14 July 2006

July News & Notes

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

It's a slow summer Friday here in NYC, so a few simple things to think about...

In a column the New York Times ran on 20 June, “Next Blackout, Think of All Those Stores That Had Their Doors Open,” Clyde Haberman made some excellent points about energy waste in New York, and the joys of summer as the thermometer keeps rising. But in addition to the heat on the subway platforms, and the stores that blast their environmentally-costly air conditioning out onto the welcoming streets, I wondered: aren’t there other things we could or should be doing – easy-to-change things that could improve the City particularly during these hot, humid months? There are plenty of ideas, but I’ll offer three:

A) Many people – from ordinary people in SUVS to trucks and vans on business outings – sit around New York with their vehicles idling, spewing unnecessary waste into our air and adding (though both exhaust and engine) to the heat that has to be displaced to somewhere. So: Let’s start ticketing people who sit idly in their cars waiting for something, anything, with their engines running. It’s hot? Roll down the windows, or stand outside the cabin. (And yes, we’ll make an obvious exception for the refrigerated trucks that carry our food and other perishables. Those are easy to identify.)

B) Similarly, summers might also be a good time to reintroduce the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) restrictions that exist periodically in New York, usually after something goes awry, when there’s a need to control traffic. Let’s be honest with ourselves: if too many cars are too inefficient and contribute to global warming, then too many cars driving single drivers into and out of New York is also a bad situation, and one that exacerbates the City’s existing problems. So, let's stop it. Want to drive into NYC solo? Unless you live here, and your car is registered here in the five boroughs, that’ll cost you – how about $100 per crossing. Otherwise, minimum two people to a car or get thee to some form of public transportation, of which we have a lot. (Is this a form of “commuter tax” You betcha. But why should the folks in Westchester have better air than we do, while being allowed to contribute to our environmental problems?)

C) And speaking of heat and humidity in NYC, one of the best parts of summer is how the City smells. No, really; it can smell awful, in case you hadn't noticed, and it's one of the best incentives to go on vacation. The stench is particularly acute when restaurants, stores, and apartment buildings insist on spraying down their sidewalks each day, allowing the water to accumulate in small, stagnant pools right at curbside ... where they can accumulate even more dirt and filth, and start to smell putrid. I don’t know what the real solution is here, but I know that the smell is bad – and the unnecessarily-wasted water is worse. How about limiting this spray-down practice to once a week?


Speaking of dirt and filth, a brief word of thanks to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a fun, upstanding bunch of legislators and wanna-be moralists. Thanks for wasting tax-payer time on the important issues facing our nation, like a Constitutional amendment to ban the (rampant, absolutely unstoppable) problem of flag burning, or for the heady, earth-shaking need for legislation to ban gambling over the internet. As a citizen, I really appreciate how important issues (like immigration, or monitoring the excesses of the Executive branch, or trying to hold the line on your porky “earmarks”) get deferred for “study” until after the election, while the pressing issues like flag burning get immediate attention. The Senate deserves some thanks, too, while I’m at it, for being about one degree better than their colleagues in the House. And in case anyone is wondering: this is a bi-partisan problem. It’s easy to pick on the GOP, but the Democrats voted for the flag burning amendment and the gambling restrictions in heavy numbers, too.


Finally, I would like to offer an early business euology for Carlos Ghosn, the head of the automotive alliance of Renault and Nissan. After successfully bringing costs in line for both companies, and overseeing Nissan’s successful re-energization, Ghosn is apparently contemplating a further alliance with the moribund and desperate American car maker General Motors (being pushed by GM’s biggest shareholder Kirk Kerkorian).

All I can say is: come on! One look at GM should reveal that: its product line is uninspired; it has an unsustainable volume of brands selling too many look-alike, feel-alike cars; its union problems are wide and deep, even with all the employee buy-outs being taken; and clearly, its management is clueless about the car-driving public or their needs.

So, for even contemplating publicly a hook-up of this sort, Ghosn might just deserve to be sacked. Ok, that’s a little strong; but he should probably be reeled in. Isn’t Renault / Nissan better-off if GM, as a failing competitor, actually fails? Doesn’t that improve the odds for other car makers, the Franco-Japanese alliance included? Why would Renault and Nissan want to save the unsaveable, and how does it really benefit them? “Synergy,” let me remind you, is a bit of a a passé concept for a reason.


Happy Bastille Day, everyone. Long live the revolution!


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