Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Going Down the Road (to Detroit) Feeling Bad

The automobile industry of America is once again on the brink of collapse. Since the Bush Administration is in the final days of its rampage of the wealth of the American public, Detroit has decided to get in line. Why not ask for a little of that bailout cash?

The plea from the Big Three is that there will be too much disruption to the economy if they are allowed to fail. Sound familiar?

Politicians are focusing on the loss of jobs and the ripple effect through the already damaged economy. Apparently, it's all about the worker.

Yet, Bush has already blamed worker compensation as the culprit in the problems of Detroit. To be fair, some, such as Barney Frank, have focused on executive compensation, but by and large, the reporting of the issue has focused on the financial burden of pension plans and health care as well as union contracts.

Leaving Bush, the anti-barometer of appropriate action, aside, it is absolutely off point to blame the assembly line workers for the fall of the U.S. auto industry. The workers at the factory level seem to be the only people in the industry who are actually good at their jobs and worth their salaries. Union busting will not save Detroit.

If the Big Three auto makers want to find the solution to their business problems they should look at their lousy product. Building cars around a marketing strategy designed to maximize per unit profits is short-sighted. There is no effort to build a better car, just a better selling car. Just last night I saw a pickup truck marketed towards young working class males. When I checked the price and specs at the website I discovered that the truck cost around $40,000 and got 12 miles to the gallon. Is this really the best vehicle that can be produced for a person starting out in life?

What passes for innovation in the auto industry includes things like digital displays, increased headroom, individual zone climate controls, leather interior and market tested cup holder placement. While these things may be nice, none of them lead to a better driving car that has a lower impact on the environment. Form is emphasized over function, and sleek looks are more important than an efficient engine. The cars look like the Jetsons, but drive like the Flintstones.

If Detroit were paying attention to what customers want rather than trying to manipulate them into buying what they are offering, then they would cease the fight against CAFE standards and safety advances. Both of these are fought on the grounds that they would increase the cost of cars a few hundred dollars. Manual transmissions, which increase mileage, are increasingly difficult to find.

Give me a car that gets 100 mpg and has a roll cage, a la race cars, for enhanced safety and I will gladly pay more. Give me just those two things and it can look like a turnip. I suspect that many others would agree.

This is not at all out of reach. I owned a Geo Metro in the early '90's and that car got 60 miles to the gallon. And that was before I had even heard of hypermiling. Of course, the wreck that totaled it is the reason I'm such a proponent of roll cages.

So why isn't Detroit building a better car? Why did Detroit kill the electric car? Why have there been no significant advances in mileage since the Geo and its clones. If the major auto makers were told they could not sell another car until they developed one that got 100 mpg and was environmentally friendly, I have no doubt that it could be done.

What's wrong with the U.S. automobile industry will not be fixed be a short term infusion of cash so that they can continue to develop such absurditites as "hybrid-SUV's" whose owners slam on breaks at a speed bump, and see the monstrosity as a status symbol. Even though the price of oil has momentarily dropped, it must be recognized that continuing to waste petroleum is no longer a viable business model. OIL IS OVER!

Maybe we should let Big Oil bail out the Big Three.*

*thanks to Ashton Kucher for this idea.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. mnn.com. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer