Cutting, marking and scouting

I know my land like I know that back of my hand, and if you ask me to describe the back of my hand w/o looking at it, I cannot tell you in any detail. Today I did a some cutting, some scouting and some marking.

Our December prescribed fire is less than a month away. I am preparing by making lanes, so that we don’t get stuck in the brambles and the fires can be more easily directed. I admit that I maybe am getting a little carried away, since I like to use my cutter. I am also cutting around and marking bald cypress, since I do not want the fires to kill them.

It is much easier to find them now, since they have are in their rust red fall colors. I am pleased to find more than I thought there were. There are some very little ones that I planted last spring and the bigger ones that Eric Goodman planted in 2012. The older ones are almost sure to survive if I give them a little help. I will need to be very careful with the new ones.

Speaking of not knowing the back of my hand, i.e. my land, I had to scout along the edges of the SMZ. Our plan is to let the fire drop into the SMZ, where it will die out, maybe doing a little good by clearing some brush. However, I wanted to be sure that actual streams would be there as the last line of defense, should things not go as we want. I was glad to confirm that the streams form a continuous barrier.

Both belt and suspenders

In an abundance of caution, I want to make a black line along the stream before we do the rest of the fire. I tested the duff. It does not easily burn, which is good in this case. I want to fire to die out when it hits that layer. Of course, I don’t know what the precise conditions will be o/a December 9, but my assumption is that it will not be that different.

I think the land is ready and there is not much more that I can do to prepare. Hope to make is easier for Adam Smith and DoF. In fact, it might be better for me to leave it alone now. It like playing a video game. As soon as I get one thing done, another seems to show up. But I am at the point of very diminishing returns. I can clip now, but I will be clipping what the fire will get anyway.

It will be great to see what wildflowers come up after the fires. After the 2017 fire, it was really fun to see the succession of wild fire regimes. It should be even more interesting now that we have added more variety of seeds. And I have new seeds to spread – some I gathered and others I bought, so we will have the full panoply of forbs and flowers.

My picture is are trees against the sky this morning. There was a woodpecker in the tree, but the picture could not catch it. I think the picture looks artistic anyway.


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Food through my ages

What food did you like and how has it changed? – My story worth for this week.

I grew up in the days of Wonder Bread and Oscar Meyer wieners and simple foods in general. Milwaukee in the 1960s was not a mecca for a variety of foods, at least around where I lived. We did not even have a McDonald’s until I was in 10th grade. I tried my first Chinese food when I was already in college. I don’t know if you can call Taco Bell Mexican food, but my first exposure to that sort of food came when I was about sixteen.

Simple foods to start

My mother’s food was good, but simple – meat and potatoes, although never steak. I had my first steak when I was in college. Pot roast and pork chops were our main meet dishes, along with beef stew and backed chicken. We had a lot of spaghetti, Kraft Dinner (macaroni & cheese) and lots of potatoes – mashed, backed and scalloped. My mother’s spaghetti was very simple and not very Italian. Meat with tomato sauce. My cousin married an Italian woman, Irma, and when they lived upstairs from us, I got very good spaghetti. This was when I was already in college, however, and would come home on visits. I admit that I made sure my father told Irma when I would be home, so that I would have her great spaghetti waiting. I have a story about her that I think is funny. Good thing about spaghetti is that it is as good, better maybe the second or third day.

Salamander in the basement

It is not so much about her as the situation. I had a pet, a red and black salamander. He lived in a terrarium in the basement. I forgot to put the top on right one day and he escaped. I couldn’t find him and presumed him dead. Later, must have been years later because I was off at college and on a visit home, my father told me that he “wondered about” Irma. “Wondering about” someone was his code for saying that he thought they were acting crazy. He told me that Irma claimed to see big lizards in the basement. Milwaukee is a northern city. We do not have big lizards just crawling around like in some places in the south. I asked Irma about that lizards next time I saw her. She said it was red and black and ran off when she saw it. She ran off too, so she was not sure where it went. I never did find this “lizard” but I think it was my salamander. Those things can live twenty years. Our basement was not what you would call “finished.” It still had a dirt floor in some places and the water pipes dripped (my father and grandfather had put them together and there was never a time when they were not drinking beer while they did the work). There were lots of spiders down there, so I presume lots of whatever it is that the spiders were eating. I expect a salamander might feel at home in an environment like that.

The best sausage in the world

Milwaukee has the best sausage in the world, and I learned to love, and still do love bratwurst, liverwurst & kielbasa. Most of our vegetables came in cans and I still like canned peas better than fresh ones and I like canned peaches, but I am not fond of “real” ones. I don’t like the peach fuzz.

College food: good and cheap, well cheap

I stayed in the dorms as an undergraduate and had the meal plan. My father paid for it (thanks, Dad). I kind of like cafeteria food, but it was not really very good much of the time. Breakfast was good. You could get eggs and ham or bacon. I liked that. I was lazy my first years in college, so I did not wake up early. Sometimes, however, I would get up early to get breakfast and then go back to sleep.

My budgets were much more constrained in graduate school, since I was on my own. With no meal plan, not much money and no cooking skill, I ate mostly baked potatoes and beans. I used to bake up a whole pan of beans on the weekend and then eat them the rest of the week. It is very cheap and so monotonous that you are not tempted to overeat. I lost maybe fifteen pound my first months at University of Wisconsin. My haggard appearance alarmed my father when I went home for a visit. He made sure Irma made extra spaghetti and some lasagna that I took back with me.


It was also during that time that I worked at McDonald’s. I worked the lunch rush. In addition to the big bucks they paid me for working there, I got a free meal. If you worked up to four hours, you got a small sandwich (hamburger of fish sandwich), small fries and a coke. My colleagues usually made sure my small fries were filled tightly and you could fill up Coke as many times as you wanted, so it was sufficient for my needs. I worked at McDonalds for nine months and then quit because they would not give me a $.05 an hour raise. They said I had the wrong attitude, didn’t take the job seriously enough.

The boss said that if I didn’t like it, I could quit. He seemed surprised when I walked out. By then, I was also working delivering mail and running errands at the History Department. Between the 20 hours at McDonalds and about the same at the History Department, I was putting in a full-time job. I wanted more time to study (I was a nerd in those days), so my courageous decision to walk out of McDonalds was not so courageous after all.

I ate things I did not like in quantities I did not want, but sometimes good

Poland – Zurek

One of the most important jobs of a Foreign Service Officer is to eat and drink for your country. This is harder than it seems. Anybody can eat when he is hungry, but it takes a real man to eat when he is full. At official receptions or dinners, I ate things I did not like in quantities I did not want. Our policy was to eat whatever the host gave us and claim that you loved it. Sometimes – often – the food was very good, but not always. You could get used it, however. There is a kind of sour soup you get in Poland called Zurek. I detested it the first time I tasted it. Continued exposure moved me to tolerate it, and by the time I left Poland I looked forward to getting Zurek. Now I miss it. Zurek is hard to come by in the USA. Most Americans have not gone through the learning process I did.

Norway – Lutefisk

Lutefisk is something I never got to like. They eat that in Norway and also in Norwegian communities in Wisconsin, so I was forewarned. Lutefisk is a kind of decomposed codfish. It has a kind of gelatinous texture, bad taste and strong and unpleasant smell. Norway in the old days was a poor society, with long winters and sparse rations. My guess is this kind of thing was at the bottom of the barrel and everything tastes good when you are really hungry. After a while, they made a virtue out of necessity and called it a delicacy. I guess I never gave it the chance I gave Zurek. Of course, Zurek was commonly served. Lutefisk was reserved for special occasions, thank God.

Brazil – Churrasco

Brazilians have churrasco. This is great. The main drawback is that it is too good. It consists of various cuts of meat, mostly beef, served on spits. It is all you can eat, and I learned to eat a lot. My favorite was something they call picanha. I think it is a rump or flank steak. The grill it on an open fire with lots of salt and then cut off thin slices, cooked crispy on the outside and still rare on the other side. They have these places now in the USA too. Near us are “Fogo de Chão” and “Texas do Brasil.” I would eat at those places every day, if I knew it would not soon kill me to eat so well.

Iraq – Goat grab

The Iraqis used to invite us a lot of “goat grabs,” where you had sheep or goat barbecued and put on a bed of rice. It tastes great, but I was less enthusiastic about how you eat it. They put it in the middle of the table, and everybody gathers around, ripping off pieces with their hands. I don’t mind using my hands, but as an “honored guest,” others rip off pieces and give them to you. You have to eat, bad form to turn it down. I always assumed (hoped) that everybody’s hands were reasonably clean, and I never got sick, so I figure it must have been okay.

There was a lot of good fellowship at the goat grabs. My translators were often behind the curve. A guy would say something evidently important and sincere, talking for a while. The translator would say something like, “he says the goat if fresh.” My several sentence replies were also distilled into a short phrase in Arabic. I am not sure communications were as well served as the goats. Even though I often could not understand what the others were saying to me, they seemed happy and friendly.

Good translation saves my life

Speaking of translators, my best was a guy called Sam Said. He got all I said and more. I may owe him my life, as he talked us out of a dangerous situation with an angry mob in Rutbah when I made the mistake of moving around a couple of parked cars in the market, leaving my Marines very close but so far away. I listened intently, smiled when it seems appropriate and answered questions, but Sam supplied all the cultural lubricant. Lucky, I had my best man with me. Meanwhile, the Marines were getting very nervous. “Sir, get the hell outta there.” I told them that I sure would like to do that but, I figured the safest way out was forward. It ended well. The guys were aggrieved by their treatment by local authorities. They had more trust in Americans and their anger drained with every second we listened. I told them I would inquire, and I did. I followed up a week later. The local guys told me all was okay, but I admit to having no independent way of knowing.

In Heaven there is no beer, no beer in Iraq either

A big problem in Iraq is that there is no beer, at least we were not allowed to have any. As friends know, I am fond of beer, but that is not the reason I missed it so much in Iraq. Beer (vodka in Poland, aquavit in Norway or Cachaça in Brazil, actually beer in those places too, or other alcohol) is a social binder. You drink to others, toast their virtue or just mention some commonality. I suppose you can hold up a piece of meat and say, “this bite is for you,” but it lacks.

These days, I often revert to old form. Today, for example, I will bake up a few potatoes and we will have potatoes and vegetables.

My first picture is me cooking at the Embassy for our “Burgers w/o Borders,” the event where we launched our participation in “Science w/o Borders”. Eventually, around 30,000 young Brazilians went to the USA to study in STEM. Next is a churrascaria in Goiania. Picture # 3 is a goat grab in Haditha, Iraq, followed by a picture of Polish bison vodka. Last is Arthur Treachers, the now defunct fish & chips place. I liked it a lot, but stayed with it when the quality dropped.

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Using forests to reduce CO2 works IF we harvest wood to build with wood

There is important nuance here. Mature forests store carbon, but they do not, on balance, capture much from the air. This is because decay balances growth in a mature forest. Forests may be the “lungs of the world” but mature forests produce about as much CO2 as they take it. It has to be this way, else forests would have long since absorbed all the CO2 in the atmosphere and ended life on earth as we know it.

Life giving CO2

We NEED CO2 for life to go on as much as we need oxygen. We just need rather less of it at this time.

How can planting trees take carbon out of the air? The short answer is that – on balance – they can’t. What? A lot depends on the conditions and what happens after.

Coal is fossil wood

Consider how coal was formed. Millions of generations of forests used the power of sunlight to convert billions of tons of CO2 into wood. Wood is about 1/2 carbon by dry weight. The key to forming fossil fuels is that the wood did not decay. Over time, geological forces pressed it into coal. Fossil fuel – coal is wood that did not decay in distant past epochs. When we burned that coal, we released the energy of billions of sunny days and also that carbon that had come with it.

It is a problem, but the thought of coal is awesome and poetic in its own way. What are our current prosaic options?

Forest life cycle matters

A mature forest stores, but does not capture carbon – on balance. I am going to stop saying “on balance,” so please just assume it going forward. A young forest captures carbon but does not store much of it. Most American forests these days are middle aged. They are transitioning from young to old because of the peculiar way they grew. There was a big forest regeneration in the early & middle of the 20th Century. These trees are now reaching maturity. I could go into that interesting story, but I need now to stick to this one. The thing to remember is that America forests have been capturing carbon for the last century but they are at the point where they will stop doing that.

Don’t let nature decide

If we “let nature decide,” nature will choose to release more carbon from our forests, given the age structures. (BTW – there really is not let nature decide option. Our choices are good human choices of bad ones.) But we have a wonderful option open to us, one that will allow carbon to be stored for another century, will keep our forests young growing and healthy and keep them capturing carbon. All the while this is going on, it will make our built environment more ecologically friends and more human friendly.

If we responsibly and regeneratively harvest our forests in ways that respect the forest ecosystem, we can continue to store carbon in roots and soils. This has the added advantage of improving soil texture, making it better able to absorb and hold water helping protect our drinking water and avoiding floods. It also helps us to prevent disastrous wildfires, landslides and just makes everything better.

The next step is to use the harvested timber to replace less environmentally benign options in building, materials like concrete and steel. Let’s be clear. Wood cannot replace these materials in all way, but in a lot of cases it can.

This is a virtuous cycle. There are wonderful benefits and literally no important costs (I will say again here on balance.).

Some references

Environmental costs of  concrete

Wood replaces concrete and steel

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Finding the little longleaf

Thank you Marisa Williams, Brendan Williams, Alex Matel, Colin Crimmins, Espen Matel, Andrea & Chrissy for planting longleaf for me last winter. I went looking for them with my cutter today on the farm, i.e. I cut around some of them so that I could see them better.

It was nearly impossible to see them, since they are in the grass stage and they look like … well … grass. But now that the grass is brown you can see the green longleaf.

We got these trees from Aaron Bodenhamer/ Louie Bodenhamer and will get the next ones there too. All the Longleaf on the Freeman place are from Bodenhamer farms.

Burn then plant

We are planning to burn the week of December 9 (depending on weather). The kids will come down soon after to plant the next few thousand longleaf, but I wanted to show them the green trees. The fire will make them look dead. They will NOT be dead, but it might be depressing to see them that way. We will inter-plant a little, but mostly plant the quarter acres clearings among the loblolly.

Protect the bald cypress

I am a little worried about the bald cypress I planted last spring. They are in the wetter areas, so the fires should not be too hot. As a precaution, however, I cleared around some of them and made a fire line for the rest. Labor intensive, but it makes me feel more secure. On the fire day, I will go around and start the fires at the edges so that it burns out. I think they will survive.

Rattlesnake master

I also gathered some of the wildflower seeds, especially from the rattlesnake master. I will spread them after the fires. Rattlesnake master is not showy, but the bees and butterflies love them. Seeds are not so easy to find, so I am glad I have a bunch. I admit that I like it because of the cool name.

It was a “can’t see to can’t see” day, i.e. I left home in the dark and came back in the dark. I pushed it a little, since I figured that I could find my way back along my cut paths even if it got dark, since there was a nearly full moon.

I took a picture of the moon. It did not come out well, but I included it anyway. The first two pictures are the little longleaf looking good. They spend their first year or two sending down roots. This is the grass stage. Then the grow up fast. They call it the rocket stage. Picture # 3 is one of the bald cypress. I put the orange string on some of them, since they will have dropped their needles by the time of the fire and impossible hard to identify otherwise.

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Save forests, cut trees

I know that I harp on this, but I think it so important. MOST people got it wrong when they think about forests, harvests & markets. Far from harming forest health, strong markets mean healthy forests and lack of harvests leads to widespread decline, disastrous fires & forest killing insect attack.

Saving paper doesn’t save trees

“Don’t print. Save a tree.” If you have that on your email, you are mistaken. There are good reasons not to waste paper, but these are related to energy costs and use of chemicals in paper manufacture. You do NOT save trees by saving paper. You do NOT save forests by using less wood. Of course, there are nuances.

Harvests and deforestation are not the same things. Deforestation for wood production simply is no longer an important issue in Europe or North America. To the extent that deforestation is an issue at all it results from forest being converted to other uses.

Real threats to forests are not harvests

These days deforestation results from suburban expansion, road building, energy exploration and even for construction of solar farms. And forest ecosystem are destroyed by big fires and insect infestations.

Ironically, the “environmentally aware” guys who build beautiful homes in the woods, using bamboo, recycled wood or even hemp, drive electric cars powered by a nearby solar farm and use that car to drive to protests against forest harvests are much more destructive to forests than the guys operating the chainsaws.

Save forests, use more wood

If you want to improve the health of American forests, you should use MORE wood, stipulating that it come from forests managed according to ecological principles are in harmony with a strong land ethic. This includes most forests in North America. Things are not what they were in the exploitative old days, but people’s perceptions have not caught up.

Preserve some, use some steward all

Think of our American land in three categories. Some places are so unique that we should try to preserve them. I say “try” because nature is dynamic and cannot be preserved, but some places can be stewarded to keep the local environment much as it was in a time we found it or like to remember it. Some places will be used intensively. There will not be much free living nature in the center of a big city, in a mine or under a road. The disruption may be short-lived or long term, but we have to accept these as the cost of our living on earth. Both the preserved and the intensely used make up a prominent but relatively small part of the total land area.

Most land should be stewarded not only sustainably but regeneratively. We have learned to do this in forestry, especially over the last decades and we know how to do it in agriculture, although big challenges remain in implementing what we know and learning more.

Let me emphasize that this is a human hands-on exercise, but one informed by science, experience and land ethic.

I am certainly not content with the current state of forestry. We can always improve and we are always improving, but the way to improve is by being involved, not by standing aside.

And please take that inane saying about saving trees by saving paper off your emails.

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What is your best advice when it comes to work?

MY story worth for this week – What is your best advice when it comes to work?

The simple short advice is not to do what you love rather to learn to love what you do. Don’t follow your passion, since passion is likely to be short-lived and not likely to be something others will pay you to do.

I understand that some people will see my advice as limiting. I see it completely the opposite. Completely the opposite. It is liberating. Rather than being the in thrall to our passions, we choose and create choices. None of us is “self-made” but we have more to do with what we become than anybody else, so it is better if we act on that.

Young & dumb

I didn’t follow my own advice at first, mostly because I had not yet developed those ideas and was unbelievably stupid. I just didn’t think much about the future. I just found myself in college and I credit my parents with getting me there. They just assumed I would go to college, so I did w/o much thought. I adapted to college but what was supposed to come after, I thought not much about. I didn’t “follow my passion”. I just drifted into studying history because it was interesting, and I could get good grades.

Going nowhere in particular to being nowhere at all

I stayed on this road to nowhere in particular until I realized that it was going nowhere at all. I decided that the quickest way to get on track (I won’t say back on track, since I was never on track) was to get an MBA. My biggest challenge was math. I disliked math and math seemed to dislike me. MBA required calculus and statistics.

Mathematical secret

It was then that I learned a secret of math – it requires more persistence than intelligence. I applied the same methods to math that I had applied to studying Greek – just keep going. I perceived that I could develop competence before I developed comprehension. It is counter-intuitive but there are some things you can understand only AFTER you can do them. This is analogous to learning to love what you do rather than doing what you love. It fits together and applies to many things in life and work.

Out of my depth

I was way out of my element when I got into the FS. FS had lots of unspoken rules. I didn’t know any of them and I didn’t know who to ask, so I observed and read books. This leads me to my next piece of career advice. You need to learn not only what to do but also how to behave. All organizations have culture and we all need to learn how to move in that culture.

All my career, all my life I have felt like I didn’t belong. They call it imposter syndrome. I used to fear it, but I have come to embrace it. My belief now is that if you don’t sometimes feel like an imposter, it is because you are one. My career advice is to embrace it earlier than I did. Understand that you are often playing at levels you think are beyond you, but they are not.

Never complain, never explain

My penultimate piece of advice comes from the FS of older generations. They used to advise “never complain, never explain and never apologize.” Of course, never say never, but there is wisdom in the general paradigm. There are reasons to complain, but don’t you just dislike chronic complainers? Explanations can be useful, but people who constantly explain to justify themselves are never respected. I believe in apologizing when I have done something wrong, but not to wallow in it and to move on to the next step quick as we can.

Nobody is out to get you

My final advice is maybe more an observation. Most of my career I thought the “they” did not appreciate people like me and would not promote me. We all feel put upon from time to time, sometimes most of the time, and we rarely feel treated fairly. If all of us think that, maybe none of us is right, or all we have done is rediscover the human condition. Despite its “obvious” dislike of people like me, the FS promoted me to very high levels. Maybe “rebels like me” are not very rebellious after all. What we do is normal, expected and maybe even useful. So, my final advice is to enjoy life and career. You are doing better than you think and it really doesn’t matter that much in the long run anyway. Get over it.

Sic transit gloria mundi – it seems like a threat, but it can also be a comfort.

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Short trip to the forest 2nd day

Early on a frosty morning. It was prettier than my pictures capture. I spent the day cutting around the little longleaf, as you see in the picture.

I cut a path along the SMZ after that. We are planning to burn the middle acres this winter and I want to back the fire down to the little stream, but I also want to make sure that we can get around easily so nothing goes wrong, hence the path. It was mostly clear, since the big trees shade out most of the undergrowth, but I cut through a few fallen trees and lots of green briar. Green briar is like natural barbed wire. It hangs from the trees and can stop anybody trying to walk along the stream side. This is bad enough when you are just walking; it might be a bigger problem when you are carrying a burning jug of diesel/gas mix.

First three pictures are from the morning. The frost made pretty pictures. I planted the little longleaf in picture #1 last year. The loblolly were planted in 2016 and are doing well. Picture #4 is the SMZ. We can burn down to the stream. We did this last year on the other side and it worked well. Last picture is the end of the day. It gets dark earlier now.

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Short trip to the forests

Down on the farms today for a beautiful cool fall day. I was greeted by a fallen log blocking the road. It would have taken me a hour with my hand saw, but I happy to see Larry & Dale Walker pull up with a chain saw. It was clear in a few minutes.

I was cutting around some of my little longleaf. I think it is helpful. I am not sure it is the best use of time, but I like to do it,so it is not like work. Ever since I got my good ear protectors and can listen (and hear) my audio books, I enjoy it a lot more.

I finished one audio book, a short one called “Big Business” by Tyler Cowen. He is a very original thinker. He wrote the book to debunk some of the myths of big business and to offer an explanation as to why so many smart people dislike business. There are a few reasons, principle of which is that they don’t make proper comparisons. The problems of business are the problems of humanity, but we blame business.

He also cleared up something I had heard but not completely. Mitt Romney got in trouble for saying corporations are people. He did say that, but the context was unfair. He went on to say that corporations pay money to people. They are pass through to people.

I started another book called “Dominion,” a history of Christianity.

It is just nice combining so many things I like. I like the audio books. I like to cut around my pines. I like to be in the woods and I like to have the chance to let my mind wander in these situations. I even get some exercise. The sweet life.

My first picture is from Pilot at Exit 104. I used to always take the gas pictures, but it got kinda redundant. But this time there was a big drop in gas prices. Don’t know why.

Other pictures are the Brodnax place. Nice day, but days are getting shorter.

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Chrissy’s birthday

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

And today (since it is now past midnight) is Chrissy’s birthday.

First two pictures are our usual beer photos. Others are “ballast,” pictures I took from around Washington last couple days.

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

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Canadian politics

he program was organized by Chris Sands, Johns Hopkins, and featured University of Calgary Professor Ian Brodie, former Chief of Staff to Canadian PM Stephen Harper talking about post-election politics in Ottawa.  The event seemed mostly for Hopkins’ students, who made up almost all the crowd of about thirty and were so much engaged that the program stretched two hours.  I met my old colleague Jim Dickmeyer, Acting Director, The Canada Institute.  Jim came into the Foreign Service a few months before I did.  We got to know each other when we worked in Brazil.

The focus of the program was Professor Brodie’s book “At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits of Political Power.”  He brought a copy of the book, but unlike many such book events, no books were on sale.  Brodie said that he wrote the book mostly for Canadians to understand their own government but was familiar with the U.S. system and would make comparisons to help us Americans understand.

Most Americans and most Canadians are aware of differences but rarely think about them, assuming presidents and prime ministers have different titles but similar prerogatives.  They do not.

Canada does not have the same system of checks and balances that we have.  In the USA the independent Congress checks the president.  In Canada, the parliament checks the prime minister only by changing power.   Canada expects that governments will change and that disciplines the PMs. Otherwise, they can do much more of what they want than a U.S. president.  This gives more power to career government officials.  Canada is not run as in the famous BBC series “Yes Minister,” he said, but there is some truth in that show for Canada as well as the UK.

There is some talk among political scientists that the provinces are the check on the PM.  There are only ten Canadian provinces, which gives each premier relatively greater weight than the governor of one of the 50 states.  There are some particulars among the provinces.  Alberta has most of the energy and Quebec in unique in many ways, but the provinces rarely get together to check the PM.

Brodie said that most federal governments wisely leave most local issues to the provinces.  The Trudeau government, in Brodie’s opinion, has interfered more and that is causing some tension.

In response to questions, Brodie got into some specific programs.

Canada has been trying to expand the pipeline from the oil and gas fields of Alberta to the Pacific, the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The federal government acquired the pipeline with the intent of modernizing and expanding it.  This has become necessary because of a big drop in American demand, after the development of fracking made so much American oil and gas available.   The oil producers are having trouble selling all their oil and cannot sell much natural gas at all.  The pipeline would connect to international markets.  Likely much of it would still go to the USA, but via the Pacific.

Brodie says that the federal government has run into all sorts of obstacles in getting the pipeline up and running.  This, Brodie says, is a problem much more serious than the already serious problem of shipping hydrocarbons.  It has become a test for federal effectiveness.  If they cannot get this done, it will seriously detract from the government’s reputation for getting things done.  This will affect investment not only in energy, but also in other potentially controversial activities such as mining.  They are also missing opportunities to leverage pipeline construction with other issues, such as the Columbia River Treaty, also a big producer of energy.

Answering a follow up question, Brodie said that Alberta oil producers have learned to produce oil with much less a carbon footprint.  They did this mostly to save money.  Energy is a cost after all, but it has ecological benefits.

Speaking of political issues, Brodie said that Canada has some of the same issues as the USA with social media.  Canada once had a controlled and calm media.  Not anymore.  Brodie worries that the battle of ideas had degraded into a battle of online mobilization.  This is chaotic and beyond the control of the parties.  When asked about political action committees (PACs), Brodie said that they have less power than those in the USA because they are prohibited from spending large sums during elections, elections are call, not scheduled, and the election periods are short.  PACs tend to be used for intra-party discipline rather than to influence elections directly.

Questions and answers also included details about personalities I did not know about. Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient background to put them in context.

Canada’s New Government: The Limits of Power

by The Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University SAIS

Event Information

University of Calgary Professor Ian Brodie, former Chief of Staff to Canadian PM Stephen Harper on post-election politics in Ottawa

About this Event

The Center for Canadian Studies is pleased to welcome distinguished University of Calgary Professor Ian Brodie to discuss the lessons and insights from his new book, At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits of Political Power (McGill Queen’s University Press, 2019). Dr. Brodie served as Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the Conservative minority government from 2006 to 2008, and will discuss the outlook for the newly elected Canadian government. Senior Research Professor Christopher Sands, Director of the Center for Canadian Studies will serve as moderator.

Posted in Book Reviews | Comments Off on Canadian politics