Auto-propulsive asphyxiation

The driverless car as beau idéal continues to fascinate. The question of whether self-driving cars will work morphs into ‘can it be done at all’ and escapes the gravity of the actual world even as the fantastically expensive contraptions are tested on real people in real streets of real cities:

Waymo’s app, Waymo One, looks and works just like Uber’s does. Riders enter their destination and get an estimated wait time for a ride. Once you enter your requests, the company dispatches from its fleet of 250 white Jaguar vehicles it operates across the city. The cars are staggeringly expensive, outfitted with high-tech sensors and cameras, and are worth as much as $200,000.

The link within that paragraph goes to a 2021 article that paws at the question of the bottomless investment barrel being emptied into autonomous vehicles. And maybe we’re already onboard the 30-year odyssey toward the achievement. But if this is the way home, what is home supposed to look like once we’ve emptied every pocket to get there? We might ask, is the journey worth it? In a way, yes robotaxis can work. But… is this actually an achievement, or just the most expensive movie of all time?

Note how the writers/riders describing their self-driving taxi rides were mostly meh about the futuristic experience.  Sounds familiar.

Image: A Waymo driverless car arriving in front of the Painted Ladies on Monday. Credit…Andri Tambunan for The New York Times

Big Sky

A friend was telling me recently how, even as Montana enjoys a reputation as a sort of great outdoors Shangra la, in actuality it has been methodically raped for its resources without concern or recourse for the environmental damage that has followed. Significant portions of the state are highly polluted from coal and gold mining, which until ten years ago utilized cyanide in the process and of course resulted in incidents of cyanide-tainted ground water. Push back on environmental issues in Montana has traditionally come from land-owners, though often their interests are as tainted as the ground they seek to protect.

So there are all kinds of fictions about the Big Sky state floating around, plus they’ve given us the wit and wisdom of Max Baucus to add to the healthcare debate. Actually, his wisdom knows no bounds, as Baucus steps up to pontificate on how we should go about dithering on global warming, too. via Grist, it seems that the beetles eating Montana’s trees don’t care if Baucus believes the planet is warming or not. cue munching sound:

One part of the media focused on the real story that Montanans are increasingly concerned about:  Climate change is already hitting their state hard now and is poised to devastate it utterly.  American Public Media’s Marketplace has be done a terrific multipart series on climate change, which can be accessed here, along with a map of how different regions of the country are being affected now and how they are likely to be hit in the future.

The first piece “Climate change in our own backyards,” tells the amazing story of the warming-driven bark beetle infestation around Helena.  And yes, this is the same exact story that the NYT screwed up in July (see “Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can’t tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?“).

The article is complete with pretty pictures and ‘sustainability reporters’. But this is a good reminder to watch out for the dueling rationales that pop up for the millions of acres of dying trees across the mountain west. Climate change denial is one thing – some people just choose to rather not believe it. And skepticism has its privileges. But what happens when actual people begin experiencing things like this? Will it get more difficult to concoct gymnastic reasons that place the blame on immigrants, or does Occam get a seat on the city council?