More on Killing for Money

Cigarette filters were invented in the 1920s. When the public began to contemplate the true nature of cigarettes, filters went, in corporate endeavors, from experimental oddity to mandatory product part.

Wikipedia explains:

[Filters were] considered a specialty item until 1954, when manufacturers introduced the machine more broadly, following a spate of speculative announcements from doctors and researchers concerning a possible link between lung diseases and smoking. Since filtered cigarettes were considered “safer”, by the 1960s, they dominated the market. Production of filter cigarettes rose from 0.5 percent in 1950 to 87.7 percent by 1975

The purpose of the cigarette filter was never, of course, to make cigarettes safe, since such a thing is an oxymoron — as every corporate seller of the things surely knew by 1954. The real purpose was to extend the salability of cigarettes in spite of the undeniable fact that they are deeply defective and dangerous things.

I mention all this because, despite Bill McKibben’s continuing insistence that they are part of the solution to looming ecological disasters, electric automobiles are cigarette filters writ large. They are a technology that our mass murdering corporate overlords are foisting upon us in order to keep selling automobiles, which, like cigarettes, are an inherently defective way of accomplishing everyday intra-urban locomotion.

If you want evidence of this, consider what Automotive Age reports about EVs:

[A]utomakers…invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new technologies that don’t yet pay for themselves — “profit deserts” is what Mark Wakefield, co-leader of the global automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners, called them.

Electrification isn’t the only major r&d initiative. Investments in automated-driving technology are on pace to reach $85 billion through 2025. Combined, those investments won’t do anything to boost bottom lines in the near term, Wakefield said.

Electric vehicle sales volume, Wakefield says, will remain low, averaging just 14,000 units sold per EV model through 2022. That’s a far cry from what automakers expect from traditional vehicles.

Automotive Age, July 1, 2019

The only logical explanation for this “profit desert” phenomenon is the same one that explained the corporate move to filter cigarettes back in the 1950s.

The Mary Barras of the world certainly know they are selling a product that is ruining the planet’s living conditions. But these executives need a way to make their efforts look innocent, so they can keep doing what they do for the big money. Inside the industry, EVs are made and sold at a loss so that cars in general can continue to be sold.

Meanwhile, as Mary Barra also certainly knows, in the United States, automobiles are now the nation’s single largest source of GHG emissions — bigger now even than electricity generation.

Should we say it? Death by Car…

Pickup Anthropology

cliff-drive Quasi-official, occasionally sponsored dogma holds that “Americans are having a love affair with the automobile” is all anybody needs to know about the sociology of transportation in the United States. In this familiar view, cars are, in the words of Heritage Foundation house economist and CNN employee Stephen Moore, the spontaneously-chosen “exoskeleton” for the “rugged individualists” who constitute the great American majority.

Funny, then, that those who make and sell the “exoskeleton” we allegedly demand as an expression of our primordial freedom seem to have such trouble receiving our commands. According to yesterday’s edition of Automotive News, one of the things the Ford Motor Company does to keep selling the pickups that are “so important” to its profit stream is this:

To coax devotees into the greener future, the company won’t be stressing the benefits of cutting back on carbon-dioxide emissions or the costs of tanking up. Instead, the marketing will go something like this: The battery in the hybrid F-150 not only feeds the electric motor, it’s a mobile generator that can keep the beer cool at a tailgate party, charge your miter saw and run the coffee maker on a camping trip. “It still may be a hard sell,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Autotrader, “but they’ve got to have this in their lineup.”

The company came up with it after researchers spent a year on an anthropological mission, embedding for thousands of hours with hundreds of F-150 owners. “We immersed ourselves in their lives,” said Nadia Preston, the research team’s project leader. “That meant going camping with them, tailgating, going to rodeos, even spending the night.” They were looking for what CEO Jim Hackett calls “bungee-cord solutions” — workarounds for tasks the F-150 couldn’t perform. They found owners often in need of portable power.

AutoNews, in a sideways acknowledgement that embedded anthropology designed to discover the basis for new marketing tricks is rather hard to square with the claim that cars are freedom machines, subtitles its piece “Key to selling truck no one asked for”.

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!