Monday, December 29, 2008

Hard Times: The Upside

Strolling home with my lovely wife and our sass-pot friend Denise, I had a little epiphany. It seemed that most of the talk that evening at a friend's holiday party, indeed much of the small talk of the last few weeks is about the sensational bargains we're seeing at retailers in the midst of one of the worst holiday-shopping seasons on record. Kevin Cole 70% off...my swanky new moleskin blazer (which, I'm dissapointed to say, contains no actual mole) marked down to $26 from $99...bargains galore.























Part of the daily lineup outside the State Employment Service Office. Memphis, Tennessee. June 1938. Photographer: Dorothea Lange.

Suddenly, I realized why whenever you see photos of breadlines, souplines, unemployment lines, even strikes from the Great Depression everybody is dressed so snazzily: there must have been some tremendous bargains, especially on fedoras and straw boaters. 




Saturday, December 27, 2008

Power to Wait

This column originally appeared on Motorcycle.com in March, 2007.

Remember Steve Forbes' bids for the presidency in 1996 and 2000? Remember how he would bleat out "flat tax" as the solution for all our economic woes? 

There's a motorcycle equivalent to Forbes' unblinking lunacy; guys who insist having tiered licensing for motorcyclists -- a system that would restrict new riders to smaller-displacement machines until they develop their skills -- would somehow reduce the number of crashes. 

Recently, the State of Washington investigated the increase in motorcycle crashes and fatalities over the last ten years. Their report is an interesting and quick read [pdf], but despite any mention in the report of displacement, one of our Motorcycle.com readers glanced over it and wrote that it "reads like a good argument for tiered licensing." 
Did I miss something? The report cited "lane errors" (meaning the rider blew a corner), speeding and drinking as the vast majority of accident causes. Why do experienced motorcyclists that eschew helmet laws and other forms of government interference get all lovey-dovey over the idea of a tiered licensing structure that would similarly restrict rider choice? 

Why are we so certain having a faster machine makes you more likely to crash? The new report's findings are substantially similar to those of the 25-year-old Hurt Report's. Alcohol and rider error were cited as main causes by both reports. What that really means is lack of rider training and common sense. In the Washington state report, 86 percent of the victims lacked formal training, where in the Hurt study it was 91 percent. Not much has changed since the Carter administration; helmets don't even provide that much more protection then they did 25 years ago, and people still insist on wearing bell bottoms. 

The main thing that has changed is the attitude of consumers. Today the lowly SV650, with 70hp and about 410 pounds of wet weight is now considered a chick bike, even though each pony only has to push 5.8 pounds. Compare that to the 7:1 ratio of your typical early-`80s big-bore streetbike like a CB900F. Mr. First Time Buyer can finance a GSXR-1000 and be in charge of a cruise missile-like 2.7 pounds per horsepower. It sounds like that's the cause of rising fatality rates right there, but we still have to average in cruisers, the most-popular streetbike category. Even though power and displacement are up immensely, mellow tuning and plenty of lard means they don't accelerate that quickly, even if a middle-aged drunkard riding one has shaky command over 100-plus pound-feet of torque. 

Gabe's Learning Curve is Steep!

Gabe's Learning Curve is Steep!

Despite the fact that nobody cites any evidence to prove that there are more crashes because of the extra power, that's still the assumption. If we were all forced to ride Yamaha Jogs and Rebel 250s, we would probably still see similar crash rates, although there would admittedly be fewer fatalities and less-interesting crash stories. We all want to reduce fatalities, but the best protection for a motorcyclist is to avoid crashing in the first place. If a rider is untrained, will putting her on a smaller bike really make her less likely to crash? Since I have no idea how to fly an airplane, I'll crash an ultralight just as fast as I'll crash an F-117, although the F-117 crash would probably create a more dramatic explosion. 

A Neanderthal could look at the evidence and see the majority of fatalities are self-styled action heroes who buy motorcycles without getting proper training, or jackasses who think they can handle drinking and riding. That's regardless of displacement, brand, weather, time of day or any other factor. Tiered licensing merely moves the onus of safety from the riders to manufacturers and dealers. But how does tiered licensing make new riders get proper training? How does it make sure Bob doesn't stop for happy hour before he rides back home? 

How does it ensure he will leave the house wearing something more protective than a plastic yarmulke and scrotum-exposing Bermuda shorts? 

If some of you had your way, we'd all be riding these.

If some of you had your way, we'd all be riding these.

Like helmets, tiered licensing wouldn't lessen the number of crashes. Instead, it would merely mitigate the effects. If motorcyclists could somehow muster the discipline to not drink and ride as well as attend the MSF course before they purchase their dream machines, the crash rate -- as well as the numbers of fatalities -- would be so much lower that helmet laws wouldn't even be an issue. The number of lives saved by helmets in a state like Washington would be measured in dozens rather than hundreds. More people than that are killed hitting their heads after slipping in the shower. 

Rather than talking about the dangers of power-to-weight, we should be encouraging the power to wait. Wait until you've been trained to ride your motorcycle. Wait until you get home to have a beer. Wait until you've racked up some experience before you speed on a twisty road. Accepting tiered licensing would work to limit our choices as consumers and perpetuate myths and stereotypes about motorcycles being dangerous, uncontrollable machines. Training and promoting motorcycle awareness are the keys to keeping us and our sport alive.    

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Death of B.J. Mough

This is what happened one Monday evening in Athens, Georgia:

Two teenage girls were in a Nissan Sentra, waiting at a traffic signal to exit the Target parking lot. A guy on a 2007 Kawasaki 250 Ninja shares the lane with them as the light turns green, cutting in between the girls and a van as they turned left on to the main arterial back to their house. 

We don’t know how they reacted—not really, anyway. According to the older sister’s testimony, they were annoyed at his rude behavior and may have made a rude gesture in return. He sped away down the road, but they passed him. He passed them back, passing in the suicide lane and then cutting them off as he sped away. At some point the older sister called her mom…there’s a crazy guy on a motorcycle following us! 

He won’t leave us alone! What do we do? The mom tells her husband: the girls are in trouble, go get your gun.

 A few miles later, as they reach the intersection where they turn off the main road to get back to their house, they see the guy on his motorcycle, waiting to turn left at the intersection where they were turning right. They again flipped him the ol’ bird as they turned right, but this time the bluff was called: the scary biker, clad in a full-face helmet and space-age moto-armor turned his bars, gunned his motor and headed after them. He charged up the road, pulling alongside the

 girl’s car in the opposite lane. Maniac!

The girl’s panic reached a head when he raised his arm in a threatening gesture. The older sister cut a hard left turn, cutting the motorcyclist off so violently his bike scraped the driver’s side of the Sentra before he careened out-of-control onto a lawn as the car sped off towards home. They screeched through the neighborhood and made 

a hard left into their driveway and bolted to their rooms. Meanwhile, dad had his .40-caliber handgun locked and loaded and was waiting at the end of the driveway. The Ninja came growling down the street, turned around, came back.

Photo: Athens Banner-Herald

 Witnesses—the girls, the wife and the neighbors—heard two gunshots, then a third. When the sheriffs and EMTs got to the scene, they found the motorcyclist—21-year-old Bryan “B.J.” Mough (say “mao”)—dying from a gunshot wound and dad telling them he fired in self defense.

 The dad, 46-year-old Richard Gear, was charged with murder. The case went to trial in November, covered in meticulous detail by the Athens Banner-Herald. 

We learned a lot of things: Gear had probably waved his gun and fired “warning shots” at people in front of his house in at least one prior incident. Mough’s Ninja wasn’t headed towards Gear when he fired; he was just riding up and down the street near the Gear house. The eldest Gear sister, Samantha, gave surprisingly candid testimony that makes you wonder why she felt so threatened. And if she did, why did she call her trigger-happy parents instead of 911?

 B.J. Mough is the guy who could really answer our questions, as Gear and his family probably lied their asses off in court. Did B.J. road-rage? Or were the girls road-raging on him, goading him into chasing them home to gun-crazed dad? Or did he just want their insurance info for banging up his bike? Was he charging Richard Gear on his 249cc death-missile? Or did he not even see Gear as he stood in his tree-shrouded driveway? 

Thanks to the miracle of the system of tubes we call the Internets, you can follow the whole drama, and it makes you realize how anonymity is dying along with newspapers, AM radio and deep-frying. B.J.’s pre-death discourse with his motorcycle buddies is online for all to see (at blokessportbike.com), videotaped testimony from the trial is on the Athens Banner-Herald’s website, and you can get on the MSN Live website and see, with detailed aerial photography, the entire route of the chase and eventual shooting.

 Nobody, including myself, really understands why riding motorcycles is so special and liberating. B.J. might have an idea, and you might also. But I know one family of Georgia suburbanites whose misconception of motorcycles, motorcycling and motorcyclists (mixed with a healthy dose of good ol’ American shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later stupidity) contributed to the death of one of our own.

Go here to check out the Athens Banner-Herald's outstanding coverage of the trial.

BJ's introductory post to Bloke's Sportbike Forum:

Hey guys figured this be the best place to start ^^.

The name is bryan and on the net i am know as Fenix. I only started riding a biike about 3 months ago and never even riden a dirt bike before then. I had a desire to learn a skil and BAM , just like with my high learning curve with Computers i learned to the most extent of what i think it is to ride a bike. I hope to learn a hell of alot more and meet some new freinds along the way for the ride. 

Some quick info about me:

I am a computer guy, i build , repair and fix networks. I am also a Anime Freak, so if im not riding my bike or on my computer doing who knows what 
 , ill be watching Anime or attending a local convention as one of my Favorite characters. I am a Japaneese enthusiast so i like all things of Eastern Culture and my room is lined with swords ^^.(l love shinny things) 

Other then im a crazy person as my parents would say im the only one in the family who has enough balls to ride a motorcycle and the only one in the family to do so in the past 50 years or so. 

Hope to get to know the locals and everyone else in between. ^^ 

nice to meet ya 

Fenix Airilius Solen (if you figure out were i got the middle name from your a Genius )

Here's B.J.'s forum signiture (cribbed from a video game's theme song lyrics, but moving nonetheless): 

"What was the start of all this?

When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?

Perhaps it is impossible to grasp that answer now,
From deep within the flow of time...
But, for a certainty, back then,
We loved so many, yet hated so much,
We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...
Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
Whilst our laughter echoed,
Under cerulean skies..." 



Ride hard , live long, injoy your Freedom , and never look back


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ask Gabe: Should I Buy a Used Helmet?


This picture of a crash-damaged Quantum is off the Arai website; the rider took out a street sign with his head. He doesn't remember much of that day, but he suffered no permanent injuries. I'm guessing he's a lifetime Arai customer! 


I read this question on BARF, and thought my reply would be useful to post for the fans of my Blog, in case there are any.

Given the economy right now, I'm watching every dollar I spend (working for a startup right now is a bit hairy...). That being said, I'm debating if I should buy a new helmet or if a pre-owned (never crashed, good condition) helmet is worth it. I'm a bit hesitant to buy a used one, but given how much money you can save, it'd seems stupid to not consider it. Anyone have good or bad experiences buying used? 

Most of the other BARF posters hated the idea of buying a used helmet to the point of silliness. The poster wasn't asking if he should buy a fucked-up, shitty, smelly, dipped-in-pigshit helmet, but about buying used in general. 

First off, is the helmet clean and well-maintained? If it looks and smells clean, what's the problem? Nobody ever died from cooties. I wasn't even worried about them in 6th grade.

Second, look for signs of obvious damage. If there are any bad scratches or scuffs on the shell, (other than little nicks from rock chips or rub marks from hanging on a bike or just being bounced around in a closet), you should probably pass. BUT: blows to a helmet, even severe ones, sometimes don't show up on the shell, as the quality of paint and shell are so good from companies like Shoei and Arai. So remove or gently pull back the comfort liner (one reason not to buy a helmet with a non-removable liner) and look for signs of compression in the EPS lining. And if the helmet has been painted or "customized" in ANY way, pass! Just like customized sportbikes, a likely reason for painting a helmet is to cover crash damage.

Finally, look at the manufacture date. Some helmets have it embossed on the safety strap, others have a sticker in the shell somewhere. If it's more than 5 years old, it really is worthless, and not a good deal at any price, unless you know for a fact it spent some portion of that time in a sealed box in a climate-controlled warehouse.

But many posts brought up a good point: with so many excellent $100 (and less) helmets on the market, why bother buying used?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I hate Google

So I subscribe to Google Alerts for "Motorcycle" and "Motorbike" so I can get hot stories up on Motorcycle Daily. Of course, what I usually get (and this is why I quit subscribing to that a while ago) is every story about a motorcycle fatality or serious injury. Most of the times they are predictable: H-D riders with no helmets "thrown from their motorcycles" and dying. 

This alert was different:

Woman Killed In Motorcycle Accident
WYFF - Greenville,SC,USA
LAURENS COUNTY, SC -- A 21-year-old woman was killed in a motorcycle accident Saturday afternoon. A Laurens County deputy coroner said that Crystal Bryant ...
http://www.wyff4.com/news/18172317/detail.html

I did a little internet digging and discovered Crystal was a broadcasting student visiting with her family for Thanksgiving. She went trail-riding with her dad on Friday--he just got her a KDX200--and she ripped on out ahead of him.

Crystal was a real go-getter: surfing (she suffered a wicked back injury doing that, and had a huge scar along her spine to go with her various tattoos and piercings), skateboarding, fast cars, whatever. She'd been riding since she was 5 or so.

Out of sight, Crystal crashed somewhere on the trail and her dad came across her lifeless body. He administered CPR but to no avail. She was wearing full gear, according to the coroner's office.

Sounds like she was a little wild, but just managed to have a freak occurance. Very sad. And that's why I wish I didn't have to subscribe to Google Alerts.

RIP, Crystal.
Click image for larger version  Name: l_516b3e12144190cd685e30985379788f.jpg Views: 0 Size: 27.2 KB ID: 286579  

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Strife Continues in Vulcanistan









Vulcan City, Vulcanistan (AP) After four years of bloody struggle in this remote, wind-swept nation, U.N. peacekeeping troops are at last maintaining a tenuous truce among the warring tribes that roam the steppes on their gleaming motorcycles. But distrust and resentment still run deep among the fiercely proud people that populate the high plains of this barren land. Although the two main tribes—the Nomads and the Ell’tees—both ride large-displacement Kawasaki Vulcan cruiser motorcycles, a deep rift has formed between them based on styling and luggage preferences. 

“They are savages,” says Allen Dinkins, a member of the Nomad tribe, as he surveys the wreckage of an Ell’tee tribe caravan he has just ambushed with his raiding party. “Look at the saddlebags on their motorcycles: leather! We spit on them.” During the raid, Dinkin’s small band surprised the group of Ell’tee riders as they slowed to avoid grinding down their floorboards in a sharp turn. They then used Soviet-era machine guns and grenade launchers to mow down their hapless victims. The carnage was horrible: blood-streaked tassels and conchos were scattered along the road, mixed with human body parts and shattered souvenir shot glasses. The Nomad tribesmen, clad in their distinctive brightly-colored nylon riding gear and flip-up helmets, swarmed through the carnage, gathering food, spare parts and unused postcards from their victims.

The Ell’tee village a few miles away is peaceful, even picturesque. Women dressed in traditional black leather chaps and long-sleeved T-shirts sew saddlebags and prepare barbequed tri-tip as children chase each other on homemade toy motorcycles. Robert Krause, the village Ride Captain, speaks of the difficulties they have had under the oppressive, brutal rule of the Nomads. “We are a simple people, with our leather saddlebags and decorative conchos. And we would love to have locking, weatherproof saddlebags like the infidel Nomads do. But God commands us to use leather for our luggage. Is that a reason to torture and kill us?”

Vulcanistan has always been a wild, violent country, but the real troubles began in 1951, when the British ended their 175-year occupation of the country, leaving behind hundreds of ancient dispatch motorcycles. The travelling bands—“nomads”—adopted two-wheeled travel quickly, living a life of peaceful leisure as they rode the thousands of miles of winding roads constructed by Royal Army engineers. Although the advent of reasonably priced and stylish Japanese cruisers improved the standard of living for many Vulcanastanis, rising fuel prices and the closure of a popular chain of all-you-can-eat barbeque buffets created internal conflicts that led to the fall of the U.S.-backed dictator Al Johnson in 1971. This prompted the invasion and 18-year occupation by Soviet forces in 1973.

During the Soviet era, the more progressive Nomad minority—whose abandonment of the traditional leather luggage and conchos made them heretics to “true” Vulcastanis like the Ell’tees—seized the reins of power after a Red Army-backed coup overthrew the theocratic government of Pope Bob Mustafa, jr. After suffering terrible losses, the Soviets left in 1988, leaving the Nomads in charge. Since then, the Nomad regime, led by former accountant Steve “The Terrible” Foreman, has been brutal and repressive enough to attract the attention of Human Rights Watch, the U.N. and oddly, the National Association of Chiropractic Professionals. Internationally monitored elections in 2004 and the presence of an 8,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force have reduced, but not ended, the violence: 23 Ell’tees were killed last week and 57 were injured when a bomb exploded on a charity fun run. Two days later, an Ell’tee suicide bomber detonated himself at a Nomad rally, killing several bystanders and injuring dozens more with flying shards of fiberglass, Lexan and other high-quality factory-installed accessories.

U.N. officials acknowledge the continuing problems but are hopeful a solution. Brigadier General Sir Alan Cathcart, commander of the multinational peacekeeping force acknowledges peace is elusive but is hopeful. “The media focuses too much on conflict. For every 50 Ell’tees shot execution-style, there are thousands that aren’t.” 

For the soldiers patrolling the dangerous wastelands that link the large towns, the view is more pragmatic. Mike D’Angelo, a U.S. soldier attached to the U.N. mission surveyed the blackened, rusting hulks of heavyweight cruisers abandoned by the side of the winding road to Vulcan City from the roof of his armored vehicle. “Dude, I don’t know what their problem is,” said the 19-year-old soldier. “Why don’t they just get cars?”

I want to thank my pal Steve Natt for giving me the idea for this column, which he did when we were discussing his coverage of Kawasaki's 2008 dealer convention. I was confused by the difference between Kawasaki's Vulcan 1600 Nomad and Vulcan 1700 Classic LT, which are both "baggers," factory-accesorized cruisers equipped with windscreens, saddlebags and passenger backrests. Hilarity ensues. Or not.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

There’s Nothing Wrong with Germans

From San Francisco's CityBike, October 2007

Traveling in Germany is great. The country is clean, filled with friendly--albeit humorless--people. The toilets have self-cleaning seats and the trains run on time. In fact, everything runs on time and functions properly.

 

It’s equally pleasant as a motorcyclist. The roads are in excellent condition, and the scenery ranges from picture-book villages that could export quaint to incredibly steep, snow-capped granite peaks. I just spent a week there, first covering a big motorcycle rally in Bavaria and then enjoying a few days touring the Tyrolian Alps. Even though it rained the entire time (which meant I had to explain why my crotch was wet from my Aerostich suit every time we stopped) I had a pretty good time, drinking gallons of wonderful beer and consuming enough delicious pork to de-kosher half of Tel Aviv while seeing incredible sights and enjoying a great motorcycle. I just wish the Germans hadn’t exterminated six million Jews.

 

I didn’t think it would bother me on this trip. The German people have owned up to their atrocities in a manner that--as far as I know--no other group of people has. They’ve paid millions, if not billions of dollars in reparations and have educated their children about the realities of state-sponsored murder for decades. It’s actually illegal to be a Nazi (or a Scientologist, because the Germans sensibly figure they could get carried away too) and aside from a very small number of troubled idiots and losers, they acknowledge that what happened was their fault, was wrong, and they will try to not let it happen again. We as Americans could learn a thing or two from the Germans about learning from mistakes, if we ever learn how to admit to making mistakes.

 

And so for most of the trip, I hardly gave all that stuff more than a passing thought. But in Munich, I saw a sign that read “Dachau 16 km.” It’s still a town, people still live there. But how can they still live there? How can you write that as your return address on your Christmas cards? How can you tell people you live there? Why does the German department of roadsigns (in German: Deustcheroadsignendepartmenten) even put the sign up? Why would you want to go there?

 

As I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t just Dachau. It was everybody, everything, everywhere I looked. Those orderly Bavarian villages, the excellent roads, the way everything from toilet seats to subway stations are beautifully engineered weren’t charming characteristics of an elegantly organized society, but reminders that people--these people--turned mass extinction into another expensive government project. Those scenic roads and charming farmhouses were there in 1944 as millions of human beings were being disposed of like chickens infected with Avian Flu.

 

Leaving the country I handed my passport to a German policeman. I was rushing to make a connecting flight and stepped up to the window before he was done with another traveler. “Please wait your turn,” he said, in clipped, perfect English. Yes, sir! I waited for him to wave me forward, and when he did, he stared at me as he motioned for my papers, staring at me with his pale green eyes. His face was handsome and impassive, with a strong, broad chin and high cheekbones. His hair was a spiky, straw-blonde crewcut. He asked me a few questions about my visit in an disinterested tone, fixing me with a dispassionate gaze.

 

Was that how his grandfather the SS concentration camp guard stared at the shivering, nude figures during the selektions? How his grossmutti shrugged when she had to find a new gynecologist, ophthalmologist and greengrocer in the same week? Or how Himmler looked over the reams of reports documenting the liquidation of millions of innocents? Like they were observing insects, a temporary problem?

 

I’m paranoid. It’s likely I’d look at people the same way from that booth after months or years on the job. He could also just be representing that creepy sort of cop that goes into law enforcement because he likes to beat the crap out of people. It’s unfair of me to pick on the fish-in-a-barrel subject of Why the Germans Killed the Jews. Is it a crime to be a good-looking, square-jawed cop?

 

But being stabbed by those uncaring, bored, pale-green eyes, set in that tanned, handsome face filled me with fear and dread anyway. I was glad to get on the plane.



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Smugmobiles


This column first appeared in Citybike in April, 2006

Of all the car buyers out there, eighty percent of the herd subscribes to the “safety in numbers” theory and chooses to not be noticed. For the other 20 percent, the auto industry has stepped in with a solution. In the last 10 years, a small number of cars, trucks and SUVs have bounced onto the market with freakish body shapes designed to allow the consumer some pre-packaged individuality. The Volkswagen New Beetle was a pioneer, but it was followed by cars like the Mini, the PT Cruiser and the weird and ugly HHR from GM.

As offensive as some of these designs are, no vehicle advertises “I’m an asshole” in quite the same way as the Hummer H2. This hideous monstrosity is actually a fake, a Chevrolet Suburban with a fantasy body kit. Under the skin, it has about as much in common with a military HMMWV (nobody who has actually been in the military says “hummer” unless they are requesting oral sex) as Bruce Willis does with Mohandas Ghandi. It’s of limited value off-road and has less interior room than a lot of minivans. It’s also ridiculously expensive at $53,000.

What are Hummer owners paying a premium for? Image. An image that says, “look at me, I know this vehicle is making you angry, and I’m going to drive it anyway. Because negative attention is at least some kind of attention.” Usually with these rolling psychology experiments having three tons of ugly chrome and plastic isn’t enough; the subject has to add some kind of other touch to piss off anybody to the left of George Wallace. Look for “support our troops” ribbons, “Bush-Cheney ’04” bumper stickers and maybe even one of those fake chrome propellers in the trailer hitch.

They know how enraged their vehicle makes other drivers, yet they freely and proudly drive them around. The joke’s on them, of course; they depreciate faster than sushi and guzzle gas like Ted Kennedy at a scotch tasting. Only an inflated sense of smugness could explain such behavior.

This level of sanctimonious prickery is only matched by the Prius driver. Oh, Prius driver, did you think you would get off so easily? You’re just as smug and guilty of wasting resources in the name of vanity as Dittohead Hummer guy.

A hybrid car like the Prius uses an incredible amount of resources to manufacture. Bigger batteries, more plastic, more electronics; they all add up. Making stuff like plastic, aluminum and nickel-hydride uses billions of gallons of water and thousands of megawatts of energy. That takes fossil fuel – natural gas, oil and coal – and raw materials. In the end, building a Prius instead of a Hummer H2 might have a slightly smaller impact, but not much. It doesn’t matter if you strip mine for GM or Toyota, you’re still left with a big hole. Compare the total environmental impact — including mining the materials, shipping the car, driving it and servicing it for 10 years, and then dismantling and disposing of the waste -- of a Prius against a Honda Civic and you might not feel so green.


This kind of smug eliteism is akin to those advocates of organic farming who can somehow afford to spend six bucks for a pound of tomatoes at Whole Foods. Not everybody can afford a soymilk and boca-burger diet; just like not everbody can afford to spend an extra ten grand to save $400 a year on gas.

The militantly smug Prius folks know their purchases irritate those who buy less fuel-efficient vehicles. They rub it in by adding stereotypical bumper stickers exhorting us to save whales, harp seals, Tibet, or Al Gore. They drive with the smugness of one who is convinced that they have found their cake and can eat it as well. Too bad that when you factor in purchase price, depreciation, maintenance and other factors, a Prius owner will only save about $500 over the life of the car compared to the owner of a Corolla.

The worst thing about any smugmobile is that it is government subsidized. Hummers enjoy the equipment depreciation write-off that is reserved for heavier trucks and SUVs, and the Prius (as well as other hybrids) gets to take advantage of not just a generous tax credit, but also use carpool lanes with just a single occupant in California.

Of course, the smugness of Prius and Hummer owners pales in comparison to the smugness of the motorcyclist. Nothing stands out in traffic like a motorcycle does, and we’re so used to getting 40-plus miles per gallon that we actually do stuff to make it worse, like re-jetting carbs or changing our gearing. That’s why I don’t need a Prius to tell people I’m a hypocrite. From the sound of my open Remus exhaust they can tell from miles away.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why I Hate America

I can understand why conservative ying-yangs like Sarah Palin and that crazy lady at the McCain rally who said Obama was an Arab think we liberals hate America. We certainly hate a lot of American stuff, like Winnebagos and frozen pizza and pro wrestling, while liking a lot of foreign stuff like Volvos, Le Creuset bakeware and Yoga.

One thing lefties have always stayed away from are American-built vehicles. In my family of liberal Jews, owning an American car would have elicited an intervention (exception: my Grandpa Carl, who had a pathological attachment to Oldsmobiles. Perhaps the siren song of crushed velour...) I don't really understand why, anymore than I understand why Temecula and Roseville are seemingly populated only by enormous 4 X 4 pickup trucks. It's just what people do.

So if you are a conservative reading this, allow me to be predictable by hopping up and down with excitement at the thought of not one, not two, but all three of the US automakers going bankrupt by the end of 2009. Hopefully, the factories will be used for something productive and the autoworkers--among the last union jobs in America--will be employed in a different industry, hopefully making solar panels or wind turbines.
Why will I be so happy to see them go? Hey, I grew up watching Dukes of Hazard and the wife and I own (or are at least happily upside-down on) a Ford Focus, which is a pretty frigging good car for the money, if I say so myself. Also, my best pal Kenyon runs a most impressive site chronicling all things Chrysler Imperial. So I have a love for the heritage of Detroit Iron.
But since the mid-70s, the leadership of these companies has been so greedy, so stupid, so duplicitous--to the public, to their workers, to their shareholders--that those companies (pale shells of the companies that won WWII and invented tail fins and the muscle car) deserve to just die quiet, whimpering deaths.

They had their chances, dozens of them. The Clinton administration gave them billions to develop hybrids almost 15 years ago. Toyota and Honda did it--without government subsidy! Electric car? GM did it, then crushed them all when the State of California yielded to lobbyist pressure to end its zero-emissions mandate. Big 3's solution to global warming, the war in Iraq and the end of cheap oil? Lie to the public and bully and bribe the government to pretend there's no problem.

Well, guess what? Party's over. No more subsidies, no more bailouts, no more buyouts from suckered European companies. The end is near, dinosaurs. At 40, I'm used to the companies coming to the brink of death, then getting bailed out, only to return to their shitty ways after making one or two decent cars.
It will be a sign of the times, and maybe a wake-up call to Americans that things have changed, forever, and we're not going back.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hey Mr. W Sticker!


This is a little blast from those glorious days of 2004.

Hey, guy with the W sticker on your truck. Yes, I’m talking to you. I notice you look like you might be between the ages of 18 and 42. I can also tell by the way you carry yourself, or by your facial hair, that you are not in the military right now.

Follow me to the nearest US Armed Forces Recruiting Center. I’ll make sure you’re introduced to a recruiter from a branch of your choice. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, they are all fine institutions with proud and glorious histories. I’m sure you support them as you have that inevitable yellow ribbon magnet you bought at Wal-Mart alongside your “W” sticker. And there’s no better way to support our troops than to take a place alongside them in Iraq or Afghanistan. A lot of these folks have spent very little time with their families over the last three years and would love for you to take a spell in their Humm-v or bunker so they can go home for a while.

What? You don’t want to join the military? I don’t understand! Since you left that sticker on your car, you must be proud of your choice for president in 2004, and you must fully support his policy of fighting a global “war” on terrorism with an all-volunteer military, right? And you know that the military can only meet its recruiting goals now by lowering its quotas, which means the military is experiencing a severe manpower shortage right now. Do you support our troops or not?

You have a bad knee, huh? Oh, and a bad back, too? Well, I don’t see a handicap placard hanging from your mirror, and it looks like you get yourself around pretty good. There are plenty of soldiers in right now with very severe injuries and handicaps. Some are even mission limbs. Just lie on your entry physical. That’s what recruiters are telling folks to do, anyway. As long as you can walk in a straight line and run for more than two miles, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Oh, you have kids, huh? So do most of the people in the military right now! Are you more important than they are? Is your fatherhood somehow more valuable than the hundreds of thousands of fathers (and mothers) serving right now? Most of the moms and dads fighting your war for you would rather be here in the Target parking lot arguing with me, I’m sure.

You say you are really needed in your job? About 60% of the people fighting your war for you are reservists. They were taken from their jobs and from college so they could supposedly make YOU safer. Ironically, many local fire and police departments are understaffed because of troop deployments, which I think would hamper local communities efforts dealing with natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Federal law will ensure you are re-hired when you get back, with the same wages and benefits.

It just sounds to me like you don’t want to go fight in this Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Does that mean it’s not important to you? I mean, if you don’t go to fight this war, who is supposed to fight and risk their life in your place? Me? I’ll go, but I think everybody who thought this was a good idea and supported the war and the president should go first. Then there should be a draft, and if I’m selected, I’ll go. But you first, please.

Our soldiers in Vietnam felt abandoned by the American people because they were fighting an unpopular war. And if you’re a soldier in the field, it doesn’t matter if people back home are ideologically opposed to the war or just apathetic about the whole thing. Out of the millions of military-aged men and women who both voted for George W. Bush, and by extension, this endless War on Terror, only a tiny, tiny percentage of them joined the military to participate in their war. What kind of message does this send to our troops? If you ask me, it’s a worse one than one of active opposition. At least the antiwar movement has an opinion.

Here’s the message I see from chickenhawks like you: only a sucker actually fights in a war. Ha, ha! Or how about this: I’m much more important and indispensable than the idiots who actually were dumb enough to go fight this war. Here’s another one: you guys go fight this war...I’ll be right behind you, as soon as it’s over.

Obviously, I’m against the war. I was firmly against it before it started. I thought it was just about the worst possible avenue for our foreign policy, and I grieve for a generation of servicemembers who will come home damaged, spiritually, psychologically and physically. War is an ugly thing. It’s personal and viscous. It destroys on many levels. To ask someone to fight in a war you are unwilling to fight in yourself is cowardly and wrong. It’s like asking someone to care for your sick relative, or to clean up your vomit. To have to inform people of this fact reveals a level of ethical bankruptcy I didn’t even think existed. It’s like asking a friend to donate a kidney to your mom when you have a perfectly good one you could spare.

You have three options, in my mind. One, you can join the military. If you don’t want to get your delicate and oh-so-valuable body injured, try to join a branch where you will probably not be exposed to too much personal risk, like the Navy or Air Force. Two, you can join the peace movement and support our troops by getting them home, out of harm’s way.

Three? You can move to another country. Move to a country where it’s acceptable for the fortunate and well-off to send young men and women to die for their whimsical decisions. We don’t need or want your kind here.