Climate Change, Government Policy, or a Bad Combination of Weather and Topography?

Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands suffered very bad floods last week due to a series of intense storms that dumped a lot of water in a small area. The region had been damp to begin with, so the water-logged soils couldn’t hold any more. Two dams broke, a third overflowed but did not fail, and people died. Homes collapsed, roads and railroads disappeared into twisted masses of paving and tracks. Now people are trying to asses the damage and find the missing. It’s a horrible situation for the people of the Eifel region, Cologne, and areas downstream. The people flooded in North America can sympathize. Lots of water, very fast, on ground that can’t absorb more water . . . Flash flooding follows. It’s terrible for the people and animals caught in the water and mud.

The German and EU governments, and others, are blaming climate change for the intense storms that led to the flooding and deaths. If only we used non-CO2 producing sources of energy, this would never have happened, say the politicians and activists. Except . . .

The article is “Don’t blame climate change for Germany’s Flooding.”

I remember driving along the Rhine in 2012 and being flabbergasted by the height of the river. High rainfall had filled it to brim full. The Rhone and other tributaries also ran high. In 2002, the Elbe River in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic flooded, inundating Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, and other cities. In 1965, Hamburg went under water, and it still does. The parking garage near the maritime museum in the old part of the city has big signs on the doors saying not to open them if the water is X deep. The ground floors of buildings in that area are semi-sacrificial. In that case, it was a North Sea storm that backed water up the river and into the city. You know, like the horrible floods that killed tens of thousands of people at a go in the 1300s, 1500s, and 1700s, and probably earlier? Back before the internal combustion engine, during the Little Ice Age and before? Those floods. Inland also flooded as well in the past.

The above link goes to a paper looking at floods on the Lech and Isar Rivers, tributaries of the Danube that flow through Augsburg and Munich respectively. Floods happen. Lots of floods. When conditions are right, the rivers rise. Between 1300-1900, each river flooded over 85 times. The high waters ranged from “it flooded, that’s what it does” to huge inundations that wiped out large swaths of crop land and homes. (The part you want starts on page 790, or page 8 of the PDF).

Jo Nova has a post as well, about flood histories in the lower Rhineland, and elsewhere in the German-speaking world.

If you dig carefully enough, there are reports of floods during the warm period of the High Middle Ages (800s-1200s), and probably archaeological evidence of flooding during the Roman Warm Period. My point being that “rivers flood. That’s what they do,” as a farmer in Flat State observed as we discussed the local stream’s recent overflow. This does not make it any easier on people who find themselves caught in the waters. A poor lady on the news last night said that the municipality sent out a flood warning on Facebook™, but if people had no computers or were not on FB at the time, they didn’t know about the waters about to engulf the village. The national government did what it could, but local authorities dropped the ball. Or power had already gone out, and that wiped out cell service and other things. That’s not climate change, that’s a failure to have back-up plans.

It’s terrible that people were hurt or killed, and that more people lost homes, businesses, crops, and animals. Floods leave stinky, filth-ridden, disease-promoting muck and mire behind. The sun emerges, the mud steams, and miasmas fill the air as people start cleaning up. As has always happened since humans moved into floodplains and coastal plains.

If I could get a point across to politicians and activists around the world, it would be this: don’t blame anthropogenic climate change. Blame physics, hydrology, and gravity. Read about the Little Ice Age and the Great Drownings of the North Sea. Read Dagomar DeGroot’s Frigid Golden Age about the Dutch and the Little Ice Age. Solar panels and wind turbines can’t stop flooding, or intense storms. Coal and natural-gas powered generators don’t cause storms, neither do internal combustion engines.

Weather happens, no matter how badly people wish it didn’t. Pester your local politicians about bad land-use policies, donate to your local volunteer fire-and-rescue, and to groups that help with clean-up and rebuilding. Think about what you can do to help mitigate runoff and reduce hardscapes that contribute to urban flash-flooding. Those are things that can affect flood damage and loss of life. Sometimes. And sometimes, hell and high-water come together because of forces far beyond human control.

Stability, Stasis, and Comfort Levels

A comment on another blog got me thinking about stability and comfort in society. The discussion had drifted to “why do to people, and some governments, want to lock things into a certain level of economics/cultural norms/seasonal patterns forever and ever?” Part of it is the comfort of familiarity – we want the sun to rise in the east, the seasons to change when they are supposed to, cinnamon to taste like cinnamon, and our pay-check to arrive on time. Among other things. For most of human history, major changes to the routine generally meant Not Good Things – natural disasters, wars, plagues both human and livestock . . . Stability was safe. Predictable change was good. Children were supposed to grow up and marry and either move out or start working in the family business or farm. The old overlord died and his son or widow took over and did things just like he had. The occasional trader or traveler from a few villages over, or from a different part of the region, added a little variety but not too much.

Then you also have the “things were better back then.” It could be “when the old lord ran things, taxes stayed reasonable.” Or “in the golden age, when Numa Pompilius was king of Rome,” or “before Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil . . .” or what have you. For peasants it was the ideal time before overlords started taking over the “traditional rights” of free commoners. For the nobles it might have been when [kingdom name] was the greatest power in the region. Or back when peasants knew their place, and everyone stayed contentedly in their station of birth and no one challenged those who were born to rule. Or the wonderful era when wise women and subordinate men lived in harmony with Nature and farmed and all was at peace. Or when you were twelve, and old enough to ride your bike unsupervised and go to the candy store and stay out until the fireflies swarmed on long summer evenings, but didn’t have to pay bills.

Three of those scenarios are about control. ‘When we were in control, things were better. So if we stay in control/go back to those days, things will be better and we can lock things into place and Paradise.” If you look at some the Great Reset ideas, or some of the ideals of groups like Extinction Rebellion, you see a lot of both control and “going back to when everyone was poor (but dignified) peasants farming the land and doing folk-crafts with native materials.” Not that they phrase it like that, but “a less consumptive lifestyle that makes fewer demands on the environment” translates to poorer, when you measure standards of living. Experts and the self-appointed elite should be in control, because they are the experts and elites. Switch “nobles” for “experts and elites” and we’re back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages. Use “Confucian scholars” and you have the mandarins of imperial China. Again, control.

Chaos is the default state of the universe, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Most people don’t do well in chaos. I don’t. I like a theme with variations, variations of my choosing for the most part. That’s not how the world works. Chaos created on a temporary basis, for a reason, can be a little scary even for the creators, because chaos doesn’t always behave. Fire behavior is predictable on a macro scale, for certain terrains, fuel loads, and weather patterns. On the micro scale? You can’t predict which embers will be picked up and tossed over the fire-line to land in just the right materials and start an explosive blaze. You can’t predict which person will cut the wrong wire and take out a municipal water system.

Totalitarian systems are about control. Certain pyschologic conditions are also about control, often control over how others see the individual or react to the individual. When those combine with a Cause, trouble for society really ensues. “I’m doing this for your own good,” ranks down there with “True [philosophy] has never been tried. We’ll get it right this time!” as far as words that should strike terror in the hearts of the sane.

I want to be in control of my particular slice of reality, such as it is. I game out situations in my head so that if X happens, I can control my response and (ideally) limit the damage and chaos. But I know darn well I can’t control other people. I can’t even control the characters I put onto the page! [Yes, Joschka von Hohen Drachenburg, I am looking right at you as example #1.] The idea of me trying to micromanage a world full of other people should scare the socks off of everyone, especially me.

The technocrats and fans of a neo-feudal order don’t see that. The totalitarians have always believed that they really can have total control over what is in people’s heads, as well as what the environment does and how society should respond to that. It doesn’t matter what flavor of totalitarian – theocracy, Communist, NSDAP, Fascist, Eco – control, order, and stasis are their end goals.

They missed the lesson of Greek tragedy and the tower of Babel. Hubris begets nemesis. Control begets collapse and chaos.

I Need a Score Card

The last time I dug into the early history of the Holy Roman Empire 2.0 (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which starts with Henry the Fowler and Emperor Otto I), I skipped most of the politics. I was far more interested in the cultural and spiritual aspects of the period (roughly 875-1100 or so) than the politics. Oh, I knew that there was a lot of fighting, both for the title of King of the Germans/Holy Roman Emperor and with outsiders (Magyars, Magyars, Wendish/Sorbish Slavs, the First Crusade). But I ignored the internal strife for the most part.

Alas, because of a number of factors I’m having to wade into the politics of the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia, and Hungary. Oof. Part of the difficulty is the repetition of names. Not just Otto I, II, and III, but multiple Henries, Boloslavs of both Poland and Bohemia (some of whom fought each other), Stephans, and lots of Matildas. For a while, Matilda was as common as Mary, Barbara, Ann, and Catherine. Henry the Fowler’s second wife was a Matilda, as was Henry II’s wife. Oh and Henry II’s father was Henry, but not Henry the Fowler. Confused yet?

One thing I have to force myself to remember is that, unlike later periods in England and elsewhere, the Holy Roman Emperor was in some ways first among equals when north of the Alps. And an often unwanted outside interloper south of the Alps, at least unwanted by those who felt that their candidate for the papal throne was the real pope. So someone like Duke Henry the Lion could be a real political threat to Frederick Barbarossa, but was also a critical supporter and ally of Frederick — when Henry stuck with his feudal vows. Within their own territories, the various dukes of Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, and so on had total control, as much as a Germanic warlord had control of his knights and clerics. The Imperial Diet was a real necessity as far as mediation and problem solving between the various nobles, high church leaders, and the Emperor. It didn’t always work, but it probably kept things from being more violent than they were. Add in the Church trying to channel all that aggression into more socially useful directions, and the Empire, Poland, and Bohemia were probably about as calm as was possible for the time.

I have to know this stuff inside and out, in order to clarify it and distill it for other people. This is also taking me into some new research directions, like the roles of women. I knew about the women of the Hanse cities and how some of the merchant patricians widows and daughters earned full citizenship, acting as men in all legal ways. The women of the Ottonian and Salian periods of the Holy Roman Empire could be as independent and powerful, especially some of the abbesses of places like Quedlinburg. Others, also within the church, scolded their male “superiors” about immorality, lack of attention to duty, and the need to clean up some problems in the Church. There was a reason why St. Francis was needed, and the preaching orders in general. Women like Matilda of Canossa could have strong political influence on even the papacy. She also could nurse a grudge well enough to get a Red Cross life-saving award, but that seemed to be true of a lot of the nobility of the early and high Middle Ages. Legally, women had rather limited rights. In reality? It depended on the individual, her situation, and her location. Germanic and western Slavic women seem to have had more traditional as well as legal independence than those south of the Alps. At least during this time.

There’s only one “textbook” for this region, the one written by Lonnie R. Johnson. It wasn’t exactly meant to be a textbook, but it can be and is used as one for college classes. It’s good, but it skims some of the earlier material that I need. Trying to pull all this sort of stuff together and to keep it from bogging down is an art, and one I suspect very, very few people have. I don’t. So I’m borrowing a little from here, and a lot from there, and my vacation slides and notes from over here, and trying to make sense of all of it, in chronological order. It must be good for me, because it makes my brain ache. It’s one thing just to read German and get the material. It’s another to translate it accurately for other people.

And I just know that some of this will leak into my fiction. Especially Henry the Lion of Bavaria and Saxony. I first met him as “Oh, yeah, the guy who was a PitA for Barbarossa.” Except Henry was a lot more than that, and he connects England (Henry II Plantagenet) to Saxony and places like Lübeck and Brunswick/Braunschweig. No, I have no idea what Henry’s going to do, or how, but I have this sinking suspicion . . .

Trees or Scrub, Forest or Damaged Grassland?

What happened to the grass? That’s an odd question, or perhaps Odd*, to ask while driving on the Edwards Plateau. Most people ask about “missing” trees on the Great Plains and High Plains, but grass in the Hill Country? Hasn’t it always had trees, even if many of them are a little short and twisty? Mesquite, lots of shinnery oak and other oaks, some cedar, elm, cottonwood, and a few other trees cover the land. The shade is nice, but not the stands so thick they block the wind and mosquitoes wait to gang up on you. This year, there were also a lot of broken trees and deadfalls laying around thanks to the ice and snow from Snowvid 21. I kept muttering “My kingdom for a chainsaw. And bulldozer. And burn permit. And firewood sale stand. And . . .” You get the picture.

If you don’t know the history of the region, it looks a bit overgrown but not bad. Trees are good, right? The National Arbor Day Foundation and others are strong encouragers of tree-planting. Trees soak CO2 out of the atmosphere, they produce shade (most of the time, mesquite and some oaks aside), some produce things people can eat, birds like them . . . More trees are good, right? Especially native species, because those fit the landscape and climate better than do exotics, and don’t harm the ecosystem.

Um, well, sort of. The problem for me is that I’ve read about the pre-Anglo environment of Texas, and . . . Grass. Grass covered large swaths of what is now Texas, far more so than today. Much of the brushy land was grassy land because of pyro-management by the Indians, and by lightning, and intensive grazing by bison. Trees tended to be confined to stream and river courses, where they were protected from fire and heavy grazing until they grew big enough to tolerate creeping fires and the occasional nibble. When the German settlers moved into the area, they found more grass than trees, although trees certainly existed, enough for a sawmill or two.

The problem was thin soil and drought. And no one understood the need for fire management. European forests are 1) very different from North American, and 2) have not been fire managed since, um, well, I have yet to find anything in the archaeology records about controlled or otherwise burns. The grasslands were steppe or wetland, or both (Hungary), and trees tended to be managed, either by property owners or the state. So the new arrivals plowed, planted, grazed heavily, didn’t burn, and farmed as they best knew how. Some techniques worked, others didn’t. In wet years, all was well.

Then there’s the rest of the time. Overgrazing of the grass allowed brush to move in. Drought favors brush, as does fire suppression. As early as the 1890s, extension agents reported problems with good pasture land becoming brush choked and weedy. Toss in the dry years of the 1917-18, then the 1930s, and especially the 1950s, and grass retreats ahead of brush and then scrub forest. Deer, wild hogs, and some other game species do well to OK in brush, so ranchers shifted to farming game as well as cattle and horses. Even so, you can have too much of a brushy thing.

Given my personal preferences, if I won the lottery and could buy property, I’d do what I could to bring back the native grasses. But that’s just me, and I’d have to buy lottery tickets first. It takes a LOT of work and on-the-ground knowledge to do a good job of clearing out enough trees and brush for grass to return, and then manage things properly after that. Large infusions of cash are also required in the beginning. The benefits can be great, including increased stream flow and ground water, greater species diversity, fewer weeds and noxious plants, and healthier livestock and crops. All it takes is cash, sweat equity, knowledge, and labor.

For a few academic generations, we thought that ecosystems had a “climax state,” an end-goal that once reached, was the ideal final equilibrium point for any given ecosystem. Turns out that’s not true. Land use, climate fluctuations, geologic and weather events (think back to the enormous storm that leveled huge swaths of trees in England) . . . They all cause changes. Fire as a land management tool goes way back in human history, and is partly responsible for the savanah’s in Africa and is very responsible for the grasslands of North America, as well as for some of the forests of North America. The brushy Hill Country is just one possibility, brought about by climate shifts (end of the Little Ice Age) and human land management. A grassy Hill Country is another possibility, with large meadows and pastures ringed by fringes of trees, and tree-lined watercourses.

*Over at AtH, it has become common to use Odd to describe those of us who are eccentric in eccentric ways, inclined toward individualism (“just leave me alone to do my thing, please,”) often bookish, and frequently very knowledgable about unusual and fascinating fields, even if they are not our every-day vocation.

Not My Question to Ask

I was walking on the treadmill the other morning at the gym* and listening to Sabaton. “Lost Battalion” came up, which sent my thoughts to WWI, then WWII, and Grandpa Carl. He covered a lot of Holland-Belgium on foot, and was one of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne.

His office had various and sundry memorabilia in it, including a small, very simple framed item hanging on the wall. The frame was plain, dark-brown wood. It was perhaps eight inches long by five inches high. In it was a set of black and silver shoulder boards and a collar patch. And a neatly typed note card, smaller than a three-by-five index card. The card read “From an SS officer who no longer needed them.” If you looked closely, you could see brown stains on the silver and black. They hung where he could see them as he turned the light on and off when he came and went from the office.

The first time I ventured into his office (up a steep, narrow flight of stairs, one of two rooms under the roof, plus a tiny washroom), he told me about some of the things there. He nodded to the patches and just said, “After Malmedy we were a little mad.” I nodded in turn and that was that. He knew that I knew what he meant, and it needed no further discussion.

I sussed out very quickly that some topics were not open for discussion or query, as I’ve mentioned before. Bastogne and the Bulge, his first marriage. If he made an observation or said something, then I locked it into my memory because I assumed that he’d never tell the story again. The only time he talked in any detail about Bastogne, he spoke to himself and perhaps the TV, not to me. I sat where he couldn’t quite see me, slightly behind him to the left, and I’m not sure I breathed for ninety minutes. I sure as heck didn’t move.

I never asked if he regretted killing the SS officer. It wasn’t an appropriate question, and not mine to ask. That was between him and G-d. I suspect at the time the answer was “[rude word in GI] no!” Later? It was a different time, different place, and one he preferred not to return to.

If I could go back, or he were still alive, I still wouldn’t ask. I wish I’d gotten to see Saving Private Ryan with him, if only to hear him grouse about the stupidity of some of the things in the movie as compared to what he did. He said that the first fifteen minutes were the only time any film has ever come close to catching what D-Day was like. I’d ask about D-Day, and probably ask more about Market Garden and Wesel, but not the Bulge.

He was a Southern gentleman, for all that he grew up poorer than dirt in the Ozarks and considered Boot Camp to be gourmet dining (and the first time he’d had enough to eat in quite a while). Some things are not discussed around ladies, even ladies who like military history and study it. I tried to be that Southern lady, and did not press. Some questions are not mine to ask.

*Yes, I drove to the gym to go walking. It’s hard to find an incline around here otherwise. And I was safe from inattentive drivers, especially on a dark, rainy morning at 0630.

The Museum of the Pacific War

The last time I’d been to this museum, in Fredericksburg, TX, it had been “the Nimitz Museum” and consisted of the Nimitz Hotel building, and the mini-sub in the new annex. This would have been the early 1990s. Today, it is much, much bigger, and has four main components. I saw one of them, because we ran out of time.

Short version – anything you want to know about the war in the Pacific: background, how it started, the Army as well as Navy’s contributions, US civilian experience, the atomic bombs – is here. Plan on at least five hours if you go through every display in the main building, eight hours if you do all the main building and the gardens, Pacific War Zone, and Nimitz Gallery. And the gift shop is great.

Longer version below.

Hello, Mr. Submarine. All photos by author.

Admiral Chester Nimitz began his career in submarines, which is why a submarine holds pride of place as you walk up to the main entrance. The garden sweeps over the sub, like waves of water. This is not your usual military history museum. Because it is part of the Smithsonian, which is Federal, you are supposed to follow current mask and social distancing guidelines. In reality, once you are past the main desk? Common sense. It wasn’t all that crowded, or at least didn’t feel crowded when we were there, because it is laid out in a twisting, turning fashion that packs a lot of displays into a small area, without feeling claustrophobic. There are attendance caps currently in place, so I’d suggest buying tickets on-line, or going early. Once they hit their cap, that’s it.

The museum begins with a video/map outline of the chronology of the War in the Pacific, from 1940-1945. If you have no idea what happened, this is a good introduction to the raw dates and places. Then you move back in time, to China and Japan in the 1840s, and follow events in those countries, along with the US. This provides a lot of background, including things I wasn’t aware of. If also focuses on the Kuomintang/Guomindong and the Nationalist government. Since they were the official government of China during the war, this makes perfect sense. US isolationism following WWI is also discussed. I’d say almost 20% of the museum is prelude and pre-December 1941.

Can I interest you in a slightly used Japanese mini-sub?
Jimmy Dolittle Was Here. Yes, that’s a B-25. Not a model.

I won’t go through every single display, because I’d overload the blog and my readers. All the major events are highlighted and discussed, with oral histories, models, excellent maps, video projections of the action, life-sized displays of a picket ship’s bridge, an actual Australian tank from the New Guinea campaign . . . It’s very impressive. While the US Navy is the central focus of the museum, as one would expect, the Army and the Allies get lots of coverage as well. It was refreshing to see displays about the ANZACs, Coast Watchers, British, and so on.

If you follow just the main displays, you will get a wonderful chronological history of the Pacific Theater. If you also look at the side displays, you get information about women’s roles, war work in the US, life in the US during the war, internments, the Japanese home front and Japanese government, and other things.

We had a steep learning curve. Those of you who have read The Fleet the Gods Forgot or the Ghost that Died at Sunda Strait know how the story went.

I come from a Navy family, grew up reading naval history, especially Pacific War, and so a lot of this was familiar. Even so, I learned an amazing amount. It took my folks and I over five hours from start to finish, and we didn’t go to anything but the main museum building. If you are not familiar with the war, it may take longer, or you might choose to skip some of the side displays in favor of an overview approach.

I’d almost recommend a day and a half for this. One day for the main building, then buy a second admission the next morning and go to the rest – Pacific War Zone, Japanese Peace Garden, Nimitz Gallery, and so on. And come back to the main museum and hit what you skipped the previous day.

The gift shop has lots of books, prints, books, toys, maps, books, videos, books, tee-shirts, glassware, ball-caps, flags, “tasteful” Hawaiian shirts with subs, planes, and aircraft carriers on them, books, and kids costumes.

Yes, it comes with a little polka-dot head scarf. Rivet gun not included. For boys there’s a USMC dress blues outfit. No sword, though. Sorry.

Admission is free to WWII vets, discounted for active duty or retired military (DD214 or other proof of service is required), different discount for police/fire/ems, and so on. Admissions ranges from $18 to free, with two-day passes available. They are open every day except Thanksgiving Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years. The web-site says closed on Tuesdays, but you might double-check that.

If you are at all interested in WWII in the Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz, naval history, and related topics, I highly recommend this museum. It has not been too badly afflicted by the current deconstructionist trends (yet), and I suspect the governing board keeps a close eye on things. It is unabashedly pro-sailor and soldier. It doesn’t glorify war, but it doesn’t run down any of those fighting in the Pacific. There is enough about the atrocities and horrors to give visitors a sense of how bad things got, but it is suitable for kids. Parents can explain or not as they choose. Don’t be surprised to hear veterans elaborating on “their war” if one is visiting. The displays are very well done and can be skimmed or read in detail. It is one of the best military history museums I’ve been to, and probably one of the best museums in the US period.

Highly, highly recommend if you are at all interested in the topic. Oh, and if you just want to hit the gift shop? There are two – one in the main complex, and one up on Main Street beside the Nimitz Hotel building. Those are free to go into.

The United States in Congress Assembled . . .

“The United States are going to form a new government.”

How many of you just “corrected” that in your mind? Today, we talk about “the United States is.” But between 1777-1789, the United States were bound and determined not to have a strong central government ever again. So they formed a confederation of autonomous states under the Articles of Confederation. Looking back, it is easy to see the glaring flaws in the plan. Looking back. At the time, it was a pretty decent attempt to make sure that each state had its rights protected while still all working together for defense and trade and diplomacy.

Some of the document sounds familiar, some is a leeeeeeetle different.

Article II.  Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

Article III.  The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.

Article IV.  The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states in this union, the free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from Justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states; and the people of each state shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other state, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restrictions shall not extend so far as to prevent the removal of property imported into any state, to any other State of which the Owner is an inhabitant; provided also that no imposition, duties or restriction shall be laid by any state, on the property of the united states, or either of them.

Those familiar with the later Constitution can see where chunks got lifted and pasted into Article IV. Below we see the biggest problem with the Articles, at least according to most popular histories of the subject.

Article VIII. All charges of war, and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defence or general welfare, and allowed by the united states in congress assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several states, in proportion to the value of all land within each state, granted to or surveyed for any Person, as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated, according to such mode as the united states, in congress assembled, shall, from time to time, direct and appoint. The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several states within the time agreed upon by the united states in congress assembled.

Each state gets levied a fee based on its size and property value. Delaware loved this. New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia? No (and keep in mind, Virginia was even larger then than today.) If you read farther in the Articles, you will note that there is no enforcement mechanism. The united states in congress assembled did not have an army to use to force a reluctant member to pay up. Nor was there a good source of national revenue to use to pay off war debt or to cover the cost of diplomats and other government employees, such as they were.

The language of the Articles of Confederation makes the Constitution seem simple, mostly because today we don’t see “the united states in congress assembled” as a single thing. Some historians say that the Civil War/War Between the States/Late Unpleasantness ended the question of “is” or “are” once and for all. Whether you agree or not, very few residents of the US or other English speakers say “the United States are” anymore, so reading the Articles feels awkward and jarring.

Today we know how the story ended. The Articles’ flaws became glaring by 1785, and so a convention was called to amend and repair the flaws. Instead, a very different document emerged, one that balanced the states’ governments with the self-government of the population as a whole. Remember, the Senate was for the states, not the people, until almost WWI. And the Bill of Rights only bound the national government, not the states, because each state had its own bill of rights. Even so, the arguments over ratifying the Constitution were heated, and many of the concerns of the opponents of the Constitution proved to be correct. Other concerns . . . not so much. But it is worth reading the Articles of Confederation to see what people originally envisioned the national government looking like, and why certain parts of the Constitution are the way they are.

” . . . a decent respect to the opinions of Mankind requires . . .”

Many of my readers can recite parts of the Declaration of Independence, and most people at all familiar with US history know the bit about “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The first two sentences of the second section are what people think about, argue over, and debate heatedly. Should Jefferson have stuck with Locke’s original “Life, Liberty, and Property?” What is liberty, anyway? What if your pursuit of happiness collides with my happiness? It’s easy to miss the next chunks, especially what comes after the right to abolish any government that infringes on inalienable rights.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The Declaration was drawn up in June of 1776, and ratified on July 1-2.* The shooting had started on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord. The Continental Congress waited over a year before declaring independence from Great Britain. Why? The paragraph above explains why.

It wasn’t easy. People had family in England, in Germany and Holland. Ben Franklin’s son ended up on the Loyalist side. Complaints about the Crown and Parliament’s actions went back to 1765, with the Proclamation Line limiting westward expansion, and the Stamp Act. People in England had every right to want the colonists to pay for their own protection and upkeep, since the folks back home already paid some of the highest taxes in the western world. Ten years had passed from the Stamp Act to “the shot heard round the world.” In that time, the colonists had begun shifting from thirteen independent and culturally different provinces into a block with a common sense of what government ought to do, and ought not to do. Not everyone agreed on everything, and some of the people who “should” have supported independence didn’t because someone they hated did favor breaking from England. Others used the chaos of the revolution to pick up old grudges (the Regulators War in the Carolinas and then the Revolution. British officers were horrified by what the back-borderers would do to each other.)

People would – and will – put up with a lot if they thought things would get better, or if they were just to focused on survival. But once a critical mass of people agreed that enough was enough, then all Dade County broke out and armies came into being. Armies of soldiers, armies of support, armies of clergy to explain why the Scriptures did not prohibit — or even encouraged — overturning an unjust government, armies of people who just stayed as far out of the way as possible.

The next part of the Declaration lists the things the King (and Parliament) had done wrong. If you compare the accusations with the Magna Charta’s 1215 edition and the English Bill of Rights of 1689, you will see that Jefferson and Co drew straight from English history and law. They are arguing as Englishmen that the King has failed to follow the laws that bind him, and thus forced the English people to take matters into their hands to fix things. Because of that:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Or, translated into modern English, “Guys, we tried, we warned you, we did everything we could by the laws we share to keep this from happening. You wouldn’t listen, the king became a tyrant, and so here we are. G-d help us, because we know what’s coming even if we win. Bye.”

*John Adams famously assumed that July 2 would be the date of Independence Day, if the colonists won. Americans being Americans, we went with the Fourth instead.

Citations from the Declaration of Independence are from the National Archives:

Patterns vs. Models

Humans are very good at seeing patterns. We even find patterns where they don’t really exist, thus reminders such as “Correlation is not causation” and “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” We also build mental and mathematical models. We create structures to help us organize and predict what the world will do. Some of these are very durable and have stood the test of time and experience. Others . . . don’t do as well. And a few are so far out there that a lot of people enjoy listening to them but don’t believe them. [I.e. “I’m not saying that it was necessarily aliens, but . . .”]

One thing historians, archaeologists, and other people who live in the past do is look for patterns. Sometimes literally, so that we can identify the culture that created [thing], or for hints of written communication. We study aerial photos and satellite images searching for traces of missing or long-gone dwellings, forts, fields, and roads. We read accounts of events and goings on, hunting for hints about the bigger picture. A lot of environmental history, especially once you get to the centuries before modern thermometers, barometers, and the like, is combing through diaries, tax reports, inventories of foodstuffs and fiber, and government or corporate forms, trying to suss out what was going on in the background that no one bothered to write about because everyone knew what was happening. Like Dagomar Degroot pouring over ships’ logs and harbor reports to determine what the weather was in and around the Dutch Republic in the 1600s-1700s.

Our patterns are based on the past. We track recorded events and happenstances and compare them to modern, or make note of how people responded to storms, floods, freezes, and droughts. As Degroot points out, emperical data don’t tell us about how storms affected people’s lives, and how people adapted. The Dutch developed a number of adaptations that allowed them to survive the Little Ice Age in much better shape than did other places, but they still suffered. (The Wars of Independence [80-Years War and Anglo-Dutch Wars, and Louis XIV’s wars] didn’t help.) We’re looking at weather and climate events that already happened.

Weather forecasting tries to sort out, based on physics, chemistry, geology, and past events, what will happen in the near future. Anyone who puts their faith in a long-term weather forecast to, oh, plan a hiking trip, or an outdoor wedding, needs to have a back-up plan, unless he lives in one of those places with certain climates. No one in Jerusalem, for example, will plan an outdoor-only event for December that requires warm weather and sun, because winter is the rainy season. Likewise people who live in the Rocky Mountains know that thunderstorms form around two in the afternoon. Minnesotans assume that February will be cold and March-April will have mud. But to foretell on January 18 what will transpire on March 7th? Not likely. Even a week or 10 days from today is . . . fraught. If you are in Texas, it will be warm, possibly dry or not, perhaps windy or not, maybe humid or not. How warm? Above 60 F is as far as I’m willing to go, and I won’t put money on that.

Climate forecasting? Relies on models. Models are mathematical constructs of a very simplified world, with certain variables that can be adjusted. Emphasis on constructs and simplified. There is no climate prediction model yet that can deal with all the variables. Carbon Dioxide changes? Humidity changes? Heat islands? Effects of wind turbines? The occasional random equatorial volcano coughing sulfur dioxide and ash into the atmosphere? All at once? Splat! That was the model collapsing. Most of the most common models used by the IPCC and others can’t even retrocast accurately – that is, you can’t feed in the data for a date and location in the past and get the actual weather or climate for that time and place.

Models are very useful, so long as the user observes the limits in the model. The local weather guys and gals, especially the ones with several years of local experience, temper the models with “I’m just not entirely sure about this because of X, but here’s the National Weather Service/National Severe Storm Center Forecast/ European Model prediction.” Those of us with a lot of on-the-ground knowledge and regional research are not surprised when the models are off, or gee, winter can be very cold and still, or summer can be very hot and still, or that Texas gets freezes as far as Corpus Christi.

I’ve read through the diaries and reports of ranch managers and farmers from this region, going back as far as they exist, along with US Army documents and Indian Bureau reports. There were months where [due to a high pressure dome] the wind didn’t blow and windmills didn’t work. Cowboys had to wind ropes around the shaft and ride away from the thing, repeating that over and over to get the pump to bring up water for the cattle. Or there would be spells of miserable heat in an otherwise cold year. Or a hard, cold and wet winter in a decade of heat and drought. Snowvid 21 wasn’t all that unusual, really. High pressure building in and baking the Southwest, or Texas, or the Great Plains, isn’t too rare in the long-term. Even during the Little Ice Age.

Patterns and models. I work with patterns. I’m good at seeing patterns. I try not to make predictions, unless they are based on long experience and human nature. (Teenagers are going to be emotional. Toddlers will melt down. Someone’s going to tap the electric fence, because it might not really be live.) Models, especially models that claim they can determine what is going to happen and why a hundred years from now, or ten years from now? I fold my money and put it back in my pocket, as the gamblers say.

Book Review: The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean

Ellenblum, Ronnie. The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950-1072. (Cambridge University Press, 2012) Kindle.

Everyone knows that the 900s-1200s were a great time to be in Europe – warm, good weather in general, leading to a period of cultural and economic development that is often called the High Middle Ages, when the great cathedrals were built and chivalry flourished and the Hansa cities were at their peak. That’s true, but only if you were in western or central Europe. The Levant, Mesopotamia, the Balkans, the Pontic Steppes and Egypt? Endured bitter cold, drought, plague, and economic collapse. Invasion came with the cold and drought, and pushed the Byzantine Empire into rapid decline. North Africa went from semi-bread-basket to desert with pockets of irrigation, and Jerusalem was almost abandoned. When the warriors of the First Crusade breached the gates of the holy city, they found very few people compared to the population in the year 1000 or so.

The weather patterns that warmed and moistened western and northern Europe froze and desiccated Southwest Asia.

The book’s origins stem from Ellenblum’s curiosity about the lack of water in Jerusalem vs. the population it was supposed to have supported during Roman and early Byzantine times. This led to studying the hydrology of the city, and the discovery that most of the springs had dried up by the time of the First Crusade. Why? Bad land management? Climate shifts that caused the springs to lose groundwater and fail? As it turns out, the answer is a series of cold, dry years that caused the local water table to drop. This dried the springs, many of which never returned even after the rains came back. Jerusalem had to shift to relying on rainwater caught in cistern during the winters, meaning it could no longer support even half the population it had boasted at the time of Jesus.

When the author looked farther, it proved that Egypt, the rest of the Levant, Mesopotamia, and the Pontic Steppes (area north of the Black Sea) also suffered severe cold and drought during the period of roughly AD 950-1100. The lack of rain, and the bitter cold (snow on the ground in Baghdad for 40 days!) caused already tense relations between settled peoples, Bedouin nomads, and steppe nomads to collapse. The governments could not feed the people in some cases, nor could they keep the Turkic nomads out of the river valleys. When the Turks arrived, they burned, looted, carried off people to sell or ransom, interrupted trade, and eventually took over swaths of the area. The great centers of Islamic and Jewish learning in Baghdad disappeared, and Islam (Sunni) took on a different intellectual focus, one less interested in preserving the Classical philosophies and more on Islam’s own philosophy.

This is one of the books that I read and slap myself on the forehead and go “Duh.” I’d always wondered why the Seljuk Turks suddenly appeared in Southwest Asia. We went from Byzantine vs. Arab to “Turks in Charge” in the 1050s and later. Why? Where had the Seljuks come from? Why had they left the steppes? Well, they were pushed by the need for fodder and food, because the terrible weather drove them south and west. This also caused the Magyars (Hungary) and Bulgars to raid the edges of the European part of the Byzantine Empire just as Constantinople was cut off from major sources of food and military personnel. Toss in the plagues that always break out in cold, undernourished populations, and you can see why the empire started devaluing its currency and could no longer hold onto the edges of its territory, especially in Asia Minor.

Elllenblum is tightly focused on the region, so there are no cross-comparisons with western Europe or Russia (Kievan Rus). I do know from other reading that China experienced cold and drought in the 1000s, with floods and the disaster of the Yellow River floods following (1090s-1140s). The author alludes to the push to the east, and into South Asia, leading to shifts in Muslim control over northern India (the Lodi Sultanate). The book is also somewhat episodic, and focuses on weather and its direct effects, rather than on telling human stories. If you are looking for the tales of people, or a seamless, flowing narrative, you will be disappointed.

The book also lacks a bibliography. This is inexcusable on the part of Cambridge University Press. The notes are extensive, but readers are forced to comb through them at the end of each chapter to find material and primary sources if a reader wants to follow up on a topic.

I highly recommend this book for students of medieval Middle Eastern history, for those interested in the environmental history of all of Europe, and scholars wanting to fill in gaps about the causes of movements, migrations, and the shifting attitude of local Muslim rulers to Christians and Jews. A basic background in the overall history of the region is good, but not really necessary depending on the reader’s focus. I found the book easy to read, but this is my baliwick. Non-specialists might not be as enthralled.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use and received no compensation from the author or the publisher for this review.