Don’t blame global warming

The problem with blaming global warming for everything is that it discourages better management practices that could be done, should be done to make our forests healthier. A good example are pine beetles. They are a problem and have been for years. They have become worse in recent times, and the facile explanation is global warming.
This article tells about how better management techniques slow the beetles. “As Dr Hood reports in Ecological Applications, the death toll was 50% in the control zone, 39% in the area intentionally burned, 14% in the one both thinned and burned, and nearly zero where it was merely thinned.”

Pine beetles are a threat in our Southern forests too. We know that the beetles are slow and stupid. When the tree are far enough apart, the beetles have trouble preying on trees and birds have an easier time preying on the beetles. That is a big reason we thin. Western forests are more often managed by the Forest Service and they more often are victims of misguided activists “protectors” who object to thinning or burning. As a result of the activists the forests are destroyed by insect and burned disastrously instead of in a better planned way.

So much of the destruction of Western forests is causes not in spite of the best efforts of activists, but because of them. Don’t blame global warming.

Other blog posts
Fire in Texas oak openings
Burning Questions
Setting the woods on fire
Burn the brush but save the soil

SITES a LEED for landscape

It is not the destination; it is the journey. That makes sense in the figurative way and today literally when I rode my bike down to the SITES event in Alexandria. We went to Alexandria a lot when I first came into the FS, but I go there rarely today and I have never gone all the way on the bike trail.

The bike trail journey was cool. You take the W& OD until it merge with the Four-Mile Run trail, which then turns into the Mount Vernon Trail. You have to leave the bike trails a little in the town of Alexandria.

The first part was very familiar, following my quotidian commute at least as far as FSI. The next part was familiar. I had been down many times, but not regularly. That part went as far as where Four Mile Creek enters the Potomac. The last part was new to me but not strange. I had been near driving, but not on the bike. The one-way distance was about sixteen miles. This was our first summer-like day, so it was sort of hot, but it was nice to sweat.

My first picture shows a cobble stone street in Alexandria. Very picturesque but hard on cars and impossible with bikes. I took a picture but avoided it. Next shows the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the southern terminus of the trail I had to cut west to get to the meeting site for the SITES. Alexandria has gentrified and the old factories are now bars, restaurants and lofts.

You see that in picture #3. The forth picture is the bike train going up to the old Potomac River Power Plant. It was a coal burning station that polluted the nations capital. It shut down in 2012. Now that it is closed, we see it more fondly. Picture # 5 shows the bike trail tracks and condos. The tracks used to carry trains loaded with coal for the power plant. They run no more and now the tracks are just interesting and quiet enough that you can have a high-priced apartment on the “wrong side of the tracks.” The penultimate picture shows a cattail marsh near the Potomac and finally is the bike trail in a typical section.

Why some people are not poor

The big question is not why some people are still poor but why today most are not. The world before 1750 was uniformly poor and miserable, a long dark age punctuated by a ephemeral points of light, enough to give humanity hope and a taste of truth and beauty, but never enough to sustain prosperity.

What happened around the middle of the 18th century to change this monotonously grim calculus?

As the author writes, “What enriched the modern world wasn’t capital stolen from workers or capital virtuously saved, nor was it institutions for routinely accumulating it…
“…The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz…”
What happened was that a system developed that decentralized decision-making and spread incentives to a larger number of people. This greatly increased the total intelligence and innovation available.

““When people ask, ‘Will our children be better off than we are?’ I reply, ‘Yes, but it’s not going to be due to the politicians, but the engineers.’

“I would supplement his remark. It will also come from the businessperson who buys low to sell high, the hairdresser who spots an opportunity for a new shop, the oil roughneck who moves to and from North Dakota with alacrity and all the other commoners who agree to the basic bourgeois deal: Let me seize an opportunity for economic betterment, tested in trade, and I’ll make us all rich.”

Anyway, I saw this woman speak on two occasions now, and it is worth reading what she wrote here. A while back George Clack covered some of what she wrote in his quotations section.
Additional reference

High grading

High-grading involves harvesting the biggest and the best trees. This is attractive because it is most profitable, but it is also attractive because it is easy to confuse it with selective cutting. Over time, high-grading is usually significantly more disruptive than a clear cut. The biggest trees are not always the most mature. On the contrary, the may well be the healthiest and best trees. By removing them, you are taking away the best and leaving the worst.

But you will rarely be criticized for high grading, since you will leave a forest intact. In fact, you might garner praise from urban environmentalists unfamiliar with high-grading.

High-grading is unethical or ignorant, i.e. if you understand what you are doing you are behaving unethically, but not everyone understands. Some woodlands have been high-graded for years. You can imagine the well-intention landowner explaining that he cuts only the ones “ready to be harvested.” That is why we have to make a big deal about this. Most landowners want to do the right thing on their land. Not everyone knows what that means.
See this link for reference.

Cities and the future of conservation

Cities are the future of conservation. By 2050, about 80% of the world’s population will live in cities, and the danger is that they will be separated from nature with little appreciation for its complexity. If most people are going to be involved in nature, it will have to be urban nature.

I went over to the Nature Conservancy for a lecture on urban conservation. The first speaker, Pascal Mittermaier, global managing director, cities, talked about the need for green infrastructure in cities. Green infrastructure can be very cost effective and it provides the added benefit of brining nature to the cities. Natural areas can absorb and direct rain, cool the surroundings and protect homes. Building the drainage, running the air conditioning and providing the retaining walls would cost as much, require more maintenance and generally are less attractive. Green infrastructure is not used as much as it could be or should be because it tends to be slower acting and not as completely controlled.

The second speaker, Kahlil Kettering, conservation director for Maryland and DC, built on this talking about storm water. Storm water is a big deal. Forty-three percent of Washington is paved and impervious to rainwater. All this water just runs off, damaging local streams and putting pollution and sediment into the Anacostia and Potomac. Kettering talked about how parking lots can be reconfigured to handle the rainwater that fall on them. He showed a photo of a parking lot in Maryland that used to shed water and now absorbs all of it. These improvements cost money, some of which can be cost-shared from local, state and Federal funds, but it ends up with a much better result. The parking lots are much more attractive and people like to park their cars in the shade of the trees.

My first picture shows the Nature Conservancy headquarters in Arlington. It is conveniently located near the bike trail and the Balston Metro stop. The other three are the natural garden in back of the building. The plants are native to the Mid-Atlantic region and require little care.Save


Stopped off at Gettysburg on the way home. I have been here a few times before, the first time in 1985 with my colleague Rick Roberts, who knew the facts of the battle very well and gave a great commentary. But each time it is moving. So many brave men and each shot or shell that killed or maimed, killed or maimed an American, since we were on both sides. (None of my ancestors was in American during the Civil War, but one of Chrissy’s fought with the Wisconsin regiments.)

My first picture is the “high water mark”. Some Confederates got just about to where the sign shows and then were turned back. This was the culmination of Pickett’s charge. (It should more properly be called Longstreet’s advance, since General James Longstreet was in overall command and Pickett’s division was only one of three participating.) Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead leading the troops was killed on that spot. Ironically, Armistead’s’ best friend Winfield Scott Hancock, commanded the Union troops. Many of the officers knew each other and had been friends before the war. The end of the charge was effectively the end of the battle, the bloodiest on American soil. Although the war would drag on until April 1865, this battle and the fall of Vicksburg the next day sealed the fate of the South.

12,500 men set off across that field. Only a few successfully covered the 3/4 miles to the high water mark. When they finally retreated only about half were left.

The next picture shows Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee at the Virginia monument. This is the place where the the attack commenced. The next picture shows the field looking the other direction. The trees at the edge are the clump of trees that Lee told James Longstreet to use as his objective in the attack.

The fourth picture shows Chrissy sitting with a statue of Abraham Lincoln. The battle is famous for its size and consequences, but it is even better known as the place where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. It is a beautiful and short speech that many of us memorized in HS. It consists of only 272 words and Lincoln wrote it himself. Would that today’s politicians could be so concise and thoughtful.

I had to add the last picture, which shows the monument to the First Minnesota Volunteers. On the second day of the battle, they were ordered to charge oncoming Confederate troops who outnumbered them 5 to 1. The Minnesota volunteers succeeded in blunting the advance but at the cost of an 82% casualty rate. The 47 survivors found themselves in the middle of the battle the next day and were ordered to charge again, this time to blunt Pickett’s charge. They again showed their heroism.

Edison and Menlo Park

Edison set up his research laboratory in Menlo Park, now part of Edison Township, New Jersey. This is where he invented the phonograph and the light bulb. He later moved his home and factories to West Orange, NJ. Nothing is left of his Menlo Park facility. It was already in ruins when Henry Ford bought what was left and moved it to Michigan to be part of the Henry Ford Museum.

On the site today is a tower and a light bulb model you see in the pictures below.
The light bulb is the image of invention. Edison’s inventions in general changed the way we live. Chrissy and I have been visiting Newport, RI and the houses of the rich and famous. They were early adopters of electric lighting. Before that, in a world lit only by sunlight and fire, interior spaces were dark most of the time. You could use candles or kerosene, but it was still pretty dim and you faced the problems of smoke and dangers of fire.

The light bulb was not Edison’s first invention. His first invention was a machine that recorded Morse code. It allowed the much more rapid transmission of telegraph messages. When Edison played it back, he noticed that it made sound and got the idea that he could record other sounds.

The first picture below is the iconic light bulb. Next is the tower that marks the spot of the old Menlo Park laboratory. The third picture is Edison’s chair. Henry Ford bought it, nailed it to the floor and had the chair and the surrounding floor shipped to his collection in Michigan. The last picture is Greenfield Village, part of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. It is a collect of buildings typical of America in the turn of the century. The last two picture are from an earlier trip.  Link to that is here.

Edison and West Orange

We went to West Orange, NJ to look into innovation and Thomas Edison. Edison invented a practical light bulb, the phonograph & the motion picture camera. At least that is what I learned in school. Since then, I have come to understand that invention or discovery are rarely that simple. No one individual is responsible. Rather, many factors come together that enable the leap.

Progress comes as punctuated equilibrium. We certainly credit Edison with amazing creativity, but he sprung from the same fertile soil that produced the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone & George Westinghouse among many others. We call them inventors, but maybe a better term is innovators, since they bring together lots of ideas and people and put them together in different ways. That is where the “fertile soil” comes in. When you get a bunch of innovators together, they innovate as the ideas bounce around, mutate, evolve and improve. That is why giving credit to a single inventor is so hard.
All that aside, Edison was a great inventor and a great innovator as an individual. If he depended on the ecology of innovation, he was a big part of that ecological system. He understood this better than most. He knew great innovations often come in a flash of innovation … followed by years of hard work to make them practical. Edison was practical. He organized a team for innovation. He invented a system for invention just as Henry Ford invented a process for mass production. You could say that those ideas were “out there” but it took someone to make them work.

Historians today mostly reject and even disparage the “great man theory” and they are right to do so. For some of the reasons I mentioned above, the great man theory does not work to explain history. However, the “shit happens” theory is also unsatisfying. Innovation can happen only when conditions are ripe, but ripe conditions do not guarantee innovation and the innovators set the direction, the path of progress. To the extent that innovations are path dependent, after a few steps the great individuals have indeed made history different than it would otherwise have been. So the great man theory is not wrong, just incomplete. Edison was one of those great men who changed the direction of history.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
My pictures show Edison’s factory in West Orange. Next is the workshop floor. Notice the belts. The machines did not have their own power, but rather ran off the mechanical power overhead transmitted by the belts. The third picture is Edison’s music room. He recorded music there, but lost market share because he refused to hire big names. He was more concerned with technical quality than with star quality. The last photo is an Edison phonograph. The picture is one I took a while back at the Henry Ford Museum. I will include a link to that trip in the comments section and say a little more about Edison in a new post.

Road through Conn., NY & NJ

It took longer than I thought to drive through Connecticut and New York to get to New Jersey. It was good most of the way. Who knew there could be traffic in the middle of the day in and around NYC? My problem getting stuck in traffic is not that I need to be anywhere in particular but rather that I drink lots of Coke-Zero and have to be somewhere with a bathroom. We finally got an opening just inside New Jersey. I found out that you are not allowed pump your own gas in NJ. There is evidently a law against it.

I noticed that the sound walls along the highway in Connecticut were made of wood. This is a good idea. Wood is easy to work, 100% renewable and it tends to absorb sound better than a hard concrete or steel wall. Wood is good.

Everything we know about New Jersey culture comes from watching TV, so it must be 100% accurate and we wanted to have the authentic experience. We found an authentic looking pizza place (see the picture). I know that Brooklyn is in New York, not New Jersey, but I figured close enough. They had a special on calzone and both of us ordered that. They were very big, each one enough for two. I boldly finished mine (Anyone can eat when he is hungry, but it takes a real man to continue after he is full.) Chrissy left half of hers.

We are staying at Fairfield Inn in Edison, NJ. I like Fairfield Inn. They are nice but still inexpensive. I particularly like the mini-suites. If I build a house of my own, I would build a mini-suite like this for one of the rooms.

Being rich in the gilded age

Still in Newport looking at the mansions of the formerly rich and famous. Among the places we visited was “The Breakers” one of the Vanderbilt homes. I know it is fashionable to criticize these fat cats, but they did built fortunes and patronize the arts. Alfred Vanderbilt was aboard the Lusitania, torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915. After helping other passengers get into lifeboats, he gave his own life preserver and place in the boat to a young mother. I could not picture many of today’s rich celebrities doing something similar.

Anyway, I do not think it really was so much fun to be rich in the Gilded Age. Forget about the office work, parties were hard work. Keeping up with social engagements must have been deadly.

I met an ambitious young man a few years ago whose goal in life was to get rich. He was a smart guy and an extremely hard worker. He was on his way to success in his life venture when he died of a heart attack at the age of 42. Sic transit gloria mundi is only one lesson from his short life and not the one I thought most important.

“Why do you want to be rich?” I asked him, “What do you want so much?” He explained that the joy of being rich is that you would need to own almost nothing. It makes sense when you think about it. If you are really rich you can rent whatever you want, exactly what you want when you want it. Owning anything is a problem. When you are really rich you just use stuff.

My pictures show some of the opulence. The last picture is the bathroom. Consider, this is the home of one of the richest men in the world, but he still has a bathroom most of us would find inadequate. Progress is great. An ordinary guy today can live better overall than the rich guys of the past. Sure, you don’t have the opulent house, but you have TVs, computers and much better health care … and a better bathroom.

Next day

We are still in Newport, RI visiting mansions of the Gilded Age. Their palaces remind me a lot of hotels. There is lot of lobby there. No doubt these rich guys had it made, but if you compare their actual lifestyles – absent the status – with my lifestyle, I am much better off. I can travel faster and more freely. My medical care is way better. I have access to many more books than their libraries could hold. My entertainment options are much expanded. My bathrooms are nicer, my water cleaner and my clothes of higher quality. The last one, I know, will be surprising, but consider the no-iron cotton I can have among other things. Technological progress helps the poor much more than the rich, as the luxuries they had have become common to us today.

Consider the armies of servants these guys employed. What did they do? Most of them did stuff now done by machines or not needed. I mentioned the iron-free cotton. They had to employ lots of people to keep their clothes ironed.They had ice boxes stocked by servants. e have refrigerators that just work.

We are stayed at Marriott in Newport, pictured below. I have access to much greater luxury than Vanderbilt. My room is smaller than his, but more pleasant. I have better heat and air conditioning. My lights are brighter. I have TV and Internet and the materials are higher quality. When we drive away in our ordinary Toyota, it will be a much better vehicle than Vanderbilt could have owned. My car just works. Vanderbilt needed a team of servants to keep his carriages and car running. I will be able to drive over paved roads, instead of those bumpy trails he had to use. The technology I enjoy are worth dozens of his servants.
Before 1800, the whole world was poor. The Great Enrichment created lots of possibilities. The 20th Century was one of even greater material progress, more for the poor than the rich. I live better than Vanderbilt, but his lifestyle was not that much worse than mine. The poor of those days, however, were miserable. Lucky to be born in the 20th Century and in the USA. Everything else is just background.

My pictures show the Marriott lobby and the Vanderbilt mansion foyer (lobby). Vanderbilt’s is certainly more opulent. Marriott’s is more functional and, IMO, nicer.

Next Day

We went to a three more mansions today. I learned that Victorian homes were/are dark and that my camera does not take pictures well in low light, no matter how hard I try to hold still.
If you can cut through the envy, you realize that some of these fat cats were admirable. The one I liked is George Peabody Wetmore. His home was Chateau Sur Mer. His father made a fortune in the China trade, so George inherited the business and we cannot credit him with building wealth. He did maintain it and use it wisely. He was well educated and actively studied many subjects. He served in the Senate and as Governor of Rhode Island; he worked on the design committees of many of the monuments in Washington and on a variety of charitable causes. Recall that he did not NEED to do anything. He took his wealth and position seriously and worked to be a good man and a useful citizen, but often declined recognition and honors. Consider today’s rich and famous in contrast. Can we imagine Kanye or the Kardashians being useful and modest? Anyway, I enjoyed visiting his house and the grounds. He was a tree lover and the ground still feature a variety of fine trees. My pictures show some of them. First is an English oak. Next is a grove of Japanese cedars. Third are fern leaf beech and last is an English elm.