Thursday March 31, 2005
Big Rig: A 7-year-old Alabama lad, who apparently wanted to go play with friends, drove off in his father's truck, eventually running it into a ditch before police officers managed to coax him out of the vehicle. It wasn't a little compact truck, either; it was a duallie.
Personal Vehicle Statistics: Percent of domestic brand vehicles in our extended family (self, wife, kids), excluding collector cars: 1985 - 66%, 1995 - 60%, 2005 - 0%. Are many other families experiencing similar trends? If so, no wonder Detroit is in trouble.
Domestic nameplates we've abandoned: Ford, Lincoln, Oldsmobile and Saturn. Present brands driven: Honda, Hyundai, Geo (we consider this Toyota-clone a 'furrin' car), Jaguar and Toyota.
Blame Th' Gummint: Auto writer Gary Witzenburg blames Detroit's woes on everyone else, especially the U. S. government: "... your (mostly union) wages and multiple layers of taxes (federal, state, and local) are many times higher, and your regulatory burden (federal, state, and local) is far tougher and more expensive. They, like other off-shore competitors, don't shoulder the extreme cost of providing healthcare for their employees, retirees, and families, don't have to deal (at least in their home countries) with America's out-of-control legal costs and don't have many, if any, retirees on pension here or at home."
And: "The three most important areas where our federal government must act immediately are: 1) reducing the cost of healthcare, which has been inflating 12-15 percent a year, 2) putting a stop to unfair currency manipulation by Asian governments, especially Japan, and 3) continuing work on tort reform, where recent class-action reforms are a very good start."
This article is Full-O-Crap on so many levels, I'm not sure where to begin. Well, let's start with taxes and regulatory burdens. Such things don't seem to bother Toyota, Honda, Nissan or Subaru (aka - 'them'). 'They' already have plants in the US and are building more.
Unions - well, it's easy to blame them (Honda and Toyota are mostly non-union) but the NUMMI GM-Toyota joint venture plant in California has been operating with UAW workers for 20 years - building high quality cars at competitive prices. And, apparently, making a profit. Saturn was supposed to be GM's model for labor-management collaboration (and, initially, things went very well) but - after GM choked off product development money for the brand - sales tanked, the key productivity bonus program fell apart and the workers seem to have fallen back into the conventional UAW mode.
That Asian "currency manipulation" conspiracy bugaboo doesn't apply to Asian cars made in North America - and there are lots produced here these days.
Then there's the health care issue. Every major US company I know of is addressing the problem by putting more of the burden on the employees. And letting the employees choose their own level of coverage. Or just saying "no." The Fortune 500 company where I used to work now - I left the corporate world in 1978 - offers no paid health coverage to new hires. Companies cynically (but correctly) figure that, when employees have to shell out their own hard-earned, post-tax dollars for health services, they'll be more pro-active in demanding reforms. And better value.
The sad fact is that, in the face of intractable union demands, most car companies are outsourcing more and more of their "domestic" production to Mexico, Asia or to small, non-union component suppliers. Expect this trend to continue until UAW workers wise up and realize that they're screwing themselves out of jobs. (Just like unions employees did at the airlines. And steel mills.)
"Out-of-control legal costs" affect every firm that has physical assets of any sort in the U.S.; including every car company who sells automobiles in the U.S. Tort reform will never happen until voters make this issue a "litmus test" for candidates. And stop voting for candidates who accept campaign contributions from special interest groups representing Lawsuit Factories. I'll be pleasantly surprised when this happens. I'll also probably be dead by then.
In conclusion, I think Gary Witzenburg's article is all wet.
I-Hate-2-Wait! Electronics giant Toshiba has developed a new lithium-ion battery which can be recharged in one minute. But will it recharge it faster if you put it in a microwave?
Quote of the Day is from Thomas Sowell: "It is fascinating to hear teachers say that having to "teach to the test" reduces their ability to engage in good teaching. What they call "good teaching" is the very reason our students do so badly in international comparisons and why colleges have to have large numbers of remedial courses to teach students what they didn't learn in school."
Bad Pun of the Day: He wanted to learn how to make ice-cream, so he started attending sundae school.
Wednesday March 30, 2005
Someone Else's Turn In The Barrel: The mainstream press seem able to pick on only one car company at a time. After several months of Ford-bashing, they're now claiming it's GM that does nothing right.
To be sure, Ford has a big hit with the Mustang and the GT-500 version sure looks (and sounds) like a winner. But the forthcoming Pontiac Solstice seems promising as do the new Saturn models.
Of course, the Ford 500, Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Cobalt are being panned by many. Jerry Flint opines: "I don't believe anything, victory or failure, is preordained in the auto industry. Nissan and American Chrysler wheeled from defeat to victory in just a few years."
No Hydrogen For You! Jerry Flint predicts: "I don't believe we'll see mass production of hydrogen-powered cars anytime in the next two decades, if ever." I agree - see my post of February 2nd, when I wrote: "Ten years from now, most cars will still use gasoline or a ethanol/gasoline mix." Nissan head Carlos Ghosn has said the same thing.
Darwin Award Nominee: An Elgin, Illinois police officer had to forcibly remove a woman from her car as a speeding freight train barreled toward the vehicle, which straddled the railroad tracks.
The belligerent and allegedly intoxicated driver was chatting on her cell phone.
A Fool And His Money ... From the LA Times: "Chris Boome, an insurance agent in the suburb of Burlingame, doesn't want to work the rest of his life. Who does? But at 58, Boome knows he hasn't saved enough to retire. So a few weeks ago, he revamped his retirement accounts. He sold most of the mutual fund shares and used the cash to buy an $83,500 chunk of land in the Nevada hills, a stretch of ground he had seen only in a photograph."
Shouldn't an insurance agent know better? And if, at age 58, you only have $83,500 in retirement savings, aren't you an idiot? And doesn't putting it all into speculative raw land make you an even bigger frickin' idiot? An idiot at 58; a pauper at 65.
Remember the Tsunami? So do corrupt officials. More here.
National Atheist Convention drew only a little over 100 people in Philadelphia last weekend. I guess the agnostics couldn't decide whether or not to attend.
Apt Description: Jim Geraghty describes curling as "that bizarre Canadian sport that's like a combination of bowling, horseshoes and housework on ice."
They're Here! The "new" quarters are now in circulation. Have a look! And a laugh!
Bad Pun of the Day: Buffalo, NY became a city in 1832. In 2032, when the city is 200 years old, the Buffalo will celebrate its Bison-tennial.
Tuesday March 29, 2005
"Lumbering Toward Failure" is the title of an interesting Washington Post article about the state of the Big Three auto industry. Money quote: "As George Stalk of the Boston Consulting Group sees it, the Big Three today are in roughly the same pickle as the integrated steel mills back in the early 1980s, or the full-service airlines around 1990: Their choice, he says, is either to make radical changes in their business model and cost structures or suffer a long, slow death."
GM Woes (Part 32 or so?): Lots of auto pros, writers, enthusiasts and bloggers are opining about General Motors. Jerry Flint wrote a thought-provoking article in Forbes: "What critics don't understand is that the best thing GM has is its dealer force. You kill the dealers if you kill such well-entrenched nameplates as Pontiac and Buick, and you kill GM. It's that's simple."
I Bet PETA is Pissed! A cow pelt-covered Smart Car.
Cool Idea? Or Creepy? You Decide. A young motorcycle enthusiast's obituary in last week's Columbian (Vancouver, WA newspaper) states that "his final wish was to be cremated and painted on a motorcycle so he could ride forever. ... we will be handing out containers of black or clear auto paint mixed with his ashes at the Aero Club in Hazel Dell."
The Glaze Is Off The Donut: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. averted defaulting on a $150 million credit facility after its lenders agreed to give the struggling company more time to file its long-delayed financial statements.
Economic Blast: As a result of last week's Texas City refinery explosion, the price of crude may actually drop. Tim Worstall explains. (hat tip - Econopundit)
Your Tax Dollars At Work: Make that 'Waste.' "An $80 million federal grant program to distribute gun locks free for the protection of children appears to have pivoted off course since they're being used by farmers to keep their gates locked."
Rat Cheese: My grandson had a celebrated his eighth birthday at Chuck E. Cheese last week. We attended, of course. I hope I never have to explain to some poor Third-World soul that, in America, we are so wealthy that we dine with giant rats. The CEC we went to (Vancouver, WA) was surprisingly clean, well-lit and featured polite, efficient staff and tidy restrooms. (We've been to a couple of other locations and found them dark and dumpy.)
The grandson even got his picture taken with the Namesake Varmint Itself. The robotic version of CEC was an animatronic hip-hopper (in one appearance) which was a little disconcerting. We had a good time but between the kids, the noise and the blissful chaos, I could never seek employment at such an establishment. I would become a zombie in about three working days, changing my mantra from "May I help you." to "Please kill me."
I gave my grandson a 1:43 scale model of a '41 Plymouth pickup truck (it has a front end similar to my '39 coupe) to put on his O-gauge train layout. I think he liked it.
Bad Pun of the Day: The grave of Karl Marx is just another Communist plot.
Monday March 28, 2005
U R What U Drive: Matthew Lesko - the odd dude in the flashy question-mark suit seen in countless television infomercials about how you can get free money from government programs - drives a early 1990s Acura Legend. In bright yellow, speckled with black polka dots and fitted with a Kerry bumper sticker.
What Happens When They Become Pretty, Too? Jerry Flint wonders what happens when Japan catches up to Detroit in design. He thinks we're about to find out and cites the Toyota Avalon, Lexus GS, Nissan M45 and other models as examples: "Take a look at the coming FJ Cruiser. With that wide front it's what the new Hummer H3 should look like but doesn't. ... Detroit can't afford to get by on boring me-too designs anymore. Look at the new models from General Motors: the Chevy Cobalt, the Buick LaCrosse, the Cadillac STS. These new cars are much better than the ones they replaced, but there's not a head-turner in the bunch."
Dead Kitty? The Car Connection reports that the Jaguar X-Type will be allowed to die and not be replaced. The car, built off Ford Mondeo platform, was offered in TCC's words as a "budget Jag." And that's the problem - there is no "budget" Louis Vuitton luggage, no "budget" Coach Leather and no "budget" Gstaad on $30 per day. Nor should there be. "Budget" luxury cheapens, demeans and undermines a brand. Jaguar X-Type sales were a disappointing 21,500 last year in the U.S. It's on track to sell just 12,000 this year in the U.S. despite upgrades. I recommended killing off this model back in early January. Maybe Jaguar execs are reading my stuff!
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. plans to pump almost a billion dollars into Jaguar according to the London's Sunday Times newspaper.
Insider Insight: Check out The Auto Prophet - a new blog written by a product development engineer employed by a major auto manufacturer in Detroit. It's off to a good start.
Smashing! Cheeky! A new Wallace and Grommit feature-length film, 'The Curse of the Wererabbit', will open in October, 2005. The pair will be driving an ancient Austin A35 van in the movie and Corgi will be offering a diecast version of it. The license plate reads 'HOP2IT'. Characters include Lady Tottington, Lord Victor Quatermaine and PC McIntosh.
I Hope Someone Treated Him To A Cheesesteak: A young man loading baggage into an Midwest Airlines plane in Milwaukee got locked in a cargo hold and took an unexpected trip to Philadelphia. He was in the process of securing a passenger's wheelchair when the door was closed on him.
Arrrgh! No Velcro: Barney Martin, the veteran character actor found fame late in life as Jerry Seinfeld's dad has died at 82. His character hated velcro and, when traveling, carried a brick in his suitcase as part of his exercise "program."
Morty Seinfeld was the Florida retiree who schemed with Kramer to sell the Morty-invented, belt-less raincoat (The Executive) and launched an ill-fated run for chairman of his Boca Raton condominium board.
Morty's curriculum vitae, joyously proclaimed for all within earshot, was: "I spent 30 years in the Garment District. And I cut cloth with the best of 'em." Martin also played Liza Minnelli's loser dad in 'Arthur.' Rest In Peace, Barney.
Bad Pun of the Day: Do bakers with a sense of humor bake wry bread?
Friday March 25, 2005
It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time. The Pontiac G6 got no sales bump from all the publicity on the Oprah show. I'm surprised; I thought it was a clever idea. Many local television stations provided additional coverage and publicity when the cars were delivered to local residents. But GM has dramatically ramped up rebates on the G6 just to get it selling at modest levels.
The automaker offered more than $3,600 in incentives on it last month, and it sold less than half of what the old Grand Am (the G6's predecessor) was averaging per month. It would be interesting (and useful) to survey post-Oprah showroom visitors to see why they didn't buy a G6 and what they did buy instead. And why.
Meanwhile, Toyota expects slower sales gains in North America this year because of limited factory capacity. A spokesman said, "Our North American plants right now are running flat out, all running overtime. Our growth this year, if anything, will be limited by constrained supply."
Too Many For Too Few: Peter DeLorenzo of AutoExtremist discusses the myriad of problems at General Motors, pointing out that the shrinking giant "has too many models, too many divisions, too many nameplates and too many dealers." Dave Leggett at JustAuto notes that "there appears to be a direct correlation between the number of brands and a lack of group profitability. Among the major eleven carmaking groups studied GM has the most number of brands (15) and is second bottom - the wooden spoon goes to Fiat - in terms of operating margin."
Allow me to reinforce Peter's statement: Within 30 miles of my home, there are four Toyota dealers. There are seven Buick and seven Pontiac stores. 'Nuff said.
Brand Death? Bob Lutz told a Morgan Stanley automotive conference in New York that Buick and Pontiac are both "damaged brands" due to lack of investment over the years, and GM is working to correct that with an array of new vehicles coming to market. But if some of its brands fail to meet sales projections, "then we would have to take a look at a phase-out. I hope we don't have to do that."
Conversation: "Hey, we don't like your unsafe cars and we're gonna sue." "Fine. Then we'll refuse to sell you any more of our cars."
"Oh no! Don't do that! I guess your stuff's not so bad after all. Sell us, please. Pretty please?"
Personal observation - around here, every police car is a Crown Vicky.
Death And Suffering: As I write this, it now appears that Terri Schiavo will die soon. There has been much blogosphere debate about the inhumanity of the starvation process. I would expect that Terri's condition is being supervised and pain medication will be given if/when there are any signs of pain or discomfort.
Compare this to the awful deaths at the recent BP oil refinery explosion in Texas that killed 15 - they probably died horribly - and injured more than 100 people (70 workers in the plant and 30 people in nearby areas). I'm sure the number of injured exceeded the number of available ambulances, so some of those poor folks suffered painfully before they could be treated. Last year, OSHA fined the same refinery nearly $110,000 after two employees were burned to death by superheated water. Scalded to death - horribly painful, I'm sure.
Death is almost never the made-for-television-movie version with the lucid, calm, pain-free, well-groomed patriarch/matriarch (surrounded by family and soft music) whispering a last goodbye as the camera pulls back, pans towards the window and sky and the scene slowly fades to black. Real-world death is no fun. But, in Terri's case, I would hope that medical professionals will do their best to keep her comfortable in her last hours. Pray for Terri. But pray for the folks in Texas City, too.
New Seat On Throne: The British government has revealed that, when Charles becomes King, his wife, Camilla will automatically become Queen of England. I'm puzzled. Doesn't Elton John have to abdicate first?
Banal Romance Novels: Cleverly retitled by graphic designer Mark Longmire. Hilarious!
Bad Pun of the Day: Sign at a nudist camp: 'Sorry - Clothed for Winter.'
Happy Easter: If you need a web fix over the weekend, stop by James Lilek's Sunday Backfence. He promises "an all-new Easter column that's hollow and delicious. Bite the ears off first."
Thursday March 24, 2005
Suddenly It's 1975 ... and all cars are designed using T-squares. Presenting the "new" 2006 Jeep Commander. AutoBlog claims it's the ugliest vehicle since the Pontiac Aztek.
Suddenly It's 1940 ... and fat fenders are back. And look cool on this little Nissan Scion-fighter concept.
Asian Influence: Michelle Krebs thinks the three best-looking cars at Geneva were Japanese - the Honda Civic, the Lexus IS, and the Mazda MX-5. She writes: "Now that the Japanese are “getting it” in styling and adding this to their already top-notch quality and reliability, the Americans and Europeans are - or should be - nervous. The Europeans are struggling on two fronts: styling and quality/reliability. Mercedes-Benz, in particular, has plummeted in the quality ratings because of electronic glitches in its high-tech features. Many of the European marques that once led worldwide automotive design are struggling with styling as they reinvent themselves. Volkswagen unveiled the new Passat at the Geneva show; it had premiered the Jetta earlier. Both have grown larger in size - and more mainstream in design. The Jetta had always been the very German alternative to Japanese small cars. It now copies styling cues of the Toyota Corolla and the Acura TSX."
Thoughts While Washing A Car: I gave our new Toyota Avalon its first bath this week.
I've always felt that you cannot know a car until you've gotten up-close-and-personal and washed it. Some observations:
1. It is very slab sided - no door protector strips to break the visual line of height. That's why it looks taller than it is. We're having the sides custom-pinstriped later this month to reduce the visual blockiness of the side view. Nothing wild. Our experienced pinstriper gave us sage advice, "Start with something fairly simple. You can always add more later, if you want."
2. The car is tall. The Avalon's height is about the same as its 1996 Lincoln predecessor. But the Continental had a curved roof that dropped gently toward each side of the car. The Avalon has a fairly flat roof (similar to my daughter's Honda CR-V) - that's probably why the headroom is better than the Continental. But it makes the middle of the roof harder to reach.
3. The glass area is big - the front windshield and rear window each have a lot of surface area. The side windows are normal in size although they appear small visually because of the large vertical expanse of doors.
4. The hood has creases which blend into the style of the front end. I didn't notice this until I started soaping it up. It's a nice, subtle effect but easy to miss.
5. The taillights are jewels. I first noticed this phenomenon with Lexus models. Viewing a clean example on a sunny day, Lexus' taillights sparkled so much that they made other cars' taillights seem dull by comparison. Then I noticed that some of the newer Toyotas have the same kind of taillights, including our Avalon. Looking closely, I've figured out how they achieve this effect.
The exterior taillight is molded in red transparent plastic with no lensic finish. It has highly-polished (I'd guess to a 2-3 micron level) flat first and second surfaces, except for the reflex area (reflectors are required by DOT/SAE regulations and must be red). The necessary optical lenses are molded into an inner clear taillight. That way the red outer light can really 'sparkle' as light bounces back from both the flat exterior first surface and the flat interior second surface.
This is not a totally new idea - the 1956-57 Continental Mark II's taillights were similarly constructed but didn't produce a jewel-like appearance because (a) the molds were not as highly polished (likely an 8-10 micron finish) as those used by Toyota/Lexus and (b) the molded acrylic's red tint was darker and, therefore, less transparent than the plastic used by Toyota and Lexus for today's cars.
The overall 'jewel' effect is stunning; the approach very clever and, I think, typical of Toyota's attention to little details.
Bad Pun of the Day: An X-ray specialist married one of his patients. Everyone wondered what he saw in her.
Wednesday March 23, 2005
Making An Exit: Regarding the death of John Z. DeLorean, one of my car buddies wrote that he and his wife stopped by the DeLorean exhibit at the Chicago Auto Show the year the gullwinged car debuted. He reports that his wife "had trouble with the ingress/egress, since she was in heels, short dress and a hairdo high up on her head. While she handled the ingress with a degree of grace, her exit was less than graceful! I can still remember her embarrassment."
I pointed out to my friend that ol' John Z. is being buried rather than cremated and that a casket has a kind-of gullwing door - fitting somehow, isn't it? And, if you think egress is problematic on a DeLorean, try climbing out of a casket!
Another Avalon Review: Jim Mateja of the Chicago Tribune gave the car generally positive comments, noting that "in back, the limo-like leg, head and arm room puts some large luxury cars to shame. Those who developed the snug rear cabin in the Cadillac STS sedan should check out Avalon. You could wear snowshoes and still not strike the backs of those front seats. And the rear seat backs recline for more relaxed long-distance travel."
He begins his review with an attention-getting sentence: "Finally, a car that should take sales away from the Toyota Camry, the industry's top-selling car since 2002: The 2005 Toyota Avalon."
Three-plus weeks after taking delivery, we still haven't found any flaws, problems or dislikes with our new Avalon Limited.
Posted Without Comment: Tuesday's Columbian newspaper carried the obituary of a 56 year-old woman. Twenty-eight years ago, she was in a car accident and spent the second half of her life being fed by a tube. The family wrote that "she could see and understand, laugh and cry."
The woman is survived by her mother, two grown children and several grandchildren.
Living Will: Bill Hobbs writes: "Here is what I would like to see happen in the aftermath of this sad, tragic, horrible case: I would like to see Congress pass, and the President sign, a law that says if any person who has no living will comes to be in a position where a living will would be helpful, any decision in a squabble or dispute over her care must err on the side of maintaining life, and hearsay evidence such as that offered by Michael Schiavo would not be admissable. Only a signed, notarized, multiple-witnessed living will giving clear and incontrovertible wishes of the patient could move the decision in a different direction. And I would like to see Congress pass and the President sign a second law - call it the Terri Schiavo Living Will Act of 2005 - that would require all Americans age 18 and up have a signed, notarized, legal living will, and update it every five years. The law also would require courts, doctors and families to follow the directives of a patient's living will without deviation." A very good idea.
My wife and I already have living wills with directives but, after hearing all the debate over whether a starving comotose person suffers, I have given her additional verbal instructions: "Before pulling my feeding tube, use a funnel to pour in four bottles of Two Buck Chuck Merlot and a quart of NyQuill."
The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: In the U.K., God is being edited out of religious education lessons in schools for fear that His presence might bore children. A study at Exeter University found that biblical accounts of the Good Samaritan, David and Goliath and Joseph were taught as ethical stories, with no reference to God, in increasingly secular classes on religion.
Teachers said that they were reluctant to introduce theology because they did not believe in God or feared that constant references to Him would put off children or be seen as indoctrination.
Ooooohhhhhkaaaay: Bob Dylan has finally given permission to a Hollywood studio to make a film about his life.
He will be portrayed by seven actors - one of them a black woman.
The movie's director, confirmed that he was searching for a woman who could do justice to the short, white Jewish singer's "inner blackness."
Bob Dylan's success is a mystery to me. He is an ugly, pretentious man with an adenoidal frog's voice, singing trite lyrics unintelligibly.
Demonic Tortoise? A central Indiana pet shop owner says a turtle that was the only animal to survive an October fire has developed an image of Satan's face on its shell.
Bad Pun of the Day: Sign in an Egyptian funeral parlor: "Satisfaction guaranteed or your mummy back."
Tuesday March 22, 2005
Out Of The Car Biz: Two well-known manufacturers of high-quality scale model cars have recently ceased operations. Durham Classics Automotive Miniatures, a Canadian manufacturer of handbuilt 1:43 scale models of 1930s-50s era American cars has ceased operations. Durham Classics models sold new for $120-$150 each, although obsolete and special editions may sell for a lot more.
Madison Models and Conquest Models - pricey ($250-350 each) 1:43 handbuilts sold by a Holland firm - are also no longer being made. Conquest and Madison offered models of American cars from the 1940s through early '60s and subcontracted manufacturing to a British firm, SMTS.
I found out about these closures in a newsletter from Sinclair's Auto Miniatures. Dave Sinclair's firm is the oldest mail-order model retailer in the U.S. Dave has been in business since the early 1960s (I placed my first order with him in 1971.) and has seen a lot of model manufacturers come and go.
The problem is that the target customers for these car models have passed their peak earning years and are not adding much to their collections. Many are retired and downsizing their homes and their collections of model cars (and full-size cars). The recent influx of a wide variety of mass-produced, well-made classic American diecast 1:43 models from China at retail prices of $5 to $15 hasn't helped either.
This declining market segment (caused by potential buyers getting older) became apparent to me when I read in last week's AutoWeek that a 'perfect' 1941 Lincoln Zephyr convertible at the Barrett-Jackson auction pulled only $62,000 (after a six-year, $90,000 restoration).
Twenty years ago, such a car would have commanded about the same price, so - in real dollars - the price trend is downhill. 1955-57 two-seater Thunderbirds, '55 Chevys, '40 Fords and other cars once lusted after by people my age seem to be following the same pattern.
Meanwhile, at the same auction, a '68 Chevy Camaro went for over $74,000. And a Plymouth Barracuda Trans-Am race car, once driven by Dan Gurney, sold for $360,000. For a Plymouth?! Maybe I can convince Dan to drive my old Plymouth around the block a few times.
New Hybrid: At the New York Auto Show, Lexus will unveil the all-new GS450h high-performance hybrid luxury sedan, the first rear-wheel drive hybrid ever offered. Lexus claims that "the Super Ultra Low Emissions-rated GS450h will provide an unparalleled combination of high performance, luxury-refinement and unexpected fuel efficiency."
No Development Money: General Motors Corp. has killed plans for a new line of rear-wheel drive passenger cars slated to reach North American showrooms in 2008, in large part to free up resources to bring its next generation of large pickups and sport utility vehicles to market quicker. The automaker is under severe pressure to streamline after announcing that its 2005 earnings would fall as much as 80 percent below previous estimates.
One has to question the wisdom of this decision in the face of data indicating that the large SUV market has peaked and is dropping, while sedans and crossovers are gaining popularity. (The Wall Street Journal says demand for truck-based SUVs is down 18 percent, while car-based SUV/crossovers is up 12 percent as gas prices start to soar. Chevy had 167 days' worth of Chevy Suburbans on hand at the end of last month, while Ford has 131 days inventory of big Ford Expeditions.) According to Forbes, GM is also planning to cut 28 percent of its 38,000 U.S. white collar employees.
Pray for Terri: I am infuriated that at the same time one Florida judge ordered the death of a comatose woman who has never committed a crime, another Florida family was in mourning after their 9 year-old little girl was murdered by a convicted sex offender.
This monster was free to roam about the community because other judges didn't order life imprisonment for this multiple-offense scumbag. Or death. Or castration. And, while these awful things are going on in Florida, on the Other Coast, the murderous Scott Peterson is munching on a breakfast of pancakes and sausage, compliments of the State of California. "Garcon! More maple syrup, please." (Hey, here's an idea - let's pull Scott's feeding tube and watch him starve!)
Phew! Now that I've gotten that out off my chest, I'll state that, if you're looking for answers on Mrs. Schiavo's tragic case, you won't find them here. The press has so distorted the story that it is difficult to know the truth.
Terri's parents seem sincere and have a far better on-camera presence than her husband, who manages to appear both cheesy and cold when the camera is on. He gave up on his wife years ago and is now shacking up with another woman who has borne two children with him. But, being a two-timer or near-bigamist is not a felony. And - as we all know - there is little correlation between on-camera persona and real life right-and-wrong. (O.J., Michael Jackson, etc.)
James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal notes that it is "unreasonable to let Mr. Schiavo have it both ways. If he wishes to assert his marital authority to do his wife in, the least society can expect in return is that he refrain from making a mockery of his marital obligations. The grimmest irony in this tragic case is that those who want Terri Schiavo dead are resting their argument on the fiction that her marriage is still alive."
The fact that the U.S. Congress was persuaded to jump in and try to save Terri's life is both noble and troubling. (Although, I confess that I contacted both of my senators last week urging them to act on Terri's behalf.) At Power Line, Hindrocket wrote: "I, personally, am not happy with the procedural aspects of this controversy. I don't like to see Congress intervening in what should be a matter for, at last resort, a state court. But this strikes me as the ultimate illustration of the ancient adage that hard cases make bad law. The facts here are appalling. So it is no surprise that Senators and Congressmen feel that if they have the power to prevent Mrs. Schiavo's death, they should use it."
Peter Nixon of the late, great Sursum Corda blog wrote a thoughtful essay about the Schiavo matter in October of 2003. His points are still very valid today - because the issue is as unresolved now as it was then. If you're interested in the case, I recommend that you read it.
It is a very sad situation and God only knows (literally) what the right course is. It gives me another reason to thank Him for His blessings, grateful that I'm not the parent or husband in this sorry quagmire.
I hope that God will eventually grant/has already granted Terri's soul eternal rest.
Farewell, Bobby: Cabaret singer Bobby Short, the tuxedoed embodiment of New York style and sophistication and a fixture at his piano in the Carlyle Hotel for more than 35 years, has died at age 80 of leukemia. (Many will remember him as the crooner in Revlon's 'Charlie' perfume commercials in the 1970s.)
My wife and I had the pleasure of experiencing one of Bobby's performances up-close during a trip to NYC in 1993. He was a gentleman and a class act. Requiescat In Pace.
Cool Idea: A bike tree.
Save Social Security - Pig Out: Obesity could help keep Social Security solvent because people will die younger. "One of the consequences of our prediction is that Social Security does not appear to be in nearly as bad a shape as we think," said study author S. Jay Olshansky. (Note: This is not a spoof from The Onion.)
That does it! I'm headed to Fatty Patty's in Battle Ground for a half-order of their famous Slop right now.
Bad Pun of the Day: There's a new disease found in soft butter. Apparently, it spreads very easily.
Monday March 21, 2005
Panned Jaguar: Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press is unimpressed by the Jaguar X-Type wagon. He gave it only two stars out of four, citing deficiencies in interior room, quality of materials and power, combined with a relatively high price.
DeLorean Dead: John Z. DeLorean, former GM executive who left General Motors to develop the stainless steel-skinned, gull-winged sports car bearing his name, has died at age 80 of complications from a recent stroke.
He declared bankruptcy in 1999 and died in relative obscurity.
Management Advice - Deceased Equine Strategies: Dakota Tribal Wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, the Harvard Business School (in a project underwritten by several well-known consulting groups, including Accenture, the Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte Global and BearingPoint, Inc. - formerly KPMG) offers alternate proposals .... (more >>>)
Friday March 18, 2005
Prophets Never Get Respect: AutoExtremist writes: "Detroit auto executives scoffed at Micheline Maynard's book, "The End of Detroit: How the Big Three Lost Their Grip on the American Car Market", which came out in the fall of 2003, as being mean-spirited and overtly pro-Toyota. ... It's clear now though that Ms. Maynard's book was much more prescient than anyone at the "Detroit Three" would care to admit."
Detroit never likes 'outsiders' (non-employees) who make predictions about the auto biz. Especially if they're not favorable predictions. I received a copy of Micheline's book for Christmas 2003 and e-mailed one of my car buddies a few days later: "This excellent book discusses all of the things you and I write to each other about - American cars are junk; Japanese cars are ultra-reliable, etc. Of course, the book goes into great depth about How This Came To Be. I found myself nodding in agreement as I turned the pages.
There is an interesting quote from Bob Lutz opining that the current-model Toyota Camry is "the ugliest vehicle on the road today." This from the vice-chairman of General Motors - a company which produces the hideous Pontiac Aztek! And its unappealing soulmate, the Saturn Vue SUV. And the boxy, über-butch Hummer H2. And the blocky, repulsive Cadillac CTS. And don't forget that Lutz was an executive at Chrysler in the 1980s when they were producing all those butt-ugly K-car variants.
I rather like the lines of the Camry. It has the traditional 'three box' sedan shape, not unlike the shape of the shoulder-carried palanquins in which royalty traveled in previous centuries. A very 'noble' shape."
Audi Advance: AutoExtremist describes Audi as: "a company, after all, that builds some of the most seductive cars in the market today as far as I'm concerned, but for a long list of reasons has never been able to "crack the code" in terms of image and desirability with consumers, in order to be considered on the same level with Lexus, BMW or Mercedes-Benz (some would even argue that GM's resurgent Cadillac division is challenging Audi in terms of image and desirability these days." And: "Audi has suffered from a persistent brand image problem almost from the moment they arrived in the U.S., and it's this "nearly great" status that seems to have doomed them to being a perennial second-tier player in the U.S. luxury market."
This is surprising to me as my observations indicate quite the opposite. I have never seen so many Audis on the road as I've seen in the last month. If the Portland market is any indication, Audi is quickly becoming a success.
Avalon Applause: Anita Lienert of The Detroit News tested the 2005 Toyota Avalon. She remarked that it "is so gorgeous inside and out that it looks like it belongs in the lineup of Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand." More nice words from Ms. Lienert: "The new Avalon signals the end of the not-so-flattering nickname, "Toyota's Buick." ... Avalon gets a powerful new engine for 2005 and one of the best rear seats in the business. And the sedan, which one buff book once derided as the "Ward Cleaver of sedans, synonymous with bland," gets a hefty dose of sex appeal, with such sporty features as Toyota's first dual-exhaust system and a new floor-mounted shifter."
Anita concludes: "My drives in the Avalon coincided with similar test drives in February of its principal domestic competitors, namely, the 2005 Buick LaCrosse and the 2005 Mercury Montego. The Avalon outshines the LaCrosse and the Montego in most respects ... Toyota executives aren't shy about describing the Avalon as a car for the "mature buyer." The good news is that they've shaved years off the car's image, and therefore your own, with the redesign and made it seem like the best buy in its class."
Freefall at GM: An article in the Detroit News outlines GM's troubles: "While U.S. car and truck demand is off 3.6 percent this year, GM's sales have dropped 10 percent. ... GM has also been forced to slash vehicle production 12 percent in the first quarter and about 10 percent in the second quarter." In the 1970s, GM's market share was almost 50%. By 1990, it had dropped to a little under 36%. By 2003, it was 28%. Now it's down to 25%. One auto analyst opined that GM's new products simply don't stack up to the competition: "They are doing the correct things, but Toyota is doing them better. When they come out with a product, they might be dynamite, but Toyota is ahead of them."
The Detroit Free Press notes: "GM sells more high-profit pickups and SUVs in the United States than any other automaker. But its models are aging; they face more competition, and more Americans are shifting to cars, wagons and crossover vehicles, now that they face higher gas prices and have more good vehicles to choose from. ... its aging SUVs, which accounted for a disproportionate share of GM's profits, are losing customers, despite growing incentives such as rebates and discount financing." Simply stated, GM is being pummeled by competitors with hotter brands. The Car Connection chimes in: "Making matters worse is the fact that about one-third of that share is to rental-car companies and "program" vehicles to employees, retirees, suppliers, and family members of all three groups - sales that bring in little if any real profit."
Meanwhile, Ford is increasing the 2005 Mustang production to 192,000 units, 80,000 more than 2004. They expect to sell 160,000 165,000 Mustangs in the U.S. for the 2005 calendar year with a sales increase of over 45 percent so far this year. I've written this so many times, I'm sure my regular blog visitors are tired of reading it: "If you make cool-looking, reliable vehicles, people will buy them."
Totally Amazing Stuff: The World At Night. For a look at a nice, peaceful planet, click here.
Return of the Mummy: CNN has renewed seemingly-mummified talk show host Larry King through 2009 - by then he'll be 612 years old. And he'll still have the same has-been guests on his show: Ed McMahon, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Art Linkletter, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Red Buttons, ad nauseam. All the people who make you say, "Hey, I thought he/she died five years ago."
Bad Pun of the Day: Old chemists never die ... they just stop reacting.
Thursday March 17, 2005 - Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Irish Business Lesson: You'll find it here.
The Complete History of Ireland: From The Onion.
Irish Joke of the Day: McQuillan walked into a bar and ordered martini after martini, each time removing the olives and placing them in a jar. Soon the jar was filled with olives and the Irishman got up to leave. Another patron - puzzled over the man's strange behavior - asked, "Lad, what have ye been doin' here?"
McQuillan replied. "My wife sent me out for a jar of olives."
Green Guidelines: From The Onion:
Bad Pun of the Day: A Dublin band leader was standing on aluminum platform when it was struck by lightning. He was completely unharmed but the music sounded awful. Said McGrath, who was sitting in the third row, "Sure and it confirms what I've always suspected - the lad's just not a good conductor."
Wednesday March 16, 2005
Me-Too Mercury: Over at Blue Oval News, Sajeev Mehta discusses the identity problems with the Mercury brand. Money quote: "If you sat in the new 280 hp Avalon at the auto show, one look inside told you that Toyota is serious about making a car to appeal to conservative buyers. It looks nothing like a Camry and feels like a high end luxury car. When the AWD Grand Marquis/Town Car replacement (with a Ford steering wheel, for sure) is up against the Avalon, it will have a tough battle appealing to anyone but the Ford loyalist living in the rust belt."
I agree. After 10 days of new Avalon ownership, my wife is enjoying it more every day. We continue to find delightful little features we didn't know about. And we're not missing the Lincoln it replaced. Our 2005 Avalon has more luxury touches than any Lincoln we've experienced.
Spring Break! I arrived home yesterday only to find my garage door wouldn't open. An inspection revealed a snapped torsion spring. This is the kind of Life Happens stuff that prevents most of us from living glamorous and productive lives like, Paris Hilton or Ted Kennedy. I bet Michael Jackson never had to worry about garage door springs. I can't imagine Sylvester Stalone standing on a ladder trying to troubleshoot a garage opener problem. But, alas, I have no personal assistant to handle such mundane chores for me. (Or, perhaps I should say I am my own personal assistant.) So I went to the phone book and found someone to come fix the ailing door. The repair guy replaced both springs and the molded plastic center bracket which snapped when the spring let loose. (The door opener is 25 years old and the manufacturer no longer makes parts for it. So, if anything else goes wrong, I'll have to buy a new opener.)
The repair guy also pointed out that the track on my wife's garage door was pulling away from the wall. I scrounged up six long screws (from my Fasteners-In-Jars Collection/Museum) and used them to re-anchor it. I also greased the tracks and wheels on her door. Something Sly, Paris, Teddy or Michael wouldn't have done. But the incident sucked up my entire afternoon which is why I didn't attend any of last night's parties mentioned in the New York Post's Page Six. Plus, I used my 'private jet fund' to pay for the garage door repair.
Requiescat In Pace: I just learned that the Kandy Kane Motel in Bellevue, Washington has closed its doors and I slightly mourn its passing. In the late 1970s, when my business was new and I was cash strapped, I used to stay at the there whenever I was in the east Seattle metro area. At $30 bucks a night, it was cheaper by half than anything else nearby. By staying there (next to the sewage plant - I used to tell people that it had a 'lagoon-like atmosphere'), I had enough money left over for dinner and drinks.
The rooms had gas-fired heaters mounted in the walls. When they'd kick on in the middle of the night, the flames from the manifold were at eye level (when laying down), about three feet from the bed. The noise would wake me, I'd see flames and momentarily think I was in Hell!
The Kandy Kane was a "one-diamond" motel in the AAA Guide. I stayed in a lot of one-diamonds in those days. Until, at another 1-D crash pad, I was awakened in the middle of the night by flashing lights. Cop cars. Someone in the next room had been murdered in a drug deal that went bad. I began to upgrade to two-diamond establishments.
When staying at the Kandy Kane, I'd often have drinks and soup at The Velvet Turtle in Redmond. They occasionally had a special soup - cream of peanut butter. Delicious. Then the place closed in 1981 or so. Eventually, all The Velvet Turtles went out of business.
I also used to eat at a place near I-90 in Bellevue with green awnings - had an Irish name ... O'Hara's, O'Boyle's, O'Briens ... something like that - but they didn't serve any alcohol because they were teetotalers. (I never met Irish teetotalers before. Or since.) They served a wonderful turkey dinner ... but O'Something no longer exists.
There was a cafeteria in Southcenter Mall (Renton, Washington) that served the most wonderful chicken almondine soup - with very thinly shaved almonds. It was delicious and, if you ordered a bowl, they served it with a sourdough boule. A low-cost, tasty dinner. I used to rave to my wife about it but - by the time she visited the Seattle area - the place had closed. Restaurants are a fragile business.
I didn't intend this post to be about Failed Motels And Restaurants I've Known, but I started writing and things kinda got away from me. All part of the OGRS disease - Old Geezer Ramble Syndrome.
Quote of the Day: "Never be afraid to try something new or outside your area of expertise. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic." (anonymous)
Tuesday March 15, 2005
The Bloom Is Off The Lutz: Bob Lutz was hyped as the savior of General Motors when he was brought on board in 2001. Four years later, writes Michelle Krebs, his track record is mixed. My feeling is that GM had is such a huge dinosaur with so many years of mismanagement that it's tough for any individual, no matter how talented, to do a quick turnaround.
Bob Lutz may be charismatic and successful but his business book ('Guts - Eight Laws of Business' published in 1998 and now repackaged and offered anew) was absolutely the worst book I've ever read. 'Zen Driving' is a very distant second.
Corporate Idiocy: Is This Nuts or What?! If you want to buy a gift certificate for one of the Doubletree Inn's restaurants, you can't get them at the restaurant. You must call an 800 number and you'll be charged an extra $7.50 for mandatory FedEx shipping.
Cruel Shoes: James Lileks writes: "Adidas has come out with a "smart shoe" with a computer chip in the heel. ... Two hundred and fifty bucks for this thing, which means the shoe is smarter than the person who bought it." And: "The shoes are aimed at those who are young at heart, thick of wallet and light of brains ..."
More Lileks: "... on the way out of church we came across some ice, some pavement ice, the good kind that's thick enough to hold you but has water underneath, and you can crack it with your heel. It's very satisfying. It's God's own bubble-wrap."
And James refers to a certain breakfast cereal as "Count Chocula's Vampirically Themed Undead Pressed Corn Nodules." I love this guy's way with words.
Bad Pun of the Day: Can a shoe box? No, but a tin can.
Monday March 14, 2005
Not Good Enough: A New York Times article enumerates General Motors' continuing woes. An excerpt: "G.M. paid to place its new Buick LaCrosse sedan on "Desperate Housewives" and to feature Aerosmith's "Dream On" in LaCrosse commercials, but sales of Buicks still continue to dive." The LaCrosse may be the best Buick ever made. But being "better than you used to be" just isn't good enough anymore.
Wasting Precious Funds: Ford's Premier Auto Group is still losing money (the only PAG brand making money is Volvo). So ... how does Ford plan to turn things around? By spending money to develop a V-12 version of the Range Rover. Idiots.
New York - As It Never Was: A fascinating group of 'Might-Have-Been' New York City renderings.
Klute Goes Lame: Actress Jane Fonda is to undergo hip replacement surgery after finishing publicity tours for her new film and autobiography.
Bio-Ethics Vs. Rapidly-Evolving Technology: Charles Krauthammer offers a solution.
Bad Pun of the Day: What do you call a well-behaved snake? A civil serpent.
Friday March 11, 2005
When You Drive a UAW-made Car, You Ride With Osama Bin Laden: The United Auto Workers used to allow Marine reservists to park in the its Detroit lot for weekend training. Now the UAW proclaims that, while they support the troops, Marines driving foreign vehicles or sporting a President George Bush bumper sticker are no longer welcome to park there. A United Auto Workers spokesman explained: "While reservists certainly have the right to drive non-union made vehicles and display bumper stickers touting the most anti-worker, anti-union president since the 1920s, that doesn't mean they have the right to park in a lot owned by members of the UAW."
I'm damn glad I just bought a Toyota. Made in Kentucky. By real Americans, not UAW fascists.
Is Prius The New Volvo? In the 1970s and 1980s, Volvo was the vehicle-of-choice for smug yuppies who were trying to do their self-centered, Superior Dance on everyone else's head. Dull, square-shaped, ancient-looking and featuring antique technology, the Volvo was the perfect icon for the look-at-me, I'm-safer-than-you, therefore I'm-better-than-you crowd.
All Volvos of the period seemed to come equipped with Michelin 'safety' tires and a Baby-On-Board sign. Many Volvo drivers routinely hogged passing lanes and did anything else possible to exhibit their total lack of concern for others. Then Volvo discovered style, excitement and up-to-date technology - offering a variety of sleek, interesting models - and became very mainstream, attracting a variety of owners, even courteous ones.
What vehicle has now become the new icon for the ultra-self-absorbed egomaniac? A hybrid, of course. After several months of study and observation, I am convinced that 70% of all Toyota Prius drivers are selfish, uncaring morons - smugly piloting their ugly Rolling Suppositories into your lane anytime they so desire. And saving energy (and the planet) by not using turn signals. Jerks.
Ford Re-Tires: William Clay Ford Sr. - son of Edsel Ford, grandson of Henry, husband of a Firestone girl, former owner of the Detroit Lions and the man behind the beautiful but ill-fated Continental Mark II - is retiring as a director of FoMoCo after nearly 57 years.
Maybe Bill's decision to leave is partly based on the fact that his beloved 'Mark' designation is now used on a Lincoln pickup truck.
In an oddly-timed move, Ford also announced that the Thunderbird is being discontinued - the last one will roll off the line in July.
Name That Bimmer: Over at AutoMuse, Erica Eversman is holding a 'Name the Mystery BMW' contest and she's asking the creative talents of the blog world to spread the word and/or submit entries. (So, don't dawdle. After you're done here, go to AutoMuse and submit your entry.) Erica is offering a prize for the best name. BMW is being extremely vague about the new model but the vehicle in question is a "four-door crossover" with "sporty handling and a coupe-like exterior."
Hmmmm. "Crossover" could mean anything - not necessarily all-wheel-drive - but certainly tall with elevated ground clearance. "Sporty-handling" is always used to describe anything with the BMW Roundel on it (except the Isetta 300). And we know from the Mercedes CLS experience that, to Germans, "coupe-like" means a sloping roofline. Tall, four-doors and a roof that slants downward in the back ... ohmyGod! ... BMW's gonna make a Pontiac Aztec!!
Mark Your Calendar: The Third Annual 'International Eat an Animal for PETA Day' is almost here.
Well Versed: The Daily Demarsche ran an international affairs poetry contest recently. A Haiku by Urthshu was the winning Haiku entry about the United Nations:
"Fingers in his ears
at the UN - "La la la!"
Kofi can't hear you!"
Urthshu has also written a SPAM haiku.
Giving The Finger: How long a man's second finger is relative to his fourth finger appears to predict whether he is prone to be physically aggressive toward others, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Blink-Blink: There's now a website devoted to blinking celebrities. Snoop Dog looks stoned (and probably is). I laughed out loud when I saw Joan Rivers' pix.
Quote of the Week is from 'Musings of a Fat Kid': "If guns kill people then ... spoons made Rosie O'Donnell fat."
Bad Pun of the Day: A man built a new transmission for his car using nothing but dried grass. It didn't work; he was clutching at straws.
Thursday March 10, 2005
Phony Euro-Caddy: Jerry Flint doesn't mince words when criticizing Cadillac's Euro-only BLS model. And - it seems to me - he offers a better alternative. Too bad GM won't take his advice. But then, they never take my advice either.
It's Cheesy Inside: David Thomas of AutoBlog writes: "There are two striking parallels that hit you square in the face with the new Mercury Montego and its sibling, the Ford Five Hundred. In person they look very sophisticated from the outside. Some would even say elegant. But once inside, drivers will be treated to one of the cheapest looking and feeling interiors to come on the market in recent years." I couldn't agree more. I sat in a Five Hundred a few months back and had exactly the same reaction. And I was surprised at how little headroom it had for a 'tall' car.
Honda Deals: Honda, responding to a 21 percent drop in Accord and Civic sales this year, plans to offer cheaper loans and leases and raise dealer incentives to bolster sales of its two best-selling U.S. models. Honda, which for the past five years has had the highest average profit margin among automakers selling in the United States, spent 33 percent less on incentives in February than the industry average.
Good Riddance: Jim Geraghty mirrors my own feelings about Dan Rather in this finely-crafted piece. Brent Bozell weighs in, too.
Sin Pays: Investors in the Vice Fund, the top performer the past 12 months among growth stock mutual funds with less than $500 million of assets, have been rewarded for pursuing a socially irresponsible strategy. The Fund invests in companies that run casinos, sell beer and cigarettes, and make weapons.
His philosophy contrasts with the approach taken by so-called socially responsible funds, which shun the stocks. His fund rose 23 percent in the past 12 months, surpassing the Sierra Club Stock Fund, the leader in the socially responsible category, which only gained 16 percent.
A Scottish Tale: If you're ever watched The Simpsons, you've probably seen Groundskeeper Willie, the surly Scottish janitor at Bart & Lisa's school - Springfield Elementary. He's the one who mans the booth selling haggis at the school fair. Willie is a complex man, who has had many setbacks in his life, including this traumatic event in his youth:
Willie grew up in a very isolated section of Scotland - an area without even the most basic of amenities, not even electricity. One day, his father decided that it was time to take the family on a trek to civilization. After hiking many days, they came upon a town, and on the outskirts of that town was a large shopping mall. Willie and his family were awestruck and drawn inside.
Once inside the mall, Willie and his father became separated from the rest of the family. They searched around the mall, amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again. Willie asked his father, "What is this father?"
The father (having never set eyes on an elevator before) responded, "Son, I ha' never seen anything like this in my life, I dinna know what it is." While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, a very old lady, wrinkled, stooped and using a cane, slowly walked up to the moving walls and pressed a button.
The walls opened and the old lady walked between them and into a small room. The walls closed and as the boy and his father watched, small circles of light with numbers flickered on the wall above. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a voluptuous 24-year-old woman stepped out.
Willie's father immediately cried, "Lad, go get yer Mother!"
Wednesday March 9, 2005
Styling Half-Measure: The restyled BMW 7-Series shown in Geneva is about halfway between what Chris Bangle wants and what the car should look like. If I could have any car at that show, I'd pick the Lancia Stratos concept. Or the Aston Martin DB8. Or the Alfa Romeo Brera. Or all three.
Pay Radio: Starting in April, XM satellite radio service will cost $12.95 per month. That's $165 per year. Are they kidding? Think of how many CD compilations I can burn for that kind of money. Or how many iTunes I can buy. (Or how many Manhattans I can drink. Or wine - 55 bottles of Two-Buck-Chuck Merlot @ $3 per bottle in Washington state.)
I can get all the news, weather and traffic reports I want on 'free' radio. Pay radio - not for me. But I guess I'm not the target market. It's for the young 'uns who'll piss away their hard-earned money on almost any kind of crap. (see also 'Spencer Gifts')
Lexus Look-A-Like? Is it just me, or is the new 2006 Toyota Solara looking more and more Lexus-like?
The Truth About AARP: Yes, I'm a member - but I don't endorse everything the organization does.
Business Week writes, "AARP may be outmuscled only by the White House in the slugfest over restructuring Social Security. The 35 million-member seniors' lobby has put its credibility on the line by opposing Bush's call for individual investment accounts carved out of Social Security payroll taxes." And: "Some also see AARP's opposition to diverting Social Security funds to private accounts - which it criticizes as too risky - as the height of hypocrisy." Says American Enterprise Institute scholar James K. Glassman: "They are selling mutual funds, which by any conventional standard are far riskier than anything anybody has contemplated" for Social Security."
"At the same time, AARP's role in the Social Security debate has focused new attention on the hundreds of millions of dollars the group makes by endorsing and co-branding health insurance, financial products, and travel services that are sold to its members. Some of those products suffer from lackluster performance, particularly the mutual funds it co-brands with Scudder Investments, a unit of Deutsche Bank. As a result, AARP is considering an overhaul of its mutual-fund program ..."
The excellent website, Fund Alarm, rates Scudder Total Return A (KTRAX), Scudder Equity 500 Index Inv. (BTIEX) and Scudder Total Return B (KTRBX) as "three-alarm funds" - this is not something to brag about. The Scudder Flag Communications Fund group is on the "Most Alarming 3-ALARM Funds" list. (The best mutual funds on FA's site have "no-alarm" rankings.)
Business Week continues: "In 2003, the latest year for which financial reports are available, AARP collected $300 million - or 39% of its $770 million in revenue - by co-branding with companies such as Scudder, UnitedHealth Group, and New York Life. AARP hauls in $142 million in fees from the sale of Medicare supplemental insurance, almost $76 million from the sale of auto and home insurance, and almost $12 million from life insurance, followed by about $7 million in mutual-fund fees."
I don't think much of New York Life either. When I was young and naive, NYL talked me into "minimum deposit insurance" which is widely-disparaged as a rip-off. I'll never buy anything from those SOBs again - once burned, etc.
Having a privatized 'ownership' component in the Social Security portfolio using conservative, non-speculative investments makes sense to me.
Ownership Society: Here's another compelling argument for the concept of controlling your own financial destiny ... Delphi Corporation the world's largest auto parts supplier and a former division of General Motors, will stop paying medical insurance in 2007 for 4,000 retired salaried workers and thousands more future retirees.
I hear this kind of story over and over from friends who are retired from large corporations.
InfoSpace - The Rip Off: When I first got on the Internet in 1997, one year-old InfoSpace was one of the premier search portals. But, thankfully, I never invested money in it.
The Seattle Times details how InfoSpace bilked investors. "Stock worth $1,000 in March 2000 was worth only $2.67 by June 2002."
Bad Pun of the Day: I was enrolled in an origami class ... until it folded.
Tuesday March 8, 2005
New Car Update: We picked up my wife's new Toyota Avalon Limited on a sunny-and-mild Sunday this week. We're still getting used to the car, but are very impressed so far. Nice build quality, flawless paint throughout, rattle-free. On the freeway, the car rides as well as anything we've ever owned. In the twisties, it handles surprisingly well and (despite what I've read in road tests) the steering seems very responsive. The power steering is overboosted at low speeds - 10 mph and below - that makes parking a breeze and makes the car feel like a Buick Regal. But at typical road speeds, the boost returns to normal and provides good feedback to the driver (unlike a Regal).
We picked it up with only 14 miles on the odometer, so we're trying to be gentle during break-in. But crack the throttle the slightest amount and it moves. On the way home, my wife was driving our Jaguar and got stuck behind some moron doing 30 mph in a 50 zone on a narrow two-lane road. I saw the telltale smoke start to pour out of the Jag's twin pipes and thought, "Here we go!!" I cracked the throttle of the Avalon about 1/3rd and it shifted down and both cars positively hauled-ass past one surprised moron at 60-plus mph. Likety-frickin'-split, ladies and gentlemen! I had no trouble keeping up with the Jag. I'm going to like this Toyota. By the way, the Avalon averaged 28-plus mpg at freeway speeds of 70 mph.
Complaints - only one so far. I didn't like the look of the 17" factory alloy wheels - too dark. (shown at right - gray background)
I replaced them on Monday with chrome-plated 17" Alba Impulse wheels. (red background) The appearance of the Avalon is much improved.
I'll post more details as I become more acquainted with the new car.
Car Sightings: The sunny weather brought out lots of interesting cars on Sunday. Watched an old RHD Rolls Royce Silver Cloud from the 1950s (one headlight per side) trundling down Main Street in Battle Ground.
Saw a very nice 1966 yellow Corvette roadster burble into the parking lot at Capitol Toyota. Passed a white Porsche 356 with a red leather interior heading north on Interstate 5.
Also saw a pale green late 1930s Buick 4-door phaeton (with fully enclosed dual-sidemounts) northbound on I-5. Sweet. Also saw a 1936 tan Ford four-door phaeton with side curtains off on Sandy Boulevard near the Portland Airport. And an early '50s MG TD. A real one; not one of those fake-o VW-powered ones.
Auto Reliability: I spent part of the weekend pouring over the April 2005 Auto Issue of Consumer Reports magazine. CR has ten categories of Top Picks and only one vehicle was non-Japanese - the Ford Focus.
Some of the CR's reliability results were surprising. The most reliable vehicle in 2004 was the Hyundai Sonata with 2 problems per 100 vehicles. The most reliable domestic vehicle was the Ford Mustang (5/100). The Chrysler PT Cruiser scored well, too (8/100). The most reliable brand was Subaru, followed closely by Honda, Toyota and Acura. The worst vehicles were the Lincoln Navigator and Nissan Quest (tied with 49 problems per 100). The Volkswagen Touareg was a close second 48/100. The least reliable brands were Land Rover, Jaguar and Mercedes.
Looking through some old back issues of Consumer Reports, certain trends became apparent. Overall reliability of vehicles has steadily improved from an average of 31 problems per vehicle back in 1997 (for 1996 models) to just under 17 in the current survey - a big improvement. The quality of a one year-old American brand vehicle is now very close to that for one-year old Japanese brand in 2002.
Over the past five years, problem rates for both American and Asian brands have showed significant improvement, while the rate for European brands has remained almost unchanged. European makes are not keeping up with the ever-moving target of quality/reliability.
Consumer Reports doesn't judge cars through an enthusiast's eyes. Nevertheless, its dispassionate view provides credible information. CR has a large database, too - over 800,000 survey respondents.
Timely News? An article in last Saturday's Detroit News about the same subject as above refers to the April "issue of Consumer Reports magazine, which hits newsstands next week." Ummmm ... I picked mine up two days before the article appeared. And us folks in the Middle of Nowhere (aka - Pacific Northwest) usually get magazines later that the More Important parts of the country.
Buh Bye: If anyone cares, the Mercury Sable sedan and Lincoln Aviator SUV are being discontinued. Well, I guess if you're a L-M dealer you'd care since you now have two less models in your sales portfolio. But - you could always sign up for a Malcolm Bricklin dealership.
Old Europe and The New Economy: Peugeot Chief Executive Jean-Martin Folz remarked, "I don't see us ever building a new plant in Western Europe again.''
Foxx Rules! No wonder actor/comedian/musician Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for his extraordinary performance in the movie, 'Ray.' We rented the DVD and were amazed. Foxx didn't portray Ray Charles; he was Ray Charles. A superb actor.
British Question: "What have the Americans ever done for us?" Gerard Baker provides a good answer with Monty Pythonesque overtones.
Know People Who Are Hard to Shop For? Who already have everything? No problem. Here's the perfect gift.
Strange But True: The theft of an oversized U.S. flag from the municipal water tower has been solved by police checking reports of compromising photographs of a girl on the Internet.
The 12-by-15-foot flag taken from the top of the 150-foot water tank in October was being used as a bedsheet. The girl said she was drunk.
PEZheads! A convention of PEZ dispenser collectors was held in Wisconsin over the weekend.
Bad Pun of the Day: I suffer from kleptomania, but when it gets bad I take something for it.
Monday March 7, 2005
A Guide To Auto Buzzwords: Are you confused by the road test evaluation terms bandied about in Motor Trend, Road & Track, Car & Driver, et al? "What are those auto writers and critics really saying?" you ask.
Well, you need wonder no more. After many years of study (as an interested outsider), I have developed translations of the most popular descriptive catch-phrases used in car buff magazines ..... (more >>>)
The Adventures Of ... Tonto and the Lone Ranger are camping in the desert. They set up their tent, then go to sleep. Some hours later, Tonto awakens. "Kemo Sabi, look up at the sky and tell me what you see." The Lone Ranger replies, "I see millions of stars." "What does that tell you?" asks Tonto. The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute ...
"Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is indeed all powerful and we are but small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Tonto?"
Tonto is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Someone has stolen our tent."
Friday March 4, 2005
Another Sign of The End Times: BMW will produce a minivan in its South Carolina plant in 2007.
Farewell to a Mover-and-Shaker: Jim Fowler contributed greatly to the communities of southwest Washington state. He founded the Columbia River Economic Development Council, was instrumental in the development of the Vancouver Mall as well as Clark County's cable television system. He was a founder and first chairman of the Bank of Vancouver and vice chairman of The Evergreen State College Foundation. At one time, Jim was chairman of the Vancouver Parks and Recreation committee.
Jim was a Captain in the Army Air Corps and served in Libya and Tunisia during WWII. Following the war, he became managing editor of the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune. He was recruited as a correspondent by the Associated Press and was assigned to cover major news stories, including the deaths of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and mobster Al Capone. Other highlights of his journalism career included coverage of a visit by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and interviews with, among others, Babe Ruth, Sam Snead and Joe Louis. He was the first reporter to fly with a Navy plane crew into the eye of a hurricane and broadcast the event live for CBS.
He wrote a twice-weekly business column for the Columbian newspaper in the 1960s and 1970s. Jim's volunteer involvement was extensive, including work for school ballot measures, the City of Vancouver, arts programs for children and preservation of the Columbia Gorge. He served on many boards and advisory councils. Jim ran his own public relations agency and was also a SCORE volunteer.
A summer spent with a traveling circus when he was 17 ignited a life-long love affair with the circus. Jim built the 'Fowler Bros. Circus,' a scale replica of the 1950 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, over a period of 40 years. It contains over 60,000 pieces.
Jim Fowler was a kindly, gracious, wonderful guy with a great sense of humor. He lived a full life and died this week at 85. Requiescat In Pace. (permalink)
Information>Knowledge>Freedom: "Modern communication is breaking down the gates of censorship in the Middle East, helping spread democracy by denying governments the monopoly they once held on dissimulating information. Satellite television and the Internet have already defied censorship rules imposed by autocratic leaderships in the region." And helped get rid of Dan Rather, too!
Provocative Titles: Liberal-bashing author, Ann Coulter, has suggested possible titles for her future book, including: "Tuesdays With Morons", "The Five People You Meet in Line at the Welfare Office", "It Takes a Village to Raise a Kid With A.D.H.D., Rage Issues, and an Eating Disorder" and "The Dan Rather Code".
Biting Commentary: James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal begins with a quote from Ted Kennedy (aka - Admiral Oldsmobile): "Our military and the insurgents are fighting for the same thing - the hearts and minds of the people - and that is a battle we are not winning."
Taranto continues: "Interestingly, the text of Kennedy's infamous speech seems to have disappeared from his web site; the above link is to the Yahoo cache. We guess it's a good sign that he no longer stands by the speech, but we'd think more highly of him if he actually owned up to his mistake. Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment." Ouch.
Anchors Aweigh! Star Jones Reynolds is being parodied by a hefty drag queen with the wonderful name of Flotilla DeBarge.
Beauty, Eh? Botswana has held a Miss HIV Positive beauty contest at a glamorous resort near Gaborone. Who would want to date one of these 'beauties', anyway?
Imagine the precautions. What would you bring in case things got hot 'n heavy? A Nomex diaphragm? A full-body condom like Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley used in the first 'Naked Gun' movie? A Plexiglas suit of armor? Or all three? Hey, why not just stay home and have sex with a roll of Saran Wrap?
This 'contest' is the worst idea since Sarah Molokai won the Miss Leprosy pageant in 1913.
Speaking of leprosy, does anyone remember the old joke about the leper and the prostitute? She said he wouldn't pay much but he did leave a tip! (drum rim shot; Ed McMahon yells "High-yo!", cue laugh track)
Bad Pun of the Day: A man goes to the doctor with a piece of lettuce hanging out of his ear. "That looks painful," says the doctor. "Painful?!?", he cries. "Why, this is just the tip of the iceberg, doc!"
Thursday March 3, 2005
For People Who Have No Time. Or No Life: Electronic, burping fly catcher. (hat tip - Boing Boing)
Stupid Corporate Idea #422,706: A reader related this tale to John Derbyshire at NRO: "... one of our battier corporate VPs came up with the idea of distributing whistles to our elderly customers who would use them to alert passers-by in the event of a robbery or an 'I've fallen and I can't get up' scenario. She had several thousand made up and they were emblazoned with our corporate logo and the words 'Blow Me For Help.' When presented at a Board meeting for approval our CEO took one look at a sample whistle, laughed uproariously, and scuttled the whole campaign right then and there. The whistles were summarily destroyed, though a tiny number survived and became cherished contraband among some employees who managed to get their hands on them." I'm blown away.
Bye-Bye Butt: If my postings are a little groggy, it's because I stayed up late watching the final episode of 'NYPD Blue.' Because of all the naked asses exhibited on that show, our household gave it the nickname of 'NYPD Butt.' And/or 'Twin Cheeks.'
Over the years, it has evolved and changed and I had begun to grow tired of it. (Butt Exhaustion, I suppose.)
In its heyday, 'Blue' was great and it was always a thrill to get the occasional glimpse of Sharon Lawrence's fine heinie. Farewell.
Cubists Launch Unnavigable Web Site: Conceptual Realism dominates site no one will be able to use anyway.
Quote of the Day is from Simon Hoggart: "Americans are fascinated by their own love of shopping. This does not make them unique. It's just that they have more to buy than most people on the planet. And it's also an affirmation of faith in their country, its prosperity and limitless bounty. They have shops the way lesser countries have statues."
Bad Pun of the Day: What did the papa buffalo say to the baby buffalo before he went to work? "Bison!"
Wednesday March 2, 2005
Stupid Ford Tricks: Michelle Krebs enumerates recent examples of FoMoCo idiocy.
GM Shuts Plants to Reduce Inventory: Cadillac models are among the 'gotta-haves' that aren't selling. Like CTS, STX, and SRX, as well as the V-versions of the CTS and SRX.
You're Fired! Rumor has it that Steve Saleen dismissed close to a dozen key employees and executives at the SSV center in Troy, Michigan. That's the facility where the problem-plagued (oil leaks, crankshaft failures, broken control arms, fuel tank vapor leaks, seat belts, etc.), mid-engined Ford GT supercar is produced.
What The World's Been Waiting For: A transparent toaster. But will it heat Plexiglas enough for thermoforming?
Business Tip: For producing those cover-your-butt corporate reports or phony business plans used to sucker banks, venture capitalists and investors out of their hard-earned money, you need never be at a loss for words. Or buzzwords. Just go here.
Quote of the Day is from Robert Wilensky (University of California): "We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."
Bad Pun of the Day: Did you hear about the shepherd who drove his flock through town ... and got a traffic ticket for making a ewe turn?
Tuesday March 1, 2005
How To Sell Cars: The Detroit News reports that "February appears to be shaping up as another lackluster month for U.S. auto sales, particularly for industry leaders General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co."
But it also states that "DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group and Asian brands such as Toyota and Nissan are expected to post increases." (Updated: Toyota up 11%, Chrysler up 7.5%, Ford off 2.9%, GM down 12%, Mercedes off 17%, Jaguar down 18.8%.)
The simple lesson here is to make vehicles that people want to buy (distinctive, cool cars; reliable cars) and they will do so. Nuff said.
Donut Demolition Delay: On May 24, 2004, I wrote about the closing of Waddle's, a legendary a Portland drive-in which opened in 1945. The Pietro Belluschi-designed building was to be torn down and replaced by a Krispy Kreme donut shop.
Due to KK's well-publicized business woes, the deal has fallen through. Apparently, another restaurant will open at the old Waddle's site.
Whether the original building will be demolished is not yet clear.
Sex In The Workplace 2005: A third woman has filed a lawsuit because Koko, the sign-language-speaking gorilla, wants her to expose her breasts.
Who would have ever thought that the sexual harassment movement could evolve in this direction?
Sugar Fix: Hi Fructose, an ultimate niche-market magazine - it's about candy, toys and monsters - is being launched. (hat tip - Boing Boing)
New Government Program: After the recent discovery of two ancient crocodile skulls which closely resemble modern crocodiles despite 40 million years of evolution, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today issued a grant of $56 million to fund the new 'No Croc Left Behind' (NCLB) program.
(Just kidding. It's a Scott Ott - Scrappleface parody. But it sounds like something the gummint would do, doesn't it?)
Bad Pun of the Day: Although she was afraid of mice, it didn't keep her from eeking out a living at a pet store.