Archive for June, 2010

Small Cars are the New Big Dicks!

It’s easy to look at the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and shake a metaphorical fist at the greedy owners and shareholders of BP, whose need for higher profits in the shortest possible time frame is to blame for the shoddy work that led to failures in the pumping operation. One can quibble about which part of the drilling device failed or which company is to blame — Halliburton’s concrete, Transocean’s blowout preventer, BP’s corner-cutting. But blaming any corporation for the gulf disaster is like blaming your parents for the fact, that in middle age, you still can’t get your life together. At some point, we all have to take personal responsibility. Or, more succinctly, it’s the cars, stupid!

It’s not BP’s fault that Americans have squandered the lessons of the three-decades-old oil shortages of the 1970s. It’s not BP’s fault that we as a nation went from producing and purchasing smaller cars for a brief period of time, to buying larger and larger vehicles as if dinosaurs were still dying every day and bleeding barrels of oil into our Ford Excursion’s 44-gallon gas tank. It’s not BP’s fault that it took the Japanese to introduce hybrid cars while our failing auto manufacturers were lobbying Congress to keep CAFE standards low so that they wouldn’t have to retool their factories. It’s not BP’s fault that somehow, after all these years, we stupidly still equate big cars with big dicks.

If big dicks are synonymous with small brains, then the dick-car equation is probably true. But the time is long past for letting those with small thoughts call the shots, because we are all suffering now. Like the great flood of the bible that wiped out the non-righteous, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a symbol that we need to examine as a parable for our current lives.  When we make decisions based on our selfish, personal needs and don’t take the welfare of the rest of the world into consideration, we sow the seeds of larger disasters. What we need now is to realize that we are all just tiny parts of the organism that is the earth. Each decision we make determines the future course of that organism. A John Lennon put it, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Goo goo ga joob.

Maybe you understand all of this and want to make better decisions. You no longer want to be a cancer invading the organism; you want to be an antibody. You use canvas shopping bags. You eat organic foods. You don’t buy air fresheners that require electricity to fill your rooms with chemically derived nature scents. You even want a new car, but frankly, you can’t find one that drives well, looks good and saves gas.

For decades the auto manufacturers have been making Americans choose between the things that look good and the things are good. Let’s face it, it’s not just the carmakers, it’s true of all retailers. To get the nice-looking, status items as a decent price we’re always being asked to fund near slave-labor, environmental degradation or something else that isn’t wholesome — and I mean wholesome in the Merriam-Webster sense meaning: promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit. The only really attractive small car to be developed during the last decade is the re-vamped Mini-Cooper. The few available hybrids were designed to look like rolling freak flags, which has a certain appeal, but will never pull in the car-as-cock crowd. It’s a dilemma.

There are a few things that we can do to tackle this problem right now. The first is that, no matter how they look, whether or not they can get from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, or are named after a stud horse, we have to choose small cars. And I don’t mean smaller cars; I mean the smallest cars we can find that will allow us to get our families and ourselves from point A to point B. The money we save in gas — which, by the way is going to skyrocket the closer the straw gets to the bottom of the glass — will allow us to pay the Home Depot truck to deliver bulky items. We don’t all need to drive mini-mansions on wheels because we occasionally buy lumber or transport boxes from IKEA. There are alternatives.

Second, we need to begin to lobby the automakers to give us the cars we want. If Americans can put a rocket on the moon, blah, blah, blah, then certainly modern industrialists can figure out how to make lovely, gas efficient cars. They could have done it three decades ago, but there was no will to do so. Look, we bailed out GM. They owe us. Tell them we don’t want their 20-MPG Buick LaCrosses, we want more things like the 30-MPG Chevy Aveo — and that’s not even good enough. We want an Aveo, but we want it to look and handle like a Camaro with an average of 40 miles per gallon. Plus, we want every car to be a hybrid, and not just the Escalade that still only gets 20 MPG. In fact, we don’t want any SUVs. Those cars should only be for people who live on farms or have to keep tools for their plumbing business in the back. Tell GM to stop making big cars almost entirely if they don’t want to go bankrupt again.

Don’t just pick on GM. They have sucked for a long time and their inability to build reliable cars lost them business to the Japanese, who could and did. They have made shortsighted blunder after blunder, but they’re not the only ones. Ford didn’t need a bailout, but they built that inexcusable gas-guzzling SUV, the Excursion. And, if the best thing they can think of is to bring back the Mustang, at least make that a hybrid. Tell them! We’ve relied on Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda to innovate. We appreciate the gas-efficiency and superior engineering. But they can step it up, too. How about a good-looking hybrid from the Japanese? How about it? The Germans also build attractive, reliable cars, but they’re still stuck on performance. Kilometerleistung, nicht performace! They made the Volkswagen Bug, they invented farfegnugen and they can do this.

Last, we have to begin teaching kids that big is not better. When the government and the people put their will to it, children get the right messages. Nancy Reagan told kids to say no to drugs. Michelle Obama is telling them to get off their obese butts and exercise. They learned to reject smoking and to care about recycling. Now they need to learn that big cars do not mean big dicks. Big cars do not mean success. Big cars mean oil-coated pelicans, dolphins and really greasy popcorn shrimp. If the kids get the message, we know they will nag their parents for the next decade. More importantly, when they become adults — or hit driving age — they won’t want an SUV. They will think an SUV is an animal-killing, ozone-destroying, uncool way to get around. They will be right.

The problems we face on the globe are complex. There is no one solution. Obviously, it would be better, in many respects, to take public transportation rather than having everyone drive their own vehicle — no matter how fuel efficient. But, we’re not there yet and if you begin to look at all the difficulties humans face at this crossroads, you will become overwhelmed and paralyzed. Choose to change what is close-at-hand. Make new decisions. Ask the government and corporations — who want you to consume stuff — to give you the things you really want.

Remember, the decisions you make today really are a matter of life or death. They were thirty years ago, too, but we put them off — like we put off exercise or quitting self-destructive vices. But it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about me and your friend’s children and the pelicans. Start the change somewhere, but start, because there’s a flood coming and we all have to start building an arc to the future. Small cars are the new big dicks!

You are the walrus. Goo goo ga joob.

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Face-cation

Perhaps it was a little perverse to deactivate my Facebook account two days before my birthday. After all, I deprived my 200 “friends” of sending me digital pictures of balloons, cakes and one sentence glad tidings. I also deprived myself of spending the day in the company of a digital device, repeatedly checking to see who was sending me the aforementioned greetings — and conversely wondering why others were not.

Don’t they like me? Don’t they look at upcoming events? Wait, I’ll meet you in a minute, I just have to check my wall again.

Instead, I spent the day in a national park, scaling a mountain. I had no cell phone reception for two days. I had access to email, but didn’t read it. It was the nicest time I’d had in months. In the parlance of television, it was like the episode of The Simpsons in which the “Itchy and Scratchy” show becomes so boring that all the kids in Springfield turn off their TVs and go outside to play in the sun.

There are many reasons to log off of Facebook. While I have spent many pleasurable hours perusing photos of friends and feeling a detached sense of connection with the many acquaintances I’ve gathered throughout my life, I’ve also felt a growing dismay at how much time it takes to keep up with the flotsam of other people’s lives and random thoughts. If I had a dollar for every hour I’d spent reading about what others ate for lunch, how their dental appointment went or what their cats vomited on the rug that day, I would have, let’s just say, a lot of dollars.

Lately, people have been complaining about Facebook’s lack of privacy. But, let’s face it, the minute you interact with any website, your privacy is compromised. If you don’t want anyone to know what’s going on in your life, don’t go online. I’d already stopped posting anything but the most blatant self-promotional items anyway. No, this abandonment of social networking wasn’t due to privacy concerns.

It came about as a result of watching how one of the most successful people I know leads her life. She spends her days working, attending classes and calling or getting together with her flesh-and-blood network of friends. She does not have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account. She barely answers emails unless they are vital. In short, she does not live life in front of an illuminated screen. Studying her, it occurred to me that I might be doing something better with my time. Like writing a book, watching a sunset or even looking for work. And didn’t I used to have hobbies?

I began to feel about Facebook the way I felt about being an arts critic. I’ve spent a good deal of my life reviewing movies, books and music. It seemed like an honorable tradition when I began, until the day it occurred to me that I didn’t want to dedicate myself to reviewing other people’s art — I wanted to make art. Similarly, I am relinquishing the pleasures of watching the lives of others — at least, the edited version they want me to see — in order to live my own.

The friend with whom I spent my birthday suggested that I should blog about the experience of leaving my Facebook family. I guffawed at the idea that we’d come to a point in society that the mere act of quitting one form of contrived social interaction was news — and possibly a means to commerce.

According to Technorati, the blog tracker, about 175,000 new weblogs are created each day and many of those blogs are started with the express intention of making money. “Do what you love and the money will follow,” one self-help tome from the 1980s told us. So, if what you love is your collection of Victorian buttonhooks, or tracking chem trails, the idea is that you can just start writing about it and the users and advertisers will flock to you. Using that logic, writing day-in and day-out about the hardships of withdrawing from something as ubiquitous as Facebook should yield a bumper crop of attention and revenue.

Still, what would one say about it? I could 12-Step it. I admitted I was powerless over Facebook and my life had become unmanageable.

I could talk about the withdrawal. What are people eating for dinner? How are they doing in Mafia Wars?

I could brag about how I’m going to the beach or learning to cook gourmet meals instead of reading about other people doing those things and posting the photos to prove it.

In the end, isn’t this kind of blogging just trading one version of blather for another — one version of virtual living for another? Furthermore, how does this get me off the computer?

The reality is, I miss the events feature of Facebook. I like knowing what’s happening and where to go to see art or attend a festival. Facebook has become the single best source of free advertising for those who previously could not afford publicity. But, that’s about all I miss.

When I retuned to civilization after my birthday trip, I listened to some phone greetings, read a few congratulatory emails and texts and even opened a couple of cards that came in the mail. Almost everyone I would have liked to hear from contacted me in the numerous ways still available. Almost everyone. (Don’t they like me?)

Am I going to keep a continuous blog about what it’s like to take back a measure of psychic freedom? I doubt it. Will I reactivate my Facebook account one day? Maybe.

Right now, I’m going outside to join the kids playing in the sun. See you later.


bookcat

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