Wednesday January 14, 2009
"When You Get Caught Between The Moon And New York City ...." There's a scene in the 1981 movie, Arthur, where Dudley Moore's character says to Liza Minnelli's character, "It won't be easy, because I'll be poor."
Fast forward to 2009. In an interview recently, Bob Lutz - GM car guru (aka - Maximum Bob) - said, "I've never quite been in this situation before of getting a massive pay cut, no bonus, no longer allowed to stay in decent hotels, no corporate airplane. I have to stand in line at the Northwest counter. I've never quite experienced this before."
Let's hope that ol' Bob gets a real dose of reality, when he has to actually rent and pay for one of those shitbox GM rental cars. Here's an example ...
Making An Impression: A business friend, who is on his second Lexus, rented a Chevy Trailblazer during a recent trip.
"What a piece of crap," he told me. "The headliner was loose and flimsy, the thing rattled and squeaked and, for its size, it wasn't very roomy. The materials seemed very cheesy and cheap. No wonder nobody wants to buy GM cars. I read all this stuff about their cars being every bit as good as imports these days. Based on all my recent rental experiences, that's a bunch of hogwash. I'm probably going to buy a new car this year; I guess I'll be traipsing back to the Lexus dealer."
My friend and I both judge manufacturers by their rental cars. Every Chrysler product I've rented in the last 30 years has been a disappointment - some problem or other. My experience with GM cars is better than with Chrysler but not by much. I've had issues with 70% of the GM models I've rented. Toyotas and Nissans: no problems ... ever.
Probably Only Three People On The Planet Will Be Interested ... in this, and I may be optimistic. Marching orders from Dustbury: "Go into your archives and post the first sentence from the first post you made each month last year." Well, he did it for his site. So, here's mine:
1/08: I don't care if it's super fast and super sporty; the Nissan GT-R is ugly.
2/08: SL - no, it's not a Mercedes sports car; it's the Stoplight Lottery.
3/08: It doesn't matter that I just bought a new car; I don't care if the Bentley Zagato GTZ is basically a VW Phaeton under its sexy skin. (I still want one.)
4/08: I first wrote this fictitious story as a contribution to a car club's April newsletter in 1989. (The Chuffley Waite Affair)
5/08: According to the latest issue of Model Auto Review, legendary diecast toy car maker Corgi International, whose shares were valued at over $50 in 2003 and $6.63 a year ago, have dropped even more precipitously of late. (The stock was then trading at a mere $1.10.)
6/08: The Atlantic Oil Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used to sell Hi-Arc brand gasoline.
7/08: The 1949 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon weighed 4,500 pounds; Buick ads hyped "honest heft that levels the miles with majestic smoothness."
8/08: Many auto industry observers believe that Rick Wagoner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, is running the company into the ground. (I provided a transcript of his possible successor's job interview.)
9/08: Studebaker failed because ... (three reasons cheerfully provided).
10/08: Jeeeez, I take a few weeks off and the world financial markets collapse, the Dow drops faster than Lindsay Lohan's undies after an evening of binge drinking, new car sales fall to levels not seen since the days of the notorious GM X-cars and Supertramp, General Motors and Chrysler start holding merger talks (What?! How's that gonna work? They're both broke, so what will they use to buy each other? Space-saver spare tires? Chrome door pulls? Windshield wipers?) and Edie Adams dies.
11/08: Over the weekend, we celebrated our daughter's birthday; I gave her a car - a 1:18 scale model of her favorite classic marque, Packard.
12/08: Regardless of the economy and/or the stock market, people are still buying stuff like this (a $1,500 child's pedal car) from Hammacher Schlemmer.
By the way, the headlines make my blog seem even more car-centric because I only post once on any given day and arrange postings so that the vehicular stuff is first.
Something Else To Worry About: Malcolm Berko has written about the "near-certain collapse of the commercial real estate bubble. Huge companies like Sears Holdings Corp., Office Depot Inc., Starbucks Corp, The Home Depot Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., and Chicago Title are vacating their leases, and branch banks are closing their windows."
"Small, neighborhood strip centers are losing tenants and vacancy signs are sprouting like weeds. Commercial vacancy rates in New York City are expected to exceed 18 percent in 2009, Dallas expects 22 percent, metropolitan Chicago 18 percent, Atlanta expects 20 percent, and Phoenix expects commercial vacancy rates to exceed 21 percent.
Foreclosures last year were up 30 percent from 2007, and that number is expected to move higher this year. Huge, debt-laden shopping mall developers like General Growth Properties can't meet their loan obligations and many smaller, well-known developers like Florida's Sembler & Co. are holding a fraying rope."
"Many of the large commercial real estate investment trusts are foundering, and others could founder. Banks are reluctant to extend loan agreements because property values are significantly lower than loan amounts. Cash flows cannot meet mortgage payments. The only solution is twofold: The lenders must take equity interests in the properties in lieu of some payments, or borrowers must enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings."
The Big Picture: Roger Ebert has written: "There are nuclear weapons in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent and if one is used, more will follow and who can say when the devastation will end? ... If you are a member of the U.S. Congress, you should not give a damn if you are a Democrat or a Republican.
You should discard ideology and partisanship. You should be searching only for what works, or gives promise of working. You should be listening to the best counsel of the wisest people you can find. This is no time for playing to the crowd. That is all over with. This is the hour to seek what might lead us back from the brink." (hat tip - The Anchoress)
Over My Dead Body: Obama wants to eliminate Medicare Advantage. Watch nine million seniors - including me - fight back.
How Wisely Does Your State ... spend its money? Is it better or worse than others? The John Locke Foundation has released a 'return-on-taxpayer-investment scorecard'.
You can download the pdf report and see how your state ranks.
Hee, Hee. British money always makes me chuckle, like seeing a cow wearing galoshes. That's why I used to watch Monty Python.
Here's the headline from The Daily Mail: 'Pound shop forced to close after 99p Store opens across the road'. Story: "A pound shop has been put out of business - by a rival 99 pence store. Thrifty shoppers began bypassing Pound World when the competitive shop opened directly opposite."
Just wait until the 'Quid Less A Half-a Dozen Farthings' Outlet comes to town.
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane."
Monday January 12, 2009
Conceptual Thinking: Once upon a time, auto manufacturers used to try and outdo each other with outrageous, envelope-pushing dream cars. But the lousy economy has made everyone a pragmatist. Only about a dozen concept cars are scheduled to be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show next week, down significantly from 25 last year and 23 in 2007.
Several carmakers (Nissan, Suzuki, Porsche, Land Rover) skipped the Detroit Show altogether this year. The substandard exhibit hall, high cost, oft-inhospitable weather and lessening role of Motown in the world of vehicles are all contributors.
Malibu Stacy: Now With New Hat! The 2010 Toyota Camry is unveiled.
Answering The Question Absolutely No One Asked: The Lincoln Concept C. When I saw it, my first thought was 'French clown car'. Needs some polka dots as additional style accents.
Car Sighting: Spotted my first Toyota Venza - a white one - last week in Portland. It's not my cup of tea but it looks much better in person than in the photos.
"Good Night, Mrs. Calabash, Wherever You Are." Motorcyclists in Nigeria have been wearing dried pumpkin shells on their heads to dodge new laws forcing them to wear helmets. Calabashes are dried pumpkin shells more commonly used to carry liquid.
Road safety officials said calabash-wearers would be prosecuted.
"Everybody Wants Ta Get Inta Da Act!" Thus spake the late, great Jimmy Durante. The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, a small line in Clark County WA, wants $5.8 million for a plan that "would create jobs."
The rickety little rail line, which runs from Lake Vancouver to Battle Ground, has gone begging for state subsidies one year after another. Now, county commissioners put $5.8 million in improvements at the top of the wish list they plan to send to Washington, D.C. for consideration as part of the president-elect's proposed $800 million stimulus package.
Unlike the other projects, the rail line's boosters say their project would "feed industrial employers," resulting in new, permanent jobs.
Baloney. It's pure pork. (permalink)
Middle East Welfare Queens ... and a lot of them are guys: John Derbyshire has no sympathy for Palestinians. "The Palestinians are Arabs; and the Arabs, whatever their medieval achievements (as best I can understand, they were mainly achievements of transmission - "Arabic" numerals, for example, came from India) are politically hopeless. Who can dispute this? Look at the last 50-odd years, since the colonial powers left."
"What have the Arabs accomplished? What have they built? Where in the Arab world is there a trace or a spark of democracy? Of constitutionalism? Of laws independent of the ruler's whim? Of free inquiry? Of open public debate? Where in your house is there any article stamped "Made in Syria?" Arabs can be individually very charming and capable, and perform very well in free societies like the U.S.A. There are at least two recent Nobel prizes with Arab names attached. Collectively, though, as nations, the Arabs are no-hopers."
"If you go to the UNRWA website (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), you will see how proud they are of having fed, clothed, sheltered, educated and cared for the Palestinian refugees of 1948... and their children... and their grandchildren. The number of people UNRWA cares for has gone from 600,000 in 1948 to nearly four million today. Now, I understand that the prime impulse of bureaucracies, especially welfare bureaucracies, is the consolidation and expansion of their turf, and a steady increase in the number of their "clients"; but this is ridiculous."
I would point out that the UNRWA site states: "Originally envisaged as a temporary organization, the Agency has gradually adjusted its programmes to meet the changing needs of the refugees." Aha. Perpetuating the bureaucracy, eh? Obviously, the United Nations could use some Sunset Laws. And some balls.
Derbyshire continues, "I spent some of my formative years in Hong Kong, a barren piece of rock with zero natural resources, under foreign occupation, chock-full of refugees from the Mao tyranny. The people there weren't lounging in UNRWA camps or making suicide runs at the governor's mansion. They were trading, building, speculating, manufacturing, working - with the result that Hong Kong is now a glittering modern city filled with well-dressed, well-educated, well-fed people, proud of what they have accomplished together, and with a higher standard of living than Britain herself. If, following the Oslo accords or for that matter, in the 20 years of Jordanian occupation - the Palestinians had taken that route, had set aside their fantasies of revenge and massacre, and concentrated on building up something worth having, I might have respect for them. As it is, I don't."
"The good people of Hong Kong should go down on their knees every night and thank God that there was no UNRWA in the colony in 1949. So, come to think of it, should the German and East European refugees who flooded into Western Europe after WWII. (I have seen the number 14 million somewhere - the Sudeten Germans alone numbered three million. Where are the festering camps? Where are the suicide bombers?)"
There's a lot more and I recommend that you read the article in its entirety. Thanks to Mr. Derbyshire for writing it. All I can say is, "Me too." And to every male Palestinian, "Stop whining. Get a life. Get a job. Make your 'country' a place that will make its neighbors envious and your children proud. Man up."
CSI Scranton: Yaaaaaaaaaaa!
OFWG Alert: Greg Gutfeld observed the audience at a band reunion (The Police), "featuring all pudgy, balding white people, swaying, dancing in an orgy of self-congratulation. It reminded me that nostalgia is worse than porn."
These are the same OFWGs (Old Fat White Guys) who overpay for badly-restored Mustangs and Camaros at auctions and collector car 'dealers'. And buy cheesy reproductions of period Coke signs as well as movie and concert posters from their 'youth'.
OK. I admit it. I have a few tin repro signs. Some car posters and lithos. And enough other nostalgibles to fill a couple of large Dumpsters. Sigh. (permalink)
Book Report: 'Liberal Fascism' by Jonah Goldberg. I finally finished this 400+ page tome. I began reading it in early August and had struggled through it. This was not because it's a poorly-written or dull book. Rather, it was because the information presented was so dense. I would read a few pages and then have to stop and absorb the facts and ideas therein. And mutter 'Holy Cow' a lot. (Perhaps I'm the one who is dense.)
The book changed the way I think about history and fascism - a word tossed around loosely these days as a vague tyrannical insult.
Goldberg makes a compelling ... (more >>>)
Rest In Peace: Cheryl Holdridge, once the little blond Mouseketeer with the big smile, has died of lung cancer at age 64.
She was married to wealthy auto racer Lance Reventlow, who died in a plane crash in 1972.
Quote Of The Day is from Norman R. Augustine: "The optimum committee has no members."
Friday January 9, 2009
Buick's Chinese Fire Drill: Ever since the 1990s, when its sales went in the tank, Buick has been "reinventing itself." The phrase is trumpeted every time a new model is announced. Venerable designations Electra, Roadmaster, Rivera, Park Avenue (named after Caroline Kennedy's address, I believe) and LeSabre have been replaced by Enclave and LaCrosse. And Lucerne, which is also a Swiss city and Safeway's house brand of milk ... (more >>>)
Swoopy Semantics: Dan Neil has written about coupe sedans, vehicles which blur the line between coupe and sedan - like the Mercedes CLS and the VW Passat CC. Both have been described as four-door coupes.
Sez Neil: "So as I ponder the CC's gently bowed roof line - the sleek ascent of the windshield, the elegant descent of the rear glass, the frameless side windows, the Cartesian harmony of it all - my first question is: Why doesn't the regular Passat look like this? Never mind the coupe-sedan semantics. The Passat competes with some very handsome fast-backed four-doors - the Nissan Maxima and the Mazda6 come to mind - and compared with them the Passat looks like corrective footwear.
Maybe the CC should be the volume product and the classic Passat can be marketed to people with, um, excessively large hairdos. I wonder if Gov. Blagojevich is in the market?"
The 'four-door coupe' is just a synonym for a sloped-back sedan and has been around for ... what? ... over 70 years. Check out the '50 Chevy Fleetline fastback. Back in the early 1940s, General Motors referred to its fastback sedans as having Torpedo Styling, just before the company shut down its automobile assembly lines so it could manufacture ... ummm ... actual torpedoes. (Oh irony, thy name is Harley Earl.)
Later, GM revived the torpedo style with the hideous 1978 GM Aerodecks (or was it 'Aerodrecks'?): the Buick Century Custom and Olds Cutlass Salon. Torpedos indeed ... they bombed.
Who Knew? Greg Gutfeld is a car guy. About his 1953 Nash Metropolitan, he wrote: "I always wanted one of these cartoonish cars, and got one - making me an owner of two absurd automobiles (the other: a '59 Facel Vega HK500). This officially makes me a "collector," and also an "idiot." We drove it up a mountain in August and nearly died. I felt like a man in a sardine can, rolling through an avalanche of tornadoes. Or potatoes. Anyways, my kidneys are dust."
I'm envious ... of his Facel Vega. The Metro ... ummmm ... you keep it, Greg.
Dollar Limit: New York's famous Rainbow Room is closing its Rainbow Grill restaurant, located on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center. The Rainbow Room has symbolized glamour and general poshness since it opened in 1934 during the Great Depression. The decision to close was "due to the current economic crisis" and a lease dispute.
My wife and I spent a wonderful evening there 15 years ago. We had an excellent dinner, followed by the show at the Rainbow and Stars cabaret. Billy Stritch performed and he was most impressive. It wasn't a cheap date but it was worth every cent. And the booze and wine offered were top shelf.
Based on what we observed, the bulk of the Rainbow Room's business came from wide-eyed tourists (like us), expense-account types wooing out-of-town customers and well-heeled locals with something special to celebrate.
In 1998, the place was sold. New management closed Rainbow and Stars, cut back on the Rainbow Room's hours and jacked up the prices. In 2008, the Grill served house wines by the glass at $15.50 per; "premium wines" (like Berringer White Zinfandel - one notch above Franzia box wine and available in supermarkets for four to six bucks per bottle, depending on where you shop) are $20.50 per glass. Even by NYC standards, this is Major Chutzpah.
Currently, the Rainbow Room offers "Dinner and Dancing with a live big band orchestra on selected Fridays and Saturdays" at $200 apiece. No mention of what entrees are offered for that kind of coin. Drinks not included, of course.
People expect to pay more in New York. But there's a limit. The Rainbow Room has apparently exceeded it.
What's In A Name? The photo book 'Southeastern Pennsylvania Trolleys' by Kenneth Springirth has a variety of Philadelphia neighborhood photos. At the end of a block of row homes, there is often a business establishment - a corner grocery, a dentist, a bakery or a tavern.
When I saw this photo at the corner of Richmond and Clearfield Sts. in the Kensington section of Philly, I could tell that there was a bar on the corner. But I couldn't read the sign. So I got a magnifying glass to see what kind of clever name it had. I was expecting something like The Tipsy Top, Stumble Inn, Crossing The Bar, Come Back Inn, Ye Olde Ale House, etc. This is what I found.
2009 Unveiled: Writing in Anorak, Iowahawk forecasts the year ahead. Here's just a sampling: In March '09, "Stocks cautiously rebound on strong earning reports from Sterno, GunMart, American Hobo Supply."
In June, "U.S. currency printing presses unable to keep pace with bailout demands, Chinese green ink embargo; Obama encourages Americans to print off dollars on home computers; "We are the bailout we've been waiting for," says Prez."
In November (an exceptionally cold month apparently), "In response to national firewood and ignitable peat crisis, Obama offers American families 20 pounds of free paper recycled from government global warming studies; "please remember to wear your sweater if you haven't already eaten it," urges president."
Dead Pool '09: I predict that the following ten famous people will die this year - Susan Atkins (Manson family member, convicted murderer), Fidel Castro, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Billy Graham, Steve Jobs, Kim Jong-il, Edward Kennedy, Robert Novak, Patrick Swayze and Amy Winehouse.
New Buzz-Words: Here's a short selection from the IoS 2009 Buzzword Glossary:
• BlackBerry Prayer: The hunched-over, self-absorbed pose adopted by those fingering their Blackberry or texting on their mobile. Often accompanied by facial expressions to match tenor of the message being sent.
• Digi-necker: Driver who, when passing a road accident, whips out their mobile and takes a picture.
• Negawatts: Latest word for energy efficiency, coined by the public utility commission of California. Greenies also use the term 'fifth fuel'.
• Brickor Mortis: Property market where few homes are being sold.
• Staycation: A vacation without the travelling. Or the expense. Or the tan.
• Instapreneur: Instant entrepreneurship, via online shops and selling services, allow anyone with something to sell even a design or idea to go into business right now.
Bah Humbug! One of the joys of post-Christmas is that I won't be hearing Mannheim Steamroller on the radio for the next 10 months. I hate overplayed, oversynthesized, overproduced elevator music.
MS sucks the life and soul out of Christmas music with a painful mixture of cheesy '70s mock-Moog synthesizer, ghastly electronic drums and an overused drama-queen sustain pedal. Do they pipe this dreck into the cells at Gitmo during the season? I bet they get a lot of confessions: "Make it stop - I tell you everything!"
Playing Mannheim Steamroller is a way of saying to folks, "Have a Meretricious Christmas and a Horrid New Year."
Happy Birthday, Elvis! He would have turned 74 yesterday. More on The King here.
Quote Of The Day is from Malcolm Berko: "There are more economists working for the government than janitors who are hired to sanitize, so I guess economists are hired to economize."
Wednesday January 7, 2009
Tool Time: Recently, I read an article by Chris Vander Doelen in the Windsor Star about tool and diemakers. Excerpt: "An estimated $375 million owed for automotive tooling, dies and molds - most of it carried as debt by companies in the Windsor region - is at risk of default by the looming bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. In yet another estimate of the impact a Detroit automotive bankruptcy would have on the economy, leaders of Ontario's MTDM (machine tool, die and mould) sector say they are owed for at least a quarter of their $1.5-billion output over the past year."
This is shocking to me. For many years, tool and die firms were run by no-nonsense Germans. They were good at what they did and ran one of the last Cash On The Barrelhead industries in America. Terms were the same for everyone whether you were a young Joe Sherlock ordering an aluminum short-run injection mold or General Motors buying an Oldsmobile fender stamping die: 50% down with purchase order; balance COD. No exceptions.
How times have changed. (permalink)
Auto Quote Of The Day is from TTAC's Paul Niedermeyer on his V-6 Dodge Charger rental car: "To pawn off this larger-than-life sized Hot Wheels toy with a feeble old K-car drive train and a taxi-cab interior on today's hotly-contested mid-large sized sedan market is utter suicide."
Luxo Stats: For 2008, Lexus was the number-one selling luxury vehicle in the U.S. with 260,087 units delivered to customers (including 20,255 LS models), outselling Acura (144,504), BMW (249,113), Cadillac (161,159), Infiniti (112,989), Lincoln (107,295) and Mercedes (225,128).
Lexus also outsold Audi (87,760), Buick (137,197), Porsche (26,035), Saab (21,368), Saturn (188,004), Subaru (187,699), Volkswagen (223,128) and Volvo (73,102).
Movin' Along: Francis W. Porretto has written that "Americans' "love affair with cars" is nothing of the sort; it's a preference for autonomous mobility. Other things being equal - and in many cases, other things not being quite so equal - we vastly prefer to come and go as we please, bringing whom and what we please, according to our own schedules and priorities. There are few places in the United States where mass transit is sufficiently prompt and flexible to meet that desire - especially mass transit operated by government."
"Very dense populations, such as those of our "vertical" cities, can feasibly apply mass transit to commuters' needs. Suburban populations are less favored, and rural ones are beyond the imagination. But the apostles of the planned society, such as the "well-respected" Brookings Institution, are at war with personal transportation. Affordable personal transportation renders a people un-herdable. Such a people cannot be compelled to concentrate in tight little zones where their masters can regiment them as they please. Mobility is fundamental to freedom; when his subjects can flee, an autocrat's power is tentative at best. Barry Bruce-Briggs's classic work The War Against The Automobile treated with this three decades ago."
In most cases, mass transit is a waste of taxpayer dollars. I cite a number of examples here.
Mass transit. Nobody wants it. Because it is designed for the masses. Too Karl Marx-y, you know. Speaking of mass transit ...
Wear Sensible Shoes And Walk: Randal O'Toole has reported that, in D.C., Washington Metrorail anticipates that at least a million people will ride the subway on Inauguration Day. To deal with the crowds, Metro plans to shut down its escalators, at least at the most popular stations, "for crowd control."
Randal notes: "Apparently, when the escalators are turned on, they can deliver people to the stations faster than the trains can carry them away. So much for rail being "high-capacity transit." I guess cities that really want high-capacity transit should just build escalators and moving walkways a la Robert Heinlein." Remember 'The Roads Must Roll'?
Sooo ... Metro's idea of customer service is Less Service.
In addition, Metro plans to close all its public restrooms "for security reasons." If you're visiting D.C., please try to contain yourself.
Airport Madness: Jeremy Clarkson has been railing about travel, "Then we get to the airport, where I have another question: Why subject someone to a humiliating strip search when they are a blue-eyed nine-year-old girl or Paul McCartney? It's a waste of time for you and a waste of time for everyone in the queue that results. If you know someone to be Paul McCartney, then you know he is an elderly singer and not a crazed suicide bomber. So he can be waved through immediately, leaving you time to concentrate on the sweating Afghan with wires poking out of his backpack."
Alas, Clarkson predicts that nothing will change. "Governments, of course, are fantastically uninterested in the people they are supposed to serve." (see Washington Metro story - above)
Always remember: TSA means Thousands Standing Around.
History Repeats Itself, Kinda: In 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 34% - one of the three worst years since 1900. In 1931, the index fell 53% and in 1907, it was down 38%.
It's ironic that the decline of 2008 is so similar to 1907, since that was also a year that the market had to deal with a credit crisis - the Panic of '07.
Primary cause of 1907 disaster was a retraction of market liquidity by a number of New York City banks, which caused a loss of confidence among depositors nationwide. Since there was no statutory lender of last resort (i.e. - government), there was no way to calm public's fear.
Barney's Knickerbocker Trust Company, the third-largest trust in New York, failed from a classic depositor run. The New York Times reported that, "as fast as a depositor went out of the place, ten people and more came asking for their money and the police were asked to send some men to keep order." In less than three hours, $8 million was withdrawn from the Knickerbocker. Shortly after noon it was forced to suspend operations.
As news spread, other banks and trust companies were reluctant to lend any money. The interest rates on loans to brokers at the stock exchange soared and, with brokers unable to get money, stock prices fell to a low not seen in almost seven years. The panic quickly spread to two other large N.Y. trusts, Trust Company of America and Lincoln Trust Company.
Panic extended across the nation as vast numbers of people withdrew deposits from their regional banks.
The situation may have worsened if not for the intervention of financier J. P. Morgan, who pledged large sums of his own money and convinced other New York bankers to do the same, in order to shore up the banking system. At the time, the United States did not have a central bank to inject liquidity back into the market. As a result of this panic, the Federal Reserve System was created in 1913.
Without Federal intervention, who knows what 2008 might have looked like.
Brittle Glass: Waterford Wedgwood, the 250-year-old maker of luxury glassware and china, has been placed in administration (bankruptcy), putting 2,700 jobs in the U.K. and Ireland at risk. The firm has operated at a loss for the last five years.
Its brands include Waterford crystal, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton fine bone china, Rosenthal porcelain and Spring premium cookware.
The mayor of Waterford said it would be a "national disaster" for Ireland if production at the crystal factory ceased. Waterford Wedgwood employs some 1,900 people in the UK and 800 in Ireland. It operates 19 stores in the U.K., 120 retail concessions within larger stores and has almost 600 outlets worldwide.
Thousands of jobs had already been lost in the U.K. and Ireland, as the company attempted to cut costs by closing some sites and moving production to eastern Europe and Indonesia.
Global Warming Update: A winter storm brought blankets of snow across Europe, forcing the closure of an icy Eiffel Tower in Paris and causing flight cancellations.
Up to four inches of snow was recorded in parts of France. Most areas, including Paris, got around half that amount.
It was so cold in Marseilles, Frenchmen everywhere were unable to part their lips and sneer at tourists.
In Germany, heavy snowfall snarled road traffic and flight delays and cancellations at the country's international airports. Traffic was stopped for hours on many of Germany's autobahns as snowplows struggled to clear the roads.
In England, motorists used copies of An Inconvenient Truth to scrape ice from their windscreens.
Alone Again, Naturally: Jonah Goldberg has written, "As Susan McWilliams of Pomona College observes, you can tell something about a society that chooses clever water over humble beer. Bottled water is personal, inward-driven. Beer is social, outward-driven. Beer gets the party started. Water is the thirst quencher of choice for the solitary fitness addict, marching to the beat of his or her own drummer, digitally remastered for the iPod."
Quote Of The Day is from H.L. Mencken: "A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin."
Monday January 5, 2009
Car Sighting: Sometimes, old photos are full of surprises. For Christmas, I received a photo book 'Southeastern Pennsylvania Trolleys' by Kenneth Springirth.
In the author's photo of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues in Philadelphia (a tough neighborhood even back in February 1969 when the picture was taken), there's a Simca 1000 parked between a '61 Dodge station wagon and a '58 Chevy.
The 1000 was a small, rear-engined, four-door sedan manufactured by the French automaker between 1961 and 1978. The 58 cubic-inch engine was water-cooled and the fuel tank was located in the rear, behind the rear passenger seat. This gave the car a 35/65 front/rear weight distribution, which must have produced some interesting emergency handling.
Chrysler Corporation bought 15% of Simca in 1958 and, by '63 had controlling interest. Period U.S. advertising proclaimed the car's 5-year/50,000 mile Chrysler warranty, its "52 spunky horsepower and 4-on-the-floor" which provided "friskier action through the gears." For a mere $1,639, you got 35 mpg - according to one ad.
The 149-inch long Simca 1000 was very popular in Europe - over 1.6 million were made - but was rarely seen in the U.S. (permalink)
December U.S. Vehicle Sales: Chrysler Corp.'s retail sales were down a whopping 53%; its fleet sales dropped 63%. Volvo was off 47%; Acura fell almost 40%. Only 245 Acura RLs were sold in December (-58.2%); compared with 601 Mercury Sables (-58.8%). Oh, well. Someday, they both may be rare 'collector' cars.
Sun-Dried Doom: Jeremy Clarkson has been in the same kinds of stores as me, it seems. "According to the men in braces who put our money somewhere and can't quite remember where, up to 15 big high street retailers will disappear from town centres in the coming months. And if my local town is anything to go by, they will undoubtedly be joined by all those little boutiquey delicatessen bijou cubbyhole shops that smell of sun-dried tomatoes and potpourri. The ones run by stick insect blonde women and paid for by their husbands to stop them running off with the gym instructor."
Here in the U.S., Barry Ritholtz notes that "a plethora of commercial retail space is for rent. I have never seen so many empty store fronts and in very nice areas. The FedEx Kinkos by us is toast; A number of local family owned shops are empty with big For Rent signs in the window. The Harvey's Electronics that closed 8 months ago is still for rent.
The Retail sector is downsizing. That means fewer stores, few square footage, few employees and perhaps even fewer chains. The new frugal future is here, and that means tighter margins for retailers, with little room for error.
Even if the economy recovers tomorrow, we still have excess retailers. Mortgage equity withdrawal is a non-option, leverage is coming out of the system and wages are stagnant. The next 10 years in Retail with look nothing like the previous 10 years.
It's obviously already been impacting the REITs, but this is very bad news for the commercial real estate market. What do you do when your industry gets appreciably smaller, other than suffer some pain and consequences?"
I wonder what part of the damage is due to the continuing rise of online shopping. I bought most Christmas gifts over the internet in 2008. And I've noticed a lot of empty storefronts (with For Lease signs plastered on the windows) in and around the Portland/Vancouver metro area as well. (permalink)
WaMu, The Bank That Couldn't Say No: Steven M. Knobel, a founder of appraisal firm Mitchell, Maxwell & Jackson recalled: "It was the Wild West. If you were alive, they (WaMu) would give you a loan. Actually, I think if you were dead, they would still give you a loan."
Except for me.
Survivor Insurance: On the day that Donald Peters died, he unknowingly provided financial security for his wife of 59 years and their family.
Peters bought two Connecticut Lottery tickets at a local 7-Eleven store on November 1st as part of a 20-year tradition he shared with his wife Charlotte. Later that day, the 79-year-old retired hat factory worker suffered a fatal heart attack while working in his yard in Danbury.
Last week, his widow cashed in one of the tickets: a $10 million winner which, in her grief over her husband's death, she had put aside and almost discarded before recently checking the numbers.
Bopper Update: In March 2007, the remains of rock 'n roller The Big Bopper were dug up, examined and then reburied in a new grave. A new Batesville casket replaced the original 1959 model.
Here's the latest, courtesy of Ron Franscell: "Rock 'n roll's most macabre historical artifact will go on the block when the family of the late 1950s pop star J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson auctions his casket on eBay sometime in the next few weeks - almost 50 years after 'the day the music died.'"
"The Big Bopper's 16-gauge steel casket was exhumed last year from his original grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont so it could be moved to a more visible location with a life-sized statue and historic marker."
Jay Richardson, the Bopper's son, plans to sell the empty casket ... (more >>>)
New Year's Resolution: I'm going to make 2009 a Dave Salesky-free year. I don't need to waste any more of my life listening to inaccurate weather forecasts from this TV doofus.
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "Animals don't give a damn about going green most don't even have the opposable thumbs necessary for recycling."
Friday January 2, 2009
Holiday Wheels: I received a nice selection of 1:43 scale diecast cars for Christmas, including a 1963 Corvette split-window coupe - in the same color as the '63 roadster I once owned, a '1939' Lincoln Continental convertible (actually a '41 model - nice looking but too wide for the scale), a '41 Ford Tudor sedan in REA green with Railway Express Agency logos on the side (now residing on my O-gauge train layout) and a gorgeous 1938 Delahaye 165 with a swoopy, full-skirted body by Figoni et Falaschi in a deep red color (described as 'Bordeaux').
I saw the full-size car when it was displayed at Balboa Park's San Diego Auto Museum in 1995.
"Uncle Teddy, I'm Soooooo Bored. I Wanna Be A Senator." Caroline Kennedy, Duchess of Downtown Manhattan, Marquise of Martha's Vineyard and Royal Keeper of the Tattered Camelot Banner, she for whom the ever-annoying Neil Diamond penned an insipidly trite musical ode, requests an appointment as United States Senator.
Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post has devoted two columns to this "fairy tale" scenario in which Kennedy, our "tragic national princess," is finally rewarded.
"For what?" asks Howie Carr, who said that "Caroline Kennedy deserves the Profiles in Chutzpah Award. Huh? You've never worked a day in your life, honey. Your pampered-poodle existence makes Uncle Teddy look like a working-class hero. Poor Uncle Teddy is worth a mere $103.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Caroline's gotta be good for at least three times that. ... You know how, when your basement or garage starts overflowing with junk, you have a yard sale? Caroline Kennedy knows what that's like, only she calls one of her garage sales a 'Sotheby's auction'. In 2005, she made $5.5 million, which was a drop from the 1996 auction where she took in $34.5 million, including $2.5 million for her mom's engagement ring.
And then there's Mumsy's cottage on Martha's Vineyard. She only has 366 acres. On the ocean." I might add that the ocean estate - worth at least $50 million - just underwent a major renovation.
The property, which mom Jackie Onassis purchased for $1.1 million in 1978, has a 2,000-foot-long driveway and 4,620 feet of oceanfront. Holy cow! That's seven-eighths of a mile long.
Caroline Kennedy's personal fortune could exceed $400 million, according to C. David Heymann, author of 'American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy'.
But ... she does claim to hail her own cabs and some consider this quite the example of not losing the common touch.
This reminds me of that 1997 Simpsons episode where - after losing all his money - Montgomery Burns goes to the supermarket, announcing to passerby, "I'm shopping!"
However, Mr. Burns is unfamiliar with various grocery store protocols and gets trapped in a dairy case, then becomes confused by ketchup and catsup. ("I'm in way over my head!")
Chief Wiggum is called to take him away: "Relax. You've gone off your nut, so we're stuffing you into an old folks' home. Those, uh, store guys signed the commitment papers."
Caroline has provided at least one letter of reference. Rosa, her housekeeper, notes that "Senora Kennedy is the good boss for the people. She treat everybody on the staff very nice and no yell. We all get one day off in the week and she give the $200 bonus this Christmas. Except Maria because she broke the crystal bowl in the office when she dusting."
"Senora Kennedy have very many busy jobs. ... It is make her very tired, but every day Senora is go to work for the volunteer to raise the money for the awards and the charity. She have many parties at the home and the museum. She work very hard to shop for the new gowns and invitacions. She is also make the seating arrange and hide the tequila from Tio Teddy so he not get borracho."
She closes with "I have to fold laundry now. Also Tio Teddy is come to the party tonight so I have to lock the liquor cabinets."
Ace has noted that Caroline "was asked to explain why she failed to vote in a number of elections since registering in New York City in 1988, including in 1994 when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was up for re-election for the seat she hopes to take over."
"I was really surprised and dismayed by my voting record," she said. "I'm glad it's been brought to my attention."
He continues: "She was surprised to find out she had barely voted. Apparently she's easily surprised about basic facts about herself. "Oh, I have two eyes and one head, and am a warm-blooded mammal with an endoskeleton allowing me to walk upright? Really? The deuce you say. I am surprised to learn that, thank you for bringing it to my attention."
Imagine Sarah Palin saying something like this. Think the MSM would notice?" There's a joke now circulating:
Q: After interviewing Caroline Kennedy, what do journalists call Sarah Palin?
Ms. Kennedy also has no grasp of the political concept, 'You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours.' In the last ten years, Caroline has given $1,000 to local office seekers. Based on comparative net worth, this would be the equivalent of me presenting a dust bunny from under my bed to Al Sharpton.
Here's another reason I love the internet. Proud Eagle, a poster on Lucianne, relates a revealing
Canterbury Camelot Tale: "Back in the late 70's I was a couple of tables over from her in 'The Parting Glass' in Hyannis one night. ... This poor young tourist kid had no idea who she was and made the mistake of meekly asking her to dance. Lady Caroline's response? A very loud and rude "F**k you!" Class - or the lack of it - will tell. So much for Sweet Caroline.
Hey, anybody remember that Monty Python 'Upper-class Twit of the Year' sketch? I'm not sure what made me think of that.
"Where it began, I can't begin to know when ... But then I know it's growing strong ..." Aarrgh! Get outta my head! (permalink)
The More You Know: How many times can Caroline say 'you know' in a mere two and a half minutes? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Find out here.
But wait ... in a longer interview with the New York Times, she uttered the phrase 142 times. As in: "You know, Muffy, all this attention is getting to be a seriously royal pain in my - you know - ass."
Never has America witnessed such incoherent vacuousness since ... um, you know ... Teddy ran for President in 1980.
You know, I think Barbi Benton might make a better senator.
Headline Of The Week is from The People's Cube: "Obama promises to Photoshop a better future for America."
Worst Predictions of 2008 ... are listed here. I was struck by this one by Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Financial Services Committee chairman, made on July 14, 2008: "I think this is a case where Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are fundamentally sound. They're not in danger of going under I think they are in good shape going forward."
Two months later, the government forced the mortgage giants into conservatorships and pledged to invest up to $100 billion in each.
Congressman Frank is either dumb as a cinderblock or a liar and (probably) a crook.
The Typewriter Is Still: Donald E. Westlake, a prolific, award-winning novelist who used manual typewriters exclusively has died at age 75.
My favorite Westlake books were 'The Hot Rock', 'Somebody Owes Me Money' and 'Bank Sho't.
'The Hot Rock' and 'Bank Shot' were made into movies but the books were much better. And funnier.
I was surprised to learn that Westlake wrote the story and teleplay for the Supertrain TV pilot. The short-lived 1979 television series was about travelers aboard a nuclear-powered bullet train, sort of a Love Boat on rails.
Mr. Westlake resisted computers and typed his manuscripts on manual typewriters. "They came in perfectly typed," said Laurence Kirshbaum, his agent. "You felt like it was almost written by hand."
Mr. Westlake told a friend that he hated the idea of an electric typewriter because, "I don't want to sit there while I am thinking and have something hum at me." Westlake kept four or five typewriters and cannibalized their parts when any one broke, as the typewriter model was no longer manufactured.
Rest in peace, Donald.
Conversation Of The Day is from The Simpsons: Marge asks Homer, "Did you rent 'Waiting to Exhale'?" Homer replies, in a forlorn voice, "No... they put me on the 'Waiting to Exhale' waiting list, but told me not to hold my breath."