News that the world’s cheapest car, the $2,500 Nano, will be sold in India — populous, ambitious India — made my heart sink. It sank right down to the basement. I had to go and retrieve it before I could write this column, I was so upset.
“I am having nightmares,” said Rajendra Pachauri, the UN climate scientist who shared the Nobel with Al Gore last year.
That same day, CIBC predicted that gas prices would hit $1.50 a litre (a 50 per cent increase for Canadian drivers) within four years. I hesitate to put faith in a bank whose subprime losses may well hit $3 billion this year and whose sign just fell off its headquarters in Toronto’s financial district. High winds sent the first “C” and shards of acrylic 58 storeys onto the already-depressed stockbrokers on the street below. Not lethal, but pretty embarrassing, eh?
I predict that fuel prices will hit that level sooner than âe”IBC says.
The Nano vs. vanishing oil: maybe there is a regulatory mechanism in heaven. Maybe economics is indeed a zero-sum game. Or maybe Big Oil simply will not be one-upped by upstart Tata Motors.
Whichever it is, cars that cost less than a cheap vacation make a mockery of the already pathetic changes Canadian and American citizens have made to compensate for federal governments that don’t give a damn about climate change. There I was: taking the subway, doing laundry in the off-peak dark hours and mulching yard waste like it mattered. But that effort is made irrelevant by someone out to crush his next-door neighbour’s self-esteem in Delhi’s version of keeping up with the Joneses.
There’s a disease called affluenza. The British psychologist Oliver James has written about it extensively (and so shall I this coming year). He says it’s a virus that causes victims to “place a high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and wanting to be famous.” We in the West are soaked in it, which is why our greatest complaint is not something reasonable like hunger or a sore foot, but depression, anxiety, narcissism âe¦
Every disease has a social fallout. During the Black Death in the 14th century, people stayed home a lot in a self-enforced quarantine to avoid buboes. Instead of blisters, affluenza causes a rash of competitive spending. We in the West want to impress the neighbours but we’re cheapskates. We shop at Wal-Mart and Costco, but we buy tank-sized trucks for city driving (they may be ugly and badly made but they’re a way to impress the neighbours) and we smugly watch the value of our homes soar even as we scream when the city tries to raise our property taxes.
I remember a friend, who employed a nanny who couldn’t speak English, asking me for advice on landscaping the pool she was building in her backyard. It’s funny where affluenza-stricken people will cut corners. But for her, the visible spending on one thing balanced the hidden savings on the children’s upbringing.
In the long run âe¦
Yes, it’s an environmental catastrophe that cars are now going to be affordable for millions of people in India who were doing fine with scooters. But rising oil prices will keep the Nanos parked. When some things get cheaper, other things get more expensive and it ends up even.
(I have no idea if the Nano catastrophe will balance out. Perhaps it won’t and this explains Mr. Pachauri’s bad dreams.)
Technological change has benefits and drawbacks. I only read online news now, which I like, but I eat breakfast in front of the computer, which is awkward and uncomfortable. The corporatization of TV and newspapers is killing off top-tier networks and pulp-and-paper journalism, but it fragmented the market and gave me The Sopranos on HBO and the London Review of Books online.It also gave me Comedy Central, which I prefer to watch online. But viewership made online a potential goldmine, which caused the writers’ strike, which may kill the Oscars (yes!) but reduced my Stewart-Colbert-less life to a shadow of its former self.
There is one rule we can count on. Nothing, in the long run, comes cheap. My gathering the leaves on the lawn with hands and a rake is better for clean air and quiet neighbourhoods than hiring a lawn care service with screaming leaf blowers. Score one for cheap. But thanks to Big Cheap in Toronto, where I live, the city won’t pick up the leaves anyway.
Winter leaves, autumn behind
Voters failed to grasp that there was a downside to the federal and provincial governments shrinking services and lowering taxes. The city took on more responsibility. In Toronto, squabbling councillors desperate for popularity hounded the mayor for saying openly that things like public libraries and garbage collection — somehow — actually had to be paid for.
Our passion for getting stuff cheap means that for the first time, this city has been unable to keep up with the changes caused by global warming, sorry, Nature’s Whim. Trees used to shed their leaves by November and I would be outside like Ruth in the corn, doing my thing under the autumn skies.
But winter is weird now. Later and later each year, leaves stay glued to trees and lots of them only start to drift down in January. It’s perfectly possible to rake it up in mid-winter, but the city won’t sweep the streets or collect the bags of leaves. Toronto, never terribly fetching in winter to begin with, has an unkempt, rotting, ratty look.
The illusion of lower taxes has had terrible consequences. What you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts. The problem is, the balancing hasn’t happened yet. The time lag between low taxes and an ugly public life, between low-cost Nano cars and hugely expensive oil, that’s going to be painful.
Nothing comes cheap. If we had made that logical connection faster, we wouldn’t be suffering so badly now.
The Diary of Anne Frank is being made into a musical.
I’d oppose this if I could fully grasp the badness of it, but whose mind is that expandable?
The musical is Spanish and opens in Madrid next month with the blessing of the Anne Frank Foundation, which has turned down Steven Spielberg’s plan for a movie. I once watched an overwrought, fireworks-ridden musical rendition of Spanish history in a Barcelona bullring and I was wrung out by the end of it.
But that was the Inquisition and they had Catherine wheels for the torture numbers. I don’t see how a little girl hiding in a closet for two years and dying horribly lends itself to song and dance.
I haven’t heard such a bad idea since Disney CEO Michael Eisner once proposed building an American history theme park inspired by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He was astounded to smell the actual leather of thousands of shoes taken from Jews before they were gassed. (Eisner is nothing if not a literalist.) The museum used classic Disney techniques, he enthused — “film, animation, music [and] voice-over narrative to recreate and evoke the horror of the Holocaust.”
The state of Virginia sent Eisner packing. If only the Spaniards had inspired the same outrage.
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