Tuesday November 28, 2006
Automotive Dog Of The Year Finalist: Courtesy of Jerry Flint: "In the six months ... that the (Cadillac) BLS has been on the market in Europe, Cadillac sold only 820 units. That is fewer than 150 sales a month, and that spells failure in any language.
The company built 2,500 of these cars but sold only 820, which means it now has a year's worth of inventory on hand. Even Ford Motor's Lincoln Blackwood - about as dumb a vehicle ever conceived by Detroit - sold better than that before Ford killed it early in 2003."
The Ford Death Spiral Continues ... Ford Motor Co., struggling to overcome record losses this year, plans to borrow $18 billion and back its loans with collateral for the first time. FoMoCo must raise cash to pay for cutting more than 40,000 jobs and closing factories in North America, where falling sales have caused losses in eight of the past nine quarters.
Ford is putting up Ford Motor Credit, Volvo, certain patents and some plants as collateral. I guess the banks didn't want Mercury. Or Lincoln. Or Jaguar.
What a concept. Borrow $18 billion (plus interest) to "pay" for cost-cutting.
Train Update: I purchased a new set of passenger cars for my O-gauge model train layout - the MTH Pennsylvania Railroad Premier Congressional set.
It's a five-car consist of scale 70-foot cars (17.5 inches long). The cars are awesome-looking and well-made; each is silver with a Tuscan red side stripe and 'Pennsylvania' in gold on each of the cars. The observation car has a lighted drumhead on the back with the PRR keystone logo. I run these behind my scale Tuscan Pennsy GG-1 electric locomotive.
I'll alternate this set on the middle level of the platform with my Aerotrain set. I spent much of last week painting 'people' - 1:48 scale figures - which I installed in the seats of the Congressional passenger coaches.
And People Sniff This Stuff?! Matthew Bristow visited the Colombian jungle and filmed a cocaine manufacturing process. They use gasoline, sulfuric acid, ammonia, quicklime and caustic soda to turn coca leaves into the white powder.
Upside Down Civilization: Irwin Selzer writes about life in the civilized world these days. At Heathrow Airport, "off goes your jacket. Off comes your wife's jacket, like yours, to be deposited in a heap in a plastic bin headed through a machine designed to detect something or other. Next comes a Middle Eastern woman, clad head to toe in a black garment, loose-fitting enough to conceal a weapon of mass destruction. No one dares impede her progress through the detectors.
America makes no move to tell the world's authorities that its citizens are not terrorists, and that any sensible program based on statistical probability - some call it profiling - would reverse security priorities. Jimmy Carter proved that any third-rate power can lay hands on American citizens without consequences. The world got the clue, and now treats us accordingly."
Thank you, Irwin, for saying many things which need to be said. Read the whole article.
Quote Of The Day is from Eric Hoffer: "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."
Monday November 27, 2006
I'm Sure There's An Interesting Back Story Here: The Detroit News reported that "Malcolm Bricklin's plan to be the first U.S. importer of Chinese autos hit a snag as his Visionary Vehicles LLC said it ended a joint venture with Chery Automobile Co., the company that was to build the vehicles."
Bricklin, 67, has began meeting other Chinese automakers during November's Beijing Auto Show.
A brief history of Malcolm's automotive follies can be found here.
Just Scraping By: Two employees have been fired from a Boise, Idaho ice skating rink after making a midnight fast-food run in a pair of Zambonis.
The ice-groomer jockeys had to negotiate at least one intersection with a traffic light on their late-night creep from Idaho Ice World. The Zambonis rolled through a Burger King drive-through, ordered food, and then returned to the skating rink.
The rubber-tired vehicles, whose top speed is about 5 mph, drove about 1.5 miles in all.
Thanksgiving Thoughts: I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. We did. Although, nothing can quite compare to Lileks' Fargo, N.D. experience. But we didn't have to "get in the right line" to enjoy "moist slabs of white turkey, big as Paul Bunyon's hand." My wife cooked a great bird and served a Traditional Grand Meal, as usual. And we washed it down with multiple bottles of Velvet Ass Rose from The Dalles, Oregon. All of which was followed by the usual postprandial stupor.
In the morning, we watched the Macy's New York parade on television. Macy's has always been the best parade ... and it was very good this year. Maybe because it was pouring rain there ... and here as well, so we felt a special kinship. But we didn't like this year's Santa Claus. His beard was too short and well-trimmed, he didn't have glasses (Lasix?) and his costume was too fancy. I referred to him as 'Euro-gay'. My daughter declared him to be 'metrosexual'. We preferred last year's Macy's bespeckled Santa.
On Friday, we watched the Macy's Portland parade - also accompanied by pouring rain. The Portland, OR parade has always been lame but, this year, Macy's, the new sponsor, spruced things up by providing blow-up floats - basically balloons mounted on self-powered wheeled frames. Most were generic, which made me wonder if Macy's ordered each in lots of, say, 100 and had them drop-shipped to various second and third-tier cities throughout the U.S. If so, it's a clever idea on their part.
The Portland parade used to be sponsored by Meier and Frank, a dumpy department store chain. Their parade was a real loser. And so were their stores. The downtown Portland 'flagship' store was a sorry mess even back in 1978 when we first moved here.
Macy's has taken over M&F and have already spruced up the stores with better decor, brighter lighting, wider aisles and much more. Macy's will close the downtown Portland store for a gigantic remodeling in '07. Good.
I still remember attending the Philadelphia Thanksgiving parade as a child. It was cold outside. Santa Claus was played by a fireman. At the parade's end, he climbed up a large red Fire Dept. ladder truck and entered Gimbel's through a window on one of the upper floors. It was very dramatic.
No one does this kind of thing anymore. Sad. But, it's probably a violation of OSHA regs. Or forbidden by some insurance industry Grinch. Or something.
Scary Evolution: Cancer cells in a tumor evolve due to natural selection. They compete fiercely for reproductive space inside the tumor, changing strategies to beat out other cancer cells and to triumph over chemotherapy.
"A tumor cell population is constantly evolving through natural selection," says Carlo C. Maley, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program at Wistar whose own research focuses on this area. "The mutations that benefit the survival and reproduction of cells in a tumor are the things that drive it towards malignancy."
"Evolution is also driving therapeutic resistance," Maley adds. "When you apply chemotherapy to a population of tumor cells, you're quite likely to have a resistant mutant somewhere in that population of billions or even trillions of cells. This is the central problem in oncology. The reason we haven't been able to cure cancer is that we're selecting for resistant tumor cells. When we spray a field with pesticide, we select for resistant pests. It's the same idea."
Today's Inspirational Thought: A person who smiles in the face of adversity ... probably has a scapegoat.
Wednesday November 22, 2006
Remembrance: Forty-three years ago today JFK was assassinated. My thoughts here.
Mosque-Mania: Mark Steyn's new book ('America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It') is on my Christmas wish list.
Here's a little excerpt: "After September 11, the first reaction of just about every prominent Western leader was to visit a mosque: President Bush did, so did the Prince of Wales, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, the prime minister of Canada and many more. And, when the get-me-to-the-mosque-on-time fever died away, you couldn't help feeling that this would strike almost any previous society as, well, bizarre. Pearl Harbor's been attacked? Quick, order some sushi and get me into a matinee of Madam Butterfly!"
Just Wondering: Is Stewie Griffin related to the Travelocity gnome?
Thank You ... Greg Gutfeld for saying this, reporting that O.J. Simpson "now claims he didn't write the book, and has vowed to spend the rest of his life searching for the real author."
Monday November 20, 2006
FoMoCo Desperation Move #237: Ford Motor Co. is now selling its luxury Lincoln brand through Amazon.com.
The MKZ sedan, MKX crossover and new Navigator will each have their own product pages on the popular web site; prospective customers can initiate a purchase with just a single click.
John Henke, president of Planning Perspective Inc. and a professor of marketing at Oakland University, says, "This is patently absurd. The logic eludes me. This isn't something you can buy on the Web. You're going to want to test drive, to sit in it. The personal interface on a high-priced product is extremely important. You need the reassurance that the salesperson can give you."
Yeah, John, I think it's nuts, too.
Putting Things In Perspective: A poster, 1984, on TTAC writes about the gas price 'crisis': "The median price for gasoline adjusted for inflation is about $2.50 a gallon since 1918.
Somehow fuel price (is) a huge deal because people do not have any disposable income anymore. So when fluctuations happen everyone is stretched so thin financially they blame gasoline. The problem is not gasoline; the problem is the $5 cup of coffee, your iPod, your XM Radio, and your V-cast cell phone.
Perhaps try eliminating sh*t you do not need in your life, so when gasoline goes up 25 cents your world does not shatter and crumble."
A Car For Everyman: Former Ford Motor Company autoworker Chris Thaney is hard at work building his first model, the Thaney Centaur, a four-door station wagon based on his wife's 1999 Ford Taurus four-door station-wagon, whose platform he considers "an American classic in need of some minor retooling."
He also has plans to create models patterned closely after the Ford Focus engine, the Dodge Neon chassis, and a friend's 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix paint job. In a nod to his old assembly-line position, the models will boast well-fitted doors and multiple side-mounted mirrors. (Hint: This story is from The Onion.)
Small Thrills: A German-made carrying case contains 6 feet of race track on which you can race two cars. It runs for 5 hours on a 9V battery and costs almost $800.
Bigger Thrills: My train layout is fully operational as of Friday. I spent the weekend enjoying it.
Wine Review: On Sunday, it was rainy and windy outside but I cooked filets on the outdoor grill (on our covered deck). And we shared a bottle of Canoe Ridge Vineyards 2002 Merlot from the Columbia Valley of Washington - bottled in Walla Walla.
It was an interesting wine ... a lot of complex notes. But, for a Merlot, it was kinda bitey - more like a Cabernet. It was fine with steak and potatoes. But I'm not sure I'd want to drink it by itself.
Nevertheless, as Petula Clark once sang:
"When you're alone ...
And life is making you lonely ...
You can always go ... Merlot."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Doing 90 percent of what is required is one of the biggest wastes because you have nothing to show for all your efforts. But doing 110 percent of what is expected is one of the smartest investments because it can pay off with a big reputation for just a little more effort."
Friday November 17, 2006
Auction Madness: I suppose 'madness' is too strong a word. After all, at an auction, someone is willing to pay that high bid. And they never seem to be wearing a straightjacket, either. Nevertheless, I was surprised at the high prices paid at last week's auction of Jerry Capizzi's cars, even though they were - for the most part - perfect, 100-point machines. All were FoMoCo products - Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Edsel, and Thunderbird vehicles, ranging from a 1936 Lincoln K Convertible roadster to a 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V Bill Blass Edition with 88 actual miles on the odo. (It fetched a whopping $71,500.)
For more than 30 years Jerry had collected and restored dozens of Ford Motor Co. cars. He is a gentleman and a genuinely nice guy; I've met him a few times and got to see his private collection up close about 12 years ago.
Capizzi's father, I.A. (Cappy) Capizzi, served as the Ford Motor Company's general counsel and occasional personal attorney for Henry Ford. Son Jerry supplied Ford with metal stampings and other components from his Chicago-area plant. The desire to retire drove Capizzi, 70, to sell his collection. And I suspect that being an automotive parts supplier to the Big 2.5 probably isn't much fun anymore.
Here are a selection of remarkable vehicles and their astounding prices:
• 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II in white. This car scored 100 points at a Lincoln & Continental Owner's Club National Meet.
I remember this car well because it had the same interior color combo as my old '56. Sold for a reasonable $129,250.
• 1956 Lincoln Premiere convertible, in Wisteria (light purple) color. Probably the best '56 in the world. Sold for an ... ummm ... amazing $275,000.
• 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractable - one of only seven factory supercharged models. Sold for a heart-stopping $258,500.
• 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser two-door hardtop. This was a very rare Los Angeles DSO car fitted with a 335 horsepower, 368 cubic inch dual-carburetor engine developed by Bill Stroppe. It is very possible that this example is the only one ever fitted with the high-performance engine and an automatic transmission. It sold for $192,500, probably the highest price ever gotten for anything with the Mercury emblem on it. Until this ...
• 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser Pace Car convertible. These sold new for a hefty $4,103 each; only 1,265 were made. Sold for $242,000. And if you don't have that kind of money, there's always ...
• 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser 'Jr.' Pace Car - a kiddie car with fiberglass body, steel chassis, gas engine, with upholstered seat and trailer. Sold for $14,300.
• 1957 Ford Thunderbird 'F' code (One of Only 205 fitted with the 300 hp supercharged engine. Sold for $319,000. Unbelievable.
• 1958 Edsel Citation convertible. Sold for $121,000 - Wow.
• 1959 Ford Galaxie 500 Skyliner retractable. Sold for $123,750 - double-Wow.
• 1960 Lincoln Continental Mark V convertible. Sold for $145,750. I bet this was the first 'Lost Mark' to top 100 Grand.
• 1963 Ford Thunderbird 'M' Roadster - one of only 37 built; 340 bhp, 390 cu. in. 'M' code overhead valve V8, three two-barrel Holley carburetors, three-speed automatic transmission. Sold for $192,500. Jeeeeez. For a '60s Bird? Man, that's astounding.
Attention Lincoln Fans: Speaking of Lincolns, The Lincoln & Continental Owners Club 2007 Meet in Washington State sure sounds like fun. Details here.
Another Reason To Drive, Not Fly: US Airways surprised some members of its frequent-flier program this month, telling them that they could lose miles if they don't use their accounts by Jan. 31. The airline said members could have their miles reinstated by paying a $50 "processing fee" and a "reactivation fee" of a penny a mile. If the account isn't used for 36 months, it will be closed.
Here's my operational rule-of-thumb for ya: 'Surprises' from US Airways are always bad ones.
I've written more about bad airline practicss here.
Requiescat In Pace: Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman has died at the age of 94. He was one of the most influential economists of the past century.
Friedman's ideas on economic freedom hugely influenced both the Reagan administration and the Thatcher government in the early 1980s and revolutionized establishment economic thinking across the globe.
He will be missed. (PS - Even at 90, he was piloting a sports car around town.)
But He Knows How To Open A Box Of Depends: CNN's Larry King admits he's never used the internet. He asks, "Do you punch little buttons and things?"
Best Putdown Ever Of K-Fed's Musical Abilities: Greg Gutfeld claims that when Kevin Federline farts, it's called "cutting a demo."
Quote Of The Day is from Newt Gingrich (circa 1994, but still true): "You cannot maintain a civilization with twelve-year-olds having babies, fifteen-year-olds shooting each other, seventeen-year-olds dying of AIDS, and eighteen-year-olds getting diplomas they can't read."
Monday November 13, 2006
Coupe This: AutoBlog notes: "The four-door coupe is a trend that only seems to be growing. Mercedes, of course, was the first (and remains the only) company to get one on the market with the CLS. Volkswagen and Audi are working on their own. Porsche's upcoming Panamera will take a similar approach. Aston Martin showed us its Rapide concept. Even Bugatti is rumored to be considering an exclusive four-door coupe as a follow-up to the Veyron. Now BMW is next in line."
Pulleeeze. The 'four-door coupe' is just a synonym for a sleek sedan and has been around for ... what? ... at least 70 years. Check out the '50 Chevy Fleetline.
Or consider the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr. Or the Pierce Silver Arrow at the Chicago 1933 Century of Progress.
Of course, there's always the 1978 GM Aerodecks (or was it 'Aerodrecks'?) - the Buick Century Custom and Olds Cutlass Salon.
Still On The Wrong List: An article in the Detroit News proclaims that "American brands' reliability gradually closing in on Japan" but the Consumer Reports data cited indicate that the Most Reliable List includes 3 Acura models, 8 Hondas, 5 Lexi, 3 Subarus and 15 Toyota models. Overall, 39 of the 47 vehicles with the highest predicted reliability scores were Japanese.
On the Least Reliable List were 2 Cadillac models, 4 Chevrolets, 3 Fords, 3 Volkswagens and 7 Mercedes models.
Lincoln Death Watch: TTAC's Ten Worst 2006 Vehicles includes the Lincoln Mark LT pick-em-up truck. Sajeev Mehta writes, "Lincoln's badge engineered Ford F-150 is an unholy degradation of the world-famous Lincoln Mark nomenclature. While Brother Navigator sets the luxo-truck standard for wikkid beat boxes, wood-trimmed tillers, ventilated seats and power running boards, the LT went the adhesive-backed bling route, hit the showers and called it a day.
From the richly textured but rock-hard interior plastics to the exterior's mega-dose of bottom-dollar spizzarkle, the Mark LT is a rolling testament to Dearborn's short-term, suicidal reliance on bean-counted engineering."
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks: "There's really only one use for fake wood grain: the coffin of the man who invented fake wood grain."
Thursday November 9, 2006
Art & Cars: During our recent trip, we visited the Philadelphia Art Museum. Inside was an exhibition of Diego Rivera. Bleegggh. I think his "brilliance" is grossly overstated and his drawings are amateurish in my opinion. Rivera's self-portrait looks like something done by a fifth grader with Crayolas (or the Mexican crayon brand equivalent).
Rivera's Frida Kahlo nudes are poorly composed. Unless she's really that crippled and/or malformed. I prefer Rubens, although the only Peter Paul Rubens painting in the joint was 'on loan' to someplace in Europe. (Jeeez - don't they have enough of his paintings there already?) However, there were some Peter Paul Mounds in the museum's vending machine, so I guess all was not lost.
There were also a few Andy Warhol items on display - Brillo boxes and various screenprints. The average t-shirt printer has more talent than that guy ever did. I despise/deplore modern art.
In addition, several Monet works were on display covering most of his artistic life. Looking at them chronologically, one could easily observe the progression from realism to out-of-focus to near-blindness. The last of his works looked like it was finger-painted by a preschooler.
A building, 'The Temple of Attainment of Happiness', was brought over from Japan in 1928 and reassembled inside the museum. Thankfully, it is still there; I was afraid it would be converted to an Arby's or Starbucks by now.
My wife asked me what I liked best at the museum. I replied, "The potato salad." (We had lunch at the Museum Cafe.) I guess I just wasn't in the mood for art that day.
I think art preferences are a personal thing, just like cars. I'll give almost any vehicle displayed in a car museum a once over, but I'm not a big fan of many of the 'legendary vintage machines'.
Cars made before 1930 don't generally interest me. Most seem like crude metal boxes. (I would request that Stutz fans refrain from sending death threats.)
I like the flowing lines of many 1930s cars. But I've never cared for the look of Duesenbergs. Or mid to late '30s Cadillacs. Actually, most 1930s GM cars for that matter. Except for the LaSalle. And a few Buicks.
I think most of the Lincoln Ks look like overgrown Fords. I prefer Auburns and Cords. I like the shark-nosed Graham Paige, too. And Packards of all kinds.
In my opinion, most '30s Fords are well-styled - except the 1938 model. What the %#@*! were they thinking that year?
Most early postwar cars were dull and uninspired. To me, the '46-'48 Lincoln Continental with its heavy diecast grille was a big step backward from the classy prewar design with the graceful waterfall twin grilles. GM vehicles from the immediate postwar period looked bloated and fat. Fat-fendered, indeed.
On the other hand, 80% of the American cars produced from 1955 to 1965 look good to me. That was a magical decade for automobiles.
Of course, that's just my opinion. Your taste may vary ... hell, it should vary. Because 'taste' is a personal thing. Whether we're talking about something done by Henry Ford. Or Jackson Pollock.
Nevertheless, most of us will probably agree that anything by Thomas Kinkade or Chris Bangle is pure dreck. (permalink)
"Throw The Bums Out!" We the People have spoken. The rout of the Republicans was a rebuke of the way Washington has conducted itself of late. Presented with many opportunities to act decisively, the Republican-dominated Congress wavered in its responsibilities.
Fred Barnes wrote, "Republicans lost the House and probably the Senate because of Iraq, corruption and a record of taking up big issues and then doing nothing on them."
Here's my take - think of all the Americans who have flown in the past few months. And put up with all the time-wasting airport security nonsense. In their hearts, these Americans know that such inconveniences do little to stop terrorism. It's just another government boondoggle. And who's running the government? The Republicans! Well, vote 'em out! "Hell, the Democrats never made me take off my shoes and belt. And didn't take away my mocha grande."
Yes, I know what the exit polls said - Americans are angry about the Iraq mess. But they're even more pissed about not being able to carry mouthwash or bottled water on an airplane. And, if the Dems don't do something about it, grumpy Americans will vote them out in the next election.
Jonah Goldberg has written: "If memory serves, the Speaker of the House need not be an elected Representative. I think the Democrats would solidify their image as the real party of change if they put, say, Oprah, Katie Couric, or Carrot Top in there. Gallagher would be good too, he could use the gavel to smash a watermelon at the opening of every proceeding."
Personally, I can't stand Carrot Top. But if he lets me take a tube of moisturizer on the plane, well ....
I would like to point out that, in Clark County, only 42% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Almost 60% didn't even bother to vote. I suspect national voting trends are similar. So, when you meet someone who is griping about the election results, ask them if they voted.
Meanwhile, as Kent Brockman would say, "I welcome our new Democratic Overlords."
Predicting The Future: Greg Gutfeld writes, "Sean Penn will continue to act in movies few people will see, and this will have a fairly powerful effect on his ever changing facial hair growth patterns. He will either grow a mustache or a beard, or shave off an existing one."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Little kids can be adorable when they are asleep. Or maybe we are just so glad that they are asleep that this biases our feelings."
Wednesday November 8, 2006
Buick Death Watch: The Car Connection reports that "Buick has quietly launched a marketing initiative aimed at rebuilding its image among African-American auto buyers. Launched in Atlanta last month, it follows up on research showing that there is a significant "reservoir of good will" among the black community for General Motors' troubled brand."
Any time a brand (auto or otherwise) tries to position itself as an ethnic brand, it dies. The ethnic group targeted feels that it is being 'pandered to' while other ethnic groups desert the brand like rats from a sinking ship.
This move by GM is the clearest signal yet about how close to death the Buick brand is.
Retirees, Pay Up! Beginning in 2008, Ford will discontinue medical, prescription drug and dental coverage that retirees now receive. Instead, they'll get a measly $1,800 that will be placed in a health retirement account.
I interviewed Ford while in college. I'm glad I didn't join them. Heck, I'm glad I no longer work for a big company of any kind. The ol' Womb-to-Tomb security blankets are fast disappearing. And many of the loyal workers (aka - True Believers) are now getting screwed.
Save your money. Don't assume that your employer will take care of you. Don't depend on Social Security either. Make your own way. Freelance your talent for extra money. And, if the independence of freelancing feels good to you, consider starting your own business.
The only 'security' you ever have is that which you create.
I Forgot To Mention ... (during last week's Philly trip report) that the Route 15 trolley line is now in operation again, running along Girard Avenue, wearing its old cream over green Philadelphia Transit colors from the 1950s. Cool.
The line uses rebuilt 1947 PCC Cars which were refurbished by Brookville Equipment Company at a cost of $1.8 million per trolley. The rebuilt trolley includes the addition of air conditioning and regenerative braking, as well as a widened center door with an ADA-compliant wheelchair lift.
SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) spent $88 million upgrading the Route 15 for continued trolley service. The large roof blister on top of the trolley is for the air conditioning system, something not supplied in '47.
The 8.5-mile route dates to 1859 when it operated as a horse car line and was known as the Richmond and Schuylkill River Passenger Railway. The line was electrified in 1895.
When I was a student at St. Joe's Prep, I was a regular patron of the Route 15. Of course, the cars weren't air-conditioned in those days - we just opened the windows when it was hot. (permalink)
Flood-A-Rama: You may have already read that it has been pouring rain around here and Clark County (where we live) has been declared a disaster area by Washington's Governor.
The Salmon Creek behind our house is waaaaaay over its banks and, by early Tuesday afternoon, the water was lapping at our lower retaining wall.
By nightfall, the rain had stopped and the water had receded somewhat but more rain is supposedly on the way.
This may be worse than the Great Flood of 1996.
Highway 99 - a major Vancouver, WA North/South route - is closed because of flooding. It is expected to be closed for at least two more days.
Sounds Good To Me: Stephen Colbert "wants Congress to build a wall and moat with flames, fireproof crocodiles, predator drones and machine-gun nests to keep out immigrants."
Bill Gates Screws People ... Again: Those who bought DRM music from Microsoft are now orphans. "MSN Music is shutting down, in favor of pushing Zune and Real Rhapsody for their 'Buy Now' links. News.com says MSN Music files won't play on Zune or Rhapsody, and there's no upgrade path."
"You were a sucker if you bought MSN Music tracks. You're a masochist if you buy Zune tracks."
Tale of Woe: An article in the Huffington Post basically more or less says that Saddam Hussein is sentenced to hang and George Bush gets off scott-free. It's sooooo not fair.
The always-alert Greg Gutfeld enlightens all that "my favorite fact is in the bio of the writer, Joan Z. Shore:
"She co-founded Women Overseas for Equality (Belgium)."
"The acronym is WOE. I Googled the organization, and could not find a single member of the group other than Shore. Perhaps that way, whenever she's asked about it, she can say, "WOE is me.""
Headline Of The Week: 'Ted Kennedy Recommends Hooters Girls as Replacements For Underage Pages'.
Monday November 6, 2006
Is The Saturn Sky The Reincarnation Of The Pontiac Fiero? Jehovah Johnson's road test at TTAC seems to indicate so. Excerpts: "I admit that my pants were wet when I got behind the wheel of the Sky Red Line. Not because of the way it looked, sounded or drove; because the roof leaked. ... For those of you who think GM's got this quality thing sorted, open the Sky Red Line's trunk and look at the base of the top. You'll see little foam cubes plasti-tied (like clothing tags) to help the roof keep its shape."
And: "If this is what "unique Red Line coil springs" do for handling, someone at Saturn should put in an urgent call Tempurpedic."
Sounds like the Sky is falling.
Well, This Explains Everything. The Car Connection reports, "Ford's turnaround is in progress, but new CEO Alan Mulally says a key part of the turnaround is missing. That's why he's drafting a business plan for the company, which apparently hasn't had one to steer its efforts."
No business plan? What the ....??? Everybody needs a business plan. I can't believe that FoMoCo is so dumb. And that Bill Ford is so dumb. This is Business 101, folks.
When I owned my manufacturing business, I wrote a business plan every year. And used it to guide my company. It worked. Over an 11 year period, my firm's sales grew at a rate of over 44% per year - sales doubled every 20 months. Our profit (NPBT) and Return on Total Assets were solidly in the upper quartile of the our industry.
Every successful business I've ever met, including some very large ones, had a business plan. Ford doesn't? Un-$%#@-believable.
Facelmania: Greg Gutfeld found a way to weave a photo of a very nice Facel Vega into a story about a sex-mad orgy in a coven. I dunno about the Red Robin thing, though. Too 1980s.
I have additional thoughts on the Facel Vega posted here.
Movin': On Saturday morning, we muscled the train layout from the detached garage to our living room. In light rain. No serious problems, however. It took about 45 minutes to prepare, move, attach the cradle sections, rotate to horizontal and set up.
Now, I have to reattach everything that fell off while in storage and do some clean-up, attach and troubleshoot electrical connections, clean the track, test and service the trains, etc., etc.
I should have everything up and running by Thanksgiving.
Who Says I'm Not A Good Dad? For my daughter's 36th birthday, I gave her a Packard, her favorite marque:
It's a 1:18 scale diecast 1955 Packard Caribbean made by Yat-Ming. (permalink)
Remote Vacation Needed? Mark Steyn writes about his encounter with J.F. Kerry: "My face time with John Kerry has been brief but choice. In 2003, I was at a campaign event in New Hampshire chatting with two old coots in plaid. The senator approached and stopped in front of us.
The etiquette in primary season is that the candidate defers to the cranky Granite Stater's churlish indifference to status and initiates the conversation: "Hi, I'm John Kerry. Good to see ya. Cold enough for ya? How 'bout them Sox?" Etc. Instead, Kerry just stood there nose to nose, staring at us with an inscrutable semi-glare on his face. After an eternity, an aide stepped out from behind him and said, "The senator needs you to move."
"Well, why couldn't he have said that?" muttered one of the old coots. Why indeed?
Right now the Democratic Party needs the senator to move. Preferably to the South Sandwich Islands, until Tuesday evening, or better still, early 2009."
Don't Forget To Vote Tomorrow: And if one of those moronic candidates starts spouting that "we have two Americas", don't vote for him/her. Because he/she is wrong. There are Eight Americas.
Quote Of The Day is from Sajeev Mehta over at TTAC: "Last year's Zephyr was the automotive embodiment of all that's wrong with Ford and Lincoln. The barely badge engineered Ford Fusion hammered yet another cheaply gilded nail into the once mighty Lincoln brand's coffin. ...
Despite the MKZ' redesigned waterfall grille, the demitasse Lincoln is still rental-car vanilla searching for some Turtle Soup for the Soul."
Or Mock Turtle Soup for the Soul.
Friday November 3, 2006
The Truth About Rental Cars: During our recent October trip, we rented a Chevrolet Impala LS sedan. What a Pile-O-Crap. It was white in color and had many black scuffs and scratches on the rear fenders and trunk from people banging and dragging their luggage along the paint for the last 9,500 miles. Said Michelle, our Enterprise Rental Car rep, "Anything less than 5 inches long is normal wear and tear and doesn't count." M-kay.
The Impala had a 3.5 liter V-6 coupled to an ancient four-speed automatic. The gas mileage was just above 20 mpg. (Our Toyota Avalon is a lot peppier and gets 26 mpg in similar driving.)
The Impala was 200 inches long and rode on a 110 inch wheelbase and carried a sticker price of $20,000 or so. The exterior dimensions are similar to those for our Avalon but the Chevy wasn't as spacious inside. My wife thought the interior looked cheesy. And she found the seats very uncomfortable. This Impala example did not have the optional traction control. It certainly needed something; it was very skittish when accelerating on a wet surface.
The Chevy's 6-CD player went haywire during our time with it. Near the end, it began delivering music with a distinct scratching sound. I checked the CD once we got home; it was fine.
Our old '87 Honda Accord had a locking fuel filler door with an inside release. Twenty years later, the Impala still doesn't have one. (Therefore, anyone can siphon your gas - anytime.) And GM wonders why the Japanese brands are cleaning its clock.
The Chevy had grabby brakes, a nose-divey front end, a hard-to-regulate heating/air-conditioning system, a truly sub-par ride and non-intuitive, confusing controls. (We never could figure out how to reset the trip meter.) No wonder Chevrolet sales are in decline.
Am I being too critical? I think not. Have I ever rented a 'good' car? Yes, many times. There are lots of decent rental cars out there. Including American branded ones.
In the 1980s, I liked the Buick Riviera, choosing them on several occasions. I enjoyed Lincoln Town Cars, too - renting them frequently. (I didn't like a 1988 Continental I once hired - it didn't seem well finished enough to be a luxury car. And the 6 cylinder engine was gutless.)
Had an '84 Mercury station wagon once - it broke down on the way to my hotel. The rental car company replaced it with a Lincoln Town Car.
My teenage kids enjoyed playing in the huge trunk of our rental Town Car during our 1984 visit to Philadelphia.
I even rented a Renault Alliance on one occasion. Cute little car; I drove it for 12 days and it never gave me a bit of trouble. (Based on what I've read, this may be the only Alliance that actually started more than 10 mornings in a row.) It was peppy, nimble, got good gas mileage and the A/C worked well even in the Texas summer heat.
I've rented several Cadillacs and Toyotas, including a 1991 DeVille (which was really nice - if a little too soft and bulbous). The Caddys and Toyos were perfectly satisfactory.
In 2002, I drove a Ford Escort for 10 days around Southern California. It was trouble-free; it rode and handled surprisingly well. The seats were reasonably comfortable; the A/C worked beautifully. Shifts were smooth; brakes were good. Gas mileage was great - over 25 mpg on regular gas. No complaints.
In 2004, we rented a black Buick Century for a week. There was absolutely no wind noise at 75 mph; the ride was plush as were the very comfortable seats. Fit and finish were excellent, the interior was roomy and the controls were easy to decipher. The Buick was nimble on narrow Quebec City streets and the exterior seemed smaller than its 195-inch length. The steering was overboosted and numb but the brakes were responsive. We averaged 26 mpg on a 1,200 mile trip. A good rental experience.
I'm not sure I'd want to own any of the aforementioned cars (especially the Riviera and Alliance) but all of them performed their duties well over a one to two week period and left me without any really negative impressions.
Unlike the Impala. And that cheesy '88 Continental and DOA '84 Mercury wagon. And an '86 Oldsmobile 98 from Alamo Rent-A-Car with 2,000 miles on the clock that had broken engine mounts and dented the hood from the inside. And the unpleasant and crude Chevy Cavalier we rented during a 2003 Colorado vacation.
These days, the rental car lots seem to be chock full of GM, Ford and DC products as well as Korean brands. Models seen included Pontiac G6, Chevy Impala, Buick Rendezvous, Ford Mustang, Fusion and 500, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Kia Sportage SUV and Hyundai Sonata sedan. I didn't see any Japanese brands in rental stalls on this trip.
My advice - if you're renting a car, you may want to select something other than an Impala. (permalink)
Makin' Payroll: Ford Motor Company will delay payroll next month. Instead of paying employees before the holidays on December 22, as has been the tradition, employees will receive their salary on December 29th. Ford is also scaling back health care benefits, raising premiums and eliminating merit pay for 2007.
Ford can call it anything they want: A New Tradition, Improving Cash Flow, etc., but the real world calls it Missing Payroll.
In the early days of my manufacturing business, we struggled to survive. My business partner and I often went unpaid, living off our dwindling savings and the incomes of our spouses. But we never missed payroll. We knew that if we didn't pay our people on time, our good employees would leave to find a more stable work environment.
I believe that when a company fails to make payroll, it is the beginning of The End.
Meanwhile, those Masters of Timing over at The Truth About Cars (whom I admire greatly) have just issued Ford Death Watch #15.
Is Castro Dead? Who knows? I saw some of the 'staged' videos on television the week. Maybe next, they'll show him parking a new Lexus LS-460.
George Is The Most Dangerous Man In The World. Not George Bush ... George Soros. Read this analysis of his interview on '60 Minutes'. During the Holocaust in Hungary, when he was a 14 year-old Jewish boy posing as a Christian, Soros went out and helped in the confiscation of property from Jews. He said, "If I weren't there ... somebody else would be taking it away anyhow. ... I was only a spectator ... so ... I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt."
Thomas Lifson writes, "All of which would seem to indicate that Mr. Soros has no conscience. A lack of conscience is said to be a common symptom of sociopaths."
Kerry Gaffe: The first rule of politics is that one must have the gift of always knowing the Right Thing To Say. John Kerry obviously has the opposite - the un-gift of Foot-In-Mouth disease.
You have to wonder ... how did he get as far in politics as he did, anyway?
Of course, the media still love him.
On the other hand, Jonah Goldberg writes, "Now that I've slept on it, I basically think John Kerry remains an unfettered crapweasel." So there.
One Sin Replaces Another: Wouldn't it be funny if all the crack dens and whorehouses in New York closed because they were displaced by places where people can secretly smoke cigarettes while enjoying trans-fatty foods?
Quote Of The Day is from Jeremy Clarkson on environmentalists: "I do wish these people would take up something useful. Like tearing their own tongues out. ...
Greenpeace has taken a long hard look at the world. It has noted the alarming emergence of Islamic extremism, and the corruption in Africa. It's logged the oppression in Burma and the slaughter in the Middle East. And it has decided that something must be done ... about your patio heater."
Wednesday November 1, 2006
I'm Back: We have returned home from a ten-day Fall vacation in the Philadelphia area. We drove to Seattle, stayed overnight, flew Alaska Airlines (our favorite carrier) to Newark, N.J. and drove to the Philly suburbs where we stayed.
We had a good visit but are glad to be back home in the Pacific Northwest.
The New York/Philadelphia corridor has too much traffic. Everybody drives too fast (for road/traffic conditions) and it's too is congested for us.
But gas was cheap - in New Jersey, we filled up at an Arco station for $1.919 per gallon.
Car Sightings: I have often wondered where all the two-seat 'new' Thunderbirds had gone - I don't see many in the Pacific Northwest. They were a common sight in the Bucks County PA suburbs.
Another common sighting in the Delaware Valley were Mercuries. I saw hundreds of them in the Philadelphia area - SUVs, Grand Marquis, etc. Mercury seems to promote itself as a Chick Car these days, but the ones I saw were driven by both men and women.
We spotted a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder pulling out of the lot at F.C. Kerbeck in Palmyra, NJ.
On this trip, I saw two 2007 Cadillac Escalades - both were black. One was an SUV; the other was the EXT pickup truck. Both had chrome wheels and lots of chrome bling.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the interstates were full of black Lincoln Town Cars - car service vehicles, ferrying people from one place to another. I also saw several Town Car hearse conversions.
There are far more luxury brands (Cadillac, Acura, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, etc.) and far fewer pickup trucks than around home. East Coast Big City Flash versus Northwest Rural Country Haulin', I suppose.
Mass Transit: The 66 line, which runs along Frankford Avenue in N.E. Philadelphia, is now a bus; not a trackless trolley (the Philly term for trolley bus). Trolley buses were discontinued over two years ago. But the overhead wires are still in place - go figure.
The Bridge Street Terminal of the Frankford Elevated line looks much improved. The overhead tracks have been rerouted behind the original brick terminal. The exterior of the terminal building is now the most prominent feature. It has been cleaned and restored, the windows have been refurbished, an addition has been built and a 1,000 car multi-story parking garage has been added on the north side. We wondered, "Why didn't they do this 40 years ago?"
Unfortunately, once you get a block from the station, the El tracks and support structures resume their straddle (strangle?) over Frankford Avenue, turning the street level into perpetual twilight and bringing with it the dark shadows of slums and decay.
In that regard, it's much like it was in the 1940s and '50s, although the stores and neighborhoods were better and, back in those days, boarded-up buildings were almost unheard of in the neighborhood.
We rode the Market Street Subway from downtown to 30th Street Station. The train cars were shiny, the interiors were clean, the stations were well-lit and free of graffiti and the SEPTA people were courteous.
30th Street Station, the former Pennsylvania Railroad train station (now used by AMTRAK and SEPTA), was nicely restored and still very magnificent, with its cavernous main passenger concourse featuring ornate art deco decor. It opened in 1933.
We expected the 562,000 square-foot railway station to be underutilized but the terminal seemed quite busy.
Philly Miscellany: Here are some observations made during our trip:
• The Philadelphia Zoo no longer has any elephants. I wonder what they'll do with the giant elephant statue near the front of the zoo? Maybe they should put it next to the Rocky statue in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
• We heard on the news about lots of vehicle/pedestrian accidents on Roosevelt Boulevard. Then we drove up the boulevard at 11:30 pm and saw black people dressed in very dark clothing jaywalking across the 12 lanes of this dimly lit highway. Not running either, just strolling. It seemed like they were almost daring motorists to run over them.
For safety, everyone should wear light-colored clothing at night but common sense indicates that it's really critical if you have dark skin.
• At St. Ephram's Catholic Church in Bensalem, they have several handicapped parking spaces. But the coveted space closest to the church has a sign which reads, "Reserved for chance and auction winner".
Donations trump disabilities - I love it.
• We visited Northlandz in Flemington, NJ. This self-proclaimed "world's largest miniature railway" has eight miles of HO scale track, 35 foot-tall mountains, over 300 bridges, 4,000 buildings and a half-million lichen trees. Northlandz's massive substructure required enough lumber to build 42 large houses. It's a must-see, whether you're into trains or not.
Northlandz is simply spectacular and, like the Grand Canyon, impossible to capture properly on film.
• Pennsylvania and New Jersey have very high taxes (NJ has one of the highest property tax rates in the nation), yet the roads are incredibly bumpy and pothole-ridden. Where is all that tax money going?
• I didn't recognize the names of any of the banks I saw; half of them seem to be Wachovia. The Chestnut St. branch catty-cornered from Independence Hall had badly-rotted windowsills on the ground floor. You'd think that with all that money, Wachovia could easily afford to repair the windows.
I wonder if Wachovia is in financial trouble?
• We did some downtown traveling using the Philly Phlash - a purple-colored, fake Ye Olde Tyme Trolley. This vehicle was one of those buses with a wood trolley body on it.
The seats were slatted wood and the ride was bumpy and uncomfortable. But it was a cost-effective way to get around.
• Passing through midtown, I was surprised at how 'ordinary' the area had become. Thirty years ago, the area was full of trendy, one-of-a-kind restaurants with eclectic food and quirky names.
Now there's a TGI Friday's attached to the Embassy Suites at 17th and the Parkway; a Ruby Tuesday is located at 16th and Chestnut. "Bleegggh." to both.
I've heard that the old Bookbinder's restaurant on 15th Street is now an Applebee's location.
• We enjoyed seeing 'Money In Motion', located in the Federal Reserve Building at 6th and Arch. It was an entertaining and educational exhibit about money and the banking system.
• We were dismayed by what has happened to Independence Mall. The Independence National Historical Park was created through an Act of Congress in 1948. In those days, Independence Hall was surrounded by dumpy, deteriorating commercial buildings and parking lots. The goal was to create a block-wide grassy mall, extending from Independence Hall to Race Street.
The completion of Independence Mall was a result of an urban redevelopment plan funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Now it's being ruined by the placement of tasteless, box-shaped, anonymous exhibit halls - Federal tourist traps - on the Mall. One such structure is the National Constitution Center. Dismissing it as another trite, dumbed-down history lesson, my wife said, "You don't have to go there if you just read the caption on the postcard."
In 20 years, the building will probably be converted to a TGI Friday's. And, the new Liberty Bell Center looks suspiciously like an Applebee's.
But it's better than the old Liberty Bell building, which was truly ugly. Built in the mid-1970s, it looked like a car wash.
Liberty Bell: In the 1950s, the bell was kept under the back stairs at Independence Hall. And people treated it with disdain.
As an eight year-old Cub Scout, I got to bang The Bell with a wooden mallet during a field trip to Independence Hall. The tour hostess said to us, "It's broken, ya know. And that big crack makes it sound awful." (I know there's a Courtney Love joke in there somewhere but I'll restrain myself.)
The docent continued, "Who wants to give it a good whack with this hammer to hear how bad it sounds?" I raised my hand.
And the Rest is History.
Trivia: It 'rings' in E-flat.
Nowadays, of course, you can't even touch the Liberty Bell. Because it's Old. And Historic. Which is quite laughable compared with Europe; they have things that are really Old and Historic. Like ... thousands of years old. And no one seems to care if you touch historical stuff over there.
We didn't bother to visit the Bell on this trip. I still remember how it looks. And sounds.
Restaurant Reviews: We really enjoyed Carrabba's. We could tell by the booth design and layout that it was a corporate cousin to Outback Steakhouse but Carrabba's Italian food is spectacular - and a bargain. I can't wait for them to open some out here. (There are none in California, Washington or Oregon, although there are a couple in Nevada.)
The Mayfair Diner is an institution; they still provide a typewritten 'specials' menu supplement twice a day - one for lunch, one for dinner. (I even got to meet the typist and complimented her on her layout skills.)
I enjoyed a great pizza steak at the Mayfair; it was far better than the offerings at Nifty Fifties. I had a pizza steak there a few days before and found it disappointing.
One of my teenage friends used to get his pizzas from Tony's, just down the street from the his folk's house on Frankford Ave. It's still there but Tony's grandson has now opened a second location in Ivyland, PA.
We ordered Tony's famous tomato pie; it was delicious and evoked a lot of pleasant memories from 40+ years ago.
We had excellent cheese steaks at Lee's Hoagie House, a Philadelphia-area chain we've patronized many times before. (Get the double-meat version if you're hungry.)
Michael's Diner in Bensalem offers a diner-style menu offering a multitude of choices. We had matzo ball soup for the first time in 30+ years.
Michael's does a pretty decent Patty Melt, too.
Class Reunion: As part of our trip, I attended my 45th high school reunion at St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia. It was good to see old friends again.
I've attended every reunion since graduating - they're held every five years. Here are some observations/comparisons ...
• At my 25th Reunion, the focus was on exchanging business cards, networking and vigorous displays of power ties and tasseled loafers. The mantra seemed to be: "This is what I've accomplished so far and that is my next mountain to conquer."
The question of the moment was, "How much did you pay for that Mercedes?"
• At my 35th, the focus was on middle age - asking about each other's children and, for some, grandchildren. Most attendees had made peace with their choices and decisions in life-so-far. The mantra seemed to be: "This part of my life has worked out great. This other thing is not so great. But I'm OK with it. Life's not perfect."
The question of the moment was, "How much did you pay for your kid's college?" Or, in some cases, "How much did you pay for your grandchild's crib?"
• At this one - the 45th, the focus was on retirement and health. When the roundtable discussion of "are you retired yet" ensued, one guy said, "I can't retire. I have a 38 year-old wife and a 10 year-old kid." But he was the exception.
Most attendees were retired or semi-retired. Everyone seemed to have a health crisis story to tell.
The question of the moment seemed to be, "How much do you pay for Plavix? Or Avandia?" Nevertheless, we all had a great time.
All in all, it was a very good trip. (permalink)