Friday February 29, 2008
Jaguar Final Thoughts: It's now been over two months since I traded in my Jaguar. Enough time has passed that I have sorted out my thoughts and can write objectively about it. I think everyone should have a Jaguar at least once in their lives. (more >>>)
Sign Of The Times: Saying the car business has stalled, the owner of the Pendleton (Oregon) Ford Lincoln Mercury dealership is closing the doors. Kurt Williams says the Ford Motor Company's market penetration has been declining amid the industry's troubles. So, he says, "it's all done" in Pendleton. Pendleton Honda seems to be doing OK, though.
The fate of the Pendleton dealership follows a similar string of closures throughout the region, including Spokane's Empire Ford and the Ford dealership in Hood River, Oregon.
Cream Of The Crop: Consumer Reports has released its 2008 top picks. In the Luxury Sedan category, CR chose the Lexus LS 460L. "With a score of 99 out of 100 in our road test, the LS is our highest-rated vehicle. It provides a no-compromise environment of comfort and roominess, coupled with an isolating quietness. It also delivers quick acceleration and relatively good fuel economy. This car is brimming with electronic amenities, but the controls are easy to use."
Last year's top pick for Luxury Sedan was the Infiniti M35.
Hot Rod Passing: Boyd Coddington died at age 63, after a lengthy hospital stay. His death was caused by complications and infection from intestinal surgery. He was also diabetic.
In his prime, he had a good eye for custom design and the construction skills to create beautiful cars, with a unique take on traditional, 1930s-style hot rods. While I admired photos of many of his creations, the only one I ever saw in person was CadZZilla, the custom purple '48 Cadillac Sedanette slopeback cruiser designed by Larry Erickson and built by Boyd for ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. It was a dramatic and spectacular machine.
His later years were clouded by the bankruptcy of his wheel company, his apparent ill temper and poor management style exhibited on the unwatchable 'American Hot Rod' and his 2005 conviction for registering custom-fabricated cars as 'antiques' to avoid emissions and taxation laws.
Coddington's creations won the 'America's Most Beautiful Roadster' award seven times. He was named Hot Rod magazine's Man of the Year in 1988. One of Boyd's vehicles was also the only hot rod ever displayed on the cover of Smithsonian magazine. Rest In Peace. (permalink)
Bill Versus Gore: A brilliant man, William F. Buckley, is no longer with us. He hosted the PBS show, 'Firing Line', for many years, threatened to punch Gore Vidal in the nose during a televised debate during the 1968 Democratic Convention (after Gore called Buckley a 'crypto-Nazi'), was the intellectual inspiration for the modern conservative movement, founded National Review, was a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and loved God.
The erudite Mr. Buckley played the harpsichord very well and did so once on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. He was also an accomplished jazz pianist. Bill Buckley leaves an impressive legacy; America is safer and stronger thanks to his life's work.
On the other hand, Gore Vidal once had a bit part on 'Family Guy'. Ironically, he played the straight man to Stewie and Brian.
Requiescat In Pace, Mr. Buckley.
PS: Best Bill Buckley line (and there are many): During a televised 1965 New York mayoral debate with John V. Lindsay, Buckley declined to use his allotted rebuttal time and instead replied, "I am satisfied to sit back and contemplate my own former eloquence."
And, I'll always remember David Frye's dead on impersonation which captured Buckley's quirkiest 'Firing Line' mannerisms, such as his deliberate speech pattern, lip-licking, arched eyebrows, his use of a pen as a prop, the earnest pressing together of his fingertips and his tendency to lean far back in his chair while making a point. (permalink)
Soon, Al Gore Will Be Selling Gore-Tex Parkas: A twelve-month long drop in world temperatures wipes out a century of warming. "Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile - the list goes on and on."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God."
Wednesday February 27, 2008
Thinking Small: Paul Niedermeyer has penned a thoughtful article over at TTAC. He posits that the decline of General Motors began just after WW II, noting that "Prior to WW II, Alfred P. Sloan's management of GM was based upon extracting continuous improvements in costs and manufacturing efficiencies, while providing an ever-improved product. The rise of inflation after WW II (and Sloan's exit from the CEO position), allowed GM to simply keep raising prices."
One executive, Donald Brown, sounded the alarm expressing his deep concern "over the dangers of managerial inefficiencies creeping in due to the ease with which abnormalities in costs and expenses can be offset by price increases."
Paul continues, "This was the era when GM management became lazy, when the process of identifying and rewarding superior managers for their performance in finding efficiencies was tossed overboard, forever."
I take issue with only one point in Paul's treatise. He writes, "In 1947, GM killed its Cadet small car program, after spending millions on development." Paul cites this as the starting point for GM's long slide: "On this day sixty years ago, GM began to die. The whole premise of its success was based on the ever-more rationalized manufacture of full-sized cars (and trucks)."
When it comes to pointing out The General's mistakes, I'm as enthusiastic as the next guy. But I'm inclined to cut GM some slack on this one. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all had small car programs at one point or another in the early to mid 1940s. Just prior to WW II, the U.S. economy was still in a slump, having never recovered from the worldwide depression of the 1930s. Many feared that the cost of the war would result in a very sour postwar economy.
Seeing the success of the Studebaker Champion (introduced in 1939), the Big Three began to develop small, lower-cost cars for the postwar period. But President Truman's expansionist postwar economy policy and pent-up consumer demand for 'stuff' after the war years of scarcity, rationing and non-availability changed the game. Furthermore, rising costs of materials and labor made small cars less economical than initially calculated - compared with their larger brethren.
The cost of little Cadet was not much less than a full-size Chevrolet and had a breakeven point of 300,000 units - quite a large quantity in those days. (Sales of full-size Chevrolets were only 330,000 in 1946.) So, GM abandoned the Cadet program and handed off the development drawings and prototypes to its Holden Division.
The result was the 1948 215 (FX), Holden's first all-Australian automobile, a very successful model.
Ford had less success. Its domestic small car program was also shut down and the car became the 1948 Vedette, a French Ford. Sales were mediocre but the French economy of that era wasn't much to write home about either. Chrysler's small car program was less developed and was simply dropped.
The graveyard of postwar America is littered with the bones of little cars that the public rejected: Henry J, Hudson Jet, Crosley, Davis, Aero-Willys, etc. People were flush with money and wanted the biggest and the best.
From a business standpoint, the Big Three made the right call. (permalink)
I'm Saving Trees! As of yesterday, we no longer receive a daily newspaper.
I've been reading newspapers ever since I discovered the comics page 59 years-or-so ago, so this is a fairly drastic event. Now I get all the news I need from the net and paying for a hard copy has become redundant. The comics I want to read are also online - all nine of them. (Real Life Adventures, The Other Coast, Rose Is Rose, Pickles, Sherman's Lagoon, Blondie & Dagwood, Hagar the Horrible, Nancy & Sluggo and Gasoline Alley)
Geez, maybe I'm to blame for The Columbian laying off 8% of its workforce last week. "Faced with a weakened local economy, The Columbian publishing company announced a restructuring that will eliminate about 30 jobs from its 360-person work force." The announcement said that it's due to "a weak economy, particularly in real estate, automotive, and retail advertising." An odd choice of words, since the local economy is doing OK. It's the newspaper's ad revenues that are weak. I suspect ... (more >>>)
Well, This Makes Me Feel Younger: Pop legend and weird little cretin Prince is reportedly having a secret hip replacement at the age of just 49, after being crippled by years of "sexy dancing". The pint-sized US star would develop a severe limp and have to use a walking stick without surgery, so he is booking himself into a private hospital. Aides are keeping his diary clear for two months to recover but they're not letting on why he cannot work in that time.
During the two-hour surgery, the 'Purple Rain' singer will have the ball and socket of his damaged hip taken out and titanium replacements installed.
Headline Of The Day is from The People's Cube: 'US Mail Service to publish Obama's resume on new stamp'. Runner up is from Scrappleface: 'Farrakhan Praises Obama, Clinton Woos Chaka Khan'.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocaine during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
Monday February 25, 2008
Sad News: Charlie Ryan died on February 16, 2008. He created Hot Rod Lincoln - both the car and the song.
While he was working on the car, Charlie was thinking about the song. By the early 1950s, he had the lyrics worked out and began performing it. Charlie Ryan recorded 'Hot Rod Lincoln' in 1955; it was released as a single by Souvenir Records in 1957. It became a major hit in many regions of the United States.
While traveling to perform, Charlie and his wife Ruthie often took the Hot Rod Lincoln on tour. Other car songs were written before Charlie's but 'Hot Rod Lincoln' was the first car song to become a major hit and make the Billboard top ten list.
I met Charlie several times and wrote about him here. He and his wife of 70 years, Ruthie, were two of the nicest people I ever met. Rest In Peace, Charlie. (permalink)
Fifty Beauties: Over the weekend, we attended a Lincoln Club event. As part of our tour, we visited Club Auto, a private facility (not open to the general public) affiliated with the LeMay Collection.
I took some photos of the 50 or so fine automobiles we saw at Club Auto and posted them here.
Bates Motel Award goes to the Baymont Inn and Suites in Kirkland, WA. What a dump. Rude people, too. Avoid it at all costs.
Political Observations: The Republican race is settled. Some conservatives are grousing about John McCain - I'm not - but, most will eventually settle down and support the nominee. Republican mud slinging, which was always light anyway, has largely vanished.
It is interesting/amusing to watch the Clinton-Obama contest. There is a much throwing of premoistened dirt, especially by the Clintons and their entourage. Some of the damp grime is sticking to Obama but most is bouncing right back and soiling Hillary.
Press coverage is focused mostly on the Democrats and their foibles because the whole thing makes for a good story or two. Or hundreds. Meanwhile John McCain is largely unnoticed, except for photo-ops as famous or semi-famous Republicans line up to endorse him.
This has got to help the Republican effort. McCain should emerge from the convention with a clean white shirt and near-universal acclaim, while the Democrats will probably appear a disarrayed, filthy mess from fighting among themselves.
The polls and the math strongly favor Obama but I'm not counting out Hillary. The Clintons are sneaky and know the ins-and-outs of backroom brawling. This should be fun to watch.
Cross Of Gold: I wish I know history well enough to have thought of this comparison made by David Frum:
"Sen. Barack Obama's admirers sometimes compare him to John F. Kennedy, sometimes to Ronald Reagan, sometimes to Abraham Lincoln. (That is, when they are not comparing him to Jesus Christ.)"
"But is not the most apposite analogy ... William Jennings Bryan?"
"Like Obama, Bryan was a charismatic young political (just 36 at the time of his first presidential run!) with a thin political record. Yet on the strength of one legendary speech at a Democratic national convention, he was clutched to heart by the party's left wing and made the repository of its grandest hopes on a whole range of so-called progressive causes."
"Bryan stands - or should stand - in American political history as an object lesson in the dangers of choosing politicians without records of accomplishment on the basis of fine phrases alone."
William McKinley, the Republican candidate won (271 electoral votes to 176). This victory occurred despite the fact that William Jennings ran under two different party banners (Democratic and Populist) with two different vice-presidential running mates - one for each party.
Quote Of The Day is from the late columnist Earl Wilson: "Always remember, money isn't everything - but also remember to make a lot of it before talking such fool nonsense."
Friday February 22, 2008
... Lest Ye Be Judged By Thy Rental Car Offerings: Here's a great quote from Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales Division head, on the necessity of producing high quality, entry-level economy cars, like the Corolla: "Small cars are the seeds of brand loyalty."
This is the way Detroit should be thinking. A Chevy Cobalt, Chrysler Sebring or Ford Focus should have build quality equal to the manufacturer's finest offerings. No one is expecting an Aveo to offer all the luxury features of a Cadillac but an absence of crappy, flimsy plastic interior trim would be appreciated. This goes for Ford and Chrysler, too.
Fairly or not, I judge manufacturers by their rental cars. Every Chrysler product I've rented in the last 30 years has been a disappointment - some problem or other. My experience with GM cars is better than with Chrysler but not by much. I've had issues with 70% of the GM models I've rented. Ford's offerings have been a mixed bag. (I've had two Mercuries break down on me - the only two Mercs I've ever rented.) Other Fords have been enjoyable. Lincolns too. Toyotas and Nissans - no problems ... ever.
Ionic Squeeze: Sharper Image, the San Francisco-based retail chain and mail-order house known for $5,000 massage chairs, $60 turbo nose-hair trimmers, non-fogging shower mirrors, overpriced and mildly-amusing gizmos and tons of momentarily-trendy, battery-powered technocrap, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
I'm not surprised. In the last 15 years, I've been in about 10 Sharper Image stores - just to kill time. I've never seen anyone buying anything. Just a bunch of lookee-loos - all men, too.
Geez, what will Richard Thalheimer do on Saturday mornings now that he won't be on TV hawking Ionic Breezes?
I guess I'll have fulfill my Useless Crap Purchasing Fantasies over at Hammacher Schlemmer and Brookstone.
Apparently, low-priced crap isn't selling either. Lillian Vernon, mail-order retailer of low-cost gifts and gadgets, has filed for Chapter 11 too - a week after it laid off half of its year-round work force.
Direct Hit! A Navy missile soaring 130 miles above the Pacific smashed a dying and potentially deadly U.S. spy satellite Wednesday (at a combined speed of 22,000 mph) and probably destroyed a tank carrying 1,000 pounds of the toxic fuel, hydrazine. The satellite weighed about 5,000 pounds and was the size of a school bus.
That the direct hit was pulled off using a ship-based launch in a less-than-calm ocean demonstrates the highly-advanced capabilities of our defense systems. Kinda like hitting a very fast-moving golf ball with another very fast-moving golf ball from 100 miles away.
This should scare the daylights outta those Axis Of Evil cretins. USA! USA!
I hope this makes Michelle Obama proud of her country. For the second time in her adult life.
Of course, I didn't see the shootdown but the Wednesday night skies were clear, so I got a stirring view of the lunar eclipse. At totality, the moon was a dull, mottled red-orange color, looking like a giant jawbreaker.
One of the benefits of living rurally is dark skies with clear, panoramic views and tons-o-stars.
War On Poverty: Greg Gutfeld recently wrote: "Exxon paid 30 billion dollars last year in taxes - which is as much in taxes, annually, as the bottom 50% of individual taxpayers. We're talking 65,000,000 people! 65 million and one, if you count Bill. And did you know that the tax rate for the bottom 50% is only 3% of adjusted gross income. For Exxon it's 41%. Meaning that, it's not the corporations who've been getting a free ride - it's the poor!"
"Isn't it time we stopped beating up on corporations and started loving them?"
In 1992, I ran for president. And made a memorable promo video which I sent to selected friends. Most laughed. Some vowed to write my name on their ballot. As you may have guessed, I didn't win. This excerpt from my '92 campaign speech focused on The Poor:
"Poor people cause America great problems - they use expensive social services, many of them are criminals, they use street drugs, drive beat-up old cars that pollute and don't use deodorant. Well, I'm going to eliminate poverty ... by eliminating poor people. Here's how I'll do it:"
"I'll change the tax code in America to tax the poor to death and cut taxes for the rich. Here's how it works: If you make less than $2,000 per year, you'll be in the 98% tax bracket. That means you get $40 and the government gets the rest. As you earn more money, you keep dropping to a lower and lower tax bracket. If you make $500,000/year, you'll be in the 2% bracket. Naturally, people on Social Security and full-time students under 25 will be exempt from taxes."
"Now, this program has a lot of advantages. Poor people will get up off their duffs and get a decent job or they'll starve to death. In fact, that's the name of my program: Get Rich Or Die."
"Just think ... with my tax program, whenever you get a raise, you'll move to a lower tax bracket. Won't that be nice? And, when you spend that extra money, you'll help our economy."
"Does this program favor the rich? You bet it does. Rich people own the companies that provide employment for the everyone else. And, without rich people, we wouldn't be able to watch 'Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous' on TV."
On the other hand, if we were all poor, there would be no inequalities. And, if you believe that, you should vote Democratic in '08. Or move to Havana, where the average per-capita income is $17 per year. And all the cars are '48 Chevies held together with old coat hangers, horse glue, cane hemp and Black Jack chewing gum.
I'll conclude with the immortal words of Mr. Gutfeld, "And if you disagree with me, then you sir are worse than Hitler."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Use Of Phrase 'Don't Skimp On The' Linked To Heart Disease'. People who frequently start sentences with the phrase "don't skimp on the" are 40 percent more likely to develop some form of heart disease. "Use of the phrase poses a very serious health risk, especially when the speaker is in close proximity to mayonnaise," said Dr. Keith Logsdon, a leading cardiovascular researcher and chief author of the study.
Quote Of The Day is from Milton Friedman: "If a tax cut increases government revenues, you haven't cut taxes enough."
Wednesday February 20, 2008
Cruizin': Three solid days of sunshine gave me an opportunity to take the Plymouth for its first 2008 drive. I also took photos of the '39 next to the '08 Lexus:
Car styling has changed a lot in almost 70 years, hasn't it? Even though it's been lowered, the Plymouth is still quite a bit taller:
No photos - but, on Tuesday, I had a great view of Mount St. Helens whilst driving east on 199th St., coming home from Vancouver. The mountain was completely covered in snow - a brilliant white, giant volcanic lump, dominating the skyline to the north.
Looking For A Unique Sports Car? Well, you could always drive a 1966 Fang. Bunny seemed to like it.
Jeweled Heritage: Hot Wheels is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a custom, jeweled, 1:64-scale Hot Wheels car, designed by celebrity jeweler Jason of Beverly Hills.
The one-of-a-kind auto miniature is the most expensive in Hot Wheels history and was made to commemorate the production of the 4 billionth HW vehicle. It has more than 2,700 tiny diamonds for a total of nearly 23 carats worth $140,000.
The car is ... (more >>>)
Face It, You've Been Waiting All Your Life For This: Classic movies ('Casablanca', 'Singin' In The Rain' and 'The Godfather') with substitute vocals by the cast of Spongebob Squarepants.
You've Been Waiting All Your Life For This, Too: A shot-by shot remake of Michael Jackson's Thriller done with Legos.
In The Roundhouse: The locomotives, cars and trolleys have been packed away in their appropriate boxes, the train platform is down, moved to the garage, and securely stored. No problems. No rain on Saturday afternoon when we made the move.
From The 'Things I Never Knew' Department: The first Ronald McDonald was played by Willard Scott.
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "Adventurers deserve whatever they get from their foolhardiness. If you don't hear from a mountain climber in a month, you should get his car, his house, and his wife."
Monday February 18, 2008
Rip-Off Alert: 'Mags On The Net' are thieves. This discount magazine subscription service charged me for three years of AutoWeek, gave me one year. After many frustrating e-mails and a three-month subscription lapse, they finally delivered a second year. They have been completely unresponsive to my complaints about the third year they owe me.
Avoid these crooks and tell all your friends about them. According to information from the Better Business Bureau, Mags On The Net is located in Lawrence, NY and operated by Cindy Schulman. I would recommend that you not patronize any service operated by this woman. The firm operates under other names, including Blue Magazines, BlueMagazines and Super Subscriptions LLC.
If you want more horror stories, just Google the phrase 'Mags On The Net problem'. (permalink)
Friday February 15, 2008
Prediction: Within five years - Chrysler will become part of the Nissan Renault empire. Jeeps will sold worldwide in Renault and Nissan showrooms. The Dodge brand will become an all-truck brand and selected models will be offered worldwide. Chrysler will offer a platform-carryover minivan (with upmarket fitments and pricing) and passenger cars. In the U.S., Chryslers will be displayed next to selected Renault diesels and hybrids. The next 300 may be a stretched Infinity platform with distinctive Chrysler body panels.
The Chrysler PT Cruiser will be based on the next-gen compact Nissan Versa/Renault Clio platform. The PT have whimsical retro styling and will look nothing like its platform siblings. A Chrysler (nee Plymouth) Barracuda, with a giant Sixties-retro wrap-around rear window, will be based on the Infinity/Nissan G37/Z-370 platform. It will "replace" the Dodge Challenger as a sort-of mock-ponycar offering.
Cerberus Capital Management will be out of the picture. Except for the lawsuits from disgruntled dealers who were dumped during its brief reign.
None of this is based on inside information; it's just a feeling I have.
Dealer Glut: The most recent data from the National Auto Dealers Assn. indicates that GM sells 336 vehicles per dealer annually. Ford does a little better at 507 vehicles/dealer, while Chrysler stands at an appalling 269. No wonder Chrysler is cutting dealers.
By the way, the average Toyota dealer sells about 1,800 vehicles per year. So ... you can see the enormity of the problem with Detroit's distribution system. Around these parts, dealers long ago hedged their bets. Within 10 miles of my home, you'll find Buick-Nissan stores, Ford-Hyundai showrooms, Dodge-Mazda dealers and Subaru-Hummer-Lincoln-Mercury establishments.
Megabuck Hybrid: Motor Trend claims that Lexus LS 600hL's are selling at the rate of 1,000 per month. I find this difficult to believe. Last month, total combined LS sales in the U.S. were only 1,906 vehicles. Almost every Lexus LS I've seen is the 460 model. I've only spotted a few LS 460L (long wheelbase) models. And I've never seen a single LS 600hL - in a showroom or on the road.
I don't know where those überexpensive 600hL's are going - maybe to Japan. Or Luxembourg.
Quote Of The Day is from Grampa Simpson (to Homer as a child): "Son, you're as stupid as a mule and twice as ugly. So if a stranger offers you a ride, I'd say take it!"
Wednesday February 13, 2008
Tube Steak Tragedy: An Oscar Mayer Wienermobile wiped out on a snow-covered road in Pennsylvania. The driver thought the blizzard was over but "Mother Nature intervened ... putting the plastic porksicle on the median and out of service." No one was injured.
I'll Second That! General Motors Car Czar Bob Lutz recently told a group of journalists that global warming is "a total crock of shit." I often disagree with Mr. Lutz but I'm on his side on this one. When pressed on his enthusiasm for the yet-to-be-built electric-hybrid Volt, Lutz explained, "I'm motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2 (argument)." Me, too.
Finally, Bob said that diesel cars have no place in a market where gas and diesel prices are comparable, like the U.S. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but I must admit that when diesel costs more than premium - as it does in these parts - that certainly limits its appeal to consumers.
Another Icon Stumbles: Holley Performance Products Inc., a century-old maker of specialty parts for stock-car and drag-racing, has filed for bankruptcy. The company was founded in 1903 by brothers George and Earl Holley, who designed a carburetor for the Ford Model T called the Iron Pot.
When I was growing up, Holley carbs were legendary as were Hooker Headers - now part of the Holley product line.
Holley's customers include Ford Racing and GM Performance Parts. The company is a sponsor of the National Hot Rod Association and has a program that supports NASCAR. Holley has about 390 employees.
Frank Education: In late 2007, Playboy magazine celebrated its 54th birthday. My introduction to Playboy was at the tender age of 12 at Frank's Barber Shop at Foulkrod and Penn Streets - about two blocks north of the Margaret-Orthodox El station in Philadelphia. Frank also offered issues of Sunshine and Health as reading material. S&H was a nudist magazine; in all the photos, the nekkid people always seemed to be holding beach balls to strategically cover (as the Brits say) "the naughty bits." I have never seen so many beach balls in one place.
As a youngster ... (more >>>)
Feeding The Hungry With Free Market Capitalism: "The number of poor people who can't afford food for their children is a lot smaller than it used to be - thanks to capitalism. Capitalism didn't create malnutrition, it reduced it." The globalization of capitalism from 1950 to the present has increased annual average income in the world to $7,000 from $2,000 (in inflation-adjusted dollars).
"Contrary to popular legend, poor countries grew at about the same rate as the rich ones. This growth gave us the greatest mass exit from poverty in world history. The parts of the world that are still poor are suffering from too little capitalism. Foreign direct investment in Africa today, although rising, amounts to only 1% of global flows. That's because the environment for private business in Africa is still hostile."
Here's an example - the 2009 Dakar Rally will be staged in Argentina and Chile after this year's event was cancelled due to security concerns in Africa. The 30-year-old event was canceled for the first time this year because of the terrorism in the region.
The threat of terrorist attacks pushed the element of risk to levels organizers deemed unacceptable.
The approximate 550 competitors were to have embarked on a 16-day, 5,760-mile trek through remote and hostile dunes and scrub from Portugal to Dakar, Senegal.
The race, once known as the Paris-Dakar, was canceled following warnings from the French government about safety after the al-Qaida-linked December 24 slaying of a family of French tourists in Mauritania. Eight of the competition's 15 stages were to be held there.
The direct and indirect money from this will no longer flow into Africa from this event, exacerbating the region's destitute condition.
RIP: House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor, has died at age 80. Here's an excerpt of his remarks at the dedication ceremony of the Victims of Communism Memorial last year:
"Communism was not the only monstrous phenomenon determined to destroy free and open societies." Lantos said he had fought against Nazism and communism and "it is now my privilege to fight against Islamic terrorism determined to take us back 13 centuries."
Rep. Lantos will be missed.
Train Report: Before the train layout goes back into storage, I wanted to run my Pennsylvania Mallet freight set. The 2-8-8-2 Mallet steam locomotive was one of the largest used by the PRR; it was employed primarily to haul long coal trains in central Pennsylvania. I took some photos and posted them here.
Huge Peachy Babe: In Australia, there is a giant (36 foot) sculpture of woman made from peaches, created as part of a promotional campaign for a skin care product company.
I Don't Care ... what the SAT scores are. People are dumber than they used to be. While staying at a hotel last month, my wife went to the front desk to ask for some stationery and envelopes. The twenty-something female frowned, looked puzzled and asked, "What's stationery?"
What A Rip-Off! Did you know that Panda Express doesn't serve panda? Someone should sue ... where's Lionel Hutz?
Thought For Today: Old age is just like NASCAR. But with the other kind of skid marks.
Monday February 11, 2008
Ta-Ta, Jaguar: Tata Motors said it hopes to sign an agreement in the "forthcoming weeks" with Ford to buy Jaguar and Land Rover. I've read numerous negative online postings about this deal. Too bad people are upset, because Tata represents the only hope for these brands. Sadly, Ford has given up on them, especially Jaguar.
A Jag under Tata is much better than no Jag at all.
Congrats ... to Mark Tapscott, car guy extraordinaire, author of the Carnival of Cars, editorial page editor of the Washington Examiner and chief road tester for the Examiner's 'Behind The Wheel' column, who will receive CPAC's journalist of the year award.
I, Robot: It appears that John McCain will be the Republican candidate for president. He is a complicated man who has made mistakes and that seems to greatly trouble many conservatives. Nevertheless, his ACU (American Conservative Union) ratings are good and his ADA (Americans For Democratic Action) and ACLU scores are terrible - pretty much the opposite of those for Obama and Clinton.
And yet, there is copious weeping and gnashing of teeth across The Land because McCain isn't Reagan. Not the real Ronald Reagan, of course, but the mythical Perfect Reagan Robot, programmed with .... (more>>>)
The Gathering: Half the Republican delegate votes from Washington State come from the results of public ballots (still open). The other half comes from caucuses. They were held over the weekend and chose McCain. But television coverage showed blacks and Asians in attendance.
Hmmm. I always assumed anything named a Caucus would be restricted to Caucasians.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
Friday February 8, 2008
Profit By The Pound: Last week, Carlos Ghosn (of Nissan-Renault fame) was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Many car writers and pundits commented on the portion of the interview where the WSJ asked, "When it's all over, is there a native U.S. auto industry?" Ghosn replied, "Frankly, I don't know. I can tell you it's going to be very different from today. But whether there is going to be one left or two left or none left I don't know." He pointed out, "The market share of the Big Three, which is shrinking, is going to continue to shrink."
I was far more interested in this remark ... (more >>>)
Congrats ... to my talented son who was featured in a newspaper story about the horror flicks he produces (in addition to his non-filmmaking day job). 'Blood Sucking Redneck Vampires' just had its theatrical premiere at the Northern Lights Theater Pub. Joe wrote it, shot it and edited it.
"Horror fans, Sherlock said, are some of the most diehard in the business and are more than willing to slap down a few bucks or drive out of their way for something that won't get any Oscars but is definitely fun. ... Jacy Morris writes reviews for moviecynics.com, an Internet site that gives movie reviews and also drinking games based on movies (e.g. take a drink every time a pumpkin is seen on screen in "Halloween")."
Morris recently sat through a showing of Sherlock's 'Trailer Park Double Wide Trilogy of Terror' at Northern Lights and admitted a grudging respect for it. "It's the kind of movie I never would have seen myself," he said. "I wouldn't know if I'd call it a cinematic gem, but the experience was far more enjoyable."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion on a novel and radically-different retailing idea: 'Mattress Store Experiments With Non-Blowout Sale'.
Odd Political Quote Of The Week is from Pat Buchanan, appearing on MSNBC: "If you've got a Hillary and McCain race, you've got a third option: That's the pistol on the bed table."
Definition Of The Day is for 'Handkerchief': Cold Storage.
Wednesday February 6, 2008
Congrats ... to my grandson who won the "most futuristic vehicle" award for his pinewood derby car with three Star Wars figures onboard. He also placed decently in the racing segment, too.
As The Plastic Melts: Chrysler has idled four plants after Plastech Engineered Products of Auburn Hills, MI. filed for bankruptcy and stopped shipping parts to Chrysler - hours after Chrysler cancelled its contract with Plastech. The automaker has suspended operations at four U.S. assembly plants: Sterling Heights, MI (Sebring and Avenger); Newark, DE (Durango and Aspen); Toledo, OH (Nitro and Liberty); and Belvidere, IL (Caliber, Compass, Patriot).
Chrysler is demanding that Plastech return all its tooling (perhaps so it can be sent to China) but it's not that simple. Plastech can argue that it is holding the tooling until Chrysler pays its bills. This is a common practice in the plastics biz. This may or may not be legal but it must go before a court to decide.
Meanwhile, any smart supplier will ship the tooling to an out-of-state subsidiary and play other games to hide it. When deposed, the standard response can be, "Gee, I don't know where it is. I shipped it to our plant manager, Vinnie, in Nevada. Guess you'll have to depose him." Vinnie will disclose that he forwarded it to Phil in Arizona, who now must be contacted and deposed. Etc. Etc.
While filings and cross-complaints are being made and depositions taken, production is halted. (New tooling is not an option here - a set of taillight molds for a particular vehicle may cost $300,000 or more. And take months to make.) Meanwhile, Chrysler can't sell Sebrings or Nitros if they don't have taillights. The usual solution to such problems involves payoffs and new, under-the-table deals which are neither disclosed to nor approved of by the bankruptcy court.
Moving components and assembly offshore can't be done overnight. Besides, you've got to get the tooling first. Good luck with that.
Update: Apparently Plastech and Chrysler have reached some sort of agreement after the bankruptcy judged urged them to settle the matter privately. You can bet that the settlement involves Chrysler cutting a large check to pay off unpaid invoices.
So Much For Trying To Buy Locally ... Here's a tale from American Digest: "Ordered January 1 from Amazon.com - 3 books, 1 pair of glasses. Standard shipping. The journey report:
January 3, 2008 09:08:00 PM KANSAS CITY, MO TO WILMINGTON, OH [633 miles]
January 4, 2008 04:44:00 AM WILMINGTON, OH TO SEATTLE, WA [2,438 miles]
Delivered, January 5. Total milage: 3,071 miles.
Distance from my house to Amazon HQ in Seattle: 5 miles.
Difference: 3,066 miles.
Item(s) Subtotal: $57.11
Shipping & Handling: $7.48
You know, if they'd drop the shipping charge, I'd be willing to drop by and pick it up. Even with the 13 mpg my Mercedes 560 SEL gets, we'd all still be ahead."
Train Update: Last week, I swapped out trains on my layout. I packed away the Aerotrain, replacing it with the PRR MU commuter consist. I also removed the Lionel Hiawatha and substituted the big Pennsy T-1 and the Tuscan passenger car set. Then I took some photos - posted here.
Hang In There, Baby: Regarding the recent stock market volatility, seasoned investor Roy Weitz writes, "As a mutual fund investor, I have the same problem dealing with this downturn as I've had with every other downturn. No matter how much I take out of the market, I know that I would have absolutely no idea when to get back in the market.
I also know that making a mistake getting back in the market, after getting out, would bother me a lot more than any loss I incur from holding all the way down. And then, of course, there's the possibility of making multiple mistakes trying to get back in the market, which would almost certainly make me start to foam at the mouth.
I wish there was a better solution than buy-and-hold but, for me there isn't, so that's what I intend to do."
Low Inflation Lies: I stopped believing in "official" inflation numbers years ago. In this "era of low inflation", my health insurance premium just increased by a whopping 31.7%.
Unfortunate Headline of The Day ... reported by Fox5 (Washington D.C.) about a drug bust: 'Police: Crack Found in Man's Buttocks'.
"Hagerstown, Md. (AP) - Police searching a downtown home found a man hiding 15 plastic bags of crack cocaine in his buttocks." (hat tip - Jonah Goldberg)
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "The next time somebody in the media denies that there is media bias, ask how they explain the fact that there are at least a hundred stories about the shrinking arctic ice cap for every one about the expanding antarctic ice cap, which has now grown to record size."
Monday February 4, 2008
Trip Report: We have returned refreshed from a wonderful vacation in Palm Desert, CA - a nine-day respite from the rain, storms and general darkness of a Pacific Northwest January. There is something reinvigorating about warmth, blue skies, palm trees and sun in midwinter ... (more >>>)
Car Sightings: I have said before that the Palm Springs area has the greatest concentration of luxury automobiles I've ever seen. Reportedly, the area has the highest rate of Rolls Royce registrations per capita in the world.
Last year, I observed more Mercedes than any other luxury nameplate. This year, the clear winner was Lexus. I saw two Lexi for every Mercedes. In the small parking lot of Sherman's Deli, 50% of the cars had the L emblem. I saw at least 15 LS460s every day; the only one I see around home is mine.
Mercedes is probably ... (more >>>)
Car Rental: We rented a Mazda3 four-door sedan. It was peppy and handled well. The car was surprisingly fast for a 148 horsepower 4-banger. Gas mileage ... (more >>>)
Eats: We had lots of good dining experiences but I didn't think much of the Meercat Cafe and its Straw Policy.
So Rare: There are some folks who like to buy cars based on rarity. For them, I offer an incomplete list (but a good starting point) based on January '08 sales figures: Mercury Sable (986 units sold), Pontiac Solstice (858), Saturn Sky (486), Acura RL (383), Lincoln Town Car (206), Saab 9-5 (199), Cadillac XLR (118) and any Jaguar model (sales are off 52.2% from last January - 664 total units divided by four models).
Bad Pun Of The Day: A backward poet writes inverse.
Friday February 1, 2008
SL: No, it's not a Mercedes sports car. It's the Stoplight Lottery. You know all about it. Because you've played the game, just as I have. Traffic is light. You're approaching a stoplight. There is only one stopped vehicle in each lane. Which one do you get behind? You make your decision based on whom you think will accelerate faster to reach/exceed the speed limit when the light turns green.
This involves a lot of stereotyping, of course. It may not be PC but everyone I know does it when behind the wheel. All the time. Personally, I don't use the word 'stereotyping'; I prefer the phrase 'drawing on my enormous database of real-world driving experiences'.
Sometimes, your stereotypical choice doesn't live up to expectations. Last week ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from the late columnist Earl Wilson: "Poise is the ability to be ill at ease inconspicuously."