The Mess

PART I

I’m headed for the beach.

The weather in the last couple of months has been very strange, with fronts rolling in from the Atlantic and removing any chance of a pleasant summer in the UK. The few days I recently spent on the south coast were wet. Portugal fared no better, with chilly days and unseasonal June rains.

Early July brought terrible heat to the western US, and  a misery of brush fire and death. Due to their climatic similarities, which depend greatly on the patterns of ocean currents, California and Arizona are a lot like the Iberian peninsula.

Except in Portugal we don’t speak Spanish.

The California current is the Pacific sister of the Canaries current, flowing south down the coast, pushed by the trade winds, and then turning west to cross the ocean. Historically, the Canaries is much better known, since it was the highway from Europe to America, first discovered by the Portuguese of The India Road.

Both currents leave behind an empty space as they turn away from the coast. For some reason I felt like telling you nature abhors a vacuum. I’ve always thought that’s a dreadful cliché, so I was appalled to discover it’s actually a quote from Aristotle. In order to find this out, I ended up on some religious site that abused the analogy by telling me that as soon as a part of my soul is freed of sin, the empty space thus created is immediately colonized by a new vice.

The principal tenet of this holy roller website is that once a sin is expunged from your soul, the only way to avoid that vacuum is to fill it with the love of Jesus. Presumably in a vice-like grip.

As a minor auxiliary rant, using Google to find information is becoming an ever-greater pain in the ass. The first page on Google used to be all you needed—a refreshing change from random unrelated hits in all the pages of Altavista or Ask Jeeves. Remember those?  But now the main entrance is devoted to corporations, so if you’re researching a word for its etymology, you have to knock on the back door of page two, where hits of no commercial value are dispensed to you like morsels at a beggars’ banquet. I tried baidu.com which is the Chinese Google (so the Chinese have two, theirs and ours). Most of their hits were lost in translation.

When the California current moves offshore, the Aristotelian vacuum is filled by deep water, cool and rich in nutrients. These are salts of nitrogen and phosphorus, and they make plants grow, just as on land. The traditional fisheries of California, sardine, and anchovy, are the result of these cool oceans, brimming with plankton. They led to the canneries described by Steinbeck in books like Sweet Thursday, perhaps my favorite-ever love story.

In Portugal, the sister current led to the sardine and tuna canneries, big business in the days when food security meant protein out of a tin (protin?)

When the winds that blow southwest off the land grow weaker, the currents don’t get pushed offshore. The warmer surface water evaporates more easily, the humid air gets blown on to the land, and mayhem follows.

Grimma by name, girmma by nature. Flooding in Germany in early June 2013.

Grimma by name, made grimma by nature. Flooding in a small town in Saxony, Germany in early June 2013. Climate extremes are an expensive part of today’s world.

Without liquefying your brain with oceanography, I will tell you that the equivalent ocean behavior off the Peruvian coast is called El Nino—the playful practice of a little child, possibly even the Christ child, around Christmas. It brings deluges that would certainly fill your soul, along with other salient parts, after you’ve pushed out your latest vice.

Alas, 2013 is not an El Nino, or even a La Nina, year, so these climatic extremes cannot be put down to the small child’s mischief. Portugal is in heatwave mode, with temperatures pushing 110. That’s hot enough to denature protin.

Explicit warnings are all over the media: stay indoors, avoid the sun. All the politicians here have been hit by sunstroke, which is bizarre because they’re all sitting behind closed doors. So I’m off to the beach.

When I come back, I’ll be telling you all about the mess the pols have been making—you’re lucky computers can’t smell, because low oxygen ain’t got nothing on this.

PART II

Perhaps the heat triggered the meltdown of politicians’ brains. Last Monday the Portuguese minister of finance chucked in the towel, only to be replaced by his deputy, a woman with a man’s name. The junior partner in the coalition threw a hissy fit and its leader tendered his resignation. The opposition left wing parties jumped up and down, clamoring for elections.

The junior partner minister had already resigned by the time the president of Portugal was swearing in the finance minister. In this bizarre theater, the next act was the announcement by the prime minister that he refused to accept the resignation of his coalition partner—even though it was irrevocable, in writing.

The president, who loathes the junior minister, came forward and said that any coalition arrangement that didn’t include the junior minister was unacceptable, and would implicitly lead to early elections.

While this tragicomedy was playing out in the sizzling Lisbon sun, the Blackberry children in London and New York were busy betting against a solution—bond prices rose two hundred points in two days.

The government shivers, the speculators strike, and sovereign bond yields spike.

The government shivers, the speculators strike, and sovereign bond yields spike.

The irrevocable junior minister sat down with the prime minister to hammer out a deal. As we emerge from the weekend, the junior partner seems set to return to government, in a much stronger position that before. No longer will the junior minister be in charge of the foreign office—instead, he will become minister for economics. I believe his grounding in economics is on a par with my knowledge of Sanskrit.

A further minister from his christian-democrat party will come in, and the stage is set for a new dawn, where the sun will no longer shine timidly though a burka, but bathe us in radiant light, melting away austerity as we bask in the warm glow of job creation.

I believe it’s called climate change.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

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