The Venerable Ford E350 15 Passenger Van…and the idiots who have ruined its reputation.

CaptureThis is a typical Ford E350 15-Passenger Van.  There are somewhere around a quadrillion of these things on the road.  I’m not sure of how many zeroes that is, but I’m sure that it is a lot and I’m pretty sure that is an accurate number.

You might be asking yourself: Why are there so many of these vans on the road?  The answer is simple.  These things are an engineering marvel!  They are built like tanks, out-handle and out-perform similar offerings from other manufacturers, and they last forever if they are properly maintained.  I can vouch for this because I by my estimation, I have drive somewhere around 500,000 miles in these vans.

Another interesting fact about the E350 platform is that the vast majority of ambulances in the United States are built on this platform.  In fact, all they do to the chassis to make it ambulance-ready is change the rear axle to dual wheels.  The E350 is simply one of the most amazing and reliable vehicles ever built.

Now, here is the central question:  Why am I singing the praises of this vehicle?  Am I a paid endorser?  No, I just wanted to do a little bit to help clear the name of this much maligned vehicle.

You must realize that this van has taken a beating in the press over the last decade because of school and camp related accidents where students were badly injured or killed.  The press loves  to blame the vehicle, saying that it is a poor design and that the chassis wasn’t designed to handle that kind of weight or weight distribution.

I’m here to tell you that those accusations are simply inaccurate.  The E350 chassis is built just like the F350 and is capable of payloads that make it carry just as much weight as if it were towing the largest of travel trailers.  These vans could carry 15 passengers made of lead and they would still ride and handle well.  Well, that is unless one thing happens….an idiot gets behind the wheel.

Oh yes, it is now time to get the facts straight.  Idiot drivers are to blame for these wrecks; not the E350.  You must realize, there is this simple equation that comes into effect when you take an object and give it speed:  Mass x Velocity = Momentum.  Most people seem to like to ignore physics, but trust me…Physics is the law.  Physics doesn’t pull you over and write you a ticket for a violation.  No sir, Physics skips right to the judgment and sentencing phase when you screw up.  Physics is the real world equivalent of Judge Dredd.

The fact is that an E350 is a huge passenger platform that drives as easily as a typical SUV and so people get behind the wheel and forget that they have 14 other lives in the vehicle with them.  The problem is that drivers of these vans need to take that responsibility very seriously and many of them don’t.  When that happens, you get what I witnessed this morning on the way to work.

Three camp vans passed me that were obviously on the way to the airport to do what is known in the business as an “airport run” to drop off last program’s students and pick up the students for the next one.  The problem being that those vans passed me at all.  I was running somewhere in the neighborhood of 74 miles per hour when those vans passed me like I was standing still.  If any of those vans had a blow out in one of the front tires, the result would have been tragic; if it were either of the front two, it would have been a multiple vehicle catastrophe.

There was little more that two car lengths between each van and they were running around 85 miles per hour.  I’m sure that if they wrecked that the news media would brand it “another 15 passenger van accident”, when what the really ought to do is let everyone know that it was merely physics passing judgment on criminal driving decisions.

Nice job, America! (not really)

Let me get this straight, because I don’t know much about the sports.  In fact, it is the only reason that I have to take several turns to win a game of Trivial Pursuit.  Here is my attempt to outline what I think that I’ve just witnessed:

  1. Donald Sterling, the owner of an NBA team, is suddenly branded the biggest jerk in America because some trollop releases recorded audio of him making some very racist comments.
    1. Apparently, being a racist is what it takes to make him a real villain.
      1. Never mind that he has an extensive history of dastardly business dealings that involve preying on the less fortunate.
      2. Ignore that he is a proven adulterer, hence the aforementioned trollop.
    2. Please also disregard that he as done some things in the past which help him self-identify as an opportunistic, selfish, racist.
  2. The NBA bans this dude, so the team’s control reverts to his wife (who is probably quite sick of the trollop situation).
  3. Lots of racially sensitive, exceedingly wealthy people rush to make offers to buy the team because we certainly can’t have something like this tarnishing the image of the NBA.
  4. Steve Ballmer whips out $2,000,000,000 from his money clip (count the zeros…that is 2 billion) and buys this team for $1,988,000,000 more than Sterling paid for it in the 1980′s.
  5. Donald Sterling and his family get to laugh all the way to the bank and the only real consequences are that the trollop probably won’t be getting anymore Bentleys from Donald (Daddy Warbucks) Sterling.

Amazing.  The NBA is so worried about its bottom line that it brokers a deal which leaves Sterling better off financially, in the end.  Where can I sign up for a golden parachute like that?

Thank you, Rod Hilton!

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I have sensed a great disturbance in the force.  Alderaan being destroyed?  No.  George Lucas’ reach exceeding his grasp?  Absolutely.

I first sensed that disturbance way back in the nineties when a bunch of us ate dinner at Matt Weather’s parent’s house and journeyed to see the reissues of the original Star Wars trilogy.  It was in that one simple moment when Greedo all of the sudden developed a magical rubber arm and took an awkward shot at Han Solo that I suspected that we were in for trouble.  Three prequels later, I was left with the full realization of Lucas’ folly.

My childhood was destroyed.  My beloved Star Wars had been brought low with Lucas’ meddling and ill-planned or ill-executed prequels.  All I was left to do was find unaltered versions of the three original films and pretend that Episodes 1-3 didn’t exist…that is until this month.

Earlier in the month, on Star Wars Day, there was great celebration amongst the geeks.  Incidentally, there was also a special episode of The Big Bang Theory that made mention of “The Machete Order.”  What is The Machete Order, you may ask?  It is simply the most beautiful piece of scholarly film thought in the last 20 years.  I would take the time to explain it, but I’ll simply refer you to the original article and another commentary.

Here is the original.

Here is a follow-up.

All I can do at this point is praise Rod Hilton and spread the word of his glorious work.  Thank you, Rod Hilton!  You have saved us all.

Never again, Jar Jar…never again.

Oh yeah, ladies!

I promised you all that if Caleb did well on American Idol that I would post some sweet pics for your enjoyment.  I also know that I have a twitch in my left eye that won’t quite go away that I developed from Caleb and his partner-in-crime, Matthew, cutting-up so much in youth group.

Welcome home, Caleb!  Sometimes, payback is a mother.

Anyway, I hear that sexy, sultry celebrity internet pictures are all the rage.  Oh yeah, ladies!

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When is a single picture enough to break the internet?

When is a single picture enough to break the interwebs?

The answer is simple.  When it is this picture:Screenshot 4:30:14 2:39 PM

This is the first table read with the cast of the new Star Wars movie. The image broke the StarWars.com website.  Here is a list of the people in the photo from TheHollywoodReporter.com:

1. J.J. Abrams, director-writer

2. R2D2: R2-series astromech droid

3. Harrison Ford, actor – Reprising his role as Han Solo.

4. Daisy Ridley, actress

5. Carrie Fisher, actress – Reprising her role as Leia.

6. Peter Mayhew, actor – Reprising his role as Chewbacca.

7. Bryan Burk, producer

8. Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm president

9. Domhnall Gleeson, actor

10. Anthony Daniels, actor – Reprising his role as C-3PO.

11. Mark Hamill, actor – Reprising his role as Luke Skywalker.

12. Andy Serkis, actor

13. Oscar Isaac, actor

14. John Boyega, actor

15. Adam Driver, actor

16. Lawrence Kasdan, writer

Tonight I will be able to go to bed knowing that I will be able to take my kids to see the first legitimate Star Wars movie since 1983 on the big screen.   Thank you, J.J. Abrams and Disney for rescuing my childhood from that bad man and giving us something that I can get excited to take my kids to see.

Dewey Albert Greene

Albert Portrait

This is my uncle Albert.  He was born in 1925 and died today, at the age of 88.  He is the reason that I read and that I have an urge to learn how things work.  I was fortunate enough to spend all of my formative years with him on the farm, as he had retired from the National Weather Service and was around a lot.

I hope that I never forget the lessons that he taught me or how to be as resilient as he was.  I know that I’ll never forget the day he came to the back door after cutting off part of one of his fingers while trying to start the hay baler.  Cool as a cucumber, he told me to go get my mother.  Then, he took the time to answer some childish questions, made some small talk, and finally reminded me to go get my mother; albeit in a sterner tone.

He was awesome.  I’ll miss him forever.

I know that you find all of this confusing, but the truth is that we come from different worlds.

Folks, I’m glad that you love The Walking Dead and I’m glad that you think that the references in Big Bang Theory are quaint.  Seriously, I am excited that you and all your friends are running to theaters in droves to watch this renaissance of motion pictures based on Marvel Comics characters.  In fact, I want you to call all of your friends and invite them to come along and see the new Captain America movie because your dollars are going to ensure that Marvel is going to be able to keep going deeper and deeper into its vault and I’m going to eventually see some things on the big screen that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a small child.

However, there is one thing that I never want any of you people who had semi-normal childhoods to ever forget: We were here first.

…and by we, I mean the throngs of comic book geeks and fanboys who really, emphatically love all of this source material.

We are the ones who get all of the inside jokes on Big Bang Theory.  We are the ones who get all of the jokes on Comic Book Men.  We are the ones making plans to buy tissue for all of you invested in this new Spider-Man franchise reboot, because we know the destiny which awaits Gwen Stacy (played my Emma Stone).  We are the ones that live in a Walking Dead world where Rick only has one hand, Carl only has one eye, Glen is dead, and there is not, nor has there ever been a Darryl.  We are the ones that have been waiting decades for a dark and brooding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, because that is what Eastman and Laird gave the world, in the beginning.

We know that Spider-Man is always hyphenated and that Batman never is…nor is Superman.  We can tell the difference between all the Green Lanterns and we will always pick Hal Jordan over Kyle Rayner.  We can tell you that Barry Allen stayed dead the longest of any superhero in recent memory.  We can tell you what makes the metal in Captain America’s shield different than the metal in Wolverine’s claws and skeleton.  We simply know more about these characters than you ever will and I will demonstrate with this one, absolutely absurd set of facts:

  1. We know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story is perhaps the greatest homage in comic book history because the radioactive container which hit Matt Murdock in the head, giving him his powers as Daredevil, is the same one which rolled into the sewers and transformed the turtles.
  2. We know that Daredevil was taught by a Kung-Fu master named Stick and that the turtles were taught by a Kung-Fu rat named Splinter.  Splinter=small Stick
  3. We know that Daredevil fights a ninja organization named The Hand, while the turtles fight a ninja organization named The Foot.  See what they did there?
  4. We also know that all of that was predicated on Frank Miller’s classic run on Daredevil.  Frank Miller=Big  Frickin’ Comic Book Genius

We are the ones who have basements full of long boxes.  We are the ones with the comic character posters on the walls of our homes…into our forties…seriously.   (We might even have a fully restored Millennium Falcon Kenner Toy from 1979 hanging by fishing line over our television in the living room, right next to the shelf with the ceramic R2-D2 cookie jar and the 15-inch Chewbacca that we have kept on display…since childhood…because we love it.)

We are geeks or nerds or whatever you guys chose to call us while you were on your way to sports practice and we were on our way home to read.  When we say that we love this stuff, we are actually referring to our unhealthy, lifelong obsession with the material.

Having said all of that, I would like to welcome all of you normal folks to the party.  You’re a little late, but that’s okay.  Also, I would like to leave you with this one piece of advice:

None of us geeks has a short answer for whether or not we like the new Marvel movies, but we can write a dissertation on whether or not we believe they are accurate and to what extent.  Please expect that.  There is something wrong with us.

Learning To Make Peace With Your Favorite Television Show

It happened again, last night.  Jessica and I sat in our living room with bewildered looks upon our faces, as we watched the series finale of one of our favorite shows.  We had just witnessed the emotional ending that left us sad, dismayed, and somewhat angry.  We had been following How I Met Your Mother since we got married, six years ago, and because of that long-term commitment, we had a reaction that was the strongest since we were forced to witness this:

dexterThat’s right, we were left to process feelings on the level of those left by the Dexter finale.

Fortunately, I wasn’t left with the same feelings, as when Dexter ended in a way that left me questioning the basic competence of its writers and yelling at the television about the complete disaster of an ending with which we were left.  I mean, does it really make sense to justify the complete devastation of the lives of the central characters, all while leaving no resolution to the major themes and questions from throughout series, by stating that there had to be some sort of negative consequence for Dexter’s actions?  Isn’t it a little late to take the “moral high ground” in your finale when your show is about a serial killer?  Alas…I digress…and we need to return to last night.

There we were, trying to make some sense of an ending that seemed too tragic for a television show of that nature.  We were restless and uncomfortable and angry and dissatisfied, but then I slept on it and I realized that maybe that was not only an okay place to be, but also a very beneficial place to end up.  After all, it turns out that the creators of the show actually wrote and shot some of the ending nine years ago, just after they shot the pilot episode.  This, I think, is perhaps an excellent example of Stephen Covey’s principle of “beginning with the end in mind.”

It must have been some sort of modern feat for those creators to sell the idea of a serialized sitcom/drama to a network and finish their pitch by stating that they already had the ending written.  Think about it.  Most television shows are designed and promoted to continue for as long as possible because a long-running show with a loyal audience is akin to the goose that laid the golden egg.  No one wants to kill that goose while it is producing.  It was after realizing this that I found my avenue to make peace with all of my television shows.  I am simply going to have to view them as a came to view comics.

You see, comic books contain characters that I love…and yet I have learned not to get too attached because DC and Marvel own the rights to their characters, not the men who created them.  In fact, the stories of my favorite characters have been handled by many authors and artists through the years.  Occasionally, one gets lucky and his or her favorite characters fall under the care of an amazing writer like Frank Miller and you get absolute gold. (For you non-comic folks, anything that you’ve seen on the screen with Batman since Batman Begins has Miller’s fingerprints all over it.)  Other times…well us comic geeks don’t like to talk about those other times.

Those other times are driven by an axiom which was clearly explained to me by D.W. Howard during my formative teenage years.  “Comics are sold to make money.”  While that may have been hard to hear, it is absolutely the truth.  Comic book characters are serialized characters that make money through the regular release of episodic content.  Simply put, there are going to be several Spider-Man and Batman comics produced every month whether there is enough creative story to support them or not.  In fact, if not enough books are selling, then they will pull some publicity stunt like a cross-over with another character or killing the main character altogether.  (Both Captain America and Superman have died since I left high school and both of them seem to be doing fine to me.)  The bottom line is that comic characters are used to produce profit, regardless of how it may affect their overall story.

This brings us full-circle to television shows.  These shows are being produced to make money for the networks, and a network can tout how funny or dramatic or artistic its shows are, but at the end of the day, there is someone at that same network who is checking a balance sheet.  That guy is ultimately who determines the direction and viability of a show.  Actually, there seems to be a guy like that everywhere, from television to movie studios, pulling the strings.

There are, however, instances where the direction of serialized characters isn’t determined by maintaining the long-term profitability of a property.  In those instances, characters are respected and artistic integrity is maintained, but even then there are times when fans aren’t totally on-board with the story or the outcomes.  This happened in comics with a guy named Dave Sim, who wrote a six thousand page work in serialization called Cerebus. 

Cerebus is about an aardvark named Cerebus and moves from a Conan-styled parody into a work examining politics, religion, feminism, and metaphysics.  The story ran for three hundred issues and ends with the death of the title character.  As you may imagine with that description, fans had a hard time getting a grasp on the entirety of that work.

I know that many of you are asking yourself why I would reference such an obscure work by an author who is virtually unknown outside of comics to make my point.  Why?  Because Dave Sim and Cerebus are the polar opposite end of the spectrum from mainstream, publisher-owned material…and yet they sometimes have the exact same result.

Whether I like it or not, I don’t own Batman or Superman or Captain America or Cerebus or the characters in Dexter or How I Met Your Mother or Lost.  There is always going to be someone else who controls the destiny of these characters and I am just along for the ride…no matter how much time I have invested in their stories.

In the end, it is kind of like the famous professional wrestler Ric Flair has repeatedly stated: “Whether you like it or whether you don’t like it, you had better learn to love it!”  As corny as that sounds, therein lies the secret to making peace with the sometimes unfavorable ends of our favorite fictional characters.  We don’t control their outcomes, but at least we get to journey with them for a while.

Caleb Johnson

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Caleb Johnson:

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so is this:

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and this:

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oh yeah, and this:

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Now, I think that we can all safely assume that Caleb loves pointing at the camera, but here are some pictures of the Caleb you don’t know:

Caleb helping our youth group feed around 800 people spaghetti for free at a music festival.

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Caleb coming the closest he ever has to actually breaking a sweat from manual labor while helping to rebuild homes in Gulfport, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

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Caleb listening to the music that would eventually inspire him to take up singing.

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…and of course, Caleb looking cool with several of us walking down a street on a youth group trip.

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I’m sharing all of this for one reason.  I want everyone that I know to share this with everyone that you know on the internet via Facebook or Twitter or whatever so that they will watch Caleb on American Idol and vote for him.

Caleb is remarkably ordinary and comes from a stable home.  He’s not addicted, abused, or neurotic.  He loves rock and roll and horror movies.  He’s got a lot of normal friends, is well-adjusted, and loves everybody.  In fact it is because he is so normal that I’m a bit concerned with his chances on American Idol.

Am I worried about his talent level?  No.  Caleb can easily out-sing and out-perform every other contestant in the top ten.  What I’m worried about is that Caleb is not exactly teeny-bopper material, nor will any special-interest group or sub-culture vote for him just to promote one of their own.  Caleb needs your help!

If you have ever wanted to rip your radio from the dash of your car because you hated soulless music, vote for Caleb.  If you like to support the average Joe, vote for Caleb.  If you would rather hear someone singing like Creedence Clearwater Revival than some bullcrap about what the fox says, then vote for Caleb.  If you have ever been a fat kid with a great personality and some talent who just needed a break, then you are obligated to vote for Caleb.  If you have ever wanted to support an amazing kid who loves everyone and has an incredible voice, you need to get off of your butt and vote for Caleb!

If he wins, I promise to post embarrassing pics and stories from his youth group years.  You have my word.

Time to check the facts…

I’ve quit watching most mainstream “news” media and I get most of my news straight from a news feed and a podcast that deconstructs media coverage.  I’ve found it very liberating and I want you to know why that is important.

I watch a lot of people arguing on Facebook and in general about the current state of “whatever”, the politics of “I couldn’t care less”, and economics of “some grossly misreported system”.  Here is what I have to say to all of you people that allow yourself to be either whipped into a frenzy or placated by the mainstream media:  A lot of your facts are wrong because you are being lied to or manipulated.

This should matter to you people because even the smartest and most wise person in the world will make the wrong decisions when he or she has the wrong facts.  That is all.

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