Saturday, August 30, 2014

Our Policy on Blog Comments

Some of you might not realize it, but we here at the World of Dr Justice © [headquarters: Geneva]  maintain an Open-Door policy on readers’ comments!   We do not censor commentary based on differences of opinion -- not even from Nominalists (curse them)!  The only grounds for refusing to post  is persistent misspelling.

The Webmaster at the World of Dr Justice,
industriously proof-reading readers’ comments

To illustrate this point, consider the following popular essay:

It was our modest good fortune to have discovered an unpublished passage from the hand of Mr Charles Dickens -- a trifle, really, but of some interest to specialists -- and to post it, to murmured acclaim.  Yet a handful of contentious scholars  responded with venom -- which we manfully posted for all to see!  Check it out!

ISIS/ISIL again (expanded)

Now that this Administration is toying with the temptation of dragging us into yet a third war in (or against) Iraq,  we should pause  and once again set the record straight about the name of our new foe:  ISIS or ISIL?

We examined the matter from a linguistic perspective  at great length  here:

Upshot:  “Levant”, rather than “Syria” (in its contemporary sense) is more accurate -- and indeed, in ways crucial to policy-making -- as a translation of the Arabic term in the group’s (former) official name, al-Shâm.  

Updated upshot:  Now that ISIL has morphed into plain IS, the “Islamic State” tout court (et tout grand), claiming the status of a Caliphate, the distinction between “Levant” and “(lesser, nation-state) Syria” falls moot.  They want it all.  At a minimum, de jure, the whole of the ummah, the Islamic oecumene;  long-term, the entire planet, since it is a settled point of Muslim doctrine that Islam is the natural, inborn  state of mankind (left to himself, Robinson Crusoe becomes a de facto Muslim);  only via parental manipulation does the child get twisted into becoming a Magian (or other sects we shall not mention).

[Herewith the original posting from 10 Aug 2014]
In her column this morning, after quoting some correct linguistic information from the BBC, Maureen Dowd goes on to get matters  exactly backwards:

It’s a bit odd that the administration is using “the Levant,” given that it conjures up a colonial association from the early 20th century, when Britain and France drew their maps, carving up Mesopotamia guided by economic gain rather than tribal allegiances. Unless it’s a nostalgic nod to a time when puppets were more malleable and grateful to their imperial overlords.

It was precisely to oppose the legitimacy of colonial arrangements, that ISIL chose the term al-Shâm ‘Levant’ rather than Sûrîa ‘modern Syria’.   The latter was a post-WWI colonial creation;  the Levant (etymologically: "[the land of the sun-]rise") has been there since the beginning of time.  Additionally, the choice of the geographically more inclusive name  early signaled their outsized ambitions.

In quite the same fashion, jihadis regularly refuse to use the official terms for modern Muslim nation-states, substituting words with hoary historical associations:  instead of Egypt,  “the Land of Kinânah” (after an ancient tribe);  instead of Afghanistan or Pakistan, “Khurasân” (sort of “AfPak plus”); instead of Iraq, “the Nation of the Two Tributaries’ (Bilâd al-Râfidayn -- essentially the same metaphor as in Mesopotamia ‘[region between] two rivers’).   And most of all: ‘the Nation of the Two Sanctuaries’ (viz. Mecca and Medina), for the horrendous name Saudi Arabia.   That one really is offensive, though in ways that owe nothing to colonialism, since here a clique of despots have renamed the ancient nation after a family dynasty (as though Dubya had renamed America “Bushistan”, or FDR  "Rooseveltia").


So much for the linguistics.    Serious political analysis we must leave to wiser heads(** vide infra);  but we can at least offer an observation from our other credentialed specialty, irony.

There have been all sorts of dreadful events and developments in Iraq, these past couple of years (not to mention  in half the other nations of the Third World), which we wisely refrained from wading into.   The excuse this time is that the ISIL is so menacing, so evil, such an existential threat, that it warrants throwing caution to the winds.
Yet here is a fine irony.   Awhile back (a dim memory now, for most)  John McCain and his crew were egging America on to get militarily involved on the side of the anti-Bashar ‘Opposition’.  Well, the most powerful component of that ‘Opposition’ (a granfalloon; it is not a coalition and never was) turns out to be … ISIL (some of whom, one reads, may have received paramilitary training from the U.S.;  I have no idea whether that is true).  So:  Best buddies on the Syrian side of the border;  worst enemies over in Iraq.

Another irony:
Had we gone McCain’s route, we would have been the allies, “objectively” (as the Leninists used to say) of the ISIL, against the Syrian Christians, whose chief defender is Bashar.  (McCain himself did not understand this, which is why the alliance would have been objective, rather than subjective.)   And now, in ordering airstrikes to protect Kurds and Yezidis against the ISIL, the Administration is “objectively” allying itself with a group that includes the Kurdish PKK (which is on the State Department list of terrorist groups) and a sect widely slanged (and not only by the ISIL) as being “devil-worshippers”.  (I am deliberately stretching things now to the point of absurdity, simply indicating the sort of factoids that would be more than enough fodder for Tea Party fanatics to start ranting “Obama allies with terrorists and Satanists!!!”)

[Update 12 August 2014]  That allusion to the State-Department-proscribed PKK  was not just a random free-association prompted by the notion ‘Kurdish’;  they really are actively involved.   Headline in this morning’s Le Figaro:

Dans Makhmour repris aux combattants de l'État islamique
Les Pechmergas irakiens ont bénéficié de l'aide des militants kurdes turcs du PKK pour reprendre la petite ville du Kurdistan irakien.

 Americans, meet your new allies.

[Update 29 August 2014]  Wack-o, crack-o, Boko Haram, has released a rant on video:

We mention it only because it was (mis)reported as the declaration of a Caliphate.   Since there can only be one of these at a time, that would have represented an open declaration of warfare against “Caliph Ibrahim” al-Baghdadi.   But as sagely noted by the Long War Journal, Shekau mentions neither the term ‘Caliphate’, nor the traditional caliphal title “amir al-mu’miniin”.

Scenic details:
(1) He brandishes a sort of scepter, or juju, or phallic symbol, or whatever it is, to emphasize his points;  and at one point he pauses and … cleans his teeth with it.
Not making this up.
(2) He begins speaking accented but grammatically correct Classical Arabic;  but eventually breaks into (presumably) Hausa;  the effect is jarring.
(3) An alert watcher comments:

I hate to sound like the usual conspiracy fuckwits, but something's wrong with this video. The cunt on the left and the cunt on the right don't move at all._

Check it out yourself.  Layer upon layer of bizarrerie.

[More soberly:  The background is a static backdrop, apart from the flag, which is an animation.  The reason for this is OPSEC:  don’t give the analysts anything to geolocate on.  UBL’s videos used to be scrutinized down to the last grain of sand.  The background here was probably shot in the parking-lot of a WalMart in Nairobi.]

[**Footnote]  Wiser heads, such as these for instance:

"Let Iran Save Iraq"
Die USA taeten gut daran, dem Iran die Loesung der aktuellen Krise im Irak zu ueberlassen, meint Zachary Keck. Fuer diese Zurueckhaltung spraechen gleich mehrere Gruende: "The first reason the United States should not intervene in Iraq is because the situation is not nearly as dire as some have claimed. (...) ISIS has not transformed into a formidable conventional army, or a 'daunting military power' capable of waging 'jihadist blitzkrieg.' It most certainly doesn’t have any realistic prospect of toppling the Iraqi government and taking control of Baghdad. (...) The United States should also pass the buck to Iran so it doesn’t have to fight for one side in a sectarian conflict. (...) Another reason the United States should allow Iran to save Iraq is because it is even more committed to this goal than Washington is. (...) If the past is any guide (...) Iran will likely be more effective at propping up the Maliki government. (...) The major objection to allowing
  Iran to save Iraq is that it would strengthen Tehran’s influence in Baghdad. Perhaps. But Iran already exercises substantial control over Iraq’s government, and it’s hard to see what concrete gains any additional influence will bring Iran."
(The National Interest vom 17.06.2014)

"America’s Late Imperial Dilemma"
US-Praesident Obama werde sowohl von liberalen Interventionisten als auch von konservativen Falken vorgeworfen, "Schwaeche" auszustrahlen und einen internationalen Rueckzug der USA voranzutreiben, schreibt Ian Buruma in seinem kurz vor der aktuellen Irak-Krise veroeffentlichten Beitrag. Obamas Kritiker glaubten nach wie vor, dass es die Mission der USA sei, der Welt den amerikanischen Willen aufzuzwingen, sei es nun im Namen der Demokratie oder aufgrund von Machtinteressen. Obama selbst habe dagegen erkannt, dass die Reichweite der amerikanischen Macht in der neuen Weltordnung begrenzt sei. "At least he has recognized the limits of America’s power to impose a global order by force. His success as a president rests less on the good things he has done (although he has done plenty) than on the stupid things he has avoided, like getting into more unnecessary wars. This does not resolve the late imperial dilemma of how to reduce dependency on the hegemon without causing more tyranny and violence. But that painful and risky process will have to be launched eventually, and it will be better served by Obama’s brand of caution than by the tough talk of his critics."
(Project Syndicate vom 06.06.2014)

[Update 3 Sept 2014]  Our favorite Franco-Moroccan Dutch radio journalist, M. Fouad Laroui, weighs in here:

[Update 5 Oct 2014]  A nice article on the political battle over ISIL terminology:

Note:  That article is utterly buried on the NYT website;  after much scrolling around, I never did find it;  and the "Search" feature was not functioning.  The only reason I could find the article was by googling the name of the reporter, which I'd seen in the print edition (Dan Bilefsky).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Doctor Justice Declares a Caliphate : the Saga Continues

Doctor Justice Declares a Caliphate
or,  If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

We were bemused at the ease with which a ragtag of runaways, renegades, and Zarqawiite thugs  could propel themselves to regional prominence, and declare their supremacy over the whole Umma of Islam.  And instead of being laughed off the stage, they have received bay`ah from group after group of former rivals (killing those that did not submit).
With a keen eye appropriate to their craft, the  Accounting Department of WDJ Worldwide Enterprises said:  Y’know, there might be money in this sort of thing.

Accordingly, as the long arm of al-Baghdadi  does not yet reach into our home state, we have decided to solidify our base, before it’s too late.  Thus, Doctor Justice, together with his hardy band of few but fanatical followers, hereby declares the

 => Riemannic State of Suburbia <=

a.k.a.  Riemannistan.

Its capital shall be the cul-de-sac wherein we dwell (Married People’s Circle);  our AOR, all the lands in which the Peano Postulates hold good.  
The state religion is Cantorian Realism;  public punishments for apostate Nominalists will be exemplary and fun to watch.

Dr Justice, wisely rendering judgment
 unto his subjects, beneath an oak 

Herewith our immediate, non-negotiable demands:

* Unlimited rights
* Egg in our beer
* A land corridor through Prussia


Fun Facts about Riemannistan:

*  Official language:  Latin
*  National anthem:  “Desolation Row
*  State bird:  what do you think?

Notitia Dignitatum
Recent cabinet appointments :

*  Dr Massey :  Oberreichslateinmeister
*  Carlos the Pirate:  Minister of Marital Affairs
*  Abu-Yahya al-Irbî :  Proconsul for Greater Jordan (includes all territories  claimed by the ISIL)
* Commander Buckwalter:  Minister of Misinformation, and Lord of the CAStLe

Honoris causâ :

*  Named U.S. wifeperson :  First Lady
*  Airman Bob :  Jihadi Performer of the Year [Note:  This position, being istishhâdi, is filled anew periodically.  Applications welcome.]
*  Fluffy the family hamster : Emblematic Animal (to appear on all stamps and currency issued by the RSoS)

Positions still unfilled :

* Ambassador to Azawad
* Chargé d’affaires for the Ottoman Empire

The cursèd infidels of the next cul-de-sac over, “Chunky Chipmunk Way” (and here I am barely making anything up:  our town is full of cutesy street-names) have refused to swear bay`ah to Sultân Dawûd, and have set up a counter-caliphate !!!  This means war -- War to the knife!

Chunky Chipmunk delenda est !!!!

[Update, Bastille Day 2014]  Evidently inspired by Dr J’s bold proclamation of a local cul-de-sac-based Caliphate, another would-be imam has claimed a somewhat neglected slice of Africa:

The imam with his seven year-old daughter, Princess Emily,
showing off the flag that their family designed
as they claim a piece of land in the Eastern African region of Bir Tawil.

We welcome this new sacred territory, and have offered an alliance to Imam Jeremiah, to wage Holy War against the infidels of the so-called “caliphate” of Chunky Chipmunk Way.
(BTW, those dead-enders over at Chunky Chipmunk  are also pretty sloppy about recycling.  War to the knife!)

[Update 9 August 2014]  Doubtless inspired by Riemannistan’s righteous Holy War against the kuffar of Chunky Chipmunk Way (a.k.a the Dâr al-Harb), Obama has finally got his man-card back, and is going after the sole entity that can challenge America’s hegemonic rule -- The Islamic Caliphate.

[Late-breaking updeate -- Dispatch from the Front]   The raging battle between Riemannistan and the accursèd infidels of Chunky Chipmunk Way (upon whom be grease) has reached a stage of entrenched positions, of the sort familiar from the early years of the Great War: our territories are now separated by an impassable barrier composed of around half a dozen or so  orange traffic-cones.

Meanwhile, our supply lines and economic base have firmed up, relative to those of the foe.  Our yard sale last weekend did wa-a-ay better than theirs did, judging, not so much by the quantity as by the quality of the visitors who dropped by (their SUVs are tacky;  ours are swank).   We even sold an entire, only slightly wrecked swingset (Jenny having outgrown it -- she’s in second grade now)!  Match that, you Gehenna-dwelling Chunkies !!


Update: Riemannistan hosts refugees

[Dateline Riemannistan -- Associated Press]

Cousin Pete will be camping on our sofa for a few days.  His common-law wife Midge threw him out of the house.  The Riemmanic Caliphate is dispatching a crack diplomatic team to negotiate.

[Rolling update -- 30 August 2014]

In a stunning development, the exciting new Caliphate of Riemannistan has firmly established its diplomatic creds.
Armed with half a dozen red roses (plus a recycled gift-card from Pete), the Riemannistan emergency team arrived at the fortress-like headquarters of Ms. Midge [surname, age, weight and cup size  withheld by request].   After a tense quarter of an hour of high-level negotiations, the team returned to the lofty caliphal palace of Riemannistan, bearing a chilled six-pack of Pete’s favorite brew, sent over by Midge in appreciation of the roses.  “So you remembered our [editors: common-law] Anniversary, you old you, you” she wrote in an accompanying bordereau.  --  “Uh -- yeh, for sure!” replied a startled Pete, upon reading the note.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Polemical popcorn

For some years now, I have not owned a television set; nor seen the daily comic strips, since letting lapse my subscription to the sorrowfully diminished Washington Post.  (I still take the Times, but they have never featured funny-papers.)  So what do I do for soap opera, or the like low entertainment?

For the past half-century, the NYRB has had great success in luring well-known scholars out of their lairs, for a public display of the polemical equivalent of shirts-off selfies.  A recent instance -- rhetorically at any rate -- does not disappoint.  A verbally (though not intellectually) vibrant slangfest between Patricia Churchland and Colin McGinn appeared here:

For those of you who, likewise, possess no goggle-box, yet who, needing a break from your labors in post-Kantian metaphysics or the subtleties of the Hodge Conjecture, have wearied of YouTube kute kittehs or (to be more up-to-date  -- the reference to kittehs shows how far behind I am in current trends)  random hands unwrapping knick-knacks (just learned about this one this morning, from Le Point of all places), here is a selection of the juiciest bits.

First, Churchland berates a dull pupil indeed, it would appear:

In Neurophilosophy I made the point that if you want to understand the mind, you need to understand the brain.  In his review of my recent book Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, Colin McGinn gibbles up this simple message [NYR, April 24]. Here is the thing: there is a difference between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition. In Neurophilosophy I made the point that if you want to understand the mind, you need to understand the brain.1 In his review of my recent book Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, Colin McGinn gibbles up this simple message [NYR, April 24]. Here is the thing: there is a difference between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition.

(Is “gibbles up” a word?  Okay, it’s a word. -- Thus, updating the Duke of Gloucester’s celebrated gibe against Gibbon:  “Gibble, gibble, gibble, Mr. McGinn!”)

And the little fellow had jolly well better heed her words, since, unlike him, she is famous:

In fact, I have famously argued for the coevolution of sciences at many levels. This explicitly includes the coevolution of the neurosciences and psychological sciences. To my delight but not surprise, the coevolution is now well underway …

And ramming the point home:

Nobody in neuroscience needs McGinn to tell us that structural correlates of a function do not ipso facto explain that function. His sermonizing is just so much spit in the wind. What he fails to get is that sussing out structure is often a major step forward in sorting out mechanism.

She concludes with a feisty variant on the “We’re here, we’re queer” slogan:

And brains do sleep, remember spatial locations, and learn to navigate their social and physical worlds.  Get used to it.

Mistress Patricia, commanding little Colin to assume the position

Unaccountably, McGinn fails to slink off like a whipp’t cur:

It is just possible to discern some points beneath the heated rhetoric in which Patricia Churchland indulges. But none of these points is right. If you hold that “mental processes are actually processes in the brain,” to quote Churchland, then you are committed to the thesis that it is sufficient to understand the mind that one understands the brain, and not merely necessary. This is just the well-known “identity theory” of mind and brain.

(You can picture her fingers  twitching on the quirt  over this bit of insolence.)

For our own contribution to sound and fury on this issue, try these:

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Today,  my bride and I  celebrated thirty-eight years of wedlock.

Thanks be to God.

“The Worst Week in Washington”

NPR just pulled off a delightful commemoration of the August 1814 burning of Washington, D.C., by the British, in the course of the War of 1812.

 Robert Siegel expertly hosts it as straight news, in his usual droll style.  But the cap comes when that wild-&-wacky “He plays ‘The Liberal’; he plays ‘The Conservative’” brother-act (familiar from Fridays, and a sort of genteel version of the Timothy-Leary-vs.-Gordon-Liddy show from a while back) of E.J. Dionne (in the pink trunks) vs. David Brooks (in powder-blue) are brought on to comment.   And Brooks outdoes himself.
He does it by playing it straight -- amazingly straight.   Actually a risky performance, in terms of public perception, since this time it is obviously an act, yet he sounds exactly the way he always does, down to the least nuance of inflection:  which suggests what what he does at other times may likewise be partly an act.  (That was certainly the case with Leary-vs.-Liddy.)

It is quite a subtle business, when a well-known actor plays himself.  Another fine example occurs in one episode of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series, where the actress who plays Willow  must play a demon who has assumed the semblance of the real Willow.   She has to get things recognizably right for that character, yet at the same time be just a tad off, in gestures and diction, in a way you might expect from an unsouled demon who, naturally, couldn’t have her soul in it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Reflections on the Eve of a possible Third U.S.-Iraq War

From bitter experience, we learned the hard lessons of Mission Creep:

* In Korea (where, over half a century later, we still have troops),
            * In Vietnam
                        * In Afghanistan
                                    * In Iraq-II(**)

But now, a Shiny Object has swum into our ken!
Bring on the flashie-thingie!!
Let those lessons be forgot !!!

(** That is to say, the second U.S.-Iraq War, launched by Bush the Lesser.  Iraq-I, that of Bush the Wiser, accomplished its stated mission of kicking Saddam out of Kuwait, and, mission indeed accomplished, went home.)

[Update 18 August 2014]  If we do wade back in to Iraq, it should be for the defense of America, and not for the freaking Yazidis.
We keep seeing headlines like this (today, from Reuters):

            Islamic State 'massacres' 80 Yazidis in north Iraq

typically accompanied by soulful photos of photogenic women and children.

But if our goal were to prevent massacres, we might just as well intervene in Syria instead.  In the same time-period, ISIL slaughtered six or seven hundred tribesmen there (specifically, the Chaïtat), who had dared to oppose them.  And this, in the signature method of the new Caliphate:  by beheading.  (These guys really have a "thing” for severed heads.)  This gets much less publicity, since only males were slain, plus it’s Sunni-on-Sunni;  so who cares.

Sentimentalism will always moon over the picturesque exotic oppressed minority;  fine.  But that should not dictate foreign policy, nor drag us into yet another unwinnable war.

Headline Writer Strikes Again

We have more than once had occasion to notice the tawdry packaging of perfectly respectable essays and news articles, perpetrated by headline-writers, caption-writers, and illustrators:  an egregious example from the New York Times  is discussed in detail here:

This morning’s New York Times Magazine has an engrossing, informative, well-written, entirely unobjectionable article about evolving zoology and climate change, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff.  It was given a silly title, which I won’t quote (the Website gives it a completely different silly title, which I likewise won’t quote);  but of more interest is the headline that announces it on the cover of the (print) magazine.   The cover headline gives no clue that the real subject is scientific, the treatment dispassionate and at a professional level;  it reads, in its entirety,

Is Interspecies Mating O.K.?

as though this were a matter of current debate among ethicists.

Now, if that had been the title of a term-paper by a high-school biology student writing twenty or thirty years ago, there would have been no agenda behind it, for none, at that time, was imaginable outside of the locked wards of sanatoria -- it would simply have been a matter of sloppy style.   But the ‘off-news’ sections of the Sunday NYTimes (the magazine, the weekly review, and the Style section above all) make something of a specialty of peddling paraphilia.  And that seemingly innocent question, proposed in what then purports to be a scientific context, does reflect this agenda. 

Note:  Dr. Velasquez-Manoff  (not sure he actually has a doctorate;  but anyhow, honoris causâ)  almost certainly had nothing to do with any of the lamentable headlines;  nor with the illustrations, which are completely uninformative, gratuitous, and creepy -- much in the spirit of the transgeneric face-melding that defaced that earlier Times Magazine article alluded to above, and likewise with garishly discordant colors. 
For a more tasteful depiction of a chimaera, we offer this:

And now, Boeôtos timens, we must lapse into the Delphic ductus.
Time was, before our collective descensus Averno began in earnest, le premier pas (le seule qui coûte) was chid as conducive to subsequent steps on a slippery declivity; that caveat was dismissed as alarmist.  Since then, all that was predicted  has indeed come to pass.  At this point, there is not much left out-of-bounds, but microendogamy and zoölagnia (as it were, hyperexogamy).   Progress has been made in licensing the former , in the name of certain folkways indigenous elsewhere;  the Times cabal  is now testing the edges of the latter.   In blithely blurring interspecific demarcation, they are treading upon the Island of Dr Moreau territory, currently being populated manu chîrurgi, to great public acclaim.

[Update, alas, 22 August 2014]  Ah, turns there is one more taboo, that did not even occur to my sheltered imagination;  but of which we are reminded again today:  libidinous anthropophagy.  It happened recently in Germany, and you can read about it here:

Once again, an ipsigeneric amorous encounter between consenting adults, so we presumably are not allowed to criticize;  and in time, a “…C” will be duly added to the alphabetical palmarès des paraphilies.

-- But why (you rightly ask) do I link to a French account of something that happened in Germany?  -- Well, I did try to find one (being curious as to the German original of «la viande exotique»), but found none:  turns out they are (as of press time) self-censoring over there.   Search “Detlev Günzel” in Google News, and see the returns you get:  None from Germany (as yet).   No doubt the perp’s identity is being protected out of some tender concern for paraphiliacs.  

For readers interesting in exploring the biology of evolving species in (much) greater depth, a fine guide is  Jerry Coyne and H. Allen Orr, Speciation  (2004).  You can sample their insights here:

For readers who, having been suitably sained, dare venture there, where a cautious man would not:

As of press date, that one’s satire.  Perhaps not so, this time next year.

Christians should not be neutral in such cases;  crusades have been launched for less.


For a celebrated instance, from Classical Antiquity, of interspecific conjunction (and which did bring forth issue),
lavishly illustrated for the connoisseur,
try this:

Contains images of cygnic significance --
Must be 18 or older to view

Three Things I Know

Three things that are very nice when very hoppy:

(1) bunnies
(2) squirrels
(3) beer !

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bugs in Love

Out on the back deck, reading peacefully in the dappled sunlight, from time to time  laying down the book, and day-dreaming a bit.

Then all at once, from out the air,
two large and (what was that?) fast (faster!) large
(and ever larger, looming, as they rush   towards me    on)  

stark yellow   and   bold black,
whirling in a rapid dance,
just inches from
my up-
turned face …

They come to hover above my head, in a frenzy of kineticized embrace.  I’m amazed, and alarmed by their quick proximity;  even a bit indignant at this, mm, public display of affection.  Get a room!

Then at once,     they       |   .    .     .  |     part   ……..

A brood of baby butterflies 
have just been gifted   expectation of life,
above my head.

They both fly off  to separate trees,   no doubt to catch their breath, and smoke a cigarette.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let’s talk about the weather

On Monday, in view of the weather forecast, I put in for a day of Annual Leave the next day -- my most direct and least traffic-hassled route to work  tends to flood out in moderate rainfall.  (Look for more of this as the infrastructure deteriorates.)  It turned out to be a wise decision.

There is nothing so pleasant as being indoors, with nowhere you need to go, and a stack of fascinating reading-matter, while the rain pours down in torrents.  And more torrents.   By day’s end, we’d received six inches.

Today at work, a colleague mentioned that she had gotten “more than five and a half inches”.  That seemed an odd combination of vagueness with specificity (the way the media, attempting to be breathless, will say “more than 137” dead or whatever), so I asked her what she meant.  Turns out she has a rain gauge,  which only goes up to five and a half inches, and it overflowed.  So, the companies that designed rain-gauges  did not anticipate a gullywasher such as we are getting now.  Kind of like in the old cartoons, where Elmer Fudd would get really angry and a thermometer would appear over his head (while steam shot out of his ears), chronicling his rising temperature -- until it exceeded the maximum the thermometer could report, and the top would blow off it.

Time was, weather was about the least controversial thing a body could jaw about;  so that was what you’d jaw about, out visiting on the porch  of a Sunday, avoided the awkward topics, and passing around the pink lemonade.  
No more.  Mention “climate change” in mixed company (Republican/Democrat), and watch the crockery fly.

Extreme weather  is the new Godzilla -- much to the benefit of disaster flicks, since  in point of actual fact, gigantic monsters, whether fire-breathing or otherwise, never did threaten humanity, whereas climate change really might.    This summer’s big disaster flick is “Into the Storm”.  I considered taking my wife to go see it, since, although we don’t much favor disaster flicks (seen one seen ‘em all, really), this one, being meteorological, piqued my curiosity (I almost wrote “whetted” my curiosity, but that’s wrong:  appetites are what you whet, whereas what you pique is curiosity), owing to a much, much better movie on the topic, “Take Shelter”, which we have examined in considerable depth-psychological detail here.  But the trailer and the reviews both indicated that the thing is trivial.


While seeking an appropriate extant Word document  in which this brief note could be filed, I stumbled upon an earlier meditation, in my diary from back in April of 2000, when our family lived in Princeton, New Jersey.  It turns out to be kind of a time-capsule.  Evidently I was in a buoyant mood, and could write,

Americans are actually getting down to a clear-headed science-based optimistic endlessly inventive mood, with no real imperial military ambitions to destabilize things as during the Cold War or Viet Nam.

(I blink, reading this now.)  It was the optimism that naturally blooms with the beginning of a new millennium.  This was before 9/11 -- and before the disastrous Presidential election of November 2000.  I still recall my mood:  utterly delighted that, in Al Gore, we actually had a candidate who was way, way ahead of the curve  as politicians ran, on the two big issues that faced us:

(1) Internet security
(2) Global climate change

Then instead we elected a simpleton -- or Florida did, or a bare majority of the Supreme Court did -- who had no clue at all about either of those issues,  and who then swept them off the public square by his rash adventure into exactly that Sisyphean folly he had campaigned against -- nation-building (in Afghanistan) -- and then (perhaps having read somewhere that to be considered a great chief-executive, it helps to have been a War President) launched an elective war (not even a preventive war) against -- well, it was probably supposed to have been Iran, which is what the Vulcans wanted, only somebody couldn’t spell so we attacked Iraq instead.  Whatever.  They all wear turbans -- can’t tell ‘em apart.

Here, then, a meditation upon meteoro-metaphysical disaster, before the actual disasters of this past decade and a half.

~    ~    ~

 (9 April 2000) Yesterday was breezy, balmy.  I stepped through the glass patio doors into exquisite, temperate, flower-scented air.   Spent all day sunning in shirtsleeves, watching the branches blossom.  A baby squirrel whose nose we've been seeing poking out of the squirrel house (put up three years ago, in hopeful expectation of tenants, but until recently occupied only by birds) ventured forth for the first time, started to slip down the too-slick sides, looked down, and scurried back to safety for just one more day.

* * *

I once heard that Japanese begin their letters with a reference to the weather – an expected piece of preliminary business, like the "Dear –" of ours.   Since that day I have often  followed that practice myself.  I like linguistic structure, be it end-rhyme or Arabic amatory preludes.  Yet today  meteorology is the meat, not just the antepast.
Though up late, and though this is Sunday, this morning I somehow woke early – something about the light.  And looked out and drew back and got my glasses and looked again. A silvery mist, almost like a glaze of snow.  Or even, a sort of commotion in the air.  In fact – it's … snowing.  Hel-LO-o!  April!  Birds we haven't seen for weeks  are back at the feeders.  The baby squirrel, needless to say, is nowhere to be seen, no doubt curled up back inside with a storybook.

The other day I heard a lecture by Sir Martin Rees, anent the End.  He showed a slide, merely as prelude, of our galaxy and the Andromeda Nebula  crashing into each other like a couple of SUV's on I-95.  Then he laid out a timetable of hapless expansion, gathering darkness, stars winking out – and then, like some hereditary tares come suddenly to foul fruition,  the very protons start to melt ("The sun, mother, give me the sun!"). – Later I read a review of Robert Kaplan's "The Coming Anarchy", which dwells on the spreading chaos of the Third World, and predicts that this will be our lot as well.

The one scenario is speculative and remote, the other speculative and counter-intuitive.  Outside my window there is something concerns me more.  Since I sat down to write, an inch has accumulated, and now it has been joined by a stiff wind.  In  a weird way, I'm more worried about the weather than about anything else.  Which is to say, really, I'm not worried about much of anything these days.  I have never been so bullish on America as I am now, both absolutely and relatively to the rest of the world.  Much of the planet is going to hell in a handbasket, but that has always been the case:  most of history hasn't even been history, but prehistory or parahistory, so primitive or so disordered there's been nobody there to record it.  What counts is that somewhere, something is working:  that as the dinosaurs die, the marmots are breeding; as the imperium falls, the monasteries are forming;  that while Muscovites Kosovars and Ugandans  slay one another or commit suicide,  Americans are actually getting down to a clear-headed science-based optimistic endlessly inventive mood, with no real imperial military ambitions to destabilize things as during the Cold War or Viet Nam.   If this sounds callous, observe that even were the whole world a settled Eden, it would still be but one glowing spot in the soup of doomed protons.

The current issue of The New Yorker has a piece on all this.  It points out that meteorological worry-warts are nothing new, citing Increase Mather's book Remarkable Providences of 1684 (soon to be a major motion picture) as one of the first "weather thrillers" of the New World.   It speaks of boomers, bored by prosperity, surfing for storms as they surf for sports.  And of how global warming, the real story of current times, is seldom mentioned on the television, partly because it's so gradual – no sudden story – and partly because there are no visuals:  you can't see heat.
Anyway, the worry.  It has nothing to do with the Increase Mather subtext wittily mentioned by The New Yorker, "in which extreme weather is taken as a sign of cosmic displeasure for our failure as stewards of the earth".  Nor am I misled by "weatherporn", with its hyping of uncharacteristic stories.  I never watch the Weather Channel, don't even own a TV, and was made well aware what a crock it all is when, last summer, the family headed down towards a prepaid week’s vacation at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and were stopped in our tracks by the approach of Hurricane Dennis.  We broke our journey at Baltimore, and then at Washington, touring enjoyably and keeping a weather eye on CNN, which was giving breathless coverage as of major disaster, with dark mutterings about evacuations and maybe martial law.  But we noticed that they kept running the same damned interview, with a wet distraught bedraggled mother, who had just arrived at the beach and now was packing up her station wagon to leave again – ran it for three days, without telling you when it was recorded.  – When we got to Myrtle Beach, all was sunny, they'd barely seen rain.  We had the normally-crowded water park all to ourselves.
            No, the worry is primarily mathematical.  Civilization is like a little wooden chip tossing on a sea of hydrodynamics.  Hydrodynamics is notoriously computationally thorny; and now we know, from chaos theory, that it is actually theoretically intractable, even in principle.  In practice, for unknown and unknowable reasons, things have been quiet for the last few geological moments, since that last spot of bother with the Ice Age.  But there is no reason whatsoever to assume we shall long escape fluctuations that are par for the course in the planetary scheme of things, yet which on the fragile human scale are monumental.  I also have a nervous concern, though nobody mentions this, about the sun itself.   It too is a big fat hydrodynamic globe, but unlike us, with our large solid core wrapped in a thin mantle of unstable weather, it is hydrodynamic all the way down.  And it is right now in a state – does anyone notice this? -- of uncontrolled all-out total nuclear explosion.  Always has been. (What a way to run a solar system!) There are no moderator rods to slip down into it.  It is fueled by processes that make Chernobyl look like a toaster oven.   That it has been stable from second to second, let alone year to year and for all of recorded history – here, indeed, history as recorded in rocks, not merely on parchment – is a miracle.
* * *

            Jesus, this is getting serious.  Since writing that – and riffling through the magazine, then distractedly surfing the Net, reading the LA Times even before most folks get it out there (it's five thirty in the morning where they are) – another inch has fallen, and another half inch risen, whipped by the wind. What are the birds thinking? They have their internal programs, their mechanisms.  Snow means: get your butt to Florida.  But (they chirp to themselves) – didn't we just come from there? --  It's like a repeal of Spring.
Hmm, wonder what Web Weather is saying about all this.  "An end-of-the-world warning is in effect for our area until six o'clock tonight."  Okay.

* * *

It snowed till midday, accumulating four inches.  By midafternoon, every bit of it had melted, as though it were fairy-dust.  By five, we were staring into a cloudless sky.

Round where we live anyhow, forecasters tend to err on the side of predicting rain.  I guess they figure that if your picnic is trashed by an unforetold downpour, you'll be angry at the meteorologists, whereas if a day turns out fine after all, you'll be simply pleased and won't give the failed prediction of rain another thought.