Invasion of the Driverless Cars

Mark Simpson on the head­less horse­men of the com­ing ‘carpocalypse’

Look out! They’re com­ing! And they’re driv­ing really, really carefully!

This year driver­less cars will arrive in the UK. As part of Government-sanctioned tri­als, the ghost cars will be quietly and sin­isterly creep­ing around selec­ted parts of Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. Though some would argue that Milton Keynes was conquered by robots years ago.

The UK Government also recently announced that a driv­ing licence would not be neces­sary to use a driver­less car and expressed its inten­tion to make Britain a world centre for driver­less cars.

This may ulti­mately res­ult in much safer roads, less con­ges­tion, faster travel times and cheaper insur­ance, as well as a life-changing boon to dis­abled and eld­erly people. But it will be the begin­ning of the end of the world as we’ve known it for most of the last cen­tury. Albeit in a very bor­ing fashion.

Yes, for the time being the only com­mer­cially avail­able self-driving vehicles are harm­less open-air shuttles for ped­es­trian zones that oper­ate at an under­whelm­ing max­imum speed of just 12.5 mph. But don’t be fooled.

Proper car man­u­fac­tur­ers are plan­ning to change all that. Nissan aims to launch driver­less mod­els by 2020. Tesla claims that their cars will be 90 per cent cap­able of autonom­ous driv­ing this year. And Google believes that its Level 4 autonom­ous cars – that is, totally self-driving – will be avail­able to the pub­lic within the next 3 to 5 years. One of their zom­bie cars already passed the Nevada state driv­ing test in 2012. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers believes that by 2040, 75 per cent of all vehicles will be autonomous.

Worse, the dast­ardly road robots are here already, or at least their fifth colum­nists in the form of all those ‘driver’s aids’ fit­ted in pro­duc­tion cars today. Self-parking and emer­gency brak­ing are com­mon, while adapt­ive cruise con­trol is avail­able on a wide range of pro­duc­tion cars – using cam­eras, lasers and radar, it can con­trol your dis­tance from the vehicle in front as well as, on some mod­els, stay­ing in lane.

Some cars such as the latest Nissan Qashqai can now even ‘read’ speed limit signs – just in case you don’t have a passive-aggressive part­ner to do that for you.

But per­haps the most dan­ger­ous fifth colum­nists for the driver­less cars inva­sion are the humans who enthuse about them. They paint a pic­ture of a safe, stress free, lux­uri­ous future in which we’re all Lady Penelope, driven around by our robot Parker, who never ever makes any mis­takes – and doesn’t see what’s going on in the back.

Or else they think they they’re going to be David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider, with his trusty, rather tasty KITT. Or Tom Cruise in Minority Report in his sexy autonom­ous Lexus. In real­ity, driver­less cars will be much more like the chirpy, crappy robot taxis in Total Recall. But without the joy­stick over­ride that Arnold was able to grab hav­ing uprooted and ejec­ted the annoy­ing robot driver.

Once humans are unplugged from the busi­ness of driv­ing cars and become instead glor­i­fied lug­gage, the auto­mobile will stop being an exten­sion of the human body/spirit/ego. Instead of some strange, techno body-art, this wheeled thing that humans have had a tor­rid, Freudian love-affair with for over a cen­tury will become a long dis­tance auto­matic pick-up machine, shut­tling people around like stock in an espe­cially gigantic Amazon ware­house. While they update their Twitter status with pic­tures of the view of the strange ‘Real World’ glimpsed from the car win­dow – and buy more stuff online.

One man’s uto­pia is another’s ‘car­po­ca­lypse’. Cars will van­ish from the sides of our streets and car shar­ing will become usual rather than excep­tional. Über + driver­less cars = the end of mass car own­er­ship. Taxi drivers, chauf­feurs, lorry drivers and much of the ancil­lary motor­ing busi­ness of car deal­ers, gar­ages and spare parts will be scrapped. Essex will become depopulated.

With fewer cars and greater effi­ciency, con­sump­tion of fuel is likely to fall dra­mat­ic­ally, and along with it gov­ern­ment rev­enue. People await­ing organ trans­plants might have to wait longer, since traffic col­li­sions are the main source of human spare parts.

There will be no going back. There’s no reverse gear on car auto­ma­tion. Once sur­rendered to robot cars, human agency is gone forever. I don’t mean that in a Stephen Hawking AI Skynet takeover sense – though that as well – but that even­tu­ally most driver­less cars, like Google’s already, won’t have steer­ing wheels or pedals.

They would only get in the way, and be a reminder to the pas­sen­gers of their obsol­es­cence. Most of all, it would be frankly crazy to allow people who haven’t actu­ally driven any­thing for years except their fin­ger over their smart­phone – or Grand Theft Auto – to take con­trol of a vehicle in an emer­gency.

We don’t need to wait until all or even most of cars on the roads are driver­less. Once there are sig­ni­fic­ant num­bers of them on the road they will change the way human-operated cars drive – mak­ing them drive more like machines. Which is very bad news when humans do it. Studies have shown that human drivers shar­ing roads with autonom­ous cars copy the autonom­ous cars’ driv­ing styles and leave less space between the vehicle in front. But are not able to stop nearly as quickly.

As the num­ber of driver­less cars on our roads rise, insur­ance premi­ums for human oper­ated cars are likely to rap­idly become pro­hib­it­ive, espe­cially when com­pared to goody-goody autonom­ous ones that never nod off, smoke, eat, drink, do their hair, use their mobiles or look for a Genesis CD while driving.

Perhaps the scar­i­est devel­op­ment is the way autonom­ous cars could have ‘eth­ics set­tings’ to deal with the ‘trol­ley bus dilemma’ – do I kill that child or my pas­sen­ger? Split second decisions which were usu­ally a secret between you and your god will have to be legis­lated and coded.

We will have made machines not just our unpaid and unloved chauf­feurs but also our judges and executioners.

Originally appeared on Hitachi CVSL blog

Swing it Around Like You’re in a TV Commercial’

Mark Simpson on how Lynx grew up. And kissed a boy.

 “Swing it around like you’re in a TV commercial.”

I like this spunky new hair gel ‘Now can be amaz­ing’ ad from Lynx, cur­rently air­ing in Australia. Especially since it’s the per­fect anti­dote to the ball-shrivelling dreary para­noia of ads like this.

In fact, it’s prob­ably my favour­ite ad since Philips/Norelco ‘I’d F*ck Me’ where a young man play­fully chats him­self up in front of the bath­room mir­ror. Like the Philips ad this one isn’t afraid of its own shadow, and instead of mak­ing apo­lo­gies just embraces and cel­eb­rates male beauty and van­ity — and the spirit mak­ing the most of it while you have it.

More than this, it’s an ad which encour­ages young men to be any­thing that they want to be — to be ‘amaz­ing’. In much the same way that young women have been encour­aged for some time.

Hence the ‘Kiss the hot­test girl — or the hot­test boy’ moment. This is not, as has been pro­claimed by gay blogs, a ‘gay kiss’ so much as a bi-curious one, since it’s the same guy kiss­ing the girl and then the boy. Which is in keep­ing with what we might term the James Dean ethic of the ad — don’t go through life with ‘one hand tied behind your back’. Especially if it’s your best hand.

This is par­tic­u­larly impress­ive com­ing from Lynx (known as Axe in the US), a brand which is not usu­ally asso­ci­ated with pro­gress­ive advert­ising and in fact often asso­ci­ated instead with a hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity: ‘I only smell nice coz it attracts women and that proves I’m not gay, OK?’. (Though there have been sort-of excep­tions, such as this Axe ad star­ring Ben Affleck back in 2007.)

But then, I told Lynx all about their hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity and how dated it was in a world in which young men take male van­ity and self care for gran­ted — and aspire to be everything - when they con­tac­ted me last sum­mer ask­ing for my input into their re-branding. I’d com­pletely for­got­ten about this con­sulta­tion when I saw the ad, and just thought it was cool. I don’t know for sure whether my cri­tique made it into the brief for this ad, but it seems quite pos­sible I may have been admir­ing my own reflection.

Though being hon­est, I’m not entirely sure he’s really made the most of his hair with that bird’s nest look.…

Objectify Yourself

Mark Simpson on the (self) sexu­al­isa­tion of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation

(Originally appeared in Out Magazine, February 2015)

Male self-objectification is, as they like to say on social media, a “thing.”

There’s been a rash lately of so-called “gender flip” memes, in which people pre­tend to be impressed by male hip­sters pre­tend­ing to sub­vert sex­ism by iron­ic­ally adopt­ing the clichéd poses of sexu­al­ized women. Although some­times funny and instruct­ive, espe­cially when it involves lick­ing sledge­ham­mers, the anti-sexism of many of these gender flip memes depends on a (hetero)sexist assump­tion that men just aren’t meant to be objec­ti­fied — so it’s hil­ari­ous when they are.

Rather than, say, that the men adopt­ing these cheese­cake poses usu­ally just aren’t very attractive.

It also relies on jam­ming your eyes shut in order not to notice how men who aren’t meme-generating hip­sters prefer to stake their claim to our atten­tion not on faux fem­in­ism but rather on sweat-soaked gym ses­sions, pricey sup­ple­ments, plunging neck­lines, and gen­eral shame­less­ness. And as with sex itself, there’s noth­ing ironic about it. It’s a very ser­i­ous, very prof­it­able business.

At the mul­ti­plex, Chris Evans keeps blind­ing us with his all-American oiled bazookas. Channing Tatum and his bun chums keep whip­ping their pecs and asses out and — who knows? — may even finally deliver the man goods in this year’s sequel, Magic Mike XXL. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy recently wowed the world by prov­ing that even pre­vi­ously pudgy Chris Pratt (of Parks and Recreation fame) can be a Men’s Health cover girl. And Chris Hemsworth was named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine on account of his long lashes, big guns, and huge hammer.

There’s even an MTV Movie Award for “Best Shirtless Performance,” which in 2014 went to Zac Efron for That Awkward Moment — but only after he stripped again, onstage at the cere­mony, without being awk­ward about it at all.

True, Hollywood too often still feels the need to jus­tify big-screen male slut­ti­ness with CGI hero­ics, a kind of mus­cu­lar Christianity in span­dex — insist­ing, in effect, that this is virile activ­ity, not gay/girly passiv­ity. And as if to keep that slut­ti­ness fur­ther in check, it often lim­its the nude or top­less male scenes to one per 100-minute movie.

Perhaps because it caters more to women, TV is a rel­at­ively unbuttoned medium when it comes to the male body. Even TV super­her­oes such as Stephen Amell’s Arrow are often costume-optional. Maybe because their male char­ac­ters are already damned, gothic shows like True Blood, Teen Wolf, and The Vampire Diaries are pos­it­ively pulsing with appet­iz­ing boy flesh. It’s enough to make any­one grow fangs. And the young, buff men of real­ity TV — the Jersey Shorettes — are every­where, wear­ing very little, and doing even less. Except demand­ing we look at them.

Dan Osborne gif

The “struc­ture” of struc­tured real­ity TV is usu­ally unveiled male V-shapes. In the U.K., a volup­tu­ously endowed, cheeky, straight(ish) guy in The Only Way Is Essex(the U.K. Jersey Shore equi­val­ent) called Dan Osborne became a national hero in 2014 after wear­ing glit­tery Speedos on prime time on another real­ity show,Splash! — even upsta­ging his mentor, the per­fectly formed Olympic diver Tom Daley.

The 23-year-old Osborne, like a lot of today’s self-objectifying straight men, loves The Gays. Really loves them. Last year he appeared in the U.K. gay magazine Attitude, very gen­er­ously offer­ing read­ers his shapely bubble butt across a double-page spread, with the strap­line “Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.” He told Attitude, “I’ve had a few bum pinches, and I don’t mind that at all. Maybe it’s because a guy knows how hard it is to train, so they appre­ci­ate it more.”

Underwear model and wounded Marine vet Minsky embraces the gaze
Underwear model and wounded Marine vet Minsky embraces the gaze
Here in the States, pumped under­wear model Alex Minsky — the indelibly inked U.S. Marine Corps vet and amputee — is very happy to mer­ci­lessly tit­il­late his many appre­ci­at­ive gay fans with naked naugh­ti­ness. And even a major film star like James Franco can’t seem to leave them alone, post­ing all those semi-naked selfies on his Instagram feed.

The way straight young men chase and hustle gay atten­tion today rep­res­ents a major, mil­len­nial shift in atti­tudes. Part of the reason that men offer­ing them­selves as sex objects were frowned upon in the past was that they could be objec­ti­fied by any­one — includ­ing people with pen­ises. They were queered by the pen­et­rat­ing queer gaze.

Now they beg and plead for it. They instinct­ively know that male objec­ti­fic­a­tion is about enjoy­ing and cel­eb­rat­ing male passiv­ity, even — and espe­cially — if you’re straight. So get­ting the gays proves not only your hot­ness, and cool­ness, but also your meta­phys­ical ver­sat­il­ity. It proves that you are a proper, fully fledged, all-singing, all-dancing sex object.

Blame the met­ro­sexual, who was born two dec­ades ago, out­ing male van­ity and the mas­cu­line need to be noticed. In just a gen­er­a­tion, the male desire to be desired, or “objec­ti­fied,” to use that ugly word — which the met­ro­sexual exem­pli­fied — has become main­stream: It’s regarded as a right by today’s selfie-admiring young men, regard­less of sexual ori­ent­a­tion. In a visual world, men want to be wanted too — oth­er­wise, they might dis­ap­pear. They also need to look a lot at other men in order to bet­ter under­stand how to stand out.

Second-generation met­ro­sexu­al­ity is very obvi­ously more body-centered and hard­core — or sporno­sexual. Young men today want to be wanted, not for their ward­robes, but for their bod­ies. Bodies they spend a great deal of time, effort, and money fash­ion­ing into hot com­mod­it­ies down at the gym, tan­ning salon, and designer tat­too par­lor — and then upload­ing to the online mar­ket­place of social media for “likes,” “shares,” and cut­throat com­par­is­ons with their pals.

It shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing. Today’s young men are grow­ing up with a dif­fer­ent idea of “nor­mal,” in which European and Australian pro­fes­sional rugby play­ers are happy to strip down and oil up. The highly homo­erotic, highly pro­voc­at­ive Dieux du Stade cal­en­dars of rugby play­ers in the buff became only slightly less homo­erotic when adap­ted by Dolce and Gabbana in their mega­bucks advert­ising cam­paigns star­ring the Italian World Cup soc­cer team. David Beckham and then Cristiano Ronaldo offered sim­ilar favors for Armani, fol­lowed by lithe Spanish ten­nis ace Rafael Nadal, who is cur­rently filling out the Italian designer packet. And former Australian rugby league player Nick Youngquest is now the body and face — in that order — of Paco Rabanne.

Gays are no longer a des­pised or mar­gin­al­ized niche — they’re lever­age. If you get the gays pant­ing, you even­tu­ally get every­one else.

David Gandy, pos­sibly the world’s only male super­model who isn’t a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, has a darkly hand­some, model-perfect face. But his sen­sual, ath­letic, beau­ti­ful body is his call­ing card. So it is entirely apt that he was “made” by Mr. & Mr. D&G, who cast him in their fam­ous 2007 “Light Blue” cam­paign, in a boat off Capri, wear­ing scan­dal­ously abbre­vi­ated D&G swim trunks, glisten­ing in the sun and lying back, hands behind his head, await­ing our atten­tion. He was accom­pan­ied by a foxy lady (Marija Vujovic), but he was the unques­tioned object of the camera’s gaze.

Seven years on, it’s still his trade­mark. In a clip for Gandy’s recent Autograph under­wear cam­paign, the cam­era, in extreme close-up, licks down his naked torso towards his naked, shaved groin — then fades out just in time.

It’s clear to any­one who wants to notice that in the sporno­sexual 21st cen­tury, the male body has been rad­ic­ally redesigned. With the help of some “objec­ti­fy­ing” blue­prints from Tom of Finland, it is no longer simply an instru­mental thing for extract­ing coal, build­ing ships, mak­ing babies, fight­ing wars, and tak­ing the trash out. Instead it has become a much more sen­sual, play­ful thing for giv­ing and espe­cially receiv­ing pleasure.

Or as the young men of the Warwick University row­ing team put it in a pro­mo­tional quote for the 2015 ver­sion of their now fam­ous nude char­ity cal­en­dar, ded­ic­ated to fight­ing homo­pho­bia in sports and rammed with arty ass shots: “Regardless of gender or sexu­al­ity, we are invit­ing you into that moment with us.”


Confessions of a Front Seat Driver

HyacinthBy Mark Simpson

Some people are more pro­act­ive pas­sen­gers than oth­ers. Hyacinth Bucket in the clas­sic sit-com Keeping Up Appearances takes what we might call a ‘hands on’ approach to being driven.

Mind the sheep, dear!’

They’re in the FIELD!’

Richard, I don’t appre­ci­ate your tone.’

Minding the sheep.’

We all laugh at the snob­bish battle axe’s incess­ant and insist­ent back­seat driv­ing. Not least because it is meant to be hor­ribly sym­bolic of her mar­riage to Richard. He may sit in the driver’s seat, but it’s def­in­itely his pas­sen­ger who does the driv­ing. In a nice big hat.

Every driver hates a back­seat driver. Until you’re a pas­sen­ger your­self. According to a 2011 sur­vey, 92% of motor­ists admit to being back­seat drivers themselves.

This how­ever didn’t stop 51% of them get­ting angry behind the wheel as a res­ult of advice from pas­sen­gers, or the same num­ber claim­ing it was the biggest dis­trac­tion for drivers. While 14% even claimed they were involved in an acci­dent or near miss as a res­ult of being told to blow their horn in a more refined way, dear, or some such.

The offi­cial advice from car safety experts is not to dis­tract or frus­trate the driver with back­seat driv­ing. They say it could be dan­ger­ous – both to your safety and to your rela­tion­ships: part­ners are ranked by motor­ists as the worst back seat drivers. I sup­pose no one likes being cri­ti­cised by their part­ner, par­tic­u­larly if being mar­ried to them has made you won­der if weeks in trac­tion in the General Hospital might be a nice break.

But what pre­cisely is a back seat driver though? Well, accord­ing to Wikipedia, it is ‘a pas­sen­ger who is not con­trolling the vehicle but who excess­ively com­ments on the driver’s actions and decisions in an attempt to con­trol the vehicle.’

Which con­firms what I have always known: I’m not a back­seat driver.

You see, I never excess­ively com­ment. There are so many things I could say, but I stoic­ally bite my lip instead. Granted, there are still plenty of things that I do say, but they are always kept to the abso­lute min­imum — and always thought­fully designed to impart only the most per­tin­ent pearls of my pre­cious driv­ing wis­dom to the per­son for­tu­nate enough to find them­selves at the wheel in my presence.

Besides, I don’t sit in the back. I prefer to sit up front, where I can see much more clearly what mis­takes the driver is mak­ing, such as driv­ing too close to the vehicle in front – and then too far away – and what haz­ards he or she has failed to anti­cip­ate, such as the decept­ively harm­less pen­sioner stood at the bus stop, lean­ing on a walk­ing stick, who could sud­denly and with no warn­ing what­so­ever sprint into the road. (And by the way, it needs to be men­tioned that sheep in fields can jump hedges.)

Sitting up front also means you can more eas­ily com­mu­nic­ate with the driver, some­times using non-verbal sig­nals, such as sharp intakes of breath, grabbing arm-rests or anxiously check­ing and re-checking the seat belt. Even though I’m not actu­ally Catholic, I usu­ally carry Rosary beads with me as I find count­ing them loudly and cross­ing myself can be quite salutary.

And of course, if all else fails, there’s always stamp­ing on an ima­gin­ary brake pedal with a look of wide-eyed abject ter­ror on your sheet-white face.

I also do my best to help the driver by lean­ing for­wards at junc­tions and shout­ing ‘YOURE ALL RIGHT THIS SIDE!’. Or ‘YOU CAN GET A BUS THROUGH THERE MATE!’ When I’m not fid­dling with the ste­reo and the air-con con­trols. I invari­ably find that people haven’t set these at their optimum levels – and are tuned in to the wrong radio sta­tions. I don’t expect any thanks for these little con­sid­er­a­tions. Which is just as well as none ever comes.

OK, so per­haps I’m just ever so slightly con­trolling. But hon­estly, have you seen the way other people drive? It’s not my fault that I’m a bet­ter driver than them and it would be just plain dis­hon­est of me to pre­tend oth­er­wise. Not to men­tion selfish – how are they going to get bet­ter if I don’t tell them they should use the gears to brake more?

You wouldn’t believe how down­right ungrate­ful and rude people can be some­times. Unfortunately, not all drivers are as open to advice as Hyacinth’s hus­band. I’ve been yelled at just for sug­gest­ing that their screen wash isn’t as effect­ive as the brand I use. And that their wiper blades need replacing.

But when that hap­pens I just tell them that they shouldn’t talk to pas­sen­gers and con­cen­trate on the road instead. And adjust my hat.

Off Their Trolleys — The Hobbesian Horror of the Supermarket Car Park

By Mark Simpson

There’s a place where drivers lose all reason and all human­ity. A place where not only the Highway Code but the European Convention on Human Rights appar­ently no longer applies. A Hobbesian world at the edges of civil­iz­a­tion, where ped­es­tri­ans are mere squidgy pin balls to be flipped between car bump­ers, where any­thing goes and noth­ing is off limits.

Except stay­ing longer than two hours.

I’m talk­ing of course about the super­mar­ket car park. We’ve all been there. And we’re all going back. Even though we really, really don’t want to.

According to the AA acci­dents in car parks are the most com­mon single cat­egory of car insur­ance claims. A crack­ing 20% of all claims – equi­val­ent to six mil­lion – are for dam­age caused there, and most of these are for super­mar­ket car parks. Though the true fig­ure is prob­ably even higher since many people, mind­ful of their excess or of los­ing their No Claims Bonus, don’t bother claim­ing for minor dam­age unless it can be proven to have been caused by someone else.

But good luck with that, since accord­ing to other research at least a fifth of drivers hit­ting another car in a car park would just drive off if they thought that no one would notice.

It’s true that many super­mar­ket car parks func­tion as meet­ing places for young tear­aways with souped-up hot hatches throb­bing men­acingly with bass tubes. However, although noisy, these guys are usu­ally rel­at­ively well-behaved – per­haps because an expens­ively lowered sus­pen­sion tends to make you more care­ful. The ones you really want to watch out for are the 4x4s with ‘Baby on board’ stick­ers in the back win­dow. The main reason people buy 4x4s isn’t ‘safety’ of course – but just so they can speed over speed bumps. And pos­sibly people.

Many drivers instead of slow­ing down, actu­ally accel­er­ate off the Queen’s Highway into super­mar­kets. For them, super­mar­ket car parks seem to be a cross between a track day and the dodgems – WHEEE!!! What’s more, they’re FREE!!! The fact that there will of course be other vehicles mov­ing very slowly, or sta­tion­ary – or revers­ing out of park­ing bays – only seems to add to their urgent need to get to the wine aisle ASAP and spend half an hour or so look­ing for a dis­coun­ted wine that looks dead posh.

Supermarket car parks are also pave­ments, since people have to get to and from their cars – and load them up with their shop­ping before leav­ing. Which should give one pause. I mean, you might have thought that even the most reck­less of drivers would be inclined to take more care here, if only because by defin­i­tion they are about to become ped­es­tri­ans nego­ti­at­ing the Death Race 2000 car park them­selves. But only if you’d never actu­ally used a super­mar­ket car park.

Things are so bad, so red in tooth and claw in super­mar­ket car parks, that local by-laws really should require all super­mar­ket trol­leys to be equipped with defibrillators.

Don’t let it be said though that super­mar­kets don’t bring the exotic into all our lives. You don’t have to travel to the Continent to see people driv­ing on the other side of the road – just go to Tesco, Asda or Sainsburys. And in the Italo-French style, junc­tions in super­mar­ket car parks have been dis­pensed with – or rather, the mean­ing of a dot­ted double line across the car­riage­way changed to: ‘DON’T LOOK YOU LOSER! JUST ACCELERATE!!’.

All in all, it’s prob­ably just as well that some­thing used in the con­struc­tion of super­mar­ket car parks com­pletely dis­ables indic­at­ors.

Another fun past-time seems to be open­ing your car door without con­sid­er­a­tion to the one parked next to you, leav­ing an indelible memento of your intim­ate incon­sid­er­a­tion on their paint­work. You might try avoid­ing this by park­ing in the farthest corner of the park­ing area, sur­roun­ded by legions of empty bays. So far away that you actu­ally have to take a bus to get to the entrance. But this never ever works.

Someone will always take the trouble to ignore the acres of empty spaces and drive out of their way to keep your lonely car com­pany by park­ing right next to you – and then din­ging you. Quite often, as an added gift, you will find your­self wedged in by two 4x4s and have to turn your­self into Elastoman to get into your (doubled dinged) vehicle.

And if, by some Biblical mir­acle, some inef­fable stroke of luck, you man­age to avoid all these ter­ri­fy­ing haz­ards presen­ted by other drivers when doing your weekly shop, still you will not I’m afraid escape unscathed. You will return to your car with your unex­pec­ted items in the bag­ging area and find that you have been rammed by a rogue shop­ping trolley.

Probably one thought­lessly dis­carded by Thomas Hobbes.


Incompletely Combusted — How Diesel Didn’t Save the World

By Mark Simpson

Can hate be good?’

This was the ques­tion posed ten years ago in an anim­ated ad that was as impossible to avoid as the products of incom­pletely com­bus­ted fuel in built-up areas. It began with noisy, dirty diesel engines fly­ing over a pretty, super-saturated green coun­tryside which rebelled against them.

Hate some­thing, change some­thing’ chor­uses the soundtrack, and a flock of shiny, newly-designed, silent, clean – and green – diesel engines arrive from Japan and the coun­tryside greets them in joy­ful rap­tures. Diesels have saved the world!

Grrr’ as the promo was called, was tre­mend­ously pop­u­lar. It won sev­eral awards, includ­ing Adweek’s ‘com­mer­cial of the dec­ade’. More the point it also suc­ceeded in boost­ing the sales of diesel engine Honda Accords from a mere 518 units in 2003 to a gag­ging 21,766 in 2004.

Now, I’m sure that Honda’s newly-designed diesel engines were rather bet­ter than the ones that went before, but the basic premise of the ad and more par­tic­u­larly of gov­ern­ment and EU policy since the early Noughties that diesel rep­res­ents a ‘green’ fuel that we should all embrace, was total organic fer­til­izer.

But embraced it we have. A dec­ade on and half of all UK car sales are now diesel, the total on our roads rising from 1.6M in 2004 to 11M of the clat­ter­ing things today. With the res­ult that London is one of the most pol­luted cit­ies on earth (again). Stung into action by whop­ping EU fines for being so filthy, its mayor Boris Johnson recently announced a £10 sur­charge start­ing in 2020 for dies­els enter­ing the cap­ital. Ever the pop­u­list, he also offered sup­port to The Sun’s cam­paign to ‘com­pensate’ diesel own­ers for scrap­ping their cars. Diesel own­ers who have been in effect sub­sid­ised by pet­rol drivers for the past dec­ade or so through a VED based on CO2 emissions.

London is unlikely to be alone in spurn­ing diesel. By the end of the dec­ade 18 cit­ies across UK are expec­ted to fail to meet EU clean air tar­gets for NOx, or nitro­gen oxide, thanks to ‘green diesel’.

Hate some­thing? Diesel engines emit ten times as many fine par­tic­u­lates as pet­rol engines and up to twice as much NOx. Particulates dam­age the lungs when inhaled and can cause per­man­ent stunt­ing of children’s lung growth. NOx pol­lu­tion is linked to 7,000 deaths p/a. Last year the UN’s WHO declared that diesel caused lung can­cer and was as ser­i­ous a risk as pass­ive smoking. Research estim­ates that diesel-related health prob­lems cost the NHS more than ten times as much as com­par­able prob­lems caused by pet­rol fumes.

Cheery car­toon stuff indeed. Ironically, the anim­ated diesel uto­pia ad of 2004 showed a rural set­ting, where diesel engine pol­lu­tion is min­imal. It’s actu­ally in densely-populated urban areas with high volumes of traffic – i.e. where most people in the world now live – that the real prob­lem lies.

The compression-ignition engine, to give it its tech­nical name, was ori­gin­ally designed by Rudolf Diesel 1897 to replace sta­tion­ary steam engines – and was inten­ded to run on coal dust. It is, to be sure, an engin­eer­ing mar­vel. Lacking a car­bur­et­tor or spark plugs, instead the high com­pres­sion of the air in the cyl­in­der heats and ignites the heavy, paraffin-like fuel when it’s injec­ted. The higher com­pres­sion ratio of the diesel engine com­bined with the higher dens­ity of diesel fuel means that mod­ern diesel engines have an impress­ive 20–40% MPG advant­age over petrol.

Which is the reason why they were touted as ‘green’ when com­batting global warm­ing became the head­line envir­on­mental issue. Because of their greater effi­ciency they pro­duce less CO2 per mile than pet­rol engines. Theoretically, by switch­ing to diesel we would be help­ing to save the planet from man-made cli­mate change. But you don’t have to be a cli­mate change sceptic/denier to con­sider this a very the­or­et­ical, per­haps almost meta­phys­ical concept, given all the other variables.

And there’s noth­ing the­or­et­ical or, alas, meta­phys­ical about the impact of the other things that dies­els emit in much greater abund­ance than pet­rol engines. It’s in the very nature of a ‘coal dust’ diesel engine that it will be ‘dirtier’ because the fuel is not fully-combusted.

Shockingly, it’s pre­cisely for this reason that European stand­ards for diesel exhaust have not been as strict as for pet­rol engines. It’s also increas­ingly clear that much-touted mod­ern tech­no­lo­gies to con­trol diesel pol­lu­tion don’t work very well in the real world, as opposed to the labor­at­ory – or car­toon com­mer­cials. A 2011 gov­ern­ment test to meas­ure emis­sions from vehicles in every­day use found that while pet­rol emis­sions had improved by 96%, emis­sions of NOx from dies­els have not decreased for the past 15–20 years.

Remember those other vari­ables I men­tioned? Well it turns out that the soot or car­bon that dies­els emit may be second only to CO2 in climate-warming. And 70% of car­bon emis­sions in Europe, North America and Latin America are from diesels.

Full dis­clos­ure: I’ve always hated dies­els. I used to live atop London’s highest hill. A keen cyc­list I would usu­ally find myself gasp­ing behind a diesel belch­ing stinky soot straight down my sporty throat. As I type this prob­ably a zil­lion par­tic­u­lates are embed­ded deep in my lungs, fizz­ing away and hasten­ing the day I develop cell abnormalities.

Can hate be good? I don’t know. But schaden­freude at the fate of smug dies­els can be bloody brilliant.

(Originally appeared on LeasePlan 10/9/14)

The Sexiest Man Alive is a Super Spornosexual With Big Bis & Huge Hammer

People Mag have crowned the Australian actor Chris Hemsworth as this year’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.

Hemsworth was an early — and eye-poppingly rapid — adop­ter of sporno­sexu­al­ity. If the mont­age below grabbed from the inter­web is to be believed, Chris made the trans­form­a­tion from svelte soap opera met­ro­sexual to hench Hollywood sporno­sexual in just a year.

The cre­at­ine he was tak­ing must have had, er, super powers.