Saturday, August 25, 2012

Arctic Sea Ice : 15 years ago we didn't expect this

North Pole webcam picture taken on 22 August 2012 showing ice cap melting. Climate scientists expect the Arctic sea ice is on course to plummet to its lowest levels ever this weekend. Photograph: University of Washington/ North Pole Environmental Observatory/NOAA

August 24 in The Guardian: Melting at an unprecedented rate, Arctic sea ice is set to reach its lowest ever recorded extent as early as this weekend. These “dramatic changes” signal that man-made global warming is having a major impact on the polar region. 

Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, told the newspaper:  "Unless something really unusual happens we will see the record broken in the next few days. It might happen this weekend, almost certainly next week  …  The rate of ice loss is faster than the models can capture [but] we can expect the Arctic to be ice-free in summer by 2050."

She also said: "Only 15 years ago I didn't expect to see such dramatic changes – no one did. The ice-free season is far longer now. Twenty years ago it was about a month. Now it's three months.”

Feedback loop

Sea-ice loss is a positive feedback loop: if the white sea ice no longer reflects sunlight back into space, the region can be expected to heat up even more than at present. This could lead to an increase in ocean temperatures with unknown effects on weather systems in northern latitudes.  The consequences of losing the Arctic's ice coverage for the summer months are expected to be immense.

And the Antarctic

Meanwhile at the other end of the world, a new report in Nature released Wednesday says that on the Antarctic Peninsula, human-generated greenhouse gases have almost certainly been by far the most important driver of warming over the past half-century. Story on Climate Central.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On the shaping of ends

John Dover Wilson's Hamlet
The image is my copy of Hamlet from Cambridge in 1969.  Except I'm sorry to say it’s not, as I got rid of it a long time ago.  I hanker to have it back. But the moving finger writes and having writ moves on. It’s the Dover Wilson edition. As I got the image off the Amazon website, perhaps that's actually my old copy for sale. Comforting to think so.

An unhappy consequence for me of studying English literature at Cambridge was that for the best part of 20 years thereafter I lost any interest in it, and placed little value on my books. Reading any sort of fiction was associated in my mind with essays, deadlines and drudgery.

Here's what brought me back to this book. Last year there was correspondence in The Guardian about a labourer unconsciously quoting Hamlet’s words in Act 5, Scene 2 of the play:

There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

I blogged about this at the time, and resolved to see for myself the origin of the labourer story.  It's in the very book I once owned, Dover Wilson's Hamlet. Which a few months ago I tracked down in the British Library. And studied more assiduously, I suspect, than ever I did as an undergraduate.

Here's his note to these lines :

Mr J P Malleson writes (privately): Years ago a country labourer astonished my father by saying as he sharpened stakes for fixing hurdles in the ground: ‘My mate rough-hews them and I shape their ends.’

The unspoken assumption is that the labourer was unfamiliar with Shakespeare. Of course the assumption might be false, and “the labourer” as Mr Malleson calls him (wrongly, because a craftsman had a mate, a labourer didn’t) was perhaps alluding to Hamlet deliberately and playing a trick on the posh gent. Who knows.

King of the Britons

Saxo Grammaticus (Wikipedia)
To digress, according to Dover Wilson the original of the Hamlet story is “lost in the mists of antiquity through which, mingled as it were with sea spray, we can dimly perceive the common ancestors of the English and Scandinavian races.”

The earliest writer to give Hamlet permanent literary form was the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the 12th century. (I've a feeling I knew all this once.)

His story is in all essentials the plot of Shakespeare’s play, including Hamlet’s long speech to his mother in her bedroom after he has despatched Polonius (as Shakespeare calls him).

The main differences appear to be that in Saxo Grammaticus, after the King of the Britons has executed the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern characters, Amleth marries the king's daughter and resides a year in Britain before returning to Jutland to complete his mission by killing his treacherous uncle, with (as in the play) a swapped sword. Amleth survives. That was all too happy happy for Shakespeare who invented the pirates to prevent Hamlet ever arriving in England and marrying a king’s daughter. And of course he has Hamlet die by the same swapped sword.

The first edition of Dover Wilson's Hamlet was 1934. Strange to think that in 1969, that was only 35 years ago.  Like 1977 is to us today. Subsequent editions came out in 1936 (with the note in it) and 1954 (the one I must have once possessed).

The British Library copy is a digitally printed version (2009), and carries the comically superfluous disclaimer: “This book reproduces the text of the original edition. The content and language reflect the beliefs, practices and terminology of the time, and have not been updated.”  I suppose an example of what they had in mind is Dover Wilson’s reference to the “English and Scandinavian races”.

In my day Dover Wilson was god when it came to Shakespeare studies, and his What Happens in Hamlet was the gospel.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Philosopher’s Zone

When I related the parable of the farmer and the runaway horse a few days ago, I recommended the BBC In Our Time programme on Taoism but I forgot to mention the excellent Australian radio programme The Philosopher’s Zone, presented by the recently deceased Alan Saunders.  I've corrected the oversight.

I usually make a point of downloading these episodes which last only 25 minutes but pack a lot in. In this one on Taoism he interviewed two Chinese academics.
From the link I've given it's easy to download the episode as well as a transcript.

Alan Saunders was awarded the Australasian Association of Philosophy's Special Media Prize.  He died unexpectedly on 15 June.