Coyote n. A small wolf (Canis latrans) native to western North America.



The Old Coyote's alter ego is:

Anthony A. (Swen) Swenson

Mild-mannered archaeologist by day..

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Visits since May 20, 2002

A Coyote at the Dog Show

Sunday, December 31, 2006- - -  
Shootin' at a moving target
Today we have another article on the wolf controversy, basically more of the same. One thing's sure though, the Casper Star's environmental reporter, Whitney Royster, has a problem getting his facts straight. Back on December 25th he told us "Inside the park [Yellowstone], there are about seven breeding packs." Now, barely a week later, "There are estimated to be 23 wolf packs outside Yellowstone National Park, with three packs in the park." I've been following the story for quite awhile and it's almost surreal how often the "facts" change. Oddly, the writers and editors at the Casper Star don't seem to notice.

Granted, these are elusive varmints. Possibly there's some confusion between "packs" and "breeding packs", and everything is "estimated" and "about". Ultimately, I get the distinct impression that the wolf management folks don't have the foggiest notion how many wolves there are, or where they might be at any time. If that is the case, it would be nice to know. Instead, our illustrious news gatherers blithely give us a mash of numbers that change almost daily, with no explanation why that might be so.

@7:46 AM

Good stuff, Maynard!!
The dry air of the Wyoming winter gives me miserably chapped hands, often so bad that my knuckles crack and bleed. I've tried all sorts of hand lotions and creams. Some were greasy, some were sticky, some were watery, and none of them worked very well or for very long.

Well this stuff does. It comes in a big 'ol tub but a little goes a long way. It dries and leaves a waterproof but not terribly noticeable film that lasts a long while. It's "unscented", meaning it has only a faint chemically smell. Best of all, since I found this stuff a couple months ago, for the first time in years my hands aren't chapped at all. No kiddin', this is good stuff.

@5:42 AM

Saturday, December 30, 2006- - -  
Doin' the hangman's dance
There's great hand-wringing today over whether to show video of Saddam's hanging. My wife says 'funny, they didn't have any problem showing the beheadings'. I'm just sorry they couldn't leave his carcass to rot, hanging from a lamp post in Baghdad's town square. We don't need to see it, but some folks in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia might find it instructive. Or not. They've been given every reason to believe that the Wimp in Chief won't act against them.

@7:45 AM

The "Canadian Ice Service"?
Well, it's not an uncommon comodity in the Great White North. I bet the folks in Cheyenne are wishing they had a Wyoming Ice Service, with their record-setting December snows. (Hey! Something else we could piss some money away on.)

We caught the story on the Ayles ice shelf last night on ABC News, where we were told that the shelf breaking away is the latest evidence for global warming. Then they cut to a story on the big snow storm in Colorado. Oddly enough they didn't bill the blizzard as evidence of global cooling.

@7:07 AM

Bad kitty!!
A mountain lion has pounced on a 7-year-old boy and attempted to drag him into the woods near Boulder before it was driven off by family members.

Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for the state Division of Wildlife says "The mountain lion may have been confused and thought the boy was prey because of his size." If found the cat will be killed because it might "strike again".

Confused? Or just hungry after a week of bad weather and not terribly fussy? I'd think that this particular cat would be less likely to attack a human again after being driven off once. I'd also expect any lion to take a child if it got the chance -- they're the right size, left unattended they are prey. No confusion involved. Except perhaps on the part of folks who think that humans aren't part of the food chain.

@6:21 AM

Friday, December 29, 2006- - -  
The Big Storm..
Hasn't materialized here in Ft. Morgan, CO, where we got a skiff last night but nothing more until now. It's coming down hard right now, but we still have less than half an inch.

The volume of whining and back-biting from Denver and the 'burbs is unabated and I think David Harsanyi of the Denver Post says it best: "And frankly, the last thing I expected in Colorado was to see politicians panicking over snow. It just sends a really weird message to tourists."

Humph. We haven't had a real winter in 20 years, during which time the Front Range has been growing at 10%+ per year. That's a lot of tourists. Stop whinin' ya big babies. You moved out here to the Rocky Mountains. Get it? Mountains! It's not a disaster, it's an adventure.

Update: Well, we wound up with only an inch or so of fresh snow on Ft. Mo. The threat of another major dump did motivate the local powers that be to mobilize though. We saw beet trucks and even heavy earth movers hauling snow yesterday and at least some of the main routes were being cleared up.

I suppose I should remember Bilbo's observation on adventures being more fun to hear about than to live through. We are way ready to head south, but it looks like we can't get there from here without risking our own adventure. So here we sit. 'Course, it sounds like Texas is getting it's share of bad weather right now too.

@8:14 AM

Some things never change..
"I know the American people. They have a way of erecting a triumphal arch, and after the Conquering Hero has passed beneath it he may expect to receive a shower of bricks on his back at any moment."
-- Theodore Roosevelt, as quoted by Candice Millard

Update: Via FoxNews [yes, I'm that bored] the latest poll says George W. Bush is more reviled than Osama bin Laden and more admired than Jesus Christ. So much for being a uniter.

@5:38 AM

Thursday, December 28, 2006- - -  
Shot himself in the foot
Sounds like the sort of highly trained professional I'd trust with a gun.

@8:00 AM

Everyone complains about the weather..
But nobody does anything about it, even if it means not getting re-elected! Now I'm not above bitching about the sorry snow removal efforts we've seen here in Colorful Colorado (mostly white at the moment), but it occurs to me that there's a certain practicality to be considered. Sure, Denver could have every street plowed out in no time flat, if they had enough snow plows and enough people to drive them. But I can't remember the last time we got snow like this (probably the winter of 1983-84). What would it cost to keep all that equipment standing by largely unneeded, and what would be the political cost to anyone who'd suggested that it was needed a month or so ago?

That's not to excuse the Ft. Morgan street department, who do have at least one plow (a snowblower from hell) and one truck. We saw them out clearing the main drag when we first arrived, but haven't seen them since, and they've barely made a dent in the mess, even on that main drag. But when you haven't had a significant snowfall in 20+ years it's a bit unfair to expect a fleet of plows to appear overnight.

The Hick says they've got a plan to do better with the next snow (the Weather Channel is saying 12-24" in Denver today and tomorrow, Yow, Yow, YOW!!), but I can't imagine what they could do better, short of buying more plows or bringing them in from someplace outside the snow's footprint. As someone once counciled, patience, Rome wasn't plowed in a day! The proposal is to hire contractors (so the maul lots won't be getting plowed) and to mobilize a fleet of small trucks with plows, which will help, but not much if they get that much snow. We shall see.

[Sigh] We usually try not to stay more than 3-4 days. The mother-in-law will cook like we haven't eaten in weeks and otherwise make a big fuss, which pretty well wears her out (she didn't even go mauling with us yesterday [gasp!]). But this time she may be stuck with us for awhile yet. I'm debating whether to chain up now, or wait until I have to grovel in a couple feet of fresh snow. Forgot my darn potato suit (Carhartt coveralls) because I wasn't planning on a winter survival scenario, so I'm going to get a bit soggy regardless if it comes to that. On the other hand, I do have a big shovel, two sets of farm-duty chains, and a serious 4WD, so I've no fear of being stranded. Having grown up in NoDak, it will take a lot worse weather than I've seen so far to bother me. But I still wish we were in Texas.. South Texas.

@7:06 AM

First impressions
What a Monster! Yep, my new wristwatch arrived yesterday, a bit late, but that's understandable with the weather out this way.

My very first impression was formed before I'd opened the package, one of Amazon's standard 9 x 12" boxes. I picked it up assuming it would feel empty, but instead it felt like it contained a small rock or half of one of those three-hole "Minnesota bowling ball" bricks. That impression was reinforced when I opened the shipping box to find a watch box inside that was the size, shape and weight of half a brick. And the weight isn't in the packaging, this little beast is one astonishingly heavy hunk of steel. Wear it diving and you'd need one less lead plate on the weight belt. There's nothing dainty about it.

On the plus side, it is solid steel, beautifully fit and finished. It ought to be nearly indestructable, short of using it as a hammer, which you could do in a pinch. Put it on and rub your other hand all over it, you won't feel any rough, sharp edges (and this goes a long way toward easing any discomfort from its weight. The timer bezel is raised considerably around its outer edge, giving the crystal good protection, and it turns smoothly, if a bit stiffly. The crown screws down, sealing the case. Screwed out, it easily and positively sets the day, date, and time (there's no provision for winding, the instructions say you should shake it gently for 30 seconds to start it, but mine was running when it arrived). Holding it to my abused ear I can bearly hear it tick, quite unlike the cheapo watches I've had that didn't so much tick as clank. Overall, it gives the impression of solidity and precision manufacture.

It lacks numbers around its black face, which doesn't trouble me. The luminous hands and dial markings glow very brightly right out of the box, and appear to be picking up added glow, even though it's only been exposed to artificial light so far.

A goodly part of the little monster's weight is in its band, which nicely balances the weight of the watch (a rubber band is also available and likely much lighter). Each link is milled, solid steel and the clasp is very solid and secure, complete with a safety latch. As it arrived it was actually two links too long for my fairly good-sized wrist, and ought to be big enough to fit most anybody. It took me some puzzling to see how to remove the extra links, as there's no instructions. I suppose they figure if you have to ask you'd better take it to a jeweler, which is probably a good idea unless you're fairly handy.

Each link is secured with a pin that has a slightly enlarged and elongated head on one end and is secured in the band by a tiny split bushing the same size and shape as the pin's head. Arrows on the back of the links show which way to drive out the pin (be sure to put them back the same way!) and working on a towel or cloth insures that you won't lose that tiny bushing. I filed the point off a straight pin and, bracing the band over the edge of the shipping box, gently tapped the pins out. Then I used the extra pins (one per link and I was removing two) to press the pin in from the side opposite the little arrow (!), and press the bushing back down on the small end of the pin from the arrow side.

Having bought the watch mail order for something less than half retail (it costs money to keep the lights on in the jewelry store doncha know) I didn't want to take it to a jeweler for fitting, who would quite justifiably charge a cheapskate like me an arm and a leg for what really is a pretty simple operation. I also have considerable faith in my mechanical abilities and I did manage to do the job without marring the watch or losing any of the tiny bits in the process. I also know what I think of the knuckleheads who show up on my doorstep with a gun, in pieces, in a box. I don't need that kind of embarrassment, so I was careful and studied the assembly before I started picking it apart. I stress the proper reassembly because, once the watch has a little wear on it I wouldn't be so reluctant to take it to a Seiko dealer for any readjustment. Put a pin in backward and someone down the line is going to have a devil of a time getting it out again.

Finally, the clasp has a double-ended, spring-loaded pin in one end of its hinge, and this is used for fine adjustment. As heavy as this beast is, I wanted it to fit fairly tight on my wrist. A few hours later when my hand started turning blue I backed off one notch, which seems more comfortable, although it does allow the watch to shift a tiny bit on my wrist.

I should also note that the band has a nifty "lengthener", which works just like the main folding clasp to extend the band to fit over a wetsuit. Not particularly useful to me as I've never scuba-dived in my life -- not that I'd turn down the opportunity -- but it's a nice feature if I ever need to wear it over a space suit (you never know and I haven't given up hope). Hehe, if anyone asks if I'm a diver I think I'll tell 'em it also works in the vacuum of space! I'd think it would, if it can handle 20-odd atmospheres of pressure 15# less shouldn't be a problem, no? I'd love to find out!

Over all, I'm quite tickled with my new toy. It's solid and gives the impression of being well built. And it ticks!

@2:58 AM

Wednesday, December 27, 2006- - -  
Off the road again!
We made it to Ft. Mo, no thanks to the Wyo Highway Dept., who have the strangest system for closing the Interstate at Wheatland that I've ever seen. They wait until you're a couple miles south of Wheatland to tell you the road is closed at Chugwater, so there's no exit. Instead, you turn around on a crossover. Then, if you want to detour around you have to drive 20 miles back north to catch the highway to Torrington. We decided to keep on going east to Scotts Bluff and then straight south to Ft. Morgan. The roads were fine all the way. Not so fine at Chugwater though, where they got "3 feet of snow!" according to the WYDOT guy who was directing traffic at the turn-around. So that wasn't just a slick spot and it was "road closed purple" not "no unnecessary travel red" on the WYDOT road condition map. Grrr. Seems the road had been closed since before Christmas, which you'd think would rate a mention in the newspaper. I suppose they get holidays off too.

We didn't "Linger in Lingle" -- which sounds like a painful way to go -- and only tarried in Torrington long enough to tank up. Hit the west bypass at Scotts Bluff and slowed way down for the axle-breaking RR-crossing, only to find that they'd fixed it, finally. It is a little eerie to look east across the plains from Scotts Bluff and see.. no mountains, a sight that made me hang a hard right and head for the Colorado Front Range. You can tell that Kimball, Neb., is a sleepy farming community, the old farmers were having a chat in the middle of main street when we came along -- "traffic? Don't see much of that!" -- but they let us by with big grins & waves when they saw from our plates that we're practically locals.

Finally got to Ft. Morgan to find that the mayor is feuding with the city employees, who have barely begun to dig out the streets a week after they got 22" of snow. If it weren't for 4WDs busting through you wouldn't be able to get around at all. I got stuck right in the middle of the street just down from the M-I-L's, in the swanky part of town. Sure was glad to be able to reach down and grab the 'get unstuck' lever. We'll "relax" here (going to the mauls today, god help us) for a few days, ride out the next storm, predicted for Thursday, and then head south fast as I can peddle.

As Mike Compton says "Life is Good."

@6:40 AM

Tuesday, December 26, 2006- - -  
What's with Rawlins?
Rock Springs in booming, with new housing going up like mushrooms after a spring rain (although I've a feeling they'll get all those houses ready to occupy about the time the boom goes bust). Even Wamsucker is booming, with BP building a big office/shop there. But Rawlins, just a few miles up the road and much larger than Wamsutter, lays there like something you'd find dead in the road. It's a puzzlement.

I think the Gov is right to resist building a housing complex for the prison workers. You do become like those with whom you associate, so it's better to spread them out throughout the community so they don't associate 24/7 with nobody but prisoners and guards. It would also set a bad precident if the state starts subsidizing state employee housing. As the Gov notes, it's more expensive to live in Cheyenne and that's where most state emloyees live, so why not subsidize them too?

Finally, Rawlins is getting a WalMart, so there will be some growth because there has to be. Better to let private industry provide the housing and not a good thing to cut them off at the knees just when there are some prospects of development.

[Insert standard rant about state employees not deserving raises but needing them anyway.]

@7:07 AM

On the way!
I hope that jolly old fly-by-night brought you something nice for Christmas! He brought us a break in the weather and we're on the road. Finally. The WYDOT road condition map, web cams, and weather stations are really handy, but they do tend to cause paralysis through analysis -- the roads are always going to be crappy somewhere this time of year. From what we saw between Worlando and Douglas yesterday, I'm glad we waited though. It must have been a mess on Sunday and, coupled with all the folks trying to get somewhere for Christmas, none too safe.

Right now they're recommending "no unnecessary travel" between Chugwater & Cheyenne, but I suspect that's due to the snow melting on the roads yesterday andthen freezing last night; it's probably a skatin' rink out there, but we'll wait until the sun warms things up a bit. We're installed at the Douglas KOA for the night (the jackalope capitol of Wyoming!). Sans water and sewer (too cold to mess with it), but the heaters are cranking and we're warm as a bug in a rug.

We'll head for Ft. Morgan soon as the roads clear up and hopefully before the wind starts howling. We'll get there before everyone else leaves, so we'll get to spend some time with all the wife's cousins, an odd lot. Yes, they all ran away to the city and became bankers and economists and college professors. Fortunately, one stayed behind and married a farmer, letting me narrowly dodge that bullet. (When they found out I could fix things they figured they had a live one, but I'm way too lazy to farm.)

After a belated Christmas with the M-I-L we'll do a little power shopping in Denver, but only a little, we're saving room in the fridge for Trader Joe's in Santa Fe and we'll restock the wine cellar there too -- their house cabernet is very nice and $4 a bottle or thereabout, beat me with that stick! Then off to Big Bend as fast as we can peddle.

We've got the guide books and the maps, and we're going hiking in the desert to see all the old ruins and petroglyphs (yep, a busman's holiday). By the way, these maps are great! Around a hundred bucks per state and you get all the 1:250,000, 1:100,000, and 1:24,000 topographic maps for the whole state, in digital format on CDs. With the paper topos running around $12 each, if you can find them, you're getting the equivalent of thousands of dollars worth of maps. Best of all, you can blow them up, shrink them down, paste them together, or whatever you want to do to customize them (I usually print out bits of maps on 8.5 x 11" paper to make them easier to handle in the wind). Buy a copy of OziExplorer, load up your iFinder, and boldly go darn near anywhere. Even Texas.

@4:29 AM

Monday, December 25, 2006- - -  
Just grin & stare, Davy!
You've got to love this. Two more articles in yesterday's Casper Star on wolf reintroduction. First we're told:
Neither [Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator for Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, nor Jeff Allen, policy adviser for Idaho's Office of Species Conservation] said Wyoming was being rewarded for being stubborn, instead focusing on what their states face with wolves. Wyoming will still be required to maintain its fair share of wolves, both said.
And then we have this:
The shift in the federal position regarding Wyoming's wolf plan may herald a new way for states to deal with the federal government, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said last week.

Schweitzer said Wyoming's willingness to dig its heels in over control of wolves -- and convince the federal government to compromise -- might be an important lesson on how Montana should deal with federal agencies over bison management controversies outside Yellowstone.

"That sly old Dave Freudenthal, he stared the feds down," Schweitzer told the Billings Gazette.
[emphasis added]
Yes indeed. Let's hope staring the feds down becomes a popular sport throughout the Rocky Mountain west. It certainly works better on feds than it does on bears and, after all, what are they gonna do, sic the wolves on us?

Update: I suppose we ought to be careful though. It's probably not wise to mock them too loudly when they're trying to beat a graceful retreat. But man it's hard not to. Notice that the original goal of wolf reintroduction was to establish seven packs in Wyoming. There are seven packs in Yellowstone. But somehow that goalpost got moved, first to wolves throughout the "greater Yellowstone" area, however that might be defined, and then to protected wolves throughout Wyoming. Wyoming's wolf management plan is just trying to push them back to the greater Yellowstone area, which was more than the feds originally wanted, but somehow not enough to satisfy them. That's just too eminently mockable and it's hard not to slap their over-reaching fingers when we've got the chance.

@7:05 AM

Merry Christmas!

@5:41 AM

Sunday, December 24, 2006- - -  
Unreal Libertarians
The InstaPundit links to an interesting discussion at the Volokhs' where.. well, let's just say I didn't exactly cover myself with glory here. Must the Libertarian Party die? Or is it possible for them to grow up?

Update: There's some very interesting discussion over at Hit & Run, complete with some fine examples of the problem: 'Tsk! Pay no attention to this, we've heard it all before. Just because the LP tends to kill the ones it loves doesn't mean we have a probem. It's your problem! We can't hear you Nyah, nyah'. In denial? You bet.

@6:14 PM

Something to watch for..
A couple of months back my pocket watch quit and I've been debating what to do about it ever since. I've carried a pocket watch the last 20 years or so because I can't wear an electic wristwatch. Must be my magnetic personality. Whatever the problem might be, I can kill even a relatively expensive electric watch in about 6 months. After returning a fancy Bulova to their factory three times they sent me a check instead of a new watch. "Forget it, it's not the watch so it must be you" was their diagnosis. Being a stubborn cuss, I bought an electronic Seiko and proved the Bulova techs right -- it died too.

But I can carry an electric pocket watch, so I've bought several over the years. Unfortunately, I kill them almost as quickly through the simple expedient of dropping them on the tile floor or concrete sidewalk. This has made me think that cheaper is better, as I've proven I can break a $100 Cabela's Field Watch just as quickly as a $20 WalMart special. In fact the WallyWorldWatch has a fighting chance of dying of old age before I break it! (Is that a bug or a feature?) Unfortunately, the cheap watches don't last long no matter what, they don't survive even one trip through the washer, and pride of ownership isn't their big selling feature.

It didn't used to be that way. From the time I learned to tell time until I graduated from high school I wore my dad's old military Benrus self-winder, giving it back only when my folks gave me that first Bulova Acutron as a high school graduation present in 1973 (back then it was worth more than my car). And that's when my troubles began. I killed three Acutrons and a Seiko before I graduated from college, and was 'timeless' for a good part of that time. I finally broke down and bought a $20 Timex self-winder, which lasted through my brief but entertaining military career, and out-lasted Timex' resolve to manufacture the things, as none such were available to replace it when it finally died five or six years later. In fact, by then there were no self-winding watches available that didn't come encrusted with at least a few diamonds & rubies. The affordable ones had all been killed off by electronics. So.. I started carrying a pocket watch, figuring that one day when I was rich & famous I'd treat myself to one of those spendy self-winders.

Sigh. Well, I'm not rich yet and more infamous than famous. But I've found myself an affordable, if somewhat humongous self-winder! It seems that Seiko has been making these things all along, they just haven't been marketing them very agressively in the US (go figure). Then a month or so ago I got a catalog of "collector's watches" which featured self-winding movements. Most were of the 'crusted with diamonds & rubies' variety, but some were only painfully expensive, as opposed to ridiculously expensive. This got me to thinking and I started shopping, finally settling on the Black Monster (because it's 10 bucks cheaper than the Orange Monster or Yellow Monster).

I first suspected they call them "Monsters" because of their size & weight, which some folks find excessive. Naturally, I didn't read that review until I'd ordered one up. Buyer's remorse set in before I'd set eyes on the thing (which I had delivered to the M-I-L's, where we were supposed to be today). What had I done? Would this thing really make my knuckles drag on the ground (worse than normal?)? Was it really that big?

Well, no. At least it doesn't sound like it's that much, if any, worse than the "staggeringly heavy" Rolex Submariner I've always coveted, but perhaps I should have done a bit more research before I jumped. If nothing else, I would have found this really cool "review" of the Monster's innerds. I put "review" in scare quotes quite advisedly, the guy takes one apart and comments on each bit. Yikes! Now I suspect it's called a monster because it's built like a little tank. A bit crude around the edges and perhaps more subject to wear than a really high-end watch, but then I can wear out 37 of them for the price of one Submariner. Maybe before then I will become rich & famous, eh?

I'll let you know what I think of the little monster after I've given it a good workout. Frankly, I think it would be silly to buy one of these if you can wear an electric; they're much less expensive for comparable quality, and you don't have to wander about looking like you have Walter Mitty dreams involving sunken treasure. The electric is going to keep better time than a mechanical watch too. So why do they make self-winders at all? Well, most of these modern self-winders are dive watches. I suspect they're self-winding because, when your watch is water resistant to ridiculous depths (660'!), you don't want someone opening it up to change the battery. Just a theory, but it stands to reason. It also stands to reason that it would survive a trip or two through the washer or down the river. We'll have to see about that.

Update: Okay, my buyer's remorse is cured. After posting this I spent some time poking around the rest of the PuristS web site, to see what they recommend in a watch. Which one of these items doesn't belong? Yep, they review watches by Patek Philippe, Daniel Roth, Girard Perregaux, Audemars Piguet, and a slew of others that you can't touch for under five figures, most of which I've never heard of (these guys don't waste time on anything so pedestrian as a Rolex or Omega), and the lowly Seiko Monster's 7S26 movement. It sticks out like a plow horse in a stable of thoroughbreds, an essentially disposable watch among a field of heirlooms, but I couldn't ask for a better endorsement.

@11:33 AM

Christmas, 1955
Here's one from the big box of old Christmas cards. It's not dated, but I know it must have been 1955 'cause I'd recognize that square-headed little punk in the middle anywhere.. it's me.

Great hair, Mom! And check out those curtains. I hope they came with the apartment.

@11:21 AM

Saturday, December 23, 2006- - -  
All hitched up and nowhere to go
I guess we won't be leaving for points south today after all. We only got a couple inches of snow, but the roads will be a mess. A look at the WYDOT* road report map and highway web cams tells me it's not a good idea to be dragging that 36-footer down the highway today.

*The bazillion bucks we give them every year isn't entirely wasted. The roads are in great shape too. Unfortunately, after all their recent whining about lack of funds and shortage of snowplow drivers (just scroll down), I've a feeling they won't be busting their butts to get the plows out on a Saturday morning.

@8:32 AM

Friday, December 22, 2006- - -  
Those darn immigrants!
An interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal prompted me to do a little digging, whereupon I discovered an even more interesting article on the economics of immigration, legal and otherwise.

One thing's for certain here, the supply and demand for immigrants is way out of wack. With some 11.5 million illegal aliens in the country, many, if not most from Mexico, we're issuing an average of 65,882 visas to Mexican nationals each year. )According to the US State Department, they've issued 856,466 visas, of all kinds including replacements, to Mexican nationals in the 13 years from 1992 to 2004.) When demand so far outstrips supply, no matter the commodity, you're going to get a black market and underground economy as inevitably as night follows day. It will be fascinating to see how we deal with the problem in the coming years.

@8:15 AM

So darn scenic..
It almost hurts your eyes. The Wind River Canyon is Wyoming's newest Scenic Byway, joining 15 others in the state. It's certainly one of my favorite places and I never tire of driving through. And, it's on the way to Yellowstone! Need I mention that eight of the sixteen offically scenic drives are in the Bighorn Basin or surrounding mountains? Actually, I'm not sure how they picked these particular spots, the whole darn place is just too scenic for words.

@7:39 AM

Wow! Wyoming's population has hit an all-time high at 515,004, up almost 5000 since 1983. Time to head for west Texas, it's gettin' crowded around here.

@7:29 AM

Give 'em a big Red Star!
They're still the Pravda on the Platte, at least when all the editors are off for the Holidays. This one nicely illustrates the problem with polling too.

In a sidebar on the Casper Star's main web page today they ask: "What should happen with oil and gas development in the remote Wyoming Range in western Wyoming: unlimited development, slow development with limited impact, or no development at all?"

"Remote" compared to what? Yes, it's a long way from Casper, but it's right in your back yard if you live in Kemmerer ('Where the jet stream touches the ground!') or Jackson. At least they didn't use 'untouched' or 'pristine', I suppose that's what they mean when they promise '4 oz of water in an 8 oz glass'.

"Unlimited development"? Now there's a nice bogeyman. There's no such thing. Every development is subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Environmental permitting is a big business (it's my business!). If it were easy anybody could do it, but it's not. It's not unusual for a single, 2-acre well pad to require reams of documents covering the reviews of potential impacts to air quality, water quality, soils & erosion, wildlife, scenic qualities, historic and archaeological concerns, and more. No well will be drilled until an archaeologist, a wildlife biologist, and a range conservationist have done their on-site dance and produced their reports (in triplicate!). Depending on the findings of those reports and the particular situation the historians, botanists, hydrologists, and prairie dog counters may be called in. All at the expense of the drilling company.

Eventually, all this information is compiled into an APD packet. Each 'Application for Permit to Drill' is reviewed by the federal land managing agency (most minerals in Wyoming are part of the federal estate), where a whole slew of specialists must individually bless the project. Then it goes to various state agencies for review, where someone will get right on it just as soon as they've cleared up their crushing backlog of meetings and coffee breaks. The process always takes several weeks and can take months. And that's if there are no issues.

All this environmental review isn't a bad thing (consider the alternative!) but it is expensive and time-consuming, and not nearly the free-for-all implied by the term "unlimited development". The whole point of the NEPA process is to limit the impacts of development, the "slow" part is just a side-effect, but not inconsequential.

So, the real choices are between "slow development with limited impact" and "no development at all". I think I can guess which is the preferred alternative of our polster.

Update: Now this is interesting. Twenty-four hours later and the poll has 157 responses. They've got it rigged so you can only vote once (per URL? Whatever) and here's the results: 57 (36%) vote "unlimited", 69 (44%) vote "slow", and 31 (20%) vote "none". So 80% of respondents vote either for the status quo or for development with even fewer restrictions than are now in place. I suppose I'd assumed most folks would vote for the status quo. I'm not surprised that 20% voted for no development, that category subsumes those folks who may have been swayed by the "remote" designation and justly horrified by the "unlimited" alternative. It also includes that 10% of our population who would like to see everyone else getting around on bicycles like the wogs they perceive us to be.

What I'm surprised by is the 36% who voted for "unlimited" development. Casper is an oil town so perhaps many of these folks are voting their pocketbooks. Others who actually work with oilfield permitting or know how it works may be a bit fed up, like me.

I voted "unlimited", partly to tweak the polsters and partly as a 'push-back' because this (<---) is what I've been doing for the last few days. What you see on the left is an 'affidavit of cultural resource inventory' for a modest oil & gas development, ready for the mail (Yeah!!). The actual report is in quadruplicate, with two sets of supporting documentation, one for the feds, one for the state. It's a bit over a ream of paper and it took a bit under a month of fieldwork and writing, and more than a couple of pots of coffee to produce. And this is one of the smaller reports I've produced in the last few years! It's not unusual for each copy of the supporting documentation to burn a ream or two of paper and each report to go 200-300 pages (but then I specialize in the really big, ugly, short-fused projects that a lot of folks don't want to do. 14-hour days anyone? We all find our niche.)

Now, nobody actually reads this stuff*, it's mostly for ass-covering and the bigger the pile of paper the more asses it will cover (starting with mine and my clients', which are all I really care about). All the actually pertinent information will be summarized in a one page cover letter and a couple of tables and photographs at the front of the report. ("Nice Yellowstone obsidian atlatl dart point, huh?") Generating reams of paper with a box checked here and a couple words inserted there gets tiresome. It's expensive, time-consuming, and tedious, and it's mostly bureaucratic masturbation. Some folks think it's not nearly enough. And now you know why you pay $2 a gallon for gasoline.

Another Update: In today's Pravda we're told that "locals seek to protect Wyoming Range from development." It helps to know that the dateline is from Daniel, which was a virtual ghost town until the Californians moved in and started building McMansions. Locals my hairy butt. These folks are the worst sort of 'I got mine, now keep everyone else out!' tree house environmentalists. They built a modest three-story summer home with cathedral windows on the top of a high ridge to get that great view. Then they clap a titty-pink tin roof on it so we can all see it shining in the sun for thirty miles. Meanwhile, they bitch about an 8-foot-tall gas wellhead hiding out in the forest somewhere.

Actually, the biggest problem out in the Daniel area are the 40-acre "ranchettes", each grazing half-a-dozen horses. They just love this country so much that they come out here and pound it to death. The ignorant sluts.

*Actually, my friend at the Bureau of Reclamation really will read all of this one and examine all the support docs. He's that rare bird, a conscientious and dedicated government employee who actually cares about doing a good job. (It never crossed my mind that he might be reading this, but it's true.)

@5:43 AM

Thursday, December 21, 2006- - -  
Pondering the imponderable
Can any one politician produce enough hot air to affect the global climate, or does it take the bipartisan efforts of the whole lot?

Update: Ayee!! My old laptop is so screwed up! I blame it on this new Internet Explorer Version 7, which does just as poor a job of cleaning up after itself as previous versions. The new IE7 exacerbates the problem by locking up every now and then, leaving behind a wad of unerased temp files and various crap in RAM that soon clogs up the system. A quick manual cleaning fixes the problem for awhile, but you'd think after all these years the folks at Microsoft would have figured out that this isn't "good enough".

You can see a rather extreme example of the problem in this multiple posting. The buggered thing stutters. As the RAM and temp files folder fill up the machine starts to get hinkey, dropping out single letters, syllables, words, and even whole phrases. Go back and type in the missing bits and, often as not, the computer will also fill them in from the typing buffer. Hit the "publish" button and nothing happens, then hit it again and get a triple post. It's most annoying.

@8:27 AM

Pondering the imponderable
Can any one politician produce enough hot air to affect the global climate, or does it take the bipartisan efforts of the whole lot?

@8:27 AM

Pondering the imponderable
Can any one politician produce enough hot air to affect the global climate, or does it take the bipartisan efforts of the whole lot?

@8:27 AM

But it's cold out there!
The InstaPundit's post on fake but true reporting reminds me to comment on the Weather Channel's coverage of the Big Storm. We were watching last evening while they did their usual bit with a weatherman standing out in the storm (Jim Cantori? Something like that) when we noticed that he didn't seem to be buffeted by the winds quite as you'd expect. He was all bundled up, but it looked like the foul weather gear was for effect, while they played the blizzard on a screen behind him.

A handy way to put your anchorman on the scene when he can't get there in real life, I suppose. I've always thought those "outside in the storm" shots were a bit hokey -- adding drama to the weather report? What's next, sports reports by some middle-aged short guy in a basketball jersey? But staging the outdoor scenes seems both sensible on one level, and a further Geraldoization of the news on another. I'm not sure whether the Weather Channel bit was actually staged, perhaps the guy is so bottom-heavy he doesn't lean into the wind. Whatever. Now if they'd had Cantori rescue some little old lady and her dog, twice..

@6:59 AM

Wednesday, December 20, 2006- - -  
Snow? What snow?
The Wyoming Department of Transportation issued a warning on Monday that snow removal on interstates and state highways will be lacking this winter because the booming energy industry is pulling drivers from the state's snow plow fleet. Forty-five of WYDOT's 391 permanent driver positions statewide are vacant, according to the agency.
So they'll be driving a little faster than their usual 10 mph then?
The driver shortage is most pronounced in the southwest and northeast, where intense energy development has exacerbated the demand for workers with commercial driver's licenses.


WYDOT's pay range for snow plow drivers is $8.36 to $14.90 per hour, depending on experience. That relatively low starting wage is a big part of WYDOT's problem, according to Chris Corlis, director of energy training at the Wyoming Contractors Association.


"If your beginning wage is less than $10 per hour, and you require a CDL, you're going to have a problem," Corlis said. "There is just such a huge demand among companies like Halliburton, Schlumberger and all energy transportation and construction."
Guess I should have kept my CDL, huh? Wyoming state employee pay is notoriously bad, and you do get what you pay for, don't you?

Update: Me & my big mouth

@8:44 AM

That's adding insult to injury!
Retiring, but apparently not shy, Nebraska state Sen. Tom Baker of Trenton says the Cornhusker State should consider the idea of making Interstate 80 a toll road through his state to help pay for maintenance and road construction. Driving across Wyoming on I-80 is bad enough, but driving east across Nebraska all you've got to look forward to is Iowa. Miles and miles of miles and miles.

I'm not sure why they would suggest inviting Colorado to sit on a committee considering this proposal; I-80 doesn't go through Colorado. On the other hand, the Greenies have been trying to divert the route to Denver since at least 1912.

@8:06 AM

That's one big canid
Friends took this photo a couple of months ago near Medicine Lodge Creek state park, on the western foothills of the Bighorn Mountains (Yes, quite a bit outside the "Greater Yellowstone" area). Either someone was walking their Great Dane, or.. Notice there's no human footprints in the dried mud of the trail.

Which leads up to today's wolf tale. I know I'm reading between the lines here, in thinking that the USFWS is ready to cut & run on the wolves, but here's another little bit that tends to confirm my suspicions that the feds know they've created a monster they don't want to be held responsible for.

First consider this as bureaucrats do: Wildlife management programs such as wolf reintroduction are budget line items. That's why I suggest that our Game & Fish guys are shedding crocodile tears at the prospect of taking over wolf management duties. More money in the budget? Heaven forfend! It's not like they actually have to do anything useful with the money, the size of the budget and size of the staff are major measures of status for the managers.

I suspect that's why grizzly bears haven't been delisted even though they met their population goals under the Endangered Species Act several years ago, which was to trip the delisting trigger. Why hurry? It's good money and it employs a lot of federal wildlife biologists. Protecting all those cute fuzzy animals is good politics on the coasts. There's absolutely no incentive to pass off griz management to the state and I don't expect to see it happen any time soon. (Nor would the federal griz guys want to become state employees and take the huge pay cut that would entail. They're in a tough spot, after managing grizzlies, who would want to retrain as a snail darter expert?)

Contrast that with today's news that the USFWS intends to push forward with wolf delisting in Montana and Idaho despite Wyoming's recalcitrance. I can see why. According to the article, "Idaho is estimated to have 650 wolves in about 60 packs, while Montana has 270 and Wyoming 309." And that's just the ones they know the whereabouts of.. Under the USFWS plan, Montana and Idaho would have complete control over their wolf populations in 12 months. Complete control. The feds want to completely divest themselves of control over and responsibility for wolves. They don't want to do it someday, maybe, as they've promised to do with the griz, they want to do it now. Why is that, do you suppose?

I suspect they've discovered that maintaining the population of wolves near some target figure is a fool's errand. Like any other predator species, their population would naturally rise and fall in response to the availability of prey, whose populations rise and fall in response to the availability of forage (and a lot of other factors such as disease). The population of wolves will fall off after they've eaten most of the wild ungulates and made themselves a huge nuissance to all the ranchers. Short of that, actively controlling their population is an expensive business (they're finding this out) and puts them in a position where they don't look so good to the bunny huggers back in the big cities.

I think Gov Freudenthal knows all this far better than I, and that's why Wyoming is pressing ahead with our law suit against the USFWS' rejection of our 'shoot on sight' wolf plan. Notice from today's article that Montana and Idaho have agreed to manage their wolves as big game species just like mountain lions and black bears. (You may have noticed that this is working really well with the mountain lions.) Finally, I suspect that if we continue to be obstinate it won't be long before the USFWS is begging the state to take the wolves off their hands with no conditions whatsoever, even if it means a program of active eradication.

I hope that last doesn't happen. I don't mind the wolves nearly so much as I mind the high-handed manner in which they were forced on us. So the more pain inflicted on the USFWS over this the less chance they'll be back with some scheme to reintroduce caribou, or captively breed jumping mice, or some such. If every single person in the USFWS decides they never want to set foot in Wyoming again, that would be just fine by me.

@6:19 AM

Tuesday, December 19, 2006- - -  
USFWS bows to reality
CHEYENNE -- In July, the Fish and Wildlife Service cited the predator provision in the state wolf management plan as the primary reason for rejecting the document.

Mitch King, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Denver-based Mountain-Prairie Region, said Monday that an expanded trophy game area in Wyoming would make the predator provision palatable to federal biologists.

“Frankly, when they get out of this area on the map, we shoot them anyway,” King said.
Funny, so do we..
The new plan gives the Wyoming Game and Fish Department control over management of wolves outside Yellowstone National Park and requires the state to maintain at least seven packs outside Yellowstone.


The proposed management plan would allow the state to reduce the number of wolf packs outside Yellowstone from the current 23, which could mean elimination of as many as 16 packs.
Twenty-three packs? Well I guess we know where all the elk went.
Among the tools that might be employed to aggressively manage the wolf population are hunting, trapping, harvest by Game and Fish and lethal take permits for landowners, Cleveland said.

If the Legislature caps the number of wolf packs at the minimum allowed by law -- seven -- Game and Fish would probably be forced to use aircraft snipers to reduce the numbers initially. Cleveland said he anticipates considerable public outcry if that is the case.

Reduced numbers of wolves will benefit the state's elk herds and issues at elk feedgrounds, Cleveland said.

“Other than that, it's going to be a pure headache for me,” he said.
"A couple million more in my annual budget? Oh, woe, woe is me." Somehow, I think he'll get over it. Aerial gunning seems a bit over the top, as is setting some rigid upper limit on the number of wolf packs -- good luck with that. But just in case you thought this was all about science and endangered species:
Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, asked if the Fish and Wildlife Service would be willing to do the initial paring down of wolf packs. King said it likely would not, largely because federal lawsuits and East Coast constituents would make it extremely difficult in political terms.
"It's been fun but we gotta run! So sorry about the mess.."

@6:39 AM

Hangin' out at the cabin

@5:54 AM

Friday, December 15, 2006- - -  
Time is on our side!
Yes it is!
As I noted awhile back, the longer wolf delisting is stalled the more wolves we have, the more problems we have with wolves, and the better Wyoming's "shoot on sight" plan looks.

Now in today's Casper Star we're told that the US Fish & Wildlife Service might be coming around.
Hoping to end the standoff over Wyoming's wolf management plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has quietly suggested what it hopes is a compromise solution.

The plan would alter somewhat the boundaries of the wolf management area in northwest Wyoming, while allowing the state to maintain a controversial provision to manage wolves as predators in most of the state.
This differs only slightly from Wyoming's proposed plan, which was roundly rejected just a few months ago by the feds. The ranchers still don't like it, but to them the only good wolf is a dead wolf. Can't blame them a bit. Personally, I wouldn't mind forking out another $20 for a wolf license to put in my wallet with all the other hunting & fishing licenses I hardly ever have time to use, but many in Wyoming insist on the predator designation. Whatever. Now that we have about twice as many wolves as were called for in the reintroduction plan and "managing" them has become a burden, I won't be at all surprised if the feds cut and run.

@9:56 AM

Check this out!
Stewart-MacDonald luthier's supply is now offering a Trade Secrets Newsletter. I signed up when I received their email notice and just received a newsletter explaining how to use their precision router base (a very handy gadget that works with a Dremel tool) to make your own brad-point bits. In a follow-up it also explains how to precisely measure the diameter of a drill bit. The information is oriented toward luthiers, but it's useful for anyone who does fussy, precision woodworking. Of course they're trying to sell you their products, but they make some very nice tools you won't find anywhere else. And you can never have too many tools, right?

Unfortunately, I can't find any way to link to individual newsletters, nor a list of back issues. Hopefully, they'll get that on-line soon, but you'd better sign up quick just in case they don't. This is good stuff, Maynard.

@7:08 AM

Thursday, December 14, 2006- - -  
Those darn scientists!
According to an OpEd by Erin Roberts at the Denver Post, political appointees in Washington are disregarding science and gambling with Colorado's wildlife. Now I don't know about the boreal toads or the Gunnison sage grouse, perhaps they are on the brink of extinction, but let's take a look at those species I do know something about:

One particular political appointee at Interior has been associated with several tainted decisions. E-mails found by environmental groups during a lawsuit show that Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald ordered U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to reverse their findings on two of Colorado's prairie dog species. The service had determined that both the white-tailed prairie dog of northwestern Colorado and the Gunnison's prairie dog of the southwest might need protection, but MacDonald countermanded these decisions.

The Preble's meadow jumping mouse's fate still hangs in the balance. The scientific community agrees that the jumping mouse is unique and needs protection, and the Department of Interior's own science panel reached the same conclusion this summer, but Interior has delayed the final decision on the mouse's status by four months now.
There are literally millions of whitetailed prairie dogs in northwest Colorado and southwest Wyoming. They're rodents. Over the last 100 years we've poisoned them, trapped them, shot them, gassed them, and drowned them out in an active attempt to eradicate them, and there are still millions of them. There is some argument for protecting at least local populations of them as black-tailed ferret prey species, but endangered? Please.

The best argument for protecting the PDs is that their populations are way down from historic levels. That's true, but it's due to loss of habitat on the plains as the grasslands went under the plow. No mount of protection in Colorado and Wyoming is going to help the species recover back in Kansas and Iowa. They're not in danger of losing significant amounts of habitat in western Colorado or Wyoming.

In fact, the little buggers are everywhere. The folks who want them listed aren't afraid they'll go extinct, they want to use the PDs as a tool to screw with energy development; they're a useful tool because they are everywhere. It's this inclination to use the Endangered Species Act with ulterior motives that endangers the Act. There really are species that really are endangered and deserve consideration in our land use decisions. The boobs that use the Act as a tool risk weakening the Act. I've brought this up with various of the "environmentally concerned" over the years and they're well aware of what they're risking. They don't care. They have another agenda and if they have to sacrifice the whooping cranes and the black-footed ferrets, so be it.

Then there's the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. The scientists don't even agree on whether the darn things exist. The Sustainable Ecosystems Institute says they're a unique species, but then I think we can assume their bias from their name, eh? On the other hand, Rob Roy Ramey, who headed the zoology department at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science* at the time of his investigations, says they're genetically identical to the common Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse. But then his sponsors include landowners in Northeast Colorado and southeast Wyoming who fear losing control of their riparian areas.

Earlier, I noted that the results of the genetic studies on these critters have a habit of confirming the desired outcome of their sponsors, so I wouldn't be too hard on the Fish & Wildlife Service for being a little slow to make a decision; they're not so dumb they don't see the agendas behind the various factions in these arguments. Bottom line though, the scientific community is far from agreement on this issue.

This is an OpEd and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, we're not entitled to our own set of facts. Either this OpEd is poorly researched, or its author is being more than a bit disengenuous, or both.

Update: Jacob Sullum wrote just yesterday about the "ferret food" controversy in Kansas. According to him, they're a regular feature of road trips through the flatlands -- 'thump, thump'.

*We have friends at the Denver Museum and we respect their work a great deal. I tend to believe the research they do, but then I'm biased too.

@6:45 AM

Wednesday, December 13, 2006- - -  
Fun while it lasted..
The latest: Due to ample natural gas supplies and a mild winter (so far!) natural gas prices are dropping and Wyoming's Legislative Service Office is now saying that earlier revenue estimates may be $100 million too high. Consequently, the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee has lopped millions of dollars from Governor Freudenthal's supplimental budget request.

Says the Gov, "The things I can't glean from it is if they have any vision of the state's future, ... "They sort of glommed onto the ideas of the past." Yes, I suppose "Don't spend money you don't have!" is rather old-fashioned. It's also a bit old-fashioned to save money when it's oh so much more fun to spend it now, but the JAC has nixed the Gov's idea of diverting funds to WYDOT that were earmarked for the state's Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

According to Sen. John Hines, R-Gillette, co-chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee, there was little support for taking the money earmarked for savings. JAC also cut money out of the major line items to cover all the little voices out there. "Even with all the money, there's not enough to satisfy what everybody would like to have," says Hines. Well yeah, as I've noted (repeatedly) there's not enough money in the world that these guys couldn't find some way to piss it all away. I'm heartened to see that I'm not the only one who didn't buy the idea of borrowing from the Permanent Mineral Trust, or diverting money from the Trust, so the state could go on a spending spree.
Freudenthal's position on savings is that 40 cents of every dollar in mineral revenue is now going into the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, which is more than enough to build the fund to the Legislature's goal of $4 billion by 2010.

The state still is saving plenty, with $709 million going into the trust fund in the biennium that ends June 20, 2008, he said.
I'm sure that $4 billion sounded like a lot of money back when the Permanent Mineral Trust was created. Now we have a biennial state budget approaching $8 billion and that $4 billion won't go nearly as far as it would have 20 years ago. It's also old-fashioned and not very fun to review the finances on occasion, but it would be nice if the legislature would take a look at the Mineral Trust to see if our current level of savings is adequate. I'd hate to see our state employees passing out carts at WalMart next time the boom goes bust*. Oh wait, this isn't a boom, it's "steady growth". I think I've heard that somewhere before..

*Why wait? But that's a rant for another day.

@7:25 AM

Tuesday, December 12, 2006- - -  
Is the sky really falling?
Today's installment in WYDOT's campaign for more bux discusses various fixes that have been proposed, all involving raising massive amounts of cash. I'm a bit disappointed with the Casper Star's handling of this issue, as each article spends a good deal of time uncritically repeating, you might even say "parroting", WYDOT's talking points. Nowhere do they ask such hard-hitting questions as "If the highways are in such terrible condition, why didn't we hear about it before the state discovered this huge cash windfall?"

As I've noted before, it's a lot more fun to argue about how to spend a bunch of money we didn't even know we would have, than to try to figure out how to make ends meet in lean times. The state has a huge wad of windfall money, the highway department wants the lion's share of it and they're putting on a full-court press. Can't blame them for that. We can blame the Casper Star for buying their line, and the hook, and the sinker. Seems like most everyone wants to go on a spending spree, but I don't see this same degree of boosterism from the Casper Star for any other state agency. No week-long series on the plight of the schools, or social services, no tales of woe from the economic development folks, or any of the other agecies who I've got to suspect are also making their cases for a slice of the pie.

Personally, I'd be inclined to put the lion's share of the windfall into the Permanent Mineral Trust so we'd still have it the next time the boom goes bust. The Casper Star touches on what happened during the last bust: "During the administration of Gov. Mike Sullivan, the energy bust took cruel root with plummeting state revenues, followed by employee furloughs, hiring freezes and agency budget cuts." Unfortunately, rather than taking this as a cautionary tale, the Casper Star manages to turn it into yet another article on how cruelly used WYDOT has been. Yes, while other state agencies were under a hiring freeze and even furloughing employees, WYDOT was also forced to tighten its belt. Darn unfair!

It seems that all these folks at the paper and in our state government have forgotten the boomer's prayer, which was quite popular back during those lean times:

"Lord, let there be another energy boom, and I promise not to piss it all away next time!"

It's looking less and less like that promise will be kept.

@8:53 AM

Monday, December 11, 2006- - -  
More scary stories
Today's article on Wyoming's highways discusses Interstate 80, the main transportation corridor through the southern half of the state, and the heavy truck traffic along that route. They're right, the trucks can get scary at times.

It used to be that the long-haul truckers were the safest drivers on the road. Now it seems that every time there's a major accident there's a semi, or six, on top of the pile. As the article notes, those guys don't slow down for anything*. Pea soup fog? Blowing and drifting snow? Black ice? No problem, put the pedal down and follow the guy in front of you. That's why there's six of 'em on the pile now instead of just one.

Why do they drive like that? Because time is money. According to today's article, traffic disruption on I-80 "... costs the U.S. economy around $1 million an hour, according to the federal government." When your dispatcher is sitting in Houston, he doesn't want to hear about icy roads in Wyoming, he wants that e-coli-laced lettuce in Chicago today. The pressure is on WYDOT and the state troopers not to close the interstate except under the most dire weather conditions. More than once I've gotten on that interstate only to bail back off at the next exit. The state troopers are sitting there talking on their radios and waving their arms while the semis continue to barrel on down the highway. It seems that only after they've had a major pile-up are the troopers allowed to close the road.

Something has got to give there. The state troopers on the spot should be allowed to close the roads on their discretion, with no repercussions. A system of electronicly controlled speed limit signs would also be a good idea. If the road is snowy, flip the switch & slow the traffic down to 45 or 30, put the chain laws in effect, or whatever is deemed necessary for safety. As is, some of these knuckleheads have obviously never seen snow before and don't know to slow down on their own. Short of closing the road the troopers don't have any good way to slow them down. It's not a good situation, but it requires, more than money, a bit of thinking outside the "full speed ahead" box.

While I'm on this rant, I'll point out that there's another side to consider in this highway funding business. As long as Wyoming receives 85% of its funding from the feds, we're subject to their blackmail: "Drop the speed limits on all your highways to 55 or we'll cut off your highway funds!" "Increase your drinking age to 21 or we'll cut off your highway funds!" And "Drop the BAC for DUIs to 0.08% or we'll cut off your highway funds!" Are just a few of the feds demands in recent years. At present, all we can do is say Yassa Boss!

It would be oh so satisfying to tell them to stick their highway funds and I'd be 100% behind spending more state money to fund our highways if we could do that. On the other hand, there's times when it's hard to find a vehicle with Wyoming plates on I-80, so why should we pay to maintain a highway we hardly dare drive on?

*Except higher fuel prices. I've noticed that the semis are rather dawdling along of late, usually running around 68 mph. Oddly enough, my diesel pickup gets its best gas mileage at about 68 too. Coincidence?

@7:19 AM

Sunday, December 10, 2006- - -  
Good Grief!
Yes, I'm sure this "sends a hard message to the neighborhood", but it might not be quite the message they had in mind.

Update: More on SWAT-style potty training here. Apparently, the photographer saw this as a "tender moment".

@8:37 PM

"Wyoming Highways: At a Crossroads"
I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, have mercy now, save poor Bob if you please

Standin' at the crossroads, tried to flag a ride
Whee-hee, I tried to flag a ride
Didn't nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by

Standin' at the crossroads, risin' sun goin' down
Standin' at the crossroads baby, the risin' sun goin' down
I believe to my soul now, po' Bob is sinkin' down

-- Robert Johnson
Everyone's heard the story of Robert Johnson selling his soul down at the crossroads. Now in today's Casper Star print edition we're told that we're at a crossroads: Our highway department insists that increasing truck traffic and heavy oilfield machinery are "pummeling highways" and funding isn't keeping pace. They want $500 million for this biennium, over and above the funding they're already receiving. Says the Star Trib, that could be difficult when most motorists think Wyoming's highways are in good shape [that would include me].

To convince us otherwise the Casper Star is publishing a series of articles this week. Today they've got two, one telling us how important highways are to our way of life and another explaining why WYDOT is feeling a crunch. I certainly won't argue that highways aren't important, nor can I argue that prices are going up. But I wonder if more money is the solution.

Yes, there are stretches of highway being rutted out by heavy oilfield trucks. Oddly enough, I hardly ever see the WYDOT portable scales out checking for overweight vehicles in those areas. The truckers know their chances of being weighed are next to none on short in-state hauls. Diesel fuel & truck miles cost money; there's every incentive to max out the load on every trip they make. What percentage of the highway distruction is being caused by overweight vehicles? Well, we don't know because nobody's checking. Enforcing the load limits just might save the roads from some of the worst abuse, and a couple guys with portable scales is a darn sight cheaper than rebuilding the roads so they can be torn up again.

Then there's the issue of priorities in road construction. I just drove Lyons Valley Road south of Lander this last week. It had been closed for construction a month or so ago and now they have it reopened. The roadway is just as full of potholes and patches as it ever was, but it sure has nice new, wide, smooth shoulders. To an extent this is a safety issue. Broad, gentle shoulders are safer if you go off the road for any reason. Can't argue with that. But if WYDOT is so strapped for cash, shouldn't they be fixing the roadways rather than widening the ditches? It's infuriating to bump down some pothole-filled, narrow, winding road while admiring the beautiful new ditch grading job. It's even more infuriating when it's the Lyons Valley Road, which sees a little farm-to-market traffic and a few yahoos like me who know it cuts off three miles in the drive over South Pass. Heavy commercial traffic isn't allowed. Put a little fresh pavement on it and that's one road that will be good to go for another 20 years. Or just leave it alone, the potholes and patches aren't that bad.

Bottom line, don't whine to me that you're strapped for cash while you're widening the bleedin' shoulders on roads that far off the beaten track. All that does is confirm in my mind that there isn't enough money in the world to satisfy these guys. I don't see why we should be asked to mortgage our souls [raise taxes!!] to keep their brothers-in-law fully employed. If they need a job that bad, dig out those dusty old scales and put them to work putting a stop to overweight vehicles. It's not hard to figure out where to look for them.

@11:08 AM

Saturday, December 09, 2006- - -  
A school after me own heart!
My first through third-grade teacher thought that the ball point pen was a passing fad and required that we use a fountain pen for anything requiring pen and ink. I still prefer a fountain pen and have a modest collection of nice ones. I find they improve my penmanship considerably and they're just plain fun.

Now I hear of a school in Edinburgh, Scotland, that agrees.

@6:15 PM

"Is that in Wyoming?"
My wife attempted to order a couple of CDs from a store in New York City and have them shipped to her mom in Colorado, rather than to our home address they have on file. "How do you spell that?" asked the phone sales person.
"Um.. See Oh?"

"See Oh.. what?"

"See Oh, it's the abreviation."

"We need the full name of the town."

"Colorado is a state."

"It is? Is that in Wyoming?"
Ah, those urban sophisticates.

@9:20 AM

But you can have too many lawyers..
"Guns are like lawyers: Better to have one and not need it than need one and not have it."
Kansas state senator Phillip Journey
HT: InstaPundit

@8:38 AM

Friday, December 08, 2006- - -  
More on police firepower
The Fusilier Pundit and I have been sharing an email discussion on the recent police shootings, prompted by my recent email to the InstaPundit. Being gun nuts experienced shooters, we're both more than a little appalled. In his last email Fuz makes several good points and, as he's out-of-pocket in the sunny south at the moment, he's graciously allowed me to post them here:
I too am scandalized by the 50-rounds-fired-in-the-general-direction-of-bridegroom thing, and it would be interesting to get on a radio show to try to explain why I'm scandalized. Somebody tried it last night on drivetime radio with Sean Hannity and completely muffed it.

Something like this: if a PD has 3 or 4 officers who, even in the heat of a chase for an armed suspect, confront a person and discharge 50 rounds among them, hitting an innocent unarmed person with only 17, they are not trained enough to control themselves in a fight with the Real Bad Guy. The caller last night asserted they should not be carrying badges ever again in their lives. I shouted into the windshield, "they shouldn't be carrying GUNS."

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, these officers were not trained to a standard to know their own limitations. They were not trained to the point where they controlled their own emotions, body functions, you name it, such that they could not effectively discern the threat to themselves. They didn't rise to the occasion, they defaulted to their level of training. No wonder they distrust armed citizens.

"Putting their lives on the line for you and me every day" is not reason to presume good faith on their part, it is expectation of a higher standard of care, just like the one expected of me. That they might get a pass merely because they are cops, like the Atlanta cops who shot up the granny, is putting the cart before the horse. If they put their lives on the line for "you and me" every day, that means "you and I" are not supposed to be pumped full of bullets by them unless you or I give them articulable cause that withstands cold scrutiny. By definition, "putting their lives on the line for you and me" means they get shot so "you and I" don't. They are supposed to take the calculated risk, the educated guess, so "you and I" don't have to.

They get the body armor, paid for by "you and me." They get the power of arrest, from "you and me." They get all of that training that qualifies them to carry weapons so "you and I" don't have to (and in NYC, "you and I" will never be allowed to). David Codrea riffs on this angle heavily---"we're the only ones qualified to" [fill in the blank] so you aren't.

You may quote me on this if you wish, especially if you can phrase it better. Disregard my usual signature line.

If my line of argument crosses into the "left-liberal libertarian axis" that Ryan Sager started and Cato continues, then well it should. It's been on my mind lately.

Best to you and your family, including your Frederico (is he still about? hope so).
Yes, Fred is still round and about, although slightly less round than last year; he's been off his feed and he's down to a "svelt" 19#.

This whole business puts me off my feed too. Particularly because we see these displays of massive firepower on a regular basis, but no one with a voice louder than Fuz and me seems to see the root problem: If the police in the Queens shooting can be taken as representative, and I see no reason why they're not, then we should all be appalled that such poorly trained officers are armed with guns of any kind and turned loose on the public. With training comes confidence and with the confidence that you can place your shots effectively comes the self-control to hold your fire until you know you must shoot. Then, when you must shoot, training translates into the careful shot placement that ends the fight with minimal risk to bystanders and to the officer himself.

Fuz makes another good point: What happens when poorly trained officers get in a fight with a Real Bad Guy? Fortunately, that doesn't happen often, as your run-of-the-mill thug has even less firearms training than your average police officer. But it does happen. On February 13, 1983, it happened to six vest-wearing, heavily armed officers when they tried to serve a misdemeanor warrant for tax evasion on the mild-mannered, deeply religious Gordon Kahl. The Bismarck Tribune revisited the case in 2003 and tells the tale in a series of short articles that are well worth the read.

T0 summarize, the officers, including federal Marshalls, knew Kahl was likely to be trouble. (In fact, the local sheriff's department had decided not to serve Kahl, a known member of the Posse Comitatus.) They donned their vests and broke out the long guns before stopping Kahl and two armed associates in a roadblock on the outskirts of town. A few moments later two officers were dead, one was critically wounded, and two more had received non-life-threatening wounds. Only one officer escaped injury, apparently because he'd become entangled in a bog off the road. Kahl's armed son was also wounded in the exchange.

The officers picked the time and the place, they brought all their guns, and they brought all their friends who had guns. They fired from barricaded positions behind their vehicles. It should have been a slam dunk. It wasn't.

Update: I'm not suggesting that Kahl was "bad" in an evil sense, we can debate that some other time, but rather that he was a bad man to trifle with.

@6:41 AM

North Dakota, gateway to Manitoba
It's that time of year when we start wishing we were a little farther south. From my dad, here's someone who did something about it:
An elderly blonde lived on a small farm in Canada, just yards away from the North Dakota border. Their land had been the subject of a minor dispute between the United States and Canada for years. The now widowed blonde, lived on the farm with her son and three grandchildren.

One day, her son came into her room holding a letter. "I just got some news, Mom," he said. "The government has come to an agreement with the people in Washington. They've decided that our land is really part of the United States. We have the right to approve or disapprove of the agreement. What do you think?"

"What do I think?" his blonde mother said. "Sign it! Call them right now and tell them we accept! I don't think I could stand another one of those Canadian winters!"

@6:27 AM

Wednesday, December 06, 2006- - -  
At the Wall Street Journal no less:
So the key to sanity is to spend money as fast as possible? Whatever you do, don't tell our wife!*

* OK, we're not actually married...
And now we know why.

@8:55 PM

Archaeologists! [Tsk!]
If it weren't for building castles of cards on foundations of sand in hurricane-prone areas, what would we do all day?

One of the few things I miss about academia is having access to a university library. It's frustrating to read the abstract of this just-published research on Neandertals, and the public consumption articles and comments that derive from it, without being able to read or link to the actual article. Having seen a good bit of anthropological research thoroughly mischaracterized by the lay media, I hesitate to criticize someone's research on this basis.. but the hesitation generally lasts only a minute or two; this is a blog after all, not an academic journal.

Linked yesterday by the InstaPundit, Ann Althouse describes it thus: "The usual evidence of division of labor by sex -- needles, small animal remains, grinding stones -- is missing, so anthropologists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner theorize that the women must have joined the men in hunting for large animals."

One of Althouse' commenters comes close to describing the problem when he notes that archaeology is like reconstructing a jigsaw puzzle when we only have a couple of the pieces. It's actually worse than that, we often don't know if the pieces are from the same puzzle. In this case, I would caution that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". When everything we know of Neandertals is based on evidence that could be handily hauled around in a shopping cart or two, it's very dangerous to look into the cart and draw sweeping conclusions from what's not there.

The problem is compounded when we can't even agree on what is there. Professor John Hawks comments:
As noted in several of the comments on the Kuhn and Stiner paper, Neandertals did collect small animals, marine resources, and plants at many sites. They did use grinding stones occasionally in Eastern Europe. They did collect grass seeds in the Levant, and nuts in Spain. In other words, Neandertals did have substantial dietary flexibility. This evidence for flexibility is currently best outside northwestern and north-central Europe, at least from faunal and plant remains.
So what about needles? Hawks goes on to say:
The same argument applies to the changes in social ecology, including the use of needles in the Upper Paleolithic. As Soffer ably demonstrates elsewhere (with Adovasio and colleagues), Upper Paleolithic people used needles because they had fabric. Neandertals didn't. That was a technological innovation that changed human ecology.
Hmm.. Eskimos used needles, but so far as I know they didn't have fabric. Instead, they made beautifully taylored clothing from hides. Did the Neandertals have hides? Why yes, I believe they did. Did they make taylored clothing? Well probably not, but then the Greeks and Romans didn't make taylored clothing.. but they did have needles. [Sigh]

Then there's the fundamental assumption that procurring animals meant hunting, which meant getting up close and personal with dangerous animals and killing them with a pointy stick. We have ample evidence that prehistoric peoples employed a wide variety of drives and jumps, traps, snares, poisons, and such to even the odds. As Hawks notes, there's also the argument that Neandertals didn't hunt at all, but rather scavenged the kills of predators.

Finally, there's the assumption that Neandertals became extinct, which might be questioned by anyone who's met my family. In fact, the whole business is largely theories, based on hypotheses, based on assumptions, based on guesses.

@10:35 AM

Monday, December 04, 2006- - -  
Things that make you go Hmmmm...
I do believe that if I were marketing a self-propelled, riding wheelbarrow I'd think of another name for it.

@5:11 PM

Sunday, December 03, 2006- - -  
How sharp is too sharp?
I would not have thought it possible to get a knife too sharp but I've certainly tried, as you can see by the wear on this old Kabar folding hunter. Long ago my dad taught me to sharpen a knife using carborundum and Arkansas stones. Using a set of good stones it is possible to get a knife not just shaving sharp, but scary sharp.

Since I left home (could it be 35 years ago?) my work and lifestyle have demanded that I travel light, and I long made do with pocket stones. The small working surface of these probably accounts for the concave edge I've worked into my faithful old Kabar, and the low quality of the stones made it difficult to obtain a really sharp edge. Becoming dissatisfied, I eventually purchased one of the Lansky sharpening sets and I've used it for the last 10 years or so.

By using a jig to hold the edge angle constant, the Lansky and Gatco sharpening systems will put a very sharp utility edge on a knife and I highly recommend them, especially for those who don't have much experience with knife sharpening. They do, however, have their downsides. First, with a little effort they will put a much sharper edge on a knife than most folks are used to handling. Mishandled, a knife sharpened with one of these will cut you to the bone if you give it a chance. I don't see that as a problem, but I have cut myself to the bone and, in the process, learned to be careful!

The practical downside to these sharpening systems appears when you try to resharpen your knife: It's difficult to consistently clamp the jig on the back of a knife, particularly if it isn't "slab-sided". Thus, it's difficult to touch up an edge with one of these systems without entirely recutting the edge angle. Also, because the edge angle they create is relatively oblique, touching up the edge with a ceramic rod, which I've found works best for a quick resharpening, can only be done a few times before the edge becomes too oblique to take an edge. With a little practice, these systems work very well, but constantly recutting the edge angle puts more wear on a blade than I care for, especially if the knife cost three months' allowance, as my old Kabar cost me when I bought it as a freshman in high school. And yes, I strapped its little case on my belt, wore it to school, and made it my constant companion for the next 25 years. I skipped a lot of school lunches (no great loss) for that knife and it pains me to put more than necessary wear on it.

I finally became dissatisfied enough this fall to go back to the old pocket stones and hand-held sharpening, but quickly did a few upgrades. First, carborundum stones quickly wear concave if you use them much and, having used a few pocket diamond stones, I decided that a set of good, big diamond stones would be nice. I bought a set of Smith's 6" bench stones from Cabela's and they are indeed dandy, especially if you use Smith's honing solution with them. Smith's recommends using their honing solution or water, but not petroleum-based oil of any kind. Water works fine but must be constantly replenished. The honing solution is a bit thicker and stays put better.

For most purposes, the fine grit Smith's diamond hone will get a knife plenty sharp. The diamonds cut aggressively so it doesn't take long to put an edge on a knife with one. But they do cut aggressively so, in my mind, they're still a bit much for touching up an edge. Here a ceramic stick is still my choice for a quick touch up, and with the somewhat more acute edge angle I habitually put on a knife it can be touched up many times before the edge angle becomes too oblique.

Still, the diamond hones and ceramic stick won't give me an edge as sharp as I would like, so I started searching for a good Arkansas stone. Or two, or three, or four as it turns out. I didn't know this, but Arkansas stones come in several grades of "hardness". Technically, novaculite is almost pure quartz, so by definition ranks at 7 on the Moh's Scale. In other words, it's harder than the cobbles of hell; a good Arkansas stone will not hollow out even with long use. It also means that "hardness" isn't quite the correct term to distinguish the grades of Arkansas stones as all quartz is equally hard.

According to my Dictionary of Geological Terms, novaculite began as a sedimentary rock formed of microcrystalline quartz. In the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma thermal metamorphosis has compressed this rock to varying degrees. While the microcrystals comprising novaculite are all the same size, making "grit" also a technically incorrect term for distinguishing the grades of stone, compression has forced the crystals closer together in some stones, giving them a finer texture. The greater the degree of compression of the stone the greater its density, and the stones are actually graded by density, with "soft" being the least dense and having the most coarse texture, and "translucent" being the most dense and having the finest texture.

While all this matters to the hopelessly pedantic such as myself, for all practical purposes "soft" is the most coarse grit and "translucent" the finest. Soft is also the most common and least expensive, while translucent stones are rare and outrageously expensive at around $100 for a first grade 2" x 6" x 1" stone. (I sprung for a set of 6" bench stones in soft, hard, and "black surgical", but compromised on a translucent pocket stone.) Fortunately, we start with the coarse soft Arkansas stone and, as I've found, I can quit with the next finer "hard Arkansas" stone, at least when sharpening a knife for general use.

I've been using the Smith's diamond hones and a set of Arkansas stones purchased from Hall's, experimenting with various knives for a couple of months now to see what gives the best edge. In the process, I've discovered that "sharpness" is a combination of two somewhat competing factors, "toothiness" and what we commonly call "sharpness". And yes, it is possible to get a knife too sharp, depending on its intended use.

The rather coarse grit of the diamond laps leave striations in the steel. If you work the edge on a diamond hone either diagonally or perpendicular to its length these striations form microscopic "saw teeth" on the edge, which make it cut aggressively when used with a sawing motion. Then switching to progressively finer Arkansas stones we polish the edge, ultimately working the edge down to the last molecule of metal. The finer and thinner the edge the better it slices when used with a shaving motion. However, that thin edge is more delicate, and at some point you remove the striations created with the coarser stones so it won't saw worth spit.

A relatively oblique angle and coarse edge applied with a diamond stone or butcher's steel is fine for kitchen knives. It's quick and easy to apply, and stands up well to chopping and sawing on a cutting board. It's also best for skinning knives, where a sharper blade would tend to nick and cut the hide. Constantly resharpening your knives on a butcher's steel or diamond stone will wear them down pretty quickly, but even the best kitchen knives are relatively inexpensive compared to good pocket and hunting knives so I don't lose sleep over it.

For general use, I find that stopping with the hard or even soft Arkansas stone gives a good compromise between toothiness and sharpness fo my pocket and hunting knives. Plenty sharp enough to shave hair but with enough toothiness to slice through hide and meat with ease, where a toothier blade sometimes tends to clog with fat and hair. The real advantage to an Arkansas stone is that once you've established your edge angle with a diamond hone, unless the edge is heavily worn you can touch it up with a few strokes on the Arkansas stones without grinding away much metal. They're very 'friendly' to expensive knives.

For carving and whittling knives and wood chisels the "black" or "surgical" Arkansas stone gives an excellent edge, while for the finest details in the hardest woods the translucent stone really does seem to help. Here especially, the friendliness of an Arkansas stone allows me to touch up my edges frequently without wearing out my tools any faster than absolutely necessary.

@7:33 AM

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