Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Only a few of us remember cars

A few generations ago there were people who remembered transportation exclusively on foot or by horse. 

Some of them witnessed the transition from horse to automobile. 

And right now lives a sub-population who will be able to tell their children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, about a time when the U.S. had an interstate highway system  modeled after the German autobahn. 

That was back in the age of automobiles.

Their kids will listen incredulously as parents tell them that everyone drove cars, machines run on internal combustion engines and fueled by gasoline. "What's gasoline?" a young one may ask.

You see, big companies that had a lot of influence over governments, pumped stuff called petroleum out of the ground. Petroleum is the fossilized remnants of ancient plants, and other stuff. The problem was that when you burn such fossil fuels to release the stored-up energy, one resulting exhaust gas is carbon dioxide.

Yeah, everyone knew that carbon dioxide was transparent to sunlight but opaque to re-radiated heat. Yes, that was discovered way before us old folk were born. Sure, people knew that fossil fuel emissions would change the climate, but the oil companies convinced the government to transport food and all manner of goods in big trucks on our version of the Autobahn, which Germany built before World War II to rapidly move military assets around the country.

 Other countries developed advanced rail systems.

You know, Henry Ford built the first mass produced car. Well, yeah, he and Hitler got a long fine. But that's another story.

 Driving cars was a ball! No, everyone was  on the highway at the same time, staying between painted lines. Yeah, that was it.  Yes, of course cars crashed into each other and people got horribly maimed or killed.

Hundreds of thousands of people every year. It wasn't just Volkswagens, there were many brands of cars made all over the planet.

We didn't know any better.

No, wait. We did. We just needed our space and independence. Yeah, that's all. The spirit of young individualist pioneers. Yeoman farmers. That kinda thing. I don't really remember.

Yes! One person to a car, usually. Using a steering wheel.  No computerized  radio control cables in the road, no. 

 People would drive around drunk and crash into other cars, and people would talk on cell phones and even try to text each other. It was insane.

After cities were redesigned into places people wanted to live in, not escape from, and work was only a few blocks away, that all changed.  That's why we live in Bridgeport, and it's so nice.  Old Bridgeport was pretty horrible. You wouldn't have liked it.

It took a while, but people got used to buses, and computer controlled vehicles programmed not to collide. And trains. And bicycles! You wouldn't believe how fat people used to be. 

Yeah, I think it's much better now.  There were a few decades where people were using fuel cells, wind mills, and other things to generate electricity, before the answer became so obvious. It's been like through out history. Once someone does it, it doesn't seem obvious anymore.

Okay. Time for bed. 

You know, I may have to get a new pair of legs. These are beginning to kill me.

What has this country come to? I mean, really?

Creating and building your own private business is good experience for lowering the horrendous unemployment rate in Connecticut, right?

That's what candidates who have started their own businesses say. But it's not true.

One caveat that few seem to have checked, is what businesses are the candidates referring to? What does Ned Lamont do? What did Linda McMahon do? She is married to Vince McMahon, the steroid tycoon who converted regional "wresting" into a national company.

Her campaign contends that she created "500 jobs" in Connecticut. Doing what? Writing scripts? Wrestling as independent contractors? Five hundred jobs, whatever they are, does not seem to have revived Connecticut.

McMahon et al, who are running on their supposed business acumen, do not understand one simple matter. Operating a state is not like being the executive of a company.

For openers, entrepreneurs seek to fill a consumer niche. Turns out a lot of adolescent types wanted to watch bulked up men gymnastically throw, hit, and jump on each other. That's why the WWE is successful.

A show about, oh, rebinding old books,  or rock collecting, would not be a ratings smash.

Neither would feeding  and sheltering the poor, providing them with medical care, or  negotiating budgets. That is why government exists -- because it is the agency of last resort. Government does not need to make a profit. It gets its money from taxes.

Solving these kinds of problems is extremely difficult and requires a politician (from the Latin word for "government").  Here are some good politicians: Thomas Jefferson, Lyndon Johnson, FDR, and Winston Churchill.

Ronald Reagan and cronies made "politician" and "politics" into dirty words. This was part of the whole "starve the beast" decade of wealth distribution to the wealthiest, and the devil take the hindmost.  If you're poor or unemployed, in this laissez-faire system, it is because you are inferior, unmotivated, and a malingerer. Or your ancestors were slaves kidnapped from Africa, and we all know, or we thought we did, that some "races" are superior to others.

At any rate, being able to sell ice cream in the desert is not the same as being able to sell a budget in Hartford. Or to negotiate. Or to convince people that paying taxes is morally superior to letting your neighbor starve, or sicken and die, in country full of food and doctors.

Ability to turn a profit does not make one a good governor or senator. Of course, it is possible to do both.

What does Ned Lamont do? He inherited a fortune, had a go at Cablevision and is founder and president of Lamont Digital Systems, which apparently wires up colleges with high-tech communications gizmos. He supposedly makes at least $500,000 a year.

What does Linda McMahon do?

 Who cares?