On to Ontario

A great day traveling is priceless. I had such a day today, awaking in the warm gray weather of the Ontario lakes district after a long awaited overnight rain. The mid 70 degree temps were a welcome relief from the oppressive heat that has been following me across the continent for the past two months. Sure, cell phone coverage sucks and the internet is more a concept than a reality.

This morning I left my modest motel on a beautiful lake and drove towards Lake Ontario. I drove with the windows down and tasted different scents every few hundred yards. Barns were standing despite the laws of physics. Deep blue lakes rolled up to the edge of the skinny highway lined by pine trees that all bent in the same direction, with the centuries long prevailing winds. A bear cub bounced across the road in front of me. A bear. Really.

I arrived in Parry Sound at lunch time and had a lovely pickerel/walleye sandwich while overlooking the harbor. It was all too nice so I decided to stay for the night. WTF, I do not have a schedule so I booked a room, and then a cruise on Georgian Bay.

Parry Sound is a sweet town on Lake Ontario’s Georgian Bay, with 30,000 islands and a deep water port. The water is pure and sweet. Locals say that you can do four things with the lakes: swim, drink, boat or fish them. Houses dot the coasts, including multi million dollar places on the islands and they draw their water straight from the pure lake.

It was an unexpectedly beautiful cruise with pure blue skies. I was lucky that the two hour cruise happened during a music fest and my big boat had a killer band from Cape Bretton, sharp tunes for a lovely tour of the waters. I spent time with an extraordinary family from Mexico City, an actress/singer and her daughter, an international human rights lawyer. Life is great when you let it happen and not try to control it.

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Jim Marzilli

A former senator and state representative from Massachusetts, Jim Marzilli resigned from his Senate seat and went to Iraq with the National Democratic Institute on a democracy building project. Since his return he has continued to effect change through his contributions to several political and community-oriented organizations. In addition to supporting the Chico Mendes Project that is restoring the forests of the Guatemalan highlands and conservation projects in other places in the world, he spent the winters of 2013 and 2014 in Burma helping pro-democracy activists there. He hopes to return to Asia or Latin America and continue that work.

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I just left a live discussion between WBUR’s

I just left a live discussion between WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook and the magnificent food writer Mark Bittman. There are few people with such brilliant food technique and erudition as Bittman, and few who can draw it out like Ashbrook. It was a brilliant night.

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US focus shifts to Asia-Pacifica

US focus shifts to Asia-Pacifica

The world is paying close attention to Korea today but Asia-Pacifica became the focus point for the US two years ago, both militarily and economically. The old Atlantic alliance between the US and Europe and the more recent US obsessions in the Middle East and Islamic world are giving way to recognition that the Asia-Pacific region contains both the most political intrigue and the fastest growing economies in the world.

 The shift of military resources to address the threat from Korea has garnered the most attention in the popular media but even before the defensive buildup began the US was shifting military resources. It includes an enormous revamping of the base in Darwin, Australia for the Navy and Marines, allowing a great expansion of the US military presence in Asia-Pacifica and a reduction in the US presence in Okinawa, which is becoming increasingly problematic with the local Japanese population. By 2020 sixty percent of the Navy will be in Pacific instead of the 50-50 current balance between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Pentagon will send P-8 submarine-hunting aircraft, cruise missiles, Virginia-class submarines, coastal combat ships and F-35 fighter jets to Asian ports and bases in coming years.

Some of this is clearly driven by a desire to harden our presence in the face of China’s dominance in the region and, increasingly, worldwide. That point is denied by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, who last year said “…our new [defense] strategy and our rebalancing to the Pacific is not intended to contain China.”

It will not and it cannot. Both nations can flex their muscles but a hard war would result in a death toll unlike any ever experienced in history. 

Combined military spending in Asia this year will exceed European military spending. Almost every nation in the region wants more ships, jets and guns. That is certainly true of the US, driven by a weapons industry that sucks the lifeblood from the US economy even while it claims to be both a jobs producer and essential for our national security.

Nuclear North Korea is high on the list of weapons building nations in the region. It exploded its third nuclear device in mid-February with a relatively small bomb. It is on a path unlike all other nuclear nations, which started with big nukes and then shrunk them down to missile deliverable devices. North Korea is aiming directly for a missile deliverable system. It seems unlikely that it will use such a device in a first strike action, which would result in the virtual anihilation of the country but it will give it a credible deterent in its paranoid fear of the US and South Korea. The various ups and downs of North Korean belligerence give minor panic to China, which fears an influx of hundreds of thousands of impoverished and ignorant immigrants flooding across its border in the event of war.

Regional conflicts

Asia-Pacifica is rife with regional conflicts, some of which lead to military dust-ups. The conflicts are mostly driven by the demand for resources and wealth. Almost every country in the Asian-Pacific region, with the large and notable exception of Japan, had economic growth rates higher than the US and the big economies of Europe in 2012.

Japan and China have a long running dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, currently controlled by Japan. The demand for oil and fish are driving factors. The most recent outbreak occurred in January when Japan said a Chinese frigate put a radar lock on a Japanese navy ship near the islands, something China disputes. More recently, Japan signed an agreement with Taiwan to allow it access to the rich fisheries around the island, angering mainland China.

China is involved in other regional disputes involving natural resources. The Philippines arrested the crew of a 500 ton Chinese fishing vessel which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site, when it was illegally poaching fish in Philippine waters. The Philippines had earlier this year sought international arbitration over Chinese hostile actions in pursuit of Philippine resources.

China is claiming increasing sovereignty over international waters and even waters well within the boundaries of other nations, including the Panatag Shoal in the Philippines, using its superior numbers of fishing and military vessels.

Vietnam is currently seeking compensation from China for damages to a fishing vessel caused by military fire from a Chinese warship, the most recent manifestation of territorial disputes. The Spratly Islands are the longest running point of contention, heavily fortified by Vietnam yet claimed by China.

Numerous other regional disputes exist but the US Senate’s refusal to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas leaves it in a position to offer no help in resolving these disputes. So we send the Navy and the Air Force with the hope that our might will give strength to China’s regional opponents even while we try to work with China on economic ties and in controlling North Korea.

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Pull out all of the stops

Friends, politics and food are a perfect triumvirate, proved again this Saturday night at a dinner for five. I pulled out all of the stops: a Middle Eastern meze table, an Asian-influenced lobster and scallop bisque, pork loin braised in milk, Brussels sprouts in yogurt and date molasses, and carrots cooked in carrot stock and butter.  I even made a dessert, a flourless chocolate-chili cake with a sweet orange glaze and a dollop of maple sour cream.

Our first round of appetizers included the typical Middle Eastern olives and flatbread (pita bread) served with two dishes less commonly seen here in the states. Za’atar (pronounced ZA-ter) is a sublime herb mix I first discovered in Jordan. Dip a bite-sized piece of bread into an extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and blot at a shallow spread of za’atar. The herbs stick to the oiled bread. Pop it into your mouth. Grassy, herbal and floral flavors flood your mouth. It is a wonder it is not common in the US.

Recipes for za’atar vary by region and even within families but I think the essential ingredient is ground sumac. Recipes are often considered secret: it has been said that some women will not share their recipe for za’atar with their daughter-in-law, for fear that the son will not come home to Mother’s house for meals.  You don’t need to ask a mother-in-law for her recipe because you can buy prepared za’atar at Penzey’s, Christina’s or the Middle Eastern shops on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. Or make your own with the recipe at the end of this post.

The other special appetizer was muhammarah, also known as mujadarah. Typically it is a rough paste of pomegranate molasses and walnuts served on flatbread. I use almonds instead of walnuts so it is a little less earthy than the authentic. Almonds, pomegranate molasses and spices blend into a crazy good spread. It is a brilliant and easy dish that my dinner partners devoured. Last night I took it over the top and substituted some extraordinary argan oil for the more typical EVOO. Argan oil has a nutty round flavor that is beyond description.

< geek alert> Argan oil is one of the rarest edible oils on earth, coming from an endangered species of tree that has been exterminated everywhere in Africa except in southern Morocco. Fortunately, its rarity is now causing area residents to protect it, with assistance from UNESCO – you know, the UN organization that the US will no longer fund because it admitted Palestine as a member last week. A local women’s cooperative sells the oil from the nuts, halting the cutting of the trees for firewood. You would protect the trees too if you could sell the oil on Amazon for $100 per liter. Rest assured I paid a lot less in Morocco for mine. <end geek alert>

Good food calls for good drink. We sipped on wine and a cocktail I invented for the evening: vodka, clementine-infused vodka, fresh orange juice, Cointreau and more pomegranate molasses. I like nuanced drinks that reveal themselves over time.

We settled into the dining room for the next course, a riff on lobster bisque with Asian influences.  Rich lobster stock, local Cape scallops, amontillado sherry, cream and the saffron I harvested earlier in the day were more or less traditional. Wide sticky Thai rice noodles, nam pla (fish sauce) and tobiko (flying fish roe) were not.  I wanted a smooth mouth feel in the bisque, thicker than the broth and cream would create. The starch from the rice noodles, plus a tablespoon of finely ground arborio rice, delivered that smooth feel.

The Mediterranean inspired the main courses.  Pork loin braised in milk is a classic dish from Bologna, moist and tender pork with a rich nut-brown sauce from milk that was slowly reduced while braising the pork. I sprinkled thick slices of it with pomegranate seeds for a sharp contrast in texture, tang and color.

Brussels sprouts, briefly marinated in oil, were oven roasted under high heat and served atop a puddle of Greek yogurt and date molasses.  The date molasses were drizzled on the whipped yogurt, not blended, so every bite would have a different ratio of earthy to sultry sweet to tangy.  Carrots cooked on the stove at a low temp in carrot stock and butter for almost two hours were the purest essence of carrot flavor.

It was a beautiful and delicious plate, the pork with bright red pomegranate seeds, the green brussels sprouts on a bed of white and black sauce, the burnt orange of the carrots. I have finally learned “to plate” a meal, not just for flavor but appearance also. Miss Suzee appreciates the visuals.

I knew that I wanted a dessert that matched the dinner, lots of big flavors and contrasts. Since I rarely bake but am trying to cook outside of my comfort zone, I sweated this issue more than any other in the two weeks before dinner. After toying with a few dessert ideas I found a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake and played with it, including adding a few teaspoons of chili powder and toning down the sugar. What flavors go well with bitter chocolate and chilis? How about sweet, tangy, orange and maple? I whipped up an easy orange glaze, and sour cream with maple syrup. The dessert stood up on its own, thankfully, because I had a treasure to go with it.

Eight years ago I bought a special wine in Paris, a 2003 Sauternes that was expected to be one of the great dessert wines of the decade if I could only wait until 2011 to drink it. I did wait. We drank. I wish my wines were always so good. Life should be so sweet.


1 tablespoon of ground sumac

2 tablespoons thyme

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

2 tablespoons marjoram

2 tablespoons oregano

1 teaspoon coarse salt

Grind or crush the sesame seeds and toss all of the ingredients together. Simple, no? Of course most people don’t have ground sumac in their homes and will have to go to one of the aforementioned shops to buy it, so pick up a prepared mix and then experiment with your own version later.


1 cup of skinless almonds

2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon of dried red chili pepper (not a chili mix!)

¼ cup of dried bread crumbs

¼ cup of good EVOO

½ teaspoon of cumin

Pinch of allspice

Pinch of salt

I used skinless almonds instead of the traditional walnuts. Grind everything together. It will probably be easier to do the grinding in small batches in a spiced grinder than a blender or food processor, unless you are making a large batch. Don’t turn it into a smooth puree: let it maintain some rough texture. Taste it as you grind and adjust the spices. Don’t be afraid to add more pomegranate molasses if you are not tasting pomegranate love. Ditto for the ground chili.

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I want to work

I have alternately been heartened, dispirited, and then sometimes excited during the course of the “Arab Spring.” As a devotee of democracy who was bred in the world of hard American legislative politics, I would like to be part of the democraticization of the Middle East.  I went to Iraq in the fall of 2008 to build democratic institutions but my time there was short. I  am now enrolled as a student in the international conflict management graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.  School is great, but I would rather be where people struggle for, rather than study, democracy.

The world is always in transition, but perhaps never more than now in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. We sometimes get a single pass at influencing the world. I want to influence that world. I know my influence can only be small, that we build democracy brick upon brick, but I would rather be the bricklayer than the guy who is watching.

Last week I submitted my job applications for Yemen, Libya and Jordan.

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Protecting and restoring the world’s forests: Is REDD enough?

The Earth is being deforested by human activity. We cut and burn forests to clear land for agriculture to feed our triple–F needs: food, fuel and fiber. Then we introduce non-native species into environments where they overtake the natives, and to top it off, some of our economic activities encourage large but unintended forest fires. These activities all release greenhouse gasses (GHGs), principally carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere and contribute to global climate change.

The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), was initiated in September 2008 to address the role of deforestation as a contributor to global climate change. REDD is the primary international response to deforestation. Is it sufficient to deal with the problem of deforestation? Should it address development issues beyond its initial mandate, issues like water quality and the rights of indigenous people? Or is it another UN program to which parties attach ever increasing goals that may or may not be achievable?

 The “reducing emissions” problem simply stated:

Deforestation contributes the same amount of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere as all forms of transportation worldwide, approximately 17% of all anthropogenic sources, according to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Deforestation is the world’s second largest source of GHGs, after the energy sector.

 What is REDD?

REDD was initiated as a means to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation. It is now frequently seen as a way to address not just climate change, but many other issues including the transfer of payments from the developed world to the developing world for environmental services, preserving biodiversity, and safe-guarding indigenous populations. Is the REDD agreement flexible enough, does it have the capacity to grow and meet those ambitions?

The Bali Action Plan of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, COP 13, December 2007) obligates its member nations to negotiate an instrument that includes financial incentives for forest-based climate change mitigation actions in developing countries. COP 13 also adopted a decision on “reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action” with fairly standard language on capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer. It lays out a process under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Affairs (SBSTA) to address the methodological issues related to REDD emissions reporting. The transfer of satellite technology from the developed world to the developing world will facilitate forest monitoring, if it is done in a way the developing world can afford, but technology won’t stop forest clear-cutting. As every carpenter will tell you, “measure twice, cut once, not the other way.” The same holds true in forest preservation. Measure everything, but measuring is a means to an end, not an end goal. Unfortunately, short-term profit usually trumps long-term preservation. The world’s forests may succumb to the “tragedy of the commons.”

REDD currently has 36 partner countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Latin America. Thirteen of those countries receive financial support for afforestation programs: Bolivia, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ecuador, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, Viet Nam and Zambia. The UN-REDD Programme’s Policy Board has approved a total of US$55.4 million, a pittance, for its nine initial pilot countries and four new countries. 

We are not the first generation to cut our forests, and won’t be the last.

European and North American people cut virtually all of our forests between the 16th and the 18th century for fuel that fed the Industrial Revolution. The forests of the industrialized nations of the north are now recovering from our earlier depredation but only by harvesting the forests of less developed nations. After three centuries of deforestation that fed the world economy, the pace of deforestation is slowing but it continues. 

In the past two decades, more acres of trees were cut than were planted on a net worldwide basis. Thirteen million acres of forest were lost in 2010, compared to sixteen million acres lost in 1990, a slower rate of deforestation but deforestation nevertheless. The bulk of the loss in forests is happening in the humid forests of the tropics and sub-tropics, particularly in the Amazon basin and sub–Saharan Africa for pasture, and in Indonesia for timber and palm oil plantations. Australia has lost significant amounts of its forests due to drought and fires which may be tied to climate change.

Simultaneously, forests in North America, Europe and Central Asia have grown by 60 million acres, net, over the past two decades according to the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, although the western portions of the US have experienced heavy forest losses in the past three years due to invasive insect species predation and subsequent fires.

We are killing forests and releasing GHGs faster than any previous generation.

The global climate impact of changing forest patterns is significant. Between 2005 and 2010, the world annually lost to the atmosphere one-half of a gigaton (Gt) of carbon that had been sequestered in its forests.

We are reducing biodiversity across the world, even where forests are re-growing.

Biodiversity in the world’s humid forests far exceeds that of the world’s temperate forests. Tropical forests host two-thirds of all of the planet’s species yet less than ten percent of those forests are in legally protected areas. In the rare places where trees are being re-planted in the tropics and sub-tropics, they tend to be in monocultural plantation settings, especially palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Central America, South American and Africa. Non-native plants rarely sustain the mammal, avian, and insect species of their setting.

I will be writing a much longer article and try to examine the following questions in my paper:

  • Does REDD have the potential to transfer sufficient resources to the developing world to protect and restore biodiverse forests? The developed world has turned the tide in protecting its own forests by exploiting the forests of the developing world along with copious amounts of fossil fuels. Can we now protect the forests of the developing world?
  • Is the REDD mechanism, an FAO, UNDP and UNEP triumvirate, the best way to manage a new regime?
  • Are there better means for the developed world to pay the developing world for the environmental services, including breathable oxygen, undisturbed rainfall patterns, biodiversity, fresh water, and avoided siltration of coastal ocean areas, that we derive from their places?
  • How can we incorporate into REDD the other benefits associated with protecting forests? The whole world benefits from bio-diversity, but the developed world is less interested in the localized benefits of silt-free rivers in Guatemala, the Congo Basin and the Hindu-Kush. Widespread deforestation in the Amazon basin shows that the change in the albedo, the index that measures the solar reflection of the planet, has enormous impacts on rainfall in areas larger than the deforested spaces. Should the localized benefits and the less obvious global benefits be a primary or secondary aspect of REDD agreements?
  • Can an international agreement place a more accurate market value on the environmental services produced by forests of the developing world?
  • Does the Clean Development Mechanism/Joint Implementation (CDM/JI) regime mark a better path? Or do the European Union’s emission trading system (EU ETS) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) of the northeastern US states create an alternative for afforestation and carbon offsets?
  • Maybe we need a whole new system, perhaps a worldwide carbon tax or a Tobin tax on financial transactions, to fund the preservation of the world’s forests and carbon sinks. Again, this may be a topic too big to consider in the limited scope of the next paper, but the question needs to be asked and at least quickly addressed.
  • What role should the indigenous people of the developing world’s forests play in forest preservation? How does national sovereignty mesh with the rights of indigenous people living in the forests?
  • How should we assess forest preservation with both technology and global accounting mechanisms? Voluntary reporting mechanisms seem puny. How big must we go?

 REDD is a relatively young agreement. Most information about it is available only on-line. Deforestation is a much better studied subject, but as our class is about international organizations and not a broad survey of international environmental problems, my reference points will largely be web-based to capture a slowly evolving mechanism.

 Annotated bibliography 

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1757e/i1757e.pdf is the definitive statement on the current health of the world’s forests. The GFRA reports, issued every five years, involve hundreds of scientists from virtually every country on the world with 233 individual country and territory reports in the latest edition. Clear graphics and prose make it in comprehensible to inexpert readers. Rich data backed by a large bibliography allow the specialist to dig deeply.  You want the fine granular level of detail? It is here. For example, you can see the number of PhDs in public forest research institutions plotted per million hectares of forest in every country on Earth (p. 161).

The UN REDD agreement http://www.un-redd.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=gDmNyDdmEI0%3d&tabid=587&language=en-US provides everything expected of a negotiated statement: what is wrong in the world, good science to back it up, what we should do to combat the problem, the financial incentives needed to change behavior, and lots of aspirational words. But no party is held to account for their misdeeds because no nation would sign an agreement if it hints at culpability.

Submission by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change http://www.cbd.int/forest/doc/2011-09-26-cbd-submission-unfccc-reddplus-en.pdf The UN Convetion on Biological Diversity Secretariat wants REDD to address biodiversity and submitted this document to make sure REDD is not solely a forest carbon agreement.

 “Prospects for tropical forest biodiversity in a human-modified world” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01294.x/full takes the science of forest biodiversity to a higher level, plotting both geographically and temporally the human impact on tropical forests. Science in three dimensions, including the time spectrum, tells us the future we will give to our children and our grand-children. Birds are generally better studied than trees or vascular plants but this report makes it clear that the decline in all is precipitous. This article is the pure science version of the proverb that is attributed to many indigenous peoples, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Diamond, Jared (2005). Print.Jared Diamond’s analysis and then his polemic on the resource consumption choices made by people across the past two millennia shows those choices are rarely made with a view to the future and are frequently disastrous. He does not try to explain all of human social development as a nearly seamless web, as he did in his Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (1997), but instead focuses on smaller separate societies and finds that deforestation can quickly kill sizeable parts of the human, plant and animal world. He writes lucidly, and with his primary training as a Harvard PhD. physiologist and his later careers as an anthropologist, ornithologist, environmental historian and linguist, he is at times spell-binding and has a scope of knowledge that is breathtaking. His explanation of the collapse of the Maya civilization due in part to deforestation in the years 800AD to 1000AD is masterful. Alas, he misses the connection between the protection and near veneration of native forests instilled in Japanese culture by the 16th and 17th century Tokegawa, and contemporary Japanese exploitive behavior in the forests of Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Amazon basin. Diamond nevertheless offers us lessons for our future.

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