Quote of the Day

This, from the wonderful and quixotic-in-the-good-way Joe Bageant, strikes me as deeply true, and deeply related to big business marketing, among other things:

Our faculty of ordinary encounter has been systematically broken down. In its place we now have our unique social hallucination. Never do we encounter anything directly, yet we get the illusion of encounter. This includes encounter with each other. Anyone who lives in meatspace with his or her fellow Americans could not deny 57 million of them health. In this society no one is any longer capable of recognizing anyone else. Instead, we see others as the screamers at the town hall meetings, or as communists who want to give free healthcare to illegals and establish death panels. Or as Christian fundamentalists, or as liberals or conservatives. Or as celebrities or as nobodies.

Cars, Cell Phones & The (Sponsored) Culture of Narcissism

Raymond Williams called it “mobile privatization.”

I think of it as “life behind screens,” or “bubble life.”

It — experiencing life predominantly through video screens, work sconces, and automobile glass — is not just part-and-parcel of corporate capitalism, but perhaps its #1 intention and requirement vis-a-vis the organization of the lives of the masses.

The latest bubble life news confirms, in spades, that the private automobile may be, as Plan C author Pat Murphy posits, “the greatest creator of alienation between humans that has ever existed.”

To wit, some excellent reportage from a July 18 New York Times story:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

I’ll let the excellent CARtoonist Andy Singer have the last “word” on this totally unsurprising phenomenon:


The Violence Inherent in the System


In corporate capitalist America, cars-first transportation has always been unquestioned.  As a result, we have spent the largest part of the immense wealth that has flowed through our polarized, brutalized society in the last century building the vast automobile system with which we remain stuck.  It is by far the biggest, costliest public works project in human history — not even close.  It has always been devoted to serving its central purpose, too, which, contrary to long-running propaganda claims, has NOT been transportation, but rather maximum profit for business owners.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a story about new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Take a look at the video embedded in this story.  It is heart-stopping, at several levels.

This extreme violence is what we have been trained to accept as not just normal, but “an emblem of the American spirit” and a confirmation that capitalism is the best of all possible social systems.

It won’t be long before we recognize, one way or another, how very insane we’ve been, ecological, socially, and, yes, economically…

The main IIHS finding, by the way, goes unreported by the NYT:

The death rate in 1-3-year-old minicars in multiple-vehicle crashes during 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars.  The death rate per million 1-3-year-old minis in single-vehicle crashes during 2007 was 35 compared with 11 per million for very large cars. Even in midsize cars, the death rate in single-vehicle crashes was 17 percent lower than in minicars.

Dialing and Death in the Car: The Cell Industry’s Timeless Response

As reported by The New York Times‘ excellent health columnist Tara Parker-Pope, all use of cellular telephones while operating an automobile — in both “hands-free” and hands-on forms — is as dangerous as drunk driving, research announced today shows.  That means many thousands of people in the USA and around the world are being killed each year by the public’s continuing toleration of this ubiquitous practice.

The cellular telephone industry’s response?  It’s well worth reading in its entirety:

Safe Driving- Everyone’s Responsibility

: January 12, 2009 8:50 AM
Posted By: John Walls, Vice President, Public Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association®
Related Categories: Wireless & Safety

This morning the National Safety Council announced it now supports a total ban of cell phone use while operating a vehicle. There is no question that irresponsible use of a wireless device is on the long list of potential driving distractions, including the NHTSA documented number one driver distraction of drowsiness.  The industry agrees with the National Safety Council and numerous other well-regarded safety organizations on several safety issues, such as bans on text messaging while driving and restricting cellular use by teen or inexperienced drivers. But when looking at the implications of a total ban, it’s important to look at all of the situations that can occur and consider the ramifications of a total prohibition.

For example, should a mom or dad be prevented from taking a call from their 14 year old daughter, telling them the movie she was at ended a lot earlier than expected, and that she and her friends were out front waiting for a ride home? Or that their young son was at a different entrance to the mall or the school with his friends, and they wanted to tell their parent there had been change of plans and they were somewhere else? How many times a day in the country do you think a businessperson needs to let a client know they’re running a few minutes behind for that important meeting, and that a call, dialed sensibly and kept brief, could inform the client and maybe save a deal and certainly soothe any hard feelings from a misunderstanding. Calls to or from day care, the school nurse, your boss… there’s a long list of very real scenarios that illustrate practical needs to responsibly make or take a brief call.

We believe that safe, sensible, and limited use of a cell phone when you’re behind the wheel is possible. There are certainly inappropriate times to make or take a call, and your number one driving priority is always operating the vehicle safely. The fact of the matter is there are numerous well-known and proven driving distractions, and addressing just one of them (and one that by many accounts is significantly down the list) could very well lead to a false sense of security for drivers. There are reckless and inattentive driving statutes on the books in all of the states, and law enforcement officers have the discretion to enforce those as they see fit. We completely support that action…. If someone is driving irresponsibly because of cell phone use, they ought to be cited for that. And under current law, they can be.

The industry also has a long-standing commitment to a public service announcement campaign regarding safe driving, and that includes a new set of radio ads which we offered to co-brand, at no cost to them, with state chapters of the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. We are also proud of the fact that nearly 300,000 calls are made every day to 911, via a cellphone. The devices are perhaps the greatest safety tool we have today, and as I said earlier, there are a multitude of scenarios where responsible, sensible, safe, and brief use is possible and should be a part of any discussion.

As you can see, this is a true classic of capitalist obfuscation, obstruction, and excuse-making.

Shall we parse the highlighted phrases and their actual meanings?

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