RIP David Berman

Leonardo da Vinci, St. Jerome

I was operating the elevator when the repairman came aboard. After a lot of small talk he let me in on an industry secret: the “door close” button is not wired to anything. “It’s just a pacifier,” he said.

On a normal day I think in questions: “Should I quit my job? Why can’t I relate to people? Where am I going?” I can never answer them conclusively and only wear myself out. When I’m high in the back of a club listening to Son Seals play I only think in answers: “I’ll move to El Paso this fall. These solos are wandering into every unused space. My girlfriend is pretty good looking after all. I should see about buying a mausoleum.”

A municipal concession to human psychology: The insides of buses are lit at night because people will not sit in dark rooms with strangers.

I bought some greeting cards in a Nungessers junk shop last night. They’re not much more than twenty years old but the sentiments are already foreign. Fluff from other eras always turns my stomach. What if no one feels these feelings anymore. Do they go down in history like famous clothes?

I wonder if Jackson Pollock unconsciously designed so many of these canvases to have the same dimensions as U.S. paper currency, accidentally imbuing them with some concrete power.

Working at the museum is changing the way I look at everyday objects. Eating at an Italian restaurant, I look at the red and white gridded tablecloth and wonder that all the dishes have their owned unnamed coordinates.

All the guards are freaks. That is a fact. Wouldn’t standing alone in a corner six hours a day over many years change you?

David Berman, "Clip-On Tie," The Baffler No. 6 (December 1994)

The Point of No Return

Eric Holthaus, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here," Rolling Stone, August 5, 2013.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization" . . . .

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That's because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that's also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children's Trust, a legal advocacy organization that's filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn't just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it's also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Manhattan, Brooklyn

Finally the greatest thing about Manhattan is the worst thing about Manhattan: self-actualization. Here you will be free to stretch yourself to your limit, to find the beach that is yours alone. But sooner or later you will be sitting on that beach wondering what comes next. I can see my own beach ahead now, as the children grow, as the practical limits fade; I see afresh the huge privilege of my position; it reclarifies itself. Under the protection of a university I live on one of the most privileged strips of built-up beach in the world, among people who believe they have no limits and who push me, by their very proximity, into the same useful delusion, now and then.

It is such a good town in which to work and work. You can find your beach here, find it falsely, but convincingly, still thinking of Manhattan as an isle of writers and artists—of downtown underground wildlings and uptown intellectuals—against all evidence to the contrary. Oh, you still see them occasionally here and there, but unless they are under the protection of a university—or have sold that TV show—they are all of them, every single last one of them, in Brooklyn.

-- Zadie Smith, "Find Your Beach," New York Review of Books, October 23, 2014