Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Better Mousetrap

The world is divided into two camps; those who maintain that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it and those who search for a better mousetrap.    The mousetrap works, no doubt about it.  But some of those questioners query; is it the only way to catch a mouse or rid yourself of mice?  Why do you even need to catch a mouse?  “Inquiring minds want to know”, said Socrates.

If you are in a jail in 18th century France or a lonely elephant, you befriend a mouse to keep you company.  If you could train mice to use a mousy litter, you might be able to co-exist.  (Amazing the way it most often comes down to questions of how to deal with excrement.)

I’ve got a very good mousetrap.  It’s called “the cat”. Sometimes the old ways are worth another look.


Note: I am about to commit much injustice to Carl Jung by trying to use his theories in such a short essay. Continue reading

Bar Codes; Pt 3 – Buying Rounds and Gifting

This continues my series/obsession with bar etiquette and whether there are different rules for men and women at bars.

Having grown up in a Dutch Calvinist community of tea totalers even though my parents did go out for cocktails (shhhh!!!!), I did not have the Frank McCourt experience of dragging Da’  home from the bars, so my experience with them came as an adult.  My experience as a woman sitting at a bar by myself started when I moved from New York City to a Montana county the size of Rhode Island with a population of 3500.   The bar in these small places serves as sort of a club.  The American Legion bar is actually the American Legion Club and there is a new saloon in a space that used to be the Moose Lodge.  The B& B in town has a real chef and a renowned restaurant and award winning wine list.  It’s bar area with booths is a kind of club for the merchant class, but everybody goes there to dine because it has good food including one of the best burgers around. It also has only one TV so it is the only bar in town that isn’t a sports bar.  Rumor has it they may put in another TV.  That has caused some consternation since the tipping point into sportsbardom seems to be two TVs.  But that’s another story.

Buying rounds of drinks is a ritual in many bars in many towns, but our town is quite notorious for this ritual.  I have always watched with amusement the men buying a round of beers for each other.  One guy buys a round for the four guys with whom he is talking to at the bar.  Then the next guy buys a round.  Then the third and then the fourth.  Sometimes they come so fast that the guys have at least two beers in front of them.  So no one is buying somebody a beer since it all evens out.  If you want to leave early, you just say, “No more for me, but buy another round for me mates.  Gar. Gar. Gar.”   Nobody owes nobody nuthin’.

Made no sense to me.  It’s not a treat or a gift if it is even. And I began to notice that women don’t do  this.  Women buy their own drinks.  What they may do is order an appetizer and then ask if people next to her want to share.  If a woman is part of the group that a man is buying rounds for, she thanks him.  She does not then buy a round for everybody in the drinking circle.

What I have done is bring in a bottle of barbecue sauce that I ordered on line and received too many bottles of it and given it to John who has bought me the occasional drink.  What I did the other night was just thank Dan for the drink he bought me.  No reciprocity.  The next night was New Year’s Eve.  I bought a bottle of good champagne and gave glasses to a couple people including Dan.

I’ve been practicing this whole “gifting” thing for years.  I had a group of friends in New York City who, like me, were struggling artists.  We loved to find some little gadget or piece of clothing that was unique or would make us laugh and give it for no reason at all.  Whether this can work on a larger scale as part of a modern gift economy, I really don’t know.  I read a forum on this topic over at  Seems that thinkers for many years have wondered about a different kind of social economy other than capitalism with its organization that is hierarchical and exchange oriented.  And those thinkers often talk in terms of gifting rather than the exact exchange of commodities.

Is it coincidental that women practice sharing rather than exchange as a means of communal eating and drinking?  Just askin’.


Newt Gingrich suggested that perhaps a good idea for poor highschoolers would be to work as the janitors in their high school in their off hours which would “be a way to instill a work ethic while also saving money”. A lot of liberals jumped on him for this screaming, “That’s an awful idea.  That is child labor and it’s racist to boot.”

Well, it sounds racist.  But most of all it sounds stupid and way out of touch with the lives of regular Americans.  So it’s not only racist, but it’s elitist.

What, pray tell,  are the janitors going to do when there job is taken over by teenagers?  Does Newt propose having the janitors teach? Maybe they will take on administrative duties? (Actually not bad ideas).  Did Newt think for a moment that real people are janitors. And janitors earn their wages. They are good at their jobs and probably proud of their work.  “Custodial engineers” are responsible for “making minor repairs to the steam plant, heating equipment, electrical equipment, plumbing…” according to   (Do you want to have students working on boilers?)

Hey, people, janitors fix things not blather on about nonsensical ideas about what could be done to improve the lives of poor children.

Also, there is nothing wrong with kids doing chores.  In the one room school my husband went to they had a hot lunch and then they all did the dishes.  I used to clean the teachers’ coffee cups after their coffee break.  I was soooo relieved to be out of class for a half an hour.  It was fun.

My father ran a school for the handicapped.  He was an early pioneer in special education.  Everybody had chores including the physically handicapped.  Deaf dormitory students Richard and Cheryl helped my grandmother cook the evening meal and then do the dishes, just like a family would do.  David who had little use of his arms or legs could fold the napkins with his chin.  Older children helped the younger ones to bed.

On the ranch or farm, children fed the chickens, the pigs, and the bum lambs.  They helped with haying.  These are all called “chores”.  The difference between chores and child labor is how long the chores last.  If you send a kid down a mine shaft and they labor for 10 hours, that’s abuse.  If a kid has to do an hour of mowing or washing the car, that’s chores.

And taking a job away from a capable hard working adult is just stupid and not the way to help poor children have a better education and a better life.

Note to politicians: I got this insight from a manicurist who was appalled that this politician would suggest taking a good paying job away from an adult and give it to a 14 year old because all it was was cleaning toilets.  “No clue,” she said.

Montana’s Inquisition and Wikileaks

(I posted this on my political blog in December 2010, but it is also a particular Montana story that should be posted here again in light of recent discussions on civil liberties with the signing of the NDAA. )

So you are a little girl in grammar school in 1917.  Your name is Christine Shupp and you live near Melville in Sweet Grass County.  Every morning after the pledge of allegiance to the flag, the teacher makes you, alone,  kneel down on the floor and kiss the flag.  It is because you are German. You are a rancher in Rosebud County and you call WWI “a millionaire’s war” and you are dragged off by neighbors to jail.  You’re in a saloon and call war time food regulations “a big joke” and you are sentenced to from 7 to 20 years.

Montana played a huge part in suppressing free speech during WWI.  In light of all the noise about Julian Assange,  Wikileaks, and Joe Lieberman’s “upgrading” The Espionage Act of 1917,  it ‘s probably a good idea to take  a look backwards to the Montana Council of Defense.  (Yes, President Obama and MSNBC, it’s a good idea to look backwards because leaning forwards can more often than not have you falling on your face.)

Historian K. Ross Toole wrote a chapter called “The Inquisition” in his book “Twentieth Century Montana: A State of Extremes” about a very dark time in Montana’s history.  At the  beginning of WW I, Woodrow Wilson formed a National Council of Defense and asked each state and each county in the state to help with war propaganda, helping in recruitment of troops, and getting people to buy Liberty Bonds.  The Montana Council of Defense went whole hog into this endeavor and was especially keen on finding “slackers” and “draft dodgers”.  The Governor of Montana, Sam Stewart called a special session of the legislature in part to make the Montana Council of Defense a legal body with funding by the state.  The legislature also passed the Sedition Act and the Criminal Syndicalism Act, which the federal government would use as a model for the federal Sedition Act which was an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917. This act was probably one of the harshest anti-speech laws ever passed in the United States.

In order to root out “vipers circulating the propaganda of the junkers”, as Governor Stewart called them, local Councils of Defense made up of  “upstanding” business men were appointed by the Republican governor.  They gave themselves subpoena power and wide berth in issuing orders.   Order Number One made it illegal to have parades, processions, or other public demonstrations  (except funerals) without permission from the governor.  Order Number Two locked up vagrants, prostitutes, and drunks and anybody that didn’t work at least five days a week.   Order Number Three ordered librarians to remove books like “First German Reader”, “German Songs”, “A Summer in Germany” and “German Compositions”.  It also forbade the speaking of German which led to the Mennonites leaving for Canada.  The orders had a strong moral Puritan tone to them and from February to October of 1918. the Council passed 14 more orders.

These county councils  were determined to discover disloyal thought and along with the Montana Loyalty League and Liberty Committees were very busy during these years pitting neighbor against neighbor and class against class.   They would haul in neighbors if they didn’t think that they bought enough Liberty Bonds or publish their names and the amount of contributions in the paper.  “A bond shirker is an enemy to humanity and liberty, a traitor and a disgrace to his country.”  The law stated that

“…any person or persons who shall utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, violent, scurrilous, contemptuous, slurring, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the constitution of the United States, or the soldiers or sailors of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the army or navy…or shall utter, print, write or publish any language calculated to incite or inflame resistance to any duly constituted Federal or State authority in connection with the prosecution of the war…shall be guilty of the crime of sedition.” (p. 276 “Montana: A History of Two Centuries”)

There were heroes in this period. District Attorney Burton K. Wheeler, District Judge George M. Bourquin, and Attorney General Sam Ford tried to stem the tide of war hysteria.  In 1917 Judge Bourquin acquitted the rancher Ves Hall who had remarked that the Germans had a right to sink the Lusitania if it was carrying munitions and that the United States had no business being in this “Wall Street millionaire’s war.”  Judge Bourquin couldn’t see how a rancher in a little town of 60 people and 60 miles away from the nearest railroad could possibly put military operations in jeopardy by these remarks.  This is the case that set off the firestorm and led to the Governor calling the special legislative session.  They tried to impeach Bourquin but were unsuccessful, but Judge Crum who was a character witness for Ves Hall was impeached.

District Attorney Wheeler was hauled in front of the Council but unlike the often quivering neighbors, Wheeler was a force of nature and promptly turned to accusing the council of misdeeds. (Note: He is a particular hero to Governor Schweitzer.) The Anaconda Company lawyer blamed him for not prosecuting aliens.  Wheeler gave an explanation of treason that we all should remember.  Treason cannot be based on rumor, “only on the basis of law”:

“There is such a thing as a treasonable utterance in common parlance, but as matter of law there is treason, but there is not any such crime as treasonable utterance.”

The Council also hauled in William Dunne, editor of the radical labor Butte newspaper, the Bulletin.  Dunne was a harsh critic of the Anaconda Company, the mining company that controlled Montana politics and most newspapers.  He “considered the council not only illegal but foolish and motivated by antediluvian politics.”  He denied any affiliation with the I.W.W., but made no secret of his Marxist views.”  He was dismissed but later was arrested.  Judge Bourquin  dismissed the case but the local council finally convicted Dunne and fined him  $5000.  But the war by that time was over and the hysteria was abating.  The Supreme court would later reverse this decision.

The Republican Attorney General, Sam Ford, wrote a letter to the Council reprimanding them for violence against people attempting their right to make public speeches.  He wrote:

“It is true that we are at war and that the life of the nation is at stake; and these conditions may so affect the minds of overzealous patriots and persons of hysterical tendencies as to lesson their powers clearly to analyze civil rights…but mob spirit is fraught with serious menace to society and to the most precious liberties of the people of the state.”

Eventually 76 men and 3 women would be convicted in Montana in the war years  and 41 of them sentenced from 10 t0 20 years in prison. In 2006, Governor Schweitzer pardoned all of them; the culmination of efforts by law students at the U of Montana to seek the pardons.

Time to take serious looks backward and to remember that we are, or at least were,  a nation of laws.

Bar Codes Pt 2

Okay, so more thoughts on whether there is an unspoken etiquette associated with sitting at bars especially if you are female.  In the previous post I speculated that if a woman sits at a bar, she is not supposed to read an I Pad even if she is reading a newspaper on the I Pad.  She can get away with perhaps perusing a paper, but not on an electronic device.  She is to be available…for….conversation.

In the previous post, I had been confronted with a guy that I did not want to talk to, so I just reached for my I Pad and began to read.  Instead of addressing me directly, he loudly exclaimed to the bartender that the laws of the universe, at least the rather small universe of this bar, were being broken by rude self absorbed women with electronic devices. (I was not the only woman that night with an I Pad).

But this week I was confronted again.  This time it was an acquaintance and a pretty nice guy.

“Don’t check your e-mail!  Put that thing away!” he yelled.

I tried to explain that I wanted to relax after work and it would help if I knew no one was trying to get a hold of me.  But, okay, he was right.  That is what “after work” should mean.

Funny thing is that as soon as his male friends came in, he turned immediately away from me and pronounced, “I was wondering when any of the regulars were showing up.”  Thus ended my usefulness.  So I could open up my I Pad and read a blog with no more scolding from my friend.

Sigh.  But then I turned to the woman sitting next to me and we started talking about the difference between grifters and hucksters.  So a rather lame start to the evening turned into a rather pleasant ending.

My small town can be a very small place, but only if you let it get to you.