Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cars I have known and loved (and hated)

When I was a kid I was kind of a car nut, and I can still name the make, model and year of just about any car I see from 1960 - 1972. I can tell the difference between a '63 and a '64 Pontiac without even thinking about it. When you're 10 your brain soaks up and retains all kinds of stuff. Sometimes I wish I had learned French or something else somewhat useful.

Here are the cars that belonged to me and immediate family members, in order of the coolest to the crappiest.

1. Alf's 1966 Red Chevy Impala convertible "Alice". It had red interior, a white top, and add-on cruise control. It took him across the country and back a couple of times, and he got into all kinds of trouble in it. I remember his story about when in Pittsburgh, a cop asked him to step out of the car and a cascade of beer cans tumbled out.[1]  He always loved that car, but it was eventually sold to a guy in San Francisco who turned it into a low-rider.

2. Alf's 1963 Green Triumph  TR-3. No one would argue that old British sports cars are cool. Especially British Racing Green ones. This one, unfortunately, was full of rust though.

3. Alf's 1978 Blue Nissan 280Z. This was the car he and his new wife were supposed to use to drive from the wedding to the reception, but they locked themselves out of it, so they rode in the back of my friend's pickup.

4. Dad's 1958 Yellow Chevy Impala 2-door. My hazy memory of this car was the really cool pull-down armrest in the back seat.

5. My 1992 Red Dodge Daytona. I know there are many non-Chrysler fans who would object to my naming a Daytona a cool car. But, dang it, it was fast! It was light, had a V-6, and followed the Chrysler tradition of accelerating like a monster upon a touch of the accelerator. It was also my first car with A/C.

6. Mom's 1963 White Pontiac Catalina 4-door. My most vivid memory was smashing into the pointy taillight with my bike.

7. Mom's 1976 Blue Olds Cutlass Supreme. I always thought it was beautiful, but Mom had a problem with it because Dad went out and bought it without bringing her along. She wanted the white one!

8. Mom's 1960 Silver Chevy Bel Air 2-door. The fender got smashed, we gave it to Uncle Bobby, he fixed it, we wished we had it back.

9. Dad's 1955 Blue Buick Skylark. I have no memory of it, except it was a "3-holer" rather than a "4-holer".

10. Mom's 1971 Beige Buick Electra 225 4-door. 4-holer! It had one of the biggest passenger car engines GM ever built[2], and it was fast. Also single-digit gas mileage.

11. My 1997 Maroon Chevy Lumina 4-door "Alice 2". There was something hipster-cool about a car with a bench seat and a steering-mounted shifter lever.

12. Alf's 1972 Gold VW beetle "The Turd". I'm always a little conflicted about whether old beetles are actually cool or not.

13. Dad's 1966 Green VW beetle. It had a steering wheel, glove compartment, shifter, blinker lever,  lights and wiper knobs, window cranks, speedometer and gas gauge. That's it.

14. My 2005 White Pontiac Vibe. My present car. Minimally cool, but probably has the best gas-mileage-to-cargo-space ratio ever.

15. My 1993 White Chevy Camaro "The Great White". This was my mid-life-crisis car, and unfortunately was a totally non-bitchin' Camaro. It was underpowered and sluggish, and the tires were ridiculously expensive.

16. Mom's 1989 White Olds Cutlass Ciera 4-door. She finally got her white Cutlass, but it was less cool than the blue one.

17. Dad's 1982 White Honda Accord. Not cool, but very practical and reliable.

18. Dad's 1994 White Dodge Neon. Not cool, but practical and sort-of reliable.

19. My 1981 Green Dodge Omni 2-door "Tara". I hit a pothole in Cleveland one day and destroyed the transmission. After it was "fixed", it lost reverse, so I had to be selective about where to park the dang thing. Also the locks froze up in cold temperatures so entry was through the hatchback. People wearing nice clothes did not like this, especially after the time it took to find a parking space that did not require reverse. 

20. Alf's 1963 Beige Ford Falcon. The lights dimmed when the windshield wipers were on.

21. Dad's 1975 Lime Green Chevy Monza. This car was cool looking (except in lime green), but was exceptionally junky. It was built on the Vega platform, which is universally considered the worst American car ever made. It needed engine service all the time, and even when it was running as well as it could it was sluggish and had a clunky automatic transmission. The interior was Saturday-Night-Fever white vinyl. This car is why Dad bought a Honda even though he was a "GM man" and never thought he would buy a Japanese nameplate. I still shiver when I recall the time I was 17 and I decided to crank this thing up to 80 MPH, with friends in the car.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

He gave me a stolen street sign from that trip that says "Head in only". 

2.  I think the largest engine in a regular production car (post-WW2 anyway) was GM's 500 c.i.d 400 h.p. that went into Cadillac Fleetwoods and Eldorados.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Not necessarily proud to be a Fraternity man

A few thoughts about the SAE incident at OU.

I was in a fraternity as a student at Miami University. I am grateful for the experience because I met some of my best friends there, many of whom remain good friends. Also I learned huge lessons about politics and human relations. I joined because the guys in the house during rush seemed to be decent people, and a boost to my social life seemed like a good idea at the time. But if you keep up with the news there is obviously something sinister about the fraternity life in some places.

We must be cautious about condemning one particular fraternity because each chapter house everywhere is different and has a different individual culture.

Having said that, I will now make a general statement about males aged 18-24: They're ass-holes. The male brain of that age is still adolescent and full of hormones. The part of the cortex that gives us empathy is not yet fully grown. This shows itself as a preoccupation with: (1) How do I get myself laid ?, and (2) How am I supposed to express my masculinity?

Since there are usually no immediate answers to these questions, negative behaviors often arise, like: (1) Getting smashed. (2) Intimidating freshmen, pledges, and/or outside groups. (3) Shit worse than mere intimidation. Part of the mystique of being in a secret society is the rituals and the sense of being "special". This mystique can lead different groups into different directions, depending on the maturity of the membership and the leadership of a chapter. Leaders who are more mature can lead a group to use the mystique to support one another in positive ways; leaders who are not can lead a group to do unspeakably ugly things. And our fraternity system is filled with leaders who are not mature.

I was lucky that my fraternity chapter did not have dangerous hazing rituals when I joined, and I don't remember any ugly racial remarks coming from anybody (except for the nickname of an especially unattractive car a brother had). Of course we did some stupid stuff, which I won't mention, but nobody ever got hurt, except once I stepped on a soda can pop-top. We had ritual activities but they were kind of like religious ceremonies, intended to make the members feel like they were part of a rite-of passage. 

Unfortunately, there is plenty of hazing going on out there, in different degrees of severity. Google 'hazing' or 'hate speech' along with any fraternity name you want. I would bet that every fraternity has done something obnoxious and/or dangerous in the past few years (but not every chapter). My particular chapter went through culture changes as they grew and in fact got in trouble a couple of times, mainly for underage drinking.

Most fraternities nowadays do public service projects that serve their communities, and have alumni who contribute to the well being and scholarships for the present members. This is good of course, but it's also public relations and is secondary to the main purpose of a fraternity: to have drinking buddies, to party with sororities and to have a good-old-boy network after graduation. The glossy alumni magazines emphasize the P.R. aspects and always lionize any celebrity or politician who happens to be a member. (I told my alumni magazine to stop sending me their BS a few years ago when their "Man of the Year" was the governor of Georgia, a guy who was using public funds to fill his pocket, and who let the educational system drop to last place in the country.) And I'm sorry, but I do not contribute to my alumni chapter because the house there has no real relationship to the house I joined, except for the wooden letters out front. I have no idea whether these guys will destroy their new furniture within a year, but knowing what I know about 18-24-year-olds, I'm betting they will. 

Yes, a fraternity is the reason for friendships I cherish, but not because we belonged to a particular set of Greek letters. They can facilitate fraternity in the best sense of the word, but they can also be a means to make people think they are exceptional just because of who they are or whatever mythology they have invented. That, plus a dose of adolescent hormones and some beer can hurt people.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Megabyte Machinations

Here's what I was doing in the 80's besides listening to music from big vinyl disks played with a needle. ... It's only a slight exaggeration to say that what took me 2 years then would now take 20 minutes using today's technology. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Response to Kurt Andersen's article "You Say You Want a Devolution"

Kurt Andersen writes in Vanity Fair that the cultural landscape in America is stagnant because we need stability in the face of such fast change in technology.
I get what he's saying but I'm not sure about his thesis that the lack of change in culture is somehow compensation for the incredibly fast change in technology. Maybe that's true, but I think he misses the main point. The main point IMHO is that we are in the post-post-modern era. What I mean by that is, there's no new place to go. Take music for example, modern music was shocking. Strauss was shocking in its ambiguous tonal center, Schoenberg even more shocking by its intentional equalization of all 12 tones, the American composers even more shocking by writing with a lack of any tonal or rhythmic regularity. Well, then what? What could possibly be more shocking than music which does not possess any properties of music?  The reaction to that was a return to simple minimal harmony and rhythm by composers such as Philip Glass and John Adams. And now there is a huge variety of all kinds of music being written, which is all pretty much "acceptable" - the full spectrum of the simplistic to the complicated, traditional  harmony to ambiguous harmony. Ethnic music from all over the world has influenced us, too. There's no possibility of any new "revolutionary" music, because we've already heard the extremes. 
Same with art. Pollock brought us absolute abstraction, and then the ultimate shock happened in the 70's when that whacky performance artist did a piece where he sliced himself with a knife. As far as I'm concerned, that was the moment which defines the every end of art. Nobody can possibly out-do that in shock value and total art-lessness of art. The guy who made the elephant-dung portrait of Mary tried to be controversial, but try as he could, it didn't really shock anybody except for a few Catholic morons, but really, it was just kind of stupid.

 Take pop/rock music. Rock music exhausted itself in the 70's when my favorite bands of that time took it to its extreme by turning it into something ridiculously complex harmonically and rhythmically, bordering on 12-tone classical and free-jazz. Then the reaction to all that was punk in the late 70's and then rap and hip-hop. Rap is the newest form of pop music, and it's 30 years old already. And no, Lady Gaga is not something new. Maybe her songs are good, but it's basically 70's disco, eh? And maybe the particular odd things she wears are new, but the idea is not new. People have been wearing silly things for decades.
 I'm not saying there are no new and interesting works of art and music, because there are, of course.You can point out all kinds of great new stuff, but there will never be anything which defines a brand new movement and renders everything before it obsolete. 

So, of course everything is "nostalgic" because everything HAS to reference something in the past. We have no choice. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Knotty Knavery

Here are 4 more little anecdotes, including my definitive coming-of-age story.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Technology Topics: Electric Cars

A little bit about what I've learned about electric cars. You will own one eventually.

and a word about ethanol, just an opinion, not really knowing what I'm talking about.