NYT Repeats 70-Year-Old Disney Ideology

So, The New York Times devotes its Sunday magazine this week to the future of the automobile in the United States. The introductory editorial refers to the video below, with the comment “Disney couldn’t have foreseen, in 1958, the political realities of today that would make their imagined future impossible.”

This asks us to overlook the main point and content of the video, which was certainly not serious projection, but ham-handed promotion of the notion that cars are somehow about science and efficiency, rather than profit and behavioral compulsion. That the NYT misses the point that techno-hype has always helped sell capitalism’s cars-first dictatorship speaks volumes, and explains the thoroughgoing lameness of this pathetic edition of this always tame magazine.

Stress Machines

Along with bogus history, the overclass pushers of cars-first transportation constantly insist that cars are freedom machines and that we all love them, end of story, without qualification.

In reality, researchers are finding that routine driving is highly stressful, and brings frequent exposure to spikes of stress comparable to those generated in extreme sports (and presumably the onset of major life crises):

MIT designed a series of experiments that measure stress and frustration during real-world driving tasks, which saw volunteers put behind the wheel and wired up to computers with psychological sensors plus face- and body-tracking technologies. GPS was used to track the vehicle’s location and speed while in-cabin cameras monitored the driver’s facial expressions and his or her view through the windshield.

To put the collected data into perspective, it was compared with other routine and not-so-routine tasks. “In addition to daily driving conditions, we are measuring stress levels under a variety of daily activities: at home, in the office, while having breakfast or attending a lecture at MIT. We found that certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives,” said Kael Greco, project leader, MIT SENSEable City Laboratory.

One of the biggest surprises came when the stress levels of driving were compared to those generated from partaking in extreme sports. “The data we received is fascinating. One study showed that getting side swiped by an oncoming car can be almost as stressful as jumping out of a plane,” said Filip Brabec, director of product management, Audi of America.

Surprisingly, this research is actually being publicized by Volkwagen’s Audi subsidiary, no doubt in the hope of making itself look like the bleeding edge. Of course, no amount of engineering is going to take the inherent stress out of operating an independently steered metal box at high speeds across the paths of thousands of other such operators.

In any event, this useful video shows the elevated baseline stress level of driving a car in America. Watch for the graph:

Hidden History: Lost Cycleway

Cars-first transportation has brought with it a veil of bogus, sponsored claims about its pristine popularity, past and present.

In reality, transportation history is much more interesting and conflictual than the powers-that-be would have you believe.

According to historian Norman Pollack’s classic book, in the 1890s, populists and labor leaders were calling for public ownership of all transportation infrastructure, including the Robber Barons’ railroads, which had, of course, originally been built by means of public giveaways of land and crucial technical assistance.

In the pivotal year of 1900, there was also this lost marvel in Los Angeles, about which DbC has just learned:

cycleway1900

Memento Mori

skull I’ve been repeatedly stunned by how skimpy and ideological my competition is in the area of automotive sociology/history. Today, this surprise has reached another level, yet again. In my ramblings as I try to complete a book I can live with on the topic, I came across this hugely important, but — so far as I can tell, completely unpursued by English-language researchers — quote from Gottlieb Daimler:

“I have created the basis for an industry.”

The 1961 volume that conveys this quotation refers to a biography published in German in the highly ramified year of 1941. Its title — no author given by its English citation-maker — is Gottlieb Daimler: Ein Revolutionär der Technik.

Luckily, I made the mistake of taking German in HS and college, so I stand a chance of being able to read that tome, should I ever see it. Meanwhile, if any Germans or German-fluent people have access to that biography, I would be eternally grateful for your help!

I encourage other cars-first critics to pursue this hot lead, or at least not forget it.

The Dave Beck Project

jackie presser Mainstream dogma paints cars-first transportation in the United States as a product of pristine popular democracy. It is a huge lie, an attempt to divert attention from actual history.

One very interesting aspect of the actual history is the connection between sponsored right-wing labor unions and the imposition of cars-first infrastructure.

Take the case of Dave Beck, the President of the Teamsters union who preceded the infamous Jimmy Hoffa. When Eisenhower asked his old buddy Lucius Clay to head a Presidential Commission to organize automotive-industrial capitalists to ram through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, Clay appointed five cronies to what quickly became known as the Clay Committee.

Dave Beck was one of those five appointees.

Mr. Beck’s Wikipedia page makes it rather clear why he was asked to help formulate the plan for completing the last major segment of the cars-first project. Beck, who had risen to power as a successful opponent of political unionism, had impeccable credentials:

In 1937, Beck formed the Western Conference of Teamsters as a means of counteracting the [complacent] leadership of Joint Councils in San Francisco. Beck persuaded Teamsters president Daniel J. Tobin that the Western Conference of Teamsters was no threat to the power and authority of the international union. Harry Bridges, leader of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), had led a successful four-day strike in 1934. Bridges was now leading “the march inland”—an attempt to organize warehouse workers away from shipping ports. Beck was alarmed by Bridges’ radical politics and worried that the ILA would encroach on Teamster jurisdictions. But Teamster joint councils in Los Angeles and other California ports seemed unconcerned. As an end run around the complacent joint councils, Beck formed a large regional organization. Beck engaged in fierce organizing battles and membership raids against the ILA, effectively stifling the “march inland.” The Western Conference of Teamsters, and Beck, emerged significantly stronger from these battles.

Beck became Teamsters national president in 1952 and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1953 — i.e. right at the pinnacle of the Red Scare. However, by 1957 (a year after the Clay Committee had finished its work with total success), Beck’s history of embezzling from his own union had become a matter of public knowledge. Having reduced the already anemic level of democracy inside the Teamsters union, Beck opted not to seek another term as its head. He was sent to federal prison for tax evasion in 1962.

Such is the stuff of the “labor” voice of the Clay Committee.

Meanwhile, contemplate the way in which Beck ended it all:

After his release from prison, Beck lived in a basement in a house he himself had built for his mother and sister in the 1940s. He retained his $50,000-a-year Teamster president’s pension and became a multimillionaire investing in parking lots.

Parking lots!

I’ll say it again: Orwell couldn’t surpass this real-world material.

Love Trope Goes Electric — And Hilarious

When I first started writing a book about capitalists’ insistence on cars-first transportation, I tried to figure out who coined the familiar jive-line “Americans are having a love affair with the car.” Striking out myself, I wrote to several leading American historians. It seems nobody knows the answer. There’s little doubt it was industry PR, but the thing seems to have become so natural-sounding that people forgot to keep track of where and when they first heard it.

The latest mutation of that century-old trope comes in a particularly humorous form — a claim on behalf of the Chevy Volt!

Precisely as it idles production of the Volt due to lack of sales, GM breaks out this “Happy Volt Owners” ad series:

There is a world of ridiculousness and overclass chutzpah in each line of this thing. “Adam” says he wakes up every morning thinking about the future, but is obviously either unaware of or untroubled by the fact that the electric motor in his new automobile is actually powered by coal, natural gas, and nuclear fission. He “loves” his Volt, he tells us — twice — but fails to mention its price, where and when (or if) he bought it, or how he uses it. Will it burn down his house at some point after being bumped in a parking lot? “Adam,” though he is supposedly somebody willing to spend $40,000 to “make a statement” about how thoughtful he is, doesn’t trouble himself with such things, apparently.

How nice for “Adam” and the ≈5,000 owners of Volts. GM assures us that, despite their beloved car’s status as about .002 percent (yes, 2/1,000ths of one percent) of all passenger cars now on the road in the United States, they are not just the nation’s but the planet’s happiest drivers.  Who’d have guessed?

You heard it there first:  Americans are having a love affairs with the Chevy Volt!

Archives of Hidden History: “Safety” Efforts

From the outset, the corporate capitalist automotive-industrial complex has both generated and benefited from one the greatest floods of propaganda in human history.  Buried under countless PR operations and relentless incantations about how “Americans are having a love affair with the car,” the actual history of the making of cars-first transportation in the United States has long since been ignored and forgotten, even by the would-be critics.  Fortunately, fragments of this real history still exist, if you know where to look.

Today’s example is a reminder of the actual history of car capitalists’ efforts in the area of “safety,” or, more accurately, danger management.

By its nature, cars-first transportation is massively, needlessly dangerous.  The death toll from car collisions alone (i.e., not counting those resulting from pollution, bodily deconditioning, and oil wars) has been somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million in the United States alone over the past century.  Many times that number have been injured in crashes.

Q:  Until the popular uprisings of the 1960s, what was the auto-industrial complex’s main response to the fact that their product is a severe public health menace?

A:  To harangue drivers about the importance of “courtesy” on the road.

Click on this image to see what DbC means:

Highway_Highlights-Nov-1947

This is the lead article from the November 1947 edition of Highway Highlights, the magazine of the National Highway Users Conference, a front group designed to cloak the automotive-industrial complex’s lobbying efforts in the mantle of ordinary automobile users, as DbC explained recently here.

At about this same time, the NHUC was forming its “Motor Manners Project,” through which it aimed to ensure that the thesis “driver and pedestrian behavior is a key factor in [automotive] accidents” would be the leading point of concern in safety debates. Part of this Project was retention of none other than Emily Post to write and promote Motor Manners, a booklet devoted to the MMP’s theme that “impolite driving” was the root cause of the nation’s automotive death toll. Motor Manners was, of course, “distributed free to individual motorists.”

As you can see in the linked piece above, such was the NHUC’s chutzpah that it not only made the effort to transfer blame for the inherent danger of their product to drivers, but also to passengers. “The right kind of backseat driver,” it preached, “may be able to cut the nation’s traffic toll….Perhaps in many of these cases [of careless or speeding drivers] the passengers could have saved their lives if they had been willing to speak up and remonstrate with the driver.”

The following month, Highway Highlights published a follow-up piece, in which it endorsed the precedent set by Maryland Circuit Court judge Stephen R. Collins, who had ruled — perhaps after having read something distributed by the NHUC itself — that “the degree of care and vigilance which the guest is required to exercise for his own protection is not different from that required of the driver.”

The Metal Movers

propapile That, my friends, is my stack of photocopies from a week of digging into the Library of Congress’s archives on the history of capitalist propagandizing and lobbying on behalf of cars-first transportation. Believe me when I say it would be cars-only, if these people had gotten 100, rather than 95, percent of their way. Stay tuned for reportage and analysis, both here and in the Courting Carmageddon book.

Conservatives on Cars

ostrich It doesn’t take much to see that the political position presently called “conservative” is actually a form of wild-eyed radicalism.

This point cropped up for me again when, prompted by my good friend Douglas Pressman, I looked at a recent piece from Forbes magazine titled “Watching The Wheels Come Off The Green Machine.” This op-ed by one Bill Frezza, a self-described “free market advocate,” conveys news of the less-than-underwhelming results of the ongoing efforts to peddle “electric” cars. Much of what Frezza reports will be unsurprising to DbC readers:

Few seemed to notice last week when the electric vehicle maker A123 Systems—poster child for successful clean tech investing—“temporarily” laid off 125 workers at its flagship manufacturing plants in Michigan on the eve of the Thanksgiving media break. It also reduced its earnings guidance for 2011 by $45 million, because its anchor customer, Fisker Automotive, “unexpectedly” delayed the production ramp-up for its Karma luxury electric car—again.

Environmentally correct planners put all this public money to work to relieve the technology bottleneck they believed held back our transition to electric cars. So they invested my money and yours into building the largest lithium ion automotive battery plant in North America—to supply a Finnish electric car manufacturer backed by Al Gore’s venture capital fund and which received $529 million in federal loan guarantees. That Finnish manufacturer was supposed to begin production in 2009, but to date has only shipped 40 cars into the U.S. Those cars were delivered to a handful of millionaires and billionaires like Leonardo DeCaprio and Ray Lane who received tax credits because they bought an electric car.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Now, DbC considers it a high priority to spread such news. Every time a potential realist gets snookered into advocating electric cars instead of directing attention to social power and the need for radical transportation reform and conservation efforts, the human race takes another step toward Carmageddon.

But, as we work to peel off as many people as we can from the prevailing supply-side campaigns, it is important to remember that this effort in no way makes us allies with those who call themselves conservatives.

Take a look at Mr. Frezza’s essay, and you’ll see why: Frezza, like all conservatives, refuses to recognize that, foolish and corrupt as it is, the push for green cars is an attempt to rescue cars-first transportation from its own fatal flaws. Could we really, seriously conclude that the existing transportation arrangement in the United States is even imaginably sustainable for more than another few decades? If anybody can tell me how that could happen, please write in.

Meanwhile, not only does Frezza refuse to contemplate that little question, he also — again, like all conservatives — pushes the idea that existing reality is somehow a result of the reign of pure free choice. Frezza treats the green car push as proof of the inherent stupidity of “central planning.” He implies that the existing U.S. automotive fleet is full of “car[s] that customers actually want.”

Of course, the actual history of transportation choice in America is rather different from what Frezza alleges it to have been. From the moment the car was perfected as an object of assembly line manufacture, the corporate capitalist overclass was beyond smitten. Addicted, in fact, is the proper descriptor of their bond with the automobile. In actual history, once the car became a viable corporate product, all hope for genuine transportation choice — how many people would nowadays choose to own no car at all, if we’d built our cities to make that choice convenient? — was up in smoke. In reality, GM is now 100 years old, and so, with the arms of government fully subordinate all along the way, is transportation dictatorship in the United States.

“Drive on!,” say the “conservatives.”