26 June 2012

Spring Runoff in August?

There is plenty of public discussion concerning global climate change, and yet some historical data does not seem readily accessible. Recently rereading the classic primary text, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 by Alexander Ross, I was caught by surprise by the date of a seemingly ordinary observation. While traveling upstream in 1811, Ross missed the great Columbia Falls (Celilo Falls) due to high water.

Having ascended about seven miles, we arrived at the falls--the great Columbia Falls, as they are generally called; but, from the high floods this year, they were scarcely perceptible, and we passed them without ever getting out of our canoes. In seasons of low water, however, the break or fall is about twenty feet high and runs across the whole breadth of the river, in an oblique direction. (132)*
This passage seems a perfectly ordinary description of spring floods in June or even early July, but Ross was traveling upriver 5 August! Had the flood levels dropped and yet remained high enough to obscure the falls? Was spring runoff in 1811 more of a mid-summer runoff than we experience today?

According to the Bonneville Power Administration and other government agencies, winter snows melt and flow downriver in the months May through July.
The moisture that is stored during the winter in the snowpack is released in the spring and early summer, and about 60 percent of the natural runoff in the basin occurs during May, June, and July. "The Columbia River System Inside Story," 2nd edition (2001)*
Has the flood schedule changed since the nineteenth century? Dams can delay high flows, but they do not make the snow melt faster. Did snows melt slower in 1811 than they do today? Are these questions for historians, or only for climatologists?

*I am using the Northwest Reprints edition: Alexander Ross, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2000 [1904]).

Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "The Columbia River System Inside Story," 2nd edition (April 2001),

16 June 2012

Chelan County Museum: Cashmere, Washington

A roadside billboard alerted me to the phenomenal archaeology collection at the Chelan County Museum in Cashmere, Washington.* The fishing and hunting implements dating back thousands of years in central Washington certainly warrant the $5.50 admission fee.

Ancient Indian artifacts, however, are not the only treasures on display. The museum has some fine displays of nineteenth and twentieth century Plateau Native artifacts, and a small amount of Coastal as well. Of particular note is a large display of traditional Indian medicines. This display lists plants, their medical uses, and displays dried specimens of each.

The museum also has a strong display of late-nineteenth century pioneer life. The pioneer village contains more than a dozen original structures that were moved to and reassembled on the museum grounds. There is a mission house and a saloon, a post office, print shop, jail, blacksmith shop, and several homes. Some variability in construction techniques and materials are evident, and helpful explanations in each building guide the untrained eye. There is on display a waterwheel that was used to pull water for irrigation from the Wenatchee River a short distance from the location of the museum. Cashmere sits in the heart of the nation's premier apple growing region. It is the home of the highly addictive Aplets and Cotlets.

The natural history museum includes a terrific collection of rocks that seems better than the one that I recall from my university's Geology Department. If I wanted to refresh my memory for identifying the many rocks I learned to identify three decades ago, an hour or two in the Chelan County Museum would do the trick. There are also plenty of stuffed birds and critters in the natural history section, including a bear.

Of particular interest to those who concern themselves with political memorabilia, and highlighted in the verbal overview given me when I paid and signed the guest book, is a collection of campaign buttons. I was saddened a bit to see one that I wore in 1980: "Reagan Bush The Time is Now." I suppose youthful errors are forgivable, even when the consequences endure for decades afterward. The collection has buttons going back to a couple dated 1908 for William Taft and for William Jennings Bryan. There were several for Theodore Roosevelt, whether 1904 or 1912 was not clear. There were quite a few for Woodrow Wilson from 1912, and some undated. At least one button had the name William McKinley, and there were several others with matching mug shots. Those could have been from 1896 or 1900. Some of those for Bryan may have dated to 1896. There are more than a dozen for Barry Goldwater from 1964. One was a bright gold button with the single word Goldwater. Another was white and pictured a glass of water with the term H2O. There was a card that appeared to have a button from each state for Nixon Ford 1972 (I did not count to see whether any were missing). Democrats are represented, too. There were several clever campaign slogans evident in the Lyndon Baines Johnson buttons.

The museum is a two and one-half hour drive from my home in Spokane. It is well worth the price of gas and expenditure of time to warrant a second trip.

*The official name of the museum seems to be Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village. It was created by the Chelan County Historical Society, and the name Chelan County Museum appears on some websites and signs.

03 June 2012

Sunday Morning Whiskey Run

For the first time since before Prohibition, it is legal in Washington state to purchase a bottle of liquor on Sunday. Not only have the blue laws passed into history, the state liquor stores were closed permanently on 31 May 2012. Since Prohibition, Washington had limited liquor sales to state-run and contract liquor stores. The state managed distribution and set prices. In 2011, voters passed Initiative 1183, ending the old system. I-1183 was authored and heavily financed by Costco and to a lesser extent by Trader Joe's.

The effects of I-1183 have revived the debates from last fall. Consumers rushed to grocery stores Friday morning to buy liquor with their eggs and milk, the news media covered the shopping spree, and the shock of new prices--mostly higher, some vastly so--have stimulated conversation. Before Prohibition, access to alcohol was limited by a variety of measures in states and municipalities. Drug stores were a principal outlet in many locales, for spirits have been medicine since they were first discovered in the ancient human past. There's now something poetic and rooted in history that even in Washington state, I can walk into Walgreens at 6:00am on a  Sunday morning to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Dry Fly Distilling, Washington state's first post-Prohibition distillery, has more than doubled the retail outlets stocking its product in its home state. They have labored hard the past half-year stepping up production in preparation. Project V Single Silo Vodka made from the wheat on a single eastern Washington family farm is now available in Spokane for the first time. That increase in quality product availability should be a principle consequence of free markets. But, I-1183 offered something somewhat different from a true free market, something far more in line with the traditions of American capitalism.

Unfortunately, but predictably, news coverage of the changes resemble press releases from retailers more than any sort of investigative journalism. Prices that would have shamed gangsters during Prohibition are visible in plain sight on store shelves, but almost entirely absent from newspapers.

I-1183 is a mixture of long deferred blessings and unmitigated curses, some of which are covered in the news, and more of which are found in the comments.

An Everett, Washington news story offers several errors beginning with a lead sentence that reveals the authors do not understand the term "blue laws." "A Spirited Start to Liquor Sales" 2 June 2012, HeraldNet.

Never pour the glass that full
One of this article's howlers: "Reasons for the prices lie in the rules of Initiative 1183." Several retailers and fellow customers were repeating that mantra as I shopped yesterday. "Taxes raised the prices," is another version. But, that story falls short of explaining why a fifth of Blanton's was $55 including taxes last week, and now sells for $65 before the 20.5% Liquor Sales Tax and the $2.83 Liter Tax ($3.77 per liter). The highest round numbers explaining the Initiative noted a 27% tax, and that somehow accounts for a 68% price increase? I don't think so.

Many articles banter about the figures that prices are 10-30% higher, while Costco claims that its prices are 5% lower. The goat cheese that I buy at Costco costs almost exactly what I pay at Fred Meyer with the slight difference that I buy six times the quantity at Costco for that price. When a Costco price is 5% below a norm, the membership fee is not really worth the cost. But, the old state liquor store prices (long lamented as higher than prices in many other states) are no longer the norm. Much higher prices are. For the limited selection available at Costco, they will have the best price.

A Reuters story, "Liquor Sticker Shock Stirs Up Washington State Drinkers," repeats this strange and inaccurate 10-30% figure. Much of the rest of the article, however, shows more evidence of historical perspective and journalistic inquiry than is available elsewhere.

The most heavily circulated article seems to be "Retailers, Customers Welcome Wash Booze Sales," by Shannon Dininny and Elaine Thompson (link is to Bloomberg Businessweek). I read this article in the Seattle Times, and then ran into dozens more looking for something with a little better balanced coverage. There's not much wrong with what the article says, but most of the story is absent.

The Seattle Times offers a feeble effort to measure the price differences in "Help Us Measure How Liquor Prices Have Changed." The newspaper offers a list of old state prices and a field where readers can fill in new prices. But, their selection is limited to top-selling products, which quite naturally are the ones most likely to go down in price. One reader pointed out the foolishness. Many others listed their prices not in the database, but in the comments. There, one finds documentation of the 30-75% price increases on whiskey manufactured outside Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Suffering a late-season flu this past week, I was not among the customers who rushed the stores on Friday. Feeling better, a bit, on Saturday, I had an urge to explore the new world of liquor retail sales. I was delightfully surprised to find Blanton's Bourbon on the shelf at the Fred Meyer three blocks from my home. This small store does not stock non-sparkling wine that exceeds $26 per bottle in price, and only exceeded $25 when they recently added King Estate 2010 Pinot Noir. Previously, L'Ecole No. 41 2008 Merlot was the most expensive bottle. The price of Blanton's, however, assures me that I will not find it there in September. I've bought the Pinot and several bottles of the Merlot. I will not be buying the Blanton's unless I find it on close-out discount that brings it down to the old liquor store prices. I'll be going to Post Falls, Idaho to buy Kentucky bourbon.

It was Blanton's that turned me on to bourbon when I was in graduate school, transforming my drinking pattern from youthful drunkenness to adult cultivation of taste. It was a dinner at an academic conference at L'Ecole that turned me on to Washington Merlot. It's nice to see both at Freddies. The difference in price structure is another story. That's where the journalists should be looking. So far, they do not seem to see past the press releases put out by industry propagandists (I am not referring to the manufacturing industry).

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