Saturday, April 28, 2007

Brief Hiatus

Hi, everyone. Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. I'm down with a terrible sinus infection (and you don't even want to know about the awful gunk coming out of my face, but the phrase "bean-sized blood clots" can probably give you a good start on it). I've been to the doctor's and I'm on an interesting combination of antibiotic, antihistamine, and steroid drugs, and a saline spray to irrigate my nose et cetera. Nothing fun, though.

I also almost lost my laptop last Monday, which would have eaten all my notes on the abstinence-only report. (Say, any of you intrepid people out there following what's going on with US global AIDS coordinator Tobias, that sterling abstinence-only crusader, and the "sexless" massages provided by the employees of a well-known DC madam?)

I'll be posting more in a few days when I can muster the energy. Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mathematica Report, Part 3: Sleazy Sources and Self-Sufficiency

In Part 1 of this series, I advanced the radical hypothesis that one of the aims of abstinence-only education is to inculcate the belief, crudely put, "No fucking until you can afford it." In Part 2, I looked at some of the language used in the beginning sections of the report.

While I was taking down my notes, I happened to notice a passing reference that one of the "tenth grade program[s referenced in the study] also featured slide show materials from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH), which provided information on STDs and instructed students that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid contracting them." (34, as noted previously, all page numbers reflect the pages in the PDF, not the report pagination, for easier reference).

That institute name caught my eye, and got mental alarm bells ringing way in the back of my head. For some reason or other, the juxtaposition of "Medical" and "Institute" (hm, I tried to type "Mental" there; Freudian slip?) makes it seem as though they're desperately pushing for credibility in nomenclature. So who are these crazy MISHed up folks?

Well, according to their own website, MISH "founded to confront the global epidemics of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)." Interestingly enough, though, the Google search result page says:

In case you can't read that, it says "A nonprofit scientific, educational organization to confront the global epidemics of nonmarital pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease..." I decided to include a screenshot, because I'm assuming they track statistics and do vanity searches every so often, and I suspect that once they figure out that their Google search result text drops the dime on them, it won't remain as it appears now for very long. (And check out their Executive and Board of Directors while you're there.)

So let's break that down a bit. According to MISH, there is a "global epidemic of nonmarital pregnancy." Do you smell something a bit patriarchal there? I do, I see a couple of male doctors trying to dictate that if women have children, they should do so only within legal marriage...

A little further poking turns up even more evidence of the same:
The healthiest sexual activity is intentional, mutually agreeable, and mutually pleasurable in the context of a respectful, lifelong, mutually monogamous relationship. The healthiest sexual activity occurs between adults who are mature physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. They are financially self-sufficient and...
And hold on a minute. We just hit paydirt. Financially self-sufficient.

They claim to be interested in promoting optimal sexual health, but their definition of optimally sexually healthy does not include anyone on an economically unsound footing, among other things.

It continues:
...prepared to handle the results of sexual activity. ... For adolescents: delay of sexual debut, ideally until committing to a life-long mutually monogamous relationship such as marriage

For adults: abstinence outside of a life-long mutually monogamous relationship such as marriage

(Personally, for myself, I don't quite understand how you're supposed to have a pleasurable and mutually-satisfactory sexual relationship if you're also expected to have only one sexual partner in your lifetime and commit to that partner before beginning sexual experimentation. To use the same analogy as some other bloggers, that's a little bit like getting your driver's license without ever having been behind the wheel of a car, and then having your first real driving experience be on a ten-lane superhighway.)

According to SIECUS, MISH's study on abstinence-only education
cites mostly unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies to argue that abstinence-only education has a positive impact on teens’ sexual behavior. This contradicts overwhelming evidence from peer-reviewed evaluations of sexuality education programs that show that age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education programs that include information about contraception as well as promote abstinence are the most effective form of sexuality education for young people.

A report by the Guttmacher Institute says that the President of MISH wrote a
monograph on condoms and STDs, billed as "the most comprehensive scientific review of the science on condom effectiveness to date," MISH provides an analysis of the workshop report that, while factually correct, nonetheless asserts that condoms do not make sex "safe enough" to warrant their promotion for STD prevention [shouldn't that be up to the interested sexually-active parties to decide? -- ?!]. According to MISH, because condoms are "not foolproof" and marriage is "generally safe" from STD infection [except for all those people who get STDs from their spouses, but we won't mention them -- ?!], the government should be only promoting marriage and abstinence outside of marriage for STD prevention.
In other words, these are the same people who persistently keep their heads in the sand about the realities of human sexual behaviour, and insist that other people should submit to their control based on their unenforceable and impractical codes of conduct. They're also the same people who are looking to remove the "C" from the "ABC" HIV-prevention model, thereby condemning untold numbers of people to death.

Have I mentioned yet that this stuff falls neatly within the literal definition of evil?

Not only that, but let's look at some of the people this model excludes:

  • gays and lesbians, who cannot legally marry in many jurisdictions, unless they marry someone of the opposite sex;

  • many disabled people, who cannot find or retain work, and are therefore not "financially self-sufficient";

  • poor people in general;

and anybody else who can't, for one reason or another, get legally married within the jurisdictions they consider their purview.

I suspect too that part of the heavy emphasis on the "no fucking until you can afford it" message is because of the subtle (or not so subtle) anticontraception mentality of the writers and promoters of abstinence-only curricula. What they mean by "wait until you are financially self-sufficient before having sex" is "wait until you are financially self-sufficient before having children," which is not at all the same thing.* However, they would like you to believe, and to act, as though it is.

* Incidentally, there is some evidence that in some cases, early childbirth has little impact on later educational and financial attainment, although I'm having trouble locating the source at the moment. I'm not at all against the idea that one should have enough money to raise kids before having them, but it isn't up to me to enforce that idea on everyone, nor to attempt to deny people the opportunity to have children if they wish based on the contents of their literal or metaphorical bank accounts...

Mathematica Report Part 2: Preliminary Notes

I'm slowly slogging my way through this abstinence-only education report linked in the last post. It's interesting reading, and not only because of the excerpt from the Title V legislation language I quoted.

Here are my initial impressions, with the original quotations in numbered form, and then an exegesis (NB: all page numbers are given as the pages in the PDF, not the actual report pagination):

  1. high-risk girls only

  2. This term has not yet been adequately defined. What constitutes a "high-risk girl" for the purposes of this study? Girls who are at high risk of becoming sexually active outside the "accepted standard" of mutually monogamous sexual activity inside marriage (see the definition of abstinence-only education given in the Title V regs)? Girls who are at high risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases? Girls who are at high risk of becoming young or unmarried mothers? While those groups may overlap somewhat (this is basic Venn diagram stuff, keep up with me), there are large areas where the three groups are mutually exclusive.

    I certainly qualify as someone who was at high risk of engaging in sexual activity outside the bounds of either monogamous or marital relationships (as I'm unmarried and polyamorous and knew that I was likely to remain so for a long time even before I started having sex), but I waited until I was 18 -- a legal adult in my jurisdiction -- to begin having sex, have never contracted an STI, aside from swapping a pesky candida* infection back and forth with one long-term, monogamous partner, and I have also never been pregnant, thank goodness.

    I'm not even going to go into how replete with assumed heterosexism this entire report is. In most jurisdictions, teaching that the "accepted standard" is sex only within marriage means that gay people must either remain chaste or marry opposite-sex partners. The heavy emphasis on accidental pregnancy seems to exclude the possibility of lesbian activity as well.

  3. programs did not simply raise the likelihood that youth believed any disease was transmitted sexually; rather, they had a beneficial long-term impact on STD identification (pg 19)

  4. This is actually a positive thing. Knowing what STDs are out there and so on, is generally a good idea. Nothing much to say here, except that I imagine a good programme of comprehensive sex ed that takes into account the reality of premarital sex, would probably accomplish much the same thing. Remind me to come back and harsh on the "accepted standards" thing a bit; it reminds me just a little too much of those behaviour-training films from the 1950s for comfort, and I would also argue that those terms reflect ideational standards (for some people) rather than "expected" standards. (Whose expectations?)

  5. In addition, a sizeable fraction in both [the program and control] groups, about one-in-seven, reported being unsure about condoms' effectiveness for preventing HIV. (20)

  6. This represents a serious failure of education. Note that in the study, the "control" group is not necessarily receiving comprehensive sex ed. I have to wonder if this statistic represents the triumph of the right-wing anticontraception meme that condoms do not, in fact, reduce or prevent HIV transmission. I am not going to go into details here; perhaps someone with more biology background could do it for me?

  7. Program group youth were less likely than control group youth to report that condoms are usually effective at preventing STDs; and they were more likely to report that condoms are never effective at preventing STDs. For example, 21 percent of program group youth reported that condoms never prevent HIV, compared to 17 percent of control group youth. For herpes and HPV, 23 percent of program group youth reported that condoms are never effective, compared to 15 percent of control group youth. (20)

  8. In other words, the Waxman report that showed misinformation, scientific inaccuracies, and outright lies in some abstinence-only education curricula holds true for the curricula reported on here as well. The net effect of inculcating these beliefs, in short, that condoms don't prevent STDs (and that HIV statistic is particularly pernicious, will someone please write about the biomechanics of how condoms prevent HIV transmission?!), will likely be to reduce condom use in the target youth population, at least the ~50% of it that hasn't, as of the release of the report, yet had sex. I can almost follow the thought process entirely: It doesn't matter what I do, I can't prevent getting an STD, so why should I care about trying?

  9. One-quarter of sexually active adolescents nationwide have an STD, and many STDs are lifelong viral infections with no cure. (23)

  10. I do not know where they're getting this statistic, since it isn't sourced, nor what they're classing as an STD, either. It seems like an incredibly high number to me, but I'm not inclined at the moment to go chasing it down. (Note: This is not an argument from incredulity; this is merely noting that I'm skeptical of the authors' intentions in stating an improbable-looking, unsourced statistic, given the provenance of the study and the subject matter, especially given the recent tendencies on the part of policy-makers to insist that the facts are irrelevant in policy decisions.)

  11. STDs have been linked to infertility, miscarriages, cervical cancer, increased HIV risk, and numerous other health problems. Their cost is estimated at several billion dollars annually. (26)

  12. This is an interesting juxtaposition, and an interesting ordering of list items. We can generally assume from basic rhetorical principles of saliency and importance, that an author making a list will front- and end-load the list with the most important items, for greatest rhetorical impact. So what does that say about the writer of the study, that the list items closest to the head of the list are "infertility" and "miscarriages" and the item at the end of the list is "numerous other health problems," where the two items I would consider to be most severe in impact -- cervical cancer, and HIV risk, both of which can and do kill you (and are proven consequenses of STD infection, rather than merely "linked to" it)**, are buried in the middle?

    I also find it interesting that the very next sentence discusses the "cost" of these various risks, since "cost" is not generally a primary concern (although it is legitimately an important secondary concern) when discussing health policy issues. Also, "cost" is not adequately defined here, either. Is this "cost" in terms of the monetary value of healthcare services provided to treat/ameliorate these conditions? "Cost" as in lost productivity, lost wages, lost potential earnings, what? (Are you noticing a lot of painfully vague terminology in this report? I know I sure am.)

  13. A fifth program— Heritage Keepers in South Carolina (31)

  14. Now that is an interesting choice of nomenclature, particularly juxtaposed with the location, and the methodological notes that the study population was skewed in favour of low-income girls of colour (33). Why does it put me immediately in mind of the Heritage Front meets the Promise Keepers?

I think I'm going to stop there for now, as it occurs to me that the next item in my list of quotations discusses a curriculum called "Vessels of Honor" [sic], and there's probably an entire blog post just in that eight lines or so alone.

* A yeast/jock itch infection, which, if you're in a sexual relationship with someone and one of you gets it, you both should treat yourselves.

** After all, we know a lot of people like to "link" breast cancer to abortion, and Plan B to abortion, when there's no actual connection between either of those pairs of things.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

There it is, in black and white...

I've just started reading the Mathematica report on abstinence-only education in the US, and goodness, is it ever an interesting document (and I'm only on page 14/164 so far). Hat tip to Vanessa at Feministing for the link.

There has been a considerable amount of speculation in the feminist blogosphere about whether these professional abstinence promoters basically want to promote the idea that poor people shouldn't be having sex. The answer is unequivocally yes, according to this report. From their summary of Title V, Section 510 (b)(2)(A-H) of the Social Security Act (P.L. 104-193), one of the goals of abstinence-only education is to "[t]each the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity." It may depend on how they're defining "self-sufficiency" in this case, but considering the other rhetoric we've seen around welfare recipients, it's pretty obvious that they do, in fact, mean economic self-sufficiency.

In other words, no fucking until you can afford it. If you can never afford it, well, then, you don't deserve sexual pleasure, you lazy piece of worthless trash.

I think I'll be blogging more about this as time goes on, and I think I want to be taking notes as I'm reading, as well.

Suddenly, holding masturbation seminars for low-income people seems very subversive...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Take It Back, Markos

Take it back now. Your piddly little "all liberals need to die" eliminationist rhetoric is nowhere near comparable to having your photograph, name and address, and Social Security number posted on the internet in conjunction with violent sexualised threats and bizarre pornographic images. Call me back when someone writes about you, "fuck off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob," but of course, they won't, will they? When was the last time anyone threatened a male blogger with grotesque sexual violence? I can't think of an instance, because the kinds of men who hurl these offensive grudge-fuck rape-fantasies into the ether don't do that kind of thing to other men, unless they feminise them somehow first. In other words, I'm not going to sit here and wait for the phone to ring.

This isn't the first time you've been called on the carpet for rank misogyny, such as when you suggested that "women's issues" (which are actually people's issues, and affect 51% of the electorate directly, and most of the rest of them indirectly* -- so much for your vaunted designation of being politically smart) needed to take a back seat in Democratic politics to "real issues." Yeah, that's great. There are "women's issues," and then there are "real issues." Nice.

Funny how that works, isn't it? As commenter kali at Feministe points out:
There’s a formula here, isn’t there?
Woman: I got multiple, specific, sexualised death threats that were sufficiently credible to concern the police.
Man: Someone wrote to me and wished that all liberals would die, and you didn’t catch me whining about it! Why don’t you shut up and stop whining? Be thick-skinned like me!

See also:
Woman: Women earn 77 cents on the male dollar.
Man: Men have to pay for dinner and dating, but we don’t complain! Except just now, of course. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.

Woman: Women have to live with the threat of rape.
Man: Men have to deal with the threat of being suspected rapists! THAT’S WORSE! So stop whining about rape, it really hurts my feelings.

Patriarchy’s brave little soldiers! Awww!
That about says it all, as far as I'm concerned.

As I've mentioned before, people in the fucking fifteenth century (a few people, at any rate) had figured out the radical notion that women are actually people, and, in modern society, anyway, are entitled to all the rights and perquisites pertaining thereto. This seems to be a difficult concept for you to grasp. I'd suggest grasping it right smart, or graciously bowing the fuck out and keeping your trap shut about gender politics.

If Kathy Sierra wants to quit blogging because she can't take a year or more of specific, targeted, credible (to the point where she notified the FBI) death and rape threats, that's her business. Speaking as someone who has done a fair bit of techblogging myself**, I know that the IT world is persistently misogynistic and can be a rough-and-tumble place at times. Simply because that is so doesn't mean that Kathy Sierra's presence in that world should automatically generate death and rape threats.

This isn't about her; this is about a bunch of ornery little class-bully boys who are pissed off because not only has a woman horned in on their mystery religion, she has the temerity to be good at it, too. I'm sorry if you don't like that, but fuck you very much for blaming the victim. Grow up. Get your consciousness raised. For the sake of your new baby, at least, start treating women like human beings, if for no other reason than that your child needs a good role model.

As for me, there's only one rational response to all this, and that's to start studying programming again.

* For a really rank example of how a so-called "women's issue" affects men too, think of any of these self-styled "men's rights activists" and how they complain about getting "trapped" by women who get pregnant. If more and better birth control and/or abortion services were available -- which is usually considered to be the canonical "women's issue," there'd be an awful lot fewer unwilling fathers, MRA idiots or not, out there. Since this tangential discussion is on, once again how a feminist issue affects men -- this is bloody damn tiring, yawl -- I'm going to leave out the question of unwilling mothers, although I have written about that before.

** Incidentally, I hand-coded all the HTML you'll see in these blog postings myself, and I do it inline, as I'm composing in the Blogger web client window, so I'm not exactly a complete ignoramus myself.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The View from Next Door

Hullaballoo is running a good series right now on the homegrown American theocrats, the types who believe that their God really does have a political position on everything from taxation to Communism. It's definitely worth checking out, although if you've been more or less keeping up with the literature, you don't so much have to read the text as the editorial commentary (much of the text is approaching word salad anyway).

It's important to realise that these people are influential in their own way in the US political spectrum, and they're genuinely masters of using the Overton Window to inch their ideas surreptitiously into the public discourse. They don't actually need as much help with this as you might think, because they share deep ideological roots with much of the dominant US hard right (regardless of their intrinsic motivations), so their in-practice political positions are not too far off the "mainstream" of hard-right pseudofascist thought anyhow, even if their rationale for supporting these positions is completely different. They also represent another faction in the concerted action that has been pulling the US rightward for about 35 years now.

I have to take a slightly different tack on this than most bloggers who are writing on the subject, because I'm not a US citizen, so the concept of my defending US Constitutional rights just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I do believe that there are valid rationales for opposing US theocracy, even without doing it from a US-Constitutionalist perspective. First of all, from the point of view of a minoritarian civil libertarian (small-l, since I'm politically most closely aligned with the libertarian socialists, it's the right thing to do. Secondly, and this falls on the shoulders of the people actually living within the US' borders who can, say, vote in elections and petition elected representatives (and expect a response), a theocratic US would be very bad news politically and economically for the rest of the world.

I collect variations on an aphorism, heard in roughly the same form in various satellite countries of the US. In Canada, we say, "If the US sneezes, Canada catches a cold." In Australia, they say, "If the US sneezes, Australia gets covered in mucus." In Israel, they say, "If the US sneezes, Israel gets pneumonia."

What then if your country comes down with dancing mania, or, dare I say, Jerusalem syndrome?

If the theocrats take over, a US economic crash is almost inevitable (after a quarter-century of neoconservative rule, and yes, I'm counting Bill Clinton in there, since, despite accruing a surplus, he basically let the Republicans set his fiscal and domestic policy -- it's looking less and less avoidable anyhow). And if you go down, you take down practically the rest of the world with you. Canada, your second-largest (for years, the largest, but has now been superceded by China) trading partner, goes. The UK, the third-largest foreign holder of your Treasury securities, goes. Australia goes, albeit to a lesser extent. Israel, which is already on the brink of financial ruin, having first destabilised its functioning collective-based economy in an orgy of privatisation, and is now pumping vast amounts of treasure and blood into maintaining its war machine, goes. You'll probably hurt Japan, India, and China, too, although you won't destroy their economies quite as thoroughly. Remember how the Asian Currency Crisis basically caused a worldwide nuclear winter in the financial and employment sectors? If your economy crashes, multiply that by about ten.

Not only that, but you'll also destabilise world political relations. Who would want to deal with you? On the other hand, who would want to risk antagonising you, either?

Unfortunately, you, as US citizens, own this problem. There's very little the rest of us can do about it, since (surprise, surprise) we can't vote in your elections or petition your government effectively. What we can do is try to make you aware that the big world out here does actually give a damn about the problem (from where I'm sitting, being conversant in US politics isn't a hobby, it's a survival skill), and can point you to the bigger, non-US-centric issues.

Good luck.

A Brief Tangential Note: That reminds me... A friend of mine put a lovely quotation up on his LiveJournal today about how the true practice of Christianity is love, and how anyone who doesn't practice this isn't really practicing Christianity and so on. Peachy sentiment, but unfortunately, it really chaps my ass. My first reaction, speaking as an atheist and religious conscientious objector, is to say, "I'm sorry, what? And all true Scotsmen wear kilts."

You moderate liberal Christians, I love you all individually, but I'm sorry, you really don't get to cop out like that. Those guys, the Rushdoonys and the Peter Paces and Jerry Falwells of the world, they all self-identify as Christians. You can have all your private little doctrinal struggles, but from where I'm sitting you own those guys. You need to deal with them too, since they're interpreting your religion as their prime motivation for doing the crazy evil shit they're up to.

There isn't a damn single atheist you can say that about, and I don't want to hear any bullshit about either Stalin or Pol Pot, since neither of them did what they did because of atheism; they happened to be brutal, genocidal dictators who followed a political philosophy that had atheism as one of its minor tenets. Re-write the historical context of The Communist Manifesto so that organised religion wasn't an active collaborator in the oppression and suppression of labour (funny how that works, isn't it?), substitute a collective state religion, and it would have come off precisely the same way.

You own these folks, and you'd better damn well start standing up to them with Scripture in hand, because from where I'm sitting, the evangelical funnymentalist megachurch mindset is taking over, and that's not too far removed from Sinclair Lewis' formulation, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

You've all got some work to do. We'll keep up our end if you keep up yours. Good luck, again.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Great Trillion-Dollar Swindle

By the later years of the 1910s, demand for automobiles was basically flat. Ford's Model T, first produced in 1908, had basically saturated the market (it would continue to be produced unitl 1927, by which time advances in technology made it obsolete). 1 There had been nothing in the automotive market to really fire the imagination since the introduction of the Ford-Edison partnership that promised an affordable battery-powered electric car, and public "recharge stations" to run them with. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison even went so far as to purchase Detroit Electric, a maker of battery-powered automobiles. This remarkable development captured the imagination of the popular press at the time, and with it, the attention of the public, and the executives of General Motors.

In December of 1914, a disastrous and mysterious fire destroyed Thomas Edison's "fireproof" laboratory complex in West Orange, New Jersey, taking with it much of the prototype work that might have made such a scheme possible. The lab, thought to be impervious to fire because of its construction and the private fire brigade that was always on duty, was not insured, and Edison personally sustained a $5M loss. 2

Meanwhile, by the early 1920s, General Motors had put in place a strategy for increasing the general demand for automobiles, rapidly expanding its business, and achieving dominance in the automobile, truck, bus, and rail hardware markets. 3   GM's plan was manifold and breathtaking in scope,and included acquiring other companies in targeted sectors, building new plants all over the world, and a massive marketing, PR, and lobbying campaign that was one of the single-biggest promotional ventures in history. This systematic programme for shaping public demand and consensus must have run into the billions of dollars between 1930 and 1960 alone.

For example, an internal sales film from 1935, Pontiac Advertising 4, outlines a staggeringly large marketing campaign – and the film details only marketing activities for the Pontiac product line. There were campaigns for Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Chevrolet as well. According to Pontiac Advertising, Pontiac purchased an estimated “three billion, four hundred million reader impressions going into the home ... just through newspapers alone,” with ads appearing in 2500 US daily and weekly newspapers. They also ran “thirty-four pages” of ads in the Saturday Evening Post, with a circulation of 3 million, for a calculated 12 million ad views; twenty-one pages of advertising in Collier’s, with a readership of 10 million; twenty pages of ads in Time, aimed at half a million readers; thirteen pages to pitch Pontiacs as the “ideal second car” in the New Yorker, circulation 130 000 (“second car market” ads also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and Fortune); and print ads also appeared in The American Weekly, the largest-circulation weekly in the US at the time, at 5.5 million. Unusually (and expensively), American Weekly ads were also in “full colour – big, beautiful [and] arresting.” A “women’s appeal advertising” blitz placed ads in Good Housekeeping, “with its 2 million readers.” The “selling impressions” numbers are no doubt inflated, but even adding up the circulation totals yields impressive statistics. The film claims that the magazine campaign alone would reach 13 850 000 people for “365 million reader impressions.”

Based on a combination of the print ads plus Pontiac ads on 5000 billboards around the US, and radio commercials on NBC’s Red Network, the film boasts a total of “7 560 000 000 selling impressions” for the 1935 campaign alone. A similar film called Helping You Sell 5, produced in 1937 by the Jam Handy Organization for Chevrolet, details similar extremely aggressive salesmanship and marketing. Although this particular film primarily shows the details of Chevrolet’s film-based ad campaign, it does mention print ads, paper catalogues showing all available Chevrolet models, dealership sales, flyers to be inserted into newspapers, and what appears to be a brief depiction of door-to-door car-selling procedure. Chevrolet’s 1937 filmed-materials strategy involved campaigns in schools, community organisations, inside industry (for commercial, industrial, and fleet sales), and in movie theatres.

Keep in mind that while they were mounting this enormous ad campaign to sell cars, these same players, General Motors, Greyhound, Hertz, Firestone Tire, and serial antitrust violator Standard Oil 6 among them, were also involved in actively removing alternatives -- buying up and systematically shutting down street and interurban rail systems all across North America. 7 Everyone profited from these transactions -- the automakers, the bus-builders, the road lobbyists, the tire companies, the owners and shareholders of municipal transit companies (who were, as the photo shows, compensated heavily in cash -- and sometimes other perquisites) -- everyone but the riding public and the large industry that made and serviced the electric rail coaches that were rapidly being replaced by automobiles, buses, and diesel locomotives. (General Motors had a very large freight business, and was a major supplier of diesel rail equipment and parts, and so was not afraid in the least to throw its weight around to ensure that railroads purchased its equipment. 8)

At one time, there had been a thriving market in resale streetcars and parts. As "Good Used Cars" notes, "In the 1950's, [Philadephia] bought forty ex-Kansas City Missouri [streetcars], and another fleet from St. Louis ... Eleven more ex-Kansas City cars came to Philadelphia, by way of Toronto, in 1976." 9 Toronto had been a major buyer of decommissioned streetcars, when decommissioned streetcars were available, since Toronto has managed to keep its streetcar culture intact since the inauguration of (horse-drawn) streetcar service in 1873. 10

University of Pennsylvania professor Vukan Vuchic, UPS Foundation Professor of Transportation Engineering, puts some more numbers to the ever-mounting dollar figures involved: "The U.S. had 72,911 streetcars in service in 1917; by 1948, there were 17,911." 11 What happened to those other fifty-five thousand streetcars?

You can see from the picture accompanying this essay what happened to some of them. These streetcars were soaked in kerosene and set alight 12, some were hauled away, shredded, and sold for scrap, and others were sold and sent to cities with still-operating streetcar service. Still other transit companies merely towed the streetcars to out-of-the-way places and left them to rust. 13

Which leads, of course, to the obvious next question: How much exactly was all that streetcar/interurban rail rolling stock worth? Many of those streetcars and interurban rail cars were electrically powered (few moving parts and cheap to operate), in the first decade or so of their thirty- to forty-year operational lifespan, and a significant capital expenditure on the part of their former owners. Rebuilding existing streetcars and interurban cars was a common occurrence. In his article in Trains Classic, "What was it about the interurban?", transit historian William D. Middleton provides an excellent example accompanying a photograph taken in 1951:
Originally a Jewett Car Co. open trailer of 1916, [Bamberger Railroad] interurban 365 had been rebuilt more than once over its 30-plus years, emerging from a final 1946 rebuilding as a modernized, high-speed car good for a top speed of close to 75 mph. 14
Even assuming all else being equal (and they were a long way from, in fact) that represents a significant destruction of wealth, in classical economics terms.

How much money got burnt, shredded, melted, scrapped, dismantled, ditched, and dumped? Add it up. Between the ad campaigns, the secret backroom deals, and the destruction of tens of thousands of pieces of rolling stock, just in terms of gross wealth destruction, this was the great trillion-dollar swindle.


1 "Showroom of Automotive History: The Model T." The Henry Ford: America's Greatest History Attraction. 11 May 2005. The Henry Ford Museum. 5 Apr 2007

2 Black, Edwin. Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. First. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006 (pp. 1-2).

3 See: “GM - Corporate Info - History - 1920.” GM Cars - General Motors Corporate Website. General Motors Corporation. Accessed April 4, 2007, and

Doyle, Jack. Taken For a Ride: Detroit's big three and the politics of pollution. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000, and

Mintz, Morton. “GM Still Faces Monopoly Suit.” Washington Post 24 May 1974. Cited in Doyle, 2000, and

Snell, Bradford C. “American Ground Transport” Part 4A of Hearings in S. 1167, The Industrial Reorganization Act, before the Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Committee of the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 93rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1974.

Snell, Bradford C. “The StreetCar Conspiracy: How General Motors Deliberately Destroyed Public Transit.” 10 Sep 2001. Accessed 1 July 2006 (Originally at

Snell, Bradford C. Telephone/e-mail interview (with Rustin Wright). 16 Mar 2006.

4 Helping You Sell. Film. Jam Handy Organization, 1937. Accessed 6 April 2007,

5 Pontiac Advertising. Film. 1935. General Motors Corporation (?) Accessed 6 April, 2007,

6 Bowen, John, editor. “STANDARD OIL CO. v. U. S. 221 US 1.” Supreme Court Antitrust Debates. 12 Nov 1997. Ripon College. Accessed 27 May 2006 (now at, and

“Standard ogre.” The Economist Millennium issue 23 Dec 1999. Accessed 4 April 2007 href="

7 idem Snell, "American Ground Transport"

8 idem Snell, "American Ground Transport," and

"Is EMD a Monopoly?." Trains (magazine) June 1961: 6, 11.

“U.S. Supreme Court, UNITED STATES V. NATIONAL CITY LINES , 334 U.S. 573 (1948), 334 U.S. 573, UNITED STATES v. NATIONAL CITY LINES, Inc., et al. No. 544.” FindLaw for Legal Professionals. FindLaw. 26 May 2006 (link dead).

9 Szylagi, Mike. "Philadelphia Trolley Tracks: Good Used PCC Cars." Philadelphia Trolley Tracks. 30 Nov 2003. Accessed 5 Apr 2007.

10 Wyatt, David. "History of Regional Transit in Toronto, Ontario." David Anthony Wyatt, BSc.. 2 Feb 2007. University of Manitoba. Accessed 6 Apr 2007

11 "Streetcars Derailed Canada Escaped Plot That Scuttled US Transit." Toronto Star 27 June 1999, Sunday 1: Context.

12 Taken For A Ride. Dir. Jim Klein and Martha Olson. Videocassette. New Day Films, 1996.

(This film actually shows footage of streetcars being burnt in Philadelphia.)

and idem, Black, Edwin. Internal Combustion (photographic plates showing burning of streetcars in Newark and Minneapolis).

13 "How a Fleet of Vintage Streetcars Became Stranded in the Snows of Lake Tahoe." [Weblog Telstar Logistics] 22 Mar 2007. Telstar Logistics. 6 Apr 2007

14 Middleton, William D.. "What was it about the interurban?." Trains Classic 1999: 82-92.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Historians, as a general rule, are crazy. People, on the other hand, have a disturbing tendency to make historians crazier, simply by being...well, people.

Let me tell you about it.

One of the reasons I feel so fortunate in my practice as a historian, such as it is, is that I have a significant background in literature. Believe it or not, literature really helps to fill in the gaps in the historical record, particularly things like realistic novels, comedies of manners, and social satires. More often than not, works of fiction like these have accurate (confirmably from the evidence) descriptions of the popular culture at the time they were written.

As much as young fogies like me (if I weren't a democratic socialist, I'd definitely be the kind of person who gripes about the "good old days," and how bad the good old days really were) would like to ignore it (*coughBritneySpearsMarkWahlbergandTimeMagazinecough*), the sad fact of the matter is, popular culture goes a long way towards explaining history.

And there's the flaw. We know a fair bit about what a lot of ancient cultures thought was important, but we know very little about the day-to-day lives of ordinary people in those cultures. It's pretty easy to figure out what the kings and emperors, princes and princesses and potentates were doing, but it's harder to figure out what the common person was doing (and about tenfold if the common person in question was a female common person).

This is what's so interesting about historical archives like The Crypt of Civilization, which contains among its relatively useless items some actually interesting things, like "1 package Butterick dress patterns," various toys and household items, and numerous samples of synthetic products that aren't, as far as I can tell, even made anymore (a mere 67 years later). Because it's accessible, the Prelinger Archive at is even more interesting.

Both of these collections house significant amounts of ephemera -- stuff that appears and vanishes quickly, and isn't generally kept, things like dress patterns and printed advertisements and television commercials.

With that in mind, I'd like to make a few suggestions. If anyone reading this is ever planning on building a time capsule, here are some things you should be thinking about putting in:

  • maps (yes, they go out of date quickly; that's the point!)
  • transit and train schedules
  • menus
  • recipes
  • general-interest magazines and similar media (a copy of TV Guide!!)
  • television commercials
  • an ATM receipt
  • posters, flyers, and other promotional items, particularly political ones
  • articles of clothing
  • faddish products of the time

With any luck, future archaeologists and historians will have a fairly easy time documenting this era, but it never hurts to want to give them some help.