Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Car Talk Pt 2

This is more therapy for me than anything else. I've come to the point in my car-shopping journey where I must make a decision, but there is no decision that leaves me feeling like a winner here. At least I got to test drive a WRX this morning before it was purchased out from under me.

Final option #1:
Another Jeep. I could go with one of the few new 2010 2dr wranglers left in the area. This one is actually pretty sweet. Major differences from my current wrangler include that it's black instead of forest green, it has annoying "mountain" trim decals which can and would be removed from the hood, power windows and both a hard and soft top for summer and winter. A soft top is one of those things that just completes the wrangler experience. But the gas mileage! And the barely usable back seats! Those things still haven't been improved.

Another downside is that the good program is for a 39 month lease instead of 36, and I would need to put another $500 down over what I'm putting into the other options to get to the same monthly payment.

Final option #2:
The Subaru Forester XT. All wheel drive, functional, faster off the line, shorter breaking distance, easy-to-get-to back seats, better gas mileage (19 city/24hwy vs. wrangler's 15/19) and a huge sunroof. Downside is it's lower to the ground than a wrangler and handles more like a car. Also, no soft top. I get this, put roof racks on to distinguish myself from housewives who just want an AWD station wagon, then cry myself to sleep every night for the next month.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lost was a bad program all along

Peter, Caitlin and I watched the season finale of Lost together what, two Sundays ago? Three? Whenever it aired. At the time, the emotional charge of the ending, complete with imagery reminding us of the show’s beginning was enough for me to feel somewhat satisfied. But all the sappy orchestral overtures and slow motion character montages in the world aren’t enough to keep the questions at bay, and in the end, it is those unanswered questions that made this show something far less than people give it credit for.

First the good points of the series: It was often witty and filled with allusions to philosophers, books, authors and films that ranged from those so obscure they would be caught only by the most culturally savvy geeks, to those just about anyone would catch, such as the a character named Christian Shepherd. It also gave us what felt at times like a great roller coaster ride with the big drop looming just around the corner. Many of the characters were very well written as well, with fantastic back stories, great dialogues and shifting motivations that kept you from knowing their next move without feeling like they were contrived or impossible to relate to.

Unfortunately the character work, snappy dialogue and easter-egg references were all set into a world that, at the last minute it seemed, was determined pointless by the show’s own creators. The draw of the show wasn’t whether or not the characters would all find eternal salvation together, it was the Island and the mysteries it held. People tuned in every week, season after season, because there was a promise of this magnificent tapestry of a story of which we were only catching the faintest loose threads. Who were the Dharma Initiative really and why were supplies still dropping in 2004 when the group was wiped out in the 1970’s? College Humor sums up all the unanswered questions better than I can, and even these questions aren’t all the things left unanswered. You can’t just throw all that into an extended storyline without explaining it at some point. That they didn’t means that big roller coaster drop never came. When the sappy water works were over, we were gently told that those mysteries that were all we really wanted to have explained were suddenly not the point at all.

It is a responsible writer’s job to not make a mess of his or her work. Clean and tidy endings aren’t necessary at all, but cohesion from beginning to end is. This is where Lost fails terribly. In blatantly ignoring all the interesting little questions they’ve made a point of asking the audience along the way, the show’s writers have displayed a tremendous lack of foresight and story cohesion. It is fully apparent now that they were in fact making it up as they went along with no real game for it all. The charade worked as long as there was at least one more episode on the horizon to hold the promise of answering everything. In fact, the longer the show waited to answer all the Island’s big mysteries, the more interested we were to see just how elegantly these promising writers could tie it all together. What happened though was the thinly veiled collapse of a narrative Ponzi scheme.

Because of all the blind alleys, references and oddly delivered lines that seem to hold some deeper overarching meaning, there will no doubt be those with theories and even dissertations on where the answers really are. To these people I say stop. You are at best giving the writers too much credit and at worst doing their work for them. With so much quality content available, this doesn’t deserve another minute of our time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dark Days

As I walk underneath brilliant blue skies and gentle fragrant breezes in one of the few local parks still open to the public, I can’t help but feel the wheels are coming off.

- Governor Patterson, in an attempt to strong-arm the State Legislature to pass a budget, has ordered closed 55 state parks including Joseph Davis Park in Lewiston, Woodlawn Park in Hamburg, and the lovely Knox Farms in East Aurora. The Legislature pushed a plan to keep the parks open, but Patterson is using the parks among his pressure on lawmakers to settle the budget dispute. How about they don’t draw any pay until it’s settled? Why punish everyone else but them?

- Oil continues to flood into the gulf of Mexico. BP’s efforts seem designed less to plug the leak than to capture the spilled oil, and aren’t nearly on the level they need to be considering the catastrophic nature of this disaster. It is now spreading to the Loop current within the gulf, which will send it swirling from the Yucatan to southern Florida, Western Bahamas and back.

- A recent study shows that the average American child is getting a worse education these days thanks to our struggling public school systems. While they are ranked 25th out of 35 developed countries in quality of education, this hasn’t stopped their self-assuredness – the same study showed their confidence in their substandard learning far surpassed that of their non-US counterparts.

- A new landmark protection act was signed in Canada “preserving” their forests from unsustainable logging activity. This is great news, don’t get me wrong. While there is room for interpretation on what determines sustainable logging activity, Greenpeace put their stamp of approval on it, so until I can do better research I will defer to their judgement. The one snippet that chilled my blood from the BBC coverage was “The total protected area is about twice the size of Germany, and equals the area of forest lost globally between 1990 and 2005” So that means just in 15 years, we’ve clear cut forests totalling twice the size of Germany from the planet.

- Meanwhile, an incredibly inventive way to allow companies to buy carbon credits by investing in tropical rainforest preserves seems doomed to die in Congress. Unfortunate because it’s a no brainer to me. Why, you might ask, do I feel that companies should pay? Because they are emitting carbon!! Well, you say, what when they must pass these expenses onto the consumers? So be it! We all need to do our part. The only other missing ingredient is embargoes on timber coming from countries that don’t practice sustainable forestry methods, enforced by all member nations of the UN. If we don’t buy, they won’t waste time and energy cutting it down.

- Starbucks cups claim to be made from 10% recycled material. Why not 100%? Here’s the quote from the cup “While that may not seem like a lot to you, this actually saves 100,000 trees from being cut down every year” – so we’re cutting 900,000 trees per year just to cover the other 90% that isn’t recycled, just for Starbucks cups? What about adding Tim Horton’s, Dunkin Donuts, Caribou Coffee and Seattle’s Best? You’re right, it doesn’t seem like a lot to me. I suppose it’s better than nothing, but let’s not celebrate such meager attempts.

- Asians are trading in their healthy rice and vegetable diets for red meat rich Western-style diets. And this report has the audacity to refer to such changes as “dietary advances”. Ironically, forward thinking Westerners are dropping red meat from their diets in favor of heart-healthy, leaner foods like whole grain rice based on statistical data showing that in the Asian countries where it is a prevalent dietary staple, the folks are living longer! Let’s also not forget that more cattle means more consumption, more methane emissions and of course more trips to the emergency room for these soon to be plump, artery-clogged people.

Someone give me some good news.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Car Talk, unfortunately without Klick or Klack

The hunt for a new vehicle has been underway for several weeks now. The Jeep will be going bye bye. Great vehicle, but the mpg issues were really starting to get the better of me.

So far, I've test driven a Ford Escape, a Toyota Rav4, a VW Tiguan, a Subaru Forester XT (turbo charged) and a Legacy 3.6R.

The Escape lost me at the test drive. The 4 cylinder had no power, the 6 had no fuel efficiency and the hybrid was astronomically expensive, with no programs whatsoever.

The RAV4 actually held its own quite well. I tested the V6 version, which cranks an amazing 269HP and 246lb/ft of torque in an automatic 5-speed transmission. Took off like a rocket. But the interior was a little effeminate and low quality, the steering was limp and the brakes were soft. Also, the Sport level trim, which mans up the interior a bit, comes with run-flat tires only, which upon full research isn't that bad, but could become expensive. Still, the programs around this vehicle are way too good to ignore. And fuel efficiency was surprisingly adequate (some folks with lower ideals for what fuel efficiency ought to be by now might even call it good).

The Tiguan was superb. The turbocharged Audi i4 engine was admirable, and thanks to a 6 speed transmission with Tipptronic shifting options, crisp steering and responsive brakes, the drive outperformed the RAV4. The interior was also fantastic: comfortable leather seats, a solid feeling dash, an 8inch touchscreen radio and a panoramic sunroof that stretches back over the second row of seating. The only drawbacks are that it has less cargo space than the RAV4 and it requires premium fuel thanks to the turbocharger. Oh, and it's a pricey ride, with lower fuel economy than the RAV4. So there's that.

Lastly, I really wanted to test drive the new Forester XT, which I believe Edmunds said was faster 0 to 60 than the Tiguan. Well, maybe with expert use of the manual sportshift, but left to its own, the 4 speed auto transmission doesn't serve the 224hp turbocharged boxer engine properly and the result is sluggish performance compared to the VW, at least in my experience. The interior was nice though, with fantastic visibility, amazing room in the front and second seats, it's own panoramic moonroof which opens up past the front seats and a fair amount of aggressive styling. but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a well camouflaged version of its earlier grocery-toting self. Coming from a Wrangler I was hesitant, and the failure of the vehicle to really push my head back into my seat like the VW and Toyota did on take off made me more so (I may just need to get the hang of the ride though). Still, the guy I worked with at the Subaru dealership was the nicest, and he and his boss made the most creative offers. They fell short of Toyota's hyper-aggressive leasing options for their RAV4, but then again Subaru isn't fighting off a mammoth wave of negative press due to sticky accelerators, floor mats and other dangerous issues.

The Legacy 3.6R was powerful but otherwise mostly unremarkable for an AWD vehicle. There was a slight shimmy in the car I drove and while it had power to spare, the ride felt heavy and bulky even for a sedan. It was enough for me to move on.

So, I now need to decide if I want to spring for the fun but expensive Tiguan, the ugly but super cheap and practical RAV4, or the safe, boring Forester.

Let me rephrase. It's time to see how well I can negotiate.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Dear President and Congress:
You are focusing on the wrong issue right now. Healthcare can wait, and it ought to. Get this need to issue resolved first. I’d be surprised if you did, but what a breath of fresh air it would be, no pun intended, to watch you focus on something that all reasonable people can agree needs immediate attention and drastic action.

No 2050 deadlines. That’s too late and you know it. The above linked report cites 2015 as our last chance. Other studies have predicted that arctic ice will completely disappear by the summer of 2012. With this in mind, f’ing around with a complex healthcare bill is burning up precious time to act on something monumentally more important. Every day you work on something else other than climate change (or nothing at all, as is common), you fail all of us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

TV Stuff

For a while, I’ve been touting the humor I find in a cartoon called Chowder. It is damned funny. And for nearly as long, Garvey and a few other others have been trying to tell me that another cartoon, Flapjack, is also hilarious. I was always a little dismissive, basically because every time I watched the show, I’d see a lot about a whale that isn’t very funny. But man was I wrong and I apologize. Flapjack is the deal. It might even be funnier than Chowder, in the right lighting, after a few drinks…

Secondly, Psych, the heir-apparent to Monk on USA Network, had an excellent episode recently where a mentally unstable person believed he was a werewolf. It was filled with several campy horror film references, but there was also a recurring theme on an 80’s classic. Without spoiling the episode:
1. The psychiatrist who had the man as a patient was played by David Naughton
2. When the afflicted character awoke naked in the woods in the classic “not again!” moment every lycanthrope knows well, he fled back to the Psych office for refuge. He showed up covering himself with two bunches of balloons. I get it!
3. The next episode made the reference complete with a gigantic American Werewolf in London poster in Sean Spencer’s apartment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Don't make no kinda sense

President Obama addressed students today to send a message that there is no excuse for dropping out of school. The media found opposition to this message in some of the more extreme fringes of political society. Was this a media tactic to portray the conservative opposition as a little touched in the head? Perhaps. But never the less, they did find real people, just like the real people foaming at the mouth at town hall meetings and packing heat at protest rallies.

Who would oppose this message though? Isn't hard work, perseverence and self-reliance one of the cornerstones of conservatism? You'd think they'd be ok with this one at least. Maybe they're not thinking too clearly. Especially because their way of preventing their children from hearing about staying in school is to keep them home from school today.