Approaching your commute

It’s one thing to say, “It’s not a bad drive, all considering,” or to actually mean it when you boast, “It’s usually less than an hour each way,” such have we arranged our difficulties that status, relative isolation, and even our means of transport characterize self-worth as much as taste or wit. And this is self-perception, generated through the lens of the times in which we live. Over a barrel, sacrifice of one’s happiness can go all but unnoticed such that alternatives can never be considered, much less under the motivation of broader, planetary considerations. It’s just not possible for many to think about doing something different because of carbon emissions or global warming. For better or worse, it has to be personal:

The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live. Nor is it merely the common herd and the unthinking crowd that bemoan what is, as men deem it, an universal ill; the same feeling has called forth complaint also from men who were famous. It was this that made the greatest of physicians exclaim that “life is short, art is long;” it was this that led Aristotle, while expostulating with Nature, to enter an indictment most unbecoming to a wise man—that, in point of age, she has shown such favour to animals that they drag out five or ten lifetimes, but that a much shorter limit is fixed for man, though he is born for so many and such great achievements. It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so our life is amply long for him who orders it properly.

Emphasis added to words from Seneca, from a wonderful book he wrote in A.D. 49 after being recalled from exile on Corsica. It’s full of useful reminders, if not insights, on the very personal level of you. I’m not telling you to slow down or live closer to work. We should believe that we’re not going to change our behavior on the basis of anything external, but also that doing so for ourselves can bring a multiplicity of benefits.

The book of life*, a continuing SAGA

“I’ve got kids. There is no certainty,” he said with exasperation not recently occurred to him. “Is that what I explain to them?”

Cover_froese            “Yes,” came the calm reply.

We’ve all seen them, the little openings to nowhere that occasionally slash the side of a new roadway or a newly-widened old one. They’re usually placed in front of cow pastures or other open space, then the bit of formed concrete suddenly gives way to dirt, grass, a ditch then a fence. Many, many of these will now go abandoned, giving a certain circular echo to the once-presumed opportunity in the emptiness. What they are – what they were – are placeholders for a future entrance to a development that is not there yet but one day will be. The one day that’s coming when we will call these relics ‘green markers’ or ‘option stops’ or some such term indicative of the serious moment that crops up when we temporarily get post-irony, again. ‘Starting in the low 300’s’ indeed.

Some might say that one day is here; no one made the announcement but this dog whistle sounds a lot like the trillion-dollar insurance company investment we and our adjacent progeny all just made. These little ciphers in the road to our past should be memorialized as markers for our stupidity, little DOT-sanctioned homages to the greed that once controlled how and where we once lived. I use the past tense because they are over. Finit-O®.

Though this is the end to neither greed nor stupidity. So stipulated. It is only the end of the way this powerful combination once dictated how we lived. Suburbs, gated enclaves only accessible by private vehicle and situated far from an interaction with and vulnerability to other people – also known as life – are things of the past.

Yes, come and play Finit-O®, that fun game where we bid farewell to an entire set of tenets and beliefs predicated on short-term individual comfort but revealed as the path to long-term collective agony, celebrated with curb openings to non-existent suburbs and lionized beneath crumbling gates to exclusivity and literal isolation. And these are not just funparks but monuments to serve as a constant reminder of the greed and stupidity that permitted us to forget our priorities in good times, to elect and re-elect those for whom pillaging earth and man was a preference. Ah, look familiar? That’s because it’s already been different for a while as we’ve entered the end of the beginning of the end… of the beginning. (Almost had you there! Everyone wants to KNOW.) We’re even becoming wise to many of the shades of green.

So… who’s in charge of this grand transition, you might ask? Mobile one to home base – come in, home base.

*I was looking for something from 2008 and found this, which I enjoyed and hope you do, too. I think it’s part of one of the columns, or perhaps clutter form the cutting room floor.

Oh, and RIP (1/20/15) Edgar Froese (the image is from the cover of his 1974 album, Aqua) and Happy Birthday to Virginia Woolf (1/25/1882).


Running on Air

If you are watching the NAT&TCAA basketball tournament, you’re seeing a lot of swanky car commercials, especially for upper high-end models from Benz and BMW. The one above is for some super duper 2014 model that you can’t buy yet, and probably can’t afford at all, but it makes the case underscored by the ads punctuating breathless timeouts between the basketball action: dramatic innovations in styling for an utterly archaic propulsion system.

Nothing has changed in the way these amazing chariots propel themselves down the asphalt. Exotic wood inlay on the dashboard? check. 19-speaker surround sound? you bet. HD reverse cameras so you don’t have to turn around to back down the magisterial driveway? Available even in the cheap-O models, nowadays.

Do we think about the fact that the fuel they use and that fuel’s effects on the world remains exactly the same, even with all of the fantastic engineering available?

The fact is it’s easy not to think about this, to nod along with incremental MPG stats while we drool over the nice lines and sleek interiors. But this news from Peugeot made me think about it:

In January, Peugeot announced that it had developed a car that ran on air. It officially launched the Hybrid Air vehicle to the world at the Geneva motor show this month, and revealed that it would be in production by 2016. The car did not solely run on air, of course; the new technology was twinned with a petrol engine. But Peugeot believed that it had significant advantages over battery-powered electric hybrids, such as a Toyota Prius. Their cars would be cheaper to buy, for a start, and extra savings would come from a fuel economy of around 81 miles per gallon.

So what has MB and the ultimate driving machinists been doing this whole time? Makes you wonder.

Costs, Benefits and Analysis

This post on the Vélib program in Paris brings up a couple of interesting points. First:

While far behind cities like Amsterdam (who isn’t?), Paris is trying to hold its own in the green sweepstakes. To date, one of its most important projects has been a short-term bicycle rental system. Vélib, which started in 2007, is today fully integrated into the fabric of the city, counting millions of passenger trips each year. In proposing my Autolib article, I explained that the city was seeking to build on that “‘hugely successful’’ model.
My characterization of the bike program as ‘‘hugely successful’’ led to a lively debate among my editors, a number of whom argued that Vélib was not in fact successful because it had failed to reduce traffic and so many of the bicycles are damaged, vandalized or stolen that the program was probably running at a loss.


Programs like Autolib and Vélib have little impact on local air pollution and noise, and whatever effect they do have could probably be achieved at lower cost, he said.
All the same, they can be effective ‘‘in setting a first step towards a transition in transport, energy and the environment — a transition that probably is needed in the next decades,’’ Mr. van Wee said.

Touché. That’s the whole point – there are limits to looking merely at the costs and benefits and calling it analysis. We could be doing all kinds of things by implementing these programs, of which making bikes available for rent is just one. By the same, very same, token, it is possible to look at the cost of say, a bike program, and compare it to the costs of a personal automobile program. We have an abiding belief that the costs of roads, bridges, cars themselves (payments and maintenance), insurance, not to mention the gasoline and not to even hint at the wars that are necessary from time to time to maintain access to that gasoline, are relatively acceptable or low-cost in some aspect, or somehow a natural part of the world. But the costs of driving are none of these things. They are excessive. And would be unthinkable if considered in their totality.
Only then, when we have an idea of such a sum, such costs, should we compare that number and the bits of flesh that will eternally decorate it to the cost of a bike program, or a wind farm, or outfitting every man, woman, child, dog, cat and long-eared galoot with a personal solar chapeau and matching lawn darts set. Then we might know which might be worth it, and which might be just another receptor for our rage.

Speaking of which, see also this.


Dark Green

Cue the rollout for the new Lexus Wagon:

Lexus is embarking on one of the largest marketing campaigns in the brand’s history to launch this new vehicle. The multi-faceted campaign, which breaks today, features pioneering computer-generated imagery (CGI). Only the interior shots are real time video.

Our favorite of these shows tree-lined pedestrian promenades opening into tree-lined avenues as the car nears them. The city opens before you as you drive through in a scene seemingly inspired by the imaginative film Inception. Actor and best-selling author Hill Harper appears in the spot and provides the voiceover. He declares the CT to be, “Just what you need to forge your own path.”

Okay. 42 mpg, got it. presumptuous Green attitude: slightly offensive, but okay. Wedding the the conservation mindset with “enrich, empower, escape” triumvirate was always going to be entertaini- oh crap:

They have also joined forces with Microsoft in an entertainment series entitled, Fresh Perspectives. The documentary series focuses on six artists, each commissioned to create three original pieces in 24 hours, inspired by the themes of Enrich, Escape and Empower.

Why does ‘entertainment series’ sound so purposefully euphemistic, like something one would be subjected to in a prison camp?

Traffic Calming

A friend who recently visited UCSB was telling me about the bike lanes all over campus there. But without the current crazy amount of car congestion on the campus just outside my window, that would be greatly alleviated by the use of bicycles – and the construction of dedicated bike lanes like you see here – I might not have tried to find a picture.

uc santabarbara

So… you can see it. But you can also see that such volume of riders is not just about getting people on bikes but also making bikes-as-transportation safe and reliable. It IS a way to get rid of many cars where close-proximity driving (less than 1 mile) is the norm. But it takes a commitment to develop the infrastructure to support it – just as it takes for cars. Unfortunately there is no sign of any such commitment presently visible from my or any other nearby windows.

Imported and Distorted

Insight on the new Honda Insight (hybrid automobile) from a climate change skeptic, whose cruel sense of humor almost circles back around to making sense. Sample.

The nickel for the battery has to come from somewhere. Canada, usually. It has to be shipped to Japan, not on a sailing boat, I presume. And then it must be converted, not in a tree house, into a battery, and then that battery must be transported, not on an ox cart, to the Insight production plant in Suzuka. And then the finished car has to be shipped, not by Thor Heyerdahl, to Britain, where it can be transported, not by wind, to the home of a man with a beard who thinks he’s doing the world a favour.

Why doesn’t he just buy a Range Rover, which is made from local components, just down the road? No, really — weird-beards buy locally produced meat and vegetables for eco-reasons. So why not apply the same logic to cars?

Just so.

Reminds me of L.F. Celine’s Bardamu in Journey to the End of the Night, when the doctor-cum-mal vivant spends some time working at a Ford Plant near Detroit.

When we’d put on our clothes again, we were sent off in slow-moving single files and hesitant groups towards the places where the vast crashing sound of the machines came from. The whole building shook, and oneself from one’s soles to one’s ears was possessed by this shaking, which vibrated from the ground, the glass panes and all this metal, a series of shocks from floor to ceiling. One was turned by force into a machine oneself, the whole of one’s carcass quivering in this vast frenzy of noise, which filled you within and all around the inside of your skull, and lower down rattled your bowels, and climbed to your eyes in infinite, little, quick unending strokes. As you went along, you lost your companions. You gave them a little smile when they fell away, as if it was all the greatest fun in the world. You couldn’t speak to them any longer or hear them. Each time, three or four stayed behind around a machine…. The little bucking trolley car loaded with metal bits and pieces strives to make headway through the workmen. Out of the light! They jump aside to let the hysterical little thing pass along. And hop! There it goes like mad thing, clinking on its way amid belts and flywheels, taking the men their ration of shackles.

Since we cannot but ask for more, seconds all around.

Alien Lanes

In a state that is toying with secession from the Union, Department of Transportation plotting probably doesn’t even get this sophisticated. But as this post and chart make clear, there is a variety of other choices available that usually don’t even get put on the table for consideration.

And this kind of deliberate ignorance about alternatives gets expensive; it’s a dispositive of the conditions that “trap” us all in the unsustainable transportation cycle where 1) an absence of mass transit leaves driving as the only option, so 2) every person in a household over 16 years of age must have a vehicle, 3) more roads are required to support an ever-increasing number of vehicles, 4) transportation dollars automatically go to road building and maintenance and 5) mass transit projects are deemed too costly, which neatly leads back to 1).

But building and maintaining roads is very expensive, too. And that’s just the roads; once we begin to price-in the negative externalities of CO2 emissions and the general conditions surrounding resource scarcity, not to mention drive-time radio, we should be able to consider cost of driving to be sufficiently astronomical as to squeeze a few more chairs around the transportation planning table.

New Model Year

Any time there’s an opportunity to link to Auto Racing Daily, count me in. What will follow the slow disappearance of ubiquitous automobile advertising? Will the gaps in between reality shows become one long infomercial for phony peer journal-reviewed pharmaceutical remedies? It likely won’t go away altogether but, as the ever-glamorous exposition of the car-tastic life sunsets, might we be able to better imagine alternate routes, closer destinations, farther ambitions?

Wherever will we get our catchiest catch phrases? Will JC Mellencamp have to go back to… whatever it is he does? What about all that patriotism we attached to buying cars? Can we love our country and not buy as many cars as often?

Wait a minute… why are we always making such a big show of how much we love our country, anyway? Unless it’s the World Cup or the Olympics, isn’t that something you would do and show quietly, as a reflection of one’s reverence for the nobility of our fore bearers and the land they founded stole, got somehow gained dominion over? And wouldn’t tying our patriotism to car buying only become operative when (like sometime in the next month) the government owns more than half of GM?

You see how needlessly complicated this can get.


The government is playing a game of hangman with the auto industry, which, only using the two words ‘cars’ and ‘economy’, is missing a couple of important letters.

It’s not a game really. But the word they come up with is the key. Because what’s happening is that the auto industry will not return to what it was, and I can’t say whether this is objectively good or bad – the livelihoods of millions of people are at stake and will change because of it. I can say that the industry and its products were objectively unsustainable, never geared toward lasting, if you will. The term Rustbelt was earned, obviously.

What will it all change to? Many, smaller ventures, likely, but when you expand the word list to include fortune and manufacturing, the people at stake might be able to actually avoid completing the figure on the gallows.

The situation should make us (we seem to only respond to force) begin to think about post-industrialization in a different way perhaps, and not just in terms of a service industry where we make money from money but no longer make any thing. We will continue to need many things, primarily food and but also jobs, for people. How do you create jobs for people? How do you make food? Where did all the people who made the cars come from?

On a very related point, conservatives scream socialism! so often and so loudly that they don’t even see when something really is socialism, like the president firing the CEO of a major corporation and ordering another to sell itself. Another pitfall of a discourse littered with chickenlittle-type hyperbole.  The timing couldn’t be better for this short-term policy solution. When they might reasonably object to something, the moral authority has been used up in petty political slander. A self-neutralizing opposition is good for President Obama, but I trust they wisen up. There will be need to be smart, effective opposition, eventually.