The Ockert Research Institute (O.R.I.) rejoicing in its triumphal* exposé of Zip Code feels once more the compelling inner urge to focus the beam of its incandescent inquiry on one more nugget of social imperfection and, by properly aligning the concomitant verities and presenting them to the Institute's subscribers, earn for itself the augmented gratitude and appreciation of that select group as well as those unsolicited nondeductible contributions which are always so welcome.
SMOG: THAT GOOD BROWN CLOUD?
Any cursory address of attention to the various manifestations of the Information Media must result in the inevitable conclusion that smog is a problem and this is a basic lie. Smog is indeed not at all the problem (except to a few fanatical flap-jawed ecologists)—it is the SOLUTION. While it may have some lamented undesirable spin off effects, let's face it, any metropolis without an appropriate baptism of smog would cease to be the viable, vibrant focus of economic life that it now is. Just think of all the planners, guideline writers, doomsday predictors, and other merchants of chaos who would be obliged to seek gainful employment if that good brown cloud were to be permanently lifted. Just contemplating the economic prostration of the chest and respiratory disease doctors, the layoffs in the drug companies that would occur due to the lack of storage for all the unpopped pills that were no longer necessary for the relief of diseases no longer contracted—this should convince one of smog's necessity.
Ralph Nader would have to find something else to bitch at the auto industry about. Legislators would be deprived of a fulmanitory issue. Engineers would not receive the overtime pay they now get to meet deadlines for more effective antismog devices and lower pollutant gasolines. Former astronauts now huckstering smogless gasoline would have to reapply as space jockeys. Even the lives saved or at least extended by the lack of smog would contribute a burdensome amount to the overpopulation problem and those who rally against smog would do well to check their premises and extrapolate the logical consequences of their goal's implementation.
As we have looked at a cross section of problems to which smog is a solution, we gain much by looking at the wherefromness and whereforeness of smog. Most urban smog, it is believed, emanates from auto emissions and this is linked most directly to the current solution of the problem of mass transportation of many warm bodies to many places at a fast rate. Whereas a knight of olden times was content with one proud steed to move him about, his modern counterpart requires several hundred horsepower for his conveyance. While it is true that mobility might be well obtained from only a fraction of the power available in the more supercharged options, the surfeit is indeed a psychological necessity in that it acts as a kind of 20th century cod-piece. And so, any morning in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or elsewhere, one may see miles of lanes of thousands of these smog emitters lined up, most carrying a single soul, moving at the approximate pace of a man riding but one horse, and each praising God and/or Technology for the blessed privilege of so doing. And such dedication is difficult to resolve, for the vital statistics show the multiplied thousands of lives we sacrifice each year on the altar of fast independent movement.
And yet, the projection is to spend more billions of tax dollars to buy more land, (removed from tax rolls), to tear down homes, to destroy more green acres, and to turn them into bumper to bumper, cement crawling lots moving slowly over the face of our land, giving out more and more of that beautiful, money generating smog.
MEANWHILE, IN MEXICO…
Fortuitously for subscribers of the O.R.I., Ockert himself, while on a venture south of the border, twigged onto the key to the whole smear. (Oh, to be sure, Mexico is getting a bad name burning those fields of Acapulco Gold, barring the entry of long tressed hippie types, and engaging in other assorted social injustices. And while diligent research can still locate a vestigial emporium or two catering to the jaded tastes of the gourmet voyeur, basically things are so bad in Tijuana that it is necessary to get a blue or green card to come up north to experience a more profound, in depth, statement of ecdysiastical ecstasy, so bad that Ockert broke a long standing vow, took his family down on the next trip, felt a very safe and welcome indeed, and had a ball.)
Now individuated mobility in Tijuana is available through the jitney taxi—the red and white cabs which cruise predicted routes, taking up to five passengers for $0.25 each as far along these routes as they care to go. The yellow cabs charge $0.50 and will take you to the door (if the door is not too remote, as Ockert understands it). There are also the blue cabs, who charge what they can get and will take you to places you may well wish you hadn't gone—but then others have been quoted to say, "It is better to have flunked your Wasserman than never to have loved at all." So choose your reality and support it.
And here it is—the real menace to smog and prosperity—the menace of the Jitney Taxi. Why do you think our President Nixon instituted Operation Intercept? To slow down the drug traffic? Oh, innocent subscriber, I fear I have bestowed labor upon you in vain. To be sure, a few adventurers are apprehended and boost the P.R. statistics, but the gut market doesn't seem to be affected. Anyone wishing to send anything across need only insert his weed, powder, or whatever in a gasoline impervious flexible tube, to which is attached a stout string with a small iron ring on the end. This is then dropped in the gas tank and rare is the customs officer who will go through and find it and rarer still is the dog who will sniff it. And even if found there is the perfect cop out.
And if the driver has such a bad presence of mind as to excite the curiosity of the border narcs to this extent any number of innocent parties may be found in the parking lot at Caliente who at no risk or charge would be glad unknowingly and innocently to bring it back for free. By paying $0.40 to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the location of the car (ergo, contraband) may be obtained and the loot recovered when convenient by means of a magnet attached to the end of a long flexible rod. So, obviously, Operation Intercept could not have been instituted to diminish the drug supply. Why then? What purpose could it serve?
KEYS AS POLLUTION
Aha! We must look beyond the obvious. Suppose some brilliant, scholarly, fearless, imaginative, dynamic director of a research institute were to synthesize and release the logical consequences of the expanded Jitney Concept. What then? Consider this quote from Governor Reagan's recently successful campaign commercials. "Smog—We could stop it tomorrow if everyone threw away his car keys." This is an extremist statement. It would not be necessary to throw them away and possibly violate the litter laws. Just not using them would suffice. The Jitney Concept (J.C. for short) would permit anyone who so chose to go into business for him- or herself. The J.C. would invite whosoever will to become an independent business person, a professional warm body relocator if you will, working hours and routes of his or her own choosing. Those electing to enter this field would announce the availability of their services by the insertion of a route-indicating, color-number coded card on the front of the vehicle, and revert it to the family car by removing the card.
"Every man," as baseball's Jack Barron so beautifully put it "is a satellite unto himself and must find that orbit wherein he can truly swing." And so, naive innocent, the pattern lends itself to the facts. Operation Intercept was indeed just that, but that real object to be intercepted was the insidious and dangerously subversive idea of the Free Market in a viably adaptable form.
Ockert only reveals this to Institute (and REASON) subscribers—swearing each of you to the secrecy necessary to prevent the spread of this ideological malignancy in the interest of the uncompromised truth that has characterized O.R.I. since its inception. For disaster is implicit in the J.C.!
Consider the morning rush to work. With five passengers in one car, instead of one person a car, the number of cars is reduced by 80% and the amount of smog is reduced by the same 80%. The fact that one car would now travel where five did formerly, permits the one to traverse the distance in a savings of at least one half the time it formerly took, thus denuding the skies of 10 more percent, a total reduction thus far of 90% of current smog levels due to auto emissions and a saving of 50% in time traveling to and from work or wherever for those availing themselves of this system—without the expenditure of one damn dime of your tax dollar. And that is the evil, for how can you know how much your government is doing for you if they don't take your money away? If they don't channel it through the expertise of their political daisy chains and let the boosterpriced, under resolved, end products filter down to you immersed in well publicized P.R. jargon. It unfortunately would mean the end of the tax tax tax spend spend spend elect elect elect, at least in the area of smog control and mass urban transit; and no self-respecting bureaucrat can countenance that sort of threat.
Case in point: The Yellow Cab Company has been granted certain exclusive franchises by the Los Angeles City Council, franchises which by law eliminate all competition. Why? Do they do the job effectively? No! In five years of living in the north and west sides of Los Angeles, Ockert never remembers seeing a Yellow Cab on his home street. As a method of transporting locals, Yellow Cab's impingement is minuscule. How then can a city government and Mayor, who claim "the people's" support for their "service to the people," justify perpetuating by police power a monopoly in the transportation system which is totally inadequate? This same question is valid in every major U.S. city but is crucial in Los Angeles. How are the officials paid off for the granting of these special privileges? Does their pay (other than salary)—fall into the category of the serene contemplation of a wise and just decision fairly made and functionally viable? Or is their pay in the baser currency of graft, sex, political support, and/or sustained power? Ockert was not privileged to be present when the decisionmaking criteria was tendered, and therefore has no facts, and thus makes no judgment—but he does ask the question and he does demand an answer. Ockert chooses not to comment on the alleged bribery of the indicted officials by the San Diego Taxi Company, as this is now before the courts and Ockert does not wish to jeopardize or prejudice due process.
The Jitney Concept as roughly outlined above could indeed meet the current market for warm body relocating using but 20% of currently operating cars. But remember, "a parked car gathers no mileage." Therefore it lasts 5 times as long, thus foiling Detroit's built-in-obsolescence-policy. With auto replacement down 80%, accompanied by a reduction in gas and oil consumption of about the same amount (now there is a real depletion write off), a recession would occur of such magnificence as to blow the Democrats smack dab back into the White House, where they could start another economy boosting war! Ralph Nader would no longer have the Auto Industry to bitch at. (He seem already to have anticipated this contingency by diversifying his opponency portfolio.)
One clever oil company chap copped a prime T.V. news blurb by opining that auto traffic—therefore smog—would be reduced if the price per gallon were raised to eighty cents—got it?—one (1) gallon of gasoline for eighty (80) cents, but Ockert thinks he was just putting your money where his mouth is. Interpret as you will.
What then shall we say unto these things? Who shall deliver us from the snare of the Free Market and the Jitney Concept? Verily I say unto you: Trust in your elected officials with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge thy Governmental Functionaries and They shall direct thy paths.
Economic and health considerations aside, the greatest tragedy in the elimination of smog by the implementation of the Jitney Concept is in the area of the Spirit—the Immortal Spirit of Man, that divine spark that inspires the peregrinaceous wisdom of our philosopher kings of the 20th century. Those great ones whose transcendental wisdom may be modestly cloaked behind a desk at city hall, the state house, congress, wherever. The Jitney Concept cannot coexist peaceably with such as these. Those in whose capable hands is reposed the power of the Republic (must) find the concept of the Free Market anathema. Because under the Free Market events tend to occur without requiring the imprimatur of the Functionary—thus rendering him/her obsolete.
Now the spiritual and psychological damage done to his/her self image under these circumstances is a tragedy of enormous magnitude. Fortunately it may be circumvented, if only we faithfully adhere to our slogan and…Save Our Smog…
John D. Ockert is a high school mathematics teacher in Southern California and acts as director of the Ockert Research Institute.
* Within one year of the Zip Code results being submitted to the White House and the Postmaster General, legislation was introduced into Congress to abolish the Post Office as presently constructed. See "Truth in Zip Code," RAP MAGAZINE, Fall 1970.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Save Our Smog".