Hey New York Times Let’s Dump the Wheels Column

“Sacrifices to the Modern Moloch” a cartoon in the New York Times published January 1922.

Dear New York Times editors, you need to retire your “Wheels” column. At the very least you need to insert, in all automobile coverage, a disclaimer that cars cause climate change, asthma, lung cancer and over 1.2 million deaths around the world every year due to “accidents.” The ghost of your fellow New Yorker Jane Jacobs would also add ugliness and the death of communities, thanks to the insatiable hunger for space cars claim in our urban spaces. Failing to point out these objective facts makes your auto columns little more propaganda.

Where is your bike column? Where is your transit advice column? Where is your walk-ability coverage? Sure, you touch on these issues elsewhere but these subjects have no dedicated column like “Wheels.” Perhaps it’s time to start treating cars the way you might treat cigarettes. NYT editors, would you have a weekly column devoted to reviewing cigarettes? One could easily imagine such a column. I’m sure some cigarettes taste better than others. You’d also have a lot of vape devices (the Teslas of smoking) to review. But I’m guessing you won’t debut a “Smokes” column in the near future.

Taking the cigarette analogy further, your hypothetical “Smokes” column would be wise not to blame smokers for their addiction. Just like those tobacco CEOs, there are real villains in the auto addiction story. While I bike and take public transit I live in a city (Los Angeles) that yoked its future to the automobile in the 1920s. Mostly out of fear for my safety, I’m forced to drive more than I would like by the way the city is designed. So I don’t buy the “we’re all at fault” argument. As Hannah Arendt said, “When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

German diplomats awarding The Grand Cross of the German Eagle to Henry Ford, Detroit, 1938.

If we’re looking for who to blame we might begin with Henry Ford. Adolf Hitler kept a framed portrait of Ford on his wall and mentions him by name in Mein Kampf, “Every year makes them [American Jews] more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions . . . Only a single great man, Ford, to their fury still maintains full independence.” Ford returned the favor by publishing a virulently racist and anti-Semitic newspaper that, among other editorial atrocities, serialized a set of articles entitled “The International Jew.” And the Nazi leadership’s ideology was inspired by the worst aspects of Fordism: the alienation of workers and the suppression of unions and democracy.

Speaking of Nazis, you’ve spent the past week breathlessly covering the pre-auction and post auction-kerfufle of the first Porsche. If I were the editor I would have insisted on a paragraph detailing the fact that the Porsche company went on to use Polish slave labor during WWII. Those laborers had a “P” sewn on their uniforms and that “P” stood for “Poland” not Porsche. And would it be snarky to include a paragraph about the tackiness of today’s oligarchs bidding millions on a Nazi car?

I have a proposal. How about a livable cities column? We have a terrific writer here in LA who covers alternative transportation named Alissa Walker. You should hire her and put your auto columnists on a bike in LA to see how it feels. I have an extra bike and helmet . . .

Save Civilization With a Toilet Auger

What is most important of all human tools? My dear brothers and sisters, today we need to talk about the toilet auger, guardian of the real “flow state” that keeps us all civilized.

First a caveat. If you have a serious plumbing issue you should call a plumber. In the past I’ve made the mistake of trying to do things in the plumbing realm myself causing damage and insulting the collective intelligence of the plumbing profession. A good plumber is a trained professional able to solve the mysteries of proper venting, install rigid copper pipe in tight spaces without burning the house down and willing to crawl through spider infested basements and even face sleeping mountain lions.

That said, sometimes you’ve got to unclog the toilet before the plumber can arrive to solve the underlying problem. I know about this because, and there’s no way to say this discretely, our last toilet lacked the proper geometry and force with which to banish the previous evening’s intemperate feasting. Because of our crappy crapper, my toilet auger and I had a once-a-week conclave.

Unlike a regular plumber’s snake a toilet auger has a graceful bend so that you won’t scratch the porcelain. And it works a lot better than a plunger. Go down to your local hardware store and get one today. Or, better yet, make thee a dry toilet and you’ll never have to flush or use a toilet auger again. But until that day and, my brothers and sisters we’re not there yet ourselves, wield your toilet auger as a righteous sword! Or would a better metaphor be as a lasso of filth? You decide.

No Tweets Just Cats

I’m in the midst of an experimental one month digital detox as suggested by Cal Newport in his book Digital Minimalism. During this period I’m giving up the Twitters which usually forms the basis of a set of links I post on Saturday. Twitter has devolved into a way of monetizing people yelling at each other and I’m not missing it. I may look at it again, or I may figure out another way to do the link feature. At this point, I don’t know. But I’m happy to report my attention span, last fully appreciated in the pre-web 1990s, is slowly returning. I can now read long chapters of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow without the urge to look for cat memes on my phone.

Speaking of cat memes, in lieu of a set of tweets please enjoy this shot of the sort of power catnapping that happens around our household every afternoon. Now turn away from your screen and go pet a real cat.

A Poem by Mary Oliver

Image: C.F.A. Voysey

Storage

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room for.

What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing– the reason they can fly.

Straw Bale Gardening Update

I think I’ve put a name to an all to common gardening experience. I’ve got what I shall, from now on, refer to as Tomato Disappointment Syndrome or TDS for short. TDS recognizes a unspoken reality of vegetable gardening: that for every lush and productive tomato plant there exists at least ten spindly, diseased specimens hiding in backyards.

Without careful soil stewardship, just the right amount of water and diligence about not growing tomatoes in the same place every year TDS will visit your household. Since I’ve had tomato disease problems for years I decided to grow them in straw bales this season as I did, successfully, back in 2013.

Unfortunately, my straw bale tomatoes succumbed to one of three possible problems:

  • Improperly conditioned bale. I may not have spent enough time adding nitrogen to the bale.
  • Root-bound seedlings.
  • Herbicides in the straw.

I’m leaning towards a lack of nitrogen caused by not following bale conditioning instructions carefully. Herbicides in the bale are also possible or some combination of all three of the above factors.

Allow me to also theorize, building on the foundation of TDS, that success in vegetable gardening is inversely related to one’s propensity to brag, write or boast about vegetable gardening on, say, a blog or social media account. Perhaps I should just shut up and take care of the soil or pay more attention to my bale conditioning efforts and cease the grandstanding.