A Blog About Cars ... And Everything Else That Catches My Eye
Monday April 30, 2012
Auto Sketch: '47 Studebaker - "Which Way Is It Going?"
After $11 million was spent on its development, the 1947 Studebaker - unveiled in June 1946 - rocked the automotive world. Its breakthrough styling instantly made every other new car look old-fashioned and forced every other car maker play to catch-up. The same envelope-bodied, three-box shape can still be seen in many of the designs of today's cars.
Industry analysts of the period described the car as "years ahead of the competition." And, indeed, it was. Compare ... (more >>>)
Why The Recovery Is So Anemic: Scott Grannis has offered an explanation. "I think one obvious source of the shortfall is the huge increase in government spending in recent years, most of which has been in the form of transfer payments. Instead of allowing the private sector to utilize the trillions of dollars the federal government has borrowed to fund this increased spending, the government has effectively just taken the money from the pockets of those who have been productive and put it into the pockets of those who have been unproductive or less productive. That doesn't create growth, it just wastes our scarce resources, because - as Milton Friedman taught us - nobody spends other people's money as wisely as they spend their own money. It's as if the government simply directed all of us to pour some of our hard-earned money down the toilet by buying things we don't need."
"The private sector has been working very hard to increase its efficiency and its output, and that shows up in the record level of corporate profits, both in nominal terms and relative to GDP. But instead of allowing or encouraging the private sector to plow those profits back into the economy in the form of new plant and equipment, new jobs, and new technologies, the federal government has effectively borrowed all the corporate profits generated since 2009 and distributed the money to the unemployed, to the poor, to favored "green" industries, to unions, to state and local governments, and to "make-work projects," among other things."
Are you angry that the jobless rate is so high? That the economy remains in such bad shape? That the "recovery" doesn't feel like one? Blame the federal government. Blame the Obama Administration.
Gays Want Tolerance Except When They're Being Intolerant: A homosexual activist group calling itself 'Angry Queers' claimed responsibility for smashing nine windows in a church known for teaching traditional sexual morality.
"Upon arriving at the church, we discovered nine separate windows had been smashed in with rocks, including two beautiful 100-year-old stained glass windows," wrote Tim Smith, pastor of the Portland (OR) campus of Mars Hill Church. "We estimate the damage to be several thousand dollars."
The vandals sent an e-mail to local television station KOIN stating they took the action, because "Mars Hill is notoriously anti-gay and anti-woman." Church members say they hold to "traditional Bible-based views on homosexuality."
Last September, the church had to postpone its opening after learning that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender activists planned a "kiss-in" at the church's first ceremony. As to the vandalism, members of local LGBT activist groups Blow Pony and Homocult said, "We support the action and stand in total solidarity!"
I hope these fascist cretins are apprehended, charged with a hate crime and receive serious jail time.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it."
Friday April 27, 2012
Bad Sound: Jeremy Clarkson has claimed that the new Maserati SUV, the Kubang, is named after "the noise it will make once the warranty expires." (permalink)
Business Advice You Can't Refuse: Speaking as someone who spent almost five decades in the business world, the best book (and film) for understanding the workings of large corporations was 'The Godfather'. Some of the great lessons I learned as an employee of a couple of large Corporate Families:
In Search Of Food: New Seasons Market is a 10-store chain of privately-owned upscale grocery stores operating in the Portland Metro area. New Seasons offers natural and conventional products side by side. Prices are Whole Foods spendy.
We visited the Vancouver, WA location yesterday. New Seasons considers itself a competitor to Whole Foods. It's not. The atmosphere at Whole Foods is almost party-like with cheerful employees handing out samples and answering all questions with a smile. It feels almost like a circus.
New Seasons feels like every other supermarket. It offers few samples - Costco offers far more sampling stations - and even less engagement between customers and staff. The store layout was confusing and the various departments seemed downscale compared with Whole Foods.
The only redeeming factor was that New Seasons is in the same shopping center as Philly Bilmos, where we had a delightful lunch.
I wish there was a Bristol Farms in the area to show everyone How It's Done.
Every Campaign Needs A Mantra: The one for this year may well be "Obama. What an asshole." Thank you, Jon Lovitz, comedian and disillusioned Obama supporter. Jon gave a five-minute rant on the subject, noting with regret: "And I voted for him!"
Put this together with disturbingly bad internal polls, the distancing of other Democratic politicians from Barry O., low polling ratings from likely independent voters (13 points in Romney's favor according to one poll), the beginning of critical and negative coverage by some mainstream media outlets, declining support from Jewish voters as well as Catholics and the likelihood that black voter turnout will be lower in the 2012 election and it all adds up to: Obama. What an asshole.
Repeat it over and over to your friends.
In Related News ... Frank J. Fleming has opined, "The Obama reelection strategy is basically the abusive boyfriend convincing us we can't do any better."
For some reason, Ike Turner comes to mind. Or maybe Ike as played by Tim Meadows on SNL interacting with Kevin Nealon: "Oh, baby, I'm sorry. I didn't want this to happen again. I mean, I'll give you anything you want, baby, just ... anything you want."
Travel Tip: When making reservations for hotel accommodations and they ask, "Two Queens?", just answer, "Actually, we're a heterosexual couple."
Quote Of The Day is from John Wanamaker: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."
Wednesday April 25, 2012
Car Sighting: While tooling around the outskirts of Battle Ground in my '39 Plymouth on a gorgeous Monday (it was 65 degrees at 10:30 am and afternoon temperatures reached 81 by 5 pm), I spotted my first Toyota Prius c, the subcompact hybrid.
It was a bit odd-looking but it's the only subcompact hatchback out there that gets 50 mpg.
Good thing I took my old car ride when I did - Tuesday brought clouds and rain.
If you squint a little (no pun intended), the taillights on this Chinese car seem mildly reminiscent of those on the 1952 Lincoln.
Book Review: 'Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption' by Laura Hillenbrand
When I read the summary of the story: one man's life as a juvenile delinquent, champion Olympic runner and American POW, I though, "Nice magazine article material, but how will this story fill a 400+ page book?" Amazingly and compellingly, it turns out.
Author Hillenbrand is marvelous - she pens this non-fiction story in a gripping manner. This book has no dead spots; the reader is drawn in and compelled to absorb every detail.
Louie Zamperini is a young thief and troublemaker, who finds peace in the discipline of running. The track-and-field star competes in the 1936 Olympics and becomes part of the US Army Air Force when WWII breaks out. His B-24 bomber is shot down over the ocean, he drifts in the Pacific for 47 days, was captured by the Japanese and endured unspeakable treatment as a POW ... (more >>>)
'A Better America Begins Tonight' was the theme of Mitt Romney's stirring speech Tuesday night. In my view, it was the best speech Mitt has ever given. Excerpts:
Are you ready for a better America? I know that I am. (permalink)
Time For U.S. Bishops To Take A Big Drink From The STFU Chalice: Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the Republican House Budget Committee for failing to meet certain "moral criteria" by "disproportionately cutting programs that serve poor and vulnerable people." The letter criticized cuts in the proposed Paul Ryan budget to food stamps and other assistance programs for The Poor.
I would remind readers that ... (more >>>)
Ant Deco: Spring is here, marking the beginning of ant season. James Lileks has noted that ants "look streamlined, as if they were modeled on 1930s cocktail shakers."
Billion Dollar Business Idea: I'd like to open a chain of franchised exercise clubs. Each one would have a Roman theme with Ionic columns, a big dome in the center, vaulted ceilings and a colonnade screen out front.
The name ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from H.L. Mencken: "A celebrity is one who is known by many people he is glad he doesn't know."
Monday April 23, 2012
Saturday Fun: After a week of clouds and rain, it was 68 and sunny at 1:00 pm, so I took a spin in the Plymouth.
There was still plenty of snow to be seen on the mountains as I headed to Hockinson and back. I passed the Hockinson CookHouse and, even though the 'Open' sign was still on, the place was deserted and the parking lot was empty.
Since Sunday was that phony, tree-hugging, Gaia-loving hippie holiday, Earth Day, it was a good time to be piloting an old, fuel-sucking, carbon-spewing vehicle, depleting some of the ozone layer. Think of it as an early gift.
Time to teach the Earth who's boss.
Every time Earth Day rolls around, I am fondly reminded of Gilda Radner's Emily Latella (on SNL) - who might have said: "What's all this I hear about 'greenhouse gas'? Can't people just hold it in until they go back outside? ... Oh. Never mind." (permalink)
Wanna See Some Cool Car Pix? I've just posted five pages of them. All were taken at the 1996 Monterey Weekend, which concluded with the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. They begin here.
A Better Record Than FedEx: Did you watch 'Top Gear' last week? (I don't mean the execrable American version. I'm referring to the original-recipe British version seen on BBC America. Sadly even this 'Top Gear' is losing its edge and appeal.)
The Top Gear lads visited Bombay - no, they didn't refer to it as Mumbai - and described the dabbawalas, a group of 5,000 deliverymen who handle over 200,000 lunch pails per day, picking them up from suburban households and, using trains, motorbikes and foot power, deliver them to offices in the city.
Despite a lack of computerization and an archaic coding system painted on the top of each pail, the dabbawalas make only one mistake for every 6 million lunches delivered. The cost for such superb service - less than $4 per month.
Perhaps we could bring some dabbawalas to the U.S., triple their wages and have them replace all postal workers. It could result in the return of the 3¢ first-class stamp.
PS: If they do a good job, we could reward them with a free trip to Disney's Great India Adventure.
Choices: The way conservatives are renting their garments in mourning over the lack of a True Conservative in the 2012 campaign whilst they wail about the seeming inevitability of Mitt Romney heading the Republican ticket, it might be advisable to invest in apparel stocks, perhaps Men's Warehouse, Limited Brands or Dress Barn. These people will eventually run out of things to wear and will have to buy some new clothes at some point.
Influential columnist George Will has suggested that Romney is hopeless and has urged conservatives to "turn their energies to a goal much more attainable than, and not much less important than, electing Romney," namely, winning both houses of Congress.
What a colossal pantload ... (more >>>)
Dead Tree Report: The Financial Times has noted, "In recent weeks, LinkedIn, the networking website, and the Council of Economic Advisers have reported that the press is "America's fastest-shrinking industry," measured by jobs lost; the Newspaper Association of America has shown that advertising sales have halved since 2005 and are now at 1984's level; and the Pew Research Center has found that for every digital ad dollar they earned, they lost $7 in print ads."
Digital ads? When was the last time you clicked on an ad posted on a news site? I can't remember either. Newspapers? We now only get one print version - the free local weekly.
We dropped our subscription to the Columbian - it serves Vancouver and Clark County, WA - in early 2008.
As to the Portland metro paper, I hadn't looked at the Oregonian in years until recently (got a free copy) but I can now conclude that it remains the worst large city newspaper I've experienced. A waste of two bucks.
When we ... (more >>>)
Restaurant Review: Julie's Cottage Kitchen; Dollars Corner, WA.
I could kick myself because this establishment has been around for 18 years and this was my first visit. To think that I could have been experiencing fine homemade, comfort-style, generous-in-portion entrees during a period spanning two millennia.
The staff is ... (more >>>)
Bad Pun of the Day: Do bakers with a sense of humor make wry bread?
Thursday April 19, 2012
Presidential Payback: In a 1999 article by William McElroy published in Continental Comments magazine, the story is told that President Harry Truman was refused a courtesy Cadillac for a planned Florida vacation. The dealership figured that Harry was going to lose the 1948 election, so why bother?
Ford Motor Company stepped up and provided automobiles to President Truman for his vacation as well as various campaign stops.
After Truman's surprise victory in the election, he "told his aide, John Steelman, to have all General Motors products removed from the White House garage. Ford was then asked to provide Lincoln convertibles for the inauguration ceremonies."
Truman and VP Alben Barkley rode in a ... (more >>>)
Smells Like A Scam To Me: Electric car company Fisker Automotive has fired an additional 12 workers from its "flagship" (former GM) assembly plant in Delaware, leading to concerns that the once-bustling car company will fail to live up to its promise to produce a new line of plug-in hybrids.
This electric car maker has received $529 million from the federal government.
According to one of the fired workers, Fisker's plant is "absolutely empty," devoid of the equipment and personnel necessary to produce its hybrid cars.
In a related story ...
Darkness Cometh: The People's Cube has quoted Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: "Due to energy conservation, the light at the end of the tunnel will be switched off."
I would point out that, almost two years ago, I asked President Obama to fire Steven Chu and hire me to run the Department of Energy. And showed how I could save taxpayers over $1.57 billion dollars.
What's In A Name? The most recent issue of Plastic Distributor & Fabricator magazine mentioned an old-line plastics distribution company. The business began in 1942 - a year before I was born - as a small in-house machine shop for a local pasta maker in Buffalo, NY. The company was approached by a local aircraft firm to fabricate components from plastic.
As the machine shop's expertise in plastic fabrication grew, other aerospace companies joined their client list, and soon the company became a separate entity, focusing exclusively on the custom fabrication of plastic components. The new company took the name "Curbell" from two of their early customers, Curtiss-Wright and Bell Aircraft.
After World War II, Curbell moved into the plastics distribution business.
Maybe naming your company after your customers isn't such a bad idea. Seventy years later, Curbell Plastics is still going strong. It has outlasted many other plastic firms, including the one I used to own.
America's Oldest Teenager ... Dick Clark, who never looked his age, has died at age 82 from a massive heart attack. He had suffered a debilitating stroke in 2004.
Clark found fame in 1956 when he took over as host of 'Bandstand', a local dance show in Philadelphia. He took it national in 1957 and renamed it 'American Bandstand'. I've written more about Bandstand here.
Dick also hosted ABC's 'New Year's Rockin' Eve' for many years, as well as several game shows. He was a very successful producer as well. He also had a stake in a chain of music-themed restaurants licensed under the names 'Dick Clark's American Bandstand Grill'. My wife and I once dined at the one in Indianapolis.
There have been many jokes over the years about Dick Clark's relatively ageless appearance. The best one was a 1982 episode of 'Police Squad!' where Clark made a cameo appearance buying a jar of 'Secret Formula Youth Cream' from street snitch Johnny the Shoeshine Boy. Rest in peace. (permalink)
Republican Vice-Presidential Speculation: Frank J. Fleming has offered, "As usual, I would suggest Mr. T. He has the conservative principle of not tolerating jibber-jabber but he also is a compassionate conservative in that he pities fools."
Doggone! Here's a Headline Of The Week candidate: 'Romney put a dog on top of a car, Obama put a dog on top of rice while eating it.'
Obama's campaign has gone after Mitt Romney for strapping a dog to the top of his car (in a porta-kennel) for a vacation trip over 25 years ago. So how will people react to Barack Obama actually eating a dog? Eeeewwwww. But ... chacun à son goût, as they say in France, the better sections of Haiti and certain parts of Canada.
It's a real quandary for liberals who also happen to love dogs. PETA has been remarkably quiet about Barry O's choice of main course. In related news, the government's healthy-eating campaign logo 'Choose My Plate' has been updated.
Since he must be a foodie - he pushes salads on hefty staffers and his wife is forever lecturing us on food choices and preparation, does the President plan to share any recipes? Beagle and lox? Chihuahua enchilada? Terrieraki and egg rolls? Chicken poodle soup?
Oh well. Politics is apparently a Barry-eat-dog kinda business. Too bad dogs can't vote.
I find it ironic that a President who dined on dog meat is now trying to destroy the economy sufficiently that all of us will soon be dining on Alpo. (permalink)
While we're on the subject of food ...
Plurality: Order a couple of center-cut tenderloins and they're known as filets mignon, not filet mignons.
When you order a couple of breakfasts at McDonald's, is it Egg McMuffins or Eggs McMuffin? Eggs McMuffin sounds like the name of a 1920s Irish mobster. (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. So I said, "Got any shoes you're not using?""
Tuesday April 17, 2012
Car Sighting: On Saturday, my brother snapped a photo of a McLaren MP4-12C parked in front of the Four Seasons in Boston. The $231,000 592 horsepower supercar had Pennsylvania plates and a license plate frame from a dealer in Doylestown.
He's one-up on me; I've never seen a McLaren MP4-12C in person. He also took a picture of another vehicle I've yet to see personally - the new L.L. Bean Bootmobile which was displayed on the Boston Common the same day.
The vehicle, based on a Ford F-250 Super Duty, is seven-feet shorter than the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. If it were a real Bean duck boot, it would fit a 147-foot tall person. The Bootmobile was constructed to celebrate L.L. Bean's 100th anniversary.
"737 Coming Out Of The Sky ... Oh won't you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride." ... Credeence Clearwater Revival
I'm neither a buff nor an expert when it comes to flying machines. Nevertheless, I found this recent news item interesting:
Boeing has announced some design decisions regarding its 737 Max airplane. The Renton-built single-aisle plane is designed to deliver up to 12% better fuel mileage when it's completed in 2017.
The original 737 has celebrated its 45th birthday; the first one rolled off Boeing's assembly line in 1967. It was initially the 'hot rod' of passenger jets - a little plane with huge powerful jet engines hung under the wings. This plane was designed to be usable on very short runways. When it took off, it accelerated quickly and would push you back in your seat.
The Little Boeing That Could is operated by more than 500 airlines, flying to 1,200 destinations in 190 countries. With over 8,000 aircraft ordered, over 6,000 delivered, and over 4,500 still in service, at any given time there are on average 1,250 airborne worldwide. On average, somewhere in the world, a 737 takes off or lands every five seconds.
I salute the designers of the original 737 airplane. It's classic and, apparently, timeless.
The Next Bubble: According to federal officials, the amount Americans owe on student loans is far higher than earlier estimates and could lead some consumers to postpone buying homes, potentially slowing the housing recovery.
"Total student debt outstanding appears to have surpassed $1 trillion late last year, said officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created in the wake of the financial crisis. That would be roughly 16% higher than an estimate earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York."
"New York Fed data show that as many as one in four student borrowers who have begun repaying their education debts are behind on payments."
You can see where this is headed. Toward something which is unsustainable. Then ... pop. Look for massive student loan defaults, a crisis at Sallie Mae which will cause student loans to become far less available, the collapse of universities whose tuitions were too high and enrollment too low and the big rise of alternate low-cost, cheap-to-operate online education alternatives.
Today, educators prepare students to become "knowledge workers" - clerks and bureaucrats. Or diversity consultants. Or life coaches. Or community organizers. These are career paths which are fast becoming useless and obsolete. Too many of today's college courses are irrelevant to the real world and, therefore, worthless to prospective employers.
The value of a diploma ... (more >>>)
Good Gag: Actor Kevin Rush carries around a stack of pre-printed notes to put on car windshields that have Obama bumper stickers on them. The note reads:
Restaurant Review: Hockinson CookHouse; Brush Prairie, WA
This establishment can be found in the former location of the Hockinson Kountry Cafe - once a local favorite in rural Hockinson until it was forced to move in 2010 when road improvements took away its much of its parking lot. It goes without saying that parking is at a premium here.
The was plain but functional. The waitress was friendly but slow ... (more >>>)
Funniest Headline Ever ... here.
Thought For Today: It used to be only death and taxes. Now, of course, there's shipping and handling, too.
Friday April 13, 2012
Fifty-Five Years Ago ... America was awesome. Not long ago, I saw a news report about the newest generation Japanese Bullet Train, the N700. It looked fantastic and very futuristic. There's nothing like it in America. Amtrak uses blocky locomotives which look like they were styled by Soviet bureaucrats armed with T-squares. Or Legos.
What happened to America? We used to have the coolest trains in the world. In 1957, our passenger trains were sleek streamliners with stainless steel cars pulled by mighty, swoopy-styled GM Electromotive E-series diesels. The rest of the world had lame trains - puny coaches painted in dull earth tones pulled by tired-looking, wimpy engines.
We had the best cars, too. Oh sure ... in 1957, Euro-intellectuals mocked our way of life (when they weren't busy spawning and pumping out future Eurotrash) and our huge but affordable cars with their wraparound windshields, three-tone paint jobs, chrome trim and giant fins. Then Europe started incorporating ... (more >>>)
Far East Costco: The most recent issue of the 'Costco Connection' magazine had a story about the newest store, the 600th one - which just opened in Kobe, Japan. Like many Costcos in the U.S., it has a pharmacy, hearing aid center, food court and tire store. At the food court, a hot dog & Coke sells for 180 yen ($2.18), a big slice of pizza for 300 yen ($3.63) and a whole pizza can be had for 1500 yen. 35% of the store's offerings are imported, mostly from the U.S.
All Costcos have in-house bakeries and the ones in the warehouse stores we've visited in the U.S. (we've been to ones in WA, OR, CA, NH and NJ) seem very busy. Most of Costco's baked goods are really good. But the Costco bakeries are an even bigger hit in Japan; the article states, "One of our bakeries sells as much in a day as 10 warehouses in the U.S."
There are 13 Costco warehouse stores in Japan. Three in Tokyo (one was closed after last year's earthquake damage but reopened in February). In the U.S., everyone piles their Costco purchases into their (relatively) big cars, but in Tokyo, Costco offers a delivery service called The Flying Pig for the many Japanese customers without wheels of their own.
No Contest: Discussing the winner of a Rube Goldberg contraption contest, Gregory Sullivan has written, "Of course the largest Rube Goldberg machine in history is the Internal Revenue Service."
Yesterday, we received a note from our accountant which read in part, "I have e-filed your tax return twice & twice has it been rejected. It says it is being rejected due to a known IRS issue for the form 3800 page 3. The IRS currently does not accept page 3 blank e-filed, but when I tried to enter information on page 3, it was still rejected. So, unfortunately we will need to paper file your tax return this year."
Luckily for me, my accountant filed for an extension. Maybe that's why Mitt Romney has filed for one too.
Meet Me At The Fair: I remember the New York World's Fair of '64/65. My wife-to-be and I visited it in August 1965. We were just two of over 51 million people who attended the Fair.
The Fair consisted of 140 pavilions located on 646 acres in Flushing Meadow, New York in Queens - the same site used for the 1939 World's Fair. It ran from April, 1964 to October, 1965 (although closed during the winter months).
There were 21 state pavilions and 36 foreign pavilions. Accessible by the NYC subway system, the fair featured a monorail, a Swiss Sky Ride, Michaelangelo's sculpture 'The Pieta' (in the Vatican Pavilion), and 'It's A Small World' which was later bought by Disney and moved to California.
I've scanned and posted some of the photos we took almost 47 years ago here.
Quote Of The Day is from Ben Stein on Obamacare: "Fathom the odd hypocrisy that the government wants every citizen to prove they are insured, but people don't have to prove they are citizens."
Wednesday April 11, 2012
First Drive: It was 64 and mostly cloudy at 1:00 pm Tuesday but, now that I'm feeling better, I was dying for a ride on the ol' Plymouth.
So I fired it up, gassed it up and took a nice 12 mile country road tour before the #%@!* school buses hit the roads.
This was my first drive of 2012 and I enjoyed every minute of it, with windows down, Glasspacks burblin' and the Cruisin' 1957 Joe Niagara Show blasting forth from the speakers.
By 6:00 pm, it was raining. Wet weather is forecast for the next few days, so I'm glad I got my drive in when I did.
Yet Another Blast From The Past: In 2000, I did a thorough road test review and driving report of a week-long experience with a factory-supplied Lincoln LS Sport. I've posted it, with updated photos here.
Too bad that Lincoln killed this car. While it was flawed, it had great potential. Unfortunately, Lincoln never improved it. The same platform underpines the 2012 Jaguar XF, a case study for What Might Have Been product-wise at Lincoln.
Wasting Tax Dollars At The SBA: Kent Hoover has reported, "U.S. taxpayers are putting more money than ever into subsidizing Small Business Administration loans - an unsustainable trend as an era of budget austerity looms.
Next year, the SBA will need $351 million in subsidies - 37% of the agency's overall budget request to support $22 billion in government-guaranteed loans to small businesses. That's up from this year's subsidy of $210 billion, and $83 billion in subsidies in both 2010 and 2011. From 2005 to 2009, the SBA's loan programs didn't need any government subsidy - fees to borrowers and lenders covered all their costs."
The 2005-09 results represent the way the SBA loan program is supposed to work. But it has become an out-of-control, money-sucking government bureaucracy.
By guaranteeing 90% of a business loan, the SBA assumes almost all risks, encouraging banks to lend less prudently. That's not a good thing, especially now that we know that banks are such dummies, staffed by Formica-polishing monkeys instead of knowledgeable loan officers. The number of loans guaranteed by the SBA zoomed from less than 20,000 in 1990 to over 95,000 in 2005. In many cases, the SBA is paying the guaranties even though lenders failed to follow agency requirements in making these loans, according to Peggy Gustafson, SBA Inspector General.
Gustafson's office found material deficiencies in 14 out of 25 SBA loans it sampled for audits in 2010. Paying the guaranties on these loans cost the agency nearly $11 million. "The SBA faces a heightened risk of losses and improper payments due to expedited loan processing initiatives and its considerable reliance on outside financial institutions over which the agency does not always exercise adequate oversight," Gustafson said.
Congress' decision in 2010 to increase ... (more >>>)
Church? Or Something Else? Most of the Catholic churches in the Northeastern U.S. are stately edifices. Many were built in the first half of the 20th Century when congregations were large and donations were generous. Most were constructed of stone with stately stained glass windows and acres of marble inside. St. Martin of Tours Church, completed in 1955 and located in NE Philadelphia, is a good example. I once attended grade school there and also served as an altar boy.
In the Pacific Northwest, there are far fewer old churches. A lot of were built in the 1960-70s and were done on a budget, just like school gymnasiums and mid-priced restaurant chains. As you might expect in the Land of Trees, there is often an abundance of wood inside and out. Many of the churches out here have a 'modern, simple and modest' architecture - congregations are smaller and money is therefore tighter. They look like either a basketball gym or an Outback Steakhouse.
So, if you're visiting the Northwest, how do you tell if you're in a church or something else? Here's a tip ... (more >>>)
Campaign Update: Rick Santorum fought the good fight with dedication and hard work. Now he's out and has apparently thrown his support behind Mitt Romney. It's a wise move given the circumstances. I'm sure that there will be more heard from Rick, who seems like an honorable, sincere guy. I've admired his tenacity throughout this campaign.
Mitt released this statement, "Senator Santorum is an able and worthy competitor, and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran. He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation. We both recognize that what is most important is putting the failures of the last three years behind us and setting America back on the path to prosperity."
I can't disagree with that. The Socialist in the White House must be defeated in November. Barry O. will have the unions and the media in the tank for him but this is an election that he must not be allowed to win.
Glam Shot: After learning that scientists have posited that some dinosaurs were covered with feathers rather than scales, Frank J. Fleming wrote, "Why do scientists have to keep sissifying all the dinosaurs by putting feathers on them?
Dinosaurs were cool when I was kid and now they're Vegas showgirls."
Bad Pun Of The Day: When she saw her first strands of gray, she thought she would dye.
Monday April 9, 2012
What A Ride! My good friend Steve just got a new car to replace his aging 2003 BMW 330xi AWD sedan: a triple-black 2009 Mercedes CLK550 'Grand Edition' convertible. It has low miles - less than 20,000. The Grand Edition is equipped with 18-inch AMG wheels and AMG styling elements. And a 5.5 liter, 382 horsepower V8 engine running through a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
The V8 Mercedes CLK550 supposedly goes from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds. I believe it. Steve scared the hell out of me on our drives to and from the restaurant. By my count, the Merc went from 60 to 80 mph in four seconds.
The car looks luxurious inside (leather, wood, chrome) and has a lot of amenities: side/curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, navi system and pop-up roll bars (that automatically deploy in a rollover) located behind the rear seats. It also features powered "automatic seatbelt presenters," which make buckling up easy to manage when the doors are shut.
Steve turns 65 this year and his high school grad class is doing a big Happy 65th Birthday party for all the members of the Class of '65. Cool idea. So Steve's taking his black Merc on a 4,000 mile round trip to impress all his old HS buddies in eastern Missouri. I don't blame him. (permalink)
Lame Lexus: Dan Neil was underwhelmed by the new pince-nez faced, expensive - the model he tested stickered at a whopping $63,349 - 2013 Lexus GS350. He doesn't like the new multimedia interface. noting that "I haven't battled an automotive infotainment system so bitterly since the first-generation BMW iDrive. I am, frankly, stunned that Toyota signed off on this impassable, implausible, implacable hunk of circuitry masquerading as a convenience."
He was unimpressed with the handling, too. He has observed that "as I acknowledge the car-building cleverness behind the GS350, I cannot find any love in my heart for it. I have Lexus frigidity ... this car handles like Aunt Lillian's comfy couch."
Styling: "I'm at peace with Lexus' redesigned corporate grille, which resembles to most, I think, an hourglass but to me suggests the praying mantis mandible in the midst of munching a moth. This new design, which gives the car instantly recognizable down-the-road graphics, features the obligatory pave of LED headlamps under projector headlamps. But the design interest trails off rapidly nose to tail, and by about midway along the fuselage, the GS looks like a very well-fed Infiniti."
I haven't tried the latest model but I have sampled the last two generations of the GS model and walked away unimpressed and left to wonder who buys these things. The GS seemed quite overpriced for what it offered and wasn't especially fast or sporty. Or luxurious. I'll hang on to my LS 460, thank you.
"A Timid, Depressing Piece Of Design": In case you've not yet had your fill of the New York International Auto Show, Jack Baruth of TTAC has put together a biting and honest nine minute video segment that's worth every second of your time. It's about stuff no one else is talking about, loose door handles and cheesy trim on the 'upscale' Buick Enclave, calling the BMW X1 "a German Geo Tracker" and so much more.
Discovery Plastics, Inc. In past blog postings, I have made references to having owned a plastics manufacturing company. For 11 years, it took up a huge part of my waking hours. The experience of being an entrepreneur taught me more than I've ever learned sitting in business school or seminar classrooms by a hundredfold.
I believe that, on a personal level, owning your own business will change your life - in a good way:
My business ownership experience carried over beyond my participation in the company. After I sold it, I used the knowledge I had gained to assist others as a SCORE volunteer. And I also made a pretty good living as a business consultant.
For a long time, I've wanted to write the history of my first business venture, Discovery Plastics. I've finally done so; it took longer than I thought - finding old photographs and scanning them, looking up facts, statistics and verifying dates/timelines in old files, etc. You'll find the story posted here along with photos.
I think it makes for an interesting tale and business lesson. If you run your own company, I hope you gain some business insight/ideas from reading it.
Would van Gogh or Michelangelo Have Allowed Their Art To Be Used On Diecast Cars? Thomas Kinkade, the alleged Painter of Light - a term which he trademarked - has died at age 54. No word yet whether his estate has applied for the TM: 'Dead Painter of Light'.
He was known for producing sentimental scenes of country gardens and pastoral landscapes in dewy morning light - many contain images from Bible passages. - that were beloved by some but criticized by the art establishment.
Licensing with Hallmark and other corporations have made it possible for Kinkade's images to be used extensively on other merchandise such as calendars, puzzles, greeting cards, and CDs. His images also appeared on Wal-Mart gift cards, home furnishings, La-Z-Boy chairs, linens, wallpaper and china as well as diecast cars and model train sets. Painters with real talent don't need to hustle reproductions and decals of their work on kitsch.
Kinkade's company, Media Arts Group Inc., had been accused of unfair dealings with owners of Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery franchises. Former gallery dealers have charged that Kinkade used Christianity as a tool to take advantage of people. In 2010, Pacific Metro - Kinkade's production company - filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Tommy K was not exactly a model Christian. Or model citizen. He had a long history of cursing and heckling other artists and performers. It was reported that he openly groped a woman's breasts at a South Bend, Indiana sales event and mentioned his proclivity for ritual territory marking through urination, once relieving himself on a Winnie the Pooh figure at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim while saying, "This one's for you, Walt."
He also drank to excess and had been arrested for drunk driving in 2010. At the tine of his death, Kinkade was living with a girlfriend. The two had been dating for the past 18 months - about six months after his wife, Nanette, filed for legal separation.
I always thought that Thomas Kinkade was overhyped as an artist. My mom painted much better images than Tommy K, even though she never considered herself a professional artist. She was a skilled 'painter of light' at age 16. Tommy's occasional car renderings in his paintings are generic and cartoon-like and his perspective sometimes seems 'off.'
Kinkade's company has promoted its various offerings as part of "the Thomas Kinkade lifestyle brand". A few years ago, I was at a funeral parlor - just inside the front entrance was a Plexiglas rack full of brochures with somber titles like: 'Coping With Grief During A Holiday' and 'Twelve Ways To Deal With Your Grief'. The acrylic holder had Tommy K's name screenprinted on the front lip. Sure enough, the cheesy color artwork on the cover of every pamphlet was his.
Even in death you couldn't escape the guy. Now he's dead. (permalink)
In Other Obituary News ... CBS newscaster Mike Wallace has died at age 93 after a long illness.
Ding Dong: Ten years from now, will you still be able to ring someone's doorbell? Or will you have to download a doorbell app first? (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Frank J. Fleming: "We could end a lot of the mean rhetoric in politics if we brought back duels."
Friday April 6, 2011
New York Auto Show By Armchair: My last visit to the New York International Auto Show was in 1970. (Ads and photos from my 1966 visit are posted here.)
I haven't been to an auto show of any kind since 2005. I don't care for the crowds, the locked-up desirable cars or the often rude, clueless salespeople from local dealerships who work the floor.
So far, I have only seen photos of the new models unveiled at this week's NYIAS press preview and have neither sat in them nor driven them. Given those limiting qualifiers, here are my impressions:
Hope It Arrives For Christmas: I've been very fond of Entenmann's, especially their chocolate-covered donuts. (I had two of them yesterday morning, in fact. Yum.)
This week, I ordered a special blue and white Lionel Entenmann's Commemorative vat car in O-gauge for my train layout. It is being offered by ... (more >>>)
Scottish Transportation: I am continuing to update my website and I have now scanned and posted photographs from our 2001 visit to the UK, including several photos from the Glasgow Museum of Transport.
All forms of transportation were featured in this museum, from horse-drawn vehicles to fire engines, motorcycles to caravans, big locomotives, trolley cars, motor vehicles - even toy cars and prams. Enjoy.
Ouch: I gassed up the Lexus Thursday in Battle Ground. Paid $4.489 per gallon for Chevron premium. Thanks for nothing, Obama.
Death Run: Joe Avezzano died yesterday at age 68 of an apparent heart attack while exercising on a treadmill in Milan, Italy.
I didn't know him but he used to live on the next street over from us, when we lived in Corvallis, OR. Avezzano was the head football coach at Oregon State University from 1980-84. He had a four-year contract at $40,000 per year, which wasn't much even in those days. He had a pretty dismal win record; OSU fired him in '84.
I don't follow sports but I'm reporting this only because Avezzano and I are the same age and I read the news of his death just after my morning treadmill session.
My wife chided me because I later washed both cars and she was worried that I'd keel over and die. I told her that I'd rather spend my last seconds gazing at shiny chrome than getting my chin banged repeatedly on a moving rubber belt. RIP.
In Other Obit News, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the designer of the original iconic 911 sports car, has died at 76. He was the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who created the original VW Beetle and the first Porsche. RIP.
And Also ... Chief Jay Strongbow, the 1970s professional wrestler who traditional headdress to the ring and would "go on the warpath" when the fans started cheering him against an opponent, such as Captain Lou Albano or Bruno Sammartino, has died at age 83.
I used to watch him Saturday mornings when we lived in New Jersey. Our home was about a mile away from the residence of wrestler Gorilla Monsoon. RIP.
More Headlines Of The Week from The Onion: 'Backup Health Care Plan Involves Nation Sharing One Big Jar Of Ointment'.
And: 'Study: Dolphins Not So Intelligent On Land'. "Despite theories that dolphins are excellent communicators, they responded to questions on land with only labored wheezing, an earsplitting barrage of unintelligible high-pitched shrieks, and in extreme cases, a shrill, distressed scream."
Quote Of The Day is from Miss Piggy, on eating Chinese food: "You don't knit with forks, so I see no reason to eat with knitting needles."
Thursday April 5, 2012
Elvis Presley & His Continental Mark II: Let's start by straightening out the common misconception that Elvis Presley was a Cadillac man who painted his cars garish colors and customized them wildly, demonstrating (say his critics) a lack of taste and refinement.
The reality is that Elvis' taste was bipolar - sometimes conservative, sometimes all flash. His home, Graceland, is a stately dwelling; Elvis bought it in 1957 and left the exterior tastefully unchanged.
Inside, some rooms are quite nicely decorated; others look like they've been furnished entirely with merchandise from roadside stands. The stairwell to the basement recreation rooms features mirrored ceilings and carpeted walls.
Elvis had a flashy, purple and white, customized '56 Caddy convertible and commissioned George Barris to make a vulgar gold and white 1960 Cadillac 75 Series custom limousine.
Yet Elvis also owned a black Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, a Mercedes 600 limousine and other expensive, conservative vehicles which would look right at home on the streets of Philadelphia's Main Line, Hilton Head Island or the Hamptons.
Elvis was definitely a car guy ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Eisenhower - The White House Years' by Jim Newton
Many people think of the 1950s as a fun decade of poodle skirts, finned cars and Elvis. Obviously, they haven't read David Halberstam's weighty tome, 'The Fifties'.
In his book about Dwight Eisenhower's presidency, author Jim Newton brings some serious history to the table, recalling the events which shaped the Eisenhower era. Ike accomplished much during his presidency but was seen by opponents as someone who liked to golf more than govern.
America's thirty-fourth president got the Korean conflict to a manageable cease-fire state and brought international trade opportunities to the Midwest with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. His championing of the Interstate highway system profoundly improved U.S. travel and the movement of commercial goods. During most of his two terms, the nation experienced considerable economic prosperity.
Ike was 62 years old when he became president. When he left office he was almost 70. He had Eisenhower entered the 1952 presidential race as a Republican, to crusade against "Communism, Korea and corruption."
Newton tells us that Ike was a moderate Republican but loved covert ops, urged on ... (more >>>)
An Overpriced Stock For Those With Low Self Esteem: Investment advisor Malcolm Berko doesn't think much of Facebook - the stock, the company or its fan base. He has written, "In my opinion, Facebook, Groupon, Yelp, Zynga, etc. are examples of the endemic failure of capitalism in which values have little relationship to earnings. This was recently illustrated when the tech bubble imploded a dozen years ago, when the housing market collapsed in 2007, and when GM, Chrysler and American Airlines were forced into bankruptcy. Investors are caught up in an evangelical greed that disses the time-honored formula of commonly accepted accounting standards.
Lastly, I am not on Facebook because I don't have self-image problems, I'm not insecure, I don't need "gang" approval of my daily behaviors, I have few friends because I place a high personal value on "friendship," I enjoy my own company, I enjoy reading books, I'm not intimidated by face-to-face relationships, and I value intelligent conversation. Frankly, I can't imagine a single benefit that would accrue to me from a Facebook membership." Me neither.
On A Related Note ... Frank J. Fleming has observed, "A gas station had a sign: 'Like us on Facebook'. What kind of life do you have to be leading to have nothing better to do than that?"
What's In A Name? When I was a kid - and dinosaurs roamed the land - on cold wintry mornings, my mom would cook up some Cream of Wheat for breakfast. Sometimes, she'd put a dollop of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup on it and swirl it slightly into the mix.
I remember the friendly looking black guy on the Cream of Wheat package. I never knew his character had a name. James Lileks did the research and found out it was ... Rastus.
Speaking Of Breakfast Cereals ... here's my question: If Quakers are such a bunch of pacifists, how come Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice are shot from guns?
Happy Birthday to my brother who turned a youngish 58 today.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "We can only hope that the rumor that Israel is going to take out Iran's nuclear weapons facilities is true. If they do, Israel will be widely condemned by governments that are breathing a sigh of relief that they did."
Wednesday April 4, 2012
March Auto Sales Roundup: Light vehicle sales were at a 14.37 million SAAR in March - up 10.4% from March 2011, but down 4.4% from the sales rate last month. Were Mr. Rogers still with us, he'd probably ask - while buttoning his cardigan, "Can you say 'mixed signals'?"
Chrysler LLC reported that its U.S. sales rose 34% to 163,381 in March. 3,712 little Fiat 500s were sold last month. The Chrysler nameplate was up 70%, led by the 200 (nee Sebring) model. Jeep brand sales increased 36%.
General Motors sales increased by 12%, led by Chevy which was up 17%. But Cadillac sales were down 13% to 10,537 vehicles.
Ford Motor Co. sales were up 5% overall, led by the Focus - it jumped 65% in volume. Lincoln sales were up 4% to 8,803 units.
Toyota USA increased by over 15%, although Lexus sales were off 3% with 20,140 units sold. Camry sales increased 35%; Avalon went up 25% to 3727 sedans. Lexus sold only 573 of its flagship LS sedans, a drop of 41%.
Nissan was up 15% overall but Infiniti sales were off 10%. Hyundai was up 13%; Kia sales increased 30%. Subaru's sales increased by 20%.
American Honda sales dropped by 5%. Acura sales dropped 12% and it only sold 38 of its unloved RL flagship in March, while Bentley - which costs at least five times as much as an RL - sold 206 vehicles (up 50%) during the same period. 32 Rolls Royces found new homes in March, up from 30 last March. But Maybach only sold 4 cars last month - up from 3 in March '11. But hey, they outsold Saab. Maserati found buyers for 257 cars during the same month.
The Green Swamp: Solar Trust for America has declared bankruptcy. The firm had received $2.1 billion in conditional loan guarantees from the Department of Energy - "the largest amount ever offered to a solar project," according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu - for an array project in California.
I guess he was suckered in by the word 'Trust', eh? Well, he's got a lot of company. Look at all the people who were sucked in by 'Hope' in 2008.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the groundbreaking ceremony, which he described as "a historic moment in America's new energy frontier" and "another important step in making America's clean energy future a reality." Chu trumpeted at the time that Solar Trust would prove that "when we rev up the great American innovation machine, we can out-compete any other nation." Yeah, right.
And furthermore, an electric car battery supplier - now facing financial meltdown despite receiving $249 million in federal stimulus cash - was a heavy donor to congressional Democrats before scoring the hefty taxpayer handout. Fisker supplier A123 has laid off more than 100 employees and seen a net loss of $172 million through the first three quarters of 2011 despite the heavy infusion of federal cash. The company has yet to turn a profit and losses have been mounting.
Your tax dollars are being wasted on these impractical green-power schemes - or is it scams? - by the Obama Administration. And now Barry O. is putting our money into algae as "an alternative transportation fuel." No wonder the country is going broke.
Headline Of The Week: 'Cubists Launch Unnavigable Web Site'. Conceptual Realism dominates site a no one will be able to use anyway.
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "Cross country skiing is great if you live in a small country."
Tuesday April 3, 2012
Exclusive New York Auto Show Coverage: Suddenly, it's 1966 ... with many newly-posted illustrations as well as exclusive, never-before-published show photos of tasty mid-'60s automotive goodness taken by yours truly with a not very good 126 Instamatic camera.
Alone Again, Naturally: Keith Olbermann has been fired by Current TV, the teeny-tiny network has announced. Olbermann had hosted 'Countdown' since June, following his exit from MSNBC.
His short tenure began with fanfare, but ended, as many of Olbermann's previous jobs have, with deep acrimony on both sides. I'm sure that Keith's loyal viewers are devastated - both of them ... (more >>>)
It Costs Money To Get In The Race Card Game: Daniel Greenfield has written, "The grievance theater is never really about the specific case, the specific shooting, it's about the links between the social problems of the black community, the compromises of civil liberties necessary to keep entire cities from turning into Detroit and the inability of the media to address the sources of crime as anything but the phantoms of white racism.
It's about a black leadership that is more interested in posturing as angry activists and shaking loose some money, than in healing their own community's problems. And so the same story repeats itself again and again without an honest dialogue or anything meaningful coming out of it."
"Grievance theater isn't about race, it's not about slavery, police brutality or separate lunch counters, it's about power and money. Black politicians are not fundamentally different from white ones. They have more in common with their white colleagues than they do with their own communities. The only difference is that they are playing with the race cards they have been dealt.
The ghetto didn't evolve naturally, it was created through a web of national and local government regulations that played with ... (more >>>)
As A Counterbalance ... to all this pessimism about black America, I would point out that Fox News Sunday's Power Player of the Week turned the spotlight on Dr. Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkin Hospital. Despite being born to a 13 year-old single mother in a run-down section of Detroit, Carson became a great success. His mom forced her children to read books and write book reports on them. She cheered them on to be good students, 'checking' their studies, despite being illiterate herself.
Good parenting counts, whether the parent is undereducated or a PhD. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were right: Teach your children well.
In 1994, Carson and his wife, Candy founded Carson Scholars Fund which "seeks to combat the American education crisis by discovering promise and rewarding excellence in our nation's youth through our Scholarship and Reading Room programs."
Dr. Carson has received numerous honors and many awards over the years, including over 61 honorary doctorate degrees. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2008. Quite an amazing guy. (permalink)
I Love Paris In The Springtime ... As part of updating my website, I have scanned photographs from our 2001 visit to France and posted them here. Although we didn't rent a car - we used taxis, buses, the Metro and our feet to get around - there are even a couple of photos with cars in them.
Papers Sold ... Again: The parent company of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com has been sold to group of local investors for $55 million with an additional $10 million in working capital for operations.
The deal represents the fourth ownership change in less than six years. Once owned by Knight-Ridder, then McClatchy, the papers went private but went bankrupt three years later.
Like much of the newspaper industry, Philadelphia Media Network has been struggling financially, with declining advertising revenues and smaller circulation bases than a decade ago. A recent report by the Pew Research Center said advertising revenues industrywide decreased .. (more >>>)
Bad Way To Start The Day: I got a terrible premonition while eating breakfast. I looked down at my AlphaBits and they were spelling out, 'Oooooooo!'
It seemed very ominous until I realized that I was eating Cheerios.
Bad Pun Of The Day: He had a photographic memory which was never developed.
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