Chrissy & I went to Smithsonian for a program “Sicily: Eternal Crossroads of the Mediterranean.” It was a disappointing program. I thought it would be something like what the title suggested. In fact, it was more a semi-technical art history discussion with some (not all) of the art and architecture happened to be in Sicily. The lecturer was well expert on the art, but her talks were more like watching slides from her vacation than an integrated program about cultural crossroads.

One thing I found interesting about the talk was about the talk itself. There was a big crowd there and many people seemed to like the program a lot. Chrissy and I talked about it. It might be that it was a lot like being a tourist. She took you through the buildings like a tour guide. I wanted the connections, not the tourist sites. That is the great thing about pluralism. We do not all need to like the same things.

No matter. It got us out and down in Washington on a nice day. They provided what they called a Sicilian lunch. We got a prosciutto ham sandwich, olive salad & some cannoli. I do not think these things are especially Sicilian (Prosciutto comes from Parma, not in Sicily) but it was good.

We went to Spain last year and were very favorably surprised by the wonders there. Sicily is another of those crossroads. It was an intellectual and cultural hotbed for a few centuries. I think that is the next place outside the USA for us to visit.

First picture is Smithsonian castle looking good in spring. Next is me at the mall. Lighting is not the best. Last is from the lecture itself.

Cândido Rondon

Cândido Rondon is not well known enough even in Brazil, even though there is a state – Rondônia – named after him, and certainly not as well as he deserves outside the country. I had not heard of him before I went to Brazil, at least not that I recall. I was vaguely aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition to Brazil. He explored what was then called the River of Doubt, because nobody knew where it went. It is now called the Rio Roosevelt. But I assumed that it was Roosevelt’s expedition, much like his safari in Africa. In other words, I didn’t know much and much of what I did know was wrong.  

Our Ambassador in Brazil, Tom Shannon, took a special interest in Rondon and that stimulated my initial interest. If the boss likes it, it is a good idea to at least look into it but I soon started to see why he was important. I ended up visiting Rondônia twice, talked to enough people, read enough to become a passable lay authority & developed enough of a passion for the subject that I still attend presentations five years after leaving Brazil.   Larry Rohter discussed his book at a Wilson Center program “The Life and Legacy of Cândido Rondon: Amazon Explorer, Environmentalist, Scientist, and Advocate for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” This is the most complete biography of Rondon available. It is available only in Portuguese. I thought of reading it as language exercise and may yet, but it costs $92 on Amazon. Not sure I want to pay that.  

Rondon had a long and eventful life. He was born in the year Abe Lincoln was shot and lived long enough to hear that Sputnik had been launched into space. He was an explorer, scientist, anthropologist and soldier, but remarkable was his philosophy of non-violence. When dealing with indigenous people, his orders were to die if necessary but never to kill. His expedition with Roosevelt was not unique for him. He was the greatest of tropical explorers. Roosevelt always gave Rondon credit as his co-leader, but back in the USA they kind of thought of him as a “native guide” to the great Roosevelt. Rondon saved Roosevelt’s life a few times in the Amazon, but the expedition nearly killed Roosevelt anyway. (A great book re is “River of Doubt” by Candice Millard). His health never recovered and this may have influenced U.S. politics, since he did not have that unbounded energy to throw into elections in 1914 & 1916.  

Besides his exploration and science writing, Rondon was a respected statesman. He was instrumental in keeping Brazil from falling under the influence of the Nazis and in getting Brazil on the USA side when the war came. Rondon was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times, first time by Albert Einstein.   It was an interesting presentation. Glad I went. I rode my bike down to Washington and enjoyed a great spring day. I forget the simple joy of spring and then rediscover it with greater joy each year.   First four pictures are from springtime Washington. Pond cypress with spring catkins, magnolia and spruce, longleaf pine flowers at the National Botanical Gardens, followed by spring flowers in general. Last picture is from the presentation.

Background and video of the  presentation

Chrissy's birthday

Have not been posting as many pictures of Chrissy and me drinking beer, since most are repeats, as we go to many of the same places. We went to Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. I have been there with Mariza & Espen but this was first time for Chrissy. We were on the way to Mariza’s Halloween party. She lives nearby.

And today (since it is now past midnight) is Chrissy’s birthday.
First two pictures are our usual beer photos. Others are “ballast,” pictures I took from around Washington last couple days.

We went to Hot Pot for CJ’s birthday. Nice place. You make your own soup, messy but fun. Sorry about the picture quality. Unfortunately, the one with Alex was really bad. My fault. He was sitting across from me and I took it too close and too fast.

Origins of Internet

Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Radia Perlman were pioneers of the Internet. Vint Cerf is recognized as one of the “fathers or the Internet.” I can’t say I really knew how eminent they were, but the subject “Origins of the Internet” seemed interesting and it was.   It is almost the 50th birthday of the Internet. ARPANET made its first two connections on 29 October 1969. Cerf explained that it was just the start of a communication network. Nobody knew what it would become. They knew their limitations, however, and wisely played on that. They did not try to build a system but rather a process that others could build.   Radia Perlman said that her strength was that she knew less about computers than the average person. Her contribution was to make things so simple that a person like her could use it. She said at times she had to fight engineers, who like the complications. She said that there were complaints that some people enjoy the set up. Perlman said that people need not understand all or most what they are doing. You can have competence w/o comprehension.  

I am almost finished with a book called “The Code” that talks about this history of Internet, and I have read others. I did not learn many new facts from this lecture, but I got a more. Seeing the ease and comfort that these people had discussing the subject was worth the trip into town. The loved their work and they helped create great things. My first picture is from the talk – “An evening of discussion and discovery with the creators and architects of the Internet. Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Radia Perlman, are set to speak at GWU about their lives and experiences that helped them to create one of the most revolutionary inventions in human history. These distinguished speakers will discuss how failure, collaboration, and inclusivity foster great science, and how science can continue to build on the great work they have begun.”   The other two pictures are Washington Monument at night. I rode my bike down to the talk, but I take the Metro back, both because it is dark and because it is all up hill on the way back. It was a very easy ride in because of a northwest wind that gusted up to 25 mph. Great tail wind was almost like using one of those electric bikes.

Pete Buttigieg

Met Pete Buttigieg today. I read his book and was impressed by his intellect.

I am not impressed when politicians present detailed plans. Everybody should know that the detailed plans will always fail, as the conditions presidents face will be different from those they imagine. What I liked about Buttigieg is that instead of detailed plans, he talks about the intellectual process that we reach goals. It might seems a subtle difference, but it is important. During his brief talk today, he said that the best thing we can do is envision the future we want and then work to figure out how to get there. He didn’t say it, but I think it implied the iterative approach that is best for addressing complex problems.

He didn’t engage in that anger you too often hear on the campaign trail. He was critical of the “current president” but specifically showed respect for those who voted for him. He said that the election was not the cause but the result of frustration. Some people voted for a candidate that they did not love because they wanted change.

Asked about foreign policy, he supported our network of alliances, adding that American values are important in the world and that we had the responsibility to advocate for them in our deeds and our words.

I literally got an elevator speech with Pete. After the talk, there was the usual milling around and I thought I there was nothing more for me to see, so I went to the elevator. Just about the time it arrive, Buttigieg and his entourage showed up. I offered to take the next one, but he invited me in. I told him that I had read his book. He said that he wrote to book to show the kind of guy he was, rather than just a long political advert. I said that I was impressed, but it might be that he is too intellectual to play well with much of the electorate. He responded that problems were nuanced and required nuanced solutions. I agree. He said that he got along alright with the people in Indiana and thought that people could understand the complexity if properly presented.

Seemed a good guy. Let’s see how it does.

My first picture is the standard photo with the candidate. Next is the Capitol. It was very pleasant day. Extraordinarily fresh for middle June. Last is part of the green roof at the building where we met.

Lobbying day for forests

Our day of lobbying went well. We visited staffers from Senators Tim Kaine & Mark Warner, as well as from Representatives Gerald Connolly, Morgan Griffith, Abigail Spanberger, Rob Wittman & Ben Cline. I met a few of the staffers before and they remembered me. I understand that they have notes and do prep, but it is also because of my unique business card. All of those who remembered me mentioned the card. In any case, I am impressed that they took the time to welcome me back. Good constituent relations. My representative is Gerry Connolly. He used to be our Fairfax County supervisor. He is a good guy.

Proud to be American
All the staffers were friendly and listened to our entreaties with interest and attention. It would be unfair to characterize their responses in greater detail, except to note that Ben Cline’s district included our Virginia Tree Farmers of the Year in Highland County, and his staffer was especially interested in maybe meeting them. I can and will, however, list what I told them.

The facts tell; the story sells
I studied the night before the list of the bills we want our Virginia delegation to support and positions we hope they will take, but I decided that I would touch on those things, but that I could give them the leave behind material for details. Instead, I decided to tell my own story, what I think is important about the way we do forestry. The things I really understand and really care about.

Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. I started with this mantra, and elided into the triple bottom line, i.e. every endeavor must be good economically, environmentally and for the community. We need the balance and if we fail on any one of them, we fail in general. The challenge for private forest owners, however, is that if we do the ecological and community parts well, we sometimes have problem with the economic part. To address this, I am grateful for government programs.

I gave the example of our own NRCS grants to restore longleaf, protect soils, plant pollinator habitat and manage with patch burns. All these things, I explained, are things I want to do, but could not afford absent the cost shares. For example, pollinator habitat seeds can cost around $300 an acre. I could not justify spending that much money on too many acres. The cost share is exactly that. It costs me time & money to carry out these activities, but it costs less with the help I get. I also greatly value the help I get in the form of advice and planning. The partnership is more powerful than either side could do.

My land is part of a big system
This fed into one of our “asks.” We want support for landscape scale projects for family forests. My land is part of a larger ecosystem. My land affects the health of the big ecosystem and my land’s health is affected by the larger system, so I care about that. Examples of landscape scale projects include longleaf restoration (one I am working on), wildfire mitigation and the white oak initiative.

I went into the white oak initiative in a little more detail both because I am fond of white oak and because it is easy to illustrate. There is today no shortage of white oak. The problem is with it age structure. We have old growth and middle-aged white oak, but there is not enough of the new generation. This is because white oak requires disturbances to allow the right amount of light. Doing this is not rocket science, but it needs to be done. It takes 50-80 years for a white pine to mature, so what we do now matters a couple generations hence.

The hook with white oak is bourbon. ALL bourbon must be aged in new white oak barrels. Other sorts of wood leak. All the color and most of the taste of bourbon comes from the white oak barrels. When you take a drink of bourbon, you are tasting the decades of oak. Even people who do not drink bourbon can appreciate this. In case they do not, wine, most cider and some beer are also oak wood aged.

Landowners cannot by themselves defend their land against invasive insects and plants. The government role here is to limit spread, anticipate invasions and research ways to adapt or overcome the threats. This is often done with grants to universities or to state and local governments. I think this is one of the most important things that government does. The challenge is that it is so important but often not urgent. If not done this year, you might not notice.

It is like nutrition and exercise. Skip a workout and eat nothing but donuts for a day or two and neglecting your health doesn’t much hurt. Neglect it for a long time and it is deadly.

Thanks for past success
We thanked Congress for the Farm Bill, which included lots of forestry friendly factors. One of the parts important to Virginia is the Sustainable Forestry & African American Land Retention program. This is aimed to help African American forest owners whose families owned and often still own forest land. The problem is that many are absentee owners and titles are unclear, with many descendants of the original landowners owning a small piece. This makes it difficult to manage the land and nearly impossible to take advantage of the many government programs alluded elsewhere, state and Federal.

We also thanked the Congress for the wood innovation grants, that have helped develop important innovations like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and for passing the wildfire fix, and I talked a little about the need for cross-boundary hazardous fuels projects, that will help private forest owners manage fire risk, and for the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP).

If I sum up our talks, I think we were talking about the big picture, how our lands fit with programs and how the program fit with our lands. We got to know more about each other and understand better.

As Aldo Leopold said, “we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

More information on the American Forest Foundation at this link.

Pictures show Capitol on the morning of the visit. Next is a beautiful big beech tree on the grounds and a garden path.

Last flowers of summer

The last flowers of summer are still hanging on a bit forlornly. A melancholy time – too late for the glory of fall, too early for the promise of spring, and still no winter snow to turn the drabness shining white, too close to the end and not close enough to the rebirth. Not sure if my mood matches the times or if my times match my mood. Melancholy is not one of my habitual emotions, but when I experience it usually it is this time of the year so let me blame the times.

First pictures are from the Botanical Gardens. After that shows some plantings along the bike trail, followed by the Capitol and a shot of the Brookings lecture.

The gardens are indeed still beautiful, but a little melancholy these times. I rode my bike down to Brookings for a talk on the economics of renewable energy. I only do the one-way, i.e. I take the Metro back. You cannot take your bike on the Metro after 3pm and before 7pm. The talk ended at 3:15, so I had to wait and read my book until 7 and found a bench in the garden. When it got too dark with these short days (another source of melancholy), I had to go over to the bar at the Holiday Inn and have a beer while reading, probably an odd sight I made.

The new dynamics of global energy and climate: A conversation with Exelon CEO Chris Crane

America was plunged into an energy crisis soon after I graduated from HS, so besides drinking way too much beer as a freshman at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, I was occupied with forestry and energy. I try to go to energy related programs at Brookings, AEI or Wilson and so I went today to “The new dynamics of global energy and climate: A conversation with Exelon CEO Chris Crane.” Exelon is the largest electric parent company in the United States by revenue, the largest regulated utility in the United States with approximately 10 million customers, and the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the United States.

Mr. Crane talked about his firm’s vision which includes providing reliable power and cutting carbon emissions. He said that you can believe in climate change or not, but that firms like his have to adapt to it because it is happening. To stave off the worst of climate change the USA will need to drop carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This is a tall order. The electrical sector is off to a good start. We are down 25% based on 1990 figures, but it may get harder to do. This was done largely by substituting natural gas for much dirtier coal. Nobody really anticipated the big supply of cleaner and cheaper natural gas. We cannot count on that sort of good luck again.

Renewables like solar & wind are coming along very well, but they do not supply the base loads.
There are times when the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t show. Base loads for the time being can be supplied only by fossil fuels, hydro or nuclear. Exelon is the largest operator of nuclear power plants. The nuclear power plants are losing money. They cannot compete with cheap natural gas, but they have a big advantage in that they do not emit CO2. If these plants went off line, CO2 emissions would necessarily rise. This is what happened in Germany. In their rush to be green, they shut down nukes and dirty coal plants took up the base-load task. There is currently a social benefit to keeping the nukes in business.

As a result, German CO2 emissions actually went up not in spite of but BECAUSE of their green movement.

Carbon taxes – the good, the bad & the unlikely
Exelon supports carbon taxes, specifically the Baker-Shultz plan (I have written about this on other occasions). Crane thinks that only market driven plans have a real chance for success. We should look to outcomes, rather than back any particular technology and let various techniques compete. We do not know which will be best, or maybe what combination will be most effective.

Challenges include developing better electrical storage and connecting pipelines and power lines. New England is at risk, for example, because activists have opposed and effectively shut down construction of electric transmission lines that could bring Canadian hydro-power and gas pipeline expansion to bring abundant American natural gas to the region. Ironically, Exelon power plants in New England that use natural gas need to import LNG, and these imports come from Russia.

Hydrogen economy  – perpetually five years in the future

The talk ended on a hopeful note. Crane talked about the hydrogen economy. This is not a new idea, but its accomplishment seems always to be five years away. Hydrogen is a perfect fuel. It burns cleanly, with the only emission being water vapor. The problem is that hydrogen really is not a fuel source, but more a storage medium. Hydrogen exists nowhere in nature in a pure form. It must be made. The most ecological method would be to divide it from oxygen in water. H2O is made of hydrogen and oxygen and it the most common thing on the earth’s surface. But separating the H from the O takes lots of energy. A process might be to use solar to make hydrogen when the sun is shining and then to use this hydrogen in fuel cells to make energy when it is dark.

My first picture is from Brookings. The program was from 2-3:30. This makes a difference to me. I ride my bike down, but I prefer to take the Metro back, since it is uphill and I am tired. I can take the Metro before 3 or after 7, so I had to hang around until 7. Fortunately, there are nice places to hang. The next picture and the video show the Botanical Garden, a great place to hang around. Notice the longleaf and lobolly pines. After that are some elm trees near the old USIA and last shows the kiosk at McDonald’s. You order electronically and then they bring your order.

Story of English

Chrissy & I went down to Smithsonian to unlock the wordhoard in a day-long program by Professor Anne Curzan, a linguist from University of Michigan. The real title was English Words: Etymologies and Curiosities. I just liked “wordhoard”. It is the old English for vocabulary. “He dipped into his wordhoard and said …” Another interesting phrase was “ban hus” or bone house. That means body. Professor Curzon read from old English. It is clearly a foreign language, but if you listen very hard you can perceive it is your language down deep.
There never was a pure English (or any other language) but English has a birth year – AD 449. That is the tradition date when the Anglo-Saxons crossed over to what would become England. Of course, they brought with them their Germanic language and it did change immediately when they crossed the water, but the separation began.

The Romans abandoned the province of Britannia. They just could not hang on, as barbarians streamed across the imperial borders and when in 410 the Visigoths sacked Rome, the emperor decided to cut Britannia loose. The Britons were not very warlike after nearly 400 years of Roman protection. W/o the Roman legions they could not defend their borders against barbarians and pirates who raided the coasts. So, they made the unwise choice of inviting German mercenaries to do their fighting for them, these were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from what is now northern Germany and Denmark. They did a decent job dispatching the local threats, but they decided that they liked Britannia so much they would keep it. They send word back to their cousins that the land was good and the inhabitants weak. So began England (land of the Angles) and the English language.
This was the start of a long process that is not finished. English is truly a promiscuous language. The first English mixed liberally with Norse, brought by the Vikings. The Vikings raided and burned, but then they settled in large numbers. At that time Norse and English were still somewhat mutually intelligible. Much of England became bilingual and a kind of blended language. Norse contributed lots of words to English and caused the grammar to become simpler

as the non-native speakers dispensed with some of the more arcane forms.

England after around 800 was more a part of Scandinavia, culturally and linguistically, than it was western Europe. This changed in 1066 with the Norman Conquest. The Normans (as the name implies) were themselves of Viking stock, but they were by that time French speaking. French became the prestige language in England for the next four centuries. There were never very many Normans in England, but the ran the place and their language ruled too.

The interesting illustration shows the subordination of English. In the field, where they peasants work, the big grazing animal is a cow (English). When it comes into the castle it becomes beef (French). In the pen, it is a pig. When it comes into the castle it becomes pork. Same goes for sheep and mutton. In fact, you can see it in lots of words. An English peasant might live in a house. The Norman rich guy lived in a mansion. When it got really classy, it became a domicile. Domicile shows the other influence – Latin.

Latin came into the language all through its history, as it was the language of the Church and of educated elites, but there was a big jump following the 15th Century. Writers and others wanted to “improve” English, so they coined new words. You can see this happening in Chaucer and Shakespeare later.

I have gone on a little too much with the history. She also talked about how we develop slang and how the language changes and continues to change. Word meanings change, sometimes even turning around. We all have our peeves about particular words, but it can be a losing fight.

I personally dislike it when people use the word utilize. There is almost no case where simple use is not a better choice, but people think the longer word is more sophisticated. Professor Curzan mentioned the differences between among and between and said that the difference between imply and infer is lost for the masses. Young people are starting to use because as a preposition. Language changes.

Great living in Washington because there are so many programs like this.

My pictures are from Smithsonian. The last one is just me on the Mall. I know it looks like an old west stance. It is the hat that does it. Since I became “hair denied” I began to wear hats. Now I feel naked w/o one. The brimmed hat is great, keeps the sun out of your eyes and the rain off your face and neck. You can see why they invented them. But the risk is looking like an old west guy. I can stand that, but I will avoid standing like that in pictures.

Great Day in Washington

People grumble about Washington weather and about Washington in general, but they are wrong. The weather is glorious in spring and fall. Winters are usually mild and even during hot & humid July we have some really nice days. Today was one of them and tomorrow is supposed to be too.

So it was a joy to ride my bike today to FSI and Washington. I stopped at FSI to use the State computers. FSI has lots of good attributes. One that is useful to me is that it is right near the bike trail, so I can ride there almost w/o going on streets. My trip to Brazil is almost set, and I can do most of my business on the home computer, but sometimes not. FSI is closer than HST. After that, I went down to Brookings for a program on sustainable development goals and just enjoyed being.

My first picture is from FSI. They have done a really good job and made the landscape more natural. That used to be a simple mowed hill. Nicer now. Next is the fountain at the botanical garden. I like to sit there and read my book. Next picture is looking the other direction. Picture #4 is a panorama from where I had lunch near the Reagan building. It was just a nice moment. Last is a less happy scene. Sometimes you see where somebody has locked a bike but it didn’t work the way they hoped.