On people talking out of their asses.

Today the following appeared in a New York Times article on London taxicabs:

I can just imagine the discussion in the Times newsroom during the preparation of this article.

"Hey Phil, I’m writing a story on London taxicabs. Do you have anyone in your Rolodex who might be able to give us a quote on how the London cabs rank in the world of transportation? I was thinking of, you know, an ivory-tower, humanities type. "

“Sure, I’ve got just the person: Elaine Showalter. She’s a feminist author, on the English faculty down at Princeton. She used to be president of the Modern Language Association.”

“The MLA, you say? Get me her email address, pronto!”

I rank this down there with the entertainment press quoting pop singers on international trade law, except this isn’t the entertainment press, it was a straight article on London cabs, and there was no irony intended in quoting someone specifically identified as an English professor on the topic of the transportation technology. Not cabs from a feminist perspective, or a literary perspective, but a technical perspective. I guess it’s a good thing she didn’t start waxing poetic on the pros and cons of the limited-slip differential.

By the way, I’m a non-journalist giving my opinion about journalism practices. So flail away.

What, the actual taxicabs themselves? The four main benefits to London taxis that I can think of, off the top of my pointy head, are:

  1. knowledge of the driver (which has nothing to do with the cab, of course)

  2. wider-opening doors than most passenger cars

  3. shorter turning radius than most passenger cars

  4. diesel power, thus relatively high fuel mileage for size and weight.

In today’s world, a minivan with heavy-duty suspension, diesel or hybrid power and steering modified for a shorter turning circle would be a considerably superior vehicle for cab service, IMO.

As for Ms. Showalter’s opinion, well I suppose the author was just looking for some sort of blurb from a random authority figure on how wonderful London cabs are, especially when compared to the New York variety. I likewise suppose that she does a lot of speechifying here and there, and thus rides in a lot of taxis, and thus her opinion of what are important developments in tranportation are a bit biased toward her own experience.

What are the other three, by the way? And was she the only ‘expert’ quoted in the article?

Getting a quote from her (if that’s what happened) would make sense if she’d previously gone on record extolling the wonderfulness of the London taxi. Which is actually the case.

In this Guardian feature involving people offering advice to George Bush ahead of his trip to the UK late last year, she suggested:

The article in general received a fair amount of US coverage at the time (it even provoked several threads on the board). Perhaps someone noticed her enthusiasm on the subject.

At least they didn’t try to get a quote from Bel Littlejohn.

Personally, I feel roadhead ought to rank as one of the four best ideas in transportation, and the capacious rear of a London taxi lends itself quite well to such a practice…

The Boo Boo TOP 10 list of great ideas in Transportation…

(10) The Olympic 4 man bob-sled - sure, it can only go down hill, but it does take 4 guys, and it’s fucking fast. And even if you miss the sled after the sprint at the beginning, you can still safely assume you’ll slide all the way to the finish.

(09) Apollo Missions - a bit cramped, granted. And no one better fart in such a tight space. But what a view. Spam in a can and all that.

(08) Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1 - hoo hah! Does it get any better? First man to break the speed of sound does it with 3 cracked ribs coz he was trying to catch his wife on a horseback race and fell?

(07) 1986 Suzuki GSX-R 1100 - yes, I know, I know - there are faster bikes nowadays but this was the ground breaker. Only 192kgs with a 165 horsepower. You do the math.

(06) The moped - especially the one Sophia Loren used to advertise. Excellent mileage, a girl can pick it up if it falls, and not too fast.

(05) The French hi-speed transit train. What do they do? 320kph? And you can still send text photos from your mobile phone from inside a tunnel? Now that’s totally cool.

(04) The 1961 Ferrari 250 California - anyone seen Ferris Bueller’s day off? That was the car. A 3 litre v12 with 6 dual throat Weber carbies. Sweet. Sweet as they come actually.

(03) Micro-chip fuel injection. OK, I had to throw a nerdy one in here, but man, EFI has totally revolutionised the vehicle landscape since it first started coming out in 1983. Cars are exponentially more efficient and powerful now given the same engine capacities. Truly a ground-breaking moment in transportation.

(02) The USAF Rocket Sled. 0 - 600 mph in 120 yards. 600 mph to 0, in 40 yards. A famous Colonel Murphy was one of the first pilots, and his staff fitted the deceleration meters incorrectly on his first ever mega deceleration test. His eyes almost bugged out. He was physically sick for 3 days, and he was on sick roster for 3 weeks. But still, out of it came his classic gift to literature - the set of rules known as “Murphy’s Law”.

(01) The Tour de France standard racing bike. Man, if you’ve never ridden one of these, you don’t know what you’re missing. You get 2000 miles per gallon of milk, and they float like a hot knife through butter. Still, to this day, in the history of transportation, no other machine has been invented which is more efficient than a modern pro race bike.

And you’ll notice the London Cab didn’t even rate, huh?