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.

Eric Hobsbawm, RIP

The world lost Marxist historian (in every sense of that phrase) Eric Hobsbawm this week at 95, truly a giant of scholarship who lived through the very times that shaped him. I kid, of course. We are all doing this. It’s just that some are decidedly less swayed than others:

“Every historian has his or her lifetime, a private perch from which to survey the world,” he said in his 1993 Creighton lecture, one of several occasions in his later years when he attempted to relate his own lifetime to his own writing. “My own perch is constructed, among other materials, of a childhood in the Vienna of the 1920s, the years of Hitler’s rise in Berlin, which determined my politics and my interest in history, and the England, and especially the Cambridge, of the 1930s, which confirmed both.”

In 1919, the young family settled in Vienna, where Eric went to elementary school, a period he later recalled in a 1995 television documentary which featured pictures of a recognisably skinny young Viennese Hobsbawm in shorts and knee socks. Politics made their impact around this time. Eric’s first political memory was in Vienna in 1927, when workers burned down the Palace of Justice. The first political conversation that he could recall took place in an Alpine sanatorium in these years, too. Two motherly Jewish women were discussing Leon Trotsky. “Say what you like,” said one to the other, “but he’s a Jewish boy called Bronstein.”

In 1929 his father died suddenly of a heart attack. Two years later his mother died of TB. Eric was 14, and his Uncle Sidney took charge once more, taking Eric and his sister Nancy to live in Berlin. As a teenager in Weimar Republic Berlin, Eric inescapably became politicised. He read Marx for the first time, and became a communist.

He could always remember the day in January 1933 when, emerging from the Halensee S-Bahn station on his way home from his school, the celebrated Prinz Heinrich Gymnasium, he saw a newspaper headline announcing Hitler’s election as chancellor. Around this time he joined the Socialist Schoolboys, which he described as “de facto part of the communist movement” and sold its publication, Schulkampf (School Struggle). He kept the organisation’s duplicator under his bed and, if his later facility for writing was any guide, probably wrote most of the articles too. The family remained in Berlin until 1933, when Sidney Hobsbawm was posted by his employers to England.

The gangly teenage boy who settled with his sister in Edgware in 1934 described himself later as “completely continental and German speaking”. School, though, was “not a problem” because the English education system was “way behind” the German. A cousin in Balham introduced him to jazz for the first time – the “unanswerable sound”, he called it. The moment of conversion, he wrote some 60 years later, was when he first heard the Duke Ellington band “at its most imperial”. He spent a period in the 1950s as jazz critic of the New Statesman, and published a Penguin Special, The Jazz Scene, on the subject in 1959 under the pen-name Francis Newton (many years later it was reissued with Hobsbawm identified as the author).

Read the whole thing and don’t worry about the Marxist cooties getting on you. Sort of Friday Reading on Tuesday, my gift to you, of his gifts to us.

Communist Boob Trays and Bike Racks

Okay maybe not the trays, I just happen to like those, personally. But no bikes – they’re part of an evil plot.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is warning voters that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s policies, particularly his efforts to boost bike riding, are “converting Denver into a United Nations community.”

“This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed,” Maes told about 50 supporters who showed up at a campaign rally last week in Centennial.

Maes said in a later interview that he once thought the mayor’s efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes “that’s exactly the attitude they want you to have.”

Exactly. Now back in your car, ma’am. I realized a while back that this whole green thing was a sucker’s game. But I didn’t know you could also play it from the other side. What we want you to think is that everything is out to get you, that if you don’t become deeply suspicious on your own, we’ll have to force you to do so.

But they’re going to ruin this, too; because when everything becomes Communist, of course nothing will be. Really.

It takes place every day

Nietzsche said, “He who has a strong enough why can bear any how.” The primary force of the vague tautology that we must be able to do certain things (simply because of the inherent need to do them), weighed against the true probability of any outcome, helps us get a handle on the most current odds-making on the question of global climate change. In addition, we might ask as we often do, what is the smart money doing?

This is what we usually can see first – the motion of resources – when the top of the chain begins to move, if not thrash about. The impetus to go green remains at its fashion stage, though many venture capitalists have started to put their money into some interesting niche ideas. But the popular uprising remains in its gesture phase. We may prefer this because everything else would seem like panic, and no one really wants that.

Perhaps this fear of panic is holding back the phenomenon from becoming the full blown existential crisis that it portends, on which its sunnier moments are truly based if the full scenario is to make any sense whatsoever. Mr. Gore’s movie terrified many people, but again, our ability to tell ourselves certain things permitted us to move on. There is a dissonance about conditions being severe enough to act, though not just yet. It seems a sort of patrician patience in the service of good form, prudence based on perception in a kind of “Just so, old chap,” way.

We have been here before, however, though in the heights of the Cold War we were also yet able to foster that remove from ever-encroaching oblivion. It didn’t prevent us from lining up for nuclear bomb drills in school (!), but we went on making long term plans just the same, maybe factoring in the odds of annihilation, maybe not, but living with the specter all the same. Maybe we just haven’t gotten comfortable with the idea yet; I even have trouble writing about it because everything sounds like such dooms-saying when all we’re really talking about are big, big changes.

Yet even these are simply about returning to more sensible dimensions in the way we live. When we talk about green this or sustainable that, these are just transitional codes for simple things that used to be common place like knowing where your food comes from or walking to work. To the extent we don’t want or care to do these things, well, they’re that much easier to shroud in Greenery.

I’ve always loved how Camus in L’Homme Revolte explained that Communism was a sickness, a system predicated on the elimination of absurdity in our daily lives. He knew that wasn’t possible and in so many ways, we’ve returned there, struggling to explain and justify some of the absurdities we’ve been living with and on. We can change what we call them, tweak the edges and continue to tell ourselves certain things. But they can’t just be explained away. They are there. And we simply must change them.