Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sharing the good news

A most unlikely source

Do you remember Ken Ham's lament that most teenagers stop going to church when they leave the family nest? The Creation Museum highlights the datum that only one in three continue their participation in church activities once they are on their own. It's one of the most uplifting features of Ham's “museum.”

Similar good news comes to us now from Michael Voris, the unconscious self-parody who holds forth at ChurchMilitant.TV, routinely excoriating the insufficiently ardent faith of the current leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Voris wrings his hands in frequent episodes of  The Daily Vortex (“where lies and falsehoods are trapped and exposed” [the distinction between lies and falsehoods is never clarified]), decrying the lack of rigor in contemporary Catholic practice.

Despite himself, Voris recently found himself unhappily reporting good news from the annual “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. With microphone in hand, Voris accosted several young demonstrators who styled themselves “pro-life” and quizzed them on camera, subjecting them to a quick inquisition on the depth and breadth of their faith. To his horror, he discovered that approximately 30% of the young Catholics were unwilling to agree that contraception is always wrong: “Do you think a couple using birth control is always wrong in every situation?”

Voris was deeply shocked that many respondents did not agree with him that contraception is inherently a “diabolical evil.” The video ends with a lengthy and irritatingly repetitive diatribe against all forms of birth control (in stark black-and-white for enhanced drama). Exposing the laxity of young Catholics with respect to contraception was just the tip of the iceberg. Voris also quizzed the March for Life participants on the evils of homosexuality. Many of the young demonstrators disappointed Voris in their lack of anti-gay militancy. “Do you think it is okay for two guys to be in a romantic relationship?”

Some of the respondents are the same young people who indicated acceptance of contraception in the previous installment of The Vortex, but several new faces also popped up. A few of them wanted to qualify their position as “tolerance” rather than as “acceptance” of the right of people to engage in same-sex relationships, but Voris was still deeply dismayed that approximately 20% were essentially okay with gay partnerships.

Voris and his fellow Catholic militants fancy themselves as the faithful remnant that will be exalted at the second coming of Jesus Christ (any day now!), although they do not embrace the rapture concept of evangelical Protestant eschatology. Instead they are bracing themselves for the great apostasy that they believe is already rampant in what Voris dismissively describes as “the Church of Nice,” the insufficiently macho current incarnation of the One True Church. The bunker mentality is evident in each episode of The Vortex. But with Voris's every pronouncement of impending doom, the sensible viewer can take comfort in the dwindling influence of his point of view within the ranks of the next generation of Catholics. Not even the clergy embrace Voris's extreme ultramontanism.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

The new car, part 2

Let's make a deal

I am a mission-oriented shopper. Decide in advance what you want. Get in, get out. Done. Browsing is for bookstores only. Nothing else. Unless, of course, it can't be helped.

It could not be helped when my car died a couple of days after Christmas. When the service agent told me how much it would cost to bring my vehicle back to functional life, I asked to be referred to the sales department. Before long, I was in the clutches of an eager sales representative. Let's call him “Pete.” We immediately embarked on a magical mystery tour that I have yet to understand, but which I will strive to relate. Except for some small details and slightly rounded numbers, this is exactly what occurred.

New or used?

Pete asked me where I wanted to go, the used-car lot or the new vehicle showroom. There were some holiday specials to make the new cars more attractive, but I preferred to see what the used lot had to offer first. (I really didn't expect to end up pricing the new automobiles; I'm more of a bargain hunter than that.) Pete had two cars on offer that he thought I might like, especially since both were updated versions of my deceased vehicle. One was a 2007 hybrid and the other was a 2006 V6. The V6 was perky like my old car (also a V6), but the 2007 hybrid was no slouch. The hybrid was listed at $13,500. The V6 was a year older, but was listed at $18,000. I took each car out for a test drive and decided on the hybrid. I wanted to move into the 21st century.

It was about 4:30 when I made my choice, mere hours after my old car had been pronounced dead. I didn't haggle. It's not my nature. I was ready to go. I was not, however, taking into account the time-consuming rituals required by the process of car purchasing.

I had my checkbook in my pocket and I was ready to pay cash. The sales rep turned me over to his manager. The sales manager was bluff, unkempt, and overly friendly. I didn't really care. I could pretend to be buddies for a while. He handed me some paperwork to fill out. The manager—let's call him “Jim”—disappeared for several minutes into the rabbit warren of offices adjoining the sales floor while I sat on a plastic chair at a Formica table and sipped some water that Pete had fetched for me. When Jim returned, he pulled out the chair next to mine and took a look at the form I had filled out. He scratched out a big chunk of it because I was not applying for credit.

“With tax, license, and fees,” he said, “it comes to fifteen-five.”

It seemed sufficiently shrug-worthy. “Okay,” I said. ”Exactly fifteen thousand five hundred.”

“That's right,” he said, and watched while I wrote out a check. But he left the check where I placed it on the table. “Hang on a minute and I'll be right back,” he said.

A special offer

This time it was a longer wait. I was getting fidgety and irritated. I just wanted to get it over with and figured that a trouble-free customer like me should have been whisked through with a little more efficiency. But only half an hour had trickled by since I had said, “That one.” It was hardly at the ordeal level yet.

Jim was back. He sat down at the table. He had a piece of paper in his hand. It bore an easily-read number: $16,600. I scowled. My check for $15,500 was still on the table in front of me.

“We're going to be giving you a discount,” he said.

I kept quiet. In my opinion, the number in his hand did not reflect a discount. Jim was ready to explain how wrong I was.

“Your car was posted on our website at a special price, which we have to respect for walk-in customers, too. We're dropping the price a thousand dollars for you.”

Okay. That did sound like a discount.

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

“And we're going to offer you a two-year extended warranty on the car's electrical system for only twenty-one hundred, which is a great deal for a hybrid like you're buying.”

Ah. An extended warranty. Dad used to make a lot of money selling those extended warranties to customers who purchased consumer electronics from him. Dad's advice to family members: Never buy an extended warranty.

“No, thanks,” I said.

Jim acted startled. Maybe he was.

“It's a great deal. The whole thing comes to only sixteen six.”

“Yes, I can do the math, but I'll pass on the extended warranty.”

“You sure?”

“Quite sure.”

Jim pulled himself together and stood up, the piece of paper still in his hand.

“Okay,” he said. “I'll set things up.”

“What do I do with this check?” I asked.

“You won't be paying that much,” he said, so I tucked it back into my checkbook.

Pete came over while I was loitering at the showroom windows, watching the sunset. He asked me if I needed anything.

“No. I'm just curious how much longer this is going to take.”

“Oh, no more than another five or six hours,” he said.

I gave him a sharp look. “Just kidding!” he assured me, an awkward smile on his face. I was not particularly amused.

Happy ending

We had killed an hour and a half by the time Jim emerged to conduct me into the inner sanctum where their finance guy was ensconced in a messy, paper-crammed cubby. With a heavy Slavic accent, the finance guy asked me to take a seat in front of his desk. He proceeded to collect my signature about two dozen times on about fifteen different documents. (I'm not even counting all the places I had to initial.) The finance guy mentioned that they had a special offer on an extended warranty for my car's electrical system. “This is a very good deal for a hybrid. They are very complicated.” I assured him I was declining the opportunity. He mentioned it three or four times before I was done signing papers. He finally stopped after I inked a document that stipulated I had been offered the extended warranty and had turned it down in the full knowledge of how wonderful it was.

“Do you know how much this car is going to cost you?” asked the finance guy.

I was wondering if I would be ambushed at the last minute and end up refusing the deal.

“I already cut a check for fifteen-five,” I said, “but Jim says that's not right.”

“Yes, no way are you paying that much.”

That, at least, seemed the right response. He punched some numbers into his computer, scribbled things on the final document, and turned it toward me for my perusal and my signature. I was paying $14,150.

“This is it, then? I can cut a check for this amount?”

“Yes. That exact amount.”

In retrospect, nothing makes more sense now than it made that night. The dealer could have sold me the car for $15.5K. I even cut the check. Then we went through this rigmarole where they tried to get me up to $16.6K. When the fat lady finally sang, I was paying only $14.2K. What was up with that?

It sure wasn't my steely-eyed resolve and virtuoso bargaining skills.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Hit me with your best shot

No vaccine for stupidity

Even before the recent news flurry over anti-vaccine spokesmodel Jenny McCarthy and the status of her son's reported autism, there was a provocative news item in the Sacramento Bee concerning a new medical clinic designed for parents who need assistance in opting out of California's childhood vaccination program, recently made more stringent by long overdue changes in state law. The clinic's founder, Dr. Dean Blumberg, supported the new state law but also describes himself as a firm supporter of parental rights:
“I’m pro-immunization, but I’m also in support of parental rights,” Blumberg said. “That’s why we decided to set up the clinic as a community service, in case there are parents whose health care provider won’t sign the [exemption] form or some parents who don’t have a primary care provider.”
The Bee article generated a laudatory letter to the editor:
Dr. Blumberg helps no-vaccine parents' right to choose
Re “Clinic to aid no-vaccine parents” (Our Region, Dec. 19): Surely, we as doctors and parents can debate the many merits of and concerns with vaccination programs. However, UC Davis Medical Center physician Dean Blumberg has taken a position that is both praiseworthy and responsive to parental rights. As a parent working in emergency medical services, I have decided not to participate in vaccination programs for reasons that are really not at issue. What is at issue is that we are afforded the right and responsibility as parents for our children. I encourage Dr. Blumberg to continue providing information to assist parents in our choices and to continue honoring us as parents as we evaluate this information and make our decisions. The doctor should be recognized for his commitment to the higher standard of self-determination in the practice of pediatric medicine. —CK, Roseville
I was inspired to submit a response that the Bee did not see fit to publish, so I offer it here:
Anti-vaccination parents who leave their children vulnerable to preventable diseases are always so eager to appear rational and reasonable. As one said in Letters, “I have decided not to participate in vaccination programs for reasons that are really not at issue.” Not at issue? How delusional a statement is that? How would people react if a parent said something only slightly different? For example: “I have decided not to use child safety seats in my car with my children for reasons that are really not at issue. In case of a traffic accident, I prefer to hope that my children will be thrown clear.”

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The new car

Where's the key?

Two days after Christmas, my car's transmission gave out. After more than sixteen years of dependable service, the vehicle had reached the end of the road. Of course, first I had to get off that road. Since it was an interstate, several helpful fellow drivers seemed to think it was useful to honk their horns and flash their headlights at me. I suppose that was to inform me that my car was in difficulty. Frankly, I thought the fact that I was poking along with my flashers going should have provided a clue that I was aware of the situation, but I guess it was nice of them to be so considerate.

Anyway, once I made my herky-jerky way to the next exit, I managed to creep along the frontage road to a nearby shop. (Since I have a talent for mitigated bad luck, the nearest shop was the one that normally did the maintenance on my car anyway.) The boy who checked me in jotted down the car's mileage and grinned at me: “You're the winner by a mile, sir. Biggest number today.” Yes, an odometer sporting well over 300,000 miles will do that for you. Of course, at that point I was not yet certain that I had finished accumulating miles on that particular car. But I did have a sneaking suspicion. When the service agent told me how much it would cost to replace the transmission, my fears were confirmed and I caught a ride to a nearby dealership. (Therein lies another story; something for later.)

Thus I began the new year in a new car. New to me, anyway. I'm now tooling about in a 2007 hybrid and gradually learning to deal with the 21st century. First of all, I no longer have a key. This freaks me out. I realize that most readers will not be surprised by this, but most people don't cling to a car for sixteen years. I had become completely adapted to that old car. Knobs and switches were all reached reflexively, no looking required. All quirks were completely internalized. Now I have to run a mental check-list before driving off, referring to the owner's manual to save me from pawing randomly at the console while trying to drive.

It's driving me crazy. (Ha, ha; “driving.”)

Good thing school is out. I'm at leisure to poke about town and learn my car's quirks. I've made one trip of significant length (down to Turlock to catch my editor while he was visiting family). That went fine, if a bit white-knuckled. Since the new car is a hybrid, I've learned not to jump when it “stalls” at stop signs. Nope. It's just shifting to electric mode.

I have a little list of things I wish I could fix, now that I'm getting used to the new car. For one thing, why is the B-pillar so wide? I'm meticulous about looking over my left shoulder at my blind spot (good work, Mr. Russ; your driver-ed class programmed me well) before moving into the lane on that side; the new car has a pillar half again as wide as my old car. Why? (Good thing it's not wide enough to hide a nearby car. I'll get used to it.) The inside door grip is farther back; recently, however, my hand has been hitting the right place when I reach for it. I'm getting there.

But that key thing? It's not like old times. No more going to the hardware store to have them grind out an inexpensive spare for me. I have only this one electronic unit that sits in my pocket and causes my car to recognize me. Very convenient but weird. Today I returned to the dealership and ordered up a spare to keep at home. It's worth it for my peace of mind.

“I miss keys,” I said to the manager of the parts department.

“You said it!” he accurately replied. “It's something that wasn't broken, wasn't it?”

Nope. Not at all. But they “fixed” it anyway. And these new-fangled electronic lock controls? They don't even have a button to keep the darned kids off my lawn!