Effect Measure

CDC, OnStar and Big Brother. Hmmm.

AP is carrying a distressing story that CDC is working with General Motors’ OnStar service to speed provision of emergency responders to serious car accidents. What’s distressing about it? My immediate reaction, which I believe is irrational but was natural and spontaneous: Now they’ll know where everyone is all the time. Big Brother. It’s distressing because of what it says about my attitude toward this government: I don’t trust them. At all. I don’t believe they have my interests at heart. Even more distressing is that many of you will think that’s a perfectly normal and natural — and correct — way to think about government. I don’t agree and am dismayed I reacted that way.

First, let’s look at what the story is about:

On Wednesday, the automaker [General MOtors] was scheduled to announce a partnership with U.S. health officials to create guidelines, expected in 2008, for the use of real-time crash data to help emergency services provide a more targeted response to those injured in a car accident.

GM’s OnStar system alerts emergency rescue officials when an air bag deploys or the vehicle is struck in a moderate to severe crash. Subscribers can also receive driving directions, roadside assistance and other services.

Emergency responders could benefit from the OnStar system because its sensors transmit real-time data pinpointing where a vehicle was struck, whether it rolled over or if it was hit several times. (AP)

This is all good. This could same my life or someone I care about. It could save the lives of people I don’t know. Yes, it could save lives. What’s not to like? That’s what’s so distressing. The spontaneous paranoia, some of which might even be rational. If I have a car crash I want them to know where I am to send help. If I think (and say out loud) their administration is a metaphorical trainwreck, however, I don’t want them to know where I am at all times, or even some of the time.

There are always trade-offs. Some I’m willing to live with, and, when I reflect on it, this is one of them. The system will be voluntary, at least for the foreseeable future, because, while by next year most GM cars will be OnStar equipped, after the first year you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription fee ($200/yr. or $17/month). When I finally get rid of my 11 year old piece-of-shit car and I buy one where this or something like it is an option, I’ll take it. I’d also buy it for my children. I’ll take my chances and work to improve them by trying to elect a government who will respect my civil liberties, unlike the current one.

On the other hand, I suppose if I don’t subscribe it could still be “active” in a stealth mode. That way I’d get all the disadvantages and none of the advantages.

Distressing thought. I’ve got to get a grip.


  1. #1 Lea
    March 22, 2007

    Me thinks you are getting a grip here revere.
    Got a chuckle out of this and quite frankly am pleased to hear you are questioning this in the manner that you are. Trust your instincts, our first thoughts are usually the right ones. And I say usually again.
    Next it will be mandatory tracking devices on all vehicles.

    The government is out to control every aspect of our puny lives and unless the younger generation jumps on the bandwagon and starts a movement that will gain appreciable attention, we’re all pretty well sunk. It will be like living in an “open prison”. And in many aspects it already is.
    Dismayed may not be the right word but it gets the point across. Life can be good and fair for everyone, and it shouldn’t be that hard to accomplish however, the government, lobbyist’s, and wealthy have different plans. People have grown so lazy, and it will lead to ruin.

    The Dems are starting to divide now and want to waste precious time on the fired Attorneys. Worthy cause, yes, but still a waste of time. I think they’re diverting the public’s attention to this because they’re not agreeing on the Iraq war.

  2. #2 marquer
    March 22, 2007

    A member of my extended family who is a Rush Limbaugh listener is fond of telling the rest of us, “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”

    My response is invariably that “And a libertarian is a conservative who has been cavity-searched on a pretext.”

    When one looks at the Heimatsicherheitshauptamt, er, rather, Department of Homeland Security, and considers its explosive growth coupled to the insolence and incompetence of its minions who daily (and rudely) interact with the public, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that millions of new libertarians are in the process of being minted.

  3. #3 Melanie
    March 22, 2007

    What marquer said. BTW, boys and girls, if you are carrying a recent generation cell phone, you are already trackable by GPS. You didn’t know that when you bought your cell phone contract, did you?

  4. #4 carl
    March 22, 2007

    Hi – To paraphrase a number of great eighteenth century thinkers; the natural tendency of government is to accrete power to enslave you and steal your stuff. Always, ostensively, for good and noble purposes. Liberal government was an experiment aimed at minimizing that tendency.

  5. #5 "Orange Mike" Lowrey
    March 22, 2007

    What we have is the worst of both worlds: the few pseudo-libertarians in the modern “conservative” movement are so afraid of using government for anything at all, that they let the statists and the corporate proto-fascists get away with anything, rather than use eviallll gummint means to stop it.

  6. #6 revere
    March 22, 2007

    Orange Mike: I’m with you on that one.

  7. #7 M. Randolph Kruger
    March 23, 2007

    None of this disturbs me in the slightest. What disturbs me is who has access to all of that information. One group of people that will be replaced by another group of people every four years? The Dems used LBJ’s get out the IRS rather than the vote in the 60’s, Nixon did it subtle in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Ford wouldnt do it at all, Jimmy Carter was too stupid to do it, Reagan likely did it but was too cool to get caught, Bush 1 was definitely too cool to get caught, Clinton very likely was doing it but hey, he was Clinton, and finally GWB who is openly doing it. So how do we fix this problem mates? Everyone who has access has the capability to monitor you down to your “Enemy of the State” socks. So you go thru life in fear of what you might say? I dont put things on the blogs that are attacks or talking about kidnapings and things like that for the obvious reasons.

    Dont worry, MySpace.com will blow the bandwidth out of the walls pretty soon anyway. As for respecting civil liberties, I am on the fence. Each time in history that there has been a revolt it was started from taking of the little things first. E.g. Onstar is a good idea. Then someone uses it against you to sue in a court because you were according to that piece of shit, going to fast or you ran the red light.
    People out West dont like it unless they are able to punch the button when they are six kinds of shitfaced drunk and in a ditch somewhere. Thats freedom. I think its a simple matter of not allowing the systems to ping and detect at all times. It only does that when you hit the button. Else, later on they will be pushing your button when you dont obey. Its not a Dem or Rep or Libertarian issue. Its an issue that will end up with RFID chips in our asses somewhere and they’ll say its for our own good. Uh-huh.

  8. #8 bar
    March 23, 2007

    Over here in Oz we have a system of CCTV’s set up watching the traffic along the main roads. It’s called “SAFE-T-CAM”

    Like Revere I was suspicious of surveillance, so I wrote this blog.

    The point is, unfortunately, we havent got a hope in hell of stopping this toy.

    So lets look at MRK’s worries about who has access. My suggestion, for what it is worth, is lets don’t just have an exclusive elite having access to all this taxpayer funded surveillance, just put it into the public domain, (along with the computer records of who is accessing it.)

    So if the wife/husband is using the system to watch her/his spouse, at least the spouse will know that s/he is watching.

    It sure is goin’ to change the social structure:)

  9. #9 traumatized
    March 23, 2007

    Orange Mike is right on. This kind of realtime data collection is exactly the kind of surveillance the evil gubment should be engaging in. In particular, I’m thinking about the potential benefit in rural areas, where the burden of MVT crashes is higher, trauma centers are further away, and EMS services may or may not be GPS capable or properly trained in making triage decisions. This kind of data could be invaluable for making those decisions in a timely way.

    Why is the evil gubment the right entity to collect this data?
    1. It is a public good, so if evil gubment doesn’t pay for it, noone will.
    2. Many states have developed/are developing/wish they had support to develop real time data collection systems to support faster and better prehospital triage decisions. It would be cost efficient to exploit technology that is in the car anyway.
    3. The emergency care system is distributed through numerous prehospital providers, ambulance services and hospitals each with potentially incongruent data systems/policies…evil gubment is the only entity that can be endowed with authority to share data between these entities in a transparent way.
    4. States already collect extensive data on each accident that happens on a public roadway, including, for example whether the passenger was buckled–wouldn’t it be nice to have a data system to collect this data accurately (ie…”officer, of course i was wearing my seatbelt when I was thrown through this windshield and landed 15 feet away from the car.”)?
    5. In some cases, laws passed by the evil gubment are in your best interest. If you’re concerned about being tracked down and fined because you don’t prefer to wear a seatbelt, start wearing one. You always have the option of not using those roadways that are built and maintained by your evil gubment.

  10. #10 M. Randolph Kruger
    March 23, 2007

    Yeah, the spouse watching is a good point. Put it in the public domain so we can all enjoy it. Britney wont even have to go out anymore for us to get a shot of her yoo-hoo. Private eyes will be out of business. You just ping the OnStar and hit the video cameras along the way. Surveillance cams will catch them in the act. A whole new market ?

    Can Halliburton be far behind?

  11. #11 marquer
    March 23, 2007

    Its an issue that will end up with RFID chips in our asses somewhere and they’ll say its for our own good.

    My early political education included the maxim from Huey Long that “When fascism comes to America, it’ll be called anti-fascism.”

    Then, a few years ago, I had an epiphany.

    It came when I had occasion to observe up close just how clinically obsessive had become the suburban yuppie baby-boomer parents about protecting their get from even the tiniest of potential hazards. What can you say about people who insist that a playground have every last moving device such as a swing set be removed? These are the same folks who will (with no sense of self-parody) have big signs put up on said playground reading “NO RUNNING”. And will put their kids in bulky protective helmets for a game of tag!

    I realized that the Kingfish had been on the mark, but only in the context of his own long-removed time.

    In our own time, when fascism comes to America (and it’s halfway in the front door already), it will assuredly come in the name of Safety. All hail and praise holy Safety!

  12. #12 Lea
    March 23, 2007

    Justification in the minds of some might be that such a large population must be controlled.
    It’s all programming, a hint of what marquer was eluding to. Television, mainstream media, religion, parents, governments within governments make it all doable.
    Again, just let the people pursue their pleasures and they’ll be pacified. Give the barking dog a bone scenario.

  13. #13 revere
    March 23, 2007

    marquer: Don’t agree. My children were safer than I was on the playground and bike/cycle helmets save lives and my money. I can get along without the military, though. Oh, oh. Randy just woke up.

  14. #14 bar
    March 23, 2007

    Revere: According to Adams (RISK, UCL 1995) the number of motorcycle accidents where a helmet actually helped (by preventing serious brain injury) is around 1%. However when helmets are worn, it appears that there is an increase of around 2% in the count of fatal accidents with motorcycles. Similar stories for seat belts. Go figure.

  15. #15 marquer
    March 23, 2007

    I always wear a helmet when I motorcycle. I have a different helmet for when I bicycle, which I may or may not wear, depending upon the type of bicycling and surroundings.

    I can’t speak to the larger issue of motorcycle helmet safety, but after having absorbed an impact hard enough to permanently compromise the helmet structure, without incurring injury myself, I personally am glad to wear one.

    The bicycle helmet engenders no such confidence. And an ER trauma doc of my acquaintance quoted chapter and verse at me about their relative ineffectiveness. Predominantly because those things are designed with light weight, breathability and style as key criteria. They do not, he opined, cover enough of the head. If bicyclists all wore Shoei or Arai motorcycle helmets, they would be far safer, although vastly less happy and infinitely more uncomfortable. Tradeoffs, always tradeoffs.

    Revere, I don’t mind having the kids wear helmets while on a bicycle. It was when the helmet mania began to infiltrate playground games where the risk of cranial impact is tiny that I began to realize that there are genuinely irrational fears at work here.

    A post-religious, secularized society (as would describe many suburban baby boomers, even many of them who continue to attend church for social reasons) is likely to get shaky and thanatophobic in the face of mortal risks. And thereupon to become phobic about even trivial risks.

  16. #16 revere
    March 23, 2007

    bar: Not the data I’ve seen, esp. seat belts. I’ll have to get my resident guru to dig up the cites.

  17. #17 M. Randolph Kruger
    March 24, 2007

    No Revere, I got tagged running what was a yellow light when I started and in this particular little town that is the Beverly Hills of Tennessee they have about 30 traffic lights total, all set up with red light cams. In the opinion of the officer who is monitoring it, and its arbitrary they can issue you a ticket if they dont think you are far enough thru the intersection when it turns red. Hence a 150 ticket. Used to be the biggest speed trap in the state until the traffic got to be so bad that you couldnt speed if you wanted to. Oh and the US Supreme Court issued an edict that said that if a certain amount of a towns budget was over “X” that the city was a speed trap and they couldnt issue more than “N” tickets for speeding under any circumstances.

    Funny thing though, the NTSB is now reviewing red light traffic cams because they are resulting in broken necks for people who stop at the last second to keep from getting a ticket. The guy behind you rear ends your tail and gets one along with all the people in that car, you get one from the whiplash and bounce off of those high back headrests. No kidding, they may be getting ready to outlaw them. Something like 400 neck injuries a year. Me, I like my cops the old fashion way…Catch me if you can. Did I mention the drag racing incident in the same town 30 years ago? Couldnt catch my 140 mph super-beetle but caught the other guy, he ratted me out. No this one isnt about surveillance, its about money pure and simple. Right now down in Card Sound FL there is an array that can pick up almost 85% of all the telephone, fax, email, email addresses, radio and some select frequencies you dont know about in the S. Hemisphere. It goes into a computer that is constantly moving at high speed and cross checking it for naughty or nice.

    There was a lot of conjecture that Clinton used it to bug from a distance the Republican Party HQ and other places but hey, dont think for one minute that the Reps wouldnt do the same in kind. Thats what I mean about this. If they know everything about everyone, then everyone will become big brother frenzied and bring the country down. They’ll imprison you one and all eventually if you dont toe the particular line thats in the White House and Congress at the time. The only avenue to stop this is the Supreme Court. But someone has to sue first.

  18. #18 revere
    March 24, 2007

    Randy: Officer Bubba has been doing this in small southern towns for decades. It’s a source of revenue. They are just using camera Bubba now.

  19. #19 Lea
    March 24, 2007

    MRK: Does it not really boil down to responsible driving? Something most drivers are devoid of?
    Sue the auto makers for showing ridiculous commercials that show speeding cars. Hold them accountable for their actions and force them to change the way they advertise.

    Toe the line until the line breaks, because that line will eventually snap.

  20. #20 bar
    March 24, 2007

    Revere: There was a lot of government subsidized research (e.g. the UK study by the royal mathematicians Harvey & Durbin ’86 on which UK seatbelt legislation was based) that have since been discredited.

    Harvey & Durbin found that belt use before & after seat belt legislation went from low to higher. H&D found a corresponding drop in fatalities. Case proved.

    Some time later somebody noticed that all the lives saved seemed to have been saved on Friday & Saturday nights. A little further research revealed that the police had conducted a huge drink blitz during the second of those time periods:)

    H&D later defended by claiming that they were mathematicians, and had nothing to do with data collection, which was the responsibility of the police statistician.

    My knowledge of the subject does not go past the cites given here.

  21. #21 g510
    March 26, 2007

    Speaking of RFID chips up one’s arse:

    According to a recent news story, over 500 hospitals are now using RFID implants in patients as a means of tracking medical records.

    Now ask yourself: If it was just about tracking medical records, why not attach the RFID chip to the person with sticky tape, and remove it when they leave? Why the need to inject the damn thing into the person’s body, eh? Methinks something else is at work here.

    As for other forms of tracking: Why do you think I don’t have a cellphone? Aside from the obnoxiousness factor, aside from not wanting to be on a leash all the time, aside from not wanting to deal with phone calls in the car (DUI-equivalent impairment), aside from the shitty sound quality with its constant and frustrating interruptions. I don’t want the damn thing tracking the location of my soft squishy body at all hours of the day and night.

    As for devices in cars: I’m told that all new cars, back to maybe year 2000 if not a little earlier, have “black boxes” in them that record vehicle data. One wonders how long before they start recording conversations. In any case, an OnStar device could be built in a manner that is truly off unless triggered by an airbag deployment or a rollover. In fact there is a basis for a competing service that would advertise, “We help you when you need help; otherwise we leave you alone.” One could of course insert a manual power switch into the OnStar units that presently exist, and take the risk of not being able to turn it on in an accident. But the price of freedom is never free, is it?

    O’Brien reached for the knob and turned down the volume of the telescreen. Then with a click, he turned it off.

    “You turned it off!” said Winston Smith, surprised.

    “Yes,” replied O’Brien, “We, the Inner Party, have that privilege.”

  22. #22 akka
    May 9, 2008


    I am interested in your take on this survey: http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/SQuest08.pdf

    As a recent recipient of the survey, we refused to complete the survey and as such were subject to phone calls for a month and home visits for a month (not every day).

    My questions are as a person with a libertarian bent, would you complete this survey?

    Did you know the Census Bureau released information that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII?

    More recently, information has been released to target Arab/Iraqi Americans.

    This survey would not receive IRB approval. I discovered that the Census Bureau has exempted themselves having to undergo the IRB approval process.

    There are many websites discussing this survey. Just google it and read with a grain of salt. This one sums up my feelings on it most closely: http://www.moundalexis.com/tm/2007/07/09/american-community-survey-makes-me-uncomfortable/

    And as a researcher, the whole mandatory nature is just not acceptable.



  23. #23 revere
    May 9, 2008

    akka: This is a question of trust. Since I don’t trust this administration I probably wouldn’t fill it out. It’s point is unclear and the value versus the risks are unclear. However with a government more worthy of trust I might very well fill it out. Not providing personal information is not a matter of principle for me.

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