Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blow Up

We're having these frightening thunderstorms for the past several days. They roll in towards twilight, from the southwest. Here in the cabin the southwest quadrant is a towering wall of hardwood forest, climbing uphill as well. In the winter one can see the moon, now and then, disappear through the tree trunks when it is setting. Of course by winter the sun has moved to the south anyways. But here at the height of summer it's thick green, and the storms burst upon us with only approaching thunder as their herald. This morning there's a cool breeze still coming in the window where the cats sit and watch the day, and the air is bright and clean, sun and shadows across the big trunks of the oaks and hickories. Last night, just as we were going out to catch our son-in-law playing a late gig at the Cave in Chapel Hill, the storm broke on us, hard blowing rain misting into the kitty ledge, hail I think (at least it sounded like it). After we left we drove just in the wake of the storm, watching constant lightning and the various roiling shapes the clouds formed and reformed. As we turned onto 15-501, about 20 minutes into our trip, I thought I might have spotted a funnel cloud back-lit by flashes, then it was gone, or never was.

About then the cell rang and it was our daughter telling us the Cave was flooded as were the streets of Chapel Hill. How bizarre. An indoor gig rained out. It was a very thoughtful call, and we turned around and headed back home, where we watched a documentary about belly-dancing women touring with the rock show Lollapalooza. The general theme of today would be, if you look closer things aren't the same as what you thought.

Sheila O'Malley has a very nice blog about movies and art and other things and posted the following the other day, apropos Zelda Fitzgerald's birthday. The post is long and very much worth reading and thinking about. There's this conventional view of Zelda, poor crazy southern belle Fitzgerald married, who then broke his heart and drove him to ruinous drink with her insanity. And indeed, as O'Malley's post makes clear, Zelda did have some questionable moments. But she also wrote this, which O'Malley quotes in her post:

Excerpt of review Zelda wrote about her husband’s book "The Beautiful and Damned":

It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters, which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald – I believe that is how he spells his name – seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

This is wry, droll humor of the highest order. It is written by a smart and delightful person. It is the sort of paragraph a writer could fall in love to.


I'm reading E.C. Pielou's great book, "After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America." Only a few pages will show anyone who can think that the work of science is not really to be countered by the airy backhands of people who just say stuff like "I don't find the arguments for human assisted climate change believable." It's similar to the situation with regard to Third Parties. In an important sense--the most important sense--there aren't any third parties in the United States political system as we find it. There is an incredible mass of factual evidence which tells a particular story of how much of the North American continent was covered in ice, then uncovered, with countless specific details concerning the return of life to vast places where there was for many centuries, no life. There was a time when huge land areas existed which are now under the ocean, such as an area called (by scientists) Beringia, which was a cold desert, was populated with animals and plants, and was a refuge from the ice sheets of North America and Asia even as it connected those two great continents. One can say "but I believe something else, something quite different." Such a statement does not offer a counter argument to facts as plentiful as grains of sand on a beach. Nor are the grains of sand merely an elaborate hoax concocted to cage grant money. As I've probably said here more than once, Bishop Berkeley is not to be read in the primary grades. Kick the stone first.

Ms. Pielou makes the following statement in her book:

There is a wealth of evidence, however, showing that climate change is never ending. Even if major climatic "steps" are comparatively quick, it is almost certain that the climate in the intervals between steps undergoes continual lesser changes. In the light of present knowledge, therefore, ... disequilibrium in ecological communities is much commoner than equilibrium...

[This fact, of disequilibrium] should lead in time to a much needed change in popular thought. The notion espoused by so many nonprofessional ecologists--that the living world is "marvelously" and "delicately" attuned to its environment--is not so much a scientifically reasonable theory as a mystically satisfying dogma. Its abandonment might lead to a useful fresh start in environmental politics.
(p. 101)

Let it be noted that Ms. Pielou is not offering a critique of any theory of global climate change. Her point, rather, is that the entire conversation is mostly concerning the wrong things. As it's not pertinent to her subject, she does not address the "mysticism" emanating from the denier crowd, who tend to say things like "CO-2 is only a green house gas at the surface of the planet," and "how can CO-2 make any difference, it's only a tiny fraction of the gasses that make up the atmosphere." Much less does she engage with the plain fact that, mostly, denialism is a strategy aimed at stalling all governmental efforts to attack the problem of climate change by raising doubts in a voting public which has little time for a serious scientific look at the subject--or any subject. Obviously, her readers will have already overcome that shortcoming and so might manage to intake her deeper observations.

"Well," Libby said, raising her umbrella as we left the three boys to their own devices and squished down to the Toyota for our soon to be aborted trip to Chapel Hill. "We'd be talking about the drought otherwise."

The photo is called "Broken Shade," of an oak tree on my road, which used to shade a little farm house that burned down several years ago. It had been empty for years, and the tree was partly killed by the fire, but the one living branch soldiered on, and its weight against the dead trunk finally took it down. Buzzards like to roost in the top in the morning, but they weren't there last week when I took the photo. If you look carefully you might see a glimpse of crepe myrtle, a sure sign of human habitation.

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