Friday, June 13, 2014

A kernel of truth in a bushel of vicious nonsense.

or    Speaking of kryptonite ...    or    Praise the Lord and pass the (rhetorical) ammunition!
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Click for details at EcoSanity: Climate Emergency Countdown, June 22, Toronto.
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[I remembered it incorrectly as 'pernicious nonsense' and had to feel around in the dark for a while to find Frye's essay. That's funny.   :-)   ]

Bjørn Lomborg.Richard Tol.Richard Tol (1969-) makes the 'notorious denier' headlines briefly in March: IPCC author brands upcoming climate report 'alarmist'. He puts himself into Wikipedia - a bushel of venal self-promotion and a peck of attention is my guess. Now he's back with: The claim of a 97% consensus on global warming does not stand up.

Problem is, there's a peck of sense in this bushel of straw. Rule of thumb is that most people are either unconcerned, misinformed or otherwise dim - that the sum of them might be 97% is not unreasonable. ... Is it? One goes straight to Galileo, dragged before the Roman Catholic Inquisition, threatened with torture, his books banned and himself under house arrest for the last ten years of his life - all by that very 97%.

[There's more: being that this is about 100 years after Copernicus has published his heliocentric work (finally debunking Ptolemy of half a millennium before). Giving us yet another bearing on how long it takes new ideas to penetrate the social imaginary. And once again the answer is 'too long'.]

A-and (sorry to say this, don't want to fall into Naomi Oreske's anti-intellectual category) ... does the 97% include the inventors of Thalidomide? DDT? Roundup & Roundup-Ready corn? How many of them endorsed Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution?

Bjørn Lomborg is another one. There are lots. Lomborg is clever - in his way. He manages to get Elizabeth May's goat in public at the Munk Debate here in Toronto in 2009 - loses the debate by a whisker but wins the PR horse laugh (even with his partner, Nigel Lawson, apparently drunk & almost asleep).

A friend of mine sings a tune "I never met a liar that I didn't like." It works for me - at the level of a carney barker, or a pool hustler who can really play, or a good 'ol boy making a play for a pretty waitress. But it's wearing thin on the likes of these 50ish metrosexuals Richard Tol & Bjørn Lomborg, just because ... well, transparency I guess. And something spoiled, spotted, rotten, urban, about the thinking of the generation born out of the 60s?

OK, let's consult Northrop:
Sometimes the journey of understanding leads, in Hegelian fashion, to the opposite of what the physical event suggests. Let us imagine a speaker in Flanders of Leningrad or anywhere where there is a war cemetary memorializing hundreds of thousands of dead soldieres, explaining to an audience that aggressiveness is essential to humanity because of its survival value. A kernel of truth in a bushel of vicious nonsense; but in contemplating the nonsense our understanding begins to turn inside out. The conventions of secular literature, as they descent from Homer to medieval romance, keep the aggressive hero in the foreground as a central poetic theme. These conventions are also reflected in the Old Testament period between Joshua and David. Other elements in the Bible eventually push us in the opposite direction of seeing that endurance under adversity is the real form of courage. Here the genuine survival values become the spiritual ones given by faith and hope, even when we are not quite sure what our faith is in or what our hope is for; even when their goal is certain death.
(Northrop Frye 'The Double Vision' chapter 4, my emphasis)
The Bible is emphatic that nothing numinous exists in nature, that there may be devils there but no gods, and that nature is to be thought of as a fellow-creature of man. However, the paranoid attitude to nature that Pynchon describes survives in the manic-depressive psychosis of the twentieth century. In the manic phase, we are told that the age of Aquarius is coming, and that soon the world will be turned back to the state of innocence. In the depressive phase, news analysts explain that pollution has come to a point at which any sensible nature would simply wipe us out and start experimenting with a new species. In interviews I am almost invariably asked at some point whether I feel optimistic or pessimistic about some contemporary situation. The answer is that these imbecile words are euphemisms for manic-depressive highs and lows, and that anyone who struggles for sanity avoids both.
( ibid. chapter 2)
Northrop Frye was definitely an urban creature but he knew the other, rural, sensibility as well, intimately even; and consequently he sometimes talks sense.

[It's funny, I wrote this knowing that he had the opportunity for such sensibility but not really knowing whether or not he had it. The question nagged me so I read a few biographies. Of course I know nothing of Frye beyond reading some of his books and understanding very little - though some of it does sound like sense to me. Maybe making sense is not as difficult as I think.

Helen Kemp's two abortions and subsequent subservient barrenness and death. The book of Job as a place to begin on the arrogance of God; and Vico's "verum factum" as a place to begin on the arrogance of city folk - Frye among them.

And I am back to dreaming of Neanderthal and the silent hundreds of millennia of their existence (compared with a mere several of our own).


And not just Northrop Frye (though I have little idea of the sensibilities of the authors below) ...

An article in 'The New Yorker' catches my attention: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet Melt: Defending the Drama. It refers to a paper (without quite specifying provenance) by Naomi Oreskes.

Eventually I find it - Climate Change Prediction: Erring on the Side of Least Drama? by Keynyn Brysse, Naomi Oreskes, Jessica O’Reilly, & Michael Oppenheimer in 'Global Environmental Change' [Volume 23, Issue 1, February 2013] aka ESLD.

Both Naomi Oreskes and Michael Oppenheimer kindly send me copies (the paper itself lives on the Internet behind a $35.95US Science Direct/Elsevier pay-wall). They may do the same for you if you ask 'em politely - Elsevier at least gives ready access to contact information.

Naomi Oreskes.Michael Oppenheimer.Jessica O’Reilly.Keynyn Brysse.
Naomi Oreskes.Michael Oppenheimer.

Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway will soon (July 1) publish 'The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future'. A few details pre-released in a Guardian interview suggest that Oreskes imagines that in 300+ years from now there will still be a functioning society somewhere. I wish I shared this view. Despite the dramatic title I wonder if she has fallen under her own diagnosis.

"I walk 47 miles of barb wire. I use a cobra snake for a necktie. I got a brand new house on the road side made from rattlesnake hide. I got a brand new chimbley made on top, made out of human skulls. Now c'mon take a little walk with me Arlene and tell me: Who do you love?

Who do you love? Who do you love? Who do you love? Who do you love?"   (Bo Diddley, 1956)

So many ways to go wrong. Complacence, condescension, complicity (also duplicity - "ich du, ich du, it's you, it's you" which is how I misremember Sylvia Plath). Making unwarranted assumptions & taking for granted. The ambiguity of 'I don't mind' (Is it "I pay it no mind," or "It doesn't bother me"?). Even ... paying too much mind like the atheists (one of those i-before-e exceptions) & God-fearers alike: squandering time on foregone conclusions while (O little town of) Bethlehem becomes bedlam.

Then there's: Lies, damned lies and simple mistakes in reading & arithmetic; nasty but at least it's somewhat more tractable. Two examples:

Voltaire: Candide & Cunegonde in the Garden.1) QUESTION: Can we (all) go (back) to the land?

Wikipedia Earth gives us: Surface area 510,072,000 km2 - 148,940,000 km2 (30%) land, and 361,132,000 km2 (70%) water. Arable Land tells us "... arable land amounted to 1,386 M ha (13,860,000 km2), out of a total 4,883 M ha (48,830,000 km2) land used for agriculture."

So, based on 7 billion total population, each of us gets 2 ha of arable or 7 ha agricultural land; or, based on families of four, 28 ha per family.

Hectares mean nothing to me; in acres (which do, 2.471 acres per hectare) it's ~70 acres for the family farm - which is ... enough (I would say) to just about support 'em (but possibly not the politicians & bureaucrats).

All this might even give pause to some of those who deny there ever was a 'golden age' - maybe there never was but ... maybe there could be. Five acres is lots for me.   :-)

2) QUESTION: How can one intuitively grasp parts per million (ppm) and billion (ppb)?

The tininess of proportions using these units is baffling. One way to go after it is with time - 1 million seconds is ~11½ days, call it two weeks: so a second in a week is ~2 ppm, or a second in a month ~½ ppm; and 1 billion seconds is about 32 years: so ... two seconds in a lifetime is something like 1 ppb. And yes, the seconds when you are asleep count too.

When someone tells you that 3 ppb of some chemical is enough to entirely disrupt the sex lives of brown trout - well, 3 ppb ain't very fricken' much.

Ique: shit head.It's not so much good guys & bad guys, white hats & black hats, as it is good guys & knuckleheads. (And please feel free to lump me with the knuckleheads - as even a brief look at much of the content in this blog will confirm.)

A-and anyway, how does one convince a knucklehead of anything? Patiently? Humbly? With gentle persistence, good will and understanding (at several levels)? I've rarely tried it but on those few occasions when I did, it worked. Then again, shame sometimes works too and it's more fun.

Matthew 18 might disapprove of Ique's cartoon over there; might not go so far. Or maybe it's like the cowboy in 'The Virginian': "When you call me that, smile!" Or ... does Adão Iturrusgarai's effort come anywhere close to it at all I wonder?

Adão Iturrusgarai: well hung.
Wowzers!                                             I'm well well hung too!

Two books on my shelf also bear on this: Amos Oz 'How To Cure a Fanatic' and Robin Soans 'Talking To Terrorists'; both of which I recommend.

Sitting on the bench in the park having a smoke and a wee sparrow lands for an instant on my knee. The delight of it lasts for a week and more. The sparrow is not concerned with any environmental apocalypse wise or otherwise. Someone has eaten a hard boiled egg here recently and he spends some time pecking up chips of shell. Then, remembering that he is supposed to be building a nest somewhere; he stuffs his beak with whatnot and zooms off.

Envious? Well I guess ...

"A Somnour was ther with us in that place ... as hoot he was, and lecherous as a sparwe."

Postscript:   There was a provincial election yesterday. For the first time in my life I very nearly didn't vote but I couldn't do that. In the end I went up there and marked the ballot: "NONE OF YOU ARE FIT TO GOVERN".

And while I was there I saw what they'd done to their church. (The polling station was at Beaches United.) They had two and now it's reduced to this. Architectural humour: If ever a building spoke 'rump' to me it was this glimpse on voting day. Oh well. We all know the United Church is moribund among us eh?

Maybe I'll get a picture after a while ...

Yippee! It's Friday the 13th.
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