Wednesday February 28, 2007
Last Chance: A gentleman who purchased my business book last week wrote, "Really good job on the book. Thanks for writing it. Every MBA graduate should be handed your book with his or her diploma."
After three successful printings, I'm done. No more will be printed. And there are not many copies left. So, if you've been considering a purchase of the 'Business Tune-Up and Repair Guide', don't dawdle.
You can order it here. (update - SOLD OUT)
The Grinding Gears Of A Political Bureaucracy: An asteroid will come "uncomfortably close'' to Earth on April 13, 2036. The odds are 1 in 45,000 that the rock will strike the planet. A group of scientists wants to bring in the United Nations to "adopt procedures for assessing asteroid threats and deciding if and when to take action."
James Lileks notes, "Yes, there's nothing like sending the world's most elephantine and unresponsive bureaucracy to address a complex, life-and-death scientific issue. If the U.N. had been responsible for going to the moon, it would have cost $6 trillion, with half the money going to the Zambian Rocket Works and other fronts for bribes and graft. Liftoff would have lasted three months as the General Assembly debated a resolution to include the phrase "Zionism is racism'' between "5'' and "4'' on the final countdown."
"It's worse today. The Subcommittee in Charge of Trying to Change the Subject From Darfur would no doubt spend a year drafting a strongly worded letter to the asteroid, noting that it had the right to its trajectory. However, any catastrophic, life-extinguishing impact would result in severe consequences, including but not limited to additional resolutions declaring the airborne debris to be "non grata'' and unprotected by diplomatic immunity."
Restaurant Review: We had a wonderful dinner last Friday at Amici Bistro in Mukilteo, WA. The restaurant is located at one end of an L-shaped 1950s building; its architecture owes much to the infamous Bates Motel.
The once-motel has now been converted to offices but doesn't look very impressive from the street. Step inside the restaurant and everything changes - white tablecloths, candles, nice wallcoverings, prompt service.
The food was excellent and there was an extensive wine list and cellar. Owners Gianni and Rose Sassioti run a tight ship. The lasagna is to die for. (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Nothing is called "secondhand" any more, except "secondhand smoke." Why is it not called "pre-owned" smoke?"
Monday February 26, 2007
When Robots Rule The Roads: Scientists are developing the next generation of robot-driven cars and predict they could be shuttling humans around by the year 2030. The first wave of intelligent robot cars, capable of understanding and reacting to the world around them, will be tested this November in a competition run by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Scientists are developing vehicles which will not only be driven by robots independently, but will be able to operate in a simulated city environment. "In the past it was sufficient for a vehicle just to perceive the environment," said Sebastian Thrun, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University. "The new challenge will be to understand the environment. The robot must be able to recognize another car, to understand that it is moving and that it will interact with it as it gets closer."
Thrun is a member of the Stanford team participating in the DARPA competition, which will take place on November 3.
In a September 29, 2006 posting on this blog, I predicted that there will be self-driving cars by 2016.
Inventory Blues: Frank Williams at TTAC mentions that Saturn "had a 230-day supply of Ions (which is only 29K units, but there you go). GMC dealers were sitting on 20K or 211 day's worth of Yukon XLs, a 98% increase from January’s 113-day supply. And the hits just keep on not happening. In January, Buick dealers averaged just four new car sales per store. No wonder they have a 170-day supply of LaCrosses and a 116-day supply of Lucernes." Four cars per month!? Unbelievable!
"Mercury dealers only managed to move six cars apiece in January, staring down the barrel of 7K unsold Montegos (enough to last 147 days). Ford stores averaged just 35 sales each last month (mostly trucks), with 24K post-pre-Taurus Five Hundreds (a 169-day supply) going nowhere slowly."
The ideal balance of maximum factory profitability and happy customers happens at 40-60 days, it seems. True for most kinds of businesses, in my experience.
Some random inventory stats (by brand):
Saturn - 153 days
Buick - 132 days
Pontiac -104 days
Mercury - 82 days
Lincoln - 76 days
Lexus - 19 days
Toyota has relatively low supplies of all models and an industry-leading 126 sales per dealer per month.
Remotely Grateful: Robert Adler, who died at the age of 93, was the co-inventor of the remote control, the device that has bedeviled, edified and otherwise sustained a grateful nation of couch potatoes ever since its introduction.
Along with inventor and fellow engineer Eugene Polley, Adler helped bring the first commercially successful wireless TV remote - the Zenith Space Command - to market in 1956.
I first saw a remote control in 1960 at the home of my one of my friends, Marty. His dad was a well-to-do psychiatrist and the family always had the latest cars and gadgets. Including an Admiral color television with a Son-R (sonar) remote control. The handheld controller, with gold-tone finish and ivory buttons, could turn the television off or on, change any of the three available channels and adjust the volume to four different settings.
As creative and mischievous teenagers, we quickly found that a brass-finish, fabricated wire LP record album holder could, if the album separators were 'strummed' properly, create the sound necessary to change the channel and would override the signal from the Son-R.
We used this scientific discovery to torment my friends's younger sister whenever she had control of the remote.
"Mom! Tell them to stop strumming the record rack! They're driving me nuts!"
Screech-A-Rama: James Lileks refers to Janis Joplin as "a drug addict who couldn't aim for a note without splattering its neighbors with buckshot."
Thank you, James.
Now I know I'm not alone. And I was young in the 1960s. I still thought she sucked.
In a March 23, 2005 posting, I wrote about another 1960s icon, "Bob Dylan's success is a mystery to me.
He is an ugly, pretentious man with an adenoidal frog's voice, singing trite lyrics unintelligibly."
"It Was Awful - There Were Polka Dots Everywhere!" Two clowns were shot and killed during their performance at a traveling circus in eastern Colombia. One of the clowns was killed instantly and the second died the next day in hospital.
The gunman was last seen speeding away in a very small car with 26 accomplices inside.
Definition Of The Day is for 'Chickens': The only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead.
Friday February 23, 2007
The Rescue Of Chrysler: As you know, DaimlerChrysler wishes to dispose of its Chrysler automotive arm.
DaimlerChrysler's problems can be your opportunity for investment success. ... (more>>>)
Wednesday February 21, 2007
If Bush Would Do This, It Might Save Chrysler! Loony North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has ordered the confiscation of most of the Japanese cars in his country in an expression of his growing displeasure with the sanctions Tokyo has placed on his country.
Touching off the seizure order was a visit Kim made to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the embalmed body of his father and North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, is interred. As Kim exited the palace, he saw a broken-down Japanese car blocking the road and then issued the edict ordering the seizure of nearly all Japanese cars.
Toyota: The Juggernaut: "When (Toyota) really went at the U.S. market seriously, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the product they brought out was far superior to what the Big Three were producing," says auto consultant Ron Harbour. "They created this impression and reputation early on. And in the ensuing years, Ford and GM have made great strides to make it up. They've narrowed a lot of those gaps. But when you lose that reputation, it's very hard to recover."
Catching up is even harder, moreover, when Toyota's cars, like those from Honda and BMW, have consistently higher resale values.
Harbour continues, "Let’s go back in time and say you've got a guy who in 1985 bought a Camry. That Camry buyer was surprised to find he never had to get his car fixed at the dealership. That guy never, ever looked back. GM, Ford, Chrysler - they've basically lost a whole generation of Americans."
I opined on the same subject in August 2006, "Many of those 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."
Last October, in a piece titled 'The Perfect Storm', I added, "Thirty years of pissing-off customers has finally come home to roost. In the 1980s, disgruntled buyers of GM, Ford or Chrysler products could only broadcast their displeasure at work or in bars. Today, the web has changed all that. Angry buyers put up websites. Or vent their spleens online in various forums. Bad news now spreads like wildfire.
In today's world, information technology provides potential buyers with a cornucopia of information about the vehicles they're considering.
Meanwhile, the sons and daughters of those angry '70s and '80s buyers continue to remember Pop's Bad Experience (from many dinner table rants) and buy Asian." Nuff said.
Elephant Car Wash: The animated sign on the front of my train layout compares well with the real Elephant Car Wash (day and night photos) in Rancho Mirage, CA. The sign was added to my layout in 2006. There's an Elephant Car Wash in Seattle, too.
By the way, last Saturday, we successfully moved the platform from the living room to its secure home in the garage. No glitches whatsoever. I guess after six years, we've got this thing down to a system.
The weather was cloudy but there was no rain, thankfully. I had spent Thursday and Friday morning putting away the trains, vehicles, buildings and tunnel portals.
An Apple For The Teacher: Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs has lambasted teacher unions, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers. Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.
"What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference.
"Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, 'I can't win.'"
"I believe that what is wrong with our schools ... (more >>>)
Holy Cow! He's Right: "It seems clear to me that global warming is being caused by Daylight Savings Time. Think about it - an extra hour of the hot sun every day??? Did we have global warming before the advent of DST? This seems so obvious to me that I am surprised that it is not being talked about." (hat tip - Jonah Goldberg, NRO)
May I add that Freon used to be used as a coolant? Then the Montreal Protocol of 1989 phased it out. Now we've got Global Warming. Coincidence? Or What?!?!
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "We all enter the world knowing nothing but, by the time we are teenagers, we know it all. Sometimes it is decades later before we know enough to realize how little we know."
Monday February 19, 2007
Whose Brilliant Idea Is This? General Motors Corp. is in talks to buy the Chrysler Group in its entirety, Automotive News reported Friday, citing unnamed sources in Germany and the United States. The automotive trade publication claimed that high-level talks were talking place between GM and Chrysler Group parent DaimlerChrysler AG.
Oh yeah, Chrysler has just what GM needs - more dealers, more brands, more clearance sales, more undistinguished vehicles, more ancient plants, more UAW workers.
Such a marriage would bring together Neon craftsmanship and Cavalier quality. I can hardly wait.
Will they also be bringing back Plymouth and Oldsmobile? How about the AMC Gremlin?
Well, It Is Called 'Mini': Jeremy Clarkson likes the redesigned Mini Cooper but complains that "the rear legroom is suitable only for amputees and the boot is not even big enough for a mouse's pants."
Wake Me When She Shaves Her Head: Aging singing slut Madonna says she wants to be like Gandhi.
Oh wait ... Britney Spears has already beaten Madonna to the shaved head look. Now Britney's bald ... ummm ... everywhere.
Today's Inspirational Thought: Stress is what happens when your mind screams "NO!" and your mouth says "Of course, I'd be glad to!"
Friday February 16, 2007
A Red & Sexy Gift For Valentine's Day: My lovely wife gave me a 1:43 scale model of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. In 1952, when this car was introduced, I was nine years old and I fell in love with it. In those days, there were car trading cards, just like baseball cards. The Disco card was my favorite.
Automotive-Related Social Comment Of The Day comes from Hog-On-Ice, offering something to amuse and/or offend nearly everyone: "Women love vandalizing cars. At least in America they do. Asian women - about 75% of them, according to a recent study I just invented - choose instead to cut the man's penis off. I think that's because Asian men generally don't own cars. The car thing is infinitely preferable. You'll never see a urologist look at a severed penis and go, "Oh, yeah. That'll buff right out.""
Hog On Ice also calls stem cells "the new duct tape."
If Toilets Were Cars: Earlier this week, I heard running water in the bathroom. It was the toilet - a leaky flapper valve. It's a Kohler model - the most trouble-prone brand I've ever owned. I replaced two several years ago because I couldn't keep them fixed and neither could plumbers. This one goes through flapper valves constantly.
In my experience, Kohler products are needlessly complex and overpriced. They do not perform as well than less-costly brands, despite their overhyped, ad-driven aura. The Kohler management I've met have been arrogant, inwardly-directed jerks.
If Kohler were a car, it would probably be Lotus Elite. Or Maserati. Or Ferrari Enzo. I hope Toyota or Honda starts making plumbing fixtures soon.
Saying Something Nice: While everyone else is sniggling about Anna Nicole, Larry Miller writes about a good encounter. "The newspapers I've seen in the last couple of days haven't printed any of her pretty pictures. They use the ones of her much heavier, or eating something, or sad, or coming out of court with her mouth twisted in the middle of a sentence. I'd like to have seen one of those Guess jeans ads instead.
Some women try to arch an eyebrow when they make an entrance, or look sullen or regal, and I don't think I like any of those, but all she had to do to stop the show was be there."
Oddball Fact: Four days before Elvis died in 1977, Philadelphia psychic Marc Salem predicted it. He place the written prediction in an aspirin bottle that was then baked into a soft pretzel, under the supervision of now-Senator Arlen Spector.
Global Warming Update: Snow fell on Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, for the first time in 63 years on Wednesday, stirring excitement and curiosity among residents and their children. And pissing off Al Gore.
Better And Better: U.S. manufacturing productivity continues to increase. The cause is the increased use of information technology, automation and imported sub-assemblies. Surprisingly, the manufacturing sector in the U.S. is continuing to grow, despite the reported shift to a service economy.
Who says America can't compete?
Quote Of The Day is from C. S. Lewis: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies."
Wednesday February 14, 2007
Two Guys: A friend, who has described himself as a "Lifetime Ford Guy", has purchased Ford products exclusively during his 60 years on earth - most recently, several Lincolns. He is now the owner of a 2003 Mercedes Benz S-Class sedan with a mere 30,000 miles on it. He loves it, saying that it is built like a bank vault and drives wonderfully. He said he'd never buy another Ford product again.
Another friend revealed that he's planning to buy a Toyota. He's not a car guy but has been a Volvo loyalist, having owned several. He has heard disturbing stories about declining quality and cost-cutting at Volvo (since Ford's takeover) and is leery of buying another Volvo.
We got into a discussion of American cars. This friend is a generally calm guy but became very agitated and said, "I'll never set foot in a GM, Ford or Chrysler showroom. Every time I rent a car, it's American and every one I've rented is a pile of junk." (He travels quite a bit and rents vehicles 2-3 times a month.) He then proceeded to detail his bad experience with a most-recent rental - a Chevy Impala, listing its many flaws on an item-by-item basis. It was a long list; it took him about five minutes. (I'm no fan of the Impala either. My rental experience can be found on my 11/3/06 posting here.)
Two guys do not a scientific survey make. But I wondered how many other people they've talked to (and influenced).
In any case, things sure don't look good for Detroit.
Snow Cancels Global Warming Hearing: I love this report from Drudge. The Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing scheduled for Wednesday, February 14, 2007 has been postponed due to a snow and ice storm in Washington, DC.
Campaign 2008: The presidential election is almost two years away and I am already tired of watching talking heads bickering about the various candidates. It makes my brain hurt and forces me to switch to Family Guy reruns. Or drink. Or both.
Yeah, I have an opinion. Let me not beat around the bush (no pun intended): I'm for Rudy.
Giuliani cleaned up New York. More importantly, he proved his abilities in the wake of 9/11. I believe he will keep us safe by any and all means, including engaging and defeating those who would harm us. That's pretty much all I care about.
He's gotten rid of that crazy comb-over and the loony wife (Donna Hanover of The Vagina Monologues). Therefore, he's electable.
Noemie Emery of The Weekly Standard has written, "He is the enemy and the antithesis of the therapy culture that is at the core of the modern liberal project, the foe of relativism and friend of retribution and punishment, when it is called for. The word 'evil doers' would not seem strange on his lips."
Best Rudy story: In 1995 he famously ejected the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from a concert at the Lincoln Center in New York. "Maybe we should wake people up to the way this terrorist is being romanticized," Giuliani explained. Indeed.
Rudy is more electable than anyone else. Consider the competition:
• Edwards? This "common man" pontificates from the lawn of his 28,000 square foot mansion. And is an ambulance-chaser to boot. And he wants to raise taxes to pay for health care. (Hmmmm. Part of the reason health care costs are escalating is Edwards' huge medical malpractice earnings.) More unelectable than Kerry even.
• Hillary? The charmless half of the Clinton duo. Combines the humorlessness of Kerry with the baggage and nastiness of Nixon. She'll probably get the Dem's nomination but I don't think she can win.
• Obama? What the hell is he? Muslim? Black? And, seriously, would anyone vote for a white dude with such paltry credentials? I don't care if he's Hollywood's pinup-of-the-moment. Or the media's. This, too, shall pass. (He'll probably be Hillary's VP pick, though.)
• Biden? Living proof that hair transplants are a Temporary Thing. An old plagiarist with foot-in-mouth disease.
• Romney? Close but no cigar. Like his dad's 1964 Rambler, looks good on paper but ... what would the neighbors think? Neat and too-perfect, like Ned Flanders. Or almost every serial killer in those made-for-tv movies.
• McCain? An honorable, personable man who has made mistakes. Admits to some, not all. John's biggest problems are 1. Still thinks McCain-Feingold is a good idea and 2. Three years after his cancer surgery, his face is still swollen. Looks too unhealthy to be president but still has many fans.
• Newt? Brilliant guy but won't run. (Couldn't win anyway - divisive and too much baggage.)
• Kucinich? You know those NBC Dateline shows where they set up stings to catch sexual predators? All the short, skinny ones look like Denny's relatives.
• Vilsack? Who?
• Tancredo? Who?
"Who?" also applies to Brownback, Hunter, Gilmore and the rest of the pack.
40% of the people in the US will vote Republican if the GOP runs a fireplug. 40% will vote Democratic - even if the candidate is a lampshade. The key to any election is to offer a slate which appeals to the remaining 20%. I believe that a Giuliani/McCain ticket is the winning strategy.
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "Bottled water is proof we all make too much money."
Another Sign Of End Times: Mattel Toys is selling a Jeff Gordon NASCAR Barbie. And a Dale Earnhardt Jr. version, too.
Name Game: John Derbyshire writes about Scooter Libby, Brent Scowcroft and Porter Goss, noting that "if they weren't the names of Washington people, they would be villages in the English Midlands."
Hmmmm. I thought Porter Goss was something you ordered in a pub.
Tale Of A Crook: Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo has been indicted on 139 counts of federal fraud for his involvement in extorting millions from a publicly-funded neighborhood charity in his Philadelphia district. Among the many charges, prosecutors allege that Fumo spent taxpayer/charity money to buy imported white paint from the Netherlands at $100 a gallon, 19 Oreck vacuum cleaners and a slew of power tools for himself.
There is some indication that Fumo may have ordered a state employee - a computer technician - to help set up campaign operations for John Kerry.
This is the third time that the Democrat state senator from Philadelphia has been nailed. In 1973 he was indicted for voter fraud and in 1980 for putting ghost employees on the state payroll, for which he was convicted.
Fumo owns a 33-room mansion in Philadelphia with a shooting range, wine cellar, elevator and a sidewalk-heating system to keep snow from sticking. His former estate in Florida, which he sold in December for $2.1 million, was used as the set for a photo shoot in Palm Beach magazine. He has a 'shore' house with dock in Margate, N.J. where he keeps his powerboat.
Vincent J. Fumo is a lawyer and a licensed real estate broker who owns a string of rental properties. He is twice divorced and his elder daughter from his first marriage, Nicole, did not invite him to her wedding. Fumo has hired a private eye at taxpayers' expense for spying on political rivals, an ex-wife and former girlfriends - and to keep obsessive track, via e-mail, of the errands Senate employees were doing at his homes and his farm north of Harrisburg. He also gives bobblehead dolls of himself to women he dates.
Vinnie is worth millions - and he is due to receive $19 million more when the sale of PSB bank, which his grandfather founded, goes through this year. Vinnie grew up in South Philly and has been described as a "spoiled brat" by one who knew him back then. Said another: "None of the kids liked him in the neighborhood. He was an outcast - pampered, doted on by his mother."
His father was president of a savings-and-loan, so Fumo grew up in comfortable circumstances. But he claims he felt the sting of discrimination at his elite Catholic schools, Notre Dame Academy and St. Joseph's Prep. The other kids made fun of him because he was Italian and from South Philadelphia.
Aha. Now we come to the crux of things. Vinnie can't be held responsible because he was picked on as a kid. Baloney! I attended St. Joe's Prep during the same time as Fumo, graduating a year after him. South Italian kids were no more picked on than Northeast Philly Irish kids, Germantown Polish kids or high-schoolers of any other ethnicity/neighborhood combination. There was no "discrimination" - just a little good-natured ribbing. Everyone got along. The Prep was/is a school with a rigorous and demanding curriculum. We were all too busy studying to bicker.
Fumo also attended Villanova University during the same time as me, graduating a year ahead of me.
Vinnie Fumo used to be a spoiled rich brat. Now, at 63, he's a spoiled rich crook. And, apparently, he has no shame. (permalink)
Speaking of Crooks: Economist John Rutledge refers to Congress as "the only whorehouse in America that loses money."
For Your XXX-Rated Train Layout: A German model train supplier is offering a scenic accessory called 'Sexy Lovers in Motion.' It is described thusly, "A man and a woman are having sex on a red blanket, in the missionary position. The man moves his buttocks and needs between 14 and 16 volts to do so, AC or DC." Photo here.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "We can only hope that the rumor that Israel is going to take out Iran's nuclear weapons facilities is true. If they do, Israel will be widely condemned by governments that are breathing a sigh of relief that they did."
Friday February 9, 2007
Breaking News: Anna Nicole Smith is dead. Larry King and Nancy Grace now have a reason to live for another few weeks.
Meanwhile, NASA's diaper-clad, murderous astronaut chick, Lisa Nowak, is welcoming a bit of obscurity.
Update: When you live in the Pacific Time Zone, lots of news happens while you're still asleep. I've gotten used to this by now but it was still a great surprise to wake up this morning and find that the Iraq War is over, peace has broken out in the Middle East and North Korea has collapsed.
This must be so because, I turned on the television and checked Fox News, MSNBC and CNN and the only thing they were doing was speculating on what Anna Nicole's autopsy might reveal. I switched to CNBC for some autopsy-free programming - the various stock markets appeared to be open for business as usual.
I Bet His Talk Wasn't Treated To Rousing Applause! About two-thirds of 15,000 dealers who sell Big Three vehicles need to close, said analyst and ex-GM adviser Stephen Girsky, speaking at the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual convention. The drop would create a healthy dealer body that can compete with Toyota and Honda.
The average Chevrolet dealer now sells 583 cars a year. Ford dealers sell 631 vehicles a year on average, while Dodge dealers sell 375 on average. By contrast, the average Toyota dealer sells 1,685 vehicles, while Honda dealers close 1,289 sales on average.
Moral Relativity: Greg Gutfield posits - so what if '80s rock has-been Gary Glitter "likes to screw underage foreigners? Nike's been doing that for years."
Ode To A Diner: The diner is a uniquely American icon. Diners traces their origins to the early 20th century, when many cities banned oversized horse-drawn "lunch wagons" which were exacerbating urban congestion. Lunch wagon owners quickly turned to a stationary location for their enterprise.
In the early days, decommissioned railroad passenger cars and trolleys were often converted into diners by those who could not afford to purchase a new diner. Many purpose-built diners pay homage to the stainless steel railroad passenger coaches in their exterior styling.
Diners typically offer a broad menu of inexpensive items. During the Depression most diners remained in business because they offered inexpensive places to eat.
The Mayfair Diner in Northeast Philadelphia is an institution. Founded in 1932, the Mayfair still provides a typewritten 'specials' menu supplement twice a day - one for lunch, one for dinner. (During my visit last October, I even got to meet the typist, Jo, and complimented her on her layout skills.) I enjoyed a great pizza steak at the Mayfair; just as good as the one I ate there 41 years ago.
For the first year of my life, I lived less than a half-mile away from this diner, so I guess I have a bond to it. I ate there several times as a kid. My first post-college job was about a mile away, so I sometimes went to the Mayfair for lunch.
Over the years, many famous people (besides moi) have eaten at the Mayfair. The list includes Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Flyers superstar Bobby Clarke and local singing legends Bobby Rydell and Fabian.
Two of the Mayfair Diner's greatest appeals were its constant hours - it was open 24-hours, only closing on Christmas Day - and its homemade pies and bread pudding.
In December, the Mayfair Diner was sold ... (more >>>)
It's All My Fault: Americans spent so freely last year that the U.S. personal savings rate fell to a 74-year low, government data has shown. The negative rate means people are spending all the money they have left after paying taxes - and then some. They are dipping into savings or increasing their borrowing to finance current spending. The personal savings rate as a share of disposable personal income fell to -1.0% in 2006, the lowest since -1.5% in 1933 during the Great Depression, the U.S. Commerce Department said.
I've been saving for a long time. I still have the retirement money I earned from my corporate employer. When I left in 1978, I took it with me. I went to a bank and told them that I wanted to do an IRA rollover. No one knew what I was talking about.
Finally, the bank president came out and said, "I've heard of these rollover IRA thingies but we've never done one. Let me make some phone calls and do some studying. Can you come back tomorrow?" I did, and the rest is history. (I don't plan to touch any of my IRAs until the government-mandated distribution date. For me, that's sometime in 2014.)
Now I'm old and my wife and I decided to spend some of our non-IRA savings - remodeling the kitchen, traveling, etc. That's what we did in 2006 and because of it, apparently, the entire U.S. economy is now unraveling.
Jeez, I didn't know it was that delicate.
Today's Inspirational Thought: A 'botched execution' isn't botched if the person is dead.
Wednesday February 7, 2007
Hot Astronaut Chick In Diapers! Man, that's a headline I never thought I'd be reading. I had to take an extra heart pill last night just to calm down. Be still, my heart.
Accept Our Way And Be Saved: Like Scientology, Amway and Marriage Encounter, the Prius has become a cult. Excerpt: "I heard rumors about the Prius. Nasty rumors. That its mileage claims couldn't be trusted, that it might die on me just when I thought we could go the distance together. A car with commitment issues and a reputation for stalling? Sounded like an ex-boyfriend. But none of that compared to the real horror - encountering actual Prius owners."
"If I so much as mentioned that I was considering purchasing a hybrid car, these eco-bullies would clutch onto my arm with surprising strength (probably developed signing petitions to save the whales/wolves/flesh-eating sea rats). "You never have to fill up your tank! You can drive in the carpool lanes!" they'd burble, clearly high on the idea of low emissions. Then they'd drop into a low, conspiratorial tone. "And really, isn't it our responsibility? Isn't it the least you can do for the environment?" A sad smile would be followed by a heavy sigh redolent of Tom's of Maine toothpaste. Oh, the burden of being one of the few unselfish humanitarians to tiptoe on the Earth."
Then came the Transformation, after the author, Liane Bonin, bought a new Prius: "At a gas station one afternoon, I felt perfectly comfortable leveling a death-ray glare at the soccer mom behind me. I hated her simply for her passenger-free, fuel-sucking Land Rover - which was certainly canceling out all my hybrid's hard eco-work. As she nervously studied the interior of her designer purse to avoid eye contract with the clearly psychotic woman facing her (me), I felt no guilt in wishing an eco-karma death for her. (Choking on her own fumes would be ironic, but swallowed whole by polar bears worked too.)"
Myths About Cars and Sprawl: The Washington Post has an informative article about the true impact of the automobile, noting that "suburban sprawl and automobiles are rapidly acquiring a reputation as scourges of modern American society. Sprawl, goes the typical indictment, devours open space. ... And cars are the evil co-conspirator - the driving force, so to speak, behind sprawl."
Some claim ... (more >>>)
Pampered Parasites: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to use military planes for personal travel, damanding "routine access to military aircraft for domestic flights, such as trips back to her San Francisco district." A knowledgeable source called the request "carte blanche for an aircraft any time."
This is the woman who proclaimed that she would "bring accountability to government." She's just another political pig, sucking at the government teat. As Raging Dave says, "The military isn't a shuttle service for pampered, over-paid congressional parasites!"
I think all members of Congress should fly commercial and be subject to the same TSA indignities as their constituents. I also believe they should be enrolled in a commerically-available health care plan and fight the same paperwork battles with insurers as the rest of us.
Finally, I recommend that they have to wade through the same self-directed retirement options just like 'real' Americans have to do. And when they have questions about their account, speak to that heavily-accented, incomprehensible cube-dweller from God-knows-where. "Where's my money, Julmib?" "Eeet is no here, sir, I can most assuredly confirm. I haf looked all about my space. My eyes, they have not gazed upon your currency at all, sir."
Maybe then Congress will wake up and simplify our lives - driven by its members' own self-interests.
Quote Of The Day is from Ayn Rand: "The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."
Monday February 5, 2007
Cat Woes: Robert Farago writes, "TTAC has obtained Jag's final worldwide numbers for ’06 (ironically enough, the American department responsible for collating the data was recently cut back). Last year, Jaguar sold 75,013 vehicles, down from the previous year's total of 89,802."
"In many ways, Jag's '06 sales mix is even more depressing. In the American market, Jag dealers sold roughly five thousand examples of each of its four models. Abroad, Jag sales tilted heavily towards the British marque's entry level whips. The X-Type generated 27,305 sales, while the S-Type clocked-up 13,222 (as compared to 7250 XJ's and 6540 XK's). ... Last year, Jag lost $750M - just over $10,000 per car."
I like Jaguars but Ford has to fix things quickly ... or the beloved kitty will have to be euthanized. Jaguar only sold 1,390 cars in the U.S. last month.
Parked By Robots: I've seen several news stories about the new robotic garage which will open in New York City next month.
This is less news than it seems. Automated parking garages have been around for ages. I remember my dad using one in late 1950s center-city Philadelphia to park our '56 Ford. I think the place was on Broad Street, south of city hall.
The first mechanical garage in the U.S. was built in Cincinnati in 1932. It accommodated nearly 400 cars and used a converted elevator system to hoist individual vehicles from a central receiving area to one of its 24 floors.
A Brush With Damage: Since most of the readers of this blog are car buffs, you're probably as fussy about your cars as I am. I have an acquaintance with each and every surface defect on my vehicles and can generally remember how each occurred.
Last Tuesday, I took my wife's Avalon to a car wash. It was too cold out to wash it myself, as is my normal approach to dirty cars. I had no other reason to be out, so I picked the closest car wash. Several days later, I noticed that the rear door on the left side had numerous parallel scratches. Some were down to the white primer.
I can't prove that the car wash did it. It could have been done by someone with a grudge and a dry, stiff-bristled brush. And a rock-steady arm. But the car wash is, in cop-speak, "a prime suspect." I thought the brushes were pretty noisy while I was going through the wash but didn't give it a second thought - until I saw the marks. Now I'm very suspicious.
My advice: avoid Supreme Wash on West Main Street in Battle Ground, WA. It's the one - believe it or not - with the big red neon sign, proclaiming 'Brushless'. If you must go, bring a digital camera and take before and after pix. And get a receipt.
Consistency Pays: William C. Montgomery at TTAC writes, "Fifty-five percent of the U.S. nameplates Toyota produced in 1996 are still for sale, including the continuation of the Camry's 24-year run. Fifty percent of Honda names are ongoing from that date. That's a stark contrast with Chevrolet (13%), Pontiac (17%), Buick (0%), Cadillac (0%), Ford (23%), Mercury (17%), Lincoln (33%), Chrysler (40%) and Dodge (34%)."
Successful brands keep their model names. Desperate brands, like con men running a Three-card Monte, keep changing identities.
January Sales Wrap-Up: If you're a fan of Ford and GM, January was a pretty dismal month.
Toyota pulled into the number two spot for the third consecutive month after a 9.5 percent increase in sales to 175,850 vehicles allowed it to capture 16.1 percent of the U.S. market. Mercedes-Benz was up 31.4%, selling 17,069 vehicles - many in the Palm Springs area.
GM saw market share slip to 22.2 percent from 25.5 percent a year earlier while Ford's share fell to 14.0 percent from 16.7%. GM sales slid 19.7% to 247,464 vehicles last month.
Buick sales were off by 33% (LaCrosse sales were down by a whopping 54%! Wasn't this car supposed to "save" Buick?); Pontiac sales were off by 39% (G6 down by 25%, the "halo car" Solstice dropped by - Holy Cow! - 59%). Cadillac only sold 122 of its two-seater flagship XLRs in January. Hummer is down 27%, having obviously saturated the "I want an ugly butch box" market. Saturn sales were off by 22%. Hmmmmm. I thought all those new Opel-ly product offerings were going to 'save' Saturn, no?
Sales at Ford dropped 18.9 percent to 166,835 vehicles. Ford also saw a 15 percent drop in sales of its popular F-series pickup truck and said it "expects softness in new home construction to adversely affect full-size pickup sales through the first half of 2007." How very odd - this is the first time I've ever heard of a vehicle's sales being tied to housing starts.
Maybe the real problem is the disgust with the problem-prone Powerstroke diesel engine in the F-series. And Ford's (lack of) response to same. Our landscape contractor - a former Ford loyalist - abandoned FoMoCo after disastrous engine problems in his big pickup and is now using Toyotas.
Ford 500 sales fell by 51% to only 3,526 units in January. (Meanwhile, Toyota sold 6,529 Avalons.) Explorer's sales fell by 26 percent to less than 9,000 units.
Honda posted record January sales of 100,790 vehicles, a 2.4 percent increase which helped it gain 9.2 percent of the market.
If You're An Atheist, Stick With U.S. Air: I forgot to mention this last week, but Alaska Airlines provided a little prayer card along with each meal. A nice touch, I think.
The one I received was Psalm 69:30.
Puzzle Of the Day: There's toast and there's Texas toast. There's English Muffins .. but no Texas Muffins. What's up with that?
Why The New York Times Is Against The Death Penalty: Greg Gutfeld says that the Times is worried about a dwindling readership because "almost all people on death row are liberals, so every time somebody is executed, they lose a reader."
Global Warming In Action: Chicago is headed into a deep freeze likely to take on, if not surpass, a series of long-time late-winter cold weather benchmarks. Average temperatures are expected to be lower than any Feb. 3-9 period on record since 1871.
How can this be? Is Al Gore's ego blocking out the sun?
Meanwhile, I read that polar bears are drowning. Why isn't PETA air-dropping life rafts?
Mark Steyn writes, "A few years ago, the little old lady who served as my town's historian for many decades combed over the farmers' diaries from two centuries ago that various neighbors had donated to her: From the daily records of 15 Januarys, she concluded that three were what we'd now regard as classic New Hampshire winters, ideal for lumbering or winter sports; eight had January thaws, and four had no snow at all. This was in the pre-industrial 18th century." There's another great article on the GGWM (Great Global Warming Myth) here.
If Global Warming were a hedge fund, Elliot Spitzer would have indicted its management team for fraud by now.
Quote Of The Day is from George Carlin: "If you're going to insist on making movies based on crappy, old television shows, then you have to give everyone in the Cineplex a remote so we can see what's playing on the other screens. Let's remember the reason something was a television show in the first place is that the idea wasn't good enough to be a movie."
Thursday February 1, 2007
Trip Report: I am happy to report that we have returned refreshed, reinvigorated and sunburned from an eight-day stay in Palm Springs.
There is something wonderful about warmth, palm trees and sun in midwinter. Our flight down and back on Alaska Air was pleasant and uneventful. Both flights did not just arrive on time - they actually arrived early.
Car Sightings: The Palm Springs area has, I think, the greatest concentration of luxury automobiles I've ever seen.
I was told that the area has the highest rate of Rolls Royce registrations per capita in the world. I only saw a couple of the new, massive Rolls Royces - the ones with that huge, ugly front end - but I saw a lot of older Rollers on the streets and byways. Outside Wally's Desert Turtle, there was an old 1970s era Rolls Royce coupe - a pretty rare body style. The valet parkers had embedded it in a gaggle of Bentleys and SL-500s. During our stay, we saw several Bentley Continental coupes and even a Continental Flying Spur 4-door sedan. Surprisingly, I didn't see a single Bentley Arnage.
I spotted a 12-cylinder Maybach 57 parked in front of the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort. Very unimpressive for a $350,000 car - a bland-looking Mercedes clone. Yawn.
The most popular luxury ride was Mercedes - by far. New S-Class Benzes seemed to be a dime-a-dozen here. BMW and Lexus duked it out for a distant second place. Jaguar, Acura and Cadillac vied for a very distant third place - this is quite surprising since Cadillac outsells Jaguar by something like 11 to 1 in the U.S. So, relatively speaking, Palm Springs was a virtual Jagfest. Audi and Lincoln tied for last place in luxury popularity. During our visit, we saw a few Maseratis - a couple of Quattroporte sedans and a bright yellow GranSport Spyder.
There was much Old Stuff to be seen, too - a vintage Mercedes 230SL, a 190 SL, numerous 1960s Caddy convertibles, a couple of Model A Fords and several two seater 55-57 Thunderbirds. I spotted a mid '50s Hillman Minx parked on El Paseo Drive. And a Ferrari GTB. I even saw a 1956 Ford police car.
There were quite a few new Avalons on the road. And I think half the production of the 'new' Thunderbird was shipped here. All Birds were being driven by white-haired people.
I also got a good look at a 2008 yellow Opel GT roadster. This two-seater Saturn Sky clone was next to me in traffic. It wore Michigan manufacturer plates and had Euro-spec bumpers and Opel badges. It must have been in town for a photo shoot or press preview. I also saw a little red Ford Ka rolling down the street in Palm Desert. Hmmmm. I wonder if Ford plans to bring it to the U.S. as a Smart car alternative?
There are SUVs and pickups in Palm Springs, but regular passenger cars are the rule. Saw quite a few R-Class Mercs - a very odd looking machine - not quite a minivan, not quite an SUV. There were a bunch of them lined up on the local Mercedes dealer's lot.
Even less impressive was the Lincoln MKX SUV. Passed one on the freeway. Once you get about 50 feet ahead of it, the front end loses any style and just looks pudgy-faced. Another was parked in Palm Desert; when it pulled away, the MKX rattled badly, as if it had a loose muffler or something. Cars are so quiet anymore, that the discordant note from the Lincoln seemed worse than it really was. My wife said, "I wouldn't buy that rattletrap." She didn't think much of its looks, either.
I saw several examples of the BMW 650i coupé and convertible. They appeared to have something bungee-strapped to the trunk. Upon closer inspection, it was the trunk itself - the dreaded Bangle-butt. Ruins the look of an otherwise OK car, I think.
Car Rental: Our silver 2007 Chevy Cobalt sedan had its good points - it was peppy, nimble, had fairly comfortable seats and got 28 miles per gallon with its little 148 horse four-banger and 4-speed automatic. And it had a decent-sized trunk for a small (180 inch-long) car. But it had some horrid plastic interior pieces, including a flimsy and ill-placed one-piece molded tray which covered the trunk release button. The Cobalt's ride was good but there was a lot of wind noise at freeway speeds and some buzzy rattles around 40-50 mph. And, as I found out when I had to stop fast and the brakes began to lock up - the car had no ABS.
Nevertheless, the Cobalt was a much better car than the Chevy Impala we rented in Philadelphia last October.
We got a great rental deal on the Cobalt. But I sure wouldn't buy one - too many flaws. The fit and finish was nowhere close to that of Honda, Toyota or Hyundai entry level sedans. No wonder GM continues to lose market share.
Speaking of rental cars, it seemed like 50% of the rental fleet were Chrysler 300s. That thing is soooo over.
And ... you can rent Harley Davidsons right at the Palm Springs airport. (permalink)
Restaurants: We dined at Sirocco, an elegant Italian restaurant at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells. Chef Livio Massignani visited our table and discussed Italian food between courses. He is Venetian and produces many distinctive dishes reminiscent of the region.
The following night, we went to Pomme Frites in downtown Palm Springs. We liked it so much that we dined there twice during our stay. Jean-Claude Constant, the owner, makes sure that everything is prepared from scratch and is a very hands-on manager. And the wait staff is very knowledgeable and prompt. The offerings are a combination of Belgian and French cuisine. The decor and layout is cleverly reminiscent of an intimate European café.
Up the street is the Kaiser Grille, a Palm Springs landmark with its retro-futuristic decor. (Think the Jetsons meet bricks and Frank Lloyd Wright.) It is a vibrant restaurant and offers the best barbecue brisket west of Corky's in Memphis. They also have their own house brand of wine, Kaiser. It seems like all the automotive wines taste good - Firestone, Red Truck Red, Timbuktu Big Block red, etc. I mentioned this to our waiter but he had never heard of a Kaiser automobile. Neither had my daughter. (Sigh.)
Ristorante Mama Gina in Palm Desert had some of the best Italian cuisine I've sampled since the demise of Gaetano's in Philadelphia. Mama Gina has three locations - Palm Desert, Newport Beach, CA and Florence, Italy.
The Falls in La Quinta was a fine steakhouse featuring a wall of water cascading down a large floor-to-ceiling glass panel. Very intriguing. The Falls has a spectacular Martini Bar and we sampled its wares.
We also had dinner at Wally's Desert Turtle in Rancho Mirage. Founder Wally Botello was the former owner of the old Velvet Turtle chain of restaurants. These were a favorite and I used to dine there any time I traveled to California. The Desert Turtle is several notches higher than the Velvet Ones, offering fine food to match the exquisite décor of the place. Many of our fellow diners were wearing formal attire. Most of the cars in the parking lot carried stickers of $100,000 or more when new. Our rental Cobalt looked lonely and intimidated. But we had a very good time.
We want to go back to Palm Springs to try even more restaurants. And revisit some favorites from this trip. (I've added most of these comments to my restaurant review page.)
Activities/Entertainment: We drove east to the Joshua Tree National Forest, a 820,000 acre high desert park and "forest", although it's a pretty sparse forest. More like rocky desert with a sprinkling of trees and cacti. We stopped at Key's View to .... well, check out the view. The temperature at 5,100 feet was 31 degrees and the winds were gusting to 67 mph. We didn't stay long.
My wife wanted to get some shopping done, so we visited Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon, CA. Saw a geeky guy riding around on a Segway on the pathway running through the store "village". I hadn't seen a Segway in person before and wasn't too impressed. It makes short people seem a lot taller though. If I ever bought one, I think I'd have it customized so that it looks like Charlton Heston's chariot in 'Ben Hur'. And pilot it wearing a toga. And waving a sword.
We also visited El Paseo in Palm Desert. It's like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The stores offer courtesy shuttles - bright-colored stretch golf carts decked out kinda like PT Cruisers - to take you from one place to another.
I parked next to a Porsche Cayman at The River - another upscale shopping center. The Cayman looks better in person than in the photos I've seen.
By the way, there are two nudist hotels in Palm Springs. They are connected by a skybridge to keep the naked patrons from walking across the street. (That would be a traffic-stopper.)
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens offers 1,200 acres of desert preserve populated with plants of the Mojave, Colorado and other deserts in 11 habitats. Mountain lions, wolves, bobcats, golden eagles, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, leopards and more are here in a natural setting at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains. There is also a gigantic and spectacular G-scale outdoor model train layout - claimed to be the world's largest. It was awesome.
The Palm Springs Air Museum holds one of the world's largest collections of flying World War Two warplanes, including a B17 Flying Fortress. All planes are operational, too. The museum also had a DaVinci exhibit featuring replicas of the various machines that Leonardo had described and designed in his notebooks. We enjoyed it - educational and interesting.
Every Thursday, Palm Springs closes six blocks of its main downtown street and has a 'Villagefest' open air market from 6-10:00 pm. Lots of crafters, musicians, food booths etc. It was fun to sit in an outdoor cafe on the street and people-watch.
We went to Buddy Greco's Dinner Club featuring "Buddy Greco with guest star Lezlie Anders." Buddy, who I had always remembered as a kind-of third-tier Rat Packer, was the featured performer. Lezlie is his fourth wife; she's from Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Too many of these clubs offer mediocre-at-best food and watery drinks but Greco's serves dinners prepared by executive chef Isabella, daughter of the head chef of legendary (but now-defunct) Chasen's. The food was excellent. So was the booze. And it wasn't watered down, either.
Buddy put on an outstanding show and has a surprisingly good voice for an eighty year-old.
He's an accomplished jazz pianist, too. Lezlie is quite good as well, sounding kinda like Peggy Lee. We had a very good time and got to chat with both Buddy and Lezlie afterward. Nice people. His club is definitely worth a visit, if you're in the area.
At the table next to us were folks from England. Apparently, Buddy Greco has a large following in the British jazz community. These folks mentioned that they always rent Lincoln Town Cars when they come to America but were disappointed with the one they got on this trip. Another nail in Lincoln's coffin.
The Palm Springs Follies features a B-list "guest star" (we got Gloria Loring, one-hit music wonder and ex-soap opera star), a hilarious comedian/MC, two variety acts and a line of lovely chorus girls - ranging in age from 59 to 83. But most were knockouts. The lone black chorus girl was the woman who played Thumper in the James Bond flick, 'Diamonds Are Forever' in 1971. She had a good singing voice, too.
The Follies is a three-hour, razzle-dazzle, song and dance vaudeville-style venue showcasing the music and dance of the 1930s and '40s. There were lots of costume changes and a couple of intermissions. We enjoyed it enough that we'll go back again the next time we're in town.
The weather was great - sunny every day, highs in the low to mid 60s with chilly nights - low 40s. Not bad for January.
All in all, it was a great Winter vacation. (permalink)
Congrats ... to my nine year-old grandson who built and entered a Star Wars-themed, electric-blue beauty in the Pinewood Derby race last night.
I helped a little with the bandsaw trim work and pad sanding. The rear fins were my idea, too. They were made from tongue depressors, just like the ones on the '57 Dodge.
Speaking Of Handyman Stuff ... the water tower bubbler on my train layout ceased working - no light to provide heat to make the bubbler work. I had just put a new bulb in last month but it was one I bought almost seven years ago as part of a two-pack. I guess it was old and out of shape from no exercise, so it burned out quickly. I drove to the local Radio Shack and bought a supply of 14.4 volt bayonet bulbs. Now everything works fine.
The plastic tank portion of the water tower had separated from the tower support structure, so I used Amazing Goop to reattach it. The dregs of Amazing Goop actually, since the tube was just about empty and the remaining Goop had thickened up a bit. Afterwards, I tossed the tube in the trash or, as I say, administered the Goop de Grace.
No worries though, I have another tube. I got Goop in my Christmas stocking this year. Re-reading the previous sentence, I realize that I have the makings of a new Christmas song title. Don't laugh, it would be a lot better than the most of the crap written for and performed on those "Country Christmas" TV specials. Eccccchhh.
I Vas Juzt Followink Orders, Mein Herr: A 46-year-old German motorist driving along a busy road suddenly veered to the left and ended up stuck on a railway track - because his satellite navigation system told him to, said police.
The motorist was heading into the north German city of Bremen when the friendly voice from his satnav told him to turn left. He did what he was ordered to do and turned his Audi left up over the curb and onto the track of a local streetcar line. And got stuck.
The police spokesman said about a dozen trams were held up until a tow truck arrived to clear the car off the track.
Several German motorists have crashed their cars in recent months, later telling police they were only obeying orders from their satnavs.
Look On The Bright Side: It's a shame that Barbaro's dead, but this frees up his medical team to go to Cuba and work on Fidel.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Practice safe eating - always use condiments.