the view through the windshield car blog

Miscellaneous Musings & Opinions (2018)

Planes, Trains And Automobiles: I am still suffering from the exhaustion of watching the over-the-top Bush Funeral Extravaganza. How many rifles and cannons need to be fired anyway? Could funeral processions get any longer and more complex? And a train ride covered by onboard cameras and helicopter shots all the way from the church to the gravesite - holy cow! Not to mention that 21-jet flyover.

I noticed distinct differences between the two hearses used at the funeral, although both were black and were based on the Cadillac XTS platform.

The one used in Washington, DC was comparatively sleek for a hearse. It even had a glass panel in the roof to make the casket more visible. I believe it was a 2019 Cadillac Eagle Echelon model. The Cadillac hearse used in Texas was a much taller and more ungainly design.

By the way, the unique "presidential" paint job on the Union Pacific 4141 diesel locomotive which headed the Bush funeral train dates to 2005 and has an interesting backstory. The yellow and gray passenger cars on the train were restored 1950s-era coaches which are often pulled by UP's heritage steam locomotives such as the massive Challenger. (posted 12/10/18, permalink)

If Harbor Freight Sold Cars ...

(posted 11/19/18, permalink)

Marketing Bubble: Invented in 1936, Plexiglas acrylic was a new product with few uses before World War II. It found numerous applications during the war, especially in military aircraft. It was tough, didn't shatter like glass, had near-perfect optics and didn't degrade in sunlight. Plexiglas was used during World War II in bomber noses, canopies, and gun turrets. Throughout the U.S., numerous companies fabricated acrylic components for wartime use. In four short years, America's movers and shakers transformed America's military hardware from almost nonexistent into a global powerhouse and laid the foundation for a mighty postwar industrial America which became an economic superpower. But, the conversion to peacetime uses was a challenge for acrylic raw material manufactures and fabricators alike.

Many new markets for acrylic were found, including outdoor internally-illuminated signs, automobile tail light lenses and parking light lenses, street lights and the like. But not every new idea was a success.

The Fabri-Form Company of Bayseville Ohio was founded in 1943 and was a pioneer in the field of thick sheet thermoforming. With an initial focus on the aircraft industry, it manufactured acrylic canopies. One of the ideas it tried just after WW II ended was clear, Plexiglas bubble tops for convertibles.

A prototype Plexiglas top was made for a 1946 Ford Deluxe convertible, formed from quarter-inch thick clear sheet. Unfortunately, few were sold, probably because such canopies trapped a lot of solar heat inside during sunny days. Sitting in a parked car in the California sun, a Plexiglas canopy would have you fry and die of heat stroke in about four minutes. None of this stopped the press from predicting that all cars would soon have transparent Plexiglas bubble roofs for all-around driver visibility.

Speaking of domes, we were also told that we'd soon live in domed cities with climate control and our second car would be a small commuter helicopter. With a bubble windshield/canopy, of course. Our homes would have central courtyards covered with a transparent plastic hemisphere to keep the weather out, help the plants grow and allow our robot servants to recharge their solar batteries. Clear plastic bubbles would permeate our lives. We'd be part of a bubble nation living an a bubble-based economy.

The Doming of America reached its peak with the introduction of the Cone of Silence on 'Get Smart' in 1965. The bubble economy collapsed shortly thereafter.

Despite the marketing failure of their transparent car roof, Fabri-Form survived and prospered becoming a supplier of thermoformed inner-door liners for General Electric refrigerators. The firm also produced military visors for aircraft helmets. Fabri-Form's visors were worn on John Glenn's helmet when he first orbited earth on February 20, 1962 and today can be found on display in the Smithsonian Aeronautical Museum in Washington, D.C. The company was renamed PendaForm after a 2013 merger with Penda Corp. and continues to operate to this day.

There are thousands of stories like this about early postwar America where budding entrepreneurs creatively scrounged to build what soon became successful businesses. Some grew to become industrial giants and household names. Fabri-Form is one; E & T Plastics is another. (Hat tip: Jesse Bowers, Just A Car Guy) (posted 11/1/18, permalink)

Smooth Moves: Recently, Jack Baruth wrote a sort-of road test for Road & Track, mixing musings about the authenticity of Delta blues music and the civility of the 2018 Chevy Corvette. "The Corvette, too, has a bit of a conflict between its authentic mission and what the people really want. Track rats, internet tastemakers, and magazine writers praise the Grand Sport, drool over the ZR1, and nod approvingly at Chevrolet's commitment to the manual transmission. Then they buy a used Miata. The real customers, on the other hand, want automatic-transmission convertibles for cruise-ins and stoplight drag racing. The challenge facing GM is to develop a platform that can do both, the same way that modern blues rocker Gary Clark Jr. can cover both Robert Johnson and the Beatles in his shows."

Over the years, the Corvette, just like original blues music, has undergone a smoothing process. The same could be said for rock-and-roll, bluegrass and automatic garage-door openers.

The raw blues sound of yore has been smoothed out by less-gravelly vocals combined with better-grade instruments that are more skillfully played. It developed into a smoother, pleasantly-repeatable genre that can be experienced interchangeably in any of the many B.B. King's Blues Clubs across the land. Is it authentic blues? I dunno. Is the Italian food at Olive Garden authentic?

Early raucous rock-and-rollers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Duane Eddy, Fats Domino and Bill Haley and his Comets produced a raw jumping sound - often very danceable. On the other hand, James Brown, a 1986 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, is more of a tarted-up blues act with a large horn section. Fellow '86 inductee Sam Cooke was a talented, smooth pop singer. 1987 inductees such as Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson were '60s Motown pop singers.

Later inductees were all over the place: doo-wop groups, such as The Platters and The Drifters, bluesman Muddy Waters, disco kings The Bee Gees and folk singer Bob Dylan. Go figure. Rock and roll had lost its early purity and the Hall of Fame was a musical mish-mash of smoothness. It's as authentic as the Motor Trend 'Car of the Year' award.

The Grand Ole Opry commercialized and corrupted traditional bluegrass music and tailored it into a bunch of smoothed-out country & western acts featuring flashy, tastelessly-embroidered suits and strategic yodeling.

Garage door openers of 40 years ago were noisy and herky-jerky clanky. Today's quiet, belt-driven offerings operate smoothly and even slow down as they reach their stop points.

The first Corvettes were built on a crude, truck-type frame, offered anemic performance and had primitive, leaky side-curtains. Over the years, Corvettes gained roll-up windows, better powertrains, much-improved handling and even air-conditioning, if you wanted it.

Chrysler developed the 1990s Viper as the anti-Corvette, just as the 1980s Stray Cats gave the middle finger to what rock had become.

Corvettes were never low-cost cars but, at today's high prices, they attract a lot of geezers who are checking off their bucket lists. They want smoothness along side their bragging rights. Jeremy Clarkson once wrote that older people want posh, comfortable cars: "They like wingback chairs and being warm." Jeremy noted that when a well-to-do older person is asked by an airline where he'd like to sit, he will choose "first class where the seats are sumptuous and the wine is fine." He will not say, "Ooh, is there any chance that you could spread-eagle me across the jet intake?"

And so, we now have smooth rock, smooth blues, smooth garage-door openers, smooth country pop and smooth Corvettes. Smooth sells. (posted 10/16/18, permalink)

The Day Lindsey Graham Grew A Pair: I've been reluctant to write abut last week's circus known as the Kavanaugh Hearings.

Roger Simon wrote that "it dawned on me I was watching an event that I thought was political being transformed into a spiritual one.

Nothing was as expected. A real rape had taken place but it wasn't the one everyone was talking about. It was simultaneously a rape of Judge Kavanaugh, his family, and the American people themselves. The collateral damage was Dr. Ford, her friends, and her family. And the perpetrator was the Democratic Party, principally their Judiciary Committee members, their ranking member, and the minority leader."

The Republican Senate, generally a bunch of shuffling, white-shoe do-nothings finally had enough. Lindsey Graham, a man whose fey mannerisms always reminded me of Bruce - "Oh! Noooo!" on 'Family Guy' (not that there's anything wrong with that), got seriously pissed off. Roger wrote, "And then Lindsey Graham said what so many of us were feeling, making the most magnificent, impassioned speech I have heard in Congress since Joseph Welch's famous "Have you no shame, sir?" to Joe McCarthy. No, scratch that. I was a little kid then and was told to despise McCarthy by my parents. I could be all or partly wrong about that, but I'm not about Graham. He hit a home run with the bases full in the seventh game of the World Series.

He was so good, in fact, that for a moment the Democrats seemed chastened. But it didn't last long …" Nevertheless, it was too late for the Dems. They had shown their true colors in a remarkable display of bias and despicable behavior, marching in lockstep like a troop of Hitlerjugend.

More from Mr. Simon: "I was offended, even appalled, by the activities of my co-religionists Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal on the committee. They have shamed our faith by disobeying  one of the keystones of the Ten Commandments, the Ninth: “Thou shall not bear false witness.” (Exodus 20:13) … That Richard Blumenthal - a man who lied about his military service - would dare begin interrogating Judge Kavanaugh by asking him to translate the watchword of Roman law Falsus 'in uno falsus in omnibus' (False in one thing, false in everything) was such eye-rolling arrogance and self-delusion it made you wonder what they have in the drinking water in the state of Connecticut."

Liberals have been exposed for what they are. Shady, unsubstantiated allegations being leaked, late-hour shenanigans, lying to congressional colleagues, "using" the flawed and not-credible Christine Blasey Ford (a probably-drunken teen who may have been groped at a party at a place, a date and time she cannot recall - a shredded, incomplete tale that none of her friends can corroborate and testimony full of contradictions) to drag Brett Kavanaugh and family through the mud.

The next day, the committee vote was delayed because Democrats walked out of the room, like a group of petulant fourth-graders. I hope that the footage of these Democrats walking out along with selected footage of Dems making fools of themselves at the hearings is carefully assembled, edited and made into campaign commercials to unseat them when they come up for reelection. It's the right thing to do.

God bless Justice Kavanaugh. He and his family have suffered much. I hope his nomination goes through.

Update: It did, thankfully. (posted 10/2/18, permalink)

Going In Style: Last week, Aretha Franklin was laid to rest. She was given a great send-off. She was laid out in a gold casket (actually, a Batesville Promethean hand-polished, mirror-finish bronze casket with 14K gold handles - the very same one used for James Brown and Michael Jackson) and had three wardrobe changes - one for each day of her viewing.

Her funeral was much more dignified than The James Brown Death Extravaganza Tour. Aretha arrived for her viewing in a pristine white 1940 LaSalle hearse with carved wood sides. The same vehicle transported her to the church service and to the cemetery.

The vintage LaSalle is the same vehicle "used to carry the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha's dad in 1984; David Ruffin, baritone for the Temptations, in 1991; and Rosa Parks, civil rights icon, in 2005." Incidentally, I have a scale model of the black 1939 LaSalle hearse used in the James Bond film, 'Dr. No'.

Over 130 pink Cadillacs lined up and joined the funeral procession to pay respects to Aretha Franklin. "Last week, Mary Kay national sales director Crisette Ellis put out a call for employees of the cosmetics firm and anyone else who owned a pink Cadillac to turn out for Aretha Franklin's funeral. Franklin sang about pink Cadillacs in her '80s hit, 'Freeway of Love' that quickly became an anthem in the Motor City, her hometown." A number of vintage pink Caddies were in attendance, including a 1956 Coupe de Ville wearing a special 'Aretha' badge in place of the Cadillac emblem and a '50 convertible.

The funeral service was held at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit and was a spectacular send-off for the Queen of Soul. Best individual performance was by Gladys Knight, who did a near a capella mix rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. Her voice was as clear and distinctive as when I heard her perform at the Latin Casino nearly fifty years ago. Best overall performance went to the choir, who provided perfect back up for a multitude of performers over a six-plus-hour period with - probably - little or no rehearsal. Now that's talent.

Bill Clinton was seen checking out Ariana Grande's shapely rear-end during her performance of 'You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman'. (posted 9/4/18, permalink)

Sweeping Insanity Under The Rug: Someone left this comment at the end of an American Conservative article about suicide and mental illness, "Maybe it's not so much a culture that refuses to deal with mental health care, but a culture that is incapable of mental health care.

In 1973, the APA (American Psychiatric Association) was bullied and intimidated into removing homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. That line of thought has grown so that today girls as young as 14 are having their healthy breasts removed, teenage boys are being surgically castrated, and children as young as 9 are having their natural development stunted with hormone blockers. How can anyone get help from a mental health system and medical profession that manifests such abject failure?"

Good point. Mark Vonnegut, Kurt's son and a doctor, wrote about de-institutionalizing the mentally ill in the February 1975 issue of Harper's Magazine: "If hospitalization (of the mentally ill) is such a bad thing, one wonders why the rich are still using it." He added, "There is a growing tendency to see the problems of the insane philosophically, sociologically, or religiously rather than medically … what these romantic views lead to is a dismissal of the sick. To tell someone suffering from emphysema to come off it and start breathing right would be absurd, but this is essentially what we're doing to those suffering from severe mental illness."

Kathy Shaidle has written, "Have you ever noticed that the homeless - whose numbers are greatly exaggerated to begin with - are never "mentally ill alcoholics" unless it suits the purposes of the Professional Homelessness Activist? The activist insists that "people are on the street because the government kicked them out of mental hospitals" - forgetting that this was done at the behest of left-wing social workers in thrall of their latest untested theory. But if you suggest that most homeless people you encounter are obviously insane, drunk, off their meds and should be hospitalized for their own good and everyone else's, you're "an insensitive bigot"."

ACLU-supported lawsuits and legislative changes emptied out most mental hospitals in the '70s and '80s. The do-gooders never acknowledged the differences between the harmless mentally-ill and the dangerous nut jobs. All were given "freedom." That's the period when the homeless population began to proliferate. They were now "free" to live under bridges in cardboard refrigerator boxes. And free to go off their meds.

Dan Cirucci, who is about my age, has written, "When I was growing up, mentally disturbed people were routinely institutionalized. In other words, they were taken off the streets and removed from orderly society. That's because they were considered a possible danger to themselves and others.

But somewhere along the way all that changed. Over the years, it became increasingly hard to institutionalize such people - to get them (and/or us) out of harm's way. Much of this turnaround came about because of court rulings - rulings that some lawyers and judges and social engineers (those who feel they know better) considered 'enlightened'."

There's even a bureaucratic name for this "program": deinstitutionalization.

"And so now, mentally unbalanced people - mentally troubled people - seem to be everywhere: in public places and spaces, on street corners, at shopping centers, wherever."

Dan concluded, "We've got to stop pretending that this isn't a problem. We've got to begin taking responsibility for the safety of ourselves and others once again. Forget 'civility'. We're talking about public health, welfare and safety. This is a subject that needs to be discussed - that needs to be brought back into the public arena. This is a debate that we need to have. And we need to have it now." Amen. (posted 8/24/18, permalink)

joe sherlock blog
Staring at my computer screen
August 2018

Reflections At The Three-Quarter Century Mark: Over the weekend, I celebrated my 75th birthday. My kids arrived on Saturday, we spent a nice family weekend together and had a celebration of my birthday and my wife's (our birthdays are 12 days apart although she's younger than me). Each of us had our own birthday cake. And, there were lots of fun gifts.

According to a public perception survey, age 75 is the beginning of Old Age. "Over-75s are seen not only as far more vulnerable and weak, but also as more grumpy and rude.” Only 24% described those aged 75-plus as happy." I must confess that I was pretty happy until I read the survey details, which I found depressing. That article has made me grumpy.

On the other hand, a Pew study shows that "older adults also have a count-my-blessings attitude when asked to look back over the full arc of their lives. Nearly half (45%) of adults ages 75 and older say their life has turned out better than they expected, while just 5% say it has turned out worse (the remainder say things have turned out the way they expected or have no opinion)." I must say that I feel pretty happy with the way my life turned out. I'm happily married - once only, since 1966 - to the love of my life and have two wonderful grown children. And a grandson. I live in the scenic Pacific Northwest. And I've survived a couple of bouts with cancer.

I'm pleasantly surprised still to be alive. I have lived far longer than both my parents. When I calculated the lifespans of parents, grandparents and blood aunts & uncles, the median age of their deaths was 59 - all died from natural causes. Based on genetics, I should have been six feet under by 2002. What saved me? Advances in medical treatment.

Over the years, I have lost classmates, cousins and close friends. The best man and matron-of-honor at our wedding are both dead. Three out of four of our children's baptismal godparents are deceased. This year, I 'lost' an old friend who lives in Japan. I've known her since she was 13 and we corresponded by e-mail for many years. Now her keyboard is silent; she has dementia and is in a nursing home. But I have friends who are still around and it is a joy to spend time with them - in person or online.

Studies show that, as people age, reminiscing takes on a greater significance. Experts studying memory and aging say those who take the time to look back at the highs and lows of their lives find greater satisfaction in their old age. They also point out differences between reminiscing and a more formal process called "life review."

As I look back on my life, I realize that I'm a pretty lucky guy. In addition to caring and loving parents, there were always people throughout my life who would take the time to teach me things, help me hone my skills, give me good advice and mentor me. These included parents, relatives, teachers, bosses, coworkers, employees and customers. And my wife, who has taught me much during our 52-plus year marriage.

"Old age has many frightening aspects: an aging body which is more susceptible to illness; declining strength; feelings of uselessness (especially after retirement); the loss of friends and loved ones through death; the reality of one's own death drawing nearer and feelings of alienation from one's children and grandchildren, who are busy with other interests and pursuits." Eh. I'm still walking upright, can still drive and enjoy taking my old '39 Plymouth coupe out on sunny days. It makes me feel young; I call it my Therapy Car.

As to death, it statistically draws closer each year for me. I pray regularly, go to church, try to live a good life and hope that the promise of a merciful God is real thing - as opposed to that Old Testament Angry God and his policy of a daily smote or two. I plan to heed Ned Flanders' advice, given to his sons, Rod and Todd, in 'The Simpsons Movie', "When you meet Jesus, be sure to call him Mr. Christ."

In the meantime, I'm also taking Steve Jobs advice: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." And, I'm appreciating the humorous wisdom of a friend who described me thusly: "Older than dirt, but still above it."

Here's to more years, more fun and more good memories. (posted 8/6/18, permalink)

Catch 22 (Retén Veinte Dos): I used to volunteer at the local chapter of a nonprofit, SCORE. The acronym once stood for Service Core of Retired Executives. Unpaid volunteers offered free-of-charge business advice and counseling to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

In 2007, the following communication came from the organization's headquarters:

"As a recipient of Federal financial assistance, per the Executive Order 13166 entitled, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency", (your chapter) must take reasonable steps to ensure that qualified individuals with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to programs, services and information that (your chapter) provides. These individuals may request language assistance services (with a two-week advance notice) from (your chapter) if their lack of English fluency prevents them from benefiting from (your chapter's) programs or services."

This is a typical unfunded mandate ... we have almost no one proficient in foreign languages. We are chronically underfunded and have no spare money to hire translators. The only way we could do so is to cut services.

I've done a little research and found that these demands are some bureaucrat's interpretation of an order signed by Bill Clinton in 2000.

The Executive Order covers all "federally conducted programs and activities." Anything a federal agency does falls within the scope of federally conducted programs or activities. All of the over-ninety agencies are responsible for developing and implementing "federally conducted plans" to ensure "that persons who are LEP (Limited English Proficiency) have meaningful access to federal programs and activities."

This nonprofit is not a federal agency; it is a nonprofit corporation. Nevertheless, some unidentified mid-level drone at DOJ decided that this order will now apply to SCORE.

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a Policy Guidance Document, "Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency". This LEP Guidance sets forth the compliance standards that "recipients of Federal financial assistance must follow to ensure that their programs and activities normally provided in English are accessible to LEP persons and thus do not discriminate on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI's prohibition against national origin discrimination."

As originally written, national origin discrimination meant that you can't discriminate against Poles, Irish, Mexicans, etc. Sounds reasonable. But it has been reinterpreted to mean that you cannot give preference to, say, a Mexican proficient in English over one who speaks only Spanish. That's just nuts.

Any non-English speaker is going to have a very difficult time starting and operating a business in the U.S. Such entrepreneurs are vulnerable to dishonest scam artists who would take advantage of their ignorance. My primary advice to any LEP who wants to start a business would be: Learn English first!!

I have written before that the United States has too many laws/rules/orders. Everyone who owns a small business already knows this. This is dictatorial government, imposing arbitrary, ideological commands on the helpless electorate. The solution to this problem does not lie with Republicans or Democrats; both have an abysmal record on this score.

We need a hero - a political leader who will step up to the plate and ruthlessly simplify and streamline our government. Hopefully, as he continues to drain the swamp, President Trump will rectify this silly situation. (posted 8/2/18, permalink)

How The World Works In 2018: An article in American Greatness noted that, at a recent conference, Ronald Brownstein of the Hoover Institute stated "that Trump's coalition rested in great part on states and industries that are high carbon emitters. And it is surely true that, say, Apple's design and marketing headquarters in Cupertino has a carbon footprint much lower than a coal mine or an automobile plant. But Apple is "low carbon" in California because it outsources the manufacturing of its devices to China and the power generation to keep them running not just to the O'Shaughnessy Dam that wrecked the picturesque Hetch Hetchy Valley but to coal- and gas-fired plants throughout the world.

Since 1970, and with much greater force since 1991, the United States and progressive states like California have chosen the reverse protectionist policy of taxing and regulating polluting industries, thus driving them to countries that offer lower-cost manufacturing not just because they offer cheap labor but because their elites still think dirty jobs for burly men (and stressed-out young women working 12-hour days in polypropylene coveralls) are better than no jobs at all. The progressive classes get their iPhones, their high-paying jobs for today's Stanford graduates (precious few great mining engineers in the Class of 2018, it is safe to wager), and their clean air, as well as the clean conscience that comes from unlimited indulgence in virtue-signalling. The emissions, and the deplorable working classes, are elsewhere."

Some fifty years ago, I was given a tour of Rohm & Haas' Bristol, PA plant pollution control facilities. While the company seemed to do their best to minimize pollution, the pragmatic tour guide said something to the effect that you can't eliminate all pollution and what you have left, you have to choose whether you want it to go into the air, the water or the ground. Pick one. (I do recall that the water exiting the plant back into the Delaware River was cleaner than the upstream intake water.)

The development of more sophisticated controls since then has further reduced pollution in the United States but - make no mistake about it - we are exporting a lot of pollution (and jobs) by offshoring production to Asian countries. Americans are becoming the clueless, dissolute Eloi and, if we don't do something about it, we'll be consumed by angry, hungry Morlocks.

H.G. Wells was right. Be terrified of the coming darkness. (posted 7/19/18, permalink)

Strawmageddon: Seattle has become the first major U.S. city to ban restaurants from giving plastic straws and utensils (knives, forks, spoons, stirrers, etc.) to customers in an effort to "help the environment." Restaurants in the Emerald City are barred from providing customers plastic straws, cocktail picks or utensils unless someone specifically requests one.

It should be noted that approximately eight million tons of plastic is dumped into the world's oceans every year, and the majority of this polymeric waste comes from just five countries: China (mostly), Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. 46% of ocean plastic is discarded fishing nets. Only 1% of all plastic ocean pollution comes from the United States.

Paper straws are eight times more expensive to make than plastic ones and cause environmental problems as well. Contrary to popular myths, paper does not dissolve in landfills.

In Seattle, you're still free to drop used needles on the sidewalk after you're done shooting up. Or use those same sidewalks as a public toilet, as many homeless are wont to do.

Unfortunately, if you want to stab one of Seattle's many annoying and disgusting hobos, you'll now have to try it with a weak, biodegradable spork rather than a sharpened high-impact polystyrene knife.

Responding to the pearl-clutching over the use of plastic straws, Starbucks, the nation's largest food and drink, announced that it would be going strawless.

"Yet missing from this fanfare was the inconvenient fact that by ditching plastic straws, Starbucks will actually be increasing its plastic use. As it turns out, the new nitro lids that Starbucks is leaning on to replace straws are made up of more plastic than the company's current lid/straw combination.

Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size."

Christian Britschgi, an assistant editor at Reason, wrote, "Paper straws are known to collapse halfway through a drink. Compostable straws cost six to seven times more than their plastic alternatives, don't keep for long, and fall apart when exposed to high heat.

Straws, although not essential for most people most of the time, are still a wonderful convenience that help people enjoy a drink on the go, preserve their carefully-applied lipstick, or save their teeth from the corrosive effects of some beverage. Just yesterday, we as a nation celebrated 7-Eleven's "Free Slurpie Day," a holiday that can't hope to survive in a strawless world.

Giving up on free slurpies and dignity for disabled people in the pursuit of totally illusionary environmental benefits seems like a poor trade-off, yet that is the trade-off straw prohibitionists are forcing the rest of us to accept."

I've posted more about plastic straws here. (posted 7/5/18, permalink)

How Much??!!

Note the portion of the sign indicating a premium rate for SUVs and other oversize vehicles 181" or longer. It should be noted that a 2018 Toyota Corolla compact sedan is 183 inches long.

Parking you Corolla overnight here will cost $71.81 + $12.67 oversize charge + $15.84 tax = $100.32. Ouch!

No wonder people in NYC don't own cars. (posted 7/3/18, permalink)

Fifty Years Ago: Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968. I watched it happen live on television in the early morning hours.

In his book, Now, 'Let Me Tell You What I Really Think', Chris Matthews - who gets more liberal/crazy with each passing year - wrote that Jack Kennedy's death "had a certain terrible beauty but Bobby's was a tragedy without grace." Huh? Jack Kennedy's head getting blown off in Dallas - and the scene getting replayed over-and-over-and-over thanks to Mr. Zapruder and his little film - was a shocking, brutal moment in American history. It was completely unexpected - and took all of us aback. Assassinations were a thing of 19th Century American history - or the stuff of unstable foreign governments. At the time, we thought that we (and our leaders) were invincible. JFK's death was a horrible wake-up call.

Bobby Kennedy's death, while tragic, paled by comparison. First, he wasn't a sitting President - just a candidate with a famous, martyred brother. Second, by 1968, we were more jaded. It was a violent year, beginning with the assassination of Martin Luther King. Death without grace? No assassination is "graceful." Just bloody. "Terrible beauty?" I don't think so. Bad choice of words, Mr. Matthews.

I remember Bobby Kennedy's funeral train very somberly passing through Philly as it headed down the four-track corridor from New York to Washington. There was a lone black GG1 electric locomotive running as a pilot followed by the train itself, which was pulled by two big black GG1s in freshly-painted Penn Central livery. I spent the weekend driving across the Street Road railroad overpass, as I moved small, fragile items from our apartment to our new home in my 1967 Beetle. Every time I looked down at the railroad tracks there was a crowd of people lining the tracks waiting for the funeral train to pass by.

Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, RFK often said, "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" Could a President Robert Kennedy have fixed what ailed America in the late 1960s? We'll never know.

Robert Kennedy's murder cast a pall over the presidential election. The violence at the Chicago 1968 Democratic National Convention (held in late August) was appalling to watch. In November, I voted with great reluctance, feeling that I was choosing between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. (posted 6/5/18, permalink)

The Internet Of Cows: Connecterra, a Dutch Company, has developed IDA (The Intelligent Dairy Farmer's Assistant) to bring the cow shed into the 21st Century.

"IDA uses a motion-sensing device attached to a cow's neck to transmit its movements to a program driven by AI. The sensor data, when aligned repeatedly with real-world behavior, eventually allows IDA to tell from data alone when a cow is chewing cud, lying down, walking, drinking or eating.

Those indicators can predict whether a particular cow is ill, has become less productive, or is ready to breed - alerting the farmer to changes in behavior that might otherwise be easily missed."

What if extended exposure to Artificial Intelligence produces smarter, self-aware bovines? What will they do when they realize we're making burgers, briskets and steaks out of 'em? Will they revolt in a twisted, real-life version of a Gary Larson cartoon? Why, they could make us dig our own graves in a McDonald's ball pit. Or stampede us into a Ruth's Chris and burn the place down, while the French Laughing Cows sneer at our suffering while chain-smoking Gauloises. This could be another unexpected consequence of meddling with primal forces.

Nevertheless, I am reminded of the story of two cows standing next to each other in a field. Daisy said to Elsie, "I was artificially inseminated this morning." "I don't believe you," replied Elsie. "It's true, no bull!" exclaimed Daisy. (posted 5/8/18, permalink)

Awesome Potato Chips From The Emerald Isle: Keogh's Crisps, are "hand cooked on our Family Farm" in County Dublin in Ireland. "The Keogh Family believes that good things come from Mother Nature and that is why we've been farming the fertile lands of North County Dublin for over 200 years." Post-famine, thankfully. I don't think blighted potato chips would be any good.

The potato chip was invented around 1817 - listed in an English cookbook.

One of the bags I had was cooked by Darren, whose photo is on the firm's website. The caption under his picture exclaims, "As Manager I make sure everyone is working hard to make a great quality crisp in every flavour!" So there.

I checked out the field where my bag's potatoes were grown, using SpudNav: "Malahide also known as Mullach Íde in Irish looks out on the Irish sea, because this field gets the sea air which means we can grow early crops here. We grow Lady Claire, Lady Rosetta, Taurus, Edony potatoes in this field which are a perfect potato variety for making crisps."

In 1997, we visited the 12th Century Malahide Castle, which once housed the Fry Model Railway - a 2,500 sq.ft. O-gauge model train layout. The railway is expected to return permanently in 2019.

Keogh's Crisps taste great. But I may be biased due to my Irish heritage. Nevertheless, if you like potato chips, try 'em. I found mine at World Market. (posted 4/12/18, permalink)

War - What Is It Good For? Blogger Cdr. Salamander, a military guy, wrote that "we cannot afford the military we think we need - even if we could, we shouldn't." He continued, "We need to finish up the wars we have. Give our friends enough notice to get their defenses in place, as we need to come home.

Let me a repeat again what I have put out for over a decade; remove all land-based maneuver forces from overseas. Maintain a few combined bases with allies for training, logistics, and the occasional surge exercise. No forward deployed TACAIR (tactical air support). Exceptionally limited forward deployed naval forces, if any.

We are a maritime, air, and space power. That is our competitive advantage. We were not designed to sustain, nor do we need, a large standing Army. We need to demobilize and shift to a largely balanced towards National Guard and Reserved land forces. If our rich friends are under threat from ground forces, then they should reflect that in their military investments. We can augment them from the sea, air, and space - and if needed, begin to mobilize land forces.

Our military spending could, and should, be 30% less than it is right now if we really believe that we should be a mercantile republic. ... Do you want to be a citizen of a republic blessed with relatively good neighbors and large oceans - or an empire that desires and is expected to bleed blood and gold to protect people who won't protect themselves, or to rule people who have no desire to be ruled?"

Cdr. Salamander makes sense to me. Sadly, the only 'war' we won after WWII was the 1983 invasion of Granada, the tiny Caribbean island with a population of 90,000 or so. Within a few weeks, U.S. forces deposed the Commie-inspired radicals, restored order and reestablished a pro-democracy government. Free elections were held the following year. And we went home.

Other wars - not so much:

The Korean War, which was proxy war with China, ended in a 'truce' and, 65 years later, is still not over. Over 36,000 Americans lost their lives in Korea.

The Vietnam War was also a proxy war with China. The U.S. abandoned the country to Commies in 1973. Over 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are best described as quagmires after many years, dollars and American soldiers' lives expended (close to 7,000 at this writing). Most of the Middle East mini-wars are proxy wars with Iran.

During the Obama years, Charles Krauthammer noted that Iraq "is now a client state of Iran." He posited that President Obama "abandoned Iraq. It was a won war, the level of violence was historically low, the civil war was over and Al Qaeda wasn't only defeated, it was humiliated. The Muslim, the Sunni Muslims of Anbar joined with the infidels in defeating Al Qaeda, and now it's revived, it controls large swaths of Iraq, and Syria, and for the first time it is active and dominant in the heart of the Middle East." Secretary of Defense Robert Gates "disliked many of Obama's staffers and observed that the Barry O's noncommittal attitude toward Afghanistan - "his heart didn't seem to be in it" - was disturbing." A president shouldn't be sending our soldiers into lethal situations if his heart isn't in it.

The surge in Iraq was successful until bungling 2009-10 negotiations by the State Department/White House level annulled its effectiveness.

The failure to win can be laid directly at the feet of politicians and senior military officials. Recent presidents have failed to develop a coherent objective (desired outcome), fail to consider the proxy war issue and never address the question, "What do we do if we win?" Military people then develop nuanced objectives of their own, based on use of assets (guns, drones, missiles, etc.) without considering the shape-shifting, low-tech-mixed with low-cost hi-tech, guerilla nature of the enemy. And the consequences of victory.

Our attempts to turn the tribal, inbred, lawless mess known as Afghanistan into a functioning country have been futile after 17-plus years. This barbarian wasteland, run by corrupt politicians, should have been, as columnist Kathy Shaidle once wrote (hopefully with more than a dash of hyperbole), that Afghanistan should have been "nuked no later than 2:00 pm EST on September 11, 2001."

Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. But, in the end, we didn't, really. And, along the way - sadly - many brave soldiers gave their lives trying to fix what's wrong with the Middle East. Just as valiant American soldiers gave their lives in Vietnam and Korea - both mismanaged engangements.

World War II was the last big war we won. We did so because we engaged the 'real' enemy directly. Every war since then has been a proxy war, with us fighting the puppet state of the real enemy. Whenever we fight proxy wars, we don't win.

Fight wars we can win. Know what to do after we win. Don't get into a proxy war unless we are prepared to attack the sponsoring overlord(s) - and defeat them.

Summary: Never forget - war is about winning - as quickly as possible. (posted 4/6/18, permalink)

In Search Of Excellence: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is taking heat for allegedly telling staffers he would focus on "excellence" and finding the "best people" to work at the department, not "diversity." Good for Mr. Zinke; I want the most talented people hired with my tax dollars - not some Rainbow Coalition morons.

"Zinke's lack of concern over "diversity" at the Interior Department angered some staffers, who rushed to tell CNN." Because CNN revels in such drivel and has become angrier than a drag queen who's run out of duct tape.

Diversity is crap - as I've written before. The quest for diversity may have caused the recent deadly pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University.

Imagine Smokey Robinson telling The Miracles, "Now fellas, I know we got a tight group but the people are complainin' that its not diverse, So Ronnie and Pete, I've got to let you two go. I'm bringing on a tone-deaf Asian and a fat white flannel-shirted Lesbian to replace you."

You don't build success on diversity. You build success on talent and a single-minded focused performance from your team. That's how miracles are created in business. Just ask Smokey. (posted 3/29/18, permalink)

Social Media Meltdown: Facebook is not having a good week - deservedly so - because people's personal data has been harvested and sold. The surprise is that it took so long for the public to realize this.

At The Federalist, Robert Tracinski wrote, "What strikes me most is the contrast between this and the Internet era before social media, before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube swallowed up everything. I'm talking about the 2000s, the great era of the blogs. Do you remember what that blog era was like? It felt like liberation."

"The era of blogging offered the promise of a decentralized media. Anybody could publish and comment on the news and find an audience. Guys writing in their pajamas could take down Dan Rather. We were bypassing the old media gatekeepers. And we had control over it! We posted on our own sites. We had good discussions in our own comment fields, which we moderated. I had and still have an extensive e-mail list of readers who are interested in my work, most of which I built up in that period, before everybody moved onto social media."

"But then Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along and killed the blogs." Well, not so much. Blogs are smaller in number these days but many good ones remain alive and well. Don't forget, you're reading this posting on a blog.

Tracinski noted that "we now have a social media economy mostly controlled by three big companies: Twitter, Facebook, and Google. So we get shadowbanning, arbitrary Twitter suspensions, and Twitter throttling the traffic of people they don't like and controlling what articles you can tweet links to. We traded the old mainstream media gatekeepers for new, worse, less publicly accountable gatekeepers in Silicon Valley - a new breed of pinch-nosed Puritans with pink hair, piercings, and tattoos, who will shut us down if we don't use the right pronouns."

Social media companies profit off posters' labor while they treat them like garbage, owning and arbitrarily editing content, while also gathering and selling posters' data. I wrote a few years back that I have, "no Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, RSS feeds or podcasts - too much of a pain in the ass, in my opinion." I also don't own a smartphone, so I'm not constantly "connected." I am dismayed that 40% of millennials (ages 18 through 34) use the news feed at Facebook's social media site as their source for news. Facebook is a well-known source of fake news, especially of the anti-Trump variety.

Last July, Facebook blocked more than two dozen conservative Catholic pages in a 24-hour period, some with millions of followers, saying only they were "suspected of suspicious activities." Sounds like the Know Nothing Party of the 1840s. Or the Devil. "Facebook seemed to target only conservative Catholic pages with a significant following, since almost all had between hundreds of thousands and up to six million followers." If Jeff Zuckerberg did this to two dozen Muslim pages, his throat would probably be slit within a week.

A full 84% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 49 use Facebook, according to Pew Research. I have no presence on FB and no longer read anyone's postings. When Facebook debuted, it became quickly apparent that I had no interest in handing over my life and my work product to a company so they could splatter it all over the web. Furthermore, I do not want 'Facebook friends'. If you want to be a real friend, fly out here and buy me a few drinks.

I'll give the last word to God, who tweeted, "Mark Zuckerberg is one of the last people you should trust, and I mean that both literally and alphabetically." The Lord has a Twitter account - who knew? (posted 3/23/18, permalink)

The View From The Back Deck: It has been an interesting time lately, since the city of Battle Ground is tearing up the golf course behind our house in order to construct a sewer line connecting to a new housing development about a mile south of us.

Our neighborhood already has sewers and Battle Ground can't connect from our street since we are outside the city limits. The course owners don't care about losing golf revenue; they seem more interested in real estate development than golf. (posted 2/13/18, permalink)

Strawmagedon: California's Democratic majority leader Ian Calderon wants restaurateurs to think long and hard before giving you a straw. He has introduced a bill to stop sit-down restaurants from offering customers straws with their beverages unless they specifically request one. Under the proposed law, "a waiter who serves a drink with an unrequested straw in it would face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000."

"We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans," said Calderon.

Once, at the Meercat Cafe (located inside the Living Desert Zoo) in Palm Desert, California, I asked for a straw for my Diet Coke. I was given a look of mock horror mixed with sanctimoniousness as the reply was delivered: "We don't supply straws ... for the sake of the animals." WTF?!

I was hungry and not interested in a debate with a counter clerk so I walked away, although I was pissed that I paid $2.50 for a soft drink and didn't even get a #$@% straw. I later Googled 'drinking straws animal deaths' but found nothing.

Yes, I know that every time an Escalade drives down the street, a polar bear dies. And Fur is Murder. Blah, blah, blah. But I hadn't heard of the panda population being decimated by drinking straws. I mean, straws are made from extruded polyethylene, not bamboo.

Are the plastic extruders operated by animals? If so, maybe they just work themselves to death or something. Too much overtime, maybe. Oh, wait. Maybe it's about the Straw That Broke The Camel's Back. (posted 2/1/18, permalink)

"There's Somethin' Happenin' Here; What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear ..." One of the nation's most prominent Christian leaders said he fears President Trump is facing a grave domestic threat by forces who want to take over the White House.

"I believe we are in a coup d'etat," Franklin Graham said recently. "There are people in this country who are wanting to destroy the president and take over the government by force."

Graham revealed his concerns as congressional Republicans ramp up accusations that deep state actors within the FBI and the Justice Department may have been plotting against the president. The evangelical leader did not name names, but he suggested the mainstream media was complicit in the silent coup.

Here's the thing: Franklin Graham is a middle of the road, quiet conservative. He is not given to alarmist, radical pronouncements. If Reverend Graham is worried, all of us should be worried too.

Consider this commentary from Howie Carr in the Boston Herald: "The 'Secret Society', as the plotters call themselves, is now desperately trying to cover up how they attempted to rig a presidential election on behalf of the most corrupt candidate in American history, Hillary Clinton, using Kremlin-generated disinformation that Hillary Clinton paid millions for to violate the civil rights of American citizens.

And now the G-men claim they've "lost" the evidence, just like the Deep State "lost" Hillary Clinton's 33,000 e-mails and IRS crook Lois Lerner's hard drive. It's time to put the FBI out of business, throw as many of these corrupt G-men into prison as possible, raze the J. Edgar Hoover Office Building in D.C."

Howie is a master of overstatement but his heart is in the right place. There is something very wrong in the power centers of DC; our democracy is at risk in ways I've never seen in my lifetime. (posted 2/1/18, permalink)

Kirk Van Houten Better Start Worrying: Kirk is a character on 'The Simpsons'. He's Milhouse's dad. Milhouse - for those of you who don't follow the show - is Bart Simpson's best friend and near-sighted foil.

At first, Kirk Van Houten was a mid-level executive at his father-in-law's cracker factory. But, as soon as Kirk and wife Luann got divorced, he was fired. Since then he's had a bunch of setbacks and loser jobs, the most recent was as a sign spinner, directing people to a new condo development.

Now the spinner industry is under fire from technology. Two weeks ago, I was driving along on Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, when I spotted two sign spinners within two blocks. Both were department store mannequins with animated arms.

I did a little research and found that a company called Mann-E-Spin sells these devices. It is claimed that they will run up to 18 hours on a single battery charge. While I see some immediate problems with this first generation of robospinners (easily stolen, mannequin durability and weatherability issues), I suspect that this idea will take off, especially since Washington state just raised its minimum wage to $11.50/hour.

Recently, the ever-prolific Z Man wrote, "When the (unemployment) numbers swell as automation eliminates the need for human labor in wide swaths of the economy, it will be impossible to dismiss the idle. When many of the idle are people who formerly occupied office jobs or semi-skilled laboring positions, blaming their condition on a lack of ambition is not going to be possible. The current labor participation rate is about 63% right now. This is about where it was in the Carter years. In the coming decades, that number will fall below 50% due to automation and demographics."

He suggests that a revised immigration policy may offer a partial solution. "When 80% of today's immigrants end up on public assistance, the immigrants of tomorrow will be nothing more than useless people to police, feed and house. Japan is the model to follow. They have no immigration and their population levels are about to drop in the coming decades."

All joking about The Van Houten Dilemma aside, the rise of automation means a grim future for the unskilled, the semi-skilled and the incompetent. (posted 1/18/18, permalink)

New Wine In Old Bottles: The latest over-hyped mass transit fad is the e-Bus, an electric bus. Major U.S. transit companies are unimpressed and keep buying diesels.

"Despite a surplus of cities seeking ways to reduce air pollution, electric buses haven't taken off in the United States as expected ... out of the more than 65,000 public buses currently on U.S. roads, only about 300 are electric ... they do require reliable charging infrastructure and a larger-than-average initial investment."

The first buses powered by electric motors appeared in the early 1920s. Known as trolley buses or trackless trolleys, they got their electricity from overhead wires via trolley poles. But there were those pesky and unsightly overhead wires.

In the 1950s, the Swiss used to have a flywheel-powered bus. It recharged (spun-up the electric motor) from electrical poles along the route - took 30 seconds or so. Zero pollution. No overhead wires either. It was the Gyrobus, made by the Swiss firm, Oerlikon.

The Gyrobus had a 3,300-pound, steel flywheel located beneath the floor spinning at 3,000 rpm. The flywheel spun the motor's armature, turning it into a generator. The electricity it produced powered a second electric motor, which drove the bus wheels. Every three to four miles on the route there were posts where the flywheel was recharged - three poles on the bus were raised to make contact with a three-phase alternating current source.

There were 27 Gyrobuses in Yverdon, Switzerland and, later, 17 in Leopoldsville, Zaire. Other flywheel buses have been tested recently in Hong Kong and Australia, using a more high-tech flywheel. And a flywheel-powered trolley has been in service in Bristol, England since 1998. There are no overhead wires. It draws power from low voltage electric charging points at passenger stops. The electricity powers an electric motor that spins a 1,000-pound flywheel. The vehicle, which has 20 seats and room for 14 standing passengers as well, can travel up two miles before it needs to recharge its flywheel.

I think much of the spending on mass transit makes no economic sense. And is a waste of tax dollars. In smaller, less-population-dense cities, public transit is 'pushed' by Greenies with a political agenda. Or politicians with an Eco agenda. But, in their quest for more energy-efficient, earth-friendly transit systems, why aren't these people looking at flywheel-powered solutions?

Bring back the Gyrobus. (posted 1/2/18, permalink)

More 'Musings' can be found here.

Other Pages Of Interest

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