Thursday May 24, 2007
Did Male America Die 55 Years Ago? 1952 was the last year you could buy a V-8 Lincoln with a stick-shift. That was the last American luxury car built by carnivores for carnivores. You could have the trappings of wealth and still shift for yourself, proving that you were still a Real Man.
You see, the 1952 Lincoln was built by real men for real men. It was a solid, handsome car with clean, simple lines. It had a brand new body style and a brand new overhead-valve V-8 engine, too. It had a real stick-shift for real men to drive. "Waddya ya drivin', Bud?" "A stick-eight Lincoln, Chief. Want another beer?"
In the good old days, there were Real Men. Cars were built by these real men who forged iron into crankshafts and bolted heavy-gauge steel panels together with meaty, calloused hands. Men who sweated buckets at work and quenched their thirst after work with buckets of beer ... (more >>>)
Investing Tip: Using a back-tested paper portfolio and an actual case, the authors of a study published in the Journal of Marketing found that companies at the top 20% of the American Customer Satisfaction Index greatly outperformed the stock market, generating a 40% return.
From 1996-2003, the portfolio supposedly outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 93%, the S&P 500 by 201%, and NASDAQ by 335%. Interesting. I wonder how it's done lately?
Leak Analysis: Here is an engineer's view on illegal immigration - it is "basically a plumbing problem - our border leaks. When you have plumbing that leaks, you fix the leak before you start cleaning up your house. Build a fence and stop the leak, then decide how to clean up."
"Note that the leak is cause by a pressure differential across the southern border - lots of people want to come here. (Compare to the northern border). Economic opportunity here far exceeds that in their own country, and there is little risk of associated with coming here illegally. So pressure builds to our south. Once the leak is stopped, we can look at ways to equalize the pressure. Strict enforcement and deportation would do it. Getting Mexico to reform would help as well. I'm also fine with increasing legal immigration through carefully regulated valves on our southern border."
"Ironically, amnesty will only increase the pressure."
Biting Commentary: Newt Gingrich is always good for something succinct but incisive: "We have shrunk our political process to this pathetic dance in which people spend an entire year raising money in order to offer nonanswers, so they can memorize what their consultants and focus groups said would work."
And: "This idea of demeaning the presidency by reducing it to being a game show contest ... is wrong for America, and I would never participate in it."
Entrepreneurship: I won't be posting anymore until June, because I'm busy trying to pick up some extra retirement money.
I'll be selling envelopes full of pencil shavings as 'carbon credits' to unsuspecting, planet-conscious liberals in downtown Portland. Why there? Well, it's not far from home and has the highest liberal/gullible Q-score per capita in the entire U.S. Eugene, OR is a close second.
Besides I've already written more than enough stuff this month.
Thought For Today: It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.
Monday May 21, 2007
The End: Ford Motor Co. is closing its Wixom assembly plant on May 31. Once one of the auto maker's flagship factories, it opened in 1957 to produce the huge unibodied '58 Lincolns and Continentals. The factory also produced some Thunderbirds as well. And the T-Bird-derived Lincoln Marks. I've owned three cars which were produced at Wixom. My wife and I toured the huge, impressive plant in 1995.
Ford doesn't make Thunderbirds, Lincoln Marks or Continentals any more. As for the Lincoln brand itself, Peter DeLorenzo of AutoExtremist summed things up very well last year: "What has happened to Lincoln is one of the saddest travesties in the history of the automobile business. What was once a proud, sought-after luxury automobile that gave Cadillac all that it could handle in this market, Lincoln is now fading into the abyss and falling off consumer consideration lists left and right. ... Lincoln will be doomed to the trash heap of once-great American brands."
Business Model: Les Schwab, founder of Les Schwab Tire Stores, has died at age 89. The beefy man with the cowboy hat was an icon in most of the West.
Born on a hardscrabble homestead near Bend, he grew up in a two-room shack at a nearby logging camp, where he attended grade school in a converted boxcar with "crooked windows cut in the side." When Les was orphaned at age 15, he rented a room at a boarding house for $15 a month and delivered newspapers while struggling to finish high school.
After graduation, he married his high-school sweetheart and continued selling newspapers. He borrowed $11,000 from his brother-in-law in 1952, sold his house and borrowed on his life-insurance policy to purchase O.K. Rubber Welders, a small tire and retreading shop.
Even though he knew nothing about tires and had no formal business training ... (more >>>)
Transform This! I am sick and tired of various auto buff websites going orgasmic over the upcoming megahyped Transformers movie. With all the "secret", covertly-released screen shots and YouTube clips. What a bunch of carefully-leaked bullshit.
T-Rex, Insecticon, Cerberus, Decepticon, Iacoccacon, Rickwagnercon, Camarocon and Bumblebee can all go straight to hell for all I care. This thing is the male equivalent of a Barbie movie. As Ahnuld would say, "Calling all girliemen."
Besides, it's a very bigoted movie. I mean, how come they don't have a wise elderly Transformer? Something based on the Buick LaCrosse that would turn into a giant, balding robot with a potbelly? The producers are clearly a bunch of ageists.
Screw the Transformers. I'm waiting for The Simpsons movie.
Good Observation ... from John Podhoretz: "I just figured out who Romney looks like ... It's that guy who was the before-and-after ad for Grecian Formula 16 back in the 1980s."
I Knew It! Scientists are casting doubt on Kennedy bullet analysis, claiming "multiple shooters possible."
A research team that includes a former top FBI scientist is challenging the bullet analysis used by the government to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
The "evidence used to rule out a second assassin is fundamentally flawed," concludes a new article in the Annals of Applied Statistics written by former FBI lab metallurgist William A. Tobin and Texas A&M University researchers Cliff Spiegelman and William D. James.
I'm not much on conspiracy theories in general but this may be the only time that Oliver Stone was right. The gum-mint "solved" the murder before JFK was even in the ground (and made sure that the lone official suspect was conveniently and quickly disposed of) but, at the time, no one really believed that a chinless little wimp with a cheap rifle could pull off such a thing.
Every November 22nd, the networks feature JFK assassination tidbits, interviewing aging people with failing memories. Honestly, I've become tired of hearing about the assassination; everything is a rehash of stale old facts and rumors.
Nobody has had anything new to say - like who really killed John Kennedy. Perhaps this will now change.
"I Got One Word For Ya, Kid ... Plastics." Saudi Basic Industries Corp., the world's biggest chemical company, will buy General Electric's plastics biz for about $11 billion. Saudi Basic, known as Sabic, has doubled sales since 2002 because of the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based company's access to the world's biggest reserves of oil, used as a raw material for plastics and petrochemicals.
So ... Lexan will be made by the Saudis and Plexiglas is now produced by a French-Italian conglomerate implicated in the Oil For Food scandal. Cell-cast Plexiglas is no longer made in the U.S. It used to be manufactured in Bristol, PA and Knoxville, TN. Now everything's cast in Mexico. (Mexiglas?)
This turn of events almost makes me want to go back to using glass. Oh, wait ... the #%@!&* Saudis have all the sand, too.
Amnesty Ain't Cheap: Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, discussed the impact of an amnesty program just on Social Security: "Based on my current research, I estimate that if all the current adult illegal immigrants in the U.S. were granted amnesty the net retirement costs to government (benefits minus taxes) could be over $2.5 trillion."
Specifically, once illegals get old enough to collect Social Security, their "average life expectancy would be around 18 years. The net governmental cost (benefits minus taxes) of these elderly individuals would be around $17,000 per year. Over eighteen years of expected life, costs would equal $360,000 per elderly amnesty recipient."
Last year (5/17/06), I wrote: "So, let's offer those illegal aliens amnesty. Cost? Only $25,000 per person. Cash, Visa or MC. That's the Mexican price. Middle Easterners - $250,000 per person. Just because."
Oops. I think I priced it too low. Please multiply my 2006 numbers by 10. Thank you.
Very Odd Timing: The week after the terrorist wannabes, who were planning a heavily armed attack against soldiers at Fort Dix as part of a jihad against America were arrested, the Senate offers an Amnesty Bill. How are these two events connected? Some of these would-be terrorists have been living illegally in the United States, while others are illegal immigrants.
Mark Steyn writes more this about the bill: "I always thought the requirement in last year's bill was pretty sweet: You had to pay two out of three years' back taxes. Most legal Americans would love that deal: Pay any two years of tax and we'll give you the third for free!"
"But the President obviously concluded that even this was insufficiently appealing. Which gets to the heart of the problem. Whenever folks use this "living in the shadows" line, they assume that these 12-20-30 million people all have a burning desire to move out of the shadows and live under the klieg lights of officialdom. But, in fact, if you wanted to construct the perfect arrangement for modern life, it would be to acquire:
a) just enough of an official identity to be able to function - open bank accounts, etc. - and to access free education and health care; but
b) not enough of an official identity to attract the attentions of the IRS and the other less bountiful agencies of the state.
"The present 'undocumented' network structures provide this. For these Z visas to "work" (in Washington terms), they have to be attractive enough to draw sufficient numbers out of "the shadows". Right now, "living in the shadows" is a pretty good deal. Somerset Maugham famously called Monte Carlo a sunny place full of shady people. Undocumented America is a shady place full of sunny people."
"Instead of attempting to draw the undocumented out of the shadows, it might be fairer to allow the rest of us to "live in the shadows", too. My suggestion is that, on the day this bill comes into effect, all 300 million US citizens and legal residents should apply for a Z visa."
My thoughts: Since illegals only needed to pay three of the previous five years' worth of back taxes, why not give us legal citizens a tax amnesty, too? Oooh ... I forgot. That might bankrupt the government. What? You think tax amnesty for criminals won't? (see 'Amnesty Ain't Cheap' above)
Furthermore, this bill gives preference to those who have violated the law over those who have followed the law and patiently await legal entrance into the United States. That offends my sense of fair play.
Finally, while this particular bill was pushed by the Democrats, the Bush Administration has only exacerbated the whole immigration situation during its tenure. Of the 35 million foreign-born people in the United States, some 8 million have arrived since 2001. Of the 12 million estimated illegals in the U.S., some 4 million have arrived since 2001.
The final word goes to Michelle Malkin who points out that "no obscene utterance compares to the George W. Bush-backed, RNC-backed, Kennedy-conspired, fantasy-based amnesty profanity unleashed on conservatives and the country."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Calling an illegal alien an 'undocumented worker' is like calling a drug dealer an 'unlicensed pharmacist.'"
Friday May 18, 2007
Car Sightings and Musings: Spotted a red and white Nash Metropolitan custom pickup truck being trailered on I-5 south last week. It had Colorado plates.
Later, I saw an incredible car in the Safeway parking lot. A real stunner ... in the reddest metallic red I had ever seen. I looked at the chrome logo and identified the vehicle as a Lexus IS 250 AWD. The styling was very sporty and taut. This little chrome-wheeled sports sedan intrigued me. When spotted the young blonde driver, I engaged her in conversation. Hers was a 2006 model and she loves it. She said the Lexus dealer service is "awesome" and that the car is incredibly good in the snow with its AWD.
The IS 250 has a 204 hp engine and, with the standard 6-speed automatic, gets EPA numbers of 22 mpg/28 mpg. It looks like the 250 AWD can be had very well equipped for around $35,000. My reaction: "Very interesting - I'm going to have to go and check it out in person at the nearest Lexus dealer."
Later, my wife was looking for something in the Jaguar's center console and broke the cupholder. Actually, it may have been broken for years; I never use it. But I told her that perhaps this was a sign that I need a new car.
So ... there I was getting all hotted up about a new car but then, two days later, I took the Jag to the inspection station for its emissions test. (It passed.) The guy who did the test said, as he handed the paperwork back to me, "That's the most beautiful car I've seen all week, sir ... a real classic. The new cars just don't look that good."
Hmmmm. Maybe I really should keep the Jag for a while longer. I don't think I'd get that kind of compliment about a Lexus.
Separated At Birth? The New Overlords at Chrysler have apparently not stopped the chunky, hideous Imperial concept from going into production.
It all makes sense to me. Paint that big Imp bright yellow and it begins to look like its sibling, the Blue-Bird school bus, another Cerberus-owned product offering.
Headline Of The Week is from the St. Petersburg Times (FL): 'Armless driver eludes police chase'. Michael Francis Wiley, 40, who overcame three amputations, taught himself to drive using his shoulder stumps and proceeded to become one of Florida's most accomplished traffic violators.
His license has been suspended so many times that driving itself has become a felony. In 1998, while driving a green Corvette, he led deputies down Interstate 75 at nearly 120 mph.
According to court records, Wiley has stolen a car, kicked a state trooper and attacked his wife headfirst. He is awaiting trial on separate drug and illegal-driving charges. He faces up to five years in prison.
Several people say Wiley can also drive a stick shift car. Wiley lost both arms and part of a leg in an accident when he was 13, in 1980.
He is, apparently, the first real-life character based on Monty Python's Black Knight: "Tis but a scratch. Come on, you pansy! The Black Knight always triumphs!"
Is It Just Me? Or does Allison Janney sound like the name for a manufacturer of diesel engines?
It's A Woodie: An artist has produced a full-size wood sculpture of a Volkswagen Bus.
Boom! Twenty-seven years ago today, Mount St. Helens blew its top. Impossible to describe unless you personally saw it. Trees knocked over like toothpicks. Mud and ash everywhere. Gray 'snow' on the ground. I had an incredible view of the event, since I was staying at a motel overlooking the Columbia Gorge in Hood River, Oregon. (I had a ringside seat with a large picture window facing north.)
The clearcoat on my '76 Volkswagen Scirocco was shot (so much for VW 'quality'); the day before, I had repainted the car using cans of silver spray paint. I was letting the paint 'set' for a week before polishing. I didn't need to ... the #%@!&* ash did the polishing for me.
Everybody in the Pacific Northwest has a Mount St. Helens story ... that one's mine.
These days, the volcano is quiet with occasional puffs of steam to let us know it's still there. I can't see it from my front door - only because the cedar trees block my view - but I live in its shadow - 35 miles away as the ash flies.
PS - It was steaming ever so slightly yesterday afternoon.
One America Is A Good Goal: God bless Senator Lamar Alexander who is 1.) against the Native Hawaiians Bill because "if it should pass, it would create a new nation based on race in the U.S. I oppose that." And 2.) is concerned that the Salvation Army "has been sued by the Equal Opportunity Commission for requiring people to speak English on the job. I am going to introduce legislation that says employers who post rules requiring their employees to speak English can't be sued by the EOC."
Don't Be A Greedy Geezer: Roy Weitz at Fund Alarm notes, "There is, in fact, a financial adviser working today (Paul Grangaard, a CPA) who is aggressively marketing what he calls the '6.6% Retirement Income Solution' to retirement withdrawals, and he seems to be picking up a fairly sizable group of disciples through his training classes for other financial professionals."
Roy concludes, "Maybe, just maybe, when a high withdrawal-rate system has been proven in real life, over 20 or 30 years, we would consider giving it a chance. Until then, planning to take the lowest possible withdrawals just seems to make sense. Remember, for many financial planners and brokers, these retirement withdrawal calculations are just models ... For you, it's the rest of your life."
6.6% is an unrealistic number, in my opinion. An article a couple of years ago in The Motley Fool stated that the "use of a 4% withdrawal rate had a reasonable probability of success only in the 100% S&P 500 and the 75% S&P 500/25% Bond portfolios. None of the portfolios had a good probability of success using a withdrawal rate of 6% or higher save for the shorter payout periods. The 100% bond portfolio failed miserably in comparison with all other portfolios."
My advice - have an investment stew of mostly stocks (or stock funds) and a sprinkle of bonds (or bond funds). A 3.5% to 4.0% withdrawal rate is the magic number - historically, it's the best assurance that you'll never outlive your money.
American Marketing Ingenuity ... as reported by The Onion: Scientists at Hallmark Cards' Center for the Research and Development of Sentiments announced Monday that they had discovered three previously unknown emotions that can be experienced by human beings and captured on a folded piece of card stock.
Said Hallmark's CEO, "They will add a whole new level of complexity and nuance to the way we humans relate to one another, and will fill in any gaps left by our 'Thinking of You' and 'Just Because' categories."
The first emotion the project successfully isolated was "requiapathy," the combination of relief and guilt that comes with the sudden realization that you no longer miss a dead loved one. That discovery quickly led to the uncovering of "seprudity," the feeling of appreciating a coworker's dedication without fully understanding his or her job function, and "trepatiousness," a synthesis of rage and jealousy, though more muted and often accompanied by a sensation of weightlessness.
Democrats - Capitialism's Best Friend: Porn star Jenna Jameson has endorsed Hillary for President, noting that "the Clinton administration was the best years for the 'adult industry'."
Tax Dollars At Waste: The Los Angeles Housing Department has paid thousands of dollars to a Zen Buddhist priest from Hawaii for management training that includes teaching breathing with sphincter control, learning "how to stand" and playing with wooden sticks.
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "Dolly Parton when naked expands to three times her clothed size."
Tuesday May 15, 2007
Dog Days: The 40+ year running soap opera known as Chrysler Corp. now has a new sponsor. Chrysler has been on the brink of disaster more times than sweet Nell has been in the prone position on railroad tracks.
The bidding is now over and the "winner" has been selected. I guess this quashes my dreams of saving Chrysler with those limited-edition, purple metalflake DeSotos.
Cerberus Capital Management LP, a private equity firm named after the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades in ancient Greek fiction, is buying Chrysler from Daimler. Since a lot of people thought Chrysler was a dog, will this now make Cerberus a four-headed beast? Mythology enthusiasts demand an answer.
DaimlerChrysler AG confirmed is selling 80% of the Chrysler Group to Cerberus for $7.4 billion. The new company will be debt-free (Daimler keeps the debt), except that the new owners will be responsible for the $18 billion in health care and pension liabilities. Only $1.45 billion of the purchase will go to Daimler directly - the rest will be invested in the NewNew Chrysler. (If you recall, Lee Iacocca already 'invented' the New Chrysler a couple of decades ago.)
Cerberus allegedly outbid Magna by $2 billion for the Chrysler deal. (Magna and I apparently were on the same page about the value of Chrysler. I had speculated earlier that Chrysler was worth $4 billion or so.) This deal is a big loss for Daimler (nee Mercedes) which paid $36 billion for Chrysler in 1998 and has plowed billions more into it over the past nine years.
Meanwhile, Cerberus is 'really' paying $25 billion for this puppy when you consider those pension/health care burdens. Owwwww. It's hard for me to see a good outcome for Cerberus in this transaction. This will not be a quick 'split, restructure and flip' deal. The UAW is unlikely to give Cerberus much in concessions, since anything given to the NewNew Chrysler will set a precedent for the GM and Ford labor negotiations later this year.
Chrysler is not a healthy company. It suffers from chronic problems which are not easily remedied. The company has a stale and unbalanced product line. According to Edmunds' Jesse Toprak, "In April, Chrysler's incentives averaged of $4,250 per vehicle - almost $2,000 higher than the industry average." Chrysler the Corporation is losing money - $1.5 billion in 2006. I see a lot of Chrysler and Dodge stuff on rental car lots - not a good sign. I would guess that 80% of those Sebring convertibles head straight to the rental market. Chrysler products score low in Consumer Reports with only 21% of their offerings receiving the coveted 'Recommended' status. (The only automaker scoring lower is Mercedes at 0% Recommended.)
Last year, Cerberus paid $7.4 billion for a majority interest in GMAC, the mortgage and lending business previously wholly owned by General Motors Corp. The deal was done just as the mortgage market was tanking. Cerberus' worldwide investments are an odd mix - in '06, it bought North American Bus Industries and Blue-Bird (think school buses) as part of an effort to increase its position in the large bus industry. Buses - hardly a high-margin, growth industry, methinks.
Cerberus also owns Alamo Rent-a-Car and National Car Rental (a pair of low-end losers which are getting eaten alive in the marketplace by Enterprise) as well as Guilford Mills, one of the largest automotive seating and headliner suppliers in the U.S.
Cerberus also owns more than 250 Burger King franchise restaurants, which may explain why those flame-broiled Whoppers sometimes taste like burnt headliner. The company has invested in shoemaker Fila (a brand which peaked in - what - 1982 or so ... anybody remember the '84 Fila Thunderbird?), Formica (an out-of-favor surfacing material whose brand awareness has been mostly killed by 25+ years of neglect and mismanagement) and Mervyn's - a once-hot discount chain, now in near-terminal decline. (All the Mervyn's around here closed last year.)
Looking at these ... ahem ... flea-bitten investments, it's hard to picture Cerberus as a multi-headed Superdog swooping down to save a moribund car company from a speeding eastbound freight. But, who knows?
Personally, I don't know how to turn Chrysler around other than declaring bankruptcy, ditching a bunch of dealers, killing some products, dumping the UAW and basically starting over, either well outside of Michigan or offshore. That said, Chrysler's fundamental problems are no different than those facing Ford and GM. Chrysler is simply in more critical condition.
Ten years from now, I wonder how many US/Canadian-made 'American' brands will be around? Corvette and Jeep, probably. Maybe even Cadillac. But ... in the world of Chrysler Holding LLC, Dodges could end up being made in Mexico and/or China only while Chrysler - a once-luxurious, oft-coachbuilt brand which continues to devolve into an entry-level Plymouth successor - could disappear entirely.
The time may soon come when Nell finally gets run over by that giant, puffing locomotive of world trade.
Quote Of The Day is from the late Johnny Carson: "If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead."
Monday May 14, 2007
Happy Birthday: This blog is now three years old. While I'm a mere Baco-Bit in the great salad bar of cyberspace, my micro-ingredient continues to plod along. The content will remain primarily about cars. I will continue to season the mix with things political and social which I find to be either important, interesting and/or amusing. I do get very jacked up about politics around election time but not so much in-between.
I have no plans to add RSS feeds, podcasts, video clips or any other bells and whistles to this blog. Unless someone can present me with a compelling business case for doing so. "Show me the money."
Finally, you'll note that my note cards are for sale here, featuring my pen-and-ink drawings. I have no tip jar, no web ads and no Andrew Sullivanesque 'Pledge Drive.' Nor does this site have pop-ups, conflicts of interest, or hidden agendas.
Therefore, if you enjoy my site, please show your support by buying some of these car-themed note cards.
They're a bargain at only $10.95 for a pack of 20 cards printed on heavy linen cover stock with matching envelopes. Ooops, now SOLD OUT.
Friday May 11, 2007
The Perils Of Auto Predictions: I have in my possession Popular Mechanics '1957 Cars Fact Book'. I bought it new as a 13 year-old (paying the then-dear sum of 75¢ for it) and have carted it around from dwelling to dwelling ever since. I've lost the front cover but otherwise, it is largely intact.
The softcover's author was Arthur R. Railton, Automotive Editor of Popular Mechanics Magazine. Within the mag-style 'book', there is a section entitled 'Predictions For 1958', found on page 128.
I've written about the fallacy of predictions before. But, in the case of this Fact Book, the predictions were only for one year ahead. I was surprised at how wrong they turned out to be. To wit:
"Both Pontiac and Chevrolet will have all new cars - both will use the long-awaited unitized (body) construction." GM unibodies didn't happen until the 1960 Corvair appeared.
"If Studebaker and Packard are successful this year, they will be all new in 1958. Hudson and Nash will be all new too." Ummm ... good luck with all that.
"According to people who should know, the E-car (Edsel) is not going to be spectacular. It is going to be a conventional car but one built to provide the utmost in comfort." Well, I guess it wasn't 'spectacular' but it looked like nothing else on the road. 'Conventional' was hardly the word I would have used in describing the Edsel. And it wasn't really any more comfortable than a '57 or '58 Mercury. ... (more >>>)
Joisy Jihad: A male employee who works at Circuit City behind the Moorestown Mall is the unsung hero that first enabled authorities to foil the Fort Dix, NJ terror plot. A Circuit City corporate spokesman confirmed that a current employee was asked by one of the alleged terrorists to dub a Jihadist training VHS cassette into a DVD. The clerk alerted Mount Laurel police about the video in January 2006, who then contacted the FBI, which launched the investigation.
Ah, the Moorestown Mall. I have fond memories of it from when I lived near there in the late '60s-early-'70s. I saw my first (and probably last) Subaru 360 on display there. We used to buy "fresh" sourdough bread from a gourmet store in the Mall. The paper bread bag had a red ink drawing of a San Francisco cable car cresting a hill. The bread itself was from Brooklyn, NY.
A Clarification: On Wednesday's posting I noted that John Edwards said that he worked for a hedge fund to "learn more about financial markets and their relationship to poverty in the United States."
I wish to point out that this is the equivalent of someone saying that they worked at a homeless shelter in order to learn the finer points of no-load mutual fund investing.
Ass Bread - Is It A Sub-class Of Artisan Bread? And does Safeway carry it? In Medieval Times (the historical period, not the restaurant chain), people believed that impotence could be cured by consuming bread "that had been kneaded with a woman's buttocks."
I learn something new every day.
Headline Of The Week: 'Drunk Student Beaten by Giraffe'. Ruta Greiciute, a 22-year-old student at Kaunas Technology University in Lithuania, was hospitalized with a broken collar bone and nose after the 9-year-old male giraffe, named Solut, attacked her after she and two friends climbed into the animal's cage after having a few drinks.
Quote Of The Day is from Conan O'Brien on Japan: "Last century, you brutally defeated China and Russia. This century, you make Hello Kitty toasters."
Wednesday May 9, 2007
Groundswell: In October of last year, I wrote, The Perfect Storm, an essay about a combination and culmination of events which would destroy the Big 2.5 auto companies as we know them.
Zarba, a poster on TTAC, offers a real-life example: "We recently looked at the GMC Acadia vs. the Honda Pilot. ... The GMC looked great, and had good interior space and ergonomics. However, the interior looked and felt as though it was designed to last about 5 years. Everything felt about 90% there. The Honda, even though it's on an older platform and due to be replaced, was on a whole order of magnitude better in terms of quality, fit and finish, and the intangible 'feel'. ... There's a new Pilot in the driveway."
He continues, "The Big 2.5 automakers have lost an entire generation (or two) of buyers who will not even consider their products due to previous experience. It's been said here before, but the Big 2.5 will need to develop class leading vehicles that demonstrate quality over the long haul. Not just 90 days, or 3 years, but 5, 7, 10 years. When they can do that consistently, they will start to win back the buying public. Unfortunately, they don't have that much time. The Japanese automakers, and now the Koreans, have relentlessly improved their quality and built tremendous loyalty from their customers. The Europeans and Lexus/Infinity/Acura destroyed their hold on the luxury market ... The domestics counted on trucks and SUVs to carry them, and now gas prices and the inroads the competition has made on those fronts is killing that cash cow."
"After all these years, their best answer to the Civic is the Cobalt? Didn't anyone actually sit in an Accord before the G6 came out? Didn't it occur to them to develop the Focus for more than just Europe? ... And why is the person responsible for green-lighting the Aspen still on the payroll?"
My good friend and fellow car nut, Ray (we've known each other almost 50 years), wrote something in the same vein to me last week. "A friend's son brought home a Toyota Yaris 4-door sedan. Advertised at 42 mpg - well-equipped (air, auto transmission, PS, PDB). Well put together - nice interior. Seats four with reasonable room. Under $15,000 with tax and tags, out the door. Quiet. What this country needs for combating $3-4/gas. No wonder Ford and GM are about to fold. Let them die, and take the UAW with them."
Ray added, "Looks like the local Chrysler dealer will be closing its doors soon. No cars in its lots. Some salesmen have left already. Daimler ought to shoot the Chrysler horse dead."
My question: Is this groundswell visible from the upper floors of those executive offices in Detroit (or Dearborn) yet? Because, based on the way the Big 2.5 are acting, it sure doesn't seem so.
Car-ercise: Over the weekend, I got some exercise by thoroughly washing my Jaguar and my wife's Toyota. It was ideal weather - cloudy but no rain.
On Monday it was sunny and warm, so I took the Plymouth for a ride, rolling the windows down so I could hear the burble of the exhaust pipes. Sweet.
We're supposed to have good weather all week. April showers bring ... etc.
Exchange Program: Chad at Independent Sources offers an interesting proposal: "For every illegal alien that crosses in the United States we release one violent felony offender from prison with the understanding that he (or she) cross into and remain in Mexico. In order to prepare them for the journey instead of providing the inmate with a map, like the Mexican government did with their immigrants, we can give them a handgun, a box of ammo, 2 hits of the drug of their choice and a Spanish language phrase book, along with a ride to (and shove across if necessary) the border."
"The way I see it one of the following would happen - a) the Mexican government would get serious about border enforcement, b) The criminals would rob all the illegals so they wouldn't have any money to pay the coyotes to take them over the border, c) the Mexican police would just shoot the felons on site, or d) all of the above. I'm not really seeing a downside here." Me neither.
Innovative Foreign Policy Idea of the Day is from Jim Geraghty: "Iran is looking for bidders to construct two large scale nuclear reactors. They're even advertising in the International Herald Tribune. Couldn't we, or a front company, put in the winning bid, and then do a really lousy job? Way behind schedule, way over budget, terrible quality? Have we finally found a way that "Brownie", Kathleen Blanco, Ray Nagin, and other architects of disastrous efforts can serve their country? By thoroughly mismanaging a contract job for the Iranians? Let's make our incompetent administrators and hopeless bureaucrats work for us, by making them work for the bad guys!"
Let's send over a few TSA managers, too - the ones who frisk 80 year-olds at airports, while letting a gaggle of Muslim women jump the line and get only token security checking. (I witnessed that at SeaTac last year.)
The Buck Stops Here (At Bush's Desk): I'm relieved that Federal investigators have arrested six Islamic radicals who were planning a heavily armed attack against soldiers at Fort Dix as part of a jihad against America.
On the other hand, I'm dismayed that some of these would-be terrorists "have been living illegally in the United States, while others are illegal immigrants." This points directly to the Bush Administration's failure to enforce immigration laws already on the books. And, dammit, he's had almost six years to fix it, yet it remains as broken as it was on September 10, 2001. Unacceptable. Inexcuseable.
For anyone who thinks that these people are Your Tired and Your Poor, Yadda-Yadda, Huddled Masses, etc., I would point out that one of them "drove a Cadillac Escalade SUV." And his family "owned a pizzeria", a great cash-laundering business, by the way.
Hmmmmm. New Jersey ... Caddy Escalade ... cash-laundering - sounds very Tony Soprabdulah. Where was the laundered money being funneled, I wonder?
The Brass Balls Award for the week (so far) goes to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards who said - with a straight face - that he worked for a hedge fund to "learn more about financial markets and their relationship to poverty in the United States."
Edwards refused to disclose how much he got paid but said he did keep the money. ''It was primarily to learn, but making money was a good thing, too,'' Edwards quipped, as he tossed his hair.
Dumb And Dumber: Greg Gutfeld has written about television stupidity, "The more you do television, the dumber you get. I don't care if you're George Will, Charles Krauthammer, or an adorable polar bear cub making its debut in a Berlin Zoo - the more TV you do, the less likely you will remember how to use a hairbrush. This is why, for example, we have "hair" people. "Hair" people are the people at networks who do the hair for people on television. Without them, we would all look like road kill. Or worse, a contributing editor to the Nation."
Then There's Newspaper Stupidity: The Minneapolis Star Tribune is canceling James Lileks' Daily Quirk column and assigning him to write local news stories instead. What a waste of a great talent.
James is a 'name' - a published author of several books, a radio personality and one of the most popular bloggers on the net - and these idiots assign him what?! His readership across the internet dwarfs any other byline at the myopic Star Tribune.
Oh, well. James will find a better gig, leave and the Strib will circle the bowl.
Meanwhile, the Great Pulp Death Spiral continues.
Bad Pun Of The Day: When you dream in color, it's a pigment of your imagination.
Gas Pains: Yesterday, at the Chevron in Battle Ground, WA, Regular was $3.45 and Premium was $3.65/gallon.
What CNBC Really Means: On Saturday, I watched Lee Iacocca with Tim Russert on CNBC (Crap, Nothin' But Crap), hawking his latest book. Iacocca is soooooo over ... had nothin' convincing to say.
What a waste of time.
Demographics: I was doing some research and had occasion to look up the ABC audit data for my local newspaper. 48% of all subscribers are 55 and older. 25% of all subscribers are 65 and older, even though they represent only 14% of the local population. 74% of all subscribers are married; 94% of all subscribers are homeowners.
I suspect that these numbers are similar for other newspapers as well. So, if you have something to sell to aging, married homeowners, newspaper ads may be a good venue. For young singles ... forget it.
Speaking Of Demographics ... the other day, I read a newspaper article which stated that '24' is in trouble because its younger demographic is abandoning it while geezers (less desirable to advertisers) are flocking to the show. Gee, I hate to validate this observation but I just discovered '24' this season and have become hooked on it. Same for 'Boston Legal' and 'The Sopranos'. Late to the party, I guess.
Junk: We used to get a lot of junk mail. It dramatically slowed the day I turned 60. When my wife turned 60, it virtually stopped. These days, the small amount of mail we get consists of invitations to Grand Opening Receptions at retirement villas. Last week, my wife received an invite to a wine and cheese thingie at one such place.
I didn't fare so well ... the very same day, I got a pamphlet from the Neptune Cremation Society. Do they know something I don't?
And shouldn't the Neptune Society be in charge of burials at sea, not cremation?
Political Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks on Fred Thompson: "He's the only candidate on the GOP side you could see playing the President on '24' as an uncomplicatedly good guy."
Die, Hippie, Die! Kathy Shaidle is on a roll: "Every year, Relapsed Catholic commemorates Kent State '70, aka "The Good School Shooting". We're a few days early, but what the heck. I'm cranky. Besides, they started it ..."
"What happened was: a bunch of stupid hippies got themselves (not to mention some innocent bystanders) killed during an anti-war protest. We're supposed to feel sorry for them to this day - like everything hippies did, however pathetic, the rest of us never hear the end of it. And we never will, until the last hippie is strangled by the entrails of the last commie."
"There are Kent State movies and books and even operas. We hear more about this handful of red diaper babies and their dupe friends than we do about the millions who were slaughtered after the hippies got their way and the U.S. left Vietnam."
"Just another example of the warped worldview that brought us serial divorce, rampant drug use, self-indulgent "spirituality," VD outbreaks, bad music, worse fashions and a head lice epidemic, to name just a few hippie innovations - culminating in Charles Manson and Altamont."
New Math: Don Imus' $40 million lawsuit calculates to $8 million per syllable. Oh wait ... now it's apparently $24 million per syllable.
Thought For Today: When any Marketing War draws to an end and the last battle is being fought, the MBAs saunter on to the battlefield to bayonet the wounded.
Thursday May 3, 2007
Ain't It Awful! Open a newspaper or turn on the television and all you read/hear about is how terrible things are. The housing crisis, the coming collapse of the mortgage market, the soon-to-be $4 gallon of gas, Detroit's goin' broke, etc. But you'd never know it in the real world where April sales of luxury autos were pretty darned spectacular.
Land Rover sales are up 22.1%, Audi's up 18.5%, Lincoln +15.8%, Lexus is up 14.1%, Infiniti sales increased by 12%, BMW jumped 8.6%, Mercedes up 6.4% and even Cadillac sales increased by 1.8%.
Incorrect Term: The Detroit News reports that the 2008 Corvette's engine will be a "6.2-liter, small-block V-8 capable of hitting 190 mph." In an age where we're trying to free ourselves from Middle East oil dependency, there's something just plain nuts when a 378 cubic-inch engine is referred to as a "small-block."
Why I Never Answer The Phone: Letting all calls go to our answering machine for screening is the result of a deliberate decision process based on empirical data. 20% of all phone calls are for me; 20% are for my wife. The remaining 60% are solicitations for various charities, politicians and other Junk Calls.
Being on the No Call List does nothing to stop these calls.
"What's The Other Half?" Tom Poston, the tall comic with the slightly bugged-out eyes and mildly befuddled expression, has died at 85.
In the 1950s, Poston gained recognition on the Steve Allen Show, playing the Perennial Amnesiac, a 'Man on the Street' interviewee who was so unnerved by the television cameras that he couldn't remember who he was. He won an Emmy playing "The Man Who Can't Remember His Name."
Poston also played George Utley, the country handyman (who couldn't fix anything) at the Stratford Inn, on the '80s sitcom 'Newhart'.
In 2001, Poston married actress Suzanne Pleshette who played the wife of Newhart's character Bob Hartley on 'The Bob Newhart Show' - a program on which Tom also made several appearances. Poston also did the voice of the Capital City Goofball on an episode of 'The Simpsons.'
The headline quote is George Utley's question after Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) remarked: "Half the fun of having money is spending it on things you don't need."
Here's another exchange:
George Utley: "Dick, I cleared out that obstruction in the chimney."
Dick Loudon: "Thanks, George. What was it?"
George Utley: "I don't know but when I woke it up, it ran away."
Rest in peace, Tom. Thanks for the laughs.
Mental Cases: Doctor Horsefeathers has written, "Many years ago - before the sixties, when activist reformers discovered the notion that mentally ill patients were an oppressed people, like Negroes (as Blacks preferred to be called then), women, and homosexuals (as Gay men were identified then), and decided that they must be set free from their sadistic doctors and nurses (deinstitutionalized) in order to become independent (homeless) - I was a resident physician studying psychiatry at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital."
"As first-year residents, I and my colleagues spent many long and interesting hours in the admitting office seeing hundreds of men and women like Mr. Cho, the psychotic killer at Virginia Tech, to determine whether they were an imminent danger to themselves or others."
"Common sense is one of the rarest of commodities these days. And it has been made rarer by the gradual transformation of our society, in the past half century, into a 'therapeutic culture'. There does not seem to be right or wrong anymore, no good or bad behavior, no problems that cannot be cured, no complications that cannot be solved, no flaws that cannot be removed, and no flawed people who cannot be made perfect."
"Unfortunately, the dynamics of the therapeutic culture were at work at Virginia Tech during the last couple of years and have contributed to the deaths of thirty-three people. ... The three basic values of the therapeutic culture are tolerance of aberrant behavior, a non-judgmental attitude, and a sense of understanding for the suffering patient. This is what Cho was being offered by the community at Virginia Tech. Their response goes against the commonest of common sense and only served to protect Cho's illness from being acknowledged, diagnosed and treated. It only enabled him only to continue his psychotic existence and get worse."
"It would be highly desirable to change the laws that stress the 'civil rights' of the mentally ill in schools and that encourage the view that the privacy of the mentally ill individual trumps his health and well-being to laws that support early recognition of severe mental illness so that he may be helped to treatment and management of his psychosis in a timely way, and prevented from doing serious harm to the innocent."
I recommend that you read this thought-provoking article in its entirety.
Not too long ago, many religions believed that "devils walk among us" - soulless creatures who commit mayhem and inspire other weak-minded souls (copycats) to follow in their path. Hence the Christian prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." And the general consensus that there should be a death penalty to rid the world of such abominations.
Mental health professionals now declare such individuals as presently-incurable sociopaths and psychotics, implying that 1) someday we'll be able to cure such people and 2) there are no such things as devils who assume human form. I wonder.
And Furthermore ... I wonder what Father Pichla, S.J. would have said about all the above. And I'd still like to know why he reneged on the deal to take us high school Juniors on that May 3rd field trip to the steel mill 47 years ago today.
There are probably only three people on the planet who understand/remember this reference but I'm posting it anyway.
Eco-Indifference: Jeremy Clarkson comments on Gaia: "And nor do I care much about the wellbeing of the planet. It's big and old enough to be able to look after itself."
Meanwhile, at the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa, there's no Gideon Bible in the nightstand drawer. Instead, on the bureau is a copy of 'An Inconvenient Truth', former Vice President Al Gore's book about global warming.
Gaia-the-Hotel is equipped with waterless urinals (you already know how they must smell, especially if you've ever had to hang around a New York or Philadelphia subway platform), solar lighting and recycled paper as it marches toward becoming California's first hotel certified as 'green', or "benevolent" to the environment. Similar features are found 35 miles south at San Francisco's Orchard Garden Hotel.
Actually, Gore's book should be in the bathroom as a TP substitute. Save a few trees, ya know.
Thought For Today: Business conventions are important because they demonstrate how many people a company can operate without.
Tuesday May 1, 2007
Decline And Fall: AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo has written about Toyota replacing GM as the world's largest automaker: "And while Toyota (and Honda) were building sparkling new factories in regions of the country free of the crushing costs associated with union labor contracts, GM and the other Detroit automakers were collectively crafting the most egregiously overinflated and overwrought labor contracts in history with the United Auto Workers union - which ultimately led the domestic automakers to the brink of oblivion in just 20 years."
And Peter weighs in on the UAW: "True to form, if there's a way to screw things up, the UAW will find it. All of the sabre-rattling rhetoric and old-school bullshit that propelled the UAW to prominence 40 years ago is as painfully out of place today as the union is. These people refuse to believe that the sky is falling, and they're hell-bent on bringing the domestic auto industry down with them if they have to. The concept of jobs with reduced benefits vs. no jobs at all just hasn't sunk in at Solidarity House yet, and we're betting it never will. The business of entitlement is what the UAW stands for. It's not jobs or "fairness" or anything else at this point - it's about not giving up any of the things they feel they're "entitled" to. They actually believe, in spite of the global realities swirling around them, that the world somehow "owes" them." (Note to self: File under 'Unions Are Idiots'.)
Here's Another Reason Why The Japanese Are Winning. Headline: 'UAW contract dispute may delay introduction of new Chevy Malibu.' Ever heard of a worker group interfering with the introduction of a new Honda or Toyota model? (Note to self: File under 'Unions Are Idiots'.)
World Peace Through Paper Maché Puppets, Etc.: Mark Steyn, writing about lefty symbolic 'theater', wonders, "how effective half a century of America's "Free Tibet" campaign has been; or ask Darfuris, assuming you can find one still breathing, how the left's latest fetishization is going from their perspective: "On Sunday, April 29, Salt Lake Saves Darfur invites the greater Salt Lake community of compassion to join with us as we honor the fallen and suffering Darfuris in a day of films, discussion and dance with a Sudanese dance troupe. Marvelous. I hope as the "Salt Lake Saves Darfur" campaign intensifies in the decades ahead there'll be enough Darfuris to man the dance troupe."
Cats - Ingrates Of The Animal World: James Richards, a renowned cat veterinarian, former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and author of the 'ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats', died while swerving his motorcycle to avoid a cat in New York.
If you die, your dog will lay at the foot of your casket and whimper sadly. Your cat, on the other hand, would prefer to be transported to the morgue with you so that it can amuse itself by batting around your toe tag with its paw.
Absolutely Awful & Tasteless Joke ... but I'm still laughing. It's from Jim Treacher.
Q: How is Heather Mills like coffee?
A: They're both better before they're "de-calfed".
Jim later admitted that he secretly loves Heather, remarking, "It's true ... if given the chance, I'd throw myself at her foot."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "It is hard to think of any word that has confused more issues than the word "rights." Nowadays, almost anything that anybody wants is called a "right" - a magic word that does away with the need for evidence, logic, or even common sense."