Comments on Fire in the Forest

These are some of my thoughts related to the big fires in California.  They are keyed off the articles at the top.

Megafires More Frequent Because Of Climate Change And Forest Management

It is very distressing that President Trump has jumped in on one side of the wildfire issue and that many of his critics have felt it necessary to jump in on the other as a consequence, as if this was like a football game where you could cheer for one side.

Two or more things can be true at the same time. We do not have to choose sides on MOST things. This is not a game where somebody wins and another loses. Rather the only way for one side to win here is for them the other side to win too.

The linked article is good and has the right title. But even here, we have the competitive set up discussed. “California Gov. Jerry Brown …hit back …”

Many factors contribute to increase in the destructiveness of wildfires. There are three big ones – climate change, population growth in the wilderness-urban interface (WUI) and land management. Far from having to choose which one we need to address, we need to recognize that NONE of them can be addressed properly w/o addressing all three.

If you think climate change is the big issue, you better address land management, since it is the most effective way you can adapt to the coming changes. If you believe land management is the big issue, you better consider climate change, since decisions made today must be adapted for the situation decades from now in a changed environment. And no amount of good management can save houses from burning if we do not develop and build in “fire wise” ways. This is true no matter how the climate changes.

Trump is right. Jerry Brown is right. Lots of other people are right too, but nobody can understand the whole situation, and no solutions apply equally to every particular situation That is why we need to respect the myriad idea and let them create the synergy we need to do things that need to be done.

And we will never know the truth. We have to think, try, assess and think again in this never ending quest. And just stop with the fighting each other. We need all the ideas.

Fueling the Fire

Maybe this is working out okay. Trump’s tweet was unfortunate and I worried that it would set up land management for a fall. But the attention is bringing the complexity of land management to a wider audience. I do not believe it will long hold the public attention, but it may move the discussion.

The author of this article is one of the gurus of fire management. I read a couple of his books and treasure his insights.

There is no single answer to this problem, nor an answer that will be right for all time even for the same places. We need appreciate the nuance. Maybe Donald Trump, perhaps the lease nuanced of our presidents, has helped contribute to a better understanding.

There Are 200 California Inmates Fighting the Camp Fire. After Prison, They Likely Won’t Be Allowed to Become Firefighters

Part of my fire theme but also my deep belief in redemption. These guys are risking their life and health. They should feel the consequence of their crimes but at some time there should be redemption.

“… most of California’s inmate firefighters will not be able to work in the firefighting profession after they are released because of the state’s deliberately exclusionary licensing laws. Firefighters in California are required to be licensed as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), which requires taking classes and passing a few state-administered exams. No problem there, but state law allows licensing boards to block anyone with a criminal record from getting an EMT license.”

Give them a break. Wouldn’t it be better if guys getting out of prison could then be of service to their society while helping themselves.

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Happy Birthday, Ma

My mother was born on this day in 1923.

Ma

I never got to know my mother after I was an adult. She died when I was seventeen. So my memories are seen through the eyes of a child or at best a teenager. The one thing that I remember very clearly was that I was always sure that she loved me. Everything else is less important after that and I know that she shaped a lot of my character.

Our house was the center of family activity while my mother was there. She had three sisters (Mabel, Florence & Lorraine) and two brothers (Harold & Hermann) and we had much of the extended family, minus Harold, who I don’t remember ever meeting. The family didn’t get along with his wife, Sophie. I don’t know why. All the other aunts and cousins would come over to play cards. Usually the cousin would come too, so while I had only one sister, I feel like I had lots of siblings. I really don’t know what card games they played. I just recall the constant chatter of a kind of mixed German-English. “Wat’s spielt is spielt” and “now who’s the high hund?”

Ma

As I wrote above, I didn’t get to know my mother as much as I would have liked to and I am astonished at how much I don’t remember or maybe never knew. Kids are rarely interested in their parents’ life stories until they get older, maybe because they just cannot believe their parents were ever young enough to have anything interesting to say. Besides, kids in my generation spent most of their time outside and away from the house. Parents and children have much more intense relationships these days, if for no other reason than that they are together when parents drive the kids everywhere and arrange various teams, trainings and activities. We didn’t have a car and we didn’t belong to any organized activities. I spent most of my days hanging around outside with my friends who lived nearby and I didn’t ask much.

I know she was born Virginia Johanna Haase (Mariza has her middle name). Her father was Emil and her mother was Anna (Grosskreutz). She grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee and married my father after the war, as they always called World War II. Of her childhood, I know little. Her father was an engineer who remained employed throughout the Great Depression, evidently a rare achievement. My father’s family was less fortunate.

Virginia was an unenthusiastic student in HS and dropped out of Bay View HS (same place I later went) in the tenth grade, but she always encouraged education for my sister and me. She worked at Allen Bradley during WWII but not long enough to get Social Security benefits. After she married my father, she no longer did any paying work, besides occasionally free-lance catering with her sisters. My mother made really good German potato salad, which was always in demand at family gatherings.

Virginia Haase was phenomenally good-natured and I remember her always cheerful. My father told me that he was lucky to get my mother to marry him, since she was extremely popular because of her open personality. She later became a woman of substance, as you can see in the bottom picture. My father was fond of big women, so I guess they had a good thing going.

My father enjoyed beer every day, but Ma drank only a little and only once a year at Christmas. She had one bottle of Gordon’s Gin in the downstairs refrigerator. She had a drink at Christmas and that bottle was down there as long as I remember, only gradually emptying. It was still half full when she died.

Sad to say that my most vivid memories come from the end of my mother’s life. I was riding my bike up to the Kettle Moraine State Forest when my mother went into the hospital for the last time. It was a big trip that I had planned for a long time. My parents kept my mother’s urgent condition from me so as not to ruin my camping trip. When I called from the pay phone at Mauthe Lake, my father told me that ma was sleeping. I thought that odd. She always wanted to talk to me, but didn’t think that much about it. When I got home she had gone to the hospital. I never saw her again.

We talked on the phone, but my mother didn’t want us to visit her in the hospital during the last days. I feel guilty about that still, but it was a good decision. She wanted us to remember her from better times and I do indeed remember her healthy and happy instead of what I imagine it must have been after the chemotherapy and ravages of cancer.

My father got a call from the hospital about dawn on the day before my mother died. I heard him talking on the phone and inferred what was happening, but didn’t come out of my room when he went to the hospital. We didn’t handle the whole thing very well, but in retrospect I am not sure how it would have worked out any better if we did things differently. I lived in dread the whole day, but she didn’t die that day. I know it is illogical but I convinced myself that she would be out of the woods if she only survived the day, that one more day.

But miracles happen only on television & in the movies.

They cut down the last of the big elm trees soon after Ma died. I thought it was symbolic and I paid special attention. She loved those trees and felt bad as they succumbed one-after-another to the Dutch elm disease until there was only one left standing. The tree by the alley was the last survivor near the house, and Ma was happy to have at least one left. It was in its yellow fall colors as I watched it fall to the ground. It was a pleasant fall day with wispy clouds.

I don’t want to end on this sorrowful note because that is not the end of the story. Among many other things, my mother left me a special legacy. Ma followed my various interests and encouraged them. All I needed to do was mention an interest and soon a book appeared.

I thank my mother for all the books on dinosaurs, ecology and history. Even more important, she gave me the gift of reading itself. A well organized or impressive child I was not, but my mother had confidence in me anyway in a way that only a loving mother can.

My first grade teacher put me into the slow reading group and I lived up to her low expectations of me. My mother complained to the school, essentially arguing that I was not as dumb as I seemed and my problem was not that the reading challenge was too great, but that it was not great enough to hold my interest. She convinced my teacher to put me into a higher reading group. Although I couldn’t meet the lower standards, I could exceed the higher ones with Ma’s help. She made flash cards and we studied not only the day’s lesson but also anticipated the next one.

Being able to do more but not less – this kind of paradox is not uncommon. I wonder how many kids w/o mothers as good as mine were/are trapped by the gentle cruelty of low expectations. Ma saved me from all that. She just expected me to succeed. I did, by my standards at least.

Thanks Ma. Without you, I would be nothing. I wish you could have met the grandchildren. They would have loved you. It has been decades since we talked. Memory fades, but I have not forgotten that I was so very lucky to have you there for me.

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G Washington Distiller

George Washington was good manager and smart investor. He diversified his crops and always looked for profitable enterprise. Among them was a grist mill and – partially based on the – a distillery.

Washington: A Man Who Appreciated Good Spirits

Washington was fond of wine and spirits. He also favored porter beer. He opened the grist mill and distillery later in his life. It soon became a big profit center. We did not learn much about Washington’s booze making enterprise when I was in grade school. There was some effort to keep the whole story obscure, as temperance movements, & even prohibition came to prominence. It wouldn’t do to have the father of our country a prominent boozer and booze maker.

Washington was an extraordinary person. We know Washington the general, Washington the president, even Washington the explorer & surveyor. Washington the builder and practical businessman seems way too much for one man, but this is also a very impressive part of this life, and it was the source of most of his joy. In a less revolutionary time, he would have been content to work his farm and industries. Even as president, he got regular, detailed reports from his plantations (plural) and industries.

We know a lot about how Washington ran the place by these reports and Washington’s replies. He never stopped running the show and it was clearly his passion.

The Distillery Reopened

The distillery was reopened in 2007. They asked for donations from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and within a few hours had millions of dollars in donations. Good PR. The distillers were able to figure out recipes for Washington’s whiskey by looking at records of the types of grains that went into it. The first batches of whiskey were not good; they are learning and improving.

Whiskey Flavor is Mostly Oak and Char

Newly distilled whiskey is clear and not very good. Whiskey takes years to age to get its flavor. MOST of the flavor (60%+) and all its color comes from the wood in the barrels. At temperatures rise and fall, the whiskey is absorbed by the wood and released. Whiskey barrels are always made of white oak and for American whiskey they can be used only once. There is a brisk after market for barrels. Some of them are used by Scotch makers, who do not have the new barrel requirement, and lately some are sold to craft beer brewers. The need to age whiskey is one of the barriers to entry to new distillers, since they have to wait some years to sell product. In Virginia, you can get decent, but not good, whiskey in two years. The minimum for reasonable smoothness is four years. Standard is seven and you can go to about ten years to get the best. It takes longer in places like Scotland because of the cooler weather. Scotch is not much good until it is at least 12-years-old and gets it best at around 18. After that it becomes more expensive but not much better.

Setting the Mash

We got to watch the distiller “setting the mash.” They mix the grains with nearly boiling water and stir it all together. Then they let it cook, i.e. start to ferment. Sweet mash relies on new yeast to make the product. Sour mash, which is more common, takes some of the mash from earlier batches. Sour mash can have a more consistent quality.

More details about the distillery are at this link.

What is art?

Setting the mash is a form of performance art and the act of making whiskey in the traditional way is an art in itself. Consider what it means to create art. We can appreciate paintings and sculpture for the finished product that we can see. But more of the art is related to its production. That is the “act of art” and the act of creation is often more meaningful than the creation itself. Creation of something like whiskey is meaningful to the creators and those around them.

Part of finding meaning in life, as search we should all be making, is working toward excellence and a state of flow, where things just fall into place. We have all experienced this but find it hard to express. What we are doing is less important than the rigor we put into it. A craftsman finds this meaning in making his furniture, pottery, beer or whiskey and seeking excellence in the production. You may seek intellectual excellence. I find great meaning in my forestry. Whatever it is, it is important that it be challenging and NOT all under our control. That is the art. We are responding to changing conditions to create the end we have in mind. The people working at the distillery are artists.

My first picture is me in front of the wheels that work the grist mill. Next are from the distillery. the techniques and tools are like those of Washington’s time.

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Crash & Bang

Crashing, banging, feeling queasy & nearly fainting. These are some of my impressions of the crash-bang course I completed yesterday. I hope I never need to most of what I learned, and I am happy to report that I have never needed any of the more dramatic lessons yet. Much of the less dramatic lessons are good sense. Stay away from bad situations. Don’t make yourself predictable to crooks or nefarious types. Be aware of your surroundings. Common sense too often not commonly applied.

Security is central to all our success, but I do worry that we make a fetish of security to the detriment of other parts of our important work. Diplomacy means getting out, meeting and talking to people. Most of these people will be good or at least okay, but some will be questionable or even nefarious. Most of the places we go will be benign and even pleasant, but some will be unsafe. Even with the most circumspect and careful diplomats will run risks if they are doing their jobs right, and even if we do all the security right, some of us will be hurt and some of us die.

My colleagues and I, we look preposterous in our body armor and oversized helmets. We are awkward when we wear the gear and clumsy putting it on. We don’t do well crawling under the simulated smoke and some of us feel light-headed even looking at pictures of horrendous wounds. I know that I quietly closed my eyes when they showed bloody stumps or sharp objects protruding from parts of the body they do not belong.

But I am proud of my colleagues and proud to be among them. After they learn all the risks, they are still eager to go out and do diplomacy, meet those good people are risk meeting the bad. Some are going to the high-risk posts like Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan or Yemen, but there is always some risk. Nobody expected the embassy bombings in Kenya or Tanzania. As long as I am on this topic, let me emphasis the contribution of our Foreign Service National staff. They are also State Department employees of contractors. They work in their own countries for us. They are often truly on the front lines and when our facilities are attacked they are often the ones injured or killed.

And the kids are okay. Most of the people in the classes are younger than I am (it is hard to be both older than me and still in the FS), and many are new officers. I don’t like it when they are called snowflakes. Old people always think young people are not as good as they were. They are wrong. Every generation has its heroes and this one is responding to its challenges too.

Well, that is my editorial comments. Now for a little of the personal impression. I won’t go into detail, as we are not supposed to.

The part that sounds the most exciting, but I do not much like is the driving. It is okay when I am driving, but I get motion sickness when I am a passenger with all the weaving, fast accelerations and abrupt stops. It was fun to ram other cars. When I did it before, it hurt more because I did it wrong. You have to accelerate just as you hit the other vehicle. That way inertia is on your side. You are being pulled back by the acceleration and so when you hit and are thrown forward it is just kind of equalized.

The emergency medicine was scary. We are not trained treat most wounds, but just preserve life until competent people come along. The key to this is the tourniquet. Most of what I learned about tourniquets is wrong and much has been changed in the last few years. The misinformation came from good sources based on experience in World War I. The thought was that cutting off the blood supply caused gangrene. Doctors observed that many of the wounded with tourniquets developed gangrene. Their problem was with the sample. The ones they saw had lived. The ones w/o the tourniquets were dead. The gangrene came from infections. It is true that a tourniquet can cause damage by starving the tissues of blood and oxygen. But it is not like the blood is likely to get where it is needed anyway. The reason you need the tourniquet is because the blood in coming out through a wound. It is not going to nourish the tissues if it spills out onto the ground.

We learned that the ugliest and most gaping wounds are not always the most important and that internal bleeding can be at bigger threat than the blood we can see. They showed a picture of a guy who died from his heart being impacted by a fast stop and his seatbelt. He seemed okay but died the next day from internal injuries. The lecturer said that old guys like me didn’t have to worry about such things. That begged the question, and somebody asked why. The answer was the old guys are too fragile. We don’t die the next day, because the initial impact kills us.

Now for the bang part. The impact of the shock wave, even from a small explosion, is impressive. I could easily tell the difference between the Glock, AK, M-4 and shotgun when I heard them right after each other, but I don’t think I could do it just hearing one of them in isolation. It is also very hard to tell the direction.

One thing that is clear – and I think something they want to as a take-away – is that it is a lot easier to imagine what to do than do it. Under time pressure and stress, the world is a lot different. It was hard even when we knew the threat was not real and the stress was artificial. Consider if you had a real physical wound. I have never been under angry fire. In Iraq I heard distant bangs a few times and once observed “celebratory fire,” a crowd shooting into the air, which can be dangerous since what goes up must come down. But I was often nervous walking on the streets, even with armed and trained Marines all around me, or riding in the armored vehicles. I know it affected my judgement. They want you to think about the danger before the danger is manifest, since it is too late after.

I took a variation of this course way back in 2007 when I was on my way to be a PRT leader in Iraq. This is what I wrote about it back then. I wrote the above before rereading the below. Some things are different; a lot is the same.

September 23, 2007
A Car Sick & Melancholy Resident of the Twilight Zone

September 20, 2007

Today was the kind of day I will look back on with some fondness, but it was not a good day. I can liken this experience to going to the amusement park and getting to ride the roller coaster – ALL DAY. I am in W. Virginia for evasive driving training. It was good at first. We did some driving on slick surfaces. It was fun to skid around and not too hard for me. Next was also fun, driving around the racetrack dodging orange plastic cones. I did that well too. But then one of my car mates got sick and threw up out the window. I figured that if he was sick, there might be a reason. After that I felt sick myself for the rest of the day.

Of the 28 people in my class, about half of us got sick. It was very jarring. We had to avoid objects and break rapidly. It did not like the smell of exhaust and burning rubber. Hardest for me was driving backwards. I have never been good at backing up and doing it at high speeds is scary for me. Suffice to say, I drove over a few cones. We also had to crash into other cars and ram them out of the way. This was interesting. It is not something you get to do very often w/o pushing up your insurance rates. Tomorrow the bad guys will attack us and we will have to respond by evading driving out of danger. Like so many things relating to Iraq, it will be good to HAVE done, but not good to be gonna do. I think this will become my catch phrase.

September 21/22

It was more fun today. I did not get sick. We had to evade and escape. I did that okay. I enjoy it a lot more when I am not sick, but I am really glad it is over.
At the end of the day, the instructor blew some things up, including an old car, to show us how the different explosions look, sound and smell. That was cool. It is interesting how you can feel the shock waves. Once again my joy in seeing such strange things was mitigated by the knowledge that such things may no longer be so strange in my future life.
Going to these courses makes you a little paranoid. Security guys take some pride in their ability to stimulate unease. They kind of look down on us ordinary guys who do not find the world so immediately threatening. I understand that the situation in Iraq is dangerous and I admit that there are times for vigilance even in America. But I am glad that most Americans can live most of their lives in a state of general unpreparedness. Isn’t this what we want from security? It is a great advantage to be able to walk down the streets of home lost in our own mundane thoughts. I hope that we can help the Iraqis get that back soon and we have to make sure Americans do not lose it – the right to be distracted, the right not to pay attention, or maybe just freedom from fear.

I also called to confirm my milair flight from Amman to Baghdad. They are efficient there. I am on. They said they will inform me of the “show time” when the time gets closer.

I am in that funny twilight zone right now between my former and future lives. I still have to do a few things for IIP/S and I still am the director. People are asking me for decisions and I still have authority. But there is not much left. I will be in Iraq by the end of next weekend.

Now I am going through all the “lasts” at least for a long time. Mariza came down for her last visit before I leave. I went to Arthur Treacher with CJ for the last time this morning. Tomorrow I plan to run for the last time along the upper bike trail. On Monday, I will ride for the last time to work on my bike. Unfortunately, I will not have the time to go down to my forest. I think it will be a lot bigger when I get back. Those trees grow really fast. It is a melancholy time. The feeling has nothing to do with Iraq. This is always the case before a PCS move. I think of all the things I have become accustomed to doing that I will not do for a long time to come, maybe for years, maybe forever. Iraq will be quite an experience no matter what. It will be good to have done it.

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Crash, Bang, Some Blood & Lots of Beer

I am at the crash-bang course. Not supposed to write about details and not allowed to take pictures. I have to take it so that that I can spend more than 44 total days overseas. I have no current specific plans to do so, but this is a kind of a advance down payment in case something comes up. The certification is good for five years.

The training is not much fun, but there is beer here and good colleagues to drink it with. Since Mariza Matel wrote about how I like beer and others have seen so many pictures of me glass in hand, I have been thinking about my relationship with the golden liquid. I do indeed like the taste of beer, but it is the social aspect, the ritual that I enjoy. I am carrying on an ancient tradition passed on by my father and passed to him by his, nigh onto the middle ages.

Rituals are important. I am not saying that beer drinking is some sort of mystical philosophy, but it is one of those things that lubricates life and relationships. I know that some people feel that way about wine or fine foods, or any number of human activities.

My first picture shows some beer drinking with a couple of colleagues. The others are from a walk I took around my Fairfax neighborhood on Saturday. Pictures 2 & 3 are Dunn Loring woods. #4 shows some suburban fall colors. The last one is near the Metro. Planning is done well. You have the necessary parking garage, but it is insulated by a “sleeve” of retail and restaurants. Parking garages are ugly, but when they streets are protected from the eyesore by useful businesses, it is good.

Still at crash-bang, so do not have much to say, since I am not supposed to share details. Suffice it to say that today we trained in simple defense and how to get out of burning buildings. I am (I think) the second oldest guy in group and I am pleased to say that I did okay. I do not really think I could fight off a serious attacked nor very heroically get out of a burning building, but I could deal with the minor versions of these things.

Had a few beers with colleagues. I like my FS colleagues. We have an odd set of characteristics and this is a group where I fit in reasonably well. My younger colleagues did some karaoke. They had a good time and it was good fun. My picture is a bit out of focus, which is probably a good thing. They said it was okay to post the pictures, but maybe better not to be identified. Funny that they even supply the singers with a cardboard guitar for air guitar playing.

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The Givers

Americans are exceptionally generous and more likely that people in most other places to volunteer. This is something foreigners noticed since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville. It is the special ingredient that allows us to do with less government. The civil society in the USA often takes on tasks left to government elsewhere.

I just finished The Givers: Money, Power & Philanthropy in the New Gilded Age. It was a very thought-provoking book, maybe because I thought a lot about the subject recently as part of my gentleman of leisure job description but also for my whole FS career. Discussion of volunteerism was part of my lecture repertoire. We sponsored speakers and visitor tours on the subject.

The author David Callahan clearly does not share my general cultural/political outlook, but his approach is complete, reasoned and reasonably balanced. I highly recommend it. When reading such a well-reasoned approach that came to different conclusions, I wondered about some of the causes.

Let me first state an assumption that I believe, and I think the author would too. All good societies are based on interaction among government, free market enterprise and a strong civil society. The weight of each varies over time and among countries, but I cannot think of a single successful society w/o a reasonably efficient government, a robust market and a vibrant civil society.

One of his themes is that government is underfunded and that many things now done by philanthropy should be done by government. His justification is that government is democratically elected and so represents the will of the people. So far, so good. But I think that he misses two points. First is the problem of agency and second is definition of will of the people.

The problem of agency is straightforward. The people do not directly run government. They elect politicians who have come through a process that most people do not understand. These politicians do not run the government either. They create systems that appoint leaders of the parts of the government. These leaders also do not run the government. They work with professional employees. All of this is influenced by particular interests and each of the parts (officials, appointees, employees) has their own preferences and interests that may not coincide with those who elected them.
The issue of “will of the people” is a bit more nuanced. We learn in grade school, at least I did, to view the will of the people in strictly political terms. But it is much more than that. A good government gives the people scope to express their will in non-political ways too. There is no such thing at THE people. There is a ever changing mosaic of individuals, whose preferences (will) is never set.

The problem with politically expressed will of the people is that it is usually binary. Somebody wins, and somebody must lose. A plurality (not necessarily even a majority) can vote its will leaving others with nothing. The others left out may be a large number, maybe even a majority. The will of the people expressed in non-political ways can be much more diverse. If I like Coke but you like Pepsi, we can both be accommodated, and we can include the Doctor Pepper drinkers and even those who favor Seven-Up. Nobody needs lose.

Returning to the book’s idea, the author worries that unelected philanthropists are taking the initiative from elected officials. This troubles the author. It does not trouble me. In fact, I think it is likely good for democracy, since it is more diverse and more pluralistic. I share the concern that a few very rich guys can unduly influence government policy, but that circles around to the problem of government.

A just democracy requires much more than elections. Our Constitution wisely limited the scope of democracy but ensuring both majority rule and minority rights. They did not specifically mention civil society, but they clearly just assumed its presence and protected it by limiting the scope of government.

So, let’s think about the scope of philanthropy. When people make decisions individually or in voluntary groups, they are expressing the will of the people as relates to the things they care enough about to invest their own time and money. These decisions are made collectively but decentralized and distributed. People can have a plurality of preferences. They need not choose the one and fight over which one that will be, as would be with collective political decisions. Most decisions should be left out of the political arena, not in spite of democracy but for the sake of a just democracy.

The author worries about the arts and that funding for the arts will be the scope of private patrons. I immediately thought about the history of arts and literature. Art was usually done by private patrons. But almost before I could make my mental counter argument, the author addressed it. He talked about the Medici and the great art of the renaissance. I respect that he addressed it, but I remained unconvinced of the problem. I would go back to the problem of agency. If government is the primary patron of the arts, it is not done by the people by rather by bureaucrats. I don’t have a problem with most art funding coming from private donors. Leonardo, Michelangelo & Mozart might have preferred to get government grants, but they did great work w/o them.

His last big concern was “accountability.” Big donors are accountable to nobody. I thought about what it means to be accountable. Maybe accountability is not a great thing. Accountability implies that someone judges and may substitute his judgement for ours. It also implies that we know “the good.” Accountably is great for accountants and most places where procedures are clear, and results agreed. In a dynamic and creative environment, the innovators cannot be accountable based on the former criteria or on the judgement of the established experts.

Donors are accountable to the dynamics of the system and to the marketplace of ideas. They need not and should not be accountable to anybody else, except in the sense of obeying general laws.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book. I listened to the audiobook as I drove down to the farms and back and as I walked around with my I-pod. I found the author very thoughtful and though provoking, as I wrote above. I have not included all, or even most of what he said. Buy the book. It is worth it.

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October forest visit

Took advantage of the beautiful last day of October to do some work on the farms. We will be burning soon in Freeman, weather depending. I wanted to get some of the slash away from the trees. There are not many affected, so I could actually make an impact.

I also walked the fire lines, not so much to check them but to look at the beautiful forest now made much more accessible. It is also easier to see the contrasts now that the grass has turned brown and the leaves on the deciduous plants have turned color.

Common species are yellow poplar, red maple & sweet gum, but some of the most interesting are the sumac. I think that the sumac will have a big future on the farms. They are already common and they seem almost fireproof. They burn to the ground but come up from the roots even more robust. I am not sure how much competition they are for my crop pines, but I like them anyway, especially in the fall when they turn scarlet.

I also went to the Brodnax place. DoF did a patch burn in May of this year and will do another this winter. This is part of my NRCS contract to provide wildlife habitat in open woods. We already have lots of wildlife.

Being on the farms is a long day for me. I have to drive three hours each way and in order to get the most out of the visits, I go early and come back late. At this time of the year, with shortening days, it is what my father used to call “from can’t see to can’t see”. Anyway, I was a little tired so I took a short nap on my folding chair, less than a half hour. I heard what sounded like someone walking around, but I figured it was only the wind in the trees or maybe a half-asleep dream, so I did not look up. When I got up, I saw fresh deer tracks in the mud near my chair. The deer had come within about three meters. The hunters are going to have an easy time this year, since the local deer seem not to avoid humans. No worries about that, but there are also bears in the woods. I think I would have been more alarmed to see fresh bear tracks.

First three pictures are Freeman; last two are Brodnax. I think both looked especially beautiful today.

Notice trees are widely spaced. This is part of our plan to use the principles of southern pine diverse ecology. The wide spacing lets a lot of sunlight get to the surface. We also have patches of open ground. My research into southern forests indicates that this sort of mosaic pattern was common type in pre-settlement Virginia.

Freeman pictures

Brodnax pictures

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New books on the forgotten Americans & the dignity of work

It is time for moderates to take back America from the hysterics and the screamers. We should judge policies by their usefulness, not by who advocates for them. I have seen studies showing that the same policies will be judged good or bad by partisans depending on their purported provenance. How about we just mix and match so that it gets hard to tell who had the “original” idea.

The good news is the raging moderates have been working on ideas on how to address some of the intractable problems of poverty and maybe more important the challenge of human dignity and I heard about three new books about work, money and human dignity.

The first speaker was Isabel Sawhill discussing her book “The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation” (Yale University Press, 2018). I heard her earlier at Brookings. She started the same way by saying that she was shocked by the Trump victory and wanted to know why, so she got out of Washington to try to find out. He book is about the working class/poorer workers, which she defines as people w/o a college degree and earning less than the median income. These folks make up 38% of the workforce. Only about half of them are white, so we really cannot refer to them as the white working class.

Sawhill sees the need to combine what she calls “red state” values with “blue state” policies. The red state value she thinks is necessary is the commitment to hard work and personal responsibility. I understand that some liberals might object to this being called a red state value. Sawhill is herself a liberal. Liberals indeed believe in these things too, but often fear the touting them would lead to “blaming the victims.” This deprives the forgotten Americans of their agency.

Focus groups that Sawhill organized focus groups and found that the forgotten Americans feel under appreciated. They worked hard, often served our country and showed loyalty to their jobs but found little reciprocity. They are cynical about government, especially the federal government.

The “blue state” policy Sawhill advocates is a type of income support through the tax system. The people she talked to were not worried about getting jobs. The economy is working very well now to provide jobs to all who want them. But they are worried about not making enough money. Sawhill wants to boost take home pay by giving a tax credit to offset the payroll tax for the lowest third of workers. She wants to pay for this by upping the inheritance tax. If this is not possible politically, she would go with a carbon tax or VAT tax, anything that does not tax work, the way a payroll tax does.

Sawhill also advocates universal national service. This could be military service or other sorts of public service. The purpose is to mix the population and give young people some time to “find themselves.” I think this would be a good thing, especially for boys. Many kids are not mature enough to go to college when they are 18 and could make bad choices about careers. Better give them a “gap year”. The draft in the 1950s worked this way and of course so did the general service in World War II. She adds a permutation in that families could be encouraged to host a kid, much like we do with exchange students. There is much more to prosperity than just having money.

Oren Cass who wrote “The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America” (Encounter Books, 2018) emphasized the social and spiritual value of work. Work matters for a lot more than just money. In fact, giving people money w/o them doing something to earn it is corrupting to them and society.

He said that the idea that consumption is the key part of the equation is backward. In fact, production, making a good or providing a service is the more important part. He made a kind of radical statement that economic growth is more an emergent phenomenon that comes from good social and cultural conditions. He understands that this is a hard sell for policymakers, but says that employment is good and meaningful jobs, those that let people maintain their dignity, is more important than faster economic growth. Making is often better than having.

The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward by [Litow, Stanley S.]

Last was “The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward” by Stanley Litow (Wiley, 2018). He went through a useful history or what we would call progressivism, except that he was mostly talking about private enterprise. Macy’s pioneered health insurance for employees, for example, and American Express established a pension system in 1875. They did these things w/o the pressure of government action or the force of unions. Of course, he also talked about the nasty aspects of private enterprise. But the point he was making is that it was interactions between government, business and society that created and distributed wealth.

The firms that gave these benefits did not do this from a sense of charity, but rather a combination of what we would today call corporate social responsibility or enlightened self-interest. It helped the get and keep the best employees.

Anyway, I have the book “The Forgotten Americans”. Not sure if I will buy the others. I have literally a stack of books that I have been trying to push through.

The idea of the dignity of work and the new economy is a special interest of mine lately. I thought a lot about this – and still do – as a gentleman of leisure. In some ways I am part of the “gig economy” in that I work for State Department sometimes. In other ways, I am part of the non-profit, since I am on two non-profit boards. In part I am in the giving sector, since I contribute to non-profits. In part I am self-employed, since I run my forestry enterprise, but on bolstering all of this is a guaranteed base income, which is the key to security. I think this will be more like people in the future. We will need to find our own way and create our own lives. This is very exciting but also scary. I was, and sometimes still am, afraid that I would default into sleeping late and just watching bad TV. But it took me decades to develop the skills to be my own boss.

Hard to work for a tyrant like that.

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First FHS board meeting

Did my first Forest History Society board meeting. It was very interesting and I think the FHS does very worthy work. Everybody was very nice to me and my fellow board members are great people – smart and committed.

My gentleman of leisure portfolio keeps me pretty busy. It was/is the way I designed it. I am not busier than I was when I was working, but there is often a greater diversity of activities. I do to lectures, study lots of books & tapes, participate now on two boards of directors, still get to work overseas for State Department and do my forestry. All of this is great and “retirement” is working out better than I planned. I guess I am feeling a little tired.

I expect that I will get over it. I often felt like this after an official trip or speaking series, even if, especially if, it was successful. It was kind of like, “what next?” When I worked for the FS, I had a defined job and somebody who could kick me in the rear, at least in theory, if I slowed down too much. Now I have only what I create and there is no push.

Well, enough of the end of trip angst, seen it before and will see it again. The angst never wins.

My pictures are from our last day in Durham. I had the usual beer. Chrissy did an old fashioned. Next two are Durham street scenes. Last is the floor at the restaurant “Mother & Sons” Trattoria. I took it by mistake, but I thought it looked good.

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Forest History Society Durham, NC

I am down in Durham to join the board of directors of the Forest History Society. I went for the orientation today and we visited the future society headquarters.

The Forest History Society has an extensive collection of books and documents related to forestry. They also publish books and videos about forestry and ecology.

This is the Forest History Society webpage, gateway to blogs, publications, and videos.

The pictures are from the new headquarters. As you can see, it getting on toward being done. There is a lot of exposed wood and the structure is wood, as befits the mission. Lots of the material is donated by forest product industry. Notice especially the beautiful ceilings made out of southern pine.

One thing holding up the completion is the shortage of labor, especially skilled labor. I am hearing this all over the place. Unemployment is so low that it is hard to get anybody to do hard work, or sometimes skilled work. We are facing that problem planting and harvesting trees, and evidently with building too.

We also have our customary beer (or in this case for CJ wine) drinking pictures.They had a dinner for the board members that Chrissy and I got to enjoy.

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