Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another Farewell to an Old Friend

No, it's not an old pal from college, or my Chicago days, or fandom this time.

It's my classic 1979 Ford Thunderbird.

Seriously, I've had that car for nearly 20 years. My mother bought it new, then gave it to my brother when her eyesight got too bad for driving. My brother handed it over to me when he wanted something newer. I used it in California, drove it (several times) down to Phoenix, and I've been driving it here ever since. It endured being rear-ended by a truck, hooking the wheel-well of a red-light jumper, storms, Arizona sunlight, and the usual plastic parts wearing out and needing replacement. In the last few years most of its trim and paint flaked off, and I kept it covered with primer-gray spray paint which the rust was beginning to show through. I had hopes of someday having enough money to get it restored, but other things took precedence.

Seriously, that was one tough car. It had full-frame all-metal steel-cage construction, which made it heavy as hell but also remarkably safe. I could get 15 or even 20 miles per gallon out of it by driving it carefully. It could carry amazing amounts of weight at highway speed (I used it to transfer most of my gear from Berkeley to Phoenix), and never had a major part failure.

So what happened? Alas, 'twas the fuel line betrayed it at the last.

This morning I started up the car to drive down to the local DES office, in order to renew my po-folks health insurance. On the way, I stopped at the local veterinarian's office, where I'd recently taken a couple of my cats, to pick up some feline antibiotics. Good thing I did.

When I started the car up again, I noticed a strong smell of spilled gasoline from under the hood. I also noticed that the alternator light was on, no flickering, and wouldn't go out. The car had had some electrical problems before, so I turned the engine off and started looking through my wallet for my AAA card. That's when I smelled smoke. I looked up and saw that the smoke was coming out from under the hood. Apparently the fuel-line had cracked and leaked into the engine compartment, where either the starting-motor or the engine's heat set off the gas.

Needless to add, I grabbed my gear and got out of the car fast. As I stepped away I saw that the smoke was thickening. I crouched behind a thick palm tree and kept digging for my Triple-A card while the smoke got thicker and darker. One of the animal hospital's staff came out and asked if she should call the fire department, and I agreed. A moment later the smoke blackened, and flames started shooting out from under the hood. A few seconds after that, both front tires blew out. I ducked further behind the tree and finally managed to get my card and call AAA. The tow truck arrived at the same time as the firemen. The firemen stayed, and put the car out. The tow-truck driver took one look, and then took off.

In about 15 minutes the fire was out, but the old T-Bird was a mess. The firemen had to pry up the hood and the trunk lids, which left them pretty thoroughly ruined. Everything plastic or rubber in the front half of the car was either burned away or charred beyond recognition. There was no way in hell I could salvage that car, though there were still a lot of good parts (everything steel, plus the rear tires) left on it.

So I called Rasty to come get me, and we started calling wreckers. AAA wouldn't tow the car to a junkyard, and the wreckers AAA recommended wouldn't send their own tow-trucks. I began to see a bit of petty conspiracy here. So we looked at the back page of the local NEW TIMES paper and found several ads for "We Buy Wrecked Cars -- Title or No". I chose the last one in line, on the assumption that he'd be a little more hungry for work than the earlier listings. The guy who answered the phone had a distinct accent, and -- this being Arizona -- I had a pretty good idea what that meant. So, the first words out of my mouth were: "I've got a wrecked car to sell you." He asked: "Wrecked how?" I said: "Engine fire. It's out." He asked: "What kinda car?" I told him: "A classic 1979 Ford Thunderbird, with a 395 V-8 engine. The rear and spare tires are intact, and so are all five rims." There was a pause with some scurrying sounds behind it, as he looked up the specs, and then he came back and asked: "How much you want?" "$200," I said, "And you tow it." Next thing he wanted to know was the address where the car was, and I knew I'd made a sale. Meanwhile, Rasty and I pulled everything of value out of the back seat and the trunk (except for the spare tire, which wouldn't fit his Bronco anyway).

Well, the tow-truck got lost on the way to Mesa from Phoenix, but when it finally showed up I saw it was a sturdy van with a trailer and winch attached. When it parked and four Mexicans hopped out, I made some more good guesses. As they strolled over to the car and looked it over, the guy who seemed to be in charge asked: "You got title?" "I do," I said, "But my copy was...in there." And I pointed to the burned-out glove compartment. His face fell, and I knew I'd have to do some negotiating. "But," I promised, pulling out my old driving wallet with all the car-registration and insurance papers I'd gotten in the last 10 years, "I' ve got proof that I have it. We just need to get another copy." "How much you want again?" he asked. "$100," I said, "And you know you're getting a bargain." He did, because he accepted the price at once, without haggling, offered to drive me himself to the nearest DMV office and pay for the new copy of the title, and the transferring fee, himself. 'Twas clear that he really, really wanted that V-8 engine. Rasty guessed that he already had a car at home -- or in Mexico -- that he wanted to drop that engine into.

So off we went to the DMV, got the copy of the title and transferred it, I gave him the cars keys, old registration papers and specs, the guy gave me a brand-new $100 bill and hopped into his tow-van. As they drove off I watched the T-Bird roll away until it was out of sight, feeling as if I'd lost an old friend. Well, at least I knew its engine would go to a good home -- and probably its frame, rims, tires and doors too. I felt an odd sort of kinship there, seeing that I'm a member of Lifesharers -- an organ-donor co-op -- and I expect my usable parts to go to good homes when I'm gone too.

Meanwhile, first thing tomorrow, I've got to call my insurance company and cut off my car insurance as of yesterday, and try to get some of my money back. We're saving every penny to get a house, but eventually we're going to need another car too.

I doubt, though, that I'll ever get another car as good as that solid old T-Bird.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Republican Medicine Show

For months now MSNBC has concentrated most of its time on following the Republican Party's raucous campaign to choose a presidential candidate, turning the whole scene into low-camp comedy. Well, that isn't hard to do, seeing the hole that the GOP has dug itself into.

The problem started back in the late 1960s, when America's Religious-Right entrenched reactionaries finally decided -- a century after that fact -- that although Lincoln (who had defeated the Confederacy and freed the slaves) was a Republican, the Democrat party was no longer a comfortable home for troglodytes like themselves. So they moved en masse to the Republican Party, where they renamed themselves NeoCons. The GOP made the mistake of welcoming them, in order to win elections, and it's been saddled with them ever since.

Now surely the Republican National Committee knows very well that it can never give the NeoCons what they want. The majority of Americans simply will not put up with sending our society back 150 years. They won't tolerate turning women back into second-class citizens and Blacks into third-class, nor imprisoning Gays, nor completely banning abortion, nor allowing unlimited pollution of the environment, nor making the Baptist Church the official religion of the US and preaching the word of Jesus in every public place. It simply won't happen, no matter how much the NeoCons lust for it.

Nonetheless, the GOP has to make some efforts to placate the NeoCons in order to keep their votes. This explains the string of bizarre candidates the GOP has put up in the last several months. It started with Michelle Bachmann, easily the furthest-out Religious-Right nut holding major public office. Before she was thoroughly shot down, it allowed in the incredibly self-propelled Donald Trump. Before Trump was out of the picture, it brought in Herman Cain: suitably right-wing, but daringly Black. Before Cain went down, it brought in Newt Gingrich -- medium-right-wing -- along with Perry and Santorum. Last, it brought up the possibly electable Mitt Romney. Has anybody else noticed the progression in this? The GOP deliberately moved from far-out right-wing to moderate, letting the NeoCons have their time in the sun and exhaust their passion, before finally trotting out the candidate it had been planning to run all along.

Why Romney? Because, like Obama, he's a weathervane. His career has shown that he'll shift with whatever wind blows, faithfully follow instructions from the party's elite, and otherwise not make waves. In short, he's a party hack: just what the RNC wants.

Of course, what's thrown a monkey-wrench into the game is Ron Paul. Paul, in his polite way, is the real revolutionary in the pack. Purely a populist candidate, Paul has raised his campaign money almost entirely from public appeals on the Internet. Carefully blacked out by the media, both Liberal and Conservative, Paul has advertised his campaign -- again -- almost entirely on the Internet. His radical back-to-the-Constitution, reduce-government, Libertarian message appeals to a broad spectrum of voters: disgruntled ex-Democrats, non-NeoCon Republicans, the undecided young and the growing number of Independents. (Note: here in Arizona, a recent poll showed that one-third of the voters consider themselves Republican, one-third Democrat, and at least one-third call themnselves Independents. It's a mistake to consider this a "Red" state.)

When Paul came in third in the Iowa primary, the news media were obliged to notice him. Political pundits/manipulators, caught by surprise, scrambled to find some dirt they could throw at him, and could come up with nothing better than his being one of the editors, 20 years ago, of a newsletter which occasionally published letters by nuts. When he came in second to Romney in New Hampshire, they tried harder -- hammering on his so-called "isolationism", supposed "anti-Israel" stance (even trying to stretch that to "anti-semitism"), and trying for "racism". Since all of these are easily disproved by looking at his position statements on his own website, or following his actual speeches over the past ten years, they haven't worked very well. The one theme they keep falling back on is "he's un-electable, he can't win", which clearly isn't the case.

Ron Paul is the wild card in the deck, who upsets political business-as-usual. This is what frightens the RNC, the DNC and the media so badly -- and it's what appeals to the public at large. I think I can safely predict that, if Paul comes in first in the South Carolina primary, the political establishment will try everything -- from outright lying to blackmail to even assassination attempts -- to stop him.

If they don't stop him, I predict that Ron Paul will beat Obama in the 2012 election -- unless the Democrats pull off a truly massive election fraud.

For just that reason, I'm hereby appealing to everybody who's dissatisfied with politics-as-usual to volunteer to be poll-watchers, ballot-counters, and every other job that can possibly prevent vote-fraud. The 2012 election is going to be not just interesting but downright fascinating.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Hi, folks. Now that the madness of the Holiday Season is over -- or at least, there's only one Holiday left -- we can start getting on with the responsibilities of the new year and maybe look back sensibly on the follies of the old. A friend sent me a picture of a photoshopped Han Solo holding, instead of a ray-gun, a menorah; under it was the logo "Put the Han back in Hannukah". To that, my buddy added: "Put the Saturn back in Saturnalia and the Soul back in Solstice." *Snerk* Cute, but it made me think.

Yes, I'm really tired of professionally-offended self-styled Christians who whine that there's some sort of "war on Christmas" because so many stores put up signs saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Xmas", or city govts. that won't let them put up creche scenes in public parks. The truth is, there's no enemy here but cheap laziness.

The very first phrase of the very first sentence of the very first amendment to the Constitution clearly states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". That means that govt. and law shall not play favorites among religions; whatever the law allows or forbids to any one religion, it must equally allow or forbid to all of them, every last one, including the Pagans and the Atheists and the Satanists. That means that if your city council allows the local Christian church to put up a creche scene on the courthouse lawn, it must also allow the local Jewish synagogue to put up a large-size menorah -- and the Muslims can put up a super-sized scroll showing some quote from the Koran, and of course the Pagans can decorate an evergreen tree with lights (hardly likely to upset anybody these days), and the Buddhists can put up an image of Buddha sitting under a tree contemplating a light, and so on. And your local toy/gift store should put up signs celebrating everybody's end-of-the-year celebration -- which can run into much more money than just one sign saying "Happy Holidays".

So the traditional "Happy Holidays" shortcut isn't a "war" on anybody's religion; it's just a lazy/cheap shortcut. If anybody's going to complain about its cheap non-specificity, then we all should.


Merry Xmas, Happy Hannukah, Jolly Solstice, Joyful Kwansaa, Merry Sir Isaac Newton's Birthday, Glorious Bodhi Day, Happy Boxing Day, Pious Ramadan, Lusty Saturnalia, Jolly Hogmanay, Happy New Year, Merry Twelfth Night -- and a partridge in a pear tree!

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish