Death Machines

elon-musk Touting the overclass fantasy that computer navigation will someday somehow rescue cars-first transportation from its own fatal flaws, that king of hype, Elon Musk, let loose this Freudian slip:

“You can’t have a person driving a 2-ton death machine.”

Quite right, yet how is it that we not only have that, but refuse to talk seriously about fixing the problem?

The answer lies in the political economy of what is and what is not discussable. Cars are as profitable and pro-capitalist as they are wasteful and dangerous. Hence, directly discussing and combating their wastefulness and danger is forbidden within the great marketing campaigns we know as mainstream media and mainstream politics.

Fortunately, Mr. Musk also has something to say about what would happen if that taboo were ever shattered:

“People may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous.”

Musk, of course, is thinking only of the immediate dangers to individuals in and around in-service automobiles, not the larger dangers of climate change, resource depletion, and petro-war. He also presumes that driving, not cars-first transportation, is the problem to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the point stands: People may outlaw driving cars because its too dangerous.

TCT hereby goes on record to say the sooner, the better.

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Proof of Delusion

Buffett Warren Buffett is probably the U.S. overclass’s last and best claim to still possessing some measure of sanity and, therefore, legitimacy. Buffett, after all, is observant and honest enough not only to admit that his class conducts war on it subordinates, but that it tends to win that war.

Ah, but this is corporate capitalism, and, as such, only certain things are thinkable and doable. Building a genuinely sustainable transportation system, as DbC readers know, is not among such things — meaning the system is doomed, not too far hence, to crash on its own contradictions.

Can the great and powerful Wizard of Omaha see and plan for such a fact?

Apparently not. Not only has his Berkshire Hathaway investment empire just completed the biggest take-over of a car dealership conglomerate in American history, but here is how Buffett gushes about this transaction:

Cecil and Larry [Van Tuyl, the now-former owners of the selling enterprise] have given us the ideal platform with which to build an auto dealership business that will be thriving and growing 50 and 100 years from now. The fun has just started. [Source: Automotive News, March 10, 2015]

There is very close to a zero percent chance that anybody will be selling automobiles to ordinary households 100 years from now. The reasons for this inhere in the extreme mismatch between the automobile as a devourer of resources and planet Earth’s limited supply of resources. Obviously, this mismatch does not register on even the sharpest of corporate capitalist minds.

To amplify Upton Sinclair, it is impossible to persuade somebody to understand something, when that somebody’s fortune depends upon not understanding it.

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Trains Serving Automobiles

suv rail cars None other than The Economist magazine says that “America’s freight railways….are universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world.” Our passenger rail, of course, would have to greatly improve to reach the level of a sick joke.

How ironic and telling, then, is this news, as reported by Automotive News?:

Railroad companies are struggling to keep up with surging U.S. demand for trucks and SUVs, frustrating Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

The rail industry’s struggle to keep up with the car industry’s growth was felt last year, when unusually harsh winter weather forced companies to slow down locomotives and run shorter trains. That led to backlogs for commodities that make up a bigger share of cargo, including fuel, coal and grain. The disruptions left automakers with as much as about 250,000 vehicles waiting to be shipped by rail, according to TTX Co., the rail-car pooling operator. The typical industry standard is having about 70,000 shippable vehicles on the ground and waiting to move.

Once again, our grandchildren, should they somehow inherit a livable, hsitorically-aware world, will debate whether to laugh or to cry over this Orwellian technological inversion. As we squandered the planet’s last stocks of easy fossil fuels, the main engine of that squandering overwhelmed one of the main alternatives to the whole terrible charade.

May our descendants somehow forgive us…

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Outdated Technology Worship

Our grandchildren, should we somehow figure out how to leave them a world still capable of such activities, will spend considerable time pondering how and why we allowed our overclass to keep pushing the reign of the automobile for so long after it was eminently clear that relying on moving 3,500 machines for every mundane urban travel task was a very bad idea indeed.

Some of their answer will have to acknowledge the continuance of shameless corporate dogma. Take, for instance, this howler:

So, computers are somehow going to defeat the spatial requirements of moving a 200-million-plus fleet of cars and trucks? Wanna bet?

Despite the silliness of the suggestion, it is a mistake to underestimate the impact of this kind of pie-in-the-sky propaganda. It is a powerful distraction.

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Compare and Contrast

First, this schmaltz:

Second, this fact:

It is counterproductive to promote EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion.

One might add nuclear there, too, given things like Fukushima.

In any event, here’s the U.S. electricity profile.

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Bike Trucks!

General Motors has chutzpah, that’s for sure. Its Chevrolet division, that hidebound, prat-falling purveyor of contemporary civilization’s most inexcusable and outdated “consumer” product, dares to use “Find New Roads” as its main marketing slogan.

Now, GMC is preparing to sell its pick-up trucks to suburbanites by suggesting how handy they might be for facilitating the use of the exact, supremely rational and even sublime machine killed off by cars-first transportation: the bicycle!

Pitching its “premium mid-size truck,” GM says its “2015 GMC Canyon Carves a New Path” by means of “[c]ustomer-focused technologies” that “complement active lifestyles.” Here is a picture of GM fluffers getting ready to show such “lifestyle-supporting accessories” to the professional mouthpieces journalists at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show:

bike in gmc truck

GM is even bold enough to admit that “not everyone needs full-size capability.” Yes, not everyone.

And how ’bout those active lifestyles?

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The Bailout Worked

Vance Packard book cover According to Automotive Age, the publicly-restored car corporations are raking it in now:

American consumers are on pace to spend more than $400 billion buying new vehicles this year for the first time ever.

That’s nearly 80 percent more than just five years ago, during the recession, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which does not adjust the numbers for inflation. It’s also more than a decade ago, even though sales volumes are still lower now. Higher transaction prices have more than made up for the shortfall in volume.

The rise in revenue is comfortably outpacing the overall gain in volume as consumers shift toward larger, pricier SUVs and crossovers and away from less-expensive sedans. And the added revenue is lubricating the industry like never before.

At 2004 transaction prices, which were about $4,500 per vehicle less than today, the industry would have needed to sell about 19 million vehicles to achieve the current level of consumer spending.

“The industry is performing at a very, very high level,” said Thomas King, a J.D. Power vice president. “There’s good news on volume, exceptionally good news on transaction prices and therefore record-breaking spending. We broke the record in ’13 and we’re going to break that record again in ’14.”

Atrocious news for the planet and its dominant species, of course…

But what’s that, compared to even more money for the 1%?

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Centers for Damage Control

fox guarding henhouse This week’s howler comes from Gwen Bergen, PhD, MPH, MS, behavioral scientist in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control [the DUIPNCIPC!] at the Centers for Disease Control:

“Motor vehicle crashes and related injuries are preventable.”

That of course, is not only official doctrine, but complete malarkey. No amount of safety technology is going to stop large subsets of 200,000,000+ independently steered (or remotely commanded) metals boxes traveling at high speeds on intersecting and undulating paths from colliding with one another and thereby injuring their occupants.

But even those whose careers stem from genuine worry over the appalling, undiscussed carnage of cars-first transportation can’t summon the chutzpah to face and state the plain truth that automotive travel is remarkably dangerous to the human person. Admitting this technological fact is simply and deeply verboten in our market-totalitarian society.

Instead, you get apparently sincere professional hopes pinned to utterly unexamined strings of reassuring presumptions:

“Although much has been done to help keep people safe on the road, no state has fully implemented all the interventions proven to increase the use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts; reduce drinking and driving; and improve teen driver safety.”

News flash: Not only are no states going to do everything possible (which would include criminalizing cell phone use inside cars), but TCT says it again: Even if some state did everything on Dr. Bergen’s list, it would still be home to huge surpluses of preventable, inexcusable injuries and premature deaths.

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Who’s Funding Fossils?

tee-shirt Apparently, there was a Stop Funding Fossils “bloc” at last month’s Great Climate Gesture in NYC. One of its bloc-heads is shown at left.

The proposition of this group seems to be that direct public subsidy is somehow crucial to the dominance of petroleum and coal in this society. A corollary suggestion is that cars will run on something, anything — oranges maybe? — in the future.

Both ideas are utterly preposterous. But nothing sells as activism these days like easy, off-target gestures.

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Eyes on the Dough

The auto and “tech” capitalists are peddling the idea that putting voice command electronics in cars is all about safety, because it allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road. It is, of course, horseshit.

According to Automotive News, the research turns up the usual reality:

Car companies have turned to voice controls to cut down on distracted driving. But systems such as Apple Inc.’s Siri electronic assistant, which automakers started installing in vehicles in 2013, may be as mentally taxing as the buttons and knobs they replace, research released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests.

The companies have turned to things like this not for safety, but because they are highly profitable add-ons. Anyhow:

For the AAA-commissioned experiments, conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, test subjects in a driving simulator used Siri to send text messages, post updates on Facebook and modify their calendar appointments. The test subjects averaged 4 points on a 5-point scale used to gauge mental strain while using Siri — a heavier workload than experienced when talking on a handheld cell phone or changing the radio. Three virtual crashes took place in the driving simulator during the experiments. Two of them occurred while using Siri.

David Strayer, the University of Utah psychology professor who led the research, recalled watching footage of one of the crashes, in which the test subject rear-ended an abruptly stopping car. He described it as a textbook case of “inattentional blindness” — the driver’s eyes “were looking out the windshield, her hands were on the steering wheel, but she was taken aback completely by that vehicle,” he said. “The push to voice-based technology acknowledges that people need to keep their eyes on the road,” Strayer said in an interview. “Our research suggests that’s not enough. You need to be paying attention to what you’re looking at.”

Undoubtedly aware of all this from the get-go, the car capitalists have their excuses ready to roll, though it’s all but certain that nothing serious will ever be done by the purchased political system:

“This study focused on a very narrow aspect of distraction: cognitive load,” Wade Newton, the spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. “Because the study did not address either visual or manual distractions, the results tell us very little about the relative benefits of in-vehicle versus handheld systems or about the relationship between cognitive load and crash risks in the real world.”

Annalisa Bluhm, a Chevrolet spokeswoman, said that the University of Utah research used Cruze and Impala sedans from model year 2013 that were equipped with older, less sophisticated voice recognition systems. She said GM still believes hands-free controls are safer than using a cellphone behind the wheel, and that it is working hard to improve those systems.

Improve, not remove, of course.

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