Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Unaccompanied Children on the Set

People like to be entertained.  Some of the best entertainers are children, in part because they bring a certain innocence to their presentation that we, the adults, no longer have.  Some of their charm is that we remember resembling those very children, or maybe there's just a little bit of wish fulfillment, something along the lines of "I used to have dreams that went like this."

I had a pretty pedestrian childhood, perhaps a couple more spectacular bike accidents than was strictly typical but nothing else really remarkable.  And sometimes I wished amazing things would happen to me.  But it generally didn't and on the whole I think I'm probably better off.

Some kids, however, do have remarkable things happen.  They become actors, singers, dancers.  They become pundits, or enroll in college before finishing puberty.  The lives they live are entirely beyond the experience of rest of us.

How is a parent supposed to guide a child through that?  If your upbringing involved afternoon chores, a paper route and getting your homework turned in on time, what can you know about photo calls, agents, crazy hours because the light is so important?  Exactly: not a lot.

Now we come to the crux of the matter: if the parents don't know what's going on, how can they possibly raise the child?

Case in point: Amanda Bynes.  This is low-hanging fruit, Ms. Bynes is blowing up the headlines with bong-throwing, tweet-flinging and cop-accusing hijinks that go far beyond the usual former child star level of craziness.

If you step back just a short distance in history, we find Ms. Bynes was born about 25 minutes before I graduated from high school.  A few years later she's a cute little tot and appearing on TV and stage.  In her first movie at age 16, it looked like she was a solid hit heading for the fence.  That's a homer, folks, she's gonna be a star.

Well, maybe not.  With nothing appearing on her CV since 2010, it would appear that Amanda, whatever talent she may have had as an entertainer, isn't so swift at keeping herself occupied when not working.  Since March of last year her legal troubles have begun and rapidly gained altitude, from a mere ticket for talking on a cell phone while driving all the way up to this most recent drug arrest.  And let's be serious here, she looks crazy.  Crazy.  I don't know any better way to put it.  Her appearance has changed radically.  Now just ask yourself: where are her parents?

Granted Bynes is an adult by any measure, she's 27.  But you have to wonder for yourself, how weird a childhood did she have that this is how she comports herself?  This lack of self control as an adult suggests a distinct lack of any control when she was still a kid.  I would be fascinated to get to talk to the parents and find out what kind of kid Amanda was, what the home life was like.

Think of this: Courtney Love, generally regarded as a self-destructive slow motion train wreck in her own right, has announced that Bynes needs to "pull it together dude."  Yikes.

Another case: Lindsay Lohan.  There was a time when I thought she was one of the prettiest people on the movie screen, but that ship has sailed.  Drug and alcohol addiction - not the addiction itself but the refusal to actually go to and stick with rehab, bizarre behavior and an apparent inability to perceive the same world the rest of us do, have brought that infatuation to an end.  Now I just wonder what the hell happened.   She was a rapidly rising star, what went wrong?

It's pretty public knowledge that the relationship between Lohan's parents is less than stellar.  Dina and Mike Lohan have been in the headlines for their own reasons, few of them good.

Another case: Each of the series regular kids on Diff'rent Strokes.  Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato each had their own highly public drug and behavioral problems.

It doesn't take very long to realize that there seems to be a statistically significant proportion of child actors who grow up to become trouble adults.  Being a child actor doesn't mean you're doomed to a future where your formerly famous face is best known for how different it looks in a mug shot, but it would appear to me that the chips more often fall that way than they do for the rest of us.  I think the problem is the parents.

Let me be clear: the problem isn't the parents themselves.  They might be doing the best they can, but in a situation like this it's important to realize that a portion of the parents' power is gone.  When we're kids in a normal household, the parents provide everything because they provide the paycheck.  Everything flows from whoever is paying the bills, and even if no one ever comes out and says it out loud, it's understood at some level that he who provides, rules.  There are even entire governmental paradigms that flow from this premise, it's called the Big Man system.  But when the kids are the biggest breadwinner in the family, a lot of the parents' authority just evaporates.  Whether it is actually gone or not, the child's faith in that authority is displaced, which amounts to the same thing.  And sometimes, it is the parents who lose faith in their own authority, especially if their faith was already shaky.

My suggestion: counseling before becoming a child actor.  As soon as a person under the age of 25 takes on an acting job, Both the actor and the family should be attached to a mentor, especially a mentor who's experienced his/her own difficulties and come out the other side okay - Drew Barrymore is a shining example of somebody who went pretty crazy, then got her head back on straight.  It doesn't hurt that she's wicked smart.

Other examples of mentor candidates: Maureen "Jan Brady" McCormick, Johnny "Jody Davis" Whittaker (who is an actual drug counselor in real life), Robert "Tony Stark" Downey, Jr. and many many others.

It turns out that acting is pretty dangerous.  You put a kid in front of the camera, tell him he's beautiful, important, valuable...until he isn't anymore.  Turn the lights off, send the kid home.  What's he going to do after that?  Pretty much everything in the world is a letdown after that.

This sounds like a job for the Screen Actors Guild.  What good is having a union if all you ever do is pay it dues? I think the SAG should provide more and better training for these people to pursue a life beyond the stage and set so they will be able to do something besides blow themselves up.

Monday, May 20, 2013


I had written a few hundred words going a completely different direction, calling for the resignation of Barack Obama as POTUS, preferably to be replaced by the plain-talking, affable and impressively bipartisan Joe Biden.  I deleted all of it.

Here's why: the resources I was reading were staunchly conservative - generally Republican mouthpieces.  Their claim is that the IRS has been used to target conservative groups, used as a bludgeon to punish and a hole in otherwise private firewalls to gain information on groups' activities.  If true, it would be a huge violation of trust. Going back to read other sources however, I find the generally liberal/Democrat news outlets are all claiming that the Cincinnati IRS office was snowed under by a raft of non-profit determination requests, a process that left them foundering under a workload that is both unpleasant and not always clear - and when you get it wrong, you run the risk of politicizing a non-partisan office.

At this moment a Bruno Mars song is playing, and I will pause to enjoy it.  Good music is worth interrupting the day for.  Politics take a back seat to a love song.  That's me, exhibiting proper priorities.

The introduction of the Tea Party, which by itself isn't an actual party but rather an especially loud section of the conservative bleachers, has pointed up one thing more than anything else: the American political system is more polarized than I can ever remember it being.

There is more he-said-she-said finger pointing going on than actual governance.  Rather than both parties acting as one government to dig into the causes and international repercussions of the Benghazi attack, I hear accusations from factions within the government of coverups, report changes, who was where when and what they knew when they were where they were.

That isn't governance.  That isn't incident management.  That's a pie fight, a clown factory.

I said it before and I'm saying it again.  I'm not voting for any of you ever again, with the possible exception of Joe Biden.  If you can't play nicely together, I'm suspending all of you.  You'll have to go find real jobs and actually work for a living, just like the rest of us.

You're supposed to represent the United States.  Act like it or move aside for some people who can.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thinking About Cars: Colt Vista

Notice the title?  Usually when I name a car, I give both the manufacturer and the model.  Not this time.

Strictly speaking, it's a Mitsubishi product.  That is really all it ever was, the Colt and Colt Vista were both Mitsubishi products.  But Mitsubishi has been closely associated with Chrysler for a long time, and when Mitsu was trying to make inroads in the American motoring market back in the late 70s and early 80s, they clambered into bed with Chrysler and provided some "captive imports" that Chrylser could then sell under their own name.  Due to its very close association with Chrysler in the US market, I'm not going to be all that specific about who made it - we all know the truth.  More on that in a minute.

The earliest Colts were tiny little things, generally sold in other markets under the nameplate of Mitsubishi Mirage, but also as Dodge and/or Plymouth Colts.  Some of these earliest models could be had with a so-called "Super Shift" transmission, a wonky piece of work that had four speeds, but could also be shifted into two ranges.  This was done because of how the transmission lay in relation to the power output of the engine, which necessitated the addition of an idler shaft and a pair of gears to keep the transmission turning the right direction.  For approximately the same cost as making a five-speed tranny, Mitsubishi provided an eight speed transmission - plus two speeds in reverse.  Weird stuff.

For those who liked the overall look of the Colt but needed just a fuzz more space, there was the Colt Vista, AKA the Colt Vista Wagon.
 It replicated a lot of the styling cues of the compact Colt but writ them larger on the Mitsubishi Chariot platform.  The result was a sort of tall wagon - a lot like a minivan - but with four conventional side-swinging doors, three rows of seating and halfway decent fuel economy.

The above-pictured van is almost exactly like one my uncle drove on a long cross-country trip with his kids and my aunt and my grandparents and they were all still friends when it was over.  So it must get the job done pretty well.  I only drove it one time and liked it in the very limited experience I had with it - a matter of only a couple of miles.  It felt roomy on the inside without being bulky on the outside, which is really kind of the holy grail when it comes to making small cars people will want to buy.  You can see in this mostly side view that there's not a lot of space given over to the engine - just a little bit of nose up front.  The rest is room for people and cargo.

The mid-80s Vista could be had with AWD.  I'm not sure why.  You can see that taking this thing on anything softer than firm sand would leave you wishing for more ground clearance in a pretty big hurry.  Then again, my uncle lives in Minnesota, where having all four wheels pulling would be awfully helpful once the snow flies, and ground clearance needn't be much of an issue in that kind of situation. I don't think his was AWD though.  Jerry's always been a pretty competent driver in snow - in Minnesota you're either that or a mass transit passenger.

Point of trivia: everything I know about driving in snow I learned from my dad.  Everything I learned about driving on ice I learned from my mom.  Dad will cheerfully set out into the flying blizzard with few concerns...once he's loaded up the trunk with a couple of shovels, a bucket or three of fireplace ashes, some rope, and gloves.  "Okay!" he'd say, "let's go see if we can get stuck."  We rarely did, and digging out was never a problem since we already had tools and traction aids ready to go.  And this was tearing around on fresh snow, looking for drifts to plow through full tilt sideways.  Dad got a big charge out of driving in snow, and never did it in anything more snow-worthy than a battered old SAAB.

Mom's ice driving lesson: "Take it easy."  Good advice.  I saw cars flying sideways - none of them piloted by my dad - that were trying to go straight.  It took a while, but Mom got us home with no difficulties.  The most important lesson was that as soon as the tires were moving at a different speed than the car's motion, you had to let up on whatever you were doing so they could reestablish the connection.  Without the connection, you're out of control.

Back to the Vista.  When the block-of-cheese styling of the 80s model became a little too stodgy, Mitsubishi shifted to something a little curvier.  By this time it was also being sold under Mitsubishi's own brand as the Expo and the Expo LRV.
Expo LRV

To date, I have never seen an Expo LRV in the wild.  I suspect a couple may have been shipped to the States for photography purposes, then smuggled back out again.  I'm something of a car nut and would notice one if it were there to be seen.

There weren't that many of the later Colt Vistas sold, either.  I almost never see any, except now that I have one, that makes two in my neighborhood.  The other one lives on the other side of the block from me, and that may comprise 50% of all 90s Colt Vistas in a 50-mile radius.

The Colt Vista model wasn't offered in the long wheelbase model under the Dodge or Plymouth brands.  It had three doors: two up front, a slider on the passenger side and, of course, the liftgate.  
You can see it's a little stubbier

In August of 2012, my grandmother called to say she'd had enough of driving and to come take her car away with us, if we had a kid who didn't mind driving a grandma car.  Upon arriving and seeing the car, we discovered that in the 20 years she'd owned it, Grammy had only put a grand total of about 80,000 miles on the car - about 4,000 miles per year.  The body looks brand new.  The interior is flawless, possibly the cleanest 20-year-old car interior you could imagine.  It bore no evidence of having ever been used.

20 years don't pass without something happening.  Early this March it would appear the engine "dropped a valve."  Now, I'm not sure exactly what that means but it obviously doesn't sound good.  Generally things aren't supposed to be dropped, and things that do get dropped aren't usually the kinds of things you want dropped, at least not in relation to yourself: bombs, dimes, balls.


You remember me saying I wouldn't get specific about who made it?  I won't, but others will.  When it made its unpleasant sound and started blowing smoke, I called the local Mitsubishi dealer's shop manager and asked if I could bring it in.  "No way," he said.  "That's a Chrysler product, we don't work on them."  That made me wonder if I should have just called it an Expo and let him be surprised at the Plymouth badges.  Look around under the car and all the stickers have English and Japanese characters, it's a Mitsubishi from end to end.  "You'll have to take it to a Dodge dealer, it has Chrysler-specific parts on it."  When I got done forking over some take-a-look-at-it money to Dodge, the shop manager there said, "Well, that's baloney.  There just aren't that many mechanics familiar with these things anymore, he didn't want to have to mess with it."

"Are your guys familiar with it?"

"Naw.  Last guy I had who worked on these retired last year.  We're just going by the books now."

So the next step in the journey with the surprisingly spacious little car - lower the back seats to a nearly-flat floor and it will seriously challenge your rationale for owning a pickup truck - is to pull the valve head and see what's up.  It's been a long time since I had anything to do with a valve head being off an engine, and that engine was a 20-year-old (at the time) Opel GT.

Hmm.  20 years old.  Maybe it's me?  Anyway.  Time to break out the wrenches.  Even if it means I have to find a whole new engine (which I doubt), it's still cheaper than trying to find a whole new car. And good luck finding one as quirky as this one, anyway.  It answers questions few people were asking, and good thing it does, too.  I like it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hang 'em. Better yet, let them hang themselves.

I don't love the death penalty.  I don't like what it does to the people who must implement it.

That said, there are lots of people who really ought to be dead.

Ariel Castro is the sick bastard in Cleveland Ohio, the one who kidnapped three kids and then held them as his personal sex slaves for ten years, until each child had grown into adulthood.  They escaped earlier this week.

Now, how do you give these young women their childhoods back?  Not only can it not be done, but Castro even fathered a child with one of these women, the only pregnancy that he permitted to survive.  There were several others, but he beat the women until their pregnancies miscarried.

Here's where I come up against the dichotomy of my beliefs.  Someone like Castro doesn't deserve to breathe the air of good, law-abiding people.  He's evil.  And no one should have to acquire a taint of any evil to bring him down.

I think killing in any way is wrong.  Even court appointed capital punishment is still listed on the death certificate as "homicide," which is to say, someone actually killed this individual.

I say lock Castro in a room with a length of rope, a chair and a handy beam.  Then walk away.  He can either starve to death or he can kill himself.  But with what he's done to his community in general and his victims in particular, he shouldn't be permitted to take up any more space for any longer than absolutely necessary.

Not him, and not a whole lot of other people, either.

But not at the expense of a single right-living person's soul and spirit.  Locked room, rope.  What happens next is up to them. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Make 'em Pay

It's in the news right now that California is putting forth a bill in state legislature to prevent an insurance surcharge from affecting tobacco users.  It's not just California that's doing this, either.

Why not?  Tobacco use is optional.  You won't die young if you don't get it - quite the opposite, in fact, regardless of what the tobacco companies themselves might say - and your quality of life isn't reduced by avoiding tobacco use.  So why not charge tobacco users more on their health insurance?

The main argument against levying the surcharge against tobacco users is that it would make health insurance unaffordable for the people who smoke the most: those who are poorest.

Well, I'm tired of subsidizing reckless behavior.  My health insurance won't pay off if I get killed while hang gliding, so even though I'd really really like to take up hang gliding, I don't do it.  And because it doesn't pay off for me, it doesn't pay off for anyone else either.  My life insurance premium isn't subsidizing somebody else's crater.

I don't smoke.  Never have.  But a small percentage of my coworkers do.  Their smoking is driving up the premiums my employer pays, which just takes a little more money out of the budget, money we could use for other things.

See how selfish it is?  Smoking takes money out of a purse that could use it.  I work in a homeless shelter, we could use that money to put more food on the table, hire another front desk worker, something.  Never mind the added work of finding someone to regularly clean out the ashtrays on the property, sweep up tossed cigarette butts, et cetera, work that comes with its own cost.  These are the hidden subsidies that tobacco use demands of everyone.

You can defend smokers, saying that if they were properly responsible that sort of thing wouldn't happen, but the fact is that they just aren't.  So I don't see a reason not to hit them in the pocket book.  Fines work against people who get stopped for speeding.  If all the cop ever did was just castigate a speeder for being vehicularly rude and taking advantage of others' acquiescence, they'd never slow down.  Slapping speeders with a big fine reminds them of the price of vehicular rudeness the next time they look at their bank balance.  So slap the smokers with a big bill.  It's a proven fact that there's a huge added cost of needed medical care associated with each and every pack of smokes, an added cost that for some reason isn't actually paid at the time of purchase.  It comes out in medical bills and, yes, insurance premiums.  But tobacco users need to be hit with big, juicy insurance premiums.

Not fair?  Maybe not entirely.  But here's the big secret: I want you to quit smoking.  I want no one to ever smoke again.  I don't give a damn if that's hard news for every tobacco farmer ever born, I don't care if that's unfeeling toward the thousands of people employed by the tobacco industry.  Those jobs and dollars are nothing compared to a single human life, the final hours of it spent wasted in gasping agony, struggling for each breath, wondering if this one must be the last, as one of them eventually must.  If one man did that to another deliberately, you'd call it torture and revile it as the crime that it is.  But since the smoker picks up the cigarettes willingly, pays money he can't afford and hopes to rely on health care that can't undo decades of addicted injury, we don't call it a crime.  We just call it a right and look the other way.

So yeah, hit smokers with a big insurance premium.  Hit them ALL.  Do it for dip, too.  Make a single pack of smokes cost $20, a tin of dip $10.  Maybe it is a right, maybe it shouldn't be.  But if it's going to be a right, something as self-destructive as this, let's cover all the costs up front.  You keep smoking, you're going to need a new lung someday, each pack you buy helps put a payment on it. In fact if that were part of the pricing structure a single pack might cost one hell of a lot more than $20.  And it still might not be enough.

But at least my insurance premiums wouldn't be helping to pay for it.  I didn't pick up the smokes, I didn't make anybody breathe that stuff.  Nobody should.  And if nobody did, then nobody would have to pay for it or its aftermath.

Once we've attacked the smoking problem where smokers will feel it most, then let's repeat this approach at the buffet.  Think about it: living a healthy lifestyle might be the best way to save money, let's encourage that by discouraging everything else.