Friday, November 9, 2007

Who’s watching the watchers?

A news story last week in the San Francisco Chronicle highlights an interesting question of ethics and a potential conflict of interest.

The University of California is considering signing a $500 million research contract paid for by BP, one of several big oil companies that continue to force you to make decisions like “should I take my kids to see grandma and grandpa this week or take them to the library?” because I can’t afford gas to both places.

I know this blog and Land Line Magazine’s Web site have seemed to harp on environmental issues in recent months, but there’s a reason.

The fight to keep trucking from being overgrown by duplicitous, overreaching regulations and to keep an even playing field for small businesses is being waged on a new front: the Green scheme.

Because the federal government hasn’t moved forward with emissions restrictions that help poor air quality areas like Los Angeles, Allegheny County, PA, and New York City, cities, counties and states are taking the bull by the horns and creating their own limits on everything from truck idling to access to ports to running reefer engines.

Just yesterday, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced Colorado will “fight global warming by adopting clean-car standards and tailpipe emissions among other standards similar to California’s plan by 2011. You’ve gotta believe trucking will be among the “devils in the details” when Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission sets the rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below current levels by 2050 or so, according to the Denver Post.

California – which has established itself as the leader in cutting diesel truck emissions – has repeatedly commissioned studies by the University of California and other state institutions as the foundation for regulations such as next year’s statewide five-minute limit on idling, and a plan to aggressively cut emissions from trucks that stop in California ports.

Daniel Sperling, a CARB board member, is a professor at UC-Davis, and worked extensively on a research project that is now being used to develop a low-carbon fuel standard. (At last check, CARB had not decided whether diesel fuel will be included in the new standard.)

To my original point – the contract calls for the formation of the Energy Biosciences Institute for research on biofuels and energy initiatives.

Groups such as Greenpeace USA and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights have publicly criticized the University for considering the research contract.

“The prospect of giant carbon polluters directing research related to and gaining control of key energy technologies is very troubling – especially when the research is conducted at, and the technologies are developed in collaboration with, public institutions,” the groups wrote in a letter to UC President Robert Dynes, according to the Chronicle.

You have to wonder what would motivate BP to shell out $500 million, and just what advantage they’ll have when new technologies and energy sources are mandated.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Semper Fi!

As a contributor to Land Line, I also have a regular day job as an editor and writer at a publishing company. For the past 18 months or so, a large part of my duties there have involved editing Semper Fi, a bimonthly magazine for the 70,000 members of the Marine Corps League. You can find here.

I’m betting that some of you are Marines (there being no such thing as a former Marine), and you’ll be celebrating someplace, too.

In that capacity, several of my colleagues and I are going to Washington this weekend to participate in celebrating the Corps’ 232 Birthday. The weekend officially starts with a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial, often called the Iwo Jima Memorial, click here or here. There, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and its two major marching bands, The President’s Own and The Commandant’s Own, as well as the world-famous Silent Drill Team, will perform for assembled Marines and friends.

That night, as has been tradition for much of the last 100 years, Marine units, bases and veterans around the world will have a party – known as a Birthday Ball. At some point in the festivities, the cooks will wheel out a big cake that will be cut with a Marine saber. The first two pieces go to the oldest and youngest Marines present – another tradition.

On Sunday, Veterans’ Day, the League will take its turn as the official hosting veterans organization at the national Veterans’ Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery (you can see what last year’s observance looked like here).

The League members will be readily identifiable because of the scarlet jackets they wear. I’m not a Marine, so I will be in a suit and sunglasses, looking a lot like a Secret Service agent.

Seriously, I am very humble to be afforded the opportunity to participate in this. Some years ago, I participated in the Memorial Day event known as Rolling Thunder, remembering MIAs and KIAs and, as part of that, laid a wreath at the Vietnam War Memorial on behalf of truckers who served in that conflict.

When I return, I’ll post an account as well as some photos and maybe a link to some video. To all you Marines out there, Happy Birthday and Semper Fideles!

Beatles connection to trucking

OK. This is too good. I have to blog about this.

Paul McCartney was recently photographed smooching with a lovely woman by the name of Nancy Shevell in New York.

Before we go running off into the land of catchy Beatle headlines and song lyrics, we’ll tell you that Ms. Shevell’s family owns the Shevell Group, a company that includes LTL carriers and logistics firms such as New England Motor Freight, Eastern Freight Ways, Carrier Industries and Apex Logistics.

So there is a Beatle connection to trucking after all besides Paul’s “yellow lorry slow” reference – a seemingly non sequitur lyric about a truck – in “You Never Give Me Your Money.”

Shevell is a connected woman in trucking and transportation.

New England Motor Freight boasts that it is one of the largest LTL carriers in the Northeast with 30 terminals, according to its Web site.

Shevell, 47, is vice president of the company. In 2004, she was named as a board member of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

And now she’s reportedly seeing McCartney, tirelessly active surviving Beatle. I refuse to call Paul an ex-Beatle for reasons of endearment.

I will also refrain from the tabloid-style attacks about Paul and his ex-wife, Heather Mills. They can work it out and get it straight or say goodnight.

It’s time to keep things light with a little trucking Beatle medley:

She was a day tripper, Sunday driver yeah. But everyone knew her as Nancy. She’s got a ticket to ride, and she don’t care. Get back. Get back. Get back to where you once belonged. Why don’t we do it in the road? Baby, you can drive my car.

Or in this case, a truck. OK. That’s enough. Good luck, Sir Paul.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It’s a good thing they can’t talk

Anybody with kids knows the panic of your child ratting you out at the worst possible moment.

I learned this lesson years ago when I took my niece, Meg, with me to pick up fair results at the county fairground. She was 3 years old at the time and quite the talker.

I was driving around the access road – which was restricted to press and fair workers – and some toothless carnie started yelling at me to get off the road. I muttered under my breath, “Hide and watch, b$@#%,” and kept driving.

The carnie saw me muttering and started tapping on my window demanding to know what I said.

Meg reached over, rolled down her window and proceeded to proclaim: “She said, ‘hide and watch, b$@#%.’ ”

Mortified, I rolled up the window and crept off to the fairgrounds office to pick up the results and get the heck out of Dodge.

Now researchers are saying my dog might be able to read my mind. I am so screwed. Check out the story.

Even though my chocolate lab “Mocha” and I have a lot of deep conversations, there’re still things I really don’t want even her to know.

I would guess a lot of you with dogs in the truck have some of those deep and meaningful conversations with your dogs. And, I'd bet you know what I mean that there's even some things you're not going to tell your dog. Now researchers are saying our dog's are just going to know what we're thinking.

I guess it’s a darn good thing they can’t talk. Otherwise, you know about the time Barney Fife asks you if you know why he pulled you over – well, Fido just might spill the beans.

Going mean and green

The green wave continues to pound mainstream America.

NBC’s The Today Show opened with anchors at both poles and the equator this morning to kick off that network’s “Green Week.” Sportscaster Bob Costas, of all people, mentioned the network’s effort to focus attention on global warming during the Sunday Night Football broadcast that was done partially in the dark to save electricity powering the studio.

And so the widespread corporate manipulation of “greening” begins, leaving Americans to separate for themselves the difference between symbolic fluff like painting the NBC Peacock’s logo green and substantive changes meant to lead an environmental revolution.

Of course, there are real benefits for any company to make changes aimed at reducing use of power through electricity or other sources. Wal-Mart has publicized its efforts to become fuel efficient, which gives them green street cred and will save them millions in fuel and other costs.

Many local and state governments are taking environmental initiatives very seriously, enacting strict idling limits (3 to 5 minutes seems to be the norm in many East Coast and West Coast cities and states) and even considering things like a tax on carbon.

Denver’s City Council recently approved an initiative to limit truck idling, and investigate carbon taxes.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself has taken on a role of representing the U.S. abroad when it comes to environmental initiatives, presumably carrying the stick of California’s perceived leadership role in green efforts.

“Just because you don't see Washington leading this issue, don't be thinking that America is shirking its responsibilities,” Schwarzenegger told a crowd in Lisbon in late October, according to AFP News.

Land Line has heard from many drivers concerned by increases in regulations by states like California. They’re not picking a fight with global warming, nor with the politics that produce a Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore just one decade after Yasser Arafat won the prize.

Truck drivers want clean air as much as anyone, and as OOIDA Member Charles Brodie told me in an e-mail, “if it’s true that one in five young L.A. school kids suffer from asthma and carry an inhaler, perhaps we should be talking about driver health also.”

The green fad will come and go – at least the fad that includes green logos and feel-good commercials from oil companies. But as NBC and others urge us to use CFL light bulbs and buy fuel-efficient cars, I hope we’re taking real steps to cut wasteful emissions and not merely seeing the latest round of “Must-See TV.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Scripts ‘R’ Us

With TV and film writers on strike, the networks are looking desperately for new reality shows to fill the potential void – reality being less expensive than fiction out there in LaLaLand.

A couple years ago, my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe envisioned a trucking reality show outlined in the March-April issue of Land Line Magazine. He’d just like to let the networks know the concept is available, that a bunch of Land Line readers loved the idea and wondered when it would air, and that the network people should call his people.

Meanwhile, though, maybe the moguls should take a page from the late Ronald Reagan, who as president fired striking air traffic controllers. Let the writers strike, let ’em hang, and let the viewers submit story ideas. That way the people can decide what they want to watch in living rooms, bars, truckers’ lounges and sleepers.

I’ve got a few ideas myself, building on the premise that the only new concepts that fly in Hollywood – or New York – are ones that have already succeeded. And what’s better than two or more concepts mashed up into one show? “CSI” and “Without a Trace” are already doing that this week.

Examples:

“Ocean’s 300” – A stalwart group of hip, abdominally over-fit con artists make a desperate last stand in Las Vegas as thousands of winter-sick Midwestern senior citizen tours mount tour buses and seek to ravage the nickel slots and free buffets.

“Fox and Ugly Betty” – “Fox and Friends,” the early morning gabfest that pretends to be news, remains popular because the producers keep babes with great legs and short skirts dead-center in the screen. Let’s see sparks fly with a less-attractive but far more intelligent gal in there!

“CSI-Rachel Ray” – Every week, Rache kills off an audience member with some mysterious ingredient in her recipes. The CSI team (here that would stand for Cooking School Investigators) must race to identify the ingredient before the entire audience is forced to sample the deadly dish.

“Friday Night Lost” – A group of high school football players, their girlfriends and coaches are marooned in a remote, falling-down football stadium after their school bus runs off the road and onto the field as they are returning from a game. Stalked by mysterious beings known as The Other Side, they must use their wits to survive and ultimately, to find the showers.

“Late Night with Grey’s Anatomy ER” – Bending rules and catheters, this manic-depressive bunch of neurotic surgeons and comely nurses will keep you in stitches as they fall in and out of love, favor and their scrubs while sewing up members of the urban Knife and Gun Club.

“Dirty Sexy Cavemen” – Guys, I think we all know that women like us best with some stubble and that subtly aromatic hint of having worked all day. I know my women love a whiff of diesel and some fifth-wheel grease under my nails. And that slightly piney hint of air freshener. That’s why we get such great attention at home, right? Right? Hello …?

“Without a Trace and Cold Case” – This idea never got off the ground. They thought about combining titles into one show, but “Without a Cold” sounded like a medical drama, while “Trace Case” could be either a show about trying to find a lost shipment or about some cheesy private detective.

“Extreme Makeover – The Bionic Woman Edition” – Oh, wait – That IS the concept, isn’t it?

“Saturday Night Dancing with Desperate Housewives” – I think you can guess the plotline on this one.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Carey's at it again

I just caught the second edition of Drew Carey’s Reason TV online videos, and I’m apparently not the only one watching. The video took some time to download, with Carey’s Reason TV series drumming up considerable interest (here’s a link to a recent Associated Press article that appeared in the Washington Post).

This installment centers on the Reason Foundation’s goal of legalizing medical marijuana.

Yes, the guy that replaced Bob Barker is taking on an issue that’s been as divisive as and therefore avoided as much as illegal immigration.

Without getting into particulars over whether marijuana should be legalized, I’m fascinated by these videos being backed by the Reason Foundation, a group that has backed privatization of publicly owned highways and has ties to oil interests.

According to the AP story that appeared in the Post, Carey will host 20 such Reason TV spots that will address issues such as eminent domain, school choice and immigration.

I’m curious as to just who unites the Reason Foundation. Is there some silent majority of Americans or residents abroad who invest with Macquarie and who want to buy up public infrastructure, who also have ailments treated partially with pot and who want to send their offspring to private schools?

A few weeks ago I brought up Carey’s argument for privatizing U.S. highways to ease traffic jams.

Much of the second episode hosted by Carey is filmed inside a Brentwood, CA, building called “The Farmacy,” which sells marijuana in various forms including everything from brownies to a blend called “Friday Night Special” to customers with prescriptions.

Carey talks to a Vietnam vet who began smoking during the war and now buys pot legally to ease back pains.

Within a few minutes, confident that Reason TV has won its tightly framed argument, Carey exclaims, “It’s clear by now the federal government needs to reclassify medical marijuana.”

OK, another problem solved by people behind Reason Foundation and its public cheerleader.