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The Big Die and the End of the Range Cattle Era

"It would have been all right, if it hadn't been for the weather"
--An old rancher, remembering the Hard Winter of 1887. [1]

Last year it was an unusually hot, dry summer followed by a deadly cold winter. Record-breaking snowfall has heaped almost 4 inches in San Francisco and 7 inches in the hills. (It has snowed there about 6 times in the last 150 years.) Of course, Krakatoa blew it's top and spread volcanic ash throughout the upper atmosphere, dropping global temperatures. The change has hit the cattle industry in the United States hard. Normally, cattle in the West are allowed to free range across everyone's property. If you want cattle to stay off your property, you must put up a fence to keep them out. But when the foliage died off last summer and the waterholes dried up, the stress on the cattle was severe. Then a hard winter followed with very little forage left. One rancher in Montana reports 20 to 40 degrees below zero and heavy storms for 6 days. He projects a 25 to 40 percent loss of his cattle. In fact, about 90% of the open range cattle will not make it through the winter. Those that survive will be thin and frostbitten by roundup time, so it will be difficult to get a good price. Many ranchers will go out of business, and while the practice of raising cattle on the open range won't stop, it will no longer be the preferred method. [2] [3] [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Texas is an "open range" state to a limited extent... which is a contradiction in terms. The general rule is that livestock are allowed to range at large, and fences are meant to keep livestock out of areas where property owners do not wish them to be. But the exceptions are so many that one should not depend on the general rule. Some counties do not allow open ranging. Federal highways do not allow open range livestock. Although the winter of 1887 marked the year when the practice was greatly reduced, the weather was not the only reason. The invention of barbed-wire made it cheaper to fence cattle in rather than hire cowboys to round up strays. More railways meant pressure on cattlemen to keep stray cows off the tracks. The additional fencing resulted in the Fence-Cutting Wars of the 1880s and 90s and some really great westerns in the 1960s and 70s. Open ranging remains a controversy into the modern day with some ranchers believing they have carte blanche to range their cattle on public lands. This leads to accusations of overgrazing, and so it goes. [6] [7]

The Second Scientific Revolution Has Begun

Something fundamental in the way scientists view the Universe has just changed. The basic assumption about light and gravity is that they are carried along like waves on a pond. Scientists have assumed that some medium like water must exist to carry those waves. By tradition they call this invisible medium "the ether." Since (presumably) the Earth is traveling through this ether, it should be possible to measure our relative speed in relation to it by measuring the time it takes for light to travel in a vacuum, going in perpendicular directions. There should be a difference if the ether exists, but when Michelson and Morley take their measurements there is no difference. They have proven that the photons do not require an invisible medium to convey them through a vacuum.... Oh dear God! This is like primitive man suddenly realizing that the Earth is not traveling on the back of a giant turtle. What is holding it up? If light is not a wave then it must be a particle, but it doesn't act like a particle. It is going so fast it should drill holes through everything! And what about gravity? How can that possibly work if there is not an underlying medium? The Universe has just taken a flying leap into the void. They must rethink everything. [8] [9] [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
At this point Albert Einstein is about 8 years old so no help there. Even though I've given the impression that Michelson and Morley have shaken the foundations of science... that is a judgment looking back in time. They did not enjoy immediate, widespread acceptance, and why should they? They upset the delicate balance of centuries of pet theories, and the prestige of academic leadership. You can't just throw that all away for truth and beauty. Can you? To be fair, it always takes time to verify findings and then figure out what it all means. I remember the great disagreements over String Theory. With several competing String theories, which one was right? Supergravity eventually pulled it all together, showing that the competing theories were actually different aspects of a larger idea called M-theory. I'm not going into an explanation, but in academic circles there are fads, competitions and even petty jealousies. The fellow who came up with Supergravity had been working in obscurity for years, struggling to find grant money, and trying to convince the all important graduate students to join him in his struggle. Such decisions can be career-killers. He was finally vindicated, but watching him interviewed on a TV science show, it seemed like a bitter victory. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

IBM and the Growing Problem with the US Census

International Business Machines does not yet exist as a company, but the founder, Herman Hollerith does. He is an intense and meticulous man, born of German immigrants. He graduated as an engineer, but he was hired as an census assistant by his former professor who is working for the government on the US census. The department has been handed an impossible task... the tabulation of data from the USA census... seven years ago. Yes. They are still working on it. They fear that population growth will soon require the NEXT census to start before the PREVIOUS census is compete. That is why Hollerith's old professor has come to him for an answer. Hollerith works out an ingenious system called the Hollerith Code, a series of holes punched into cards to encode data. Each card represents a record filled with basic data. Then he builds a sorting machine that "reads" the code on the card, sorting for specific criteria such as marital status, age, number of children, etc. This produces new stacks of cards that can be sorted in additional ways. He puts in a bid for the next census. What took 7.5 years to process, he will complete in 2.5 years. He calls his business the Tabulating Machine Company which will be renamed IBM. Hollerith will lease these machines rather than sell them to allow closer control over their usage. He likes control. So does the government. In a few years, the Nazis will be delighted with IBM. Without those sorting machines they will never be able to sort out the so-called "Master Race" from the undesirables. You can guess what will happen next.

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Let's put aside the issue of the Nazis for another time. After the attacks of 9-11 there was a consensus that we should NOT perform mass arrests, but there was a desire to sort out the sheep from the goats. Several credit card companies came forward, suggesting that they already used a customer's buying patterns to identify when a card is stolen. Often one of the first things a thief will do is to buy two tanks of gas and pair of sneakers. The card is shut down when that happens, but they suggested that other patterns can be seen in the data like whether a customer is preparing for a trip, or is sick or pregnant, or possibly a terrorist. I recall a few short years ago when the government issued criteria to identify domestic terrorists... like... if you protest when you are asked to provide identification, or if you pay in cash rather than a credit card. One should be able to avoid credit card debt without fear of being wrestled to the ground as a possible terrorist. We provide a lot of information about ourselves on Facebook and even in email. Apparently, NOT participating is a red flag, so the only way to avoid the notice of my government is to lose myself in the clutter of normal usage.... like a good sheepdog. [17] [18]

In Other News

  • Dunlop tires for all your tricycle needs. John Dunlop develops the first inflatable tire. He mounts it on a wooden disk for his kid's tricycle. [19]
  • Robert Bosch adapts a magneto ignition system to a stationary engine. Ten years later he will adapt a similar magneto system to fire the spark plugs on a vehicle. [20]
  • The US Navy signs the lease on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It begins as a coal and repair station. [21]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1887, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Stuart, Leland E. (Winter 1988). "Winter of 1886-1887: The Last of Whose 5,000?, The". Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Montana Historical Society) 38 (1): 32-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4519114. 
  2. San Francisco Snowstorms. The Storm King (2015). Retrieved on 19 October 2016. “Snowstorms in downtown San Francisco are rare; in fact, during the last 150 years there have been only six documented snowfall events with one inch or more measured in that district.”
  3. SAN FRANCISCO SNOW. Golden Gate Weather Service (2013). Retrieved on 19 October 2016. “1887 Feb 5 3.7' Snow fell during the day. Up to 7' of Twin Peaks.”
  4. Open range - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 October 2016. “In the Western United States and Canada, open range is rangeland where cattle roam freely regardless of land ownership. Where there are 'open range' laws, those wanting to keep animals off their property must erect a fence to keep animals out; this applies to public roads as well. Land in open range that is designated as part of a 'herd district' reverses liabilities, requiring an animal's owner to fence it in or otherwise keep it on the person's own property.[1] Most eastern states and jurisdictions in Canada require owners to fence in or herd their livestock.”
  5. Colorado Preservation, Inc.. coloradopreservation.org (2013). Retrieved on 19 October 2016. “These culminated in the calamitous winter of 1886-87, which resulted in the death of approximately 90 percent of the cattle on the open range, an event known as the 'Great Die-Off' or sometimes the 'Great Die-Up.' Clearly, the country north of Texas was not the wide-open cattleman’s dream that Charles Goodnight, the Jones Brothers, and others had envisioned it to be only a decade before.”
  6. Texas Fence Law: Open Range....or Not? (Part 1) - Texas Agriculture Law. agrilife.org (May 19, 2014). Retrieved on 19 October 2016. “This common law, however, is not the end of the story. Although this law may be applicable in portions of the state, it is certainly not the law for all areas or all roadways in Texas. Two exceptions modify this common law rule for certain areas: stock laws and a statute pertaining to federal and state highways.”
  7. Carte blanche - definition of carte blanche (2016). Retrieved on 19 October 2016. “unconditional authority; full discretionary power. [1645–55; French: literally, blank document]”
  8. Michelson–Morley experiment - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “The Michelson–Morley experiment was performed over the spring and summer of 1887 by Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley at what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and published in November of the same year. It compared the speed of light in perpendicular directions, in an attempt to detect the relative motion of matter through the stationary luminiferous aether ('aether wind'). The result was negative, in that the expected difference between the speed of light in the direction of movement through the presumed aether, and the speed at right angles, was found not to exist; this result is generally considered to be the first strong evidence against the then-prevalent aether theory, and initiated a line of research that eventually led to special relativity, which rules out a stationary aether. The experiment has been referred to as 'the moving-off point for the theoretical aspects of the Second Scientific Revolution'.”
  9. Aether (classical element) - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “The concept of aether was used in several theories to explain several natural phenomena, such as the traveling of light and gravity. In the late 19th century, physicists postulated that aether permeated all throughout space, providing a medium through which light could travel in a vacuum, but evidence for the presence of such a medium was not found in the Michelson–Morley experiment.”
  10. Alex Shrugged notes: My notes are thin but I remember reading about the Michelson–Morley experiment many years ago. My impressions reflect that earlier reading.
  11. Michio Kaku - IMDb. imdb.com (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “SEE RANK Michio Kaku Writer”
  12. Supergravity - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “Then it all changed, in what is known as the second superstring revolution. Joseph Polchinski realized that obscure string theory objects, called D-branes, which he had discovered six years earlier, are stringy versions of the p-branes that were known in supergravity theories. The treatment of these p-branes was not restricted by string perturbation theory; in fact, thanks to supersymmetry, p-branes in supergravity were understood well beyond the limits in which string theory was understood.”
  13. M-theory - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “Investigations of the mathematical structure of M-theory have spawned important theoretical results in physics and mathematics. More speculatively, M-theory may provide a framework for developing a unified theory of all of the fundamental forces of nature. Attempts to connect M-theory to experiment typically focus on compactifying its extra dimensions to construct candidate models of our four-dimensional world, although so far none has been verified to give rise to physics as observed at, for instance, the Large Hadron Collider.”
  14. Larsen, Kristine M.. Cosmology 101, Science 101. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313337314. 
  15. 'BBC Horizon' Parallel Universes (TV Episode 2002). imdb.com (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “It seems the speculation wasn't absurd enough. Parallel universes really do exist and they are much stranger than even the science fiction writers dared to imagine.”
  16. Michael Duff (physicist) - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “Michael James Duff FRS, FRSA is a British theoretical physicist and pioneering theorist of supergravity who is the Principal of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Abdus Salam Chair of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London.”
  17. FBI wants businesses watching for customers paying with cash. wnd.com (August 12, 2011). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “One of the apparent elements of the White House strategy is a series of brochures being handed out to farm supply stories, gun shops, military surplus stores and even hotels and motels. The brochures ask proprietors, clerks and others to watch out for 'potential indicators' of terrorism, including 'paying with cash,' having a 'missing hand/fingers,' making 'extreme religious statements coupled with comments that are violent or appear to condone violence' and making bulk purchases of 'Meals Ready to Eat' or 'night flashlights.'”
  18. 72 Types Of Americans That Are Considered 'Potential Terrorists' In Official Government Documents. thetruthwins.com (August 26, 2013). Retrieved on 20 October 2016. “Below is a list of 72 types of Americans that are considered to be 'extremists' and 'potential terrorists' in official U.S. government documents. To see the original source document for each point, just click on the link. As you can see, this list covers most of the country…”
  19. John Boyd Dunlop - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 2 August 2016. “In October 1887, John Boyd Dunlop developed the first practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre for his son's tricycle and, using his knowledge and experience with rubber, in the yard of his home in Belfast fitted it to a wooden disc TT centimetres across.”
  20. Robert Bosch - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 30 August 2016. “On 15 November 1886, he opened his own 'Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering' in Stuttgart. A year later, he made a decisive improvement to an unpatented magneto ignition device made by the engine manufacturer Deutz, providing his first business success. The purpose of the device was to generate an electric spark to ignite the air–fuel mixture in a stationary engine.”
  21. Pearl Harbor - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 30 August 2016. “The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom signed the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 as supplemented by Convention on December 6, 1884, the Reciprocity Treaty was made by James Carter and ratified it in 1887. On January 20, 1887, the United States Senate allowed the Navy to exclusive right to maintain a coaling and repair station at Pearl Harbor. (The US took possession on November 9 that year). The Spanish–American War of 1898 and the desire for the United States to have a permanent presence in the Pacific both contributed to the decision.”

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