Archive for April, 2005

Your First Cigarette

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

The Toronto Star today had a whole section devoted to encouraging people who had never smoked before, or in some cases people who had smoked but not bought their own cigarettes, to strike out on the well-trod path of the “tobacco-dependent” folks before them.

Section H.

Not to be missed.

Surprising was the lack of any perspective on the damage to health, whether one’s own or that of the community. Also surprising was the lack of information on the true cost of the habit, in dollars and cents.

Why would the Toronto Star knowingly promote a product that is dangerous to one’s health and the health of others? A product that is reviled by educated folks and officially “discouraged” by cities across North America?

Can you say “ad revenue?”

Of course you can.

Let’s see, out of a 12-page section, four full-page cigarette ads, two half-page ads and a smaller banner ad across the bottom of page one. Must have raised a fair penny for the Star coffers.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say cigarettes? The section was called “Your First Car.” My mistake.


Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet lately. This is because I started a full-time job a week-and-a-half ago and haven’t had the energy to write when I get home at night. Hopefully, with the passage of time, I will develop a brain callous that will allow me to do something other than vegetate in the evenings.

Actually the whole paragraph above is “sampled” (as the vernacular has it) from the website of this guy who writes about music at, which if you are interested in music is a lot more interesting than this website.

Anyway the success of the title is not, as many of you may suspect, that I have managed to ban automobile advertising. Some of you may have noticed that automobiles are still being advertised.

However, a couple weeks ago I had a letter published in the Toronto Star. They even gave it “pride of place,” in the upper right hand corner, and didn’t take out a word from the (admittedly too long) screed.

So, while waiting for the brain callous to develop, I’m going to append the published letter below:

“to the editor:

“re: “good Ideas worth stealing” Gordon Chong opinion piece, Ap. 6 ’05

“Chong’s article couldn’t have had worse timing. Imagine if Chong’s
fantasy bureaucracy were in existence today, on the eve of a transit
strike. While our choice today is paltry, at least we have the option
of taking GO transit. Fact is, an amalgamated transit board that
governs all transit services would be a terrible mistake, just like
that of Toronto’s amalgamation.

“What Toronto needs is more choice, not less, in the ways we can get
around. Look at the map on page B2 of today’s paper and ask yourself
how it would look without the 18 go train stations included. Ask
yourself what you would do out there in Agincourt, Guildwood,
Etobicoke North or Long Branch, if you had no option when transit went
on strike except cars, taxis, bicycles and your own two feet.

“Instead of an amalgamated transit board, with its new layers of
bureaucracy, we need more choice: give us jitney services, small bus
fleets that would serve local communities, and encourage ride sharing
by introducing places where people may wait or offer rides (for a
small fee if necessary).

“The simple fact is, the worst thing GO transit could do would be to
amalgamate with TTC. Indeed, the time has come for it to up the ante:
go into direct competition with TTC. Reintroduce or institute new
stops where they’d be useful: At Coxwell Ave, Jones Ave, and Pape on
the Lakeshore East line, at Dufferin on the Brampton line, and maybe

I sent copies of the letters to Howard Moscoe, the Toronto Councillor who heads the TTC commission, and to Gordon Chong, who wrote the opinion piece calling for amalgamation of TTC and GO Transit. I’ve since heard back from both of them.

Councillor Moscoe wrote only: “No disagreement here.”

Chong (or his ghost) wrote a lengthier reply:

“Dear Mr. Allderdice:

“Thank you for your email regarding my article in the Toronto Star on April 6th, 2005.

“In response to a couple of your points, the suggested transportation authority would not require all transit agencies to amalgamate. They can continue to function as independent agencies reporting through a single co-ordinating body. Likewise, the different transit agencies in the Greater Toronto Area do not operate under a single union. In fact, even today, there are different unions and union locals within TTC, GO and other agencies. In the event of an amalgamation, the probability of the whole transit system being affected by an employee strike is very remote.

“On the issue of more GO Stations, GO Transit’s success has been in attracting customers by competing with the speed of auto travel. Adding new stations increases the travelling time for all customers, thereby making it less attractive to use our service, so we must carefully balance those additions with the quality of service we are trying to provide.

“I appreciate your comments.

“Sincerely, Gordon J. Chong, DDS Vice Chairman”

Of course, Chong has missed the point. Putting in a platform here and another one there doesn’t mean stopping every train passing at those platforms. It might mean having a “local” train that stops once in the morning and once in the evening, as an alternative.

But GO stands for “Government of Ontario,” not “Toronto.” It stands for getting people from “Ontario” in and out of “Toronto” by, how does Chong put it? “competing with the speed of auto travel.”

When Chong says “Adding new stations increases the travelling time for all customers,” he means the existing “Ontario” customers. Nevermind the Toronto customers who might find the three-and-a-half minute trip from Pape avenue to Union station an improvement over whatever method they currently employ.

The Gospel of the Car Ad (part one in a series)

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

It’s come to our attention that a cyclist in British Columbia who struck and injured a pedestrian at a traffic light in 2002 has been fined $130,000 by the BC supreme court, Hon. justice W.G. Grist presiding. It is not known what kind of car Mr. Grist drives.

What we do know is the cyclist, a male person named Nast, passed three cars that were stopped at a red light before hitting the pedestrian, a woman named MacKnight.

“Witnesses said Nast sped along the curb past a line of three cars stopped at the light before striking MacKnight as she stepped out onto the crosswalk.”

“Evidence showed Nast, who was cycling to university, didn’t try to brake before he was 10 metres from the crosswalk.”

Does $130,000 sound like a lot? Does it make you think perhaps the supreme court takes seriously the safety of pedestrians in British Columbia? And what does this have to do with the so-called “Gospel of the Car Ad?”

Let’s parse this story:

1. For a cyclist, $130,000 is a shit-load of money. It’s enough to buy a few very interesting bicycles, or a thousand bicycles worth $130. It would give about an hour’s worth of car drivers on a busy road a way to get to work that doesn’t darken their souls forever.

2. The pedestrian was badly hurt. She was knocked unconscious, suffered a broken collarbone, and to this day can’t sit for long periods of time in front of a computer, as her profession (bookkeeper) demands.

3. For a car-owner, $130,000 is a drop in the bucket. It would cover the costs of car ownership for only a few years at best. The cost of car ownership is a fun game to play, but no matter how you spin the dials it doesn’t come out looking good for the car owner. If you ask the Main Stream Media for the answer, you’ll get one thing. The Globe and Mail’s “Megawheels” section the other day (March 31 2005) devoted its centerfold to the gruesome facts: depreciation plus maintenance and repairs, plus fuel, plus insurance and registration (but not including parking fees!) add up to annual costs (over four years) of $8,200 (for a 2005 Toyota Echo sedan) to $12,109 (for a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx). That’s the cheap end, too: a 2005 BMW 530i will cost you $24,532 per year. On the other hand, if you go to an ecologist for the answer, they will want to add “the real but hard-to-estimate cost to future generations of dealing with the oil depletion and climate change the car is creating today” plus “the [cost of] pollution, [of] building and maintaining the roads, [of] the medical costs of accidents and the noise and the aesthetic degradation caused by urban sprawl” (Kalle Lasn, “the true-cost marketplace”).

4. Pedestrians are dispensible, unless they’re hit by bicycles. This settlement sounds stupendous until you put it in perspective: when was the last time you heard about a pedestrian knocked down by a car winning the big bucks in a court settlement. My favourite is the “car hits bus shelter” scenario; that’s always good for a few laffs. Injure or kill a few pedestrians in a car, that’s a matter for insurance companies, not the courts. And insurance companies are seeking to reclassify it as a “act of god.”

5. The real crime here has nothing to do with knocking over a pedestrian. After all, she stepped into the road. Anyone who drives knows how unpredictable pedestrians are. Anyone could hit a pedestrian. The real crime here is theft.

Consider the CBC report of the case:

“Witnesses said Nast sped along the curb past a line of three cars stopped at the light before striking MacKnight as she stepped out onto the crosswalk.”

“In his March 31 judgment, Grist found the cyclist…disregarded the signal and passed stopped traffic … in an unsafe manner.”

But theft? Was the bike stolen? I didn’t read anything about “theft.”

Not the bike.

6. According to the Gospel of the Car Ad, part 1, “Freedom of the Road” is what cars give you. You buy it when you buy a car. The crime of this cyclist was not that of knocking over a pedestrian. What he stole was “freedom of the road,” and he stole it from the car owners who were dutifully lined up at the traffic light. They pay dearly for freedom of the road, and this court case, Hon. W.G. Grist presiding, was their chance to bill a cyclist for his theft of it.

It was a chance to make Nast pay, and $130,000, the cost of five years’ BMW ownership, is a start.

“Disobey the signal” cost Nast $65,000.

“Passed stopped traffic?” Another $65,000.

“Hit a pedestrian?” An understandable lapse. Judge Grist let that one go. Next time though, pay for it up front. Buy a car.

Response to ALLDERBLOB grows: Moody’s lowers GM, possibly Ford, closer to “Junk”

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

Following up on the scandal that threatens to bring down the whole house of cards (all good trends start in California, as ALLDERBLOB readers well know), Moody’s, the dark and tempestuous star of the financial profiling world, has reclassified its assessment of GM’s debt rating, (reports the LA Times).

“With Moody’s move, GM is rated just one step above junk, with a negative outlook, by all three major credit rating firms.

“A downgrade below investment grade by even one rating service could boost GM’s borrowing costs and wreak havoc in the corporate bond market, some analysts say. Many big investors, such as pension funds, aren’t permitted to own junk securities and would have to jettison GM’s bonds.”

The report also says Ford Motor Co.’s debt rating is under review. If you go to the page, note the ads: we got Mercedes Benz (twice) and two ads for used cars. That’s all.

Meanwhile, what has the Toronto Star’s “Wheels” section got on offer today? Hmm. We will return to this story.

Bowing to pressure from ALLDERBLOB, General Motors pulls all ads from the Los Angeles Times

Friday, April 8th, 2005

Gosh, what can you do about a girl named Maria?

Or more to the point, what about that Dan Neil?

Neil, a thrashy and unrefined automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote in his regular “Rumble Seat” column of April 6, 2005 a piece about a new Pontiac car in a way that displeased its maker, General Motors.

I first heard about the story in today’s Toronto Globe and Mail, which reprinted it from the Wall Street Journal. The story, on page B10 of the Globe business section, opens with the line “General Motors Corp. has pulled its advertising from Tribune Co.’s Los Angeles Times for the foreseeable future, a GM spokeswoman said.”

A couple sentences down in the story it says “One person familiar with the situation says the amount is perceived by people in the ad industry as “highly significant” and that the action is seen as punitive.”

Now these words are music to my ears, Maria: “punitive,” “ad industry,” “General Motors,” and “Los Angeles Times.” Put those words into a google search and cover your children’s eyes, baby.

Then, just as I was contemplating how to go about the difficult digging (i.e. reaching for the google icon) to find just what the LA Times had done to GM, my colleague in the Ban Advertising Cars Overnight (BACON) movement, a certain “Rick,” sent me the following link:
“Pulitzer prize winning author and columnist
Dan Neil wrote this less-than-flattering
piece on the quality of GM’s auto products.”

Hmm. Write a bad review and the company pulls its ads? Is that what restaurants do? Is that what the movie industry does? Are we being a bit touchy, GM?

I mean, I can understand if the paper had come out in favour of public transit, or bicycle lanes, or car-free zones for Los Angeles. I can understand if a newspaper takes a stand that threatens what Freund and Martin call “The Ecology of the Automobile” in any significant way. I can understand if the LA Times had made up some story, say, about how “General Motors” had “conspired” to “buy up” and “destroy” the “public transit system” of “Los Angeles” in the “1930s.” Gosh, a story as crazy as that would make me get all steamed, if I were GM.

But a bad review?

The LA Times is probably hoping GM comes to its senses. Maybe they’ll have Dan Neil write a retraction.

Bad idea, LA Times. If the industry thinks it can hammer down its critics by withdrawing funds, doesn’t that suggest something’s a little “off” in the ad kitchen? What is an ad, after all. It’s not a bribe, is it?

I’ve written to the LA Times offering them some free advice. Now I’ll give it to the Globe and Mail. Why don’t you newspapers try something radical. Try a moratorium on all car ads for a while. Try it for a single issue of the paper. See if your writers notice anything different.

My guess is those ads exert more pressure than you’re willing to admit. My guess is if newpapers stopped running car ads, they would find their editorial line could free itself substantially. No more pussy-footing around about the relationship of war to petroleum. No more wondering if a comment on global warming and the melting of the ice cap might aggrieve an SUV dealer. No more need to toe the line of “balanced transportation” types, who in the guise of “fairness” argue for more freeway dollars in exchange for mass transit or bicycle infrastructure.

It’s time to question if the harm done by cars reaches beyond the simple fouling of air and land. It’s time to dig into our psyches and ask if advertising a car is any different than advertising cigarettes or firearms: a product that causes more harm than good.

Okay, so what about that Dan Neil column anyway.

I went to the site and found a bunch of gibberish. Fact is, I don’t know the corporate structure of GM, so Neil’s opening salvo, which takes down the president and CEO and overall executive branch of the company, left me in the dark.

He wrote stuff like “…At a time when SUV sales are cliff-diving, GM proposes to speed up big SUV development and 86 the mid-size, rear-drive future products?”

This move, Neil compared to “rearranging deck chairs” (on a sinking ship) and said it was time for a “putsch” at GM headquarters. “…the best case for a putsch in GM’s Renaissance Center offices is this: The cars aren’t selling.”

He made a number of other pithy observations about the decision making at GM. The overall tenor of the piece is of sadness. He’s actually sentimental about what he sees as mismanagement and a trend toward mediocrity at GM. I mean, the guy is so out of touch, he actually seems to like cars.

Neil’s actual review, of a car called the Pontiac G6, has lines like “The G6 is not an awful car. It’s entirely adequate. But plainly, adequate is not nearly enough.”

Fact is, I don’t read car reviews very often, and I just don’t get what Neil means when he says something like “It is because of this powertrain that the phrase “thrashy and unrefined” has become the hackneyed cliché that it has.”

I mean, if I had come up with the phrase “thrashy and unrefined” I would be pretty proud of myself. Turns out it’s a cliche. Who knew?

Obviously, the car review is secondary in GM’s objections to Neil. They’re probably hoping the LA Times will dump him for being an anarchist.


Consider his throwaway reference to capitalism: Capitalism is creative destruction. Sit down, Mikhail Bakunin!

It may not seem like much, but for the ALLDERBLOB (and all my BACON-lovin comrades), I claim this as our first victory. Thank you, Dan Neil. Keep up the good work.

Toronto Star. They write: Vehicle prices up less than inflation. They mean: Demand for cars and trucks is falling

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

In an article tucked inside the business section of the Toronto Star today we read the headline: “Vehicle prices up less than inflation.”

They aren’t talking about bicycles. They mean cars and trucks.

The demand for “trucks” (minivans, pick-ups and SUVs) remained constant last year at 44% of the “private automobile” market segment. It’s held constant at this share for seven years now, although the average cost of a truck has gone up $3,000 in the past five years. The average cost of a new car in Canada actually fell by $49 last year, but the market segment, including cars and light trucks, was buoyed by the fact that average truck prices rose. The overall rise came to 1.5%.

Inflation in the same period was 1.9% across Canada.

What does this mean?

Well, demand is falling for smaller motor vehicles. In fact, while some environmentally conscious types express hope based on the introduction of small, gas-sipping cars like the hybrid Prius or the miniature “Smart” car, the fact is people aren’t snapping up those small cars the way Kyoto protocolists would wish. In fact, Daimler Chrysler, manufacturer of the Smart car, may be about to “kill it off,” according to the business pages.

The point being?

In short, people aren’t buying cars.

And when people aren’t buying?


Who will benefit?

The advertising companies, of course. But after them, it’s corporate media, such as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, network television, mass-market magazines. They can all be expecting big payoffs as the car companies try to boost sales.

Who will suffer?

We will. The people.

First, we’ll suffer by being subjected to more and more bilious and morally questionable claims on the part of the auto industry. Expect more gratuitous violence (whether against nature (i.e. trucks despoiling wilderness, or cars causing roadkill), or against marginalized road users (i.e. cyclists and pedestrians)). Expect more denial about the realities of car ownership: car-clogged roads, hunting for parking, paying for insurance, killing for petroleum. Expect more gratuitous sex and overt promises of the effects of metal and motor lubricant on one’s attractiveness and virility.

Second, we’ll suffer as mass media’s already lax objectivity when it comes to cars, the economy, and news, slips even further.

For example, how does the Star business reporter, Tony Van Alphen, who wrote this piece for today’s paper, approach it?

Well, he cites just one source, “president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants,” who says the following: “governments should tax vehicle owners less.”

Huh? Prices are down, so it’s up to government to lower them still further?