Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Get out of your damn car!

Yeah, you heard me. Turn off the ignition and get out of your car. And stop rolling your eyes, I'm getting sick and tired of the "this guy must be crazy" look that people keep flashing me when I start ranting about the evils of God Car. September 22nd is World Carfree Day so it's the perfect opportunity to rid yourself of the worst habit you have, the one that has made you a slave to machinery and will slice a few years off your life.

Isn't it ironic that the car, which was sold to us as a symbol of freedom, has been the instrument of our enslavement? Huh? That's right, once upon a time people lived in communities, towns, villages and cities where they could walk anywhere they needed to go. Enter God Car and the 20th century saw urban planners redesign our living patterns and get rid of public transportation so that we could boost the automobile industry by building a vast network of roads. Cars had to be able to get everywhere and do everything. Stores needed to comply with parking requirements, be set back from the street, separated from each other and surrounded by humongous parking lots. Neighbourhoods zoned into islands isolated from each other requiring half an hour of driving just to get anywhere. Walking? Forget about it. Even if there's sidewalks at all, where are you going to walk to? The WalMart 15 kms away? Once you get there, how are you going to get to the Home Depot that you can see over yonder? You'll have to scramble over a fence if you want to avoid walking back onto the main road, both options are perilous to your health.

You want more irony? America redesigned her living patterns and got rid of public transportation so that we could boost the American automobile industry. Now she is forced to pay huge taxes to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other oil-producing countries while buying over half her cars from Japan and Germany and Korea. The freedom giving, time saving car is in fact consuming much of your life. People slave away at work in order to earn enough to one day buy a car, or maybe, fingers crossed, even two, in order to become another victim. Yep, more cars, more deaths. 43,300 Americans died on the highways in 2005, making motor vehicle accidents the leading cause of death of people aged 4 to 33. About 1.3 million people die a year in road crashes, more than 3,600 a day. While this number is staggering, making matters worse are the disproportionate number of young people killed this way, half of all road victims are aged between 5 and 44.

Moving to Europe from Canada was a culture shock in many different ways, but one of the most obvious differences was the way cities, town and villages were set up in such a way that people didn't need to rely on cars. A Canadian's first reaction to my car hating is often, "Well, the bus doesn't come here" or "the loser cruiser only comes every hour". Which exemplifies the evil of car culture from the two most dangerous points, which have fed off each other for the past century. First, that society changes because of the car along with the infrastructure. Second, the idealized vision of American life is built on car ownership and driving, and the rest of the world understandably aspires to duplicate American success. European roads are for the most part much narrower, which logically means there needs to be fewer cars but as more and more people are driving, the pedestrians lose out as cars NEED space - to drive and park, often on the sidewalk. People stop visiting local shops, instead they lock themselves away in their metal cages and drive to IKEA. Quaint cobblestone streets and family run bakeries survived two world wars but they are being bombarded by the car assault and losing. We no longer have to talk to people (if you're nodding your head saying "but that's a good thing", um, that's my point). My truck is bigger, my car is faster, so what if I'm just compensating for shortfalls in other areas, I'm cooler now that I have a car. De-individuation, the act of disregarding other people as individuals occurs as drivers don't see a person driving a car next to them in traffic, but just a car. It’s just a box on wheels, and it’s in their way. Road rage anyone?

While Europeans a losing out culturally, the situation is even worse in Africa and Asia, where the poor quality of roads has led to an epidemic of fatalities in crashes. 90% of deaths on the world's roads occur in low and middle-income countries though they have just 48% of all registered vehicles. India now leads the world in traffic fatalities, with over 100,000 a year and rapidly rising. It is expected that rapid growth in car ownership combined with poor infrastructure will drive worldwide deaths to 2 million per year by 2020 and Indian deaths to 150,000 yearly by 2015.

Ah, but there's the rub you see. Cars are more that just status symbols, they are money and jobs. The economic impact is nearly unquantifiable. Humongous. Just look at Detroit to see how a slowdown in the American car industry has destroyed more than just a football team (ah, the 0-16 Lions) but an entire city. India would need to spend a trillion and a half dollars to to build and maintain a western standard road system. Is there any end to the benefit to the economy produced by the effects of General Motors destroying public transportation in America nearly a century ago. Builders, suppliers, repairers, drivers, unions, shippers, receivers, dealerships, pavers, engineers - the hospitals, ambulances, paramedics ... think of the jobs. And motor sports? How would hillbillies live without NASCAR? The idea of developing a mass transit system has traditionally been considered inimical to the capitalistic free-market. Imagine that, a nation not wanting to provide a public good for the population. Consequently, the production of tens-of-thousands of automobiles was encouraged and supported by federal legislation as thousands of poor people began working gainfully in Michigan in the mass production of cars. Of course people rushed to buy them but with the prices out of reach of middle-class Americans, installment buying was concocted and the credit consumer society was born. Who cares if people are dying by the boatloads as they realized by the mid-1920's. A federal court case to determine whether or not cars should be banned by the federal government as dangerous to the public declared the motorized car a necessary evil.

What happens when people decide to get out of their car? Whole cities can be reinvented, parking spaces can be put to more productive use, they question why cars have more rights than people. Change for the better. Times Square in New York has recently opened up more car free area, Kiwis are fighting for the right to cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge by foot instead of paying for a ferry. Critical Mass projects are gaining in strength around the world, from San Francisco to Budapest. Perhaps we're already witnessing the change as the exodus to the suburbs and exurbs of the past seems to be reversing, re-enforcing the lessened need for a car. Discovering that just like a hammer, a car is simply a tool, a means to an end, not vice-versa. While I hate cars, I know their use as well, and am sure that I come off as a freaky hippie who would like to rid the world of cars, as many will portray us. The reality is that we need choice and the current world doesn't offer it and it's getting worse. 'No more cars' doesn't mean getting rid of them, it means not adding any more while nurturing alternatives.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are You Ready...?

For school, winter, universal health care in the US, the double-dip recession, the coming currency war and food shortages? With fake Labo(u)r Day now past, it's time to get ready for all these things. But the really important question tonight is, "Are you ready for some football?!" That's right, the NFL season kicks off tonight with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Tennessee Titans. So, what should we look for this season? Some fearless and not so fearless predictions for y'all.

The Detroit Lions will improve over last year. Not hard considering the fact that last year's model was a bigger clunker than the Edsel, having a worse year than the motor city itself, becoming the first team in history to go winless the entire year, 0-16. However, since the NFL went to the current eight division format, at least one team has managed to go from last to first in their division, 10 teams total in six seasons. The Dolphins did it last year, the Buccaneers the year before, and the Eagles and Saints the year before that. But before you get too excited about those 100 to 1 Vegas odds on the Lions winning the Super Bowl this year, they won't be that much better. A tough division and a rookie quarterback in the person of #1 pick Matthew Stafford who will start week 1 point to a 4-12 season.

This year's offensive rookie of the year will probably have a weird first name - Beanie, Knowshon or LeSean. OK, so rookie Arizona Cardinal running back Beanie Wells' real first name is Chris, but most sites list his name as Beanie. He'll also be starting behind Tim Hightower in the desert, but will wrestle the starting job away by mid-season giving him a chance to win. Denver Bronco running back Knowshon Moreno (NO-shon Mor-EE-no) could walk away with the award too as he'll be given every chance to be the workhorse for the team, but what's up with that name and how is it that there seems to be more confusion about how to pronounce Moreno among Bronco fans? Here's a little taste. Finally, LeSean McCoy will start off the year backing up Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia, but with the wear and tear building up on Westbrook, who's on the wrong side of 30, and 4 capital letters to his name, LeSean could find himself starting at running back in Super Bowl XLIV. Hmmm, guess Donald Brown could win the award too if Joseph Addai goes down in Indy, that's not a weird name at all, but Percy Harvin is kinda strange...

The NFL will continue to have problems with players getting into off the field trouble. No, I'm not gonna talk about Michel Vick, well, OK, a little. The Eagles might not have gained any friends in PETA when they decided to take a risk on Vick, but as a football move it was a no-brainer. Problem is, it's just another example of a guy being excused for being an awful human being because he has talent on the field. Worse yet, things seem to be spiraling out of control with NFL players. Where to start after Vick and his dogfighting, bankruptcy, prison time leading to being signed by the Eagles and receiving a standing ovation during his first exhibition game? How about 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger accused of assaulting a casino hostess in Lake Tahoe. What's worse? Shooting yourself in the leg while illegally carrying a handgun into a disco or killing a pedestrian while driving drunk and high? Apparently shooting yourself as Plaxico Burress received a prison sentence 30 times longer that Donte Stallworth. Speaking of receivers, was I the only one who thought the reason Marvin Harrison was done in the NFL was that he was old? Apparently he may have shot a couple of people and may have put a hit on one of his victims who had brought a civil suit against him. And what's the deal with the Steve McNair story? Married, father of four, killed by his 20-year-old mistress who then killed herself. And to cap off the off-season we have Charger linebacker Shawne Merriman accused of battery and false imprisonment, bad enough in itself, but even worse seeing as it's giving Tila Tequila free publicity. If you want to keep up to date on the ongoing NFL crime saga, bookmark this site.

And Brett Favre? Well he'll retire and un-retire at least 3 more times before next year.

Oh yeah, and the football season...Let's see now, the division winners could be:

AFC East
- New England Patriots. How could they not win? Tom Brady is back and last time he was at the helm for the season they went 16-0.
AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers. Again, the Ravens will challenge, but the Steelers D kept more of the pieces from last year and will prevail again.
AFC South - Houston Texans. Yes, my surprise pick after a couple of safe ones. Matt Schaub stays healthy, Andre Johnson leads the league in receiving while Mario Williams is the Defensive Player of the Year.
AFC West - San Diego Chargers. No need to win more than 8 games to win the weakest division in football, but they do thanks to the usual suspects (LT, Rivers and Gates) along with an emergent Vincent Jackson and defense.
Wild Cards - Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis, what else can you say?
NFC East - Philadelphia Eagles. Solid team picked up some good looking rookies at WR and RB to go along with the Michael Vick circus is enough to hold off my self-destructing Cowboys.
NFC North - Green Bay Packers. Should be the most competitive division in football as the Bears and Viking give Aaron Rodgers and the new 3-4 defense of the Packers a run for their money.
NFC South - Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White welcome Tony Gonzalez to their offense and hold off the Saints.
NFC West Seattle Seahawks. Did I just pick the Shithawks? Apparently I did. Hasselback is healthy again and he's got Houshmandzadeh to throw to this year.
Wild Cards - Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. Cutler makes enough of a difference and the Cowboys scrape in.

And the Super Bowl you ask? Well, I won't pick one, but 4. I like the Patriots or the Chargers from the AFC and the Eagles or the Falcons for some reason in the NFC.

Well, the national anthem was just sung by Harry Connick Jr., guess it's time for some football.