Quick Links

Commentaries, otherwise unpublished

Closing the arc

October 19, 2017

Tags: California fires, Santa Rosa, powerlines

Closing the arc

When I read the first reports of the fire bust in Napa-Sonoma, I thought it had the signature of an electrical storm. A frontal passage would also explain the winds, which follow this time of year from the high pressure in the front's wake. But I could find no confirmation of (more…)

When Johnny Cash walked out of a burning ring of fire

September 13, 2017

Tags: fire, Johnny Cash, condors

Sometimes culture and fire collude, sometimes they clash, and sometimes they just collide. When celebrities are involved, an episode can become a curious cipher on American fire, and when those celebrities are Johnny Cash and California condors, the event can transcend the quirky into the just plain bizarre. Of course it happened in Southern (more…)

NASA vs. NARA: taking the measure of the two cultures

August 17, 2017

Tags: NASA, NARA

Taking the measure of the two cultures

The two cultures may share topics, problems, and occasionally the same cranium, but they rarely mix. When it comes to practice, my usual index is simple. The sciences deal with figures, and the humanities, with figures of speech. Numbers act on the marketplace of ideas as monetizing (more…)

Words on fire

August 17, 2017

Tags: fire, words

Words, texts, language - these are normally considered the stuff of the humanities. But words, good, bad, and ugly, saturate fire management. They have consequences. We ought to understand them better

Words matter. They matter in themselves, because their use reflects choice and imparts information. They matter because they contain analogies (more…)

Buzz Off

July 1, 2017

Tags: Buzz Aldrin, MIT 150th anniversary

A reflection on Buzz Aldrin on the occasion of MIT+150 seminar on the future of exploration.

It was a symposium dedicated to the future but it kept getting hijacked by the past. MIT+150 “The Future of Exploration” was part of the university’s sesquicentennial, a celebration of previous accomplishments that, it was asserted, would be surpassed by the dazzling achievements to come. But every time Buzz Aldrin entered the room all eyes turned to him. (more…)

"Science supplies the solution"

July 1, 2017

Tags: NAS, Workshop on Wildland Fire Research

It was an auspicious entry to an august setting amid desperate times.

The National Academy of Sciences had been established in 1863, amidst the American Civil War, to bring scientific advice to the federal government. Its imposing building sits on the Constitution Avenue, facing the Mall. Its logo features a torch. Its Great Hall spills into the auditorium beneath a mural that depicts Prometheus carrying flame heavenward. For fire folk tasked with discussing the future of wildland fire science at a time when fires were hollowing out the U.S. Forest Service, it couldn't get more distinguished.

The Workshop on a Century of Wildland Fire Research, hosted by the Academy on 27 March 2017, gathered many of the best minds in the field. (more…)

The gift outright

July 1, 2017

Tags: ASEH, 40th anniversary, presidential slam.

I have to prove - contrary to written evidence - that I can be a man of few words. So let me turn to poetry.

Specifically, to Robert Frost's "The Gift Outright." "The land was ours before we were the land's...." It's one of the grand themes of American environmental history, and (more…)