Random thoughts on the road to and from a memorial

Trip South (1 of 1)We drove down to Escondido last week for a Memorial Service and drove back home last Thursday…in a rental car. The Memorial was for Tom Halle and it was more an anthem of his life than a dirge. Still, we all knew we would never see him again and that cast a  pall over the Service and the whole weekend.

Driving down, we were constantly reminded of the drought and how everything, eventually, becomes political.Trip South (1 of 1)-2Trip SouthA (1 of 1) Trip South (1 of 1)-4
We seem to live in a time when everybody wants individual rights over the collective well being and is going to have a hissy fit if they don’t get it. As a liberal, it seems crazy to me that a person’s right to own a gun, without any restriction, should trump public safety. For a conservative, it must seem crazy that the left goes ballistic over Kim Davis’ private meeting with the Pope. All this being played out center stage, in front of  Europe starting to close its borders, Russia jumping into the quicksand of Syria, a growing Civil War in Libya, and Afghanistan convulsing back to tribalism.

The day after the service, we comforted ourselves by spending the morning at one of Southern California’s great beaches. Or, I should say that I spent the morning at the beach with Ophelia Ramirez while Michele and Peter Kuhlman spent it in the water, Trip South (1 of 1) Trip South (1 of 1)-2
and then, for our last night in Southern California, we joined a birthday dinner for Ophelia, in a restaurant…wait for it…in a Lexus dealership. The food was great – no kidding – and we ate outside, in a half tent on the rooftop parking lot near a lovely group of Lexi. It both seemed like an incredible Southern California cliche and a totally unique place and experience.

The pall returned when we were driving home. Michele’s trusty Volkswagen GTI ate its water pump while we were leaving the In-N-Out Burger in Kettleman City and we ended up across the Valley in Fresno saying Why did our fucking water pump give out? and, by the way, how can VW blatantly cheat and think they are going to get away with it? 

Both questions have pretty much the same answer. Volkswagen wanted to be the biggest automaker in the world and they pushed hard to make that goal. A big part of that push were diesels, clean and powerful diesels. We all thought that the diesels were clean and powerful at the same time – and so, probably, did the head of VW and the company even ran a Super Bowl ad showing its engineers sprouting angel’s wings for that incredible accomplishment – but, we now know, the diesel engines were programed to be clean or powerful, not both. They did this on purpose, so on purpose that it was wired deep into the software.  Trying to make as much money as possible does not promote morality, it promotes making as much money as possible and that translates to pushing people to get desirable results.

What fascinates me is Who was the highest guy in the Volkswagen hierarchy to know?  Presumably, some software engineer realized that they could cheat the tests – after all they cheated before (and got caught and fined only $120,000 in 1973) – and told his boss. It might have started innocently You know it is possible to tweak the code to make the car act differently on a dynamometer, wouldn’t that be a great rf and it would serve them right for these stupid rules and the more possible it became and the more seemingly impossible, or very difficult, to to be caught, the more plausible a solution it became. At some point, somebody must have said – or thought – You know, I don’t think I am going to tell my boss about this, he wouldn’t want to know. And he probably didn’t want to know, he wanted a cheap, powerful, and clean diesel; he wanted to be a hero in the Becoming the Biggest Company Game.

The disgraced CEO said he didn’t know, and he probably didn’t, but he set the tone of the company. He didn’t say We want to make the best cars in the world or We want to be scrupulously honest or Saving the planet for our children is our top priority, he said We want to be the biggest company, make the most money. It is sad, it is sad for our increasingly endangered Planet; it is sad for Germany and her vaulted automobile industry, but it is also sad for Volkswagen.

3 thoughts on “Random thoughts on the road to and from a memorial

  1. Knowing a bit about how bureaucracies work, I think Volkswagen set a goal, some software engineer figured out how to achieve the goal, and management said, “That’s great.” No one would have wanted to go deeper into questioning the results. Hence, they didn’t know. It should have used rigorous science, but then it wouldn’t be a business. I’m pretty cynical about it.

  2. I have never read Hannah Arendt but Tony Judt references her alot in Thinking the Twentieth Century. Tell me a little about what you’ve read.

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