The Obama administration has just announced new fuel efficiency standards for long-haul trucks, the first time the US government has attempted to set these sorts of rules for the big rigs:
The regulations call for reductions on fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 of 9 to 23 percent, depending on the type of vehicle. Trucks and other heavy vehicles make up only 4 percent of the domestic vehicle fleet, but given the distance they travel, the time they spend idling and their low fuel efficiency, they end up consuming about 20% of all vehicle fuel, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Experts say that a 20 percent reduction in heavy vehicle emissions would boost fuel efficiency to an average of 8 miles per gallon from 6 miles now.
That doesn't sound like a lot, but as I blogged last year, when it comes to fuel efficiency, you get the biggest bang from the smallest improvements:
The question I have is: why is this going to work?
I am not a huge fan of CAFE standards; in general, I think they're the worst possible way to reach the goal of higher fuel efficiency. But at least with the standards for consumer cars, you can argue that there's a market failure. The standard narrative from CAFE proponents is that they show that automakers will just whine and say they can't do things until you make them, at which point, they'll go ahead and do what they should have. This narrative is rather too simple--while collective action may have forced some genuine improvements, others consisted of engineering advances that would have happened anyway--and still other "improvements" consisted of manufacturers sacrificing safety and horsepower, or selling a bunch of junky econoboxes below cost in order to up their average fleet efficiency.
Still, in the individual market you can tell a story where price competition forces manufacturers to make bad tradeoffs because people aren't necessarily rational value maximizers, and they don't pay enough attention to fuel efficiency when they're deciding what car to buy.
But in the market for big rigs?
Trucking companies obsess about fuel costs. Talk to a trucker right now: you'll get an earful. Better yet, talk to his manager. It's like finding some sort of Rain Man savant whose hobby is tracking the price of diesel. And there is capital out there to help them make the transition to a more efficient fleet, if the trucks are available. So I have a hard time believing that if there were some even nominally cost-effective way to make trucks 25% more efficient, truck owners and haulers would be passing it up in favor of upgrading the leather on the heated seats. Or that if the manufacturers had any idea how to do this, they'd discard the idea as too risky. Anyone who can deliver a truck that cuts your biggest cost by 25% is going to clean up in the marketplace.
So the question is: why hasn't this been done? What tradeoffs will the makers of big-rigs have to make in order to meet the new standards?
The article presents it as win-win:
"We'd be able to meet the standards by reducing weight, using low rolling-resistance tires to cut down on drag, making vehicles more aerodynamic and have less idling: those are available in the U.S. now," said Jed Mandel, president of the Engine Manufacturers Association, the truck and engine makers' trade group. The federal government has "done a great job in allowing flexibility for truck makers to build vehicles."
The new standards would increase the cost of heavy duty trucks, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, by several thousand dollars each, depending on the vehicle. But the administration and the manufacturers' group estimated that the higher costs would be recouped very quickly, often within a year or two, because of savings at the pump, one of the biggest expenses for any cargo or trucking business.
The administration estimated that businesses using big trucks could save about $50 billion in fuel costs over the program's duration.
But seriously? You guys could have done this before for a fairly trivial amount (relative to the cost of fuel, and the price of the truck), but . . . no one bothered? Either something is missing in this story, or American manufacturing is in even worse shape than I suspected.
Trump’s greatest gift to the GOP may be the distraction he’s provided from other party meltdowns.
Even though 2016 appears to be the year of painful, public disqualification from higher office, you may be forgiven for not noticing the extraordinary implosion of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After all, the Trump surrogate and White House Transition chair has benefitted from his early endorsement of the Republican presidential nominee in unusual fashion: Christie’s power in the Grand Ole Party has decreased, rather than increased. The likelihood of a plum position in the Trump administration—Attorney General, perhaps, since Christie was spurned as the Republican running mate—is decidedly dim, what with the presently apocalyptic predictions about November 8th.
Instead, Trump’s gift to Christie has been shadow: the top Republican’s national meltdown has obscured that of the one-time rising Republican star and sitting New Jersey governor. But make no mistake—Christie’s is a fall of epic proportions, precipitated by an unfathomably petty revenge plot. The contrast of the two, the top-heavy-ness of the fallout compared to the insignificance of the initial transgression, would be comic, were it not so tragic. Remember that in November of 2012, Governor Christie had a 72 percent approval rating. Today, it stands at 21 percent.
Some researchers believe that the microbiome may play a role in regulating how people think and feel.
By now, the idea that gut bacteria affects a person’s health is not revolutionary. Many people know that these microbes influence digestion, allergies, and metabolism. The trend has become almost commonplace: New books appear regularly detailing precisely which diet will lead to optimum bacterial health.
But these microbes’ reach may extend much further, into the human brains. A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
The rise of Donald Trump has left the speaker of the House, and the Republican Party, in an almost impossible situation.
What happens to the Republican Party after November 8, particularly if Donald Trump loses? One clue comes from a recent Bloomberg Poll: When asked which leader better represents their view what the Republican Party should stand for, 51 percent of likely voters who lean Republican or identify as Republican picked Trump, while 33 percent picked House Speaker Paul Ryan (15 percent said they weren’t sure.)
Paul Ryan: The highest ranking Republican elected official, the former vice presidential standard bearer, perhaps the leading elected policy intellectual in the GOP, who is now being attacked regularly by the party’s current presidential standard bearer; who has Breitbart.com calling him a secret supporter of Hillary Clinton, and Sean Hannity calling him a “saboteur” who needs to be replaced; who has both conservative Freedom Caucus members and other discontented Trump-supporting colleagues ripping him and threatening to vote against him when the vote for Speaker occurs on the House floor on January 3 next. The Paul Ryan, who has struggled manfully to walk the fine line between Trump supporters and Trump himself, getting distance from Trump without renouncing him, and who has tried even harder to turn the focus to the policy plans of his House party.
Just why was Tom Hanks dancing in a black-and-orange suit on Saturday Night Live so funny?
This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live offered a mini masterpiece: a gloriously silly Halloween-themed piece revolving around a “Haunted Elevator” ride and its unusual star attraction. Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon played a couple looking for spooky thrills who instead found something far more bewildering: a pumpkin-suited man who would randomly appear alongside two cheerful skeletons and perform a dance routine. “Who are you?” asked a frustrated Bennett after the man (played by Tom Hanks) appeared for the second time. “I’m David Pumpkins!” came the reply.
McKinnon followed up: “Yeah, and David Pumpkins is … ?”
In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system.
It was January 1975, and the Watergate Babies had arrived in Washington looking for blood. The Watergate Babies—as the recently elected Democratic congressmen were known—were young, idealistic liberals who had been swept into office on a promise to clean up government, end the war in Vietnam, and rid the nation’s capital of the kind of corruption and dirty politics the Nixon White House had wrought. Richard Nixon himself had resigned just a few months earlier in August. But the Watergate Babies didn’t just campaign against Nixon; they took on the Democratic establishment, too. Newly elected Representative George Miller of California, then just 29 years old, announced, “We came here to take the Bastille.”
Answering a common question from a polarizing election cycle
Our major party candidates have historically high disapproval ratings. So I am often asked, usually by people in “blue” enclaves, “How can anyone vote for him?” and by people in “red” enclaves, “How can anyone vote for her?” Since I live in coastal California, and because so many more Americans presently intend to vote for Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump, who is disapproved of by significantly more people, I hear “how can anyone vote Trump” more than the reverse.
And I myself could never vote Trump, so I get the confusion on some level––I might even share it if I hadn’t spent time with so many Trump supporters who are good people, not “deplorables” (though there is a faction of deplorable Trump supporters). Still, the answer I’ve started giving Clinton voters is probably as effective for similarly confounded Trump supporters. Without further ado, here it is:
Tom Hanks’s Doug has a lot in common with “Black Jeopardy” contestants—except, of course, for politics.
SNL’s ongoing “Black Jeopardy” series has been, in part, about divisions. In each edition, black American contestants answer Kenan Thompson’s clues with in-jokes, slang, and their shared opinions while an outsider—say, Elizabeth Banks as the living incarnation of Becky, Louis C.K. as a BYU African American Studies professor, or Drake as a black Canadian—just show their cluelessness.
When Tom Hanks showed up in a “Make America Great Again” hat and bald-eagle shirt to play the contestant “Doug” this weekend, it seemed like the set-up for the ugliest culture clash yet. The 2016 election has been a reminder of the country’s profound racial fault lines, and SNL hasn’t exactly been forgiving toward the Republican nominee on that front: Its version of Trump hasn’t been able to tell black people apart, and it aired a mock ad painting his supporters as white supremacists—which, inarguably, some of them really are.
For centuries, global differences in alcohol intake between men and women have been striking, with men consistently drinking several times as much as women.
The alcohol gap is a case of gender more than sex. Females and males metabolize alcohol somewhat differently, but the differences far exceeded any physiologic basis. Sharon and Richard Wilsnack, in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of North Dakota, wrote a comprehensive book on gender and alcohol in 1997, and according to them, differences in alcohol use have been central to societies’ symbolizing and regulating gender roles.
“Gender differences in alcohol consumption are found everywhere, to such an extent that they can be considered one of the few universal gender differences in human social behavior,” wrote researchers from Finland’s Alcohol and Drug Research Group in 2004. The Wilsnacks said as much again in 2009 after leading an international research collaboration on gender and alcohol in 35 countries: “More drinking and heavy drinking occur among men, more long-term abstention occurs among women, and no cultural differences or historical changes have entirely erased these differences.”
What use is there today for one of the oldest virtues?
As many Americans go about their days, I imagine they have two little angels perched on their shoulders, whispering conflicting messages about happiness and material wealth. One angel is embodied by James Altucher, a minimalist self-help guru recently profiled by The New York Times. Altucher claims to have only 15 possessions, after having unburdened himself a few months ago of 40 garbage bags’ worth of stuff and never looking back. As I read about Altucher, I rolled the numbers 15 and 40 over in my mind, thinking about the belongings in my bedroom and the garbage bags under my kitchen sink.
The other angel is Tyler Brûlé, the editor in chief of the fantastically high-end lifestyle magazine Monocle and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the sort of writer who tosses off such lines as “I zipped along the autostrada through the Val d’Aosta with the ever-trusty Mario (my Italian driver for the past 20 years) at the wheel” with little regard for how privileged and pretentious he sounds (especially in his superfluous parentheticals). Still, there is something, I’m a little ashamed to say, that I envy about Brûlé’s effortless cosmopolitanism—which, it’s hard to miss, is only made possible by unusual wealth.
Rodrigo Duterte flew to China and signed billions in deals, said he would separate ties with the U.S., then took it all back.
Just what is Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte thinking? Last week Duterte visited with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and then appeared to trample on his country’s relations with the U.S., telling 200 Chinese business leaders in the Great Hall of People, "In this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States."
"Both in military—not maybe social—but economics also, America has lost," he said.
The Philippines has been the U.S.’s closest ally in Southeast Asia since it became independent in 1946. It once celebrated its independence on July 4 (now June 12), and for a while that day was also called Filipino-American Friendship Day. Filipinos hold America in such high regard, in fact, they have a more favorable opinion of the U.S.than the U.S. does of itself. That’s why Duterte’s words have puzzled so many people: Are they the words of a politician who’s pitting two superpowers against each other? Are they another controversial comment from a man who specializes in them? Does this signal the end of the U.S.-Philippines relationship? Maybe. Yes. Too soon to tell.