Saturday, November 18, 2006

The American Way

Speaking as a mechanic, I know from first hand experience that the predications of automobile dealers and mechanics on car owners have kept pace with the systemic dumbing of America. Here in California automotive interests bribed our elected officials to gut the automotive division of the Office of Consumer Affairs; we now have two (!) investigators to handle complaints. The population of California is about 30,000,000.

The bribes were all legal, of course -- campaign contributions and the like.

The official word regarding the staff reductions is that they are part of a State-wide economy move. This at a time when the staff of other consumer protection agencies are being increased. Besides (the legislators argue), the State office duplicated the functions of various city and county offices. Sure they did.

When we have a headache we don’t think of cancer, we pop a couple of aspirin tablets and the pain goes away. Until the next time. But the problem of dishonest dealers and mechanics is only a symptom, the disease is more subtle and far more pervasive. Unless the root problem is dealt with, complaints, civil suits and letters to the editor are about as effective as treating cancer with aspirin.

One reason I own older Volkswagens is because I can maintain them forever, no dealers required. I would rather have the work done by an honest, courteous dealer but I haven’t run into one of those in more than thirty years. If my family is to enjoy the benefits of personal transportation I feel I’ve no choice but to become my own mechanic. (Lucky for me I are one.) I would also like to own a newer car but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the fair market value of the typical new car is from 67% to 73% of its price, according to Kelly’s Blue Book. And insurance companies use the same kind of creative accounting, having one evaluation to calculate your insurance rates, another when settling a claim. This is ‘good business.’ It is taught in our business schools and its sharpest practitioners receive million dollar salaries and Man of the Year awards.

But it is neither fair nor ethical. With the bulk of Americans mechanically challenged with changing a flat tire, their options in personal transportation are limited to a choice between cancer and polio.

Up to this point a lot of people -- possibly a majority -- will agree with me, offering a verbal pat on the back for being the last of the red-blooded Americans with greasy fingernails. But that misses the basic message which is simply that the system doesn’t work. And what lies ahead is definitely dangerous territory.

I’m also prepared to shoot mad dogs and kill my own burglars. This is not a Ramboesque decision, it is an absolute necessity if I wish to ensure the safety and security of my family. This unpleasant choice has forced upon me by our hi-tech mega-buck public safety system that has an average response time of about thirty minutes, if they show up at all. Becuase our courts have ruled that public safety organizations are not obligated to respond to any specific call, only that they provide a uniform level of response to the public as a whole. They’ve also ruled that personal protection is the responsibility of the individual

Everyone please note: Wandering around my property at night may be hazardous to your health.

Far fewer Americans will agree with this latter position but for the area in which I live it is as valid as the need to do my own auto repairs and for the same reason: The system doesn’t work. The only question is, how long before this situation becomes the accepted norm for a majority of Americans.

-Bob Hoover

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