Category: History

The Looney and Merrie arts

Will Friedwald writes about …

There’s a telling moment in the 1940 Tex Avery cartoon “A Wild Hare” when Bugs Bunny sneaks up behind Elmer Fudd, covers his adversary’s eyes with his hands, and instructs him to “Guess who!” The hunter reels off a list of contemporary leading ladies, including, as expressed in his exaggerated speech impediment, “Cawole Wombard.” Yet even though one of the actresses in the list, “Owivia DeHaviwand,” lived until July of this year, the joke has largely been lost on younger generations—because most viewers born after 1970 have barely heard of most of the movie stars of Hollywood’s golden age.

And that’s the most salient fact about this remarkable cartoon rabbit, a venerable Warner Bros. star who is currently celebrating his 80th birthday (at least in human years). Bugs fans can enjoy a three-disc Blu-ray set being released in December by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment; if you don’t want to wait, he’s also featured in an excellent series, developed by Peter Browngardt, of newly produced Looney Tunes cartoons (viewable on YouTube and HBO Max). Although your average millennial scratches his head at the mention of Barbara Stanwyck, everybody knows Bugs Bunny.

Bugs’s durability clearly has something to do with his intrinsic status as an underdog. Even before “A Wild Hare,” which is generally considered the first full-blown Bugs Bunny cartoon, the directors and animators working for (infamously hands-off) producer Leon Schlesinger had experimented with the notion of a hunted animal—the prey—turning the tables on its armed predator in a prototypical series of hunter-and-rabbit cartoons from 1938-40. Less than 18 months after the cartoon’s release, America itself would seem like a plucky underdog, entering a war in which the whole world was being menaced by little men with big guns. (“A Wild Hare” ends patriotically with Bugs re-creating the “Spirit of ’76” march.)

The tropes in “A Wild Hare” immediately established the rules of the hunter and the game: In their many encounters to follow, we’d find a clueless Elmer unaware that he is talking to Bugs—followed by a dramatic realization (“that was the wabbit!”); a comic death scene by Bugs—followed by exaggerated guilt pangs from Elmer. Nearly two decades later, “What’s Opera, Doc,” perhaps the single best Bugs Bunny cartoon, readdressed all those leitmotifs in grandly Wagnerian terms. The No. 1 rule isn’t so much that Bugs always wins (although that’s usually the case), but that physical aggression is always punished. Bugs triumphs by driving his antagonists crazy (as he does in “A Wild Hare”); rather than by responding with force, Bugs will taunt, tease and gaslight them until they just quit in sheer frustration. The only times Bugs loses are those rare instances when he is the aggressor, as in his three encounters with his persistent racing opponent, Cecil Turtle.

Yet as firm as the rules are, there was room for infinite variation on those familiar themes. And while the brilliant voice actor Mel Blanc gave Bugs his distinctive—and consistent—New York accent, there were noticeable differences in the approaches of the various directors: Bob Clampett’s Bugs was the most wacky, egomaniacal, out-of-control incarnation of the rabbit, in distinct contrast to Chuck Jones’s vision of the character, who was much more coolly calculating. Friz Freleng gave us a highly theatrical Bugs who seemed to exist on a vaudeville stage, always ready at the drop of a downbeat to fly into song and dance.

Even so, those directorial transformations are subtle compared with those that Bugs himself effortlessly achieves. He instantly morphs into the king of England, an imperious symphonic conductor, and a variety of drag roles—from a perky bobby-soxer to a Noo Yawk manicurist to a Teutonic Valkyrie perched on a corpulent white steed.

“Bugs needed a stronger adversary than Elmer, because Elmer was about as stupid as you could get,” Freleng said. “So I came up finally with a character called Yosemite Sam.” And in a cartoon parallel to the Cold War arms race, Bugs’s adversaries grew increasingly powerful over the years. Elmer toted a rifle he rarely used, but Sam’s six-shooters were constantly a-blazing. The rogues’ gallery of heavies gradually grew to include predatory animals (a wolf, a lion, a bear, a hunting dog), mad scientists, a furry monster, giants, an abominable snowman, a gorilla, a pirate, a Martian, a Nazi, a witch, and a Tasmanian devil. In several episodes he even goes up against the entire U.S. Army.

Bugs sometimes presents himself as an actor in a role, although in especially meta moments he is conscious of being a pen-and-ink creation. But Chuck Jones was fond of a little boy’s response when his father introduced the cartoonist as “the man who draws Bugs Bunny.” The child protested that Jones didn’t “draw Bugs Bunny”—rather, he drew “pictures of Bugs Bunny.” The difference is crucial. Even now, as an octogenarian, Bugs is alive and well, no matter who is drawing him.

My two favorites are …

A Wisconsin earworm of sorts

A Facebook Friend passed this on from Robert Stacy “The Other” McCain:

For the past several weeks, for some reason, I’ve become obsessed with old Chicago songs. Not their later easy-listening pop, but their early stuff from 1969-1972, when they were still avant-garde. And I couldn’t figure out why this happened until I realized that “25 or 6 to 4” had been remastered as a U.S. Army recruiting advertisement:

Fifty years after its original release, Chicago’s signature song, “25 or 6 to 4,” has been reimagined as a hip-hop anthem about finding your inner warrior with fiery new vocals by indie rapper realnamejames. An abbreviated version of the remix first appeared in November 2019 as a part of the launch of the U.S. Army’s “What’s Your Warrior?” marketing campaign, which was developed to showcase the breadth and depth of opportunities for today’s youth to achieve their goals in America’s largest military branch. The track sparked conversation and excitement online, and a full-length version of The “25 or 6 to 4 (GoArmy Remix)” is now available for download . . .

Wow, I feel old. I haven’t felt this old since Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” was the soundtrack of a Cadillac ad. Back in the day, those early Chicago albums were real stoner music. Every hippie was certain that “25 or 6 to 4” was a reference to acid (LSD-25), but in fact the title and lyrics are about keyboardist Robert Lamm’s struggle to finish writing a song in the wee hours of the morning. He looked up at the clock and it was either 3:35 or 3:34 in the morning — 25 or 26 until 4 a.m.

As I say, Chicago was considered quite avant-garde in their early career. Their first three albums were all double albums, and their fourth album was a quadruple live album. They did a lot of long-form instrumental tracks, and one of my favorite Chicago songs, “Beginnings,” was nearly eight minutes long on their first album. It was not until Columbia Records president Clive Davis personally insisted on editing it down to under three minutes that “Beginnings” became a hit single. Similarly, the album version of “25 or 6 to 4” was nearly five minutes (4:50), which Davis chopped down to 2:52. Of course, the guys in the band resented the hell out of this commercial butchery of their art, but it made them rich. Selling singles (45 rpm) to teenagers required getting airplay on Top 40 radio, and back in the day, there was no way you were gonna get a five-minute song on the radio, let alone eight minutes. So these brutal chop jobs were a necessary part of the business. Chicago could indulge their artistic impulses all they wanted on their albums, but in order to sell those albums, they needed radio airplay, which meant hit singles and — chop! chop! chop! — there went half the song.

Nobody understands this stuff nowadays, in the digital age, where everything is Adobe Audition and kids just download music from Spotify, but once upon a time, a recording was an actual performance, recorded analog on tape, which had to be physically cut and spliced to make edits. And there were actual radio stations run by human beings (or soulless monsters, depending on your point view) called “program directors,” so that turning a record into a hit was a transactional sort of enterprise. Even after Congress outlawed “payola,” there was still a lot of shady stuff involved in promoting records to radio. Of course, in the long run, the music was either good or it wasn’t. Most of the mediocre crap that got played on the radio has been forgotten, but the real classics are timeless.

So I’ve been walking around with this song stuck in my head:

What the heck is that final chord? “25 or 6 to 4” is in the key of A-minor, but that final chord is definitely not A-minor. So I actually researched it and discovered that Lamm ended the song this way:

Dm 6/9 …. F9 … B6(add D) … G/A# … B/A

That’s just insane. In case you don’t know, B/A is an inverted B7 chord, with the 7th (A) played as the bass note. It is completely incongruous with an A-minor scale, which is why that final chord leaves the listener with such a weird feeling. Instinctively, you want the song to resolve to the tonic (I) chord, but instead you have this weird progression of complex chords culminating in something that’s just . . . wrong.

You could spend a lot of time pondering the significance of stuff like that, but that would require a supply of psychedelic drugs, consumed in a basement room with blacklight posters, which was how hippies used to listen to music (according to sources, the professional journalist said).

And so now a hiphop remix of “25 or 6 to 4” is being used for Army recruiting ads. Dude, I never expected to be so old . . .

McCain forgot, or perhaps chose not to include, the ’80s version, with Bill Champlain singing lead vocals instead of Peter Cetera …

… which started the first Chicago concert I ever saw, in Madison in 1987. The correct version started the second half.

What is the Wisconsin connection (besides the fact that all four Chicago concerts I’ve seen were in Wisconsin, that is), you ask? The Facebook Terry Kath Fan Group reveals …

… Chicago guitar legend Terry Kath and his father, Raymond, who owned Kath’s Lake Placid Lodge in Hayward. Terry Kath’s daughter, Michelle, who was 2 when her father died, described the lodge as her father’s “special place.”

Well, it beats having Chicago mobsters using northern Wisconsin as their “special place,” and as you know there was a lot of that.

 

Book ’em, Tubbs

Those who watched “Hawaii Five-O” (the original, as I did) and “Miami Vice” (as I recently did) will be amused at this:

Which shouldn’t be a surprise. These are the top two opens to TV shows in history.

And it’s pretty obvious that Reza Badiyi’s titles for Five-O were the inspiration for Vice, and when Five-0 was remade, that and Morton Stevens’ theme music could not be extensively remade.

And, well, two were hit singles.

It turns out the original Five-O music was more versatile than Stevens could have ever thought.

 

9/11

Sept. 11, 2001 started out as a beautiful day, in Wisconsin, New York City and Washington, D.C.

I remember almost everything about the entire day. Sept. 11, 2001 is to my generation what Nov. 22, 1963 was to my parents and Dec. 7, 1941 was to my grandparents.

I had dropped off our oldest son, Michael, at Ripon Children’s Learning Center. As I was coming out, the mother of one of Michael’s group told me to find a good radio station; she had heard as she was getting out with her son that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

I got in my car and turned it on in time to hear, seemingly live, a plane hit the WTC. But it wasn’t the first plane, it was the second plane hitting the other tower.

As you can imagine, my drive to Fond du Lac took unusually long that day. I tried to call Jannan, who was working at Ripon College, but she didn’t answer because she was in a meeting. I had been at Marian University as their PR director for just a couple months, so I didn’t know for sure who the media might want to talk to, but once I got there I found a couple professors and called KFIZ and WFDL in Fond du Lac and set up live interviews.

The entire day was like reading a novel, except that there was no novel to put down and no nightmare from which to wake up. A third plane hit the Pentagon? A fourth plane crashed somewhere else? The government was grounding every plane in the country and closing every airport?

I had a TV in my office, and later that morning I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. So as I was talking to Jannan on the phone, NBC showed a tower collapsing, and I assumed that was video of the first tower collapse. But it wasn’t; it was the second tower collapse, and that was the second time that replay-but-it’s-not thing had happened that day.

Marian’s president and my boss (a native of a Queens neighborhood who grew up with many firefighter and police officer families, and who by the way had a personality similar to Rudy Giuliani) had a brief discussion about whether or not to cancel afternoon or evening classes, but they decided (correctly) to hold classes as scheduled. The obvious reasons were (1) that we had more than 1,000 students on campus, and what were they going to do if they didn’t have classes, and (2) it was certainly more appropriate to have our professors leading a discussion over what had happened than anything else that could have been done.

I was at Marian until after 7 p.m. I’m sure Marian had a memorial service, but I don’t remember it. While I was in Fond du Lac, our church was having a memorial service with our new rector (who hadn’t officially started yet) and our interim priest. I was in a long line at a gas station, getting gas because the yellow low fuel light on my car was on, not because of panic over gas prices, although I recall that one Fond du Lac gas station had increased their prices that day to the ridiculous $2.299 per gallon. (I think my gas was around $1.50 a gallon that day.)

Two things I remember about that specific day: It was an absolutely spectacular day. But when the sun set, it seemed really, really dark, as if there was no light at all outside, from stars, streetlights or anything else.

For the next few days, since Michael was at the TV-watching age, we would watch the ongoing 9/11 coverage in our kitchen while Michael was watching the 1-year-old-appropriate stuff or videos in our living room. That Sunday, one of the people who was at church was Adrian Karsten of ESPN. He was supposed to be at a football game working for ESPN, of course, but there was no college football Saturday (though high school football was played that Friday night), and there was no NFL football Sunday. Our organist played “God Bless America” after Mass, and I recall Adrian clapping with tears down his face; I believe he knew some people who had died or been injured.

Later that day was Marian’s Heritage Festival of the Arts. We had record attendance since there was nothing going on, it was another beautiful day, and I’m guessing after five consecutive days of nonstop 9/11 coverage, people wanted to get out of their houses.

In the 19 years since then, a comment of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stuck in my head. He was asked a year or so later whether the U.S. was more or less safe since 9/11, and I believe his answer was that we were more safe because we knew more than on Sept. 10, 2001. That and the fact that we haven’t been subject to another major terrorist attack since then is the good news.

Osama bin Laden (who I hope is enjoying Na’ar, Islam’s hell) and others in Al Qaeda apparently thought that the U.S. (despite the fact that citizens from more than 90 countries died on 9/11) would be intimidated by the 9/11 attacks and cower on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, allowing Al Qaeda to operate with impunity in the Middle East and elsewhere. (Bin Laden is no longer available for comment.) If you asked an American who paid even the slightest attention to world affairs where a terrorist attack would be most likely before 9/11, that American would have replied either “New York,” the world’s financial capital, or “Washington,” the center of the government that dominates the free world. A terrorist attack farther into the U.S., even in a much smaller area than New York or Washington, would have delivered a more chilling message, that nowhere in the U.S. was safe. Al Qaeda didn’t think  to do that, or couldn’t do that. The rest of the Middle East also did not turn on the U.S. or on Israel (more so than already is the case with Israel), as bin Laden apparently expected.

The bad news is all of the other changes that have taken place that are not for the better. Bloomberg Businessweek asks:

So was it worth it? Has the money spent by the U.S. to protect itself from terrorism been a sound investment? If the benchmark is the absence of another attack on the American homeland, then the answer is indisputably yes. For the first few years after Sept. 11, there was political near-unanimity that this was all that mattered. In 2005, after the bombings of the London subway system, President Bush sought to reassure Americans by declaring that “we’re spending unprecedented resources to protect our nation.” Any expenditure in the name of fighting terrorism was justified.

A decade later, though, it’s clear this approach is no longer sustainable. Even if the U.S. is a safer nation than it was on Sept. 11, it’s a stretch to say that it’s a stronger one. And in retrospect, the threat posed by terrorism may have been significantly less daunting than Western publics and policymakers imagined it to be. …

Politicians and pundits frequently said that al Qaeda posed an “existential threat” to the U.S. But governments can’t defend against existential threats—they can only overspend against them. And national intelligence was very late in understanding al Qaeda’s true capabilities. At its peak, al Qaeda’s ranks of hardened operatives numbered in the low hundreds—and that was before the U.S. and its allies launched a global military campaign to dismantle the network. “We made some bad assumptions right after Sept. 11 that shaped how we approached the war on terror,” says Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation. “We thought al Qaeda would run over the Middle East—they were going to take over governments and control armies. In hindsight, it’s clear that was never going to be the case. Al Qaeda was not as good as we gave them credit for.”

Yet for a decade, the government’s approach to counterterrorism has been premised in part on the idea that not only would al Qaeda attack inside the U.S. again, but its next strike would be even bigger—possibly involving unconventional weapons or even a nuclear bomb. Washington has appropriated tens of billions trying to protect against every conceivable kind of attack, no matter the scale or likelihood. To cite one example, the U.S. spends $1 billion a year to defend against domestic attacks involving improvised-explosive devices, the makeshift bombs favored by insurgents in Afghanistan. “In hindsight, the idea that post-Sept. 11 terrorism was different from pre-9/11 terrorism was wrong,” says Brian A. Jackson, a senior physical scientist at RAND. “If you honestly believed the followup to 9/11 would be a nuclear weapon, then for intellectual consistency you had to say, ‘We’ve got to prevent everything.’ We pushed for perfection, and in counterterrorism, that runs up the tab pretty fast.”

Nowhere has that profligacy been more evident than in the area of homeland security. “Things done in haste are not done particularly well,” says Jackson. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes in his new book, Bin Laden’s Legacy, the creation of a homeland security apparatus has been marked by waste, bureaucracy, and cost overruns. Gartenstein-Ross cites the Transportation Security Agency’s rush to hire 60,000 airport screeners after Sept. 11, which was originally budgeted at $104 million; in the end it cost the government $867 million. The homeland security budget has also proved to be a pork barrel bonanza: In perhaps the most egregious example, the Kentucky Charitable Gaming Dept. received $36,000 to prevent terrorists from raising money at bingo halls. “If you look at the past decade and what it’s cost us, I’d say the rate of return on investment has been poor,” Gartenstein-Ross says.

Of course, much of that analysis has the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It is interesting to note as well that, for all the campaign rhetoric from candidate Barack Obama that we needed to change our foreign policy approach, president Obama changed almost nothing, including our Afghanistan and Iraq involvements. It is also interesting to note that the supposed change away from President George W. Bush’s us-or-them foreign policy approach hasn’t changed the world’s view, including particularly the Middle East’s view, of the U.S. Someone years from now will have to determine whether homeland security, military and intelligence improvements prevented Al Qaeda from another 9/11 attack, or if Al Qaeda wasn’t capable of more than just one 9/11-style U.S. attack.

Hindsight makes one realize how much of the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented or at least their worst effects lessened. One year after 9/11, the New York Times book 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers points out that eight years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, New York City firefighters and police officers still could not communicate with each other, which led to most of the police and fire deaths in the WTC collapses. Even worse, the book revealed that the buildings did not meet New York City fire codes when they were designed because they didn’t have to, since they were under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And more than one account shows that, had certain people at the FBI and elsewhere been listened to by their bosses, the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t have caught our intelligence community dumbfounded. (It does not speak well of our government to note that no one appears to have paid any kind of political price for the 9/11 attacks.)

I think, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek argued, our approach to homeland security (a term I loathe) has overdone much and missed other threats. Our approach to airline security — which really seems like the old error of generals’ fighting the previous war — has made air travel worse but not safer. (Unless you truly believe that 84-year-old women and babies are terrorist threats.) The incontrovertible fact is that every 9/11 hijacker fit into one gender, one ethnic group and a similar age range. Only two reasons exist to not profile airline travelers — political correctness and the assumption that anyone is capable of hijacking an airplane, killing the pilots and flying it into a skyscraper or important national building. Meanwhile, while the U.S. spends about $1 billion each year trying to prevent Improvised Explosive Device attacks, what is this country doing about something that would be even more disruptive, yet potentially easier to do — an Electromagnetic Pulse attack, which would fry every computer within the range of the device?

We have at least started to take steps like drilling our own continent’s oil and developing every potential source of electric power, ecofriendly or not, to make us less dependent on Middle East oil. (The Middle East, by the way, supplies only one-fourth of our imported oil. We can become less dependent on Middle East oil; we cannot become less dependent on energy.) But the government’s response to 9/11 has followed like B follows A the approach our culture has taken to risk of any sort, as if covering ourselves in bubblewrap, or even better cowering in our homes, will make the bogeyman go away. Are we really safer because of the Patriot Act?

American politics was quite nasty in the 1990s. For a brief while after 9/11, we had impossible-to-imagine moments like this:

And then within the following year, the political beatings resumed. Bush’s statement, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy,” was deliberately misconstrued as Bush saying that Americans should go out and shop. Americans were exhorted to sacrifice for a war unlike any war we’ve ever faced by those who wouldn’t have to deal with the sacrifices of, for instance, gas prices far beyond $5 per gallon, or mandatory national service (a bad idea that rears its ugly head in times of anything approaching national crisis), or substantially higher taxes.

Then again, none of this should be a surprise. Other parts of the world hate Americans because we are more economically and politically free than most of the world. We have graduated from using those of different skin color from the majority as slaves, and we have progressed beyond assigning different societal rights to each gender. We tolerate different political views and religions. To the extent the 9/11 masterminds could be considered Muslims at all, they supported — and radical Muslims support — none of the values that are based on our certain inalienable rights. The war between our world, flawed though it is, and a world based on sharia law is a war we had better win.

In one important sense, 9/11 changed us less than it revealed us. America can be both deeply flawed and a special place, because human beings are both deeply flawed and nonetheless special in God’s eyes. Jesus Christ is quoted in Luke 12:48 as saying that “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” As much as Americans don’t want to be the policeman of the world, or the nation most responsible for protecting freedom worldwide, there it is.

When eight was not enough

Readers know I have been, shall we say, skeptical about the C8 Corvette, a mid-engine design GM is unfamiliar with, which lacks a proper (manual) transmission and is grossly overpriced.

A quarter-century ago, though, GM had an idea for the Corvette that would have been bigger, in one sense, than anything in the C8. R&T (the upgraded Road & Track, or something) tells the story:

The original Dodge Viper was a game-changer. With its outrageous proportions and massive 8.0-liter V-10 engine, it outclassed pretty much anything else out of Detroit at the time. Except maybe this one-off V-12-powered Corvette.

Chevy built this experimental Corvette in the early Nineties as its answer to the Viper, and it’s a beast. Called the ZR-12, it uses the C4-generation ZR-1 as a base. The entire nose was stretched to accommodate the 600 cubic-inch V-12, built by Ryan Falconer Racing Engines. The all-aluminum engine was rated at 686 hp and 680 lb-ft of torque when new—far more than the then-new Viper’s output of 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.

Of course, the ZR-12 never made it to production. The sole example languished at GM’s Heritage center for a number of years before being moved to the Corvette Museum, where it currently resides, according to LSX Magazine. The car used to have side-pipes and a different set of wheels, but has since been converted into a more subtle specification.

The DtRockstar1 YouTube channel was lucky enough to get insider access to the Museum while the ZR-12 was started and driven around, giving us a chance to listen to the unique engine note (above). Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sound like your average Corvette.

This was far from GM’s first attempt at a V-12. Cadillac had one in the 1930s, along with a V-16. In World War II Rolls–Royce’s Merlin and the Allison V-1710 powered planes. Packard’s V-12 was placed (three each) in PT boats.

According to the always-accurate Wikipedia:

Each bank of a V12 engine essentially functions as a straight-six engine, which by itself has perfect primary and secondary engine balance. By using the correct V-angle, a V12 engine can therefore have perfect balance. The even firing order for a four-stroke V12 engine has an interval of 60 degrees, therefore a V12 engine can be perfectly balanced if a V-angle of 60 degrees, 120 degrees or 180 degrees is used. Many V12 engines use a V-angle of 60 degrees between the two banks of cylinders. …

At any given time, three of the cylinders in a V12 engine are in their power stroke, which increases the smoothness of the power delivery by eliminating gaps between power pulses.

The weirdest V-12, perhaps, was GMC’s, and I have seen an example of one reported by Driving.ca:

When you think of a V12 engine, your mind runs immediately to the high-tech, rev-happy, screamers made by Ferrari and Lamborghini. But did you know that between 1960 and 1965 GMC made a V12 of their own? And it was the size of two Ferrari 599 V12s combined.

It’s outrageous now to think of a gasoline-powered semi-truck but, in the 1960s when fuel was cheaper, a sizeable percentage of operators preferred gasoline power. Chevrolet offered a heavy-duty version of its famous 427 V8 to truck operators, but GMC knew they could do one better. They needed an engine with cubic inches, and lots of them. So they took the basic design from their 5.7L V6 and made a monstrous 11.5L V12.

This was not just two V6s bolted or welded together. The V12 had its own block, cam, a special oil pan that held 15L of oil, and a special crankshaft that weighed 82 kilograms. The engine was an absolute monolith. It was 1.3 metres long and weighed more than 680 kg fully assembled. Due to its inherent weight and girth, it wasn’t an engine you could simply bolt into a Chevy C10 pickup and drive around in. It was installed in full-on semi-trucks, and also as standalone power units for irrigation. It was never installed into a passenger car or truck by GMC, but many hot-rodders have shoved it into service for hot rods, and custom pickup-trucks.

For all its size and displacement, the V12 wasn’t a horsepower king, it was made for torque. It made just 275 hp at 2,400 rpm but produced a freight-train-like 625-lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,100 rpm. If those numbers aren’t enough for you, a Florida-based shop called Thunder V12 will happily sell you a rebuilt one in any specification from bone stock to tractor-pull stormer. Prices start at US$10,800 for a complete engine, so get your chequebook ready. Beat-up originals can be found on eBay for around $5,000, but buyer beware as no more spare parts are being made for these beasts.

The GMC V12 was made between 1960 and 1965 and, in that time, they made about 5,000 of them. Nobody’s sure quite how many are left but most guess that there can’t be any more than 1,500 in semi-serviceable condition. After the big V12 ran out of production the writing was on the wall for gasoline-powered trucks. At 11.5L it remains one of the largest gas engines that ever powered a road vehicle, and we’ll never see a dinosaur like it again.

Except that, according to Fox News:

Sure, you’ve got a V8 in your Chevy, but you could’ve had a V12.

At least now you can.

A new Australian outfit called V12LS has created a 12-cylinder version of the venerable General Motors LS1 V8 and is putting it on sale.

The company started out by taking two LS blocks, lopping off a couple of cylinders and melding them together to create a V12, but has now developed its own single cast block that is compatible with many LS parts. The last time GM made its own V12 was the GMC “twin six” truck engine in 1966.

V12LS is currently offering a 9.0-liter crate engine with an iron block good for 717 hp for $35,000, but is working on an aluminum version. Various kits in different states of dress run from $21,300 for a basic builder package to a dyno-tested turnkey engine for $46,200.

Those prices include shipping to the USA.

For that matter, while GMC was producing V-12s, Cadillac was contemplating a V-12 for its new front-drive Eldorado personal luxury car. Caddy never built a V-12 Eldorado, but Popular Mechanics reported in 1988 that since BMW was developing a V-12, other luxury carmakers would, including Cadillac.

Cadillac worked to develop a V-12 with Lotus for its Solitaire concept car, the two-door version of its Voyagé concept car.

The Voyagé (left), which looked similar to the 1991 Chevy Caprice, Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood, had a mere V-8, while the Solitaire had a proposed V-12 with 436 horsepower.

As an aficionado of big coupes, as you know, I would definitely drive that.

Not to be outdone, Cadillac proposed in 2003 the Sixteen, powered by, of course, a V-16.

Motor Trend drove one.

“Would you like to drive our 13.6-liter/1000-horsepower V-16 sedan?” asked GM’s Jeff Holland. Even though we knew there’d be extra-sticky driving rules and caveats regarding the $2 million concept’s mechanical polish, there was only one possible answer: “Duh.” Next thing we knew, we were piloting Caddy’s sexy showstopper around GM’s Milford, Michigan, Proving Ground. The Sixteen has been literally the biggest thing to roll onto the auto-show circuit this season. Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of product development and chairman of GM North America, says it’s “a modern interpretation of everything that made Cadillac the standard of the world.” But is it merely a lavish reminder of a once-glorious past or a relevant vision of the future? Enough scene-setting. What’s it like to drive almost 19 feet and 16 cylinders of handbuilt concept car?

Remarkably sweet. Entering the Sixteen requires punching a button on the key fob or lightly squeezing a microswitch inside the top of the front door. There are no door handles to clutter the Sixteen’s lyrically curving body sides. Once inside, you’re surrounded by the rich scent of fine leather, glints from polished walnut and aluminum, and thick carpets–woven of silk, no less.

The driver’s leather bucket is large, soft, and gently contoured. It power-adjusts to a comfortable position, surprising given the lack of ergonomic work that usually goes into a turntable toy. Likewise, the leather and polished-wood steering wheel can be powered into a just-right spot, which lets you easily read the speedo/tachometer gauge in the center of the dash.

To start, step on the brake pedal and push a green button to the right of the wheel. You’ll hear a strange, aircraft-style starter whine, then the mammoth V-16 erupts in a raggedy roar that quickly settles down to a somewhat bumpy idle (virtually no tuning was done on the powertrain’s five engine mounts). As the engine starts, the instruments–including the clock–cycle and sweep their needles to calibrate themselves, emitting odd ticking and ratcheting clicks.

From inside the cabin, the engine’s sound is neither the jungle murmur of a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG nor the near-silent thrum of a Bentley or Rolls. It’s slightly rowdy and clearly coming from something in large displacement, particularly as you blip the throttle. Asked if they’d done any exhaust tuning, one powertrain engineer shrugs and says, “Well, we had four mufflers, and we threw two away.”

Ease into the throttle, and the car moves with a quickness that belies its mass and size. The automatic transmission has four gears, but we feel only two shift surges during our drive. This huge sedan glides precisely, with a catlike balance that puts us at ease. The steering feels light, and the car drives smaller than it looks. Give it more gas, and the result is a Mississippi River’s worth of torque that surges the car forward. We back off to listen for crunching, grinding, or banging. Nothing–impressive for a machine whose primary purpose is to dazzle a show crowd. The Sixteen’s ride is a bit jiggly, which doesn’t say anything positive about the suspension, since the pavement is billiard-table smooth.

The brakes don’t feel up to the engine’s grunt. Despite six-piston calipers and 16-inch rotors, not much happens when the brake pedal is depressed. Perhaps that’s because the master cylinder is remote-mounted in the trunk and operated via a tangle of electronics. We remember that our GM support crew warned us about “green” brake pads.

There isn’t much turnaround room for us at the end of one particular Proving Ground road, but four-wheel steering comes to the rescue. Turning in opposite phase to the front wheels at low speeds, the rear wheels tighten the car’s long turning circle to approximately that of a midsize sedan.

The Sixteen isn’t as polished as a production car; understandable, as that’s not its mission. But it’s easily the most refined concept car we’ve driven, which further teases us about what sort of production potential it, or some of its componentry, might have. The car’s design represents an updated, and somewhat more elegant, variation on Cadillac’s crisp-edged design language; perhaps some of the Sixteen’s themes will show up on the upcoming Seville/STS and the next-generation DeVille.

Does anyone need 16 cylinders or 1000 horsepower? No. But the idea–like the engine itself–sounds simply wondrous.

Of course it does.

Back to the original premise: What about a V-12 Corvette?

Remember that this was right after Chevrolet debuted the King of the Road, a Corvette with a double-overhead-cam 32-valve-per-cylinder V-8 designed by Lotus and built by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Okla.

Given GM’s history with the Northstar V-8 — an unfamiliar engine design (also DOHC, built for Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles) that became notorious for head gasket (actually head bolt) failures, which result in antifreeze in the cylinder walls and engine oil in the radiator, with really bad result (If you’re driving when it’s, say, 10 below zero and your car starts to overheat, that’s not good) — the thought GM could have successfully designed a V-12 that would have worked as designed for every Corvette is, well, optimistic. A V-12 designed by someone else, as the King of the Road V-8 was, might have made more sense.

Whether a V-12 Corvette could have performed better sales-wise than the King of the Road (whose sales slowed after the first year) is a better question. For years Corvettes have seemed to pale in comparison with more exotic Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches (even though they are powered by mere flat-sixes) in part because of interiors perceived to be subpar, despite the Corvette’s superior horsepower-per-dollar. (The mid-engine C8 is GM’s attempt to compete with more expensive supercars, though ironically the C8’s V-8 still uses pushrods, as every Corvette except for the first two years of the C1 and the King of the Road.)

It’s not clear that the wealthy snobs who apparently drive supercars would be interested in a V-12 Corvette any more than they were interested in the DOHC Corvette. People who appreciate American-made performance and value might have had a different opinion.

 

 

Not brought to you by labor unions

Tom Woods:

My father was a Teamster for 15 years. I grew up in a working-class household.
And I don’t believe the propaganda for a second.
“The Weekend: Brought to You by Labor Unions,” reads the bumper sticker.
I see. So those Third World countries looking to escape poverty and enjoy additional leisure just need … some labor unions?
(What’s the point of foreign aid, then?)
Until society grows wealthy enough, all the labor unions in the world can’t make it possible to take two days a week off from work.
Can you imagine, in the primitive economies of 300 years ago, agitating for a shorter work week? People would have thought you insane.
With little capital, and with most goods produced by hand, it takes all the labor power all the hours it can spare just to make life barely livable.
That’s why people worked long hours in terrible conditions in the past (and why they do in the Third World today). Not because short men with white mustaches and a monocle took delight in oppressing them.
What emancipated people from these dehumanizing conditions was capital goods. With workers vastly more productive than before, thanks to the assistance of machines, physical output was multiplied in quantity and quality many, many times over. This greater abundance put downward pressure on prices relative to wage rates, and people’s standard of living rose.
At that time they opted for more leisure and more pleasant working conditions rather than more cash.
But if you ask people who work in sweatshops today if they’d prefer to have (1) more pleasant conditions (or fewer working hours) but (2) less take-home pay, they overwhelmingly say no.
Professor Ben Powell of Texas Tech University actually bothered to ask. And 90+% of them said that regardless of what Western do-gooders thought they should want, they wanted the money.
Meanwhile, American workers had the eight-hour-day well before their much more heavily unionized counterparts in Europe did, and they earned higher wages. Unionism never accounted for more than a third of the American labor force, and that was at its height.
So whatever your kids’ teachers are crediting unions for, just roll your eyes.

Given that I have worked every day (not merely weekdays) since the pandemic began, and I have worked every Labor Day since my return to the weekly newspaper world, Labor Day is just another day of labor for me. I’d prefer Constitution Day, Sept. 17, to be a national holiday.

The preferable presidential candidate

Dan Mitchell:

I’m skeptical of “common-good capitalism” in the same way I’m suspicious about “nationalist conservatism” and “reform conservatism” (and it should go without saying that I didn’t like the “kinder-and-gentler conservatism” and “compassionate conservatism” we got from the Bushes).

Here’s what I prefer.

Whether you call it libertarianism or small-government conservatism, this is the approach I wish Republicans would follow (or Democrats, if the spirit of Grover Cleveland still exists in that party).

But there are many self-styled conservatives who disagree. They think Reagan and his successful policies are passé.

Interestingly, the desire to move beyond Reaganism comes from pro-Trump and anti-Trump outlets.

David Brooks, a never-Trumper with a column in the New York Times, thinks Reagan’s anti-government approach is misguided.

If you came of age with conservative values and around Republican politics in the 1980s and 1990s, you lived within a certain Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher paradigm. It was about limiting government, spreading democracy abroad, building dynamic free markets at home and cultivating people with vigorous virtues… For decades conservatives were happy to live in that paradigm. But as years went by many came to see its limits. It was so comprehensively anti-government that it had no way to use government to solve common problems. …Only a return to the robust American nationalism of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt would do: ambitious national projects, infrastructure, federal programs to increase social mobility. The closest National Greatness Conservatism came to influencing the party was John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid. He was defeated by a man, George W. Bush, who made his own leap, to Compassionate Conservatism. …The Reformicons tried to use government to build strong families and neighborhoods. …Most actual Republican politicians rejected all of this. They stuck, mostly through dumb inertia, to an anti-government zombie Reaganism long after Reagan was dead and even though the nation’s problems were utterly different from what they were when he was alive. …there is a posse of policy wonks and commentators supporting a new Working-Class Republicanism… But if there is one thing I’ve learned over the decades, it is never to underestimate the staying power of the dead Reagan paradigm.

Maybe I’m just an “anti-government zombie,” but my response is to ask why Brooks thinks the federal government should be in charge of state and local infrastructure.

Even more important, it would be nice if he could identify a government program that successfully promotes social mobility. There are several hundred of them, so the fact that he doesn’t offer any examples is quite revealing.

By contrast, the Reagan approach of of free markets and limited government works anywhere and everywhere it is tried. And he was right that big government is bad government.

But at least Brooks’ column reminds me to add “national greatness conservatism” to my list of failed philosophical fads.

Now let’s shift to an article from the Trump-friendly American Conservative. Rod Dreher also argues that Reaganism is no longer relevant.

Reagan nostalgia has long been a bane of contemporary conservatism, because it prevented conservatives from recognizing how much the world has changed since the 1980s and how conservatism needed to change with it to remain relevant. …by the time Trump came down that escalator, Reagan conservatism was about as relevant to the real world as FDR’s New Deal liberalism was in 1980. It is no insult to Reagan to say so. Until Trump arrived on the scene, it was difficult for right-wing dissenters from orthodox Reaganism—critics of free trade, immigration skeptics, antiwar conservatives, and others—to break free of the margins to which establishment conservatives had exiled them. …It is impossible to see the clear outlines of a post-Trump future for the Republicans, but…Reaganism—the ideology of globalized free markets, social and religious conservatism, and American military and diplomatic domination—is never coming back.

Sadly, I don’t think Dreher is correct about “New Deal liberalism” being irrelevant.

How else, after all, would someone categorize Obama’s policies? Or Biden’s platform? It’s “We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect,” just as FDR advisor Harry Hopkins stated.

And Reagan’s policies are definitely still relevant, at least if the goal is to improve the well-being of the American people.

Yes, Dreher is right that “the world has changed since the 1980s,” but that doesn’t mean that good policy in 1980 is no longer good policy in 2020.

I think the problem may be that people think Reaganomics is nothing more than lower tax rates, perhaps combined with a bit of inflation fighting. And it’s definitely true that Reagan’s tax rate reductions and his restoration of sound money were wonderful achievements.*

But the Reagan economic agenda was also about spending restraint, deregulation, trade liberalization (he got the ball rolling on NAFTA and the WTO), and other pro-market reforms.

To be sure, Reagan’s policy record wasn’t perfect. But the policies he preferred were the right ones to restore American prosperity in the 1980s.

And while there are different problems today (the need for entitlement reform, for instance), the Reaganite approach of smaller government is still the only good answer.

*Let’s also remember to applaud Reagan for the policies that resulted in the unraveling of the Soviet Empire.

P.S. As explained in the Fourth Theorem of Government, pro-growth, Reagan-style policy can be smart politics.

Tarzan of the Apes, whose ex is from Wisconsin

Michael Dirda of the Washington Post:

Back in 2012, the Library of America published special facsimile editions of two Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novels: “Tarzan of the Apes,” introduced by Thomas Mallon, and the nearly as famous planetary romance, “A Princess of Mars,” introduced by Junot Diaz. This year, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. has begun to issue a uniform authorized edition of the entire Tarzan series, each volume featuring action-filled cover art by Joe Jusko. The company has also continued the “Carson of Venus” saga with a newly commissioned exploit by Matt Betts titled “The Edge of All Possible Worlds.” While Burroughs (1875-1950) churned out every kind of pulp adventure, including several books set in the hollow-earth realm of Pellucidar and a fast-moving lost-world trilogy assembled as “The Land That Time Forgot,” the first Tarzan novels, in particular, show how deeply his mythic storytelling can captivate the imagination.

The books do this, moreover, despite Burroughs’s sometimes stilted language, period stereotypes (dotty professor, “humorous” Black maid, cartoon Russian anarchist) and myriad improbabilities in their plotting. Racial attitudes and beliefs are typical of the time yet more nuanced than you might expect: Tarzan judges people, regardless of their skin color or ethnicity, solely by their character. Courage, fortitude and compassion — these are the qualities that matter.

Burroughs opens “Tarzan of the Apes” (1914) with an irresistible hook: “I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.” The pages that follow describe how the infant son of the dead Lord and Lady Greystoke is reared by an anthropoid ape named Kala and learns to survive and flourish in the African jungle. One day, the grown Tarzan swings out of the trees to rescue a party of shipwrecked Westerners, thereby encountering Baltimorean Jane Porter and her suitor, the English aristocrat William Clayton, heir-apparent to the Greystoke title and estates. Many adventures follow but, with a daring that most writers would shrink from, Burroughs brings the novel to a climax in, of all places, Wisconsin.

There, Jane and Tarzan finally acknowledge their love for each other, even though Jane feels ­honor-bound to keep her promise to wed Clayton. Shortly after a tearful farewell, the brokenhearted ape-man learns that he is, in fact, the rightful Lord Greystoke. Just then, Clayton enters and cheekily asks, “How the devil did you ever get into that bally jungle?” The answer provides the novel’s throat-catching final lines:

“ ‘I was born there,’ said Tarzan, quietly. ‘My mother was an Ape, and of course she couldn’t tell me much about it. I never knew who my father was.’ ”

This act of renunciation drives home one of Burroughs’s main themes: That despite a brutish, not British, upbringing, Kala’s son possesses unassailable nobility and fineness of character. Note that this isn’t because of aristocratic blood, family background or race. Rather the novel presents Tarzan as Rousseau’s unspoiled child of nature, a literally noble savage free from the vices and corruption associated with advanced industrial society. However, the encounter with Jane Porter has seriously shaken his equanimity.

As “The Return of Tarzan” (1915) opens, the ape-man feels psychologically divided between the claims of “civilization” and the call of the wild. (This is a common literary theme of the era — think of Jack London’s sled dog Buck, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.) What should a lord of the jungle do with his life?

First, Monsieur Jean C. Tarzan tries to adapt to Parisian high society — at least until a dastardly Russian named Nikolas Rokoff contrives to make it appear that Tarzan’s friendship with the Countess de Coude masks a full-fledged love affair. To save the lady’s honor, Tarzan again chooses self-sacrifice, resolving to die in a duel with her husband, the finest pistol shot in France. Miraculously, he survives and, for good measure, proves the countess’s innocence.

Next, the ape-man travels to Algeria to expose a traitor in the French Foreign Legion. By freeing a young Arab woman from slavery, he earns the undying gratitude of her father, a powerful desert sheikh. “All that is Kadour ben Saden’s is thine, my friend, even to his life.” Tarzan rapidly comes to admire the sheikh and his stern, dignified warriors, but resists the temptation to settle among them permanently.

After thwarting several murder attempts by Rokoff, our hero finally returns to his beloved African homeland. “Who would go back to the stifling, wicked cities of civilized man when the mighty reaches of the great jungle offered peace and liberty? Not he.” Before long Tarzan, by now a specialist in rescuing people from certain death, saves an African named Busuli, then joins his new friend’s people, the Waziri, among whom he finds contentment — for a while.

Even the most casual reader of “The Return of Tarzan” will notice its neatly orchestrated shifts, as its displaced protagonist “tries out” life among White Europeans, sunburnt Arabs and Black Waziri. But Tarzan’s journey of self-discovery isn’t over yet. While exploring the mysterious, half-ruined city of Opar, he is captured by its savage inhabitants, most of whom are virtually indistinguishable from H.G. Wells’s bestial Morlocks. Only Opar’s high priestess La preserves a fully human beauty and Tarzan the Irresistible naturally catches her eye.

Following a lucky escape from Opar, the weary-hearted lord of the jungle finally decides, in Walt Whitman’s phrase, to “turn and live with the animals. They are so placid and self-contained.” He rejoins the apes he grew up with and gradually begins to forget the heartache and complexity of being human. At which point Jane reappears – along with Clayton and Rokoff.

As this précis indicates, the Tarzan novels repeatedly extol glad animal spirits and natural instinct over western culture’s soul-deadening constraints and artificiality. This is a simplistic dichotomy, albeit useful for highly melodramatic storytelling. In his many, many adventures to come, the ape-man will sometimes appear as the urbane and proper Lord Greystoke, but whenever serious danger threatens, he will, in approved superhero fashion, quickly doff his bespoke suit and take to the trees as Tarzan the untamed, Tarzan the invincible.

I admit to not having read much of Tarzan; my exposure (that’s a pun that will become obvious in a bit) is from movies and TV:

Tarzan the TV series, reruns of which were on WGN-TV in Chicago before church (which means I may have never seen a complete episode), were brought to you by:

Recall I previously used the word “exposure.”

I had no idea of the Wisconsin connection, reported by the Wisconsin Historical Society:

“…she had been carried off her feet by the strength of the young giant when his great arms were about her in the distant African forest, and again today, in the Wisconsin woods…”

Who hasn’t seen the classic Tarzan movies? We all know that he was an orphaned English nobleman raised by jungle apes. But who knew that the original story ended in Wisconsin?

Tarzan of the Apes was published in New York in 1914. Near the end of the book, we learn that the heroine, Jane, had spent her earliest years on a farm in northern Wisconsin before venturing to Africa with her scientist father.

After Tarzan rescues her in the African jungle, Jane returns to America and receives marriage proposals from two suitors. In chapter 27 she goes to her childhood home in northern Wisconsin to ponder her dilemma.

While Jane is walking in the woods, a massive forest fire approaches. Just as she is about to be consumed by the flames, Tarzan miraculously appears, swinging limb to limb through Nicolet National Forest, to pluck her from the jaws of death.

It seems that he has spent the intervening months learning English and acquiring civilized habits. Obsessed by his love, Tarzan followed Jane across the Atlantic and tracked her to the Badger State. After saving her life, he learns that she has agreed to marry another, so he bows out to guarantee her happiness.

Author Edgar Rice Burroughs apparently never explained why he chose to set the novel’s climax in Wisconsin.

I found all this quite interesting even as a non-reader. The Weissmuller movies didn’t discard Jane as the books did. Jane was not part of the ’60s movies (that I remember) or the TV series; it took John Derek to bring back Jane in order to film his wife. The reviewer’s analysis would have gone right over the head of a young reader, though perhaps those themes would have stuck in their heads. Young readers probably need “unassailable nobility and fineness of character” in what they read today.

 

The call(s)

Sports Illustrated asked a number of prominent sports announcers for their opinions of the greatest sports calls announced by someone other than themselves.

The number one call is not surprising.

Followed by …

(I have heard six calls of Gibson’s home run, including Vin Scully on NBC, Jack Buck on CBS radio, Don Drysdale for the Dodgers, Bill King for the Athletics, and this Spanish radio call. There is no bad call of this moment.)

Al Michaels, of “Do you believe in miracles?” fame, said that just popped into his head as the moment took place. He said he has never preplanned a call because then it will sound canned. That included the Miracle on Ice because before the broadcast, Team USA’s presence in that game was so improbable that, Michaels wrote, he and analyst Ken Dryden just hoped the game would be close.

I have a strange mental exercise before big games. I always write out my opens so I get in what I want to without the, uh, you know, kind of verbal wandering that, um, can happen. On the opposite end of the broadcast, I sort of plan what I will say — not a clever catchphrase, but the mechanics of it — if the team I am covering loses, as in “(insert win here) beats (insert loser here) (insert score here); the (winners) go to state, and the (losers’) season ends at (number of) wins and (number of) losses.”

I have a psychological rationale I figured out some years ago. George S. Will once said that pessimists are the happiest people because either something happens and they were correct, or they are pleased to be proven wrong. I am not a fan of announcers who lose their, uh, stuff when the wrong team wins:

I got to do one of those kinds of games earlier this season — a girls basketball team that had gotten to the sectional level three previous seasons without getting to state. The sectional final was the last and best chance to get to state for the undefeated team.

%d bloggers like this: