Friday, August 28, 2009

Where is California's Car Genius?

Or genii as I am pretty sure the plural is written.

It has long been evident (to me at least) that part of the reason the American car industry has crashed like a Mastodon on thin ice is because it looks for its creative spark in, of all places, Detroit.

I don't have anything against Detroit. I wish it were a better place. It happens to be a bad place--one of the worst cities in the United States. Does anyone with world-class creative juices, connections, or even just iPod-like coolness live there, or want to live there? I know I am going to sound parochial by saying it, but I suspect the answer is "no". Or if they do live there, they are hurting to leave (didn't Madonna grow up near Detroit--and scrammed as a youth for a flophouse in the junkiest part of Manhattan?). You will argue that it produced tailfins and huge engines and large success for many years. I will say I agree, but that the Pinto and the Aspen and the Suburban have long buried that glory in a mound of disgraceful and now very disfavored automotive junk.

So we are expecting a city with a wretched recent history, zero creativity and all the verve of a bag full of jello and marshmallows to come up with the next great automotive idea? Don't bet the house on that. Don't bet a nickel. They may be able to build them there--but they sure as heck don't seem much able to design them there.

That's where the Golden State comes in. After all, where would Detroit be without Los Angeles to buy Cobalts and Magnums and Azteks by the boatload? How many cars do Californians buy a year? I don't know--but it is a sick number I am certain. So why don't the folks up along Sand Hill Road recruit the next Bid Daddy Roth and come up with some butt-kicking car ideas and ramp up a company kind of the way they did with software? Kind of like the dreamers in Hollywood came up with Titanic and Coraline and the cinematic version of Chicago? How about combining the best of California--entrepreneurship, a taste for the greener choices in life (and I don't mean just money) plus the old razzle-dazzle--and putting that considerable energy and money and brainpower behind a new automotive industry?

Do I think it can happen overnight? No. Do I think that in twenty years we'd be driving 150mpg cars that look like Excellence on Wheels, and for which the world will clamor (the way it does for software and movies)? I do.

I know California's not exactly in great shape these days either. But on its worst day, it's got about a thousand percent better chance of coming up with a winner than the Glyptodonts in Michigan who've spent the last forty years lying and dying and losing and snoozing.


Monday, August 24, 2009

How Does Anyone Stomach the Purchase of a New Car?

I am driving a car with a hundred thousand miles on it. I happen to like it and take pretty good care of it. It's one of those 4-cylinder ugly-cute hybrids that the Japanese seem so good at making, and you can pretend it's an SUV on some days but you don't have to pay for all the gas you'd need if you had the real thing.

One day I thought I'd see about getting a sedan from the same company--I like sedans, too, and I like it when they are pretty sleek and pretty good on gas. So I went to a dealer whose name seemed to profess a propensity for being Friendly, not expecting them to be anything but ordinary and somewhat on the slimy side.

I came away with my convictions intact: I find it hard to believe that anyone can stomach the purchase of a new car except very rarely or when one really needs to do so.

Of course, I started my research on-line and found out that leases were going off at two-twenty nine a month and that my car had a blue-book value of around sixty-five hundred bucks. The amount owed to the bank was a little less than that amount. Perhaps perversely, I wanted them to take my car instead of the up-front fees they usually ask for (a couple of grand) to get the lease started.

Maybe this is what doomed the transaction from the start. But I got the distinct impression that the dealership expected to relieve me of my vehicle for considerably less than it was worth, sell it for considerably more than it was worth, and still make me pay full freight on the lease. Why not?

The offense is in the way this transparent unfairness is often tricked up by car dealers. I think they believe their customers must be idiots (because buying a new car is inherently stupid?--I don't know).

It started with the salesperson telling me that a certain "he" had said my perfectly presentable car was "in rough shape" and that they couldn't come anywhere near blue-book. When I pointed out the difference in dollars and cents, I was told that "he" would not "insult me" with an offer that approached the blue-book value. Also, that the blue-book "didn't really follow the market", which was an amazing thing to say about the industry-standard price guide.

I figured this combination of reverse terminology and outright denial of fact must be part of the not-so-subtle bag of tricks the salesperson deploys to confuse the buyer. It confused me, but only in the sense that I wasn't sure if it was a trick or if the salesperson might be running low on batteries somehow. The resultant lease offer was fully more than a hundred dollars a month more than my research had suggested it might cost (and what the company's national advertising campaign proclaimed).

Then came the math part. "Even if I could get you another thousand" on the car, it would only bring the price down by thirty dollars. On the other hand, if I paid them two thousand up front, the price would come down by at least a hundred dollars--a three-to-one ratio in their favor.

I asked what happened to the two-twenty-nine, since we weren't even close. "Where did you see that?" It was as if I had brought in a dead rat and had asked to have it appraised. That it had been seen in a "national advertising campaign" was treated as if it had been transmitted to me by aliens in a heiroglyph unreadable in the car-dealership domain.

This led me to the conclusion that they had no need to sell a car to me, and I shook hands with their salesperson and left.

I may hang on to my car for another hundred thousand miles. It may be less insulting to my pride to drive around in a dented old rustbucket than to feel the chill of car-dealer slime applied liberally about my head and shoulders any time soon.

So my question remains: how can anyone put up with it? No other type of transaction is ever as rife with chicanery. How do they sell even a single car except to the careless, desperate or innocent? I will continue to ponder.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Howard Stern: What a Chump!

Remember "The King of All Media" with his easy sneer and his Quivering sidekick, making fun of big boobs and retards and minorities and talking about dicks and farts and occasionally about politics as if anyone cared what he thought about anything but the way he described the nether cheeks of any of a dozen visiting whores and cum-bunnies?

Remember how he was always picking on the easiest targets, and how he always got away with sneering at people who were truly different by hiding behind his self-professed ugliness, gratuitously his Jewishness, and the platitudinous Negritude of his helpmate?

Remember how he seemed to be the voice of every teen boy and undersexed twenty and thirty something male in the whole wide universe? How he made it seem, if you squinted hard (really, really hard), that it might be cool to be a wisecracking nobody with no friends and nothing better to do than snarl and chuckle and hope that some chick will do something dirty for you without you having to pay?

Remember his front-page battles with the mean-old government that wanted to keep him from cursing on-air? And then how he figured he'd get the last laugh by doing his show the way he'd always wanted to do it? On satellite radio? With, like, twelve people listening?

Well, I am sure he's sulking all the way to the mouse-click that shows him his hefty bank balance, but can it really be the case that in a very short time indeed, he has become totally, utterly, incontrovertibly irrelevant?

When was the last time you heard anyone--I mean anyone at all--mention good old Howard Stern? Does he still have a show on satellite radio? Is there such a thing as satellite radio anymore?

Isn't it wonderful how the world's biggest jackasses so often end up tripping over their own big floppy egos and landing face down in a lonesome puddle at the end of the field where nobody's watching anymore?

If only Rush Limbowel would go where Stern went. But he's never made the mistake of overestimating his viewers. He knows they wouldn't bother to buy into some cockamaimie monthly service plan just to hear his drivel.

Poor Howard. Where do you suppose he stands on the Health Care issue? I'm sure he'd think of something dirty to say about it. But it's too late. Nobody cares what he says. Not one person.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Some poets, not all, are social behaviorists. Confined to paper are countless psychiatric observations and self-analyses in the poetic medium that supersede some of the impressions and theories of psychologists, therapists, and anthropologists. But the poetic terrain is not an exclusive domain for saber-sharp diagnoses and deliberations on the varieties of human experience. I would wish to recruit all artists, regardless of their field or vision, to begin a push towards renewed interrogation of human folly in the form of splenetic, crude, and darkest satire.

While we at the moment derive great entertainment from political and social satire these are mostly television-based and intend to poke fun rather than stab violently. Jonathan Swift! The age has great need for you! There are people who die in car accidents because they are chatting on their cell phones and not paying attention to the road; train conductors who kill themselves and passengers because they were texting; teenagers and adults alike who devote more time to video games and sudoku than they do discussing their deliberations of the world; a culture of attention deficit disorder growing more adept at inattentiveness and amnesia; an electorate which still in the main believes in its leaders and thinks "Change" is a jingle by which one washes one's laundry. Swiftian spears need to be thrown and hit their targets dead-on. If the subjects are killed or otherwise are compelled to reform their misbegotten ways, all the better. The Age of Harsh Satire must commence now! J/C

Friday, August 14, 2009

In Support of Poets

I am in full agreement with the economic analysis put forth in the most recent All Poets Are Thieves posting.

I moved to Manhattan when no one (apparently) wanted to be here and got an admittedly rather crummy apartment for a hundred and fifty dollars a month. If that same apartment today were not ten times as expensive--maybe more--I would be shocked.

Today, the notion that one is young, ambitious, creative and pretty broke yet able to find a home in the canyons of the great City of Dreams, is chimerical. Even as rents fall by fifteen and twenty percent (at most), the city, and especially Manhattan, is still held in a white-knuckled grip by landlords (and co-op owners and condo-owners to a lesser extent)who seek crazily to drive every penny of profit out of each and every livable space between the Battery and Spuyten Duyvil (and beyond).

This did not happen in a vacuum. Certain large areas of Manhattan were, for a long enough time, a bargain for the creative minds that powered it--until there were enough of them to crowd out the junkies, thieves, creeps, drunks and filthy whackos that used to lard the populace and help keep the whole place somewhat on edge and somewhat undesirable to those seeking a proper, hassle-free lifestyle. Many of those who arrived as broke creatives became loft-owners and wanted nothing less than a hassle-free lifestyle and then fully supported the various crackdowns and price-runs that eventually created a city that now resembles the city of old only in its pace and its linear height.

So many of the old charms (yes, charms) of Manhattan are now gone. Small, cranky shops that could be found nowhere else are now nowhere to be found. Does anyone remember places like Magickal Childe where you could buy henbane and skulls, or 13th Street Lumber where you could buy pieces of wood small enough to carry home yourself? One could go on--the loss of diners, the loss of bookstores, the loss of non-chain-store coffee shops, the loss of cheap junk shops with really cool stuff in them--in essence, the loss of uniqueness that made Manhattan a place where one could manage to live well and cheaply and just beyond the clutches of landowners and great corporations that had moved to the suburbs.

Manhattan today, even as it suffers a severe economic downturn, is no place for the young dreamer of little means. Today's rag-tag dreamer has become a victim of a previous generation of dreamers' success. This is terribly sad. But young dreamers will find their own places--some have gone to the Hudson Valley for instance, and some to still-marginal sections of the boroughs (not including Williamsburgh which is well-trodden and unjustifiably expensive). Manhattan will be the richer, but also much the poorer--and certainly far, far less interesting.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

All Poets Are Thieves!!!

Dateline, Tri-state Area (NYC, NJ, CT)...

I enjoy misnomers, especially when they are used by me. No, Virginia, not all poets are thieves and some are quite affluent, by birth or art endowment. These types don't need to steal literally or be tempted to do so. But many writers whatever the material shapes of their imaginations must peddle their wares and lives in quiet or noisy desperation. They do not necessarily wish to join the ranks of the financially comfortable and very few would be inclined to steal a penny, a pen, a penthouse, what have you. For any artist any decade, any century, it is, in general, tough to survive the world and striving with expenses and extra-artistic labors to make ends and odds meet can be a genuinely disconcerting life-long condition. Comparatively, it might have been easier in past decades, say, the seventies, to live cheaply in the tri-state area, the waters have always been rough, here, there, everywhere. Yet now it is more difficult and Mayor Bloomberg, if his vision of New York City as a haven for the aristocratic elite and no one else can be related back to classical philosophers, is like Plato, inadvertently* banishing the poets and all other artists to the margins or the sub-suburbs.

Manhattan is treacherous for the creative mind not equipped with a hefty check book and some neighborhoods seem peopled with the folks e.e. cummings warned us about: "...the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls/are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds..." For "Cambridge," think "Soho" or most other neighborhoods south of 96th Street. One can only hope that Poet's House, Stanley Kunitz's marvelous institution, can redeem the upper end of Battery Park City, when it relocates there very soon from 72 Spring Street in what real estate developers call "NoLita" and poets call "lower East Side." The new location is one of the unpoetic spaces in Manhattan so I hope its presence can miraculously bring beauty where now only the nouveaux riche and Wall Street execs prance about the corridors of their eco-friendly luxury condos in unbeautiful ungestures to culture.**

* I do hope Bloomberg is not intentionally wiping out artists or the working-class. What's your take, o reader?

** The other half of Battery Park City, Gateway Plaza and downward, still has charm, some fine people, and persevering sense of cosmopolitan self.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Abject Failure of Existing Government Health Care

We know it mostly as "Medicare" and it's for old folks. It doesn't cost anything. It's run by the government. By all accounts, it is a 100% failure.

In fact, by every account I know of, it is universally lethal. Have you heard of any old person ever having survived the onslaught of Medicare's pill-slinging, hipbone-setting, cardiac-massaging minions? Of course not. Every single old person under its care ends up dying. This is a great tragedy--an American holocaust. But of course no one--not even anti-government teabaggers--dares talk about it. This is because everyone knows that one day, they too will end up in the deadly clutches of Medicare. Evidently they are hoping their silence will buy them an extra few years before, in its mysterious, inexorable way, Medicare oversees their death.

The worst part of Medicare is that everyone gets it. If you were poor and uninsured at 64, you are, when you turn 65, still poor but also in the deadly grip of Medicare. And you have no hope of survival. Seniors, frightened and intimidated by the certain death awaiting them at the hands of Medicare, say nothing. The quietest among them accept the care for many years--and survive sometimes to celebrate their one hundredth birthday. But no one survives much past their centenary.

Who knows how long seniors might live without this deadly government program? A hundred and ten? A hundred and twenty-five? A hundred and seventy-five? Five hundred? Have we no right to find out? Of course not. The government has made certain there are no survivors.

Take heed, America. The silent acceptance of Medicare by seniors is evidence enough. They are too frightened to tell you what it's like to have free medical care from the government--too scared to tell you that it will eventually kill you.