Advent of the Electric Car Means Luxury Cars for the Poor

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The Age of Steam is upon us.   Or, in this case, as we are several generations removed from the Age of Steam, we are adapting to the age of alternative energy.   Alternative Energy is in itself a funny name, as energy is energy, so an alternate energy source is just a difference source than the fossil fuels we have been using for several centuries to foul up the planet.

Or, more to the point, some of these energy forms we have been using for quite some time.   Coal has been with us for centuries.  We have stories written about the people who have extracted it from the earth.   Stories about the people who delivered it to houses.  We have stories about the people who work with it, suffer illness from it, and die from its dreaded black lung disease.    We hear tales of horror about going into the bowels of the earth and the mine shaft collapses, both newsworthy and legendary.   We hear about perhaps even the greater horrors of strip mining and what it does to the community and general environment.   We hear about clean coal, and the rebuttals there will never be any such thing as clean coal.

Coal drives machinery and begets our electricity.  So does oil energy, nuclear and solar.   No matter what source we utilize,  it gets down to one or two things, driving our machinery and providing electricity.   Our industrial machinery relies on these sources of energy.      Some machinery requires the conversion from the energy sources into electricity, and others do not.   The automobile is one of them.   The automobile depends on the combustible engine, which is set off by tiny explosions initiated by gasoline or some other fossil fuel.   That is the way it has been for nearly a century.   First steam and then the internal combustible engine, functioning on diesel or gasoline.

Until now.   With the world well aware that oil won’t be around forever, we have been searching for new sources to  fuel our vehicles.   There are rumors and then there is the reality.   In the rumors, we have hydrogen powered cars and solar powered cars.  Maybe.  But not at the moment.   What we do have are hybrid, part gasoline, part electric cars, and, finally, all electric cars.

Despite the pitfalls of short ranges and the need to find an electrical outlet, the electric car is upon us.  Much as the Age of Steam was once upon us, the electric car is greeted with mixtures of wonder and skepticism.   These two sentiments rest at the heart of our true diversity.   We are naturally skeptical, and we are naturally in wonder.   We live in awe of new achievements, technological breakthroughs, but we also revel in their subsequent failures.   We either choose sides and split up the responsibility for uttering either sentiment, or we fall back into our time honored position of wait and see.   Right now probably more people are waiting and seeing than pushing the pros and cons of electric powered transportation.

Nevertheless, it is here.  The recent Los Angeles Car Show featured a variety of electric cars.   Other, gas powered vehicles garnered not even half the excitement as the new offerings of electric cars.  Damn near every car manufacturer stepped up to the plate, showcasing either its production model or prototype.   It is here, and despite our concerns, we secretly can’t wait to embrace it.

Of course life will be different.  With the economy in the dumper and the cost of gasoline bound to increase in the forthcoming years, a little fuel economy never hurt anyone.  Electric powered vehicles offer just that.   Also, electric cars can be fast, as in very, very fast.   There is on reconstituted, electric powered old Datsun Sedan that is breaking quarter mile speed records at the local drag strips.   They are fast, and they are cheap to fuel.  They may lack the range, making longer trips a little difficult at the moment, but over time that concern with be a thing of the past.

Of course, electric cars don’t make the sexy sounds of the old V-8’s.  No throaty, ass gripping roar as the engine accelerates.    The quiet electric motor may lack something in the sex factor.  As a matter of fact the sex factor may lack something as well.  So far we have no reports of couples doing it in an electric car.   No humming engines on Lover’s Lane.  Singles don’t get hot over the new lack of throbbing engine.   Hey, but throw in a few accessories, perhaps some truly futuristic accouterments, and having sex in an electric car will someday be downright sexy.

Okay, so with the price of fuel going sky high and the electric car the poster child of the car shows, what’s to become of the plain old internal combustion luxury roadsters we know and love?   I live in Los Angeles where the love and reverence for the luxury car takes on religious dimensions.    A perfunctory observation of the boulevards and parking lots would tell even the densest of individuals that you are nothing here if you can’t plod through bumper to bumper traffic in a 200 mile per hour Ferrari or Maserati.    Or if you are too cheap to lay out the necessary $300,000 or more, the very least you can do is   a Turbo Porsche or Aston Martin.

If you are a paltry piker living from paycheck to paycheck than you should simply make do with a Lexus, BMW or Mercedes Benz.  If not the top of the line, then at least an entry level or middle of the line model.  Lest you disgrace yourself with anything that would appear unseemly and out of touch in an image minded status seeking society that has as its epicenter the City of the Angels.

And while Los Angeles is the epicenter for status seeking car culture, the rest of the nation, despite its protests of humility and self-denial, is not all that far behind.  Not really.  Look at the recent real estate boom, or the more recent real estate illusion, where millions of people took out equity loans on their overpriced homes to buy among other trinkets and beads a luxury automobile.   Because if you can’t live in luxury for that ten minute trip to the market, what is life, after all?

But now, after all the years of scratching and stretching for that luxury automobile, we find ourselves in a proverbial quandary.   There is the slow dawning that the sleek Italian or German, maybe even Japanese piece of machinery in the driveway will soon be diminished in status and value.   The electric car is here, and it is the next big thing.   Even if it is a modest Chevy Volt it may have more cachet than that lumbering Lexus some stranger must have left in your driveway.   I mean, with everyone going electric, what is a person to do?   When you can buy a sleek and sophisticated all electric 200 MPH Tesla to drive in bumper to bumper traffic what are you doing with that gas guzzling Neanderthal of another technological era?

Well, if you are a righteous, environmentally concerned individual, you would be giving away that smoking, belching dinosaur.   You wouldn’t be caught dead in it, not when you could be ensconced in the vanguard of the 21st century.   Let’s e objective.  It’s time to go electric.  So what to do with that suddenly out of fashion internal combustion vehicle?

Why you give it to the poor.  That’s right.   Sign over that pink slip to some non-profit organization and hand the keys to a member of the underclass.  Let them experience luxury driving for a few brief moments before the polar caps melt and global warming floods the streets, making the Hummer the only drivable vehicle.   Let the poor souls who are out of work or barely working, surviving grimly in this economic downturn, take a brief spin in an historical landmark of automotive engineering.  It’s only fair.

It’s a win-win situation.  The poor have a brief shot at luxury living, and you can feel good about brightening up their lives.   You also get rid of this inconvenient truth of a luxury albatross that is so diminished in value it is hardly worth the paint that covers its metal.  As for its value in status and image, you are driving the equivalent of a Nehru Jacket.

So let the poor have all those luxury cars.   A few smiles, before the last hurrah.    All those streamlined super designed German and Italian vehicles will brighten up those seedy neighborhoods.  Add a shabby chic sensibility to the  dilapidation  and graffiti overload.

Some may caution with the price of gasoline ever on the increase it would burden the poor.   They would have these beautiful cars but not the money to pay for the fuel that would power them.  Not to worry.    The poor are poor, remember.   They are not going anywhere, anyway.

Time to Reinstitute the Military Draft

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It is time to consider reinstituting the military draft in the United States.   Despite the brilliance of the American volunteer and therefore very professional army, clearly our troops have been exhausted with multiple tours of duty.  The National Guard, which is just that, has been called up into active duty, and that has put a tremendous burden on the Guard itself as well as their families.

The levels of emotional and financial drain have been reported by key military personnel for the past number of years.  It has been reported we have drained the resources of our military personnel by committing them to protracted wars.  We have overburdened their equipment and have depleted our physical resources.  Because of the financial outlay and our need to borrow money to fight this war from nations like China, different military weapons projects have been cut out or reduced substantially.   None of this is any good.

We have had the military draft, or conscription, with us in different occasions.  Initially, during the colonial days, we relied on militias.  Militias were too small and inconsequential to be utilized for the larger and more deadly wars that would follow with the modernization and growth of American into an industrial nation.   Enter the draft so that Armies of both the Confederacy and the Union could furnish enough troops for the now legendary battlefields where between one and two million Americans would die.  Later came conscription for the First World War and then again in the Second World War.

But we were a different nation then.  If we went to war then we called up our forces and manufactured mass weaponry to meet the challenges.  Come peacetime we would reduce our forces substantially and not really modernize our weaponry until the next crisis came upon us.      We did so during the First World War and then again in World War Two.   In World War Two, where the threat to the nation was hardly and abstract we built a military and produced weapons with speed and efficiency that surpassed most imaginations, certainly those of our enemies.

We had become the “Arsenal of Democracy.”   This is no small title and assuredly no small task.   Come the end of the Second World War we realized the world had changed.   We could no longer stand down our military and allow that military to rely on weapons systems that would soon be obsolete.   We had to not only develop new weaponry but to continue to do this so we would not only have parity against any nation’s military but we would in fact be the dominate force.   We learned that in the new world to protect our interests on a global level we had to project our military on a global level.   This meant the continued development of the military and the weapons it would use.

By 1948, just a few years after the end of World War Two, it was evident to protect our interests through military force, when necessary, we would have to establish a peacetime draft.  Essentially, the draft was continued through most of the Vietnam War until 1968 when then President Richard Nixon opted for an all volunteer army.   This was part of the new concept, a military built around technology and professionalism.     This all volunteer army would relieve the burden of  public service.

The volunteer military can be problematic on several levels.    As I mentioned before the all volunteer military is smaller  and in theory more professional.   As a smaller force it doesn’t require the funding of a larger army.   This has allowed us to shut down military bases around the country and in parts of the world.   All good, so far.  In theory.  Reality is a bit different.

But  now we are faced with a military force near exhaustion.  Whether you believe either the Iraqi War or the War in Afghanistan is justified or not there is no denying that are troops have been stretched thin and worn out over time.  Repeated tours have proved hazardous and overwhelming.   Equipment has been overused and spare parts are at a minimum.   Should the United States get into a truly serious conflict, meaning that where the enemy is in possession of advanced weaponry and is consequently much more formidable than Iraq or Afghanistan,  we may be confronting some very serious problems.   We may lack the resources that would assure victory.

Couple this with the growing trend toward the infusion of fundamental religion in the military.   There are reports about evangelical proselytizing  in the Army, Navy, and at places like the Air Force Academy.   Evangelicals have brought pressure to bear on the less religious members of the military or those of a different faith.  They have invoked methods and practices that could be considered coercion.  They have brought to our military an element infused with the Christian Crusade, which is hardly in keeping with the standards and traditions of our military.   This is neither the precepts found in the militia or our civvilian armies of our past.

With regard to history, there are repeated examples where the volunteer army becomes a mercenary army and follows those who either pay it or give it orders.   Mind you, I am not saying this is the looming case with our all volunteer military, but the historic examples are enough to take measure.   Consider also, that the shortage of troops has initiated the expanded use of mercenaries in groups like Blackwater, where the rank and file is loyal to its leadership and carries with it the inherent evangelical element of religious fundamentalists.

Blackwater is a private army.  And because it is a private army we pay its troops a lot more salary, nearly four times the salary, in fact, of our regular forces.  This creates resentment within our regular forces who have to risk their necks for a quarter the money.   This also raises questions of loyalty and issues of oversight, where the private army does not necessarily subscribe to normal military standards of conduct.   There are numerous reports that such mercenary groups as Blackwater do not adhere to the established rules of engagement.   This is already proving worrisome to American citizens and to not only members of this government but to members of governments where this private army is engaged.

Clearly, the American all volunteer military  is no longer able to function alone, but must be supplemented with a private mercenary force.   In our democracy, this is hardly the precedent we want to establish.

If we are going to continue to serve our national interests by projecting military force then we need to reinstitute the civilian army.  A civilian army will augment the professionals within the service and will help dilute the religious fervor and proselytizing that has proven controversial and disturbing.   There will be less of a crusade mentality as a civilian army will be more eager to get the job done than endure a protracted crusade.      The lack of this religious fervor will enable conscripted  members of other religions and ethnicity to participate without encumbrances.  The civilian army will better understand that its loyalty remains first and always with the American people.

While there may be some difficulty in maintaining the streamlined professionalism of our current forces, this will be augmented by talented civilians who ordinarily would not have served.   These recruits can possess  insight and skill sets in psychology and technology  that may not be as prominent in a smaller force.    They can bring a better cultural understand of our enemies, speak their languages  and interpret for forces on the group.   There is in the end a lot to be said for greater numbers.

I believe we would be a lot less prone to commit ourselves to questionable wars if we had a civilian army.  Surely, we did just that during the Vietnam conflict.   We drafted tens of thousands of kids and sent them off to yet one more questionable war that four decades later has produced little but the revelation of our own foolishness.  It is no small irony that in modern times we  are expanding trade and partnership with the same government we battled for close to a decade.

But we have learned from that mistake.  We have learned because the parents of kids are more willing to question the validity of a war when their kids are involved.  Even the chicken hawks, those that are all for war as long as it doesn’t involve their own children, may reconsider before throwing their support toward conflict.    Simply put, more would be at stake with a civilian army.   We wouldn’t be only sending someone else’s kids to war, we would also be sending our own.

If this were a civilian army, certain things would have happened by now.   Our National Guard and volunteer force would not be overburdened with repeated tours.  They wouldn’t have financial problems, psychological problems, difficulty finding jobs again upon their return from a war they were sent to under specious circumstances.   It is questionable if fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is truly the role of a National Guard.

We who were once the recruits for Vietnam are now the parents and grandparents of young people who would be going off to war, if we still had a civilian army.  With our own kids invested and our own blood on the line, and not just that of someone else’s kid we would reconsider committing our troops and national economy to this type of battle.    We would wonder a lot more about what the hell we were doing and why.  We would think rather than take refuge in the fact that our lethargy and inability to question resides in some form of patriotism.     In short, this war would have been over long ago.  If it ever got started to begin with.

If we do institute another round of conscription, should everyone go?  No.   Everyone would not have to go into the military, anyway.  Those who were uncomfortable could commit to other forms of public service without the deliberations of being conscientious objectors.   They could work in nation building, our nation instead of someone else’s.   They could work on rebuilding the infrastructure or working for a two year commitment in some form of public service.  They could use their education and skill sets for rebuilding this nation.  They would get to know in their work in recreating the infrastructure or teaching or working in underclass neighborhoods how rest of the country lives.   Nothing wrong with that exposure.

Yes, we would have a larger army, which would incur to some degree a greater expense.  But that expense would be mitigated by public discretion.   A public with their own kids at stake will not be as willing to spend either the money or the lives of its citizens for any war that is not clearly defined as in our national interest.     All around, it would be a bargain.