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Archive for August, 2012

August 29th, 2012

Getting Real

Dan Savage

I blew up a corner of the Internet last night. After reading this observation about Ann Romney’s speech at the Dish…

[Ann Romney says] what she and Mitt have is a “real marriage.” Who has a fake one, one wonders?

…I tweeted something about my unreal marriage and created the hashtag #unrealmarriage. The #unrealmarriage hashtag quickly trended as other people in marriages that the GOP doesn’t consider legitimate—and the Republican party has ways of shutting our marriages down—started tweeting out their unreal 140-character love stories, their unreal wedding pictures, photos of their unreal kids, etc., all with the #unrealmarriage hashtag.

Now I wasn’t watching Ann Romney’s speech—I also missed Rick Santorum’s speech—so I didn’t hear her “real marriage” remark in context before I tweeted. My bad. So here’s Romney’s “real marriage” phrase in context…

I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a “storybook marriage.” Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or Breast Cancer. A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.

Angry conservatives soon swarmed #unrealmarriage to argue that we were being unfair to Ann Romney because she wasn’t drawing a distinction between her opposite-sex marriage and the same-sex marriages that keep Rick Santorum up at night. But “real marriage” is a loaded a phrase—particularly in the context of the Republican National Convention. It’s so loaded a phrase, in fact, that even those who were watching the speech—like Andrew Sullivan—took it as an unsubtle dig at folks in same-sex marriages. And while Romney’s comments seem benign in print/pixels), consider the reaction of the anti-gay crowd.

Here’s the thing…  you can’t turn words like “Family” and “Values” into dog whistles for hating on gay people and then get miffed when whenever you use those words to actually mean Family and Values people keep hearing that dog whistle.  You’re the one trashed the neighborhood and forgive me (or not) for thinking you did that out of spite because you couldn’t make the rent.  And if you turn the institution of marriage into a seedy dive with a sign over the bar that reads…

…just remember, the one who devalued marriage, is you.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Getting Real

August 26th, 2012

So You Think You’re Going Somewhere Do You…?

…in your fancy car…

Well you’ll just have to wait until I’ve finished my nap…

…and cleaned my paws.

She’s one of the neighborhood feral cats…a beautiful little calico I’d take into my home in a heartbeat but of course she won’t let anyone near.   Her pelt is always well kept and shiny so either someone in the neighborhood is feeding her or she’s making a good living on the local rodents…and er…birds.  This is why I keep my feeders out of reach of little calico cats.  Also one ear has been clipped which means someone took her to the vet to be spayed and given her shots.

She likes to nap under my car, where she can keep an eye on my bird feeders.  Normally she walks off when I get in the car but that time she just stayed put and I just waited her out.  I was in no big hurry.  She did this little indifferent cat stroll away from the car when I came down to it…parked herself a short distance away, made a big deal out of grooming herself, stretch, walk a little way further down the road, repeat…  I’d have a cat of my own in the house but I am single and often away and there is no one I know here in Baltimore I’d give the key to so they could look in on a pet while I was gone.  My life here is more solitary then her’s, and I will not bring a pet into the house just so it can be alone most of the time.  They say cats are fine with being alone but I think no animal, bird or mammal, can be alone for too long.  A pet needs a better home then I can give it.

by Bruce | Link | React! (2)

August 24th, 2012

Some Are Born To The Endless Night

People who look like that, want people who look like that…

Let’s hear it for ugly lonely trolls, without whom beautiful people would not know who ravenously beautiful they really are.  We also serve who press our faces into the canteen window and wonder what it must be like to never go to sleep hungry…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Some Are Born To The Endless Night

August 23rd, 2012

Even Nice People Have Limits…

…and I am not the nicest person I have ever met. That would be mom. Mom loved everyone, tried to see the best in everyone and everything, and was a ray of sunshine everywhere she went. My Baptist grandma was another story, and proof that the fruit actually does fall very far from the tree every now and then. Misanthropy was her hobby. She frowned at racists not because they were racist but because they thought their own race made them something. She didn’t think black people were good for nothing because they were black. Black people were good for nothing because they were people. And I was especially good for nothing because I was dad’s son. Dad didn’t give a good goddamn what anyone thought. Mom loved him until the day she died, but often said he couldn’t walk past a mirror without looking in. Sometimes I think grandma loathed dad more for that then that he was a crook. If homosexuality is the biggest sin of all in some Fundamentalist circles, vanity was the unforgivable sin in grandma’s. Not knowing you were good for nothing was wicked in the eyes of the Lord.

I like thinking of myself as having all their genes.

So I drop folks from my Facebook “friends” list advisedly. Who am I, a stinking rotten good for nothing Garrett just like my pap, to set myself above all the other good for nothings in this wicked sinful world? It isn’t exactly a list of friends…there are friends in there, but there are also family members, co-workers, fellow travelers in the Militant Homosexual Conspiracy, and folks who’ve stumbled onto this blog, or my cartoons and friended me on Facebook because of that. It’s all good. But every now and then someone in there will piss me off and I have to let go. I love all the good for nothings in this life that is but a mere vale of tears but I will not endure cheapshit prejudices for very long, especially when they’re flung at people who get kicked around a lot as it is. All us good for nothings need to be rays of sunshine for each other, and if you can’t be that at least try not to spit in the other guy’s mirror.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Even Nice People Have Limits…

August 21st, 2012

How To Wage A Culture War

Rep. Steve King: I’ve Never Heard Of A Girl Getting Pregnant From Statutory Rape Or Incest

Rep. Steve King, one of the most staunchly conservative members of the House, was one of the few Republicans who did not strongly condemn Rep. Todd Akin Monday for his remarks regarding pregnancy and rape. King also signaled why — he might agree with parts of Akin’s assertion.

King told an Iowa reporter he’s never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

“Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”

A Democratic source flagged King’s praise of Akin in the KMEG interview to TPM. But potentially more controversial for King is his suggestion that pregnancies from statutory rape or incest don’t exist or happen rarely. A 1996 review by the Guttmacher Institute found “at least half of all babies born to minor women are fathered by adult men.”

And so it goes…

Don’t assume he’s merely nuts. Of course he’s heard of minor girls getting pregnant. He isn’t stupid…at least not in that sense. This is how you fight a culture war. In this discussion the only fact that matters, the only fact that is real, is that women cannot be allowed control over their own bodies. That is the prerogative of men. That is the only fact that matters.

Facts are either your soldiers or theirs. When confronted by opposing facts, you kill them. It’s war after all.

by Bruce | Link | React! (3)


I know where each and every one of my folds are. Sometimes I try to make pictures out of them…

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

August 20th, 2012

FYI…I Tend To Go Back And Edit…

…like on that longish essay I posted over the weekend about what a luxury car is.  Re-reading it I wasn’t satisfied with the last several paragraphs, thinking I’d gone off track and didn’t end up saying what I’d meant to say when I started setting my thoughts down.  So…just FYI in case anyone reading this blog is particularly interested, the last part of it is a lot different now…better I think…more to the point I intended.

And anyone reading this blog should know I do that here from time to time, rewriting things I go back and re-read when I feel I really didn’t get it out right.  In my defense I try not to make a habit of that because at some point you just need to move on with it and if what you did wasn’t very good in retrospect and you can’t make it better after several attempts then it’s best to just let it go and try to do better next time.  But whenever I do rewrite stuff here I will generally place something at the end saying that it’s been edited or updated, so nobody thinks I’m trying to be devious.  This, as I said before, is nothing more or less then my own personal life blog, and life isn’t always amicable to nice, clear-cut plotlines and prose.  And I am my own editor here, and ask anyone who has ever had to edit me for professional reasons (software engineers are often asked to provide documentation) how much fun that is.  I have been told I must be why they invented spelling and grammar checkers.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on FYI…I Tend To Go Back And Edit…

From Our Department Of What He Said…

“…at Power Line, Steven Hayward asks, “WHY IS THERE NO LIBERAL AYN RAND?” He’s taking off from Beverly Gage who, slightly less stupidly, asks, “American conservatives have a canon. Why don’t American liberals?” Sure we have a canon — it’s called Western literature. And it beats the snot out of the sad, long-form political pamphlets wingnuts like to name-check. You will learn more about the human condition from the works of novelists, playwrights, and poets than you ever can from a thousand power freaks’ blueprints for the mass production of Procrustean beds.”  –Roy Edroso

And now you know why they want to defund libraries and public schools.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on From Our Department Of What He Said…

The Rhetoric Does Not Serve The Purpose You Think It Does

Andrew Sullivan

It should be possible to be a total fiscal tightwad and still adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy in government – and yet that is emphatically not the GOP we have today…

He’s talking about rape apologist Republican (surprise, surprise) Todd Akin from Missouri.  People keep reading his statement about “legitimate” rape as, if a woman is really raped she’s not likely to get pregnant, and therefore rape victims don’t really need access to abortion.  But that’s not what he meant.  What he meant was, if a woman gets pregnant she wasn’t really raped.  She was having sex because she wanted it and that makes it her fault she got pregnant and now she’ just wants an abortion to escape the consequences of her slutty behavior.

That’s the mindset in the neanderthal/Taliban wing of the republican party…and let’s be real here…does it even make sense to keep referring to the kook pews as a wing of the party.  They’re in control now.

They’re not fiscal tightwads either…

The last republican to actually practice what he preached when it came to balanced budgets was Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Bill Clinton ended his term with a budget surplus and the republicans screamed that such things were dangerous because government would surely find ways to spend it.  You didn’t hear them talking much about paying down the deficit with it either.  No.  Please.  They don’t give a rat’s ass about the budget.  What they care about is the size of government.  More to the point, the ability of government to interfere in their splendid little culture war.

A government big enough to keep corporate power in check is a government that is too big.  A government that is big enough to maintain a rule of law against the the power of big money to flout the law whenever it damn well feels like it is a government that is too big.  A government that is big enough to protect the environment from being raped for the next quarterly profit report and to hell with the one after that is a government that is too big.  A government big enough to guarantee the rights of women and minorities is a government that is too big.  A government that is big enough to guarantee the right of all Americans to equal justice under law, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is a government that is too big.

This is why the kook pews appear as though they are budget tightwads from time to time.  The idea isn’t that government should live within its means, it’s that government should live within the palm of their hand, the better to wield it against the poor, the outcast, and all those slutty women who claim they were raped when all along they really wanted it.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Rhetoric Does Not Serve The Purpose You Think It Does

Hatemongering As Sacrament

John Aravosis…

Guy who routinely calls us “pedophiles” wants an end to “reckless rhetoric”

I’ve already posted ample evidence as to why the Family Research Council was officially designated a hate group – it’s not their policy positions per se, it’s their strategy of willfully and systematically lying in order to defame, and discriminate against, an entire class of American citizens – but it really does still amaze me that after everything this organization has said, and continues to say, about gay people, they have the nerve to lecture their victims about being mean.

It’s genius, really.

If they call you a pedophile, it’s just their religion.

You get the feeling the cross wasn’t good enough…gay people have to die for their sins too.  It’s their religion.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Hatemongering As Sacrament

August 19th, 2012

Yeah…It Is Kinda…Wow…

Re-reading that post about what a luxury car is, I am kinda…stunned…to realize that my life went from this…

…to this.

That is not the trajectory anyone would have predicted for me back when I first entered grade school.  It’s not what I would have predicted for me.  If I hadn’t been walking through my life in the past decade or so on autopilot I’d be more amazed.  But I don’t pay attention to my present day life all that much the way probably other people do.  Away from work, back in my house, down in my art room, my head stays in the clouds, because I’m not so lonely there.  It’s only occasionally when I’m at home, that I come back down to earth and it’s like…oh…I have a house of my own…and a Mercedes-Benz.

At night I dream of other worlds, other lives I might have had, where I’m not alone anymore and I’m happy.  Oddly, in those dreams I still don’t own a house, or a Mercedes-Benz.

The Chairman said quietly, “Loki, you weary Me” – and suddenly, Loki was missing. Even his chair was gone. “Odin, will you spare her for part of that cycle?”

“For how long? She has earned the right to Valhalla.”

“An indeterminate time. This creature had stated its willingness to wash dishes “forever” in order to take care of her. One may doubt that it realizes just how long a period, “forever” is… yet its story does show earnestness of purpose…”

-Robert Heinlein, Job – A Comedy of Justice

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Yeah…It Is Kinda…Wow…

August 18th, 2012

Pissing On Edward R. Murrow’s Grave…(continued)

Via friend and fellow Truth Wins Out Blogger Michael Airhart I get this link to John Aravosis going on a righteous tear as to why the Family Research Council isn’t merely a pious group of conservative christians who just happen to disagree with same-sex marriage but is, in fact, an organization of calculating hate mongers who will shrink from no lie they think they can get away with. And thanks to useful tools like The Washington Post and Dana Milbank they can get away with a lot of them.

Why the Family Research Council is a hate group

At one point, I had the Congressional Research Service send me a copy of every single document the Family Research Council had written about gays, and then I had CRS get me every single document listed in the FRC doc’s footnotes. I.e., all the “original sources” for the Family Research Council’s anti-gay claims.

And there were a lot of them.  At the time, FRC’s list of footnotes could be nearly as long as the written part of the document itself.

What did I find when I went through the original sources cited in the footnotes?  I found that nearly every single footnote was a lie.  Not a lie in the conventional sense – meaning, they didn’t make up a source that didn’t exist.  Rather, they did things like quoting a damning opinion from a judge in a court case without mention that the judge was in the minority, that the gays had actually won the case they were citing.

Or they’d quote a study with a hideous conclusion about gays and lesbians, only for you to realize later that the actual quote in the study was rather benign – instead, FRC “forgot” to put and end-quotation mark on the quote, added an ellipse, and then put their own damning conclusion.  Let me give you a made-up example of a quote about gays to who you how the family research council did this.

“This study looked at 45 gay men, and 35 lesbians.  It was clear from the subjects that gay men and lesbians face greater societal pressures in their day to day lives… which makes gays and lesbians much more likely to rip the heads off small bunnies.

Wow, rip the heads off small bunnies – that’s pretty bad.  But hey, it’s a real study in a real journal, so it has to be true.  Except of course that the real quote from the actual study ends at the ellipse, while the FRC added its own opinion after the ellipse, while “forgetting” to put the end quote, so it looks like the FRC’s opinion is part of the official quote from the reputable study.

Gosh, I wonder how that happened?

It went on and on like this, through hundreds of footnotes.  I went through the original research of the various studies they cited and found that the study reached no such conclusion like the FRC claimed it did.  And on and on and on.

These are not honest people simply expressing a contrarian view of politics, like Democrats and Republicans do every day in Washington.

Tony Perkins, FRC’s head, got on TV a few months ago to debate whether gay parents were as good as straight parents.  Perkins said “no,” and he had the study to prove it.  Perkins explained how studies have proven that kids need a mom and a dad.  What Perkins didn’t bother telling you was that those studies compared kids with a mom and a dad to kids with a single parent.  The studies never looked at the relative merits of gay parents.  Gay parents might have been just as good, or heck, even better than straight parents.  The study didn’t even look at it.  But Perkins cited the study as proof that straight parents were better than gay parents, when the study had nothing to do with it.

And again, Dana, if you actually go through the FRC’s “research,” you will find this kind of “mistake” happening again and again.  It happens so often, it’s happened for twenty years now that I’ve been tracking them, that you come to realize that lying for the Family Research Council isn’t a flaw, it’s a feature.

There’s more…you should read it.  That the beltway media has a habit of looking the other way at conservative hate groups so long as their talking heads dress nicely and refrain from wearing hoods, never gets any less repulsive no matter how often you see it.  But it stopped long ago being just a problem for the gay community.  This endemic disdain for what used to be journalism’s basic function, to get the facts, get them right and get them out to the public, is a big reason why one of our two major parties has walked off the crazy cliff, and now threatens to take the United States of America with it.

As your gay neighbors have watched the fanatics in the course of waging their scorched earth culture war shove any pretense of honor, reason and morality from their way, so we have watched one news organization after another, one journalist after another, tuck their tails between their legs and run, run away from democracy’s front lines.  Speaking truth to fanaticism, let alone to power, will never get you the big bucks.  When calling a fact a fact and a lie a lie means raising the ire of the rich and powerful, or perhaps one or more of their batshit crazy friends, it’s safer on the paycheck to just stick to stenography.  There are two sides to every story, but never a factual side to any story.  Print the controversy, pass along the press releases and hit the bar at days end.  It’s only a job.  Remember how, in the aftermath of the Proposition 8 trial, so many mainstream journalmalists were shocked, shocked, to discover there was so little substance to the opposition to same-sex marriage? What did we know…it’s not like our job is digging up and reporting the facts or anything…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Pissing On Edward R. Murrow’s Grave…(continued)

Luxury Car

I’ve been meaning to write this one for years actually. Ever since I bought my first Mercedes-Benz.  And…trust me…just typing out that phrase “my first Mercedes-Benz” makes me want to do a double-take.  Time was I lived in a friend’s basement and mowed lawns and did Manpower temp jobs to make ends meet, and I figured that was pretty much going to be my life. But even a low income kid can dream, and when mine turned to automobiles I always had pretty definite ideas about what a top rank, best of the best, car was.

I grew up in a household without a car.  Mom divorced dad when I was 2 and we never had a lot of money.  So for the first decade and a half of my life we were carless, and the edges of my childhood world were tied firmly to wherever public transportation and my own two feet could take me.  Cars were fascinating, but distant things, like home ownership.  I grew up in a series of garden apartments, always near some bus line that could take mom to work and near enough to walk to a small shopping center with a grocery store, a drugstore and a five and dime.  It was still a time when most American households had only one car, if they had a car at all.  So to be carless wasn’t necessarily considered a sign of poverty and we were not poor…I never went to bed hungry…just very low budget. We would get rides occasionally from neighbors and other church members when necessary, but mostly the weekly shopping trip involved a foldable two wheel grocery cart, something like this…

…which I would pilot, being the man and thereby the muscle in the household.  Trips downtown, or to a deluxe shopping center some distance away (there were no malls back then), possibly involving a bus transfer ticket even, were very special occasions, and usually all day affairs the end of which left my little legs very tired. Vacations involved either Trailways, Greyhound or the train. I still vividly remember the magical two vacations we took to Lauderdale By The Sea, Florida, by way of the train.  There was a dining car, and a car at the end of the train you could sit in and watch the landscape go by, and the lovely sound of the tracks clicking off the miles to sing me to sleep.  It would never have occurred to me that a car was a necessity.  A car was a luxury.  We got by just fine without one.  But oh…how nice to have one!  Possibly even as nice as having a house of our very own.

I recall vividly the 1960 Ford Falcon one of the church lady’s had that took us back and forth to Sunday services…

…which would get so hot inside sitting in the sun during church services that even with the windows rolled all the way down by the time it got me back home I felt like a baked cookie. Or the 1959 Rambler Rebel owned by Mr. Rogers, one of the deacons…

…the car that taught me the value of seat belts well before they became mandatory equipment, when my little seven year old face got slammed into its all metal dashboard when Mr. Rogers had to stop suddenly to avoid a drunk driver. I never doubted after that that cars could be dangerous things. But they were magical things, whispering promises to little me of travel to distant places, in a time when my world pretty much ended at reach of mom’s voice.

I think my first glimpse of the 1958 Ford Thunderbird is what really ignited my love affair with the automobile.

I remember I was walking with mom to the local grocery store and one of those things went gliding by on the street and my little jaw dropped.  From then on I was all about cars. I used to embarrass mom walking beside her as she shopped, pretending to be driving a car, holding my hands out on an imaginary steering wheel and making all the sound effects.  But embarrassing mom is part of a small boy’s job description.  Frightening to her, and in retrospect to me later in life, was my habit of peering into the windows of parked cars to admire the dashboards and steering wheels. This was a more Baroque age in American automobilia, and the dashboards and steering wheels of that time are amazing to me even today.  They just don’t make them like this anymore…

I would get smacked every so often when mom caught me peering into a parked car, entranced by what I saw, and warned darkly that someday I’d find myself getting snatched away by a stranger. In retrospect it scares me now to think of too. Eventually one Christmas I got a toy that was probably intended to divert my attention away from parked cars…

When you turned the little pot metal ignition key it made a rumbling motor sound.  There was a horn, wipers that flicked back and forth, turn signals that blinked, a light switch that illuminated the dials and gauges, and lots of finger candy just like the grownups had on their dashboards.  It would be the only car I ever owned whose gas tank I could fill back up just by turning a knob.

I had an uncle who back in those days drove big Oldsmobiles.  Probably more then anything else those cars set my childhood notions of what a luxury car was.

A luxury car was a car that was big and magnificent and had all the options, and even a few options you couldn’t get on the other models.  Uncle Wayne’s Oldsmobile had Power Windows! No hand cranking in a luxury car…you just pressed a button one way and the window went up…pressed it the opposite way and it went down.  What won’t they think of next?   It had Power Seats! Oooooh!!!  You just pressed a button and the seats moved forward or backward.  It was a push button future all right.  It had an antenna that automagically extended when you turned on the AM/FM Radio!!! It had two-tone bench seats.  It had a light in the glove compartment.  It had Air Conditioning!!!! Cool air, really cool air, flowed out of these chrome plated vent balls at either end of the dashboard, and from some chrome plated vents in the middle…

Oh.  My.  God!!!  Our apartment didn’t have Air Conditioning, and here it was in a car no less!  No more rolling down the windows in the summertime and waiting outside the car before getting in, until the seats were something less then frying temperature.

Its speedometer had the first progress bar I ever laid eyes on.  Instead of a needle that swept across the numbers, it had a green bar that extended from left to right in a horizontal box…

When it got up to highway speeds…40 and over…the green bar was replaced by an orange one.  Above 60 it became red.

But the thing that just floored me was the magic button in the middle of the windshield wiper knob. Uncle Wayne showed me one day what it did. He pulled the knob and the wipers started wiping…so much so obvious.  Then he pressed the magic button and two little jets of soapy water squirted out onto the window!!!


It was perfectly clear to me what a luxury car was.  A luxury car was a car that had all the options, and maybe even a few options you couldn’t get on the other cars.  You certainly weren’t going to get power windows, let alone power seats, on a plain old ordinary everyday Chevy.  No.  It had to be an Oldsmobile.  And if you wanted leather instead of cloth seats, then obviously you would have to step up to a Cadillac.

One day, when I was 16, he came for a visit driving his brand new Mercedes-Benz 220D…

I was…nonplussed.  I knew by then that Mercedes-Benz was a German luxury car of some sort, but I had a general disdain for European cars.  They were expensive compared to U.S. cars, plain and generally unexciting. And here before my very eyes, was the proof.  And…it was a diesel!  You didn’t have to know the ‘D’ meant diesel, you knew it the moment he started it up. They’d put a truck engine in a luxury car.

Mind you, by this stage of my life I’d already decided I was a four-door sedan kinda guy.  Sports cars didn’t really do much for me, though I admired the engineering that went into them and loved to watch them race. But they weren’t practical for what I wanted to do with a car by that age, which was see the country…just take my maps and my luggage, find some roads I’d never been down before and go. I wanted a car I could drive comfortably in for hours at a time, which you really couldn’t in a low slung, stiff suspensioned sports car, could carry lots of luggage and cargo here and there, could drive my friends anywhere we wanted to go. It had to be a sedan…preferably one with four doors because two doors meant folding down the front seat and squirming your way into the back.  I had no money for a car of my own, and not much hope I’d ever have one either. But I had specifications.

This is a luxury car??? I wandered around the Mercedes while my aunt and uncle took their luggage in and chatted with mom.  It was small compared to the last Oldsmobile he’d had, and boxy. There wasn’t nearly as much chrome.  It had no fins.  The front row were two unappealing looking bucket seats.  From outside the dashboard looked a bit sparse, the steering wheel somewhat old fashioned.  Then my uncle invited me to sit down in it.  I opened the passenger side front door and noted the locking mechanism looked very simplistic and odd.  I sat down in the bucket seat, closed the door…

…and that was when I realized I was in a whole different world.

This thing is built like a bank vault… I’d never experienced the like of it.  Just sitting there I could feel the solidness of it.  The seats, made I later learned of the legendary MB-Tex, weren’t soft and cushy like the Olds, but very firm and somehow lots more comfortable in spite of that.  And there was absolutely no wiggle in them.  They weren’t power seats like the Olds.  There was a lever directly in the front and bottom of the seat that you lifted up and then you could move the seat backward or forward.  It slide smoothly, and when you snapped it into place the seat locked firmly and would not budge, even a little.

You got used to a slight degree of slop in a car back then.  It was normal.  A little give, a little wiggle here and there wasn’t a big deal unless it got excessive. A little play in the steering wheel, a little give in the shift lever and turn signals.  You knew a car was a mass produced thing and you didn’t expect anything mass produced in those days to be as tight as a watch.  Just so it wasn’t so loose it felt like it was about to come apart.  Thing was, a little initial looseness usually ended up being a lot of looseness.  Things broke down.  Lots.  And so you took them in for repair.  Cars especially in those days, needed lots of repair.  But you expected that, just as you expected that a car would not last much further then 50k miles.  Odometers back then only had five digits on them.  You pushed a car all the way back to the point all the zeros rolled back over…100k…only if you didn’t have the money for a new one, or you were stubborn.

A good car was one that didn’t break down in the first few months of ownership.  A great car got you maybe all the way to 50k on just the routine maintenance, and maybe a few minor repairs for things like a knob that fell off or got stuck.  By 50k you’d have replaced the brakes several times, and the exhaust pipes and muffler, and the shocks maybe half that.  You’d have gone through several sets of tires and multiple tune-ups.  That was routine and you bought a car knowing all that was coming.  But you also expected at least one or two break downs somewhere along the way.  Cars just did that.  A lemon was a car that did it every week.  A good car maybe only once or twice in 50k miles.  Beyond 50k you knew it would give you more trouble then it was worth.  So most people traded in at that point for a new one.  And so it went.  By the time he’d bought that 220D, my uncle had gone through several Oldsmobiles.

And there I was, sitting in a car that Just Felt like uncle Wayne could have driven it clean around the world and it would only just be broken in. I looked over the dashboard, every instrument and knob exactly centered in it’s holder, noticed the odometer had Six Digits on it…and I think I sat there for a few moments with my jaw hanging open nearly catatonic…like Bowman in 2001 sitting in his space pod at the end of his trip down the stargate.  Then I was a barrage of questions.  How much did it cost?  Why a diesel?  Is it hard to find diesel fuel?  How do you start a diesel?  What kind of mileage do you get on Diesel?  What’s the maintenance like?  Do you need metric tools to work on it?

He explained to me how Mercedes didn’t come out with a new model every year, but instead made little incremental improvements over maybe an eight or ten year run.  He told me how if a part showed more wear or breakage then expected it would be redesigned and improved and once the improvement was approved it went right into the production line and no waiting for the next model year.  And when you needed a new part you always got the latest most improved one, not an identical to the one that just broke on you part.  That was the Mercedes way.  He told me that the diesels got way better mileage because diesel fuel had more energy in it by volume, and since a diesel had to be built strong if you took care of one it would last not just 50k but easily hundreds of thousands of miles.  He told me about its safety features and how they were building Mercedes-Benz cars with crumple zones back when Detroit was fighting Washington over seat belts.  He told me about the cornering and handling capabilities of the car and that they were engineered primarily as safety measures: the best way to handle an accident is to prevent one from happening in the first place.  A car that can get its driver out of danger is a safer car.  He told me that all the engineering in a Mercedes-Benz was judged against that purpose.  Speed and handling weren’t just about speed and handling…they were about safety.  German practicality.  I felt myself falling in love.

We went for a short ride in the country. I thought I knew how good a sports car was in the curves.  I was naive.  American sports cars were no damn good in the curve back then.  They were big muscle bound V-8 things that would blast you off the road in the straight and get lost in the curve.  For an afternoon I sat in a little boxy four door sedan that didn’t accelerate very fast at all, the Oldsmobiles would have laughed at it on the on ramp, but it took the twisty little country back roads we traveled down like it was foreign to no road on earth and just hunkered down and glued itself to the asphalt.  It felt like it could have taken the corners at twice the speed my uncle took them.  You felt the road under the tires, and the car’s response to it, but not in a scary or discomfortable way.  The ride was smooth and serene but not to the point you lost your feel for the road…and that was the thing that stunned me most.  I’d never really known before what it was to experience a car that gave you such absolute control before then.  A luxury car was supposed to insulate you from the road…make you feel like you were gliding along on a cushion of air! No.  I saw it then.  A car that takes the feel of the road away from its driver takes their control away too.  A great car gives its driver absolute control, moment by moment and that means you have to be able to feel the road under you, and the response of the car to it.  The car I was riding in did that…I could feel it even though I was in the passenger seat. It was the first time in my life I’d really experienced that…and it was no sports car.  It was a boxy little four door sedan.

Yes, yes…most American luxury car models can take a curve at high speed now and keep you in control.  But try to imagine going down a twisty country road in a 1971 Cadillac DeVille and trying to make it take the curves like it was a sports car.  No.  More like a whale.

That whole day I never once asked my uncle why he bought that boxy little four door sedan.  The moment I sat down in it I knew damn well why he bought it.  For the next several decades of my life I wanted one too.  Some decades later, to my amazement still, I was able to afford one…

…and then…a few years after that…finally…a diesel….

…like the one my uncle drove to visit in, but with forty years of incremental improvements.

In my thirties, broke, doing Manpower temp jobs and mowing lawns to make ends meet, living in a friend’s basement, I never thought I’d own another car again, let alone a new one, let alone a Mercedes-Benz. Luxury. It is not about money. Luxury is better then good enough. At one time in my life a car was something our family considered a luxury. We got by without. And though that was a long time ago, practically in a different America, some folks even now consider cars a luxury item. If you live in the urban zones you can probably get by without one most of the time. But even the new carless urbanites still make use of new ways to rent when they need a car. ZipCar and Car2Go being examples. Owning a car in today’s America might still be considered a luxury in some places. But a car is still more necessity now then it was back when I was a toddler and Washington D.C. still had trolly lines and transcontinental train lines still boasted of their speed and comfort.

Gottlieb Daimler’s motto was “Das Beste oder nichts”, The best or nothing. But what is “best”? If basic transportation will do there is much you can buy nowadays, thanks to the ass kicking Japan gave the rest of the auto making world, that will get you from point A to point B and give you your money’s worth for years and years and then some.  My first new car after decades of bare bones living and no prospects was a little Geo Prism and that car was a champion.  Under the skin it was a Toyota Corolla and I’d own one again in a heartbeat if I didn’t have the money for the car I do now and I’d be proud of it.  It was well made and if you took care of it it would outlast a lot of other makes.  I got just over 200k miles out of mine. But if you are lucky and you have it to spend you can reach for something better then basic transportation. That’s luxury. But what is better? What is best?

There’s a scene in Mary Renault’s novel, The Last of the Wine, where the philosopher and teacher Socrates and Alexis, one of his young followers, are walking down a street where the armorers are busy working. They’d been discussing Alexis’ troubles in love and hearing the sound of the armorer’s hammers, Socrates, slyly testing the boy, supposes aloud that now that he is of age he will soon be wanting to buy his first set of armor. Where will you go, he asks. To Pistias, if I can afford his price, says Alexis. “He’s very dear; nine or ten minas for a horseman’s suit.” “So much?”, wonders Socrates aloud. Well surely you’ll get a nice gold device on the breastplate for that kind of money. Not from Pistias, says Alexis, he wouldn’t touch that if you gave him twelve. Kephalos, says Socrates, will give you something to catch the eye. Well but Socrates, says Alexis, I might need to fight in it.

That. A Cadillac or a Lincoln is expensive because it has all the options…all the nice gold devices you can’t get on a Chevy or a Ford…and because the job of a Cadillac or a Lincoln is to tell the world you have a lot of money to spend.  Under the skin, a Cadillac is a Chevy and there is no reason other then the marque to not give a Chevy all the options a Cadillac has. That’s how they do it in Japan, where what we call a Lexus here in the U.S. is still a Toyota over there.  But here in the U.S., driving a high end Toyota does not say “money”.  A Cadillac is expensive, because it is a Cadillac and not a Chevy.  A Rolls Royce is expensive because it is practically hand made, by the best artisans working in the finest rarest woods, the finest rarest leathers, the finest wool carpeting, meticulously hand producing only a few cars every year.  Ostentatious spending, yes, but at least its ostentatious spending in the service of excellence in craftsmanship.  But the engineering and the technology in a Rolls or a Bentley is subordinate to the purpose of luxury for its own sake…everything about the car is about pampering and calling attention to its owner, it’s all about the nice gold device and something to catch the eye. But I might need to drive in it. All day and through the night, down uncertain roads, through whatever weather, in whatever conditions the journey throws at me.

And I have driven my Mercedes-Benz cars, mostly the little ‘C’ class because I’d owned it several years, but now also my ‘E’ class diesel, through some pretty hazardous weather, and down long twisty gravelly roads, winding up and down hazardous no guardrails here sorry you’re on your own terrain, and over scorching desert landscapes and I have never felt safer inside an automobile, or more in control when the going got seriously ugly.  Luxury.  I could always walk to the grocery store and take the bus or the train come vacation time.  But I love cars and I love to drive and I want to see whatever there is down all the roads I’ve never been down. I want a car that will take me to all those places. Not an SUV because I drive long distances and also short ones over many kinds of roads and my car needs to be agile and fuel efficient not large, clunky and hungry all the time. But not a sports car either because I need to carry cargo and passengers. Comfortable on the inside, because I will be driving long hours. And built to keep its passengers safe, because you never know. And yes, beautiful too, because I love the automobile. But not empty beauty. Beauty that comes from within. I have specifications.

These days I admire car interiors from a safe distance via Google Images, and at the dealer’s whenever I take a car in for routine servicing and I can sit down inside one in the showroom and wonder. When I first laid eyes on the new ‘E’ class it took my breath away so beautiful did I find them to be inside and outside. Thank you Dr. Z for making them solid again, like they used to be. When I sat down in my very own new ‘E’ class diesel last December, and started its engine for the first time, it made a sound like I could have driven it clean around the world and it would only just be broken in. Das Beste oder nichts!

[Edited and edited again…and again…and again…sorry…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Luxury Car

August 16th, 2012

Pointing His Finger At The Mirror Held Up To Him

Steve Benen writing at the Rachel Maddow blog today:

[Perkins] said the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups gave “license” to a shooter who injured a security guard at the conservative religious policy and lobbying organization’s headquarters on Wednesday.

In a news conference addressing the incident and the arrest of the alleged shooter, Floyd Corkins II, Perkins said: “Let me be clear that Floyd Corkins was responsible for firing the shots yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues … but Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations ‘hate groups’ because they disagree with them on public policy.”

Perkins noted that plenty of LGBT organizations issued statements condemning Corkins’ violence, and he “appreciates” the sentiments, adding that he hopes they will “join us in calling for an end to the reckless rhetoric that I believe led to yesterday’s incident.”

This from a group of hate mongers, led by a hate monger, that routinely denies their vitriolic rhetoric has ever caused anyone to attack or kill gay people, or contributed to the climate of hate that gets gay people killed.

I have a wee suggestion Tony.  If you want to be taken of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group list, you might consider stopping the behavior that got you listed in the first place.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Pointing His Finger At The Mirror Held Up To Him

August 15th, 2012

The Ends Are Not Separable From The Means

A movement dedicated to the right to love and be loved does not employ violence toward its end.  With what arms will we embrace the lover, after we have killed in the name of love?  With what what hands will be touch their flesh, that have wielded the weapon?  With what eyes will we behold the lover, that have gazed upon the dead?

by Bruce | Link | React! (3)

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