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December 26, 2013

Mariza's new place

Mariza's house in Baltimore 

The boys and I helped Mariza move into her new place.  It is a very nice place, completely renovated, and they did a really good job. I like the neighborhood.  It is “recovering” but already pretty nice. Within easy walking distance are restaurants, take out places and a Giant.

Street near Mariza's House 

I know that my impressions are not statistically valid, but I think you can get a feel for a neighborhood by walking around.   It seemed peaceful. One of Mariza’s neighbors, a guy called Greg, introduced himself as we were bringing in stuff. He said that he had lived in the neighborhood for thirty years. It had gone through good and bad times, but things were getting better.  It is the kind of neighborhood where I would be happy to live so I am glad Mariza is there.

commercial street near Mariza 

October 09, 2012

Washington Updates

Washington Monument 

It is good to be home, even if only for a short time. Washington area is both unchanging and protean. The Mall stays very similar, although with lots of changes on the margins. The Capitol and the Washington Monument provide the anchors with Lincoln and Jefferson a little outside.  I have taken and posted dozens of pictures of the monuments. They are always impressive. You can see below that they are still working on the reflecting pool. I hear that they are washing off the algae.

Lincoln Monument 

Nearer to home, they are building all sorts of things. The area around Dunn Loring Metro will be developed.  They are starting with the parking, as you can see in the picture. They already have some of the town center finished.  There is a Target down the street which will open next month. Below is a new area of shops across the street from our house. Chrissy & I had lunch at a place called the "Lost Dog".  They serve hundreds of kinds of beer.

New shops near the Metro 

Down the street, that is an interesting phrase.  There is currently not much of a street to go down.  Gallows Road is mostly closed.  You can see the progress. This will be a really wide road.  There is supposed to be a median strip, so that you can run from one side to the other with some hope of surviving the adventure.

Construction on Gallows Road 

Most of my meetings were down in FSI. I am very fond of FSI; it is much like a college campus and the walk from the Balston Metro is usually pleasant, lots of big oak trees, takes about twenty minutes. I did get stuck in some really heavy rain one day, however, as you can see in the picture nearby.  I wasn’t properly prepared for this. I didn’t bring my GoreTex coat.  Being down in Brasília with the pleasant and predictable weather has made me complacent.

Rain at Balston 

Below is the parking setting up at Dunn Loring

Dunn Loring Parking 

May 23, 2012

Ordinary Days in the United States

Horse cops in Washington 

One of the simple joys of life is just walking around w/o a rush.  You just have to put your feet on the ground. I had the chance to do a lot of walking and some running in the old places around Washington. Washington is one of the world’s great cities and great for running and walking.   One of the things I like is that you can be by yourself but not alone.  There are enough people around but you can get away from them.

Mall construction  

They have the Mall all dug up.  The signs say that they are replacing the dirt with dirt that doesn’t compact easily, so that it can handle the crowds.  They are also laying some kind of drainage and water holding pipes so that it can stay green w/o lots of watering.  A lot of science, technology and engineering will go into this lawn and if they do a good job nobody will notice when it is done.

Mall Construction 

IMO they did a good job on the Mall in general.  You would not know to look at it, but the Mall is largely hollow, i.e. there are roads and buildings under it.  They didn’t want to build up when they built new museums a couple decades ago, so they dug down.

African American museum construction 

The Mall is getting a little crowded.  They built the Museum of the American Indian about ten years ago.  It is a superb building and the grounds are interesting.  I don’t think the museum itself is very good.  IMO, it lacks a focus.  They tried to accommodate too many groups.  The picture above shows construction of the Museum of African Americans.  I think that museums on the Mall should commemorate our common American heritage.  Our motto is still “e pluribus unum,” which means “from many, one.”  There is lot of room for pluralism in our country; it is what makes our country great, but there are only about 300 acres on the National Mall.

Gallows Road 

Above is the work on Gallows Road.  Notice the change in grade.  I wanted to take a picture before they were done. I think it will be very different later.

May 05, 2012

Alex Graduates from JMU

Alex Graduation ceremony 

We had rain on and off but it was good to see Alex graduate from college.  He worked hard for this and I was glad to get home to see him do it.

Chrissy and Alex 

Chrissy and Alex above; Mariza and Espen below

Mariza and Espen 

Alex followed a pattern that I think will become more and more common.  He started in community college in Northern Virginia and then transfered since his grades were good. I think this is a better system. Not only is it less expensive, but it allows the students to earn their way in.  Community colleges have open enrollment. The students can get better. The traditional entrance makes them jump a barrier when they are 18 years old. But then they are in.  I also think we should probably go in more for distance learning. College has become so expensive.  Many of the classes don't really require residence. IMO, some courses would be BETTER as distance learning.  Kids could go at their own pace. 

I admire Alex. He chose to go to NOVA while still working at Home Depot, studied and finished.  He was particularly brave after he was attacked during his first semester at JMU. He never complained or asked for special treatment.  He came through. I am really proud of him today.  

March 11, 2012

Belly Dancing, Changing Baltimore & Unchanging Maryland

Mariza Dancing at Baltimore Aquarium 

Mariza’s uncommon hobby is belly dancing. Actually it isn’t so uncommon. Belly dancing has become fairly popular among women as a fun form of exercise. Mariza hopes to take advantage of that trend to build a successful fitness business around the exercise associated with belly dancing. For now, however, she mostly just gets to dance herself and just about breaks even. Chrissy and I went to see her do it at the Baltimore Aquarium.

Mariza, Chrissy and me 

Belly dancing really is good for fitness, BTW, and it also does wonders for posture.  Mariza actually measures and inch taller because of it. I am reasonably certain that it is the cause, since she grew this inch when she was already twenty-four. The extra inch is not much advantage in Mariza’s case, since she is already six-feet tall.  But I think that the posture and height improvement could be an important consideration for many.  There is a mismatch. Men generally would be more interested in height enhancement, while women are more interested in belly dancing (at least as participants).  

Little Italy in Baltimore 

Baltimore is much improved, at least in many neighborhoods. I still remember when you had to fear crime if you walked even a few blocks away from places like the Inner Harbor, but the area of security has widened. We walked to “Little Italy,” which has become (or become again) a thriving restaurant district. It has a sad side, however. Many of the restaurants and loft apartments are located in old warehouses and factories. These used to be places where working men made the things that made America great. It was a grittier and less pleasant world than that of restaurants and luxury apartments, but its loss is regrettable.

Our old house in Forest Glen in Maryland 

I had to work on Friday, so in order to get to Baltimore in time to see Mariza’s performance; I caught the Metro up to Forest Glen, which is near the Beltway in Maryland. Chrissy picked me up there. I got there a little early and had a chance to see the neighborhood where we lived when I was studying Polish back in 1992. I was surprised how little the area had changed. Given the proximity to the Metro (it takes less than five minutes to walk), I thought for sure that it was a neighborhood in transition. 

Road near Forest Glen Metro in Maryland 

I thought that the low density and comfortably shabby settlement patterns would soon be replaced by higher-rises.  But twenty years later I had no trouble recognizing the place. It seems that little has changed.  The old house we lived in was still there, w/o obvious changes. 

Our Lady Queen of Poland church in Forest Glen Maryland 

One of the interesting things about the neighborhood when I was studying Polish was the presence of the Our Lady Queen of Poland church. We did not choose to live there because of the church, but it was interesting to have it close by. They did mass in Polish and had Polish day care classes, fortuitous for a Polish student.

September 29, 2011

Things Fall Apart

Washington Monument 

The Recent earthquake did little damage to the general community, but it did crack the Washington Monument. If you look at it, you can see how this structure is very susceptible to damage. It is essentially a giant masonry pillar.

Reporters at Washington Monument 

They closed the monument.  I noticed lots of news crews hanging around and when I looked up to see what they were looking at, I saw men at work. They were rappelling down the monument, checking for cracks, as I learned. 

Workers on Washington Monument 

The Washington Monument is one of the favorites. Some people like to go up to the top. You have to get a reserved ticket. They are free, but you need to get a time. But mostly people just like to stand around near the bottom, among the flags. That is what I do. You can do neither now. You have to keep your distance, lest a piece of masonry fall from on high and crush you like a bug. 

Arthur Treachers 

Monkey Mental flossThe other pictures are from the Atlanta airport. I used to like Arthur Treachers, so I was happy to see one. It wasn't really Treachers, except in name.  It was a TINO - Treachers in name only.  It was part of the Nathan's hotdog chain and it shared characteristics. The "chips" for example, were just fries and the fish was just like you would get anywhere out of the frozen foods aisle.

I would have been better off just getting a Nathan hot dog. They are very good and no doubt authentic there. 

The other picture is from a book shop. There are two things I liked, both dumb, I admit. I think the title "Mental Floss" is funny and monkeys are inherently funny, so the two combined deserved a photo.

 

 

 

 

June 09, 2011

Summer Time

Kids playing in fountain in Washington 

The water jets outside Safeway near the Waterfront Metro are a good idea. When I first saw them, I didn’t really understand their probable use. Today was a hot day and the local kids figured it out.  The neighborhood really has improved.  It is lively but still nice.

Lightning in Baltimore 

Below are pictures of Baltimore that Mariza took from her window.  We bought her a Cannon camera for her birthday. It works well.  I got one for my birthday too. 

lightning in Baltimore

May 28, 2011

Age of Discovery

Nina & Pinta at Potomac branch 

Replicas of Columbus’ ships the Niña and the Pinta were anchored in the Potomac branch in DC. I didn’t go aboard, since I didn’t have much time and it cost $8. I could see everything I wanted to see anyway. The ships were built in Salvador in Brazil. They sail around for exhibitions and, according to the notes, they were featured in the movie “1492”.

Nina and Pinta on Potomac 

These boats are small. I would not want to cross a big lake in one of these things. You can see some modern boats nearby for size comparison.

 

A statue of Columbus stands in front of Union Station and Washington is in the District of Columbia.  Columbus used to be a hero. We sang songs about him in grade school. Lately, however, he is reviled by some and considered un-PC, since his voyages led to the “conquest” of the Americas. I think it was probably a good thing overall.  I don’t buy into that Rousseau noble savage stuff. Life was nasty, brutish and short in those days for just about everybody. 

Linden blooms 

This area of town is changing. They just rebuilt the area around Waterfront Metro stop and it has gone from being seedy and dangerous to being nice and pleasant. Above and below are linden trees in bloom. I really love the scent.  It reminds me of Germany and Poland. I comment on them every year because every year it is nice. The linden is the European relative of the American basswood, sometimes even called American linden. The Euro variety is smaller, but has showier and more fragrant flowers. Bees are fond of the flowers and there is even a variety of honey called basswood honey. They only flower for about ten days. The lindens flower in Europe in late June and July, about the same time as they do in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Here we are a month ahead.

Linden trees at Potomac branch

Notice the flag. There was a very strong south wind that brought in rain (see the last picture below)

Potomac flooding 

The Potomac is fresh water, but it is affected by tides in the Chesapeake Bay. The tidal basin at the Jefferson Monument is meant to control for some of that. You can see the water flooding over the banks in the pictures above and below. It reaches about five yards farther in at times. At low tide, the place where you see the fence is 3-4 feet above the water surface. 

Potomac flooding 

Below are storm clouds racing in at Dunn Loring. I snapped the picture and rode for home. I arrived just as the rain was starting. Literally seconds after I got in the safety of the garage, we had a cloudburst. A couple hours later, it knocked out the power for a while all over. Urban dwellers like us are unaccustomed to the sold wall of darkness. 

Storm clouds at Dunn Loring, Merrifield VA 

May 10, 2011

Early & Late in Washington

Sunrise at Ft Meyer 

I don't like to get up on my bike before dawn, but I am embracing it, since I have no choice. I have to be at work before 7, which means I have to leave the house at around 5:45, which is just almost sun-up this time of year. It is relaxing to ride through that twilight, knowing that it will soon be lighter.  There is also a lot less traffic on the roads, although - ironically - a few more bikes and runners on the trail.

Flag raising at Ft Meyer 

Although I get to work early, I still stay until I can take the subway home. But I go down near the Potomac to enjoy the evening twilight.  So I get the early twilight and the late twilight. Sweet.  

Drained reflecting pool at Washington Monument 

The pictures - Up top is the sun rise over Washington from Ft Myer. The sun is blinding at this angle, so I ride right in that shadow of the tree.  Next is flag raising at Ft Meyer. Below that is the reflecting pool with no water. Everything needs maintenance. Below here are people fishing in the Potomac at the end of the day. And under that are buses parked in the Potomac Park. Evidently this is now the new tour bus parking place. I don't like it.

Fishing in Potomac 

Buses 

May 03, 2011

Leafing Out & Buckeyes

Buckeye trees 

I am down at the Main State again, very long days. I have to get on my bike before 6 am and I am not done until 6 pm.  I am doing the nuts & bolts press work, clearances etc. I don’t like it very much, but I don’t have to do it very long. I am being useful. Usually, I like my job more, so a little payback is fair.

Buckeye 

I do enjoy riding my bike in the pre-dawn semi-light. I love that time of day, but I am too lazy to get up unless there is something coercing me.  I also get to enjoy the twilight at the end of the day.  The trees are almost fully leafed out now.  I took some pictures.



The pictures show buckeye trees along (fittingly) Buckeye Street in Potomac Park. The buckeye is the state tree of Ohio.  It is a relative of the horse chestnut and, as you can see, looks a lot like it. I think the flowers are the result of selective breeding.  The natural trees I have seen are not as colorful.

Buckeye flowers

April 12, 2011

Springtime Continued

tulips & daffodils in front of the house 

We had an interesting day today. It rained; it was sunny; it rained again. The air was very fresh and it was windy. The pear tree next door was losing its pedals and they fell like snow onto the tulips and daffodils Chrissy planted. It is an ephemeral pleasure. By tomorrow, or the next day at most, it will all be done.

Tulips and daffodils in front of the house 

Below are newly planted monkey puzzle trees at FSI. They are native to Chile and Argentina and are related to the araucaria or Parana pine that grows in Brazil and more distantly to the Norfolk Island pine so common as an indoor tree in malls. Monkey puzzle trees can tolerate a fair amount of cold. Although Virginia is about as far north as they can go in eastern North America, they live on the west coast as far north as British Columbia. In Europe, they can grow in UK and I even saw one thriving in Bergen in Norway. Warm ocean currents make a big difference. The story is that it is called monkey puzzle, since the curly branches would puzzle any monkey trying to climb it. The little branches on these are not yet curly enough to puzzle any but the stupidest monkey. They are pretty prickly, however. It may take twenty years, but this will be a really cool glade in time.

monkey puzzle trees at FSI 


April 02, 2011

Four-Wheel-Drive

New car on Freeman tract 

I went down to the farm to plant my American chestnut seeds. The American Chestnut Foundation sent me two of them for contributing to the Foundation.They are supposed to be from trees resistant to the blight that since it was discovered in 1904 has nearly wiped out what had been one of the most important forest trees in Eastern North America. The Foundation wants to have them planted in as many different places as possible in hopes of developing a really blight resistant tree. Of course, we may not know for decades or maybe never. My land is a little outside the native range of the American chestnut, so my two isolated trees could well survive even if they were not resistant, since the blight just might not get at them. I probably should not have taken them anyway; I will not be around enough to take care of them. I put them in good places on a north facing slope, cleared the nearby brush and put rocks & mulch around the places to mark and protect them, so I they have a better than average forest seedling chance. But I can check on them only until I go to Brazil; after that they are on their own.

Forest road on steep hill 

I took down the new car. I bought a Toyota RAV4 to take to Brazil. It has 4-wheel-drive, which I expect will be useful in Brazil, and is a model that is sold in Brazil. There is a dealer in Brasilia, so I can get service and parts. I was going to get a Ford Escape. They have Fords in Brazil, but not have the Escape, so I figured it would be better to go with the RAV4. The RAV4 is a little more expensive than the Ford Escape, but not much & the additional cost and trouble of getting parts would end up costing more than the price difference. I also thought about buying the car in Brazil, but the Brazilian currency appreciated so much against the dollar in the last year that it just doesn’t make sense. That, plus the generally higher prices there means that it would cost nearly twice as much to get one locally. When you live overseas, you become a currency trader whether or not you want and currency fluctuations make really big differences for big purchases.

Plowed field ready for wildlife plot 

Anyway, I plan to get lots of use out of the car in Brazil. I can drive to a large part of the country from Brasilia, but some of the roads can be challenging. I tried out the new car’s 4-wheel-drive on my forest road. It rained yesterday, so there was some of that southern red mud that is both slippery and clingy. I took the car up my steepest and messiest road. The RAV4 easily made the hill. I could feel the wheels engaging differentially. I would never have tried it with the two-wheel-drive truck and I generally don’t like to use the steep road because it tears up the dirt. But I made an exception. I needed to test the car and if I am going to get stuck, I prefer to do it in Virginia, where I can call helpful neighbors, rather than someplace in the Amazon jungle. Besides, the tree harvest a couple of months ago paid for the car, so it seemed sort of appropriate.

The picture up top shows our new car in front of the trees which made it possible. Actually, not those trees, since the ones that we sold are gone, but the same sort formerly in the same general location. The next picture shows my forest hill road. I did clear off that tree that fell across the road. An ice storm back in January hit this particular part of the woods harder than average. The bottom picture is one of the food plots. The hunt club prepared it for replanting.

March 29, 2011

Washington Spring 2011

Cherry trees in Washington 

Spring has arrived in Washington, although it was cool yesterday and today and we had a dusting of snow a couple days ago. But the cherry trees are blooming and robins are out in flocks. I didn't know robins came in flocks.  Here we have some pictures.

Cherry trees

 

Jefferson Memorial & cherries 

Boats on Potomac

Magnolias at Air & Space Museum, Washington 

Blooming trees at FSI 

March 20, 2011

Spring Training

Washington Metro Yellow Line train crossing Potomac River 

Spring is arriving in Washington and with it the bike weather. I have been taking a roundabout way to and from FSI.  I have been riding my bike down to FSI, which is a nice morning ride that takes around 45 minutes.  But I don’t like to ride home, since the wind is usually against me and it is more uphill. So I go the other way at the end of the day, back down to Washington all the way to SW, where I can go to Gold’s Gym & catch the Metro on the way home after 7pm. It is a longer way around and more total miles than a return trip home, but it is nicer. I go a little out of the way past Jefferson onto the start of Haines Point.  But it is worth the trip to see Washington at this time of the year. 

airplane coming over Potomac from Reagan National 

The cherry blossoms will be out soon, but in the meantime I was watching some of the Metro trains crossing the river and the airplane coming from Reagan National.

March 03, 2011

Machines, Construction, Biking, Boots & Cetera

Biking to work again

W&OD Bike trail 


Studying at FSI has the advantage of being closer, so I can push the biking season a bit.  It has been a little cooler than average this year so far, but pleasant enough on some days to make the trip enjoyable. I don’t like his hitting the strong west winds in springtime. They get a little more languid in summer and the leaves on the trees block some of the wind. Above & Below are parts of the trail in Falls Church. It will look better when the leaves come on in a few weeks. The W&OD bike trail is a nice park. Narrow, but very long.

Exercise equipment at W&OD 

 

Best boots ever

Marine boots 

My Marine boots are still doing service and don’t seem to be wearing out. I wore them every day for a year in Iraq, walking on some pretty rough surfaces and they have been great in my forestry since. My only complaint is that they are not waterproof. Of course, who can complain that boots designed for a place where it almost never rains may let water in?

Construction on Gallows Road

New building on Gallows Road 

Our neighborhood is changing; I think improving. Above is the new building on Gallows. It is mostly wood framed and going up really fast. 

Road Work

Big construction machines 

I liked to watch construction when I was a kid and I still do. But now big machines do most of the work and everything is a lot cleaner. This machine (above & below) pulls up the asphalt, grinds it up and drops it in the truck w/o even slowing down.

Road Construction Arlington, VA 

 

Washington

White House 

I got back to Washington the other day. Now that I don't work there everyday, I miss it. Above is the White House. They were having some kind of ceremony. Below is a statue in front of the Old Executive Office Building and the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument and statue at Old Executive Office Building 

February 06, 2011

Peripatetic Observations

Shotgun shacks near Balston 

I wrote yesterday about the usefulness of walking around. I walk around an hour and twenty minutes a day, including my walk from the Metro etc. I cannot say that I spend all that time thinking, but I do have a kind of “commuter radio.”  I get “NPR Marketplace” and some Brazilian podcasts, as well as my usual audiobooks.  I don’t think I could just sit still and listen to these things. 

New Construction at Balston 

One of the good things about the walk is being able to look around and feel all the daily changes. Up top and just above show the changing neighborhood. On top are modified “shotgun shacks”.  You can see that they are simple.They call them shotgun shacks because a shotgun fired at the front door would go right through the whole house. These places won’t be here much longer. Immediately above is new construction. The new condominiums will almost literally cast a shadow on the shotgun shacks. How long until somebody builds something here?  Below - We recently had some thawing and I enjoyed watching the melt-water flow. The picture isn't so pretty but those who like flowing water in all its forms will understand.

Spring thaw

January 27, 2011

Snow Days in 2011

Dunn Loring Metro Station on Jan 27, 2010 

We got our first heavy snow, with emphasis on heavy - as in wet and dense. It created no trouble for me with the Metro, but today I heard lots of stories of woe about people stuck in traffic for hours. Some were stranded in town and had to go to hotels. The snow landed on us almost exactly at rush hour, which I suppose explains the problem.

Dunn Loring Metro arrival 

The government had a two hour delay this morning, but things were mostly clear and during the day a lot of it melted off.Above is the Metro arriving. Below is Thomas Street in Arlington

 

Below shows the remnants of snow on the FSI fence.


January 20, 2011

Ice Storms & Walking

Ice covered root 

I have not written much, since my language training is absorbing much of my intellectual energy and making my life predictable. All I do is walk from the Metro to FSI.  We had a little variety with an ice storm a couple days ago. It made walking harder, but produced a few good pictures.

 

It takes around 25 minutes to walk from the Metro to FSI, door to door. The walk there and back every day, plus other places I have to do give me time to listen to my I-pod and I have some good audio books, so it is not all Portuguese language. I am just finishing "the Pity of War" by about World War I.  My next one is "the Atlantic" by Simon Winchester. He is a great writer and I look forward to this new book. But language does occupy most of my thinking.

 

I think I am reaching a plateau. I understand most of what I hear and read, but i still make silly mistakes when I speak. It gets harder to make progress as you make progress. It is the old story of the more you know, the greater your recognition of the big area you don't know. The best I heard it described was that it was like a light bulb. The more powerful bulb creates more light, but also touches a bigger perimeter of darkness. I don't know what else to do, literally. I am doing all the things I think I should and acting on faith now that it will work. Of course, I will come up against the limits of my abilities. It is unpleasant to think that there are limits, but there are limits. I just hope mine is fairly high in this case.

There is so much language to learn and then so much to learn about Brazil. I can only really scratch the surface.  I go back and forth from the appreciating the exhilaration of the challenge  and talking joy in the new understanding to feeling crushed by the weight of what I can never do.  At this time in the training, the doubt predominates. I have been here before, so, fortunately, I know how it will work. This time it is better than during similar periods in other training, actually. I don't have any real worries about not passing the tests in good form. I recall when I was half way through Polish training I really wondered if I had somehow damaged by brain, since I didn't feel I was learning enough.  It was the cold winter of doubt. That passed; his will too.

There are so many more language learning resources today. Internet brings us all the sounds and sights of Brazil in real time. But the more you have ... it is that old light bulb thing again.

The top two pictures show the ice we had a couple days ago. The bottom picture is a crane. There is lots of construction.  The crane is braced, which makes it look like it is flying.  

December 22, 2010

New Forestry Plan

 Property map

There is an exciting (at least for me) development in my forestry business. I am working with Eric Goodman from the KapStone Mill in Roanoke Rapids, NC to make our Freeman property into a kind of experimental/demonstration tract. 

We are going to thin to different densities, with two residual basal area targets of 80 & 100. In addition to that, we will have a five acre control block where no thinning or treatment will be done and another five acre area (labeled “CC”) that will clear cut and replanted with a combination of loblolly and longleaf next year. 

Planting longleaf is particularly interesting. Longleaf pine (pinus palustris) was once common throughout the south. It is a beautiful big tree, that forms in grassy groves and park-like palisades. But it is hard to grow and fire dependent, so it has not been propagated as much loblolly.

A National Wildlife Federation study says that longleaf pine ecosystems may be particularly well adapted to expected climate changes. The longleaf is well adapted to extremes that might become more common in the Southeast. You can read the study at this link about longleaf and climate change.

After thinning, we will experiment with other management techniques, such as burning, herbicides, pruning and fertilization.  It seems like it will keep us busy.

The picture/map up top shows the plan.

December 16, 2010

First Snow of the Season

f you can read the sign in the picture, you can read that this area was built between 1937 & 1953. It was supposed to be a low density garden city community in the colonial style popular at the time.  It is a nice setup. They originally were rental properties, but many have now been converted to condominiums.  

We got our first snow today. It was only a couple inches, nothing like some other parts of the country have been suffering. Still, it is a big deal for Washington, a city that combines southern efficiency with northern charm.  Schools closed; the government had liberal leave policy, i.e. you could take unscheduled leave if you wanted.  Most of it will melt soon, even if it stays cooler than usual, as it has been.  You can tell we are in the south by the leaves on the magnolia tree near the sign, still green with the snow swirling around them.

 

The pictures show some of the buildings near FSI & Balston. If you can read the sign in the picture, you can read that this area was built between 1937 & 1953. It was supposed to be a low density garden city community in the colonial style popular at the time.  It is a nice setup. They originally were rental properties, but many have now been converted to condominiums.

 

It must have been fairly remote back in 1937, but now it is near densely developed cityscapes. The Balston Metro made the development more attractive. You can see above across the street and below the new construction just down the block.  I felt sorry for the poor guys working high up in the snow.

 

 

December 13, 2010

Blustery Day with Intellectual Challenges

US Captiol on Dec 13 with statue of US Grant in foreground 

I attended a lecture this evening on Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive movement. It was an interesting talk, but the whole thing made me feel a bit inadequate.  There were lots of smart people in the audience, such as Michael Barone and Ben Wattenberg.  They asked insightful questions, but it wasn't just that that made me feel lower.  I have never been able to keep my experts straight. These guys can compare subtle differences between works of various people and between philosophies. I have a more mix & match mind.  It works well in many things, but I am outclassed by the big brains when it comes to straight intellectual debate.

US Grant in front of Capitol.  Notice the half moon above him 

FSI gave me a kind of an aptitude test recently. I didn't pay much attention, but it did "reveal" that I don't set clear boundaries, meaning my learning style is find similarities instead of differences. They spend a lot of time developing these tests, but they never really tell you what you can do about it, since they always say that all the styles are equally okay. IMO, the holistic approach works for lots of things, but it doesn't work for the intellectual parsing I talked about above. I enjoyed the talk and I took notes.  I will use the information for something in the future, I suppose.  But I will be unable to keep it straight.

Statues of US Grant 

That Michael Barone is a genius. I have long read his books and watched him on TV. He seems to be able to remember the details of every political contest, down to the county level, since the founding of the Republic.  The interesting thing he brought up was the hypothetical about what would have happened if Roosevelt had not died in 1919.  He probably would have run for president in 1920 and almost assuredly would have won.  How different would history have been?  Would he have repeated the energetic presidency of his youth, or would the second act just have ruined his reputation and maybe hurt the country. Of course we will never know.

On the plus side, I had my informal first Portuguese test and I got - unofficially - 2+/3.  This means nothing to most of you reading this, but it is a decent score after six weeks of instruction for someone who has been away from a language for twenty-five years.   The assessments are on a five point scale.  Zero is when you cannot say a word in the language; five is educated native proficiency. Even many native speakers in a language cannot get a five, since it is an educated speech.  We have to get a minimum of 3 speaking and 3 reading, which is "minimum professional proficiency." 

Skating near Capitol Mall 

I would like to get to 4 both speaking and reading and I think I have a good chance, but it is hard, since the difficulty rises exponentially.  It is a lot easier to get from 1 to 2 than it is from 3 to 4 and - as I said - almost nobody gets to 5, even if you are born in the country.  Four is good.  Everybody knows what you are talking about and you don't make any serious mistakes, but you retain a (no doubt) charming accent, think Ricardo Montalban. Language is such and important part of my job that I think it is worth the effort. I had a 3+/3+ in Polish, which served me fairly well, but I can do better than that in Portuguese. I already have some background; besides it is an easier language & State is giving me the time and instruction I need to get the job done.   Back in 1985, I went to Brazil with 3/3.  During my time there, my language improved, but I didn't test when I came back, so I don't know what I had.  I don't think it was better than a 3+.  I was very fluent, but I lacked the polish that I hope to get this time around.

Portraits hanging along path 

The pictures are from my walk around the Mall today. It was cold with a very strong wind, but I walked from State Department to the Gold's Gym at Capitol after my Portuguese class and it was okay because the wind was from the west, i.e. at my back. I took the Metro up to the stop near AEI for the lecture this evening and so avoided the freezing wind most of the time. 

The top pictures are of the Grant Memorial near the Capitol.  In the second picture, notice the half moon above Grant's head.  Below is the skating rink on the Mall and some portraits along the path.  I recognize Washington and Napoleon, but I don't know the other two.

More photos are at this link

BTW - I am sorry that I am not writing more. Portuguese and Brazil is taking most of my intellectual energy, as I mentioned.  I watch the Brazilian news every day and read some books and magazines. After the homework is done, there is less time to write. language training is serious business, but rewarding.    

November 16, 2010

REDD & General Scott

Winfeild Scott at Scott Circle 

I attended a conference on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.  It was interesting, but not very much.  They talked about things I knew about already. But what I really didn’t like was the lack of diversity.  There were NGO people and officials, who disagreed about whether using international funds to preserve forests was just very good or great.  

Daniel Webster 

I like the spirit of saving forests very much, but I don’t think that making international payments for conservation is a long term solution, even if we overcome the problems of measurement and corruption (which is a big if).  In the long run, we need to make a sustainable forestry system that allows for change and development. I think that the panel members understood this.  A guy from the Nature Conservancy talked about the need to integrate human needs.  

Samuel Hahnemann 

But I think they should have had the diversity of someone who had different interests, i.e. loggers, farmers etc.  I bet there would be a lot of common ground, but it would make for a more interesting discussion.   I mentioned this to one of the organizers. She seemed open to the idea, but seemed to think that such a person would not be well received by the audience.  Maybe.

Ginko trees 

I walked back down to the Metro along Massachusetts Avenue.  When I first joined the FS, I stayed at a Hotel called the General Scott, near Scott Circle.  This is a nice part of town and it was a good introduction to Washington and our American heritage to live there. The General Scott hotel is gone.  I remember the name so well because I accidentally stole one of their hangers. I suppose the statute of limitations is run out.I didn't do it on purpose and didn't notice the crime until much later. Anyway, I probably left one of my own hangers, but since it was more than a quarter century ago, I don’t really recall.  I know I took one of their hangers because I still have it, stamped with the hotel name, too late now to give it back, sorry.   

 I took a couple pictuRed oakres near the circle. The top is General Scott's statue at the circle.  Next is Daniel Webster. The first contact I had with Daniel Webster was when I read "the Devil & Daniel Webster" in junior HS. I chose it because it was a short book. The real Webster was more interesting.  Speaking of interesting, the next picture is a monument to Samuel Hahnemann. I didn't know who that was, so I looked him up. He was the "father of homeopathy" and he once thought that coffee made you sick. I don't know why he gets such a nice monument in Washington.

The last two picture are trees I like.  The yellow ones are ginkgo trees; the red one is a red oak, with its beautiful fall colors. The oak, BTW, is not near the circle. I took that yesterday.

November 14, 2010

Town & Country & Transport

 

I have been getting off the Metro at Ballston and walking from there to FSI. Ballston is part of the suburb of Arlington, but it is much more urban than many areas called cities, with a greater concentration of tall buildings than in a place like downtown Milwaukee, for example.   Many of the Ballston buildings are residential, with retail and offices below.  

 

Arlington has a good “transit oriented” development, with dense concentrations near the metro stops at Roslyn, Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square and Ballston.  Ballston is the tail.  When you get into Fairfax, there is a lot less development around the stations in Falls Church or Vienna.  Our own metro stop at Dunn Loring is supposed to be among the more developed ones in Fairfax. I doubt it will ever get as dense as Ballston, but some construction has begun on our “Merrifield Town Center” or “Mosaic” project. The recent downturn slowed it down a bit.

 

Above is continuing construction near Ballston. Below is the construction near our stop at Dunn Loring. They are going to widen the road and put in a gardened median strip. The areas at the Metro, which you cannot see but is to the right of the photo, will get tall residences along with retail on the ground level. I understand they will have a bakery and a Harris Teeter, among other things. There will be a multiplex cinema down the road. All this stuff will replace the mulch shop, the dumpy buildings, the Anatolian stone yard, the storefront offering legal services to illegal aliens and the various warehouses. The neighborhood is improving.

 

Below is my new Gold's Gym near Ballston Metro. It has the usual equipment, but a younger crowd than the one near the Capitol. They seem to locate these places in old warehouses and industrial buildings.

 

I went over to see Alex in Harrisonburg and drove down I-81.  This is the route that trucks use to transport freight up the Eastern Seaboard. It passes through mostly rural areas, but is nevertheless usually crowded.  There has been some talk about building lanes especially for trucks or improving the freight rail to get the goods more effectively transported. 

truck rest stop along I-81 

Above is a rest stop along I-81. Below is Harrisonburg at a strip mall with the Wal-Mart Super Center, Home Depot AND Lowes. It seems to be the happening place. There are the usual couple dozen chain restaurants around there. All of them were crowded when Alex and I went down there at around 6:30.  We ended up at a not-so-good but not-so-crowded Mexican place. The next morning we had breakfast at Bob Evans.

    

November 12, 2010

A Veteran's Day Walk Around

Arlington Cemetery on Veteran's Day 

I went down to Arlington Cemetery for Veteran's Day, as has become my custom. It is a good day to think about the ones who have sacrificed and died to protect our liberty. I remember in particular a young man named Aaron Ward, who was killed by a sniper in Hit, Iraq on May 6, 2008. I wrote about him previously. He was only nineteen when he came to Iraq. His story made a particular impression on me because it was close and he reminded me of Alex. I can never again think of young soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen in the same way as I did before. It brings the pity of war closer whenever I think of him.  I understand that my determination to remember Aaron Ward's sacrifice does nothing to help him. A couple years later, I understand that I have to thank him not only for his service and sacrifice, but also for helping make me a more thoughtful and, I hope, a better man.

I walked from Roslyn to Arlington Cemetery, going past the Marine Memorial, with the Iwo Jima statue. I have posted pictures before. Above is a closer detail.  

I walked from Roslyn to Arlington Cemetery, going past the Marine Memorial, with the Iwo Jima statue. I have posted pictures before. Above is a closer detail.  The complete picture is here. Below is Memorial Bridge that connects Washington, near the Lincoln Memorial, with Arlington Cemetery.

Memorial Bridge that connects Washington, near the Lincoln Memorial, with Arlington Cemetery.  

Below is one of the statues near Memorial Bridge. They were a gift from the people of Italy to the people of the United States. 

one of the statues near Memorial Bridge. They were a gift from the people of Italy to the people of the United States. 

Below is the memorial to the 101 Airborne, the "Screaming Eagles."  Maybe appropriately, I saw a bald eagle flying over the Potomac.  I got a good look at it, so I am sure it was an eagle. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out and ready, it was too far out of sight to get a picture.  Eagles are becoming fairly common again. They are primarily fish eaters, so you see them along rivers like the Potomac or Mississippi.

memorial to the 101 Airborne, the "Screaming Eagles."  Maybe appropriately, I saw a bald eagle flying over the Potomac.  I got a good look at it, so I am sure it was an eagle. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out and ready, it was too far out of sight to get a picture.  Eagles are becoming fairly common again. They are primarily fish eaters, so you see them along rivers like the Potomac or Mississippi.  

Farther up the river is Theodore Roosevelt Island. It is literally an island of nature in the largely urban area. It used to be cultivated, but went back to nature  around 100 years ago. They claim that it is an "island of tranquility" but that is not really true. You may be able to pretend that the persistent traffic noise is the sound of the ocean, but the airplanes going over every couple of minutes from Reagan National Airport are harder to rationalize. The only time I really found tranquility there was when I was stranded in Washington after 9/11/2001. They stopped the flights and there was not so much traffic, so it was quiet, but in a sort of eerie way. Below is the Roosevelt Memorial, with old Teddy talking to the trees. I have a couple more detailed pictures here and here.

Farther up the river is Theodore Roosevelt Island. It is literally an island of nature in the largely urban area. It used to be cultivated, but went back to nature  around 100 years ago. They claim that it is an "island of tranquility" but that is not really true. You may be able to pretend that the persistent traffic noise is the sound of the ocean, but the airplanes going over every couple of minutes from Reagan National Airport are harder to rationalize. The only time I really found tranquility there was when I was stranded in Washington after 9/11/2001. They stopped the flights and there was no so much traffic, so it was really quiet, but in a sort of eerie way. Below is the Roosevelt Memorial, with old Teddy talking to the trees.  

Below is the George Washington Parkway, which follows the Potomac from Mount Vernon, one of the sources of traffic noise on Theodore Roosevelt Island. It is a bit classier than some other highways, with its beautiful natural stone walls separating the lanes of traffic. They just just don't build things like that anymore.

George Washington Parkway, which follows the Potomac from Mt Vernon, one of the sources of traffic noise. It is a bit classier than some other highways with its beautiful natural stone walls separating the lanes of traffic. They just just don't build things like that anymore.    

October 27, 2010

The Lasts

an informal football game on the fields in front of the Washington Monument.   

Fall is always the season of finishing. Another growing season is done. Days are getting shorter and cooler; the last flowers are blooming; the last leaves are falling. It is both a sad time and one of contentment of harvest and jobs completed. This fall has more of these characteristics for me than usual. I won’t be here next year. This is the last time I will be seeing some parts of Washington for maybe some years, maybe forever. 

Main State Department - Harry Truman Building 

Of course I will be back at the Main State, but my visits will be episodic and not the continuous presence I have now. I probably won’t be going over to Gold’s Gym, for example. I expect to be in Brazil for three years.  Who knows after that? I like to live in Washington, but the work here is not as interesting as what I can do overseas. There just aren’t many good jobs at my level. Many of the lower-ranking positions are more fun, if less ostensibly prestigious. I don’t like the political interface or the endless meetings. That doesn’t bode well for a triumphant return sometime in the medium term future. 

I am not a big coffee drinker, but the next picture shows them that do.  The little wagon is owned by a guy from someplace in the Middle East. It is good coffee, I guess. People wait for him to show up in the morning.  

I have never had much of a long-term career plan and I don’t have one now. I have always relied on serendipity and opportunistically taking advantage of what comes. You don’t have to be smart if you are lucky and I have been lucky. Brazil, Norway, Poland and even Iraq were places that I wanted to o and places where I was content to be. There is not much time left anyway and I suppose I should be thinking about career transition.

Horse cops patrolling the Mall on Clydesdales 

The story I recall, the one I tell myself and others is that I learned about the FS randomly. I remember waking up from a nap at the student union in at UW-Madison and finding a booklet about careers in the FS left on the table in front of me. I was only vaguely aware of the FS before that time. The booklet had a practice test that didn’t look too hard, so I decided to try for it. For me that has become a kind of creation myth. I really no longer know how much is certainly true and how much is embellishment borne of the retelling. But I think the story has colored how I view the job. I guess I still see it as more of a gift than something I worked hard to get. And it has usually been fun. A sort of career plan that I did have was to work in the FS for around seven years and then leverage my experience a well-paying executive job. It never happened because there has never been a significant amount of time when I wasn’t either having too much fun at my current assignment, too excited about the next one or both. 

Jefferson Memorial with fall color maples 

It was more like a hound-dog following the next scent than a step-by-step progress.

US CAPITOL 

Anyway, I think about these things as I walk around in the still warm fall days and evenings. I came into the FS in October and got to know Washington for the first time during this time of the year. That was twenty-six years ago, but the area around the Mall has not changed much. I remember walking around the first time. It was like in that movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” I was so excited to see the monuments: Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and so many other things. It is no longer a new experience, but it is still exciting. What a privilege to be able to be among them all the time. That is something I will miss. So this fall has a special poignancy for me.

African Art Museum 

Let me tell you about the pictures. They are simple things taken around Washington. First is an informal football game on the fields in front of the Washington Monument.  Next is the Main State, the Harry Truman building. It is not one of Washington's most attractive. I am not a big coffee drinker, but the next picture shows them that do.  The little wagon is owned by a guy from someplace in the Middle East. It is good coffee, I guess. People wait for him to show up in the morning. Horse cops patrolling the Mall on Clydesdales in the next picture. Jefferson Memorial with fall color maples. Another of my Capitol pictures. The African Art museum is just above and below is the statue of Casimir Pulaski on Freedom Plaza.

Statue of Pulaski 

Below is the Washington Memorial and the last is just the moon.

The moon 

October 24, 2010

Getting to Know a Few Things More

Main Street in Roanoak, NC 

Mariza’s boyfriend wanted to attend mass, so we went down to Roanoke Rapids, which was the closest Catholic church with a Saturday service. The priest at St. John the Baptist was out, so they had a temporary priest who has done a lot of work with local forestry in Kenya. You can read more about it here.

Cotton warehouse sign in Roanoke Rapids, NC.  The town is near the fall line, where the piedmont meets the tidewater and the rapids were the original reason for the town.  It was as far up as barges could go and the water power was used in the textile industry. There are still lots of cotton fields around the area, but today the big industry in town is a paper mill called Kapstone. 

After church, we went to a nice Italian, simple Italian restaurant on the main street in Roanoke Rapids. It is a pleasant little down, but not really exciting. This is probably the place where my thinned trees will end up.Below you can see the trees on the Freeman place, planted in 1996 and ready to be thinned.

trees on the Freeman place, planted in 1996 and ready to be thinned.  

We were down in the southern part of the state so that Mariza and Chris could see the forests.  Mariza had never seen the Freeman place and had not seen the CP property recently. Things have changed a lot. It was good to be able to show them the trees and explain a little about forestry.  Some of these trees will belong to Mariza someday. It is good if she gets to know the land and can become a good steward of the nature on it.

Wildlife clearing on CP in front of six year old pines 

I got to ride down and back with Mariza, which was good. We had a chance to talk a little.  I don’t see Mariza that much anymore. We used to take walks and talk when she was a little girl, but since then not so much. It gets harder to keep in touch when they move away. She has become a wonderful young woman and I want to get to know her better. Above shows Mariza and Chris in one of our wildlife clearings in front of the CP pines, planted in 2004. The picture below is Mariza and me (I think she is just a little taller than I am). Right underneath is a picture from around the same place in 2006. I always like to show the contrast, which each year gets more pronounced. It was not that long ago, but already the difference is remarkable. Below that are Mariza and Chris walking among the mature pines at the edge of the property.

Loblolly pines planted in 2004 

Two year old loblolly pines in 2006 

There was a lot of activity on the farms. On both places, guys from the hunt clubs were exercising and training their hunting dogs. The guy on the Freeman property was going to run down some coyotes. I don’t think he was hunting the coyotes when we saw him, just training the dogs. You can hunt coyotes all year around on private land in Virginia. I have no problem with coyotes either way, but if somebody from the hunt club wants to chase them on my land, I don’t have a problem with that either. Coyotes are not native to Virginia and they are a nuisance to local farmers. 

Mature pines 

The guys on CP were training their dogs for rabbit hunting, which starts next week.

We are getting more and more bear in the area and I am not enthusiastic about that. I know bears are mostly harmless, but the “mostly” part worries me a little. I bring my lunch with me when I work on the land and I am often there alone.  I really don’t want to have to think about attracting bears or not. Southside Virginia was not "bear country for more than a century, but now they are back. We sometimes see bear signs and people have taken pictures with those motion activated cameras.

Of course, absolute proof of bears is that a local guy killed one with a bow and arrow.  I would be a little nervous going after a bear with a bow and arrow.  It just doesn’t seem like that is “loaded for bear,” but I guess that some of those new bows are really effective. I am glad that the hunters go after the bear.  I want them to retain their fear of humans. In different seasons, it is legal to hunt bear with bow, black powder and ordinary firearms.  Dogs can be used to hunt bear in some situations.  Brunswick County has a bear hound training season, where hunter can train their dogs to chase bear, but cannot kill them if they chase them down.

Hunting and trapping regulations are available at this link.Below is Genito Creek. I like to go down there, since it is quiet and ever changing. I explained to Mariza and Chris how the creek keeps on moving as it undercuts one bank and then the other.  It floods an area of at least fifty yards on both sides. This is the kind of place that someone would like to have a house or a cabin because it is pretty and pleasant. Of course, this is also the kind of place where nobody should build a house, since it will regularly flood.

Genito creek keeps on moving as it undercuts one bank and then the other.  It floods an area of at least fifty yards on both sides. This is the kind of place that someone would like to have a house or a cabin because it is pretty and pleasant. Of course, this is also the kind of place where nobody should build a house, since it will regularly flood. 

October 19, 2010

A Crippling Season

 

I am always limping around in October. It is prime time for running injuries, which I feel especially acutely as I see the enchanting but ephemeral season pass by. They are mutually reinforcing.   I want to run because of the beautiful weather, so I run more. Eventually, I run too much and pull something and then I cannot run.  I understand the problem, but I cannot seem to address it.  Even after many years of lessons, hope triumphs over experience.  

It is an almost perfect storm. October is the end of my bike season, so I am in good general condition. But I run less during the bike time, so specific running muscles, i.e. those that propel the legs differently running than riding a bike, are relatively weak even though it feels good until something gives.  It would be better if I was in generally poorer condition. If all the muscles were similarly weak, the strong ones wouldn’t be pulling the weak ones out of joint.  Add that to the beautiful weather and the sense of urgency that it will not last long and I find the combination almost irresistible.

I am fatalistic. I figure that this has been going on for more than twenty-five years.   Even though I know it, it doesn’t seem to matter. I have to admit that I am probably unteachable.   So I am limping around today as a result of yesterday’s mistakes. I will take today off, but I figure that come Friday, I will be limping around again from overdoing it on Thursday. It is a kind of compulsion. I reach equilibrium eventually.

Maybe November is actually the best running month.

October 12, 2010

Around the Mall & Left Over Pictures

Washington Memorial 

I walked from State Department to Gold's Gym in SW.  Since we moved to Foggy Bottom, I don't get to the Mall as often. Too bad. It is pretty and relaxing. I usually find something to look at or something to admire, even if it is the same old monuments that never lose their appeal. I have a couple of pictures with not much text to go along, but I wanted to post them.I also have a few left over from our drive up country. Above is the Washington Memorial at around 6pm. The Washington Monument is the only one w/o any inscriptions carved into the stones. I guess Washington was so great that he requires no explanation.

Peace Camp 

Above is a "peace camp" on the Mall. The sign said that they were going to hang around until peace was established. I think that their camping permit will run out sooner.  I didn't go in. It seemed like a bunch of hippies. I didn't mind that, but they had some kind of ritual when you walked through their gate. I didn't need that. Below is Stonewall Jackson's grave in Lexington, VA. I wonder how famous Stonewall would be if he was just called Thomas Jackson? He was a good general, but the South had many such.


Below is a bit of over-protection at the cemetery where Stonewall and lot of other Confederates are buried. I guess I have been endangering myself for a long time walking under trees.



 

 

 

October 09, 2010

Which Do you Prefer?

 

Pictures can tell the story better than words and I will use both. Above is a picture of the recently destroyed wisteria vine in better times earlier this year. With the permission and encouragement of the HOA at the time, I planted that vine and tended it for the next five years, falling a little behind in trimming only during the time I was serving in Iraq.  I finally got it to grow completely over the trellis about a month ago. We looked forward to a profusion of flowers next spring. The landscapers evidently thought it was out of control. Look at the picture below. Tell me which you would prefer. The little straps you notice on the boards, BTW, mark places where we had tied and trained the vine, so you can see the progress. Let me add the flowers were free, while the blank wood cost hundreds of dollar to achieve.

 

Below is lily turf behind our house on Quinn Terrace. I don’t have a “before” picture, but before I planted it (again with the permission and encouragement of the HOA at the time) there was a gully about a foot deep on the far end of the picture. It was worse than the dirt you see to both sides of the picture, since my plants slowed the erosion in those places too.

The area in back of the houses is shaded by the houses and decks. There is not enough sunlight to support most plants, so only shade tolerant plants can grow there. But they CAN grow there.  The plants you see stopped and reversed the erosion problem where they were growing and made it a lot less serious problem both above and below by slowing the velocity of rain water. In addition, the plants allowed water to soak into the ground, helping in a small way to make our complex healthier for local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. 

Above you see what it looks like from ground level looking west; below is the same thing looking east. This small plantation has trapped enough silt and runoff to raise the soil level by around six inches. Our containment pool used to be yellow with muddy water after a rain. No more. Not since the plants filled in. The only time erosion was a problem recently came when our landscapers scalped the plants down to the nub. It took them a couple months to grow back, but they did.

 

You can see from the ground level picture that the plants have spread a little to the next lot. They are very adaptive. I volunteered to help plant such cover all along the back of the houses, which would completely solve the erosion problem. Beyond that, these sorts of plants require almost no care. Instead of the landscapers cutting every two weeks, they can trim them back in spring every two years. I understood that there was a plan to make some plantings, maybe also involving river rocks to further help the water flow, but nothing came of it.

Please refer to the pictures above and below for an example of how to solve a problem in an environmentally unfriendly and ugly way and still manage to waste money doing it. There has been a lot of uninformed talk about putting in some kind of drain to improve the landscaping behind the houses. One piece of advice is that you should not take recommendations from people who want to sell you something, and we have experience with exactly this sort of thing. An earlier HOA "solved" a drainage problem by installing drains. They are right across the street from my house. I don't know how many thousands of dollars this cost, but I think my free planting of lily turf is nicer. I have seen the landscapers mowing that area above, BTW. At least they keep it well trimmed.

Sometime the least expensive solutions work the best. We have paid thousands of dollars to do damage. Maybe an approach that takes into account actual conditions on the ground would work better.  Finally, I have to put in the maybe cheap shot of the landscaper's tree trimming. Good job, guys. I sawed off that branch before it broke off and hurt somebody.

So the choice is between green and growing plants that some people might think are "out of control" (judge for yourselves from the pictures) and neatly trimmed mud and empty pressure treated wood.  Which do you prefer? And let me add that the flowers and plants are cheaper or free, while the mud and bare wood costs thousands of dollars in maintenance.

September 10, 2010

Washington is Improving

Waterside Metro stop 

I went past Waterside Metro stop again today.  I have been going that way to get to Gold’s Gym.  It is a little out of the way, but worth the few minutes of the trip along the Potomac.  Above is the Waterside Metro stop. in the background you can see the new Area Stage.

This used to be a very bad & dangerous area just five or ten years ago.  Now it has a nice new Safeway and lots of new office buildings.  The Safeway has good bakery.  I have been picking up fresh bread for Espen and usually a donut for myself.

The bad neighborhoods have been retreating.  When I got here twenty-five years ago the border was on around 14th Street. Today you can go almost to the Anacostia River before you start furtively looking over your shoulder.

Construction near Waterside Metro 

Above is construction on the site of the old Safeway.  I don’t know what they are going to build there, but they are digging deep.  The old Safeway was dumpier than the new one, but it was familiar.  I guess that I cannot say that I miss it.  I do miss the gum machines.  The new one doesn’t seem to have a place for me to waste my quarters.  Below is construction on the new building across from our house on Gallows Road.  I don’t know what this building will be like either, but it I know it is supposed to be a tall building with some retail space on the ground floor. Our neighborhood is improving too.

 

 

September 04, 2010

Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Parkway 

I went down the Blue Ridge Parkway to pick up Alex in Harrisonburg. He wanted to come back to see his friend Colin, who is moving to Oregon, and to pick up his amp. I don’t driving down to get him. It is a pretty drive; we get good mileage on the hybrid and I can listen to NPR or my audio books. Gas is cheaper outside the Washington metro area. You get it for $2.39 a gallon in the Shenandoah Valley; the best you can do in Northern Virginia is $2.69. 

 

Lots of the turnouts are under construction with signs that our stimulus dollars are a work. I saw lots of such signs, lots of barriers and lots of port-a-johns, but no workers. I suppose it put people to work setting up the signs and port-a-johns, but we might have hoped for a little more actual construction.

The Blue Ridge is very pretty. You can see why they were called blue ridge. It is almost all secondary growth. They cut most of the trees off during the 19th Century  Some was done for agriculture, but a lot of the wood was used to make charcoal for small steel and lime production. There are still lots of place names in the hills with forge or furnace in their titles. Farming was not very profitable with the thin and soon eroded mountain soils and most of the farmsteads were abandoned. The hillsides reverted to the thick oak-maple & tulip poplar forests you see in the pictures. Actually, at the time they were oak and chestnut forests, but the chestnuts were wiped out by a blight that came in 1904. I am hoping GMOs can bring them back.

It was a little hazy when I took the pictures yesterday. They would have been better today, since the wind left over from Hurricane Earl cleared the air.  Today is beautiful weather. We are getting into the nice fall weather, IMO, the best time for Virginia weather. October is usually the best month.

August 31, 2010

Pseudo Bike Friendly

bike racks at FSI 

I am at FSI for the PAO course that I never took. I figure that there are basic things that I just didn’t know and I hope to learn about them.

At FSI, I was greeted with an “improvement” around the bike racks. Look at the picture.  I bet these things cost the government a lot, because we never get anything cheap. What good are they? They won’t protect the bikes from the rain. The probably actually make it hotter around the bikes, since they face into the south and into the sun.  Worst of all, they eliminate at least two bike parking spots (on each end) and make it a lot harder to get at the bikes in the middle.

This is the kind of thing that someone who doesn't ride a bike much thinks is "bike friendly."

I figure that somebody will get an award for putting those things up. They will look better on somebody’s personal report than they do in real life. Maybe that same person will earn another award when they take them down, create more space and “save” the upkeep.

Class got out early enough for me to head down to Washington, go to Gold’s Gym and take the Metro home.  It is easier for me to go down to Washington and take the Metro than to go up hill home, although both are about the same distance. Actually, it was a bit farther, since I went the long way through Shirlington and along the Potomac. They connected the bike trail all the way. Sweet. You used to have to get off the trail and cross the freeway on a footbridge.

 

Above and below are pictures of East Potomac Park. I have been stopping here at the end of the day to kind of settle back into that peaceful, easy feeling.  It is another thing that is a little out of the way, but worth going.  I went down there today for around a half hour, listened to my audio books and watched the water flow. It is a pleasant place to be. The breeze blows off the water in the late afternoon, keeping the mosquitoes confused.

 

August 29, 2010

Virginia Goats in Forestry

goats 

Boer goats were developed in South Africa.  They are bigger and more solidly built than most goat breeds, which makes them better as meat goats.  They are not as agile as other breeds, which is good since they are not as likely to climb onto structures and through fences.   They were really developed as land clearing machines.  They can climb steep hills and will eat almost everything in their paths, including thorny bushes and vines, such as multiflora rose, blueberries, kudzu and honeysuckle. That is why I am interested in them.

I want the goats to eat down all the brush that grows underneath my pine trees, especially after we do the thinning.  They would be well-adapted to that job, since they can and will eat all the common brush that vexes me.  In addition, they also fertilize as they go.   There is also a growing market for goat meat because of the growing immigrant populations from Central America and the Middle East.  It seems almost too good to be true.  They don’t need much care, but unfortunately, I don’t think I can give them that.

 

Since I was taking Alex back to school at JMU, I took the opportunity to visit the goat farm of Jeff and Loretta Whetzel in rural Rockingham County.   They are semi-retired.  Jeff joked that goats are his hobby and he is lucky to break even.   I enjoy the same situation with my forestry, so we understood each other.   The Whetzels started raising goats only a few years ago and are kind of easing into the business. 

The goat business is still mostly a small-farmer operation in Virginia.  Although goats have been resident on American farms since the first settlers landed in Virginia and founded Jamestown, they have never been a big business.   But the changing demographics might be creating business opportunities for goat farming.

 

Goats are fairly easy to take care of and do well in Virginia.  Goats are criticized as “desert makers” because of their voracious appetites and promiscuous eating habits.  But this is not a problem in Virginia, where we have enough rain and good soils to make the grass and brush grow.  Goats are browsers, not grazers.  That means they eat mostly leaves and brush, unlike cows that eat mostly grass, legumes and forbs.  (Of course, goats also eat grass and forbs; they just have a wider diet.)

Goats will eat pine needles and so you cannot put goats into a working pine forest until the trees are tall enough that goats cannot reach the tops or the vital branches of the crop trees. For practical purposes, this means the trees need to be about ten feet high (about five years old for a loblolly pine in Southern Virginia), since goats can reach up about five feet by standing on their hind legs. They will eat pine bark, but only if there is not other things to eat.  Presumably this would never become a problem if the goal was brush clearing. Jeff says that pine needles in the goat diet are beneficial, since something in the resin helps prevent worms.

The goats are very friendly. They are like dogs in that they follow you around. I can see the attraction of having them around.

But after talking to Jeff & Loretta, I realized that I cannot put goats on my lands unless and until I have to more time to devote. For one thing, I would need a lot of them to eat down 80 or 100 acres. I would also have to build electrified fences and dig some ponds or other water sources. My farms have flowing water, so that could be done. But you have to watch them. They require some grain supplements etc. And they need protection.

Coyotes are a problem.  Jeff and Loretta have a big dog called Yogi that chases them away. He is a Pyrenees sheep dog, very big and tougher than coyotes, developed by shepherds Spain to fight off the local predators.  He looks a lot like the podhale dog in Poland.  This is another reason why I cannot put the goats on our land and be there to watch.  The goats can be left more or less alone for a long time, but a dog cannot. We have coyotes, along with some bobcats and a few bears, in Southern Virginia too, so we need that protection.

Anyway, I have to put my goat plan on hold for at least the next couple of years when I am in Brazil.  We are thinning eighty-six acres this year. I plan to burn under those trees in 2012.  After that and after the brush grows in, maybe it will be time to deploy some Boer goats.

Links to some related posts are here and here.  

August 28, 2010

Country Roads

 

I used my new GPS to find the goat farm of Jeff & Loretta Whetzel (more on that in the next post).  I am a late adapter of the GPS for the car. I had one a long time ago that I used in my forestry, but it was not really good enough for precise measurement.  This one (see above) is nice and was much cheaper. It tells you when to turn etc.  I made it speak in Portuguese so that I can practice. Of course, vocabulary is limited. Also can play audio books.

 

Above you can see road work.  We had to wait around fifteen minutes while the cleared out the rocks.  They are widening the road.  The rock is shale, which is common in the Eastern Mountains.  It is very good for paving running trails as it breaks down into flattish chips and forms a springy surface. 

kudzuBelow is kudzu growing along US 211 (also called Lee Highway, BTW, a continuation of the Lee Highway that runs near my house) and doing the one thing it is good at - holding a steep bank. The government encouraged Kudzu planting in the U.S. because of its extreme ability to grow. That was not an entirely wise idea. What makes it a great cover for everything also makes it a troubling invasive, since what grows over rocky hillsides also grows over trees and other plants, choking them off.

I drove the country way home from Harrisonburg, through Luray and over the mountains. I enjoy driving that more than the freeway. It is a bit shorter in miles, but takes about the same time since you have more curves and have to drive slower.  It is not a good idea to drive through the mountains during the winter or at night, but it is nice on a nice day like today.  

Most of the way after the mountains is the way home from Old Rag Mountain, so I have been driving this way for twenty-five years. The area up to Warrenton is very built up, and much of US 29 has become a big strip mall. This includes areas near the Manassas Battlefield. It kind of takes away from the historical feel.  But after Warrenton, it has not changed that much.  It is still very rural, green and pleasant. Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties are among the nicest in Virginia. It is a great pleasure to pass through them. 

August 27, 2010

Alex Back to JMU

Alex's Dorm Building 

I took Alex back up to school at James Madison.  He is in a new dorm right in the center of the campus.  I think he will be better.  He can more easily walk to the places he needs to go and will have more contact with other students.  The room is smaller than the one he had before & has no air conditioning.  This will be okay most of the school year, but it still can get hot in September.  His room is part of a suite with six guys, who share a kind of living space in the middle.  Above is his building and below is his room as it looked when he moved in. The tree is a river birch, the southern cousin in the birch family. In Wisconsin we can grow the paper birch or the white birch. They are pretties than this kind of brownish one, but you have to adapt to local conditions.  I wanted to get a picture of Alex too, but he refused and kept on moving in and out of the shot.

Alex's dorm room at JMU

The campus was full of new freshmen, you can see the gaggle of them below. They are much better groomed than back in the 1970s when I started, but otherwise look similar. Speaking of gaggles, the geese just stroll across the road and most cars stop.  I didn’t.  I went slow enough that they could move out of the way, but I am not going to yield to geese.  They squawked a little but they cleared a path.  Up at the farm, a turkey stood in front of my car and stared at me.  I actually had to get out and shoo it away. Turkeys are dumb enough to be run over by a car going 3MPH; geese are not.

GMU freshmen 

August 25, 2010

A Cool Bike Ride

Crossing the Potomac 

It was cool and overcast for my morning bike ride, but an easy trip because of the west wind.  I am glad that I don’t have to drive. Below you can see the cars backed up on Memorial Bridge.

 

Above is the stop light to cross near the Lincoln Memorial.  You have to push the button to get the walk light, at least you HAD to.  Somebody glued button down so that it just goes through the cycle continuously.  I think that is good.  I hate that idea that you have to push the button and always wait.  Of course, sometimes you can just nip through between the traffic.

Elm trees  

Above & below are elm trees looking not good on Independence Avenue.  I have noticed that many of the elms around town are not looking good.  Some elm trees are resistant to Dutch elm disease, but none are completely immune.  I worry that something is going on with the trees.  It would be a shame if these big trees died.  I have been watching the media for reports re the elms.  So far I have found nothing.  I hope that my fears are unfounded.  It was a hot year. Maybe they are just stressed.

Elm trees on Independence Ave Washington 

August 23, 2010

Fells Point Baltimore

Fells Point Square

Chrissy and I went to visit Mariza in Baltimore. It really is a nice city, at least the parts we visit.  Espen and I once turned into a less nice area. It looked like the set for a cop drama; lots of people just hanging around, but these places are being renewed and redeveloped pretty well.

The pictures are from Fells Point, where we went to eat at a place called Kali’s Corner, a seafood restaurant. They had a special menu for restaurant week. I had sea bass; Chrissy got skate, evidently a sting ray & Mariza got the salmon. The Atmosphere was very good; food was okay.


Mariza is doing fine.  Business is picking up a little at Travelers.  Evidently they are at least hiring some new people this year. Above & below are pictures from the windows of Mariza's new apartment.

 

August 15, 2010

Bad Solutions to Water and Shade Problems

 

There is talk about building a drain again in back of the houses. This drain would cost around $8000 and would not solve any problems. I am probably the only one who will actually stand out in the rain and watch the drainage and soak away characteristics and I see how it really works.

 

The problem is that the decks, board fences, houses and vegetation creates shade, enough shade that grass won’t grow.  In a heavy rain the water running off the rooftops can cause erosion.  The culprit is the lack of vegetation, not the water. 

Although grass won’t grow, lots of other things will. A couple years ago I planted some lily turf.   It cost me nothing, since I took the shoots from the front of the house. The only improvement that I had to make was to put in some timbers to stop the water in the short term.  I also knocked down the board fence at the end of our house, letting in more light.

Look at the pictures.  I took them from my deck today after a few hours of rain.  Notice how the mud starts exactly where the planting stops. If the problem was water or sunlight, it would not be like that. My plantation not only greened up my space; it also slows erosion up and downstream by slowing or stopping the water flow. Things will grow back there, just not grass.

The drains would not work because they address the wrong problem.  Beyond that, it would make everything worse by quickening runoff.  It is exactly what we don’t want to do to our local streams and Chesapeake Bay. So we would be spending $8000 to help break down stream beds downstream and ultimately dump more silt and pollution into Chesapeake Bay.

I am afraid such backward activities are common when we make collective decisions.

August 09, 2010

Land Investments

Nottoway River near Purdy 

I made an unexpected trip to the farms yesterday. I wanted to look at a piece of land near the Nottoway River.  FM wants to buy the timber and wants me to buy the land. In other words, he gets the wood; I get land to grow new trees. It is a long-term proposition for me. I couldn’t even thin until around 2025. On the other hand, I can get the land cheaper and grow the trees later.  

Natural loblolly regeneration

The land would not be only for forestry. There is a lot of road frontage and the property is across from the Nottoway River, which you see in the picture. (It was a very foggy morning, as you can see and chilly. It later got hot and humid.) They would leave the trees near the streams etc, so it would remain wooded and attractive. There is a public boat launching place across from one corner of the property.  It was a very foggy morning, as you can see and chilly. It later got hot and humid. Under the right conditions, I could sell off some lots right at the corner with the river, where people could build “farmettes” or cabins. I have no idea how that works, but I bet I can figure it out. That would help pay for the land.

Land is inexpensive these days because of the recession. It won’t stay that way forever and this may be a good time to buy. But the timing is always tricky and I don’t have that kind of money to just risk.  The forest land and its produce will essentially fund large chunks of my retirement, or not. In a rational market, this land would become more valuable. Markets are always rational … in the long run.  But as John Maynard Keynes said, “Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent." 

unthinned_forest1

Anybody want to come in on a forestry investment?  Or maybe buy a beautiful home site near an officially designative senic river? Well, I have to figure out the finances. I really just don't know.

Dog

Pictures

The first picture shows the boat landing on the Nottoway River. The picture under that is the part of the property I was looking at that was cut in 2001. This is natural regeneration and would remain on the land.  I would have to mange it a little, but the trees look healthy. As comparison, you can see my trees on the CP property (same day. The sun came out.) They are only six years old (planted 2004) but they are bigger by a couple feet and fuller because of better genetic stock and some management.  The second lastpicture shows the pines on our Freeman property.  They were planted in 1996 and will be thinned later this month (first thining). They need thinning. Light will reach the ground and it will be better for wildlife. The last picture is a dog that just wandered by. He has a tracking collar, so he is probably a hunting dog. I offered him a piece of ham from my sandwich.  He took it but remained a little spooked.

August 06, 2010

Slugs

Northern Virginia has an interesting hitchhiking system called slugging.  Drivers who want to use the HOV lanes, but don’t have the required three passengers, pick up “slugs” at various lots south of DC.  The occupants allow the use of the HOV lane and get both drivers and passengers there much faster.  No money is exchanged and there are some simple rules, such as no talking unless the driver initiates it. 

This form of transport has been around since 1975 and it is evidently as fast or faster than taking the bus and significantly faster than driving as a single person in traffic.  A couple of my colleagues slug to work w/o any significant problems. 

It is interesting that such a cooperative market has grown up w/o outside regulation.  Local governments accept it and welcome it as a way to reduce congestion.  There have been occasional calls for the government to somehow regulate the system, but that would probably make it collapse.   If it ain’t broken …  

More information is at this link.

August 05, 2010

Hunting Season

Hunters are the backbone of rural society. People who live in cities and suburbs rarely appreciate that fact. I thought of this in relation to my own land and was reminded when Chrissy’s sister Diane visited a friend who lives in western Virginia. The friend owns some forest land in the Shenandoah.  Local hunters watch over it,  make improvements and generally take care of the place.  She was a little surprised at the role of local hunters. I used to be too, but not anymore.

The hunters on my land have been there for generations. Much of what I know about the land comes from them. They knew how long the roads had been in place. They remembered when the streams had flooded and when they had gone dry.  They had experience of fires and storms.  And they loved the land and understood the relationships with the animals on them.

Deer hunters are working to create better habitat for the animals they hunt and improve the herds.  They always have done this.  Much of the county’s wildlands were conserved by hunters.  Lately the equations have changed a bit.  The burgeoning wildlife and especially deer population has shifted emphasis from any deer to quality deer. Hunt clubs are actively managing the herds through selective  hunting, feed plots etc.  I get a magazine called “Quality Whitetails” from an organization by the same name that provides a place for the exchange of information and experience. It is very interesting the things hunters are doing in the conservation field, literally out in the field.

Another big factor is development and urban encroachment. A generation ago, there were a lot fewer deer and they were spread over a bigger area of undeveloped land. Today deer populations have grown to almost nuisance levels in some areas and this is exacerbated by the fragmentation of the forests.  This is another reason to emphasize quality of the herds over mere numbers.  The numbers problem is no longer a problem.

Hunting keeps people closer to the land.  One of my friends down in Southside Virginia spends most of his free time working on conservation projects on land his hunt club leases. He helps restore wetlands, makes wildlife corridors etc. He has helped a lot on my farm, at no cost to me since we work in our mutual interest. This guy doesn’t hunt very much anymore in the traditional sense.   He just really enjoys the conservation and wildlife management aspects of hunting.  Most of the hunters I know enjoy the sport more for the insights it gives them into nature than the actual shooting deer, which is only one part  of a full-year, multi-year effort.

The numbers of hunters has been declining over the past decades.  There still are enough, but if the trend continues, this will be a serious threat to the health of rural communities and the rural environment.  Somebody else – probably at taxpayer expense – will have to do what as work hunters do joyfully and for free. In fact, they actually pay to do it.

I am not a hunter myself, for the same reasons that the number of hunters has been declining.  I was a city kid, with no hunting tradition. I am also a terrible shot.  I support hunting by working with the hunt clubs  on my farms and supporting some hunting organizations, such as Quality Whitetails, that provide hunting education and advocacy.

Beyond the environmental benefits, hunting has a long tradition in American culture.  It is very different in the U.S. than it was in many parts of the world.  In Europe, hunting was a rich man’s sport.   When the ordinary people hunted, it was usually called “poaching,” especially when talking about bigger game, a crime that was severely punished by the aristocrats. Besides just wanting to keep the animals to themselves, aristocrats sensed the fundamental democratizing nature of hunting.  Besides giving the common man access to weapons and the training to use them, hunting allowed individuals a personal connection with nature, unfiltered by the hierarchy of the old world.  It also provides a means of support. One of the older hunters down near the farms told me that when he was young, hunting wasn’t just a hobby; it was needed to put meat on the table.  One of the things that impressed former-peasant immigrants to the early America was that they COULD hunt.  They were the owners of the land and didn’t have to kiss the ass of the local baron or “his” deer and elk untouched in the forest where only the fat-cats could hunt.  

So this is my paean to the pastoral pursuit of hunting in our great America, whether it is deer, turkey, geese, quail, ducks or bears (yes we have a few on the farms now).   We should appreciate what hunters and hunting have done for us.

July 25, 2010

Waterfront Mall

Safeway at Waterfront Mall 

We lived in the Oakwood Apartments across from Waterfront Mall when we lived in Washington in 1988 while studying Norwegian.  It was a dump back then, the failed experiment in 1960s urban renewal.  The Mall had few tenants, although I did appreciate the Blimpy and Roy Rogers. They went out of business a few years later until there was essentially nothing  left but a CVS, Safeway & some used music stores. Perhaps most poignant was an escalator that went up to a non-existent second floor. They had great expectations at some time ago. But they plunked the place down in the middle of a crappy neighborhood that really couldn’t support a Mall. We were afraid to go there after dark and apparently so were most other unarmed customers not engaging in pursuits of questionable prudence or legality. 

They tore it down a few years ago and started to build a new residential-commercial complex. Conditions have changed. There is now a metro-stop (Waterfront) and a more prosperous set of people has moved in around.  It is the classic gentrification of anyplace within reasonable walking distance from a metro. You can see the new Safeway up top. Notice that the buildings are medium tall. It is illegal to build anything higher than the top of the Capitol. This keeps Washington's skyline low.

Arena Stage in SW Washington 

They also have just about finished the Arena Stage that you see in the picture above. You can see pictures from a couple years ago, during construction here, here & here.

July 24, 2010

Hot & Humid All Day, Every Day

Horses and caison in Arlington Cemetary on July 20, 2010 

It has been really hot. The weatherman said that we have not had this kind of string of hot days since the 1930s. I remember that my father used to say, “It ain’t the heat; it’s the humidity.” He was right, but we have both. I still have been riding my bike to work and it has been about 80 degrees when I set off in the morning. I am soaking with sweat by the time I get to work and am more grateful than usual for the showers.

Men working in trees in Arlington Cemetery on July 21, 2010 

Yesterday I went to the Wilson Center to hear a talk on Brazilian biofuels. I will write notes later. I got to work and took my shower and then I decided to walk over to Wilson for the program that started at 9am.  It is only around a 15 minute walk, but the humidity made it really uncomfortable. Well, the really hot weather is supposed to be over in a couple of days. Then it will be merely hot.

I got a little spoiled last year when it was cool (by Washington standards) most of the summer. I understand that this is an "El Nino" year, which means it is hotter than usual. 

The funny thing is that it is an especially cold winter in South America. I have been watching Brazilian TV and they talk a lot about the “cold wave” hitting their country. Cold for them does not mean the same thing it does for us. When it gets down around freezing it is a very serious event. They just aren’t ready. There are reports of cattle just dropping dead from the cold in states like Mato Grosso do Sul and Parana. You can see it on TV. They evidently just drop down and are laying right where they stood in the fields. These are tropical breeds that just don’t make it through a cold (by Brazilian standards) night. They also tend not to have sheltering barns, since there is usually no need for them. Cattle raising is extensive instead of intensive and often what we would call "free range". Brazil has a lot of pasture land. I read that each cow has an average of a whole hectare of land.

The pictures up top are from my morning ride through Arlington Cemetery yesterday and the day before.  You can sort of see the humidity in the air.  

July 18, 2010

Arlington, VA

I was at FSI last week taking the seminar in new trends in public diplomacy.  I didn’t get that many new insights, but it is clear that some of the infatuation with the new media is wearing off, or maybe just becoming more routine.   The new media is an essential tool, but we all recognize that it is not the panacea that it seemed to be.   Most importantly, you still need something interesting to say.

Bike trail in Arlington, VA 

It was a tough few days, since I took the seminar during the day but still had to do my promotion panel assessments.  I could work from home via computer (another great thing re technology) but it was like having two almost full time jobs.  But it was worth the time to get involved.  You never know how much you learn because very often once you hear something related to what you know you think you just knew it already.

Bel Air Park in Arlington, VA 

I keep going longer on the bike trail when I ride my bike to FSI and this time I took the more round about way that I used to use before the built a kind of bike bypass.   They put up a new sign explaining that this particular part of the park had been a dairy farm until 1955.  It was the last working dairy farm in Arlington.  Some of the local homeowners have a sweet deal.  They live right up against the park, which gives them a really big backyard that they don’t have to mow or pay for.  I suppose the downside is you cannot kick people out.

Street in Arlington, VA 

Arlington is a pleasant area.   Above is one of the streets on the way to FSI. Below is the place where Chrissy & I lived when I first came into the FS. We lived in the downstairs apartment, one bedroom. We thought it was really luxurious, but it really wasn't.  The back is up against a park trail, so it was very nice.

Our old house on Bedford Street 

July 12, 2010

Random Thoughts

Below are sunflowers planted near my bike trail.  The thing that is important to notice about them is that they are there at all.  Somebody planted them and nobody knocked them down, despite the fact that dozens of people pass each minute.   I think that says something about the neighborhood. 

Sunflowers on W&OD bike trail near Sandburg St in Vienna VA 

There are some tip-offs about the quality of a neighborhood.  Flowers are an indicator on the plus side, as is general neatness and lack of litter.  It also is a good sign if you don’t see lots of security fences or signs warning about loitering or trespassing. The character of the dominant dog population also makes a difference.  Labradors, golden retrievers and terriers are good; pit bulls and Rottweilers not so much.  I am suspicious of places where there are bars or sliding screens on shops, especially liquor stores. Being able to see more than one liquor store from any one spot is also a red flag. Lots of advertisements for lottery tickets is a bad sign and a big clue that you have crossed into a less desirable part of town are those places that cash checks 24 hours a day or give payday loans.  If you see storefronts advertising bail bonds, get the heck away from that neighborhood.   But sunflowers are good.

Sprinklers near Potomac River in Washington 

Above are sprinklers near the Potomac.  I found a place right in the rain shadow of a couple trees so that the water didn’t get to me.  I sat there a few minutes enjoying the peaceful sound of the spraying water until it started to rain.  That evening we got more than an inch of rain.  If you sprinkle your lawn or wash your car it evidently increases the chances of rain.

Ripley Center at Smithsonian 

Above it the Ripley Center at Smithsonian, where they often hold the lectures I attend. It is like the tip of an iceberg.  That little structure is the entrance to a vast underground complex of halls and museums. They didn't want to put lots of buildings up on the Mall, so they put them under.  

June 23, 2010

Towing the Line

Smithsonian castle on June 21, 2010 

Despite my move to the new building, I still have to go down to the old area both to work out at Gold’s Gym and to make it possible to get on the Metro.  

As I think I have explained before, I ride only one way. It is 17 miles from my house to the my old USIA building by the route I have to take on my bike to avoid traffic. I used to ride both ways, but 34 miles a day is a lot and it is daunting to have to ride home after a long day’s work. Maybe I have just become wimpier in my old age, but I enjoy the ride to work most days, while the ride back was just a chore. I have developed several rationalizations, the foremost of which is that the one-way trip extends my biking season because I don’t have to worry about darkness in spring and fall.  I also don’t worry so much about the weather.  If it is not raining in the morning I am okay.  I don’t have to worry about late afternoon storms.  Finally, it is fairly comfortable in the early morning, but often enervatingly hot by the afternoon.

Beached cars 

Besides all that, I think my Metro-bike combo helped get me promoted. I cannot get on the train with my bike until after 7pm, so I used to hang around work until then waiting.  Sometimes I actually did some useful work, but probably as importantly I was SEEN to be at work. I always told the truth; I told people that I was merely waiting for the train, but they didn’t believe me, so I got points for consistently “working” late.

Now I generally leave work around 6:30, which give me plenty of time for a leisurely ride along the Smithsonian Mall and my vigorous but short workout at Gold’s Gym. You can see the Smithsonian with the shades of evening on the longest day of the year.  Along the way I have observed traffic enforcement.  Cars can park along the main streets during non-rush hours and lots of people evidently don’t know when that period ends.   When rush-hour starts, tow trucks fan out to ticket the cars and pull them off the road and onto the grassy verges.  It must come as a bit of a surprise to hapless tourists. It is a little hard on the grass.  The tow truck below, BTW, is NOT doing the grass towing. I don't think it is ever legal to park on that part of 14th Street and we all pity the fool who parked there just before rush hour. His vehicle is going to a public impound in DC, from which it may never emerge.

towing  

BTW – my title “tow the line” is a variation on the saying, “toe the line.” I know the difference. The latter saying is based on conforming to a military line. The former is just wrong, but it does create an image that could make sense. A tow truck, I suppose, could tow a line.

June 08, 2010

Biking

Today was simply beautiful bike weather.   It is unusually fresh and cool for the season. It was around 60 degrees for my ride this morning, with a nice tail wind and beautiful blue skies and low humidity.  This is not the usual middle of June weather in Washington. 

I manage to fall off the bike yesterday. I tried to jump onto the path too precipitously after passing some pedestrians spread all across the path. I left a little skin on the pavement and today it hurts like mad.  I guess it is like a burn.  It is a scrape just deep enough to excite all the pain receptors but not deep enough to turn any of them off. The leg is a bit worse, but they are not the kinds of things that take too long to heal.   I had to wear short sleeves so as not to stain a good shirt, since some blood is still rubbing off.

Way back when I first came to DC, I had a spectacular fall near Arlington Cemetery.  I fell and slid on my back across the wet pavement.  It made a very conspicuous but not deep wounds, much like today's but all over my back. I washed it off when I got to work, but it wasn't finished and I ruined one of my shirts.  Lesson learned.

There is a sequel. I was discussing biking a couple years later with my colleague George Lannon in Brazil.  He said he would never ride to work because of the danger.  When I inquired further, he said that he had once seen “some a-hole” slide clear across the road on his back near Arlington Cemetery. That evidently put him off biking forever. Small world.

I ride past that place almost every day.  I haven’t fallen there for twenty-five years.

May 17, 2010

Wreck of the Old 97 & the End of the Confederacy in Danville

Passing train in Danville, VA 

When there is a big industrial accident these days, the lawyers come out and drain any of the real emotion or truth out of the event and displace it with cash.  In the old days, at least in the southern hills, they wrote a ballad.   So it was when a train with Joseph A. ("Steve") Broadey's hand on the throttle plunged into a ravine near Danville, VA in 1903.  Nine people were killed and seven injured in what the plaque called one of the worst railroad accidents in Virginia history.  This is what they mean when they say you are heading for a train wreck.

Sign on the site of the Wreck of the Old 97 near Danville, VAI heard the song as a kid. My father’s version was sung by Boxcar Willie (I think), although there is a Hank Snow rendition and Hank was my father’s favorite singer. I thought it was just a song, not a real historical event, but it had some very precise lyrics.  “They gave him his orders in Monroe Virginia saying ‘Steve you’re way behind time’” … “It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville and a line on a three mile grade.”

So in the wonderful world of Internet, I checked it out and found out it was true, so when I drove through Lynchburg I went looking for the place.  A couple people claimed to have written the lyrics.  It was first recorded in 1924 and you can listen to the original version at this link.

This is the whole story from the Danville Historical Society.

All that is left now is this easily overlooked historical marker along a seedy patch of Highway 58 just to the west of Danville.  There is nothing left of the trestle or the tracks and the ravine is overgrown with brush and vines.  It must have been really big news around here in 1903, but more than 100 years later only the song abides.  The picture of the train, BTW, is just a train crossing in Danville, unrelated to the Wreck of the Old 97, except that they are both trains.

Another thing about Danville is that it was the last capital of the Confederacy. This lasted literally only a matter of days, as Jeff Davis and his cabinet fled south, with Union troops in hot pursuit, after the defeat of Southern arms. Davis took up residence in the house of a prominent local man called William Sutherlin.  Sutherlin made his money in the tobacco business and was a successful and flexible businessman both before and after the Civil War.

Davis was a great man, according to his lights, but he was misguided. Robert E Lee and Joe Johnston did the right thing and in April 1865 contributed to saving the United States and making it the country whose freedom we love today. Davis wanted to keep on fighting, even after Appomattox. At some point, hanging on stops being noble and becomes stupid, pernicious and immoral.  I admire Lee & Johnston, Davis not so much. The guide treated Davis as a hero. I don't agree. 

Sutherlin mansion in Danville VA 

Chrissy and I visited the house, an Italian style mansion. Pictures are above and below. The woman in the painting above fireplace is the Sutherlin's daughter on her wedding day. The house is restored to the period of around the Civil War. You really get the old South feeling there. The Daughters of the Confederacy use the place for their meetings. One of the rooms is deeded over to them.

Living room in Sutherlin mansion in Danville, VA 

April 06, 2010

Short Cuts

Magnolia flowering at Fort Meyer

Being able to cut through Fort Meyer has greatly improved my biking to work experience. I had almost forgotten that I have this blog to thank for this. One of my colleagues at State Department send me an email telling me that Fort Meyer was open again after reading this post.

Rebuilding the Herbert C Hoover Building. 

Above is an interesting sign of the stimulus. It struck me as funny for a few of reasons, first because it is the Hoover Building. Hoover’s reputation on economic recovery is not that good. Second this renovation started a long time ago. Chrissy used to work in that building and they were already renovating it when she was working there back in 2007/8. Third, this building was one of the first big government buildings in Washington. It was the biggest office building in the world when it was completed in 1932. 

New construction in Arlington, VA 

Above is new bigger home that replaced a little ones. This kind of "tear down" or "in filling" is still happening, as you can see, but has slowed down a lot because of the recession. People buy the smaller houses, like the one at the right, tear them down and rebuilt bigger, newer ones, like the one on the left, on the lot. This one is not as big as some and it seems to fit in well with the neighborhood. Sometimes people build huge houses that essentially cover the entire lot, often literally shading out their neighbors. 

April 04, 2010

Spring Forest Visit

Cloverfield at CP showing six year old loblolly pines 

It was a little early to go down to the farms. The trees haven’t quite started to grow yet and the clover is still small and not flowering. I will be back in a few weeks. But I wanted to check on flood damage now. Above are the trees near the clover field at the top of the hill. The truck gives perspective. The land was clear cut in 2003, so you can see how much the trees have grown since then. The biosolids helped them grow faster last year. Below is another truck comparison. There is an interesting detail. Look at the two trees behind the truck. The round top one is a "volunteer" i.e. natural regeneration. It was probably a little tree when the place was cut. The one next to it is a planted genetically "super tree." Because of their location at the crossroad, I have been paying attention to this place. The round top tree was twice as big as the ones around it when I first noticed. Today, you can see that the one next to it is a little bigger and I expect that after this growing season it will be significantly bigger. I will take another picture.

Comparion with truck at crossroad on April 3, 2010 

I saw clear evidence of heavy rain and lots of runoff, but no real damage. The places near the streams overflowed, but that doesn’t hurt the trees. The water is running UNDER one of the water pipes. I figure it will undercut the road, but I don't think there is much to do about it. I will put in a load of rocks and turn it into a ford when/if it collapses. I think it will be better for the water to run over instead of under. 

Wetland on CP 

One of the little streams changed course last year. It went back to its older course. When I dig down, I find sand and gravel all over, indicating that the stream has changed course a lot. It creates wetlands until the mud piles up into natural levies, and then it moves again. You can see from the picture above that there have been times when the ground was dry for a long time.  The dead trees were alive when I got the place in 2005, when the stream shifted and evidently drown the roots in wetland. I suppose that now the stream has shifted again, it will be dryer, although the whole place is spongy.

I also think that runoff will decrease over time as the trees on the slopes get bigger and their roots absorb more of the water before it hits the streams. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/April/Forestry_April_3/Truck_on_Freeman_comparison_on_April_3_2010.jpg 

I want to get the trees on the Freeman tract thinned this year or next, before I get to Brazil.   Above you can see from the comparison with the truck that the trees are big enough and thick enough. They will be fourteen years old this year, which is a little early for thinning but within the range.  Below is the power line right-of-way. They replaced the wooden pylons with steel and kind of tore up the grass. I have eight acres under those things. I am looking into establishing quail habitat, since I cannot plant trees (or allow them to grow) that would interfere with the wires.  On the plus side, it provides a long area of forest edge and wildlife plot and the utility company maintains the road. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/April/Forestry_April_3/Power_lines.jpg 

April 03, 2010

Spring has Come to Washington

Capitol in springtime looking from SE 

Spring has arrived in Washington.  Some pictures are included. Above is the Capitol seen from the NE corner.  Below is the Jefferson Memorial.

Jefferson Memorial  

Below is the Lincoln Memorial. Lots of people have come to see old Abe. 

Lincoln Memorial 

Below is the Washington Monument through the cherry trees.

Washington Monument through the cherry trees 

Below is the path along the Tidal Basin.

Cherry trees along the path near the Tidal Basin 

March 30, 2010

A Cherry Flavored Fleeting Beauty

Bread line statue at FDR Memorial on March 30The cherry trees are in full bloom. It is hard to recall that snow was on the ground just a few weeks ago. Some pictures are included with the post.  The picture at the side shows the bread line from the FDR Memorial. I went down to the cherry trees and visited Roosevelt on the way back.

Cherry blossoms are precious because they are ephemeral.  We know that they will not be there for a long time and we have to enjoy them while we can. We revel in the passing and should not wish the moment to linger beyond its time. They are beautiful precisely because they will not last.

We try to preserve too much. A report this morning on NPR talked about people worried that the world of the Mario Brothers (Donkey Kong) was disappearing. They want to preserve and protect the classic world of games. Just let it go.  We should let a lot of things go. Let them become stuff of memory and then let them slip quietly into oblivion. Nothing lasts forever.

I was reading a book called “False Economy.” The author talked about dead-end strategies and how some things just don’t make it. The example he used was the panda bear.  Besides being cute, they don't have much going for them. They eat only low nutrition bamboo, which they evidently cannot properly digest, so they have to eat a lot but don’t get much bang for the bite.  Mating is a chore they don't enjoy and on those rare occasions when they do muster up energy and the urge, there is a good chance nothing will come of it. What is amazing is not that they are endangered but that there are any of them still around at all. A less cute animal would have gone the way of the dodo a century ago.  But pandas have a constituency.  People cried a few weeks ago at the National Zoo when the Chinese took their panda back.

Cherry trees at FDR Memorial on March 30 

I remember seeing them at the zoo. Well actually, I am not sure I saw them at the zoo. They don’t  move very much. You could just put a fur there and claim it was a panda and nobody would know the difference. They are an evolutionary dead end. People have perhaps hastened their demise, but didn’t change the direction. I tried to think of why it wasn’t true, but I couldn’t. 

Jefferson Memorial and cherry trees on March 30 

BTW - The pictures are much bigger scale. If you want to see more detail, you can go to the source and look at the bigger versions. 

Magnolia blooms against darker pines near Korean War Memorial on March 30 

March 24, 2010

Various Facts About Foresty around the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge

Skid trails during forestry operation 

I drove with Frank Sherwood to the Virginia tree farm of the year and got a chance to talk to him as we walked around on the ground. Frank has been doing forestry in Virginia for thirty-five years and I got some good information on drive down from Winchester. 

This area of Virginia features a lot of mixed hardwoods and white pines. I was very familiar with white pines form Wisconsin, but I really had a lot to learn about them. For example, white pine wood is light and not as hard or strong as loblolly.  It is good for fence rails (it doesn’t twist) and it is used in log cabins, but it is not as much use as structural timber.  Frank lamented that there is not much of a market for white pine saw timber in the immediate area, besides in those two limited uses. A lot of the local white pine had not grown straight and un-branched.   The newer plantations are doing better.

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White pines have not been developed genetically as well as loblolly and it is less likely to be planted, since natural regeneration works very well.   A white pine rotation is around fifty years (15-18 years longer than loblolly) with two possible thinning. 

Pulp prices have remained steady over the years, Frank told me.   Some people are a little concerned about biofuels, which would compete with pulp and drive the prices up (good for landowners), but there currently is not a biofuels market in the Winchester region.  You can make ethanol from cellulous, but it is not worth it with today’s technologies.   That means that effective biofuels for wood is to burn it directly and for that you need local facilities that burn it.   The alternative is to make wood pellets, but that industry is also not present locally.

Landowners have a couple options for timber selling.  The one you get the most money for is saw timber.  Saw timber will yield $150-400 per 1000 board feet.  Pulp is the cheapest, maybe biofuels in the near future.  Pulp yields $5-7 a ton for pine and $2-3 for hardwood.  In between is scragwood.  These are small diameter but straight trees that can be sawed into rough boards used in crates and pallets.

Frank feeds the mill in Luke, Maryland.  He says that the mill’s catchment area is getting bigger because it is harder to find wood in local areas.  Development and forest fragmentation are the causes.  You can do forestry on small tracts, but at some point it gets to be economically unviable.  You probably need around forty acres to do decent management. Development has been taking forestry out of business. Although the recent economic downturn has stopped much of it, development will resume when the good times roll again. Too bad.

Frank doesn’t know of anybody using biosolids or animal manure on forest lands in this part of the Shenandoah valley or around.  There are several chicken operations (we drove past a Perdue operation) that produce a fair amount of chickenshit, but Frank didn’t know what they did with it.  Chickenshit is a powerful fertilizer, high in potassium, but as I understand it, chickenshit has to be left to decompose a little otherwise it can burn out the crops.  IMO forest lands would be a good place to dispose of some of these farm wastes.  There is a lot of forest and they could absorb and use the nitrogen and phosphate w/o letting it slip into the Chesapeake Bay. Of course, the problem is transportation. Manure is bulky, heavy and stinky.

The problem is concentration.  These large animal operations concentrate the crap. That changes it from a valuable fertilizer into a potential pollution problem. The difference between a life-giving medicine and a deadly poison is often the dosage.

Anyway, those are some of the things I learned from Frank.  The biggest benefit of writing the tree farm of the year article is getting to talk to people like him while actually setting foot on the forests.

March 23, 2010

2010 Virginia Tree Farm of the Year Visit

American Tree Farm system sign 

Noble Laesch, the father of the current owner Judith Gontis, bought this acreage in the late 1960s and it has been a certified tree farm for the last twenty-eight years. Laesch and Gontis did not live on the land and so for the last twenty-eight years it has been forester Frank Sherwood’s business and pleasure to look after these 927 acres of hilly mixed forest just inside the Rockingham County line.

White pine understory with mixed hardwoods on top

It is a tree farm with great diversity in terms of species composition, topography, soils and microclimates. The ridges are still dominated by mixed hardwoods, although gradually white pines are taking over, both through natural processes and forestry practices. We looked at a logging operations and examined some of the recently cut stumps during a recent visit. The partially shade tolerant white pines had seeded in naturally under an older stand of mixed hardwood, mostly scarlet oak, but were suppressed until released by the forestry operation. 

 We counted 130 rings on a scarlet oak stump. For the first sixty years of life, the tree grew slowly and crookedly. It is clear that there were too many trees here competing for sun, nutrients and water. We have no record of how the neighboring trees were thinned, but the tree started to grow much faster at around sixty until it slowed in older age. Unfortunately, although very big, this scarlet oak, like most of the others in the stand, had begun to rot in the middle. It was past time to remove them and give the white pines their time in the sun. Within a few years this will be an almost pure stand of white pine.

Cutover grown up after around five years.

Farther down the hill was a recently thinned plantation, a total of 126 acres of twenty-year-old white pine and a clear cut left to regenerate naturally in white pine. The trees were vigorous but widely spaced. The blueberries had come in very thickly and perhaps they just outran the pine seedlings.   The plantation was clearly better for timber production, but the naturally regenerated area had cost nothing to plant and the widely spaced trees were providing excellent openings for wildlife.   As with any management plan, it depends on what the landowner wants and it was interesting to see the side-by-side comparison of different choices.

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The tulip-poplars that grow so profusely on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge do well here too, but only in coves or bowls that have deeper soil than the rocky and sometimes sandy slopes.   In these places you find towering tulip poplars that can be harvested at regular intervals and regenerated naturally.

The rest of the tree farm is mixed hardwoods, especially white and red oak, plus some maples, as well as white pine.  This is white pine country. Although loblolly can be grown here too, the white pines do it naturally. With Frank Sherwood’s advice, Mrs. Gontis, as her father before her, manages for pulp and saw timber mostly through selective cuttings.  

Like all well-managed tree farms, this one provides a home for wildlife, a place for recreation and protection for water resources. The farm is drained by Runion Creek, whose waters find their way into the Shenandoah and the Potomac and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay. Although there is some development in the region, it looks like this tree farm and its 927 acres will continue to provide these kinds of ecological services for years to come. 

March 19, 2010

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetary on March 18, 2010 

I have been riding my bike to work again through Arlington Cemetery, as I wrote in yesterday’s post. Daily exposure to something can desensitize you to its details, but it can also help you see and appreciate it more. I am not sure which side I fall on most of the time. Maybe I see it new again each season. Anyway, I took a couple of pictures.  

Horses pulling caison in Arlington Cemetary 

Marching band at Arlington Cemetary 

March 18, 2010

Like Riding a Bike

Bikes locked up outside hearing re bike lanes in Washington 

Today I got all the way to work w/o getting a flat tire or crashing into anything.   It was a great first (well second) day for my bike-to-work season.  It is true that you never forget how to ride a bike.  The old muscle memories jump back into line – just not as efficiently as the end of last season.  I expect to be a little stiff tomorrow because I am already a little stiff today.

Below is the almost done building at Waterfront Mall.

Allmost completed buildings at Waterfront Mall in Washington on March 18, 2010 

There have been suggestions at State Department that we should subsidize bike riding.  It is a silly idea. Frankly, I don’t want to share my bike path with anybody who has to be paid to be there.  It is a joy to bike.  You just need bike friendly facilities.  My building is very good.  We have a locker room with showers.   You really don’t want to sit all day at work after riding an hour on a bike w/o a shower, nor do you want to sit next to anybody else who has done it.  Modern technology has made looking neat easy.  I bring along a wrinkle free shirt.  These things are great.  100% cotton, comfortable and always pressed.  Even if you stuff it into a bag, and I literally stuff it into a Ziploc freezer bag, all you need do to make them look a pressed as the best iron could made them is to put them on while you are still damp. 

I cut through Fort Meyer and Arlington Cemetery. I also ride past the Lincoln Memorial, in sight of the Washington Memorial and the Capitol.  It is a very patriotic bike ride.

Our operation at work is in stand down mode.  President Obama has postponed his trip to Indonesia, originally scheduled for March 19, then March 21 and now sometime in June. (He has to stick around for the heath care final act.) There were lots of plans and preparations and people had cleared their calendars for the visit. Now, for a brief time, there will be … nothing. It is like the scene in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” where everybody works at top speed and then they get to the end of the road and there is nothing left to do.  I wasn’t much involved with it, actually, but my colleagues were working full-out. They deserve the rest.

Our business is like that.  We spend a lot of our time in frenetic activity that is overtaken by later events. I guess life is like that sometimes in general, a tale, told by an idiot, fully of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But who cares if you can bike to work in the pleasant warm air and sunshine, preferably with a little tail wind. This is going to be a glorious spring. Spring is always nice around there, but usually we get a few flowers at a time. They kind of ration their beauty.  But atypical cold and snowy winter has held back the flowers, which will now burst forth at once in a rare display of unity.

March 17, 2010

Stuck in a Dead End

Sandburg St in Fairfax Co VA 

I tried to start my bike season today and ended up with a flat tire. It was my own fault.  After many years of riding my bike, I still cannot properly change a tire. I "fixed" my bike yesterday and I think I just got the inner tube caught on the rim. It just needed a little pressure to blow out. I wasn’t too far from home, so I could walk back in around a half hour. It was not a complete loss. The walk was really nice and I had a chance to think about a few things.

What I thought about was Nash equilibrium. I can't say I am an expert on the details, but as I understand the simple version, Nash proved mathematically what we perceive intuitively but imperfectly. It is possible to have stability at a situation that is bad and everyone agrees is bad.  However, each person makes perfectly logical choices that lead to this outcome.    

The way that it works is that if almost everybody makes the “good” choice (call it choice A), they are all better off.   But if not enough people make that choice (they choose choice B), those that choose A suffer more than those who make the bad choice (B).  So everybody tries to figure out what the majority will do, while complaining about the stupidity of the herd. These sorts of equilibria have tipping points.  If enough people come to think others will choose outcome A, they all will pile on. The same goes for the other option.

Nash, BTW, is the guy played by Russell Crowe in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” The real Nash won the Noble Prize for his work in mathematical economics. If you study game theory, you have to study Nash.

The example of a Nash equilibrium I thought about on my morning walk was traffic and blocked roads.  Northern Virginia has horrible traffic problems. Many of them result from the stupid way streets are laid out.  Unlike a logical grid layout you find in many cities, Northern Virginia’s road system looks more like a river drainage basin, with dead end tributaries flowing into larger and larger streets. There might be only one – usually winding – road that you can use to get where you want to go. Parallel streets, if they exist at all, are blocked or dead ended.

I think that the original road system was based on cow paths and Indian trails. We have Braddock Road, which is the course that General Braddock took to Pennsylvania during the French and Indian wars. Since he insisted on building a road, the French and Indians saw him coming and wiped him out.  George Washington saved some of the troops and it was the start of his good reputation.

Onto the cow path system was appended a system of cul-de-sacs and dead end streets.  This is where the Nash equilibrium starts to play. People prefer to live on quiet streets and the best way to ensure a quiet street it to make sure that it doesn’t go anywhere. So builders and planners create neighborhoods with no-through streets. This means that you might have to drive ten miles to travel one mile if you could go straight. It also throws all the traffic onto a few overcrowded roads.  

I walked home along Sandburg Street. It parallels Gallows Road, which is gridlocked at the time I was walking.But there were no cars on Sandburg. That is because you cannot get there from here in a car.  Sandburg has a dead end right in the middle. This is what you see on the picture. The wide and well paved road comes to an end in a patch of grass around five yards wide. It has been this way a long time, because some trees have grown in. Then it starts again. I am sure this was originally a real dead end.  Now they cannot make it grow through because the local residents will complain. There are lots of place like this in Northern Virginia.  Everybody agrees that we would all be better off if we could spread the traffic and drive the shorter distances. But nobody wants to give up his own quiet street.

BTW - Did you hear the story about the guy asking for directions? He asked an old man, "Does this road go to Chicago?" They old man replied, "No. I have lived here all my life and I have never seen it go anywhere."

So the State keeps on widening the roads. The irony is that they widen the empty roads too.  As you can see in the picture, Sandburg is a fairly wide road, considering it doesn’t really go anyplace.  At least this road has a place where pedestrians and bikes can get through. Most don’t even do that because everybody wants privacy.

There is no way out of this equilibrium. You might say that we have reached a dead end.

March 14, 2010

America at the Museum

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Museum/turbine.jpgEspen’s professor told him that he could get a few extra credit points if he visited an exhibit on the history of computers at the Museum of American History, so we went down. It turns out the exhibit was no longer there. They took it away more than two years ago when they did renovations.  

We took a picture of Espen at the museum to prove that he went. I find interesting that the exhibit has been gone for two years. Obviously the professor hasn’t visited recently; I wonder how many of his students claimed to have gone in the meantime.

It reminds me of the sleazy journalist’s trick of writing about an event using only the press release.  I have seen stories reporting the comments of guests who never showed up or giving details of events that were canceled and never happened at all. Sometimes nobody really seems to care. The irony is that a bogus story is usually more interesting than the real thing.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Museum/Engine.jpg 

I enjoyed the museum. I haven’t really been through it since the renovation. They restored the original “Star Spangled Banner” and put it in a nice exhibit hall and there were lots of nice examples of the machines and technologies that built our country. They had a big a special set of exhibits about electrical generation and a little hagiography for Thomas Edison, who deserves it.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that General Electric was a major sponsor.

Stuffed bison at Museum of American History on March 13, 2010 

March 07, 2010

Free at Last

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Spring_running/Spring_shoots.jpg 

Pardon the hyperbole, but the unusually hard (for Virginia) winter has kept me off the running trails and I have been feeling unconnected. This weekend the snow melted off. So I got out yesterday and today running, walking and stopping long enough to take some pictures at what I believe is the end of winter. It is hard to believe there is still this much snow on March 7.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Spring_running/W_OD_trail_with_snow1_on_March_7_2010.jpg 

Above is the W&OD full of runners and bikers on this nice spring day. Below are jet streams. I take a break at Navy Federal S&L park grounds. You can just lay on the bench and look at the sky.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Spring_running/Jet_streams_and_trees.jpg 

The white pine below is a nightmare for foresters, but very interesting to have in your front yard.

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Below is a building across from the Metro. 

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Below is the bike trail along Gallows Road. Still not really in good form. All that sand and crud will make for an unpleasant ride. But a good rain or a sweeper will take care of it.

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Below is one last look at my bike/running trail with snow, not always so crowded. I figure it will all melt off by tomorrow or the next day. The sun is high and the weather is warm. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Spring_running/W_OD_trail_with_snow2_on_March_7_2010.jpg 

March 01, 2010

Moon Light Drive

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/March/Alex_at_Cracker_Barrel.jpg 

I was drove Alex back to Harrisonburg and dreaded making the return trip alone in the dark, but with the full moon providing just the right amount of softly silver light and a good audio program to listen to (I am finishing Donald Kagan’s Greek history series) , it was actually very pleasant.

Old fashioned candy at Cracker Barrel in Woodstock, VA along I-81 

Alex is doing well at college, but it is a tough transition for him. He started in the spring semester, as a junior and got stuck in the dorm farthest away from campus.  It is an overflow dorm.  It used to be a hotel and is not actually on the JMU campus at all.    These types of things make a big difference and he just had bad luck with all of them.   He is doing well in classes, however, and I think he will adapt all right.  I think what he really misses is his job at Home Depot.   That gave him contact with people and something useful to work on.   They really seemed to like him there.  I hope he can get the job back for the summer.  

The picture up top shows Alex at Cracker Barrel, where we stopped in Woodstock along I-81. They sell good old fashioned food. I had a good pot roast with mushrooms.  Alex had sirloin steak. It feels like home.  They had a wood fire burning in the fireplace.  It is a nice smell. They sell that old fashioned candy shown in the middle picture. 

At the bottom is the sushi shop at Tysons.  It is not related to the other pictures or text.  The conveyor is in constant motion.  I don't know how they can tell who takes what and how much they should pay.  It reminds me of those old cartoons portraying modern times.

Sushi shop at Tysons Corner Mall, VA. 

February 24, 2010

Various Things Around Washington

http://johnsonmatel.com/2009/March/Washington/Smithsonian_magnolias_March_23.jpg  

The snow is melting, but more is expected tomorrow to replace it.  It is hard to believe that within a month the flowers will be blooming.   The picture above is from March 23 of last year - a month from now.   I will appreciate spring more after this especially snowy and cold winter.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Civics/Protest_by_Eretrians_at_State_Dept_Feb_22.jpg 

Above is a protest on 22nd St. outside the State Department. I think they are Eritreans. I was in a bit of a hurry so I just took the picture and kept on walking, so I don’t really know what was bothering them. About a hundred showed up to chant for passersby and a good time was had by all except the taxi drivers who were annoyed that the street was blocked.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Civics/Broken_trees_near_Archives_on_Feb_23.jpg 

Above are broken magnolia trees outside the Archives. The snow is hard on these sorts of southern trees and there are lots of broken branches & trees around here.  The snow weighs heavy on their leathery evergreen leaves. You can see why trees from colder climates would adapt strategies other than holding onto their broad leaves all winter.

February 23, 2010

Becoming a Good American

National_Capitol3_on_February_23_2010 at about 130 

Most private and all public universities were founded in part to help educate good citizens. They really aren’t doing a great job of it, if you assess what students learn about America’s government, business, institutions and society. Take this simple test. The questions are based on our citizenship exam. Lucky for most Americans that we were born here, because 71% of us probably couldn’t pass the test to become citizens.

College graduates do better than the general population (49% to 57%) but adjusting for demographic characteristics (income, age, region etc) college students get only 3.8% better over their four-year tenure & some big name universities managed to produce “negative knowledge.” Seniors at Cornell scored 4.95% lower than freshmen. Yale, Duke, Princeton, Rutgers & Berkeley also went negative. Harvard seniors scored best at 69.56%. Maybe it will stoke Yale-Harvard rivalries. Yale freshmen beat Harvard freshmen (68.94 to 63.59%), but after Yale’s loss and Harvard’s gain, Harvard won in the end.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Civics/Supreme_Court2_on_February_23_2010.jpg 

Read the rest of the report here. You can see the discussion of the reports at this link

Of course, there is some debate as to how much civic knowledge a citizen really needs. Our democracy relies on the wisdom of crowds. Each person has some bits of knowledge, which are presumably aggregated to produce a good result. It is not necessary for everybody to know what the Scopes trial was about, be able to name the three parts of the Federal government or even be able to name the countries who were our enemies in World War II, as long as some people know important things and we are generally wise enough to know when when know and when we don't. The problem that I see is that sometimes the ignorant also have very high self-esteem. Recalling the lines from Yeats, "The best lack all conviction, while the worse are full of passionate intensity." Modern education may feed this.

There is an old saying that you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. Not everybody believes that anymore. Some people think it is important to teach critical thinking and not pay much attention to the facts. But if you don’t have any facts, what are you thinking critically about?

IMO the more you know about American history and institutions, the more you appreciate them. Thomas Jefferson believed that an educated citizenry was crucial to the working of democracy, which is why he founded the University of Virginia. Building good citizens was one of the founding justifications for the public school system.

I got one wrong on the test and I will advance the lame excuse that I wasn’t paying attention. But when I thought about the questions, a lot of what I learned I didn’t learn directly in school. Education doesn’t/shouldn’t stop when you graduate from college and college isn’t/shouldn’t be the only place you get education, especially civic education. I think we need to emphasize our heritage, for everybody in our lives every day, lest it slip away. Knowledge lives only in living people, not locked in books we never read. And the person who doesn’t read is really no better off than the person who can’t.

It is not all locked in the written word, however. One of the places I learned some of these facts is from television – yes television. Much of television is indeed crap, but there is a lot of good too. There is a very good PBS series called The American Experience. The episodes about FDR were on last week. He was an amazing man with an amazing education. He came from what is as close to an American ruling class as we can get, but it is true that we Americans don’t have a ruling class. They are us. We are our own “rulers” and so we have to train a new set of them each generation. We produced truly great generations of leadership. Let’s hope that we are not just living off and using up the capital that they created for us and let’s work to make sure that is not the case.

Maybe we should take citizenship a little more seriously.

February 21, 2010

Tysons Corner

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/TYSONS_MALL_VIRGINIA_ON_FEB_21_2010.jpg 

Chrissy & I went to the movies at the AMC at Tysons Corner today.   We saw “From Paris with Love” with John Travolta. It was one of those action thrillers where you have to suspend belief in human behaviors and the normal rules of physics. It was worth going but not real good.   I wouldn’t recommend it if you have other things to do. There were just not good options, even with multiple cinemas. I wanted to see that Jeff Bridges movie, “Crazy Heart” but it wasn’t showing.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/AMC_THEATER_AT_TYSONS_MALL_VIRGINIA.jpg 

Cinema tickets are getting expensive.  It was $18 for two.  I am still a cheapskate and I remember when they were a lot cheaper, but the “theater experience” is worth it once in a while.  We got popcorn and soda too. Everything is big.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Tysons_Corner_Shopping_Center_Virginia.jpg 

We rarely go to the Mall anymore. When the kids were little, we were more frequent customers.  It was a form of entertainment as well as shopping. We bought a lot of useless crap. Malls are better avoided when possible. You are tempted to buy stuff you can't really use and food you don’t want. 

Today I had real trouble resisting Cinnabon. They have a fan that wafts the scent out into the Mall.   The funny thing is that I don’t like Cinnabon that much. They are too sticky and not worth the trouble of eating them. Nevertheless, the scent is enticing and difficult to resist.

Tysons is the biggest city in Virginia.  It is really a massive complex of malls and offices.   They are building the Metro out to Tysons, which is a little ironic but also positive.  Tysons was the ultimate car center, but that is becoming unsustainable.

February 20, 2010

Old Men Forget: Yet All Shall be Forgot

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Vietnam_Memorial_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg

Above is the Vietnam Memorial.  There was a bunch of grade school kids visiting the place and I heard them talking. They have no personal connection with a war that ended a quarter century before they were born.  It is almost as remote to them as World War I was to me.  It is not their war, nor even their fathers'. Vietnam is something their grandfathers may have experienced. Funny how fast time moves and how the defining events of your life are just history now. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Veterans_booth_near_Lincoln_Memorial.jpg

Above is the MIA booth.  They sell mementos, medals and patches.  Below is snow removal near the Memorials.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Snow_removal_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg

Below is the path along the reflecting pool going toward the Washington Memorial

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Snowy_path_near_Lincoln_Memorial_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg

Pedestrians get no Respect

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Crowded_Metro_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg 

Above is the crowded subway car on the Orange Line. I usually get a seat, but lately they have the cars have been more crowded.  They are raising the price of fare by a dime, but will probably also still cut service. Below is the sidewalk on the way to the Metro stop.  They take care of the roads fairly well, but that means eight foot high banks of snow.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Snow_covered_sidewalk_near_Dunn_Loring_Metro_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg

February 19, 2010

Washington Snow Cone

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Potomac_and_Memorial_Bridge2_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg

Washington is under more snow than any living person has seen and this has been the longest time ever when my running path were snow clogged.   But Washington is pretty in the snow, as the pictures show.  

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Snowy_path_near_Constitution_Av_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg 

It was warm and sunny today and the snow has the consistency of a snow cone.  It will take a few more warm days to melt it all off.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Lincoln_Memorial_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg 

Above is the Lincoln Memorial.  Below Robert E. Lee's house and Arlington Cemetery from across the Potomac.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Potomac_and_Memorial_Bridge1_Washington_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg 

Below is the snow covered running path near the Vietnam Memorial

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Snow_again/Snowy_path_near_Vietnam_Memorial_on_Feb_19_2010.jpg 

 

February 10, 2010

Snow - Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

We are off from work again today and the government will be closed again tomorrow. They say that we got more snow this year than any time in recorded history. This is less impressive when you recall that they have kept detailed weather records for only a little more than 100 years. Nevertheless, it is a lot of snow and it has been a cold season.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Cville/Horse_country_along_Jefferson_HWY1.jpg 

There is a real blizzard today and I can see why nobody should be driving. Espen tried to drive the truck to visit one of his nearby friends. He got stuck in our complex. Fortunately, Chrissy and I could walk over and dig/push him out. Yesterday, however, wasn’t bad until around 5pm. In fact, the main roads were perfectly clear.  As I wrote in yesterday’s post, I drove down to the forestry conference in Keswick , near Charlottesville. It is a little more than a two hour drive.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Cville/Horse_country_along_Jefferson_HWY_vineyard.jpg 

I took a little different way than usual. I started down I66 to US29 as usual, but then I cut off on US15 through Culpepper and Orange. The drive takes you through a really beautiful countryside, full of horse farms and vineyards with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.   James Madison’s estate is nearby and so is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The soil is good and the climate is moderate. You can see what it looks like covered in snow. It is even prettier in springtime.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Cville/road_to_Chancellorsville.jpg 

February 07, 2010

Bright American Future

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/February/Panel_at_American_Enterprise_Institute.jpg 

The big Washington blizzard didn’t make AEI cancel the session on new American demographics and the discussion of “The Next 100 Million: America in 2050” with the author Joel Kotkin and a panel of experts chaired by Michael Barone.

Decline overdone

Experts have been saying that America is in decline since - even before - we became an independent nation. Kotkin acknowledges that someday these critics will be correct, but not today, and he paints an optimistic picture of our American future. America has a lot of advantages going into the next generation. It starts with demographics.

Americans still remember how to have kids; it is evidently no longer a universal skill

The U.S. is unique among developed country since we have a positive rate of natural increase. It is not very much above replacement level, but that is more than others, some of which are almost in free fall. America is also an anomaly in that in some of our suburbs wealthy, well-educated women sometimes have three or more kids. (I recall reading an article about the big families in affluent Loudon County next door to us.)  

We also still get millions of immigrants. That means that the America is growing older slower than other developed countries and the American labor force will continue to grow through 2050, while others suffer greater or lesser proportional decline in their productive populations relative to their dependent ones. The interesting thing about his data was that it also shows that the world's most populous country - China - will begin to suffer labor shortages (at least for skilled labor) very soon.  The Chinese labor force will start to decline as early as 2015 (yes, five years from now) as a result of their perhaps necessary but draconian one-child policy. (Long term predictions are always tough, but by 2050 the U.S. labor force is projected to rise by 42%; China’s will drop by 10% and Japan’s labor force will decline by an astonishing 44%).

More old people, fewer young workers 

This labor force decline will be accompanied by a big growth in the elderly dependent population, both in relative and absolute terms. The world has never experienced anything like this before and our lack of models will require adaptions we cannot fully anticipate. We are truly going where no human societies have gone before.

But America will suffer these declines later and less severely than most others. In addition, the U.S. has a very robust & adaptive economic system. National power is based on economic strength, innovation and demographic clout. Among the great nations of the last generation, only the U.S. will still have these elements in abundance in the next generation.

Managing genteel decline not the same as planning robust growth

This U.S. outlook contributes to disagreements with old allies. For example, the Europeans can also make demographic projections. They see that their populations will decline and their economies will grow much slower than ours. When your population will get smaller and your economy won’t grow much, you don’t worry very much about promising cuts in CO2. You need different policies if you are managing a genteel decline than when you are planning for robust growth.

The U.S. will change internally too. The growth of the last fifty years went mostly to the coasts.   The next fifty years will see a return to the heartland. Kotkin doesn’t say that all the little praire towns will be back, but space and affordable housing will draw people away from the coasts. He says that the whole idea of suburbs has become meaningless. There is more a blending of suburbs, cities and rural areas. Kotkin foresees what he calls an archipelago of villages. More people would be connected by new media in greener and less crowded communities. It sounds a lot like the Loudoun County communities mentioned in the article I linked above.

Today's ethnic & racial categories will not mean much in 2050

Much has been said about the changing ethnic composition of the U.S. population and in 2050 the white native born population is  projected to drop to around 50% of the labor force.  But how significant will this be? Kotkin pointed out how foreign the large immigration of Irish seemed in the 19th Century.  We just forget how different earlier waves of immigrants had been and how completely they have been integrated into our society. When my grandfather and his brother Felix came to the U.S., they spoke no English and probably had never seen an American before. There is probably no population on earth today that is so "foreign." 

The younger generation doesn't really care very much about race, with vast majorities in favor of interracial marriage, so by 2050 today's categories will be as meaningless as some of the national and religious distinctions made in our grandparents' childhoods. In other words, by 2050 nobody will care. 

Still some challenges and skills mismatched

The road to this bright happy future is not necessarily certain. We have a challenge of education, not so much college but technical. We might, in fact, be pushing too many kids into college when the more appropriate skills might be technical. Our community and technical colleges should be given a bigger role as providers of final or working degrees rather than way-stations to four-year colleges. Kotkin thinks it is just a problem of incentives. We reward careers in finance and law more than we do those who actually make useful things. If that changes, so will our career paths.

We have been able to import skilled labor, but that might be slowing. We have some competition now.  Places like Canada & Australia are also pleasant and welcoming like the U.S. They are also "countries of aspiration" and they drawing in some of the skilled immigrants.  There are also now more opportunities in many source countries, as people around the world reap the benefits of market liberalization reforms of past decades. Indian engineers, for example, now may have good opportunities at home.

The general pool of attractive potential immigrants is also shrinking, as birth rates drop even in those place that traditionally had very high rates of growth, such at Mexico and parts of Asia. A good example of what this pattern can look like comes from South Korea, which a couple decades ago sent millions of immigrants to the U.S. and now absorbs its own population growth, which is now much lower than that of the U.S. 

We need more Engineers & plumbers and fewer leaf blowers & Lawyers

We Americans screw ourselves, however. Canada or Australia favor the skills their countries need.  An immigrant with skills has a better chance of getting into those places. Our immigration policies give too little weight to the skills and education we can use in our economy. We are too "fair". We don’t need to import any more unskilled labor or even worse - people who don’t plan to labor at all.  We have the right to ask potential immigrants what they will contribute to our country. Besides the relatively small numbers of bona-fides refugees, we have no moral duty to admit anybody. As long as we will limit total numbers and we have a choice, we should choose the best and the brightest, not people we need to train before they can operate a leaf blower.

Unfortunately, unskilled labor can create its own demand.  My personal complaint is against leaf blowing. That is usually a job that just need not be done at all and if unskilled labor wasn’t so cheap maybe we wouldn’t do it very often. You can learn to use a leaf blower in about thirty seconds.  We don’t need more of those things. We are better off with people with useful skills. Some jobs - such as leaf blowing - are worth less than zero. I have discussed the value of doing nothing (with specific reference to leaf blowing) here & here.

Anyway, the AEI event gave me something to think about.  I will have to buy the book and read the details. I have to say – once again – that we are really lucky to have these kinds of events offered free or cheaply to anybody with the inclination to listen. 

February 04, 2010

Snowy Cracks in the Façade of Civilization

Bread sold out in anticipation of snow at Safeway in Vienna, VA  

This year has been especially cold and there has been more snow than usual. The snow in December filled and exceeded last year’s whole year averages. It looks like we are going to fill this year’s quota by the end of next week.

Northern Virginia does a good job of keeping the streets clear – too good, IMO.  The snow is supposed to start tomorrow morning, but the crews are out already “pre-treating” the roads with salt so that the initial snow falls will melt and there won’t be that crust when the plows go through.

Of course, Virginia has a kinder climate. The temperatures might drop below zero after a snowfall in Wisconsin or Minnesota.  This literally freezes in ice and snow. In Virginia you can be pretty sure that it will get fairly warm soon enough after even a heavy snowfall the warm sun will hit the road surface and melt off whatever the salt and plow missed.  

Nevertheless, the thought of snow fills Washingtonians with dread and makes them question their very survival.  I went to Safeway today for routine shopping. The place was packed and people were stocking up on necessities. One old guy scooped up a dozen packages of baloney.   Bread was gone.  As you can see in the picture, we managed temporarily to produce Soviet style conditions.

It is silly.In the worst case scenario the snow will tie us down for two days.Even then, the paralysis will not be complete. Who in our modern and prosperous society has a cupboard so bare that he cannot go for a day or two w/o shopping. You can actually go longer than that w/o eating at all and I have not seen many people these days who couldn't live off their fat for longer than that. 

Shopping bags 

The lines at the checkouts were long. I got into a line that was for the self-checkouts. I didn't want to use them because I had a fair amount but I also didn't want to get into another line, so I did my own.  It was a problem.  I use my own shopping bags. I got them ten years ago and they are still like new. They are much easier to pack and they are eco-friendly. As I recall they are made from recycled plastic from old bags. But they make life hard at the self checkout. The self checkout wants you to use their bags and gives you a hard time if you don't.  It also evidently weighs your purchases and when I put a new bag of my own on the scale, it thinks I am stealing something.  I felt sorry for the people behind me, but people were cheerful despite my ineptitude and the dread of snow. The clerk had to reset my counter a couple of times, but I got through.

January 31, 2010

Snow in the Virginia Woods

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Snow_Day_on_the_Farm/623_and_truck.jpg 

It has been cold again this year but this year we are also getting more snow. They got a lot of snow in southern Virginia & North Carolina, so I wanted to go down and look at the snow on the farm.  Well, it wasn’t a lot of snow by Wisconsin standards and it will melt in a few days, but there was more than usual and it created a different look for the place. You really wouldn't guess that you were looking at southern Virginia.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Snow_Day_on_the_Farm/Genito_Creek1.jpg 

I saw a couple cars in the ditch on the way down and I didn’t dare take the back roads, as I usually do.  Instead I went down I95 all the way down to Emporia and then went over on 58. I also didn’t dare drive down the dirt roads on the farm.  You can see that 623 was good in the spot above, but look near the bottom and you can see why I didn't want to drive up the farm road.  It is harder to walk through the snow but it is nice to feel it underfoot. There were a few animal track, but it was otherwise undisturbed. It is nice to have land.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Snow_Day_on_the_Farm/road_and_field.jpg 

It was a long trip to see it and it took longer because of the adverse weather conditions. I finished almost the entire audio-book Infotopia, which I found very interesting and useful (I hope) in my job.   This was one of the three audio downloads on Audible.com that Mariza gave me for Christmas.   It was a good gift.  Audio books make long drives bearable and even beneficial. I lose my NPR a few miles outside Washington.  I don’t like music radio or those silly talk shows that purport to give advice that will solve problems that I don’t have. Audio books do the job.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Snow_Day_on_the_Farm/Snowy_road2.jpg 

Another good audio program is “the Teaching Company”.   Alex likes them too because they are around forty-five minutes long, which fits his workout schedule.

Anyway, take a look at the nice pictures. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Snow_Day_on_the_Farm/Creek_bend.jpg 

Complete set of photos are at this link.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Snow_Day_on_the_Farm/Beech_branches.jpg 

January 25, 2010

Flying Johns

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/Workers_laying_concrete_at_US_Institute_of_Peace_on_Jan_14_2010.jpg 

I have been watching the Institute of Peace building going up outside my office.  Most of the time it is pretty prosaic work, like the guys laying concrete in the picture above.   But sometimes there is something more unusual, such as the flying portable toilets, pictured below.

Flying Johns at the US Institute of Peace building in Washington DC 

I imagined how it would be if some poor guy was using it when the crane picked it up.   I suppose the best course of action would be to lock the door, hunker down and hope for a soft landing.

Porta Johns being moved by cranes 

As long as I am on construction, below are pictures from the hot lane construction along the I-495 beltway.  I wrote a post re the hot lanes last year.  I took the pictures from the rolling Metro, which accounts for some of the blur.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Hotlanes/hot_lane_construction_on_beltway2_on_Jan_11.jpg 

***

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Hotlanes/Hot_lane_Construction_on_the_Beltway1.jpg 

January 21, 2010

Charlottesville, Waynesboro & Harrisonburg

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/Main_Street_Waynesboro.jpg 

I went to Charlottesville for the meeting of the Virginia Tree Farm Committee.   Unfortunately, the meeting was in Richmond.  They alternate between those two places, and I just screwed it up.   I had actually written the correct place in my calendar, but went to the wrong one.   Well, I am not crucial to the meeting and It was not a total loss.  I got to visit Alex, since Harrisonburg is not far from Charlottesville.   In fact, I think that my desire to see Alex might have figured into my mental slip. Above is the main street in Waynesboro.  

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/Blue_Ridge_Parkway_closed.jpg 

Alex had classes until 3:30.  This was good when I had planned to attend the meeting, but now I had lots of time on my hands.   I thought I might drive up along the Blue Ridge Parkway but it was closed, evidently weather related.  So I went through Waynesboro.   I  was not seeing it on the best day but they did have an A&W.  I like the hamburgers and the root beer.  A&W fries are not good, however.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/root_beer.jpg 

Above is the dining room. I had it to myself. Below is the outside.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/AW_Waynesboro.jpg 

I followed a little road north.  It was a charming rural area.  I wanted to stop off at Grand Caverns, but it was closed for the season.   Again, not the best time to come around.   Since I was still too early, I walked around Harrisonburg.   You can see pictures.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/Harrisonburg_street3.jpg 

Alex likes his classes at JMU.  He has a couple of Asian history classes, symbolic logic and an anthropology class on North Americans native people.  He found the gyms and good running trails.  College life is good.  We had supper at “the Blue Nile” and Ethiopian restaurant.   Harrisonburg is well endowed with restaurants and services.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/Harrisonburg_street1.jpg 

Rain mixed with snow scared me a little when I left Harrisonburg at around 6pm.   I don’t much like driving up I-81 because of all the trucks even in good weather.  The weather cleared up not too far into the trip and there wasn’t too much traffic on 66. I got 42 miles to the gallon on this trip, which is good for going through the mountains. I usually get good mileage on the way to Charlottesville along 29.  I think it is because of the slower speeds and the hybrid does particularly well on the rolling hills. I get a significantly better mileage at 50 MPH than I do at 65. 

Below is the city hall in Harrisonburg.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Harrisonburg/City_Hall_Harrisonburg.jpg
 

January 17, 2010

Flying Over Virginia

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/Brian_and_his_plane_in_Brunswick_Airport.jpg 

Brian (that is him above) has a plane and knows how to fly, so I got a chance to see the tree farms from the air.  This is something I have long wanted to do. I can get the pictures from Google earth, but they are not completely up to date, give only one angle and are just not the same as a live view.  I will included some pictures I took in the next post. They are a little hazy because I took them through the glass of the windows.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/takeoff.jpg 

Above is take off and below is landing.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/Landing_at_Leesburg_Airport.jpg 

I have never flown so low over places I knew so well. We left from Leesburg Airport.  All the little planes are lined up and it is amazingly informal.  Flying out around Washington is highly regulated, but once you get outside the security zones, you can fly were you want. We had GPS, but actually found the farms by looking for landmarks on the ground. It is more fun that way. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/January_Virginia.jpg 

You notice a few things from the air that are less clearly evident to the terrestrially tied road denizens. There is a lot more empty space than we think. Most of our structures are near the roads, but roads make up only a small amount of the countryside. On the other hand, lots of very nice houses are hidden down long paths, away from the main roads, obscured by trees or topography. This seemed to be especially true in Loudon County.  Of course, my sample was skewed since I took off and landed there, but Loudon County is a classic wealthy exurban area, so I think this kind of settlement is indeed more common there.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/Lake_Anna.jpg 

Another thing I noticed was the large numbers of ponds and impounded water.  Natural lakes and ponds not associated with meandering river are uncommon south of the Mason-Dixon Line because they are largely gouged  out by glaciers and the most recent glaciations didn’t get that far south.  But people like lakes and they have created lots of them were they didn’t exist before.   You can tell the ponds because they tend to have at least one straight side from the dam that holds back the water.   Larger impounds have very irregular banks.  Water wears away the jagged banks over time, but not enough time has passed for these man-made bodies of water.

Below is Vulcan Quarry near Freeman. That is where my rip-rap comes from. The material is porphyritic granite. I am not sure exactly the significance of that, but the rock is kind of grayish with crystals and twenty tons of rip-rap cost around $500, delivered. It is good to have land near the source.  In time, I suppose that quarry could become a fairly deep lake.  Since it in not far from the Freeman forest tract, we may eventually have lakefront property.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/Flying_down_to_the_farms/Vulcan_Quarry.jpg 

Neither man-made nor natural lakes last very long in the great scheme of geological time, since they silt up.  Man-made lakes tend to silt up faster because they are often or river fed and they impound muddy floodwaters.

January 10, 2010

Alex @ James Madison University

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/JMU/Alex_at_JMU_on_Jan_10_2010.jpg 

Alex is off.  I drove him up yesterday and left him at James Madison University today.   I am proud that he is becoming more independent but sad that he is pulling away. Above is Alex at the quad. Below is Alex next to James Madison.  It is life sized statue. He was a little guy.

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I used to talk to the kids at bedtimes.  Sometimes I know that they allowed me to ramble on just to prolong the time before bed, but I enjoyed it and I know they learned some things because I hear them saying them.   I miss that.

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Above and below are buildings on campus. 

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James Madison is a good university and looks like a nice place.   It reminds me a little more of a Midwestern university than it does of Virginia.  Maybe the stone buildings on the hills remind me of some of the building at UW along the lake.  Maybe it is the spruce trees.  Spruce trees can and do grow in Tidewater and Piedmont Virginia, but they don’t  thrive.  They do better in the cooler, more continental climate of Western Virginia.

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Above is Alex's dorm room.  Below is the TV lounge. 

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We spent Saturday night at the Marriott Courtyard in Harrisonburg.   Alex wanted to get there first thing in the morning when the university opened.   We didn’t need to do that.   Alex was the first customer when the dorm opened.   The hall lights didn’t work, so we had to find his room by sense of touch.  Empty dorm rooms are vaguely depressing, but it literally brightened up when we opened the roll-up shades.   His room has a nice southern exposure.  Alex appreciates the sun too and since he was first in, he could claim the bed near the window.

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Above is a view from the quad. Below are Norfolk and Southern RR tracks that run right through the center of campus. 

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Alex hadn’t been able to make the orientation, so the second thing on our list was to get his ID. The place didn’t open until 1 pm.  We were second in line.   It went very efficiently once we got in.  The ID is the key to success.  Alex can now use the libraries, get into building and – perhaps most importantly – eat at the chow hall. Below is the lake at JMU.

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I didn’t want to leave Alex but the time came and I went.   Alex will be fine.   He won’t be as close as Espen.  It is an exciting their lives, full of potential and contradictory emotions.

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I drove home through the mountains of Shenandoah National Park and along Highway 211.  It is still rural much of the way with beautiful woods and fields.    There was not much traffic and it was a relaxing drive.   Back home, a little more lonely than before but hopeful, grateful and optimistic. Above is Sperryville, VA.

December 28, 2009

New Old Things in Washington

My big boss Jeremy is retiring.  I will miss him.  The generation of great officers who were running the show when I came into the FS is passing.   Now I am among the old guys. 

Baseball statues near "E" Street in Washington 

We went out for the last breakfast at a downtown hotel and I walked back to work after.  Although I walked through an area near the State Department, I don’t usually go this way and I found some interesting things for pictures.

Statue of Jose St Martin in Washington 

Above is the statue of Jose de San Martin the liberator of Argentina.  Below is  John Rawlins, a Civil War general and friend of US Grant.

Rawlins statue in Washington DC 

Below is the Octagon, the headquarters of the American Architectural Society. 

The Octagon 

 

 

 

December 21, 2009

Snow in Washington - Pretty Pictures

US Capitol from American Indian Museum 

Above is the U.S. Capitol from the back of the American Indian Museum.  Below is the Lincoln Memorial on the other end of the Mall.

Lincoln Memorial in the snow 

The Federal government (although the Senate was at work late into the night) was closed because of the snow, but it really wasn't hard to get down to Washington.  I just caught the Metro.  I wanted to see Washington in the snow and quiet.  There was a lot of snow, but it wasn't quiet.  Lots of people seemed to have the same idea.  I took a long walk from the White House to the Capitol.  Some pictures are included.

Washington Monument 

Above is the Washington Monument.  Below is the frozen reflecting pool at the World War II Memorial.

Reflecting pool at World War II Memorial 

Below is the Smithsonian Mall.

Smithsonian Mall 

Below is the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue.

White House from Pennsylvania Ave 

 

December 20, 2009

Cleaning up After the Big Snow

Snowed in cars 

This was a record-breaking snow for December. They already announced that the Federal Government will be closed tomorrow.  Chrissy and I were able to drive around with the Honda and do some Christmas shopping.  The main roads were clear but the side streets were still sometimes bad. 

Quinn Terrace under snow 

Above is the narrow path of the plow on our street.  It is actually better that way because the plows don't make such an impassible bank across the driveways. Below is the front of our complex.

Provedence Park  

It is useful to have big boys.  Below is Espen clearing the driveway.  He also did the same for our neighbor.  Good boy.

Espen clearing up driveway 

Below is the back of our house.  The red oak trees are getting big.

Back of our house covered in snow 

December 19, 2009

Winter Storms Come Early

back deck in the snow 

It has been a cool year so far and it looks like it might be a snowy winter. I don’t know if this will be any kind of record, but it is the earliest big snow I remember.

Quinn Terr looking west with snow 

It is Saturday; otherwise government would be shut down and the whole city thrown into panic.  Washington doesn’t handle snow well. These are a few pictures from around the house. The blobs of light in the pictures are snowflakes reflecting the camera flash. I took some w/o the flash, but I kind of liked the effect with it.

Snow covered car 

Above shows our Honda covering in snow.  We don't plan to drive anywhere. The snow will stop tomorrow and the sun will come out again.  Snow doesn't last long in Virginia. I figure that the Lord put the snow there and he will remove it before I need the car again. 

Trees near the house on Quinn Terr 

December 01, 2009

Alex, College & Community College

Alex at Petersburg

America has most of the world’s top universities, but what really stands out about our country is the depth and breadth of opportunity on offer.   You don’t have to be in a big city or an important capital to find a first-class education and you don’t even have to be in college to get started.  Community colleges are increasingly filling roles as not only technical trainers but also launching pads for academic careers.

There was a good article about it in the Washington Post.

I am biased.  Alex graduated from Northern Virginia Community College and will start as a junior at James Madison University next month.  But that also gives me some special insights into the subject.  I won’t say Alex is typical of all students, but let me tell a little about college and community college with him in mind.

Alex didn’t have a plan when he graduated from HS. He had not been an enthusiastic student and his mother and I made the hard decision NOT to push him right into college. I made that mistake myself long ago. All I did was drink beer (the drinking age was eighteen back then) and my 1.60 GPA in my first year at UWSP continues to haunt me to this day.

Alex avoided that.  After HS, he went to work at the local Multiplex.  It was a really crappy job, but he soon did better, moving to Home Depot, which treats its employees well. He has continued to work there and won the respect of his bosses and co-workers. This experience will serve him well in future.  It disturbs me that many college students have never actually done any real work.

After a few months, he decided to start community college while continuing to work part time.   Community college makes the transition from work to study easy.  Tuition is cheap and students can take a few courses at a time.  Alex eased in and started to get good grades.

Not everybody is ready to go to college at eighteen. I wasn't, neither was Alex. I think this is especially true of boys.   They tend to be less interested in academics and a little more rambunctious. They might need a little more time.  It is certainly out of style to say, “Boys will be boys” and it is not true of all boys, but it is indeed generally true.  They get clobbered when they are pushed too soon into some situations and sometimes they don’t recover.  Alex matured and after passage of time, he was ready to do well.  To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” The old wisdom makes sense.  Sometimes waiting is best, but it hard.

No size fits all. But I think we would be well served to rethink college entrance in general.  I don’t think it is possible to make a good admissions decisions when a kid is eighteen years old. An eighteen-year-old is largely the product of his/her parents.  A couple years later you get a better look at the adult.  AND the kids make better choices. A couple years make a big difference at this time.

It might be better to start most kids in community colleges and then let them move on to university as their demonstrated talents and now better informed choices indicate.    

Alex also saved me the big bucks.  Community college is about half the cost of State schools and Alex lived at home. 

Now let me shift to the other side. I am glad that Alex is going away to school.  I think it is important that kids NOT live at home the whole time.  They learn a lot from living with other young people and being away from home. And as I wrote a few paragraphs above, one size does not fit all. Mariza and Espen went right to college after HS and Mariza was only seventeen (she skipped second grade).

So I am glad that we have options. America is the land of opportunity because it is also the land of second and third chances.  There are many roads to success and lots of time to take them. 

November 20, 2009

Visiting Mr. Jefferson

Monticello  

Thomas Jefferson was a remarkable guy.  The thought deeply about almost everything and made the world a better place.  On his tombstone he wanted to be remembered for founding the University of Virginia and authoring the statutes of religious freedom of Virginia the Declaration of Independence.  Any one of those accomplishments would make him a great man.   He didn’t even mention being president of the United States.

Alex Matel and Thomas JeffersonWe first visited here in 1985.  Chrissy was pregnant with Mariza and I remember thinking that it would be nice if our expected child could become part of this legacy by going to Thomas Jefferson’s university.  She did.   So besides his contributions to our freedom and prosperity, I have a very personal reason to thank Jefferson.

Monticello is owned and run by a private foundation that makes its money from ticket sales and donations.  The foundation supports historians, archeologists and researchers in addition to maintaining the house and grounds.  

Alex and I talked about the pros and cons of a private foundation.  It seems like a place like Monticello should be government owned, but why?  A private foundation is more flexible and can often do a better job.  Many of our best American universities are private and they are the best in the world. A foundation works out just fine for Mr. Jefferson's home.  

Jefferson always considered himself a farmer.  He grew tobacco and wheat as cash crops and produced vegetables, apples and other fruit for consumption on the farm.  Like other plantations, Monticello was self-sufficient when possible.  They made their own bricks from local clays. Carpenters from the estate made furniture from the wood of the local forests.  Jefferson owned 5000 acres, which gave him a diverse landscape to draw from.  Below is Jefferson's vegetable garden.  It is set up to take advantage of warming winter sun.

Thomas Jefferson's garden 

Jefferson was an active manager of his estate. Washington's Mt Vernon actually turned a profit, not so Jefferson's Monticello.  The difference was top management.  Washington didn't have Jefferson's intellect, but he had practical abilities.  Jefferson was an idea man.   And his house - and our country - is full of his ideas, but he was not a good businessman. He died deep in debt and his heirs had to sell Monticello.

Jefferson's marketOf course, Jefferson didn't do much of the real work. The paradox of Jefferson the hero of freedom is Jefferson the slave owner.  Slavery had existed since the beginning of history, but by Jefferson's time the Western world was beginning to see the moral contradictions of the practice.  Jefferson shared the revulsion of slavery in theory, but couldn't bring himself to take the practical and personal steps against it.  I guess he was just a true intellectual in that respect and unfortunately remained a man of his times. 

In any case, Jefferson's contributions far outweigh the negatives of his personal life. All human being are flawed.  They make their contributions based on what they do best, not what they do poorly.  

We Americans were truly blessed during our founders generation.  Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton & Madison all were greats.  But the remarkable thing is how their skills and even their personalities complemented each other, even when they fought and hated each other. Their differences created harmony and their joint efforts filled in for some serious individual flaws.

The American revolution is one of the few in world history that actually worked (i.e. didn't end in a bloodbath followed by despotism). We can thank good luck & favorable geography.  But the biggest factor was the moral authority, courage and intellect of our first leaders.  We are still living off their legacy. 

Visitors' Center at Monticello 

Above is the visitor's center that opened last year. In the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, it takes advantage of natural forces and uses appropriate technology.  This is a green building, earth sheltered, energy efficient and heated & cooled to a large extent by geotheromal energy.  The wood and natural stone construction is simple, but elegant.  I like it.

November 19, 2009

Nobility at Appomattox

We got to Appomattox too late yesterday, so we had to go this morning.  It is not the big tourist season, so we had the place largely to ourselves. 

Alex at crossroads in Appomattox 

I like these kinds of communities, with the old fashioned houses and the open spaces.  Alex thought the houses were “lame.”   But it is interesting to stand at the cross roads of history.   They have done a good job of preserving and restoring the historical area, but I think they should get some animals.   The community of the time would have featured horses, pigs, cows and chickens.  Well … probably not exactly in April 1865, when the starving soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia would have made short work of such rations on the hoof, but in normal times a community like this w/o animals would not be normal.   I bet the Park Service could get some farm hobbyists to do it for nothing. 

Robert E Lee at Appomattox 

I thought back to April 1865 and the starving ragged Confederates up against Union forces that were better off but still not properly rationed.   Both armies were exhausted.   Robert E. Lee made the horrendous decision to surrender and the enlightened decision not to keep the fighting going on by guerilla tactics, as President Jefferson Davis wanted.   The South was finished.  No reason for more men to die and the country to be torn up even more for a lost cause.   Grant and the Union made it as easy as it could be in such circumstances.  

Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox

There was generosity, nobility and honor on both sides.   April 9, 1865 was truly a day when humanity showed its better side amidst terrible suffering and hatred.    As I wrote before, this is a even unique in human history.  

Grant later wrote, "I felt… sad and depressed at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people had ever fought."

There is no such thing as destiny.  People make history. If Grant, Lee or Lincoln had been lesser men - ordinary men - blood would have continued to flow and our great nation may have never recovered.  But it could have been different.

Lincoln was there in spirit and he was a motivating force behind the generosity that Grant was able to give, but within a few days Lincoln would be dead, shot by that cowardly actor John Wilkes Booth. Had Booth struck a week earlier it is not likely that Grant could have offered such terms to Lee.  The conflict might have continued as a desperate war of extermination. 

Grant’s close friend William T Sherman would soon be similarly generous with General Joe Johnston, who would also prove as honorable as Robert E. Lee. 

We all remember Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but the Second Inaugural is my favorite.   It is not very long, so I copied it entire.  I especially like the last paragraph.

Fellow-Countrymen:

  A
T this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

   1

  On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

2

  One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

3
  With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
 

September 18, 2009

America Still a Melting Pot

John Matel at Hispanic Awards Gala Sept 16, 2009Tim Receveur got tickets for the Hispanic Caucus Awards Gala and shared one with me.  He got them from a band IIP works with called Ozomatli.  Tim has been one of their biggest supporters.  They are a multicultural band, which goes well with our programs and very easy to work with, which makes our PAOs overseas happier.  Their music was very good.

President Obama was there and gave a speech.  It was mostly about health care, but he added a Latino twist.  Evidently a significant number of the uninsured are Latinos, especially if “undocumented workers” are included.  The President’s speech didn’t go into much detail, but he did repeat “todos somos Americanos” on several occasions, which was a crowd pleaser.  

Unfortunately, he went the other way as he left the building, so I didn’t get to shake his hand.   I was figuring that a close encounter might cure the minor arthritis in my left knee, but no such luck.

I had a good time, even if I didn’t get to meet the big man personally.  The night started off with a mariachi band.   I am fond of that music.   It has down-home sounds. The old man listened to a lot of country and western music and a lot of his cowboy music shared the southwest roots.   Marty Robbins, Gene Autry and the great Bob Wills all played on the familiar themes, often with Spanish speaking musicians or even lyrics.  Another familiar aspect was the recent immigrant vigor you could feel.   The American dream is still alive and people come from all around to take part in it.

Mariachi band at Hispanic Gala

Sonia Sotamayer was there, so were Marc Anthony and Jenifer Lopez. Soladad O'Brien won an award.  I always wondered re her unusual name combination.   Her mother is Cuban.  Her father is Irish-Australian.   In America they met and married.

President Obama at Hispanic Award Gala Sept 16

What I noticed was a lot of old fashioned assimilation.   It is not fashionable to call our country a melting pot anymore, but it is nevertheless.  The crowd was a lot like I remember immigrant families from Poland or Italy in Milwaukee. The older people maintain their ties of the home country.   The younger people have a second-hand connection but a lot less real feeling for the place.  And when they marry out of the community, the children don’t think much at all about ethnicity.  The difference in the Hispanic community had been that immigration renewed the ties constantly. This may be changing now, as birth rates are dropping in Mexico and Central America.  

Man with guitar The process is best illustrated by a simple statistic.   It was repeated a couple of times that Hispanics are America’s largest ethnic group, with something like 47 million. This is not entirely accurate.   Germans are the largest ethnic group in the U.S. 58 million Americans claimed German ancestry on the 1990 census, which is the last time I think they asked the question. This is significant because it is NOT significant, i.e. nobody really cares.  Germans have enriched America with their cultural contributions (decent beer, kindergarten, hot dogs & sauerkraut) and their hard work, but they are so thoroughly American now that it passes completely w/o notice.  When I mention it, people roll their eyes and discount it. They say that it doesn’t really count and they are right.  It made a big difference in 1909.  Who cares today?  The same will happen with Hispanics. At some point they may indeed become a quarter of the U.S. population, as the Germans were 100 years ago.  But nobody will really pay attention by the time that happens. This is America. Todos somos Americanos.  That is how we roll.

Anyway, it was an interesting event.   Everybody had to wear tuxedos.   This made for an elegant evening, but it presented an unexpected problem.    When everybody has a black tuxedo, you cannot tell who is the waiter.   When people come around with plates of food, you might just be stealing somebody’s snacks.

BTW – Tim’s wife April took the pictures, if you notice the better quality.  She does this professionally.  You can find her other work at this link.

Ozomatli

September 14, 2009

Small Scale Beauty and Ugly

View from the front window 

I like to sit in my chair and look out the window.   This time of year, the sun comes in low at the edge of the house and paints the leaves of the plants and trees by the window.  The pictures don't do it justice.  I am not sure which I like best, now when everything is still green or a few weeks from now when the leaves on the bigger tree will be yellow and those of the Japanese maple will be crimson. 

The tree fills with birds in the evening this time of year.  They sing so loudly you cannot hear the TV if you leave the door open.  I like it, although they do crap all over.   We don't need to fertilize around that tree.  

Front Window in Merrifield VA Sept 13, 2009 

The picture below is parking under the freeway.   It is a brutal scene, but maybe so ugly that it is interesting.   I always kind of liked Chicago under those El Tracks, ugly, but gritty.   I think that is why I liked “The Blues Brothers,” because of Chicago.

Freeway near Capitol in Washington DC 

September 12, 2009

Tea Party in Washington

Tea party protest near U.S. Capitol on September 12, 2009 

Chrissy and I went down to watch the tea party protest today in Washington. I like to watch protests. I got in the habit when I lived in Madison.  The crowd filled the lawn from the Capitol down past 4th St. None of the anti-war marches were as big.

The demography was the interesting part.  I bet the median age was around forty or fifty and I thought about what I said in Revenge of the Geezers a couple days ago.  It has usually been hard to get a crowd of people over thirty-years-old to come out to protest. Most of the other protests I have seen are staffed by the young and unemployed. This protest was unusual in that included mostly people who probably actually pay taxes and I think it was largely organized online.  This might be the harbinger of political activism of the future.

Once you get a full time job and other responsibilities, you don’t have as much time or inclination to march, chant and protest.  This explains why youth has driven protest movements.  There is no mystery to it.  They have extra energy and time on their hands.  Beyond that, they are vaguely bored and a little bit resentful because they think others don’t pay enough attention to them.  As the older population becomes healthier and retirement stretches on for many more years, this is increasingly a description that applies to old people.

The other thing interesting about this crowd was its lack of professionalism. Most protests I have seen have their core of bused-in experienced protesters, with well constructed signs and organized chants. This one had almost all hand lettered signs.  There was very little unity among the messages. Most clearly didn’t like the President but most of the anger seemed directed at congress.  One of the most original signs had pictures of members of congress and said, “Don’t give your cash to these clunkers”

tea party protestors in Washington near reflecting pool at Grant Monument on September 12, 2009 

The crowd was very well behaved, but not very well organized. Most were probably first-time protesters and I got the feeling that many would be taking their children or grandchildren to see the monuments in Washington after they wandered off when the protesting was done.  Some brought lawn chairs.  If someone had fired up a grill, it would have seemed a lot like a July 4th picnic.  Of course we didn’t stay long.  Maybe it got more intense later, but I doubt it.

August 28, 2009

So Sad

I took Espen to his new dorm today. It was an easy move. He didn’t take much with him.  I have been bragging that when I went to college I had to hitchhike up and could have only what I could carry in my duffle bag.  I think that helped make him want to show his own capacity for simplicity.  Anyway, he is not very far from home, so he can come back and forth.  The dorms are simple, cinderblock.  The kids share toilets and showers. Small rooms are good because they don't hold as much stuff.   Kids today have too much stuff. 

Espen at his new dorm room at George Mason 

Espen actually could commute to school, but we think it is useful for him to be immersed in the college environment.   The place is very young and lively, with gyms and basketball courts nearby.   He will be studying computer engineering, which is tough program, so I figure it will not be all fun … but I hope he will have some.   College is a magical time and I want that for him but I will miss him.

I was reminded of the void his absence will create when I stopped at the grocery store on the way home.   I will have to buy less food and it made me sad to think that I would now not need to buy some of his favorite foods.  We had a little ritual putting the food away. I would toss it to him and he would put it where it belonged (or not).    We started doing it when he was little and not really a very good catch.  As he got older, he often complained that I made him do it and said it was silly, but he did it.  The tossing was one part of the game and the complaining was another.   Little things, but important.

Espen in the hall of his dorm 

I still have Alex for a couple more months, but he will be leaving and going to James Madison University this spring.   Alex was unenthusiastic about education when he graduated from HS and I think we made a wise decision to give him the space to make his own decision.  Soon he decided to go to Nova, where he started to study and his grades got better and better.   He will be a junior next year when he starts at JMU, so he is essentially on the track I would have wished /planned for him, but he made his own decisions and along the way saved me a lot of money.  Nova tuition is only about 1/3 as much and Alex lived at home.  But he  deserves the college experience too.  JMU is in Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley.  It has a good reputation and the kids who go there all seem to love it.  I think it is great that he will be going, but I will miss him.

There is an ironic imbalance in the parent-child relationship. When they are little, they follow you around and you have to watch them all the time.   You look forward to when your time will again be your own, when you can read when you want, eat where you want (i.e. not only Happy Meal providers), and watch the television programs you want.   Then they transition and by the time you have the freedom you think you wanted, it is not as sweet as you thought. I have been enjoying my time with the kids and I will enjoy the visits with them, but the time is passed when we are really together. So sad.

August 26, 2009

Light and Shadow at Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetary gates open at 8am on August 25, 2009 

The boys and I went down to the woods today and saw some thinning operations.  I will write more about that tomorrow.   But when I was loading the pictures from the forestry, I found these above and below from Arlington Cemetery that I took yesterday.  

Gates open at Arlington Cemetary at 8am on August 25, 2009 

They open the gates at 8am, and I took the pictures as I was waiting for them to open on my way to work.   The pictures have an interesting play of light.  I don’t know where it came from, since I didn’t see it when I took the pictures. I would guess it was something on the lens, but you will notice, especially on the lower picture, that it is in back of the truck coming in the gate.

August 03, 2009

Reopening My Favorite Passage

They closed the gates of Ft Meyer after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.   I didn’t know they were reopened.  Actually they are not open to through automobile traffic, but bikes can use the bike route that goes through Ft Meyer and Arlington Cemetery. 

Ft Meyer in Virginia on August 3, 2009 

Going this way saves me around ten minutes riding and it lets me avoid ten minutes worth of the least pleasant and most dangerous part of the ride.  To transit Ft Meyer, I need only show my government ID and be polite to the guards. As you can see in the picture above, Ft Meyer is nice to with well kept period architecture.  After riding along the quiet streets of the base, you come out into Arlington Cemetery and it is all downhill from there. 

I like the idea of going through and past all the monuments.   My ride now takes me through Arlington Cemetery, across Memorial Bridge, past the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and then down the Smithsonian Mall in sight of the Capitol.   I often stop to read the plaques and later look them up on the Internet.  The whole idea of a memorial is to remind visitors of the event or concept.   Daily exposure to history really does work, at least for me. 

Phil Kearny statue in Arlington Cemetary overlooking the Potomac and Washington 

A good example is the statue above.  It is Phil Kearny.  I knew about Ft Phil Kearny, which guarded to Bozman Trail in Wyoming.  The Bozman trail is essentially I-90 these days and we stopped off at the fort on one of our cross country trips.  But I never knew much of anything about its namesake.  After seeing the statue, I did a little reading.  Phil Kearny was a respected professional soldier and Union officer killed in the Battle of Chantilly, not long after uttering the ominous words, "The Rebel bullet that can kill me has not yet been molded."

July 28, 2009

Fort Christiana

Fort Christiana in Brunswick Co VA on July 25, 2009 

The webpage for my webchat on forestry and carbon is now available at this link.   I made a PowerPoint as an intro, so please take a look.   You can just sign in as a guest under whatever name you please.

I visited Fort Christiana on the way home from the farm.  It is one of those places worth seeing, but not worth going to see.  You have to go down a gravel road and then you find … nothing.   The fort is long gone.    All that is left is the outline of the fort, a little toilet and some markers.  You can see the gravel outline in this picture below.

Outline of Fort Christiana in Brunswick Co VA on July 25, 2009 

If you Google Fort Christiana you will find the wrong place.  There is a fort in Delaware by almost the same name.    That was not a very important place and this place is even less.   So if you want to know about Fort Christiana in Brunswick County, I am your lasts, best hope.

Robert Byrd official portraitAccording to the signs, Virginia Royal Governor Alexander Spotswood built a five sided wooden fort near the Meherrin River in 1714.   (Spotsylvania County VA is named for the governor.)   It was an outpost on the edge of the Virginia Colony at that time designed to trade with the friendly Indians.   Inside the Fort was an Indian school, with about 100 students.  The Indian students inside the fort helped ensure continued good behavior of the local tribes.   

The British withdrew support for the fort in 1718 and when William Byrd (an early member of that very prominent Virginia family and the ancestor of the current W. Virginia Senator Robert Byrd ... or given how long that guy has been around, maybe it was him) passed through the region in 1728 he reported that the fort was abandoned.   Not much of a history.    There have been nearby roads that have been under construction for a longer time.

I don’t know why the picture of the sign turned out so green.    That is not the real color.  I must have had it on a strange setting.

The picture that I took of the monument was even worse, so I didn't include it.  The funny thing is that it was erected by the colonial dames.  I know that dames is an old title of respect for ladies, but I can't stop thinking of Frank Sinatra, "Guys and Dolls" or "South Pacific."  There's nothing like a dame. 

July 24, 2009

Lucky to Live in Washington

Alex with Robert E. Lee at wax museum in Washington 

I spent the day with Alex in Washington showing him what a great place it is to be. He is finishing with NOVA this summer but will not start JMU until spring semester and worries that his brain will atrophy, so we are working up a work-study-exercise regime.  I think he is beginning to understand how lucky he is to have this opportunity. I don’t think there is any place better than Washington to pursue this kind of self-education, since we have all the free museums around the Smithsonian, think tanks, parks, monuments … But you have to do it deliberately.

Alex with Harry S. Truman 

We started off at AEI with panel discussion on regulation of greenhouse gases.  Alex thought the guy from the Sierra Club made the best presentation. You can read about it here. I agree. He was mostly talking about the problems of coal. Coal is cheap but dirty from start to finish. In Appalachia, they remove whole mountains and dump them into the valleys.   We can reclaim these lands with good forestry, but we all probably better off not doing it in the first place. 

John Matel with George Washington  

After that, we just blended in with the tourists.   Our first stop was the wax museum.   You can see some of the pictures.    You really feel like you are standing with the person.   They are very careful to get the heights and shapes close to the real person.  

Invasive snakehead fish now damaging the ecology of the Potomac watershed 

We next went through the aquarium.   The National Aquarium in Washington is not nearly as good as the one in Baltimore, but it is worth going if you are in the neighborhood.     This is the first time that I saw a living snakehead.   These are terrible invasive species that can wipe out the native fish.  They are very tough and hard to get rid of.   They are semi-amphibious and can literally walk from one pond to another.    The take-away is that if you see one of these things crush it with a rock or cut it with a shovel, but do not let it survive. 

Sea turtle at National Aquarium in Washington 

Finally, we went over to the Natural History Museum. We have been there many times before, but I learned a few things. Alex pointed out that the Eocene period was warmer than most of the time during the Mesozoic and, of course, much warmer than today.  According to what I read, the earth was free of permanent ice and forests covered all the moist parts of the earth, all the way to the poles.  It is interesting how trees adapted to living inside the Arctic Circle, where it is dark part of the year and always light in summers, but the sun is never overhead and always comes as a low angle, so trees needed to orient their branches more toward the sides. 

Eocene panorma at Smithsonian 

Alex rolled his eyes when I was excited by a new (I think temporary) exhibit on soils.  I didn’t learn much new, but I like looking at the actual exhibits.  Soil is really nothing more than rock fragments and decaying shit, but very few things are more complex, more crucial and more often ignored.

Alex with Johnny Depp at Wax Museum 

Anyway, we had a good day and "met" lots of celebrities like Johnny Depp above.  We had lunch at a place called “the Bottom Line” on I Street.  I had a very good mushroom cheese burger.   Alex has the Philly cheese steak sandwich.

Alex with giant sloth  

The skeleton above is a giant sloth.  I don't know how that thing could have survived.  Must have been one big tree that thing hung from.

July 21, 2009

Biking at State Department

Rental bike at State Department I thought it was a joke, but it true.  The State Department now has a bike lending program. You can borrow a bike at State and peddle to your meetings around town, at least until 4:45, when you have to bring it back.  The bikes on offer seem a little lame, but I like the idea. I hope it catches on and I also hope that it provokes a bit of culture change at the Department and in the wider community.

I have been using my bike to get to work since my very first real job,  when I rode clean across Milwaukee to get from the South Side to Mellowes' Washer Co on Keefe Street.  That means I have been commuting by bicycle since 1973 – around thirty-six years, so I know something about bike commuting. Overall, it has gotten better, at least in Washington. They have built some good bike trails and put some bike lanes on the road. I can ride the 17 +/- miles to work almost completely on bike trails or lightly traveled roads.  (Of course, that required some planning. When we bought our house in 1997 we made sure we were near both a Metro Stop and a bike trail. The W&OD bike trail is a mile from our door.) But we still get no respect when we mix with traffic.  

For example, part of my bike ride to work goes down a city street – Clarendon Boulevard – in Arlington.   There is a nicely marked bike trail along the road, which is a one-way street most of the way I go.  It is also mostly downhill on the way to work, which would make it a nice ride except for the cars.  People treat the bike lane like a drop off zone.  They pull in front of me and then abruptly stop and sometimes pass me and then make a right turn right in front of me into a side street or parking lot.  Since they just passed me, I assume they should be able to see me, but they don’t seem to care. They know that I have few options.  I don’t get as upset about this as I used to, but these clowns endanger my safety. I especially hate the people who talk on cell phones. 

There really is no such thing as multi-tasking when driving.  There is just driving poorly.     

I have had a few close calls and one bona fide bike & bone crunching accident -  in Norway where I got seriously hurt and had the pleasure of experiencing socialized medicine - but I really cannot complain when I consider how many miles I have logged. Most people apologize and lamely claim they didn’t see me.  Sometimes they are aggressive and tell me that I should not be on the road.  I would caution drivers that it is probably not a good idea to do this when the bike is at the side of your car, since we have metal pedals and can easily  scratch the paint on the side of the car door with those pedals “by accident” w/o anybody noticing until later. That is what I used to do … in my younger days of course.

The daily practical problem with biking is lack of showers. I am lucky because Gold’s Gym is across the street & I keep clothes in the office to change into. Otherwise you cannot really ride if you work near other people.  You will get sweaty even on a short ride, especially in a climate like ours in Washington. You also sometimes get rained on and spattered with dirt. State Department, like most other big organizations, talks a good game about bikes, but does not provide showers and changing areas.

I figure the State Department's bike lending program is mostly a PR gesture, but it is good if it gets people thinking about riding bikes to work and appointments. The world has become friendlier to bike commuters.  Thirty years ago, almost everybody thought I was crazy; today only about half think so.

July 08, 2009

A Cool & Green Season

The weather has been great this year.  This evening it is actually chilly.   It will get down to 60 degrees tonight.   I don’t remember it ever being so cool in Washington in July.   I read that last month was the coolest June since 1958 and one of the coolest since they started to keep records.   It has also been usually rainy, so everything is very green and robust.

Below are a few pictures from around SW Washington.  

This is our shredder truck.  We are moving to our new building nearer the Main State.  Some stuff needs to be shredded.   This truck brings us the industrial strength shredding power.

Shredder truck at State Annex 44 

Below is a very big Japanese Zelkova.   The green picture is from today.  The leafless one is from January looking in the other direction.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2009/july/Washington_July_9/Big_Japanese_Zelkova_on_July_8_2009.jpg 

Japanese zelkova on G St SW near 9th St in Washington DC morning of January 7, 2009

Below is construction near Waterfront metro stop.  The first is today, the other is from January.

http://johnsonmatel.com/2009/july/Washington_July_9/construction_at_waterfront_mall_on_July_8_2009.jpg

Cranes and new construction on Waterfront Mall near the Metro on January 21, 2009

Below is construction on the Arena Stage.  I really cannot picture how this is going to look when it is done. 

http://johnsonmatel.com/2009/july/Washington_July_9/arena_stage.jpg 

 

 

 

 

June 27, 2009

Merrifield Town Center

Chrissy at the little park at the Merrifield Town Center on June 27, 2009 

The redevelopment around the Dunn Loring Metro and the Merrifield Town Center is moving slowly but inexorably along.   The plan has been in place since before we bought our house in 1997.  Basically, the plan is for something like a metro transit-oriented development like in Arlington from Ballston to Roslyn.   We are a little farther out and this area will be more car friendly.  For example, they are widening Gallows Road,  so they had to tear down various fast food places (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut etc).  There is still nothing in those places, but farther down they have started to build condominiums and planning the town center too.

Lee Highway Multiplex Building in Merrifield VA on June 26, 2009 

The economic downturn slowed some of the plans, but is not stopping them.  Above is the old multiplex cinema.  It is shut down now.  They owned a really big area of parking lots.  Originally, it was a drive in.  Anyway, much of the parking area will eventually be developed into condos and retail space.  Parking will be in multistory parking garages.   Below is the old surface parking lot.  There is a series on History Channel called "Life Without People".  It shows how fast nature returns when people leave.  You can something of that here and it has only been a year.

Parking lot at Lee Highway Multiplex on June 26, 2009

Below used to be a Pizza Hut.  It is always amazing to me how small the footprint of a building looks when the structure is gone.  

Former Pizza Hut site on Gallows Road in Merrifield VA on June 26, 2009 

Below are shops in the new Merrifield Town Center.  It is a good example of mixed use.  There is residential on top, parking below and retail on street level, all within walking distance of the metro.  I am glad they are building, if slowly.  The shops are a little yuppified.  I got a ice cream cone that cost $5.23.  It was a fancy cone, but that is a little too much to pay, IMO.  It reminds me of the old story about the horse who walks into a bar.   The bartender says, "We don't get many horses in here."  The horse replies, "With these prices, I am not surprised." 

Shops at Merrifield Town Center in Merrifield Virginia on June 26, 2009 

Below are dawn redwoods.  Chrissy had them planted at our complex when she was home-owner association president.  They will be one of her lasting contributions.  Dawn redwoods are related to our redwoods and sequoias as well as baldcypress.  Like baldcypress, they are deciduous and they look like baldcypress, except dawn redwoods are more pyramidal.  In their native forests in Sichuan and Hubei Provinces in China, they grow rapidly to around 90 feet.  They were thought to be extinct until  groves were discovered in the Chinese mountains in 1948. Since they are recent introductions to Virginia, nobody is sure how big they will get here, but they are growing very fast and strong.   Sometimes trees grow better away from their native ranges.   California redwoods, for example,  were introduced to New Zealand.  There are some growing there that are around 150 years old and doing even better than they do in California.  Experts expect that within a few years the tallest redwoods, so the tallest trees in the world, will be in New Zealand. Redwoods may live 2000 years, but they do most of their growing early in their lives.

Dawn redwoods at Providence Forest townhouse complex in Merrifield Virginia on June 26, 2009 

One more joke - A horse walks into a bar.  The bartender asks, "Why the long face?"

Below - neglect can be a good thing.  This is one of those drainage holes that they usually keep mowed.  Evidently, they lost control of this one and it is more distinct.  I like the cattails. 

Cattails at a drainage area near the future Merrifield Town Center on June 26, 2009 

 

June 26, 2009

Espen's Orientation at George Mason

We took Espen to his orientation at George Mason.   It is a fast growing up-and-coming place and the orientation reflected that.   Mariza’s orientation at the University of Virginia was all about tradition.  In case anybody didn’t know, they reminded us that Thomas Jefferson founded the place and we heard a lot about the famous things and people associated with the University of Virginia.  Not so George Mason.  It is a young institution with more future than past.

Confucius state at George Mason taken during Espen’s orientation on June 25, 2009 

George Mason University was founded in 1957 as a branch of the University of Virginia, designed to soak up some of the students in growing Northern Virginia and was mostly a commuter and part timer school for a long time.   It became an independent institution in 1972 and was named after George Mason because he lived in the neighborhood a couple hundred years ago; there is no other connection besides the statue below and the name.   

It has improved a lot and benefits from its primo location in the Washington metro area. Today it is is strong in applied science, economics and law with more than 30,000 students.

George Mason looking at a Coca-Cola truck during Espen's orientation on June 25, 2009 

Espen is majoring in computer engineering.  The dean made a very good presentation, but he had an easy hand to play.    Evidently the graduates of the engineering school don’t have very much trouble in the job market and there are lots of opportunities with local firms.   The current economic downturn will probably be over by the time Espen graduates.  

One of his colleagues in the department is called Phuc Dang. Tough name to have, but I suppose it is memorable and maybe useful for a guy who works with computers. You don't have to tell people which technician to call.  When your computer crashes, just say "Phuc!" followed if you want by "Dang" and help is on the way. 

Federal district boundary stone in Falls Chruch Virginia 

Above is one of the original boundary stones of the District of Columbia.    It is now well into Virginia.  I don’t know the exact sequence of events, but evidently the Feds weren’t using the land so Virginia got it back.  The City of Arlington more or less encompasses the old Federal district in Virginia.

June 16, 2009

Espen Graduates

George C Marshall HS graduation 2009 

Espen graduated today.   Our last kid is now graduated.   He will study computer engineering at George Mason University this fall.   Espen has done well in school and I believe he will do well in life. He has an internship at Lockheed-Martin over the summer.  It will give him great experience. 

Espen graduates 

A graduation like this is bittersweet.   I am proud of my boy and glad that he is well on his way as an adult, but I miss the child and the baby I held.   Time flies.

Chrissy, Alex and Espen 

I was happy with the public schools the kids attended.   George C Marshall is a good HS and the kids got a good education there. They held the graduation at the same place as Alex’s, at DAR Constitution Hall.  This is the link from Alex's graduation.  Alex & Espen have been working out as you will see when you compare the pictures.

DAR Constitution Hall 

June 13, 2009

Arlington Courthouse

Fountain at Arlington Courthouse 

These are a few pictures from the Courthouse-Clarendon area of Arlington.     When I first came into the FS, I used to walk through this area.   There were a lot of little restaurants, some pawn shops and a lot of construction.    It is very nice now.   They made a lot of progress in twenty years and Arlington has done a very good job of transit oriented development.  

Oak tree dedicated to World War I war dead 

This is the memorial tree to the boys of Arlington killed in World War I.  Of course, back then they only had one world war so it didn't have a number.  It says the tree was planted in 1923.  It doesn't seem old enough.  I wonder if it was replaced.

Plaque at Arlington  

 

 

June 08, 2009

Lindens Again

Liden trees at Iwo Jima Memorial 

There is a grove of fragrant lindens around the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial. I passed them on my way to work this morning, so I stopped and got a few pictures.  

Linden Grove at Marine Memorial on June 8, 2009 

June 06, 2009

Sweet Smell of Memory

Linden trees on Constitution Av and 7th St on June 5, 2009 on a rainy morning 

This is the season for the smell of linden. It is a pleasant but elusive fragrance. The strange thing is that if you get really close to the blooms, you cannot smell them.  The fragrance overwhelms the senses in such concentrations.  That means that you can only catch a whiff on the breeze. It is a very Central European smell.   I remember it from my first visit to Germany.   The lindens are so prominent and pungent in Poland that they named their seventh month (our July) lipiec, which comes from their name for linden. 

In Northern Virginia we have a variety of introduced European lindens.   Fashion affects trees too and you could probably date neighborhoods by the mix of trees.  Many of the lindens we see today were planted twenty or thirty years ago.  Since then, zelkovas, pears and various kinds of cultivars I don’t even recognize have been more in style.  

The American versions of lindens are basswoods.   They are taller than their European cousins but the flowers are less conspicuous and the scent is there but a little less apparent.   Basswoods don’t grow around here naturally; at least I have never seen one.   We are just past the edge of their range.  They are more common farther north and throughout the Midwest and they are very familiar in southern Wisconsin, where they tend to team up with sugar maples and – near lake Michigan but not inland - beech trees to form climax forests any place where the soil is deep enough.

Bees are fond of basswood flowers, which bloom in June and July. There is even a specific kind of honey made from basswood nectar.

Smell is persistent in memory and the linen smell brings back so many for me.  I remember the lindens were blooming when I went to Minneapolis for my MBA in June 1983 and even today the smell brings back those memories.  I bet I could do statistics better under a linden tree. There were a couple big basswood trees on the road from Chrissy’s family farm in Holmen and that image pops back too at the smell of the lindens.   But the most interesting memory connection comes from my visit to Germany in 1979.  When I smell the lindens, sometimes I can taste the beer.   Sense memory is complex. Evidently the sense of smell is tied closely to the emotional memory in the amygdala.  I am sure somebody has done scientific studies that explain it but I don’t feel like looking it up.

Someday I will plant a garden with lindens, lilacs, marigolds, hawthorn, honeysuckle, lavender & jasmine.  Those produce the nicest smells.

May 14, 2009

Agriculture, Silvaculture & Ordinary Culture

Landscape along Br 258 in Sao Paulo state, Brazil on May 10, 2009 

Land use patterns reflect history and cultural priorities.   Physically Parana looks a lot like the piedmont in Virginia or the Carolinas, but land use patterns are very different.  The southeast U.S. is dominated by relatively small holders, who practice mixed agriculture.    The average sized farm in Virginia is 181 acres.  Renato told me that farms of less than 1000 acres were uncommon in Parana.  They are actually more agribusiness, often run by professional managers using paid labor.   Forestry is even more professionalized than standard farming.  Valor Florestal is a good example.

triple timber truck along BR 258 in Parana, Brazil on May 10, 2009

There is some convergence between the U.S. and Brazil.  Our agricultural enterprises are becoming larger and more professionally managed too.  But we have a long way to go before we have a similar pattern.    Land patterns reflect history of settlement.    South of Parana is the State of Santa Catarina.  It was settled by immigrant families from Germany and Italy.   The farms there are smaller and more diverse.

Saw mill processing local pine in Jaguariaivia, Parana Brazil

Ownership patterns affect how incentives work and how land is managed.    A forest owner who also raises hogs or drives truck is more likely to put off harvests in times of low prices or be flexible with investments.    Virginia forest owners also are closer to their land, usually literally, than investors or big owners.   Hunting is common in the Old Dominion and many, if not most, Virginia forests are managed for wildlife as well as timber.   I see advantages and disadvantages to each form of ownership.  Professional management will produce more timber per acre and employ the latest scientific technologies.   On the other side, owner operators who live on or near the land, who walk across it themselves, have greater incentive to look to a bigger picture.

Forest road near Senges, Parana, Brazil on May 11, 2009

May 02, 2009

The Simple Life

Loaded truck moving Mariza to new apartment in May 2, 2009 

Mariza moved to a new apartment.  It was not far from her old place.  Espen and Mariza’s boyfriend – Chris – helped.  Alex had to work.  We had to make a few trips in the pickup truck.   I told her that she has too much stuff, but I don’t suppose that it true in comparison to most other people here age.

I retold the story that when I moved to Madison, I carried everything with me in a duffle and backpack.   It wasn’t really a completely valid comparison.  I didn’t have any furniture because I had apartments that had furnishings.  Mariza doesn’t have too much in the way of clothes or other things.   She is good about not having too much more than she needs.   The big thing is that she doesn’t yet have a car and uses the light rail system or walk.  

Mariza's street is below. It is a nice renewing neighborhood.  Not too far away, the nice houses like those you see in the picture are still boarded up.  The second picture is taken from Mariza's back window.  The neigborhood declines literally on the other side of the tracks.  Espen and I drove through some of these neighborhoods on the way home.  Espen told me about the Dave Chappelle routine on the subject.  Chappelle can be offensive, BTW, so viewer discretion is advised on the link.

Mariza's street on May 2, 2009 

 

View of Baltimore from Mariza's window on May 2, 2009 

Simple is better

A simple life is better. When people get too much stuff it begins to oppress them. It is sad to see so many of those storage places popping up. I understand that you might store your possessions that you use seasonally or episodically, but that is not what is usually going on. 

You just cannot own enough to make you happy.  Of course, it is possible to have so little that you live in misery.   This is not really a problem in the modern U.S. anymore for most people.   Most of us have the opposite problem, although sometimes we are so busy grabbing more that we miss what has happened. 

The really good gift a person can give himself or others is examined experiences  You are better off spending that money on something where you do or learn something new.   I think the examined part is also important.  Experience is a great teacher but only if you pay attention.   

I am not a proponent of recession, but it does have some useful effects.  People are becoming more frugal again.  The economic boom times really lasted from 1982 until the beginning of last year.   The two recessions were mild.  We all got used to having more and more.    Pew Research finds that people say they “need” fewer things than they did last year.  This is a good trend.   Of course 8% think a flat screen TV is a necessity and 23% say the same about cable TV and 31% evidently figure that a life w/o high speed internet is not complete.    I guess we didn’t know how poor we really were before these things were available.    

Below - sic transit gloria mundi.  The overgrown monument was set up by one of Baltimore's mayors, one John Lee Chapman. The original was set up in 1865.  It was renewed in 1915.  It probably was not on a freeway on-ramp at that time.  Now it is isolated by roads and a bit overgrown.   Notice in the background are trees-of-heaven.   Those are the invasive species I have to fight all the time on the farm. They are okay in the disturbed ground of the city.   The thing that makes them invasive is the same thing that makes them good city trees:  that they can grow fast in almost any conditions.

Mayor John Lee Chapman monument in Baltimore on May 2, 2009 

One more thing - this is the Mormon Temple.  I see it as I drive by on 495 on the way back from Mariza's house.   Usually I am going too fast to take a picture.  We hit a traffic jam today long enough to get a shot.  It is more impressive than my picture shows, but this is the best I could do w/o endangering myself or others. 

Mormon Temple on 495 on May 2, 2009 

April 26, 2009

Battleship Wisconsin

I went down to Norfolk for Virginia Forestry Association meeting.   I have a lot to write from the meeting, but Norfolk itself was interesting.  Among the attractions is the Battleship Wisconsin.

Battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk Va on April 24, 2009

I didn’t know that the battleship Wisconsin was docked there but I really enjoyed the visit.   You can find some of the details at this link.    

Battleship Wisconsin big guns on April 24, 2009

Battleships were the symbol of power for almost a century. They were made obsolete by the advent of sophisticated airpower & precise missiles, at least that is the usual explanation.  And it is true as far as it goes.  But there is more and it becomes clear as you walk around the ship.

Norfolk Harbor from Battleship Wisconsin on April 24, 2009

A battleship is very much a product of the mechanical age.   It reminds you of an old factory and it is a giant machine in the early 20th Century sense.   It is filled with precision instruments and designed to be run by machinists and engineers, lots of them.   Loading the guns took big crews.  Keeping the rust off the boat took big crews.   Oiling the cogs and cranks took big crews.   A modern ship doesn’t have to be so big to carry the firepower and it doesn’t need the really big crews to make it work. 

As with factories on land, a lot of the tasks once done by vast crews of semi-skilled men are now done by machines.  The precision devices are replaced by electronics.  The calculations done by scores of engineers are now done instantly by computers.   We can no longer afford battleships because we no longer can afford the big crews needed to run them and we no longer need them anyway since a much smaller package can pack a much bigger payload.

Teak deck on Battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk Va on April 24, 2009 

Above - the battleship deck is made of teak wood.  It protected the steel deck below.  I wonder how much it would cost for such a well constructed teak deck now.  I don't think I could afford even a small one at my house.

A battleship is beautiful and graceful.   Like a medieval castle, which was also a complicated engine of war, it now seems more a work of artful engineering than a very large lethal weapon.   But that is what it was.   It is worth seeing for all the reasons above.

Battleship Wisconsin silver service

Above - battleships were classy.  This is the silver set from the Wisconsin.  It was a gift from the people of Wisconsin to the USN.   My mother and father were taxpayers back then, so I guess my family helped buy it.

April 19, 2009

Espen @ George Mason

Espen will go to George Mason next fall.  He is excited about a program they have in gaming and simulations.  All that time in the World of Warcraft may yet pay off.   Gaming is much more than games, as I have written before.    Games will be the future on online collaboration and learning.

George Mason statue at GMU on April 19, 2009 

George Mason has the advantage of location.   They are in easy contact with all the government and government support activities as well as the high tech in N. Virginia and the biotech along the 270 corridor in Maryland.   It really is a superb area to work and learn.  Housing prices are a little high, but once you have the house there are lots of opportunities.    

I appreciate being in Washington with all the history and monuments, but I often forget about the dynamism of the suburbs.  N. Virginia’s tech and services produces more jobs for the area than the Federal government, but the presence of the Feds makes us recession resistant.  

Sorry my picture is blurred.  Think of it as impressionistic art.  This is the Patriot Center.

Patriot Center at George Mason 

George Mason went a little over the top with the welcome.   They evidently have a successful basketball team and they were using the sport excitement methods.   The Patriot Center is also hosting the Ringling Brothers Circus, so they took the opportunity to put on a show with a band and ring master.  It was interesting the difference with the orientation at University of Virginia. Virginia emphasizes tradition.  They remind you that Thomas Jefferson founded the place and laid out the plans and that the university has been there a long time.   Mason talks about the opportunities of the future.   It is much more of a competitive feeling at Mason.   I suppose they are both playing to their strengths.    Virginia is established and everybody knows its value.   Mason is hungry.     I was glad that Mariza went to UVA and I think it will be good that Espen goes to Mason.  You can get a good education almost anywhere if you work at it.   The world is full of opportunities. It is up to you to take them.

Espen got a summer internship with Lockheed-Martin.  He will be working on computer engineering 40 hours a week and they are actually paying him to do it.  I think that will give him a jump start on his future.  Those are the kinds of opportunities available around here.  I talked to a guy from Lockheed on Friday about a different matter and mentioned the internship.   He told me that they probably liked it that Espen had A+ certification (whatever that means) and that he probably understood online collaboration - again with the gaming.  It goes to show that value can be added in unexpected ways.  

The GMU program in gaming sounds good, but one reason you go to college is to expand your options and ideas.   No eighteen year old really knows what he wants.  I always thought that any kid who graduates with the same plan he came in with lacks imagination.   I am glad Espen will be close.  We still want him to live on campus for the experience, but Fairfax City is not a long way off.

April 16, 2009

Wet Protestors

Reasonable people make poor protestors.   It is just not a game they can win.   It is a lot like the one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.  Why?

Tea party tax protests in Washington DC on April 15, 2009 

I passed by a tax protest today.   They called it a “tea party”  after the famous tax protest in Boston.   On this cold and rainy day, maybe a thousand people showed up.   This is certainly enough to make a successful protest, but it wasn’t. They didn't have the usual protestor characteristics.

Let’s compare this to other protests.   I see a lot of them because of my business and living in Washington, so I consider myself a bit of an aficionado.  

Most protestors are well-behaved, but most protests have their share of semi-violent actors.    This means that the police have to show up in large numbers, shut down streets etc, which advertises the event, draws media attention and magnifies even a small protest.  I have seen protests of only a few dozen people magnified by the police and media attention into major events.    

Anti-globalist organizations are very good at this.   Small cores of activists break windows or vandalize property, drawing in the police.    They achieve their goal just by getting the police to show up.   Their best outcome, however, is for the police to hurt somebody, so radical protestors work hard to be provocative. That is how they get on the news and influence policy.  It is very hard to avoid becoming pawns in their game if your goal is to protect safety and property. Unreasonable people win this one.

The first protest I ever addressed was in Brazil when five guys showed up to protest our policy in Nicaragua.  I wouldn't let them in the Consulate, so they went outside to shout and carry on.  They stood at the corner in front of a fruit stand and a bus stop.  When they started to shout, the crowd buying fruit & waiting for the bus looked in their general direction.  At that time the journalist snapped a picture and the story said, "Hundreds Protest U.S. Policy."  I complained to the editor, but it didn't do any good.

The tax protestors were reasonable and the police knew it.  They didn’t shut down any streets.  There were not massive numbers of cops and I didn’t see any media.   If a tree falls in the woods.

Another thing a protest obviously needs is protestors, the more the better.  Think about who is likely to protest regularly.  People with jobs and responsibilities cannot take the time off, so they are generally out of the mix. Protests anywhere near a college campus benefit from a large number of young people w/o much to do and protests can be fun.   

The habitual protest must also be a generalist.  If you are interested in a few things and really take the time to understand them, you will be an “expert” but not a protestor simply because opportunities to protest in your specialty will be uncommon.   That is why a more-or-less professional class of protestors has developed.   They are generally anti-whatever and they form the core of most protests.   They are the ones who know the chants and they are the ones with all the cool props and costumes.   They know how to draw attention and how to provoke the police.  They also know how to get out of the way so that more casual protestors can get hurt.  It makes a much better story if a local “non-professional” gets pushed by the cops. 

As you can probably tell, I am not greatly enthusiastic about protests.   The right of peaceful assembly is an important right in a democracy, but there is not virtue in using it too much.    It is a tool and as with all tools it can be used for good or bad purposes.   Unfortunately, those wanting to create disruptions are much better able to use this particular tool than reasonable people.

Protestors highjack normal civil discourse.   They can intimidate and can magnify small concerns out of context, as I discuss above.  It annoys me when journalists cover protests almost to the exclusion of whatever the protestors are complaining about.  Television is especially guilty of this, because of its need for compelling pictures.   When you see those pictures, it is good to remember that you are watching a type of theatre.  You are almost never seeing the spontaneous will of the people.  It is almost always a powerful interest groups carrying out politics by other means.

Anyway, I don’t know what will come of the tax protest.  I am convinced that I will be paying higher taxes in the future and there is not much that can stop it.   Almost half of Americans hardly pay any Federal income tax at all and the lower 20% actually gets significantly more back in direct payments than they pay in taxes.   Taxes are supposed to pay for our common expenses (the ones helping us establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity).  The rich should pay more, but everybody should pay something.

April 15, 2009

Loose Ends in Mid April

A lot of things make me stop and think.  Sometimes I remember to take a picture, but I don’t have enough for a full post.  Here are a few short notes. 

FDR original monument in Washington DC on April 2, 2009

Above is Franklin Roosevelt’s ORIGINAL monument.  The one he wanted.   The one he had before they built the elaborate one down near the river.  Below is the explanation.

Franklin Roosevelt monument plaque in April 2009

Below is "nature at work."  It is very touching how we pretend to preserve.  I am glad they save this tree, but it seems a little strange to make such a Federal case of advertising it.  Maybe just do it.  I don't like this because it makes an artificial distinction between nature and non-nature.

Nature at work sign near Dunn Loring Metro on April 10, 2009 

Below is nature REALLY at work.  The developers did a good job of creating a drainage.  It doesn't just run off, but rather pools and soaks in. 

Soak away zone near new construction near Dunn Loring Metro stop on April 10, 2009

The fountains in Washington now have flowing water again after the winter.

Fountain on north side of Capitol on April 14, 2009

Below is an interesting sign in Baltimore.  Read it a couple times.

Sign on Baltimore street on April 15, 2009

Below are new oak leaves on April 14, 2009

New red oak leaves near Capitol on April 14, 2009

Below is crabcake platter at Koco's bar in Baltimore

Crabcake platter from Koco's bar in Baltimore

Below is the advert for an exhibition at the Newseum.  I don't think it is right that they pair Lincoln with the clown that shot him.  

Lincoln exhibit at Newseum

 

April 10, 2009

Life is Endlessly Interesting

You have to look for changes & there are so many things going on the time.

Below are a couple of guys advertising for Gold’s Gym.   I couldn’t capture their skill and speed on the still picture.   They twirled the signs and threw them up in the air.   I don’t know if many people were persuaded to join Gold’s Gym, but they certainly got a lot of attention.

Guys advertising Gold's Gym on April 10, 2009

 

Below a building I have been watching in Arlington since last fall is almost done.    I have included the previous picture. 

construction near Ballston

Building in Arlington VA on March 10, 2009

Below is the Capitol at various seasons and moods as I see it on the way to work.   The light and warmth are returning.

Capitol & Indian Museum

Capitol at night

US Capitol just after dawn on January 2, 2009

Looking toward the U.S. Capitol through the snow on January 27, 2009

Capitol in the morning on March 2, 2009

US captiol at 8 am on March 23, 2009

US Capitol on April 10, 2009 at around 8:30

Below is my bike trail and Shreve Rd in Falls Church VA on March 9

W&OD bike trail in Falls Church VA on March 9, 2009

April 04, 2009

Loose Ends from March

Sometimes I come across interesting things, but there is just not enough to write a whole post re.  Here are some of them.

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Self-driving Monster Tractors

Below is a giant tractor I saw on a farm on the Northern Neck.    It can drive itself.    It is equipped with a GPS, so once it learns the field it doesn’t require a driver to drive.  GPS is a fantastic technology that has gone from unbelievable science fiction to practical commonplace within a few years.   Soon I wonder if trucks and trains couldn’t drive themselves.   They would just need some kind of collision sensing systems and some of those are already available.

Big tractor that can drive itself

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Green Buildings

Below is a LEED building.  It is theoretically built to good environmental standards, a “green building,” but  LEED is the elitists brand for “greenness.”     I think in the long run Green Globes will be the way to go.  I admit that I am a little annoyed with LEED.  They don’t recognize tree farm wood as ecologically sustainable and if they don’t like my forest I don’t like them.   They also tend to favor European sourced wood over North Americans supplies.  I think we should be more interested in actual environmental achievement than in the political correctness.  The narrow definition of sustainable timber also raises the cost of building.   Read more about the comparison here.  American Tree Farm System tend to be smaller land owners.  We are not so politically savvy, but we do a good job with our trees.

LEED building in Washington DC in March 2009 

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Pulaski

Polish glassmakers were among the first settlers at Jamestown and Polish heroes like Pulaski and Kosciusko participated in our war of independence.   Kazimierz Pulaski wrote to George Washington, "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.”  At the recommendation of Ben Franklin, Washington took him on.   Pulaski is called the father of the American cavalry.   He died of wounds he got at the battle of Savannah in 1779.  Below is his statue on Freedom Plaza near the Whitehouse.

Pulaski on Freedom Plaza in March 2009

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Willard Hotel

The Willard used to be the classiest hotel in Washington.  Lincoln stayed here.   When Grant came east, he checked into the hotel.  Grant was an unassuming man and nobody really noticed when he came in, until the clerk read the name on the register. 

Willard Hotel in Washington DC.  Lincoln stayed here

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Pomonkey

This is a local small town in Maryland.  I don’t know how it is actually pronounced.  I just think it is a very funny name.

Pomonkey a small town in Maryland

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Erodible Soils

Soils in tidewater Virginia are a mixed bag because they have often washed down from other places.   They are also not very stable and erosion is a constant challenge.    This picture shows some of the soil stratification.   It picture is not an example of erosion per se.    The farmer who owns the land uses this soil to make berms to protect other soils.

Erodible soils on the Northern Neck of Virginia

April 02, 2009

Smithsonian Roof-top Gardens

Smithsonian garden looking south from castle on a foggy morning April 2, 2009 

I am beguiled by springtime in Washington.    Today it was warm, with a little drizzle.  I did my morning telephone call in the garden in front of the Smithsonian.   I never really thought about it before, but this is a roof garden.  There is a significant museum complex below the ground.

Smithsonian roof garden and underground museum complex 

Since it is on ground level, it doesn’t look like rooftop garden, but it has the characteristics.  The heated rooms below make the dirt in the gardens above significantly warmer, so plants from further south can thrive and they can come out earlier in the season. 

Robin on Smithsonian garden on April 2, 2009 

I can include pictures, but they can't convey the smell of the air heavy with the fragrance of flowers and earth and I can only mention the sounds of the birds.    A few minutes in the garden put the whole day in the proper perspective.

March 31, 2009

Springtime in Washington

It has been a cooler than average spring, but we are getting there.   Today I met Chrissy for lunch up near the U.S. Naval Memorial.  It is around a ten minute walk from my office and it was very nice today.  I don't have much text, just some pictures from a warm spring day. 

Kits on Capitol Mall flying kites on March 31, 2009

Above are kids flying kites on the Mall

Glrove of magnolias flowering near National Gallery of Art on March 31, 2009 

Magnolia grove near National Gallery of Art

Flowers in John Marshall Park near Pennsylvania Ave on March 31, 2009 

Springtime in Washington in John Marshall Park

John Marshall Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 

John Marshall, longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  His rulings shaped the Constitution.  Among the key opinions:  Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803); Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. 87 (1810); McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819); Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518 (1819); Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264 (1821); Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824); Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832); Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833)

Grand Army of the Republic Monument on March 30, 2009 

Monument to the Grand Army of the Republic

Navy Memorial world map 

US Navy Memorial.  Look closely.  The patio is a map of the world.  Those guys are walking across Texas and Mexico.

Horse tamer statue 

Horse Tamer near world commerce center

Fountain at Navy Memorial in front of Archives on March 31, 2009 

Fountain at Navy Memorial.  In background is the Archives Building

March 04, 2009

A Walk up the Hill

I went up to Heritage for a lunchtime lecture.  It was funny and amusing.  You can watch it at this link.  

Capitol in the morning on March 2, 2009

On a tangential subject, this video is also funny.

Path on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2009

It was cold today, around 20 degrees and wind out of the north, so the walk up Capitol Hill was a little uncomfortable.   It was not so bad on the way back and it looked nice in the bright sunlight with the blanket of snow.   I have included some pictures.

Oak trees on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2009

It is supposed to be warmer by the end of the week.   It is hard to believe, but spring will be here really soon.

Robert A Taft Memorial on March 3, 2009

Above is the Robert A Taft Memorial and Carillon.

Teamsters' Union HQ on March 3, 2009

Above is Teamsters' Union Headquarters.

Japanes Zelkova near Grant Memorial on March 3, 2009

Above is a beautiful zelkova.   Notice the graceful curves.    I have been passing this tree for around ten years.  It is growing fast and its curves are getting thicker.

It remind me of why Americans are fatter today.   It is not the only reason, but it is a reason. 

Years ago, Pepsi couldn’t compete with Coke because Coke had a very attractive vase shaped bottle.  The bottle is important because it is part of the total package.  Most people really cannot tell the difference by taste alone.  Pepsi tried lots of bottles; nothing worked.  But Pepsi executives knew that the actual soda cost almost nothing. The big expenses were in marketing, bottling and distribution.   They also knew that people would finish off a bottle, even if it had more in it.  They call it unit gluttony.  So they could afford to make bottles bigger, give away “free” soda and still sell as many bottles.  Coke had to match the offer, but as you make the curvy bottles bigger, they become less attractive.   This is a curse of all curvy things. 

Fat woman at Universal Studios Orlando Florida in March 2002

Pretty soon lots of things came in bigger packages and super sizes.   People finished them off and demanded more. Today everything is bigger and lots of things are thicker around the middle, just like my tree.

February 24, 2009

A Note From a Virginia Tree Farmer

I am a Virginia tree farmer.   In addition to traditional forest products, I know that my land is helping to protect water quality, cleaning the air, giving wildlife a place to live and just making the world more beautiful.   If you are interested in learning more about tree farming, please feel free to contact me for a personal point of view, or contact the tree farm system at the links below.  

JohnsonMatel tree farm stream management zone SME

We all depend on each other in our interconnected environment and nobody can do it alone, so I joined the American Tree Farm System.  This hooks me in to people who can help me do a better job and connects me to others who need me to help them.   It makes me feel good that the things I do on my land and the plans are make are “forest certified” by an organization with long experience in making forests sustainable.   I recommend that anybody who owns even small woodlots consider becoming a certified tree farmer.

American Tree Farm System signs

A lot has been changing in the woods.  We have learned how to grow more wood on the same land.  We know better how to protect and restore soils.  It has become more crucial to guard water resources and we have a whole new commitment to removing excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.   Besides markets for timber, we now have markets for ecological services.  We have a lot of great partners in Virginia. 

The health of my forest and our environment depends on the choices made by other Virginian and other Americans.   That is why we all need to be concerned about each other.   No individual or group can come up with a comprehensive plan for a sustainable environment.   But together we can, as we all make decisions based on our own unique knowledge, intelligence, imaginations and priorities.   Information is important in making choices and every tree farmer is on the cutting edge about his/her own farm.  I try to share my experience through my blog on forestry.    And I told the story of how I came to buy my own forests at this link. 

April 30, 2008

Hot Lanes & Direct Democracy

hot lanes va

Above is the interchage at 495 and 66 - Richmond or Baltimore.  That building in the middle is the Dunn Loring Metro Station, so you get to see several parts of the transit puzzle.

They are building “hot lanes” on I-495 near my house.  Hot lanes are special lanes where people pay a premium to drive.  The price is based on the traffic conditions.  When there is a lot of traffic, the price is higher.  This means that people choose to trade time for money and travel time is more predictable. 

We need to address traffic congestion and building more or wider roads won't work.   Charging for use based on demand makes so much sense.   Currently we allocate space on the road by making people wait in line.  It is the same way the Soviet Union distributed bread with the same result.     

I am interested in these kinds of innovative traffic solutions, so I went down to the Virginia Dept of Transportation (VDOT) information session at Luther Jackson Middle School not far from my house.  There were around 200 people at the meeting.   The most boisterous among them (us) expressed outrage at the hot lanes.  Nobody wants any new roads in his neighborhood and people complained that hot lanes were just ways to let the rich avoid traffic.   

It is a challenge of direct democracy.   We experienced the same sort of thing in New Hampshire.   Our community wanted to put in a sewer system, but some of the old guys figured out (correctly) that they would not live long enough to justify the initial investment, so old Mr. Parker or old Mrs. Winthrop got up and complained.   Nobody wanted to cross them, so nothing happened.    Some of my neighbors at the VDOT meeting wanted to stop this project.  Fortunately, the VDOT people are made of sterner stuff, or maybe they don’t care as much re public attitudes.    Hot Lanes WILL be built in N. Virginia.  There are already hot lanes on I-394 in Minneapolis, I-25 in Denver, SR-91 in Orange County,  I-15 in San Diego & I-10 in Houston, Texas, but Virginia’s  is evidently going to be the biggest private-public partnership for hot lanes in the world.  Read more about Virginia hot lanes at this link.

Actually, I am not sure what the real attitude of my fellow Virginians is re hot lanes.  The loudest people complained loudly and used the pronoun “we” very liberally.  After the meeting, I talked to some people who seemed less opposed.   Nobody likes a new road in their yard, but many people are reasonable and understand that this particular project is good. 

It reminds me of the old joke.  The Lone Ranger & Tonto are fighting a group of Indians and losing.  The Lone Ranger says, “It looks like we are surrounded, Tonto.”  Tonto replies, “What is this ‘we’ Kemosabi?”

Chrissy attended a similar meeting at the same time I was doing the hot lanes.  Hers was re new buildings near the metro.  We (CJ and I) favor density near the metro.   It is good for the environment and good for our community, but current residents are often against it.  They want to shut the door behind themselves. 

Our  views on development generally make Chrissy and me as popular as skunks at a garden party, at least among the activists who just assume the local residents will toe the anti-development line.   But I think we are doing the right thing.    Greater density near the metro and hot lanes are solutions that address the problems of traffic and congestion.  Developing where we are means saving farms and forests farther away and helps use all that expensive infrastructure.   The alternative, just opposing change, solves no problems, although it might make our lives temporarily easier.  But it is sort of like the Mr. Parker or Mrs. Winthrop attitude.