Tag Archives: america

Worst. Car. Ever.

?Chrysler PT Cruiser

As is necessary when you travel to the US, I hired a car. It’s always tricky to hire a small car in America — only in the US could an SUV fit in a “small car” parking space — but I dismissed all their attempts to get me to upgrade. Maybe it was some form of revenge, but I ended up with a Chrysler P.T. Cruiser. Not terribly small. But actually terrible.

I don’t own a car. I live in London and have no need for one. I mention this so you realise that every time I drive it’s in a different type of car. Most cars are… fine. Uninspired perhaps but adequate. Put it this way: I didn’t whinge when they gave me a Neon a previous time.

The Cruiser looks hideous. I guess we’re now post-Mondeo where everything is no longer designed by a focus group, so it’s almost positive that its shape elicits an emotion. But still. What were they thinking? Bulbous, bug headlights, chrome accenting, as aerodynamic as a breeze block, this is a machine built this decade but with a design sensibility set five decades ago.

Inside things don’t get better. My eyes are immediately drawn to the clock in the middle of the dashboard. Not particularly because it looks good but because the back-light is twice as bright as the speedometer. Not a great feature when you’re trying to get used to a new car.

But once I’ve moved passed the aesthetics and have resigned myself to driving it, I find that it lets me down here too. The parking lot is, of course, designed for American cars. Yet I still need to do a three-point-turn just to get the vehicle pointing towards the exit. This thing has the turning circle of a small bus.

Out on the road things aren’t quite so bad. Visibility is poor, it’s difficult to tell how wide it is and performance isn’t exactly its middle name but, to be fair, it does get me around the Bay Area without too much trouble.

But, in the end, being barely competent is hardly a cause for celebration. I was happy to get the car back to SFO. Hopefully next time my hire car will be a better drive.

San Francisco

Transamerica Pyramid

San Francisco StreetIn April last year I had never visited the west coast of America, so it’s slightly odd to think that this was my third trip there this year — first to Berkeley and Monterey, and last month to Marin for work. This time I increased by “bridge count,” visited The City (as locals call San Francisco), Marin (the county north of the Golden Gate Bridge), and two universities (Berkeley and Stanford).

From there I saw the Transamerica Pyramid in the distance and decided to wander over for a closer look. As I got closer I lost it a couple of times but I persevered and you can see a shot from the base here. At ground level there was a lot of building work. Don’t know what they were doing but it wasn’t pretty.

In the Friday evening we took a tour out to Alcatraz. By the time we were heading back it was sunset and this allowed some beautiful pictures of San Fransisco itself lit by the golden, fading sun.

San Francisco from Alcatraz

Heading back to the UK and seeing all the flooding in the news it’s sad to think that it’s going to be a while before we head back to the Bay Area again.

Notes on CRAP Alert

I enjoyed writing my CRAP Alert post yesterday. Very cathartic. But there are some serious points in it and while I might be overstating the case when I spell them out here, I think it’s worth doing just to be clear.

The truth is I genuinely do support the right of people to publish this kind of information. I am against pretty much all forms of censorship and am very much in favour of giving people good information so that they can make an informed decision themselves.

In the case of CAP Alert the thing that I dislike is the absolute nature of their criticism1 and their insistence that what they are doing is in any way objective. The numerical aspect is of dubious value — are you a better person if you swear only five times rather than ten? — and the commentary is no more objective than what I?ve written here. Using a checklist does not make things absolute, just as referring to a book does not make your morals any more sound than mine.

The checklist approach also fails to distinguish between scenes that condone “bad” behaviour and those that condemn it. Similarly, films often lose points if the protagonist questions authority. But is it always wrong to question authority? Certain historical precedents say not. Nothing is black and white.

More significantly, the “objective” nature of their commentary is undermined when they completely misunderstand the plot of the film. My favourite is for their write-up of American Beauty, in which they commend a “redneck” Marine Colonel for arguing against homosexuality while simultaneously failing to note that it was he who was gay and not his son. Kind of important to the plot, yet they claim it did “nothing for the script.” I wonder if the reviewers actually see the movies in question.

Naturally violence in real life should not be encouraged and there is such a thing as too much in a movie. I am not terribly keen on the recent spate of vigilante endings of some of the more violent Hollywood movies. But I don?t necessarily think that people genuinely take it as advice to take the law into their own hands. It?s more a case of lax story telling than lax morals. On the other hand, the CAP blanket ban on nudity betrays their puritanical roots. I find it hard to believe that it is the cause of any of the ills of the world.

Ultimately, CAP is ripe for ridicule not because of what it’s trying to do — while I do not agree with their values I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of reviewing films for specific demographics — but because in an effort to push their politics on their readers they frequently miss the mark.

  1. Which is no doubt seated in their moral objectivism rather than my more relative stance. []

CRAP Alert

Ever since I found it a few years ago I have been very impressed with the CAP Alert website. The “American Culture Ministry” owns it and their plan is to review films for objectionable content. In this context, “objectionable” means anything that does not fit in with their fairly strict interpretation of the Bible. They claim that their reviews are objective1 as they use the WISDOM scale2. I absolutely support the rights of groups such as this to take all the fun out of entertainment.

However I feel an alternative is required for people who may not follow the same faith or may not take such a strict line on all elements of the WISDOM scale. I have, therefore, created a new scale designed for the people who like a good movie and don’t take them too seriously.

My methodology is based, fundamentally, on the well-understood principle that the number of exploding helicopters is generally proportional to the quality of the film. For example, “Waterworld” is rightly considered to be a dreadful film by most critics and movie-goers. And how many exploding helicopters are there in it?

Of course, ninety minute of exploding helicopters would get a little monotonous. For this reason the scale includes other elements that make movies entertaining such as gratuitous sex or nudity, humour and cruelty to animals. (Just to be clear, I don’t condone cruelty to real animals, with the possible exception of poodles.)

I like to call this scale CRAP. Originally I wanted to go for the full six pillars like the WISDOM scale, but I realized that I really wanted to enjoy the films I watch and that I couldn’t be bothered watching a film while looking for six different characteristics. Each letter stands for something and the following paragraphs explain what to look for.

Chopper. As explained above this is only about exploding helicopters. Helicopters landing at a wonky angle or with a jolt do not count. Planes do not count. Actually, I exaggerate for dramatic effect. This pillar is really all about entertaining “action” sequences.

Relations. Here we’re looking for normal, healthy relations between consenting adults. Unlike certain other profiles, we do not discriminate on sexual orientation or marital status. Extra points may be awarded for gratuitous nudity.

Amusement. Here we rate the “fun factor” of the movie. Is it funny? Entertaining?

Plot. While the WISDOM scale will happily give high marks to films that are dull but worthy, the CRAP scale rewards movies that have a plot and “go somewhere.” Exceptions may be given where no plot is necessary, for example documentaries or Charlies Angels.

I think you’ll agree that this scale intuitively makes sense. Over the next few months I shall be reviewing movies using the CRAP scale. I plan to look at both classics and new films. You may be surprised how they compare with the WISDOM scale. I encourage you to use this scale when viewing films and suggest you add your own reviews as comments below. You will be doing a service to the whole Internet community and I thank you for your help.

  1. Although the scores are “objective” the associated commentary rarely is. For example, a man being brutally executed is dismissed as only being a film while a Disney film, which has roughly the same score on the WISDOM scale, has “behavioral, moral and value implantation dangers.” The movies were The Passion of the Christ and The Incredibles. []
  2. WISDOM are the first letters of the six elements that are assessed: Wanton violence/crime; Impudence/Hate; Sexual morality; Drugs/alcohol; Offence to God; and Murder/suicide. []