Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Television Bites Man

As I lean forward in my armchair, straining to filter the truth about some swollen, beer- gorged celebrity from the composite wisdom of six psychotherapists, one journalism major, and the obligatory, disbarred legal counsel, all expressed in manifold, high-rise discord, I am struck by the fact that this person has made a career out of convincing observers that he is someone other than he really is.

Now this has great implications, only one of which I am aware of. So long as I am convinced he is actually someone else, I would never really meet him, or her for that matter, despite having spoken to and glad-handed with his closest companion, who, sad to say, doesn't know the first thing about this person behind him making him do all of this prattle. Wait a second, aren't you taller in real life? Who speaks to me?

I will continue to bark at the television screen hoping for answers.

Well, then, the television screen barks back, and it is an argument again. Then I see this statement flash before me: 'Atmospheric CO2 enrichment is a boon to the biosphere and it brings prosperity and growth to both man and nature.' I fall back into my chair. Wow. Who said that? I think I get it: we are steadily improving our lot in life through the production of unique polymers, odorless gases, and inorganic wastes. Yes! The best is yet ahead! Wait until you see what we wheel out of our laboratory tomorrow!

Why, look, it's more of us!

This reminds me of the words of H. W. Campbell in his landmark work, Campbell's 1907 Soil Culture Manual - A Complete Guide To Scientific Agriculture as Adapted to the Semi-Arid Region. ¹ This was a book that inspired thousands of people in the early 20th century to migrate to the western Great Plains in the United States to farm the land. It gave detailed instructions on dryland farming technique. If one followed his instructions closely, Mr. Campbell claimed:

"Science in soil culture and the more perfect adaptation of scientific methods to farming would result in doubling the crops in the great semi-arid belt of America. In later years I have made the statement still stronger and have declared, to the amazement of some of the doubting ones, that crops have not been one-fourth of what they should have been in this region."

This sounds familiar. But there is more - his book is 320 pages long.

"God speed the day when the people will realize that these vast plains were not intended to be mere grazing lands for the few cattle companies, but that they will give support to many small herds and flock cared for by many men, and that all the grass and cereals of the best agricultural regions of the earth will be grown here in abundance."

Somewhere on earth, an alarm goes off. Wait, does he mean to say that this scientific method only works with the assistance of God? Was he ex-cathedra when he said this? I need to know.

"A few years hence and the so called 'plains' or 'Great American desert' of the map makers will be dotted with splendid farm houses and great red barns. There will be rows of trees for wind-breaks and shade. There will be orchards and gardens...Looking far into the future one may see this region dotted with fine farms, with countless herds of blooded animals grazing, with school houses in every township, with branch lines of railroads, with electric interurban trolley lines running in a thousand directions, with telephone systems innumerable, with rural mail routes reaching to every door. It is coming just as sure as the coming of another century. The key has been found and the door to riches has been unlocked. How many millions will be supported upon this region? Nobody knows. But the day will come when those who tell of the hesitancy of their forefathers about trying to subdue this region will have to modify the truth if they are to be believed."

Exhibit A:

I like to imagine that Mr. Campbell was never seen again. But if I were to meet him, I wouldn't recognize him anyway.

¹ No longer in print, rarely seen anywhere, but available from Internet Archive.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

All For Naught

I hear that they say that canoeists are released at staggered intervals when entering the Boundary Waters, in order to prevent an accumulation of canoeists at the entry points. This can be an unsightly mess. Yet, there are days that seem to drop off of the calendar from time to time and I have wondered if this would solve the problem. Would this improve canoe entanglement, traffic flow, rental shortages, even airplane arrival times? I use these events, or the absence of these events, to plan my week and I have found that it greatly reduces stress and eliminates a lot of work. So, having planned nothing every other day, a lot less than nothing gets done on my day off than were I to be working. This is why I hired myself, and, of course, to keep me company on off days.
So we were in North Dakota for the last half of September, shuffling about the relentless prairie. We never seem to find what we are looking for.

The Botanist, seeking absolutely nothing.

This is not always the case, but it is most often the case. Again, they say that 'the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.' I have wondered about this too. Suppose it is in a closed system, and all pieces of evidence are inspected and it is not found? Then what? Is it evidently absent? I don't know, but after walking though monocultures of invasive, adventive, noxious, introduced, and non-native species, I have to wonder, if it is not there, then is it not there? What should one expect in a field of Asiatic steppe grasses planted sixty years ago by terrified scientists? More terrified scientists? How rare are those?
As the fields turn white and shatter, and the soil blows along like a cat running from one's feet, and I see waves of heat rising from the prairie and the bones of bison protruding from a shale bank, I am terrified too; it seems that I am walking in the exact same steps that some agricultural agent did sixty years ago.
So I plod along talking to myself, while my wife listens in.

The Hired Hand, listening to absolutely nothing