Archive for the ‘Gospel of the Car Ad’ Category

Meet the man who defeated the entire U.S. Military-Industrial Complex

Friday, March 16th, 2007

It was in 1961 that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower told Americans the net spending of the U.S. military was more than the combined income of all U.S. corporations combined, and warned against the crushing and overwhelming forces of the “military-industrial complex.”

Against that backdrop, we have the events of September, 2001. The entire American military-industrial complex was overturned on that day. What mastermind carried out the attack? What stupendous resources did they have at their disposal? How did they disable NORAD, the U.S. Air Force, and the combined resources of General Motors, Ford Motors, and Chrysler, etc?

Thanks to the U.S. Government, which released the sworn confession of one of its prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, we now have the answer to these questions. As reported in the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser (etc.), the “mastermind” was one Khalid Sheikh Muhammed.

They say looks can be deceiving...(ap photo)

Sheikh Mohammed: “I was responsible for 9/11 from A to Z.”

Although we have not seen the “signed confession,” we assume Sheikh Muhammed is also responsible for the fact that at the BBC, on September 11 2001, a reporter on live TV announced the collapse of the 47-storey WTC-7 approximately 26 minutes before the event.

What a smooth operator.

New York Times decries loss of safe places for peds, cyclists

Monday, January 29th, 2007

In a story in today’s New York Times and Car Advertiser, one Robert Sullivan writes:

FOR the past two decades, New York has been an inspiration to other American cities looking to revive themselves. Yes, New York had a lot of crime, but somehow it also still had neighborhoods, and a core that had never been completely abandoned to the car. Lately, though, as far as pedestrian issues go, New York is acting more like the rest of America, and the rest of America is acting more like the once-inspiring New York.

Sullivan goes on to describe the moves being made by cities all across the U.S., from “Albuquerque, where one-way streets have become more pedestrian-friendly two-way streets, and car lanes are replaced by bike lanes, with bike racks everywhere,” to “the nation’s auto-capital, Detroit, where a new pedestrian plaza anchors downtown.”

These changes he contrasts with NYC, where the current mayor recently stated it’s up to cyclists to clear out of the way of cars (he was talking about a cyclist who was killed by a drunk driver speeding along a grade-separated Hudson River bicycle lane): “Even if they’re in the right, they are the lightweights.”

Mayor Bloomberg is wrong, (next he will rewrite the law of the sea, to say “sail better give way to steam”) but can he be blamed for his inability to stand up to the bullies on our roads? Isn’t he just stating a “truth,” more or less? Bloomberg is just spouting the Gospel of the Car Ad.

After all, it was in New York that Henry Bliss was killed in 1899, making him the first pedestrian to be killed by a car (and it was in New York city that Canadian Maher Arar was detained and shipped off for a year’s torture in a Syrian jail).

The “lightweights” in the New York system better not expect any support from the law.

We’re not sure what all this is going to do for tourism. After all, it’s “I (heart) NY,” not “I (car) NY” that’s the celebrated slogan.

On the other hand, it’s good to know that as peak oil ratchets up the cost of owning a car, people who have cars can move happily to New York City where they will have less and less distance to cover in their automobiles.

Also, it’s flat enough that pushing a car in many areas of the city will not be too onerous a burden.

Building Seven, Sept. 10 2001: Live Long and Prosper!

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Building Seven.” How those words trill from the lips. “Building Seven, Building Seven, Building Seven.” Ah…

Yes, it’s the World Trade Center Building Seven (wtc -7) to which we turn today, as we hover around the fifth anniversary of the death of “The Old Normal.”

Building Seven, how noble she stands: 47 storeys reaching for the sky, somewhat shy of the Woolworth building at 60 stories, and less than half the height of its proud cousins the World Trade Center Towers One and Two, but tall enough. Okay, she actually kind of blends into the background of lower Manhattan a bit. Actually, you’d miss her in a blink of an eye.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Look over there, at the tenant list by the elevator:

the United States Secret Service,
the Department of Defense,
the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),
the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management,
the Internal Revenue Service Regional Council (IRS),
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Ooh, kind of spooky, ne-c’est pas? All those secret organizations, all of them, just waiting to be collapsed into a pit tomorrow afternoon. Hope there’s nothing too important stored there.

Talk about yer “blink of an eye.”

Oh, there are other tenants, but these are the notables. Actually, the famous U.S. coin, the 1933 Double Eagle, was here, in the U.S. Secret Service vaults: a symbol of the republic, and the world’s most valuable coin (sold at auction for $U.S. 7.59 million). On Sept. 10 2001 though, it’s been gone for a few weeks, transfered to Fort Knox back in July.

Wouldn’t want that lying around when the boom drops, now would we?

The boom. The big boom. The boom-diddy-boom.

Building Seven, your days are numbered.

See, Building Seven is to drop into the earth on Sept. 11, 2001. Oh, no one will die from the collapse. The building is dropped in what most experts say is a controlled demolition. It’s acknowledged that it will fall, and the building has been cleared of inhabitants well ahead of time. It’s not until 5:00 p.m. that building owner Silverstein tells the fire dept. it’s time to “pull it.”

About 20 minutes later, squibs of smoke are seen puffing from the upper stories and within seconds the entire steel building drops straight downwards into its own foundation pit.

Steel pulled from the wreckage days later glows red: it is molten from the heat of the explosions that leveled Building Seven.

Most experts? Okay, that’s an overstatement. Actually, the 9/ll Commission makes no mention of the building, one of three to collapse that day (the other two being, of course, the Twin Towers, which, after all, were struck by jet planes whose fuel burns at a temperature of 1700°F. That’s hot. Oh, yes, that’s hot all right. Water, in fact, boils at 212°F, so that’s lots hotter than water boiling. Steel? Well, yes, steel melts too. Everything has a point at which it burns or melts. Steel melts at 2800°F. Hmm, yes, that’s right: 1,100 degrees greater than the temperature of burning aviation fuel. You got a problem with that? What are you, some kind of conspiracy nut?).

Actually, a feature in New York magazine a few months back described the varying degrees of acceptance most people have of the “Official story” of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The fact is, most folks have some spidey sense tingling at the back of their neck about the likelihood that something is wrong with the picture. And while it’s true, we all saw the plane hit the building, no plane hit Building Seven. Building seven had fires on the 12th floor. If Building Seven came down the way it did (in a replica of the famous demolition of St Louis’s Pruitt Igoe housing project) from just the heat of flames here and there, it would be the first time, ever, for a steel-framed tower of that type. It would sure make it easier to demolish buildings, when the time comes. Just set a fire on the 12th floor and let it burn for seven hours or so. Then–stand back!

Cheaper than explosives.

Oh and here’s a coincidence, for those of you who like a conspiracy. Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Centre’s twin towers, also designed Pruitt Igoe.

Why’s it worth asking, though? So what if Building Seven was demolished on purpose, by explosive charges laid ahead of time? What does that have to do with anything? What on earth does it have to do with car advertising?

The answer is the usual: “everything, and nothing.” First of all, obviously, if you start to doubt the official version of the collapse of Building Seven, you have to give creedence to the doubters of the official version of the collapse of the twin towers. Maybe you’ll look again at the videos of the collapsing WTC towers and see, with the conspiracy nuts, the “squibs” of smoke that indicate explosive charges, shooting out from the building walls on the floors just below the leading edge of the dropping building.

And if you can doubt that now-central myth at the heart of the New Normal, you can doubt anything. You can even begin to wonder, with the Allderblob, about the gospel of the car ad.

And when you get there, America, you’re in real trouble.

Gospel of the car ad: fight congestion by building roads

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Hearts were a-twitter last week as the Ontaro government released exciting new plans. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail

The Ontario government said yesterday it would spend $3.4-billion over five years to build or repair nearly 1,730 kilometres of highway and 264 bridges to ease growing traffic congestion in southern Ontario.

The story, “Ontario plans major highway upgrades” by Karen Howlett, also described how the gov’t plans to paste new High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes alongside some of the existing highways.

Noteworthy for its absence from this list was highway 401.

Who or what is highway 401? Well, you may know it as the MacDonald-Cartier freeway, linking Windsor Ontario with Quebec City. To Toronto taxidrivers, it’s the “flyover.” According to our friends at Wikipedia,

The 401 is widely considered to be North America’s busiest highway, with an estimated Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) of over 425,000 in 2004, between the Weston Road and Highway 400 interchanges in Toronto. This surpasses the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles, and several Interstate freeways in Houston, Texas. Due to its triple use as the main trade, commuting and recreational corridor in Ontario, 24-hour traffic volumes can exceed the 500,000 level on some days. The just-in-time inventory systems of the highly integrated auto industry in Michigan and Ontario have made the highway the busiest truck route in North America. Highway 401 also includes the continent’s busiest multi-structure bridge at Hogg’s Hollow in Toronto (four structures for the highway’s four roadway beds).

According to the Globe story, the 401 isn’t wide enough for HOV lanes. Not wide enough? Look again at the Wikipedia description:

Today the stretch of Highway 401 that passes through the Greater Toronto Area ranges from 6 to 18 lanes, and the stretch between Highway 403 and Brock Road in Pickering is thought to be the world’s longest continuous stretch of highway having 10 or more lanes.

(Hat tip to Martino).

As our fellow ARCista Rick put it: “What are they smoking?” (He says he was channeling Kunstler with that one).

Okay, Ontario’s on the bandwagon for building highways. Yawn. Guess what? We’re in North America. What are we supposed to build? Bikelanes? Car-free communities? Get real. Maybe it would be more appropriate to ask, what is Rick smoking?

Now we love cars as much as the next jacob. So we’re confused by the story that accompanied the exciting news of Ontario’s highway construction.

Same paper, same day, same author, same page: this story, which enthused: “Ontario releases plan to contain urban sprawl, save farmland.”

According to it,

The Ontario government’s vision for taming urban sprawl in the greater Golden Horseshoe is made up of “complete communities” where people could live, work and shop without ever having to get in their car.

Huh? Howzzat?

To protect farmland, 40 per cent of all new growth must be contained within existing built-up areas by 2015, and regions must transform themselves into “compact communities” where residents can walk or ride bicycles to work. These communities would be served by public transit

Garsh, we don’t know about you, but we’re confused. What’s on the table, Ontario? On the one hand you got roads and more roads, on the other hand you got a magnificent plan to curb what the roads doth bring: sprawl.

The viper-like pen of our resident urban designer, Jacob Allderdice, was fortunately at the ready. A “Letter to the Editor” sprang forth, with the usual fangs.

And was accepted for publication, much to our surprise. Complete with a photo (of a car-clogged highway, not us, silly).

An op-ed in the New York Times it aint, but it’s still a letter to the editor in “Canada’s newspaper of record” and for that we’re proud:

Roads and land


Toronto — Re Ontario Plans Major Highway Upgrades (June 17) and Ontario Releases Plan To Contain Urban Sprawl, Save Farmland (June 17): According to these stories, Ontario badly needs a psychiatrist.

On one hand, we have a government building or expanding highways, a proven recipe for increased automobile use and creating more urban sprawl. On the other hand, the government claims to be acting to contain urban sprawl and save farmland. Which one is it? Because it can’t be both.

A government that wanted to contain sprawl would be decreasing, not increasing, the amount of paved land. Money for transportation infrastructure would be directed to improved passenger rail service and getting more freight into trains. Road-building plans that try to reduce car dependency by adding high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes to proposed new construction suffer a fundamental flaw in logic: the new road construction itself.

And when the authorities say that no HOV lanes can be added to the 401 because it’s not wide enough, how do they keep from blushing? Isn’t the idea of HOV lanes to reduce the number of automobiles and thereby the number of lanes required? You’d think an elementary calculation would tell you that the narrower the roadway, the more suited it is to HOV lanes.

Putting HOV lanes on the 401 would decrease congestion there as well as wherever its off ramps lead. Jane Jacobs was right about traffic engineers: Theirs is a pseudo-science. Their roads lead to darkness.

A second, even more brilliant letter on the subject of roads and sprawl followed ours that day, and we paste it below, for the record. Its subject is one dear to our hearts, the property tax theories of Henry George.

Take it away, Dave Wetzel:

Roads and land


vice-chair, Transport for London

England — If the Ontario government really wants to contain urban sprawl “by encouraging new growth within existing built-up areas” (Ontario Releases Plan To Contain Urban Sprawl, Save Farmland) then it should examine the example of Harrisburg, Pa., where an annual land-value tax, called the Two-Tier Tax, has been adopted.

The consequence has been an 85-per-cent reduction of empty sites and buildings, with whole areas of Harrisburg that were previously blighted now revitalized with the building and refurbishment of affordable business premises and homes.

The resultant inward investment has increased the number of firms paying taxes to the city from 1,900 to 9,000 and led to a dramatic drop in unemployment and crime.

The lesson is obvious. To contain urban sprawl and create prosperous communities, tax location value, which is created by all of us, and do not tax buildings, wages, trade and enterprise.

McGran’s Highway’s from Hell, but not ours

Monday, May 15th, 2006

The Toronto Star’s main headline reads today: “Your highways from hell.”

Good, we’re thinking, at last the Star gets it. Highways from hell, highways to hell, highways are hell. Time to rip them all out and start again with something saner: railways for the long distances, folding bikes for the critical linkages, jitneys and taxis for the absolutely unavoidable drive that befalls us.

After all, the story’s by Kevin McGran. McGran gets it, right? He heralded the news that cars kill four times more people in Toronto than guns do, back in January when the fashionable talk was of the city’s rash of gun homicides.

We read on, eager to see how McGran will phrase our call.

Improvements of Greater Toronto roads move at snail’s pace
For the cottage-bound, this summer brings more of the same

So goes the subhead.

Good, good, we’re thinking. Tell it like it is, brother. Let them hear the difficulties and dangers facing cyclists who try to cross the girdle of car-dependent sprawl that marks the middle distance on any trip out of town.

It begins in four days. The season’s first long weekend, the slow journey to escape the GTA. And motorists will find the highways are in no better shape to handle the traffic than they were a year ago, or two years ago, or even 10 years ago.

Ready, set, slow.

Only now Queen’s Park is waking up to the notion that maybe Greater Toronto needs better links to the rest of the province.

Yeah, we’re thinking. You nailed it. Better links. Now get to the good stuff. The solutions. The new railway links and reopening of depots in towns north of Toronto. The critical call for “complete streets” throughout Ontario. The government-funded free bicycle program for all towns in the cottage country region. Get to it, man, don’t hold back!

But then something goes sour. McGran starts listing the highway rebuilding projects of the provincial government, and bemoans–BEMOANS– their “inability to keep up with traffic demands.”

And when we turn to page A6 to continue the story, and see our old friend Faye Lyons being sought for “expertise,” the wind falls dead in our sails.

Faye Lyons? You know her. Well, you know the organization she lobbies for [the one Gord Perks helps fund –ed]: the Canadian Automobile Association. The ones who’ve never seen a road proposal they didn’t like [as long as motorists don’t have to pay for using it –ed.]. The ones with plans for an elevated highway in Lake Ontario to bypass the “congestion” of Toronto. The heroes of Jacob Richler’s wettest dreams. The ones for whom we coined the term “ROT,” or “Roads Out of Town,” because their vision for a successful city is Detroit, Michigan. The ones for whom the “hell” of McGran’s headline (“Highways from hell) is the city itself, with all its diversity, freedom of movement, and delightful congestion that says “wait a minute, slow down, get out and really enjoy this place.”


“Whether people are heading out of the city or staying in the city, congestion on long weekends is a problem,” says Faye Lyons, the CAA’s government relations specialist. “The existing road network is not sustainable and is not capable of supporting projected growth.

“We need investment and improvement to Ontario’s road network.”

And so it goes. Downhill from there. And we don’t mean that in a good way.

Turns out McGran is a blank-eyed convert to the Gospel of the Car Ad after all, the one that says “More roads will fix existing congestion.”

It’s as if he’s never heard Blobby’s Law: “Cars rush in to fill the space available to them.” He doesn’t know the saw that says “building roads to fix congestion is like getting a bigger belt to fix obesity.” Can it be possible?

And it gets worse. It turns out it’s McGran himself who McGran is looking out for in this story. In the accompanying piece, he describes his weekend trip to his cottage, and how miserable he is on the existing highways. How is it an editor would let such a self-serving screed into print?

Oh yeah. It’s the Toronto Star, after all, and don’t forget whose porn graces the centrefold.

McGran thinks building highways will make his weekend trip north easier and faster. But he’s been duped.

If McGran wants to lighten his cottage country commute in fact, he’d do better to take a leaf from the books of New York City, San Francisco or Portland: cities where the removal of a highway, whether by design or accident, improved travel times and lowered blood pressure for motorists and local residents alike.

In fact, he doesn’t have to look that far afield. He has an example right here in Toronto, where the “Gardiner stump,” the eastern terminus of the city’s hated elevated highway, was torn down in 2000. Replaced with a landscaped boulevard at grade, improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and normalized intersections with local streets, the road today performs better than ever.

It takes vision and courage to look beyond one’s own petty needs of the moment. McGran, whose purview at the Star is for all “transportation,” needs reprogramming. He needs the Gospel of the Car Ad drummed out of him. He needs to review Blobby’s Law.

McGran ends with a telling quote:

Cottager Gibson says people will find ways to cope [with “brutal” cottage-bound traffic].

“Everyone kind of works it out. They find that zone,” she says. “But as soon as you have your beer at the end of the dock on a Friday evening, you forget about the all the time you just spent in the car.”

“Beer on the dock” sounds good. We understand what it is that drives people to the cottage: similar to what drives them to drink, perhaps. It’s a form of solace for the penance of everyday life. We understand that people are addicted to cars, and it’s a sick dependency, not a pleasurable one. McGran nails it with this quote. In a choice between two lethal dependencies, “alcohol” equals freedom, “car” equals defeat.

See, what we want is to have a beer on the train, as we pull out of town. Maybe two. Why not? We’re not driving. We might have another one on the dock, but it won’t be because we need it, thanks.

Gospel of the car ad: “Going Shopping? Get a Car”

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Okay, the eye-popping reality first: nobody needs a car to go shopping.

Oh, people may say they need cars. They may think they need cars.

People who run the zoning department think people need cars. People who run the stores seem to think people need cars. Toronto Councillor A-damn Giambrone, the “cyclist’s friend,” (he chairs the city’s cycling committee) is working to ensure there’s ever more parking along Bloor Street, above the subway line (thanks to Martino’s Bikelane diary for the tip).

But the fact is, in the case of “main street” stores the parking space out front is taken, nine times out of ten, by the owner of the store.

At the mall, folks may be willing to run over grannies in walkers to get the place by the entrance, but when that place isn’t available they willingly walk, sometimes for miles, from the car to the store (and to the next store, and the next). And then they walk, sometimes for miles, sometimes carting a back-seat-full of truck, back again to the parking spot. Where the hell did they park, anyway?

No, no one uses their car to shop, strictly speaking.

Strictly speaking, the only thing people do with cars is park them.

Now, if you want to talk about a street with great transit; somewhere like Toronto’s Spadina Ave or the Danforth, it’s the wise shopper who eschews the problem of driving, parking, paying for driving and parking, walking the round trip from parking space to store and back; it’s the wise shopper who jumps out of the streetcar in front of the restaurant they’re meeting a friend for lunch, walks a block to the housewares store where they buy the table napkins, crosses the street to the liquor store for the nice bottle of wine, hops back on the streetcar for a ride down the road where they can get art supplies, and then (let’s say) back on the streetcar (two miles from that first restaurant) for the ride home, purchases neatly tucked under the seat. Nice time for a snooze.

You can’t do that in a Volvo. You’d crash.

In your Subaru (after trudging back to it) you’re cursing because you misread the sign and you’ve got a $30 parking ticket or worse, your damn car’s been towed.

In your red Cherokee pickup you’ve lost your sideview mirror somehow, (it’s dangling from the wires that control the tilt and yaw), and the car in front’s parked so closely you have to wait for the person to come back in order to get out. You wait 43 minutes exactly. You have to put more money in the meter.

In your Mercedes, when you hike all the way back up the road carrying the crap you’ve bought, your sweat-soaked back sticks to the leather seats and you get a chill that lasts two weeks to the day.

Hey but folks who don’t own cars don’t need to be told about sweat.

Folks who ride bikes, for example, have vented underarms in their windbreakers. They strap the purchases on the back rack, and ride from one ring-post to the other, to get their shopping done. Do they sweat? Yeah, but then they stop at a great restaurant and have a big, delicious meal. People who ride bikes everywhere can spend their gym fees eating out instead, and their sweat smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

At the grocery store they fill up a shopping cart with $124.32 worth of groceries, enough for almost the whole month if they stretch it right, and for an additional $3.50 the store delivers it. It’s on the front porch when they get home.

Who uses a car for shopping? Losers.

While it’s generally acknowledged among cycling advocates, pedestrian advocates, and transit mavens that a car is extraneous to a satisfying consumer existence, what’s less well-known is that car-dependent types generally eschew the car for shopping as well.

It’s time to remind store owners and managers of the facts.

Next time you go shopping, tell someone you took the subway. Let them see your bike helmet. Ask them to call a cab for you. Tell them you don’t need a parking chit: what have they got for you instead?

And when you hear about the proposed bike lane on Bloor/Danforth, the Tooker Memorial Bike Lane, don’t worry about the parking.

People know where they can park their cars, after all.

Gospel of the Car Ad: “Got Kids? Need Car.”

Monday, October 24th, 2005

Today’s Toronto Star presented a lovingly written first person account, by one Gideon Forman, of his experience bringing up children in Toronto. Here’s the kicker: The guy doesn’t even own a car.

I don’t have a car. I don’t even know how to drive. Nearly every day, I thank God for this situation.

Is this messed up or what?

Actually, it’s not so unusual. Fact is, over half of the households in the core of Toronto are “without access to a car” (in the parlance of the statistical types who compile this sort of info). This proportion is even higher in cities like New York, where density and public transit is that much greater. And the proportion of carfree households grows by leaps and bounds when you leave North America.

Households with cars are an aberation.

Contrary to the Gospel of the Car Ad, The car is not necessary to having a family.

Forman’s story is pretty compelling. On the one hand, he writes about his two children, ages 11 and 8, and his journeys with them, on foot and by public transit, to points near and far across Toronto. On these trips he is able to hold conversations and hands with them, touching their lives in a way someone driving a car is never able to.

When we go walking, we hold hands. I enjoy the warmth and pressure of their fingers pressing my knuckles.

On the other hand, Forman writes with wry sadness about his own upbringing, in New York City, where his father would drive him and his sister everywhere:

When I was a child in father’s car, the search for parking was an activity in itself, a ritual, a category. I remember times we drove downtown intending to visit the Museum of Modern Art. We circled the block repeatedly seeking a spot. We drove a few blocks afield east. We drove a few west. And then we turned around and headed home. There was no place to put the station wagon.

Forman is doing his kids a huge favour in walking them to their varied destinations, and in a way he hasn’t written about here.

According to the philosopher and educator Rudolph Steiner, children absorb knowledge from their surroundings in a specific pattern, one that contributes to the development of their will.

Steiner encouraged parents to model behaviour that shows how one’s actions in the world produce results: sweeping the floor clean is such an action, while plugging in a vacuum cleaner is not. Singing or telling a story is such an action, while turning on the television or the radio is not.

Similarly, we hold that walking or bicycling with one’s child is such an action, while pushing the accelerator pedal is not.

Forman’s article, with its simultaneous air of wistfulness and pleasure, mirrors our own experience. Where he regrets his father using the car as an excuse to not connect, we remember with pleasure our own father bumping us over sidewalk curbs as we sat in the childseat on his bicycle while he rode us to school.

We hope Forman has good memories of his childhood to balance the wistful ones, and we congratulate him on making choices to ensure his own kids’ memories will include much that shows love and commitment.

Gospel of the car ad–part three in a series

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

We sat in traffic in an automobile more than we like these past few weeks.

Zoom Zoom? Nah. More like creep, creep.

Fact is, we rented a car and drove from Toronto to St Jerome, Quebec, with our steeds enracked. There we cycled along something called the “petit train du nord” trail, along with a few dozen others. It’s a 200 km-long former railbed, paved for some 90 km of its length, fine gravel for the rest, that twists along forested hillsides, river valleys and lakefronts between the villages and towns of the Laurentian mountains.

The bicycle tour was a beautiful experience. We averaged some 18 km per hour for the entire four days of travel, but our travel was blissful and satisfying. We pulled over to photograph the wilderness, eat, or rest as we pleased. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but neither did we see much roadkill: a sqashed toad at one place, and one dead mouse somewhere else. The mouse wasn’t squashed; we suspect it was dropped by a lazy owl.

The experience of wheeling down the occasional incline got us musing on what it is to zoom. The ease with which we passed or were overtaken by other cyclists in turn contrasted with the creepy reality of driving a car.

We drove to St Jerome and back along the 400-series roads of Ontario, where speeds average 110 km per hour across all four-to-eight lanes of divided highway.

Zooming, right? Wrong.

There on the highway, which we shared with a good ten roadkill victims per hour including a young stag, many raccoons, at least two martens or minks, a cat and a couple skunks, one’s experience of “zooming” is dulled to a clattering sound of rubber wheel on broken pavement. You can tell you are “zooming” from the dull roar of air sucking at your vehicle. The taillights of the cars ahead, sticky and wet. The sun reflecting shrill in your eyes. Time…creeping…by as you tick off the clicks toward your destination.

We returned to find this reminder in our inbox, from a friend in the international bicycle conspiracy. He quoted Jan Lundberg’s Culture Change blob:

The average North American motorist is only driving 5 MPH (five miles per hour) based on the total time required to be in, support and maintain the car. Therefore, the roughly one hundred million cars in the U.S. are simply revving the urban machine in an illusion of speed. If people abandoned this illusion and started quietly walking the 5 MPH instead, or bicycling at 20 MPH, improving their health and awareness, they would be most of the way along to realistically remaking their lives and extricating themselves from the maw of the machine.

The Lundberg quote, of course, is derived from Illich’s great philosophical exposition, On Energy and Equity. Written in 1973 [egad, the dark ages! –ed.], it explains:

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.

It got us putting two and two together. There we were, at 100 km per hour, always in danger of butting bumpers with a car just ahead. We could speed up and pass someone, but there were others ahead of them and we would creep up on them too. If we slowed, others creeped up behind us. It was a slow dance of high stress belly scraping, roaring along in our man-made cyclone inches above hard reality. It was brutal. It was filled with just-checked violence, or not, as the occasional crash and as the roadkill illustrated.

It was creepy.

We traveled at speed with the cars around us, but in reality we slouched along, like the cars in gridlock fleeing Katrina. We averaged a mile a minute, but the time it took to earn the money to rent the car brought that pace down to less than tourist speed on a bicycle.

Our griping about gasoline prices, meanwhile, only hides a deeper, more fundamental crisis: a moral and political one.

Kunstler writes at the end of a particularly fired-up screed on the state of affairs in the U.S. today:

Meanwhile, does anybody remember a place called Iraq? A bomb that killed thirty people was reported on page 12 of the Sunday New York Times. That’s how important Iraq has become. But, I guess, a nation can hardly pay attention to a bullet in the foot when it has a sucking chest wound.

What an image! It reminds us of what it’s like to be locked in traffic, creeping, apace with the cars in front and the cars behind, casting a wistful eye to the just-glimpsable sideroad where a cyclist zooms past like the wind.

A Confederacy of Dunces

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

A hurricane, feeding off the 30-degree Celsius water of the Gulf of Mexico, dropped in on New Orleans last week at near maximum strength. Some of you may have heard about it: they called it Hurricane Katrina. The force of the storm surge coupled with the high winds has resulted in a flooding of 80% of the city, with a million or more people displaced and homeless. The storm knocked out gas production in the gulf and destroyed the port facilities of New Orleans, where some 14% of the gasoline used in the U.S.A. (used to be) refined. The immediate effect was a 30% hike in the price of a liter of gas all across North America; the longer-term effects have yet to be seen.

We at the ALLDERBLOB have our own take on the miserable turn of events in the U.S.A. We watched the car-clogged highways (both north- and southbound lanes of all major interstates devoted to one purpose: “getting out of town”), before the storm hit. At the time, we asked ourselves is this really the way the system is supposed to work? After all, the Interstates were designed to allow the evacuation, in case of atomic bomb attack, of whole cities in the U.S.

We wonder how many drivers, sitting in true gridlock on the highway out of New Orleans that day, their engines idling to keep the A/C going, realized how the “gospel of the car ad,” the central lie about the “freedom and independence” a car gives us, was being revealed?

How many viewers of the TV footage from their homes across North America considered the meaning of images of car-clogged interstate highways lying at a stand-still? How many noticed that in an automobile-dependent society like that of the U.S. (and Canada), one’s access to mobility is increasingly class-driven, with poor people “left behind” in huge numbers when the call to evacuate comes?

How are they supposed to leave town? In the train they call the city of New Orleans, there were no trains. Bicycles? Even if people had bicycles, there is no infrastructure friendly to cyclists in much of the United States. You had to have a car to get out of town, and a significant proportion of New Orleans residents are too poor to own a car.

What we know about New Orleans has been filtered through one book, A Confederacy of Dunces.

In the late 1960s, a Louisiana writer named John Kennedy Toole constructed this labyrinthine symphony of a novel, exchanged pleasantries with an editor in New York on the subject of whether it was ready for publish (Toole believed it was; the editor, unfortunately, disagreed), drove to the nearby town of Biloxi, Mississippi, attached a hose to the tailpipe of his car, stuck it through the window, and breathed his last.

It was 1969. Toole was 32 years old. The suicide note he left was destroyed by his mother, with whom he had been living. As for the novel manuscript, it eventually found its way (via Toole’s mother) to the desk of Walker Percy, then head of Louisiana State University Press, who saw its greatness immediately, and saw that it was published. By now, it’s already 1980. The following year the novel won a Pulitzer prize for literature; it is still in print; it has sold more than 1.5 million copies (according to Wikipedia).

A Confederacy of Dunces is not just among the greatest, and funniest, novels ever written, it is an amazing portrait of a city and its people. Its cast of characters includes an enterprising but uneducated and poverty-stricken African-American, Burma Jones, whose aspiration to join the middle class (as represented in the advertisements [oh, finally, we get to the point –ed.] he reads in magazines) is palpable.

A sample of the book, from chapter two, follows:

“Look at that old gal,” Jones mused to his psyche as the bus bounced and threw him against the woman sitting beside him. “She think cause I color I gonna rape her. She about to throw her grammaw ass out the window. Whoa! I ain gonna rape nobody.”

He moved discreetly away from her, crossing his legs and wishing that he could smoke on the bus. He wondered who the fat cat in the green cap was who was suddenly all over town. Where would that fat mother show up next? There was something ghostly about that green-cap freak.

“Well, I gonna tell that po-lice I gainfully employ, keep him off my back, tell him I met up with a humanitaria payin me twenty dollar a week. He say, ‘That fine, boy. I’m glad to see you straighten out.’ And I say ‘Hey!’ and he say, ‘Now maybe you be becomin a member of the community.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I got me a nigger job and nigger pay. Now I really a member of the community. Now I real nigger. No vagran. Just nigger.’ Whoa! What kinda change you got?”

The old woman pulled the bell cord and got out of the seat, trying self-consciously to avoid any contact with the anatomy of Jones, who watched her writhing through the detachment of his green lenses.

“Look at that. She think I got siphlus and TB and a hard on and I gonna cut her up with a razor and lif her purse. Ooo-wee.”

The sunglasses watched the woman climb off the bus into a crowd standing at the bus stop. Somewhere in the rear of the crowd an altercation was going on. A man with a rolled-up newspaper in his hand was striking another man who had a long red beard and was wearing bermuda shorts. The man in the beard looked familiar. Jones felt uneasy. First there was the green-cap phantom and now this person he couldn’t identify.

Jones turned from the window when the man in the red beard ran off and opend the Life magazine that Darlene had given him. At least Darlene had been pleasant to him at the Night of Joy. Darlene subscribed to Life for purposes of self-improvement and, in giving it to Jones, had suggested that he might find it helpful, too. Jones tried to plow through an editorial about American involvement in the Far East but stopped midway, wondering how something like that could help Darlene become an exotic, the goal that she had referred to again and again. He turned back to the advertisements, for they were the things that interested him in magazines. The selection in this magazine was excellent. He liked the Aetna Life Insurance ad with the picture of the lovely home that a couple had just bought. The Yardley Shaving Lotion men looked cool and rich. That’s how the magazine could help him. He wanted to look just like those men.

In the end of the novel, it gives nothing away to say that Burma Jones redeems himself. His aspirations, summed up in a different passage as to have “a bobby-cue set, Buick, air condition, TV…” are soon to be met.

And so the novel takes a turn, from comic to tragic. And in the recent events in New Orleans, we see the Burma Joneses of our own age striving for, and attaining, the consumer goods denied them by circumstance. We refer, of course, to the “looters” (if they’re African-American) and “finders” (if they’re white) who wade the chest-deep waters in search of salvageable items.

Sadly, Hurricane Katrina has destroyed the New Orleans of A Confederacy of Dunces. A week or so ago the levees were breached in two places and the city, built below sea level, was inundated with water. The old city is likely never to return. By the time the levees are repaired and the water pumped from the 80% of the city that is now flooded (ironically, a bronze statue of A Confederacy of Dunces hero Ignatius J. Reilly, which was erected at the site of the former J.D. Holmes department store at 800 Iberville Street, is on high ground and still stands), months are likely to have passed. The foundations of vast stretches of the city will have been ruined by the effluent-laced water; entire blocks are likely to need razing.

In his online newspaper Carfree Times, Joel Crawford (something of a flood expert, it turns out), calls for the removal to higher ground of the entire city of New Orleans, saying it was a travesty for it to have been built there in the first place, and a heaping of good money after bad to keep building the levees higher against the rising Mississippi river delta and the higher sea level of a climate-changing world. “Unfortunately, as it now stands, the likely outcome of this tragedy will be to set the stage for the next one. This city will probably be rebuilt in its present location, where it will remain in harm’s way no matter what else may be done.”

Interestingly, Crawford doesn’t necessarily herald the tragedy as an opportunity to build a new car-free city, a city of canals and water-taxis, on the present site. This despite the fact that for him Venice is the sine qua non of sophisticated urban design, a model to which his own designs for car free cities all defer.

Our second touchstone of decency and good taste, James Howard Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation, has this to say on the subject of rebuilding New Orleans: “Much of the stuff just outside New Orleans, and along the Gulf Coast, was largely post-war suburban fabric — collector boulevards with their complements of fry pits, malls, muffler shops and subdivisions. We’d hope that the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will not undertake to rebuild them they way they were. The era of easy motoring is over now, and to rebuild suburban sprawl would be a double tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Jan Lundberg, on his Culture Change website, takes an even more pessimistic tack. The disaster in New Orleans, he writes, will possibly come to be seen as the pin that pricked the balloon of the petroleum-based economy once and for all. For Lundberg it isn’t a question of where or how to rebuild New Orleans; he puts forward the case that this is the trigger of what he calls “petrocollapse” and that no significant rebuilding will take place at all. He poses a key question, one that we have asked as well: “If this is the point in our history when one may say in the future in retrospect that Katrina touched off petrocollapse and the transition to sustainability, will our behavior start to show some collective intelligence before Katrina’s big sister — total petrocollapse and climate distortion to the max — visits us? ”

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.