Friday December 29, 2006
End Of The Year Car Thoughts: One year ago, I wrote that General Motors "seems to be pinning its hopes on the next-generation big SUVs, at a time when demand for such vehicles is waning. Except for Corvette, the Chevrolet Division is a disaster. I personally like the looks of the Pontiac G6 but no one seems to be buying it. Pontiac discontinued its front-drive V-8 Grand Prix due to poor sales, yet GM expects the front-drive V-8 Buick Lucerne to be a home run. Buick is in death throes."
And: "Lincoln is a disaster; Mercury seems to be going nowhere ... The Mustang is the only winner in Ford's stable. Any profits Ford makes seem to sink into that Black Hole known as Jaguar ... As much as I like Jaguar, one must wonder how long it can remain as a viable brand."
And: "DaimlerChrysler has some hot models and some promising new ones. But Chrysler's sales have a habit of nose-diving without warning. And Mercedes still hasn't sorted out its quality problems. So, regarding DC, who knows?"
Hmmmm. Not much has changed in a year, has it? Peter DeLorenzo has written, "What used to be a battle of hanging on to market share for the denizens of the Detroit car companies has now turned into an all-out war - of survival."
In 2007, Ford is banking on the new Edge to save the company. I don't think so; it's OK but nothing groundbreaking. Meanwhile, GM still has too many SUVs and trucks in its line-up. DaimlerChrysler - by all reports - has acres and acres of unsold, unloved cars. And no one loves the new Sebring. Or the new Jeep Compass.
At January's auto shows, there will be many 'unveilings' and 'previews' of 2008-09 models by the Big 2.5. I've never understood this. By announcing the next New Thing so early, aren't they undermining The Current Things - those very products they're trying to sell Right Now? I've noticed that Honda and Toyota rarely offer long-length previews. Generally, anything they show will be available in a coupe of months.
As for me, if I had to replace my eleven year-old Jaguar sedan right-this-here minute, I'd do one of the following: 1) buy a new Infiniti G35 coupe, 2) buy a pre-owned, Jaguar-certified, low-mileage 2005-6 XK coupe or 3) buy a brand new Lexus LS 460. But my Jag keeps soldiering on and, you know, that's just fine with me. Because there's nothing on the market that's on my 'Gotta Have It Or Else' list.
New Product of the Year: I nominate the WD-40 No-Mess pen. I got one for Christmas. It has a chiseled felt tip like those glue pens and paint pens. Very clever. It even has a clear 'porthole' so you can see how much fluid is remaining. It works great, too; I've already used it on some squeaky hinges.
Book Report: I've been reading 'America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It' by Mark Steyn. I received this book as a Christmas present.
Steyn has written an easy-to-read, oft-witty but very serious book on a scary subject. He posits that (more >>>)
Custom Canvas: If you need anything custom manufactured from canvas or fabric, I'd recommend the folks at Waagmeester Canvas in Portland. They do fine work and have customers all over the U.S. Good people.
Happy New Year! See ya next year.
Tuesday December 26, 2006
It's The Most Ugliest Time Of The Year: It's auto show concept car time.
Let's begin with the Mercedes CLR 600 concept. Yeccchhhh! Ugly! Looks like a cheap generic tin Future Car toy from the 1950s. With a front end inspired by an old electric razor. Holy Schick!
Then there's the Lincoln MXR. Do you live where it snows a lot? Because this thing would make a pretty good snow plow. Or cheese grater. The shovel nose idea is direct from the 1996 Lincoln Sentinel concept, by the way. At least the Sentinel had a V-12 engine. This thing has a six.
Jaguar C-XF concept. I dunno. Not very British-looking in the photos. (I think I'll reserve final judgement until I see it in the flesh.) The front end looks like a demonized Volvo. (Pop 'round and ring up an exorcist, please, whilst I put on a spot of tea.) Maybe a Jaguar leaper hood ornament and Daytona wire wheels would help. And that interior is waaaay too Buck Rogers. Needs some burled walnut trim, guv'nor.
When Concepts Were Cool: For Christmas, I received a very nice 1:43 scale model of the swoopy Alfa Romeo BAT 9. I already have models of the BAT 5 and BAT 7. I got to see all three of these 1950s experimental aerodynamic vehicles (BATs 5, 7 and 9) at the 1996 Concours Italiano in Carmel, California. They were all stunning.
Paying For Past Sins: GM's Global Market and Industry Analysis Division has delivered an unusually candid and harsh look at the automaker's declining market share and vulnerabilities in the U.S. The report shows how GM has lost market share in all 50 states over the past five years, in all key age groups. In the past 10 years, GM's annual U.S. market share has fallen from 31 percent to 24 percent.
The study said that the automaker's share of the "pre-boomer" market - people born before 1946 - fell from 32 percent in 1999 to 27 percent in 2005. Similarly, the company's share of "boomer" buyers - born between 1946 and 1964 - dropped from 26 percent to 24 percent, and its share of "post-boomer" consumers - born after 1964 - slid from 25 percent to 21 percent.
I'm not surprised by this. People make purchases based on past experiences. GM and other Detroit automakers are still plagued by the sins of the past. Many consumers who owned poorly-built Detroit cars in the 1970s and 1980s have abandoned domestic vehicles for more reliable Asian brands. And they won't be back anytime soon, if ever.
Detroit's target buyers - in the 25-45 age group - may be the children of these dissatisfied customers and may well have memories of the family Ford, Dodge or Buick which was always in the shop. They may have later memories of a family Honda or Toyota, which was a reliable workhorse. Therefore, these target buyers have an ingrained reluctance to even visit a showroom full of Detroit iron; they tend to take their business elsewhere.
Then there's those impressions left by one's 'first ride'. Art Spinella of CNW, an automotive marketing consulting firm, reports that, if a person's first used car was a Toyota, the odds the person's first new car will be a Toyota are about 55%. If a person's first used car was a Honda, the number is 60%. If GM: 38%; Ford: 39%; Chrysler: 23%.
Quality influences sales.
Toyota May Surpass GM in 2007: Toyota Motor Corp. may soon end General Motors' reign as the world's largest carmaker. Toyota expects demand for fuel-efficient models in the U.S., Asia and Europe to raise sales at the company and its affiliates by 6 percent to 9.34 million vehicles next year.
GM used to laugh at Toyota. They're not laughing now.
RIP - James Brown: The Godfather of Soul died on Christmas morning at the 'official' age of 73. (Rumor has it that he was several years older. His stamina was remarkable for a man in his 70s, possibly late 70s. Singing his heart out ... jumpin' around on stage ... accepting that heavy cape after much feigned reluctance.)
Rock historian Peter Guralnick wrote of The Cape: "... it became the trademark of his act, a ritual drama of loss and redemption in which a weary James Brown, assailed with the cares, worries, and woes of the world, collapsed under the weight of his burden, then somehow found the strength to go on. Everywhere he went it created pandemonium ..."
Little Richard said, "He was an innovator, he was an emancipator, he was an originator. Rap music, all that stuff came from James Brown."
My favorite James Brown memory is Eddie Murphy's killer JB impersonation on Saturday Night Live, in a bit called 'James Brown's Celebrity Hot Tub Party'. Best line, "Owwww! Too hot in the hot tub!"
In his memory, we played his old album 'James Brown Christmas' on Christmas Day. Luckily, we still had a tape player that still worked. You haven't lived until you've heard JB's rendition of 'The Christmas Song.' Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, indeed.
Requiescat In Pace, James. Owwww!
Another Conundrum: Who's more obnoxious - Rosie O'Donnell? Or Donald Trump? (I think it's a tie.)
Quote Of The Day is from Jean Kerr: "I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want - an adorable pancreas?"
Wednesday December 20, 2006
In Praise Of Cars: Doug Flint has written about the profound positive influence of the automobile on society. "Think of the power and mobility millions of people have that never existed before in mankind's history and does not exist anywhere else. In 24 hours' time you can move a thousand miles in any direction. You don't have to ask anyone's permission, fill out any papers, or buy a ticket. Show me someone who got caught in a hurricane and I'll show you someone who didn't own a car."
Doug also points out that "no matter how much you spend buying a car, it really won't do much more than a used clunker purchased for $2,500. How egalitarian can you get?"
He is Jewish and a frequent visitor to his synagogue. Doug notes that "without the existence of the automobile I would have to live in a Jewish enclave in a major city as my forebears did to be within walking distance of a synagogue. The Catholics would live near their church, the Protestants would have their neighborhood, and a sort of natural segregation would take place as it has in much of the world."
Warren Brown, the Washington Post's auto writer has stated in no uncertain terms that as a black man growing up in the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow, the Klan, and a general ingrained racism, his car, more than anything else, served to keep him alive.
A black man walking on the roadside was fair game for insults, hurled bottles, and marauding gangs. But in his car he had anonymity. Who notices a properly dressed man wearing a fine hat behind the wheel of a car? And if anyone did take notice, he was gone before they could react.
Freedom ... has wheels!
Burrrrrppppp. California is suing General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Nissan and DaimlerChrysler for carbon dioxide emissions. What about Coke and Pepsi? What the #@!% does California think those bubbles are?
Eat A Burrito; Kill A Frenchman: Scientists at Oxford University showed that human emissions of greenhouse gases had more than doubled the risk of record-breaking heatwaves such as the one reckoned to have killed 27,000 people across Europe in 2003.
A Christmas Surprise For Kim? China has begun drawing up plans to attack North Korea, according to the Paris-based Intelligence Online newsletter. Hu Jintao, head of the Central Military Commission, has ordered the Chinese military to draw up the attack plan as a move "deliberately meant as a threat to the regime of Kim Jong-Il." The report said the plan was leaked to sources close to Western intelligence in Hong Kong.
The action follows China's displeasure at the Oct. 9 nuclear test, which Hu regarded as a snub to the International Affairs Leadership Group that he has headed since 2003. ... The Chinese military intelligence service, "is toying with the idea of a palace revolution that would kick out the 'Kim dynasty' and replace it with 'pro-Chinese generals.'"
Bad Pun Of The Day: Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
Tuesday December 19, 2006
Time Has Run Out ... of ideas. Completely. How do I know this? because Time magazine has named You (and me ... and everyone else) as Person of the Year for the growth and influence of user-generated content on the internet.
Well, I have a blog and you may not. But that's OK, because you 'read' blogs. This is an all-inclusive gift, so no one feels bad. Everyone's a winner - no self-esteem issues for anyone. So, if you're suffering from HDS - Holiday Depression Syndrome, please don't kill yourself. Not only does Jesus love you, so does Time.
There, there ... don't you feel better now? (This concludes my holiday PSA - Public Service Announcement.)
Greg Gutfeld asks ... "So, what'd you do today?"
• "I spent 14 hours paving a road so people can get to where they need to go and the American economy can flow. How 'bout you?"
• "Well, I helped suppress a Taliban offensive aimed at overthrowing the Afghan government. How 'bout you?"
• "I put up a YouTube video of my cat throwing up and added 3 new friends to my MySpace account - I'm a person of the year!"
The light, dry hum you hear is Henry Luce spinning in his grave at about 8,000 rpm.
Well, there is a silver lining here .... literally. The folks who make vacuum-metallized, silver-mirrored Mylar film will have a really great Christmas with the profits from the tons of product they peddled to Time for those idiotic magazine covers.
In conclusion, who cares about Time, anyway? Half its subscriber base consists of dental offices, doctors' waiting rooms and lobbies at elder care facilities. This is the rag which celebrates that Iranian nutjob, Ahmadinejad as a "champion of the dispossessed" and "global Everyman."
I will stand on my principles and not-so-respectfully decline my award.
Milhouse Wants Money: The host of Countdown With Keith Olbermann is said to be seeking "north of $4 million" a year from MSNBC, according to an industry source, to re-up on his contract that comes due in April. That would represent roughly a four-fold increase over Olbermann's current deal, believed to be in the $1 million-per-year range.
I think that's about $80,000 per viewer.
Bad Pun Of The Day: What do Spanish sheep say when they wish each other a Merry Christmas? "Fleece Navidad!"
Monday December 18, 2006
Another Sign Of End Times: It's a 30-foot long, banana-yellow Dodge Charger R/T Daytona stretch limo, which - if you care about such things - can seat 11.
Storm Report: If you've been watching the news, you know that the Pacific Northwest got hit with a big storm Thursday night - toppling trees, bringing down power lines and causing flooding and inconvenience to many. Winds in our area gusted to almost 80 miles per hour.
Several species of fir trees, especially cedar trees, have relatively shallow roots. When the ground becomes soaked, the trees lose the ability to withstand the wind. And fall over.
An Amtrak train was blocked about five miles north of Vancouver by a tree across the tracks. Then a mudslide south of Tacoma prompted Amtrak to cancel all train trips between Portland and Seattle in both directions. The southbound lanes of Interstate 5 in Chehalis (about an hour north of us) were shut down for a time because a large tree fell across all three lanes.
High winds delayed/cancelled flights at the Portland International Airport. By Thursday night, all roads to the coast from Portland were closed due to fallen trees. Mt. Hebo - in the Oregon Coast Range - had winds topping 120 mph. Route 26, the route to Mt. Hood and Government Camp, was declared "impassable" during the storm - fallen trees and a snow blizzard.
At one point, over 300,000 people in the Portland area were without power. One-third of Battle Ground residents lost power. We lost our power only momentarily - just enough to make digital clocks blink, screw-up miscellaneous electronic devices, etc. During the night, a large tree fell just across the street from our place. It initially blocked the road but a neighbor, armed with a chain-saw, cut back the large branches and our street is now partially cleared and passable.
One tree fell on our property. It was a fir (50-60 feet tall, 20 inch diameter at the base) on the very western edge of our lot; it fell across our gravel pathway and its tip landed about 6 feet from the corner of our back deck. But - what's important - it did not hit the house. We were very lucky.
Our driveway was full of fir debris from the many large trees on our property - but all of the detritus was fairly small and the driveway is quite passable.
Eleven years ago, we lost two gigantic trees during a similar storm. Luckily for us, they fell away from our house. But the huge cedars landed on our neighbor's fence and swimming pool. Those trees did not crack and break - they just toppled, roots and all, leaving large, deep holes in our lawn and ripping up a sprinkler line.
This year's storm happened during fairly mild temperatures - 50+ degrees. On Friday, temperatures dropped drastically and we experienced snow, hail and thunder as the storm exited the area.
Nobody Makes Anything Here Anymore: The service sector now represents two-thirds of the $13 trillion U.S. economy.
Why Everything's Made In China: Bunnie Huang, co-founder of Chumby (a startup that's making a small, WiFi-enabled, squeezable bean-bag computer), has recently returned from a trip to China, where he was arranging for manufacturing of his goods.
He reports, "In Shenzhen, the minimum wage is about $0.60/hour. However, there is a very competitive labor market in China there is a shortage of workers and mobility between factories is unimpaired by employment agreements. Therefore, employers must provide a very competitive benefits package for their employees, which typically includes dormitory housing, food, medical care, schooling, and day care; there are no retirement or unemployment benefits."
"Workers have an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, and employers are required to pay 1.5x overtime and 2x on weekends. As far as I can tell, employers honor this. So in the end, these laborers earn a discretionary income of at least $100 per month, or $1200 per year. This is surprisingly comparable to the $2,075/yr. discretionary income of U.S. households that earn under $50,000."
"The maximum tax rate is 17.5%; it's less if you make less (minimum wage workers generally can dodge taxes it seems). There are no local taxes, no social security tax, no medicare tax, no sales taxes, no alternative minimum tax. There is no capital gains tax either."
"The fully-burdened rate of a worker in China is around $1.80 it seems this is the rate that the employer pays once all the benefits (free food, housing, medical care, day care, etc.) are factored in. At these wages, laborers are cheaper than pick-and-place machines. In the U.S., you typically pay between $0.05-$0.25 per component placed on a PCB with a pick and place machine in low volume (100s to 1000s)."
"I saw several electronics lines where about ten workers are lined up on a bench, bending and stuffing resistors and transistors into a moderately complex circuit board, and hand-dipping them in a solder bath. They crank out about 100 boards per hour; each employee is stuffing about four components, so 400 components per hour at $1.80/hour is $0.0045 per component. Setup and training for the line I saw took about 2-3 hours. So even if you were to run a few hundred boards, this is a very cheap assembly method indeed, as long as you can keep good quality control over the process." (hat tip - Boing Boing)
Hidden Treats? Ric at Pugs of War wonders, "Now that the solons of New York City have seen fit to ban trans fats, can Gothamites apply for Congealed Carry Permits?"
Bad Pun Of The Day: A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because", he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."
Friday December 15, 2006
Car Sighting: I got a good look at a Buick Lucerne parked at a metered space in downtown Portland this week. It's a very nice looking car, especially the distinctive front end. Unfortunately ... it's a Buick.
When I was growing up, Buicks were seen as powerful, desirable cars. (Think '63 Riviera.) These days, Buicks are considered an Old People's Ride. Or a Chinaman's Dream:
"A growing number of analysts and investors - including General Motors' former number-one shareholder, Kirk Kerkorian - have been pressing the automaker to dump the troubled nameplate, which has suffered a steady loss in market share."
Several senior company insiders say that a key reason for keeping Buick alive is the growth potential in China. "Killing off Buick here would send the wrong message to China, where it is now the number-one brand," said one exec, during a GM background briefing.
The Lucerne, like half the Buicks I've seen lately, sported the GED (Geezer Emblem of Distinction) - a blue handicapped hang tag.
Entropy ... loosely defined, means everything eventually goes downhill. CAR magazine is not what it used to be. Top Gear is much better. Jamie Kitman, James May and Paul Horrell - all of whom (I think) once wrote for Car - are now Top Gear contributors.
Train News: In 2000, I put up a website about my model railroad. Over the years, I've added photos and text as I added to the train layout. Seven years later (49 dog years, 674 internet years), it was time for a site revamp. You may view the results here.
"Pull My Hoof": James Lileks writes, "In another display of pitch-perfect priorities, the U.N. has released its findings on cow flatulence. There's quite a lot of it ... the planet's livestock, including 1.5 billion cattle, produce 18 percent of greenhouse gases.
Apparently the beasts of the field do nothing but wander around all day asking their brethren to "pull my hoof." Every time a cow feels a small sense of relief, a polar bear goes through the ice."
Soon-To-Be-Forgotten.doc: Mark Steyn writes about the ISG (whom he calls the Illustrious Seniors' Group) report noting that the group recommends that "Iraq is to come under something called the 'Iraq International Support Group.' If only Neville Chamberlain had thought to propose a "support group" for Czechoslovakia, he might still be in office. Or guest-hosting for Oprah."
By the way, most of the Talking Heads (whom I call Screaming Heads) on The McLaughlin Group felt that the report would be forgotten within two months. Good.
Jimmah Watch: Jeffrey Goldberg, reviewing Jimmy Carter's latest book, writes, "Carter, not unlike God, has long been disproportionately interested in the sins of the Chosen People. He is famously a partisan of the Palestinians, and in recent months he has offered a notably benign view of Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization that took power in the Palestinian territories after winning a January round of parliamentary elections.
There are differences, however, between Carter's understanding of Jewish sin and God's. God, according to the Jewish Bible, tends to forgive the Jews their sins. And God, unlike Carter, does not manufacture sins to hang around the necks of Jews when no sins have actually been committed."
Two words: Jimmy Carter. Two more words: Sanctimonious hypocrite.
Question Of The Week: Yoko Ono's chauffeur has been arrested for trying to blackmail her with "embarrassing photographs."
How can anything be embarrassing to Yoko after a lifetime of musical caterwauling and various other antics? (Including wrecking The Beatles.)
Bad Pun Of The Day: What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
Wednesday December 13, 2006
Not Much To Write About: I've been spending my time thinking - trying to solve this conundrum:
Who's worse? Jimmy Carter? Or Kofi Annan?
I'm still thinking about it.
Monday December 12, 2006
Crafting Dough: Recently, I was reading an ad supplement in the local newspaper. It seemed like every product featured was described as "artisan." This term used to be a noun, meaning a skilled craftsperson. Then it became an adjective, referring to something produced by a skilled craftsperson in very small batches.
One would think, therefore, that producing Artisan Bread would involve some kind of skilled craft tools. A jeweler's loupe? Chisel? Glassblower's tongs? Nope. According to artisanbakers.com, "An artisan baker is a craftsperson who is trained to the highest ability to mix, ferment, shape and bake a hand crafted loaf of bread. They understand the science behind the chemical reactions of the ingredients and know how to provide the best environment for the bread to develop." Aha! So, all non-artisan bread is Sloppily-made Bread. Thanks, artisanbakers, for the enlightenment. (For lunch, I'll think I'll have roast beef on Careless Jewish Rye.)
7-11 now offers sandwiches made with Artisan Bread. I immediately pictured ... (more >>>)
The League Of Extraordinary Bozos: Mario Loyola has written about the United Nations: "The Bush family is single-handedly responsible for turning the U.N., a glorified debate club of the Cold War, into a serious factor in international relations. U.N. norms now shape even the most important of our strategic decisions, such as how to dissuade Iran from proceeding in its nuclear development, and that is not good.
I'm huge fan of John Bolton but it is self-defeating to have a U.N. ambassador who is committed to making the United Nations work, because it cannot work. Bolton helped strengthen the disastrous impression that looming threats can only be removed by the Security Council and that America should invest energy in conforming its national security policies to the U.N. system.
What we need is exactly the opposite. The right ambassador to the United Nations is one who will use obstruction to get the Security Council to stop obstructing the prevention and removal of threats to the peace."
Another solution would be: get rid of the U.N. entirely.
Weird Story Of The Month: Fifty years after the death of psychic Helen Duncan, the last person in the UK imprisoned as a witch, her family is calling for her to be pardoned. She channeled the spirit of a sailor from a specific sunken warship - several months before the loss of the ship was made public. According to the BBC News, she was arrested in 1944 and sentenced to nine months in prison at the Old Bailey for crimes under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.
While in prison she was visited by Winston Churchill. When he was re-elected in 1951, the Witchcraft Act was repealed and three years later spiritualism was officially recognized as a religion.
Coincidence? Or what?
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Lang of TTAC: "Hummer is nothing more than a special vehicle for those who have always ridden in something yellow."
Friday December 6, 2006
The Bell Curve: Stein X. Leikanger at TTAC strikes the perfect note with an article titled 'The Disconnect': "The Big Three fell off the (bell) curve at the end of the 1980s when they began chasing [imagined] high-margin niches filled with wealthy people. The more high-priced, high margin trucks and SUVs GM, Ford and Chrysler sold, the less they cared about the millions of financially challenged customers who helped create their companies. ...
Toyota and Honda took a good close look at the Car Customer Bell Curve and arrived at a very different conclusion. They asked: "What if we offer affordable cars to the people right smack in the middle of the graph? A car range with just a touch better features, quality and service than similar servings from the domestics?" Rocket science!
We're looking at two strategies here. Toyota: build affordable transportation for the masses at a quality level that slightly exceeds expectations relative to price. GM et al: build oversized, under-engineered and fuel inefficient cars for people who don't care about money while palming off sub-standard cars on mainstream customers."
This article rates a definite "well said" but the story has been told by others - Michelle Maynard (The End of Detroit: How the Big Three Lost Their Grip on the American Car Market), Maryanne Keller (Rude Awakening) and David Halberstam (The Reckoning) all come to mind. And I've written about it as well, in 'An Open Letter To Detroit'. And, more recently, 'The Perfect Storm'.
And, let's not forget that the disdain for the public and its wants predates the current regimes at the Big 2.5. And the 1980s. Back in the early 1970s, Henry Ford II fobbed off junky little cars on buyers, while he concentrated Ford's development money on loaded luxobarges. "Small cars equals small profits," he quipped.
In 1982, the state of Oregon was in dire straits. During the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the national unemployment rate never exceeded 25%. In Linn County, Oregon the unemployment rate peaked at 27% in 1982. Things were so bad that you dare not go to a car dealer lest they tackle you and chain you to a desk until you agreed to buy a car. But not at the Honda dealer in Albany, Oregon - the only one in Linn County. There was a six-month (!!!!) waiting list for a new Accord sedan. Why? Well, one of the buff magazines (it was either Motor Trend or Road & Track) described the Accord as "a little Mercedes at one-fifth the price."
Despite the bad economy, the Accord became the best-selling Japanese nameplate in the U.S., holding that position for 15 years.
Build a good car that people want and they will come. Just ask Honda.
Clueless In Seattle: A Mercer Island, WA man fiddling with his BlackBerry was cruising down Interstate 5's express lanes Tuesday morning in his minivan, oblivious that traffic ahead had come to a dead stop. What happened next "could have been horribly tragic," said Washington State Patrol spokesman Jeff Merrill.
The 53-year-old man's minivan smashed into a car, setting off a chain reaction that included three other cars and a transit bus, which was carrying 28 passengers.
BlackBerry (aka CrackBerry) - worse than a cell phone because you have to use both hands. Or both thumbs, anyway.
Interesting Iraq Study Group Tidbit: Rudy Giuliani resigned from the Iraq Study Group when it became clear that signing the group's report would politicize its findings. Mr. Giuliani's views on the war are in contrast to the Iraq Study Group's conclusions. "The idea of leaving Iraq, I think, is a terrible mistake," the former mayor said.
Foreign Aid Is A Waste Of Money: "With the likes of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Joseph Mobutu of the Congo, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and a host of other kleptocratic tropical gangsters in power, aid money has simply been stolen.
Many African rulers rely on aid to feed their people while they destroy their livelihoods through a neglect of, and even by destroying, infrastructure. ... In badly run developing countries, governments channel aid to small elites. Poor people in villages and shanty towns never see any aid. Infant and child death rates remain high and women still die in unattended childbirth in countries on which aid is focused."
Evil Overlordism For Dummies: Thank you to Mike Lief, who found this comprehensive list of dos/don'ts for overlord wannabees. Some wonderful examples:
• My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
• I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labelled "Danger: Do Not Push". The big red button marked "Do Not Push" will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labelled as such.
• I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum - a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.
• After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks' time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out.
• I will never place the key to a cell just out of a prisoner's reach.
• No matter how well it would perform, I will never construct any sort of machinery which is completely indestructible except for one small and virtually inaccessible vulnerable spot.
• My vats of hazardous chemicals will be covered when not in use. Also, I will not construct walkways above them.
• I will never employ any device with a digital countdown. If I find that such a device is absolutely unavoidable, I will set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Not surprisingly, it sank - proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.
Thursday December 6, 2006
What About Iraq? The Iraq Study Group report has now been issued. It's not full of surprises; there have been many leaks over the past week or so about its contents.
"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," reports the commission - after an eight-month review of the situation. Well, duh. The report does note that "Al Qaeda will portray any failure by the United States in Iraq as a significant victory that will be featured prominently as they recruit for their cause in the region and around the world." But where in the report is the call for a military victory?
Bill Kristol has described the ISG report as "not serious and a deeply dishonest document."
The ten members of the Iraq Study Group have been deliberating about What To Do since last spring. John Podhoretz describes the group's members thusly: James "Is There An Arab Dictator Nearby Whose Butt I Can Kiss" Baker, Sandra Day O'Connor "and their crew of old Washington hands (and I mean old, like Metheuselah-level old) are recommending a "gradual pullback" of American troops but without a timetable. That basically translates into a nice, long, slow defeat - the "graceful exit" of which the president spoke so harshly."
Hey, would that be ex-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor? Oh man, I'm getting a faint Warren Commission odiferousness here. Where - oh where - is Arlen Spector and his Single Zig-Zag Muslim Theorem?
Mark Steyn had his own take on the ISG participants: "James Baker's "Iraq Study Group" seems to have been cast on the same basis as Liza Minnelli's last wedding. A stellar lineup: Donna Summer, Mickey Rooney, the Doobie Brothers, Gina Lollobrigida, Michael Jackson, Mia Farrow, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Jill St. John. That's Liza's wedding, not the Baker Commission. But at both gatherings everyone who was anyone was there, no matter how long ago it was they were anyone. So the fabulous Baker boy was accompanied by Clinton officials Leon Panetta and Bill Perry, Clinton golfing buddy Vernon Jordan, Clinton's fellow sex fiend Chuck Robb, the quintessential ''moderate'' Republican Alan Simpson, Supreme Court swing vote par excellence Sandra Day O'Connor ...
God, I can't go on. I'd rather watch Mia Farrow making out with Mickey Rooney to a Doobie Brothers LP. As its piece de resistance, the Baker Commission concluded its deliberations by inviting testimony from - drumroll, please - Sen. John F. Kerry. If you're one of those dummies who goofs off in school, you wind up in Iraq. But, if you're sophisticated and nuanced, you wind up on a commission about Iraq."
Even more appalling is one of the group's key recommendations - which is that America should try to find answers to its problems through an international conference that would include Syria and Iran.
Podhoretz notes: "The president treated the Baker half-measures with the contempt they deserved. But he will deserve precisely the same level of contempt if he doesn't champion a plan for victory immediately." Besides, we've been "talking" to Syria and Iran for 20 years - to no avail.
So, for the next several days, various networks will, predictably, trot out that professional has-been, The Most Vacuous Talking Head - David Gergen (wow come he wasn't part of the group?), to Explain It All to us plebeians, his lessors. I just looked up 'empty suit' in the Oxford Dictionary and, low-and-behold, there was Gergen's picture. (Good picture, too. Showed that Creative Comb-over style quite clearly.)
Hey, Dave, I don't need stuff 'splained to me. I already know what's needed - action. We need a gigantic robotic nuclear Roomba to clean things up in the Middle East ... how about buying two big ones and dropping one in Iran and the other in Syria?
That's a nuclear Roomba - a robotic clean up device, not to be confused with a Nuclear Rumba - a dance popular during the early days of the Cold War. I think Ike and Mamie used to do it at parties occasionally, especially if Mamie imbibed one too many sidecars.
Meanwhile, the Iraq Study Group and like-minded folks are looking for a suitable catchphrase to help sell our retreat - although they won't call it a "retreat". "Peace with honor." Ooooh, too Nixonian. "Peace in our time." Been there, done that, old chap. Sing along with me now: "Hello Neville .. well, hello Neville ... it's so nice to see you back in Munich again ...."
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (or, as Raging Dave calls him, 'Amahmentaljob'), President of Iran, continues to rant: "As the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said, Israel must be wiped off the map." And: "The war that is presently going on in Palestine is the frontline of the war of destiny between the Islamic world and the World Arrogance." And by 'World Arrogance', he means us American imperialists. And Israel. And our allies. Meanwhile, Iran continues to undermine our efforts in Iraq.
I like what Andy McCarthy has written: "There is only one good reason for American troops to be in Iraq. It is the reason we sent them there in 2003: To fight and win the 'war on terror' - i.e., the war against radical Islam - by deposing rogue regimes helping the terror network wage a long-term, existential jihad against the United States. You can argue that Iraq was the wrong rogue to start with; but destroying radical Islam's will and its capacity to project power is what the war is about.
Iraq is but a single battlefield in that war. It is not 'the war.' Stabilizing or even - mirabile dictu! - democratizing Iraq is not winning the war. It is the overseas equivalent of rebuilding the World Trade Center. The hard reality is that war exacts a terrible toll and its fallout must be addressed. This is why we hate war and resort to it only in the face of greater evils. But cleaning up war's unavoidable messes is not the same as winning.
To his great credit, President Bush has firmly resisted the cut-and-run approach through all the cheery euphemisms the Diplomats' Thesaurus offers for surrender - "draw-down," "redeployment," "phased withdrawal," etc. The president knows that, unlike all the solons offering him advice, he will be accountable to history for the results."
Winning the war means taking on the regimes and factions that are waging it. That is what the president promised to do after 9/11. "You're with us or you're with the terrorists."
If we want to win in Iraq, we must stop Iran and Syria. And we must win. Strategize to win. Develop plans and tactics to win. And fight to win. The whole world depends on it.
Finally, God bless the brave men and women in our military who are carrying the burden of winning.
Quote Of The Day properly belongs to Senator John McCain: "I understand the polls show only 18 percent of the American people support my position. But I have to do what's right, what I believe is right and what my experience and knowledge and background tells me is the right thing to do in order to save this situation in Iraq … In war, my dear friends, there's no such thing as compromise. You either win or you lose."
Wednesday December 6, 2006
A 'Gift' From The Wolfsburg Elves: A letter from Volkswagen Credit notes that the holidays are a time "to give thanks, spread joy and shop for the best sales. Now, here's the perfect "gift" to help you stretch your holiday dollar."
Volkswagen then invites customers to skip a payment this month. But the fine print reveals that they will charge you $25 to take them up on their seemingly kind holiday offer.
Strange Immortality: You may die but your junk mail never does. Hundreds of pieces of mail destined for the former World Trade Center still arrive every day at a post office facing ground zero the relics of the unfinished lives of Sept. 11 victims. Telephone bills, insurance statements, wine club announcements, college alumni newsletters, even government checks populate the bundles of mail. Each one bears the ZIP code once reserved exclusively for the twin towers - 10048.
Some of the nation's most recognizable companies and organizations are among those sending the mail. Much of it seems to result from companies not updating their bulk mailing lists, reported a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson.
Pushin' Up Peanuts: Former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday he hopes to be buried in front of his home in Plains, the southwest Georgia town where he and his wife were born. "Plains is special to us," the 82-year-old said during a three-hour live C-SPAN2 interview. "I could be buried in Arlington Cemetery or wherever I want but my wife was born here and I was born here."
Or he could be buried in Cuba next to Castro. And ... will the "killer rabbit" be in attendance?
GWC: That would be ... ummm ... Global Warming Crap. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe recently sent a threat letter to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
These two Senators believe global warming is a fact, and therefore all debate about the issue must stop and ExxonMobil should "end its dangerous support of the [global warming] deniers." Not only that, the company "should repudiate its climate change denial campaign and make public its funding history." They want Exxon to spend money on "global remediation efforts."
The Wall Street Journal asks, "Imagine if this letter had been sent by someone in the Bush Administration trying to enforce the opposite conclusion? The left would be howling about 'censorship.'"
The letter also states that "we are persuaded that the climate change denial strategy carried out by and for ExxonMobil has helped foster the perception that the United States is insensitive to a matter of great urgency for all of mankind, and has thus damaged the stature of our nation internationally." The senators want "ExxonMobil to capitalize on its significant resources and prominent industry position to assist this country in taking its appropriate leadership role in promoting the technological innovation necessary to address climate change and in fashioning a truly global solution to what is undeniably a global problem."
And: "A study to be released ... by an American scientific group will expose ExxonMobil as the primary funder of no fewer than 29 climate change denial front groups in 2004 alone." (hat tip - Andrea Harris)
First of all, Rockefeller and Snowe should have sent the letter to China, the biggest polluter on the planet.
Secondly, self-proclaimed 'environmentalists' don't have a very good track record. In 1976, Lowell Ponte published a huge bestseller called 'The Cooling: Has the New Ice Age Already Begun? Can We Survive?'
Speaking of books, in 1968, in his tome, 'The Population Bomb', scientist Paul Ehrlich declared, "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines - hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death."
In 1972, the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and gas by 1993.
Finally, lets not forget Jimmah. (Damn, I've mentioned that useless old fool twice in one day!) In 1977, Jimmy Carter stated that "we could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade." That would have been 1989.
"Global Warming." Yeah, right. Call up your friends in North Dakota and ask them what kind of winter they're having this year. And don't forget to ask them about that Global Warming thing.
Stocks A Bargain! Dan Wiener of the Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors observes: "On the profit front, let me recommend that you take a look at the Commerce Department's estimate of third-quarter corporate after-tax profits, a number that Alan Greenspan said he always favored as a litmus test for corporate earnings health. Profits, after tax, are up 189% over the past five years, yet the stock market has returned just 50% over the same period!
Stocks remain a tremendous value relative to bonds and relative to the earnings they are producing. Even if profits decline some and interest rates rise a bit, the fact is that investors will be much better served in the stock market than hiding in the bond market or in cash."
Merry Christmas, Oregon-Style: A very reputable correspondent sent me a report on the Corvallis, Oregon "Holiday Parade". (Corvallis is only about 11% less whacko than, say, Eugene.)
"There were horses and a dog club and police cars and snowplows and various church groups and such in the parade. There was a classic car club with some early 60's cars. But this is Corvallis, remember, so there was also an alternative bike group.
No Corvallis event would be complete without the Veterans for Peace and the No More War group - they were led by a pair of NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) followed by a few bikes and people walking with a giant white dove on sticks. Classic. I didn't see any llamas but there was a goat owners club, one with reindeer antlers strapped on."
Vatican Employees Unable To Relax At Christmas Party With Pope Around: According to The Onion, Pope Benedict's "way too formal" attire made everyone feel even more ill at ease. Said one Cardinal, "He said he didn't want to talk about work, but guess who was the first one to make a segue from our favorite local restaurants to the Bangorian Controversy with the Church Of England?"
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "If I were the judge in the custody suit between Britney and Federline, I'd give the kids to Andrea Yates."
Monday December 4, 2006
Prediction: Kirk Kerkorian will take all the money from his sale of GM stock and buy Chryslers. Not the stock. Just a bunch of cars. At a deep discount, using those coupons that Daimler-Chrysler is desperately mailing to everybody.
Then he'll yank the Chrysler badges off and replace them with his own. Because having a car named after himself would be the ultimate self-tribute. The logo will be a chrome stylized K.
And, thus, the Chrysler K car is reborn.
November Auto Roundup: Ford Motor Co. dropped from second to fourth in November's U.S. auto market as its sales slid by 10 percent, while Toyota's sales surged 16 percent to put it in the No. 2 spot. Ford said its car sales were down 3 percent, mostly due to lower demand from fleet customers, while truck sales were off 13 percent.
Sales of the Ford 500 were off almost 54% to 3,437 units. (Meanwhile, Toyota sold 7,054 of its similarly-sized but more expensive Avalon.) The 500's Mercury Montego clone was down over 42%. Ford Fusion sales did pretty well, though. As did Fusion's Lincoln & Mercury siblings. On the other end of things, Jaguar was down by over 35%.
General Motors reported 6 percent sales growth in November (Cadillac up over 20% and Buick up almost 12%), while DC's Chrysler Group posted a 3% rise. But Chrysler can't gloat because it's giving dealers up to $7,000 per vehicle to move the dead, bloated 2006 inventory from the infamous Chrysler sales bank.
Nissan's sales fell almost 2 percent and Hyundai's sales dropped almost 15 percent. BMW dropped 4.5%. Honda's sales rose about 1%; sales of Acuras were up almost 24%. Audi was up over 16%.
Psychopathic Snails! Jeremy Clarkson rants about slow drivers: "For these people, being in a Vauxhall Corsa at 26 mph is the most interesting thing they will do all day.
Show me someone who drives slowly and I'll show you a catastrophic bore. Someone whose life is empty, shallow and pointless. But there's more to it than that.
They are also deeply unpleasant ... they wish to impose their beliefs and their way of life on everyone else. They are people with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in amoral behaviour without empathy or remorse. And that's the dictionary-definition of a psychopath.
This, then, is a useful tip for the police. The next time someone goes on a random shooting spree, hosing down innocent men, women and children and then making good his escape, please do not look for someone driving away at high speed in a flash car. Look instead for someone in a chocolate-brown Nissan Micra doing 28 mph.
You don't believe me? Well, think about it: how many racing drivers have been done for murder? None."
Customer Service: The operating flagpole on my train layout isn't that great. The flag doesn't 'wave' very well and the vibrating mechanism is very noisy. So, I decided to replace it with a Lionel animated kiddie swing set. (The brochure description proclaims, "Watch the children swing back and forth all day long. Two boys play 'hide-and-go-seek' in the pipes. Features two children swinging back and forth, five hand-painted figures total.")
I ordered one from a Connecticut firm; I've bought from them a few times over the years. I used their internet site and secure server. I got an immediate e-mail autoresponse that my order would be shipped promptly.
Eleven days later, I received a second e-mail telling me that they were "out of stock." What crap! I fired off a complaint and did receive an apology. But I was still angry that they waited almost two weeks to tell me. (Two weeks = two months on Internet Time. Or maybe, two years.)
The next day, I placed an order for the same item with a Nebraska business, using their toll-free phone line. They checked stock while I waited and confirmed that the swing set was, indeed, on the shelf. A package is winging its way to me as I write this.
Guess who'll get my next order?
Happy Wintertime-y Holiday: University of Texas campus activists plan to display an "ACLU Nativity Scene" in response to the civil liberties group's "extreme" campaign to remove Christmas from the public sphere.
"We've got Gary and Joseph instead of Mary and Joseph in order to symbolize ACLU support for homosexual marriage, and of course there isn't a Jesus in the manger," said a spokesman. The three Wise Men in the display are Lenin, Marx and Stalin, because ACLU founder Roger Baldwin was a backer of Soviet-style communism.
The scene will also have a "terrorist shepherd" and an angel with Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi's face. The whole scene is a tongue-in-cheek way of showing the "many ways that the ACLU and the far left are out of touch with the values of mainstream America."
I love it!
A Room? I Gotta Room For Ya! Those insensitive imams who caused the brouhaha at the Minneapolis Airport are now demanding a special room - a designated "meditation space" for their Muslim prayer sessions. M-kay. Ummm .... how about a small holding cell?
Here's more on the story from Scott Johnson at Power Line.
Why Didn't I Think Of This? Carl's Jr. is offering the Philly Cheesesteak Burger. It's a cheesesteak on top of a hamburger.
Yo! This sounds even better than a Tastycake Krimpet stuffed into the hole of a glazed donut.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Some people are so busy being clever that they don't have time to be intelligent."
Friday December 1, 2006
Goodbye California: Jerry Flint writes, "Detroit lost California. Toyota has 27% of the retail market there (excluding rent-a-cars and other fleet sales), almost twice GM's share and three times Ford's. In a year or two, Honda might even catch GM in this bellwether state. These gains by the foreign companies have been growing for years, but Detroit just could not - or would not - build the products California wanted."
During our recent trip to the East Coast, I was surprised at the number of domestic American cars on the roads. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I'm used to seeing a plethora of Asian brands on the road. A recent report in Bloomberg notes that GM's market share on the West Coast is 16.3 percent, compared with 25.5 percent nationally (excluding sales to rental fleets).
In 1978, we drove across country, relocating from New Jersey to Oregon. Once we passed Chicago, I felt pretty lonely - very few 'furrin' cars. It seemed like every vehicle in Nebraska was a big Ford LTD. Or Chevy Caprice.
One of the surprises about Oregon and Washington was the large number of import vehicles on the road. I had visited California many times and was always amazed at the large numbers of Toyotas and Hondas on the freeways. But I didn't realize that the Japanese had such a strong presence in the Pacific Northwest. The NW dealer network for foreign brands was potent and entrenched. And, once exposed to these imports, people liked them and came back for more.
Detroit seemed oblivious to what was happening, even though it is common knowledge that trends often begin in Southern California. The American car producers never made a cogent competitive response to the West Coast invasion of the '70s and now, as Jerry Flint indicates, they're now paying the price.
I believe that the current West Coast market share numbers are a predictor of future nationwide numbers.
Car Sighting: I saw my first 2007 Honda CR-V yesterday. The Glacier Blue Metallic example looked longer than the old model but, according to the specs, it isn't. The longer look is a result of much improved styling. I thought this CR-V looked especially nice, although the grilles are the weakest area visually. Too busy for my taste.
The CR-V is a bulletproof little vehicle and, while it only comes with a four-cylinder engine, it seems peppy enough. And it get 24 mpg on regular gas. The redesigned 2007 model offers more safety features, including antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, brake assist, a tire-pressure monitor, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
And, best of all, you can get a fairly-loaded one for less than $26K.
Reasonably Objective Advice: I finally purchased a copy of the Consumer Reports 2007 New Car Preview. It made for interesting reading.
The Chevy Cobalt is the worst small car with reliability 40% worse than average. In the large car segment, the Chrysler 300 V8 was 45% worse than average. In the family car category, the Chevrolet Impala V8 and Volkswagen Passat had the worst reliability.
In the roadster category, the Pontiac Solstice scored 185% worse than average, handily beating the Mercedes SLK which was "only" 120% worse than average! Mercedes won a Dunce Cap of sorts with the CLK at -110%, E-Class V8 at -159%, the S-Class at -176%, the M-Class V6 at -153% and V8 at -202%!!
BMWs don't do so well, either. Most have below average reliability. No wonder people flock to the Lexus brand.
CR says that the Chevy HHR "feels lethargic" and "interior quality is unimpressive." The same comment was made about the Chevy Monte Carlo's interior plus "handling is cumbersome; the steering feels heavy and offers little feedback." On the Dodge Caliber, "the engine is noisy and fit & finish borders on offensive." And the Saturn Ion is "a disappointment. ... The interior is cramped, with uncomfortable seats, ill-fitting pieces and cheap-feeling materials."
Regular readers of this blog know that I value CU's opinions, despite reported shortcomings - by others. This periodical is worth a purchase and a thorough perusal.
I should mention that the Ford Fusion received excellent marks from Consumer Reports. That's a real bright spot in an otherwise tarnished reflection of the Motor City.
Nevertheless, if you're thinking of buying a new car from the Big 2.5, the magazine's reports will give you pause.
Fun Dining: Call it the French-fry Express. A new Toledo, Ohio restaurant that uses model trains to deliver food is the second of what entrepreneur Dale Eisenberg hopes will be a nationwide chain of family restaurants.
Customers are seated in booths and stools around a U-shaped bar that supports 60 feet of track for an O-gauge model train.
In the kitchen, cooks place food (except soups and other liquids) into plastic mesh baskets attached to flatcars. They flip a switch, sending the whistling train to the designated table, where the cargo is unloaded by attendants standing behind the bar.
"Cooks have the hardest job," said an employee. "You're not only cooking but running a train in and out."
Manager Michelle Renzhofer likes that everybody has a front row seat. "All seats are track-side."
No food has spilled so far, although the operation hasn't been mishap-free. With two delivery trains operating on the same track, there have been collisions. But rather than causing damage, the accidents elicited shouts of glee from young observers.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I'll show you A-flat miner.