Friday February 26, 2010
A Different Kind Of Woody: The 1924 Hispano-Suiza H6C 'Tulipwood' Torpedo was commissioned by André Dubonnet, an accomplished aviator, racing driver and heir to the Dubonnet liquor fortune. André had Nieuport Aviation Company construct a lightweight body suitable for both racing and touring. The firm's craftsmen formed a frame of wooden ribs measuring up to 3/4-inch thick which were covered with 1/8-inch wooden veneer. Strips of mahogany (earlier thought to be tulipwood) of uneven thickness and length were fastened to the veneer with thousands of brass rivets which were then ground flush with the wood before varnishing. The finished body weighed 160 pounds.
The torpedo tail enclosed a 46-gallon gas tank for long distance racing. In 1924, Dubonnet entered the Hispano-Suiza in the Sicilian Targa Florio and he finished sixth; he also finished fifth in the Coppa Florio and first in the over-4.5-liter class. The original vehicle is on exhibition at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California.
For Valentine's Day, I received an 1:43 scale model of the car, which I photographed in front of the McNicholas Tavern on my model train layout.
The Hiso has a bit of a special meaning to me. In 1991, we visited Glenn Vaughn Restoration Services in Post Falls, Idaho and saw a replica of the Dubonnet car under construction on a '24 Hispano-Suiza chassis. The body was being replicated by bending mahogany strips in a custom-made steam chamber. Steam-forming of wood - once common in most wood shops - is almost a lost art these days. When we revisited Glenn's shop in 1993, the car was nearly complete.
Glenn Vaughn is the son of Ken Vaughn, partner of Phil Hill in the legendary Hill & Vaughn restoration shop in California. Glenn has become a restoration legend in his own right. A photo of the finished HS woodie can be found on his website. (permalink)
Toyota In The Barrel: The media and certain congressional publicity hounds are gleefully and loudly poking at Toyota with a stick. John Stossel has written, "To put the Toyota problem in perspective, before all the media hype, 19 fatal accidents were linked to faulty gas pedals and floor mats over the last decade. That's fewer than two each year. Compare that to America’s 40,000 annual fatal car crashes."
As David Champion, director of automobile testing for Consumer Reports, said, "I find it a little odd that we're going to have a Congressional hearing to look at those two deaths out of 40,000 ... you have to look at death rates in safety terms rationally."
Investor's Business Daily editorialized: "While Honda recalled 636,000 models last month and Ford recalled more than 4 million vehicles last year, neither company was subjected to a Congressional Hearing," noted Americans for Tax Reform in a statement.
Small wonder then that a Toyota internal memo declared the current climate in Washington is 'not industry friendly'."
IBD noted that "there's more than a whiff of Saul Alinsky's community organizing principles in this noisy government campaign against Toyota - 'Pick a target, personalize it, freeze it, polarize it.'"
Meanwhile, Congressional know-it-alls beat up a guy who runs a company that directly or indirectly employs over 200,000 Americans. How dumb is that? Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) complained that Toyoda wasn't sorry enough: "I am not satisfied with your testimony. I do not feel it reflects sufficient remorse for those who have died, and I do not think you have accurately reflected the large number of complaints that have been filed for more than a decade."
Then there was Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who referred to Toyotas as "literal killing machines." Jerk.
Mark Tapscott has pointed out that 31 of House Democrats quizzing Toyota execs got UAW campaign cash.
Edward Niedermeyer of TTAC has written, "Watching congress tackle the problem of out-of-control cars is something like watching a panel of tenured literature professors struggle to open a jar of pickles: the problem isn't necessarily that the individuals involved aren't intelligent, it's that they are stunningly ill-prepared for the task.
Not only are most representatives not trained to understand the complexities of automotive systems, they're also constitutionally incapable of contemplating the possibility that as one of America's best-selling brands, Toyota likely sells a lot of cars to stupid people. The possibility that even a small percentage of the unintended acceleration cases might have been caused by (or at least were not averted because of) human error was, at best, only obliquely hinted at for the simple reason that congressional hearings always require a satisfyingly sinister scapegoat."
Furthermore, Car & Driver has demonstrated that cars with jammed accelerator pedals can be stopped, including a Toyota Camry: "With the Camry's throttle pinned while going 70 mph, the brakes easily overcame all 268 horsepower straining against them and stopped the car in 190 feet - that's a foot shorter than the performance of a Ford Taurus without any gas-pedal problems and just 16 feet longer than with the Camry's throttle closed."
Look, I don't want to blame every outta-control car crash (regardless of the make of car) on driver error. There may well be mechanical/electrical gremlins at work. But I am also cynical enough to realize that large part of the hysteria over Toyota's woes is due to Democrats with vested interests in Government Motors, their UAW supporters who loathe Japanese car companies and an administration which owes its very existence to the union vote.
If there were going to be 'fair' hearings, the U.S. government and all its representatives would have recused themselves the proceedings.
I've written more about Throttlegate here.
Painful Junket: James Lileks has written, "My toe hurts. Last week: ear. I believe we have one small piece of minor pain that just tours your body over the years, sending postcards."
That Boy Ain't Right In The Head: A 57-year-old Costa Mesa, CA man, who had his hand severed by a Metrolink train two weeks ago, was apparently hit by the same train again, police said. The man said that he had "fallen from the passenger platform and been run over by the train. He told authorities the same thing two weeks ago."
New Slogan: According to reports from the Associated Press and Politico, the White House is already planning for the 2012 election. Since Hope 'n' Change isn't working anymore, Obama's new catchphrase is rumored to be: 'My First Term Was All Bush's Fault'. (permalink)
The Times We Live In: If your bank returns your check marked "Insufficient Funds," ask if they mean you or them.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs."
Wednesday February 24, 2010
Done/Undone? Michelle Krebs of Edmunds AutoObserver has reported that "General Motors sale of Saab to Dutch sportscar maker Spyker is expected to be finalized as early as Tuesday. Meantime, GM's sale of Hummer to a Chinese company looks to be on the verge of collapse."
AutoBlog has reported that the Saab/Spyker thing is a done deal. I dunno. Maybe General Motors could send me an e-mail when the check clears.
What's the real behind-the-scenes story here? Don't ask me; I'm in the dark. But the whole mess will probably be made into a book someday.
What will be the final outcome? Beats me. But I still can't envision Saab as a money-making brand. I always liked what Kurt Vonnegut said about his Saab experience.
Update: GM has announced that the Chinese deal has fallen apart and Hummer brand will be "wound down."
Yikes! Depending on your point of view, the YikeBike is either a very cool and clever design (my sentiment) or a DorkCycle.
But $6,000+ for an electric trike is just ridiculous.
World's Smallest Ad? In October of last year, I wrote about a nearby new business - a model train shop - and outlined the problems that I felt it faced. Well, it's apparently still in business (although it's never open when I drive by) and recently placed a very small ad in the local weekly newspaper.
Difficult to spot and hard to read, the display ad measured just under 0.75 inches in height and just over 5.75 inches in width - advertising two businesses. It was surrounded by larger, far more-readable ads - each for a single business - and I suspect most newspaper readers missed it. I did the first time around; I found it only after my wife pointed it out to me. (permalink)
Incandescent Wonder: Ronald Howes Sr., inventor of the Easy-Bake Oven, has died at age 83. The light bulb heated oven was a hit with kids. Introduced in 1963, over 500,000 pre-pubescent Duncan Hines wanna-be's talked their folks into spending $15.95 in the first year.
About 20 million Easy-Bakes have been sold since then. Howes was a lifelong inventor whose creations ranged from high-tech defense weaponry devices to electrostatic printers. He created the novel little oven while director of research and new product development for Cincinnati-based Kenner Products.
Thankfully, Mr. Howes didn't live to see the death of the cheap and reliable incandescent light bulb which is apparently coming soon - like it or not. Rest in peace.
And Yet .. The Schools Are Lousy By Any Measure: In 2009, the District of Columbia public school system spent $28,169 per student. In 2009, tuition at Harvard tuition was $32,550 for the 2009 academic year.
The D.C. school district's annual budget for 2008-2009 of $1.29 trillion - slightly below the annual GDP of the entire country of Belize.
Obama's Latest Health Care Plan In Two Words: Balloon Mortgage. (hat tip: American Digest)
Get Well Soon: Former V.P. Dick Cheney suffered a mild heart attack on Monday. It's his fifth since age 37. Cheney had bypass surgery in 1988, as well as two later angioplasties to clear narrowed coronary arteries.
"In 2001, he had a special pacemaker implanted in his chest. In addition, doctors in 2008 restored a normal rhythm to his heart with an electric shock. It was the second time in less than a year that Cheney had experienced and been treated for an atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart."
Like many of us, he's a good-hearted man with a bum ticker.
Can I Deduct My Investment Losses On Denver Beachfront Property? Headline: 'Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels.' Excerpt: "Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings."
Bad Pun of the Day: A man fell into an upholstery machine. Luckily, he's now fully recovered.
Monday February 22, 2010
No Sale: While cleaning out an old file, an ancient 1986 business card fell out , bringing back a particular automotive memory. It belonged to the Fleet & Lease Manager for John & Phil's Toyota in Corvallis, OR.
In the late fall of that year, we were looking for an additional company car for my wife. Based on magazine research, we had narrowed our choices down to the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. After looking at the Maxima and Taurus, we crossed them off the list. I don't remember why. Then we looked at the Accord and were impressed.
Visiting the local Toyota dealer, we were told that no '87 Camrys had yet arrived but some were expected "real soon." I asked the salesman to call when the new cars arrived. Two or three weeks later, I phoned and left a message asking for a return phone call. Nada.
So, we bought a new 1987 Honda Accord LXi sedan, kept it for 90,000 very satisfactory miles and sold it to a friend who ran it up to 135,000 miles before trading it on something newer. The Toyota dealer lost a very possible sale because his representative failed to keep a simple promise and chose to ignore a legitimate prospective customer. This has happened to me over and over in life - not just at car dealers.
I'm always amazed at the number of salespeople who are too lazy to do their jobs properly. The Toyota dealer in question still exists but the salesman is not listed on its website staff page. No wonder.
PS: In those days, I heard (and experienced) loads of horror stories from friends about Corvallis auto dealers. Most involved the words "rude" and "disinterested."
During the 11 years I lived in the area, my firm purchased eight new vehicles. Only one - the Accord - was bought from a Corvallis/Albany OR metro area dealer. (I should point out that the Corvallis Honda dealership was pretty new and owned by a couple of Texas transplants unfamiliar with the ways of doing business in the manner of the local yokels.)
Our other seven vehicles came from out of town, where the people really wanted to do business with us.
How Could I Have Forgotten: Last week, I watched a memorable 1994 Simpsons episode, 'Bart of Darkness'. It was jam packed with great stuff: a hippie getting punched in the face, a visit to a local above-ground pool retailer, Pool Sharks (company slogan: 'Where the buyer is our chum'), Epsom salt, Peeping Tom cops, appearances by Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, Jimmy Stuart and AFL-CIO President George Meany, Melted MASH, a puddle of The Beatles, Itchy & Scratchy in 4994 AD, murderous Flanders ("I'm a mur-diddly-urderer"), Maggie sleeping on Jello and Hans Moleman catching on fire.
In 2007, I listed the top ten Simpsons episodes and neglected this one. It should have made the list. Sorry. (permalink)
Passages: Alexander Haig, former Secretary of State and fellow Prepper has died at age 85. He served in Korea and Vietnam, earning two Silver Stars, the Bronze Star with Valor, the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.
Haig's long and decorated military service launched the Washington career for which he became better known. The four-star general served as a top adviser to three presidents. President Richard Nixon appointed him White House chief of staff in 1973. Haig helped Nixon prepare his impeachment defense and handled many of the day-to-day decisions normally made by the chief executive.
Haig later served as secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. Requiescat in pace. (permalink)
CPAC Speeches: I watched four of them on C-Span. George Will's talk was one of the best speeches he has ever given. Usually wry, dry and somewhat dull, he was witty and on target with his remarks. At one point, he likened the policies of President Obama to the more bizarre experiments of the Roosevelt administration, pointing out that FDR's farm bureau forced the slaughter of six million pigs to push up pork prices. Will quipped, "We're smarter. We have Cash for Clunkers."
John Bolton was wonderfully sardonic and scary smart: "On January 20th last year, Barack Obama was not qualified to be President. Today, 13 months later, he is still not qualified." He pointed out that, in the Administration's dealings with Iran, Obama needs to realize "that 'negotiation' is not a policy, it is a technique."
Newt Gingrich gave a bombastic, 30-minute speech, even weaving in a little Albert Camus. (But he didn't mention the Facel Vega incident.) Like many speakers, Newt compared the Obama administration to the Soviet Union.
Glenn Beck was the closing speaker and knocked it out of the park with a sweeping denunciation of progressivism. He lambasted the Democrats but chided the Republicans, too: "It's not enough just to not suck as much as the other side." I was particularly moved by his lesson about the real meaning of the 'Give me your tired, your poor' bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
It is worth noting that none of the aforementioned speakers required a teleprompter.
Interesting Comparison: Jeri Thompson (Fred Thompson's very attractive wife and radio talk show host) has observed, "President Obama told the Dalai Lama that he "strongly supported" him, despite the fact that he refused to be seen with him in public." She added, "Isn't that the same line that Tiger Woods used on his mistresses?"
And furthermore, Obama made the Dalai Lama exit through the back door, next to a mound of trash.
Extra Service: Prostitutes in the picturesque Swiss lakeside town of Lugano are adding defibrillation to their list of services following the death of several elderly geezers "whose hearts just couldn't take the pace."
This gives a whole new meaning to the term half-and-half.
The Gospel According To Elton: In a Parade magazine interview, Elton John said he thought that Jesus Christ was a homosexual: "I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems."
Perhaps he also thinks that, when the Lord threw the money changers out of the Temple, it was some kind of hissy fit.
Hey, Elton, have you given up snorting cocaine for Lent?
Cupid Has Left The Building: Best headline of last week: 'Man beaten with high-heel during Waffle House Valentine's date.' Police said that "violence erupted during one couple's Valentine's Day outing, as the suitor's former lover burst into the restaurant and beat the man with her high-heel shoe."
The victim told officers that he and his girlfriend were at a booth when a pair of sisters - one of whom is the mother of his children - came in and started an argument. He tried to ignore them, police reported, even as they began hitting him. A Waffle House manager told police the women also hurled sugar and salt containers through a window. "At some point, the assailants went to the parking lot and damaged the man's car."
The suspects - identified as Kenya White, 29; and Marrisha White, 32 - were each charged with battery and criminal damage to private property.
Quote Of The Day is from Larry the Cable Guy: "Just remember - if the world didn't suck, we would all fall off."
Friday February 19, 2010
Loser Tagline: The March/April issue of AARP Magazine (the cover proclaims it to be the "World's Largest Circulation Magazine") has a full-page back cover ad for the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. The ad's headline: 'Something Else For Lexus To Relentlessly Pursue'.
This is a bad idea. The first rule of good advertising is: "Never mention competition in advertisements." Only second-raters, losers and back-benchers do it. Who has mentioned competition in ads? Burger King, the second-rate fast food company, used to compare itself to McDonald's. (McD's never reciprocated - didn't need to.)
In the 1960s, U.S. ads for Simca compared it to then-import king Volkswagen. Where is Simca today? Gone.
You never see Porsche comparing itself with Ferrari. Nor Ruth's Chris mentioning Morton's. Four Seasons never acknowledges the Ritz or the Waldorf. Successful brands create stand-alone advertising.
Buick should stick to stating the benefits of its LaCrosse model. Let the auto reviewers - and, ultimately, the public - decide if it is equal to or better than Lexus. That's smart advertising.
Speaking Of Taglines ... or as Trout and Reis always called it, a 'position', BMW used to have a great one: Ultimate Driving Machine. But the latest BMW television campaign is called 'Joy', as in "At BMW, we just don't make cars, we make joy."
How humongously stupid. Makes Buick look like a genius by comparison.
Rent An Orphan: I spotted this online ad Monday. GM doesn't make Pontiacs anymore but, apparently, you can still rent one.
Bailout Hustle: Matt Taibbi wants to know, "The question everyone should be asking, as one bailout recipient after another posts massive profits - Goldman reported $13.4 billion in profits last year, after paying out that $16.2 billion in bonuses and compensation - is this: In an economy as horrible as ours, with every factory town between New York and Los Angeles looking like those hollowed-out ghost ships we see on History Channel documentaries like Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes, where in the hell did Wall Street's eye-popping profits come from, exactly?
Did Goldman go from bailout city to $13.4 billion in the black because ... its "performance" was just that awesome? A year and a half after they were minutes away from bankruptcy, how are these assholes not only back on their feet again, but hauling in bonuses at the same rate they were during the bubble?"
Taibbi supplies some disturbing answers in the article as well as "a brief history of the best 18 months of grifting this country has ever seen."
Bush Buying: Online retailer CafePress spokeswoman Jenna Martin said sales of Bush-related products virtually disappeared after Obama replaced him. But last week, she said, 10 of the firm's top-selling 100 designs were 'Miss Me Yet?' items, moving to the tune of up to 500 orders a day.
"There were no Obama-themed designs on the list - Bush has stolen the political spotlight, just like Sarah Palin did the week before when she re-surfaced with crib notes written in her palm," Martin said.
A Prediction I Like ... was made at Thursday's CPAC Convention by former V.P. Dick Cheney: "I think 2010 is gonna be a phenomenal year in conservative thought, and I think Barack Obama is a one-term president."
Big Iron: Huge, articulated Mallet steam locomotives were a familiar sight where long trains of heavy coal needed to be hauled over mountains. Mallets with a 2-8-8-2 wheel arrangement were widely used by the Norfolk & Western Railroad. Faced with motive power shortages during World War II, the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased six Alco-built Mallets from N&W in 1943.
The O-gauge Mallet on my model train layout was made by MTH Electric Trains; I purchased it new in early 2002. The engine and tender are almost 26 inches long. It runs very smoothly (no jerky starts), makes a very powerful chugging sound and it's neat to watch those drivers and rods going back and forth. I have produced a video short (1.4 min.) of my PRR Mallet in action on my layout:
Quote Of The Day is from Tony Blankley: "The American people have had a bellyful of new ideas in the last year. The next winning politician and party will only have to offer two: Stop it now and start rolling it back immediately! It may take decades just to execute those two ideas."
Wednesday February 17, 2010
A Putz Named Lutz: If 78 year-old Bob Lutz leaves General Motors tomorrow, never darkening their already tenebrous doors again, it won't be a minute too soon.
In the latest episode of 'As The Lutz Turns', Maximum Bob whined that he is "being paid way, way, way below market."
Noted auto analyst Maryann Keller commented, "If you are in a situation where your very existence is determined by the largesse of the government, I'm not sure you have a whole lot to say about what your compensation should or shouldn't be."
This is not the first time that Bob Lutz has complained about working conditions. In 2009, the self-appointed car-guru said, "I've never quite been in this situation before of getting a massive pay cut, no bonus, no longer allowed to stay in decent hotels, no corporate airplane. I have to stand in line at the Northwest counter. I've never quite experienced this before." At the time, I wondered if ol' Bob had ever gotten a true dose of reality ... like having to actually rent and drive one of his shitbox GM rental cars.
Moaning is not new to Lutz. In November 2005, veteran auto writer Anita Lienert called Bob out on his whining and complaining: "Wait a minute. The media are not responsible for GM’s sometimes questionable reputation with the buying public. GM is responsible. ... It struck me that you never hear that kind of tirade from Japanese executives."
Lutz auto industry prowess is mostly self-proclaimed, much of it in his execrable book ('Guts - Eight Laws of Business' published in 1998) - absolutely the worst business book I've ever read. I couldn't even finish it.
His career track record is - at best - mixed. He worked at BMW from '71 to '74 for three years and takes some credit for the development of the 3-Series. But most auto historians see the 3 as a logical successor to the fabled BMW 2002 introduced five years before Lutz joined BMW. And the 2002 evolved from the 1500 model which debuted in 1962.
At Ford Europe, Lutz He spearheaded importation of models to the United States under the short-lived Merkur brand, which was a sales disaster. And don't forget that Lutz was an executive at Chrysler in the 1980s when they were producing all those homely K-car variants. He was also CEO of Exide until the year it filed for bankruptcy.
When Bob Lutz became chairman of GM North American development in 2001, one of the first things he stated was that his new 500 hp car, the Cunningham C7 (in which he was an investor), was going to save General Motors. Didn't happen. The Cunningham was stillborn - beleaguered by lawsuits from disgruntled project participants.
In 2003 or so, Lutz remarked that the current-model Toyota Camry was "the ugliest vehicle on the road today." This came from the vice-chairman of General Motors - a company which at the time was producing the hideous Pontiac Aztek. And its unappealing soulmate, the Saturn Vue SUV. And the boxy, ungainly Hummer H2.
Maximum Bob made some peculiar comments about Chevrolet in 2004. "It has become a sacrificial brand," he said about the bow-tie marque, "but we had to do it. It's easier to pull a brand down than to build it up." I guess this explained why the Corvette was no longer carrying a Chevy badge. The interviewer, well-known auto scribe Karl Ludvigsen, concluded, "It's time for Rick Wagoner to belt up Lutz. The man has clearly come to believe his press, which continues to hail him as the Second Coming of the Saviour of the auto industry. That he's not is gradually becoming evident."
In 2006, Lutz was busy hyping GM's hydrogen-powered experimental car, another GM wow-'em much-publicized development project that never went anywhere.
Bob Lutz has also claimed to be the godfather of the oft-delayed, yet-to-be-built Chevrolet Volt. In 2008, Chevy ran two-page color ad spreads in major magazines touting the unavailable Volt. The corporation was going broke but, in Lutz's world, there always seemed to be money available for Vaporware Hype.
Maximum Bob has repeatedly made fun of the Prius, which Toyota has been selling profitably for over 10 years. By late 2007, the Prius model alone outsold Saturn's entire product line as well as that of Buick and came close to outselling the entire Cadillac line.
Finally - in an ultimate act of two-faced cynicism, in spring of 2009, GM's top executives, "led by former GM vice chairman and product chief Bob Lutz, dumped their shares" as the automaker headed toward "a bankruptcy or a restructuring that would all but wipe out existing shareholders," according to a Reuters report.
If Maximum Bob doesn't like the way things are at Government Motors, he can always quit. As a reluctant and unexpected shareholder in GM, I'd vote to fire him. (permalink)
Light Rail Joke ... courtesy of The Anti-Planner (Randal O'Toole): Q: "How many Washington Metrorail employees does it take to change a lightbulb?"
A: "Three: one to screw a lightbulb into a faucet, one to assure the public that the system was safe, and one to explain to the media why this proves Metro needs a dedicated funding source."
Deadbeats Rising: Capital One's U.S. credit-card defaults rose again in January. The annualized net charge-off rate - debts the company believes it will never collect - rose to 10.41% in January from 10.14% in December. During 2006, the charge-off rate was down in the 3-4% range.
Capital One is the third-largest U.S. issuer of Visa-branded credit cards, and the fifth-largest issuer of MasterCards.
In related news ... (more >>>)
Small Premium: A recent study showed that a "5-foot-9-inch man needs to make $30,000 more than a 5-foot-10-inch one to be as successful in the dating pool."
Jeez. Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a pair of shoe lifts?
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "President Obama can ban the phrase "war on terror" but he cannot ban the terrorists' war on us. That war continues, so there is no reason to turn terrorists loose before it ends. They chose to make it that kind of war. We don't need to risk American lives to prove that we are nicer than they are."
Monday February 15, 2010
Ethanol-free Gasoline: The benefits of 100% pure gas are well known.
Conversely, the harm of ethanol-gasoline mixes is also well-known: Costs more. Gets lousy mileage. Goes shorter distances. May hurt older engines and fuel line components. Subsidized by your tax dollars.
Ethanol is less "energy dense" than gasoline.
There are fewer BTUs per gallon, so you get fewer miles per gallon when ethanol is blended into your gasoline.
Unfortunately, the only public ethanol-free gas station located in Washington state is the Kamilche Trading Post (a convenience grocery/liquor store and gas station near Shelton, WA owned by the Squaxin Island Tribe), which is too far away to be useful to me.
There's more on ethanol here. "There are lots of stupid federal programs. There are lots of wasteful federal programs. The corn ethanol mandates are immoral." (permalink)
Old-School Commuting: Multiple-unit, self-propelled railroad coaches are still used in commuter lines. The first ones went into service almost 100 years ago.
The Pennsylvania Railroad's MP54 stable of electric Multiple Unit cars was the largest class of this type of car. Initially built for the original Philadelphia-based network of electrified suburban lines, they were eventually used throughout the railroad's electrified zones. The MP54's design dates back to 1906. Between 1915 and 1939 the PRR made or purchased 432 cars of the MP54 type.
During their long years of service, they became known to patrons as "red cars," or "red rattlers" (especially as they aged and became more noisy and decrepit). They were also called "owl eyes", due to the two porthole windows on the front end of each car. MP54 electric MU cars operated in commuter and intercity service by the Pennsylvania Railroad and, later, Penn Central.
Day-hopping to college, I frequently traveled on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Paoli Local from Philadelphia Suburban Station to Villanova. Occasionally, I rode in then-new Silverliner MU coaches. Most often, the Paoli Local was a consist of ancient Tuscan red MP54s with overhead pantographs and the distinctive owl eyes front windows.
I have an O-gauge MP54 set which I run on my model train layout. Last week, I shot a video short (1.2 min.) of my MUs in action:
Climategate: John Lott has written, "A new report points to a sharp reduction of weather stations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in cooler locations around the world since 1990. Could that be why global temps have seen a steady rise over the last 20 years?"
And furthermore: "The global warming scandal keeps getting worse. Revelations over the few weeks show that many important assertions in the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were based on misquotes and false claims from environmental groups, not on published academic research as it was originally presented.
This is on top of the recent mess regarding data, where the three most relied-on data series used by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 assessment report still have not been released. Other data simply never seem to have existed or cannot be provided to other scientists."
So ... What Kind Of Crap Did You Get For Valentine's Day? Headline: 'Minnesota farmer makes half-mile wide heart from manure.' Said his wife of 37 years, "Now I've got my Valentine! That's pretty cute. ... He thinks of cute things to do once in a while, so I was a little surprised."
Quote of the Day is from Victor David Hanson: "One Otis Redding had more talent than the entire hip-hop industry."
Friday February 12, 2010
Interesting Statistic: Jerry Flint has reported that Lexus sold just 258 of its luxury LS600h big hybrid models last year. I finally saw one (in Beverly Hills) during our recent trip to Southern California.
Car Money Stats: Total amount of government loans to auto companies (GM, Chrysler, GMAC and Chrysler Financial): $80.7 billion. Amount repaid by late December 2008: $2.5 billion.
Total value of Cash for Clunkers rebates, not including administrative costs: $2.85 billion.
Job Creation Obama-Style: Randal O'Toole has written, "Remember all those jobs that high-speed rail was going to create? Turns out, not so much. Wisconsin, for example, had claimed that its share of high-speed rail funds would create 13,000 jobs. In fact, it is only going to be 4,700 - and then only at the peak of construction. So how did 4,700 turn in to 13,000? If you have a job this year, and a job next year, they counted that as two separate jobs. And if you have a job the year after that, that's three jobs." (permalink)
Sagging Hooters: The restaurant chain famous for its ... ummmm ... breasts and wings has recently shopped itself to a number of private-equity firms as "sales have sagged with the recession." Hooters is "in advanced talks with a Connecticut-based investor that has been granted certain rights of refusal on any potential transaction, according to one source."
More Labor Woes: In December, there were 6.1 unemployed workers, on average, for every available position, according to the latest Labor Department data.
The Downside Of Burqas: An Arab ambassador called for an instant divorce "after discovering his veil-wearing fiancée had a beard and was cross-eyed."
Sounds like the Muslim equivalent of a two-bagger.
First rule of dating: If she's covering her face with a niqab, a burqa or a Hefty Bag, she may have something to hide.
Quote Of The Day is from Frank J.: "If people plunder you on the sea, that's piracy. If people plunder you on land, that's the Obama administration."
Wednesday February 10, 2010
Troubled Kitty: While I saw a lot of XFs (mostly silver ones) during my California trip, only 631 Jaguars were sold in the U.S. last month.
Big Bucks: A 1956 D-type Jaguar sports racer was sold at the Scottsdale Gooding & Co. auction for $3.74 million. It had been driven by Ken Miles and future Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser, among others and later was driven daily on the streets of Southern California by former silent movie star Carlyle Blackwell Jr.
Gooding experienced a 54% boost in overall financial results as well as the five highest-dollar sellers of the week among all of the Arizona auctions, led by a 1960 short-wheelbase California Spider that brought $4.95 million. The others were a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Series I cabriolet for $2.145 million, a 1934 Duesenberg Model J disappearing-top convertible coupe for $1.815 million and a 1939 Hispano-Suiza Type 68 J12 cabriolet for $1.54 million.
New VegiCar? I often check Yahoo: Automotive to see if there's any breaking vehicular news. Tuesday's top headline was - inexplicably: 'India halts genetically modified eggplant release.'
Is the Eggplant some kind of Indian sports coupe?
California Cuisine: I've updated my restaurant review page with reports on some recently-sampled dining establishments in Southern California.
Global Warming Update: By Tuesday evening, it was snowing like crazy in D.C. ... again. This time 14 inches of new snow is forecast. Among the many announced cancellations/postponements was the Senate's Global Warming Impact Hearing. Philadelphia is expected to receive 18 inches of new snow. Snowmageddon!
How To Have A Jobless Recovery: If you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, these scary graphs speak volumes. Here's just one:
In recessions before 1990, the time from pre-recession job peak to full job recovery was 18-24 months. In 1990, it took over 30 months. The next recession - 2001 - required over 46 months. It now appears that the present recession may not experience a complete employment recovery cycle for 4-5 years.
Why is the time to recover from job losses getting longer and longer? I would suggest three causes ... (more >>>)
Headline Of The Day is from The Onion: 'Obama To Wait For Next Bruce Springsteen Album For Word On Economy'.
Quote Of The Day is from Newt Gingrich: "Bowing to the Saudi king is not an energy policy."
Monday February 8, 2010
Throttlegate: While I was on vacation, the whole Toyota Unintended Acceleration Thing exploded in the media. There is apparently a mechanical fault with binding accelerator pedals on some cars, depending on the model and the component supplier (Denso good, CTS perhaps not good).
Every time I turned on an LA television station, there was some coiffed airhead holding a microphone standing in front of a Toyota dealership saying how awful, dangerous and/or inconvenient it all is. Except when there had been a big accident on a Freeway. Or a murder, which usually involved a knife and a perp with a name ending in 'z': Hernandez, Menendez, Lopez, Ramirez, etc. And a lot of yellow police tape.
Toyota's January sales tanked as a result of bad publicity and the company's decision to stop selling affected models until the problem is resolved. Toyota's sales dropped 16% during a month which saw gains of 24% for Ford and 22% for Hyundai. Toyota estimates recall costs to be $2 billion or so.
The problem has been exacerbated by U.S. Transportation Secretary - and idiot - Ray LaHood, who said that owners of Toyota vehicles recalled for accelerator-pedal defects should "stop driving" them and bring them to a Toyota dealer for repair. "We need to fix the problem so people don't have to worry about disengaging the engine or slamming the brakes on or put it in neutral." LaHood later retracted the remarks but the damage was done.
LaHood is already on record wanting to force everyone to use bicycles or light rail - 'Transformational Behavior' he calls it - and, as a gummint employee, he represents the interests of Government Motors (Chrysler and GM doncha know) which happen to be Toyota competitors. Plus our president is beholden to the UAW thugs who helped get him in the White House in the first place. Naturally, the UAW hates non-union Toyota and would love to see it sink below the waves.
Writing in Forbes, veteran auto scribe Jerry Flint opined, "The company is under unprecedented attack by the U.S. government - never has a Secretary of Transportation told Americans not to drive anyone's cars or demanded a factory shutdown. It's taking on the appearance of a vendetta - after all, the government hasn't told General Motors to shut its Chevrolet Cobalt car factory in Ohio although there certainly seems to be a problem with power steering."
With tongue firmly in cheek, Justin Berkowitz reported that "Ford is advising Toyota on how to blame Firestore for gas pedal recall." Toyota is apparently looking at a number of stories, including "the gas pedals are made from Firestone's rubber" to "the tires forced the gas pedals to the floor."
I don't have a dog in this fight. Our 2005 Avalon (which appears to have a CTS-made pedal) is on the recall list but we haven't gotten any official notification from Toyota yet. We've experienced no problems with throttle response and our factory floor mats are straight, flat and true.
Nevertheless, I am in favor of firing LaHood, eliminating all federal light-rail funding and reducing the DOT budget by 90%. I would point out that - in the past year - far more people have been killed or maimed by mass transit than by sticky gas pedals. (permalink)
"Lucy, You Got Some 'Splainin' To Do." Dan Neil has described the sound the sound of the 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack at high revs: "Imagine Lucy Ricardo stomping grapes in the vineyard, only the barrel is full of cats."
On the other hand, "At any point under 4,000 rpm this engine is bereft of twist. If you attempt to take off from a stop in second gear, the car has the acceleration of a Russian novel."
In related news, Pulitzer-winning auto writer Neil is leaving the bankrupt LA Times and will be joining the Wall Street Journal as its automotive columnist, starting in Spring.
I Am The Walrus; They Are The Corpsemen: Last week, President Barack H. Obama, in remarks about Haiti read from his ever-present teleprompter, made three references to a Navy corpsman, pronouncing it "corpse-man." Remember that this man is the Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces.
Had this been a George W. Bush (or Sarah Palin ... or Dan Quale) mispronunciation, the mainstream media would have made it a front page story. But not in the Alternate Universe of Obama: "I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob." (permalink)
It's Over: The much-publicized Obama Store in Washington's Union Station has closed. "This Valentine's Day, visitors to Union Station who had hoped to express their love for a significant other with a $20 pink T-shirt of Barack and Michelle Obama in a heart-shaped picture commemorating the 'Presidential Romance' ... may now be unable to do so."
Maybe the store should have applied for one of those shovel-ready stimulus grants. (permalink)
I'm Picturing This Floating Over Portland: "Imagine ... a "Peace Blimp"- defiantly displaying a message of peace across the skies of the nation, unable to be dismissed, ignored or brushed aside. Rallies for peace greet the blimp in every city it visits. Politicians, celebrities, movie stars, athletes, war veterans and peace activists make the call to bring our troops home by boarding the blimp for a ride. Crowds flock to the events and are educated about the war. With each stop along the tour the momentum for peace grows from a dull roar into an undeniable fervor until the seemingly endless wars come to an end."
"Please join us March 20, 2010 for the largest online monetary war protest in history. Our goal is to bring together 100,000 people to donate $10 each (minimum), creating a one day total of millions to fly the Peace Blimp until we the people force our government to end this war." Yeah, right.
Fish Kill: The Salem, OR-based McGrath's Fish House chain has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The firm has no plans to close any of its 20 locations in six states. McGrath's management blamed the recession.
Headline Of The Week ... so far: 'Anger management counselor pulls gun on men in parking dispute.' The two guys he believed were blocking his car turned out to be federal marshals. Oops.
Oh Wait, Here's A Better One ... from the Seattle Weekly: 'Gay, Mentally Challenged Biracial Male Cheerleader Claims Discrimination.' It seems the cheerleading coach "instructed him he couldn't gyrate his hips like the girls do and the athletic director allegedly suggested he be the team mascot."
Look on the bright side - he could have also been a wheelchair-bound midget.
Super Bowl XLIV: The Saints surprised many, including me. They were lackluster in the first half but Tracy Porter's 74-yard interception return for a touchdown made up for all of that and sealed the victory for New Orleans.
Best commercial: Doritos dog bark collar.
Halftime Show: Awful - The Who should return to whatever Senior Care Villa they call home. Roger Daltrey sounded like a drunk geezer in a karaoke bar and Pete Townshend looked 80, even though he's two years younger than me. (Note to Pete: Wearing Elvis Costello's hat didn't make you look younger; it made you look like Uncle Junior from The Sopranos.)
Get off the stage.
Global Warming Update: A monster, record-breaking snowstorm hammered much of the mid-Atlantic states, "with high winds and double-digit snowfall totals that downed wires, canceled flights and brought ground traffic almost to a halt." Depending on location, 20-36 inches of snow fell on parts of Ohio, Maryland, Deleware, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.
Dulles International Airport recorded a record-topping 32.4 inches of white stuff. "Flights from Reagan National and Dulles International airports were canceled "until further notice," the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said on its website. Hundreds of thousands of customers across the region had lost electricity and more outages were possible because of all the downed power lines."
Philadelphia International Airport experienced major delays and cancellations with almost 27 inches of snow reported. The storm/blizzard was the biggest February snowfall on record for Philadelphia. Wind gusts of more than 45 mph created low visibility and near white-out conditions for the area. This marks the first time in the history of recordkeeping, dating to 1884, that Philadelphia has had two snowstorms of this magnitude in the same season.
Paging Al Gore.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "We seem to be moving steadily in the direction of a society where no one is responsible for what he himself did but we are all responsible for what somebody else did, either in the present or in the past."
Friday February 5, 2010
Trip Report: We have completed a two-week vacation in southern California. There were spectacular sights to see and we returned home with lots of great memories - visual, culinary and historic.
When we arrived in Palm Springs, it was colder and wetter than it was at home. There was a lot of flooding - more rain had fallen in the desert in five days than in the last year - but, after a few days, the rain abated and the sun came out. That's when I doffed my legendary miracle hat.
We attended several musical performances, had some great meals and enjoyed visits with friends.
After a week in the desert, we drove to Los Angeles. We visited the famous Santa Monica Pier, the Getty Museum (too much to see in one day but the hillside automated tram from the parking garage to the museum provides spectacular views of LA), the Petersen Automotive Museum (there were a lot of new displays to admire, including a special exhibit on California Car Design and the Gilmore-modified 'Topper car'), the La Brea Tar Pits, the Nethercutt Museum (there are 355 gorgeous cars in the collection now; the Royal Hudson steam locomotive and private railroad car are now open for inspection), the LA Farmers Market and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
On a sunny Friday morning, we drove the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu to Montecito and Santa Barbara. We had a pleasant lunch at the Four Seasons Biltmore with an ocean-view table.
We thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend the three-hour LA Dearly Departed Tour, which showcased famous murders, celebrity scandals, significant movie locations and stars' homes.
The tour made a bathroom stop ... at the public restroom where pop star George Michael was arrested for soliciting other men. We were given a copy of the police report as a 'souvenir'.
Early one afternoon, we treated ourselves to lunch at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel. We saw rap mogul Russell Simmons twice - once in the bar and again in the lobby of the hotel. (Maybe he was stalking us.) Simmons, the co-founder of the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam, has created several fashion clothing lines and is reportedly the fourth richest figure in hip-hop.
By the way, the cherries in the Polo Lounge's Manhattans are the best I've ever tasted. And I've been drinking Manhattans for over 50 years.
The Reagan Library was memorable; it has been substantially expanded since my last visit eight years ago. Ronald Reagan, a man I greatly admired, was alive back then. This time, we paid our respects at his tomb.
Overall, we had a very enjoyable trip but I don't know if we'll ever return to LA - too much traffic and stress. We're used to a slower pace. And the place was full of rude, pushy, non-English-speaking Asians who arrived at attractions by the busload. The Freeway traffic was awful - at least three times worse than my last visit in 2002.
Car Sightings: In the desert, the most popular luxury brand was Lexus by a large margin, followed by Mercedes and BMW. Cadillac was a distant fourth, followed by Jaguar (mostly old ones, although LA was full of recent XFs), Infiniti and finally - and waaaay down - Lincoln. We didn't see many exotic cars in the Palm Desert area this year. I'm not sure if it was the less-than-perfect weather or the far-from-perfect economy.
The Beverly Hills Hotel valet lot was packed with Lexi, Benzes and Bentleys along with a Rolls Royce or two ... and a late-1960s Series II silver Jaguar 2+2 E-Type. Saw a lot of awesome cars driving along the streets during our LA visit, including several Lamborghinis, a few $420,000 McLaren Mercedes coupes, numerous Ferarris, a flame-painted '32 Ford roadster with a huge GMC blower perched atop ta big V8 engine, numerous Audi R8s and new and surprisingly ugly Porsche Panamera sedans and a rare BMW Z8 roadster.
I visited some dealerships in Palm Desert and got to sit in an Audi R8 mid-engine sports car. There was plenty of room for me once I got in but the door was cut so damn low that I'd surely need a neck brace after a week of getting in and out. The interior was black, silver and carbon fiber - very trendy and Teutonic.
The new Porsche sedan actually looks worse in person than in photos. The style lines clash and the back end can only be described as "unfortunate."
Speaking of hideous cars, I got a good look at the new Cadillac CTS-4 Sport Wagon. What a design mess. The vehicle is very angular but its angles are all wrong. It seems like the car was drawn by a hyperactive, myopic six year-old using nothing but a ruler and flat-edged mechanical pencil. The front license plate mount is too tall for the blank nose bar and overlaps awkwardly. The nosepiece was apparently designed for European plates, not American ones. This is epically stupid; Cadillac sells - what? - 32 cars per year in Europe. As I walked around a parked example, I kept asking myself, "What the hell were they thinking?"
On the other hand, I saw several new Buick LaCrosse sedans. The design is attractive and compelling. If the car had a Lexus badge, it would probably sell like hotcakes.
Car Rental: Our big silver Chrysler 300 sedan was very comfortable, peppy and handled quite well (those Mercedes underpinnings really make a difference). The interior wasn't particularly luxurious but the car was rattle-free and seemed to be well assembled - a pleasant surprise considering all the bad things I've read about Chrysler's quality. At 16,000 miles, the dashboard had developed a small blister ... otherwise the car was fine.
It was a good freeway cruiser and got an uninspiring 20 mpg on regular gas. I didn't care for the chopped-top effect. The small windows made it tough to see stoplight changes when first in line at a traffic light. Combined with the dark interior, near-claustrophobic conditions were created on overcast days. (permalink)
Trip Photos: I have posted photos, grouping them into five different categories:
1. Southern California scenery
2. Getty Center Museum
3. Reagan Presidential Library
4. Petersen Automotive Museum
5. The Nethercutt Collection - five pages of cars (and a locomotive)
Quote Of The Day is from Larry the Cable Guy: "Change is inevitable, except from vending machines."