Monday, September 14, 2009

Killing Cars

Got my October 2009 issue of First Things today. In the back of the journal, where Fr. Richard John Neuhaus used to make his observations, Editor Joseph Bottum now carries the mantle. Among many other things, he comments on an article that appeared in the August 4, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal.

Believe it or not, sodium silicate ("liquid glass" to its friends) is in the news. The gederal government gave this unassuming compound a huge boost in popularity by making it the official poison for killing fuel-inefficient cars under its now, alas, bankrupt "Cash-for-Clunkers" program. In a detailed, 136-page manual distributed to dealers, the government mandated that "clunkers" be permanently disabled by running the engine with sodium silicate instead of oil, thereby abrading the engine beyond repair.

Suppliers happily scrambled to meet the sudden demand (the Wall Street Journal reported that one distributor was working "sixteen-hour days"), and across the nation, mechanics were energized by the prospect of a novel thrill: "At dealerships across America, mechanics accustomed to fixing engines are battling for the chance to ruin them. 'Everybody wants to go first, so I'm probably going to have to make them draw straws,' says Jim Burton of Randy Curnow Buick Pontiac GMC in Kansas City, Kansas. As service manager, however, he might reserve that thrill for himself. 'I can't wait,' he says."

By all accounts, the prescribed method is quick, safe, and effective. At one dealership in Kansas, sodium silicate killed a 2002 Ford Windstar and a 1999 Jeep in approximately two minutes. (A 1988 Jeep held out for six minutes. "Sometimes," observed the dealership president, "those old engines are hardest to kill.") The simplicity , efficiency, and dispatch with which this debut federal euthanasia program was administered should help quiet fears that the federal government is incompetent to administer health care.

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