Saves Who?

Former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson in the WAPO, emphasis added:

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Disgust at this white supremacist ‘insurrection’ has its christian element that cannot and should not be ignored. They have continually made a calculus, for decades gladly allowing themselves to be co-opted at the willing, possible and very likely expense of the country itself. This was it. They need to reckon with and accept their responsibility. Enough with the white grievance and religious victim-hood. It was always fake. They were willing to fluff their own faith into something phony, self-serving, insincere, selective and arbitrary that betrayed its very origin, and this is true whether you believe it or not.

Simple, evergreen rule: Anyone who will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason.

Link to WAPO article.

Standard Future

An aside concerning the Away of the last week.

The green family spent last week in Northern California, a beautiful respite from the devilish heat that has HQ surrounded on all sides, now and especially then. We spent the American Independence Day in a certain city among many, many thousands of observant fellow Americans and I will report without irony that it was perhaps the most patriotically American-feeling Independence Day directly observed in some time. The context of that particular city, noted over the preceding days, perfectly foreshadowed this Independence Day sensation, and for one simple reason: it is the future of America. Allow me to explain.

The often-fraught, always divisive and currently repellant political culture of this country is predicated on the future being poor, uneducated, overweight, uninsured and underemployed like much of the South currently finds itself. But that’s not what the future looks like, and I don’t mean this as some kind of self-styled optimist, because, while occasionally hopeful, I’m not quite that. The future, I was reminded, is made up of a multi-generational diversity of people from all corners, educated and bottle-fed the same American go-getterism but rid, somehow, of the hate, fear and disdain that we seem to think naturally comes with it. Those things are an add-ons – they actually don’t come standard, as it turns out. Of course, this is the reason certain parties attach so much fear to the future. Without the add-ons, things are different, people care, congregate and relate as they get on with the business of the country, which is business, of course. But they vote in favor of things like health care and fast trains, know they might, just might, be able to affect the amount of energy people use with a few more options and some incentives.

The folks in the tricornes fetishize the past and we should take them at their word. It is the past. And the faster it turns into the future, and it is (I saw it), the louder the screaming will be.

We pedaled rented, two-wheel crafts hand-forged in the heartland through acres of Americans of all ethnicities, setting up their grills, beer coolers, card tables, FLAGS and volleyball nets in public spaces meant for viewing the fireworks over the Bay later that evening. Did I say flags? Not a surprise, of course, it was American Independence Day. But it was a good reminder and perhaps most other places than the American South you don’t need one, but people coming here want to be here for more reasons than to take your crappy stuff and whatever motivated their grandparents, three generations in, they are Americans, if not the country itself. It was inspiring and reassuring.

And of course, that city is also filled with the requisite amount of crazy people, many of them homeless. Why so, other than delightful weather? Upon closer investigation it seems that the city in question funds adequate services for all of its citizens, include the least among them, mainly because the people in it believe them all to be part of humanity and not some garbage island off of it.

So enjoy some independence from the idea of a threatening future for a while. It could be bad enough without being fully-equipped with all the racist fear-mongering that has traveled so well up to now. And keep in mind, in some places within our own borders, people are already finding ways to put it aside. Plus, all the new kids are coming with the standard model features anyway. So hold the add-ons.

L’air over there

off1The government of France is thinking post-nuclear energy and developing off-shore wind farms in the North Atlantic:

Long reliant on nuclear as its chief source of energy, France is having to think long and hard about its energy strategy in the face of increasing public questioning about the safety of nuclear after the Fukushima disaster and greater evidence about the potential future high financial costs of the technology. The decision by the French government late last week to award tenders to build offshore wind farms to produce 2 GW of energy suggests that wind power is high up the Elysée’s list of alternatives to nuclear.

French energy minister Eric Besson said the decision would create up to 10,000 new jobs and “position France among the leaders of the offshore industry,” when making the announcement that a consortium led by energy giant EDF and engineering firm Alstom had won a bid to build three wind farms off the coast of northern France. Spanish energy firm Iberdrola and French engineering giant Areva secured the rights to build a fourth farm, he said. The two consortia are expected to invest around €7 billion to install 2GW of offshore wind energy capacity, according to Besson.

I’m sure all kinds of batailles are raging there about whether climate change is real, too.

Via Juan Cole.

(was) Away

El_ CI

Spent the last fews days in extreme green seclusion, see photo above. One of the only undeveloped barrier islands on the Atlantic coast, Cumberland is decidedly outside of the  20th century framework. Not, however, outside that of the 19th or the 21st, and this may be worth pointing out.

Though it has no paved roads, retails shops, bridges, gas stations, restaurants and a strictly limited population of visitors, CI is not in its native state. It was clearcut in the 17th-18th century and planted with Sea Island cotton. So the massive maritime forests have grown up in the meantime and only appear to be ancient. The ruins of the plantations those cotton crops supported are only a sort of bonus homage to the imperial past the newer forests now shroud.

Not unrelatedly, today it has decent cellphone reception, a generous stash of bicycles in good working order, a climate suitable to many types of citrus fruit trees and sustenance gardening, ample sun, wind and tidal energy resources (all yet untapped, save for a little gardening) and few other distractions for the contemplative figuring-out of new energy sources, cures, sad songs, epic poems, etc. Of course, rising seas may alter the shoreline configurations in the future.

But still, for now, it exists as a kind of future past. Something to consider.

What does (a) Green (card) mean?

Do you know any illegal immigrants? Your kids go to school with their kids. And if they don’t, well I think this begins to explain a great deal of the antipathy expressed toward them and their fates. Reminder: They = We.

A local situation came up over dinner a couple of nights ago and I had to (try to) explain to les enfants vertes the whys and hows of said situation. A  bright, local girl who had excelled in school and won the notice of several teachers along the way had gained attention again because she, now a h.s. graduate, was cleaning houses for a living instead of going to college. Some of these teachers are my kids teachers now, so we’re all increasing cognizant of the situation. And now the kids know, too, that some of their friends at school will, upon gradation, not be availed to entry – much less any financial aid that would make it possible – to continue their education, to continue on any path they may have devised under the strain of all the pressure to success we put them under. These kids will be, in fact, consigned to a future of menial labor, inconsistent and under-employment and less overall income (and tax contributions) than their classmates, all because someone who brought them to this country was undocumented.

Suddenly, I’m having a conversation with my kids about birthright citizenship and why it is crucially important to be that country that people want to come to, want to bring their kids to, want to sneak into, if necessary, and become a part of… I was suddenly defending the nobility of a country – a country that would and does force some of its own school children into that situation that started the conversation.

There are all flavors of examples of this kind of exclusion going on – NPR just this morning. Whether its anti-Islamism or don’t-take-our-jobs hysteria, nothing is more pernicious than the proclivity to cut off access to the future that runs through this country. Hint: Future arrives anyway.

The Trains in Spain

Move speedily across the plain, much faster than those in Maine. Or even between Boston and Philly.

TPM has a rather pathetic feature about the future present of High Speed Rail around the world and what several countries have been able to accomplish with some wise investment, imagination and planning. Pathetic in the sense that it makes the US look like chumps, real and actual morons for being lead by our loyalty to outmoded technology and means of transportation. But look Ma, we’ve got all these awesome tanks and bunker-busting bombs! Yes, there is shock, and more than a little awwww… but not the good kind.

Look at the pics they’ve put up and then compare them to this:


I took that right before we boarded for a trip to NYC two years ago. It was an all night trip, great experience, priced comparable to flying except for far less hassle both departing and arriving, thus exacting a far lesser human toll. But look at that train. Our National Train System. It was rickety; there was still a space in the wall of the sleeper where a monitor with VCR had been installed, then taken out. But even so, there’s still nothing like seeing the countryside passing by the window next to you. Plus the conversations you get into over twelve hours together. And the Porter was the same vintage as the train car – tons of great stories he didn’t even need to tell you, so clearly were they written into his face and wrinkled hands.

We took the Eurostar with garcon d’verte in 2000 and the TGV many times before and since – the comparison is not the point. Look at the slide show above, it’s like another planet somewhere. They’ve left us far behind and long ago. A guy in the 3rd this summer described to me how they were testing a newer, faster TGV that met some crazy speed for a mere electric train – at nearly 600 km/hour it was outrunning the current that powers it, creating a new array of problems for the engineers, problems that they will solve.

The point is how much of this future present we are deliberately denying ourselves, all for the sake of infinite hegemony for car maker and oil companies. We are powerless before their century-plus of lobbying and propaganda, the individual freedom we believe was immaculately conceived within the sacred chambers of the combustion engine, from which we must not be sundered.

Meanwhile, we munch a Gordita and listen to Beck on the Interstate while a dude in Shanghai is sleeping on the maglev, dreaming of a day or a girl or a boy or a house or a song or a cure or another train, to somewhere. Who’s future is it, again?

The Broken Table

There remains a very deeply held taboo on bankruptcy, even in this country, even now. The US now owns many of its banks, what’s left of its major automobile manufacturers and will likely soon see many more of its larger entities descend into some type of creditor protection and re-organization. Notice a pattern here, as our largest everythings achieve epic fail? We shouldn’t be too shy about this, nor too averse to the more figurative implications of re-organization, at least until someone adds a snappy jingle and uses it to advertise their product.

Re-organization – of what we make, what we eat, where live and how we get there – should be what we’re after. Indeed, even if you’re only watching the televised version, that what’s we’re seeing.

There’s nothing to say that we’ve got to necessarily revert to some brutish, Hobbesian state of nature. And there is actually quite of bit to recommend that we do not.

But I won’t try to put a positive spin on it, and not because it’s getting that much more difficult to explain how the economy will return to growth at some point in the near future. The point is that, as scary as it may seem initially, all of these terms should be seen as negotiable. For instance, if we suddenly were to question when, much less whether, this economy will return to growth, the possible answers become so much more abundant. That’s what we’ve always been about – possibilities. And that’s what seem so limited now, when we’re reduced to watching the DOW for positive signals about… our own hope and happiness. If we start looking at other, more tangible indicators – acknowledge what is already broken and defunct – we can begin the actual transition that now only takes the shape of clearance sales, emptying malls and vague unemployment statistics, which attempt to make sense of an epic collapse in some positive way without confronting its most obvious implications.

We should admit it; we’re afraid to be afraid. And it’s all about uncertainty. Let’s go ahead and become convinced that the economy we’ve built is over, become afraid about not knowing what will happen and get it over with. This is already the case, anyway, despite the illusion of the scrolling green carpet offered by your financial planner, mapping a secure path into the future. We tell children all the time that the scariest things usually end up being not that scary; it’s advice we would do well to heed and stop guarding this carcass of a model that, as great as it has been, is still starting to smell.

Philip II of Spain declared state bankruptcy 4 times between 1557 and 1596, primarily a result of an illusory flow of resources from the New World. That would be us, and ‘making do with more‘ is a mantra that has served us as well as it did him. So, what can we make out of the broken table?

Two Things

We’ve solidly on the cusp of Gemini, school’s getting out most everywhere and the Administration makes some hardly recognizable sounds about raising CAFE standards. Coincidence? I think not.

But really, when you consider things that ordinarily do not go together, new CAFE requirements and the drop in new home starts should not be among them.

New home construction fell to its lowest pace on record in April, the government reported on Tuesday, disappointing forecasters, who had hoped for a modest increase. Building permits fell to record lows and construction on new multi-family units plunged.


“The writing’s on the wall in the construction industry,” said Joseph Brusuelas, director at Moody’s “This is a function of the oversupply in the market. There’s just simply too much supply on the market, and construction starts will have to continue to contract.”

Aw. Everyone hates disappointment, especially so close to summer. But it remains the case that there was an extensive boom in housing construction over the last nineteen-plus years and most of it was the wrong kind of houses built in the wrong kinds of places.

And surely, even the non-trivial rise in CAFE standards has its limits, mainly as it does nothing about used cars and leaves the price of gas untouched. But the CAFE rules are just one tool among many; they were too low for too long and the automakers screamed every time they were even mentioned. Now that the automakers don’t really exist as such any longer, the screams will be the same, but we should hear them differently. And the longer new homes starts lag, maybe that stat begins to serve as a different kind of indicator to home builders, developers, planning commissions and the like. The age of driving fuel inefficient cars to far-flung suburban houses is mercifully taking a pause. We can take the time to re-think the entire fancy that led to both as if it’s deliberate and not at the point of pain. Like wer’e doing it for our own green future good.

Sepia-toned future

For the six of you out there who don’t already read him, I link to today’s column from the shrill one – who now seems of the more sane among us. Go figure.

I would like to pick up on a few things he points out.

To be sure, the Obama administration is taking action to help the economy, but it’s trying to mitigate the slump, not end it. The stimulus bill, on the administration’s own estimates, will limit the rise in unemployment but fall far short of restoring full employment. The housing plan announced this week looks good in the sense that it will help many homeowners, but it won’t spur a new housing boom.

My first reaction to this is, we don’t need a new housing boom – that was one of the problems in the first place. But even this, as green as I always make it out to be, is itself a little too facile. What we don’t need is the same kind of crazy suburban housing boom, centered on and driven by the automobile in every way, and that is a non-trivial distinction if there ever was one. We do have to keep moving forward, a consequence of which is a growing population, one that needs housing. All the many things we talk about as far as energy efficiency, conservation, and lowered carbon footprint need to be incorporated in a kind of new housing boom. One that takes place nearer central cities, one that s accompanied by a boom in SUPERTRAINS and SUPERTRAIN TRACKS and SUPERTRAIN STATIONS, connecting this kind of housing boom to these smarter, much smarter goals for development being hatched on sites and across lecturns the nation over.

So… when Krugman also lays out some of the seeds of our recovery being planted…

Consider housing starts, which have fallen to their lowest level in 50 years. That’s bad news for the near term. It means that spending on construction will fall even more. But it also means that the supply of houses is lagging behind population growth, which will eventually prompt a housing revival.

Or consider the plunge in auto sales. Again, that’s bad news for the near term. But at current sales rates, as the finance blog Calculated Risk points out, it would take about 27 years to replace the existing stock of vehicles. Most cars will be junked long before that, either because they’ve worn out or because they’ve become obsolete, so we’re building up a pent-up demand for cars.

…These should only re-enforce the critical importance of putting these opportunities to work in the service of less waste, less energy, more walking, biking and mass transit. It could be a golden era – when our sepia-toned nostalgia for street car days of yore combine with the wizbang advantages of our high-tech faggery to give us copious amounts of actual time to piss away on stuff that matters. But it will require a major re-casting of all the tools we use to build houses and cars, including the nuts and bolts and screwguns and the materials they fasten but most importantly their designs and the regulations that guide them. Different requirements yield different outcomes, and that, my smiling-because-it’s-Friday friends, is what we’re after.

mg of CO2 per km

In a much simpler context, whenever consumerism is able to actively embrace and integrate its most earnest desires within the ‘go green’ phenomena, profound results will follow. Two examples:

Last year about this time, a very good friend in France hit a big birthday and I went over for a week to drink great champagne and deliver a present. This was an incredible hassle, as the present was a painting his wife bought from another friend over here; I built a plywood box around it, tacked on a handle and checked it at the airport. When I spotted it safe and sound at the luggage carousel at de Gaulle the next morning, my odyssey with this box had only begun. Customs officials, the Paris Metro, all sorts of stairs, taxis, a friend’s place, hotels… but there were all kinds of wonderful elements to a few days in the city, including my discovery of an arrondissement I’d never visited ( the XIXeme), this crazy David Lynch art show at the fondation Cartier, plus a stroll out to La Defense one evening – one evening when there happened to be small riot between some kids and the police at the Gare du Nord (this was about two weeks before Sarkozy’s election. If you want to see the underside of any country, visit it right before a national election.)

So, by mid-week I had dragged the box halfway around the city, all the way to the Gare du Lyon, where I waited with it for the TGV to take us both down to Valence. The recorded SNCF lady’s voice, reminding passengers of track changes and other crucial information, was so pleasant reverberating in that old station. It makes you look up at the somewhat ornate ceiling and forget for a minute about the non-existent place you might be able to stow an oddly shaped box somewhere in the second class compartment. There was a billboard that caught my eye, high above the din of arrivals and departures. Nothing high tech, just a static, color sign, an advertisement for some new Peugeot or something. As the SNCF lady was speaking, I noticed the copy on the billboard. They weren’t advertising its engine size, or on-board nav system, or even the fuel efficiency. The ad copy, streaming outside a glamorous profile shot of the sedan gliding across a wide landscape, merely and with a sort of halting understatement noted the vehicle’s amount of carbon emissions per kilometer. BAM. I was right back in the future.

There was a lot politics in discussions with my friend, his wife and their friends during the rest of my stay, most of it very depressing to me as an avowed admirer of most choses francaises. Their cynicism was very well-informed and convincing, and I could but go along and commiserate on most issues. But I kept holding onto that sign in the Gare du Lyon. Like most symbols, it stood for more than itself, particularly in a milieu that seemed like it was sliding back toward its own worst impulses. It was a small reminder that all was not lost; that company’s ad people had some pretty amazing confidence in the car buying public, and if they had it, then…

The other example, from the same trip. Near the end of the week, my friend and I went to grocery store so I could buy some of my wife’s favorite items to smuggle back: some wine, chocolate, jars of mustard, a little foie gras and tin of this delicious peasant food that we love. Anyway, we got all that plus a few more things and headed for the checkout. I paid with my debit card and went around to the end of the checkout counter to bag my buys. Now this was a huge grocery chain, like Le Clerc or Intermarche or something. But when I went around to the end of the counter and reached for some bags, a funny thing happened: there weren’t any.

I was honestly shocked. They were no longer providing free plastic shopping bags for customers, for every reason everyone already knows. But someone had made the decision, and some company had made it policy. No more, sorry. Perhaps it had been mandated by the government or they had started charging people some inordinate amount to use, make or dispose of them. Whatever it was, it worked. They were gone. My friend looked at me and apologized with sudden alarm that he had left his bags in the car, where they always now were. This little array of habits was splayed out embarrassingly for me, a sort of gratuitous display of acting sensibly that put most other actions in a very poor light. It made me wonder as we grabbed our stuff in our arms and darted out into the waiting drizzle, why do we still live this way, hemmed in so many sides by the little conveniences we demand?

It’s just a little thing, bringing bags to the grocery store or buying a car for its low emissions. But they are both on their way. You don’t have to feel especially empowered – or as though your liberty has been infringed upon – by doing the right thing, but you can.