The man who is admired for the ingenuity of his larceny is almost always rediscovering some earlier form of fraud. The basic forms are all known, have all been practiced. The manners of capitalism improve. The morals may not. — John Kenneth Galbraith

The insurance firm Aon has enlisted the dubious skills of Raymond Catchpole to devise the concept of Auto Feng Shui. This latest assault on brainpower offers more insights into how you can persuade people to turn their brains to mush.

Raymond has allegedly had his work recognized by the (UK) Indian High Commission and he is the elected chairman of the UK Feng Shui Society. His work in this report does not inspire confidence in the mental acuity of these organizations.

Catchpole claims the following are feng shui concepts related to autos.

Remove clutter from the car: it “sucks the life force out of the driver.”

“Clutter” is personal and cultural bias. The only thing you stand to gain from following Catchpole’s advice is a Placebo Effect.

What does Catchpole mean by “life force”? How is “life force” measured? What are the mechanics of “sucked out”? At what point is removal of this alleged “force” lethal to living tissue? How does he know any of this is occurring?

If you use wifi connections such as Bluetooth, everyone in a car should drink regular quantities of still water to flush out the effects of this “negative energy” that drains their bodies.

Can wifi transmissions be absorbed by living creatures and be easily removed by guzzling water? Does “still water” include Pellegrino and Perrier? Can you wash off the Bluetooth cooties by taking a shower?

Bluetooth transmits at frequencies around 2 GHz (in the US the bandwidth is 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz). Wifi at 802.11b and 802.11g transmits at 2.4 GHz; for 802.11a the frequency is 5 GHz. It would be interesting to know whether Catchpole can differentiate the effects of the Bluetooth cooties in these frequencies.

Stephen H. Wildstrom reminds us that regulatory bodies set exposure standards for radiation that reaches body tissue. The standard is Specific Absorption Rate (SAR):

The U.S. and Canadian governments have set a maximum SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram, while the European Union permits a slightly higher level. In the real world, emissions generally stay well below the maximum allowed. …SARs for GSM BlackBerry devices (those sold by Cingular and T-Mobile in the U.S.) fall in the range of 0.25 watts per kilogram when used at your ear. … A study by William G. Scanlon of Queen’s University in Belfast found that a typical Ericsson Bluetooth radio module generates an SAR of just 0.001 watts per kilogram.

Catchpole’s ideas do not hold water

Perhaps he means that you should drink water while you are driving and talking on the phone. (If you thought there were enough people talking on the phone as you drive, imagine the wrecks that would ensue in this scenario.) If you asked him what drop in SAR can be attributed to water, and how that works, he couldn’t answer you. He probably does not know what SAR is.

If water influenced SAR as Catchpole claims, the instructions for your mobile phone, satellite radio, and Blackberry — even the manual for your car — would ship with little statements encouraging you and your passengers to consume water while operating the devices.

Actually the opposite is true: if you can find the manual for your mobile phone (most of them are online now), you’ll notice a section that explains the hazards of doing something more than paying attention to your driving. Enough evidence exists for companies to say drinking and driving is a bad thing. I’ve known people who received a ticket for drinking a soda while driving because, according to the cop, the bottle impaired their vision.

To remove negative energy inside the car (alleged to affect a driver’s mood), sit in the car and sing, clap, or play music to make a statement that it is now your “cleared space.” This activity “refreshes the car and frees it from past events.”

“Negative energy” is that old New Age recycling of self-help’s determination or will. Here Catchpole wants you to worry about the malevolent side — as if yin could exist without yang! One could assume “negative energy” implies anything that frustrates your self-absorption: a grumpy driving companion, a heated argument you don’t win, or being stuck in traffic behind someone talking on the phone and drinking water.

How would we know that clapping, singing, and playing the radio “refresh” an auto? How do you know there was “negative energy” to begin with? Can your mechanic run a diagnostic?

One would suppose that if space clearing was truly possible, an enterprising car agency or mechanic would already have developed a way to add this to your tune-up or oil change. Maybe the next time you rent a car you can pay a little extra for a space cleansing so you can have that “new car vibe.”

Imagine car agencies who advertise that “pre-owned” cars include a certification that the interior (does that include the “boot” or trunk?) has been “freed from past events” and now provides “cleared space.”

Which brings up an interesting point: Have car thieves been dispelling a victim’s “negative energy” so they can steal their car free and clear?

If a person or a pet passes gas in your car, do you clap and sing to remove the negative energy of the smell? Perhaps the indigenous population being pushed out by development in the San Joaquin Valley could employ Catchpole’s method to remove what they believe to be squatters on their ancestral homeland. Or the interlopers could use this method to force out the indigents.

Keep the windows clean because they are the “eyes” of the car and allow “chi energy” to enter the car from outside.

Of course Catchpole dares not define what he means by “chi energy.” Defining it would make it difficult to persuade people “chi energy” is capable of doing anything, like God and Santa Claus. When you define it, people hold you to the definition; there is no wiggle room — that would be bad for this feng shui business.

In the version of feng shui practiced by Catchpole, the “negative” version of “chi energy” can be deflected by mirrors. But Catchpole claims “chi energy” can get through tinted and mirrored windscreens and windows. It is a tangled web he weaves.

This definition of his “chi energy” does not quite sync with the “negative energy” elsewhere in this article. There are too many types of “energy” running around! The “chi energy” Catchpole is explaining here is actually solar radiation although he would never admit it.

In authentic feng shui, qi (“chi energy”) is a mixture of yin and yang. Depending on the situation there may be more of one type than the other. Yin can be good and yang can be bad; it depends on the situation; there is no yang-good, yin-bad in Chinese science or feng shui.

There is evidence that authentic feng shui involves the Earth’s magnetic field and what reaches us from the Sun, including solar radiation and space weather. But that is not the type of feng shui that Catchpole uses.

Catchpole’s explanation of car-windows-as-eyes works only in certain types of people. It would be interesting to know whether he is a car aficionado, as a recent study showed the brains of males who love cars have trouble recognizing autos from humans when asked to simultaneously view images of faces and the front ends of autos. Males who aren’t in love with cars don’t have a problem differentiating the front ends of autos from the faces of humans.

Ian Fleming and David Crabtree do not subscribe to Catchpole’s car-windows-as-eyes theory. The elderly Mrs Crabtree and world-famous Chitty follow the more common headlights-as-eyes image processing. Studies suggest that’s how anyone except a car nut looks at cars.

Children typically identify the “eyes” of a car as the headlights, just as the nose of a plane (industry term is “nose cone”) or the front of a locomotive (not the engineer’s windshield) identify for children the protruding parts of human faces. Pixar and Disney (obviously full of car aficionados) consider the front windshield as “eyes,” just as Catchpole insists … feng shui has nothing to do with this.

Tie a small blue ribbon on the satellite navigation or the rear-view mirror. The colour blue represents Water, allegedly the perfect driving state of mind (clear, thoughtful, flowing). Keep a bottle of water in the car for the same reason.

And yet the typical translation of water according to the Yijing is “The Abysmal” (the qualities of the abyss). The wisdom of the Yijing is a better gauge of the driving experiences of most people. You have to wonder why people drive if they are so unhappy about it. (Could it be how cars are marketed to bring you success, virility, power, and sex appeal?)

“The Abysmal” does not entirely explain intermittent explosive disorder, because it is infantile regression — the adult version of a tantrum thrown by a 2-year-old. Instead of the 2-year-old’s expressions of frustration, such as foot-stomping and crying, throwing themselves on the ground, etc., adults resort to violence with some form of tool at their disposal, such as 2,000 pounds of hurtling machinery.

I certainly wouldn’t want to drink anything from a plastic water bottle left in a hot car. Polycarbonate bottles such as water bottles release bisphenol A, which mimics estrogens, messes up women’s bodies, and is a known endocrine disruptor.

Sprinkle sea salt crystals on the carpets: they absorb passengers’ negative energy and can be cleaned out regularly taking the negativity with them.

Some communities salt roads when it snows because the salt makes it easier for drivers by lowering the freezing temperature of water. The same principle applies if you have ever made ice cream: you sprinkle coarse salt on the ice to cool the ingredients.

Salt is corrosive. Sea air (a salt spray) quickly corrodes autos, ships, and anything metal. The salt used to de-ice roads turns autos to piles of rust in a couple of years. That is one of the reasons an area of the US earned the name “Rust Belt.”

Carpets can take a certain amount of salt as a cleanser and deodorizer, but things turn ugly when a carpet contains salt and bacteria is introduced. Salt deposits contaminated with bacteria cause odors. That is what makes pet urine so obnoxious to our noses and so intriguing to theirs.

“4/40” air conditioning and more

People may not realize that if they sprinkle salt on the floorboards of their cars, no matter how they try to remove the “negative energy” along with the salt, they may yet be able to erode the floorboards enough to drive their cars like Fred Flintstone.