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When Push Comes to SUV

Ben Stein's road map to highway happiness, plus more.

12.9.02

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PHARISEE SOUP
Re: Ben Stein's Roadway Pharisees:

Interestingly, the Pharisaicism of SUV-haters is not evidenced by a self-denying modesty: far from it. Rather it rests in the beggar-thy-neighbor attitude of denying others their pleasures, while quietly enjoying one's own little trinkets. SUV haters would be horrified to hear that houses of more than four rooms were to be taxed into extinction, or that energy-inefficient sink holes like opera houses, art galleries and public libraries might face punitive fiscal treatment. That grand Pharisee, Bertrand Russell, tells an engaging story about a child enrolled at his experimental school who put hatpins in the soup. Asked by Russell whether she had thought about the risk to herself, she replied, "But I don't take soup." Indeed.
-- Lawrie McFarlane
Victoria, British Columbia

Ben Stein's article about the SUV pharisees reminds me of an incident in Denver about ten years ago when I was a hotel doorman. A pair of guests arrived in a run-down old Buick that was so out of tune it was barely running, and was emanating a ghastly trail of pollutants. The driver was wearing a shirt (actually, if memory serves his wife/girlfriend was wearing an identical shirt) with a montage of cute wild animals on the front, along with a message along the lines of "I refuse to pledge allegiance to a country that [devastates the environment]." When they checked out, they couldn't get their car started because it was so out of tune. Having had some experience with cars, I nursed the car to life for them, but couldn't even look them in the eye. Imagine, someone who would disown his own country for the sake of a feeling of self-righteousness, before spending $100 on a tune up which would actually do some good.
-- Ted Angell
Florianópolis, Brazil

Enjoyed Mr. Stein's Column on the modern Pharisees. A couple of corrections, though:

1) The High Priests of the Temple were not the Pharisees but the Sadducees, an entirely different political/religious sect. The Sadducees, the descendants of the Maccabees, were of the tribe of Levi, therefore priests (all priests had to be Levites). The Pharisees were more like a "religious police." They were people who followed all the Rabbinical traditions (added on rules and laws that flowed from rabbinical interpretation of the Torah) and were allowed to enforce these rules on the people.

2) Jesus did not disagree with the Pharisees because they were self-righteous or hypocritical, although many of them were. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they were honoring and elevating their own interpretations and traditions above the actual word of G-d in the Torah. Jesus disagreed with them because they were leading the people astray by not accurately teaching and leading the people according to Torah.
-- Will Decker

Even though I agree with every detail in this piece, it makes me angry again and I can feel my blood pressure rising. I take this very personally, as you will see, for reasons that Ben didn't discuss.

The first reason is that my exercise of choice -- and anyone else's for that matter -- is more beneficial to society than the dictates of all the academic pharisees in this country.

That exercise of choice has been progressively eliminated "for my own good" by propagandists from Gore to the creators and finaglers who gave us the CAFE standards. Some of the mileposts on this road to socialism were Buick Roadmaster, Cadillac Sedan de Ville, Pontiac Parisienne, Olds 98, etc. You get the drift. And I understand it won't be much longer now for the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Marquis, regardless of the preferences of police here and provincial agencies all across Canada as well.

The unavailability of the Chevrolet Caprice and Impala in their former (unacceptably large) format from 1977 through 1990 is the one that torques my jaws today. Besides a 2001 Lumina sedan, we still drive a '90 Caprice with 165,000 miles and the usual appearance wear but still a more comfortable and useful car than the Lumina. It has a trunk space large enough to use the car like a pickup truck in many cases; and I do that regularly for yard work, etc. And, horrible to admit, it has such a wastefully large V-8 engine. Except that it isn't. It is capable of a severely measured and honest 25mpg. How many SUV's will deliver that, all the while costing so much more to buy or lease and insure and maintain? And the rest of us have to endure super-bright, higher headlights boring through our rear windows like a death ray! Just because federal bureaucratic pharisees decided that Americans burn too much gasoline and Americans and their families don't need such large cars anyway. We must follow the lead of the socially superior and environmentally sensitive and globally conscious Europeans.

So, those who know what's truly good and best for us turned the CAFE screws tighter and tighter. My Chevy dealer told me that in 1990, the last year for "the old breed"(I bought mine three years later), the CAFE mileage penalty was more than $1,200. Taxation at its absolute worst and most confiscatory. This money went straight to Washington with not a penny of benefit to GM or Chevrolet Division, and certainly none to the buyer! Naturally, the manufacturers built fewer for a "shrinking market"! Except that individuals and families moving around this huge continent still want and need larger and comfortable vehicles for the long haul, and one way or another they would have them. Pickup trucks obviously don't fill the bill, and for reasons I'm unaware of, for lots of people evidently 4-door vans don't either. By twisting and slipping through a loophole in CAFE, though, the manufacturers were able to design SUV's and manage to attract and satisfy a lot of buyers who probably would have continued to be happy with large sedans and station wagons. The really main thing is that I would have been happy!!

Instead, what we all got was forced and uneconomic adjustment in a market, coercion instead of freely negotiated design/styling choices based on buyers' preferences. In two disgraceful words to be applied to the American experience: distortion and dictation.
-- Tom Bennett

I always like Ben's writings. The anti-SUV crowd really are like the Pharisees in trying to enforce their own rules on the rest of us. But Ben's description of a publican is wrong. A publican was a tax collector for Rome (and loathed by the population), not a bartender. If only the IRS today was held at such levels of contempt.
-- Brooks Friend
Huntington Beach, CA

I want Ben Stein's money!! Publican in the New Testament was a Jewish tax collector for the Romans.
-- Dennis DiMuzio

RUE LANDRIEU
Re: The Washington Prowler's Recovery Zones:

My take on the La. Democrat win is that, in a state that is hugely Democrat, Mary Landrieu's narrow win Saturday shows how bad off the Democratic Party is in the country. This seat was held by a Democrat since the Civil War. My goodness, how bad would it be for the Democrats if they couldn't hold that kind of Senate seat?? The fact is that she should have never even had a runoff election, thus proving, at least to me, that the Democrats are in serious trouble in the future, and I believe that the media and the DNC know it. Thanks for the article.
-- Maureen Waite
Lake Mary, FL

SHALL WE DANCE?
Re: Mark Goldblatt's The Ballet Workout:

I've been there! All-district in football, basketball, baseball. Played all three sports at a Div. I school. Drafted by and played minor league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates before going to law school. Proud of my flexibility, I could touch palms to floor with knees straight, etc.

My first wife had taken dance classes for years. After we had been dating for a year or so, we decided to take a class together of the type you describe (I was about 30). I couldn't even follow the directions! She would talk about pulling with some inner abdominal muscle I knew nothing about. I not only felt incredibly stiff and awkward, but I also felt stupid! I couldn't seem to grasp what I was supposed to be trying to do half the time. I would struggle to pretzel as the others did only to be told that it was important to focus on using various muscles to accomplish the pretzel. I was clueless.

Unlike you, I never went back. It was clear that the instructor had spent so much time trying to help me understand that the others didn't get as good a workout. My girlfriend's workout suffered even more as she tried to help me. I think (I hope) I could have handled the physical embarrassment. The feeling of stupidity was something else. Fortunately, I used the fact that I was ruining the class for others with no hope of improvement as an excuse to back out.

Besides the physical surprise, did you ever feel like an idiot -- unable to comprehend what muscles she insisted on being used?
-- Stan Brown

TEA WITH TONY
Re: The Washington Prowler's Who Was That Chap?:

As to John Edwards being a "suckup," I personally would like to have read what the Brits call it! They are usually more colorful with the language!
-- Greg Barnard
Franklin, TN

ENROLLED
I'm new to your site and I just want to say that I think it is excellent. I'm already sending friends your way. I was very pleased to learn about AAF scholarships as well. I've thought for many years conservatives have to do more to combat leftwing media bias. Keep up the good work.
-- Dennis

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