Posts by: "Bill Steigerwald"

route66 cover - 2 - final“Dogging Steinbeck,” in case you are among the 318,543,866 Americans who  haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, is a new genre I’m trying to popularize called “True Nonfiction.”

Half literary expose and half American road book, “Dogging Steinbeck” is the honest and accurate account of my long journey with the great John Steinbeck and his beloved work of BS, “Travels With Charley.”

It details how I discovered the truth about Steinbeck’s iconic 1960 road trip with his dog Charley and how I exposed the fraudulent nature of the allegedly nonfiction book Steinbeck wrote about his journey.

As I explain and prove at length, “Charley” is not very true or honest. It’s mostly fiction and a few lies. For every true thing you want to know about Steinbeck’s trip, my trip and his book without having to fork over a lousy $5.99 for “Dogging Steinbeck,” I’d advise going to TruthAboutCharley.com.

My book, which I swear is 103 percent true, is a literary detective story, a traditional American road book and a primer in drive-by journalism and how the media work. All from a libertarian point of view.

It’s also part history lesson of 1960 America, part book review, part Steinbeck bio and part indictment of the negligence of Steinbeck scholars who failed to discover Steinbeck’s literary deceit for 50 years and then blithely excused it as inconsequential or irrelevant after I told them about it.

Guess I should have included footnotes.

The liberals manning the New York Times editorial page liked what I learned. So did the leftward boys at “On the Media” on NPR. So did Paul Theroux, Brian Lamb and my 96-year-old Mom.

But a lot of people — especially young and/or romantic diehard “Charley” fans — don’t appreciate me for ruining the romance of Steinbeck’s flawed book. Just look at the dumb 1-star reviews on Amazon.

But sorry, Steinbeckies, what I did with my humble work of journalism has changed the way “Travels With Charley” will be read forevermore.

In the fall of 2012 the book’s publisher, Penguin Group, issued a 50th anniversary edition of “Travels With Charley” that admitted that what I had learned and exposed was correct — as in “the truth.”

“Charley’s” introduction, first written by Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini in 1997, from now on will contain a major disclaimer warning gullible readers that the famous book they are about to read is so full of fiction and fictional techniques that it should not be taken literally or considered to be a work of nonfiction. In layman’s terms, it should be considered a work of bullshit.

Parini’s disclaimer includes this stark sentence: “It should be kept in mind, when reading this travelogue, that Steinbeck took liberties with the facts, inventing freely when it served his purposes, using everything in the arsenal of the novelist to make this book a readable, vivid narrative.”

I wasn’t given credit for this discovery of this ugly truth. I was identified only as a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter who did some light “fact-checking” (and made lazy fools of the Steinbeck scholars).

But at least from now on no 14-year-old who reads Steinbeck’s classic road book will ever be tricked into thinking it’s a true story. I hope.

The author Curt Gentry was a big Steinbeck fan and he went out of his way to kindly help me with my book “Dogging Steinbeck.”  Here’s the beginning of his obit from the San Francisco Chronicle today:

Curt Gentry, a San Francisco author who wrote or co-wrote 13 books including best-sellers “Helter Skelter” about the Charles Manson case and a harshly critical biography of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, died July 10 in a San Francisco hospital.

Gentry was incredibly kind to me when I met him in the spring of 2010 while doing research for what became “Dogging Steinbeck.” He bought me lunch twice and gave me his notes and the draft of his Chronicle article (see below) from his encounter/interview with Steinbeck in the fall of 1960, when Steinbeck and wife Elaine stopped at the St. Francis Hotel on Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” trip.

Gentry was one of the first to read my book and he wrote a wonderful blurb about it. When I read it at my book store/library appearances, I can hardly keep from choking up.

He was a great guy with great stories. I’ll always be sorry he was too sick to meet with me the last time I was in San Francisco.

The article the late, great Curt Gentry wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle about his encounter with John Steinbeck in 1960.

The article the late, great Curt Gentry wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle about his encounter with  Steinbeck in 1960.

The blurb Gentry wrote for my book, which was perfect and fair:

I still believe John Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest writers and I still love “Travels With Charley,” be it fact or fiction or, as Bill Steigerwald doggedly proved, both.  While I disagree with a number of Steigerwald’s conclusions, I don’t dispute his facts. He greatly broadened my understanding of Steinbeck the man and the author, particularly during his last years. And, whether Steigerwald intended it or not, in tracking down the original draft of “Travels With Charley” he made a significant contribution to Steinbeck’s legacy. “Dogging Steinbeck” is a good honest book.

– Curt Gentry

Author of “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” (with Vincent Bugliosi)

The great travel writer Paul Theroux is done with the continents of Asia, Africa and South America and is now working on North America.

He’s written a long article in Smithsonian magazine, “the Soul of the South,” that will be part of the book he’s writing about the American South.

He was also interviewed by NPR’s midday news program “Here and Now,” so you can listen to him. Here’s a previous interview with him from NPR, before he took off on his Southern trip.

Here are some pull quotes taken from WBUR’s interview:

 

Interview Highlights: Paul Theroux

On reactions to being a Northerner traveling through the American South

“I stuck to the rural areas. And rural America has its deep roots, and, I think, great values. I said to a man in Aiken, South Carolina, ‘I’m a stranger.’ He said, ‘You’re not a stranger, there ain’t no strangers here.’ And a woman said the same thing to me in Tuscaloosa [Alabama]. ‘I’m a stranger.’ She said ‘You’re not a stranger, there are no strangers here.’”

On visiting the infamous Bryant’s Grocery in Money, Miss.

“Bryant’s Store where Emmett Till met his doom, is still standing. It’s on a crossroads. Money, Mississippi, is a back road, there’s a railway running through it. Train doesn’t stop. The walls are crumbling, there are vines and roots sort of holding it together. They don’t know whether it’s a monument, a horror — it’s a haunted building. And Money, Mississippi, is a very tiny place. I doubt there are two dozen people who live there.”

On unexpected encounters in the Delta

“I was in the Delta, in the town of Greenville [Mississippi] in the Delta. And I must say, the Delta is a very poor place — poor in money, great in spirit. I was asking a lady about the B.B. King Museum and this woman’s colleague said, ‘Should we tell him?’And she said, ‘I don’t know.’ And the [colleague] said, ‘This is B.B. King’s ex-wife.’ His last wife! Most recent wife. So we talked about B.B. King.”

 

And here’s quote from Theroux about how helpful people are when you travel — alone.

 

THEROUX: When you’re traveling in the South, you get a warm welcome. I mean you, I go from New England, rather chilly and, you know, people barely say hello to each other in the post office. They kind of stare and think, you know, you look – they look at you as though you might be asking them not to pay their taxes or something. And, you know, in the South, I mean one of my earlier experiences was I was stuck.

I was looking in a map in my car and the woman in the car next to me said: You lost, baby? I said, yeah, I’m looking for this church. And she said: Well, I can tell you – I told her the church – she said I can take you there. Follow me. She drove three miles out of her way. I mean, we had been in a parking lot and she was going to church that morning too but not there and took me to the church. And I thought, this is wonderful, I like this.

And afterwards, I thanked her profusely. And she said: Be blessed. And I thought that’s the South: Be blessed.

I had a handful of encounters during my road trip in 2010. A guy in Minnesota drove across town to lead me to a diner and the women of New England took great pity on me, as I recount in this excerpt from “Dogging Steinbeck”:

 

I had my first face-to-face encounter with a human on state Route 11 when I drove through the sad little burg of Patten.

I had doubled back to photograph a bush-choked old house on Main Street that was obviously inhabited when Steinbeck hurried by 50 years ago. As I got out of my car, a young woman stopped, rolled her passenger window down and asked if I needed any help. She thought I was lost, which it looked like I was. But I was just driving as if traffic laws didn’t apply to journalists. When I told her I was chasing Steinbeck, she gave me a quick history of her town of 1,200 mid-Mainers.

The future didn’t sound too promising for Patten. It owed its existence to the lumber boom of the 1800s and still relied on forestry, hunting, fishing and the wood products industries for a disproportionate share of its jobs. Before the woman drove off she suggested I take a picture of the Patten General Store down the road. “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s going to be torn down tomorrow.”

She wasn’t the first woman in timeless/spaceless/changeless Maine to think I was a helpless man in distress. She was the fourth in less than 24 hours. The first time was in Calais. After I left Karen’s Main Street diner and the Calais Book Shop, I stopped by the side of the road on my way out of town to write what I thought would be a quick blog item.

It was a pleasant spot by the St. Croix River, but mainly I wanted to take advantage of the sudden surge in Verizon’s cell phone signal. (Three weeks later, when my wife got our bill, I’d learn the strong signal had been coming from across the river in Canada. Two days of cross-border roaming charges in upper Maine would cost $900. In Billings, Montana, I’d waste an afternoon at a Verizon store getting the charges reduced to zero.) I wrote a blog entry about Calais and its people while sitting in the driver’s position, but because my laptop was on my “bed” in the back I had to twist around between the front seats to type. Because I am journalism’s slowest writer, the blog, which was really more like a long newspaper feature story, took almost two hours to write.

The first visitor was a U.S. Customs and Border Control officer, who pulled up behind me in her patrol car.  She had passed me three times and seen me in the same strange position, so she naturally thought I had a heart attack or had been the victim of a Canadian mob hit. Apologizing as abjectly as possible, I assured her I was fine and explained what I was doing. She was as sweet as any police person could legally be and with a smile left me to my pathetic, contorted typing.

Ten minutes later, I looked up from my keyboard to see two cars parked behind my RAV4 and a pair of women with worried faces hurrying toward me. They too thought I was dead or dying and were genuinely relieved, and not the least bit annoyed, to be told I was physically fine, just mentally challenged. I finally drove across the road to a parking lot, feeling like a jerk.

Maine people – Mainers? Manians? Mainsters? – of both sexes couldn’t have been more pleasant and they obviously had been brought up to be kind to strangers. But it was comforting to know the good women of The Pine/Potato State were looking out for me.  I’d meet dozens of other women on my trip who were unnecessarily sweet or went out of their way to help me – waitresses, motel managers, county government officials, mothers at home. Whether they were just doing their job or answering my fool questions when I appeared unannounced at their front door, not a one was sour or unfriendly or even wary. When you are old and scraggly and alone, as I was, you’re an object of pity and a threat to no one.

John Steinbeck set out to do his “Travels With Charley” trip the right way — alone and like a serious journalist. But it quickly unraveled and he had to resort to fiction and fibs to tell his tale. A free excerpt from “Dogging Steinbeck,” an Amazon ebook that’s the antidote of truth to “Charley.”

A Good Trip Gone Bad

A stranger passing like a bullet through his own heartland, Steinbeck spent twice as much time relaxing on his 11-week journey than driving. He discovered no new facts or insights about the USA or its citizens, mainly because he did no real journalism and spent relatively little time with ordinary people. Yet he deserved a lot of credit just for taking the road trip.

Despite his shaky health and age, not to mention his princely lifestyle and celebrity social circle, he had the balls to roll up his sleeves and take on what was essentially a major journalism project. What other great American writer would have even considered traveling the rough way he did?

Initially, he fully intended to do his trip the right way and the only way it would work – solo and at the grassroots level. His ambitious plan – going alone, taking photos, writing dispatches to newspapers or magazines from the road, going to a different church every Sunday, spending quality time in the Jim Crow South – was basic, sound journalism and a perfect vehicle for his talents.

A nonfiction book based on his original plan wouldn’t have been as popular with readers or kept its romantic appeal for 50 years, but it would have made a better, more substantive book. It would have slowed him down, forced him to meet hundreds of other real people and given him a chance to discover more of the America he went searching for.

But Steinbeck’s great exploration never materialized. He never learned to use a camera, didn’t take notes or keep a journal and never wrote a word for publication during his 75 days away from New York. His grand plan was unraveled by the reality of his lifestyle, health and the punishment of the open road. He quickly got lonely and tired and no doubt bored.

Ironically, in one sense he may have been lucky he lost heart so early. The daily pressure and logistical nightmares of trying to do real journalism on the back roads of America in 1960 could have killed him. What’s more, in the Analog Age it was an unrealistic mission even for a man in good health to circumnavigate America alone. Transcontinental car travel was still an adventure, not the smooth ride it is today. As Steinbeck learned, just finding a public pay phone so he could call his wife every three days was a major accomplishment.

Before he left Maine he had already realized the obvious – the country was too damn big and diverse to pin down or sum up. No one person, not even a Steinbeck, could discover the real America in 11 weeks or 11 months. Anyway, as he wisely said, there was no single “real” America. As he knew and advised his readers, every traveler must take his own trip and find his own version of America.  Trouble was, his was largely a 50 mph blur interrupted by luxurious vacations with his wife. And when his journey ended, he had to sit down and make up a nonfiction book about a real country he never found, never really looked for and didn’t really like much.

Richard Scaife — the billionaire owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who died July 4 — was a complicated and interesting man, politically, personally and philanthropically.

If he had been a Democrat and liberal-funder of nutty leftwing causes like Teresa Heinz, instead of a Republican funder of libertarian conservative think tanks, media and politicians, President Obama would have ordered America’s flags to fly at half mast.

If you want two versions of Richard Scaife’s amazing life — and a textbook lesson in the rank subjectivity of newspapers — compare and contrast the obits written by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Trib:

The PG obit:  Obituary: Richard M. Scaife / Ideologue, philanthropist, newspaper publisher

The Trib obit:  Richard Scaife, conservative champion, newsman & philanthropist, dies 

Decide for yourself who Richard Scaife really was. Good luck.

I worked at both papers — the PG in the 1990s and the Trib in the 2000s. When I decided to defect from the PG to the Trib, the first person I met for an interview was Richard Scaife. I worked my way down the chain of command and, after two years of interviews and dogged persistence on my part, I left the PG one Monday morning, crossed the Allegheny River and began work at the Trib 20 minutes later.

The Trib‘s obit is biased in Scaife’s favor, clearly. It leaves out all of the real-and-imagined dirt, nastiness and controversy, political and personal, all of which is debatable and too complicated for this blog item. It’ll be in someone else’s book someday, not mine. Or in a movie.

But the Trib‘s obit, while spun with loving positivity, gives Scaife his full due as a generous and important man. It also contains lots of mini-eulogies from political big shots like Romney and Jeb Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.

For the next week Scaife will be beat up in the mainstream media for his conservative-libertarian politics.

Many creepy liberal pundits and partisans will dance on his grave because he so generously funded the post-Goldwater conservative movement and spent a couple million bucks in the 1990s attempting to bring down the Clintons, who, hilariously, became chummy with him once they were out of power.

Politics, politics, politics. The debate over whether Scaife was the Devil or an angel will, as usual, depend on what your politics are  and it will never die.

Bu what people of every partisan stripe should give Scaife great credit for was making Pittsburgh a competitive two-newspaper town.

Starting in 1993 as the Pittsburgh edition of Scaife’s Greensburg Tribune-Review, his heavily subsidized paper, the Pittsburgh Trib, improved the journalism of the area in countless ways.

Growing slowly, adding talent and steadily improving the quality of its journalism, the Trib applied a strict conservative-libertarian ideology to local, state and national news and politics.

The Trib became a valuable counterweight to the Post-Gazette, which was a union-loving, public-sector loving, liberal Democrat establishment paper that was too cozy for too long with the political and corporate power-brokers of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The journalism of both papers — news and opinion — was biased to reflect their publishers’ views. But the Trib editorial page (very very much Scaife’s political voice and generally a source of embarrassment/shame for the liberals running the paper’s news side) was not a mindless Republican cheerleader or a right-wing echo chamber.

During the 2000s, when I worked there, The Trib‘s editorials and op-eds were highly critical of any Republican who was insufficiently conservative.

It never got the national credit it deserved, but the Trib, entirely because of Richard Scaife’s positions, editorialized against going to war in Iraq in 2003, wisely/bravely came out in favor of marijuana decriminalization five years ago, and was steadfastly pro-choice.

In 30-plus years of newspaper journalism at the L.A. Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Trib, I worked for and with a lot of good, smart people and a few miserable assholes.

Mr. Scaife, as I called him when he dropped by the office, was always as nice to me as my favorite uncle. He gave me raises, put me on the paper’s masthead as an associate editor and sent me notes of praise for my op-ed columns and feature stories.

Best of all, unlike my previous editors/publishers, he didn’t hold my radical libertarian politics against me. He appreciated them.

Over at The Daily Caller, Michael Bastasch reports that the liars & hoaxers at NOAA have been caught fudging — and then fixing — their “official”  temperature records by Anthony Watts, the super-blogging meteorologist at WattsUpWithThat.com —  NOAA Reinstates July 1936 As The Hottest Month On Record

If any weatherman deserved a Pulitzer, it’s Watts. His science-heavy site, when you can understand it, is the premier clubhouse of the anti-global warming forces.

Here’s a 2009 Q&A that I, Libertarian Elder Bill Steigerwald, did with Watts, who has done more to fact-check, challenge and debunk the myths and BS of global warming than any one carbon-spewing human could ever do.

 

Anthony Watts, man of science

Anyone who regularly tunes into WattsUpWithThat.com, the popular climate-science blog operated by Anthony Watts, will never make fun of TV weathermen again. Watts ­ who was a TV meteorologist for 25 years ­ provides a steady diet of smart, always interesting and sometimes deeply complex scientific information and opinion about global climate change. Watts is also the founder of surfacestations.org, a project that for nearly two years has been quality-checking each of the 1,200-plus weather stations of the U. S. Historical Climate Network (USHCN) to see if they are set up and maintained properly. So far, Watts and his volunteers have checked about 820 of the weather stations, which have been in place for about 100 years and are the source for the country’s official average annual temperature. Watts has found that temperature data from nearly 70 percent of the stations is of questionable accuracy because the stations do not adhere to the USHCN’s own quality-control guidelines. I talked to Watts April 16 by phone from his office in Chico, Calif.

 

Q: Why do you do your blog WattsUpWithThat?

A: Well, it’s just an extension of what my life has been up until the last few years. I was a broadcaster on television ­ a meteorologist ­ for 25 years. I look at the blog as really no different. I did a daily broadcast each day in television. A blog is really just a daily broadcast in a different form.

Q: Who is your target audience?

A: I never really thought about a target audience. I took the same philosophy from broadcasting. I made it to reach as broad an audience as possible and the demographics that I get from it tell me I am doing that job successfully. I’ve got everything from people with high school educations to people that are Ph.Ds who are reading and commentating and sometimes even submitting articles.

Q: Sometimes it gets pretty deep ­ lots of scientific charts and data.

A: It does. But that is to be expected because of the broad audience we have. My job is to try to make everything understandable, even for people who are not in tune with some of the more technical details of climate.

Q: Have you become more politicized since you began blogging? Or are you primarily still a man of science?

A: Well, my main interest always has been the science. I am still of the belief that you should let the data tell you what the real story is. As far as the blog goes, the only thing I can say that I’ve become a little more critical of in terms of politics is that we have some people now who should be sticking to science, such as Jim Hansen (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, going out and advocating things such as civil disobedience (at coal-fired power plants). That concerns me.

Q: What is your basic position on the question of global warming? Are you a believer? A skeptic? Somewhere in between?

A: I would call myself what some people describe as a “lukewarmer” in that the CO2 effect that people have done thousands of studies on is in fact real. However, it is not a crisis. The reason it is not a crisis is because most people do not understand the logarithmic nature of the CO2 response in our atmosphere.

Q: And that means?

A: It’s like salting soup. If you have a bowl of soup in front of you and you put a little salt in it to salt it to taste, you say, “Well, maybe it needs just a tad more.” So you add some more salt and you think, “Maybe not quite enough.” Then you add some more, and all the sudden it’s too salty. Now if you were to add additional salt to the soup, you could not determine that it was any more salty than it already was. And if you continue to add salt, you can’t tell the difference.

CO2 is much like that in the way that our atmosphere responds to long-wave outgoing radiation, or trapping of heat. At some point when you get to a certain level, like a doubling of CO2, and then you add a second doubling of CO2, the response halves. It’s logarithmic. Then it halves again and then halves again after that. So much of the effect that we would expect to see from CO2 — because of this logarithmic response — has already happened. In essence, our soup is already fairly well salted and additional salting is not to make a whole lot of difference.

Q: What is the most harmful “fact” ­ quote unquote ­ about global warming that everyone believes but which is probably not true or at least uncertain?

A: There is a belief out there that we will get into a runaway condition where at some point a tipping point would occur and that at that point there is no turning back and then the world would destroy itself. That is being pushed in the media a lot and it is flat wrong.

As we go back into history, into past millennia, we can see that our atmosphere has in fact had much more CO2 ­ up to 6,000 parts per million, compared to the 380 parts per million that we have now ­ and it has responded and it has settled. Earth didn’t destroy itself. It didn’t burn up and boil off the oceans. So the comparison that we see with runaway global warming and the turning of Earth into Venus, things of that nature, are probably the most dangerous and wrong ideas that are being pushed.

Q: Are your troubled or annoyed by the way global warming is being discussed or covered by the mainstream media?

A: I am. And mainly because it’s getting a free pass for almost every problem that’s brought up. There’s a Web site in the UK called Number Watch (numberwatch.com) that maintains a list of literally thousands of things in the media that are blamed on global warming. It’s almost like “The Devil made me do it.” The idea here is that, yeah, we have an issue and the issue is that there is some warming of the atmosphere. That warming however is not catastrophic. It has occurred in the past and the Earth has survived. So the blaming of global warming as a catchall for every problem that we see in our environment is a disservice to science and to the people.

Q: My grandchildren ask me if the polar ice in the Northern Hemisphere is going to disappear?

A: I would say that the polar ice has disappeared in the past. Certainly there seems to be evidence of past climate situations where we may have had virtually no or none during the summertime. In the immediate future, however, I don’t think we are going to see that. In fact, we’re going through a rebound right now. If you look at the current Arctic ice extent from the Japanese agency which tracks the Arctic ice, you’ll find that it is very near normal at this point and it is rebounding well from the last couple years. Antarctic ice is above normal. And the global total amount of sea ice is above normal. So it’s not disappearing any time soon.

Q: What’s the story with the Sun? It’s been described as being asleep or in a state of “slumber” because it has had virtually no sun spots for a long time. What’s going on?

A: Well, the Sun is driven by dynamic magnetic cycles. There are 11-year and 22-year cycles that have been identified and there are longer cycles that have been theorized. In every kind of a cycling endeavor there are always lulls and there are giant peaks. We’ve seen both in the past. We’ve seen lulls in the Maunder Minimum (1645 to 1715) and the Dalton Minimum (1790 to 1830), when virtually no sun spots appeared. Coincidentally, during those periods the weather and climate on Earth got colder.

The period that we are currently in now is what appears to be the beginning of an extended solar cycle that may now be as long as 12 1/2 years, compared to the normal 11. The current state of the Sun appears to be a similar kind of situation being set up to what it was right before the Dalton Minimum. So the possibility exists that we may find ourselves in a period of cooler weather in the next 20 to 30 years.

The missing link, however, between solar activity and Earth’s climate is “What is the amplification factor?” The total solar irradiance, or TSI, has shown to be very small and when you look at the amount of watts per meter that is delivered to the Earth’s surface, the amount of change in total solar irradiance doesn’t appear to be enough to cause such differences in the climate of the Earth.

However, what people are looking for now is an amplification factor ­ sort of a climatic transistor, if you will. A transistor takes very small signals and amplifies them so they are audible ­ which is why radios work. The theory has been bandied about that the same kind of process occurs in Earth’s climate. A very small change in signal related to solar activity ­ and we don’t know which signal yet; it could be total solar irradiance, it could be ultraviolent; it could be magnetic; it could be cosmic rays; there are number of things that are being looked at — gets amplified in Earth’s natural processes and changes. That’s what needs to be identified before a complete causal relationship is established between changes on the Sun’s solar cycle and changes in Earth’s climate.

Q: When we know the immense size of the Sun and power of the Sun and relative tininess of Earth, doesn’t the Sun just scream out as being the chief culprit of climate change on Earth?

A: On the surface — on a simple analysis — one would think that. But again, the missing link is, what is the true causal relationship between changes in the Sun’s solar cycle and Earth climate. Where’s the amplification factor? Because just the change in the amount of sunlight that occurs doesn’t appear to be enough to account for the observed changes in the past. So we are looking for that link.

However, I would say that the Sun really is the Big Kahuna of all the climate on earth. We would not have any climate. We would not have any weather. We would not have any ocean currents. We would not have life. We would have nothing if it were not for the Sun. So the Sun is this central point from which everything on Earth springs. We should not ignore that fact.

Q: Is a period of global cooling coming? And if so, what would you point to as evidence of that?

A: Well, there is a post on my blog today (April 16) about the computer models (of future global average temperatures) starting to diverge from the climate reality. This is something that is really kind of unexpected. The models continue to go up in (global temperature) but the climate reality and the current (global temperature) measurement starts to go down. They are diverging and have been diverging since 2006. There are a number of things that have aligned that make me think that perhaps we are in for a cooling period. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, for example, has shifted from its warm regime to its cold regime last year. NASA JPL certified this. The last time it switched — in 1978 — it switched from a cool regime to a warm regime. We’ve been riding that warm period all the way since then.

Q: Is there a quick way to explain what the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is?

A: It has a larger influence than either La Nina or El Nino. It is a broad swath of water that extends from the Equator up into Alaska that changes the character of the surface temperatures of the Pacific over that broad swath of water. It was discovered by looking into changes in fishery stock by the University of Washington. The fishing stocks were changing and they had no explanation for it. They starting looking for it and they discovered it was linked to the food supply. And the food supply ­ krill and phytoplankton and all that sort of stuff ­ was linked to the changes in the temperature of the water. So they discovered this pattern. So it’s a broad, wholesale change in the structure of the surface temperature of the Pacific.

Q: That has obvious influences over the whole climate for years afterwards.

A: Particularly the United States, because the weather flows from west to east. And particularly California. California had a fairly cool climate prior to 1978. And during the warmer period from 1978 to last year, agriculture boomed in California. Grapes began to be grown in places they haven’t been grown before. The wine industry expanded. Agricultural expanded. And it expanded under a warmer climatic regime. Now that warmer climatic regime is in danger of shrinking again. So we may find growing seasons and growing places reduced back to areas that they were historically at in 1978.

Q: What is the most important, irrefutable truth about the climate of Earth that you wish every schoolchild and every elected official in Washington understood?

A: That the climate has always changed. It has never been static. In the past it has seen extremes hotter and colder than what we experience today. So change is normal.

Q: Since you are a meteorologist, I’ll put you on the spot. Ten years from now what will we be talking about, global warming or global cooling?

A: I believe it will be global cooling, based on the fact that there are several things aligning ­ like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the solar patterns and so forth — to make it appear that we might be in for a period of global cooling. However, I am also prepared to say that I may be completely wrong.

Pulling a libertarian quote from John Steinbeck out of my book and tying it into the 4th of July, Alak Mehta of the Blaze.com gives me a priceless plug and alerts the folks in Glen Beck Land to the existence of “Dogging Steinbeck,” which he kindly — and accurately — calls “a hilarious, exuberant read that reveals much about John Steinbeck and the diversity of people, places, and attitudes that is America.”

For anyone who wants to see and hear the John Steinbeck of 1961, here’s your chance.

Steinbeck and his wife Elaine were invited to JFK’s inaugural address in DC on January 20, 1961.

They went to the speech on a bitter cold day with JFK insider John Kenneth Galbraith and his wife Catherine, but skipped the inaugural ball that night and watched it on TV.

It was about six weeks after John Steinbeck returned to New York following his 1960 “Travels With Charley” road trip. Steinbeck, 58 but looking 70-something, shared a limo ride with the Galbraiths to and from the speech. On board with them was a camera crew that was shooting a Robert Drew  documentary produced for an ABC “Close Up” TV program called “Adventures on the New Frontier.”

In the documentary footage the Steinbecks and the Galbraiths are seen praising Kennedy’s inauguration speech and making jokes. The Galbraiths went to the inaugural ball in Washington that night, which is where the video ends.

The original chapter Steinbeck wrote for “Charley” was entitled “L’Envoi” and was about his trip to the inaugural. Never seen publicly until 2002, it was cut from the book for good reason — it didn’t fit with the rest of  “Charley’ and it was pretty boring.

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John and Elaine Steinbeck take a limo ride with John Kenneth Galbraith and his wife after the JFK inaugural speech of Jan. 20, 1961.