Dave Freer is far from your usual fantasy author — certainly not a normal writer of “epic” fantasy, some times known as the Big Fat Fantasy novel, or BFF.
His work has more of the feel of classic Heinlein with a dash of Gordon R. Dickson’s Dragon and the George, thrown in for humorous measure.
Dave, Monkey to his friends, is a rather interesting character all on his own.
His high fantasy novels Dragon’s Ring and the recent Dog and Dragon, which I review over at Otherwhere Gazette, are a wicked twist on the usual fantasy tropes. In fact, he used just about every standard BFF meme and then proceeded to turn them on their head.
Dragons become the main characters, rather than supporting cast or beasts of burden. They even fall in love with odd human girls.
Dr. David Freer, PhD, is an ichthyologist (fish scientist) originally from South Africa now resident in Tasmania, Australia. Somewhere along the way he’s also managed to be an army medic, gourmet chef, rock climber, commercial diver, bad fly fisherman and all around renaissance man who feeds his family mostly off of food he catches or grows himself. The sort of guy, who, if someone actually wrote him as a character people would be scream “Mary Sue.”
He’s written several novels with Eric Flint in a fairly standard practice for Baen in which they pair an up and comer with an established talent like Flint or David Drake or David Weber in order to put on a little polish and get their name out there. It usually works fairly well, although in Monkey’s case it’s his solo novels which really shine. Out from behind the shadow cast by the bigger names, Dave’s work showcases his brilliant, if slightly bent, talents.
You should also go and buy every bloody thing Dave Freer has ever written. He’s one of the most underrated talents writing today with a wicked wit and a penchant for puns.
While a growing number of articles suggest that New York is slowly reverting to its bad old seventies days under Mayor Bloomberg, there’s good news for beleaguered Manhattanites. “Prowler” is now on the case:
Superheroes usually like to keep their real identities hidden, but one Brooklyn woman is taking off her mask and telling the entire world who she is.
Nicole Abramovici is “Prowler,” a 31-year-old businesswoman by day who dons a costume at night to do her part to save the world, one homeless person and abandoned animal at a time.
And, as she revealed to the New York Post, she’s not alone — she’s part of a group of real-life heroes who slip on masks and capes to do charity work.
“I dress up because I’m part of this group called Superheroes Anonymous,” Abramovici said. “The costume draws awareness to the cause, and it’s exciting and people dig it.”
Prowler’s debut in Manhattan follows up “Phoenix Jones” becoming a video phenomenon even beyond his home turf in Seattle:
Surprisingly, Wikipedia has blown the cover for Phoenix’s once-secret identity:
Phoenix Jones(born Benjamin John Francis Fodor, 1988) is the leader of a ten-member citizen crime-prevention patrol group who call themselves the Rain City Superhero Movement, operating out of Seattle and Lynnwood, Washington. In a CBS news broadcast, Jones is shown entering a back room of an unnamed comic book store in which he changes into costume which consists of a Dragon Skin bulletproof vest and stab plating, as well as equipment including a stun baton, pepper spray or tear gas, handcuffs and a first aid kit.
Jones says he wanted to take policing matters into his own hands after a few incidents changed his mind about Seattle. The first was when Jones says that his car was broken into and his son was injured after returning to the vehicle and falling on the broken glass. Jones was told that several people saw the break-in happen, but did not intervene.According to Jones the car window had been broken by a rock with a mask wrapped around it, which Jones left in the car’s glove box. Later, Jones says that he encountered a friend being seriously assaulted outside a bar, and after calling 911 he put on the mask from the earlier break-in and “made a commotion” until the police showed up.”And I thought, why didn’t someone help him? There were seventy people outside that bar and no one did anything.”
Jones went on to develop a full costume and pseudonym, when his crime-fighting behaviour made him too recognizable. He says the best way to prevent getting mistaken for a criminal by the police is to wear a “supersuit”, although local police have expressed concern that the strange costumes may lead to emergency calls from citizens who mistake the “superheroes” for criminals. Jones says that all members of the Rain City Superhero Movement have a military or mixed martial arts background. He does not condone other people dressing up and fighting crime.
Unless they’ve previously been registered with the Justice League of America or graduated from the Xavier Institute.
Yeah, I’m a heretic. I also fell asleep during Star Wars.
Bruce Springsteen? Pompous blowhard.
The Godfather? Long stretches of beige nothingness.
And The Who are better than The Beatles.
(Hell, I prefer The Monkees to The Beatles…)
But here’s the first “pop culture” contrarianism I’m a teensy bit afraid to confess in public:
George Carlin never made me laugh.
I started thinking about overrated liberal comedians this week, when news broke that a fawning, big budget Smothers Brothers biopic is in development. Great: we’re now facing months of witless hagiography about these two “daring, transgressive, brave” performers, and the rest of the progressive comedy pantheon of heroic martyrs.
Who weren’t funny.
OK, so you think they’re funny. Maybe you’ll be driven to call me lots of mostly unimaginative names in the comments below. But the people I’m about to discuss rarely, if ever, made me laugh. Personally. That’s my definition of “funny.”
Your mileage will vary.
I like to have fresh content daily at Cars In Depth, the car culture site that I edit. That can be a grind so to make the writing load a bit lighter, on Fridays I’ll feature YouTube videos with vintage car commercials (or promotional films) and “Car Tunes“, songs about cars and being on the road. It’s always fun to see what you learn on your way to learn about something else, and while I was looking for an appropriate vintage ad to run this week, I came across this animated 1951 short from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Tex Avery called The Car of Tomorrow. It was one of a series of silly looks at the future (or actually a satirical look at the present), looking at farms, homes and televisions as well. Retro future is always fun. Some people take it too seriously though.
You can find two different versions of The Car of Tomorrow on YouTube, one is a few seconds shorter because it’s been censored to satisfy today’s sense of political correctness. One of the original scenes that was cut out featured a Native American (though in 1951 of course he was called an “Indian”) driving a rather Pontiac-looking convertible that had a tipi as the convertible top. Another censored bit was of a Chinese man (can I say Chinaman?) riding in the back of a roadster that turned out to pulled by a rickshaw driver. Now to be honest, that shows how silly some of the PC sensitivities can be. Native Americans, at least the Plains Indians, indeed lived in tipi tents. Though today they are more likely to be powered by pedal bikes or scooter motors, rickshaws are still used throughout China and much of the rest of Asia.
It’s not just Tex Avery. There are many, many old cartoons with ethnic, racial and gender stereotypes. Warner Brothers even let the copyrights lapse on some of the Looney Tunes cartoons, allowing them to pass into the public domain, because it was thought that Bugs Bunny’s wartime imitation of Japanese folks might cause the studio some PC grief. When you consider just how racialist Imperial Japan was, how racism as well as imperialism drove some policies regarding China and Korea, Bugs’ squinty eyes and thick glasses just don’t seem to be a terrible moral crime.
What I think best demonstrates the nonsensical silliness and hypocrisy of the PC censorship of old cartoons best is just how selective the censorship is. The censored version apparently was not censored enough since the bowdlerized version has still upset feminists. The cartoon features a car “especially designed for the women” that is not only painted pink and trimmed with curtains, panties and flower planters, Avery gave it an obvious bust and derriere. Actually, come to think of it, Avery’s ladies car it is a bit reminiscent of the Dodge LaFemme, a pink car with a cosmetics case that Chrysler actually sold in the 1950s.
Also, while the censors were exquisitely sensitive about the feelings of Native Americans and Chinese, they absolutely ignored another ethnic stereotype. Coming not long after the deleted scenes with the Indian convertible and Chinese roadster, there is the “super thrifty Scotchman model”, pedal powered. In today’s racial and ethnic calculus it’s wrong to show Chinese using people power to get around but it’s perfectly fine for Scots to do the same and there’s nothing wrong at all about saying that the Scots are cheap.
Dandy Don and Howard Cosell have each retired to the big broadcasting booth in the sky, and Hank Williams, Jr. has been fired from his Monday Night Football gig. So for some NFL pizazz, there’s only one place left to turn.
Yes, we’re left with Taiwan’s crack team of digital animators, who bring us a preview of Sunday night’s Cowboys/Giants game as only they can:
What’s your take on the final week of the NFL? Who will go deepest in the playoffs? Feel free to reply via digital 3d animation, or simply in the comments below.
(Via the PJ Tatler.)
I will be a guest on Amy Alkon’s radio show on Sunday, January 1st at 4:30 Eastern and our topic will be men’s issues with a focus on paternity rights and relationships. For example, why do men have so few paternity rights? Should you get a DNA test? Why is fatherhood so unpopular that young guys don’t want to be dads? Why do women have so many reproductive rights but men have few or none?
Do you have any questions or comments that you would like us to discuss regarding men, relationships, culture or sex? If so, drop them below and we will pick out some to discuss on air. Thanks!
I think you could make a case for Airplane! — without or without the exclamation mark on the end of the title — as being the funniest movie comedy ever made. If it’s not number one (and feel free to hash it out in the comments below), then certainly in the top ten. For better or worse, it’s also the comedy that ushered in the modern ironic age. (See also headline above.)
Many of Airplane’s (Airplane!’s?) fans know that it was based on a mid-1950s film called Zero Hour!, based on a novel by Arthur Hailey, who would go on to write Airport in 1968, adopted into the mother of all ’70s disaster movies by Universal two years later. Zero Hour! starred Dana Andrews as a washed up fighter pilot named Ted Stryker, Sterling Hayden in the control tower, and then-L.A. Rams star running back Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and played deadly, earnestly, straight. So straight that when the Zucker Brothers, coming off their debut Kentucky Fried Movie taped this film off the late-night movie show in the late 1970s, they knew there was the basis for a comedy. But to get a sense of how much the Zuckers stuck to the script of the original film (which they bought the rights to, so as to avoid getting sued) check out this YouTube clip, which cross-cuts between the original and in this case, it’s far superior imitation — the one substitute you should definitely accept.
And stop calling me Shirley. (Sorry, it was inevitable.)
Fired GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Photo credit: Marty Densch
With January approaching that means the big North American International Auto Show is just around the bend. The domestic auto industry has gone through wrenching (no pun intended) changes over the past three years. Preparing for the big Detroit show, Marty Densch did a couple of posts at Cars In Depth looking back at the auto executives that have lost their jobs and those who have been left standing.
For the past 3 years there have been large delegations of politicians from Washington at the big Detroit auto show. With 2012 being an election year, I expect that the NAIAS media preview will again be visited by a lot of pols, particularly Democrats eager to take credit for the turnaround at GM and Chrysler. I could be wrong but my impression is that there’s been a lot more turnover in the ranks of those in Detroit who ran the domestic auto industry into the ground than in the ranks of those in Washington who ran the domestic economy into the ground.
GM CEO Rick Wagoner got fired by Barack Obama and his replacement, Ed Whitacre, stepped aside after a short stint as a caretaker. Bob Nardelli and Jim Press are gone from Chrysler. Wagoner, Nardelli and Whitacre will most likely not show their faces at the NAIAS this year. Jim Press may be there, but he’s taken a low profile since being hired last year as a consultant to Nissan. In his list of those who have fallen, Marty Densch also included a couple of politicians, Nancy Pelosi, who lost her job as US House Speaker after the Nov. 2010 congressional elections and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was term limited. Though the executives disgraced in the implosion of the domestic auto industry have the decency to stay outside of the limelight, politicians will continue to flock to journalists’ camcorder lights at the NAIAS like moths to a flame.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and congressional delegation to the 2011 NAIAS in Detroit. Photo credit: Autoblog Green
Pelosi and Steny Hoyer spent tens of thousands of dollars heading a congressional delegation to the 2011 NAIAS two months after the Democrats lost power in the House. Now that GM is profitable, I won’t be surprised to see her at the 2012 show. Since leaving office, Granholm took a job working for Al Gore’s Current TV cable network. She hasn’t been shy about taking credit for the bailout of GM and Chrysler and for all the hard to account for green jobs in Michigan she claims that her administration created or incubated, so I expect Granholm as well to be at the ’12 NAIAS, ostensibly to cover the show for her tv network, but primarily to crow about GM’s current profitability and Chrysler’s survival.
The old aphorism is that all politics is local, but Meryl Streep – in a performance remarkable even for Meryl Streep – demonstrates that politics is personal, a reflection of the character of the person involved in it.
The Iron Lady begins with an elderly and frail Thatcher, unrecognized as she shops in a small grocery store, and periodically circles back to portray the career of the grocer’s daughter who changed the world, with the film always returning to Thatcher in the present, alone in the world. Perhaps the movie is intended as a slight to Thatcher – see, look at her now. Perhaps it is making a less tendentious point – power is ephemeral, we are all headed toward a lonely end. But almost in spite of itself, the film shows a deeper truth: the person may fade, but the accomplishments of character endure.
In her brilliant reflection on what Thatcher accomplished, “There is No Alternative” – Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, Claire Berlinski writes that “Margaret Thatcher often seemed like an exceptionally gifted actress playing the role of Margaret Thatcher.” If so, The Iron Lady reflects an exceptionally gifted actress playing the role of an exceptionally gifted actress playing the role of a lifetime. Thatcher was character in motion; Streep plays a character who exemplified character. It is an exhilarating performance. But the truth is even more amazing.
In 1979, the year Thatcher came to power, Western countries were struggling with crippling stagflation; they were burdened with oil prices that had quadrupled since 1973 and high levels of taxation; Soviet and Chinese proxies had expelled the United States from Vietnam, overthrown governments in Latin America, seized power in multiple countries in Africa and the Arabian peninsula; American diplomats were held hostage in Iran, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a possible prelude to a further move into Saudi Arabia. Jimmy Carter’s responses were a malaise speech, a warning against “our inordinate fear of Communism,” and a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
In Britain, the social and economic situation was especially dire. Unemployment was high and inflation out of control; people felt society was breaking down; the economy was controlled by unions, strikes were rampant, the currency had been devalued, public services were shabby, taxes were confiscatory, per capita income was half that of the countries Britain had saved or defeated in World War II. It was, as Thatcher had said in a 1976 speech, “close to midnight.”
Not that anyone who omits Current TV from their regular TV viewing would notice (and that’s talking about most people), but word on the Old Media Street is that the love affair between Al Gore’s Current TV and their prized anchor Keith Olbermann may have soured – to the point of Olby becoming an on-air no-show during next month’s all-important primary election coverage:
Olbermann “is not scheduled to anchor Current’s coverage of the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary in January;” the network has placed anchors Cenk Uygur and Jennifer Granholm in that position, along with the head of the network, Al Gore. And despite having been hired to be a part of special reports, as well, Olbermann has not been around. What’s more, Olbermann’s program will actually not run on Monday, January 2 and in its stead will be a two-hour Iowa caucus preview hosted by Uygur.
This should come as no surprise, given that Mr. Olbermann has done for Current TV’s audience numbers what the Black Death once did for Europe’s population ones. But you could also say it’s hardly remarkable because it’s simply Olby being Olby.
We were driving from Sanbona Reserve– which is just outside of Montagu, South Africa, and about 100 kilometers from Namibia– to Cape Town on Route 62. In the van were my husband, son and daughter-in-law, and my 6 year old grand daughter who had nodded off almost as soon as we hit the highway. “Did you drive here at night?” the driver asked. “Yes,”I said. “Did the Berryville ghost ride with you?” he asked. “No, what’s that?” I,a firm unbeliever in ghost stories,responded.
“Some years ago,” he replied, ” a young women was riding on this road at night, a passenger on a motorcycle. There was an accident and she was killed. Three months later the operator of the cycle, who had been badly injured in the incident, also died. She’s regularly seen on this road at night, usually she hitches a ride on a motorcycle or passing car, the driver sees her in back of the vehicle over his shoulder, but the next time he looks she has vanished.There have been twenty confirmed sightings.”
“Interesting,” I replied, not at all convinced that this was true.
My daughter-in-law every bit as chary of the fantastical as I spoke up.
“I was always skeptical of ghost stories myself until my friend had such an experience. She and her husband were looking for a house in Los Angeles and this wonderful house, fully furnished, was offered at a great price and they contracted to buy it. Before they moved in they went to the house to measure for window treatments or some such thing. They had brought with them my friend’s mother. She had just had a stroke and was now blind. They seated her in the living room while they wandered through the house. Upon their return the mother asked,’Who was that young man who was just here? Did you see him?’ They hadn’t seen anyone. The mother went on to describe the visitor, an event peculiar in itself since she could no longer see after her stroke.
Later that day they asked the real estate agent for the seller if she had admitted anyone to the property and relayed to her the information about their mother’s account. The agent admitted that she had not fully disclosed the background of the property. It seems that the young man who lived there (perfectly described by the mother) had killed both his parents and then murdered himself, and the surviving brother had placed the house and its contents up for a quick sale.”
Demián Bichir has been nominated for Best Actor by both the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Awards for his lead role as the illegal immigrant gardener in A Better Life. Oscar nomination next?
After playing in theaters this summer, the film is now out on DVD, Blu-Ray and Amazon Instant Video.
As Charlie Martin wrote in July when he reviewed A Better Life, the overall acting “was pretty amazing”:
The adults are actors who have been around in both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking TV and movies for years. Joaquín Cosio, who plays Blasco, is one of those character actors whose face will be familiar even if his name is not; José Julián, who plays Luis, is brand new, and pretty damn good.
Demián Bichir, who plays Carlos, is on a whole other level. Bichir is from a theater family – his father Alejandro is a very successful hyphenate writer/actor/director, his mother Maricruz Nájera is a very successful actress, and his brothers Bruno and Odiseo are themselves successful actors. Michael Caine famously advised that the hardest thing for an actor in movies is to play small enough in a closeup; as he put it, in a closeup, you don’t act, you just think, and the camera reads your mind. In one memorable scene, Bichir shows us silently, in one 30-second tight closeup, as a moment of happiness dissolves and he begins to think of a dangerous time coming up. If the Academy is watching, and a bigger name actor isn’t playing a mental patient or tragic leftist politician, that one scene should get Bichir one of those gold statues.
The fact that the screenplay surprised me every step of the way is a sign of how well-built it was. (The screenplay is by Eric Eason, “from a story by Roger L. Simon,” which is the Writer’s Guild negotiated solution for credit in a screenplay Eason based on a screenplay of Roger’s that had been in development off and on for years). Almost nothing was strained. I grew up around people like these; I knew everyone, and the street/California/Mexican slang/Spanglish dialogue was spot on as far as I could tell. If you speak Spanish, keep an ear on the dialogue when it’s in Spanish. (If you don’t, there are subtitles, and anyway probably 80 percent of the dialogue is in English. You’ll manage; don’t let the part in Spanish deter you.)
But if you do speak Spanish, keep an ear out; there are some little subtle points that really work. One of them that should have been somehow subtitled but wasn’t is what sounds like some kind of nickname Carlos calls Luis. It sounded like “Meeho”, and — sue me — I don’t change languages easily. My ear takes a few beats to go from one to another. I had to listen carefully to finally catch on that he was calling Luis “mi hijo” — “my son”. So here’s a free hint: once you realize this, it tells you a lot about Carlos.
In July, Roger discussed A Better Life on Hugh Hewitt’s talk radio show. Click below to play the audio from Roger’s interview, courtesy of Hugh’s Hewitt’s producer, Duane Patterson, and used with permission:
(7 minutes and 19 seconds long; 3.35MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this week’s show to your hard drive. And for our earlier Lifestyle podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)
To be honest, I’m not sure if Cincinnati Bengals founder Paul Brown or John Facenda, NFL Films’ original Voice of God, would approve of the circus-like acrobatics. But Jerome Simpson of the Bengals obtains NFL immortality, as this clip will be shown endlessly over the coming years on ESPN and the NFL Channel, let alone YouTube:
So how has your team done this year? Are you ready for — dare I say the word — the playoffs?
10. The Walking Dead: Season 2: The first season of The Walking Dead was the best thing to happen to sci-fi fans since Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. People loved the series so much that the second season premiere set a ratings record. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. A group of disparate people desperately trying to escape hordes of zombies is exciting. A group of disparate people hashing out their feelings about each other on a relatively safe farm while they venture out to put down the occasional stray zombie they run across is not. At this point, the show is like a relationship that’s going bad. It starts out magnificently, but then you slowly realize it’s not as much fun as it used to be, but you’re still hoping against hope that things will turn around before you have to break it off. If the Walking Dead keeps this up, a lot of its fans are going to have a “It’s not you, baby, it’s me” conversation with the show.
9. Righthaven: Righthaven is a group of “copyright trolls” that have been the scourge of bloggers and forums across the world. Its modus operandi is to buy the right to stories from various newspapers and then use a loophole in the law to sue anybody and everybody it can for “copyright infringement.” There are no requests to take the material down, no harm done to the papers, just demands for ridiculous cash sums under dubious legal circumstances. After profitably settling a number of cases, Righthaven started losing in court. Happily, things have gotten so bad that “$225,000 in attorney fee awards have been assessed against Righthaven. Righthaven has pleaded poverty and said that it may be forced to file for bankruptcy, but the court in the Hoehn case issued an order allowing the seizure of Righthaven’s assets to satisfy the award.” Personally, I’m rooting for everyone associated with Righthaven to end up eating out of garbage cans. It couldn’t happen to nicer guys.
(Update: Righthaven’s URL is being auctioned off here. Bidders are expected to be mostly defendants trying to keep the Righthaven name and everything about it out of circulation. — Ed Driscoll.)
Video: A123 Systems
Just as the flurry of news about the potential fire risk in the Chevy Volt’s battery pack was dying down, Bloomberg reports that the battery manufacturer for another high profile electric vehicle, the Fisker Karma luxury extended range hybrid, has revealed what it called a “potential safety issue” in the cooling system of the batteries that it makes for the car, currently assembled in Finland using a $529 million loan from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
A123 Systems, a leading producer of Lithium-Ion batteries that supplies Daimler and General Motors in addition to Fisker, said that hose clamps connecting parts of the Karma battery pack’s internal cooling system were not aligned properly, creating a the potential for leakage of the coolant, which might cause overheating and also possibly short circuit the batteries, causing a fire.
Because current Li-Ion batteries are flammable, battery temperature control and cooling is a critical process. Concerns over EV fire safety were raised when a crash-tested Volt later caught fire in a NHTSA facility. Short circuits caused by leaking battery coolant is suspected to be the cause. While GM uses a different battery supplier, LG Chem, for the Volt, A123 will be the battery vendor for the EV version of the Chevy Spark subcompact, to go on sale in 2013.
The news was made public in a letter from company CEO David Vieau published on A123′s investor-relations website. Since production of the Karma started only recently, less than 50 cars are said to be affected by the problem. Vieau said that a “confirmed repair” for the potential leak has been developed and that A123 has already started to fix the defective batteries. The cost to A123, Vieau said, will be “minimal” and the company’s relationship with Fisker “remains strong”. Last week the Anaheim based luxury hybrid car company announced that it has shipped 225 Karmas to Fisker dealers, with another 1,200 in the pipeline. Currently put together by Valmet in Finland, Fisker says that production of the Karma will eventually be moved to a former GM assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware.
First the good news — the colorization process looks better — and tighter — than the horrible blotchy early efforts of Ted Turner in the mid-1980s:
A reader sent this, a clip from the new HD colorization. He writes, “Every single frame looks like a Rockwell painting.”
It might, but that’s not the way the film was meant to be seen. Technicolor was invented in 1916 and came of age in the late twenties and thirties. If filmmakers wanted to make their films in color, they could have. Sure, sometimes the cost was prohibitive, but then a film was produced for black and white the lighting, shadows, clothes and make-up were crafted and created deliberately around that reality. Nothing about any black and white film is appropriate for color. Nothing.
Jimmy Stewart himself was so incensed by colorization (his look at what was done to “It’s a Wonderful Life” was likely the last straw) he personally testified before Congress against it in 1988.
For a time, when Ted Turner was really going to town, you couldn’t even buy black and white VHS copies of some of these classics. You had to turn the color off on your television.
For the life of me, I can’t imagine why such a thing would enhance anyone’s enjoyment of a film.
It’s a Wonderful Life is in quasi-public domain, so all sorts of versions of it are available. That’s the film’s blessing and curse, making it both easy for it to be colorization fodder, and easy — at least for now — to find the original version.
Of course, for better or worse — likely worse — it’s only a matter of time before Jimmy Stewart’s career begins again, reborn as a digital thespian; starring in a sorts of new productions.
So how was your Christmas? And what did you watch this weekend?
Lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Congress has quietly ended subsidies on ethanol fuel as well as ending a special import tariff on Brazilian ethanol. The ethanol subsidy paid fuel blenders 45 cents per gallon to make E10, gasoline blended with 10% ethanol. The tariff added 54 cents to the cost of importing a gallon of ethanol from Brazil. The ethanol subsidy currently costs US taxpayers about $6 billion per year. Over the past 30 years, the program has cost $45 billion. By taking no action on the subsidy before adjourning for the end of the year, Congress effectively killed the program.
Though ethanol interests, like corn growers and affiliated industries, have considerable political power, a wide variety of critics, cutting across political lines, had coalesced around the issue, encouraging Congress to let the subsidy end. The food processing and livestock industries joined with environmentalists to oppose the subsidy. The policy was encouraging diversion of corn from feedlots and food processors to ethanol production, raising the cost of foodstuffs. Environmentalists, some of whom used to endorse ethanol as a biofuel, now say that it’s “dirty” because its production is carbon intense.
Ethanol trade groups have said that the industry would survive the loss of the subsidy, now that the US ethanol production industry has become established. The industry is still protected by congressional mandates that call for 15 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2015 and 36 billion gallons by 2022.
The ethanol issue involves a number of powerful players, corn growers and affiliated industries on one side and food interests, automakers and engine builders on the other. Then there’s the EPA to consider. The EPA has approved the use of E15, an 85/15 gasoline/ethanol blend, for use in post 2001 cars. Manufacturers say that without modifications, E15 will damage engines. In February, in a bipartisan move the House voted 285-136 to block the EPA from moving ahead with E15 regulations.
While ending the subsidy would seemingly discourage ethanol’s use, the end of the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol might do more to encourage that use than the subsidies did. Brazil is one place where it makes sense to use ethanol as a fuel because of Brazil’s huge sugar industry. The ratio of energy needed to produce it vs the energy obtained in the fuel for ethanol made from corn is barely greater than one, 1.3:1, compared to 2:1 for using sugar beets and 8:1 for sugar cane, the feedstock for Brazil’s ethanol. It costs half as much to make Brazilian cane ethanol as it does to make American corn ethanol. According to one academic study transportation costs to US ports eliminate that competitive advantage, but if that was a certainty, Brazilian sugar cane producers wouldn’t have threatened to start a trade war if the tariff wasn’t ended.
Technically speaking, a nine branched Chanukah candelabra is called a Chanukiah. The word Menorah, from the Hebrew word for something that enlightens, is actually the name of the seven branched candelabra that was used in the Temple and Tabernacle, but today “Menorah ” is usually associated with Chanukah.
Just about anything that burns fuel or can hold a candle or lamp oil can be used to make a Chanukiah. My friend and colleague David Holzman has even made decorative menorahs out of engine valves.
“Decorative” because his candlesticks are arranged in a circle and to be a kosher Chanukah menorah, acceptable for ritual use, when viewed all eight lights have to be in a straight horizontal row at the same level so you can see eight distinct flames.
Eight? Didn’t I say nine before? Well there’s a light for each of the eight days of Chanukah. The ninth is called the Shamas (beadle), it is used to light the actual Chanukah lights, and it is usually set off from the other eight by height. So things that come in sets of eight are useful. Fortunately, lots of car stuff comes in sets of eight. Murilee Martin thought an exhaust manifold from a straight eight might work.
It doesn’t necessarily have to come in sets of eight, used car dealer extraordinaire Steve Lang suggested chrome exhaust tips, though those would take some pretty big candles.
Being a traditionalist I’m not a huge fan of electric menorahs, but I just might make a spark plug menorah next year. Other possibilities that come to mind are a set of velocity stacks, the cylinder block to a Duesenberg SJ, or a Packard cylinder head.
Or you could just rig up eight exhaust flame throwers.
So what kind of car part would you use to make a Chanukah menorah?
*I’m usually a stickler for accuracy when it comes to transliterating Hebrew, but alliteration works so well in headlines.
Apparently American comedians are getting lots of material out of Norway’s butter products crisis, because a lack of butter is something Americans find hilarious. You can’t turn on Comedy Central and not see Dane Cook cutting Norway a new one about their lack of pussycat cakes. Well, Norway’s not gonna take it anymore! Enter Tommy*, one pissed off Norwegian who’s mad as hell, and not taking it anymore! Tommy’s threatening to come and eat your American butter in front of you and your family’s eyes.
(Language and sanity warning, needless to say):
(H/T: Jon of the Exurban League.)
From the Home Office high atop the North Pole, Stephen Green counts down the top ten items from the Blogosphere this week:
Here are the links to the items that Steve mentioned in his video:
If the pepper-sprayed shoppers at Walmart on Black Friday are any indication, Americans are desperate for a good deal (and lacking in basic social skills). There are some good buys at the big box stores and I’m not against shopping at them, but this year even they are too pricey for our single-income household. Not only are times tough for my family, but for the country too. It is distressing to be unable to find items made here — or even Canada for that matter — or any other country that doesn’t hate us. Even toys that say “Made in America” turn out to be merely assembled here after the parts come from China. Retailers are catching onto the public disapproval and are changing the labels to use sneaky wording like “Made in PRC,” otherwise known as the People’s Republic of China, for the unsuspecting.
Inevitably, when you buy the plastic stuff made in “PRC” a few weeks later you’ll nearly disable your foot on a piece of it on the living room rug in the dead of night while trying to get to the bathroom. Or, even worse, that thing your precious cherub wanted so badly sits collecting dust and ends up in a give-a-way bag. Don’t pour money down the drain to China this year. Instead, support local businesses while working on your creative skills with these homemade gifts that your family will cherish. If you have any cooks in the family, this first gift is made just for them!
It’s been a while since we’ve done a video of the day, but this was one was too much fun to pass up. A 1973 clip of David Bowie performing — not miming “Jean Genie” on the BBC’s Top of the Pops series, that was thought lost, until a copy of the videotape showed up recently in a BBC cameraman’s archives. He apparently took it home after the shoot and forgot about it, as did everybody else. Today, it’s a great look back at Bowie at the tail-end of his Ziggy Stardust persona: