Friday June 27, 2008
Divine Duesey: There is an oft-held misconception that, even in the depths of the Great Depression, a new Duesenberg cost more than $25,000. While Deuseys were expensive, the statement is exaggerated.
Duesenberg expert Raymond A. Wolff wrote (in Automobile Quarterly Vol. 4 No. 4 - 1966): "Only two of the American-bodied (Duesenberg) Js reached the $25,000 mark. These were the very-modernistic Walker LaGrande coupé of J.K. Lilly, Jr. and the 178 inch wheelbase Bohman and Schwartz 'Throne Car' made for the use of Father Divine. Both cars are still in existence, the latter registered in the name of one of father Divine's disciples and in possession of the church. Technically, the late religious leader did not have ownership of any material thing." Hmmmmm. Shades of that other 'reverend', Al Sharpton.
Father Divine was ... (more >>>)
Bad Idea Of The Week: 'GM Launches 0% Financing for 72 Months'. This is another attempt to prop up falling vehicle sales, enticing those who probably shouldn't be buying a new car anyway. Longer loans allow consumers to buy more-expensive cars but virtually ensure that they pay more interest and stay "underwater" on the loan (owing more than the vehicle is worth) for years.
It is a well-known fact that the longer the term of the loan, the higher the default rate. And default rates are higher for American brand cars versus European or Asian brands. For example, loans for Saturns had default hazards 22 times higher than the default hazard of Toyotas.
GM is inviting trouble with this move. But, what the hell, it's already in a lot of trouble already.
Late News ... and I mean seven months late. Bobby Van - the piano-playing restaurateur who fed Truman Capote his liquid lunch most days - died in obscurity in November 2007 as a taxi driver in Long Island, NY at age 64.
While his name lives on at the Bobby Van's in Bridgehampton, as well as at four steakhouse outlets in Manhattan and two in Washington, DC, Van - who had unhealthy appetite for booze and cocaine - was forced out of the business many years ago. "He was reduced to driving a cab. He was on dialysis," said a source who spent many a pleasant evening at the original East End restaurant - where Capote would order "my orange thingee," which turned out to be four parts vodka, one part orange juice. The watering hole became a hot spot as soon as it opened in 1969, drawing such other regulars as James Brady, George Plimpton and John Knowles.
He is not to be confused with the other Bobby Van - a musical actor best known for his 1950s Broadway career - who died in 1980 at age 51.
In 2004, we had a spectacular meal at Bobby Van's in D.C. Rest In Peace, Bobby. Ummm ... belatedly.
Headline Of The Week is from Unconfirmed Sources: 'New Vermont Law Declares all Nudists Must Wear Hats'.
Quote Of The Day is from Henny Youngman: "Doctor, my leg hurts. What can I do?" The doctor replies, "Limp!"
Wednesday June 25, 2008
Cruisin' The Turnpike: One of Mercury's most memorable dream cars is the XM Turnpike Cruiser, which debuted in January 1956. Bold styling was highlighted by 12-inch V-shaped taillights flowing from matching white pearlescent concave-sculpted rear fender tips/fins. Twin transparent-tint Plexiglas roof panels tilted up when doors were opened to assist entry and exit. The XM foretold the styling of the '57-59 production Mercury models.
Other interesting design details included ... (more >>>)
Market Adjustment: Hail to capitalism. Free markets assure a reasonably rapid response to changing conditions.
Check out these recent headlines: 'Ford To Produce Euro Focus In Two U.S. plants In 2010', 'Nissan And Infiniti To Get New Small RWD Coupes', 'Honda Boosting Fit Production To Meet U.S. Demand', 'Nissan Developing New Hybrid Coupe', 'Mazda To Cut Fuel Consumption 30% By 2015', 'Nissan May Build New Dodge Hornet Subcompact', 'Ford Curbs Truck Output In Shift To More Fuel-efficient Cars', 'Toyota To Build Cute, 10-foot Long iQ Minicar', 'Honda Starts Building Hydrogen Fuel Cell Clarity'.
Yes, we can all criticize car companies for investing heavily in trucks and SUVs. But they obviously have seen the light and are adapting to today's world of expensive fuel.
Can you imagine the government or some bureaucratic planning group (DOT, EPA et al) coming up with solutions this quickly? Heck, the gummint still hasn't figured out that the whole Ethanol Thing is an utter fiasco.
While researching this story, I came another fuel-related headline but I couldn't find a way to cleverly weave it into this piece. So I'll just shamelessly end with it: 'Nevada Prostitutes Hurt by High Diesel Prices'.
Laughing Warmly: CAR magazine's Mark Walton - described as having "driven every pivotal car in the last twenty years, many of them sideways" - is skeptical of Global Warming: "... someone must surely be having a laugh here. If we are really in such a mess ... why are we messing about with low-energy lightbulbs and taxing Range Rovers? It's like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. Either that, or the whole thing is a huge scientific hysterical hoax."
No Faint Praise Here: Bill Visnic at Edmund's AutoObserver weighs in on the Lincoln MKS, noting that "the interior looks like Bette Midler's idea of hip. Notes to Lincoln: 1. Acura's already doing this better, and they can't sell it. 2. The terms "flagship" and "front-drive" still don't mix - just ask Acura."
Then he throws some sarcasm at Toyota's Venza: "Fat, dumb and stupid is no way to go through life, son." Dean Wormer, we hardly knew ye.
Productivity Vs. Philosophy: In my 6/13/08 posting on education, I discussed the poor productivity of the U.S. educational system, defined as output (grades) divided by number of school employees per student. I suggested that we "junk our antiquated public education system and start over, applying the same technological improvements which have greatly boosted productivity and quality levels elsewhere."
Steve Sailer points out that there's a need for a philosophical change, too. He writes: "In contrast to most of the rest of the industrialized world, we've demonized "tracking" students by ability and nearly abolished vocational education, insisting that everybody be on the college prep track."
"In contrast, our European and Asian economic rivals have largely resisted the urge to junk tracking. The rest of the world understands what America's educational leaders refuse to admit publicly: with teens with two digit IQs, failure is always an option. We insist that every student stick around until age 18 doing academic work that many despise. Hence, millions just stop coming to school. Over the last four decades, the high school dropout rate in America has increased from about 1/5th to 1/4th, according to Nobel laureate economist James Heckman."
"The amount of money that Japan, for instance, invests in training high school students for skilled blue-collar careers is astonishing by today's paltry American standards."
Steve notes: "In most of Germany, for example, children are still tracked, based on parents' and teachers' assessment of their academic potential, into different types of schools beginning with fifth grade. The lower kinds of schools lead to vocational training and rigorous apprenticeships. The high-quality blue-collar work force created by this system contributes mightily to the famed precision of the country's machine tools and BMWs."
Do's And Don'ts For Candidates: This is not just a presidential election year. There are lots of other positions up for grabs from senator to county assessor. As a public service to those noble folks who covet an elected position of some sort, I offer the following ... (more >>>)
Sometimes, Commodities Are The Best Investments: For example:
• If you had purchased $1000.00 of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00.
• With Enron, you would have had $16.50 left of the original $1000.00.
• With WorldCom, you would have had less than $5.00 left.
• If you had purchased $1000.00 of Delta Air Lines stock you would have $49.00 left.
But, if you had purchased $1,000.00 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the aluminum recycling, you would have $214.00.
So, based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.
Monday June 23, 2008
Some Things Never Really Change: In 1979, writing for Automobile Quarterly (Vol. 17, No. 3), Allan Girdler noted that in the pre-1955 days, when Fords had rumbly V8s and Chevies has a less-powerful straight-six engine, "Ford was the hot car - the young man's choice. Chevrolet was the old man's car, built by and for accountants." Yet, "doddering old Chevrolet laughed all the way to the bank. Year after year, Ford came in second. Chevrolet, the car for people who didn't know or care about cars, was the sales leader."
Sounds a bit like Toyota today ... the buff mags make fun of Camrys and Corollas and call them appliances, but the public finds them to be perfectly adequate cars, offering relatively pain-free ownership.
A Big Thank You ... to reader Mike E. of Tucson Arizona, who sent me a fine gift - two spare glass headlight lenses and a chrome retainer bezel for my '39 Plymouth. I'll keep them safely stored in case I need them. These parts are difficult to find as they've been out of production for almost 70 years and were only used for the 1939 model year.
Housekeeping: I have rearranged my Greatest Hits page, adding new categories and classifications (by subject) in order to make things easier to find. I have also posted new links to my car drawings.
Go Dino! A private individual has printed up special lawn signs for the WA gubernatorial race. The slogan is a reference to Dino Rossi losing the 2004 race by a mere 129 votes. It turned out, according to the Seattle Times, that at least 129 felons voted in the election as well as numerous dead people. In the initial ballot count, Rossi was ahead by 236 votes but that changed once the King Co. ballots were counted in Seattle - presided over by officials with Seattle office locations.
The 2004 winner and present governor, Christine Gregoire (D), likes to be called Chris nowadays. I call her The Thief. You see, in 2001, energy companies manipulated market prices in Washington state, causing rate jumps in utilities costs for virtually all consumers. Representing the public interest, the Washington Attorney General's Office filed suits against the offenders. So far, so good. The suits were settled with Williams Energy, El Paso Energy and Duke Energy for $38 million. (Enron, the biggest offender, was bankrupt.)
This money belonged to all citizens of Washington (including me), who had overpaid utility bills, but then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire handed over the consumer portion of the settlement to The Seattle Foundation to "provide financial relief to those who most need it." Instead of returning the money to the victims, it was used to "reduce the future energy bills of poor people" - the new privileged class, I suppose. Some of the money was used to subsidize purchases of energy-efficient refrigerators and washers for low-income customers, which meant that they ended up with newer and better appliances than I had in 2004/05.
Gregoire is running again. So is Dino Rossi. Maybe this time things will be different.
Political Quote Of The Day is from William Katz: "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will campaign together next Friday. I wonder if they'll frisk Hillary before letting her near Barack."
Who's Better? There's a new book out by Peter Schweizer with the rather lengthy title: 'Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less ... And Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals'. I haven't read the book but I have read some of the reviews. Apparently, Schweizer has gathered a lot of data to back up the title's assertions.
I can't dispute Mr. Schweizer's data. However, I have a number of friends who are liberal and I find them no more/less screwed-up than my conservative friends. Not all liberals are nasty Daily Kossacks or grungy Code Pinkers. They are hard workers who love their families and try to Do The Right Thing. As - hopefully - we all do.
In my experience, the vast majority of small business owners are conservative. I think it's because they see firsthand the lunacy of government run amok. They see bad employees - whom they have fired - get the benefit of the doubt from gummint do-gooders, while they - as taxpaying good citizens - are viewed with suspicion. Or contempt. They experience the wrath of public-sector drones enforcing silly, useless and obscure codes just to justify some deadwood bureaucrat's job. I understand; owning a small business certainly made me more conservative.
Many of the liberals I know work or have worked in the public sector. They don't understand the trouble/cost of excessive regulations, unfunded mandates, etc.
Conservatives believe in self help. And think that the government is ineffective and inefficient when it comes to delivering social services. Liberals believe that only the government can deliver a fair shake to everyone. This is a fundamental philosophical difference. It does not mean that either side is inherently 'evil'.
Miniscule ... considering how large Alaska really is: "Walt Disney World is roughly fifteen times the size of the proposed drilling area inside ANWR. Think about that. Not one. Not two. Fifteen."
Words Of Wisdom: "America must get to work producing more energy. ... Large amounts of oil and natural gas lay beneath our land and off our shores, untouched, because the present administration seems to believe the American people would rather see more regulation, more taxes and more controls than more energy. Coal offers great potential. So does nuclear energy produced under rigorous safety standards. It could supply electricity for thousands of industries and millions of jobs and homes. It must not be thwarted by a tiny minority opposed to economic growth which often finds friendly ears in regulatory agencies for its obstructionist campaigns. Make no mistake. We will not permit the safety of our people or our environment heritage to be jeopardized, but we are going to reaffirm that the economic prosperity of our people is a fundamental part of our environment." ... Ronald Reagan, 1980
My Cousin Sent Me ... this Thought For Today. And, while it's illogical and sophomoric, it still made me laugh:
||• OPEC sells oil for $136.00 a barrel.
• OPEC nations buy U.S. grain at $7.00 a bushel.
• Solution: Sell grain for $136.00 a bushel.
• Can't buy it? Tough! Eat your oil!
• Ought to go well with a nice thick grilled filet of camel ass!
Thursday June 19, 2008
Face Like A ... Columnist George F. Will once described a 1957 Chevy's grille as "Teddy Roosevelt's grin in chrome." I dunno. I'm thinking 1953 DeSoto. Or 1950 Buick.
Down At Cooter's Garage: You've probably seen the headline: 'Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol'. Silicon Valley scientists are experimenting with bacteria that have been genetically altered to provide 'renewable petroleum'.
Wouldn't it be spectacular if this pans out? I can just picture this scene from the next 'Dukes of Hazzard' reunion movie: "Now Luke - me and Cooter rigged up this here new-fangled device to The General Lee. We got a little still in th' trunk what's filled with bacteria and we're runnin' The General on honest-to-God bug shit! Boss Hogg still can't figure out where we's gettin' gassed up at."
Goin' Hollywood 2008: Roger L. Simon has traded his Jaguar for a Prius.
But, Gosh, They Invented Chess. This outstanding and insightful article by Farooq Sulehria is most definitely worth a read. Excerpt: "The Amnesty International report on human rights for the year 2007 is out. The Muslim world constitutes, as usual, bleakest chapter. Every single country across the Muslim world has been pointed out by the Amnesty International either for executions and torture or discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Punishments never handed down even during the Stone Age have been awarded in 21st century Muslim world. In one case, two Saudi nationals were awarded 7,000 lashes. Yes, 7,000. And executions? Well, 335 in Iran, 158 in Saudi Arabia and 135 in Pakistan. Violation of human rights, it seems, is the only thing that unites the otherwise divided Muslim world."
More: ".... it is either Bangladesh or Pakistan or Nigeria which is on top of Transparency International's corruption indexes. However, when Nobel laureates gather in Stockholm every December ..., Muslim scientists and writers are conspicuous by their absence. ... When all else fails, "Jews" and "Christian" West are there to lay the blame for all our ills."
And: "Every time a scientist in the West is ready with an invention, our readymade answer is: we knew about it 1,400 years ago what the West has found only now. We kill Theo van Gogh when confronted with a film. We burn down our own cities in response to a blasphemous and racist caricature. Still, we refuse to understand that our answer to every "provocation" is either a fatwa or mindless violence perhaps because creativity is anathema to us. Not because we lack fertile minds, but because we lack liberation and freedom - liberation from self-imposed mental, moral, and cultural censors. And freedom to think and express." (hat tip - David T. at Harry's Place via David Frum) (permalink)
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'New VH1 Show Canceled For Not Being Pathetic Enough'.
Geezer Joke: Two elderly women were out driving in a large car, both could barely see over the dashboard. As they were cruising along, they came to an intersection. The stoplight was red, but they just sailed through it.
The woman in the passenger seat thought to herself, "I must be losing it. I could have sworn we just went through a red light." After a few more minutes, they came to another intersection and the light was red. Again, they drove right through. The woman in the passenger seat was almost sure that the light had been red.
She was getting nervous. At the next intersection, sure enough, the light was red and they blew through it. She turned to the other woman and said, "Mildred, did you know that we just ran through three red lights in a row? You could have killed us both!"
Mildred turned to her and said, "Oh my! Am I driving?"
Quote Of The Day is from Ayn Rand: "The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."
Tuesday June 17, 2008
Father's Day Goodies: I hope you had a great Father's Day. I did and received several gifts, including two diecast 1:43 scale models with personal significance. The first was a model of a 1941 Plymouth pickup truck in a metallic plum color. It's the closest thing I can get in today's diecast world to my '39 Plymouth coupe.
Ferguson the tractor was not nearly as interesting as Ferguson the man behind the company. Harry Ferguson was very inventive. Henry Ford was so impressed that he licensed Ferguson's design technology for his own line of tractors. In the 1940s and '50s, Fords and Fergusons were almost identical. Later, the Ferguson tractor company merged with Massey-Harris of Canada to become Massey-Ferguson. Harry continued on with his innovative career. The Ferguson Formula four-wheel-drive is another of his many innovations. This was the system used in the Jensen FF. Introduced in 1967, the now-legendary FF was the first four-wheel-drive sports car and was powered by a big 383 cubic-inch Chrysler engine.
I plan to find spots for both these models on my train layout this season.
Obituary In Preparation: AutoBlog reported: "According to Edmunds Inside Line and its source, the last Mercury to die will likely be the handsome and likable Milan sedan, which will receive a mid-cycle refresh that shall carry the model through to 2012. The Sable will likely expire in 2010 when the new Taurus rolls out without a Mercury counterpart. Ford rhetoric, however, still holds that Mercury and Lincoln are being repositioned, with Abe's brand taking over as the volume-seller of the pair." (permalink)
Inspirational Homily: "Be thankful you live in America. Produce honest goods in abundance and work steadily and honestly." In 1915 or thereabouts, this tract was inserted in workers' pay envelopes at the Dodge Brothers auto factory. (source: Stan Grayson, Automobile Quarterly Vol.17, No.1, 1979)
Shouldn't He Know Better? Conventional wisdom is that, when rates are low, you lock in the longest mortgage length at the lowest fixed rate possible.
So why then would Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd sign up for two large 30-year mortgage refinances at a rate which adjusts after the first five years?
And shouldn't a 64 year-old man have his mortgages paid off or close to paid off by now? Especially since his latest wife, Jackie M. Clegg, brings lots of money from her high-powered consulting firm and her directorships at several large corporations.
Furthermore ... (more >>>)
Weirdly Compelling: The Surrealist Compliment Generator. For a new one, hit refresh.
Definition Of The Day is for 'Yawn': An honest opinion, openly expressed.
Friday June 13, 2008
Car Sighting: I saw my first Bentley Continental Flying Spur sedan this week. It was cruising north on Interstate 5 in Vancouver. The 12-cylinder, $185,000 AWD machine was jet black, riding on black-centered alloys with polished aluminum outer rims and low-profile tires. Wicked-looking.
The Truth About Saturn: Writing in TTAC, Adrian Imonti begins with the sentence, "Saturn is dead." He continues: "Saturn's slow homicide is more than a shame. It offers a discouraging glimpse into General Motors' dysfunctional culture." Saturn sales have fallen by 20% so far this year. May sales fell almost 33%.
Imonti writes, "In fact, 1993 was Saturn's only profitable year." I'm surprised. I had always heard that Saturn never had a profitable year. And that GM has wasted over $10 billion in investment on the brand. I've often wondered what would have happened if GM had put all that money into Oldsmobile instead of Saturn. With proper design, serious quality control upgrades and a return to its 'position' as a stylish, technically-innovative performance car, Oldsmobile might well have stemmed the tide of luxury and near-luxury imports, offering a serious alternative to Acura, Audi and BMW. And made a profit for General Motors.
A good friend of mine worked closely with General Motors in the 1990s. He claimed that GM middle and upper management despised Roger Smith so much that they did everything possible to sabotage his pet Saturn project. Even after Roger was gone.
Ouch! I paid $4.539 for Premium this week.
Automobiles, Accounting, Supermarkets & Education: There is an interesting and thought-provoking article on the decline of the U.S. education system by Kevin Baker at The Smallest Minority. I recommend that you read it. (hat tip - Ragin' Dave)
In the past 40 years, we have made great strides in productivity. Walk through any auto assembly plant and you'll find that it takes less than half the number of people to assemble cars as it did forty years ago. Not because of outsourcing (a lot of components were outsourced in the 1960s as well) but because of robots, assembly-smart design and technology. Technology has paid off in quality, too. The cars of 2008 are far better built than those of 1968.
Visit any accounting office and you'll find far fewer people than in the 1960s. Why? Technology - computers and software have replaced pencils, comptometers and adding machines. Your tax returns and financial statements are far less likely to have errors than forty years ago thanks to automated accounting.
Go to any supermarket and you'll find fewer employees per square foot than there used to be. Scanners, automated inventory control and other new technology have made all the difference. Stores are cleaner and better organized than they used to be.
In 40 years, technology has improved efficiency/productivity, reduced costs and produced improved quality/results in all of the above examples.
Then there's education. In 40 years ... (more >>>)
Political Loss: Tim Russert, NBC News Washington bureau chief who was renowned for his tough questioning of politicians, suffered a fatal heart attack today at age 58. Russert was recording voiceovers for Sunday's Meet the Press program when he collapsed and died.
I bought his first book, Big Russ and Me, and always paid attention to his insightful commentary during election season. He was a thoughtful and well-prepared interviewer and was well-liked by his colleagues. He was respected by and generally respectful to people of all political persuasions. Tim was an obvious political junkie who truly loved the give-and-take world of U.S. politics.
Those who knew him spoke highly of his work ethic and good humor. Requiescat In Pace.
Putdown Of The Week is from Greg Gutfeld about one particular "asinine dipwad": "So the next time you see someone like Alain Robert trying to bring attention to a fake cause to feed his ego pray that he falls, and falls hard - into a recycling bin. He's so full of shit, he'd make great compost."
Geezer Joke: Maude and Claude, both 91, lived in a retirement village. They met at the singles club meeting and discovered over time that they enjoyed each other's company. After several weeks of meeting for coffee, Claude asked Maude out for dinner and, much to his delight, she accepted.
They had a lovely evening. They dined at the most romantic restaurant in town. Despite his age, they ended up at his place for an after-dinner drink.
Things continued along a natural course and age being no inhibitor, Maude soon joined Claude for a most enjoyable roll in the hay.
As they were basking in the glow of the magic moments they'd shared, each was lost for a time in their own thoughts ...
Claude was thinking: "If I'd known she was a virgin, I'd have been gentler."
Meanwhile, Maude thought: "If I'd known he could still do it, I'd have taken off my pantyhose."
To All Dads: Happy Father's Day. I've posted my thoughts about fathers here.
Quote Of The Day is from Bob Hope: "I love to go to Washington DC, if only to be near my money."
Wednesday June 11, 2008
Beverly Rae Kimes: During my recent recuperation, I spent a lot of time reading. After running through all the trashy paperback bestseller whodunits, I decided to revisit my Automobile Quarterly collection.
I read several pieces authored by Beverly Rae Kimes. As a young man, I was always impressed by her thoroughness of research, remarkable knowledge of antique autos and sophisticated understanding of The Way Things Used To Be. I assumed that she was much older than I was. (I started my subscription to AQ when I was 22.) It turned out that she was only four years my senior; that speaks volumes, I think, about her talent.
I only learned her actual age when I read her obituary; Ms. Kimes died last month.
After graduating with a masters degree in journalism and finding no work in her field of choice - writing for theater publications in New York City, she took what she referred to, as a "job to pay the bills." Hired by Automobile Quarterly in 1963 (the company's first employee) as a secretary, she took her first ride in an old car - a 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile driven by Henry Austin Clark Jr. - a year later. Beverly Rae became hooked on old autos and wrote or edited more than 20 books and hundreds of articles; won almost every award in automotive journalism and become a sought-after judge and announcer at classic car meets.
She rose to be top editor of Automobile Quarterly, then left in 1981 to edit publications for the Classic Car Club of America. She was also an Honorary Judge at the Pebble Beach Concours and past-president of the Society of Automotive Historians. She also frequently contributed articles to The Star, the magazine of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America.
Thanks, Beverly, for being a valuable source for my continuing education about great cars. You will be missed. (permalink)
Titanic Hits Iceberg: The Truth About Cars notes that Chrysler is treating themselves to an extra 5% discount from suppliers and paying even slower than before. A TTAC reader reported: "On June 3, we received revised purchase orders indicating Chrysler will now be taking five percent off all POs and will take 60 days to pay instead of 45. The trouble is they are doing it to all existing orders, not just future orders. I was told by Chrysler purchasing they were trying to keep their cash flow together and there was nothing they could do about the PO changes. I think that might be all for Chrysler unfortunately. They also told me the new rules were going to include POs shipped after June 1 even if they hadn't bothered to change the order."
There are also reports that Chrysler's actual payment record to suppliers is far longer than 60 days. Months for at least one.
It is time for all savvy suppliers to bail. How do I know this? I ran a business where my own money was at stake. I had to make credit decisions based on customer actions. Chrysler is acting like a desperate company getting ready to pull a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I have seen this opera before. If I were Chrysler supplier, I would immediately demand payment and would refuse to release any tooling until all funds owed were wire-transferred to my account.
Get out now before the fat lady begins to bellow.
"Zero Jobs Equal Zero Emissions." From The People's Cube: "American automakers responded with great enthusiasm to yesterday's decision by General Motors to compost its gas-guzzling business model and close four pickup truck and SUV plants - a unilateral gesture of good will towards the environment that will result in 10,000 lost jobs."
GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said before the automakers' annual meeting in Delaware that his conscience is finally clear of concerns about Global Warming and saving the polar bears. "Jobs should no longer be viewed as the source of income, economic stability, and overall satisfaction, because the government is supposed to take care of all that," he said. "Do we dream of bringing back industry? Or do we recognize that technology is an abomination against nature; that free enterprise is exploitation; that private property ownership is impossible; and Western Culture is the root of all evil?"
So, It Wasn't Just Me Then: An article by investing expert Malcolm Berko explains why I pulled all my money out of Fidelity Investments several years ago. Excerpt: "Because I know a few people in Boston, I was able to phone some folks who, in various professional capacities, conduct business with Fidelity. The consensus was that the quality of the labor pool from which Fidelity makes its hires has been in a constant state of decline for more than 20 years."
In 2001, I received a bonehead of a letter from Leonard J. Stecklow, Executive VP of Fidelity Investments. Here's the first sentence: "As a Preferred Services client, you are entitled to a higher level of service." And here's the first sentence of the lengthy disclaimer at bottom of the very same letter: "Fidelity cannot guarantee any level of service."
Higher Prices = Lower Volume: Mark Perry posits that the recent jump in the U.S. unemployment rate is primarily in the 16-24 year-old bracket and is caused by the federally-mandated 12% jump in the minimum wage rate which become effective in July. Businesses are aware of this rate hike and are, therefore, minimizing their use of seasonal help. This isn't a good time to be a high-school or college student looking for a summer job.
Food For Thought from FeticheNouvelle at Eternity Road: "Muslims and environmentalists are the top two entries on my personal list of death cults. Death cults want us dead: you, me, and everyone either of us loves. That's more than enough of a reason to pay attention ... more than enough of a reason to take up arms against them."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Poke With Stick Confirms Raccoon's Death'. Excerpt: "Upon arriving on the scene of a possible raccoon fatality, brothers Jason Everson, 11, and Tyler Everson, 9, were able to positively confirm the small rodent's demise by carefully prodding the lifeless creature several times with a stick, sources reported."
Quote Of The Day is from Conan O'Brien on France: "You gave us the term "deja vu", as in "Wow, I have this weird feeling you've been obnoxious and arrogant before. Deja vu!""
Monday June 9, 2008
Wise Prediction? Or Wishful Thinking? Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute writes, "The world economy can't handle current energy prices, much less a big increase. Which in turn means that oil prices will fall. When the price of anything gets unbearably high, it discourages demand. The resulting drop in sales, in turn, causes inventories to pile up and the price to come down. That has proven true of overpriced houses - and it will likewise prove true of overpriced oil."
The Rockin' Bird: Although he never lived in Philadelphia, James Lileks has written some nice words about legendary Philly Disc Jockey Joe Niagara. He also included an audio clip of a commercial and station promo done by Joe on the Cruisin' 1957 album.
The cassette and CD versions of Cruisin' 1957 are not identical .... (more >>>)
Only People In The Portland Metro Area Will Get This: Last week, a family's pet goat broke loose and wandered the Oregon streets, finally boarding a TriMet bus. (If you want details of this news story, Google it.)
The bus driver didn't react immediately because, at first, she thought that it was just another resident of Dignity Village. (permalink)
Headline Of The Day is from The Peoples Cube: 'NASA unveils 'ass-crack' space suit for plumbing repairs at int'l space station'.
Best Political Snark comes from Sunday's edition of Lucianne: "Hillary's campaign will maintain a reptilian pulse in the months ahead, i.e. she will lie coiled."
Quote Of The Day is from transit guru and public policy consultant Wendell Cox in an interview with Bill Steigerwald: "For most transit agencies in the United States, if they were to write a mission statement that is reflective of what they do, they would indicate that they exist for the purpose of serving their employees and vendors."
And: "Mass transit expenditures have gone up more than 300 percent adjusted for inflation since 1970 and ridership has gone up less than 20 percent. There is no other sector of the economy, including health care, where I can find escalation even close to that." (permalink)
Friday June 6, 2008
Truck Farming: A good friend, who lives in Tokyo, wrote me about going shopping: "I went to the huckster." I hadn't thought about hucksters in years. I remember when hucksters (sometimes called truck farmers) used to drive slowly through our neighborhood in trucks with awnings over the beds selling fresh vegetables. It turns out that those huckster trucks actually had a name for the special body configuration. It was known as a 'canopy express'.
A canopy express is a light-duty cargo hauler, often based on the chassis of a panel or pickup truck. They were offered by several manufacturers in various sizes from half-ton to one-and one-half ton. The vehicles had open display areas behind the driver's seat commonly used for peddling vegetables and fruit but also used for other kinds of deliveries that require easy access. Many had roll-up or swing out canvas awnings on the side and back openings.
As the U.S. became more suburbanized after World War II, sales of canopy express vehicles declined. GM offered the last ones in 1955.
In the '50s, everybody in our urban Philadelphia neighborhood had a milkman, a bread man and a farmer. And hucksters. And ... (more >>>)
Market-Based Solutions: Via Mark Perry: "Wal-Mart has done more to expand coverage and lower costs in the past year than any government program to come out of Washington in the past 10 years."
I have some market-based health care ideas, too.
Quote Of The Day is from Oscar Wilde: "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
Wednesday June 4, 2008
Read 'Em And Weep: May sales for the auto industry were generally miserable.
Truck and SUV sales were - no surprise - very hard hit. (For example, Ford's May sales dropped 16 percent. FoMoCo experienced a 24 percent decline in truck and van sales with a herkin' 44 percent drop in SUV sales.)
||1.) High gas prices are making most everyone rethink their choices of rides. (Do I really need an SUV with all that towing capacity? Is my Hummer a smart choice for commuting? Or showing suburban real estate?)
2.) The continuing construction bust means that contractors and subs are not buying new equipment of any kind. Be thankful you're not selling excavating equipment. Or cement mixers.
3.) People who are in financial distress (upside-down on their mortgages and/or struggling with those 72-month car payments on a gas hog they couldn't afford in the first place) are not shopping for more toys. Such buyers may be in the minority ... that's why overall vehicle sales have only dropped 15-20% rather than 95%. But some models are hurting much more than others. And auto factories don't run profitably at 60-80% capacity. That's why the Detroit 2.8 is feeling so much pain right now.
Chrysler's sales fell much more than Ford's - 25% overall. Chrysler's car sales even dropped more than its trucks, an indicator of how uncompetitive and abominable the company's recent car offerings have been.
Meanwhile, General Motors reported a whopping 30.2% decline in May U.S. auto sales, led by a 39% decline in truck sales. Rick Wagoner, aka Captain of the Titanic, is in full-panic mode and has said that GM is "exploring all options, including the possible sale of its Hummer brand." Meanwhile, TTAC has reported that GM has "pulled the plug" on the brand. ... "GM told its field teams that all corporate investment in Hummer has ceased. No refreshes. No new models. And no more marketing support."
GM is also closing four truck and SUV plants in North America.
Panic mode is appropriate for a company which, in recent years, had bet the farm on pick-em-ups and SUVs.
The Hummer thing doesn't surprise me. In April 2005, I wrote, "It is a dead-end brand. Where does GM go next with it? (How do you restyle a box?) Let Hummer slowly devolve to an expensive, testosterone-loaded men's toy. Eventually, Hummer should be folded into GMC. Or, if GM must to keep dealerships alive, merged into Saab-Saturn." Hummer sales were down by almost 62% last month. Only 375 H2s were sold in May.
Saturn is in a big World-O-Hurt too, with sales down over 35%. Buick is off almost 38%. And Cadillac - down 26% - only sold 94 XLR roadsters in May, making it a rare and exclusive (though apparently undesirable) car.
Toyota sales were down by 8% overall. Surprisingly, Prius sales were off by 40%, supposedly because of "limited availability". (Maybe with the weak dollar, Toyota is allocating more Japan-made Prii to other, more profitable countries.) Lexus sales were down 20% overall. Sales of the LS were off 36.3%. (I still think it's a great car, though.)
Here's some good news: Honda sales are up over 11%, led by record-breaking sales for the Civic. According to the company, Honda "shattered the company's all-time sales record for any month as Civic sales reached 53,299, up 28.3 percent versus last May and surpassing the previous monthly record for any car in the lineup." The Accord and Fit posed good sales gains as well. And sales of the new Acura TSX were up 54% over last year.
Finally, in a sign of the times, Mini sales were up 47.2%.
Flatulent Flâneur: Steven Kurutz interviewed ancient, shuffling octogenarian Hugh Hefner. Excerpt: "After about forty-five minutes, Hef appears to be losing steam. I turn off the tape recorder and he rises from the couch. As he does, he rips the kind of fart that one does not even attempt to hide from. No one in the room blinks. Sounding the trumpet valedictory for the Playboy philosophy, ah reckon."
I still remember when and where I discovered Playboy.
Answering The Question No One Asked: Bourbon Chicken Grill'N Dip, a BBQ sauce, has this remarkable tagline on the label: 'Authentic Food Court Flavor'. From the website: "Bourbon Chicken is the No. 1 sold item at food courts throughout eastern United States."
"Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley, Have You Heard?" Rock 'n' roll pioneer Bo Diddley has died at age 79.
The legendary singer and performer - known for his homemade-looking cigar-box guitar - was an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award at the 1999 Grammy Awards.
Diddley was also one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, adding reverb and other effects. He rigged some of his guitars himself.
Rock In Peace, Bo.
Canned For Eternity: Dr. Fredric J. Baur was so proud of having designed the container for Pringles fakey potato chips, that he asked his family to bury him in one. And they did. The Pringles can - a tube-shaped container designed to hold the salty, stackable, mass-manufactured, saddle-shaped chip - was his proudest accomplishment, his daughter said. He received a patent for the package as well as the method of packaging Pringles in 1970.
Part of his cremains was buried in a Pringles can - along with a regular urn containing the remainder.
Greg Gutfeld notes, "Baur died at 89. The fashion designer St. Laurent died at 71. This clearly points out that the world of snacking is far more healthier than the world of not snacking. In fact, if you take a look at all our snacking giants McDonald's Ray Kroc died at 82, and Orville Redenbacher popped his last corn at 88 you can see that the secret to longevity is a savory one."
Inflation Woes: Here's a headline from The Onion: 'Wheel Of Fortune Contestants Hit Hard As Vowel Prices Skyrocket'. According to Wheel Of Fortune show runner Charlie Clark, vowel prices are not likely to come down anytime soon unless America improves its standing in the Middle East.
Geezer Joke: Morris, an 82 year-old man, went to the doctor to get a physical. A few days later, the doctor saw Morris walking down the street with a gorgeous young woman on his arm.
Later, the doctor pulled Morris aside and said, "You're really doing great, aren't you?"
Morris replied, "Just doing what you said, Doc: 'Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.'"
The doctor said, "I didn't say that. I said, 'You've got a heart murmur; be careful.'"
Headline Of The Day: 'Dutch Man Injures Posterior In Mooning Accident'. It's a true story which comes to a bad end.
Quote Of The Day is from Homer Simpson: "I used to rock and roll all night and party every day. Then it was every other day. Now I'm lucky if I can find a half an hour a week in which to get funky."
Monday June 2, 2008
Sign Of The Times: The Atlantic Oil Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used to sell Hi-Arc brand gasoline. In Northeast Philadelphia, there was a small gas station on the Oxford Circle roundabout with a very large Hi-Arc sign which dominated the neighborhood skyline. The huge billboard-type sign with its distinctive clock face first appeared in the 1930s.
Oxford Circle is made up of the intersection of Oxford Avenue, Cheltenham Avenue, Castor Avenue and the 12-lane Roosevelt Boulevard. This has always been a busy and oft treacherous intersection but was particularly so prior to 1950, when the Route 59 trolley ran right through the grassy center of the large circle.
When the trolley cars were replaced by a trolleybuses (Philadelphians referred to them as 'trackless trolleys'), the buses traveled along Oxford Avenue and went around the circle with all the other vehicular traffic.
The circle was made even safer with ... (more >>>)
Flacking: The title may be impressive - White House Press Secretary. It looks nice on business cards. The position may have some inner-circle cachet - a senior White House official with a rank one step below Presidential Cabinet level. But the job is basically about PR - spreading whatever POV, spin or propaganda-du-jour the White House wants disseminated.
That said - in life, it's not the job you have; it's how you handle it that makes the difference. There have been - in my memory - only a few press secretaries who rose above the job of flackery and molded the position to their own liking: Pierre Salinger, James S. Brady, Tony Snow. And Marlin Fitzwater on a good day.
Most others have been undistinguished and boring. One of the most-forgettable has been the hapless Scott McClellan, who has now written a backstabbing book which will be forgotten in a few weeks and soon found in remainder bins at third-rate bookstores.
Bob Dole saw McClellan as a classic Washington opportunist and sent him an excoriating e-mail: "There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits, and spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique." Dole assures McClellan that he won't read the book "because if all these awful things were happening, and perhaps some may have been, you should have spoken up publicly like a man, or quit your cushy, high profile job."
Jonah Goldberg hasn't read the book either, but notes: "I will once I finish eating the contents of my sock drawer (which ranks slightly higher on my to-do list)."
I'll give the last word to Jonah who described McClellan, thusly: "He stood at the podium looking like a McDonald's cashier flummoxed by an order."
It's Hedley, Dammit! Versatile and talented comedian Harvey Korman died last week. He was 81. Yes, yes, he was very funny on The Carol Burnett Show but I will always remember his brilliantly hilarious portrayal of Hedley Lamarr, the conniving politician in 'Blazing Saddles'. As will the good folks of Rock Ridge. "But where would I find such a man? ... And why am I asking you?"
Hed d y ... ummmm ... Hedley ... ummmm ... Harvey.
Thought For Today: A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.