Author Archive - Dan


Big Six : tobacco :: Big Diesel : marijuana

News broke a couple days ago about California Attorney General Bill Lockyer suing what he calls "the Big Six" - GM, FoMoCo, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Nissan North America and Honda North America - for "contribut[ing] significantly to global warming, harm[ing] the resources, infrastructure and environmental health of California, and cost[ing] the state millions of dollars to address current and future effects." Pundits jumped on the news immediately, calling it the next Big Tobacco lawsuit. But I think that Lockyer, if he's so inclined to believe his state's fascination with wheeled transport is doing it some harm, could have found a better target. First off, while the lawsuit appears similar to Big Tobacco on first glance - industry creates product, product harms people on a national scale, industry becomes wealthy, hey-we-should-sue-somebody mentality sets in - anybody who read anything more than headlines over the last decade will be able to point out the differences. The companies that make up Big Tobacco conspired to keep their knowingly harmful and knowingly addictive products in the mouths of the public for decades solely for the gain of profit. Meanwhile, the companies that make up "the Big Six" (btw, Lockyer kinda made that up himself - the motoring press has so far refused to admit the foreign automakers into any Big category and have really dropped the term other than in jest since Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merged in 2000) can hardly conspire on anything. Only the most paranoid conspiracy theorist would argue that the heads of those six companies get together in a secret cabal meeting room and chuckle sadistically over their plan to put particulate matter into the skies above California. That theory follows gnomic philosophy - Step 1: Pollute the Golden State; Step 2: (nothing); Step 3: Profit!!! Also, any automotive manufacturer in the United States has to pass pretty severe emissions regulations, and has had to do so since 1968. Granted, the emisssions regulations today are much more strict than the 1968 rules, but the point is that they have abided by every effort the government has made since then to clean up the gasoline-fired internal combustion engine. And California, through its California Air Resources Board, has imposed even tougher emissions regulations since about that same time. So Lockyer can't argue that all of this has taken place in a vacuum. We'll skip the argument about California's nearly petulant refusal to offer comprehensive public transportation (San Fran's trolleys don't count). We'll skip the argument about Big Oil artifically keeping the cost of fuel in America down, feeding our addiction to wheeled transport, while Europeans with their high fuel costs have learned to find alternative means of transportation. We'll skip the argument that market forces - not GM - killed the elctric car and will continue to do so until a viable EV with the range and power of an internal combustion vehicle appears. We'll skip the questioning of why smaller manufacturers - Hyundai, BMW, Mitsubishi, VW/Audi among them - didn't make the list. While "the Big Six" make for an easy target, I'll argue that another industry - let's call them "the Big Five" (if Lockyer can make shit up, then so can I) - has contributed more to greenhouse emissions and has spent many more years in unregulated bliss than our major automotive manufacturers. If any industry were to profit from collaborating with Big Oil, it would be the trucking industry - Big Diesel. Over the last few decades, this country has shifted almost entirely away from hauling its goods by rail and toward shipping them via truck. I'll surmise that it's a direct result of our insistence on having our stuff ASAP. Trains take too long because the tracks don't go everywhere; roads go everywhere that consumers do, so let's just ship it all via truck. I've driven across this country twice; I ply the roads of the Northeast on a regular basis. And I see the preponderance of trucks on the road, belching emissions and tearing up highways with seeming impunity. I see really five major diesel brands on the road nowaday: International (a brand of Navistar), Freightliner (owned by DaimlerChrysler), Volvo, Mack (owned by Volvo) and Isuzu (partnered mostly with GM). Why not go after them? According to the EPA, "reducing emissions from diesel engines is one of the most important air quality challenges facing the country." Granted, federal emissions regulations have just recently started to take diesels to task, with members of "the Big Six" scrambling to meet 2007 calendar year diesel deadlines (GM's completely revamping its diesels; DaimlerChrysler's all-new BlueTec diesel couldn't pass muster in five states). But where have diesel regs been since 1968? It wasn't until 1998 that diesel particulate matter was identified as a toxic air contaminant and carcinogen, and CARB all of a sudden decided to reduce diesel emissions in California 75 percent by 2010 and 85 percent by 2020. It wasn't until June 1, 2006, that refiners had to start production of ultra-low sulfur diesel engines. Remember middle school health class, when they showed you pictures of a normal healthy lung, then pictures of a tobacco smoker's lung, then pictures of a marijuana user's lung? The relative cleanliness of a gasoline engine versus a diesel engine is kinda like that. So Lockyer's insistence on going after "the Big Six" rather than Big Diesel is like going after Big Tobacco (ignore my deconstruction of the faulty analogy above for a second) when Big Marijuana is just sitting around (if, of course, marijuana were legal and thus spawned a legitimate industry). Is Lockyer afraid to piss of Big Diesel and risk more price hikes in consumer goods if such a lawsuit were successful? (Incidentally, have consumer goods dropped in price since last year's $3-plus gas "forced" transportation companies to hike their rates, thus "forcing" consumer good manufacturers to up their prices?) Is Lockyer afraid of pissing off unionized truck drivers? Or does he just not realize what real damage is going on beyond the sensational headlines he's created? I should probably state somewhere here that, even though I'm a car guy and car guys generally despise regulation of their cars, all internal combustion engines do pollute. Heck, any mode of transportation aside from walking or riding a horse ultimately pollutes, considering the manufacturing processes that go into creating anything from a bicycle to an automobile. I'd like to see fewer greenhouse gases like anyone, so why not start with the biggest polluters?

Why GM’s Blog Strategy Sucks

About two years ago - or so goes my hazy Internet memory - GM jumped on the corporate blog bandwagon with the FastLane blog. Good, we gearheads mused, words straight from the GM peeps themselves. The FastLane blog promised to be Bob Lutz's less-than-PR-polished rants about the auto industry, giving it to us straight from the horse's mouth. (Not to shirk other major manufacturers, but DaimlerChrysler seems the only other one to have even tried a blog, and they've opened theirs solely to automotive media, a decision that drew a firestorm then and still irks some blogorati). We knew they wouldn't necessarily be telling us the things we wanted to hear - advance product announcements, straight talk on product changes, clear rationales for dealing with health care costs. But we figured, with as much as GM's got going on, they'd have some decent material to feed us. They added all the right tools - RSS feeds, trackbacks and the like. But the FastLane Blog turned out to be a sleeper, last year's blog dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the small-block Chevrolet V-8 only lasted a short while before GM euthanized it, and then GM introduced another blog, the FYI Blog, which made absolutely no sense. If they couldn't muster a post a week at FastLane, why bother opening a second blog? It seemed as though 13-Year-Old-Girl Syndrome (13YOGS) had infected somebody over at GM. They were about to start posting about Justin Timberlake and how icky Carlos Ghosn kept asking them to go out with him, but going to the mall took precedence over regular posting. Meanwhile, contradictory to the laws of things blog-like, every FastLane post had at least a dozen comments, despite the incredibly infrequent postings, simply because GM ran the blog. And rather than explaining strategy - which he did a few times - Lutz simply dropped off the face of the blog, replaced by a rotating cast of lower-level execs. The FYI blog, meanwhile, started posting craptastic pictures of GM cars taken by camera-phone-wielding meatheads. Then last month, word came about that GM's Director of New Media, Mike Wiley, was headed south, away from GM. No word came after on whether he actually left or who would replace him, but content - barely at a dribble pace before - choked down to clean-out-the-gutters frequency. Meanwhile, press releases continued at their normal pace. Press junkets kept rolling; press packets kept flowing in; promotional activities kept taking place. GM even announced that all of its advertising for the upcoming G4 sedan would take place online. A clear disconnect between the blog efforts and the media relations/PR efforts showed, almost as though they didn't have a clear strategy set up for the blog, they didn't know what the blog was for and they didn't know how to align all of its promotional opportunities. Their latest move pretty much proves those points. Responding to a Boston Globe editorial in your own venue is normally fine. It offers a counter-opinion and a way to answer accusations. But when it's the only post of substance in the last two weeks, it makes you look like a petulant child who won't take no for an answer (13YOGS again). That, or a bully. Not to say GM's blog efforts have been totally wasted. Some news has come out of it, some decent opinions have been shared, and GM staked a claim where no other manufacturer did. And likely, it's tough to hunt GM execs down for a column even every now and then - their job description when they started didn't include "write column for website on semi-frequent basis" and they have a few other issues on their hands at the moment. But you don't jump off the high-dive without learning how to swim, and thus this becomes another tale of major corporations refusing to understand the Internet, but trying to capitalize on it anyway.

Ahnold for president

arnold_resized1.JPGI support Arnold Schwarzenegger for president. Not for his stances on immigration and naturalization. Not for his environmental policies. Not even for his Republican politics. No, I support him for his ability to exclaim, "Let's kick some eyyy-aaahhh-sss!" Think about it. In the most idealized world, all of our conflicts are resolved not by boy-faced young men with their entire futures ahead of them and little stakes in the actual conflict. No. Much like the Two Tribes music video, in the idealized world, we have our leaders go at it. Mano y mano. Fist-o y face-o. Would you want W. going up against Osama? That'd be suicide. The man can't even balance on a Segway. While I did vote for Dole in the past, he can only throw one punch at a time. So who's our man? The very same one that had half his face ripped off and kept coming. The same one who defeated an extraterrestrial hunter armed with a nuclear device. Then again, he might be getting a little soft in his old age. And there's that whole not-born-in-the-U.S. crap. While alternatives exist - the Rock, some of those UFC guys, Rowdy Roddy Piper - I say an actual cyborg or android would do the trick. Only problem is finding one. The Philip K. Dick 'droid is still missing, last I checked, and Honda's Asimo doesn't do much more than cut a mean rug on Beck vids. I noticed some advances in prosthetics recently, so we're on the right track, but we need a synflesh covered, ass-kicking, vote-getting machine in the White House, and we need one pronto. I, for one, will welcome our new cyborg overlords!

In defense of Bernie

bernie.JPG I don't know Bernie Sanders. Nor do I know Rich Tarrant. I do know I've heard just about enough out of the latter's mouthpieces and not nearly enough out of the former's. While watching a little of the tube last night, I caught a Tarrant campaign ad that jumped down Sanders's throat for " against [a] crackdown on child pornography..." It then flashed a real quick excerpt of some bill that Sanders voted against and included a Vermont housewife frowning and making like Sanders had voted to forcibly anally penetrate every little 13-year-old in Vermont. Right then and there, something seemed a little wrong to me. I'd endured Tarrant's ads for months talking about how he started up some tech firm, played basketball in college, etc. etc. Hell, they were on every commercial break, so it doesn't surprise me to learn that his is the most well-funded campaign in Vermont history. Hadn't seen or heard any mudslinging coming from his camp, though, so I figured he was innocuous. Besides - he's a Republican going against Bernie Sanders in Vermont? I'll take my chances with pissing into Katrina before playing those odds. I guess these negative ads have started real quick and real early, causing a lot of outcry. But what perked my ears was what Tarrant's folks complained about. Doing anything for the children's sake nowadays usually means winning votes from this newly empowered religious right, at the expense of some sort of freedom. And cracking down on pornography usually means cracking down on free speech. It's nothing new - look at all the legislation trying to apply obscenity laws to the Internet. Or for that matter, look at the flag-burning amendments. Besides, it's not like the title of the bill was "Empowering Kiddie Diddlers," so I figured something was up. First off, a look again at that ad. In my research, I discovered that another Tarrant negative ad used a country-level GOP crony masquerading as a dismayed Vermont citizen. Marty Boyce, the Vermont housewife in the ad, could very well be another county GOP crony - her house is listed on the Tarrant website as the Orange County pickup location for yard signs - but then again, she could just be damn enthusiastic. Vermont's that small, and I still don't know that much about the political scene up here. Second, a look at the text of H.R.1104, the bill cited in the ad. Most of it seems pretty agreeable - longer sentences for kidnappers and child abusers, establishing criminal liability for removing a child from the United States to circumvent parental rights, yadda yadda. But reading a little closer, we see a couple red flags. Red Flag #1: The law also allows for wiretapping - apparently sans warrant, though the language doesn't specifically say - in the investigation of kidnapping, child abuse, etc. With all the issues lately concerning the government invading our privacy willy nilly, would you want to be behind this? And how far could this be abused? "Sir, we think Mubarrak over there might be fixing to bumrush a couple boys." "Well, what are you waiting for? (Wire)tap his ass!" Sanders has made remarks in the past about how the Bush administration's - and any government's - wiretapping should be stopped at all costs. Red Flag #2: In the "Additional Provisions" section of the law, it first prohibits any "digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image of, or that is indistinguishable from an image of, a minor engaging in specified sexually explicit conduct." So who is to say what is indistinguishable from actual? A judge with (most likely) no formal training in digital art manipulation? Ah, but the law neatly sidesteps that by also prohibiting "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, that ... depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct." Oh, okay. So even drawing or sculpting kiddie porn, while crude and reprehensible, is now illegal. Gotcha. So cartoons and sculpture can now be illegal, regardless of their artistic or scientific merit. Is it any wonder why Sanders - a former journalist who (I'd have to assume) would defend the right of free speech in all its forms - objected to this bill? (For the record, Sanders responded to the ads already.) I do have to wonder whether this particular attack ad comes as a reactionary response to Sanders's unyielding pro-GLBT stances. If so, it's pretty low to correlate gay-friendly policy with child molestation. But in the end, it's just another mud-slinging campaign season. At least I know who I'm voting for now. More on Bernie.

The problem with cloning that there remain too many unanswered ethical dilemmas, and I don't see anybody trying to answer those questions. In fact, I don't see anybody even trying to pose the questions themselves (disclaimer: I'm not really looking), so I'll get the ball rolling. * What if I clone myself and he has sex with my girlfriend? Did she just cheat on me? But how could she cheat on me WITH me? Is this similar to having sex with someone who has multiple personality disorder? * What if my clone and I have sex with my girlfriend at the same time? Is that a threesome or a twosome? * For that matter, if I have sex with my clone, is that masturbation? * If my clone clones himself and has sex with him, can I watch? * And if I kill my clone, is that suicide, or is that murder? Or does it really count - after all, I created it, I can destroy it, right? * If my clone accepts Jeebus as his personal LORD and SAVIOR, does that mean I'm going to heaven too? And thus I can lie, cheat, steal as much as I want to and get away with it? Or will all my sinning bring him down, and we average out into purgatory for the rest of our existences? * Will my clone even have a soul? Are souls cloneable? If so, then we could just treat them like any other organ. So somebody please clone a good person and transplant their soul into mine right before I die. Pass the tequila and joint, bitch. * If I clone myself and my girlfriend clones herself and the two clones have sex with each other and have a child, do I have to pay child support for the damned thing? I'm sure W had these weighty issues on his mind when declaring stem cell research illegal/immoral/wrong/bad. We must sympathize, because I'm sure all the hard work of thinking about these issues blew a fuse in his lil' noggin.