Friday December 31, 2004
Stock Market Predictions: For 12/31/05, I bravely predict: Dow Jones Industrials - 13,300; S&P 500 - 1,400; NASDAQ - 2,700.
Other Predictions: Why predict a bunch of for 2005? It's too boring ... that's what everyone else does.
My predictions are for 2035. (If you're trying to read this in 2035 and are having difficulty, you may need to upgrade to Explorer IE-2035 v-2.7. Simply bend over, insert the MicrosoftpositoryTM, right click with right cheek and wait for it to melt and install.)
My eleven (ten would be too boring) 2035 predictions are as follows:
1. Buick will introduce a new model in still-another attempt to capture a "more youthful audience." Seeks to portray itself as "aspirational, yet attainable."
2. Prince makes a guest appearance at the Madonna Theater in Branson.
3. Carroll Shelby introduces yet another two-seat something-or-other with his name on it. The one he introduced in 2027 is still not in production, although dealers had collected orders and deposits long ago. Ol' Shel is well over 100 now and credits his longevity to nanotechnology and "mah own brand o' Texas chili powder, available at retailers ever'weah. Don't accept no imitators - ah'm suin' all of 'em!"
4. Geraldo Rivera is arrested - the first casualty of the new 'Freedom from Insufferable Bozos' Amendment.
Bill O'Reilly is reportedly in hiding in a Central American country that has no extradition treaty with the U.S. And Pauly Shore, Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Moore seem to have disappeared.
5. DaimlerChryslerHindustan suffers another of its twice-every-decade, near-death experiences - despite the success of its Plymouth Tandoori sports coupe in East Asia.
6. At 100-plus, Joan Rivers has her 65th facelift. The dimple on her chin is actually her navel.
7. Happy Fun Motor Manufacture of Guangzhou purchases the rights to the Pontiac nameplate. The Chinese firm has had surprising success reviving obsolete, cast-off American car nameplates, including Oakland, Studebaker, Mercury and others.
The company plans to position Pontiac above its Oldsmobile models, just below its two luxury brands, Packard and Lincoln.
8. President Christina Aguilera names Gwen Stefani as Ambassador to Great Britain, just after she appointed Pink as overseer of the Eastern Canadian Protectorates. It's a woman's world, isn't it?
9. This year's best selling book is the 48th in the series, 'Harry Potter and the Disturbing Prostate Difficulty.'
10. It is revealed that, in 2031 - shortly before his own bizarre and unexplained death, a still-bitter, still-wealthy John Kerry travelled back in time and killed John F. Kennedy. And Elvis. And John Lennon. And Vince Foster. And John Heinz. And the Edsel.
11. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes on 12/31/35 at 287,367.
Thursday December 30, 2004
Wishin' and Hopin': Dennis Prager has a list of seven wishes for the new year. I 'second' all of them.
Quote of the Day is from Linda Chavez: "Coming as they did within hours of each other, two news stories defined the differences between America and its enemies. In the wake of the devastation in South Asia from a tsunami that has taken at least 44,000 lives (as of this posting, it's over 100,000 and still climbing - JMS), the United States is mobilizing to send food, water, medical supplies and teams of doctors, nurses, rescue workers and others to help the victims, many of whom are Muslim.
Meanwhile, half-way 'round the world, a man who defines himself as a Muslim leader, Osama bin Laden, calls on his followers to kill not only Americans but fellow Muslims who dare to participate in elections in Iraq to choose their own leaders. No starker contrast could be made between good and evil."
If you're interested in contributing money for disaster relief, I recommend Northwest Medical Teams.
Gone But Not Forgotten: Ronald Reagan died this year. I believe he saved our country from liberal and fiscal oblivion (more here). Rest in peace, Ronnie.
Yassir Arafat died; good riddance.
Whether or not you agree with his views on stem-cell research, Christopher Reeve was no self-absorbed Hollywood star. He was a generous man who turned his affliction into a cause and a quest. How many of us could have risen above self-pity and come even close to Christopher's accomplishments?
Margaret Hassan, director of CARE International, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists in Iraq. She devoted a good part her life to helping the people of Iraq. She built hospitals. She brought medicine and clean water. And was executed by terrorist thugs (see 11/18/04 blog posting).
Susan Sontag, a lefty novelist and essayist, who blamed America for the September 11 terror attacks and once declared that "the white race is the cancer of human history" is dead. Novelist Tom Wolfe dismissed Ms. Sontag as "just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review."
Rodney Dangerfield made self-deprecation an art form. He was one of the last of the old-school, Ed Sullivan-style comedians. He brought laughter to all. So did Alan King (see 5/13/04 blog posting). Julia Child introduced fine cooking (and eating) to millions.
J.B. Nethercutt generously shared his passion for cars with all enthusiasts - there was never an admission charge at his California Museum. Artie Shaw, talented clarinetist and bandleader, was best known for his recording of "Begin the Beguine" - a musical epitomy of the Big Band era.
Brian L. Hayes, MD was not a national figure but he was a great Philadelphia-area physician. His patients loved him, as did his friends, relatives and family. I knew Brian from high school and later, when he cared for my parents in their final days. His older brother was best man at my wedding.
Everyone who ever met Brian spoke well of him and mourned his passing. He died too young at age 57. God rest his gentle soul. (permalink)
George Propstra founded the Burgerville fast-food, 39-restaurant mini-chain - all within 100 miles of his Vancouver, Washington headquarters. Burgerville is best known for its seasonal fruit milkshakes, Tillamook cheeseburgers and Walla Walla sweet onion rings, which I praised in my 6/25/04 and 7/2/04 blog postings. George was a friendly and generous man - helping individuals directly and the local community through his foundation, which donated over $15 million to make Vancouver a better place for residents and visitors alike. Thanks for everything, George - especially those onion rings.
Speaking of food, Waddle's, a Portland institution, closed its doors in May (see 5/24/04 blog posting), while Bewley's Cafe, a Dublin institution, shuttered in November (see 11/19/04 blog posting).
Bob Keeshan was, by many accounts, angry, mean-spirited and frustrated when playing Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Doody Show. Keeshan was fired and replaced. But he overcame his failure and reinvented himself as the kindly Captain Kangaroo, a hero to a generation of children. Second chances sometimes work amazingly well.
Ann Miller had star power, ability, great legs and a wonderful, dimpled smile. Why she never became a superstar is a mystery to me. She seemed to have as much, if not more talent, as Judy Garland ... with none of the drug/mental problems. Ann was truly one-of-a-kind.
Ray Charles entertained us and constantly re-invented his musical style along the way - just compare 'I Got A Woman' with 'Georgia On My Mind.'
Wednesday December 29, 2004
Radical, Dude. AutoExtremist comments on California-based environmental groups: "Anything short of flatulence-powered cars made of balsa-wood, and they aren't going to be happy."
Meet A Merc: Allow me to introduce you to the Mercury Meta One concept vehicle. Read the article and yawn along with me.
In the Sober Light of Day ... An elderly, former Edsel designer got drunk and made an SUV.
Book Bounty: I am enjoying my Christmas gifts, including numerous diecast car models (see 12/8 posting). And books; I got several: 'America' by Jon Stewart - hilarious. Includes a photo of the entire Supreme Court - naked. I learned that the Founding Fathers didn't want to offend stay-at-home women - known, in those days, as "Butterchurn Moms." I didn't ask for this book but I'm glad I received it. I recommend it, even if its humor is a tad ... sophomoric.
Speaking of humor, I also received 'Interior Desecrations' by James Lileks. The sub-title is 'Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s.' I highly recommend this book. Lileks' takes on period pop culture are always funny. This book is a collection of 1970s-era color photos of various room settings, illustrating the truly-awful tastes of the era. James' biting captions and comments make the book a real treat.
The photos in his book reminded me of another tome in my possession, 'The Book of Plastic Craft' by Millicent Zahn from 1973. It has lots of Plexi-KitschTM, including a myriad of clear Lucite cube tables - one with Seventies-ubiquitous, diagonal 'LOVE' decals. And Personal-PlexiTM items, too. Like a clear acrylic necklace with a '70s 'message' medalion.
I also received 'Axis of Weasels' by Scott Ott. Scott is the genius behind the online parody site, Scrappleface, and his book - arranged by subject - is providing me with lots of laughs. Go buy it and enjoy.
Another gift book was 'The Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1831-1915: A Study in American Industrial Practice' by John K. Brown. I have begun reading it and it seems very comprehensive. The book not only tells the story of the company and of the locomotive building business in general but offers a lot of still-valid lessons about the perils of a custom fabrication business.
I also was given a CD, 'The Great American Songbook III - Stardust' by Rod Stewart. I like the songs and arrangements; I don't think much of Stewart's singing ability, although on some songs his breezy delivery works well. On this CD, he does 'I'll Take Manhattan' as a duet with Bette Midler. It's OK but I can't think of her without having a chilling 'Wind Beneath My Wings' flashback. Yecccch. Every time I hear that cliché-laden, trite chick-hymn, it makes me want to barf my intestines through my nose.
Kathy Shaidle on The Amish: "Once again the Amish demonstrate their stubborn belief that rights don't entail responsibilities. Long time readers of this blog know my feelings about the Amish: that they contribute nothing to society except for the occasional pie, and are treated more like colorful, adorable Disney characters than as the somewhat parasitical flesh and blood human beings they really are.
I was duly impressed by the Amish kids I saw each week on Amish in the City. But people who don't allow their kids to get more than a sixth-grade education (yet employ doctors and vets when they need them) aren't quite playing fair. And not wearing buttons because "soldiers have them on their uniforms" is even dumber than some of the stuff even Mormons come out with ..."
Whew. Now I don't feel so bad about all those Amish jokes I used to tell in high school, like, "No, but it does keep me from licking my lips!"
Tuesday December 28, 2004
The Fall of Germany: AutoExtremist writes that "BMW has continued along a dangerous path of more volume and more dealers (for more profits, obviously) - while launching new product after new product with serious technical glitches that have overrun dealers' service departments and left a trail of pissed-off owners who more often than not are left muttering, "I'll never be back.""
And on Mercedes: "To put an exclamation point on just how far the Mercedes-Benz brand has tumbled in the U.S. market, a good friend of ours reported that he received an e-mail from Travelocity informing him that he could rent a C-class from Payless for $199/week. As he said, "You know it is over for the three-pointed star when it joins the ranks of the Pontiac Grand Am and Chevy Lumina. Goodbye, brand cachet; hello, rental car ignominy.""
The Myth of Halo Cars: Jerry Flint wrote recently about halo cars - the Chrysler Crossfire, Ford GT, Chevy SSR, Dodge Viper, etc.
While I have great respect for Jerry, I feel that there are no real halo cars. I do not believe that anyone goes to a Dodge showroom, gawks at the pricey, sporty Viper and then turns and buys a lowly Dodge Stratus coupe because "if ya squint, it kinda looks like a Viper from the front."
Listen, if your cataracts are so bad that a Stratus looks like a Viper, you are legally blind and won't have a driver's license anyway. And you'll need a "guardian" to write checks and sign contracts.
Halo cars?? Baloney.
Mixology: The National Review Online describes the Proper Manhattan: "For the love of mixology, please don't propagate any "Manhattan" recipes that include no bitters. Bitters make the Manhattan and no cocktail is a Manhattan without bitters. The best recipe comes from the late Max Allen, bartender emeritus at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville:
2 oz. rye (for northeasterners), bourbon (for southerners), or Tennessee whiskey
1 oz. sweet (red, Italian) vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Peychaud's bitters
1 splash grenadine
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. Serve."
My parents always made Manhattans with Canadian Club. That's how I drink 'em today. And, by the way, martinis are overrated ... I'll take a Manhattan any day. If you want to start a fight about this, I'll meet ya in the alley behind the bar.
Monday December 27, 2004
The Most Picked-On Car of the Century: Many, many people (including yours truly) have dissed the Ford Five Hundred
AutoExtremist takes things up a notch or two: "Just give 'em a roomy, underpowered sedan that looks like a five year-old VW Passat on steroids - Hellooo, Urban Blandness! J Mays certainly has his finger on the pulse of the American consumer alright. After debuting the gorgeous new Mustang and the production version of the Ford GT, the J-ster wowed the assembled media with his "retro-futurism" as applied to the VW Passat - calling it the new Ford Five Hundred. As the media shuffled their feet and looked at their watches, Mays explained that this is exactly what America wants - a blandly conservative sedan with lots of room. As proof of his contention, Mays pointed to the runaway success of the Camry to validate his vision for Ford's sedan of the future.
Mays was even quoted in The New York Times as defending the 500's VW-Audi-esque look with a flippant, "You can never look too much like an Audi, can you?" which instantly became the Autoextremist Bonehead Quote of the Year for 2004." And: "the new Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego were destined for rental car Hell the moment they hit the showroom floor."
Final AE insult describes "the mildly benign design of the Ford 500, a Casper the Friendly Ghost kind of a car that grows more invisible with each passing moment."
Several postings have been made on other sites about the 2005 Toyota Avalon and its 'bland' styling. (The Avalon won't be introduced until January - at the Detroit auto show - but there are lots of photos already posted around the web.)
I like the Avalon photos I've seen. But the Avalon is just another sedan in the broad Toyota product portfolio.
By contrast, the Ford Five Hundred was hyped as the Savior Sedan of Ford Motor Company. By the way, people might not be so harsh toward the Five-Hundred if it had Avalon's 268 horsepower engine instead of Ford's anemic 203 horsepower V-6.
And, in contrast to Toyota's bulletproof reliability, there have been quality concerns with the Five Hundred. Last week, Blue Oval News reported that Ford hired an outside contractor to fix chassis welds on defective Five Hundreds, Montegos and, Freestyles.
The Five Hundred and Avalon are very close in size. But, despite a more powerful engine, the Avalon gets slightly better EPA fuel mileage ratings than Ford. And the "advanced" Five Hundred isn't available with stability control or side airbags. The Avalon can be had with traction and stability control and offers, as standard equipment, two-row side curtain airbags, larger side airbags - even airbags for the driver's knees.
The facts speak for themselves - Ford's 'Savior' is just neither advanced nor competitive.
"Ugliest Styling Proposal - Ever." - as Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons would say.
It's the Hyundai Entity concept vehicle which melds a surfboard, a skateboard, and a boombox into an ultimate street cruiser, according to a Hyundai press blurb.
Away In A Manger: I couldn't write about this before Christmas because my kids sometimes read this blog. Every year, we put up a Nativity scene for Christmas.
The stable/manger we use belonged to my parents. I don't know where they got it (it's possible that my dad made it in a high school shop class) but the straw-roofed wooden stable is marked '1937' on the base. I've had to repair it several times - the years have taken their toll on the wood which has dried out, warped and split. But I won't throw it away because it has become part of our Christmas tradition.
My two children have Nativity figures but no structure in which to house them. So I decided to build a stable for each. I purchased straw for the roof in 2003 but my back went out and I couldn't complete the project.
This summer, I purchased some solid oak boards (hauled in the huge trunk of my '39 Plymouth business coupe - my pickup truck substitute) and went to work.
Construction and detailing took longer than I expected but the results were worth it. Both buildings have grass and shrubs around their periphery and each has a faux window in the back wall with a Photoshopped scene of Bethlehem.
The stables are solidly built and and the wood has been stained and treated with preservative - including the upright beams and trim components made with branches from trees on our property. I wanted a gift that would last - one that would outlast me.
I signed and dated the underside. Hopefully, in 2071, these structures will still not require substantial repair. "Built to last."TM
Definition of the Week: Ann Coulter describes the Autopen. "An autopen is a mechanical arm that actually holds a pen and is programmed to sign letters with a particular person's precise signature. Imagine a President Al Gore, with slightly more personality, signing all official government letters that's an autopen. (You can relax now, there will be no more exercises imagining a President Al Gore.)"
Best Post-Holiday Headline is from last year's edition of The Onion: "Emotionally Distant Family Spends Holidays Watching Touching Family Dramas Together on TV."
Merry Christmas To All: See ya next week.
A Christmas Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.
Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing
which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
May the Christmas morning
make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds
with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven,
for Jesus' sake.
May the Peace and Blessings
of Christmas be with you.
Thursday December 23, 2004
Headline Comparison: First headline in Wednesday's Detroit News auto section: "GM to slash more white-collar jobs" - Weak sales lead automaker to offer early retirement and buyouts to trim costs. Second headline (just below first): "Toyota, Honda predict gain" - The Japanese automakers boost production and raise 2005 sales targets.
Lincoln Town Cars Replace Buicks as Weapons of Mass Incompetence. A vacationing Spaniard plowed his rented Town Car into a Subway sandwich shop in Pensacola, Florida.
And ... seven people were injured when a 67-year-old driver drove his '80s-era Lincoln Town Car into Fred Meyer store in Puyallup, Washington.
HO-Scale Birth Control: Marklin, a 145-year-old German maker of model trains, is packing a condom alongside a blue, HO-scale freight car emblazoned with the name of Blausiegel, a German condom maker.
The model boxcar and condom, which retail for $35, are packaged in a sleek, brushed-metal container the size of a cigar box. The packaging offers no instructions on placing the railroad car on a track but does have illustrated instructions on using the condom.
Important Disclaimer: There are no condoms or condom ads on my train layout.
Wednesday December 22, 2004
Car Sighting: Spotted a forlorn-looking Buick Reatta coupe on a used car lot. The two-seater Reatta was made between 1988 and '91; mostly coupes - a few convertibles. Sporty-looking in a generic and anonymous way, Reattas were powered by GM's ubiquitous, anemic 165-horsepower V-6 and weren't even very sporty. Not many were sold - typically less than 5,000 per year.
Most two-seater buyers opted for Miatas or 300Zs instead. In the past five years, I've seen more Studebakers on the road than Reattas. Oh well, maybe someone will buy this one because it's a "rare classic."
Bentley In Red: Dave Leggett at just-auto.com writes about Bentley's financial woes. Despite having a backlog of orders (a 12-month wait for a Continental GT) and selling cars for $150K-$350K (depending on the model), the company lost over $450 million last year.
They only make 1,500 Bentleys in a 'good' year, so that's a loss of over $300,000 per vehicle. How can this be?
My car buddy Ray and I stopped at a Bentley dealer a few years ago during a trip to Southern California. We couldn't understand how Bentley can sell those big Arnages for over $200,000 with exposed screws on the cowl and very primitive-looking headlamp washers.
The cars seemed unfinished. Heck, even our lowly Ford Escort rental car didn't have exposed cowl screws.
Blogs Versus Old Media: James Lileks writes that traditional newspaper op-ed columns will become obsolete, "once enough people realize that some guy in his basement is capable of turning out commentary as insightful as a tenured eminence who was handed a column 30 years ago and has spent the last 10 coasting on a scoop from the Reagan years."
But Soybeans Have Feelings, Too: PETA suggests a Tofurkey Veggie Roast for Christmas. A poster on Lucianne.com responds with irrefutable logic, "If God had not meant us to eat animals, they would not be made out of meat."
Santa Comes To China. Interesting geo-economic analysis, too.
Have a Pee-Wee Christmas: Right here. (Our family used to watch Pee Wee's Playhouse in the 1980s - before Paul Reubens' Unpleasant Incident.)
Four Stages of a Man's Life: 1. You believe in Santa Claus. 2. You don't believe in Santa Claus. 3. You are Santa Claus. 4. You look like Santa Claus.
Tuesday December 21, 2004
It's Not Just Caddy: Last week, I ripped Cadillac for not having a lighted glovebox in a $63,000 vehicle. Then I remembered that Road & Track tested the 2004 Porsche 911 GT3 last year. R&T revealed the car's list price - $99,900, followed by its "price-as-tested" - $118,250, Including $425 for aluminum doorsill trim (!), $175 for center caps with colored crests on the wheels and $115 for floor mats. Why floor mats aren't not standard on a $100,000 car is inexplicable.
AutoExtremist wrote: "The creativity, time and effort Porsche used to spend on their street and racing cars is now being focused on making money - image, heritage and conscience be damned. SUVs with VW engines in them and grossly-inflated option prices are Porsche's new raison d'etre."
Auto Inventory Factoids: According to an interesting article by Jerry Flint, Chrysler has a whopping 286-day supply of Crossfires. There is also a large unsold inventory of Cadillac XLRs, Dodge Vipers, Nissan 350Zs and, unsurprisingly, Ford Thunderbirds.
Partial Satisfaction: James Lileks does a restaurant review of Taco Bell: "... I got to eat what I wanted a Zesty Chicken Bowl, in this case. The name is at least thirty-three percent accurate; there was a bowl."
Pink Panther Alumnus: In the various Pink Panther movies, Herbert Lom played the twitching madman, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, crazed by Inspector Clouseau's blissful ineptitude.
Lom is still alive and feisty at 87 and has led a very interesting life.
Fizzy Math: Is it pop or soda? Proof that everything is now on the web. (hat tip - NRO)
Never Forget: Do not let the profound joy of the Christmas Season make you forget that God hates shrimp. So do I.
Quote of the Season is from Krusty the Clown (The Simpsons): "And thus ends Krusty's Non-Denominational Holiday Fun Fest. So have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Kwazy Kwanzaa, a Tip Top Tet and a solemn, eventful Ramadan. Now, over to my god, our sponsors."
Monday December 20, 2004
Farewell: J. B. Nethercutt, the co-founder of Merle Norman cosmetics has died at age 91. An automobile enthusiast, Nethercutt used part of his wealth to assemble one of the world's best car collections. The Nethercutt Collection and Museum in Sylmar, California includes nearly 250 automobiles and has become a mecca for car enthusiasts and collectors since it opened in the 1970s.
I've twice taken the excellent, reservations-only, guided, two-plus hour tour of the fabulous Nethercutt Collection (classic cars, chinaware, miniatures, mechanical musical devices and a giant pipe organ).
The Nethercutt car museum (in a second building) houses additional vehicles in the extensive collection of incredible classic cars (Packards, Duesenbergs, Cadillac V-16s, Lincoln K-series, Pierce Arrows, one entire row of custom-bodied Rolls Royces and even a Maybach), as well as a restored Canadian Pacific steam locomotive (a 4-6-4 Hudson).
Most "private museums" have part of the tour or facilities dedicated to pumping up the owner's greatness or pimping the owner's product line. Not so here. There was hardly a whisper about the cosmetics business or Mr. Nethercutt - the purpose of the museum seems to be simply to bring enjoyment to the visitors. A refreshing change from the usual brick, mortar and verbal monuments to someone's large ego.
J.B. was generous with his old cars, too. He often loaned them out to car clubs and non-profit organizations for display at shows and events.
Rest in peace, Mr. Nethercutt. And I hope you're tooling around in a Judkins-bodied Packard V-12 up above. (permalink)
Strange Times: The Detroit Free Press had an article about collectible cars of the mid-70s through the '80s. It was, of course, a brief article. Had they tried to do something on the worst cars of the '70s and '80s, it would have ended up as a 75 pound trilogy.
Those were the Good Old Days though, when flash, polyester and impractical extravagance ruled. In those days, some people had a 'thing' for the two ABBA chicks. Or the cheese-grater-voiced Stevie Nicks.
I always had a thing for those '79-'85 Cadillac Eldorado Barritz models with the brushed stainless steel roofs. The ultimate Flashmobile. Driven by disreputable bond traders, mid-level Mafia types and shady New Jersey contractors. In preparation for buying one, I purchased a Members Only jacket. But two large goons came to my house and took it away. They said I couldn't keep it because I wasn't a Member. So, I bought a navy blue blazer and a new Lincoln Mark VII instead.
Bentley Grille Update: On Friday, I wrote about a Chrysler 300 with a custom Bentleyesque grille. My friend Dave T. from Pennsylvania tells me that in his neck-of-the-woods, such grilles are a dealer-installed option costing about $500.
Dave thinks this grille will fit a Dodge Magnum wagon. Imagine that. Put one on your Magnum and tell people you own a Bentley shooting brake.
Washington State Gubernatorial Election: What a fiasco. People of every political affiliation in this state should be outraged - regardless of the outcome. As if by magic, lost and discarded ballots suddenly appear in King County. This is somebody's fault. Those responsible are, at best, incompetent. Or, at worst, criminals.
As a resident and taxpayer of said state, I want blood. Find the guilty parties (or suitable scapegoats) and fire them - very publicly. Ruin their reputations. So badly that - five years hence - when some newspaper does a 'where-are-they-now' story, the phrase "currently living under a bridge in Tacoma" will appear somewhere in the text.
Better yet, indict them and lock 'em up. Now.
Elvis Has Really Left The Building: Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis' sole heir, has sold the bulk of her dad's estate, including his name and likeness to SFX Entertainment founder Robert F. X. Sillerman, in a deal worth close to $100 million. I hope Lisa Marie doesn't give all that money to the Scientologists. That would have ol' Elvis spinning in his grave at about 6,000 rpm.
In my opinion, the three best Elvis movies are "Jailhouse Rock", "King Creole" and "Bubba Ho-Tep."
Amusing Definitions: A friend sent these to me. Flatulence (noun) - The emergency vehicle that picks you up after you've been run over by a steamroller.
And ... Pokemon (noun) - A Jamaican proctologist.
Saturday December 18, 2004
Santa's Recycled Workshop: Last year, I took three of my son's long-discarded metal toys, cleaned them up and presented them to his son for Christmas. Two were trucks - a Tonka pickup and an Ertl dump truck.
The other toy was ... (more >>>)
Friday December 17, 2004
Car Sighting: Spotted a tricked-out Chrysler 300 - at first glance, I could only see the grille and thought it was the new Bentley. Then I saw the rest of the car and realized my mistake.
It had a custom, Bentleyesque grille, 18 or 19-inch chrome wheels and extra chrome trim along the sides and around the wheel wells. Had a nine-foot deep glossy black paint job. Looked righteous.
Queen of the Dealer Lot: Automotive News reported this week that there is a 301-day supply of Chevy SSR hot-rod pickups piled up at dealers all over the country. AutoExtremist remarks: "It was the $42,000+ price that was the real killer. At $25,000, the SSR would have been a sellout, at least for a while."
Yes, it's about price. I am convinced that the new Ford Thunderbird would have been a hit as a $20-25,000 car. But Ford slapped an excitement-killing $40,000 sticker on it ... and took forever to take the T-Bird from a show concept to a production vehicle.
Dreams have price tags. And time lines. And they are generally lower and shorter than manufacturers seem to think.
Damning Without The Faint Praise: Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times writes about the 2005 Mercury Montego (Merc's version of the Ford Five Hundred). He calls it "a car whose lack of charisma is so dense no light can escape its surface ... To drive this car is to feel the icy hand of death upon you, or at least the icy hand of Hertz, because it simply screams rental. ... The faux wood-grain interior trim looks like it came off a prison lunch tray. I've felt better leather upholstery on footballs." Ouch.
AutoExtremist writes: "Ford has put a brave face on in promoting these two cars, but they're not fooling anybody, because the Five Hundred and the Montego, as Neil expressed so clearly - have rental car written all over them." It seems like everyone - me included (see my post of 11/15/04) - uses "rental car" and "Ford Five Hundred" in the same sentence.
Damning Without The Faint Praise II: The British write the best and most biting road test reports.
Here's Jeremy Clarkson on the new BMW 1-series: "So what about the engine? Well, the petrol version will get you from 0 to 60 in about two hours, so if you want any poke at all, and surely that's the reason why you're buying a BMW, you have to go for the diesel. It's not a bad diesel by any standards, but come on. Where's the fun in a car that sounds like a canal boat?" And: "... it's why I'm choosing the words for my conclusion with even more care than usual. So here goes. The 1-series is crap." Ouch.
Cheapskate Award: The Cadillac Escalade costs over $63,000 but has no light in the glove compartment. Neither does the Caddy CTS, apparently. You know, I don't think I've ever owned a car that didn't have a glovebox light. Even my first car, a 1963 Beetle, had one.
Jerry Flint writes that this is a small detail but "in the luxury market it is attention to all the small details that helps determine sales leadership." Little things mean a lot.
Shop Till Your Internet Connection Drops: I did lots of Christmas shopping online this year and so did Glenn Reynolds.
He writes: "I've actually done most of my Christmas shopping online this year, as has my wife. No crowds, no parking problems, no long lines, and often better prices and better selections than in the stores anyway. And I haven't been alone ... My prediction is that the same people who for years have condemned the Christmas shopping season as an orgy of consumerism, and the crowds of shoppers as mindless consumer cattle, will now start criticizing online Christmas shopping, too: Old-fashioned shopping, with its crowds and its standing in line, we'll be told, brought us together. In retrospect, it was a communitarian experience, while online shopping is sterile, alienating, and anti-human - Stand in line, push and shove, or lose your humanity!"
Glenn concludes that this online, stressless timesaver is "a Christmas miracle. Brought to you not by elves, but by the people responsible for most of the miracles in our lives: Engineers!"
Live It Up: I received this from a friend via e-mail (original author unknown): Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out - screaming, "Woo Hoo! What a ride!"
Thursday December 16, 2004
Deathly Detail: I have a funeral home on my model train layout and, while I have a model hearse parked in front, I wanted to add a flower car. Last week, I wasted another portion of my life scratchbuilding a "flower car insert" for a 1:43 model 1959 El Camino. I used scale flowers from hobby supply outlet. The rack itself is made from card stock which has been cut, glued with epoxy, sanded and painted with several coats of matte silver to imitate the appearance brushed stainless steel.
My El Camino conversion has a basis in reality, though.
While most flower cars were Cadillacs and were offered fully finished by hearse manufacturers, conversion kits were available to the trade. A Northeast Philadelphia establishment, Fluehr Funeral Home, had a black 1960 Chevrolet El Camino flower car. One of the undertaker's sons was a car enthusiast and persuaded his dad to purchase an black El Camino pickup and convert it. It had a 348 cubic-inch engine, four-speed transmission and plugged, chrome lakes pipes along the sides.
The son used to take it to a drag strip, unplug the pipes and (more >>>)
Waaay Cool: Here's what breaking the sound barrier looks like.
Vertical Integration: Wal-Mart, already the world's largest retailer, may be looking to take things to the next level. Speculation is that the company is looking to acquire a major container shipping company.
"The company plans to open a major distribution facility at the Port of Houston in 2005. The Port of Houston is ranked #1 in the nation in foreign tonnage."
What's next? Wal-Mart Airlines? Cheap fares ... but they'll make you wear a vest with a name tag.
Quote of the Day .. or maybe ... of the Century is from Michael Crichton: "Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horses**t? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?
But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn't know what an atom was. They didn't know its structure. They also didn't know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS.
None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn't know what you are talking about.
Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100." Wow. Well said.
Wednesday December 15, 2004
Meet A Maybach Owner: He is Africa's last absolute monarch - a man whose pursuit of lavish tastes as his people face food shortages and AIDS has made him no stranger to controversy. Now Swaziland’s King Mswati III is at the center of a new row after spending more than $470,000 last week for the DaimlerChrysler Maybach 62. Its extras include a television, DVD player, 21-speaker surround sound system, refrigerator, cordless telephone, heated steering wheel, interior pollen and dust filter, golf club set and sterling silver champagne flutes.
Swazi life expectancy, at 34 years, is the fourth lowest on the planet. King Mswati recently budgeted $40 million to buy himself an executive jet, although street protests led to him abandoning the purchase of the plane. He comforted himself by throwing a $550,000 party for 10,000 guests to celebrate his 36th birthday.
Unreliable? Ja Wohl! German carmakers are facing another challenge: a number of surveys show some of their cars are less reliable. In its latest survey, the UK-based consumer magazine 'Which?' gave VW bad marks, putting it in the lowest "poor" category, a position it has now held for two years.
Mercedes-Benz, which used to be in the top "best" category has steadily slipped two notches into the "average" category. Audi, once judged to be "good," is now considered "poor," and BMW has gone from "good" to "poor."
Social Security? Donald Luskin on reform: "Here's a fearless prediction: President Bush's vision of Social Security reform with private investment accounts will be enacted into law in his second term. It's in the bag. What makes me so sure? Two reasons. First, I can see how much the liberal establishment fears it. And second, their arguments against it are utterly impotent."
James Lileks also weighed in on the Democrats' reaction to Social Security proposals. Frankly, I never thought Social Security would last this long. People have been predicting its demise for over forty years. But I'm glad it lasted. I start getting payments next year.
Global Warming Is Bunk: Econopundit has 102 years worth of data to prove it. Take that, Al Gore.
Is There A Nobel Moron Prize? A 28 year-old woman keeps passwords on a blue Post-It note affixed to her computer. "The IT people yell at me," she says. No wonder.
Tuesday December 14, 2004
Send Money: This is the time of year when people of good cheer are feeling generous. But there have been so many stories about scammers (faux homeless, etc.) and misuse of charitable funds (like the Vatican arranging for free legal help for Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's former foreign minister and right-hand man, for his war crimes defense) - that it is tempting to be cynical and just keep your money in your pocket. Then a truly tragic case comes along.
Juliana Wetmore, a little girl in Florida, was born without a face. She is missing over 30 percent of her facial bones and has no upper jaw, no cheek bones and no eye sockets. Juliana has to eat through her stomach, and she has a tracheotomy to breathe. Already, less than two years into her life, she's had 14 surgeries. Doctors say she could need at least 30 more expensive operations.
If you have been blessed in your life - with good health, good fortune, healthy children, etc. - dig into your pocket and reach out to help this poor child and her family. Donations can be sent to:
3018 Hickory Glenn Dr.
Orange Park, FL 32065
Notable Quote from Mac Morrison, Associate Editor, AutoWeek: "Ford delivers as much with the new Mustang as it failed to deliver with the Ford Five Hundred." Emphasis mine. Mega-dittos, Mac.
Time Flies: Last week, Dick Clark suffered a stroke. It's serious enough that he'll miss this year's New Year's Eve gig. It's hard to believe I'm using "Dick Clark" and "stroke" in the same sentence.
Whenever I think of Dick Clark, I think of Bandstand. In late 1952, television station WFIL in Philadelphia started a local daily afternoon dance program, Bandstand. It was a two-and-a-half hour show, featuring Philadelphia radio personalities Lee Stewart and Bob Horn. My memory as a 9 year-old is that Lee Stewart was a jerk and Bob Horn was an unsavory-looking guy. Stewart soon left and Bob Horn became the sole host.
In 1955 or 56, Bob Horn was fired for what the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin euphemistically referred to as "taking liberties with one of the underage female regulars in his dressing room."
WFIL frantically searched for a squeaky-clean replacement and selected Dick Clark, a 26-year-old Philadelphia radio announcer. Clark fit the role well and, on August 5, 1957, the show went national. A 90-minute version of the 21/2 hour show - renamed American Bandstand - was carried by ABC and became an instant success.
Contrary to popular conceptions ... (more >>>)
Monkey Business: Two animal conservationists have got married in a gibbon-style wedding ceremony in Thailand. The groom summoned his mate by imitating a male gibbon call. His bride responded with happy monkey calls while swinging down from a treetop into his embrace. After the wedding, at a wildlife sanctuary, the groom said: "Once the gibbon has chosen a mate it will not philander." Mmm-kay.
Dissatisfied Dining: A man who didn't like the way his $6 steak and cheese sandwich was made threw the sandwich at the Subway employee and told her that he would kill her and blow up the building.
Hey, if you want a good cheese steak, don't go to Subway. Go to Philadelphia. (Or to 'Philadelphia's', offering great cheese steaks at their two Portland, Oregon locations. And pretty good pizza steaks, too. Or Philly Bilmos in Vancouver, WA.)
Stupid Kids: Thomas Sowell bemoans the fact that U.S. teens are among the worst at Math, compared with other countries. Teachers spend too much time on Feel Good issues. Or, like Mr. Garrison from South Park, on Pop Culture. "Isn't that right Mr. Hat?" Meanwhile, the comic strip 'B.C.' offers its own take on the matter.
Monday December 13, 2004
Bat Cave: Last week, I sat in a Caddy XLR roadster. The $76,000 two-seater was silver with a black interior. The top was up and there was little headroom for me. And my eyes were looking at the visor - not the windshield which was two low. In this respect, it reminded me of the new Thunderbird.
The car's interior was all black - even the headliner and the A-pillars. I felt like I was in a cave. I was surprised that the U.S./Canadian content of this car was only 77%. The five-speed auto transmission is made in France.
Up Close With The Oprahmobile: Got a good eyeful of the 2005 Pontiac G6. This new sedan had a taut look to it - much more so than Buick's LaCrosse. Checking the specs, I found that it had two more inches of wheelbase and was nine inches shorter than the LaCrosse.
Magnum Inspection: I looked at the new AWD Dodge Magnum wagon. This chopped-top style wagon looks cool up close. The exterior fits seemed good and the interior appeared to be well made, although the dashboard had an odd, rubbery feel to it. I had plenty of headroom and easily found a comfortable driving position but the seat seemed hard and unyielding. I wondered what I would feel like after a long trip in this machine.
The Hemi engine is well-muffled - almost too well. No V-8 burble like the Hemis of old. Rats.
The Fall of Ford: Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. will drop out of third spot in vehicle production in Canada this year and be supplanted by Honda of Canada. That will put the Japan-based auto maker in third place in the rankings behind General Motors of Canada Ltd. and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler AG.
The steady increases in production at Honda and Toyota are part of the reason Ontario will supplant Michigan this year as the largest auto-producing jurisdiction in North America.
Obscure Mercury Put-Down from last night's episode of The Simpsons: Superintendent Chalmers yells, "Skinner! Your idiotic driver just rammed into my new Camry with the school bus."
Principal Skinner replies, "Superintendent, would you like to borrow my Merkur?"
Is Anyone Really Surprised By This? The Kyoto protocol will not work, a leading climate scientist said yesterday. The struggle by developed countries to cut back their emissions of carbon dioxide, will always be overtaken by the rising new emissions of the developing nations, led by China and India, who are not parties to the Kyoto treaty.
Professor Wallace Broecker of Columbia University said, "What you guys are tinkering around with in Kyoto is just a drop in the bucket."
Quote of the Day is from the irrepressible Ann Coulter on how Republican Babes differ from Democratic Chicks: "My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention." Ouch.
Saturday December 11, 2004
Happy Birthday: Playboy magazine celebrates its 51st birthday this month.
My introduction to Playboy was at the tender age of 12 at Frank's Barber Shop at Foulkrod and Penn Streets - about two blocks north of the Margaret-Orthodox El station in Philadelphia. Frank also offered issues of ... (more >>>)
Friday December 10, 2004
Marauding: The Florida Highway Patrol has now has 18 new Mercury Marauders that will be used to crack down on aggressive driving. Other people's aggressive driving, that is. This is a good move because Marauders make good stealth cars - so few have been sold that nobody knows what they are.
Two years ago, one of my car buddies was ... (more >>>)
Hybrid Over-Optimism? AutoExtremist.com writes: "Are there storm clouds brewing for hybrids just when manufacturers are preparing to crank up the volume? Right now, both Honda and Toyota are paying all of the costs for battery troubles encountered under warranty. But what about afterwards, when hybrids start entering the used-vehicle market? Serious issues will be raised overnight, as in, what happens when used hybrids need new battery systems, and how will that affect resale? Dealers certainly aren't going to pay it. And without factory support and subsidies, what's the real cost of the hybrid system on a Toyota Prius anyway? We can assure you that it's not cheap. Watch for hybrid resale value to take a massive hit in the marketplace when the real transaction numbers start coming into play."
Scale Surgeon: I like to put people in the model cars on my train layout. I have a box of unpainted 1:48 scale people (men, women and children) that I draw from.
I've been spending the last few days painting and assembling my "peeps" to install in my newly-acquired vehicles. I learned something the other night - do not try to paint neckties on little suited men after imbibing four glasses of Cabernet-Merlot. I had to redo them in the sober light of another day.
After painting and assembly, I installed them in my 1:43 scale cars. I had to amputate the legs of as the fit between the steering wheel and seat is too tight even to accommodate little legs on some of the models.
The driver of the '57 Studebaker Golden Hawk (a $5 Yatming diecast made in China and finished in gold with white fin inserts) had a craniotomy and/or hatectomy. I had to severely file down his fedora - not enough headroom.
Oh no - I've created another brainless Studie driver.
I've posted more on the Studebaker Hawk here. (permalink)
Rally: Larry Kudlow writes: "The brilliant stock strategist Elaine Garzarelli says that if the 80-month moving average of the S&P 500 closes about 1166 on November 30th, it would be a new buy signal. This has only happened 10 times since 1906 (that is, a breakthrough on the 80-month moving average.)" It apparently has happened. Go bull market.
An English Christmas: Sales of tea towels are booming as parents use them as headdresses for their children in primary school Nativity plays, Sainsbury's supermarket said Monday. So great is the demand - known in the trade as the Bethlehem Boost - that Sainsbury's has ordered extra supplies.
I wonder - is this where Arafat got his?
Rats! From The Onion: "Nearly 700 scientists representing 27 countries convened at the University of Zurich Monday to formally announce that their experimentation on mice has been motivated not by a desire to advance human knowledge, but out of sheer distaste for the furry little rodents."
Thursday December 9, 2004
XS or Excess? AutoBlog has tested the Buick LaCrosse; this car has been getting a lot of buzz lately. And the television commericals are pretty cool ... especially for a Buick.
I was intrigued enough to visit a Buick dealer. Something I hadn't done in ... oh ... 40 years or so. In person, the LaCrosse is good-looking and has comfortable seats but the option packages seemed confusing (maybe in part because the dealer had no literature). You can't get vehicle stability control unless you buy the sport CXS model. All models are equipped with GM OnStar which is of no interest to me. The interior has some nice design accents but the fake wood trim really looks fake. (AutoBlog said the same thing.)
The car has chrome door handles that jut out from the body - an odd retro touch. (I remember when Chrysler introduced flush door handles on the 1957 models. It was touted as a great leap forward. Eventually, other car manufacturers incorporated this feature. Why is Buick going backwards?) Pricing for the CXS with four-speed automatic is a little over $28,000 - about $2,000 more than a Honda Accord V-6 which has a 5-speed automatic.
The LaCrosse is assembled in Canada where "LaCrosse" is French slang for masturbation.
Where's Waldo? Where's Lincoln? There used to be a Lincoln-Mercury dealership across the street from the Buick dealer. The showroom is now full of Chryslers and Jeeps. I telephoned and found out that Lincoln-Mercury is now "inside our Subaru-Hummer showroom."
This is another bad sign for the Lincoln-Mercury brand. Meanwhile, Lincoln sales are down 12.2% in 2004. My wife just received an mailed invitation to join Lincoln's Town Car Advisory Board. The catch - she has to lease a new Town Car first. Like we want one .... not.
Shouldn't Lincoln invite people who didn't lease a Town Car to give them advice? People who took one look and said, "Jeez, what a pig. Let's head to a Lexus dealership. Posthaste."
Rebate Fever: Automakers will spend a record $60 billion on rebates this year, reflecting a proliferation of consumer incentives that are now available on 90 percent of all new vehicles, up from less than 10 percent a decade ago.
GM led the industry with an average of $3,747 in incentives per vehicle in Nov. 2004. Chrysler was second with $3,546. Ford spent $3,206. But Japan's three largest automakers are still spending much less than the three U.S. automakers: $2,044 for Nissan, $783 for Honda and $747 for Toyota.
Making high quality, desirable cars pays off.
Food For Thought from auto mechanic Douglas Flint: "Both NGK and DENSO are now offering Iridium-tipped spark plugs. Iridium, an even rarer and tougher metal than platinum, was evidently left on earth by the meteor that ended the dinosaur's reign. If they should use it all up on spark plugs, and God should see fit to renew our supply with another meteor, life on earth could get a little rough for 10,000 years or so."
Wednesday December 8, 2004
Scale Artistry: I've owned two Continental Mark IIs - a 1956 and a '57. Both were white in color. Yat-Ming models has now produced a 1:18 scale model of the 1956 Continental Mark II (in white or black).
I got my white one yesterday and it is incredible. Full engine and underbody details, antenna goes up and down as do front windows, even the spare cover is in the correct position in the trunk. I'm very impressed.
The only modification I made was to blackwash the wheel covers to bring out the "turbine blades." The model sells for only $38.95. Yat-Ming also is offering a 1:18 scale 1961 Lincoln four-door convertible.
Yat-Ming has just released a bunch of new cars in both 1:18 and 1:43 scales. The 1:43 Merc Turnpike Cruiser and bullet-nosed Studie are really nice.
And the '48 Ford woody is awesome. The 1:43 models are only $4.95 each. (Some items are shown on my train layout.)
I also have the 1:43 Yat-Ming '48 Tucker, '48 Ford pickup, '49 Cadillac, '58 Studebaker Golden Hawk, '64 Mercury Marauder and '71 Riviera boattail; all are good value for the money.
Treat yourself to a new set of wheels for Christmas.
Tandoori Ferrari: Ferrari is outsourcing F1 engine design work to India. India's top software exporter Tata Consultancy has won a multimillion dollar deal with Italian sports car maker Ferrari to design Formula 1 engines.
Who Knew? Tom and Jerry cartoons are a big hit in China.
Wisdom From Thomas Sowell: "The very people who were telling us to "get over it" and "move on" during the Clinton scandals of the 1990s have been completely unable to get over the 2004 elections - and some of them haven't even gotten over the 2000 elections yet."
Kid Stuff: John Derbyshire lists some questions asked by kids in Nickelodeon magazine. Including: "Why is 'abbreviation' such a long word?", "What was the best thing before sliced bread?", "Why isn't 'phonetic' spelled the way it sounds?" and "What's another word for 'synonym'?"
Quote of the Day is from Gasoline Alley: "Yo' singing' has the fragrance o' orange blossoms ... every note smells!"
Tuesday December 7, 2004
Darwin Award Nominee: AutoBlog reports that a 78-year-old man traveling on an 80 mph highway in France caused a traffic accident when his GPS system told him to "make a U-turn immediately."
So he did. Moron.
Disappearing Evidence: Police in Harrisburg, PA followed a trail of doughnuts to find a stolen Krispy Kreme delivery truck. "It has a happy ending," Sgt. Robert Simmonds said. "The evidence was brought back to the police station, and the cops are eating the doughnuts."
Toilet Tech: Toilets used to be pretty easy to fix. Pop off the tank lid and gaze inside. The problem was usually obvious. Fixes could be made by bending components, tightening screws or mending with distorted paper clips. Last week I stayed at a newly-built motel. The toilet wouldn't flush. I popped the tank lid and gazed at a complex assembly of polyethylene and PVC plastic moldings.
It looked like a nuclear reactor - modeled as a plastic toy by a blind Chinese toolmaker. I finally got it to work. But the quest for low-flow efficiency is making toilets unrepairable. (And they don't flush worth a sh**t, either.)
But Bums, Panhandlers and Druggies Are Welcome: Two dozen San Francisco grade school kids, sporting white turtlenecks and Santa hats, showed up at Union Square hoping to delight Christmas shoppers with holiday carols.
Instead they were kicked out by security because they didn't have a permit.
Aussie Junkyard Dogs: Australian police shot and killed two dogs that attacked their car. Two officers were threatened when they attended a property at Humpty Doo last night to investigate reports of ''menacing'' behavior by dogs. A tire on the police sedan was bitten hard enough to deflate it, a mudflap was torn off and teeth gouge marks were left in the front bumper surround.
Headline of the Day is from BrokenNews.com: "Zippo Sued for Failing to Warn That Its Products Aren't iPods."
Monday December 6, 2004
Be Careful What You Wish For. Various government officials have long bemoaned the American appetite for fuel. In Oregon, Massachusetts and other states, there are moves afoot to tax cars based on miles driven. Why? Because, at least in Oregon, people are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and gas tax revenues are falling.
Some states are planning to penalize those who are good citizens. And they plan to use GPS to track people - sounds very Orwellian.
Nevertheless ... Using Less Fuel Is Good: Let's make it a priority to reduce America's dependency on imported (especially Middle Eastern) oil. You can reduce consumption by:
1. driving less
2. carpooling, or
3. driving a fuel-efficient car.
How to inspire people to do so? Here's my proposal - fuel would be taxed an additional $2.00 per gallon. But every US citizen with a valid driver's license would get a tax refund for 7,000 miles in a 20 mpg car. You'd get that refund of $700 when you file federal income taxes - a credit for 350 gallons (7,000 divided by 20).
Fifty percent of the tax revenues from this program would be used to promote energy exploration and alternative product development within the United States including biofuels and gasohol; the remaining revenue would be used to pay down the national debt.
Users of fuel other than passenger vehicles (large trucks, locomotives, airlines, buses, etc.) would be subject to a tax of $1.00 per gallon - but no refund program would be available. Users of home heating oil would pay a tax of 50¢ per gallon - no refund program. This tax program would automatically expire in seven years unless renewed by a Congressional majority. Call it "The Seven Year Energy Itch."
Such a program offers individuals the freedom to drive whatever they want and drive as much as they want. But, as Jane Fonda said in Klute, "Ooooh! Sounds like fun. But it's goin' to cost you more."
It's about choice. The tax on commercial vehicles is less because we don't want to shut down the economy - but we do want to encourage shippers to look at fuel efficiency. In Europe, UPS and FedEx use dinky little vans in cities. In U.S. cities, all I seem to see are the larger delivery trucks.
My proposed tax on heating oil is even lower - I don't want to drive people out of their homes - but a noticeable tax will give homeowners extra incentive to implement conservation measures.
My two cents.
Wasted Space: "The squealing of frightened pigs and other animals has long since been silenced at United Nations headquarters, built with an $8.5 million donation from John D. Rockefeller Jr. on the site of a former slaughterhouse. But with a reverberating oink, the cramped for space UN is going to expand. All the UN wants for Christmas is a 35-story building at the nearby Robert Moses Playground."
Compare the U.N.'s needs with the space efficiencies achieved by America's corporations.
Example: In 1964, Rohm & Haas Co. built a new corporate headquarters near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Height restrictions limited the structure to nine stories. R&H projected that they would run out of space in 10 years or so and purchased land next door, erecting a temporary pay-parking garage which would be demolished when a twin building was needed in the mid-1970s.
Forty years later, the "temporary" parking garage is still there and R&H leases out part of the original building to others - despite increasing sales by almost eight-fold during the period. Why? Productivity increases have reduced people needs. R&H now employs 17,000 - only slightly more than 40 years ago.
So why is the U.N. running out of space? Because, as we always have suspected, the word "productivity" is unknown within the U.N.'s walls. This is yet another sign that it's time to disband the U.N. and develop something better. And more productive. And useful.
Hefty Help: Hershey Foods Corporation has announced that packaging for the company’s Whoppers malted milk balls will now feature photographs of missing fat kids on one side of every carton.
Saturday December 4, 2004
At The Movies: I watched an interesting program about movie cowboys on The History Channel a while back. It brought back a lot of memories. Even the parts about the '30s stars were meaningful, since many of these movies were recycled on television in the early fifties.
They showed film footage of 1930s star, Tom Mix, driving his white '37 Cord 812 convertible. This was the same car in which he died near Florence, Arizona (southeast of Phoenix) in 1940. A flagman had stopped him and warned about roadwork in progress to repair a washed-out bridge. Ignoring the flagman, Mix drove on and plunged into a ravine; the convertible flipped, resulting in instant death. The gully has since been renamed Tom Mix Wash. (more >>>)
Friday December 3, 2004
The Cell Phone Is The New Car: "Freedom, Mobility and Independence ... In a not-too distant past, the automobile was the ultimate symbol of coming of age: a way out from parents (and friends' parents), from siblings' prying eyes, from geographical constraints. No longer: for hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide, 'The Cell Phone is the New Car' (as the Economist cleverly stated earlier this year). Consider these similarities between the automotive and wireless/handheld industries: 1. Model and customization define the owner, 2. Replacement is frequent, 3. Choice is massive, 4. Branding and design are key, 5. Competition is global 6. Anticipation of new models is enormous." I'd like to add 6. Most older people don't understand what all the fuss is about. (See my geezer cell phone story of 6/5/04.)
The entire Trendwatching newsletter is worth a read.
AutoExtremist.com Is Dismayed by too-early model announcements - "car companies showing their new stuff too early. The domestic manufacturers especially are guilty of this. "Detroit" is so desperate to be taken seriously on the national and world stage that they're revealing new production concepts earlier and earlier - and it's backfiring on them. It's one thing to get industry analysts pumped up about their future, but then when the public sees the stuff, gets enamored with it, and then finds out that the new model they're lusting after is one, two, or as many as three years from being at their local dealerships, they become disillusioned. You only have to look back at Ford's blown launch of the Thunderbird to see a perfect example of this."
I couldn't agree more. There's no element of surprise and delight anymore. I remember the days of whitewashed showroom windows and private dealer parties for the local People of Influence as part of any new model roll out. The pretty, sparkling tri-toned, chrome-laden, accessory-loaded cars were in the showroom while the monochromatic, blackwall-tired, anonymous entry-level models were parked out back in a fenced lot next to the Dumpster.
Today, sadly, too many of today's new cars have the anonymous look of those homely, Dumpster-acquainted, base models of yesteryear.
The Changing Face Of Retail: Web sales doubled to $133 million on Thursday, Thanksgiving, from a year earlier and surged 40 percent to $250 million on Friday, according to ComScore Networks.
Chuck Davis, president of Shopzilla, said more people with faster Web connections at their homes helped spur the increase, as did consumers wanting to avoid crowds: "At a time when gasoline and traffic are at record levels, the convenience of online saves time, which is priceless.''
Meddling In Affairs Of State: Washington State, that is.
John Kerry has wired $250,000 in unspent campaign funds to help Democrats pay for a second recount in the election for Washington state governor, party officials say.
The donation Wednesday about doubled the available funds but the party still has no more than half the $1 million or more required to pay for a hand recount of all 2.9 million ballots.
Perspective: Ben Stein writes that "in Gotham, among the truly rich and self-obsessed, there were now haircuts costing $800 and sometimes more, and that prices for haircuts among the beautiful people were in an upward spiral as more and more well to do men and women competed for the attention of the hairdressers considered le dernier cri in chic. ... it makes me sick that people are spending $800 on a haircut while young Marines are paid very roughly that amount per month to offer up their lives in Falluja or Mosul or Ramadi or Najaf. ... They do more for us in two minutes on Sinai Street in Falluja than every player in the NBA and every star on every TV show does in a year." Amen.
He's Wackier Than We Ever Imagined: According to Matt Drudge, Dan Rather told The Hollywood Reporter that he talks to the ghost of Ed Murrow: "Ed Murrow's ghost is here. I've seen him and talked to him on the third floor of this building many times late at night. And I can tell you that he's watching over us ..."
Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan presents a balanced portrait of unbalanced Gunga Dan.
Thursday December 2, 2004
On The Road: Just got back from an overnight trip to Seattle. Didn't see anything interesting or exotic on the road except for a brief glimpse of a turquoise '34 Ford panel delivery street rod heading the other way on the Interstate.
New Cruisers: AutoWeek reports that Chrysler is debating whether there will be a next-generation PT Cruiser, and, if so, how strong the retro styling will be. Last year, Chrysler showed a fastback variant called the GT Cruiser.
They should build it, as well as my design for a three-window coupe, which could also be offered as a retractable hardtop.
A panel wagon would probably be a good seller, too. There's lots of life left in the PT Cruiser, in my opinion.
Facts About Vehicle Recalls: Ford has one of the highest repair rates - around 80% - because it sends multiple letters to owners instead of the one letter NHTSA requires. So far this year, GM has recalled 10.5 million vehicles while Toyota has only recalled 890,000.
No Award For Originality: Auto writer Anita Lienert bemoans copycat automotive designs, notably that of the Ford Five Hundred: "This kind of uninspired work is derivative at best and piratical at worst."
I couldn't agree more, Anita.
A Grave Issue: My grandson's elementary school had a fundraiser offering flower arrangements, including a cross-shaped cemetery pieces. One of the parents in this very PC, liberal, university community objected, saying that her sense of secularity was offended.
This raises a larger issue - the need to develop appropriate grave-decoration symbols for seculars. Some religions are already covered - crosses for Christians, six-pointed stars for Jews (although this particular town of 45,000 had only seven Jewish families last time I heard), crescents for Muslims.
I don't know what to use for Confucians, Hindus or Buddhists, but may I suggest a question mark for agnostics and a zero for atheists? Memo to Floral Industry - get to work.