Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dreaming, But Not Doing

The Truth About Cars has a feature in which readers submit their automotive biographies; a list of the vehicles they've owned. As I thought about this I realized that for a 30-year subscriber to Road & Track and Car & Driver, and a long-time follower of the car industry who started college with the idea of working for a car company, my choices have been far from what most enthusiasts would consider desirable. I'm expanding my list to include personally significant vehicles that I didn't actually own.

- Ford Country Squire wagon,vintage and color not recalled. This was the first car I actually remember our family owning; other that that I can't say much about it.

- 1967 (I think) AMC Rebel station wagon, green. Looking back this was a fairly clean design. As I recall we kept this one for quite a while, at least long enough for me to be old enough to drive it.

- 1975 AMC Matador wagon, burnt orange and fake wood grain. Truly a septic tank that exploded onto the landscape of automotive aesthetics, but deceptively fast, as only a teenager would determine. I put many miles on this vehicle.

- 1972 Chevrolet Impala 4-door, tannish-yellow with white top. It's difficult to describe the exact color because the paint had faded by the time I got it. This was the first car for which I had primary responsibility, although my parents still owned it. I took this car to college and drove it until I got married shortly after graduation. It was reliable and roomy and could take abuse that would ruin many of today's vehicles. But it used gas at a rate that made me wonder if it was secretly giving it to other vehicles, and its handling could have been used to demonstrate the term "boat" as applied to cars. It eventually went to my second brother as a college car.

- 1981 Plymouth Reliant station wagon, white. The first vehicle I actually owned. My wife-to-be and I bought it in 1986 from a private owner. The exterior was square and plain, as was the interior. It had the optional Mitsubishi 4-cylinder engine with (to quote the chief mechanic at the local dealer) a "piece of shit" carburetor (remember carburetors?) that didn't like cold weather all that much, but once it was running it would cruise as well as the Impala with much better mileage. It also served as a temporary lawn shed when I moved from Rapid City to Vermillion. I kept this car for 12 years.

- 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier, burnt orange. This replaced my wife's Dodge Dart. Not much to say about it; it was adequate transportation until it developed a tendency to die at intersections in hot weather which never was diagnosed.

- 1993 Plymouth Acclaim, white. The replacement for the Cavalier. It was roomy and economical, at least while I was involved with it. It went with the wife when we divorced and developed a habit of generating excess heat and/or fire that eventually consumed it.

- 1997 Ford Escort wagon, green. The replacement for the Reliant, and my current ride. It's the definition of basic transportation, but has done everything I've asked of it, including haul a surprising quantity of tree branches. Small things are wearing out, but circumstances seem to be dictating that I'll be keeping it for a while longer, and that's fine.

- 2002 Ford Taurus, gray. Purchased to replace my second wife's Pontiac Bonneville. It was a fun vehicle, but she never could get used to it; we traded it in on another Bonneville, which she took back to North Dakota after the divorce.

- 2003 Dodge Neon, blue. My wife's car. It's been a good vehicle for her until recently, but has started developing worrisome troubles that may warrant replacing it instead of the Escort as we has originally planned. it has been the subject of a post at The Truth About Cars, and the consensus of commenters there is to get rid of it. Finances dictate a delay in doing that, but further problems may force action.

As I said, not exactly a dream list. Money and extenuating circumstances, not enthusiasm, have driven my purchases so far, and will probably continue to do so, although I still hold out hope of owning a Miata someday, perhaps after the Escort. We shall see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Humor the Dogs, Long Version

I noticed that once again I posted something without appropriate elaboration, so here's another try......

While discussing Severe Weather Awareness Week, James Lileks offered this tip.

.....when they test the warning sirens, howl along with your dog. He might think it's the Great Dog in the Sky, and you wouldn't want to look like an unbeliever.

That statement made me think of organized religions, and how much they rely on people thinking that way. People who may not believe in (or know) all or even most of a church's doctrine, but for reasons of their own choose to go along with the howlers. Churches don't mind this because it puts butts in the seats; if they really tried to operate with only "true believers" most of them would disappear.

The religious states are the biggest beneficiaries of this. Do you really think that the mullahs in Iran have the complete support of the general public? I would wager that most people there just want to get on with life and not be bothered, but they also don't want trouble, so they let the rulers have their way. Israel seems to have similar problems; the hardcore believers do things that most Israelis would really not want done, but about which they don't care enough to fight, so they go along. The Palestinians have the same problem.

Of course, this isn't limited to religion. It doesn't take much observation of politics to see that the howlers drive the discourse while most citizens only pay attention when they feel they must. This creates distortions that result in huge misperceptions about other groups (too often encouraged by the howlers on each side) that occasionally result in tragedy.

The answer to this is simple but not necessarily easy; don't go along with the howlers just to get along. Because unlike the dogs, they won't shut up on their own.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ripple Effect

The basic story.....

A young woman who was shot to death outside of a Maple Grove McDonald's restaurant Sunday was identified Monday by the Hennepin County medical examiner's office as Heather Rose McPherson, 24, of Plymouth. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend, who police say shot her and then committed suicide on a nearby freeway, has been identified as Sedric Jerome Larkins, 24, of Blaine.

Later on in the report, this item.....

McPherson, who has a 9-year-old daughter......

I can't help but notice that this means she was 15yo when she had that baby. A commenter at noted collateral damage at his house.

My 3rd grader came home yesterday and told me that her friend at school won't be coming back to school because she has to go live with her grandfather because her mom was killed at McDonalds.

This is the McDonalds that is less than 2 miles from my house. I take my 2 girls out for breakfast there most Saturday mornings. I'm not sure if my 3rd grader knows that this is "that McDonalds".

may he rot.

Humor the Dog

While discussing Severe Weather Awareness Week, James Lileks offered this tip.

.....when they test the warning sirens, howl along with your dog. He might think it's the Great Dog in the Sky, and you wouldn't want to look like an unbeliever.

That statement made me think of organized religions, and how much they rely on people thinking that way.

Celebrate Good Times

At last a break from the chaos that dominates my life. It happens at just the right time; today marks my second wedding anniversary. As usual, I found something trivial to ponder; signing the card I got my wife. In general it seems to be proper to sign a card you give to someone in order to personalize it just a bit, but in this case the card itself is so specific that it seems a bit silly to put my name on it. Oh well, I guess it's nice that my life is such that I can bother with such rumination.

We went out to dinner last night to celebrate. We chose the restaurant for the basest of reasons; my wife had a gift certificate. It also helped that neither of us had been there in years, and that I was in the mood for a large slab of dead cow, in which this place specializes, which is to be expected of a business called The Cattleman's Club that has sawdust instead of carpet on the floor. There are restaurants that serve meals in courses with one being the main course, and places where all other items are "sides" to the specialty; this is the latter. It must be said that they do it well; the steak was very good. But it isn't the type of place to which you go if you're not sure what you feel like eating.

There were other festivities last weekend, specifically the prom. My daughter went as part of a gaggle of mostly girls with a couple of token boys. This concept seems to be quite popular, but it seems to defeat what I had always understood was the purpose of the prom, which was to be a Classy Couples gathering. My wife said only couples were allowed when she was in school, and while I don't recall an actual prohibition at my school, going without a date wasn't considered. The kids still dress up (my wife saw one of her students - whose normal appearance just barely avoids getting him sent home - cleaned up for the prom and it nearly brought tears to her eyes to see how nice he can look) and I suppose widening the options helps attendance, but it seems to detract from the uniqueness of the occasion and make it more like just another dance. But the kids don't seem to think that way, and for all the attention given to it by parents, it is their soiree.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pimping Bill

Want to hang with a former President? Here's your chance.

....Hillary Clinton is offering the chance to spend a day with her husband Bill in exchange for help paying off her campaign debt.

For a $5 donation, supporters enter a draw for several prizes including a day with the former US president.

One of the other prizes may draw more interest from some people. to the season finale of the hit US talent show American Idol.....

I'm ambivalent about Bill Clinton, but the description does sound intriguing.

The day with Mr Clinton involves meeting him in New York and attending "several interesting events".

I can't help but think that if it's interesting to Bill, it would be a good time.

Snake Bite

I've had a few close calls in my life, but nothing like this.

A Kenyan man bit a python which wrapped him in its coils and dragged him up a tree during a fierce three-hour struggle, police have told the BBC. The serpent seized farm worker Ben Nyaumbe in the Malindi area of Kenya's Indian Ocean coast at the weekend.

The victim told police he managed to reach his mobile phone from his pocket to raise the alarm when the python momentarily eased its grip after hauling him up a tree on Saturday evening.

Mr Nyaumbe used his shirt to smother the snake's head and prevent it from swallowing him.

It may not be over.

The police officer said they took the snake to a sanctuary in Malindi town but it escaped overnight, probably from a gap under the door in the room where it was kept.

As For the Ink In the Pens.......

More proof that being a tourist can inhibit brain activity..... local industry is thriving by producing handmade paper out of a material no-one else wants - wombat poo. The novelty paper is a hit with tourists keen to buy a distinctly Australian souvenir from the area.

It's not as bad as it sounds, at least once the creative process is finished.

Creative Paper manager Darren Simpson says the manufacturing process can be rather unpleasant. "When we are boiling it, it does smell horrific as you can imagine, but once it has been sterilised and rinsed properly there's no scent left to it. If anything it just gives you a nice organic smell," he said.

All the golden eggs come from one goose.

All the paper is made from the dung of a single animal called Nugget that lives in a wildlife park near Cradle Mountain, one of Tasmania's most popular tourist destinations.

I wonder if the Custer State Park people have considered doing this with buffalo?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Involuntary Tax Assistance

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune crime report via Something isn't right about this, but I'm having a hard time figuring out a plausible alternative scenario.

“Theft. A woman called police to report a theft occurred a year ago at Village Pub, 2720 Hwy. 88. She said her purse was stolen and it contained money, her driver's license, Social Security card and debit card. She immediately canceled her debit card but did not report the theft at the time. She was advised when she went to file her taxes this year, that someone had already filed a return in her name.”'

Sophisticated Discourse

Once again John Carroll covers familiar ground.

A few weeks ago I went to Montreal to see my new grandchild, Poulenc (that's her stage name, you understand; I need to protect her identity from the paparazzi), who is 4 months old and, as you might expect, perfect in every way.

It is my custom to talk to children as though they were adults. With a 4-month-old child, this produces some what might be called asymmetric conversations, but I feel she's getting a lot out of them. Shana says that baby talk is useful too, but other people handle that. I'm not going there.

So Poulenc says something like "Aaah ur bleest" and I say, "I don't see how you can reasonably allege that. Everything is just fine around here."

"Brip awrrr eep."

"OK, you have a point. I concede your point of view on that matter. But the course of action you recommend is unwise."

"Lohwssss meeble urk."

"How about a compromise? How about, if I take you around the room again and show you the open window and the clown poster and the computer slide show and the cat, you'll drop your demand for a seat on the Security Council?" And she nods her head in what I take to be agreement, although it could be just her tipping forward, as is her wont, and we walk around the room again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No Smoking of Anything

Another Andrew Sullivan post on decriminalizing marijuana brought to mind the recent passage of legislation banning smoking just about everywhere in South Dakota but under a blanket in your basement and made me wonder when those two ideas are going to collide. As usual, there are conflicting studies and opinions on the effect of marijuana on health. But it does seem reasonable to assume that there would be some negative effects - lungs aren't meant to inhale smoke from any source - and that those effects would increase with the increased use that decriminalization would bring.

So if decriminalizing were to proceed, then at some point the marijuana issue would become a smoking/health issue and would then pick up a new and formidable group of opponents who have been slowly winning a fight against one of the oldest and best-connected industries in American history. The question is how far along in the decriminalization movement this would happen. Would it kill whatever momentum may have built up? Will the marijuana bandwagon crash into the wreckage of the tobacco machine?

Defending His Dollars

As I anticipated, this blog has been sorely neglected, and that will probably continue due to developments that have motivated the use of many and varied obscenities and, if I heard correctly, raised the possibility of an emergency trip to somewhere on the Missouri/Tennessee border to retrieve a wayward automobile. If that seems like just enough information to exaggerate the oddity of the situation, rest assured that more details would not make it seem more sensible. UPDATE: I have just been informed that the required road trip will be shorter and,more importantly, not made by my wife or me. Finally a bit of good news.

James Lileks has been away from his post as well, but for a more pleasant reason; he went to Disneyworld, where he engaged in a fierce battle to minimize wallet weight loss.

They’re out for every dollar, and you must resist. I will not give the Mouse nine dollars for a basket of chicken nuggets. I just won’t. I will not spent $3.29 on a corn dog - unless I’m really hungry, and it’s lunch - and then I’ll take them for all the free ketchup I can. Most of all I will not spent money on soda. This may sound pathetic or penny-wise, depending on your view, but we brought a bottle of water, which I refilled and flavored with those handy little packets of instant sugar-free lemonade. Went through four of them. Saved $15.00! Hah! You may have extracted seven dollars for a corporate-logo-shaped waffle this morning, but I won the fluid-replenishing skirmish.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Riding the Rails

While on vacation, Jon Carroll did something unusual; he took the train. The contrasts with flying were obvious, and not limited to altitude.

I had forgotten how much I liked taking the train. For one thing, Amtrak has not heard of the Great Shoe Threat. Believe it or not, you can get right on the train - a train that is crossing international boundaries - without once taking off your shoes.

We arrived at our train shod and cheerful and settled into our seats, with oodles of legroom and lots of overhead storage. At no time did anyone say to us, "In the unlikely event of a water landing ...," nor were we required to watch a video about safety features. The conductors were large older men, and they were not dressed stylishly, and they did not smile unless something amusing happened. It wasn't one of those vending-machine trains, either - there was a guy behind a counter, and he sold sandwiches and drinks, and there were tables to sit at and everything.

Kids waved at us as we passed through small towns along the route. I waved back. That's something that happens rarely on airplanes.

Not a Drinker

Once again I've been neglecting this humble blog, for a variety of reasons, and I fear such behavior will be more frequent. But I'll do what I can, and so far the blogosphere has survived the lessening of my contribution.

As I looked at the comments for the beer post (thanks) I realized that this is another area I neglect. I enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage - usually a Guinness or similar, although I have developed a taste for Boulevard wheat beer - but I don't drink nearly enough of anything to have more than a basic opinion. My fruit juices tend to be unfermented, and I'm fairly likely to have a glass of water with a restaurant meal. Part of this is plain cheapness,especially at restaurants; I can't justify the price of wine for something that for me is to wash down food. But there is a gift bottle of wine in my refrigerator that has been there for three years unopened, and a bottle of Grain Belt beer (also a gift, from a former co-worker with whom I used to talk about the beers of our youth) that will be a year old soon. I simply don't think about them at times at which drinking them would be appropriate.

There is another factor here. The wine I grew up around was what Peter Egan called "vintages of sacramental sweetness" - Mogen David being the prime example - and so-called "pop wines" such as TJ Swan's and Boone's Farm, usually consumed surreptitiously at parties by under aged drinkers. Perhaps if I were to learn enough to make a good choice I might be more inclined to purchase it.

My Dad has always been a beer drinker, but at the last family gathering he also had a selection of wines that I don't recall seeing growing up. This may be the money factor again; he can afford things now that he couldn't with four kids to feed. Maybe I'll be able to do the same thing once the kids are off the payroll, although I think I'll still prefer a good dark beer.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Right Up There with Wind-up Teeth

Just after posting the item about eggs I found this from Dave Barry, who introduced me to a toy.

My daughter and her friend each had a little money to spend, and they decided, after much pondering, to go with the novelty splat egg. This is a ball made of soft plastic with a "yolk" in the middle. The idea is that you throw on the floor, where it splats, so for a moment it looks sort of like a broken egg, but then it forms back into a ball. Ha ha! What fun!

Available here, among many other places I'm sure.

Incredible, Edible

Edward Bottone calls himself The Cantankerous Cook, but not when eggs are involved.

Hold perfection in your hand for a moment before plunging it into boiling water, or cracking it on the edge of the pan before frying or the rim of the bowl before scrambling. Just look at it. Perfection. You don’t see that every day. Or maybe you do, and don’t give it a second glance. The egg is a common but also potent symbol imbued with centuries of reverence and regard.

Convenient, tasty, essential, primal — the egg is undeniably part of life. It fits into any setting, casual or formal, and is always there when needed. So join with me to intone the words of the American poet, Clarence Day:

Oh, who that ever lived and loved
Can look upon an egg unmoved?
The egg is the source of all.
Tis everyone’s ancestral hall ... Oh, join me gentlemen I beg.
In honoring our friend, the egg.

Broaden Your Beer Horizons

While doing a small-scale test to find beers that go well with chocolate (really), Tyler Wilson issued a challenge.

Generally, when pairing a beverage with chocolate or a chocolate desserts, the standard is red wine or port. Yet beer in many of its brewing styles is just complex as red wine, and some beer matches perfectly with chocolate.

This, to get on my soapbox, is part of the exercise here: We beer drinkers need to get more adventurous. We need to work harder to find out what best pairs with beer. One style might go well with a certain cheese or chicken dish, while others may not. The key is to try it all. You don’t think all those wine-pairing books and sites came about as common knowledge, do you? No, someone had to try it to see what works. Let’s move beer away from simply pairing it with burgers or pizza.

More Than Dancing in the Park

Nick Mamatas took up a martial art that we've all seen in a different form.

Everyone knows "tai chi" — it's that arm-waving thing old ladies do in urban parks. The Whole Foods yuppie crowd swears by it as a way of learning how to "relax." Taiji quan (same thing, somewhat more accurate transliteration) started out, however, as a powerful martial art.

The class wasn't what you might expect.

When I walked in that Wednesday night, I noticed a few things: no uniforms, no mats, no belt rankings, no extended bowing and rituals, and the teacher introduced himself by his first name: Marin. As it turns out, that’s traditional Chinese martial arts. The endless kowtowing, the silk outfits, the strip-mall storefronts with arches and Home Depot waterfalls, that's for rubes.

There was no doubt about it's effectiveness,though.

That first night, people wandered in and out of class, doing warm-ups and complicated stretches, followed by detailed repetitions of the first few moves of the taiji "form." Then Marin demonstrated a move. He's a small guy, 5'6" and maybe 130 pounds soaking wet, and he quickly took down a much larger student, twisting his arm and locking it up to the shoulder. After class, I asked how hard the student had actually been resisting. Marin said, "Try."

I'm taller than Marin and have 60 pounds on him. I've also done some wrestling. We clinched, arms on one another, with me looking for a good grip. I pushed hard, pulled, grabbed his waist, then his neck, and yanked. It was like grappling with one of those robots from an auto plant assembly line. He didn't move at all. Then Marin "brushed" me to the ground with the palms of his hands — he didn't even have a grip on me. I was hooked.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Will There Be a Two-Drink Minimum?

Via 2 Blowhards....There's a movement to add another activity to the Olympics.

Beach volleyball may no longer be the hottest summer Olympic sport to tune into in 2012 if a critical mass of pole dancers manages to convince the Olympic Committee that the athleticism in the activity is gold-medal competition-worthy, (once you get past the stiletto heels).

Why the summer Olympics? I assume this would be held indoors, and the winter Olympics can always use another big draw,which this would doubtless be. There is some support.

.....more than 100,000 people, (not all men), have already signed on to a two-month old Facebook petition supporting Olympic inclusion.....

There are also obstacles.

There are a few foreseeable hurdles that Kakuk and supporters will have to overcome before they can convince the Committee. For starters, how to deal with the hot factor? How do these athletes plan to get around the platform stiletto pump action (required gear for pole fitness), without getting the judges all hot and bothered? And what about the teeny booty shorts (another indispensable part of the uniform)?

I can imagine "pros" competing with ex-gymnasts who outgrew that sport. Listening to sportscasters call the "action" could be priceless. But the last thing the Olympics needs is another competition that relies on judging.

The Usual Suspects

As the NCAA basketball tournament wraps up in the next few days, Charles P. Pierce finds it lacking.

Why, then, did this year's tournament.....seem to have about it the musty, fusty aroma of those days when UCLA won it every year? Because instead of UCLA winning it every year, there are now between five and nine UCLAs that can win it every year. It's just as sterile and dynastic as it used to be.

This damn thing is a destination event now. In 1974, I recall there being two rows of media at courtside. In 1977, at the Omni in Atlanta, my ticket for the championship game cost nine bucks. Now, the whole Final Four annually is subsumed by that odd lot of suits and haircuts that infests every major sporting event. The luxury-box crowd has come to town, and the event has suffered for that.

We are now back in the tedious dynastic years, except that we now have Tudors, Stuarts, and Plantagenets, and not year after year of the House of Windsor. There are no usurpers any more. Four times the predictability and, yes, four times the boredom.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Not Getting the Job Done

Via Dave Barry..... a couple's problem.

......Demetrius Soupolos,29, and his former beauty queen wife, Traute, wanted a child badly, but Demetrius was told by a doctor that he was sterile.

The solution?

So Soupolos,after calming his wife's protests, hired his neighbor, Frank Maus, 34, to impregnate her. Since Maus was already married and the father of two children, plus looked very much like Soupolos to boot, the plan seemed good.

Yes, it sounds just peachy. You can't fault the effort,though.

.....for three evenings a week for the next six months, Maus tried desperately, a total of 72 different times, to impregnate Traute.

I wonder who kept count. As you've probably guessed, it didn't go well.

When Traute failed to get pregnant.....Soupolos was not understanding and insisted that Maus have a physical examination......

The results, with collateral damage.....

The doctor's announcement that Maus was also sterile shocked everyone except his wife, who was forced to confess that Maus was not the real father of their two children.

Now the legal action.....

....Soupolos is suing Maus for breach of contract in a effort to get his money back, but Maus refuses to give it up because he said he did not guarantee conception, but only that he would give an honest effort.

Filling the Space

OK, enough is enough. I am making a formal request to whatever higher power is appropriate - God, Buddha, Oprah - to cease the frozen precipitation for the season. I'm tired of shoveling and out of deicer. I guess I should be happy we didn't get nailed as badly as some - my Mom said they got 16 inches of snow there - but it is now April and time for the road-closing blizzards to end.

During the latest unpleasantness my stepdaughter took a Chaplinesque fall while carrying Grandbaby into their house. Grandbaby was undamaged and rather entertained by it, but Mom suffered various injuries, one of which was serious enough to justify a trip to the doctor. She asked my wife to come along, and we took my car rather than risk exposing the loaner she still has to some sort of ice-related mishap.

One small upside to sitting in the waiting room is the chance to peruse the various magazines. I know most people don't consider this a positive thing, but to me it's a chance to glance through publications I would otherwise never see since they're not of sufficient interest to purchase. During a prior visit, for example, I looked through a magazine the exact title I don't recall but the basic theme of which was "Ways To Spend the Mountains of Excess Cash You Have Piled Up". I certainly have no use for such information, but it was interesting to glimpse the mindset of people who do, while trying not to think about the fact that my medical bills were funding it. I have also looked through various women's magazines which, given the number of females in my life, I consider self-help research.

Today it was Field and Stream. I'm not an outdoors man; I have no objection to hunting, fishing and the other pursuits that magazine covers, but I have no desire to do such things. It did offer some entertainment nonetheless. The highlight was an article on dealing with a child seeing a deer shot and field-dressed for the first time (basic summary: stay low-key and don't force the kid to do more than he can handle). There was also an amusing piece by a hardcore fisherman who finally hit his boredom threshold on a trip.

I think I can guess the consensus on this; what is the point? Well, besides the above-mentioned idle curiosity, I now have a specific excuse; blog material! Which as we all know can be just about anything.