25 September 2007

Flying Facists Freight Fowl with Food

I read this little oddity in The Battle for Spain, by Anthony Beevor*.

The Nationalist army faced the problem of how to supply a besieged outpost. "Nationalist pilots devised an original method of dropping fragile supplies. They attached them to live turkeys which descended flapping their wings, thus serving as parachutes which could also be eaten by the defenders."

*an excellent book on the Spanish Civil War

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And then there was the Mustang.

It has become a legend. Sales were phenomenal. It even beat the Ford Falcon's first year sales record, though not by very much. Proof, of course, that Americans wanted muscular sporty cars.

Well, no, actually. It was a triumph of styling and marketing. Here's Lyon again from Cars of the Sensational '60s,

The long hood/short deck lines were fresh, the dimensions compact but sporty, and the look came to define a generation of two-door coupes know as "pony cars.

But the kicker is this.
... the first Mustangs were as much bird as horse. Underneath the jaunty coupe sheet metal, the chassis was largely borrowed from the Ford Falcon.

The appeal of the first Mustangs, until Ford tried to turn them into muscle cars, was that they looked good, and were cheap and practical. My friend Budweiser, who in that period was a high school near dropout who spent most of his time on the beach in central Florida, remembers that at first they were a "chick car." They were popular with young women, not the stereotypical driver of the supposed male fantasy "Mustang."

The car only cost $2,368, which was cheap even back then. "Ford's true stroke of genius was to offer a mile-long option list. With it, a buyer could personalize their purchase, according to their wants, needs and the depths of their pockets."

Notice that last phrase. Any car salesman will tell you, they make their money on the options.

I am not saying that Americans did not like their cars big, overdressed, and fast, but at least part of the impulse for this came from the manufacturers and the allure of a relatively narrow but glamorous (and lucrative) part of that market. Small, economical cars, with relatively small engines that were easy on gas always had an enormous market. It's just that the car manufacturers of America did not want to waste too much time catering to them.

In the years to come, weird little foreign cars, to the open derision and scorn of Detroit, would start paying a great deal of attention to that segment. Through the 60s and 70s the American manufacturers virtually ceded that portion of the market to the foreign companies. They themselves knew that they knew what Americans really wanted.

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The American love for big cars

While at the library Saturday I found Cars of the Sensational '60s by Dan Lyons and, digging around in it, discovered this.

With all the hype about the excesses of the 50s and 60s one should remember the number of small sensible cars and how well they sold. This book is essentially an ode to the former, but contains some interesting articles on the latter.

One, the 1960-61 Studebaker Lark. I can, just barely, remember these cars. I was only 11 or 12 and wasn't much interested in cars at the time. Here's a quote about the popularity of small cars at the time:

In 1959, Lark had the playground nearly all to itself. The introduction of the cute compact was fortuitously timed. Its success stemmed the tide of red ink that was drowning Studebaker, and temporarily gave hope of a revival of the company's failing fortunes. But the competition was right on Lark's tail, rolling out compact models of their own in 1960. Such was the strength of the small car market that even the infusion of new product from other players did little to stunt Studebaker sales...

So much for the myth that Americans back then only wanted huge cars with enormous tailfins and yards of chrome trim. Again, in talking about the Chevy Corvair Monza, Lyons notes "Small cars were big stuff in the early '60s. In 1960, the Big Three all arrived with new economy offerings: the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant and Chevy Corvair." The Corvair was the most innovative, or unconventional, depending on your outlook, and would eventually become notorious thanks to Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed. But that wasn't because the public did not want small, economical cars.

One problem with these cars, I think, was that Detroit really did not want to sell small cheap cars. They made more money off larger cars draped with lots of options. Lyons explains this in another way, though:

There's more to life than sensible shoes. Most compact cars, of course, are sensible shoes -- at least they start out that way. But, automakers know that people want to have a little fun, even when they're trying to be good. So, they subtly add some sport to the sensible.

Notice the condescension: "even when they're trying to be good." My memory of the type of people who were buying the compact economy cars of that era is that they were trying to stay within a budget. They just didn't have the money for anything more, nor did they particularly want anything more. Conservative, pokey folks need cars too. And on what evidence did the automakers "decide" on what people really wanted?

Lyon continues:

The early '60s produced a bumper crop of economy cars... they mostly all followed the same rollout strategy. The first wave was all sensible models. Following on its heels were slightly less sensible versions for those who were just a wee bit less puritanical in their purchases.

He goes on to say "The concept worked." I bet.

Now read this: The Ford Falcon "was an instant hit, selling a whopping 435,676 in its first year." Think about that for a minute. It's a sales figure that was only topped by Lee Iococcs'a Mustang, and then only by a very few copies - just read Iococca's autobiography to see how proud he was of that achievement and you will realize just how impressive the numbers were for that first year of the Falcon.

So why the need to tart it up in the years following the model Lyon describes? Could it simply be the quest for bigger profits per unit rather than anything about what the American public wants?

And, dear reader, do you think it is possible that Detroit has been playing the same game with the bigger and thirstier SUVs over the years?

Of course not. They are only responding to market demand.

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21 September 2007

On the other hand ...

... I also write with a "slightly meandering baseline" according to the same book on handwriting anallysis.

Meaning? "Liveliness; intelligence; well-balanced character." Remember, the author has a PhD! In Psychology. From the Sorbonne!

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I am a sinistrogyric.

Which means my handwriting slants backwards, towards the left-hand side of the paper. I always thought that this was because I am left-handed and had to learn the correct way to hold the paper when I was 10 years old. Until then I held the paper the way a rightie ought to, which caused my hand to drag through what I had just written. So I cocked my arm around in the sinister hook typical of lefties, and my writing slanted to the right. When I learned the proper way to write it suddenly slanted to the left. Thus, I am sinistrogyric.

Now I read this in "The ABCs of Handwriting Analysis" by one Claude Santory, PhD:

"Backward slant [reversed, sinistrogyric]

Meaning: Immaturity; egocentricity; stubborness; incapability in forming deep relationships; often an attachment to mother; obsession with the past; emotional detachment. Subjects are deceitful as friends, are often anxious, and deal with their problems by dissembling and lying."

An obvious piece of pseudo-scientific bullwhaa that I resent.

I am NOT stubborn.


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17 September 2007

Republican self definition

Caught this today on Salon.com in an article pointing out that the Demos can't attract, and don't need, the classic white male voter. In keeping with the spirit of my last post on immigration and the Repubs, I liked this quote:

Republican pollster Whit Ayres : "I would dearly love for the Democrats to spend millions of dollars trying to persuade NASCAR fans to vote for the Democrats," Ayres chirped* last summer. "They tend to be disproportionately southern, disproportionately white and disproportionately male, which pretty well defines the core of the Republican Party."

Except for the putative NASCAR affiliation, I disproportionately fit the model.

Aside: notice how the clever word choice of 'chirped' creates a negative feeling without really being a factual commentary on anything Ayres said. It's an old trick used by writers on all sides of the political fence - including Clemens. Don't fall for it.

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16 September 2007

What it was, was football, Elliot

Elliot, over on Claw of the Conciliator, has attended his first football game.

Church group and all, it reminded me of this, which not only explains football to the uninitiated, it shows you how North Carolinians spoke about 55 years ago.

Some comedy routines are timeless. Enjoy.

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Adios, Muchachos!

I am curious about Republican strategy for the future. Apparently I am not the only one. The Wall Street Journal has an editorial today titled 'Hispanics and the GOP.' It hits on a topic I've mentioned several times: if the Repubs are seen as anti-illegal immigrant, plus anti-legal immigarnt, how can it avoid being seen as anit-Hispanic? And since Hispanics make up about 8% of the electorate and will be 20% by 2020? And how will this bode well for the Repubs when they have seen their edge among Hispanic voters rise to more than 40% in 2004 only to drop down to less than 30% in 2006? Right now it seems that 51% of Hispanic citizens favor the Demos to 21% for the Repubs.

To understand this remarkable erosion of Latino support for Republicans, look no further than the most recent Presidential debates. While GOP candidates debated the urgency of erecting a fence from California to Texas along the Mexican border, Democrats debated in Spanish on Univision.


... getting people to vote for you is easier when you're not likening them to Islamic terrorists, or implying that Latino men are hard-wired for gang-banging. Unlike blacks, who have hewed to Democrats in large majorities for decades, Latinos are proven swing voters, and Republican energies would be better employed trying to win them over instead of trying to capitalize on ethnic polarization to win GOP primaries.

There's precedent here. In the mid-1990s after California Governor Pete Wilson embraced Proposition 187, which denied education and health-care benefits to the children of illegal aliens, Latino support for Republicans fell to 25% from 53%, and GOP support among Asians and women declined as well.

BTW, as an example of the delusional thinking and denial that goes into this, I have seen some Republican commentators simply deny that Proposition 187 had anything to do with the implosion of Republican votes in California.

But wait! We are only talking about illegal immigrants here, the law breakers who deserve this negative rhetoric!

Well, no.

... but when the target of scorn is the mother or brother or cousin of someone here lawfully, that becomes a difference without much of a distinction politically. Moreover, Tom Tancredo, the pied piper of restrictionists in Congress, wants a "time out" on all legal immigration, and Hispanic voters are wise to the fact that it's not because he thinks there are too many Italians in the U.S.

And then there are the Irish! Once regarded as even worse than the Hispanics! Really.

Es la verdad.

Just curious, but would that time out on legal immigraion include Canadians? Cubans (who overwhelmingly vote Repub)?

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Coalition of the Exiting

Last week our illustrious Decider-in-Chief said "We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy. "

36 nations? That seems like a lot to have 'troops on the ground.'

After all, the guy from Canada left months ago.

And the guy from Iceland is leaving 1 October. And he isn't really a soldier. Iceland doesn't have a military. He's a media rep for the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit.

And no, I am not making any of this up for effect. Ti's true.

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14 September 2007

Brittany's latest fiasco and what it means?

I am afraid I don't know much about popular culture but somehow I have heard all about Brittany Spear's humiliation at the MTV awards. I even tried to watch the video but clicked it off after 3 seconds. I have seen car wrecks once or thrice before, from the inside of the car, so didn't need to watch hers. But Rebeca Taister on Salon.com has an interesting take on it. Here's a bit of it:

Who can believe that there is anything more to say about Britney Spears at this point? But, alas, there is. Spears has come to represent something -- something important enough that it keeps rearing its head. As has been pointed out before, she embodies the disdain in which this culture holds its young women: the desire to sexualize and spoil them while young, and to degrade and punish them as they get older.

And this about another public humiliation:

I wrote about the jeering treatment of Lauren Caitlin Upton, the Miss Teen USA contestant so widely ridiculed on the Web for her inane answer to a question about why children could not identify the U.S. on a map. The next day, she posted comments on the Internet braying about how famous she now was and how all her critics were simply jealous of her. She seemed perfectly satisfied with her role as a voodoo doll of dumb blondness; as long as she's embodying someone's fantasy of laughable girliness then she's getting attention, and that's what seems to count.

Ms Upton, btw, is enrolling in our school next year. On the theory that name recognition is everything and negative publicity is still publicity, I think our chancellor must be pleased.

At least she won't have to take history.

but I fear for my nieces as they grow.

Remberance of things past: 9/11

Looking at the enormous urban square that was once the Twin Towers leads Anna Quindlan in Newsweek to say:

There was a moment when it seemed that what had happened to this nation would result in an unparalleled display of those things that make America great: audacity, community, a sense of the future as a broad plain upon which this country could make its mark for good. Instead, at almost every turn, our government and, yes, many of our citizens took the narrowest road. Instead of expanding we contracted. Instead of a new juncture, we retreated to old ways.

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Some clever words from 'Newsweek'

"Americans like history as long as it's over fast enough."

Anna Quindlen in Newsweek.

Too true. Especially now that my university, feeling suitably intellectual after the greatest upset in sports history, has done away with any history requirement at all for its students.

(for another sad commentary on American taste, see this)

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11 September 2007

It depends on what the meaning of 'weird' is

"If you thought that Johnny Depp was a weird pirate, wait until you see him as a barber in "Sweeny Todd."

Newsweek in a mini-review of the move due in December.

Aside: rumor has it that this guy will co-star.


Medieval Times

No, that's not a newspaper, though it ought to be. Here's a quote from Joe Klein in Time Magazine that I wrote down months ago on a slip of paper. Found the slip of paper.

The House of Bush is a more elaborate feudal operation. There is a medieval quality to eternal advisers like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield, Andrew Card, Karl Rove, Condoleeza Rice. You can picture them in velvet robes, whispering in the prince's ear, in a 15th century Venetian tableau. Their loyalty to the family is impeccable, which is what matters most to the Prince - more than the national interest, in some cases.

This is giving Medieval a bad rap - you will notice that his Venetian example is Renaissance if not Early Modern.

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Good questions

Maureen Dowd is not one of my favorite commentators not because she is too liberal but because I have watched her flirt inanely with Charlie Rose once too often. Nevertheless she asks a good question today:

“Can we please get someone in charge who will stop whining that bin Laden is hiding in ‘harsh terrain,’ hunt him down and blast him forward to the Stone Age.?’

But she quotes one of El Prez’ own advisors about George’s obsession with having the Secret Service perfect his bike trails:

“What kind of male obsesses over his bike riding time, other than Lance Armstrong or a 12-year-old boy?’

Wish I had an answer to either one of these.

This post was written on my Neo word processor in a coffee shop this morning. I transferred it to my desktop and then to Sententiae. The first time I have used the Neo this way.

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08 September 2007

"A Wrinkle in Time"

The best seller by Madeleine L'Engle was a tough sell, as so many classics were (what's up with that?) This from the Washington Post struck me as hilarious:

Ms. L'Engle tried to sell "A Wrinkle in Time" to a dozen publishers before Farrar, Straus and Giroux agreed -- with the caveat that the author should not expect much public reaction. She, in turn, had it written in her contract that the company could have the rights to the book forever, anywhere in the universe, except the Andromeda galaxy.

Want to open a publishing house with me when we get to Andromeda?

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Madeleine L'Engle

The author of A Wrinkle in Time is dead at the age of 88. She wrote many other books, some for children, some for adults, on many subjects, but it is Wrinkle that everyone remembers. Carmen, who is on a young adult lit tear now that she works at the library, introduced me to a recorded version of it last year. I liked it, and remembered that some friends of mine at the University of Santa Barbara had patiently and lovingly translated it into Latin. I still have my Latin edition, right next to Winnie ille Pu.

John Podhoretz lived in the same apartment building with her when he was a child and writes a wonderful remembrance of her on NRO. Here is a taste of it:

Then, when I was 9 or 10, I read A Wrinkle in Time and my sister Naomi told me offhandedly that she was its author.

I wrote her the first fan letter of my life and, heart pounding, rode the elevator to 9 and slipped it under her door. Within hours a package was left at our door with an inscribed copy of its recently published sequel, A Wind at the Door, a box of baked chocolate chip cookies, and a response that was so appreciative I could hardly believe it, it was so gracious and thoughtful. I had grown up with writers whose friends were all writers and one thing I had learned even at that ludicrously tender age is that saying anything to any author about his or her work is to enter into an emotional minefield.

Madeleine had sold more copies of her work than any of my parents' friends, and probably had received more fan mail than any of them, but her letter had a tone of delight to it that not only suggested she understood how to write to a child, but also that she had about her an almost supernatural grace — suitable to someone who was a very serious churchgoing Episcopalian and the author of several novels for adults about the difficulties and joys of faith.

Quite a legacy for a person to leave behind as they move on.

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An Open Letter to Osama bin Laden

Andrew Sullivan, addressing the leader of al-Qaeda as "your Mullahship," offers some much needed advice to the Prince of Darkness incarnate on dying his beard. He calls the letter "Queer Eye for the Jihadist Guy." Not sure it is either seemly or appropriate, but I've always had the belief that nothing is so serious that you can't poke fun at it.

Though, Lord knows, not everyone shares my sense of humor.

For what it's worth, Sullivan offers a serious take on OBL's latest video here.

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03 September 2007

The "Decider" can't decide who decided

Or at least that seems to be the case for El Prez and the disbanding of the Iraqi army, now regarded as the single greatest blunder of the American occupation of Iraq. In an interview with biographer Robert Draper reported by the NYT Bush said “This group-think of ‘we all sat around and decided’ — there’s only one person that can decide, and that’s the president.” That's reassuring - it shows El Prez taking full responsibility for his policies, right or wrong. The "buck stops here" sort of attitude Americans like so much.

Then the effect is destroyed by this:

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ”

Keeping the army intact was the policy, but someone decided on their own to break that policy, and Bush "can't remember?" I have to admit that I have become inured to tales of the Bush admin's incompetancy but this set me back on my heels. I don't know much about administration, but I am pretty sure that if any subordinate of mine directly contravened my stated policy I would have his head on a platter.

And I would remember it.

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Now THIS is gloating

Not to beat a dead horse, but just to show that I am not gloating over the victory of the folks I teach* here is an example, again from NRO, of real gloating.

Hail to the Victors? [Mark Hemingway]

After Michigan's loss to Appalachian State today, I have to say that even Larry Craig looks looks like a big winner in comparison. I know John Miller's a big Michigan fan — my condolences. As soon as you crawl out of the bottle, let me know if you want to make a friendly wager on the Michigan-Oregon game next week. Oregon's my alma mater, and I'm feeling pretty good about our chances right now.

See? I said nothing so tacky as this.

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NRO gets something right!

The National Review Online's blog contains this little note today.

Michigan Misery [John J. Miller]

Hey new guy: Thanks for pointing out how my team bombed yesterday. What can be said except, "oh well"? And congrats to Appalachian State for a great performance—nobody should call this team "second tier."

Not that I'm gloating. That would be wrong.

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02 September 2007

My new weird little machine, the NEO

It's not really a laptop and its not really a typewriter (remember those?). What is it good for? I have just read two articles that help explain my thinking after the fact - at the time my thinking was more intuitive than rational.

Rob Pegoraro in the technology section of the Washington Post makes the point that "Laptop design has advanced a great deal over the past decade, but a few things still generally hold true: Batteries won't last through a cross-country flight, and affordable laptops weigh too much." This is certainly true - and it's the "affordable" part that hurts the most.

Jon Miller in an odd little blog I found this morning called Gemba Panta Rei makes a slightly different point.

As much as I love the bells and whistles of modern day word processing, there are built-in interruptions and flow-stoppers on my laptop that make me wonder if we wouldn’t be better off going back to our manual typewriters, telephones, and other examples of pre-21st century office productivity tools.

In other words, the laptop has so much stuff crammed into it that it is a distraction all by itself. While you are typing, you can also check your e-mail, play solitaire, cruise the web, get instant messages, and watch a cartoon on You Tube. He concludes

Economist use statistics to tell us that information technology has vastly improved productivity. Perhaps. There are times like this week when I wonder if a single-function machine wouldn’t serve me better.

My solution to this was to buy a Neo by Alpha Smart. This is what it looks like. It only does one thing - type. It has a full featured word processor in its little brain and can produce text files that are then transferred to your computer in whatever application you wish.

I've just gotten it and will keep you posted on how useful it is, but it sure solves the problems listed above. It is cheap (not even $225). It is as light and as small as a notebook. I mean a real notebook, not a computer. It is rugged, since it was originally designed for children. Also very simple to use. And you won't be distracted by anything else emanating from your own machine. It doesn't do anything except produce text. And perhaps best of all, its three AA batteries will keep it going for about 700 hours.

It will be perfect for on the bus, in a bar or coffee shop, and above all, in a library doing research. I can type up my notes, take the little machine home and dump the files into my WordPerfect files on my computer.

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01 September 2007

Those Republicans and Family values

Here's some political news from the great state of Florida, not far from the sleezy port city I often mention. It's reported in Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" blog. Here's the core of it:

Tonight, Barry S. Edward, organizer of Rudy's [ie Giuliani] Reagan Day Dinner fundraiser in Pinellas County, stepped down from his position after his criminal record of extorting sex and trafficking in stolen state computers was revealed.

Edwards called the 1998 arrests "old news", but decided to step down because "I'm not relevant and I shouldn't be the story."

Explaining the incidents, the Miami Herald writes ...

The two criminal incidents involving Edwards were unrelated, and occurred within months of each other in 1998.

According to a Florida State University arrest affidavit: Edwards was first charged after a 19-year-old FSU political science intern claimed Edwards, then an adjunct professor, plied him with beers, trolled briefly for prostitutes, watched ''heterosexual'' pornography and then exhorted him to masturbate in a game.

The intern said Edwards threatened him with bad grades if he didn't ''get into it.'' He declined to press charges. Edwards said the claims were ''lies'' but he didn't ''want to revisit it.'' Edwards was fired from FSU.*

Shortly after his extortion arrest, state Capitol police then arrested Edwards on charges of theft, burglary and dealing with stolen property after the cops said he stole at least $10,000 worth of computer equipment from offices of the Florida Legislature.

The student later decided not to press charges and Edwards was allowed to plead 'no contest' in the computers case.

Let's see: Foley, Vitter, Craig, now this guy. What is it about the Republican moral crusade that attracts these types? Shouldn't there be at least a bit of soul searching and questioning of fundamentals?

No. I didn't think so.

*for what it's worth: it is much easier to fire an adjunct prof for almost any reason, or no good reason at all, than a tenured or even tenure track prof so the level of proof may not have been high. Also the article is unclear if the charge was the cause of the firing. This is perhaps a bit unfair, it is certainly confusing and maybe even misleading. But still.

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