By this time, I suppose, you may have some skepticism about this project. What is my motivation? Is this writing some species of revenge, cowardly pay-back inflicted on a dead man. KJL can’t defend himself from my account of his life, which is, certainly not impartial and, also,necessarily tendentious – certain themes are developed in this essay and the alert reader (hypocrite lecteur) will detect, I suppose, arguments about my friend’s life that the dead man is unable to refute. There are qualities in this prose that were foreign to KJL. If the readers suspects bitterness on the part of this writer, you must understand that my subject was never bitter – indeed, even when gravely ill, he was determinedly optimistic and, as far as I could see, happy with his station in life. Similarly, there may be traces of rancor, even, regret in this chronicle – in many ways, KJL lived the life that I wished for myself. But, as Sartre reminds us, regret is nothing but bad faith – had I wished to live otherwise, I surely had agency in selecting my style of existence. I could have done something else with my life, but didn’t. I never heard KJL ever express any regrets about anything that he had done or left undone.
Simply stated I admired KJL but am well-aware that he didn’t admire me. My accomplishments, such as they were, meant nothing to him, and were meaningless in the context of the world that he made for himself. It can probably be said that I spent half my life admiring KJL and wishing I could be more like him. Of course, I admired his courage, his ability to interact with the widest variety of people without self-consciousness or self-doubt, his freedom, and, even, his powerful physique that impressed women and that defeated men in athletic competition. He was worldly and had a great deal of what people once called savoir faire. By contrast, I tend toward naivety and everything frightens me.
Therefore, it is right to understand that I admired KJL for half of my life and pitied him for the other half. He didn’t want my pity and, if he had known that I felt that emotion, he would have disdained it. Indeed, the last time I saw him, when he was terribly stricken, I asked him to let me buy him glasses so that he could see better. Proudly enough, he rebuffed that suggestion.
This essay has become a burden to me. I wake up in the middle of the night and start ransacking my memory for anecdotes about KJL and, after a few minutes, my recollection comes to life and I am suffocated with thoughts about him. It is as if I am next to a great dismal torrent on which my memories are floating like a froth of scum. I want to seize as many as I can but it’s to no avail. The efforts don’t add up to anything like the man himself.
Last night, I was tormented by these thoughts and couldn’t sleep and, at last, I decided to get up to use the toilet – it is an old man’s curse, an aging urinary tract. When I arose, I felt an awful pain in my right hip. It was as if I had been wrestling with some celestial being and that, as dawn was whitening the horizon, the angel touched a hollow place near the socket of my hip and put it out of joint. The pain was really shocking, worse I suppose because imaginary, and it made me shiver in my bed. But, then, I fell asleep and everything went away.
-- John Steven Beckmann, "On KJL," January 20, 2020.
I wanted the mind of a scholar, but it seemed that Dr. Kerry saw in me the mind of a roofer. The other students belonged in a library; I belonged in a crane.
The first week passed in a blur of lectures. In the second week, every student was assigned a supervisor to guide their research. My supervisor, I learned, was the eminent Professor Jonathan Steinberg, a former vice-master of Cambridge College, who was much celebrated for his writings on the Holocaust.
My first meeting with Professor Steinberg took place a few days later. I waited at the porter's lodge until a thin man appeared and, producing a set of heavy keys, unlocked a wooden door set into the stone. I followed him up a spiral staircase and into the clock tower itself, where there was a well-lit room with simple furnishings: two chairs and a wooden table.
I could hear the blood pounding behind my ears as I sat down. Professor Steinberg was in his seventies but I would not have described him as an old man. He was lithe, and his eyes moved about the room with probing energy. his speech was measured and fluid.
"I am Professor Steinberg," he said. "What would you like to read?"
I mumbled something about historiography. I had decided to study not history, but historians. I suppose my interest came from the sense of groundlessness I'd felt since learning about the Holocaust and the civil rights movement -- since realizing that what a person knows about the past is limited, and will always be limited, to what they are told by others. I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected -- a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world. Now I needed to understand how the great gatekeepers of history had come to terms with their own ignorance and partiality. I thought if I could accept that what they had written was not absolute but was the result of a biased process of conversation and revision, maybe I could reconcile myself with the fact that the history most people agreed upon was not the history I had been taught. Dad could be wrong, and the great historians Carlyle and Macaulay and Trevelyan could be wrong, but from the ashes of their dispute I could construct a world to live in. In knowing the ground was not ground at all, I hoped I could stand on it.
I doubt I managed to communicate any of this. When I finished talking, Professor Steinberg eyed me for a moment, then said, "Tell me about your education. Where did you attend school?"
The air was immediately sucked out of the room.
"I grew up in Idaho," I said.
"And you attended school there?"
It occurs to me in retrospect that someone might have told Professor Steinberg about me, perhaps Dr. Kerry. Or perhaps he perceived that I was avoiding his question, and that made him curious. Whatever the reason, he wasn't satisfied until I admitted that I'd never been to school.
"How marvelous," he said, smiling. It's as if I've stepped into Shaw's Pygmalion."
-- Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2018).
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.