Monday, March 30, 2015
POWERING DOWN: "EARTH HOUR"
Once upon a time we knew enough to curse the darkness. In the aeons long climb from the muck, we have only had the ability to hold back the dark for a bit over a century. Now millions yearn to embrace it and, should they yearn long enough and hard enough, the darkness will embrace them and hold them for much longer than a brief hour of preening and self-regard.
The Big Picture at the Boston Globe site routinely publishes stunning photographs of what is taking place in the world. But at editor Alan Taylor's whim after last year's "Earth Hour", it went a step further in "celebrating" the rise of mass insanity in our age. "Earth Hour 2009" presents a round-the-world tour of cities with each picture designed to fade from light into darkness at the click of a mouse. Proud of his clever variation on a theme, the editor's instructions were -- without a hint of irony:
"[click image to see it fade]"
Of course with a second mouse click the lights came back on. It never seems to occur to the people with the Green Disease, that is perfectly possible to
[click civilization to see it fade]
and get no second click.
I've done four posts with the "Powering Down" heading, all relating to the war which is being conducted, sometimes under the heading of "environmentalism" and sometimes under the heading of "coolness," against the West's energy sources and industrial base.
Powering Down #1: Here's the great French scientist Sadi Carnot, writing in 1824:
To take away England's steam engines to-day would amount to robbing her of her iron and coal, to drying up her sources of wealth, to ruining her means of prosperity and destroying her great power. The destruction of her shipping, commonly regarded as her source of strength, would perhaps be less disastrous for her.
For England in 1824, substitute the United States in 2009. And for "steam engines," substitute those power sources which use carbon-based fuels: whether generating stations burning natural gas, blast furnaces burning coke, or trucks/trains/planes/automobiles using oil derivatives. With these substitutions, Carnot's paragraph describes the prospective impact of this administration's energy policies: conducting a war on fossil fuels, without leveling with people about the true limitations of "alternative" energy technologies and without seriously pursuing civilian nuclear power.
Powering Down #2: Patrick Richardson: Kansas is ranked second in the nation behind Montana for wind energy potential, a fact which should have environmentalists jumping for joy. Instead, they’re trying to block the construction of transmission lines to wind farms in south central Kansas and north central Oklahoma.
Why? Well it all has to do with the lesser prairie chicken. According to a story by the Hutchinson News in February of this year, ranchers and wildlife officials in the area are teaming up with groups like the Sierra Club to block the construction of the lines, which would apparently run through prime breeding territory for the bird.
Powering Down #3: The California Water Resources Board has ruled that 19 natural gas power plants, located in coastal areas, are in violation of the Clean Water Act for using a technique called "once-through cooling." According to this article, it appears that this ruling will result in the shutdown of most of these plants.
Powering Down #4: George Will writes about the the attack that Obama's EPA is conducting against the Navajo Generating Station, which together with the coal mine that feeds it represents an important factor in Arizona's economy and an important source of employment for members of the Navajo tribe.
Will notes that the NGS provides 95 percent of the power for the pumps of the Central Arizona Project, which routes water from the Colorado River and which made Phoenix and most of modern Arizona possible. A study sponsored by the Interior Department estimates that the EPA’s mandate might increase the cost of water by as much as 32 percent, hitting agriculture users especially hard.
Friday, March 27, 2015
GOD IS AN ENGLISHMAN
The Swann family saga, by R F Delderfield:
Theirs was the kingdom
In 1850, Adam Swann returned from India to his native England, having decided that a career in military service (especially in what he now viewed as basically a mercenary force, the East India Company’s army) was not for him. He had in his possession a valuable cache of jewelry which he had acquired on a battlefield and (probably illegally) kept for himself. While in India he had kept abreast of events in England by reading several-month-old newspapers, and was intrigued with the possibilities unleashed by industrial expansion. His original intention was to sell the jewelry and invest the proceeds in railway stock or in actually building a railroad branch line somewhere–but was dissuaded by a chance meeting with a railroad official, who advised him that railway building was in a bubble and that most of the lines now being constructed would prove uneconomic. The official had, however, an alternative suggestion: put the money on the horses. But not in the usual way.
There’s more future in horse-transport than the Cleverdicks would have you believe. The railroads can solve all the big problems but none of the small ones…If I were you, Mr Swann–and I wish to God I were and starting all over again–I would spend the next week studying the blank areas of that map there. Then travel about and take a look at the goods yards of the most successful companies, and see merchandise piled in the rain on all their loading bays for want of a good dispersal system.
Swann takes the man’s advice and sets off on a cross-country ride to evaluate the prospects for a new horse-drawn freight transportation business. On the way, he meets Henrietta, who is fleeing a prospective marriage arranged by her father, a coarse and greedy mill owner. It is Henrietta who proposes for the projected transport company the name Swann-on-Wheels and the wheeled-swan logo that will soon adorn the sides of hundreds of wagons rolling throughout Britain.
The series is the story of Swann-on-Wheels, of Adam and Henrietta’s marriage and family, and of British society in the time period 1850-1914. Unlike most historical novels covering this period, the aristocracy plays a very minor part, to the point of being almost completely irrelevant to the story, other than as a source of status markers:
In the England into which he had been born, blood and breeding were still paramount and continued to call the national tune. Ancient wealth was still the legislator and determiner of the national destiny. But all this had changed when he was still a lad. By then the man of brass and the man of iron had come into their own, elbowing their way forward and demanding, at the top of their voices to be heard and heeded…Adam, who sometimes conjured with these abstracts, saw the process as a second Reformation, a phase of history repeating itself, with inventors, engineers, and their sponsors matching the hard-faced adventurers of Tudor times…For his part, he welcomed the transformation. To him it was a cleansing tide, notwithstanding the mountains of muck and rubble it left behind…(but) it seemed to him that the wives and daughters of the men of brass took no pride in their menfolk’s astounding victory. All they wanted, it appeared, was to replace their former masters without deviation by so much as a single inch from their ways of life, or discarding a single one of their prejudices.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
V S NAIPAUL ON ISIS AS THE FOURTH REICH
Friday, March 20, 2015
OF STORIES, CHARACTER, AND BELIEFS
Here I will link several posts that I see as related. At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.
I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.
This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
BOOK REVIEW: THE YEAR OF THE FRENCH (rerun)
The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–”In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” ”A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper ”a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. ”One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. ”The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
continued at Chicago Boyz
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
EARLY AMERICAN JET DEVELOPMENT
The Jet Race and the Second World War is a useful source on the early days of the turbojet revolution. The concept of the jet was developed independently in Britain (by Frank Whittle) and in Germany (by Hans von Ohain.) US Army Air Corps chief of staff Henry “Hap” Arnold championed bringing this technology to the United States, promising the Brits that absolute secrecy would be maintained. GE was chosen for the US production contract, largely because of its experience with turbosuperchargers, which in turn had benefited from its work with marine and powerplant turbines. There had been a US research project on possible turbine applications in aviation, but it was focused on turboprops and ducted fans rather than pure jets. (Interestingly, Arnold chose to exclude the piston engine manufacturers from this work, being concerned about possible conflicts of interest.)
Bell Aircraft was chosen to design and build the airplane which was to be mated with the first American-built jet engine: it was called the XP-59 Airacomet, and GE’s engine (a derivative of the Whittle W2B) was called the I-A. The prototype Airacomet was delivered to the test field via steam train (with the engine being kept in constant rotation at low speed because of concerns about vibration damaging the bearings), and first flew in October 1942. The Army Air Corps ordered 80 of them, but only 30 were delivered, with the balance of the production contract being cancelled because of somewhat disappointing performance and the incipient availability of better engines and airframes.
Meanwhile, the British had proceeded with development of their first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, powered by Rolls Royce Welland engines. The Meteor did not see any air-to-air combat during WWII, but it was used with success against German V-1 buzz bombs (“cruise missiles,” as we would now call them) and also ground attack and airfield defense missions during the last stages of the war in Europe. It would later serve in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force.
Sunday, March 08, 2015
DUZ UR GPS MAK U DUMR?
Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience, , says that by using satnavs, we wither away our ‘caveman’ ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorizing snapshots of them. Some of the research suggests that lack of exercising these spatial-reasoning abilities may have implications beyond a reduction in one’s ability to find one’s way unaided.
See also my related posts:
Thursday, March 05, 2015
KEEP THOSE KIDS AT HOME AND IN FRONT OF A SCREEN!
Here’s a Maryland couple who got in trouble with the Government because they let their children–a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old–walk home from the park by themselves. They (the parents) were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect”–whatever that means….it sounds pretty Kafkaesque.
There are at least two issues here: out-of-control discretion by an administrative agency, whether granted to them by bad legislative drafting, or simply grabbed…and, a even more fundamentally, a society which has responded to one of the safest environments in human history by becoming fear-ridden and safety-obsessed.
I am reminded, and not for the first time, of a passage in Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
THE END OF THE WORLD?
When I was thirty one, I sat on my back porch on a lovely summer day, reading Reason magazine. The issue was devoted to debunking global warming. And suddenly, like a weight lifting, I realized there really wasn’t proof. That it wasn’t preordained that my generation would be the last to have a decent life on Earth. That my kids and grandkids (I only had one kid at the time, and he was still nursing) wouldn’t necessarily be doomed. That the future wasn’t all doom and gloom.
And I realized my entire life I’d lived in the shadow of the fear of decay and death. First there was the cold war, and sooner or later, the bombs would fly. We’d die screaming. Then there was overpopulation. If we escaped the bomb, we’d all starve to death. Or thirst to death (thank you, Paul Ehrlich!) Then there was global cooling. We were all going to freeze in the ice age. Then there was global warming. Amid all these threats, how could we escape. To watch the thing debunked and to see it pointed out that even the proponents of AGW don’t live like they believe in it lifted a weight from my heart.
Since then I’ve been skeptical of the end of the world prophecies.