Tuesday December 30, 2008
The Year In Review: For me, 2008 was a decent year. I'm still alive and reasonably healthy, although I had more heart surgery in May. My family is fine - something for which I'm very grateful. The stock market is a mess but I don't expect to be dining on Alpo in '09. Even though the S&P 500 Index is down almost 40%, it's only a paper loss until one cashes out.
Most Americans haven't pulled out of the market and neither have I. Yes, we plan to economize a bit next year - probably less dining out. Less air travel, too. And no home remodeling in 2009; after a major project every year for the last six years, we're taking a break.
This year, we had our family room revamped and are enjoying it greatly. I went on Medicare and, even with my fairly extensive private insurance upgrade, our health care premiums are much less than they were Before Medicare. Plus we're getting a 5.8% increase in Social Security payments. Thanks, fellow taxpayers.
But the world doesn't revolve around me, so let's expand the view:
Car Stuff: 2008 can be summed up in one word - 'bailout'. I hope that, if 2009's one word is 'bankruptcy', Chrysler goes Chapter 7. It's a shame ... but liquidation is probably the best course. GM needs a Chapter 11 reorganization, to shed brands, dealers and burdensome union regs.
Ford looks to be the strongest of the Detroit Three and has some good product offerings in showrooms and the pipeline.
As for me, I have no plans to buy a new car in 2009. Or 2010 for that matter.
The Economy: The newspapers are full of doom and gloom; television news features stories about families "struggling to make it in today's harsh economy." Of course, Bad News is the media's stock-in-trade.
Nevertheless, this is going to be a fairly bad recession - the worst in over 25 years. I think GDP will drop 8-11% overall and the recession will last three to five quarters. I'd guess that U.S. unemployment will exceed 8%. (In 1974, the GDP dropped six quarters in a row. Unemployment reached close to 9% nationally and, in some industrial regions, well over 10%.)
And, unlike 1981-82, this recession's scope is worldwide, which will only exacerbate the situation and make recovery more difficult. The global economy has not contracted since 1947. But there will be a recovery; it's always darkest before dawn.
I expect that calendar 2009 will set a new low for the auto industry, with well under 12 million vehicles sold. Because of gradually improving conditions and interesting new product offerings already scheduled, I predict that 2010 sales will revert to the 12-15 mm level.
Sales of existing homes have bottomed but will stay flat for another 9-12 months and then begin a slow recovery. New housing starts will remain at pathetic levels for at least another 15-18 months. (Around here, sales of new and pre-owned homes fell by 38 percent in '08. Residential construction hit 20-year lows.) The commercial real estate market is already falling apart; there will be lots of bad news on that front in '09. Vacancies will skyrocket - probably to record levels.
Nevertheless, it is not the beginning of the next great Depression.
I believe that the U.S. stock market will begin to recover in 2009. I suspect that the market lows seen on the Dow and S&P in 2008 will not be surpassed in '09.
In the meantime, you can forego a new Wii or Xbox and entertain yourself with free games like Stoplight Lottery.
Politics: In 2008, Americans wanted 'Change', so they elected Barack Obama as president. Hopefully, he will guide our nation wisely. But, if he doesn't ... in four years, we'll get to throw him out on his ear. That's what's great about democracy. God bless America.
The Republican Party has been written off as dead. Expect it to revive, driven by forty-somethings who will sweep away the elderly movers and shakers of the last two-plus decades. These upstarts will include young blog pundits, enthusiastic grassroots workers and fresh politicians who radiate strong principles, fiscal conservatism and social inclusiveness. And embrace a wilingness to try new technology and use modern business techniques/technology to make government more efficient. And accountable.
Sarah Palin will play a significant role in that party's future. Tim Blair has written: "It's probably for the best that Sarah Palin failed to become U.S. vice-president, because if she had, the implosion among various snooty political classes, conservative and Left, would have been measurable from Venus. The world can only tolerate so much turmoil in one year. ... Palin may have the last laugh. She's gone back to Alaska but many of the media companies that attacked her are going broke. If they're so much smarter than her, how come she's the one with a job?"
Iraq: What a difference a year makes. In 2007, the mainstream media equated the country with a 'quagmire' - and they didn't mean the Family Guy character. But The Surge worked. The number of daily attacks in Iraq has fallen almost 95% from levels a year ago. The murder rate in Iraq in November '08 was 0.9 per 100,000 people; the 2007 murder rate in the U.S. was 5.9 per 100,000.
Christmas is now an official holiday in Iraq. A senior Shiite cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, attended Christmas Mass as a gesture of cooperation with Christians.
Some quagmire. Giggity.
Passings: More icons of my younger years are disappearing: Hummel figures, Polaroid instant film, Olga's Diner and The Gables.
Deaths include chanteuse Edie Adams, Pringles can inventor Fredric J. Baur, fashion critic Mr. Blackwell, conservative pundit and author William F. Buckley, comedian George Carlin, sci-fi seer Arthur C. Clarke, hot rod builder Boyd Coddington, author Michael Crichton, rock 'n' roll pioneer Bo Diddley, musician Issac Hayes, race car driver Phil Hill, Slinky entrepreneur Betty James, Disney animation legend Ollie Johnston, auto historian Beverly Rae Kimes, singer and Cat Woman Eartha Kitt, comedian Harvey Korman, pioneering winemaker Robert Mondavi, actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, actress Suzanne Pleshette, Guitar Man Jerry Reed, newsman Tim Russert, singer-songwriter and Mr. Hot Rod Lincoln, Charlie Ryan, potato billionaire J.R. Simplot, former White House press secretary Tony Snow, automobile designer Gil Spear, singer Jo Stafford and author/radio host Studs Terkel.
In February, one of my car buddies died. Lee Gerold was a very nice but slightly quirky guy who had a gigantic collection of car literature and automobilia as well as encyclopedic vehicular knowledge. When I was editing our car club newsletter, he would pepper me with clippings cut from magazines - I'd find something interesting in my mailbox every week.
On Christmas Eve, another car buddy and very good personal friend died.
Maury Willyard was a kind, generous man, an enthusiast for vehicles of all kinds and a connoisseur of proper martinis. He also was a tireless and dedicated amateur car restorer - a hobby he began at age 65 or so. And was a whiz at bringing old music boxes and player pianos back to life.
He was always willing to share his knowledge and told many a fine story.
I enjoyed riding in this prize-winning 1965 blue Lincoln four-door convertible. Or trying to figure out why his Lincoln Versailles tour car wouldn't run right.
I'll miss him greatly.
Requiescat In Pace ... to all.
Everything Else: There was good news in '08. People have begun to figure out that the whole man-made global warming thing is as phony as ... ummmm ... Kwanzaa. (And embraced by the same gang of PC idiots.)
Surprise! Oil prices crashed; even OPEC hasn't been able to bump energy prices. The money we're saving could translate into a nearly half-trillion-dollar annual stimulus package for the U.S. economy - and a negative stimulus and possible bankruptcy for the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin. Heh. Sometimes good things just happen - despite all the "experts" who said $200 per barrel oil would be "the new norm - get used to it." Where are they now?
2008 was a year for significant medical advances too, promising healthier lives across the planet. Two different cholesterol-lowering drug studies produced very positive and impressive results, promising the possibility of a significant future decline in heart attacks and strokes.
A malaria vaccine trial was more than 50% effective in preventing malaria among infants and toddlers. Nearly 1 million people die every year from the disease. "We are one important step closer to the date when malaria will join diseases such as smallpox and polio, which have been either eliminated or controlled through vaccines," Christian Loucq, director of the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which helped to conduct the study.
Scientists at the University of California - Irvine announced they had discovered an early step that could one day lead to a stem cell therapy for Alzheimer's disease, not to mention other neurodegenerative diseases or brain injuries.
And O.J. is finally in prison.
See ... it's not all bad news.
Wednesday December 24, 2008
Away In A Manger: Every Christmas, we put up a Nativity set which belonged to my parents. I don't know its history; the stable has a date stamp of 1937 on the base. It may have belonged to my dad's family. Or my mom's. Or maybe my dad made it in high school; he was quite good at carpentry. At some point, my mom painted a Bethlehem scene on the back wall.
I've had to repair the stable several times; the years have taken their toll on the wood, which has dried out, warped and split. But I'll never throw it away because it is part of my family's Christmas tradition.
In addition to its original (presumably Pennsylvania-made) parts, some of the wood components have been replaced using branches from our trees - some from when we lived in Oregon and some from our present Washington location. New straw, bought locally, has replaced portions of the original roof.
My two children had Nativity figures but no structure in which to house them. In 2004, I fabricated two new stables - one for each - and presented them as Christmas gifts. I kept the 1937 model for my wife and me.
St. Francis of Assisi first popularized the Christmas manger in the 13th Century. The use of a manger or feeding trough as a makeshift bassinet inside a barn or stable recalled the Gospel according to Luke, who wrote that Mary gave birth to Jesus, and "laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
These many centuries later, we still use miniature Nativity scenes to remind us of the real meaning of Christmas.
No one knows what the real stable and manger looked like; in those ancient times, there was no thought given to preservation of historic sites. Like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, the original Nativity stable no longer exists. Except in the hearts of Christians everywhere.
And it came to pass, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that Mary should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.
The Angel said, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
Glory to God in the highest and, on Earth, peace and good will toward men."
Monday December 22, 2008
Winter Wonderland: The View Through The Front Doorway:
By nightfall Saturday, there was an 8+ inch accumulation. By Sunday morning, a thick coating of ice was atop the snow. Then the sleet changed back to snow. By 10:00 am Monday, snow was over a foot deep. This storm is expected to rank as one of the three worst in 68 years. The last big one was in 1968 with 13.7 inches recorded.
More snow is expected tomorrow and Christmas Eve. For the first time in a very long while, we'll be having a white Christmas. (Update: Final tally at our house was 15.5 inches on 12/24. There is more snow on the ground now than at any Christmas on record. National Weather Service files indicate that there have been only eight days in the last 112 years when there was snow on the ground in Vancouver, WA on December 25th.)
If this is what Global Warming is like, would someone please send Al Gore out here with a snowplow?
Old Beauties: Check out the photos posted by Hemmings from the 2008 Monterey Historic Race. These 50 year-old race cars look perfect. The lines are so much cleaner than today's racers. I always thought the Scarab was one of the best-looking race cars of the period.
Our Great National Shame Is Over: Dan Neil weighs in on the 52 mpg Ford Fusion Hybrid, noting sarcastically: "Of course, Detroit can't build a desirable high-mileage car. We're the country that bungled Iraq and bred a Bernard Madoff, that turned the mortgage market into three-card monte and put Britney back on top. It would seem almost a shame to interrupt the soothing pleasures of such self-pity.
And yet, here we are, with a car that seemed purely theoretical - a desirable, affordable, no-compromise sedan that gets 40-plus mpg - about to show up at Ford dealerships in the first quarter of 2009. Somebody ought to tell Thomas Friedman."
Actually, it sounds like a pretty interesting car. Looks nice too.
The People's Cube Presents ... the Government-Subsidized Auto Show .... with photos.
Featherbedding: I hardly ever see that word anymore. In the labor relations field, it refers to padded work rules or cushy collective bargaining agreements demanded by labor unions.
The union movement in America is a garment made with many story patches, from the employer abuses of the past - appalling railroad safety, the 1937 Battle of the Overpass at Ford - to union abuses of more recent times.
Until recently, most railroads continued to pay a "fireman" to ride in the cab of their diesels, even though locomotives have not needed coal shoveled into their fireboxes for well over 50 years - since the demise of steam. Until 1987, some Burlington Northern crews received "hazardous pay" for traveling through Indian territory in Montana.
Then there's the United Auto Workers' infamous and oft-mentioned Jobs Bank. Larry Kudlow blames the UAW for killing the U.S. car business.
Ken Elias of TTAC has written: "Transplants' fear of the UAW organizing their plants has disappeared. Their workers know for certain that union affiliation has zero benefits (as if it ever did before). The Republican bailout bill mandated that Detroit blue-collar working stiffs get paid the same as Toyota workers today, not in the future. In the next Congressional go-around, the Republicans will stick to their guns on their 'wage parity' demand. So why would transplant workers consider organizing and give two hours a month of pay for union dues and get nothing in return? Answer they wouldn't."
This may be the beginning of the end for manufacturing unions. Public service unions may be next. There's a lot of featherbedding to be found in that quagmire.
Railroad Update: Being housebound by the snow storm gave me a chance to swap out a couple of train sets on my O-gauge model train layout. The Milwaukee Road Hiawatha and Pennsy Aerotrain were returned to their respective boxes - replaced by the Pennsylvania Railroad T-1 steam locomotive and Broadway Limited passenger cars on the lower level and the PRR GG-1 electric loco pulling a silver Congressional passenger consist on the middle level.
I also ran the little Pennsy 2-8-0 Consolidation steam locomotive for a while just to exercise it. I replaced some of the older photos with better ones taken with our digital camera - several are on this page. Speaking of rails ...
Icebound: According to news reports, service on Portland's TriMet MAX light rail lines was disrupted most of the Sunday because of frozen switches. Don't those idiots know how to run a rail system?
Railroads have been de-icing switches for over a century - first with smudge pots, later with mini-flame throwers. Now, there are anti-icing agents available for track switches which can be applied as a pre-treatment before it snows. Used on plates, points, throw rods, stands and flangeways, it puts a barrier coating on the metal. Falling or blowing snow melts on contact.
But ... it's the People's Republik of Portland, ya know ... so TriMet probably uses something like a hemp, hummus, tofu and green tea mix, hoping for an eventual - but all-natural - exothermic reaction to occur.
That's the kind of thinking which goes on in Seattle too, where this week's icy and virtually impassable streets are the result of Seattle's refusal to use salt, an effective ice-buster used by the state Department of Transportation and cities accustomed to dealing with heavy winter snows. "If we were using salt, you'd see patches of bare road because salt is very effective," Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said. "We decided not to utilize salt because it's not a healthy addition to Puget Sound."
Of course, Puget Sound is already full of salt water. But no matter.
The Seattle police are having difficulty responding to emergency calls because their rear-wheel drive Crown Vickies can't climb the steep hills, even with tire chains. To keep the cop cars from sliding backwards down hills, Earth First is supplying hardbound copies of Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' to use as wheel chocks. (permalink)
Cook Out: For Sunday night's dinner, I cooked filets mignon on the outdoor grill. I had to dress quite warmly and we referred to our main course as Blizzard Beef, since it was snowing the entire time I was grilling. I've cooked outdoors by flashlight in the past but I've never done so in heavy falling snow before.
We enjoyed the meat, accompanied by baked stuffed potatoes and a bottle of 2005 Arbor Crest Merlot which was very flavorful. My wife and shared memories of past Christmases.
I've written about Arbor Crest before; the winery's Cliff House is a National Historic Landmark built in 1924. The three-story Florentine house is surrounded by an arched gatekeeper's house, sunken rose garden, open-air pagoda, terraced flower and herb gardens.
The Arbor Crest Cliff House offers great views and equally great wines.
No Buggy Whip Jokes Please: Polaroid will stop making film for its cameras at the end of 2008.
"Mail Us Your Gold": I'll never trust television ads again. A Detroit area postal worker has been arrested for stealing gold from the mail.
Bad Numbers: Clark County WA - where I live - now has 8.2% unemployment (although, in February 2004, it was 9.5%). The statewide unemployment rate is 6.4 percent. Construction and manufacturing account for three quarters of the Washington State's recent decline. The national unemployment rate stands at 6.7%. On the other hand ...
Merely A Flat Tire: Greg Gutfeld offers some perspective on our falling economy, noting that "this recession is nothing. Zilch. If America were a car, this would be a flat tire. Compare that to what's happening around the world. ... This is a global recession, and only countries that embrace free markets are going to make it through alright. I mean, look who's in trouble now: Venezuela and Iran corrupt regimes whose only survival is based on the price of oil which is plunging so fast it's making Hugo Chavez crap his diapers and Ahmadinijad changing his.
And that's the real joy you should be feeling this holiday watching the creeps who want us ruined, falling apart at the seams. That makes the whole recession, suddenly very worth it.
And if you disagree with me, then you sir are worse than Hitler."
I would like to add that people are whining more during this recession.
Too Much Of A Good Thing: A Portland restaurant landmark, Genoa, has closed after 38 years. Once billed as "the premier restaurant in Portland, known widely for its regional Italian cooking and meticulous service," Genoa apparently had a great following. I went there once and found it overpriced, overhyped and not very Italian. And the service was nothing to write home about either - perfectly acceptable, mind you, but - for that kind of money - a mere gnat bite on the elephant hide of forelock-tugging attentiveness.
The owner said that business had been slow since early summer "but it all changed 180 degrees within a week of the recent (Wall Street) crash. When the problems went global, the bottom fell out."
"I've seen serious recessions over the decades at Genoa," he told The Oregonian, "but nothing to compare to the economic meltdown in which we now find ourselves. We cannot continue as an economically viable business."
The unmentioned problem is that there has been an explosion of pricey restaurants in the Portland metro area in recent years ... creating overcapacity. With demand dropping, shrinkage is inevitable.
Riddle Of The Day: Why was the elephant standing on the marshmallow? A: Because he didn't want to fall in the hot chocolate.
Friday December 19, 2008
Bedtime Story: Once upon a time there were Three Little Detroit Pigs who left home to seek their fortunes. Their mother advised them, "Whatever you do, do it the best that you can because that's the way to get ahead in the world."
The first Little Pig built his house with a good foundation. But subsequent generations were more interested in stylish-looking dwellings than quality. So the finned, chrome-bedecked, cab-forward-looking house became weak and mostly made of straw with only a few brick and stone components. But the furniture, covered in Corinthian leather, was comfortable.
Later on, the house was used as a German hostel. The Germans stole the remaining bricks and stones, sent them back to Europe (along with the furnishings) and sold what remained of the dwelling to a pack of dogs, who knew nothing about home construction and repair.
The house was so weak ... (more >>>)
Distressing News From The Intensive Care Unit: All Chrysler manufacturing operations will be idled at the end of the shift Friday, Dec. 19th; production at 30 North American plants will be down for at least a month.
Chrysler dealers have confirmed that they "have many willing buyers for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles but are unable to close the deals, due to lack of financing. The dealers have stated that they have lost an estimated 20 to 25 percent of their volume because of this credit situation." This may reflect on the kinds of subprime lowlifes who are now Chrysler's remaining prospective buyers, since the smarter, more creditworthy folks are staying away in droves.
Meanwhile, Jalopnik asks, "Did anyone else notice they wouldn't commit to coming back?"
More Pentastar Peeves: This week, AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo wrote: "Lost in the din of bailout loans and imminent bankruptcies, Cerberus is escaping the level of ire from the mainstream media that it so richly deserves. These glorified carpetbaggers have made things worse with their obstinate stewardship of GMAC and the devastating effect it has had on GM's ability to do business. At this point it would be in everyone's best interest if these guys were summarily drummed out of the auto biz and Chrysler's assets were distributed to people who actually know what the f**k they're doing."
Remember The Seventies? Starting with the 1973 model year, all cars sold in the U.S. were required to have impact-resistant bumpers. U.S. manufacturers developed paintable elastomers which could be colored to match the car's body and could incorporate either chrome or plastichrome trim.
European manufacturers, with smaller budgets and less sophisticated elastomeric technology, simply added ugly black rubber protruberances to the fronts and rears of their vehicles. A case in point was the squarish Volvo 265, introduced in the 1975 model year.
Jeremy Clarkson's dad owned one; Jeremy wrote that it "was fitted with a bumper like the bottom lip of Forrest Gump's mate Bubba."
"A Deal is a Deal, but Only Between the Parties to that Deal": Dan Fitzpatrick of The Street.com has written a fine 'Dear UAW' letter. Excerpts: "If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler [collectively referred to herein as "your employer(s)"] have contractually agreed to pay total labor costs (which include benefits along with wages) of about $73/hour vs. the $44/hour that non-union competitors like Toyota Motor pay, who are we to judge? A deal is a deal, and your contract with your employer is none of our business. We respect your right to make as much money as you possibly can under the concept of "capitalism." If you are not familiar with the term, just Google it - it's a concept that has served us well for over 200 years."
"While the binding contract between you and your employer is none of our business, we think it's important to point something out. The guys who signed the contracts on behalf of your employer are largely inept, incompetent, arrogant and not particularly self-aware. Many epitomize the The Peter Principle. While this is not your fault and is not a reflection on your fine union, neither is it our problem. Your employer is about to go out of business and will be unable to live up to the deal that was struck with you. Remarkably, you are now asking us to come up with about $15 billion to bail out your employer."
"Let's cut to the chase. You insist that you are entitled to receive our tax dollars when many of us are facing the same hardships currently facing you? While you were negotiating deals with your employer, we were busy working and struggling to pay for our own health care expenses. We were putting money into our 401(k) accounts that rise and fall with the market. We "get what we get" and our only entitlement is from an unfunded Social Security system."
"You complain about the horrible devastation that would ensue from a reduction in your retirement benefits. Rest assured that we understand your plight, because that has already happened to many of us. So while we do empathize with you, we are unmoved. Why? Because we are too busy dealing with our own problems."
"We do not understand your refusal to make concessions that will at least give your employer a fighting chance to survive?"
"In America, we work as a team when the chips are down. It is time for you to jump in, be patriotic, and be a part of the deal. If you refuse, then we can only assume that you are a part of the problem rather than the solution, and we will cease to do business with you or your employers." Nuff said.
No, wait. There's more. Stephen Spruiell wrote that "if I were one of the 100,000-plus Americans working for good pay in a foreign-owned automotive assembly plant in Indiana, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, etc., I would be pretty riled about Gettelfinger's characterization of the foreign brands as something separate from and hostile to 'our industry'." Background here.
Back To The Forties: The lower level of my train layout is a pre-World War II setting. The streets are filled with cars from the era - a tan '39 Graham Paige Sharknose sedan, a maroon and black Model A Ford and a green 1940 Packard Darrin. The parking area contains a Cord, an maroon Chrysler Airflow and two Ford woodies - a '35 and a '40. The cool, art-deco styled, gray and blue, full-skirted sedan behind the lamppost is a 1937 Panhard Dynamic Berline, something not often seen in the U.S. But I placed it there because it looks very properly Thirties Aero, like you might see in a Disney or Merrie Melodies cartoon from the period.
Additional photos can be seen here and here (scroll down).
Snow Day: We didn't keep our doctors' appointments this morning. The area roads were sheets of ice. My Lexus is surprisingly surefooted but, when I had to duck the second idiot-piloted vehicle headed sideways towards me, I turned around and drove home. Discretion is the better part of valor.
Merry Somethingmas: Anglican churches are making traditional Christmas carols politically correct by removing words such as "king", "son" and "virgin", it is claimed. Enduring favorites such as 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' are being altered by clergy to make them more "modern and inclusive".
A Church of England vicar has banned his congregation from singing 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' because he believed its words do not reflect the suffering endured by modern residents of Jesus's birthplace.
Another clergyman has rewritten the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' to include Aids victims, drug addicts and hoodies.
Quote Of The Day is from the late Gracie Allen: "I read a book twice as fast as anybody else. First, I read the beginning, and then I read the ending, and then I start in the middle and read toward whatever end I like best."
Wednesday December 17, 2008
A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course, Of Course: Last week, there was a dust-up between Ford and some websites over trademark issues. The sites had been selling Ford-branded merchandise without permission - stuff with Ford's trademarked names and/or logos on them.
During the same time, I received a trade magazine with the announcement of a new plastic sheet material: Mustang. It's got a horse logo but not quite the same as the one used for Ford's ponycar.
Why GM Is Goin' Bust (Reason #964): Ragin' Dave rented a car - a Chevy Aveo. His impressions: "What. A. Piece. Of. Shit. It's a roller-skate with an engine attached. And to top it off, when I started it up this morning, the defrost didn't work. There's no heat. ...
It's uncomfortable to sit in. You feel every damn bump of the road. Suspension sucks. Handling sucks. This is a brand new car, folks! And it's already f**king broken! No wonder these things aren't selling, they're pieces of shit!"
I would guess Dave awarded it zero stars out of five.
"Swans Are Nature's Porsche Drivers": "You know, there was once an ugly duckling who got picked on all of the time by the other ducks, who couldn't understand why the duckling was so ugly." ... More here.
Giants: Car and Driver Editor-in-Chief Csaba Csere is out, after 28 years with the mag. Edward Niedermeyer of TTAC has described Csere as "a giant figure in American automotive journalism."
Meh. My list of such giants is fairly short: John R. Bond, Henry N. Manney III, Peter Egan, Tom McCahill, Walt Woron, L.J.K. Setright, Tom Ryll, Roger Huntington, Michael Lamm and Beverly Rae Kimes.
My non-inclusion of Brock Yates, Jean 'Lindamoose' Jennings, David E. Davis, Tim Howley, John R. Davis, Ken Chester, Jr., C. Van Tune and Ken Purdy is intentional.
Roger Huntington was a pretty amazing guy. At age 15, a swimming accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Roger wrote articles by pecking the keyboard of his electric typewriter with a pencil. He enjoyed attending auto races; in an era when quadriplegics for most part stayed home in their wheelchairs, Roger operated his car with hand controls.
He was a prolific writer, producing engrossing technical articles for Auto Car, Motor Trend, Car Life, Road & Track, Car & Driver, Hot Rod Magazine and others. One of his regular columns appeared for over 15 years in Speed & Custom Dealer.
Think of him as the Charles Krauthammer of the automotive world. I've posted additional thoughts about auto writers here.
Speaking of giants, I have always liked The Truth About Cars and now consider it a Blogosphere Colossus in terms of interesting and intelligently-written automotive news and opinion. Kudos, Mr. Farago and crew. And posters.
Everybody Wants A Bailout ... even Indian automakers. Just-Auto's Big Dog wrote about Tata, Jaguar's new owner, which is pleading for money. Excerpts: "So, they come to the British government with a begging bowl in hand - but hang on, this isn't a business. Toyota and Honda are serious car companies, but JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) is a bit of bling, a rich man's jewelry. If they can show real strategies for the future fine, but Jag burns cash instead of coal and Land Rover is a one trick pony, so that seems very unlikely."
"No, I don't want to pay for Tata's folly. If you acquire status symbols for your own aggrandisement you have to be prepared to pay, so get a very big cheque-book! It seems to me that Ratan Tata has bought himself an early Christmas turkey and as Ford, Mercedes and BMW have all shown - once you've bought a turkey you have only two possible options, feed it or stuff it."
Who Cut The Cheese? There's a different kind of bail-out coagulating in Italy. Producers of parmigiano cheese in the Emilia-Romagna region are smelling the pungent whiff of trouble. Too much capacity; not enough demand.
Sounds very car-like, doesn't it? But, instead of slicing output - cutting the cheese ... so to speak, many are selling their cheese at below cost. Parmigiano makers are now facing the prospect of going out of business. Some are even using their cheese as collateral against bank loans they are using to pay for workers' salaries. Luca Zaia, the big cheese for agriculture in the Italian government, has intervened, announcing an almost $70 mm bail-out for the celebrated formaggio.
The Financial Times notes that "the move has already grated producers of other cheese varieties. Makers of buffalo mozzarella, for instance, fear that without dipping into a fondue of government cash they too may fall by the whey-side."
Three More Dead In Philly: Three longtime community newspapers in Philadelphia were suddenly closed without so much as a word of warning to their readers or employees.
Staffers of the Olney Times, News Gleaner and Northeast Breeze were told all three weekly publications were going to be shut down immediately during an impromptu morning meeting. Owner - the Journal Register Co. of Yardley PA - is $650 million in debt.
I used to ... (more >>>)
Looks Like An Ornament Injection Molded From Crystal Polystyrene: Check out the photomicroscope images of real snow crystals that fell to earth in northern Ontario, Alaska, Vermont, the Michigan Upper Peninsula and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
Ever Wonder What Ever Happened ... to all those cute mortgage broker babes? In an article about prostitution in Las Vegas, an escort agency owner reported that "he's getting about 40 interested applicants every day, the majority of whom are women running from the wreckage of lost finance jobs."
Read the whole thing; it's an interesting example of supply/demand economics.
'Please ... Please ... Don't Hit Me, My Anna': Police were called to '50s crooner Paul Anka's home following a heated argument between 67 year-old Anka and his 38 year-old wife Anna Yeager, a former Miss Sweden who stands nearly a foot taller than ol' Paul.
Anna was arrested on domestic battery charges after striking Paul in the head with a chunk of ice; the wound required two staples to close.
Doesn't exactly sound like Puppy Love to me.
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "It's a small world but I wouldn't want to paint it."
Monday December 15, 2008
'Rescue Me': With apologies to Ms. Fontella Bass, I am just totally sick and tired of this phrase being bandied about in regard to auto industry bailouts. It just seems like a rescue program for incompetent execs and thuggish union bosses. The reforms Senator Corker insisted upon were reasonable; they failed when the UAW refused to agree to wage parity between U.S. automakers and non-union foreign manufactures with plants in the U.S.
On Friday, Bush seemed to undercut the principled stand of the Senate Republicans against the UAW. If TARP funds are released for a car company bailout, it would be a return to the unpopular position of giving money without real conditions.
David Frum has written, "Without much debate, Americans are undertaking a grand, generational commitment. We are redirecting the economy away from competition and toward government oversight on a scale not seen since World War II. We are building a much more tightly concentrated banking system: a few colossal national financial institutions with seat for government at the board table. We are effectively nationalizing the automobile industry. These are steps very easy to take that will be very difficult to undo.
And we are doing it all with trillions of borrowed dollars. These new debts will accrue just as the old debts to finance the retirement of the baby boomers begin to come due."
Let's not 'rescue' companies which may be destined to fail anyway. Let them take their lumps in the marketplace and, if necessary, file Chapter 11 and reorganize. If they're any good (Ford, maybe GM), they'll make a comeback. If not (Chrysler), they'll be forced into a Chapter 7 liquidation and go out of business.
Let the market decide.
How Much Worse Would It Be? Maybe we should let investment bankers build cars and auto workers manage money. (permalink)
Nopar: Key suppliers are putting Chrysler on COD. The end is nigh.
Terminal Condition: 24/7 Wall Street lists ten companies that won't make it through 2009. The list includes Chrysler, Sirius XM, Rite Aid, The New York Times and Pier 1.
Buh-Bye: Advantage Rent A Car has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11. The company only had about 40 locations, many in Texas. I rented from them a couple of times in the 1980s. OK experience but nothing special.
EZ Lube, an automobile oil-change chain with 82 stores in California and Arizona, has declared bankruptcy as well. The Baltimore Opera has also gone bankrupt.
It's not just the U.S. that's suffering. During a recent visit to the London School of Economics, Queen Elizabeth called the financial crisis "awful." The queen has not been completely spared by the credit crunch. Her dressmaker Hardy Amies of Savile Row and favoured porcelain maker Royal Worcester and Spode have both filed for administration, a British form of bankruptcy.
Royal Worcester and Spode employs 388 people in Britain and has a site in New Jersey.
Sir Edwin Hardy Amies, who died in 2003, became famous in 1952 as the man who dressed Princess Elizabeth, as she then was known. The firm's clients have included the actresses Vivien Leigh, Dame Helen Mirren and British rock band The Zutons.
I Hate Change (Reason No. 946): One of South Jersey's most recognized landmarks, Olga's Diner, has closed for good. The iconic Marlton Circle eatery, where Routes 70 and 73 meet, has been closed since October. Owner John Stavros, 77, has finally said he won't reopen and is selling the property.
The reason, in part, is ... (more >>>)
Toy Land: John Derbyshire at NRO has written about a visit to Macy's NYC flagship store. "Inquiring at the entrance, I was told that toys are on the eighth floor. Up the escalators I went. Sure enough, there on the eighth floor was a modest alcove containing piles of teddy bears and a rather unimpressive model train running round and round on a table. On the other side of the alcove was a huge chinaware-and-glass department.
I mooched around a bit, then accosted one of the sales assistants in the teddy-bear alcove.
Me: Excuse me, is this the entire toy department?
She: This is it.
Me: But this is, like, Macy's.
She: I get this a lot.
So there you are. The entire toy department at Macy's - at Macy's! in Herald Square! at Christmas! - is about the size of your kitchen."
He concludes, "Some things endure. Just not toy departments."
Alas, toy departments have shrunk, no longer taking up an entire floor during the season. Santa is no longer found there (he's somewhere in the mall concourse). And there's no monorail to ride.
The Pin-Up and The Jebbie: After you die, I'm not sure if you are judged immediately or if there is some kind of waiting room, especially if heavy traffic backs things up.
I've been imagining Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., scion of a Washington dynasty, and iconic '50s model Bettie Page having coffee together in the green room.
You have to wonder how that conversation might go.
A Phrase You Never Hear Anymore: "If you're calling from a rotary dial phone ..."
Quote Of The Day is from Jay Leno: "The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a Nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin."
Friday December 12, 2008
Service Writers: Is There Anything They Can't Say With A Straight Face? Last week, we took the Avalon in for its 30,000 mile service. We patronize a Toyota dealer in case there's ever a problem with engine-oil sludge. Then we'll be able to say that the car was properly serviced by an authorized dealer and can provide documentation for any post-warranty claim.
We wanted the standard 'by the book' service. Without even looking at our car - much less actually starting and driving it, the service technician said, "With the gas around here, we should probably do a fuel injector cleaning."
The first images that came to my mind were the various videos I've seen of AK-47-toting terrorists riding around in the beds of Toyota pickups in Afghanistan, Somalia and other nasty spots. I bet the gas Around Here is a lot cleaner and more refined than the gas Over There. Probably contains less sand and dust as well. Yet, the insurgents' Toyota engines never seem to stall or misfire.
I can't imagine a service writer Over There saying to some fellow carrying an Igla-2M heat-seeking SAM launcher on his shoulder, "Now, Azam, I am recommending that you get your fuel injectors back-washed. After all, fast acceleration and maneuverability are important when being targeted by a missile-equipped drone."
Our Avalon runs fine and its engine has never missed a beat. It starts right up every time. In my opinion, absent any symptoms, injector cleanings are unneeded and just a way for the dealer to put an extra $50 to $100 on the bill.
So I said, "No." But I'm considering putting a fatwa on the service writer. (permalink)
Two Bite The Dust: Two Portland-area car dealers are history. Premiere Ford in Gladstone shut down last Friday, putting 56 people out of work. Beaverton Mitsubishi is also closing, idling another 45.
Whistling Past The Graveyard: If you're feeling optimistic about Detroit's automakers after all the spin at last week's bailout hearings, remember this quote from Robert Laughna, Division Manager of Packard Motor Car Co., from April 1956: "We know the comeback trail is tough and uphill, but we believe we're tough enough to keep taking those upward steps."
Oh No! Where Will I Get Discounted Hot Wheels Cars? KB Toys has filed for bankruptcy protection and plans to begin going-out-of business sales at its stores immediately. The 86-year-old toy retailer, which has 460 locations, claims that its demise is ''directly attributable to a sudden and sharp decline in consumer sales'' because of the poor economy.
A toy retailer filing for bankruptcy just before Christmas shows how bleak things have become, since such stores make up to half of their sales during the holidays.
Why isn't Barney Frank calling for a toy car bailout?
Just Wondering: Exactly when did order takers stop saying "the computer is down" and replace it with "the system is down"? (permalink)
Of His Many Crimes ... Governor Blagojevich not only tried to auction off Obama's Senate seat, he also stole Donny Osmond's 1976 hair. Or maybe it was the little Lego guy's hair.
Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum: Office Depot plans to close 126 underperforming retail stores. It also plans to close six of its 33 distribution facilities in North America and will cut 2,200 jobs.
Unless I look at the sign outside, I can never tell if I'm in an Office Depot, OfficeMax or Staples. They all seem the same to me: dull, confusing layouts, aisles rearranged every time I go there (so that I can never find anything) and unhelpful, ignorant staff.
Show Me The $$$: New data shows that U.S. internet users watched more than 15 billion videos last month. Almost 40% of those were watched on Google sites, mostly YouTube. The search company as much as admits that it has not come up with a way to make money on this business.
Business model, please?
Bye Bye England: Oxford University Press has removed words like 'aisle', 'bishop', 'chapel', 'empire' and 'monarch' from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like 'blog', 'broadband' and 'celebrity'. Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.
The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that "Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society."
Another Sign That The World Is Going To Hell: A Dutch gay group has organized a 'Pink Christmas' festival for the first time in Amsterdam, featuring a manger stall with two Josephs and two Marys.
Quote Of The Day is from the late Senator Everett Dirksen on Congressional spending: "A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you're talking real money."
Wednesday December 10, 2008
Journey From Saturn: Over at TTAC, Edward Niedermeyer has written, "It should be fairly obvious by now that Saturn is a dead brand walking." Well, you sure won't get any argument from me.
Mr. Niedermeyer adds, "Saturn has no dedicated manufacturing or engineering facilities, let alone a brand with any remaining cachet. In fact, at this point Saturn is pretty much just a bunch of low-traffic dealerships and a few guys bolting badges onto Opels." Saturn presently has 425 dealers.
The reasons behind Saturn's demise are many but a significant one comes from a good friend of mine who 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 ol' Roger was gone.
Sounds Machiavellian - exactly the kind of thing that would happen in a big, infighting-filled organization like GM.
My daughter purchased a brand new Saturn SC coupe in 1993. The car was never Toyota or Honda-like in quality; it was tinny and rattly from the get go. The engine was buzzy and noisy. And got worse as it aged, presenting a myriad of problems. She ditched it after 10 years and 135,000 miles - by that time, many, many components and trim items had gone south.
The SC, like all Saturns of the era, had wider-than-normal panel gaps to handle the expansion/contraction of the plastic exterior panels. But the next-gen Saturn - the Ion - was even 'gappier'. So much for 'continuous improvement'.
In 2003, I wrote to a friend that "the new Saturns are really junk. In the interests of decontenting, they have gotten rid of the four-wheel disc brakes and independent rear suspension in favor of the cheaper, but soooo very 1960s, drum brakes and solid beam rear axle. And they're using a lot of Chevy parts in it to save money. It has now lost almost all of its distinction and Saturn-ness. What's the point of even offering this brand of car?"
The '93 Saturn was replaced by a new Honda CR-V, which now has over 65,000 miles on it. The Honda still looks, feels and rides like new. My daughter loves it; I won't be surprised if her next vehicle is another Honda. (permalink)
Want Something Red For Christmas? You might be able to get a deal on a new Ferrari. Global sales dropped from almost 600 a month to just 92 cars in November. Sales of the V12-powered Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and Ferrari 599 Fiorano have effectively stalled.
Ferrari will also shut its Maranello production plant for an unprecedented 20 days over Christmas, which sources insist will be to prevent vehicle stockpiles reaching unmanageable levels.
Just Wondering: Does the Pope's speedometer have Roman numerals? (permalink)
Collateralize: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is against the auto bailout, remarking that such action that would fall outside its traditional duties and suggesting options including a bankruptcy reorganization. He notes that it's ''unclear'' whether the companies have strong enough collateral for the Fed to lend to them. And ... the "critical unknown" in the automakers' plans is "their ability to develop and produce vehicles that the public wants to buy."
A poster on Lucianne offered this suggestion: "Let the senators and congressmen who want to vote for the bailout put up their seats as collateral. If it fails, they resign."
Congressional Irony: Isn't it odd that certain members of Congress are worried that, if the Detroit three go belly-up, we'll all be buying Hondas or Toyotas and all the profits will go to Japan, our friendly ally?
Yet, they seem to be totally unconcerned that, every day, billions of oil dollars flow from the U.S. to the Middle East where they are used to fund terrorism. These same politicians routinely block efforts to drill offshore in U.S. waters, drill ANWR or even place some windmills within 50 miles of the Kennedy compound, lest they disturb America's royalty.
Broken News: The Tribune Co., the Chicago-based media company - whose properties include the LA Times, Los Angeles television station KTLA, Chicago station WGN, the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise, Wrigley Field and the Chicago Tribune, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The firm owns eight daily newspapers, including the Baltimore Sun, Sun Sentinel (South Florida), Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Newsday (NY), Morning Call (Allentown, PA) and Daily Press (Newport News, VA), and 23 television stations, including Portland's KRCW (Channel 32, a WB affiliate).
In related news, the New York Times has mortgaged its 52-story mid-Manhattan headquarters in order to cover its cash needs. (permalink)
Ice Cream Story: Just before Thanksgiving, we had friends over to see the train layout. Like us, they grew up in Philadelphia. Looking at the theme of the layout, they asked, "Where's the Breyers sign?" The company's ice cream signs were everywhere in Philly. I think almost every little corner store and luncheonette had one hung outside ... (more >>>)
Nom De Plumage: The University of Washington has changed the name of its 'College of Architecture and Urban Planning' to 'College of Built Environments'. Dean Daniel S. Friedman says that the college is increasingly focused on sustainable practices and environmental quality, and that the new name is a way of making that official. Sez the Dean, "College of Built Environments better reflects our core responsibility to 21st century challenges - urbanization, climate change and livable communities."
Charles Hill (aka - Dustbury) quipped, "I'm waiting for some enterprising J-school to rename itself College of Bullshit Propagation."
Last Week Was A Pretty Good One: With any luck, we'll never hear from O.J. or Al Franken again.
Quote Of The Season is from Francis W. Porretto of Eternity Road, a site I highly recommend: "To all the foaming-at-the-mouth left-liberals, Obama worshippers, devotees of James Wolcott and militant anti-theists who read these scribblings for their chuckle value:
Merry Christmas, and may the miracle of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind, fill you with joy and peace throughout the holiday season and the year to come.
In place of another electronic gadget, consider getting yourself a life."
Monday December 8, 2008
The Name Game: Ford has announced that the Taurus X and the Mercury Sable will be discontinued in Spring of 2009. Originally launched in 2004 as the Ford Freestyle and Mercury Montego, the duo received negligible critical acclaim, little publicity and were mostly seen hanging around rental car lots.
Clueless as to what to do next, Ford gave them new names in 2007.
In 1964, Shirley Ellis sang: "I say now let's play a game ... I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name ... Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley ... Fee fy mo Mirley ... Shirley!"
Nice song but The Name Game doesn't usually fix anything in real life. I mean, they changed Bombay to Mumbai and look how that worked out ... not.
Same with Burma: Burma, Burma bo Murma Monana fanna fo Furma ... fee fy fo ... Myanmar!
"May Your Days Be Merry And Bright": Our Christmas tree is now decorated and lit. The tree adds much needed brightness and cheer to the dark, rainy days typical of Pacific Northwest winters.
As I grow older, I find that various tree ornaments - added over the years - bring back pleasant memories. Each one has a story to tell.
The oldest decoration on our tree is an injection molded, ivory-colored, translucent polystyrene cathedral. Mass produced shortly after World War II, it was a dime store purchase. It has a large rounded slot on the bottom so that if can fit over a tree light and be backlit.
In its early years, the structure could be found on various Christmas train platforms my dad built. It's not on the 1947 one though; the cathedral was probably purchased the following year.
The church itself is a generic design, adapting elements of the great cathedrals of Cologne, Notre Dame, Truro and Washington's National Cathedral. At age 60, it is in fine shape - aging gracefully - and has been accorded a place of honor on our tree. (permalink)
How To Piss Off Good Employees In A Single Step: Hewlett-Packard has frozen worker salaries in a cost containment move.
Bloomberg has reported that employees were notified by e-mail that there won't be pay increases in the fiscal year that began in November.
All Christmas parties have been canceled as well. Bah, humbug.
The Bank Moved Their Loans To The 'Work Out Dept.': Chicago-based health club company Bally Total Fitness has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Quote Of The Day is from Don Luskin's fine blog: "Christmas is when kids tell Santa what they want, and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want, and their kids pay for it."
Friday December 5, 2008
A Simple Plan: In the 1970s, there was a real estate column carried in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I can't remember the writer's name - he was a local property consultant - but he was very readable and answered people's questions with intelligence and humor, offering creative solutions to difficult problems.
A reader asked for advice about an apartment he had inherited. It seems that, over the years, the neighborhood had gone bad. Tenants trashed the place, refused to pay rent and the legal eviction process was cumbersome and ineffective.
The local police were no help and those very freeloader tenants who trashed the place reported the landlord to the housing commission for violations. Fines were levied with a promise of more to come. The building had become a worthless, uninsurable, unsalable and uninhabitable money pit. "What should I do?" he asked.
The real estate guru replied, "Find a homeless person with verifiable identification. Pay him $20, $250 or $2,500 - whatever your conscience dictates. Have your attorney draw up papers and sell him the building, including all liabilities, for $1. That will take the building our of your hands and the housing commission will have to deal with the homeless guy."
I was reminded of this story when I read about all the encumbrances placed on General Motors - dealer franchise agreements, retired employee costs, burdensome UAW contracts, the Jobs Bank, etc. Maybe GM should sell Buick, Pontiac and/or Saab to some homeless people.
Or ... find somebody gullible with money. That's how Daimler got rid of Chrysler, right? Oh, wait ... "somebody gullible with money" ... ummm, that would also describe Congress. Ooops.
Two Bobs: I caught some of the Congressional hearings on Thursday. Senator Bob Corker, who obviously Gets It, nailed Bob Nardelli - head of Chrysler, asking, "Why is Chrysler asking for money when it is owned by a private equity group with deep pockets? Why should the taxpayer pay for something that its own owner won't pay for?"
According to Larry Kudlow, Sen. Corker wants "a deal where, first, carmakers must restructure all their debt at some price, perhaps 30 cents on the dollar. But the bond owners must be satisfied so the government doesn’t have to pick up the tab. Second, Mr. Corker wants carmakers to get their worker-compensation levels exactly equal to those of the Japanese transplants in Detroit south. That means about $48 total hourly labor costs. GM's labor costs were $73 in 2006, an estimated $69 in 2008, and are projected to be $62 in 2010. This, of course, includes pension and health benefits. If these two conditions are satisfied, Mr. Corker then believes some kind of government loan might be granted."
"Give Me What I Want Or I'll Kill Myself": Formerly-sane Toyota spokesman, Jim Press - now Chrysler's vice chairman and official mouthpiece - is sounding more like a suicidal Britney Spears: If we don't get cash, we go under.
He added for emphasis, "If we have a catastrophic failure of one of these car companies, in this tender environment for the economy, it's a huge blow. It could trigger a depression."
As David Lee Roth used to sing, "Go ahead and jump. Jump!"
Vehicle Sighting: On Wednesday, I spotted one of the six Oscar Mayer Wienermobiles in existence headed south on I-5 just south of Salem, Oregon.
We had driven down to Eugene to get my Lexus serviced. The dealer gave us a courtesy car - a Lexus IS 350 sedan. It was nicely appointed, peppy and it rode and handled well. At only 180 inches long, it was easy to park. It was the first car I've driven with a backup camera - a nice feature.
My only complaint is that I found the car a little tight in the headroom department.
Afterlife: Do you ever wonder what's it's like? Malachi Ward provides the answer with a map of Heaven. When you get there, don't forget to visit America Land. Don't miss the Arena of Answers. And stop by the Damned Viewer and feel smug. See you at the awesome go-cart track.
Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum, Wie Grün Sind Deine Blätter: Greg Gutfeld notes the annual ritual of the lighting of the giant Christmas tree in New York's Rockefeller Center. This year, the tree "will be lit with earth-friendly bulbs ... 30,000 energy-efficient LED lights." Greg quipped that "this is the equivalent of Kirstie Alley ordering four Big Macs, and then washing it down with diet Coke."
"Look, imagine what it takes to bring a tree the size of an apartment building from New Jersey, where the 77 year-old spruce grew up. The tree requires a custom made telescoping trailer, as well as a huge crew to make sure the tree arrives in one piece. The damn thing is also sporting a 750-pound star made of 25,000 Swarovski crystals roughly the size of Joy Behar's housecoat."
"It's yet another example of how the green movement is a stupid joke an ideology for idiots, where symbolism trumps substance - and feeling good is all that matters, even if that good feeling has no basis in reality."
"Let's be frank: if you really believe in being "green," then you wouldn't have the tree lighting service to begin with. You'd declare it an "outrage," then replace it with a hand-holding ceremony and a pagan prayer recited by a naked Ed Begley, Jr."
In my high school German class, just to taunt our teacher, Father Pichla, we used to sing, "Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum, How Full Is Your Bladder."
Quote Of The Day: If you can't afford it, you don't deserve it.
Wednesday December 3, 2008
The Cooler The Cars You Make ... the more your company will be worth (via Mark Perry). Market capitalization of General Motors: $3.2 billion. Market capitalization of Mattel (makes Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Tyco R/C cars): $4.9 billion.
Truck Tribute: Dan Neil really likes the '09 Ford F-150 pick 'em up and declares that the 2009 model is "vastly better than anything else in its class."
But he wants some new, dramatic commercials: "Can we see how many unsold copies of the new Guns 'N Roses album 'Chinese Democracy' the new F-150 can hold? (Not nearly enough.) Can we see a truck grinding up Pike's Peak pulling a trailer full of deposed congressmen stacked like cordwood? Can two Ford pickups tug Madonna's face any tighter?"
He noted, "A $100 bill weighs 1 gram. The new F-150 has class-leading hauling capacity of 3,030 pounds. It would take a fleet of 181 F-150s to transport $25 billion in bailout money from the nation's capital to Dearborn, MI."
Nobody's Buying Nuttin': November car sales were lousy across the board for all automakers. Unlike other months, where one might have made a case for 'People Have Given Up On Detroit & Are Buying Import Brands', every carmaker suffered during the past month. People aren't purchasing much of anything; they are fearful of the economy. Tight credit has simply exacerbated the problem.
U.S. sales of cars and light trucks dropped to 746,789 in November after falling below the 1 million threshold in September for the first time in 15 years. It marked the thirteenth consecutive monthly sales decline.
On a population-adjusted basis, the results were the worst in a half century for the U.S. auto industry. Of the giants, Ford Motor Co. and Honda USA suffered the least pain.
Ford tumbled 31 percent in November. Toyota dropped 34 percent - despite (or maybe because of) those incredibly annoying Save On Zero commercials. General Motors reported a 41 percent drop, despite the return of Red Toe Tag Sale. Chrysler was off 47%. (If ChryCo's been having a sale, I don't know anything about it. There are zero Mopar tv ads in my neck-o-the-woods.) Honda was down 31%; Acura dropped 39%. Sales of the new Accord were off by 38%. Hyundai was down by 40%. The Nissan brand declined 44 percent.
Mercury brand sales fell 41% but Lincoln sales declined a mere 8%, helped by increased sales of the old Town Car and the new MKS sedan. Meanwhile, Cadillac sales were off by 48%, Pontiac 53% and Saab 58%.
Lexus sales were down 40%; the flagship LS sedan fell 52% - only 1,272 were sold. BMW was off 36%; Mercedes was down 38%. Infiniti sales dropped by 'only' 28%.
Toyota Avalon sales dropped 62% to 2,502 units; that model was not part of the aforementioned 0% financing campaign. Neither was Prius and its sales were off by 48%. Subaru was only down by 8% and Mini actually gained sales over last November.
Affluent Affected: Rolls Royce plans to cut production; the luxury car maker found it is no longer immune from the effects of the financial crisis. The company admitted that demand had been "softening" in recent months as even the super-rich have felt the pinch. It is on course to sell more than the 1,010 cars it achieved last year, but the order book for the New Year is far less encouraging, forcing Rolls Royce to take what it described as "prudent" measures. Bentley is hurting, too. After topping 10,000 sales for the first time in 2007, '08 sales have dropped by 30%.
Pulped: Magazine publisher Source Interlink has shuttered five specialty car mags recently: Turbo, Sport Compact Car, Traction, Siphon and Modified Luxury Exotics. I've never heard of any of them, even though Turbo has been around for 23 years.
Through the first three quarters of 2008, automotive advertising is down 23.6% compared to last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. That's more than any other category they measure.
Train Update: Over the weekend, I've made a number of updates to my train layout site, with new photos on almost every page, starting here. I've added an additional page of photos here. And replaced the old aerial photo with a new, clearer digital one.
Blue Christmas: 24/7 Wall Street has just released a list of retailers "who may not see 2009", noting that "retailers who need access to capital for inventory, rent and personnel costs are finding that it is nearly impossible to get access to funds without a pristine balance sheet and a history of substantial positive cash flow. These troubles point to a number of other retail chains going out of business between now and early next year."
The list includes ... (more >>>)
Shoulda Looked There Last Year: According to some old papers found in the top drawer of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. economy has been in a recession since December 2007.
In the same drawer were some old WW II ration books, two 1943 steel pennies, a large pearl-tipped ladies hatpin, a carnival glass candy dish, a red shirt button and the key to a '76 Volkswagen Scirocco. (permalink)
Cleverness Is No Guarantee Of Success: The mysterious yet insightful Spengler from the Asia Times dares to mention, "One wants to ask the Wall Street wizards who comprise the talent pool for the incoming administration, "If you so smart, how come you ain't rich no more?" Manhattan's toniest private schools, harder to get into than Harvard, quietly are looking for full-tuition pupils now that the children of sacked Wall Street bankers are departing for public schools in cheaper suburbs." ...
"The cleverest people in the United States, the Ivy-pedigreed investment bankers, have fouled their own nests as well as their own net worth, and persuaded the taxpayers to bail them out. If these are the best and the brightest of 2008, America is in very deep trouble." ...
"Without leverage, the clever folk around Barack Obama are fleas without a dog. None of them invented anything, introduced an important new product, opened a new market, or did anything that reached into the lives of ordinary people. They wore expensive cufflinks, read balance sheets, exercised regularly, sat on philanthropic boards, and assumed that their flea's ride on the Reagan dog would last forever."
"All they knew was leverage, and now that the world is de-levering, they are trying to put leverage back into the system. One almost can hear Mortimer Duke, Don Ameche's character in Trading Places, shouting, "Now, you listen to me! I want trading reopened right now. Get those brokers back in here! Turn those machines back on!" Of course, nothing excludes the possibility that Obama's team will come up with something constructive. But there is no reason to expect a drastic change from the crisis response of the same sort of people (starting with Treasury Secretary Paulson) in the Bush administration. They will bail out incompetent, failing firms and drop money from helicopters and call it a stimulus package. And it will turn out no better than it did for the humiliated Republicans."
Be Happy: Victor David Hanson has written that "that critics on the hard Left continue to lack humor; when they should be ecstatic with the triumph of Obama and the new majority in the Congress, they seem instead curiously consumed by their petty anger and bitterness. And now even the ritual totem George Bush is gone at which to chant and revile. No matter; this is a wonderful country and we are so lucky to be alive in the here and now in the United States."
And furthermore ... Morgan Freeberg added: "We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, here, to see how our liberals behave when everything is going their way. They're still pissing and moaning. Complaining liberals are all around us. There's no reason for it at all, and still they complain. The issue now is that there's too long of a wait between now and January 20. That's it in a nutshell, I think: Always one revolution away from happiness. Always." ...
"Liberals scrape the bottom of the thankfulness barrel much quicker than conservatives do. Even when everything is going the liberals' way."
Quote Of The Day is from Rita Rudner: "Marrying a divorced man is ecologically responsible. In a world where there are more women than men, it pays to recycle."
Monday December 1, 2008
Proof That People Still Have Too Much Money: Regardless of the economy and/or the stock market, people are still buying stuff like this from Hammacher Schlemmer:
$1,500 and it doesn't even have a battery. (But I guess it's still a bargain compared to ... say ... the Chevy Volt.) Hard to blame HS, though. They know their customers and are successful at what they do.
The company has been in business continuously since 1848. In 1878, the firm was among the first companies to install a telephone in their store as well as one of the original subscribers to the Bell Telephone Directory, setting a precedence of innovation.
In 1988, Hammacher Schlemmer became one of the first retailers to go on the Internet with CompuServe. (permalink)
Myopic Overregulation: Jeremy Clarkson has written that today's government bureaucrats are wrecking the auto business. Excerpts: "... while an old-fashioned socialist would have put the needs of the workers before the composition of the gas in the upper atmosphere, we are currently being ruled by a bunch of new-age communists, who almost certainly sat there saying, "Yes, I'm sure it's all very sad, the destruction of the motor industry, but we've promised the electorate a cut of 80% in carbon emissions so your death is probably for the best." ... And now, as a result, Britain's car industry will soon join the mines and the steelworks in the chapter headed Something We Used to Do Before It Was Ruined by Communists."
I'm No Fan Of Applebee's ... but, if you don't like their food because it's too fattening, ... hello! ... don't eat there. Did you really expect something called a fajita grande to be low fat? And, yes, a baked potato has relatively few calories but not when you half-drown it in sour cream, cheese and diced-up bacon, you flabby, drooling moron.
Greg Gutfeld is right when he wrote, "And here, my friends - is one of the reasons why our country is in bad shape. Because for every business that's trying to do something positive - there are at least five pointless chuckleheads trying to sue it because their expectations are disappointed. Add to that the roach-like annoyance of smarmy consumer reporters - those worthless tools who congratulate themselves every time they humiliate a dry cleaner because the poor guy - who works 100 hours a week - forgot to starch a shirt - and you're now living in a world where it's just not worth it to make a living at all.
We have created a nation not of doers, but of "sue-ers," people who devote their energies not to making things that improve our surroundings, but filing motions that serve only to drag us down and dissuade people from taking risks."
Quack Attack: I watched (in hi-def on the new plasma tv) the Oregon State University Beavers get pounded by the University of Oregon Ducks during the 2008 Civil War game Saturday. There were a lot of exciting plays.
With a final score of 65-38, the Ducks all but crushed the Beav's Rose Bowl hopes. It was the highest-scoring game in the 100+ year Civil War rivalry. OSU had a very weak defense and the Jeramiahs from UO were on fire - Jeremiah Masoli completed 11 of 17 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns for the Ducks. Jeremiah Johnson ran for 219 yards and a score.
The Truth Is Out There .... Not: Gregory Sullivan, the proprietor of Sippican Cottage, has written, "The internet is a sewer, and you guys are trying to salmon fish in it. There is no "fact," never mind opinion, that I can't find on the internet in five minutes flat, with annotated footnotes. The fact could be aliens made crop circles to Donald Rumsfeld shot Kennedy, doesn't matter, it's out there."
Holiday Fact: The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.