I was first drawn into the Global Warming debate by accident, more than a decade and a half ago. As a latecomer to the internet, around 2002, I began blundering about the web, greatly enjoying the new sensation of chatting to total strangers in far away places, when I accidentally rubbed someone’s fur the wrong way, and they exploded.
As I recall the kerfuffle had something to do with Greenland and Vikings. I was telling a good tale about how the Atlantic was warmer when the Vikings were traveling to and fro between Norway and Greenland in open boats, and was describing how they were able to raise crops in Greenland on what is now permafrost. I thought such history was accepted fact. Abruptly I found myself under attack, and was a bit surprised by the zeal and ferocity of the attack.
Not that I am unacquainted with people becoming irate about inconsequential things. I once attended a baseball game at Fenway Park where a Yankees fan perhaps became a little too rude, and a Neanderthal arose from the row in front of him, turned around, and gave him a gorilla punch on the chest that made a sound like a bass drum.
However the response I received on the internet was more like the response you might get when you politely open a door for a suffragette, and she castigates you for being a chauvinist pig. I had no idea Greenland’s Vikings were such an inflammatory topic. After all, it was ancient history to me.
To be honest, I was secretly pleased by the response. As an unsuccessful writer I had spent years sending submissions off, and had received nothing but rejection slips. There is perhaps nothing quite as faceless and inhumane as a rejection slip. Getting castigated about Vikings was better than that.
Also I was not unacquainted with kerfuffles, because young artists are always confusing originality with being weird, and are always trying to be weirder than the next artist by thinking up something that has never been done before, irrespective of whether it is in good taste or not. (For example, putting a crucifix in a jar of urine.) After some wild times as a teenager I became jaded, and found such “originality” pointless and empty, perhaps because I noticed some things that are ancient are also always fresh and new. (For example, springtime). Therefore I became a very weird thing to be, for an artist of those days. I became more nonconformist than the nonconformists: Shortly before my twentieth birthday I became a conservative. (I also “got religion”.)
Not that I gave up on art completely; I still avoided paying rent and getting a Real Job, whenever possible, and foolishly spent money on coffee, beer and tobacco when I should have purchased food, and I liked talk much more than I liked action.
My talk led to further kerfuffles, because I was conservative concerning sex and drugs. Some found it outrageous that I should say monogamous marriage was a good thing. Many of my friends were bisexual or homosexual, and I explained to them I was a no-no-sexual. I remember one person called me the “token square” of the group. I learned how to debate; how to hold my ground in an argument. Back in those days debates could be civil, even fun, and discussions were “liberal” in the true meaning of the word. (One liberal belief of those times was that it was OK to be wrong, for you could always learn from your mistakes.)
I don’t blame people for having a sort of amnesia concerning the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980’s. It was not a happy time to be any sort of artist. However one victim of that time was, I believe, the idea you could learn from your mistakes. Where the Bible preaches a person should be forgiven seven times seventy times, AIDS didn’t forgive people even once. Entire neighborhoods became brief ghost towns, and then were re-populated as if AIDS had never happened, as if the nation hadn’t lost thousands of its most imaginative minds, and also lost a sort of crude honesty. People had to get on with their lives, and leave grief behind, but this willful amnesia, concerning trauma, does involve the word we all know and hate, called “denial.”
This change to the American psyche manifested in all sorts of ways, but I imagined I saw it manifesting as a sort of “gatekeeper” mentality among publishers. There were certain subjects they steered away from discussing, and these included the observations of a no-no-sexual concerning where the hippie concept of, “if it feels good, do it”, had landed us. To me it seemed a disservice to the people who had sacrificed their lives to AIDS not to say things that they, in their crude honesty, had stated at their end, concerning the so-called “freedom” of being addicted to sex and drugs. However perhaps such blunt truth was too opposed to the liberal narrative, which publishers made be their droning mantra. In any case, it was at that time I first felt that liberals were not being truly liberal any more. (Regan was the new president, and it was he who introduced the statement, “I didn’t leave the Democrat party; the Democrat party left me.”)
Also, since I am talking about blunt honesty, I should be honest and say there was another reason my submissions weren’t accepted. They sucked. Perhaps it is part of the process, when dealing with painful subjects, but the harder I worked at writing the worse my writing became. I knew it was bad, and, while I never completely gave up on writing, I gave up on hoping I’d ever be published.
One big problem I had was: A writer is suppose to write about something they know about, and there was something pathetic about a no-no-sexual writing about monogamous marriage. If I went into details about the love life of a no-no-sexual I’m afraid countless computer screens would be sprayed by coffee. Atlas cringed. Cupid rolled his eyes, and then left to seek psychiatric help.
Not that I was a virgin, but I was a bit like a young student fresh from college who presumes to lecture a grandmother of fifty about child-care. I lacked “real-life experience.” What I needed to do to remedy this shortcoming was muster the Vulcan objectivity of Star Trek’s Spock, find a single mother with three small children, and convince her to marry a 37-year-old failed-writer who had never held a job longer than seven months in his entire life. So I did it. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. (Well, maybe I didn’t muster Vulcan objectivity, but I got the other parts right.) And now it is twenty-eight years later, and my writing does seem to have improved, somewhat. (Young authors, take heed.)
I first noticed this improvement back in 2002, when people actually started reading my writing. Before then it seemed all I needed to do was raise my index finger, say, “I have written something”, and there would be a jam in the doorway as all tried to flee the room. From my perspective, getting castigated by a total stranger on the web was a distinct improvement.
This brings me back to the original point I made 1198 words ago, which was that I became aware of the Global Warming debate around 2002 when I first entered the “World Wide Web,” and, due to a chance meeting, got screamed-at in print.
I immediately identified the person as the opposite of a true liberal; I.E: A “screamer.”
I was getting tired of being screamed-at. It seemed to be happening on an increasingly regular basis. Not only did I commit the faux pas of holding doors open for suffragettes, but I called people from Italy “Italians” and people from China “Chinamen”, and I failed to call Indians “Native Americans” and failed to call Eskimos “Inuit”. In terms of the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of America’s former slaves, I was always one step behind the eight ball of political correctness; I got screamed-at for calling them “Negro”, “Colored”, “Blacks”, “Afro-American”, and “African-American”. Amazingly, I almost never screamed back. This was due to a addictive herb that eventually destroyed my lungs. When someone screamed-at me I could always light up and inhale deeply. Of course, it was right at this time everyone began screaming-at people who smoked.
However getting screamed-at for saying the Vikings grew barley in Greenland was a new one, for me. It intrigued me. I lit up, inhaled deeply, and then replied to the screamer on the web in my best, most ingratiating, prosaic version of a-dog-with-its-tail-between-its-legs. Placated, the screamer calmed down and politely informed me everything I thought I knew about Vikings was incorrect, because his Bible said so. Only he didn’t use the word “Bible.” He used the words “IPCC Report”.
In retrospect I think the people behind that report had a very low opinion of the ability of ordinary laymen to gather data on their own. They failed to understand that, while ordinary people do not keep the records that academics do, they often have minds like sponges concerning trivia. Sports reporters are aware of this, because they often meet fans who know more about particular teams and ball-players than they do, and who have this knowledge right at their fingertips. (I once told a Math teacher I couldn’t memorize, andthe clever teacher then asked me what Carl Yastrzemski’s batting average was in 1963, and without a pause I answered “.321″.) However other members of the media considered the general public to be ignoramuses and “sheeple.” Many could not comprehend the sheer bulk of knowledge ordinary people collect as a hobby. Perhaps they didn’t interview enough, for, if you have the time, you can learn a great deal of history from a grandmother, if you just ask her about the clutter of objects strewn about her parlor and on her coffee table. And also, long before the AMO was “officially” discovered by meteorologists, you could learn of it if you bothered to listen to garrulous old fishermen on the coast of Maine.
What the writers of the IPCC report didn’t know about an ignoramus like myself was that I’d been fascinated by Vikings since I was six years old, when my father took me to a strange structure by the banks of the Charles River near Boston called “Norembega Tower”.
The structure was erected by a crackpot named Eben Horsford, who likely did more to confuse the history of Vikings than to clarify it, but Norembega Tower did (along with my father) open my eyes to the mysterious history of New England before the Mayflower.
Between 1959 and 2002 I’d had 43 years to poke about, as a hobby, because I was curious. I should add I was 21 years old before I left the vicinity of Norembega Tower, and that involved boyhood and adolescence, (wherein one pokes and snoops in improper ways and in improper places). I could go on for pages about the odd lore I learned about that area, the pictographs; the peculiar copper objects plowed up in fields and used as scrap metal; the lore early Puritans learned from the final survivors of the Massachusetts tribe. It was so fascinating and engrossing that I continued to seize upon every article I could find, every obscure book I could pour through. (One thing about failed-writers like myself is that, when we are broke and weather gets cold, a warm place to hang out is a town’s public library, and, if you have to hang out there rather than with babes in a nightclub, you might as well read books about Vikings.)
To cut a 500-page-story short, by 2002 I had collected a lot of trivia pertaining to Vikings. I kept no notes, any more than a sports fan keeps notes. It was a hobby, interesting to me but, I assumed, not to many others. It was like a grandmother’s clutter, quite interesting stuff, if you have the time to visit and ask questions and listen to the answers, but about as useful as your uncle’s collection of butterflies, when it came to paying my bills.
I knew so much trivia about Vikings that it was instantly obvious to me that the IPCC report was attempting to “erase the Medieval Warm Period”, because it was at variance to everything I had ever learned about Greenland‘s Vikings.
Initially I supposed some stupendous discovery lay behind the change to the history books. After all, the Piltdown Skull was only exposed as a hoax the year I was born, and older textbooks I poured through as a child still regarded it as authentic. The theory of Continental Drift exploded onto the scene during the 1960’s, so I knew fresh discoveries could rewrite geology books. However there were no fresh discoveries in the IPCC report, concerning Vikings. There was only the willful ignoring of knowledge that already existed.
I think being tested sometimes clarifies things. For example, one time when I was young I was stating pacifism was a good thing, and my older brother responded that pacifists were weenies, so I took a swing at his jaw. I flunked that test. In like manner, if you want to test how patient, tolerant and kind Christians are, light up a cigarette in church. In 2002 I discovered a good way to see how liberal so-called liberals actually were was to criticize the IPCC report. One was able to quickly ascertain whether a person was a screamer or not. As far as I was concerned, many liberals flunked liberalism.
As much as I liked the attention I got, I found the web a lonely place at first. In 2002 there were no sites like “Climate Audit,” “Watts Up With That,” or “Real Climate Science,“ and the sites I did find tended to be increasingly “disappearing” the Medieval Warm Period. I found it unnerving. Perhaps it was not as bad as actual people being “disappeared”, as happened in Argentina in the late 1970‘s and early 1980‘s, but it was creepy all the same, especially when I seemed to be the only one noticing.
It is when you are alone that the self-doubt sets in. It’s unpleasant, but probably a good thing, because if you don’t wonder if you are deluded, every now and again, then you probably are. Fortunately I’d been toughened up by rejection slips and, even tougher, the rejections of beautiful women, and had survived miserable moments which didn’t seem momentary at the time. Now I was unexpectedly a married man with a small business. What did I care if fools wanted to disappear the Medieval Warm Period? Yet I did care. Not only was a 500-year-long tale and mystery being forgotten, but the hard work of many scientists was being relegated to what Trotsky called “The dustbin of history.”
In order to survive the sense of being marginalized I reached into my bag of tricks, for ego-bolstering gadgets I’d used as an unsuccessful writer and a no-no-sexual. For example, it helps to tell yourself you aren’t the first to be laughed-at: There were people who stated that the Piltdown skull was made of two skulls joined together at the time of its discovery, who were scorned, and informed they were “merely jealous.” In like manner Alfred Wegener was not the first to be ignored for suggesting continents drifted. The applause of the politically correct is not the true measure of true correctness. Paul Simon traced a truth when he sang:
“Such are promises: All lies and jest,
But a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Therefore I was prepared to hold my beliefs firmly, without being agreed with, but then came the delight of discovering I wasn’t the only one noticing the Medieval Warm Period being disappeared. Besides screamers, I met thinkers on the web. They directed me to John L. Daly’s website, “Still Waiting For Greenhouse”, and my delight increased.
In some ways I was slow to catch on to what was occurring. Dawn broke slowly on Marblehead. I initially had the naïve belief that scientists were not corruptible, as if the whiteness of a lab-coat signified sainthood. Mistakes might be made, but certainly not on purpose. Words beginning with the “F” sound, such as “fake”, “fudged”, “phony,” and “fraud”, were not to be used. But then, with a slowly growing sense of incredulity, cracks in the facade of the so-called “consensus” began to appear. Sites like Climate Audit popped up overnight, as miraculous as mushrooms, and, due to the tedious and painstaking work of men like McIntyre and Mckitrick, good, old-fashioned, liberal dialog occurred.
Personally, much of their math was above my head, but I do have a good nose for the reek of politics, and the stink of corruption was increasingly palpable. Event followed event, from the marginalization and de-funding of honest scientists like William Gray to the bloated, incorrect pontifications of Al Gore to the corruption of Wikipedia by William Connolley through the hockey stick debacle of Michael Mann and on to Climategate, until a person would have to be a complete moron not to smell a rat, it seemed to me, yet still the screamers behaved like see-no-evil monkeys. Increasingly they were like monkeys that screamed at you, but back before Climategate there were still a few who would try to explain their delusions in a articulate, civil and humane manner. (God bless them.)
Their explanations always seemed to involve petty details about whether minimum-maximum thermometers were reset at noon or at sunset, or some such quibble, and this quibble was then put into a computer and blended at the puree-setting, and in the end a sludge was extruded that suggested it was warmer now than in the Dust Bowl. I confess I simply didn’t have the patience and stamina of people like McIntyre and Mckitrick, who could follow them step by step through the quibble and “keep their eye on the pea.”
But why bother? I’d known old men who actually lived in Kansas and Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, and who had fought to avoid becoming dispossessed Okies, and who won the battle, and kept their farms, at a time 2.5 million fled the parched landscape as refugees. The tales they told left absolutely no doubt. No modern heat-wave comes close to what they experienced. Where we whimper about the electrical bills our air conditioners run up, when a heat wave has a few days above a hundred, they experienced day after day with temperatures well above 110 degrees, with no rain, and with dust everywhere, even inside the icebox, and with static electricity so bad that men stopped shaking hands and cars dragged grounding-chains so the vehicle’s spark plugs would work correctly. Anyone who thinks it is hotter now than in the 1930’s is not merely a moron. They are dead wrong.
I mean, does it really matter all that much whether you are reading thermometers at noon or sunset, when the maximum, registered automatically, rarely is above 110° now, but was above 110° day after day, summer after summer, in the mid 1930’s? Do you have any idea what those people endured, without air conditioners? Are you trying to say they exaggerated, and were liars when they noted down the temperatures at their weather stations? Do you think it makes you look tougher than they were, to say it is hotter now?
You’re an idiot.
It should now be obvious to you that I had (and have) a tendency to scream at the screamers. It has been my downfall ever since I attempted to slug my brother for saying pacifists were weenies. In fact the first time I ever had a comment “disappeared” from a website was not at an Alarmist website, (because I almost never commented there). Rather it was at Climate Audit, where I told Steve McIntyre he was too nice, because the people he was dealing with were….and then I used a lot of words beginning with the “F” sound.
Being disappeared from Climate Audit made me stop and think. The experience was as crushing as a rejection slip. But it came from someone I respected far more than the publishers who rejected my writing. After due consideration, I decided it probably was unwise to scream at the screamers.
I also decided that, to avoid screaming, I should avoid getting in over my head. I should avoid anything resembling Math class. I should avoid anything involving computer code. I should avoid anything that quibbled about when thermometers were read. Rather I should stick with what the thermometers read. I should stick with the bare knuckled stuff, the stuff that people who work outside actually experience.
For, when you think of it, the Vikings of Greenland had no computers. They had no maximum-minimum thermometers, so they didn’t have to worry about whether to read them at noon or at sunset. But they did have to survive, and in doing so they did stuff we can’t. They plowed fields where we can’t. They raised 2000 cattle and 100,000 goats and sheep where we can’t. They supplied hay in winter for these herds where we can’t. They supplied water for these vast herds, in the dead of winter where everything now freezes, where we can’t. And when they died, they were buried in graves where we would need a jackhammer to penetrate the permafrost. Most amazing of all, they were able to do all these things we can’t do, even though it was colder then than it is now.
Bwah-ha-ha! Do you see how diabolical I’m being? I’m avoiding all arguments with Michael Mann, ducking all his dweebie computer codes and math, for I’m agreeing that his malarkey-conclusions are correct. I’m facetiously saying indeed it was colder back then. But this makes the Vikings look even more amazing then they already looked, back before the Medieval Warm Period got erased. Where Herbert Lamb explained how the Medieval Warm Period made the Viking’s amazing achievements possible, Michael Mann’s revisionist history makes Vikings look superhuman.
In essence Michal Mann has proven that, if you leave Vikings alone, they can do superhuman stuff. This makes him a libertarian. The progressives will begin to regard him with deep suspicion, and start to consider sending him to a gulag to be reeducated.
(Bwah-ha-ha! Perhaps this is not called “science“. Perhaps it’s called “revenge“.)
Leaving Michael Mann to stew in his own juices freed me to compile some bare knuckled stuff of my own. I had to compile, because it had become obvious to me, when dealing with screamers in various chat rooms, that I was unarmed. There was a weapon used called “the link.” It wasn’t enough to simply say, “Look, buddy, I’ve spent 43 years studying Vikings, and what you are saying is horns-waggle.” They would demand a link, preferably to a peer-reviewed study. And then they would hit me with a link, usually to an IPCC study, which wasn’t very fair, for my pathetic computer would freeze up when I tried to download the massive things. Often I had to resort to trickery, typing something like, “Which point are you referring to? Please clip and paste.” In this way I didn’t have to read the whole damn IPCC report, but just got significant punch-lines. Somewhat accidentally, this turned out to be an important phase in dealing with screamers: Move the discussion from the general to the specific.
No one seemed very interested in what I had learned in 43 years of browsing. I knew trivia that might have lifted their eyebrows to their hairlines, but they were more interested in telling me I was wrong. Therefore I developed the strategy of asking questions, (even though I privately thought I knew it all, and they were the ignoramuses). This strategy turned out to be smart, for I not only learned I don’t know it all, and learned new trivia, but also it turned out that asking questions was a great way to move the subject from the general to the specific.
Once the subject became specific, another wonderful phenomenon might occur. A lurker in the chat room would get tired of watching me ask questions, and seeing me be lectured by a screamer, and they’d become exasperated. They would interrupt, in a sense shoving me aside and challenging the screamer with specific rebuttals, including the all-important “links”. This allowed me sit back and be lazy, and to check out both Alarmist links and Skeptic links at my own leisure.
The best discussions involved Alarmists who were only screamers part of the time, and had a streak of old-fashioned liberalism. Part of the time they allowed you get a word in edgewise. Battles of links occurred, not on a general level but a specific level, and, because things were discussed on a specific level, point by point various things asserted in the IPCC report’s conclusions were rebutted.
This could not happen in chat rooms that were too rigorously moderated. Strict moderators were too prone to “disappear” opposing views, leaving a situation that resembled parrots in an echo chamber. However, without moderation, things could deteriorate swiftly to a barroom brawl, unless the people in the barroom supplied some moderation of their own. Occasionally one could chance upon such a barroom. Occasionally one bumbled into a chat room where people were less concerned with “winning”, and were just plain curious.
For a short period of time in 2005 and 2006, one such place I found was the Accuweather Global Warming chat room. Initially it did resemble a barroom, for initially the moderator Brett Anderson was like a permissive parent, and allowed the children to run wild. However, in one of those rare moments when humanity behaves sanely, the people in the barroom moderated themselves, slightly, at least some of the time, and there was old-fashioned liberal debate, with people actually displaying curiosity about another’s views, and actually learning, (and all sorts of links flying to and fro).
The best exchanges were between an Alarmist who called himself “Brookline Tom” and a Skeptic who called himself “Patrick Henry”. They could be very rude to each other, but were rude with wit that made me laugh, and also they had the decency to supply links to each other to make their points. Consequently a great deal of learning occurred. Sadly the moderation at the site became far more strict in 2007, both were eventually banned, and then the learning ceased.
It might be fun at some point to dig up the old transcripts of that site, during its rowdier period, so people could see what it looks like to have a positive debate despite uproars, where learning occurs and one sees a movement forward. One thing I have noticed about some so-called “progressives” is that they don’t like such progress. Some believe debate involves out-screaming ones opponant. They don’t want to learn, and say things such as “the science is settled”, which are a stumbling block to learning anything new.
“The science is settled” accepts the presupposition that there is nothing left to learn. I don’t like the idea because it is, above all, very boring. It also suggests we were born with voices due to some sort of evolutionary mistake. While some husbands might grant that evolution made a mistake to give their wives voices, for the most part we recognize that we have voices for a positive reason. At the very least we are suppose to alert each other to unseen dangers, so adjustments can be made. Even the most despotic captain will have a sailor at the bow of the boat to alert him to hidden reefs and floating debris; a government without such feedback is like a ship without a tiller to change course with, heading steadfastly for a reef. Feedback is necessary to change course, and the necessary feedback often manifests as debate.
There are situations where the turning of the tide creates swirls in the entrance of harbors that look all the world like surf breaking on a shallow bar, though the water is in fact deep. There are also situations where a dredged channel at the entrance of a harbor is filled-in by storm, and a new sandbar abruptly appears where charts state the channel is safe. In truth the only changeless thing is change itself, and the captain who relies too much on any sort of autopilot, (and “the science is settled” is an autopilot), is liable to see his ship become an Exxon Valdez.
Anyway, if “the science was settled” there would have been no need for revisions of the IPCC reports. The very fact there were revisions either indicated a culprit was changing his alibi, or it proved the science wasn’t settled after all. Differences between the body of the report and the “Summary for Policymakers” were also unsettling. Furthermore, even if one accepted the idea of “95% confidence,” that also allowed for 5% doubt. Lastly, a lot of the “science” was the nitpicking monkeying-around that drives me to the verge of being a screamer, and who wants that?
I was far more comfortable in the bare knuckled world of the outdoors, and it became fairly obvious to me, early on, that screamers in the Global Warming debates were not all that familiar with the outdoors. This seemed odd to me, considering “climate” is not an indoors thing. So I asked lots of polite questions. I discovered that a few screamers had been on “field studies” as interns, and, when prodded, tended to wax romantically and even to miss the experience. However for most screamers such study was an experience of their youth, all but forgotten in their myopic concentration on flickering computer screens. And for others, screens was all they has ever known. They spoke of tree rings, but had never chainsawed a tree in their life. Their view of the sea was a satellite view. They didn’t know the sea a fisherman knows.
I recognized this put me at an advantage, for I had spent time at sea, in boats big and small, and had cut lumber and scanned tree rings, and worked on farms. Furthermore, I has met and talked with men who had spent far more time at sea than I had, cut and milled far more lumber than I had, and farmed far longer and more successfully than I ever dreamed of farming, and such people impart a wealth of knowledge, though not called professors. Lastly, one rule I had hammered into my head as a young writer was that you should not write about things you don’t know about, for, if you do, you risk looking like a fool.
Just as an example, I had some book-learning about buffalo, but no actual experience of how powerful they are until I saw a herd approach a road at Yellowstone Park. Traffic stopped and tourists busily clicked pictures, blissfully unaware they had created a bumper-to-bumper roadblock for the buffalo. A big bull then shifted a few cars and the herd crossed the road. This impressed me with how strong buffalo are, for I’d never seen cows shift cars like that, but then, the same summer, a tough cowboy down on the Arizona-New Mexico border informed me, (not really asking), that I was going to help him pick up a couple of buffalo and move them to a pasture beside his tourist-trap, as they would persuade tourists to stop. We had to transport them fifteen miles. To cut a long story short, the horse-trailer began with a square shape and when we off-loaded the buffalo it was a rounded horse-trailer. I received no college credits, but I think I know more about the strength of buffalo than people who have studied environmentalism in college, and who sometimes presume to lecture me.
The worst of such people honestly could not tell a buffalo from a musk ox, but are far too big for their britches. They are as foolish as a young no-no-sexual thinking he has a clue about monogamous marriage, and, because I have been that foolish, rather than telling buffalo-experts they do not know their ass from their elbow, I ask a question. In this example the question might be, “Have you ever moved two buffalo fifteen miles in a horse trailer?” How they respond will tell you a lot. If they show interest then there is hope, for they may be a true student. If they get huffy, and lift their nose, and sneer, then there is little hope they are anything but a dyed-in-the-wool screamer.
Despite the fact my temper occasionally ruins things, for the most part I have been a good student, for I have discovered others have done things I simply haven’t found the time to do. I may have moved a buffalo, but have never yet moved a yak, and therefore ,if I met someone who casually mentioned they’d moved a yak, I’d be all ears, and ask all sorts of follow-up questions.
I think I became a good interviewer because in my youth hitchhiking was a great form of public transportation, and this involved being picked up by total strangers, and it was only polite to ask polite questions. However I soon moved beyond mere politeness. Because I hitchhiked long distances, for example from Boston to Montreal or Florida, I had some long conversations, and heard some tales which were amazing. A man might have returned from Vietnam years earlier and, during a long drive into the night, chose to unload a tale he hadn’t even told his wife. I got the feeling most people live lives which are humdrum 95% of the time, but all have a 5% that is so mind-blowing that they deserve to be listened to. To call people “sheeple” is to miss something beautiful. It is like missing the most spectacular sunset in ten years, because you are engrossed with your cellphone, or contemplating your navel.
Though times have changed and hitchhiking is no longer the option it once was, I find I now have the same experience by studying history. 95% of history may be banal and boring, but 5% is astounding. I think this may have been what attracted me to Vikings in the first place. Their strange idea of heaven let them dare do stuff I‘d never dare. The more I looked the more I was amazed. Who were the “Rus” of Russia? Vikings. Who guarded the final Roman emperors of the Byzantine Empire? Vikings. Who were the Normans who conquered Saxon England? Vikings. Why is Northern Ireland different from Ireland? Vikings. What made the common law of Yorkshire different from southern England’s, (Daneslaw), and contributed to the independence of the dukes up there, and thus was part of what sparked the Magna Carta? Vikings. Who colonized Greenland successfully, for twice as long as the United States has existed? Vikings.
The Vikings are not the only ones who step outside the dull norm, and dare to be great. History has all sorts of examples of adventurers, both winners and losers. And it just so happens that some of these adventurers visited Greenland, and the arctic. Now that I’m too old to go to sea, (or to hitchhike for that matter), I hitchhike in a different way. There are so many great tales; so many great journeys to join.
Somewhat accidentally, if you go on these adventures with bygone men, you learn about sea-ice conditions. This enables you to recognize certain “reconstructions” of past sea-ice situations are just plain silly, for there is no way the adventurers could have sailed where they sailed without open water. (For a sailing ship could be halted by as little as an inch of sea-ice.)
For example, I never set out to learn the sea-ice conditions in Hudson Bay in the years 1610 through 1614. I just did some armchair-hitchhiking, and traveled up that way with Henry Hudson aboard the Discovery. I shared their joy as they came through Hudson Strait and headed south in Hudson Bay, thinking they were in the Pacific. I understood their dismay when they found no warmer lands, and became trapped when ice formed in the fall, and endured the long winter ashore in James Bay. The next spring, when Henry wanted to explore onward, the crew mutinied and set him, his son, and seven loyal members of the crew adrift in a shallot. For a day Henry and his crew desperately rowed after the Discovery, but finally they faded into the distance, and Henry was never seen again.
Two years later Thomas Button sailed the Discovery and another ship back there, searching for Henry but finding no sign of him, and continuing on to explore the west coast of Hudson Bay and perhaps up the Nelson River to Lake Winnipeg. They spent a winter frozen in at the mouth of the Nelson River, and then continued north up the west coast, searching for a route to the Pacific. The sea-ice was bad enough to cost them their second ship, the Resolution, and in September they headed back to England.
Now imagine, if you will, I am in a chat room on line and meet a young whippersnapper who is convinced we are now experiencing “unprecedented” melting at the Pole, and he directs me to a link that shows far more sea-ice in the past, and this link suggests Hudson Bay was inaccessible because Hudson Strait was frozen up during the Little Ice Age. Can you blame me for asking a little question? Namely, “How did Henry Hudson and Thomas Button get in there, if the strait was frozen?” Sometimes even a simple question like this can start the screaming, and get me called “a denier”.
It’s a pity, because screamers miss so many cool stories. For example, Luke Foxe battled sea-ice to enter the Bay through Hudson Strait in 1631, and explored down the west coast of the Bay, and what does he discover? Another Englishman, named Thomas James. (There is an interesting sidetrack here, about the rivalry and competition between the merchants of London and the merchants of Bristol, but I must try to keep on track.)
All these tales drifted about in my head during the last century, and people had a tenancy to roll their eyes when I shared what I knew. They dismissed me as a sailor spinning yarns, especially if they deemed themselves more educated than me. It is sad but true that education makes some people stupid. (In 1974 I witnessed an old lobster-man try to tell a oceanography student about the AMO, twenty years before it was officially discovered, and I’ll never forget how smug and condescending the young man was.) But one of the wonders of the internet is that you can search and find links. (Of course, one can always assume the link might be to a fraud, and sometimes they are.) But for what its worth, here’s a link to the meeting of Luke Foxe and Thomas James in Hudson Bay in August, 1631:
A lot of the adventuring I read about was prompted by the greed of merchants, and their hope to get rich quick. The French had monopoly on the fur trade, but two Frenchmen had heard there were rich lands, in terms of fur, up towards Hudson Bay. The French governor didn’t want power shifting away from the Saint Lawrence River, and forbid them from exploring, and when they headed north anyway, and returned with heaps of furs, the governor confiscated the furs. Bad move. The two men headed straight to Boston to stir up the greed of merchants there. That is how we know Hudson Strait was choked with sea-ice in 1663. The voyage up from Boston couldn’t get into Hudson Bay. The Boston merchants had invested in a “bad risk”. Then the two Frenchmen headed off to London, the Nonsuch sailed in 1668, and that is how we know Hudson Strait was open in 1668, for 1668 marked the establishment of the first post of the Hudson Bay Company, (and also of a hundred years of war with France in Canada, because the French didn’t want the English butting in to their fur monopoly).
In any case, my point is that sea-ice was never the focus of my armchair-hitchhiking. I simply couldn’t afford a yacht, because I never had a million-seller, and therefore had to go on vicarious adventures, sitting in public libraries to stay warm, or, when slightly better off, sitting in taverns with fishermen.
The college-educated tended to sniff and discredit many tales as “mere lore”, and to refuse to speculate without actual artifacts. But things did happen without leaving much of a trace. Even when they left a trace the trace might get bulldozed. For example, not far from Norumbega Tower there was a sandy field that had never been plowed, because it was deemed too sterile to be more than pasture. Yet the Massachusetts tribe had figured out how to use it to grow corn. They scraped the topsoil together into mounds, gathered herring from the Charles River, and stuck a herring in each mound. The lumps were still faintly visible in that pasture when my father was a boy. Now it is a parking lot. The proof is gone. That evidence has entered the world of lore, and stuffy archaeologists refuse to accept lore.
(I discovered there is actually a way to get stuffy archaeologists to speculate. Buy them a beer, and then another, and then another. Then you may see their eyes get dreamy, and learn some interesting lore, but the next morning you’ll find them cross, hung-over, and again dismissive.)
The further back you get in time towards the Vikings of Greenland the more you enter the landscape of lore. One reason for this is that merchants back then were secretive. You stood to have your goods confiscated if the government found out you didn’t have the proper permits. The Greenland Vikings were great traders, but towards the end faced taxes imposed by the King of Norway, the Hanseatic League, and the Pope. One could hardly blame them if they vanished from the official records and lived as smugglers.
Also one trade item of that time was human beings. Ships could swoop into coastal towns and snatch up people who didn’t run fast enough. This didn’t merely occur in Africa; there were over a million white slaves, in Muslim lands and even among rich Christians. In fact some theorize that may have been the end of the final Greenland Vikings. Pirates swooped in and they were swept off to the Mediterrean, which might have been a blessing in disguise. Most of their livestock had been killed by cold, and as slaves they might have even been better fed. Certainly they would have been warmer.
Also just as certainly such an act of piracy and enslavement would be talked about in waterfront taverns. There is all sorts of speculation about the coincidence of having two Italians, Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, both become interested in lands across the Atlantic, and in sailing west, at the same time. (John Cabot is also recorded as transporting at least one slave from Egypt and selling the slave in Crete.) They were both experienced traders and travelers, and both visited Bristol, where there was lore that men crossed the Atlantic in the 1470’s, (but no evidence).
The only evidence of cross-Atlantic-voyages that we have involves men who sought royal sponsors, and thus are men who still exist to this day, in yellowed parchments. It is likely there were other sailors who preferred to remain unknown, but, (unless you know how crazy sailors can be,) such likelihood is dismissed as “unfounded”. Adding to all the mystery is that John Cabot’s third and final voyage was funded by England but aimed into western lands the Pope had officially given to Spain, and there is no record of any return. In fact the textbooks of my youth stated Cabot had “died at sea”. Lore speculated otherwise, fueled by a map of that time which shows the east coast of North America despite the fact we have no official record of any explorer sailing that coast. The lore suggests the return of Cabot’s third voyage was top-secret, and that other top-secret voyages also occurred, with other captains. Why should things be so hush-hush? Well, Spain had it’s spies. And we do have a yellowed letter from a (perhaps traitorous) Englishman to Christopher Columbus, describing what John Cabot was up to before he left on his third voyage.
During my youth the only way to look at rare books and yellowed documents was to travel to far away places and get permission to see them. Most history came through a sort of filter, as the person who actually could afford to travel and look at ancient papers had to decide what trivia was important and what could be discarded. Different viewers would seize upon different items as important, and this led to all sorts of interesting variations stemming from what was in some cases the exact same documents. In other cases the inclusion of a single scrap of new, yellowed information resulted on a whole new take on what had occurred in the mists of the past.
Now such documents are scanned and made available on the web, and a person can, without leaving their chair, accomplish research in an hour that would have formerly taken thousands of miles of travel and years of effort. It is wonderful, even if it seems to stimulate as much wild speculation as it puts to rest.
One thing I greatly enjoy is to see some fragment of lore, which I was told was ridiculous to even consider, emerge and become, if not fact, at least plausible. For example, due to a yellowed letter of King Henry VII being discovered and published in 2007, an explorer named William Weston now “might“ have explored up to the mouth of Hudson Bay in 1499. He didn’t even exist, as an explorer, fifteen years ago. Not that his journey is an established fact, but it does suggest I wasn’t a complete dope to listen to lore and entertain hypotheses. And it is always reassuring to learn you not a complete dope.
Which is what the screamers do: Call people complete dopes. They completely close down a conversation, refusing to even entertain a new idea. I am at a loss to explain why anyone would want to be so narrow. But this narrowness seems to be important to understand, because, (to me at least), it seems screaming is becoming more and more commonplace.
I can only conclude there is a great dread of being “wrong”. A differing view is seen as a terrible threat, as if mankind’s Universal Mind is a one-party-system and all dissidents must be sent to a gulag to be reeducated. You had better be “right”, because the alternative is dreadful.
Oddest is that the very people who hold this narrow view pay lip-service to the idea of “respecting diversity”. Under examination, however, this “respect” entails never stating your personal view, because it might offend a differing view. It is a preposterous commandment. How can one be honoring difference, if one isn’t allowed to differ?
The escape from this downward spiral of fear is to stop being afraid of being wrong. Instead demonstrate it is good fun to be wrong. How? By showing that every time you see you were wrong you are opening your eyes to something new, something enlightening. It is actually pleasant to have a light bulb go off in your head.
This should also be the case when correcting another. You are not clobbering them over the head by calling them a complete dope. Reeducation shouldn’t involve the pain and penalties of a gulag. Rather it is enlightenment. (This was the idea behind the old liberalism, that now seems so forgotten).
Therefore, when faced with some rabid Alarmist who is utterly freaking out about the sight of melt-water pools on arctic sea-ice, I don’t tell them they are are a complete dope, for, even if they are 99.99% a dope, that is not a complete dope. There’s a little bit of God in everyone, even if it is only .01%, and you don’t want to tread on God.
Another word for “a dope” is “ignorant”, and we are all ignorant about some things. The best way to deal with ignorance is to arrest it with enlightenment. Ask questions, even if you are fairly sure of what they’ll answer. Ask them, “What’s so alarming about a melt-water pool?” Find out what the starting point is, and move on from there, keeping the emphasis on wonderment. For example, if they are stressing that melt-water pools are a new phenomenon, ask, “I wonder what caused the melt-water pool on the DC-3 runway on Fletcher’s Ice Island in 1959?” And don’t be snide about it. Ask as if you really want to hear, and wait patiently for what they come up with. It could be interesting.
Of course, some will never want to admit they never heard of Fletcher’s Ice Island, which is fun to watch, but there will be a few who will inquire, “What was Fletcher’s Ice Island?” Then you must seize the chance to tell a good tale of arctic adventure.
Make your eyes very round, and describe how crazy the pilots were, landing aircraft with no landing lights and terrible visibility and deplorable navigation aids. Tell of the first airplane to land at the Pole in March 1952, and how this national heritage artifact crashed on Fletcher’s Ice Island in November the same year.
Don’t forget to tell how the men on Fletcher’s Ice Island could only be supplied by airdrops in the summer, when the ice grew too slushy for landings, or about the time the generator failed and they all faced freezing to death as they frantically rebuilt it. You might mention the one murder, and also the complete chaos that descended another time, when two women were sent to the Island for a while and a multitude of men fell in love with them all at once. A lot happened between 1952 and 1978. And lastly, while your at it, you might casually drop a link to a scientific paper written in 1952 indicating plenty of summer melting occurred back then. Fletcher’s Ice Island had lakes and flowing streams (and gravel and a set of caribou antlers.)
The point of all this is to show that learning something new doesn’t need to involve a gulag. It can be filled with wonder and amazement. The arctic involves amazing tales of survival. I could tell fifty, but, as I am at risk of becoming far too long-winded, allow me to conclude with unseemly haste.
Members of the 1871 Polaris expedition saw their captain murdered, and then were abandoned on an ice flow, and drifted from Nares Strait 1800 miles to off the coast of Labrador, where they were rescued by a sealing ship. Not only does this teach about the tenacity of the human spirit, but teaches about the drift of sea-ice in Baffin Bay.
In like manner, the attempt of Nansen during 1893-96 to reach the Pole is an epic. (Blue line: Drift of the ship Fram locked in sea-ice. Green Line: Nansen and Johanson’s journey by sledge and kayak.)
There are lessons in failure as well. Three men died attempting to reach the Pole by balloon in 1897, yet we have film and records of their effort, discovered with their corpses on an Arctic island in 1930.
Of course, despite all the wonders one can see as a hitchhiker through history, some sour pusses prefer screaming, to being enlightened. With these, there is a final thing you can try as a last resort. Gently take their hand, pat it, and quietly say, “You are very sensitive, aren’t you?” You’d be surprised at the responses you might get. Some become bashful, and say, “aw shucks”, while other can abruptly burst into tears.
And also, of course, some still insist upon screaming. You can’t win them all.
However, as I look around this increasingly demented world, it seems wise to be completely out of the ordinary, as the Vikings were when they first appeared. Back then, what was “ordinary” and was deemed “politically correct” was for monks to collect loot as “donations” and to stash it in monasteries that held fabulous wealth. No peasants seemed to even think of objecting, or of stating such a society was not what Jesus proposed. Then along came the Vikings, and stated heaven was a rowdy, non-stop battle called Valhalla, and they looted the loot in monasteries. The Viking idea of heaven was utterly incorrect, according to the monks, but the Vikings didn’t care.
Currently it seems to be the idea of some, and even to be their “heaven”, to scream at any who differ, and then to seek to send them to a gulag for reeducation. Like a Viking, I don’t care what their idea of heaven is. I will march into their monasteries of screeching, and devastate them with the ways of wonder.