While the world slept off topic:
The site was down for a few days.  Now we’re up again, and I will celebrate by telling you a sort of a ghost story. 

The fact is that this web site and the topic it pursues are not my great love.  I do it because it is important and nobody else seems willing.  Had the world been different I would have preferred to be a story teller.  The little tribe gathers around the campfire.  They ask me for a tale.  I make noises as if I don’t want to monopolize the conversation and after a bit of coaxing spin a yarn I have been working on in my mind for the past few days while going about the tedious business of doing my part in keeping us alive.

But it was not to be.  There are other entertainments.  Failing that I would have been a writer of fiction.  I’ve done it some.  But I miss the coaxing.

So this is my story for tonight.  This is just for fun, mixing some fantasy and fact but without purpose beyond the hope that you enjoy it.  I certainly shall.

To begin with, you must be aware that this web site – its topic – is the most important subject of the past million years.  If you let a community of mammals, including humans, grow without limit it will never reach a thousand.  It will die our first.  That has been shown in humans and in mice as well.

So our history and prehistory streams of events in which a community of humans begins to do the things only humans can do and then the community dies.  Some years ago a man walking along a beach on an island in the Pacific found a rock.  He was looking for it.  He knew at once it was a stone axe fashioned in the style of the Homo erectus human of a million years ago.  He had found one such years before, and now that he had a second the chance of a fluke was too remote to consider.  There really had been a population of erectus on the island at that time.  And the island is and always has been reachable only by open ocean voyage.  Homo erectus could navigate the high seas. 

One of the reasons Columbus was able to reach the Western Hemisphere was because he had a sail that could beat against the wind, or so it is said.  It was a triangular sail.  That sail had been around for a long time.  My mother had a hotplate decorated with a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry.  There is a ship with a triangular sail.  It would have been able to beat against the wind.  There is a Viking ship on display in Scandinavia.  It has a base for a mast arranged so that the mast could be brought down into the boat by means of a hinge device.  It had to be a stubby mast.  There are crutches to hold a spar, one pair on either side of the mast.  The only conclusion can be that there were two sails, one that could be raised for each tack.  The Viking too, could gain against the wind.  I wrote this idea to Thor Heyerdahl, whom I had admired ever since my mother read Kon Tiki to us boys.  He sent me a postcard with a note that Viking sails were not something he could speak about (Nobody can, really; none survive.) but with his papyrus raft Ra, which had a square sail, he could beat to windward.  The picture on the card showed it doing as much.

Now at the other end of a lifetime of receiving the cold shoulder from people of far less fame on issues far more importance my admiration for the man knows no bounds.

I think it is beyond question that the Chinese had such capable ships, but Western Europe was just getting them.  From crossing the ocean to walking the moon took less than 500 years.  And those years were punctuated with wars, plagues, famines and a number of other distractions.  What kept Homo erectus off the moon?  Urban infertility or social multiversity if you like.  Else we would be harnessing stars by now with a million years of space faring behind us or maybe two million.  Presumably that rock was not placed by the very first navigator.

So if there be ghosts, then the gibbering souls of a million years of tragedy should be swarming around me.  Here’s a link to illustrations by Gustav Doré of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Raven.” 


Here there be ghosts, only a fraction of the ones that should be at my own elbow.  But things could be more subtle.

While I was down there occurred a “Manhattanhenge event.”  That is a day when the light of the setting sun is perfectly aligned with the streets of Manhattan.  The only remarkable thing about that is that anybody took the time to hang a name on something that silly.

There was – on the same day – a “supermoon.”  That’s just a full moon when the moon is closest to earth.  (The distance to the moon varies a bit.)  No supermoon has ever looked different from an ordinary full moon to me.  Again the fact that somebody took an interest is the only interest.  Oh, yes: the last supermoon was on Friday the 13th and there won’t be another on Friday the 13th for a very long time. 

All right then.  It was an idle coincidence.  Site down, Manhattanhenge, supermoon all at the same time.

Oh, I almost forgot.  They also, during that time, released data about the exploration of an ancient temple in Iraq, you know, Isis country (or Isil country if you prefer of Islamic state).  That’s straight out of the book The Exorcist.  It’s just another meaningless coincidence.

Then there’s the “polar vortex.”  A wad of cold air got swept down across the US from the Arctic.  That’s kind of rare.  And it’s not without implications.  Keep me honest on this, but if a lot of cold air is coming down here it seems to me that an equivalent amount of warm air is going up there.  That ought to mean a hastening of the melting of the Arctic ice cap with effects on the climate nobody can know.  I’m the only one who even hazards a guess and that guess is an abrupt ice age. 

Also during the same few days they released news that the earth’s magnetic field was weakening – old news – and the rate of that weakening had increased ten fold.  Instead of looking toward a reversal of north and south magnetic poles in two thousand years it looks like two hundred … unless of course the change continues to accelerate.  The experts have made reassuring statements that reversal will be totally harmless; what else can they do? 

It is generally accepted that the earth’s magnetic field is caused by the circulation of molten material beneath the crust.  If the material is swirling and carrying charge it should indeed produce a magnetic field just as current moving through a coil of wire makes a magnetic field that is directed along the axis of the coil.  The direction of the magnetic field is determined by which direction the current flows.  This is the “right hand rule” of physics, complemented by the “left hand rule,” depending on whether you mean the flowing current is positive or negative. 

Well that puzzles me.  When I envision the interior of the earth I tend to think of it as generally uniform at any given depth, allowing for rising plumes of hot material, and pretty much symmetrical north and south.  In other words any magnetic field generated in the north should meet an equal and opposite field from the south.  Yet there is undeniably a field.  I’ve seen a magnetic compass in action. 

If you brush your hair on a cold dry day you’ll make sparks.  Electrons get wiped off the hair onto the brush or vice versa.  You get a charge separation.  Well if wind is blowing over the earth, carrying dust maybe, I’d think you’d get a charge separation as well.  The earth is by no means symmetrical north and south on the surface.  And there is a pattern of prevailing winds.  There are trade winds in the tropics and prevailing westerlies in the temperate zones.  These are rather stable.  So thanks to the right (or left) hand rule, we should expect a magnetic field.  It just requires that the surface in the northern hemisphere is different from the corresponding latitude in the southern, which it is.

Then there is this pole flip thing.  From time to time the earth’s magnetic field reverses.  Explain that one with your swirling magma.  But at the surface it’s easy to explain.  The surface changes.

Contrast it with the sun.  The sun, like the earth, has inner heat.  And it has magnetism.  But the whole thing is higglety pigglety.  There are north poles and south poles scattered all around.  There are presumably surface winds on the sun, but since the sun is not heated much from the outside, as the earth is, do not expect trades and westerlies.  There is no surface process to produce or stabilize the whole magnetic field.

Now I would accept with patience the admonishment that the earth’s field is really caused by swirling stuff down there (not to be confused with “up there,” which is Arctic or “down here,” which is temperate zone), but I do not accept that the surface winds have no effect at all.  Unquestionably there is interaction between the two if, and I expect there is, there is magnetism produced from below. 

So change the surface effect – polar vortex flows if you like or a change in the amount of land given over to agriculture to feed the world’s growing population – and you can expect the field to change and this change will affect things below.  So when they say the earth’s magnetic field is weakening you should say, “Yeah, sure, and it will effect things up here and affect things down there as well.” 

You know, I’m sure, that beneath Yellowstone Park, there is a plume of hot rising magma.  In fact the whole park is the caldera of a super volcano that is probably overdue to blow and do things to the biology of the planet so horrible that our own extinction will be a footnote.

There’s just one other thing: during the time the site was down they announced that an asphalt road in the park had melted and was boiling.  I’ve not heard of that one before.  It is as if some great power said, “The site is down.  The only voice that could have saved them has fallen silent.  It will be kinder to kill them quickly than let them die of their disease.”

So the pattern is clear: people are getting very silly and superstitious.  Just hope we don’t crash again. 

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