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Book: “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff

detroitburn In “Detroit: An American Autopsy”(Penguin Press, 2013), Charlie LeDuff tells us that over the entrance to the Detroit News building is inscribed:

Troubler of the Public Conscience

After reading this book, one feels that journalist LeDuff was about the last “troubler” left in that city. A Detroiter from childhood, LeDuff had been an award-winning reporter for the New York Times when he decided to return to his humble (to put it mildly) neighborhood on Joy Road in Detroit. The book is a conglomeration of past history and present despair of the Motor City. In the book, LeDuff tells of his investigative reporting of the corruption, incompetence, decay and crime, including the devastation of his own family and friends. He befriends witnesses, firemen, victims and families, to get his stories, embarrass public officials, and obtain some measure of justice (or at least closure). LeDuff often uses decaying landmarks as jumping off points to recount important episodes in the history of the city, many of which involve race relations and/or his own family. This is a gritty book, shocking initially, numbing. Daily murders, continual fires, arson as cheap entertainment, abandoned homes, failure of public services, politicians plundering revenues and serving up the last assets of the city to their jackals…there is little hope in this portrayal, other than the gradual return to nature of abandoned parts of the city. Whose fault was it? LeDuff doesn’t concern himself with that question, to any great degree; he seems to divide the blame between the automobile manufacturers and the unions.  OTL,S! can assure the reader that this is true. Both parties negotiated outlandish contracts under siege conditions, and both were parties to the production of terribly designed and badly assembled automobiles.  The factories were virtual war zones, populated by angry and sometimes intoxicated workers under awful working conditions, and managers who had no investment in quality. General Motors made it easy for buyers to go into debt by inventing the installment plan. Even in the 50’s, reasonable people knew it couldn’t last forever. Even before gasoline prices spiked, the handwriting was on the wall, and it was in Japanese.

LeDuff’s career has been somewhat checkered, but bravo to him for his courage; his book is a must-read for anyone who has been touched by the city, the state, the industry or the culture of the automobile, which is just about all of us.
Update 6/24/2013: OTL,S! notes a piece in Rolling Stone regarding the financial mess in Detroit and other Michigan cities. It seems that the predatory lending extended to the public sector as well as to homeowners. Several municipalities (mostly African American majority) are hard hit, with no solution in sight.

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Yes, gasoline costs more, because easily-obtainable oil is depleted.

Get yourself a Chevy Volt; this isn’t going away.

The simple truth of the matter is this: most of the world’s easy reserves have already been depleted — except for those in war-torn countries like Iraq. Virtually all of the oil that’s left is contained in harder-to-reach, tougher reserves. These include deep-offshore oil, Arctic oil, and shale oil, along with Canadian “oil sands” — which are not composed of oil at all, but of mud, sand, and tar-like bitumen. So-called unconventional reserves of these types can be exploited, but often at a staggering price, not just in dollars but also in damage to the environment.

In the oil business, this reality was first acknowledged by the chairman and CEO of Chevron, David O’Reilly, in a 2005 letter published in many American newspapers. “One thing is clear,” he wrote, “the era of easy oil is over.” Not only were many existing oil fields in decline, he noted, but “new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically.”

Further evidence for this shift was provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a 2010 review of world oil prospects. In preparation for its report, the agency examined historic yields at the world’s largest producing fields — the “easy oil” on which the world still relies for the overwhelming bulk of its energy. The results were astonishing: those fields were expected to lose three-quarters of their productive capacity over the next 25 years, eliminating 52 million barrels per day from the world’s oil supplies, or about 75% of current world crude oil output. The implications were staggering: either find new oil to replace those 52 million barrels or the Age of Petroleum will soon draw to a close and the world economy would collapse.

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