Cars are, like, so yesterdaySep 28, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 03 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Though I am an Apple user—phone and laptop—and happy with both, the tepid response to the latest Apple dog and pony show left me feeling a bit of schadenfreude. The digital revolution is pushing other technologies into the grave, and like a lot of people, I mourn that—in the way, probably, that an ardent lover of the old clipper ships resented the arrival of coal and steam. Something was being lost. Something beyond the mere ships.
From a recent Washington Post article, one learns that
Americans drive fewer miles per year—down about 9 percent over the past two decades. The percentage of 19-year-olds with driver’s licenses has dropped from 87 percent two decades ago to 70 percent last year. Most teens now do not get licensed within a year of becoming eligible.
As a police officer and driving instructor, interviewed for the story, says, “I don’t see kids who know what’s under the hood anymore. A lot of them don’t even know how to open the hood.”
The Post article attempts to explain why this should be so, and the explanation comes down, as it so often does these days, to Facebook:
“The automobile just isn’t that important to people’s lives anymore,” says Mike Berger, a historian who studies the social effect of the car. “The automobile provided the means for teenagers to live their own lives. Social media blows any limits out of the water. You don’t need the car to go find friends.”
An old friend of mine, now dead, spent nearly six years in North Vietnamese prison camps after his A-4 was hit by a missile over Haiphong. He was tortured and locked in solitary, and when I got to know him, it was still painful for him to talk about that part of his ordeal. But in the late stages of his captivity, the brutality slacked off and he had cellmates. He didn’t mind so much telling me about that part of the experience. In some ways, in fact, he relished it.
The big challenge, he told me, was coping with the boredom, and one way of doing that was for a man who had some sort of expertise to share it. There were “classes” in all sorts of things. Men taught each other foreign languages, history, even such exotics as opera, cooking, and wine tasting.
The class my friend remembered and wanted to tell me about was in auto-mechanics.
One of his cellmates was a gearhead before he became a fighter jock, and he knew everything you needed to know about cars and pickups and how to fix them and get them running right when something went wrong. There was nothing about an internal combustion engine that intimidated him.
So my friend asked if he could study and learn under him and have the mysteries revealed. He dreamed, he said, of how when he was, at last, back in the United States, he would buy an old step-sider pickup and take it completely apart, rebuild it, and then keep it running like a sewing machine, using hand tools and his own know-how.
The man who knew cars drew diagrams and schematics—as close as he could get, anyway—on the floor of the cell and set out to identify the components of the sort of engine that is now extinct. The kind, that is, that had a carburetor and distributor. He identified each part and explained its function and how to fix it when it was broken. My friend made mental notes and invented rhyme schemes to help him remember what he needed to know. There was a lot to remember, but then they had plenty of time.
Eventually, the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the POWs came home and my friend went out and found the step-sider he had been dreaming of. He bought it and had it delivered to a garage he had rented. And there, he went to work.
“I took it all the way down to the bare block,” he told me. “One slow step at a time. And when I had all the parts laid out on canvas, on the garage floor, I inspected them to see which ones I’d need to replace. And when I got them, I started cleaning everything up and then putting the engine back together.”
When he got stuck, he would call his former cellmate, who would talk him through the steps.
“It was easier than I thought it would be,” he said. “I suppose I didn’t realize how much I’d actually learned in the Hanoi Hilton.”
After a few months he had his rebuilt truck ready for the road.
“Best drive of my life,” he said.
The rebuilding of that truck had, I suppose, been therapeutic for him, though I doubt he would have used the word. The way he explained it, he had been reaching back to a time when he was young, in high school, and while boys he knew were learning about cars, he had been playing sports.
Crass transit in Washington.Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
It had been a long time since I’d been to a big league ballgame and I was looking forward to this one. My brother had bought the tickets, and going by the stadium schematic, it looked like we had good seats. Grandstand on the third base line, not too far up. We had lucked out on the schedule, too. The Nats were in first place in their division and playing the Mets, who were chasing and two games out. We’d even stumbled into a good pitching matchup.
The American Civil War, that isJul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Of the making of books, there is no end. Thus spake the prophet, and he may have had books about the American Civil War in mind. They come too fast for the amateur to keep up, but one does try. So when I saw, a couple of months ago, that James McPherson was out with a new collection called The War That Forged a Nation, I ordered it. I was late, a few weeks beyond the actual publication date, but didn’t think that mattered. We were not, after all, dealing with breaking news here.
Except . . . we were.
What you know about Ty Cobb would surprise him. Jun 22, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 39 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Among the entries in a 1999 anthology called The Best American Sports Writing of the Century is a profile of Ty Cobb (1886-1961). It was originally published in True magazine the year of Cobb’s death. The writer, Al Stump, recalls the last, bleak days of the great ballplayer’s life and makes him into a bitter, violent, alcoholic monster. In one passage, he describes a visit to the graveyard in the town of Royston, Georgia, where Cobb had grown up.
Bernie Sanders is no joke Jun 1, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 36 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Burlington, Vt. -- The senator was returning to the place where it had all begun for him. Almost 40 years ago, to the surprise of practically everyone, perhaps including himself, he had been elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city and the only one with any real claim to the title. Back then, students from the University of Vermont, mobilized by his energetic grassroots campaign, had contributed significantly to his 10-vote margin of victory.
There were Giants in the earth in those days . . . and ColtsJan 19, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 18 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The New York Giants faced the Baltimore Colts, and the winners would be the champions of the National Football League. But while it was a championship game, it did not sell out, meaning television was blacked out in the city where it was played. The Giants had the better record so the game was played in New York. Since the Giants didn’t have their own stadium, built for their game, they played in Yankee Stadium. Baseball was the American pastime. In the mind of the public, football was a college game, played by amateurs.
As, you know, a book.Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Nobody has time to read these days. Everybody says so, anyway. So in the case of Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, is there any good reason to buy the book and read it? Not much, going by the reviews. None has called it a page turner and, at more than 600 of them, you’d like to have a reason to keep turning. Life is short, and there are many, many books still to read.
The fight that Grant regrettedJun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The evening before the battle, a Union officer walked among troops who would be assaulting Confederate positions in the morning and observed something he had not seen before. As he wrote after the war, “I noticed that many of the soldiers had taken off their coats and seemed to be engaged in sewing up rents in them.”
They had it all . . . and then.Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
A Masters without Tiger: It is not quite the case of an athlete dying young. He will almost certainly recover from the back surgery that kept him out of the tournament and play at Augusta again next year and, probably, for many years after that. He may even win again. After all, Jack Nicklaus won the Masters when he was 46 years old and Woods is only 38.
Remember the liberal war on the automobile? Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Seems like this is the season for showing the American automobile some love. Also, the town that the automobile built—Detroit, aka the Motor City, where packs of feral dogs now roam the streets and den up in vacant lots between the abandoned buildings. Detroit, these days, seems far more deserving of pity than celebration.
Still, Vice President Joe Biden showed up for the annual Detroit auto show in January and delivered the usual talking points. American manufacturing is back. “We bet on American ingenuity, we bet on you, and we won.”
Heroin in the hillsNov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
On his way into town, Dana Gray wondered about the number of cars and pickups parked at a local health care clinic. It was Saturday morning, and normally the clinic would be closed.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:01 PM, Apr 11, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with Geoffrey Norman on the Senate's consideration of Harry Reid's gun control legislation.
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