#466, July 30, 2007

Corn and milk lose out to water and ethanol

COLUMBUS: These bottled water wars have netted a couple of big fish. Pepsi and Coke came out and admitted their fancy bottled water is right from the tap. No cool mountain streams, no gushing bubbling springs. Just plain city water.

If you want to start a business, this bottled water enterprise seems to have a better margin than most. You can buy all the city water you want, piped to your front door, five gallons for a penny. You pour it into little bottles, screw on a lid and sell the same five gallons for ten or twenty dollars. Even more if it’s cold. Now, I ain’t no economist, but if you can invest less than a nickel in water and an empty bottle, then an hour or two later sell it for a dollar, where markup is concerned it sure beats farming. That’s bordering on Mafia territory.

This water business has got to be might tempting to the old dairy farmer. Instead of feeding corn to an old Holstein and letting her wash it down with 30 gallons of water a day, why he’ll dispense with the cows, bottle the water and grow the corn for ethanol. “Got milk” will become “Had milk”. Exxon could stop selling gasoline, (it’s down to $2.50 a gallon), and start pumping bottled water.

This whole argument over bottled water started out over the bottle, and where you throw it. In the old days, remember, you bought a bottle of pop, and when you returned the bottle you got a penny or two back. Well, put a nickel a bottle deposit on these water bottles, and you’ll solve the problem.

The House passed a Farm Bill. They’ve been arguing over it for more than a year. If they had passed it when corn was $4 a bushel, they could have cut the payments without the farmers hollerin’. But they waited till corn dropped to $3.25, and now Congress feels obliged to step in and carry their second mortgage.

Even if the Senate passes it, don’t be surprised if the President vetoes the farm relief bill; Coolidge did in 1927, so we’re about due another veto.

Congress will take their August vacation first. The Iraq parliament is already on vacation. Only ones still working through the hot weather are the American soldiers.

Iraq won a big soccer game and it touched off a celebration across the country. They stopped shooting each other for a few hours. The only Iraqi fighting I read about over the soccer victory was in… Michigan.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“The Senate relieved the farmers on Friday; the House of Representatives is supposed to relieve them tomorrow. Rotation of crops and less automobiles will relieve them whenever they decide to try it.” DT #170, Feb. 14, 1927

“Tax relief, farm relief, flood relief, dam relief … none of these have been settled, but they are getting them in shape for consideration at the next session of Congress with the hope that those needing relief will perhaps have conveniently died in the meantime.” DT #557, May 9, 1928

#465, July 23, 2007

Contemplating travel woes in a rockin’ airport

COLUMBUS: After spending three days in California, and then another three days in Florida, I was not exactly prepared for an extra day in the Charlotte airport. But that’s what happened last Thursday night and Friday as these airline woes you’ve read so much about kinda struck home.

Now, mind you, I ain’t complaining. If an airplane is going to have engine problems, I prefer it happen while still on the ground. And if you’re stuck in an airport, there’s worse places to be than one populated with 103 old-fashioned rocking chairs. I was there long enough to check ’em out, every single one, but seldom found one vacant. The occupancy rate of those rockers must have been 99.9%, which also equaled the occupancy of all outbound flights, at least the ones headed to Ohio. The contentment on the faces of those folks pleasantly rocking the minutes away was in sharp contrast to the rushed look of those hurrying to catch their next flight. Of course I was returning from an engagement rather than heading to one, which tends to lower the pressure quite a bit.

One of our biggest and most profitable companies is raising the price of their product, by about a dollar a gallon. If it was Exxon you would say it’s outrageous and demand a Congressional investigation. If it was Borden’s or Meadow Gold Dairy you would have your children march in protest. But since it’s Starbucks, there has been nary a peep. We’ll wait in line tomorrow morning, pay $2 a cup ($15 to $20 a gallon), then pull into the next gas station and yell if there’s even one car ahead of us or the price is anywhere near $3.

But if it takes your mind off an 18-hour layover, or lets you block out the day-to-day worries long enough to plan for a brighter future, then what’s another dime a cup?

You know, both California and Florida would gain by installing more rocking chairs. So might Starbucks.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

(Here are a few highlights from a “debate” between Florida and California. In total it is 9 pages.)

“FLA: We have the longest seacoast of any state in the Union. We have 1145 miles, and that is 100 miles more than California has.
CAL: Now what has a long seacoast got to do with the quality of a state? According to the latest returns from Rand McNally, Siberia has quite a mess of seacoast, but I have never heard of any emigration going there – that is, voluntarily – on account of their seacoast. Clam diggers and lighthouse keepers are the only two professions that I know of that thrive off long coast lines.

FLA: We have 3,000,000 acres of Everglades, and when they are drained they will support 3,000,000 people.
CAL: California has 20,000,000 acres of mountains, and when they are leveled out they will support the whole of India, with the Chinese nation invited as week-end guests. I know you may ask, “Who is going to flatten the mountains?” Why, the same fellow that drains the Everglades. In fact, to show them that there is no hard feeling, and that we don’t even look on them as a competitor, we will give them enough dirt to fill up their Everglades. They can’t drain their Everglades, as there is nowhere to put the water. If they drain them into the ocean, why, that will raise the ocean higher than the land.

FLA: Lake Okeechobee has 1,000,000 acres in it. If drained, it would support 1,000,000 people. In one year it produced $1,000,000 worth of catfish.
CAL: Why, even the name “Okeechobee” – you can’t say it without sneezing. They say 1,000,000 acres and $1,000,000 worth of catfish; that’s a dollar’s worth of catfish to the acre, but they don’t say how many catfish are a dollar’s worth. If I was going to buy catfish an acre wouldn’t hold a dollar’s worth, even if I was fond of catfish. This is the first time I ever heard of selling fish by the acre. They say if the lake was drained it would support 1,000,000 people, so an acre will support either a human or a catfish. So this question the state has to decide is what to keep on there, catfish or humans? Up to the present, catfish have won. So, if you buy an acre of Lake Okeechobee, your deed will call for one acre and a dollar’s worth of catfish. Of course, when you catch him and he is two dollars’ worth of catfish, why, then you have to buy another acre or give your neighbor half a catfish. So it looks like a pretty tough job in mathematics down there to divide up your acres, your water, your catfish and your humans.

FLA: Lots of people think that Florida is low, but we have a point which is some 310 feet high.
CAL: Why, Florida is so low it’s the only country in the world where you have to climb a ladder to get into the ocean. As for this place they speak of – the Alps of Florida! No native Floridian has ever been able to reach the top. When they get up around 200 feet above sea level the altitude gets ’em. About timber line is as far as they can go.

FLA: We are known for our oranges.
CAL: I will admit there is a bootleg variety of orange that thrives up to the size of a green plum on the banks of your swamps; but as for being called an orange, that is only done, of course, through a sense of humor. We take Florida oranges to California, dry them and use them for golf balls. As for taste, they resemble the green persimmon.

FLA: Our grapefruit sells for about $10,000,000 a year, and we think it is the best in the world.
CAL: We use the juice of your grapefruit as a fly spray. We had no idea anyone ate them.

FLA: Our oranges alone in 1924 brought us in $15,000,000.
CAL: That would just about pay for the labels on the ones we shipped.”

(Published in the Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1926)

Will ponders over Water issues

#464, July 15, 2007

COLUMBUS: Water is the topic today. Rain, floods, and bottled.

I parachuted into Oklahoma City Monday for the chance to entertain 500 women. Flew out again Tuesday morning, and it rained most of the time I was on the ground.

The women all came to the banquet dressed in attire representing the various periods of Oklahoma history. It made for a lovely style show. I told them the official style for Oklahoma 2007 will always be remembered as galoshes and an umbrella.

If Johnny Cash were with us he would have to update his old hit song, Two Feet High and Risin’. The ladies from Rogers County told me the water at Oologah Lake is closer to twenty-two feet high and risin’. Tuesday on the plane from Phoenix to San Diego I met a young man from Oologah. Asked him if he owned any lake front property. He said, “I do now.”

Big news in California is that they expect to have 60 million residents by 2050. Can you imagine 60 million? Of course, before the amnesty bill failed they expected 70. That works out to be about one person for every 100 gallons of water in California. The real estate market will turn upside down. They will say, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the state will give you a plot of land to build on. No charge. However, there will be a small monthly assessment of $3999 to cover the cost of your water. What there is of it.”

In San Francisco they have banned bottled water. There’s quite a few things you might think of to ban in San Francisco, but bottled water probably isn’t in your Top Ten. But it seems that those folks have the peculiar habit of buying a little plastic bottle of water, and when it’s empty throw it in the trash and buy another one. Anywhere else, they buy once, then refill over and over at the water cooler. It may say Perrier on the label, but it’s City Waterworks on the inside. And it tastes just as good, maybe better.

But really, California should encourage the continued purchase of water at a dollar a 16-ounce bottle, to get ’em in the habit. That’s about what it’ll cost in 40 years, a dollar a pound, buying it by the barrel.

This week I’m off to Florida. Afternoon showers expected, but no hurricanes.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers: (on water in the West)

“The Hoover Dam is entirely between Nevada and Arizona. All California gets out of it is the water.” DT #1900, Sept. 6, 1932

“I can give you an idea how near the [Hoover] dam is finished: the various states have started fighting over the water. Even away up in Wyoming, and Colorado, and Utah. And states that never paid much attention to it as they didn’t think it would amount to anything. But now they see it will, so they claim some of the water.

About the best way to claim water that comes from your state is to grab it off before it gets out of your state. It’s awful hard to get water back after it’s run down hill off your place, but it makes a good state argument, and gives some lawyers some work, and won’t take any water out of the dam.” WA #619, Nov. 4, 1934

“Away back from the 1890s and to the 1910s, why there was an epidemic of alleged Farmers going out to settle the West. There was the land and there was the Wide Open Spaces, and it was plenty wide open. Never was there so much space, and so little water.

Now to set back East and hear about our Government giving you a homestead that is maybe 160 acres, well to tell a person you are going to give him a whole farm for nothing… It sounds like Santa Claus had arrived with the old reindeers.

But, it’s the bunk. There just ain’t any way you can make a living out of it. If there was any water on the place why somebody would be on there, for they have been hunting water in the West much longer than they have gold and buffalo. If a wonderful spring come out of a mountain side, men left gold, silver and copper mines to come and grab that spring. Water ain’t gold in the West, water is diamonds and platinum. So all these poor folks starved out. Their little scratched out plots of ground, and remnants of log or sod huts, or old chimneys, are nothing but tombstones of a lost hope and ambition, all led on by government advertising…

If [the Secretary of the Interior] had ever passed a Homesteaders house on a cold windy day, no wood, no water, wind blowing his little crop right out of the ground, he would be the most guilty man that ever lived for being responsible for bringing that poor devil out West. The West has got lots of open country, but none that you can live on.” WA #562, October 1, 1933

While Will shops, you get 1935 reruns

#463, July 8, 2007

COLUMBUS: By this time in the summer, at the end of a holiday week, you folks are kinda used to reruns and repeats. Now most of them go back a few weeks, or maybe months. Well, what I’m giving you ain’t none of those johnny-come-lately rehashes, but some authentic wisdom from 1935.

See, I’m flying to Oklahoma in the morning, and then on to San Diego Tuesday, and I’ve got to do some serious shopping. Not for California, a man can wear anything there. But for Oklahoma these days, I’ve got to round up a pair of hip boot waders.

While I’m preoccupied with the modern version of a Sears Roebuck catalog, here’s a sample of what passed for comedy 72 years ago. Of course if I hadn’t told you it was 1935, you might have figured it was, well, 2007.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers: (from June and July, 1935)

“To read what all these critics of our country write, you would naturally think that everybody else was just sitting pretty.

But France has offered their Premiership to everybody over there but Chevalier, and they know he is too smart to take it. England just today traded horses right in the middle of Thames River. Half of Italy has gone to Africa with a gun on their shoulder. Japan is just looking over Chinese maps to see where to send their army. Russia must be in some devilment, we never hear of ’em any more.

So you see there’s none of ’em that we can point with pride to.” DT #2758, June 7

“I don’t know how you all are fixed with your State Legislatures, but we finally had some luck with ours [in California]. It adjourned last night, and there is a spontaneous celebration going on today that is bordering on Armistice Day.

Now if they can just get the main one to adjourn in Washington things will just go a sailing. Then all the politicians will have to do is just sit back and argue over who the credit belongs to for recovery.” DT #2766, June 17

“At the great San Diego World’s Fair yesterday [former President] Hoover received a tremendous ovation. There is no country in the world where a person changes from a hero to a goat, and a goat to a hero, or vice versa, as they do with us. And all through no change in them. The change is always with us.” DT #2768, June 19

“Hurrah for Mr. [John D.] Rockefeller, 96 years old today, one of the very few men that knew how to give money away so that every dollar does good. That’s more than our government can do. It’s more than anybody can do.” DT #2784, July 8

“It looks like you don’t make a good witness or committee member in a Washington investigation unless you call each other a liar or insult the President of the United States.

Chairman of the committee: ‘Mr. Jones, we are led to believe you know something about the matter we are investigating.’

Mr. Jones: ‘You are a liar and the President of the United States is a horse thief.’

Call the next witness. ‘Mr. Smith, what do you know of lobbying?’

Mr. Smith: ‘You are all liars and the President is fooling you. His mother was a Stalin and his father was a Mussolini and he is taking the money away from us to send to Hitler.’

And this goes on day after day.” DT #2787, July 11

Oklahoma floods are surprise to Will

#462, July 2, 2007

COLUMBUS: Here in this part of the eastern Corn Belt rain has been mighty scarce the last couple of months. Other areas are suffering from dry weather and it seems that if it ain’t drought, it’s floods. No in-between.

Back in the ’20s and ’30s I wrote about floods in Mississippi, Alabama, Pennsylvania (Johnstown), Ohio, Indiana, and even California and China. But never in Oklahoma. Not even once did “Oklahoma” and “flood” appear in the same sentence.

So these rain storms that have been pouring over Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas for what seems like 40 days come as a shock. For Oklahoma the norm is 40 days with no rain.

I read in the Daily Oklahoman where 1000 barrels of oil washed into the Verdigris River from a refinery on the state line in Coffeyville, Kansas, and it’s headed straight for Oologah Lake. That’s my old Cherokee home grounds, and I thought, “With all the misery from the floods, at $70 a barrel, finally a chance for the old Indian to cash in on some oil.” But the newspaper went on to say the oil will likely dissipate before it gets to Oologah. So that’s $70,000 over the dam.

As America celebrates Independence Day, a handful of problems with weather won’t get in the way of a good time. Anybody can rattle off a list of concerns, from the war in Iraq, to a Presidential pardon, to radical Muslim doctors who want to kill people rather than heal them. But this country has seen worse in 231 years. These other countries claim they don’t like us and say we have a million faults. Many even prefer Putin to Bush. But give ’em half a chance to leave home, and you know which country they’d flock to. So rest assured that July 4 will never be just another date on the American calendar.

I want to congratulate a columnist for The Dispatch here in Columbus. Mike Harden received the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award from their national organization. I wasn’t at their convention in Philadelphia for the presentation, but did show up at a surprise party for him Friday. Mike is partially retiring (cutting down to one column a week instead of three), but don’t expect him to ever retire for humanitarian service.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“[President Andrew Jackson] sent the Indians to Oklahoma. They had a treaty that said, ‘You shall have this land as long as grass grows and water flows.’ It was not only a good rhyme but looked like a good treaty, and it was till they struck oil. Then the Government took it away from us again. They said the treaty only refers to ‘Water and Grass; it don’t say anything about oil’.” WA #267, Feb. 5, 1928

“Now they have moved the Indians [again] and they settled the whole thing by putting them on land where the grass won’t grow and the water won’t flow.” Radio broadcast, Apr. 27, 1930

“Sen. Lowden [candidate for President] was awful strong with the farmers, but the farmers got a good crop, so I guess they forgot about him. Rain was with [President Coolidge] … and it’s awful hard to beat for a farmers’ “relief” measure.
You give me rain whenever I want it, and give my opponent arguments and figures on his side, and I will clean him nine times out of ten. Rain at the right time has got more to do with a full wheat bin than all the protective tariffs you can shock up in one pile.” 
WA #263 Jan. 8, 1928

(Possibly concerning the Immigration Bill…)
“Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, that don’t hurt anybody. It’s when they do something is when they become dangerous.” DT #1038, Nov. 22, 1929