Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fatal Teen Accidents: Why do they never learn?

Hi folks -- I was asked to do a web video this morning for HuffPost on fatal teen accidents but schedule and a lingering illness got in the way.  However, just yesterday a stunning accident occurred within a mile of where I live in Washington Township, Ohio and so it is appropriate to comment again on the high teenage fatal accident rates -- increasing rather than following more the general trends in the U.S. As often happens, the accident in question was more than likely the result of alcohol and speed.  We drove by the scene last night and saw a 30 foot by 30 foot piece of grassed area totally charred.  The tree that was hit was already cut to pieces and ready for firewood. If it wouldn't be for the marked land, you would never know anything happened. The young man who died had been an excellent football player at Alter High School and student at Ohio State. The driver was OK -- it seems that in these kind of crashing -- assuming alcohol was involved -- the driver always gets off easy.  But the passenger does not. Note the 2010 BMW was nearly cut in half by the impact with the tree and then with a ruptured gas tank incinerated.
What causes this?
1. A young person's sense of immortality?
2. A fatal mentality that life has no purpose?
3. Youthful desperation about the life ahead?
4. An intoxication of speed intensified by alcohol consumption? Life as it is is simply too staid?

Take an Automobile and American Life Exam!!!

HST 344
Exam 1 -- February 14 -- Dr. Heitmann       Name_____________________________________________
I Objective questions.  Answer all 20 of the following with the best answer possible. (40 pts.)
1. All of the following BUT ONE made important contributions to the 19th century bicycle industry that served as a forerunner to the automobile: a) Kirkpatrick Macmillan; b) James Starley; c) Nicholas Joseph Cugnot; d) John Kemp Starley.
2. Of the following, what person has the best claim to the invention of the automobile:  a) Etienne Lenoir); b) John Boyd Dunlop; c) Karl Benz; d) James Laux.
3. The county that was the leader in automobile production during the pioneer era to 1908 was: a) Germany; b) France; c) Italy; d) Great Britain.
4. All of the following but ONE was a disadvantage associated with steam-powered cars: a) a relatively new technological system b) slow start up time; c) high cost; d) need to replenish water.
5. Name the car made in Cleveland that Horatio Nelson Jackson used on his historical transcontinental trip of 1903. ________________________
6.  Due to the encouragement he received while developing his Quadricycle, Henry Ford felt indebted to this great inventor -- "the most useful American." _____________________________
7. This man authored Principles of Scientific Management in 1911, consequently the basis of the field of industrial engineering. He believed that work on the shop floor could be done "one best way." _____________________________
8.  In response to worker turnover and criticisms concerning the "degradation of labor," in 1913 Henry Ford responded by paying his workers _____________dollars per day.
9. This muckraking author wrote a story of one Ford Motor Company family's vicissitudes through the years from 1908 to 1937, highlighting the dark side of Henry Ford: a) Joseph Conrad; b) Booth Tarkington; c) Caroline Merithew; d) Upton Sinclair.
10. The National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, passed by Congress in 1919, was also known as the: a) Hoover Act; b) Dyer Act; c) Carter Act; d) Blues Brothers Act.
11. This Flint speculator and businessman is normally given credit for the founding General Motors. __________________________________
12.  Inventor and businessman, this Ohio State electrical engineering graduate developed the self starter and integrated ignition system. __________________________________
13. He was the consummate organization man who was most responsible for GM's organization plan of the early 1920s, for the decentralized multi-divisional organizational structure, and consequently the sustained profitability of the firm until his retirement in 1956. _____________________________
14. This burley Californian and designer played a lead role at GM between 1927 and 1958 in fostering the concept of "keeping the customer dissatisfied." ______________________________
15. Walter Chrysler and the corporation named after him acquired this auto manufacturer during the 1920s to add production capacity: a) the Rickenbacker Motor Car Company; b) the Graham-Paige Motor Car Company ; c) Dodge Brothers Corporation; d) The Jordan Motor Car Company.
16. All of the following groups but one proved to lobby for good roads at the end of the 19th century:  a) railroads; b) advocates for rural free postal delivery; c) bicycle enthusiasts; d) farmers.
17.  A group of businessmen led by Carl Graham Fischer mounted a campaign beginning in 1913 to develop a transcontinental highway link, now known as US 30, but then called the ______________________ Highway.
18.  Of all undivided highways constructed during the Interwar Years, one in particular stands out as the "Mother Road," in large part due to John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. It is _____________________.
19. What tax was the primary means by which the federal government raised funds for highway construction after 1921? ____________________________
20. Built in Europe beginning in the 1920s, these divided roads predated and severed as a model for Adolph Hitler's 1930s Autobahnen. ________________________________ 

HST 344 Exam 1 Essay Question
Since the publication of On the Road, a venerable mountain of critical literature has been generated on  the author’s intended themes.  The most recent views that have been discussed are those of John Leland, author of Why Kerouac Matters:  The Lessons of On the Road (they’re not what you think).   Leland asks the reader to focus on Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s character), rather than on Dean Moriarity (Neal Cassady).  Leland argues that Sal provides the reader with something they can use, like The Road Less Traveled or The Purpose Driven Life. He goes on:
“Sal’s lessons divide among four overlapping fields, each unsettled in the postwar boom.  America had emerged from the war with half the world’s wealth and nearly two thirds of its machines, and with destructive capabilities unmatched in history. It was creating suburbs, television, organization men, nuclear families, the car culture, Brando, McCarthy, and Rock and Roll.  Amid this tumult, Sal navigates distinctive paths through the men’s world of work, money and friendship; the domestic turf of love, sex and family; the artist’s realm of storytelling, improvisation and rhythm; and the spiritual world of revelation and redemption.  His lessons in all four areas remain relevant today – any reader picking up the book for the first time can apply them to questions that are new to him or her as they were to Sal.”
What lessons emerge after reading the book, and why are they important to you?

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Good News -- Mercedes 380sl was already retrofitted with a double link timing chain! Pretty girls and Mercedes sls -- photos

Hooray!  __ I found out from Rick at Foreign Exchange yesterday that the Mercedes already had a double link timing chain.  Am I relieved! Ordered some tuneup parts from Rockauto later in the day -- spark plug wires, distributor cap, rotor, oil filter. So when the weather gets a bit better, I'll start my campaign to get the Mercedes 100%, as if it really needs it!

some photos of girls and sls

model Lara Stone doing a M-B ad

 The 190 sl
A 280 sl

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Hot Rod Race," a precursor to "Hot Rod Lincoln" -- a correction to the historical record concerning George Wilson

Hi folks -- what first follows is my history of hot rod music taken from The Automobile and American Life

"In addition to Felsen’s fiction, the hot rod was also the subject of songs – actually many of them by the early 1950s. The seminal lyrics of many versions that followed was that written by George Wilson and performed by Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys in 1950. “Hot Rod Race” proved to be the precursor of many future songs, including “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the best-known version of which was performed by Johnny Bond in 1960 and Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen in 1972. Initially, the song told the story of a family trip from San Pedro in a Ford that turned into a race with a Mercury. Surprisingly, at the end both the Ford and the Mercury are blown off the road by “a kid, in a hopped up Model A.” Later, the Ford and Mercury were replaced by a Cadillac and a Lincoln, but the continuity in common among the long chain of version is obvious.21" -- pp.139-140.

I received an email from Don Whitworth with the following correction:
Leon Kelly was my uncle. He was taught guitar by my grandfather. My grandfather played Chet Atkins style long before Chet Atkins was known. Uncle Leon was from Glen Rose, Texas. By the way, Hot Rod Race was Not written by George Wilson. If was written by Wilson's son who was underage and could not sign a legal and binding contract. George Wilson sold the rights as if he was the writer. Just wanted to clear that bit of history up.

HOT ROD RACE (written by George Wilson) Arkie Shibley & His Mountain Dew Boys - 1950 Now me and my wife and my brother Joe, took off in my Ford from San Pedro. We hadn't much gas 'n' the tires was low, but the doggone Ford could really go. Now along about the middle of the night, we were rippin' along like white folks might, when a Mercury behind he blinked his lights, and he honked his horn and he flew outside. We had twin pipes and a Columbia butt, you people may think that I'm in a rut, but to you folks who don't dig the jive, that's two carburetors and an overdrive. We made grease spots outta many good town, and left the cops heads spinnin' round 'n' round. They wouldn't chase, they'd run and hide, but me and that Mercury stayed side by side. Now we were Ford men and we likely knew, that we would race until somethin' blew, and we thought it over, now, wouldn't you? I looked down at my lovely bride, her face was blue, I thought she'd died. We left streaks through towns about forty feet wide, but me and that Mercury stayed side by side. My brother was pale, he said he was sick, he said he was just a nervous wreck. But why should I worry, for what the heck, me and that Mercury was still neck-and-neck. Now on through the deserts we did glide, a-flyin' low and a-flyin' wide, me an' that Mercury was a-takin' a ride, and we stayed exactly side by side. Now I looked in my mirror and I saw somethin' comin', I thought it was a plane by the way it was a-runnin'. It was a-hummin' along at a terrible pace, and I knew right then it was the end of the race. When it flew by us, I turned the other way, the guy in the Mercury had nothin' to say, for it was a kid, in a hopped up Model-A.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The $3000 (or $6000, if the chain fails) question! Mercedes 380sl Timing Chain replacement

Hi folks -- 100k miles and time to change the timing chain on my new acquisition. So the big question tomorrow when the valve cover is taken off -- is it a single or double row chain?  Single -- then I have a 3k repair bill ahead to get a double row conversion done.  Double -- I get home with a much smaller repair bill. I was told today that just to replace the single with a new single chain may be a very incomplete and tenuous repair. New chain may snap at any time. Boom goes valves and pistons! And unless we remove timing cover the guides won't be replaced, and that does need to be done.

May need to bite the bullet!  We shall see!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

OK, the 380SL Mercedes is here!

Hi folks -- the Mercedes made it to Dayton Saturday morning at 7 a.m. Yes, 7 a.m., rather remarkable since it left LA Thursday. Q-Express -- I wholeheartedly recommend them for vehicle transport.
Photos will follow once the car is washed. First issue -- getting used to the controls, knobs, buttons, etc. How do I open the gas flap?  Questions like that. Then lubricating doors, hood latch, trunk latch and hinges, etc. Had to read the manual for the Alpine stereo system -- too damn many buttons and  features. A fascinating handbrake release know on the left side of the dash!
One problem was that on Friday night it snowed and so there is salt on the roads -- poor CA car gets the harsh exposure to cold Ohio!  Car started up right away and I took Cliff for a ride on I-675.
First issue -- water in windshield washer tank -- had to suck out and replace -- it gets cold here.  Checked anti-freeze protection -- at 20 degrees F or so, maybe a little lower, OK for my garage, but just barely.
So can't wait for a little warmer weather so I can get to know this "Panzer."  Looks great, everything works.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Transporting a Car Across the USA

Hi folks -- OK now that I bought a car in California, how do I get it back to Ohio?  Good question, since I do not have a true spring break this year and can't go out there and drive it back. The way it works is like this. First you have to select a broker -- after looking around the Internet I intuitively chose Head of the Pack Transport, located in Van Nuyes , Ca and run by Todd Ferguson. He had excellent ratings on the web  and while others did as well, I chose him. Do you want open or closed transport, as that will make a big difference in price? What Todd does is post the job with price and location to location on the internet, and truckers bid on it. Todd sets a price, and tries to figure out the best price break.  You can go low, but it might take a long time to get a trucker to agree on that price.  Todd also only selects truckers from his list of trouble free operations, as the truckers have their won ratings to deal with.  Then an agreement is made, the pickup takes place, you get a GPS location of where your shipment is at the time in question, and off we go.  Considering a $`175 broker fee, the rest is paid to the trucker in cash or certified check, and I am now looking at about $925 for the shipment door to door. I'll let you know how this all works out shortly!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

1982 Mercedes Benz 380SL -- I bought another car!

Hi folks -- early February brings out the craziest in me.So something got in my head a week ago Saturday, looked on Ebay, and impulsively bid on a 1982 M-B 380SL roadster.And, as it turned, out I won.Son-In-Law Tony checked it out yesterday and handed the guy a check, now all I have to do is transport it back to Ohio from Costa Mesa, CA. 99k miles, all in AZ or in CA. We'll shortly discover whether it is the buy of my life or a pig-in-a-poke!

P.S. it also has the matching hardtop.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sexy Porsche Posters

Hi folks -- what more can one say?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

University of Dayton "auto-biography" -- Michael Smetana and learning auto mechanics

Michael Smetana
January 22, 2013
HST 344
Automobile Autobiography
            My earliest engineering memories date back to around three years old.  Twenty years ago, when I took apart my Little Tikes wheel barrel, my parents knew I was mechanically savvy.  Throughout my life I was always found myself fixing bikes, tuning gas RC cars, or tinkering with electronics.  I am a very hands-on person, always have been, always will be.  My passion for automobiles was most definitely fueled by my monthly subscription to Motor Trend magazine.   I loved seeing the latest features and designs every month.  I enjoyed reading about comparisons of all makes and models.  This past summer when I started hearing a squeak in my car’s brakes I knew I needed to take action.  Replacing the brakes on my 2002 Toyota Camry was my introduction into the world of automobile maintenance.
            Aside from the occasional flat tire, changing a tail light, or jumping a dead battery I did not have any auto mechanical experience.  I have conquered many DIY tasks such as carpentry, changing electrical outlets, and fixing a broken faucet.  Now I had the opportunity to prove my worth as an amateur mechanic. 
            As I do with every life problem, I began with an extensive Google search to help give me direction.  This included reading articles on everything from what parts to buy and what tools I needed.  It was YouTube of all places that gave me the most help.  There were dozens of videos demonstrating how to replace front disc brakes. Regardless if these videos were professionals at dealerships or amateurs in their own home garage, the amount of video content available is simply amazing. 
            After borrowing a jack and stands from my boss and a trip to the auto parts store I was ready to begin.  I raised the car and took off the front wheels.  I was surprised how much my little RC car resembled the several ton automobile in front of me.  With my laptop by my side I proceeded to take off the calipers and pads. 
            Once I removed the old dirty rotor I realized this was the point of no return.  The high performance ceramic pads and shiny new rotors went in with ease.  That is not to say that there were no stumbling blocks.  As I began to reattach the calipers I found it did not fit.  My initial thought was I had purchased the wrong size brake pad.  I had forgotten to use a clamp to release some of the pressure from the caliper.  Although a woodworking clamp is slightly unconventional, it got the job done and fit like a glove.
            As I took the car off the jack and started the car I was filled with extreme excitement and nervousness.  I had pressure in my brake pedal which was a good sign.  I felt like an astronaut about to take off as I released the pedal and began to drive around my Oakwood neighborhood.  To my astonishment the brakes worked.  I kept my speed below 25 mph just to ensure safety. 
            As I turned back into the alley to return home I began to smell a burning.  Upon parking in the garage I noticed a small amount of smoke.  I immediately grabbed my laptop and began searching hoping to diagnose the problem.  Operationally speaking, the car was able to stop using the brakes and there was no squeaking so I had completed my task.  However, I was unable to diagnose my issue. 
            When one of the wheels was removed, I found the problem staring right at me.  Grease.  Wrapped up in all of the excitement that I was able to figure out this once mysterious task, I failed to clean the rotors.  I never realized that the all metal rotors absorb so much heat when stopping a vehicle, even at low speeds.  Although it was just a few smudges from my mechanics gloves, it was enough to start smoking when heated.  Luckily I had some brake cleaner and was able to clean the rotors and solve the problem.  I had completed my journey, my brakes were brand new.
            This was such an amazing project.  Although this is a task that is done thousands of times a day around the world, it was a life changing experience for me.  It has given me the confidence to do future maintenance such as changing the oil and replacing spark plugs.  I am also filled with a sense of pride.  Many of my peers could barely use a screw driver let alone attempt something like this.  I feel as though I have learned a dying craft.  The stereotypical American family with the father working on the car in the family garage is slowly drifting away.  I am glad to know that will not be the case in my family’s garage.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Car Theft as a Game: Grand Theft Auto and the Controversy Surrounding It

Car Theft as a Game
            Electronic gaming, which in terms of profits far outstripped film by the early twenty-first century, took auto banditry to far darker and more violent levels. Both forms of media brought the viewer or participant into imaginary worlds of entertainment, but electronic gaming was far more intense, emotional, and controversial.
            In 1997, car theft entered the digital world in a significant way with the introduction of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) video games. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, GTA was the best-selling and among the most technologically sophisticated games in the competitive video game industry. “In its ambition, fearlessness, style, and production quality” one reviewer wrote in 2009, “it stands apart from every other franchise.”15 Take-Two interactive and Rockstar games have sold over 80 million units of GTA and its spin-offs.16 The action and scope of the digital map, along with driving and gunplay, have given the GTA series a strong consumer appeal. Between the introduction of GTA I and the release of GTA III in 2002, Rockstar transformed the games from a structured set of missions with a top-down birdseye view of the car into a nonlinear sandbox playground, giving the GTA player the freedom to pursue organized crime or, with weapon and automobile, create mayhem.17 With GTA III, subsequently refined with the release of GTA IV in 2008, the digital landscape was converted into what the video game world calls a “sandbox”--gamers could, at their discretion, follow GTA’s narrative, or drive their stolen automobile around the open digital city. In this digital world, driving is essential to the player’s criminal success, and car theft becomes a necessary prelude to other criminal tasks. To complete GTA’s narrative, the gamer must accomplish a series of criminal underworld missions. In Vice City, for example, to complete the mission “Life’s a Beach,” the player must win a dance contest, then steal the “Sound Van” from a local DJ and successfully transport it to a local parking garage.18 The virtual universe of GTA’s ‘urban action’ game revolutionized the video game industry. Importantly, automobile theft and automobile-related violence is, in almost all sequences, the pivotal and most thrilling dimension of the GTA experience. With GTA, car thieves became one of the most popular avatars in the video game industry. Unlike games with hero-avatars who eliminate bad guys for a self-proclaimed righteous cause, the GTA player controls criminal-avatars who carry out illegal tasks or, if the player chooses, effectuates random violence on innocent bystanders and pedestrians. Players assume the criminal’s identity; they see the game’s digital world through his eyes. The digital criminals can--at the player’s discretion--assume one of the automobile thief’s many personas: the youthful joy rider; the professional thief; the carjacker; the reckless escapist; the drive-by shooter; the placid cruiser; or the savvy criminal who, in a stolen car, commits murders, deals drugs, or kidnappings.
            Each version of GTA has a particular criminal ethos, intimately connected to automobile theft. Vice City (2002) is set in a fictional Miami and the criminal-avatar is a Tony Montanya-like Italian-American mafioso named Tommy Vercetti; San Andreas (2004) is set in a West Coast city and the avatar-criminal is an African-American gangsta’ named Carl Johnson, modeled on a character from the 1991 movie Boyz in the Hood; GTA IV’s (2008) Liberty City is a replica of New York and the digital lawbreaker is Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic--a Godfather prototype. What the gamer does with the stolen automobile is a matter of choice, but violence and chaos seem unavoidable. As in real life, the automobile is itself a weapon, a force for violence and destruction. Digital cars, set aflame by assault rifle fire or Molotov cocktail, explode with drivers still inside; pedestrians are run over--some bounce off the car’s grill, others fly over the hood. When a driver hits a random motorcyclist, however, the resulting crash is particularly catastrophic: the motorcyclist is sent flying long and high distances before death a la cement trauma. It’s also important to note that in GTA, the automobile can serve more banal and logistical purposes: it can be used to go to a fast food joint, a place to have sex with a prostitute, or to complete illegal errands. In GTA, the automobile serves many purposes, but theft, violence, crime, and destruction are at the heart of the game’s digital automobility.
            Stealing a car in GTA’s digital world is a discommodious combination of reality and fantasy. Car theft in GTA is undemanding and nearly always without consequence. With a player’s click of a console button, the thief-avatar casually opens the door to an unmanned car or tosses the driver out of an already-occupied car and motors away. Unencumbered by drivers, locks, the Club, alarms, On Star, security cameras, or any other theft prevention system--automobile theft in GTA is effortlessly accomplished. The thief’s deed therefore becomes an everyday activity.19 “You will,” as one reviewer counseled, “steal thousands of cars in the course of the game, driving each until you have destroyed it or until you see one you like better.”20
            The automobile is strangely disposable in this world, and the thief is incorrigible. Even if the car thief were apprehended, he faces no court system and prison time: the criminal-avatar, whether arrested or killed, regenerates in a designated place on the digital map. The digital map, the more authentic component of GTA, is an immense and open-ended arena built to mirror major American cities. The thief-avatar navigates the freeways, manufacturing districts, slums, and urban neighborhoods of a faux New York or Los Angeles in a range of digital car makes and models that mimic the models on the streets. In Vice City Stories you can steal the Patriot (Hummer), in San Andreas you can steal the Elegant (BMW), and in GTA: IV you can steal the Infernus (Lamborghini).21 Also at the gamer’s disposal are motorcycles, tractors, forklifts, trucks, buses, helicopters, and airplanes. The stolen cars and vehicles perform, in some crucial respects, like cars on the street. The digital cars leave skid marks on the road after a sharp turn; they incur broken windows and lose fenders after accidents; and car radios play stations with commercials and popular music.22 The incredible details of the game, coupled with the freedom made possible with the ease of car theft, make GTA a digital terrain of geographic reality and mayhem-based fantasy.
            In the decade or so after the release of GTA III in 2002, the games have been a lightning rod for controversy. At the center of the controversy are incidents of real world violence. In 2002, two teens and man in his twenties from Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent a night drinking beer and running down digital pedestrians with stolen automobiles while playing GTA III, and then went out on a real drive and ran down a 38-year old man on a bicycle, stomped on him and punched him, finally returning home to play the game.23 The automobile, whether used as a weapon or the innocent victim’s conveyance, was the fulcrum of violence in real world GTA incidents. GTA automobile theft entered reality when, in 2003, Devin Moore, 18 years old at the time and inspired by GTA IV, killed three men in a police precinct and then, in classic GTA fashion, fled the scene in a stolen squad car.24
            Some politicians, fearing the effects of GTA on children, reacted to the seemingly GTA-inspired murder sprees by calling for a new video game rating system that would prevent adolescents from purchasing the game. The adolescent mind, reform legislators argued, was not able to separate reality from fantasy. In 2002 Joe Baca, a Democrat from Southern California, introduced the Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2002, by asking legislators, “Do you really want your kids assuming the role of a mass murderer or a carjacker while you are away at work?”25 A game of mayhem intended for adults’ enjoyment, it seemed, often ended up in the hands of adolescents GTA, they believed, threatened the mental health of American children. In a Today Show interview in 2004, famous activist-lawyer Jack Thompson called GTA a “murder and carjacking simulator.”26 Critics like Thompson also cite the sexualized aspect of GTA: the ability of the criminal-avatar, in a stolen car, to have sex with digital prostitutes. Critics were handed a smoking gun in 2005 when a secret sex scene, dubbed “Hot Coffee”, was discovered in GTA: San Andreas. The code allowed the clothed CJ, after courtship, to have sex with a naked female-avatar. That year, New York Senator Hilary Clinton launched a campaign on the national level to change GTA’s rating from M (Mature) to AO (Adults Only) with hopes that parents could more effectively protect their children.27 Clinton, singling out GTA as the nation’s most dangerous game, told the Kaiser Family Foundation that video games were a public health issue and that “it is a little frustrating when we have this data that demonstrates there is a clear public health connection between exposure to violence [in video games] and increased aggression that we have been as society unable to come up with any adequate public response.”28 Despite the criticism from politicians and lawyers, GTA continued to sell hundreds of thousands of copies at $50-$60 a unit--a considerable percentage of which was probably paid by adolescents. Advocates for GTA, while admitting that these games were not intended for children, contended that the majority of gamers are adult men in their twenties and thirties, and therefore perfectly capable of separating fantasy and reality. They also point out that GTA is appealing because of actual game play and the expansive urban-action environment--not just violence. GTA, a game with automobile theft and automobile-inspired violence at its center, was defended as an adult stress-reliever.
            Politicians and the game’s apologists can’t turn to academics, cultural critics, or technologists for straightforward answers because, unsurprisingly, they too disagree on the meaning of GTA. Journalist Steve Johnson and University of Wisconsin education theorist Paul Gee argue that games like GTA can be effective educational tools and also provide players with alternative social models. Johnson believes that gamers, motivated by rewards, learn how to perform complicated digital tasks--and therefore, decide, choose, and prioritize. “It’s not what you’re thinking about when you play the game,” he writes, “it’s the way you’re thinking that matters.”29 Being a successful digital criminal is an effective learning exercise. Games like GTA can, for the better, challenge any singular definition of goodness. In a video game’s world, Paul Gee writes, “what counts as being or doing good is determined by a character’s own goals, purposes, or values, as these are shared with a particular social group to which he or she belongs.”30 The automobile thief and criminal in GTA, therefore, subscribe to the values of his community and acts on them. Performing the tasks necessary to win the game and learning the values of another community, Gee and Johnson believe, are effective pedagogy.
            But writer Damon Brown, in his Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and Other Sexy Games Changed our Culture (2008), sees a darker side to the role GTA plays in American culture. The game, he argues, played the crucial role in desensitizing American media to digital porn and violence.31 Brown believes that in the past twenty years, video games went from mirroring popular culture to setting important cultural trends; GTA--with the Hot Coffee incident and high volume sales even in the face of severe criticism--was the hinge in this process of cultural transformation. Brown’s argument is provocative, but he supports it with conveniently-drawn conclusions. But, to Brown’s credit, numerous scholars make the case that, despite Rockstar’s design of this game as a critique of American violence and commercialism, GTA reinforces and promotes violence, racism, and sexism.32 In a popular essay, engineer and ethicist Simon Penny  argues that video games with gunplay, because they embody aspects of violent game play, teach players to blur reality and simulation. Therefore, games have the “potential to build behaviors that can exist without or separate from, and possibly contrary to, rational argument or ideology.”33 Penny suggests that games like GTA can train killers. The academic debate, like the political and moral one, is conflicted. But Rockstar continues to sell millions of units of Grand Theft Auto.

A UD "auto" biography -- Nathan Steinbrunner, Ambulances, and his work as an EMT

Nathan Steinbrunner

23 January 2012

Ambulances and Your Everyday Cars

Many individuals take their automobiles for granted that they will
always be available when needed. They know every morning their car
will be there when they open their garage door with keys in hand as
they head off to work, they can rely on their key fab to guide them
back to their minivan in the crowded Wal-Mart parking lot after buying
groceries, and they can be assured they will have enough space in the
trunk to pack everything for a long family vacation. It is because of
this reliance that Americans have also grown to have a relationship
with their everyday automobiles. This relationship is so strong that
Americans find comfort and safety in their automobiles. I will be the
first to admit that I have never had a great relationship with any
automobile that I have ever come into contract with, but the more that
I work as an EMT with the campus rescue squad, the more I realize the
power that an automobile has both on the road and to an individual.

The University of Dayton Rescue Squad’s Ford-manufactured 2011 Coach
is used in basic life support services on campus. As an EMT, I have
the responsibility to drive the hulking medic down the narrow
university streets being aware of both oblivious college student
pedestrians and not-so-parallel parking jobs. During my first call on
campus, I began to realize the presence one can make by driving an
ambulance on the streets of a crowded university. With lights and
sirens blaring, our crew took off across campus to a male found passed
out in his yard. Red and blue lights shined to make our location known
to students and drivers alike who moved aside to clear a path for the
medic; I drove behind the wheel taking precautionary measures to
ensure the safety of our crew.

Being behind the wheel of an ambulance, the driver can easily grow an
enlarged ego thinking that he is king-of-the-road and has free reign
to break any and all traffic laws that exist. While there are some
grey areas that emergency medical professionals are allowed to step
into, the most important priority is safety; it would be quite
embarrassing for an ambulance to get into an auto accident on the way
to a call. So because of this, I found myself falling back on the
simple and basic driving skills that I remembered learning while
driving with my mother when I was fifteen and preparing to get my
driver’s license: maintain good distance between cars, look both ways,
don’t slam on the breaks, etc. All of this is hard to do in an
ambulance with a huge backend, very difficult side mirrors to use, and
the fact that the medic has been worn and any small bump in the road
can send passengers bumping and sliding in all directions.

After arriving on scene and examining the patient, he was loaded in
the ambulance and again I found myself driving lights and sirens to
the hospital while the rest of the crew cared for the patient in the
back end. This is the job of an emergency medical service and now I
find myself a part of it: individuals in need of help and bringing an
ambulance to provide the relief they need. Within the ambulance,
patients can receive the care, comfort, and safety they deserve.
Though the ambulance itself does not provide the actual comfort, it is
because of the ambulance’s abilities that this service is available to
the public. Just as any other automobile is able to mentally and
physically provide a comfort zone for its passengers, an ambulance is
able to create that same level of comfort. This allows us to perform
our duty as EMTs and still maintain that person-automobile
relationship which has gradually been built upon throughout the
history of the automobile.

My experience with the University of Dayton Rescue Squad has helped to
affirm my belief that automobiles do have the ability to change a
person’s life and make them feel comfortable in it. Although the
changes made in the life of an individual in an ambulance are probably
much different than that of a businessman in his car going to work or
a mother loading groceries into her minivan, the fact is that
automobiles do have the ability to change their passenger’s lives. For
me, I believe that automobiles provide a means of escape from the wild
and ever-changing world around us. Like a bubble, the ambulance and
everyday cars allow us to remain protected from the outside world, but
from the inside, we are safely comforted in a place where we feel
confident, are at ease, and consider home.

Nathan Steinbrunner