Tuesday 24 July 2012

People can always tell.

(No, they can't.)
Up, Down, A bit more ... 
Contents: Drought/FAO/Climate Dice, Tiny Stories, Grant Hadwin, Marten Scheffer, 20 Trillion, Ovid/Phaeton.

Doonesbury, July 18.Fact is, things can be faked up pretty well, quite convincingly.

And there is a wide range of techniques - Photoshop is just one among many. A better statement might be, "Sometimes people can tell if they care to," but even in those marginal cases confidence is reduced, even for those who were actually 'there'. Memory is mutable too.

Somewhere Bob Dylan said ... yeah, here it is: "technology to wipe out truth is now available. not everybody can afford it but it's available."

[World Gone Wrong liner notes on the 'Discover' tab here. Instructive to read the whole thing carefully and see more of how his mind works - as if (for example) this technology he mentions were directed at or destined for a mass market, or as if ability to pay were a factor in its uptake. Threading the needle in a sense.] 
There is drought in the American midwest, and closer to home in Southern Ontario too, and the corn farmers (ask yourself to what degree they are farmers, even ®-®-Roundup-Ready™ corn needs rain) are crying (to their crop insurers).

A few years ago I began to follow the FAO Food Price Index - it seemed like a natural, and the UN agency that makes it up, that is one guy in that agency, Abdolreza Abbassian, seemed credible. At the time you could put your name on an email list and be informed as the numbers were updated.

There seems to have been some bureaucratic turbulence in the meantime. Now the best images you can scrape up (here) are what I am showing (and no more emails, you go grab 'em on your own nickle):
FAO Food Price Index.FAO Food Price Index.FAO Food Price Index.

That tiny text at the bottom of the graph says, "The real price index is the nominal price index deflated by the World Bank Manufactures Unit Value Index (MUV)." So, the first curve is that 'nominal' means real, and 'real' means cooked, OK. But looking into what this MUV is gets complicated. One view (from Andrew Dorward, here) is that, "The use of such price indices leads to historically low global estimates of current real food prices when the latter are not, in fact, low in historical terms for lower-income groups in low-income countries."

There is even a questioning apparently of the fact that food prices are rising at all (?) in 'real' terms that is. Maybe I am not smart enough to figgure these numbers out, but if people are starving and migrating in their millions then by some measure or other food prices are going up.

Anyway, I am kinda expecting the gradual decline since February 2011 to soon reverse, possibly dramatically, possibly in the next few months. (If I am still doing this I will report ... if I remember.) The pundits seem to agree: US corn belt crisis threatens to drive up global inflation, and Lester Brown: The world is closer to a food crisis than most people realise..

There is a kind of perspective in headlines,
1974: In Midwest, Drought Worsens.
1988: Drought Causing Worry in Midwest and Southeast.
2005: Drought Threatens Crops & Shuts River in Midwest.
2012: Widespread Drought Is Likely to Worsen.
But headlines are misleading - at best they relate to a limited time spectrum and of course they are intended to be sold so they are trumped up.

Reto Ruedy.Makiko Sato.For real perspective you have to go to statistics & probablilities (interpreted by someone you trust): Perceptions of Climate Change: The New Climate Dice by James Hansen (whom I trust), Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy. The report is undated but recent, 2012, April or May looks like. And it is difficult stuff to read, even more difficult to understand, you probably will not take the time ...

Don't trust Paul Krugman (because he continues to shill for growth) but on this he seems to have it right: Loading the Climate Dice.
Malvados: Are you going out Zaza? / I'm going on a protest march against sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. / Young people ...Malvados: Are you going out Zaza? / I'm going on a protest march against sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. / Young people ...

[It is humbling to be of no use or ornament, not to children, not to loved ones & friends, not to any possible action to jam up the environmental thing.

Bizarro.There is the standard bourgeois guff: "... it is the cycle of life. Children grow up and are ungrateful. They in turn have children who grow up and are ungrateful. On and on it goes," (this from an Ann Landers kinda guy, David Eddie, in the Globe). Bollocks of course.

But nevermind, humility is good however you come by it. (Easy for me to say eh?) So I went looking for perspective - for details on eskimo old folks just wandering off onto the ice floes - but, after going through several anthropological works that claimed to know ... it could be an urban myth for all I learned. Too bad, I am sure my friend Shaumiga knew but I never asked him and now he's gone.

At first these tiny stories seemed to be a way forward, or just a way ... of being, but they are increasingly difficult. Oh Well.

So ... second verse about the same as the first, version 2:]
Keeping Faith:    They arrive for an unexpected visit. He is busy with school and young children, other things. She is beyond control already. At 3AM they are there together, pinning her to the mattress, laughing. She is smiling quizzically, an old lady with no idea who these two men are holding her in bed. Getting into his car to leave the next day his father looks a question at him. He does not want to understand and so, doesn't.

His friend, blood brother, is dying in a hospital somewhere far away. He calls on the telephone, begging him to come for a last visit. He is on his way to court over the kids. He doesn't have rent money. He says no and hangs up. He understands very well. He re-reads the letter, "If I had a ladder that would reach into the hole you are in I would climb down it to help you."

His father dies just before his birthday. He calls the day before, and again on the day - no answer - he must be down with the family for a party. A week or so later he is found in his bed, badly decomposed but peacefully arranged (according to reports). They only find him when they do because he is scheduled into a detox and a secretary calls when he doesn't show up. Someone talks him out of viewing the body at the morgue - "It is quite unpleasant. A very hot time of year." - callous dissembling upon mistakes (which are no mistake) and there is no end to it.

Carnal:    A few of the sweet brown girls still write sometimes, even regularly. Maybe he did something right then because it has been years since he sent any money. Maybe he still is. Something he can only guess at may be going on.

Não sou de Ninguém, in the São José do Norte harbour, 2008.Mixed with formal need, jeopardy and tragedy, there is a bit of news, a fact or two, snapshots, births, marriages. Maybe they love as well as they are able. 'Ninguém pertence pra ninguém' (no one belongs to anyone) they say with a smile, and show such kindness in the face of it. Naturally he tries to imagine it is better than 'able', more. Sometimes he almost succeeds.

His mother often waits up for him when he is out late, wanting to talk. She believes an odd kind of metaphysics, connections that can not possibly break simply because they are carnal, happened - not ever. A country girl.

It is 45°, summertime in the tropics. Mango juice and sweat drips from their elbows and chins. They make moqueca de peixe and some of the mango goes into it along with coconut milk, onions, hot red peppers, tomatoes. The samba radio plays loud. Kids run around. Teenagers are sent out for more cold beer. Old ladies, not so old, are smiling and giggling. Everyone is happy.

Speaking of Photoshop - that first one is suspect eh?

The obvious question which no one answers (to my satisfaction) is, "How does it grow if it is not green?" I think the answer is that it is not 'golden' at all but yellowish-green, and there are yellowish-green chlorophyll pigments that support photosynthesis.
Golden Spruce.Golden Spruce.Golden Spruce.Golden Spruce.Golden Spruce.Golden Spruce.

A discussion here (except that biochemistry is not mentioned).

So, Picea sitchensis 'Bentham's Sunlight' or Picea sitchensis 'Aurea' as you like. And Grant Hadwin was off his meds, paranoid schizophrenic etc., mad, a 'madman', a 'tree murderer' - which I can not quite believe: the action was rational enough, well executed, just not how most people wanted to see, and he certainly appears to have been on his way back to face the music.

Grant Hadwin, 1997.Grant Hadwin, 1997.John Vaillant knows pretty well who he is: a journalist supporting his family. The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed is superficial and exaggerated but it is competently researched (Bella Coola does indeed line up with the tip of Haida Gwaii, I didn't think so), boring, tedious, quite often downright silly. Not my cup-of-tea then - it risked being flung at the wall a number of times - but I hope he made a pant-full on it sure I do, though I may pass on the next one.

He does discuss the biology, even referring to Grant Scott's thesis on the subject (which I doubt he laid eyes on) - but in such a way as explains very little to me (my fault I'm sure).

About the same time, mid-1990's, I go up onto the mid coast, Ocean Falls, build a kayak intending to paddle off into the sunset, and then chicken out and become Fire Chief instead. Go figgure.

The next fall, or maybe two years later, a younger guy 35 or so shows up in a kayak from Bella Coola. In the spring he chickens out too and disappears back to the lower mainland. Not a movement then, but an eddy perhaps.

Golden Spruce.Grant Hadwin's escapades are a topic of conversation in the town - mostly a sort of grim red-neck gladness that he has done the decent thing and died.

I wish I'd known him. His bugaboo was 'university-trained professionals' mine is bureaucrats ... same difference.

There is not much source material to be easily found on the Internet, only the two photographs I have shown. John Vaillant & Sacha Snow (there are lots of images of these guys everywhere) substitute their brands for Hadwin's - a palimpsest as Pynchon might call it - and whoever Grant Hadwin actually was becomes more and more obscured. 
Here, this is interesting: Searching for Clues to Calamity.    'Clues' - I like the sound of that.

Clue #1: Marten Scheffer at Wageningen University (in the Netherlands), and a 2009 book Critical Transitions in Nature and Society published by Princeton. $60, too rich for my budget, and no take-out-able copies at the library.

An impressive Table of Contents, and a (very spotty) .pdf of Chapter 1 Introduction (a VERY spotty .pdf indeed, I will transfer it after a while).

Clue #2: A-and Tim Lenton at University of Exeter, but his 2°C or not 2°C? That is the climate question in Nature (2011) after considerable hedgeing, doesn't get around to answering the question ... so mark him down as a potential supporter of geoengineering and move on. He foresaw the collapse of the Indian summer monsoon within a year in 2008 and it is not quite gone yet is it?

One out of two ain't bad. Ai ai ai, even the second-hand copies at Abe's are forty bucks ... maybe I will pony up, feels like a place to go after Jared Diamond & Joseph Tainter.

1968:  The Magus.I have a little bell hanging in the open window (arranged not to ring too often). The sound of it is sweet but often just reminds me how long I have been stuck here in this Magus' waiting room ...

Be well.
£13tn (20+tn$US at today's rate) says the Guardian on Saturday, mebbe more!

James Henry.James Henry.Nothing in Wikipedia on James S. Henry (yet) but this from a blurb for his book: "... is an economist, lawyer, and investigative journalist who has published in the New Republic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, the Nation, Fortune, and the Wall Street Journal. Henry is an honors graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School. He was one of the original 'Nader's Raiders' and has also worked for McKinsey & Co. (chief economist) and IBM/Lotus Development (vice president of strategy). He has two children. He lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, NY." By 1990 he was already out of McKinsey & Company according to this from the NYT of that time.

The Blood Bankers.The book, The Blood Bankers: tales from the global underground economy, 2003, is at the library, one copy, but not in circulation, and no cheap copies at Abe's - I may have to make a trip to the reference library.

One on-line crit tells me it is 'haphazard, badly organized, and poorly edited' (?) so ... Ah! Here it is at Google Books, the whole introduction (less diagrams), it doesn't seem haphazard or poorly edited to me (?).

The Tax Justice Network (website here) advertises the report here, but all I can get is this press release or summary or whatever it is. The haphazard & poorly edited criticism sticks this time. The Guardian report says "released exclusively to the Observer." so maybe that's it

Nothing much in the big business papers that I can see yet either.

John Whiting.John Whiting.On Sunday the BBC (I guess it was released exclusively to them as well) present John Whiting, the Tax Director for the UK government's Office of Tax Simplification (good thing his name isn't Simon), and he expresses some lame & predictable quibbles.

But I am quite sure it is all true. We've been VOIKed! When I was a consultant it was a rite of passage to earn enough to be able to hire an accountant and a lawyer (both of them sleazy) to help you hide it from the tax man. The government squandered it just as effectively, but it was more fun to squander it yourself.

Occupy Wall Street is on the case.
Ad for 1932 Buick Phaeton.Ad for 1932 Buick Phaeton.

Ovid's Metamorphoses are a rich vein indeed. The line I quoted before, "Foole, thou thy Mother trusts in things vnknowne; and of a Father boasts that's not thy owne," is directed at Phaeton, towards the end of Book I before his catastrophic run as sun.

There are as many translators as feathers on a duck, and no really legible copies anywhere that I can find. I know this thoughtless current well: "I want it upon my shelf, but read it? To the point of knowing its flow? Not likely." I used to buy books and just walk around with them under my arm. And now that I finally begin to read - it should come as no surprise that the tools have been devalued and devolved.

One of them, J.J. Howard, says in his introduction, "The translator confides his attempt to render the beauties of Ovid more accessible to English readers, and to chasten the prurience of his ideas and his language, so as to fit his writings for more general perusal."

Two versions of the end of Europa and the Bull:

Agenor's daughter looks with wondering eye
On the kind beast; nor dares aat first draw nigh
To touch him, though so placid he appears.
But soon emboldened she forgets her fears,
And gives him flowers to taste. Presaging bliss
On her white hands he lays a gentle kiss,
And rapt with pleasure scarcely can endure
To check his onset and mate triumph sure.
Now he desports upon the grassy plain,
And now, returning to the shore again,
He rolls upon the sand and lets her press
Her hands upon him in a soft caress
And round his horns fresh rosy garlands cast,
Until she climbs upon his back at last,
Unwitting whom she rides. Then from the strand
Slowly the god moves out and leaves the land
And soon, the shallows past, speeds on his way
Across deep ocean carrying his prey.
One hand upon his back, one on his horn
She rests and trembling from the land is borne;
While as she leaves her native shore behind
Her filmy tunic flutters in the wind.

Frederick Adam Wright, 1869-1946.
 The beast, Agenor's daughter doth admire,
So wondrous beautifull, so void of ire.
Though such, at first shee his approach did dread,
Yet forthwith toucht; and then with flowres him fed.
The Louer joyes: till he his hopes might feast,
He kist her hands; ah, scarce deferres the rest!
Now, on the springing grasse, he frisks and playes:
His sides now on the golden sands he layes.
Her feare subdu'd, shee strokes his proffered brest:
Her Virgin-hands his hornes with garlands drest.
The royall Maid, who now no courage lackt,
Ascends the Bull, not knowing whom shee backt.
He, to the Sea approaching, by degrees
First dips therein his hoofes, anon his knees;
Then, rushing forward, beares away the prize.
Shee shreeks, and to the shore reuerts her eyes:
One hand his horne, the other held behind;
Her lighter garments swelling with the wind.

George Sandys, 1577-1644.

In Swedish: fin fint, god gott goda, bra - good good, good good good, good. 

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