It is NOT Always About Politics

I like to watch the Sunday morning news programs.  My morning routine includes “This Week,” “Chris Matthews,”  “Fox News Sunday” & “Meet the Press.”   I have to switch around among them, since they overlap.   That is interesting because you often see the same “opinion makers”  being interviewed on a couple of them.    It might be easier just to get the talking points.  These shows are ABOUT politics, so I shouldn’t complain, but I think they are too much about politics.

Below is Augustus Caesar, Rome’s first Emperor.

They see everything through a political lens.   I understand that Washington is a political town and politics pervades everything, however I don’t think everything is reducible to politics alone, at least politics in the sense of the competitive game.   On “Chris Matthews” eight out of the twelve pundits thought “the right” would give President Obama the benefit of a long honeymoon.   I agree with the majority.   But I disagree with Matthews and the panel when they characterized this as simple politics.   They will have to give it because they cannot be seen to oppose him.   Matthews et al are smart people and I recall the two old sayings:  “it takes a smart person to be cynical, but a wise man to get beyond that” and “A man’s view of the world is a confession of his own character.”    

Not everybody is motivated by politics – not even politicians – and especially not ordinary people.   I have particular and strongly held political views, but between elections I want my President to succeed no matter what party and I want our Congress to work under the best possible conditions.   In between elections, I don’t want to think about politics very much.  Most people are like that except during tough political campaigns or when making a calls to talk radio or C-Span.    Being politically aware all the time is just too exhausting.

Our system makes good or at least okay decisions most of the time.  More important is our capacity to experiment and reinvent while maintaining the fundamental integrity of our structure.  The fact that we enjoy the oldest living Constitution in the world and are second oldest continuous government in the world (after the Brits) is ample evidence of our stability.   It is noteworthy that the British heritage has influenced so many stable democracies (Besides the U.S. and UK, Australian, New Zealand, Canada, among others, and arguably even India).  To a significant extent, the countries with this heritage allow their citizens more freedom FROM politics than most others.   In America, it is possible to be prosperous, secure and successful w/o strong political connections.   If you think about that for more than a minute and put it into historical context, that is truly amazing.   Freedom FROM arbitrary government action and the capriciousness of petty officials is rare in history.   We complain about our lack of freedom and opportunity, but we have (to paraphrase) the worst possible system … except for everything else.

I worry that we may ask too much from government and I get nervous each election season.   History shows that people voluntary give up freedom in return for the promise of stability and prosperity but they end up usually getting none of the above.   It is useful to read the stories of Republics, ancient and modern, as our Founding Fathers did.  This could happen to us too, but the good sense of the American people and the soundness of our institutions win out in the end.   Most of us are not really interested in letting politics intrude too much into our daily lives and private affairs – especially not “theirs” but even our own.   We get a little hysterical from time to time, but to the disappointment of radicals on all sides, moderation and good sense prevail. 

Knowing Too Much

We found more than thirty official or authoritative studies of American public diplomacy compiled after 9/11.   This doesn’t even include the whole cottage industry producing popular speculation, magazine articles and general gnashing of teeth about “why they hate us.”    Maybe we know enough to draw conclusions.  Maybe we even know too much.   This is what I am thinking about as my group prepares to make our own contribution to this huge library. 

You have to be careful not to gather too much information.   Theoretically, the more information you have, the better decisions you could make.  Theoretically that is true.  In fact it is not. For that to be true, you would need to have near perfect recall, wonderful understanding and supernatural ability to assimilate the diverse data points.   The capacity of our computers to gather and store information leads us to a kind of hubris that we CAN use all of it.  We cannot.   And that also makes the erroneous assumption that the information is knowable. In the case of something like public diplomacy, we are dealing with conditional facts, a kind of game theory where any move we make provokes reaction which change the fundamental realities.  

 It is like one of those sci-fi movies where someone goes back into the past to correct some mistakes, right some injustice or just take advantage of his knowledge of the past to make money in the present.   It never works out because changing conditions in the past creates a different reality in the present.    This is no mere artifice.  We are doing it all the time.   Of course, we cannot change the past.  We can only make plans in the present to affect the future, but the real world principle is very similar.  Maybe that is why we like those fictional time paradoxes or the similar literature scenarios where trying to avoid the consequences of a prophecy create that outcome (e.g. Oedipus).     Our attempts to achieve a particular future alter the conditions we are studying.

Sci-fi scenarios aside, we still can be easily overwhelmed by information.    At some point, more information doesn’t improve conclusions.   In fact, it begins to create confusion.   This seems counter intuitive and people in the midst of information gathering are usually fooled.  Studies show that decision making does not improve and even gets worse, but the decision makers themselves have more confidence in themselves.   Bureaucrats also like to gather information perpetually in order to delay the moment where they have to take a risk and come to a conclusion and provide more cover if they make any mistakes.   This is a variation of the paralysis by analysis problem.  BTW – most people have the cognitive capacity to can juggle around seven chunks of information; really smart people can do maybe nine and the cognitively challenged can handle fewer, but at some point enough is enough and more is too much.

Next week we will be reading reports and talking to experts.   I believe in going through the process and that is what I am supposed to do, but we have to recognize when we are done and move along.   It will hard to let go.

Using Time Wisely

Not many people are around here on the day after Thanksgiving.   I like to work on such days.  Volunteering for such duty makes me popular and the quiet time gives me a chance to think.  This is my most productive activity.

Below is the Commerce Building.  When it was finished in 1932 it was the largest office building in the world.

I read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People almost twenty years ago.  It was one of the books that most influenced my life.   There is not very much really original in the book.  Stephen Covey’s contribution is that he manages to put things we know we should do into understandable chunks.  I won’t go further into detail.  Suffice it to say that it gives practical methods to live a principle centered life and puts character development above the tricks most self-help books teach you to get ahead. 

One of the parts I found most useful was the section on time management.   I am not talking about making lists and accomplishing goals.   Covey talks about doing the right things and taking control of the process.  He divides tasks on a four quadrant chart.   Some things are urgent and important.  Some are important but not urgent.   Others are urgent but not important and the last quadrant has things that are not urgent or important. 

It is easy to get stuck doing the things that are urgent, whether they are important or not.  Can you resist picking up a ringing phone, even when you are having an important talk with someone in person sitting in front of your desk?   But the urgent is often not important and the urgency of many important events results from lack of anticipation and planning.  The place where you should spend most of your time is among the tasks that are important but not urgent.  (Preventing the fire is more effective than the urgent need to put it out, but which seems more heroic?)  This will put you in charge of your life and help you avoid lurching from one urgent task to another w/o the time to do them well.  It will also help you avoid doing many “urgent” things altogether.

BTW – I am writing all this from memory.   If the details are not perfect, I don’t care.   I had a chance to meet Mr. Covey a few years ago.  He told me that the ideas were meant to be internalized and changed to fit particular circumstance and personalities.  Ideas are like virus that live & reproduce only in human hosts.  They mutate and adapt.  The ideas I was “infected” with twenty years ago are now uniquely mine.  My experience has customized them and these are the lessons I took.

Below is Dept of Agriculture building completed in 1930.

I rarely agonize about decisions.  People who like me say that is because I just know the right thing to do.  Detractors see me as shallow, flippant & insouciant.   I believe the truth is that I can make quicker decisions because I have thought through similar scenarios and tried to apply values & integrate experience and I did this BEFORE I was faced with the urgent decision currently at hand.  Contemplation is an activity that fits squarely into the important but not urgent category. That does not mean that I make the right decision, BTW, but I am neither flippant (usually) nor do I just know what to do by some mystical process.

Covey and many other leadership thinkers tell us that is what we are supposed to do, but they always warn that other people might not like it (hence the flippant moniker) and they will give us a hard time for “not doing real work.”  All of our great achievements are created twice: first and most importantly in our minds and then only later in the practical world.   The intellectual capital is usually the most valuable, but others can see only the practical creation or activity.

There is a story about a man who has a serious plumbing problem. He calls the plumber who tells him he can fix the problem and it will cost $100.  The plumber goes down and whacks one of the pipes and everything begins to move as it should.   When he asks for his $100, the customer is irate.  “All you did was whack the pipe and it took only a couple seconds,” he says.  “I want an itemized bill.”  The plumber gives him the bill which reads: whacking pipe – $.05; knowing where and how to whack pipe – $99.95. 

Thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving is the best holiday.  It is the one where you make a conscious effort to think about and be thankful for the good people, things & experiences in your life.    No matter how hard we think we have worked, none of us achieves happiness or success by ourselves, and all of us are lucky to live in a society that gives us so many chances. 

Below – my parents on their wedding day.

I had trouble learning to read and in first grade my teacher put me into the low group.   My mother convinced the teachers that I was not stupid, just bored and a little stubborn.   To placate my mother and probably teach her a lesson, they jumped me into a higher group.   I did well there.  W/o that intervention, I think I would have been a failure at an early age and then continued down that road to earthly perdition.    I am thankful for my mother’s confidence and flexible teachers.

My father dropped out of school when he was in 10th grade, but he nevertheless saw the value of education.   He just assumed I would go to college and because of that and because of him, I did too.   My father didn’t have the experience to understand what college meant, but he knew enough to launch me in the right direction. 

Below I am standing in front of Medusa Cement Company in Milwaukee.  The picture is from 2006.  My father worked there for thirty-six years in the dust and the noise.  I put in four summers, which gave me only a small taste of the hard work he did to support the family.   His work helped put me in a position to get a great job where they pay me to do what I would pay to do.

I was seventeen when my mother died.  My sister was only fifteen and my father didn’t know what to do.   My mother’s sisters stepped in to help.   I am thankful for my aunts, who carried us through those hard times.    They took turns and one of them came over every day.  My whole extended family has been good to me.   I still always have a place to go and a home in Milwaukee. 

Speaking of Milwaukee, I was lucky to grow up in Milwaukee & Wisconsin, with the wonderful parks, nice museums and inexpensive education at the University Wisconsin system.   I am also thankful that it was easy to get into university in those days.    With my grades and habits when I was eighteen, I am not sure they would let me in these days.  There is way too much for me to say about Chrissy and the kids and besides it is too personal to put on the blog.   No matter what you achieve in your professional life, you need good family relationships to be really happy.  

Below is angel oak in South Carolina. 

My list is of good things is long.  I sometimes cannot believe how lucky I have been and how many people & events have helped me along.    Good fortune in important.   We should pray not merely to be fortunate, but to be able to do the things that make us deserve to be fortunate.

Thinking Peripatetically

Below are griffins at the Federal Reserve building.

Washington is not very crowded the day before thanksgiving.   I had some appointments at the Main State Building.   I got there a little early so I went to visit Abe Lincoln.   It is nice before the crowds arrive. I still take inspiration places like the Lincoln Memorial and I still get a bit of a thrill looking out over the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument and the Capitol. 

I make a point walking between Main State and SA 44 and I l get off/on the Metro a little ways away from work, so that I can walk across the Capital Mall.    I think of it as my “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” trip, after that old Jimmy Stewart movie, because in one run you can see the Capitol and the memorials: Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington, Vietnam, Korea and WWII.    

Below is Roslyn in Virginia across the Potomac.  In DC buildings cannot be taller than the Capitol. 

Some people ask me how I find the time.  They tell me that they are too busy for these sorts of luxuries.   It takes only around forty-five minutes to walk between the State annexes.    When you add the waiting time to the shuttle drive time, you save only around ten minutes.   If I get off the Metro a couple stops early, it just adds around fifteen minutes to the start or end of the day.   In return I get a calming walk through one of the world’s most pleasant areas.  It is also a great thinking opportunity.   I think better when I walk or run.  This is an old habit.   When I wrote papers in college I used to read all the sources and then go running.   During that time it would all come together and when I got back I could just produce the paper as fast as I could physically write it down.   If I just stayed in my seat and “worked hard”, nothing would come.   I still like the peripatetic decision making.  Being literally in motion helps me make sense out of confusing situations.   

Above is the front of the IRS building.  I like the classical styles.

Below ice skating at the National Gallery Garden.  It really isn’t that cold, but they have a refrigerated rink.

Besides, it is a real luxury to be able to walk around in Washington, something to be thankful for.

Climate Change

I am almost ready to sign my first carbon credit sale on my forests.  It is a sweet deal in that I get retro credit for the growth since 2003.  The contract is valid for fifteen years from that time, so it runs until 2018.  My first thinning on the CP property is 2019 and I will thin the Freeman property in 2011 or 2012.  Both are good dates, since the first one will have the contact until the very time of thinning and the second will grow back (i.e. sequester more carbon) in time for the reckoning.  The thinning makes the forest grow faster, but it takes a few years to catch up.

Below is Hoofddorp in Holland.  During the little ice age, these sorts of canals froze.  The don’t any longer.  Hoofddorp is a pleasant little town near Amsterdam.  There is a Courtyard Marriott there.  These pictures are from fall 2006.

I am not sure how the economy will affect the environment.    The falling price of gas has already made people less sensitive to using less.   As I wrote before, I think we should tax gas back up, but the recession makes that very unlikely scenario even less likely.    We made a lot of progress because of higher energy prices and I have to see that lost in the mixture of bad economy and lower energy prices.    Global warming is happening and we are part it.  Solutions are going to include things like higher energy prices, alternatives and nuclear power, but expect no panacea breakthrough in our lifetimes.

There is nothing we can do to prevent some global warming.  Although it might not be so apparent in a cool spell like we have had this year, barring extraordinary volcanic activity or a meteor collision, the earth will be significantly warmer in 2100 than it is today. The best we can do is mitigate it and adapt to the changes. We CAN adapt.   I don’t think there is cause for hysteria. 

We do not know the details of what will happen, but we can make some general assumptions. We will face sea level rises, water shortages, and changes in weather patterns. The most likely situation will mean that it will be significantly warmer near the poles and somewhat warmer and drier nearer the equator. So what can we do now?

Below – swans in the canal

Some things are simple common sense. For example, if you expect a sea level rise of a couple of feet, do not build permanent structures on land less than a few feet above sea level. For example, we would not rebuild below sea level areas of New Orleans or subsidize building near the ocean in general – no more expensive houses on barrier island or seaside hills.   This is fairly easily accomplished.  We just should NOT subsidize insurance rates.  If people have to pay the real risk premiums, most will not build in the first place.  Since trees live a long time, we might also consider planting southern species further north. Genetic engineering will allow plant species to adapt quicker.  
My pines, BTW, are indeed a southern species growing near the northern edge of their natural range.  I also planted some bald cypress, which are southern trees and maybe I will do some longleaf.

Humans can adapt to climate changes. We evolved during the transition from ice ages to warmer periods.  That is one reason we got our big brains.   We needed cultural adaptations our intelligence permitted to cope with transformations and new environments that our strictly biological heritage was not quick enough to handle.  If you wait to grow fur, you die.  If you “borrow” fur from the local animals, you stay warm and alive.  Even so, it almost finished off our species.  With our more developed technologies the expected  climate change  will be a cake walk compared to what our troglodyte & and wandering ancestors faced.

We also need some perspective.  The earth has been much warmer than it is today … and much colder. Life thrived in the hot Mesozoic and survived during the frigid ice ages. The problem is change itself.  Natural and human communities are adapted to today’s world. People and animals can move; forests maybe not.  The problem, to repeat, is the change, not the warmer or colder stable state.

Some years from now, our grandchildren might face a far different dilemma than the one we expect. Consider this scenario.  What if greenhouse gases have made the world warmer and human & natural communities have begun to adapt to this new stability?  What if future generations develop a carbon free panacea of an energy source? Do they see reversing climate change as a benefit or a threat? Maybe at that point they prefer the warmer world and they want to keep it warm with the new weather patterns.  After all, we would not want to go back to the colder conditions of the little ice age in 1650 or 1770.  That was normal back then.  We prefer the climate we have now. Climate change is a problem in either direction.

We Get By with a Little Help From Our Friends

Below is a giant typewriter eraser in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden. Kids don’t know what this is. They never touched a typewriter.

I have been thinking re public affairs strategies.  New studies about public affairs are coming out all the time.  Heritage just published one and Brookings will release one tomorrow.  There are at least thirty official or authoritative studies done since 9/11/2001.  I know because I have read many of them.  They come to similar conclusions, but still nothing much seems to work. 

In Public Diplomacy Relationships Trump Information

The proliferation of media sources and the rise of the Internet have made information almost free to anybody who can use has a computer and can use a search engine.  In this situation, influence becomes more a matter of relationships than of actual facts, figures and reports.  The trusting relationships people have developed with individuals and media providers are the source of the influence, not the information itself.  

Despite the ubiquity of general information, usable information sometimes is missing.  Bloggers and other new media players are in need of content that they can use w/o copyright or based on creative commons copyright provisions.  We should provide this material in easy to “steal” chunks.  Pictures and video would be especially useful.

Below are American elms outside the American Indian Museum.  They are Princeton variety, immune to Dutch elm disease that wiped the beautiful elms off our city streets in the 1960s and 1970s.  Soon we will have a restoration.

We can draw on an analogy from an earlier crisis in American public diplomacy when we faced strenuous and vitriolic opposition to the proposed deployment of U.S. Pershing intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe in the 1980s to counter Soviet SS-20s.   More protestors hit the streets to voice their opposition to our policies in those days than came out against our Iraq activities more recently.  

Our action came in response to a Soviet threat, but much of the European media treated it as an American aggression.   One of the things they did consistently was to show picture of American Pershing missiles, instead of the Soviet SS-20s that had provoked the crisis in the first place.   

Through their contacts, American public diplomacy officers in Europe learned that one of the reasons for this imbalance was simply that many media outlets had pictures of the American weapons but they just didn’t have any of SS-20s.   Soviets were not a forthcoming with such things.   U.S. officials remedied the problem by providing good quality pictures of the Soviet missiles that helped level the playing field. 

Below is Smithsonian Mall.  The pictures, BTW, are just ones I took this morning.  They are not related to the article text, but they are nice, right?  I have a really nice walk to work.

This example is instructive in several ways.  Most important, it shows that a sound policy can be implemented in the face of vocal opposition.   What passed for public opinion in this crisis was wrong, but it didn’t seem so clear at the time.  It also shows how some big problems may have an easy to implement solutions and how we should not attribute to malice what may result from mere indolence, ignorance of a simple lack of proper materials.  But the deeper lesson is that this example indicates the importance of relationships, being near the customers and understanding their needs.   Our PD people would not have correctly diagnosed the problem w/o close contact with the people providing the information and they would not have been able to remedy the situation had they not already built a network of trusting local contacts that could & would help.

We could get by with a little help from our friends.  Unfortunately, as I wrote in a previous post, we wantonly destroyed our networks during the 1990s.   

Above is the old post office building.

I will write more on this subject over the next weeks.

The Eternal Present of Cable TV

t was cold outside today so I spent the day productively watching TV.   Of course, I grazed and in true omnivore fashion I didn’t stick with any one program for more than a few minutes and I took advantage TVio to time shift.   It used to be that movies, televisions shows, plays, even books and music  had their time and then fell into the memory hole.   Some like Gilligan’s Island or Star Trek became ubiquitous in reruns, but most emerged rarely.  Today everything is available in a vast chaotic mélange that defies time and genre, language and space.   Too much choice dulls the senses, but who would want to let somebody else decide what to limit?

On the cerebral side, there are a lot of good programs on history and science.   It has become a true marketplace of ideas, but there is significant chicanery and manipulation.   A picture is worth a thousand words and a reenactment can do even better than that.    The producer has the power to manipulate interpretations.    Propagandists have known this ever since movies were invented and even before.   Many theatrical productions were clearly meant to highlight versions of the past that supported the power of the present.   Shakespeare’s history plays are prime examples.   George Orwell famously warned that “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” 

I don’t think that there is a conscious attempt at propaganda in the historical productions on cable TV, but they do exacerbate the historian’s tendency to attribute too much to conscious choices and plans.   A half hour program contains fewer words than a short pamphlet.   It must compress characters and events.   It must also make sense and a story out of disordered events.   Sometimes it is not a matter of conflicting plans but simply somebody forgot, didn’t know or didn’t care.   The story we tell is usually more logical than the reality.   The reality is that shit happens and sometimes there is no good explanation. 

If you don’t find it on TV, you can always look on I tunes.

I don’t think that TV producers are (usually) trying to propagandize at least when you get more than a couple of decades before the present, but they do have proclivities that create a systematic bias.     Producers like action, so there is a bias toward agency.   They also like underdogs and rebels, so they tend to overemphasize pirates, bandits and small groups of dissidents.     I have seen at least three separate documentary dramas on the Briton’s warrior queen Boudicca, for example.   The British forces killed a lot of Roman civilians and did manage to ambush a Roman army, but the Romans cut them to pieces once they became fully aware of the situation and there was never any question of the final outcome.   For the Romans it was  just a local affair in a faraway place. 

In the study of history it is always useful to see who is still standing at the end.   It is easy to exaggerate power, numbers and importance in descriptions, but if at the end of the day one gives up and the other doesn’t, you can be pretty sure who really prevailed.

Producers also suffer from a bias toward new and tenuous explanations.  Both the scientific and the historical methods require hypotheses to be tested with evidence.  Lots of hypotheses are not supported by the evidence and these tend to be the most interesting ones precisely because they are new and often weird.   They also have the advantage of being perceived as insider or hidden information.   I think that was one of the attractions of the “Da Vinci Code,” which didn’t actually purport to be anything but fiction, but was taken as factual by the credulous.   I have seen a few of the documentaries on that subject.   The same was true for myths like the Bermuda Triangle and Chariots of the Gods from my youth.

Below – picture from Old Tucson where they filmed many westerns.  We visited in 2003, so this is an archival photo.  The entry from that time is at this link.

Returning to my original subject of what’s on TV, there were lots of interesting things on.  I used the remote a lot, so I watched none of these full time or to the end.  It is a sort of TV multitasking.  Sometimes you don’t have to watch the whole thing.  There were some episodes of Iraq Diary on the Military Channel.   It brought back some memories, good and bad.  They talked about the heat and the dust and getting dusted by the helicopters. I remember.   One of my favorite programs is “Modern Marvels”.  I had a saved episode re superhighways.  I watched the History Channel on the Spartans, the Battle for Rome and one about our Civil War.   I got a few snippets of “The Longest Day” and “Highlander.”  I don’t remember which channel they were on.  “South Park” was funny.  It was about the Goths.  The eWest channel had John Wayne movies all day and I watched the end of “The Man from Utah” made in 1934.   The interesting thing about old movies is that they were made with real sets and actors, not computer enhancement.   I also watched part of “Rooster Cogburn,” the John Wayne movie made forty years after “The Man From Utah.”   In between was “The Horse Soldiers.”  I didn’t have to watch that, since I still recall it well.  It was not a very good movie anyway.  I still like to watch “Bonanza”  Sundays on TVLand.   It is not so much that I like the show itself anymore, but it gives me a kind of peaceful, easy, nostalgic feeling.   Little Joe, Ben, Adam & Hoss seem like old friends when they ride up with Lake Tahoe in the background.  Bonanza was on Sunday nights when I was growing up.   

I remember the Cartwrights were on the night when the Beetles premiered on the Ed Sullivan Show.    We were at a party at my Aunt Florence’s house.  My cousins Mary and Barbie were very enthusiastic about watching the Beatles.   I would have preferred to watch “the Scarecrow” on the Wonderful World of Disney, but I was outvoted.  Just as well; the Beatles were historical.     Funny how memory works.  That was almost forty-five ago and I was only eight years old.   I don’t remember what songs the Beatles sang.   I wasn’t paying attention.

CO2 & Forests

Carbon dioxide makes plants grow faster and stronger, so presumably higher levels of CO2 in the air as a result of burning fossil fuels would make forests grow faster.   I was particularly interested in an experiment done at Duke University where they dosed a loblolly pine plantation with elevated levels of CO2.     Duke is not far from my forests and they were experimenting with the same species as I have on similar soils in a similar environment. 

Below are pines at a Virginia Tech experimental plot testing biosolids at the Peidmont station near Blackstone, VA.  The trees were not actively managed before the biosolid experiments.

The studies showed that the pines did indeed grow faster and stronger.  They were also less prone to damage during ice storms, which is a factor that limits loblolly growth farther north.  The forest did relatively better during dry years.   The hypothesis is that the limiting factors in the growth of the pines are nutrients such as nitrogen, which is in deficit on much of the pine land in the Southeast.   In dry years, however, the trees don’t bump up against those factors since they are growing more slowly because water is the limiting factor.  When rain is plentiful they are reach the limits of the site’s nutrients and the extra CO2 isn’t much of a benefit.

Everybody knows that forest soils in region are deficient in N and P as well as trace minerals.   Pine forests often sit on land that was used for cotton, corn or tobacco.  These crops depleted the soils, which were old soils anyway.  Building the soils is one of our tasks. 

It seems to me that we have a solution to this problem if we just fertilize better.   This is something we might want to do anyway.   I think this is a place for biosolids.    I really don’t understand why we cannot balance these things better.   I read about the problems of disposing bulk wastes and sewage from municipalities and commercial farms.   In Virginia and NC, we have a lot of chicken and hog operations.   They produce too much crap; our soils could use it and the trees would grow better and faster.  I am going to try to figure out why this is not being done more widely.  I suspect it is misguided regulation coupled with plain inertia.

Below is one of my failures, or maybe a single success.  I planted twenty bald cypress.  As far as I can tell, only one survived.  I want to get back into the swamp when the ground freezes this winter to check on the overall progress.  I was in Iraq last winter, so I missed that opportunity then.  The tree you can see in the picture is thriving.   The others not.  I don’t know what I did wrong.   My guess is that there was too much competition.  There are a lot of box elders that overgrew them.  This one is near the road, so I can get at the brush regularly.  BTW – the bald cypress is the green one on the left. 

Anyway, the Dept of Energy, which was funding the Duke studies, is pulling the plug on them.   You can find information re at links here, here & here.    It was that news that made me think about this subject.   I am a little unhappy about this outcome, although I am not sure how much more could be gained anyway.    There are too many variables.  You would have to try to fertilize some, make sure others had lots of water etc. and by the time you figured it out the results would probably be OBE’D.  Good forestry practices and superior genetics will make the forests grow a lot faster anyway.    Experiments are difficult in forestry because of the variable conditions and the very long times involved.   It is usually easier to compare and contrast different places and practices over larger areas and work with landowners.

Below are 13-year-old loblolly pines on my new land.  They are planted close together, which shaded out other trees.  You can see there are only a few stray hardwoods.  But these trees are too close.  I want to thin them out maybe in 2010.  That is a little early, but the stand is growing well and I think the opening will help.

Virginia Tech does a good job of outreach to forest owners, which helps them understand the forests of Virginia in a very practical way.    For example, they are studying biosolids application on a tree farm near Blackstone and they invite landowners and anybody else interested to look at the results.  It was a biosolids demonstration in 2007 that directly led me to apply biosolids on my land.    They also send around student teams to check on forest pests etc.   All this outreach makes the whole Commonwealth of Virginia their laboratory.

I know this is a bit of a subject change, but I have to add that any CO2 solution requires higher prices for carbon-based fuels.  The bad news is that oil prices are coming down.  We need to tax them back up.  I have been writing about this for years now.  Please follow this link and let me know what you think.  

Of course, maybe all this will go for nought.  It has been darn cold around here for the past weeks and I read in the paper today that not only was this October one of the colder on record, but there has been no global warming for the last ten years.   Statistics are like that, however.  There is the story re the man whose head is in the freezer and feet in the fire but on average he is comfortable.

Traditions, Quantico and NGOs on the Battlefield

Military bases and battlefields are often located on beautiful natural locations.  It makes sense when you think about it.  They were looking for high ground that commanded some natural features.   Such places have nice views.   Below is the view of the Potomac from the Marine base at Quantico where I went to participate on a panel on civil military affairs at the Expeditionary Warfare School. 

We had an interesting discussion about NGOs in battle spaces.   The students were generally unsympathetic to the neutrality of NGOs and their arguments were cogent.   What happens when an NGO learns about an imminent attack?  On the other hand, it is important that we have NGOs maintain the ability to work with both sides, at least nominally.   This is especially important for an organization like the Red Cross, which has real responsibility to minister to the victims of armed conflict on all sides.   There will always be a dynamic tension.    It takes physical courage to be on a battlefield and it takes moral courage to maintain neutrality in these tough conditions.   The expedient thing to do in the short run is often not the right thing for the long run.  I defended the NGOs, although I admitted that the actions of many also annoy me much of the time.   We cannot always defend only those things we like.  

Beyond that, NGOs are a key part of civil society.   They usually help us with stability operations, whether or not they want to work toward “our” goals.  They provide services that make life better for the local people.   The bad guys tend to hate them for that.   Their goal is to make life horrible for the average person in order to break down support for legitimate authority, create chaos and drum up recruits for their nefarious purposes.   Of course, that does not include the politically motivated NGOs, and there are a few of them.

The military does tradition well.  The building where we met was called Geiger Hall.  Many buildings are named after famous people, or people who gave piles of money to whatever institution is naming the place.  This is different.  General Geiger earned the honor AND the building owners explained why.   The constant exposure to the reminders of his successful and heroic life gives instruction and inspiration.  These are things we need more in our lives.  Below is the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a truly remarkable man.  If you don’t know the story, I suggest you google him.

I had to rush back from Quantico to do a presentation on strategic communications for the JSAT at NDU.   Our part of the task force is studying that and I will write more insights re public diplomacy when I have more of them.   I will have to go to Doha to work on this in early December.   Back to the Middle Eastern desert.   Actually that area is pleasant in the winter, it is only for a couple weeks and I won’t be in the war zone, so I don’t mind.  

I walked along the Potomac on the way from the Metro to NDU, where I met this guy.   He told me that he was fishing for catfish and rockfish and catching some catfish.   As a senior citizen, he says he doesn’t need a license to fish in the Potomac.   He has been fishing there for more than a half century, back when this part of Washington was a poor semi-rural town.

Above – with all the oak trees, we have alot of squirrels, agile and graceful creatures. Three of them were burying acorns, but by the time I got my camera out, only one remained. This one reared up.