The End Of The Road… And Track

Maybe we had no right to call it Road&Track in the first place. We had a reason to do so: there were half a million subscribers out there who had already paid for a year’s worth of R&T and expected to receive something with that name on the front cover. What they ended up getting for their money was… definitely not business as usual.

You probably know the story, or at least some of it. In 2012, Hearst moved the magazine from its posh digs in Newport Beach to an anonymous Ann Arbor industrial park. Not a single staffer came along, although they all received some sort of offer. Peter Egan agreed to contribute on an occasional contracted basis, and that was it. The change was made to save money and also to acquire the services of Larry Webster, who had agreed to reboot the magazine from scratch with the best talent he could beg, borrow, or steal from elsewhere.

The resulting magazine was Road&Track in name only — but that was okay, because that name needed a bit of polishing. By 2011, the “book”, as they say in the business, was suffocating under the weight of its own bland momentum. I have a few issues from that period; they’re full of comparison tests in which all the cars managed to be winners, industry news reported a few months too late, and painfully drab historical articles that often transparently relied on a single, already published, source. In his final contribution, published this month, Peter Egan recalls how he and his co-workers would sit in the Newport Beach office and watch the sun set. That’s a pretty good metaphor for what was happening out there in 2011. Much of the magazine could be summed up in the single phrase, “Back then, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them! ‘Gimme five bees for a quarter’, you’d say.”

What happened next was at least different. Now it’s officially dead.

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Vignettes of Human Sacrifice In The Current Year; Two Tough Questions

“Blood alone moves the wheels of history!” Dedicated watchers of The Office may recall an episode in which Dwight is named Salesman Of The Year at Dunder Mifflin and has to give a speech. His frenemy Jim “helps” him by writing a speech supposedly drawn from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, featuring the above line. Apparently, Mussolini did say this, in 1914 when he was he was suggesting that Italy join the Allies in attacking (or defending against, depending on one’s biases) Germany.

It’s hard to see where ol’ Benito was wrong about that. Human history is an endless parade of winners and losers, with the former continually feasting on the latter. Usually metaphorically. Usually. It takes a lot of losers to grease the wheels of Progress, and a lot of blood.

The massive societal changes of 2020 are no exception to this rule. Target and Amazon are winners; small businesses are losers. Capital wins; labor loses. Billionaires thrive; the middle class craters. Broadly speaking, it’s been a year of victories for the Blue Tribe, losses for the Red Tribe, and profound unease for the Greys. Yet the machine requires some Blue blood in the wheels if it is to move smoothly, thus the two profoundly disturbing stories we’re about to discuss and the two tough questions raised by these stories.

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How Smart Can You Be If You Ain’t Got No Body?

The rate at which a middle-aged man is going to grow new leg bone and/or ligament tissue is

a) fairly fixed;
b) not fast.

Which gives me time to catch up on various blogs, including the one written by Scott Locklin. His post “Open Problems In Robotics” warms my heart, because he and I have come independently to some of the same conclusions, and have been influenced by some of the same concepts. He’s a scientist, while I’m a computer scientist. The gap between these two professions is immense, and entirely to the advantage of the real scientists. Yet since I’m also a writer by trade, allow me to take a shot at making a few things clear(er) on this particular topic.

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Everything That’s Wrong With Automotive Journalism, Summed Up Nicely In One Twitter Thread

There’s a sad, soy-substitute trend of self-loathing of so-called “automotive journalists” on the internet lately. Most of them hate cars and they can’t figure out why people in Winchester, Kentucky can’t just get on board with public transportation already. They are only on the autos beat because there were no job openings for the Social Justice desk at Daily Beast.

But that doesn’t stop them from needlessly inserting tributes to pedophile rapists and violent criminals, errrrr social justice heroes into every review of the 2021 Kia Forte, or from raging against the patriarchal, capitalist machine that is the auto industry.

Case in point: Senior Editor Jared Rosenholtz from Carbuzz.com. One day this week, Jared woke up and decided that he needed to do something about income inequality. Did he run for office? No. Did he volunteer at a soup kitchen? Also no. Did he write a passive aggressive tweet and tag Bernie Sanders in it? YOU’RE GODDAMNED RIGHT HE DID!

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Reading Recommendations: In Which Captain Save-A-You-Know-What Surrenders His Commission

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Thus spake Samuel Johnson, and he was correct. (Note to the reader: a fortnight is two weeks, or fourteen days, from the Old English.) Many of my friends expect the Boogaloo to come in a few fortnights. I don’t really believe in the Boogaloo, but I think there’s something therapeutic about it. Like religion, prison, and true love, the Boogaloo offers a drastic reduction of possibilities. It’s easier to worry about fields of fire from your second-story windows than to wonder what kind of a man you’ll be in society when you’re in the bread line with everyone else, and you’ve started having to pull your own teeth for lack of dental care. We all know in our hearts that a Great Depression, or even a Not-So-Great Recession, leads to years of quiet, grinding desperation. Far better to imagine that the future holds a series of running gun battles with depersonalized Others who will be morally inferior to us but also, one hopes, much less practiced in the manual of arms for the AR-15 (USA) or Marlin 1894 (Canada) or Maringer Vorpal (here in non-firearms-owning Riverside Green, where we study the blade).

You get the idea. It’s easier and more pleasurable to imagine violent action than lengthy misery. Yet here we are, with our focused minds. For me, this focusing has led to an odd… flattening of empathy.

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A Modest Proposal: It’s Time To Tax Those Autojourno Freebies

Good artists create, and great artists steal. Right? About ten years ago, I read a few short pieces by Canadian writer Michael Banovsky regarding the incestuous ethical blind spots of the automotive “journalism” business. Those pieces resonated strongly with me because I’d seen similar, albeit much lower-budget, antics during my time racing, and writing about, BMX bicycles.

“Bano” gave up his crusade pretty quickly and went on to crank out years’ worth of fairly standard fare for various north-of-the-border news sites, but he’d inspired me to carry the torch without him. I wrote dozens of articles for TTAC, Jalopnik, and elsewhere about the revolving door between automotive PR and automotive journalism, about the back-slapping buddy culture in the business where the readers are viewed with naked contempt, about how the perks poison the product. It got me blacklisted, uninvited, slandered, and doxxed. Thankfully, the story didn’t end there because there have been a few people courageous enough to hire me and print my work despite the near-universal chorus of caterwauling disdain from the pimps and players in motoring PR. I’m grateful for those people and their courage, while also being aware that it won’t last forever. Which is okay. I’ll leave this game the same way I entered it: on my own merits.

There is, however, something sadly ironic about the fact that Banovsky has decided to return with a vengeance to the field of automotive meta-criticism just as TTAC, a once-fierce proponent of his original ideas, has finally collapsed into a weak-kneed regurgitator of press releases and public-relations drivel. The site that made its name with courageous reviews of everything from rentals to stealth drives at dealers now sends its top people on multiple first-class, five-star freebie trips every month to suckle uncritically at the engorged teat of manufacturer largesse.

Which doesn’t mean Bano’s bomb-throwing is incorrect, just that it’s tardy. And after reading his latest piece, I’m willing to suggest that we take his ideas to their logical conclusion.

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This CRISP(r) Is Bananas

Genetic modification via CRISPR is the only way to ensure that we can all have cheap bananas. Amusing, WIRED buries the lede pretty far down: the banana disease spreads via… wait for it… migrant banana workers.

The #Blessed part of the world wants four-season tropical fruit so we can all live our best lives. The #NonBlessed part of the world has to trudge around doing the work, and the corporations have ensured that there’s a legal framework to make it possible. Cut down the demand from DUMBO or the insane practice of permitting open borders for the purpose of cutting corporate expenses, and the problem never comes up. But it’s okay. We can use genetic editing to fix the problem. We can all learn to use CRISPR, the same way they are trying to force every elementary student in America through a “learn to code” process. And then we can unleash hell.

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“I care about social justice, but — I don’t want my kid to be a guinea pig.”

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about the importance of ensuring the proverbial “leg up” for our children, and I said something along the lines of, “If there was a button that killed a thousand kids in some far-away land and gave my son a Harvard Law degree at the same time, I’d push it without hesitation.” He responded, quite sensibly, that he would not do that for his daughter.

The irony of the situation is that we’ve both already done worse, and for less. Here’s proof. It costs four dollars per person to provide 20 years’ worth of clean water in Africa. My son has at least four thousand dollars’ worth of bicycles. So I’ve cheerfully doomed a thousand kids to a life without clean water so my child can finish third overall in the Gold Cup Regional Championship for 9 Novice riders. (I’m so proud of him I could almost faint, by the way.) He broke his new wheelset at the last race so I’ll be ordering another wheelset for him… that’s $800 bucks, or 200 kids without clean water. There’s no false equivalency here. I am absolutely certain that some parents have told their kids, “Hey, ride that old bike another year, and let’s do something charitable for kids who don’t have everything that you have.” I’m not going to do that.

But if a couple Gs worth of bicycles amounts to a moral choice — and it does — what about spending $40,000 a year to make sure that your child doesn’t have any blacks or Hispanics in his school? Even better, what does it mean when the people spending the money are some of the nation’s foremost voices for “social justice”?

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