Monday, August 25, 2008

Americans Driving Less, Again

Years ago (starting in 1980), Steve Jackson Games[1] published Car Wars -- depicting a post-apocalyptic world in which armored cars bristling with weapons transported pseudo-survivalist citizens through a world overrun with violence. Cars that also supported them as they competed in arena competitions in their customized electric chariots. The backstory of the game's big arms vendor, Uncle Al's, is that when Uncle Al saw folks continuing to pay $5 a gallon for fuel and drive, he knew where he'd make his fortune in America: auto accessories. By the time of Car Wars, the world's basically out of fuel and everyone is driving electric, ha ha.

Yet, while 2030 remains well over the horizon and we've not really settled in for $5 a gallon fuel in the United States (though given the strength of the U.S. dollar, it's not hard to find $5 a gallon if you travel abroad) Americans are driving less. This isn't a one-month fluke, but a sustained trend.

I note here that Dr. John F. Annagers rode a bicycle to work routinely for decades before his death around the turn of this century. He walked into a bike shop in the '70s in Boston (so I heard the story) with the objective of bicycling to Texas (which he proceeded to do) where he'd received a faculty appointment at the University of Texas School of Public Health. By the time I met Dr. Annagers, his driver's license had long lapsed. The year he was President of the Faculty, he was obliged to visit each of the Houston school's campuses about the state -- including San Antonio, Dallas, and El Paso. He did all this by bicycle. When he had a teleconference to attend on a travel day, he'd pull over at a pay phone and attend it. Sometimes, when asked how it'd gone that day, he'd complain about a headwind or inclement weather, but he did it all; he did it on a schedule from which he was not deflected; and he did it on a bicycle.

Americans certainly can do more to use less fuel and get fitter. Maybe we're not all ready to duplicate the feat of epidemiologist John Annagers, but we could do more than we are.

For the first time in my life, I am happy to see the trend is in that direction ....

Curiously, government intervention doesn't seem to be getting much attention as a cause of this new fuel economy on the part of the public. Why is it, then, that people keep looking to political candidates to offer "solutions" that take us where we're already going?

[1] Yes, Steve Jackson Games of Steve Jackson Games v. U.S. Secret Service fame:
During the search on March 1, and on March 2, 1990, the Secret Service was specifically advised of facts that put its employees on notice of probable violations of the Privacy Protection Act. It is no excuse that Agents Foley and Golden were not knowledgeable of the law. On March 2, 1990, and thereafter, the conduct of the United States Secret Service was in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000aa et seq. It is clear the Secret Service continued the seizure of property of Steve Jackson Games, Incorporated including information and documents through late June of 1990. Immediate arrangements could and should have been made on March 2, 1990, whereby copies of all information seized could have been made. The government could and should have requested Steve Jackson as chief operating officer of the corporation to cooperate and provide the information available under the law. The Secret Service's refusal to return information and property requested by Mr. Jackson and his lawyers in Dallas and Austin constituted a violation of the statute.
Steve Jackson Games v. U.S. Secret Service, 816 F.Supp. 432 (W.D. Tex. 1993).
The things some imbeciles will do to honest businessmen in the name of the law and at public expense are simply abhorrent. Closing Steve Jackson Games by seizing the company's computer hardware indefinitely, with no apparent evidence anyone broke the law, is not the behavior we expect of agents of a government upholding the rule of law. The basic idea behind the seizure was that an employee doing research for a game about computer hacking -- later released as part of SJGames' Cyberpunk materials -- somehow implicated a security risk. Had the government picked up the phone and called Steve Jackson, he'd have happily toured them through the electronic bulletin board Illuminati Online and let them see what their employees were researching for their next game.

But, no. It's more fun to sieze the property and put people out of business, and make them spend a fortune having getting their rights enforced by a court. Who needs thoughtful police, anyway? And that tape is so sexy -- it makes you do it like a stallion after you cover innocents' places of work with it.

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