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March 2017 Archives

Enter Wotan

Many years ago, long before the internet existed, I was in a relationship with another high-school student who lived in western North Carolina. Thanks to the state of technology and the expense of phone calls, we communicated primarily through the mail, sending each other letters, poems, and occasionally cassettes. (She was a talented flute player, while I was stumbling through my first not-so-good attempts at songwriting.) But every once in a while she'd send something else, something with no clear meaning. I realize now it was basically the same impulse that compels one to share a particularly funny tweet or force your companion to watch the "Smells Like Teen Shovel" video, but it came in the form of text. For example, she once sent me a copy of G.K. Chesterton's "On Lying in Bed," which was my first encounter with his writing, while other snippets from periodicals or photocopies might contain almost anything.

Recently, I rediscovered one of those bits of almost anything.

The paper, now bent and stained with age, is stiff and fairly thick, and the backside has the same topic, typeface, and formatting that the front side has, so I can only assume she cut it out of an actual book. (Perhaps a textbook for a history of music class?) Its author is unknown to me, though the punctuation and style suggests a British origin. It is also the source of one of my favorite sentences of all time:

Die Walkure
Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden,
London, 1956

Hans Hotter still remembers this slightly less alarming incident. He was for some reason delayed in putting on a new, enormous cloak before his entry in Act III, 'Wo ist Brunhild'. Grabbing it from the dressing-room he cast it round his shoulders and strode on to the stage, to confront an inexplicably mirthful audience. The fact was that towering above his shoulders, invisible to him, was the coat-hanger on which the cloak had been hanging. It was a fluffy, pink coat-hanger. He sailed through the act, his mighty stage-presence doubtless soon convincing the audience that Wotan without a coat-hanger is no Wotan at all. As Ernest Newman said, he is surely 'the only man in the world who can actually step on stage and persuade you that he is God'.

Having found it, I commit it to the internet in hopes that future generations may benefit. I have never made a dedicated attempt to uncover the source of this little story, but I have long lived by its peculiar, almost dadaist wisdom: "Wotan without a coat-hanger is no Wotan at all."

6:42 AM

In Like a Liar

I haven't updated in a while, thanks to a combination of uninteresting work- and life-related distractions, but I think we can all agree that another set of comments about the bizarre nature of 21st-century weather is probably unnecessary. Yes, the temperature dropped into the 20s last night, and yes, it was 72 and sunny the day before yesterday, and yes, the new head of the EPA doesn't believe human beings are contributing to climate change.

This last is completely exasperating while at the same time utterly unsurprising. If there's one thing we should expect from the Trump administration, it's that every single federal department has been placed under the command of a person who wants to either subvert or destroy that department. But climate change is an issue where I feel particular frustration, because it's the one issue where the Republican position seems uniquely scatterbrained. Basically, there is no unified opposition to the idea that human beings are changing Earth's climate. Instead, there are several, and many are mutually opposed:

1. The climate isn't changing.
2. The climate is changing, but not significantly.
3. The climate is changing, but human activity isn't contributing significantly.
4. The climate is changing because of human activity, but we can't stop it.
5. The climate is changing because of human activity, but we can't stop it unless China & India stop it first.
6. The climate is changing because of human activity, but stopping it will do more harm than climate change will.
7. The climate is changing because of human activity, but stopping it will limit the amount of money we can make.

I've seen climate change deniers take all of these positions, and some have taken more than one at the same time.

Position 1 is the position that requires the biggest, thickest blinders; you have to not only deny the mechanics of greenhouse gases, but actual temperature measurements from all over the globe, which takes some doing. I mean, carbon dioxide is invisible, but thermometers aren't. And Position 2 is becoming less and less tenable because of said thermometers' cumulative data.

Perhaps as a result, Position 3 is one where a lot of deniers plant their flags, but it's surprising how often they'll sometimes turn up on another hill. Heck, Scott Pruitt, Trump's new EPA head, has himself planted his flag in more than one place.

During his confirmation hearing, he told Senator Bernie Sanders that he believes there's room for "more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it" (which would be Position 1 and Position 3, respectively).

At the same hearing, however, he seemed to abandon Position 1 and set a flag somewhere on the hills representing Positions 2-7: "[A]s I've indicated, the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner." 

That sounds like a rather weaselly stakeout of Position 3, but since Pruitt added that the EPA Administrator "has a very important role to perform in regulating CO2," I'm less certain. Why is regulating carbon dioxide "very important" unless human activity is a significant contributor to climate change and stopping that change is possible? I mean, that's got to be Position 5, 6, or 7, doesn't it?

You might think so, but Pruitt doesn't. On Thursday, March 9th, he retook the hill at Position 3, telling CNBC that he would not agree that carbon dioxide is "a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

In other words, Pruitt is very much in the mold of his boss: a man who relies on what philosophers refer to as bullshit: the most convenient falsehood for the immediate circumstance, regardless of whether it's consistent with the truth or with previously stated falsehoods.

Pruitt's real position is the same as Trump's, and the same as that of the fossil fuel interests he represents: Position 7, in which the greatest threat presented by climate change is the threat to the bottom line. And to maintain that position, they'll play a longer, more expensive, and ultimately more destructive version of Twister than Milton-Bradley ever imagined.

And the rest of us? We lose.

10:01 AM


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