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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 10 September 2004

Topic: The Culture

Philosophy: True Lies

Over at The Chronicle Review - a publication of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Lynch, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, has a curious little essay. This essay is adapted from his book True to Life: Why Truth Matters, to be published in October by the MIT Press.

What is this about?

See Who Cares About the Truth? from the issue dated September 10, 2004

Much of this is a critique of an earlier essay by Stanley Fish that argued, as Lynch summarizes, that not only is objective truth an illusion, but even worrying about the nature of truth in the first place is a waste of time. In short, debating an abstract idea like truth is like debating whether Ted Williams was a better pure hitter than Hank Aaron: amusing, but irrelevant to today's game. Yeah well, I would argue that the late Roberto Clemente was also.... Nope. Can't go there.

Lynch of course runs down the problem with the reasons we went to war in Iraq, and has a problem with folks, the majority now, who really don't care that much whether what we were told was true or false. The reason, or reasons, we went to war, turned out to be based on what was not true, and now, if you are following the opinion polls, no one much cares -
... the belief that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat had rallied us together and provided an easy justification to doubters of the nobility of our cause. So what if it wasn't really true? To many, it seemed na?ve to worry about something as abstract as the truth or falsity of our claims when we could concern ourselves with the things that really mattered -- such as protecting ourselves from terrorism and ensuring our access to oil. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the truth may be good, but why not sometimes take untruth if it gets you where you want to go?
Well, we are, after all, a practical, pragmatic people. And it does sort of depend on where you want to go. Whatever works.

But Lynch, the philosopher, presents the classic classroom questions -

1.) At the end of the day, is it always better to believe and speak the truth?
2.) Does the truth itself really matter?

And he admits most Americans would look at these two questions "with a jaundiced eye." He thinks we are a little cynical about the value of truth. (And who liked those late afternoon classes where you were forced to deal with "deep questions" when you just wanted to get your credits and move on?)

Who cares?

You would think the conservative right cares, but not exactly... (my emphases) -
William J. Bennett, for example, in his book last year, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, laments the profusion of what he calls "an easygoing" relativism. Longing for the days when children were instructed to appreciate the "superior goodness of the American way of life," he writes: "If the message was sometimes overdone, or sometimes sugarcoated, it was a message backed by the record of history and by the evidence of even a child's senses." In the halcyon days of old, when the relativists had yet to scale the garden wall, the truth was so clear that it could be grasped by even a child. That is the sort of truth Bennett seems to think really matters. To care about objective truth is to care about what is simple and ideologically certain.

As a defense of the value of truth, that is self-defeating. An unswerving allegiance to what you believe isn't a sign that you care about truth. It is a sign of dogmatism. Caring about truth does not mean never having to admit you are wrong. On the contrary, caring about truth means that you have to be open to the possibility that your own beliefs are mistaken. It is a consequence of the very idea of objective truth. True beliefs are those that portray the world as it is and not as we hope, fear, or wish it to be. If truth is objective, believing doesn't make it so; and even our most deeply felt opinions could turn out to be wrong. That is something that Bennett -- and the current administration, for that matter -- would do well to remember. It is not a virtue to hold fast to one's views in face of the facts.

Thus some writers, like Fish, say that since faith in the absolute certainties of old is na?ve, truth is without value. Others, like Bennett, argue that since truth has value, we had better get busy rememorizing its ancient dogmas. But the implicit assumption of both views is that the only truth worth valuing is Absolute Certain Truth. That is a mistake. We needn't dress truth up with capital letters to make it worth wanting; plain unadorned truth is valuable enough.
Yeah, if you can see it. Sometimes it's hard to see it.

And it is easy to be cynical, like the Fish fellow. But Lynch says this is confused, and further, that philosophical debates over truth matter because truth and its pursuit are politically important.

Politically important? Really?

Lynch argues this -
There are three simple reasons to think that truth is politically valuable. The first concerns the very point of even having the concept. At root, we distinguish truth from falsity because we need a way of distinguishing right answers from wrong ones. In particular, and as the debacle over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq clearly illustrates, we need a way of distinguishing between beliefs for which we have some partial evidence, or that are widely accepted by the community, or that fit our political ambitions, and those that actually end up being right.

... We think it is good to have some evidence for our views because we think that beliefs that are based on evidence are more likely to be true. We criticize people who engage in wishful thinking because wishful thinking often leads to believing falsehoods. In short, the primary point of having a concept of truth is that we need a basic norm for appraising and evaluating our beliefs and claims about the world. We need a way of sorting beliefs and assertions into those that are correct (or at least heading in that direction) and those that are incorrect.
Of course this flies in the face of what my conservative friends say - that when you assume personal responsibility for your life and adopt the right attitude, that what you want to happen will happen, you will succeed at anything you try.

Really? The line between having a positive attitude and delusional wishful thinking is, it seems to some of us, quite hazy. Saying that, of course, makes us defeatists and losers - the kind of people who do contingency planning for worst case scenarios and try to imagine a range of consequences for actions, and not just assume the most desirable consequences, and only those, will naturally occur.

But what is the truth about what will happen? Before the war critics were full of warnings, and the administration said no, they themselves had the truth - we would be greeted as liberators, with flowers and sweets and all that. Thus the critics were wrong, as their warnings were not based on any truths, but only on worries and what-if conjectures.

But neither the warnings nor the "wishful thinking" (positive attitude) was "true" - as we hadn't invaded and taken over Iraq. All we had was opinion, and smattering of "facts" - like those Colin Powell presented at the UN to prove we had to act immediately. The world was asked to decide which opinion was more grounded in truth - but it was all still opinion.

And we skeptics unreasonable want rather substantial evidence.

So, consider this. As a default opinion should we simply (that word was selected carefully) trust our leaders? We did have the faith to elect them (sort of) after all. That, in fact, was an act of faith, more than anything else. There was no way to be certain how the new leaders would react to events, and the events over the last few years were not exactly something anyone really anticipated.

Here is Lynch's "thought experiment" on that idea -
Now imagine a society in which everyone believes that what makes an opinion true is whether it is held by those in power. So if the authorities say that black people are inferior to white people, or love is hate, or war is peace, then the citizens sincerely believe that is true. Such a society lacks something, to say the least. In particular, its people misunderstand truth, and the nature of their misunderstanding undermines the very point of even having the concept. Social criticism often involves expressing disagreement with those in power -- saying that their views on some matter are mistaken. But a member of our little society doesn't believe that the authorities can be mistaken. In order to believe that, they would have to be able to think that what the authorities say is incorrect. But their understanding of what correctness is rules out such a possibility. So criticism -- disagreement with those in power -- is, practically speaking, impossible.
Which is right where we find ourselves now, of course. Listen to the defense of the current administration.

Lynch of course spends some time on George Orwell's 1984. But he says we read it wrongly.
... The most terrifying aspect of Orwell's Ministry of Truth isn't its ability to get people to keep people from speaking their minds, or even to believe lies; it is its success at getting them to give up on the idea of truth altogether. ... Eliminate the very idea of right and wrong independent of what the government says, and you eliminate not just dissent -- you eliminate the very possibility of dissent.
There is a lot more detail, but that's the general idea - as Lynch puts it, just having the concept of objective truth opens up a certain possibility: It allows us to think that something might be correct even if those in power disagree.

But is that what we want while we're waging this war on terror, this war to eliminate evildoers? Is that wise, or useful? Discuss in a three-page essay, due next Wednesday.

No? Then consider this. You fundamental rights are at issue here - so you'd better not say it's all opinion and there's no real truth -
The second reason truth is politically important is that one of our society's most basic political concepts -- that of a fundamental right -- presupposes the idea of objective truth. A fundamental right is different from a right that is granted merely as a matter of social policy. Policy rights -- such as the right of a police officer to carry a concealed weapon -- are justified because they are means to a worthwhile social goal, like public safety. Fundamental rights, on the other hand, are a matter of principle, as the philosopher Ronald Dworkin has famously put it in a book by that title. They aren't justified because they are a means to valuable social goals; fundamental rights are justified because they are a necessary component of basic respect due to all people. Fundamental rights, therefore, override other political concerns. You can't justifiably lose your right to privacy, for example, just because the attorney general suddenly decides we would all be less vulnerable to terrorism if the government knew what everyone was reading, buying, and saying. The whole point of having a fundamental or, as it is often put, "human right," is that it can't justifiably be taken away just because a government suddenly decides it would be in our interest to do so.
Oh really? This fellow should wake up. We bought into that, willingly.

But is this true?
It follows that a necessary condition for fundamental rights is a distinction between what the government -- in the wide sense of the term -- says is so and what is true. That is, in order for me to understand that I have fundamental rights, it must be possible for me to have the following thought: that even though everyone else in my community thinks that, for example, same-sex marriages should be outlawed, people of the same sex still have a right to be married. But I couldn't have that thought unless I was able to entertain the idea that believing doesn't make things so, that there is something that my thoughts can respond to other than the views of my fellow citizens, powerful or not. The very concept of a fundamental right presupposes the concept of truth. Take-home lesson: If you care about your rights, you had better care about truth.
Now imagine Pontius Pilate washing his hands. "I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves." Matthew 27:24

Lynch adds the obvious too -
The conceptual connection between truth and rights reveals the third and most obvious reason truth has political value. It is vital that a government tell its citizens the truth -- whether it be about Iraq's capacities for producing weapons of mass destruction or high-ranking officials' ties to corporate interests. That is because governmental transparency and freedom of information are the first defenses against tyranny. The less a government feels the need to be truthful, the more prone it is to try and get away with doing what wouldn't be approved by its citizens in the light of day, whether that means breaking into the Watergate Hotel, bombing Cambodia, or authorizing the use of torture on prisoners. Even when they don't affect us directly, secret actions like those indirectly damage the integrity of our democracy. What you don't know can hurt you.
Except we welcome tyranny, as it makes us feel more safe and secure, and there are so many bad guys out there. They want to kill us all. Truth can wait for the days when they are all dead?

We are buying into that, or so the polls are telling us.

Did Bush lie, or at least hammer us into delusional wishful thinking, to have his vanity war? Maybe so. Did he lie about his service record - this week's mini-scandal? Note that no one much cares.

We don't want the truth, and find it tiresome. QED.

Posted by Alan at 17:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 20 August 2004

Topic: The Culture


As most everyone knows, that famous woman from Pasadena, Julia Child, passed away this week. I still have my late mother's old copy of The Art of French Cooking somewhere or other, although I hardly ever open it. Like most guys, I work from intuition and improvise - although I have consulted that book from time to time on things that puzzled me. But Julia Child was one fine woman.


Someone I know, Louisa KL Chu, on her website Movable Feast: Diary of an Itinerant Chef has a funny story of what it was like to interview Julia Child. You might check it out here. Louisa, by the way, holds Le Grand Dipl?me from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (2003) and then staged at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Ath?n?? also in Paris. And she will be staging at El Bulli in September until the end of the season 2004 - think foam, of course. She is contracted with Les Ambassadeurs at the H?tel de Crillon in Paris after that, but her French work visa is pending. I believe bureaucracy is a French word - they invented the concept - and I wish her luck. Anyway, Louisa's interview will give a good sense of Julia Child.

And you might want to check out this appreciation. It hits the mark.

Julia Child's Lessons in Living
She combined a Puritan work ethic with a love of life.
Amy Finnerty - Opinion Journal (in The Wall Street Journal), Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Some nuggets from Finnerty?

Julia Child as subversive of the American ethic -
She addressed one glaring flaw in the American ethic--our aversion to actually enjoying what we've labored for. In this she shifted the focus of pride at American tables away from the heartland clich? - that of "plenty," the visible fruits of labor" - toward an emphasis on quality, and the senses. A purring palate was more important than a piled-up platter.

Many food trends have come and gone since she became famous, and she remained unmoved, deriding the anti-butterfat lobby and other bores. Health-food zealots were a baffling irritation to Ms. Child, and she delivered a consistent message over the decades: Ignore them. No wonder our feelings about her are still so passionate, several decades after her most oft-cited accomplishment (bringing coq au vin to Peoria).

Food was the medium, but the message amounted to a philosophy of life. She did something more important than teach us to cook; she taught us to eat, and some of us in the new Atkins World Order could still use a few lessons. She knew how to indulge, in moderation: food of all kinds (in normal portions); drink (but not drunkenness); smoking (until she did the mature thing and quit); and the company of men (she was a happily married flirt).
That about sums it up. Lighten-up and relax - and enjoy life. Fine by me.

And had she not been involved with food?
... she might have found greatness in other ways, through her ability to subvert Americans' love of suffering.
What? America's love of suffering?

Well, surveying the week in politics, watching the not-quite-hard-bodies staggering out of Crunch Gym down on the corner, where aerobic suffering is a specialty, listening to the din of coverage of the trials of Scott (murder) and Kobe (rape) and Micheal (child molestation)... this Finnerty woman has nailed it there too. We do love suffering. It ennobles us, and entertains us.

Crunch Gym stands on the spot where Schwab's Drugstore used to be - where Lana Turner was discovered - a pretty young teenager in a tight cashmere sweater sipping a high-carb, real-sugar soda many decades ago. Times have changed. The sweet young things on that corner now, exhausted from their workouts, looking grim and a bit mean, could easily toss any Hollywood agent who gets too fresh through a plate-glass window - and they sip cold no-carb coffee-like stuff at Buzz Coffee on the plaza outside the gym - and you don't want to mess with them.

Julia Child would just not get it.


One other -

The American poet Donald Justice died August 6th after a long illness. He was extraordinary. One of my favorites.

Here is a quick bio -listing all the awards and such.

And everyone is quoting his most famous poem -
Counting the Mad

This one was put in a jacket,
This one was sent home,
This one was given bread and meat
But would eat none,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one looked at the window
As though it were a wall,
This one saw things that were not there,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one thought himself a bird,
This one a dog,
And this one thought himself a man,
An ordinary man,
And cried and cried No No No No
All day long.
Short and to the point.

William Carlos Williams, another American poet (Patterson, New Jersey in fact - but he was in Paris with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and the rest of course), said this - "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

Yep. And I think Julia Child knew something similar about food.

Slow down. Enjoy. Drink it all in.

Posted by Alan at 17:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 15 August 2004

Topic: The Culture

Sensitivity and its Limits

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went online earlier today. That would be Volume 2, Number 32.

Along with extended versions of items that first appeared here, you will find two new photography sections, along with a page of photos that first appeared here. Bob Patterson returns as "The World's Laziest Journalist" of course. And here you will discover the connection between the hard-boiled Chicago writer Nelson Algren and the French feminist icon and friend of John-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir - and their mysterious connection to Mom's Bar and Grill. And they said it couldn't be done.

What follows is an extension of this item - Male Identity: Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking to the Profound

This sensitivity business that started last Wednesday or Thursday has been on my mind.

And what would that be?

Cheney criticizes call for `more sensitive' war
Vice president twisting senator's words, Kerry campaign says
The Associated Press - Updated: 12:58 p.m. ET Aug. 12, 2004

The item comes from Dayton, Ohio - home to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the birthplace of Orville and Wilber Wright, and one dull place. Been there - about halfway between Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

But it wasn't dull last week.
Vice President Dick Cheney ridiculed Sen. John Kerry's call for a "more sensitive" war on terrorism Thursday, saying it would not impress the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists or the Islamic militants who had beheaded U.S. citizens.

"America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive," Cheney told supporters in this swing state. "A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. ... The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity."

He was referring to Kerry's statement last week at a minority journalists' convention in which Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said: "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Kerry, said Thursday that Cheney was being disingenuous and was twisting Kerry's words. Singer noted that President Bush had also used the word "sensitive."

"Dick Cheney's desperate misleading attacks now have him criticizing George Bush's own words, who called for America to be `sensitive about expressing our power and influence,'" Singer said.

"Dick Cheney doesn't understand that arrogance isn't a virtue, especially when our country is in danger. ... If Dick Cheney learned this lesson instead of spending his time distorting John Kerry's words, this country would be a safer place," he added.
Arrogance isn't a virtue?

One could argue that even if it isn't a virtue, it wins votes. (Argued in Playing Fair: The Bad-Boy Vote.)

Cheney's position is this -
"Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively. They need to be destroyed," he said.

None of the country's military heroes would follow Kerry's advice, he told an audience that included many veterans.

President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses Grant "did not wage sensitive wars," Cheney said. "... As our opponents see it, the problem isn't the thugs and murderers that we face, but our attitude. We, the American people, know better."
We do? Speak for yourself, white man!

The idea we can be better thugs and murderers, and be those things but for good ends, than the pitiful thugs and murderers the other side develops for evil ends, is curious.

We need nurture and develop the appropriate kill them all mind-set? I guess.

Then what are we doing in Najaf trying to avoid blowing up the famous shrine where Sadr is holed up? Why not pull back and drop the big one? Are we such pussies we actually care what a bunch of crazy rag-heads would say or do if we did? These guys have their fake, strange (no Jesus!) religion - and we're sensitive to that? This business in Najaf and spreading across Iraq, is, as anyone can see, now a civil war. We have chosen sides. Iran has chosen sides. When Sherman marched across Georgia on our own Civil War, was he picky about what he burned to the ground?

Maybe Cheney is ticked at our own military for being such wimps. It would seem so. We don't need no allies, and we don't need no advice from no experts on Islam or Islamic culture, and we don't need nobody's damned permission - we need to kick some serious ass here.

One might point out that all this has its limitations, and that there might be trouble down the road with actions that follow from this stance. You know, unintended consequences and that sort of thing. What do they call it, nuance? That's a French word isn't it?

But Cheney is a man's man - the kind who folks in Ohio love. He's no wimp.

Well, the Associated Press reports elsewhere that Senator Tom Harkin said this -
"When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil," Harkin said. "Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don't like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he'll be tough. He'll be tough with somebody else's blood, somebody else's kids. But not when it was his turn to go."
I guess Tom isn't buying this "man's man" macho business.

Want to avoid all the manly crap? It's hard.

Sunday morning with a decisive thump the multi-pound Los Angeles Times lands on my doorstep. Harriet-the-Cat jumps. I switch on the coffee machine and start to disassemble this Times package. Let's see - this weekend's magazine is the fall fashion issue (sultry models - fur is back, it seems), and many inserts wanting us all to buy the latest back-to-school crap (fancy photos of winsome kids with colorful outfits, looking uncomfortable) - and the slick but stunningly shallow Parade Magazine.

Page two of Parade is always the "personality" page - Walter Scott answers your questions about famous and no longer famous folks - minor celebrity gossip and such. And what does the "personality" page give us this weekend? This -
Q. George W. Bush has occupied the White House for almost four years, yet little is known of his personal preferences. Can you fill in the blanks? -- J. Brinkley, Los Angeles, Calif.

A. He's a man of simple tastes whose favorite foods are peanut butter (creamy, not chunky) and jelly sandwiches and Fritos. According to Ronald Kessler's A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush, just out, the health-conscious President brings his own treadmill and nonallergenic pillows on long trips.
Ah, good to know.

Digby over at Hullabaloo put it best -
The audacity of presenting this election as a choice between an effete French pussy and macho manly man is mind-bending.

Clearly, this election is a choice between a sixty-year-old man and a five-year-old boy.
But the five-year-old boy is so charming? I suppose in his impish way he is.

Oh, it doesn't matter. His kick-ass take-names no-nonsense nasty uncle will run the country for him. Have another Frito, George. Dick will take care of the bad guys.

But what to do with this?

As above, this business in Najaf and spreading across Iraq, is, as anyone can see, now a civil war. We have chosen sides. But on the Knight-Ridder wire it seems the side we're supporting, the good guys, are just as a bunch of "sensitive wimps" too. The Iraqi army that we work for (it's their country now, right?) is refusing to fight, again. Obviously they are just a bunch of girly-men - acting like John Kerry in Vietnam? Well, that Kerry comparison depends on who is lying.

Here's the deal -
"We received a report that a whole battalion (in Najaf) threw down their rifles," said one high-ranking defense ministry official, who didn't want his name published because he's not an official spokesman. "We expected this, and we expect it again and again."

... "I'm ready to fight for my country's independence and for my country's stability," one lieutenant colonel said. "But I won't fight my own people."

"No way," added another officer, who said his brother - a colonel - quit the same day he received orders to serve in the field. "These are my people. Why should I fight someone just because he has a difference in opinion about the future of the country?"

... when [1st Sgt. Khalid] Ali was asked about the number of guardsmen who have quit since al-Sadr's latest uprising, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Vernon Sparkmon cut him off.

"Certain things, you can't discuss," Sparkmon told Ali. "If somebody asks that question, that's, like, classified stuff."
The fellow asks why he should fight someone just because he has a difference in opinion about the future of the country?

To prove you're a man? To prove you're not French? Men fight. Differences in opinion aren't settled by talk. You want a democracy don't you? (The irony is too obvious, isn't it?)

Kevin Drum over at Washington Monthly says these Iraqis just don't seem to be up for an American-backed civil war. Well, they don't have that manly killer instinct.

Work it all out through discussion and compromise, and maybe through, say, voting? Nope. Ask Uncle Dick - that's not the American way.

Time for a tad more scotch now.

Posted by Alan at 22:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 15 August 2004 22:05 PDT home

Friday, 13 August 2004

Topic: The Culture

Racial Identity: Who Gets to be Black?

I'm not sure my friend John is stereotypically African-American or not. We worked together for a few years in Pasadena trying to hold the computer systems for a chain of hospitals together through the Y2K business and lots of real crises, and had a pretty good time. He's a Vietnam veteran about my age, and a pretty good photographer as you can see in Just Above Sunset here and here. But I'm a white guy from Pittsburgh living in Hollywood. What do I know about what is typically African-American?

John recently sent me a note with an attached article that that made me wonder about it all.

The note:
Well, well, well.... It was bound to happen. A new way to be black. Or is it really new? Or does it matter?

How are Black Americans viewed when Bill Cosby makes a comment about some black households or this comment that Obama "is not black in the usual way?"

What do the French say about such comments? Do they ever hear them? How about the Germans or Brits, or Russians?
Barack Obama, running for the open Senate seat in Illinois, is the son of black African exchange student and a white woman, and a bit of an overachiever - as in Harvard Law School and President of the Law Review. His paternal grandfather herded goats in Africa. Beat that story, Horatio Alger! Now he is said to be presidential material - articulate, charismatic, generous, thoughtful, and positive - maybe our first black president somewhere down the road. That is possible. A rising star.

But John was referring to this -

Black Like Whom?
Vanessa Williams, The Washington Post, Thursday, August 5, 2004; Page A19

Williams, the assistant city editor at the Post says she is stumped.
Scott L. Malcomson, writing in Sunday's New York Times, declares that Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate nominee from Illinois, "is not black in the usual way." To bolster his argument, he cited an article in the New Republic by Noam Scheiber, who voiced the opinion that Obama is "not stereotypically African-American."

How is one black "in the usual way"? What does it mean to be "stereotypically African-American"?

Malcomson tried to explain by emphasizing Obama's mixed-race heritage -- his father is a black Kenyan, his mother a white Kansan. He pointed out that Obama was raised by his mother and her parents in Hawaii, as opposed to being brought up in a black household. He argued that Obama's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last week "did not . . . sound the familiar notes of African-American politics."
Geez, I guess Obama doesn't qualify or something. [His speech in Boston was covered in Just Above Sunset here.]

I think the idea is the Democrats are trying to foist a fake black man on us, those crafty devils!

Williams says -
After noting that Obama identifies himself as a black man, Malcomson seemed to be trying to prove that the Senate candidate is mistaken about his own identity. "[W]hile he is black, he is not the direct product of generations of black life in America: he is not black in the usual way," Malcomson wrote. I wonder: Is there a "usual way" to be white?
Now THAT is a curious question. I'm just doing my best, but I'm not sure I'm doing this white thing right, really.

Well, Williams was covering a Washington "Unity" convention for African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Native American journalists. She says the group lobbies the industry to diversify its newsrooms, but its core mission is to challenge to the media to "improve coverage of people of color by dispelling stereotypes and myths." And I guess it isn't working.
In presenting Obama as some new template for black success, Malcomson offered an analysis as shallow as the one sometimes spouted by discouraged black teenagers (and roundly criticized by the black middle class): that to embrace the values and behaviors that lead to achievement is to "act white." Worse, his reasoning as to why white voters find Obama attractive is reminiscent of color biases many thought had long been retired: that society favors those black people with particular bloodlines, schooling and mannerisms, while seeing the lot of black Americans through almost-cartoonish generalizations from the dark days of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.
Okay, I take it back. The idea wasn't to foist a fake black man on us. The idea is the guy is so popular because he acts white and isn't threatening and is still black, sort of.

Some of us thought he was impressive because he made sense and inspired hope and offered fine ideas and was a good man - a natural leader - and that would have been true even if he were purple or green. Ah but he was black, or something like it.

And we have to have the back-story, as we say out here in Hollywood, and this frustrates Williams -
... the news media for the most part continue to cover black people in America through a narrow prism of extremes. I call it the first and the worst approach, focusing on black people who soar to unprecedented heights (Obama was the first black Harvard Law Review president) or sink to unspeakable lows (see the suspects on your local television station almost any weeknight at 11).

What of the majority of black people whose activities are not good enough or bad enough to attract headlines? How often do the news media include the names, faces and voices of African Americans in stories that are not about "black" issues, such as affirmative action, or that don't reveal the latest social epidemic?
Well in a world where news is entertainment, that's just not good material. It's just real. Where's "the hook?"

We want that hook, but Williams see a problem with this top-bottom no-middle media view of black folks -
The other byproduct of the media's inadequate coverage of African Americans is its creation of "black leaders," who are called upon to speak for all black people, regardless of the subject. In many instances these spokesmen are simply the nearest, loudest and glibbest people.

Some of these quote machines have been speaking for "the black community" for decades, sounding like broken records on a tinny Victrola. Is it too difficult or time-consuming for journalists to go out and find black parents, wage earners and professionals who can speak for themselves?
No, it is not too difficult or time-consuming. It just doesn't boost the ratings.

While Williams points out there are, "like Obama, scores of middle-class black professionals who have mastered the art of peacefully coexisting with - and excelling among - whites" that is of course, boring. That doesn't grab audience share.

And John asks what the French say about such comments? I suspect the French are laughing their asses off at this kind of crap. From Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker in the twenties to Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis and all the rest - and don't forget the very gay and pretty black James Baldwin - folks just know where they are welcome. Or where these things don't matter as much. Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs - the one back Parisian in the NBA - does not spend the off-season in Texas. Why would he?

Are the French laughing their asses off? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has a comment on that -
I don't think so. Sure the French like circuses, they like black comedy, and on rare occasions they'll vote for ultra right-wing Jean-Marie Le Pen for laughs, to 'send a message.' But, generally, people who are educated get respect - I write 'educated' and not 'rich' - so idiotic attacks on John Kerry and Barack Obama are more puzzling than funny.

They are also annoying. It's like the Republicans have drafted the Marx Brothers' 'Animal Crackers' and this is their whole campaign. They are running Jerry Lewis, but everybody here wants Dean Martin to win, because he's the real thing and old Jerry is the house buffoon....

Excuse me for using the Marx Brothers in this context. They would, if still around, be destroying the GOP with ridicule. Or maybe they wouldn't. The GOP is ridiculous, utter nonsense, and they are not doing too badly in the polls. Americans appear to be bamboozled.

No, I don't think the French are laughing.
My advice to John? Don't want to deal with this are your brilliant or a gang-member murderer stuff? Go to Paris. Meet Ric. And why come back? I'll come along. I like the place.

But this business that Barack Obama isn't really black - or is a new kind of black - or something? Okay. Whatever.

But the joke is Alan Keyes - the guy the GOP just decided to run against Barack Obama in Illinois for the open Senate seat - is the real black guy? Whatever.

The joke making the rounds is Bush and his crew couldn't find the WMD in Iraq, and now they couldn't even find a black man in Chicago and had to borrow on from Maryland. A cheap shot, but funny.

Here's the view from The Economist (UK) this week - The politics of tokenism.

The title says it all -
Three weeks ago in Boston, the Democrats witnessed the birth of a new black star in Barack Obama, their candidate for the open Senate seat in Illinois. Now the Republicans have conjured up a black star of their own to do battle with the self-described skinny guy with an odd name. Alan Keyes, talk-show host, holy-roller social conservative, Maryland resident and sometime presidential candidate, will take Mr Obama on.

The thinking behind this is beguiling in its simplicity: the Democrats have a black man who can give a rafter-raising speech, so we had better find a rafter-raising black man too. Beguiling, but stupid. Mr Keyes's Senate run will produce nothing but disaster--humiliation for Mr Keyes, more pie on the face of the already pie-covered Illinois Republican Party, and yet another setback for Republican efforts to woo minority voters.
A stupid mistake? Republicans make stupid mistakes? Couldn't be!

And why is this a mistake?
Mr Keyes's problems start with his personality. The Republicans' new champion is the very opposite of cool. In 1996 he chained himself to the front door of a television station in Atlanta, Georgia, to protest against a decision to exclude him from a presidential debate (he was then mounting the first of his two bids for the presidency). His speeches can certainly be eloquent. But they can also be intemperate and plain weird, particularly on the subject of gays.

Mr Keyes's politics are of a piece with his personality. He is a genuine intellectual, a disciple of the great Allan Bloom, and has a PhD in political science from Harvard. But his intellectualism drives him to take absolutist positions on some of the most divisive subjects in American politics. He doesn't just call for a reduction of taxes; he calls for the complete abolition of the "slave" income tax. He doesn't just want to blur the line between church and state like George Bush; he argues that the division between church and state has no basis in the constitution. He doesn't just disagree with Mr Obama on abortion; he castigates him for holding "the slaveholder's position" on the subject.
Yeah, Keyes has been saying Obama is a tool of the white slave master and a vote for Keyes is a vote for what God wants. Charming.

Oh, everyone has his or her little eccentricities. But the real problem, as The Economist (and everyone else) sees?
The Keyes candidacy ... smacks of tokenism. The candidate routinely denounces affirmative action as a form of racial discrimination. But what other than racial discrimination can explain the Illinois Republican Party's decision to shortlist two blacks for the Illinois slot--and eventually to choose Mr Keyes? He brings no powerful backers or deep pockets, and was thrashed in his two runs for the Senate in Maryland.

... The Illinois Republicans are not just guilty of tokenism. They are guilty of last-minute scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel tokenism. The local party has been undergoing a sort of collective mental breakdown ever since Jack Ryan's Senate candidacy collapsed in June over a sordid sex scandal. The party tried a laundry-list of candidates, including two former Illinois governors, two state senators, several wealthy businessmen, a former football coach and, according to Dennis Hastert, "a 70-year-old guy who was a great farm broadcaster in Illinois", before turning at last to Mr Keyes.

To make matters even worse for the Republicans, Mr Keyes's numerous defects as a candidate are only magnified by the comparison with Mr Obama. Mr Obama has spent almost 20 years in Illinois--seven as a state senator--and is married to a woman from the South Side of Chicago. He won an impressive 53% of the Democratic primary vote against six strong opponents. He is optimistic where Mr Keyes preaches Sodom and Gomorrah, and moderate where Mr Keyes is intemperate. He is also a rising national star, with unrivalled support from the national party, while Mr Keyes is a serial failure.

The Republicans' fatal mistake was to think that the best way to counter a black man was with another black man. The point about Mr Obama--as the Republicans might have realised if they had paid greater attention to his speech in Boston--is that he is a post-racial candidate.
Exactly. Obama could be purple or green and it wouldn't matter. What he has done and could do, what he thinks and is willing to consider, are what matter here. A lot of the country would rather have things going better than worry about variations on blackness and all the rest. That's so last century.

Yes, the Republicans have made serious attempts to court blacks. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell aren't chopped liver - even if their actions can be questioned. But how have to agree the Illinois Republican Party's decision to choose Alan Keyes is not a serious attempt at outreach. The folks at The Economist have it right. It is a ridiculous parody of outreach.

It's just sad. Illinois wanted an election campaign based on issues, or one can assume that. The Republicans think a minstrel show would be more fun. They'll lose this one - and look like pandering fools.


And then there is the matter of Teresa Heinz Kerry. See Just Above Sunset for information - here and here for notes on her background. She was born and raised in Africa.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, this week raise the question - So if Kerry wins, will that mean that Teresa will be this country's first African-American first lady?

My sometimes cynical friend John answered that - If Kerry wins and Teresa is loved by world and she does good things for everyone is showered with respect and admiration, the answer is NO. Otherwise, the answer is YES.

The idea is if she turns out to be a fine first lady, well, she's white. Easier to deal with. Fits the national narrative.

But then we get this odd story of well, a white man who puts on blackface to call John Kerry's wife a fraudulent African-American. Really.

The GOP Minstrel Show
A white tycoon in blackface race-baits Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Timothy Noah - Posted Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004, at 2:26 PM PT at SLATE.COM

Noah comments on the new radio advertisements this week by a nonprofit called People of Color United that rag on Teresa Heinz Kerry - saying she's no African, or at least no African American.

The copy? Here's some of it -
His wife says she's an African American. While technically true, I don't believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants, qualifies.
And there more of it. I heard it all.

The spots run in minority communities of course.

Noah points out the odd part -
What's interesting about this blacker-than-thou statement is that it's underwritten by a white man. People of Color United, although run by a black woman named Virginia Walden-Ford, got nearly half the money for its media buy from a Caucasian insurance tycoon named J. Patrick Rooney. Walden-Ford confirmed ... that Rooney gave the group $30,000 for a series of ads that are running in swing-state urban areas, and that the total ad buy thus far cost $70,000. Rooney, she said, was the group's biggest donor. All its funding information will eventually be public, but the law does not require People of Color United to file with the IRS before the ads go on the air. It will be interesting to learn whether a single person of color has written a check to People of Color United.
Hey, whatever works.

But Noah is angry -
I don't know about you, but when I hear a statement meant to inflame gratuitous resentment of white people, I prefer that it come from a black person. A white man who puts on blackface to call John Kerry's wife a fraudulent African-American is committing so many kinds of bad faith that I scarcely know where to start. Why did he do it?

The answer has nothing to do with the struggle for civil rights. Rooney is a medical-privatization pimp. His former company, Golden Rule Insurance Co., and its successor, Medical Savings Insurance Co., market private savings accounts of the type that Republicans are gradually using to displace health insurance provided by the government under Medicare and Medicaid (most recently in last year's Medicare prescription bill). In pursuit of this goal, Rooney, his family, and his employees have lavished more than $5 million on the GOP. Rooney's latest game, according to a recent story in Business Week, is to mau-mau hospitals into lowering rates for uninsured patients while simultaneously (and much more quietly) securing debt forgiveness for his company.
Well, Rooney claims he goes to an all black church - except for him I guess - and was elected to the church board. He says he's one of them. Really.

So he's got brass balls or bad eyesight - or both.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, shot me a few choice, terse comments.
She was born and raised in Mozambique.

Makes her an African-American, more than the 95 percent of black Americans. It's another case of someone knowing absolutely nothing - about Africa. If Americans whose forefathers came from Africa 300 years ago want to identify themselves with Africa they are making a serious mistake. They aren't 'Africans.' Teresa Heinz Kerry is. Millions of whites in Africa are.

This J. Patrick Rooney guy is a total, evil, witless buffoon.

But what has she got to do with anything? Is somebody putting her on a ballot? It's the kid's stuff again.

If we actually cared about Teresa Heinz Kerry's background in Africa, we might want to ask which side she was on in Mozambique. But let's not. It's old history now and she didn't have any choice when it came to parents.

From people I've met who were born or brought up in Africa, I've learned that they are Africans regardless of color. Isn't the business of saying Teresa is a 'fake' African just another way of saying she's 'not American' - a bit like Canadians are 'nice' because they're 'not American'?
Yeah, I guess that is the argument - she's not one of us. Fear of "the other" works in elections.

But Ric's perspective comes from living most of his adult life in Europe, I'd guess - a much smaller place with many languages and cultural differences all jammed together on a chuck of land less than half the size of the United States. The "other" for Europeans can be a two-hour drive down the road - where everything is different, where people speak a completely different language and eat odd food and all the rest. One shrugs, and tries to get along.

We, on the other hand, have always had the luxury of relative isolation. The exotic was always way far away and safe. Fat men in lederhosen swilling beer and doing that dance where they slap each other, and telling what seem to be jokes in an incomprehensible agglutinated language - that was far, far away - except for some German polka halls in Cleveland, and no one goes to Cleveland. Africa - we know that from "Born Free" and "The Lion King" - and all those old Tarzan movies MGM used to shoot down in Culver City (the back lot is now an apartment complex that still has a few of the little lakes they used for the river scenes - and I used to live there). France we know from that Gene Kelly film with Leslie Caron.

And now Kerry wants to foist this odd woman on us. It is un-American or something.

But was the exotic was always way far away and safe for us? Ric in Paris wonders about that.
It you are ever in New York City an interesting trip is the one in the harbor to Ellis Island, which also includes a stop at the Statue of Liberty.

At one time, say from before the founding of the United States, until the 1960s or 1970s, America was exotic itself. Millions of 'exotic' foreigners were filtered into America via Ellis Island, and the statue was a result of a subscription made by the French.

From what I hear, many Americans are now only 'at home' if they live close to a 'mall' containing cloned shops, that are reproduced endlessly across the land. A narrow, twisty, Paris street evokes no affection or awe - it's too annoyingly complicated.

But to Europeans America is truly exotic. Even your hurricanes are exotic. Imagine - you can't leave the 'safety' of your house being destroyed by water and winds because of all the alligators flying around!

It's time for Americans to recognize the exotic at home. The risks of living in America are real. Coming soon - homemade 'boutique' cheese!
Indeed yes.

But it's not, however, that we're racist (the Obama-Keyes issues) or xenophobic (Teresa Heinz Kerry is too odd and neither black nor white). We're just... what? Careful?

This is one interesting culture here.

Posted by Alan at 21:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 14 August 2004 10:10 PDT home

Saturday, 10 July 2004

Topic: The Culture

Automobiles - A Debate on Virtue and Exploitation

Who knew that every time my quiet and mild-mannered friend, the doctor who live nears Boston, drives into Cambridge the folks hanging around the Harvard Bookstore (the Co-Op) point at her and call her hip and "Hollywood" ... This week we see an explanation. And the item also contains an interesting comment on how the political right considers the moral question of cheeseburgers.

See It's square to be hip?
Ellen Goodman - Washington Post Writers Group - 07.09.04

Here's the set-up:
BOSTON - Over decades of driving, my cars have been called many things. Slovenly, for one. Decrepit, for another. The single adjective that has never been used to describe a car of mine is "hip." Trust me on this.

As a confessed car slob, my sole interest in the motor is that when I turn it on, it will go. Every 10 years or so, when I reluctantly enter a salesroom, I am more interested in cup holders and seat warmers than in anything remotely motor trendy.

Then, a few months ago, we bought a hybrid. This car has a name - Prius - so unracy that it sounds vaguely like a pill for erectile dysfunction. But it not only has two cup holders and optional seat warmers, it has a gas engine, an electric motor and a dashboard screen that tells me exactly how many miles per gallon I am getting every single obsessive second that I have my eyes on the screen instead of the road.

It also has this nifty, if unsettling, way of going absolutely dead silent at the stoplight as if I just stalled out. And, of course, it gets close to 60 miles to the gallon.

Now, for the first time, a car of ours has been accused of being "hip." And I do mean accused.
So how could this be hip?

Goodman explains that folks with these particular cars are "being typecast as granola-crunching, tree-hugging enviro-snobs. Not only did a New York Times writer sneeringly call our vehicles `hip,' another mocked us as `virtuous.' A third suggested that we were driving with moral superiority, `the automotive equivalent of corrective shoes.'" [That last comment would be from Dan Neil of The Los Angeles Times previously discussed here in What would Roland Barthes drive? - in the Feburary 23rd issue.]

Goodman does point out Susan Sarandon arrived at the Oscars in her own nice new Prius - just a few blocks down the street here in Hollywood at the Kodak Theater. No black limousine for her! And perhaps it is true that that driving a hybrid was a way of saying, "I'm more intelligent than the next guy."

Did Goodman want to be hip and Hollywood?

No. Goodman just felt all sorts of "liberal guilt" as it were -
... Every time I pulled up to a gas station in the wake of 9/11, I started thinking about our Middle Eastern "friends" and the Madrasa schools they support with my gas-guzzling dollars. Then too, there was global warming, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the fact of Americans using 10 times more gas than the global norm, the bright pink Victoria's Secret Hummer parked outside my office, and you get the idea.

If the car is to the environment as the cigarette is to the body, if I'm not about to go cold turkey -- or cold bike -- why not go hybrid? A New Yorker cartoon said all we needed to know about the technology: "It runs on its conventional gasoline-powered engine until it senses guilt, at which point it switches over to battery power."
That about sums it up.

But Goodman hits on what is so strange these days of conservative Republican dominance in matters of what is the right things to do - anyone who thinks about doing any good becomes a do-gooder, which is bad. As she says, doing the right thing is tagged as the left thing, which is the wrong thing.
It all began when folks sensitized to race or gender issues were politically corrected for being "politically correct." Now everything you say, do, or drive gets politicized, polarized and stereotyped.

If you follow the religious line of moral values you get inscribed in The Bill Bennett "Book of Virtues." If you follow the line of environmental values, you get mocked as "virtuous." If you eat cheeseburgers, you're one of the guys. If you buy organic greens, you're looking down on one of the guys.

This time, the image remakers may be on the wrong side of the highway, since hybrids are wait-listed and Hummers are discounted. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself has talked of turning one of his Hummers green -- though a hybrid Hummer is a little like a low-carb Krispy Kreme.

But I am sure there's a conventional automaker somewhere with a book called: "Real Men Don't Drive Hybrids."
I think I saw that somewhere or other.

She has some suggests to fight back - have every hybrid sold with a NASCAR sticker on the bumper. We could change the name from Prius to Pitbull.

Well, my doctor friend took the bait:
I frequently forget to go to the gas station to fill up my little Prius tank - the car drinks so little fuel. Then there is the stunned look of passersby when the car starts to roll away from the curb - completely silent. No, it's not a runaway car - it's merely electric powered at low speeds. Gets lots of torque that little motor. But for a brief instant, before the pedestrian realizes what's happening, there's panic in their eyes. What! A car without a thundering throbbing engine? Where'd the fumes from the tailpipe go? Not only that, I tempt fate with a Darwin fish to the left of the rear license plate. I might be pushing "hip" a bit too far to the left. But I'm happy to report that the most money I've spent on a fill from empty is $20.78. I think I'll take the kids out now for a bit of pizza in that "pitbull" car of mine and spend all that extra money I've saved on gas. That "hip to be square" silver Prius, that seats five, plus a Labrador Retriever. Here we go!
Oh, this is a Darwin Fish.

Rick from Atlanta chimed in -
Good for Ellen Goodman!

But I am a bit taken back that she says her Prius gets about 60 mpg, while our Civic Hybrid has only been getting about 40 mpg. Still, I love the part when the motor goes dead at stop signs and such!

And I do think it's about time that anyone who calls anyone else "politically correct" should be automatically labeled a "redneck snob". Not that it would shut them up, but at least they'd get a label, which I for one think is only fair.

"Redneck snob!" If there is no such thing in the real world, there ought to be.
Yep. And as labels go, that is a fine one.

Then Ric Erickson in Paris jumped in -
Hold on to your hats, there's bad news for these cheesy hybrid monkeys.

Germany, which had perfected synthetic gas back in WWII - where'd it go? - ever wonder why? - is now making bio-gas, and hydro-gas, which is being used in real cars, like mid-sized Mercedes sedans and BMWs. Yes folks, gas is being made out of wood, cow flops and good old sewer water and pumped into wonderful V8's made in Munich and Stuttgart. Bet you didn't know gas can be made out of wood. Guess which Nordic countries with lots of wood are likely to become targets of the democratic terrorist hunters in Washington.

If you care to add solar panels and windmills, there are several big European sites putting out megawatts of AC. The standard cow flop, and even green grass, is being used as fuel for this too. The solar people here are looking at the nearby Sahara; with the calculation that planting exactly one percent of it with solar panels will generate enough electricity for all of Europe's needs. They are trying this out in Spain as I write. The emissions from this are exactly nil, you know.

In comparison, a hybrid car is crude. It runs on imported pump gas, which also charges batteries, so it can run on electric motors. With two or more motors, and the batteries, these things are needlessly heavy - wearing out tires faster, wearing out bearings faster, causing ugly dents in hamburger drive-in lots, etc. - and they are expensive for what they are.

They are nothing compared to a car fueled by hydrogen. Hydrogen is explosive stuff. The world has more cheap hydrogen lying around than there are Wal-Marts. After putting the boom-boom in the gas tank, nothing but water vapor comes out the exhaust pipe. It looks like steam, because it is steam. If the internal combustion engine hadn't been converted to hydrogen fuel, they could have just made steam instead, and run the car with a steam engine. In other uses, the steam is run into turbines, to generate electricity, and heat whole cities. In Iceland, where they have free steam, they use it for central heating and swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor.

None of these alternatives require sucking up to Middle East satraps. You got a lot of cow shit in the good old USA, you got grass on millions of golf courses, you got wooden trees in Maine and Oregon, and you got not one but two oceans chock full of free hydrogen. Use your noodles!

You probably think I'm a Parisian flake. I can't show you the Wankel engine I accidentally 'invented' in the 1960's, but I might have a drawing of the H20 car I chanced to invent in the 1970s. I was before its time, and was unhonored for it. Well, the Wankel was a kind of mistake, not really worth any great honors. Not all inventions are perfect. Hydrogen, now, this is the stuff bombs are made of. Imagine tanking up Alan's little Kompressor Merc with some. That would be real Hollywood!

- from the garage in Montrouge, ric
Well, the hydrogen may be a problem.

Hydrogen is a non-starter (no pun really) - it's too hard to handle and bulky at that. There is a reason the Hindenburg was so big and floated in the air - the VOLUME of hydrogen. To fit enough of the good stuff in a car it must be highly pressurized and tightly compressed in a really, really good container. Or you can liquefy it, at extreme low temperature - and it takes more energy to do THAT, pretty much, than you save. Damn. And producing it? Pass an electric current through water (H2O) and at one electrode you get pure hydrogen and at the other pure oxygen. Did that in seventh grade science. Yeah, but where do you get the electric current? The energy needed to break the bond between the three atoms is considerable - water is very stable. Glance at the geometry of the periodic table. So the power needed to produce the hydrogen is the problem. Well, you could use solar-generated electric power. Not much of that available yet. General Motors and Ford and the energy companies - all the guys over here - are working the hydrogen problem - but they're talking about producing hydrogen from crude oil. You reconfigure the cracking towers at the refineries over here and you can get a lot of hydrogen pretty cheaply from the standard black hydrocarbon goop the Arab world sells us. Yeah. A problem, as you can see. Or as the oil companies see it, an opportunity.

Bio-mass fuel is, indeed, one answer. Wood? Hemp is probably the very most efficient energy source for that - grows fast and provides more thermal units per ton than almost anything else. And like peas and other legumes, hemp adds nitrogen back into the soil, improving it. Nifty! But you cannot grow hemp here, even if you grow the varieties that contain no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at all. Our government sees this as a moral issue. Oh well. But much gasoline in the middle of this country is already ten percent ethanol - from corn. (You cannot use pure ethanol in gasoline or diesel engines without changing the composition of the gaskets and fuel lines and all the rest - it is a bit harsh and makes those things rapidly dissolve. Top-fuel drag racers, running pure ethanol, know this well and their build-teams use the proper parts.) More bio-mass fuel will come on line, of course, or a bit more. One doesn't want one's parts dissolving. I certainly don't.

The other source of bi-mass fuel? Bullshit and horseshit? We've got that. Lots of it. Methane is easy. We can do that. Why not put it all to use? This IS an election year.

Other stuff. Every few months you see stuff in the press (on a slow news day) about some America or Canadian greener using bio-diesel derived from the residue of deep fat fryers at McDo's and such - and refined, or at least well-filtered, this stuff is fine for any diesel engine. These folks tool around in their quite normal diesel cars leaving, it is said, just the scent of deep-fried potatoes and burnt fish. This is not mainstream. We don't do diesel engines over here. You guys in Europe get the new common-rail diesel designs with superchargers or turbochargers - and staged injection and all the new gizmos. They're pretty nifty engines and work just fine. I drove one from Avignon to Aix a bit back. Worked just fine. No one wants one here. Not cool. But really, we DO have more stale deep-fry fat than any nation on earth I'd guess. Too bad.

An H2O car? Explain!

Oh - the French-made Nissan diesel that took me to Aix one day...

Rick in Atlanta had an explanation for the H2O Car - Boat!

But Ric in Paris explained a bit more -
Look, I just invent these things. I'm not into fiddly details. A car with a H2O motor? Go to the lake or seaside to tank up. You don't need to know what's under the hood.

There was a docu on Arte last week, showing how the alternate energy is coming along. About halfway through, they're showing a Chrysler-Daimler suit tanking up his Merc, at a Chrysler-Daimler gas station, with hydrogen stuff. A pretty formidable gas cap there! Looked like an injection system. But nobody was wearing anti-flame suits or hardhats.

As for wood - it was wood not hemp. Taking all kinds of wood, wood scrap, whole freaking trees, reducing them to sawdust and cooking it up. Turns into energy. Doing the same thing with grass, weeds, any green junk lying around. A lot of stuff that used to be thrown away.

This alternate-energy is going on all over Europe, but perhaps more in countries that have to lay out hard cash for petroleum. They showed farms that were able to quit buying fuel and electricity - ones that produced enough of a surplus to sell it to the grid.

It's a long-range thing. Petroleum is too expensive and it isn't renewable. The nuclear reactors are all going to wear out, and nobody wants to replace them. There isn't enough hydro to go around.

But wood and grass are easy to grow. Shit from animals is free, as is wind and sunshine.
But the docu didn't mention anything to do with cost of the R&D going into alternate-energy resources. My guess is that it is no more than is routinely spent on petroleum exploration and development; it's probably only a fraction of it.

Another plus factor for alternate-energy resources is that the production is often near where it's going to be used - so there's next to no transport like super-tankers involved.

The people who have a lot of vested interest in the oil business do not want to see alternate-energy. This is okay because they haven't done us many favors. These new people, investing in these risks, will deserve the rewards they get - and we will be better off for it.

As for that French-made Nissan diesel that took you to Aix one day... I thought it looked like a Renault, but it's a.... two-generation old Nissan-Renault. It's Renault showing Nissan how to make an ugly car. [Yep, Renault now own a controlling interest in Nissan and the cars do show this.]

Diesel's dirty little secret is that it's very dirty. A lot of filters can cut down on emissions, but the cheaper diesels don't have these. Motorcycles are dirty too. It's possible that about 60 percent of all passenger cars sold in France are diesels. Fuel for them is a bit cheaper, and the modern ones get good mileage. High-end ones are quiet too, and the turbo ones are very powerful and fast.

But diesel motors are more expensive - they have to be stronger. It might take more than 100,000 kilometers to balance the extra price against the lower gas cost just to break even. The pollution from diesels is very bad because of the solid particles they spew out - in Paris.

Attached images done in early 1970s, in no-speed-limit Germany.
And I guess this is the Water Car. It says so.

But it doesn't look hip.

Posted by Alan at 13:11 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 10 July 2004 15:29 PDT home

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