I BELIEVE IN MAGIC

Midwestern states haven't done a great job of passing useful laws lately, but Illinois is making progress toward a law to ban "rolling coal." For those of you who live in areas that are populated by people who read books and have hopes and dreams, let me briefly explain: that is "the act of modifying a diesel vehicle, usually a pickup truck, to spew black smoke and soot." Last summer a number of viral videos of homemade smokestacks on otherwise normal pickup trucks inspired this insipid trend, giving morons everywhere a new way to warn people of their existence.

If this is the kind of thing that seems fun or amusing to you I'd recommend a nice, tall glass of acetone before bed tonight.

I read a lot of auto-themed blogs and look at a few Euro car message boards on occasion. Between the comment sections and the general level of discourse on any male-centric message board you can imagine the kind of stupidity one can come across in those corners of the internet. It's not quite as mind-numbingly bad as what you see on sports-oriented stuff, but it's still about what you could expect in terms of political and social commentary from an interest that appeals mainly to men, mostly white, of average or better income. Let's just say The Unions are to blame for a lot of things wrong with various cars and car companies.

When the topic of "rolling coal" comes up, as it does periodically, two things stand out. One is that the idiocy of the people who do this is agreed upon as close to unanimously as anything I can recall seeing on the internet. Even the troll-iest of trolls can bring themselves to say "lololol awesome!" or "I don't see anything wrong with this u bunch of whiny pussies" on this topic. Americans do not appear able to agree on anything save that people who do this are idiots. Second, people believe some very strange things about how incentives work.

The mantra of the Internet White Guy is used a lot: "I totally disagree with this and think anyone who does it is awful, but I don't think it should be illegal." You know, because Freedom or Big Government is Bad or (insert nonsense interpretation of some part of the Constitution) or Obama or whatever. Coal-rolling is far from the only subject on which you will hear this. Government is bad, laws are bad, so we should condemn unacceptable behaviors and…what, shame people out of doing them? Wait until they see the light? Live with it indefinitely?

What, for example, other than a harsh fine is going to convince people to stop doing this? We are not dealing with logic here, nor are we dealing with rocket scientists. Right-wingers always go on and on about how stupid The People are, and yet their preferred "Let The Market handle it" solution depends entirely on individuals being rational enough to realize that their behavior needs to change. And in this case, that change needs to take place in the absence of any incentives to do so.

To be clear, if you're not comfortable with the idea of making certain behaviors against the law then you are comfortable living in a world in which they continue indefinitely. No matter how many times you click your heels and make wishes, people aren't going to stop doing terrible shit just because you tell them you disapprove. People stupid enough to do something like this have the irritating tendency to fail to respond to reasoned arguments.

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57 Responses to “I BELIEVE IN MAGIC”

  1. Mo Says:

    Possibly a little money-maker here, collecting dues from these nimrods for the privilege of joining that exclusive rebel automotive club, Knights of The Burning Pestle.

  2. Pat Says:

    I totally disagree with this and think anyone who does it is awful, but I don't think that people who do it should be castrated and have their severed testicles force-fed to them while they're suspended upside down from the ankles.

    Right side up should do it.

  3. Pat Says:

    Slightly more seriously, the pathology of psychology of these people is incredibly transparent. The vicious glee they betray from spraying soot on bicyclists, in particular, tells you everything you could possibly need to know about the minds behind these trucks.

    (Also, is it just me, or during the portion recorded at a Westboro Baptist protest, does the video show them… not actually spraying anyone? Probably the only segment where I could semi-kinda-halfways get behind them, and they chickenshit out.)

  4. Glen h Says:

    God,don't get me started on cars guys. Love cars hate, the fans. There are a few decent site about now though, Curbside Classics tends to keep the nutty politics and white boy narcissism in check.

  5. Basilisc Says:

    This is, objectively, air pollution. I mean it's putting dirty stuff in the air without the approval of other nearby people with lungs. The only difference from the classic economic definition of an externality is that an externality, at least in principle, has some benefits for the person who does it (while they don't bear all of the costs). In this case I can't see the benefit, except the joy of being an asshole.

    I'd be curious what the pure Coasian market solution to this would be. Passing drivers should toss coins at cars that *don't* spew black, sooty smoke?

  6. Major Kong Says:

    To get these things to "roll coal" you have to modify the fuel injection to dump more fuel into the engine than it can handle.

    Why the heck would you modify your truck to make it run WORSE?

    It's not like this makes it go faster or anything. It's just pissing people off for the sake of pissing people off. Vehicular trolling as it were.

  7. jdawg Says:

    Spewing filthy, carcinogenic exhaust byproduct on somebody is not just a pollution-related offense; it's assault and battery and should be treated as such.

  8. Buckyblue Says:

    I would say the level of discourse in a sports blog/call-in radio show trumps that of most political blogs/call-in hate radio shows. In the sports genre you need to have numbers and facts to back up what you say, you can't just say " Romo sucks" without someone asking, " yeah but he only threw 10 pics last year, he's a heck of a lot better than Cutler". Whereas we all know the level of discourse at most political blogs/hate shows. Present company excluded, of course.

  9. schmitt trigger Says:

    Wow;
    there are idiots and there are rolling coal idiots.

    I ride a bicycle myself, and getting behind a pollution-spewing vehicle burns your lungs terribly.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    The "TEH STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPID!!!!!" – it burns with the heat of a trillion-billion-million suns!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    No light!
    Just the white-hot heat of hatred – of us Libtards!!!

    If you do something like this assclown, then you're too stupid to live

    And, if you're not a white male doing it, then I hope you have a Kevlar vest and are quick enough to "ground" yourself if the cops bring out their Tasers, instead of their guns!*

    *But who am I kidding?
    If you're a black male who does something like this, your relatives will be meeting the Coroner to ID your non-white ass!
    D.
    O.
    A,

  11. well mostly Says:

    If it's about trucks, it's really about the dick. If it's about what spews out of trucks then……well, sorry, but you know.
    It's truly mystifying to me: what would embarrass me beyond words others try to do.
    This is what they chose to do with freedom, liberty, free time and a few spare bucks?
    Bring in the shrinks. I don't get it.
    Our exceptionalism on display.
    Sometimes this country is too embarrassing to stand. Correction: make that, most of the time.

  12. Xynzee Says:

    I guess the "my pee pee is too small" trucks don't scream "I have an inverted micro-penis" enough anymore.

    A guy I went to school with once remarked how much of a thrill he got from passing people in Prius in his F-250 and something about exhaust. I wonder if he's one of these douchebags? He is a rather short fellow.
    I only keep him and a couple like him as "friends" as I want to keep tabs on the chatter from that side. If they weren't so dangerous, I'd gladly jettison them.

  13. doug Says:

    Xynzee, hold your enemies close. some one said.

    The most fun would be to reroute the pipe into the cockpit of the truck, on the sly…

  14. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Cap and trade?

  15. Xynzee Says:

    *doesn't

  16. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Not directly relevant to today's post, but an example of the melancholy that draws some of us to car culture:

    http://nowiknow.com/quickly-going-nowhere/

  17. Noel Barrett Says:

    Every time I think the yahoos have really gone off the cliff something like this comes along and I realize how far they have to go – this is probably even too much for Faux News.

  18. John Danley Says:

    "I totally disagree with this and think anyone who does it is awful, but I don't think it should be illegal." — Rand Paul

  19. quixote Says:

    (Either I'm not reading this right, or that should be "can't" instead of "can." 'Even the troll-iest of trolls can't? bring themselves to say "lololol awesome!" or "I don't see anything wrong with this')

    Vehicular trolling indeed. I'm wondering what it means that the social tolerance of trolling seems to be increasing in all kinds of places, virtual and 3D-space.

  20. Alan C Says:

    Aren't these trucks subject to emission tests?

  21. Jimcat Says:

    I read an article about this last year, which mentioned that a lot of people who set up their trucks to do this were giving it up because it was too expensive. Diesel prices are still outrageous, and as Major Kong pointed out, "coal rolling" takes up an excessive amount of fuel. So that may be the answer to the market-based solution: let the coal rollers go broke. Unfortunately that doesn't stop the wealthy assholes.

    As for their motivation: despite all the jokes about compensation for small penis size, I think a more realistic explanation is the pleasure of being able to harass other people without consequences. Who hasn't wanted to do that every now and then, especially while driving?

  22. Mo Says:

    Jimcat – one of my favorite fantasy inventions has always been The Revenge Horn – one ultrasonic blast, and the paint falls off the target driver's car.

    Of course, the paint falls off your car as well, but revenge is sweet.

  23. bb in GA Says:

    Instead of…

    "You smoke
    I chew
    Don't blow your smoke on me
    And I won't spit on you"

    How about…

    "I breathe
    You spew
    Don't roll your coal on me
    And I won't ______________"

    The best entry wins a $25 savings bond (Oh wait, they don't make them anymore..)

    Never mind…

    //bb

  24. Whatver Says:

    Simple solution. They like to see smoke? Pump the exhaust into the cab where they can see it as often as they please!

  25. Major Kong Says:

    I guess this is for people who think "truck nutz" just aren't enough.

    Yes, really, this is a thing.

    http://www.trucknutz.com/

  26. Skippper Says:

    It's just another form of assault, as other have pointed out. It's the same as boomboxes or car stereos that can be heard three blocks away. My neighbor has a device on his Toyota Tundra that makes it sound like a big-ass, bad-ass monster truck. When he fires it up between 5:30 and 6 a.m., it's like a cannon going off. Then he lets it idle for 5 or 10 minutes and revs it up a dozen times — just to make sure he's woken up everybody in the neighborhood.

    I used to live in downtown Boston. Near my apartment was a beauty salon. There was this big over-steroided dude who would stand outside the salon every Saturday afternoon when they were super busy. He had a ginormous snake wrapped around him. You know his sole intent was to show how tough he was by scaring the young women getting their hair done.

    It's all part of the same syndrome — just expressed in different ways.

    The US is a culture of violence. These are all symptoms of that.

  27. Mo Says:

    Skipper – Yep.

    Except that maybe only half the US culture utilizes violence as a tool, and I think we all know which half.

  28. Skepticalist Says:

    Wheeze,

    I guess it's the same thing as 13 year olds smashing toilets in bus stations or tipping over Pepsi machines.

    Chris Hitchens: "All politics is Yokel."

  29. mothra Says:

    Skipper, doesn't your town have a noise ordinance prohibiting excessive noise between a certain hour of the night and morning (usually 10 pm to 7 am)? An anonymous call to zoning or the cops might make this guy stop.

    As I watched that compilation, I realized the owners of the trucks were using the "coal" as a substitute for urine or feces. These people would like to piss on pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists, Prius cars, and anyone else they don't like. They are too cowardly to actually do that (and know that IS illegal), so they use their trucks to do it instead. The thing is that it is REALLY dangerous to do that to cyclists, motorcyclists and other motorists. Did you notice in that compilation the motorcyclist swerving after being hit by the coal? If one of those coalers causes an accident, I would say their insurance should pay. And they should pay. Sell their goddamn truck and be forced to ride a bicycle around town.

  30. Major Kong Says:

    If one of them causes an accident I wonder if a case could be made for vehicular assault. At the very least reckless operation.

  31. Charles D Says:

    We of the Church of Rampant Stupidity believe in the sacrament of rolling coal as a form of automotive prayer and as such our right to practice our religion is under threat from the liberal elites and asthmatics. At least Indiana will be free of this egregious government interference with our Constitutional right to exercise our religion freely.

  32. Tim H. Says:

    One might hope a coal-roller would encounter one of those rumored, extremely low level, unofficial practice flights, ideally involving afterburners…

  33. Robert Says:

    And yet if they were dragged from their cars and smeared with soot, they'd consider themselves ill used.

    The fact that this practice ruins fuel economy pleases me.

  34. grondo Says:

    "Rolling coal" is perhaps the most perfect distillation of the Prime Directive that animates all wingnut activity. It demonstrably harms the persons doing it, as well as their neighbors, who are statistically likely to agree with them politically. It empties their pocketbooks and probably does damage to their vehicles. It costs them a significant amount of their hard-earned money to make the modifications, has absolutely no utility, and is completely anti-social in every way.

    The one thing it does accomplish is to aggravate the dirty liberals. And that is the sole reason behind it. And that reason seems to be enough to overcome any rational reason not to do it. And so, they do it with adolescent glee.

  35. Skepticalist Says:

    Dunno.

    The inside of their heads is darker than their exhaust. They'd probably love being smeared with soot.

  36. Anonymouse Says:

    @grondo; that glee is the same that spawned the commercials for the burger between two slabs of fried chicken. In the ad, a group of young 20-something white guys chortle over how their girlfriends don't want them eating that garbage, but they're MANLY MEN and they can do whatever they want.

    IOW, there's a distressingly large horde in America that defines themselves by what immature, harmful actions they can take just to piss off "the enemy"; liberals, mommies, girlfriends (a.k.a. mommy stand-ins), etc.

  37. schmitt trigger Says:

    Call it the Beavis and Butthead syndrome

  38. Jimcat Says:

    Just another symptom of never having progressed beyond an adolescent level of maturity.

  39. Dave Dell Says:

    My puzzle is how can we keep the women who think this behavior is attractive from having children.

  40. Mo Says:

    Dave – I wonder the same thing. Fortunately, there's something called Regression to the Mean, which, if I have been informed correctly, means that two dumbasses can indeed spawn an intelligent child.

    Now, what parental so-called guidance and local culture perpetrates while the child is growing to spoil its mind, that's another problem … the everlasting problem, it seems.

  41. moderateindy Says:

    There are plenty of areas in this country that have laws against private citizens doing things that are intentionally bad for the environment. Burning garbage is illegal in many places. This rolling coal is at best a form of littering, and could be considered a form of road rage. Since it could endanger the safety of others, it should fall under the same rules as other reckless driving offenses such as tailgating, or cutting people off.
    If it is done to someone riding a bicycle, motorcycle, or any other activity where the person is exposed to the smoke, it should be an assault charge. It is at least as harmful as spitting on someone or throwing water on them, and probably causes more actual harm/pain than having either of those things done, and both of those would get you charged with assault.

  42. Kmtberry Says:

    Sadly, even if there were a law against it, I imagine that cops aren't the sort of people to object to rolling coal. I think the average cop (Especially in rural areas) would think its HILARIOUS

  43. Steve in the ATL Says:

    ""Rolling coal" is perhaps the most perfect distillation of the Prime Directive that animates all wingnut activity. It demonstrably harms the persons doing it, as well as their neighbors, who are statistically likely to agree with them politically. It empties their pocketbooks and probably does damage to their vehicles. It costs them a significant amount of their hard-earned money to make the modifications, has absolutely no utility, and is completely anti-social in every way.

    The one thing it does accomplish is to aggravate the dirty liberals. And that is the sole reason behind it. And that reason seems to be enough to overcome any rational reason not to do it. And so, they do it with adolescent glee."

    grondo, your post is a work of art

  44. Nate Says:

    My job takes me to places in southern indiana quite a bit. I don't see too many of these trucks, but when I do it is the most annoying goddamn thing i've ever seen. Even worse than TRUCKNUTZZZ (which I haven't seen at all for a few years). Maybe the jagoffs who had the nutzzz got coal rollers in the interim… ugh.

  45. BruceFromOhio Says:

    While I was reading this, I thought about the guy who likes to drive through my neighborhood with the GIANT confederate flag flying from the bed of his GIANT black pickup truck. Yes, I live in a quiet suburb in Ohio.

    To be clear, if you're not comfortable with the idea of making certain behaviors against the law then you are comfortable living in a world in which they continue indefinitely. No matter how many times you click your heels and make wishes, people aren't going to stop doing terrible shit just because you tell them you disapprove. People stupid enough to do something like this have the irritating tendency to fail to respond to reasoned arguments.

    This made me think of the people who refuse to vaccinate their children. Two branches on the same tree? Hardly, though put in the context of this paragraph, oddly similar.

  46. dharma_dream Says:

    When humans live together you have those who will invariably wish to act outside what is defensible for/within the group (obviously).

    When aggregates of humans, beyond the numbers of a few extended families, live together – the group quickly grows too large and disparate for depending on a system of loosely organized, traditional 'tribal' rules to be effective any longer.

    Consequently ( and also obviously ), if larger human groups wish to live together with any sort of harmony, regularity and fairness – laws are a 'technology' that must be employed.

    Otherwise, the greatest psychopath rules.

    … For those committed to the idea of living an idealized life with out laws … Live as the true individual – alone, outside the bounds of human ' civilization.'

  47. dharma_dream Says:

    (In this way we find out who is truly committed to their ultimate libertarian dream and who is simply spouting propaganda designed to hoist his/her agenda above all others and thereby exercise some control over his/her fellows.)

  48. Poultine Says:

    Yeah, so this is totally stupid. My question is, though, why does this particular thing stick in your craw? From my point of view, the only objectively bad part of this is the pollution, but I strongly suspect that there are much better ways to reduce human impact (assuming we could collectively get behind the concept of anthropogenic climate change first). Do the actions of goons in the margins of the country warrant passing more laws to make behavior illegal? I'm not convinced.

    Transcontinental flights are going to burn a lot more fossil fuel than some dipshit in Arkansas with a modified truck. Should they require some measure of necessity before you qualify to travel? What if I just want to drive an art car with 50,000 plastic animals stuck to the hood at 70mph? What if I just like driving around for no purpose? Or if I light fires my backyard because I like they way they smell?

    Lots of dickish behavior is legal. When I was on the bus the other day someone missed their stop and unloaded a torrent of remarkably unenlightened obscenity on the driver. Social consensus is that this behavior is unacceptable, but it's still legal (aside from possibly invoking fighting words, or my personal favorite, "moral turpitude"). Why do deliberately untuned trucks rise to the point of requiring laws to be written?

  49. Mike in DC Says:

    How often does this actually happen? I remember reading last year that this was something that was a bit overblown, but I can't find the source and I could be misremembering it, so I'm seriously asking.

    Obviously getting hard numbers would be, well, hard, but, were I in a legislature preparing to vote on such a law, I'd want to know the extent of the problem.

    If this was just a handful of jackasses getting more attention than they deserve, I'd be inclined to vote against such a bill.

  50. Nunya Says:

    We should all be legally entitled to murder these people.

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  52. Procopius Says:

    I don't think I get why we are supposed to need another new law for this. When I was a teenager in a suburb of Detroit one of the things you had to worry about with your $50 used De Soto was if it needed new rings. You got fined, in those days, for excessive exhaust smoke. At least in Royal Oak and Berkeley, and Ferndale, you did. I gather you didn't in Los Angeles. In those days. Anyway, I have read that the American obsession with making more things illegal means that the U.S. Code makes 6,000 actions felonies. Add on several thousand state laws and local ordinances, I'll bet everyone in the U.S. commits at least one felony every day, and probably four or five jailable misdemeanors. That's why if you get arrested for spitting on the sidewalk the prosecutor can threaten you with 60 to 90 years if you don't plead guilty to a lesser offense.

  53. moderateindy Says:

    Procopious, we need to make this illegal, the same way littering is illegal, or reckless driving is illegal. The fact is that you have to modify your vehicle to achieve this action. So you are intentionally, and needlessly polluting. Secondly, you are intentionally interfering with the ability for someone in a moving vehicle to properly see where they are going. Should we allow people to use mirrors to intentionally reflect the sun into drivers eyes to temporarily blind them, just because they think it's funny?
    Laws to keep people from acting like jackasses is an overreach. Laws to keep people from endangering other peoples lives, or screw up the environment is just common sense.

  54. grondo Says:

    @Anonymous (if that appellation makes sense!) –
    ————————————————
    "that glee is the same that spawned the commercials for the burger between two slabs of fried chicken. In the ad, a group of young 20-something white guys chortle over how their girlfriends don't want them eating that garbage, but they're MANLY MEN and they can do whatever they want."
    ————————————————
    Excellent further example of this mindset. All these weird fast food creations involving a pound of bacon topping a 2-lb burger covered in cheese and ranch sauce and god-knows what else… It's all a way for certain people to say "you can't tell ME what to do – nyahhh!" Which is SO Terrible-Twos, isn't it?
    ————————————————
    IOW, there's a distressingly large horde in America that defines themselves by what immature, harmful actions they can take just to piss off "the enemy"; liberals, mommies, girlfriends (a.k.a. mommy stand-ins), etc."
    ————————————————
    liberals, mommies, girlfriends – let me add the gov't, Obama, doctors, scientists… they're all avatars in the wingnut brain for the same thing.

  55. Keith Says:

    Around here (southern Indiana), some coal rolling jackasses have used their smokey vehicles to antagonize and harass bicyclists they encounter on rural roads. It should definitely be illegal, just like any other form of road rage.

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