Friday July 31, 2009
Sighting: Saw a 2010 restyled Mustang this week. Good redesign of an already nice-looking ride.
In Soviet Union, Car Buys You: Economist Irwin M. Stelzer has predicted: "General Motors will produce small cars that please limousine-riding politicians rather than consumers, and remain on life support until the government sets in place regulations that more or less force buyers to take the sort of product the GM will have on offer."
Sadly, he's probably right.
Miniscule Humor: The church bulletin from St. Mary's Catholic Church (est. 1881) of Mt. Angel, Oregon carries advertising on the back page. If you're looking to purchase a small home in the area, you might want to contact Mitch and Virginia to show you some properties. Then you could contact James to review the legal documents. (permalink)
Your Government At Work: Nearly 11,000 acres of federal land in South Dakota will be closed to the public for a month while federal officials investigate what may have been an explosion in an outhouse. A U.S. Forest Service crew found the doors and windows of the outhouse blown off, scorch marks on the wall and the seams separated in the corners of the concrete walls.
They believe a small explosive device might have gone off.
Health Care Madness: Ann Coulter has offered some sane commentary. Excerpt: "Just as people use vastly different amounts of gasoline, they also use vastly different amounts of medical care - especially when an appointment with a highly trained physician costs less than a manicure. Insurance plans that force everyone in the plan to pay for everyone else's Viagra and anti-anxiety pills are already completely unfair to people who rarely go to the doctor. It's like being forced to share gas bills with a long-haul trucker or a restaurant bill with Michael Moore. On the other hand, it's a great deal for any lonely hypochondriacs in the plan."
Ann continued: "You don't have to conjure up fantastic visions of how health care would be delivered in this country if we bought it ourselves. Just go to a grocery store or get a manicure. Or think back to when you bought your last muffler, personal trainer, computer and every other product and service available in inexpensive abundance in this capitalist paradise."
Finally: "Isn't food important? Why not 'universal food coverage'? If politicians and employers had guaranteed us 'free' food 50 years ago, today Democrats would be wailing about the 'food crisis' in America, and you'd be on the phone with your food care provider arguing about whether or not a Reuben sandwich with fries was covered under your plan. Instead of making health care more like the DMV, how about we make it more like grocery stores? Give the poor and tough cases health stamps and let the rest of us buy health care - and health insurance - on the free market."
Professor Mark Perry has pointed out that some Blue Cross plans cost less per month than a cell phone. (permalink)
Mr. Creosote Is My Role-Model: If Barack Obama and his minions have their way, health care will be turned upside down. Those who don't have insurance will get it - probably for free. Those who already have insurance will be taxed to death. Seniors, the enfeebled and the disabled - who will not meet the new 'cost-effectiveness standard' in the legislation - will be dispatched Eskimo-Style on ice floes after a hearty handshake, a "thanks for your service" and a final tax audit.
The upside of all this is that those unprofitable ethanol plants will be converted to making ice-floes in order to meet demand.
Former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle help craft the draconian health care bill. You may remember that Daschle was Obama's pick to be as the Secretary of Health and Human Services until Daschle withdrew his name amid a growing controversy over his failure to accurately report and pay income taxes - a common problem with Obama's friends.
Daschle has said that "health-care reform will not be pain free. Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them." I believe this is the Senatorial method of saying, "Drop dead."
As for me, I have a plan ... (more >>>)
Are Any Of Obama's Friends Not Tax Cheats? A nonprofit foundation founded and run by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. - he who recently called Cambridge police 'racists' - is filing an amended 2007 tax return after it was found to have mischaracterized $11,000 in payments to officials as research grants.
Another Reason For Less Government: Thomas Sowell has written, "The biggest popular misconception about the housing boom and bust is that it was due to a lack of regulation. In reality, it was precisely the intervention of federal regulators that caused traditional mortgage lending standards to be reduced, leading to sales of homes to many people who either could not or would not pay for them. ... I would get rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entirely. As long as these hybrid private and government enterprises exist, they will be a standing invitation to politically motivated decisions."
Everybody Knows He Discovered Exploding Rodents: In a survey of 5,000 British children between the ages of 6 and 15, 5% said former Boom Town Rats singer Bob Geldof discovered gravity rather than Sir Isaac Newton.
Quote Of The Day is from Mariah Carey: "Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that but not with all those flies and death and stuff."
Wednesday July 29, 2009
Heat Wave: On Monday, the temperature in Vancouver hit 103 degrees Farenheit - a new record for the date. Our thermometer (in the shade) hit a cool 97. Vancouver recorded 101 at 8:15 pm. During the night, our air conditioner cycled-up at least twice. At 6:00 am Tuesday, the outside temperature was 75 degrees and the humidity was 65%. (Usually, July temperatures drop into the low 50s at night and the humidity stays quite moderate.)
At 8:45 am, I took a ride in the Plymouth before things got too hot. It was already 82 degrees; naturally, I ran the A/C. By noon, it was 101 in the shade at our house. By late afternoon, Battle Ground temperatures had peaked at 103, while Vancouver hit 106 - 11 degrees above the record set in 1907. (Update: On Wednesday the temperature in Battle Ground hit 105. It was like an oven outside. Vancouver hit 107 - the highest temperature ever observed since the city began keeping records.)
Triple-digit temperatures are forecast for the next couple of days but it's supposed to "cool off" to 88 degrees or so by Friday.
Meanwhile, Chicago is having the coldest July in 66 years. (permalink)
Car Sighting: Spotted a black 1934 Plymouth four-door sedan with California plates in the parking lot of the Woodburn Oregon outlet stores last week. It looked stock and was obviously driven there under its own power. Neat.
Luxo-Loss: The Financial Times reported that says Tata Motors' British luxury marques lost 673.4 million pounds ($1.11 billion U.S.) in 2008. That's a $2 billion swing from the 641.5 million pound ($1.05 billion) profit the British brands supposedly earned in 2007. "Tata Motors said last month that Jaguar/Land Rover lost 306 million pounds ($504 million) for the fiscal year ending March 2009."
The U.S. represents a large market for these vehicles and, with dollar sinking and the British pound now at $1.64, America is probably not a profit center for Tata these days.
In the past year, I've seen exactly one Jag XF around these parts. I can't comment on Land Rover, since I have a hard time distinguishing a new one from a 20 year-old one, but I don't see many of them. I don't know how Jaguar can stay in business - recession or not.
Gruesome Twosome: Jeez. Madonna's now got arms like a carny ride operator.
Mr. Rogers would have asked, "Can you say 'grotesque'?"
Heartbreak Hotels: The number of loan defaults and foreclosures in the hotel industry is quickly increasing. Many of the defaulted loans were originated between 2005 and 2007, when loan underwriting standards went out the window. More are on the way.
Trepp LLC, a provider of commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and commercial mortgage information, tracks hotel loans, including those in CMBS pools. There are about 3,800 hotel CMBS loans, according to Trepp. Of this amount, about 2,300 were done in 2006 and 2007.In January 2008, 0.48% of all hotel loans in the CMBS pools were delinquent. In January of this year, the percentage increased to 1.72%. This month, it increased to 4.24%.
In the Golden State, the number of hotels in default or foreclosure increased 125% in 60 days (mid-May through mid-June) - 31 hotels were foreclosed on, and 175 are in default. San Bernandino County leads the state with 19.6% of them. Riverside County follows with 16.1%. Other examples in California: The St. Regis Monarch Beach goes to auction this month and the owner of the Renaissance Stanford Court in San Francisco has walked away from the property.
Karl Denninger is not optimistic about the CRE market in general: "I fully expect commercial real estate to be at least as bad in terms of severity as residential and it may be worse due to the insane leverage that is usually employed. This will destroy many regional banks (it already has figured prominently in almost all of the bank failures thus far) and anyone who thinks that we will "come out of recession" while there is quite literally another $2-3 trillion worth of bad commercial real estate deals on the books that cannot be refinanced or cleared is simply out of their minds."
He concludes, "What you've seen thus far is just the leading edge of this tsunami starting to curl over; picking up fish under such conditions is not the recommended course of action."
The Pacific Northwest Is Often Gloomy: If you've been looking for happy-talk from the Fed, forget it. Yesterday, Janet L. Yellen, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, warned that the recovery "is likely to be painfully slow. History teaches that it often takes a long while to recover from downturns caused by financial crises. ... The unprecedented global nature of the recession also will act as a drag. Countries recovering from financial crises often receive a boost from foreign demand, but neither the United States nor its trading partners can count on such external stimulus this time."
On banks: "The industry is going through one of the most difficult periods in modern times. ... Bank profits are down, loan delinquencies are up, and failures are climbing. ... So, even though I expect economic growth to resume in the second half of this year, banking conditions are likely to remain quite weak for another year or two."
She's not optimistic about commercial real estate either: "Market fundamentals in most western states are deteriorating. Vacancy rates are rising and rent pressures are hurting property cash flows. Office vacancy rates in both Boise and Portland are expected to reach or exceed 20% over the next year or two, the highest rates these cities have seen in many years. Retail shopping centers are struggling with falling occupancy rates and pressures to grant rent concessions. Property values are falling sharply across wide areas of the country, including the Pacific Northwest. Some analysts forecast that commercial property values could experience falls similar to housing of 30 to 40%."
Don't break out any champagne yet.
Quote Of The Day is from Ella Wheeler Wilcox: "A pat on the back is only a few centimeters from a kick in the pants."
Monday July 27, 2009
And Now You Know ... The Rest Of The Story: On May 15th, in a posting about GM and Chrysler dealer terminations, I noted that the only Dodge dealer in Clark County, Alan Webb Dodge of Vancouver WA, was on the death list.
I didn't have much to say about the Webb operation; I had never done business with them. Lew Waters, who worked at the dealership for almost 20 years, has provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse.
Excerpt: "In my estimation, Webb brought on his own problems as from the time he purchased the dealership, adding it to others in his Auto Group, a series of mismanagement and bad calls coupled with poor customer service in the last year doomed the dealership as the long-time customer base present when he purchased it just walked away. The day he took over the dealership the entire sales crew walked out, with only one returning right away and just for a short time."
And: "Adding to the demise of the dealership was to pressure the Service Manager to leave and bring in more of a 'yes-man' who was recently fired from another dealer ... More long-term customers began going elsewhere as they began discovering the trust they were used to enjoying was no longer there, as the new crew began their "shake them down" attitude towards customers."
Lew's entire article is worth a read.
Reading Room: Last week, I was in a doctor's waiting room and picked up a recent issue of AutoWeek. One word review: Lame.
What's In A Name? One of the 44 people arrested in last week's FBI sweep of bribery and corruption in the Garden State was Jersey City Housing Commissioner Edward Cheatem.
Just Don't Feed Us Hypocrisy: Dr. Regina Benjamin, the latest pick for Surgeon General is not only a good friend of Barack Obama but, apparently, of Lane Bryant, too. Fox anchor Neil Cavuto recently did a segment on whether President Obama's new surgeon general nominee "is 'too fat' for the post," complete with a guest wearing a "No Chubbies" T-shirt.
She's black by the way - OK by me - but no one dared to mention that. They were too busy reveling in that last bastion of prejudice - obesity. Pick on Muslims, blacks, Asians, atheists, gays or midgets and you'll hear plenty - liberals will denounce your particular perceived "-ism" and you will be impaled by special interest groups of one kind or another: CAIR, NAACP, the Asian Human Rights Commission, American Atheists, GLAAD or the Little People of America.
But when somebody makes a fat joke, everybody laughs. Al Sharpton is nowhere to be seen ... or heard. Jesse Jackson softly whistles, rocks back and forth on his heels and averts his eyes. Andrew Sullivan retreats to his Time cubicle and watches online gay porn.
If you're a drunk, you have an "illness" and therefore you are somewhat (or sometimes totally) absolved of responsibility. If you engage in antisocial, even criminal behavior, you have "issues" and it's probably your parents' fault. Or society's. But, if you're obese, it's all your fault - you're just an outta-control pig. Have you ever heard a doctor tell an alcoholic, "The secret is limit yourself to three balanced cocktails each day - now how hard is that?"
People think nothing of saying, "You're too fat. You should lose some weight - just look at how much it improved Marie Osmond." These same people would never dream of saying, "You're too black. You should get your skin lightened - just look at how much it improved Michael Jackson."
Dr. Benjamin should be judged by her credentials, not by her apparently large appetite. She seems to have an impressive resume. She runs a nonprofit medical clinic in Alabama and is on the American Medical Association's board of trustees. Benjamin's clinic was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and in 2006 by a fire on New Year's Day, one day before the scheduled reopening. She made headlines when she rebuilt the clinic a second time.
As long as she doesn't do anything hypocritical like ragging everyone about their weight, I'm fine with her. Because I like fat doctors.
You know the drawer where physicians keep their examination gloves and KY Jelly? Overweight practitioners keep a box of donuts there. "Yeah, I understand, it's tough to lose weight. Just try not to go overboard with eating and come see me in another six months. Hey, wanna Bismark to hold you over till you get home?" (permalink)
What Recession? Last Friday, we stopped at the outlet stores on I-5 in Woodburn, OR. The stores were jammed. And people were carrying multiple shopping bags, so these weren't just unemployed lookee-loos. The Coach Factory Store had so many rail-thin, stylish young Asian girls shopping, I ran back outside and looked for a sign.
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks: "I know eyelashes are designed to keep things out of my eyeballs, but the thing I get in my eyeballs most often are eyelashes."
Friday July 24, 2009
Design Bait And Switch: Eric Felten of the Wall Street Journal has written about the dull design of all too many GM cars. Excerpt: "Compared to sleek and svelte imports of the last twenty years, GM's cars (excepting their halo cars) look club-footed and thick-ankled. Not the gal you want to take to the prom. Of course, each GM concept drawing shows a sleek and athletic creature hunkered down over big wheels, and rubber-band-high tires. The car that comes the showroom from that concept drawing, after the bean counters get done with it, is the concept's plain, awkward, sedentary sister."
He continued, "Consider the devolution of the Chevy Volt's design. The original concept was an electric muscle-car styled to out-menace the new Camaro. Alas, it was soon discovered to have the drag coefficient of a parachute. Most muscle-cars do, but they are so hopped up with big-block engines that it doesn't matter. But the Volt, trying to eke out its paltry 40-mile range, couldn't afford to waste energy on broad-chested design machismo. After more than a year of hype, GM replaced the Volt prototype with a Prius knock-off sporting all the sex appeal of Agnes Gooch."
Almost a year ago, I pointed out how much the Chevrolet Volt had changed from the original concept. And it's still not in production, so who knows what the final version will look like. Or when - if ever - it will be available for purchase.
I've posted more thoughts on the unbearable dullness of car design here.
This Is Urban Planning? The newly opened Seattle-area light-rail line has no park-and-ride lots or garages. Street parking varies from severely-restricted to nonexistent.
If you live in the area, maybe you should plan on building your own personal light rail line to get from home to a Sound Transit rail stop.
When asked, Seattle DOT smugly replied that people should take a bus to the station.
For years, the city of Seattle has had a policy ... (more >>>)
I Just Sprayed A Squeaky Door Hinge In His Honor: John S. Barry, the man who masterminded the spread of WD-40, the petroleum-based lubricant and protectant created for the space program, into millions of American households, has died in La Jolla, CA.
He joined Rocket Chemical Co. in 1969 as president and chief executive officer. Within weeks he changed the name of the company to WD-40 Co. after its product, known as "water displacement" formula 40 because the inventor had supposedly failed 39 times in the process. In Barry's first year as president, the newly renamed WD-40 Co. had $2 million in sales. Within five years, sales were $10.4 million. In 1990, when Barry retired as president, revenue was $90.9 million.
I'm told that his death was very peaceful; he just ... ummmm ... slipped away. (permalink)
Out-Of-Focus: WD-40's unparalleled success is because John Barry focused on the product's primary attributes and refused to market distracting line extensions (WD-40 Motor Oil, WD-40 Furniture Polish, WD-40 Salad Dressing, etc.), remarking, "When you have a good product, don't tinker with it."
It is ironic that, in the same month that Mr. Barry died, Cadillac - a brand which has lost both market share and focus over the past 25 years - announced a line of Cadillac fragrances. The full portfolio of products will be available: spray, aftershave, deodorant and body wash.
General Motors has also appointed designer Bryan Nesbitt to head its flagship Cadillac Division. The photo of Nesbitt, released by GM, shows him wearing jeans, a wrinkled brown jacket (possibly corduroy) and an open-collared white shirt. Always-dapper Harley Earl is undoubtedly spinning in his grave.
Badge Engineering: Pay little attention to the nameplate applied to your fridge, freezer, washer, dryer or dishwasher these days. Names mean a lot less than they used to. There's a limited number of major appliance manufacturers remaining in today's marketplace. Over the years, the big guys have bought up the smaller firms and merged those products together - just as GM did with its cars. Sometimes, they stopped making products and jobbed out the design and manufacture to someone else, providing only the logo design.
So, don't run out and buy an Amana because Aunt Nellie's old upright freezer lasted forever. Or select a Maytag washer because your mom's venerable Harvest Gold one from 1972 soldiered on for over 30 years. The new ones just aren't the same. "This is not your father's Oldsmobile," so to speak.
We had an ancient Whirlpool freezer which my wife bought used from a coworker in 1982 or thereabouts. We never put a nickel into it and finally got rid of it in 2006 because it didn't have self-defrost or an interior light. It was still working fine. Its new Maytag replacement failed in the first 60 days due to a short in the temperature sensor. Now - at three years of age - the fan motor bearings are shot. Between service calls and the $140 (!!!) cost of the replacement motor, the repair cost was more than half the price of a new freezer.
What happened to Maytag's legendary reputation for quality? Don't ask Maytag; they didn't make this freezer. In fact, most upright single-door freezers are now manufactured by ... (more >>>)
Stock Market Loves Capitalism; Hates Intrusive Government: In the past five days, the Dow is up over 350 points. Meanwhile, a Fox News poll released yesterday shows approval of Obama's job performance at a new low of 54% - down from 62% in June.
There seems to be a developing inverse popularity between Barack Obama and the stock market. As his socialistic programs begin to flounder, the market is beginning to recover. If you look back at when the stock market really started to tank, the date tracks pretty closely with Barry O's likelihood of winning the election.
Larry Kudlow wrote yesterday, "Hate to say it but Obama's disastrous press conference last night is a big contributor to today's roaring stock market. ... Politics is not everything, but I believe that the shrinking probability of a new government insurance plan that would lead to nationalized health care - along with the demise of cap-and-trade that would nationalize energy - is very bullish for stocks.
Hat tip to Bill Kristol for the phrase "stocks and cops," that latter of which were attacked by Obama last night. It looked real bad. In fact his whole garbled, inconsistent, and baffling defense of health care looked real bad. The president's polls have been falling, especially on his policies. And markets see the possibility that free-market capitalism will live to see another day."
Crayola Italia: Jonah Goldberg of NRO is on vacation in Italy. He wrote, "I'm about to leave for a family day trip to Sienna. I'm hoping to see the part they burn for the crayons."
Quote Of The Day is from Clarence Darrow: "I have never killed a man but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
Wednesday July 22, 2009
Heat Wave: At 6:00 am yesterday, it was already 63 degrees. At 9:30, I ran a couple errands in the Plymouth. When I got out of Safeway, it was hot enough that I had to crank up the car's air conditioner. The temperature hit the 90s by afternoon.
We're supposed to see triple digits by the weekend.
Popularity Contest: More than 100,000 examples of the following models were sold during the first six months of '09: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
I'd Like A Set Of Old-Growth Firestones, Please. An Oregon State University researcher has found a way to use wood fibers to make car tires better for the environment. Microcrystalline cellulose can partially replace silica as a reinforcing filler in the manufacture of rubber tires, reducing the energy required to manufacture tires, lowering costs and providing tires that better resist heat buildup.
That could be good news for Oregon's timber industry, which needs new uses and products to sustain demand for the state's timber harvest. Because, let's face it, the construction industry is in the dumper, there's only so many kids to pull around those wheeled, whimsical, overpriced wooden toys and oak toilet seat sales just ain't what they used to be.
And now that the Indians have casinos, they've cut waaaay back on totem pole carving. (permalink)
Your Tax Dollars At Work: Amtrak has received $58.5 million in federal stimulus money to refurbish some of its passenger cars.
The first car, Amfleet Coach 25103, has just been finished at a cost of about a million bucks. The passenger car, built in 1982, had 1.4 million miles on the clock when it was sideswiped in a Florida yard wreck. It was rehabbed in Delaware by workers who used to be employees at now-shuttered area auto plants: Chrysler in Newark and the General Motors plant in Wilmington.
About half the cost of each car's $1 million refurbishing goes toward workers' salaries, officials said. Amtrak runs about 1,500 passenger cars in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route.
A million bucks for a rebuild seems very high to me - as does two million dollars for one new passenger coach - but I'm not an expert in railcar construction/reconstruction. You can get a really nice, detailed O-gauge (1:48 scale) coach car for $100 or less. Multiply that by 48 and you've got - what? - $4,800. I'm just sayin' ... (permalink)
Punishment For The Stupid And The Guilty? The value of California's huge government pension fund (CalPERS) is down 24% for the year ending June 30th. Apparently, the fund has made a lot of stupid investments "in stocks, private equity, real estate and commodities." You would be justified in asking what the hell a pension fund is doing in the commodity market?
Vanguard's Wellington Fund, a retirement-suitable conservative fund consisting of dividend-paying stocks, preferred shares and bonds, was only down 13% during the same period.
Because state pensions are guaranteed, losses must be made up by taxpayers. I don't have a dog in this fight but wonder why the citizens of the Golden State don't call for heads to roll. Have the investment advisors been sued for incompetence? Has anyone on the investment committee been summarily fired? Has any citizen group pushed for a change from defined benefit to defined contribution for employees? Why not? Where's the outrage?
Are You Suffering From Obama Exhaustion Yet? William Katz has written about the first six months of Obama: "He delivered an inaugural address, not one word of which has been quoted in the six months since. ... In the half year since inauguration, President Obama has given many, many speeches, all of which, save one, have been forgotten. The one exception is the address he gave in Cairo to his brothers in the Muslim world, remembered only because so many observers pointed out so many factual errors. We have learned much about Obama in these six months, and one thing we've learned is ... that there is about this man, underneath the golden words, a remarkable shallowness." ... (more >>>)
People You Just Don't ... hear about anymore: Rita Cosby.
Quote Of The Day is from Will Rogers: "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for."
Monday July 20, 2009
Czarmobile? The United States, ostensibly a democracy, is now being overrun by czars. We have emperors of ecology, energy, green jobs and the newly-nationalized auto industry.
It is not difficult to imagine these autocrats getting together and pooling knowledge and resources to produce a new small car which we will all be mandated - one way or another - to drive.
I can easily imagine such a vehicle looking like the Fuldamobil.
Fuldamobil first appeared in 1950 in Germany. The first vehicles had aluminum body panels over a wood frame. Later models were more streamlined with fiberglass bodies. The three-wheeled, rear-engined coupe was only 126 inches long, weighed 683 pounds and could reach 50 mph with its 9.5 horsepower single-cylinder engine. It probably got better mileage than a Smart. Or a Prius.
The Fuldamobil was built under license in many countries including the UK, Greece, India, Argentina, the Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa and Chile.
Didn't Obama visit Germany recently? Maybe he signed up for a manufacturing license. (permalink)
So Much For The 'New' GM: The new Camaro is apparently full of build-quality bugs. If you want an American ponycar, sounds like you should stick with Mustang, assembled in Flat Rock, MI.
The Canadian-made Camaro is, according to TTAC commenter Johnny Canada, "a car from a bankrupt automaker screwed together by bitter CAW employees, funded by tax payer dollars."
Walter Cronkite: I never knew he was a car guy. It turns out he raced Volvos with teammate and Long Island Volvo dealer Art Riley, driving a PV444.
The team campaigned and won races at Lime Rock's 'Little LeMans' in 1957, '58 and '61. Walter was the only finisher in a five-car team one year, taking a B-division win and placing third overall. The two also teamed up to compete in the Trans-Canada rally.
Anchor and managing editor of the 'CBS Evening News' from 1962 to 1981, Cronkite died last week at 92. RIP. (permalink)
July 1969 ... a memorable time: Neil Armstrong landed on the moon; Ted Kennedy landed in the water.
Nationalizing The Banks? Bank of America is now operating under an agreement with the government which the Wall Street Journal describes as "a secret regulatory sanction." Part of this sanction relates to how the firm will set up its board. Meanwhile, Citigroup and the FDIC are "entering into a so-called memorandum of understanding." This deal would allow the FDIC some influence in how the firm restructures.
Citi and BofA are public companies. Shareholders have never been made aware of these agreements between the firms and the government. Jeez, thanks for nothing. So much for "transparency."
Local Housing Woes: In the first six months of 2009, Clark County Washington's housing market declined 13.9%, compared with the same period in '08. Median prices declined 11.9%. The foreclosure rate jumped by almost 64%.
On the other hand, the county's supply of new and preowned homes for sale dropped dramatically last month, as more houses sold and fewer properties came on the market. Inventory dropped to a 7.9-month supply in June, down from 11.1 months in May and a peak of 18.6 months in February.
Quote Of The Day is from Joel McHale, host of The Soup: "'Dance Your Ass Off' continues to be the biggest exploitation of overweight people since they started putting cookie dough in ice cream."
Friday July 17, 2009
In The Good Old Summertime: The thermometer hit 90+ yesterday but, at 9:00 am - when the temperature was still in the upper 60s, I took a nice drive in the Plymouth under blue, cloudless skies.
Most of the snow is now gone from Mt. St. Helens but the summer morning haze made it a little harder to see.
Update: Took a nice ride Friday morning, too. Traffic was very light. Everyone's away on vacation, I guess.
Speed: On Wednesday, I watched the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour and its seven astronauts as it thundered into orbit on a flight to the international space station, hauling up a veranda for Japan's enormous lab.
The shuttle ran the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds with a trap speed of 948 mph. The time doesn't seem impressive, compared to today's dragsters, until you consider that the 'track' was a quarter-mile straight up. And, at 4.5 million pounds, the shuttle weighs a lot more than any drag car.
After 60 seconds, the shuttle was humming along at 1,620 mph.
Oprah Kiss Of Death: The Volkswagen Routan minivan is basically a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan. Routan sales are so low that none have been manufactured since January. VW is hoping to salvage the model by giving a couple away on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Yeah, Pontiac did that a couple of years ago with the G6 and look how well that turned out. Most Pontiacs can now be found in rental car lots.
I Heard They Still Have Some Leftover '05 Models Around: Autocar is reporting that the generally unloved Jaguar X-type small sedan will be discontinued by the end of 2009.
Follow The Money: According to the Department of Labor, the average American family spends almost twice as much on pensions and social security contributions than it does on health care. It spends more on entertainment and tobacco than it does on health care.
Hmmmm. Maybe Obama should be nationalizing Ticketmaster, not health care.
The average family spends almost as much on dining out as it does on health care. Maybe Outback and The Olive Garden should be government run, too.
Remember when the IRS seized Krusty Burger, renamed all the stores IRS Burger and took over day-to-day operations?
Homer Simpson: "Let's see, I'll have four tax burgers, one IRS-wich - withhold the lettuce, four dependent-sized sodas and a FICA-ccino."
Counter clerk: "Fill out Schedule B. You should receive your burgers in six to eight weeks."
Government health care - I can't wait: "Fill out Schedule B. You should receive your chemo in six to eight weeks." (permalink)
Book Review: 'The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression' by Amity Shlaes. The conventional wisdom, as expounded in 'approved' history textbooks and countless PBS documentaries, is that the Roaring Twenties was a period of low morals, speakeasies and rampant stock-trading on margin. And that the Great Crash was its comeuppance. And that Herbert Hoover turned the Crash into a Depression through his obdurate refusal to take control. Then St. Franklin Roosevelt came along, produced the New Deal and the 'patient' was on his way to recovery. And everyone sang, "Happy days are here again."
Of course, you can find opposing viewpoints which demonize Mr. Roosevelt: Goldberg's 'Liberal Fascism' and Coulter's 'Treason' are two well-written examples.
Amity Shlaes has written an insightful reinterpretation of ... (more >>>)
Sounds Like A Lucy Ricardo Scheme in an 'I Love Lucy' sitcom episode: Joe Biden told an audience, "We have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt."
At an AARP town hall meeting, Vice President Biden told people that, unless the Democrat-supported health care plan becomes law, the nation will go bankrupt and that the only way to avoid that fate is for the government to spend more money.
At that point, Barack Obama walked onstage, removed his fedora and said, "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do." (permalink)
Sustain This: The sheer moonbattery of Portland and much of the state of Oregon has been revealed once again. The state plans to borrow $80 million to construct a 13-story Portland building described as "a self-sustaining structure producing no net carbon emissions and putting no demands on the community's water and sewer systems."
Jack Bogdanski has written, "I guess the water fountains will dispense rainwater collected on the roof and all the sewage created by the building's occupants will be packed out each evening by workers biking home."
Maybe they'll employ chronically-constipated people to make the bricks. (permalink)
Headline You Don't See Often: Drudge reported 'Transgendered female dies during Voodoo ritual.'
Quote Of The Day is from Mark Steyn: "GM has about 95,000 workers but provides health benefits to a million people: It's not a business enterprise, but a vast welfare plan with a tiny loss-making commercial sector. As GM goes, so goes America?"
Wednesday July 15, 2009
'Cadillac Must Die' ... is the title of an article by Robert Farago at TTAC. He writes, "Since its pre-War heyday, Cadillac's brand management has rivaled Neville Chamberlain's foreign policy for craven expediency. Cadillac has been a deeply damaged division for decades."
"We all use the expression 'the Cadillac of toasters' or 'the Cadillac of something else,'" said former Car and Driver editor Csaba Csere. "It still means 'the best of' to a lot of people." Farago retorts, "News flash: my thirty-something appliance guy calls KitchenAid the 'Lexus of dishwashers', without apparent irony. Cadillac's brand expectations have been unrealized for so long that even the idea of Cadillac as the ultimate object of desire is rapidly disappearing." He concludes, "Cadillac's survival, its planned model expansion and move down market, highlights the fact that GM still suffers from the worst kind of hubris: taxpayer-funded hubris."
I've written before about the fall of the Cadillac brand and how it saddens me. I have also noted that, in the 1950s, Lincoln and Cadillac defined luxury automobiles in America. In those days, competition from foreign luxury cars was almost nonexistent. A Rolls-Royce was more than double the price of a Caddy or Lincoln. BMW made sedans but only offered its sports and touring cars in the U.S. And the Isetta. The 'big' Mercedes 300 sedan was pretty stodgy-looking, cost 25% more than a Cadillac 62 and had a puny 136 horsepower engine (less powerful than a 6-cylinder entry-level Ford) to pull its heavy 4,200 pounds of bulk. Meanwhile, the '57 Caddy offered a 300 hp V-8. Lexus and Audi did not even exist.
When growing up, I lusted after Cadillacs. As an adult, I never bought a Caddy, finding other luxury marques to satisfying my needs. The 9 year-old me wanted to buy a flashy, top-end Caddy. The grown-up me knew better.
Endorsement: As a fellow righty and righteous gearhead, I enthusiastically support Iowahawk for our nation's next Car Czar.
Mayfair Splashdown: Boulevard Pools was one of the main attractions in Northeast Philadelphia between 1929 and the 1960s. Located on Roosevelt Boulevard between Tyson, Princeton, and Brous Avenues, the Mayfair complex was one of the largest and most complete swimming facilities in America. It featured over two acres of pools and cost more than $500,000.
It was composed of ... (more >>>)
Another Mag On The Block: Evercore Partners Inc. has been hired to sell Business Week magazine. "McGraw-Hill, also the owner of the Standard & Poor's ratings company, is said to be seeking a buyer for Business Week as the recession and competition from the Internet cuts into publishers' advertising sales." The weekly magazine was founded in 1929 and has a circulation of 936,000. It had a 30% decline in second-quarter ad sales ... compared with a 22% drop industrywide, according to Publishers Information Bureau.
Reed Phillips, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, the media investment bank, said that the $1 for which OpenGate bought TV Guide "is probably the kind of deal that would be obtainable for Business Week." Another banker said: "I think they'll end up giving it away."
In my younger days, when I called on customers who had actual lobbies, I used to leaf through Business Week while waiting for appointments.
Later in life, I would find copies in the waiting rooms of doctors who decided that dog-eared issues of People and Sunset made for insufficient reading. But I never met anyone who actually read BW or quoted from it.
Why Social Security Is Going Broke: Veronique de Rugy has written, "Last week the Social Security Administration flew approximately 700 of its managers from across the U.S. and Guam to Phoenix, Arizona's posh Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Resort, for "organizational training." The event, which included musical entertainment and dancing, skits, catered food, cocktails and a 'casino night' featuring door prizes, cost us lowly taxpayers approximately $750,000."
Mmmmmm ... catered food.
No Service; No Sale: No wonder we're in a recession. Jack Bogdanski and a friend tried to buy an iPhone in downtown Portland. Heading to Pioneer Square's AT&T store, he found "one customer ahead of us to talk to the lone sales clerk. They had a lot of cell phones for sale, but no iPhones at that location. For that, you'd have to go down to the lower level, down by the food court. So down we went, hunting around for a while before finding the Apple store.
The place was absolutely packed - a consumer feeding frenzy of a nature we haven't encountered in many months. Dozens of people, peering and poking at this gadget and that. So this is where the American economy has gone, we thought. Average Joes falling all over each other to pay $60 a month for a phone and a mobile internet connection.
Our reveries were interrupted by a young man in a goatee and a t-shirt. Could he help us? Yes, we'd like iPhones. Let him talk to the manager a moment, would we? Already we're rolling our eyes.
A few minutes later, he returned with the verdict: Given how crowded the store was, and how many of the people in it were wanting phones, "the most efficient way to handle this" was for us to start a line outside the store - out by the food court - until someone was available to help us. He steered us to a pair of velvet ropes out by where they were selling sterling silver unicorn necklaces.
Jack concluded, "We may get iPhones, but this country is doomed. Over lunch our friend asked - with an earnestness, almost a desperation, in his voice - what America is going to produce to lead itself out of the current recession."
Good question. And don't forget that iPhones are manufactured in Shenzhen, the walled Chinese manufacturing center. All of the eight million units sold last year were produced in Asia.
Manufacturing is vital to the U.S. - always was and still is. The U.S. needs to foster manufacturing within its borders. Four key changes are necessary for an American manufacturing revival:
Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight has said, "The age of the U.S. and world economy being driven by the U.S. consumer may be in the past. We need to become more of a nation of producers rather than a nation of consumers."
• Tort reform: The litigious atmosphere in the U.S. puts manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world and tempts businesses to make or buy in other countries where costs are lower. Product liability insurance costs, health care costs (premiums are high due to malpractice insurance and litigation) and general liability costs are a crippling burden on manufacturers. Product makers have become outsized targets, as plaintiffs' lawyers consider operating companies' "deep pockets" of insurance and capital.
'Loser pays' legislation would stop frivolous lawsuits and drastically reduce insurance costs. (You want to lower health care costs? Start here. Such a law would probably cut your office visit bill by half. Or more.)
• Silly, thoughtless state and federal mandates should be rescinded. OSHA personnel should focus on truly dangerous situations, not counting blankets and salt pills at small manufacturers.
• The U.S. Small Business Administration should be revamped, eliminating useless programs and doing better things with your tax dollars - like encouraging value-added business development.
• We should copy the Chinese and Japanese, doing everything possible to keep the dollar low in value relative to other currencies, so that our exports are attractive and imports less so.
"Say Hello To My Leetle Needle." Al Pacino will star in 'You Don't Know Jack', a biopic of Jack Kevorkian (aka: Dr. Death), the physician who assisted in more than 130 suicides. After willingly sending a videotape of himself euthanizing a terminally ill man to '60 Minutes', Kevorkian was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder and spent eight years in prison before getting paroled in 2007.
But Is It Waterproof? Boston Globe headline: 'Lavish Ted Kennedy book to sell for $1,000 a copy.'
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Much discussion of the interrogation of captured terrorists ignores the inescapable reality of trade-offs. The real question is: How many American lives are you prepared to sacrifice, in order to spare a terrorist from experiencing distress?"
Monday July 13, 2009
Car Sighting: Last week, I saw a new 2009 BMW 750 Li on the Padden Parkway. The sedan's smooth-flowing lines made it much more attractive than the previous bodystyle.
Money-Burning Mass Transit: Testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (chaired by the money-wasting, reprehensible Christopher Dodd), Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, noted that, "despite increasing transit subsidies by 1,250% (adjusted for inflation) since 1970, transit travel has declined from 49 to 45 trips per urban resident and transit's share of urban travel has declined from 4.0% to 1.6%."
He continued ... (more >>>)
Your Tax Dollars At Waste ... Again: C-Tran, Clark County's transit agency, received $5.8 million through federal economic stimulus funding. The money will enable the agency to purchase three new hybrid buses and 12 new minivans, as well as pay for assorted upgrades to communications and maintenance for its existing fleet of 110 buses and 67 C-Van paratransit vehicles.
These 177 vehicles are the ones I see cruising around Vancouver with one or two passengers in them.
C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson said. "We are experiencing a serious downturn in revenue." In other words ... (more >>>)
Another Bailout Failure? If you've ever had a business and purchased capital goods, you may have dealt with CIT Group (aka: CIT Financial), a lender to almost a million mostly small and midsize businesses across the country.
Founded in 1908, CIT is a leading participant in vendor financing, factoring, equipment and transportation financing, Small Business Administration loans and asset-based lending. CIT also does business with more than 80% of the Fortune 1000.
The company added automobile financing to its product line in 1916, through an agreement with Studebaker, the first of its kind in the auto industry. CIT does a lot of factoring business in the apparel trade.
CIT became a bank in December to qualify for a government bailout and received $2.33 billion in funds from the U.S. Treasury. Now, it is preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing after so far failing to win a government guarantee to help it borrow more. CIT has retained the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which has a prominent bankruptcy practice.
If CIT goes belly-up, it will be a 200 mega-ton bomb detonating in the already tattered and shattered world of small business credit. What do ya think that will do to unemployment?
Particularly when GE Capital probably isn't robust enough to pick up the slack.
Olde Time Market Manipulation: In 17th Century England, the Burial in Wool Act of 1667 made it a legal requirement for the dead to be buried in woolen shrouds in an attempt to boost the struggling wool industry of the time.
Walla Walla Time: If you live in a lucky-enough area of the Pacific Northwest, be sure to visit your local Burgerville. It's Walla-Walla Days (an annual event running from late June through mid-August) and the battered, fried Walla-Walla onion rings are pure heaven.
My wife and I dined at the one in Battle Ground last week.
Sister Mary Dissident: The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed certain nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.
In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.
Under the nice-sounding guise of "Social Justice," some nuns have gone to work for radical, socialist organizations, taking part in antigovernment, anti-nuke, anti-military protests rather than promoting Catholicism.
These Hippie Nuns reflect badly on the rest of the flock who quietly go forth and do good works in the Lord's name. Luckily, their numbers are shrinking. Meanwhile, Mother Angelica's flock - a traditional order of nuns - is growing, as is her ministry.
Misunderstanding: A friend of mine sent this explanation for the confusion over South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's travels: "I am hiking the Appalachian Trail" does sound somewhat like "I am getting some Argentinean tail."
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."
Friday July 10, 2009
Yeah, That'll Fix Everything: General Motors is thinking about changing its logo from blue to green.
Steinbeck Would Be Amused. Tom Joad would be bemused. The July-August issue of Oregon's AAA magazine, Via, asks its readers to vote for the Best Road Trip Movie.
The choices are: 'National Lampoon's Vacation', 'Rain Man', 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' and ... are you ready? ... 'The Grapes of Wrath'. (permalink)
Oh No! GM Is Trying To Kill Skippy: General Motors has filed a request in bankruptcy court to cancel the franchise agreements of 38 dealers who rejected GM's wind-down agreements. One of them is Bruce Chevrolet in Hillsboro, OR. It's owned by Bruce Patchett, an Aussie who founded the dealership in 1980 or so.
Bruce has appeared in all of the car dealership television commercials over the years, many of which featured Skippy, a real-life wallaby. While homegrown, Patchett's TV ads are 92% less obnoxious than those of either Ron Tonkin or Dick Hannah, two area mega-dealers.
Fill Up: Yesterday, the sun returned for a bit, so I drove the Plymouth to town and gassed 'er up. Then I took a relaxing drive to Hockinson and back in cool 63 degree weather.
Took it out for another ride this morning. Ah, summer.
Opportunity Lost: Los Angeles is upset because it spent $1.4 million dealing with the Michael Jackson funeral. Cue up the usual whining: the California economy is devastated, the state is broke, etc. Boo-freakin'-hoo. Lots of people came to Los Angeles for that funeral/circus and spent beaucoup bucks on food, accommodations, tacky souvenirs, etc. They paid sales taxes (8.25% in LA County), hotel room taxes, airport taxes, tasteless memento taxes, maps of the stars taxes, etc.
LA city and county have always made lots of money from tourists who travel there to see stars and visit alleged celebrity hangouts: overpriced bars, pricey-trendy-crappy restaurants, etc. In 2008, domestic and international visitors spent $97.6 billion while visiting California destinations.
Hey LA, sometimes you gotta spend money to make money. Police and emergency services are in place to protect the people and maintain order. It seemed to me that they did a pretty good job on Tuesday.
If Los Angeles doesn't like tourists and the cost of supporting them, it can ban all celebrity events. I'm sure Omaha, Nebraska or Gary, Indiana would be happy to take over as Film Capital of the World. Or Detroit: it already has a monorail and a steady supply of drugs for celebs.
Furthermore, if LA really wanted to solve its economic woes, it should have taken my suggestion and arm-twisted the Jackson family to give free Staples Center tickets only to those people who purchased foreclosed homes in Southern California. That would have solved the real estate crisis in a single day. And increased the tax roll, bringing in even more money.
Scary News: Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com estimates that 15.4 million homeowners - or about 1 in 5 of those with first mortgages - owe more on their homes than they are worth. This may portend a new wave of foreclosures.
More Scary News: Commercial properties in the U.S. valued at more than $108 billion are now in default, foreclosure or bankruptcy, almost double than at the start of the year according to a report from Real Capital Analytics Inc. There were 5,315 buildings in financial distress at the end of June.
That's more than twice the number of troubled properties at the end of 2008. Hotels and retail properties are among the most "problematic" assets but the scarcity of credit is causing property defaults in all regions and among every investor type.
"Perhaps more alarming than the rapid growth in the distress totals is the very modest rate at which troubled situations are being resolved," the report said.
A business insider told me that unemployment in the Oregon construction industry has now topped 30%.
Tough Times: Karl Denninger has written, "We have gone from a -3% savings rate (roughly) to a +6.9% one. This is a 10% swing and with the consumer being 70% of the economy that's an immediate hit of somewhere between 4.83% and 7% of GDP (depending on whether you "count" the negative as an additive force, and you probably should).
The problem is that it doesn't stop there: The government calls this a "savings rate" but it isn't. It counts debt repayments as "savings" among other distortions, meaning that trying to use the "savings rate" as an indicator of future capital formation is a lost cause. In point of fact there is no capital formation going on - people are cutting back on their voluntary 401k and IRA contributions because they don't have any money to put in - they are furiously paying down debt as fast as they're able in an attempt to avoid foreclosure and bankruptcy.
That of course means that spending drops which in turn means that employers need fewer people to work. Capacity utilization is in the toilet and average hours worked has fallen to never-before-recorded numbers in the history of the data being collected. This in turn feeds more layoffs which begets more people without income to spend on discretionary purchases (and in some cases non-discretionary ones!).
There is no avoiding the necessary contraction in GDP to bring the system back into balance, and the longer we continue to allow our government and media to LIE about what has happened, who is responsible, and what has to happen before the economy can clear and recover the worse off we will be."
There are two many overextended homeowners. We have two major car companies in government-induced, government-managed bankruptcies, making cars that no one wants. Credit has been tightened to the strangulation point for fairly healthy small businesses. The commercial real estate market is crashing. All of this adds up to a Great Disturbance in The Force ... the U.S. Economic Force, that is.
Denninger continues, "I wish there was good news - "green shoots" - that I could honestly find and report. There are not. There is only more obfuscation and fraud ... Government needs to lock up the psychopaths that have run the asylum for the last 20 years and let adults into the room to rationally discuss the inevitable and how to best deal with it. They're refusing now, just as they did when Bush was President. This is not a partisan debate - even having lost badly in November the Republicans are wasting time with the same old canards about "Tax and Spend" instead of attacking the problem at the root: fraudulent credit issuance, much of which they championed and enabled themselves."
Soft Piracy: Mister Softee, the mobile ice cream vendor and perpetual butt of erectile dysfunction jokes, is taking a stiff stance against impostors who illegally use the corporation's name, slightly-creepy smiling cone-head logo and/or famous jingle.
The U.S. Marshal's Office last month confiscated ... (more >>>)
Vaginas: Is There Anything They Can't Do? A 42 year-old Russian woman, Tatiata Kozhevnikova, has set a new world record for vagina lifting, hefting a 31 pound glass ball.
Tatiata recommends lifting weights with your vagina to all women who want to improve their sex life. "It's enough to exercise your vagina five minutes a day, ladies, and in just one week you'll be able to give yourself and your man unforgettable pleasure in bed."
Not to mention the added convenience of hands-free bowling. (hat tip: Ace)
Quote Of The Day is from Robert Orben: "Every day I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America. If I'm not there, I go to work."
Monday July 6, 2009
American Made? Cars.com has rated various vehicles sold in the U.S. for their Americanness. Or American-and-Canadianness, since the official definition of 'domestic auto' also includes anything manufactured in Canada. Here are several interesting facts:
Whither Sarah? Let's begin with some praise for Sarah Palin: She knocked the endless coverage of Michael Jackson right off the air for a while. Thank God.
• The Ford Taurus, assembled in Chicago, has a 90% domestic content.
• The Alabama-built Honda Odyssey is up slightly in domestic parts content, up to 80% this year.
• The Toyota Avalon, assembled in Kentucky, has 80% domestic content. The Tundra and recently introduced Venza also reach the 80% level.
• The 2010 Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, have a middling 60% domestic content, while their crosstown rival, the Dodge Challenger, comes in at 56%. Of the three, the Mustang is the only car built here; the Challenger and Camaro are assembled in Canada.
• The Chevy Aveo is built in Korea with 1% domestic North American parts. Probably the emblems.
The repeated baseless ethics complaints against her have been costly to defend - estimated at $500,000 or more. The Palin family (unlike Gore, the Bushes, the Clintons, the Kennedys, etc.) is not particularly wealthy.
Giving up the governorship ... (more >>>)
Bad Church Art: One of the downsides to Vatican II is the proliferation of appalling "art" in churches. Call it modernist, interpretive or kiddie felt-craft - it is ecumenically unpleasant. Here are a couple ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from Groucho Marx: "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies."
Friday July 3, 2009
Perils Of Old Car Ownership: I took the Plymouth for a ride, then parked in the driveway and cleaned it. When I went to start the car, sparks shot out from under the seat (again ... see April 22nd posting).
I removed the seat and found that the battery cable had cracked and was arcing at the break - hence the sparks. I went to disconnect it and the cable split in two. I tried taking everything apart to replace the cable but the arthritis in my hands and hips was killing me that day so I decided to leave it to the pros.
The tow company arrived with a flatbed and hauled the '39 to a local auto repair shop. They replaced the cable and, at my request, put refrigerant in the A/C unit. The car now runs chillingly fine and is back home in its usual spot in my garage.
Update: Took it for a nice ride this morning in light rural traffic. The Plymouth ran great. (permalink)
June Vehicle Sales: It was a pretty good month to be Ford, the only Detroit automaker not owned by the government. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury U.S. sales totaled 148,153, down 11% from a year ago - month's lowest decline among major auto manufacturers. Ford Canada sales jumped 25% in June.
FoMoCo's managing its inventory well, too. At the end of June, Ford vehicle inventories totaled 343,000, equivalent to 60 days supply. This level was 8,000 vehicles lower than at the end of May and 214,000 vehicles lower than a year ago.
It's pretty much a 'Ford' company these days, with 133,684 examples of that nameplate sold in June, compared with about 7,000 units each for Volvo, Mercury and Lincoln. Volvo is on the auction block; Geeley of China is reportedly interested.
Mercury is dying and Lincoln isn't feeling so hot either; it's not a good time to be a Lincoln-Mercury dealer. The L-M store where we took delivery of our last new Lincoln is now a Kia showroom. Of course, 7,000 per month looks good compared to, say, Scion. Less than 4,300 examples of that brand were sold in June. Or Saab: 779 units, down 58%.
Meanwhile, General Motors sales were down 34% percent in June. Chrysler's overall sales dropped 42 percent compared to June 2008. The Chrysler brand itself is down almost 50%.
Overall vehicle sales for June ran just under 10 million on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.
Toyota posted a 32% decline in U.S. sales in June. The Toyota Division moved 114,780 units, down 34%. The Lexus Division sold 16,874 units, a decrease of 17%. 806 Lexus LS models were sold - a 47% drop from a year ago but a big jump up from the 315 sold in May. Avalon sales totaled 2,133, down 33% from last year and over 1,000 fewer vehicles than last month. Prius sales were up 6%.
Honda was off 30%, Nissan declined 23%, while Subaru was up just over 3%. U.S. sales of Porsches dropped a whopping 66%. Smart car sales were down over 56%. Everyone who wanted to buy one of these micro cars has already done so.
Suzuki sales fell a ginormous 78% - much worse than Hummer, which was "only" off 48%, although Suzuki sold twice as many vehicles as the Big H.
GM touted that sales of the forever-promised, finally-produced Camaro topped those of Mustang (9,320 vs. 7,632). Yeah, well ... let's wait and see what happens when all the pre-orders filled. But Camaro sales probably won't drop as far as the Challenger's - only 1,369 Dodge ponycars were moved last month.
He Won An Academy Award ... by a nose. Karl Malden, the talented actor with the prominent proboscis, has died at age 97.
While I'll always remember him from 'The Streets of San Francisco' television series and those American Express commercials, I'll think of him every time I see a new Acura TL.
We Were There First: Over the years, the Sherlocks have been ahead of many trends. Douglas McIntyre, writing about possible structural changes in the economy, opined, "A population that used to keep cars for two years is now willing to keep them for four. It could be a change in behavior which, over the long term, would be more damaging to the industry than the recession has been. America could become a nation where people do not think their cars are "old" until they have 100,000 miles on them."
We bought our first ... (more >>>)
"Now When I Die ... don't think that I'm a nut. Don't want no fancy funeral. Just one like old King Tut." Michael Jackson is, as expected, goin' in style ... specifically, in a top-of-the-line Batesville Promethean hand-polished, mirror-finish bronze casket. It has 14K gold handles and a tufted velvet interior and is "chemically protected against rust and corrosion." Sounds like the old Zeibart process for automobiles, especially when I read about "Batesville's 4 Point Protection Package."
The box is a rounded-end, continuously-welded, crank-sealer model with a "one-piece rubber gasket." Each casket is "factory tested for resistance to entry of outside elements." The Promethean retails for $25,000, although you can buy one on the internet for under $19,000. But at Forest Lawn, which is handling Jackson's funeral, you can probably expect to pay full-tilt retail. Incidentally, James Brown was buried in a Promethean.
The best casket sales pitch I ever experienced was from Mr. Starker, played magnificently by Liberace in the 1965 black comedy 'The Loved One': "This unit is not only waterproof, Mr. Barlow. Nor just moisture-proof. It's dampness-proof." The film was loosely based on Evelyn Waugh's 1948 novel of the same name. The details of the fictional funeral home/cemetery, Whispering Glades, were clearly inspired by Forest Lawn, which mesmerized Waugh.
More on caskets and such here. (permalink)
Amazing Comments ... especially when you consider the source: Following a testy exchange during Wednesday's briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, veteran correspondent Helen Thomas (she's 89 years-old and has covered the White House since JFK) said that not even Richard Nixon tried to control the press the way President Obama does. "Nixon didn't try to do that. They couldn't control (the media). They didn't try."
"What the hell do they (the Obama administration) think we are, puppets?" Thomas asked. "They're supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them. ... I'm not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well - for the town halls, for the press conferences. It's blatant. They don't give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame. ... It's shocking. It's really shocking."
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks: "People! It takes all kinds to make a world. I just wish sometimes they'd go off and make one of their own."
Wednesday July 1, 2009
Sunny Summer Days ... mean more frequent rides in my old Plymouth. Had a nice one Monday; skies were bright blue and cloudless.
Let's Get Small: Aston Martin plans to offer a new model, the Cygnet (it means baby swan), a 'luxury commuter vehicle' based on the Toyota iQ micro car. It can seat a mad dog and an Englishman inside as well as Noël Coward's body in the boot.
In related news ... in the next James Bond movie, the title role will be played by a midget.
Nobody Cares: Robert Farago of TTAC is upset with Buick for putting a four-cylinder engine in the 2010 Buick LaCrosse - which, by the way, is a mighty nice-looking car from the photos I've seen. Robert asks, "What is a Buick? I mean, what's the point? I'm serious. I don't get it."
I can offer commiseration, Robert. The vast majority of the car-buying public no longer cares about engines. As long as a vehicle gets good mileage and has vaguely-defined 'pep', they have no interest in what's under the hood. Pep seems to be neither acceleration nor speed but rather the low-end sensitivity of the accelerator pedal. "I just lightly touch it with my foot and it goes!"
With today's dress-up covers, all engines look like something under the hood of a Fisher-Price toy. The terms 283 small block, 351 Windsor, big-block W-series 409, 413 wedge-head, Buick nail-head, Blue Flame Six and 427 Hemi mean nothing to most buyers. I blame some of this on the metric system. 7.2-liters sounds much less exciting/intimidating than a 440 six-pack.
During a January 1987 trip to Arizona, we met some of my wife's uncles and aunts who were snowbirding from places like North Dakota, Montana and Colorado. When we pulled up in my white '87 Ford Thunderbird rental car, the uncles came running out ... to look over the car. "What's it got in it?" "Stick or automatic?" "How many speeds?" "What's the axle ratio?" I knew the T-Bird was a V-6 with a four-speed automatic and that the popular rental companies didn't even offer manual transmissions anymore but I didn't expect to be quizzed about the rear axle ratio.
We quickly headed to a local cafe for 'second breakfast'. The portions were huge. The women sat at one table; the men another. At our table, the breakfast conversation was mostly about cars. And axle ratios. Everybody at the table knew theirs - to two decimal places - except me.
They were disappointed by that but were happy to learn that my personal car at home had a V-8. "That 302's a sweet motor," said one. "Got pretty decent git-up-n-scoot," opined another. They had less to say about my wife's brand new Honda Accord. "Don't know much about that Jap stuff," one muttered. They teased one of the group, whose daughter had a Fiat X1/9: "How's her tin can of Spaghetti-Os runnin' these days?"
These men drove mostly full-size GM and Ford products. All were custom-ordered from their local small town dealer. They sat next to the salesman and checked the option boxes together - one by one. No bundled 'packages' for them. They enjoyed their new cars and traded them every few years for another new one. And they kept track of who bought their old one. "You know ol' Barney, he's still drivin' my '77 Caprice. She still looks nice, too. He keeps her up purty good."
Twenty-two years later, all of these men are either dead or in nursing homes. A new generation of car buyers has emerged, who know nothing about axle ratios, engine sizes or anything else. Challenge them on it and they'll respond, "Do you know the horsepower of the electric motor on your washer? Or dryer?" A logical question from people who see cars as appliances.
Buick will offer a V-6 for those who want more power than the 182 horsepower four-banger, just as is done in its Chevy Malibu cousin. But the Buick is different than the 'Bu because it's got a big toothy grill - something its intended market (Geezers and Chinamen) is known to love. That's what defines a Buick in 2010, Robert.
A final note: In the U.S., Buick sales are tanking badly. Edmunds.com has produced a graph which looks like one of those "you've got the chart upside-down" gags, showing a steady and steepening decline since the early 1990s:
Auto Pessimist: Toyota says that the global automotive industry is facing two more lean years. It expects to lose more money this fiscal year than it did last and to run most of its factories at well below their capacity.
Extended Recession: Warren Buffett has told CNBC there has been little progress over the past few months in the "economic war" being fought by the country. "We haven't got the economy moving yet." He noted the weakness in retail and manufacturing, and said demand is "down like we've never seen it."
While the economy is a "shambles" and likely to stay that way for some time, he remains optimistic there will eventually be a recovery over a period of years.
Unlike 1981-82, this recession's scope is worldwide, which will only exacerbate the situation and make recovery more difficult. The global economy has not contracted since 1947. But, as Buffett has indicated, there will be a recovery; it's always darkest before dawn. But it's going to take a while to get the housing mess straightened out and, until that's done, there won't be a lot of disposable income or credit available to buy stuff.
Remember: In 1974, the Gross Domestic Product dropped six quarters in a row. That record may be broken this time.
Economics 102: Here's the crux of the problem - a vicious cycle, illustrated by House of Eratosthenes:
Book Review: 'Remembering Northeast Philadelphia' by Dr. Harry C. Silcox. When you live in a particular area, you're often oblivious to its rich history, the significance of street names or particular buildings. I was reminded of this as I read and reread this fine book.
I grew up in Frankford and Northeast Philadelphia but was unaware of much the region's history. I learned that many of its main roads dated back to the 17th Century: Bridge St. and Frankford Ave.(1683), Oxford, Bustleton and Adams Avenues (1693). The Jolly Post Inn and Tavern opened its doors in 1682 and hosted such colonial-era luminaries as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, French general Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington himself. It stood on ... (more >>>)
Yahoo! Mountain Dew is the fourth most popular soft drink in America; Coke, Pepsi and Diet Coke are the top sellers. Seven-Up and Bubble-Up didn't even make the top ten. Fanta is #8. Fanta?! I've never met anyone who drinks that Nazi-inspired stuff.
Quote Of The Day is from Laurence J. Peter: "An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today."