Multi-state Cabbage truck pile-up

I’ll admit this is one collision of green I had not [truly] considered, but Is the human race too dumb to survive?

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) questioned Duffy on the factors that contribute to sea-level rise, pointing out that land subsidence plays a role, as well as human activity. Brooks then said that erosion plays a significant role in sea-level rise, which is not an idea embraced by mainstream climate researchers. He said the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover tumble into the sea every year, and that contributes to sea-level rise. He also said that silt washing into the ocean from the world’s major rivers, including the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile, is contributing to sea-level rise. “Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up,” Brooks said.

Most everyone who has reckoned with the possibilities seems to understand that, whatever the fate of humans, the planet will eventually survive. So when we talk about the destruction of the planet, we’re thinking of our own, rather than that of the 3rd Rock itself. I’ve been grappling with this in a different but very related context recently – that is, how to best communicate with the public (industry, citizens, local governments) about the solutions to the challenges wrought by climate change, when the posture of state leaders more resembles that of Congressman Brooks. The stock response is: Stop talking about that! Despite the best efforts of Rembrandt, Descartes, Heisenberg, Jessie Owens and Emily Dickinson, maybe we’re just too dumb. Perhaps we can set a date at some point in the [near] future when we can begin talking about sea level rise, erratic weather, internal displacement, clean water, energy… but maybe that’s just negotiating with stupid. In which case, stupid has already prevailed and Groundhog Day is a truck that drives around town all day, picking up the same cabbages that fell from it earlier this morning.

Speaking to Dollar

If I haven’t previously put excerpts of L.-F. Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night on the site, then I have been derelict in one of my few actual duties. Let’s try to fix that. Find this book (translated from French by Ralph Mannheim), open it up and start anywhere:

When the faithful enter their bank, don’t go thinking they can help themselves as they please. Far from it. In speaking to Dollar, they mumble words through a little grill; that’s their confessional. Not much sound, dim light, a tiny wicket between high arches, that’s all. They don’t swallow the Host, they put it on their hearts. I couldn’t stay there long admiring them. I had to follow the crowd in the street, between those walls of smooth shadow.

Suddenly our street widened, like a crevasse opening out into a bright clearing. Up ahead of us we saw a great pool of sea-green light, wedged between hordes of monstrous buildings. And in the middle of the clearing stood a rather countrified-looking house, surrounded by woebegone lawns.

I asked several people in the crowd what this edifice was, but most of them pretended not to hear me. They couldn’t spare the time. But one young fellow right next to me was kind enough to tell me it was City Hall, adding that it was an ancient monument dating back to colonial times, ever so historical… so they’d left it there… The fringes of this oasis formed a kind of park with benches, where you could sit comfortably enough and look at the building. When I got there, there was hardly anything else to see.

I waited more than an hour in the same place, and then toward noon, from the half-light, from the shuffling, discontinuous, dismal crowd, there erupted a sudden avalanche of absolutely and undeniably beautiful women.

What a discovery! What an America! What ecstasy! I thought of Lola… Her promises had not deceived me! It was true.

I had come to the heart of my pilgrimage. And if my appetite hadn’t kept calling itself to my attention, that would have struck me as one of those moments of supernatural aesthetic revelation. If I’d been a little more comfortable and confident, the incessant beauties I was discovering might have ravished me from my base human condition. In short, all I needed was a sandwich to make me believe in miracles. But how I needed that sandwich!

And yet, what supple grace! What incredible delicacy of form and feature! What inspired harmonies! What perilous nuances! Triumphant where the danger is greatest! Every conceivable promise of face and figure fulfilled! Those blondes! Those brunettes! Those Titian redheads! And more and more kept coming! Maybe, I thought, this is Greece starting all over again. Looks like I got here just in time.

What made those apparitions all the more divine in my eyes was that they seemed totally unaware of my existence as I sat on a bench close by, slap-happy, drooling with erotico-mystical admiration and quinine, but also, I have to admit, with hunger. If it were possible for a man to jump out of his skin, I’d have done it then, once and for all. There was nothing to hold me back.

Those unlikely midinettes could have wafted me away, sublimated me; a gesture, a word would have sufficed, and in that moment I’d have been transported, all of me, into the world of dreams. But I suppose they had other fish to fry.

I sat there for an hour, two hours, in that state of stupefaction. I had nothing more in the world to hope for.

You know about innards? The trick they play on tramps in the country? They stuff an old wallet with putrid chicken innards. Well, take it from me, a man is just like that, except that he’s fatter and hungrier and can move around, and inside there’s a dream.

I had to look at the practical side of things and not dip into my small supply of money right away. I didn’t have much. I was even afraid to count it. I couldn’t have anyway, because I was seeing double. I could only feel those thin, bashful banknotes through the material of my pocket, side by side with my phony statistics.

Men were passing, too, mostly young ones with faces that seemed to be made of pink wood, with a dry, monotonous expression, and jowls so wide and coarse they were hard to get used to… Well, maybe that was the kind of jowls their womenfolk wanted. The sexes seemed to stay on different sides of the street. The women looked only at the shopwindows, their whole attention was taken by the handbags, scarves, and little silk doodads, displayed very little at a time, but with precision and authority. You didn’t see many old people in that crowd. Not many couples either. Nobody seemed to find it strange that I should sit on that bench for hours all by myself, watching the people pass. But all at once the policeman standing like an inkwell in the middle of the street seemed to suspect me of sinister intentions. I could tell.

Wherever you may be, the moment you draw the attention of the authorities, the best thing you can do is disappear in a hurry. Don’t try to explain. Sink into the earth! I said to myself.

It so happened that just to one side of my bench there was a big hole in the sidewalk, something like the Métro at home. That hole seemed propitious, so vast, with a stairway all of pink marble inside it. I’d seen quite a few people from the street disappear into it and come out again. It was in that underground vault that they answered the call of nature. I caught on right away. The hall where the business was done was likewise of marble. A kind of swimming pool, but drained of all its water, a fetid swimming pool, filled only with filtered, moribund light, which fell on the forms of unbuttoned men surrounded by their smells, red in the face from the effect of expelling their stinking feces with barbarous noises in front of everybody.

Men among men, all free and easy, they laughed and joked and cheered one another on, it made me think of a football game. The first thing you did when you got there was to take off your jacket, as if in preparation for strenuous exercise. This was a rite and shirtsleeves were the uniform.

In that state of undress, belching and worse, gesticulating like lunatics, they settled down in the fecal grotto. The new arrivals were assailed with a thousand revolting jokes while descending the stairs from the street, but they all seemed delighted.

Crushing Necessity

Okay… it’s Friday. Time for your medicine, all you busy people.

This is from that studied misanthrope, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit, somewhere about page 170. Translation by Ralph Mannheim (New York: New Directions, 1983)

What horrified me most was all of that Elevated Railway. On the other side of the court, which was more like a well shaft, the wall began to light up, first one, then two rooms, then dozens. I could see what was going on in some of them. Couples going to bed. These Americans seemed as worn out as our own people after their vertical hours. The women had very full, very pale thighs, at least the ones I was able to get a good look at. Before going to bed, most of the men shaved without taking the cigars out of their mouths.

In bed they first took off their glasses, then put their false teeth in a glass of water, which they left in evidence. Same as in the street, the sexes didn’t seem to talk to each other. They impressed me as fat, docile animals, used to being bored. In all, I only saw two couples engaging, with the light on, in the kind of thing I’d expected, and not at all violently. The other women ate chocolates in bed, while waiting for their husbands to finish shaving. And then they all put their lights out.

There’s something sad about people going to bed. You can see they don’t give a damn whether they’re getting what they want out of life or not, you can see they don’t even try to understand what we’re here for. They just don’t care. Americans or not, they sleep no matter what, they’re bloated mollusks, no sensibility, no trouble with their conscience.

I’d seen too many puzzling things to be easy in my mind. I knew too much and not enough. I’d better go out, I said to myself, I’d better go out again. Maybe I’ll meet Robinson. Naturally that was an idiotic idea, but I dreamed it up as an excuse for going out again, because no matter how much I tossed and turned on my narrow bed, I couldn’t snatch the tiniest scrap of sleep. Even masturbation, at times like that, provides neither comfort nor entertainment. Then you’re really in despair.

The worst part is wondering how you’ll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you’ll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows.



Apparitions All The More Divine

Okay… I’ve spared you all long enough. Communal racist that he was, Louis-Ferdinand Celine remains one the 20th century’s fire-breathing heavyweights. His Journey to the End of the Night, translated by Ralph Manheim, is a terrifyingly hilarious uproar that takes him from the ghettos of France to African jungles to… Detroit(!) where he worked for Ford Motor Company, to Manhattan, back to France. His Death on the Installment Plan is well, probably just a little too familiar while at the same probingly fitful and clairvoyant.

The following is from Journey, just as he arrives in New York the first time.

As if I knew where I was going, I put on an air of choosing and hanged my direction, taking a different street on my right, one that was better lit. “Broadway” it was called. I read the name on a sign. High up, far above the uppermost stories, there was still a bit of daylight, with sea gulls and patches of sky. We moved in the lower light, a sick sort of jungle light, so gray that the street seemed to be full of grimy cotton waste.

That street was like a dismal gash, endless, with us at the bottom of it filling it from side to side, advancing from sorrow to sorrow, toward an end that is never in sight, the end of all the streets in the world.

There were no cars or carriages, only people and more people.

This was the priceless district, I was told later, the gold district : Manhattan.You can enter it only on foot, like a church. It’s the banking heart and center of the present-day world. Yet some of those people spit on the sidewalk as they pass. You’ve got to have your nerve with you.

It’s a district filled with gold, a miracle, and through the doors you can actually hear the miracle, the sound of dollars being crumpled, for the Dollar is always too light, a genuine Holy Ghost, more precious than blood.

I found time to go and see them, I even went in and spoke to the employees who guard the cash. They’re sad and underpaid.

When the faithful enter their bank, don’t go thinking they can help themselves as they please. Far from it. In speaking to Dollar, they mumble words through a little grill; that’s their confessional. Not much sound, dim light, a tiny wicket between high arches, that’s all. They don’t swallow the Host, they put it on their hearts. I couldn’t stay there long admiring them. I had to follow the crowd in the street, between those walls of smooth shadow.

Suddenly our street widened, like a crevasse opening out into a bright clearing. Up ahead of us we saw a great pool of sea-green light, wedged between hordes of monstrous buildings. And in the middle of the clearing stood a rather countrified-looking house, surrounded by woebegone lawns.

I asked several people in the crowd what this edifice was, but most of them pretended not to hear me. They couldn’t spare the time. But one young fellow right next to me was kind enough to tell me it was City Hall, adding that it was an ancient monument dating back to colonial times, ever so historical… so they’d left it there… The fringes of this oasis formed a kind of park with benches, where you could sit comfortably enough and look at the building. When I got there, there was hardly anything else to see.

I waited more than an hour in the same place, and then toward noon, from the half-light, from the shuffling, discontinuous, dismal crowd, there erupted a sudden avalanche of absolutely and undeniably beautiful women.

What a discovery! What an America! What ecstasy! I thought of Lola… Her promises had not deceived me! It was true.

I had come to the heart of my pilgrimage. And if my appetite hadn’t kept calling itself to my attention, that would have struck me as one of those moments of supernatural aesthetic revelation. If I’d been a little more comfortable and confident, the incessant beauties I was discovering might have ravished me from my base human condition. In short, all I needed was a sandwich to make me believe in miracles. But how I needed that sandwich!

And yet, what supple grace! What incredible delicacy of form and feature! What inspired harmonies! What perilous nuances! Triumphant where the danger is greatest! Every conceivable promise of face and figure fulfilled! Those blondes! Those brunettes! Those Titian redheads! And more and more kept coming! Maybe, I thought, this is Greece starting all over again. Looks like I got here just in time.

What made those apparitions all the more divine in my eyes was that they seemed totally unaware of my existence as I sat on a bench close by, slap-happy, drooling with erotico-mystical admiration and quinine, but also, I have to admit, with hunger. If it were possible for a man to jump out of his skin, I’d have done it then, once and for all. There was nothing to hold me back.

Those unlikely midinettes could have wafted me away, sublimated me; a gesture, a word would have sufficed, and in that moment I’d have been transported, all of me, into the world of dreams. But I suppose they had other fish to fry.

I sat there for an hour, two hours, in that state of stupefaction. I had nothing more in the world to hope for.

You know about innards? The trick they play on tramps in the country? They stuff an old wallet with putrid chicken innards. Well, take it from me, a man is just like that, except that he’s fatter and hungrier and can move around, and inside there’s a dream.

I had to look at the practical side of things and not dip into my small supply of money right away. I didn’t have much. I was even afraid to count it. I couldn’t have anyway, because I was seeing double. I could only feel those thin, bashful banknotes through the material of my pocket, side by side with my phony statistics.

Men were passing, too, mostly young ones with faces that seemed to be made of pink wood, with a dry, monotonous expression, and jowls so wide and coarse they were hard to get used to… Well, maybe that was the kind of jowls their womenfolk wanted. The sexes seemed to stay on different sides of the street. The women looked only at the shopwindows, their whole attention was taken by the handbags, scarves, and little silk doodads, displayed very little at a time, but with precision and authority. You didn’t see many old people in that crowd. Not many couples either. Nobody seemed to find it strange that I should sit on that bench for hours all by myself, watching the people pass. But all at once the policeman standing like an inkwell in the middle of the street seemed to suspect me of sinister intentions. I could tell.

And big congratulations, Mr. President.

Imported and Distorted

Insight on the new Honda Insight (hybrid automobile) from a climate change skeptic, whose cruel sense of humor almost circles back around to making sense. Sample.

The nickel for the battery has to come from somewhere. Canada, usually. It has to be shipped to Japan, not on a sailing boat, I presume. And then it must be converted, not in a tree house, into a battery, and then that battery must be transported, not on an ox cart, to the Insight production plant in Suzuka. And then the finished car has to be shipped, not by Thor Heyerdahl, to Britain, where it can be transported, not by wind, to the home of a man with a beard who thinks he’s doing the world a favour.

Why doesn’t he just buy a Range Rover, which is made from local components, just down the road? No, really — weird-beards buy locally produced meat and vegetables for eco-reasons. So why not apply the same logic to cars?

Just so.

Reminds me of L.F. Celine’s Bardamu in Journey to the End of the Night, when the doctor-cum-mal vivant spends some time working at a Ford Plant near Detroit.

When we’d put on our clothes again, we were sent off in slow-moving single files and hesitant groups towards the places where the vast crashing sound of the machines came from. The whole building shook, and oneself from one’s soles to one’s ears was possessed by this shaking, which vibrated from the ground, the glass panes and all this metal, a series of shocks from floor to ceiling. One was turned by force into a machine oneself, the whole of one’s carcass quivering in this vast frenzy of noise, which filled you within and all around the inside of your skull, and lower down rattled your bowels, and climbed to your eyes in infinite, little, quick unending strokes. As you went along, you lost your companions. You gave them a little smile when they fell away, as if it was all the greatest fun in the world. You couldn’t speak to them any longer or hear them. Each time, three or four stayed behind around a machine…. The little bucking trolley car loaded with metal bits and pieces strives to make headway through the workmen. Out of the light! They jump aside to let the hysterical little thing pass along. And hop! There it goes like mad thing, clinking on its way amid belts and flywheels, taking the men their ration of shackles.

Since we cannot but ask for more, seconds all around.