GOT – Series Finale – Why Bran is Garbage

If you’re trying to avoid spoilers for last nights Game of Thrones series finale, I guess stop reading. Though, I can only imagine that you made it to my dank, little WordPress blog by actively searching for this, so read on.

At the Battle of the Blackwater, I’m convinced that Tyrion Lannister suffered a wound that resulted in more than just a facial scare. Surely, he was the victim of an injury that resulted in severe cognitive decline. Far from the intelligent man that we saw in the early seasons of the show, the last two seasons have shown him making poor choice after poor choice. Last night’s monologue proposing Brandon Stark as the next king is just the last in a series of terrible decisions that others trusted because of his prior reputation as the cleverest man in Westeros.

On its face, “Bran the Broken” is a great choice! A philosopher king who has experienced hardship and will end his line with himself, leading to the next king being chosen by a quorum of the high lords of the now-six kingdoms (more on this later) rather than a dynastic line that is, admittedly, a roll of the dice in Westeros as in the real world.

Why Bran is a Terrible Choice

Bran hasn’t done shit.
But will Bran be able to help the people? It isn’t clear since Bran hasn’t done much of anything except say cryptic platitudes that people already knew or weren’t really very helpful. Oh, was that the way it was always supposed to be, Bran? Good thing since that’s the way it is. Is it a good idea to have a king that is a fatalist? I don’t feel like you want that quality in a leader since it doesn’t really lead to trying to administer change and, let’s face it, after your city is burned down by a dragon, that’s a real opportunity for making some useful changes.

Bran has no administrative experience, no desire for leadership (I know, the very fact that he DOESN’T want the crown is a reason to give it to him. Shut up, you Cincinnatus-loving blowhard), no real skill at anything at all except for warging. I mean, that’s cool, but not very helpful in a regal dimension. All Bran really does well is stare into the middle distance and look peaceful. One would hope that maybe he’ll just be a figurehead and his Small Council would pick up the slack, but they couldn’t even decide whether to rebuild the brothels. And should brothels be top of the docket?

No Military
I’ll say it. Jon should have been the king. He’s a proven leader with compassion that would have served the realm well. He has both administrative skill and military accomplishment. The Northmen would have stood behind him and the other lords would have at least feared his reputation as a hands-on general. But the Unsullied wouldn’t have it since he kind of stabbed the queen that set them free.

Bran doesn’t have any of these peoples trust or loyalty.

The Unsullied are headed to Naarth, wherever the hell that is, presumably to… what? These are castrated slave soldiers. They haven’t known anything but thrusting pointy sticks at people their entire lives. You think that they’re going to settle down and start farming? Raise a family? No. It’s winter. They have no houses and no way to make a living. How long before the Iron Bank realizes that there’s a group of 7000 unhappy soldiers who are disciplined and ready to fight for pay? The Unsullied is the new Golden Company, the bank’s mercenary army that was just incinerated in the bay. Grey Worm’s gotta eat too. It would have been better for Bran to sacrifice his brother and keep the Unsullied on as a standing army until at least the walls are secured and defenses are back up to snuff. Now, he has to worry that someone else will hire this ruthless mercenary army to invade a defenseless King’s Landing.

Why is it defenseless? Because the Unsullied went around and slaughtered all the Lannister knights and guards. Did I mention that they were ruthless?

And what happened to the Dothraki? I hope like hell that Bran put them on boats and shipped them across the sea back to the plains of their homeland. But aside from the leverage that it is getting cold and can’t be comfortable for them or have much pastureland for their horses to graze, I don’t know what leverage Westeros could have used to get them to go quietly. Let’s remember that they lost most of their number fighting in the last three episodes. They are probably going to want their reward. You going to pay them off, Master of Coin? With what? You can’t give them land in Westeros. Theirs is a culture of raiding and you’d never have peace with their neighbors. You’d need an army to hem them in, which you don’t have anymore. They came to tear down stone houses, not build them. They won their queen a war and they’re going to want to be compensated for their expenses.

Furthermore, a Khal who can’t ride is no Khal. The Dothraki will have no respect for a wheelchair-bound sovereign. Tribal horse nomads aren’t sensitive to disabilities. I have a hard time believing that Bran will be able to command them to do anything at all that isn’t at the end of a sword.

Are you going to use the Northmen to stand guard? I doubt it since you just agreed to give them their own kingdom outside of your jurisdiction. Bran cannot command the North to send troops; he has to ask his sister nicely. Queen Sansa’s not going to want to risk her fledgling monarchy by giving up her countrymen to rebuild the walls of her brother’s burned down city. She has her own security issues after the Battle of Winterfell. Those men are going to want to go home to their families and care for them over the long winter.

Oh yeah, Drogon
Did anyone account for there still being a goddam dragon on the loose? That can’t be great for peasants! They’re probably going to want something done about that nuisance that drops out of the sky, eats their livestock and possibly burns down their home. Can’t imagine that it won’t come up at a city council meeting! And you just sent away one of two people who the dragon didn’t eat or burn alive when it was alone with them. Good luck getting the hand of the king to take care of that for you, Bran. What’s that? You said you’ll take care of it? Through warging? You can warg a dragon? Maybe that would have been a useful thing to do when tens of thousands of people were burning in the streets of King’s Landing. Just throwing out ideas here. Oh, it had to be that way? Graduate to sophomore philosophy, Bran! One of three causes that you didn’t stop that massacre if you can warg a dragon. One, you don’t care about people, in which case, you shouldn’t be king. Two, you can’t actually warg a dragon, so you’re a liar. Three, you didn’t want to stop the massacre because you could foresee that it would lead to Jon killing Dany and you being king, in which case you’re a power-hungry asshole and shouldn’t be king.

This is One Term
Nothing has changed. This form of government will last one, maybe two heads of state. You’ve swapped out a Lannister over seven kingdoms for two Starks over the same. Even in this universe, the number 7 holds significant meaning and the stories told for generations are going to continue. Sansa will have children, assumedly, and one of those is going to want to rejoin the kingdoms. It is an easier transition than one would think. This form of government, choosing your leaders, is new and probably not trusted by all the lords; particularly if Bran’s reign goes as well as I assume it will. Why wouldn’t it make sense to condense the number of Starks down to one and have a single king or queen? And if not a child of Sansa, there’s no reason to believe that another chosen regent won’t want to continue power consolidation along their blood line. It happens all the time in history.

The episode was satisfying from a viewer’s standpoint. I enjoyed it more than most of the rest of the season. But the choice of Bran, for practical reasons, was simply awful.

Post Midterm Elections Prognostications

Hello, Future Person! You’re catching me on November 7, 2018, just as I’m soaking my toes in a refreshing Blue Wave that demanded to be overestimated and had no chance to live up to expectations. But I’m not here to talk about that. No, I’m here to predict, mainly to myself, what is going to happen in the next two years.

So, to set the stage, Donald Trump is still President and rules the GOP with an iron fist that mashes the keys of his phone on Twitter. Republicans have retained control of the Senate, but lost their majority in the House of Representatives where Democrats are preparing to take power in a not-uncommon-other-party-win in the midterms (happened to W, happened to Obama, happened to Clinton, etc.).

These are the 4 massive things I expect to see in the next two years, through 2020.

Gridlock. The last 2 years, where a united party controlled all the levers of power but were seemingly only able to pass one major bill (a tax cut) is going to seem like light speed compared to the next two years. Although there will be hundreds of show votes to appease the base (think Obamacare repeal), very little actual legislation will pass through Congress due to diametrically opposed parties who will, if nothing else, refuse to give the other party a win. McConnell and Pelosi will threaten, appeal, and practically bare teeth at each other, but nothing will happen. This will lead to immense frustrations within the White House and an unprecedented number of Executive Orders, many being challenged in the courts and some being overturned. Trump’s legislative team has gotten more proficient at writing since their first, immensely incompetent efforts in 2016, but there’s still going to be a lot of amateur hour shenanigans.

Investigations. Thanks in large part to a GOP initiated rule change in 2015, House Committees need no longer review subpoenas with the minority party. Scandals that would have been scuttled in committee in a GOP House are now going to be pulled up and showcased for public consumption. Waters and Schiff, two of Trump’s favorite targets, are likely to head Financial Oversight and Judiciary respectively and these two are going to make the White House’s collective head spin with the number of requests, demands and inquiries that will be ordered. Tax returns, Russian interference, misuse of public funds, emoluments… there’s so much out there! This is, of course, in addition to the Mueller Investigation’s report which is slated for submission in the next 6 months. While there may not be much legislation to talk about, these discussions are sure to take their place.

Scapegoating. This election has given Donald Trump the only thing he loves more than himself: an enemy. I fully expect that every negative event will be blamed on the intractable Democratic House. The inevitable recession that is past due will be blamed on the refusal to pass more tax cuts. Another school shooting? Dem’s aren’t protecting classrooms. Godzilla attacks central California? Liberal limits on off-shore drilling. Given the rate of blame that Trump already casts, it seems hard to imagine that it could escalate, but I fully believe that is what we should expect.

Re-Election. Trump will win in 2020. I know. I hate it too. But, I think that there’s no way that enough of the country is going to pull themselves from the concrete partisanship that has set in to realize that, aside from everything else, he is just a bad leader. Maybe if the economy falters hard enough, or he physically assaults each white woman voter personally, or… I don’t know. I just don’t see it going any other way despite the high disapproval, the scandals and the utter incompetence. He’s a solid salesman to the base and enough people will fall in line to win the Electoral College but not the popular vote, again.

Let me know how it goes, Future Person. Sorry we did this to your society.

Rental Car Review: 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback

Since switching from my beloved Emerald Aisle, to Hertz’s Gold program, it has been a mixed bag. Frankly, the cars aren’t as good. Furthermore, in the past I haven’t been given options of cars, just my name assigned to a parking spot and forced to take whatever base model Kia or Nissan they have. Tampa has built a big, new rental car area and there are, like 6 rows of Gold cars to choose from.

 I mean, they still aren’t very good, but at least I get my pick.

Cruze Three Quarter

 There, amongst a sea of monochromatic sedans was a bright red apple. Yes, the single car in the lot that wasn’t black, white or silver was something I didn’t even know existed, the Chevy Cruze hatchback. Apparently, these haven’t been around very long, being introduced for the 2017 model year. I’ve never seen one or I confused it for an out of shape Golf. The style hints at a more disproportionate Saturn Astra, and aspires to be a VW from certain angles. Like a runner who can’t give up pizza, the aspiration is sporty, but the execution is practicality. I LOVE wagons, though, so I’m still renting it, but the looks wouldn’t be a strong selling point for me when the Focus, GTI and iM still roam the Earth. Cruze Side

Cruze Rear Quarter

Cruze Column

The shifter always seemed out of sync with the function. Looking down, it seems like it should be in D, but it is in P. Why?

 The interior is sensible and well-appointed for an entry-level car. Big touchscreen, some controls on the wheel, easy to read gauges that have a sporty look, reasonably bolstered seats, etc. Everything is easy enough to get to and pretty much where it should be. This is a nice change. The last entry level Chevy I drove was a stick shift Cobalt, hailing from the age of Ergo-be-damned that GM designers subscribed to at the time (lookin’ at you Solstice!). Here, though, it feels good enough. The shifter is positioned a little far back for my taste, though I’m sure that the general vagueness becomes naturalized after a while. Honestly, my 15 year-old Matrix feels more naturally designed around a human, but it is clear that GM is making incremental gains to be as good as the Japanese were 20 years ago on their economy cars.

 

Cruze Dash

Basic, but intuitive controls within reach.

 

Of all things, I was let down by the radio. My Cruze copy lacked the Bluetooth syncing capability that I’ve come to expect in late model cars. It was present in the programming, but grayed out for some reason. Given that the Sirius XM subscription was still active on this car with 3235 miles on it, I don’t think that there’s any expiration, but it seems curious to me that there wasn’t some sort of accommodation for a de-featured version that doesn’t make you feel like you got cheated. Additionally, the increase/decrease in volume experienced when turning the knob was so gradual that I felt like I was going to get tendonitis from having to spin the dial so many times when I would enter or exit a highway. If a manufacturer isn’t going to include road adaptive volume control, at least make it easy to raise or lower the volume in under a minute.

Cruze Passenger

Not much for the passenger here…

 

 Handling is decent. The traction control can be flicked off with the push of a button right in the center console. The 205/50R/16 tires grip pretty well for low rung rubber and get loose when desired. Being front wheel drive means that there aren’t any fun wagon ass kick outs, but the squealing is satisfying nonetheless.

Cruze Boot Being a hatch, the storage space is good. I don’t know why the Cobalt wasn’t a hatch as it definitely looked like one, but introducing this option to the Cruze line is a positive step in my opinion. But then again, I don’t think I’m aligned with Chevy’s focus groups for the most part. Back seat leg room is sufficient and all the seats are firm, supportive and somewhat comfy. I’m sure they break in somewhat.

 If it sounds like this is kind of bland, its because the car is bland. The Chevy Cruz is a 3 star Yelp review: there’s nothing really wrong going on here, but I wouldn’t personally want to spend more time with it. I’m happy that it is being offered and I hope that it sells really well to bland people because I want more wagons in this world, but despite it being a shiny red apple in the drudgery of the car lot, it wouldn’t be a repeat drive for me. Other brands just grow better fruit.

The A Word

The operations manager of our multi-national, publicly-traded manufacturing and engineering firm closed out his remarks emphasizing safety and what great work everyone had done this year and began saying a blessing before we could all line up to have our company-provided December holiday lunch. This wasn’t the first time and I always thought it was inappropriate. Everyone put his or her head down except for me, a Hindu and a Buddhist as the man with the microphone asked for Jesus to bless our catered BBQ. I’d been at my job for a few years when I happened to be seated next to Maria for our annual lunch. After, “…in Jesus’ name, Amen,” she looked at me quizzically and asked why I hadn’t prayed. I said what was true, but seemed a bit coarse at the time, “I’m not… superstitious.” This confused her because she knows my in-laws and knows that they go to church most every Sunday. The idea that a close relative didn’t share those beliefs was anathema.

I am certainly almost always assumed to be a Christian. I’m a white, cis-male living in the Midwest. What else would I be, right? I don’t shy away from talking about my lack of belief to anyone except my parents and I’m pretty sure they know. I don’t talk about religion in general with co-workers for the same reason I don’t talk about politics; I will likely need these people later on and there’s no sense in them thinking that I’m some kind of lesser person who should be shunned because I don’t share their beliefs.

So it was a bit of a tightrope that I found myself walking when my boss brought up religion over sandwiches at Panera. He was visiting our office from corporate and I’d made the mistake of asking what he did the night before. He was honest and shared that he’d spent the evening performing ceremonies at the local Mormon tabernacle regarding the symbolic baptizing of people who had passed away. This caught me a bit off-guard because he proceeded to explain the idea behind it, some of the restrictions and how if the dead person didn’t want to accept the baptism, then there was no way to force it on the soul. Being that I don’t have a strong background in LDS theology, much of the explanation washed over me without really settling in. Mormons claim to be descended from people who crossed the Atlantic in wooden submarines (Book of Ether), so this isn’t the craziest thing I know about that faith, but I don’t bring it up.

As you may guess, we’re pretty honest with each other, but he quickly noted, “We’ve talked about almost everything, but not religion. What are your thoughts on it?”

Suddenly, the taste of my turkey cobb sandwich was a little sour.

I know how much of the world views atheists. We are seen as less trustworthy than rapists and that’s in a safe country where you won’t be sentenced to 1000 lashes for apostasy or executed for blasphemy. I knew I couldn’t tell him the truth without sounding at least a little insulting. I couldn’t tell him that I donate to groups actively working toward greater state-church separation, I subscribe to no fewer than 7 podcasts that are unapologetic about or centered around their hosts’ atheist viewpoints, that I think it silly that the idea that humans are so special that an all-knowing deity would intervene in individual lives to find parking spaces or missing socks amongst an infinite universe we are only beginning to understand and have little hope to fathom.

So I was as delicate as I think I could be. “Well, I was brought up in a non-denominational Christian church and I fully understand how important and central religion is to people’s lives, but it isn’t an important part of my life.”

“Well ‘religion’ has kind of a bad connotation to some people,” he compromised. “Some people are more spiritual and some are more religious.”

“And I’m neither,” I couldn’t help but say.

I doubt that this conversation will affect my career. I’m planning on leaving soon anyhow. But there are plenty of people like me, and more every year if the polls are to be believed, that are the “Nones,” the non-believers. There’s still a step to take from being a “none” to an avowed non-believer, but it is a step in the right direction, away from superstition and toward logic. My atheism has become a more central part of my life since I moved to the Midwest from California where I didn’t give it much thought because religion wasn’t pushed like it is here. My lack of belief is not a rebuke of yours. As much as I would like to see religion relegated to the status of a social club, it makes more and more inroads into the public square, government, education and apparently the workplace. I’m working on being more open about my atheism, if not to devangilize then to provide support for others in my situation and show people that you can be a productive person even if you don’t believe that you’re constantly being watched and judged. You can be good even if you don’t believe that absolute “good” and “evil” are derived from a higher power. And hopefully, I’m really struggling here, you can have community without having to attend every Sunday.

Worked up while working out

My local Planet Fitness has two huge banks of TV’s in front of all the cardio equipment. Since today was a running day (3 miles before I got sore), I unwittingly catch up on sports, people moving to Alaska on HGTV, and the dichotomy of CNN next to Fox. I am almost always listening to podcasts on my ear buds and try to glance up occasionally to see the two takes. But today, I realized that my wife’s job as a city planner in a small town has caused me to get upset about things that I wouldn’t normally pay heed.

The segment was on Fox & Friends where “CA vet forced to take down flag.” Story starts and it is a typical woe is me/America, aren’t we all doomed because of big government telling me what to do with my land with this late middle aged couple (I’ll let you guess their race) on one half of the screen and Steve “Droppa” Doocy on the other. The couple had received a notice that they had to take down their flag pole, from which waved Ol’ Glory in all its majesty. I immediately thought, “Oh, must be a really strict HOA.” But no, it was the city (gasp!) and the reason is so much dumber than I assumed. This couple, who took time to list all of their family members who ever served in the military and for whom there could be no greater patriotic tribute than flying the flag, was being asked by the city to take down their SECOND flag pole and flag in the front yard. A small front yard, I might add. And just because of a stupid thing like it being clearly stated in the city code that each property could have only one flag pole per yard. “It is so cold and calloused!” exclaimed the wife about the CITY CODE. Yeah, idiot, because it isn’t a novel, it is the fuckin’ city code. If you want a second flag pole, you could still probably get one with a deviation without needing to change the law or file a $4,400 petition! And don’t yell at those poor people in the planning department!

http://insider.foxnews.com/2017/06/22/navy-vet-galt-california-told-me-take-down-american-flag-d-day

Can we talk about the ending of Rouge One?

(Don’t get on my ass about spoilers.  You can read the title.)

I’ve got a bit of a mouse problem.  When the weather turns cold in the Midwest, the vermin look to make their way out of the fields and in toward warmer surroundings.  Foolishly, I keep my house above freezing and have yet to figure out a way to keep the sunflower seeds and peanuts that I put out for birds (yes, I like to watch my backyard birds and have a list of 37 species so far) sealed up so there is a warmer place to make a nest and a ready supply of food for the mice.  Now, to get rid of these pests, I could:

a. Wait for the weather to warm and just deal with it through the winter

b. Get more than the 3+ cats I currently have and set traps

c. Call an exterminator

d. Burn the house down

Now, take a look at those options and realize that, when confronted with an initial Rebel attack on the planet of Scarif in Rogue One, Grand Moff Tarkin chose option d.

To refresh your memory, Scarif was a tropical planet (because all planets in Star Wars have a single climate) that was surrounded by a defensive shield with a single, guarded entry point.  The rebel ship, the titular Rogue One, entered via this passage with an old Imperial freighter, a pass code and made its way into the heavily armed Imperial garrison where the rag tag underdogs set out to steal the plans for the Death Star.

rogue-one-death-star

This fuggin’ thing again…

You see, Scarif is like the Empire’s Library of Congress with its massive archive where, apparently, its most valuable secrets and plans are stored.  On hard disks.  OK, I can accept that this wouldn’t be a place that is wired up to some sort of internet that can be hacked.  Even the US’s nuclear codes are on floppies to prevent this type of access.  Hell, there doesn’t seem to be any type of internet in a galaxy far, far away, but that’s a complaint that has been made by people far more eloquent than myself.

Back on track.

So, this base holds the Empire’s records.  It is a massive repository of the history and future plans for the Empire, which makes it all the more insane for what happens at the end of Rogue One.  When the base is attacked… not overrun mind you, but just attacked, Grand Moff Tarkin makes the decision to blow up the entire base with the Death Star.

moff-tarkin

I don’t think that the CGI went far enough

Let’s line up some thoughts here to fully grasp the lunacy of this choice.

  1. The rebels had a small landing force  and light air cover that certainly did some damage to the personnel stationed there as well as destroyed the deflector shield and some sweet AT-ACT’s, but that force had been nearly wiped out by the time the Death Star unleashed its single reactor blast.  There was no lasting damage to the base or main facility. The rebel orbital fleet had fled and Darth Vader was already wiping out space marines single-handedly like the monster that we all knew he could be.  Seriously, that was badass… But the threat was neutralized by this point.  All that was left was to unleash a portion of the forces inside the Death Star to mop up what was left of the rebels and extract information from the captured.
  2. Speaking of the captured, the Empire could have determined what the purpose of the assault was as well as what had been transmitted from the planet’s surface to the fleet and taken precautions to protect themselves against the designed weakness built into their “indestructible” base if ONLY they had captured the rebels on the surface. Did the Empire even know that a transmission took place?  Surely they could have reviewed the transmissions sent from the station, determined that a full review of the Death Star was required to reinforce it against attack and the rebel plans would have been ruined.  Or, they could have extracted the weakness from the captured rebels.  Let’s face it, they were beaten, bloodied and basically unarmed at the end.  There was so little action happening that Jyn and Capt. Sexygrumpypants had time to embrace as the wall of fire and ocean enveloped them.  The fight was over.
  3. This wasn’t some Jedah out in the middle of nowhere. This was not only the Empire’s archiving station, but according to starwars.com, “The planet Scarif would be a beautiful tropical paradise if not for the presence of a major Imperial military installation. Scarif is the principal construction facility for the vast Imperial war machine. The world is enveloped in impenetrable deflector shields and is heavily defended.”    This was a massive armory and “the principal” construction site.  Imagine if Churchill had decided that there were enemy elements in Birkenhead and decided to just have the RAF bomb it till the whole city was burned to the ground.  Good idea?  No, I think not!  And don’t think that there weren’t a lot of troops stationed here as well as, one would suppose, massive amounts of capital and labor for the building of the Imperial war machine.  All gone.
scarif-main-b_f5298baa

Gone, all gone!

So, Grand Moff Tarkin has essentially followed up a defensive battle that they’ve won at some expense by doing something that the rebels couldn’t have dreamed of doing: eliminating ALL of the Empire’s assets on the planet including but not limited to their main archive, principal military construction facility and a garrison of troops as well as destroying any chance they had for intelligence gathering.  Hell, not even the bodies of the enemy could be searched since they’ve been vaporized.

Seriously, for the indiscretions that we see Lord Vader force-choke Imperial officers in these films, there is absolutely no excuse for Tarkin to have ever made it to A New Hope for this terrible act of treason.

Rental Car Review – Mini Cooper D

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Switching it up

I was encouraged by the fact that I was going to be in the countryside for the majority of my time with the Mini. Not because I was looking forward to the tight turns and roundabouts that would show off the 4-door’s tight suspension, not because there was anything wrong with the expansive greenhouse that allows you to see better out of this car than most which feature larger than life C-pillars, and not even because the “D” in “Cooper D” stands for “Diesel” and the fuel mileage would be amazing without the start/stop common in cities.  No, I was relieved that my time with the Mini would be in the small towns of Kiddeminster and Halesowen UK because this would be my first time driving on the wrong side of the road.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. I know that a decent portion of the world drives on the left hand side of the road, but the automobile was invented in Germany and America and they both drive on the right (also, correct) side of the road, so there.

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But here I was, looking into the “driver’s” side with the wheel and pedals clearly attached to the right-hand side of the car in the back of an Enterprise Rent-A-Car in downtown Birmingham. Despite my never-ending moaning about the complete lack of manual transmissions in US rental lots, I had opted for an automatic as well.  Shut up.  I drive a manual almost every day of my life, but I was so concerned about focusing on keeping the car on the left side of the road and fighting all of the instincts that I had honed over 2 decades of driving aggressively like a fine citizen that I did not want to have to teach my left hand to shift away for first gear.  That’s not natural for me and I could see it leading to a lot of paperwork between me and my insurance agency that the nominal fee I paid for damage protection wasn’t going to cover.

Cast away your spark plugs!

I have to say, first off, that I dug that little Mini’s engine. The kick of the diesel with the torques everywhere was probably one of my favorite aspects of the car.  After I calmed down a little getting out of Birmingham, the highways turned into mostly 4-lane roads with lots of roundabouts to shoot out of with a press of the throttle.  The little puttering picked up and off we went!  I know that diesels are 50% of the fleet in Europe, but in the US they’re almost non-existent, so I’ve driven very few.  The reactiveness and instant power makes me want one.

Know what else makes me want one? Check this out!

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That’s right! Over 50 mpg!  I normally get about half that in my daily driven Miata, so this was a big deal for me.  Granted, I drive the little roadster a bit harder because I’m calibrated for it, but I can’t imagine that once I was acclimated to the Mini that it would be too detrimental to the economy.  The automatic Start/Stop feature also helped, I’m sure, though it was a bit disconcerting the first time I came to a stop and the engine died.  I figured it out, don’t worry.

Classic style

The Mini has a look that I don’t know what BMW is going to do with. It is clearly retro and retro typically backs you into a corner (see: Ford Thunderbird, Chrysler PT Cruiser, VW Beetle), but some companies can overcome it.  The Mini hasn’t significantly changed its look in a VERY long time.  But, there are certainly worse things than driving a classically British-looking car in the classically British-looking countryside.

The interior is paradoxically full of little gadgets and at the same time very basic. Circles are everywhere.  I felt like I was sitting in a black plastic glass of champagne.  There are also LED’s lighting up all kinds of places like door handles, the ignition toggle and, for some reason, two little do-nothing lights on the dome.  More on those monstrosities later.  Aesthetically, I really dug the toggle switches.  They were fun to use, but that seemed to be the extent of their usefulness.  They were a bit troublesome in practice because they don’t really provide feedback.  If you flip them, they don’t stay in that position but rather pop back into center, so you don’t know if you’ve done anything unless you’re looking directly at the thing that you’re trying to affect.  God help you if you don’t know what the toggle switch does.  Been there.  Wasn’t fun.  For a long time.  But that was common for a lot of the controls.  The turn signal stalk didn’t give a lot of feedback and the windshield wiper stalk was based solely on whether it stayed on.  It was just vague and frustrating but would probably be fine with time.

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Seats and driving position were comfortable with sturdy, race-inspired seats that held my ribs and hips securely. The wheel was a little low and forward for ingress and egress, but I assume that people smarter than me would figure out, after 3 days with a vehicle, that a quick adjustment would allow you to get it into driving v. getting in/out modes.  I am not that smart.  Pedal feel is great with feedback that is steady.  Same goes for steering.  I didn’t feel dead spots.  Overall, I have almost nothing but praise for the actual driving aspects of the car!

There are also some niceties where it is clear that Mini put in some time. Little things like the variegated thread in the exposed seat stitching, the thickness of the steering wheel and the carbon fiber-esqe dash inserts showed an attention to detain that harken back to the more hard scrabble days when the brand was a racing contender.

I really enjoyed the performance, the feel, the handling and the fuel economy of the Cooper D! Mini got everything that is basic in the car correct. However…

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I feel so British!

 

Things that can eat a dick

Alright. Hear me out, because this is a list of things that I was screaming about, primarily (exclusively) to myself, that may or may not have to do with the car, but the Mini was part of it and we’re not getting separate lawyers for this trial.  So here goes.

This was my first time driving in the UK. That being the case, I think I did pretty well in that  I didn’t hit anything.  I only came close to hitting something twice; those right turns are tough to adapt to when you’re used to apexing curbs turning right and there’s a car driving toward you when you normally have open road.  But there are a few things that really pissed me off.

  1. Navigation system – Mini seems to have adopted the BMW iDrive little knob thing in the center console. I hated it. Spinning that damned knob to try and get to “L” from “A” only to find that the street I was looking for didn’t exist in the system caused more than a few curse words to emit from my lips as I was sitting for over 30 minutes trying to get back to London from my office in the West Midlands. Eventually, it took my laptop and mobile phone to figure out where I needed to return my Cooper D in the middle of London. So thanks for nothing, navigation system! Eat a dick.
  2. United Kingdom addresses. I don’t know how they work and I never really figured it out. Sure, I got to where I was going, but that was primarily through sheer chance that Wayz knew what I was talking about. There’s a street number, then a street, then a town, then something else which shows up, Britian! That’s common sense. I don’t know how your address system works. Eat a dick.
  3. Landslides – The only reason I had to drive to London rather than taking a Virgin train from Birmingham was because, bless my luck, the night before I was heading back to the capitol, there was a storm which shut down lines, the lines I needed, and left me with the options of staying where I was or driving back. I guess you can’t do much about that, so… I’m sorry for your loss.
  4. Dome lights – Here’s why I hate those fucking toggle switches: no feedback. At some point during my driving, I had turned on the overhead lighting. Problem was, I had no idea how. None of the toggles were pushed forward and there are 4 switches above my head and two buttons. This didn’t really have a negative effect on my driving except that I would glance up and they would be on and I would think to myself, “Why the fuck are those still on?” and it would take my focus off of staying on the left side of the road. Eventually I found the switch after stopping at a rest area and fiddling with them while I was supposed to be paying attention to a conference call with co-workers. It was at this time that I found out you can customize your LED lighting to about 1000 different Pantone colors. I ended up on “Hatred Red” because that was what I was feeling. Eat a dick, toggle switches without set positions.
  5. Driving in London – I’ve ridden dirt bikes up nearly-vertical hill faces. I’ve gone 4-wide into the old, blind turn 8 at Thunderhill. But I’ve never been more stressed out than I was driving in London. Luckily, my route only took me through the side streets with lots of right-hand turns and through extremely populated districts. Ugh.
  6. Wayz – This is my GPS app of choice and the only one that could find the location to return my rental car, so I want to be fair. But seriously, you could have helped a little, Wayz! Why did you choose the day that I have to drive through half a country and through one of the most walked/biked towns to stop giving audio direction?! Oh, and before you say, “did you check the settings?”, yeah, I fuckin’ checked ALL the settings. I know that American Voice Jane was paying attention but giving me the silent treatment because as I was standing at a urinal in a service station, she told me to “Now turn left.” I may have been a little stressed out because certain lanes switch to turn only lanes with little warning (want to know how I found out?) and the lack of direction caused me to get lost a couple of times. I ended up returning the Mini exactly 3 minutes before the Enterprise closed. Oh, tangent! Put your rental centers somewhere people can get to, Enterprise! Back on track, but not under the tracks like that damn Enterprise office on a one-way street that doesn’t show up on GPS, I tried everything to get American Voice Jane to talk to me, even asking if American Voice Amy would step in. No dice. Silence unless I was walking into a rest stop because I drank too much Tango. Eat a bag of dicks, Wayz.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Mini D! I wish that I would have been more confident in driving on the wrong side of the road to have pushed it a little harder and had more fun.  God, I felt British!