Also possible without needing a pandemic

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.

At the end of 2019, medical professionals in Wuhan, China, were treating dozens of pneumonia cases that had an unknown source. Days later, researchers confirmed the illnesses were caused by a new coronavirus (COVID-19). By January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities had shut down transportation going into and out of Wuhan, as well as local businesses, in order to reduce the spread of the disease. It was the first of several quarantines set up in the country and around the world.

The maps on this page show concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. The maps above show NO2 values across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). The data were collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. A related sensor, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, has been making similar measurements.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.

It doesn’t take a disaster or even an emergency – beyond the one we have already created with the usual emissions levels. Reductions are possible. Disasters and loss are not mandatory, though we do make them inevitable to some extent by doing nothing. Still, these dramatic images should be instructional about what’s possible. It would be interesting to know the near-term implications of these reductions. You know, science.

Faceback

Take the [please!] newest, most naive form of sharing personal news and information, let it be a for-profit business and just for kicks, make it the most profitable non-product the world has ever known. What would you get?

On the one hand, the company wants to curtail the spread of disinformation across its site. At the same time, it wants to avoid alienating the groups and candidates who depend on its platform for fund-raising and organizing. So in trying to find a way to please everyone on the issue, Facebook has managed to please no one.

The social network has now become an outlier in how freely it lets political candidates and elected officials advertise on its platform. While Mr. Zuckerberg declared last month that Facebook would not police political ads, Twitter said it would ban all such ads because of their negative impact on civic discourse. On Wednesday, Google said it would no longer allow political ads to be directed to specific audiences based on people’s public voter records or political affiliations.

Part of our own vulnerability rests within an inability to understand simple words like ‘sharing’, and reluctance to engage with non-simple contracts like the many we would rather click agree to and just get back to posting our favorite stuff. More on all of this soon, but we’re really staring into the abyss here without noting the swirl. We hear the sound, but not its signal; can do steps but are not invited to the dance.

Thumbs up!

11 to 7 on the Paradigm Shift

There are great amounts of quality disparagements of business schools in general (intentional or not), and MBA programs in particular. The singular ethos, such as it exists, or lack of concern beyond profiteering for anything involving people, environments, good governance or even public safety opens a very wide field in which quite little is possible other than the growing of predator industries and the election of frauds.

But the hedge-fund guys and girls have largely gotten a pass for a long while now, though that just will not suffice and they refuse to have their lack of acumen for or understanding of the industries they destroy not properly respected for precisely what it is:

To me, this and so many other closings of quality publications leads to a broader question of whether journalistic outlets can even exist under this current age of capitalism. In short, I think the answer is basically no. Journalism can exist in a capitalist system of course, but only when the people who own these outlets have some higher purposes, at least in part, whether it is some belief in the truth or at least a willingness to accept relatively moderate profits instead of instant gold. But we now live in an era of venture capitalist schemes, where rank idiots stumble into massive wealth and believe that they are rich because they are smarter than everyone else. When this happens, as it did in the initial Gilded Age, these morons run roughshod over the world around them.

Just so. The jump comes from a ledge of dangerous combination: You make a great deal of money – however quickly – and also systematically evade any education that would have given you access to some self-awareness that might save you and others something a little more important than two points below prime. The serial misunderstanding of terms will be the subtext of the best work of many future historians and not-a-few extradition treaties. CRaP, for example, is a re-purposed acronym that should be far more useful that it is.

The Real Eschew

Given the vicissitudes of the news cycle over the last four months, this is a pretty solid distribution of issues over the last four debates. As long as Health Care stays in the top three or four, voters might be able to stay focused on the ridiculous costs of living, and even of dying, quite frankly.

And Democrats can actually do several things at once, as long as one of those things is holding criminals accountable for crimes.

Bonus Fun Fact: subpoena means “Under Penalty.”

Tenther limits

Apparently, the 10th Amendment Sovereignty Movement is all well and good until it begins to effect air pollution requirements:

Because of California’s historical air pollution problems, the federal Clean Air Act gives California the right to establish stricter guidelines than the federal government — so long as it gets a waiver from the EPA. The Obama administration granted the state such a waiver on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, although the state and federal governments wound up agreeing on a joint plan to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent by 2025.

Almost from the day he took office, though, Trump has vowed to roll back the Obama standards, and laid plans to revoke California’s waiver.

That prompted California in July to engineer a major coup: Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen cut a deal with Newsom and the California Air Resources Board to reduce carbon emissions at a far swifter rate than the Trump administration wants. The deal represents a compromise on the original Obama standards by giving the automakers an extra year, until 2026, to meet the climate change targets.

Newsom later announced that Mercedes Benz is on the verge of agreeing to the same standards as the other four companies.

The announcement reportedly infuriated Trump. Earlier this month, lawyers for the EPA and the federal Department of Transportation sent a letter to Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, saying the deal with the automakers appears to be “unlawful and invalid.” Separately, numerous media reported that the U.S. Justice Department had launched an antitrust investigation into the four carmakers’ participation in the deal.

Let’s make sure to stipulate just what we’re talking about here – the ability of the nation’s largest state to reduce carbon emissions. Civil right, gun control, healthcare, and voting standards must all be subservient to the wishes of purity-driven state governments.

Reducing carbon emissions and protecting people, the environment, companies and the Clean Air Act itself is a bridge too far.

Akrasia for you

The merest coincidence with the Labor Day interruption, but a turn to British politics, courtesy of the great Fintan O’Toole. He lays bare a striking (sorry – this is not the time!) aspect of Brexit and especially the loathsome Boris Johnson, as smarter than he is playing – but for the sake of, well, you will believe it:

[T]his raises the two central questions about Johnson—does he believe any of his own claims, and do his followers in turn believe him? In both cases, the answer is yes, but only in the highly qualified way that an actor inhabits his role and an audience knowingly accepts the pretense. Johnson’s appeal lies precisely in the creation of a comic persona that evades the distinction between reality and performance.

The Greek philosophers found akrasia mysterious—why would people knowingly do the wrong thing? But Johnson knows the answer: they do so, in England at least, because knowingness is essential to being included. You have to be “in on the joke”—and Johnson has shown just how far some English people will go in order not to look like they are not getting it. The anthropologist Kate Fox, in her classic study Watching the English, suggested that a crucial rule of the national discourse is what she called The Importance of Not Being Earnest: “At the most basic level, an underlying rule in all English conversation is the proscription of ‘earnestness.’” Johnson has played on this to perfection—he knows that millions of his compatriots would rather go along with his outrageous fabrications than be accused of the ultimate sin of taking things too seriously.

“Boris being Boris” (the phrase that has long been used to excuse him) is an act, a turn, a traveling show. Johnson’s father, Stanley, was fired from his job at the World Bank in 1968 when he submitted a satiric proposal for a $100 million loan to Egypt to build three new pyramids and a sphinx. But the son cultivated in England an audience more receptive to the half-comic, half-convincing notion that the EU might be just such an absurdist enterprise.

Do you know any people like this? They would rather make fun of something than think or reckon seriously with ramifications or consequences. How boring! Nihilists to the core, though I prefer the more direct soubriquet – assholes.

And yes, yes you do know some, unfortunately, probably more than a few.

When at all costs

Quite likely, that the news of Oil’s decline will arrive long after it has actually begun to happen. That’s mostly the way most things work – just ask all the Hillbillies people Elegying worried that the demographics of the U.S. are changing!

Even so, BNP Paribas has startlingly concluded that the economics of oil “are now in relentless and irreversible decline”:

The report is good news for humanity because it means peak oil demand may be less than a decade away, which in turn means ambitious climate goals will be more affordable than previously thought.

But the bank’s analysis, “Wells, Wires and Wheels,” is devastating for Big Oil. It concludes that “the oil industry has never before in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with EVs poses to its business model.”

But one of the most startling findings is that because the cost of running EVs on solar or wind power is dropping so rapidly, the only way gasoline cars can compete with these renewable energy-powered EVs in the 2020s is if the price of oil were to drop to $11 to $12 per barrel. The current price of oil is over $50.

Even worse for oil, this economic analysis doesn’t even factor in many of the other benefits of running cars on renewable power rather than oil. These include the vast public health benefits of not breathing air pollution from burning oil, along with the benefits of not having huge oil spills and of not destroying a livable climate.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer, more thoughtful and civic-minded group. It would honestly have been much better had we just thanked them around 1967 and made the direct move to the obvious as it had already by then been long-imagined. But no. There were markets to dominate and profits to lose and wars to fund, thus the long drawn out halftime show that just embarrasses everybody with the need for enormous flags, jet flyovers and pale people in native costumes. Can’t enjoy this show and take no pleasure in their decades-late demise.

Do As Many

Click right up! Test your knowledge and acumen:

Is the Robert Mueller testimony as popular as the Final Four™? Why, or why not? Explain your answer, include examples supporting your argument.

If an assessment of current knowledge about happenings relevant to the health and future of the planet and/or the republic was a test, how many could we leave blank and still pass? The desire to know, to want to know, creates a fickle predilection for desired outcomes. If a question (or an investigation of the facts surrounding a question) doesn’t turn out the way we want, we probably would rather not know, thanks anyway. We’re all set! Continue:

Is Puerto Rico a state? Then why does it have a governor? Bonus question: why is he resigning?

Self-driving cars are self-refuting. Not a question, though perhaps a tautology.

Why are people being locked in camps at the Southern U.S. border, and it is this a more important, equally important, or less important question than why are they leaving their country of origin? Show your work.

The Earth’s Moon has been an object of fascination for millennia. When we conquered it by going there, did we simply decide it could now be reasonably ignored, or had mystery and imagination reached its zenith? Hint: Remember the corollary based on the rubber/glue axiom.

True or false: Paper straws signify a convergence of elegance, utility and mindfulness.

Requesting anonymity so as to ensure against retribution in order to make known a crime or misdeed makes a source more or less believable? Keeping in mind that asking questions bears a direct relationship to having the questions answered, at what point (if at all) is the journalist’s culpability in protecting an anonymous source outweighed by the need for transparency about the source’s motives and intentions?

Identity Hong Kong on a map.

Finally, what is the prevailing direction of the trade winds?

Image: Author photo, Park Ave at 125th street

The Future of Vandals

Since this is what goes, anything goes. Raising questions about what we were led to believe – no, an after-the-fact description in place of an assessment is not one. It’s a critique, disassociated and casually thoughtless. And all the while confirming that anyone can just do anything and… wait a minute: who is the nihilist here? Oh. The advertising company

The Wikimedia Foundation released a statement asserting that North Face and the ad agency behind the campaign, Leo Burnett Tailor Made, had “unethically manipulated Wikipedia” and “risked your trust in our mission for a short-lived marketing stunt.”

“Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims,” the statement read. “When The North Face exploits the trust you have in Wikipedia to sell you more clothes, you should be angry.”

And then ‘Brought to you by’ declares they will commit to ‘ensuring their teams and vendors are better trained on the site policies,’ though of course they did not say they are committed or when they would be. Until then, and perhaps for some time afterward, we should remain vigilant about what we are led to believe.

Beyond the warnings

The existential lemmings on whose wings we rest tumble coughing now out of the otherwise silent mines. That immovable force – we can never produce enough energy otherwise – having been eclipsed, the spewing and disappearances of species continue. The rout of rainforest canopy and wetlands picks up speed. The kids have noticed. The storms have worsened and the strategies to counter rising waters seem more absurd. The right-wing politicians have dusted off the petro-industry playbooks and memorized every formation; the left-side politicians are demanding still too much of confused citizens – move, exercise, drive less, pay more. Still, the little birds fly into the caves and we ride their feathers into the harden, cracked walls. They look out not for us, so who will?

Third parties to save us — insurance companies, geo-engineering, aliens — all of the same dubious provenance. We strengthen ourselves into a learned weakness, a precarious primordial of recent vintage. That con we have worked on ourselves has worked, and to call it out is to ask for more butter on the popcorn after the movie has begun. We are up the tree. The suspensions are disbelieved. Are we just watching and waiting? Does a watched tide rise?

The con – an abuse of confidence. To persuade by deception, cajolery. Flimflam, to use a technical term. We have successfully used it on ourselves, against ourselves, celebrated the winnings and scorned the sad losers who were taken. Who continue to be played. Who continue to be us.

There’s an element of art, of savvy, of dereliction, of due course, of just desserts, of merit! These all leave out something essential: the self-foist of the entire scam. Simultaneously reaping the rewards and the whirlwind will test our major faculties and they drown our lesser ones, not to mention facilities of all kinds along the coasts. Houston, (and not only) you have a problem. This is not, strictly speaking, the kind of conflicting ideas we intended to grapple with, and proof that even our depraved intentions can be misaimed and still solidly struck.

So here, now. New generations of impatient voting age beings, empowered unto political consciousness in less-than-snowy winter scenes; small generations of very rich old-timers, still mostly in charge of the levers and very reluctant to cede any power, electrical or otherwise; large-generations of status-Aquarians, just first-world enough to ignore the consequences, afford the luxuries sponsored by scaremongering and similar fictions about themselves and a way of life that is itself choking and smoking as it runs on fumes. The power of disbelief striking both ways against hearts closed and minds distracted, the practiced fear infects everything with the same virus of futility.

But there has never been such an as if. Surrounded by impossibility, we insist on the one option we don’t have– to do nothing. Afraid of words – we say little. Worried over violence, we arm everyone. Silence and furrowed brows however have very little effect on temperature, air quality or the lack of bees. The Zombie Lie as an actual tall tale about the living dead has been particularly devious. Almost like the promise behind ‘streets of gold,’ only more guttural in its vicarious appeal. A simple, harmless fiction, availed of increasingly bad writing and unnecessary plot devices, taking the place of minimal engagement with a far more-frightening reality. An obvious choice, maybe. Blunt, obtuse, with so many abstracted until-they-aren’t dimensions, there are a million ways to continue to ignore, to contest even on the basis of spite, and even when that spite is self-directed.

Susceptible to self-loathing, that’s where it happens. Start again. Unpack, separate and not the recycling. Investigate the fraud if you think it’s real, but be honest about what you find. Never was a corner that was not a part of a much larger room. If that’s where you, turn around.