Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Search Is Ended!

The Roller Skate, 2008
Some time back, I wrote a little piece about my inability to find anything worthy of replacing my little roller-skate. Seems no new convertibles have the combination of looks, luxury, legroom and, most importantly, trunk space that I need for the kind of long trips I take down the back-roads of North America.

As everyone who knows me has heard, this Jaguar XK-8 is not the car I wanted. My dream car is a 1961 Series 1 Jaguar E-Type roadster. My first-runner-up dream car is a 1949-1953 Jaguar XK-120. My second-runner-up dream car is a 1954-1957 Jaguar XK-140. Those are the three most beautiful cars ever to come off any assembly line, anywhere.

First Choice
Unfortunately, they don't come with mechanics, and while I can change the oil (or could, if I needed to) and change a tire (and have, too many times) and put gas in the tank (again, done that too many times), that's about it. So when I got to the point where I felt I could afford that sort of indulgence, I decided that, I'm not the kind of guy who can keep one of those gorgeous classic Jags up and running. Not to mention that those old brakes fade when they get wet, and you have to put additives in the unleaded fuel we have now, and there was no such thing as anti-lock brakes, or crumple zones, or all the other things we now take for granted, when these cars were built. And comfort was a luxury undreamt-of in a roadster back then.

Second Choice. Photo by Paul Fisher.
Hence, the roller skate. It's almost as pretty as an E-Type, and much nicer for long road trips. It has a modern suspension system, and air conditioning, anti-lock brakes and traction control and all kinds of bells and whistles that didn't exist as concepts when the E-Type was on the drawing board. And, despite Jaguar's well-deserved reputation as "the prettiest car you'll ever see broken down by the side of the road," it's been a good car. Still is, even with 130,000 miles on it. It's only broken down twice in the years I've had it: once while in warranty, when the rack-and-pinion was replaced and the new one lost a seal after 12 miles and had to be replaced again; and once in the Upper Midwest, when the insulation on an electrical line wore through and blew the fuse for the fuel pump ... over and over, until at last I had it towed to a Jag dealer in suburban Detroit, where the problem was identified and repaired. (That problem, I thought, was the sort of thing a first-year Electrical Engineering student would have known how to prevent.)

But I come from a time when you didn't keep a car past 100,000 miles. They just didn't last that long. I know, intellectually, that these days they do, and I figure I ought to be able to get 200,000 miles, or close to it, out of that car. They're all highway miles, you know, very little city driving on those wheels.

But emotionally I'm already grieving for the Roller Skate, which I feel will die any day (or become too expensive to keep; same thing, in a car), and some time back I started looking for a replacement car. But I found nothing. Everything is too ugly, or fails on some essential criteria ... most often, the trunk space with the top down.

But now, everything is changed. The search is ended. My next convertible is out there, just waiting for me. Not only is it a gorgeous, luxurious convertible, it is actually even prettier than the 1961 Jaguar E-Type. It is the Eagle Speedster Lightweight.
Handmade by the world's premier restorer of classic Jaguars, this all-new car captures the beauty of the E-type and marries it to the most current technology.
And it's only about $800,000.

I figure in a few years, when my little roller skate finally does give out, I ought to be able to pick one up second-hand. In the meantime, I'm saving up my pocket change.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Worth A Dollar

Fast Five
directed by Justin Lin
Starring Vin Diesel
Paul Walker
Dwayne Johnson
Jordana Brewster

Today I packed away all my pretensions at sophistication and taste and went to see Fast Five at the second-run cinema. The shedding of all ideas of intellectual capacity and artistry was necessary to give a movie of this ilk any chance at entertaining. Had I gone into the theater with some expectation that there would be any sort of high art in this movie, I would have been severely disappointed. Had I paid for a full-price ticket, or even a bargain matinee ticket, for this piece of ... well, let's just call it computer-generated imaging, I'd've been really pissed off.

This movie is not intended to entertain adults. It is intended to entertain virginal adolescent boys, who fantasize about touching women and driving really, really fast with no unfortunate consequences. It's intended, in other words, to get the video-game generation out into the public realm, where they might at least see and be seen by non-virtual representations of other people. There is a little touching of women in the movie; it actually plays, if I may use the term loosely, a meaningful part in advancing what passes for plot. Other than that, there's no sexuality, unless you count mention of a pregnancy of a character who may or may not be married. In other words, just enough sex to tease a 14-year-old middle-school student, who has some idea of what causes pregnancy, and who's always nursing a semi anyway, and doesn't need anything explicit to produce a more tumescent state.

No, this movie is about cars. Exotic, high-priced cars that seat two and can drive off a moving train without suffering a dent, or studly second-generation muscle cars that can drag a giant steel bank vault around the streets of Rio de Janiero fast enough that police cars in pursuit can't catch up. 

The supposed plot is complicated enough that it would take at least three sentences to describe with any kind of completeness. Luckily, though, it's not worth that kind of investment of time or energy, as any of the many SUVs in the film (all of which are destroyed, of course, save one) can be driven through the holes in the plot without leaving a mark. The whole thing is executed with an artless stiffness by people who might have learned acting at the local junior college. They were selected more on the basis of appearance than ability. They are good enough to pull this picture off, since they can at least remember the words they're supposed to recite. Suffice it to say, then, that the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and crime pays big if you do it with honour and panache. There are a number of references to things that apparently happened in earlier films in the franchise; if you're like me and haven't seen any of them, you won't know what they're talking about, but don't let that worry you. None of it matters.

I'm sure this movie is now available at DVD rental boxes everywhere. If you're fourteen, literally or figuratively, or want to be for a few hours because the wife is out of town, or whatever, by all means, run down and rent a copy of this action-packed film. Call up your buddies from college (or junior-high) and get together to watch it. Just remember to use coasters.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

First Class, All the Way?

File:Speed is Life HTV-2 Reentry New.jpg
The Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle has now disappeared for a second time.
I see that the military has just tested a hypersonic airplane. This vehicle goes so fast that you could fly from New York to Los Angeles in twelve minutes, thereby witnessing three distinct forms of pointless excess in record time.

Wouldn't it be ironic, if your trip from La Guardia to LAX took one-twelfth as long as your trip through the security line at the airport?

And the really good news is, you don't have to worry about losing your luggage, as the entire aircraft will conveniently disappear.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Taking Down the Big Tent

I've been thinking for a long time — I mean, a long time — that this country needs a real third party in its political system. A Moderate Party, a Centrist Party. A group of politically involved people who believe in their heart of hearts that truth and reason can go hand in hand, that if it's necessary to frighten the public, or lie to them, to gain support for a policy, then that policy probably isn't a good policy. That there is no monopoly on wisdom in any group. A party that will take good ideas from both extremities, re-work them with principled pragmatism, and produce real governance. Which might be a nice change, after sixty years of alternating excesses from both existing parties.

I've often wondered how one goes about starting a political party. I still don't know, but today it occurred to me that it's really not necessary to start a new one. We already have such a party: the Republican Party.

Oh, I know, you people who watch Fox News and MSNBC are scoffing and snorting, but you must understand that what I mean is the real Republican Party. Not these loud, angry Tea Party types, who are so pissed off at having been ignored (with good reason) that they are become the political equivalent of suicide bombers. It's a shame that they tend to label themselves Republicans, but that has its roots in history; in the history of the real Republican Party. The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower. The party that stands for fiscal conservatism — not spending money we don't have, not borrowing more than we can afford to pay back; the party that stands for limited government — not "small government": this country is way too big and powerful for a small government. The party that stands for fairness in the marketplace and in the courts — not for "free market" policy, which is unfair to small players, including consumers, and which is too lax in dealing with those who would wrap themselves in the flag of the free market to cheat others; not for "tort reform" or "industry liability," because those mantras conceal the evil of denying justice to one side or the other. The party that stands for traditional values but still tolerates, without adopting, other values, in things that should be a matter of personal choice, not public policy.

So I wonder: what would happen if those of us who are Republicans in the traditional sense were to tell the Tea Partiers and the Neo-Cons that they are no longer welcome? The rump Republican Party would be a minority in congress, as it has so often in the last 80 years, but it would be the Centrist Party, between the slathering left-wing Demagogic ... pardon me, Democratic Party, and the angry, chanting Radical Right. It would hold the balance of power in a Congress where there is no majority party, and would cast its votes where reason and wisdom take it, and it would use that balance of power to mitigate the excesses of the Left, just as it would the excesses of the Right when they become the more powerful bloc in Washington. (It'll take a while, but it'll happen.) And I predict that many who now are members of the Democratic Party would defect to the Real Republican Party, and we'd end up with a legislative branch divided roughly in thirds. Later on, when the anger of the far right subsides, as it will, many of its loudest supporters will see the error of their ways, and return to the Moderate fold. Praise be.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Good End

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Directed by David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman

The end of the Harry Potter series leaves the world, if not a poorer place, at least a less enriching place. A really good tale of good versus evil — or seven really good tales of good versus evil — with only a hint of the vulgar about it, as is appropriate for something that is (or at least started off as) a children's story, it has generated incredible amounts of money for everyone involved with it, from the author who imagined the world of an English boarding school for wizards, to the studio that bought the rights to produce it, to every man, woman, and child that had anything to do with the final products. 

And now it's over.

Except, of course, that it's not. Thanks to the Mickey Mouse law, and the routine spinelessness of our Congress, this series will continue to generate royalties for a few people and corporations for a hundred years, long after it should rightfully lapse into the public domain. None of the principals will ever want for anything, and maybe that's as it should be; but I for one see no reason why Rupert Grint's great-grandchildren should still be getting paid for something their ancestor did, and was well-paid to do.

But that's beside the current point, which is that this Harry Potter series has given us eight luxuriantly produced and well-acted films, enough to keep the kids quiet in front of the TV for days. 

Some are better than others, of course: the first three films (Sorcerer's (or, in England, Philosopher's) Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban) were outstanding entertainment. The next three (Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, and Half-Blood Prince) were less so; their purposes were to advance the conflict between Potter and Voldemort, without resolving it. Had these books been filmed in the traditional Hollywood fashion, those three books would have been compressed to the fourth act, which might not have been entirely bad, but would have been worse. As they are, they are at least spectacular in concept and execution.

The seventh film (Deathly Hallows, Part 1) was a dark, slow drag. It may have been necessary to the integrity of the story, and to the overall richness of the fabric. It's a just shame we all had to sit through it in order to enjoy Part 2.