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Sunday, July 06, 2008 ISSUE #507

Weekly Comments: Rhode Island hosts engineers and Colin Powell

#507 July 6, 2008

COLUMBUS: This past week I ventured up to Providence, the county seat of Rhode Island. It's a wonderful, bustling town in a state so small the city limits reach almost to the state line on three sides. Out West, there's ranches bigger than Rhode Island. But instead of a million cattle, they have a million people to keep fed and watered.

I was in Providence congregating with 1500 agricultural engineers. They chose to meet here because it's the only state that can house a million people without wiping out any valuable farmland. See, the whole state has such poor soil that if not for the generosity of the neighboring farmers in Massachusetts and Connecticut they would have starved to death years ago.

Here we are in a time when we need more food produced in spite of floods, drought and pestilence, and at the same time we are wanting to grow fuel instead of drilling for it. This convention drew some of the brightest engineers from around the world to figure out how to do it. I think they're up to the challenge.

Folks are worried about oil at $145 a barrel, but water's not far behind. I talked to an ag engineer who's with a water district in Los Angeles. He told me that 80 percent of all the water used in California is for farmers to irrigate crops and nourish their livestock. That may seem wasteful till you remember that we all get to eat our share of those California crops. The other 20 percent of California's water goes to the people in cities and towns. But here's a shock: half of that 20 percent is used outside, mainly to irrigate lawns and flower gardens. I don't recall seeing any California grass clippings or chrysanthemum petals in our grocery store. But water in California is kinda like gasoline for the rest of us; when the price gets high enough we find a way to use less of it.

A pleasant surprise in Providence was a chance to hear General Colin Powell. The whole state knew he was coming, but I didn't know until I walked by the theater twenty minutes before he went on. (I got to meet him ten years ago; on my web site click on Photo Gallery.) He gave a fine talk on leadership and the importance of selfless service. About as close as he got to anything political, he said for either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain, we will slowly draw down the number of American troops in Iraq as the Iraqis take over.

Happy birthday No. 62 to President Bush today. There's always something special about a birthday around July 4th.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

(Dateline Providence) "This is Rhode Island, the place where half their Legislature went out of the State and hid one time, and the State never run better in its life than it did then." DT #254, May 15, 1927

"I live out here and I know the need of more water for the city of Los Angeles in the next few years. And they should have it, and they should pay for it the same as other cities pay for theirs. Our lawn sprinkling needs should not be compared with the needs of thousands of people [in the Mississippi Valley] on rafts and housetops floating down to join the ocean." WA #250, Oct. 9, 1927

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