Folks, I first should admit…I’m possibly a dinosaur in today’s society:

I think too many people forgetting self-defense and social survival techniques in the process of becoming a nation of willing victims.

I think we’re supposed to call out inept politicians rather than re-elect them.

I think there’s a real disconnect with the meaning of “tolerance”, especially with those supposedly preaching the word at full volume.

However, I think a trend that’s been plaguing our society for decades is worse than ever before:  the need to push blame away from the individual.

This isn’t a new problem.  For most of my life, I saw celebrities, politicians, and everyday people happily and consistently blame their parents, their culture, their choice of recreational substances, their significant others, their LACK of significant others, their pets, their local police, the various state and federal law enforcement agencies, the weather, and anything they can think of to explain away events or behaviors they were involved in.  One can’t simply “lose one’s temper” any longer…no, every outburst must be traced to the treatment by co-workers and customers, the damned obsolete computer at work, the sibling’s dumb romantic problems, the parents’ divorce decades past, and even the rumored great-great-grandparent that was known for yelling at the town mayor.

It’s not YOUR fault, it’s the workplace!  It’s the bloodline!  It’s the vodka!  It’s the pills!  It’s the therapist!  It’s the need for the therapist!

It’s all too often a complete pile of bulls**t.  Come ON, people…!

We had the latest personal detonation very recently, leading to six deaths and many injuries at the hand of a young man that, despite resources and available familial support, decided that the world had to be punished for his inability to get laid.  Elliot Rodgers, 22, apparently felt that his time put in as a “gentleman” was supposed to be some kind of currency toward sex with women; I can only guess that he imagined “I looked at her eyes for that whole conversation!  That should be worth 50 Sex-Entitlement Dollars!” or something similar in his daily activities.  I’m sad to say this isn’t the dumbest mentality I’ve ever heard toward sex, but it definitely had among the most horrid endings.  Elliot apparently shot himself at the end of the chaos, proving that even if he HAD been about to “’round the bases” with some young lady, he would’ve been nutless anyway.

Well, we know who was responsible, so we have some closure…right?  Nope.  We have the media shoveling both gasoline and coal onto the flames, in hopes of getting a long, hot burn out of this.  We can’t have an individual whose personal romantic failures pushed him over the edge, or a man with too few coping skills and too much anger…and we certainly can’t have a person showing mankind’s tendency toward irrational violence.

Nope, it’s all because of the NRA.  Wait, no, gun violence in movies and TV.  It’s those gosh-darned video games!  It’s the misogyny in our culture, the hatred all men have for women, and I’m sure I’ll read more opinions from “experts” that never met the man for days to come.  It can’t be a tragedy about one broken man’s mind, it must be all about weapons, society, huge cultural portrayals of sexual behaviors, and I’m sure we’ll have theories all over the map getting press for weeks to come.  In the meantime, the people needing to deal with their grief and move forward will be pulled back into this tragedy over and over again.

That’s scattershot blame, with the continuing victims being those left behind.  This is both irresponsible and completely devoid of any empathy for the survivors and the friends/family of those taken in the tragedy.
Some of the theories may have some validity, but at the end of the day…a person decides whether or not to load the gun, unsheath the knife, drive to where students are gathered, and all this AFTER deciding to have a whole video manifesto done previously.

The human animal is a vicious best all too often.  This simple truth is ignored because there’s some need to believe that we’ve evolved beyond our murderous histories, put these issues into our past, and aren’t that kind of wicked, inventive creature anymore.  The truth is, we aren’t as far removed as we want to be.  Every person has internal struggles at points, where violence and/or cruelty seem to be options to pain and strife in our lives.  Between those urges and potential actions are…decisions.

This young man made some terrible ones…but HE made them.  All men of the free world didn’t make them, the NRA didn’t make them, even untold millions of drunks and drug users didn’t make those decisions.

Elliot Rodgers made them…that’s where the focus needs to be.

Breaking Automotive News!

December 27, 2012

Acura- The upcoming NSX means Acura will finally again offer something beyond overpaying for Civic and Accord derivatives.  Auto press to call this “revolutionary”.

Alfa-Romeo- 2013 becomes the next “maybe…but no” year for Alfisti in the USA.

Audi- The company celebrates their new status as the Car and Driver “win every comparo” marque, unseating BMW.  Readers welcome the change with a new slew of accusations.

Bentley- Found a way to make a turbo V8 cost less, yet go more quickly than the same model which has a bigger motor with more cylinders.  We’re sure this is progress, somehow.

BMW- Reviews of the 5 and 7 series essentially state that BMW has lost its place of leadership in sport sedans…which might be the only real “Change” seen since 2008.

Buick- In an attempt to lure buyers that aren’t actually dying yet, the company continues to put star athletes in a restyled Chevy Cruze.

Cadillac- GM’s luxury division sets its sights on BMW’s 3-series, but this time doesn’t bring a Cavalier to a car fight.  Signs are promising.

Chevrolet- The new Corvette is set to debut, leading to new questions of how GM will screw up the interior THIS time.

Chrysler- FIAT’s American luxury arm is reportedly looking at offering the 300 with a smaller, turbo engine that’s faster than the current HEMI model…because if Bentley did it…..

Dodge- In the latest effort to draw attention to its own trucks, Sam Elliott challenges Denis Leary to a showdown outside the Coors Brewing Plant.

Ferrari- The upcoming Enzo successor, the F70, will reportedly be the first hybrid from the Maranello company…as well as the first hybrid to average less than 20 mpg.

Ford-With fresh sheetmetal and powertrains doing very well in the market, Ford responds to criticism of its MFT system by making it available in more models.  I hope I made that up.

 

GMC- The “Chevy that’s not” brand looks forward to the new full-size trucks debuting at NAIAS, with external improvements like HID headlights and…that seems to be it.

 

Honda- Honda just revamped the Civic, as the outgoing model did badly in compa…wait, didn’t I write this last time?

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Hummer- A pleasant thought, but a dead brand.

 

Hyundai- Hard at work creating a Jeff Bridges-voiced “Hyundai Lawsuit Sales Event” ad campaign.

Infiniti- I joked last time that I wasn’t sure this division still existed.  I’m not joking anymore, does it still exist?  What?  As a Red Bull sponsor?

 

Jaguar- Is finally giving us the sports car we’ve asked for since the last one went away during the Ford Administration.  In other words, they’re ahead of British Carmaker Schedule.

 

Jeep- Puts rear doors on Wranglers, has sold the hell out of them for the last couple of years.  Think anyone from the AMC days is kicking themselves?

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Kia- The “Handsome Hyundais and Hamsters” brand looks at wooing the Bible-Belt audience, re-hiring Motley Crue to perform “Shout at the Devil” in the next commercial.

 

Lamborghini- When asked why the ergonomics in their vehicles remain difficult, they reply that the “comfortable cabins all go to Audi”.

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Land Rover- The Evoque showed the new styling direction for the brand, while the next Defender must show essentially no styling progress since 1968…or it won’t be bought.

 

Lexus- The “Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” brand is quietly trying to settle legal action, this time accusing them of stealing their new front-end styling from the “Predator” movie monsters.

 

Lincoln- Ford’s luxury marque debuts the new MKZ, which brings elegant bodywork and swooping lines finished with the ass-end of a 1970 Torino GT.  The real punchline is that it’s universally hailed as the “best view of the car”.

 

Mazda- The 2014 Mazda 6 sits on dealer lots, because they can’t sell a “2014” until 2013 even though they were delivered to dealers in 2012.  Time for a second 32-oz boilermaker.

 

Mercedes-Benz- After recent reviews on BBC’s “Top Gear”, all AMG products come with 3 complimentary sets of spare rear tires.

 

Mercury- Those of us that remember the great Capris, Cougars, Montegos, and Marauders will be avenged.  Oh, yes.

 

Mini- BMW’s subcompact specialists spent a fortune on advertising the fact that 4-door Minis exist.  Like Robert Plant said, “…and it makes me wonder…”

 

Mitsubishi- This marque, basically doomed in the US, fights for its survival by introducing an ugly, underpowered, low-profit subcompact.  Gee, wonder why they’re failing?

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Nissan- Now that the Altima, Maxima, and Sentra all are basically styled the same, concerns for the 370Z mount dramatically.

Porsche- The new Boxster is likely the best-driving car in the freakin’ universe.  This is another headline I get to cut-and-paste every few years.

 

Saab- Designed from planes, maligned by GM, stymied by product, doomed sooner rather than later.

 

Scion- The Toyobaru sports car finally makes the “youth” brand worthwhile…but insurance costs on said car will likely be more than most youth can afford.

 

Smart- Stupid.

 

Subaru- Am I the only one that misses them being weird?

 

Suzuki- (ding ding ding) BRING OUT YOUR DEAD1 (ding ding ding)

 

Toyota- The brand so often associated with quality has had years of monstrous recalls, and is looking at over a billion dollars lost over what they insist are faulty floor mats.  Yeah, some of us are kinda smug right now.

Volkswagen- So, the Golf-which had originally spawned the Jetta-is now upmarket from the Jetta, despite being smaller.  Everyone got that?

 

Volvo- The Swedes descend from Vikings.  The Chinese owners, from the Khans.  Potential 2-fronted global takeover?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Commercials Interpreted

December 10, 2012

“I’m a smoky-voiced semi-retired actor trying to convince you that a real man buys a truck that’s always 3rd in its market.  Or maybe, cheap, mass-produced beer.  In either case, I want you to feel like less of a man if you don’t…or for women to see you that way”.

“Look!  I have polished lump of carbon on my finger!  He left untold hundreds or thousands of dollars at a Jared’s, and now he feels entitled to sex from me!”.

Santa apparently is based at Mercedes HQ, but has a day job with Chevrolet and a night job with Acura.

“See our imported pickup do something totally stupid and unnecessary to prove its toughness…but if you did any of this, your truck would likely die in minutes and we’d laugh your dumb ass our of the dealership for trying to get it fixed under warranty!”.

“Every kiss begins with…yet more polished carbon.  Women are expensive to please”.

“I’m a wiseass comedian and actor talking down to everyone like they were petulant children while explaining why this brand of truck is totally cooler than those other brands of trucks.  It’s the only job besides ‘Ice Age’ movies where I can’t drop f-bombs”.

“Spray this stuff on your body, and skinny, barely-dressed 19-22 year old women will attempt to molest you.  This wasn’t happening before because, let’s face it, you’re a smelly, ugly, waste of humanity without our spray/shampoo/etc”.

“How to use our alcohol in a 2-ingredient drink…because we think our customers are really thank stupid”.

“Here’s a cute little song that talks about Priuses (or Prii), without mentioning that they’re slow, boring to drive, and hybrid owners usually don’t trade in on another”.

“I don’t always drink beer…and with the money I make, it sure as hell isn’t Dos Equis anymore”.

“How to make a car: fail as a company for years.  Get bought.  Get sold.  Get bought again.  Fail even worse.  Declare Bankruptcy.  Get bought by FIAT.  Borrow their tech and chassis.  Drag up a forgotten old nameplate.  Pay Tom Brady to appear for 3 seconds”.

“Tonight on Keeping Up: a group of talentless attention whores and their cheating slut of a mother will continue to be employed because someone’s dumb enough to watch”.

“I’m Peyton Manning.  I’m making this expensive commercial with Papa John, a guy who’s complaining he can’t afford 14 cents added per pizza but lives in a castle on the coast and can afford TV time with me.  Oops, sorry, I mean I’m shilling this baby Buick that is worth less money than I make just tying my cleats on before a game.  Yeah, sure, I drive this rather than a Bentley, Ferrari, or Rolls.  Sure”.

“My boyfriend and I use the Trojan Whoopee-4-Me toy, and we got totally turned on by how much we’re making in this commercial!”.

Today, I want to take a moment and salute the passing of a spirit whose body still roams this Earth: Honda Motor Company.

Some may be confused by this, as Honda is still very much alive, selling Civics and Accords quite briskly, and the latter model has made yet another appearance on Car and Driver’s “10 Best” List…a list that seemingly saves a spot for the Accord each year. Any of us can easily visit our local Honda dealer, and see the usual complement of cars, minivans, and that awful attempt at a truck, the Ridgeline. Thus, it may seem that my toast is somewhat confusing.

To me, however, a Honda dealer is almost like witnessing an automotive version of some zombie apocalypse: the cars come in, the cars go out, but their souls have been missing for some years, now. The Honda I grew up knowing is seemingly dead, even as the company rolls on. The loss hits me strangely, as I always saw Honda as an opponent.

I’m admittedly nationalistic, a “buy American!” kind of guy that has been a fan of Ford Motor Company essentially my entire life. I loved cars from the get-go, and could identify makes and models of many vehicles even as I learned to read. I had my favorites, but was (and still am) curious about almost all of them…which means that I’ve spent untold hours reading magazines, books, and web content about the vehicles and the companies behind them. I’m a big fan of motorsport, as likely to be watching a NASCAR event as a Formula 1 race. I love the whole world of the automobile, and even the stories of brands competing with my favorite are interesting to me. I try to take it all in, to drive everything I can, and to pursue the bits of information all over the internet concerning my four-wheeled curiosities.

Honda was a delightfully scary opponent as I grew into my driving years. An ex-girlfriend of mine had a first-generation Honda Accord with a manual transmission not long after I got my first drivers’ license, and she didn’t really enjoy driving…so I did most of it. The car was almost a decade old and not well cared for, but it still was extremely fun to drive despite my love for big-engined American iron. I couldn’t deny the joy in flicking through the gears, feeling how agile the car was, and almost feeling guilt over much I looked forward to driving it. Shortly afterward, another romantic interest would lead to me driving her family’s brand-new (in the late 80′s) Accord, this one with pop-up headlights and improvements in every respect from the previous one I’d driven. Once again, I marveled at how GOOD it was, all around, and wished my beloved Ford Motor Company would build a “family car” with this kind of character. This trend would continue for some time.

Around the time I started driving, motor racing was increasingly televised and I could finally watch Formula 1 with consistency. In the mix with Ferrari, Renault, Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo, and legendary Ford-Cosworth powerplants…there was Honda. In fact, in that time of 1000 horsepower turbocharged entries, Honda was quickly becoming seemingly mandatory for any hope of wins. In one year, the McLaren-Honda team won 15 of 16 races, crushing the opposition more brutally than anything I’d ever seen in motorsport. The same company that made front-wheel-drive grocery-getters fun to drive was also capable of bitch-slapping the motor racing world at the highest level. I wondered if Honda was going to do the same to the regular car market, as they obviously existed on a plane all their own, at least in terms of engineering.

I was right to be concerned. In the following decade, Detroit would be savaged in terms of quality and engineering compared to offerings from Japan and Germany. The luxury car market essentially moved up and away from American offerings, and the quality of Japanese cars/trucks was so well known that the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry would be the top-selling cars in the country…trends that continue to this day. The Camry has been the car sales champ for years, the Accord usually not far behind, and the smaller offerings like the Civic and the Corolla were similarly dominant in their classes. Toyota became a juggernaut on its (somewhat questionable, it turns out) reputation for quality, while Honda was seen in similar light but with much more personality. The American press rarely recommended much else in its automotive columns, and Detroit retreated behind a wall of trucks and SUVs while trying to find a way to build cars to compete with “Cam-Cords”.

Fast-forward to today, and things have changed. The Camry is still the sales leader and the Accord usually close behind, but both Toyota and Honda have had staggering recalls in recent years while upstarts Hyundai and Kia have surged into the fight. Ford and General Motors have raised their respective games and truly offer competitive cars now, with (largely FIAT-owned) Chrysler in hot pursuit. Honda and Toyota are both out of Formula 1, and Toyota has worked with Subaru to bring forth a genuinely exciting pair of sports cars…giving Toyota (or at least its “youth brand”, Scion) a soul it has lacked for years. Mazda has become the face of “fun Japanese cars” with its “Zoom Zoom” mantra and cars like the MX-5 carrying it forward. In these wickedly competitive times, where is Honda?

Quietly selling well, but nothing like it was.

No Formula 1, much less presence in motorsport overall, and the vehicle line-up has seemingly been designed by Vulcans: brilliantly packaged, very capable, but with nothing like the previous feeling of fun that existed in the lineup. The Accord grew into a larger vehicle, technically becoming a full-size (rather than mid-size) car. The Civic sells well, but hasn’t been truly competitive in years. The Odyssey minivan is great for the boring life its built for, but does nothing to go beyond that. The Fit is possibly the single “spunky” car in the lineup, as the SUVs are good but forgettable and the horrifyingly ugly Ridgeline truck-type-vehicle carries its awful profile into light-duty mediocrity.

The Honda luxury brand, Acura, has similarly languished, essentially becoming a lineup of Accord-derived cars and SUVs that do little to separate themselves from their more modest roots.

There are strong rumors that Acura will soon have another NSX, a supercar with cutting-edge technology and performance that will breathe some life back into the lineup…but it can’t do the job alone. Honda was at its best when everything it made seemed to have a capacity for mischief, to be as utilitarian as anything in the market while bringing a grin when pushed on the right bit of twisty road.

So, I raise a glass to a fantastic opponent, one that lives but whose spirit hasn’t been seen for some time, now. Maybe it’ll find its way back into its body someday…but for now, Honda dealerships will look like an automotive realm of the undead to me. As much as I worried about them taking over, I miss the fun of the old enemy now that it’s seemingly gone.

So…after years of trying to find a way, my son, brother, and myself made the move to the Seattle area recently.  We’d visited previously, me most of all, but there are some incredible differences that are worth noting to people like myself that go from the dead and dry to the wet and lush:

1.  Not only is the rain not over in 10 minutes, it’s possibly not done in days.  Also, the resulting water doesn’t evaporate within a viewing of a single sitcom.

2.  That big bluish thing out West?  That’s water.  Yep, as in “more than I saw in the Rio Grande for decades” water.  You can see that in a glance.  However, when you step out of your door in the morning, it’s still there.  The Rio Grande practically disappeared this year, so seeing the water just 10 minutes’ drive West of our hotel (about twice that from our eventual apartment) was pretty mind-numbing at first.  Hell, it still is.

3.  There are colors here besides “brown dirt”, “browned dead plant”, and the “Earth tones” being overcharged for in Santa Fe.  Autumn is wasted when one’s trees are mostly evergreens.

4.  No need to check, the water is still over there.  Yep.  The locals assure me that Puget Sound is unlikely to trickle away into a muddy shadow of itself…unlike, again, the Rio Grande.

5.  There’s a music scene here.  Not only that, but big acts come through here a LOT.  Not so true back in ‘Burque.

6.  Entire towns are hidden in the trees around here.  It’s amazing.  You may not have any clue what you’re driving past on a highway without looking down a ramp, and then seeing something like a Best Buy utterly obscured by trees from up on the road.  It has to be experienced to be believed.

7.  Mass Transit that not only works, but has several options.  My brain hurts.

8.  Coming from New Mexico, it’s a big deal to look at Seattle and see the massive football stadium next to the massive baseball park, with recent approval for an NBA/NHL facility to follow.  ‘Burque couldn’t even pack Lobo games regularly.

9.  The concept of “large building” really takes on meaning when driving by the Boeing facility that has jumbo jets parked like cars in its lot.

10. Something I find amazing: a huge number of older cars that suffer no rust, despite the climate.  I was used to old cars in New Mexico; the arid climate and lack of money meant a lot of old beaters had to be kept running.  Here, though…I’ve seen at least one LTD II (circa 1978), a couple Chevy Citations (early 80′s), and even a running Fiat X1/9 (likely circa 1980) driving around.  These aren’t classics, they usually broke within a very few years…and all of these looked well cared for!  As a car guy, I’m very puzzled.

So, there’s the primer for anyone else looking to escape the poverty (and regular massive fires) of the Southwest for the much damper Northwest.  As soon as I get all the mud and slimy leaf remains out of my shoes, I’ll crank out part II….

The last year has said volumes about the relationship between cars/trucks, customers, the governments involved, and the scribes that are paid to weigh in on the lot of them: namely, everyone’s screwed and it’s time for something akin to reason to break out.  Sadly, I don’t see reason being too likely in the near future.

Firstly, I’d like to give a rousing half-clap to the “Cash for Clunkers” program.  While seen as a success in getting vehicles turned in in favor of others with higher MPG numbers, I think the whole point was lost on most people: this wasn’t about recent emissions-compliant SUVs/trucks, it was about the hoary old vehicles that will never be classics and individually pollute at levels beyond that of 20 current Suburbans.  When I saw the list of vehicles turned in-and doomed to be parted out, then destroyed-all I could do was gape at fine vehicles like an Aston Martin or recent BMW that were not really part of the problem to begin with.  Hey, Uncle Sam!  Next time, specifically target vehicles made prior to recent advances in ignition and emission controls rather than just hold a dumb cattle-call in the name of better mileage numbers.  It takes several 10-year-old SUVs to create the smog mess of one tired, mid-80′s family sedan dragging itself along in a cloud of hydrocarbons…so let’s improve our aim, shall we?  It’s not all about MPGs.

I also have to weigh in on the double-whammy caused by the need to be green and the massive economic crisis that’s smacked the world: it’s time to slow WAY the hell down in terms of making laws from unproven assumptions and partisan “science”.  While the various EU governments and that of the US as well are trying to force carmakers into unrealistic emission/mileage averages, there’s less people buying and less money to pay for the R&D needed to make the changes happen.  This kind of stupidity has happened before; I can remember when seemingly every mainstream ad for cars was all about saving some pennies on gas.  The result, history showed, was that people tried smaller vehicles and traded them in droves.  Even if the various “powers’ what is” insist that the average car gets 50 MPG, that doesn’t mean people will want to buy it.  There is something about feeling safe and uncramped in one’s vehicle; hence trucks, family-sized cars, and SUVs stay high on sales charts even when gas was chugging toward 5 bucks per gallon.

Finally, let there be some real clarity to the whole “hybrid” thing: THE LOT OF THEM ARE BAND-AIDS.  Yes, it’s great to get 40+ mpg and have room for 4, but there are several non-hybrid vehicles that are within a few mpgs of that number and encumbered with far less weight and expense.  I can appreciate one wanting to stretch their fuel budget as far as it can go, but it takes years to actually see savings when you are also spending thousands extra for the hybrid equipment on the vehicle in person.  If you’re considering any hybrid that is based on an existing vehicle (as opposed to specialty cars like the Prius/Element), look into the other engine options and weigh the price differences.  The tax credits are largely used up, people, and those systems add heavy numbers to the price tag.  If you’ll pay for the feeling of “being green”, bully for you.  If you just want to save some money, the base model Camry/Fusion/Escape/Highlander/etc. are pretty frugal in their own rights.  Take a look before taking the plunge.

All righty, then, here endeth the lesson.  Thanks for any attention paid, and I’ll throw out more unsolicited opinions shortly!