Wednesday, August 29, 2012


ROADSTER WELCOME ADDITION

TO MINI COOPER’S LINEUP FOR 2012

Here is my latest are review on examiner.com.

www.examiner.com/review/2012-mini-cooper-roadster-fun-and-efficient

It’s on the Mini Cooper S Roadster, a car I had a lot of fun with. Of course, my opinion probably was swayed by its six-speed manual transmission. I always have fun with stick shifts. Or nearly always do.

In fact, I had so much fun I immediately emailed the guy in charge of media relations at BMW to see if we couldn’t have this car at SAMA’s annual Rides-N-Smiles event in November.

I have written about Rides-N-Smiles before (check out my listings for last November and it comes up first) so I won’t go into great detail here about it.

Briefly, SAMA is our media organization (Southern Automotive Media Association) and Rides-N-Smiles is an annual event it sponsors in which we provide rides around the Homesstead-Miami Speedway to children who are cancer patients or survivors in programs at Baptist Children’s Hospital and Miami Children Hospital, along with their families.

Last year some veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project came along and escorted the children out to the cars. This year we plan to get more of those veterans involved as well and give them rides throughout the afternoon.

It looks like a busy day is coming up.

Now where was I?

Oh, yes. The Mini Cooper S Roadster.

It’s a new model for 2012. And though it is front-wheel drive (I’d prefer RWD) it is so much fun to drive I was hoping to get it on the track for the full experience.

Thanks to BMW, we’ll have that opportunity.

I’ll let you know how it goes.



Saturday, August 18, 2012


CATCHING UP ON AUTO REVIEWS

Back near the end of May I started posting my auto reviews at examiner.com instead of on this site.

I thought anyone who was interested could go there. It’s a short trip.

But I since have learned that apparently my reviews are tailored for the South Florida area, or maybe the Southeast, and not available everywhere, at least not yet.

The more I publish, the better chance I have to be promoted for national exposure. In the meantime, here are a couple of my recent reviews:

First, the Audi A5.
The 2013 Audi A5.

I really liked the A5, and so did my wife. Not sure the pictures really do it justice cuz it really is stunning.

The performance is unreal. With all-wheel drive, the handling is excellent, and it is great when cornering with no body roll. The suspension is tight enough yet provides a comfortable experience for your passenger.

And, as I point out in the review, the pricing is realistic with the coupe starting under $38,000 (six-speed manual transmission).

My test model came with the Tiptronic automatic and a base price of $39,050, but extras pushed the final price tag to $43,635.

I’ve never personally shopped in that segment, you understand, but in today’s market, you have to consider that reasonable. The $40,000-plus car of today is pretty much what used to be the $30,000 car.

Here is the link:


The second of my recent reviews is on the Prius c.

The 2012 Prius c.

Full disclosure here: I’ve never been a big fan of hybrids. Early on, they were not worth the price, and you had to drive them so many miles over the norm to make them worth the premium you were paying up front they weren’t worth it.

That is pretty much still the case, really. I have a friend who probably doesn’t drive anywhere near 10,000 miles a year. I told him he it would be a long time before he made up the difference. but he bought a Prius anyway.

But I have to give Toyota some credit. The improvements they have made with the Prius have made it a much better car.

They also have come up with several variations of the model to fit your needs. The Prius c is designed mostly for urban use as it is slightly smaller than the full-size Prius and will take up less space in parking lots or parking on streets.

Yet the Prius c isn’t one of those two-seat bubble cars that greenies seem to love, which is a big plus in my book.

For a second car and a commuter, it may not be a bad choice. It starts at under $20,000.

Here is the link:


That’s a couple of my reviews. I’ll try to keep you updated with links to future copy.

And thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


MY PATRIOTIC DUTY


I voted today, but I’m not sure why.

Hold on.

Before you consider me an unpatriotic lout who is shirking his civic duty, let me explain.

This was a primary election day in Florida, and I’m actually registered as a member of a party I rarely support, so I really couldn’t care less who is nominated. I’m likely -- but not always -- going to vote for the other party’s candidate in November.

But when I picked up my ballot, it seemed about half of it was filled with names of people running for nominations as judges.

I have no idea who is a good judge and who is a bad judge, and I don’t trust the local newspaper to tell me either. (I used to work there. The editorial board folks generally were nice when I was there, but many were plain stupid and way away from my thinking.)

So I was kind of wasting my time -- except for two things that did make the trip worthwhile.

One is I learned that one of the candidates for county mayor is a person I used to deal with back in the late 1990s when I was still in the newspaper business. He was a guy who had been in a bad accident and was now confined in a wheelchair.

He had become active, which is understating the case, in promoting changes in laws to accommodate those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. (I’m not sorry if use of that term offends anyone; this p.c. stuff about calling them “handi-capable” people is simply stupid.)

He was even more active, again, understating the case, in seeing that the present laws are enforced, to the point that he actually hurt his own case with his belligerent approach.

He once called me up and said that the county was trying to kill people like him because of where they had put some access ramps to bus stops. And he was serious.

He was amusing for a while, but then generally became a handicap (sorry) to his own cause.

So naturally I voted for him.

The other vote was to determine if the Miami-Dade County ban on pit bulls should be repealed.

I have mixed feelings on this.

A pit bull in my neighborhood got loose once while my wife was walking our Pekingese and damn near killed the Peke. Fortunately, the big dog did not attack my wife, and the Peke survived, despite some very bad injuries, only because the owner heard the commotion and came outside to pull his dog off of ours.

So I don’t like pit bulls.

But on the other hand, the reason they are a problem is because of the training they get from humans. They can be trained as fighters and often are, but they also can be gentle.

If I remember correctly, the dog in the “Spanky and Our Gang” comedies is a pit bull, or a pit bull mix. (Not sure that there is a pure breed called a pit bull.)

Also, my son had one, and she was pretty friendly. Once when I had stopped by on a trip he wanted to throw a scare into our cats, which were in a travel kennel in the car. But when he took his dog to the kennel, it was the dog that was scared and wanted to get away.

I thought it was a riot. He didn’t see the humor.

When it came down to it, I had to vote on keeping the ban, because I have little hope that the humans will change their ways.

Patriotic duty fulfilled.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hey! There are sharks out there!


SHARK TALES FOR ‘SHARK WEEK’


It’s “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel, as if you don’t know that. It seems they are hyping that about every ten minutes on TV.

I missed last night’s episode, and all the ones from last year, so I’m not exactly all that excited. Maybe I’ll catch tonight if the baseball game gets out of hand, as many Marlins games do these days.

But I did think it might be appropriate to tell a couple of shark-related tales, even though one makes me look kind of, well, stupid. (Not an historical first.)

The first was a few years ago down in the Florida Keys. My wife an I were kayaking from an island on the Gulf side of U.S. 1 to one on the Atlantic side after getting run off by a state park ranger who informed us the first island was “closed.”

We weren’t sure how you actually close an island, but since he was a ranger we took his word for it.

Anyway, there we were paddling over when we saw something pass in the fairly shallow water beneath us.

It was a nurse shark, very common in the area, but to hear my wife tell the tale, it had all the earmarks of a huge Great White. Move over, Jaws. Far as I remember, it is really the first time I have actually seen a shark swimming around that wasn’t in captivity.

The other incident was several years ago, too many really, when I was at my first duty station. It was on Guam, out in the Pacific.

You may have heard of the island but what you may not know is that much of it is surrounded by a coral reef, and it is inside that reef that you do a lot of your swimming.

Well, actually, floating and paddling, really, because the water is very shallow. But you can snorkel and see lots of pretty fish.

We used to go on a lot of the outings on the beach on station property, and there always was a lot of beer along with us.

That’s what I am using for an excuse for what I did on one excursion.

It was getting on later in the afternoon, which meant there had been some serious drinking going on, enough that made me look for something more adventuresome than the usual snorkeling.

I decided I wanted to take my mask and go out beyond the reef and into deeper water.

What was I going to do?

Look for sharks.

Yes, you read that right. I was going to look for sharks. Or maybe just a shark. Either one was fine.

I am probably alive today because I did not succeed in my quest.

Exactly what I might have done had I actually run across a real live shark swimming in front of me, I don’t know. Probably, uh, crapped my swimsuit. All I had with me was the mask. A lot of good that would have done.

Hello, shark! Look how big this makes my eyes look!

I guess I am fortunate that I didn’t cut myself on the reef and start to bleed. That might have made things really interesting.

I did some other crazy things on that island in the 19 months and 20 days  I was on it (but who’s counting?), but that probably is near the top of the list.

At least I didn’t go lion or tiger hunting with a Swiss Army knife. But probably only because there aren’t any lions or tigers on the island, unless they have build a zoo since I left.

Did I mention a lot of beer was involved in my time there?




Tuesday, August 7, 2012


DILLINGER, CAPONE AND THE CRIME DOCTOR


I have mentioned before, several times in fact, that I like old movies, usually mysteries or crime movies.

By the way, when I write “old movies” I am not referring to movies from the 1980s or ’70s, which might qualify as “old movies” today. I mean really old, like from the 1950s and ’40s, and even some in the ’30s.

They are so much fun because they usually are just over an hour, maybe and hour-an-a-half long, so you don’t waste a lot of time or you can catch a couple in one sitting. Often, they are funny in an unintentional way, like when a guy with a .38 handgun shoots from a speeding car and actually hits someone he is chasing (or trying to escape from) in the speeding car in front of him.

It’s also interesting to see how when the cops are chasing the hero, who has been falsely accused (of course) of some misdoing, the cops never make it around a tight street corner and their car overturns while the hero makes a successful getaway. Running into a fruit cart is a constant end for the cops.

These movies often are available through Netflix or can be found on occasion on Turner Classic Movies on TV, never in prime time but at odd hours in the night or Saturday mornings. Thanks to the DVR, I have been able to record several of them and thought I’d give you some reviews. Maybe you can DVR them if you see them on the schedule. Or if you happen to be up at 2 a.m.

I have a friend who reviews DVDs he has picked up in the Red Box video dispensers, so why not?

Starting with:

[ DILLINGER POSTER ]This poster is available at movieposters.com.
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There have been a couple of versions of movies on John Dillinger, the bank robber from the 1930s who was the first criminal to earn “Public Enemy No. 1” status from FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. At least three (including a made-for-TV affair) have actually had the title Dillinger.

The one I refer to here was made in 1945.

It’s in black-and-white, of course, which adds to the fun, but what really makes it worthwhile (in my warped view) is the liberties the screenwriter Philip Yordan (who won an Oscar in 1955) took with telling the story.

The 1945 film Dillinger gets (loosely) a few things right about the guy:

1. He robbed banks.

2. He escaped from a small-town jail by carving a “gun” out of wood.

3. He was shot outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, where the movie Manhattan Melodrama was playing, after a woman in a “red” dress identified him to federal agents. Dillinger, both in real life and the movie, was shot in an alley, though I doubt the agents were holding Tommy guns as portrayed in the movie. Oh. I put the “red” dress in quotes because the dress was actually a shade of orange that appeared red under the lights of the theater’s marquee. As said earlier, this one was in black-and-white so it didn't matter.

Other than that the movie goes off in all directions with Dillinger getting introduced into his life of crime when a waiter at a bar embarrasses him with a young lady by not accepting a check to pay for a couple of beers. A check?

Dillinger, played by an actor named Lawrence Tierney, goes around the corner to rob a grocery store, is caught, and sent to prison.

There he meets what will be the nucleus of his future gang, inmates who he helps escape from prison after serving out his own term. (There is an element of truth in this part as well. Dillinger did arrange for the escape of some of the prisoners he had met while incarcerated and they became members of his first gang.)

The makers of this movie didn’t bother to do any filming on site, that’s for sure. Though Dillinger in real life did most of his damage in Indiana and other nearby Midwestern states, in the movie mountains can be seen in the background of many outdoor shots. I’m from Indiana. Take it from me. There are hills, but no mountains or pine trees in the valleys in Indiana.

Also, I can find no reference to Dillinger shooting any of his gang members, as is done in the movie. Of course, he also returns to that bar and knocks off the waiter. (Full disclosure: I have often wanted to do the same thing.)

Ah, Hollywood.

[ AL CAPONE POSTER ]
This poster is available at movieposters.com.


Several movies also have been made about Al Capone, the most notorious of all crime syndicate leaders. The one that does the best job detailing the gangster’s life is the 1959 film Al Capone starring Rod Steiger.

Aside from a fictional love interest with the widow of an unintended victim who had stumbled across another killing Capone engineered, the movie pretty much hits  all of Capone’s career highlights, including his trip to Miami Beach during the time of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Side note I: Capone was married when he moved from New York to Chicago and stayed married until his death, though apparently not faithful. He died of syphilis.

Side note II: The 1967 docudrama, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, is worth watching, too, though Jason Robards is not as effective as Capone as Steiger.

Steiger’s Al Capone is a bit longer than the other crime movies I have watched (104 minutes) but it’s well worth it.

[ CRIME DOCTOR'S WARNING POSTER ]
This poster is available at movieposters.com.


Finally (for now), there is a series of crime movies that I really was happy to stumble across by accident. They came out in the 1940s and are based on a CBS radio program called "Crime Doctor."

That’s also the title of the series’ first film made in 1943. The ensuing productions, with three exceptions, all have the words “crime doctor” in the title, such as Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case, Crime Doctor’s Warning, etc.

Though you can watch them in about any order, the first does set  up the premise for all that follows. A man is thrown from a moving car in the opening scene. Instead of dying on the roadside, however, he is picked up by some college kids driving by. We know they are college kids because the guys are wearing straw hats and waving college pennants and the girls are all giggling.

After being taken to a hospital he has a bad case of amnesia. A friendly doctor takes him in, and -- to shorten things a bit here -- he goes on to study medicine and becomes a psychiatrist who specializes in criminal cases.

Warner Baxter (an Oscar winner for the 1929 film Old Arizona) plays the hero, who adopts the name Robert Ordway from a plaque bearing that name at the hospital where he was taken.

By the end of the first movie, he knows who he is and confesses to his crimes, but he has done so much good and has become so prominent, even serving as state parole board chief and rehabilitating many criminals, he remains out of prison and is a well-honored and respected man.

In the rest of the movies, he seems to have unlimited access to police headquarters and ongoing police investigations, which is convenient.

Besides enjoying the “period” aspects of the film -- the way everybody wears jackets, ties, and hats, smokes cigarettes, etc. -- the Crime Doctor stories are fun because the criminal is not unveiled until the end so you can play along and try to pick out the real villain.

Of course, you never all the information that you need to solve the case, but it’s still more interesting than knowing the perpetrator from the very beginning, because in those cases you know the bad guy is always going to wind up caught.

That’s what detracted from the Colombo series of Peter Falk in later years. As entertaining as Falk was in the series, the stories would have been much better had the criminal not been unveiled until the end.

That’s it for these movies. Maybe I’ll write about Dick Tracy and the Green Hornet movies/serials later. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


GETTING BACK INTO THE GROOVE

It has been quite a while since I have added to my blog listings.
I have both reasons, and excuses, for that.
My car reviews now mostly appear at examiner.com, which prefers that I not duplicate the review that appears there on my own blog. I guess I could write something else about the same car, and post other pictures, and maybe I will at times.
That’s a reason.
My excuse is that I have been having to spend a lot of my time on my other regular freelance outlet writing reports about teams for the upcoming college football season. Nine were due last Sunday, and they asked me to do a couple of others that had fallen through the cracks.
If you like college football, here are some things I have picked up in my research:
-- Though picked to win the Big 12, Oklahoma will begin the season with only one wide receiver who has caught a pass at the collegiate level, unless one or more of a suspended trio is reinstated.
-- Miami begins the season still waiting to hear from the NCAA about possible penalties, which may not be as bad as commonly believed. Much of the latest story about recruiting irregularities is based on one iffy source and an anonymous tipster identified as a former employee. Think he may have a motive to put things in an unfavorable light?
-- Florida International is a program on the rise.
-- Florida Atlantic is not.
There is other stuff about other teams as well, but if you care about any of these teams or others, you can look it up yourself and I won’t waste your time here.
Speaking of college football, you may have noticed that Penn State has been in the news recently.
I have two things to say about the penalties that the NCAA levied against the school’s football program as a result of the investigation into the child sexual abuse charges involving a former assistant coach.
No. 1 is that I although I may not agree with all the penalties, I do respect that by taking action, NCAA president Mark Emmert showed leadership and firmness that has been lacking in the past.
No. 2, the part of the penalties I don’t agree with is the four-year bowl ban.
That’s because the ban affects people -- mostly present coaches and players -- who are no longer with the program.
Outsiders may look at the bowl ban as a penalty against the institution, but it’s not like you are penalizing, say, a company for illegal trade practices. The relationship between a university and its athletic teams is different from that. The NCAA is making some innocent people the price for the sins of their predecessors.
One more thing: The NCAA in levying the penalties ruled that players may transfer to any school and be eligible this fall instead of sitting out the mandatory one year as required under the rules, and a couple have taken them up on that. But doesn’t that go against the concept of the student-athlete, emphasis on the student part?
If the participants are students first, then athletes, then they supposedly are at Penn State to get their education there. You can say that’s naive on my part, but it’s not me that calls them student-athletes. It’s the NCAA.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


MY PREDICTION: LEXUS TO PUT OUT HYBRID HATCHBACK FOR 2011 YEAR

I know it’s hard to imagine, but the government is misleading us again.
Transportation secretary Ray LaHood is taking credit for something he couldn’t possibly have had any influence on.
Lahood, at a conference in Colorado with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson last week, said that the administration’s CAFE standards are responsible for the many hybrid vehicles that are on the road today.
“I think we jump-started the ability,” said LaHood was quoted in news reports. “When you see now a Lexus hybrid, no one would have ever predicted that two years ago. Every car manufacturer is getting into hybrid. I think we jump-started those opportunities.”
Oh, really?
It’s a matter of record that simply isn’t true. Toyota has long been in the forefront of the hybrid trend since bringing the Prius to the U.S. market for the 2001 model year, and the Japanese automaker was working on hybrid power for Lexus models long before even the 2008 election.
Here’s what the company’s website has to say:
“In April 2005, Lexus introduced the crossover RX 400h, the world’s first hybrid-powered luxury vehicle. Two months later Toyota launched the Highlander Hybrid sport utility vehicle (SUV).
“One year later in April 2006, the Lexus GS 450h made its debut as the world’s first front-engine, rear-wheel drive, full-hybrid performance sedan.”
That’s damning enough, but what is even more disturbing about LaHood’s comment is his apparent assumption that an edict the administration put out a couple of years ago is already having such a huge impact on automotive production.
The timetable from idea and drawing board to the auto showroom is a process that usually takes several years. Even taking into consideration Toyota’s extensive experience and background in hybrid technology, which could speed up the process, it still would be realistic to see such quick results.
In fact, when it announced in 2010 it was planning on having a hybrid version of every model it produces, the company gave itself a timeline of 10 years to complete the goal.
So Ray Lahood, who is transportation secretary remember, is either appalling ignorant about a key industry under his domain, or he is, well, simply lying to make his department (and the administration) look good.
I simply can’t think of any other way to put it.

I’ll let you guess which one.