Archive for June, 2009

“Treason against the planet”

June 30, 2009

Since I have occasionally expressed scepticism on the matter of global climate change, perhaps I should present the views of  some reasonable, level-header spokesman for the other side?  But instead:  why not the views of a not-so-reasonable person– but he happens to be  a Nobel prize winning economist, which is almost as good.  I give you Mr. Paul Krugman, with his op-ed in the nation’s newspaper of record, the New York Times.  His subject of those 212 miscreants in the House who voted against the Waxman-Markey measure to tax carbon and save the planet:

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

Still, he wants to be fair, even to those damnable deniers.  But it can be hard to do so with such traitors:

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Why couldn’t they have used reasonable arguments, like Mr. Waxman himself  (in that Tavis Smiley interview which I quoted in an earlier post)? We’re seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point – they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn’t ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there’s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap.”  Presumably Krugman is too polite to criticize idiotic arguments when they are on his side of an issue.  And of course he doesn’t bother with any arguments himself– “the science is settled”, as the man said.

Rumor has it, by the way, that most of the disreputable 212 were Republicans.


Bear Facts

June 29, 2009

Here’s an item from the British Telegraph newspaper.  There will be a UN meeting on climate change in Copenhagen next December. But one expert  on polar bears (he has studied the animals for 30 years) has been disinvited from a preparatory meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group:

Dr Mitchell Taylor has been researching the status and management of polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle for 30 years, as both an academic and a government employee. More than once since 2006 he has made headlines by insisting that polar bear numbers, far from decreasing, are much higher than they were 30 years ago. Of the 19 different bear populations, almost all are increasing or at optimum levels, only two have for local reasons modestly declined…

Dr Taylor had obtained funding to attend this week’s meeting of the PBSG, but this was voted down by its members because of his views on global warming. The chairman, Dr Andy Derocher, a former university pupil of Dr Taylor’s, frankly explained in an email (which I was not sent by Dr Taylor) that his rejection had nothing to do with his undoubted expertise on polar bears: “it was the position you’ve taken on global warming that brought opposition”.

Apparently it’s important to have all experts on the same page on such an important matter.  After all, “the science is settled”, as Al Gore stated some time ago…

“The dangerous carbon emissions…”

June 24, 2009

From the president’s press conference today, regarding his proposed energy bill — with its carbon “cap and trade” provisions:

At a time of great fiscal challenges, this legislation is paid for by the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air that we breathe. It also provides assistance to businesses and communities as they make the gradual transition to clean energy technologies.

Presumably Mr. Obama, like many people these days, believes that excess  carbon dioxide  has bad effects on the world’s climate.  Which may or may not be true– I still have my doubts.  But,  that CO2  equals “dangerous carbon emissions” which “contaminate the water we drink and the air we breathe”?  Can he be that ignorant of basic biology and chemistry?  Or does he assume that his audience is that ignorant?  In the latter case he may be right– certainly as regards the news media people in his audience.

And of course it will all be “paid for by the polluters”.  What a relief!  Some people claim that making energy more expensive would raise their energy bills.  But those evil polluters will absorb all the costs, right?

I thank (or blame) the Powerline blog for getting me started on this…

The piece of legislation in question is generally called Waxman-Markey, after its two sponsors.  Rep. Harvey Waxman, to put it charitably, doesn’t seem to understand much about the problem which his 1200-page bill is supposed to address.  In an NPR interview of Tavis Smiley with Mr. Waxman, he didn’t seem to know that there’s an Arctic Ocean beneath the North Pole:

We’re seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point – they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn’t ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there’s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap.”

Paint your roof!

June 18, 2009

Steven Chu, President Obama’s science adviser, has suggested that it might be a good idea to encourage people to paint their roofs white– and thus reflect solar radiation back into space, helping to save us from the peril of global warming.  Here’s a story on the proposal in the British Telegraph newspaper.

I remember that in the 1970s, when there was a scare about future “global cooling”, there were proposals to sprinkle black carbon particles on arctic ice, thus having the opposite effect:  absorb more radiation and protect us from the coming Ice Age.  Of course that scare didn’t last nearly as long as the current concern about excessive warming.

I can’t help thinking about the Disney “Alice in Wonderland” movie, in which the Red Queen’s gardeners try to remedy a horticultural mistake by “painting the roses red”.

Well, I know this is different– after all, Dr. Chu won the Nobel prize in physics.  In the movie, her majesty was not amused and shouted:  “Off with their heads!”

Dancing in Philly (revised)

June 13, 2009

Just for a more cheerful note in my Philadelphia postings:  there was an Irish festival, on the riverfront, which we attended Sunday evening.

I had included a nice picture of young ladies, from some school of Irish traditional dance,  performing on the stage.  But now I’ve decided, reluctantly, to remove that picture:  I didn’t of course get any releases to use the image, and ethically I shouldn’t broadcast it.  (Not that a million people are likely to see it on this wildly popular website!).   So, goodbye to a very nice photo…

I’ll just recall a few lines from an old song:
Oh the days of the Kerry dancing,
Oh the ring of the piper’s tune;
Oh for one of those hours of gladness,
Gone, alas! like our youth too soon.

We sat beside a family (a couple with their grown son) who wore green “Fishtown” tshirts.  When I asked, they told me that was their neighborhood, not far from where we were sitting.  Fishtown must inspire a lot of local pride:  the shirts had printed on the back:

Irish by Heritage,
Catholic by Choice,
Fishtown by the Grace of God

“A work such as this”

June 13, 2009

Is ní hé Dia cheap riamh an obair seo…

‘People sink,’ wrote Mr. Bishop; ‘they have no stamina left, they say  “It is the will of God” and die.’

The Great Hunger:  Ireland 1845-1852,  by Cecil Woodham-Smith(p. 180)

A work such as this could never be God’s:
Poor people evicted to stray on the roads–
Or to the dark poorhouse, where man and wife lie
In separate wards, locked apart till they die.

The children who always knew such loving care
Are snatched from their parents– no tenderness there;
Fed a watery soup as with hunger they cry,
With no mother to comfort– alone till they die.

The gentry, the great ones:  pity them if you can–
To God they must pay for this work of their hands,
And for the world’s poor men, whom riches pass by
As they serve their life’s sentence:  hard work till they die.

Since the blackened potatoes we’re scattered from home;
Now we rot in the poorhouse or to foreign lands roam.
Stacked in graves on the hillsides in our hundreds we lie–
Oh God up in heaven, won’t you answer our cry?

From the Irish of Máire Ni Dhroma(Mary Drum); translated by Peter Kenny


The Irish Memorial (in Philadelphia)

June 13, 2009

In Philadelphia, downtown near Penn’s Landing, there is now “The Irish Memorial”, in memory of the Irish who arrived during the great famine of 1845 to 1850 (some say it lasted into 1852).  The Irish phrase is An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger.  I don’t agree with those who say: don’t call it a famine, it was man-made.  Yes, it was largely man-made — as most famines in human history are man-made.  Food becomes scarce, prices rise, the poor starve — that is “famine”,  as in the French “j’ai faim”, meaning “I am hungry”.  What was unusual in Ireland was the very large percentage of the very poor, and the oppressive landlord system which made and kept them poor.

Recently I read Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”, which contains the following statement:

The ‘Hungry Forties’ were not in truth peculiarly hungry:  the population was better fed than it had been in the ‘thirties, or the ‘twenties, and the ‘fifties were better fed still, as a general prosperity penetrated to the lower strata of society—at the same time staving off the agricultural depression which the Old Tories had been sure would follow on the heels of Corn Law repeal.

Was Russell Kirk perhaps a mite Anglocentric in his outlook?

Next post:  a poem from those indeed hungry forties, which I translated from the Irish.


2 Churches in Philadelphia

June 12, 2009

Besides Christ Church (Episcopalian) and the Free Quaker church complex (across the street from our Holiday Inn), we visited two important Catholic churches.  Old St. Joseph’s dates from 1733.   It kept a very low profile (entrance from an alley):  even the Quakers with their principles of tolerance hesitated to allow a Jesuit church to open!  The Catholics stood up for themselves, saying they wanted not mere tolerance but full freedom of worship– and they got it.

There was also Old St. Mary’s, built in 1743.  In 1779 St. Mary’s was selected for the official celebration of July 4th, with the new gov’t and foreign ambassadors in attendance for a Mass and Te Deum.  Perhaps the fact that so many Catholics had joined in the fight for independence, as well as the needed support of Catholic France and Spain, helped to overcome the anti-Catholic prejudices of British America.

In the St. Mary’s graveyard is buried John Barry, the “Father of the US Navy”; as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence whose name I don’t recall right now.  There’s a plaque honoring Barry in the front wall:


Note that the tablet is from the “Wexford 98” society of his countrymen– referring to the great rebellion of 1798, which was centered in Barry’s native county.  It’s said that at least 20% of Washington’s army was Irish-born, and (like John Barry) they were never slow to rise against England whenever given the chance.

We did not visit St. Augustine’s, another old Catholic church (dating from 1796).  It was burned to the ground by an anti-Catholic mob in 1844; and the mob also destroyed “one of the finest theological libraries in the United States, containing 3,000 volumes”, according to the church’s web site.  However “The Augustinian Church sued in court and rebuilt the church with the funds awarded”, thus redeeming Philadelphia’s reputation for tolerance.

During the revolutionary period our new country was lucky to benefit from the Enlightenment ideals of tolerance and human perfectibility, not yet contaminated by the fanatical (and anti-religious) spirit of the French revolution which soon followed.

Regarding Catholic churches:  I think that the architecture and atmosphere in those early ones is more “classical”– quite different from the appearance and emotional tone of the newer churches that served later waves of Catholic immigrants.  More restraint, less holy water– that might sum it up.  Catholics as well as Protestants had a more restrained style of worship in the earlier time.  (Another church in the same mold:  St. John’s in Frederick, Md).

And of course those later Catholic immigrants– particularly the Irish refugees from hunger in the 1840’s onward– provoked a strong animus and much bigotry. Perhaps there are some similarities to our current illegal immigration problem today?

Next time I’ll deal with “The Irish Memorial”, honoring those Irish newcomers of the famine years.

In Philadelphia

June 10, 2009

We spent a long weekend in Philadelphia, staying in the downtown just a few  blocks from Independence National Historical Park, which includes Independence Hall and other historical sites.  So we walked around– the car stayed in a garage.  A bit expensive (even the car’s “room” in a garage cost $22 per day);  but most enjoyable and educational.  And a low-cost “Pflash” bus (free to old geezers) was handy for visiting the art museum.

Philadelphia was the nation’s capital throughout the 1790’s; in 1801 it was moved to Washington DC, after they’d cleared (some of) the wilderness.  The move was in keeping with a north-south compromise, without which the Constitution might not have been adopted.  So our capital was transferred from the largest and most sophisticated city of the new US  to a rather backward new village– one which “combined northern charm with southern efficiency”, as it’s detractors used to put it.  Well it had to be that way; and “Washington City”, as they called it, has come a long way.  But one might wonder:  how would our history have been different if the capital could have remained in Philadelphia?  The US would have certainly been a more civilized country; but on the other hand, the South — with Jefferson’s professed disdain for urban life– might have seceded even earlier.

Here’s a picture of Elfreth’s Alley, which they say is the oldest continuously-inhabited street in the United States:


The alley dates back to 1702– it’s been somewhat cleaned up since then.  Tradespeople lived there at first; in the mid-19th century the Irish came to predominate.

More on Philadelphia (and the Irish there) will follow.

A hot(?) subject

June 5, 2009

Switching from family & poetry for a while:

Roger Pielke Jr. directss the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, and maintains the Prometheus blog.  Dr. Pielke could be described as a “moderate” supporter of the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) world view.  But he often seems to be embarrassed by the more extreme people on that issue; it wouldn’t surprise me if some of them don’t consider him a “denier”.

A recent case in point:  last week he referred to “a new report issued by the Global Humanitarian Forum which makes the absurd claim that 315,000 deaths a year can be attributed to the effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations”.  Pielke titles his comments “A Methodological Embarrassment”; and one might say he does his best to embarrass Kofi Annan and his partners in this enterprise.  But it seems unlikely that they (or their media publicizers) are capable of embarrassment.  Pielke has further posts on this.  Anyway, I like his blog.