“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, August 11, 2001

NEW FEATURE - yes, as you can see, you can now talk back to me. Thanks are due to Alan Cook, who figured out how to put that reblogger tool in my template. Now we are cooking!
Alan also gave me some content advice - can the posts about italian politics, and for god's sake, can I please not be so shrill, please? He said I sound like the Rush Limbaugh of the Left.
Well, I sorta want to sound like the R.Limbaugh of the Left - that is, the Rush of his first, golden years, when he was still funny. But okay, moderate the tone, I can do that. As for the Italian politics - isn't everybody interested in the tangled history of the Andreotti? Maybe, maybe... maybe just me.

Another thing: I don't deliver on my promises. So my parable, yesterday, I promised to put up the gloss on the thing today, and tell you all about social costs. IAnd I didn't. Why? Cause I'm a liar. But 'm gonna, I'm gonna, tomorrow.

Alan neglected to say that at least I give good link. Like that social cost link - how many sites direct you to a magazine founded by Bertrand Russell, eh?
-give me your comments - bath me in your collective sputum, shout me down, I'm ready to defend myself! ---Sorry, new software always makes me dramatic.
Let's see what happens if I try to post something.
Bits for today.

--- One of my favorite French authors, Raymond Queneau, was fascinated by "homemade" science - theories developed outside the purlieus of rationality which unfold with rigorous logic from a set of illogical premises - like Novalis' "blue flowers" - encyclopedic offspring of the night, deviant heliophobes. Queneau worked, briefly, on creating an anthology of visionaries from old pamphlets, police reports, and other disjecta - rather like Foucault's later attempt to find, in the archives, micro-historical deviancies beneath the level of hegemony. Anyway, Queneau would have loved the internet. I just found the Ed Conrad site, which brought to mind, irresistably, some of Queneau's cases. If you've ever wondered if man really was around 300 million years ago, Mr. Conrad is your man.

-- I was reading Richard Holmes Footsteps last night. Holmes is the biographer of Shelley and Coleridge. Footsteps is a collection of biographical essays, expressing Holmes' biographical method - that one literally follows in the footsteps of ones subjects. Being in the footstep is different from pretending to be "in" the subject - which I suppose could be called the Bob Woodward theory of biography, in which we presume the author has bugged his subject's mind, gone through his old underwear, and kept watch beneath his bed. Holmes submits to the evidence that the biographer is always outside the subject, knocking on the door. But much as Dupin, Poe's great detective, recommends that one try to "feel" one's way into the psychology of one's opponent by assuming his postures and facial expressions, Holmes tries to feel his way into his subjects by tracing their physical journeys. Of course, the footsteps aren't literally there - what Shelley actually saw in August, 1823 is long gone news. But there is something still powerful for us in sympathetic magic - Fraser's term, in the Golden Bough, for obtaining some object belonging to the target of the magician's spell in order to effect that spell. It is why we collect autographs and read biographies. And Holmes operates within that mentality.

The collection contains a very pretty essay on Mary Wollstonecraft, and in it Holmes quotes Hazlitt about William Godwin - MW's second husband, and a political radical in the 1790s, although not so radical in the 1820s:
"Is the truth then so variable? Is it one thing at twenty and another at forty? Is it a burning heat in 1793 and below zero in 1814?... Were we fools then, or are we dishonest now? Or was the impulse of the mind less likely to be true and sound when it arose from high thought at wram feeling, than afterwards, when it was warped and debased by the example, the vices, and follies of the world?"

Which is my question of the day.

Friday, August 10, 2001

There's a sick and sad story in the The New York Observer about the end of Science magazine. The details are reminiscent of what has been happening at the Smithsonian - the same shameful trampling of a rich culture by honchos (in this case, an odious toad by the name of Nichols) who are under the delusion they are CEOs. There is, it must always be remembered, a price for charity. Name a stadium, a school, a museum after a corporation and soon corporation mores will haunt your hallways. To put an end to a magazine put out by a foundation that promotes science because it is a "drain" is outrageous - it puts the profit motive before common sense.
I'll quote from two grafs in the article: "Its [the magazines] supporters have put up a Web site, SaveTheSciences.com, and are urging the academy�s international membership and other readers to register a protest at the site.

"Naturally, The Sciences� impressive roster of contributing editors�Stephen Jay Gould, Laurence Marschall, Rosamond Purcell, Robert Sapolsky and Hans Christian von Baeyer�oppose the academy�s decision. But the chief signatories to the Web site also include Richard Stolley, editorial director of Time Inc. magazines; Dennis Flanagan, retired editor of Scientific American; Frances Farrell, publisher of The Sporting News; and Dr. Nicholas Charney, co-founder of Psychology Today."

Go to the savescience website and raise your voice against Cor(po)ruption. - the Editor
Kiddies, gather round and let me tell you a story.
This is the story of Mr. X and Mr. Y., who lived next to each other in a subdivision. Mr. X lived in a house approximately one hundred times bigger than Mr. Y. Mr. X held parties every night for hundreds of people, drove a SUV/Sherman tank, and kept his lights burning brightly 24/7. Mr. Y had nine kids, drove a used pick-up truck, and he and his wife together managed to scrape through. One day Mr. X appeared at the fence separating their property and called Mr. Y over to pow-wow.

Mr. Y, Mr. X said, I have a problem. You see, I really want to get an SUV/Lear Jet next year � it is the newest thing. But I have to cut down on my living expenses, somehow, to do it. So I�ve decided to cancel my garbage service � it has been costing me a pretty penny! I�ve decided to dump my garbage on your property, instead. With that, Mr. X gave the signal, and his servants hoisted garbage cans and dumped two tons of leftover caviar on Mr. Y�s property.

Now, Kiddies, this is an interactive story! What do you think Mr. Y. said?

a. Well, Mr. X, two years ago you drove me to the bus stop in your SUV/Sherman tank, and that sure was neat! Maybe you�ll give me a ride in your SUV/Lear Jet, huh? if I help out here. What say? So sure, dump that garbage!
b. I�m getting� my gun and gonna blow your ass away.
c. You must think I�m dumb � I�m gonna sue you if you drop even a speck of stinky caviar on my property.

Now, your faithful storyteller used to think that the appropriate response was b, back in the days when he had utopian/revolutionary hopes. Now your storyteller is a middle-aged man with more moderate views � or perhaps he is simply more depressed. So he�d opt for c.

Nobody, I think, would opt for a. Well, nobody except for public policymakers in the US of A., who have unanimously opted for it, from the local to the federal level, for the last thirty years. Those funny guys!

You see, this story illustrates the social cost of doing business. Can you say social cost, kiddies? Now of course there�s a big opaque name for such things � externalities. Notice how that seems so Pentagon gray as a word � it is like those frightening latin words the teacher uses in sex ed, isn�t it? Actually, business here is a bit of a misnomer � as the Soviet Union showed, there are terrific social costs in socialist enterprise too. In fact, they can be higher than in capitalist enterprises. But let�s put that aside for a second � the point here is that Mr. Y is being asked to assume a cost. He has to assume it somehow � with two tons of caviar rotting on his lawn, he has to either pay the garbageman to clean it up, or take refuge from its fumes in a hotel, but he has out of pocket expenses, here.

One of the paradoxes of libertarian oriented defenses of �property rights� is that, as policy, it ends up justifying the degradation of small properties to the benefits of large ones. This comes out of a stubborn refusal to understand or consider scale, and how it effects a social system. (By the way, I call this a paradox to be polite � in fact, the revolutionary/utopian side of me considers that this is an intended outcome, favoring, by means of a childish mystification, the wealthier class over the working class. But, ha ha, I�ve gotten all Clintonian about those things in my middle age, like I said. So I�m just going to say it�s a theoretical glitch, but aren�t we all workin� for the same darn goal?)

Now, let�s take our parable a little further, shall we? Uncle S. comes to Mr. Y., who is standing next to that steaming mound of caviar, and Uncle S. says, hey, I�ve got an idea! You just give me 40 percent of your salary and I�ll clean that mess up tout suite! Which the hapless Mr. Y. does. Now Uncle Sam, he�s a sort of card, and so what does he do with Mr. Y.�s money. Why, first he gives a goodly bit of it to Mr. X. That�s because Uncle Sam has had so many rides in Mr. X�s SUV/Sherman tank that he thinks it�s just natural to help Mr. X get a larger vehicle. Boy, wait till he�s tooling around with Mr. X, Uncle Sam thinks, won�t those female interns go wild! Then he contracts to remove the caviar. You known that Uncle S., though, he has good intentions but somehow things just get in the way. It is hard to say what things, but he doesn�t do exactly the best job of it. He does say that he�s gonna take care of that unsightly pile on a schedule � yessir, in three or four years, or maybe a decade, he�s gonna get rid of it. But it gradually starts rotting into the water supply and such, don�t you know. And then it is sorta invisible, so who really cares? In the meantime, Mr. X saves money by throwing all his garbage out on Mr. Y�s lawn. After a while, Mr. Y., who hasn�t had a raise in years (his boss, Mr. X�s cousin, always says, a raise is the devil�s workshop � why it leads to inflation!) gets a little impatient. Why is Uncle Sam taking such a bite from his paycheck and doing diddly squat?

At this point Mr. X, who, let�s admit it, is a bit of a card himself, appears at the fence again. You are so right about that Uncle S., Mr. X says. He�s taking way too much out of your check, so the thing to do to solve this mess you are in is to get him to stop doing that!

Like I say, Mr. X is canny, and he�s been figuring out his costs again. Although Uncle S. gives him a great deal of support, Mr. X does have to pay Uncle S. a certain amount too � the neighborhood association dues, don�t you know. So when Mr. Y gets a lower rate from Uncle S., so does Mr. X! And by the law of percentages, don�t you know that the chunk going to Mr. X is much bigger than the chunk going to Mr. Y.!

Luckily, there�s an explanation for this � Mr. X is a much more ingenuous guy � why, doesn�t he deserve to harvest the fruits of his ingenuity? With one thing and another, that canny jack of all trades is now making so much money he gets two or three of those great new SUV/Lear Jets.

Oh well. All stories must have an end. In order to drive his vehicle around, Mr. X had to have the roads widened, so Uncle S., with tears in his eyes, condemned Mr. Y�s house and moved him out, lock stock and barrel. So there it is, a bare fact - the road got widened and no more Mr. Y in the neighborhood. Mr. X is kindly disposed, however, so he even got his cousin to put up a toll booth on the road, so that Mr. Y�s wife could get an extra job to help support the family. She also got a badge and a gun, to make sure the gardeners toiling on Mr. X�s land didn�t escape � turned out a goodly percentage of them had intoxicated themselves with terrible chemicals! INEXPLICABLE, ain�t it � given the beauty of reality and all, with towering purple mountain�s majesty of rotting caviar for all to see! People who escape reality, as Mr. X explained to Mrs. Y, have it coming. (Mr. X then pulled out a fine little softcore porn tape and invited Mrs. Y to see it with him in the master bedroom). So - All�s well that ends well! And Mr. Y is doing just fine in a
smaller trailer � he didn�t need that property of his, after all!

Kiddies, tomorrow I�m going to explain the deeper meaning of my story. Till then � this is the Editor.

Thursday, August 09, 2001

Sorry, a null set post. Today, the blog isn't working. I'll have something up tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Bjorn Lomborg seems set to be the most quoted environmentalist of the season. The reason? He has a conversion story. There he was, according to himself, your average know nothing Greenpeace schmoe, kvetching about mass extinction and Global Warming on Planet Gaia, when he got knocked down (spiritually, that is) by libertarian skeptics of the environmental model. No doubt, like Saul, he had his days of reclusion and blindness, the night sweats, the fever - but a vision of Gale Norton apparently visited him, saying, in an unearthly voice, go and tell all mankind about the wonders of cost benefit analysis! So he arose from his bed and now he's come out with a book, and at such a convenient time, too! What with the trashing of the Kyoto accords and all, which looks so terrible in the press. The book plays a theme dear to the corporate mindset - that is, that environmentalists exaggerate, and that such things as climate change, or environmental damage, are myths generated by inaccurate or skewed stats and projections of enviro- Nazis. Of course, modern day converts never convert all the way - they want to bring their cultural capital with them, otherwise they become just another Jack in the Pack. So instead of taking the mantle of libertarian debunker, Lomborg, of course, is still describing himself as an environmentalist. He is of that less dogmatic type, undisturbed when they blacktop those pristine redwood forests in California. Plenty more where that came from! Hell, wonders of biotech nowadays, we'll just fix us up a batch in a laboratory. So come on down, Butterfly!!!

Lomborg summarizes these views in an Economist article. He has developed a handy name - the Litany - for the general complaints about ecological degradation bandied about by environmentalists. He goes through the four major points in the Economist article.
I actually agree with one of his points - I have no sympathy with the population control crowd. In fact, the Litany is very skewed, itself, to the kind of environmentalism represented by Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome, which has always been very alarmist about the depletion of natural resources and the danger of over-population.
It is his third and fourth points I find extremely shaky. First, there is the threat of biodiversity loss. Lomburg says this is exaggerated. But his base for that loss is extinction. He doesn't defend this as a standard. He writes, for instance, of predictions of extinction, "...the data simply does not bear out these predictions. In the eastern United States, forests were reduced over two centuries to fragments totalling just 1-2% of their original area, yet this resulted in the extinction of only one forest bird." Presumably he means the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, or perhaps the Carolina Parakeet (that I can name two candidates off the top of my head - and I'm no ornithologist - makes me think that his claim is probably factually dubious). Lomburg simply ignores monoculture, and the destruction of biodiverse habitats. If the loblolly pine takes over the ecological niche of, say, the live oak in Southern Georgia, sure, that doesn't entail the extinction of the live oak - it simply entails its rarity, its being thrusted to the periphery. The whooping crane is not extinct - but the number of the whooping crane is such that its former environmental role is, basically, non-existent. In other words, bio-diversity certainly doesn't mean that species that hang on in severely diminished numbers are some kind of proof that the ecology has remained unimpaired.
Finally, the claim that "pollution is also exaggerated" is much too unilateral. Lomburg shows that London air was much more polluted in the 1880s then now. His claim is, presumably, about particulate pollution. But the harm of a pollutant isn't necessarily in its quantity - small quantities of certain pollutants are much more harmful than large quantities of other pollutants. Take Lead. When lead was put into gasoline, it was emitted in quantities that were less than, say, the quantity of carbon dust released by coal energy - but lead is much more toxic. Also, Lomburg simply ignores the complexity of pollution. London is a good example - after the killing fogs of the fifties, a concerted effort was made to clean up the London air. But the clean-up inadvertantly lead to ozone problems, as the sunlight could now interact with car emissions - in other words, smog.

Finally, Lomburg engages in some suspicious cost analysis. For instance, he quotes a chart showing how much it costs to save a persons life in terms of regulation, and enforcing the use of various pollution reduction devices. This is a very common fallacy among the anti-enviro set - that there is only one set of costs. What is never done is to ask - what does pollution cost if it isn't cleaned up? The tacit assumption is that pollution control is some kind of bizarre luxury. If your car emits certain gases, well, that's a moral problem, but surely not an economic one. Right? Wrong. Pollution is not a free lunch. The question is: who pays for the social cost of pollution? This question is evaded by giving us the unilateral costs to businesses of pollution clean-up - which is like being given one side of an accounting ledger. If it costs 800 dollars to install seat belts, for instance, what isn't asked is - how much does it cost to pay for the additional injuries that would result from lack of seat belts? If it costs a million dollars to install filters on a coal burning power plant, how much does it cost, in terms of life and property degradation, when the unfiltered pollution is allowed to spread from the plant? In fact, this is where environmentalists, far from being alarmists, have been sleepwalking - partly because they don't think in terms of, say, property values. The anti-enviro crowd is happy enough with that - they can pass the cost of skewed statistics onto the back of the average citizen, in the shape of using them to justify dirty public policy.

I've written a little essay on the social costs of doing business which I ought to post this week, to continue this discussion.
Anyway, all my caveats aren't going to matter - Lomburg is on his way as the corporate environmentalist du jour. He is handsome, he has a conversion story, and he uses models preferred by the business crowd. What could be better?
Contact me at the Editor
Ah, Fascism. Two stories this morning about the fallout from the G8 summit - which has been abundantly underreported, as in not at all, in the US. Der Spiegel has a pretty shocking story:Genua: Wer ist verantwortlich f�r die Pr�gelorgien? - Politik - SPIEGEL ONLINE that, in the end, dovetails with what one suspects about the Berlusconi crowd - I mean, these people have deep roots in the culture of White terror. Certainly in the seventies, right wing groups used the tactics of the agent provacateur, as well as committing acts of terror - notoriously the bombing of the Milan train station - which they hoped would be blamed on the left. Genoa seems, more and more, like old home week - notice, in the Spiegel article, the references to Pinochet, a much admired old man in Euro right circles. Italian culture seems to have a talent for magnifying conflicts which are given a more discrete instantiation in other cultures. The second story about this is in today's New York Times. The Times story doesn't have the bite about Berlusconi, but does have an interesting bit about the arrest of an Austrian theater troupe.

Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Very nice essay by Walter Johnson -Common-place: Re-readings: Roll, Jordan, Roll. Eugene Genovese, the historian of slavery in question, is one of those odd American figures, like Sydney Hook, who advanced, by a somnabulistic logic, from left to right without ever seeming to notice where he was heading - which is why he can consort with Confederate revivalists today without a qualm.

Johnson is sharp about two of Genovese's controverted themes in Roll, Jordon, Roll - paternalism and hegemony. Here's a quote:

"The notion of slaveholders fabricating themselves for an audience of their own slaves in a kind of Hegelian dialectic is an extraordinarily powerful one, and it illuminates countless aspects of American slavery. It does not, however, quite capture the quicksilver slipperiness with which slaveholders could reformulate the nominally beneficent promises of paternalism into self-serving regrets, reactionary nostalgia, and flat-out threats. Can it be mere coincidence that so many examples of planters expressing ostensibly "paternalist" sentiments refer to slaves who have disappeared or are in the process of disappearing?"

I'd like to quote more, since the theme of paternalism is endlessly suggestive of the rhetorical structure to which the American ruling class seems to instinctively turn when it is justifying its position. Johnson doesn't mention the obvious similarity between the rhetoric of factory owners in New England and the slaveholding class, although they obviously emerge at the same time. This isn't to equate the two, that persistant trope of Southern apologists - it is merely to point out that the rhetorical apparatus can be applied to quite different objects.

Monday, August 06, 2001

Yesterday I wrote two long pieces about the need to raise CAFE standards. I wasn't nice to the auto companies in those posts. I feel like continuing my mean streak by linking to the main story at Commercial Alert :

Nader Criticizes Smithsonian Head For Proposed Naming Rights Deal With General Motors.

First graf is in R.N.'s best meateatin' style:

"Following a news report that the Smithsonian Institution has offered General Motors the right to name the museum's new transportation hall for $10 million, Ralph Nader said that Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small "seems to recognize no limits to the commercialization of this historic, non-profit, taxpayer-supported institution. To let GM pay for, be associated with and influential over a transportation exhibit, given its decades long record of criminal convictions, buying up and displacing mass transit systems, producing unsafe and polluting cars, is to confess to a complete abdication of any standards of museum integrity and independence."

But I do think Nader shouldn't be so upset at the GM deal - word is that Zurich Banks are going to be funding a funfilled Smithsonian exhibit on Swiss resistance to the holocaust in the Autumn season - followed of course by an Exxon funded exhibit, You are my sunshine: climate change and progress! in the spring. Remember to bring the kids - the motto of this latter is, inevitably, the future's so bright, you gotta wear shades!

Chubby Checker (Biography)has written a letter to the world in which he makes a dignified plea to the Nobel Committee to finally give it up and give him his prize. The key graf is this:

"Chubby Checker gave birth to aerobics.

He gave to music a movement that could not be found unless you were trained at some studio learning something other than dancing apart to the beat. It's easy. It's fun. The "Twist" [is] the only song, since time began, to become number one twice by the same artist. Oh yes, we're talking about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But lets face the truth. This is Nobel Prize Territory."
Mr Checker, you'll notice, talks about himself in the third person, imitating Henry Adams.

Well, let's compare Mr. Checker to Mr. Henry (the butcher) Kissinger, who did get a Nobel Prize, for peace no less.
On the one side you have The Twist, the invention of aerobics, and an eponymous brand of beef jerky, which you can buy from his site.

On the other side, you have the bombing of Cambodia, the Tilt towards Pakistan, the support of the Military regimes in Argentina, Indonesia, Chile, and Greece, the unnecessary extension of American military engagement in Vietnam for six years, and - oh, just throw in various slimy actions in Africa, culminating in the co-support, with the South African government of so-called Liberation fronts in Angola,and the propping up of such dictators as Mobuto in Zaire.

Okay. Judges, have you decided? Write down your answers on a piece of paper and give them to my lovely assistant. The clock is ticking away. One .... two.... three....
And now let's tally the vote, shall we. Silence, please ----
Could there possibly be a better cause?
Contact me at - rgathman@aol.com. Let's make this cause a party.

Sunday, August 05, 2001

This week saw the House, in a typical display of cowardice, greed, and ideology, pass an energy bill that would mandate drilling in the Arctic refuge, license more coalburning and nuclear power plants, and (oh acme of corporate happiness! Oh Tom Delay�s toupee! Oh American satanic mills, asleep in every garage! � to get all Allen Ginsburg about it) block raising the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standard, and in particular the notoriously lower CAFE for what are comically called light trucks, officially defined as those having a �gross vehicle weight rating� of 6000 pounds or less. This action comes on the heels of our latest amnesia � that is, the announcement in the spring, when fuel prices were high, by the Big Three that they were voluntarily going to raise the miles per gallon for both passenger and light truck. Yeah, right. Because amnesia leads to repetition � memory loss being one thing, and habit, or addiction, being quite another, this the double track of human nature � nobody remembers that the same noise came rolling out of Detroit, like a sadly safety challenged Pinto, in the seventies, and thereafter has been issued whenever legislation looked like it was going to force Detroit to actually move its more than 6000 pound metal behind.

The history of Detroit�s callous attitude towards clean cars has been detailed by Jack Doyle in a book entitled Taken for a Ride, put out by Four Walls Four Windows press (which, incidentally, puts out some killer investigative journalism). Doyle was interviewed about the book by EVWorld. Doyle discusses an argument made by the UAW to nudge enough Dems loose to support continuing the CAFE freeze � that the standards would lead to job cuts. The thinking is, it is so expensive to institute the technology that would be necessary to achieve fuel efficiency that the companies would have to shut down factory lines. As Doyle points out, quite correctly, the auto companies seem to have no problem throwing the truly astonishing wads of money they have amassed in the past ten to fifteen years � veddy veddy good years for Detroit�s profit picture, and enough to make the whole of the computer industry look like yokels vending home made pie recipes � to buy diverse non-auto-related companies (did anybody say Hughes Electronics) and revamp, at exorbitant cost, factories with up to date robotics and computers. The odious Roger Smith, former CEO of GM, was particularly gaga about robotics, and spent enormous sums on them without getting a corresponding return. One study concluded about Smith�s leadership of GM in the eighties:
�GM ended up spending tens of billions of dollars for little or no reward. Despite the high-tech, GM became less, not more, efficient.� So one can only conclude that money spent making cars and light trucks more fuel efficient is magic money, peculiarly cursed from the labor perspective.

Another argument about CAF� that has become popular among the auto hacks and their political allies is that fuel efficiency is dangerous. When the House voted on raising CAFE standards for SUVS, the Times quoted Billy Tauzin, the petro point man in the house, as saying "This amendment will end up killing Americans." The argument goes like this: since the automakers have unleashed a flood of heavier �light trucks� on the roads, small cars are less safe. And so any attempt to reduce the throw weight of a car, now, is a sort of unilateral disarmament in the arms race. Of course, this argument is in itself a little screwy. In fact, it is the logic of power Detroit always, in the last resort, relies upon. It is as if a bankrobber were to argue that since he now is in effective possession of the bank�s money, there�s no sense in preventing him from investing it. USA today published a canonical, and influential, version of this script in an article by their automobile journalist, James Healy, Death by the Gallon, in 1999.
. The article�s point is summed up like this:
�� in the 24 years since a landmark law to conserve fuel, big cars have shrunk to less-safe sizes and small cars have poured onto roads. As a result, 46,000 people have died in crashes they would have survived in bigger, heavier cars, according to USA TODAY's analysis of crash data since 1975, when the Energy Policy and Conservation Act was passed. �
Small cars �pouring� onto the roads? And big cars shrinking to �less safe sizes�? I suppose one should parse this sentence the way one parses Clinton�s court testimony. Big cars aren�t the equivalent of �light trucks,� so possibly the throw weight of your average Mercury Lincoln has been modified, although isn�t there something, well, pre-formed about describing downsizing as shrinking it to a �less safe size?�

The sensational news in the USA piece, widely quoted, is that there are �roughly 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained, the analysis shows.�

Notice, of course, the assumption that auto emissions are harmless � that the increase in emissions from cars cause no loss of life to be measured against the 7,700 deaths. Air pollution, subtext is, is a airy fairy issue � I mean, who dies from ingesting a few thousand pounds more CO2 every year?
As for that number and its link to CAFE standards � even Healy is a little nervous about the direct correlation, since it implies
1. the only way to make a car more fuel efficient is to downsize it.
2. that materials technology has not advanced a whit from 1975.
In fact, outside of the Auto industry, it certainly has. Bill Lovens, who has been working on the clean car for years, has advocated using carbon fiber technology, instead of moving to aluminum alloys � Detroit�s favorite way to shave car weight. Instead of spending billions on robotic factories that don�t make money, GM could have spent the equivalent sum re-designing smaller cars with safer and lighter materials.
But Detroit has always played a passive aggressive game when it comes to auto manufacture. When the California Air Resource Board, in the early nineties, mandated a certain percentage of zero emission vehicles, Detroit grumblingly created some Evs, which they then priced exorbitantly and closed down as soon as they could � the latest victim being a GM EV that it claims was not selling, although it refuses to back up that claim by showing any records. Similarly, it is due to Detroit that we play this game of trading off fuel efficiency against safety.
Healy�s article goes on to make a curiously schizophrenic point � that small cars are no match for large cars, or trucks, so that they are unsafe by physical law - but that the majority of small car fatalities don�t involve crashing into large SUVs, or trucks. After all, point one leads to asking about point two � where did these large vehicles come from? Since the article�s premise is that there has been a general downsizing of �cars,� it renders the real composition of the road unintelligible. But the reality principle demands that you admit that, yes Virginia, the real question isn�t larger �automobiles� � it is the monstrous �large trucks� which have infested the road and made driving in a smaller vehicle more hazardous.
The report�s odd logic when it comes to the safety of small cars becomes positively bizarre when it lays out the case againt CAF�. It notes that �CAFE and its small cars have not reduced overall U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel consumption as hoped. A strong economy and growing population have increased consumption. The U.S. imports more oil now than when the standards were imposed.� Really? You freeze a standard for twenty years, you make a loophole for the largest percentage of vehicle sold, and you don�t reduce oil consumption? My god, call the presses!

As for USA�s statistical analysis, it is disputed. Paul Rauber of Sierra Magazine responded to Healey�s article:

�The General Accounting Office studied the same basic data as USA Today and declared that "it is not true that cars become more dangerous simply by becoming lighter." Nor is that the main reason they're becoming more fuel efficient; rather, 86 percent of fuel-efficiency improvement is the result of technological innovation." CAFE does not dictate vehicle size, weight, or safety," says Dan Becker, head of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy campaign. "Automakers do." Cars have become twice as fuel efficient since CAFE was instituted, he points out, but automobile death rates have been cut in half�

With all the demos against the WTO and the G8 - demos that I heartily approve of - its the phalanxes of the auto industry that really determine what is going to be done about our atmospheric deterioration. Instead of to the barricades, may I suggest: to the auto-lot?

read the second to last post first, then the last one. Sorry, I somehow screwed up the order.