the Navy.

“No,” she explained. “I wasn’t. I was just a civilian who volunteered, like so many others, but Colonel Rhodes” [actual first name now gone from my rapid access file, but predictably nicknamed Dusty] “was in charge of the unit where I worked.”

What had she done?

“Oh, just paperwork, typing things.” And with that vague deflection my interest waned. It took almost sixty years and reading Liza Mundy’s Code Girls, to learn the ladies who broke the enemy codes in World War Two were trained to use deflections just like that for security reasons, either implying dusty secretarial work, or implying they were just brainless “playthings” for the men who did the real work of winning the war.

Fast forward eight or ten years. My father had been killed and Mother was living in the house in Vermont my father had bought for a retirement he never lived to see. I was visiting, and she asked me to walk up to the post office and pick up her mail.

It was a combination general store/gas station/post office about a quarter mile away, and as I walked home, I flipped idly through the letters and magazines. What caught my attention was an official envelope, addressed to my mother, from the Department of the Navy. I handed it to her and asked what it was and why the Navy might be contacting her after so many years.

“Well,” she said, glancing at it, “As it happens, I can tell you because this is a declassification notice.”

Declassification? It was not the first time I realized there were unknown depths to my mother—my short-tempered, acid-tongued, opinionated, occasionally wickedly funny, frightfully proper, intensely well-educated and well-read mother—but even so I was surprised. I began to quiz her. It was twenty-five or thirty years after the war, but the habit of official secrecy, coupled with my mother’s natural love privacy, kept her reluctant to expand too much on what she had done, essentially dismissing it as nothing special. Again, it took Mundy’s Code Girls for me to finally understand the critical importance of what my mother and so many other ladies had done during the war.

But on that long-ago day, she showed me some simple cryptograms (I remember only something called a Polybius Square) and told me how the work consisted (putting it in baby talk) of searching for patterns and sequences on large sheets divided into endless rows and columns of letters or numbers. She told me that of the people in her unit, she and a young man who later became a professor of some arcane form of mathematics at MIT were the only two who lasted the entire war, because nervous breakdowns were as common as head colds among code breakers. I can well believe it.

I knew my mother was capable of intense concentration, and I knew she was capable of extreme and painstaking patience (not necessarily with her wild and troublesome son, but with intellectual problems that delighted her), but I was stunned to think she might have been capable of that kind of work. Apparently, like so many of the girls Mundy writes about, so was she.

After Pearl Harbor, like so many other ladies of her generation, she was determined to do what she could for her country. She used her social and professional contacts, her father’s reputation as a newspaperman and historian, and perhaps my father’s almost insignificant position as a freshly-minted lieutenant (on one of the battleships attempting unsuccessfully to protect Allied merchant convoys from Nazi U-boats in the North Atlantic, a fact that must have motivated my mother even more to try and help the war effort), to wrangle an interview with Naval Intelligence. She met with an officer in one of the “temporary” buildings hastily erected on the mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, temporary buildings still in use when my family and I left for Germany almost twenty years later. The officer asked if she had any skills, and she told him she was a writer. The Navy didn’t need any writers; did she have any hobbies? No. Had she studied math at Bryn Mawr? No. Did she excel at anything? Well, she was a bad piano player, but a good dancer. The Navy didn’t need piano players, and they didn’t need dancers, good or bad. She was gathering her things to leave when he asked if she ever did crossword puzzles. Yes, by God, she did, and what’s more, it was no particular feat for her to do the New York Times puzzle in ink and get it right every week.

And so, after testing and training, my mother became one of the many women who worked on code-breaking for the military during World War Two; in my mother’s case, working for the Navy, and working specifically on one of the Japanese codes.

It must be difficult for today’s computerized/smartphone/IT generation to imagine that things such as encryption or cryptanalysis might once have been done by humans and, just as remarkable, laboriously undone by humans, or perhaps even that codes can be broken at all, but it was once so. And during World War Two, the vast majority of the people who broke codes for America were women, and how they did it, and the extent to which they did it successfully, is as remarkable an achievement as the bloody taking of countless Pacific islands, one by one, dead soldier by dead soldier. And those two things are closely related.

Liza Mundy’s book provides a fascinating glimpse into a still-obscure corner of World War Two history. She tells the story of the thousands of girls who broke multiple codes, Japanese and German, that were considered unbreakable, and by so doing saved the lives of millions of young Allied men. They were barefoot farm girls, Social Register debutantes, Navy girls, Army girls, civilian girls, high school graduates, college dropouts, PhD’s, victims of the Depression, girls too rich to have noticed the Depression, shy girls, tough girls, single girls, married girls, southern girls, northern girls, literally thousands of girls who had nothing in common, save patriotism and first-class brains. And more: first class brains in an era when a woman’s place was in the oven, and if a woman did have an opinion or an original idea, she should bloody well keep it to herself while manly menfolk solved the problems of the world over their scotch and water, and fetch us some more ice, little lady.

Mundy writes about a girl who had just made a major break-through, one that would prove a critical and time-sensitive key to the successes that followed, standing politely with her papers in her hands, waiting for the officers, the manly men, to finish their conversation before she could tell them what she had done and give them the information they so desperately needed. Women who asserted themselves back then were practically unknown and always unappreciated.

Nor did the war do anything to change attitudes. Toward the end of the book, Mundy writes about how, for many of the code girls, all their work and sacrifice was, for the most part, largely ignored when they attempted to enter the work force after the war. Men who had done and accomplished far less were given preference over better brains wearing dresses, and because they had been sworn to secrecy, there was little the code girls could do to toot their own horns. With very, very few exceptions, all of them, like my mother, took their oath of secrecy far too seriously to help advance themselves.

My mother might have experienced that dismissive attitude from other men (officers and civilians, men she knew casually in civilian life), but I think I can safely say she never experienced any condescension or dismissive arrogance from any of the men my parents counted as friends, and I know damned well she never experienced anything like that from my father. My father would never have treated anyone that way, in part because he was fascinated by people and always eager to learn about them, in part because of his natural courtesy, and in part because he had—and frequently expressed—tremendous admiration for my mother and for her abilities. And any man who knew my parents well enough to be counted as a friend would have known my mother well enough to know she was nobody’s fool. But for many other women of that era, probably most, second-class citizenship was the norm (John Lennon: “Woman is the nigger of the world.”) and the chance to prove themselves, to themselves as well as to the men they worked with or for, must have been intoxicating.

Reading Code Girls was an affirmation of much of what I already knew about my mother: brains, self-discipline, stubborn refusal to be defeated by any problem, infinite determination, and the most unbelievable memory of anyone I’ve ever known.

Mundy quotes a lieutenant as saying, “Each [code breaker] had to depend on what he could remember.” I always knew my mother’s memory was extraordinary, but when she was dying, she gave an example that stunned me. We were in the living room when my stepfather said something that sparked the memory of a poem in my mother. At that moment, the lady she had hired to help her announced dinner was on the table. As she started to rise, my mother quoted a line or two, faltered, repeated them, and then said, “It’s bad enough to be dying, but it’s humiliating to lose one’s memory.” We all walked into the dining room, I pulled her chair out for her, and before my stepfather could say grace, she recited all twelve verses of a poem I know for a fact she hadn’t read in over fifty years. She had pulled it up out of the memory bank in the minute or two it had taken us to walk from one room to another.

After the war, some of the code girls suffered their own variation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that handicapped them as much as it did soldiers. For some, the work had been so stressful and so debilitating that they preferred to forget it. Others lived with the unwelcome knowledge that their work, while it saved an estimated one million American lives, had taken the lives of many young Japanese men who had wives and sweethearts and mothers and sisters who mourned just as much; in the same way, some law enforcement officers can live with killing bad guys; others cannot.

And some of the code girls would not toot their own horns even decades later, after their work had been declassified, because of the ignorance and bias, willful or not, of a younger generation. Mundy writes of a woman who, when she finally told her children what she had done, heard her own daughter say, “Mother, how dreadful! You killed all those Japanese sailors, and you’re pleased about it!”

I have to admit, when I read that, I wanted to reach through the pages and the years and slap that smug, self-righteous, shamefully ignorant daughter. She should take some time to study the photographs of what Japanese soldiers did to Chinese women, particularly in Nanking, and consider if she would have enjoyed sharing their fate, before presuming to pass judgment on her betters for having more courage, more ability, and more moral conviction than she has.

And perhaps that is the ultimate lesson of Code Girls, that the ladies who were part of what Tom Brokaw so wonderfully described as the Greatest Generation, were forged in the fires of harder times, long before the war: it was a world of greater labor and less leisure, greater ethics and less luxury, greater standards of behavior and less tolerance for misbehavior. And then along came the Depression, and survival demanded far more than any of my generation or any of the current generations will ever know. The code girls knew, or learned, the truth of John Steinbeck’s observation in his sadly unfinished retelling of the Arthurian legends, known as The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights:

“Then Arthur learned, as all leaders are astonished to learn, that peace, not war, is the destroyer of men; tranquility rather than danger is the mother of cowardice; and not need, but plenty, brings apprehension and unease. Finally, he found that the longed-for peace, so bitterly achieved, created more bitterness than ever did the anguish of achieving it.”

It’s something every generation has to learn anew, only to see it forgotten again in turn by the next.

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Beretta’s PX4 Storm Compact Carry

April 2nd, 2018 18 Comments

In the interests of being as politically incorrect as possible, and because I am tired of the mainstream media’s fulsome adoration of dubiously motivated high school students and even more dubiously motivated anti-gun organizations, I have decided to post an article originally published in “Gun World” magazine (https://www.gunworld.com). I am also posting it because I know a lot of readers are interested in firearms and because rotary barrel systems seem to suffer from bad press almost as much as, well, gun owners and the NRA.

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“Cognitive dissonance” is a ten-dollar psychiatric phrase for the stress experienced by people who believe in two mutually exclusive concepts at the same time. If you do any research about rotary-barrel systems such as Beretta’s PX4 Storm, you will suffer from cognitive dissonance. It is the most inherently accurate system there is. It is the most inherently inaccurate system there is. It is the most inherently reliable system. It is the most inherently unreliable system. It must be run wet. It must not have too much lubrication. It…

You get the picture. Let’s start by dismissing some of the most popular myths about the rotary-barrel system:

Most semi-auto pistols today use some variation of John Browning’s tilting-barrel lock design (think M1911, think all Glocks except their new 46, think Hi-Power, think CZ75, think probably 95% of all semi-autos), and the most common argument against the rotary-barrel design is that it’s not John Browning’s tilt-design. What is ironic is that the earliest rotary-barrel design I have been able to track down is an 1897 patent taken out by, yes, John Browning, albeit never put into production.

The next most common argument against the rotary-barrel system is that it must have clearance between the barrel and the slide, and the requisite clearance will allow the barrel to move, adversely affecting accuracy.

That popular theory is simply nonsense on a variety of levels. Here is a direct quote from an engineer at Beretta: “The barrel cams close [in] much the same way as a bolt action rifle and therefore have a much tighter lockup than any Browning tilt-style handgun.” [Emphasis mine.] “Due to the linear movement of the barrel, the barrel cut in the front of the slide is minimized as well, meaning that the requirement for an ovoid cut as seen in 1911s and other Browning-style tilt-barrel actions is not needed and the slide can act as its own bushing, so to speak.  Due to the rotation of the barrel and lack of vertical movement, the accuracy potential is significantly increased as the barrel does not need to deviate from a single angle, merely moving forwards and rearwards during cycling.”

Not only is there increased accuracy from the linear movement of the barrel, the rotary-barrel system is an inherently strong design that leads to longer life of the gun, and enables the gun to tolerate higher pressures. Not surprising in a handgun designed to, “meet the most stringent military standards of durability.” In fact, strength was the reason for that particular choice of that particular action. To quote Beretta’s engineer again, the motivation for Beretta’s original rotary-barrel pistol (the Cougar 8000 series) was “…a need for extreme durability. The rotary lock-up provided the most robust design solution.” Additionally, the rotation of the barrel reduces perceived recoil, and reduces muzzle-jump because of the lower barrel-mount relative to the frame.

Another popular argument is that the rotation of the barrel causes the gun to twist in your hand. I admit I have never fired the PX4 in .40- or .45-caliber, but I have put well over 2000 rounds, probably much closer to 3000, through my full-size 9mm, over 300 (I lost track during a defensive shooting class) through the Compact Carry Beretta sent me for testing, as well as about 400 more through a friend’s 9mm, including some hot, +P loads, and I have never experienced any kind of twist at all. Since I have arthritis in my hands, I am very sensitive to anything that causes any kind of discomfort, and I would have noticed twisting.

It is also worth noting that for a total of somewhere well over 3000 rounds of a wide range of ammunition, fired from three separate guns, I have never experienced a single malfunction.

(For the record, the PX4 Subcompact does not utilize a rotary-barrel system because of its size; from a gunsmithing perspective, barrel length less than three inches precludes that system, so while technically the subcompact, with a three-inch barrel, might be feasible with a rotary system, Beretta opted for a tilt-barrel design.)

There was a golden era of automobiles, from about the early-1930s to the early-1950s, when the lines of every car, from a Bugatti to a Buick, were curved and smooth and almost femininely sensuous. Those are the lines of the PX4, and it is not a coincidence: Beretta hired the Italian design firm of Italdesign, founded and then headed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (one of the most famous car designers in the world, the man responsible for cars as outrageously beautiful as the Ferrari GG50, a slew of Bugatti concept cars, and the Maserati Spyder/Coupé, and as economically practical as the Volkswagen Golf, among many others), to help them make form follow function with style and elegance and great ergonomics. Whoo, boy, did they succeed.

Based on a polymer frame, the lines of the PX4 are unique in today’s boxy-pistol world. The slide has an almost pyramidal shape, with everything softened and curved, while the frame melts down into a Picatinny rail. The grip is ergonomically excellent, allowing for a natural pointing hold the way the M1911 does. It comes with three backstraps to accommodate everyone from Lebron James to, well, me, and the grips both front and back have patterning aggressive enough to provide a firm hold without drawing blood. The safety is ambidextrous, and the magazine release button is reversible and available in three different sizes to match your needs. The trigger guard is undercut, allowing the shooter to take a high grip, and the action is a standard DA/SA. The initial DA pull is long, allowing the shooter to hold the gun safely in low-ready, and start the trigger pull as he comes up onto target, allowing for almost instantaneous target engagement.

I measured the trigger pulls for each of the three guns with my Timney scale and came up with the following:

I had the trigger on my full-size PX4 smoothed and polished many years ago, and it had a three-pull average of 9lbs in double action, 4.5lbs in single action;

My friend’s unmodified gun averaged 9.2lbs DA and 6lbs SA.

The Compact Carry, an upgraded version of Beretta’s Compact model specially customized by them to Ernest Langdon’s specifications, measured 9.6lbs DA (I suspect that will lesson with use) and 4.2lbs SA. All three triggers had very similar “feel:” crisp and positive. Reset was approximately 5/8’s of an inch and very distinct.

Ernest Langdon is a professional shooting instructor, a competitive shooter with a Grand Master Class rating from the USPSA, a Distinguished Master with the IDPA, with ten National Championship Shooting titles and two World Speed Shooting titles, a Marine, a law enforcement officer, author… His bio is longer than my word count for this article, so suffice it to say he knows his stuff. His Compact Carry model differs from the regular PX4 in that it has night sights, a low-profile slide-stop and low-profile safety-levers, Talon grips, and a grey Cerakote slide for a subtle aesthetic effect. Like all PX4 Storms, it field strips with ridiculous ease into a grand total of six components. That’s six (6) components. Counting the magazine. Remember the saying, “The fewer moving parts, the better?”

The defensive shooting class I took was taught by Static Defense Systems of Chino Valley, AZ. Owner and chief instructor Charlie Higgins is a former US Army Special Forces, Military Combat and Tactical Firearms Instructor, Close Quarters Combat Instructor, qualified Master Gunner graduate, NRA Instructor, and martial arts teacher/fanatic. Since the PX4 was originally designed for military and law enforcement use (it is carried by law enforcement agencies in America, and by both law enforcement and military agencies in Canada, Mexico, Italy—natch—and in a slew of South American and African countries), defensive use is its natural habitat. We ran a number of drills designed to simulate a variety of situations: two-handed; single-hand; non-shooting hand; single target; multiple targets; steel plate; paper; stationary; moving forward; moving back; moving laterally; single shot; double-tap; Mozambique; and Charlie’s preferred variation of the Mozambique drill, which I prefer not to describe, in the interests of law enforcement safety.

All of this was done under dubious conditions: high wind, dust, and smoke from a distant fire. All three pistols performed admirably, and none ever malfunctioned.

As befits a firearm designed to be abnormally rugged and durable, the sights on the PX4 are over-built to the max. I had the front sight on my personal gun modified by LRK Mechanical in Prescott, AZ, manufacturers of everything from race pistols to long-distance rifles, and even they were a little stunned by the excessive durability. According to them, my front sight measured .156 millimeters in width, more even than all but the very widest custom high-resolution sights designed for rapid target acquisition, and that means that at 15 yards, a four-inch bullseye is completely obscured. On the other hand, a man-sized silhouette is easily seen at all normal defensive distances, even out well beyond 15-yards, and the bright red Tritium front sight of the Compact Carry puts the eye on instantly. I just wish all PX4 Storms came with that front sight.

With a MSRP of $650, the standard Compact is reasonably priced. At $899, the Compact Carry is not inexpensive, but considering that it is a semi-custom gun, it not unreasonable either. Beauty, brawn, durability, accuracy, truly amazing reliability, and discreet size for concealed carry, from an historic and legendary company. You can’t ask for more.

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Deadly, To the Last Drop

March 30th, 2018 23 Comments

 

 

A California Superior Court judge, Elihu Berle, in Los Angeles, has decided on a case brought by an organization known as the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (the brainchild, if you can call it that, of a lawyer named Raphael Metzger), ruling that coffee sold in California must now come with a warning label in every store, on every bag of beans, on every cup, advising people that drinking coffee may cause cancer. You will be relieved to know, Gentle Reader, that this ruling will greatly enrich the Metzger Law Group at your expense.

Therefore, with public good in mind, I would like to propose three new laws that will simplify the lives of every American and save countless billions of dollars.

First, every single person who graduates from law school, before he or she receives his or her diploma, must have the following words tattooed prominently, in letters no smaller than one half-inch, on his or her forehead:

Warning! This product may be hazardous to your wealth.

Second, all along the California border, whether on dry land or the coast, from Mexico to Oregon, large, readily visible signs in every language known to man, ancient or modern, including Esperanto, must be posted at intervals not to exceed one quarter mile (1320 feet), that read:

Warning! This state contains shysters known to cause poverty, frustration, insanity, waste of time, premature graying of hair, wrinkles, alopecia, ulcers, hypertension, depression, and/or uncontrollable hysterical laughter.

Third, the state of California must erect billboards on every road (interstate, state, county, or local) at distances no greater than one mile (5280 feet) that read:

Warning! Life leads to death.

That’ll simplify things.

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