The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

First-ever US National Drinking Water Limits on PFAS

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pfas plan

Michael Phillips writing for the AP:

The Biden administration on Wednesday finalized strict limits on certain so-called “forever chemicals” in drinking water that will require utilities to reduce them to the lowest level they can be reliably measured. Officials say this will reduce exposure for 100 million people and help prevent thousands of illnesses, including cancers.

The rule is the first national drinking water limit on toxic PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are widespread and long lasting in the environment.

Health advocates praised the Environmental Protection Agency for not backing away from tough limits the agency proposed last year. But water utilities took issue with the rule, saying treatment systems are expensive to install and that customers will end up paying more for water.

Water providers are entering a new era with significant additional health standards that the EPA says will make tap water safer for millions of consumers — a Biden administration priority.

Of course, the Republicans will attempt to block this and when it gets to the Supreme Court (which it will ), I bet this gets trashed when the Supreme Court reverses the Chevron doctrine this summer.

What if We Do Nothing About Climate Change?

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Reports on heatwaves and wildfires regularly fill the evening news. Summer days exceed 40 degrees in London and 45 degrees in Delhi, as extreme heat waves are now 8 to 9 times more common. These high temperatures prompt widespread blackouts, as power grids struggle to keep up with the energy demands needed to properly cool homes. Ambulance sirens blare through the night, carrying patients suffering from heatstroke, dehydration, and exhaustion. The southwestern United States, southern Africa, and eastern Australia experience longer, more frequent, and more severe droughts.

Meanwhile, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan face more frequent heavy rainfall as rising temperatures cause water to evaporate faster, and trap more water in the atmosphere. As the weather becomes more erratic, some communities are unable to keep pace with rebuilding what’s constantly destroyed.

The Idea of Car-free Cities

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Car-free cities

The car-free schemes end up being so popular and work so well that “once cities make the decision to reduce or remove cars, they rarely go back”.

Plus, traffic-reduction programmes also have impacts beyond reducing air pollution and carbon emissions. In cities like Oslo and Helsinki, thanks to car-reduction policies, entire years have passed without a single road traffic death. It’s even been suggested that needing less parking could free up space to help ease the chronic housing shortage felt in so many cities.

And any attempts to reduce urban car use tend to do better when designed from the bottom up. Barcelona’s “superblocks” programme, which takes sets of nine blocks within its grid system and limits cars to the roads around the outside of the set (as well as reducing speed limits and removing on-street parking) was shaped by having resident input on every stage of the process, from design to implementation. Early indicators suggest the policy has been wildly popular with residents, has seen nitrogen dioxide air pollution fall by 25 percent in some areas, and will prevent an estimated 667 premature deaths each year, saving an estimated 1.7 billion euros.

Good luck trying to pass LTN (“low-traffic neighborhoods”) in the United States. First of all the country would have to invest billions in implementing public transportation network throughout its suburbs. Even if we managed to do that, the car culture is deeply embedded in the US psyche there would be riots in the streets.

Getting Rid of Phenomenally Talented Assholes

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Boing

Maureen Tkacik writing for the The American Prospect:

Like most neoliberal institutions, Boeing had come under the spell of a seductive new theory of “knowledge” that essentially reduced the whole concept to a combination of intellectual property, trade secrets, and data, discarding “thought” and “understanding” and “complex reasoning” possessed by a skilled and experienced workforce as essentially not worth the increased health care costs. CEO Jim McNerney, who joined Boeing in 2005, had last helmed 3M, where management as he saw it had “overvalued experience and undervalued leadership” before he purged the veterans into early retirement.

“Prince Jim”—as some long-timers used to call him—repeatedly invoked a slur for longtime engineers and skilled machinists in the obligatory vanity “leadership” book he co-wrote. Those who cared too much about the integrity of the planes and not enough about the stock price were “phenomenally talented assholes,” and he encouraged his deputies to ostracize them into leaving the company. He initially refused to let nearly any of these talented assholes work on the 787 Dreamliner, instead outsourcing the vast majority of the development and engineering design of the brand-new, revolutionary wide-body jet to suppliers, many of which lacked engineering departments. The plan would save money while busting unions, a win-win, he promised investors. Instead, McNerney’s plan burned some $50 billion in excess of its budget and went three and a half years behind schedule.

“There’s a form we all had to sign that says you take responsibility for anything that goes wrong, and it states pretty clearly that if something happens to a plane because of something you did wrong, you can face a major fine or jail time for that,” the manager recalled. “The Everett managers took that seriously. Charleston leadership did not.”

This is what happens when you replace highly skilled employees with years of institutional knowledge with managers who only care about the stock price. You would think the Boing board would have learned their lesson - I wouldn’t count on it.

Meanwhile, pieces are flying off the Boeing planes actually in use at an alarming rate, criminal investigations are under way, and another in a long line of stock-conscious CEOs is stepping down. Boeing’s largest union, the Machinists, is trying to snag a board seat because, in the words of its local president, “we have to save this company from itself.”

SPEEA has demanded, understandably, that the board choose an aerospace engineer as its next CEO. But there are few signs that will happen: None of the names floated thus far for the spot have been aerospace engineers, and the shoo-in for the position, GE’s Larry Culp, is not an engineer at all.

How the Dutch Design Streets

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Adam Yates reporting on how the the Dutch have transformed the city and made it safer for people to get where they’re going more quickly.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles can all coexist without conflict, but only if they’re all going the same slow speed. This advances the principles of shared streets.

E-bike Riders Get More Exercise

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Electric Bike

Micah Toll writing for elektrek:

Believe it or not, electric bikes offer more exercise than pedal bikes on average. That fact might sound strange (and has been known to let the steam out of some fitness riders’ lycra outfits), but the science is clear. Now let’s talk about the “how” and “why”.

Study after study have shown that people who ride e-bikes get more exercise than those who ride pedal bikes.

Its obvious - the ease of electric bikes allows their owners to ride longer and more often.

Loving the Unborn

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Methodist pastor Dave Barnhart on Facebook on loving the unborn:

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

Oscar Best Picture - Muppets Versions

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Here’s a list of every Best Picture Oscar winner ranked by how good a Muppets version would be. Two of my favorites:

Rocky:

Rocky

The greatest sports movie of all time. THE underdog story. The Muppets boxing. Kermit screaming MISS PIGGY as half his face swells shut. That’s what the movies are all about.

And The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

The Return of the King

This would be the greatest movie ever made. I know it and you know it. Muppets Return of the King on its own would be the greatest thing ever put to film. The epic battles, the rousing speeches, the inspired acts of bravery. All of it, with Muppets, would be a transcendent piece of art that would ever so briefly unite humanity. Its existence would also mean that Muppets Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers also exist. A whole Muppets Lord of the Rings trilogy. Art is subjective and nothing can please everyone except for this. Everyone on earth would love this. We would be able to show it to extraterrestrial species to prove that we are worthy of joining the Galactic Senate. They would see it and realize we are a species that can contribute positively to the universe. All our problems would be solved. The Muppets Lord of the Rings will be our salvation.

These movies would actually get me back into the theaters.

Incentive for Clarence Thomas

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John Oliver

Ramon Antonio Vargas reporting in The Gaurdian that talkshow host John Oliver has offered to pay Clarence Thomas $1m annually – as well as give him a $2m tour bus – if the Republican judge resigns from the US supreme court.

So that’s the offer – $1m a year, Clarence. And a brand new condo on wheels. And all you have to do … is sign the contract and get the fuck off the supreme court,” Oliver remarked. “The clock starts now – 30 days, Clarence. Let’s do this!

You are a good man John Oliver. A real patriot. Unfortunately, Clarence Thomas won’t take it - we all know he makes more than that from his grifts to stay right where he is.

Enshittification at Scale

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Andy Brice writing on Large Language Models and the start of the technological singularity:

But I don’t think so. Human nature being what it is, LLMs are inevitably going to be used to churn out vast amount of low quality ‘content’ for SEO and other commercial purposes. LLM nature being what it is, a lot of this content is going to be hallucinated. In otherwords, bullshit. Given that LLMs can generate content vastly faster than humans can, we could quickly end up with an Internet that is mostly bullshit. Which will then be used to train the next generation of LLM. We will eventually reach a bullshit singularlity, where it is almost impossible to work out whether anything on the Internet is true. Enshittification at scale. Well done us.

I agree. Maybe this is the new SkyNet scenario - you don’t need to take controll of all the nukes and bomb humanity to the stone ages. You just need to load up the information highway with so much bullshit so that the modern internet is completely useless.

If It Walks Like an Insurrection and Talks Like an Insurrection …

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Jamelle Bouie in an op-ed for the New York Times:

The last point to make here comes from still another amicus brief, this one prepared and filed by the historians Jill Lepore, Drew Gilpin Faust, David Blight and John Fabian Witt. Section 3, they note, was not written for the past; it was written for the future. “In the 14th Amendment the United States now possessed the blueprint of a new Constitution, a new kind of federalism, a commitment to equality before the law and a method to legally guarantee the essential results of the Civil War,” they write. “That blueprint included prohibiting past officeholders from holding federal or state office after engaging in an insurrection against the Constitution.”

This was recognized at the time. “The language of this section is so framed as to disenfranchise from office the leaders of the past rebellion as well as the leaders of any rebellion hereafter to come,” Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri said as he cast his vote for the amendment.

Whatever the political arguments against disqualification — and whatever the practical considerations of keeping the former president off the ballot — both the Constitution and the historical record are clear. Trump is an insurrectionist, and he has no rightful place in the leadership of the American Republic.

Celebrating 50 Years of the Rubik's Cube: A Timeless Icon of Creativity and Challenge

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rubik's cube

This year marks a significant milestone in the world of puzzles and innovation as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube. Since its invention in 1974 by Hungarian architect Ernő Rubik, this iconic toy has captured the imagination of millions worldwide, transcending generations and cultures.

The Rubik’s Cube is more than just a puzzle; it’s a symbol of creativity, perseverance, and intellectual challenge. With its deceptively simple design of colored squares arranged on a cube, it presents an intricate problem that has confounded and delighted minds for half a century. What begins as a seemingly impossible task of aligning the colors quickly becomes a captivating journey of problem-solving and spatial reasoning.

Over the years, the Rubik’s Cube has evolved from a mere toy to a cultural phenomenon. It has inspired countless competitions, ranging from casual speed-solving contests to international championships where participants showcase lightning-fast reflexes and unparalleled problem-solving skills. Beyond competitions, the Rubik’s Cube has found its way into classrooms, where educators harness its potential to teach concepts in mathematics, logic, and perseverance.

As we reflect on the legacy of the Rubik’s Cube, it’s impossible to ignore its enduring appeal. Across generations, people have been drawn to its challenge, finding solace in the rhythmic twists and turns required to solve it. It serves as a reminder that in a world filled with distractions, there is beauty in simplicity, and joy in the pursuit of a seemingly insurmountable goal.

The 50th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube is not only a celebration of its past but also a testament to its enduring relevance in an ever-changing world. As we look ahead to the next 50 years and beyond, one thing remains certain: the Rubik’s Cube will continue to captivate minds, inspire creativity, and unite people in the shared pursuit of unlocking its secrets.

Whether you’re a seasoned speed solver or a curious beginner, take a moment to celebrate this timeless icon of ingenuity and exploration. Happy 50th anniversary, Rubik’s Cube - here’s to many more years of twisting, turning, and endless possibilities!

Why Americans Keep Voting for Trump

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump has been legally determined to be a rapist, accused of paying hush money to a porn star and is facing 91 felony charges across four criminal cases. In any other election, a candidate with such legal issues would have been swiftly removed from consideration. Trump ,despite these allegations and legal troubles, how can still be a leading GOP candidate?

George Monbiot on an opinon piece for The Gaurdian:

But the shift goes deeper than politics. For well over a century, the US, more than most nations, has worshipped extrinsic values: the American dream is a dream of acquiring wealth, spending it conspicuously and escaping the constraints of other people’s needs and demands. It is accompanied, in politics and in popular culture, by toxic myths about failure and success: wealth is the goal, regardless of how it is acquired. The ubiquity of advertising, the commercialisation of society and the rise of consumerism, alongside the media’s obsession with fame and fashion, reinforce this story. The marketing of insecurity, especially about physical appearance, and the manufacture of unfulfilled wants, dig holes in our psyches that we might try to fill with money, fame or power. For decades, the dominant cultural themes in the US – and in many other nations – have functioned as an almost perfect incubator of extrinsic values.

[…]

When a society valorises status, money, power and dominance, it is bound to generate frustration. It is mathematically impossible for everyone to be number one. The more the economic elites grab, the more everyone else must lose. Someone must be blamed for the ensuing disappointment. In a culture that worships winners, it can’t be them. It must be those evil people pursuing a kinder world, in which wealth is distributed, no one is forgotten and communities and the living planet are protected. Those who have developed a strong set of extrinsic values will vote for the person who represents them, the person who has what they want. Trump. And where the US goes, the rest of us follow.