Thinking about bird culture and cat’s lack of @ the S F Autoshow

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In what I hope will be a tradition, the Friday after Thanksgiving, I went to the San Francisco Auto Show with Grandson Auggie  and his father, Gabe. The San Francisco Auto Show is not a manufacturer’s show, Like the Los Angeles Auto Show or Auto Shanghai. It is really a local show put on by the Bay Area Dealers and that means that the cars that are there are cars that are available at your neighborhood dealer. It is not as exciting as a big show, but it does have its charms and going with the enthusiastic Auggie was great fun. I think he looked especially proto-macho in a Dodge pickup.

The only cars that were new to me were the Lexus RC F which I thought was stunning,

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and  BMW’s new hybrid supercar, the i8 at only $138,000 – I’m serious with the only, what else could you fantasize about for that little – it was the car of the show for me. It will go 22 miles on its electric motor and go from 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds when another electric motor and its three cylinder, turbo charged 1500 cc engine kick in (and I have already seen three of them on the road).

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Walking around the show, I was interested in how similar so many of the cars were. I don’t mean similar in They all look alike, similar, but similar in that they are watching each other and stealing good ideas. Which is another way of saying Learning from each other. I was taken by the number of cars that had painted brake calipers. I think it was a fad started by Porsche but I am not sure of that. No matter who started it, now almost everybody with pretensions of having a fast car is painting the calipers on said fast car.

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As an aside, it reminded me of a story the great Bob Lutz – whose motto was Often wrong, but seldom in doubt – told on himself. About six or seven years ago, give or take a couple, Lutz was the designated Car Guy at General Motors – they had brought him in because General Motors had almost completely sunk into a bean-counter culture, even referring to, and thinking of, Cars as Units. Lutz was on board to bring Car Love back into The General’s thinking and he was shown the mock-up of a new Buick that had portholes in the front quarter panel like the great Buicks of old. Lutz said, Get rid of the portholes, they are the past, nobody wants to buy an old Buick. A couple of nights later, he went to a party given by Maserati. All the new Maseratis had portholes. The next day Lutz called Buick design and said Put the portholes back in. End aside.

A couple of weeks ago, The Economist had an article about bird learning. They filed it under Animal Culture and that is probably more correct (if there can be degrees of Correct). The article is fascinating, short, and worthwhile. Two different groups of birds are taught two different  – but equally effective – ways to open a box to get food (say Group A and Group B). When they are released into their subgroups of the general population, their feather-mates learn the same trick from them. However, if a member of Group A gets into Group B – for some reason, lost? – the Group A guy starts doing the box opening the Group B way. In other words, he conforms to the new group. Just like an immigrant learns the new county’s language.

Maybe once a week, either Michele or I will remark about how smart our cat, Precious Mae, is (it is embarrassing, but true). By way of example, a while back, Michele had gone to Napa to cook Thanksgiving dinner with her sister and I was home, alone, with the cat. That’s not quite accurate because I was inside and Precious Mae was outside, but the two of us are the only ones on the property. When I open the door, she runs in to get some food but, then, seeing that I am dressed to go out, she stops, thinks about it, and runs outside so that she will not be trapped inside.

However, I have always thought that the cats that have owned me were extra smart. But, when I watch a cat video on You Tube, and those cats often seem much smarter – except for the ones that are way dumber – and I wonder how much smarter Precious Mae would be if she were exposed to those cats in real life. What we do is isolate our cats and they don’t learn from other cats. What they learn, they learn from us or from themselves. Unlike car designers, cats don’t have a culture.


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