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.

Paving over the sixth

Not that one, which is already mostly paved over. Except for the lovely jardin envisioned by Madame de’Medici way back when.

Just as she played her role in helping construct a civilization, are we playing ours in paving over an extinction? That it would be the sixth creates a misnomer, as if in reference to a series and not to an end. We aren’t able to recognize ends all that well, though we are frightened of them and the concept has meaning that we connect to negative consequences. And still the paving continues – not building cities but destroying them to build roads. I know:

That doesn’t matter to Maryland governor Larry Hogan, who proudly touts himself as a good Republican (and is being talked up as a primary challenger to Trump next year), even though he can be as squirrelly as the rest of them. His plan to widen this road would cost between $9 billion and $11 billion and, according to one presentation, would improve commute times by an estimated three minutes. That’s $9 billion plus in funds and umpteen years of construction. For three minutes.

‘This road’ is D.C.’s notorious Beltway, but several major highways into poorly planned cities can be substituted for it. Expanding highways with so-called private toll lanes (hint: not private – only expensive and paid for by the public) that do not ease congestion but do cost several fortunes, as nonsensical as it is, represents one of the only forms of acceptable infrastructure expenditure.

Roads. Look at those dollar amounts again and tell me there’s anything more gaudy than that. And they work, though of course, not as intended.

Public, private or purple, more roads do not lessen traffic. More lanes and wider roads invite more traffic. And more traffic happily accepts!

But there is a thing that lessens traffic, and it even throws a [tiny] wrench into sprawling suburbs, that is, of course, until those plucky little suburbs fight back.

Try driving around North Atlanta between noon and midnight (or, if you like, between the hours of midnight and noon) and you’ll see why they were having none of this train stuff. It. Just. Doesn’t… Actually, I don’t know what it doesn’t do but the lovely residents of the area should hope that Tesla fella is full of it because his auto-autos, were they to ever exist, would be sitting right there with them, not moving, on those same roads.

So the bizarre-o metaphors roll on. The apply named Toll Roads. Pay both ways! 3 hours, round-trip. Personal freedom and individual liberty to sit, and stew, burn and rage. It cannot have a logical end, because there is no logic to it. But surely an end shall it have. Closed Road Now Open. Merge. Expected Arrival Time: Mm Hmm.

Fire mars sky

A city in Texas is grappling with being a city in Texas, and the questions are coming in existential batches:

Making sure ITC isn’t spewing toxic fumes doesn’t require fining it out of existence. It requires a serious commitment to safety and transparency, which are sorely lacking in this state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a history of lax monitoring and enforcement. And Texas has refused to require widespread public disclosure of chemical inventories and Risk Management Plans of facilities that would improve journalists’ ability to inform the public during a crisis. A reporter who wants to see a facility’s RMP has to make an appointment with federal marshals to view it.

Patrick Jankowski, senior economist with the Greater Houston Partnership, told business reporter Jordan Blum: “We need these facilities here because it’s how we get our products to market.

Of course. But what is a booming economy without quality of life? Without peace of mind? Parents sent their children back to Deer Park and La Porte ISD schools Tuesday, but they couldn’t have felt great confidence when school officials restricted outside activities. Houston ISD took the same precaution. Good to err on the side of safety, but no parent should have to fear that just walking to school might endanger their child’s health.

Nothing that calls for fatuous comment or commentary. It’s just a situation reduced to its plainly naked reality. Companies do what they want, the public has no say. Regulations are too onerous. We need these companies here for our products. And what’s up with the air?

Acting Globally

Some [many] people want to do away with the social safety net, and especially any generosity remaining therein, to rely instead on the goodwill and support of charities to take care of those in need. There’s a cognitive dissonance about the reality that government-funded programs to help people are somehow perverse, yet giving to charitable organizations is not. Not that these fine citizens care about the lack of harmony between their world view and their actions.

But individual personal virtue can never displace collective action, particularly on the scale of a country the size of Ecuador, much less the United States. And the very same concept holds with regard to environmentalism:

Environmentalism-as-personal-virtue was a bad route. It isn’t a substitute for collective action. People don’t like being told how to live their lives, especially as you don’t have to understand this stuff all that well to get that we’re almost all big hypocrites. We make some easy choices and ignore the rest. We can make slightly better choices, but there’s no solar powered plane to fly me to Europe.

Yes, you can do things – live closer to work, own fewer cars – but not on the scale that’s needed to turn the tanker! Sprawl creates culprits of us all. Vote against it. Don’t move out there. Campaign for carbon-pricing, rail, renewable energy infrastructure and more affordable housing – built in the right places. Massive progress on things we’ve already figured out is what’s needed. Plus, less vehicles means fewer bumper stickers and perhaps, perhaps! even the need for them.

Expensive solutions: having two drivetrains

While at first, this may appear to be an innocent discussion about plug-in hybrids versus straight electric vehicles, it turns out to be, you guessed it, a terrific metaphor:

Another challenge for automakers is that hybrids are relatively complicated, with widely varying ranges. Some can travel only on electrons, while others never do. Electric vehicles, meanwhile, can be measured on two simple metrics: miles per charge and price.

“It’s just a much more simple story,” said Tal at UC Davis. His team’s research has shown that people are far more ignorant about plug-in hybrids than fully electric vehicles. In general, he said, shoppers don’t spend much time deciding which car to buy—most effort goes into finding the best price for the model they’ve already set their mind on.

The death of the hybrid, while seemingly inevitable, may be a long and slow. A spike in gas prices in the next few years may even draw it out. “I can see them having a role until 2040,” Tal said. “But the problem will always be [that] it’s a more expensive solution having two drivetrains.”

We are absolutely lousy with other expensive-because-they-are-redundant solutions, and some (private schools, for-profit hospitals and health insurance) do triple the damage we can afford for the pain and pound of flesh they exact from the commonwealth. Reality shows seem cheap because [some]people think they don’t have/need writers. Roads and highways seem far more convenient that public transportation somehow, even at 0-miles-per-hour in rush hour that’s really two. Fb is free, see it doesn’t cost anything!

Hatred for irony remains an untapped and unfortunately renewable-into-infinity resource.