Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

It's come to my attention that the car review post I submitted to the 10TH edition of Monda's Easystreet Prompts monthly blog carnival was selected as one of the winners in the non-fiction category. One of the rules is that winners must post links to the blog carnival and the submission page within 7 days of their selection.

I think that about covers that. This post is turning into a link fest.

Monda tells one and all she is changing things up for next month by calling the monthly challenge a "Block Party" instead of a "Blog Carnival". Same concept. Different name. Po-tay-to. Pah-tah-to. Whatever.

I'm quite pleased with my results so far. Of the two posts I've submitted, I've been selected both times. I consider that more or less better than half bad. Go clickity click the links and check out some of the other submissions. You might something you like letter than my half witted postings.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Senator Robert Byrd

I thought I’d take a moment this morning and share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over about the passing of Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia. I know that is old news by internet standards; however, when it comes to serious material, I prefer to take a more measured and considered approach rather than an off the cuff, knee jerk reaction. Besides, whether you agree with his politics or not, he was family to someone and being blatantly disrespectful to him (or anyone else for that matter) after he is gone, in some cases without even taking the time to study the man’s life and work, is a little like peeing on his grave…at the funeral…in front of his kids. That just ain’t right in my book.

There are many things you have to give Senator Byrd credit for, and perhaps even respect him for, whether you agree with his views or not. First, he was the longest serving senator and longest serving congressman in U.S. History. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952 and the Senate in 1959. For those of you how don’t like math, he spent just short of 51 years in the Senate and another 7 in the House. While you could make an argument that he was a living example of the need for term limits, the people of West Virginia must have thought he was doing something right to keep bringing him back for almost 60 years.

Politically, Senator Byrd is labeled as a conservative democrat. I, personally, would probably label him a populist or, if we are to use the strictly linear outlook of political leanings currently in vogue with the media, a moderate. Looking at his voting record, you will find some surprising positions especially against the backdrop of the current crop of ultra liberals running the show in DC. Through his record, you see perhaps the secret to his success. He changed with the times. He appears to have actually represented the values and morals of his constituents. Something we are seeing less and less of as time goes on.

Another area that helps explain his long term success is his record of pork barrel spending. Completely unabashed, unrepentant, no holds barred pork barrel spending. Citizens Against Government Waste called him “The King of Pork” which Senator Byrd apparently considered a high compliment.

One area where I must tip my hat in genuine respect to Senator Byrd is his personal life. Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings and lived, in many respects, the American dream. He was not born to money. He graduated valedictorian of his high school and attended several colleges in West Virginia. He was an intelligent man, but he was no Ivy League elitist either. He married his high school sweetheart when they were both 19 and, by all indications, remained faithful to her until she died in 2006. This man lived the example of family values instead of preaching about them from a lofty position while fornicating with every able bodied and willing accomplice behind the scenes.

You can say what you will about his record on racism. You can argue that he merely said what was necessary to get reelected while keeping his personal beliefs quiet. I really don’t think that argument holds water. West Virginia is the third poorest state per capita and, with a 96% “Non-Hispanic White” population in West Virginia, I think he could have showed up at campaign speeches dressed in his Klan robes if had wanted to and still been elected by a wide margin. However, I personally think he came to understand the error of his early beliefs and learned to dislike people not for the color of their skin but for the evidence of their actions.

Lastly, I don’t think Senator Byrd’s passing will have any impact on the balance of power in Congress all that much. West Virginia is a dyed in the wool democrat state, and I doubt there will be a surprise republican replacement as there was in Massachusetts following Ted Kennedy’s death. The question is whether there will be an “old school” moderate democrat or a “new age” liberal democrat taking his place. Personally, I’m hoping for an “old school” democrat to take his place.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Major Milestone Number 1

Hear ye, hear ye. Let it henceforth be known far and wide in this fair blogging world that, on this the 25TH day of June in the year of our Lord 2010, the blog known and loved by all as Preachers and Horse Thieves did achieve its first (albeit arbitrary) milestone.

Verily, today another humble soul joined the fold of those brave and wise readers who have chosen to have their identities publicly associated with my erratic efforts at entertainment, amusement and intellectual stimulation making the number of those counted among the followers to be in the double digits for the first time.

Please welcome, B.. Based on her profile picture, I believe B. to be Brigid from the blog Home on the Range. If this is, in fact, the case, I am deeply honored and humbled by her presence as Home on the Range is a blog I’ve been following for some time now with great interest. Brigid’s writing is phenomenal, and she dots her postings with some truly fantastic photography.

B., if you are not Brigid, please do not be offended by the misidentification as you have a very well respected twin out there in the blogosphere. Regardless whether or not you are Brigid, I humbly thank you for your patronage and assistance in helping me achieve my first, self imposed milestone.

I don’t have anything special to offer you in commemoration of this momentous occasion other than my sincerest gratitude; however, if you’re interested, I’d be pleased to send you a batch of cinnamon cookies from a recipe that came out of my grandmother’s WWII Liberty Cookbook. If that floats your boat, leave me a comment and we’ll figure out how to get them to you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Special Just For GunDiva

Hair of the dog that bite you. Mind you, those are 12" x 12" tiles.

The hair of the dog that bit you, and the dog that bit you.

Who says a spayed dog can't give birth? are SO welcome. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Movie Review: Jonah Hex

I went and saw Jonah Hex at the movie theater last night. A friend had warned me that I would likely be only one of a few people in the theater, and she was right. The question is how best to sum up this steaming pile of poo. Think of crossing The Crow with The Outlaw Josey Wales with Wild, Wild West and not doing a very good job of it. In fact, instead of wasting your money to see Jonah Hex (unless you've really got a thing for Josh Browlin or Megan Fox), go rent the three movies I mentioned instead. You'll have a more enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don't Squeeze The Charmin

So, I was on the road again yesterday. Destination de jour: Houston, Texas. The scenic, must see destination for those who love heat and 100% humidity. Do you consider 90+ degrees not hot enough for you? Well, step outside and let the temperature humidity index give you the wonderful sensation of drowning in your own sweat in less than five minutes. It’s also giving Detroit a run for its money at the top of the crime statistics thanks to the draft picks Houston picked up from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Houston actually is a fascinating city. It is the only major city I am aware of that has absolutely no zoning regulations whatsoever. You can literally build a 100 story building, next door to a factory, next door to a topless bar right next to a Catholic church if you were so inclined. On Broadway leading to/from Hobby Airport (depending on your perspective) there are a bunch of older, decrepit apartments/tenements some of which have had units turned into convenience stores. Can you imagine having the unit next door to the convenience store when a robbery is going down? I’d be lining the walls with inch thick steel armor plating.

Houston is also, apparently, THE mecca for some good eating. At least, that’s if you believe the statistics indicating it is home to the highest per capita population of fat people. There are definitely some good restaurants to be had there. I was fortunate enough yesterday to eat lunch with a friend at my favorite Chinese food place on the planet: Kam’s Fine Chinese on Montrose Blvd. just north of the Hwy. 59 overpass. Literally, you can walk out the door of Kam’s, turn to your right, and be close enough to throw fortune cookies and hit cars traveling on 59. My only gripe with Kam’s is that their parking absolutely sucks. It’s practically non-existent. But, the steamed dumplings are to die for, and their Kung Pao chicken rocks. I always eat too much when I go there, but it is so worth it.

And don’t think I haven’t earned my right to an opinion about Houston. My dad moved there in 1989 giving me reason to visit regularly (he lived there for almost 20 years and has since moved back to the Dallas area), I started going down their a couple of times a month on business beginning in 1995, and I lived there for 3 years myself beginning in 2005. I know me some Houston. It’s like a second hometown for me. A hot, smelly, moldy, slightly run down second home town….but homey none the less.

For any Houstonians reading this (yes, that means you World Famous Trial Lawyer…you know who you are), yes, the traffic in Houston really is worse than in Dallas. Own up to it already.

In all seriousness, there are some really wonderful people in Houston. Some of my best friends live there in addition to the aforementioned favorite Chinese place. Dad and I once showed up without tickets at the Summit (before it was sold to Joel Osteen to become the Lakewood Baptist Church) to see the Houston Rockets play. We walked up to a guy to ask where the ticket booth was, and he GAVE us 14TH row seats for free. He was a season ticket holder who couldn’t attend the game for some reason that escapes me now, and he couldn’t sell them because of Houston’s scalping ordinance. Free tickets to an NBA basketball game. Sweet. Good times.

Anyway, you have now waded through yet another of my world famous set ups for the real story. Don’t you feel enriched by the experience? I’ll settle for warm and fuzzy or slightly annoyed.

The mediator’s office where I was camped out for the day yesterday is one of my faves. This mediator really gets it. “It” being how to keep adjusters, attorneys and their clients entertained and comfortable for four or more hours of sitting around waiting for the mediator to come in and share whatever bits of wisdom you are paying him to impart to the negotiating process. This mediator stocks his fridge with cold drinks (no alcohol…drat) in a variety of flavors which is pretty much standard for all mediators. The caucus rooms (small conference rooms where parties can have privacy to discuss their positions with the mediator away from the opposing side) are stocked with M&Ms, peanuts, Chex Mix which is not standard among all mediators. The decorations are tasteful and more homey than law office-like. But, the piece de resistance are the large, flat screen TVs with cable hookup and cable internet/WiFi access in ever room. The extra special bonus for me (since my company’s IT department thinks I am incapable of safely changing the wireless settings on my laptop) is that this mediator considerately provides a hard wire ethernet connection in each room. Which means I can actually get into my company’s network and not lose a complete day of work to being out of the office.

I didn’t bother messing with the TV yesterday since our co-defendant’s attorney and adjuster camped out with us in our caucus room, and we spent the day trading war stories which was not nearly as painful as it sounds. The TV was on with the volume turned down tuned to the Headline News channel though. I happened to glance at the TV at one point just in time to catch the Charmin toilet paper commercial.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this commercial before or not. I know I’ve seen it a couple of times but just never thought anything about it. Thanks to DVRs, I get to skip most commercials these days. Anyway, this particular commercial has two cute cartoon bears (a big bear and a small bear…both gender neutral) out in the woods next to a tree with a roll of toilet paper hanging off it. The point of the commercial seems to be that Charmin toilet paper is less likely to result in Dingleberries/Klingons hanging off your tookus after a major dump than other leading brands.

As I said a moment ago, I know I’ve seen this commercial before. However, it finally struck me yesterday in the middle of a business meeting…I know…he who laughs last thinks slowest. But, some GENIUS sold the idea of bears scatting in the woods to a major company as a national TV ad campaign.

Does a bear scat in the woods? Why, yes. Yes, they do. And they use Charmin’s dingleberry free formula to wipe up with afterwards.

And here, all this time, I thought they just used rabbits.

Mr. Whipple would be proud I’m sure.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How Much?

As mentioned in the previous couple of posts, I spent Monday in Austin at a mediation attempting to negotiate the settlement of an accident involving a fatality. It’s never easy to sit across the table from people who have lost their loved one(s) to an accident or tragedy and tell them how sorry you are for their loss and then explain the reasons why you don’t think your insured is liable for that loss. It borders on the hypocritical sometimes. It makes the entire process even more crass when you have to tell them the obvious that there is no way for you to bring their loved one back and the only thing you can offer them is money.

Though it’s been demanded of me in the past, I am not in the position to offer written apologies or confessions of criminal guilt on behalf of my insured. Though I’ve been accused of it, I am not a member of the Klan nor do I think I am God. I am simply the poor schmuck left in the position of having to put a price on the value of a human life taken away by accident. I am the purchasing agent of tragedy if you want to look at it that way. Unfortunately, by engaging in the claims process, claimants put themselves in the position of being purveyors and sellers of human life and tragedy.

Some have said that life is priceless; and, indeed, every day each one of us has in which we are upright and able to take nourishment is a gift we can’t buy in any store. However, in my world (and, by extension, the world of claimants), each one of those days has a value and a price.

America’s founding fathers want you to believe that all men are truly created equal. Unfortunately, when it comes to placing a value of the lives of different people, fate and circumstance dictate that equality is a fiction that knows no boundaries, racial, ethnic or otherwise.

It’s a funny thing to have to put a value on a human being’s existence. Lots of things need to be considered. Who were they? What did they do? Did they have family? Did they have a long life expectancy? Did they earn a lot of money or none at all? Where and how did they meet their demise? Did they or the insured my company represents do anything wrong to contribute to the accident? Does their family or estate have a good attorney capable of actually making a case against my company’s insured, or is the attorney a lying, cheating, ambulance chasing scumbag who never tries a case? And, unfortunately, will the potential jurors of the venue where the lawsuit would be tried have any bias against the parties to the lawsuit?

Yes, sad as it is to say, people are just as parochial and, dare I say, racist now as they were 50 or 100 years ago. It is true that some of the more obvious signs of bias and prejudice have been hidden by years of the civil rights movement, affirmative action and “diversity and inclusion” training as my company likes to call it; however, the truth remains that we are still human. Prejudice and bias are part of the human condition. It’s human nature to view those who are different than ourselves and see “them” as “different” than “us.” We like to think we are protecting “us” from “them” or taking care of “our own.”

All these questions and more are factored into what a particular person’s life is worth to a particular set of people on a given day. I’ve seen cases in which young children whose only sin in life was being at the wrong place at the wrong time were “worth” nothing. I’ve seen a case in which a suburban house wife with a cheating husband was “worth” millions. There is no rhyme or reason. Each case is unique. It’s viewed through a very jaded prism of circumstance and the best estimate of what a hypothetical jury of one’s peers will decide a case is worth at a hypothetical trial of the facts.

As one might expect from the fact that I’m writing about this, my work tends to make me a tad bit introspective. What is the value of my own life? I know, more or less, what the dollar sum total of my life insurance benefits would be after funeral expenses, paying off debts and whatever taxes Uncle Sam deems necessary to steal from The Queen. But, what about how I’ve impacted the world? How, if at all, have I made this world a better place? Have I contributed anything of lasting value to anyone, or have I just coasted through this world without leaving any trace? Am I worth millions or worthless?

The Queen tells me she wouldn’t trade me for any amount of money which is comforting (although I think she might consider renting me out in exchange for a Corvette or Cadillac XLR). As I’ve said before, I really don’t think I deserve her (or anyone else’s) admiration. There are times when I feel worth less than the proverbial warm bucket of spit. It’s just that I feel like I can and should be doing more with my life than I am.

One of the reasons I started writing was to, hopefully, leave something meaningful behind to those who follow. To make people laugh, cry and, yes, even think once in a while. To those who have taken the time to follow my deranged ramblings, I simply say thanks. It’s nice to know there are others out there that find some measure of meaning in my words.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Car Review: 2010 Ford Focus SES

If you’ve taken the time to read my complete profile and some of my previous posts, you are probably aware that, like most 12 year old boys trapped in men’s’ bodies, I like cars. I used to have a subscription to Car & Driver back in high school when it was expected that young men would dream of the cars they would someday own. Or, at least, cars they think they would own someday. That is, before being rudely slapped by the middle class reality of having to make the choice between having a fun/cool car and a useful car.

I remember well reading those glowing articles about Corvettes and Porsches and Ferraris…and just about every other car on the planet that I’ll probably never own. I can’t remember an auto magazine ever really saying anything truly bad about a car. Except for maybe the Yugo. They really had to stretch to say anything nice about that car. “Um….it’s kinda cheap….until you factor in repair costs and parts availability….and the fact that you’re taking your life into your hands every time you drive it.”

Seriously, though, one fairly recent article (at least it’s not decades old…I think) stands out in mind right now. One of the car magazines had Mario Andretti drive several high end performance cars including a custom tuned Corvette (it was one of the big name customizers, but I can’t remember which one). I can’t remember all the other cars involved in the test. There might have been a Dodge Viper, a Porsche and a few other cars. Suffice it to say that they were all super fast performance cars that cost more than I make in a year. The thing that sticks out in my mind about the article is Mario Andretti nonchalantly talking about driving the Corvette at 200 miles per hour and noting that it did not seem like the ‘Vette’s aerodynamics had been thoroughly studied at those speeds because the handling was getting a little loose.

Oh, really Mario? You think? I bet the engineers at Chevy are busy right now studying the aerodynamics of the ‘Vette at Mach 2 thanks to you thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone will try and take a ‘Vette out to the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to break the land speed record.

You see? That’s the problem with car magazines. They don’t write reviews for the rest of us. I am not a short Italian with decades of experience driving high performance cars on racetracks. Of course I had dreams of being a race car driver just like millions of other boys (and girls) when I was younger, but I’m not likely to ever fit into a race car much less have the capability necessary to extract every ounce of performance from a car I’ll never be able to afford. Today, I know one guy from high school who actually drives race cars. He also owns his own engineering company making race car parts. Yeah, I’m jealous. He’s the same guy who, in high school, delivered pizzas in a 1973 Ford Mustang equipped with dual Holley 850 CFM carbs mounted on top of a tunnel ram intake. He told me he thinks he lost money at that gig. Yeah, I’d say that’s a safe assumption.

So, where are the practical car reviews with information people really need to know? For instance, I’m 6’4” tall and weigh around 240 pounds (give or take…I haven’t weighed myself in a few months). I need to know if the car is designed for clowns and midget Japanese people. Seriously. I remember when the Toyota came out with the MR2 back in the late 80s. I was looking to buy a car and wound up at the Toyota dealership to see what they had to offer (remember, this is before the internet). I attempted to sit in the MR2 they had on the showroom floor only to find out I had to stick my head out the sunroof to fit. My head literally stuck out the sunroof by 2 or 3 inches. My eyes were directly in line with the roof. Scratch one car off the potential purchase list.

What about soccer moms? Don’t they need to know if the front seat headrests offer sufficient protection from backseat projectile vomiting? Don’t they want to know if the manufacturer offers a “cone of silence” option or a “stop poking me” straight jacket option? These are much more important issues than zero to 60 times for the average person. At least, I’d read those articles.

Anyway, that was a rather lengthy set up for today’s feature which is my review of the 2010 Ford Focus SES.

First, the official disclaimers and disclosures.

1) Ford Motor Company is NOT paying me even one thin dime for this review. As far as I know, FMC has no clue that I even exist aside from the recall notice I received on the 2002 Ford Windstar sitting in my driveway.

2) I (actually my company) paid for the privilege of being able to rent this vehicle from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Again, no promotional consideration was paid by Enterprise to me for this review. Aside from the guy at the Enterprise rental counter, I don’t think they have a clue who I am either.

3) I like Fords. I’ve owned six of them so far; and, in all likelihood, I will own more of them before I die. I have nothing against Dodge or Chevy (except for, maybe, the whole government bailout thing which we won’t talk about right now) or any other car manufacturer. I have also owned three Nissan products at various times including the 300,000+ mile Maxima parked in the driveway.

4) I am not now, nor will I be in the near future, in market for a new car. In fact, I will probably never buy a brand spanking new car ever again. I’m more than happy to let some other hapless soul take the hickey on depreciation while I merrily pick up gently used cars for more reasonable prices.

As I mentioned yesterday, renting a car to drive to Austin was more cost effective for the company than me flying on Southwest Airlines or driving my own car. Enterprise Rent-a-Car is one of three preferred rental companies approved by my company. I normally rent through Avis, but I thought I’d give Enterprise a try this go round. I went by the airport to pick up the car Sunday afternoon since they wouldn’t be open when I needed to leave on Monday morning.

The company policy gives me approval to rent an “intermediate” sized car. I’m not sure who exactly comes up with the definitions for rental car sizes, but my guess is they used to work in military intelligence. The guy at the Enterprise rental counter told me I had a choice of the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Dodge Caliber and the Toyota Corolla. I opted for the Ford because, like I said, I like Fords.

I was handed the keys to a “Sangria Red” 2010 Ford Focus SES fairly well equipped with heated leather seats (like I really needed HEATED leather in mid June in Texas), a sunroof, 17” aluminum wheels, a cute little spoiler on the trunk lid, cruise control, power locks and windows and the Ford Focus Premium Sound System. That’s what it tells you on its little digital screen every time you press the "on" button. Like it needs to remind you that you have the PREMIUM sound system. I’d think I’d remember. Since, if I were the owner, I would have paid for it and all which Ford’s website says would have cost me about $18,780 not including tax, title and license, dealer installed extras and the fabric protection they're always trying to sell you. Or, at least, they were still trying to sell that junk last time I bought a car.

This particular car also had the Ford SYNC in car connectivity system which would have allowed me to plug my iPhone into the car had I had the cord to do so and the time to figure out how to make it work since Enterprise doesn’t trust its renters with their cars’ owner’s manuals. Needless to say, I didn’t get to take advantage of that feature and tell you how wonderful it is. Or not. I wouldn’t know.

Now, above, I mentioned that this car has a sunroof. I also mentioned my previous experience with a certain MR2 and its sunroof. I’ve never had good luck with sunroof equipped cars given my height. It is absolutely true that the world is designed for average sized people, and I am not average sized. One of these days I’ll have to tell the story of looking for clothes during middle school and high school. For now, I will say this: they don’t make many clothes for people 6’4” tall weighing less 200 pounds.

I digress again. I apologize. This is supposed to be a respectable car review. I mention the whole previous sunroof experience thing to tell you this: I had NO CLUE this car had a sunroof until I was half way home from the airport with the car. This is a good thing. It means that I didn’t sit in the car and immediately have my head shoved 45 degrees to one side by the lower ceiling height common to most sunroof equipped vehicles. Brownie points to Ford for thinking of us tall folks who might want to enjoy a sunroof now and then.

There is another little nifty feature that I discovered when I left the house at a little before 6:00 AM Monday morning which is Ford’s “ambient interior lighting.” You won’t notice this feature in broad daylight…’cause it’s not dark. Duh. Seriously, though, this is another Brownie point for Ford engineers. They have strategically placed little groups of blue/purple tinted LED lights in useful places like the cup holders, the coin tray, the sides of the center console pointing into the front floor boards, etc. to make it easier for people to find stuff they’ve dropped while driving in the dark. This way, you don’t have to hunt around for the dome light switch and have your night vision destroyed just to pick up the donut and comics section of the morning paper you dropped while trying to move your electric shaver to your other hand. I thought it was a cool feature. You may feel differently. You’re entitled to your wrongheaded feelings.

So, how was the interior comfort? Overall, I felt the interior was good. Not great, but not horrible either. I mentioned the leather seats. Honestly, it seems to me that putting leather seats on a Ford Focus is a little like making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but who am I to argue? The steering wheel was tilt adjustable which is a must for me. The idiot gauges in the dash cluster were intelligently laid out and easy to read with the minor exception of the little arrow on the gas gauge which tells you on which side of the car the gas tank filler spout is located. The arrow kinda blended in with the “F” and made it look like a pointy “P”.

Another minor gripe is the driver’s side arm rest and window sill locations. I have always tended to park my left elbow on the arm rest or window sill and hold the steering wheel with my left hand. I know it’s not proper driving technique, and I know it’s a tad lazy. Sue me. I just find it comfortable, and it works for me. Except in the Focus. Ford seems to have been intent on thwarting lazy elbow people like me. The window sill was too high and the arm rest was too low for me to casually drape my monkey arms where they are accustomed to residing.

The Ford Focus Premium Sound System controls were a little busy for my tastes. In fact, it took me a while to notice the little button that said “Sirius”. Oh yes. This car had satellite radio. For those of you who have not experienced satellite radio yet, let me just say that it is THE must have item for any long road trip. I was also a little annoyed by the location of the tuner knob on the far right of the radio control cluster. We are talking a land far, far away from the driver’s seat. As mentioned in another post, I have monkey man arms. I have a full yard+ of wing span hanging off each shoulder. For me to say something is a little out of reach should tell you average sized folks a thing or two. If I have to lean a little forward and to the right to use the knob, short folks are gonna have fits.

One last thing on interior comfort. This is not the car to take on a cross country road trip unless you are prepared to stop every couple of hours and massage a little life back into your legs and butt. I don’t know why; but, after the first hour and half or so, the seats made my butt hurt and my legs stiff. I am by no means grossly overweight, but those leather coated seats were just not working for me. Maybe petite, short, little girls who weigh 100 pounds soaking wet might have better luck. The seats had support in all the right places, and I didn’t feel like I was shoe horned in or swimming in too much seat either. But, my legs and my butt were just not liking the seats. I actually looked forward to walking a mile after dropping the car off back at the rental location.

Now, let’s talk about performance and styling. This is not a race car. It’s a small sedan designed for fuel efficiency and economy. Here again, putting “sporty” aluminum wheels and a trunk lid spoiler on a car like this is almost blindly optimistic as they really serve no other purpose than to dress up an otherwise unexciting body design. That’s not to say the Focus is ugly. I just don’t know too many people who will get whiplash when one drives by.

Ford’s inline four cylinder engine is not going to win you any races at the local drag strip…especially with an automatic transmission. I remember driving the 3 door hatchback Focus when they first came out. That one had a five speed manual which made the Focus a little more fun to drive than the automatic equipped sedan we are discussing here. Again, the sedan is not designed to be a “fun” car. It’s designed to get people from A to B in one piece while not requiring a bank loan to fill the tank. The engine does have all the power you need to get around town and drive at 70+ miles per hour on the highway without getting squashed by eighteen wheelers.

Ford claims the Focus can get up to 35 miles per gallon gas mileage. Based on 7 hours or so worth of driving, I’d say the Ford engineers are actually erring just on the low side for this one. For the approximately 400 mile roundtrip, I averaged 36.2 MPG according to the Focus’ mileage display while driving right around 70 MPH most of the way and encountering some heavy rush hour traffic. I even saw 45 MPG at one point when I was flirting with some very basic “hypermiling” techniques just for giggles. I think it would even be possible to get 50+ MPH out of this car on the highway if you were not insistent on driving like a deranged type A personality on a caffeine high.

My only gripes performance wise (understanding that this is not a “performance” car) are the brakes and the steering. Don’t misunderstand me, both the brakes and steering are good on this car. Perhaps too good.

I had trouble getting used to the brakes. Maybe it was the weight of the car. Maybe it was the size of the brake pedal, or Ford used some freakishly large brake discs for the size of the car. I don’t know. However, it seemed that, whenever I lightly tapped the brakes, the nose dived something serious and we were well on our way to being stopped dead in the middle of the highway before I knew what was happening. This could be a potential safety plus or minus depending on your perspective. One thing is for sure: I didn’t have to worry about rear ending anyone in rush hour traffic coming out of Austin. Getting rear ended…that’s another story.

The steering was equally sensitive. There was NO play at all in the steering. You breathe on the steering wheel, and the car makes a change in direction. Again, maybe it’s just me. I do think the car handled very well for its size. Cornering was good. It didn’t feel like the front end was pushing or the back end wanted to see what the front end was doing. The tightness of the steering was actually a plus when you wanted to make a turn. Its turning radius is pretty short which made my morning u-turn into the donut shop parking lot much easier than it is in the Windstar.

Build quality appeared to be good throughout. The doors and trunk made solid “thunk” noises when you shut them. There were no annoying rattles or other quirky noises. In fact, the road noise was fairly minimal indicating fairly good insulation of the cabin.

My overall impression is that the Focus is a good car for its intended purpose. Some might even argue that it’s a great car for its intended purpose. I would consider buying one as a commuter car if I weren’t lucky enough to be working from home.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Random Road Trip Remark

Yesterday, I had to leave the castle to attend a mediation in Austin, TX. For me, Austin is one of those locations that is a coin toss as to whether I fly or drive. With airport security and my aversion to missing flights, travel time works out about the same. Cost-wise, it's cheaper to drive than fly right now. That doesn't concern me terribly much when the company is picking up the tab, but I do try to be a good corporate citizen and save the company a dollar or two when I can in the hopes that it will have some small impact on the company's bottom line which will, in turn, be passed on to consumers in some minuscule way. Yeah, I know. I am frightfully optimistic sometimes.

Anyway, I rented a snazzy little Ford Focus from Enterprise for the drive there and back. Here again, it's cheaper to rent a car for two days than to get reimbursed at $0.50/per mile for a 400 mile round trip. See? I'm such a thoughtful guy. Let's not forget that renting saves wear and tear on my already worn out vehicles (like the 2000 Nissan Maxima with 300,000+ miles on it which hasn't passed inspection since 2004 'cause the mechanic is clueless). Later, I'm going to write up a review of the Focus just for giggles. Who knows. Maybe Ford will spot it and offer me a gig writing reviews of their other the Mustang...yeah, that's the ticket. I know. I'm digressing something fierce this morning. Blame on yesterday's 5:00 AM wake up call and spending 7 hours +/- in an "intermediate" sized car. More on that later.

Alright, here's the point of this little stroll through the meandering paths of my worn out brain, I saw a billboard on the way to Austin that would catch most men's eyes. It was a mostly white billboard with a torso shot of a female in a bikini top and jean shorts. The billboard said "The Bikini Stop" and, in bright yellow, "Free Beer".

Hmmmm....bikinis and free beer. I'm guessing this place is a bar of kind, and it sounds like it would be a popular place especially given its location in the middle of nowhere (actually between Waco and West) on I-35 which, thanks to NAFTA, is the main highway bringing stuff north out of Mexico.

When I passed this place on my way south early yesterday morning, there was a distinct lack of activity at The Bikini Stop. As one would expect at 6:30 in the morning. However, I made a mental note to see how poopular a place it was on my way back home.

When I rolled back through that area at around 7:00 last evening, there was not a single solitary vehicle in that parking lot. ???? You'd think the parking lot would be full of big rigs and duallies. I guess bikinis and beer don't draw the rednecks and truckers like they used to. I didn't have time to investigate further as I had to meet mom for dinner and get the Focus back to Enterprise before it turned into an extra day rental charge pumpkin.

Next time, I'll try to remember to take the camera with me and get photos for posterity.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Paint Job - Part 2

Yep. Couldn't stand it any longer. Blogger puts up a new design tool to tweak the look, and I just had to play with it. Not sure I'm done playing with it yet, but I like this for the moment.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Odds and Ends

Today, I thought I would share some of the wackier photos from my iPhone. Quant images captured in the various wanderings of The Preacher and The Queen.

Would you like to dance big boy? This is a rather prickly piece of art spotted at a gallery in east Fort Worth. The same artist had a similar piece decorated completely in pennies. Asking price? $25,000. My question: who, in their right mind, pays $25,000 for a mannequin covered in pennies? I have to admit, though, whoever thunk this up had a pretty eye catching idea.

I was in the check out line at an Ace Hardware store when I spotted this one. It was my profile picture on Facebook for a while. I love it. It makes me crack up everytime.

I spotted this one at the local Walgreen's, and I even had to call The Queen over to show her I wasn't making it up. Kinda reminds me of a movie where these kids discover their neighborhood is inhabited by all the old movie monsters, but the monsters are real. The kids are fighting Wolfman one night, and one of the kids manages to kick Wolfman in the groin. Wolfman howls in pain, and kid says "Whoa, Wolfman's got nads." Can't remember the name of the movie though. It was funny/sad.

I'm slowly driving along in a strip center parking lot after dinner one night with The Queen, and she says: "Did you see that?" I said, "No, what?" She said, "Back up. You've got to see this." This was the display from a store that sells...ahem..."Club Attire". Who knew they made mannequins like this?

Monday, June 7, 2010

When In Doubt

When you absolutely positively must start your barbeque grill right now and there is no lighter fluid in the house, you can rely on your handy dandy Benz-o-matic propane torch to get the job done. Count on it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Memorial Day Post

As just about every living, breathing American is aware, Monday, May 31 was Memorial Day. A time when we are encouraged to remember the men and women serving and who have served in the armed forces. More specifically, those men and women who have fallen in the service of our country. It might seem a little incongruous to be writing a Memorial Day post 4 days after the fact, but I actually think this is the perfect time to do such a thing. So many Americans have forgotten what Memorial Day is about or treat it as just a blase' excuse to get drunk and sunburned or go shopping that I think it's good to do things "out of order" sometimes and force people to think about things when they aren't expecting it (and more likely to be sober and able to pay attention).

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that my family is one of those that does not have a strong tradition of service in the military. My grandparents on my father's side are the most recent members of the military in the family. Both served in the navy during World War II: my grandfather as a lieutenant serving as an engineering officer aboard the escort carrier Mission Bay and my grandmother as an ensign serving as a nurse at a hospital. Like many of their generation, they didn't talk about their service much, if at all. At least not to me. I wasn't even aware that my grandmother had been a navy nurse until I was in my 20s. I think my cousins got the benefit of them becoming more chatty as they became older. That, or it became more acceptable for war vets to talk about their service again in the 80s and 90s. I should note here that my mother's father was also, briefly, a member of the Army during World War II; however, the manner in which he completed his service leaves an open question as to the honorableness of that service. We'll just leave it at that for now.

Like many young men, I considered joining the military when I was in high school. Something about getting your selective service card in the mail forces you to think about it. I was your typical 17 year old, suburban  high school student at the time. I had less than half a clue what I wanted to do with my life and even less of a clue about how to go about doing it. I did have a freshly minted pilot's license in my pocket (that's another long story for another post) and a lifelong love affair with airplanes. I figured the military had all the cool airplanes. So, I visited with all the recruiters about the possibilities of a 17 year old from the 'burbs getting his hands on America's finest birds of prey.

In short, they were not good. First off, there was the long hair. All the recruiters, except for the Marine I talked to, asked me if I was on drugs and refused to believe that a 17 year old from a North Dallas suburb had never tried illegal drugs. I had no desire to do drugs then and still don't. Reality is interesting enough without recreational pharmaceuticals, and the recruiters' refusal to believe my drug free status didn't sit well with me. Second, there was the education. With the possible exception of flying helicopters in the Army (the Army has the Warrant Officer ranks which fall between the enlisted ranks and commissioned officers), I was informed that military pilots were all officers. Officer rank meant a minimum of a college degree or spending time as an enlisted person earning a recommendation to Officer Candidate School. Third, there were no guarantees. Oh, they'd tell you anything you'd want to hear to get you to sign on the dotted line; but, like the fine print says, once you're in you are government property to be used and abused as needs of the service dictate. I ultimately went with my mother's recommendation to go to college first and revisit the military question after I had obtained my degree. By the time I had graduated from college, Clinton was in office and it didn't seem like a good time to be in the military.

It's just as well. I found out a few years ago on a visit to the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, FL that I am too tall to fit in the cockpits of most military aircraft. Which. Sucks. One dream/fantasy killed. That means I would have had to find other ways to serve in the military; or, rather, they would have found other ways for me to serve the military...most likely as cannon fodder. Let's see now...which targets are the easiest to hit in any given set of circumstances? Oh yeah, the biggest targets. The only plus I had going for me as a moving target at the time was that I was painfully thin for my height.

Now, having fully disclosed my lack of actual military experience and fairly thin family background on the subject, here's the question I would like to pose to my loyal readership on this post Memorial Day post: Is there any such thing as a Necessary War?


Obviously, there are at least two parties to every war or conflict: the aggressor or attacker and the aggressee or the victim. Think Nazi Germany and everyone else in Europe. Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Kuwait. I am asking this question from the aggressor's point of view as I think every nation that's been on the receiving end of an aggressor's attack would argue that, yes, most definitely, war is necessary. For example, I don't think that any red blooded American would argue that we should have taken Pearl Harbor on the chin and let Japan have the entire Pacific Rim and a good sized chunk of mainland Asia without a fight.  

As a student of history and human culture, the motivations or causes of war can be lumped into three basic categories: Economics (including grabs for land and raw materials), Religion (my god is bigger than your god) and Emotions (including nationalistic pride, bad jokes, love...who could forget about Helen of Troy?, etc.). So, understanding the motivations and causes of war, what legitimate justification does any aggressor have to start a war? With anybody? Is there any prize worth the destruction and loss of life involved? Is there no other way to achieve certain goals but by violence on a national scale? I, for one, cannot think of any legitimate reason to start a war.

With anybody.


Needless to say, I can think of several reasons for finishing a war someone else started.

Were your ancestors killed by someone else's ancestors a thousand years ago?  Guess what? Killing their descendants now ain't going to bring your dead ancestors back nor will it teach their ancestors a lesson. They're dead too. 

Does your nation need more oil? Buy it, drill for it yourself or figure out another energy source. My blood and the blood of every man and woman serving our country, and every other country for that matter, is worth more than any amount of oil.

Does your country need more land? Well, that is a tricky one. Last I checked, God wasn't making any more of it and it's a bit of an expensive and difficult do it yourself project. Just taking a wild guess here, I'm thinking the estimated $800 plus billion spent on the Iraq War to date by the US could go a long way towards figuring out how to overcome that challenge.

I greatly respect those who have chosen to serve in the military. It is important that every one think about the sacrifice of those living and dead who have fought for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. Even the right to be irresponsible morons sometimes. However, I look forward to a time God has promised to come:

He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. - Isaiah 2:4
In the meantime, remember those who serve for us now and those who have gone before. Never forget. Never take them for granted.