Monday, June 30, 2008

Notes from Old Lyme

Sydney M. Williams
15 Smith Neck Road
Old Lyme, CT 06371

Notes from Old Lyme
June 30, 2008

A Return to Vienna

“If you start to take Vienna – take Vienna.”
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

“Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
The Devil’s Dictionary

Forty-three years and sixty-eight days after celebrating our first wedding anniversary at restaurant Griechenbeisl in Vienna, Caroline and I returned on June 18th. We were accompanied by a good friend and his parents, both of whom were Vienna born. I brought visa photos that had been taken forty-three years earlier. My friend indicated that the restaurant, as Vienna’s oldest, had not changed; Caroline, he pointed out, looks identical today to her photo of forty-three years earlier, but that I was unrecognizable from my photo. I could not deny the truth of his statement. However, whatever alteration the body may have undergone, in mind and spirit I feel the same. While cognizant of the past, and casting an eye toward the future, I live in the present.

Vienna seems to be of like mind. It has reverence for its past, as the classical music capital of the world - a city where Mozart, Beethoven, Joann Strauss (both senior and junior), Joseph Haydn and Joannes Brahms lived, wrote and practiced their music. It was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918), an aggregation that emerged from the Austrian Empire (1804-1867), which, in turn, had been founded by Emperor Francis I of the Holy Roman Empire. A hundred years ago it sat at the center of an empire consisting of sixty million people – an empire that had largely been achieved through marriage, not war. The Hapsburg women were supposedly so prolific that, as we were told by a guide, they were referred to as baby machines. Daughters married heirs to thrones in places such as Spain, Naples, Romania and Czechoslovakia; many of these rulers then chose to cast their lot with the Hapsburgs.

World War I - in many respects the most tragic of all European wars - was ignited by the assassination on June 28, 1914 of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph and heir to the Hapsburg throne. Four and a half years and twenty million deaths later Europe was devastated. Austria had lost an emperor and an empire. Vienna, which had been capital to sixty million citizens, was now capital to about six million Austrians.

The years between the wars (the First Republic) were dominated initially by Karl Renner and the Social Democrats, then increasingly by right wing parties. Hopes for peace and democracy evaporated as economic depression enveloped the globe. By 1934 Austrian Fascists essentially imposed a dictatorship; on March 12, 1938 the Germans annexed Austria in a bloodless Anschluss. Fascism and Nazism emerged in Europe to fill a leaderless vacuum, taking advantage of, and adding to, rising nationalism and economic fear that had become ubiquitous throughout much of the world. My friends’ parents were fortunate to emigrate (though ‘fortunate’ seems a gentle euphemism, as they had to leave behind everything they could not carry.) Hitler’s armies occupied this proud city, which produced, besides the musicians named above, the Spanish Riding School, with their magnificent Lipizzaner stallions, Sigmund Freud, St. Stephen’s cathedral and the Sacher Torte – a city which governed an empire whose antecedents preceded the unification of Germany in 1871 by a thousand years. By war’s end many of the city’s structures were in rubble and its Jewish population of two hundred thousand had shrunk to five thousand.

During the long years of the Cold War, Vienna served as a salient in the line demarking the East from the West. Similar to Berlin, Vienna was divided though less imperiled. It served as home to transients making their way from the suffocation of Communism to opportunities in the West, a situation depicted in the 1949 British film noir, “The Third Man” starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. Ten years after the War, the Soviets suddenly and without explanation departed and Austria’s renaissance began. The Austrian State Treaty, relieving Austria of foreign occupation, was signed on May 15, 1955 at Belvedere Palace. Dr. Leopold Figl, Foreign Minister (and former Chancellor) stepped to the balcony and proclaimed to the crowd below, “Osterreich ist frei!” (Austria is free!)

Much of Europe’s economic growth is dependent upon former Eastern Europe, with its natural resources and an ambitious population eager to raise its standard of living. Vienna’s geographic position proved to be of strategic importance as the City bridged the gap between old Europe and new. Today that location puts it near the center of the European Union. The EU comprises twenty-seven member states and five hundred million people and as the Union gradually expands south and east, Vienna’s strategic center will become even more obvious.

The City is lively, catering to tourists and business alike. It is a dynamic and optimistic place whose people enjoy life amidst its coffee shops and opera houses. And, of course, over the past couple of weeks it has been serving as host for Euro 2008, the Continent’s quadrennial soccer championship.

The Soviets had been gone for ten years by the time Caroline and I arrived in April 1965. However, a dinginess within the City betrayed the earlier Soviet occupation. Its beauty lay beneath a grimy surface. Today that is all gone. A significant portion of the inner ring has been set aside for pedestrians. High-end western retailers abide within historic buildings and alongside local stores of ancient lineage. In a city noted for its coffee houses, Starbucks has found a place. Commercialization has been done tastefully and its four opera houses continue to produce some of the world’s great music. The Lipizzaner stallions in the Spanish Riding School live as magnificently as ever.

Above all, Vienna is a city for lovers, so provided a perfect venue for Caroline and myself rejoicing in forty-four years of marriage. And, oh! There were times when even Ambrose Bierce got it wrong.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Notes from Old Lyme

Sydney M. Williams

15 Smith Neck Road
Old Lyme, CT 06371

June 9, 2008
A Note from Old Lyme

A review: Nigel Lawson, An Appeal to Reason

"Mrs. Jellby merely added, with the supreme composure with which she said
everything, ‘Go along you naughty Peepy!’ and fixed her fine eyes on Africa again.”
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Bleak House, 1853

A book that supporters of the American Climate Security Act (which includes both Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, and on which the Senate, last Friday, voted to discontinue debate) would like you not to read is An Appeal to Reason: A cool look at Global Warming. That humans are primarily responsible for global warming, through the emittance of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, has become conventional wisdom and those who question either the magnitude of climate change over the past one hundred years or the role of natural forces in any temperature changes are said to be in denial. Yet the science that supports the consensus view is murky at best and dangerously illogical at worst.

Nigel Lawson, an Englishman who is both a former Secretary of State for Energy and a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and who is currently a member of the House of Lords and who serves on the Lords’ Select Committee on Economic Affairs, does not deny that Carbon Dioxide has been emitted into the atmosphere since the onset of the Industrial Revolution and that those emissions have played a role in global warming. What he does do is to put that fact into context. For example, using the United Nations’ (IPCC) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 Report that if CO2 emissions persist, and all other natural factors remain the same, the effect on temperatures over the hundred years ending in 2100 would be between 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit – as he suggests, a livable, though unpleasant (at the upper end of temperatures) scenario.

Lord Lawson quotes from a 2007 pamphlet published by the Royal Meteorological Society: “We know that the climate has changed abruptly of its own accord before. But the idea of a point of no return, or a ‘tipping point’, is a misleading way to think about climate and can be unnecessarily alarmist.” Both the Middle Ages and the Roman period in Britain experienced warming far in excess of all but the most dire predictions for the next hundred years. He suggests that the science of climatology is in its infancy and that there are likely other causes, such as water vapour, generally considered to be responsible for two thirds of the greenhouse effect. It is also pointed out that a change to warmer weather is certainly more desirable, in terms of survivability, than a change to cooler weather. He discusses the social and economic impact of implementing reforms. He further suggests that a small rise in global temperatures would actually be beneficial to food production. However, he reminds the reader that thus far in the twenty-first century, according to the IPCC’s own data, there has been no increase in global temperatures.

Ethically, the benefits to future generations most be weighed against the costs to current generations; this is particularly so in the developing world. As Nigel Lawson points out, in Dickens’ Bleak House, Mrs. Jellby’s concern for good works in Africa took precedence over the care of her own children. The financial costs of adhering to suggested proposals are unknown, but the IEA on Friday June 6 of this year issued a report indicating that $45 trillion (three times the size of U.S. GDP) must be spent over the next few decades to halve greenhouse emissions by 2050. To the extent there is a problem it is global in nature and therefore without the support and cooperation of countries like India and China – now going through their own industrial revolutions – the problems will persist. Up to now those countries, as they race to catch the developed world, have given no indication of support for Kyoto or any other similar plan. Additionally, any move to impose tariffs on imported goods from violators of what is deemed to be “green” by the developed world would be a serious setback for world trade and economic growth. Lawson writes, “It should not need pointing out that a lurch into protectionism, and a rolling back of globalization, would do far more damage to the world economy, and in particular to living standards in developing countries.” Finally he makes the point that mankind is extremely adaptable and in the past Cassandra’s have underestimated the creativity and ingenuity of the human race, the best examples being Thomas Malthus’ “Principle of Population” in 1798 and “The Limits to Growth” published by the Club of Rome in 1972.

Over the millennia natural forces have caused the earth to warm and to cool. No more than could Canute hold back the waves can mankind prevent such occurrences in the future. While it is important to our health and our social well-being that we live in a world as free from pollution as is socially and economically feasible, it is also critical that time, energy and resources be devoted to help man adapt as changing circumstances warrant.

As to why politicians are so quick to verbally support “Climate Change” but slow to actually enact legislation, Lawson writes, “…while fine words are cheap and probably politically attractive, the deeds to match them are anything but cheap and almost certainly politically unattractive.” In his witty, if acerbic manner, Lord Lawson compares the trading of carbon offsets to the selling of indulgences by the mediaeval church. Nigel Lawson does not expect to convert those who consider “An Inconvenient Truth” a documentary; his goal with this short (106 pages with 20 pages of notes) fact-filled book is to try to reach those whose opinions are not yet formed or who are open to alternative views. It is instructional that none of the major publishers he initially approached would take on the book (and this is his fourth book), but that when it was published by Duckworth, a U.K. subsidiary of U.S. based Overlook Press, the printings sold out very quickly. Once read it is easy to understand this book’s growing popularity.