The tale of my selfish urban vanity (SUV)

BUCKLEUP!

Light rain was spotting across the hood of my friend’s Alfa Romeo. The rain started coming in waves and might have even put out the fire flickering in the bush nearby – but considering what had just occurred, my friend wasn’t taking any chances.

He pulled my unconscious frame from the now burning wreck. All windows had been shattered and the windscreen was gone, allowing him to drag me over the dashboard and across the crumpled bonnet. The tree that had put a stop to our trip down the mountain was now skewering the back half of the car. I imagine I also looked like a wreck, bleeding from the ears, arm and with a serious seatbelt burn that had left parts of my neck skinless. The whiplash was severe enough to put me in a neck brace for a fortnight but it was the contusion to the side of my brain that would cause doctors the greatest concern.

My skull had made impact with the pillar beside the passenger seat. Ironically, this reduced the stress on my spine from severe lateral movement, the doctors told me some days later. Without that pillar, they believe my my neck would have snapped.

That was fifteen years ago. These days, some vehicles come with side (curtain) airbags.  Last month, I was in a used car dealership weighing up a truckload of factors; price, fuel efficiency, warranties, baby seat anchor points, cupholders, and curtain airbags, asking myself, “Am I seriously going to pass that up?”

—————-

suvs everywhere

The decision of what to drive sees personal responsibility ramming right into various measures of safety, convenience and economy.

That horrendous day I was in a crash was fifteen years ago. I can’t actually recall any of it – beyond getting into the passenger seat minutes before the accident – but it weighed on mind last month, I was in a used car dealership weighing up a truckload of factors; price, fuel efficiency, warranties, baby seat anchor points, cupholders, and curtain airbags, asking myself, “Am I seriously going to pass that up?”

As of December 27, three Australians have died in cars each day since Christmas Eve. This is appalling but it is actually less than the average for Australia  (3.5 deaths per day). On the list of countries by traffic-related deaths, we are 11th best. (By comparison, Canada is 22nd and Russia is 57th.)

Image

The push for more safety features in vehicles has clearly helped reduce fatalities, as have road safety campaigns, for which our nation is well known. One five-minute montage by Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission has been viewed 15 million times.

So the message appears to be getting through. Yet, I am still baffled by the decision of many people to purchase larger cars. Larger cars are not necessarily safer than smaller cars. SUVs are more likely to rollover.

Clearly, owning a jacked-up road-hog is no big deal for many Australians. A high-riding soft-roader is now the choice of many people over the old 5-door monsters of the eighties with SUVs remaining the fastest growing segment of the Australian market in 2012, with sales up 25.3 per cent over the previous year, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

I have railed against these north-shore tractors for some time – even in this very blog – so the choice creates a contradiction in my life bigger than a 2.7 tonne Lexus LX.

Climate change is real, humans influence it, and these gas-guzzling leviathans are certainly a detour on the road to cleaner energy. Plus, this is an issue of safety – for those travelling outside your heavy-metal cocoon; your limited visibility, greater weight and longer stopping distance, doubles a pedestrian’s risk of death in an accident. The size of SUVs also make them a menace to smaller vehicles, bikes, motorcycles or scooters. What risk am I happy to put other road users at?

WE WERE DUPED

In many ways, the car industry pulled an enormous swifty on buyers with the marking of such high-powered battle wagons. Just as petrol prices jumped and we all began to ditch larger family cars, and manufacturers were finding ways to pull greater performance from smaller engines, we were all sold a new fantasy that SUVs (Stupid Ugly Vehicles) could help us escape the monotony of standstill traffic with the option to go off-road at any time. It was as absurd as it was successful.

The do-gooders yelling, “Wait! Didn’t we spend the nineties mired in a hellish war over oil?”, were easily drowned out by the aspirated rattle of new SUVs leaving dealerships all over the world.

Take a moment to consider that a car ctegory that did not exist in the 1980s, now has seven sub-categories: Compact, mid-size, large, crossover, hybrid,off-road, and 3-row SUVs.

Many popular small SUVs fail a critical crash test (link below)

I would have preferred a station wagon renaissance – functional, practical, five seats and room for a late-night romp at the drive-in theatre – but no, we had to have more mountain-range Tonka toys. Thanks, Detroit.

HEY DUDE, WHERE’S MY CARGO SPACE?

The stupidity of most SUV designs is clear; more people equals more stuff, but manufacturers seem to think fifteen cup holders will do the trick. It does not. As a result, many SUVs now carry luggage pods on roof-racks. It’s madness. While no middle-class mother needs a 3-tonne vehicle to carry their kids to soccer practice, they do need more space. Families are buying an increase in height and weight – and nearly always a loss of fuel efficiency – along with much less boot space than a traditional family wagon or even some hatchbacks would have provided.

Bootspace in SUVs:

  • Volkswagen Tiguan (SUV): 395L
  • Mazda CX-5 (SUV): 403L
  • Subaru Forester (SUV): 422L

Bootspace in Non-SUVs

  • Mazda 3 hatchback: 430L
  • Commodore Sportwagon: 895L

This left me with three remaining issues.

PEOPLE MOVERS

The Honda Odyssey, The KIA Carnival, the planet-sized Mercedes Vito all offer at least seven seats but in the case of the Honda and KIA, the bootspace is sadly lacking and bizarrely, access to the Odyssey’s third row is restricted if you have kids in the middle row. This is akin to buying a bigger TV with an immovable sticker in the middle of the screen. Great… but, c’mon!

SEVEN SEATERS

So you want five seats AND a boot big enough for five people? I decided the best way around this dilemma was to get an extended SUV that has a large boot when you lie a third row of seats flat. I wish it were a seven seater station wagon but such models usually include after-market seats that face backwards. If your kid is blind, this is perfect. If they are not, they soon will be. I like to think of it as more of a people mover.

DIESEL POWER

I love diesels. They have less parts, travel further on a single tank and will last longer than your average petrol engine. Annoyingly, I am pretty sure that the week i bought my first diesel, the price of diesel fuel began creeping above the cost of unleaded and it ids often 5% above it.

Thankfully, How Stuff Works says “the diesel is hard to beat, delivering as much as 25 percent more mileage (on diesel fuel) than a gasoline engine of similar size” – something I have found to be true even when driving a car in the inner suburbs 80% of the time.

Diesels also offer our best chance of bio fuel becoming a viable option. There are some concerns about carcinogens in diesel fuel you should know about. If you think the smoke is brown, there is turbo lag or the engine noise is much worse than petrol engines, modern diesels have done away with all these.

More reading:

Your SUV uses more fuel (per person) than a Boeing 737

How to Buy A Fuel-Efficient Car

Diesel Emissions Spark Health Fears

American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015 – Bloomberg

Bicycle sales overtake CARS for the first time ever in Europe

Popular small SUVs fail critical crash test

Cutting your car use

National holiday road toll falls by nearly half on last year

 

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If you really must swear at your children…

I don’t think there is ever a need to swear at your kids.

And judging by the looks some of my friends give me, I am no soft touch as a parent.

Really, if you’re using the F-word to express yourself to a toddler, you may be too lazy/full of rage to realise it will teach them little more than how to say the F-word.

That said (or not), I would like to condone this classic take on a bit of bedtime reading.

Samuel L. Jackson Reads ‘Go The F**k To Sleep’ [VIDEO]

It’s Tarantino meets Miffy.

You should probably only listen to this once the kids have actually entered R.E.M., unless of course, you’re a soft touch and your kids already know Jackson’s work.

[LANGUAGE WARNING]

A school motto for mediocrity

School mottos can say a lot about a school. Or particularly little.

Take one school’s disappointing effort below…
20110416-010819.jpg

GO FORWARD.

Well, thanks for clearing that up. Your well-respected school will send children into the world – or Ashfield Boys High, as the case may be – with one clear direction and, the motto suggests, little else.

As a chance to define the values of a school, a motto gives a school’s stakeholders a platform to express their goals, to market their vision to the community and to stand up for what they believe in.

Moreover, there is a heightened need these days for schools to spell out their intentions and worldview thanks to the ongoing values debate occurring in New South Wales.

The debate draws on the division between ‘secular’ or state schools and ‘religious’ or church schools.

What are your values? Where do they come from, what are they worth to you and how do you live them out?

In this debate, words get bandied about with little explanation like INCLUSION, EQUALITY, FAIRNESS…

(Someone I know who teaches scripture at a Sydney public school was glad to learn that despite the inclusion of ethics classes in that primary school, the size of the scripture classes had in fact grown substantially in 2011. So despite all parents now having a clear choice – albeit a confusing one as ethics is by no means an alternative to spiritual belief in your life or mine – more had chosen to send their children to Scripture than the previous year.)

Could this all be advertising’s fault? Perhaps we are not far from seeing a single, vague word being used to express an entire institution’s reason for existence. I grew up attending Winmalee High whose pitiful motto was

STRIVE TO ACHIEVE

Strive to Achieve – I used to enjoy removing some letters from people’s jumpers so it would read Strive to chive.

Maybe in future it could be reduced, officially, to simply STRIVE.

To me, meaningless mottos evoke the superficial side of corporate life where meaningless words have been sprayed across corporate centres since the mid-nineties. I have worked in business parks where billboards, reception desks and cubicle dividers scream terms like ——- INSPIRE —— DRIVE ——- SYNERGY ——– terms that are all useless on their own and read like you found the notes someone jotted down at a motivational seminar.

I am certain Summer Hill Public School would have more to say if I was a parent speaking to the principal, but I am not, I am a borderline Gen-Y passer-by weighing up my local schools based on my first impressions.

I guess I should be happy it didn’t say MOVING FORWARD.

Larger cars are not the future

Lately, when various people have mentioned to me they are considering buying a new car, two things are apparent;

1) Kids have prompted the decision

2) The default choice is a four-wheel drive

(aka SUV – Special Utility Vehicle)

Now, I won’t deny the first item on the list.

But I am afraid the second point must be addressed. (And I will attempt to do it with all the civility I can muster.)

This should be fun.

But first, here are a few reasons i think we should ignore the boom in SUVs and keep cars small.

  1. Economical
    Smaller = cheaper to run, cheaper to produce and cheaper to maintain. You need the money.
  2. Environmental
    The world needs us to consume less. No surprise there. And this is potentially the biggest purchase you will make – in regard to carbon – so why not make it with the world in mind. Generally speaking, larger cars are heavier and require larger engines demanding more fossil fuels and expelling more climate changing gases. (With some rate exceptions like a Lexus Hybrid 4WD) They demand more resources to produce and represent greater waste when they are eventually disposed of. They require larger tyres to support the weight that is, at the same time, doing more damage to roads than a lighter vehicle. Lose-lose.
  3. Safety
    Larger cars and taller cars, especially, are a threat to all motorists in lower cars who receive reduced visibility on the road when a SUV pulls along side or is parked on a corner where you intend to pull out. Due to the reduced rear visibility, there is the obvious threat to small children that news reports continue to remind us of. Reports that they roll over more often than sedans were exaggerated. I do think the invincibility some drivers of large vehicles feel could influence their driving.

    A child has to be about 12yo or 1.5m tall before you can see them from inside an Audi Q7.

  4. Space
    Ever tried to see past an SUV in your lane? Or a car park? More smaller cars mean more parking spots on every street. Yes! And when street amenity is preserved, suburban clutter is not made worse by larger cars eating up the already pitiful open space in urban areas.

If you are single and/or kidless, why drive anything larger than a vehicle that can get up hills and won’t disintegrate at freeway speeds? This, to me, is the sweet spot for a small car. See Corollas, Hyundai i20s or VW Golfs. Two doors can be awkward so thankfully even the compact Honda Jazz comes with the option of five doors.

(MY) ONE CHILD POLICY

If you have one or two children, how does the equation really change? More than one seat per child is superfluous.

Unless, that is, we are to follow the same societal pressure that declares kids need their own bedroom.

Let’s face it, in cars, you can’t get away from people altogether, so everyone has to get along (if nothing else it’s good practice for CityRail. And besides, children are now in car seats until the age of seven.

(Kids will fight over space regardless. As my siblings will attest, I was the one most likely to lash out when someone’s leg touched mine.)

TWO KIDS

Two kids often means a bunch of attendant belongings and – if you like Fisher Paykel’s products – possibly a bunch of sizable, moving, musical apparatus. For me, this is not enough reason to buy a larger car. Leave the third and fourth toy at home! Play eye-spy – It’s one of those ye olde games without a screen but the kids will be thrilled to learn it is in 3D.

THREE KIDS

Got three kids? When did a family car stop doing that job? They’ve certainly got bigger – compare the 1980 Commodore with today’s Commodore. Didn’t we all grow up in a sedan or station wagon that survived ok until the oldest kid could drive or started pashing someone with a car?

There’s much to be said for packing smarter not larger.

Speaking for myself, if we have three kids, we’re sticking with our Mazda 3. And you can hold me to that.

It fits three child seats across the back and it has a good size boot but if we were going away for a week, it can take a pod on top or we’ll attach a borrowed trailer to the towbar.

You don’t know the satisfaction it brings a man to be pulling a trailer.

Now I know why men love driving around with one and reversing it unnecessarily into tight spaces.

There’s also much pride in delivering the perfectly packed boot.

However, the car companies clearly want to get us into larger cars and are eager to push even families with two or three children into SUV territory. Look at the reduction in the number of station wagons available (gone are the Falcon and the trusty Magna which I enjoyed for a while). Commodores stopped for two years but ‘due to popular demand’ it has returned.

That said, the Mazda 6 station wagon is a goer and Mondeo has a European-designed number worth a look. The boot on these cars is bigger than any you will get in an SUV.

FOUR KIDS+

If you have four kids, I get it, a sedan or station wagon won’t cope.

Of course, you could also get a people mover. It’s not like you are going four-wheel-driving and most have more boot and seat space than an SUV.

There are still the issues of visibility but less environmental concerns as they don’t weigh nearly as much.

Here’s a comparison that shows a popular SUV is 600kg heavier than a similar-sized people mover with more seats:

Toyota Kluger (7-seater)

Height………. 1730mm

Length………4785mm

Weight……… 2720kg

Kia Carnival (8-seater)

Height……… 1760mm

Length………5130mm

Weight………2117kg

Here’s an idea – let’s bring back the Tarago! Why did people stop buying Taragos? Was it due to the naff factor that it makes you look like a soccer mum and a SUV is beefy and therefore you drive around with more purpose than a simple ferry service?

Lastly, I think the choice to buy a large vehicle thinks less about all drivers than it does about just yourself. When I have asked three people why they like driving in an SUV, they say ‘because you are higher’. Higher somehow equates to safer, in people’s minds. Greater visibility? Well, only until the person beside you decides to get one too because they can’t see anything anymore.

And here’s how that feels from a small car:

I took this photo while trying to pull out onto the Princes Hwy, Hurstville, Sydney. Thanks for risking my life, Mr Pajero, so you could feel safer.

So the future will look different one way or the other.

We either all get a larger, higher car – please no – or, as is now looking more likely, a carbon tax is brought in that will at some point add a premium to larger cars and reigns in these vehicles unless their efficiency rockets up in coming years.

Following is a list of 7+ seaters currently available, showing there are many options in both SUVs and people movers, and hopefully some you are not aware of.

SUVs
Audi Q7
BMW X5
Dodge JC Journey
Ford Territory
Holden Captiva
Hyundai Santa Fe
Jeep Commander
Kia Sorento, Rondo
Land Rover Discovery 3
Mazda CX7, CX9
Mercedes GL Class, R Class
Mitsubishi Challenger, Outlander, Pajero
Nissan Dualis 2, Pathfinder, Patrol
Peugeot 308 Touring, 4007
Ssangyong Rexton, Stavic
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota Kluger, Landcruiser 200, Prado
Volvo XC90
People Movers
Chrysler Voyager
Citroen C4 Picasso
Honda Odyssey
Hyundai iMax – Flash
Kia Carnival
Mitsubishi Grandis
Renault Grand Scenic
Toyota Avensis, Tarago
Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life, Caravelle, Multi Van

Source: familycar.com.au

Related reading:

Ten small cars you can live with — an About.com Cars Top Ten http://bit.ly/hrOf7e

Fords Small Car Problem A European Perspective – Motor Trend Blog http://bit.ly/ijgzeb

Drive.com.au blog: Are luxury small cars a rip off? http://bit.ly/i1IIJT

Why was I not told about Battle Hamsters?

Kids toys have always been best when inspired by LSD or scary animals or both.

Think about it – Voltron, Hungry,Hungry Hippos, Mouse Trap, The Game of Life  (They were Catholics weren’t they, those reproducing pegs?)

And today I discovered what rodent-related joy the kids of today are being delivered.

Battle Hamsters!

The limited edition Ninja Hamster range - with armour on, obviously

It gave me one of those moments where I wished my nine-month-old was seven and I could get into kids toys all over again.

It’s some kind of bizarro Japanese-made pet that doesn’t need feeding but does attack at will. Looks like you put them in a ring – Imagine the ad voiceover: “Just like a cock-fight kids!” “Aww yeah dad, awesome!” – and you let them go each other, hamster on hamster, to the death. Am I missing anything? Is this not the coolest thing since Ulysses?

Check the video…

Note: These are not to be confused with the less violent and therefore less enjoyable range of Hamsters toys with the names;

NumNums

Num Nums indeed

I was glad to learn these kids can still be tricked out.

Just add Zhu Zhu Rockstar punk hair implants!

rockstar hamster hair

Make me a kid again now

The blog without a face.

Here it is, the blog that just kept rearing it’s head wanting to get out.

And here’s hoping the result’s not ugly.

My wife recently gave birth to a boy. That was my first shock. A boy. Just like me. Oh.

I can’t recall what I said at the time. I hope it wasn’t: “Oh. Will you look at that!”

I soon realised I hadn’t genuinely considered the implications of having a boy. (I don’t get why people find out the gender via ultrasound. You lose all the shock and awe. And that doesn’t just last the first few days. I’m still in it!)

Given a week staring at the adorable child, I realised the only new decision to be made was not about colours or clothes or toys.. in fact, the only choice to reveal itself as urgent was the one of circumcision.

To cut or not to cut? To slice or just pretend it looks nice?

Real information was hard to come by. Dr Google returned a range of local doctors happy to do it – this website has 2 pages of doctors happy to do it, just in Sydney – and fear-mongering sites supporting either side. What was missing was genuinely clear, unbiased info from a reputable source. The medical associations here and in the US offer tainted views that fail to cite research or, if they do, it is for one side of the debate only.

Sites claiming to be neutral offered up the furphies that a ‘vast majority‘ of boys don’t get circumcised’ or that no hospitals and few doctors perform circumcisions.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has this paper (PDF) on the matter. Of course, when I was a boy they had the opposite view and, now, with the general trend against the cut (as it has no immediate need nor benefit) the RACP also appear sceptical of any preventative benefit the procedure may have. That view surprised me, coming ae it does, despite circumcision’s widespread implementation in Africa to reduce STIs (The best thing I found to read on this part of the debate was here).

A website called Circinfo appears helpful and genuine but ultimately fails too in providing fair info without slant.

The site has a neat table of possible injuries a boy may incur – a valid concern – and one that points out how in 1919, one boy somehow got tuberculosis from his circumcision.

What? Why? I’m sure there were some nasty results of early forms of amputation too, or side effects from cough medicine that included strychnine, but I don’t need to be told them when I sign up for the modern version.

Circumcision is safe enough to have been performed in pre-biblical times so boys getting it done have a good long historical record predating Jesus by several centuries.

It’s easy to dismiss that fact but why is the procedure still around and so popular two millennia later?

For those are not up to date on how circumcision can work in these days of whiz-bang surgery, anaesthetic cream is now all that is needed, and after 20 minutes, a quick procedure cuts the foreskin off and your boy is good to go home in an hour, adorned with gauze. A little protective ring is left on – this falls off in a week. (The next day or two are typically days of pain and discomfort but breastfeeding does the trick in calming anxious babies’ nerves)

Yet some hospital websites haven’t cottoned on to these procedures yet and still recommend general aneasthetic, suggesting it is safer.

“Thus,” says one ill-informed Australian hospital website, “It is recommended that you wait until he is at least six to 12 months old because the operation and anaesthetic are safer then.” – Thankyou Sydney Children’s Hospital.

In contrast to this, the two doctors I contacted both prefer boys to be brought in before they are two weeks old. Who to believe? Research can prove anything, it’s all just trends and everyone has an agenda.

So I turned to trusted friends for their views.

That wasn’t much more helpful.

Nearly everyone fell into two categories:
1) We did it because his dad had it done. (Felt right)
2) We didn’t do it because dad didn’t have it done. (Felt wrong)

Decisions based on hunches didn’t seem good enough to me when those against the procedure were claiming it was an abomination, harmful, dangerous age at their angry worst, ‘barbaric’.

(If you want to lose credit in an argument, describe something most people do because it feels right, as barbaric.)

I was already heading toward getting my boy done, believing that the cosmetic reason many dads give was actually a genuine anxiety disguising a deeper sense of identity that is at threat between a man and his son. That, and I believed STIs are a widespread issue that could be dealt a statistical blow if everyone did this to boys at birth.

But one friend I talked to, a school office worker, had a thoroughly different view.

Her stance came from the experiences of parents at her school. “I could name six or seven families that have told me they have had to get their boys circumcised later on because of problems.”

The problems were infections under the foreskin and the boys were four, six and eight years old. This was not something anyone else was discussing.

This shocked me as it obviously meant that the boys would need a general aneasthetic – a much riskier proposition than a newborn circumcision.

The optional twenty minute procedure for a newborn had, for these parents, turned into an overnight hospital stay for their primary school boy and surgery that required a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a nurse etc. etc.

Plus, unlike a newborn, a four or eight year-old would definitely remember the pain that folllowed, and probably be left to deal with the shame of their friends finding out why they went to hospital… This was a very revealing chat.

The next revealing chat was with the doctor holding the knife.

The waiting room would have had twenty newborns pass through in the hour we were there. Apparently, doctors into snipping do as many circumcisions in one day as they can. This guy was heading for 100 plus in a day.

I was ready to grill him as I still didn’t feel I yet had the full story.

I asked how many older boys he saw needing to have it done due to infection. Ten per cent, he said. One in ten people he circumcised was a boy or man, not a newborn.

So, I was getting this done, firstly, for my boy’s one-in-ten chance that he might face it later without what I believe is the emotional mask of babyhood. This is what I call a muting effect, the precious grace a baby has to withstand a bump on the head, or a serious fever, and recall neither later in life, even a day later. Some deny this, fearing babies carry all trauma forward into life. I’m not one.

Secondly, I made the decision based on the identity issue. To have a son with whom I will share many traits, many not physical at all, is a special, special thing. To be lacking one similarity that is profoundly personal and how shall I put it, a centrepiece(!) of a man’s primal instincts, would add a bonding difficulty I would rather didn’t exist.

Lastly, I was at ease knowing the preventative value of circumcision I was providing my son. In a judgment of risks now versus risks later, I was glad to know the rate of STI transmission for my son would be lowered, as was his chance of passing on infections to a woman – even cervical cancer via the pappiloma virus – and, knowing I had removed, literally, his need to wash an area regularly to maintain personal hygiene.

We do preventative things throughout our life to protect ourselves just in case. They may not have been needed, and, moreover, we do them for our kids who may or may not agree. We’ll administer painkillers, antibiotics, provide the best available diet, teach them to ride, drive…

This was how I arrived at my decision.

And look, I didn’t even need to mention Elaine from Seinfeld’s quote:

“It had no face, no personality. It was like a martian.”
Elaine, describing an uncircumsized penis, in “The Bris”

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