Monday, December 11, 2017

Ouf, Je Suis Fatiguee

Traveling today and also recovering from one of those weeks when I realize that I'm no longer in my thirties.

Also, it appears that one of our world's more excitable types has blown pieces off of himself somewhere in the subway system, thus delaying today's travels.  We'll be back shortly, or as soon as we're able to find an internet connection.

Spoof, Right?

Sexual Revolution Working Out Great, Reports Nation Full Of Perverts
According to the country with dozens of famous celebrities, television pundits, and politicians currently embroiled in sexual scandals, the sexual revolution was a necessary period that allowed the nation to throw off the outdated, restricted shackles of religion and biblical morality.

“I really pity all those backward parts of the world that haven’t had the privilege of experiencing their own sexual revolution,” one politician said as he checked Twitter to see if his own personal indiscretions had been revealed yet. “One day, they’ll be enlightened too.”

An Obituary of Note

Bruce Brown, longtime surf filmmaker and director of the seminal “Endless Summer” just passed at 80 years old

He was the creator of the documentary that significantly altered or ruined my life, depending on whom you ask.

Brown was profiled in The Coracle a couple of years ago.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tales from Our Post-Christian Society

Atlanta Targets Good Samaritans Sharing Food with Homeless
Feed yourself in a public park. Feed the pigeons and the squirrels there, too. Whatever you do, though, don't share your food with a hungry person.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Zora Arkus-Duntov

"This is the most beautiful car I have ever seen." 

When I was a lay brother at an Episcopal Church monastery, and the junior member of the order, I would be expected to fulfill a variety of obtuse, non-traditional responsibilities.  For example, while I did maintain the altar and its various vessels and appointments, I would also have to re-shingle the tool shed, clean the bishop's guest room on the occasions when he had stayed out too late playing poker and didn't want to return home just yet, extract the honey from the hives that supplied the product sold at our roadside stand, and clear the spiders and their webs from the cloister.  [The other monks were afraid of spiders.] I would also have to maintain the monastery's automobiles, which was the best part of the job.

Monasteries, like churches, receive a variety of in-kind donations, some of which are actually useful.  I've never served in a church that didn't have a closet filled with such things as obsolete fax machines and computers, or didn't have a piano with a cracked soundboard sitting about gathering dust.  I credit our Father Superior with making sure that, if we were to receive an in-kind donation, it wasn't someone's junk being used to pad their tax deductions, but something that would actually be useful to the order.  This meant our stereo system in the monastic enclosure was primo, as was our riding mower and our supermarket account.

Best of all, we had been given a twelve-passenger Dodge van, an Oldsmobile Ciera, a Volvo 240, and the Father Superior's pride and joy, a Mercedes saloon [or, in American, a sedan].  My job was to keep the vehicles clean inside and out, change the oil, rotate the tires, and arrange for repairs when necessary.  [They knew I had once worked at a GMC Truck garage.]  While I had grown up in a Chevy and Ford family, with all car needs met by the corner "filling station", it was a completely different experience when taking the Superior's Mercedes to the dealership's garage.

Instead of Gomer and Goober, I had to deal with Hans and Ignaz.  Rather than oil-stained shirts with their Teutonic names embroidered above the pocket, they wore lab coats.  Stain-free lab coats, like the one worn by the guy who had taken out my tonsils in childhood.  Like the rocket scientists who worked with my Dad and, also like the rocket scientists, with German accents that were nearly impenetrable.  They regarded any owner/driver with apparent disdain, as if it were personally insulting to them that someone had allowed a fine machine to be less-than-perfect.

One day while I was there, waiting in the well-appointed ante-room with its better-than-gas-station quality coffee on offer [this was in the days before Keurig machines and Starbuck's burned muck]  and with portraits of the great Mercedes cars and drivers decorating the walls, I heard a startling exclamation.

"Vas ist das?!"

Hans [or maybe it was Ignaz] had just witnessed an abomination.  He was joined milliseconds later by Ignaz [or maybe it was Hans] who also stared at this wonder with bulging eyes and slack mouth.  He, too, repeated, "Vas ist das?!"

You see, someone had the temerity to bring before them a Mercedes-Benz roadster, the two-seat convertible, that had been...altered.  The owner, a young executive with the dominant local industry, had outfitted his otherwise perfect car with, Gott mit uns, "mag wheels".  That is, jazzy wheel covers that didn't match the stately dignity of the rest of the car.  They would have looked more at home on a candy-coated, lowered 1956 Chevy.  It was so upsetting that Hans [again, maybe Ignaz] refused to work on the vehicle.

I suspect that a similar exclamation was made by Zora Arkus-Duntov the first time he saw a particular car with its hood open.  The car was the showpiece of General Motors' Motorama auto show of 1953, held in New York City.  Made from that new material, fiberglass, and adorned with a bright perma-white finish, the Chevrolet Corvette was intended as a "concept car", a one-off product designed to bring in crowds to look at the more pedestrian sedans and station wagons that they would wind up buying.  Instead, it was so wildly popular that even the execs at GM realized they were on to something.

Arkus-Duntov, while recognizing the beauty of the car, also noticed its fatal marketing flaw.  Despite that it was the first real American sports car [some claim it still is], its exterior beauty was not matched by the most important part of a sports car's being.  It's engine was a pathetically under-powered 235 cubic inch, in-line six cylinder.

Arkus-Duntov knew something of engines and cars.  He had already, in his native Germany, been a motorcycle racer, automobile racer, engineering student, and the author of several important papers examining issues of automotive engine design.  So revered are engineers in German culture that he was considered glamorous enough to have married a popular dancer who had worked in the Folies Bergère.  When World War II began, Arkus-Duntov and his wife being Jews, knew enough to get out of Germany.  He did so by joining the French air force along with his brother, while his wife, Elfi, moved to Paris.

They had little chance to engage in dog fights, as the French surrendered shortly afterwards.  With their countrymen now rapidly crossing France, Arkus-Duntov and his brother hid in a...well...a house that supported what is certainly the oldest profession, while Elfi raced their MG roadster ahead of the invading panzers, meeting the Arkus-Duntov siblings and fleeing to the ports of Portugal and, ultimately, a ship to New York just in the nick of time.  [I'm trying to imagine the conversation upon their reunion.  "You were hiding...where?"]

The Arkus-Duntov brothers started a successful business in New York, eventually becoming the manufacturers of the aluminum overhead valve combustion chamber used on what is easily regarded as the best auto engine of the era, the Ford V8 flathead.  [Still the engine of choice for hot-rodders.]

So, imagine what it was like, not long after the Motorama, for the chief engineer of Chevrolet to receive a letter from Arkus-Duntov offering his services in any way that General Motors saw fit, as long as it included making the Corvette into a true sports car.  Not only was the car to be attractive and functional, but it was to be powerful enough to give an enthusiast a thrill and compete against the European marques in continental road racing.  They said "yes", obviously.  So, Zora Arkus-Duntov, late of the race tracks of Europe, author of numerous, groundbreaking studies in engineering, French air force hero [almost], and the enabler of the single best engine yet in existence, became an assistant engineer in Detroit at the age of 44.

The pre-Arkus-Duntov Corvette

And the initial Arkus-Duntov version

Not caring about his status, and completely committed to this new project, Arkus-Duntov wrote the seminal paper in American sports and muscle car development, "Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot-Rodders, and Chevrolet".  In it, he established the philosophy of the Corvette, almost a theology, actually, that determined everything from construction to appearance to marketing.  Not only was the Corvette to be a pretty car, albeit one with a massively powerful engine, and not only was it to be a popular plaything of gearheads, but it would challenge in both showroom and track the products of Porsche, Ferrari, and Mercedes.

Corvettes on the track
General Motor's reaction to his all-encompassing philosophy was to grant him a new position within the corporation: Director of High Performance.  Not satisfied with simply having a desk job, Arkus-Duntov fitted a new version of a small block V8 in the Corvette and raced it himself in the Pikes Peak climbing competition, setting a record for a street vehicle.  He also took the Corvette to Daytona Beach and drove it to a speed record of 150 miles per hour, an unheard of figure in 1956.  In between racing adventures, Arkus-Duntov found the time to design a fuel-injected engine and disc brakes, both firsts on mass-produced automobiles.

The famous and extremely innovative wrap-around split window 1963 version,
continuing Arkus-Duntov's record of innovation
While Arkus-Duntov would retire in 1975, indelibly recognized as the "Father of the Corvette" and the creator of its lasting brand and image, he maintained his participation in the marketing of the car as he was very much in demand at auto shows and other gatherings of gearheads.  Even into his eighties, he continued to push the Corvette as the one vehicle in the GM stable that represented the newest and most innovative engineering and would perpetually stir the heart and imagination of any car enthusiast.

The 1975, the last to be directly supervised by Arkus-Duntov
Zora Arkus-Duntov would die in Detroit at the age of 86, not too many weeks after an appearance at a trade show where he was the keynote speaker.  His ashes would be interred at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  There are a number of magazine articles and some books about Arkus-Duntov and the Corvette, and a particularly important obituary written by George Will for The Washington Post that sums up his contribution not just to the development of a particular car, but of the can-do attitude of the post-WWII United States.

As Will writes: " Zora Arkus-Duntov died the other day in Detroit at 86. And if, 700 words from now, you do not mourn his passing, you are not a good American."   Thus, yet another immigrant used his vision and talent to contribute to the multi-faceted and ever-protean experience that is America.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Before People Get Too Hysterical about the Jerusalem Decision...

From USA Today:
When running for president 25 years ago, Bill Clinton promised to “support Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.” President George W. Bush criticized Clinton for not following up on that commitment, but then W failed to make good on his too. During Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he stated that, “we should move our embassy to Jerusalem” but never recognized the city as the capital once he was elected.
Update: At 5:32 p.m. on June 5, 2017, 90 senators, including many currently criticizing yesterday's action, voted to reaffirm Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital.  It's not about principle, it's just about party.  Choose your heroes wisely, kids.

More Needlehooks

“I just want to say that, predisposed as I am to think of Weinstein as an evil power-abuser, I don’t accept the portrayal of all of his facilitators as machine parts. He couldn’t have built a machine out of people. They had to make themselves complicit. An individual can go wrong in many ways (including through mental illness or substance abuse as well as through evil), and those who form relationships and do business are morally responsible for noticing such a person in their midst and not becoming part of his ‘machine.’ I’m going to be tough on the unwitting as well as the witting. If this really is The Reckoning, let’s look at the whole picture.”

This Is Judged As "Accurate" By The Coracle Foundation

How the Winless Cleveland Browns Won the 2017 Season

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Uncles and Cousins


I occasionally come across quotations that snag my attention like a needle-hook to yarn.  I may or may not agree with the writer's perspective, I may find them derivative or vulgar [as a person, I'm much closer to an Edwardian ne'er-do-well than I am to a 21st century tech-infused social microbe], but they represent something that stirs my thinking and, sometimes, imagination.

From time to time, I'll share them and their source, but caveat emptor.
Meryl Streep, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and the other members of the sisterhood have turned their backs on Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, John Conyers, Al Franken, Glenn Thrush, Matt Lauer, and the like. They say that they didn’t know or that, at most, they had heard a rumor or two. They are for the most part lying. Nearly all of them knew, as did Gloria Steinem and the liberals who defended Bill Clinton. The scale and the scope of these men’s misconduct were too large to have been anything other than an open secret.
Once you've seen the elites with their masks off, you can't go back to pretending any more.

Actually, This Is a Common Hiding Place in Statuary

A Piece of History Is Found in the Rear End of a Jesus Statue

Yeah, But Look at How Snazzy They Were

The Many Ways in Which Cars Were Stupendously Unsafe 60 Years Ago

Probably 3 Out of 5 If the Harry Potter Books are Discounted

1 in 5 Can’t Name an Author, New Survey Finds

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Glad I Went to Princeton

The Association of Native Americans at Yale this weekend condemned Shaka, an all-female Polynesian dance group, for appropriating Hawaiian and Tahitian culture and demanded that the group disband.

The puzzle-witted children of the privileged are really hooked on the narcotic of animosity, aren't they?  It takes a lot of negative energy and bile to create something infuriating out of innocuous activities.

My current view of Yale students was established by a young woman I observed in New Haven the other day.  I was stopped at a traffic light and watched her walk into the side of a car in front of me.  Just plumb right into it.  She left a dent.  I'm guessing she's either a STEM scholar [my physicist/mathematician Dad and his NASA colleagues could be a little ditsy from time to time] or had been "triggered" by some act of "appropriation" that had left her "micro-aggressed".

Archaeological News

Detectorists strike gold as British Museum reveals record haul

Space News

Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years

Put Down the Video Game Controller, Turn Off the Phone, Go Outside

Most American Kids Today Will Be Obese by Age 35