Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Puzzle of Federal Land in the West: Cui Bono?

The recent standoff between the scofflaw deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over the question of whether he should graze his cattle on Federal land for free because, well because, highlights an interesting question: why does the Federal Government own so much land in the west?

The obvious simple answer is that the Federal Government is grinding the states beneath its iron heel. But obvious answers are often wrong. Congress gets to decide what happens to Federal land, and the states most affected are relatively low population states with disproportionate power in the Senate. We need a better answer.

We need to step back and look at ranchers like Bundy. Before 1936, they could graze on what became BLM land for free. The more public land, the better, for them.

By 1936, the ranchers had noticed that with everyone using the free Federal rangeland on a first-come-first-served basis, the land was overgrazed, so the best solution for the ranchers was to negotiate finite grazing rights, with grazing fees set at the lowest possible level. This was adopted.

From 1916 to 1976, it was possible to homestead 640 acres of grazing land if the homesteader made modest improvements of $1.25 an acre. Demand for these homesteads was depressed by free Federal forage before 1936 and below-market federal grazing fees after.

There have been repeated attempts to bring Federal grazing fees closer to market rates for similar private land, without success.  Rates are a bit closer to market than ludicrously low fees of the 1930s, but far below what they would bring on a competitive market. Grazing lease prices set by other Federal and state agencies by competitive bidding or other market based methods were almost always higher, and often by quite a lot.

So. Who benefits from the current status quo of the Federal Government owning so much western land and leasing at current rates? Western ranchers.

John Hinderaker gives the game away a bit:
Over the last two or three decades, the Bureau has squeezed the ranchers in southern Nevada by limiting the acres on which their cattle can graze, reducing the number of cattle that can be on federal land, and charging grazing fees for the ever-diminishing privilege.
But charging grazing fees is nothing new, and in fact the current, per-head fees for BLM land are lower than in 1981.

The rancher complaint then seems to be that that the Federal government is offering fewer leases at the subsidized rates that ranchers understandably prefer. The western ranchers, while flying the banner of rugged individualism, are addicted to the implicit subsidy of underpriced Federal leases.

But they feel squeezed because fewer of the underpriced and implicitly subsidized leases are available.

It's a variation on the complaint that the food is terrible and also the portions are too small.

I feel some sympathy for ranchers who bought private land in the last few decades, since by then the ability to exploit nearby underpriced Federal grazing leases was built into the price demanded by previous owners. Who then walked away with their gains.

Families that got in cheap in 1871 and have been milking the system ever since? Not so much.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Medieval Return to Capital

From 1150-1350 English land returned about 10% of the purchase price each year in rent. After the plague, from 1350-1600 real returns were about 6%. Rented land was a relatively safe and easily managed investment. Other investments required a higher rate of return: the London orphan's court charged 10% interest for commercial loans to merchants with sound security. Building rents would also be higher because of depreciation.

Thrupp, Sylvia L. 1976. The merchant class of medieval London, 1300-1500. [Ann Arbor, Mich.]: University of Michigan Press. p. 107

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Prisoners and Booty from Agincourt

The related chronicles of Monstrelet, Le Fèvre, and Waurin claim that the English took 1,500 or 1,600 French prisoners at Agincourt, but like most medieval chroniclers their large numbers are unreliable. I would estimate that their reports of the size of the French army are probably exaggerated by about 50% , and the number of prisoners is probably similarly inflated. Even so that's a lot of prisoners: one for every six English soldiers and somewhat exceeding the number of English men at arms.

The English took more booty than they could bear away.  King Henry ordered that the men could only keep armor sufficient for their bodies: the rest was to be heaped in a barn or house and the building burned.  For the 3/4 of the army that marched on foot there must have been a painful struggle between greed and exhaustion.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

After Agincourt

The king of England lodged in the castle of Guînes and his battalion in the town, but the great multitude of his men at arms and archers moved on towards Calais, extremely tired and exhausted, encumbered by booty and prisoners, save for the French dukes, counts and barons of high rank whom the king of England kept with him. But when those men at arms men arrived outside Calais tired and weary, and where they hoped to gain refreshment, they were refused entry, which was very hard on them. Many had spent eight days with hardly any bread, and they had been able to find scarcely any other victuals. You may imagine that the prisoners, most of whom were wounded, were suffering greatly. All wanted to find comfort in Calais, but they failed in that.
They refused to let them enter, save for some of the great lords. The governors of the town, which lay on the frontier, did this so that the victuals would not fail come what may.  So all of the men at arms and archers, starving and heavily burdened and troubled with baggage and prisoners, remained outside, very discontented, so that many sold some of their gear and prisoners to those of the town so that they could get money immediately to cross the sea, and they did not care so long as they could go to England. There were many who put their prisoners to a courteous ransom and who received them on their faith and on that day agreed to four nobles for one who was worth ten, and they did not count the cost of bread as long as they could have it to eat. The king of England who was at Guînes heard what privation and suffering his men were experiencing and he made provision as soon as he could.

Wavrin, Jehan de, William Hardy, and Edward L. C. P. Hardy. 1864. Recueil des croniques et anchiennes istories de la Grant Bretaigne, a present nomme Engleterre. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green; [etc.]. Voll. 2, pp 20-221 Translation copyright Will McLean: 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Reproduction Early 15th c. Bascinet

Just arrived today, from Jeff Wasson. I threw it on right out of the box,  so I hadn't yet tightened the lining for optimal height. It sits low in the pictures above. The main inspiration was this image from 1410-14. The visor was based on Churburg 16.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Presentation at Kalamazoo, 2014

49th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Sunday, May 11
Part of Session 524 "Can These Bones Come to Life?" 8:30 a.m.

A Reconstruction of a Medieval Hoop-Spread Pavilion
Will McLean, La Belle Compagnie

Friday, February 14, 2014

Birnam Wood Comes to Pelennor Fields

"It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You are looking upon a woman. Eowyn am I, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."

The winged creature screamed at her, but then the Ringwraith was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears gleamed in them. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Case of Nazgul

In the Third Age, all the best families had heirloom blades handed down from generation to generation, graven or inlayed with ancient runes. The runes usually said something like this:

In case of Nazgul, insert blade. If you are a living man, please find the nearest person that isn't, and ask them to insert blade. While inserting blade, please wear safety glasses and protective clothing, as blade is likely to explode in shards of flaming metal. Other side effects of inserting blade may include numbness, disorientation, confusion, coma, and a temporary or permanent impairment of your will to live.

If possible, insert blade some place in the Nazgul likely to terminate the Nazgul, because, if you've been paying attention so far, you understand that your first attempt may be your only attempt.

Frazetta and Eowyn

One does not simply ride into Gondor. Wearing a thong. Because that outfit is going to seriously chafe on a long horseback ride.

Also, which part of disguised as a man didn't Frazetta understand?

Granted, the Witch-king's ability to pick up sexual cues from the living was doubtless withered from disuse. But I think the rest of the Rohirrim present would have noticed within the first mile.

It's like a Hot Babes of Rohan cheesecake calendar.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

More from Eowyn

Dear Diary:

I don't think Aragorn liked my stew. At all. He was, as always, a perfect gentleman, and he said he liked it, but I think he was just trying to spare my feelings. Because that's the way he is.

He's still carrying a torch for Arwen. I can tell. How can I compete with telepathic elfsex? Also, I'm pretty sure she's better at embroidery. Elves, with their "Ooh, look at me. I'm an elf. I can walk on snow, and I'm more dexterous than you, and also I'm immortal. And I'm totally hot, if you like that Eurotrash thing where we bleach our hair but not our eyebrows."

Well, mustn't weaken. Uncle still needs me. Note to self: bring hobbit.

I think I'm better at shield-maiden than stew, actually.

This is all making me really, really cranky. I think I'll feel better if I put a sword into something. Preferably Wormtongue, but I'll take what I can get.