Monday May 31, 2010
Birth Of Mercury: The Mercury brand was born of Ford Motor Company's realization that they had nothing to offer in the "mid-priced field" - the place between the $700 Ford and $1,400 Lincoln Zephyr. This market segment was producing lots of revenue for Chrysler Corp., General Motors and the independents and Ford wanted a piece of the action.
Henry Ford's son, Edsel, came up with the idea of creating an additional offering for Ford. He was thinking of a "super deluxe Ford", rather than a separate model. In fact, early production Mercury models carried hubcaps with 'Ford Mercury' on them. At its late 1938 introduction as a '39 model, the car was finally designated Mercury. Early Mercs looked a lot like Fords, although the two didn't share a single exterior body panel. Nevertheless, the Mercury was a little bigger, more powerful and better-trimmed than its Ford Deluxe sibling and it sold well - 70,835 vehicles in its first model year.
Mercury was restyled slightly for 1940 with ... (more >>>)
No Credit; No Action: Karl Denninger has posted an article about small business funding, basically saying that businesses are better off without it.
According to Karl, "You don't really need loans to set up and operate a small business. You need guts and the willingness to work long hours and take risk. Personally. Yes, you'll grow slower. So? You'll own what you earn - it will be yours, not the bank's. You'll keep your opportunities to yourself, instead of always looking over your shoulder. And when the time comes to expand, whether it be by buying more stuff, adding employees or moving to a new, larger location you'll do it based on cash flow, not on whether you can make the minimum payment on some note and pray that you'll be able to roll it over at reasonable interest rates in a year or two."
Well, maybe that's true for zero-inventory, minimal accounts receivable businesses like consulting or accounting. Or certain wholesale businesses, where margins are so high that cash management is irrelevant. In the early days of the software business, you packaged 80¢ worth of floppy disks and a $10 manual and sold it for $400. In such a scenario, it was easy to self-fund expansion with the $389.20 which remained. That's how Adobe, Microsoft and Intuit could grow so quickly in the 1980s. Alas, most businesses aren't so lucky.
When I owned a manufacturing business ... (more >>>)
Dino Is In Da House: Former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi has entered the U.S. Senate race against three-term incumbent Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). He's late and there are other Republicans challenging Murray but he's probably the strongest challenger.
As for me, I'll support pretty much anyone who can defeat the atrocious Murray. She's been disaster since day one. I've stopped writing to Senator Murray because anytime I ask her to support a given position, she votes the opposite.
Lefty Patty was also a big supporter of the free-abortion portion of the Senate health care
proposed fiasco bill. And an acknowleged admirer of Osama bin Laden.
Quote Of The Day is from financial columnist Malcolm Berko: "Edward Whitacre, the yokel-voiced Car Czar at General Motors, is a mythologist and I wouldn't trust this disingenuous dissembler to put fuel in my new Buick, which years ago was an acronym for Built Under the Influence of Captain Kangaroo."
Friday May 28, 2010
Stylish Buy: After many years of collaboration, Volkswagen has purchased a 90% stake in Italian Design firm Italdesign Giugiaro. Founder Giorgetto Giugiaro is responsible for many attractive cars, including the first generation VW Rabbit and Scirocco.
He also did concepts for concepts for important models such as the first Volkswagen Passat, Audi 80 and Isuzu Impulse. Formerly with Bertone and Ghia, he was also responsible for the DeTomaso Mangusta, Iso Grifo, Lotus Espirit, BMW M-1 and DeLorean DMC-12.
My only brush with Giugiaro was owning a 1976 Volkswagen Scirocco, which I bought new in December 1975. While it was a handsome little car and was peppy, nimble and fun to drive, it ultimately disappointed because of substandard VW quality/durability. (permalink)
Wake Me When It's Over: Mercury's demise has been reported/predicted more than that of Fidel Castro but it looks like the End Is Nigh. Bloomberg has reported that Ford Motor Company plans to wind down the Mercury line "after sales plunged 74% since 2000."
"The automaker's top executives are preparing a proposal to kill Mercury to be presented to directors in July, said two sources, who asked not to be identified revealing internal discussions. Mercury, losing two of four models next year, will be starved of products and promotion."
Mercury sales peaked ... (more >>>)
Good Governance; Less Government: Edward H. Crane, founder and president of the Cato Institute, penned an editorial for Investors Business Daily on the revolt against nanny government.
He pointed out that "the encouraging thing about the Tea Party movement" is that it's "made up of average Americans who are sick to death of politicians regulating, taxing, controlling and limiting individual choice."
Crane noted that "the essence of America, namely, a respect for the dignity of the individual, which inherently involves the government leaving the individual alone, has been pretty much forgotten by politicians in Washington, D.C., the state capitals and city councils around the nation. ... The political class seems to believe they have carte blanche to do as they please."
"Some 85% of Americans like their health care, so Congress shoves a government- mandated system down our throats. Taxes are way too burdensome, so Congress is contemplating a value-added tax to add to our burden. ... Climate change proves to be a wildly exaggerated issue, yet Congress still plans on raising taxes on energy to solve this nonexistent problem."
Mr. Crane concluded, "The Declaration of Independence says governments are created to secure our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, to leave us the hell alone. That is what makes for American Exceptionalism, despite President Obama's claim that all nations are exceptional. No, they are not, not in the way America is."
Roll On, Columbia: I was surprised to learn that Columbia Funds, once a Portland-based investment company, is going away.
Bank of America, which has owned the funds for a few years, is shipping them off to an outfit known as Ameriprise, where they will be renamed and disappear into the vast mutual fund wasteland.
In the 1970s, Jerry Inskeep and Jim Rippey debuted a group of mutual funds, including the Columbia Daily Income, a money market fund and the Columbia Municipal Bond Fund - a tax-free fund - important in those days, what with Oregon's high income tax rate. In the mid-1980s, when I was an Oregon resident, I had money in both. The Columbia Fund - a common stock mutual fund - was pretty hot stuff in its day.
The Columbia brand expanded into an ever-larger group of mutual funds. Inskeep and Rippey sold the firm in 1997 for $460 million to Fleet, apparently a banking and disposible enema consortium, which later faced a class-action suit over a 'bait and switch' bank card scam that 'cleaned out' a lot of their customers. BofA took them over in 2004.
For everything there is a season.
False Advertising: The latest Crate & Barrel catalog, which arrived last week, offered neither crates nor barrels. (permalink)
Oil Crisis Solved: Frank J. has written, "So as to help the energy crisis, have we ever tried drilling for oil in Mexico? There should be a decent amount of oil there and some it should be on land so if we spill it, we just get it all over Mexico instead of the ocean.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Won't Mexico be all like, "Hey, that's our oil! You can't drill for it, you pesky gringos!"
Yeah, but then we'll say, "Oh, so now the border means something to you." And we can give Mexico a choice: You can act like a border is meaningful and not encourage people to illegally cross it, or we get to come over and drill all your oil."
Fat Guy For President: I nominate straight-talking, new governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, who - in a heated exchange with a whiny unionized teacher - essentially said, 'No one's forcing you to be a teacher, you know.'
That skinny, thin-skinned dude we now have as president isn't working out so well. Time for some new blood - fat blood.
Hard-Drinking Newsman: The the editorial page editor at the Oregonian newspaper was arrested for drunk driving, after backing his pickup truck into another vehicle while trying to park near a strip club.
Robert Caldwell failed three field sobriety tests and was booked into jail at the Multnomah County Detention Center after blowing 0.10% on a blood-alcohol test. The legal limit is 0.08%. Caldwell claimed he only had a couple of drinks with dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House downtown.
The Oregonian has not reported this news but alternative paper Willamette Week has the 411. This helps explain why the mostly-AP-clipping-service Oregonian always did such sloppy reporting ... as if it were assembled by a bunch of drunks. (permalink)
Future Jabbering Illiterates: In Great Britain, children are more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. Almost nine-in-10 pupils now have a mobile compared with fewer than three-quarters who have their own books in the home, it was disclosed.
The study by the National Literacy Trust suggested a link between regular access to books outside school and high test scores. "According to figures, some 80% of children with better than expected reading skills had their own books, compared with just 58% who were below the level expected for their age group."
Research led by Nevada University, in the U.S., showed that children coming from a "bookish home" remained in education for around three years longer than young people born into families with empty bookshelves, irrespective of parents’ own education, occupation and social class.
Another Childhood Icon Gone: Art Linkletter, the radio and television talk-show pioneer best known for eliciting hilarious remarks from the mouths of babes, has died at 97. He was a close friend of Ronald Reagan as well as Walt Disney and reportedly made a fortune investing in California real estate with the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
Linkletter had extensive business interests. He headed a company involved in real estate development and management and operation of cattle ranches in Montana, New Mexico and California. He once owned a million-acre sheep station in Australia and was an investor in more than 100 oil wells and was involved in a solar energy firm. (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from H.L. Mencken: "Capitalism is the only basic institution of modern man that shows any genuine health and vigor."
Wednesday May 26, 2010
Big Odor: The auto air freshener business in the U.S. is a $50 million industry. 76% of Americans surveyed used some form of auto air freshener. Little Trees is the biggest player with an estimated 30% of the market.
I prefer fresh air with the smell of real trees.
Bicycle Terrorist Incident: Oregon, particularly Portland, is chock full of arrogant bicyclists who repeatedly trample the rights of others. Earlier this week, my wife and I were leaving Emanuel Hospital and had to cross N. Vancouver Avenue - a three-lane one-way street with a bike lane - in order to get to our car.
In Oregon, pedestrians have the right of way but we always stop and look first for safety's sake. When there was a break in traffic, we began to cross.
A group of bicyclists at least ten car lengths away properly braked - except for one aggressive, self-absorbed bozo who actually sped up and recklessly blew by, coming within a few feet of us.
The one car stopped at the crosswalk happened to be a Portland Police unit. My wife and I simultaneously looked at the officer and pointed at the bicycle jerk.
As soon as we cleared the intersection, he snapped on the overhead lights and floored his Crown Vicky, catching the cyclist within two blocks.
When we drove past a few minutes later, the officer was giving a ticket to the cretin. Thanks to the Portland police, justice has been served. A win for the good guys. (permalink)
Local Jobs Report: Clark County, WA added 500 jobs in April, reducing the county's jobless rate to 13.7% (from a March revised 14.6%). But ... the 500 jobs added by Clark County reflect seasonal factors such as increased construction activity in spring rather than a fundamental uptick in job growth.
"We're at that point where we're going to bounce up and down in either low or no job growth for the rest of the year," said Scott Bailey, Southwest Washington regional economist.
Dredging For Prosperity: John Derbyshire has written, "Our growth in the boom times from 1961 into 1969 gave us 5% annual growth. The truncated boom last decade featured a pathetic 2.7% rate of growth. The trend of GDP growth shows a clearly declining trend line - at this rate we can expect growth this decade to average under 2%. I doubt we'll be able to climb very far out of debt at that growth rate.
The river of Western prosperity has silted up. To dredge it will involve breaking a lot of public-sector rice bowls, facing down a lot of angry mobs, breaking a lot of promises, managing some major public disorder."
In Related News ... according to a report in USA Today, "Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year. At the same time, government-provided benefits - from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs - rose to a record high."
The trend is not sustainable. Economist David Henderson of the Hoover Institution says a shift from private wages to government benefits saps the economy of dynamism: "People are paid for being rather than for producing."
This can't continue.
Ominous Quote: Regarding the state of the U.S. real estate market, Federal Housing Commissioner David Stevens at Mortgage Bankers Association Government Housing Conference said, "This is a market purely on life support, sustained by the federal government. Having FHA do this much volume is a sign of a very sick system."
No Wonder There Are Spills ... of many kinds. Staff members at an agency that oversees offshore drilling accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography, according to an Interior Department report alleging a culture of cronyism between regulators and the industry.
In at least one case, an inspector for the Minerals Management Service admitted using crystal methamphetamine and said he might have been under the influence of the drug the next day at work, according to the report by the acting inspector general of the Interior Department.
The report cites a variety of violations of federal regulations and ethics rules at the agency's Louisiana office.
Update: Elizabeth Birnbaum, director of the embattled U.S. Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, has been fired. She is not being reassigned and is out of government entirely.
Action Vs. Inaction: Simcha Fisher has written an interesting piece about Father Damien, the Leper Saint. The conclusion should be a lesson to all of us: "So next time you hear Christopher Hitchens calling Mother Teresa a "bitch" and "a fraud" - or, for that matter, next time you hear some of the recent revisionist murmuring against our beloved John Paul II in these terrifying days of cleansing in our Church - remember that a saint is not here to please you. A saint is not someone who did all things perfectly. A saint is someone who loved God and got things done.
This is not to say we should back off, say nothing, never look hard at what great men and women do. The point is that we should stop and consider for a moment, with the fear of God in our hearts, before we shoot off our mouths about the actions of obviously holy men and women.
You don't like the way he worked? You don't feel happy about every last thing he did? Then you go ahead, get off your behind and do it your way. As my mother says, "I like the way he did it better than the way you don't.""
Amazing Facts: One in every four songs sold in the U.S. is sold through iTunes. The number of retail chain music stores in the U.S. dropped from 8,500 in 1991 to 2,000 by 2006.
Farewell, Willie: Philadelphia radio and television legend Bill 'Wee Willie' Webber, has died at the age of 80.
A seemingly ubiquitous Philadelphia television icon for decades, Webber was known to fans as a local kiddie TV host, with shows on Channel 6, Channel 17 and Channel 48 throughout the 1960s and '70s.
He was also hosted local radio shows (WFIL, WIP, WPEN) and was a member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, serving as both president and chairman. RIP. (permalink)
Watch Your Punctuation Marks. Tom McMahon has pointed out the importance of the apostrophe: "Watching the camel's hump" vs. "Watching the camels hump."
Quote Of The Day is from Ann Coulter: "Liberals have managed to eliminate the idea of manly honor. Instead, all they have is womanly indignation."
Monday May 24, 2010
Toyota And Tesla Sitting In A Tree ... In a surprise move last week, Toyota, the world's largest automaker, teamed up with Tesla Motors, makers of the only highway-legal, all-electric production car in the United States.
Tesla will buy the defunct NUMMI Toyota plant in California where it will produce its 2012 Model S electric sedan. Toyota will buy $50 million worth of Tesla stock and the two companies will work together to develop new vehicle technologies and refine manufacturing methods.
Supposedly, the deal came about because Akio Toyoda, who is quite a car enthusiast, drove a Tesla roadster and was sufficiently impressed that he decided to invest in the company.
For Toyota, this makes sense as a venture play. It invests in EVs with minimal risk exposure with a company that is using $465M of U.S. tax-payer funding. Tesla benefits from Toyota's manufacturing savvy and access to its vast supplier base. The result may be an production electric vehicle which is actually marketable. Time will tell.
Interesting Fact: A typical car boasts more computing power than a typical desktop PC. Already the electronics in a car cost more ($728) than the steel in the car ($675).
Bleak Opportunities: Here's a scary fact: One of every five men 25 to 54 isn't working. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, "Even more alarming, the jobs that many of these men, or those like them, once had in construction, factories and offices aren't coming back."
"A good guess … is that when the economy recovers five years from now, one in six men who are 25 to 54 will not be working," Lawrence Summers, the president's economic adviser, said recently.
In the past ... (more >>>)
Danke Schoen: Singer Wayne Newton, when asked his reaction to President Obama's remarks from last year attacking businesses for indulging in trips to Las Vegas, said, "I think that it was the most irresponsible, arrogant thing I have ever heard a President of the United States say."
Speaking Out of Turn: The U.S. Congress has a long tradition of permitting foreign dignitaries to address it.
In 1874, King Kalakaua of Hawaii was the first foreign dignitary to address a joint meeting of Congress. He wore a loud Hawaiian shirt, which prompted the Office of the Clerk to institute a dress code for visitors. Winston Churchill, who always dressed like a proper gentleman - even when drunk, made more addresses to Congress than any other individual. He appeared before joint meetings in 1941, 1943, and 1952. As we all know, Congress loves well-dressed drunks, especially if there's a 'Kennedy' somewhere in their names.
Last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon seized the opportunity to blast Arizona's "controversial" immigration law. Why it's controversial, I'm not sure; it simply is a state enforcement of federal illegal immigration laws already on the books. This happened as President Obama welcomed Felipe to the White House and then sent him over to Congress.
Calderon bashed Arizona's new immigration law, calling it discriminatory to Mexicans. Of course, ol' Felipe is quite an expert on illegal immigrant discrimination and abuse. His country has one of the worst migrant human-rights records in the world.
Nevertheless, many Democrats in Congress ... (more >>>)
And Furthermore ... Frank J. has written, "The proper response to the Mexican president coming to America to attack one of our states would be for someone - preferably someone in a cowboy hat - to silently march up to Calderon and lift him up by the back of his collar and belt and carry him all the way to the border to Mexico then toss him in the river there, saying, "And don't come back until you learn some manners.""
Be Careful What You Wish For: The raft of boycotts being imposed on Arizona over its immigration law could end up hitting Hispanic workers as hard as anyone. Hispanics make up a huge chunk of the state's hospitality and service sector workforce. With city governments and organizations pulling the plug on travel and conventions in Arizona, state officials point out that Hispanic workers stand to lose.
"These boycotts could be hurting the very same people that they profess to be helping," said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Were he still alive, Mr. Rogers might ask, "Can you say 'misguided liberals?"
The Truth About Gelato: Gerard Van der Leun has recently written about the pomposity of this frozen dessert, noting that it is "actually soft ice cream but we don't want anybody with just a high-school education coming in our store, our block, our neighborhood, our city and looking for a scoop. ... It's staggering that people crank out this crap when what they are up to is opening an ice-cream store in which they will sell you flavored churned curds at around one dollar a bite. But is the way these things get done these days. There has to be a thick layer of bullshit smeared on any new business opening around these "Farmers" market sections of our snoburbias and there is. And it does.
It works in these zones because they are thick with educated and intellectually insane white people. The business plan here is the one that we've been running from the control towers of the country since 2008. It is predicated on one simple notion; People dumb enough to vote in the Democrats and Obama will eat any bullshit you can serve."
I must confess that I had never heard of gelato until 1983 when a gay business associate took me to gelatotorium in a then-trendy part of Seattle. I always figured that gelato was the expensive, gay version of Mister Softee.
Impeccable Credentials: Blogger BigFurHat, of IOTW and The Peoples Cube, is described thusly, "An extremely handsome man, BigFurHat is also an imposing figure and a member of MENSA. (Not the ordinary MENSA, the secret MENSA for the really, really smart people.)"
The Truth Is Out There: Remember those poor little hikers who accidentally crossed into Iran got arrested the big ol' Iranian Border Guard meanies? Well, things are not quite as they seem. BigFurHat has the 411 for ya.
Bad Pun of the Day: Can a shoe box? No, but a tin can.
Thursday May 20, 2010
Everything Old Is New Again: On May 25th, Navistar will use Portland as a launch market for its new line of electric delivery trucks and will start taking orders.
"We've been in the pilot phase for the last year or so," said Bill Walmsley, marketing manager for Navistar electric vehicles, which will be manufactured in Indiana. Navistar has been testing its electric vehicles, which boast a 100-mile range, tight turning circle, and an up to 4,400-pound payload with Federal Express.
Electric trucks have been around for over 100 years, produced by such firms as Columbia, Woods Motor Vehicle, Walker and Frederick R. Wood & Sons.
Bakeries (including Philadelphia's Tasty Baking Co.), express companies and breweries also ran electric fleets. Many department stores used electric trucks for city deliveries. John Wanamaker employed such vehicles for its New York and Philadelphia stores. In 1912, Gimbels boasted a fleet of 76 electric delivery wagons.
An electric ambulance made by F.R. Wood carried mortally-wounded President William McKinley from the Pan American Exposition's Temple of Music to the Exposition Hospital in Buffalo, NY on September 6, 1901.
'Electric Ambulance' sounds like the title of a vinyl LP album from the late '60s.
Integrity Deficit: If your credit isn't good, General Motors Co. still wants to sell you a car. Right now it is unable to make subprime loans. The automaker's main lender, Ally Financial Inc. (formerly known as GMAC), has little appetite for risky borrowers. That's why GM wants to get back in the lending business ... again.
Look, if some independent corporation or dealer wants to chase this perilous segment of the auto market, I can't object - as long as they do so legally.
On the other hand, if a quasi-government entity owned by taxpayers wants to do so, I vote a resounding "No". Such actions are not in our national interest. These kinds of speculative loans got us into the 2008 financial mess in the first place - and we're still not out of the woods. Government bailout recipients should be humbly trying to improve America's financial condition, not fueling another credit crisis.
The mortgage meltdown happened because of subprime lending practices. Loan standards were trashed; prospective home buyers could purchase a home with no money down and without verifying their income. Those quasi-government creatures, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, led the charge into lowering lending standards. And look what happened.
How has less-than-prime lending in the transportation field worked out in the past? Not too good; just ask Harley Davidson or Mitsubishi.
As to GM's claim that its sales are inhibited because chancy prospects can't get loans, maybe the real reason General Motors can't sell enough cars is that the cars themselves aren't competitive. In a recent $25,000 Family Sedan Shootout, conducted by Cars.com, USA Today and 'MotorWeek', the Chevy Malibu scored near the bottom, well-below the top-ranked Hyundai Sonata. (Toyota's Camry came in second.)
A poster on Lucianne.com wrote, "GM can not sell as many cars because they screwed us and we are taking our business elsewhere," echoing the feelings of many would-be car buyers who were opposed to the General Motors bailout and are unhappy with Ed Whitacre's lies about taxpayer loan paybacks.
In her new book, 'The 10 Laws of Enduring Success', Maria Bartiromo wrote about the need for integrity in business, defining it as "doing the right thing." GM doesn't need subprime borrowers; it needs a healthy dose of integrity and a commitment to build world-class cars, which can be sold without risky loan shenanigans.
Do the right thing.
Snarlin' Arlen's Reign Of Terror Is Over: Specter went down to defeat in the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday. I have never been a fan of Arlen Specter; when I lived in the Philadelphia area in the 1960s and 70s, he was district attorney. He was a self-aggrandizing jerk then. And, apparently, hasn't changed much.
John J. Miller offered an interesting Arlen story: "Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have much better reasons for disliking him: They regard Specter as one of the prickliest pols in Congress - a humorless man who is cold to colleagues and cruel to staff. Late one night several years ago, Senate majority leader Trent Lott needed Specter to sign off on an appropriations bill. Specter agreed to do it, for a price: Lott would have to attend two fundraisers in Pennsylvania. Lott made the deal, but this sort of legislative hostage-taking doesn't win fans.
"There are two kinds of senators: Republicans who don't like Specter and Democrats who don't like Specter," says a former leadership aide. In a Washingtonian magazine survey, Hill staffers rated him the Senate's meanest member. This has given rise to one of Specter's nicknames: Snarlin' Arlen."
After switching back ad forth between parties, I guess he was finally defeated by the ... ummm ... Single Ballot Theory. Ya think? (permalink)
The Dog Ate My Homework: Today is Everybody Draw Muhammed Day. I had planned to create a cartoon based on Paul Evans' 1959 hit song, 'Seven Little Girls (sittin' in the back seat ... huggin' and a kissin' with Fred)'. I was thinking of '72 Virgins, sittin' in the back seat ... huggin' and a kissin' with Muhammed' but was absolutely overwhelmed by the task of Photoshopping all those females into the back seat of a 1959 convertible.
Instead, I recommend that you gaze upon this Norman Rockwell parody by Maksim of The Peoples Cube.
Quote Of The Day is from Bart Simpson's detention blackboard: "The Pledge of Allegiance does not end with 'Hail Satan'."
Tuesday May 18, 2010
Boom! Thirty years ago, Mount St. Helens erupted, causing a massive debris avalanche. It reduced the elevation of the mountain's summit from 9,677 feet to 8,365 feet and replaced it with a mile-wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The 5.1 magnitude earthquake uncorked a gas-charged reservoir of magma that leveled 230 square miles, killed 57 people and triggered the largest landslide in history. The explosion equaled the force of a 20-megaton bomb.
I see the mountain every day; I live a mere 35 miles away as the ash flies. I had never really noticed St. Helens on my drives up and down I-5 until it blew its top. The devastation was impossible to imagine. Trees knocked over like toothpicks. Mud and ash everywhere. Gray 'snow' on the ground. I had an incredible view of the eruption, since I was staying at a motel overlooking the Columbia Gorge in Hood River, Oregon. I was provided a ringside seat - a north-facing room with a large picture window.
At the time of the eruption, I was 36 years-old. It was not a great time in my life. My dad had died two months before and my small business was struggling and barely hanging on. The economy was turning downward and interest rates were heading to the stratosphere. 1980 inflation was 12.5%.
That week, I was on a sales trip trying to drum up business for my small plastics company. As I headed east on I-84, stopping in various towns to make calls, most of the ash seemed to be running just behind me. By late week, I reached the apex of my trip in Boise, Idaho. By then, the majority of the ash cloud was traveling north into Montana.
Money was tight, so I was staying in cheap motels and living frugally. I was enthusiastically touting our firm's plastic vacuum-forming capabilities as well as our recent foray into plastic sheet distribution. 1980 turned out to be my company's best year for vacuum forming, although our machine utilization never exceeded 50%. (We soon decided that there were greener plastic pastures elsewhere and sold our PVI vacuum forming equipment a few years later.) Acrylic sheet sales put an additional $10,000 in the company's coffers that May. Impressive, since we had just been appointed as an Acrylite distributor two months before.
We were also beginning to make inroads into the Plexiglas display market; Pacific NW Bell (the phone company) and Hewlett-Packard had recently given us substantial point-of-purchase display orders. (Eventually, store fixtures and displays became our largest market segment: 92% of total sales by 1988.)
Despite the worsening economy, our overall sales for fiscal 1980 were up by 70%. Those sales didn't come easily; I spent a lot of time on the road that year and passed many evenings in dumpy motel rooms putting together quotations for prospective customers.
In those days, I was driving a 1976 Volkswagen Scirocco, purchased new when I lived in New Jersey. The car was garaged every night and had spent its East Coast days in a covered parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. When I moved to Oregon in 1978, the car was parked outside during the day but was in the shade part of the time. Within a month of our arrival in the Pacific Northwest, the factory clearcoat began to deteriorate.
By 1980, the paint was completely shot - big white spots all over the surface. The Scirocco was also burning oil and the driver's seat fabric was disintegrating, even though the car had fewer than 60,000 miles on it. So much for VW 'quality'.
The day before the big eruption, I repainted the Scirocco using spray cans of silver Krylon. I had planned to let the paint 'set' for a week before polishing. But I didn't need to - residual ash did most of the work for me. The result wasn't too bad ... if you didn't look real close. In August, I traded the sporty and troublesome Volkswagen coupe for a new Oldsmobile sedan.
But I digress.
Back to the mountain: Always smaller than its siblings, Hood and Rainier, St. Helens is now a snow-capped pimple, lacking the dramatic craggy peaks of its neighbors. The public has lost interest; some of the visitor centers, restaurants and gift shops have closed. Nobody's buying Genuine Ash Ceramic Souvenirs anymore.
I have a very clear view of Mt. St. Helens from the end of my street. (I can't see it from my front door - too many tall cedar trees in the way.) Ash from the 1980 eruption remains on my property. And since the mountain is so close, I am mindful of its power. And horrific potential.
These days, Mount St. Helens is quiet but it lets off an occasional puff of steam just to let everyone know it's still there. (permalink)
Thursday May 13, 2010
Happy Birthday: This blog is now six years old. The View Through The Windshield debuted without fanfare on May 13, 2004.
When I look back over the past 12 months, I'm surprised at the many events and changes. The spread of the Tea Party Movement, General Motors bankruptcy, the birth of insidious Obamacare, the alarming jump in the federal deficit and Toyota's Throttlegate - all took place within the past 12 months.
Oh yeah ... and my wife and I got new computers last October.
Other news included the disappearance of the Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn brands. Saab had several near-death experiences but was finally sold to Spyker Cars. Ford sold Volvo to Chinese automaker Geely. I still don't know what's going on with Opel. Neither does anyone else apparently. Robert Farago left The Truth About Cars, Bob Lutz retired and the Chevrolet Volt is still not in production.
In the past 12 months, Chastity Bono became a man, Meredith Baxter came out as a lesbian, Tiger Woods turned out to be a serial philanderer and the Vanguard Wellington Fund turned 80.
Michael Jackson died, as did Ed McMahon, Gale Storm, Ted Kennedy, wrestling legend Captain Lou Albano, Carl Ballantine (aka: The Amazing Ballantine), baseball icon Robin Roberts, Preppers Henry Gibson and Alexander Haig, Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary, actors Arnold Stang, Robert Culp, John Forsythe, Peter Graves, Karl Malden and Fess Parker as well as bass guitar legend T-Bone Wolk.
Global warming apparently died too, as record-setting cold storms brought chaos to Seoul, Bejing, Dublin, Scotland and elsewhere. There was record snowfall in Vermont and cold waves in India and Peru. Iceland hasn't warmed up despite the best efforts of Eyjafjallajökull, the Iceland volcano with the unpronounceable name.
Lots of things have been dropping over the past year, including newspaper and magazine circulation as well as Obama's poll numbers. Television shows ending this season include 'Numb3rs' and '24'. In terms of local restaurants, we're probably about even. In Battle Ground, City Grill, Jennifer's Cafe and Leonardo's closed their respective doors but newly-opened Bone's, Laurelwood and Chilicious picked up the slack.
A disturbing thing over the past year has been the number of Jihads on U.S. soil - the Fort Hood rampage, attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing and the recent failed attempt in Times Square. Plus any other near-miss incidents we don't even know about. Meanwhile the present administration seems unable to even call 'terrorism' by its own name.
As to the year ahead, this blog's content will remain primarily about cars. I will continue to season the mix with things political, social and nostalgic - stuff I find to be either important, interesting and/or amusing. I write for me; if readers enjoy reading what I write, well ... that's a plus.
It's always gratifying when readers compliment me about something I wrote. Total visitor counts to the site are up 16% over last year, although I don't do any promotional work and religiously avoid all those 'Ten Ways To Drive Traffic To Your Site' articles.
I have no intentions of making this blog a commercial venture; there have never been outside ads on my site nor have I ever accepted money for a posted opinion. This blog is strictly a one-man voluntary operation; I don't have co-writers or a comments section. This blog's my journal, not a collaborative or a community forum. That's how it's going to stay.
While I finally embraced YouTube this year, posting nine different video shorts of my model trains in operation, there are no plans to expand my online presence. No Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, or podcasts. I want to enjoy my life rather than chain myself to a computing device day and night. Unless someone can present me with a compelling business case for doing so: "Show me the money."
While I'm a mere Baco-Bit in the great salad bar of the blogosphere, my micro-condiment will continue to plod along for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, here's to another year: Cheers!
PS: I wrote a more substantial and nostalgic look-back for the blog's fifth birthday; you can read it here.
Tuesday May 11, 2010
Cruisin': The weather here recently has been screwy - sun, rain, hail, cold - all in the same day. Finally, on Friday, the sun came out. The skies were light blue with wisps of clouds. Temperatures reached 60 degrees. I fired up the Plymouth, gassed it up - first fill up of the year - and took it for a long drive.
The Cascades are still snow capped and gleamed white in the sun. The trees are green and everything is in bloom. I encountered a very nice black 1941 Chrysler club coupe coming from the other direction and driven by a fellow geezer. We gave each other a wave as we passed. Later in the afternoon, it poured rain.
It was gorgeous again on Saturday, so I took another spin in the Plymouth. The rain returned Sunday evening.
Interesting Statistic: According to FoMoCo, resale values of Ford vehicles have, on average, increased 23% versus last year, outpacing the industry average by four percentage points, according to the latest North American Dealers Association auction data.
Buyer Beware: A Tigard, Oregon auto dealer has been ordered by the court pay $650,000 for deceiving customers about vehicle damage histories.
The fines were levied against Matt Marlin, who'd previously lost his license to operate Marlin Motorworks. After his suspension, Marlin created PNW Auto LLC in the name of his wife Anousone.
Greece Is The Word: The riots and economic collapse of Greece is the preview of what's in store for any country which lives beyond its means. Margaret Thatcher once said that "the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."
Greece has insufficient economic growth, enormous deficits and a heavy existing debt burden as a proportion of GDP. Grecians expect womb-to-tomb government assistance and social services. The country suffers from high levels of political and economic corruption and low global competitiveness. Its primary offerings are tourism and agriculture. The country also employs a lot of foreign laborers, who send some of their earnings back to their home countries.
Greece isn't much on producing stuff and/or exporting it. When was the last time you purchased a Grecian computer? Watched an award-winning Greek film? Drove a car assembled in Greece? Listened to Greek hip-hop remixes? See what I mean. (Although I admit that, when my hair started to go gray unevenly from side to side, I selectively applied Grecian Formula 16 for a few years to improve my follicular symmetry.)
Ireland has a deficit of 14.3% of its GDP; Portugal is at almost 10%. Greece is close to 14%. The U.S. is now over 10% and climbing. America need a government with the guts to put on the brakes and Just Say No to wasteful spending.
We're all going to have to tighten our belts. Otherwise, America will become Greece II.
PS: Laying off thousands of unneeded government workers and re-privatizing health care have been suggested as solutions for Greece. For us too, methinks.
Connect The Dots: The massive oil spill from a British Petroleum platform is dumping an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
President Obama, who allegedly hates big oil, big coal, big energy, was on the receiving end of more money from BP than anyone else in politics.
And ... the Obama government exempted BP from an impact review last year.
And … the President's party is fundraising off of the disaster.
Need Rocket Ships And A Death Laser Too: Frank J. has pointed out the BP's plan to plug the oil leak by 'using robots to drop a big box on it' sounds like a solution dreamed up by a four year-old.
Book Review: 'Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight' by Karl Rove
A self-confessed political junkie, Karl Rove ran the national College Republicans at age twenty-two, turned a Democrat-dominated Texas into a Republican stronghold and made George W. Bush a household name. Because of his success, Rove has been accused of everything from campaign chicanery to ideological divisiveness.
In this frank memoir, Rove responds ... (more >>>)
The Always Entertaining Shoeblogger ... Manolo discovered an ad for Crocs, the style-challenged plastic clogs, on his blog: "One would think that the people behind the Crocs would know how the Manolo feels about their ungainly, life-sapping, and horrifically unattractive product, for it is not as if the Manolo has made any secret of his feelings.
But, the Manolo's position is that the Crocs are the legal product which, if you are not riding on the escalator or wrestling alligators, pose little physical threat to humans."
Low Interest: The Vanguard Money Market Funds Semi-Annual Report arrived in the mail last week. I think the scrap value of the paper exceeds the interest paid by the fund during the past six months.
Quote Of The Day is from Rita Rudner: "You know the oxygen masks on airplanes? I don't think there's really any oxygen. I think they're just to muffle the screams."
Friday May 7, 2010
Out With The Old: Last week, Campbell-Ewald, the ad agency which had handled the Chevrolet account since 1919, was canned by General Motors. C-E created some memorable campaigns for Chevy, including the fifties-ubiquitous 'See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet' sung by Dinah Shore, 'Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet' and 'The Heartbeat of America.'
Peter DeLorenzo, the AutoExtremist - who once worked for Campbell-Ewald, has written, "GM may be really good at jettisoning their advertising agencies after all, they're expert practitioners of the time-honored "when business is good it's because of our great products, and when business is bad it's because our advertising sucks" advertising adage - but as to what marketing is, what it should and could be, and who should be managing it, the company by all accounts is totally and utterly clueless."
Chevrolet thinks that it can get increased sales with better advertising and will use a new ad agency in its quest for 'better' ads.
This raises the question, "Does advertising work?" The answer is yes, but it doesn't do miracles. Good ad agencies are excellent at developing a compelling message and delivering it to a correctly-targeted audience.
If the product is bad, the best advertising in the world won't save it. Whoever got the 1957 Nash account, for instance, was doomed before a single line was set to type. Modernista's Hummer ads - print and television, especially the Happy Jack spot - were entertaining, clever and engaging but couldn't save the dead-end brand. 'Somewhere West of Laramie' didn't rescue Jordan, where the advertising was often more original than the cars themselves.
When a manufacturer mistargets the audience (like the Honda Element as a college car, rather than the empty-nester/gardening geezermobile it turned out to be), the ad agency can't be blamed for inappropriate ads and/or improper placement of same. Marketing people and product planners employed by automakers dictate the identity of target audiences based on research. Or the reading of chicken entrails.
When given a decent and appealing product, ad agencies can showcase it and, occasionally, turn it into a legend. The Doyle Dane Bernbach VW Beetle campaign - exemplified by 'Think Small', 'Lemon' print ads and 'Funeral' television spot - is one example. The memorable Hal Riney campaign for the newly introduced Saturn - 'A Different Kind of Car Company' is another example. Packard's 'Ask The Man Who Owns One' (created by the Austin Bement agency in 1901) is still another. The iconic 1975 'Ultimate Driving Machine' created by Ammirati & Puris, helped propel BMW from an also-ran brand to a serious challenger to Mercedes in the U.S. luxury car market.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet will soon have a new set of ads. Whether or not they'll be 'better' is still anyone's guess. Legendary? Doubtful.
I've written much more about advertising here. And about car 'branding' here. (permalink)
But Wait ... there's more: I've posted additional thoughts on car advertising posted here.
Wanted - Consortium Of Dental Offices ... with some cash to burn: The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old magazine. With ad revenue falling across the industry, Newsweek has been piling up losses since 2007 and expects them to continue this year.
Nelson Muntz, who has previously pointed out that Newsweek's page stock "makes awesome spitballs", quipped, "Haw-Haw. Your medium is dying."
Newsweek sold 26% fewer ad pages in 2009. The magazine has lost about a quarter of its staff to voluntary buyouts over the past two years, ending 2009 with 427 full-time employees.
After subscribing for over 30 years, we dumped Newsweek about 10 years ago. It had shifted too far to the left and much of the 'news' was stale by internet standards. Last year, Iowahawk published a hilarious 'Newsweek Compatibility Survey' with questions like: "Do you have a preset for NPR on the stereo in your Prius?"
Battle Ground Price/Volume Experiment: Last week, we had lunch at Bone's Steak & Chop House. We arrived at noon and were the only customers in the place. Two days later, we had lunch at the Hockinson Kountry Cafe (which recently relocated from Hockinson to larger quarters in Battle Ground). We arrived at 11:45 am and got the last seat. When we left, the wait line was nearly out the door.
The difference? Lunch for two with tip at Bone's: $52.39. At the Kountry Cafe: $21.79. (permalink)
In More Local News ... Hollywood Video in Battle Ground is closing, as is every other Hollywood Video store. The second-largest movie-rental chain (behind Blockbuster) has struggled with increased competition from chains such as Redbox, Netflix and cable TV offerings.
In our town, this leaves only Blockbuster, which we boycott because they're jerks. (permalink)
Another Childhood Hero Is Gone: Robin Roberts, who - in 1950 - led the Philadelphia Phillies to its first National League pennant in 35 years, has died at age 83. Between 1950 and '55 Roberts won 20 games each season, leading the NL in victories from 1952 to 1955. He was a seven-time All Star selection and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.
Author James A. Michener once wrote of Roberts, "When he won, he was gracious. When he lost, so often in extra innings with his teammates giving him no runs, he did not pout. Day after day he went out there and threw that high, hard one down the middle, a marvelously coordinated man doing his job."
Liberals - Saving The World One Thought At A Time: In Boulder, Colorado - oft identified as Lefty Ground Zero, Carl Fuermann, a staff member in the University of Colorado's Registrar Office and a firm believer in the Power of Vizualization, hopes to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with meditation.
Quote Of The Day is from Frank J.: "Puerto Rico can become a state if they want, but they'll have to change their name to East Dakota."
Sure 'n Begorrah ... lovely old Times Square in New York was almost blown up last weekend by mad, lonely Irish Catholic Tea Partier Thomas McSorley, who was angry about health care and illegal immigration. This is a striking blow to our Hibernian-American president, Barry O'Bama, who has spent two years reaching out to his Catholic brethren all over the world. Mayor Bloomberg's guess that the failed bomber would turn out to be "homegrown, or maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something" was almost dead on.
Turns out that it wasn't one of those scary, aging Tea Party people. Not disgruntled 62 year-old Tommy McSorley but Faisal Shahzad, a 30 year-old Pakistani native, who recently returned from a five-month trip to the tribal region of Waziristan near the Afghan border, where he keeps a wife and/or a goat. Faisal was trying to flee the United States and was headed for Dubai when he was apprehended by federal customs agents.
Time magazine has reported that Faisal had "returned to the U.S. in February after spending a number of months in Pakistan, where he traveled after becoming a naturalized American in April 2009. Pakistani media are reporting that Shahzad is from Karachi and spent significant time in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, where the government is waging a fierce war against Taliban militants."
A Pakistani government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Time that the suspect had ties with militants while in Pakistan. "He was here at a training camp," the source said. The source also claimed that members of Shahzad's family were arrested in Karachi.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has made sure that Faisal was read his Miranda rights. Hmmmm. Was it in English? Or Urdu?
Mark Steyn has observed, "Whenever something goofy happens - bomb in Times Square, mass shootings at a US military base, etc. - there seem to be two kinds of reactions ... (more >>>)
Obligatory Cinco de Mayo Joke: Q: What to you call four Mexicans in quicksand? A: Cuatro Cinco!
Quote Of The Day is from Larry the Cable Guy: "Support bacteria. They're the only culture most people have."
Tuesday May 4, 2010
Car Sightings: Spotted my first Honda Crosstour last week. It's an ungainly vehicle, especially from the front where the massive grille looks almost cartoonish.
Honda sold 2,455 Crosstours in April. Also saw a Ford Transit Connect; it reminded me of the commercial vans I've seen on the streets of Europe. Ford sold 2,229 Transit Connects last month in the U.S.
I also passed a yellow Ford Cobra 427 replica parked at Battle Ground Village last week. The cockpit was open and was getting rained on quite substantially. I hope the owner brought towels.
April Auto Sales: On a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate basis, April auto sales came in at 11.2 million light vehicles (Autodata estimate), a healthy increase from the 9.3 million vehicle annualized rate of a year ago.
Ford sales rose nearly 25%, led by a jump of more than 42% in F-Series pickup trucks and a 41% rise in its Escape compact sport-utility vehicle. Car sales were up 10%, SUV sales increased 33% and truck sales zoomed by over 38%. Taurus sales increased almost 100% to 6,166 units. In April, the old Lincoln Town Car came close to outselling the MKS 'flagship'. The new MKT appears to be a bomb - only 625 were sold last month.
GM posted a 6% increase over the disastrous April of last year. Cadillac and Buick lead the way with 36% increases for each. Chevrolet dealers reported sales of 135,369 17% higher than April, 2009. Retail sales for the brand increased 32% for the month. Retail sales of the Chevrolet Malibu surged 38% the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases.
Chrysler sales rose 25% in April (95,703 vehicles total), the first double-digit increase for the automaker in nearly five years. Chrysler says its minivan sales rose more than 50% over last year, helping to lead the increase. But sales of the Ram pickup dropped 22%. Jeep sales declined slightly. Sales of the much-derided Chrysler Seibring jumped over 200%. I'd wager that 80% of thse sales went to fleet buyers. Which begs the question: How much of Chrysler's 'success' is due to high volume, near-zero profit fleet business? (Edmunds estimated Chrysler's overall fleet sales at over 40% in April.)
Toyota sales rose 24% from a year earlier, as incentives continued to spur demand. While sales of the Camry increased only 10%, Avalon sales were up 36% to 2,812 units, possibly due to sudden advertising for this model. (Pretty slick advertising, too.) Prius sales jumped 50%, to 12,555 units. Lexus sales were up 38%; sales of the LS flagship increased 55% to 1,182 units.
Infiniti reported a sales increase of over 46%. Mercedes was up 21%; BMW increased a mere 10%, selling 1,555 7-Series flagships. Audi was up 33% (only 81 big A8s were sold); VW jumped a surprising 42%.
Honda sales increased 12%; Acura sales jumped 38%. Honda sold a mere 1,880 Insights and 621 Civic Hybrids. Hyundai sales rose 30%, setting a sales record. Sales of its new, swoopy Sonata sedan rose 57% from a year earlier. Kia sales climbed 17%. Nissan's sales rose 34%. Subaru sales jumped 48%.
Porsche sales were off 6% to 1,747 vehicles, Jaguar was down 30% to 896 units and Smart fell 49% to 680 lilliputianmobiles.
Top-Selling Vehicles in April 2010 (via AutoData):
1. Ford F-series 40,946 (+42%)
2. Chevrolet Silverado 29,618 (+12%)
3. Honda Accord 29,311 (no change)
4. Toyota Corolla / Matrix 27,932 (+51%)
5. Toyota Camry / Solara 27,914 (+10.2%)
6. Honda Civic 25,042 (-5%)
7. Ford Escape 19,146 (+41%)
8. Ford Fusion 18,971 (+4%)
9. Hyundai Sonata 18,536 (+57%)
10. Honda CR-V 16,661 (+37%)
It is interesting to remember that, in the 1950s, Chevrolet and Ford used to sell over 80,000 cars a month each with only one model - the full-size one.
I Hereby Declare The Recession Over: When people are paying over $8,400 for a can of car wax, things must be getting better.
Yeah, you get free refills but it'll never pay off unless you're obsessively waxing an H-Class battleship. (permalink)
Batteries Not Included: as RadioShack has been exploring a possible sale of the company. But if you want to make an offer on it, you'll have to give them your phone number first.
It Was A Very Good Year ... Not: The Washington State Department of Revenue has reported that retail sales in Clark County fell by 14.42% in 2009, compared with 2008 sales. (permalink)
Trust No One: Peggy Noonan has written, "We are at a remarkable moment. We have an open, 2,000-mile border to our south, and the entity with the power to enforce the law and impose safety and order will not do it. Wall Street collapsed, taking Main Street's money with it, and the government can't really figure out what to do about it because the government itself was deeply implicated in the crash, and both political parties are full of people whose political careers have been made possible by Wall Street contributions.
Meanwhile we pass huge laws, bills so comprehensive, omnibus and transformative that no one knows what's in them and no one - literally, no one - knows how exactly they will be executed or interpreted. Citizens search for new laws online, pore over them at night, and come away knowing no more than they did before they typed "dot-gov.""
More: "All this contributes to a deep and growing alienation between the people of America and the government of America in Washington. This is not the old, conservative and long-lampooned "I don't trust gummint" attitude of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. It's something new, or rather something so much more broadly and fully evolved that it constitutes something new. The right never trusted the government, but now the middle doesn't. I asked a campaigner for Hillary Clinton recently where her sturdy, pantsuited supporters had gone. They didn't seem part of the Obama brigades. "Some of them are at the tea party," she said."
And: "None of this happened overnight. It is, most recently, the result of two wars that were supposed to be cakewalks, Katrina, the crash, and the phenomenon of a federal government that seemed less and less competent attempting to do more and more by passing bigger and bigger laws."
"The American people fear they are losing their place and authority in the daily, unwinding drama of American history. They feel increasingly alienated from their government."
Will She Be Buried Under The Big W? Dorothy Provine, who starred in the 1963 flick, 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World', has died at age 75. RIP.
Urnbelievable: A Springfield Oregon man has sold out ad space on his own urn. Aaron Jamison has terminal cancer and has been given only months to live by his doctors. He decided to sell ads on his own urn so his wife Kristin won't have to worry about cremation expenses.
At least his widow will be able to say that he was always a good urner.
Thought For Today: The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat have gotten to be really good friends.