Priorities: A Quiz

Okay, you’re seeing it here, so, yeah. But, still, play along, if you will.

See if you can guess what this object is:

photo of ornate hi-tech contraption

A Star Wars drone? A prototype for Elon Musk’s Tesla undelivered ventillators? A perpetual motion machine?

Nope. It’s an award-winning new headlight unit for a $200,000 automobile.

The description, from Automotive News:

The h-Digi lighting module from Marelli is a digital headlamp that uses a micromirror electronic chip to control 2 million pixels of illumination. Using a combination of cameras, sensors and circuitry, the technology can precisely detect objects and road conditions to make nighttime driving safer without causing glare to oncoming drivers. The module also uses a pair of 1.3-megapixel projectors to put graphics into the driver’s line of sight to communicate safety messages.

Such are the endeavors into which our social order directs its most serious and intense research-and-development efforts.

This, DbC suggests, is a fact worth pondering.

COVID Revelations: Traffic

thelma and louise car

According to Apple’s cell phone tracking data, driving automobiles in the United States is down from normal by about 1/3. [Note: See line 148 of the underlying spreadsheet.]

As a result of this one-third reduction, U.S. freeways and streets are now, in the experience of your humble DbC editor, operating roughly like they are supposed to operate. Traffic jams have become truly rare, and travel times pretty reliably approximate what distances and speed limits together suggest they should.

The obvious conclusion from this natural-experimental result is that our existing automobile facilities are under-built by some factor that explains all the headaches and waste of normal automobile travel. That factor has to be at least 1/3 — and might be higher, since there are probably issues of greater-than-1:1 scaling in the infrastructures that would have to exist in order to allow the now-missing 1/3 of normal automobile traffic to enjoy the optimal results now occurring in these abnormal, reduced-use conditions.

So, in order to allow today’s stock of automobiles to work as advertised, we would need to have about twice as much roadway capacity as we now do.

Likewise, if we were to try to sustain this level of functionality, all future accommodation of still-more automobiles (i.e. the normal plan and assumption) would have to be roughly twice as big as we are accustomed to such projects being.

The fact that we don’t (and won’t, and could not) provide such accommodation speaks not just to the material and geo-spatial insanity of cars-first transportation, but also to the gargantuan time-theft that inheres in it, under corporate capitalist normalcy — something, btw, that our overclass is positively quivering to reopen/re-impose.

McKibben Gets Exposed

DbC has always held that Bill McKibben is a mis-leader. The new Planet of the Humans movie, which is provoking a veritable firestorm of hate from green photo-op “movement” types, includes a scene that raises the addictional question of whether McKibben is conscious of his own awfulness.

The scene, which shows the would-be saint being asked the most basic question in the world, runs from 1:24:32 through 1:25:45 of the film:

Draw your own conclusions, as Preacher Danny Radnor once said…

COVID: Transit Killer?

Here’s a recent Bloomberg headline about what’s happening now with transportation in Wuhan, China:

wuhan headline image

This is, of course, disastrous news, if it holds — which it probably will. A flight into still more mobile privatization is entirely logical for the individual, of course. And China, like the United States, is literally built for it, given its eager facilitation of automobiles. But what of the collective problems on the horizon — the ones the present pandemic might, barring a simple return to normalcy, have helped us ponder with new maturity?

Whatever the implications of an intensified attachment to cars might be for supposed communists, here in the United States, the coming ridership crisis is going to put environmentalists and transportation activists to a stern test. Will we finally summon the brains and guts to start talking adequately about the way our towns and cities are built around automobiles, or will we continue to whimper and special-plead as our public transit schemes grow even more pathetic and our overall design remains an overclass ukase?

A Moment for Natural Experiments

Jared Diamond often points out that, sometimes, human history serves up parallel events that, in and of themselves, come close to allowing the kinds of confident comparisons the simpler sciences obtain via planned experiments.

We are now inside a special time-window where this point becomes pretty obvious and extra-important, aren’t we?

Consider, for example, the news on metropolitan air pollution levels.

Here is a telling depiction of what’s happened recently above Los Angeles:

It’s interesting — and, of course, macabre — that, at least in China, reduced air pollution might save as many lives as the pandemic ends.

Some fraction of that is due to reduced automobile use in Chinese cities.

And the point also applies, at least to some extent, in de-industrialized places like the United States, where wall-to-wall cars and trucks have their all-too-obvious, yet still thoroughly unmentionable, mortality effects.