Tag: John F Kennedy

Troubling times.

We all could easily be drinking in ‘the last chance saloon’.

After I published my book, Learning From Dogs, last December I was invited to a number of book signing events. In each case I gave a short talk of about 20 minutes in which I explained the philosophy behind the book. Perhaps no better articulated than by Dr. Jim Goodbrod’s Foreword to the book. Take this paragraph, for instance, from that Foreword:

 Dogs represent to me that innocence lost. Their emotions are pure. They live in the present. They do not suffer existential angst over what they are. They do not covet material wealth. They offer us unconditional love and devotion. Although they certainly have not reached the great heights of intellectual achievement of us humans (I know for a fact that this is true after having lived with a Labrador Retriever for several years), at the same time they have not sunk to the depths of depravity to which we are susceptible. It could be argued that I am being overly anthropomorphic, or that dogs are simply mentally incapable of these thoughts. But nevertheless, metaphorically or otherwise, I believe that dogs demonstrate a simple and uncorrupted approach to life from which we all could benefit.

During my opening talks on each occasion I would ask the audience: “So raise your hands if you are someone who is not worried about the future?”

There was never a raised hand!

My introduction to a recent essay published by George Monbiot that is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s permission.


The Drums of War

Future of the car?

The mistake we all make is to look behind us and think the future will be the same.

Let me start with something that is not really news.  Not news in the sense that it has been very widely reported.  I’m speaking of the probability, the high probability, that this year’s summer ice area in the Arctic will be a record low, with all the implications that this carries.  Let me refer to a recent BBC news item that included a stunningly powerful chart.

Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center said data showed that the sea ice extent was tracking below the previous record low, set in 2007.

Latest figures show that on 13 August ice extent was 483,000 sq km (186,000 sq miles) below the previous record low for the same date five years ago.

The ice is expected to continue melting until mid- to late September.

“A new daily record… would be likely by the end of August,” the centre’s lead scientist, Ted Scambos, told Reuters.

“Chances are it will cross the previous record while we are still in ice retreat.”

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center may be found here.

So to the piece that generated the title of this post, the future of the car.

On the 17th August, I wrote an article highlighting the fact that the U.S. leads the world in cutting CO2 emissions.  That was endorsed by an item published on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) website, that said,

U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from energy use during the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest in two decades for any January-March period. Normally, CO2 emissions during the year are highest in the first quarter because of strong demand for heat produced by fossil fuels. However, CO2 emissions during January-March 2012 were low due to a combination of three factors:

  • A mild winter that reduced household heating demand and therefore energy use
  • A decline in coal-fired electricity generation, due largely to historically low natural gas prices
  • Reduced gasoline demand

It was the last item that caught my eye.  Because it resonated with an article on Chris Martensen’s Peak Prosperity blog just over a week ago.  That article, written by Gregor Macdonald, was called The Demise of the Car.

About a third of the way into the article, Gregor writes,

But it’s not just India that has incorrectly invested in automobile transport. The other giant of Asia, China, has also placed large resources into auto-highway infrastructure.

It appears that at least a decade ago, the developing world made the same assumption about future oil prices as was made in Western countries. The now infamous 1999 Economist cover, Drowning in Oil, reflected the pervasive, status-quo view that the global adoption of the car could continue indefinitely. A decade later, however, we find that after oil’s extraordinary price revolution, the global automobile industry is now starved for growth.

Then a little further down in this interesting article there is this,

More broadly, however, global governments are captured by sunk-cost decision making as the past 60-70 years of highway infrastructure investment is now a legacy just too painful to leave behind. Interestingly, whether citizens and governments want to face this reality or not, features of the oil economy are already going away as infrastructure is increasingly stranded. Moreover, there are cultural shifts now coming into play as young people are no longer buying cars – in the first instance because they can’t afford them, and in the second instance because it’s increasingly no longer necessary to own a car to be part of one’s group. See this piece from Atlantic Cities:

Young People Aren’t Buying Cars Because They’re Buying Smart Phones Instead

Youth culture was once car culture. Teens cruised their Thunderbirds to the local drive-in, Springsteen fantasized about racing down Thunder Road, and Ferris Bueller staged a jailbreak from the ‘burbs in a red Ferrari. Cars were Friday night. Cars were Hollywood. Yet these days, they can’t even compete with an iPhone – or so car makers, and the people who analyze them for a living, seem to fear. As Bloomberg reported this morning, many in the auto industry “are concerned that financially pressed young people who connect online instead of in person could hold down peak demand by 2 million units each year.” In other words, Generation Y may be happy to give up their wheels as long as they have the web. And in the long term, that could mean Americans will buy just 15 million cars and trucks each year, instead of around 17 million.

If future car sales in the US will be limited by the loss of 2 million purchases just from young people alone, then the US can hardly expect to return to even 15 million car and truck sales per year. US sales have only recovered to 14 million. (And that looks very much like the peak for the reflationary 2009-2012 period)

Indeed, the migration from suburbs back to the cities, the resurrection of rail, and the fact that oil will never be cheap again puts economies – and culture – on a newly defined path to other forms of transport and other ways of working.

It’s a long and interesting article that demonstrates an old truth, no better put than in this quotation reputed to have been said by John F. Kennedy,

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

50 years; just like that!

A memorable event fifty years ago, this day!

President John F. Kennedy's May 25, 1961 Speech before a Joint Session of Congress

On the 25th May, 1961, President John Kennedy summoned a joint session of Congress and asked America to commit itself to a goal – that of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the decade was out.

There’s a good link on the NASA site to the speech.

Plus a very good analysis of these 50 years in the Lexington column in last week’s The Economist.  As Lexington’s Notebook blog puts it,

That Kennedy speech plus 50

May 19th 2011, 15:47 by Lexington

MY print column this week notes that it is half a century next week since John Kennedy called for sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to Earth. The bottom line, I think:

If we can send a man to the moon, people ask, why can’t we [fill in the blank]? Lyndon Johnson tried to build a “great society”, but America is better at aeronautical engineering than social engineering. Mr Obama, pointing to competition from China, invokes a new “Sputnik moment” to justify bigger public investment in technology and infrastructure. It should not be a surprise that his appeals have gone unheeded. Putting a man on the moon was a brilliant achievement. But in some ways it was peculiarly un-American—almost, you might say, an aberration born out of the unique circumstances of the cold war. It is a reason to look back with pride, but not a pointer to the future.

A fascinating period!

The Fatuous Obsession with Celebrities

The humungously uninteresting saga of Tiger Woods’ infidelities

The press has been full in recent days of the Tiger Woods saga. I have followed this with a combination of astonishment and disgust and touched on it yesterday’s Post.

Astonishment? Not at Woods’ extramarital adventures. Frankly, I am astonished that anyone could possibly be astonished to learn of his frailties.

I must have been about 13 when I took an interest in John F Kennedy, mostly because of his assassination. As a young teenager I read and listened to the news over the coming months and gradually realised that this great American hero and hope for the future was a serial philanderer. And as I grew up I realised that this is the kind of behaviour that rich and powerful men in particular get up to.

I soon realised that some men simply give in to their sexual drives; integrity, promises and faithfulness just go out of the window. Once again – just like the British MPs who filched public funds by the £1,000s –  BECAUSE they can do it (for a while) they DID do it.

This is regrettable for stable marriages and the happy upbringing of children, but it is a fact. And so Woods’ antics were

Paul Newman

not the slightest bit surprising. In fact, what IS surprising is to hear of famous people who have NOT given in to basic urges, the most famous recent example being the much-loved and missed Paul Newman.

No, what astonished and disgusted me was the press interest in Woods’ philanderings. Of course, the media only publicize what they think people want to hear or read about, and this in order to sell more copies and rack up more advertising revenue. And as the media are not stupid, it clearly IS true that many people ARE interested in the sexual antics of famous people.

But what does this tell us about the seriousness of the human race? All this fuss over one more weak, unfaithful and ultimately boring husband when on the same day hundreds of thousands died of treatable disease, when goodness knows how many more tons of ice melted, how many more tons of CO2 were released into the air, how many more victims of the hellish North Korean regime there were?

He’s a famous golfer? Oh dear ….  someone good at putting a ball into a hole? This is supposed to be IMPORTANT?

Sadly, the whole episode is just another example of the fatuous obsession with celebrities, as if they are somehow more interesting or important than anyone else. No, my local postman is far more interesting than Tiger Woods, and I don’t think he cheats on his wife either.

And as for comment about the business wisdom of Woods not talking to the press? Oh dear again – one weeps. Why should anyone CARE whether he talks to the press or loses sponsors? Who GIVES a damn? Well, apparently, millions. And this is fairly depressing when there is so much else to worry about. And if big name sponsors of the once “Mr Clean” of world sport are now looking rather foolish, well I for one won’t shed any tears. They peddle fantasy, shallowness and envy; it’s time we had a reassessment of priorities and bit more common-sense and realism.

Please Mr Murdoch et al; give us a break from Tiger Woods; he is just nanoscopically irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and what on earth has his private life got to do with his golf anyway? But I expect we will have to suffer months of reading about the vast settlement his wife will get as his divorce is dragged through the courts and the media. Oh dear, I need a drink ……

Despairing of Kempten in the Allgau

By Chris Snuggs