Ah, the 120-Year-Old Question

thinking skeleton image

The New York Times today reports that urban officials around the nation are spending time rethinking transportation, now that SARS-CoV2 has hinted at what a wasteful clusterfuck cars-first transportation really is.

Here is what Randy Clarke, “president of Capital Metro, the Austin [Texas] public transportation system,” tells the Times he’s pondering these days:

“How do we make a system that’s more equitable and sustainable, and give people more options besides cars?”

That, of course, was the pertinent question roundabout 1902, when, a year-and-a-half before chartering the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford was gushing to his brother-in-law that “there is a barrel of money in this business.”

Or, somewhat more generously, in 1917 or 1918, during U.S. involvement in World War I, when automotive road construction had not yet triumphed as the master plan for our spaces and places.

Unfortunately though for Randy Clarke and his peers, by this point, no technocratic answer to this always-epochal (and still-never-democratically-asked) question exists. We have long since built our entire, continent-spanning society in such a way as to compel maximum automobile use. The facts now are very much on the ground.

If we are ever going to undo this still-heavily-sponsored (read: business-dictated) mistake, it is going to take a gigantic, aggressive, and clear-eyed Green New Deal. Nothing else stands a chance of making a meaningful difference.

Speaking of Incalculable…

Here is this morning’s banner headline in The New York Times:

It is macabre and self-defeating to get very far into the fool’s game of comparing mass deaths. But this description of 100,000 premature passings just simply uber-begs the question: Why isn’t every 100,000 excess deaths an incalculable loss, a scandal, a moral challenge?

The only reasonable answer, of course, is that it is.

So, why then do the 100,000 people who die early every year (40,000 of which lose their lives via the violent horror of automotive collisions) in the United States as a result of cars-first transportation not only not a scandal, but not even mentionable?

The only reasonable answer to that question is that TPTB and BAU dictate that only certain incalculable losses are to be calculated and discussed. The ones that arise from ordinary profit-making endeavors are certainly not among these.

Ah, the Good Old Death-Threat

In the United States, threatening children’s lives has long been a tactic for selling the product that has long been the #1 killer of children and young adults in the United States.

The shameless and ghoulish tradition continues, thanks to your friends and mine at the General Motors corporation:

“Buy a Chevy Equinox or your kids will die,” in other words.

Only in America, as they say.

The Chutzpah of the Age

At Nuremberg, they at least set out the standards for deciding who was a public-sector mass murderer.

No such standards, of course, exist for our glorious entrepreneurial killers. Because, you know, “free market.”

Consider the breathtaking temerity of this recent statement from Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:

We’re very much looking forward to rolling out this technology because we do believe it will save lives.

quoted in Automotive News, June 30, 2019

The technology in question is the haloware/vaporware known as robotic (“self-driving”) cars, a product which — lo and behold — “everybody in the industry underestimated how hard a problem this was going to be.” [industry observer quoted in same source as Barra quote above]

But the deeper story here is Barra’s shamelessness about the actual relationship between her organization/product and public health.

death rate chart

In the United States, you see, automobile collisions alone (cars-first transportation also kills in quantity in less immediate ways) have, since their epochal triumph over sane transportation technologies, killed almost four million people.

Despite sponsored and faux-critical hoopla about safety improvements that have reduced the physical danger of individual automobile collisions, the present rate of annual car crash deaths remains about 40,000, which just happens to be exactly the average for the years since 1945.

Oh, and, by the way, more than 8,000 of our current annual dose of 40,000 car-cullings befall individuals aged 0 to 24, a.k.a. children. Children. 8,000. Killed. Every year. By automobile collisions.

Meanwhile, over the top of it all, Ms. Barra speaks of “saving lives.”

Orwell couldn’t have dreamt up this true, and continuing, story.

Lots of Children Left Behind

Over at NBC News, this chart appears under the headline “Guns kill twice as many kids as cancer does, new study shows”:

graph showing child death rates

Golly, corporate news source, tell us: what else does this graph show? And why-oh-why might you not be putting that top line there in your headline? Might it be that the automotive-industrial complex remains your biggest source of customers?

A real crank might also observe that the NEJM report from which the graph and data were taken here cuts off the definition of childhood at age 19 (see the fine print above).

But we now know that basic human brain maturation extends to about age 30. By leaving out late childhood — the life stage that includes those we have erroneously called “young adults” — the chart here is distinctly conservative in its depiction of the automotive meat-grinder’s effects on our youth.

Our economic system’s #1 commodity is also the #1 health menace for Americans in their early 20s, as it is for those aged 1 to 19.

What Causes Obesity?

emperor on parade In America, it has long been taboo to pay critical attention to automobiles’ centrality in our lives. It remains a very effective and important taboo.

Witness “The Toll of America’s Obesity,” an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. In it, a pediatrician and an economist, both from Harvard, review the basic facts about the continuing escalation of obesity rates and burdens in the United States. In the author’s view, obesity is a “diet-related disease.”

And, indeed, so it is.

But can anybody think of another reason why obesity has been relentlessly worsening across recent decades? Might it have anything to do with the continuing automobilization of our lifespaces? Might worsening fatness in America also be caused by our ever-deepening, never-so-much-as-mentioned subjection to mandatory cars-first transportation policies and outcomes?

The question answers itself, yet remains utterly out-of-bounds. This is true even on the political left, which has never quite summoned the chutzpah to take the first step toward transcending prevailing ideology/taboo. That first step would be a serious class analysis of transportation in the USA.