Monday, August 19, 2013

Growing Up In America

Things Are Bad And Getting Worse

Anthony Freda Art
Paul Craig Roberts
Activist Post

Terrible things are happening faster than we can keep up with them. Monsanto, widely regarded as a criminal enterprise, is expanding its monopoly over seeds and food production into Chile and Latin America. Monsanto has given up for now on monopolizing Europe’s agriculture, but has brought the EU around to allowing it to market GMO food products. Money speaks, which perhaps is the reason that Chile’s former president, Michelle Bachelet, introduced the pro-Monsanto legislation that one of the legislative chambers has passed. There are mass demonstrations in Chile against the legislation that destroys Chile’s sovereignty over its food production, but just as Monsanto can purchase the US government it also can purchase the Chilean government. In our day and time, governments are just another commodity to be bought and sold by powerful corporations.

And then there is Fukushima. Media have led us to think that this nuclear crisis is over,
but it appears that it is only beginning. The risk of apocalypse is high. You can read here one assessment of the risks to all of us. Here another. And here another. And another.

As soon as Egypt gets a democracy with an elected president, Washington has the military, which is dependent on Washington for money and equipment, to overthrow the democracy, just as Washington does in Honduras and elsewhere. The Egyptian government that democracy produced was Islamist. The Muslim Brotherhood is moderate, not radical, but the moderate Islamists showed lack of enthusiasm for supporting the Washington-Israeli policy of genocide for Palestine. Washington finds “freedom and democracy” unacceptable when it does not support Washington’s foreign policy.

This fall Congress will again be confronted with the debt ceiling limit. To keep this specter at bay, the US Treasury has been employing questionable means. The crisis that has been kicked down the road is likely to worsen, because the economy is likely to renew its decline in ways that cannot be disguised by manipulated statistics. Sooner or later the world will realize that the US cannot pay its bills and that the world’s reserve currency is being ruthlessly printed in order to prop up busted banks and the US Treasury. The house of cards that US economic policy has constructed in the 21st century can collapse at any time.

Since so much that is distressing awaits us, I propose a bit of respite and in this column
take us back to happier times.

Growing Up In America
cars make a difference

Paul Craig Roberts

It was 1955 when I came of driving age. What a glorious year on the automotive scene. The first V-8 engined Chevrolet appeared in the striking art work of the 1955 Bel Air hard top coupe. Often two-toned, usually pastels, this car, stock from the dealer, had the acceleration to match the souped up flathead V-8 Ford engines that were ensconced in the hot rods of the day.

The small block V-8 found its way into the Corvette, saving the Corvette from extinction.

Ford came out with its new overhead valve V-8, installed in the 1955 Thunderbird, still a show-stopper today. The Thunderbird existed as a two-seater for 3 years. The 1955 and 1956 Ford Fairlane hard top coup looked like it was doing sixty sitting still.

The dramatic styling and energetic engines appeared everywhere in Detroit’s lineup, in the Mercury, the Pontiac, Oldsmobile, the Buick Century. So many two-tones, acceleration times cut in half. Life was good.

Not to be outdone, Chrysler produced the 1955 Chrysler 300 with a 300 horsepower Hemi engine. This car was the high speed king, reaching 130 mph. In 1956 the 300 Hemi delivered 355 horsepower capable of 140 mph. By 1957 the 300 Hemi produced 390 horsepower, outrunning the Ferraris of the day.

Every style of every marque was distinctive. There was no mistaking one model for another. Driving on city streets and country highways was a feast for the eyes. Style and color were everywhere.

Even in those days driving occupied much of a person’s time. To be among striking designs and color combinations that excited the imagination was good for the psyche. We were a different people.

Decades ago a rare piece of fiction in Road & Track resulted in a premonition of the brutal and indistinguishable appearance of today’s SUVs and oversized pickup trucks.

It was the only piece of fiction, aside from a cartoon strip feature, that I recall ever appearing in R&T. The magazine is about road tests, car reports, and race results.

Perhaps the explanation for the fictional story is that a prescient car guy realized the brutal design implications of the looming car safety standards and wrote a story set in the future.

In the story, a man has a lovely sports car from the past that, unlike the mandated safety vehicles, is fun to drive, but he can no longer take it out during normal hours. Under federal safety mandates, vehicles had become massive hulks, brutal in appearance, and capable of smashing the cars of the past without injury to themselves or their drivers. Drivers of the safe machines patrol on the lookout for cars from an earlier, more elegant time. It was a sport to corner them and to crash into them, thus terminating their existence and removing the offense to the ugliness of the safe cars mandated by the government.

To avoid the demise of his car, he only took it out at 3:00 AM in order to avoid encounters with safe cars. But one early morning two of the hulks were waiting for him. The safe cars approached from both ends of the road, leaving him no way out. But the agility of his car and his skills as a driver permit his escape. Henceforth his enjoyment of his car is confined to visits in the garage and memories of past drives.

I don’t remember if the story was illustrated or whether the image of the SUV was created by the writer’s words, but years later when I saw the first SUV, now with names, such as Titan, to go with their brutal appearance, I instantly recalled the R&T story.

The young have no memory of the past. They cannot know how exciting automobiles once were. The excitement created by the explosion of styles, colors, and performance in 1955 is gone from the world. It was a 15-year experience, with the muscle cars of the 1960s keeping the thrill alive.

When the Jaguar E-Type appeared in 1961, no one could believe that such an extraordinarily beautiful and fast car could be had for $5,000. Enzo Ferrari, the master car-maker of all time, declared the E-Type to be the most beautiful car in the world. One sits in permanent exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Who could imagine a SUV being there, or an over-sized pick-up truck? If we had called for our Saturday night dates in such vehicles, our dates would have been mortified and would have refused to come out of the house.

Anyone who has sat in the driver’s seat of an E-Type, the first modern car with all independent suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes, looking over the long and louvered bonnet (hood), and starting the powerful engine with its Jaguar growl finds today’s vehicles utterly depressing.

Another extraordinary design of the era was the Lamborghini Miura. It came 5 years after the E-Type and was an equal show-stopper.

Today if you have a quarter of a million dollars to spend on a car, you can purchase cars that can outperform these icons of the 1960s. But if you drive up in your Audi A-8, your AMG Mercedes, your Porsche turbo, your Ferrari Italia, the audience will flock to the E-Type and to the Miura. Style, when it was not dictated by Washington, was brilliant. There will never again be anything like it.

Today cars from the fifties and sixties, including the 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 coupe, if in reasonable condition, are more valuable than most new cars. A good Miura goes for $1 million. A Series 1 E-Type, produced in much larger numbers than the Miura, goes for $125,000 if in good condition. I have a friend who in the mid-1960s bought and sold for $9,000 a Ferrari 250 GTO. This Ferrari, an aggressive and beautiful take-off on the elegant E-Type, won the world championship for three years in the early 1960s. There were only about 36 of them produced. One sold recently for $35 million. Try to imagine, short of dollar hyperinflation, any vehicle of our time ever fetching $35 million as a used car.

Seeing a car, rather than a SUV or monster pick-up truck, is becoming a rare event. Recently, I made a count on a stretch of Interstate highway, and 75% of the traffic consisted of SUVs and over-sized pick-up trucks. Americans want to appear brutal like their vehicles, and their police, and their governments.

SUVs were an unintended consequence of federally mandated fleet gas milage standards. Auto makers complied with the mandate by eliminating station wagons. People looking for station wagon replacement settled on delivery vans and panel trucks. These vehicles, classified as light trucks, were exempt from the gas milage standards, and the SUV was born.

The unintended consequence of safety standards is to take beauty out of almost all vehicles. How many attractive vehicles do you see today? I recently made a 370 mile trip and saw one car worthy of notice. It was a $300,000 600HP Bentley coupe, a rare and unusual car. When I came of driving age, beautiful and colorful cars emitting wonderful sounds were everywhere. We were surrounded by them. They were Chevrolets and Fords. They weren’t for the mega-rich. The working class could afford them.

Think about this for a minute. People spend much of their lives in passenger vehicles. They commute to work and back to home. They travel to shop. They travel to vacation destinations. They take children to school and back to home. All of this time that they spend in vehicles they never see anything beautiful or artistic unless some unusual remnant from the past or a rare modern day supercar, whose cost exceeds their lifetime earnings, happens by.

This was not true in my day. We were surrounded by color, style, and attractive designs. Literally everyone could afford it. The epitome of style was the two-door hard top coupe. Such a vehicle would cost, perhaps, $400 more than the base model that lacked the elegant touches.

Today, in our brutalized transportation existence, in which no make or model can be identified from any other and in which a two-tone paint job doesn’t exist, anyone with a collection of 1950s and 1960s two-door hard top coupes is a wealthy person not merely in money but also in spirit.

Today a person with a beautiful car from the past does not yet have to worry about being chased down and destroyed by a modern safe-car hulk, but he has to worry about where he parks it. Beauty and style elevate. Ugliness uglifies. People who drive barbarian cars can themselves become barbarians.

Terrible things happened in the 1950s and 1960s. McCarthyism got loose for a short period. President John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby were murdered, as was Martin Luther King, perhaps by their own government. The reliance on fear to keep the profitable cold war going and the elimination of those who would change course are antecedents of the present. We still suffer from them.

The difference is that then enough Americans had a frame of mind that had space for the optimism that permitted blacks to be legislated into full citizenship and for the protests that brought to an end the military/security complex’s profitable aggression in Vietnam.

Perhaps elegant cars had a civilizing influence and contributed to that frame of mind. Get Washington out of car design. It might help to restore our humanity from the brutality that surrounds us.

This article first appeared at Paul Craig Roberts' new website Institute For Political Economy.  Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His Internet columns have attracted a worldwide following.


This article may be re-posted in full with attribution.


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Anonymous said...

This is true. I am not from the era, but we have a lot of old cars around where I live. Roadsters, cars from the 50's. Heck! Even an old Ford no later than the 20's. It is something to see, and I point them out to my kids. Heck! Even an original VW bug is more beautiful than what we have now. It's really sad.

Hide Behind said...

Thanks for the reminder of when autos were stimulating to eyes and ears.
Only vaguely mentioned was the sound and the sounds could let you know before you seen what make or model was coming.
In the cartoon flic "CARS" there is one named Doc, I think, and it is an old Hudson Hornet, my favorite of flic.
When Doc goes out to drive by hisself and it shows the auto and then comes the noise out of that engines exhaust I stood up and yelled "YES,YES, YES" startling the hell out of wife.
Damned but the sounds of a 300+ cube dual carbed and exhausted through smittys was once more heard and I went back flashing to those early 50-60 years.
Want to know what killed the art of the auto, one word, effeciency.
Actually I thought the story of the midnight auto was in Playboy and after one auto gets destroyed he goes into his basement to build another but nit picking in name of effeciency sucks, hust as do most of todays autos.
the psy reason given during 1970-1990 was that best design and one humans will feel most comfortable within is an egg.
The colored womb complete with piped in air and music with cup and food holder accessories.
Back in 50-1973 we were trying to bust free from wombs while today we are trying to crawl back into them.

Anonymous said...

Hide Behind-
Way to contribute with your senseless dribble, sleep little baby, sleep.

Anonymous said...

Paul I can't let this pass without mentioning America's first 4 seater high performance car, the 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk. 2 door hardtop with a 289 4 bbl carb and a McCullough supercharger. If you just goosed it a little it would burn rubber. What a car!

Anonymous said...

I'm from Paul's era, and I suspect the entity known as Hide Behind is, too. Actually, this is one of Hide Behind's better composed comments. He's entitled to contribute whether you like it or agree with him or not. I know I don't always agree with him. But his comments are becoming more intelligible.

FYI, the word is "drivel", not "dribble". Look it up.

jamckinnis said...

I am a few years junior but grew up in the heyday of Detroit's exuberance and then witnessed its passing. It is so true how these unique cars were there for even the working classes to enjoy--they weren't crown jewels.

It is interesting, too, how growing up in that era affected us so that when we saw a car which by its own aesthetics recalled the joy, how pleasurable that was. In the film, A Man and a Woman, Jean Louis Trintignant, in his role as a racer, drives one of the original Ford GT-40's on a test circuit. Filmed in the cockpit with the sounds of the car, it was magical. Actually Ford did a joyful thing of late, recreating in wonderful verisimilitude to the original design of beauty, a mid 2000's replica.

Another work of art which endured was the Avanti, which began as a Studebaker in the early 60's and remained virtually unchanged for I believe two decades or more.

Thanks for the wonderful nostalgia!

Hide Behind said...

Sorry but my 53 stude coupe was best looking studie of all.
1957 Rambler Ambassador with its 327 engine( its own not a chevy) left the Hawks and every other car in 1/4, Chrysler fastest top end, 57 Hawks with Packard. motors and even supercharged modelsMaine Highway Patrol had stude sedans in56 and 57. ,lewiston cops had 56 Buicks with stick..
Annonymous you sound like the type that wore wide lapel open neck white shirts with pink undershirt. and red whie and black checkered slacks as they d rove pink Caddys and Lincolns looking for young boy hitch-hikers.
There was a whole national culture built around the automobile, You could of made a statement as you could order your auto to fit that statement. It was who you were as to personality and even your economic status within society and where you were heading
That cultural nuance is gone today.


Memory lane... Sure miss those simpler times.

Anonymous said...

The cars that are manufactured today do not have the same quality as the cars in the 50's and 60's. The cars that are being manufactured today are made out of composite materials of plastic and fiber glass and the gage of metal of the car body is the thickness of a tin can. Even the bumpers have been eliminated. They are nothing but a death trap. The price keeping going up on a new car and the quality keeps going down. Soon they will be manufacturing a plastic bubble with bicycle wheels.

Astraea said...

I am just happy to post this far and wide so that all the men out there can get into intense and joyful discussions - ABOUT CARS!

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