Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Mighty Corolla was Sold; Hail the Groovy Ranger!

About three weeks ago I sold the Mighty Corolla to a Fairfax County Sheriff's deputy for $3500. It had 153000 miles on it. Carmax said it would pay me $3000 for it, so getting $3500 was a pleasant enough bonus. He paid me with 34 hundred dollar bills and two fifties.

Yesterday, I used $1850 of that cash to buy a 1995 Ford Ranger, as shown in the nearby picture. It has a 4 cylinder motor, 5 speed manual transmission, and apparently an old smell of faint cigarette smoke (I can't smell anything, but my nose doesn't work as well as some of the women I am married to). It allegedly has a new clutch and timing belt and spark plug wires. The tires look good. It runs pretty good, too. The AC is not entirely working but seems to put out cool air about half the time. There's a junction in the exhaust pipe where a gasket is rotted out so under all but the mildest acceleration it sounds loud and obnoxious.

The Ranger still had the original window sticker that claimed 28 mpg highway. I refueled on my way home last night and reset the trip meter, so in a week or so I'll have my first piece of data to see how well this truck has held up.

We made the switch because we foresee the need to move large piles of mulch, dirt, rocks, and lumber in the near future. In a couple years we'll be taking kids to college. In the fall we'll have a third driver. Yes, much of this can be accomplished with the world's fastest minivan, but it's a pain to remove and re-install the heavy, awkward seats in the middle. Plus it makes a mess in the inside of the minivan. So somehow I convinced the family that this was a smart course of action.

Fun fact: this is the first vehicle in my married life that my wife specifically instructed me to leave her name off the title and registration.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Land of the Free - As Long As You Agree With Popular Opinion

The news reports on activities the producers and directors think are noteworthy to report. Usually those items are unusual or different in some way, because otherwise it would not be news, it would just be ordinary events.

So the news generally doesn't report on bland daily activities. It reports things that generally happen to relatively few people but are so fantastic in nature it's obvious that the general public would want to know about it. Bank robberies, muggings, fires, thefts, crashes, strange achievements, and such. So the news, packed with so many interesting items, feeds our brains with these things so we begin to think that these uncommon occurrences are actually more prevalent in society than they actually are.

Then we lock our doors. We get security systems. We wonder what odd things we can do to get on the news, because obviously there's so much going on to everybody that there must be something we do that's newsworthy.

But the news reports on minority issues that affect a small subset of our population. We think it applies to us and it gets reported in such a way that we think that it could have happened to us, so we should be alert.

(This affects me to such extreme that one night I left the garage door open all night and the car doors unlocked and when I opened the door the next morning and saw straight outside and not the closed garage door, well I had a moment of chilling fear tingle up my spine followed by a wash of relief that the whole family wasn't raped and pillaged and murdered and killed overnight.)

And here we are, watching the news, thinking all of it in some way directly affects our lives. Our favorite TV and movie actors share their opinions about some of it, too. They support some things and oppose other things. And the news reports these famous opinions as if they are facts. The news cycle continues, and over the course of a few short months or years, the constant reporting of these uncommon activities and the vocal support or opposition of them by people we enjoy being entertained by, well, turns out that we start thinking that the opinions of these famous people are actual reflections of society in general.

So we think to ourselves, wow, my opinion must be so out of touch with the rest of the general public. Something is wrong with me that I don't see things the same way as these reporters and people I see on the TV and hear on the radio. Well, those people must know more than me, because why else would they be so rich and famous if they weren't more capable and knowledgeable than me?

Slowly, we find that our opinions and thoughts that are contrary to what the news reports as common and right, those opinions must be bad.

And when some personality on the edge of popular opinion opens up and says something to question this, perhaps the same way you may question things if you had the chance, well the media piles on this poor individual as an intolerant bigot racist who lives in the dark ages. He gets fined and suspended by his boss and the rest of the TV and radio people point to him as the worst kind of person. So you think to yourself, wow, I better keep my mouth shut, look what happened to that guy.

Yes, you still may have your opinion, and it still may be different than what the talking heads on the TV are reporting as common enlightened knowledge. But you had better not share it with anyone or else you will be seen as a hate and fear-filled ignoramus impeding the progress of the enlightened ones.

Remember, these enlightened ones are remarkably few in number. They have large soapboxes to stand on and are influential because we loved them in that movie where they pretended to be that character we love. Clearly their beliefs are more important than mine. Clearly those who disagree are wrong. Just look at what happened to those people who spoke up against the popular opinion. If such bad things happened to them (and they are FAMOUS!), imagine what terrible things could happen to us if we talk about our skepticism of what's going on? There would be no hope for us.

And this is how I am realizing that we are all free to say whatever we want, as long as it doesn't oppose what our news reporters and celebrities support.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Some Things I Have Noticed In Books

During my commute to and from work, I usually listen to "books on tape," although they are actually on CD, which I borrow from the local library network. It's generally more entertaining than classic rock radio (which is great, but they're not really making any new classic rock tunes, so there's a fair amount of repetition. But our new car has satellite radio and the classic rock station there plays a wide variety, but I'm not allowed to drive that car and we're probably going to let the subscription lapse and not pay for it.), or talk radio of any sort (it just gets you all riled up and stressed out over whatever the topic of the day is), or news radio.

So I listen to lots of books. I liked Steve Martin's autobiography, I disliked Roger Ebert's autobiography. I liked the Harry Potter books, I disliked the Maze Runner books. I liked Moby Dick and am currently enjoying 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I liked Frankenstein and Dracula. I liked the Hunger Games and Ender's Game and most of the Dune books.

Recently I have noticed that in many novels, periodically a character will go on a long speech about a particular topic that's not entirely relevant to the narrative, but sometimes interesting to know. There are great examples of this in Moby Dick, as pages and pages are devoted to describing every part of the whale and the various uses of each part. While interesting to know, it just sort of slows down the whaling action and search for the great white whale.

I'm wondering if it's these "throwaway parts" of the novels that are the author's true intention and message. Did Melville draw us in with the promise of sea action so he could explain to us the inner workings of the whaling industry? Did Verne want to educate us about all the various classifications of sea life in 20,000 Leagues? Did Collins want to explain to us that not all boy/girl friendships have to be romantic or physical?

Maybe I am reading into this too much, but in my history of reading books and watching movies, it's becoming clear that the author/director wants to express something more to us than just the basic plot. Perhaps the layering of themes makes the narrative more enjoyable, or perhaps the writers are using the medium to get their viewpoints out there for the public to consume, in a subtle manner to further their own viewpoints.

On the other hand, Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Game specifically towards a younger audience, but didn't overtly push any of his beliefs on the reader. Sadly, the general public went nuts talking about his personal views when the movie came out and a minor firestorm ensued.

So I guess I just contradicted my whole assertion that writers use their novels to advance their own agendas. Oh, well.