Seeing How Life Has Improved Since the Days of the Cowboys

cowboyPBS.jpg A cowboy on "Texas Ranch House."   Source of image:  the WSJ article cited below.

 

"Texas Ranch House" — circa 1867 — is the latest PBS experiment in transporting a group of people back to another era so we can watch them live and struggle the way our ancestors did.  (Part one of eight begins Monday, 8-9 p.m. ET, but check local listings.)  As with past series such as "Colonial House," everything — clothing, tools, food, housing and all-around deprivation — is authentic.  Once again, though, stuffing 21st-century mentalities into period costumes and situations is a tough fit. And once again, it’s the folks wearing the bodices that chafe the most.

The Western setting is fascinating for two reasons:  What seems familiar from movies and TV takes on fresh significance when there are real people — not pampered actors — trying to scratch out an existence on the frontier 24/7, with no plot to guide them.  There is also the fact, as one of the participants points out early on, that many of us exist today only because a forebear actually did make the real journey West and manage to survive there long enough to bear children.  What luck, we are reminded more than once during this series, that those ancestors were so different from contemporary Americans.

. . .

The trouble that threatens to sabotage the entire experiment develops in the widening gap between the cowboys and the Cooke family.  The first time one of the employees disses boss man Mr. Cooke, yelling "Don’t let your wife run your life," we react with disgust at the insult.  As one of the women in the household explains to the camera, all the cowboys "are sexist bastards."  Besides, instead of rising early to ride the range in search of mavericks for 10 hours, the cowboys — mostly young Americans plus one frisky British boarding-school boy playing the part of 19th-century remittance man — indulge in long naps during the 100-degree days and often wake up in the morning with hangovers after nights of hard drinking.

At some point, though, certain facts begin to sink in:  Mr. Cooke does have management shortcomings and Mrs. Cooke is far more involved in running the business side of the ranch than a frontier wife would have been.  The ladies, in general, don’t enjoy the roles or status that historical reality would dictate, and some act out in defiant, liberated ways.  A fatal flaw, if not the only one, for the success of the ranch enterprise.  In 1867, spending days making cornhusk dolls while the house filled with flies and vegetables rotted in the garden wasn’t an option for folks who wanted to stay alive.  And, like it or not, keeping the ranch hands happy, as obnoxious as they might be, was more important than maintaining marital bliss.

This being a made-for-television environment, no one perishes, but there are no happy endings here, either.  When one of the Cooke daughters says to the camera, "I feel lost and dazed and hurt," you feel genuinely sorry for her.  At the same time, it’s clearer than ever that emotional pampering, navel-gazing and gender warfare are modern luxuries.  Like it or not, if these had been features of daily life in the West 100 years ago, many of the people reading this would never have been born.

 

For the full review, see:

Nancy deWolf  Smith.  "TV REVIEW; The West That Never Was."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., April 28, 2006):   W10.

Near Ancient Babylon in Iraq, “the streets pulsate with life”

BabylonMap.jpg Source of map:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/18/world/middleeast/18babylon.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

(p. A1) Ancient Babylon, celebrated as a fount of law, writing and urban living, sits just outside the modern-day city of Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.  Hilla is neither haunted by Sunni insurgents nor overwhelmed by Shiite militias.  And though it has a mix of Shiites and Sunnis, it has not been afflicted by the sectarian violence that has paralyzed so many other heterogeneous parts of Iraq.

Factories are churning, Iraqi security forces are patrolling and the streets pulsate with life — children bounding to school, crowds wading into markets, taxis gliding by.

. . .

(p. A6) The American military still maintains bases near Babylon, but next month, in a sign of how relatively stable the area has become, most troops will pull out and head north to Baghdad, where they are needed more.

 

For the full story, see: 

Gentleman, Jeffrey.  "Babylon Awaits an Iraq Without Fighting."   The New York Times (Tues., April 18, 2006):  A1 & A6.

“Damn it Fidel! What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-**** island of yours?”

 

   Source of image of book:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1586483242/qid=1145298612/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-9985403-1047968?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

 

Fernando Cardosa is the former Brazilian President who is best known for having temporarily tamed Brazil’s runaway inflation.  Although not a principled believer in the free market, Cardoso made some efforts to reduce the damage the Brazilian government was doing to the economy.  The following startling passage is from a useful review of a new memoir by Cardoso:

 

. . . ,  Mr. Cardoso mentions a telling moment at a 1999 summit meeting in Havana.  When the heads of state were alone at a luncheon, one said to Castro:  "Damn it Fidel!  What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-**** island of yours?   We’re sick of apologizing for you all the time, Fidel.  It’s getting embarrassing."   The anecdote shows how disingenuous Latin governments can be when they remain silent about the Cuban dictatorship.

 

For the full review, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY.  "A Leader Who Got Real."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., April 6, 2006):  D8.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Here is the full reference to Cardoso’s memoir:

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique.  The Accidental President of Brazil:  A Memoir.  PublicAffairs, 2006.  [with Brian Winter;  291 pages;  $26.95]

 

Chernobyl Accident Cannot Occur In U.S. Type Reactors


Twenty years ago (April 25, 1986), the Chernobyl nuclear accident sent a plume of radiation into the air above Ukraine.  The word "Chernobyl" remains the most emotionally charged argument used by the opponents of nuclear energy.  But if examined carefully, the main lesson from Chernobyl may be that what happened there cannot occur in the better designed light water reactors used in the United States, and most of the rest of the world.  William Sweet, the author of the commentary below, has also authored Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.

 

(p. A23) . . . , though it went unnoticed at the time and has been inadequately appreciated since, Chernobyl also cast into relief the positive features of the reactors used in the United States and most other advanced industrial countries.

The reactor at Chernobyl belonged to a class that was especially vulnerable to runaway reactions.  When operating at low power, if such reactors lost water, their reactivity could suddenly take off and very rapidly reach a threshold beyond which they could only explode.  Making matters worse, surprisingly little more pressure than normal in the machine’s water channels would lift its lid, snapping the vital control rods and fuel channels that entered the reactor’s core.

On the night of April 25, 1986, poorly trained and supervised plant operators conducted an ill-conceived experiment, putting the machine into the very state in which reactivity was most likely to spike.  Within a fraction of a second, the reactor went from being barely on to power levels many times higher than the maximum intended.

This kind of accident cannot happen in the so-called light water reactors used in the United States and most of Western Europe and Asia.  In these reactors, the water functions not only as a coolant but as a "moderator": self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions cannot take place in its absence.  This is a very useful passive safety feature.  If coolant runs low, there is still a danger of a core meltdown, because the fuel retains heat; but the reactor will have automatically and immediately turned itself off.

 

For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM SWEET.  "The Nuclear Option."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A23.

 

The reference to Sweet’s related book is:

Sweet, William.  Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.  Columbia University Press, 2006.


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0231137109/sr=8-1/qid=1146071688/ref=sr_1_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8



Founder of Greenpeace Endorses New Nuclear Reactors


MoorePatrick.jpg   Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace.   Source of image:    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/us/25nuke.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

(p. A24) WASHINGTON, April 24 — The nuclear industry has hired Christie Whitman, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, the environmental organization, to lead a public relations campaign for new reactors.

Nuclear power is "environmentally friendly, affordable, clean, dependable and safe," Mrs. Whitman said at a news conference on Monday.  She said that as the E.P.A. leader for two and a half years, ending in June 2003, and as governor of New Jersey for seven years, she had promoted various means to reduce the emission of gases that cause global warming and pollution.

But Mrs. Whitman said that "none of them will have as great a positive impact on our environment as will increasing our ability to generate electricity from nuclear power."

. . .

Mr. Moore said he favored efficiency and renewable energy, but added that solar cells, which produce electricity from sunlight, were "being given too much emphasis and taking too much money."  A dollar spent on geothermal energy, he said, was "10 to 12 times more effective in reducing greenhouse emissions."

Mr. Moore is the director of a company that distributes geothermal systems in Canada.  He is also a supporter of what he called "sustainable forestry" because, he said, building with wood avoided the use of materials whose manufacture releases greenhouse gases, like steel and concrete.

Mr. Moore, who left Greenpeace in 1986, favors many technologies that some environmentalists oppose, including the genetic engineering of crops, and has referred to his former colleagues as "environmental extremists" and "anti-human."

. . .

Representatives of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Teamsters also spoke in favor of new reactors.


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Ex-Environmental Leaders Tout Nuclear Energy."  The New York Times (Tues., April 25, 2006): A24.

 

Hurricanes Not Caused by Human-Induced Climate Change: More on Why Crichton is Right


The Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT analyzes the case for human-induced global warming:

(p. A14) There have been repeated claims that this past year’s hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?
The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.
. . .
To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let’s start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man’s responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn’t just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.
If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less — hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.
. . .
In Europe, Henk Tennekes was dismissed as research director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Aksel Winn-Nielsen, former director of the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, was tarred by Bert Bolin, first head of the IPCC, as a tool of the coal industry for questioning climate alarmism. Respected Italian professors Alfonso Sutera and Antonio Speranza disappeared from the debate in 1991, apparently losing climate-research funding for raising questions.
And then there are the peculiar standards in place in scientific journals for articles submitted by those who raise questions about accepted climate wisdom. At Science and Nature, such papers are commonly refused without review as being without interest. However, even when such papers are published, standards shift. When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an “Iris Effect,” wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as “discredited.” Indeed, there is a strange reluctance to actually find out how climate really behaves. In 2003, when the draft of the U.S. National Climate Plan urged a high priority for improving our knowledge of climate sensitivity, the National Research Council instead urged support to look at the impacts of the warming — not whether it would actually happen.
Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers.



For the full commentary, see:
RICHARD LINDZEN. “Climate of Fear.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 12, 2006): A14.

State Colleges and Universities “suffer from all the inefficiency and poor decision-making of Soviet-style factories”

In its public meetings, panelists from Wall Street and elsewhere in the business world have criticized academia as failing to meet the educational needs of working adults, stem a slide in the literacy of college graduates and rein in rising costs.
During a February meeting in San Diego, Trace Urdan, a senior research analyst for the investment banking firm Robert W. Baird & Company, said state colleges and universities “amount to state-run enterprises and suffer from all the inefficiency and poor decision-making of Soviet-style factories.”

For the full story, see:
SAM DILLON. “Panel Considers Revamping College Aid and Accrediting.” The New York Times (Weds., April 12, 2006): A14.