01 December 2005

Change in the Weather

In physical geography, students learn about distinctive weather systems created by large land or water masses. Naturally, it's obvious that all weather anywhere affects weather everywhere, but its equally obvious that some places affect others vastly more. For example, it is true that unusual warming in the Great Plains region near Chicago will eventually have some impact on the South Asian Monsoon system, but if that warming occurs in the steppes of Central Asia instead, the impact will be vastly greater and more obvious. One way of explaining this is to explain, simply enough, that Central Asia is "upstream" of South Asia (in terms of air currents and concomitant flows of moisture.

Also, a weather system is a very good way of understanding how any other type of system works. The system must have something driving it (the sun's heat, the angular momentum of the earth, and chemical reactions in the atmosphere), and it has "subsystems," such as the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation (ENSO; covers most of the Indian and Pacific Oceans) and "sub-subsystems," such as an individual monsoon. The system has cycles, such fluctuations in the peak temperature over the course of a season, fluctuations in the position of the jet stream, and sometimes fluctuations in the formations of sub-sub-systems (e.g., the formation of cyclones per year). Then there are cycles of cycles; for example, a harmonic rhythm that takes 100, 2000, or 16,000 years between peaks. Since cycles don't line up precisely (as, for example, the cycle of warm water anomalies in the south Pacific with cycles of extreme monsoon conditions in Southeast Asia), neither in physical geography nor in in the lives of nations does history ever truly repeat itself.

(Source: National Geographic, CLIVAR)

In physical geography, we use the word "conveyor" to refer to a thermohaline system, i.e., a system driven by the interaction of salt concentration in the water and heat in the blanket over the water. Sea water varies quite a lot in salinity (salt content); if sea water is in a warm climate, like the equator, much of it evaporates. Since salt doesn't evaporate, it is left behind when the water does. Hot sea water becomes saltier, and gradually sinks to the bottom, pulling more water behind it. It's an effect that is dependent on certain other conditions, such as the ocean floor and the behavior of air currents overhead. Likewise, the water's "self-propulsion" in a conveyor is unusual; typically, ocean currents are driven by air currents rather than conveyors. The Mid-Atlantic Conveyor is hence the strongest current in the world, and distinguished for having a profound effect on the climate of Western Europe. If the MAC did not exist, the climate of countries like the UK, Ireland, and Germany (and Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria) would be bitterly cold, like that of Siberia; because the comparatively warm air of the North Atlantic, the weather in Northwestern Europe is quite mild.

In production or other human activity, conveyor belts are interlocking cycles, in which a cyclical process, like a spinning gear, drives another process right next to it. As the system builds up momentum, the original driver merely has to contribute the energy lost by the system through friction (much like, say, a long row of heavy, thick gears that are spinning at 1000 RPM). If the driving gear lost power for a short time, the residual angular momentum of the other gears would drive it, much the way a conquered and subjugated people can be more enthusiastic about the empire than the core state ever was.

The Historical Analogy

Because history involves the behavior of immense numbers of people, meteorology is often a useful analogy. The Scots and the Cossacks each provide examples of this. Scots were defeated and subjected to English imperial rule in the 16th century. Likewise, the Cossacks to Muscovite rule. My own ancestors fled to Canada to get away from English rule, but sometime around the 19th century became more Tory than any Englishman could imagine. The reason for this was that the system of expansion and transformation of the landscape was engrained in the Western system--or what I like to refer to as the "Trans-European Project." The Trans-European Project has illusory divisions along "national" lines, but the actual objectives and planning of the TEP elites are surprisingly harmonious. Indeed, the delusions of "national character" serve to keep populations manageable and conservative. Resentment and dread of foreigners is typically the sole basis of justification for repressive regimes. Better still, it channels and perpetuates the conveyor effect, in which the cycle of cruelty and expropriation is repeated against people lying farther away from the metropolitan center.

Cossacks are peasants who fled the oppressive rule of the Czars for the khanates just beyond the reach of the Czar; gradually, successive czars awarded the Cossacks privileges and land, but held their feet to the military frontier. The Cossacks, as everyone knows, became so pro-Czar they eventually made it impossible for the monarchy to accommodate reformist demands; this probably led to the Russian Revolution. In this way, however, the Russian kinship group became an ethnic group, then a nation, an empire, and eventually a global hegemon. Today, while it is in a cycle of dissipation and retreat, it seems likely that this too, is just a temporary wave in the history of the Russian peoples.

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