Thursday April 30, 2009
American Car Brands Which Have Disappeared In My Lifetime: Crosley, Fraser, Henry J, Kaiser, Willys, Hudson, Nash, Packard, Edsel, DeSoto, Studebaker, Rambler, Checker, AMC, Imperial, Eagle, Plymouth, Oldsmobile ... and soon Hummer, Saturn and Pontiac.
I'm not counting low-volume stuff like Gaylord, Allstate, Arnolt, Bocar, King Midget, El Morocco, Excalibur, Fitch, Dual-Ghia, Muntz, Clénet, Cunningham, Kurtis, Playboy, Powell, Tucker, Woodill Wildfire, Zimmer, etc.
Nor cars made outside the U.S., even though the U.S.A. was their primary market: Bricklin, Delorean.
Downward Trend: Interlink, the parent of Motor Trend as well as Hot Rod and Automobile has filed for bankruptcy, citing a "decline in decline in advertising spending, especially among automotive companies, as well as rising costs for raw materials."
Interlink also publishes a bunch of specialty auto mags - most of which I've never heard of (Eurotuner, Modified Luxury & Exotics, Lowrider Arte, etc.). I think I met Lowrider Arte at a swap meet once; I didn't know he had his own magazine - an impressive accomplishment for such a short man.
Most car mags saw sales peak in the late 1980s ... (more >>>)
You Try It: See if you can spray for only 1/3rd of a second. 1,057 servings per container, my ass.
Fifty Years Ago ... I never dreamed that I ever see an article with the phrase 'Nazi Super Cows' in the headline.
"The Least Of My Brothers" is another of Jesus' words which have been hijacked by people using them for their own agenda.
The "Least" phrase is used to justify delivering baked goods to prisoners (I wonder if anyone asks if any of the inmates were convicted of robbing a bakery) or supplying stocks of pretty decent foodstuffs at the local food bank. The one nearby also carries 50 pound sacks of dog food. My thinking is: if you're too poor to buy your food, you're too poor to own a dog. And, by the way, the vehicles in the food bank's parking lot are mostly big, relatively-new SUVs. My other thought: if you're so poor that you can't buy food, you should be driving an '87 Escort. Don't get me started on the people hanging around outside, smoking.
Let's not forget that when Jesus fed the hungry, he only gave out fish sandwiches. No tartar sauce. Nor anything Balsamic or Cilantro-laden. No sweet potato fries, either. The fish was free-range, however. And the bread was Artisan. In those days, all bread was Artisan. And probably stale and insect-laden.
John Zmirak has written the ultimate, How To Be A Christian Liberal handbook ... (more >>>)
Declined Without Joy: Adhering to her principles, Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has turned down the prestigious Laetare Medal at Notre Dame's commencement this year, in protest ... (more >>>)
The Last Word ... on the Miss USA debacle goes to Jim Treacher: "Liberals would be all in favor of waterboarding, if Perez Hilton used it to force Carrie Prejean to advocate gay marriage."
The Trouble With Oinkers: Ed Anger has weighed in on the current health scare, noting that the "new flu is spread by pigs. Maybe pigs are just ticked off at us for making footballs out of them, and comparing them to Rosie O’Donnell. We should've seen this coming when Mama Cass choked on that ham sandwich! Pigs are getting their revenge on mankind, America! Wake up and smell the bacon!"
Quote Of The Day is from J. Paul Getty on diversification: "Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it smells."
Tuesday April 28, 2009
Pontiac Memories: It's official. General Motors Corp. is killing its fabled Pontiac automobile, an 82-year-old division that last flourished selling hot muscle cars. Sales have ... (more >>>)
GM's Best-Ever Ultimate Super Plan #273: General Motors has released still-another Save-The-Company Hail Mary Pass. This time, the General's ditching 21,000 hourly jobs and at least 13 plants. GM also plans to terminate over 42% of the its U.S. dealers, from 6,246 in 2008 to 3,605 by the end of 2010. Maybe more ... after all, the only thing GM needs to get rid of most dealers is to yank the floorplanning which allows them to finance inventory.
The Wall Street Journal has pointed out that General Motors has waaaay too many dealers. Measuring the number of dealers per point of market share, the figures look like this: GM - 338, Chrysler - 286, Ford - 270, Toyota - 74.
Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7 Wall St. has noted: "With the large amounts of equity that GM is offering in exchange for $27 billion in debt from creditors, for part of its financial obligation to the Treasury and for money it owes the UAW pension plan, current common shareholders will end up with 1% of the company." Bondholders get screwed, too. Larry Kudlow has observed, "The GM bondholders own $27 billion and they're getting 10 percent of the common stock in an expected exchange. And the UAW owns $10 billion of the bonds and they're getting 40 percent of the stock. Huh? Did I miss something here?"
The General's proposal would leave the U.S. government as the majority owner in return for an extra $11.6 billion in federal aid, in addition to $15.4 billion in existing loans. The government would forgive half the debt in exchange for equity in a restructured GM. Were he still alive, Mr. Rogers would have surely asked, "Can you say 'British Leyland'?"
Hey, maybe GM could offer the shareholders and bondholders half-price deals on new Pontiacs as consolation prizes.
In case you still think General Motors stock is a good deal, you should know that the GM employee investment fund has dumped all its shares of GM stock. As of now, "the General Motors Savings Plan now consists entirely of short-term, cash-based investments. By the end of May, the GM Common Stock Fund will be eliminated as an option for company employees, the investment manager said." Game Over!
If shareholders, creditors and bondholders don't accept the latest plan, General Motors could end up in Chapter 11. Which I believe will happen. The government is simply trying to find an elusive Pythonesque Spanish Inquisition Comfy Chair-style bankruptcy for GM. Maybe Obama should just give up on that and appoint the real de Torquemada to be his car czar. He'd get rid of the UAW and the Moors. And waterboard Wagoner and Nardelli until they properly confessed their sins. And whip those Jewish bankers into line. Literally. Think of it as 'Castile Meets Detroit'.
McIntyre has asked, "When does the company become too small to be able to survive? Three years ago, it had 25% of a domestic light vehicle market that produced 16 million unit sales a year. Sales this year may only be 10 million cars and trucks, and if GM cuts products and manufacturing capacity, its market share could plunge, perhaps to 15% or lower. ... GM could get so small that its prospects of surviving in an increasing competitive market place will simply slip away."
He concluded, "The fact of the matter is that the most important issue for GM has not changed. Whether it has a high debt load or none. Whether its has low labor costs or not. Whether it has all the model lines that it did a year ago or slightly fewer. If GM can't sell cars and trucks in the United States and add rapidly to its market share, the company is worthless."
If This Were A Movie-Of-The-Week Storyline ... people would laugh at its sheer unbelievability: The UAW is buying Chrysler in order to make Fiats. (permalink)
The Truth About Credit Cards: Here's some insight into the state of the credit card biz these days, posted at The Truth About Cars, no less.
William C. Montgomery has written, "We expect the default rate this year to be about 15% (up from about 6% during normal years). This means that for every dollar we lend, only eight-five cents will get paid back. Plus, it costs us about another 6% to borrow the money, print and mail statements, maintain customer service call centers, etc. In other words, we'd need to be earning 21% in finance charges just to break even. On top of this, new credit card lending rules make it much harder to raise interest rates. In other words, no bank wants to be in the credit card business right now. Just about every bank I know of is looking to unload their credit card receivables so that they can lesson their exposure to the sky high credit losses we are experiencing in the current economy."
A 'default' is any credit card bill which remains unpaid after 180 days. In 2005, the default rate was only 3%.
Today's credit card traces its lineage back to single-merchant charge cards (printed on paper card stock), which were used to promote gas station loyalty in the 1920s, and embossed metal charge plates used by department stores in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. The Diners Club card, developed in 1951, was the first general-purpose charge card which could be used to pay for meals, hotels and merchandise at any number of different establishments. The first plastic credit card was introduced ... (more >>>)
Paper Chase: The Audit Bureau of Circulations has released newspaper circulation figures for the six months ending March 31, 2009, showing large declines at many ... (more >>>)
I Had Always Thought Perez Hilton Was A Hotel: That's because I'm kind out of it when it comes to celebrity culture. Although I watch 'The Soup' to try and keep up.
My good friend Steve and I are probably the only two sixty-something heterosexual males who watch that program. We both enjoy seeing Joel McHale make fun of people. Not that we're mean-spirited. I'd certainly would feel bad if I witnessed someone in a wheelchair get mashed 'n' grated by a speeding Peterbuilt at an intersection. And I'd surely try to help. On the other hand, I have been known to chuckle at a well-told harelip joke: "Urine specimen?! I don't know nuttin' about no urine specimen!"
I found out about this Perez Hilton creep from Ed Anger, who is "madder than a drag queen who's run out of duct tape! Poor Miss California deserved to win that beauty contest." Ed reported that the contest was going well until "tubby twinkie Perez Hilton ... asked the lovely lady if she believed in gay marriage. Of course, she said no, Perez got his pocket hankie in a knot and Miss California lost the contest!"
"First of all: why is a lavender laddie like Perez Hilton judging a female beauty contest? Isn't that like letting an A-rab pick the Pope?"
Ed predicts that "Miss California will end up with her own tv show and a millionaire husband and Perez Hilton will be left alone with his Liberace records and his pink poodle."
I'll give Kathy Shaidle the last word on the matter: "Perez Hilton judging a beauty contest is like hiring Ray Charles as an umpire."
Quote Of The Day is from Daniel P. Moynihan: "Somehow liberals have been unable to acquire from life what conservatives seem to be endowed with at birth: namely, a healthy skepticism of the powers of government agencies to do good."
Monday April 27, 2009
A Firm Is Only As Good As Its People: Fortune magazine has declared - in a typical, late-to-the-party understatement, "The survival of Chrysler as an independent company is looking increasingly unlikely."
Well, duh. That's why I haven't picked up a copy of Fortune since 1987. I remember doing so quite clearly. I drove down to the newsstand in my blue Lincoln Mark VII coupe; Belinda Carlisle was singing 'Heaven Is a Place on Earth' on the radio. Her performance was followed by someone singing in a gravelly, mumbly voice; it might have been John Lee Hooker. Or Stevie Nicks.
Chrysler is doomed because most of its good people have already left - on their own or laid-off. Fortune has opined, "The fundamentals of its business structure - unappealing passenger cars, dismal quality, little technology, minimal international operations - are scary enough. Meanwhile, continuous rounds of layoffs have hollowed out the company, starving it of the basic resources it needs to engineer, manufacture and market automobiles." True dat.
One executive described Chrysler as "looking like an imposing castle from the outside, but actually being empty once you got beyond the front door." At the time of its merger with Daimler in 1998, it was the hottest company in Detroit. But the Germans' formal business methods clashed with Chrysler's more freewheeling ways and "promised resources took a long time to make their way from Stuttgart to Auburn Hills."
The article continued: "Chrysler made plenty of mistakes on its own. The dream team disbanded, engineering costs skyrocketed and an ill-conceived efficiency program hurt vehicle quality and customer appeal.
CEO Dieter Zetsche tried to stretch the product development budget by churning out more new models with less money. ... What Chrysler produced were half a dozen derivative models with eye-catching but cheesy styling, bargain-basement interiors and the worst quality in Detroit. Customers caught on quickly."
I'm scratching my head trying to figure out how a company like this can stay in business. I don't see how a bankrupt Chrysler with poor prospects, stripped-out resources, a decimated customer base and an empty product vault can attract the people talent - technical and managerial - needed to survive Chapter 11 and emerge from it.
I would expect that Chrysler's unsecured creditors - and there are a bunch of 'em - would push for a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy.
So, what can be sold off? The Jeep brand. Maybe Dodge trucks. Viper, perhaps. And possibly - for the short term - the minivan tooling. (But don't expect VW to buy it, since the Routan has been such a dud: 22,037 have been built, only 5,582 have been sold - despite repeated huckstering by Brooke Shields.) Most of Chrysler's assembly plants are ancient, not very flexible and, therefore, of little interest to other car manufacturers. The Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealer organization is the weakest of the Detroit Three - and still waaaay too big.
John C. Ogg pointed out that Chrysler is still telling its dealerships that bankruptcy is not imminent. Ogg quipped, "That is like a negotiator telling a suicide jumper that the concrete isn't that hard."
The late Leon Mandel, founder of AutoWeek magazine, once wrote, "AutoWeek's assets go down the elevator each night and come back in the morning. Only the best and brightest people will do." At Chrysler, the elevator is empty and no longer operational.
Building Disaster: The commercial real estate (CRE) market is in the toilet. Private sector new construction is almost at a standstill due to lack of demand, uncertainty about the future and the difficulty of securing project financing. Public sector work (schools, Forest Service stuff, VA hospitals, etc.) continues unabated as it is funded by the public purse which the government believes is bottomless.
A lot of contractors are thankful for 'government work' - without it, they'd be broke. Last week, we had our heat pumps serviced by a small local firm. The tech told me that 60% of the employees were in the Seattle area, working at a Naval installation on a big HVAC project. "There's not enough work around here to keep the company going," he said.
In the past, the private CRE market always bounced back, albeit as a lagging economic indicator. This time, I'm not so sure.
Top-of-the-heap Class A office buildings - typified by the mirror-glazed towers seen in every city - are occupied by insurance firms, wealth management specialists, attorneys, high-end CPA firms and the like.
Many of these firms are abandoning skyscrapers. Their space requirements are less because many assistants and associates can work from home, thanks to the internet. And they need less people because technology has increased employee productivity. Also, they are finding that clients are no longer impressed with fancy offices at 'name' addresses. Many former Class A dwellers have moved to lower-cost, shorter-commute, hassle-free business parks in the suburbs.
Some of these places are revamped industrial parks, converted to "office parks" when demand for industrial space declined as U.S. manufacturing declined. In the past 40 years, manufacturing employment has dropped by 40%. In January 1969, 26.5% of our nation's workforce were employed in factories; in March 2009, it had fallen to less than 9.3%. Total manufacturing employment has fallen by more than three million jobs since September 2001. In March, U.S. industrial capacity utilization declined to under 70%, a record low since data reporting commenced in 1967.
At present, the nationwide U.S. office vacancy rate is at 15.2%.
Undoubtedly, part of the vacancy jump was caused by the recession. But, when the economy recovers, those former tenants may not return, leaving empty, echoing downtown Class A canyons. Business parks aren't going to revert back to industrial parks anytime soon, since so much manufacturing and assembly work has moved to Asia.
The world is changing. And traditional real estate investors won't be happy with the side effects. (permalink)
Housing Bust: No matter how you measure it - raw data or seasonally adjusted - U.S. housing starts are at the lowest level ever since the Commerce Department began collecting data fifty years ago.
New home sales are in the toilet as well, with a drop of 30% from a year ago. Sales are down over 70% from their 2005 peak. Sales for March were the lowest since the Census Bureau started tracking sales in 1963.
Tarp This! Larry Kudlow has reported that "Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky has opened 20 criminal probes into possible securities fraud, tax-law violations, insider-trading, and mortgage-modification fraud related to TARP. ... The IG's report also notes that what started last October as a single-purpose $750 billion effort to buy toxic securities has morphed into twelve separate programs that cover up to $3 trillion in direct spending, loans and loan guarantees. In other words, TARP is nearly equal in size to the entire federal budget."
If you Google 'Obama fraud' you get almost 22 million results. Hey, I'm just sayin' ...
Larry concludes, "Think about this: TARP, which is now linked to substantial criminal activity, has ballooned to the size of a second federal budget and represents the biggest government-directed intrusion into the economy in history - vastly bigger than the New Deal. And not only is there TARP for banks, insurance companies, and non-bank financial institutions, but also for GM, Chrysler, and various auto suppliers, and perhaps soon enough for credit cards, newspapers, and other sectors of the economy.
This is why I believe the era of democratic free-market capitalism is coming to an end. It is being replaced by state-directed corporatism on a grand scale. This is central planning that goes way beyond the American tradition."
Dummy In The Cabinet: Janet Napolitano, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, looks like one of those 50-something dressy, slightly chubby Italian ladies who run the tombola game at a South Philly (or South Jersey) church fair. But she's not as smart as those gals.
During her short time in Obama's Cabinet, Napolitano has re-classified terrorism as "man-caused disaster" and declared that illegally crossing the border is "not a crime." She also has said that the terrorists, who caused 9/11 entered the country via Canada.
Mark Steyn has written, "They didn't, and Canadians are understandably miffed at being slandered by Secretary of Hopeychangey Security." Her department also issued the report "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," which warned that political conservatives and military vets need special watching because they're vulnerable to "recruitment efforts by extremist groups."
CBC's Rex Murphy has asked, "What is Barack Obama doing appointing someone to head Homeland Security, who, eight years after the attacks, does not even now know where the hijackers came from and how they got into their country? Here, it's not her ignorance about Canada which should be troubling. It's her ignorance of the most publicized event in modern American history. How can anyone be head of Homeland Security and not know the history of the 19 men who killed nearly 3,000 Americans?"
Maybe Napolitano's waiting for a 'Tora, Tora, Tora'-like movie to be released so she catch up on history, while munching buttered popcorn from a plastic tub.
In a related story, Gerald Warner excoriated Obama his own self, calling him President Pantywaist and writing, "If al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the rest of the Looney Tunes brigade want to kick America to death, they had better move in quickly and grab a piece of the action before Barack Obama finishes the job himself. Never in the history of the United States has a president worked so actively against the interests of his own people - not even Jimmy Carter."
Warner, a U.K. columnist, concluded, "President Pantywaist's recent world tour, cozying up to all the bad guys, excited the ambitions of America's enemies. Here, they realized, is a sucker they can really take to the cleaners. His only enemies are fellow Americans. Which prompts the question: why does President Pantywaist hate America so badly?" (permalink)
Freefall! Fred Barnes offered a comment about the praise lavished on Barack Obama during his first 100 days: "What comes to my mind is the guy who falls off a skyscraper and halfway down declares, 'So far, so good.'"
Health Warning: The People's Cube has reported, "Exposure to pork-barrel projects heightens risk of catching swine flu."
Quote Of The Day is from H.L. Mencken: "Nature abhors a moron."
Friday April 24, 2009
Two Losers Get Together And Hope For A Miracle ... and we're the fools underwriting them. Chrysler, a government-subsidized, money-losing carmaker, plans to sell all-electric Town & Country minivans to the U.S. Postal Service, another government-subsidized, money-losing enterprise. All done with your tax dollars, of course.
There Goes 'Smokey & The Bandit IV': General Motors is rumored to be killing off Pontiac next week. In the first three months of 2009, GM sold 40,887 Pontiacs compared with only 20,534 Buicks and 19,843 Saturns. Axing Hummer (3,106 units/quarter) and Saab (2,932 units/quarter), I can understand. But why aren't Buick and Saturn on the chopping block ahead of Pontiac?
Men Have A Name For This: Obama is trying to dictate the terms of what amounts to an out-of-court bankruptcy for Chrysler and GM. He wants Chrysler's secured lenders to give up their right to nearly full recovery in a bankruptcy in return for 15 cents on the dollar. They'd be crazy to do so - except for the banks who happen to be beholden to the administration for TARP money. Obama's "strategy" also involves "asking thousands of bondholders and GM retirees to buy stock in a GM that the king's own policies mean they'd be loony to buy."
"Kingly prerogative also conflicts with kingly prerogative in the case of GM's unsecured creditors, who are the sticking point in agreeing to a turnaround plan by the drop-dead date of June 1. His retainer, Steven Rattner, has delivered word that the king's pleasure is that these unsecured creditors give up 100% of their claims in return for GM stock."
"It may also be the king's pleasure, he advised, to convert at some point the government's own $13 billion in bailout loans into GM stock."
Hmmm. Getting all losers involved and spreading the excitement around.
This is commonly known as a Circle Jerk.
Meanwhile, Chrysler bondholders have officially rejected the Presidential Task Force of Automobiles' (PTFOA) "offer" to exchange 85 percent of their $6.9 billion in secured debt for a stake in a reconstituted ChyrCo.
Tea Parties Explained: I have a friend who lives in Tokyo. She asked what they were all about since they were only "briefly mentioned in the top of the hour, one-minute radio news broadcasts" on the English-speaking stations.
I replied that there were over 500 tea parties across the U.S. in April. It has been estimated that over 500,000 people participated. Those who showed up were polite, nonviolent and carried individually-made signs. Many were senior citizens. All were protesting runaway, out-of-control government. And Congressional pork. Lots of conservatives were represented but there were many independent voters as well as socially liberal people who are horrified by the way the federal government is mortgaging their children's and grandchildren's futures.
Media coverage of the tea parties was often under-reported and very biased. At the Chicago Tea Party, CNN reporter Susan Roesgen heckled the crowd in an attempt to get hotter news footage. Not only did the attendees not rise to her bait, two of them caught her in the act with their video cameras. She has since "taken a leave of absence" from CNN.
Meanwhile MSNBC show host Rachel Maddow falsely minimized the tea parties as "the fizzle in the drizzle" and mocked the participants.
Interestingly, a Rasmussen survey found that, while half the nation had a favorable opinion of these events, the nation's "Political Class" (reporters and politicians) had a much dimmer view - just 13% of the political elite offered even a somewhat favorable assessment while 81% said the opposite.
As the ghost of JFK said to Obama, "Your party does not even resemble the Democratic party of my day. You're acting like a teenager that thinks he knows everything there is to know, and all that came before him was so 'uncool'. Come on, the only ones you won't talk to are the people in your own country who are hopping mad at you and your policies. For instance, you can ignore that Tea Party all you want, but it sure is a group I'd be talking to, before the seeds they are sowing start taking root. Those are Americans for God's sake, and you got that Pelosi out there belittling them. That is just silly."
Hope Sinks: The latest Obama con job will use your tax dollars to support make-work jobs that will allow America's vast, all-ages reserve army of the unemployed to be "paid volunteers" with AmeriCorps. The bill authorizing this Colossal Waste is called 'The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,' named after that other colossal waste.
Good swimmer, though. Maybe it should have been called the 'Obama/Teddy Hope Floats Act.'
AmeriCorps will be staffed with "paid volunteers", an oxymoron by all traditional volunteer standards. I hadn't thought of this before but, if you work at a regular job, aren't you a "paid volunteer"? I mean, you voluntarily got out of bed and went to work for money, right?
Aren't prostitutes the ultimate paid volunteers?
Nick Gillespie has called this program "piece of self-congratulatory lard every bit as bloated and morally compromised as the man for whom it is named" and has written, "AmeriCorps already got an extra $200 million from the stimulus bill. But it's good to know that they are now getting enough cash to consolidate funding streams and delve into the thorny question of strengthening "management, cost-effectiveness and accountability." Hope and change. Obama, you've done it again!"
Nick has also noted that "AmeriCorps is a program with a long and distinguished history of sucking even by government standards. It effectively comes in second to the standard-issue DMV bureau, with its director in 2003 dubbing it "another cumbersome, unpredictable government bureaucracy." Yeah, yeah, they can fix all that and become squeaky clean, yadda yadda yadda, and that still doesn't address the more basic fact that it is at best superfluous to what Americans, young and old, are already doing: Which is volunteering and "giving back" to the community up the ying-yang."
"And to the extent that laws such as this confuse actual contributions to increasing living standards with getting some sort of paycheck from a non-essential government agency, they do far more damage to American ideals than we normally admit."
As Julian Sanchez had written earlier, "AmeriCorps boosters are less interested in the good works that serve as the program's public justification than in the grand sense of national community it's meant to inspire. Without AmeriCorps, after all, young people might conclude that they're perfectly capable of giving back to their communities without either the assistance or the direction of the federal government. And wouldn't that be a tragedy?"
Naming this program after Admiral Oldsmobile just feeds Ted's massive ego (and head). Come to think of it, the Kennedys really are a bunch of head cases. Think about it. Papa Joe: cerebral hemorrhage, Rosemary: prefrontal lobotomy, JFK: shot in head, Bobby shot in head, John-John: head first into ocean, Teddy: brain tumor. I rest my case.
Thanks For All The Rides ... to high school in your '59 Ford stick-shift V-8 blue station wagon, Nick.
Nicholas Kueny, a legendary math teacher and athletic trainer at St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia has died at age 83. When he retired in 1988, Mister Kueny (as he was known to his students) was one of the most admired members of the Prep faculty.
Since his retirement, Nick had been a faithful (and unpaid) volunteer at Shore Memorial Hospital in Ocean City, NJ. An all-around great guy. Requiescat In Pace. (permalink)
Question Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "How do you tell when you're out of invisible ink?"
Wednesday April 22, 2009
Attention Mullet-Heads: Get on down to your Chevy dealer now and get your 2010 Camaro SS on order. Dan Neil has written, "If you ever stole cable TV from your neighbor, own more than two stuffed deer heads or have ever confused your girlfriend's birth-control pills for Skittles, you might be a Camaro prospect. Oh, please, don't even start with accusations of cultural stereotyping. I'm from North Carolina. A telephone pole with a Camaro wrapped around it might as well be the state tree."
When Two Hobbies Meet: On Monday, when I cranked the starter on the Plymouth, sparks shot out between my feet. Not good. You see, the Plymouth's battery is under the seat and the high amperage causes voltage jumps near the kill switch if the insulation isn't "just so."
I had written about this problem back on September 17, 2008. I realized that I needed some moldable insulation putty to surround the kill switch so that it wouldn't arc to the nearby seat frame.
I drove to Grover's Electrical Supply to buy a roll of 3M's Scotchfil Electrical Insulation Putty. They had never heard of it, nor did their wholesale distributor, nor did Platt Electric, an industrial electric supply house. I came home and found the stuff online but every supplier wanted either a $30 minimum order or a full case minimum ($115). Then I realized that I already had some black uncured rubber moldable stuff - AMI Instant Roadbed - which I used when I was building my train platform in 2000. And my grandson's layout in 2003. I still had quite a bit left, so I cut off a piece of it, installed it below the metal seat frame and - voilà! - problem solved.
I'm no longer sitting on a 12-volt electric chair. (permalink)
Train Wreck: Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, has referred to the Obama administration's high-speed rail plan as "Obama's Recycled Moderate-Speed Rail Plan," noting that it is neither a proposal for Japanese-style bullet trains nor for the Eurostar or trans-Europe TGVs. "Instead, it is conventional Amtrak Diesel-powered trains running a little faster - up to 110 mph, but averaging only 60 to 70 mph - than Amtrak runs today."
He points out ... (more >>>)
Yo Ho Ho! Piracy Pays! The captured Somali pirate may be defended in court by Air America host and radical lawyer Ron Kuby. What's next for the pirate? A seven-figure book deal? A grant from the national Endowment of the Arts? Free lifetime rides on Amtrak? The mind boggles.
News Factoid: Newsroom employment at newspapers plunged 11.3% in 2008, according to the American Society of News Editors. It's the biggest drop the organization has recorded since it first started conducting its newsroom employment survey in 1978.
The Offshoring Of Almost Everything (Part 543): The business of transcribing American medical files employed 34,000 Filipinos and generated $476 million in revenue last year. By the end of 2010, the number of transcriptionists is expected more than triple with annual billings increasing to more than $1.7 billion in the Philippines. India still takes the largest share of outsourced U.S. medical transcription work.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 101,000 Americans were employed as medical transcriptionists in 2002. Most were women, many of them working from home. By 2006, the number had dropped to 98,000 as high-speed Internet connections allowed companies move more of the work across the Pacific. The median income for American transcriptionists is $31,250 a year. In the Philippines, a good operator - paid by the line (piecework) - can earn about $6,000 annually or three times a Filipinos nurse's salary.
And Americans wonder why our country's unemployment is rising.
Unnecessary Worry: Before my first visit to Ireland, I had nightmares that everyone would sound just like Enya and I wouldn't be able to understand a word they said. It turned out that I had no problems during any of my trips.
The bizarre echo technique Enya uses is called 'voice layering'. She also sometimes sings in Lothian, a fake language invented for her.
I do find it ironic that Enya won the 2001 "Echo Award" for best selling international single in Germany. (permalink)
Another Sign Of End Times: Bacon-flavored vodka.
Quote Of The Day is from Barry Ritholz: "It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong."
Monday April 20, 2009
Cruizin': Saturday. Sun. Blue skies. Warmth. Plymouth. Drive.
Monday morning. Ditto.
Pardon My Juvenile Mind: While making one of my frequent visits to The Truth About Cars' site, I came across this gem:
"Domestic intenders for Chrysler and GM have been defecting to Ford and Lincoln Mercury products in great numbers since the beginning of the year," Amanda DeMouthe, marketing manager for Ford's Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington regions, wrote to dealers.
Naturally, I went into a fit of hysterical, sophomoric giggles. Amanda DeMouthe! Wasn't she on The Sopranos? Didn't Phil Leotardo have her whacked?
I bet she'd have been a hot date in high school, at least in the overworked fantasy minds of adolescent males: "Lemme tell ya what Amanda did to me last Saturday night with de mouth."
Speaking of ... TTAC, Robert Farago wrote of the pending Fiat/Chrysler nuptials, "I mean, what could possibly motivate an Italian car company that got its ass kicked seven ways to Sunday in the U.S. market for peddling sorry-ass rust buckets and (almost) providing some of the worst dealer service in the history of four-wheeled transportation to re-enter the fray under the Chrysler banner? That's like Kodak teaming-up with Polaroid to make high end digital cameras for the Japanese market."
See What Happens When I Post An Article: Last month, I wrote about the decline of auto shows and now ... the automotive earth itself is rumbling.
The North American International Auto Show people are moving the show out of Detroit - a result of the crumbling infrastructure of the city, an aging venue and unfriendly, bumbling city officials.
Robin Hood Adds Another Crook To Gang Of Thieves: The Wall Street Journal has reported that Steven Rattner, tapped by Barack Obama to head the auto industry task force, is under investigation over kickback payments involving New York state's pension fund. Rattner is also a donor to sleazeball and half-a-waitress sandwich, Chris Dodd, the Democrat from Countrywide.
Will Rattner end up in jail? HA! That's as likely as spotting George F. Will in denim bib overalls.
Cheapskate: During the nine year period (1998-2006), Joe Biden gave $2,695 to charity, less than $300 per year, despite an average adjusted gross income of over $230,000 per year.
Last year, he made almost $270,000 and claimed a mere $1,885 in charitable deductions.
Skank Update: Charles Krauthammer, reacting to disparaging comments made by Janeane Garafalo about the tea parties across the U.S., said, "She is as angry as she is clueless."
Garafalo had decided that these tax protests were somehow racist, remarking to Keith Olbermann (who else?!?), "It's about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up and is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks."
Garafalo is the ugliest woman to ever appear on '24'. Once passably cute (15 years ago or so), she is not aging well. Maybe it's all that pent-up hate.
Dead Mall Walking: General Growth Properties Inc. filed the biggest real estate bankruptcy in U.S. history last week after amassing $27 billion in debt during an acquisition spree that turned it into the second-largest shopping mall owner.
General, which purchased developer Rouse Co. in 2004, owned ... (more >>>)
Restaurant Review ... Lil Cooperstown Pub & Grill; West Linn, OR: This baseball-themed sports bar features great food (in taste, variety and portion size), served promptly by friendly waitstaff. Cooperstown is known for its burgers but the Reuben sandwich is also first-rate. I've been here twice and had a delightful meal on both occasions. (permalink)
Restaurant Review II ... Masters of the Vine; West Linn, OR: It's one of my nominations for the 'Restaurant From Hell' award ... (more >>>)
Caribbean Vacation: Now that President Obama has begun lifting restrictions on Cuba, it will only be a matter of time before anyone can travel there.
You'll be able to score a balcony room at Havana's Nacional de Cuba, drink Cuba Libres in the breezy Aire Mar Bar until you're loco, see all the sights and smoke a fistful of Gloria Cubana cigars.
When you're finally ready to leave - if you've managed to keep a couple of thousand American dollars stashed away - you'll be able to bring home a 1956 Pontiac Star Chief stuffed with six hookers wearing low-cut, cleavage-popping sleeveless blouses and coiffed in 1949 Rita Hayworth hairdos as well as a trunk filled with rum and poorly-crafted, leaky Che Guevara coffee mugs.
Spring Cleaning Tip from the good folks at The People's Cube: "Don't forget to change your scientific consensus from winter setting "climate change" to summer setting "global warming.""
Quote Of The Day is from P.J. O'Rourke: "I love all cars, if the truth be known. We're told cars are dangerous. It's safer to drive through South Central LA than to walk there. We're told cars are wasteful. Wasteful of what? Oil did a lot of good sitting in the ground for millions of years. … and we're told cars cause pollution. A 100 years ago city streets were ankle deep in horse excrement. What kind of pollution do you want? Would you rather die of cancer at eighty or typhoid fever at nine? Cars have made us richer, freer, happier people. Life is better because of cars. Cars are good."
Thursday April 16, 2009
Fifty Years Ago: The April, 1959 issue of Rod & Custom (the "twelfth issue of our sixth year") - from my stash of old car mags - offers a nostalgic look at the past.
Aside from the usual customized prewar Fords and early postwar Chevys, there was a surprising amount of go-cart coverage within. On the back cover of the little 5" x 8" magazine was a full-page ad for Go Kart Mfg. Co. Inc. of Azuza, CA. It offered the 400 B model from $129.50, boasting that the firm had "over 2,500 genuine Go Karts in use today."
On the inside pages, Ed Roth was selling custom painted Weird-O-Shirts shirts with your design for $4.50 each postpaid. J.C. Whitney offered complete Continental kits for under $50 - under $60 for ones with a "stainless steel ring." R&C subscribers could get "6 big issues for $1.00."
Life was simpler then. And less costly. (permalink)
Just Think ... in 2024, he'll be played on 'The Music Of Your Life'. Greg Gutfeld has described Eminem as "a white, balding rapper quickly approaching forty and desperately clinging to a shred of relevance - not unlike his white, balding fans already over forty desperately clinging to jobs in telemarketing."
"Our Friday Special Is Clam Chowder With A Bank Failure On The Side." The FDIC likes to close a failing bank on a Friday, so it can take the weekend to clean up and reopen the joint on Monday. Here are the bank failure stats: 2007 - 3; 2008 - 25; 2009 (so far) - 23.
Clown College: The back-from-the-dead Philadelphia Bulletin has opined that St. Joseph's University shouldn't have invited Hardball's clown/host Chris Matthews to be this year's commencement speaker.
Frank Diamond wrote, "There are more than just common-sense reasons why Mr. Matthews should not be honored by a Catholic university. He is a well-know abortion rights advocate. It's as if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were asked to address the Israeli Knesset. ('Thank you! What a great crowd! I almost don't want to wipe you off the face of the earth anymore!') It's as if the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan were toasted by the NAACP.
Having previously described Matthews as a "vaudevillian ... sporting a red rubber nose," Frank continued, "Hello? Anybody home there at St. Joe's? Why must anyone have to say to officials of an institution of higher learning that what people think matters? The last I looked, Catholicism teaches that abortion is murder. Therefore, Mr. Matthews is an abettor of genocide - when he's not doing the soft-shoe and spritzing seltzer water at the audience."
This sure isn't the St. Joe's I remember. I first set foot on campus on June 13, 1948 at my uncle's graduation, appearing in toddler shoes wearing his mortarboard in a period photograph. Back in those days, St. Joe's was only a 'college,' not a university. It seems the 'university' designation hasn't helped. (permalink)
You Are What You Eat: Steve Sailer has written, "Richard Lynn's findings about race differences in intelligence and their relatedness to Africa's continuing state of underdevelopment? In his work, Mr. Lynn compiled the results of numerous studies which appear to show fairly unambiguously that average IQs in sub-Saharan Africa are below 70."
Sailer notes that "the very low average IQs found in Africa can't all be genetic in origin because the gap between Africans (mean IQ of 70 according to dozens of studies) and African-Americans (mean IQ of 85 according to hundreds of studies) is as large as the gap between African-Americans and white Americans (100). Yet, African-Americans are no more than 20% white by genealogy. Richard Lynn himself has repeatedly pointed to poor nutrition as one cause of low average IQs in some poor countries. We know of two micronutrients iodine and iron that can lower your IQ when not in sufficient supply in your diet. That's why in America salt is fortified with iodine and flour with iron. Extending these fortification programs to the Third World as a way to raise average IQ would probably give more bang for the buck than anything else."
The Man's Probably Spinning In His Grave. Here's some wisdom from Ronald Reagan (March 1984): "You cannot pour billions of dollars into make-work while destroying the economy that supports them and call that opportunity. And you cannot build up years of dependence on government and dare call that hope."
Bad Pun Of The Day: I went to a seafood disco last week ... and pulled a mussel.
Tuesday April 14, 2009
'1959 Guide To Cars Of The World': I recently had a look at my old, somewhat tattered copy of this Trend Book edited by Kenneth M. Bayless. What a difference 50 years makes.
In 1959, Chrysler introduced ... (more >>>)
Car Sighting: Spotted a new 2010 Honda Insight in the Battle Ground Safeway parking lot.
It looked 34.6% less geeky than a 2009 Prius.
Let's Make A Deal: From the Wall Street Journal: "Pontiac dealers have enough inventory of Pontiac G3s - the badge-engineered Chevy Aveo, product of Korea's infamous Daewoo - to last 617 days at the current rate of sales - close to two full years."
Hmmmm. I have a feeling that you could now buy a Pontiac G3 at a substantial discount. Of course, in this economy, you could probably buy a Gulfstream G3 at a substantial discount, too.
"How Did He Do Such Fantastic Stunts With Such Tiny Feet?!" Last week, I followed a red, topless MGB. I had forgotten how narrow the tires were on most sports cars made 40 years ago.
Somehow, Hedley Lamarr came to mind. (permalink)
Kim Jong Il - Before & After: I don't care what the hell Marie Osmond says, that NutriSystem crap'll kill ya.
I didn't even know they sold the stuff in North Korea. Oh wait, maybe it's our new secret weapon.
On the other hand, Kim appears to be in good spirits. He reportedly has said, "I've lost 57 pounds and I look fabulous. My friends say I've gone from 'cute' to 'stunning'. See me on 'Dancing With The Stars' next month with my partner, Fidel Castro." (permalink)
Speaking Of Dangerous Little Cretins ... Music producer, former member of the Teddy Bears and all-around creep, sixty-nine year-old Phil Spector, who has already been found guilty of bad hair, bad behavior at various bars and music studios, bad choice of castle location and bad treatment of women, has now been found guilty of second degree murder in the bad stick-a-gun-in-her-mouth shooting death of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.
Lana was only guilty of believing that 'To Know Him Is To Love Him'.
True story: on the day of the verdict, Spector arrived in court wearing a 'Barack Obama rocks' button.
His photo can also be found on the 'Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians' website.
What's Wrong With Social Security? Here's a personal example: For most of my working life, my S.S. deductions were the maximum amount possible, so I have undoubtedly contributed more than the average American.
My wife and I elected to take early Social Security at age 62. Before we reach 68, we will have received all of our contributions back in the form of S.S. payments. (This doesn't even factor in the payouts from Medicare.)
Mortality tables indicate that we will live another 10-15 years beyond that. If that's the case, we'll collect more than triple what we put in. Such a system is unsustainable - a Ponzi scheme which is doomed to collapse.
Keeping The Faith: Vatican sources have told Il Giornale that their support for abortion disqualified Caroline Kennedy and other Roman Catholics President Barack Obama had been seeking to appoint as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.
Thanks to the Catholic Church for standing up for its principles.
Now if only the Vatican would start excommunicating some of those other CINOs (Catholics In Name Only) politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and Kathleen Sebelius - Democrats and pro-abortionists all. (permalink)
Don't Forget Your Overcoat: The Catlin Expedition, which is trekking to the North Pole to highlight effects of global warming on Arctic sea ice, has experienced equipment malfunctions due to extremely cold weather. In late February, it encountered an unexpected wind chill as low as minus 94 degrees Farenheit. Expedition members have also been battling frostbite and chronic hypothermia.
"They have encountered shifting ice driven by arctic winds that is driving them backwards at times."
Those howling winds seem to be saying, "Screw you, Al Gore."
What Caused This Recession? Alan Reynolds has written, "What really triggered this recession should be obvious, since the same thing happened before every other postwar U.S. recession save one (1960). In 1983, economist James Hamilton of the University of California at San Diego showed that "all but one of the US recessions since World War Two have been preceded, typically with a lag of around three-fourths of a year, by a dramatic increase in the price of crude petroleum." The years 1946 to 2007 saw 10 dramatic spikes in the price of oil - each of which was soon followed by recession."
"The prolonged decline in exurban housing construction that began in early 2006 was a logical response to rising prices of oil and gasoline at that time. So was the equally prolonged decline in sales of gas-guzzling vehicles. And the U.S./U.K. financial crises in the fall of 2008 were likewise as much a consequence of recession as the cause: Recessions turn good loans into bad."
"The recession began in late 2007 or early 2008 in many countries, with the United States one of the least affected. Countries with the deepest recessions have no believable connection to US housing or banking problems. The truth is much simpler: There is no way the oil-importing economies could have kept humming along with oil prices of $100 a barrel, much less $145. Like nearly every other recession of the postwar period, this one was triggered by a literally unbearable increase in the price of oil."
I'm not sure whether petroleum costs are the primary cause of recessions but certainly they can be the catalyst in a financially shaky environment.
In my February posting, 'Formica Banking', I wrote, "The meltdown began, in my view, when gas jumped to $4.00/gallon. Financial institutions had loaned mortgage and car money to people who were living on the edge - such a sharp edge that, they had to make a decision between filling the gas tanks of their gas-guzzling trucks to get to work and making loan payments. (Apparently, these borrowers had never heard of bicycles.) The debtors fell off a financial cliff, stopped making loan payments and walked away from "assets" which no one else wanted - and were, therefore, worth less than their loan principal - leaving lenders holding the bag."
Question Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?"
Friday April 10, 2009
Dead Body: Car body manufacturer Karmann, the independent German builder whose name was most often associated with VW's Karmann Ghia (producing over 440,000 of them), has gone bankrupt.
Over its 108-year history, the coachbuilder has done work for Audi, Ford, Mercedes, Porsche, Renault and others. Karmann built the air-cooled Beetle convertible (1949-1980) and, more recently, the Chrysler Crossfire. Most recently, the Osnabrück firm's 3,470 workers were assembling Audi A4 and Mercedes CLK convertibles. Karmann also built the Ford Sierra for the American market, sold under the Merkur brand by Lincoln/Mercury dealers.
My silver 1976 Volkswagen Scirocco was bodied by Karmann, as were all Series I and Series II Sciroccos.
Car Guys On Board: Iowahawk notes that all of Obama's Car Czars seem to be law professors or financiers with journalism degrees. "I realize the industry is not suffering from a lack of law professors - it is suffering from a lack of imagination. They gave us cup holders and electric seat warmers when we wanted angel fur and bubble tops. They pushed micro-clown cars and hybrids when the market was rife for chromed 8-deuce Chrysler Hemis. Well, Bucko, all that outmoded thinking is going to end."
He proposes a Iowahawk Council of Automotive Advisors, naming names, listing their accomplishments and posting photos of the incredible vehicles they've actually built.
Damn. I hadn't thought about angel fur in decades. That takes me back.
A Better Idea: AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo praises Ford, noting that it has sliced "its debt by almost $10 billion through its own debt structuring initiatives - saving $500 million annually in interest payments - while putting even more pressure on GM and Chrysler to get their respective houses in order.
There's beginning to be a clear differentiation between America's Original Car Company and the Old Detroit Two, and the chasm is growing wider by the day. No matter what happens between GM, Chrysler and Washington, Ford is about to leave its domestic competitors in the dust."
Full Disclosure: Remember the Butte, Montana plane crash in March that killed seven adults and seven children? It was, of course, a tragedy.
Media reports noted that the victims were "ultrarich." The Associated Press also reported that Dr. Irving 'Bud' Feldkamp (the guy who leased the plane, father of two of the adult victims and grandfather to five of the children who perished) was waiting "at the entrance of the ultra-exclusive resort where he planned to spend the week skiing with his children and grandchildren." The location was called a "millionaires-only resort" later in the same article.
Despite the apparent focus on wealth, what the media didn't reveal was the source of the money. Bud Feldkamp is president of Family Planning Associates Medical Group, Inc., a health care organization that is California's largest for-profit abortion provider. The plane crashed in Holy Cross Cemetery in Butte, not far from The Tomb of the Unborn, a memorial for babies who have died because of abortion.
'Rich' is somehow newsworthy; abortion connections are not. Always remember that 'news' is often selective.
"Free Is A Very Good Price": If you've spent any time in the Willamette Valley in the past 40 years, you'll remember Tom Peterson, the Portland-based appliance and furniture retailer. Tom's wacky commercials were a fixture on KPTV channel 12's Saturday night wrestling and on late night television.
Who can forget crew-cut Tom, knocking on the inside of your TV screen at 1:00 am: "Wake up! Wake up!" The man with the trademark smile frequently offered giveaways, adding: "Free is a very good price."
Tom later sold an alarm clock in the shape of a television set with his face in the middle and his voice as the alarm, saying: "Wake up! Wake up to a happy day!" He also offered free crew-cuts at his main store.
In 1964 - his first year in business, Peterson had revenues of $300,000. By 1989, he was moving $30 million worth of merchandise per year. But his ill-advised purchase of a chain of auto stereo stores led to bankruptcy in 1991.
He then reopened a single store with his wife: 'Tom Peterson's (and Gloria's Too!)'.
Faced with the declining health of the aging proprietors and falling earnings, the store has now closed. For many of us, this represents the end of an era.
Update: Tom passed away in July 2016. (permalink)
Adios: Koplan's Home Furnishings, a downtown Vancouver WA retail icon since 1948, is closing its doors. Owner Keith Koplan said that the store had been "operating in the red for two years ... our best years were 2002 to early into 2007. Last year was a bad year; the start of 2009 has been worse than bad." Over the past five years, Koplan spent over $750,000 to remodel the building.
I tried to buy there twice but ... (more >>>)
Dining Options: I just learned that Portland-based Laurelwood Public House and Brewery will open a 5,000 square feet pub and restaurant at Battle Ground Village, making it the closest eatery to our house. It's scheduled to open in July; the firm already has five Portland locations. By early summer, Bones Steak & Chop House will also open in the same Battle Ground retail complex.
This is bad news for Irby's Fine Wine & Dining, located a few blocks north. The restaurant changed hands last month and the new owners have been mum about changes and improvements. They've apparently even stopped advertising. Irby's new owners operate a property management firm but have never owned a restaurant - not a good omen, especially in the face of increased competition. The new Laurelwood Brewery will be double the size of Irby's.
Obama's Overseas Adventure is summarized by Jim Treacher: "The Queen of England gets an iPod. The King of Saudi Arabia gets iDolatry."
Quote Of The Day is from John Adams: "In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress."
Wednesday April 8, 2009
Spring Fever: Spring has finally come to the Northwest. On Monday morning, I woke the Plymouth from its long winter's rest and took it for a spin.
While the weather was warm enough for windows-down driving, there was still a healthy cap of snow on the Cascades which looked beautiful framed against a cloudless blue sky.
Exclusive - Direct From The New York Auto Show! Have I gotten your attention? Good.
Forty-three years ago, I attended the show at the New York Coliseum. I have posted various ads and announcements from the 1966 Auto Show 'Official Program' here. I hope you find the selection informative, amusing and enjoyable.
So Wrong On So Many Levels: General Motors, fighting for its life, distracts itself from the task of making cars people actually want to buy by partnering with loser Segway to build a ... ummm ... Segway for people who don't like to stand up. Or a wheelchair with a windshield.
Named Puma, an acronym for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, the 'device' has been described as a "reinvention of urban transportation."
A video of the thing in action can be found here.
I have several observations/questions:
• GM, which usually deals in gleaming, swoopy, spaceship-like concept vehicles, chose instead to unveil a crude working mule, violating the First Law of Hype: Although both are noticeable against one's skin, it is much better to show off fake jewelry than real warts.
• Watching the video, I am reminded of those rolling chairs found on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Can I get one in wicker, please? With wire-spoke wheels?
• Will the Puma fit in the trunk of a geezer's Lincoln Town Car or Caddy DTS?
• If a woman wears blue while driving one of these, how often will she be mistaken for a meter maid?
• Is the Puma small enough to park in a handicapped rest room stall?
• The Segway, an overhyped product which spectacularly failed to meet initial market expectations, was initially called 'It' - a one-syllable word. GM's yet to be produced 'Volt' is also a one-syllable word. Hmmmmm.
• Is it narrow enough that one Puma can pass another in the aisle of the average Wal-Mart?
• Would the Puma beat Mr. Garrison's gyrocycle in a drag race?
• Segway should have partnered with Harley Davidson on this one and butched up the design, marketing it to old, wobbly former bikers.
• This is a great vehicle for those ... ahem ... 'disabled', who are too obese to walk any distance and are so fat that their asses hang waaay over the edges of their Rascals. The Puma offers a seat for each (huge) cheek.
• The new Puma is something else unsaleable for Saturn dealers to offer.
• Now that you know that General Motors sees this two-wheel device as The Future, would you have Mr. Obama continue to invest your money in GM?
Little Trouble In Big Utopia: The New York Times considers Portland, Oregon to be the face of the recession. "Portland, a metropolitan area of 2.2 million people, affords an ideal window onto the spiral of fear and diminished expectations assailing the economy. The area has long attracted investment and talented minds with its curbs on urban sprawl, thriving culinary scene and life in proximity to the Pacific Coast and the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades."
In recent months, Portland "has devolved into a symbol of much that is wrong." Housing prices have fallen more than 14 percent since May 2007. Foreclosures more than tripled last year. The unemployment rate for the metro area surged from 4.8 percent at the end of 2007 to 9.8 percent in January 2009.
As the global recession tightens, Portland's docks ... (more >>>)
More Portland Economic Indicators: Mid-size Portland general contractor B.J. Cummings Co. is shutting down, citing lack of work for its commercial construction services.
Zell Bros. Jewelers, a popular Portland retailer since 1912, is also quitting business. Several years ago, Zell was bought out by Zales. In 2007, Zales sold Zell Bros. and Bailey, Banks and Biddle to New York-based Finlay Enterprises.
I have an engraved sterling silver cup which was given to me the year I was born. It came from Bailey Banks & Biddle in Philadelphia. The jeweler has been located on tony Chestnut since its founding in 1832. Apparently, Finlay is now in financial difficulty and the Bailey Banks & Biddle name is in some jeopardy.
Just across the river in Vancouver WA, the Bank of America plans to foreclose on the Columbian Publishing Co., parent of the local Columbian newspaper.
Last Saturday, we dined at Salty's on the Columbia. No valet parking - business is slow, so it's park it yourself. Which was just fine with me. Responding to the troubled economy, Salty's now has a new menu with lower prices. Still, there were empty tables - something we've never seen on a weekend in 20 years. And plenty of parking, too - surprising since this is a restaurant that never has enough parking.
We had a great time - cocktails, followed by dinner at a primo river-view window table upstairs while we listened to the Mel Brown jazz trio perform live. They were - as usual - superb. I've posted additional thoughts about Salty's here.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "There are too many people, especially among the intelligentsia, who will never appreciate the things that have made this country great until after those things have been destroyed - with their help. Then, of course, it will be too late."
Monday April 6, 2009
Prophesy Fulfilment? Type 'GM bankruptcy' into Google and you'll get 2,670,000 search results. Everybody's using the word now - even General Motors' new CEO, Fritz Henderson. But, over three years ago - on March 15, 2006, I predicted that GM would go bankrupt. And explained the reasons why.
Talk is cheap, though. If I was really smart, I would have shorted the stock.
In Related News ... Joel McHale opened Friday's segment of The Soup with this: "I am now the new chairman of General Motors. The first car I'm developing runs on Red Bull and cocaine. It's called the Lindsay."
Almost Eighty Years Later; Almost Eighty Percent Uglier: In 1931, new railcars were introduced on the Philadelphia to Norristown transit line. The railway was then known as the Pennsylvania & Western (nicknamed the Piss & Whistle by locals); the new cars were built by Brill of Philadelphia.
The aluminum railcars had a streamlined design (resulting from wind-tunnel testing of scale models), featured rounded parabolic ends and could hit speeds as high as 92 mph. These amazing cars remained in service for 59 years. I rode them many times commuting to college.
The replacement cars are ... (more >>>)
Creepy Cheapies: Insiders say that reps for Elizabeth Arden have contacted several beauty magazines asking for "bereavement rates" on advertising should their ailing friend Elizabeth Taylor, 77 - who hawks the cosmetics company's White Diamonds perfume - die this year.
"They want to do a big 'we loved you' kind of spread on the cheap," a source said.
Dead Letter: Last Thursday, I got one piece of mail. On a 'good' day, we get three or four. I used to receive a lot of mail, probably a half pound per day - tons of junk - but that dropped off noticeably the day I turned 60 and was no longer part of America's target market of aspirational 34 to 59 year-olds and was reclassified as a grumpy old reclusive tightwad.
I also used to receive newspaper and magazine clippings from friends who would cut them out and mail them in envelopes. Now they send e-mail.
Ten years ago, we had over a dozen magazine subscriptions. Now we have two. Every day, we'd receive a couple of colorful mail order catalogs in our box. These days we get one or two each week.
I'm not alone in this. Postal usage is dropping. The U.S. Postal Service is closing six of its 80 district offices. In addition, administrative staff positions at district level nationwide are being reduced by 15 percent and nearly 150,000 employees nationwide being given opportunity to take an early retirement. More than 1,400 mail processing supervisor and management positions are also being eliminated.
There has been a sharp decline in first-class mail as letters and transactions moved to the Internet. Then the flagging economy devastated advertising mail, which had become the agency's largest volume. Postal officials said the economic recession contributed to a 5.2 billion piece mail volume decline compared to the same period last year. The Postal Service projects volume for the year will be down by 12 billion to 15 billion pieces of mail.
In 2008, mail volume totaled 202.7 billion pieces, a decline of 9.5 billion pieces, or 4.5%, compared to the previous year. Even profits from the sale of collector stamps haven't been enough to offset the drop in profitable mail.
The USPS does not receive a taxpayer subsidy for its operations, although it is now looking for an emergency bailout. Along with everyone else, it seems. Yeah, get in line - a long one ... just like at the post office. Ha!
Illinois Rep. Danny Davis, chairman of the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia subcommittee, said it's a matter of unavoidable truths. "We've seen this coming for several years now, quite frankly. The volume simply is not there; e-commerce has taken its toll. We used to write letters to grandma and stuff like that, now we just don't do that anymore. You can't deliver what's not there."
Leader Talks Trash: Greg Gutfeld has written that "as President Obama continues to charm the hijabs off foreign dignitaries, he also cannot resist taking jabs at America or more specifically, that horrible America that existed before he rose to power on a magical thunderbolt." According to the Messiah, "There have been times where America's shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive," as this pig-headed country revealed "a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world."
Greg came to a stunning realization: "While listening to all this, it dawned on me who Obama really is. He's mom's new boyfriend, trying to win over the suspicious offspring with ice cream and Happy Meals, while not so subtly crapping over the biological daddy - that poor soul paying all the bills and currently living in a one bedroom condo off the freeway. If you ask me, it's kinda gross ... enough already at a certain point you have stop throwing your country under the double decker bus in an effort to get people to like you."
The U.S. is the leader of the world, not Europe. And the fact is, we're right more than we're wrong and we do more good on this planet than the rest of these also-ran countries combined.
"Line, Please." Here's a tidbit about President Obama's European trip: "Accompanying the party will be a total of 500 officials including kitchen staff, 35 vehicles in all, four speech writers and 12 teleprompters."
Barack's teleprompter even has a blog.
"It Absorbs Everything - Even Blood": Vince the ShamWow guy, who also peddles a Veg-O-Matic-like device called the SlapChop, got into a physical dispute with a South Beach hooker in Florida and delivered his own version of a SlapChop to her face.
Police records listed Vince's occupation as 'Marketing'.
This is kinda like listing Tim Geithner as 'Tax Expert'.
If We Can Put A Man On The Moon ... surely we can deep-fry a Philly cheesesteak.
Restaurant Review ... Panera Bread; Vancouver, WA: This Missouri-based bakery/casual dining chain has 1,252 cafes in 40 states and in Canada. We visited twice - once just to buy bread and once for lunch. On both occasions, it took forever to place an order. The staff seemed confused and distracted. The dining area didn't seem that clean; nor did the bathrooms. Full trash bins everywhere at 11:30 am is inexcusable. This place needs a manager who actually 'manages'.
The food was OK but expensive for what you got - especially since you had to retrieve it at the pickup station and vend your own drinks. I had a bread bowl of potato soup which was mostly bread and not much soup.
I don't know our experience is typical with this chain or is part of the Vancouver Black Hole Syndrome. Regardless, we won't be goin' back. (permalink)
Thought For Today is from Lucianne: "When your town has more bank branches than shoe stores, something is wrong."
Friday April 3, 2009
Car Sighting: Last week, I spotted a new Dodge Challenger in black - usually a flattering color on a muscle car. Meh. The more I see of the Challenger, the less impressed I am.
The original Challenger and its Plymouth Barracuda cousin (1970-74) had swoopy lines and a low-slung look. The forward-sloping front gave them a look of fierceness and speed. The dull 2009 version looks like it was carved from a bar of soap by someone involved in the styling of the 1960 Ford Falcon.
I've complained about bland auto design before; the new Dodge Challenger is just one more example.
Fix It Again, Tony: Could there be anything worse than Chrysler? Sure ... Fiat. This week, S&P cut Fiat's rating by another notch to junk status. The rating remains on review for another downgrade.
But wait, there's more. Fiat cars are unreliable and unsatisfying, according to two independent surveys of European-market vehicles. When my wife and I were in Italy in 2002, we were surprised at the large number of non-Italian cars we saw. Our Roman tour guide told us that Italian cars are "too troublesome." She owned a Renualt. Even the locals have given up on the home team.
And Obama wants Chrysler to merge with these bozos?
Tip Jar from William Katz at Urgent Agenda: "If you happen to be riding in a General Motors car today, please consider leaving a little something in the cup holder. Thanks."
McPaper Misery: USA Today, the country's largest newspaper, has lost 100,000 subscribers just from the slowdown in travel. The slowdown has resulted in a reduction of more than 7% in the number of copies of USA Today distributed through partnerships with hotel chains such as Marriott, which account for more than half of its weekday circulation of 2.3 million. (permalink)
Closing Forever: Gottschalks Inc., a venerable Western department store chain, is being liquidated. Founded in Fresno in 1904, Gottschalks operated 58 department stores and three specialty stores. It had about 5,200 employees in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Nevada. (permalink)
You Vill Do As Ve Command: As someone who was oft harassed by OSHA (One Safety Stormtrooper actually said to me, "We'll get you one of these days."), it was a great pleasure to read this Safety Nazi Story from Hank Morgan.
Revealing the last sentence won't spoil the story. "I am surrounded by some of the finest engineers in the universe, and we are annoyed by some of the stupidest ones. After all, if you can't engineer anything yourself, why not act as an obstruction to those who can?"
Another Day Older And Deeper In Debt: President Barack Obama has repeatedly claimed that his budget would cut the deficit by half by the end of his term. But as Heritage analyst Brian Riedl has pointed out, given that Obama has already helped quadruple the deficit with his stimulus package, pledging to halve it by 2013 is hardly ambitious. The Washington Post has a great graphic which helps put ... (more >>>)
Movie Review: Last week, I snagged one of the newly-released Blu-Ray copies of 'Quantum of Solace', the 22nd James Bond film.
In the film, 007 (played once again by Daniel Craig) battles Dominic Greene, a member of the mysterious and evil Quantum organization, posing as an environmentalist who intends to stage a coup d'état in Bolivia to take control of its water supply.
The flick has lots of action but was almost too fast-paced. Roger Moore, the third actor to play Bond, opined in an interview that "there was a bit too much flash cutting and it was just like a commercial of the action. There didn't seem to be any geography and you were wondering what the hell was going on." I agree.
I have trouble with the new, non-suave 007 - a rough and ruthless agent-killer, nursing a broken heart and coldly suppressed rage. And I miss the quips. I also miss the gadgets and Q, who was absent from this film.
'Quantum of Solace' was the last in FoMoCo's three-film product-placement deal. Although Ford no longer owns Aston Martin, Bond's DBS V-12 returned for the film's car chase around Lake Garda. (Reportedly, six Aston Martins were destroyed during filming.) There was also a 2009 Ford Ka in the film, as well as a prior-generation Jaguar Vanden Plas, Land Rovers and a pair of evil black Ford Edges.
The old Bond films are still the best.
Quote Of The Day is from Frank Hubbard: "The safe way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it in your pocket."
Thursday April 2, 2009
Power Dome: New General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson certainly has the corporate look. His forehead resembles the hood of a 1953 GMC COE truck. (permalink)
Obama Motors: Charles Krauthammer has commented, "This is industrial policy at its best and worst. You pick winners and losers. Chrysler was tossed aside. It is not going to get any help. It either lives as a piece of Fiat or it dies. And GM will live. ... It is now owned by Obama. When you watch the new CEO Henderson, he knows who his boss is. It's not the shareholders, it's not the board new or old. It's Obama.
When you see it with the constitutionally, it is really odd, bizarre for the president of the United States to stand up there and to tell you he is going to guarantee your muffler. This is a real stretch."
In related news, Zeituni Onyango, an aunt of President Obama, will get to stay in the United States until at least February 2010 after an immigration judge in Boston delayed her case. Rumor has it that she's been offered a high-level position at General Motors.
And Furthermore: President Barack Obama has determined that a prepackaged bankruptcy is the best way for General Motors Corp. to restructure and become a competitive automaker, people familiar with the matter have said. Obama also is prepared to let Chrysler LLC go bankrupt and be sold off piecemeal if the third-largest U.S. automaker can't form an alliance with Fiat, said members of Congress who have been briefed on the subject as well as other insiders.
Obama may well be making the right moves but it makes me queasy to see the government step in and do this. Because I'm worried that they may never step out.
Sales Report: As expected, March vehicle sales numbers were generally dismal. GM was down 45%, Ford off 41%, Chrysler declined 39%, Toyota dropped 39% and Honda fell 36%.
In prior downturns, Honda has been less affected than other automakers. But this month, sales of the Element were off a whopping 72%; the Ridgeline didn't do much better. Sales of the flagship Acura RL, which the buff books and market place have deemed uncompetitive, were down 71%.
At General Motors, Cadillac sales dropped 53% (yet Lincoln sales were only down 33%); Hummer sales declined by 79%, Saturn was off by 60% and Corvette sales were down by 56%. The GM bright spot was the Chevy Malibu, which dropped a mere 2% in sales.
Ford's big losers were big SUVs (Explorer, Expedition) - off 73% and Mustang, which declined by 63%.
At Toyota, the diminutive Yaris did a cliff dive of 55% in sales; it is outsold almost fourfold by the larger Corolla. But, with 5,888 units sold in March, the Yaris still outsells the Honda Fit (5,300) and Chevy Aveo (2,285).
In March, 2,175 Toyota Avalons were sold - a decline of 53%. This compares with Ford Taurus (3,758, -46%), Mercury Sable (941, -49%) and Buick LaCrosse (1,800, -42%).
Lexus sales were down 43%. Only 853 Lexus LS models were sold - a drop of 60%. Audi, BMW and Mercedes were much less affected by these bad times, declining 19%, 24% and 25% respectively. Infiniti sales were off 48%.
This month's 'winners' were Kia (-0.6%) Subaru (-2.6%) and Hyundai (-4.8%).
Shredded Paper: The Sun-Times Media Group, owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and dozens of suburban newspapers, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, making it the fifth newspaper publisher in recent months to seek protection from creditors. The IRS ... (more >>>)
Gone: My former employer is no more. The Rohm & Haas brand disappeared and its stock ceased trading on April Fool's Day 2009, as Dow Chemical Co. closed on its $16.5 billion buyout of Rohm & Haas Co. - a deal that Dow hopes will fuel growth in the high-margin specialty chemicals market.
Some Rohm & Haas business assets "will form the core of a new advanced materials unit."
To save cash and make the integration as seamless as possible, Dow cut its dividend, moved to lay off thousands of Rohm & Haas workers and announced plans to sell several R&H assets, including Morton Salt. Dow confirmed that "the agricultural unit - which has performed well, despite the recession - will not be sold."
I have posted more about Rohm & Haas here.
Apparently, I am following in the footsteps of my ancestors. My dad's employers (Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central and Conrail) are gone. As are both my grandfathers' - Pennsylvania Railroad and a Philadelphia bar.
Cell-Phone Homeless: Ed Anger has asked, "Who the heck are they talking to with these cell phones anyhow? The voices in their heads? Their fifty cats? Back in my day, we didn't have homeless people. We had hobos, winos and bums! They rode across the country on trains to spread out their stinkiness, instead of the way they do today, sitting on the same street corner for years and smelling up the place."
I, too, remember the good old days, when ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from Jay Leno "According to the government, Rick Wagoner was forced to resign because of poor performance. That's embarrassing ... You run an organization that loses billions of dollars and then get fired by a guy who heads up an organization that loses trillions of dollars."
Wednesday April 1, 2009
Chuffley-Waite: I first wrote this fictitious story as a contribution to a car club's April newsletter in 1989. It begins thusly:
Since its founding in 1903, the Chuffley-Waite Motorcar Company, Ltd. of Bumpford-on-Thames, England had been known for the very powerful motorcars which it produced. The sheer might of these cars was symbolised in the radiator ornament used - a nickel-plated locomotive.
For many decades, these automobiles were purchased by men of power who could be seen roaring up and down the motorways forcing lesser cars off to the roadside, much like medieval times, when indentured serfs would throw themselves off the footpath, anxiously tugging their forelocks as royalty approached and passed.
The Chuffley-Waite was so famous that it was celebrated in many ... (more >>>)