Laws to Protect Car Dealers, Keep Car Prices High

TeslaGalleryVirginia2013-07-23.jpg “Tesla ‘galleries’ such as this one in McLean, Va., can show but not sell cars.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) RALEIGH, N.C.–Elon Musk made a fortune disrupting the status quo in online shopping and renewable energy. Now he’s up against his toughest challenge yet: local car dealers.

Mr. Musk, the billionaire behind PayPal and now Tesla Motors Inc., wants to sell his $70,000 Tesla electric luxury vehicles directly to consumers, bypassing franchised automobile dealers. Dealers are flexing their considerable muscle in states including Texas and Virginia to stop him.
The latest battleground is North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled state Senate last month unanimously approved a measure that would block Tesla from selling online, its only sales outlet here. Tesla has staged whiz-bang test drives for legislators in front of the State House and hired one of the state’s most influential lobbyists to stave off a similar vote in the House before the legislative session ends in early July.
The focus of the power struggle between Mr. Musk and auto dealers is a thicket of state franchise laws, many of which go back to the auto industry’s earliest days when industry pioneer Henry Ford began turning to eager entrepreneurs to help sell his Model T.
Dealers say laws passed over the decades to prevent car makers from selling directly to consumers are justified because without them auto makers could use their economic clout to sell vehicles for less than their independent franchisees.

For the full story, see:
MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. “Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.

If Driverless Cars Only Kill Half a Million Per Year, that “Would Be an Improvement”

(p. 261) . . . , human-piloted cars cause great harm, killing millions of people each year worldwide. If robot-controlled cars killed “only” half a million people per year, it would be an improvement!

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Great-Grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt Privately Built First Highway Dedicated to Cars


Source of book image:

(p. 13) It survives only as segments of other highways, as a right of way for power lines and as a bike trail, but the Long Island Motor Parkway still holds a sense of magic as what some historians say is the country’s first road built specifically for the automobile. It opened 100 years ago last Friday as a rich man’s dream.

As detailed in a new book, “The Long Island Motor Parkway” by Howard Kroplick and Al Velocci (Arcadia Publishing), the parkway ran about 45 miles across Long Island, from Queens to Ronkonkoma, and was created by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

. . .

The younger Vanderbilt was a car enthusiast who loved to race. He had set a speed record of 92 miles an hour in 1904, the same year he created his own race, the Vanderbilt Cup.
But his race came under fire after a spectator was killed in 1906, and Vanderbilt wanted a safe road on which to hold the race and on which other car lovers could hurl their new machines free of the dust common on roads made for horses. The parkway would also be free of “interference from the authorities,” he said in a speech.
So he created a toll road for high-speed automobile travel. It was built of reinforced concrete, had banked turns, guard rails and, by building bridges, he eliminated intersections that would slow a driver down. The Long Island Motor Parkway officially opened on Oct. 10, 1908, and closed in 1938.
. . .
But by the end of Vanderbilt’s life (he died in 1944), the public had come to feel entitled to car ownership. And there was growing pressure for public highways, like the parkways that the urban planner Robert Moses was building.

. . .

In 1938, Moses refused Vanderbilt’s appeal to incorporate the motor parkway into his new parkway system. The motor parkway just could not compete with the public roads, even after the toll was reduced to 40 cents, and Moses eventually gained control of Vanderbilt’s pioneering road for back taxes of about $80,000. The day of public roads had come, supplanting private highways.
. . .
The parkway marked the beginning of a process: the road was designed for the car. But in offering higher speeds, the parkway and other modern roads would push cars to their technical limits and beyond, inspiring innovation. In that sense, the first modern automobile highway helped to create the modern automobile.

For the full story, see:
PHIL PATTON. “A 100-Year-Old Dream: A Road Just for Cars.” The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., October 12, 2008): 13.
(Note: the centered bold ellipses were in the original; the other ellipses were added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 9, 2008.)

The book mentioned in the article, is:
Kroplick, Howard, and Al Velocci. The Long Island Motor Parkway. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

LongIslandMotorParkwayRouteMap2013-07-21.jpg “Approximate Route of Long Island Motor Parkway.” Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Students Learn More in Air Conditioning

(p. 5) My first year as a public school teacher, I taught at Manhattan’s P.S. 98, which did not have air-conditioning. From mid-May until June’s end — roughly 17 percent of the school year — the temperature in my classroom hovered in the 80s and often topped 90 degrees.
Students wilted over desks. Academic gains evaporated. Even restless pencil tappers and toe wigglers grew lethargic. Absenteeism increased as children sought relief at home or outdoors. By day’s end, my hair was plastered to my face with perspiration.
It seems obvious: schools need to be cool. It’s absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.
. . .
Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. . . . A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.
. . .
It isn’t just white-collar laborers who work in cool climates. Amazon announced last year that it was spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses with air-conditioning. Yet we can’t seem to do the same for vulnerable children, though some of the achievement gap is most likely owing to a lack of air-conditioning. One Oregon study found that students working in three different temperature settings had strikingly different results on exams, suggesting that sweating a test actually undermines performance.
Students who enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning may enjoy an unfair advantage over their hotter peers.
We are also investing enormous sums to extend the school day and school year in many locales. But these investments won’t be effective if schools are ovens.

For the full commentary, see:
SARA MOSLE. “SCHOOLING; Schools Are Not Cool.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 2, 2013): 5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2013.)

Creator of C Language Worked Late “in a Chaotic Office”


“Dennis Ritchie received the Japan Prize in May at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J., for his role in co-developing the Unix operating system.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) Dennis Ritchie invented C, the computer-programming language that underlies Microsoft Windows, the Unix operating system and much of the other software running on computers around the world.

Mr. Ritchie was a longtime research scientist at Bell Labs, originally AT&T’s research division. Bell Labs announced that he died at age 70 [his body was discovered on October 12, 2011].
. . .
Twitter and other online forums crackled with tributes to Mr. Ritchie after his death was announced.
One came from James Grimmelmann, a former Microsoft programmer who now is an associate professor at New York Law School.
“If [Steve] Jobs was a master architect of skyscrapers, it was Ritchie and his collaborators who invented steel,” Mr. Grimmelmann wrote.
Long-haired and often working late into the night in a chaotic office, Mr. Ritchie fulfilled in some ways the computer-nerd stereotype. He was given to gnomic pronouncements on his creations.
“Unix is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity” was one. Another: “C is quirky, flawed and an enormous success.”

For the full obituary, see:
STEPHEN MILLER. “REMEMBRANCES; DENNIS RITCHIE 1941-2011; Pioneer Programmer Shaped the Evolution of Computers.” The New York Times (Fri., October 14, 2011): A7.
(Note: ellipsis, and words in first brackets, added; name in second brackets, in original.)

The Precautionary Principle Is Biased Against the New, and Ignores the Risks of the Old

(p. 250) In general the Precautionary Principle is biased against anything new. Many established technologies and “natural” processes have unexamined faults as great as those of any new technology. But the Precautionary Principle establishes a drastically elevated threshold for things that are new. In effect it grandfathers in the risks of the old, or the “nat-(p. 251)ural.” A few examples: Crops raised without the shield of pesticides generate more of their own natural pesticides to combat insects, but these indigenous toxins are not subject to the Precautionary Principle because they aren’t “new.” The risks of new plastic water pipes are not compared with the risks of old metal pipes. The risks of DDT are not put in context with the old risks of dying of malaria.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

Ignoring Einstein’s Mistakes by Deifying Him, Makes Us Forget His Struggles


Source of book image:

(p. A13) Mr. Ohanian finds that four out of five of the seminal papers that Einstein produced in the so-called “miracle year” of 1905, when he was working as a patent inspector in Zurich, were “infested with flaws.”
. . .
. . . he notes Einstein’s errors for a purpose, showing us why his achievement was all the greater for them.
In this Mr. Ohanian provides a useful corrective, for there is a tendency, even today, to deify Einstein and other men of genius, treating them as if they were immortal gods. Einstein himself objected to the practice even as he reveled in his fame. “It is not fair,” he once observed, “to select a few individuals for boundless admiration and to attribute superhuman powers of mind and of character to them.” In doing so, ironically, we make less of the person, not more, forgetting and simplifying their struggle.
. . .
. . . Einstein’s ability to make use of his mistakes as “stepping stones and shortcuts” was central to his success, in Mr. Ohanian’s view. To see Einstein’s wanderings not as the strides of a god-like genius but as the steps and missteps of a man — fallible and imperfect — does not diminish our respect for him but rather enhances it.

For the full review, see:
McMahon, Darrin M. “BOOKSHELF; Great and Imperfect.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 5, 2008): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The book under review is:
Ohanian, Hans C. Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.