Detroit: “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here”

Just had a rare sight: what must be a Geo-cum-Chevy that seems a 90’s Corolla duplicate. Chevrolet, for some typically-Detroit “idea”, went to the expense and turmoil of absorbing Geo into its marketing and merchandising…just before they turned off its lights.

Wonder if that car I saw is a legacy of the ’80’s Toyota/GM joint-venture (NUMI) in Fremont, California? Probably you know, in the ’80’s, NUMI turned out one platform, alternately-badged Corolla and Chevrolet Nova. NUMI is no more. I doubt the partnership lasted long, despite the billions of Detroit dollars thrown at it.

Is there, like, a wormhole in Detroit that sucks brain cells? So many decades since the import invasion of the U.S., and Detroit still— at least in my opinion– doesn’t turn out a single model preferable to an import*. In fact, I’m tending toward the idea this “retro” rage simply represents a bankruptcy of thought and vision in Detroit. And, in my opinion, there’s even a lack of corporate memory in at least one case: take all the badges off a current Camaro, and I, at least, see Mopar.  That makes “retro”, to me, at lest, even more pathetic.

*unless-- perhaps-- you want a "monster truck".  But ask yourself:  when was the last time you saw a monster truck with a rear diff considerably higher than OEM?

No matter how widely-flared the fenders, no matter how wide the wheels, my observation is, the rear diff is only marginally-higher than OEM.  What good is that off-road?  That ain't gonna get ya far thru the wild stumps, fells, and shrubs.  Some monster S-U/V's have forward shields on the rear diff, and, I guess, that may help.

When was the last time you saw a monster S-U/V that appeared recently off-road (that is, dirty)?!?  When was the last time you saw a monster S-U/V with off-road tires?!?

Nope, the only off-road solution I can think of is an articulated rear diff.  And those come standard on...the M1114 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.  Even if the manufacturer or DoD would sell you one, got $250k in your pocket?  And if surplus ex-DoD humvees are available, I haven't seen one.

When was the last time you saw a monster S-U/V an import?  None big enough?  I think not.  Monster S-UV's are practically all American.

Methinks the monster S-U/V is not utility or sport, but xenophobia.

Sorry.  Couldn't resist these digs.


The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For students of architecture, and American history, this nonfiction work is a five-star thriller. For the rest of us, I think, not so much.

Note: spoilers ahead.

The plot seems to be the race-against-time for the chief architects and builders to, unlikely, complete the fair site on-time. The fair site had been awarded untimely-late to Chicago.

A subplot seems to be the mutual disdain between Chicago and New York, New York.

Closely related, another subplot seems to be the effort of Chicago to outgrow the gore and stench of its subtitle, “Hog Butcher to the World”, and evolve into a world-class city.

And then there is, I infer, the “Devil” mentioned in the title. Oh, the nickname of “Devil” is appropriate: he was a serial killer with an insane bent toward murder in the most agonizing, strange methods possible. And he was a professional as well as heart-breaking fraud and liar. All that is made clear with painstaking detail. But, as presented, this reader infers said “Devil” was on the periphery of the fair, literally and figuratively. True, some of his victims were ladies arriving to see the fair. But, he also undertook a lengthy excursion of fraud, kidnap, and murder across the Midwest, far from the fair and during its run. This, too, is anchored with painstaking detail.

So, the “Devil”, in this reader’s opinion, is but a subplot.  Thus, again, in this reader’s opinion, the book’s title is a misrepresentation.

Also, the title led this reader to the expectation– however erroneous or presumptive– of a drama of a predator trolling the fair deeply and daily and successfully in search of prey.

And by way of inane quibbling, I can’t shake the absence of a definitive identification of the use of what I infer was a large funnel in the heart of the boarding house/abattoir the Devil built before the fair. Yes, its purpose seems obvious. But beyond its construction, if any more of it is mentioned, I don’t remember.

Many rural women, a considerable number unescorted (avant-garde at the time) were last seen departing for the fair. Never returned. Vanished. Some, of course, might have done so own their own, deliberately, to sever ties with home and seek an avant-garde independent second-start in the “Second City”. Others– probably the majority of the missing– no doubt were victims of predators drawn to any large event, especially one this large.

These predators, and a dragnet to identify them and their victims and their fates, and finally lay to rest the victim’s memories, was what I inferred from the title. I was disappointed.

My expectation might be satisfied by another book out there.

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Here we go again. But better.

VoyageVoyage by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we go again. But better.

JFK survived.

Yes, it’s a cliché. But not this time.

JFK’s injuries forced early retirement in deference to LBJ. But JFK lived to see humans walk on the Moon and safely return home. He lived to witness the fulfillment of his own famed “Before This Decade Is Out”, man-on-the-moon mandate.

Nixon was elected President in 1968.

One of the first things on Nixon’s desk: a plan submitted by NASA for a radically-altered next-step in U.S. piloted space flight. The plan would turn from humans reaching other bodies in the solar system. Instead, it would focus on near-earth-orbit (NEO). Much valuable science could be learned in a large NEO vehicle. And the crew of a large NEO vehicle could do much valuable utility: such as launching– and, more remarkably, capturing, repairing, and re-launching– satellites.

And taxpayer money would be spared. This NEO vehicle would be a new thing under the sun (pun intended): reusable. One vehicle could fly many missions for years. The plan envisions an enormous fuselage with a snub-nose and delta wings: a hybrid space-plane. Because of its re-usability, it would be a “space shuttle”.

But in this proposed-NEO wilderness, there’s a lone voice crying out in protest: that of JFK. He continues to speak out in support of piloted interplanetary travel. And listening to The-President-Who-Cheated-Death-Twice (remember PT-109) is an enthusiastic, large public audience (much to the private chagrin of Nixon).

It seems JFK’s man-on-the-moon mandate was more than Cold-War geopolitics. It seems his mandate was more than showing the world, democratic republics achieve more than socialist societies (Read, “USSR”). The mandate was more than enticing the USSR to follow NASA, but veering off into national bankruptcy in the attempt. It seems JFK has a sincere romance with the idea of humans flying to and from the planets.

And because of JFK’s continued fame and popularity, his visionary romance (again, to Nixon’s private chagrin) is attractive.

Nixon, naturally, is keen for a second term. To gain that second term, to satisfy the electorate spellbound with JFK’s vision, Nixon publicly issues (while he privately grumbles) an apparently-enthusiastic call for the nation to once-again unite in support of piloted space exploration: this time, a near-term piloted mission to and from Mars.

Privately, Nixon denies NASA’s “shuttle”. Publicly, he supports relatively-economical expansion of the fledgling “Skylab” space-station operation in support of the Mars mission.

The journey begins and spreads above and around the entire globe.

At NASA headquarters, the halls echo with the lament, “How can we ever do this on-time with existing technology?” The last of the “Moonwalkers” still on duty– perhaps candidates for the Mars crew– are publicly respected but privately tolerated.

The Moonwalkers consider the Mars dream.

In the night skies over Cambodia is a U.S. Air Force pilot. His orders: sustained attacks on North Vietnamese forces, in Cambodia, operating the “Ho-Chi-Minh Trail”. But his missions are illegal and secret. Yet he anticipates inevitable public disclosure. And he wonders– at best– how his career ever could survive that.

In the Nevada desert, a bubbling young engineer experiments toward the construction of an ideal inter-planetary flight-power source: a rocket safely-powered by a nuclear reactor.

His accomplished post-graduate rockhound girlfriend begins to wonder if the future is not in the stone beneath her feet, but in the sky above.

In the USSR, a veteran, famed cosmonaut is detached to NASA to support (spy-upon?) the Mars effort.

At a NASA operational center works a scientist who survived the brutal Nazi slave factory that produced rockets bombarding Britain late in World War II. Only he knows: he works again for the same German engineers for whom he once slaved. Further, he might have something to contribute to the Mars mission. But his involvement is unlikely because of his modest career station.

Space vehicle contractors and sub-contractors– some experienced, some surprising upstarts– trumpet old and new, familiar and strange, concepts as they fiercely compete for the bids to build the Mars vehicles.


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