Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review: Repo Men

MJSSE Rating: 8

Time: 1hr 51m
Rated: R
Genre: Science Fiction

On Mad Jack's Scale of Screen Excellence (0 - 10), I rate this as a solid 8.

The story is set some unspecified time in the future in an unspecified city that has a seaport.  A large amount of the city has been abandoned, and never demolished and turned into green space.  The people we find in this city are not nice.  No one has any altruistic motives, the boy scouts faded into obscurity long ago and the second coming is past due.

The good news is that if you're very wealthy, you're protected from all this and therefore you don't care.  The other good news is that if one of your vital organs is damaged beyond repair, you can buy a new one, and you can do so on the easy payment plan.  Of course, if you can't make the payments the company has the option of repossessing the organ, which might mean the end of life as you know it.  That's okay, by the way - ending your life because you can't pay.  That's the bad news.

Getting right to the point, Jude Law and Forest Whitaker do really, really well together.  If not for their stellar performance this entire film would be just another 'see it at the matinee' special.  Liev Schreiber does an outstanding job as well.  The sets are good, the special effects are good, the story has been done before.  Costumes and sets are... forgettable.  The acting is great.

The film is violent.  Let me emphasize that if your Main Lady is anything like mine, this is not the film you want to take her to see on movie night.  I wouldn't take the kiddies, either.  It really is that violent.  At one point our hero defeats a random villain by using a credible aikido throw and joint lock.  When the villain open his mouth to scream in pain, our hero inserts his gun barrel and pulls the trigger.  This kind of creative violence appears throughout the entire film without being over used.  No one gets blown up too much, but all the major players carry super tazers that any cop would give five years off his pension to own.  Firearms are common and no one seems to get too upset about collateral damage, which happens left and right.  Did I mention that vital organs are repossessed?  That includes the heart.

I won't divulge the ending.  I was too engrossed in the film to think about how it would all shake out, but it tends to remind me of Blade Runner or Brazil in some ways.  All I'll say is that the story ended well.

As I was walking out, I started to wonder if this is what ObamaCare will finally lead to.  It's not impossible to imagine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Maggie Thurber on The Toledo Budget

Maggie Thurber has written an excellent commentary on the Toledo budget, something that the Toledo City Council has consistently failed to deal with.  One paragraph in particular should be etched in stone, and be required reading for all registered voters every single day of the year.  Here it is, courtesy of Maggie Thurber:

Just remember this: Whenever government raises taxes, fees, or increases its income (in whatever form), the politicians are telling you that they need your money more than you do. They are telling you that their special projects and priorities are more important that yours - including your mortgage or rent, your utilities, your food, your retirement, your children's college funds, your home improvements - everything!

And as a result of their actions, you will go with less while they brag about 'saving' city services.
Think about this every single time you look at your paycheck stub and see the amount of money that Toledo is helping itself to before you even get a chance to hold that cash in your hand.  Use a little multiplication and see what that amounts to at the end of the year.  Now think about property tax, the cost of electricity and natural gas, what it costs to visit the doctor, the dentist, the optometrist... the bills are endless, money's tight and the Toledo City Council does not give a tinker's damn.

The city can do with less, but the council doesn't want to.  They want to brag about all the expensive social programs they've provided that very likely don't affect you, the taxpayer.  Those programs are over priced and council knows it, and the Toledo City Council does not give a tinker's damn about that either.

Mike Bell has some work ahead of him, but he could come out of this looking like a hero.  All he has to do is start forcing the city to live within its means and cut the city's income to a reasonable level.

We could apply the same rule to State spending, and applying it with the thought that the State of Florida gets along quite nicely without a State income tax, thank you.  Then there's Federal spending, which is so far out of control that the Federal government might actually go bankrupt in the next four years unless spending is cut, and cut in a major fashion.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Restaurant Service

This is just the day to write about lousy service.  I'm in foul humor anyway, so I might as well take it out on service people who are paid minimum wage when they are lucky; less when they aren't.  I tried writing this entry from the perspective of what good service should be and have failed miserably in the first sentence or two, which I attribute to my aforementioned attitude.  Here are a few things for the server to think about.

Acknowledge the Customer.  That would be me, genius.  The man who just walked in the front door and sat down in your section.  I know you're busy, that it's the middle of the lunch rush, that your mental midget of a manager screwed up the schedule so now you're short handed, and that you've got PMS and a bad case of hemorrhoids.  Guess what?  I don't care.  I'm not willing to wait a few minutes while you deliver six lunch specials to the table of old ladies who you know aren't going to leave you a tip, but I will wait.  At the same time, if you can't be bothered to welcome me to The Grease Trap Diner and lie to me about being with me in just a minute, I'm not going to wait around at all.  I'm going to skip the gastrointestinal distress I'd otherwise incur here and go somewhere else.

Appearance Is Half The Battle.  You don't have to be a hottie in a low cut top (although it helps), but you do have to look like you're not going to sweat all over my salad.  Emphasize the low cut top, by the way.  A lot of defects can be overlooked if I'm distracted, and a low cut top is an easy way to do it.  Hundred dollar bills work almost as well.

One thing that I find particularly nauseating is the cloud of perfume that permeates the area around you in a ten foot radius.  Fat ladies are extremely prone to this, and I've never been able to find out why.  Why the hell drench yourself in perfume?  Because you think you sweat?  Let me be very clear about this: Sweaty women smell good to men.  The reason for this is that the smell of a woman's sweat will remind the man just where he was the last time he smelled a hot woman's sweat, and that's a happy memory.  By way of contrast the overpowering stench of a quart of cheap perfume at 11:30 AM is enough to make my breakfast attempt a return to sender.  Knock it off with the perfume.

While I'm at it, the same thing is true for men.  Just who are you trying to impress with all that Stallion Musk you're wearing?  Look Peter Pan, stinking the place up with your doubtlessly invaluable élixir d'amour isn't impressing the ladies.  All it's doing is making you stink to high heaven.  While I'm at it, take the bar towel out of your back pocket – unless you're advertising, that is.

Playing The Real Estate Game Successfully.  If I have to deal with assigned seating, do not try to give me the lousiest table in The Grease Trap Diner and expect me to tolerate it.  Think.  I know it's hard, but try anyway.  What makes you believe I want to sit at a table against the wall that's barely big enough for one and commands a view of the kitchen when the servers open the door?  Ask me where I'd like to sit.  I'll tell you and everyone will be happier.

Service Is Really Anticipation.  When you eventually get around to taking my food order, start anticipating what I might like.  If the chef is terminally ill and the kitchen is slow, stop back at my table and say so.  Offer to complain to the manager on my behalf, or tell me in a friendly manner that you'll take the chef out back and beat the shit out of him.  Whatever you do, do not fucking disappear into the back of The Grease Trap Diner never to be seen again until my food is ready.  Do not breeze by the table and ignore me while I'm waiting for my meal.

When the kitchen finally has my order up, get it out from under the heat lamp immediately, not in a few minutes.  Check the order for accuracy and foreign objects, then serve the meal.  Serve it now, right now.  I'm not even going to hope that my food will be served from the left and my dishes removed from the right, which would be nice.  Right after you have served my meal you'll ask if there's anything else you can get me.  Typically the waitress will dash away before anyone can speak, so don't be in too much of a hurry here.  Allow me to look things over and see if I need anything else.

From this point on, the server should be seen and not heard.  That doesn't happen often, but that's the goal.  What generally happens is that if the customer wants something, the entire wait staff vanishes.  I got so tired of this crap once at a Cracker Barrel that I got up and went back to the kitchen where I found the entire staff standing around beating their gums. I left. Another time I couldn't get my check, so I left.  No one bothered to stop me.  The other side of this slug is the bright, perky overattentive waitress.  She appears when your mouth is full and brightly asks if everything is delicious.  She does the same thing while you're in the middle of a conversation.  I had one waitress out at Rosie's on McCord that was so bad I complained to the manager and was provided another server.  This behavior is especially rude when the customer actually does want something but can't ask for it.  Naturally, the waitress leaves before the customer can articulate what it is he wants.  But never fear!  She'll be back when you're busy eating.

Box It Up.  If customers ask for a doggie bag, the waitress may be assured of two things: One, Fido isn't getting the contents of the bag.  Two, the customer wants you, the server, to box up the leftovers.  What's the problem here?  Do not just dump a Styrofoam container on the table and walk away.  Box it and ask if I'd like anything else.

Bring The Check.  Make sure the check is correct and the bill isn't padded.  Bring the change back to the table.  Do not ask if I want the change.  Until I leave it on the table for you, it isn't yours.  Get it?

If I don't leave you a tip, trust me, you do not want to know the reason why.  This is particularly true if you're a young female with a fragile ego and a sense of entitlement the size of an oil slick from the Exxon Valdez.  Daddy thinks you're cute, Bubba thinks your cute and the current BMOC says he loves you and thinks you're cute.  He doesn't, by the way, love you.  He wants to put his hoo hoo dilly into your cha cha.  If I didn't leave you a tip, I no longer think you're cute.  I think you're a spoiled little bitch on a stick that should do around 1000 hours of community service down at the soup kitchen until you get some idea of just what humanity is all about.  Hint: It isn't about you.  The last time this happened to me I gave the young lady a chance to retreat.  She didn't, which was unfortunate for her.

Whose Fault Is It?  Bad service is the fault of the management.  They either know what's going on in the dining room and don't care, or they don't know what's going on, and that is a failure as well.  The manager gets paid to know these things.  Management also gets paid to train the wait staff.  One successful manager I spoke with told me that the real secret to his success is to have a meeting every single day and review standard operating procedures.  If the manager isn't doing this, he or she should be replaced.

And now it's time for me to serve myself – two fingers of Bourbon, straight up.  Water back.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Rules

In the interests of promoting harmony in the average household, I have decided to publish a copy of the rules.  Mind you, there are other copies including annotated editions and geographical variants, but I believe this copy is good enough for general purposes.

Now here are the rules from the male side.  These are our rules!  Please note... these are all numbered "1" ON PURPOSE!

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down. We need it up, you need it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports. It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.

1. Shopping is NOT a sport. And no, we are never going to think of it that way.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one:
  • Subtle hints do not work! 
  • Strong hints do not work! 
  • Obvious hints do not work! 
Just say it!

1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. A headache that lasts for 17 months is a problem. See a doctor.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all comments become null and void after 7 Days.

1. If you won't dress like the Victoria's Secret girls, don't expect us to act like soap opera guys.

1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of them makes you sad or angry, then we meant the other one.

1. You can either ask us to do something or you can tell us how you want it done. Not both. If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches, it will be scratched. We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," we will act like nothing's wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle, besides we know you will bring it up again later.

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, expect an answer you don't want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine... really.

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball, the shotgun formation, guns or golf.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this. Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight, but did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.

Friday, March 26, 2010

On Mothers and Quilts

Some years back my Mom decided to make a quilt for me and one for my younger, more impulsive brother Shotgun Bob.  Since old Bob was the youngest of the family and would raise a fuss if he wasn't first, Mom made his quilt before she made mine.  I maintain that she was just practicing when she made his, which likely drives my younger brother right up the wall.

Trying to get Shotgun Bob to assist in selecting a pattern was worse than pulling hen's teeth.  Cajoling him into helping Mom pick out the material was only a little worse.  Then Mom had the challenge of overcoming Shotgun Bob's sense of aesthetics, which could be charitably described as primitive.  Then there's the size of his bed to deal with.  Bob has a California king size bed.  What else?  It took Mom well over a year, but she persevered and finally got finished.

Shotgun Bob's Quilt

All of the quilting is done by hand.  That means needle, thread and fingers.  Dante the cat finds Bob's quilt very comfortable.

After Mom recovered from dealing with Shotgun Bob, she started the same process with me.  I resolved to cooperate, and let me tell you something gents, there is nothing to equal standing around in a fabric store while Mom and two sales ladies locate and retrieve a dozen bolts of fabric out of the eight or ten thousand on display.  The goal is to find complementary fabrics of a color that is suitable.  To give myself credit, I looked at quilt patterns everywhere and made a firm selection on the one I wanted.  Again, it took Mom over a year but she did say that mine was easier than Shotgun Bob's.  Well, I'm not surprised.  I've always been low maintenance.  The results of Mom's efforts are shown below.

French Braid Quilt

My Quilt, sans Dante the Cat

This is a princely gift for which I sincerely thank my dear mother.  Like Bob's quilt, all the quilting is done by hand.  When Shotgun Bob saw my quilt he said he liked mine better than his.  I'm not surprised.  I like mine better than his as well.

I ask you, how many boys are blessed to have a mother like mine?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Few Internet Friends

I started my day with another crocus sighting on the daily dog walk.  It seems like everyone is planting the little flowers in their yards.

This evening a few of us got together at Mi Hacienda for food, drinks and argumentative conversation. Present and accounted for were Katie, Ann, GuestZero, Jim Avolt (ex-owner of the Distillery), the provocative, pugnacious but charismatic Steven Flagg, HistoryMike and yours truly, Mad Jack.

 HistoryMike at Mi Hacienda

Mi Hacienda is located at 3302 Glanzman Rd., Toledo, OH; (419) 380-0411 and is open for lunch and dinner.  I had a Tecate beer and an order of Nachos Locos, which I shared.  In truth, one order could serve three or four people.  The service is excellent.  The wait staff are at your table when you want something and don't pester you with inane questions when you are busy talking or eating.  The food is excellent.  I will definitely be returning to Mi Hacienda in the very near future.

Although many interesting things were learned by all this evening, I think the group was surprised to learn that I was acquainted with a felony fugitive that has been featured on the TV show, America's Most Wanted.  When I was 16 I was fairly well acquainted with John Kelly Gentry who allegedly committed two murders in 1983.  One victim was killed with an ax.  I didn't know Gentry well; I considered him to be a little weird and possibly dangerous.  I know that he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was given a general discharge under honorable because he couldn't make it through boot camp.  If he is still alive, Gentry is on the loose and possibly living in Mexico or the Bahamas.  Personally, I think it's very likely John Gentry is no longer with us.

In spite of this new revelation, a good time was had by all.  It was very nice to see all these people again and catch up on the latest news. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring in Sylvania Township

I've been enjoying the nice weather lately, and today was very nice.  I decided to take a few pictures of the flowers that Main Lady grows in her front yard, then the dog and I went on a photo shoot around Lincoln Woods.

Crocuses in Main Lady's Front Yard

More Crocuses in Main Lady's Front Yard

Still More Crocuses in Main Lady's Front Yard

Neighbor's Yard with Crocuses

The lady who gardens this yard does an outstanding job every year, and always changes this corner garden around a little.  I'm waiting to see what she'll do this year, but in the meantime the crocuses are coming on like gangbusters.

Neighbor's Yard with More Crocuses

Neighbor's Yard with Still More Crocuses

Miniature Iris in Main Lady's Front Yard

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard Stroll in Lincoln Woods

Vincent in the Hayloft

Originally Vinnie lived with our neighbors but he didn't get along well with the other cats, and so moved in with us.  He's generally friendly, but during his irascible moments he'll bite.  I've never had trouble with him, but I don't recommend him as the ideal cat for a small child.

Lily Outside the Barn

I'm not sure where Lily came from, but she's very friendly with people and generally gets along well with other cats and dogs.  She and Vincent don't get along well at all, mainly because Vincent tries to run her off.  I think Vincent has some type of insecurity complex.

Hornet's Nest

This is from the woods next door.  I don't think it's occupied just now, but now that I know the hornets have an apartment building in the neighborhood I'll be keeping an eye on them this summer.

WWII Interview - 2

In or about 1960, when I was 8 years old I first met my Uncle Bud.  Bud was an anomaly, being unmarried during a time when all successful businessmen were married.  Physically Bud was a small, somewhat stocky man of good appearance.  He was affable; people tended to like him.  Bud drove a black Buick convertible with power windows - even the side vents were power.  The radio had a scan feature controlled by a button on the floor, which was unheard of back then.  Bud also had a telephone in his car, which worked the same way a ship to shore phone worked.  You had to call the mobile operator, then the operator would connect you.  Being essentially a radio, there was no privacy to your calls.  Anyone trying to get Bud on his car phone had to know what area of the country Bud was likely to be found in, although I imagine that the phone company would help find him.  He also had to have his phone turned on.

My grandparents did a lot of entertaining back then, and my grandmother set a very fancy table.  People dressed for dinner and the agenda for an evening would consist of a cocktail hour where everyone had one or two drinks, followed by dinner and desert.  Dinner was followed by cards, bridge being the game of choice. The evening would conclude around 1:00 AM.

One fine evening little Mad Jack was invited over for dinner.  Jacky's mother saw to it that he was scrubbed within an inch of his young life and stuffed into his Sunday best, then reminded him that he was to be on his very best behavior and not to talk about things like bounced checks and backed up toilets at the dinner table.  In fact, not talking at all seemed the best course of action.

Like most little boys - okay, like all little boys of that time - I was fascinated with World War II, and so when we were seated around the dinner table, I naturally asked Bud what he did during the war.  Bud laughed.  "Well, Jacky, I was a little sneak. I worked for the O.S.S."

I knew about the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines.  A question mark slowly formed over my pointy head.

"What's the O.S.S.?" I asked.

"That's the C.I.A." Bud replied.  Still no enlightenment, which must have been obvious to Bud.  "I worked underground with the French Resistance." Bud explained.

Now I was impressed. "A spy?  Wow!  You were a real spy?" I couldn't believe my good luck.  My Uncle Bud was a real, honest to goodness spy.  Real cloak and dagger stuff.

"Well, yes, I suppose I was." Bud seemed a little evasive, but I persisted.

"What kind of gun did you carry?" I asked.

"A .25 Beretta.  I still have it in my nightstand at home."  Bud replied.

"What's it look like?"

"Oh, it's small, about the size of your hand.  You'd carry it in your hat, you see."

"Why?" I hadn't noticed how quiet the dinner table had gotten, but in retrospect I'm fairly certain my grandparents were looking for an opening to change the subject.  I wasn't going to give them one.

"Well, if you're captured they'd tell you to put your hands on your head, which was where the gun was."
I mulled this one over.  I'd never heard of any of this before.

"Were you ever captured?"

Bud paused, then replied somewhat shortly. "Several times."

Now clearly, if Bud were captured and wasn't killed (he wasn't, as evidenced by his presence at the dinner table) there was only one way he got loose.  None the less, I wanted to hear all about it.

"What did you do?" I was all ears.  For Bud's answer, anyway.  I was ignoring my grandfather.

"Well, they told me to put my hands on top of my head, you see... Would you pass me some potatoes, please?  Your grandmother's dinner is excellent." Bud was unruffled.

Conversation was firmly turned to a topic more suited to dinner and mixed company, but later on I did learn that Bud spoke German, and I suspect he could speak French as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

WWII Interview - 1

HistoryMikePhD has a thought provoking, inspirational post here, about doing an interview with a WWII survivor.  This will be increasingly hard to do these days, as many of the survivors are no longer with us.  However (comma) my father served in World War II, and from the time I was old enough to pester him for war stories, I did so, and I kept it up until I was in my twenties.  For one thing, Dad's war stories were a lot more interesting and informative than the local news (Cuban Missile Crisis) and the show COMBAT! was on TV, and this was a time when little boys could play Army and kill imaginary Japs and Krauts all day without fear of contracting a politically incorrect complex of some kind and ending up on medication.  Little boys got medicated back then, but it generally didn't involve prescription drugs.

As an aside, we had a neighbor back then with a distinct German name - Von Westernhagen - and I asked him if he was in the war, then I asked him which side he was on.

Anyway, here's an interview with my father as reconstructed from my own memory, from years of conversation.

WWII Interview

Q: What were you doing during the war (military service, civilian job, school)?
I was in the Coast Guard during the war, in the mounted patrol.  I was a radar operator, radarman second class.

Q: (For civilians) What were some of the restrictions and shortages you faced? In what ways did you contribute to the war effort?
Mom: We couldn't afford to get our hair cut, so we wore it long.  We didn't have much money and it was hard getting enough to eat. I was in college, and back then I could work all summer and pay for one year of school, including books.  I didn't have anything left over and I had to make do with whatever I had, but that was how it was.
[Author's Note: Think about this: Living at home (rent free), you can work all summer at menial labor, that is to say unskilled labor, and make enough money to pay for college the rest of the year.]

Q: (For veterans) Where were you stationed? Did you serve in a combat role? How did combat affect you?
I was in the Aleutian Islands on isolated duty.  They had radar on these landing crafts, these LSTs, and I was ordered to serve on one of them but I came down with ptomaine poisoning.  I'll tell you I was never so goddamn glad to be sick in all my life.  Jesus Christ was I sick.  Anyway, they changed my orders and I went to the Aleutian Islands on a radar base there.  I didn't see any combat, but we were all afraid that the Germans were going to invade and we patrolled the beach on horseback.  That was a miserable goddamn business.  I got so cold I couldn't even shoot my pistol, and I wanted to.  We had these attack dogs with us, which was stupid because the horses could see more than the attack dog.  Hell, you'd be riding out there in the goddamn freezing rain, you'd get soaked and have to keep riding.  The real fear was that the Jerrys would land in a U-boat and invade.  They could have done a lot of damage if they'd taken the Aleutians.

Q: What do you most want people to know about World War II?
Well, we fought the enemy, the goddamn Japs and the Krauts.  They were the enemy, and now these dumb sons-ah-bitches want to give the goddamn Japs a medal or something because they were discriminated against during the war.  Any time you think the Japs are any good, you just take a good look at the way they treated the American prisoners of war over there.  Hell, they're the enemy.

Q: What would you have changed about your war experience if you could?
Oh, I don't know.  Not much, I guess.  I'll tell you one thing, I got stuck in the Aleutians for six months because I missed my ship that was supposed to take me out of there, and I'd sure change that.  I had this no good son of a bitch officer that didn't tell me my ship was leaving [from the listening post in the Aleutians] and I missed getting on the ship.  We had radio silence then, so we couldn't radio the ship or anything.  I'll tell you I could shoot that son of a bitch today and get a good night's sleep right after.  Can you imagine that?  I was on isolated duty for 12 goddamn months and I had orders to go home and this son of a bitch didn't tell me the ship was leaving, and he was on it.  I'd change that part.

Q: Did you have doubts that your side (Axis, Allies) would succeed in winning the war?
Sure we had doubts.  England and France were already invaded, and we couldn't count on the Russians for anything.  Those goddamn Italians (pronounced Eye-Talians) weren't any goddamn good.  Yeah, we were afraid.  If they won Europe and got their conquest solidified, we would eventually be invaded and taken over.  We did have one advantage though, and that's that everybody over here that had a gun could fight, and that's what the Japs were really afraid of.  Now the government has this gun registration business so they know who's armed and who isn't, and if we are ever invaded or we needed to fight, the government could just come along and collect up all the guns.  That's no joking matter, and some people think it is.

Q: What mistakes do you think the military made (if any) during World War II?
I don't know.  Just think about who won the war and then tell me about mistakes.  (As I remember this, the old man was mixing a martini and throwing ice cubes into the cocktail shaker while he thought about it)  I'll tell you one thing, some of the men that were officers had absolutely no business being an officer at all.  I mean no goddamn business at all. None. (Interviewer: They didn't?) Nope, not a bit.  To begin with, they didn't know how to manage men.  Hell, they didn't have a goddamn clue.  (Interviewer: Were any of them any good?) Oh sure, some were.  When I finally got a ship back from the Aleutians the skipper of the ship was in the Merchant Marine and had sailed those waters for 30 years, and he was retiring.  This was his last voyage, so when we stopped at the various ports he'd give us a lecture on the area and what was there and so on.  He was real good.  [Dad laughs] They had these Navy guys on board who were trying to navigate, and they'd shoot the sun and plot our position.  Hell, they'd have us 50 miles inland, and the skipper knew right where we were all the time.

When we boarded that ship [off the Aleutian Islands listening post] the waves were real high and it was cold and raining like a son of a bitch, and you had to grab hold of this goddamn landing net and climb up it.  We were in this life boat, it was a self-bailing, self-righting life boat, and the waves would lift it up, so right when it was highest you had to grab the landing net on the side of the ship and climb up.  Hell, if you fell in the water that was it.  You left your gear in the life boat and it came up when they raised the boat on the divots.  Anyway we got up there on deck and the skipper comes on the PA system and says “All men boarding the ship report to the officer's mess”  So we looked at each other, wondering “Now what the Hell...”.  Well, we went down there and the skipper comes in and says, “Give these men a beer and a shot.”
Q: Do you think the war could have been prevented?
No, I don't.  They [the Germans; Germany] wanted to rule the world and the Japs invaded us.

Q: What changed and/or what was different after the war?
Well, you just came home and did what you had to do.  [Dad laughs] I'll tell you, old Uncle Tom [personal friend, not his real name] was laying down in his bunk just sicker than anything, just moaning and groaning about how sea sick he was and we'd been tied up at the dock for thirty minutes.  I went down and asked him how he was, and he said he was so sick he didn't think he'd make it.  Then I told him we were tied up at the dock and he perked right up.

Q: Do you remember any wartime propaganda? Do you recall any propaganda that could be considered racist or demeaning to ethnic groups?
No, we didn't have anything like that.  Now they have these goddamn people that say we shouldn't have dropped the atom bomb on Japan, and they want us to apologize to the Japs and give them all kinds of money.  Why, Hell.  In the first place, the Japanese were the enemy, and in the second place, what about paying the United States for Pearl Harbor, and all the men that the Japs killed, and the American POWs?  Those sons of bitches don't know what they're talking about. 

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Second World War?
That it was wrong to drop the bomb on the Japanese.  The Japs weren't ready to surrender, they didn't want to surrender.  We dropped one bomb and when that didn't achieve the desired affect, we dropped another one and that was it.

Q: Do you remember any anti-war protesters? If so, how were they treated, and what were your opinions about them?
I don't remember any.  There might have been a few, but I never saw them.  [Dad laughs] If there were any, they sure as Hell wouldn't be around long with the fellows I knew.  They'd be pushing up weeds somewhere.

Q: Do you think the Second World War was worth the human costs?
What else were you going to do?  A lot of people got killed and went through real rough times, but what else would you do?  We didn't have any choice in the matter.

Q: What important questions did I forget to ask you? Are there other details you’d like to share?
Dad would no doubt continue to rail against anyone who evidenced the slightest sympathy with the Japanese or Germans, or suggested reparations of any sort that did not involve dropping another Atom bomb on Japan.  Hey, if two is good, three is better.  He really did hate the enemy.

My thanks to HistoryMikePhD for providing me with inspiration today.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Day at the Range: Sunday, March 21, 2010

What better way to spend a Sunday than a trip to the range followed by a civilized lunch?  My brother Big Mike and I put Mike's Chrysler 300 on the street around noon and headed for the Bullet Stop, about an hour down the road.  It's a nice drive when the weather is good, but not a trip I'd willingly take during the winter.

Bullet Stop
15445 West Walbridge East Road
Graytown, Ohio 43432

Closed Wednesday
Mon - Fri 6PM-9PM
Sat 10AM-6PM
Sun 11AM-5PM

Although the address is officially on West Walbridge East, the Bullet Stop is actually on Bullet Stop road.

The first time Mike and I came to the Bullet Stop we found it by process of elimination - there isn't anything else around that could hold a shooting range.  Seeing no one around, we sat out in the parking lot for a few minutes discussing just where the front door might be and whether or not we should walk up to the barn and try the door or give the whole thing up as a bad job and go somewhere else.  Obviously we tried the door, but only after we reassured each other that we were both armed and, if we were wrong, we could apologize to the owner of the barn on our way back to the car.

If you haven't been to this place before, I'd encourage you to give it a try.  Don't be put off by the desolation of the place or the rustic appearance, and don't retreat from the two large dogs that will greet you with fierce barking as soon as you open the door.  If you're a new shooter, tell the people behind the counter your story and ask for a tour or something.  They'll help you and they're friendly.  In any event, please be aware that the Bullet Stop, the owners and the patrons are all people who mind their own business.  Keep that thought in mind as you enjoy the range.

I took my Smith & Wesson K22 revolver with me and put 30 or 40 shots through it.  It's a difficult gun to shoot as the grip seems to be at an odd angle.  I managed to do pretty well, but I definitely shoot my Ruger Mark II a lot better.  Here are some typical results from about 30 feet, two handed, single action.

Target from my K22

I also brought along my Smith & Wesson model 59 double action automatic in 9mm.  I originally bought this pistol for self-defense, as it came with two 14 round magazines and the double action feature would allow me to carry it with one round in the chamber.  The gun is light and the 9mm cartridge gives the recoil a nasty snap.

Smith & Wesson Mod. 59, 9mm

I never did very well with this pistol and considered selling it several times, but one way or another I hung on to it.  9mm ammunition isn't exactly cheap either, but I had some 9mm stockpiled and thought I'd shoot some of it up and at the same time see if I could get the hang of shooting this S&W without embarrassing myself.  I didn't do too badly.

Target with the S&W Mod. 59

I may have mentioned this in another post, but the targets I'm using were designed and printed by my brother Mike, who became sick and tired of trying to hit a black target with black sights in a dimly lit shooting range.  Both of us are getting on in years and can barely see anything at 50 feet in dim light, let alone a black on black on black combination.  Prior to using Mike's target, if my sights vanished against the target I figured it might be time to torch one off.  My shooting has improved somewhat since the advent of the color target.

Big Mike brought his Glock 9mm along and offered to let me test drive it.  It's easier to shoot than my S&W.

 Glock 9mm

Target with Glock 9mm

The things I don't like about the Glock are the plastic stock, which gives it a strange plastic feel, the balance which doesn't feel quite right to me and the two stage trigger.  The Glock (as most people know) has no safety.  Instead, it has a two stage trigger with the first stage being the safety.  The things I like about the Glock is that it's set up nicely for the 9mm cartridge (other calibers haven't worked as well), it's been optimized for production so as to keep manufacturing cost down, and the sights are outlined in white which is a big help for a man of my August years.

Glock Sights

Mike finished up with his Kimber 1911 in .45.  The Kimber has an amazing trigger pull, even better than my V-16.  Mike did well with his Kimber today, completely humiliating his shooting partner, Mad Jack and using his final target to rub a little salt in the wound.

Mike's Final Target

As usual we went in search of a civilized lunch.  We tried the Maumee Brewing Company at the old Oliver House, but it was closed.  Second choice was the Claddagh Irish Pub.

Claddagh Irish Pub
5001 Monroe St, Toledo, OH

Eternal Patio Flame

For reasons best know to the leprechauns who work at the Claddagh, the eternal patio flame was lit.  The temptation to throw various combustibles into the eternal flame is not as strong as it once was, but I think that a few packs of firecrackers at the height of happy hour would do a lot to liven the place up.  The Claddagh is a good enough place to eat so long as you understand up front that it is not an Irish pub and never will be, that it is in Westfield mall and therefore expensive and that the service at the bar can require patience, as the bar is very often understaffed.  Past that, the food is good, there is sports TV, various kinds of beer (not Bud-BudLight-Mick-MickLight...) and overpriced top shelf whiskey.  The bartender, when you can get him, knows how to pour a shot and serve it straight up, neat, or on the rocks.

I had boneless wings, which I can recommend.

Boneless Wings at the Claddagh

All in all, this is a very good day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Plaza Azteca

 Plaza Azteca Mexican Restaurant
5125 Monroe Street, Toledo, OH 43623
Hours 11a - 10p Sun through Thurs; 11a - 11p Fri & Sat
(419) 841-9250

I've been meaning to try the Plaza Azteca restaurant on Monroe Street for several weeks, and I finally got around to it today.  In short, I'm not all that impressed.  The place is over-staffed, which is rare in the restaurant business (generally speaking, being over-staffed means that the manager screwed up the schedule) but in this case it means that one person seated me, another person took my order, a third person served my order and a fourth person finished serving me - he took over for a waitress that left or was no longer available.  The only trouble with this arrangement is that the wait staff is very unlikely to know what the kitchen is doing, and my visit was no exception.

My order started out with complementary taco chips and two kinds of dip, white and red.  I have no idea what the white dip is about; it tasted a little like a combination of tarter sauce, mayonnaise and El Gringo's Authentic Mexican Spices! (the last ingredient is called poetic license, but go ahead and try to find it anyway).  The red dip is standard salsa, very mild.

I ordered the Burrito San Jose, a burrito that was supposed to come with chicken, chorizo sausage, refried beans and rice.  My burrito arrived on a large square bright white tray plate, and it just fit the diagonal.  I noted that the beans and rice were conspicuous by their absence.  My waitress didn't serve my food, and the server left as soon as the tray plate hit the table.  Naturally my waitress was not to be seen (service: strike one!).  Being hungry, I started eating anyway and found the burrito was good.  The sauce was spicy if a little on the rich side.  So, when my mouth was full and I couldn't talk, my waitress comes by and asks if I need anything (service: strike two!).  With some difficulty I explain the lack of beans and rice, and my server vanishes to find out what's going on.  The server reappears in a few minutes and explains that the beans and rice are to be found within the burrito.  This isn't what I expected, but so what - I'm hungry and I'll eat it anyway.  My server vanishes.  About halfway through my burrito I conclude that the beans and rice are not appearing in this feature.  I'm not too happy about this, but my server isn't around.  I continue to eat, and again while my mouth is full (service: strike three!) my server comes by with another server and explains that I'm changing hands.

By the time I could explain the absence of beans and rice to my new server, the burrito was history.  My only concern here was that I was charged, and subsequently paid for two items I didn't receive.  The manager, who never appeared at my table, offered a side dish of beans and rice which I declined.  I wasn't hungry and I really didn't care.

The atmosphere at the Plaza Azteca is that of a family style restaurant, and the portions and prices live up to those expectations.  The place is noisy and Mexican elevator music plays in the background.  I didn't sample the margaritas, reasoning that any bar featuring a dozen different kinds of margarita and a half dozen different varieties of a martini is not going to have anything that I want to drink.  If you don't believe me, find a place like this and try ordering a dry martini straight up, then watch as the waitress's eyes glaze over.

Kevin Moore over at the Toledo City Paper wrote an infomercial on the Plaza Azteca, Spicin' Things Up in the Mexican Scene,  which makes the place out to be something it isn't.  I include the link mainly because I like reading the City Paper and Kevin writes pretty well.

The thing about Plaza Azteca is that it's located right next door to Shorty's, which has some of the best barbecue available in the Toledo area along with equally good service and an outdoor patio.  So whatever I have at the Plaza, it's going to have to beat Shorty's - and that isn't happening today.  Tomorrow isn't looking good either.

On my own personal scale of restaurant excellence, I would give Plaza Azteca a very shaky 5 on a scale of zero to 10.  The place is headed to four or less, but who knows?  Maybe I'm being overly critical, maybe the kitchen will get their act together, maybe the service will improve.  Maybe not.  I'll probably eat there again, but not right away.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Black Cat

We're painting at the house.  Cupboards are being emptied and their doors removed, drawers are pulled out and naturally everything must be sorted and washed before it can be carefully returned to storage.  As a result of the painting, I no longer have a black cat.

I suppose the paint will wear off or he'll shed the fur.  Meantime I have a less than perfect feline.

Police Shooting

On January 5, 2008 Sgt. Joseph Chavalia of the Lima, Ohio police department shot and killed Tarika Wilson.  Tarika's 1 year old son, Sincere, was wounded twice in the same shooting.  Sgt. Chavalia was subsequently charged with two misdemeanors: negligent homicide and negligent assault.  Chavalia was wrongfully acquitted of these charges at trial.  Here's why.

When I was nine years old I got my first rifle for Christmas – a .22 caliber Ithaca Model 49.  This is a lever action rifle with an external hammer.  The hammer operates separately from the action, so loading and cocking the rifle are two separate operations, making this rifle the safest .22 on the market.  Even so, the very first thing my father did after Christmas morning was over was to reiterate the four rules of gun safety.  Everyone reading this can recite them, can't they?  Here they are, as codified by Jeff Cooper and rephrased by my father:

1.The gun is always loaded.
2.Don't ever point the gun at something you don't intend to shoot.  Point it at the ground or up in the air.
3.Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot.
4.Be sure of your target and see what's behind it.  That lead has to go somewhere.

You can find links to the four rules here and here.  Rather than pontificate on all four, I'm going to concentrate on rule number 4: Be sure of your target and of what is beyond it.

God made man, but Colonel Colt made 'em equal.  When anyone picks up a gun and decides to carry it for protection, whether they know it or not they are stating that they, the gun owner, are accepting responsibility for their own actions involving the firearms they possess.  This is particularly true with rule number four.  If a pizza delivery man is confronted by an armed robber and he defends himself with his pistol, the lead has to go somewhere.  Likewise, if a homeowner empties a few shots from his SKS into a home invader, those shots could go through the invader and the wall behind the invader, and end up in the house next door.  The shooter is responsible for this.

Sgt. Joseph Chavalia is a policeman with about 30 years experience so I think it's safe to credit Chavalia with knowledge of the four rules of gun safety.  During the raid when Tarika Wilson was killed Chavalia was headed up the stairs with another officer close behind him.  Chavalia knew there were children in the house, and should know that children do really dumb things (any parents out there want to argue that one?).  Chavalia was shouting commands at unseen inhabitants upstairs to get down and surrender.  As he peeked over the top of the stairs Chavalia heard shots from somewhere in the house, and by his own admission Chavalia saw movement on the second floor that he couldn't identify.  Chavalia then opened fire with a fully automatic rifle without identifying his target.  As a result, Chavalia killed Tarika Wilson and wounded her one year old son Sincere that Tarika was holding in her arms.  Chavalia's crime stems from his violation of the fourth rule; he couldn't see his target, much less what was behind it.  He couldn't identify a threat, he knew there would be activity from the children in the house, but he opened fire anyway.  The real miracle is that Chavalia didn't kill a few of the children, who were also upstairs.

I cannot for the life of me imagine a jury so completely stupid and ignorant as to find Chavalia not guilty.  Nor can I conceive of a prosecutor so incompetent as to not get a guilty verdict, even from a stupid jury.  I can easily imagine some cooperation between the prosecutor and the defense attorney to present the best possible case for Chavalia.  Chavalia can go back to work and the city of Lima can brace itself for a civil suit, which is better than nothing but certainly not what should have happened.  Until the police are held culpable for their own abuse of power, this is the kind of behavior we have to expect from the police.  There is no reason for the police to change their policy on the use of force or deadly force, as misuse has no repercussions.

As an example of a real 'professional' at work, here is the infamous video of the police giving a lecture on firearms and firearm safety.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lincoln Woods Activity

As promised earlier, I continued my citizen patrols of Lincoln Woods, searching for subversive activity.  I found none, but the dog and I did stumble across a sure sign of global warming.

Yellow Flowers

I don't know what these flowers are called but I hope they survive the snow that's certain to arrive before March is finished with us. 

Blue Flowers

I like these flowers too.  I was trying to get a photo of a very busy honey bee that was doing what bees do during spring.  The bee was camera shy.

The weather nit wit says we'll likely have snow on Sunday.  We'll see.

Racism and AmRen

Fred Reed sounds off on racism and AmRen, and in the process has seemed to ruffle a few feathers, or maybe a bit more accurately, has managed to step on enough toes to fill a podiatrist's office for the next few months.  As usual, Fred's essay is worthy of a read.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Cost of Health Care

I read the story about Manny Evans and his mother Annisha Evans in this morning's Toledo Blade.  Naturally The Blade wouldn't publish the article on line, so screw 'em.  Here's the article as published in two other news sites: PhillyBurbs and Cincinnati.  Manny is seven years old and has neurofibromatosis. Annisha Evans has two other children, is unemployed, and is unable to care for Manny at home.  Therefore, Manny lives at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The cost for Manny's room is about $3000 per day.  Medicaid pays $1000 and the hospital writes off the rest as a bad debt.  Manny has been living at the hospital for the last four years, which amounts to $365,000 per year plus handling costs from the government workers at medicaid, and this is just the room.  If we believe the article, four or five children in the same situation exist at this hospital.

Granted that this is one case, making it anecdotal evidence of the high cost of medical care for the uninsured.  However, if Obama's health care plan becomes law, how much longer before this case is no longer anecdotal, and who is going to set the spending cap?  Or is the government just going to keep on spending?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Morning Dog Walk

Rather than let Main Lady face the elements and the subversive dangers of Lincoln Woods with only Rachmaninoff for company, I dragged myself out of the sack and into the rain.  I felt better after only a few minutes - I had fresh coffee, my Main Lady and my excellent dog.

Rocky pointed something about two blocks into our excursion, but it wasn't until later that I saw what he did: Mathew and Millie Mallard off on a morning stroll of their own.

Mallard Ducks

I hope the duck weather doesn't last, no offense to the Mallards.  Naturally Rachmaninoff doesn't mind the inclement weather, but not all of us are all-weather, all-terrain vehicles.

The Passing of a Toledo Landmark

I was Eastbound on Airport Highway the other day and to my very great surprise I found myself arriving at Cleland's Outdoor World before I passed the good old Yoko Health Spa.  A bit odd, that.  Maybe my age was starting to show.  Anyway, I concluded my business at Cleland's, having discovered that Cleland's refuses to take reservations for their indoor pistol range, and that it is always first come, first served.  I therefore wish a pox on Cleland's and henceforth will take my business somewhere else.  Returning from whence I came, I was Westbound on Airport Highway when I came across conclusive evidence that the Yoko Health Spa is closed once and for all, and will never be under new management with new girls.

Yoko Health Spa
10095 Airport Highway
Monclova, OH 43542-9735

For those readers too young to remember the history of this venerable bastion of hedonism I shall relate the history of this establishment as I remember it.  Around the 1950s a long forgotten entrepreneur decided to open what was then called a motor hotel next to the Toledo Express Airport.  The motel was name the Airport Motel and was made up of a large private home and a host of small bungalows.  I recall there being eight or ten in a row running perpendicular to the highway.  This wasn't a large operation, but then Toledo Express wasn't a large operation either.  Along about the 1960s the place changed hands and became the Airport Motel and Massage.  Businessmen arriving in Toledo at the economic height of the auto industry could find a nice place to stay that was close to the airport, and having been cramped up in an airplane for several hours could get the nasty muscle cramps out of their back with a relaxing professional massage.  By the 1970s (1974) the place was looking just a little run down, the bungalows having been neglected since the 1950s and the rate per night was $20.  The rate did not include the services of the masseuse.  In the 1980s the place changed names (and likely hands) again and became the Airport Massage, then the Airport Tokyo Massage, and by the 1990s the owners settled on the Yoko Health Spa.  Putting it bluntly, the place became a brothel in the 1960s and stayed in business until 2010, about a fifty years stretch.  You know, maybe I'm just being somewhat naive, but it would seem to me that in 50 years the law enforcement authorities just down the road (the Ohio State Police) would have deduced that there was some hankypanky going on at the Yoko and the place would be busted.

I guess not, though.  It seems that there was only one way to close the Yoko spa.

End of the Road for Yoko

And that, as they say, is that.  Hark!  Off in the distance!  Do my ears deceive me or is it the delicate strains of the proverbial fat lady, closing out the show?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dog Walk

The weather was so nice yesterday that I went on an excellent dog walk in the Lincoln Woods neighborhood.  Naturally I had my excellent dog with me, and we both enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the neighborhood.  Rachmaninoff has to tell me about the smells as I have allergies and so my sense of smell is not what it could be.  Anyway, we passed this house which I have always admired.  I have noticed that when I pass through a neighborhood all the houses seem to be pretty much the same, and I've never been able to understand this.  How do you know which house is yours?  If you're coming home late and pretty well oiled, what do you do if you can't find your house?  Are they all alike inside as well as out?  No one seems to know.

A House I Admire

A little further along our walk we found something suspicious.  Look at these antennas on this house.  I wonder just what kind of radio set up the owner has inside, and who he might be talking to.  Why use a radio when the telephone is so much more convenient?  Notice that this house looks like all the other houses, but then we have the radio antennas.  I may have to take a few more dog walks along this route and see what may be seen.

Radio Antennas

Further along our route I found an explanation – a foreign flag!  It's hard for me to believe, but deep within the Lincoln Woods neighborhood someone is flying a foreign flag instead of the American Red, White and Blue.  This house is right next to the other house with the radio antennas.

 Foreign Flag in America

This is our final sighting.  As we were passing Olander Park we saw another foreign flag, this time being flown over a public park!  This is a place where American children play, and they should be safe from foreign subversion.  It seems that is no longer the case.

Foreign Flag in the Park

It's clear to me that the enemy has infiltrated Lincoln Woods.  I will continue to gather intelligence on my seemingly harmless dog walks, and I hope to see results soon.  It is clear that the enemy is over-confident and has become careless, but it is also clear that the American citizens have become equally complacent and soft.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Walrus in New Orleans

'O Oysters, come and walk with us!
The Walrus did beseech.

And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

I was in New Orleans recently and a good time was had by all... except for the oysters, I'm afraid.  How terrible to be an oyster, knowing nothing but eating, excreting and procreating.  You are completely protected by the safety of your shell until the inevitable searing pain of the oyster knife.

Poor oysters.

Oh well.

I often think of the poem by Lewis Carroll as I enjoy my oysters.  I feel that if the oysters didn't want to end up on my plate, they shouldn't have left the oyster bed.  Here is the poem in its entirety.

The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright --
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done --
'It's very rude of him.' she said,
'To come and spoil the fun!'

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead --
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
'If this were only cleared away,'
They said, 'it would be grand.'

'If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,' the Walrus said,
'That they could get it clear?'
'l doubt it,' said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

'O Oysters, come and walk with us!
The Walrus did beseech.
'A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.'

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head --
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

Out four young Oysters hurried up.
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat --
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more --
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings.'

'But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried,
'Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!'
'No hurry!' said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

'A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said,
'Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed --
Now, if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.'

'But not on us!' the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
'After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!'
'The night is fine,' the Walrus said,
'Do you admire the view?'

'It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
'Cut us another slice-
I wish you were not quite so deaf-
I've had to ask you twice!'

'It seems a shame,' the Walrus said,
'To play them such a trick.
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
'The butter's spread too thick!'

'I weep for you,'the Walrus said:
'I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

'O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
'You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none --
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

So sad.  I think I'll have another dozen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unintended Acceleration

Back in the era of the muscle car and 25 cent per gallon leaded gasoline I decided that I wanted to be an automobile mechanic.  One thing that influenced my decision was my neighbor across the street owned a race car which he built himself.  I'd watch quietly while he put the engine together, adjusted the valve lash and set the points in the dual point distributor.  The end result is that by the time I was 21 I knew enough about auto mechanics to be a tolerable shade tree mechanic and to avoid being ripped off by the occasional scam artist who told me I needed a new muffler bearing.  So when the unintended acceleration problems with Toyota surfaced I had some idea of what might be going on.

When I first began my career of choice computers where huge things that read paper tape and required a climate control system that would rival the royal palace in Saudi Arabia.  The electronic calculator cost over $75 for a basic model.  Still, a good friend of mine worked for a branch of General Motors concerned with R&D, and one night over six drinks he finally broke down and told me that GM was working on a computer controlled engine.  I realized that the mechanic's shade tree was slated to become part of a new development and resolved to find a different career, one that didn't involve jump starting cars in sub-zero temperatures.  I did so, and surprisingly the auto industry progressed without me.

In the old days, cars had a mechanical linkage between the accelerator pedal and the carburetor.  Not so anymore.  Today we have a sensor in the accelerator pedal which sends an electronic signal to a computer, which decides how best to control the engine.  What this amounts to is that when the driver is trying to accelerate at, for instance, full throttle, as the gas pedal is mashed to the floor the throttle is not immediately opened.  Instead, the pedal sensor signals the computer and requests an open throttle.  The computer decides just how to proceed, meaning that your request may not be granted right away or may not be granted in full, so to speak.  When the driver takes his size nine off the pedal, the same process occurs.  The computer decides, based on the state of the car, just how to proceed.  Not the driver; the computer.  Therein lies the rub.

My car has a standard (or manual) transmission, otherwise known as a stick shift.  I don't need some gear head in Detroit or Tokyo to tell me when to shift; I'll decide that for myself, thanks.   Not everyone feels this way.  For the uninitiated, which encompasses everyone under 30 (I'm being generous here) and most people over thirty, this means I have an extra pedal on the floor of my car.  It's called the clutch pedal, because when the electronics in your Toyota screw up and your car heads for a viaduct at 120 mph, you can duck down in the floorboards and 'clutch' this pedal as you wait to meet your maker.  All police vehicles have a built in clutch sensor unit which will inform the police of your plight and they will come and rescue you.  Okay, I'm kidding.  The clutch pedal controls the clutch and is connected to the clutch by a mechanical linkage.  When you press the clutch pedal to the floor, your engine is disconnected from the wheels of your car and you coast.  The car's computer system knows this, but can't do a thing about it.  To drive the car, the driver evaluates the state of the car, depresses the clutch pedal, selects the proper gear using the stick shift, then releases the clutch pedal.  The driver must do this constantly around town, less so on the freeway.  There is a skill that must be developed to drive a stick successfully.  Advanced drivers know how to double clutch, and really advanced drivers can drive an unsynchronized transmission, a thing you're not likely to find these days.  New drivers take a good deal of pride in being able to drive a stick shift without stalling the car out in first gear, and shifting without grinding the gears.  If you've never driven a stick shift, I recommend you try it sometime.

Compare this to the automatic transmission, which is what most yo-yos have in their vehicles.  With the automatic transmission the driver puts the shift lever into 'D' and promptly forgets about it until the car is parked.  Then the shift lever must be moved to 'P'.  How easy!  How convenient!  Anyone can do it as it requires no skill.  I think it's worth noting that the automatic transmission was originally marketed towards women – Hey guys!  Now the little lady can drive and not burn out the clutch or grind the gears – just look at our new Dynaflow transmission.  The Dynaflow was a Rube Goldberg meets Dr. Frankenstein design and we don't have it today.  Note that on most cars there is no mechanical linkage for the automatic transmission.  Again, it's two electronic sensors routed through the computer.  This means that if you demand that the transmission cycle from reverse into drive, you may not get an immediate response from the transmission.

The unintended acceleration problem with automobiles is thought to be a wide open throttle which refuses to close.  I think that it's safe to say that in such a situation seconds matter.  Some application of grade school math reveals that at 55 miles per hour your car is actually traveling 80.67 feet per second (do the math yourself if you don't believe me, and you shouldn't.  I'm not credible.).  At normal highway speeds of 75 mph, you're going 110 feet per second, and at Detroit speeds of 110 mph you're moving right along at 161.33 feet per second.  Now then, if this unintended acceleration problem happened to me I have to realize that my throttle is stuck open, about 2 seconds.  I curse to myself and depress the clutch and brake pedals simultaneously, about 1 second.  My worst case scenario is that I've covered 322 feet (2 seconds at 110 mph) instead of 220 feet I expected, or about 100 feet more than usual.  Still plenty of time to have a major accident, but not as bad as it might be.  Compare this with the fool driving the automatic transmission.  Leave the time it takes to realize what is happening as a constant, even though it isn't.  Why?  Because people who drive a stick have to drive the car constantly.  They can't just forget about it.

Since the engine overpowers the brakes, stopping requires shutting the engine off or disconnecting the engine from the wheels.  In this case the driver will practice their normal stopping or slowing routine; they take their foot off the gas and stomp the brake pedal, and when that doesn't work they stomp harder.  The car continues to accelerate.  If the driver keeps their head about them, and most do not, they'll put the car into neutral.  This should be a fool proof way to stop the car, and it would be were it not for the fools in Tokyo.  You see, the linkage between the shift lever and the transmission is electronic, not manual.  The computer, now suffering some kind of electronic indigestion, decides if and when the transmission will shift into neutral, and since the throttle is wide open this is clearly not the time to switch gears.  The driver might try switching the engine off, but again this is not a mechanical linkage.  It's electronic and it routes through the computer.

I'm not the only one who sees this as an unreasonable design.  In the January edition of Business Week a few details on a class action suite Toyota Speed-Up Suits Say Problem Goes Deeper Than Gas Pedal are revealed and a retired retired US Army Colonel is suing due to personal injury.

The federal government didn't learn much from the Volstead Act of 1920 and it should have learned that US citizens do not like being told what to do.  Likewise, our elected officials were too busy to learn much from the Ford Pinto gas tank fiasco back in the 1970s, when it became evident to anyone who could watch TV that big business cares nothing for its clients.  I don't expect anything will happen here, either, and this is one area where the general populace could be protected. 

I think I'll hold off buying a new car until they gets the bugs worked out of the voice recognition system.

Shades of HAL 9000.
Mad Jack: What the - ? The fucking brakes don't work!  Brakes!!!
HAL: I'm sorry, Jack. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Mad Jack: You junkyard refugee!  I'll turn you into a toaster!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Health Care

Maggie Thurber writes about government funded health care and cites two opinion pieces that are worth reading.  In the first piece, Lori Zignato points out that it's all about government and uses an opinion by Mark Steyn as a basis for her article.

The essence of Steyn's article is that the health care reform bowel movement in Washington is that the whole thing is a Moonbat conspiracy to gain permanent control of the United States civilians for ever, and that the only thing standing between us freedom loving wolves and an extermination plan are a handful of venerable Republicans who are slowly being forced into compliance.


Here's a quote from Mark Steyn's opinion piece:

Once the state swells to a certain size, the people available to fill the ever-expanding number of government jobs will be statists – sometimes hard-core Marxist statists, sometimes social-engineering multiculti statists, sometimes fluffily "compassionate" statists, but always statists.

His fallacy is that the size of the government does not need to reach a certain threshold.  Statists have always been present in the U.S. Government and have been since General Washington took office.

From Steyn: The short history of the post-war welfare state is that you don't need a president-for-life if you've got a bureaucracy-for-life: The people can elect "conservatives," as the Germans have done and the British are about to do, and the Left is mostly relaxed about it

Stop right there.  I'd like to know just what Left he's talking about, because I've never seen any evidence of that kind of behavior.  Let the Moonbats lose an election and you can hear the howling and gnashing of teeth all the way to the Kremlin.  Moonbats go absolutely bat shit whenever they lose an election, even if they lose to another Moonbat.  I think the Stupid Party is marginally better, but only because they immediately surround a bottle of snake bite medicine and begin plotting revenge.

Steyn continues: because, in all but exceptional cases (Thatcher), they fulfill the same function in the system as the first-year boys at wintry English boarding schools who, for tuppence-ha'penny or some such, would agree to go and warm the seat in the unheated lavatories until the prefects strolled in and took their rightful place.

Maybe in Jolly-Old, but not in the U.S.  In the good old US of A the Freshman class performed these duties under the very real threat of violence by larger, well-organized upperclassmen.  The idea of paying the miserable Frosh to sit and think in a freezing bathroom would have never crossed their mind.

Steyn: Republicans are good at keeping the seat warm. A bigtime GOP consultant was on TV, crowing that Republicans wanted the Dems to pass Obamacare because it's so unpopular it will guarantee a GOP sweep in November.

Would you mind naming this mysterious big time GOP consultant?  Passage of Obamacare will not guarantee a Stupid Party victory in November or any other time.  What might give the Stupids a victory would be uncommon fiscal responsibility, meaning a reversal of King George the Second's disastrous economic policies combined with an admission of guilt and a human sacrifice, along with candidates several magnitudes better than John McCain and Sarah Palin - which shouldn't be hard to do, at least in Palin's case.  I'm digressing here, and I'll stop.

One big reason that the Manhattan phone book sized health care reform bill hasn't passed is that the Moonbats can't agree on anything.  They spend so much time fighting among themselves that they haven't been able to get anything done.  The second reason is that the members of the Stupid Party are able to put aside their loathing for each other just long enough to unite against a common enemy for reasons of re-election (otherwise known as self-preservation).  The third reason, and there is every chance in the world that I'm wrong about this, is that it is barely possible that a few members of both parties realize that implementing The Anointed One's plan will be so completely financially ruinous for the population that the Federal government will actually go bankrupt, and they do not want to be in office when that happens.

Mark Steyn observes that the US federal government continues to grow and will grow faster if the federal government becomes even more involved in health care, and he's right about that.  But to attribute this as a Leftist plot?  No.  Not now, not ever.  The government continues to grow because if it doesn't it will shrink, and our elected officials cannot have that.