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Tuesday, January 24, 2017



Tuesday, 8:00 AM.  34 degrees F at the ferry dock, 32 on the back porch.  Wind WNW, mostly calm with light gusts.  The sky is again overcast, the humidity lower, at 87%.  The barometer is fairly steady at 29.91", predicting basically  more of the same weather, but  with cooler temperatures bringing snow showers tomorrow and Wednesday.
   We travel to Duluth today to have the staples removed from my shoulder.  I keep having this vision of my arm falling off, but have been assured that is unlikely to happen.
   By the time most Almanac readers see this, Rex Tillerson will likely have been confirmed as Secretary of State.  He has been a contentious candidate because of his business ties to Russia as CEO of Exon-Mobile Oil.  A lot of the fears have been irrational or politically motivated, and their essence has been a distrust of Russia and a lack of appreciation for how better ties with that country might benefit the US.
   I can give some small degree of insight into relations with Russia since I played a very small role in a very large cooperative science program with the old Soviet Union back in the late 1970's.  I certainly learned a lot, at least on a personal level, and the Russian scientists I dealt with probably felt the same way.
   My role was as host to the visiting scientists and I spent weeks on two different occasions shepherding them around the US collecting plant specimens for the Herbarium of the Main Moscow Botanical Garden.  I brought them home to spend time with my typical American family, and to spend time as guests in numerous American homes where they were treated to dinners and other social events.  I and my family had a great experience, and I know the Soviets did as well.
   We spent time together hiking through the forests and mountains of New England and the Pacific Northwest, collecting seeds and processing plants as herbarium specimens.  We worked together well, despite limited language abilities.  They were disciplined, well trained,  enthusiastic and friendly.  I won't go into the personal stuff any further than than that, but I can tell you from my limited perspective some of the scientific cooperation that might be useful to both countries:
  • Plant and animal sciences, particularly as regards related species in like genera as they occur over three continents.
  • Plant and animal breeding for adaptation to northern climates, particularly in the light of continued warming of the Northern Hemisphere, whether related to man's activities or not.  Russia has done amazing research and development of new agricultural and horticultural plants.  Their genetics has sometimes been flawed, but their practical work has been very advanced.
  • Both countries would benefit, as would Canada, from joint studies in reclaiming thawing tundra for agricultural and forestry use.
  • Studies of developing passages through the Arctic ice for commercial vessels (such as exists at times along the northern coasts of Greenland, Canada and Alaska); the Northwest Passage sought for centuries past.
  • Antarctic exploration.
  • Space science and exploration.  We have done much together to this point and could do much more.  We have trusted them to transport our astronauts to the Space Station for years (stupid and short sighted on our part perhaps, but they have carried out their part of the deal).
  • Oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction in the Arctic.  Russia takes the Arctic very seriously.  We have only one heavy duty ice breaker, they have many.
  • Nuclear weapons non-proliferation and safety.  We have continuing co-operation in this crucial area, and for the sake of both nations and the  entire world it must continue.
  • Physics and mathematics.  The Russians produce truly outstanding scientific theorists. Working together we could advance these sciences exponentially.
   I would rather be cautiously optimistic about our future relations with Russia than overly pessimistic. The Russians are pragmatists, and if watched carefully will fulfill their side of a bargain (Reagan's "trust but verify").  If I were a geopolitical strategist I would think of US-Russian cooperation as being a balance against the growing economic and military threat of China.  I bet the Russians are getting as nervous as we are.
   One last thought; adversaries do not need to be enemies.  

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