A Blog About Cars ... And Everything Else That Catches My Eye
Saturday December 31, 2011
Goodbye 2011: The old year is over; let's hope that 2012 is better.
Personal: I'm still alive and my family is fine - something for which I'm very grateful.
For us, 2011 was an exciting and eventful year. In February 2011, we flew to Palm Springs, California for a two-week stay in nearby La Quinta. In June, we traveled to the Philadelphia area to attend my 50th high school reunion.
In auto news, we visited the awesome 'Allure of the Automobile' at the Portland Art Museum and the Simeone Auto Collection in Philadelphia. We thoroughly enjoyed both. I also attended the huge Dr. George Car Show in Indian Wells, CA.
This year, I put a new license plate on my '39 Plymouth. By declaring the car to be a 'Horseless Carriage', I'm saving money on registration fees.
The event which dominated the Sherlocks' lives for much of the year was the preparation for our only daughter's wedding. The planning efforts were not in vain. The ceremony and reception came off flawlessly.
And the bride and groom left the church in a vintage 1947 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.
Car Stuff: Saab - the iconic Swedish automobile preferred by tweed-clad, pipe-smoking men as well as manly women - finally went out of business after a protracted illness. In 2013, Mercedes Benz will kill off Maybach, the luxury automobile brand almost no one bought.
Models which were discontinued included the flagship Cadillac DTS, the big Buick Lucerne, the small Ford Ranger pickup, the kinda-sporty Mitsubishi Eclipse, the woeful Chevrolet HHR (it stood for 'Heritage High Roof') and the Mazda RX-8.
I always thought that the RX-8 had the world's coolest front fender flares. I'm a big fan of flared fender as you can see by the ones on a car I drew back in 1967. The flares were large enough that the side mirrors were tunneled in the fender surfaces.
The earthquake/tsunami sure screwed up Japanese car production, especially for Honda and Toyota.
Despite all of the hype and invested tax dollars, there is still no Fisker hybrid or Tesla sedan.
Over the years, General Motors has managed to build 100 million small-block V8 engines. The first one appeared in 1955 Chevies.
In 2011, the Fiat 500 debuted and pretty much bombed, failing to meet sales projections.
Automotive paint supplier PPG has said that 20% of new cars in North America were white in 2011. It is now the most popular vehicle color; silver came in second.
The Mayans may be right about the world ending in 2012. Consider this headline as a sign of end times: 'Maserati to unveil Grand Cherokee-based SUV'.
Car auctions produced some record sales this year with numerous historically-significant vehicles crossing the block. A 1941 Chrysler Newport Dual Cowl Phaeton was auctioned for $1,017,500. A 1929 Duesenberg Model J dual cowl Phaeton driven by Elvis Presley in the film 'Spinout' brought $1,237,500. The sleek and wedgy Lancia Stratos HF Zero sold for $1,086,803. The Corvair Testudo show car fetched $479,472.
The one-off Plexiglas-bodied 1940 Pontiac 'Ghost Car' crossed the auction block for $308,000.
It was constructed for and exhibited as part of the General Motors Highways and Horizons exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair.
Monterey Weekend in August is always a place where large bills are exchanged and 2011 was no different:
Later in the year, McQueen's driving suit from the film 'Le Mans' went under the hammer and pulled a staggering $964,000.
We have no plans for vehicular changes in 2012. We're perfectly satisfied with our automobiles; they have plenty of life left in them. Including my '39 Plymouth.
The Economy: The U.S. economy continues to recover, albeit very slowly. Unemployment remains stubbornly high and we seem to be witnessing a mostly-jobless recovery. Even record-low mortgage rates have failed to kick-start the housing market.
The aftereffects of the 2008 U.S. meltdown has exposed the inherent weaknesses of several euro-zone economies. The financial crises in Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal are serious but have not noticeably affected the U.S. ... so far. Except to depress the securities markets by inducing investor nervousness.
The stock market was flat the year despite the fact that corporate earnings are generally on the upswing and relatively low PE ratios should make securities attractive to buyers. The Dow closed at 12,217.56, up 5.5% for the year. The S&P 500 was virtually unchanged and the Nasdaq declined 1.8%. The best-perfoming stock we own is IBM which - with dividends reinvested - was up almost 28% for the year. But, nobody's gettin' rich these days, except maybe Maxine Waters and her crooked Congressional buddies. And probably the Kardashians.
My personal financial advice: If you're saving up for new shrubbery for your home, tell people you're investing in a Hedge Fund. It sounds more impressive.
Business and product demises included our favorite local Italian restaurant, Paparazzi, Battle Ground dining icon Fatty Patty's and the legendary and classy London Grill at the Benson Hotel in Portland.
Rose's Restaurant and Bakery closed all of their area locations. No big loss, as the chain had been slipping in recent years and, as an 'alleged' Jewish deli, it wasn't all that great to begin with. Meh.
Vancouver's only Ruby Tuesday, part of the city's 'Black Hole Of Dining', has been put out of its misery.
The Borders Books chain went out of business. A Georgia food company acquired Tasty Baking Co., the iconic and financially-troubled Philadelphia maker of Tastykakes and other packaged treats.
On the other hand, 15 East Restaurant & Bar, which opened at the site of the former Paparazzi, seems to be holding its own.
Politics: We're now in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election. My guess is that Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate. He's not my favorite but this is the year of ABO: Anybody But Obama. I do think a Republican will win the presidency in 2012. I also believe that Republicans will take the U.S. Senate with a just-barely majority and will continue to hold sway in the House of Representatives.
It's important to remember that, in 2011, high unemployment in the U.S. was the economic news story most followed by Americans, according to Yahoo. While the economy continues to slowly recover, unemployment on election day will still remain waaaay too high.
During post-election analysis, Bill Clinton will once-again be heard to say, "It's the economy, stupid."
Passings: In entertainment, deaths included actor James Arness of 'Gunsmoke' fame, rubbery-faced comic actor Charlie Callas, saxophonist Clarence 'The Big Man' Clemons, actor/director Jackie Cooper, actress Anne Francis, actor Peter 'Columbo' Falk, impressionist David Frye, Carl Gardner, former lead singer of The Coasters, singer Gladys Horton of The Marvelettes, country singer Ferlin Husky, radio personality Fred Imus, rock promoter Don Kirshner, songwriter Jerry Leiber, singer-songwriter Gene McDaniels, actor Harry Morgan, actor Charles Napier, David Nelson of 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet', '50s singer Johnny Preston, actor Cliff Robertson, singer Sylvia Robinson of Mickey and Sylvia fame, jazz pianist George Shearing, singer Phoebe Snow, movie legend Liz Taylor, drunkard, druggie and singer Amy Winehouse, pianist Roger Williams and director Peter Yates (of 'Bullitt' fame).
Other deaths included auto publishing legend David E. Davis, Den Fenske, a great guy and serious Lincoln enthusiast, voice of the Vatican John Cardinal Foley, Prep classmate Charles Frank, boxer Smokin' Joe Frazier, terrorist Muammar Gaddafi, John C. Haas, former chairman of Rohm & Haas Co., writer Christopher Hitchens, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Bil Keane, creator of 'The Family Circus', Jack Kevorkian - aka Dr. Death, Minnesota Twins slugger and Plexiglas 70 spokesman Harmon Killebrew, terrorist Osama bin Laden, fitness guru Jack LaLanne , Texas car collector Doug Mattix, Jeno Palucci, creator of Jeno's Pizza Rolls, Robert Reder, co-founder of Monogram Models, Andy Rooney of '60 Minutes', Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver, South Philly cheesesteak legend Joey Vento and John James Zupan, founder of Portland's Zupan's Markets.
In 2011, our propane-powered grill died and we bought a new one. Nevertheless, I wrote an appropriate obituary for the old grill.
Everything Else: This was a year of surprises and milestones. 2011 was the year of the first Windoro, the window-cleaning robot. On the other hand, I'm still angry because I have neither a flying car nor a personal jetpack. Get to work, people.
In celebrity news, Kim Kardashian was married just long enough for all the checks to clear. Dennis Miller has observed that the Kardashian clan "are charming grifters ... they know that we're an off-the-rack culture that likes to ogle a train wreck. And, in this case, that train has the biggest caboose of all time."
Black holes, once considered science fiction, now appear all around the universe. Like the Kardashians. Astronomers recently identified the biggest one of all time, weighing in at over 20 billion suns in mass. They reportedly named it 'Kim'.
In March 2011, there were three simultaneous meltdowns at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, sparked by a gigantic 9.0 earthquake and a monstrous tsunami. It was later revealed that the nuclear accident was much more severe than previously disclosed.
Filed in the 'Be Careful What You Wish For' department, the so-called Arab Spring seems to be producing hordes of anti-Christian Islamists. Copts fled Egypt in droves and, for those Christians that remained, Midnight Mass had to be held in the daylight for security reasons. In Iraq, midnight services were canceled entirely for fear of bloodshed, part of the remorseless de-Christianizing that has been going on in that country. An explosion ripped through a Catholic church during Christmas Mass near Nigeria's capital, killing at least 25 people.
In medical news, a first-ever malaria vaccine tested in children in sub-Saharan Africa cut the risk of infection with malaria by about half. This is a remarkable achievement, considering there has never been a vaccine against a human parasite before, or against malaria, which infects millions of children each year.
See. There's something good to report this year.
Saturday December 24, 2011
May the Peace and Blessings
Thursday December 22, 2011
A Little Late, No? Steve Rattner, the former head of the U.S. auto task force, said he could have pushed auto workers, management and creditors for deeper concessions to make the U.S. auto industry more globally competitive.
Rattner said he now has second thoughts "about some details of the bankruptcy restructurings. For example, no active workers represented by the UAW received a pay cut nor were they asked to forfeit a portion of their pensions. Creditors, too, got more than they would have received in a liquidation."
"If we had more time, we might have asked all the stakeholders to sacrifice a little bit more," said Rattner. He added that "he would have done more to streamline GM's cost structure if he had more time during the crisis."
"We could have done a little bit better job, particularly on GM, in combing through the mess of liabilities and contracts and things they had if we had a little more time," Rattner opined.
I reviewed his book, 'Overhaul', here.
Rattner also said last week that "American taxpayers will lose about $14 billion on the $82-billion investment to restructure General Motors, Chrysler and Ally Financial."
Government Motors At Work: "Each Chevy Volt sold thus far may have as much as $250,000 in state and federal dollars in incentives behind it a total of $3 billion altogether," according to an analysis by James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Mark Modica, an Associate Fellow of the National Legal and Policy Center, has claimed that much of the Volt sales are to government and large corporate (i.e. - General Electric) fleets.
I have yet to see a single Volt on the road.
The Sharper Stone: Among the many catalogs appearing in the mail this holiday season was one from Brookstone. I haven't paid much attention to the firm lately and was surprised to see that its focus has changed from clever little tools and mechanical gadgets to flashy and mostly-useless electronic gizmos, like The Sharper Image used to peddle.
Channeling the ghost of TSI, Brookstone now offers a $3,500 vibrating recliner as well as an ionic air cleaner. And various - ahem - 'personal massagers'.
Selling overpriced glitzy crap put The Sharper Image into bankruptcy. Now, Brookstone is feeling poorly, losing $13.8 million in the most recent quarter - on sales of $78 million. That's a loss of about 18¢ on every dollar rung up at the register. Ouch.
Brookstone got its start in ... (more >>>)
Today's Top Headline is from The People's Cube: 'Comet and Blitzen refuse to serve with openly gay Dasher and Prancer'.
The Wizards Of Odd: Obama and Biden and Corzine. Oh my.
Quote Of The Week is from Jameson Campaigne: "Christmas is when kids tell Santa what they want, and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want, and their kids pay for it."
Bad Pun Of The Day: Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
Tuesday December 20, 2011
When Furrin' Ain't Furrin': Japanese automakers like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are responsible for more than 407,000 jobs in the U.S.
While the vast majority of employees are those working at Japanese auto dealerships in the U.S., Japanese automakers employ 50,000 American workers at 29 American vehicle, engine and parts plants, and another 4,000 at 34 major R&D and design centers, reflecting $34 billion of investment in the U.S.
Japanese makers are producing most of the cars they sell in America in North America - 68% altogether.
Well, It Outlived Kim Jong-il: Saab filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Saab had been in a state of suspended production since April when the company ran out of cash. Saab has suspended warranty coverage on all of its vehicles in North America. Additionally, new vehicles must be sold 'as is', the bankrupt Swedish automaker told its dealers.
Saab produced its first automobile prototype in 1947 after moving out of aeronautical engineering and built a small, loyal following.
In the U.S., Saab has always been a cult car of sorts, with odd styling and quirky features. It had limited appeal but garnered a loyal following of skiers, tweedy college professors, pipe-smoking fiction writers and angular, manly women. Saabs were mostly seen in the mid-Atlantic states and New England.
The end of the road for Saab, which had been making cars for more than 60 years, came at the weekend when General Motors again vetoed a plan involving Chinese investor Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile. (permalink)
Book Review: 'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs wanted to change the world: "put a dent in the universe." And he did.
Jobs was a creative genius, perfectionist and control freak prone to insults, rages and bouts of crying when he didn't get his way. His mercurial temper and was legendary. Job's penchant for all-things-Zen never resulted in inner serenity or Zen-like calm.
His weird eating habits and persnickety tastes played a dominant role in both his family and social life. He could take weeks or months to choose simple furniture or appliances. He refused to put license plates on his cars and routinely parked in handicapped places. And he often smelled bad.
His quirks and biting put-downs drove talented people from Apple. Even Apple's cofounder, The Woz, learned to keep his distance.
Nevertheless ... (more >>>)
Be Sure To Think Il Of Him: Kim Jong-il - not to be confused with all the other Kims out there, including Kim Kardashian - is dead. This Kim was the once-pudgy short guy who looked like a 1960s troll doll.
I always wondered, "Who did his hair, anyway?" Christophe? Vidal Sassoon? Elsa Lanchester?
Always a style-setter - in North Korea anyway - he often dressed like a bus driver from the 1950s. Who knows, in 2012 this style may catch fire again, just like it did in 1951 for Ralph Kramden.
Kim'll soon be doing lunch in Hell with such opressive luminaries as Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi and other genocidal maniacs.
I hear the Thursday Tex-Mex buffet is really hot.
With all those friends down there, at least Kim won't have to wail, "I'm So Ronery."
Good riddance, you bastard. (permalink)
This Guy's In Charge Of The Country's Money? Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has refinanced his mortgage twice and now owes $672,000 on his $850,000 home. He paid $839,000 for it in 2004.
Four Stages of a Man's Life: 1. You believe in Santa Claus. 2. You don't believe in Santa Claus. 3. You are Santa Claus. 4. You look like Santa Claus.
False Advertising: Investigators from Portland television station KATU visited a Made in Oregon store and "found some items in the stores are indeed made in Oregon but a good number have tags saying they are made in faraway places like China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Indonesia, Korea and Mexico" ... (more >>>)
Restaurant Review: Charlies Bistro; Vancouver WA
When my office was in downtown Vancouver, this nearby location was the site of a nondescript sandwich shop. It has since undergone a remarkable transformation, with more upscale decor, new ownership and a creative menu. Were it located in Portland's trendy Pearl District, Charlies would be famous, pricier and a lot busier.
This establishment offers ... (more >>>)
Bad Pun Of The Day: One of Santa's helpers was sent to a therapist because he seemed depressed. Diagnosis: Low Elf Esteem.
Friday December 16, 2011
Bad Karma: Once upon a time, the swoopy Fisker hybrid sedan was going to sell for less than $80,000. Now the entry-level model is priced at $106,000. The Fisker Karma Eco Chic trim level will now sell for $116,000. And the Fisker is still not in production.
This is the car that the Obama administration has invested $529 million in taxpayer money to help develop. It is to be assembled in Finland and will come with a gas engine made in China.
Your tax dollars at work.
In Related News ... former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda will join Fisker Automotive as vice chairman.
Charged Remark: Audi's president of North America, Johan de Nysschen, has derided the Chevy Volt as "a car for idiots."
He contends that no one "is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a (Toyota) Corolla. ... So there are not enough idiots who will buy it."
The Volt, he contends, is simply "for the intellectual elite who want to show what enlightened souls they are."
As Kathy Shaidle Often Writes ... "The poor are the rich Jesus warned you about."
College student Christine Rousselle spent two summers as a cashier at Wal-Mart and got a close-up look at The Welfare State.
"I witnessed generations of families all relying on the state to buy food and other items. I literally witnessed small children asking their mothers if they could borrow their EBT cards. I once had a man show me his welfare card for an ID to buy alcohol.
The man was from Massachusetts. Governor Michael Dukakis' signature was on his welfare card. Dukakis' last gubernatorial term ended in January of 1991. I was born in June of 1991. The man had been on welfare my entire life. That's not how welfare was intended, but sadly, it is what it has become."
She also witnessed "extravagant purchases made with food stamps; including, but not limited to: steaks, lobsters, and giant birthday cakes."
She found that not all entrepreneurs are noble beings ... (more >>>)
Hitchens was - for many years - a man of the left. He was eloquent and wrote with intellectual honesty. He broke with the left after 9/11 and championed the cause of winning the war against Islamo-fascism. Hitchens supported the American action in Iraq. He had some strong thoughts about Gitmo, too.
While I sometimes disagreed with Hitch's stands, he added to the culture, and the conversation. He was an excellent debater and old-school journalist, backing up his opinions with facts and personal experiences - quite a contrast to the partisan sound-bite hacks who call themselves 'journalists' in the 21st Century.
Mr. Hitchens will be missed.
If, as I suspect, the Afterlife has a waiting room - it must get backed up when there's one of those spectacular train crashes in India or mudslides in Bangladesh - it's possible that Cardinal Foley and Hitch are killing time together. That would make for some interesting conversations, especially since Hitchens vacillated between agnosticism and atheism.
I bet Hitch asks for a cigarette at some point. And a drink. RIP. (permalink)
Department Of Irony: People lined up at the LBJ Library entrance to hear Attorney General Eric Holder rail against voter ID laws.
As each person entered the library they were required to present their photo IDs in order to be allowed in to hear Holder's speech.
FoxNews Republican Candidates Debate: In general, the questions were good with Neil Cavuto adding some good ones on the economy. Chris Wallace played his usual role of skunk at the Sunday school picnic.
When Michele Bachmann said, "I'm a serious candidate," she sounded Very Fredoesque: "I'm smart and I want respect!" Don't go fishing on a small boat in Lake Tahoe, Michele.
My opinion: It was almost a three-way tie. Gingrich won, Perry came in a close second (and was most improved), Mitt Romney placed a close third. Rick Santorum has the best response on handling Iran. Ron Paul got the Looney Tunes award for foreign policy, or lack thereof.
Holiday Fact: The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
Wednesday December 14, 2011
Tijuana Tutsitoys: Hemmings blog posts a lot of old street scenes and, while they provide a nostalgic look at an earlier time, they don't usually invoke a personal connection.
This week's photo of Avenue Revolución in Tijuana struck a chord. In the mid-1980s, my wife and I visited the Woolworth de Mexico store pictured and I bought several 'Tutsitoys', rebranded obsolete TootsieToy cars from the 1950s.
The Tijuana Woolworth is long gone but I still have the little diecast cars. According to the Wieland/Force book on TootsieToys, these were produced in Mexico for local consumption only, using old dies. The undersides of the vehicle bodies still had the 'TootsieToy - Chicago' markings. (permalink)
Prudent Money Management: Being a senior is no fun these days, especially if you're trying to manage investments. A recent letter to financial columnist Malcolm Berko began, "I'm 76, and my nest egg has dwindled by 55% in the dozen years since I retired. I lost 50% when the tech bubble burst, earned back 80% and lost another 50% in the crash of 2007-2008. Then, I made back about 80% again before losing nearly 35% to the housing bubble."
Wow. First of all, I don't know where this guy's been investing but he must be into some stuff that's either risky or stupid. Or both. In the tech crash of 2000-02, my SEP/IRA dropped by only 17%. By 2007, it was 33% above the 1999 high. The financial meltdown of 2008 caused a scary (to me) 31% drop but I've since recouped my losses and then some.
The letter writer continued, "I've been investing since the early 1960s, and if CDs were paying 5%, I'd cash out and never be in the market again. ... The market is higher than it was in the 1990s, but other folks I talk to tell me that they're also in the minus column."
And there's the rub. CD rates are almost zero as are T-bills. Several friends of mine have depended on the interest from such fixed income investments to pay their bills in retirement. They've found that their income has dropped by 80% and are now having to dip into the principal for living expenses, causing their nest egg to dwindle at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, television ads from Fidelity Investments ... (more >>>)
What A Card: We got a wonderful card from a friend in Tokyo - the one who buys her vegetables from a huckster. She always sends very clever, intricate cards. This year it was a 3-D card stock Christmas wreath with winking lights and it played 'Oh Christmas Tree'.
In German, the song begins "Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum, Wie Treu Sind Deine Blätter." Which, Father Pichla - my high school German teacher, interpreted as "how full are your branches."
In Junior year - to taunt the good Father, we used to sing, "Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum, How Full Is Your Bladder."
Ah, memories of Christmas seasons long past.
Requiescat In Pace: John Cardinal Foley, who for many years did the English-language television commentary for the Vatican Christmas Midnight Mass, has died at age 76 after a long battle with leukemia.
Foley died at Villa St. Joseph in Darby, the retirement home for archdiocesan priests. It is the same town in which he was born. He graduated from St. Joe's Prep in 1953.
When Foley was elevated to Cardinal in 2007, a large contingent of Prep alumni and friends traveled to witness the ceremony, including veteran character actor Henry Gibson (SJP '53), who found fame in the late '60s as the poet on 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In'. Gibson died in 2009.
Foley was laid to rest in an old wall crypt in a room below the altar of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. The crypt opening was so low in height that the traditional arched lid of his casket had to be removed and a flat-top lid substututed in order to fit.
In Other Death News ... Doug Mattix - a consummate car collector and genuinely nice guy - died December 1st at age 69. I didn't see Doug often but have fond memories of his passion for automobiles.
Ironically, Doug had purchased an old flower car a few months ago to restore. RIP, buddy.
Blame The Rich Innovators: Here's some wisdom from the late Robert A. Heinlein, the dean of science fiction writers. Heinlein wrote, "Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded - here and there, now and then - are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people.
Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as 'bad luck'."
Quote of the Day is from Victor Borge: "Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year."
Monday December 12, 2011
Dismal Diecast Direction: Things in the diecast model car business are not well.
Writing in Model Auto Review (a publication which is going to shrink from 10 issues/year to 6 issues in 2012), correspondent Hans-George Schmitt has reported that "many companies have problems with casting firms who supply them from China. ... Schuco (an old-line German toy firm) stated that their Chinese supplier had gone bankrupt and they are having problems retrieving their molds."
Editor Rod Ward added, "We have also been told that Corgi (a venerable UK producer of die cast toy vehicles) and Biante (an Australian firm offering scale model race cars) may not get shipments from China in the last three months of the year, as a Chinese casting firm has collapsed."
Ward also noted, "I hear of more closures among retail outlets and of some manufacturers reducing production quantities, whilst at the same time keeping a low profile, perhaps not wanting to draw attention to their lower level of activity."
I've noticed that a number of firms have pushed back delivery dates on new model vehicles. The model car business has changed greatly and as pre-boomers and boomers are getting older and downsizing, they are buying fewer models. Or have already purchased everything they want. In the 1980s, I used to buy over model vehicles per year. These days it's less than a dozen.
Over the past decade ... (more >>>)
Remembering Aunt Ceil: My godmother and favorite aunt died 57 years ago today at the young age of 38. She suffered many health problems in her lifetime and endured a lot of pain especially in her final battle with breast cancer but always had a smile and a kind word for me. And others. She was a generous woman and my best presents - toys, books, etc. - came from Ceil.
She worked for a fur broker. The firm handled shipments from all over the world. Most were mailed by trappers and were sent by parcel post. Like many kids in my day, I collected stamps. My aunt provided me with many exotic issues from far-away lands. My friends were sure envious.
The fur business had a big warehouse and the storage carts and pallet jacks became my personal playground on many Saturday mornings while my aunt finished up paperwork. There was also a big Rube-Goldberg machine - a letter-folder and envelope stuffer - in the office which one could load and watch the paper zip through and get folded. And - sometimes - get spectacularly mangled and destroyed by the belts and pulleys. I was fascinated by it.
Aunt Ceil owned a green 1949 Chevrolet which was driven carefully and garaged every night.
Ceil was loved by those who knew her. There were so many floral arrangements at her funeral that the undertaker had to order up a flower car from the livery service. I've mentioned before that my first ride in a Cadillac was during her funeral when I was 11. We traveled to the church and the cemetery in a limousine - a sleek-black '54 Caddy Series 75. I rode in the collapsible jump seat. I remember getting yelled at by my parents for playing with the power window switches and running the windows up and down on a cold, windy December day.
My aunt owned a mahogany drop-front secretary desk-bookcase, topped with a carved crown Chippendale-style bonnet. In the early 1980s, I set out to restore it. I spent many evenings sanding and steel-wooling the solid wood surfaces until they were silk-smooth. Then I carefully applied stain, worked it in with 0000 steel wool and reapplied more stain, working that in - repeating the process until the depth of grain of this fine wood specimen could be fully appreciated.
I think Ceil would have liked the result. This piece of furniture, made in the mid-1930s, will outlive me. And, with a little TLC, it will outlive my children too.
Aunt Ceil has now been dead far longer than she was alive. God rest her kind, gentle soul. (permalink)
Saturday Night Debate: All of the Republican candidates did well on ABC's forum. My observations:
Who won this debate? Newt. Who lost? Diane Sawyer's liver.
Book Review: 'Panic: The Betrayal of Capitalism by Wall Street and Washington' by Andrew Redleaf and Richard Vigilante
This scary and well-written book offers one of the best overviews I've encountered of the financial meltdown. The authors offer possible solutions for avoiding future meltdowns, including eliminating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, fewer unnecessary government regulations and ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from Jay Leno: "The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a Nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin."
There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.
Thursday December 8, 2011
Will There Be A 'Swinger' Model, Too? Dodge will resurrect the Dart name with its new compact, the first Chrysler product for North America to be built on a Fiat platform.
Assembly of the new Dart will commence in April 2012 at Chrysler's Belvidere, Illinois plant (where Neons were once assembled) and the vehicle will compete against other small cars, such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.
As for me, I'm holding out for a revived Plymouth Valiant. Or a Duster.
I rented Plymouth Duster - a blue coupe - for a week during a 1972 California vacation. Driving up the sunny Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco, I sometimes thought I was in the opening scenes of a 'Mannix' episode.
Whenever I See ... the words 'General Motors' and 'safety findings may have been suppressed' in the same sentence, I think of the Chevrolet Corvair.
This time it's the Chevy Volt. Oooops.
Probably Better Than Obama. Or Ron Paul. Vermin Supreme is running for president. His platform is "A Pony for every American" as well as Zombie preparedness. Nice hat, by the way.
He has run for president before and apparently enjoys confronting front-runners on the campaign trail. As to his penchant for running, Mr. Supreme reminds me of perennial Republican presidential candidate Harold Stassen.
Harold Stassen? Man, that oughta measure 5.7 or so on the Obscure References Meter. In a 2006 episode of 'The Simpsons', perpetual loser ol' Gil prepared breakfast for Bart and Lisa and asked, "Hey, who wants some eggs a la Harold Stassen? They're always running!"
Vermin's website states that "he is the only candidate who supports fully funding time-travel research in order to go back and kill Hitler before he was born. He's also the only candidate who makes mandatory toothbrushing his signature issue." Supreme says in his Dental Manifesto, "Proper dental hygiene is essential to proper social order."
In Somewhat Related Presidential News ... Frank J. Fleming has asked, "How can Obama give a populist speech when he is so unpopular? Wouldn't a populist speech be something like, 'I really suck; I should be thrown out of office.'"
Dum-Da-Dum-Dum: Actor Harry Morgan has died at age 96.
He was best-known for his roles as Detective Bill Gannon on 'Dragnet' and Colonel Sherman T. Potter on 'M*A*S*H'.
Morgan appeared in more than 100 films, including and a cameo in the 1987 film version of 'Dragnet' with Dan Ackroyd and Tom Hanks. Rest In Peace.
Scenic Drive: I was out and about today - had to stop by the hospital lab for a blood test - and was treated to a great view of snow-covered Mt. St. Helens against a bright blue sky.
At the time, I was playing my Christmas CD in the car's audio system. The white mountain and the music of the Season kinda got me in the Christmas Spirit.
A Grinch Always Appears Somewhere During The Season: A child development professor has declared that 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer' needs to be rewritten because it celebrates discrimination, bullying and makes fun of beings with disabilities. Perhaps rosacea which can result in a red nose.
Headline Of The Day is from The People's Cube: 'EPA to collect carbon tax on coal left in naughty childrens' stockings this Christmas'.
Bad Pun of the Day: Sign at a nudist camp: 'Sorry - Clothed for Winter'.
Tuesday December 6, 2011
'Tis The Season: We're gettin' ready for Christmas around here. Decorations are going up, I burned a new CD of Christmas songs for the car and we bought a new tree - a fake one to replace our old fake one.
Last week, on cyber-Monday, we ordered a Christmas tree online. It is a hand-crafted Balsam Hill artificial Vermont White Spruce tree with built-in lights - 600 of 'em. And 1,326 branch tips. It's 5.5 feet tall and a full 46" diameter at base. It arrived by FedEx last Thursday.
We disassembled our huge, five-year old 7.5 foot Costco tree, which had numerous burned out lights and was now too big and to heavy for us to handle, reboxed it and dropped it off yesterday at Goodwill as a donation.
The only one of our cars with a trunk large enough to handle the old tree was my '39 Plymouth, with its big business coupe trunk. We've been having a spell of rain-free weather, so we enjoyed a nice sunny drive during the chilly, 34-degree late morning.
So, why don't we - who live in the heart of the Pacific Northwest and have a tree farm at the end of our block - get a real tree? I think James Lileks has expressed it best: "I do have a problem buying a real tree for $65, having it die on the way home, never drink the water we give it, drop a hundred needles every time you brush up against it, then dragging its corpse to the boulevard with a billion tiny needles left behind." (permalink)
"A Day Which Will Live In Infamy ..." Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This event galvanized our nation and made us officially part of the Second World War, even though we had already been involved in assisting England - and other nations - against the Nazis.
Family legend has it that my dad and a couple of his brothers hitchhiked down to a recruiting office the following day and put their names on the enlistment roll. My dad chose the Navy but wasn't called to active duty until 1944. Probable reasons were not enough ships available plus his critical worker status as an experienced freight railroader.
His supply ship, LSM 448, was commissioned in January 1945; he had received special training to be a radar operator. While he didn't talk much about his wartime experiences, I know that he traveled to Guam, the Philippines and to Japan. Just after the atomic bomb was dropped, his ship delivered a company of Marines who were part of the occupying forces. He had a map of Nagasaki, showing the areas to avoid - too radioactive.
LSM 448 usually carried .... (more >>>)
78 Years Ago ... the Repeal of Prohibition in the United States was accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933.
My grandfather, the speakeasy operator, would have been proud had he been alive. Unfortunately, he died in 1927.
Free Money ... but not for you or me: Malcolm Berko has written that "a recent Government Accountability Office audit showed that the Fed, without the knowledge of Congress and under the direction of the administration, gave Citigroup $2.5 trillion; gave Morgan Stanley $2.1 trillion; gave Merrill Lynch $2.0 trillion; gave Bank of America $1.3 trillion; and gave lesser amounts to Barclays, Deutsche Bank, UBS, The Royal Bank of Scotland, plus others.
This is an administration Ponzi scheme in which the Fed silently passed out money like Halloween candy to megabanks and super-corporations while millions of Americans were unemployed and couldn't make mortgage payments. So far, not a cent has been repaid - and it will never be."
Some Breeds Are Worse Than Others. Found in this season's Wireless catalog:
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Dozens of Glowing Exit Signs Mercilessly Taunt Multiplex Employee.'
Quote Of The Day: Politicians are like Christmas lights. They all hang together, half of the suckers don't work and the ones that do aren't that bright.
Friday December 2, 2011
Will There Be A Lincoln Brand 10 Years From Now? Earlier this year, FoMoCo announced that it "is spending $1 billion in an effort to develop a new generation of vehicles for its struggling Lincoln brand." In November, the company debuted the 2013 version of the MKS flagship sedan, featuring a mildly facelifted exterior and an upgraded interior. Most automotive cognoscenti were unimpressed. It's certainly not the classic Lincoln of yore.
Mere incremental improvements are not enough to save this brand. Today's Lincolns have no real identity - they are perceived as tarted-up Fords. Lack of uniqueness is just one potentially-lethal problem for Lincoln. The other is that it is no longer perceived as a true luxury brand.
Once upon a time in the American automobile market, there was ... (more >>>)
Motor Milestone: A lot has happened in the last 56 years... mankind landed on the moon, the Cold War ended and General Motors managed to build 100 million small-block V8 engines.
"First launched in 1955 with 265 cubic inches of displacement, the small block V8 has seen duty in nearly every memorable machine produced by Chevrolet in the last five decades.
In addition to being the bread-and-butter engine in GM's bread-and-butter brand, the small block has also been seen in the engine bays of various Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models in the States, as well as in Vauxhalls in the UK, Opels in the rest of Europe and Holdens in Australia."
The Chevrolet's small-block V-8 engine inspired other engines - both inside and outside General Motors. And replaced the old flathead Ford V-8 as the hot rodder's engine of choice.
Happy Days: November auto sales were brisk, sales increased 14% over last November. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) was a healthy 13.6 million vehicles, the highest since the Cash for Clunkers-incentive program August 2009.
Ford Motor Company saw sales grow 13%. Ford brand sales were up by 20%, most growth came from SUVs and trucks. Taurus sales increased 17% to 4,900 sedans. The Lincoln brand was down 18% to 6,305 units. Sales of the 'flagship' MKS sedan dropped 8% to 1,017 units.
General Motors experienced a 7% sales increase. Cadillac was down 6% to 11,145 units. 3,804 CTS units were sold - a gain of 2%. In November, Cadillac outsold Buick 11,145 vehicles to 10,880. Buick sales were off 7%, while Chevrolet was up 10%.
Chrysler Group reported a sales increase of 45%. 1,618 Fiat 500s were sold in November. The Chrysler brand is up 92% over 12 months ago, driven by a surprising six-fold increase in the 200 (nee Sebring) models and a three-fold increase in sales of the 300 sedan. Jeep brand sales are up 50%, mostly due to the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. Dodge jumped a surprising 43%, led by Avenger, Charger and Caravan models. The company has surpassed the critical 100,000 units/month mark, thought by many to be the break-even level for the firm.
Volkswagen, fueled by its newly introduced US-built Passat, sold 28,412 vehicles for a 41% increase from a year ago.
Subaru, Porsche and Mitsubishi all saw sales drop year-over-year. Toyota was up 7%, led by Prius (+49%). Avalon sales were down slightly to 2,188 units. Lexus sales increased 7% to 19,458 units. 954 LS sedans were sold in November.
Nissan sales increased 21%, while sales of its Infiniti brand were up a more modest 3%.
BMW Group was up 15% - BMW was up 7% while Mini sales rocketed with a 70% increase to 4,750 units. Kia was up 38% while its Hyundai stablemate was only up 22%.
Honda was down 6%; sales of Acura were off 8%. Jaguar sales decreased by 18% to 915 units.
Speaking Frankly: I'm not sorry to see Barney Frank leave ... I just wish he was in handcuffs.
Fizzy Report: Douglas A. McIntyre has written about changes in the soda pop market over the last decade.
"Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper/Snapple dominate the soft drink market in the U.S. Together they accounted for about 85% of the branded soda sales in the country during 2010."
"Coca Cola's sales across all of its soda brands in the U.S. as measured in gallons have fallen from 6.7 billion gallons in 2001 to 5.9 billion gallons last year. PepsiCo's total gallon sales fell from 4.8 billion gallons to 4.1 billion gallons over the same period."
McIntyre posits that sports/energy drinks and bottled water are responsible for some of the loss.
"7 Up has taken the greatest hit over the last decade. The number of gallons sold has dropped 53% since 2001. One of the reasons for this is the crowded lemon-lime soda market
Another reason is that 7 Up used to be largely distributed by Pepsi bottlers who replaced it with Sierra Mist, according to Ad Age."
I guess nobody's drinking 7-and-7s anymore.
Quote Of The Day is from Frank J. Fleming: "Nothing beats a thick pair of wool socks on a cold day. I feel like I could punch a yeti in the face!"
More Frank: "Due to rising energy costs, Santa will no longer leave a lump of coal in your stocking if you're naughty and instead just punch you while you sleep."
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