Monday February 28, 2005
Car Sighting: Spotted a brand-spanking new red Mazda RX-8 sparkling in the sun. Still had temporary registration window decals in the side window.
The RX-8 is a car that doesn't photograph well; it looks much better in person. And it has the world's coolest front fender flares.
I'm a big fan of fender flares as you can see by the ones on a car I drew back in 1967.
My flares were big enough to enclose side mirrors - I thought that would help aerodynamically.
Oh - in case anyone sighted me, I took my Plymouth out for a spin on a sunny Friday mid-morning.
It was cold though - there was still ice in the drainage ditches and the Plymouth's heater is the original 1939 one (in which "heat" is a relative term - in the same way that "toasty" might relate to something twelve degrees above absolute zero) and I was wearing shorts (idiot), so I froze my butt off.
But had a good ride.
Civilized Sickies: Michelle Malkin writes about the new youth craze of "cutting" - self-mutilation - using knives, razor blades or even safety pins to deliberately harm one's own body. "Actresses Angelina Jolie and Christina Ricci did it. So did Courtney Love and the late Princess Diana. On the Internet, there are scores of websites (with titles such as "Blood Red," "Razor Blade Kisses" and "The Cutting World") featuring "famous self-injurers," photos of teenagers' self-inflicted wounds and descriptions of their techniques."
This sickness is born of a wealthy, civilized society where people have so much leisure time on their hands that they worry about American Idol candidates and the fates of soap opera characters. (And wasn't Diana a kind-of soap opera character herself? Angelina and Billy Bob certainly were.)
So, the prosperous and bored find solace in a razor blade. You never see this kind of thing in primitive cultures where people are kept busy with more important, day-to-day issues like avoiding starvation and dysentery. And, I suspect, you won't find it in amongst the "lower classes" (as the Brits say), where people are too busy holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Life, Death and Judges: A former Florida sheriff comments on the Terri Schiavo case: "One group of judges will fight prosecutors to save the life of a man sentenced to death after being convicted of killing eight women. Another group of judges turns their backs on the appeal of a Florida woman, Terri Schindler Schiavo, who is awaiting a death sentence by starvation, handed down by another judge. Terri has committed no crime, yet she had her day in court without a trial by jury and the local circuit judge deemed her to be guilty of what? What crime? No other state in the union, or the civilized world for that matter, has a death sentence carried out by way of starvation."
The Nutty Professor: By now, you've read about the disgusting remarks and antics emanating from Ward Churchill, fake Indian and loony University of Colorado professor. He spoke in Seattle in 2003; here's one of the things he said about how he gets revenge for speeding tickets: "… I'm presenting no public hazard ... I'm simply being asked to ante up to pay for my own repression. Not being comfortable with that, I have a rule of thumb: I smile very politely to the cop, take the ticket, look to see how much the fine is going to be, and before I leave that state, I make sure I cause at least that much property damage in state material before I go, so it's a wash, boys and girls."
So ... the next time you see a defaced public sign defaced or broken statuary in a public park and you wonder, "What kind of self-centered, destructive asshat would do such a thing?" ... now you know. It's Ward Churchill, PhD. (hat tip - Michelle Malkin)
PS - If you want to know who is helping to bankroll the despicable professor, read this. You'll be surprised.
PPS - Ward Churchill is also a plagiarist.
Strange Brew: Students at Nova Scotia Community College are now able to earn academic credit for cradling a glass of beer.
The Labatt Beer Institute, which officially opened in Halifax's Brewery Market complex on Wednesday, will train students on everything from the history of beer to matching beer choices with different foods, to how to pour it properly.
The school should be renamed Bob and Doug University, eh?
Bad Pun of the Day: Did you hear about the man who dressed up as a baby horse? He made a complete foal of himself.
Friday February 25, 2005
New Car Update: Several readers have written asking when our new vehicle will arrive. I have been now advised by the dealer that our new Toyota Avalon is "on a truck" and is expected to arrive in early March.
If you see a red Avalon Limited on a car hauler anywhere between Kentucky and Oregon, it's probably ours. By the way, there is a lot of interesting information about Toyota's Kentucky manufacturing plant here.
Urban Planning For Dummies: The city of Vancouver, Washington is upset that its downtown transit mall has become a hang-out for unsavory characters. The mayor complains that it does not fit with the new image of a gentrified downtown - something he hopes to have once he gets rid of all the pawn shops and seedy bars. The mayor expressed surprise that most bus riders didn't stop to shop in the fine boutiques of Main Street, rather, they just hopped on other buses. And went elsewhere. (Well, duh.)
Transit malls (once known simply as bus terminals) have never attracted dukes and debutantes. Look at old photos and you'll see unshaven men skulking past a line-up of buses parked near a run-down tavern or arcade. Grab a book about old New York and check out the photos of the well-heeled folks at Grand Central Station. Compare such people with the vagrants loitering in the Port Authority bus terminal photos. I rest my case.
The problem with Vancouver (and many other cities) is ... (more >>>)
Bad Pun of the Day: A man fell into an upholstery machine. Luckily, he's now fully recovered.
Thursday February 24, 2005
Sign The End Times Are Near: Bentleys will soon be manufactured in Germany in an underutilized Volkswagen factory.
Quotes of the Week are from Thomas Sowell: "Automobiles are getting to look so much alike that it is hard to tell some cars apart, even when they are made by different manufacturers or even made in different countries. Recently, I was embarrassed to realize that I was trying to get into someone else's German-made car on a parking lot, thinking it was my own Japanese-made car."
And: "How can you be an 'insurgent' in someone else's country? Yet despite the fact that the wave of terrorism in Iraq is led by an outside terrorist who is murdering Iraqis, our media still calls his terror campaign an 'insurgency.'"
Bad Pun of the Day: What do you get when you divide the circumference of a jack-o-lantern by it's diameter? Answer: Pumpkin Pi.
Wednesday February 23, 2005
Car Sighting: Spotted a nice old red 1960 Corvette with white side indents heading down a two-lane road near Hockinson. In the early 1960s, these cars had genuine visual appeal but were hideous to drive - uncomfortable seats, not-so-hot handling - solid rear axle, etc., lots of rattles and a stiff ride.
But they sure looked cool. And still do.
Road Test: Over the weekend, I got to test drive a new black 2005 Hyundai Elantra sedan - just purchased by my son and his wife. It is a pretty impressive little car for $12,000 or so. Nice lines, too. Had power windows, power adjustable mirrors, etc.
The fit and finish looked good and the car was surprisingly peppy. Seemed to handle well, too.
Pat-Self-On-Back Department: SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a nonprofit association providing entrepreneurs and small business owners with confidential, free business help.
Many years ago (when I owned a manufacturing business), SCORE gave me lots of great advice - and may have saved my little company. I now do some volunteer work for SCORE, participating in workshops, etc.
Recently, I constructed a new fifty-plus page website for the Vancouver (Washington) chapter. Daily site visits have jumped 10-fold since the redesign.
Another Threat To World Peace: According to Broken Newz, North Korea boasted publicly for the first time that it has Pauly Shore and said it will stay away from disarmament talks and, instead, make more of his films.
Bad Pun of the Day: Three of my fingers are willing to write, but my thumb and forefinger are opposed.
Tuesday February 22, 2005
Mongrelized Auto Brands: Paul Lienert has thoughts on the Saab, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Daewoo mish-mash.
Slow Starters Or Non-Starters? A Reuters report states: "Ford Motor Co.'s new vehicles have yet to meet targeted sales volumes, compelling analysts to question the success of models the automaker is banking on to stem its bruising U.S. market-share losses. The second-largest U.S. automaker hopes to sell more than 200,000 of the new Five Hundred and Montego sedans, and the Freestyle wagon this year. But four months after their launch, the annual selling rate for the three cars built at Ford's Chicago assembly plant is only 167,000."
Just Like Christo's 'The Gates': Go here to see 'The Crackers.' Erected in Central Park. Same orange color. But funnier.
13,500 Dow: Kenneth L. Fisher, a Woodside, Calif.-based money manager with an impressive forecasting record in Forbes (I've followed him for years), is predicting a 25% jump in the stock market this year.
How About Blister Cards With Hang Tags - Like Hot Wheels? In case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, a Washington state coroner wants to shrink-wrap bodies using a portable poly-wrap machine.
Bad Pun of the Day: A meteorologist was absolutely convinced of his theory regarding high-velocity air currents. He was a man of strong convections.
Monday February 21, 2005
Stupid Corporate Tricks: Jerry Flint is enraged at GM for paying off Fiat. I liked his comment about hiring Donald Trump.
Five Stars x 2 = Ten Stars: Paul and Anita Lienert of the Detroit News gave the AWD Chrysler 300C top marks.
Interesting quote: "The inclination is to compare it with true luxury vehicles, like the all-wheel-drive Cadillac STS we recently tested - you know, the one that cost nearly $67,000. But the 300C AWD also compares quite favorably with even more expensive vehicles, such as the Volkswagen Phaeton. And it absolutely blows out similarly priced, non-luxury competitors such as the Ford Five Hundred."
Falling Star: Carpundit comments on problems with Mercedes-Benz quality. He owns a Mercedes and won't be buying another. Key quote: " ... Mercedes has slipped in the past decade from first to 28th place in the respected JD Power reliability survey." Wow! I didn't realize things were that bad.
Key quote #2 is from the Financial Times: "Visitors travelling by taxi to the DaimlerChrysler headquarters in Stuttgart used to have one choice of vehicle: Mercedes. The same was true throughout Germany. But on visits in the recent wintry months, the taxi rank has usually been headed by a Volkswagen, Opel or - worst of all - a Mazda." Even German taxi drivers are giving up on the brand.
Sign of the Times: In Chehalis, Washington - next to Interstate 5, there's a billboard featuring Uncle Sam's picture and slogans that change weekly. The sign offers pithy political and social commentary.
Last week's entry: "Welcome to America. Now learn to speak English!"
Happy Outcome: A nine-year-old is bidding farewell to a tumor named Frank - the nickname he gave it (short for Frankenstein) and is celebrating the intruder's departure. "Frank is now dead and gone and never to return," David Dingman-Grover said yesterday. He was wearing a black T-shirt that read, "Cancer is not who I am." Frank the Tumor gained national attention when David's mother, Tiffini, created "Frank Must Die" bumper stickers, which the family auctioned on eBay to defray the costs of surgery.
News like this brings a smile to all who hear about it. Including me. I am glad that we now have the technology to perform such miracles. Fifty-two years ago, I lost one of my best childhood friends to a brain tumor. He, too, was nine years old.
In those days, nothing could be done for poor Bill Snyder. (I was one of the pallbearers at Bill's funeral. I still remember loading his casket into a white 1950 Henney Packard hearse.)
Happy Outcome II: I'm pleased to report that my Christmas train layout is now disassembled and back in storage. The operation went well and the new rocker-cradle system worked great.
My kids visited for weekend and provided additional muscle to move the structure.
Bad Pun of the Day: There was a painter by the name of Jock, who was very interested in making a buck where he could, so he often would thin his paint to make it go further. As it happened, he got away with this for some time, but eventually a local church decided to do a big restoration job. Jock put in a bid and, because his price was so low, he got the job.
He went about erecting the trestles and setting up the planks, buying the paint and thinning it down with the turpentine. Jock was up on the scaffolding, painting away with the job nearly completed, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder and the sky opened. The torrential rain washed the thinned paint off the church and knocked Jock off the scaffold and on to the lawn surrounded by telltale puddles of the thinned and useless paint.
Jock was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he got on his knees and cried, "Oh, God! Forgive me! What should I do?"
A mighty voice replied, "Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!"
Friday February 18, 2005
Sign The End Times Are Near: Fiat announced that it will buy the Maserati brand from Ferrari.
Fiat Farewell? Speaking of Fiat, Peter DeLorenzo of AutoExtremist writes that "Fiat is making wildly optimistic comments about its future place in the automotive world, while analysts are suggesting that they have absolutely nothing to celebrate ... most reasoned observers have the company on a death watch."
When in Italy two years ago, a tour guide mentioned that she had just purchased a new Renault. I asked her why she didn't buy something Italian. She replied, "The only Italian car I could afford is a Fiat and no one buys them. They are pieces of junk."
Wealth Does Not Beget Taste: A pair of paintings from the famed series depicting dogs playing poker fetched nearly $600,000 at auction. And they weren't even owned by a Kennedy!
Bad Pun of the Day: They accused her of stealing the broach but they just couldn't pin it on her.
Thursday February 17, 2005
The Decline Of Big: An article in the Detroit News points out that sales of big sedans fall 25 percent in '04 as SUVs, and now crossovers, take over. I'm not sure it's that simple. I believe that many folks have abandoned the traditional large sedans (Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, Town Car, Park Avenue et al) because the cars are poorly-styled vehicles built on antique platforms. The Vicky/Marquis/Town Car 'Panther' platforms date from 1978.
Big cars sell well if they're interesting. Just ask any Chrysler dealer - 300s are flying out the door. Toyota didn't spend millions developing a completely new Avalon for a market that's going away.
I have friends who have longed for a Lincoln Town Car for years but - now that they can afford a new one - are appalled by the current product offering, citing ugly styling, decontented interior, a behind-the-times powertrain and ancient chassis.
Are Today's Car Designs Dull And Derivative? Anita Lienert tackles the question. So do I.
Dull Ford: Interest is so tepid that Ford "is planning a face-lift for the Five Hundred - two years earlier than usual."
Auto reviewer Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "There is no soul to this car, and it's about as sexy as going through your mother's underwear drawer."
Says Business Week: "if sales don't pick up, Ford's Year of the Car could turn out to be another Year of the Rebate."
But ... if you've been a regular reader of this blog, you heard me echo similar sentiments long ago. And, in the same vein, we received a plea from the Five Hundred's sibling, the Mercury Montego ...
Mercury Message: The day after my wife sold her Lincoln, she received a mailing from Lincoln-Mercury, offering special deals on the Mercury Montego sedan "because you're a valued Lincoln owner."
In a brochure titled "When was the last time you saved thousands just by turning a page ..", L-M offered cash-back or a low financing rate on a new Montego.
No thanks, too late. She's already ordered her next car.
Little Car; Big Loser: Goldman Sachs estimates that DaimlerChrysler loses $6,500 on every Smart car they sell - a level of loss similar to that racked up by Rover just before BMW offloaded that operation.
Smart lost the equivalent of $771.6 million last year and has now lost $2.6 billion since the first minicar was introduced back in 1998. Not too Smart.
The Race of Decals: Methanol Boy at AutoExtremist quips: "Sunday afternoon's Daytona 500 marks the official return of corporate America's favorite prepackaged, pasteurized and "synergized" rolling marketing vehicle masquerading as a racing series - the 36-weekend-long Death March otherwise known as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup." More thoughts on NASCAR here.
Quote of the Week is from Thomas Sowell: "What makes someone a bigot is that he wishes to deny other people the same rights he has."
Underwater Habitat For Humanity: The Navy will name a submarine after Jimmy Carter. It will be constructed of chipboard and 2x4s and built on weekends by volunteers. The design may also call for a screen door.
Bad Pun of the Day: A bicycle salesman broke his ankle and was unable to peddle his wares.
Wednesday February 16, 2005
Breaking Automotive News: We have sold one of our cars and are replacing it with a brand new one. Details here.
Hold-a You Nose: Venetian gondoliers, enraged by a ban on boating at night, have gone on strike.
Who cares. Half the time, Venice smells like a cesspool. (We row-a da boats; we don' fix-a da plumbing.) That's why no one sells Scratch-n-Sniff souvenir postcards in any of the shops around St. Mark's Square.
UN Perspective ... Worth-A-Read: An article by Mark Steyn begins: "It's a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice-cream and a quart of dog feces and mix 'em together the result will taste more like the latter than the former. That's the problem with the UN. ..."
Bad Pun of the Day: Today's commodities report - helium was up, feathers were down. Paper was stationery.
Tuesday February 15, 2005
Badge Engineering - German-style: It's a Volkswagen .... no, a Porsche ... no - wait - it's an Audi. The Audi Q7 sport utility is to be built on the Touareg/Cayenne platform.
European Caddy: Cadillac plans to introduce a small sedan in spring 2006 that will be sold only in Europe. It will be built in the Saab plant in Sweden. The Detroit News has details and photos.
Car Sightings: Saw a 1947 or so Lincoln fastback sedan (in primer) on a trailer headed north on Interstate 5 near Tacoma on Sunday. Even though the car was burdened by the heavy postwar Lincoln grille (at the time, that grille was the largest diecast piece ever made), the streamlined rear end carried pleasant hints of the original Lincoln Zephyr.
When restored, it will be a massive jewel.
Also saw a 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk southbound on Interstate 5. A nice goldenrod-white example traveling under its own power in the rain.
Roses Are Red: On every street corner in north Portland on Monday, entrepreneurs were selling red Valentine roses for $10 per dozen. I drove past and - at 20 mph - they looked OK. But I have no idea what they were like close-up.
Given that most floral shops around here are charging $60-80 per dozen, these low-buck 'roses' may have been injection molded from low-density polyethylene.
Enough! I've written before about C.J.'s Grill in Battle Ground - good and bad. Our Valentine's Day meal was a mess. Pure incompetency and bad service.
We're never going back. 'Nuff said.
I Like This Idea: Daniel Henninger thinks the voters of Iraq should receive the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. They sure deserve it more than Jimmy Carter. Or Yassir Arafat.
Headlines of the Week: From Recoil Magazine: "Only thing man remembers from memory course is it costing $200." And from Broken News: "Kim Jong Il Confident Nukes Will Finally Catch Attention of Jodie Foster."
Bad Pun of the Day: A sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve food in here."
Monday February 14, 2005
Civics Lesson: A Honda Civic concept shown at the Chicago Auto is a thinly-disguised version of the 2006 production model. I'm a little old for tuner cars, but it looks righteous to me - pleasing, sleek lines. The production SI model is expected to have 200 horsepower, up from 160.
As a brand, the Honda Civic is the spiritual successor to Famous Flathead Fords of yore. ... (more >>>)
How Much Does Corporate Stupidity Cost? If you're GM, about two billion dollars. "General Motors Corp. will pay Fiat $1.99 billion in a deal to drop an option which would have forced the U.S. giant to buy the Italian firm's loss-making car unit."
Speaking of stupidity .....
Hewlett Payoff: I've never worked for Hewlett Packard, although once-upon-a-time HP was a substantial customer of mine.
Nevertheless, having relatives and friends who work there, living up the road HP's printer headquarters and having once lived in a town where HP was the largest business employer, here's my take on recent events ... (more >>>)
Bad Pun of the Day: Two podiatrists opened offices on the same street. They became arch enemies.
Friday February 11, 2005
How Do You Say 'Yugo' In Chinese? Malcolm Bricklin, the man who brought the notorious Yugo to America in the 1980s, will sell a line of Chinese-built cars beginning in 2007 with starting prices as low as $6,900. (more >>>)
Political Junkie Confessions: Did you become one during the 2004 election? I confess that I did. And so did Chuck Colson, who writes, "What do we do after the election? I guess I had gotten so used to it, I stayed glued to the evening cable-talk shows. Then one night in mid-December, I had two blinding revelations.
The first was that I was listening to endless, banal chatter. I began to realize that people were making up issues just to have something to talk about. On dull news days, commentary turned into performance art, manufacturing controversy to continue talk-show conversation before boisterous audiences.
The second revelation is that, whether it was left or right, the whole thing was driven by ideology. In our relativistic age when we can't come to an agreement on the common good, we line up behind manmade utopian ideologies. One scheme is on the left; one is on the right. Both are fatally flawed." And: "Most of Washington centers on ideological power, not public service."
Bad Pun of the Day: Did you hear about the process server who moonlighted as a bartender? He served subpoena coladas.
Thursday February 10, 2005
Car Factoid: The world's largest auto dealership is Longo Toyota in El Monte, California - owned by Penske Automotive Group Inc. There's an interesting article about Roger Penske here.
Odd Choice: Ford Motor Company Fund pledged $250,000 to the Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center. The campaign will finance a new community center in Ferndale, Michigan. Ford's grant is among the largest donations ever made from a Fortune 500 company to a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) organization.
Ford should be spending this money on much-needed product development. Or quality. (Ford is recalling nearly 359,000 of its Focus cars because of a potential problem with their rear door latches.)
Terrorists Are Swine: Down Syndrome is a worldwide condition. Here in America, we treat such people with the dignity they deserve and offer programs to help them find a meaningful and self-fulfilling place in society. In the terrorist community, such people are being used as human bombs.
Amar Ahmed Mohammed, a 19 year-old Shiite who had Down syndrome, was a perfect target for a pair of ruthless Baghdad terrorists. Unable to speak because of the severity of the condition, Amar could not tell anyone he was being groomed for death.
Two terrorists befriended a trusting Amar. They said that they would take him to a special school and each day they collected him and drove away. They gave him sweets and clothes and cigarettes. Amar loved them. Well-known from his daily wandering in local streets, he was beyond suspicion as he made his final walk with explosives under his coat.
Knitting the 1950s: The residents of an Australian home for the elderly have knitted an entire woolen 1950s sitting-room, with cakes, teacups, an Elvis album and even a vintage 1950s GE radio. Story (and photos!) here.
Darwin Award Nominee: A Welsh rugby fan cut off his own testicles to celebrate Wales beating England.
Headline of the Week is from The Onion: "Frederick's Of Anchorage Debuts Crotchless Long Underwear." Maybe the Welsh Rugby fan will buy a pair.
Bad Pun of the Day: A man received a damp package in the mail. When he complained to the post office, they said it must have had postage dew.
Wednesday February 9, 2005
For Limousine Liberals, I Suppose: Mercedes-Benz has agreed to offer "leather-free" versions of all its luxury cars to pacify PETA. The animal rights organization says thousands of cows are slaughtered each year for leather car seats and interiors. This move by Mercedes is a throwback to the 1930s, when all limousines had comfy cloth-covered rear seats for valued passengers. The lowly chauffeur was forced to sit up front - perched on leather.
Note that PETA doesn't condemn Naugahyde, demonstrating that the organization is run by a pack of hypocrites. They don't give a rat's patootie about the pain and suffering of the poor Nauga.
Youth Market: By now, you've read about the four year-old who drove his mom's car to a video store at 1:00 am. What you didn't know was that the boy was driving a Pontiac Bonneville - the very model (reported in Monday's post) that GM is discontinuing.
Today Is Ash Wednesday. Not a good day if you're leftover palm. Or hungry.
Heil Gates: Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that it plans to acquire Sybari Software Inc., which makes programs designed to protect business computer networks from viruses, worms and other threats.
Since I don't trust Microsoft (another reason I buy Apple everything), I wonder if this is a little bit like the Nazis buying the manufacturer of the Zyklon-B antidote.
Is Your Life Slipping Away? Order a 'Virgin of Guadalupe' casket from Costco.
Ponzimania: Social Security is a government-sponsored Ponzi scheme. (It always has been. If Uncle Sam was a private citizen, he'd be doing the perp walk in cuffs. And occupy a cell near Martha Stewart.)
It has never been properly funded (for all you Catholics out there, Social Security's patron saint is Our Lady of Perpetual Underfunding) and pays retirees not from a gigantic "trust fund" but mostly from current worker contributions. Even if you disregard such reality, Social Security is, at best, an annuity which offers a calculated "return" of 2%
When you die, there is no "balance" to pass along to your heirs. George Bush proposes to change this by offering part of Social Security as an investment program rather than an annuity. When you die, the remainder become part of your estate. Naysayers claim that investments may not return even 2% after management fees. And, as "proof" they raise the specter of the Crash of 1929. This is pure baloney!
The Wellington Fund is the nation's oldest and largest balanced mutual fund (65% in 'safe' stocks; 35% in 'safe' bonds). Wellington was 'born' just before the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed. Despite a rocky (How about 'cliff-like'?) investment climate during the fund's formative years, Wellington Fund has produced an 8.37 percent average annual return since its 1929 inception and has paid an uninterrupted string of quarterly dividends! Over the past ten years, its overall performance has exceeded the S&P 500. Yet it is far less risky and does not drop precipitously during stock market contractions.
So, if the Crash of 1929 is no longer the boogeyman, perhaps the Democrats should use the Silver Panic of 1893 to frighten everyone. Such tactics will keep people from carrying pocket change, wearing belts or buying Navajo jewelry. Or, Congress could save us from a repeat of the Panic of 1837 by encouraging people to hide precious gems annd metals under their mattresses and reject all paper currency.
Or, to prevent a Fall of Rome scenario, they could confiscate all violins.
Bin Laden Filmmaker Sues Michael Moore: Kathy Shaidle quips, "Wow, who to side with ...?"
Don't Fall Off when you reach the End of the Internet.
Bad Pun of the Day: A truck driver passed his mountain driving skills test. He was pleased to have made the grade.
Tuesday February 8, 2005
Italian Beauty: Remember the good old days when Italian cars were voluptuous? Those times are here again with the introduction of the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Alfa Romeo Brera 2+2 coupe at the Geneva auto show (Salon de l'Automobile de Genève).
Sadly, it won't be coming to the U.S.
Whiner Alert: In an article published in Newsweek (2/7/05 issue), Anna Marrian complains about her $100,000 student loan balance: " ... I took the maximum loans I could over four undergraduate and two graduate years." Now she's unhappy because now she has to pay it back. Anna admits that she never put her six-years-of-college brain to work, citing "my borrowing, perhaps, cavalier, my intolerance for fine print irresponsible."
No kidding, moron. Too bad you didn't major in Common Sense. You could have gone to college right out of high school instead of vagabonding around Europe until you were 24. Or worked for a few years and saved some money. Or chosen a low-cost state college and got a job after four years. And attended grad school at night.
It's unfortunate that Newsweek would choose this Sad Sack instead of someone with a more uplifting tale - describing how the student loan program changed his/her life for the better. America is full of such stories - about genuinely poor people who otherwise wouldn't have been able to attend college and are now living happy and productive lives.
Meanwhile, Anna whines, "We've heard a lot about the government's commitment to No Child Left Behind. But how about the middle-aged graduates left behind?" That's right, it's all the gummint's fault - isn't it, Anna? "It's Their Fault!" - the cry of the Professional Victim. This one even considered bankruptcy as an "out." Personal bankruptcy - the Ultimate Declaration of Irresponsibility (i.e. - turning Your Problem into Society's Problem).
You see, Anna, if enough people like you declared bankruptcy, the entire student loan program would collapse. (During your six college years, didn't you ever take Economics 101?) And future students - deserving as they might be - would be denied educational opportunities because of your selfishness. (But, what the hell, you got YOURS ... so, screw 'em. Right?)
My advice to Anna: Move out of high-priced New York City. Get a better job. Stop sniveling. And pay your debts.
Buh-Bye, Newsweek: After continuously subscribing since 1966, we're dropping Newsweek - our subscription expires this month. I used to read it to get analysis of current events, commentary and back story articles not found in newspapers. Now I get all of this from the web. By the time Newsweek arrives, its articles are old news.
Roger L. Simon recently wrote: "But then Newsweek is the most traditional of organs, lumbering on like the wooly mammoth, which it will soon follow into extinction unless it metamorphoses into some web-based meganews outlet. Weekly? Something quaint in that. ("Remember, ma, when they used to have newsweeklies. I saw one at the dentist the other day.")"
John Belushi as Bluto: "Wormer - he's a dead man!" John Vernon, a stage-trained character actor who usually played villains in film and TV, died last week.
I remember him from the 'Mission Impossible' television series - he always played a bad guy - a fiendish dictator or evil Commie military leader - usually named Colonel Eric Stravos. Some writer must have loved that name; it seemed to me that half the malevolent characters in the series were named Eric Stravos.
Vernon also played the mayor in the original 'Dirty Harry' flick but he will always be remembered as Dean Wormer in 'National Lampoon's Animal House.' Best line: "The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me."
I hope John didn't die with legs in straight up the air like the horse in Wormer's office. Rest In Peace.
Who's Sorry Now? Quote of the Century from Elton John: "I'm the Connie Francis of rock and roll."
Bad Pun of the Day: Scientists may come, and scientists may go, but Ampere's name will always be current.
Monday February 7, 2005
Really Small: The Nissan Micra is coming to the U.S. in 2006. (The March is sold in Great Britain as a Micra.) We rented a one for 10 days during a 1995 trip to merry 'ol England. The car was very small outside. Inside - roomier than you'd expect but still tight. (I felt very Zen - The Micra And I Are One. Ooooohmmmmm.) Ours had a 5-speed manual and 1.0 liter engine.
Driving it on the motorways at 80 mph amongst the lorries was kind-of scary but it averaged 56 (U.S.) mpg. (hat tip - AutoBlog)
Mercury Rising? The content of this article in the Detroit Free Press is difficult to believe: "The 2005 midsize Mercury Montego is in short supply without offering rebates, and more than 40 percent of its buyers traded in a non-Ford product, mostly Japanese imports." Lincoln-Mercury President Darryl Hazel said, "It's a car people want, not a car we have to work hard to sell." Jim Padilla, president and COO of Ford said, "Mercury gives Lincoln reason to exist."
Huh?! People lining up to buy a Mercury? Where? Ford's own figures show Mercury sales down 10.3% for December (Lincoln sales are off by 15.1%). During that month, less than 3,000 Montegos were sold compared with over 14,000 Ford Five Hundred siblings.
The Free Press also reported that Lincoln "is considering replacing its rear-wheel-drive Town Car and LS sedans with derivatives of Montego in 2008-09." Pathetic.
Bye-Bye Bonneville: General Motors has eliminated the Bonneville, blaming falling sales and shifts in consumer tastes for dropping the large Pontiac sedan. In the early 1950s, Pontiac had a reputation as an old man's car.
In 1956, Bunkie Knudsen became Pontiac's general manager and took drastic steps to revamp its image. In 1957, Bunkie introduced the first Bonneville - a flashy, limited-production, 310 horsepower, fuel-injected convertible. For the '59 model year, Bonneville became the designation for top-of-the-line Pontiac models, displacing the old Star Chief.
Those Bonnevilles attracted a much younger audience and are sought after today by collectors, unlike the geezerish, hacking 1951 Pontiac Phlegm:
Killing The Hobby Market: For over half a century, kits have been sold that enable military history buffs to assemble scale models of military ships, aircraft and vehicles. But that era is coming to an end, as the manufacturers of the original equipment, especially aircraft, are demanding high royalties (up to $40 per kit) from the kit makers.
Since most of these kits sell in small quantities (10-20,000) and are priced at $15-30, tacking on the royalty prices the kit out of the market. The same issues are bedeviling the model automobile and model train markets, too.
Best Super Bowl Commercials: Anheuser-Busch's salute to America's troops, P. Diddy and Pepsi truck, Toyota Prius, Verizon "Can you hear me now" monkeys, frozen Mustang convertible and the "I work for monkeys" jobseeker.
Wine Report: On Saturday, we cooked filets and chicken on the grill. In the rain and the dark. But who-the-hell cares when there is vino.
I selected a bottle of a very fine wine - Franciscan Oakville Estate Merlot 2001, a very flavorful vintage with a dense, fruity flavor with a hint of wood - and a wonderful finish. Magnificent. I gotta get more of this nectar (on our next trip to Costco).
We also had baked stuffed potatoes and Béarnaise sauce. Positively decadent! And much less costly than last week's über-expensive dining experience at the El Gaucho Steakhouse in Portland - which my wife has rechristened El Gouge-o.
New Addition: I've added Musings of a Fat Kid to my reading list. Anyone who explains the Vice President's recent "wardrobe malfunction" by claiming that someone told Dick Cheney it was casual Friday at Auschwitz deserves a listing. The Kids also give five hilarious reasons why sometimes-Catholic, sometimes-Republican, always-gay Andrew Sullivan has retired from blogging. Kid's blog promises "liberal bashing, some sneering satire, random motorcycle related posts and some crackpot economic analysis."
Bad Pun of the Day: A Zen Master walked up to a hot-dog seller, and says: "Make me one with everything."
Friday February 4, 2005
Just Like Ruffles Potato Chips: The 2006 Honda Ridgeline pickup truck has a "vortex generator" on top of the side mirrors - little plastic ridges molded on top. As the air flows across the mirror, the ridges help to redirect the flow away from the windows. The ridges help to hold down wind noise and keep the cabin quieter.
"We were playing around in the wind tunnel and put some clay on the tops of the mirrors to see what would happen," an engineer explained. "The ridges help to hold down wind noise and keep the cabin quieter."
Super Jaguar: Paul & Anita Lienert tested the costly Jaguar Super V8 for the Detroit News and found quality issues: "Here we had a $90,000 car and we couldn't get the fuel filler door to open - and the thermometer was barely below freezing. I'd hate to take this Jag to Minneapolis in February, if that's the case. We also had some trouble with a balky shoulder belt that didn't want to retract. I wouldn't normally gripe about such seemingly small issues, but you expect a premium car in this price class to be nearly perfect - even if it is British."
Paul concluded that "there are some well-established premium players in this sector - including such highly regarded brands as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Until it licks those quality issues and sweats the design and engineering details a little more, Jaguar comes up just a little short of the class leaders."
Smart Design: Have you seen the new, more-fuel-efficient replacement for the Humvee? Designed by engineers at U.C. Berkeley. (Thanks, Larry)
Social Insecurity: People have been predicting the demise of Social Security since I was in my 20s. This year, I'll be eligible to collect early benefits. I'm surprised and delighted that Social Security has survived. Over the years, it has been kept alive with band-aids and Congressional emergency room treatment.
But it needs a permanent fix - one that recognizes the realities of 2005, rather than those of 1935. In an age where self-directed retirement plans are replacing defined benefit plans, it is time to update, redefine and revitalize Social Security. In his State of the Union Address, President Bush said, " ... we have to move ahead with courage and honesty, because our retirement security is more important than partisan politics."
We must make sure that partisan politics and special interest groups don't derail the overhaul. James Lileks commented on the SOTU speech: "I thought the Social Security section was strong, but whether it built up a head of steam to blast through the headwinds to come I can't say. If the AARP puts out ads showing the spats-clad Monopoly man yanking checks from the hands of seniors and lighting rotund cheroots, what was said last night will make little difference."
Restaurant 101: If you run a restaurant, you need recipes. Some restaurants pay food developers for them; others come up with their own. But successful recipes are precious and must be treated as a valuable asset.
CJ's Grill opened in August 2004 in Battle Ground (see 8/23/04 posting). We liked it. And went back again and again. In November, we dined there and the food was awful. We vowed to never return. But someone gave us gift certificates as Christmas presents. So, we returned last week.
The dining room was empty when we arrived. The waiter confessed that the chef quit in October and took all the recipes with him. (Didn't anyone keep copies?) A new chef was brought in who changed everything (and not in a good way, either). The waiter said that many customers stopped coming by and several waitpeople quit.
The kitchen staff has now been replaced and our meal was very good - back to CJ's pre-November standards. I hope they make recipe copies this time.
Bad Pun of the Day: After the silver prospector told his secrets, he found it was a real lode off his mine.
Thursday February 3, 2005
Car Literature: There are no 2005 Toyota Avalons on dealer lots yet. (We had to go to the Portland Auto Show to see one.) Nevertheless, all local Toyota dealers had literature to provide and specifications to discuss. The Buick LaCrosse has been in showrooms for months. But dealers had no literature to offer. "We're still waiting for it from GM," one admitted. Another shrugged his shoulders in a wadda-ya-expect kind-of way and said "It's too new."
Meanwhile, General Motors wrings its corporate hands and can't understand why people buy Toyotas. If GM can't get its act together enough to print a brochure in time, how would it respond if suspension widget failures caused a major LaCrosse recall? How long would the new family Buick remain up on blocks, awaiting parts from this sluggish, indifferent automotive behemoth?
Maybe GM simply hands out 1998 Regal brochures to Buick prospects, figuring that those Mr. Magoo 70 year-old eyes can't tell the difference.
(In all fairness, I must disclose that a rare LaCrosse brochure - requested directly from Buick on its website - arrived in today's mail - after I finished writing this piece. But dealers still don't have any!)
Millionaire Mug: A schoolteacher in California has become an instant multimillionaire after recognizing his face on a jar of Nescafé.
Fun With Spell Check: Mine wants to change 'Toyota' to 'Tattoos' and 'Nescafé' to 'Nosedive'!
Unpleasant Surprise: A man who was expecting to find his recently deceased father's belongings in a plastic bag sent from a funeral home instead made a more gruesome discovery: a human leg.
Bad Pun of the Day: When a clock is hungry, does it go back four seconds?
Wednesday February 2, 2005
Technology Bites Back: Michelle Krebs of Global Auto Systems hosted a party for fellow automotive journalists: "One by one, we told tales of having mechanical problems with these press vehicles, which presumably are pampered and gone over with a fine-toothed comb before they are delivered to us critics. It was more mechanical problems than I can ever remember hearing about. And it covered every brand from every region of the world - United States, Germany, Japan - and every price range - from entry level to expensive luxury cars."
The Death of Mules: This is a pretty amazing story to me. Software capability is advancing so rapidly that the time-honored practice of building prototype vehicles - "mules" in auto industry jargon - to test safety equipment, manufacturing tools, and aerodynamics is fading fast.
One in three vehicles on the market today is designed with minimal use of prototypes. And in five years, the number will be closer to two-thirds.
And, in developing the 2005 Avalon, Toyota used no prototypes at all.
Senseless Hybrids? Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said (in an address to the National Automobile Dealers Association) that building fuel-sipping hybrid vehicles makes little sense in today's world because of their high costs.
"They make a nice story, but they're not a good business story yet because the value is lower than their costs." He also poured cold water on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: "The cost to build one fuel cell car is about $800,000. Do the math and you figure out that we will have to reduce the cost of that car by more than 95 percent in order to gain widespread marketplace acceptance."
I have often felt that hybrid cars are some kind of dead-end transitional technology. Like fax machines. (We are becoming a paperless society - e-mail, JPEGs and FTPs have rendered fax machines unnecessary for transmitting text and graphics - and no one ever developed the technology to fax a hot, ready-to-eat pizza.)
I think future cars will not be diesel, hybrid or hydrogen. I think we will use internal combustion engines with improved efficiency via deactivated cylinders, improved transmission systems and other technology.
Ten years from now, most cars will still use gasoline or a ethanol/gasoline mix.
Bad Pun of the Day: A French restaurant had five dishwashing basins. They were known as the kitchen cinq.
Tuesday February 1, 2005
Big Bucks: A 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 two-seater concept car (from GM's Motorama) fetched $3,240,000 at the Barrett-Jackson auction. (hat tip - AutoBlog) We saw and photographed the F-88 at the 2003 Forest Grove Concours in Oregon. At the time, it was owned by a private party in Seattle.
If this relatively-minor star in the Motorama galaxy brought this kind of money, one has to wonder what a more famous Motorama dream car, such as the Firebird III, Buick Y-Job or GM LeSabre, would fetch at action.
Keep Drivin' Your V8: Oil prices will hover around $30 per barrel for the next century or so according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. (hat tip: Econopundit)
"Help!!! My Car's Been Squirrel-Jacked!" Lawrence Chomstein writes: "I watched in horror as an Explorer ran a stop sign and t-boned a Mini-Cooper. The Cooper launched about 30 feet into the air, bounced off a couple of pine trees, rolled down an embankment, and was carried off by squirrels. All 100 clowns inside perished. Meanwhile, the driver of the SUV stood up on the road, laughing his ass off."
Read Larry's hilarious and inventive (I hope) bio here.
Bad Pun of the Day: James Bond once slept right through an earthquake. He was shaken; not stirred.