When I look back over my education one thing I rue is my lack of gratitude, at the time, for teachers who did their best, and helped me in many ways, but who I felt compelled to reject. Twenty-twenty hindsight allows me to see that, even if their human imperfections made some degree of rejection inevitable, they still elevated me to the level where I became capable of rejecting them. Were it not for their labors I would never have become so high and mighty.
Not that I was actually high and mighty in worldly terms, but when you are seventeen you are a living legend, in terms of your own awareness. You have your whole life before you, and anything seems possible. You are less liable to be resigned than you are fifty years later, when you’re looking backwards.
One thing I looked forward to was freedom. School seemed like a jail and teachers like jailers. I failed to appreciate what discipline had done for me. Instead all that I could see was opposition, a power holding me back.
There are certain disciplines in life which feel like opposition, but which actually keep you uplifted. A good analogy is a tug-of-war. The opposition seems to be pulling the opposite direction from the direction you want to go, but if you let go of the rope you fall down. I assume it is for this reason that freedom often is not so sweet as it appears from the window of a jail cell. Partners think life will be easier after a divorce, but some later see how the opposition kept them upright. Men in the military crave the day their enlistment is up, but some wind up drunkards once they are free. Jailbirds wind up back in jail.
My teachers in Scotland were taskmasters, demanding far more from me than I felt was kind. But by demanding more they achieved more, and I saw I was capable of things I would have never known I was capable of.
One thing I had no idea I was capable of enduring was an intensely structured routine, where nearly every minute of every day was allotted to specific activities. There never was time to dawdle and dream, although I felt dawdling and dreaming were prerequisites of poetry. I often would march to my housemaster’s office and announce I’d had enough, and that my creativity was being stifled, and that I had to leave the school, only to be intellectually out-argued (and perhaps intellectually bullied) into accepting the fact great poets had overcome great hardships, and “that it is through struggle ones character is honed”, or some such thing. I actually have an old diary-entry describing such an episode:
Tuesday, October 13, 1970 As of now I am supposedly turning over a new leaf. If the past is anything to go by the only leaf I turn over will be the one I’m writing on. Yesterday I skipped a triple period of Physics so I could do my Economics and I got caught. It seems it is a federal offense in this school. I went to have a long talk with the housemaster. I couldn’t tell him what a drag Physics was because my teacher is his wife. So instead I bullshitted about how all the work is piling up and is crushing my creative writing (he is my English teacher). Time for Chapel FIRST PERIOD, I have a work period now, but think I am going to write in this before I turn over my new leaf. …is crushing my creative writing. The housemaster went on to tell me how many great writers wrote under fantastic pressure and how I would write no matter what if I was serious. Then he told me how important Physics is; not that I need it, but it would be great to have in my general knowledge as it involves a completely different type of thinking. Stop it! Stop it! Have mercy on this poor child. I know all that. Why do you think I took Physics in the first place? It’s just that I’m so tired and I wanted to quit Physics so I could have a little time to think. Yes…….I’m lazy…….I know I could do it all…….but it’s so much work and I love sitting around thinking…….Yes……Yes, conscience…….I’ll give it another try…….Yes, a new leaf……. Shit. I almost ducked my personal responsibility that time. Fuck the Housemaster. Fuck my weak will. I hate it when they are right.
The cheerfully schizoid nature of a-mind-facing-discipline is easily recognized by any jogger who has ever faced a steep hill. He owns a split personality; two voices, one of which states “keep going” and another which says, “quit.” It is the job of teachers and coaches and drill sergeants to encourage the “keep going” and discourage the “quit”, so that the jogger or student or recruit gains the great joy of “breaking through the wall” and experiencing a “second wind”. However in an odd way it is the duty of a poet to heed the voice which whispers, “quit”.
This is not to say that poets are quitters, nor that they are undisciplined, but rather that their discipline is often a sort of anti-discipline, a sort of antithesis to a thesis, seeking a synthesis. In the case of a jogger facing a steep hill, poetry asks the unwanted questions, “Is this necessary?” and, “Is there an alternative? Can I go around rather than over?”
Such questioning is not welcomed by a tyrant who wants all his troops goose-stepping in time, but my New England heritage included Henry Thoreau’s statement, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” and Robert Frost’s poem that ended:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Consequently I was in some ways brought up to be questioning, and even rebellious. My opinions mattered, just as my vote would matter when I came of age. This made me audacious in a way that now makes me cringe. I gave far more respect to my own first impressions than to the teachers I was meeting for the first time.
For example, I somehow managed to be tricked into attending a boarding school without having the slightest clue what such attendance entailed, and therefore was utterly appalled by the fact young men were basically disowned by their lazy (or busy) parents and thrown into the custody of strangers. This British system might be centuries old, and have roots reaching back to ancient Greece, but I, at age seventeen, did not approve.
I hadn’t been at the school much more than forty-eight hours when my housemaster ended his English class by filling a final fifteen minutes by requiring us to write a poem. He likely expected a couplet or quatrain of doggerel, and not what I scribbled:
FIST OF A SCHOOL
Hunger’s lonely turmoil Lives in flickers In the eyes. Feel the acne burning boil, Hair-cut, knickers… The baby cries.
Do not cry out alibis. Afraid of the rush You crush Your baby born strength. You’ll go to any length To hide: Drag your finger Nailed across Your blackboard pride. Your chalkish finger Points away But if relaxed It may say What burns inside.
So echo on down corridors, Prison tread on lonely floors, Oblivious of other shores.
Next time that you hear your voice Bleating what you didn’t say Remember whose subconscious choice Locked you up inside this way.
One nice thing about that school was that, rather than the class-size being roughly twenty, as it was in American Baby-boom classrooms, I think that class consisted of seven boys. Therefore I was able to scrutinize the teacher as the poems were handed forward, he leafed through them, and was given pause by the length of mine. After a further pause, as he read it, he shot me a smokey, piercing look. Likely he was thinking something along the lines of, “This chap is bloody talented, and is going to be a bloody handful.” At the time all I could see was that he wasn’t entirely pleased, and therefore was different from Audley Bine, who was more than entirely pleased by my poems, and would clap his hands and shout with glee as he read them.
Fifty years later I still like the poem, as it is a first impression. If there is any Truth in it, is the Truth of an honest child stating, “The emperor has no clothes.” It is not as judgemental as it may appear, for it is not directed towards the English Schooling System as much as it is directed towards my acceptance of such discipline. In fact, when I later went over the spontaneous outpouring, I couldn’t alter a word of the verse, but fussed over what the title of the poem should be, and one title I toyed with was, “For Myself, And All The Other Castle Prisoners.”
However it seems obvious the above poem is not the writing of a young man who is aware he is in need of discipline, and is grateful to the older men willing to supply the discipline he needs. Rather it is full of questions about the wisdom of the discipline. Such questions are related to the voice which whispers “quit” when a jogger faces a steep hill.
In one way this put me in competition with my housemaster. In a tennis match I was on the side of the net called “quit” while he was on the side called “be disciplined and keep going”. I’m glad he won most matches. For example, when I said, “Shakespeare’s archaic English is too difficult to read and I want to quit”, he demanded “Keep going”, and, just as a jogger has a “second wind”, I suddenly understood Shakespeare was brilliance personified. Shutters were thrown back and I gazed out over an amazing vista. However once in a while I’d win a match. I’d say something like, “If Shakespeare had only done what his teachers did he would have never been any different than they were, and they are not remembered as brilliance personified.”
My relationship with the housemaster was nothing like my relationship with Audley Bine. Audley Bine flattered me, which encouraged me to write more, but the housemaster was no more inclined to flatter than a drill sergeant is. Instead he was all about discipline.
In some manner the very reality of discipline creates a duality: The disciplinarian and the disciplined, which can initially look like a slave-driver and the whipped-slave. Because no man likes the indignity of being a whipped slave, discipline can create a resistance; a counter culture. The discipline of my housemaster created a sort of underground among the student body, wherein what the housemaster called good was called bad, and what he called bad was called good. If you obeyed and did your homework you were called a “suck”, which was a shameful label among the boys, but if you didn’t do your homework (and especially if you escaped punishment), you were a “skiver” and were greatly admired.
This duality struck me as stupid. It was too simplistic, and ignored the subtlety of reality, yet the teacher-student, boarding-school dichotomy was the reality I had to deal with. I got in trouble with the student body as often as I got in trouble with the housemaster. For example, when I was a “suck” and and disciplined myself to study Shakespeare, and abruptly saw the bard’s genius and raved about his writing, part of the student body regarded me with pity, and as a hopelessly mistaken lost-cause. On the other hand, when my reputation among the student body soared as a “skiver”, simply because I had detoured from a legal “community service” in a nearby town to a pub (which refused to serve a seventeen-year-old) and chatted briefly with a red-headed girl (who refused my advances) and teachers then learned I had strayed, and I wound up in trouble for my unsuccessful (and therefore harmless) detour, my housemaster regarded me with pity, and, if not as being hopelessly mistaken, as being disappointing. But me? I pitied both the student body and the housemaster. They were not as high and mighty as I, the poet, was.
This brings me back to where I began, which was, in case you have forgotten, the high and mighty attitude a seventeen-year-old poet has, even when he is in desperately need of discipline, not only from his teachers, but also from his peers. Fifty years later I am thankful for the advice I received from both sides of the duality, but at the time I only saw I was getting shit from both sides.
Neither side really cared for what I cared for, which was poetry. The next question should be, “But what is poetry”? Oddly, neither side wanted to face what mattered so much to me. My housemaster might rave about Shakespeare, and the student body might rave about the Beatles, but in my eyes they did so on a superficial level, and not on the deep level I felt I did. I wanted to be the next Shakespeare, or the next Beatle, and wished to blow the brains of mankind with the power of dazzling beauty. (Such aspirations are quite possible, when you are seventeen).
While I was outrageously arrogant, I was often unaware I was outrageous, for instead I felt misunderstood. Neither side of the teacher-student duality understood me, and I sought understanding by plunging into poetry. A blank page was sort of like a mystical crystal ball I looked into; I didn’t see blankness, but rather shapes which required expression. And the more misunderstood I felt the more prolific I became, until I think I must have been annoying to my housemaster. I was like a person who is too talkative and won’t stop yammering. He didn’t want me handing in damn poem after damn poem all the time, when I was suppose to be studying Milton’s “Samson Agoniste“. At some point he had to crack the whip and discipline me into doing the work required, if I was going to pass my A-level exam.
Of course, no English teacher is entirely comfortable with crushing the aspirations of a young writer; it just doesn’t sit well and pricks their conscience; they’ve read too many tales of bankers bloating while poets went unfed, too many tragic tales of poets dying young. They become a little uneasy when they are the one crushing the poet, even if the little punk deserves it.
While my housemaster was no Audley Bine, and likely felt the last thing I needed was any encouragement, he did make a little space for me and my damn poems. For example, he created a ten week poetry contest, which I promptly won because I was the only student who contributed every week. (The contest surprised me because I was unaware any of the other boys wrote poetry). But I suspected the contest might be an activity contrived to keep us boys out of trouble in our spare time, which there was precious little of, at that school (and we did enjoy our trouble). Most of our time was not spare, and was focused on the thing called “An A-level”, which, as an American, I’d never heard of before, and which therefore seemed quite meaningless.
Also the overworked man somehow found the time to produce a literary magazine, which I suspected made the struggling school look more prestigious. I wasn’t inclined to submit anything to it, as correcting my spelling sounded too much like extra work. However one day my housemaster came up to me and said, “I hope you won’t very much mind that I restructured one of your poems. It is too long when you only have one or two words a line. I think it scans as well with eight words a line.” I actually did mind, and explained I wrote it the way I wrote it so people would know how to read it, and he responded “Readers are not as slow as you assume,” and then handed me the magazine, opened to my poem:
Sunrise comes softly from somewhere below To the land that the moonlight was keeping; A coolness in the stillness where the thinking is slow In the land where the children are sleeping.
Oh how I wish the fog would go And how I wish a wind would blow Away the mist and blinding snow That keeps me here alone.
Sometimes I hear waters stretching away Beyond what I see through the mist, And in dreams as the blackness grows into gray I remember the color it kissed.
Oh how I wish the sky would clear And how I wish she would appear To sweep away my muddled smear That keeps me here alone.
I’m dreaming of sunrises gilded in gold, An in-between lavender sheen, And I know I won’t find it if I do what I’m told For harmony’s never been seen
And sunrises cannot be sold.
I blushed with pleasure, seeing my writing in actual print, with all my misspellings corrected, but also felt a vague sense of alarm, wondering why my housemaster chose a song that said so clearly, “I know I won’t find it if I do what I’m told.” It seemed a sort of standing challenge to all teachers: “I will not obey.”
If God ever grants me the time to write in detail about that school, a major focus will be the escapades of the boys. “Skiving” worked hand in hand with the discipline in a way difficult to describe, involving the tug-of-war principle I mentioned before. The discipline alone would have been too dry, and the boyishness alone too irresponsible, but together they created maturity, although when I first arrived and first looked at what was going on, both sides seemed utterly mad.
For example, when I first arrived at the school I had a fierce will to “get back in shape”, which involved exercising, eating, and quitting tobacco and amphetamines. (Oddly, I didn’t see marijuana as a problem). Amphetamines were easy to quit, for beyond strong tea there simply weren’t any available, (nor was there any marijuana), but quitting tobacco wasn’t so easy. Though I cut back on my consumption of tobacco from fifty cigarettes a day to three, at one point my diary mentions, “I haven’t quit entirely; it seems to be a social necessity at this school”.
Tobacco was forbidden at the school, but, my very first morning at the school, the student who was in charge of orienting me led me astray. There was a period of roughly fifteen minutes after we were dismissed from breakfast before the bell rang for the first class, allotted for collecting books and papers, but my guide turned out to be a “skiver”, and rather than showing me where to store my books and papers he took me down a bewildering maze of alleys and passages, down in the dungeons of the old castle, past black furnaces and dripping pipes, with everything dimly lit by dirty thirty-watt-bulbs and draped in spider webs, to an obscure back entry where the garbage was picked up, and where a group of roughly twelve young addicts desperately puffed at their “fags.”
The “skivers” seemed to very much like taking an ignorant American like myself under their wings and showing me how to break the rigid discipline, but my point is that every single cigarette was in some ways an escapade. And the skivers wanted to pack every day with escapades. When we were sent off to run four miles cross country, the route took us out of the eyesight of teachers, and stuff happened. But, if I digress into the wonderful topic of youthful escapades I’ll get lost and forget what my point is; my point being that there was a tension between teachers and students to begin with, even without whatever it was my poetry involved.
At this point I’ll skip ahead six months, from the growing gloom of the autumnal solstice to the blinding brilliance of spring’s. I am skipping all the hilarity and pathos of the ups and downs created by the tension between teachers and “skivers”, and arriving at a sort of high point.
Last chapter I described how becoming “straight” nearly led to my suicide. Getting “in shape” physically and mentally was not enough. One must also face a side of life neither physical nor mental, and get “in shape” spiritually, but this is hard to do, if you are an Atheist. As an Atheist it is hard to see anything can exist beyond the physical and mental. Your logic bars the door. However the process of poetry is a battering ram that can break down such doors.
One does not have to believe in spirituality to get in better “shape” spiritually. I know this because I have yellowing diaries and books of old poems, and can see that, even as I became somewhat ruthless with my logic, and more and more of a hard-bitten Atheist, I was becoming more spiritual. Eventually this culminated in a wonderful ecstasy.
I need to stress this high point, because it is followed by a confession, admitting a downfall. However a downfall needs to have some high place one is falling down from. Too many confessions are poisoned bouquets of blame, pointing away at other people and smearing them as being causes of the downfall. Too seldom is credit given to the processes and people who uplifted one to the high and mighty stance, which they later down-fell from.
As one’s physical “shape” improves one gives credit where credit is due, and hopefully thanks one’s coach or drill sergeant. As one’s mental “shape” improves one hopefully gives credit to their teacher’s. But who does one thank as their spiritual “shape” improves?
If one has the good fortune to have a priest or pastor who is helpful rather than harmful, that person will refuse to take credit, and instead will point at the sky and say, “To God goes the glory.” But such talk, as I passed my eighteenth birthday, made me want to puke. I sneered at believing in some Santa Claus superstition. I believed in Truth.
Fifty years later, I have come to the conclusion God doesn’t care what the hell you call Him, and that an Atheist who honestly seeks Truth may accidentally be more worshipful of God than the pretenses of a hypocritical priest can ever manage. Therefore an honest Atheist may get blessed even as a priest prays in vain. That is honestly the only explanation I can come up with, for the ecstasy I was blessed with.
If I bored you with the pile of poems I produced beforehand, showing the work which led up to ecstasy, you would see little respect for God, and nothing short of contempt for religion. Because I had grown up in a wealthy town I was well aware of the misery associated with money, and was disgusted with people who would do cruel things to gain such misery, and cling to such misery, and prefer such misery. I stated, (without any idea of how to get there), that an alternative to misery must exist. And my process for seeking the alternative was “poetry”, which, as I defined it, was to not seek money and to not prefer money, and rather to seek Truth, Love and Understanding.
Religion failed to further such a search, in my teenaged opinion. While I didn’t call religion “the opiate of the masses”, I did come right out and say the rich could not remain rich if the poor rioted, and it was the business of priests to keep the poor from rioting. Therefore priests were part of the process that misguided the poor, turning the poor into mere cogs in a machine that kept the rich sleek and comfortable. Priests were part of that exploitation, and sought money and preferred money, and priests therefore preferred misery. I preferred poetry, and joy, and human happiness. To me such idealism seemed an obviously preferable and superior goal, a “Truth”, and anyone else, who preferred cold gold instead, was a nincompoop. A priest was suppose to aim mankind towards sainthood, not turn people into cogs.
The problem with such radical ideas is that there are plenty of ordinary people who don’t have the slightest desire to riot. They just want to do a day’s work and receive a day’s pay, and raise happy families in humble homes. As long as they are left alone, they could care less about the miserable debauchery the rich invite into their mansions. If the rich want to suffer, that is their business. This complacency, on the part of the humble, struck me as in some ways being a problem, yet in other ways struck me as wisdom.
It’s surprising how many things in life can seem like both a problem, and a wisdom. As my young mind attempted to grapple with such issues it created symbols in poems which argued and swirled and fenced and danced, in a dream-like and perhaps sometimes psychotic way, as I attempted to see what the Truth was.
Fifty years later, I see such scribbling as the footprints of a spiritual search. Young poets may superficially dream of being published, and crave fame and acclaim, but in my opinion the deeper and realer reward they get is that they get in “shape”, spiritually. And the sign of such an attainment is sometimes ecstasy.
My personal ecstasy hit me on a sunny and windy Sunday just before Easter break. I’d done well on a series of exams, and that filled me with a sense of well being. Not that the the discipline of relentless cramming ever truly ceased, but it did let up a little just after exams, and “a little” felt like a lot at that school. In fact I have never gotten as much from “free time” as I did at that school, where there was so very little of it.
Sundays began with the same blasted hand-bell jangling down the hallway, rung by a teacher who was a kindhearted choir director, but a sadist when it came to that bell. We got to sleep a little longer on Sundays, a half hour or perhaps a whole hour, but I never felt it was any later. I’d learned to do a lot without truly waking up: Use the bathroom, wash my face, comb what little hair I had, dress in the damn uniform, make my bed, and trudge down stairways and along hallways to breakfast, where I actually awoke.
By spring I had contrived to upgrade my amphetamine addiction from tea to coffee, and, while consuming as much food as was available (never enough, though I put on weight) the coffee stirred my creativity, which included my sense of mischief.
The “skivers” were always plotting their greatest coups during Sunday breakfasts, planning to ask teachers for permission-slips to spend their afternoon free-time studying species of lichen on mountain heights off school grounds, when in fact they planned to go visit a pub. I derived great pleasure from hearing of such plots, even when I was not invited, and was honored that I was trusted and not deemed a “snitch”. However before such debauchery was possible we had to go to chapel and pretend we were saints.
I was in the choir against my will, for the supply of talent was very limited, and I had made the mistake of singing in the shower, when I first arrived in September. Most everyone else was in the choir against their will as well, and I think that included the choir director. He was a man who appreciated music greatly, but knew he himself was not gifted, yet was forced to pound away at a piano while attempting to discipline mutinous schoolboys into producing some semblance of holy hymns. Often the result was such a cacophony of discord that I couldn’t help myself, and dissolved into helpless laughter. What made it all the funnier was that the choir director, whose piano-playing was dubious to begin with, could be counted upon totally disintegrating when things went wrong, and to pound out five or six very-wrong chords in a row. Of course the “skivers”, rather than helping the poor man avoid such embarrassment, would try to provoke such breakdowns. Usually this involved substituting a rude word which happened to rhyme with a holy word, in a holy hymn.
On this particular morning the choir did well belting out our first hymn, which most of the boys liked. For an Atheist, I was strangely stirred by certain hymns, and this one had a fine bass part, and let one express joy, in a sense bellowing, “I feel good this morning!” It was the old hymn that begins, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning I sing my song to you!”
The next hymn, however, was a complete shambles. It was a hymn where one or two boys could be depended upon to substitute the word “fart” for the word “heart”, but for some reason spring put mischief into the choir, and it sounded like I was the lone “suck” who actually sung the word “heart”. The entire rest of the choir were “skivers”, and sung out the word “fart” in four part harmony. The choir director then set a new record for the number of mangled chords he could clash in a row, and I had to sit down, flushed and streaming tears of shaking, silent laughter.
Sometimes laughing got me in trouble, and even once got me punished with a “caveat”, but laughter always seemed good for me and to improve my mental health. As an Atheist I even found it a little disconcerting that church could heal me and make me feel so much better, even if the healing was by unorthodox means.
On this particular morning I went unpunished for laughing, but did have to go to the locker room after chapel and put on my rugger shorts and then run around a fountain in the castle gardens for a half-hour, paying my debt to society, for a half-caveat I’d earned for some other infraction. (I can’t recall what that crime was.)
Jogging on a spring morning was not bad, and actually I enjoyed it, running backwards and shadow-boxing and generally turning the punishment into play, which was easy to do when you only had a half-caveat, and far harder for the truly dedicated skivers, who had to run around that fountain for hours.
After jogging I took a shower, which was blissfully long, compared to the hurried washes of weekdays, and then I heard the great news, as I got dressed: The British Postal Strike had ended, and all the mail from old friends in America, going back to the dark days of January, arrived all at once. I got quite a heap of envelopes, and ripped them all open without reading any, for I had the selfish hope someone had smuggled me a marijuana cigarette, but I was bitterly disappointed. Only then did I face the letter I’d saved for last, which was from a girlfriend I hadn’t heard from since October. She was not verbal, preferring to express herself with paint, and what she had sent was a hand-made card with a drawing.
My girlfriend and I had pragmatically agreed that a year was a long time to spend apart, and that we could remain friends even while dating interesting people, if we happened to meet any. In October she mentioned a fellow I knew named Dave. This caused me a paroxysm of jealous despair, as I figured Dave was richer, smarter, and better looking than I, and I was therefore “dead meat and history”. In November I was equally honest, and mentioned a red headed girl I was failing to seduce in the nearby town. I sent a few more letters, but had received none, and then the silence of the Postal Strike descended. I figured things were over between us, and we’d become that bankruptcy former-lovers call “friendship”, however, in the world of my poetry, the fifteen-year-old girl took on a symbolic, epic stature, and strode about like a goddess. But now an element of reality had crept in, for the goddess had sent me a card. It was a magic-marker picture of a tree with our initials carved in it within a heart, and a girl looking at the carving and smiling, and the single word, “Remember?”
I walked to lunch all warm and fuzzy, and was less interested than usual in the plots and planning which skivers were hatching for the afternoon. I was unusually disinterested in excitement, because I was unusually interested in serenity. For all my talk about Peace, Love and Understanding, I felt this was the first bit of true Peace I’d ever seen in my entire, fucking life.
After lunch I walked down to the ocean, walking in an odd way. I swung my arms, but they didn’t alternate. Both arms swung forward and then both arms swung back, and then I’d gambol a bit, like goats and sheep do in a pasture the first warm day of spring. My good mood was getting out of hand, but I went with it, rather than attempting to discipline it out of existence. My hiking became a sort of dancing, and, as easily as a schoolboy whistles while walking barefoot on a summer road, a song came to me, and required words. Here are the words, without the song:
Sunshine’s shining When a wild wind’s whining. They madly mix me By baffled beauty. Big, bad billows Of blue sky pillows Spin my head around; I fall to the ground. I see through the window But cannot get in.
Tree top’s talking The forest’s walking Quick to and fro, As they’re in the know. Great glad gusting I find I’m trusting The infinite sky. I do not ask why. I see the wind blow But cannot get on.
Do you ever try to try try try Grab a bolt of wind and fly… Why…? Wind! Wind! Wind! Whooosh!
Sunshine arrows Blow laughing sparrows Like leaves in the sky. I do not ask why. My knees are laughin’ Like a new born calf in Green by cow who lies; The calf only tries. I see the answer The question is gone.
We’re not the ones who run away a way. They make up rules and cannot play… Hey…. Wind! Wind! Wind! Whooosh!
See the sea gull; It climbs clear cloud walls And hear the wild cry And do not ask why. I know what the wind knows: Some day I’ll be gone.
As a young Atheist I possessed all the equipment I needed to cynically dismiss the above ecstasy as merely a “good mood”. Back in those days the word “bipolar” hadn’t been concocted, and instead the now-scientifically-discredited concept of “manic-depression” was all the rage. So I could sneer at my own joy as merely being “manic”, as if I was mentally ill, (in which case illness is something to die for).
If I’d been religious it might have made sense that, when I smiled at God, then God smiled back at me. However my Atheism made things far more difficult and abstract, yet the simple fact of the matter was that when I sung to the sky the sky sung back to me, and when I sung to the trees the trees sung back to me, and so on and so forth until I was drunk without whiskey, stoned without marijuana, and tripping without LSD. Just as a jogger, after fighting against pain, is rewarded with a “second wind” that makes running remarkably easy, and just as a scholar, after all the agony of cramming, is rewarded by facing a test with every answer easily at hand, so too is a spiritual seeker rewarded with an ecstasy.
Some might complain ecstasy is not lasting and fades away, and isn’t like gold you can hoard in a miser’s vault. But it is more lasting than gold, which robbers can steal, for it cannot be stolen. Nor can it be lost in the way we forget other things we crave.
I have a good appetite, and have craved thousands of meals, but do I remember many? For that matter, I have been lustful, and have had quite a number of orgasms, but I remember few, and for the most part all I remember about lust is that I want to do it again. Ecstasy is different, for you cannot forget it, even when it never happens again.
Ecstasy is a sort of milestone, marking a certain progress you have made on the spiritual path. A milestone does not say what the road ahead will hold. In my case the road ahead held a downfall, but I don’t want to spoil this chapter by going into details of that valley of the shadow. Let it suffice to say I had arrived at a very high place.
How high was it? Well, I am ordinarily shy, and reclusive, and when I sing I am most comfortable in a shower when no one is home. However for months after I experienced my ecstasy I was quite comfortable singing in public, and while walking between classes I’d burst into song.
How high was it? Well, where some need guns to battle the world, or gold, or political power, or lipstick, I reached into the arsenal of poetry and prepared to battle the world with sheer joy.
A swarm of brake lights on the highway ahead snapped my thinking from September 1970 to the present tense of January, 1975. As I slowed I sighed, for the traffic was coming to a crawl. Obviously there had been some sort of accident up ahead; the traffic was never heavy heading south into Massachusetts on a Saturday night; it must be a drunk driver, or a truck roll-over, or maybe both. The traffic slowed to a halt, and I saw I’d be bumper to bumper, just edging forward, for a long time. The accident was so far ahead I could see no flashing blue lights of a police car, nor the flashing red of an ambulance.
I drummed the steering wheel impatiently and lit a cigarette, wishing I’d brought a thermos of coffee, and tried to think of what sort of fuss might be causing the so-called “crisis” at Audley’s commune, but I knew whatever it was, it was likely lame and uninteresting. All the issues that brought things to a halt increasingly seemed like much ado about nothing, to me. I’d rather think about things which interested me, even if they didn’t interest anyone else.
So instead I tried to think about the characters Siegfried and Heinrich in my poem-in-progress, “Armor”, but that too seemed lame and uninteresting. My writer’s block was as bad in my car as it was at my desk.
Inevitably my mind drifted back to September, 1970, when my life in some ways was put on hold, or got stuck in a traffic jam, for ten months. Or that is how it felt to me, though I went through some major changes.
I knew I had to shape up, as my wild senior-summer had left me very scrawny and haggard, but I figured improvement was a matter of merely sucking in my gut and mustering some will power. There was not much awareness of withdrawal symptoms, back in those days, and the words “detox” and “rehab” hadn’t been invented. Also, I didn’t want people to know I’d done anything illegal, and, with the exceptions of cigarettes and coffee, all the things I was withdrawing from were illegal. Lastly, I had a great fear of being incarcerated in a nuthouse against my will like my father had been, and so, when I became shaky, I was very good at inventing excuses, such as “eyestrain”. When a sort of “battlefield flashback” (which afflicts users of hallucinogens) occurred, called “re-occurrences”, I just kept quiet about it, and was a bit like Audley Bine was when he managed to function despite hallucinating mummies, though my hallucinations were never so gross or graphic, and tended to involve firm objects shivering or melting a little, and white walls appearing blotched by faint hues of yellow and pink. In any case I was dealing with strange, psychotic stuff which people outside my skull were oblivious to, and I was glad people didn’t know me better. At the same time I felt very alone, and yearned to be better understood.
I suppose it is typical for teenagers to feel misunderstood, and to seek and find a sort of understanding, not by talking with anyone in particular, but rather by listening to the music of an artist who seems to speak what they themselves can’t find the words for. In my case the artist was Jimi Hendrix, and no sooner did I arrive in Britain when he drowned in his own vomit on the outskirts of London on September 18. Some stated the CIA and Mafia had killed him, but I felt misunderstanding had killed him. When Janis Joplin died of an overdose, three weeks later, I felt the same: Misunderstanding killed her. However I also had a strong sense I should be very serious about getting off drugs, or I’d end up like they did. It didn’t matter if it was the drugs or the misunderstanding that killed you; dead was dead. To be honest, on some level I became very scared.
It seemed the strangest thing to me that the very drugs that seemed to increase my understanding should increase my sense of being misunderstood, even to the degree where the loneliness threatened to kill me. I felt great empathy for Van Gogh’s crazed drama, when he so wanted to be heard he cut off his ear. I trudged about at times so moved by the violins of my own self-pity it is a wonder I didn’t walk into a tree, yet at the same time a far saner voice in my head told me to shape up and stop whining and to do ten push-ups. It made for some interesting entries on the now-yellowing pages of a diary, and for interesting poems as well.
To some degree poetry replaced hallucinogens. Despite the fact there was no longer any enthusiastic Audley Bine who wanted to see my poems, I wrote poetry far more than seems possible, considering the rigorous schedule of the school.
I felt like I had joined the marines. There were non-stop classes and exercises. You were never allowed to laze in bed, not even on Sunday mornings, and in a military manner you had to have your bed made and be on time for breakfast or you’d be punished with a “caveat”, which meant you ran around a circle during the one half-day of free time you actually were allowed, after Chapel on Sundays. You had to account for work you did even during study halls and “preps”, which led to some false accounting on my part, for when I jotted down that I had spent time reading assigned books I actually had written poems.
As a spoiled American from the permissive school system of a wealthy suburb, getting smashed into such a disciplined system was a shock, a boot-camp’s nervous breakdown, which involved withdrawal symptoms all its own. But one rather nice thing about the fierce discipline was that I had my nose pushed into the grindstone of British poetry. At first I was offended, but soon I began to understand the punishment was actually pleasurable. I was like an alcoholic plunged into a vat of cold champagne. I stopped struggling fairly swiftly, when forced to read Shakespeare and fifteen other British poets.
(Two things, which puzzled me about the old-school, stiff-upper-lip Englishmen of that time, were the facts that, despite seeming emotionless and macho, they all seemed fond of flower gardens, and poetry.)
Not that they seemed the slightest bit interested in discussing hippy topics like Peace, Love and Understanding. The teachers didn’t even show much apparent interest in lust, fame and greed (though they probably were interested, on the sly.) All that seemed to matter to them was passing tests called O-levels (which were the equivalent of a partial American high school diploma) and A-levels, (which were the equivalent of a partial American college diploma.) A teacher’s worth, his sense of self-esteem, was twined with getting recalcitrant boys to pass such tests, and there was greater glory in getting a teenager to pass an A-level than an O-level. After only six weeks at the school I was moved from an O-level curriculum to an A-level one, which hugely increased my work-load, as I had to learn in two terms what usually takes six, but also plunged me into poetry, poetry, poetry.
At the same time I was plunged into a society of roughly 120 schoolboys between the age of thirteen and eighteen who didn’t care about Truth, Love and Understanding, but also didn’t care about O-levels and A-levels and especially poetry. They were a counter-culture different from the hippy counter-culture, for neither sex nor drugs were available and rebellion had to take different forms. They had a jargon all their own. (If you did your work you were a “suck”, and the art of escaping punishment while avoiding work was “skiving.”) Getting slammed into this all-boy culture forced me to rethink many hippy concepts, for their ridicule was merciless, and having to deal with them also made me long for a woman. Not that I didn’t come to love my comrades, but I think even the most flagrant homosexual might have second thoughts if he had to put up with nothing but men, men, men; day after day, week after week, month after month.
It would take another book to describe the agony and ecstasy of that schooling, and the antics of my classmates. The two hundred poems I wrote would be a distraction, in this work. The three hundred escapades I was involved with would also be a distraction. Let it suffice to say that I did some hard thinking outside of the scope of the O-level and A-level exams. Much involved how the Scots differed from the English, how the upper class differed from the lower class, how teachers differed from students, and what made the American ideology of that time different from the English Empire’s fading glory.
To be honest, I would have avoided much of this hard thinking, if I could have. After two months I was ready to head home. I’d quit drugs, even cigarettes, and weighed more than I ever weighed before (or since.) I was back in shape, and eager to return to the fray. I lived for the letters I received from friends back in the States, which seemed too few and too far between, yet which gave me a sense that there was a sort of societal madness occurring in America, which I wanted to return to and fight.
Not only had Hendix and Joplin died, but the Beatles had broken up. No new albums would brighten horizons like dawn. However George Harrison had arisen from the ashes of the Beatles to write a hit song called “My Sweet Lord.” Also many hippies were joining a movement called “The Jesus Freaks.” At age seventeen this development, to me, seemed very much like a sign people had abandoned rational thought, and had stopped trusting first-hand experience. Where I would not trust any hallucination, they seemed to be trusting stuff without even a hallucination to back it up. Their so-called “faith” was, in my eyes, merely an abdication of responsibility. They needed to think harder, but preferred the sightlessness of blind faith. But I insisted upon seeing.
This involved me in a strange hypocrisy, for, though I knew I needed poetry like an oasis in the desert of life, I also deemed it a sort of mirage. Poetry was a hallucination, which rational thought might note, but also would disregard as “only a dream”. In a sense I was intellectually biting the hand that fed me.
My girlfriend turned out to be very bad, when it came to writing letters. She wrote a single letter in the fall, and sent me a card in the spring, despite the fact I wrote her a long letter every few weeks. Meanwhile my best friend wrote all the time, but wrote while high on LSD, so his letters held little that was comprehensible, and sometimes were a just smear of watercolors with no words. However a few other friends wrote scattered letters which mentioned things that piqued my interest, one of which was that Audley Bine had started a commune. I heard that “My Sweet Lord” was played on the commune’s stereo non-stop. I felt like I had missed something; obviously Audley hadn’t lasted long as a teacher at a boarding school in New Hampshire, but I received no answers to the letters I sent across the sea inquiring, and Audley himself never wrote me.
In a strange sense feeling so cut off from the people I had known turned them into dreams. My girl friend stropped being real and became a poetic image. I actually had vivid dreams about her and other old friends, and wondered a little if there was some sort of transatlantic psychic contact, but then I’d give myself a sort of slap and tell myself to get real. But what was real, if the people who meant so much could just melt away?
When I first arrived at the school the days were still a bit longer than the nights, but one thing that astounded me about that northern latitude was how swiftly the days grew shorter. If I’d been scientific I’d have noted that, where each day was three minutes shorter in New England, each day was six minutes shorter in northern Scotland, but rather than scientific I was poetic, and was struck by a sense of swiftly deepening darkness and growing gloom. Before I knew it I felt like I was fighting for my life, simply staying sane. The sun seemed to barely start rising in the sky before it gave up and went back down again, when you could see the sun at all, and it didn’t just rain. Some days were just a brief time when the blackness turned deep purple. Then, to truly test me, in the midst of this darkness the English postal workers went on strike, and week after week passed without any mail at all, from January to March.
Surviving the winter changed me. For one thing, I entered it seventeen years old and exited it eighteen, and eighteen seemed very old to me. I felt it was high time to stop being juvenile, and to grow up and be grim. But a problem with that northern latitude was the days grew longer with the same astonishing speed they’d grown shorter, and the increasing floods of intoxicating daylight made it hard to be grim and serious. I was given to manic moods and bouts of irresponsible behavior, which seemed less than mature to me, as my poetic inclinations warred with my newfound discipline.
I actually had achieved a lot, not merely in terms of becoming physically fit, but in terms of absorbing an amazing amount of intellectual stuff, (perhaps knowledge or perhaps trivia). While American schooling taught more, in those days, when it came to justifying thought (and coming up with excuses) American schools dropped the ball in terms of exposing one to other’s minds. Consequently I could write as if I was an expert on Mark Twain when I had read nothing but part of Huckleberry Finn, primarily focusing on my own thoughts, responses and opinions. The British schooling required far more actual reading, and I read more in a month at the boarding school than I had read in four years at an American high school. After an initial period of disdain, when I scorned being exposed to “old fashioned” writers, I suddenly became a sort of human sponge, completely absorbed in meeting a cast of witty characters who seemed strangely alive even when they’d been dead for centuries. My American teachers would have been astonished to see me work so hard, but the thing of it was: It often didn’t seem like work, any more than it seems like work to head off to a pub and hear an old sailor tell a good tale. It became obvious that, besides getting myself in physical shape, I was in good shape when it came to passing my A-levels in English, (and also Economics). However it was at this point that becoming sane came very close to killing me.
The weirder parts of my thinking had faded away with the winter darkness, and I’d climbed beyond the various withdrawal symptoms I’d suffered, and my thinking had become very “straight”. Not that I didn’t still venture off into poetic landscapes, but I knew poetry was just a form of dreaming-while-awake, and to some degree I belittled it as something that was less than “real”. I was increasingly a realist, and, until I could see some sort of proof beyond hallucinations, I was increasingly an Atheist.
One test to my atheism involved the castle ghost. Of course, you can’t believe in ghosts if you are a true Atheist, but a number of boys claimed to have seen the ghost, and I was not about to exclude myself from such fascinating discussions over some piffling technicality. Anyway, I could contribute to the discussion, though I called the ghost a hallucination, when I saw it.
The boys talked with great authority about the ghost, though they tended to disagree a lot about major details, and even about whether there was one ghost or several different ghosts.
The majority opinion was that the ghost was named Margaret, and that she was the daughter of a Duke who ruled back in the 1600’s. Margaret wanted to marry her true love, but the Duke wanted her to marry some person she did not love. He locked her in the top of the castle, but she planned to elope with her true love. As she started to escape, descending out the window on a rope, her father barged in and caught her, and she was faced with a choice of being hauled up and captured and forced to marry someone she didn’t love, or letting go of the rope. She chose death, but didn’t get to go to heaven, and instead had to hang around the castle trying to live out the rest of her life without a body to do the living with. She’d been at it three hundred years, and apparently still had more disembodied living to do. The boys claimed they saw her ghosting about the upper floors of the castle. Some boys said she cried out for her lover, and others said she moaned because she’d realized suicide was a bad choice, and that a couple decades married to a jerk was preferable to centuries stuck upstairs in a castle.
When I had my own hallucination I told no one about it, for I figured I’d just get put in a straitjacket if I did so. It was only months later, when I knew the boys better, that I entertained them with my tale, and was promptly mocked and derided, because they insisted no self-respecting ghost would ever haunt in the manner I described.
For one thing, my hallucination didn’t take the form of a young woman, and rather just was a black shape. It occurred in the fall, when the days were still getting drastically darker and a wind was roaring off the North Sea and beating against the windows of my dorm. The dorm had originally been a single, vast, guest-bedroom for the wealthy, but now had five, small metal beds scattered about, with foot lockers at the bottom of each bed. My four roommates were breathing the soft serenity of sleep, but I was tossing and turning in some private agony, yearning for sleep to come spare me. I flopped over and glowered out through the open door into the yellow-lit hallway, and then noticed a small, black sphere just hanging in the air by the door. I thought it must be some mote in my eye, and blinked to make it go away, but rather than going away it assumed the shape of a small, black, blunt comet, spiraling around and growing larger, speeding up, and then rocketing away down the hall. I swallowed, decided screaming would do no good, and flopped back over to my other side, and yearned even more desperately for the oblivion of sleep, and was granted my wish.
The other boys especially disliked my dismissive attitude. Somewhere I had read that people saw black shapes just before a migraine headache, and even though I hadn’t had a headache, I decided the black shape was one of those.
The subject of ghosts and suicide came up again one mild spring evening, when there was suddenly daylight after first prep and before dinner. We had a tiny bit of free time then, fifteen minutes when we were suppose to put books needed for first prep away, and take out the books needed for second prep, but actually was a time the boys used to hurry away into the castle grounds, just past the view of teachers, for a cigarette. I had fallen off the wagon, in terms of tobacco, and joined a group as it slouched down a groomed path through budding rhododendrons, puffing small, silver clouds of smoke that hung in the calm, until we paused by a small graveyard for the past’s various dukes and duchesses, noticing a relatively new grave just outside the wrought iron fence that marked the consecrated ground. Apparently a teen aged child of the current duchess had taken his life while away at boarding school, and apparently suicides weren’t allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. The boys were discussing their theories about why this rule existed, when one boy became exasperated.
It was Peter, a short young man with red curls, amazing freckles, big ears, bright blue eyes, and an amazing wit. He was an adept “skiver” who seemed to dislike study, but to be very smart, and to enjoy holding the most unlikely opinions. If there was a new way of looking at an ordinary thing, he’d go out of his way to find it, as if he found life boring and was trying to spice it up a bit. His dorm was on a different level of the castle, and I never had gotten to know him very well because he avoided all sports, the same way he avoided all study, and also because he hung out with a different group of friends, but the little time I spent with him was always rewarding.
Peter had spent five long years at the school, and I assumed he had never seen the ghost Margaret whom others talked about. If he had, it was inconvenient for the stance he chose to take at that moment, which was a stance of fierce Atheism. He spread his palms and shook his head and loudly wondered how his fellows could be so unscientific. Then he insisted at length that science had never grasped a ghost with calipers nor noted a change in temperature in haunted places, but instead had proven without doubt that life was only a coincidental concentration of electricity within a complex chemical reaction. When we died we just reverted to the chemicals we’d come from, and then, to prove his point, he nimbly pranced to the side and stood on the green grave of the suicide, stooped over, plucked a blade of grass, and claimed, “This grass is chemically no different from any other grass, and this doesn’t make me a cannibal”, and then he chewed the grass. The other boys exploded into exclamations over how disgusting and gross Peter was, as he laughed in delight, and I strode to his side and called the other boys cowards, stooped, and chewed my own blade of grass. Then we heard the distant bell ringing, snubbed our cigarettes, and hurried off to dinner.
After my initial delight over Peter’s antics faded away, I was struck by a profound wonder over how utterly meaningless life was. I shared a cramped study in a small turret with two other older boys, but for some reason both boys were away, and I was alone there, doing my studying, when the wonder overwhelmed me. I looked out the window at a beautiful view of green springtime by a benign, azure sea, aware I’d triumphed over the darkness of winter and the impossible work-load necessary to pass my A-levels, and it all seemed completely worthless. What did it matter, if in the end I’d just die and turn into chemicals feeding green grass? Success or failure, victory or loss, it all came to the same end; in the end it amounted to nothing. So why was I putting it off?
I smacked down my pen, stood up, and walked down the halls past the deserted dorms to a dorm with a window that overlooked a three story drop to a stone terrace. Why was I putting it off? Far away I could hear a house senior yelling at the rowdy boys in a second prep classroom, shouting that he’d give them all caveats if they didn’t pipe down and study. Was there some sort of caveat given for suicide? Through my brain drifted Hamlet’s soliloquy.
“…….To die, to sleep– To sleep–perchance to dream: aye, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause…….”
Must give us pause? Why must it “give us pause”? Was the “pausing” not all due to superstition? There wasn’t a shred of scientific evidence to back up the taboo against suicide. It was just an inbred fear of death, some biological advantage that kept chemical reactions going and breeding and continuing to put off what was inevitable: Death. But why put it off? Why wait fifty years for what could be done now?
My poetic side had no answer. My pragmatic side, which had helped me survive all the symptoms as I went through drug withdrawals, had achieved a total victory, and I had become a complete Atheist. All poetic thought was dismissed as mere hallucination, all spirituality was swept into a dustbin made for all things irrational and unreal.
I leaned further out the window and dared myself to just do it. Why be such a chicken? Just do it. Why wait fifty years? It will all be over in just a second.
Just then, as I teetered on the brink, a black shape came through the wall at ground level and hurtled up at me. Startled, I fell back from the window. Then I hurried back to my study and went to work as if nothing had happened. It was only after five minutes that my stunned brains were able to wonder, “What the fuck was that?”
My pragmatic side immediately went to work explaining it away. I decided fear-of-death is a powerful instinct, a product of countless millennium’s worth of survival-of-the-fittest, evolved into a power ingrained into human biology and chemistry that defies rational thought. If you try to push against it it pushes back in a powerful way. What I had seen was that power manifesting as a striking hallucination, for I had felt no physical wind as the blackness hurtled up towards me.
But in a schizoid manner my poetic side was utterly unscientific, and mused, “I wonder if that was Margaret? She would know suicide is not an escape, I suppose. Maybe that was her way of advising me against it.”
Thirty years later, during a school reunion, I returned to that window, looked down, and shuddered. I alone know what a close call it was. The odd part is that there was nothing particularly wrong with my life at that time. There was no reason except that I had no reason.
At the time I still thought of myself as an Atheist, but the experience was a wrench in the works of my pragmatic certainty. A flaw existed in the diamond of my “straightness”, a fatigue in the metal of my will. It shows up in my poetry with the appearance of illogical things, like ghosts. It reappeared in my life as the desire to find some good marijuana, and to go back to error, seeking a window to another world.
Children need contact of many types, and one sad thing is that certain schools-of-thought tend to frown at contact. This is especial true of male Child-care-providers, who are rare and whom children swarm when they appear, like a bunch of mosquitoes to a nudist colony. The frowns are either because people fear some sort of sexual child-abuse may occur, or because people fear some sort of bullying is occurring. There is a “zero tolerance” for rough-and-tumble-play although it is as natural as puppies or kittens rolling about play-fighting, and is play which likely has importance in terms of “learning limits”.
I’ve seen two young men quit the Childcare profession because of crap they took from nervous parents, but I think I get away with more because I’m older. Perhaps an old fossil represents less of a sexual threat, (though I’ve known some disgusting old men in my time.) However being old also is a bit of a liability. I can’t withstand pummeling as well as I once did.
In teaching about “limits” I often joke, “Do I look like some kind of punching bag?” and “My mother didn’t raise me to be a punching bag.” In fact the children have memorized the two statements. But it doesn’t slow them down a bit. When I stoop to tie one child’s shoes, I often am blind-sided by two or three children who see my stooping as an opportunity for “rough and tumble play”. My wife tends to be a bit stern when she witnesses me being mauled in such a manner, but personally I think it keeps me in shape. I have never been the sort who goes to a gym to work out, and might be fat if it weren’t for being constantly attacked by children. However sometimes I wake in the morning and wonder what work I did the day before that left me so stiff and sore, and it takes me a while before I remember wrestling with ten three-year-olds at once, the day before.
A few days ago I was talking with a four-year-old girl who is willful and doesn’t like to follow instructions. I can give her orders, ask her to repeat what I just said, and she seems completely unable to repeat my instructions. This can cause trouble when it comes to feeding farm animals the wrong foods. I can tell her old, buttery corn cobs are bad for the farm dog, but she simply ignores the instructions and does what she pleases. I was wondering if she had some sort of so-called “learning disability”, and decided to give her a sort of test, in terms of her memory skills. One day, when she was the last to leave, I asked her to remember the dance class she attended the prior afternoon. She then not only recalled every detail of the class, (definitely no problem with memory), but instructed me to do all the various motions, including various stretching exercises. In the early darkness of a November evening, as her mother’s headlights swung into the driveway, she spotted an old man prancing about the yard.
The next morning I swung from bed and groaned. Lord, was I ever stiff! I scratched my head, trying to recall some effort such as digging potatoes or cutting wood, but drew a blank. Then I remembered the dancing I’d done the day before.
Of course as soon as the girl saw me that day she wanted to “play dance-class again”. Rather than faux-grumbling, “My mother didn’t raise me to be a ballet dancer”, I grouched, “Old men don’t stand on tiptoes. That’s not what old men do.”
Then I said it again. I liked the way it rolled off my tongue. “Old men don’t stand on tiptoes. That’s not what old men do,” and made a song for the kids. I wondered if I could even make a sonnet from it.
Old men don’t stand on tiptoes. That’s not what Old men do. They’re gruff and tough and all that Stuff that comes from craggy views. Eyes are shut And hearts are closed; they’ll lose their keys and hat, If order you confuse…so why am I on Tiptoes just to sneak a peak at You?
Old men are not romantic. That’s not dawn In their cave. What’s the use of splashing spruce through Whiskers as they shave? Too late to start, With one foot in the grave; old men can’t be Romantic as they haven’t got the heart, That’s not how they behave, yet what I see Is prompting me to pick a final rose And offer it to sky, standing on tiptoes.
Some of the world’s biggest rivers drain north into the Arctic Sea, and are one of the amazing “variables” one needs to wonder about, in order to understand the many reasons arctic sea-ice varies so much.
First, one needs to focus on the fact that the flow of such great rivers, (the Lena into the Laptev Sea, the Ob and Yennisey into the Kara Sea, and the Mackenzie into the Beaufort Sea), varies enormously, for the obvious reason that, in the summer, snow and ice melt, and, (because waters cannot drain downwards and feed a “water table” due to permafrost), they feed the entirety of the thaw into rivers, but then, in the winters, the entirety of that water freezes, and rivers go unfed. In the case of the Lena River, in places the river can rise sixty feet in the spring floods, and as much as 100,000 times as much water is pouring into the sea in June as did in early April.
The infusion of fresh water into a salty sea creates a freshwater “lens” near the deltas, because the waters do not immediately mix. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so it tends to be at the surface, and fresh water freezes more readily, because it has a higher freezing point. Therefore water by the deltas and close to the shores tends to freeze first.
“But wait”, you may ask, “Is not the water close to shore warmer than water further out to sea?” Yes, but only initially. During June the river water is made less icy by long summer days, however by September the tundra such rivers wander through is swiftly freezing over, not only dramatically reducing the amount of water entering the rivers, but also the temperature of the water within the rivers. Also the water that has already reached the sea is rapidly losing its heat to the darkening sky overhead. This tends to create an updraft over the coastal waters, which allows the colder air over the tundra to flow out to sea to replace the air that has risen. This “land breeze” becomes more likely as the temperature difference between the ocean and the tundra becomes more dramatic. For example, this year October 12 temperatures over the Kara and Laptev and East Siberian Seas hovered close to freezing, while (due to fresh snow-cover and radiational-cooling) temperatures just inland in Siberia were far colder.
The swift refreeze of inshore waters was noted by both whales and whaling ships, who fled such waters in early September, (the whales because they cannot breathe under ice, and the whaling ships because sail-powered boats were lousy ice-breakers and could be stopped by as little as an inch of new ice). However scientists of that time, far from the actual situation, came up with an interesting theory, due to their study of the density of salt water as opposed to the density of fresh water.
Water is wonderful stuff, in that it gets less dense as it freezes. If ice behaved like substances such as iron or gold it would sink as it solidified, and the bottoms of our oceans would gradually fill with sunken iceburgs, likely eventually preventing life from continuing, (or even evolving), on earth. However our ingenious Creator made ice float.
Furthermore the process of water becoming less dense as it chills starts before the water actually freezes, so water at thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit will float above water that is thirty-five, if the water is fresh. But scientists noted that as soon as water gets salty this characteristic is lost, and water at thirty-three degrees will sink below water that is thirty-five.
Therefore it seemed obvious to scientists in the days of whaling ships that, as you moved away from the arctic coast, the process of diffusion would cause the “freshwater lens” atop the sea to become more salty, until the salinity reached the magic point where the coldest water was no longer less dense than slightly warmer water, whereupon the sea could not possibly freeze. Why not? Because, as the saltwater at the surface approached the freezing point, it would sink and be replaced by rising warmer water. It became “settled science” that the sea at the North Pole must be open.
It was believed that the constantly sinking cold water at the Pole drew a branch of the warm Gulf Stream at the surface north from the Atlantic, and also drew north a branch of the warm Kuro-Siwo current from the Pacific, and provided access to the Open Polar Sea. This “settled science” was the basis of the expedition of the Jeannette in 1879, which involved the Jeannette getting stuck in the ice for two years before being crushed by the sea-ice. Although all of the crew successfully evacuated the sinking ship onto the surrounding ice, less than half made it back to civilization alive, whereupon “settled science” received some needed revisions.
“Settled science” continues to need revisions, even to this day. (It would require revision even without the stupidity of a politically predetermined result, arrived-at before data is even gathered, let alone processed, due to the needs of nitwit politicians.) It requires revision because, although the laws of nature do not change, our understanding of how such laws play-out does change, especially in cases where many variables are involved.
For example, it still is somewhat theoretically baffling that vast stretches of open water freeze in the Arctic Ocean in a matter of days and sometimes hours. After all, the laws of nature do not change, and salt water at thirty-two degrees will sink below salt water at thirty-three, and therefore it should be theoretically impossible for the surface water to get cold enough to freeze, especially as the temperature of the water must sink below twenty-nine to freeze, because of the salt involved. Yet the edge of the sea-ice can extend miles during “flash-freezes”, and the entirety of Hudson Bay can skim with ice in a mere week. How does nature defy science with such brazen chutzpah?
When I was a young man I lived on the coast of Maine, and got to watch during the very cold winters of the late 1970’s as sea-ice formed and made life difficult for the fishermen, lobster-men, and clammers, who paid their bills by being able to access open waters.
Such men have to deal with brutal realities, and tend to keep their eyes wide open for “bad omens”, and, (even though they at times forecast incorrectly and are then “false prophets”), they do observe things that indoor people never notice, and they tend to have an uncanny ability to foresee oncoming bad weather even when the Weather Bureau is still oblivious. (For example, a mere glimpse, through low scud from the east, up to high clouds veering to the south, alerts them to the fact “steering currents” are bringing the storm causing the east winds straight up from the south towards them.) From such observant men I learned it was a bad omen when a winter sea took on “that oily look”.
“That oily look” was a bad thing because it often indicated a situation where spray froze on the gunnels and rigging of their boats, and, in a worst case scenario, this would make the top of the boat heavier than the keel, at which point the craft would turn upside down, which made life difficult.
I suppose it is because Climate Scientists do not get out enough, and must labor long hours indoors by hot computers, that I have never heard them describe seawater as “taking on that oily look”. For the most part the refreeze of arctic waters, as they describe it, begins with slushy stuff they call “pancake ice”, which doesn’t address the problem created because, if cold water sinks, the surface water should never get cold enough to freeze and make “pancake ice” in the first place.
The refreeze would be sensible if the ice only extended out from preexisting sea-ice that was already floating, but, as we now watch the yearly refreeze, we will often note “islands” of sea-ice popping up on the maps, far from any other ice. How is this possible, if cold saltwater sinks? How can the water get cold enough to freeze?
My take is that the water gets cold enough to freeze by becoming airborne. Often arctic situations arise where the air rushing above the water is far colder then the water is, and a speck of spray uplifted into such air becomes super-cooled, and will immediately freeze if it hits the rigging of a ship, but, if no ship is available, it falls to the surface of the water, and immediately freezes.
Because that speck of spray is now ice it doesn’t matter that going through the phase-change from liquid to solid released heat. Ice at thirty-two will bob merrily atop colder water, even if the water is twenty-nine. And, as soon as that speck of spray exists as the tiniest iceberg, it can be a sort of seed-crystal for the growth of more molecules of ice. Water chilled by gales in the proximity of the tiny iceberg, rather than sinking, attaches to that microscopic “edge” of floating sea-ice. And it is at this point the water takes on “that oily look”.
In essence “that oily look” is nature’s way around the fact that cold saltwater should sink, and that it should be impossible for the North Pole’s salty waters to freeze in the manner freshwater lakes do. “That oily look” indicates a microscopic layer of slush exists on the surface of the sea. Because the very cold winds persist, it doesn’t take all that long for the layer to become more than microscopic, and for the slush to thicken and for “pancake ice” to form.
Now, before I become too puffed up and swagger about bragging that I have the refreeze all figured out, I have to confess I have witnessed the refreeze occur without the “pancake ice” stage. Not only did I see it from afar, (through the eyes of the wonderful O-buoy cameras), but I witnessed it first hand during a record-setting cold spell at the start of February on the coast of Maine (I think in 1979). The weather made fools of fishermen that year, for they had stated with great authority, “If the hahbah hasn’t fruz up by January 15th it tain’t goin’ t’fruz at all,” and then the harbor promptly did what they said it couldn’t.
The weather was dry with a steady north wind for days, and at one point we experienced something like a week without temperatures getting above five (minus fifteen Celsius), and the sea froze not as lumpy grayish pancake ice, but as black ice, smooth as glass and surprisingly transparent, and with a slight white dust of salt exuded from the ice and drifting across the the black surface. It is completely beyond my ability to explain the physical dynamics of such a flash freeze, but it was not beyond my ability to take advantage of the rarity, and go skating on the smooth sea. In fact my older sister and I skated from the Harraseeket River in South Freeport down to the Royal River in Yarmouth, (primarily over shallow mudflats and only occasionally [and very nervously] across tidal streams). The fishermen’s wives stated we were fools and were risking our lives, but I prefer to modestly think it was a feat never done before nor since. (I should also mention the salt wasn’t too good for my skates.) Lastly, it is this sort of first-hand observation that teaches one that nature has nuances one doesn’t consider, when contemplating natural laws indoors by a warm computer.
One fisherman shared a first-hand observation, (IE: told a tale), describing something I have never myself witnessed. He was motoring slowly through bitter cold, to avoid making any splash that would get ice on his decks. There was no wind and no spray, and the water, though it had “that oily look”, was steaming like a cup of tea, so great was the temperature-difference between the water and air. Fishermen call such steaming “sea smoke”, and it made the day gray. Then it started to snow fat, lazy flakes. These flakes, when they landed on the water, didn’t melt. The water temperature was around twenty-nine, and the melting point of snowflakes was thirty-two. For a while the snow got heavier, and the fisherman stated the snow atop the water continued to accumulate until it was more than an inch deep. He was motoring slowly through white fluff as unsubstantial as froth.
Here again we have the first-hand experience of a man with no scientific training, which might give people sitting by computers an inkling of how ice can form atop the arctic sea even though cold water sinks.
Many such men existed in the 1870’s. They had existed for centuries, because back then the way to get oil was to drill whales rather than bedrock. Whales had grown more scarce due to the growing need for oil, and to find them, more ships ventured into the arctic than currently do. They followed the whales, and noticed no whales ever headed north towards a supposed “open polar sea”, even when the sea-ice was disgorged to the south into the Atlantic (as was the case in 1817) and the waters to the north were wide open. Whalers also knew from experience open waters one year were no guarantee there would be open waters the next, and also that gales from the north could bring crushing sea-ice south, and they had best be ready to turn tail and flee like the whales did, in such situations, or their ships would be crushed. But so great were the profits the risks were deemed worth it, and crushed ships were a supply of firewood for the Eskimos of that time. In 1871 31 ships were trapped and lost all at once, and 1219 people, including some women and children, successfully escaped and eventually made their way to Hawaii.
Considering this vast amount of crushing ice came from the north in 1871, during the time of the sea-ice minimum, a certain amount of skepticism regarding existence of an “open polar sea” likely existed among whalers. Tapping into these first-hand observations might have saved the men aboard the Jeannette a lot of trouble in 1879. Instead, the “authority” of that time was consulted, a mapmaker named August Heinrich Petermann.
The irony of August Heinrich Petermann’s maps was that he did seek out whalers as well as explorers and gleaned as much information as he could. He lived at the end of decades of daring exploration in the arctic, fueled partly because Britain had a 600-ship-navy sitting idle after Napoleon was defeated, and partly because the Arctic passed through a period of low sea-ice extents. Not only was there the phenomenon of the practically-open Arctic Ocean of 1817, due to sea-ice being shifted down into the Atlantic to a degree where it grounded icebergs on the coast of Ireland, but there apparently were low amounts in the Northwest Passage as well. In 1819 William Parry was able to sail further west in the channel that now bears his name than was possible for many years afterwards (and was impossible to do last summer.). The sea-ice then recovered with a vengeance, leading to the doom of the Franklin expedition in 1845, and also leading to a gradual shift towards searching for different routes across the Pole. Seeking a new route was a reason for the complete debacle called the “Polaris Expedition”, 1871-1873, up in Nares Strait between northwest Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, (wherein the captain was likely poisoned by a jealous rival for a beautiful young woman they’d left behind in New York City). All these expeditions, both the well-run ones and the doomed, (and even the rescue efforts to find the doomed), increased information about coastlines, and August Heinrich Petermann was brilliant when it came to gathering all this coastline-data and producing the world’s best maps. However he was a bit of a dullard when it came to gathering a different sort of data, namely the first-hand observations of whalers who knew the actual nature of the actual sea, and likely should have been consulted, regarding the possibility of an “open polar sea”. Such homespun wisdom was dismissed, because the whalers were not scientists nor cartographers. Instead those who said “polar seas must be open because cold salt water sinks” were consulted, and August Heinrich Petermann’s maps contained an “open polar sea” because…well…because he drew the maps.
Let us be unkind, and rather than calling the maps “mistaken”, let us call them “fraud”, used by Petermann to lobby one of the richest men in the world, James Gordon Bennett Jr., to fund a Jeannette expedition doomed to failure, for it was seeking open water where open water wasn’t. (This noble and tragic adventure is described in great detail by the historian Hampton Sides in “In The Kingdom of Ice“).
One sadness of the Jeannette expedition is that the men hauled the scientific records they had collected back, as they grimly fought their way over ice and open water and frozen tundra, towards the safety of civilization, and those records survived even when many of them didn’t. Therefore Petermann’s thirst for more knowledge was in fact fed, but at a great cost, and it didn’t produce the answers he expected. (An irony was that, though the Jeannette sank, strewn about the hole its sinking left on the sea-ice were items, left behind as the crew headed south, and these items eventually showed the drift of the sea-ice. The items crossed the arctic, atop sea-ice which then flowed down the east coast of Greenland to Cape Farewell at Greenland’s southern tip, and lastly a bit up the west coast of Greenland to near Julianehåb, where the items were flotsam identified as being from the Jeannette, in 1884. This in turn led to Fridtjof Nansen’s marvelous exploits, attempting to drift across the Pole locked in sea-ice aboard the Fram, between 1893 and1896.
Due to the adventures and misadventures of early whalers and explorers, we actually have quite a lot of first-hand observations of where the edge of the ice was and how the sea-ice moved, from the past. Unfortunately there seems to be the same problem today that afflicted August Heinrich Petermann 150 years ago. First-hand observations from the past are ignored because they do not come from Climate Scientists, nor satellites, and instead misleading concepts are put forth because…well… because they affirm the misleading concepts.
Let us continue to be unkind, and rather than calling the misleading concepts “mistaken” let us call them “fraud”. However, rather than using the mistaken beliefs to lobby James Gordon Bennett Jr. for money, modern men now use their mistaken concepts to lobby bloated governments. Worst, rather than sending a mere 33 men aboard the Jeannette into danger, the modern mistaken views may be sending billions of people into unnecessary danger.
It seems to me no one should perpetuate such a fraud if they love their fellow man. First, who willfully lies to those they love? And second, who willfully places those they love in danger?
The closest I have seen to an attempt to look remotely loving, while justifying the perpetuation of mistaken concepts, contains a dismal assumption. The dismal assumption is that mankind is going exhaust its resources, and we are therefore all doomed to begin with. Consequently, considering seven billion are going to die anyway, we might as well “cull” the seven billion in an orderly manner. Hmm. I suppose the death of seven billion is acceptable if it is unavoidable, but is it unavoidable? Or is it merely a product of pessimism?
Such gloomy views have been around at least since Thomas Mathis wrote “An Essay on the Principles of Population” in 1798, and they have constantly been proved incorrect. Sadly, while it is no sin to be incorrect, such cynicism has all too often been an excuse for subjecting others to various forms of slavery and disadvantage, and, when one blithely talks about reducing the world population by seven billion, such gloomy assumptions also seem a thinly veiled justification for massive and unprecedented genocide.
Rather than expressing faith, hope, and love towards fellow man, such gloom demonstrates deep distrust towards man’s ability to solve problems, when in fact one especially lovable quality of free people is their ability to invent gadgets and techniques which do solve the very problems that the gloomy see as absolutely insurmountable.
I have lived long enough to see quite a number of doomsdays come and go, involving not merely the alignments of planets and the prophesies of Daniel and Nostradamus, but concepts such as “peak oil” and “peak population”. It is fascinating to now look back at the published ideas of “The Club of Rome” in 1970, and to see how utterly incorrect some of their assumptions were. Much that was seen as “unsustainable” has been merrily sustained. Third world nations such as India have not devolved into the wastelands-of-mass-starvation which the gloomy so confidently foresaw, but rather are better fed and better off.
What the gloomy failed to foresee was Ingenuity Manifested, within things such as “The Green Revolution”, yet their failures-to-foresee do not cause the gloomy to alter their forecasts, for they see such progress as merely “delaying the inevitable”, and they double-down on their pessimism. At it’s worst, their pessimism actively creates poverty. It is as if they are so irked by troubles not arriving in the manner they foresaw that they make trouble, just to prove themselves correct.
For example, back in the days when I was skating on sea-ice along the coast of Maine, we were supposedly “running out of oil”. Jimmy Carter was president, and appeared on television at the White House wearing an absurd sweater, telling us we needed to all turn down the thermostats in our houses. The “oil producing nations” had demanded higher prices for oil, and the United States was no longer a member of that club. There were long lines at gas stations, and traffic on highways slowed to 55 mph, by law, to save gas. In a “National Geographic” I saw a graph which authoritatively stated “peak oil” would occur in 1980. Because we were “running out of oil” we dutifully did what smart people do, which is to prepare for the inevitable. We put wood stoves into our houses, and, to heat our water, we put solar panels on our roofs (to this day the smartest use of solar power, because a tank of hot water in your basement stores solar energy far more cheaply after sunset than a battery does, especially when it comes to running your hot-water-heater.) But…
…But the simple fact of the matter is that we did not “run out of oil”. This seemed to peeve some people. Prophets of doom dislike being proved false prophets, and drag their feet in the face of progress.
When new oil was discovered, the pessimists did everything they could to make oil-exploration difficult, (with new regulations), and then, when “fracking” made it possible to glean more oil and gas from areas which were assumed to have been largely “exhausted”, they did everything possible to make “fracking” a dirty word. But me? I am amazed such pessimists can gripe. Why? For I am utterly amazed and deeply impressed by the ingenuity displayed over the past forty years. If you had told me, when I skated sea-ice in Maine and Jimmy Carter was president, that, in forty years, the USA would be exporting oil and gas, while an oil-producing OPEC nation like Venezuela would be in a state of ruin, I would have laughed in your face. I was wrong, and am somewhat glad I was wrong, but others seem irate they were wrong.
I am aware I am starting to rave, and seem to be drifting far from the subject of sea-ice, but have no fear. I will revert to sea-ice shortly. However I must discuss “the irate” a bit, because they even enter discussions about sea-ice.
I think “the irate” are those who are sure things are “unsustainable”, and are equally afraid they may be the ones who will eventually suffer, when we run out of food and fuel. Consequently they become ruled by fear, rather than love. They are so sure famine is coming that they see it as frugal common-sense to be misers of food, blind to differences between being sensible and being stingy. Clinging to what they have, they see others as a threat, rather than seeing others as brothers and sisters who we can work together with, to avoid famine.
In actual fact the word “sustainability” involves sustaining all people, not just those who have a selfish viewpoint wherein “sustainability” only sustains their position of privilege.
The fact of the matter is that “sustainability” is one of those tricky words, able to be used to justify evil because it sounds so good. Another such word is “non-violent”. Surely “non-violent” is usually a good word, but a man who stands by and does nothing violent as his mother, wife and daughter are raped by a stranger is not a saint; he is a yellow coward. In like manner, a man who talks about “sustainability” when primarily interested in preserving a status quo wherein he has, even as others are “have-nots,” is not a saint; he is greedy.
One quality of those trapped within such a state-of-mind is that they tend to propose rationing, rather than proposing increase. (Quite often the “rationing” is hypocritical, where “have-nots” need to cut back even as the elite “haves” continue to enjoy lavish lifestyles). The royalty wishes to remain royal and prefers the poor to remain peons.
This seems a bad attitude, like that of a man so concerned about a shortage of potatoes that he hoards them rather than planting any in the spring. It is the antithesis of the attitude of a man like Norman Borlaug, whose work with improving strains of wheat may have saved a billion people from starvation. Instead it is a “bad attitude” which not only failed to help a “Green Revolution” occur, but at times even was a stumbling-block attempting to prevent “the Green Revolution’s” manifestation. It remains a bad attitude that not only fails to help a “Fracking Revolution” manifest, but is a stumbling-block attempting to prevent its manifestation. Tragically, souls with this attitude not only fail to love, but are a stumbling-block that seeks to prevent the beauty of love from manifesting.
What an odd state-of-mind! In the name of “rationing” it allows one to deny others, enslave others, even exterminate others, all in the guise of “becoming sustainable”!
I think I know this selfish state of mind, having experienced it myself as a young man on the coast of Maine. My experience was as follows:
I knew of a small beach which was usually deserted, especially after school let out for the summer, because the secluded cove was owned by a small college. After the college closed in June I took a young woman to the beach with nefarious motives. When we got there another couple was strolling the same beach. I found their presence annoying and even frustrating (perhaps for biological reasons), and noticed my mind became crabby and began producing intellectual discussions about the problems of over-population and crowded beaches. My view was that the world would be a better place if the other couple could be “disappeared”. The young lady I was with was somewhat shocked by my negative attitude towards my fellow man. Instead of being warm towards me, she shot me a look of distaste and walked over to the enemy, involving the other couple in a conversation. Though initially glum about involving myself with anyone besides the young lady, I went along with her, and somewhat to my surprise discovered I had a wonderful time swimming with strangers. (Perhaps the cold water of Maine had the same effect as a cold shower.) The strangers turned out to be fascinating people who broadened my mind, and also told us of a good, nearby snack-bar. So we went and got an excellent lobster roll. It may not have been the roll I wanted, but at least the afternoon was not a total loss.
Such experiences were quite common during my misspent youth. My attempts at seduction were a long series of debacles and fiascos, (and explain why I first became a father at age 38, rather than at age 18 as I planned), (and also why I was at times a very crabby young man). I did not get what my ulterior motives desired, but sometimes perhaps we should feel sheepish about our ulterior motives, and count our blessings for what we actually get.
I bring this up to own the fact that, because I did once wish two very fine people could be “disappeared” from a small beach, I should be included with those who wish seven billion very fine people could be “disappeared” from a small planet. However hopefully I was a little different, in that I recognized my logic was ruled by lust’s frustration, and was not exactly the sort of logic that scientists dub “objective.” Others seem sadly less self-aware. They seem ruled by ulterior motives without the awareness they are ulterior.
What is “ulterior”? The definition of the word “ulterior” is “lying beyond that which is evident.” “Ulterior” therefore is that which is undiscovered, and should be of interest to all researchers.
However an interesting thing about human nature is that we often are unaware of the value of things until we are deprived. Subjectivity has its value, for we never value water until it is a hot day and we have none. A person with lots of water could call fighting for a sip of of water “silly behavior”, but only until they themselves were subjected to extreme thirst. Then they discover they too can be “silly”. It is only when confronted by such desperate impulses within the self that one faces truly spiritual dilemmas, regarding how one will respond. Will one punch a small child to gain a sip of water? Or will one suffer, so the child can drink?
For this reason the people who, one way or another, experience great thirst, can be the people who through subjective suffering gain objective wisdom. This is not to say they always make the right choices. They may have even punched a child one time, and faced great chagrin before, the next time, they did better, and allowed the child to drink first. However in the end they have an awareness of thirst which people who have always had water lack. For such people thirst is a reality they understand, while, for those who have never thirsted, thirst remains “ulterior.”
Blessed are the poor and they who suffer, for they are down-to-earth and are aware of essentials. Pity the rich, for they have little idea of the “ulterior” that motivates them. Like a cigarette smoker who has never run out of smokes, the rich are unaware of how crazy they would become if deprived, but such craziness rules them all the same.
The wealthy sometimes become aware that something is missing, and feel depressed despite having everything they could possibly obtain (in material terms). They then can afford to hire very expensive psychiatrists to help them look within for “subconscious” causes for their depression. Basically they are halfheartedly seeking to become more self-aware of “ulterior motives”, but often they don’t really want to see what the psychiatrist attempts to point out, and put up a fight, and the psychiatrist then can become quite rich by prolonging the battle. Psychiatrists use all sorts of fancy words for how people deny the truth, and their clients have all sorts of clever ways of arguing that the fancy words do not apply to them and their particular case, and all of this expensive talking, and talking, and talking, can seem very humorous to the poor, who have managed to become aware of “ulterior motives” without spending a dime.
In the worst cases the wealthy, despite seeking education in fine institutions and colleges, and despite being under the guidance of the best professors and psychiatrists and gurus, have no real reason to call the uneducated “stupid” or “deplorable”, (though too often, in their vanity, they do exactly that.) Why? Because sometimes the poor are far smarter. Why? Because sometimes, in seeking to avoid the pains of life, we avoid the very Truth that teaches. It matters little if you avoid pain with heroin, or by accepting a corrupting bribe, or by marrying a rich person you detest, or by disdaining good advice; if you successfully avoid pain you are possibly ruled by your “ulterior motives”, and are potentially much less likely to become aware of such “ulterior motives”. Meanwhile, in this sort of worst-case-scenario, the poor face pain every day, and become far more aware of “ulterior motives”. Therefore the poor can become far more able to rule such cravings and desires, while their so-called “rulers” are basically addicts ruled by a fear of withdrawal. In such a topsy-turvy society we can sometimes see what seems utterly impossible occur, wherein the underdog abruptly stuns the champion; the small David defeats the huge Goliath. History is full of examples of small nations seemingly appearing out of the blue and rising to a sudden prominence that shakes the mighty. (The Mongols were just a bunch of feuding Hillbillies, and then along came Genghis.)
Yet, although history is replete with such examples, and although the wealthy often adore historical novels, movies and plays, they too often miss the point, the underlying narrative, which is that Truth matters, and is a joy to those who can bear the pricks of pain involved with seeing Truth. Instead some become so lost in avoiding pain that they become comfortably numb, and wander midst an attitude of unawareness.
This “unaware attitude” seems comical, in an ironic way, to the poor and aware. I recall the fishermen of Maine used to joke about the attitude of wealthy people who retired to Maine. The fishermen stated, “The moment them wealthy folk gather up their loot ‘n’ move, from makin’ money in them big cities, t’down east here in poor, old Maine, they want to burn the bridge at Kittery behind them”. (Kittery is at the southern border of Maine).
The “unaware attitude” often seems a sort of selfish, NIMBY attitude that deprives others after satisfying the self, and even a strange and sad proof of Henry Ford’s statement, “If you say ‘I can’, or say ‘I can’t’, you are right.”
Why? Because it is people who love who make a better world, who beget a “Green Revolution” and a “Frakking Revolution”, while it is pessimists who deem love impossible who make the world worse, and who fight progress, and desire deprivation.
One of the pricks of Truth I’ve felt was seeing I too was such a pessimist: If I’d had my way, back when Jimmy Carter was president, a rogue wave would have swept two strangers out to sea just before I arrived at the small beach, and I would have had my way with a young woman. And then? I suppose that, (because the purpose of sex is procreation), I might have become a father far earlier than I actually did. Yet, as a young father, after increasing the “overpopulation” myself, I might have then insisted the population of earth (back then) was too high at 3.5 billion, and, with a flippant disregard for others, claimed that any further “overpopulation” was immoral, and that the 4 to 5 billion conceived since were somehow “unsustainable.” (It was beyond my ken, at that time, that a future increased-population of 4 to 5 billion could possibly be enjoying bigger meals and a longer life-expectancy than had ever before occurred on earth.) (The word “liberal” supposedly means “generous”, but the “liberals” of my youth wished to “ration”. What is so generous about cutting back?)
But I confess I was of that mind-set. I sowed in a negative manner, and reaped negativity in many ways. But, unlike some other liberals, I was honest about my experiment, and my personal motives were not quite as “ulterior” as the motives of others now seem to be. I may have utterly failed when it came to seducing a young woman on a beach in Maine, but I succeeded in discovering there is life after such failure. In like manner, I discovered there is life after the world-population surpassed 4 billion, 5 billion, 6 billion, even 7 billion. Rather than the hell predicted, billions of children were born, enjoyed decent childhoods, and became young adults full of the hopes young adults have.
Let me put it this way: Do you believe in democracy? What chance would my former belief have, in an election today? I claimed that the billions born in my lifetime should not be born, but here they are. Now suppose we vote about whether they should have been born. Who will win that election? Me, or the billions of vibrant young people? And, after the results were tabulated, who should change their views? Me, or them?
The answer was fairly obvious to me, even before the four to five billion were born. Even before Jimmy Carter stopped being president I sensed my so-called “liberal” views were not truly liberal, because they were motivated by greed and not generosity, and lust and and not love. I needed to shed greedy and lustful “ulterior motives”. It was painful not to get what I desired, but in the long run my life was better for putting my desires aside, and accepting the Truth even when it didn’t fit the “script” I had written for myself, about how my life should be. Truth is always better.
How? Well, explaining that would involve explaining how things worked out over the next forty-five years. It would be a long and involved answer, take pages upon pages, and is not the question you should be asking. Instead you should be asking:
What does this have to do with sea-ice? Well, there are two main reasons.
The first is that some involved in the subject of sea-ice seem to have ulterior motives. Their motives are not the simple ulterior motives that August Heinrich Petermann had, when he lobbied for money to discover the “open polar sea”, but are much greater whoppers.
Even though Petermann was deluded, at least he yearned to map the arctic better. Such betterment could be hoped to end his delusion with hard facts. But modern arctic investigators? They own ulterior motives which, when push comes to shove, could care less about any further discovery in the arctic. Therefore there can be no betterment and no end to delusion.
What many modern arctic investigators seemingly care most for is “funding”. Perhaps the funding was originally seen as a way to further research, but at some point the research was neglected, and finding funding became the focus. In some ways money became such an ulterior motive that researchers entered a strange reality wherein the motive became more real than the science, and in order to justify this motivation they went so far as to attempt to replace what is real with what is false.
I don’t think, even in my misspent youth, I was ever quite so absurd as that. I may have had unrealistic dreams, but I could be brought down to earth by a woman’s disapproving glance, and then was forced to recognize the difference between what was hopeful fantasy and what was false. I might be extremely annoyed when my attempt to seduce a young woman on a Maine beach was interrupted by another couple. However, if I had attempted to “replace the reality”, what would I have done? Shoot those two innocent people dead, and then attempted to proceed with my seduction? I was never close to becoming that evil, because such behavior owns an ugliness utterly unlike what my nefarious activities desired. “Disappearing” others was too ugly to be included in my beautiful fantasy of seducing a beautiful babe. However, among certain arctic researchers, “disappearing” the data of other researchers has been acceptable, and even has been tantamount to what they were hired to do.
Going into the dreary details of such destruction of data is depressing, and I don’t want to linger long on such a subject. However it has been widespread. The cause has seemingly been because the poor, or even the not-so-poor, are susceptible to bribes.
For example, when parts of the temperature-record of Iceland was “disappeared” the chief meteorologist of Iceland threw a fit, until he met with those who had lots of money. Then he abruptly was OK with parts of the temperature-record of Iceland being “disappeared”. I fear he was bribed.
I myself have never been the chief meteorologist of Iceland, and therefore have never been subjected to bribes. I’ve never had my “ulterior motives” tempted to such a degree. Therefore I will not criticize a man in whose shoes I haven’t walked. (Maybe he used the money to pay for a friend’s expensive cancer treatments. Who am I to judge?) But I will say that the altered record is bullshit, and arctic record-keeping seems full of such bribery-induced nonsense. So many arctic records are obviously incorrect (if you have studied the subject) that you need to screen the data with the assumption you are dealing with a pack of liars.
For example, just look at the old records and compare them with the modern “adjusted” records. Here is the sea-ice “extent” graph from 1976, when Jimmy Carter was president.
This graph documents very low extents in 1945, 1953 and a record-setting low in 1960. This was followed by an extraordinary “recovery” by the winter of 1962-1963, but then sea-ice again began melting away to far lower levels.
The above graph represents a lot of hard work done by many dedicated scientists, yet is currently spurned. Why? Because they did not have satellites back then, and therefore the hard work of decent men is deemed “inadequate”.
OK, OK, OK. Be that way (though it seems snobby and dismissive to me.) Let us look at only the “satellite record”, as it was graphed in 1980, (beginning in 1973, though we have pictures from the first Nimbus satellite going back to the mid 1960’s).
There are some interesting differences between the early 1970’s in this graph and the prior graph. It would be fascinating to learn the reasons, which would involve looking at the data. However both graphs agree sea-ice was at low levels, in the early 1970’s, much like today’s. Down near 6 million km2. Certainly not up around 8 million km2. Yet look at the modern, “adjusted” graph, for the same period.
How is it possible to “adjust” the sea-ice totals for a very low year upwards roughly 2 million km2? Are such “adjusters” aware what they are saying about the dedicated scientists who worked back at that time? They are in essence calling them idiots, for recording the data they recorded, (even as the past experts often worked in extreme and dangerous arctic conditions).
Before I myself dismiss such scientists who lived in the past I need to see a clear analysis of their data which shows exactly why they were in error. None has been forthcoming. In fact all the analysis of data I myself have done seems to show that the ones in error are the modern “adjusters”. They claim sea-ice was thick in cases where we have first-hand records, and sometimes photographic evidence, that the waters were open. The “adjusters” have no business adjusting the records of honest and decent men who are no longer around, and cannot defend themselves. In fact, if anyone needs adjusting, it is the “adjusters” themselves.
I rest my case: You cannot deal with modern arctic data without sensing you are dealing with liars. You are dealing with people who accept bribes, perhaps because they feel Truth doesn’t make them enough money, and even feel that Truth might be a bad thing, because Truth might put them in jail for forgery.
I do feel a certain pity for such people. Perhaps they spent years studying the arctic in college, burning the midnight oil, and when they graduated they discovered the general public could care less about arctic sea-ice, and no jobs were available, and they faced working an ignoble job in a fast-food restaurant, flipping burgers. Oh, the pain! But just then they got tempted by a bribe. They could skip flipping burgers, if only they conceded to becoming an “adjuster”.
The problem with such pity is that perhaps all people deserve such pity. Few get paid for what they most enjoy.
I too burned the midnight oil, but rather than arctic sea-ice I studied poets. I studied Shakespeare and Milton and Shelly and Chatterton and Keats and Dylan Thomas and Frost and Dr. Seuss. And when I graduated I discovered the general public had no use for my knowledge, and no jobs were available, and I faced working in a fast food restaurant, flipping burgers. Oh, the pain! But in my case no one tempted me with a bribe. So I had to flip burgers.
Flipping burgers wasn’t so bad, nor were the hundred other jobs I had to take that were “beneath me.” In fact, the pricks to my ego were a gateway to the ordinary life of those who are the salt-of-the-earth. In some ways it was an honor to be humbled, because I became part of what makes life possible. Your roof doesn’t leak? Don’t thank experts about poetry or arctic sea-ice. Thank the roofers, and I got to join their ranks for a little while.
Not that I didn’t whine. What poet wants to quit a composition about beautiful clouds because he has to work under a blistering sun, hammering nails on a hot, noontime roof? Only now, many years later, do I feel honored that, (even though many are not thankful for what doesn’t happen), I am why your roof doesn’t leak.
I am also why roofers have nails, because I worked in a nail factory. And when you look at the label on a bottle of wine or ketchup or a can of sardines, understand I have made those labels. When you open the sardines, understand I worked in a cannery. When you ride a high horse, understand I shoveled the stables. I have worked making and lubricating ball bearings large and small, and even computers need ball bearings. And that is only six jobs of a hundred, and each was an insult to my ego, for I felt I should instead be paid for my poetry. Yet each insult made my poetry better, more down-to-earth, more real. In the end I feel my so-called “bad fortune” is far better than the fortune of a so-called “sea-ice expert”, who thinks he is better off accepting bribes to perpetuate propaganda. I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes, when he looks in the mirror.
This brings me to my second point, which is that such negative behavior never results in good. It may seem “right”, but it is the negative side of Henry Ford’s statement, “If you say ‘I can’ or say ‘I can’t’, you are right.” The side-of-the-negative is the side that states, ‘I can’t’. It states “starvation will be widespread by 1980” and denies the “Green Revolution” will happen. It states “the United States will be an oil-importer forever” in 1974, and can’t imagine the United States exporting oil due to the “Fracking Revolution” in 2019. In essence it is a negative shadow, which cannot face the light of Truth.
Opposed to this depressing power is, I would like to suggest, a positive power that affirms Truth. Not that Truth needs affirming. Truth remains perfectly true even if every person on earth denies It. In fact reality is the other way around: We do not sustain Truth; Truth sustains us. And it is for this reason that underdogs can display such an ingenuity and prowess and even power, if they honor integrity and honesty, that they unseat the mighty. It is why little David could defeat huge Goliath. In a sense truthfulness taps into the greatest power on earth, Truth itself, releasing benefits which those who cling to power and money don’t believe can ever come about, and therefore don’t include in their financial forecasts, (and all other forecasts as well.)
The difference between Truth and dishonesty is symbolically like the difference between a bud that is grafted to a root, and a bud that isn’t. The first will thrive while the second will wither. The pity is that some see the fruits the bud produces and seek to hoard such produce, (money, power, the admiration of others,) in a manner disconnected from the root. By doing this they in essence seek a byproduct of growth even while cutting themselves off from growth’s nourishing root.
The irony is that we can see the foolishness of such behavior when others do it, but tend to be blind to examples of our own foolishness, (or we excuse our own foolishness as being some sort of “necessary evil”). For example, we’d call it foolish if we saw a farmer who so overvalued a byproduct such as manure that he spent all his money on manure and none on feeding his animals, yet at the same time we might be maxing out our credit cards and running a deficit budget all our own. In like manner Communists see the irresponsibility of Capitalists while Capitalists see the irresponsibility of Communists. All too often both fail to look within to see if they are securely grafted to the root of Truth, or are merely seizing upon byproducts.
One quality that seems associated with those cut off from Love’s root is a sense of impending doom. Madame de Pompadour stated, “Après nous, le déluge,” and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez states “The world is going to end in twelve years.” Often the sense of doom leads to drastic measures, guillotines and purges and genocides, which seem a self-fulfilling prophecy, bringing about the very dooms they seek to avoid. Hitler’s hate of Jews and Slavs did not save Germany from ruin, and Stalin’s hate of farming Kulak did not save Russia from starvation. All of Maurice Strong’s dishonest manipulations to “save the planet” left him an exile, an old man hiding from justice in a Peking apartment. To me all these examples seem proof of the second half of Henry Ford’s statement: If you say “I can’t”, you’re right. The greatest irony is that some basically waste fortunes, pouring money down a rat hole, unaware all their efforts are cutting themselves off from the root that creates fortunes in the first place. In my view George Soros has literally expended billions to say, “I can’t”. (I’ll never understand how he could pour such fabulous amounts down a rat-hole, when he might have spent it on me).
At this point I’d like to suggest the chilling effect of cutting yourself off from the root of Truth is like the chill now descending upon the arctic tundra, freezing things up and shrinking the flow of arctic rivers to a trickle.
(There. I told you I’d get back to the subject of sea-ice, and I’ve done it).
What seems to happen to arctic researchers is that a compromise which initially seemed slight becomes acerbated. They felt a little compromise, perhaps 5% of the time, would result in funding which would allow them to conduct honest research 95% of the time, but such compromise turned out to be like a small spot of cancer which spread. How did it spread? Well, if the honest research discovered a Truth which went against the “Arctic Sea-Ice Death Spiral Theory”, they needed to hush it up or they might offend their patron. And, because the “Death Spiral Theory” was like the “Open Polar Sea Theory”, it was dead wrong, and all research would tend to disprove it. Therefore all research, not 5% but 100% of research, would need to be hushed.
It would be absurd to conduct good research only to crumple up and throw away the honest results. Why bother even fund the research? Why even bother have science or scientists? Yet such absurdity may explain why we now have a sixteen-year-old girl speaking before the United Nations as an authority on sea-ice, as scientists sit on their hands and are mum.
Cynical Sophists seem to resort to such sentimental tactics when the bankruptcy of their belief has been revealed, in all its sophisticated sterility. (When logic fails, resort to emotion.) Surprisingly, such tactics can be effective, primarily because young women do have heart, which many Sophists lack. However, once the heart is involved, there may be consequences Sophists never intended. The heart is closely associated to Truth, and can veer a person’s path from safe topics into political-incorrectness. It can therefore be dangerous to involve a teenage girl in political calculations, for they can be like a loose cannon on board a pitching ship.
In terms of Truth, the hope which young girl’s hearts bring to “the equation” can be like the hope of a sunrise-tundra in the spring: A dark, cold tundra suddenly lit by light: tundra moving towards a time when, under the warmth of 24-hour summer sunshine, the trickle of an arctic river becomes an amazing flood and the water rises 60 feet.
Of course the young woman involved should be careful; (after all, Joan of Arc did wind up burned-at-the-stake); however there is at least a chance the young woman’s appearance is an indication the Sophist Alarmists have quit pretending to be scientists, and scientists will therefore be let alone, and allowed to do what they do best, (study Truth). This may result in a Renascence, a revival of Truth, and a surging flood of beneficial knowledge which the negative, cynical and sour never expected.
Initially there may be some hard times for arctic researchers, and some may even have to flip burgers for a while. Why? Because much funding formerly came from people who prefer propaganda to Truth, and who prefer rationing and deprivation to progress and increase. Such people become peeved when ideas such as “The Arctic Death Spiral” are not supported by hard evidence, and I surmise that may explain why the wonderful arctic cameras we once had bobbing on buoys ceased being funded, even as the cost of creating and maintaining such camera-buoys became less. Such cameras undermined the “narrative.” Also further funding may dry up because pouring money down a rat-hole isn’t productive, and even spiritually unwise people recognize a bad bet is a bad bet. But arctic research will continue, even if not funded.
Why? Because some recognize what a frontier the arctic is, and own a craving to be pioneers. This thirst to penetrate the boundaries of the known, and expand the horizons of knowledge, can cause some to strive even when they are not paid for striving. Just as some work fifty weeks just to blow all their savings spending a two-week-vacation climbing mountains, some work long days flipping burgers, and then, in the evening, study charts and graphs involving arctic sea-ice, just for the fun of it. And the wonders of satellites and the internet allow even someone from the Congo to study sea-ice, if so inclined. Older meteorologist stand amazed, for with a click of a computer we now can gather data that took them six months of grueling field-study to gather, in their youth, followed by six months of analyzing heaps of paper in the lab. Consequently we now have no idea where the next genius will appear, or what next marvel will manifest through the study of Truth. Perhaps the next revolution will be called “The White Revolution”, and involve sea-ice.
The Russians seem to have ideas along those lines, and furthermore do not seem to expect sea-ice to vanish, considering they have built so many billion-dollar icebreakers.
Nor does Russia seem inclined to bow to members of Greenpeace, who seemingly desire that the arctic becomes a vast National Park, preserved for the enjoyment of extremely wealthy cross-country skiers. When Greenpeace activists attempt to protest in a politically-correct manner by “seizing” an arctic oil-rig, they run into Russian political-incorrectness.
Russia apparently insists upon control of its northern coast, (15,000 miles of undulating shoreline north of the Arctic Circle), and horrifies environmentalists by replacing diesel-fumes with smokeless nuclear ice-breakers. They plan on developing a northern sea-route, and upon their northern ports being developed, and upon northern resources being exploited. They even have the audacity to plan to build massive nuclear ice-breakers-with-helipads like the world has never seen, within five years.
Not that Russia cares all that much for Truth, or Freedom of Speech, but at least they have the old-fashioned pragmatism which deals with facts, rather than with unfounded idealism and with fabricated theory such as “The Arctic Death Spiral.” And, because they deal with facts, there is at least a chance they will someday receive the bounty that comes from honoring Truth.
Personally I am more interested in a different bounty, which is the wonderment that comes from looking at sea-ice, (and the associated weather), with eyes unclouded by bias or any need to be politically correct. Not that simply reporting what your eyes witness doesn’t get you in trouble. In certain circles you can cause a deathly silence to fall, simply by stating a truth, such as, “Arctic sea-ice isn’t decreasing. There was more arctic sea-ice this September than in September, 2007.”
In some ways I’m getting tired of offending people with Truth. This is especially true when the people I offend are beautiful women. It hasn’t just occurred when I was a young man in Maine, (and the Truth involved was that the woman was beautiful and I was lustful). It’s been going on since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and the beautiful woman I was offending was a young schoolmarm and I was a young truant. You’d think I would learn, but in some ways I seem worse than Rodney Dangerfield when it comes to getting any respect. This has led me to suspect the problem may not lie entirely in myself.
After all, I know better than to bring up the subject of arctic sea-ice at either a Conservative church supper or a Liberal cocktail party. I don’t go looking for trouble. But, when someone brings up the local bad weather in a most casual manner, and someone else responds, “Yes, this Global Warming is really getting terrible”, Truth always compels me to state, “There was more arctic sea-ice this September than in September, 2007.” And then beautiful women look at me aghast. It’s not fair. The situation even seems a sort of set-up. (WARNING: Rant Alert.)
I feel it is high time for old geezers like myself to stand up and be counted. After all, old geezers have rights too, y’know. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” It is high time to form some sort of blaring political noise, some loud and objectionable “Codger Power”, able to be equally annoying as everyone else.
Life is cruel to us boys. (Yes, another sidetrack from sea-ice has begun, but it involves why the subject of sea-ice is so side-tracked even among scientists of the arctic; IE: I’m not the one who started this sidetracking from Truth.)
I’ve been involved with raising children for decades as a father, coach, and finally, over the past decade, through running an outdoors-oriented Childcare on a farm, and I have seen various child-rearing fads come and go. For a time “experts” stated discipline stifles a child, but then (when “permissiveness” blew up in their faces), they did an 180 degree swivel and the same “experts” then stated “lack of boundaries” make children feel “unsafe”.
Recently an interesting development has involved a seeming realization that Childcare play-areas are set up in a manner which is preferential to the needs of girls. Apparently most girls focus more on “fine motor skills”, while most boys focus on “gross motor skills”, and most indoor play-areas focus more on sitting than on tumbling. Also most teachers are female, and, if asked to be honest, state they prefer teaching small girls, who tend to be more complacent and obedient, than small boys, who tend to be brats.
When it comes to getting-in-trouble, roughly 80% of all children expelled from Childcare situations are boys, and this causes further damage to boys because small children have a deep need to be included. In essence small boys are placed in a situation hostile to what they require, creating a Tom-Sawyer-vs.-Aunt-Polly dichotomy from day one.
Childcare professionals have been aware of this problem for two hundred years, and in fact the word “kindergarten” comes from “children’s garden”, meaning that it was a garden that “grew” children, but also included the idea children didn’t learn by rote at rows of desks, but in “gardens”, through activity and movement called “play”. The originator, Friedrich Froebel, had bad experiences in school and was expelled from many, but eventually became an academic who attempted to define why “play” was important, identifying first ten, and then twenty, categories of “play”.
Considering Froebel’s German ideas came to the United States before the Civil War, we should know better by now than to think children learn by rote at rows of desks, whether such regimentation is called “a class” or “circle time”. But we haven’t learned. Instead schoolmarms are placed in the position of being wicked witches, banning recess and drugging small boys for being boys. It seems little wonder that boys often hate school. The drop-out levels of boys have increased (along with drug-addiction), and girls now are more likely to seek college than boys are. And yet we are supposed to pity feminists? What about old-codgerists? Shouldn’t old boys like myself get a chance to march about and be irate and offended, too?
When I myself was a boy I detested school but loved learning. I could hardly wait to leave school so I could learn something. One reason I opened my outdoors-oriented Childcare was because I did most of my learning while roaming forests and fields, and wanted to share the joy I felt. Yet, as I watched the children at my Childcare, I became aware they were learning a huge amount without me, simply through hands-on experiences while romping.
Call such learning “field-studies” if you will, but such learning required no thesis to be written, and, in the cases of the youngest, it required no words, as they hadn’t fully learned to talk. They would just point at something, and look at me with their eyes glowing delight. It was obvious they were learning, and also obvious they loved learning. School was not a bitter pill. Wisdom was not a thing to be measured by tests. More was learned during recess than in the classroom.
It seems to me that it is later that small children start to ask “why”, and do it to such an excessive degree that it can drive you bonkers. Even when you answer “I don’t know” they immediately inquire, “Why don’t you know?” Sadly, in some classroom situations asking “why” earns one a look of disapproval from the schoolmarm. Perhaps this is one reason I myself began to look out the classroom window. The answers to my “why” questions were not on the blackboard.
It is interesting to note that among the places I liked to wander, when the final bell rang and I bolted out the school’s door, was a place you would not expect a “bad student” to go. When the whim hit me, I’d stop in at the town Library on my way home from school, and wander about looking for something interesting to poke through. Sometimes I’d find a book and become so engrossed the Librarian would have to tap my shoulder and show me the door, at closing, and I’d be late home for dinner. The next day I’d be “kept-after” school for having failed to do my math homework, but perhaps my homework was undone because I had learned more about the Greenland Vikings than my teacher knew, even when she was five times my age.
Skip ahead three decades, to a time when I had children of my own, and became aware that the teachers were teaching my children things about Greenland Vikings (and arctic sea-ice), (and other things), which I knew to be false. What to do? I went to the teachers to have a chat, and lo and behold! Thirty years made little difference; I got a look of deep disapproval from the schoolmarm.
They taught by-the-book, and what the book said was not to be denied. I politely inquired, “Which book are you referring to? I’ve read many on the subject, and many articles in various magazines.” They then became slightly defensive, for the book they were teaching-by was “the textbook”, which had a single paragraph about Greenland Vikings, and a single paragraph about the danger of the “Arctic Death Spiral”, (and some hundred paragraphs suggesting that man was destroying the planet). A bit of delicate, further inquiry informed me that, back in college, the schoolmarm had never studied either Greenland Vikings or sea-ice. But, rather than humbly admitting I might be older and wiser, the young whippersnappers did what schoolmarms always do to me: They sent me to the principle.
As I sauntered down a hallway to his office (thinking, “This is just like the old days”) I could see this wasn’t like the old days. The hallways seemed to reverberate with a lack of discipline, and the noisy classrooms I passed were largely out of control. One boy grabbed a teacher’s chair, which had little wheels, and rolled it out of a classroom, across the hall, and tumbled it down a staircase, laughing his fool head off. Then the boy saw me. I didn’t say a word, but the boy slumped and stopped laughing, and trudged back into his classroom pouting, and took his seat.
I then had a interesting talk with the principle, who was a seemingly jolly, spineless man who informed me that the problem wasn’t the children; it was the parents. We didn’t talk about Greenland Vikings or sea-ice very much. Instead I agreed parents should be more helpful. I proposed having some parents simply walk up and down the hallways, as it seemed to make boys behave better. Being spineless, he agreed this was a good idea, which led to the formation of CARE ( which was an acronym which stood for “Concerned About Responsible Education”) and for a time I wordlessly walked the halls in shifts with two other fathers. It seemed to have a positive effect. I later learned the principle despised me, and said bad things about me behind my back, though he always spoke to me with sympathetic eyebrows, high in the middle and low outside. He was sympathetic even when I stated I had decided to withdraw my children from his madhouse, and to “home-school”.
Home-schooling was my chance to learn what it is like to be a schoolmarm. Although I never wore the clomping, fat-heeled shoes that teachers wore in my youth, I felt I walked in their shoes, and I consequently have far more respect for schoolmarms. (Even your own children can come up with the most fabulous excuses for undone homework.)
One thing I wanted to do was to make school different than I remembered it being. I wanted learning to be joyous, as it was when I learned by hiking through forests and fields (and by browsing libraries and, later, back alleys.) But I was confronted by a harsh reality: Some aspects of learning are not “fun”, namely the stuff old-time teachers called “drill”.
Some things are fairly boring to learn. For example, multiplication tables. Such things are vital to further learning, but I was never very good at learning things unless they were part of some larger logic. For example, I did badly in foreign languages because at the start it was vital to learn a list of meaningless words. However I could manage to learn a phrase or two when it had some sort of value to me: To this day I can say “The woman is very beautiful” and “You are a stupid ignoramus” in Russian (but not much else.)
In like manner I did learn some math, due to good teachers who interested me in figuring out the batting average of baseball players, and how many boards it would take to roof a fort I was building. But I had a hard time learning things that had no personal context or reference point. If I could see no reason, I had a hard time “applying myself”. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “You have a good mind; why, why, why won’t you learn?” and, “You are an underachiever.”
In actual fact I was an overachiever, when it came to being a stubborn donkey and refusing to allow my mind to budge unless I was interested. In many cases the rare teachers who managed to teach me things I wasn’t interested in were the old-fashioned sort, who had no mercy, and who answered my “why” questions with, “Because I said so.”
The weapon such old-fashioned teachers wielded that worked best (on me) was to threaten to keep me from the forests and fields and libraries and alleys I loved, and one Science teacher got me to do an astonishing amount of dull homework because the alternative was to go to school with her all summer. Another old English teacher was more gentle, but simply forced me to do the same paper over and over until I handed in a draft with every word spelled correctly. (No spell-check back then). (Interesting to note I had a big vocabulary for my age, but couldn’t be bothered to learn to spell even simple words correctly.)
One thing that made those old-school teachers different was their emphasis on “completing your work”. It didn’t matter so much if the work was an “A” or a “D”, but that it was done. There was no “participation trophy” for merely showing up, and “trying” wasn’t an excuse for failing to complete an assignment. Even if you did a poor job, the job must be done. Nor did you necessarily earn approval, even when the job was done. You might earn a smile if you did “A” work, but not if it was “D” work. But even the the glower you got for “D” work was better than what you got for “incomplete” work. Looking back, such severity seems an afterglow from some former time, some echo of “The Puritan Work Ethic.”
At the same time there were new ideas and new approaches younger teachers thirsted to try out. I’ll gloss over these efforts, because for the most part they were ineffectual, and allowed me to escape “drill”. “Permissive” teachers allowed me to skip the rigors “Old School” teachers forced me to face, and let me play hooky. It didn’t matter if they called the work “arithmetic” or “new math”, and it didn’t matter if they called the work “history” or “social studies” or even “social science”. If they didn’t crack the whip, I’d prefer forests and fields to “drill”, and all their blathering about what-to-call-what-they-taught didn’t teach me one iota.
But one element of “permissiveness” did seem especially wrong to me, (and to many other schoolboys), and that was the unspoken need permissive teachers had to be popular. Me and my chums actually preferred the Old School teachers who knew we disliked them, for forcing us to “drill”, and we didn’t much like teachers who felt they had to be our best friend. The word “permissive” somehow meant they had to be “cool” and “popular” and “hip”.
Looking back, it seems to me the kids who were “cool” and “popular” and “hip” were a definite minority at my school, and the rest of us were a thing called “not so hip”. (Or perhaps “normal”). Therefore the efforts of some teachers to be popular looked like they were trying to woo a minority.
For the kids like me it seemed fairly obvious that such teachers were not the cream of the crop; they had not been “cool” or “popular” or “hip” when they themselves were our age, if only because they were not remotely handsome or beautiful, or particularly athletic, or all that smart. (That was why they were teachers, and not something better). Yet they had this odd wish to be what they never were, and thirsted to hang out with the “cool” and “popular” and “hip” kids.
Even to a twelve-year-old such behavior seems a bit pathetic, and is a sight that even seems pitiful: A thirty-year-old man or woman seeking acceptance from a minority of thirteen-year-olds who deem themselves classy, even as many of their classmates deem them otherwise.
A reason classmates disliked some peers who excelled (besides envy) was because some who excelled sneered at fellow classmates who didn’t do so well. But this meanness was dealt-with among peers by peers. We had our juvenile ways of separating the wheat from the chaff, the generous from the mean, and the genuinely admirable from those chasing the veneer of status. We may not have had words such as “politically correct” and “virtue signaling”, but we did have the words “real” and “phony.”
In some ways school involved much grouping and regrouping of small gangs, much shifting from superiority to inferiority to equality, as youth figured out where they were comfortable and where their gifts “fit”. Among athletes one might feel puny but five minutes later among Freshmen one might feel like a giant. Moods soared and moods crashed as hormones ran riot and roughshod, yet midst this chaos there was an awareness that some “got too big for their britches” or “took things too far.” Call it intuition if you will, but it was tantamount to detachment among youth you might deem incapable of anything but reactionary moodiness. Often it popped out of someone’s mouth in a way that resulted in gales of laughter, and a bully blushing (and promising to pound the jester later). Status was a precarious perch, like a game of king-of-the-mountain, and the “uppity” could expect a “comeuppance”. Yet for some status was the end-all and be-all of school, far more important than classes. For others the exact same status was proof the possessor was “phony”, and a person to be pitied. (Epaulets do not make the man).
If even youth can see past status symbols, and pity their peers when they crave such status too insanely (and look like shoppers madly fighting over an object at a sale) then youth can become downright horrified when teachers become equally eager to be included among the “cool” and “popular” and “hip”, and teachers act juvenile too. Such antics are hard to forgive or forget.
I recall when I was at my most awkwardly nerdy I was sneered-at by such a teacher. I likely deserved the sarcasm, but the rebuke was not what irked me. What seemed unforgivable was how the teacher turned away smiling towards the “cool” kids as the “cool” kids laughed at me, drinking up their small-minded approval. It was embarrassing. Grown-ups are suppose to be better than that, yet it was what was called “permissive” in 1964, and is called “politically correct” in 2019. Despite all the talk about “zero tolerance” for any form of “bullying”, it is a form of bullying. If you don’t believe such bullying exists, send a child into a classroom with a hidden camera, and have the child tell the teacher “Global Warming is a fraud.”
The pursuit of popularity at the expense of Truth may have a lot to do with the antics seen in Hollywood and among politicians, but it’s a dead end. It is Much Ado About Nothing. It involves the IQ of a bunch of clucking chickens figuring out their pecking-order. It is sad when people have to spend so much time and energy dealing with such nonsense, when what they really want to do is study sea-ice.
Also the pursuit of popularity has little to do with the true challenge of teaching, which involves the glaring difference between “drill” and the joy of learning. “Drill” may be necessary and be good for you, but so is cod-liver-oil. “Drill” is difficult to swallow. Either one must adopt the lantern-jawed mercy of a boot-camp sergeant, or be a sort of Mary Poppins singing about how “a teaspoon of sugar makes medicine go down in a most delightful way”, but in either case there is an acceptance that drill is, by itself, not delightful.
I thought long and hard about this subject while home-schooling my own kids, as they were forever asking me why should they do what they hated. I had no good answer, so I told them, “Because I said so.” However after I put them to bed I’d stay up late, sipping beer and wondering, “Why do I do what I hate?” I wanted an answer better than, “Because I have to.”
The answer I came up with involved seeing “drill” differently. Rather than seeing it as a bitter pill one was forced to gag down, I saw (or attempted to see) “drill” was the result of another’s joy.
A person in the faded past had endured the hardship, the sweat and strain and pricks to the ego, which led to the joy of revelation. And they then handed you all they worked so hard to achieve across the chasms of time, for free.
What such past people offer may be a thing as mundane as the “multiplication tables.” Learning such tables may be as dull as dust, but we should be thankful we don’t have to start from scratch and figure them all out for ourselves.
In like manner, when faced with a long and dull list of vocabulary words, we should be glad we are not faced with the task of coining such words. Most use words without any understanding of the Herculean efforts made by all sorts of word-smiths across the ages to hammer, distort and anneal the word into its current shape and definition.
One unusual aspect of my childhood was that my mother didn’t desire, (as a feminine equivalent of a man’s “den” or “man-cave”), a kitchen and pantry cluttered with cooking paraphernalia, or a sewing room, or a craft room, or a gym, but rather a library. She was a bibliophile, and even had a massive dictionary on an ornate stand in the dining-room. During the best days of my childhood (when my parents still got along) I sometimes was allowed to join the grown-ups during dinners that included foreign dignitaries, to whom English was a second language, and quite often the massive dictionary was consulted to see if a word was “used correctly”. Sometimes these visits to the dictionary were brief, but on other occasions (perhaps because my Dad could mix a powerful “old fashioned”), the conversations digressed in delightful ways into the various shades-of-meaning the same word might have, the origins the word had, how the meaning had changed over the process of time, and how shades-of-meaning could be different in different lands. (For example, in 1959 the word “fantastic” had a positive connotation in the United States but a negative connotation in India.) Even during dinners without company my mother tended to feel the definition of a word was chiseled on stone, while my father tended to look for loopholes, and the dictionary would be consulted. The result of all this was that, for me at least, the “drill” of learning a list of boring vocabulary words was less distasteful than it might have been for other children.
Drill is made distasteful when it becomes divorced from the amazing people who made the dull facts important. This is never more obvious than in the case of History. One is too often forced to memorize dull dates, but not told the full story. It is amazing how much passion and wonder can be lost through the study of dull dates. After such dreary memorization a bored boy is expected to write, on a test, “Valley Forge occurred in 1776”, without any real understanding of what occurred, or even that George Washington was involved. Where David McCullough’s book “1776” devotes chapter after chapter to what fueled that amazing moment in time, the schoolboy is just given a dull place-name and a dull date. Little wonder some rebel, and call history stupid. History is not stupid, but little wonder some think it is.
If you then add the fact some teachers deeply want to be popular, you can even have teachers who nod, and agree history is stupid. Rather than adding the joy-of-learning to the dull “drill” of history, they throw the baby out with the bathwater, and feel history itself is the problem. They then attempt to find a better way, something other than what actually happened.
Such a revision of Truth, of what actually happened, is called by some “revisionist history” and by others “progressive.” I call it “denial of fact”, and think, if you study history, you can see it often leads to a terrible end.
Inherent with thinking that history itself is the problem is the idea “old-fashioned” ideas are a weakness, and can be replaced by “better ideas”. Yet what happened is what happened; it is the Truth. When you attempt to replace Truth with a “better idea” you venture into the quicksand of utter folly.
I do not mean to suggest all attempts at social reform are folly. History shows us examples where attempts to reform society were beneficial, and where they were not. Therefore the measure of social reform should be the crop it reaps. Does the social reform result in the betterment of all, or disaster?
One of the saddest things to see, looking back in history, is how some so-called “progressive” people came to see their fellows, who had stood by their side as they fought “traditionalists” and rose to power, as being “not-progressive-enough”, and as holding them back. Stalin only rose to power due to the helping hands of many “bedfellow” communists, yet he came to see them as too “old-fashioned”, and “purged” them, (idiotically killing his best generals on the eve of World War Two.) In like manner Mao, after his “Great Leap Forward” had proved to be a leap backwards, had to deal with criticism he deserved from his fellow revolutionaries. Rather than humbly accepting what recent history taught, he instituted the “Cultural Revolution” which saw criticism (recent history) as evil (“counterrevolutionary”), and basically attempted to purge not only all of his best friends, but all of China’s best teachers.
The idea behind this sort of hatred towards tradition and history is the concept that tradition is a sort of weed, and that if you remove the weed something beautiful will grow. I honestly believe that both Stalin and Mao believed they were justified to kill, because something beautiful would result. Each morning they hopped out of bed, expecting that killing best friends and schoolmarms would result in roses. It never did. Apparently weeding isn’t enough. You must also plant.
The process of “planting” involves treating best friends and schoolmarms better than Stalin and Mao did, even when they disagree with you. Rather than seeing Truth as a backwardness and an enemy, it accepts the fact that even when Truth hurts, it is better than the alternative.
If you can follow my logic, you may glimpse Truth is not the dry lists of dull facts one grits their teeth to learn during “drill”. Rather Truth is a relationship. Rather than inanimate like stone Truth is alive. A inanimate stone just sits there. It cannot hurt you unless you go out of your way to fall on it head-first. However animate Truth can hurt you, even when you are minding your own business.
At this point I am moving into mystic territory. I don’t want to go there. I just want to lift the veil slightly, and hint at something. (Whether you choose to explore further is your own business). Let it suffice to say that I feel Truth is not a thing. It is a relationship we all are embarked upon, with whatever It is that made us.
I will say this: Our relationship with Truth is contentious. We all are social reformers in one way or another, and do not believe reality is as it should be. Though we may be like specks of dust upon a very small planet by a small sun in a small galaxy in a infinity giant universe, there are days we dare presume to grab the even huger Creator by the scruff of His neck and demand answers. (Confess. You’ve done it.) What amazes me is that, rather than being immediately incinerated by a bolt of lightning, we get answers. “Seek, and ye will find.”
In his long poem “A Lesson For Today”, the poet Robert Frost ends by suggesting he wants the epitaph on his gravestone to read, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In other words, if you seek Truth, do not expect an easy road lined with roses.
What holds true for students of poetry also holds true for students of arctic sea-ice. Truth is no outing for the feeble. Often those who stand by Truth win no earthly popularity, nor wealth, and seem to be proof honesty is for losers who want to wind up crucified, hanging from a cross upside-down like Saint Peter. Yet in the long run, even in earthly terms, who was the loser? In Rome, now, a huge building is called “Peter’s”, while “Caesar” is a name we give to dogs.
I often state “Stand by the Truth and the Truth will stand by you”, but this may not play out in the short term, which at one point in my life had me saying “Righteousness is never rewarding.”
For example, at one point the honest meteorologist Dr. William Gray advised the politically-calculating Vice-president Al Gore that Gore’s ideas about Global Warming were not scientific. Rather than being rewarded for his honesty, Dr. Gray saw his funding cut and was marginalized. Meanwhile Gore received awards and made millions for a movie (that British courts stated could not be used to educate British children with, because it included many falsehoods), ironically titled “The Inconvenient Truth.” In such situations it may seem there is no justice, and that the final Truth is that this world is made exceedingly disagreeable (because otherwise we would not seek a better place). But time will tell. Dr. Gray reached the end of his life with dignity, whereas Gore exudes such a halitosis of corruption one dislikes the thought we breathe the same air. (Not that I expect to be invited to his birthday party and stand in the same room, but we breathe the same air even if I flee to the far side of the planet.)
Gore is no different than the rest of us; he too has a relationship with Truth. In the harsh light of hangovers his eyes must seek their corners, amazed over how far he has fallen to become bloated with power and wealth. Yet none of us compare all that well with Perfection. In our relationships with Truth we all receive pricks to our fat egos, but none has fallen so far as to be beyond redemption; (it is said the thief on the cross next to Jesus walked the avenues of paradise only hours later).
In our relationship with Truth we are always teetering, with our hearts and heads never quite in balance: Our heads tend to be too dry and intellectual even as our hearts are too emotional and impulsive. That is why we need Truth to lend us a hand. We need something better than we are, to refer to. The amazing thing is that Truth is always there, offering.
Lastly allow me to repeat myself and state Truth is bountiful. One may not get the money they desire or the fame they desire or the power they desire, (or the beautiful girl on a Maine beach they desire), but in the end they get the best thing, which is Truth. In our constant and sometimes ludicrous efforts to reform society and change the world, Truth is our constant companion and lodestone, offering us feedback in the form of the harvests we reap, which can defy all odds and amaze us. (For example, Jonah felt preaching about Love to the merciless Assyrians was an exercise in futility and complete waste of time and might even get him killed, yet, (when he finally got around to giving being-an-advisor a shot), he saw, to his amazement, the entire bloodthirsty Assyrian nation repented and reformed [and postponed their eventual downfall by some fifty years.])
Truth has power we can’t imagine, which gives us every reason to study it. Under its beneficent sunshine rivers that barely trickle can rise sixty feet.
In terms of arctic sea-ice we need to stop the silliness of “adjusting” the Truth in a way that denies what we already know, and get back to studying what is actually occurring up there. Even a rank amateur like myself can see hints of mysterious powers, atmospheric waves that move the wrong way or cross the Pole, and these ill-defined shapes may be far more than the swirling aftereffects of storms to the south. I like to toy with the idea they may be hinges capable of pivoting vast atmospheric rivers, trapping cold air in the north with a “zonal” pattern or unleashing arctic outbreaks far to the south with a “meridional” pattern. Such changes make a huge difference to farmers, and understanding such changes would be an advantage to all people, for if farmers in Iowa knew a cold year was coming that would kill their corn, they could plant winter wheat instead. In like manner history informs us that massive shifts can occur to the currents of the North Atlantic, making rich fishing grounds sterile and barren seas bountiful. At the very least fishermen could save a lot of gas used searching for the fish, if they knew such a shift was coming and the fish would be moving.
Considering such drastic changes to the ecology of the Atlantic occurred even before light bulbs were invented, it seems silly to now blame such changes on incandescent bulbs, and to imagine we can move the seas by buying curly ones. Rather than thinking we control the weather we should be more humble and see the weather controls us, and seek to understand it. And such understanding does not come by seeking to replace Truth with adjustments, but rather by studying what actually is occurring, irregardless of whether it is politically correct or whether it confirms some preconceived bias. Arctic research deserves greater funding not because it benefits some political party, but rather because Truth benefits all mankind.
In any case, here we sit, having wasted decades preparing for Global Warming that shows no real sign of manifesting. Billions have been squandered attempting to prove something that isn’t true, deranging our energy infrastructure in the process, and leaving us ill-prepared for the onslaughts of winter. And winter is coming.
The “warming” seen on various charts and graphs is largely due to adjustments, but some warming is genuine and cannot be denied. However it may well be due to a completely counter-intuitive cause: Less energy, due to the so-called “Quiet Sun”, may initially have a warming effect.
Ever since I first began paying attention Alarmists have been pish-tushing solar variations, stating they’re incapable of having much effect. They often point out the variations in TSI (Total Solar Irradience) is roughly only a tenth of 1%. Or one part of a thousand. Yet then these same Alarmists turn right around and and say one part in a million can have a huge effect, when it involves the composition of the atmosphere. They can’t have it both ways.
My own take is that a change of only a tenth of 1% in the amount of sunshine striking the earth may seem small, but is actually a stupendous amount. After all, the sun is no small thing, even though you can cover it with your thumbnail as it crosses the sky. Here’s some trivia from “Cool Cosmos”:
“Compared to Earth, the Sun is enormous! It contains 99.86% of all of the mass of the entire Solar System. The Sun is 864,400 miles (1,391,000 kilometers) across. This is about 109 times the diameter of Earth. The Sun weighs about 333,000 times as much as Earth. It is so large that about 1,300,000 planet Earths can fit inside of it. Earth is about the size of an average sunspot!”
Currently the sun has become more quiet than at any time since the Dalton Minimum (roughly 1790-1830). At times the TSI has sunk to “unprecedented” levels.
The problem I run into, when dealing with the TSI, is that there are variations from graph to graph, and discussions involving things above my head, such as brief drops involving sunspots rotating around and facing the earth (which makes me think a spotless “Quiet Sun” should have a higher rather than lower TSI) and also arguments concerning the sensors used and “adjustments” made to the sensors used in the past. In the end I tend to fall back onto the observations from the Dalton Minimum, before the TSI was measured.
While the start of the Dalton Minimum was fairly quiet, after a decade things became “interesting”: Two of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past millennium occurred in 1810 and 1815, parts of the subtropics experienced summer snows and frosts, and there were extreme variations in the location and amounts of sea-ice, (including the amazing phenomenon of icebergs grounding on the coast of Ireland, that I mentioned earlier.) It seems a “Quiet Sun” had a significant effect, even if we haven’t been able to figure out the practical plumbing of its causes and effects.
One current observation that seems counter-intiuitive to me is that the SST (sea surface temperatures) have become warmer even as the sun has become less energetic. Though the southern hemisphere may now be hinting at some cooling, the northern hemisphere continues well above normal. (Below is the current anomaly map, not showing actual temperatures but rather whether temperatures are above or below normal.)
How could a less energetic sun cause warmer seas? After brooding a bit, it occurred to me that, besides measuring energy with thermometers, we could focus on the energy measured by anemometers. If a less-energetic sun slacked winds, especially Trade Winds, there would be less up-welling of cold water from the sea’s icy depths, resulting in warmer water at the surface, warmer and moister air above the seas, and consequently warmer and moister air working its way to the Pole (where only a small change in moisture jolts temperatures upwards to a far greater degree than the same amount of moisture alters temperatures in the tropics.) This would explain why winter temperatures have been warmer at the Pole, (and much of the slight “Global Warming” we see in honest statistics has been due to winter-warming at the Pole). However in the summer, when above-freezing temperatures at the Pole make slight rises in humidity less influential, the summertime Pole has actually trended cooler than normal by a small degree, which could be caused by slightly decreased sunshine 24-hours-a-day.
The idea that a slight thing like a decrease in TSI could warm the entire Northern Hemisphere may seem a bit preposterous, but if you think of it there are plenty of examples in life of small things having big consequences. Kingdoms can be lost “all because of a horseshoe nail”, a gain of sand can start an avalanche. In terms of meteorology the phrase “tipping point” is often used, (both correctly and incorrectly), and in some cases a hair can make a huge difference. It is like a marble rolling slower and slower up to the peak of a rise, at which point it can either fail to crest the rise and roll backwards, or crest the rise and accelerate forwards. In terms of a computer model and a weather forecast, this can be the difference between a ridge of high pressure being pumped and pleasant weather, or a trough digging and a gale. (Just as an example, there is currently some concern here in southern New Hampshire about winter snows getting off to an early start, and Joseph D’Aleo discussed the topic on his site at Weatherbell, and in the process he looked at fifty “runs” of the European Model, describing how much snow we might get over the next two weeks. Here are 25 of the runs:
Basically what the “runs” state is that we might get two feet of snow or might get none. Not much of a forecast. I suppose it does show storms will be whizzing by, maybe out to sea or maybe to our north or maybe hitting us, (but, because this is November in New England, we already knew that). However what I wanted to emphasize was how small things can make big differences. The reasons the “runs” of the model are so different are caused by quite minor tweaks to the initial data. A “butterfly flapping its wing” can totally ruin a superb forecast.
This is especially true concerning whether the Pacific will generate an El Nino or La Nina. Some sort of “tipping point” is involved, but no meteorologist seems able to pinpoint what it is, for the forecasting is persistently poor. Yet the difference between an El Nino and a La Nina is huge, and has worldwide consequences.
In a La Nina the warm water is “piled up” towards Australia and cold water upwells towards South America, and the world tends to be colder and drier, while in an El Nino the warm water spreads out and cold water sinks, and the world tends to be milder and moister. The Trade Winds are involved, and it is a case where less-is-more. Less winds creates more heat.
In like manner, I suspect a lower TSI might create a less-is-more situation where less heat from the sun initially makes the planet milder. But I stress that word “initially”.
To me it seems that spreading out the heat over a larger area could cause the heat to be lost more efficiently. It would be like your tea being too hot, so you pour it in the saucer to cool it. (Not that I’ve ever done this, but as a boy I asked an old lady what saucers were for.)
(It may not merely be fishermen who own first-hand-experiences that certain Climate-scientists should attend to; old ladies drinking tea may know a thing or two Climate-scientists don’t, as well.)
The spreading-out of milder water not only loses heat to the atmosphere (which then loses heat to outer space), it also moves north to the northern reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific, and melts sea-ice. Alarmists felt the resultant open water in the Arctic Sea would absorb sunlight and cause the “Arctic Death Spiral”, but the open water largely does not appear while the sun is high, but rather appears when the sun is getting low in late August and setting in September. In such situations the open water is not absorbing sunshine, but losing heat to the arctic night. Heat is not merely lost directly, but through the latent heat released during the phase-change from water back to sea-ice, which is far greater during years like this one, which saw more open water, and has already seen much open water swiftly refreeze.
Where some Alarmists suggest that the recent rise in the planet’s temperatures by a few tenths of a degree is a sort of irreversible one-way trend, I tend to see it as an action which will result in an equal and opposite reaction. For example, if you put a small pea on a balance, first it will swing down but then swing back up, as it gradually gets back to a state of poise.
It seems to me our planet is constantly attempting to achieve a state of poise, but constantly subjected to peas that make the balance swing. Even the yearly shift in summertime sunshine from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and back north again knocks things out of whack to some degree, but the planet keeps working to bring things back into balance. Because the swings have a certain regularity to them, the balancing-work tends to develop a regularity of sorts, and we speak of “cycles”, whether they be the cycles of seasons, or sunspot cycles, or the supposed 60-year-cycles of the AMO and PDO. But these cycles can also get knocked out of whack by things such as especially explosive volcano eruptions, or even asteroids (not to mention things I know little about, involving an “electric universe”, or the 12,000 year cycle of “magnetic excursions” mentioned on the “Ice Age Now” site, or in scary videos such as this one:
One constant, while considering the blows our planet has received in the past and may receive in the future, is our planet’s toughness and resiliency. It is like a boxer who can be pounded but cannot be knocked out. The idea of a “tipping point” being triggered that turns the planet into a hothouse like Venus is patently absurd, (but the idea of a society being triggered into absurdity is perhaps not so absurd), (and may be happening.) There is a tremendous power dragging the earth back towards equilibrium.
At times I think the swings back towards equilibrium manifest in ways that strike us as anything but peaceful. For example, a summer thunderstorm may not seem peaceful, but gets rid of excessive heat and brings things back into balance. In like manner, when some volcano reduces the amount of heat arriving on the planet’s surface, a “zonal” pattern may shift to a “meridional” pattern with the jet-stream contorting into fabulous loops, yet this may just be the planet’s way of redistributing the heat to get things back in balance.
I think this is what we should be watching for, and may already be seeing, in terms of the “Quiet Sun”. But one thing we need to be wary of may be glimpsed to the old (and now “adjusted”) records I showed earlier, which showed a dramatic increase in sea-ice between a record low in 1960 and a high during the winter of 1962-1963. It was a rapid increase of 1.5 million km of ice. Here is that illustration again:
It seems to me that a reappraisal of Vinnikov’s data would be fascinating. What was he witnessing, and what were the causes, and what were the effects? There does seem to be evidence that the world saw quite a dramatic period of cooling at that time, resulting in the “Ice Age Scare” which is so well documented by Tony Hellar’s collection of old Newspaper articles from that time.
The question I ask myself is, “Could we be on the verge of seeing history repeat?” Personally I loath the prospect, as my circulation is not fond of cold winters. I’m not the hot blooded dude I was in Maine, back when Jimmy Carter was president. However whatever will be will be, and it pays to keep an eye to the north in November.
Currently things look a bit ominous. Three weeks ago (October 11) the waters north of Siberia were wide open and snowcover was just starting to expand in Canada.
Now (November 4) the waters north of Siberia have swiftly skimmed with ice, Canada is largely snow-covered, and many of the smaller lakes in Canada have frozen (blue above but yellow below).
I’m now watching for the large Canadian Lakes and Hudson Bay to flash-freeze. As long as they are open they moderate arctic air, creating a sort of landlocked “maritime effect”, but as soon as they freeze, bitter cold can build. Also the pattern is worrisome due to a persistent ridge up the west coast of North America. That may bring warmth to western Alaska (note less snow there) but it tends to drain cold air into the heartland of USA and eventually effects our east coast. During the worst winters it drags frigid air from Siberia across the Arctic Sea, so I’m watching for the waters north of Bering Strait to flash-freeze as well. During the winter of 1976-1977, back when Jimmy Carter was president, we got stuck in such a pattern from November all the way into February. So I’m keeping my finger’s crossed that the west-coast-ridge breaks down, for now that I’m an old geezer I’m more of a wimp. (However if you’re young and like snow it is something to hope for).
If you are an Alarmist, and are stoically hanging on to the “Arctic Death Spiral” theory, what you should likely do is shift to sea-ice “volume” graphs. The DMI graph currently shows surprisingly low “volume”.
The low “volume” is likely reflecting the low overall extent of the past summer and the fact the new ice is still thin, though it may be indicative of a surge of sea-ice exiting south through Fram Strait (which will be interesting to watch as it approaches Iceland in December.) Also it may have something to do with fewer arctic gales piling up fewer pressure-ridges of ice. Whatever the cause, it helps the cause of Alarmists, especially the young whippersnappers who are looking for a good reason to avoid getting a Real Job flipping burgers to pay off giant loans to a Federal Government that printed money to pay colleges that printed worthless degrees. Who would want to face that? I don’t blame some young people for preferring that the world end in twelve years.
As for the rest of us, who pay the taxes and elect the individuals who perpetuate such shenanigans, we expect the unexpected. Just about the only thing safe thing to forecast is that Alarmist forecasts will prove incorrect, for they involve so much that is not Truth. The best we can do is focus on Truth, and have faith that it can produce some wonderful surprises. The climate can change, and dry gulches can fill with living waters, and deserts can bloom.
Stay Tuned…….And stand by the Truth and the Truth will stand by you.
How futile was my dreading. Winter comes Like clockwork: Shorter days and longer nights, Neatly ledgered by almanacs. Volumes Of prayers can’t prolong summer: Fall blights And the north winds preaches, as it bites, Of a snow-covered wolf pack slinking nearer Until the bad manners burst. (Impolite’s Uttering, with a mouth full of flakes.) Mirror Lakes of new ice are dusted white by gusts Of arctic malice, as winter wolves howl, But life goes on. I abstain from my lusts For summer-breasted days like a spooked owl, For, though driving in snow’s straight from hell’s pit, The unlicensed children aren’t bothered a bit.
We got four inches Saturday night and four more today (Tuesday). No big deal, except it made a lot of work for me. I like work, when it is writing, and all other forms of work…well…I try to keep them at a minimum.
Running a Childcare involves keeping a parking lot clear of snow, (and clearing the walls of snow the town plows heap into the lot’s entrance and exit). Four inches is usually no big deal, as I have a snow-blower with a thirty-inch mouth, and I bothered to make sure it was running well, before the first storm hit. Usually, especially when the snow is a fluff of powder like the first storm’s was, I can jog behind the contraption with it set in sixth gear. And that is how things started out. But then the contraption spoke a word slowly in a deepening voice, and word was “Below.” After that it refused to run, despite all my mechanical knowledge (which you could fit in a thimble.) I then made a phone call to a local small-engine-repair genius, only to discover he was out of business (thanks to a former president I will not glorify with a name.)
This meant I had to resort to a primitive implement called a “snow shovel.” Don’t laugh. I know most modern and civilized citizens think such objects are merely a matter of lore, but in my youth I was highly skilled at using them. At age 64 I have discovered knowing is not the same as doing. I get on fairly well, performing the ancient art of shoveling, for a rather short period of time, before I discover shovels are downright comfortable things to lean against, and clouds and stars are well worth observing.
I’d likely have the job done by April, but fortunately a couple of young whippersnappers were around (my youngest son and my son-in-law) and they were in the mood to humiliate elders they ought to honor. For every square foot I cleared in my pottering manner they cleared ten, a bit like tornadoes. In any case, the job was done with surprising speed, and I likely deserve carbon-credits and praise from believers in Global Warming for not utilizing fossil fuel….but don’t hold your breath….because they say I count as a fossil.
And that is just the snow-created work involved in my Childcare’s parking lot. At my Childcare itself there is also a major change in how you deal with the active minds of children, once snow falls. (Some call this “curriculum”, which seems a bit absurd, when you are talking about four-year-olds.) They had great fun raking leaves and jumping in leaf piles, but the first snow means you have to put away the rakes and take out the sleds. But this means I have to remember where the heck I stuffed the sleds, in the barn, last April.
Lastly there is something called “rescheduling” that snow causes. School gets cancelled, for piddling amounts of snow, but parents still have to work, especially during the “Christmas rush”. Therefore all the parents of school-aged children, who ordinarily are only at my Childcare until the school-bus comes in the morning, and after the bus drops them off in the afternoon, become parents who beg and plead that we allow them to work, by watching their school-aged children all day long. Fortunately, the people who govern the Childcare of New Hampshire allow you break the legal limit, in terms of how many children you are allowed to shelter, in the case of an “emergency”. However this does not make it easier for my staff, who ordinarily see the older children depart before the younger children arrive, and the younger children depart before the older children explode off the school-bus in the afternoon. To have all these children at the same place at the same time is like mixing oil with water and expecting salad dressing.
Over the past decade I, and especially my wife, have gotten good at handling the chaos caused by cancelled school. However it made (and makes) me think. Ordinarily, by law, we each are allowed to handle six children under six-years-old, and, if we are two handling twelve, we are also allowed to handle five more children over six-years-old, for a grand total of seventeen. When school was cancelled we’d handle more, perhaps as many as twenty-five. This makes me think, because in the public school it is quite normal for a lone teacher to be expected to walk into a classroom and handle twenty-six, (not just in an emergency, but on a daily basis).
Obviously a double-standard is involved. The politicians and “teacher’s union” have enacted laws to keep me from getting rich. If I was allowed to watch 26, and my wife was allowed to watch 26, do you have any idea of how much money my Childcare could make?
We’d also would be dead by now. I have no idea how public school teachers keep their sanity. Furthermore, ex-Public-School-teachers, who have worked at my Childcare, inform me my place is heaven, compared to Public Schools. It is a real joy for them to actually focus on individual children, because they only have six, rather than being asked to govern a stampeding herd of twenty-six.
Former teachers demonstrate amazing abilities, developed during their time in Public Schools. Ordinarily, when one child has a “crisis” that demands the attention of a member of my staff, that employee deals with that child, and I am left in charge of the remaining eleven. I am then challenged, and feel tested, keeping control only eleven. But what if a child was having a “melt-down” in a Public school, and I was all alone with twenty six? (I’d be fired the first day, for re-instituting corporeal punishment; that’s what.) When I watch former Public School teachers deal with a group’s escalating enthusiasm at my Childcare, I feel a sense of awe. They seem far less challenged than I am, as if they thought, “Only eleven children? Piece of Cake.”
Don’t take this wrongly. I am in awe of the Public School teachers, not the Public Schools. (And as far as the “teachers union” is concerned, I think they are out to kill teachers, for they have insisted upon the awful working conditions teachers endure.)
In conclusion, snow creates a chaos at my Childcare slightly like the everyday situation at a Public School: IE; We have what seems like too many children, without a truly clear routine. Where a Public School may welcome the time-off of a snow-day’s cancellation of school, it doesn’t cancel anything for me; it doubles my trouble.
But isn’t that typical, for winter? Winter doubles your trouble. Snow is stuff that just means where you once could walk you now must wade. Snow only means more work…..or does it?
When I look at nature, I seem to see most animals dislike winter. Few animals don’t take steps to avoid the season altogether. Birds and butterflies migrate, or hibernate like bears and woodchucks. The landscape can seem lifeless. But I like to take the children out to look for life in winter.
These are images from the only open water remaining on the flood control reservoir abutting my Childcare. My youngest son, after helping me with shoveling, took these pictures of a mink, fishing by the outlet to that reservoir. (To get the pictures he crept up and hid behind the concrete outlet, and then poked the camera around the corner without revealing more than his hand.) Mink are less adapted to water than otters, but my son said this mink was only under the ice ten seconds before popping up with the sunfish.
One odd coincidence my wife and I share is that our best friends were both born on November 21. Her friend is still alive, but mine passed away a decade ago. I always pause to remember him on November 21.
The day I first noticed him I knew he was a force to be reckoned with. It was in fifth grade, and teachers had decided we should be trained at an earlier age to avoid the old-fashioned idea of a “home room”. I’m not sure what was wrong with having a home, but instead some advantage was to be gained from marching from room to room to study different subjects. Not that the teachers were all that more skilled at different subjects. But likely they enjoyed teaching certain subjects more than others, and they thought such joy might infect the students. Wrong.
The simple fact of the matter was that my homeroom teacher was a beautiful young woman who I think was deeply in love (the next year her last name was different, and by June she was very pregnant.) By her very attitude she made learning be a joy. She could have taught a subject she knew nothing about, perhaps automobile mechanics, from an antiquated Model-T textbook, and the students would have been so enchanted they would have learned more than they would have learned from the most skilled automobile mechanic. I had the feeling her classroom was a cloud of love, and don’t think a single student disliked her; most seemed enchanted.
No other teacher stood a chance, and to be ripped from the presence of this joyous young woman, and placed in a classroom taught by a somewhat embittered old lady, who deeply resented that her favorite subject “history” was to be called “social studies”, was a very uncomfortable experience for me, as was the fact I was among students who I didn’t know, but whom were supposedly “at my level.” The old lady did catch my attention when she backslid and taught “history”, but when she attempted “social studies” it was apparent the subject was Pig Latin to her, and the entire classroom was confused, and my attention wandered.
For some reason these radical changes were not enacted at the start of the school year, but in late March or early April, when students are first hit by spring fever. Traditionally school ended at around this time, for children were needed back at the farm for spring planting, and all the wild energy would be put to good use. Instead, at this time, there was an attempt to “channel” the vital energy of youth in some sort of theoretically “socially constructive” manner. Eventually, decades later, they gave up and decided it was better to drug the dickens out of wild children, somehow thinking that frying their brains was better than tanning their hides, but, back when I went to school, education created a time-warp between corporal punishment and drug’s mind-control, when permissiveness and freedom ruled.
At this time my parents were still married, and I was an “untroubled” child, fairly obedient in my way, and making good progress in school. I hadn’t become the outlaw I later became (though I was no saint). As a good boy, I did stay away from the banned part of the playground in early April, where the mud was deep. However, as my attention wandered during Social Studies class, I saw the shoes of a boy who had broken this rule.
The shoes were so muddy they appeared about twice as large as they actually were. It was a most amazing spectacle. The mud was drying in the overheated classroom, and clods and flakes were shedding from the shoes. There was already enough dirt to plant carrots around the feet, and the shoes had only started shedding.
At this point the feet started moving about, as feet do when they are stared at for an overly long period of time. Instinct told me to glance up at the face the feet were attached to, and I met the glaring, challenging eyes of a boy just daring me to call him a pig. I didn’t. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. Instead I thought the eyes were as interesting as the huge feet. And, as I thought this, the eyes changed. When, rather than judgmental, I looked curious, they shifted from anger to surprise.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, though it was a stormy one. The fellow was never ordinary, but perhaps being born on the cusp of a water sign and a fire sign makes for billowing clouds of steam and thunderheads, and I’ve always thought thunderheads are beautiful.
He always tended to be more daring, while I was more prudish. At that time the “frontier” young men challenged involved the dangers of sex and drugs, and he paid a heavy price for being daring. I probably would have followed in his footsteps and paid the same price, had my stepfather not tricked me into attending a school about as far away from sex and drugs as it was then possible to find. (Dunrobin, in northern Scotland.)
One thing we were always able to share was our minds. It is difficult to say exactly how we did this, other than to say our talks involved a lot of symbols, or images, or gestalts. At times a most rudimentary image would communicate more than you might think possible. We’d be talking about some esoteric topic and he’d say, “You mean, sort of like salsa?” and I’d reply, laughing, “Exactly!” An outsider would have no clue what we were talking about, yet we could talk for hours in a strange sort of complete understanding that also involved vehement disagreement.
Looking back, I think one thing he liked about me was that I could tell him what it was like to do what he had chosen not to do. I could tell him what it was like to be a virgin and still date the-girl-next-door. I could tell him what it was like to be off drugs for months in northern Scotland.
In terms of drugs, I was a prude compared to him. He had a zest for the entire world of hallucinations and unusual perceptions. I did too, but also had the sense we were on dangerously thin ice. But I will say this: If you are foolish enough to take such vile substances, don’t do it with small minds. Don’t do it with people who can say little more than, “Yowza. Am I ever wrecked.” Rather do it with a mind who can describe in great detail the various avenues it is going down. To “trip” with this individual was truly a journey so enjoyable that, were it not for the Grace of God, my brains would have become as fried as his became, because I enjoyed talking and laughing with him more than anything else.
When I went to school in Scotland he went to school in Boston, and, (in those primitive times before the internet), we exchanged two or three letters a week. Mine described a mind off drugs, plunged into the English literature necessary to pass “A” levels, and his blearily traced the wild scene in Boston, involving many women and parties and running a college newspaper even after he stopped attending classes. Then there was a horrible postal strike in England, and we couldn’t communicate.
When we reunited after a year we were able to compare our minds in a way, and on a level, that most people can’t. In a way most people can’t imagine I think he saw I had, by sheer luck, come out ahead.
It seemed unfair. He’d had more guts, was more daring, but wound up damaged, in some mental way difficult to describe. Call it frustration, for that describes it best. My mind was clear and produced answers, while his was muddy and produced frustration. However his honesty expressed where he was at. I liked his amazing poetry, though he produced less and less:
“When you’re in the mud All you see is mud.”
I think one of the most awful tragedies of my generation was that the better minds were crippled. Hallucinogens were described by one Native American, (who left the Peyote Church), as “a trickster.” They promise to expand consciousness, but retard it.
I can say this now, at retirement age, because I saw the danger and backed away from that frontier, like a person backing away from a volcano’s crater because he sees the expedition’s leader succumbing to poisonous gasses. Not that I didn’t inhale and suffer some damage myself. But I survived.
People tell me, “I never quit and I can still do what I could do.” At age sixty-four that seems to me to be a terribly sad statement. It is like Beethoven at the end of his life stating, “I can still write the First Symphony.” A mind is suppose to grow, and reach a Ninth Symphony. To stay the same is to stay stuck, and involves a constant frustration, which eventually breeds a subtle antipathy.
I faced that antipathy in my childhood friend, especially when I renounced our adventure into the world of hallucination and turned to God. (And there can be no denying I was a naive pain, when I first sought a different “high”.) Yet we stayed in touch, despite the distance that had grown between us. I suppose, when minds have been as close as ours were, there is always a curiosity about what the other is seeing, and where it is going.
Eventually it became obvious to my friend that drugs indeed were a trickster, but his brains were by then only a shade of what they once were. He then accepted his predicament with class, and even dignity, though to think as a “straight” person was an exercise in frustrating futility. He actually sought to stop thinking, by doing a Yoga that made his mind blank, and it seemed to do him good. Nor did he ever stop believing in the “high” things he’d seen as a mere teenager blitzed on acid, even when he couldn’t see them any more.
He died of cancer of the esophagus, which cut him down in a matter of weeks. One thing I’ll always regret is that we never had a final talk. I hope he didn’t think I’d tell him, “I told you so”, or some such useless thing. Probably not. I think many who die without telling many friends just don’t want to cause others pain. I knew many artists who died of AIDS in the 1980’s who vanished without saying any good-byes.
What would I have liked to talk about, during a final talk with a dying friend? I think it would be the beauty we saw together, even in the process of making the wrong choices. If you focus too much on the wrong choices you only become bitter.
This brings me around to the peculiar agony currently afflicting the so-called “beautiful people” of Hollywood and Washington D.C. Their raging seems downright demented to me, and a sort of spasm of guilt and a paroxysm of shame, manifesting as disgust and bitterness. Apparently being “beautiful” is not so beautiful, after all.
Harvey Weinstein was seemingly the pebble that started an avalanche. Behavior which once was seen as “sophisticated” is now called what it always was, “sleazy”.
When I went drifting through California more than thirty years ago I found most people felt the ideas now manifesting were prudish. I know this for I expounded such ideas, and was told I was prudish, wasn’t a realist, wasn’t sophisticated, was naive, didn’t know how the world worked, would never get anywhere, was behind the times, wasn’t hip, and was in fact ugly. I wasn’t one of the “beautiful people.”
What changed things? I think the actual pebble that started the actual avalanche was the election of Donald Trump. Popularity means a lot, (and at times everything), to the Hollywood mindset, and such a mindset is horrified to see popularity shrink in any way, shape or form. To have Hillary Clinton lose, (despite some glaring voter fraud assisting her), was a message no amount of explanation could deny. What was the message? “You are not popular. You are not seen as beautiful. You are not admired, envied, marketable.”
It is the strangest thing to see the facade crumbling. In some ways it looks like one of those “swings of a social pendulum” you read about, where people run like indecisive lemmings from one cliff to another, basically brainless and merely following the mob. However in other ways it seems like common sense rising up in “flyover country” to inform Hollywood and Washington nobody is really buying their bull.
I think our world has paid a terrible price due to the “trickster” of sex, drugs and greed. It is easy to become bitter, thinking of the pain and the people hurt, like my old best friend. However perhaps it is better to remember that, before the trickster tricked, people were speaking of “Love, Truth and Understanding”, and those things were and are and always will be beautiful things.
What will be interesting to watch is whether people behave like witless lemmings, running from extreme to extreme, or whether they have actually learned anything. For there is such a thing that people develop called “discernment”. I would like to believe that the 48 years since the “Summer Of Love” in 1969 has actually taught the USA a thing or two, and we are moving from producing a First Symphony to producing a Ninth.
In any case, Happy Birthday, to my old friend in heaven.
(Note-In New Hampshire a Child Care Professional like myself is required to continue their education, 16 hours a year, by attending classes. I find this a bit annoying as I study all the time, but prefer to do so in my own way and in my own time. Recently, much to my delight, the powers-that-be decided folk like myself could fulfill six hours of our obligation not by driving a long way and attending a class we can ill afford, but rather by writing up to six papers. Hopefully this post counts as one hour of research.)
One interesting aspect of watching children grow is how they learn words. There is more mystery involved in this than we like to admit. If you doubt me, google “vocabulary at age three” and see how many different opinions there are of how many words a child has learned, or “should” have learned, by that age. (And then realize Thomas Edison had a vocabulary, until he was nearly four, of zero.) (Modern jargon would have called him a “selective mute”.)
At age two a child ordinarily uses 25-75 words, at age three 200-500 words, at age four over a thousand, and by age six over 2500. But this only includes the words a child can get their mouth around, or their “expressive” vocabulary. Children also have a “receptive” vocabulary, (words they understand but don’t use), and by age six that is an amazing 24,000 words.
The saying, “Little pitchers have big ears” goes back at least to 1546, when a man named John Heywood included it in a book of proverbs. Shakespeare used a version in “Richard III” a half century later: “Good Madam, be not angry with the child. Pitchers have ears.” (The “ear” of a water pitcher was its handle.) The saying simply recognizes the fact children are absorbing more than we can imagine.
So what are children absorbing, these days? These days the average amount of time a child spends sitting in front of a video screen is far too large, and in fact the “average” for an eight-year-old is nearly a full work day (over seven hours). While reading a somewhat depressing first paragraph in an article entitled”What Nature Has Taught Us”, found here:
“…young children can recognize over 1,000 corporate logos, but few can identify more than a handful of local plant or animal species.”
My initial response was incredulity; it seemed the figure must be malarkey. I doubt I could think of 1,000 corporate logos. However, the more I thought about it the more it made sense.
It does seem advertising has made insidious inroads into our private spaces, until now even our undergarments are practically billboards. Race cars have so many advertisements on them they surpass billboards, and instead look like classified ads. Very fast classified ads, I will admit, but speed can’t hide the fact they surpass absurdity into the far reaches of bad taste. I wonder what a race-car driver of the past would think, if he could look into the future, and see the clownish outfits now worn.
I still possess an old pair of skates I found, when my feet grew to their current size back in 1966, in my boyhood basement. They were wonderfully, beautifully made. Where modern skates feel rigid and plastic, like a ski boot, these old skates, from the 1950’s or perhaps even 1940’s, were all leather except for their blades, and while offering some ankle-support they were supple, and putting them on felt like putting on a slipper, compared to modern skates. When I looked to see who made them, I noticed the biggest difference. The maker’s name isn’t emblazoned in large letters on the product. In fact I can’t find a name at all. (There may be one, somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.)
In other words, back then a craftsman depended more on his product being well-made than on indenting the public’s psyches with their logo. Modern advertising has utilized a degrading view of humanity that seems to deem us little more than Pavlov’s dogs, made to drool on command. I think the public is increasingly fed up with this sort of belittling treatment, and is steering away from mass produced items towards local markets. I’ve noticed this in foods, in home-knitted garments, and the last few Christmases I’ve increasingly noticed a rebellion in the world of toys, with some toys advertised as being beneficial simply through having no logo whatsoever. Lego’s logo is being challenged by ordinary, old-fashioned blocks, made of wood.
In some ways a logo is just an identification, not much different from animal tracks or the identifying shapes of leaves. Where cave men looked for one sort of shape, when they wanted to eat, we look for the identifying logo of a fast food restaurant.
In other ways, sadly, logos are used to drain parent’s wallets without regard to the possible harm being done to children. Advertisers are well aware of the power whining children can have on a parent in a store, and seek to increase that misery. When Disney puts out a new movie they fully expect to make a heap of extra money selling toys that are based on the characters in the movie, and their primary motive is greed.
Greed? Yes, for advertisers are well aware it has been demonstrated that the toys they sell limit the imaginative development of a child’s mind, and that childhood is better served by less specific toys that can be a wider variety of people, places and things. (For example, a small cardboard box with eye-holes can allow a child imagine they are a knight from the past or an astronaut of the future, whereas a “Buzz Lightyear” helmet is far more expensive yet restrictive, and only the most imaginative children can put it on and be “Sir Lightyear, knight of the Round Table”.)
Advertisers are under increasing pressure to stop treating the public in the demeaning manner they have found profitable. During recent elections advertisers were widely used by politicians, but the results demonstrated the public is sick of the basically dishonest techniques advertisers employ. Once using the phrase, “For the Children”, with a load of violins playing in the background, could moisten the public’s eyes, but increasingly politicians are getting hit by eggs and tomatoes, and looking back at their advertisers with disapproval.
The primary reason for the success of the little Farm-Childcare my wife and I set up is because we teach no logos to children. We offer no video time whatsoever, and electronic devices are banned. (This is is not to say children don’t surreptitiously sneak them onto our premises, and play electronic games the way I smoked illegal cigarettes behind the barn, as a boy. However, as the gestapo-grown-up, I pounce and seize such contraband, and force the poor kids to sled down hills and make snowmen and snow-forts.) We originally had toys that were based on Micky Mouse or Star Wars, but increasingly we have avoided replacing them, when kids break them (as they break nearly everything), because we have found cardboard boxes serve as well, and a doll made of straw can be an amazing variety of characters, and one of the children’s favorite toys is an object found in every forest, called “a stick.”
Among the activities we stress are all sorts of nature walks, and one thing I’ve noticed which challenges the growing mind of a child is: Tracking footprints in the snow. Recently I started seeing this as learning-to-read-and-write on a very simple and down-to-earth level. I found myself thinking of tracking in terms I hadn’t thought about before. To me it seemed far superior to learning to read a logo. While it is true a fast-food logo does lead you to food, it is always the same food. Footprints in the snow seldom do the same thing twice. They involve a lot more thinking.
If you search, it turns out I am far from the first to have this idea. Back in 2009 Gwen Dewar, Phd, produced a paper called “The Lost Art of Animal Tracking” that appeared on the Parenting Science site:
The more you search the more you find. One common theme seems to be that the grown-ups learn as much, if not more, than the children, simply through tracking footprints.
I can see how tracking might be a challenge (though not impossible) in a Big City, but for people living in the suburbs and especially for people in the country, there is no excuse for not utilizing a resource that doesn’t cost the taxpayers a nickle: The outdoors.
One site I enjoyed visiting was the Rain Or Shine Mamma site. In a good post here:
Linda McGurk did an excellent job of putting many ideas I’ve had in a nutshell:
WHY TRACK ANIMALS WITH KIDS?
It connects them to nature in a very direct and hands-on way.
It teaches them to be aware of their surroundings and the creatures that live there.
It gives them a chance to use critical thinking skills and scientific inquiry methods.
It gives them a chance to experience nature with both body and mind.
It’s an incentive for both you and them to learn about different animal species in your area.
It gives kids a chance to lead and problem solve in nature.
It’s an incentive to go outside.
I can add little to what she suggests, though I am curious about what is going on, in terms of the development a child’s mind, when they look at tracks and not only see the present tense, but look back at what-came-before, and look ahead to what-came-after. I think big concepts are involved. (Vocabulary beyond words.) My only possible criticism is that perhaps Linda’s last bullet-point should be the first.