The Grouchy Marxists

There is so much of this flying around our ‘culture’ right now, it can almost be too much. It’s like everyone is walking around dizzy from the constant eye-rolling, but can you blame us?

So this is really perfect, plus an expert book review:

By incoherence I don’t mean an “extreme” position or the shriek of the provocateur, but a specific genre of chin-stroking, brow-furrowing, “eye opening” sophistry that’s now robustly represented in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Fluttering near the political center (they refuse to be pinned down!), the exponents of the new incoherence look at the Right’s mushrooming despotism, then at the enfeebled, regrouping Left—and, with theatrical exasperation, declare that both are a bit tyrannical. These pundits are the opposite of adherents; all hail the Incoherents! Like the dadaists and the X-Men, the Incoherents are bound by a shared mission: in their case, the valiant disputation of other people’s missions (which we now know are really “orthodoxies”). Anecdotes and dazzling inanities draped over an individualist common sense—this is the technique favored by the scramblers of our discourse. Faced with Incoherent writing, the reader embarks on a psychedelic saga: the truly trippy liquefaction of virtually all of social reality, especially those parts that have been politicized by the Left. So if you crave a “fresh” opinion, feel free to open the New York Times—on class, read David Brooks; on gender, read Bari Weiss. And on race, read Thomas Chatterton Williams, who has now published his second book.

It has been interesting, at the very least, to observe Williams’s ascent. His first book, released by Penguin in 2010, was the memoir Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture—the subtitle is now Love, Literature and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd—which strode boldly, if rather late, into the “conversation” about black youth culture. (The Washington Post had run Tipper Gore’s famous op-ed “Hate, Rape, and Rap” a full twenty years before.) The volume’s original cover was a picture of the author in a suit: jacket collar popped, tie whipping in the wind. Behind him is a building emblazoned with graffiti.

Read the whole thing. Actually, read other book reviews, too. Hell, read books – but choose wisely! Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Mr. Haslett.

Paper, scissors, rock and a hard place

There is an old truism (cite?) that when capitalism and democracy come into conflict, capitalism will always win. But for a long time now it has seemed that the holy virtues of the market are failing the political preferences of the American right. Reasons become excuses and victors turn themselves into victims when they really have to fight against ideas they once supported like market power, not to mention the popular vote. It’s all a bit embarrassing once you step back for a moment. We’ve just gotten used to it, but the whole concept of ‘far-left finance’ is just as crackpot as ‘left-wing corporate media.’ We’re sorry, but no:

Economic modernity isn’t what it used to be. Today, some of America’s largest investors are pension funds that aggregate the savings of unions and public-sector employees, and mutual funds that pool the retirement accounts of white-collar professionals. None of these constituencies are remotely as demographically or ideologically similar to the contemporary conservative base as the capitalist class of yore was to the right-wingers of the mid-20th century. Indeed, over the past 70 years, America’s top executives, money managers, and professionals have grown more diverse, cosmopolitan, and socially liberal, even as the GOP base has grown increasingly animated by exclusionary nationalism and culture wars.

At the same time, consumer-facing brands now covet the favor of young city dwellers, both within America’s borders and beyond them. This is because such consumers are more likely to try new products than your average elderly person in rural America, and the former’s brand loyalty is more valuable, since they are less likely to die soon. That reality, combined with the imperative to compete outside the U.S. market, leads many of America’s most visible firms to align themselves, however superficially, with a progressive and cosmopolitan cultural politics.

Finally, the reality of climate change has given private investors both ideological and financial reasons to disfavor the carbon-intensive industries that supply a disproportionate share of the GOP’s corporate funding. Many public employees and socially liberal professionals like the idea of investing in the green transition, while plenty of far-sighted financiers believe that heavy exposure to fossil fuel assets is unwise in the long-term.

To blame this on some sort of woke anything is just a slur. They can’t compete so they just whine. Refusing to acknowledge where the markets and money flow is not some sort of physics you can undermine with new made-up laws of specialer relativity because you don’t agree with gravity.

Babies are at least honest about what’s in their diapers.

Machines learning

But despite the hype (and… oh boy!), not in a good way. So-called artificial intelligence – no relation to intelligence, but the word just seems so suggestive – is actually just machine learning. And who teaches the machine to learn how they learn what they learn? Humans. Thus, AI/ml also includes all the joys of human foibles.

Oh, and not just the racism + sexism. Also, the burning:

For example, recommendation and advertising algorithms are often used in advertising, which in turn drives people to buy more things, which causes more carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also important to understand how AI models are used, Kaack says. A lot of companies, such as Google and Meta, use AI models to do things like classify user comments or recommend content. These actions use very little power but can happen a billion times a day. That adds up.

It’s estimated that the global tech sector accounts for 1.8% to 3.9% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Although only a fraction of those emissions are caused by AI and machine learning, AI’s carbon footprint is still very high for a single field within tech.

With a better understanding of just how much energy AI systems consume, companies and developers can make choices about the trade-offs they are willing to make between pollution and costs, Luccioni says.

I know – that’s your shocked face. But move fast because it’s important to keep up with the language as it changes and the conditions do not, or are made worse. Because the investment society that cultures large language models and the like already feels three steps ahead, because they never under-invest in PR. Relying on ‘companies and developers to make the right choices about trade-offs’ is only in any way reliable to the extent we change the end of that statement above about what they are ‘willing’ to do. Otherwise, we’re only and ever at the mercy of the companies and developers, no matter whether they blame it on some disembodied algorithm, call it machine learning or whatever.

It’s definitely artificial something.

Image via reset.org

How to stop running if you hate it so much

Reverse of this real story in the WAPO. I mean, really.

When companies/governments go quiet about their so-called ESG efforts, whether it’s investing or actually taking steps to reduce their carbon print(s), to avoid criticism and backlash well, you know we are once again through the looking glass:

The phenomenon, known as green hushing, has become pervasive even as businesses set more ambitious internal targets, according to a survey by South Pole, a climate consultancy and carbon offsets developer.
South Pole surveyed 1,200 large companies from 12 different countries, all of which have set net-zero targets and more than two-thirds of which identify as “heavy emitters.” It found that although a majority of companies have set science-based targets to help them deliver on their commitments, 23% “don’t plan to publicize” them.
The findings suggest that the stigma of so-called greenwashing, where a company exaggerates its green credentials, is so feared that executives will do anything to avoid being accused of it. Being labeled a greenwasher brings with it reputational harm, financial damage and, increasingly, the scrutiny of regulators. And once tainted by such allegations, companies can struggle to resurrect their reputations.

But green hushing also comes at a cost, South Pole said.
“More than ever we need the companies making progress on sustainability to inspire their peers to make a start,” said Renat Heuberger, chief executive and co-founder of South Pole. “This is impossible if progress is happening in silence.”

So, it’s a preemptive PR move, if that makes you feel any better (Ed: it doesn’t). But it does remind us who/what companies serve first – their reputations. If everything is done for optics, what are we ultimately looking at? Much less seeing. We do well to keep this in mind across many contexts – which news stories, politicians, examples of corruption, coups d’etat get more play – all are choices. There’s nothing celestial about which news makes headlines. Someone decided.

It’s much the same with these companies who decide that ‘being quiet about it’ is just another tool in their climate tool box. People and planet need confirmation, verification, allies, and affirmation.

Apologies to Dylan Thomas but Do not go quiet into that good night,

Slutty carbon

Sure, it will bond to any old thing – just a fun-loving, good time chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. Call anytime.

And though carbon is not magnetic, it does attract kooks. Okay, no harm there, chacun à son goût and all that. We’re not all kooks. We even devise ways around it – solar, wind, other means of generating that dirty dirty electricity that we enjoy so much. And you won’t believe what happens next:

This scene from the village council meeting in June helps to explain why opponents of three solar projects proposed in Pickaway County, Ohio, can say they have the support of nearly every local elected official. It shows how a committed group of local residents have dominated the debate by packing county, village and township meetings, and making their displeasure known if officials don’t fall into line.

The prevailing emotion is fear, whether it’s fear of the solar projects—or fear of upsetting the people who oppose the projects.

And the local fight has broad implications. The world needs to increase its reliance on renewable energy, an essential part of avoiding the most destructive effects of climate change. Local opposition shows some of the disconnect between global needs and the concerns of some of the people who don’t want to live next door to wind and solar projects.

It’s a little beyond as well as different from traditional NIMBYism, though also quite similar in several ways, as the locals literally don’t want to be living next to utility-scale solar. They don’t want to see it and they don’t want to hear it. Though it’s not a discussion about energy and how they get it at all. “Just leave us alone,” they might say, then step back inside and to watch the ballgame. And there’s the rub.

Whether we blame them for not wanting to connect their own usage of dirty energy to their passions for their freedom not to see it, or blame the local school district that benefits from the increase in tax revenue for not being more vocal in their support for the solar projects, the moment and the conflicts should be noted. The difficulty of telling nominally self-governing people what to do when their own understanding of any right thing is itself in conflict with abstractions like freedom is certainly one of the more devious tricks slutty carbon has played on us.

It’s sort of a next-level struggle with renewables that has nothing to do with energy – because focused on how we’re gonna watch the game or dry the clothes, or even live that far from the grocery store [don’t get me started], the question changes entirely. At least the NIMBYism is familiar.

Image: Carbon–carbon bonds get a break | Nature

Carpool Now

Not that kind.

It’s going to be the boringest, most plausible solutions that save us, part the infinity.

No tech/some tech/even with tech, the radical ideas are already here, sitting… waiting. In a discussion with colleagues about the twin scourges of traffic congestion and parking strife permanently visiting our otherwise sleepy little burg, the needless importation of already-existing strategies (get it?) eludes us in favor of trying to think of different ways to evade the problem. We’re not doing that, precisely, but trying to think of ways to incentive the creation of more surface parking instead of how to have less cars is a different kind of plague. Fortunately, we already have a rested and ready vaccine: the carpool.

It’s a word for when more than 1 person rides/drives together from/to like destinations like work or school.

We then ask our eternal question: is there an app for that?

I kid you not.

The car sharing system merges several new people into one car, which leads to meeting new people in one car, and reduces air pollution and noise pollution. The car sharing system saves the economy of each person as they share their rides and also share the cost with the other member by car. This will stop spending endless money on travel. The growth of the global carpooling market is mainly driven by the growing demand for time and cost-saving transportation facilities. A government initiative to promote carpooling due to increasing road congestion is expected to boost market growth.

But I am serious about this. Make it a game, a competition. Give people money, time off, commemorative sweatshirts, rock show tickets, whatever. Just help get us out of cars.

My EV in your ICE(e)

Lot lady: What kind of car are you looking for?
Driver man: What kinds you got?
Lot lady: These kinds

California is poised to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles — a far-reaching policy that is likely to reverberate throughout the rest of the country and the world.

On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board will issue the new rules that were first rolled out by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, which would require 100 percent of new cars sold in the state to be free of carbon emissions, according to The New York Times.

The rule would phase in over time, with 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 and 68 percent by 2030. California says that over 16 percent of new car sales were “zero-emission vehicles” in 2022 — up from 12.41 percent last year and 7.78 percent in 2020.

Note those last few stats about percentages of non-ICE vehicles sold per year. That’s a very big jump and consumer choices are about to get very much wider.

Now, we’ll have to make indie renewable energy generation more commonplace, rooftop solar coming to your neighborhood house. Just enough to power your automobile would be a huge step in the right direction, but then what happens when it keeps working and electricity starts get cheap towards free? Then what will you do, huh? Didn’t think of that!

An oil rig in the wind

There’s a broad truth about solar power – that more energy hits the Earth every morning than every person on it uses in 27 years. It’s the challenge of the harnessing that energy and making it available for everyone that continues to vex.

But buried in an article about wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico is this little corollary gem:

Wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico could generate up to 508 gigawatts of electricity, according to a 2020 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab, twice as much energy as Gulf states cumulatively consume. The 700,000-acre area the Biden administration now wants to open up for wind farm development could eventually supply enough electricity for over three million homes, according to a White House fact sheet.

Emphasis added. I mean, come on. There it is, and not to mention other recent stories about have these wind turbines installed by oil rig workers, otherwise known as cowboys already accustomed to working on dangerous platforms out in the ocean.

To repeat: come on.

Image source

Recessions fears 1, climate concerns 0

If you’re scoring at home, (and who’s not?) getting off the buying merry go round is proving to be incredibly difficult – even with ever-present reminders of plague, drought, and the cost of everything cross-referenced with the need to exercise and eat better, the joys of being outdoors and seeing people again. It’s all so confusing, especially when the answers are RIGHT there. You’re so close, Brigette:

As gas and food prices climb, Brigette Engler, an artist based in New York City, said she’s driving to her second home upstate less often and cutting back on eating out.

“Twenty dollars seems extravagant at this point for lunch,” she said.

And before you start, no one mentioned anything about anything being easy. But that doesn’t mean everything has to be intentionally more difficult to understand, i.e., predicated on a growing economy and not spooking ‘investor confidence.’ JFC… what does any of that even mean? Please subscribe to my newsletter, Which Word to Italicize:

How people spend their money is shifting as the economy slows and inflation pushes prices higher everywhere including gas stations, grocery stores and luxury retail shops. The housing market, for example, is already feeling the pinch. Other industries have long been considered recession proof and may even be enjoying a bump as people start going out again after hunkering down during the pandemic.

Still, shoppers everywhere are feeling pressured. In May, an inflation metric that tracks prices on a wide range of goods and services jumped 8.6% from a year ago, the biggest jump since 1981. Consumers’ optimism about their finances and the overall economy sentiment fell to 50.2% in June, its lowest recorded level, according to the University of Michigan’s monthly index.

That’s from the same article and I don’t mean to single out CNBC. Just listen Marketplace or any business/economic news and the dissonance is a cacophony (Ed. ?). Unemployment is bad, but a tight labor market rattles the Dow. Prices at the pump have drivers worried about filling up, but what’s the real price of fuel? Hint: Europeans already know. Sure there’s a macro-micro disconnect. But the larger disconnect is the one we keep shoring up: individual actions of millions, propped up and egged on by the corporate and government altars to the status quo, heating up the planet beyond what it can support.

Whether or not we need more reminders of the need to change how we live, more are on the way.

Image: Merry-Go-Round Photograph by Jurgen Lorenzen

New Unscripted: Expedition to Antarctica

The new episode of my interview podcast Unscripted focuses on Patricia Yager, professor of marine sciences, and her recent experience co-leading a research expedition to the Amundsen Sea Polynya in western Antarctica.

While many research projects on the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration were focused on sea level rise and the physical processes related to the melting, Yager served as co-chief scientist and lead P.I. on the project Artemis, designed to better understand the impact of melting glaciers and ice shelves on the coastal ocean’s biological productivity.

“The glaciers are not melting because the air temperature is warm,” Yager said in the interview. “The glaciers are melting because the ocean is warm.”

Listen to the interview on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe to Unscripted.