Lights out

NASA has released a very interesting night-time picture of the Korean Peninsula taken from the International Space Station.

ISS038-E-038300

Seoul, with a population of more than 25 million people is, of course, lit up like a Christmas tree, which makes you wonder how aliens must view the globe.

But that is not the most interesting thing about the picture. You see that black hole above Seoul? That’s not water. It is North Korea. Moreover, the light from Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea with a population of 3.5 million people, the only light in South Korea that actually shines with any brightness, does so at a light-emission level that is roughly the equivalent of the South Korean town of Gusan with a population of approximately 300 thousand people.

Now, this, of course, is an indicator of financial strength and overall development, but what I find interesting is that an alien species that graded the earth’s countries from a “green” perspective, using only intergalactic light-emission observation, might very well rate North Korea at the very top.

It all comes down to perspective, I guess. With a per capita consumption of 739 kilowatt hours in North Korea, compared to 10,162 kilowatt hours in South Korea, certainly North Korea is doing a better job at keeping energy consumption low than is South Korea, and there is something to be said for that.

In fact, taking an intergalactic view of earthly matters can sometimes yield interesting results. If the subject interests you, you might want to read an earlier posting about the hiring of a CEO for Unitek Global Services (here.)

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In the 11th hour — connecting the Great War and modern virology research

Today is November 11th, also known as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, or Armistice Day. On this day in history, 94 years ago, on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I — also known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars — ended.

The Great War, which resulted in a staggering nine million soldiers dead and 21 million soldiers wounded, ended, as it started, with a stroke of a pen. It ended with Germany’s signature being placed on an armistice document in a railroad care outside Compiégne in France, and, although triggered in the summer of 1914 as reaction to an assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia, it really started with the sign-off by the German General Staff on the Schlieffen Plan in 1905.

Count Alfred Schlieffen in 1890

Count Alfred Schlieffen in 1890

The Schlieffen Plan — Failed assumptions

After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the subsequent German annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, French territories for almost 200 years, it was clear to Germany that relations with France would be problematic and that war with France was likely.

When relations between France and Russia strengthened after Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert, a decisively aggressive person with a clear agenda to raise Germany’s status to that of a world power, became German Emperor and King of Prussia in 1988, Germany had to face the political and military reality that the expected war with France would involve a war with Russia as well, leading to the dreaded two-front war scenario.

After Britain and France in 1904 entered into the Entente Cordiale, a normalization of the relations between the two countries, the military reality for Germany was quite clear, and Emperor Wilhelm asked Count Alfred von Schlieffen to devise a plan which would allow Germany to fight a war on two fronts. The plan was drafted throughout the year 1905 and would be revised numerous time, including a most significant revision by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger after Count Schlieffen’s retirement from the German General Staff.

The basic idea behind the plan, an annihilation of the French army first, followed by a shift of operations to Russia, second, rested on two key assumptions: (1) that the French and their Western Allies would be a lesser threat that Russia; and (2) that Russia’s mobilization would be sufficiently slow, at least six weeks, and that the Russian threat could be contained by Austria-Hungary until such time that the German army could shift its focus from the Western Front to the Eastern Front. As such the plan called for 91% of German troops to be allocated to the Western Front, and expected that France would capitulate in 42 days after which the highly capable German army, which was of such high quality relative to the Russian army that it did, in fact, make mince-meat of a numerically superior Russian field-army in the battle of Tannenberg in 1914, would shift its concentration of forces to the Eastern Front and decisively beat the Russian army.

As it were, both assumptions were false. The French army, supplemented by the elite British Expeditionary Force — consisting of battle-hardened veterans who had learned a lot about trench warfare, the effect of massed defensive rifle fire applied by highly trained marksmen on an opposing force, mobile warfare, and asymmetrical warfare during the Boer war — would be no push-over, and Russia mobilized in record-time and quickly made gains on the Eastern Front, effectively threatening Berlin from the outset of the war. The rest, as they say, is history.

The BEF — Harbinger of things to come

From a military historic standpoint, the very first run-in with the British Expeditionary Force, starting August 21st, 1914, is notable in that it gave the German army its first indications that this war would be different than any conflict before then, with the British army assuming lightly dug in positions at Mons in Belgium and pouring high volume of precise rifle fire on German soldiers who, in perfect accordance with a hundred years of tactical doctrine, attacked en masse over terrain devoid of cover in something that amounted to parade ground formation.

The riflemen that were members of the British Expeditionary Force, an entirely professional force consisting of long-service volunteers, equipped with the excellent .303 Lee Enfield bolt rifle fitted with an easily loaded ten-round magazine, were trained to pour out fifteen rounds a minute, hitting a man-size target at 300 yards, and were capable of putting down effective fire out to a range of 1,000 yards. And at Mons they did just that, pouring such volume of fire on the advancing German line that German intelligence concluded that each battalion of British infantry was equipped with 28 machine guns, when, in reality, primarily out of cost considerations, each battalion was allocated only two machine guns.

The object lesson about the significance of prepared positions and massed fire that would be taught by the British at Mons would eventually be accepted as de rigueur by all combatants in the early and middle stages of the Great War. However, in 1914 the German army, which had learned its latest and most significant lesson of modern warfare in 1866 in Saxony and Bohemia, a full 30 years before the British learned their latest and most significant lesson in South Africa, was assuming that the most important factors for winning wars were not training in fire disciplines, application of modern firepower, defensive protective positions, or attrition, but, rather, speed of mobilization and speed of concentration.

In the Western theater, the Schlieffen Plan called for rapid double envelopment, executed through a gigantic right hook. This double envelopment, inspired by execution of the Carthagian army under Hannibal at Cannae in 216 B.C. against a superior Roman force, avoided a frontal assault on the bulk of the Allied’s forces, instead using a flanking maneuver to get on the sides and the rear of the armies, with the farthest right side of the hook reaching all the way to the English channel and down through the South of France.

The British army, consisting of 75,000, or so, men and being outfitted as an expeditionary force, was deliberately placed in a guarding role on the left flank of the allied defensive line, an area thought to be non-critical, primarily because it was considered to be a weak force unable to stem the full brunt of the German onslaught. In reality, with the German army attempting to exercise the right-hook double enveloping maneuver, reaching the English Channel before swiping back into Southern France, under Paris, the left flank became the most critical part of the early part of the war, and, ironically, it would be the British army’s superior application of firepower combined with the Belgian army’s spirited static defense that weakened the right-hook sufficiently to cause the German army to ultimately abandon the double envelopment part of the Schlieffen Plan and, instead, swing east towards Paris.

This break allowed the French and British armies to mobilize and concentrate their troops in one critical battle along the Marne River, the First Battle of the Marne, in which the German army would be forced to first retreat 40 miles in order to avoid encirclement and destruction, and, then, to dig in and engage in a war of attrition, which it could not possibly win with the Russian army engaging it on its Eastern front.

Wrapping up the Great war

Technically, what went into effect on 11th hour of November 11th, November 1918 was a ceasefire, which was agreed to at 5:20 in the morning, and the two sides was still at war until Germany entered into the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th, 1919.

Coincidently, the last allied soldier to be recognized as having been killed in the Great War, was an American, Henry Gunther, who was killed 60 seconds before the armistice came into force while bayonet-charging astonished German troops who, like Mr. Gunther, were aware the Armistice was nearly upon them. The last reported German casualty occurred after the armistice was in force, when a German lieutenant went forward to inform approaching American soldiers that he and his men would be vacating houses that they had been using as billets, and was shot dead by the American soldiers, who had not been told about the ceasefire.

Thomas Edward Lawrence

From the Great War to Sir Sykes to the Spanish Flu and to Sir Sykes again

I was reminded of the Great War not just because of today’s date, but also because I yesterday watched the remastered version of Lawrence of Arabia, a master-piece of movie-making and the crowning achievement by director David Lean and producer Sam Spiegel.

The movie deals with the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the Great War (mostly a campaign against the Ottoman empire, an ally of Germany) — in particular the decisive attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and the involvement of Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, the eponymous Lawrence of Arabia, in the Arab National Council.

Sir Mark Sykes

The connection I made was rather subtle, and came about when I reflected on the early deliberations by the British, French, and Russian of how key parts of the Arab peninsula would be divided into spheres of influences and control among themselves after the cessation of hostilities, ultimately manifesting itself as the establishment of the secret Asia Minor Agreement in 1916.

On the British side, the agreement, also known as the Sykes–Picot Agreement, was master-minded and negotiated by Colonel Sir Mark Sykes, a character every bit as remarkable as his contemporary T. E. Lawrence, and the sort of person that only the British Empire’s Foreign Office — a remarkably efficient organization — and hundreds of years of nobility could create.

Sir Sykes would die in 1919 while in Paris in connection with the peace negotiations, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which, in a severe twist of fate, would enable a remarkable connection through to modern history.

The Spanish Flu — not so Spanish after all

Today, the Spanish Flu is little thought of by most of us, but it cannot be underestimated. This remarkable influenza pandemic — spreading across the globe from January 1918 through 1920 — killed a conservatively estimated 20 million to 50 million people and possibly as many as 100 million people, amounting to up to 3% or 6% of the world’s population, thereby easily dwarfing the killing efficiency of the armed forces during the Great War. To understand the spread of this pandemic, consider that an estimated 500 million people, a full third of the world’s population in 1918, were infected at some point or another during the pandemic and the only recorded instance of a major region in the world that did not report an outbreak was the island of Marajo in Brazil’s Amazon River Delta.

Spanish_flu_death_chartAlthough it has been difficult to determine an epicenter for the Spanish Flu there is broad agreement that the pandemic was linked to the incredibly increase in global interconnectivity that the Great War prompted and was directly related to the exceptional high concentration of multi-ethnic groups in relatively small areas. In fact, one theory by a British virologist team from the reputable St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Royal London Hospital almost certainly identified a major troop staging and hospital camp in Étaples in France as the center of the pandemic, while some historian has identified Fort Riley in Kansas, a major mobilization and training center for the United States army, as the epicenter. In a sense, the Spanish Flu may have been the very earliest and one of the most lethal unintended consequences of globalization.

So, the Spanish flu did not, in fact, originate in Spain. In fact, the name came about because of aggressive censorship during the Great War. Whereas wartime censorship by the belligerent nations successfully managed to initially minimize or suppress information about the scope and lethality of the illness in their home territories, papers were free to report on the effect of the pandemic in Spain, a neutral country, and, therefore, the initial impression was that Spain was particularly hard hit and that Spain was the epicenter of the outbreak. Somehow, through almost a century, the name has stuck, although, of course, a more correct name is 1918 Flu Pandemic.

It is difficult to wrap ours head around how fast moving and lethal the pandemic was, but we can try…. Overall, the disease killed approximately 20% of those infected, as opposed to the usual flu epidemic mortality rate of 0.1%. For the United States, for instance, the death count exceeded 500,000 over a period of approximately two years, which, of course, is an enormous number of fatalities incurred at an enormous speed (as a reference point, this number is on par with the total number of United States fatalities attributed to all warfare by the United States through the 20th century — a period of 100 year) and caused the population count to become negative in 1918 — the only time when this has happened in the 20th century. Moreover, if we population adjust the fatality count, the fatalities would in year 2000 have numbered between 1.5 million and 2 million, approximately the population of Alaska, Delaware, and the District of Columbia — combined.

However hard and fast the United States was hit, it pales next to Tahiti where 14% of the population died in only two months and Samoa where 20% of the population died a similar period.

Sir Sykes’ Coffin

Because of the exceptional lethality of the Spanish Flu and a very real concern that influenza strains can be cyclic, there is an ongoing medical investigation of the pandemic, frequently involving exhumation of its victims. And, so, Sir Sykes would in 2008, again, be expected to play a significant role in human history, when, 88 years after his death, his body was exhumed. Sir Sykes remains were of particular interest because it was known that he had buried in a lead-lined coffin, and it was thought that this lead-lining might have served to preserve Spanish Flu viral particles, which could be critical for the development of a defense against similar future pandemic (if this seems like a far-fetched possibility, consider that the Spanish Flu became a human infection through a mutation from the now infamous H1N1 avian virus.)

Since there are only five extant samples of the Spanish Flu virus in the world, Mr. Sykes was poised to return to fame. Unfortunately, however, Sir Sykes’ coffin was found to have collapsed from the weight of the soil over it, and, although samples were taken, the exhumation did not yield the results hoped for.

Memorial and Reflections

So, tonight, on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 2012, I will be lighting a candle in memory of not only the millions of soldiers who died in an around the trenches of the Great War, but also for the many more who died from the Spanish flu, for T. E. Lawrence and for Sir Sykes. In doing so, I will reflect on war, pandemics, globalization, and the unique and disproportionate roles that singularly minded individuals have played throughout history.

As a motorcycle rider, I will also reflect on T. E. Lawrence’s rather silly death in a motorcycle accident in 1935 in the English country side, seemingly an unsuited end for someone who had traveled the world and avoided certain death on several occasions.


Great Free Software — Why real companies cannot compete

Free Software

Copyright (C) 2001 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

From time to time I find myself needing new software, more or less on the fly, and, increasingly, I am finding that the software that I end up selecting is open source or crowd-developed.

Yesterday, for instance, I needed to grab a complete copy of a web-site and discovered HTTrack Website Copier, a terrific open source software package available here with a very rudimentary Wikipedia entry here. I found the software by using Google, entering “Wikipedia web crawler open source” as a search criteria, and going from there.

The HTTrack software simply works and it is free (at least on the surface — more about this below,) but these are not the real reasons why I selected HTTrack over commercially available alternatives. Rather, the real reasons for selecting HTTrack was that it was immediately available, could be accessed and used without any hassle whatsoever, and was supported by an enthusiastic crowd, eager to provide the software and associated services to me. Moreover, as it is the case with most software in the open source or collaboration software domain, HTTrack is simple and to the point…. something very important to consumers operating in an increasingly complicated world.

The Issue with Commercial Software

In most cases, the issue with commercial options when you are looking for software for individual use or for use by small groups is not the price, but rather the difficulties associated with accessing and trying the software and the monolithic, totalitarian, and big-brother image projected by the company owning the rights to the commercial software package.

Simply put, downloading and using or trialing commercial software is much more tedious than doing so for open source software — in particular if you are not really sure what you want and, therefore, may want to try it out before actually paying anything or registering yourself as a user. The process of downloading and starting HTTrack, for instance, consisted of one click on the HTTtrack web-site. No one asked me who I was or what I wanted to do. No one demanded anything from me, and, once I was done with the software, I could uninstall it without anyone nagging me about it and without worrying about refunds and whether or not I had gottent value for my money.

In my posting about a bug in Smartware, Western Digital’s software for automatic backups, I have written about the interesting — but not surprising — fact, that software developers who work for love produce far better software than do software developers who work for profit, and, so, I was not surprised to discover that HTTrack was excellent software.

In my view the answer to the question as to why the non-commercial software market produces excellent software is a mix of this love, globalization, and the limited financial means available to the developers in this market.

Functionality Cramming

You see, a very real problem with today’s commercial software, i.e. software developed by software developers working inside the System, is that such software is too broad and encompasses too much — a function of the availability of excessive funds in the development process and an ingrained belief in the software industry that competitive advantage is gained by consistently adding more functionality to a product than do any competitors to their products, something that I refer to as “functionality cramming” (a trademark might be in order here, perhaps?)

Consider, for instance, the enormous amount of functionality crammed into Microsoft Excel, salesforce.com, or SAP — most of which is never actually used by a buyer of the software. This not only leads to hyper-growth in deployment size (think fatware,) but, also, by virtue of the pure mass of the unnecessary software, means that there is insufficient resources or interest within the commercial software organizations to make each piece of the software truly excellent.

Point Solutions

In contrast, software originating in the non-commercial software market is to the point, solving precisely one problem and doing so near-perfectly, something I refer to as “point solutions” (another trademark!,) simply because the software developers that are working outside the System have to limit their scope, reflecting their lack of resources. An obviously far superior approach from a consumer standpoint once you accept that functionality cramming has no true value.

As part of a strong feed-back loop, point solutions are becoming more and more prevalent as the mechanisms for accessing them are evolving. In terms of the deployment and delivery mechanisms, for instance, the evolution of smart mobile devices with high-speed Internet access has created an environment where mobile applications, which, of course, are uniquely — if not solely — suited to point solutions, can thrive. Likewise, the sales and promotion mechanisms have been helped immensely by the emergence of application stores and the emergence of PayPal as a viable alternatives to the rather silly business models of distributorships, brick and mortar software sales companies, and conventional merchant payment processing.

Interestingly, the explosive uptake in point solutions combined with the game-field leveling features of application stores and PayPal have enabled consumers to access superior software even if such software is made by software developers on the other side of the globe. This, of course, is a very big part of the answer to the question of excellence in software development.

The HTTtrack software, for instance, is made in France. Well, frankly, I don’t really know where the software is from and — importantly — I don’t really care, because all I really care about is that I have direct and immediate access to excellent software (I pause to acknowledge that there, of course, are concerns related to this, including concerns about global competition and nationwide unemployment — I am not making light of this fact, but right now, right here we are talking about something else.)

The Cost of Free

Free software, by the way, is not free:

  • First, because whatever person that is working — or did work — on the development of the HTTrack should be compensated for their efforts in order to enable and encourage him or her to continue to develop excellent software — something that is accomplished through donations (you can donate to HTTrack here,) and, so, if I want to continue to be able to access excellent, free software I must — paradoxically — pay for the software. Importantly, however, in strong contrast to commercial software, I pay because I want to, I pay the amount I want to, I pay after the fact, and I know exactly what I am paying for.
  • Second, because this form of software is under continued legislative attack courtesy of sponsorship and lobbying by the commercial software market players, and I, therefore, have to help protecting the very fundamental rights that enables the existence of the non-commercial software market through donations to organizations such as La Quadrature du Net, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, the Free Software Foundation, the Debian project, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Quite a mouthful? Not really. On balance, I probably do save a bit of money, but that is not the important thing about software originating from outside the System. Rather, the important things is that I get choice, access, and, ultimately, superior quality.

What about you? Do you find yourself using more and more open source software, and, if so, do you donate to the software developer or any organizations dedicated to protecing your rights to choose open source software over commercial software?

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This is London Calling…. — This is Nigeria listening

One of the interesting things about running a blog is the totally unexpected things that you learn from site statistics.

In a previous blog posting, for instance, I tested a hypothesis that a blog posting with a heading along the line of “I want to die” would generate significant hits from search engines, and I was surprised to find that it did, in fact, do just that.

In another — later — blog posting I tested a hypothesis that a blog posting with a heading along the the line of “Kill me” would generate significant hits from search engines — possibly more than did the blog posting with the heading along the lines of “I want to die,” and I was suprised — again, because it did not (in fact this blog posting generated very few hits, which was really surprising to me since Reddit, for instance, yield a number of web-sites and blogs with headings along the line of “kill me” (I will write more about this fact later — stay tuned.)

In another example, I created a blog posting about balance sheets and goodwill, which got a tremendous amount of traffic, but, oddly, most of the traffic was generated from google searches with the search term “lazy balance sheet.” This was interesting, because it reflects that there is an extensive interest in lazy balance sheets — something that I did not know. It is also odd, since the heading of my posting was clearly talking about goodwill, distinctly different than what make up lazy balance sheets. Regardless, since there is an interest, and since I, as a quasi-value investor, find lazy balance sheets very interesting, the searches did stimulate me to decide to write a posting about the problems related to lazy balance sheets (there are many,) and, accordingly, to add an entry to the Upcomming Posts column on the right side of this blog.

Most interesting though is the fact that my recent posting about Nigerian Scams and other related items, caused the blog to start getting hits from — wait for it … Nigeria.

Nigerian flag

In the past my blog had received hits from obscure countries in remote parts of the world, including countries in South America, Asia, and Africa, and, typically, hits from these locations were followed near-immediately by spam comments being posted on the blog, which are just as immediately deleted by Akismet, WordPress’ spam comment filtering software. None, however, had originated from Nigeria.

Phoney Western Union Form

Without fail, the Nigerian hits come courtesy of Google’s image search and — yes, you guessed it! — are centered around the terms “Western Union,” “form,” and “sheet” which appear to result in search results that include the phoney Western Union form included in my Nigerian Scam related posting and reproduced on the right.

In the forties, it may have been London calling, but today it is Nigeria listening…. Globalization once again, rears its ugly head.

Oh yeah, just a heads up… The second most common point of origination for hits leading to the phoney Western Union form in my blog posting was — drum-roll, please — the Czech Republic.

There may be an early warning here…  Let me get on the horn with the Federal Bureau of Investigations……  I am sure they will dispatch a team to Prague to investigate right away.

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Weeds — Earliest manifestation of the unintended consequences of globalization

After being being pulled screaming and kicking into the special insane asylum that we call suburbia, where the overall objective seems to be to escape urbanism — ironically through the violent expropriation and quasi-urbanization of the wilderness, I have discovered that suburbia does have one significant benefit over city-living: You can create your own eco-system, a microcosm of the earth before man.

Our re-establishment of bulldozed- and paved-over flora, a small Panamanian jungle on the East Coast of the United States, now attracts a rich and hugely diverse fauna, which, amazingly, live in near-perfect harmony — sometimes even exhibiting symbiotic relationships and something nearing interspecies camaraderie, as when, for instance, the local gang of crows collectively chase of the falcon that is targeting our burgeoning pigeon population. It ain’t cheap to establish and maintain this eco-system, but the rewards are significant, including the joy of observing chipmunks preparing for winter through massive hording, being buzzed by hummingbirds, being rebuked by flying squirrels and blue jays for being late in putting out food, observing the Monarch on its intergenerational migration, and being robbed by raccoons.

Most importantly, however, it provides an oasis, where there is not need to think about wearisome subjects such as the impact of globalization — halt… what was that again?

Japanese Stiltgrass — A silent, but deadly foe

Japanese Stiltgrass

Over the last three to five years, our neighborhood yards have been invaded by Japanese Stiltgrass, a highly invasive species of weed, originating from Asia and imported to the United States in the early part of the 20th century, apparently as packing materials for goods imported from China, in what may very well be the first sign of the scourge of globalization.

Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium Vimineum) looks like miniature bamboo.   It germinates in April, grows through the summer, and can reach a height of up to three feet. Its pale spring-green leaves are about three-inch elongated ovals, with blunted points at each end, branching alternately from the wiry stem.   The weed’s seeding and flowering season is September and early October.

The weed has the dubious honor of being one of the fastest spreading weeds in North America, primarily because:

  1. it spreads by forming large monocultures (large clumps, if you will,) that shade and crowd out domestic grasses, including Zoysia grass;
  2. it can thrive in as little as five percent of normal sunshine, handily out-competing domestic grass;
  3. it tends to initially establish itself in the shaded areas of gardens, where it is not noticed;
  4. it spreads following disturbance, such as people or pets walking on in the yard or the yard being lawn-mowed;
  5. it is incredibly prolific at producing seeds, which in turn are long-lasting, with each weed capable of producing an astonishing 1,000 seeds per season, and each seed having a dormant life-span of three to five years in the soil;
  6. it, in its seed stage, can travel extensively, for instance, from neighborhood to neighborhood by way of a lawn-mowing service’s mowing equipment, or from your back-yard to your front-yard by way of your lawn-mower; and
  7. it is exceptionally deadly to domestic grass, killing 100% of all domestic grass in the area that it covers

The prolific seeding nature of this weed can be understood by the fact that, when you walk on the weed areas in September, you can actually hear and see the seeds spreading (it sounds like pop-corn popping and looks like a ticker-parade in New York City.)

I had observed the first sign of the Japanese Stiltgrass outbreak in my neighborhood and noted with some interest that it was progressing towards my plot of tranquility with the pace and inevitability of the German army in Russia in the Summer of 1941, and, so, I was not surprised when my back-yard was overwhelmed in one season, with Japanese Stiltgrass killing virtually all of the domestic grass I have.

Biological and Chemical Warfare

Fighting the weed

In North America Japanese Stiltgrass is not balanced out by its natural enemies and, therefore, it must be managed through a comprehensive — and expensive — program of applied biological and chemical warfare, with the biological component being me, hand-weeding and weed-whacking, and the chemical warfare being the application of massive amounts of supposedly eco-friendly weed-control and pre-emergent herbicides.

As Virginia Tech puts, it, in rather clinical terms, long-term management programs should emphasize prevention of seed-head formation to deplete the seed reservoir, which is a fancy way to say that we need to kill the seeds to stop the weeds and need to stop the spreading by kneeling a lot in the garden.

Having avoided entirely the use of chemicals, including weed-and-feed, for more than five years, the necessity of the application of weed-control and pre-emergent herbicide has been difficult to embrace.    Unfortunately, however, this particular manifestation of this particular Chinese import is so aggressive that we now have no choice, but to pollute our eco-system with chemicals.

The Economic View

Thinking about the economic consequences of combating this weed is interesting.   Successfully defeating the weed in my yard alone requires a five year economic and time commitment by me — and importantly — by my eight surrounding neighbors.  If during five years,  just one neighbor does not participate consistently, the weed will immediately re-establish itself in my yard, resetting the five year clock.

Assuming that every year I and my neighbors each spends $200 on pre-emergent weed-killer, spends $200 on amphibian friendly Roundup Pro, spends one hour spreading the weed, spends 48 hours through the season hand-weeding or weed-whacking to prevent extra growth, spends 24 hours lawn-mowing  throughout the season (you cannot control the spread from yard to yard if you use a lawn-mowing service,) then the direct economic impact over five years is $50,850 (I assume a leisure rate of $10 per hour for yard-work.)   And, of course, this replicates  throughout the neighborhood, because, like us, our neighbors will need to enlist their neighbors, and so on.

The math is truly astonishing and begs the question if buying trinkets that Walmart has imported from China is really saving the American consumer any money at all.    Moreover, if the economic consequence of this simple act, the import of glass and china, wrapped in materials that, ultimately, cause the introduction of a non-domestic, invasive weed into our eco-system, is so dramatic, the question then becomes one of what happens when you factor in the other consequences as well.   Consider, for instance, on the one end of the spectrum, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (halymorpha halys,) an agricultural pest that made is way from China to the United States in 1998 and is now wreaking havoc on fruit, vegetable, and farm crops on the East Coast of the United States, and, on the other end of spectrum, the whole-sale reduction in the industrial labor force and the adverse long-term economic impact of a lop-sided trade balance.

Is it possible that the cost of a consumer saving $1 on a drinking glass, is really $25 in societal and environmental charges — payable by the same consumer ?   Consider this question carefully next time you visit or consider investing in a retail chain relying on imports.