Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Q&A with Author & Former Ambassador Chase Untermeyer

 After just a few pages into his latest book, Inside Reagan’s Navy, I knew I had to Q&A with Ambassador Untermeyer. It was clear that he had an inside look at a part of our government only a few are privilidged to see, however, it was his casual, relatable diary entries that make his book truly unique. Rather than an embellished and overly-dramatic tell-all, Untermeyer's entries reveal day to day life at the pentagon in a way that is easy to understand, believable, and still captivating. The author, himself, is just as interesting. Ambassador Untermeyer eagerly agreed to my request to do a Q&A with him, much to my appreciation. Here is a peak inside the mind behind Inside Reagan’s Navy:   

Q: You have been a diarist since the age of nine. What encouraged you to share your diary entries relative to your time in the White House and Pentagon?

 Ambassador Untermeyer: I felt the journal entries would not only tell the story of those very interesting days but do so in a fresh, contemporaneous manner.

Q: As a person who has experienced life in the Pentagon and the White House, how does public opinion of these entities compare to the reality of what goes on in both?
Ambassador Untermeyer: Perhaps the greatest pubic misperception of the White House is that it runs the US Government. At most, the White House sets the policy and the message for the administration and handles the politics. Day-to-day governing is done by the president’s appointees in the departments and agencies. What the public may not fully grasp about the Pentagon is how convoluted its bureaucracy (both military and civilian) is and how much that bureaucracy is fixated on the budgetary process.   

Q: In the book you describe the White House as a "silken cocoon." Why was it a silken cocoon, and why did you feel the need to leave?
Ambassador Untermeyer: The White House is a “silken cocoon” because it is a very special place where historic things happen and whose denizens live every day in a rarefied atmosphere. Few who work there, in any administration of either party, can conceive of being anywhere else. I enjoyed and appreciated both my spells of duty in the West Wing, but I knew that to gain genuine satisfaction and benefit from serving in Washington, I had to leave for a job in a department/agency where policy is actually implemented. 

Q:  You seem to express admiration for Jeb Bush in your book. Why, and what are your thoughts regarding his current campaign? 
Ambassador Untermeyer: I have known Jeb Bush since 1979, when he was 23 years old and working in his father’s first campaign for president. Even then, he struck me as a man of mature depth, strength, and judgment. His subsequent service as governor of Florida demonstrated how well he can handle complex issues and political controversy in a very diverse place. These are exactly what we need and expect in a president. Although I wish Jeb’s poll numbers were higher than they are right now, over the length of the primary campaign I am confident that voters will come to see these qualities and support him.  

Q:  In your book you suggest an alternative solution to Navy Disability Pay. What might those changes look like today? 
Ambassador Untermeyer: Any disability system needs sensible rules, but it must allow someone at the top – in this case, the (civilian) secretary of a military service or his/her designee – to bend or overrule those guidelines if particular cases merit such sympathetic action.  

Q: You express concern in the book about your reputation as a political fixer. Was this a fair assessment in your opinion, and in what ways has this perception changed over time? 

Ambassador Untermeyer: Although I have had a life-long interest in politics – and won election to public office all four times that I ran – I have never been a political “operative”. (I prefer this word to “fixer”, because the latter denotes someone outside government who seeks to affect administrative and legislative decisions. The operative is concerned with winning elections.) But I have recognized that in the American system, opportunities to serve in government often (if not always) come from helping specific candidates in their campaigns. When people ask how I became an ambassador, I only half-jokingly reply, “I stood in the snow in New Hampshire and waved a sign.” President George W. Bush certainly appointed me to head the US embassy in Qatar for other reasons, but he also knew I was a proven supporter. 

Q: What do you believe is one of the greatest things readers are able to take away from Inside Reagan's Navy?

 Ambassador Untermeyer: I hope the book conveys some of the drama, excitement, and humor in a major center of action during in the Reagan Administration, the Navy Department. If I have succeeded, people who were not even born yet can sense what it was like to be in Washington during those days.

To get a closer look at Ambassador Untermeyer’s life in the pentagon, purchase Inside Reagan’s Navy here.
I would like to thank Ambassador Untermeyer for taking the time to engage in this Q&A with me and for his willingness to offer such candid responses.

Written By Rebecca Reap

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Summarizes Characteristics of Transitional Zones between Aquatic Environments

Riparian areas—transitional zones between the aquatic environments of streams, rivers and lakes and the terrestrial environments on and alongside their banks—are special places. They provide almost 200,000 miles of connections through which the waters of Texas flow. Keeping the water flowing, in as natural a way as possible, is key to the careful and wise management of the state’s water resources.

Texas Riparian Areas evolved from a report commissioned by the Texas Water Development Board as Texas faced the reality of over-allocated water resources and long-term if not permanent drought conditions. Its purpose was to summarize the characteristics of riparian areas and to develop a common vocabulary for discussing, studying, and managing them.

Thomas B.  Hardy is professor of biology and chief science officer at The Meadows Center
for Water and the Environment at Texas State University where he specializes in watershed
planning, riparian corridors, and aquatic ecosystem dynamics.

Nicole A. Davis is a graduate research assistant at The Meadows Center for Water and the
Environment and a PhD candidate in aquatic resources at Texas State University.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Texas Legislature decision will lead to millions of dollars for Texas Parks and Wildlife

George Bristol, author of On Politics and Parks, is founder of the Texas Coalition for Conservation, a nonprofit alliance that has coordinated efforts to maintain funding for Texas state parks. He also served as a board member of the National Park Foundation and as a consultant on the Ken Burns PBS series on national parks.

Here Bristol discusses the implications of recently passed legislation directing funds to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Texas A&M University Press: Why is this new funding appropriation important for Texas Parks and Wildlife?

George Bristol: With the passage of HB 158 the Texas Legislature has guaranteed a substantial and reliable flow of funding from the "Sporting Goods Sales Tax" for the foreseeable future. Both from a budget planning standpoint, as well as a method to keep our parks attractive and attracting visitors, such a commitment is essential. That has always been the case, but now the legislature has recognized, honored, and fulfilled that obligation. It will mean millions of dollars to repair old parks and plan and develop new parks that have recently been added to the system. Hopefully much of this work can be accomplished by 2023—the centennial of the Texas State Park System. 

TAMU Press: Can you shed any insight into how it all came together?

GB: For the past 14 years, principally through the constant work of the Texas Coalition for Conservation, there has been a growing groundswell of support for consistent and reliable funding from the revenues generated by the "Sporting Goods Sales Tax" which is not a separate tax, but part of the existing sales tax structure of Texas. Not only were like minded organizations recruited to join the effort, but tools for advocacy were created: economic impact studies of state parks on local communities and businesses, public opinion surveys before each session of the legislature and materials to be used for op-ed pieces in the news media, as well as for letters and emails to elected officials. Slowly but surely the accumulation of fact and persuasion caused leaders like Speaker Joe Straus and Representatives Hilderbran and Larson to lend their support to efforts to correct past wrongs. HB158 is the last and hopefully conclusive monumental achievement of all those efforts over all those years.

TAMU Press: What are some of the challenges, in your view, that Texas Parks and Wildlife will face long-term from a funding perspective? How might those needs be met going forward?

GB: The future is not easy to predict. What is easy to judge is that, I believe, given the proper financial tools, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its staff is capable of putting those new-found dollars to work for the betterment of the parks and park visitors. Obviously a body blow to the overall financial well-being of the state, can and will affect budgets. However, I am confident that there are enough well- informed legislators who will be around to make up the shortfalls when the economy rights itself. Furthermore, I am confident that well maintained and operated parks are one of the answers to a strong economy. Coupled with the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being provided by parks, Texas will be a better place to live and raise families.

Written by Emily Seyl

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gulf of Mexico Resilient but Scarred; Sea Turtle Population at Decade Low

In the wake of the BP oil spill, the Associated Press reports the Gulf of Mexico is resilient, yet scarred.

After BP issued a 40-page report in March pronouncing the Gulf mostly recovered (and noting that less than 2 percent of the water and seafloor sediment samples exceeded federal toxicity levels), AP surveyed 26 marine scientists about two dozen aspects of the fragile ecosystem to see how the waterway has changed before the 2010 spill.

Among other species that have been in decline, the AP reports the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle’s population has declined to a decade low.

After the spill, Oregon State University professor Selina Saville Heppell said, the number of nests dropped 40 percent in one year in 2010.

“We had never seen a drop that dramatic in one year before,” she told AP. The population climbed in 2011 and 2012 but then fell again in 2013 and 2014.

Heppell said while there is not enough data or research to blame the spill, changing nesting trends could be due to many factors, including natural variability and record cold temperatures.

For more information on the report, click here.

Check out the Texas A&M University Press Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota series, which includes an economic snapshot of the Gulf of Mexico prior to the spill and looks at other facets of the Gulf: biodiversity, geology, and ecosystem-based management. The volumes are part of the Harte Research Institute’s landmark scientific series on the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, for more on the plight of sea turtles and meaningful related global volunteer opportunities, check out A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles.

Monday, June 1, 2015

State of Texas Topped Number of Deaths Attributed to Flooding from 1995-2004

Experts on Thursday estimated that flooding across Texas could lead to insurance claims of more than $1.1 billion, topping the amount paid to policyholders in 2001 after the damage caused by Tropical Storm Allison, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

But, the aftermath of the most recent spate of floods is not the worst the state has seen.

 “Texans enjoy being number one in many fields,” writes Jonathan Burnett in the introduction to his 2008 book Flash Floods of Texas (Texas A&M University Press). “ Unfortunately, one area in which Texas is consistently foremost in the United States is the number of deaths attributed to flooding.”

From 1995-2004, Texas topped this list in seven of 10 years.

“One reason that Texas is typically near the head of this list is that the location and landscape of the Lone Star State make it prone to flash floods,” says Burnett. “Deluges at Del Rio in August 1998, in the Hill Country in October 1998, in Houston in 2001 and in the summer of 2007 in Marble Falls (where 12-18 inches fell in less than four hours) solidified Texas’ reputation as having some of the most flash flood-prone land in the world.

According to Burnett, no part of Texas is immune to flash floods; the state lies in the path of sources of copious moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

Current and ongoing flooding is hurting more than residences and businesses in the path of floodwaters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is reporting the torrential storms that have continued to hammer much of the state for more than a week are now also leaving their mark on Texas’ State Park system. As of Wednesday, more than 50 state parks report some damage as a result of significant rainfall; about half of the sites are currently either closed or partially closed to the public due to flooding.

Houston has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the flooding, and it could see more storms in the next five days, according to the National Weather Service. And, areas farther north, including Dallas, could get another 2-4 inches of rain through Sunday.

For more information on the history of flash floods in Texas, check out Flash Floods of Texas.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Does the History Channel's Texas Rising Miniseries Leave You Wanting More? Save 25% on Definitive Narrative of Texas Revolution

In 1836, west of the Mississippi was considered the Wild West, and the Texas frontier was viewed as hell on earth. Crushed from the outside by Mexican armadas and attacked from within by ferocious Comanche tribes, no one was safe.

Credit: History Channel
Credit: History Channel
The History Channel’s Texas Rising, a 10-hour event series airing this week and starring headliners such as Bill Paxton, Brendan Frazier, and Ray Liotta, dramatizes events following the Alamo’s fall. The series premiered Memorial Day to 4.1 million viewers.

Click here to watch a clip: https://www.whipclip.com/video/82fez

Credit: History Channel

For a more detailed narrative and analysis of the aftermath of the Alamo politically and militarily, check out Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic by William C. Davis. Use code 25A to purchase the book on the Texas A&M University Press website (www.tamupress.com) or call toll-free 800-826-8911 for a limited-time 25% discount.

First published in hardback in 2004 by Texas A&M University Press, Davis etches the characters of Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and General Santa Anna – and the cultures they represented – in sharp and very human relief, as they carved out the republic whose Lone Star rose in 1836 and changed the course of a continent.

Davis, author of more than 40 books including Three Roads to the Alamo, is professor of history and director of programs for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bat Mania

Pest-eating flyers face an uncertain future.
Did you know that bats are one of the most ecologically and economically important wildlife species worldwide, but also one of the most threatened?
In the United States, almost half of the 47 bat species are listed as endangered, threatened or sensitive at a federal or state level. In Texas, 23 bat species are listed as “species of greatest conservation need” in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Conservation Action Plan.
An article in the latest issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine focuses on partnerships between TPWD and Bat Conservation International to prevent further bat species extinctions and help identify and protect significant bat areas to ensure lasting survival of the world's 1,300-plus bat species.
For more on Texas's four families of bat species, check out the Texas A&M Press book Bats of Texas by experts Loren Ammerman, Christine L. Hice, and David J. Schmidly.