Monday, April 30, 2007

Betejeman Book Review

by John McCaughey

Dr. Ramsden cannot read The Times obituary
He's dead.
Let monograms on silk worms by other people
Thrown away
For he who best could understand and criticize
them, he
Lies clay
In bed.

Sometimes, actually, you can judge a book by its cover. The dust jacket of Andrew Wilson's new Life of the great English poet John Betjeman* far from employing the conventional image of the merry, gleeful, teddy-bear- hugging poet shows a middle-aged man slumped in a heavy overcoat and black felt hat with an expression glum and even despairful. It is a clever play on the clown-as-tragedian theme: a theme that Wilson often touches upon in his book.

Poet Laureate John Betjeman was by far the most popular English poet of the 20th century---more popular, certainly, than the great but more intellectual William Butler Yeats. Interestingly, both men were in effect foreigners: Yeats being Irish and Betjeman coming from German roots. But, unlike the rubbish that is peddled today, their poetry rhymed, scanned and made sense. Indeed, some of Betjeman's best poems are set in Ireland where, during World War II, he worked at the British Embassy in Dublin.

Many poets spend 60 years writing poetry and never produce a memorable line---even (as one would have thought probable) were they to have done so by accident. Betjeman rarely wrote anything bad and perhaps a third of what he wrote was exceptionally good. His work sold: two million copies of his Collected Poems, exciting the jealousy and rage of his pseudish and less-talented rivals.

And it was accessible. Still today there is hardly a drinker in the saloon bar of an English pub who could not recite the famous opening lines of one of his poems:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
It is not fit for humans now....

Even the inhabitants of that benighted London suburb enjoyed the joke. And people in pubs tend to enjoy a joke and a rattling good rhyme.

Architecture, English tradition, elegies of a vanishing past, the Church of England, wry humor and a certain gloom were the leitmotifs and the appeal of Betjeman's poems.

In architecture, he was a tireless defender of the great classic buildings (most especially churches) then being torn down in a vandalistic, profiteering frenzy of destruction after World War II, a frenzy which peaked in the 1960s.

In religion, he was a devout follower of High Church Anglicalism and such associated literary masterpieces as The Book of Common Prayer.

And the Anglican Church in its way paid him back. The book of Hymns Ancient and Modern was the source of some of his best poems. In a significant way as well, so was the old music hall. It was an interesting admixture.

Betjeman won national fame and relative prosperity by his early employment of television documentaries to save precious buildings and old churches. It was hard work: the making of TV documentaries is a far more time-consuming and difficult art than people realize. But he was a natural and, in effect, directed his own shows. Earlier, he had been a well-paid gossip columnist and film critic for the newspapers.

In melancholy, he strove never to show it but was privately tormented. Publicly, he practised mirth. He spoke for the best of an Old England that has now largely vanished in the tsunami of yobs and yuptrash, hoodies and hooliganism.

The body waits in Pembrooke College
Where the ivy taps the panes
All night;
That old head so full of knowledge,
That good heart that kept the brains
All right,
Those old cheeks that faintly flushed as the port
suffused the veins,
Drain'd white.

Crocus in the Fellows' Garden, winter jasmine
up the wall
Gleam gold.
Shadows of Victorian chimneys on the sunny
grassplot fall
Long, cold.
Master, Bursar, Senior Tutor, these, his three
survivors, all
Feel old.

Betjeman's love life was tempestuous but mainly a menage a trois : he loved his wife (although, to his deep grief, she later became a Roman Catholic). Penelope, the wife, was no respecter of persons. For a year, because she spoke no English, the German cook at the Betjeman home believed that John Betjeman's name was "Shut Up" because that was how his wife invariably addressed him.

But Betjeman also loved Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of a duke and a Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister. In France, this would have excited little comment. In England, it was considered odd.

Both women were aware of the situation and from time to time they kicked a bit. His wife suggested divorce but Betjeman said that his religion forbade it. The poet could never be induced to choose between the two women and continued to patronise them both. He was, writes Wilson, "very nearly always in love, often unsuitably." He was in love with love.

They remember as the coffin to its final obsequations
Leaves the gates,
Buzz of bees in window boxes on their summer
Kitchen din.

Cups and plates,
And the getting of bump suppers for the long
dead generations
Coming in,
From Eights.

That poem honored Doctor Walter Ramsden of Pembroke College, Oxford University, who died on March 26, 1947. But Betjeman might just as well have been writing his own In Memoriam.

His was a curious life: more contradictory than most of us, deep into religious tradition, into architecture, into literature, publicly merry but privately melancholic and even timorous. Yet he was the finest poet of his generation---light years better than the hopeless rivals who denigrated his success as "coffee table" fame. All his life he inspired love and loyalty and he had a gift for maintaining friendships that few people possess.

*Betjeman: A Life by A.N. Wilson. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. $27.00.

(1000 words)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

An Earth Day Tribute to Global Warming

Guest column by our old friend Warmhoax

Happy Earth Day everyone!!

In commemoration of the event, I want to pay tribute to "the greatest threat to humankind", global warming. Clearly, this should not be taken lightly, as this threat is at least equal to the one encountered in Salem Massachusetts in 1692, when witches were identified among the populace. But the community rallied then, just like now, and were able to eliminate that grave threat. So there is hope.

Of course, anyone who watches the news, by now, must be certain that the world is about to ignite due to global warming...and clearly, it is 100% our fault. If you question the orthodoxy of global warming and our role in causing it, you are "evil" and a "denier".

It is interesting however, that when the Earth was cooling (the 1970's), the predictions were just as dire....maybe even more dramatic. What could be worse than a cooling world heading towards an ice age? The predictions were apocalyptic. See many quotes below.

Simply put:

Cooling Climate = very bad ):

Of course, now the apocalyptic predictions for global warming are, well, exactly the same.

Simply put;

Warming Climate = very bad ):

If everything we've heard is true (and not junk science), logically, the following must be true:

Cooling Climate = very bad
Warming Climate = very bad

Therefore, since nobody knows what the perfect climate is supposed to be...and the climate is always changing (it's never static), we're screwed. Basically:

Cooling Climate = we're screwed
Warming Climate = we're screwed


Since Earth's climate is always changing = we're always screwed.

Maybe these panic mongers and chicken littles should try another planet (or Salem, Massachusetts)...perhaps they'd be happier on Mars. Personally, I'm tired of them and the media that worships them as oracles. But of course, the media loves a good scare...whether it's cooling or long as its bad. The bottom line: They're all crazy and fit very well in pseudo science fields...I can only assume some of these experts switched fields when they were flunking out of an area based on real science.

Lastly, remember this: a lie repeated often enough becomes accepted as the truth. My recommendation is to challenge the orthodoxy. When "they" talk about "Antarctica", don't be afraid to ask, "do you mean Antarctica as a whole, or the Antarctic Penninsula, which comprises only 5% of the continent?" Don't be afraid to point to contradictory data that they conveniently ignore (as it undermines their pet theory). Cooler heads may eventually for the scientific consensus you always hear about, which is tenuous at best anyway....I'll close with a quote:

"Science is not a democracy...the majority is often wrong."
Joanne Simpson, First Woman PHD in Meteorology


"No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth. Never mind what you've heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out." Time magazine, when we were warming

"As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval." Time magazine, when we were cooling (remember, the 1970's?)

"From heat waves to storms to floods to fires to massive glacial melts, the global climate seems to be crashing around us." Time magazine, when we were warming

"In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. During 1972 record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries." Time magazine, when we were cooling

"And it certainly looks that way as the sodden wreckage of New Orleans continues to molder, while the waters of the Atlantic gather themselves for a new hurricane season just two months away." Time magazine, when we were warming

"Rainy Britain, on the other hand, has suffered from uncharacteristic dry spells the past few springs. A series of unusually cold winters has gripped the American Far West, while New England and northern Europe have recently experienced the mildest winters within anyone's recollection. " Time magazine, when we were cooling

"It certainly looked that way last week as the atmospheric bomb that was Cyclone Larry--a Category 4 storm with wind bursts that reached 125 m.p.h.--exploded through northeastern Australia. " Time magazine, when we were warming

"Telltale signs are everywhere —from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest." Time magazine, when we were cooling

"It's at the North and South poles that those steambath conditions are felt particularly acutely, with glaciers and ice caps crumbling to slush....With habitats crashing, animals that live there are succumbing too." Time magazine, when we were warming

"...its effects could be extremely serious, if not catastrophic." Time magazine, when we were cooling

"Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us." Time magazine, when we were warming

"....our calculations suggest a decrease in global temperature by as much as 3.5 degrees Celsius. Such a large decrease in the average temperature of Earth, sustained over a period of a few years, is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider (one of the fathers of the global warming scare), when we were cooling

"We're increasing the number of heat waves." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were warming

"A cooling trend has set in, perhaps one akin to the Little Ice Age." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were cooling

"The rate of change is so fast that I don't hesitate to call it potentially catastrophic for ecosystems." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were warming

"There is a finite possibility that a serious worldwide cooling could befall the Earth within the next 100 years." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were cooling

"[Global warming linked to emissions of CO2, methane and other gases] is a scientific phenomenon beyond doubt. It's only a question of how much warming there will be." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were warming

"Temperatures do not increase in proportion to an atmospheric increase in CO2 ... Even an eight-fold increase... might warm earth's surface less than two degrees Centigrade, and this is highly unlikely in the next several thousand years." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were cooling

"It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides [of the global warming theory] as though it were a question of balance. " Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were warming (apparently, journalists should have ignored him when he said we were heading towards an ice age? I don't get it.)

"Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects." Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling (wait a minute...if we had followed their advice then, we would have been trying to warm the they want us to cool the planet? I'm so confused.)

"So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest." Climate scientist Stephen Schneider, when we were warming (rationalizing scare tactics & hyperbole)

"The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually." Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling

"Be Worried. Be Very Worried" Cover of Time magazine, when we were warming

"There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. " Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling

"Significant declines in grain yields are forecast for Africa, tropical Latin America and much of India and southeast Asia. Reduced yields are also projected for the USA, Canada, the Middle East, and southern Europe." The United Nations, when we were warming

"A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale...because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century." National Academy of Sciences, when we were cooling (so, they were referring to a warmer climate that helped food production...or not, I'm confused again)

"In early August this year the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska was gripped with unseasonably mild weather: 20 degree afternoons, ravenous mosquitoes past prime insect season and dry tundra in the typically swampy lowlands of the coastal plain. These may be early signs of global warming" Newsweek magazine, when we were warming

"Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 13 U.S. states." Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling

"Does this have anything to do with global warming?" Katie Couric on CBS News following tornado outbreak, when we were warming

"The world’s food-producing system is much more sensitive to the weather variable than it was even five years ago." Dr. James D. McQuigg, NOAA, when we were cooling

"Over the last several months, hundreds of Magellanic penguins have been washing ashore near Rio de Janeiro, 2,000 miles north of their usual haunts. The wayward birds may be signs of a massive climate shift in the South Atlantic" Newsweek, when we were warming

"The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality" Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling

"California sues six carmakers over global warming" Economic Times, when we were warming (thank goodness for environmental lawyers and state attorney least they're pursuing real, tangible issues)

"The stagnant air produced in this way causes an increase in extremes of local weather such as droughts, floods, extended dry spells, long freezes, delayed monsoons and even local temperature increases " Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling
"Anecdotal evidence that the world's weather is getting wilder."
CNN, when we were warming

"...they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century." Newsweek magazine, when we were cooling (drat, that blasted scientific consensus...they were wrong, agricultural productivity went up...go figure!)

"There now is a growing consensus among mainstream scientists about the reality of global warming." Union of Concerned Scientists (AKA the Union of Confused Scientists) when we were warming...well, at least we have a consensus...thank goodness.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

USA still a Developing Country

The international politics of carbon cuts has always been a simple function of whose ox is growing. Germany and Britain say it is easy because it is easy for them, for reasons that have nothing to do with climate policy. Little things like North Sea gas (Brits) and the collapse of the Soviet Union (what do we call the German's these days? Merkles).

Canada and Japan, whose emissions have grown with their modest economies, are on board, doing nothing, and hope it will all go away when Kyoto runs out in 2012, a distinct possibility.

The US is adamantly opposed to mandatory cuts because it is growing like a developing country, which happily it still is, developing that is. The 400 year old miracle.

In fact reading between the turgid lines of the latest DOE emissions report shows that the still prospering USA is developing much faster than usually reported. It is usually reported that US emissions are about 20% over 1990 levels (the base year for Kyoto targets). Cutting back that 20% increase is of course an enormous job, but it doesn't sound all that big to people who do not understand energy, which is everybody within 50 miles of DC, plus the entire press corps except Ken Maize.

The fascinating fact is that this 20% increase includes the local USA version of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Specifically the fact that US industrial emissions have not increased at all since 1990, because our heavy industry is dead in the water or on its way to China. Industrial emissions, including electric power consumption, have actually gone down a fraction of a percent since 1990. Goodbye manufacturing industry, hello services. Yankee ingenuity is flipping burgers.

This interior statistic means that the other segments of society, the ones who are supposed to cut emissions in future, are growing like gangsters. Residential energy use (ban the bulb!) is up about a whopping 32%. Commercial use is even higher, at 35%. These two sectors together roughly matched industrial emissions in 1990 but now are much more. Then there is transportation, which is up about 25%. That is all there is worth counting. 20% is a low ball illusion.

The bottom line is that US carbon emissions are growing like a developing country should and only the transition from heavy to service industry masks this fact. Capping or cutting these prosperous emissions means reversing what the economists call a fundamental trend. It is no wonder we never see a serious analysis of what it would take. No one would take it seriously.

The Washington Pest

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Orgy of Speculation

Wild speculation reported as fact is now the norm in climate reportage. Willful suspension of disbelief is the prevailing stance it seems. Note the use of the word "likely" in the quote below. There is nothing likely about these modeling results, except continued funding due to emissions of press.

First, different models disagree dramatically on many regional climate forecasts. Some say rain will double (swamp), others that it will halve (desert), in the same places. If people were foolish enough to ask to see the local forecasts of all the mainline models, they would quickly learn that these are little more than billion dollar computer games.

So one wonders -- why do climate change impact forecasts at all until we get these models straightened out? A clear waste of taxpayer money. Second, all the models, taken together, are merely speculative. There is no likely there. Research should focus on resolving these huge unknowns.

Welcome to an orgy of speculation disguised as science. Enjoy the show.

Yellow-green journalism quote of the day:

"A new climate modeling study has identified regions of the world where greenhouse gas emissions during the next century are likely to cause the appearance of novel climates unlike anything that exists today."

From: Global Warming Forecasts Creation, Loss Of Climate Zones
Science Daily

The Washington Pest