Saturday, September 30, 2006


Here in Portland, Oregon, the self-proclaimed green capitol of the world (a lot of which is true), the politics of the automobile are in plain sight. Hordes of Toyota Prius and other hybrid cars glide silently by on the streets (as one friend says, decreasing the smog but increasing the smug). A growing number of gas stations sell locally-made biodiesel, and some businesses and government agencies have/are converting their fleets to this fuel. These are positive trends for the environment and the economy, and they demonstrate that individuals can make choices that are "correct." What troubles me, however, is that these correct trends might also be ignoring the real issues, what I call the politics of the automobile.

The lead story in today's newspaper Autos section reads: "Lexus brings GS hybrid up to speed." The article, about the 2007 Lexus (Toyota) GS 450h, is about, in the writer's words, "the world's first luxury hybrid hot rod." For only $55,000 or more, you can get a hybrid car that does 0-60-miles per hour in just 5.2 seconds!! Great - a totally luxurious car that goes real fast, and is a hybrid, meaning it's also a "correct" car. Well...not exactly. Like a lot of the new hybrids on the market, both Japanese and American, this automobile has the hybrid technology primarily for one reason, greater acceleration. The Lexus GS 450h is EPA rated at 25 city/28 highway gas mileage. That's what we get with our 1993 V6 Toyota Camry XLE (see my Automobile Part 1)! A quick look at a government site about fuel efficiency reveals the following:

2006 Lexus GS 300/GS 430 (non-hybrid): 22/30 MPG, $1566 annual fuel cost
2007 Lexus ES 350 (non-hybrid): 21/30 MPG, $1566 annual fuel cost
2007 Lexus GS 450h (hybrid): 25/28 MPG, $1507 annual fuel cost.

So the new Lexus hybrid uses slightly less fuel in the city and more on the highway than last years non-hybrid model, and saves about $60 a year in fuel costs; now that's progress! To be fair, the new hybrid has a much better EPA rating for air emissions - a good thing.

What am I trying to say here? While hybrid technology and alternative fuels are good things, let's not overlook the basic fact that these are all variations on a theme - the automobile as the basic mode of transportation. I've often thought that if we had to do an Environmental Impact Statement for the automobile, we might not be driving them in the future. The automobile has been the driving force (pun intended) behind a lot of our urban design and many other social and economic aspects of our culture. Too many of us define ourselves by the car we drive, hence the development of the fast luxury car and the monster SUV - machines that really don't make a lot of sense.

Meanwhile, back in Portland, the green capitol of the world, it seems like a growing number of people are thinking about the politics of the automobile. During the daily commute, some streets look like the photos we used to see from China, with hundreds of bicyclists peddling to and from work. Buses and light-rail commuter trains are filled with people. Urban development in and around the downtown is booming, attracting many new city dwellers away from the burbs. Streetcars, once the norm in Portland as well as most American cities, have reappeared. And people seem to be (gasp!) walking more than before. So maybe there's hope after all that we'll understand the politics of the automobile and make informed choices.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


"The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run," Bush told a convention-center audience of over 2,000 people. Does anyone agree with this man? Does anyone not see the spin dribbling out of his mouth? What the hell is he talking about, anyway?

First of all, what does "cut and run" mean?

An old nautical expression. In an emergency, it was sometimes necessary to cut the anchor cable, instead of going through the time-consuming business of winching up the anchor, in order to get away quickly ('run' before the wind, at full sail).

So "cut and run' is not a coward's business, "cut and run" is a deliberate strategy employed when faced with impending danger. A very worth-while article on using this strategy for the Iraq war is "Cut and Run? You Bet!" by Lt. General William E. Odum, published in the journal Foreign Policy earlier this year.

The facts speak for themselves: the Bushies have lost their war in Iraq; the "War on Terror" is a dismal failure; the U.S. intelligence agencies all agree that the Iraq war has made us less safe, and has been a huge success for the jihadists; Americans other than the very wealthy are worse off now than we were thirty years ago; U.S. debt is huge - we're owned by China - and getting bigger; global warming is a reality; and the United States of America has chosen to take the moral low ground with the President's law allowing torture, secret jails, and kangaroo trials.

But hey, it's an election year, so the R's roll out the Rove robots and smear everyone in sight who dares be critical of them, using lies, deception, inuendo and spin, spin, spin.

Isn't it time that we all realized that the bullshit is eyeball-high, and do something about it? Let's see what November brings.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


(from the New York Times, August 18, 2006) The civil rights leader Andrew Young, who was hired by Wal-Mart to improve its public image, resigned from that post last night after telling an African-American newspaper that Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners had “ripped off” urban communities for years, “selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables.” (see full article)

So what are Jews, Arabs and Koreans doing about this insult? Has any rabbi declared a jewhad against Ambassador Young and Wal-Mart? Have former governors and ambassadors been gunned down in the street? Have Wal-Marts been firebombed? Well, no, not in this country. Mr. Young has been roundly criticized by Jewish-, Arab-, and Korean-American leaders, as well as by Wal-Mart, his former employer. Mr. Young has issued a public apology. And that's it, although there will be collective memory of his unfortunate remarks for a long time.

And this is what I call civilized behavior.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


OK, one thought I had while lounging around Italy last month was that my posts tend to be very serious, and I take that input serious - - - ly.

So, a new feature is being added to Read My Opinion - Humor in the News.

From the headlines of September 18, 2006:

Conservationists have petitioned the federal government to have the Palouse Giant Earthworm listed as an endangered species. - Special interest groups are already weighing in on both sides. An anti-listing petition is being widely circulated by the political committee of the largemouth bass association.

President Bush wants US intelligence and military personnel to be allowed to use torture techniques on terrorist prisoners. - The President expressed surprise that there are objections to the use of some forms of questioning, such as water-boarding: "Heck, we always enjoyed water-boarding behind Poppy's muscle boat in the summertime!"

International Space Station astronauts implemented emergency measures after detecting a "foul odor." - The situation was resolved when they discovered that one of them had tried a new 6-bean chili recipe for dinner the previous day.

Pope insults Muslims..... - [blogmaster notice: this "joke" has been deemed not funny, and has been removed after reading press releases by Al Quada in Iraq about "chopping necks"....]

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I haven't posted since late July. A month in Italy was great (except for landing at Heathrow on August 10 in the middle of a terrorism alert, not getting to Rome when planned, and not getting one suitcase back until September 12!).

A lot has happened in the world since my last post, and yet nothing seems to be all that different from before. Lots of things to write about, so I'll be back on-line soon.