Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's Something to be Said for American Cars

What, you say? How can you defend the indefensible? Easy. In fact, it is all too easy to heap disdain on the pariah of the moment. But I would like to submit that for style, comfort, and sheer drive, nothing short of a luxury foreign car beats Detroit's products.

Remember when a car was so much more than a means of locomotion, when cars had flash, pizazz? Guys tinkered with their muscle cars, souped up their Camaros, restored an old Stingray rescued from someone's garage. I can look at a car now and say "Oh, yeah, that's a 1963 Chevy." Granted, sometimes the designers got carried away. Remember the Gremlin? But overall, a set of wheels was a statement. (By the way, have you noticed that engines on new cars are armored against their owners with huge plastic shield bearing placards that read essentially "Do Not Touch"? )

Even with the onset of the K Car and that aesthetic abomination, the minivan, all was not lost. The creative impulse moved into SUV's, a fad I must confess to helping start with my paneled woody Jeep Wagoneer, back in the days when Jeeps were Jeeps and riding in the back seat of one could have perilous implications for siring offspring. I figure that if Al Gore can take credit for creating the internet, I can claim a hand in popularizing the SUV. I wish I could say I gave up SUV's for Lent because I realized they used too much gas and were causing global warming. But I gave them up in the 90's when they became so gussied up that they were trimmed in gold and talked to you, not to mention when I realized that my yearly outlay in gasoline could bring clean water to an entire sub Saharan village.

What to do? For at least a decade, Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans have all looked interchangeable, metallic and misshapen. Boxes to the right, boxes to the left, big boxes, little boxes, hatchback boxes, sedan boxes. You get the picture. And having inflicted an apparently suppurating wound on the Big Three when they were dumping cars below cost on the American market starting in the 70's, they've more than made up the loss with their prices. Even the beetle became a pecuniary butterfly. In short, with the possible exception of Hyundai, foreign car makers ain't giving anything away.

American cars, on the other hand, which had been pretty stodgy and style less for a long while as the public went truck crazy, have quietly begun emerging from their aesthetic torpor. It started with Chrysler and the German Gestapo lookalike, the PT Cruiser, and the Sebring convertible, both which in South Florida turned into the baby boomer equivalent of the Mercury Marquis, if you know what I mean. Then GM got into the game with the new Malibu hatchback, their HR, the stylish, but outlandishly priced, retro looking truck. Dodge is looking up with the Challenger, Charger, even the Caliber. Cars with character.

Now get in any one of the American cars for a drive. What a ride. Man in control. Smooth. No more feeling the earth beneath your feet. Aah. Even the quality seems to have climbed up a bit from its nadir. We have both American and foreign in the family, and both have had their minor glitches.

So I really hope Detroit gets beyond its present difficulties. In addition to losing one of our last remaining industries, the loss of the Big Three would literally change the American landscape, leaving us that much poorer in a world full of boring, utilitarian, virtuous high mileage transportation.

Blue Ribbon Miller, Pinheads, and Ellis Island au Sud

Dennis Miller earns a place in the truth teller column on left for placing Fidel Castro on his Top 10 Pinheads of the Year. Fidel's faux pas? Refusing to die. Sounds harsh, but tonight on The O'Reilly Factor, it was a relief to see two television personalities discussing Fidel with the mutual understanding that he is a bad actor. I almost spilled my coffee when it came on. Watch it here. Bravo.

Bravo also to the Miami Herald Tribune for including in its retrospective of 50 years of revolution a searchable database of those who came on the freedom flights from Cuba. Now I understand how my Italian and Irish friends felt when they went to Ellis Island and looked up their forbears. Gives one a sense of roots and legitimacy somehow.

H/T Robert

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quote for All Seasons

One of my pet peeves has to do with the constant touting of literacy and healthcare in Cuba. Naifs are impressed because they assume that Cubans lived on a par with third world countries before the great and glorious revolution. Well, here is one fact at least to innoculate you.

On the plus side, Cuba has a 99.8 percent adult literacy rate, one percent higher than Trinidad and Tobago's, and an infant mortality rate of six per 1,000 people, slightly lower than Chile's, according to the United Nations' 2008 Human Development Report. That makes it the country with the best adult literacy and infant mortality rates in the region.

But according to the U.N. 1957 Statistical Yearbook, Cuba already ranked among the four most advanced Latin American countries in literacy and caloric consumption rates that year, and had the lowest infant mortality in the region. In other words, Cuba has gone up three places in the literacy ranking, while retaining its status as the nation with the region's lowest infant mortality rates.

Read the rest of the Oppenheimer piece in the Miami Herald here. For another look at the Revolution fifty years on, try this one by Frances Robles. I may not agree with everything he includes, but much of what he writes is spot on. In particular, note the decay of the early "grand and glorious" achievements.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday after Sunday after Sunday

Yesterday. Today's first entry is by Jay Nordlinger on NRO who gives us something of the feel of a sit down with still President Bush in a wide ranging report. The glimpse of the man behind the President, particularly now that he is so removed, is fascinating. It's easy to see that he feels he's been true, however he is judged.

Light. The cover story of Newsweek magazine on the Biblical basis for gay marriage has been causing quite a stir. What is surprising is Newsweek's response. As Mark Hemingway highlights in this, the magazine is openly taking a position. Personally, I think we ought to issue Certificates of Cohabitation to everyone intending a long term relationship, not necessarily romantic in nature. Leave marriage to churches and the like. At least that's my thought of the moment.

Fool. Next up is Jackson Browne who is still suing the McCain campaign for using some of his stuff during the campaign. McCain is trotting out the old Fair Use. The Townhall piece by Carl Horowitz has a pretty good explanation of "fair use," as well as a few choice descriptives for Browne to which I could add a few others based on the imbecility of his latest attempt at Cubawash. Double shame on him.

Dust. Seems the worship of idols is not a new thing in Cuba. An article on National Geographic informs us that imported materials were used to fashion idols for the elite in preHispanic times. Gee, the more things change the more they stay the same. Actually, it's interesting.

Death. The following headline is likely to scare the bejesus out of you. Fear not, kinda. The Ebola virus found in pigs in the Philippines is the Reston variety. Reminds me of a great nonfiction book, The Hot Zone, which contains everything you'll ever want to know about Ebola. Bad news, though, is that the variant which had not previously appeared in pigs apparently jumped species.