Watching the Wheels I think I've found a new book for my reading list, courtesy of David Galbraith: a volume called High and Mighty that bills itself as an exposé of the cold, cynical marketing behind the SUV boom. Even without the usual complaints about environmental harm or safety hazards, some of the author's discoveries are pure dynamite. Just read this bit:
Who has been buying SUVs since the automakers turned them into family vehicles? They tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. The often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities.
No, that's not a cynic talking — that's the auto industry's own market researchers and executives.
Like I said, a must-read. I'll let you know what I think of it.
Of course, I still like a good car as much as the next red-blooded American, so I'll kick the grumpy Gus act for a second and give props to auto designer Bob Lutz — the man behind the Plymouth Prowler and the Dodge Viper — for muscling his way back into Detroit, by way of the GM design studio. Goodness knows the company needed him; to be blunt, some recent GM products have stunk so much that you could smell them from three states away. If the new Chevy SSR is any sign of things to come, the company's emphasis on style is about to take a few giant steps up.
While I'm feeling magnanimous, let me send some kind words over to Bill Ford. He's having trouble keeping his company's credit rating out of the junkyard, but he somehow still finds time to work on polishing the company's River Rouge plant into a gem. Teaming with sustainable architecture guru William McDonough, he's set out to turn the century-old facility into a veritable Disneyland of environmentally sound manufacturing practices.
At a time when nearly all of the auto industry's attention has been focused on the tumbling stock price and multibillion-dollar losses at the Ford Motor Company, the company's chief executive, William Clay Ford Jr., has created a buzz by installing sedum, a rugged plant that is used as ground cover, in an unlikely place — on the roof of a new 1.1-million-square-foot assembly plant in the River Rouge complex here.
On Oct. 4, the first thin sheets of sedum, which absorb heat and water, were put in place. In the next months more than 10 acres — 454,000 square feet — of sedum will be rolled out, watered and encouraged to thrive on the world's largest "living" roof. The roof — a centerpiece of an innovative and potentially risky $2 billion redevelopment project that will take 20 years to complete — will cool the factory inside during the summer and keep things toasty in winter, reducing the amount of energy needed to maintain working temperature in the building. The roof will also cleanse rainwater flowing off the building.
. . . [A]s the River Rouge modernization project (which includes a new assembly factory and updates on some existing buildings) evolves from ambitious concept to actual construction, the plant's 7,000 workers and millions of Detroit-area residents are beginning to recognize a significance that extends beyond the plant's walls. The entrance to the complex is being transformed into a 1.5-mile-long green boulevard with 22 acres of wetlands, trees and shrubs. Some 1,500 trees and other plantings are starting to surround the new assembly plant. To control rainwater and pollutants, the plant's 15-acre parking lot is covered with a porous surface through which water is filtered, cleansed and stored in underground basins to be slowly released into the canals and wetlands.
All across the Rouge complex shallow drainage canals and multiple artificial wetlands are being built and seeded with indigenous plants. The exterior greenery, wetlands and canals are designed to use nature's ability to soak up and cleanse rainwater that drains into the nearby Rouge River. This "green" approach is designed to save Ford $35 million, when compared with the cost of installing a conventional water-treatment system. The plant's walls will be covered with ivy to produce oxygen and help cool the building.
The living roof, for instance, costs roughly the same as a conventional roof but is expected to last twice as long because it will not expand during the day and shrink at night. (Like ivy, it will need minimal maintenance.) Its insulating capacity will help Ford reduce the amount of ventilation duct work by 40 percent. It will store four million gallons of rainwater, eliminating pollutants that would ordinarily pour off the roof and straight into the river. Skylights will provide the plant with so much natural light that Ford engineers anticipate turning off half of the interior lights during the day, saving nearly $50,000 annually.
What a gamble. And what a commendable move on Bill Ford's part. Now if he would just bring on the hybrid SUV . . .
Defund the Islamists, Take 2 We can kvetch at the Bush administration for short-circuiting efforts at conservation, but getting Americans to think different about oil consumption doesn't take an initiative from the White House. The creator of the 'Got Milk?' campaign has a new set of ads he'd like to drop on the public:
[One commercial], which opens on a man at a gas station, features a cute kid's voice-over throughout: "This is George." Then we see a close up of a gas pump. "This is the gas George buys for his car." Next we see a guy in a suit. "This is the oil company executive who makes money on the gas George buys." Close up on Al-Qaeda training film footage: "This is the terrorist organization supported by money from the country where the oil company does business. " It's followed by footage of 9/11: "We all know what this is." And it closes on a wide shot of bumper to bumper traffic: "The biggest weapon of mass destruction is parked in your driveway."
Imagine the commotion that would ensue from running that spot two or three times during the Superbowl. Or imagine a sustained prime-time and daytime campaign aimed at women between the ages of 30 and 55, who influence the suburban families responsible for buying most of the SUVs in use. Does anyone think that wouldn't lead to some changes — however tentative — in consumer thinking?
Let's get to it. We've got the idea. We've got the script. All we need now is a billionaire . . .
There's a legitimate philosophical case to be made that people should be able to do whatever they want with their property (with some sensible limits), including sell it so that Virginia developers like Til Hazel can throw up 250 homes on a farmer's field. Most conservatives who take this position see themselves as the defenders of property rights -- and I think they're right.
On the other side, you have anti-growth conservatives, like me. When I look at Til Hazel's projects, I see nothing more than vast urban sprawl. And while anti- or slow-growth may not seem like a conservative position (mostly because it's typically anti-business), I think it's far more conservative: because it's fundamentally an anti-tax position.
The Virginia sales tax shows us exactly what happens when the developers win. Hazel and his cronies want to move further into Loudoun. But they can't, because out here in Western Loudoun we lack the infrastructure to support the 1,200+ homes he wants to put here. We've got tons of gravel roads and only one real highway, and our schools and sewage systems can't handle such a huge influx of citizens.
So what do Hazel and other developers do? They use their friendships in Richmond to push through tax increases so that the towns and cities pay for all the infrastructure they need to build their houses. The developers don't pay the side costs of expanding the D.C. sprawl: the localities do.
It's a scam perpetrated on the voters. I understand the principle of property-rights, but if Til Hazel really wants to expand the sprawl, he and any other developer should have to pay for the infrastructure required for the new homes they build. Voters shouldn't subsidize the developers who move in next door.
Bracing stuff -- and about as refreshing as Free Congress Foundation president Paul Weyrich's groundbreaking late '90s article on why conservatives should support mass transit.
Call it a sign of [welcome] progress. Domenech's position doesn't sound like the conservativism that drove officials in a county here in Georgia to lay wall-to-wall pavement while sticking residents with the tax bill for overcrowded schools — but that's a good thing. Republicans who can follow the logic of their belief in self-reliance, and draw the reasonable conclusion that corporations and developers need to pay their own way as much other Americans do, are the kind of Republicans worth doing business with. It almost makes me wonder whether he agreed with the libertarian Cato Institute when it signed up with the Sierra Club to oppose the President's corporate-welfareenergy plan.
That said, I disagree with Domenech about everything else. Especially the Redskins. =,
Georgia Senate Race Update A Mason-Dixon poll released this morning shows Democratic senate candidate Max Cleland still in the lead, but falling short of 50 percent. That's not exactly good news. The negative ad barrage unleashed by Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are obviously having an effect.
Sen. Max Cleland (D): 47% Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R): 41 Undecided: 9 Sandy Thomas (Libertarian): 3
Poll results from earlier in October showed Cleland winning at least 51 percent of the vote. The greatest factor in the change appears to be Cleland's personal approval rating, which fell below 50 percent for the first time since 1996.
Chambliss hasn't gained any ground — his share of votes still sits at around 40 percent. If he's using a vote-suppression strategy, though, in hopes that he can drive enough independent voters home to squeak through with his base vote, he's gotten off to a good start. Cleland could have stymied that by responding more fiercely to Republican attacks on his courage — that might have driven Chambliss' favorability ratings downward, and suppressed Republican votes. Unfortunately, the opportunity to do that disappeared as soon as Chambliss pulled the commercial off the air last week.
That said, the Democrats still have reason to smile. In Georgia, winning a statewide election only takes 45 percent of the vote; any candidate who can draw at least that much support wins, period. As long as Cleland can hold his share of votes above that mark, he's in healthy shape.
If Sullivan feels bitter about getting dumped from the magazine, so be it. But the nattering about the editor's latest moves — real, imagined or insinuated — gets tiresome. Why bother? Raines isn't listening. Raines doesn't care. And the rest of us could hardly care less about the grudge match. Meanwhile, Sullivan keeps working himself into a tizzy.
Time to move on, Andy, before your punditry gets even closer to becoming substance-free. Take a vacation. Learn to let go. Need ideas on how to do that? Maybe you should start with this book.
Defund the Islamists Tom Friedman lays out the no-brainer idea about the War on Terror that no one in the administration acknowledges: that the best thing we can do to control Islamism is to choke off the oil money that makes it a going concern instead of a joke. How? Through "conservation and alternative energies," Friedman says.
That seems straightforward enough, considering that the country's average fuel economy is at a 21-year low. But the Bush administration, with its chronic unseriousness about energy issues, punted the ball on the issue last winter, even while Sept. 11 was fresh in people's minds. The White House ditched research on interim high-mileage technologies in favor of a hydrogen-powered "Freedom Car" — a deserving idea, but one that won't bear fruit for 20 years. In the meantime, gas-guzzling trucks keep turning — and the money pipeline to Al Qaeda supporters keeps flowing.
Automakers already sell hybrid-electric cars that can get 50 miles per gallon, even though they lose money on each one sold. Government funding for research might get more hybrid cars on the street cheaply. Why not take that small step toward pushing terrorists and Islamists closer to being powerless and broke?
Conservation, contrary to what Vice President Cheney famously said, isn't just a personal virtue, but a national security issue. Too bad for all of us the White House can't — or won't — admit that.