Final Words

By Edward Goldstick

It's been an interesting week.  There are many subjects that I had planned to touch but then felt it unfair to the other guests at the party to hog the space, some controversial thoughts that I decided were unfair to leave behind for others to clean up after, a number of books read whether recently or not that I had hoped to recommend, and there were as many news items and a few amusing tidbits that crossed my field of view on which I might have spontaneously jotted off a note to Jim (among others)...

... but such is the real world.  I want to thank Jim and the folks in DC who are managing the flow from my keyboard as well as that from the others (and I want to add a personal note of thanks if my rhetorical and/or conceptual excesses were at times somewhat complex or convoluted...).

Rather than insert additional posts as I had posited on Sunday, below the fold are just a few of the many described above in schematic form (more decrypting, I guess, for the adventurous...).

Thank you.

1)  Practical Superconductivity:   Panacea or Preposterous?

I've followed research in superconductivity  for the thirty-plus years, not the least because of the major discoveries in the 80's that raised the critical temperature where the phenomena was detected into the range of 'practical' temperatures such as that of liquid nitrogen... not the least as reflected in the industrial efforts of companies like American Superconductor.   I had hoped to post a longer explanation of the physics (to the degree they are understood) and the industrial and economic implications (though you can find that elsewhere)...

... however, I have always been amazed at the lack of reporting and enthusiasm around these activities.  There is one very good website on the subject that has intrigued me for a couple of years,  This is the ongoing effort of an isolated  individual researcher who, in the second half of 2010, made some claims that were hardly mentioned elsewhere.  I never looked deeply into this before receiving Jim's offer to share his "space" with others for a week, and the result of my queries to professionals in the field, some who were familiar with the site, are ambiguous while not as doubting as those that encountered the immediate and compelling feedback to this post... .

2) Hot (Climate) Modeling...

I must first admit to having accepted into the consensus, whether scientific or political, that holds that global warming is real and that is has been the product of carbon-based greenhouse gases introduced into the atmosphere by the technological activities of human beings (I realized this a few years ago when the study of particulate air pollution as an inducement of global cooling reminded me of the "nuclear winter" arguments from the 80's... but I digress (though only a bit)).  Since this is a subject in which I have only had a peripheral interest, I must also admit to a concrete irritation with the polemical and selective conflation of weather with climate by both sides of the arguments when the only result was to confuse an already preoccupied public...

... so I was very pleased in 2010 when I discovered a new book entitled A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming by Paul Edwards.  I made the investment of time to read it carefully and found it fascinating if still quite demanding; however, while this prodigious endeavor has received quite positive reviews, the more reasonable general discussion has regressed into the background.      

I now know why because Dr. Edwards does not, in fact, deal in detail with the "Duel of Disciplines" that are actually significant.  Rather than confuse weather with climate, a real debate is brewing over the future of the global climate as it has been inferred from the relatively static geological record as compared to that which is remodeled directly in dynamic processes of the 'living' ecosystem composing the atmosphere and those natural phenomena that absorb and emit the gases that "drive" it.  I was stopped in my tracks, so to speak, by an email that pointed me to a focused argument suggesting that we are still experiencing the "end" of the "Little Ice Age" (LIA) and that it accounts for the warming that has been experienced in the last century on the same terms that Dr. Edwards argues that anthropogenic climate change is validated; that is "if you take out X, there is no warming" where X is either "the end of the Little Ice Age" or "manmade forcing primarily from the burning of fossil fuels"...

... But here's the thing:   neither side denies that significant warming has occurred.  I have since found a rather comprehensive rebuttal of the LIA postulate, but I did not have time to integrate it into my own mini-discussion related to the dangers - and opportunities - that present themselves when people from sharply different perspectives about a common controversy are working together in concert rather fighting for dominance...

A final word concerning the impact of human activity on that which makes the world inhabitable:
Read A Declaration of Energy Independence by Jay Hakes... 

... which is a concise three-part argument that we have, in the USA, put ourselves on a path to energy independence in the past (during the Nixon-Ford-Carter decade) but that it was consciously unraveled by all the administrations that have followed;  that we can and must 'do it again'; and, finally, that we can do it in a way that integrates the imperatives arising from the realities of global warming produced by the excessive reliance on carbon-based fuels.

Read A Return to Reason by Bjorn Lomborg...

... in which he clearly voices consternation with the current circumstances while suggesting that the atmospherics might be dissipating and the tone and constructive collaboration might be forthcoming.

3) Good Book / Bad Movie...

I only read a few novels each year and usually chose them when they are recommended by others; in this case, a pointer by Jim Fallows to Charles McCarry's Tears of Autumn (for specific reasons related to historical events in the early 60's, though without giving away the story that is worth discovering oneself, I would suggest that McCarry does not explain "how" while making a compelling and unorthodox argument for "why"...).

Where does a bad movie come into it?  Well, I looked for another McCarry novel to read and instead uncovered the most disappointing movie that I have ever seen, "Wrong Is Right" by Richard Brooks, that is purported based on The Better Angels...

... so I was very relieved when I discovered that the book was as good and prophetic in terms still pertinent today as the movie is reductionist and borderline racist as well as not loyal to the original story that could have been recreated almost page-for-page (imo... remake anyone?).

Finally, the other novel that I read in 2010 was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore; however, this one was a impulse buy at Borders, one that I do not regret.  Some may find it disrespectful or even blasphemous, but it is certainly neither "The Life of Brian" nor "The Last Temptation of Christ" (not that they are not impressive in their own right...); however, I cringe at the thought that Rob Schneider or Adam Sandler might play the lead in the movie version that I believe has been optioned  (Terry Gilliam or Coen Brothers, where art thou?)...

... and as Josh might say, "Shalom Aleichem / Salaam Alaikum / Peace be with you..."

... or as Biff might add, "whatever..."

Edward Goldstick is a veteran of the high-tech, software, defense, and energy-technology worlds in the US and France.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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